Freeing the voices in my head

Archive for July, 2012

Loving A Man In Uniform

I married a Merchant Marine.  They are the sailors on merchant vessels  – tankers, freighters, dredges, cruise ships (not the “public crew,” the real crew; yeah, cruise ships have two crews – they’re nothing like the “Love Boat” TV show.), fishing vessels – they aren’t military, but they do go through basic training and such.  They are also the unsung heroes in wartime.  A lot of merchant marines died in WWII, but not many people know that.

And, yes, some of them wear uniforms, not too fancy or distinguished, just enough to help the public understand these men (and some women) have a specific job or career.  Hubby had to wear uniforms at SUNY Maritime College and for some of the shipping companies he worked for.  Mmm, dress whites – definitely sexy, so fitted, so neat, so authoritative (is that even a word?).  In the early years, he wore khakis (blah) or blacks (yum).  No insignia or badges, but just enough of a “look” to give people pause.

When he’d step off a plane, heading for baggage claim, and walk toward me, I could see people moving aside for him.  Of course, part of that is his walk; he walks with presence, like a leader.  He’s an officer, worked his way up from Third Mate to Master (Captain for landlubbers).  Many merchant sailors have that presence; one of my favorite memories is going to a game at Shea Stadium surrounded by six buff cadets, all on the soccer team, solid, strong, handsome, dressed in everyday clothing, but no one – and this is the heart of New York City (ok, sorta south of it, but still…), no one messed with us.

Hubby’s graduating class got to have their Winter Ball on the top floor of the World Trade Center.  The restaurant would be opening soon (this was 1978) and the guys from Maritime were a dry run for the staff.  It was gorgeous, fun, amazing – we could look out over the whole city…We had a blast.

When the planes hit those Towers, we were heartbroken and so furious.  Not only for all those murdered people, but for the destruction of a place that had given us a beautiful memory.  In the days that followed 9/11, we felt helpless, too.  Our oldest son was in Army boot camp at Fort Knox, under lockdown, possibly being primed to finish his tank training and go to war or strike back or whatever the President decided to do.  We didn’t know, parents received no info.  God, that was frightening, not knowing what was going to happen to our son.

My husband was on his three months off.  Merchant schedules can be weird.  His was three months on ship, one to three months home (the home part changed on the whim of the shipping industry).  He got on the phone to his company, requesting to be sent on whatever mission the tankers were doing regarding the disaster.  Understand this: merchant vessels, for the most part, are unarmed.  If there’s a weapon onboard, it is locked in the Captain’s safe and only the Captain has access or training to use it.

His company ran tankers: oil, crude, and dry cargo, too, of grain, wheat, etc.  The Middle East was and is NOT a safe place to visit for any reason, and hubby’s company was having trouble finding volunteers to crew the ships heading into that region.  They were part of the President’s Humanitarian mission: sending grain tankers to Afghanistan, Pakistan, those areas.  (We later found out that air-dropped food from the USA was left to rot because it was from us infidels.  sigh…but they apparently didn’t turn up their noses at grain brought by sea.)

So, off hubby goes to take a grain tanker to Afghanistan.  I got to stay home and worry about TWO of my menfolk.  Oh, joy…NOT!  But you man up and smile through the tears and insist you are proud of them and, and well, yeah, out in public, I was fine.  In the dark, alone, ah, well, they finally came home safe, thank god.

It’s what you do when you love a person in the military or the merchant marines.  You buck up, you present calm and hope and love, and you rarely ever indulge in any negative emotion, because what your loved one is going through is worse.  You quietly ignore rages and silences, offer hugs or private space, you dance around certain topics, and never ask “How was your day at the office, dear?” because that’s such a ridiculous question for these particular people.

They are different, changed.  Our normal everyday woes and lives are so meaningless compared to what they are doing.  Come on, really, is your day at an office so bad compared to someone who is facing Death every minute?  In our marriage, the main problem for me is that hubby IS a Master, a Captain, has been since he was thirty.  And he forgets that I am NOT a deckie or swabbie.  He’s used to giving orders without explanation and expects to be obeyed without question.  There’s a rough edge to him, and I have to grit my teeth and try to remember for both of us that I’m his wife, not his crew.  Chin up, mouth shut, smile, woman, smile!

This is long (for a blog, I guess), but I want to leave you with a funny story.  When Hubby took that tanker to Afghanistan, he was told (and told me to reassure me) that he would have a military escort of two or three destroyers.  What he didn’t tell me, until after he was home, was that the destroyers were needed elsewhere.  That’s right, dangerous waters, dangerous political climate, danger all around, and no escort.

Tankers are way too big to go into port or dock.  They sit at anchor a few miles out and other boats come to them to offload cargo.  Want a point of reference?  Rent the movie “Periscope Down” (I think that’s the title) with Kelsey Grammar as a submarine captain.  At one point in the movie, they hide the sub under a super-tanker.  The tanker in the movie was the sister ship of my hubby’s tanker.  Yep, big, REALLY BIG!  I think the call sign was BFV Alaska.  I don’t know what the letters really stand for; the guys translate the letters as “Big Fucking Vessel.”

So, no escort, but the Afghanis did send hubby some soldiers to guard his ship.  Six big brawny soldiers in uniform with rifles to guard the hatches because the crews on the small boats that were offloading the grain were not to enter the tanker for any reason, not even to use the head.  They could sit on deck for breaks and meals, but not enter the interior of the tanker.  Capt’n Eldred greeted them, but wasn’t very reassured when he discovered that, yes, the soldiers had rifles, however, they only had ONE BULLET.  Oy.

The laborers from the small boats did, indeed, have lunch on the deck of the tanker.  They built a bonfire, hauled some goats up, and proceeded to butcher and cook their lunch.  (Eww!)  Now, oops, they needed salt.  Capt’n Eldred said nope, none to spare, but, ah, maybe one of the other ships had some.  You see, we Americans weren’t the only ones trying to help.  Other countries were in on the Humanitarian effort.  The laborers putted over to a Greek vessel to ask for salt.  Unfortunately, no on spoke Greek and the Greeks didn’t speak, um, whatever.  And none of the Afghani laborers spoke English.

Via hand signals and nods, they finally received a bag of white grainy stuff from the Greeks.  They ate.  Shortly after that, they groaned and moaned, and since they couldn’t use the heads (bathrooms) on the tanker, they pooped on the deck or over the side (dangerous, easier to just poop on the deck.).

During the messy chaos, Capt’n Eldred finally got them off his ship, job finished, cargo gone, and his unhappy crew scrubbed the deck.  Hubby radioed the Greek ship.  He asked the Captain what happened.  Turns out, the Greek cook thought the laborers wanted laundry detergent and gave them a sack of powdered detergent.  Not salt, and no one thought to check if it was salt.

Yes, it’s funny, it’s also sad.  The language barrier made things crazy.  We think we’ve advanced so far, but we haven’t.  We’re still killing each other for stupid reasons.  We’re still putting our loved ones in danger.  Hug each other now, because the world is not a safe place.  Never has been, never will be, and if you believe differently, I hope you’re right and weird shit never happens to you and yours.

Ah, but we work through it, right?  Chin up, friends, and SMILE!  Because, hell, if we can’t laugh, then we really ARE in trouble!  🙂

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Honor Guard

In 1943, 1944, 1945, the world was struggling through a Second World War.  My dad enlisted and at some point before he was sent to the Pacific Arena, he was honored with his first award.  He was one of the Top Ten Marksmen in the nation.  Cool, huh?  He was a Marine and reached the rank of Sergeant.  But he really wanted to be a pilot and fly a jet.  He couldn’t because he didn’t have 20/20 vision.  Ah, the irony – good enough to shoot anything on the ground, but not good enough to fly.

He was sent to a tiny island in the Pacific.  The trip over there involved being on a troop carrier.  Hundreds of Marines – the toughest bad asses ever – crammed together with Navy sailors.  Grunts and grounders, rookies really, with no idea what was about to hit them.  The sailors knew; they’d been out there, they had survived a few hits.

During the passage, the ship came under fire.  Being a troop carrier, they didn’t have the option of fighting back.  They had to run the gauntlet, let the better armed and fortified ships do battle.  Imagine the bowels of that ship, hundreds of young men (my dad barely out of his teens) crammed into crew quarters built for a handful; many of them had never been near the ocean and most of them were seasick.  There weren’t enough life jackets for all of them, and the Marines were under orders to keep their gear with them.

My dad asked a sailor what they should do if the ship got hit and started to sink.  He had to look up to ask  – that sailor was over six feet tall, built like a battleship, and seasoned; he had cold seawater for blood.  The guy shrugged and glanced at the heavy pack my dad was clutching.  “Ship sinks, you’ll sink.  Better ‘n burning.”

Ouch.  But I’ve lived with a Merchant Marine for 30 years, I know that tone my father heard in that sailor’s voice, I know what he meant – the ocean is a bitch, but she’ll kill you faster and less painfully than any human.  But for my dad, first time on the ocean, far away from home, that was a wake up call: Death’s right here, boy, stay alert!

They survived without taking any hits or damage and made it to the island.  It wasn’t a combat post, really, just a supply base with a few jets and jeeps, Quonset huts, those few hundred men – carved out in the middle of that island with a dirt road – trail, really – leading to a tiny village near the shoreline.  My dad had made a few friends.  His best friend was a pilot.  The day Mike took him up in a jet for a flyover…ah, my dad’s face lit up at a memory he cherished so that he couldn’t find words to describe it.

Dad often got the job of taking a jeep to the village to check for supplies dropped on the beach or to pick up fresh fish and local produce – the Marines couldn’t befriend the islanders, but they didn’t want to alienate them entirely.  One day, he was on his way back to base, fighting to keep the jeep straight on that muddy rutted track, when something  he didn’t remember what  ran across the road.  He jerked the wheel, the jeep hit something and went flying.  Dad remembers it flipped and he woke up beside it in the ditch.

As his blurred vision cleared, he saw something that made his blood freeze and his heart stutter.  He was surrounded by six Japanese soldiers, all of them staring silently at the unarmed Marine lying on the ground.  Dad slowly got to his feet, fighting off the vertigo, urging his body to stand tall and proud, stoic in the face of Death.

And then, something miraculous happened.  All six soldiers politely dropped their weapons at his feet, raised their hands, and surrendered to my dad.  No one spoke – why bother?  He didn’t speak Japanese and they didn’t speak English.  Dad picked up their weapons and glanced at his overturned jeep.  As one, the soldiers went to it and heaved it upright.  They stood in the road and waited while Dad got in and prayed the vehicle would start.  When it did (thank god for good old fashioned solid manufacturing!), he drove up onto the road to his waiting prisoners.  They marched back to base – six men ahead of the barely mobile jeep and its barely conscious driver.

Dad thought they surrendered because they were tired and hungry and scared.  Maybe they were deserters.  They were in ragged mismatched uniforms, muddy, far too thin, and young, so heartbreaking young.  He never found out what happened to them.  The MPs and his CO took over the second sentries spotted his little parade.  By the time Dad was out of the medic’s hands, the Japanese boys were gone.

These are the only war stories my dad ever told us.  I don’t know if he ever saw real combat; maybe I was deemed too young to hear the other stories – the ones that weren’t funny or weird.  I wonder about that because there was a hint of something, a brief sentence overheard…

“He stepped off the ramp and just sank.  We couldn’t help him; we were dying.”  What ramp?  Where?  My immediate thought brings heartrending images:  men in those boats, trying to hit the beach at Normandy and some of them drowning before they make it ashore because of their heavy gear, and others being shot in the water while struggling to swim…My dad barely able to watch that beach sequence in “Saving Private Ryan,” the tears running silently down his cheeks…Where WAS my dad?  What else did he see and do?  He never said.

Ask any WWII vet and they say, “It was the worst time of my life…and the best.”

I salute you all and thank you.  May we always remember and honor you, our guardians of freedom.  Semper fi!

 

Aww…Poop!

There are some days when I just know I am not going to get any proper writing done.  Life is full of distractions and today’s distraction is…poop!

I wonder what started it?  Was it yesterday’s ongoing cleaning of the fridge by eating all the leftovers?  Was it a few too many (okay, possibly ten) cups of coffee?  Maybe it was cookies, fried mushrooms, and crunchy cheetos…yeah, 3 am snack after karaoke.  Oh, it isn’t just me.  Son is having a poopy day, too.  That wouldn’t be a problem – this house does have two bathrooms.  But no, we made the mistake of letting the dogs help us rid the house of leftovers.  (Yeah, yeah, I know, the so-called experts are freaking: “Ooo, never feed your pets People food!”  Eh, frack off, ya idjits.  Been doing it for years; our pets are healthier than we are and live longer than most people do!)

So, we are all in the bathrooms/out in the yard every fifteen minutes.  Even this would be all right, if, if, we were all pooping at the same time.  But no, as soon as I’m done and sit at the computer, a dog absolutely MUST go out!  Or the son needs more toilet paper, and then, the other dog absolutely MUST go out!  And by then, of course, I MUST dash to the other bathroom.

Constant interruptions kill the creative drive.  When my characters start hanging out in the bathroom discussing their poop, I know I’m not going to get any useful writing done.  When I’m frantically trying to complete one paragraph and it’s taken me an hour, it’s time to admit my brain can’t handle the ongoing type two words-dash to bathroom-type a sentence-dash to door for dog-type, wait, what?  Where was I?!  Um, hmm, not happening.

And ya know what’s really frustrating?  While on the white throne, staring into space, obeying the needs of my poor body, my mind scrolls through whole pages of wonderful plot-progressing words…which promptly go bye-bye the second I dash back to the computer.

That’s it.  Who needs an office?  I’m setting up the laptop in the bathroom.  It’s quiet, I won’t be disturbed, I can attend to my needs and write at the same time!

Wait, what’s that god-awful, eyes watering, can’t breathe, smell?  Aww…poop!

 

Restart…

When the “new & improved” Microsoft Office that came with my new laptop basically trashed my manuscripts, I fought to recover & rework them into Manuscript format instead of “Blog” or “Office” format (quotation words are Microshit Office’s descriptions).  I then discovered my new, oh-so-fab laptop hates WordPress, going offline within moments of logging in.

Now, as any writer knows, doing actual work correcting a manuscript can kill the creative process.  I wanted, needed, to WRITE, not mess around fixing what Microshit had ruined!  I did finish the fourth draft of my main manuscript & emailed it to my First Readers.  Now I just have to wait for their reports.  Finally, I could work on the rough draft of the second book manuscript, but I faced 148 pages of Microshit mess.

So, I dug the old laptop out of the closet, hoping the originals were still fine and that it would finally let me into WordPress as well.  Ta-da!  It works!

Okay, I can hear the questions:  Why FOUR drafts of one manuscript?  Well, to me, it’s a fourth draft; to my First Readers, it’s the third draft.  I write off the top of my head, a brief summary, idea or character moving my thoughts and fingers.  That’s right, I don’t do Outlines well at all.  As I write, the backstories of the characters, the locations, and background info gets written in a notebook; I jot things down as they pop up (I write notes to myself all the time, anyway.  Can’t keep a thought in my brain for longer than 30 seconds these days!).  A dictionary, thesaurus and Gregg’s Manual sit on my desk as well for quick checking of words, punctuation and grammar.  If I need to research something, I jot down a key word to check it later online because I don’t want to stop writing, creating, to get bogged down reading & researching.  All that can be put in later.

So that first draft is the roughest one, the idea growing, building, and no one sees that one!  By MY third draft, it’s a well-rounded story that can be shared – it’s been proofread, polished, and filled in, but by that point, I need outside input to find what I’ve missed because I’m too close to the world I created.  Too close to see what else needs doing.  Thank you, First Readers, for any and all criticisms and input!  🙂

I’m not a “published author.”  I’ve had a couple of stories published in magazines (years ago) and articles published (when I was a reporter for a local trade journal publishing house).  I don’t know how authors work.  I write for me first because I love to play in and with my creations.  I love letting others read my stories and enjoy the feedback, enjoying their pleasure from reading what I’ve written.  Will I ever have a published Book?  Don’t know, I hope so, but it isn’t the main goal.  My main goal is to just Write because it brings me Joy.

Okay, so why do I have a new laptop that won’t do what I need it to do, and why haven’t I returned it and gotten another or gotten that new one fixed?  Because it was a gift, specifically, a gift from my husband.  After thirty years, I’ve learned the hard way to NEVER return or reject anything he gives me.  Hey, I like gifts and want more!

Return the beautiful laptop he bought me?  Nah, I don’t think so!  It works for other stuff and I’ll eventually figure out how to fix the weirdness.

For now, I just want to write, to play, to get my joy fix each day as the words flow and my worlds come to life.  But even play needs to be practiced to be enjoyed, so I’m going to fire up whichever computer wants to behave!  🙂