Wednesday, March 28, 2012

ghost ship research

Once upon a time, a long time ago, an acquaintance from the past called me up and offered a research assignment. He worked for a magazine called "The Star" -- a glitzy, gossipy, four-color production that included off-beat and occasionally well-researched weirdo stuff.

My assignment was to check out a lingering rumor about a World War II-era ship that had been docked (Baltimore? Philadelphia?) when in some magical moment it had been transported, together with all on board, to New Orleans. I can't remember if, according to the rumor, the ship was then transported/teleported back or not. I think it was.

As with all such stories, part of the magnet was the allegation that 'the government knew all about it but was keeping it under wraps.' Shades of Roswell! The rumor did not name the ship, but said that the sailors had been severely discombobulated -- perhaps went crazy -- as a result of the event ... and the government knew all about it!

Since the job paid pretty well and since I was not, at the time, exactly rolling in dough, I told my former acquaintance that I thought the whole thing was more full of shit than a Christmas turkey, but that if he was handing out checks, I'd go do the work.

There was no Internet at the time, so I headed to the library where I spent hours going through newspaper microfilm files. If any substantial evidence turned up there, I think there was some hypothetical plan to visit naval records or seek out 'survivors' or make some more profound dig. Anyway, I read a lot of newspapers from the time, around 1943 or 1944 as I recall. I was pretty diligent.

But as I read more and more of the newspapers from the time, I couldn't help notice other stories that seemed to crop up. And as the possibility of a disappearing and reappearing ship slipped from credibility in my mind, I noticed recurring two- and three-inch stories about people who had committed suicide by sticking their heads in the oven. Why they had done so was not mentioned. That they had done so was.

The fact that newspapers of the time would print such small tales was curious to me since I lived in an age that was unwilling to print such information. It was as if death were important -- culturally important -- and the cause, whether natural or deliberate, was irrelevant. There seemed to be no prissy excuse for standing at a distance (suicide is wrong or shameful, perhaps) ... death was worth reporting.

I never did substantiate the rumor of the disappearing ship and I wrote that up and got paid for it.

But this morning there was a sense of déjà vu when reading about a Taiwanese woman who killed herself with noxious fumes while chatting with friends on the Internet network, Facebook. Her last words: "Too late. My room is filled with fumes. I just posted another picture. Even while I'm dying, I still want FB (Facebook). Must be FB poison. Haha." 

Strange to think that the desperation and need that is often woven into suicide -- the desire to be noticed and perhaps loved for something -- results in what Soen Roshi called "joining the majority" -- a majority in which no one gets noticed.

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