Monday, August 4, 2014

Morale Boosting

Life isn't always bad at Piney Point. In fact, there is a whole spectrum from terrible all the way up to merely unpleasant.

But seriously, for all my bitching, it could be a lot worse. I never have to worry about basic life needs, except sleep, and even then there isn't a worry that I will start having serious health complications just from the sleep deprivation they put us through here. And, also, every now and then (about once a month) the administration funds a moral boosting activity.

Two months ago we didn't get to participate because of first galley, but they bought a pay-per-view boxing match and a bunch of pizza. Last month they got the big UFC fight, including the women's division championship (very popular among the target demographic here) and pizza. This weekend, after manning the staff appreciation festival all day, we were allowed to run our own little dodgeball tournament, complete with pizza and chicken wings. Sailors are not complicated folk-- if intoxicants and hookers are off the table, recreational violence and comfort food are a strong second best.

I can never tell how much of what goes on here is the product of some plan or merely the emergent order of a system with a short institutional memory and frequently negligent administrators, but I almost hope that the curriculum symmetry is the product of design. The very first class, vessel familiarization, is during the most boot camp-like two weeks at Piney Point, where a trainee is brought in and is assumed to know absolutely nothing about the direct environment of Piney Point nor about shipping and sailing. It is, in a certain way, an overview from a thousand feet, covering the whole spectrum of the industry in very broad brushstrokes. After that is two weeks in galley, followed by a month of safety training (lifeboat/ water survival/ firefighting/ first aid), followed by two more weeks in galley that mirror the first, followed by vessel operations class which, in many ways, mirrors the original vessel familiarization class. Instead, however, of the thousand foot view, we look at the same topics in minute detail with particular applications for our phase two work. So today we covered painting and hand tools.

Returning to the exact same classroom to cover much of the same material serves to emphasize those things that have changed over the last two months. Most noticeably, the lifestyle has loosened up dramatically, though is still much tighter than it will be anywhere but on a Navy ship. Relationships among classmates has, of course, changed over two months. And I keep talking about the change over the last two months, but with that continuity of place it feels as if far more time has passed. I can barely remember the interminable months of unemployment from before I got here; that time is well and truly dead. And with all the unpleasantness of being here, nearly everyone is pushed to keep their gaze fixed on next week when the shipping orders arrive, and to the start of phase three when we get our specialized ratings.

And on the subject of changes, the most visible change in my mind is the geese. When I got here there were perhaps 250 geese, including just hatched goslings who would follow their mothers all in a row. Whenever I got stressed or bored I could watch the geese, the adults fighting and the children stumbling and growing up. They were all so pretty and animated that it brightened every day. For two months, the slow growth of these goslings was another marker of the passage of time.

Then, sometime while I was trapped in galley, during the week that I didn't set foot outdoors, they all left for wherever it is that geese fly off to around this time of year. Having walked back out of galley and into a gooseless facility, I feel quite strongly that the time has come for me, too, to fly off to wherever it is trainees go.

A silly metaphor, perhaps, but one that resonates within me with unexpected power.

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