written June 16, 2006
“Which is faster, a plane or a boat?” If you were asked this, what would you say?
…Would you ever be asked?
I’m worried, because I cannot bring myself to trust the reckoning the bridge watch of this everlasting Sunday spin around the Mediterranean, yet I cannot ask to gain it, and it is not be given. I cannot help tossing and turning restlessly when am I supposed to be asleep, feeling a need for one eye left open. That will happen when a sailor falls asleep on the bridge while piloting, causing us to drift ten degrees. Fires are another nasty business to be awoken with. A good reason I am sick might be because the head toilets have been unreliable at best, overflowing and swamping the floors with waste at worst. There’s a line from The Hound of the Baskervilles, that Watson details:
“Sherlock Holmes had, to a very remarkable degree, the power of detaching his mind at will.”
A few days ago I was asked if I was alright, I guess because I looked calm. I said I was in neutral. To this I was not making sense, being weird. I rarely make sense, so I don’t try to make someone understand, shifting from side to side as we roll along. I said I was happy to be underway again, but not too happy, and stressed about having so much time left to go, but not too much stressed. This was a lie.
Three times I’ve been asked which is faster, a plane or a boat, all in the last week. The first questioner’s tinge in his voice gave away he wasn’t trying to increase his knowledge. It was said slyly, with a cocked grin. I was already on my way some where, so I said over my shoulder, called on instantly to be clever, “It depends on where you’re going.” Not completely sensible, but good in a pinch. Continued on my way, wondering who had obviously attributed me to saying a boat was faster, as was the apparent gaft.
Ever heard of a film called Gaslight? It’s very old, I believe from the Thirties, and stars a very young Angela Lansbury in her first role. Anyway, she plays a wife whom her husband is trying to convince is mad. One of the ways in which he messes with her mind is to flicker the lights of the house, and then say he sees nothing wrong himself. Yesterday I was asked to go to Radio a get a secret disk for something we were doing, so I did. I went to the door and said, “Hi, could I get a disk formatted secret, it would be for CS-02 division.” The person at the window replied to me, “I don’t think we have any secret disks for you,” looking at me oddly, so I went back to sonar to rely the info. Radio is then called, and they say I never asked for a secret disk, only a regular disk. When I return to Radio he hands me the disk, but I wait and ask him what I had asked him earlier. Supposedly it was just for a regular one, but it still isn’t what I remember. This happens often, though I cannot say every day.
Last night I was asked again “Which is faster, Carlson, a plane or a boat?” Maybe it was being up again at three in the morning, the second mug of coffee, I don’t know, but suddenly I wasn’t on the ship as faces turned to me, waiting like trappers for the prey to hop out of the bushes. No longer was I on the ship. I wasn’t any one place at all, but in a miriad of memories of the past, when I was teased and made fun of, so that I wouldn’t even go out for recess, but stay inside the classroom and read. I got angry, fuming that being nice in this world is being weak. Sorta tired of being laughed at for how lightly I talk or anything else un-Navy about me. Everything got slow, and I asked myself, ‘How is a plane like a boat?’:
“Well, I’d rather not answer that question, not so much for me but for you. You obviously feel that you have some answer to it already, but alright. Each could be faster than the other, but that isn’t what you’re getting at it, is it? You want me to validate a way that a boat is faster than a plane, right, because everyone knows this just can’t be. But how much have you thought about it before coming here and asking me, taking up my time with this? So let’s just move to how a boat could be faster than a plane. One could be that the boat is actually moving through the water, and the plane is just sitting there on the runway. Is the plane just being rolled, or it in the air? What makes a plane a plane, are you talking just the frame, or would you like an engine as well? Does either have a pilot, or is the plane unmanned, while the ship is being steered? The fastest plane in the world won’t go anywhere without someone at the controls. What kind of boat is it, sail or something with a powerful motor? It might not matter so much comparatively to a modern plane, but a speed boat from today could easily beat the 1903 Wright Flyer. Or it could be a boat from the future than is faster still. But you weren’t very specific, were you? Are we talking this ship versus a paper airplane? Or are you talking about distance? To cross a river would you rather cross on a ferry on a jet? Do I really think like this? Of course not, but you have me on this path, and I’ll go with it, all while wondering why I’m being asked this in the first place.”
Silence- a fairly remarkable feat.
In a moment I was asked, “So, where you a Nuke, or something?” with a laugh. My guard raises in an instant when this comes up. I’m very protective of this wonderful, madding Kobayashi Maru school that spit me out. A moment later it was said, “Well, it must’ve been that hard, if Carlson went there. It couldn’t have been hard at all, please. You just didn’t feel like studying right?”
As I said, I am sensitive about this subject, because even though it was ultimately a failure I count as my greatest success, and no one would know what it could be like until one goes. That’s why I see this for me and your issue of ethnicity in parallel. I just said it was hard, nothing was going to come of explaining.
* * * * *
I had a dream last night:
I was in a literature class, and we were reading The Taming of the Shrew. I was picked to be a character named “Tintilus,” who doesn’t exist in the real play. The scenes were enacted in the center of the hall, as the remainder of the students read from their texts. I followed along from the side, but when my part came… it was blank. Everyone would stop and stare, waiting for me to say my lines, but they weren’t there to read.
I begin to improvise line- all I can do. The room begins to empty.
* * * * *
We’ve been pretty busy the last few days, reduced to being in sonar and sleeping, so that we’re told to go directly to berthing afterwards. I know it’s been a few days since I’ve written, and I will make the time on Sunday to write too. Sometimes I really don’t know what I’m going to fill it with, but I am very aware of you and my responsibility to write to as much as possible, like now. This letter wasn’t the brightest I’ve even sent, I know, but please be the person I send these thoughts to, as I have no other. I know you are busy and want to be able to write more as well. I think it is funny, how similar and different our situation, just like a story from the Canturbury Tales. You wish you had free time amid your important work on Capitol Hill, and I would like something meaningful to do in the middle of nothing. All we can do is laugh that the other has a twisted version of what we both want.
In six months I will never think of this time ever again (perhaps). If I am lucky I will forget that 2002-2006 ever happened (the long amounts of nothing, at least) and I will emerge in 2007 at school, the last five years a dream (that will visit me at night). In the same way I think of Nuke school I will one day consider the Navy, whenever a well-meaning elderly person says, “Thank you” and I’m a hero for sweeping.
As far as the big picture goes, looking dually forward and backward from this point in time, I try to loan myself a piece of future peace. Being labeled a fool, while wrong, will have the lasting impression of a Etch-a-Sketch. This moment only nominally matters because I have to deal with it, but soon I might forget the name and faces I know, like before. Let them think whatever they want, as long as I don’t have to hear about it. The negativity, the laziness, the pulling of each others wings and frying of one another under magnifying lenses for the sake of boredom. I could take it, and laugh it off if it wasn’t unyielding, if the sarcasm wasn’t thicker than a high school gym locker. I just have to remember that it will end, and I will retain the best part of me, and not let it be warped and hardened. Not at the very end, when I am so close. I like me, and that is enough for now. It will have to be.