May 20, 2018
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Military makes for literal mind

By Sarah Smiley

Dustin and I have just returned from a two-day vacation in Boston, where we saw U2 in concert at Gillette Stadium (“Tonight we are in the presence of God … and Tom Brady,” lead singer Bono said).

The day before we left Bangor for Boston, Dustin told me that one of his fellow Naval Academy graduates would also be in the city because his “cruiser” (Note: Dustin claims he did not say “cruiser,” but “cruise ship.” His claim is wrong.) was pulling into port on Sunday.

“Let’s see if we can get a tour of his ship,” Dustin said.

Before I tell you how I responded, let me remind you that I have been a Navy dependent since the day I was born. I have grown up around battleships — especially aircraft carriers — and for me, visiting them is as common and mundane as going to the grocery store. The smell of greasy metal ladders mixed with the intoxicating and unforgettable scent of JP-5 jet fuel is as much a part of my childhood memories as the smell of my mother’s homemade cookies. I am more comfortable amid the culture and atmosphere of a ship than I am inside a typical office building (my dad never had one of those).

So when Dustin suggested that we take a tour of his friend’s “cruiser” during our short vacation without children, I turned around to face him, put on my best annoyed expression (the one that means, “Did you really just say that, Dustin?”), and said, “Do you think I’m driving all the way to Boston just to tour some ship? Not on my kid-free vacation. No way.”

Dustin was confused. Although he said “cruiser” (and disputed it later), what he meant was “large, civilian cruise ship.” His friend, now out of the military, works as an acupuncturist for a cruise liner. Yes, you read that right. He went from being a military officer trained for war to an acupuncturist schooled in the art of natural healing and relaxation. That’s somewhat like a coal miner becoming a manicurist.

The point here, however, is that my perspective is so warped by my military upbringing that when Dustin said “ship,” I never once considered that he might mean something civilian. And when Dustin spoke of his Naval Academy friend, I didn’t imagine that he would be an acupuncturist.

This miscommunication also highlights the result of Dustin’s own entrenchment in the military, where most things are literal and without question. It didn’t occur to Dustin to explain what he meant by “ship.” Shouldn’t I just know?

Dustin takes things at face value. Case in point: When we were first married, we went to dinner at a restaurant, where Dustin ordered a milkshake. Some of his milkshake spilled and became a puddle on the table. When the bill came, Dustin unknowingly put the receipt in the puddle of shake. As I watched the liquid soak through the paper, Dustin stared into space as he calculated the gratuity in his mind.

“You just put it down in shake,” I told him.

What Dustin heard: “You just put it down AND shake.”

He looked at me for a moment, then set down the pen he was holding in his hand and proceeded to shake his hips in his seat. I knew then that I was dealing with a creature wholly unlike myself, one that is extremely literal and obedient.

Midway through our car ride to Boston, I realized that when Dustin said “ship,” he meant a cruise ship. Suddenly I was excited about the chance to tour something I’ve never experienced before. I realize, of course, that many civilians would think the opposite and might travel thousands of miles for the opportunity to tour an air-craft carrier. I’m not one of them. I have been there, done that, as they say. But I’ve never been on a cruise liner.

“How could you possibly get confused and think I was talking about a military ship?” Dustin asked.

I was tempted to remind him about the put-it-down-and-shake incident.

“I don’t know,” I said. “I hear ‘ship’ and I think military. Maybe I’m programmed.”

“But, Sarah —”

“I just got confused, OK, Dustin?”

Dustin turned to me and said, “Sarah, how many military ships do you know of that have an acupuncturist on board?”

He might have a point.

Maine author and columnist Sarah Smiley’s writing is syndicated weekly to publications across the country. She and her husband, Dustin, live with their three sons in Bangor. Her book “I’m Just Saying …” is available wherever books are sold. She may be reached at

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