Chapter Twenty-One: Incompatible
Every day the sonar division compartment was inspected by the Executive Officer (XO) after the morning field day. The sailors assigned to do the work stood by at attention in the compartment when the executive officer came down the ladder to make his inspection. It was nearly impossible to escape punishment if the officer was in a bad mood or intent on making them clean the compartment all over again. All that was required was to discover a bit of dust somewhere in the space. This was most likely in the metal framework of the overhead or on an iron support behind a bunk next to the bulkhead. The XO would carefully run his finger along some obscure niche that might easily be missed. If dust appeared, the cleaners would be in trouble.
There were some sailors in the division that used the metal framework in the overhead to hide a roach of marijuana or sometimes drugs. If discovered, it would be difficult to identify the owner. One day when Earnest was assigned to clean the compartment, he inadvertently tossed a sailor’s small stash of marijuana in the trash bin, not aware of what it was. The sailor sensed some danger, or was warned, it seems, as he suddenly appeared in the compartment and asked Earnest about it. Earnest then retrieved the precious substance from the trash. The sailor knew that Earnest could be trusted and would never rat on a friend about such a thing. He stashed it back in the overhead in a new place.
When the XO descended the ladder, Earnest came to attention.
“At ease,” the XO ordered. Earnest relaxed.
The XO with a practiced look of authority exuded a posture of gravity. This, of course, was serious business, like everything in the Navy. He looked around with his clipboard in one hand and dragged his fingers here and there across some obscure niches behind the racks trying desperately to discover a trace of dust. Not discovering anything of significance, he pretended to flake dust from his finger.
“This compartment is unsatisfactory, Seeker.” he declared. “You will commence a more thorough field day on this compartment after chow.”
“Yes Sir,” Earnest chirped. It was as articulate as he was allowed to be in his subordinate position as an enlisted man.” From the time he entered the outfit till the day of his discharge, his perspective on any and all things which went on was to be simply, “Yes Sir.”
The XO seemed to be finished with the compartment. Then suddenly his eyes strayed to his left. Something did not seem right. What was this? Earnest realized too late that he had forgotten to conceal the book that he was reading under his folded wool blanket at the foot of his rack. The XO’s eyes suddenly locked onto the thick book. Across the front in block letters was the title. “Philosophies of India.” It was a reprint of an old classic by Hienrich Muller. Earnest was using his spare time to delve deeper into these interesting and intellectually stimulating concepts. This was a sort of welcome escape from the absurdities of the military and at the same time helped explain how the human mind could be blinded by such daily trivialities as a minute bit of dust in the corner of a ship’s compartment. Earnest was slowly beginning to understand more about not just philosophy but the universe in which he lived. The Indian concept of Maya was particularly useful in gaining a psychological distance from Navy hogwash.
The XO’s face froze. Earnest detected a look of alarm, then disgust on his face. It was a mix of astonishment and dread. His mind could not have been more perturbed, had the book been written by Karl Marx or Josef Stalin. What the fuck was an enlisted man doing reading such stuff as this? Heavy intellectual ideas in an academic treatise. Even worse, this was surely something deeply subversive to military life. It produced strong cognitive dissonance in his brain to think that an enlisted man, officially stupid, was spending his time delving deeply into Indian philosophy?
He looked at Seeker as if he was he had just spotted the enemy. How did he come to land on his ship? An enlisted man interested in Indian philosophy. The man was educated enough to realize and suspect that there were probably some profound truths in these philosophies, of which he himself was blatantly ignorant. After all, wasn’t it that Indian Gandhi who had ridded the country of British rule? And without lifting a sword. Through “soul power” or some such shit that made the British rulers quake in their boots. These ideas flickered through his dulled mind as if an electrical circuit was about to blow.
This was the academic equivalent of LSD when it came to altering one’s consciousness. Indeed, it was surely deeply subversive. He couldn’t quite put all his thoughts together at once but was feeling a deep rage within his soul. Seeker was an official dummy, but seeking to understand ideas that were surely subversive in a deep and perhaps dangerous way. True they were way over the head of most enlisted men, let alone the officers, but might produce an attitude of awareness that could spread to others. It might alert others to the smell of Navy horseshit. If sailors began to see through the bullshit of the command and the Navy in general, it would be all over. To perform, they had to believe, at least up to a minimum. It would be necessary to get seeker off the ship but how?
For an instant, the XO seemed at a loss as to how to react. In one respect, Seeker was doing something which was quite respectable. Seeking truth. On the other hand, in the US military, a tentacle of the premier imperialist state, there was no place for truth. As in all enterprises based upon power, violence and brutality, it was truth which must remain concealed. Earnest had assumed the aura of a dangerous subversive. The hell of it was that while the officer knew that the ideas he might have understood from the book were deeply subversive to the Navy enterprise, they did not know what those ideas were.
He would have had to read the book himself to know and in doing so, might begin to have doubts himself if he understood it. Of course, all intelligent individuals did sometimes have doubts, but kept the concerns of their consciences suppressed below the level of consciousness when in the military or government.
“Seeker, you are incompatible with the Navy.” The words blurted from his lips in a sudden angry burst. Earnest saw a bright red glow on his flushed face.
Seeker was about to say “Yes Sir,” when he realized that it was perhaps not the proper response.
Exactly what I have been thinking for quite some time, Sir, he wanted to say. You are indeed correct. Fuck N’ A.
Earnest simply stood still, donning his practiced blank look of stupidity, and said nothing.
You are not as stupid as you are pretending to be, you son of a bitch, the XO was thinking. For once he wished that he could actually know the thoughts in Seeker’s devious mind. Then he could gauge just how dangerous he actually was. Peace my ass, he was thinking.
“I want to see this compartment squared away before knock off, Seeker. Is that clear?”
“Yes Sir,” Earnest squawked.
Disgusted and disturbed, as if he had come across a poison vermin, the XO turned and stomped up the ladder out of the compartment.
Earnest saw the XO’s broad ass waggle from side to side as he moved higher up the ladder before he relaxed.
Fuck. I am in a world of shit now, Earnest thought. But the asshole is perceptive. I have to give him that. “Incompatible with the Navy?”
Fuck N’A. He’s got that right. He could not have hit the nail more squarely on the head! Nevertheless, it is somewhat of an understatement.
Earnest turned it over in his mind for a few days. Sure as hell, he was incompatible with the Navy. No shit. And now he had been told so by the second highest officer on the ship. Did that make it official?
Why the hell should the command be harboring a sailor on board who was incompatible with the Navy? Now the declaration had come straight from the Horse’s mouth. If the command realized that, then they could only be cutting their own throats to keep him on board. If the ship ever engaged in any serious exercise in warfare, it would have the nature of killing other human individuals, which Earnest had no desire to engage in. Having him on board would surely undermine their sacred platitudes such as “Battle Readiness” and other such bunk. Engraved on the ship’s coat of arms were the words “Fit to Fight” and “Always Ready.”
Since he was “incompatible” in the words of the second highest officer on the ship, why should they not just call a spade a spade and get him the fuck out of the Navy altogether? That would be logical and the only way to act consistent with their convictions. Anything less would be dereliction of duty.
Earnest would try something just for the hell of it, to test their sincerity. The idea was devilishly mischievous. Maybe he was playing with fire. He had already gotten under their skin and they likely had it in for him by now. But the more he thought of it, the harder it was to resist giving them a tweak on their stuck up noses.
Why not put in a request chit asking for a discharge on the basis of the XO’s statement that he was incompatible with the Navy? Earnest thought. To deny him the discharge would be to deny that he was incompatible. On the other hand, if the XO truly believed his statement to be true, then he must approve the discharge. They would be caught in a bind.
Earnest got a special request chit and wrote it up. He gave as the reason for the request: “Request administrative discharge from U.S. Navy due to Executive Officer’s observation that I am incompatible with the U.S, Navy,”
The chit would be signed by four individuals, either approving or disapproving the request. It first went to the first class petty officer of the division, Sizow. He knew Earnest quite well and was a decent friendly guy. A Russian by ethnicity. He liked Seeker, maybe because he was so subversive of the deep horseshit they all up to their eyes in. He was ready to get out of it himself if the chance was there. He approved the chit, but this meant little. It was highly unusual, but on the other hand, he was merely agreeing with the XO.
Next was the junior officer Mocini, a little kiss-ass technocrat, who would never stick his neck out for anything suggesting dissent. Ironically, in disapproving the chit, he put himself in conflict with the XO, who was his superior officer. He must have found it curious that the XO had fucked up with the statement, of it was indeed true. It must be. Earnest was not lying.
Then it went to the Division officer Weston, who seemed conflicted about what to do. He first approved it, then for whatever reason, he crossed out his approval and checked the box for disapproval. In approving it, he had supported the XO’s statement. In rejecting it, he was refuting his own superior officer, like Mocini had done.
Finally, the chit made its way up to the XO. Had he stuck to his statement that Earnest was indeed incompatible with the Navy, he would have had to approve the request, but he did the opposite. He checked the box for “disapproved.” It meant that he was saying that even though he was incompatible, he still had to stay in the Navy. He had refuted himself.
Finally the chit landed on the Captain’s desk. He is normally referred to the “old man” among the crew. Wanting to quickly clear the air of such nonsense, he too had checked “disapproved.” He gave as his reason: “You have a contract to do the job and conform to Navy regulations.”
Finally, the chit came back down to Seeker. Normally one copy of a request is retained for the record of the command and the other given to the sailor. In this case, however, Seeker was given both copies. Clearly, the XO did not want it in the official record that he had made the statement that Earnest was incompatible.
When Earnest saw that one of the officers had first approved the chit and then backed out, he realized that he had confused the shit out of the command. They did not know what they should do with him.
The officers tried to ignore him and hoped that it would blow over and go away. On the other hand, Seeker was a sort of a nuisance to have on board. What kind of effect would he have on the other sailors, his friends on the ship? He surely talked to them about things and frequently went over drinking with them. He was surely influencing them, being older and more educated, even than most officers on board. He was a rotten potato.
They were disturbed by his tranquility and peaceable nature. No matter what happened, he showed no anger or emotion like other sailors. He was always reading books. Worse than that, he took courses from universities in the US and studied on board. Many or the books he read were on India or esoteric religions. When he was given leave, he did not head to an American state, but bought a ticket and headed off to India.
He was the odd man out. Most certainly incompatible as hell. But on the other hand, like any bureaucracy, the agenda was to isolate him and screw him to the wall, rather than to free him from his misery.
More alarming, Earnest was getting tired of playing dumb. He was planning his next move. His sea lawyer days were about to commence.