Typical for a carrier on a Western Pacific cruise, we spent most of the time between our home port in Alameda, California and Pearl Harbor at General Quarters preparing for the necessary Operational Readiness Inspection.
That night, while I was leaning against a skid of bombs stowed outside the hatch to my birthing area, my muse whispered, "I am out of here. I'm heading to one of those nasty bars on Hotel Street for a case or two of booze. Don't try to find me."
"These bombs, for one thing."
"What about them?"
"Do you ever wonder whose names are on them?"
"And that doesn't give you pause?"
"Yes. But unlike you, I can't avoid military service unless I run to Sweden or Canada."
"You should have run. Now you can't. Now you're here, wearing dungarees, a denim work shirt, and a round hat. So, you're off to Yankee Station. By then, it will be too late for the names on these bombs. I won't be part of it. See you around, loser."
I don't know how muses move. Perhaps they astral travel from place to place. Perhaps they transport like Captain Kirk did when he left his starship. Maybe it's all smoke and mirrors and they exist in a quantum state, entangled with whoever or whatever catches their fancy. How she left doesn't matter. What matters is the hint of jasmine from her old-fashioned L'Air du Temps perfume that hung in the air in the bomb assembly area.
Busy installing fins, boosters and lugs on each bomb, the men of G Division were oblivious to the jasmine. The scent was exceptionally strong near the long-handled, two-wheeled, yellow bobsleds of MK82s waiting for an elevator ride to the flight deck. She must have lingered there watching me, possibly trying to erase the names she could see on the bombs, names invisible to me, possibly inscribing a prayer for the not-yet dead or even a curse that might cause the bomb to end up being ditched at sea.
In spite of the shouting and clattering frenzy of the of the assembly area, I felt alone in some silent place where writers who have lost their voices are consigned for the duration. The duration referred to a multitude of eons, eras, periods, epochs and ages slated to end when...the Vietnam War was over...the USS Ranger returned to Alameda the following spring...the people of Sweden sent me a one-way plane ticket to Goteburg...or when the now muse-less writer came to his senses.
Suffice it to say, I was without a muse for many months, a year, actually, having--as people said--joined the Navy to let the world see me, in the Gulf of Tonkin, on the Star Ferry to Kowloon, on the beach at Kailua, in the shadow of the Great Buddha of Kamakura and on the mess decks, hanger deck, flight deck and other assorted compartments and spaces of the ship while the officers on the bridge wrote "steaming as before" in the deck log.
In one post, there is neither the time nor the space to record how many bottles of Scotch my muse consumed in Hawai'i for "the duration" any more than there's time and space to record how many Kirin and San Miguel beers I consumed in various liberty ports. I have said all I want to say about that, in a fictionalized way, in my novel Garden of Heaven.
It goes without saying that I didn't declare myself as a conscientious objector just to get my muse back. That, my fellow writers, was the least of my concerns. I was concerned about the bombs and the names and whether just being there on that ship made me into a co-conspirator of the war. Perhaps my muse sat on my shoulder while I wrote out my formal application for the chain of command. She refuses to tell me.
I finally left the Navy in October of 1970. My friends told me that's when I woke up and smelled the coffee. True enough. I remember the day I was handed my discharge papers and informed that short of a nuclear war, I would never be allowed in the Navy again. Up to that moment, I had been on my own recognizance, a Journalist Third Class Petty Officer with plenty of grit but no muse.
On that chilly October day, puffy white clouds rushed eastward across the blue sky with the incoming front and, as the afternoon wore on, there was a noticeable hint of jasmine in the air.
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