A Blip on the Radar (Part 14) “On Holding Hands, and Smoking Pot “
Posted on November 5, 2009
Part 14: On holding hands, keeping your shorts on, rotor brakes, and smoking Pot
I have worked, on and off, for different charities.
That doesn’t make me a saint, or better than you. It just makes me a Seeker, a person who dreams of a better, kinder Society. More gentle. Less greedy. Maybe more spiritual. And who is often amazed and frustrated. A bit of a naive dude, always a bit behind the ‘eight ball’ of realization.
Are people really like that? Holy cow. That wasn’t very nice. Wow…
Working with children, sometimes handicapped, physically or mentally (or both), I pretty soon learned a great many things.
Firstly, that people are much more human, warm, and spontaneous when they are young, poor, or hurting.
Secondly, that I could do very little, but that the little I did, somehow, counted a lot.
Thus it was with the simple act of ‘holding hands’.
Children, young people, and adults all, sometimes are at a loss to explain their feelings in words. They just can’t. They might want to, but powerful emotion, hurt, confusion… all may cause a prolonged, speechless, silence.
But then… they might suddenly slide a hand into yours. It happens sometimes when you least expect it. All of a sudden, a hand is burrowing into yours. And you look around in surprise, and you see these eyes looking at you.
It’s happened to me in the strangest of places. And at the strangest of times. It’s a humbling experience. You look around, surprised, and there are these eyes looking at you.
Sometimes they are nervous, frightened, even tearful. Sometimes, especially with handicapped children and adults, they are not. On the contrary, they are challenging. I often have wondered if Nature compensates handicapped children on another level. The emotional, spiritual, intuitive level. How often have I met “handicapped ” people who, with their quiet and steadfast loving, were far less handicapped in that regard than I was?
Working with handicapped persons is often a privilege, and a joy. Put it another way, you’d be amazed how often you laugh your proverbial buttocks off. They can be really funny, in a harmless, mischievous, spontaneous way.
I remember working in a youth club. We had all sorts there. Some were from unhappy homes. We had one little girl there, who was about nine or ten. She had amazingly expressive soft brown eyes. But there was something strange in her expression. A blandness, a studied neutrality. She saw you, but yet she didn’t see you. She never spoke a word.
For a while, I noticed she would follow me. Wordless. If you spoke to her, she would not reply. Just stare at you. I made inquiries, and was told her family were having troubles. It was whispered her father was violent towards her mother. You’d wonder what those young eyes had seen. There was no way of knowing. The child herself, with that serious, intent face, studied me, but said nothing.
Then one day, I was talking to somebody else, and I felt a hand slip into mine. I looked down, and there she stood, fearfully, almost trembling. Waiting to be scolded, and shooed away. Waiting perhaps to be hit…
After that, she sought me out, and was never far away. She spoke hardly a word. Just that little hand. In mine.
One day, we were on an outing, about a hundred kids, and we were walking along through a playground. Both my hands had been hijacked. I had a child on each side. Including little Brown Eyes. She was like a shadow, quiet, always there. All of a sudden, there was a commotion beside me. I looked down, just in time to see an older boy, a seemingly tough kid, roughly pull her hand away from mine. Then he inserted his own instead. I looked at her, pushed roughly aside, and I was shocked to see one of the saddest faces I’ve ever seen. I’ve remembered it, all these years later. That brief look of incredible hurt, flitting across her face, piercing loss, fearful uncertainty, and then, almost worse, the struggle to re-arrange her face to neutral. To re-arrange her face to that bland, unfeeling, neutral stare.
“That wasn’t very nice “, I said to the seemingly tough little boy. He knew exactly what I meant. He shrugged his shoulders, and abandoned my hand. Little Brown Eyes just stared. I had to coax her to return. Slowly, she slipped back.
After that, her grip was tighter than ever.
I know I’ve remembered her. I wonder if she has ever remembered me. I doubt it, but I suspect, emotionally, there was a tiny boost there, a nurturing, a small act of kindness not forgotten?
When I went flying in the Tuna Fields, my own little (blue) eyes had seen plenty of Good and Bad. And I’m sure at times I also tried to hide behind a bland neutrality. Trouble was, my past always caught up with me. I think I’ve often tried to hide behind the seemingly protective facade of the weather beaten cynic. Heck, I’ve tried.
The weather beaten old pilot, who has traveled widely and ‘seen it all’. Hard as granite, tough as nails.
Thus it was I found myself with some other Tuna pilots and mechanics waiting at an airport.
We were all in transit, to and from various boats and home destinations. A whole bunch of us. Tough guys.
We were on some tropical island. A stop over. I can’t remember which one. I’ve seen so many.
I noticed this young native Micronesian boy. He looked about fifteen. He appeared to be mentally handicapped. He was going around, trying to put his hand in other people’s. Everybody rebuffed him. Most showed annoyance, irritation. Hostility even. F..k off.
He had that same, strange, bland stare. He wasn’t begging for money. Or deliberately being a nuisance.
He was begging for something else.
For somebody to care…
I sighed. I knew how this party would turn out.
Sure enough, not ten minutes later, I felt the greasy paw hesitantly slide into mine. Oh well…
I left it there. And carried on the conversation with my pilot peers, as if nothing was wrong. Situation normal.
Here we are, leathernecks, hell raisers, Pacific Ocean cowboys, Tuna Hunters, beer drinking women chasing table thumping desperadoes, and I’m holding hands with a little black man.
Hey-ho… this should get the tongues wagging afterward…
Their expressions were comical to watch. Nobody actually said much about it. The little guy was my friend now, and stood there patiently and happily, wordlessly, for forty five minutes. Until my plane landed, and it was time to go.
He understood, and smiled a sad little smile.
It reminded me of Jean Paul, the abandoned little French boy I met while I was working at an institute for handicapped children in France. He had a deformed arm. He used to sneak up on me, with heavy dangerous objects, and beat hell out of me, any chance he got. He nearly cracked my skull one day with a hammer. And then, when I was finally leaving after six weeks voluntary work, he took me to one side and tearfully said: “Il me fait mal au coeur que tu pars… ” ( “It breaks my heart that you are leaving… “)
And then he cried his eyes out…
And then of course there was the young Chinese fisherman on one tuna boat I worked on. I’ll call him Chang. He was about twenty, perhaps, and was also obviously slightly mentally handicapped. The crew made fun of him, but they were often quite protective of him as well. Those rough, tough, weathered old Chinese sailors… I’m not sure if he was gay or not, and I’m not sure if he knew himself, but he was different, put it that way. I didn’t have the heart to shoo him away, and he would often come and sit with me on the helideck, and want to hold my hand. It’s also partly a cultural thing. I once saw a great photo of two Congolese soldiers holding hands. In their military dress camouflage uniforms, with their guns and belts, there they were, walking down the road, holding hands. No, in their culture it doesn’t mean they are gay. They’re just…
It’s something I understood, and on a human level, I am not totally without compassion. Let them be. It’s not for me to be aloof and cold, superior and untouchable. And it amused me a bit. The reactions of visiting pilots and mechanics, when we were in port, at times also entertained me. We’d be sitting somewhere, chatting, and up would come this young Chinese sailor, and sit down beside me, and place his hand in mine. Then he’d sit there, beaming happily, with not a clue in the world what we were talking about. In English.
I have two more tales to tell about Chang. One involves a Teddy Bear. The other involves paper prayers. But that is maybe almost another whole story. Maybe I’ll get around to writing it up one day. Suffice it for now to relate that I tried to behave like a feeling human being towards him and others, and not like some gung-ho television hero. I didn’t want to be a cloned Movie Android. Screw Arnold Schwarzenegger. I wasn’t obsessed with being a tough guy. Like so many guys are today. Call me a sissy for making the mistake of feeling. Go ahead.
There now. Do ya feel better and meaner now…?
There came the day I was leaning over the railing of my ship, quietly pondering a million thoughts. My mind was so far away, I never spotted young Chang sneaking up behind me. Quick as a flash, he yanked on my shorts, pulling them down around my ankles. Luckily my underpants had tight elastics. The event was witnessed by many of the crew, and there was loud laughter. Chang, delightedly, quickly scurried away. Okay…
I chased him round and round the ship. Very soon he wasn’t laughing anymore. He’d seen the grim expression on my face.
Now you’ve crossed the boundary, my little friend, and you’re going to see a whole different side of me…
It has always annoyed me intensely when my being ‘soft spoken’ gets misinterpreted as ‘weakness’. When my trying to be a feeling human gets warped in some people’s minds into the “anything goes ” alley.
Okay… Here cometh the Dark Side.
He was younger than me, and he could run like hell, but there’s only so far you can run on a boat. We passed through the bridge several times, and I noticed the captain looking more and more flabbergasted. Down the stairs,past the galley, out onto the lower working deck, and back up the stairs to the middle working deck. Nobody intervened. I caught the little blighter eventually, and now he was scared. He was even more scared as he found himself dangling precariously over the railing, upside down, about to be dropped twenty feet into the waves below. We were sailing along at twelve knots, and it would have been quite a splash. He was screaming and struggling, but it was no use, and he knew his fate was very much in my hands.
Heck, I was sorely tempted to chuck him in.
In my broken Chinese, I think I clearly indicated I was very displeased, and next time…. he was going overboard.
I had no more trouble.
A few months later, it was a beautiful flying morning.
We took off, two of us, and it was one of those days a tuna helicopter pilot dreams about. Whistling along in a Hughes 500, 500 feet, doors off, unlimited visibility, cool temperatures, and a big sky. A big sky, with some high altitude cirrus clouds, wispy, streaking, blown apart by equally high altitude winds. Into a succession of fans, a magical veil, transparent, eternal.
You just kind of settle into the hum of your bird. If you like driving a motorcycle along a quiet mountain road, just driving, for hours on end, dreaming, quietly, of Life, past, present, future…. then you will positively love a Hughes 500 streaking low over the Ocean. Wonderful… You just kind of lose yourself in Time and Space. Yes, you bank to look at this floating object, yes, you peer into the distance… but that’s only five per cent of you.
Ninety-five per cent of you walks the Lanes of Memory. The Tracks of the Future. Dreams. Wishes. Longings. Regrets.
And you fly on…
Faces float past your mind’s eye. People you’ve met. People you’ve loved. People who have treated you badly. People you try not to hate. Life can be so beautiful, and life can be so unspeakably ugly. But with the right torque setting, a gentle hand on the cyclic, sensitive feet, a tuna pilot can keep everything that really matters…. in the green. Engine oil pressure, temperature, main transmission readings, battery power… And that is all that matters. The stress is low. If you know where you’re going. If you have a mental picture of yourself sliding across meridians and parallels, if you can effortlessly calculate time and heading, if the thought of a GPS failure does not fill you with latent horror…. then, truly…
the stress is low…
And thus it was that we arrived, peacefully, quietly, at one with the world, enjoying the tranquility of Nature, at an area of the Ocean that was occupied by a whole gaggle of helicopters. We would see them in the distance, banking, swirling, swooping, like dragon flies on a warm summer’s evening.
There’s got to be tuna there…
We headed over, and now I could hear the ‘chat’ frequency come alive. There was a bunch of guys up. Eight, ten, maybe more helicopters. It seemed there was one truly big foamer, and everybody was wanting to have a peek at it. The observers would all be wanting to know the size of the fish, and the make and model.
Skipjack, Yellowfin or Big Eye…
They had a ‘stack’ going. A chimney of helicopters. With the new arrival entering at the top. And slowly working his way down. And the machine at the bottom, once observations were complete, scooting off low level.
It worked well, provided everybody knew the rules, and provided everybody communicated. There was always some unwitting newbie, who didn’t know the rules, and who didn’t know the chat frequency, maybe a foreigner on his first trip, a Virgin Landlubber, a Sprat Anchovy Head, who screwed it all up. That was a sure fire recipe for a dangerous situation.
As we drew closer, I announced our presence.
“Good morning, gentlemen, Moggy the Mighty approaching from the North, two miles to run…. “
There was laughter.
Several voices bantered back.
“Moggy! About time you got up! Where ya been? “
“Moggy! How ya doing? Long time no speak! “
“Moggy! Fuck off! No fish here! Go away! “
It was all good, rude fun. I replied in a vague way to all the unseen speakers:
“Oh, I’ve been busy. We’re just out of Honiara. But I’m baaaaack…You can lock up yer daughters….! “
Before anybody else could reciprocate, a harsh voice cut in. It was sarcastic, sneering, and loaded with contempt. No fun was intended. Just a belittling intent.
“I’ll just keep my shorts on, more like… “
Boom. Back to the Reality of Man. Harsh…
I sighed to myself. You could hear the loud pause. Everybody heard it. Everybody was listening for my reaction.
It had been a nice morning so far. I wasn’t going to let one cruel spirit spoil it. There were in fact, several possible replies at the tip of my tongue. But I just couldn’t be bothered… All I could think was:
Believe what you want…
I ignored it. No reaction. We checked out the fish, and I flew on…
A few nights later, I was feeling lonely. There were a bunch of ships moored nearby, and I could see their lights in the Ocean darkness. Maybe some buddies to chat with… An hour after darkness, a little later than normal, I climbed up to the helideck, climbed into my bird, and switched the radio on to the chat frequency. I discovered a whole heated discussion going on already. To my surprise, the subject under discussion was…. me.
My detractor of the previous day, him who was worried about keeping his shorts on in my presence, was holding forth against people telling him to shut up. He was telling everybody about the bed hopping on my boat. It seemed that from the Captain down, we all lived to do the unnatural thing with each other. A floating carnival of an ‘alternative life style’.
He was going on and on, and there seemed to be one or two enthusiastic supporters, lapping it up and encouraging him, and some others telling him to shut the f..k up. It was a pity, as there were some guys there I was looking forward to having a chat with. But I couldn’t be bothered waiting until my detractor ran out of steam. After a minute or so, I debated interrupting, and then I thought “Oh, what the hell… ” and switched off. Went back to my cabin and read a book instead.
For the next week or so, while that merry little lot were around, I didn’t even bother trying to come up at night on the chat frequency.
Believe what you want…
And I just quietly flew on.
The incident, minor and somewhat distasteful, not to mention unkind and immature, had a strange sequel.
I subsequently bumped into one of my Kiwi buddies, who was mad as hell about it. I was surprised how annoyed he was about it. It was aimed at me, and I’d just shrugged my shoulders, and walked. It turned out he’d been wanting to talk to me about an early draft he’d been reading of “Moggy’s Tuna Manual “. Even then, back in the nineties, a group of us, appalled at the high helicopter accident rate in the Tuna Fields, had been talking about putting together a manual for newcomers.
A friendly guide with tips and tricks for new or potential Anchovy Heads. He thought it was great, what I had written so far, and he’d wanted to talk to me about some suggestions.
“Dammit, Moggy, I was up every night calling you, and you never answered. All I got was that f…ing motor mouth and his potty talk. I figgered you just gave up with him hogging the radio, and didn’t bother anymore. Right? “
I was kind of surprised at his insight.
We talked a bit, and he voiced something that had crossed my mind, in a vague sort of way.
“Ever notice he sounds like he’s tripping out? “
I didn’t know what to say. The dude was…strange. But then maybe we all were, to be doing what we were doing. An unquestionably dangerous job, thousands of miles from home, eating funky food and fighting cockroaches and isolation…
Maybe we all were. I shrugged my shoulders.
The Pacific Ocean is big, but the Tuna Helicopter World is small.
Time went by, and one day, in some port in Papua New Guinea, who did I bump into? Sure. Our friend with the lurid tales.
He greeted me like a long lost buddy. I thought “Bloody hypocrite “, but never brought up his night time ravings.
Later that day, we had both done quite some shopping, and been out for a meal, and we rented a primitive taxi to take us and our goodies back to the docks. We bumped along the rough roads, past the run down, dusty, shabby houses, and past the locals, unemployed, staring vacantly around them.
All of a sudden, he abruptly ordered the cab driver to pull over.
“Pull over! There! Beside that guy! “
He pointed to a local man on what passed for a side walk.
I was sitting in the back, and to me, over his shoulder, he passed some comment to the effect that he ‘had some business’ with the local. I didn’t pay any attention.
However, after a minute or so, I became slowly aware that the price they were haggling over concerned… pot.
I pricked my ears up. It wasn’t what our friend was saying. He was just haggling dollars. But what the local was saying…
“This good shit, man…. good shit… “
My first thought was that it was a wind up. They were pulling my leg. But no… I was sitting in the back of a cab, in a foreign country, in the Tropical Rain Forest, and this dude is trying to tie up a drug deal????
“Excuse me! ” I said, crossly.
The negotiator in the front paid no attention. he was too busy haggling.
“EXCUSE ME! “, I said, more crossly, and a lot more loudly.
He looked around, in obvious annoyance.
I was dumbfounded. I struggled for words. But when I found them, finally, they flowed fluently.
“ARE YOU OUT OF YOUR TINY FRICKIN’ MIND? ARE YOU TOTALLY NUTS?? “
I was pissed. Hell, it could be a set up, for all I knew. A stake-out. The cabbie could be in on it. Any second now the cops could come jumping out of the shadows… who the hell was going to believe me that I had nothing to do with it??
I told him in no uncertain manner that I had already seen the inside of a Papuan so-called “hospital “. With the ankle deep human waste in the toilets, earth floors, and rickety old Australian Army surplus cots. If that was a “hospital ” I sure as shit didn’t want to see the inside of a Papuan PRISON!
My indignation finally registered, and we drove away, the deal undone.
Time went by. Months. Or was it a year? I can’t remember. Time morphed. Into a flow of impressions, memories, some good, some not so good…
Next thing we heard, to everybody’s amazement, that our friend with the ‘strange fixation’ had experienced a catastrophe. Word went around the Tuna Fields like wildfire. The first version was that he had fired up his Hughes 500 with the blade still tied down. We all groaned. That was a recipe for disaster. The world over, helicopter pilots do that, on a regular basis. It simply cooks the turbine. In seconds. You can do so much damage in the blink of an eye.
A hundred thousand dollars or more. People have been killed that way. Blades have suddenly broken loose, tipping helicopters violently onto their side. It’s a matter of torque, latent energy released, and Newton’s Third Law.
Blades have broken at the root, and started whipping around, suddenly released, with all that torque, and beating hell out of the helicopter. Smashing in the windows, chopping the tail boom off…
There are endless tales of woe on this subject. It’s not good…
The next thing we heard was hard to swallow. I didn’t believe it initially, and said so. The story went that the captain was up in the crow’s mast, and saw what was happening. The engine was running, the blades were not turning, one was still tied down, and the pilot was staring intently at the gauges. The story went that the captain hurriedly climbed all the way down from the crow’s mast, ran across to the stairs up to helideck, climbed up to the helideck, and our friend was still sitting there, burning but not turning…
Staring at the gauges, trying to figure something out…
It was only the arrival of the captain that terminated the attempted… ‘start’!
To me, that didn’t make sense. Even an athlete can’t climb all the way down from the crow’s mast, and then up to the helideck, in less than a minute. It’s a long way. You mean to say a guy is going to sit there, that long, and not able to figure out his blades aren’t turning? Nonsense.
I was wrong.
I knew the captain, and he was later to personally confirm the whole story. But by then, our friend had long been fired. Dismissed. We could feel sorry for him. He wasn’t my flavor of the month, spreading absurd stories about my sexual predilections, but on a human level, I could still pity him. Hard luck.
Unfortunately… it wasn’t hard luck.
The next bit of news blew the lid off the box. The replacement pilot-mechanic, arriving on the ship (with a new engine and a set of rotor blades) had opened a book, and discovered that it had been hollowed out. To hide… a marijuana pipe.
A “bong “…
No wonder he sometimes sounded like he was “tripping out “. Good Lord. He was…
Speculation next centered on what in heaven’s name he’d actually been messing with. Pot? Or worse? Crack? Acid?
Nobody knew. But there was puzzlement, and a wonder. And whatever it was, it must have been pretty potent stuff.
He’d messed up a perfectly good helicopter.
And he’d even forgotten his drug implement…
There was much head shaking. The job is dangerous enough. But to add drugs into the mix?
Why on earth…
I was later to read about a fatal helicopter crash in Florida, where the dead pilot (with passengers on board) tested positive for cocaine. When I was with the Sheriff’s Office, we did some interesting drug raids, and that was another whole education in the field of drug abuse. Some more stories, maybe, one day.
Helicopter Pilots have tested positive for drugs in the Gulf of Mexico as well…
I have never done drugs. And simply never understood the mystique. I always drove motorcycles fast and furiously, requiring all my faculties.
Chasing beautiful Irish maidens was much more fun than popping pills or smoking ‘stuff’.
I soloed an aircraft when I was eighteen.
I started free-fall skydiving the same year, and drugs were so far away from what I wanted to do, that I can’t even begin to describe the distance…
I saw drugs as a “cissy ” thing. The preserve of the under achiever.
I associated drugs with those funny little girlish cliques you saw hiding around at University in dark corners, reveling in mind enhancing LSD trips and all that nonsense. I was totally, totally disinterested. I couldn’t even begin to imagine doing a free fall skydive (No automatic emergency reserve openers in those days) under the influence of anything. Can you imagine?
Hey-ho….look at me!…. I’m a BIRRRRRRD!… I don’t need no stinkin’ parachute…
Strange world. Strange people. What’s right to one is wrong to the other. What’s straight to one is crooked as hell to the other.
Amidst all the confusion, all the cacophony, all the multi-varied shades of opinions, life styles and dogma, I offer one solid suggestion.
I do believe this, with a passion…
(puts on Papuan-Jamaican accent)
Don’t smoke no shit and go fly, mon…
Last edited by Francis Meyrick on November 6, 2009, 5:16 am