Essentially, I am talentless. Oh, I am sure I have a few talents but they are minor ones of no real importance. But I never learned to play an instrument, refined to any degree my drawing ability, cannot dance worth a damn, and I can only sing in a drunken crowd. I think my writing is mediocre. In any case, it will never earn awards.
I am, therefore, jealous of those of you who can do any of these things. It's a friendly jealousy, though, because I admire talent.
When I was in the Navy, I had a shipmate with whom I had an uneven relationship. Ernesto Martinez was a former deck ape (member of the deck crew) who managed to get a shot at the rating of Torpedoman. He was in the deck force because he didn't test well. He didn't test well because, even though he was born and raised in New Mexico, he spoke no English until he went to public school at age 5. He also had a tough life in a rough family. To say he had a chip on his shoulder would be a gross understatement.
He pretended, I think, to be stupid. People thought he was and he let them. But a few knew better, which is why he got out of the deck force and into my division (ASW). I learned that he was much smarter than he appeared.
We got along okay until he tried sleeping in his bunk during an informal inspection period on a Saturday. He was hungover. He was not in a good mood. I was ranking petty officer and in charge of our spaces that day. I woke him. I told him he could grab his blanket and pillow and sleep in the SONAR equipment room. I could keep that locked. He'd be fine in there and I would wake him later if he wanted lunch.
In return, I got jumped on verbally, I got threatened, I got a stream of abuse. I finally just ordered him out of his bunk and told him he'd have to be out of his bunk by the time I returned in fifteen minutes. And then I left. He was gone when I returned, sleeping in the equipment room. For the next several weeks, he scowled at me whenever we ran into each other. He was not a man to cross. He had reached the state semi-finals in Golden Gloves at age 15. He still had the moves.
One day, several weeks later, he came to me and handed me a small candy tin. You know, like the Altoids cans. Inside were two joints. A peace offering. The ice between us melted. I started looking at him differently, we talked more, I learned more about his growing up near Taos. From an uneasy truce, we slowly evolved into friends.
One day, I was up on the 01 deck, near the hanger, and I heard the sounds of a Spanish Guitar. Ernesto had borrowed the guitar of another shipmate and was sounding like Carlos Montoya. It was, in a word, incredible. This unpolished, angry (most of the time), coarse, man was talented beyond belief.
It was my first exposure to someone's hidden talents. Not my last. Not by a long shot. It taught me that so many people are misjudged because of appearance or manner.
And it taught me a bit of humility.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago