Fleet Week 2006: This Was Supposed To Be A Photo Gallery
Peter Tatara - July 13, 2006
Each year, the US Navy parades a handful of the world's most advanced warships around the island of Manhattan. It's a show of patriotism, a show of force, and a pretty blatant recruiting stunt. This parade of ships is accompanied by helicopter and fighter squadrons zipping overhead, soldiers in full combat gear repelling into Times Square, and a few tunes from the official Navy acapella band. Nothing says "Fuck You" to the Terrorists like a harmonized, choreographed all-male quartet. Yet, despite the fly overs, urban combat demonstrations, and even acapella, the biggest attraction of Fleet Week remains the fleet. See, after the parade is over, the Navy invites regular folks like you and me onboard.
When I was younger, I wanted to join the Navy. I can't tell you why, but throughout my adolescent years, I couldn't wait to enlist. Was it the exotic locales? Maybe the fresh, sea air? Could it have been the salty, white ocean foam? Those big, strong, massive, rock hard guns? Perhaps all the young, hot, sweaty sailors? The word "poop deck"? I've never been able to figure out why I wanted to join the Navy, but I did.
Eventually, I grew up, went to college, got a job, and let go of my nautical leanings; however, to this day, I get excited whenever I'm around seamen. So, naturally, I couldn't wait for Fleet Week. (Pretend there was a funny joke here about me "coming out." There was one in my first draft, but every way I tried to write it sounded forced. And poorly worded. So, just smile, think of something funny you saw on Letterman last night, and move on.) When Fleet Week finally arrived, I set out bright and early from my Queens apartment, boarded the 7 Train next to some tourists who freaked out every time the subway shook, stopped, or set on fire, and hiked the concluding blocks on foot, passing by several homeless, malnourished, panhandling, buzzkilling Vietnam veterans. Then, there I was standing at the edge of Manhattan, the Hudson River at my feet, staring up at the Arleigh Burke-class destroyer DDG-87 USS Mason. She was sexy.
Wait, she? Wouldn't he be more appropriate? No, he wouldn't. I know it may come as a shock, but I like the ladies. In fact, my girlfriend came to take the Fleet Week tour with me. She'd never shown any interest in naval history or technology before, never lets me play with toy boats when she's in the tub, never dresses up in the Seabee uniform I gave her, and has been generally disapproving of my maritime fixation, but she wanted to come today. (Maybe it was the fresh, sea air? Could it have been the salty, white ocean foam? Those big, strong, massive, rock hard guns? Perhaps all the young, hot, sweaty sailors?) The two of us stood there for a long moment taking in the DDG-87. The moment, as it turned out, was too long as a police officer in a flak jacket and assault rifle told us to back away from the boat. The nice officer explained, after a routine body cavity search, we had to go through security before boarding the ship.
"No problem," I said, eager to lick the Mason when nobody was looking. "Where's the security checkpoint?"
"42nd Street," the office stated, removing the gun from my face, pointing it off toward 42nd Street. Then, he narrowed his eyes, as if he knew of my sexual compulsion to lick ships.
"Ha, that's funny," I laughed. "We're on 55th Street now."
The officer wasn't being funny. To prevent bombs, guns, knives, chainsaws, anthrax, uranium, and bottles of drinking water from being brought onboard any of the Fleet Week vessels, any and all visitors had to pass through a series of security stops. (The Navy didn't allow bottles of water? Were they concerned about nitroglycerin being snuck onboard in a Nalgene bottle? Nope, it was to leave thirsty visitors with no option other than to visit the McDonald's Mess Deck. McDonald's supports our troops. Our troops support McDonald's. Quid quo pro.)
Huffing, my girlfriend and I started toward 42nd Street, and as we did, we noticed that not only did the check points stretch back to Times Square, but the line did, too. A fat snake of people wrapped 13 blocks, between anti-war activists begging we bring their fathers, sons, and brothers home, pro-war propagandists demanding we send more fathers, sons, and brothers into Iraq to avenge all the fathers, sons, and brothers who've been killed in Iraq, one wayward anti-abortion advocate, and a fervid sun ensuring all parties involved agreed that the $4 being charged for a bottle of water at the McDonald's Mess Deck was a war crime.
When we reached our destination, while my girlfriend and I had walked 13 blocks, the line moved less than one. We weighed our options. The plan was that I was going to come down to Fleet Week to snap some photos of my girlfriend surrounded by seamen for Giant Robots Fighting God, but as much as I enjoyed C-list FOX News hosts badgering war widows, I had no interest in watching that for the five hours it would take to get back to the Mason. (Yes, I know, this is the second time I've made a seamen joke. I really should be more creative.) Thus, it was decided, with a flip of my middle finger to the Navy snipers clearly watching us from at least three rooftop positions, that we'd take our business elsewhere.
But where? Being in Manhattan, there were only 10,000,000 possible things to do today. I scratched my head. The problem wasn't a lack of options, but instead picking something from the overwhelming possibilities. With so many things to do and places to go, I couldn't decide. Thankfully, my girlfriend was there to decide for me.
"We're going to the Hello Kitty Store," she said, starting toward the shop.
"Huh?" I muttered. "Wait, shouldn't we discuss where we want to go before you decide we're going to a store filled with stuffed animals that, more than likely, I'm going to end up buying for you."
My girlfriend had disappeared.
Chasing after her, I found it odd she had selected the Hello Kitty Store with such ease, as if accompanying me to Fleet Week was simply a pretext to get her near Hello Kitty's Times Square boutique. Things went from odd to suspicious, then, when I entered the Hello Kitty Store and was greeted by several banners and workers proclaiming today was the first day Hello Kitty's newest friend -- Tenorikuma -- was on sale. I spotted my girlfriend's head bobbing up and down amid an aisle of stuffed, saucer-eyed chipmunk-looking things. She smiled. And, before I knew it, she pushed one of the plush chipmunks into my hands.
"It's Tenorikuma!" She giggled. "He's four centimeters tall, works in a coffee shop, and is a red panda!"
I gave her a blank stare.
Jumping ahead two hours, my girlfriend left the Hello Kitty Store with Tenorikuma postcards, Tenorikuma pencils, Tenorikuma magnets, Tenorikuma bathsoap, a Tenorikuma coffee mug, and -- of course -- stuffed Tenorikuma. She was happy. I left the Hello Kitty Store with a significantly smaller wallet. She was happy. And, skipping along, she graciously told me I could choose where to go next. Wanting to avoid anyplace selling anything, I buried us both deep in Central Park. I collapsed on a bench as my girlfriend sat Tenorikuma atop my head.
It was my plan to stay here until nightfall, head back to my apartment with my girlfriend, cook her dinner, and then -- well, you know. She, though, had other plans. After all of four minutes of sitting down, my girlfriend was ready to get back up. She wanted cotton candy. She wanted to go to the Apple Store. She wanted pizza. She wanted to see X-Men III. And, grabbing me by the hand, she dragged me to my feet.
This wasn't the day I had planned. The entire thing smelled of a scam, and when I confronted its orchestrator, my girlfriend's only answer was a bop from Tenorikuma. But as she pushed me toward the Apple Store, thinking aloud about how hard it was for her to choose between the black and the white iPod Nano so I should just buy her both, I let her have it. There was no boat. I wasn't taking pictures. I didn't find the idea of a miniature red panda making coffee cute. She didn't need two iPods. And, worst of all, after spending more than a month trying to turn this day into a story for Giant Robots Fighting God, it would turn out crappy -- not funny crappy but crappy crappy -- and probably be the worst, most convoluted piece of writing I've been responsible for since my sixth grade report on the history of jazz for Ms. Louinello's music class I wrote in the last seven minutes before it was due. I demanded to know why.
"Because you love me," my girlfriend answered. "And because none of this actually happened. This, like most of your writing, is a complete work of fiction, so far removed from any factual basis that not a sentence of truth remains. And, honey, while your intention's to write something funny, it's honestly pretty sad. You should just give up."
And she was right. And with that, she and I held hands as Tenorikuma called down his pet dragon, Gorynych, and, together, we all sailed up above the clouds to have a spot of late afternoon tea with Zinedine Zidane.