This Is A Deck

Written in response to: Write a story about an unconventional teacher.... view prompt



It's not the floor. This is the overhead, not the ceiling. This is a bulkhead, not a wall. The instructor had never been to sea; was in the Navy but never actually sailed. Got the job at the school without really wanting it. Was just driving through Tall Timbers, stopped for oysters; noticed the school. A guard had him sign in. As he drove through the campus, trainees were marching in formation.

"Sound off!


"Sound off"!

"I want to be a merchant sailor. Live a life of fun and danger. I want to be a millionaire. Live a life without a care.

"Sound off!"


At the admin. building there was a bulletin board. Posted on it was a job. The school provides a room and board.

Most of his students are juvenile delinquents. They were given the option: school or prison. The few who actually want to be here have to be between 18 and 21, have all their teeth and be at least 6 feet tall; but! Rules are always bent according to the politics of the time; and hence, a certain amount of money got a short student with bad teeth the three hots and a cot for the duration of the ninety day training program.

Students are taught how to launch and command a life boat, graduating with ninety hours of rowing. There are classes in tying knots, galley cooking, bedroom stewardship, and engine room utility training;. Graduates are qualified for any entry rating job on any black bottom merchant ship with a US Flag; and given a B book in the union.

The instructor has never made any attempt to keep in touch with former students, but many return to the school to upgrade to Able Bodied Seaman, Qualified Man Engine Department, or Chief Cook/Steward. And this is where the instructor's adventure begins. It's second hand, but gives to his days at the school a glimpse into what it's all a bout: jobs. Jobs not of the average hoi poloi type but of the kind that makes going to sea the stuff of Conrad and Melville and the wider world that stretches beyond newspapers and the social paradigm of small coastal towns.

To begin there is the guy from a small Iowa farming town. He never upgraded to AB at the school, but returned to take college accredited classes. Ended up leaving a day before graduation because he had referred to the school as the Piney Pointless Pinhead School instead of what it is: the Piney Point School of Seamanship.

The small farming town boy has left a trail of stories alluding to the open mind and willing heart it takes to advanced though the forecastle, sailing in different capacities on different ships. The last word the instructor got about him was that he was a deck officer, but had left a trail of stories, not just sea stories, but life learning, heart felt tales of romance, political intrigue, and face to face encounters with death.

One in particular is that of a recovering TBI piecing flashes of memory to fill his vacant memory .

A large 'A' frame serves as kitchen, dining and living room. Wet clothes are hanging over a cross beam. Susan’s yellow Gore Tex rain suit has bled yellow stripes onto her white wool sweater. Popcorn is popping over a porter's cooking stove. Faces are smiling from the high altitude; there’s a party-like atmosphere. Pete: retired postmaster, traveling with his wife of 40 years, is singing golden oldies. Ted and Susan sit and sway and sing or hum along.  Another shower is moving overhead. Steve is taking pictures. His small tripod has a camera with a large telephoto lens mounted on it. “I’m not a professional, but taking the best picture requires the best equipment.” More popcorn is popping. 

“There will never be peace.” Gary: calls himself a mercenary, is talking about his former Israeli employer.

Janie wonders, “Isn’t it just sand? What’s the big deal?” 

Wind and the rain pounding on the roof, recapitulate the concern for George, Mary, Jay and Tim. He barges through the door, followed by the others. Jay slams the door shut. 

The climbers acclimate and solo for the next two days, journaling, sleeping; thinking. They meet up in the large frame for meals. Mary and George become a couple. 

The night is cold and turns colder as they climb. They make a body pile, dance, hug and sing songs to warm up. Steve’s right eye is hemorrhaging; has more camera weight than what others have in their day packs. Leaves a camera; Tim leads him back down. 

The team slowly summits. Not far overhead, a satellite is drifting by. Midnight black surrounds the face of a full moon. Sunlight plays along frozen rivulets covering burnt-orange rocks, made bright by the early morning hue. Some team members are dancing. After taking a few pictures, The TBI gives Steve's camera to a porter. With his small 8mm, takes a picture of the black sky, the huge moon and bright reflected sunlight, then begins a traverse along the mountain's volcanic rim, following a well-worn path, until there's no apparent way to proceed.

Team members are watching stars dim out of sight. the TBI disappears behind ice covered rocks.

~ “Due to ice and wind conditions, no one was supposed to go beyond Gillman's point: Kilimanjaro's lower peak.” ~ 

Kneeling down, resting on his hands, he reaches over the volcanic rim with his right leg; kicks into the hard pack covering the mountain's sheer inside face. Resting on his right foot, he forces his right hand into a fissure and makes a fist, then kicks his other boot into the mountain's hard pack; establishes and maintains a three-point contact. More fissures for hand anchors and more kicks for toeholds; makes it past the glacial shift, climbs back onto the path leading to the higher summit. 

~ “You had learned rock climbing at the Colorado Outward Bound School. The semester long class covered repelling, snow camping, cross country skiing, food preparation, and included lectures about land use and management presented by a congressperson, a mayor, a cattleman and a farmer. You lived in a house with thirteen other students, presented a paper about environmental impacts, then, skied to Aspen, did a three day solo fast in Utah’s Arches National Park and ran a marathon at the Colorado National Monument.” ~ 

The wind begins to blow. He crouches down and leans into it, almost in a crawl, hyperventilating because the air is so thin. He slowly approaches the sky, now windswept and light gray. 

Now, takes one last look behind him. There's a red coat; Jay is spying through binoculars.

~ “Another second coming would have come and gone without a song or a notice in the paper if Jay had not been watching. Little did he know how little you knew of the big pie of life, but it was obvious to you, the sum total of human behavior and thought defined the culture of a people. It was the sanctity of life because individually, precious life was precarious. Quality of life was culture-dependent. Unfortunately, American culture was a quagmire of monkey mercantile polity; as long as the people were mollified, they would not see, hear or speak about America’s white washed history, the criminal trespass that Mt Rushmore is or corporate hegemony in Congress. You had a lot to say about that, but you had no say because your education was a joke. You never went to school on Fridays or Mondays in high school; didn’t even bother to pick up your diploma. Experience was your teacher and travel was your classroom, but compared to the others on the mountain, you had no class, manners or education; you were a seaman without a ship: a sidewalk psycho. Death was a better option; and to dry up and blow away without a trace was to ascend into heaven.” ~

The wind howls with laughter. He scrambles behind a large boulder; exhausted. Curls up into a ball, tries to rest; shivers instead. Puts his gloved hands into his coat pockets. Inside, there's an old forgotten orange. 

He rounds the mountain's rim with the wind on his back, retracing his steps. A toehold gives way. Down the mountain's shear inside face, a milky white abyss devours chunks of icy snow. 

"You fucking shit head! You almost ruined my vacation. Do you realize what a bureaucratic nightmare it would have been for me?” Jay is pissed. 

Shit Head kicks harder into the hard pack; makes it past the ice formation, climbs back onto the mountain's rim. 

As if skating/skiing, Jay plows through rocks four to six inches in diameter, sliding first on one foot and then another ten or twenty feet on the other foot. They crisscross the scree covered slope in an easy gentle downward rush. 

As the team is having lunch, the guide’s porters study Shit Head; one brushes the hair on Shit Head’s arm. “You lion man. No man goes to summit.” 

The Masai guide is singing in Swalhele. Shit Head tries to sing along; neglects to keep track of Mary, following behind him. Finally, the team is sitting around a campfire, claiming to be members of the lost tribe of Wherethefuckarewe. The guide’s porters are preparing their own dinner.

~ “The Masai guide’s two porters were paid a goat. It was put to sleep, smothered, then consumed. Except for roasted thighs, the meal was  raw. They offered you the heart. When you refused, Jay said that you insulted them. When offered the liver, you and Jay sampled it as the porters drank the goat’s blood.” ~    

Susan has peeled a banana; is sitting with her arm extended, making an offering to the critters whose home she has invaded.

“Don't!” James: British, has just parked the lorry, “They'll take the banana all right, but they'll take half your arm with it. If you're ever confronted with a baboon, raise your eyebrows like this.” As if flirting with her, he raises and lowers his brows. “If they move towards you, stand up tall and raise your arms.” 

The patient's memory intensifies. The exam room becomes a trash pit.

Several baboons are strung along the far side, eating. While drinking a cup of water, Shit Head raises his brows. The baboons all run away, except one.

The baboon glares back, raises brows, smiles hideously; exposes finger length teeth. 

Shit Head’s eyes are frozen in high brow. 

The baboon rocks forward two steps, one back, forward, bounces hands on the ground; slowly closes the distance between life and death. 

Shit Head raises his arms; unintentionally throws the drinking cup behind him. 

The beast comes closer; arms raised. 

The patient's heart rate increases, as he once again lunges at the baboon, screaming a scream silenced by his fear. With a short loud AUGH, followed by loud heavy breathing, he faces again the face of death, as death turns away laughing, aping its way back into the jungle. 

A nurse comes running; sees the fear of death: throat-choking, looking out from frozen eyes, unresponsive. “A doctor will be with you soon.”

May 14, 2023 20:44

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