Tonight I stuffed tissue into my ears and went down below to watch the engine of the boat. It is a big engine, an inline 6-cylinder diesel painted red. It's bright red and so loud that you can feel its sound through your shoes. Down below in the engine room, conversation is impossible. There was a lone crew member wearing nothing but an old pair of corduroy shorts and a pair of large earmuffs, watching a panel of lights for instructions from the pilot in the wheelhouse. There is an intercom system on the boat but the engineer only gets lights.
The boy glanced over at me as I sat down in a chair near the engine but he quickly returned his attention to the panel of lights. The sound keeps our worlds separate even though we are only a few feet apart. Few things can give such isolation as a constant and deafening noise and because of this, the engine room is a good place to think.
I should also mention that the engine is almost constantly running. It is installed, started, and then rarely shut off. Even in port, while cargo is loaded, this engine is often running, and while underway, it runs at speed for days at a time. The noise and vibration are such constants that when the engine is shut off, such as to make a repair or adjustment, the mood on the boat turns to apprehensive excitement. Children stop sleeping and begin crying. People who are usually content to stick to an isolated routine, seek out others and trade gossip in groups of former strangers. A boat without its engine running is a stressed environment and, like during finals week at college, you are more apt to meet new people during this period than at any other time.
It is rare these days, for any one outside of industry to have any experience with a one-hundred-percent duty cycle machine. Perhaps the closest thing would be a refrigerator, but even this does not run constantly. If you left the door open, it would not be long until the compressor overheated and stopped running. But the engine on this boat, like many other things that are now hidden from our daily lives, will not stop to rest. It will run and run and run and run until it is dead, and then it will be replaced. And when chains are attached to it and it is hoisted out of the engine room, it is doubtful that it will be placed in some museum to be preserved. The captain may walk by and spend a fond thought on the engine. The engineer will certainly lower his eyes a little as the engine is carted away, for engines have personalities that can at least compete with dogs in complexity. The engineer will wonder what the new engine will be like. It will take a few months of operation before he is completely comfortable with it and knows the meaning of its hiccups. The old engine will not be forgotten nor will it be remembered. The crew of the boat is too intimately related to this engine to go about preserving its memory with formaldehyde and plaques. (this paragraph is very good)
This tendency we have to preserve is interesting and I wonder if it's not Marta's reverence for ruins that hinders us. The tourism industry transports us from grave to grave but they are the tombs of strangers. The remains awe but the connection is lost in the preservation. Our past is a museum piece and we are not allowed to touch it or breathe into it or use it to make something new. We do not seem to know our own past as intimately as the boy in the corduroy shorts knows that engine. We put plastic over the fine old furniture and never know its texture.
The engineer stood up from his perch by the instrument panel. He reached over to the backside of the engine and made an adjustment with a small wrench and sat back down. I wondered if Ford really thought history was bunk. I opened my journal and made a note to remember to ask him.
ok, here's your slow start with nothing happening. It's also got a very good paragraph tucked in there that reminds me a bit of John McPhee or Paul Theroux.
There was an interesting idea in this hook; I'd read the first five pages to get a sense of whether the writing stays compelling. If if did, I'd read a partial. At that point though, you're going to have to cough up some compelling action.