Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Micro-Excerpt: 20th Anniversary of the Great Toy Spill

Detail of map from Moby-Duck.
It was twenty years ago today that the castaway bath toys went adrift. In honor of the occasion, here with bonus pictures is the opening section of the first chapter of Moby-Duck:

We know where the spill occurred: 44.7°N, 178.1°E, south of the Aleutians, near the international date line, in the stormy latitudes renowned in the age of sail as the Graveyard of the Pacific, just north of what oceanographers, who are, on the whole, less poetic than mariners of the age of sail, call the subarctic front. We know the date—January 10, 1992—but not the hour.

The Ever Laurel
For years the identity of the ship was a well-kept secret, but by consulting old shipping schedules published in the Journal of Commerce and preserved on scratched spools of microfiche in a library basement, I, by process of elimination, solved this particular riddle: the ship was the Evergreen Ever Laurel, owned by a Greek company called Technomar Shipping and operated by the Taiwanese Evergreen Marine Corporation, whose fir-green containers, with the company's curiously sylvan name emblazoned across them in white block letters, can be seen around harbors all over the world. No spools of microfiche have preserved the identities of the officers and crew, however, let alone their memories of what happened that stormy day or night, and if the logbook from the voyage still exists, it has been secreted away to some corporate archive, consigned, for all intents and purposes, to oblivion.

A container spill. Photographer unknown.
We know that the ship departed Hong Kong on January 6, that it arrived in the Port of Tacoma on January 16, a day behind schedule, and that the likely cause for this delay was rough weather. How rough exactly remains unclear. Although it did so on other days, on January 10, the Ever Laurel did not fax a weather report to the National Weather Service in Washington, D.C., but the following day a ship in its vicinity did, describing hurricane-force winds and waves thirty-six feet high. If the Ever Laurel had encountered similarly tempestuous conditions, we can imagine, if only vaguely, what might have transpired: despite its grandeur, rocked by waves as tall as brownstones, the colossal vessel—a floating warehouse weighing 28,904 deadweight tons and powered by a diesel engine the size of a barn—would have rolled and pitched and yawed about like a toy in a Jacuzzi.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Naked Children Wandering Around on the Dinner Table

"Life is full of doomed quests—and then it tosses up the weird happy ending, with naked children wandering around on the dinner table. See for instance Wyatt Mason’s amazing profile of Ai Weiwei, now an e-book from GQ."  Lorin Stein, The Paris Review

It is an amazing profile, one of the best in recent memory, and the weird happy ending is perhaps the most amazing of its many amazements. Here's how Mason's amazing profile begins:
In late July, I flew to China not knowing what to expect, with one exception: I was sure, regrettably sure, that I wouldn't be able to speak with the person I needed to speak with, a man named Ai Weiwei. Who he is—and there's no shame in your not knowing; I was among the unenlightened until recently, too—it was my ambition to comprehend. And if I failed to meet the man himself, I hoped, at least, to see enough of the world he called his own to make sense of a matter of no small interest: why it is that not a few people of discernment now consider him to be one of the most significant artists working today; and why it is that the People's Republic of China considers Ai Weiwei to be, without question, a very dangerous man. . . .
More for free here. E-book here.