Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The Film Clip



Like most major events in one’s life, this one came completely unexpectedly.  The email was direct, and to the point.  “My name is Susan and I think I am your sister.”  The body of the email revealed that she had been looking for him for years on and off after their parents had split.  He had been very young when they had been separated to different grandparents.  He remembered so little of her it was like trying to remember a dream.  She was now living in a modest home in Florida, and hoped to see him when she traveled to the city next week.  "It would be great to get caught up!"  Attached was a file.

He clicked on the attachment to reveal a video.  It was an old film shot on Super 8 converted into a digital file.  A small boy smiled for the camera in a dated style long sleeve shirt.  He must have been about four years old.  Behind him was a young girl around six years old mugging for the camera.   His mind inserted the whirring click of a film projector as he watched the soundless film.  It was him with his long lost sister.  He had seen photographs of himself at that age but never film.  It was odd to see himself in motion.  He struggled to remember the version of himself that he saw.  The boy smiled with complete innocence and joy, expressions that seldom found their way to his current face.  He couldn’t connect this boy who was undoubtedly him to the present version of himself.

His earliest complete memories were later in life.  He grew up with his grandparents and mother in a small bungalow.  He remembered almost nothing of his father, a man his mother reliably called “a bum” whenever she referenced him.  His mother would sit in the recliner in the living room with the TV on when he got home from school.  The cigarette smoke hung in a haze in the dim light with the shades drawn.  When she had been drinking, she would tell him he looked like his father with an edge in her voice that made him anxious.  He never saw his father.  The extent of the contact were the infrequent letters his father had written him which his mother always threw away without opening.  His father called long distance a week after his mother died.  His grandmother wouldn’t allow him to speak to him.  “You’re better off without that bum.”  That had been about it.

He stared at the video.  There was a cut.  He was now being lifted in the air by a young man.  He was smiling and laughing uncontrollably.  The man smiled and spoke silently as he moved him up and down in the air.  It must have been his father.  His father was so young in the film, just a kid really.  He must have been a 22 or 23 year old young man.  A petite pretty woman moved into the shot and leaned in to wave at the camera.  It was his mother.  She was almost unrecognizable as a pretty young girl.  He only knew her as the spiteful woman in the chair.  His sister bounded into the frame to hug her mother.  His head swam.  All those years being told his father was a monster.  He wasn’t a monster.  He was just a kid.  They were all kids.  The version of his family history he had lived with was a myth. 


His eyes welled.  It was too much to handle at 8:17 am on a Tuesday.  He clicked the video closed.  The email stared back at him and begged a response.  “Would you like to get together when I come to town next week?  It would be great to get caught up!”  He exhaled.  His hand paused for a moment over the keyboard until he clicked “delete” on the email.  He closed the laptop and got started with his day.  He could forget this if he tried.  

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Hate Yoga



The magic yoga culture is exerting great effort to penetrate my defensive walls and get into my world.  I have been aware of this subculture’s increasing influence and rapid growth for quite some time.  While skeptics would say that my awareness has been primarily getting caught staring like a creep at women in yoga pants at shopping areas, I would argue that I am the victim in that situation.  If I went walking around in a leopard pattern Speedo, I would expect some errant glances.  Note I used the word “errant” and not “appreciative”.  Either way, it would still be a glance.

The problem as I see it with yoga is like anything.  Some people get involved and they just go too goddamn far.  For example, I know a woman that told me that she left her husband because “he wasn’t supportive of my yoga”.  Unless he tried to prevent her from attending her 3:00 class, how much more supportive does he need to be?  She got in too deep.  I think that her version of “supportive of her yoga” meant him buying into the idea that she had super powers.  So when he mentioned she might be out of her mind when she said “I can cast spells and heal people”, he was “not supportive”. 

I am very skeptical of the idea of these alternative healers.  The other day I had a woman try to sell me into the idea of reiki.  The idea is that she is a natural healer.  She was born with this latent ability and then though the good fortune of New Age classes was able to unleash this power for the good of all that entered her sphere.  I told her I was glad that she had discovered this talent but I wasn’t a big proponent of it.  Look, I don’t want to rain on her parade.  She works a low paying gig, is a single mom, and if she thinks she has super powers, I don’t want to bum her out and disagree.  I also don’t want to pretend that I’m all in either.  She is a woman driving around in a broken down Corolla or something, not Wonder Woman’s invisible plane.  Let’s stay in our shoes.

The next thing I know she starts to wave her hands around me and closing her eyes as if in a trance.  She then opens her eyes and announces some of my chakras are blocked.   I cannot be happy until I balance these out and get myself on the same universe as the person that has blocked my chakras.  If I can be frank, this is quite a tall order to have dropped on you.  On the one hand I am very glad that it was my chakra blocked and not my arteries.  However, no one wants anything that is blocked.  Apparently the only way I can unblock it is to get on the proper universe. This seems like a lot of trouble as it can be a hassle to fly to San Francisco, much less traveling to another universe.  I have no map on how to get there.  How can I get unblocked?

The other big issue is that I don’t know how to unblock my chakra even if I find it.  She suggested I need to walk around barefoot or maybe hug a tree to gain the positive electrons from these activities.  Hmmm…  I don’t know how that would help me unblock my chakra that is all tangled up in another universe and mentioned to her that it seemed like a thin association.  This is when I was told that the current universe that I am in is not balanced and is why my chakra is blocked.  There are many different universes going on all at the same time, and I just needed to get this universe back in the flow of my proper destiny.  It sort of seemed like a random combination of mythology, New Age grooviness, physical therapy, Yes records, and comic books.  Still, she seemed like she was quite happy like she had all the answers and it is hard to argue with that type of self assured contentment. 

I am not sure where I go from here.  I have blocked chakras.  I am all fucked up in this universe.  I don’t know how to get to the other universe.  Even if I get to the other universe, I don’t know what to do when I get there.  Meanwhile I had no idea this was even an issue until this Magic Woman told me about it.  I was blissfully unaware of the size and scope of my problems.  If I may, I think that the time machine scenario I had previously in Tasmania was less hassle than multiple universes gone haywire with blocked chakras that I have now.  If I had that time machine, I could go back and prevent the chakras from being blocked I suppose.  It’s best not to dwell on it.  It just further blocks a chakra I’m sure.  I wish I could talk to "alternate universe me" and figure out what to do to right the ship.

God damn yoga.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Bahamas Shark Attack



One of the wonders of The Google Machine is its ability to flag stories on subjects in which you have a particular interest.  In this case, I have "shark attacks" flagged, which results in me receiving murky news reports of people being bitten by sharks.  Most of these reports are exactly the same.  "A local surfer was by himself in the waves off the beach when his leg was bitten by a shark.  He paddled in and received medical treatment by bystanders.  When reached at the hospital, surfer guy said "I was paddling by myself out in the waves when I felt my leg get bit.".  He is expected to recover shortly."

I got one this week which really caught my attention though...

 "A North Carolina woman lost her arm to a shark June 2 in the Bahamas.  Tiffany Johnson and her husband James were on the last stop of their 7-day cruise when they decided to go parasailing and snorkeling.  The couple found a local guide who took them with another couple to Athol Island.  Although James was feeling seasick during the 20-minute trip out to the reef, he was able to enjoy the water with his wife while they explored the area around a small private island.  When James started feeling queasy, he headed back to the boat.


“I just stayed out for a little bit longer because there was a part of the reef I hadn’t seen yet,” Tiffany explained.  Ten minutes later, the unthinkable happened to Tiffany, who is a healthcare project manager.  “I was just floating there for the most part. I wasn’t moving my arms and legs very much, because I didn’t want to disturb the fish,” she said.  “I felt like a tug or bump on my arm. I honestly thought I had bumped into something, that’s what it felt like,” the mother of three recalled from her hospital bed.
Little did she know a grey medium-sized shark, possibly a tiger, was beside her.  “I causally looked to the right and I was face to face with a shark, and he had my arm in his mouth.  “He didn’t struggle at first. He was just kind of sitting there with my arm in his mouth, almost as if he was waiting for me to do something.  It was very strange.  “It registered what was going on, so I went to pull my arm back and that’s when the struggle began.  We struggled for some time, it wasn’t very long, and then I was able to break free because he had taken my arm,” she said.
The shark had removed Tiffany’s forearm just below her right elbow.  Tiffany threw off her snorkeling gear and screamed for help.  She said she drew upon her Christian faith as said she prayed for help.  Tiffany said “I was really scared that the shark was going to follow me. Blood attracts sharks. I knew I had to get out of the water as fast as possible. It did not follow me, by the grace of God, because it doesn’t make sense to me. It didn’t grab my leg while I was pulling away or anything.”  
Once on-board Tiffany calmly asked for a towel and for it to be wrapped as tightly as possible around her severed appendage.  They then headed to Nassau, and after a 20-minute boat ride, finally made it to the island. First responders were called.  They took the couple to the Princess Margaret Hospital. Surgeons at the hospital were able to clean the wound and saved as much tissue as possible.  “There were just so many people working around the clock trying get me out of there, it was just overwhelming,” Tiffany recalled. “The support . . . it was totally God.”
Tiffany hopes to turn the loss of her arm into a way to share her faith and love of God with others.  “I am convinced I have a testimony to share. I am expecting God to do great things. If testimony is one way people’s lives can be changed, then I want that.  “I believe that is why I am alive. It’s because I relied on him during that situation, I didn’t freak, and I was able to remain calm. And that is only by God’s strength and peace in me, that is why I am alive. I am convinced of that,” she said.
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What immediately caught my attention was how happy this woman and her husband are in the photo of her with the chomped off arm.  I mean, that must have been one whale of a cruise to not let a little thing like having your arm bitten off ruin the fun.   The buffet must have been absolutely amazing to say nothing of the omelette station.  Could those two be any happier?  The parasailing must have been fan-fucking-tastic.  “Our trip to the Bahamas?  It was awesome!  Tiffany got her hair braided!  We went parasailing!  We did water aerobics!  Oh yeah…  Tiffany got her arm bit off by a shark, but it was no big deal really…  Did I tell you about the prime rib carving station?”

I also will admit to being confused about how this woman reads this situation to be an appreciative nod from God.   If it’s me that is floating along and get my arm ripped off by a Tiger Shark, my first thought isn’t “ah, yet another sign of God’s love”.  I am more in the camp of bleeding out while screaming at the heavens “Why hast thou forsaken me?  What a cruel and punishing God thou arst!”.  I think as my bloody stump shakes at the sky, it makes that dialogue even more effective.  I definitely try and go what I think Olde English sounds like too.  It's so much more dramatic.  

I am a little jealous of people that can somehow make every horrible event somehow a shower of positive vibes.  It’s a fabulous mindset to be in when you are grinning ear to ear with a bloody stump bandaged up while seated in a wheelchair.  If that’s me, I am going full-on “swigging from a rum bottle, unshaven, giving the camera the finger while screaming “stop looking at my stump!” as they wheel me out.  This means I am either a realist or faithless heathen.  My gut tells me I am a heathen.     

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Nurse the Hate: Celebrated Summer



This morning as I walked the hounds, I saw two of my neighbors during different parts of the walk.  The first, a man that had spent most of his adult life in corporate America and now spent it tinkering around in his sailboat, looked at me with some angst and asked “Going to work?”.  Yes.  “You know… I sure don’t miss work.  I find that I’m so busy now I have no idea how I got anything done while I was working.”  Then he was off to his sailboat on a picture perfect day.  I walked on with the hounds.  They, as usual, were in no particular hurry.  We turned the corner and ran into the other neighbor.

This second neighbor is a woman that is a retired teacher.  Unprompted she asked, “So… off to work, huh?  I sure don’t miss that.”  She looked at me with actual pity.  “I’m glad I’m not going to a job.”  It reminded me of something I saw in a documentary recently where an anthropologist was questioning members of a remote tribe from the Amazon.  This tribe spent large amounts of time drinking and carousing, leaping over fires, and general carrying on.  When the anthropologist asked them why they did these things so often, the tribe elder looked at him with some surprise.  “Well, if we don’t have a good time here on earth, our souls will become bored and then they will leave us and fly into the heavens.”  The guy had a point.  My soul could leap out of me any second.

In what might have been the finest summer of my life, I spent it doing three things.  I was reading American literature at the rate of one major novel a week so as to be prepared for weekly tests.  I was working nights selling magazine subscriptions on the phone where I discovered a natural talent for sales.  I was also spending great swaths of time in the area of “general carousing”.  I had almost no responsibility of any kind. I needed to come up with $150 a month for rent and whatever money was left over for pizza/beer.  There is a genuine lightness that enters the soul when anything is possible on any given day. 

I was the music director of the college radio station, so every release came to me.  I would place my blessing on these releases to allow them to be played on our weak signaled station.  During a three year period I might have listened to every indie rock release no matter how miniscule and made a copy for my own personal use.  I would like to apologize in this space personally to obscure bands Snake Out, Jr. Gone Wild, and The Wild Seeds for not buying their records.  I still loved your music.  I added you on our playlist report, so maybe that helped you.     

I was subleasing a room in a house which should have been condemned.  Four guys lived there that I had nothing in common with whatsoever.  They were recent graduates that now all worked construction.  I would hear them leave the house just prior to sunrise.  They would return home at dusk exhausted and covered in dust just as I was slipping out the door for four hours of phone sales.  They would be fast asleep by the time I came back from the bar late that night with whatever unfortunate female I had somehow tricked back to my lair.  I had a room in the attic which consisted of a gigantic bed, a stereo, and enormous stacks of records.  I feel sorry for the guy I named “The Big Kahuna” that lived directly across from the ramshackle wall we constructed.  It could not have been a restful summer for him.

I would wake up in the morning and take the house dog “Spike” with me to campus.  Spike was a brown dog.  People would ask “what kind of dog is that?” to which the only answer was “he’s a brown dog”.  Unbelievably well behaved, Spike would go with me to a “Theory of Music” class I had taught by an unintelligible Austrian named Dr. Franz Something.  Why this man allowed me to sit there with a dog at my feet as I attempted to unsuccessfully grasp how to read music, I haven’t a clue.  After an hour of that, Spike and I would stroll on across campus saying hello to essentially everyone and if I didn’t know them, Spike somehow did.  When we got home, I would sit in the backyard in the sun on a cheap beach chair and read Steinbeck, Hemingway, Anderson, and Fitzgerald.  I turned brown like a lifeguard.

This seemed then, as it does now, the absolute perfect way to spend a summer.  Instead I have a heap of responsibility on my shoulders, most of it strictly an illusion.  Time is always at a premium.  Time is money after all.  “These are your earning years.”  I write songs in brief snatches of free time when my mind can roam.  I never have enough time.  Somehow along the way I got tricked.  It’s odd to think I will never truly be as rich as I was when I never had more than $200 in my bank account like I did that summer. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The WSET Diploma Exam





On Wednesday I took the long awaited WSET Diploma Unit 3 wine exam.  This is "The Big One".  It covers "wine".  That's a broad topic in case you hadn't noticed.  I flew to San Francisco on a Tuesday to “sit the exam”.  As this is an English certification, you don’t “take the test”, you “sit the exam”.  The WSET mandated that this exam be given only on a Wednesday, assumedly so it was inconvenient for everyone possible.  If there was a reason this test wasn’t given on a weekend, or even a Monday/Friday, I didn’t hear it.  Instead it was smack dab in the middle of the week.  Thus I found myself in a bleak airport area hotel on a Tuesday overlooking an industrial park as I attempted to cram in everything on wine into my leaking brain.

The challenge with this exam is twofold.  The first part is a blind tasting of 12 wines.  Served in two groups of six, the student is given ten minutes per wine to provide a complete assessment and identification of the wine.  Sometimes the wines will be presented in a theme, meaning that maybe you will be given three wines from Chianti or Piedmont and then asked questions regarding how they are linked.  Sometimes they will serve a total mixed bag, so the wines could be an Australian shiraz, a Hungarian sweet wine and then a bone dry Riesling from Alsace.  Based on my experiences with blind tasting, let me tell you this.  It ain’t easy.  Even if you had all afternoon to figure the wines out, it would be difficult.  This situation is much more challenging as there are 40 people sitting in a room scraping glasses around on tables while a big clock is projected on the wall ticking down your available time.  It is like playing golf with a shot clock.

I had been tasting very well going into “sitting the exam”.  I would time myself to make sure to keep it as close to “exam conditions” as possible.  I just forgot to have 40 people sitting around me and have the added pressure of “you fucking flew out to some shitty hotel by the airport in San Francisco, so don’t fuck this up” playing in my head.  Almost immediately I got confused on a neutral white wine.  The clock is ticking ticking ticking as I am going through permutations in my head.  “Ok…  OK…  This is Old World.  No doubt about it.  At least I think so…  So what is it?  Pinot Gris?  Maybe it’s Spanish like one of those shitty verdejos…  No…  Gavi?... No…  Soave?  Fuck.  Maybe.  Is it a crappy chardonnay?  How much time do I have?  Holy shit!  Fuck it.  It’s a pinot gris…  That’s wrong!  I know that’s wrong…”

I would describe the first flight of six as going “poorly”.
 
There was a brief break as we re-filled glasses for the next flight.  I looked around the room and saw some of the same dazed and confused expressions as I had on my face.  It reminded me of a wildly different event from my past.  I remember playing football in school.  This kid Tim Blystone came running around end one time on a reverse.  Now normally the two big defensive ends would have run themselves out of position by the time the fleet footed Blystone would have gotten the ball and the diminutive young man would have run right by.  However, this time the two defensive guys were really hung over from a party the night before and weren’t chasing anyone, certainly not at football practice.  This time when 135 pound Tim Blystone ran as fast as he could with the ball, he found two 235 pound pissed off seniors waiting to hit him with everything they had.  I have seen auto wrecks that went better.  The expression Blystone had on his face when he got up off the ground is what I saw on many of the students in that room.  It was a variation of “what just happened, something really just fucked me up”.

The next flight went better, but I wouldn’t place my confidence level at “high”.  I approached it with a Manny Ramirez mentality of “see ball, hit ball”.  In retrospect, that works very well in baseball because you just need to hit .300 to be a superstar.  In this case you need to hit about .850.  I maybe should have given that more reflection.  I got a couple of the wines correctly, and was in the neighborhood of the others.  Everything slowed down for me on the second flight.  At lunch we discussed the wines amongst ourselves, hoping beyond hope that someone would parrot back to us our tasting notes.  This is an excellent time to begin to freak out as people’s answers are all over the place.  If it was fast food, it would sound like this.  “Yeah man, that first one was a taco!”  A taco?  No.  That was a hamburger.  All three were hamburgers, but with different condiments.  What did you say they were?  “Holy shit!  I thought it was a taco, a burrito, and a corn dog!  They were hamburgers?  They were ALL hamburgers?  Oh my God…  Oh my God…”

After lunch we spent the next three hours answering essay questions on loose sheets of paper.  I can’t tell you the last time I wrote 18 pages in longhand.  My hand started to cramp up as I tried to think of everything I knew about obscure wine regions and grapes.  My favorite part of this portion of the test is that you are never exactly sure of what they want you to respond with for a correct answer.  “Discuss winemaking in Burgundy.”  It’s a bit open ended to say the least. The WSET grading overlords are like having a strict English girlfriend that is always pissed off because you can’t read her mind.  Past grading notes for these questions run the gamut from “The student failed as they did not expand on the subject and write in broad enough a manner” to “The student failed because they failed to focus on the core of the question and instead wrote in too broad a manner”.  Your English girlfriend is going to bust your balls, you just don’t know why until it is actually happening.  I just wrote as much as I could about a topic and tried to avoid saying things like “these fucking Spanish guys used to make shitty wine because no one cleaned up the winemaking areas and the barrels were all filthy, then a bunch of uptight French wine consultants got brought in to get on everyone’s ass and made them step it up”.  That became “after a trend towards modernization and move to temperature controlled stainless steel ferments, quality improved with the help of consultants”.  I tried to present the facade that I was a reasonable man that knew a thing or two.

Ultimately, I have no real idea how I did.  I spoke to a friend of mine that took the spirits exam in Boston on the same day (also conveniently on a Wednesday).  How did you do?  “I have no idea.  You know how it is.”  Yes.  Yes I do.  The grading takes 10 weeks.  This is understandable as someone needs to plow through my 18 pages of scrawled handwriting as I tried to spell foreign words from memory.  By the time I got to page 12 of my answers, it looked like someone had tried to teach an ape to write.  I did know the basic answers to the questions asked.  Did I know it in enough detail?  Shit, I don’t know.  I hope so.  If I can avoid having to try to memorize Austrian wine law or grand cru vineyards of Chablis again, it would be a nice turn of events for me.  I do know that I at least belonged in that room to “sit the exam”.  It was 39 people that all work in the wine industry in different capacities and me.  I'm just a fucking guy, and there I was a complete imposter.  I was proud that I got there to that exam, but I will not stop until I pass that exam.   Statistically it’s not in my favor, as less than one third of the people in that room will pass.  I hope I am in that third.  If I’m not?  I guess I will be out there in a shitty hotel by the airport on a Wednesday in January to try again.  

I will not fail.    


Friday, June 16, 2017

Nurse the Hate: The Esplanade



The San Francisco Bay by Burlingame CA is not a really a bay at all.  It is a tidal runoff.  When the tide is high, the pacific winds create the illusion of a choppy scenic waterfront.  When the tide lets out, the water recedes to show the silty bottom and reveal its secrets.  Discarded tires.  A shopping cart.  Rusty remnants of discarded machinery reach out of the muck like metal arms.  However, waterfront is waterfront.  A series of mid and low priced hotels have been erected promoted with fuzzy sunset photos of the water at high tide, suggesting a restful waterfront stay. 

Directly across from the bay is SFO Airport.  One of the busiest in America, planes can be observed rumbling in and out every few minutes from the vantage of the hotels.  A concrete sidewalk runs haphazardly behind the hotels.  Vacant failed restaurant chains sit next to the water.  Small concrete signs proudly exclaim "public shore" encouraging the unlikely scenario of people scuttling on the dirty moss covered rocks at low tide as an actual leisure activity.  The entire area looks like a news footage backdrop with graphics underneath saying "body discovered".  It is not the San Francisco of postcards.

Retirees walk the sidewalk for exercise.  Small uncomfortable looking benches have been placed by city ordinance at intervals.  I walked past a shuttered "Elephant Bar" location and stopped at one of the benches to pet a French bulldog that an elderly man had leashed next to him.  The man stared out at the planes taking off and landing.  I spoke to him as I reached down to the dog.  What's the dog's name?  "Pierre". He seems like a good dog.  "He's pretty good.  Not as good as an Irish setter I had.  Molly.  That was a great dog."

We both watched a 757 defy gravity and sluggishly land more slowly than seemed possible with an object of that size.  "Molly was a great dog.  I was married then.  I used to live up by Livermore.  Good place for a dog."  You live around here now?  "Not far.  Pierre and I come out here to watch the planes.  He likes it."  The man never made eye contact with me.  He stared across the bay at the airport.  Pierre  playfully bit my hand as I grabbed his oversized face.  I made a fist as he gently chewed on my fingers.


There was a silence.  We both now watched the planes as I played with Pierre.  "You got any kids?" he suddenly asked.  No I don't.  How about you?  "A daughter.  She moved away.  I haven't seen her in 12 years.  Daughters will break your heart."  I didn't know that sir.  He grunted like it was evident and the final punctuation mark of our conversation.  I gave Pierre a final pat on the head and walked down the sidewalk.  The man looked out at the bay.  A seagull perched on a tire stuck upright in the silt.  The planes kept landing.  The tide slowly started to come back in.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Nurse the Hate: My Latest Voyage



My love,

I cannot thank you enough for building the time machine to come rescue me from the Tasmanian sparkling wine venture gone wrong.  The fact it was not only in Tasmania but in 1868 did make it extremely inconvenient for you to come fetch me.  I can only imagine the trouble you must have had checking the time machine in as your “checked bag” at the airport.  Even having “silver elite status” must not have been enough to stave off an unpleasant negotiation at the ticket counter.  Once again, thank you.  I feel as though eventually the Aborigine toughs I employed would have slit my throat to say nothing of being trapped in 1868 Tasmania.  Things were going poorly.  However, my latest letter does not find me well either.

I have made a great mistake.  To avoid flying United Airlines to SFO, I booked passage on a container ship bound for the West Coast.  My thought was I could disconnect from society at large, immerse myself in wine texts, and arrive refreshed in port in San Francisco for my exam.  I pictured standing on a graceful ship with my face to the wind, surveying the sea with a contemplative expression.  Perhaps I would stand on the bridge with the captain as he wistfully smoked his pipe telling me tales of his years at sea as we sipped on a port.  We would confer on our lives and extract wisdom from our experiences.  Certainly, I would have much to say with my experiences in Tasmania alone.  In the end, I would depart the ship as a fellow “Man of the Sea”, one of the tribe of ocean dwelling men that work the oceans.  This was a great miscalculation.

The reality is not what I had pictured.  It’s a huge old ship that smells of oil and diesel.  The small crew is sullen.  When they squeeze past me in the narrow hallways of the tired ship they never make eye contact.  The Captain is a man named Mac that chain smokes WInstons and uses the word “fuck” as noun, verb, adverb, and adjective.  Example:  “Hey you Fuck!  Get the fucking fuck off that fucking thing you fucking fuck!” for when I attempted to climb a small ladder to access the deck.  Most of the crew is Portuguese (I think) and smile only when I get screamed at by Mac. 

Mac has a small dog named Jingles that is some sort of unidentifiable terrier mix.  Jingles shits everywhere on the ship, a fact that was only reinforced in rough seas in the Gulf when I stepped in a cool pile on my way to throw up in the filthy head during a 36-hour bout of sea sickness.  I walked back to my room on my right heel to clean the shit from my toes in my small room with paper napkins as I gagged.  Jingles main benefit is that the cook “Smokey” claims “he’s a natural ratter!”.  While I suppose I am glad that Jingles is qualified to kill rats, I would prefer not to be traveling on a ship teeming with them.

In the morning, I go to the galley to eat runny eggs and pre-cooked microwave sausage by myself while the Portuguese talk to each other.  They spoke to me only once, when they got back from Panama after spending their money on whores and seco herrerano, a powerful local alcohol made from sugar cane.  I don’t know what they said, but after one spoke at me, the others laughed.  I took it as a bad sign.  I had walked around the crowded city myself for a couple hours, buying a custom made linen suit that is expected to arrive at my lodgings in San Francisco where Mr. Billings, my preferred concierge, will insure it is pressed for immediate service.  I had almost purchased a plane ticket, but at this point it has become a quest to finish this doomed sea voyage.  I was determined to see this through.

By the time we made the turn past Nicaragua I began to shake with fever.  I am becoming increasingly concerned I have contracted chikungunya from the dozens of mosquito bites that are a result of needing to keep the windows open to provide ventilation in the humidity and exhaust fumes of the stinking ship.   My joints have swollen painfully.  Even shuffling to the head has become almost impossible.  Smokey was thoughtful enough to provide me a plastic “slop bucket” for my use, though refuses to pour it out the small portside window.   He assures me my condition is most likely dengue fever, and I should recover in as little as four months, so there is that silver lining.

I am growing increasingly concerned I will not arrive in time for my exam.  Our pace has been slowed.  We have been battered by fierce storms as my slop bucket rolls back and forth across the room spreading filth everywhere.  I continue to have horrible nightmares fueled by these powerful fevers.  Terrible dreams with no end.  During the daylight, I have only these wine books.  As you know I have been studying with great effort for months.  This is on top of the decade I studied while trapped in Tasmania, though only having wine making books in French from the 1850s might prove to be of little help in this particular exam.  Pray for my safe passage.  If you do not hear from me by the 15th, contact Mr. Billings.  He will look after my estate and make sure you are taken care of.  He is a good man that Billings.

I must extinguish this lamp.  Jingles is howling outside the door.  I must hobble over to allow him in so as to attack the rat that must be in my quarters.  Dirty business this sea faring.

G. Miller


P.S.  Give my love to mother.