Thursday, June 3, 2010

Common Sense Part 3 of 4: Oggy Learns Some Common Sense

Offshore assignments for general crew tend to be a month on and a month off. Unless you are injured in the course of duty you will work, sleep and eat with the three or four other crewmembers for one month. We went back and forth between the port and the platform every other day, transferring pipe and mud and concrete and machinery and drinking water and gasoline and crates of food and everything else they wanted. We were oil fishermen and returned home with our catch every other day. I learned how to tie a bowline knot and how to splice lines and how to fry catfish and bake Cajun corn bread and why you don’t mix ammonium and bleach. Mother Ocean worked her magic on me as I found my sea legs and was never sick again. I used the midnight to 6 A.M. anchor watch every day to study celestial charts so by the end of the first month I knew all the Summer constellations of the northern hemisphere and even the names of specific stars such as my favorites, Zuben El-Genube and Betelgeuse and Sirius. The Captain still wanted to cut my ponytail off with his machete but with the first Mate’s help I survived long enough to learn how to lasso a davit on the dock from fifteen feet away. The morning sun rose over the water as I stood on the bow watching dolphins breach the boat’s wake and snow white egrets glide toward their marshy home. The smell of the Louisiana bayou is a mixture of prehistoric swamp and underwater forest that is overpowering when returning from the mellow salinity of the ocean, like a fish crawling out of the water for the first time into steamy jungles populated by giant lizards. It almost made the short pay and dangerous conditions worth tolerating. Still, one had to be practical; when my first assignment ended I called my employment agency from the dock and requested my check. I planned to drive to Los Angeles and use my little experience to land an overseas gig.
“That’s not going to work, Oggy.”
“I’m sorry? It sounded like you said that’s not going to work.”
“That’s what I said. You owe us.”
“Owe you? What the fuck? I just busted my ass for a solid month. I don’t owe you shit. You owe me.”
“No, you owe us 40% of your first twenty paychecks.”
“Are you insane? You mean I risked my life for $24 a day?”
“That’s what you agreed to.”
“I never agreed to that.”
“You want me to fax you the contract?”
I pounded my head on the phone booth.
“Whatever, asshole. So take what I owe you and send me the balance.”
“That’s not good enough. You only got ten paychecks coming.”
“What are you talking about?”
“You earned ten paychecks and we take a cut of your first twenty.”
“I’m not following you.”
“So you owe us ten more paychecks.”
“Well, that’s not going to happen. I passed out in a damn paint locker from the fumes. I was unconscious.”
“Sorry to hear that.”
“I got locked in a fucking cement tank! I was buried in mud! I got washed overboard into shark-infested water! I fell twenty feet onto…”
“Oggy, you owe us ten more paychecks. Ten.”
“Or what?”
“Or you don’t get the first ten.”
“Then I recommend you get to work.”
He said this like I’d been playing backgammon for the last month.
“You thieving cunt! I wanted to go to Hong Kong and you send me to a fucking redneck headquarters in the middle of beer country! The captain was a damn KKK Grand Wizard!”
“When we get our money you’ll get your money.”
“You motherfucker! You’re killing me!”
“Listen, you Yankee piece of shit! You wanted a job and you got one. NOW GET ME MY MONEY!”

The line went dead and I was due for the crew van back to Galveston, where I had no house, no friends, no money and my car battery was definitely dead. I called the dispatcher and asked for another assignment.
“Need the money, huh, Oggy?”
“Bills to pay. You know.”
“I think I can help you out.”

And so I went from my first assignment immediately into another assignment. I was no longer working for myself; I was working for the man and the fire of innocence that was in my eye at first was extinguished forever. When the next Able Seaman asked me why I looked so unhappy I answered, “Could it be because I’m getting fucked in the ass by my employment agency? Or is it because I’m out here in the pouring rain busting rust for $2 an hour? Take your pick.”
“You thought you were going to get rich in the Merchant Marines?”
“I wanted to go to Hong Kong.”
“I forget.”
“I’ve been to Hong Kong. It’s nothing special.”
“That’s great.”
“You missed a spot.”
“Oh, I missed more than a spot.”

There was no denying it, I was a Merchant Marine. Now I understood the secret of the Roustabout; they weren’t getting paid enough to try too hard. Their job was so specific that they kept their heads down and concentrated on their specific task. I was trying too hard because I was trying to earn $40 a day. But now that I realized I was making $2 an hour and that I was basically owned by a Louisiana employment agency I lost any desire to over perform and the job actually became easier and I fucked up less. I didn’t sleep during my anchor watch but I didn’t exactly stand at attention either. Mostly, I pondered the scale of the off shore oil industry. Over 3000 platforms were in operation at that time. Today there are over 4000. I wondered: How did they avoid getting destroyed in a Hurricane? (They don’t.) How do the pipelines avoid getting snapped when a weather anchor drags across them? (They don’t). Does any oil get spilled? (All the time.) Was Common Sense being applied to anything else? (That remained to be seen.)

Coming Soon: Part 4 Oggy Draws The Line

Common Sense: Part 1 of 4
Common Sense: Part 2 of 4
Common Sense: Part 3 of 4
Common Sense: Part 4 of 4

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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.