STAND BY STAND BY STAND BY
I still hear that sound, that mechanical voice, at certain moments. It’s become one of those signals that I need to pay attention to what I’m about to do. It’s been very surprising to me at which moments it has clanged through my brain. At it’s start it always was fatal; immensely tense. Waiting for the next sonar contact. The next sweep of radar. Do we know where they are? Are they hostile? Right hand lightly resting on a steel track ball. Thumb poised above a steel button. A quick twist of wrist slapping it down with unnecessary force to hook that contact. Left hand forefinger ready to jab the Variable Action Button identifying the hooked contact as hostile. Then we can fire. Hopefully before they do. Hopefully we’ll get it right. That they hostile. The next sweep should tell. Did their bows come around? Next sweep? Have they increased their speed? Next sweep? Will they really reveal their intentions if they are hostile? There in the near dark. Pale, thin blue lighting. Greenish faces from the radar repeaters. Wide eyed, noses near to the scope.
STAND BY STAND BY STAND BY
What moment is about to arrive? My death? On board this aluminum hulled destroyer impacted by seventeen hundred pounds of high explosives with a near full load of rocket fuel? Or theirs? Or hours more of the monotonous radar sweep? These are the things that passed through my mind on first hearing that sound, that mechanized voice. Now I’ve come to recognize what got sublimated then by fear and adrenaline. The distance between that thumb and that steel button, between that forefinger and that VAB is a moral distance. At that moment. Now. Murder? Duty? Justice? Righteousness? For the good of all, or just my or someone else’s ego? My satisfaction, reveling, in the notion that I have the power?
Just what moment is about to arrive?
I’ve spent my last two dollars and twenty five cents on a pack of menthol cigarettes. I’m four months behind on rent. I haven’t opened the phone bills for two months. Was already a month behind. For the past two weeks I’ve let the machine answer the calls from my clients. Even though I have a purchase order from the most frequent caller for six grand worth of work that would take me a week to finish. Three other calls have come in for urgent jobs. Quick pay-offs. Yet here I sit. At my desk. Looking. The phone, then the window, then the rest of the world there in front of me. If I call to take those jobs then I’ll be traveling, alone, for weeks. Spending nights in boxes called hotel rooms whose decoration aspire to spare. Whose action of mood desiccates me. My days in animated speaking about software. Software which I find merely amusing, interesting, but nothing more than that. Amazed anyone would pay these amounts for something that can be figured out so easily with the proper amount of time, clarity and honesty. Yea, I could clear three grand a week for the next six weeks. That is if I can kite the expenses. Thank God our Justice system’s expediency allows for that! Clang! That voice. Here I sit mulling. Unwilling to avail myself of that moral distance. Though a few clients seem to have had no compunctions of availing themselves of it at my expense. Just lift a hand. Jab out the phone numbers with a forefinger, and reap eighteen grand in six weeks for lazy man’s work.
Lighting up the third smoke from this seemingly last pack I ruminate the fact that, things that could be called, miracles have momentously arrived in my life. Like when I walked away from that radar scope in the Persian Gulf refusing to perform further duty. Five months later I was out of the Navy. Standing outside the gate on Treasure Island in the middle of San Francisco bay. Tide smells. Creosote. Waves gently splashing on the rocks. The seedily majestic and worn down Embarcadero just across the bay. Waiting for a bus to take me to the airport, and then home to Reseda. Vividly, I remember gaping at a document and a check in hand. The check for travel pay from my last command to home. I left my ship at Diego Garcia. A couple of degrees of longitude short of being half way around the globe from home. The document? In my hand? An Honorable Discharge.
Or when I quit that last regular job I had. Furious at my employers short sighted idiocy. I had just gotten read the Riot Act by the CFO of a very powerful television production company. Why? Because we had teamed up with consultants for a project where they had no expertise nor experience. We did, but we had zero resources to allocate to the project. My employer lied to the CFO, didn’t tell me. Unknowingly I decided to give the CFO a realistic expectation. No clanging voice in the head. The heat from his voice reached me across the desk. The thought that pass through my head was “Fine Italian lunch.” My employer expected me to take such abuse. “It buys us time” he said. “Fuck you!” I replied. After a month of tofu hot dogs wrapped in tortillas I got a call from the consultants. Changed the message on my answering machine and I was self-employed. The CFO thanked me over an opulent dinner in a French restaurant. I silently forgave him with a mouthful, a large mouthful, of foie gras.
Fourth smoke. My lottery numbers, paying thirty one million on this go, didn’t hit. Nearly ten years ago I decided that availing myself of that moral distance robbed me of what was most precious in my life. If I wanted to make it, if I wanted to survive, then I’ll have to stay on this side of that distance. Pay attention when that voice suddenly sounds in my head. And if it all really doesn’t matter, if it doesn’t mean anything, then I might as well take that glorious and final flight from a bridge. Sparing us all the ugliness I know I’m all to capable of.
Yeah, well it isn’t so black and white. I can’t tell what’s next. It is that that compels me. Colors the countries of my imaginings. Cherishing them when they collapse into the real world of sweat and discomfort. A real world that I can hug, that I can eat, that I can make love to without undressing.
What’s next?! What moment is about to arrive?
Hey friend, where you found?!
Can you spend
A ten’er on this ground?