What is it about a job? Seems there’s always more work to do. Well, I know that’s sort of the point. But summer is the busy season where I work, when the “single-most important item on our annual calendar” takes place, and much of the summer goes into preparing for it. As a diversion from, you know, the year-round work that doesn’t exactly take the summer off. I’ll actually miss the “calendar item” this year because of the move, and everyone at work jokes that I must be glad, at least, for that. But in fact I’d gladly attend if it meant I didn’t have to help get ready. And by “help get ready,” I mean “help prepare a 200-page binder of research materials that hardly anyone looks at but is (1) a contractual obligation and (2) helps protect the process at hand from various forms of liability.” A sort of crossing of “T”s, dotting of “I”s, and covering of hindquarters.
That no one looks at.
I took the day off from exercising. And regretted it. All day I felt like a lazy lump and had this nervous energy coursing through me. Which is good in the sense that it will help me get back on track, but I’m worried that I might be slipping into the obsessive mindset I had in Miami, that led me to run down the beach at noon even on “code red” days and left me depressed and anxious when our underway schedule threw me off of my workout routine by even a day or two. It was like I could feel all of my gains slipping away if I took even one day off. On a bigger ship, there would have been an exercise room with at least a stairstepper or stationary bike. But on the small 110-footers there was no room, no non-living space where you could have put one. At one point, some of us floated the idea of installing a recumbent stationary bike in the aft berthing area. But this would have meant removing the only table, and it also would have meant that, while some people would be trying to sleep, someone else might be panting away and dripping sweat on this bike only a few feet away. Also, while we had decent air conditioning, it was no match for the very hottest part of the subtropical summer, especially not in that space whose “roof” was an exterior deck, painted gray. Someone exerting himself in there would not have helped.
Once, so desperate was I for some shipboard exercise, I brought along a jump rope and, after dinner one evening, retired to the fantail deck (just above said berthing area, as it happens) to try to break a sweat. The seas, while not rough, were not quite glass smooth, either, and we were moving at quite a clip, meaning that the boat was occasionally tilting strongly to one side or the other. There wouldn’t have been the slightest risk if I’d been just standing there, or walking the decks, but because it seemed possible that I might trip myself up with the jump rope (never really having used one to work out before), I wore a life jacket. I quickly discovered that the steel deck of a ship is not an ideal exercise surface, particularly not for exercises that involve jumping up and down. (I couldn’t quite master that boxer’s quick-step, where it’s more like they are running in place.) I finally gave up, partly because my knees were quickly starting to hurt from the unforgiving impact, and partly because I worried that I might look like an idiot to anyone on any passing ships. (This wouldn’t normally have bothered me, but, at the time, I took myself a little seriously as a representative of the United States government. I didn’t want to have to go board a ship in a law-enforcement capacity if someone on board had just been watching me through binoculars as I jumped around spastically in a life jacket and shorts.) I also wondered what I must sound like to someone trying to sleep in the compartment below me, where the top layer of the three-high bunks would have put the occupants’ noses only a couple of feet away from the deck I was cavorting around on.
In the morning, a rare coup: actually remembering one of the bimonthly paper-recycling dates in time to do something about it, i.e., bundle up the 75 pounds of accumulated newspaper and pizza boxes (and, um, health-food boxes) in brown paper bags and get them to the curb in time for pickup.
Her Highness Miss Zuzu has officially been transformed into a crack addict for wet, canned cat food. If that’s not insulting to crack addicts, who probably have more dignity than this mewling beast who races up the stairs to greet me as I rise each morning. (I should probably be thankful that I keep her out of the bedroom or she’d be checking to see if I’d overslept starting at three or so in the morning.) I don’t feed her until after I return from exercising, but she thinks I might feed her anyway as I tie my shoes and look for my towel. Even after I’ve fed her, I’ll be walking through the kitchen or getting something from the fridge and some small cue in my movement or the sounds I’m making will make her think I’m planning to feed her again, and she’ll start staring at me, looking for signs, making this bratty-sounding little ngah noise every time I move. (I know it’s not really fair to call it “bratty,” but the pitch and inflection and even the glottal affect all perfectly match the most stereotypical “whining” sound you can imagine. Really she’s just making a noise she probably learned, as a kitten, that would get a teat moved closer to her face. But I hear a three-year-old saying “pleeeeeeEEEEEaaaaaAAAAASSSsssssseeeee.”) I feed her in the evenings, too, meaning that now, when I open the front door and step inside, I no longer see her sitting in the entryway to greet me (which I guess is kind of unusual for a cat, but that’s what she used to do). Instead, I just see her little hindquarters disappearing into the dining room on her way to her little plate, as she responds to my key in the door by running from wherever she’d just been snoozing toward what she knows as The Place Where Plates Of Aromatic Beef Feast With Giblets Appear, When The Bald One Is Around.
Speaking of cat food, I stopped to restock at Eddie’s on my way home, before ducking into the Barnes and Noble to buy a copy of Bangkok 8, a “thriller” that’s supposedly decently well-written that I heard described on the radio. I need something completely escapist to read these days, and it seemed like a murder mystery set in Asia might do the ticket. When I got home, though, I didn’t get around to starting it, instead finishing an article in the Atlantic about the increasing frequency of Japanese people entering into suicide pacts with strangers, often meeting and discussing the idea on web sites dedicated to the purpose. (By the way, if you think you can shut these down or otherwise prevent this sort of communication, you don’t understand how the internet works.) One interesting point that the article makes is that, in societies that value certain forms of suicide, such as Japan and certain segments of Islamic society, the internet makes it easier for people to take this step. Without the internet, these people’s social circle would include mostly people who’d rather they didn’t kill themselves and maybe only a few who applaud the idea. But on-line, they can find a self-selected group of people who are all sympathetic to the idea who can talk each other into it. Same with suicide bombing, which – seen in this light – seems more an outgrowth of (or at least made possible by) this modern moment, rather than something that follows naturally from the tenets of some ancient religion. But then, that’s fundamentalism in general for you – fake “traditions” that never really quite existed, with all of the publicity and evangelism depending heavily on modern technology, like television, web sites and so on.
I don’t seem to have built up to any pithy stingers I can end on. Sorry. I’ll try to do better.