The 'BARKING OWL' always has something to say, and like the feathered version, can be either WISE...............or ANNOYING!

Saturday, September 29, 2012

The Inner Bottom

Have you ever taken a nose dive?  Come to the end of your rope?  Gone off the proverbial edge?  Is it yet to come, or have you already, hit rock bottom?  Perhaps that trauma at least gave you the comfort of thinking that "it can't get any worse".  Well I have some news for you, and it may not be good to hear.  There is a place below the bottom, and I have been there.  It is called "THE INNER BOTTOM"!

Working as a "shipfitter" requires much flexibility (in more ways than one, but more about that later).  Every morning in the shipyard we men gather outside at 7 AM, no matter what the weather is doing and no matter what the season, for the daily stretching routine.  Then we meet with our various foremen to be assigned a job.  This is the daily moment of truth.

I never know with whom I will be partnered, what I'll be doing, how long the job might take, which part of which ship (and whether I'll be inside or outside), or even (and don't tell my boss) what in the world I'm doing!  But seriously, the quality of the day, or at least the drudge factor of the day, comes clear in that moment. It's either an "All right!  I'll working with my buddy Ryan putting in exhaust supports in the generator room!", or "Oh crap!  I have to work with _____, while he complains all day as we climb around in ballast tanks cleaning up welding rod stubs and cigarette butts!  But whatever the assignment, I have learned to make the most of every day by getting to know a new partner, by being intrigued with a new part of the ship, or by learning and practicing another set of skills I've never known before.

It wasn't very long ago that I had no experience with cutting torches, air powered grinders, welding whips, dry docks, cargo holds, bulkheads, crops or conveyor actuators.   I have since worked on upper decks, main decks, quarter decks and even under the ship's shell in the dry dock.  I have been ordered to carry steel, cut steel, wash steel, tack steel and stitch steel.  I have worked in cargo holds, generator rooms, ballast tanks, engine rooms, conveyor tunnels and escape tubes.  I have had to chip ice, shovel ice, melt ice and slip on ice,  as well as fire watch, shower in sparks, burn steel, take the heat and nearly melt.

So far, so good.  So far, I have avoided being sent to crawl into the INNER BOTTOM!  The inner bottom is a small dark muddy place running along the very center of the cargo ship (in my case), that separates the very outside shell from a work space above, usually the "tunnel" where a cargo unloading conveyor belt runs the ship's length.  It is barely 2 feet high inside and is accessed either by crawling through the narrow manhole from the muddy bottom of the wide open ballast tank, or by dropping down through a manhole in the floor of the tunnel.  Either way, physical flexibility, and some bodily dimensional limitations (height and/or girth) are required to avoid getting stuck half way in.

No place to spend eternity.
Most often the work on a cargo ship is required elsewhere.  But once in a while someone is sent in to install a crop, snipe a bracket, or simply to meet their maker (I heard a rumor about a skeleton found...).  The only time I ever had to work inside the inner bottom was in dry dock, and the shell of the boat had been removed. At least part of the job could be done from standing on a short ladder, but then I had to crawl up and roll over the angle iron ribs dragging my torch line, air line, extension cord and lights, welding lead, grinder, various helmets and shields, fire blankets and other miscellaneous tools with me.  Only then could I begin to work all crouched and twisted and trying to keep flying molten steel from being strewn across my person.

But, it was heavenly!  People complain about being assigned such jobs, yet when confronted with an eternity in hell, they shrug and scoff and glibly claim that at least they'll be there "with all their friends", as if there could be ANY degree of comfort in a place chosen by rejecting the free gift of ALL comfort.  No.  The ultimate INNER BOTTOM will be faced alone.  No friends, no coworker just outside the manhole to drag you out if you are overcome by fumes or injured by accident.  No manhole or escape hatch.  No connections with power or light..  No satisfaction from facing a challenge or from completing a difficult task.  Not even a chance to shake a fist at God; the opportunity to get real with Him is given, and limited to, today.

I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.                                                              2 Corinthians 6:2

A ship's inner bottom is a protective void.  Its upper deck provides the flat space needed to accomplish important work, while its floor is a structural resistance to the sea's intrusive power.  Hell was intended to be a place to separate Lucifer and the other fallen angels from God's presence forever.  Only those people convinced to join him in his rebellion need go there.   God's open home (all are invited to enter by the work of Jesus Christ, offered by God's amazing grace!) is the best place to meet friends, to enjoy God's presence face to face, to enter into meaningful and pleasurable work, and to live eternally, ever maturing and growing more and more "in His image".  Nobody will ever be glad they chose the ultimate inner bottom.

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Monday, September 3, 2012

Already Seen Deja Vu

"Already seen" is the English translation of the French term "deja vu" we commonly use to describe that weird feeling most of us have had, that tells us something just happening has happened before.  Out of the blue, you suddenly experience the moment you are in but not in a normal way; it seems to filter through the memory and so you think you can just about predict what will happen next.  But, since it only seems to be a memory because your current perception is somehow pouring through your memory banks, you can't ever really make that prediction.

Have you ever had a deja vu experience?  I have many times, and always enjoyed that moment of realization and mystery.  Every time, I attempt to make it last; to try to use it to peer around the corner of time as I make the effort to "remember" what was about to happen.  You would think that by now I would remember that it never works.

Deja vu is one of those things that unites disparate members of this human race.  Two thirds of the population  say they have had the experience.  What's the first thing you say when it dawns on you that you have "seen this before"?  If you are like me, you announce your status (in French!) to anyone in range, knowing full well that they can not enter the mindset with you, but that they can definitely relate.

Now this assignment has me thinking, however, about the times in my life when an experience was actually experienced earlier and seems to be repeating.  I should, in such a case, be able to make valid predictions about what will happen next.  You would think.

Here are a few examples.

Buying a car.  Since I bought my first car about 33 years ago (a cool 1973 Maverick with a fuzzy shag white carpet glued to the doors and rear shelf under the rear window (what DO you call that?)) I have "already seen" myself buy about 33 cars and trucks!  Will I ever learn to buy a decent vehicle?  I did see myself buy a brand new 1990 Isuzu trooper once, but then I saw my darn kids grow out of it so fast we had to get a mini-van!

Saving cool scraps.  My wife still laughs at the giant wooden firewood box I made out of strips of mahogany I brought home from a job.  They were 3/4 by 1 1/2 inches by 5 or 6 feet long,  and I just could not see them thrown into the burn pile!  But at least I did make something out of them, AND sold it!

This wall cap (here not yet installed) was made with "scrap"!
Last week I installed a sink for a lady and she saw potential in the laminate cut out.  "What can I make with that?" she said.  I was repulsed!  I backed away and crossed myself, as I automatically deja vu'd the dozens of even larger examples I used to bring home, and store, and move, and restack, and even haul when our family moved across town.  Managing to leave it there when I finished that bathroom job was a victory for this old scrap collector, and I can assure you that the scraps I still do have in my garage, and my basement, are really really cool scraps that I really really will use some day.

Playing chess.  When my son Josh joined the chess club some 10 years ago and immediately excelled (filling our house with dozens of trophies (some gigantic)), my interest in the game was rekindled.  My childhood experience included continual losing to my genius brother and finally giving up.  As a mature adult it was more of continually losing to my brilliant but nonchalant son and then finally finding someone else to play.  Heidi, our Dachshund, has never beaten me yet!

But there is a pattern I still "see again (and again)" in my chess experience.  Win a game easily.  Win another game handily.  Get cocky.  Make a stupid move and lose my queen.  Turn red.  Repeat.

Maybe I should play the cat!

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After watching two baseball players hit consecutive home runs, twice, Yogi Berra made the term even more surreal by proclaiming "It's like deja vu all over again".