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Tuesday, September 29, 2009

the North Sea

I'm in an orange jumpsuit on a deck suspended twenty meters above water, except this water is like no water I have ever seen; this is not Aegean ultramarine, this stuff is a menacing grey, shifty, jittery, surfacy. This stuff smells of dead bird and old rags, this is the stuff that comes out of the pipe when the plumber unscrews, bent down under the sink. And it's everywhere because this place has no corners, it has no angles, it has no place to hide. It's a space-water dictatorship too vast to be earthly and too full of stuff you cannot see to be comfortable for a guy like me.

I’m on the bridge now, in Arie’s field of vision – that’s Captain Arie. You won’t believe me if I tell you he looks like Popeye, but he does. Tattoos, big forearms, a disappearing lip. Maybe his wife is spindly. I’d believe it, I believe almost anything out here. I believe Roman too when he tells me of all his women. Roman is Latvian. I drink in his stories looking down at the water, my head over the railing, my hands tucked in gloves (no mittens onboard). We are shoulder to shoulder, me and Roman. There're only five things you can do out here: sleep, eat, smoke, look at water and talk. We’re doing three, the last three. Like I said, Roman tells me of his women in Riga. My ten year old cousin Popic speaks more advanced English than him, except for a few words like vulva and pubic hair which Roman uses as fluently as hardhat and stainless steel. Word has it Roman’s the best welder onboard. Word has it Latvians are the best welders period. But don’t quote me on that; there are so many words floating around here. Put fifty guys in a confined space and that’s what you get. Dutch, Russian, Hindi, French, English, Latvian. Ta mère, j’la baise – wat een paarde lul – her vulva was quite good, and so on and so forth.

I smoke Rome’s ciggies like an amateur; the smoke is so strong it’s like salt in my eyes, but I insist. It’s one of the five things and four is just too little. After Rome has run through his women, there are no more words for a while and my cigarette’s dead, so we drop two and do only one of the five: we look at the water, and we wait.

Way down, past the light, past the falling debris and sinking fish, past the point beyond which there is no point going unless you are Jacques Cousteau or Ed Harris in The Abyss… way down there, a thinking creature with night-vision eyes is looking at a cigarette butt drifting down slowly, a crooked thing discarded by a thinking creature above, that would be me...

...but I am interrupted in my thought by Captain Arie over the intercom – All to muster point. Abandon ship exercise. All to muster point.

On my way to muster I think of the thinking creature, Arie’s disappearing lip, Roman’s loves in Riga, and me on this strange surfacy space that smells of dead bird and rags.

At Abandon-Ship there is no more thinking involved: fifty heavyweights – that would be us – padded-out in fluorescent floaters crowd into an orange capsule in the middle of the night. Under real, life-threatening circumstances this capsule would drop at the pull of a lever and plunge – with fifty hairy men strapped to seats inside – plunge ten, twenty, thirty meters down into the grey waters, past the light, past the falling fish, past the thinking creature. Would it believe its night-vision eyes? An orange capsule dropping down out of nowhere, fifty men with heavy jaws looking out through portholes: Captain Arie, a Latvian foul-mouth, the Indian brothers, the French bargemaster, the Dutch paardenlullen crew, and me, like Ed Harris in The Abyss, looking out into endless water…

But it was merely an exercise. We did not plunge this time. Not really.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

heavy lift in Ålborg

Think of something – anything – think of it like it’s really there, like you’re about to grab it and pull it to your chest, like you own it – you feel that? You feel that!

***

I’ve been working on a construction yard lugging around objects with Serbs, crew-cut Poles and Danes from Jutland. Equipment, piping, stuff thirty times your size trolleyed around like toys. This week: steel-tube cathedrals for the sea hoisted whole into a massive Danish sky.

Me, I’m by the workers’ huts mostly, with my clipboard, my collar up, fjord-wind on my cheeks, hardhat and steel-cap boots. I note the angles when the cathedral rises, when it hangs and when it rests in the waters. It blows me away every time.

After the hoist, the Danes smoke amongst themselves and speak Danish – oodsk’de gansk’eurjeh’ twiege larsk – to my ear, sing-songs played in reverse, but I know it’s all crap, shit, fucker, whore, curses on Albania for the draw in the world cup qualifier the other night, the night we went out – the whole yard – forty-man strong strolling into Ålborg. I felt like a Viking conqueror. But Christ do these Danes drink! Holy mother of God! If the human spirit can be dissolved, these Danes know how.

In the yard, I stick with the Poles, and mostly with a painter called Vaichek, from Krakow. Paint-gun, gas mask and white pressure-suit. On his chest is a patch that reads VAICHEK that I keep reading every time we speak – VAICHEK VAICHEK VAICHEK – but underneath the gear, in his heart and mind, he’s a linguist – a scholar. Ai paint for de money, he says, producing seven fingers, seven times de money. I called him a sell-out once for fun, but he swung his gun around and debated me in seven languages. Vaichek, put it down, put down the gun, I didn’t mean it.

The first night, in the workers’ hut, I tried to think of something; I tried to think of it like it was really there, like I could own it, but nothing showed. So instead I reached for the money in my pocket and pulled it to my chest. Fresh money. Kroners. Call me greedy, but the first night it worked. The first night only. After that, I was left to my own devices, and had to conjure that stuff up all on my own, like those sparks out of JK’s boxes.


The trick is - I figured it out - the trick is you start with something small, a thing (people are hard; you do that later).

Tomorrow, another cathedral hoist. I’ll take angles again and talk to the Serbs – translate (that’s why I was hired) – I’ll tell them to get on with it, to get the hell on with it (foreman’s words), the whole day with my clipboard, my Bic, the sun poking me in the eye, fjord-wind on my cheeks and that something special, that something almost real – first a thing, then a person – close to my chest.

like so...

Sunday, September 6, 2009

ode to disproportionate people

None of you have ever seen me. You don’t know how I look, what I do at what hour, with whom or “whoms”. If you have no fallen space matter in your backyard, no Turkish thugs in your midst, then we are not neighbors. But says that something? (as my Dutch friends say). No it says nothing. I have been sitting still a lot these days – this is true– but I move whenever I can, right, left, down the center, across the Earth’s crust, and up and down sometimes too. So – thugs or no thugs – I could be in your midst anyway. As we speak.

But that's just space coordinates – and that's mostly irrelevant. The point is – what I mean is, I like people – persons – so I could potentially like you very much too. In short, I’m not fond of breathy-voices and I don’t like perms too much on girls (much less on guys) but I trust you have neither. For the rest I like all kinds: people with hair-lips and the giggles, funny toes and foibles; bouncy girls with bright eyes and guys with pat phrases – I kid you not. I like waving at small boats with off-board motors, and talking politics with Bren (we’re being jacked Labas, dicked in the rear by a dozen dudes in suits, I kid you not). What else? I like touching elbows with redheads at bus stops and terminals. I like… boy… so much in people that I like. So many people that I like. I could go on, I could go on... and yet, ultimately, it breaks down like this: there are people that I like – just like – and there are people that I LIKE, really and inexplicably, like bigman, for whom I have a fondness that is out of measure, doubly, triply, quadruply. These are the disproportionate people, arithmetically irresolute, bottomless fuel-tanks unto themselves – stand next to them and you refuel with that substance I traverse the globe to get my fill of. Like my sister Bee – another of the disproportionate – a fount of surplus and giver of free-Bees (sorry again for the head scar sissy, I was too young to know that a spade is a spade). These are the people I was thinking of flying over the Danish fjords two nights ago (in an aeroplane –yes I have not yet Drago’s space-folding skills). These people mean something beyond what they mean. Don’t do the maths on them because they won’t add up (2+2=78.41); these people, they have axes going into the unknown, funny angles and blind-spots all over them. They’re special. They’re disproportionate. They don’t compute. Don’t bother. Just do what I do… just…. well, watch,

Hi bigman. Everything good? Boy, it sure is nice out this evening … Mind if I stand next to you for a while?

Thanks, bigman.

That’s it. Life-fuel. And – I swear to god – if I have any left in me at any time, I’ll give you what I’ve got. All of it. I’ll try to be disproportionate. I'll do it. And maybe – if you’re a redhead and we're at a terminal or something – we’ll touch elbows too.