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Full Reverse

I love watching fail videos.  Some fat guy slips on the ice and smashes his ice cream cone in his own face, trampoline accidents, someone getting whacked in the face at a pinata party, all comedy gold.  I eat it up; I can't help myself.  I like this stuff partly because I feel a certain superiority to these people: What were you thinking, dumbass?  But mostly I like it because I can recognize my own failures in them.  I, too, have slipped on ice, wrecked my skateboard, fallen off a roof.  I, too, have dropped my ice cream, have tripped on the stairs, have walked into a closed sliding glass door.

I saw this video once of a huge ship, coming in to dock, the thing is enormous, like a floating city.  On the video, the ship just plows into the pier, and there is a terrible noise, and the ship just keeps going.  The pier shatters into fragments, and there is a scream of metal, and still the ship just keeps going, carried by its own momentum, deep into the port, where it crashes into a building and knocks it down. Then there is this terrible moment of silence and stillness, and the ship, having run aground and teetering against gravity, tips over onto its side, crushing anything that was there under its gigantic, ponderous weight.

Now, I am no expert on nautical matters, but I can't help thinking that the events in the video had to have been completely preventable, right?  If it wasn't, ships would be crashing into piers every day, and there would be systems in place to prevent the destruction, gigantic pillows maybe, or something to make the inevitable crash less painful, less destructive, less chaotic. But we don't have crashing ships everyday, at least I don't think we do, so this had to be preventable. This slow and crazy crash had to be the result of negligence, had to be the result of human error.  All that destruction, all because somebody was asleep on the watch, or maybe they miscalculated the approach; maybe it was their first attempt.  Or maybe it was the result of a lot of small miscalculations, a series of small decisions, none of them catastrophic in and of themselves, all of them seemingly good decisions based on the available information at the time.  Maybe the crew was tired of all the redundant tests, and decided to stop doing them. I mean, nothing terrible had happened before right? Maybe if we stop cleaning this valve, maybe if we allow discipline to slip a little, maybe it's not that important to get the required amount of training hours, maybe because we are out on the water for so long, and there isn't too much to do, maybe the crew needs an outlet, and so when they should have been running diagnostics on the proximity alarms, they got to watch football.  And none of those little things were a big deal, maybe all of those things are really not that important in the running of a gigantic ship, because mostly it is automated, maybe the thing mostly runs itself.  Plus, there are systems in place, there are failsafes.  Maybe the person that should have been paying attention to all this stuff had been lulled into apathy and inaction, because all the systems were ticking along so well, the maintenance of those systems was neglected, and then one day, the ship comes into port, and all the things that were supposed to happen to prevent a crash all failed to happen, all the systems, all the alarms, all the warnings all didn't happen, and then the ship just cruises into the pier, and over the pier, and into the building. And then the ship tips over and crushes everything that was underneath it.

The camera man can see what is happening. On the video, you can hear him.  Holy shit, he says.  Long before the crash, it is evident what is going to happen, the camera man knows it.  You never get to see his face, but you can hear him, hear his unbelieving tone, hear this breathy commentary: Holy shit, he says, before the ship has even struck anything.  Holy shit, he says, as an observer, recognizing what is about to happen, but being completely unable to intervene, completely helpless to do anything but to bear witness. Holy shit, he breathes, too fast, they're going too fast.  And you can't see it on the video, but I imagine him frantically looking around, looking for someone that could put a stop to it, to the huge and inevitable crash, some dock authority, some heavy equipment operator, but there is no one there, no one but him, holding a camera, documenting the crash for all of us to watch, all of us, far from a dock, far from the water. Holy shit the camera man breathes, too fast, but there is nothing for him to do but to bear witness to the crash. Holy shit, he says.

On the video, you can hear the engines screaming. I suppose someone noticed, someone on the bridge noticed, recognized too late, like the camera man did, the inevitability of the crash. Holy shit they may have said too.  We're coming in too fast. Full reverse, they might have yelled, hoping that it wasn't too late.  They might have jumped to the controls, reversed the engines, you can hear them revving on the video. They tried to reverse course, they tried to jam the brakes, if giant boats had such a thing. They tried, but it was too late by then, the ship was caught up in its own terrible momentum, and the time to intervene was long past, the time to go full reverse was long past, and it isn't on the video, but there must have been a moment on the bridge, where they stopped panicking, stopped pressing buttons and pulling levers, and all that was left to say was brace yourselves, brace yourselves, we are going to crash. The physics were already done, the math had already been set in motion, and there was nothing to do but to duck and cover, to brace yourself and hope you survived.

I'm no sailor, I know absolutely nothing about huge boats and dock approaches, but I have seen many videos of completely preventable accidents, some guy up on a ladder cutting the tree limb that the ladder is leaning on, or falling through the ice, or being bit by a camel.  People don't always think things through; they often fail to recognize the danger until they are lying groaning on the ground, or when the ship they should have been piloting with care blasts through the dock and crushes a building.


Still Writing,

RP 1-31-17


A writer friend recently asked me what my intention was for a piece of writing I had done, a strange narrative poem thing; was I going to put it on the site, attempt to publish it in a lit journal, was I going to do a book of poems?  And I answered him, Hell, I don't think of any of that stuff when I write, I just write what wants to be written, and then figure all that out later.  This is one of those things, just something I was thinking of that wanted written, so I wrote it.  And like the guy that wrote it, it is flawed, but not terrible.  I like it more than I should, I know that.

I am interested in what you think, so comment away, I will respond eventually.  I can be found on Twitter @RDPullins.  I also have a Facebook profile that I check rarely, but I don't do much there.  I have also written a book, Antiartists, and a friend recently told me that he found it hilarious, which I found encouraging; I thought I was the only one.  Peace to you all.


  1. I can remember the ice cream that fell on the ground where the young girl in the passing car gave you complete sympathy... I remember you falling down the backstairs landing flat on your back while your family sat warmly inside unaware... I remember just the other day you doing the splits on your skateboard pulling a hammy... I remember you putting soap in your eyes trying to prove to your kids that it won't burn.. or the time you said " I think I can run across that log "(in the lake.).... you like these videos because you can relate for sure!! . I love that you are able to find humor in the things you do and I love that you share them with us!! Your writing always makes me feel, remember and reflect.. thank you Ralph for "still writing". Also the part about the boat to me it represents a bigger picture of our nation and the trouble we are seeing ... watching from behind our phones or tv unable to help while watching the crash... I hope everyone on that ship was ok as well as I hope for our nation to be " ok" once all the dust settles ... keep writing Ralph!!!

  2. My Dad often shared a story of the Ice Breaker Mackinaw under a new Captain plowing into the shore in Buffalo, NY. As I recall the story the Captain only had the commission two days and was participating in a show and tell of the Mackinaw's icebreaking capabilitities to the citizens of Buffalo attending a winterfest at the lake shore. The Captain let his ego get in the way and he failed to rely on the team with a lot of experience at the ship's helm. He took over control and ran the ship onto shore and instantly lost his commission.

  3. This is another thing I wish I was better at: trusting the experience of others. "Don't touch the flame, Ralph; it will burn you," they say. "Maybe it burned YOU," I say, "but this is MY hand and I will do with it as I please! You're not in control of me, or my hand," and later when I am getting bandaged up, I always wish I had listened, that I could trust that voice of experience. Much of my life has been defined to a greater or lesser degree by this dynamic. It is very much an ego driven impulse, and one I would like to be rid of. It is a child's impulse, me stomping my foot, and shouting "YOU'RE NOT THE BOSS OF ME!" even if the person has nothing but my best interests in mind.

  4. Whaaaaaaat? That never happened. I am as graceful as a gazelle that is also a ballerina. (Shhhh! I've got a reputation to maintain here.)


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