The Soul Captain Chronicles
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The Master of our Destiny,
Captain of our Soul —
With eyes upon the map
Hands on the control —
Will not cut us any slack
Unless that's what
We've come here for.
"Are we going ahead another decade?" I asked the Soul Captain. He nodded. "Can I ask a favor of you?" Nod. "We have spent only a short time with Bobby during the previous two decades. I still cannot get the flavor of his life. Can we spend most of a day with him this time? I really would like to follow him through an entire day."
"Yes, that is what I had in mind exactly. You and I often think alike. When we do, it's easy for you — we just walk along together, but when we disagree, I sometimes have to drag you kicking and screaming in the direction that's best for you."
"Hmm, what makes it your job to decide what's best for me — I don't think I like that one bit!"
"Think of me as the Captain of a cruise liner out at sea. I have a master plan for the cruise laid out for the passengers. I chart the course for each day to ensure that your ship will enter its ports of call on schedule as nearly as possible. Deviations are possible as long as the items encountered are on the master plan."
"I don't think I understand what you're telling me. What's the cruise liner have to do with me?"
"I am the Captain of the Ship of your Soul and the cruise we're on is the cruise of your lifetime. You haven't seen me before, because you weren't ready to meet me, up until now. If I had tried to talk to you before, you would have been scared, acted crazy, rebelled, and the whole course of my master plan would have been FUBAR, fouled up beyond all recognition."
"It sounds like I don't have much choice in this matter if you're directing the ship of my life."
"That's part of the delicacy of explaining this cruise you're on. You see — you were the one who laid out the master plan with me before you got on the ship. This is really your cruise plan we're following. Plus you get to choose what to do during every place and event you encounter during the cruise. Since you planned the cruise and you have complete control on how to react to everything that occurs during the cruise, your free will is completely unencumbered."
"Oh? Then how come I don't remember that little planning session?" (I was beginning to get a bit testy about some plan I was supposed to have worked on. Gimme a break.)
"Few people ever do. Their cruise would be a complete mess if they remembered ahead of time what was going to happen. It's a bit like these little vignettes of your life I'm showing you as they actually happened. It was your idea to do this with me about the third year of your seventh decade. My job is keep to the master plan we worked out together. Of course, as I said a moment ago, you can decide to stop right now and I'll just disappear behind the scenes again."
"Oh. . . no. . . do stay around. I want to see more." I never thought of all that before. There was something vaguely familiar about what he was saying. I could feel its truth resound deep down inside of me. It was definitely the truth, but if anyone asked me to, I couldn't explain it at all. "I just need some time to think about this cruise business. I guess you're right — heck, if I knew what was going to happen when we visit Bobby in 1961, it wouldn't be much fun at all. I have no idea what he'll be doing in 1961 at 21 years old. His parents obviously are too poor to send him to college, so I suppose he will work in a plant like his dad, will get married, have a lot of children, build his own house and pirogue, and go hunting and fishing in his spare time. Oh, and he'll buy every new comic book that comes out like his Uncle Frank did and give the already-read ones to his nephews."
"You'll know more in a few moments." The mist faded an we were standing in tiny kitchen of a three-room apartment. A young woman about twenty was cooking some eggs in a frying pan and placing them in a plate alongside some crispy bacon. She was dressed for work with an apron over her good clothes. Leaning to her right to the open doorway abutting the edge of the gas stove, she called, "Bob, your breakfast is ready." As she moved the plates over to the table, her short black hair and big brown eyes glistened under the light. I was enthralled because I knew this must be Bobby's wife. I didn't even know her name, but it was clear that Bobby had gotten married to her and she was fixing his breakfast. The calendar by the small kitchen table was displaying July, 1961 and the electric clock on the wall said 7:13. She sat down to eat. Bob's plate with the bacon and eggs was next to hers. We could hear movement in the bedroom, and she called out, "Your coffee's getting cold!" and continued to eat.
Bobby came into the kitchen, leaned over and gave her a kiss. "Sorry. I was watching a Today Show interview with Jackie Kennedy. Still not used to having a tv set in my room after all those years in North Stadium." He sat down and drank his coffee. The coffee can on the shelf read CDM Coffee and Chicory. It was a dark, black coffee to which he added some liquid Coffeemate. "Hmm, just like your mama's coffee, Judy. How are you feeling this morning?"
"I ate a cracker like the doctor suggested and the queasiness went away."
"Good. Are your clothes getting a little tight?"
"Just a bit. Mama Nette's making me a couple of maternity dresses, but it'll be a while before I'll need to wear them. I don't want to start wearing them before I tell my boss at the bank. Could you take out the garbage before you leave for class?"
"Sure, I'll do it right now." He picked up his empty plate and cup and placed them in the sink and reached down next to the stove and grabbed a paper bag of garbage. As he walked out the door to the kitchen into another room, it became obvious to me that they lived in an upstairs apartment because I could see a stairway going down and through the windows in the large top of the stairwell, I could see treetops and house tops. The walls of the stairwell landing was wooden boards typical of older homes and was painted a light green color.
As soon as Bobby entered the landing, he yelled, "Oh my God!" The Captain and I moved through the walls into the landing and what I saw caused shudders of horror to crawl across my skin. The metal garbage, the floors, and even portions of the walls had tiny white worms, looking like maggots, crawling, teeming over everything. "Judy!" he yelled, "Come quick! Look at this!"
She came to the door and cracked it open. "Oh, yuck! What in the world is going on? I've never seen anything like before in my whole life. What do you suppose it is?"
Bobby pulled the lid off the garbage can, which, even though it was covering the can, the maggots had crawled out. He said, "Stay where you are, while I check this out." He looked into the can and a glimmer of recognition went across his face. "Remember those figs I picked from the tree out back a couple of days ago? Well, the leftover figs and the peelings I put in here have apparently hatched a bumper crops of these white bugs. Get me some old towels. I'm going to have get the hose up here and spray down the entire floor. You finish getting ready for work. I'll get this cleaned up as quickly as possible, and try to get you there on time." This was a massive job. One that made my skin crawl at every step of the way as we watched him carry the hose up the staircase, put the cover tightly on the can, and spray down the can. Then he took the can outside for the garbage pickup. He came back in and took the mop that Judy had left in the stairwell for him and by mopping and spraying got most of the worms washed away down the stairwell. Then he had to go downstairs and repeat the process for the bottom landing. Coming back up he asked Judy for some Pine-Sol and hot water in the bucket. With the disinfectant solution and the mop, he carefully removed all traces of the fig worms.
He went back into the apartment and took a shower and washed the sweat and the shudders from his skin. "What a way to start the day," he commented to Judy as he toweled himself dry in the bedroom and put on some fresh clothes.
The Captain and I moved outside, going down the outside metal staircase that went up into the small living room separating the kitchen and the bedroom. As we got to the bottom of the stairs, I just stood there, stock-still, unable to move, stunned at what I had just seen. "Looks like Bobby has gotten married, he's attending college somewhere, his wife Judy is working at a bank, and they're expecting their first child."
"Yes, that's accurate," the Captain said. He seemed to be enjoying my amazement, as a cruise ship captain might enjoy watching his passengers watching in delighted amazement as a huge iceberg calves from a glacier in the inward passage to Alaska and does a belly flop into the icy sea spraying water two stories in the air.
Outside the white apartment building, a four-plex, apparently, was a black Plymouth, four-door sedan, with Special Deluxe written in chrome along the side of the front fender. "This must be their car." As I said that, I saw Bob and Judy coming down the staircase.
"We're gonna have to get a place on the ground floor," Bobby said. "You can't be walking up and down these stairs when you get to be seven and eight months pregnant."
"Do you think we can find anything suitable for the price we're paying for this apartment?" Judy asked.
"After class today, I'm gonna start looking. I saw a house listed for rent for $50 a month over on St. Louis Street a little further downtown from here. Let's check it out when I pick you up at the bank this afternoon."
We got into the back seat as they drove downtown. I noticed a sign, Government Street, and a business called Baton Rouge Heating & Air. He dropped Judy off at the bank and headed back down Highland Road, looking to the left as he drove past the little white apartment house where he and Judy lived. Soon he was driving past a movie theatre, Maxwell's Drugstore, and the Goalpost Restaurant and through a gateway with a large tan stuccoed column on each side of the street. On each was a green bronze roundel with a mother pelican feeding her three babies. The insignia on each roundel read, Louisiana State University.
On the left we saw the Christ the King Chapel and Newman Club on the corner and large park opened up on our right with a bell tower across the large field that was ringing the quarter-hour with its Westminister Chimes. "Looks like you made it to college, after all," the Soul Captain said with his enigmatic smile. "Uh-huh," I mumbled, but I was too enthralled by the passing scene to say much. Passing by to our immediate left was a white marble building, a colonaded Greek architecture with LSU Law School chiseled above the huge columns. The Law School and the bell tower sat facing each other across what looked like parade grounds for military formations. I could almost see uniformed legions of military personnel lined up at parade rest filling the greensward. "Is this a military school?" I asked the Captain to check my intuition.
"I believe its nickname is The Old War Skule and its first president was General William Tecumseh Sherman in 1860. Perhaps what you imagined were the ROTC formations that are common during fall and spring semesters on the parade grounds in front of the Campanile."
"Oh, thanks." What an interesting name, campanile, sounds Italian, I thought.
"Yes, it is Italian," the Captain said. I was surprised that he could read all my thoughts, but I suppose I should have known that he could. He is really the deepest part of myself, if I am to believe his story.
A building that looked like a large French chateau went by on our left. On our right after the parade ground was a shallow basin filled live oak trees. I could see a few coeds walking through the shady grove of live oakd trees on a sidewalk, with books cradled in their arms. "Just got time to get to class," Bobby mumbled aloud, glancing at his Timex. He pulled into an empty parking space in front of the Coates Chemistry building, got out of the car, and pulled out three books from the back seat. Two books were the same size, but the thicker one had a dark brown cover and the word "Acoustics" on it. The thinner one was green and had written on the spine, "Skilling — Fundamentals of Electric Waves". The third book was orange and the size of a skinny paperback — it didn't look like a textbook at all. Its spine read, "STORM's IMMENSEE — Zeydel" I didn't know what to make of the titles of these books, but it was clear to me that Bobby was an upperclassman.
We walked with Bobby along right side of the chemistry building. Ahead was a row of Moorish arches. As we entered the covered archway, I saw that we were walking along a large open area, a large rectangle, with well-worn dirt paths criss-crossing between the buildings. The covered archways had students walking along them and occasionally several would walk across the open area. I was surprised at the paucity of students going to class at such a large university. Then I recalled that our first two stops had been in the summer, in July. "This must be summer school, huh?" I asked the Captain. He nodded. Entering the Physics, Nicholls Hall, we turned left and walked into the second door on the left. Bobby sat down on the front row, and we found vacant seats to the right of him. He took out the brown book and opened it to page 47. We watched as he underlined this sentence: "It will be found that the effect of a general disturbance on such a system is not primarily vibration, but the production of a wave." "It looks like he's studying acoustic waves as well as electric waves this summer," I said to the Captain who nodded.
The professor came in. A white male about 30-ish with short sleeve white shirt and dark green tie, he began talking immediately. "We have examined the various equations for the motion of waves in a string. Let us now see what happens if a second wave exists on one string. What we find is a standing wave as show in Fig. 2.52 which is derived from Euler's equation and can be written thus. . ." He wrote the following equation on the board:
y = 2A(sin kx) e jt
We sat through the entire class and watched as Bobby listened attentively, took notes, and asked questions of the professor. As the bell rang for the hour, the prof said, "For tomorrow review the next chapter, 'Plane Sound Waves'. We will leave our study of the one-dimensional string and will study sound in two dimensions, in the plane." As Bobby was gathering up his books, a student came over to his desk.
"Going to electric waves next?" The question came from a short, dark-haired girl.
"Oh, Margeurite, hi," Bobby said looking up. He gathered from the green book in her arms, she was also taking Skilling's Electric Waves. "Yes, want to walk along?" They walked a short piece down the hall and took a seat in a classroom across the hall.
"Where are you staying during the summer school? I heard the stadium dormitory is closed during the summer." she asked.
"Judy and I have an apartment on Highland Road, a few miles north of Tiger Town."
"Oh, sorry! I forgot you got married last semester. I'll bet the apartment is better than that frat house you stayed in last summer.
"You bet. The food is better, too. After two and a half years of living under a football stadium in a concrete box and eating a toasted cinnamon roll and coffee for breakfast at the Huey Long Field House every morning, this is sure an improvement. I had bacon and eggs and coffee for breakfast this morning. I put on 18 pounds in the first three weeks after I got married. All those hot meals three times a day. What about you? I thought you usually went home to Cuba during the summers."
"Not this year. Things are too unsettled. We think that Baptista's on the way out. The rebels of Castro are getting close to Havana."
"Don't you think that it would be a good thing if the dictator were thrown out?"
"We have an old saying in Cuba, 'The devil you know is better than the one you don't.'"
"Oh . . ." Bobby's response was interrupted by professor who had begun his lecture. I could see from the look on his face that Margeurite's response had an impact on him and he seemed a bit relieved to have the conversation terminated so quickly.
"Welcome to Physics 122, Skilling's Electric Waves. Last week we studied the properties of electrostatic fields and gradients. This week we will introduce the concepts of divergence and curl to help us understand electric fields that are in motion, in other words, electric waves."
We watched as Bobby took notes by writing in his notebook and underlining key passages in his textbook. On page 24, he underlined, "Because of the curvature of the lines of flow, more than half of the blades are driven clockwise. But the velocity of water is greater on the inner side, and, although fewer blades are driven counterclockwise, they are each acted on more forcefully." Then he read a small footnote on the next page which said, "This symbol is frequently given the name 'del'." He scratched out the word nabla at the top of the page, and printed del in its place.
The class got heavily into the divergence and curl equations and the Captain and I slipped outside to wait for the end of the class. "Looks like he's taking advanced physics courses, doesn't it?" I asked.
"Yes, it does."
"He's married, his wife is working, and he's also working. He must be working his way through college. And at the age of 21, he's expecting his first child already. Here — he's coming out now."
We walked alongside Bobby as he headed across the open area and went around the corner and entered the basement of a building and walked to a small classroom with about a dozen students. Each student one seemed to have a copy of the small orange book, Immensee. The classroom seemed dark because it was two-thirds below ground level, with scant daylight coming in from the upper third of the windows. A young female in her upper twenties walked to the table at the front of the class and said, "Let's continue our reading of the Lake of the Bees. We were on page 7." She began reading in German and class listened with their books closed. ". . . Und nun habt ihr für diesen Tag gute Lehren genug; wenn ihr nun noch Erdbeeren dazu habt, so werdet ihr für heute schon durchs Leben kommen." She paused, looked at Bobby and said, "Herr Matherne, would you translate that last sentence for us?"
Bobby paused, thought for a moment and said, "The old man is telling the two young lovers something like this, 'You have learned a good enough lesson for today: if you get enough strawberries, then your life will also be full of abundance.'"
"Very good," the young professor looked at another student and said, "Miss McIntyre, will you take over where I stopped reading?" And thus the German class continued. Everyone seemed able to read and translate fluently in German. Their books were annotated heavily with English equivalents to supplement their meager German vocabulary.
The coed with auburn hair a scattered freckles read on, and ended with this sentence, "Der Storch hatte sich mittlerweile niedergelassen und spazierte gravitätisch zwischen den Gemüsebeeten umher."
"Ubersetzen Sie das, bitte, Fraulein McIntyre," the professor interrupted.
"The stork got into the vegetable garden, I think it says," the coed responded.
"Can anyone give us a more compete translation? Herr Matherne?"
"Meanwhile the stork had descended and strutted majestically around the vegetable garden. I particularly like the adverb gravitätisch which generates the image of the stork moving slowly, one step at a time, as if having to make a deal with gravity for each step."
The Soul Captain and I moved to the outside of the classroom. "I don't understand. He seems to be studying German literature, and has quite a flair for it, also. I wonder what his major is. I thought it was physics, now I'm not sure. Can you tell me?"
"Yes, but I prefer if you find out for yourself as we go along." was the non-answer from the Captain. He can be infuriating at times. Will I have to wait for another decade to find out? Bobby came out of the classroom and we followed him back to his car, where he dropped off his books, and headed out towards Tiger Town. The Campanile was tolling the quarter-hour as he walked the curved sidewalk along the parade ground. He turned left at Highland Road and walked into Maxwell's Rexall Drugstore on the corner right past the gate. In the far back of the store was a lunch counter and booths. He took a booth and ordered himself a cheeseburger and a coke. While waiting for his food, he pulled a copy of Mad magazine from his back pocket, unfolded it and began reading it. We watched him as he ate. He talked to no one. Ate his food, relaxed over his magazine, chuckling from time to time, paid his check, and got up and left.
We followed back along the same route, going to the right of the chemistry building, but this time he didn't go through the archway, but went into the back door of the building. A sign above the door said Motor Fuel Testing Lab. He took a white lab coat off a hook on the wall and went across the hall. "I'm here," he said as he poked his head through the door. The young secretary looked up from her work and said, "Okay, Bob. I've got you down for 4 hours this afternoon. Okay?" Bob nodded and returned across the hall. He walked into this room about the size of a classroom with waist to ceiling windows at the left. The aisle along the window went past five rows of chemistry table upon whose black tops were set eight stainless steel cabinets, four facing each way. There was a black on-off switch in the front of each cabinet. Between each cabinet was a tall graduated cylinder marked in divisons of milliliters. Between each set of tables, a technician in a lab coat stood and took readings on the long thermometer coming out of the distillation retort. The retorts were a standard fixture in chemistry labs: a glass bulb with long neck going straight up to hold a stopper with a thermometer set in it. Halfway up the neck, a smaller tube came out, angling down. These small necks went through a hole in the side of the steel cabinet and allowed liquid to drip into the cylinder.
He walked over to another guy in a lab coat and said, "Hi, Tom. Are you ready for me to take over?"
"Sure, Bob, let me take this last set of readings. They're almost done, and none of them look like they'll have a diesel spike."
"Good time for a shift change," Bob said, and he leaned against the window and watched as the technician finished his readings. The tech bent over to check the height of the colored liquid in the graduated cylinder between each stainless steel shell. The tech checked each of the four cylinders on one side of the row, then checked those on the other side. Each cylinder was about 90% full of some colored liquid. Some were deep purple, others were pale yellow, some green, some completely colorless. The room smelled of gasoline. "Motor Fuel Lab — I got it," I commented to the Captain, "they're testing gasoline. Those are different brands of gasoline! Those retorts behind the glass panel of each steel cabinet must be distillation vessels. Look how the gasoline is boiling and dripping into the cylinders."
We watched as the rest of the gasoline boiled away. Bob turned off the switch, apparently the heater switch, took the last reading on his pad, and dumped the gasoline from the cylinders into the sink and cleaned the cylinder by rinsing them with water and hanging them to dry on a rack of wooden dowels. He likewise removed the old retorts and set eight new ones into position for the next batch. He went into the next room, came back with 8 cans, and carefully poured 100 milliliters of each can into a different graduated cylinder. He took each cylinder to one distillation device and poured it into the glass retort. He picked up a few white rocks the size of raisins and dropped them into the retort and placed a long flourescent yellow thermometer into position in a stopper and stoppered up the top of the retort. That left the only exit for the vapors to be the long skinny neck of the retort under which he placed the now-empty graduated cylinder. When all the retorts were setup, he began, one at a time, to turn on each heater switch.
Suddenly a whoosh came from the next row and a flare of light. Bob ran around the corner to see a fire in one of units. "Charlie, you alright?"
"Yeah, I got it out in time. Just forgot to put those damn rocks in the gasoline for this one and it boiled over," Charlie, obviously shaken a bit. "It was Rosenbloom — he got me all flustered. He came up right as I was getting ready to put the rocks in the last retort. He asked me something and I didn't understand a single word he said. I told him you were coming in at one o'clock — to come back then." He had turned off the heater and thrown some sand on the fire and was now cleaning away the sand to restart that unit.
"It's okay, Charlie, forgetting to put those boiling rocks in to keep the nucleate boiling going — that happens to many of us the first month or so. I've been doing this for over a year. I've seen it happen several times. Mr. Thompson gets pissed if he finds out you did it, but he won't fire you. Now you know what happens if you forget the rocks: nothing happens as the gasoline heats up, no sign of bubbles at all — then suddenly you get one huge bubble and the gasoline spills over the top of the retort onto the heating element and ignites."
"Boy, you never know till you find out," Charlie said, still slightly shaken. I chuckled over the funny way Charlie put it.
"Yeah you right — you never know till you find out. Glad you're okay. Don't worry, we won't tell the old prune. Well, I gotta go take my first 10% readings," Bob said, and went back to his eight units. The liquid in five of his units had reached the 10 milliliter mark and he recorded the temperature reading on each pad. As we watched, he continued to record the temperature at each increment of 10% till the gasoline was gone from the retort and he recorded the temperature at which that happened. "All of these are okay," he said to Charlie over the cubicles.
"I think I got a bad one," Charlies said back.
"Oh, good, I wanta see," Bob said, and walked around to Charlie's area. The liquid in one of his retorts was dark green and the retort was filling with smoke. "That's diesel we're looking at, alright. They never cleaned out that tank well enough before they put gasoline it, I'll bet. Look at the temperature go." The silver sliver of mercury had climbed up over 400 and was still climbing.
"Probably hit over 450, that's the usual peak for diesel." Bob walked back to his row and began setting up for the next batch. This went on, one batch after another, Bob walking back and forth on the hard cement floor, standing, waiting, recording, emptying, refilling, with no break except for a brief couple of minutes between batches as he walked across the hall to turn in the data sheets he'd recorded.
When Charlie came back from turning in his sheet with the diesel spike, he said, "Thompson says they're gonna hafta shut down the place the bad one came from."
"The old man's back, huh? I only saw Irene in the office when I checked in."
"Yeah, and look, here come's Mr. Rosenbloom now."
Bob looked out the window and saw the head of an old man rising as he walked up steps from the basement outside the window. "I'll see what he wants."
"Yeah," Charlie said, "he sure knows how to run the Octane engine, but he's deaf as a doorknob and can't talk either."
Bob and Charlie were closest to the door Rosenbloom would come in. Check my units if he keeps me a long time, will you, Charlie?" Bob said, as he went to the door to greet Rosenbloom.
"He's a kind old guy, Charlie — he only seems to get angry when he talks, I think. Maybe he gets angry because it's so hard for him to talk or maybe he can't modulate his tone since he's deaf."
"Hello, Mr. Rosebloom," Bob said as the door opened.
"Whneres muhoctin sammpuls?" the old man said in a loud, fractured voice. He wore very thick glasses, which gave me the impression that he was going blind as well as being stone deaf.
"The lab assistant placed your octane samples on the left side of the counter before he left for the day, Mr. Rosenbloom," Bob said, enunciating each word carefully and slowly while looking directly into Mr. Rosenbloom's face.
"Thunnks," he said and walked back into the Lab Assistant's preparation area.
"Whew, that was easy," Bob said to Charlie. "Sometimes I have no idea of what he's asking for or trying to tell me."
"Me, too, all the time," Charlie said, "thanks for taking care of that for me."
"If I have too much trouble understanding him, I just ask him to write down what he wants. Try that next time. He'll be glad to do that."
The Soul Captain motioned to me and we walked out into the hallway. "It's time for us to move on. Did you see enough for one day?"
"Yes. Thank you. I'm still unsure as to where Bobby, er, Bob, is heading, but I know you have another decade waiting for me and I'm ready." With that I heard the bell tower tolling the hours for five o'clock, and as I listened to fifth dong fading away, a mist began to fill the air and the hallway disappeared from view.
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