Saturday, August 2, 2014

Things I learned in Galley

I have finally started, after two and a half months of being in the bubble of Piney Point Penitentiary, to discover various forums where merchant mariners hang out. You would think this would have been the sort of thing I should have done before coming here, or even before applying, but I didn't. In any case, it is probably for the best, because the sort of people who write things on the internet tend to be angry people. I, for example, am not an angry person, but I think that might be hard to tell for someone who only read this blog.

But one of the things I found was that the people who didn't like Piney Point would always bring up the galley month. This is not completely unjustified, because galley objectively sucks. Eighteen hour days for two weeks straight (used to be done all at once instead of in two two week chunks, for twenty eight days of fun) in a highly regimented environment (can't even use headphones at work) doing a job you probably don't enjoy (unless you are going into the steward department or have a restaurant background) to the orders of five separate head chefs who don't get along very well is really hard, and a fair number of people quit because they can't handle it or think they are too good (which they aren't) for this bullshit (which it definitely is).

On the other hand, it isn't a completely purposeless exercise. It is certainly a process for weeding out the people enamored more of the idea of being merchant seaman than of the work involved in being merchant seamen, and fourteen hour days packed with work are not uncommon aboard a ship. But it is also a learning experience.


  • I learned about how to wash dishes. Obviously, I understood the idea of soap, scrub and rinse, but I certainly have much more experience with washing all manner of scum off all manner of pot. More importantly, I learned how to wash dishes for hour upon interminable hour which requires a different sort of patience than waiting for hours in a waiting room or doing hours of yard work and brush clearing. I can hardly claim to have mastered either the washing itself or the mental act of tolerating the job, but I feel like these basics will stick with me in the event that I must return to a similar position. Holy crap I hope I never do.
  • I learned about just how little sleep I can function on, and discovered how much of my function goes away when sleep deprived. In the real world, I am one of those people who needs about nine hours of sleep to feel good, and have been making do here with somewhere between seven and eight. At six hours I definitely start to feel sleep deprived, and those nights when it went all the way down to five hours really, really hurt. As I sit here at 1830 in my library job where I am not allowed to fall asleep I can feel the sleep debt behind my eyes and in my fingers. I am nominally off as of lunch shift, but it turns out that the special snowflakes in the new class need extra pampering (I haven't mentioned it much, but the newest class is operating under a new, much more lenient set of rules) so I still get to wake up at 0430 tomorrow morning, then work all weekend for the 500 person picnic we are hosting on the hotel side. Just like last time, the weekend of sleeping I so desperately need right now has been snatched away from me.
  • I learned that adding more people doesn't always make a job easier. We had twelve people the first go around, but two of them were so unbelievably lazy and unhelpful that we found that things went faster and smoother the second time around after they had been kicked out. For all my fear that we would hurt from being understaffed (and we did hurt), it really was better only having people who pulled their weight, as well as a few people who pulled far more than their weight.
  • Speaking of weight, I saw an example of how weight loss is all about motivation. One of the men in class came in at 5'9" and 280 lbs. He was so fat he could not do a sit up because his gut kept him from bending that far. He has been dieting severely and managed to lose just under 20 lbs a month and is now at 240 and falling. He is still big, but the transformation really is amazing, accomplished all through the willpower required to simply not eat so much. I, on the other hand, was 165 lbs five years ago, 165 lbs when I came in, and 165 lbs today, so it would seem that I keep the same weight no matter what exercise or food environment I find myself in.
  • I learned that it can be absolutely terrifying when your only source of information about what is going on is rumors. It has been a good month and a half of these arbitrary rule changes, but the worst part is that most of them are communicated not at morning colors, nor afternoon muster, nor evening colors, nor nighttime inspection, when the administration has all or nearly all trainees present to announce things to, but they usually get communicated through rumor. It has gotten to the point that I think I could make up my own rules change just by spreading a plausible sounding rumor to the right people, and if it spread quickly enough people might not even go asking for confirmation. In any case, the worst part of rule by rumor is that the rumors aren't terribly specific. I know there is some new rule about getting permission before going in to restock on toiletries, but I have no idea who to ask, why we now have to ask, or what restrictions there might be on that.
  • I learned that the faux boot camp environment of Piney Point is widely regarded by everyone except the three people in charge of perpetuating it as complete bullshit, wholly beside the point of the industry, and damaging to trainees insofar as it instills really negative habits that aren't tolerated on a ship. I heard a story about why we have it like this, but that will have to wait for a more comprehensive post reviewing the good and bad of Phase one.
  • I learned a joke. At King's Point (the academy for merchant marine officer cadets) they teach the cadets to wash their hands after using the restroom. At Piney Point they teach us not to piss on our hands.
  • I learned that being a whiner in an organization with someone powerful who responds to whining is basically a superpower, second only to having genuine connections in high places. I learned that being a whiner on a ship is a good way to have captains refuse to take you on board.
  • I learned that if you spill a lot of shrimp juice on your jeans and then have to wait a few days for your laundry day to come up, that smell is never, ever coming out of those jeans.
  • I learned that union members are encouraged to scam the unemployment insurance system, and in fact we had an hour of class time on Thursday set aside in the curriculum to teach us exactly how we go about it and how to scam the most money out of states.
  • I learned, or more specifically reinforced, that a day itself or an instant itself has no emotional component or moral value. The thing "a good day" exists only within the thousand cubic centimeters of the human brain, and can be completely controlled therein.
As before, there is plenty more I have learned, like when you have a shitty job every shift can feel like weeks, and that in a place with very hard water and thick cream slathered on every meal, being constipated all the time starts to feel less like a terrible ailment and more of just a divine curse that must be lived with.

Next week I have Union Education with the daughter of the union president, which should be a great way to practice keeping my idiot mouth shut. Then we have our final class, vessel operations, which is the only class in phase one where we are taught anything in the way of practical job skills.

So only about a week and a half until I get my shipping orders, and only two more weeks of putting up with Piney Point bullshit. But every day is its own day and every minute its own minute. What will come will come, and until then I will blog and read and watch TV and occasionally, when ordered, do work and study for Piney Point.

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