A Day in the Life

written May 30, 2006


When I would write my old journals I would periodically make entries that would take the reader from the genesis of a day to the close, to give a better idea of just what a random day was like, and called the episodes “A Day in the Life.”  I think it’s about time to pull this device from the moth balls and give it a go again, to give you a better idea of what a sailor’s life is all about.

The person calling reveille at six was very muffled this morning, and I nearly slept through it.  What a bad day to the first time!  This morning was to the first in my division, or rather my old one in sonar, which to me is actually quite new again, I considered from amid the folds of my green and black sleeping bag. Showing how much time had passed, nearly half the names of my home division would be different than the ones I left in December.  Mostly I wanted to make sure I was prepared for my first morning quarters, at seven, under the no-nonsense Chief Weaverling, who holds a great deal of sway over whether he might find the room to let me leave for college early next year.  No one was again yet up as I (this the entirety of dressing) pulled my coveralls down from its hook and stepping into my boots– wow, the old, faulting leather veterans on my feet since boot camp might just make it a few more months yet.

I could barely look as I passed by the mess line: greasy sausage and greasier pancakes mourning themselves in a row.  Even some cold cereal topped with bananas would have sufficed, but none were out. Probably all rotten after more than a week out  Thankfully I remembered a granola bar, perhaps under my pillow, and I promised myself to eat a little extra for lunch.

Just rear of the quarterdeck, where everyone comes aboard is the torpedo room. This is where the sonars/torpedomates have their morning meetings.  I actually took a breath before lifting the dogs (levers) to the door and entered.  I introduced my self to the few there, saying, “Hi, my name’s Carlson, nice to meet you all.”  There definitely is a difference with them, now. More laid back, and much less stressful.  Sonars, at least here on the Elrod, are sort of clandestine, and independent of what much of the rest of the ship does.  Our primary job, all of us, is to sit in sonar on our watch, and that’s about it.  I appreciated Massetti and Agguire clowning around as we waited for it to start; they actually are very funny, and I laughed freely, looking for any opening to think, “Hey, maybe these last months won’t be so bad after all.”

A few sonars ended up having to be up all last night as part of an exercise after I got off watch, so these few tired individuals got to slump to their beds, finally, and I was told to go down to be a part berthing cleaners.  I didn’t this mind at all. You get to clean at your own pace, are left alone, and get to listen to music (today picking the Arctic Monkey-laden CD a had made given before the heave-ho).  No sooner had I begun, at seventy-thirty, than Nathan Ginty came down to be a cleaner as well, so we talked about all the possibilities of these salty, sour sardine days and what life will be like one day out of the can.

These are the two topics that all talk about: 1) Today (since everyday is just like the last) and 2) Tomorrow (when Today finally ends).  No, I take that back, we can deviate a little, like when we talked about what we are reading, loaning Ginty The Canterbury Tales.  There are less than a handful of people I would let borrow anything, because I doubt that I will get it back.  There is a great laziness here, unfortunately, from what people tell you (often whatever is the easiest way to make person A leave person B alone).  In the middle of cleaning the entire crew was called with a whistle topside and to starboard (right) to “render honors” (salute in unison) to a short column of foreign vessels.  It was my first time outside since yesterday, and they gray was so consuming you couldn’t tell where the sky began and the sea ended.  As we overcome the ships I jotted down their numbers to look up their names later, for fun while on watch this afternoon.  Only a few souls were outside as well on the other vessels, mostly smoking, which was such a contrast to us, brightly saluting while dreaming of lunch.  The difference in the deliveries played in my mind afterwards, as we returned below to berthing, and  I kidded Ginty that the Elrod struck me as the main character in an Afterschool Special, the guy who tries really really hard to fit in, when he should have know that hey, just being yourself is what makes you cool.  At ten the Mater Chief of the ship (the King of the Hill enlisted guy) inspected our berthing and said it was pretty good.  We were glad, since much of the time we spent reading and talking in the lounge.

By this time lunch had nearly arrived, by 11:15, and I walked again to the long mess line forming.  Have I done this before?  Seems so.  Um, spaghetti today.  And two pieces of bread.  And a chocolate brownie.  Anything more would come from the (all you can eat!) salad bar.  I was scheduled to relieve Clifford as watch by noon, I went to get my coffee cup. Caffine, baby, for the dark, dark swaying room.

This is what it’s like to be on watch:  you enter sonar, you say, “is anything going on?”  In this case Cliff says “no,” and I say “alright then.”  I sit down in a blue chair with plastic cushions and armrests.  It has begun.  We don’t, as in the movies, strain our eyes on the screens like it’s one of those Magic Eye pictures (“Look, a sailboat!”), or do much more than that, on the average (every)day.  Oh, and answer the phone in case someone calls.  The question is always, “Is This Person and is That Person up here in sonar?”  He never is, and I say no.   But he was here five minutes ago.  No, I’m not sure where he went.

It’s more than a suspicion among the division–more like confirmed knowledge–that I don’t know much about sonar  And that’s mostly true, but I feel a mercy asterisk(*) is fair, for how little I have really done this.  Didn’t they teach me the ABC’s of the craft in San Diego, I hear the question.  Fair enough, yes I was. I have for about the last week spent hours each day in sonar, pouring over the classified binders and teaching myself all the of the systems and operations.  I think I have doubled my knowledge at least, of all that had faded since 2004.  I just want to put in a good enough effort that this time on cruise will go smoothly, and I keep a professional balance between “adequate” and “ completely vital because I know everything, that will keep me from leaving.”  Let the tight-roping begin.  Actually, it was enjoyable to have the sonar lights go on a bit again, with the things I was reading about, and made me feel good.  One can only take so much of it though, especially the over-technical manner in which it was written.  The second half of my watch found better reading material with Baseball: Feats, Facts and Firsts.  What better summer reading is there than baseball history (especially when the present, 2006 Cubs have lost 26 of their last 31 games.  No joke.)

Most of my way through the watch I got an email from you, that said you had not received anything yesterday.  I hope you get this before you go to bed tonight, and that whatever time it takes in sending will be made up for with the time difference.  To end, my watch ended as my relief came from dinner, and I went down for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, sliced carrots, cranberry sauce, and a small salad with Paul Newman’s Own Golden Italian.  Detailed enough for ya?

Don’t tell anyone, but today was a piece of cake.  I hope more will be just like it, and I am again happy to be away from the more strained and stressful underworld of engineering.  I wrote as well to Andy, Mom, and Sonya.  Mom wrote to me about the school years ending (as I remince about the educational cycle of time and how many rotations I have now witnessed), placing flowers on Grandpa’s grave for Memorial Day (in a single, spare line, as is her economical way), and also visiting with a college friend over the weekend who was down with her husband.  Mom added that she stayed out until ten that night- the latest for a long time.  I was happy for her to get out, but it also seemed to be a sad statement.  I wanted to send flowers to her right then.  Well, that was my day.  Did I do so much that all of this typing was necessary?  There is a lot of talk going on, and what we seem to have in front of us changes daily like the shell game hucksters play.  There is a case though, that I might see you by the anniversary of last year’s Coldplay concert.  I’m doing noting more with this myself than tucking into the back on my mind, but I wanted to let you know, in this cryptic way, yet wait until it seemed a more stable thing.  We shall see, and of course I hope it is true.  Now for a little Illiad and a shower (not necessarily in that order).















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