Something I've been noticing more and more over the course of this vacation has been how many of the new acquaintances I make feel compelled to sympathize with my situation as a merchant mariner. Yes, I know I'm gone for long periods of time, sometimes weeks but usually months, and I know it makes things difficult.
If you're single then you'll never have that Australian Shepard you've always wanted, much less a goldfish for a pet. If you're married you miss out on many of the small joys of family life and a few of the big celebrations. Believe me I know, my mother raised four boys in the woods while my dad was off at sea. There were many Christmas's and Birthday's when the best we got was a Single Side Band ship to shore call from Goonhilly, UK.
What I'm trying to say is that myself and anyone who knows me understands the hardship of being at sea for months at a time (Or away for weeks and weeks of training courses while on vacation). The last thing I need is for a stranger to remind me of this unfortunate aspect of my chosen occupation.
How did I get onto this rant? I was at the doctors office having the tartar noisily scraped off of my teeth when the dental hygienist began the usual latex gloves in your mouth chit chat.
D.H. "So, what do you do?"
Patient "I'm a Merchant Mariner."
D.H. "Like in the Marines?"
Patient "No, I work on ships."
D.H. "Like in the Navy?"
Patient "No, I work on commercial cargo ships carrying cargoes from ports all over the world."
D.H. "Oh, so how long does that take?"
Patient "I'm usually gone for two or three months."
D.H. "Oh my! That is a long time...it must be hard?"
Patient"Yes it can be but I like my job."
D.H. "Are you married?"
Patient "Suction please...spit...no I'm not."
D.H. "It must be hard to date."
To make matters worse, when the doctor had a look at my mouth he ran me through the same questioning. He then felt compelled to relate a story about a patient of his who also was a merchant mariner. This poor fellow was married, had several children and was left by his wife of 23 years when she finally gave up waiting for him to come home.
Doctor "He was quite devastated."
Patient "Can I have the bill now?"
To add to my distemper, once outside of the office I recognized an ex-girlfriend of a friend who also ships out. We stopped to talk and she was glad to hear that her ex had moved to West Africa, an obvious symptom of his sailing disease, where he now has a family. She also informed me that she was married (Something she did shortly after their breakup ensuing his first trip to sea) and left me with some uplifting advice:
"Get a shore job and get married. It's a lot more fun."
So it goes in the life of a merchant mariner. You've always had that twinge of doubt since the first days at the Maritime Academy when you would talk to your old high school buddies who went to colleges with a 4 to 1 student ratio in their favor or to party schools where class was a break in between keg stands. Now you're all educated and deployed in the work force and still you wonder what it would be like if you had a day job and if weekends only lasted 48 hours.
One thing I'm sure of, I wouldn't be sitting in the sun on my porch writing about it. No, I'd surely be in a cubicle somewhere at least an hour from wherever I lived.