The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for July, 2023

Ballad of the Tall Submariner

People ask me often, upon learning I’m a submariner, “Aren’t you too tall for Submarines?”

My usual reply is to joke that I was 6’8” when I started (4” taller than my actual height)

Look, I’m not saying it wasn’t problematic at times. Heck, I even started an actual ballad once. Went like this:

(Ahem) “Ballad of the tall submariner
“Down the hatch, Down the ladder,
Bash the head and see brain cells scatter.”

And so it was, at the bottom of the main hatch of the USS Shark, SSN-591, I turned to see my new home. It left an impression.

On my right temporal lobe, specifically. It was the most solid thing I’d ever felt.

Being a nub, I had no idea what I’d just clocked my cranium on. And therein lay the beauty of the Submarine qualification program. I would soon be able to identify every single head trauma by ship’s frame, subsystem, associated components, function, and nomenclature. It would also teach me many new terms, some technical, some… well, some were just eloquent expressions developed in a climate ripe for salty diatribes. New words for new levels of pain.

It still hurt though.

My first destination was the ship’s office. Maybe 20 steps through control and the upper level passageway – past Sonar, past Supply, across from Radio. In those 20 steps, I found the following: two battle lanterns, two vents, two pipe mounting brackets (the hard way). There may have been more, the last few steps were getting a little fuzzy.

In somewhat of a boxer’s daze, I took a hard draft reading of the ship’s office door, height from the deck. It stood approximately 6’2”. I was 6’4”. My forehead remembers that reading precisely, to this day, and little else after.

The first underway was the next morning. I met what would become my defining nemesis shortly. But first, I hit the torpedo room/crews mess watertight door and softened up the back of my head. The opening was maybe 3’ tall, and I thought I’d try to fold forward and hope I was flexible enough to get my head and feet through at the same time. I would soon learn to go feet first whenever possible.

But immediate problems demanded immediate attention. Still rubbing the back of my skull, I discovered The Vent. It was in the crews mess – the one that protruded only an inch or so from the overhead, and painted to match (which is how everything gets painted on a submarine). It’s edge caught me well up into the hairline with absolutely no warning. I rocked back a bit, and re-adjusted. And sat down a moment on one of the benches.

Whereupon someone asked me where my qual card was, and why was I sitting and not working on it. I failed to notice the entire room’s attention suddenly focused on what my answer to this ungentle challenge would be.

I tried not to glare. I knew better. But the glaze in my eyes was misinterpreted as petulance. Ok, maybe it WAS petulance, but the attention was also a trap, set, coiled, and waiting for me. Sensing a tedious discussion, I stood back up, smug about having avoided an outburst, only to hit the same vent in the same spot.

I managed finally to stagger clear of the galley, only to bump-test a pipe at the top of the ladder to lower level. In my own head, the impact seemed to say, “Clang!” It would evolve into an entire battery of internal sound effects, some of which I would actually utter out loud at times. This would prove in a few moments to be a bad idea.

It happened again on returning to the torpedo room, this time on the starboard torpedo ram handle that sat waiting for someone just over 6’2” to duck through the watertight door NOT feet-first, and in a hurry. There really was a “clang” that time, and may have been a couple minutes downtime on my part. It happened again while avoiding the head valve in ops upper level. It happened in AMRLL. It happened in Shaft Alley. It happened in LL Berthing. Always, in my head, I heard and said, “Clang”. And I moved on.

In a couple short weeks of underway, I had memorized the overhead layout of the boat faster than anything else. I developed the skill of sensing impact with my hair, reflexively preventing the worst of impacts. As I would navigate a passage, my head would flop and bend like a curb feeler on a Chicago Cadillac. The first few days’ worth of damage had begun to heal, and my qual card began to fill out with signatures. I began to walk with a little confidence. I walked a little straighter, as it hurt to hunch constantly, letting my neck control my destiny. I’m sure it looked goofy, but it worked. Mostly.

And so it was that I came to be gliding through the crew’s mess again one fine day, intent on my task at hand. With a full head of steam, I spectacularly failed to duck for The Vent as I strode through towards the Torpedo room. What happened next is a little fuzzy, but there was a “clang” that wasn’t mine. I was busy holding my head from the gritty impact on the Vent of Despair, which had set me down on a bench again, so someone took the liberty of saying it for me. In my misery, I burst out with some sailor-ish vulgarity I had just recently mastered, signaling to the ever-attentive crew that I’d reached some sort of emotional limit. Suddenly the entire space erupted in enthusiastic chorus of “Clang!”

And thus for many weeks, I endured being known simply as “Clang”. The name lasted through my time of qualifying. As a Sonarman, I couldn’t think of a more ignominious nickname.

Eventually I managed to live the whole thing down. But to this day, when I whack something with my head, that little voice yells “CLANG” in my head. And it’s not my voice. It a chorus of shipmates, who understand. They are with me still.

Photo: USS Razorback, SS-394, 2022. ©️Glenn Roesener

The (continued) Evolution of Man


For all but a mere blip in human history, our species has been defined by what we can do with our hands. Mankind is known by our works.

Manual labor. It has brought us to this state of affairs. We work, and build, and tear down, and build anew and afresh. Sometimes better, sometimes worse, but always different. We dig the earth, sow our seeds, harvest our sustenance, and prepare and eat it with our hands.

We have elevated our condition by the sweat of our brow, employing our hands to create ways to not have to use them anymore.

But now we hate our manual work. The very thing that brought us out from the state of all animals is the very thing we hate. We seek a better name for ourselves, and unabashedly, and have taken our conceit as our name.

Homo Sapiens:
Specifically, the name we call ourselves means “Wise”. After millennia of observation, we decided that would be our new name. We liked being wise, because manual things make us tired, and wisdom eases our burden. We think of ourselves as quite satisfied with this self-characterization. It soothes our anxiety to think ourselves as especially wise amongst the beasts of the earth.

But we are anything but satisfied. Calling ourselves wise hasn’t seemed to help much. Maybe we should have done it differently.

Homo Excogitatoris:
We cogitate. We think, and especially like to think that this is the essence of our being, because it directs our hands, without the necessary judgmental quality of wisdom. If we look across history, it might describe us better than being wise. But no. We want to think of our thinking as wise thinking, not mere cleverness, and to result in less manual labor. Indeed, most thinking is directed towards how to lessen our physical load.

Homo Anim:
We could have chosen a word like this from the Latin catalogue of descriptors. The word invokes the Spiritual. Our capacity for having a spirit metaphysically attached to our bodies is a notion we can’t shake. We can direct our minds to spiritual meanings when we want to. But every time we approach the cosmos spiritually, we become frightened by that which neither our hands nor minds can control. To define ourselves by something greater than us with no consideration for our primary tools – our hands – seems risky and incomplete. To align our will to something that is outside of our control defies our logos. We resist beliefs that take the reins out of our hands. Because push comes to shove, our hands are what got us here.

Homo Concordis:
Some of us, in observing our history, learned that with the right sort of thinking, we could lessen our manual work load by enlisting the help of others, and creating agreements for behaviour and effort that hold the alliances together. But the doing is fraught with the pitfalls of greed and dishonesty. We say we want an equitable accord, but what we strive for to attain is infested with everything but equality. To truly give ourselves to the collective means our fate is taken out of our own hands. And that has been, to most of us, an unacceptable condition. Concordance, with its implication of honest cooperation, is but a poor substitute for Spirit. It is a spirit we can still manipulate in our imagination, and dominate in our social life.

If we subscribe to the evolutionary progression of humans, the first distinction of Homo observed that we could do stuff, “Habilus”. Later when we could do it standing up, giving us more freedom to use our hands, we named ourselves “Erectus”. Only later did we learn to do it with some discernment beyond the immediacy of survival.

And now, we have come to loathe that which made us into what we are. We hate the sweat of our brow. We hate being just one in a sea of competing creatures, equal in both capability and vulnerability. We are afraid of the possibility that our existence depends and is meant to serve a greater cause than our own. Our hands hurt from overuse, and from that pain we suffer. Thus we cling fast to our independence, and thus create more suffering and pain.

In considering the coming ages, it would seem silly to posit that Sapiens are the pinnacle of development, that this unsettled state of being should define us forever after. Indeed, perhaps we have already evolved. Perhaps we have already branched out into these various species, and have yet to recognize it from such close and personal subjectivity.

But perhaps, as we strive with every fibre of our collective being to exchange our vulnerable bodies, twisted minds, wounded spirits, and physical suffering for intelligent machines drawn from the dust of the earth that we can design for our own use, and to manipulate for our immediate needs, we can be known for our most prominent trait. Homo Mechanimus. But then… we wouldn’t be human any longer, would we? It seems we just can’t figure out how to be happy with what we are.

Perhaps our next appellation in the parade of species will be accurately be called Homo Turbatus – Disgruntled Humans.

It seems likely that, in our self-induced turmoil, we will wind up replacing ourselves with something non-human. We loathe ourselves that much. We seem hell-bent on that goal, to replace ourselves with machines.

Then again, perhaps our nomenclature is driven by our aspirations. Perhaps Erectus stood up and walked because that was their goal, not their inherent quality. Perhaps Sapiens merely wish to be wise, and that informs both our purpose and our name. Perhaps we will grow into and through our current form, finally make use of this trademark wisdom we take such pride in, and find ourselves moving on to our next purpose. Perhaps the final state of Homo Sapiens, with guidance from those Creative Powers we are too afraid to give control to now, will become known throughout the universe as Homo Contentus.

Humans, Satisfied.

That would indeed be a new Creation.