I’ve got headaches and toothaches and bad times too, but on the upside I have life, for what it’s worth. Yesterday over ten thousand people in China had their existence cut short by a cataclysmic earthquake that took lives and buried the dead in one fell swoop. A little over a week ago, the nation of Burma was devastated by a cyclone that washed more than one hundred thousand lives out to sea with the tide. Ken McDunn had it right when, after the accident onboard the ship he got a tattoo that says; “The Shadow of Death, A Fact Of Life”.
Mc Dunn is one of a kind and we met in boot camp years ago. He got there a day before I did and we served our entire enlistment together, assigned to the same school, and later the same ship. McDunn was skinny and pale and a real life skin head, whose buddies were all on trial for murder. On Sundays, the one day that we were allowed to look at a newspaper, he would point out the articles that recounted the trial of his fellow skinheads who eventually wound up in prison. When we met, Ken had no tats, but by the time we had served our two year enlistment with the USN, his upper body was nearly covered with ink.
Like myself, Ken was not happy with his decision to enlist and chafed at the lunacy that is characteristic within the armed forces. We were in a drill company in boot camp and as a result tobacco was forbidden. Ken’s parents would send him chewing tobacco in the bottom of a Pringles can that they had removed all the chips from before replacing them and resealing the can. We would volunteer for the overnight watches so that we could indulge our nicotine craving while everyone else was sleeping.
The store on base was restricted for recruits that were still in boot camp, but McDunn didn’t care and would strut right in there like he belonged and buy cigarettes for the both of us that we secretly smoked at any chance we could get. It was big risk for him to break the rules and it could have resulted in an extra week in boot camp, but Ken was a genuine iconoclast who believes that authority exists only to be challenged and usurped.
When we graduated from boot camp Ken and I had one mission; like many freshly minted recruits in the armed services, we struck out to find some whores. The working girls that we came upon were supremely sketchy and he took the fat one, while I got the skinny one. They took us back to their filthy, one bedroom apartment and Ken and his girl went into the back bedroom while my gum cracking wraith and I took our place on the fold out couch. I’ll never forget the bored expression that she looked up at me with while my pale, skinny ass bounced up and down like an over revved piston. All the while she kept popping her gum and saying, “Are you finished yet”. It turned out that the experience did not match our expectations that had been eight weeks in the making.
When the ship was out at sea Ken would do something that, to this day, I find hilarious. Being assigned to a ship meant that when we were away from port we were on duty 24/7 and there was no way to escape, but Ken found a way to get time off even when the ship was in the middle of the ocean. Periodically he would collect up some snacks and soda pop and a book and then he would vanish into one of the ships many vacant crawl spaces for days at a time.
The first couple of times that he did this it caused quite a stir, inspiring man over board drills and panic within the ship’s hierarchy, but after a few days Ken would reappear, rested and ready resume his duties, albeit in a lackluster fashion. Of course he would be punished for his unauthorized absence, but he didn’t care, and I knew that he would do it again regardless. They always came to find me when Ken pulled one of his disappearing acts and I would always assure them that he was still onboard and would come back when he was ready, he just needed a little time off to get lost in a book.
Authority can always be countermanded so long as there is a will that contends, but the power of nature is undeniable. When the earth shakes so mercilessly that humans are crushed under their own toppled creations, or the ocean encroaches upon the land to drag the living into its abyss there is little resistance that can be offered. There is nowhere to hide when the shadow of death stretches its pall across a landscape.
So long as we are the living we can continue to escape the things that displease us and avoid situations that are unpleasant. Eventually though, a bony, outstretched finger will tap every single one of us on the shoulder with a summons, and there will be nowhere to run. Until then, enjoy what you still have; life.