Well…before I could compose a suitable entry of my own, SN Johnson followed-through with her own committment for another entry from the ship. The is the “Day in the Life…” entry she promised. Now that she’s demonstrated her own writing skills, I’m a little intimidated and have suggested that she create her own blog. I’d like to encourage her writing, but just not here where she can show me up. Now without further ado, Lisa’s second guest blog post…
Day in the Life of a Lowly Sailor
As always, check the footnotes for Lisa’s Amazing Coast Guard Dictionary.
My day begins at 1000 with the pipe “Now, up, up, all late sleepers. Knock off ship’s work. Commence coffee break.” Most people have been up since 0645, at reveille(1), but I work nights, so I sleep in, along with everyone who had midwatch(2) the night before. Coffee break lasts 15 minutes, so I have a quarter of an hour to get dressed and be ready for work.
At 1030 we, the other messcooks(3) and I, begin setting up for lunch. Messcooking is a month dreaded by nonrates(4). The nonrates on the boat rotate every month to be removed from their usual division to be the slave of the cooks. The job is easy enough, even the JOs(5) could do it with a little bit of instruction.
We put out napkin dispensers, salt and pepper, Tabasco(6), refill the juice, and set up the salad and dessert bars. At 1115 the noon meal is served. During the meal we run dishes from the scullery back to the messdeck, take out the trash, and refill the juices. The meal lasts 45 minutes and at 1200 we hear “Now the noon meal is secured” over the 1MC. This is where the fun begins.
For the crew this means their break is over and they have to get back to work, so obviously they loiter on the messdeck as long as humanly possible pushing the last few grains of rice around on their plate trying to prolong their break, for us it means our break is in sight. As soon as the messdeck is clean we have a couple of hours to relax. It is a highly amusing struggle of will and power.
We begin by stealing the napkin dispensers and condiments off the table or out of their hands whether the people are finished or not. We wipe up the tables around them. We do everything we can to politely usher them back to work. After about 15 minutes of this, patience is running low. These guys should be working and we should be getting a break soon. My personal favorite tactic is to sit across from one of those slow eaters and stare. My piercing gaze generally freaks people out enough that they give up and leave. Other widely used tactics are loud sarcastic remarks to nobody in particular if the slow people are above you in rank, or just yelling at them to hurry up and get off the messdeck if they are also nonrates.
Once we get everybody off the messdeck we put up a sign that reads “MESSDECK SECURE” in the doorway. Messcooks are the lowest of the low as far as positions on the boat, but we are given one exceedingly fun bit of power to exercise, and that is to yell at anyone who comes on the secured messdeck without permission and to randomly choose who we feel like giving permission to enter the secured messdeck. It is our vindictive pleasure to chase people out of our AOR(7) with brooms if they disobey the sacred sign. After the petty arguments among ourselves of who will sweep, who will swab(8), and who gets stuck with trash are resolved, we finish up around 1330.
The next 2 hours are spent trying to slow the gelatinization process a messcooks mind goes through. We read books, blast music, e-mail, surf the web, or hide out in our racks. Mostly we just try to stay out of the cook’s way so as to not incur their wrath and get stuck doing a busy work type task such as scrubbing the baseboards or cleaning grease traps.
Our break comes to a quick end at 1530. “Now sweepers, sweepers, man your brooms. Give the ship a clean sweep down fore and aft. Sweep down all lower decks, ladder wells, and passageways. Now, sweepers.” If you think the point of sweepers is to get the ship clean, you are very much mistaken. The point of sweepers is to be seen. I have spent countless hours this patrol cleaning the same two bulkheads. The paint is threatening to come off, but they must be wiped down until Senior Chief and XO(9) see me cleaning them.
I will compare this phenomenon to the proverbial tree in the forest. Does it really matter if it happened, if nobody was there to witness it? One of the last times I messcooked we would enjoy testing this theory. We would get told to clean a passageway and would do a terrible job but got commended after Senior saw us working on it. At other times we would spend an hour getting a passageway looking absolutely spotless, but if Senior didn’t see it happen he would make us do it over again.
Sweepers begins to loose energy around 1545-1600, just in time to set up for dinner.
It is the same idea as lunch, but for dinner one of the other messcooks and I have an unspoken game. The goal is to set up more items than the other person. This involves halfhearted sabotage on both our parts, but it does make the tedious task at hand more bearable. Remember, the goal of Messcooking is to retard the gelatinization process of your mind as much as possible. At 1700 “Now the evening meal is being served” is piped. This is my salvation. I am off of work and get to do whatever I so choose for the next 4 and a half hours.
At 2100 my alarm goes off, I put down my book, shut off my movie, or wake up and head up to the messdeck for midrats(10). I’m working as I hear the taps pipe(11). We serve at 2300-0000 but I start running dishes in the scullery, setting up, and washing dishes in the deep sink. There is only one messcook for midrats so multitasking is important.
Alia is the cook I work for at night. She is tougher than Samuel L. Jackson, but funnier than Dave Chappell. Working midrats is my favorite part of the day. If I feel like cooking, Alia lets me cook the meal, and I get to choose whatever my heart desires. After midrats we bake all the desserts and breads for the next day. Working together we usually get out early, around 0200 but if there is a lot of baking to do we have to stay up until it all gets done. The latest we’ve ever worked is about 0530.
When there is a lag in the dishes to be washed or cakes to be baked I often go out on fantail, sit on the picnic table, and enjoy the night sky. I firmly believe there is no better place to sit and think than the middle of the ocean at night when everyone else is asleep. After I get off of work in the early hours of the morning I curl up in my rack and drift off to sleep.
1. Reveille – Most obnoxious pipe that wakes everyone up. People tend to scream it in the most annoying voice they can muster.
2. Midwatch – Watch from 0000-0400
3. Messcooking – Doing menial work for the cooks. It only lasts a month because if it lasted any longer everybody’s brain would turn into Jell-O. As a messcook your primary goal is get complete your month with your brain at least 56% brain mass and only 44% delicious jiggly dessert.
4. – Nonrate – a person who hasn’t gone to school yet to learn a specific job. Either part of deck division or an engineer. Their title is either SN (Seaman) or FN (Fireman)
5. JO – Junior Officer. They are generally acknowledged by the enlisted folk to be as dumb as a box of rocks and only half as good looking.
6. Tabasco Sauce – the most important condiment in the Coast Guard. Any terrible food can be improved dramatically by dousing it in Tabasco Sauce
7. AOR – Area of responsibility
8. Swab – to mop
9. XO – Executive Officer, second in command, under the CO (Commanding Officer)
10. Midrats – the meal served to those who have midwatch
11. Taps pipe – My favorite and least favorite pipe. “Taps, Taps, out all white lights. Maintain silence about the decks. Now 2200, taps.” It is very relaxing as it is usually said in a goodnight type of voice, but if you get some goofball trying to sound sexy, it is just obnoxious and can ruin your entire sleep that night.