Monday, June 01, 2009

Tour and Duty

Memorial Day in the City is usually somewhat of a big deal, for two reasons. First, lots of people leave, which opens up lots more space (physically and psychologically) for those of us who stay. And second, it coincides with Fleet Week, where various branches of the military glide into the city, on water or air, for a yearly exchange: They open their boats and planes and tanks; New York opens itself to them.

We took advantage of the emptiness (as we usually do) by going out for lunch on Sunday, after a morning spent burning our breakfast in the park. Tables were, as expected, plentiful. We ate outside even, in praise of the excellent weather, and between courses Q and The Boy shot their hands into the waterfall/fountain just outside the Winter Garden, as if after fish. It seemed very much like summertime, and, as the old song goes, the living did seem easy.

On Monday, we first honored the military side of the holiday. The Boy, as many boys his age do, has become interested in military hardware. We’ve been to the Intrepid Museum here in New York, a WW II-era aircraft carrier repurposed as an exhibit, complete with a flight deck full of decommissioned jets and helicopters. During Fleet Week, the military and Coast Guard open a few ships for free tours, so we take advantage.

We’re up early, as we usually are on bright mornings thanks to The Boy, and we make it to the ships early, too. Past the metal detectors and lines of rigid but friendly soldiers, everything stands amazingly open. A steep ramp leads up into the cavernous hold of the aircraft carrier USS Iwo Jima, where we can hold the weapons currently in use by Marines on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan. We can feel the weight of mortar shells and sniper rifles. We can climb into tanks and troop transports and assault craft meant for land or water or both. And military personnel stand everywhere in crisp camouflage, happy to answer questions or to pose for all manner of photos.

We climb onto some amphibious vehicle with large weapons mounted in all directions. Q, her hair in pigtails and wearing a bright-red butterfly dress, draws smiles and some cameras when she pretends to point the heavy guns at nothing in particular.* The Boy wonders what some oddly shaped canisters on the truck/boat’s stern are for, and I encourage him to ask the young marine. He’s too shy, so I ask for him. Turns out they’re smoke flares for evading pursuers. I also ask, for myself this time, about a particularly thick-necked gun guarding one side. The young marine tells me that it’s an MK 19 automatic grenade launcher, capable of shooting 325+ rounds a minute. He adds, with more than a little relish, that having it is like “playing a game with all the cheat codes.”

We keep going up the ship’s insides, from the main hold to a level where Navy sailors in their anti-camouflage display their branch’s firearms. Then up a longer and steeper grade to the flight deck, from which we can see miles of Hudson, including the Intrepid just to the south.

flight deck

About a dozen aircraft, helicopters mostly, have been opened up for anyone to walk through. The Boy turns shy again, but Q convinces her brother to go inside them all, and they do.


Q plays this game with my lovely wife where she goes in one end of an aircraft while my wife stays outside, only to come out the other to surprise her. My wife is all too happy to play along.

After nearly two hours, we leave as the really big crowds begin to come in. Q and The Boy impress, as always, with their easy behavior.

Later, after lunch, we travel up to Connecticut for another Memorial Day tradition — a barbecue with friends by a swimming pool. As my wife and I eat jerk chicken and Q and The Boy and our friends' son splash in the shallows, it's hard not to notice the gap between where we spent our morning and where we spent our afternoon. Here in the sun, everything still seems possible; less so in the dark of the ship. I sometimes think of my kids' futures as arcs that shoot out from them, curving up and out beyond where anyone, including themselves, can see. To think about them and war is to imagine a bullet or a bomb tracing those arcs back in, erasing the paths as they work. I don't even want to do this kind of thinking, but I do. Sometimes.

Many thanks to those, like many in my own family, who have and do risk themselves. We do remember.
*Look for her on the next brochure for the Marines; the "tip of the spear" never looked so cute.

1 comment:

teahouse said...

Glad you enjoyed Memorial Day Weekend in the City! We did as well. Like you, we are all about avoiding the crowds.