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Throwback Write-Up #3: A Tribe Called Quest - People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm / (30 Years Later) [Discussion]
Artist: A Tribe Called Quest
BackgroundProducer and MC Kamaal “Q-Tip” Fareed, the late MC Malik “Phife Dawg” Taylor, DJ Ali Shaheed Mohammed, and MC Jarobi White make up A Tribe Called Quest. They came together in Queens, NY in 1985, where Tip and Phife were childhood friends, and went to high school with Shaheed and Jarobi. The name "A Tribe Called Quest" was penned by the group The Jungle Brothers. The two groups were a part of the Native Tongues collective, a group of hip-hop artists that focused on positive-minded and good-meaning Afrocentric lyrics, while incorporating heavy sampling and jazz-influenced beats. Other members included De La Soul and Queen Latifah. Through the Native Tongues, Tip earned himself guest spots on The Jungle Brothers and De La Soul albums, propelling the Tribe to labels' eyes - initially, no label wanted to sign them, but Tip's appearance on 3 Feet High and Rising earned them a contract with Jive Records in 1989.
They began recording Travels later that year and finished early in 1990. Tip described the recording process as exciting, since all there was to do was record and make music. Sampling plays a huge part in the album, as Tip and Shaheed would listen to records several seconds at a time to re-work them in relationship with other records that would fit. While recording, Shaheed played all live instruments, DJ scratches, and programming, while Tip handled everything else with production, including sampling and mixing.
The album is playful, cheery, and laid back. It is a breath of fresh air so to say, in a time when gangsta rap was beginning to dominate the mainstream. It paved the way for the alternative hip-hop and jazz rap subgenres, and proved to be massively influential in its production, stemming from the breaks that Q-Tip chose to sample. And how about that title? Shaheed described it as:
It was something that Tip was toying around with. He was messing around with different words and putting stuff together. He wanted to make the title something people would remember. I remember when he told me, it sounded so crazy that I was like, “Let’s go with it.” It really made sense. Thinking about the words in the title, they really defined the mission and our thoughts at that time. We really wanted people to believe in our music and to open themselves up to it. We wanted to unite masses of people together. This is why the people that are painted on the album cover are different people painted with different colors. It was representative of humanity and mankind and people coming together over the love of our music. The title was fitting.So without further ado, this is People's Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm
Track by track, plus some notable linesPush It Along – This ain’t trial and error, more like tribin’ era
- The album opens with a baby crying, set against some soft chimes. Almost as abruptly as it began, a smooth bassline and mellow horns come in, a sample from George Washington Jr’s “Loran’s Dance,” set to some drums sampled from Junior Mance’s “Thank You Falletin Me Be Mice Elf Agin.” These two jazz-funk samples provide the beat to Push It Along, as Q-Tip comes in with his signature laid-back flow. The first words ever spoken on a Tribe song are “Q-Tip is my title,” as Tip casually informs the listener what they will find out later – this is Tip’s album. He commands the driver’s seat and never lets up on the gas, proving his prowess both as an MC and as a DJ. A simple chorus comes in, repeating the words “Push it along, push it along, push it along, yeah push it along,” right before the 5 Foot Assassin comes in for his first verse as a part of the Tribe. Phife Dawg bounces on his verse about sitting back and chilling, as Q-Tip gets off two more verses, both about some small worries in life. But he reassures that “this ain’t trial and error, more like Tribin’ era,” letting the listener know that this is what the Tribe is all about – mellow bars about relaxing. All you gotta do is push it along.
- After the final chorus, the bass from Eugene McDaniels’ “Jagger the Dagger” plays behind Jarobi calling out to the rest of the Tribe, to the Jungle Brothers, and other members of the Native Tongues. This outro appears on a few of the other tracks, specifically After Hours, Bonita Applebum, Rhythm (Devoted to the Art of Moving Butts), and Ham ‘n’ Eggs. Jarobi ends the song by saying “A friend of mine asked me about the Luck of Lucien,” bringing us into the second song on the album.
- Luck of Lucien opens with one of the most recognizable melodies in history, sampling the trumpets from The Beatles' “All You Need Is Love.” Interestingly enough, the portion from “All You Need Is Love” that the Tribe sampled borrows from “La Marseillaise,” the French national anthem. This fits in with the theme of “Luck of Lucien,” as Q-Tip tells the story of Lucien Revolucien, a French hip-hop artist who was part of the Native Tongues and featured on Afrika Bambaata’s "Hip-Hop Against Apartheid"/"L'Unité Africaine." Q-Tip takes charge of the song, rapping over Billy Brooks’ soul-jazz song “Fourty Nights,” a beat that sounds reminiscent of a car or light beer commercial on an NFL Sunday, or also of the Rocky theme song. Nevertheless, Q-Tip talks on Lucien’s naivety regarding America – Lucien eats snails, got scammed by a crackhead selling a VCR, and knows nothing about picking up women. Tip ends the song by praising Lucien’s resilience, and bids him luck in his endeavors ahead, as is the luck of Lucien.
- One of the more straightforward songs on the album, Q-Tip raps about his experience late one night. Set to a direct sample of Sly & the Family Stone’s “Remember Who You Are” and the drums from Les McCann’s “North Carolina,” Q-Tip vividly paints a picture of New York City at ten past one in the morning. He’s struck out and “couldn’t catch a fish,” grabs some beers and an apple juice, watches the moon in the sky, meets up with the rest of the Tribe, talks with them about hip hop, the economy, and taxes as the night turns into morning. You know, a typical night out. The climax of the song comes after Tip’s second verse, where the morning wind is on its way in, as you “hear the frogs dancing in the street, once again Ali will bring up the beat,” replacing a chorus for frogs croaking. The night is then over, the sun is out, and Tip heads on home to start up the rhythmic path. After hours, it was cool.
- Footprints is one of Q-Tip’s most impressive works. He packs in dense rhymes on one of the quickest-paced songs on the album, rhyming about his day to day travels and the footprints he’s left. One of Tribe’s most complex, the beat is made up of samples from Donald Byrd, horns from Stevie Wonder, and drums from Public Enemy. And even though he took a backseat on it, Phife holds the song in pretty high regard too - It’s one of his favorite Tribe songs:
Lyrically, Q-Tip is pretty much genius on this one. And I love the Stevie Wonder sample, the way he flipped it and the drums.I Left My Wallet in El Segundo – Damn, Tip, what did you drive so far for?
- Sometimes, simpler is better. Up next is one of the most recognizable Tribe songs, and their debut single. The song opens with a Spanish guitar sample from The Young Rascals’ “Sueno,” as Q-Tip tells his story over the instrumental to The Chambers Brothers’ psych-soul song “Funky.” Tip’s story is a pretty obvious one – he left his wallet in El Segundo. One day, his mother left for a month-long cruise trip and, like any responsible parent, left her son home alone. Tip calls up Ali, and the two go for a drive. Ali had the cash, and next thing they know, it’s two and a half days later and they’re out of New York and over in El Segundo, California. They stop for lunch at a pub “in the middle of nowhere, anywhere would have been better.” Ali tells Tip to pay, and just as he’s doing it, Tip sees the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen. Enchanted by her beauty, it takes Ali to snap him out of his trance, as they head on back to New York. But what do you know, Tip forgot his wallet. In El Segundo’s heat, their car sputters for a bit, but all works out and three days later, they’re back home. Tip checks his pockets and the car, and says to Ali that they gotta go back, “Because I left my wallet in El Segundo.” When speaking on the song, Tip says that he chose El Segundo as a reference to the 70s sitcom Sanford and Son, where Fred Sanford, the show’s namesake, would reference El Segundo as a punchline to his jokes.
- What really is the pubic enemy? With this cut from Travels, Q-Tip tries his hand at a PSA regarding STDs – specifically pubic lice (crabs). The New York DJ Red Alert, the Tribe’s manager at the time, makes a guest appearance as well, for one of the few features on the album. Unlike the past few tracks, Tip is just the storyteller this time, and not speaking from a first-person experience. In the first verse, he talks about a woman who has just woken up from a one-night stand, and, in the morning after, begins to feel an itching and scratching in her pubic region. She knows what’s happened, and goes to the doctor, only to confirm what she already knew – it’s crabs. Tip’s second verse tells of Old King Cole, who is in love with his wife, although Tip has his doubts. Cole runs around with hookers, and one night, his wife catches him scratching and scratching at his pubes. She knows that it’s the pubic enemy, and that he didn’t get them from her. She runs off, devastated that he would cheat on her. In his last verse, Tip condemns the monster that is the pubic enemy. All of this on one of Tribe’s most unique beats, composed of a piano sample from Luther Ingram’s “Pity for the Lonely” and the drums from Rufus Thomas’ “Do the Funky Penguin.” Red Alert then speaks on what it means to be a propmaster, directly leading into one of the most notable songs on the album.
- Bonita Applebum, the second single from the album, is a straightforward love song from Q-Tip to what many suspect was a woman he went to high school with, who had a fat ass. Bonita is Spanish for “beautiful,” while applebum refers to an apple bottom, or fat ass (I don’t blame you Tip). One of the album’s smoother and jazzier beats, it samples RAMP’s “Daylight” for the main backing, Rotary Connection’s “Memory Band” for the “la la la la” in the intro and for the iconic “buhbuh buh buh” throughout the song, and Little Feat’s “Fool Yourself” for the drums. In 1985, Bonita was one of the Tribe’s first demos. Initially, Tip used a conventional rap delivery, but after reading a Miles Davis interview talking about spacing and rest, he decided to switch up his flow and rap in the way that made it to the final recording.
- On its 25th anniversary re-release in 2015, Bonita Applebum was retitled “Bonita Applebum – includes ‘Can I Kick It’ Intro.” The McDaniels’ “Jagger the Dagger” sample returns for a third time on the album, as Jarobi asks if he can kick it, leading us into the centerpiece of the album.
- Where to begin with this one. Lou Reed’s groovy and iconic bassline. One of the most well-known call and response choruses, and its simplicity and catchiness. Q-Tip’s soft and welcoming verse. One of Phife Dawg’s best verses in his career. His shoutout to Mayor Dinkins. That the two of them were only 19 when they recorded it. The music video that perfectly encapsulates all that Tribe is about. If you were to ask a random person on the street if they know a Tribe song, they would most likely say Can I Kick It. It is one of the Tribe’s best songs, and even holds a place in the top tier of all hip-hop songs ever. It’s a perfect microcosm of the Tribe, as Q-Tip says it best:
If you feel the urge to freak, do the jitterbug Come and spread your arms if you really need a hug Afrocentric living is a big shrug A life filled with fun that's what I love
- Tribe just wants you to have fun, lay back, enjoy the music, and kick it with them. Sampling Lou Reed’s “Walk on the Wild Side,” one of the most recognizable basslines in hip-hop adds a warm and relaxing vibe to the middle of the album. Fun fact: Tribe never saw a penny from the sample, even though it was cleared, Lou Reed took all the profits. Phife revealed this in a 2011 rant. Tribe’s influence would be seen for many years following Can I Kick It’s release, as artists including Jay-Z, MF DOOM, Drake, Public Enemy, De La Soul, Logic, and many more have all sampled or interpolated the classic track.
- “Youthful Expression,” like most of the other tracks, is anchored by its bassline. But what sets it aside from the others is its organs. Here, the beat is provided by jazz-funk and soul-jazz artist Reuben Wilson’s “Inner City Blues.” Groovy and upbeat, Q-Tip raps for two verses on the youth of today, lamenting against politicians and rap promoters, while showing some optimism for the future of hip-hop and the Afrocentrism movement. He also goes and restates the Tribe’s motto:
Bustin caps, finger snaps I prefer the second for ghetto tracks
- At the time of Travels’ recording, NWA and Ice Cube were reaching mainstream audiences and proving that gangsta rap was here to stay. Q-Tip instead prefers songs that you could dance to and relax to. That’s where this album comes in.
- Building off of “Youthful Expression” and as implied in its title, “Rhythm” is devoted to the art of moving your butt. Or dancing, if you haven’t figured that out yet. Less jazzy and more synth-focused, its beat is a bit less complex than the prior songs. The synth comes from Grace Jones’ “Pull Up To My Bumper,” as Tip drops his verses on nothing in particular, simply acting as placeholders for the listener to lay back and enjoy the beat. Prince Paul of the Native Tongues opens the song with a statement that “The Native Tongues are about to proceed with the usual lingo, the usual rhythm.” In 1988 and 89 respectively, the Native Tongues saw The Jungle Brothers - Straight Out the Jungle and De La Soul – 3 Feet High and Rising. Q-Tip featured on both of those albums, so now, in 1990, it was his and the Tribe’s turn with Travels. With a buttery chorus of the repeated and whispered phrase “I got the rhythm, you got the rhythm” between Tip’s verses, “Rhythm” proves to be a classic entry in the Tribe’s lexicon. If you hear this and you don’t wanna move your butt, then I don’t know what to tell you.
- McDaniels’ outro returns for “Rhythm,” as Jarobi proclaims “What about our DJ? Mr. Muhammad,” which brings us right into the next track.
- Who is Mr. Muhammad? As said in the previous song’s outro, he’s the DJ – Ali Shaheed Muhammad. In high school, he would occasionally link up with Q-Tip in Tip’s rapping, as the two of them saw themselves as a duo. They began making demos, as Phife would later join them, forming A Tribe Called Quest with Jarobi White. With a track dedicated to their DJ, “Mr. Muhammad” shows off Shaheed’s prowess as a DJ. Here, he slows down Kool & the Gang’s “Electric Frog” and intersperses it with sampled vocals from an Earth Wind & Fire cut. Q-Tip and Phife both put down some understated verses meant to just be placeholders to show off Mr. Muhammad’s talents. Full of scratching interludes, beat pauses, beat drops, and drum breaks, Mr. Muhammad crafts a beat that sounds like wading through water as waves crash next to you. It’s an often overlooked Tribe cut that deserves every bit of attention it gets, as each member (sorry Jarobi) shines. Phife even namedrops Vice President Dan Quayle in his verse.
- As mentioned before, sometimes simpler is better. The premise of this song doesn’t get any much simpler – Tip and Phife don’t eat ham and eggs. Why? They’re high in cholesterol. Borrowing the drums from Freda Payne’s We’ve Gotta Find a Way Back to Love and the bass from Funkadelic’s Cosmic Slop – 01 – Nappy Dugout, the song opens with one of the easiest choruses to memorize. None of the members of the Tribe eat ham or eggs. Tip and Phife then recall a moment at one of their grandmothers' house where they could smell the breakfast cooking. But yet, they don’t eat ham ‘n’ eggs. After the next chorus they each return to rap about their favorite foods. That’s it. Simpler is better, and they both have a very refined palate that they describe. The song ends with an extended chorus as more members of the Native Tongues come in to profess whether or not they eat ham ‘n’ eggs: Afrika of the Jungle Brothers does not, while Posdnous of De La Soul and a man named Gary both do. So, in conclusion, don’t eat ham ‘n’ eggs, they’re high in cholesterol.
- McDaniels’ outro returns once again, as Jarobi asks for the right side to chant “funk” and for the left side to chant “rhythm,” two of the central themes to the album. After a minute of side to side chanting, the next track comes on in
- The penultimate track opens with a few words from the legendary Jimi Hendrix. Sampled from “Rainy Day Dream Away,” the song opens with “Rain all day, rain all day, don’t you worry,” set to sounds of a rainstorm. Then the beat comes in, and, like its predecessors, it’s groovy, funky, jazzy, and meant to get you up off your feet. What sets “Go Ahead in the Rain” apart from the others however is that the track sampled isn’t a jazz song, but rather a funk rock/disco song, as Slave’s Son of Slide provides the main beat, with Brother Jack McDuff’s “Classic Funke” lending its drums. Tip then rhymes two verses where he once again proclaims Tribe’s electricity and encourages the listener to get up and move to the beat, while at the same time asks them to “go ahead in the rain,” with the times of grimness and oppression. Even though it’s pouring, the Tribe still knows how to go on and get down and enjoy the fruits of life. Don’t let a little thing like rain keep you under.
- To end the album, Q-Tip describes a fool, and calls out the fools he sees in his daily life. In the first verse, he speaks to a crack dealer, intimidating both his friends and enemies. Tip teases the dolt, and the man reacts angrily, threatening violence. What else can he be? Nothing more than a fool. In his next verse, Tip then describes a woman he knows. She is caught up in an abusive relationship, as her ex-boyfriend is a psycho who threatens her life and physically abuses her. Tip laments on “who would love a woman, turn around and abuse her? Only a fool as described by the Tribe.” He then turns to describe another scene he witnessed one day, observing a couple in the park, as a young man bumps into the boyfriend. The boyfriend grabs the young man by the neck, demanding respect, but the young man hits the boyfriend and walks off. The foolish boyfriend is left embarrassed, and Tip’s story concludes. He ends his verse by advising the listener to avoid being a fool and to stay grounded in reality, “and try to avoid the description of a…” as his voice cuts out. The beat is crafted together from Roy Ayers Ubiquity’s “Running Away,” Sly and the Family Stone’s “Runnin’ Away,” and BT Express’ “Still Good – Still Like It.” After Tip’s verse, the beat rides out for another three minutes to close out the album, thus concluding the People’s Instinctive Travels and the Paths of Rhythm.
Discussion and Closing RemarksI'm not going to pretend that this album is anything more than what it is. It's not some lyrical masterpiece that tells an intricate story over the course of an hour, but rather an album for the sake of being an album. Half of the tracks are made to let the listener get loose and have some fun, and the other half are full of cheery nonsense and the mundanities of life. That's what the Tribe set out to make, and they hit every mark.
Upon its release, Travels was met with universal acclaim. Critics everywhere lauded it for its innovative style, exemplifying the Afrocentric living, and its focus on the music itself. The Source hip-hop magazine even gave Travels the very first 5-mic (out of 5) rating in its publication history, calling it a "completely musical and spiritual approach to hip-hop," and "a voyage to the land of positive vibrations, and each cut is a new experience."
If one thing is certain on this album, it's that it is Q-Tip's album. Though he and Phife are the core members and centerpieces of the Tribe, Phife is only on four of the songs. Tip was the only member present at every single recording session. Phife Dawg later commented that,
"I was being ignorant on that first album, that’s why I was only on a couple of tracks. I was hardly around. I would have rather hung out with my boys on the street and got my hustle on rather than gone in the studio. I wasn’t even on the contract for the first album. I was thinking me and Jarobi were more like back-ups for Tip and Ali, but Tip and Ali really wanted me to come through and do my thing."The beauty of this album is that it's made exactly for that guy who's just hanging around with the boys, and looking for something fun to throw on and groove to.
The album isn't held in as high regard as some of the other Tribe albums, but I argue that it is the most important for the group themselves. Tip shines so brightly, and it very obviously gives him a ton of confidence that he uses to craft five more classic albums after this. In his four songs, Phife shows incredible potential, and drops one of his all-time best verses on Can I Kick It. The Low End Theory is no doubt Phife's breakout moment, and we get glimpses of what's to come in this prologue to his career. And as he goes on to show in the next albums, Shaheed puts his spinning talent on full display for the entire hour - I don't think there's any other song that's made me move my head quite like Mr. Muhammad has. Jarobi is the black sheep of the group. While he provides backup vocals, he doesn't rap a verse on the album, and his recorded demos for The Low End Theory were never able to see the light of day. Between these two albums' releases, he left the group to pursue his culinary efforts. That hustle did actually end up working out for him, as he is a professional chef. After he left though, the Tribe still saw him as a member of the group. And although it'd be nice to see what he could've done on the other three albums, his return in 2016 on "The Space Program" is an all-time great moment.
In a sense, this album is a prologue to all that the Tribe is about. It serves as a preview of what's to come - it's steeped in Afrocentrism, as they later elaborate more on. Being the highest grossing member of the Native Tongues shows that they helped get the message out there. When I think of alternative hip-hop, Tribe is the first artist that comes to mind. Talking about philosophy, peace, and just relaxing for relaxation's sake all the way back in 1990 helped pave the way for so many. Yeah, alternative hip-hop is a super broad term, but their influence cannot be understated. They successfully bridged the gaps between both jazz and hip-hop and the older and newer generations in a way that not many have been able to do. Their production directly influenced their contemporaries, helping change and shape the sound of hip hop. Dr. Dre’s debut The Chronic was directly inspired by The Low End Theory, and Pete Rock stated, "There were times when I would walk into a record store and see Q-Tip sitting on the floor with his glasses on, going through albums, looking for beats ... I was like, 'This guy is serious.' Being around [them] made me step up and become even more serious than I was." The Low End Theory and Midnight Marauders get all of the attention when it comes to influence, but everything that they have, you can find in Travels.
- Favorite song? Favorite verse?
- Sampling is a huge part of this album. Which sample is your favorite? Is that also your favorite beat on the album?
- Tribe's influence stems all the way from artists like Consequence, Busta Rhymes, and J Dilla, to Andre 3000 and Talib Kweli, to Kendrick Lamar and Kanye West (and, by extension, every artist that Dilla, 3 Stacks, and Kanye have ever influenced). Where do you most see Tribe's influence?
- Upon the 2015 25th anniversary reissue, Pitchfork wrote that "Tribe's music needs no updating, even when it sticks out like a sore thumb, because that's exactly what it did in 1990." How do you interpret that? A lot of people have said that they'd be considered "corny" if they released today, why would that be that a bad thing?
- 30 years later, have the lyrics stood the test of time? What about the beats?
- Where does Travels fall in your Tribe rankings?
OBLIGATORY FILLER MATERIAL – Breaking Bad, Part 8
“Number 1: black powder,” I say, dial in the proper channel and mash the big, shiny red button.
“Boom.” Considerable puffs of white smoke. But the little wooden platform, scorched, continues to exist.
Number 2: Blasting caps. Slightly bigger boom. The wooden platform still there.
Number 3: Det cord. Larger boom. Platform shattered.
Number 4: Primacord. Larger boom. Platform destroyed.
Number 5: C-4. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 6” of the pole is gone.
Number 6: 40% Extra Fast Dynamite. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 8” of the pole is gone.
Number 7: 60% Extra Fast Dynamite. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 12” of pole gone.
Number 8: RDX. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 24” of pole gone.
Number 9: PETN. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 36” of pole gone.
Number 10: ANFO. Moderate boom. Platform destroyed, top 3” of the pole is gone.
Number 11: Kinestik. Larger boom. Platform destroyed, top 48” of pole gone.
Number 12: DOUBLEHELIX. Much larger boom. Platform destroyed, pole gone, presumably en route to Venus.
I even received a standing ovation once the demonstration was over.
“Flattery will get you everywhere, guys”, I chuckled, “Bribery even more so.”
We all had good laughs over that. I asked for volunteers to police up the area. It was scoured clean within 15 minutes.
I said to meet back at the barn. After a brief recess, I’d be going over the material that would be on their final exams.
“Final exams?” heard the class ask incredulously.
“Oh, yeah”, I say, “There’s got to be some metric on how well you folks have absorbed this material. You don’t think I’d be turning over the armory keys to some yoyo that doesn’t know the difference between deflagrating and detonating explosives, do you?”
Evidently when they read the class syllabus handed out that near fortnight ago. They got so whipped up over the practical part of the course, blowing shit up, the lab section if you will; they didn’t read all the way to bottom.
“Final Exam”, it says, “50% written, 50% practical. 50% bribes and attitude.”
“Yes,” I replied, “I’m deadly serious.”
The wave of nervosism that washed over the crowd was palpable.
“You don’t pass my finals”, I say, “You don’t get the certificate. I can’t award that unless each one of you passes enough of the material set forth in the IEE Standards and Practice Handbook. Failing that, I guess it’s back to torch duty.”
Tell me I don’t know how to motivate a team of workers.
“What’s going to be on the final?” one brave soul asked.
“Everything”, I replied, “Everything that we’ve covered is fair game.”
“How big is it?” another chirps in.
“That’s a rather personal question”, I respond. “Dinner and a movie first.”
Sarcasm is a closed, burned, and buried book around here.
“Never mind.”, I finally tell them, “OK. The final will be 20 multiple-guess questions. There will be a question, followed by five potential answers; you select the most correct one. See what a nice guy I’m being? I’m giving you a test with all the answers, right in front of your noses. Oh. yes, I’m the nice one…”
“How will you be grading”, one brave sort asks.
“I’ll probably go with a D-9, operating the dozer in first gear, aiming to fill the blade as fast as possible and start a spoil pile; I’ll work slowly on slopes and keep attachments low,” I replied.
24 looks of stupefaction.
“Oh, right. Sarcasm”, I mutter, “Straight grading, no curve. Must get a ‘C’ or better, that means above the 70th percentile. You do the math.”
“What’s an oral exam?” another asks.
“Never open with a straight line like that…” I muse, “Oh, yeah. Sarcasm. It’s where you come to the front of the class, I ask you a few questions or ask your to perform a classroom-specific task. I grade you according to how well you do. In my opinion. Yep. Totally subjective. That’s why I’m the teach and you’re the teachees.”
“Oh, come the fuck on!”, I protest, “When’s the last time you took a test where they was an open bar and the instructor sits around drinking complex vodka cocktails and smoking huge nasty cigars?”
The realization that’s I’m nothing if not fair and generous, they brighten some.
“C’mon, you collective heads of knuckle”, I say, “You think I’d keep you hanging around all this time just to blindside you with one of my more impossible tests?”
The room went silent. I guess they didn’t want muttering to be taken as an affirmative.
They go with Mr. Maha on the Magic Bus, which I swear, is sporting more psychopathic paint every time I see the damned thing. I jump, gently, on my rental motorcycle and take the long way back to the barn.
It’s around 1530. We’ve been at this for the last couple of hours straight. I’ve basically summarized and crammed everything we did in the last 2 weeks into a few hours.
“OK, guys”, I report, “Break time. Go have a smoke, drink, or whatever. Reconvene here in 15. Then it’s ‘Open Forum’, we’ll discuss anything your little black heart’s desire.
Remember, tomorrow are the final exams. Beginning at 1300. Morning review, then test.
One hour, 20 questions. Then break time. Then oral, or practical, if you prefer. We green?”
The answer was in the olive-tinged affirmative. But I fear many of my guys aren’t too sure about tests. Come to find out, almost 90% of these guys never had a formal test outside of ‘which end of a running oxy-acetylene torch do you hold?’
I guess I’ll have a dry run after the break to give the guys an idea of what I’m expecting. I sashay over to HQ, borrow a typewriter, and gin up a bogus final exam. Then I use the mimeograph machine and run off a couple of dozen copies.
Remember mimeograph machines and the smell of that fluid they use as a developer? I was transported mentally back to junior high and my time in the AV Club. We used to run off daily film menus for the staff. It’s more powerful than any pheromone.
Anyways, I get back to class and fire up a heater. I have an extraordinarily complex cocktail in front of me: vodka, lime soda, and ice. I am indeed sitting at my desk with a wry smile.
“OK, find your seats”, I say, “Yeah, Vis, I know. ‘It’s right here, Rock’. Funny as ever. SIT DOWN!”
Everyone sits instantly.
I get up, puff a blue cloud, and walk over to the front row. I count out a half dozen faux-tests and hand them to the first one in line.
“Take one and pass the rest back, just as if your IQs were normal,” I said with a hint of a smirk. Don’t know if they recognize the ‘Real Genius’ quote there…
They proceed to do so.
And immediately panic.
Even though each faux-test has the words 'DON'T PANIC' in large, friendly letters on the top of the exam.
“OK! OK!” I shout, “Cool out. We’ll go over this one question at a time.”
I instruct them to look at the first question; oddly enough noted as “Question 1”.
“Question 1. What is a deflagrating explosive?
o A. The noise made 2 hours after eating a 3-course spicy prawn vindaloo.
o B. An explosive that detonates below the speed of sound.
o C. A Grunge Rock group from Hyderabad.
o D. There is no answer D.
o E. ‘A’ and ‘C’, but not ‘D’.”
OK, a little obvious, but remember, many of these guys have never taken a formal test before.
I explain to them the principle of ‘gut feeling’. Gut feelings are always the result of summing things up, a strong intuitive feeling, an urge if you like, is the result of a lot of weighing up of facts and figures. So trusting this powerful desire to do something can often lead to a good decision. That is, ‘your first response is usually the correct one’. Use it.
I explain the principle of parsimony. That is, the principle that the most acceptable explanation of an occurrence, phenomenon, or event is the simplest, involving the fewest entities, assumptions, or changes. Also known as: “Ockham’s Razor”. Or the KISS principle: “Keep It Simple, Stupid.”
I explain the futility of second-guessing yourself. That is, give yourself a little credit. You do know this stuff, don’t delude yourself into believing you don’t. Second-guessing is often caused by not trusting ourselves. Self-doubt can happen as a result of perfectionist tendencies, low self-confidence, or pessimistic thinking. So, give yourself a little credit. You’ve made it this far alive and with all major limbs and digits, haven’t you?
I explain the process of elimination. It is a logical method to identify an entity of interest among several ones by excluding all other entities. That is, there are some obvious fallacious or silly answers. Fuck them. That leaves a couple, or sometimes, one answer. That boosts your odds considerably. In other words, RTFQ. “Read The Fucking Question.” Then “RTFA”, “Read The Fucking Answers.”
“Question 2: What is a detonating explosive?
o A. The results of a typical East Indian 7-course meal.
o B. An explosive that refuses to detonate.
o C. An explosive that detonates with a velocity greater than the speed of sound.
o D. An explosive that begins to detonate, but stops, and whines about having to detonate in its mother’s basement.
o E. A non-explosive and where’s the fun in that?
And so on and so forth.
20 of these. Easy-peasy. I’m trying to both fulfill the Letters of Certification and yet give my guys, who have proven to me in the field that they know this stuff, the best chance of never going back to torch patrol.
I also made a special one for Sanjay back at the Raj.
No, I haven’t forgotten. I have special brain compartments where I store information on people trying to fuck me over. Got that, Kevin from 3rd grade? One of these days…
I touch upon the sorts of things that I’ll ask in the practical or oral portion of the exam.
Simple questions, simple tasks. Important questions, important tasks.
“OK, guys”, I say, the clock on the wall says it’s 1700 hours. Get the hell out of here. Review here tomorrow 0800 to 1200 hours, catered lunch outside 1200-1300 hours. Final written Explosives Exam & Texas Brain Fry 1300 hours until we’re done. See you all mañana.”
I was feeling feisty, so instead of taking my chauffeured ride back to the Raj, I decided to ride my Royal Enfield Bullet C5 Desert Storm motorcycle. It was only a 500 cc, 5-speed machine. It was much smaller than my Indican Super Chief (1,442 cc) and Harley Sportster (1,000 cc) back home, or my 1991 Ural (950 cc) CT somewhere in Moscow. However, it does have enough pep to zip my carcass all over Alang.
I took the scenic route. I’ve been cooped up for days, whether teaching, writing, or on the phone. I deserve the nickel tour of this burg.
Hell, for ₹ 2,04,000 (around US$500) plus shipping, I might just get one of these and ship it back home.
I really like this machine.
An hour or so later, after a bit of sight-seeing and some shopping for kith and kin, I’m back at the Raj. A house boy intercepts me at the garage entrance and takes the motorcycle from me to park it.
“I could handle that”, I mutter, as I hand him 100 rupees.
Then the next penny drops. He gets paid a salary but works for tips.
So, I go up to the main floor and head immediately to the bar. All my purchases will magically appear in my room without me exerting anything more than the force of a couple of hundred rupees in tips.
I order an eponymous cocktail, a double, and a cold Tiger chaser. I slope over to the library and spy Sanjay sitting a the huge wooden desk, scribbling earnestly. He doesn’t hear, see, nor notice me.
I shush the bartender and take my drinks. I sit in one of the great leather chairs, directly in Sanjay’s line of sight.
Finally, once I light one of my signature cigars, Sanjay looks up and is blank-startled to see me.
“How long have you been there?” he asks nervously.
“Long enough”, I replied cryptically. I immediately down half my cocktail so that I won’t betray my little blue splink.
“Oh. Ha. How about that?” Sanjay laughs nervously. “Hmmm…”
“Yeah. Hmmm… How about that?” I reply, obviously annoyed.
“Give me a few minutes”, Sanjay implores, as he struggles to cover his work from my uncaring, though possibly prying, eyes.
“Take all you need.” I reply, “I’ve got a test exam for you. Remember, finals tomorrow after lunch.”
“Oh, fuck!”, Sanjay stammers, “I forgot all about that. “
“Then I suggest you look up the word ‘cram’ in the dictionary,” I replied icily.
“What do you mean?” he asks.
“Oh, no. You finish up your stuff first”, I reply, “Then I’ll give you a copy of the final pre-test.”
He looks at me quizzically.
“And a copy of Webster’s”, I add.
He futzes around for a while, folds up his paperwork, and excuses himself. He says he’ll be back in a few once he makes a couple of phone calls.
I almost let it slip and tell him to say “Howdy!” to Rack and Ruin for me.
“Never mind”, I think, “I’ll do that myself later on.”
I order up another couple of drinks and sit back trying to figure out why UREE is doing such a swan dive.
Fuck and hellfighters, down another 1 & ⅝s.
Sanjay reappears. He enquires about the practice test I’ve whipped up.
“Yeah. Sure”, I grumble. I was at this point more pissed about UREE than about Sanjay trying to play spook on my watch.
“Here you go,” I said as I handed him the paper. “Don’t forget. Pass this to my satisfaction or it’s back to the minors for you. Or is that miners?” I chuckle.
No “DON’T PANIC” on this one. Just a space for the date, time, name, and 5 colored-in answers.
Here’s Sanjay’s question one:
“Question 1. What is the chemical formula for Hexanitrohexaazaisowurtzitane?
o A. C3H6N12O12.
o B. C6H3N12O12.
o C. C6H6N3O12.
o D. C6H6N12O3.
o E. C6H6N12O12.”
Sanjay looks at the pre-test, he looks at me, looks again at the pre-test to make certain that this was still happening, then looks at me with pathetically piteous eyes.
“Yeah,” I reply to his unasked question, “Only 20 multiple guess questions. Passing is 70th percentile or above. Plus an oral exam afterwards. Guess I’m going soft in my old age. Look at number two…”
“Question 2. Given tsc=(ftW1/3)t, rsc=(fdW1/3)r, and ft=(PobsPref)1/3(TobsTref) *1/6, fd=(PobsPref)1/3(TobsTref)−(1/3), and w=1M∑i=1M[1N∑j= 1N(pj−p¯(W)j)2/ (pmaxi−pmini)]1/2, what is the specific yield of 100 kilograms of 100% decomposed Mannitol hexanitrate, C6H8N6O18?
o A. 100 kilonewtons
o B. 1,000 kilonewtons
o C. 10,000 kilonewtons
o D. 100,000 kilonewtons
o E. 0 kilonewtons”
Sanjay gazes at me with a look of ‘please say this isn’t happening.’
“Whaddya think, too easy?” I ask.
Sanjay looks like he’s about to wet himself. Or he already had.
“Hmmm…I’ve got a couple of physical chemistry thermodynamics questions I could add instead…” I muse aloud.
Sanjay’s eyes go wide as dinner plates at Thanksgiving.
“Hey! Like how I slipped in that sneaky answer for number two?” I asked, “Yeah, it was a trick question. No reaction decomposes 100%! The right answer, after all those calculations, was ‘E’ all along. Ha, I kill me!”
Sanjay snaps his pencil in two. He’s actually turning red. Fear? Agitation? Aggravation?
Dunno. Don’t care.
“On to question three.”, I say.
Question 3. What is the number and extension for the Agency in Virginia?
o A. (703) 555-1287, ext. 212
o B. (703) 555-1287, ext. 313
o C. (703) 555-1287, ext. 414
o D. (703) 555-1287, ext. 515
o E. (703) 555-1287, ext. 616”
“Hey”, Sanjay says in a fit of pique and temper, “None of those extensions are correct.”
“Yeah. I know that.” I say, “How the hell do you know that?”
Sanjay looks like he just french-kissed a crate of sour persimmons.
“Gotcha, Scooter.” I snarl. “You’re really not too good at this cloak-and-dagger stuff, are you?”
Sanjay just sits there, with a hangdog expression. He knows he’s been well and truly nicked.
“The fuck, Sanj?”, I asked, “Reporting on me, behind my back? What the actual fuck. What’s the goddamned deal?”
“I was approached before you arrived”, he admits, “I was offered a bucketful of money to report on you and your activities.”
“Well, I hope it was worth it,” I say as I take the pre-test and shred it into confetti.
“C’mon, Rock. Don’t be that way”, Sanjay implores.
“What fucking way?” I reply. “The fucking way you betrayed my trust, even after I made you second in command and got you a double bonus? That fucking way?”
Sanjay looked at the floor. If it were possible, he’d have pulled his asshole up over his head and disappeared.
“I wonder about you sometimes, Sanjay. You may fold under questioning.” I said matter of factly.
He said nothing.
“So, what are we going to do about all this?” I asked. “We’ve demonstrated that, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that as a spy, you’re a great pastry chef.”
Sanjay brightened slightly. Then slid further back into despair.
“What gripes my ass is that now, at this late date, I’ve got to find a new Lieutenant,” I swore.
Sanjay’s world crumbled. He almost started sobbing.
“Or…” I say, protractedly, “A certain individual passes his reports to me before he passes them along any further up the chain of command.”
Sanjay looks at me like: ‘Is he really throwing me a lifeline?’
“Yeah”, I continue, “And he keeps his fucking mouth shut and lets one with more experience in fieldcraft and handler-handling take care of those two idiots in Virginia.”
Sanjay’s color is slowly returning.
“I say that as a hypothetical”, I continue, “What do you think would be the best reply to this line of reasoning?”
“We’re green, rock. Green as I was last night.” He almost smiles, “I got too involved because I felt I was ratting on you. I didn’t know what to do.”
“So you”, I said admonishingly, “A non-EtOH fueled organism, went out, over-fueled yourself and got shit-faced. Smooth move, ExLax.”
I unloaded a few tens of minutes of abuse upon him, mostly queries of his familial heritage.
Sanjay just sat there. Have to hand it to him, he took all my abuse like a man.
“OK”, I say, “Now after all that, what he fuck are we to do?”
Sanjay looked up for a few seconds, then just lapsed back into sullen muteness.
“Here’s what’s going to happen”, I say, “I’m supposed to be digging dirt on Goodgulf Grayteeth. You’re supposed to be digging dirt on me. Let’s give the guys in Virginia something to really chew on, shall we?”
Sanjay looks human for the first time that night.
And I lay out our plans of conspiracy, collusion, and joint bullshittery. We have to make it gradual and believable; sort of set a blood trail into the water. Once they nibble, we’ll set the hook and reel them in for filleting and roasting over live coals.
After another hour, Sanjay and I are tight once again. No secrets. Besides, we have a common ‘enemy’. The enemy of my enemy is my friend. Let’s see how deep we can pile the biogenic colluvium across the waves.
Try and sandbag a Doctor of Petroleum Geology and Detonics? Reap the wild wind, m’boys. Reap the wild wind…
The next morning, I spend the entire four hours going over virtually everything on the test.
Including questions of if I really, really need to do this, why do I need to do this, and can’t I just say I did this and let them all pass?
That last one almost got one character bounced.
“Falsify official records?”, I ask, “Is that what you want me to do?”
“Well, yeah, sure”, he shrugs, “Who’s gonna know way out here in the sticks?”
I got right in his face with a large lit cigar and an infuriated mien, “I WOULD, YOU ASSHOLE!”
He shrank to microscopic size. Or, at least, he wished he could.
That tears it. Before I hand out Certificates of Completion of Training, we’re going to have a very pointed lecture on professional ethics.
I swear, if this would have happened a day or two previous, I’d have bounced his ass there and then.
But lunch rolled around, catered outside. I am creating an answer key, coloring away, and don’t want any interruptions. I need time to think. I mean hold on a second boy, 'cause that's magic ink!
I cut out an answer key template so I could grade the tests quickly. A piece of thin cardboard with punch-outs in the proper places. Line it up over the test sheet, run down with a red marker, and count the misses. Six or less mean you win! Number seven isn’t quite so lucky this time.
It’s 1300 hours and the class is sitting quietly in their seats. All 24 buzzing like they’ve been mainlining coffee all morning. Indeed, some have. I pass out the test sheets face down on their desks, with 2 sharpened #2 pencils.
Yeah, I’m such a nice guy. Pencils too.
At 1305 I tell the class to flip over the tests, affix their names in the proper places, and get after its wild ass.
“You have until 1405.”, I say, “After that, pencils down, give me the test and get out until 1430. Then we go for the practical part of the exam. OK?”
“Green, Rock!” was the response.
I smiled inwardly.
Things progressed well. Some of the guys who had taken such examinations previously breezed through the test. The test was fairly, well, not easy; but if you’ve been reading, paying attention and taking notes, it should be a piece of piss.
Fuck off instead? Head–on-desk time. Name go in book.
Thirty minutes in and I’ve got and graded more than 50% of the tests. So far, I’m a teaching maven. All 100% of the 50% who turned in their tests thus far had passed. More than a couple of perfect scores as well.
I had some gold, stamped foil stars. Those tests got a gold star. I kept having flashbacks to my kid's tests back in Moscow, Doha, Riyadh, Bogota, and Muscat. They sure loved their gold stars.
“Rock?” I saw a raised hand.
I got up and sauntered over.
“Problem?” I asked.
“What’s that word? I can’t make it out,” he asked. There was a wrinkle on his test paper.
Mimeographs are like that sometimes.
“Tetraamminecopper perchlorate”, I replied.
I turn to go back to my desk and he tugs on my field vest.
“Yes?” I asked.
“What’s that?” he inquired.
“That’s for you to figure out,” I said and walked back to my desk.
Looking at the clock, I announce “Gentlemen: 15 minutes until time out. Plan accordingly.”
To a man, they all stop, swivel like a bobblehead, stare at the wall clock, gasp, and get back to scratching.
Some things never change.
A couple more tests make it to my desk. One has eight incorrect answers, the other 12.
“Oh, dear”, I sigh.
I know these guys. They’re not stupid. Maybe they just don’t test well?
“Five minutes, gentlemen. Hit it with a spice weasel. Kick it up a notch.” I announce.
Intense scribbling sounds.
“Time, gentlemen! Pencils down.” I announce loudly, “Hand in your tests. We’ll reconvene in exactly one-half hour.”
I accept the test and the count is correct. 25 tests. Sanjay snuck his in when I wasn’t looking.
He did manage to fuff one question. No gold star for he today.
I corrected the rest of the test and exactly 1/3rd of my charges failed. 8 out of the 24. I wasn’t counting Sanjay, I figured he’d get by on sheer adrenaline alone.
Now I’ve got a bit of a quandary. I don’t want to bounce these guys, but by the book…
Or, I work them a little harder on the practical side of the exam.
I’m bending rules like Bender Bending Rodriguez shaping metal bars in a Suicide Booth factory. I’m going to push it until it gives. They really fuck up and it wasn’t just testing jitters, I have no recourse. It’s back to the yards for you.
You can keep the PPEs as consolation prizes.
1430 and it’s time for the practical part of the exam.
“Sanjay, front and center”, I say.
“Yes, Rock?”, as he appears.
“Detail for me the parts and procedures for the detonation of 1 block of C-4,” I ask.
From visiting the armory, keeping records, getting initiators, det cord, Primacord, blasting caps, boosters and C-4; their safe transport and handling all the way through set-charge-prime. He even detailed the differences between electronic, fused, and manual methods of detonation.
“Excellent,” I say, “Full marks. 25 points”
Next on the docket was one of my most egregious test failures. They didn’t know their scores yet, so we just proceeded at a seemingly random pace.
He is standing in front of me and his peers. He’s shaking like a leaf.
“Hey. Chill. Want a beer? Are you hot? Dehydrated? Ease up there, mate.” I say trying to buck up his confidence.
I hand him a hunk of 10 gauge wire, and 4 different lengths of various different gauge wires, a wire stripper, and a roll of electrician’s tape.
I show him the drawer where I obtained the wire, "And here's where I keep assorted lengths of wire” I note.
“Western Union splice. Go!” I say.
He smiles and in 3 minutes, has the prettiest Western Union splice I’ve seen in a while.
“Very nice. Here. This is a fake stick of dynamite and a fake blasting cap. Here’s a sham 100 millisecond-delay blasting cap booster. Wire it up for electrical detonation. GO!”
“BAM!” and he has this done, perfectly, probably faster than I could do it.
Well, he has 10 fingers after all.
“Excellent”, I say, “Finally, how many sticks of dynamite to a case?”
“40% or 60%?” he asks.
He caught that.
“60%” I reply.
“40 sticks. A case of 60% holds 40 sticks of dynamite which each weigh 0.5 kilograms.”
“Highest marks”, I say. I can pass this guy and not feel like I’ve bent the rules too much.
The rest of the afternoon goes about as per plan. I never ask the same question twice, I have some perform fairly complex wirings-in and creation of complex explosive circuits. The ones that passed the written portion were treated as if they had failed, and vice versa.
Everyone got a taste of the easy and the difficult.
In the end, with good faith, I can say 100% of my class passed the basics of the training. I will make notes that some should receive further training before they’re let loose, but I have others that are absolute stars. These guys will lead the next generation into battle, as it were.
I make no announcement at the end of the day other than class will still convene tomorrow, for the last time with me around, at 0800. Until then, gentlemen, don’t worry. I reassure all of them that there’s nothing about which to worry
General hooping and hollering as they all vacate class. I sit down, pour 5 or so fingers of Old Thought Provoker and begin to make my notes per individual. This will take some time; so I fire up a heater, tune the class radio to something acceptable, and loosen my boots.
Sanjay slides in and hands me a sheaf of papers.
“Now what?” I ask. It was getting tired out.
“My report to Virginia”, he said, “You said you wanted to look it over first?”
“Ah, yes.” I reply, “Pull up a chair, Sanj. Today is your first lesson in really creative writing.”
We spent the next four hours getting creative. Categorically creative. Disproportionately creative.
A certain couple of characters on the eastern seaboard of the United States are going to have something really interesting to chew over with their breakfast coffees come the morn.
I finished up my reports on everyone in the class. It was a hefty package of papers, so I thought as long as I’m here, I might as well just drop them off personally.
Unfortunately, Goodgulf Grayteeth and his cronies had long since departed. I left the ream of papers on his desk so he would see them and sign them first thing. I wanted to get them to the printers for affixation of gold leaf and embossment early the next AM.
I left a copy of The Manifesto of the Italian Fasci of Combat, another of On Tyranny by Timothy Snyderon and a couple of old, weather-beaten explosives catalogs on Goodgulf’s desk, over on a corner and draped a couple of his already read papers over the tome. Amazing what a little time on the internet and a dedicated printer can yield to a warped and twisted mind.
Something caught my eye, and there, sticking out of a corner of his middle desk drawer were the words…”aining of yard employees in blasting and demo…”. A gentle whoof from out of nowhere and the confidential memo just fell to the floor of its own volition. Not wanting the memorandum to get all smudged and dirty, I picked it up and tried to stuff it back into the drawer from whence it came.
But suddenly, something caught my eye. It was my name, right there in bold capital letters, misspelled, of course. The memo further went on about how much this “…training of yard employees in blasting and demolition techniques” was costing the company and wondering, in a not so deferential manner, if this was a program worth continuing.
“Hmmm”, I hmmed. “So Gulfy and his cronies think that continuing the status quo of an army of largely uneducated, illiterate, safety-shy, torch jockeys is a better use of the small portion of their bottom line profits than training a comparatively small number of these characters in safety protocols and how to use explosives to do the work of 100 torch wielders?”
An idea had just been planted. I stuffed the memo back into the drawer and set out to find some potions to water this seed of an idea and make it blossom before tomorrow morning.
Sanjay had sent off his communique, and I sent mine via encrypted email many hours later.
It would be surprising, some would say mystical, how one would corroborate the other without indicting the other or betraying any sort of collusion. Still, the reports were fairly fantastic and even I thought we went over the top is several places. But then again, this is some serious security shit, so it must be trusted. I’m sure the whole office is thinking: “They’ve never indulged in deliberate misinformation before, now have they?”
At breakfast the next morning, my cell phone goes off. There were no injuries as I answer the thing. “Доброе утро, товарищ. Dobroye utro, tovarishch. [Good morning, comrade.]” I replied.
“Very funny, Doctor. We need to talk. When is a good time?” Agent Rack asks, clearly goudaed or edamed; as he was obviously cheesed.
“Ne seychas, pozhaluysta” [Not now, please.]” I reply, “There are prying ears.”
“OK”, Rack replies, “Call me back before 1500 Zulu. And quit speaking Russian. That’s not funny.”
“如您所愿。Rú nín suǒ yuàn. [As you wish shall be done.]” I replied.
“And sober the fuck up before you call back.” Rack railed and slammed down the receiver.
“I’m sober as a judge”, I smiled quietly to myself. “You’re the one going to need a serious crawlin’ home puker once this is all finished.”
Sanjay and I took a car to work, but I had the driver swing by the Scandinavian cruise ship currently nestled in the spot where our barge once occupied.
“Jesus, Sanj, “ I said, “Look at this. Four days and they haven’t done anything other than strip the bling.”
“They’ll scour that ship for anything with a resale value before they do a lick of work on the super or substructure,” Sanjay informs me.
“Waste, waste, waste!” I replied, “They need an object lesson. Guess what? One last field trip for the kids before they all graduate.”
I instruct the driver to head to the Barn and ask Sanjay to get Mr. Maha and his psychosis-inducing bus here ASAP. I tell Sanjay to get the guys kitted out in their PPEs, as I need to take my rental motorcycle and make a quick run into town.
I visit two second-hand stores, and the last remaining Radio Shack, I think. In one, I purchase an ancient and battered old leather Doctor’s bag. No, the medical kind. It opened at the top with a pull from either side. It had a snap closure like a huge coin purse. Guess one could characterize this as a ‘satchel’ if they wished.
Then I hit the surprisingly well-appointed and equally well-stocked second-hand bookshop. They had the tomes for which I was looking. Oddly enough, all were bound in red leather. I had collected selected writings of Friedrich Engels and Karl Marx, Chairman Mao, and other like-minded historical materialistic and dialectic individuals.
I bought electronical gizmos and gimcracks at the radio supply store.
Back at the barn, I changed into my PPEs and announced that today was a field trip. They already had a schematic of the cruise ship out at the portable office on the beach, as it were.
“OK, guys, news. Sit for a bit”, I said as I sat down, resplendent in my orange Carhartt coveralls, hardhat, Size 16 boots and a pocketful of cigars. “I’ve decided to hang around a couple more days as each and every one of you characters passed my intense 2-week course! Congratulations!”
There were whoops and “Hoo Raws!” all around.
I held up a hand.
“With qualifications”, I said, “Some passed with flying colors, some by the skin of their teeth. Either way, you all did it. But I won’t feel comfortable until we get one more job under our collective belts. Comments or questions?”
There were none.
“OK, gents, here’s how it hangs…” I said, “You are going to begin scrapping that cruise ship that took the spot our old barge had previously. We need to get your comrades off of top-dead-center. So we’re busing it out to the location and after you choose a crew leader, you’re going to tell me what you’re going to do. I have the final say, as usual, but I want to see how you characters will do once I’m back in the world. We green?”
“Green! Rock!”, was the unanimous reply.
“Well, that’s just great”, I smile back, “But don’t count on a bonus like last time. Now, it’s just the daily grind. Load up!”
I take my Enfield and say that I’ll meet them there. I need to run past the bunker for a few bits and pieces first.
I’m sitting in the portable office on the beach where, surprisingly in retrospect, I’ve spent a lot of time these last 2 weeks. Good thing I like being out in the country and can deal with all this primitiveness and deprivations; as I pop a cold Ashi beer and fire up a Cohiba double corona.
I’m working on a little project for myself as my guys are out crawling all over the beached Princess of the Seas. After they intimidated the foreman by telling him this was a Rocknocker Production, they wheeled in three cranes outfitted with personnel cages. They were being hoisted up and down the side of the ship, calling in measurements to the guys on the beach with a whiteboard and a paper ship’s schematic magnetically affixed.
I was just overseeing the whole production. Sanjay was hookin’ and Vik was second in command. Looks like a hierarchy had sorted itself out. I asked a couple of crew members what they thought of the arrangement and they were all positive.
“Maybe I work very hard and one day, I am crew leader.” One replied.
I felt a slight flush of pride. Maybe I have had a positive effect on these guys. We still need a lecture on professional ethics, but at least, they’ve learned the ins-and-outs of a working hierarchy and have come to grips with the beast. A few weeks ago, these guys had no other motivations other than living to see another sunrise.
“That’s the fucking spirit!” I say, and clap him on the back.
He beams back at me and looks toward the nearest crew basket.
“Now quit fucking around and get back to work!”, I joshed.
He recoiled in mock horror. Smiling, he chuckled and got on the radio. “Say again. How many meters…?”
Oh, I pity the guys that try and pull rank on these guys in a few years.
Back in the office, the road flares I had spray painted a nice brick red were all dry. I set about affixing some ’DuPont 60% Herculene Extra-Fast’ stickers to each one.
Every box of explosives, Primacord, det cord, demo wire, or box of blasting caps comes with a handful of company product stickers. They come in handy when trying to figure exact mixtures or precise yields. Most had gone to my girls via the Diplomatic Pouch. They decorate bathroom doors, Trapper-Keepers, and rear bumpers of their cars. I stick a few on my hardhat when I find one that’s especially garish or lurid. I often give them away as door prizes or calling cards.
Hell, everybody loves stickers. Especially when they’re from high explosives.
Today, they’re being used in almost, but not quite, their intended purpose. Back to my project at hand.
But first, a fresh beer.
“My, but it’s dusty down here on the beach”, I remark to the empty room, as I pour myself 100 milliliters of Old Fornicator, fresh from the freezer.
Then I return to my little project.
To be continued.