Friday, July 25, 2014

A view from the air

Piney Point has a lot of bullshit. A whole steaming pile of it, and I can (and probably will) go on for many a post detailing all of it. But it seems I have not just family but also strangers visiting the blog who may need a bit of context, a birds eye view of my experience starting the final month of phase 1 in the SIU.

Yes, the working galley blows, and working from 0500 until 2130 blows as well. But (and this might be Stockholm Syndrome settling in), washing dishes in the galley is not a bad job; it is boring and bad smelling and unpleasant and goes on for way, way too long and seems pointless for someone hoping for an engineering career, but it isn't hazardous or difficult and no one treats me badly or belittles the job as "just dishwashing" and it is certainly honest work that needs doing, so if I wasn't doing it someone else would be, and who the hell am I to say to someone else that they should be washing dishes because I am somehow too good for it. Similarly, the social responsibility class is necessary for the coast guard certifications and taught by a good man. Mandatory gym class is unadulterated bullshit, but I seem to be the only one in the class who doesn't believe pointless, sweaty physical exertion to be a valid form of entertainment. At least we finally prevailed upon the capricious administrator to allow us to wear headphones on the treadmill like everyone else got to do until last weekend.

But I have seen no better place that serves as a living example of the Buddha's teachings than Piney Point. Everything is temporary, and clinging to anything can only bring suffering. Those in student leadership positions are often warned that those positions don't follow them onto the ship and horror stories are told of apprentices who said to actual bosuns with decades of experience that they weren't going to do something because they had been Piney Point bosuns. No class in phase 1 lasts longer than two weeks, with each change completely upending our daily schedule. Even galley only lasts for two weeks at a time, and the program as a whole comes to a close in only six months of class time (and 210 days shipboard as entry level ratings). No one but administrators and instructors stay longer than three months under any but the strangest of circumstances. In such an environment, there is a certain calm within the chaos. There are no long term consequences here-- there is only passing and expulsion. Even the advice they give you on the first day, to keep your head down and lose yourself in your work, is a fine secular approximation of mindfulness, which is, of course, the Buddha's prescribed response to impermanence and suffering.

And the trainees come in two distinct flavors. There are those who have SIU or former SIU family, some of whom went to Piney Point years and years ago. These people are basically normal, do the best job of keeping their heads down, and treat this as another job, with both the dignity and distancing that implies. The rest of them are people like me, people who had trouble shopping their resumes in the real world and selling themselves and only heard of the SIU through mad, baffling circumstance. These people are, bar none, fucking weirdos. One guy talks enough for seven people and asks the most absurd, pointless, rambling and inappropriate questions. One guy seems physically incapable of existing without making loud noises and shouting. One guy believes himself to be an NBA level basketball player, devotes all his spare time to the court and his work time to talking about his skills on the court, and proves himself only of middling talent. One guy believes himself to be a successful con man and possesses a creepy sort of charisma that exudes both charm and slime in equal measure. I write a blog, though I don't whine nearly as often in real life. We were pretty damn desperate before coming here, and while there probably were, in fact, other options than Piney Point, for a lot of us there certainly weren't better options in our field of view.

On the administration side, I can say that some of my complaints have been met, though not because I complained about them. In fact, the political campaigning mentioned yesterday found a certain measure of success. Specifically, I gave my petition to the man at the top of our little food chain, the commandant, who said it came from a higher power than he, so he passed the letter on to the student president who is slated to have a meeting next week. Having heard none of our anger or pleas for help, the rule was reversed just as arbitrarily as it was enacted. That night, however, I was congratulated by two classmates for a successful petition. I tried explaining to them that my petition had no effect whatsoever, to no avail. This is, of course, how politicians become arrogant, so I am renewing my vow to keep my head down and, while at Piney Point where nothing matters and no one cares to do no more and no less than is required of me. Similarly, the two people I have mentioned before as being the laziest people in class and some of the most astonishingly lazy I have ever met were both kicked out for offenses related to their immorality.

And, of course, I eat every day. I even have the option of eating a healthy, balanced diet, though it will surprise absolutely no one that I go out of my way to avoid that dark outcome. I am guaranteed, for really the first time in my life, that if I do what is required of me I will, 100% certain, get a job in mid August and then, if I continue to work hard and not be a dick, another job after phase three as well as all the certification, experience, and support to continue working afterwards. The air is not poisoned, the water does not have to be boiled before drinking, and the living quarters are air conditioned (and heated, though not this month) and generally not uncomfortable. I have only spend one weekend and one week taking it in the ass because of politicians. There are those doing far worse in the world than I am doing right now, and my position today is vastly superior to the period of crippling anxiety and uncertainty I experienced around Christmas time.

 There is good in every day, beauty in every detail, and I have had a whole lot of time for recreational pondering as my hands scrub. For all that I am bitching on the internet, for all the bullshit that defines this instution, I am doing pretty well for myself in Piney Point.

No comments:

Post a Comment