I posted this on my facebook page, but I'm putting here for the perusal of those who are not on facebook, I hope they find it enjoyable.
THE X-69 LOG.
"I am an atomic mariner,
on the Vinson, I have sailed.
I’ve tried to cope with Navy life,
and miserably have I failed."
Thus began my inaugural entry, ‘The Rime of the Atomic Mariner’, into the newest volume of the X-69 log.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. I need to provide some background information to explain that.
The Navy has many traditions, some ‘official’, some not. Amongst the non-official traditions, is the keeping of unofficial (and officially forbidden) logbooks on many watch stations. These books are known by a variety of names, but usually can be lumped together under the common moniker of ‘Bitch Book’.
This is not to say that they are merely books full of complaints, although they always have their fair share of them. In the days before computers became personal and the word ‘blog’ came into being, the ‘Bitch Book’ served as a sort of paper chat room, a pen-and-ink social network for those standing late-night watches to record their thoughts, concerns, ideas, artistry, and prosaic and poetic talents. In the Reactor Electrical Department aboard the U.S.S. Carl Vinson, ours was known as the X-69 Log.
The book was kept in a tool chest in the Reactor Room. A standard Navy-Issue log book, its green cloth cover was emblazoned with a very large X-69, around which were to be found oodles and oodles of doodles. Inside, it’s ruled pages were filled with short lines of nonsense, profound and not-so-profound prose and poetry, and hand-drawn cartoons providing a chronicle of the events of day-to-day life aboard the aircraft carrier. There were ongoing ‘flame wars’, although I don’t believe we used that term in those days. There were cartoons and erotic sketches, idyllic poetry, rambling entries that made sense to no one except the author, and the occasional gem.
There were comments on the ports we visited, and on the long times at sea. There were sentimental musings about the people left at home, and derogatory comments on those aboard. There were insults and compliments, deep thoughts and empty-headed doodles. If one were patient enough to wade through the bickering and griping, one could find an occasional gem of profound ponderance.
In my day, there was an ongoing series of cartoons, with a sort of ‘Captain Underpants’ character loosely (or not so loosely) based on one of the Engineering Department officers, which provided some levity. Like many of the entries, the cartoons often had no meaning unless you were versed in Reactordepartmentspeak, the language spoken by the guys who spent long hours below the waterline making sure that nuclear fission occurred when and how it was supposed to occur. Reactordepartmentspeak was a combination of Technish and slang which evolved from long hours spent in the company of those who were intimate with both neutrons and neuroses. To understand them, you also had to be aware of recent events, local gossip, and the impressions of the character of various persons who inhabited the ship. The X-69 Log was targeted to a very select audience.
Everyone had a pen-name in the X-69 log. While those within the department knew the aliases of everyone else within the department, it was presumed that outsiders who happened upon those volumes did not know whose writings they were viewing. While the authorship was changed to protect the innocent, the subjects of the chronicles were often identified by name. Slanderous, some might call it. The nom de plume provided an assumed level of protection if the mud one was slinging stuck a little too well.
When a volume neared its final pages, a new log-book was acquired, the X-69 logo was added, and it was readied for use. A tradition within the tradition was to hand the new volume over the senior-most sailor in the department (officers and chiefs excepted), to commission it with the first entry. Being ‘the old guy’ meant you got to defile those virgin pages with your innermost thoughts and ideas, or simply with gibberish, as was your wont. I have no idea what became of the retired volumes, I suppose they pass into the possession of one of the contributing sailors through some tradition unknown to me.
Thus, when a new volume was scheduled to be started, as I was preparing to leave the ship and the Navy, the task fell on my shoulders to commission it. I realized, of course, this new volume could either be lost to obscurity or remain as a lasting legacy. I desired to try to compose something worthy of the honour. When commissioning ships, they do not use cheap wine to break across the bow, but fine champaign. My words had to be just as fine, and to flow with the same golden character. Or so I hoped.
In keeping with the ‘Bitch Book’ tradition, my words needed also to amount to a ‘bitch’ of sorts regarding the ship, and Navy life in general. After all, I was departing for good, my post would be anonymous, the log officially did not exist, and my entry would not be read by senior officials (or so I supposed). Thus encouraged, I set pen to paper and composed my thoughts, in rhyme, for the perusal of future generations of nuclear sailors who may similarly find themselves on a lonely back watch in the bowels of the Carl Vinson.
As the ink flowed from my pen, I griped gripes, named names, and recorded a whimsical history of my time on board. It was all there: the great sledge-hammer massacre, The water-saving shower heads, ‘Beer Days’, Subic Bay, the Hong-Kong generator fiasco, all of it. The metre was, perhaps, irregular, and I had to take poetic license to complete some of the rhymes. Nonetheless, I had filled several of those virgin pages with my verse before I handed the book over for general use.
It was then that I learned just how well-read those volumes actually were. Several of the chiefs and officers, even those who were not in our department, casually mentioned those verses when I found myself in their presence. My nom de plume was not so obscure as I had assumed. I was once stopped by a Supply Department officer and asked about the ‘sledge hammer massacre’, he having read my mention of it in the log. (I should note that our Reactor Officer, Commander Flaherty, is credited with giving the sledge hammer incident that title. I did not call it that in my poem.) For a volume that officially did not exist, it had a rather wide readership.
Fortunately, I had not said all that I wanted to say in that book. Our Chief asked me once why I didn’t mention a couple of people, or a couple of incidents. I told him I had, but opted not to put them in the book. A couple of pages of ‘lost verses’ were composed and hidden away, hopefully not to be found until I had departed with honourable discharge in hand, leaving the ship behind. On my last watch in the Reactor Room, I took those pages, rolled and taped inside of a plastic bag, and hid them in as secure location.
I’ve often wondered if they were ever found. If so, did they have any meaning to the person finding them? Had enough time passed that the names and events were forgotten, lost to the lore of the Reactor Room? It’s not something upon which I dwell, but my mind is occasionally drawn back to the memory of those verses, even though the verses themselves elude me now.
Quod scripsi, scripsi.