November 2011

Apple Work

29 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

 

 

 

(Image removed at the request of Ramon)

 

 

 

My guess is that some kind of apple preserves is happening here. The photo was shot on 14 October in the Turkish village of Mustafapasa.

Posted by Ellen

We have permission from The Ensign™ to share in this space one of his stories of high adventure on the high seas. As many of you have already heard, he is currently deployed on the USS Ingraham, a navy frigate patrolling the Pacific off the coast of South America.

Happy thanksgiving!

Last week, we caught a drug smuggling ship disguised as a fishing vessel, which is awesome. However, there is a down side; having the prize vessel means that we have to send a crew over there to man the fishing vessel [and] what this means for the rest of us is  ...  we get even less sleep than we did before.

I stand watch, get a break just long enough to take care of my DIVO stuff and eat and if I'm lucky get two hours of sleep before I have to go back on watch again.

Eyeing an opportunity to get off the ship and do something interesting and new, I asked the captain if I could go be part of the captured vessel's crew for one of the shifts. She smiled at my excitement to get over to the other ship but said no. So the next day I asked again, citing the fact that it would be a good "learning" experience for me. She thought about it for a short time, but once again shook her head. Third time's the charm. I approached her stateroom the next night after dinner. "Captain," I said, "what an adventure this could be for me! A chance to be the executive officer on board a captured drug smuggling vessel would make this deployment for me!"

Finally, out of being annoyed by my Stein persistence more than anything else, the captain shrugged her shoulders and picked up her phone. "Go ahead and put Ensign Stein on the watch bill for tomorrow morning, uh huh, okay, thanks." She looked up at me and smiled. "Well, go pack a backpack, Electro, you're on the 0600 small boat transfer tomorrow morning."

And my adventure began.

All I packed was a book, my board shorts, my flip-flops, and a water bottle.

The next morning I was transferred over to the fishing vessel early. The first thing I noticed was an incredibly putrid smell. I gagged even before I stepped foot on board. These drug smugglers really went all out in making it appear that they were a legitimate fishing ship; they even had actual fish in the icebox below deck. ...  only I'm sure all of the ice has melted by now. It was one of the worst smells I have ever been exposed to. One of the other guys started throwing up immediately.

I spent most of the morning down in the bilge with the resident engineer while a Coast Guard guy and an LT drove the ship. We finally figured out how to rig the electric pump and got the bilge flooding down as much as we could. The engine died a couple of times, too, but we were able to get it up and running after some sweet engineering magic.

After everything was set down below, I changed into my board shorts and flip-flops, grabbed one of the cots, brought it up to the roof of the pilot house, took out my book (Moby Dick), and lounged out and read for an hour. The sun was shining, the ocean had a nice breeze, it was awesome!

After a short lunch consisting of a pop tart and a peanut butter sandwich, we made a startling, disgusting discovery: cockroaches. At first we just saw one, and there was a bottle of Raid, so we quickly took care of it. Then another came out, and we killed that one too. Then another. What the hell was going on? The Coast Guard guy noticed that they were all coming from behind this one crack in the bulkhead, so we decided to spray some Raid in that crack. We hit the mother lode! All of a sudden, cockroaches started pouring out of there like the mass exodus from a movie theater after someone pulled a fire alarm. Big ones, small ones, fat ones, fast ones. It was unnerving, to say the least. We sprayed the ones we could, but the others made fast to another crack and were gone. For the rest of my time on board the prize ship, my head was on a swivel.

I was John Wayne in a classic western movie, only [with] a can of Raid instead of a 44 magnum, and in a fishing ship floating in the Pacific instead of a western frontier town.

After the cockroach scare died down a little, we got a call from the Ingraham. There were some buoys way off in the distance that were suspicious, and they wanted us to investigate. We left our stationing spot off the Ingraham's port quarter and headed for the buoys. Well, these buoys did not have any drugs in them, but the lines around a buoy had wrapped tightly around a poor sea turtle's left front leg. Feeling bad for the turtle, we decided to pull up close and cut it free. The turtle was so funny up close; it had zero expression on its face, it didn't even say thank you! It felt good to save the turtle's life, though.

All of a sudden, after the turtle swam away, the buoy started pulling really hard from us. Apparently, there was something really strong caught in the net below the buoy. What happened next was all at once terrifying and amazing:  A twelve-foot manta ray–twelve feet no exaggeration– wrapped all in the net, exploded from the depths of the ocean. It started splashing about vigorously in the sea and pulled the buoy out of our hands and then dove back down underneath, temporarily pulling the buoys down with it below the surface. We couldn't believe it! Watching a sea monster splash around so close to where I was made me feel like a character from Moby Dick.

After the experience with the turtle and manta ray, the engine died and we were dead in the water until our reliefs came that night. I went back to the Ingraham smelling like long-dead fish, but filled with tales to tell. About how I fought a war against an army of roaches. About how I saved a life. About how I came face to face with a sea monster from the deep. It was so much fun. I was tired, sunburned, I had to stand watch on the Ingraham's bridge from two in the morning until seven in the morning, I smelled awful, but I was happy!

Hopefully this message finds everyone with full bellies and in good health. Tell people I miss them and that I wish I could be there.

Turkey Bowl

24 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

This Thanksgiving Day we 99-percenters might as well be grateful for football, a blessing as mixed as any but as American as . . . never mind. The postcard pictured here is from 1900

In Maine, Deering and Portland high schools have been facing off in their annual Turkey Bowl since 1911; the forecast for this hundredth annual game calls for clear skies, temperatures just below freezing, and a Deering victory, though you never can tell.

In Alabama, college football starts getting serious this weekend as LSU contronts Arkansas and Alabama has to deal with Auburn; if these games go according to book, LSU and Alabama will meet at New Year's for the national title, in a rematch of an October game that just didn't go right at all for Alabama.

I suppose that only the very smallest families in America could possibly all dine together at the same Thanksgiving table; our table, like so many others, will be missing important people this year, for all sorts of reasons. But we'll be thinking of them, and probably making fun of them, and we'll raise a glass and eat cranberries and maybe later if it's not too cold, some of us will go out in the street and throw a football around, because it's a free country or something like that.

Posted by Ellen

In 1940, Nick chose to black out one word on the sign in front of his Greek restaurant in Paris, Kentucky, the word that came between "real" and "spaghetti." Mussolini's Fascist regime had just invaded Greece, and the now-missing word, of course, must have been "Italian."

Occu-Pie

22 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

The Washington Post Online posted this photo the other day, which features our own Ted Stein (in cammy) organizing the Occupy D.C.'s very first OccuPie feast. Supporters contributed 15 home-baked pies, which, when sliced very, very, very thin, fed the multitude. Occupy D.C. was that day occupying the vacant building in the background here, which was once a homeless shelter and later Franklin School. Soon after OccuPie, however, the occupiers were evicted and had to regroup out of doors.

Blooming Confusion

21 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

At least two ornamental cherry trees in our neighborhood have broken out in blooms this month, somehow mistaking November for April. As should be evident in this scene on Lombard Street, all the other trees have a much better grip on seasonal propriety.

On the Parkway

19 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

This is something new for Philadelphia, and perhaps for the American urban scene in general: a permanent concrete ping pong table, with paddles and balls stored underneath, recently installed in the grass strip alongside Benjamin Franklin Parkway, about halfway between city hall and the art museum.

The Birdwatcher

18 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

He had driven a thousand miles for the chance to set up his scope at Deception Pass, on Puget Sound about an hour north of Seattle. But the notebook in his left hand received no new entries; he saw birds, to be sure, but he'd seen them all before. The only thing he saw that day of even mild ornithological interest was the long line of black dots way out at sea–they were grebes, he told us, a very common waterbird, but a kind that didn't usually flock together so massively; there were hundreds of grebes out there on the tide, he estimated, bobbing and diving, more by far than he'd ever seen in one place before.

The Audubon Society reports that grebes are pretty standard inhabitants of Deception Pass and thereabouts, along with mergansers, cormorants, black oystercatchers, alcids, and common and Pacific loons. But the big ornithological draw, especially in the wintertime, is the red-throated loon. Maybe this birdwatcher will schedule another trip when the weather is a whole lot worse.

In the Plaza

17 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

I don't know where Lenfest Plaza is in Philadelphia, but I gather that this airplane sculpture by Jordan Griska has been installed there recently, along with some Oldenburg paintbrushes. Guess I have to check it out.

L'Arc en Ciel

16 Nov 2011
Posted by Ellen

That's the Eiffel Tower under all that sky, late in the afternoon of October 25, 2011.