Monstrous Black Can

In the great cornucopia of energy drinks that are available on the market there is one that outshines all of the rest: Monster. This elixir comes in a tall, black can and can be found well-stocked in every ship’s store throughout the United States Navy. It’s quickly replacing coffee as the go-to drink of choice for the haggard Boatswain’s Mate or Electrician’s Mate running on two hours of sleep and looking ahead at the seemingly insurmountable six-hour-long watch only thirty minutes away. But hand that same Sailor a can of Monster and watch the magic change wash over him.

As soon as he pops the tab you can smell the fruity, metallic liquid sloshing and fizzing in the can. Then he takes a hearty slug and as soon as this manna from heaven touches his lips his back straightens, his eyes light up, and the rush of energy shoots from his mouth to the very tips of his fingers and toes like a lightening bolt striking a pine tree. Moments later that aluminum can will be empty, ready to be repurposed into a receptacle for dip spit (See smokeless tobacco). But what about the Sailor? Well that Sailor will be ready to tackle the world. That very Electrician’s Mate will have so much excess energy he’ll be ready to stand watch and then go fix every motor-operated valve in the bilge of Auxiliary Machinery Room 3.

But as wonderful as this drink may be, and as tasty as it is the morning after standing the reveille watch, I’m not sure how beneficial the regular consumption of it is. Once, while finishing a final project in college, I drank three of these lovely concoctions in the span of an hour. They allowed me to finish my project but I felt as though my heart was going to explode through my chest. Also, I’ve watched friends and colleagues drink Monsters throughout the day and then tremor and jitter uncontrollably for hours. Not to mention that if you find a spare hour or two to sleep during your busy SWO day, these bad boys will nix that idea fast, quick, and in a hurry.

So, with all data available to me, I decided to ween myself off of Monsters and find another source for my caffeine (Lapsang souchong seems to work pretty well). It’s a bit rough on the midwatch but it’s manageable. At least I don’t have to worry about spontaneous cardiac arrest.

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I’m intensely interested in language; I think all writers are. We find the intricacies of them fascinating and seek to master it the way that a mason masters the use his trowel, square, and compass. We frame our message using the grammar, metre, and precise word selection to ensure that we not only convey our point but our emotions as well. We paint a picture with words in the same way that an artist would use oils on canvas.

International travel therefore provides the writer or orator, that pilgrim of language, the opportunity to learn and experiment with a foreign language. The metre, syntax, grammar, and inflection will all be alien to him. But what fun he will have! Signs in both English and the host language will provide the easiest way to decipher the mysteries of this new language; much like sign posts leading him down the road of autdidactism.

Once he’s built his confidence in comprehension of this new language, he’ll test the waters with short phrases and questions. “Sil-vous plait, je voudrais un bier.” “Oui, monsieur.” And the bartender will bring him his pint of beer. Or he’ll find himself at some pizzeria in Rome: “Scusi, signori, I would like un vino. . . and, um, one of these (He then points to the menu; pointing always works).” “Of course, signori. Uno momento.”

Eventually, mastery will come. Eventually the seeker will graduate from pidgin communication to full fluency. Which is a day of much rejoicing, as he orders off of the menu without any hesitation.

Longfellow Friday

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part XXII: Nun of Nidaros

In the convent of Drontheim,
Alone in her chamber
Knelt Astrid the Abbess,
At midnight, adoring,
Beseeching, entreating
The Virgin and Mother.

She heard in the silence
The voice of one speaking,
Without in the darkness,
In gusts of the night-wind,
Now louder, now nearer,
Now lost in the distance.

The voice of a stranger
It seemed as she listened,
Of some one who answered,
Beseeching, imploring,
A cry from afar off
She could not distinguish.

The voice of Saint John,
The beloved disciple,
Who wandered and waited
The Master’s appearance,
Alone in the darkness,
Unsheltered and friendless.

“It is accepted
The angry defiance,
The challenge of battle!
It is accepted,
But not with the weapons
Of war that thou wieldest!

“Cross against corselet,
Love against hatred,
Peace-cry for war-cry!
Patience is powerful;
He that o’ercometh
Hath power o’er the nations!

“As torrents in summer,
Half dried in their channels,
Suddenly rise, though the
Sky is still cloudless,
For rain has been falling
Far off at their fountains;

So hearts that are fainting
Grow full to o’erflowing,
And they that behold it
Marvel, and know not
That God at their fountains
Far off has been raining!

“Stronger than steel
Is the sword of the Spirit;
Swifter than arrows
The light of the truth is,
Greater than anger
Is love, and subdueth!

“Thou art a phantom,
A shape of the sea-mist,
A shape of the brumal
Rain, and the darkness
Fearful and formless;
Day dawns and thou art not!

“The dawn is not distant,
Nor is the night starless;
Love is eternal!
God is still God, and
His faith shall not fail us;
Christ is eternal!”

Longfellow Friday

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part XXI: King Olaf’s Death Drink

All day has the battle raged,
All day have the ships engaged,
But not yet is assuaged
The vengeance of Eric the Earl.

The decks with blood are red,
The arrows of death are sped,
The ships are filled with the dead,
And the spears the champions hurl.

They drift as wrecks on the tide,
The grappling-irons are plied,
The boarders climb up the side,
The shouts are feeble and few.

Ah! never shall Norway again
See her sailors come back o’er the main;
They all lie wounded or slain,
Or asleep in the billows blue!

On the deck stands Olaf the King,
Around him whistle and sing
The spears that the foemen fling,
And the stones they hurl with their hands.

In the midst of the stones and the spears,
Kolbiorn, the marshal, appears,
His shield in the air he uprears,
By the side of King Olaf he stands.

Over the slippery wreck
Of the Long Serpent’s deck
Sweeps Eric with hardly a check,
His lips with anger are pale;

He hews with his axe at the mast,
Till it falls, with the sails overcast,
Like a snow-covered pine in the vast
Dim forests of Orkadale.

Seeking King Olaf then,
He rushes aft with his men,
As a hunter into the den
Of the bear, when he stands at bay.

“Remember Jarl Hakon!” he cries;
When lo! on his wondering eyes,
Two kingly figures arise,
Two Olaf’s in warlike array!

Then Kolbiorn speaks in the ear
Of King Olaf a word of cheer,
In a whisper that none may hear,
With a smile on his tremulous lip;

Two shields raised high in the air,
Two flashes of golden hair,
Two scarlet meteors’ glare,
And both have leaped from the ship.

Earl Eric’s men in the boats
Seize Kolbiorn’s shield as it floats,
And cry, from their hairy throats,
“See! it is Olaf the King!”

While far on the opposite side
Floats another shield on the tide,
Like a jewel set in the wide
Sea-current’s eddying ring.

There is told a wonderful tale,
How the King stripped off his mail,
Like leaves of the brown sea-kale,
As he swam beneath the main;

But the young grew old and gray,
And never, by night or by day,
In his kingdom of Norroway
Was King Olaf seen again!

Longfellow Friday

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part XIX: King Olaf’s War Horns

“Strike the sails!” King Olaf said;
“Never shall men of mine take flight;
Never away from battle I fled,
Never away from my foes!
Let God dispose
Of my life in the fight!”

“Sound the horns!” said Olaf the King;
And suddenly through the drifting brume
The blare of the horns began to ring,
Like the terrible trumpet shock
Of Regnarock,
On the Day of Doom!

Louder and louder the war-horns sang
Over the level floor of the flood;
All the sails came down with a clang,
And there in the mist overhead
The sun hung red
As a drop of blood.

Drifting down on the Danish fleet
Three together the ships were lashed,
So that neither should turn and retreat;
In the midst, but in front of the rest
The burnished crest
Of the Serpent flashed.

King Olaf stood on the quarter-deck,
With bow of ash and arrows of oak,
His gilded shield was without a fleck,
His helmet inlaid with gold,
And in many a fold
Hung his crimson cloak.

On the forecastle Ulf the Red
Watched the lashing of the ships;
“If the Serpent lie so far ahead,
We shall have hard work of it here,”
Said he with a sneer
On his bearded lips.

King Olaf laid an arrow on string,
“Have I a coward on board?” said he.
“Shoot it another way, O King!”
Sullenly answered Ulf,
The old sea-wolf;
“You have need of me!”

In front came Svend, the King of the Danes,
Sweeping down with his fifty rowers;
To the right, the Swedish king with his thanes;
And on board of the Iron Beard
Earl Eric steered
To the left with his oars.

“These soft Danes and Swedes,” said the King,
“At home with their wives had better stay,
Than come within reach of my Serpent’s sting:
But where Eric the Norseman leads
Heroic deeds
Will be done to-day!”

Then as together the vessels crashed,
Eric severed the cables of hide,
With which King Olaf’s ships were lashed,
And left them to drive and drift
With the currents swift
Of the outward tide.

Louder the war-horns growl and snarl,
Sharper the dragons bite and sting!
Eric the son of Hakon Jarl
A death-drink salt as the sea
Pledges to thee,
Olaf the King!

Longfellow Friday

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part VIII: Gudrun

On King Olaf’s bridal night
Shines the moon with tender light,
And across the chamber streams
Its tide of dreams.

At the fatal midnight hour,
When all evil things have power,
In the glimmer of the moon
Stands Gudrun.

Close against her heaving breast
Something in her hand is pressed;
Like an icicle, its sheen
Is cold and keen.

On the cairn are fixed her eyes
Where her murdered father lies,
And a voice remote and drear
She seems to hear.

What a bridal night is this!
Cold will be the dagger’s kiss;
Laden with the chill of death
Is its breath.

Like the drifting snow she sweeps
To the couch where Olaf sleeps;
Suddenly he wakes and stirs,
His eyes meet hers.

“What is that,” King Olaf said,
“Gleams so bright above my head?
Wherefore standest thou so white
In pale moonlight?”

“‘T is the bodkin that I wear
When at night I bind my hair;
It woke me falling on the floor;
‘T is nothing more.”

“Forests have ears, and fields have eyes;
Often treachery lurking lies
Underneath the fairest hair!
Gudrun beware!”

Ere the earliest peep of morn
Blew King Olaf’s bugle-horn;
And forever sundered ride
Bridegroom and bride!

Longfellow Friday

The Musician’s Tale; The Saga of King Olaf

Part VII: Iron Beard

Olaf the King, one summer morn,
Blew a blast on his bugle-horn,
Sending his signal through the land of Drontheim.

And to the Hus-Ting held at Mere
Gathered the farmers far and near,
With their war weapons ready to confront him.

Ploughing under the morning star,
Old Iron-Beard in Yriar
Heard the summons, chuckling with a low laugh.

He wiped the sweat-drops from his brow,
Unharnessed his horses from the plough,
And clattering came on horseback to King Olaf.

He was the churliest of the churls;
Little he cared for king or earls;
Bitter as home-brewed ale were his foaming passions.

Hodden-gray was the garb he wore,
And by the Hammer of Thor he swore;
He hated the narrow town, and all its fashions.

But he loved the freedom of his farm,
His ale at night, by the fireside warm,
Gudrun his daughter, with her flaxen tresses.

He loved his horses and his herds,
The smell of the earth, and the song of birds,
His well-filled barns, his brook with its water-cresses.

Huge and cumbersome was his frame;
His beard, from which he took his name,
Frosty and fierce, like that of Hymer the Giant.

So at the Hus-Ting he appeared,
The farmer of Yriar, Iron-Beard,
On horseback, in an attitude defiant.

And to King Olaf he cried aloud,
Out of the middle of the crowd,
That tossed about him like a stormy ocean:

“Such sacrifices shalt thou bring;
To Odin and to Thor, O King,
As other kings have done in their devotion!”

King Olaf answered: “I command
This land to be a Christian land;
Here is my Bishop who the folk baptizes!

“But if you ask me to restore
Your sacrifices, stained with gore,
Then will I offer human sacrifices!

“Not slaves and peasants shall they be,
But men of note and high degree,
Such men as Orm of Lyra and Kar of Gryting!”

Then to their Temple strode he in,
And loud behind him heard the din
Of his men-at-arms and the peasants fiercely fighting.

There in the Temple, carved in wood,
The image of great Odin stood,
And other gods, with Thor supreme among them.

King Olaf smote them with the blade
Of his huge war-axe, gold inlaid,
And downward shattered to the pavement flung them.

At the same moment rose without,
From the contending crowd, a shout,
A mingled sound of triumph and of wailing.

And there upon the trampled plain
The farmer Iron-Beard lay slain,
Midway between the assailed and the assailing.

King Olaf from the doorway spoke.
“Choose ye between two things, my folk,
To be baptized or given up to slaughter!”

And seeing their leader stark and dead,
The people with a murmur said,
“O King, baptize us with thy holy water.”

So all the Drontheim land became
A Christian land in name and fame,
In the old gods no more believing and trusting.

And as a blood-atonement, soon
King Olaf wed the fair Gudrun;
And thus in peace ended the Drontheim Hus-Ting!