deep waters

Anyone who has gone to sea for any length of time – and with a wink to my Coast Guard brothers and sisters I mean out past “ankle deep” (out of sight of the land) – knows the sea is vast.   And it really does not matter whether the vessel taking the mariner out is a sloop, a ketch,  a six-hundred foot Navy cruiser,  a thousand-foot aircraft carrier or nine thousand-passenger and -crew  cruise liner.  At some point, everyone realizes that we are but dots in the ocean.

For poets, scholars, kings, farm boys and  fishermen, the ocean casts a spell beckoning us to it,  and yet the depths and potential hazards have been a metaphor, even among land-lubbers, for danger and despair.  Who today has not heard or used the phrases “in over your head”, “you’re in too deep”, “the deep end”,  or being “out of your depth” to describe discomfort.

I sink in the miry depths,
    where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
    the floods engulf me.   Proverbs 69:2 (NIV)

But getting in over my head was never a reason for me to avoid doing something.  I did  venture to sea, most of the eight years I was crew on 3 Navy ships.   Perhaps it was due to my early introduction to water.   I think I was learning to swim almost at the same time I was learning to walk.  My mother used to tell me how, as a toddler, I would venture off the step in the shallows of the community pool –  and her lightning-quick mother’s arm would shoot out to rein me in as my head went under.  I was a budding Jacques Cousteau.   As a young teen,  I took a class in Lifesaving, in order to become a lifeguard, and the instructor- as I recall it- tried to drown me simulating a panicked swimmer.  I punched him.  Later, in the Navy class on treading water, I never understood how some of my peers had never learned to swim.  I never feared putting my head underwater.  And in my twenties I obtained a SCUBA certification and spent some years going diving.

Still, I have a healthy respect for water whether it is gathered in rivers, large lakes, or the ocean. Perhaps it is due to my experience with lakes that appear deceptively shallow, or water that was particularly frigid on a very warm New England May day.  Or with currents in rivers, in saltwater marshes with an ebbing tide where I tried to navigate a little rowboat across.  And I’ve lost my footing in a shallow beach tidal outflow and been sucked out to the bay.

There is a magical quality to looking out at the sea,  and witnessing the deepening blue hue of the deep ocean, turn gray-blackish and whipped into white foam caps.  When a calm sea could become a violent storm in a matter of hours, there were some, myself included, who offered prayers of thanksgiving to Providence for never having been seasick . On a bright sunny day,  as the weather turns into a full-force gale.

The fishermen know that the sea is dangerous and the storm terrible, but they have never found these dangers sufficient reason for remaining ashore. Vincent Van Gogh  / brainyquote.com

In my childhood,  I was fascinated by nautical museums, sea captain’s two hundred year-old homes, touring lighthouses and old ships, steamers, and ferry boats.   And today I am blogging about such things now and again.   At my keyboard now  I remember the first work of fiction I wrote for a college literature class being a blend of all these memories.   And I quite clearly pictured Burgess Meredith as the crusty old Salt protagonist.

Dwellers by the sea are generally superstitious; sailors always are. There is something in the illimitable expanse of sky and water that dilates the imagination. Thomas Bailey Aldrich

Strangely, I never bought a boat after my assignments at sea ended.   While I have been on several since my career in the Navy ended,  I have never wanted to scrape barnacles, chip paint, or clean the salt-corrosion ever again.   But I still know port from starboard, and even on the maritime museum, the MIDWAY at the pier in downtown San Diego, I will still request permission to come aboard.  And I can wish for others a fond  time  getting  “haze gray and underway”.

when the lights go out

Sometimes the best lighting of all is a power failure.  Douglas Coupland / http://www.brainyquote.com

I swear I only measured the voltage of the dead lamp.  I didn’t cause the whole neighborhood at that moment to go dark.

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Determining the reason why that fixture was bad was on my to-do list for six days.  In my garage, I have a cheap light fixture – the one dime-store novels feature in the dingy hotel rooms or corridors – mounted above the kitchen door.  One evening, I switched on the light switch – and the lamp went on.  I turned it off when I was done.  I turned it on again and it immediately went dark.   Seems simple enough but can be easily tested whether the light bulb burned out.   That’s where life steps in and pushes down on the to-do list.    Fast -forward to today.   Motivated,  I finally recalled where I put my digital multimeter (one of three I have) in an accessible tool bag.  I hypothesized  – I am an engineering test guy – the light switch itself went bad.     But just as touched the meter a second time to the fixture, the house and garage and outside went pitch black. Without a sound.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before. Edgar Allan Poe
/www.brainyquote.com

Fumbling in the dark to find my cell phone just inside on the dining table a few feet away,  I found the “flashlight” function.  First thing through my head was the thought, were I at sea, I would have myself chewed out by myself for being so ill-prepared and untrained for emergencies.   O brother!   But before I could get all my protective gear,  tool bag and batten down the hatches,  the lights snapped back on.    My mind did not go to all the dark places, when I second-guess my actions.   I mean, really.  I just came home from a bible study group I lead tonight. I was still feeling the glow of good participation and feedback.

I wonder if this was like the last power failure where a guy hit the wrong switch by mistake.  That error a few years ago shut down virtually everything in Southern California for several hours. A “training opportunity.”   Tonight, with everything back up within a minute told me that it was human error again.

It’s a lot like my work right now.  I have a broken device, some confusing email, and my boss has absolute confidence I will determine the problem now that I am back to work.  Can you get it resolved by Thursday? Thanks.    No pressure.  I just need to run through everything myself.  I could sure use a power failure at work about noon tomorrow – maybe for a week?   Thanks.

 

Unlocking success

 

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Ten Keys to work and life success:

  1.  Measure your success not in terms of monetary gain, power, influence, or education: there are always people who have more than you;  the opposite holds true as well, in that there are always people with less that are more content, peaceful, and healthier with less.
  2. Always give your best effort in your work, whether in employment or in your craft.  There are plenty of others who stop at “mediocre” and complain about “fairness” when others work smarter, harder, and seek to do more.  Make “Invaluable” is an adjective others would use to describe you as an employee.
  3. Treasure an inquiring mind.  If one stops learning, lifegrows dull and colorless.
  4. Be considerate of others.  Your impact may generate positive changes for individuals and communities.
  5. Social media is often argumentative or belittling.  Seek understanding, not to be understood.  When encountering confrontational people who will not accept differing opinions from their own, turn away, tune out, and go play with your family, friends or dogs.
  6.  If you borrow,  treat others’ belongings, tools or work with respect or courtesy.  If you lend, do so prudently and with understanding that it may not return.
  7. If an employer, treat your employees with courtesy, integrity, and compensate them fairly.   If an employee, treat your employer respectfully.
  8. In social settings or with co-workers, do not participate in gossip, slander, or bullying.  The one who offends today may be the subject of other’s offense tomorrow.
  9. In personal relationships, treat one another with kindness, respect and mutual affection.  Be quick to apologize, and treat the other person as you would want to be treated.
  10. Be open to accepting a spiritual component for your life.  Balancing life and work successfully is as much, or even more, a spiritual attuning as human effort.

 

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changes

Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-Changes
Don’t want to be a richer man
Ch-ch-ch-ch-Changes
(Turn and face the strange)
Ch-ch-Changes
Just gonna have to be a different man
Time may change me
But I can’t trace time   – David Bowie  Changes

David Bowie was a genius when it came to his music and his showmanship.  He could repackage himself over the years and always be fresh and draw attention.   I think it is time to make some changes to this blog.  I need to have a fresh approach and better content.   When I started this blog,  I was recalling memories of lessons learned, places visited and people who impacted my life over twenty-five years in the Navy, and lately, remarking on current events that were Navy or military-themed.  But what about writing fiction?  A comic strip?  Possibilities.

Recently the company I work for changed its brand identity, and introduced a new logo.  They hired a public relations firm.   I have more than fifty subscribers.  I need your help.  I am looking for feedback on this fresh look for Truths, Half-Truths and Sea Stories.  Like it?  Hate it?  Don’t particularly care?   Let me know.

 

getting back in the game

Finishing races is important, but racing is more important. Dale Earnhardt
https://www.brainyquote.com

In the sports world,  professional athletes sometimes get injured or sick.  For some, surgery for torn ligaments, broken bones or other issues requires an extended absence.  In the MLB, baseball players can be put on the DL (Disabled List).  In the NFL, football players have injury categories including the Injured Reserve (IR) list.   For the guy or gal whose career does not have millions of adoring fans, bright lights and cameras or sponsor endorsements,  she can be hospitalized at the worst time where work or family are concerned.  For compulsive, “Type A” people – and I am a recovering compulsive worker –  time away from the office is being away from my team and from the battle. I certainly felt that way when I had to retire from the Navy eight years ago.   It took years to lose that compulsion to be involved  and to simply enjoy being “retired”.

the home stretch

Many know in the game of baseball,  between the “top” and “bottom” of the seventh inning, is a time for the fans to “stretch”.  And then the game resumes.  For a month of recovery from abdominal surgery,  my work life feels it has had that “stretch”.   While I did not plan to be away so long, after a few weeks at home,  the light housework, cooking, and a few other chores seem preferable to the whole regular job thing.

What am I thinking!

Of course, I have been working almost forty years,  so this is as close to “retirement” as I’ve gotten.  My youngest adult son still questions my work ethic, “are you STILL off work? When are you going back?”, he says.   I remind myself he’s only held a real job for two years.  Forty more to go (unless he eventually learns to save a dollar or two).   As a  Baby Boomer I know taking time off only leaves a bigger headache to return to.  What is time off worth to you?

To get a week at home, a few might trade work for a hospital bed.  Fewer still might trade,  for two weeks away,  surgery, staples, hospital food and daily changing bandages.   Maybe for three weeks, one or two might volunteer for a hospital stay, including an operation; a persistent cough that racked your body with pain each time;  use or not use painkillers which alleviate pain but slow down healing; bedrest,  antibiotics, itching  and requiring help to pack medicated strips into the surgical incisions twice daily to properly heal.

sporting legs, backs, sight, and wind

The last leg.  On the back nine. The finish line is in sight.  A second wind has kicked in.  Athletes want to be in the race.  With apologies to Dale Earnhardt, the sooner restarted the sooner I reach my finish line.

After four weeks,   going back to the “job” is preferable.  A discussion I had with a blogger concluded that suffering is needed for great art, drama, and writing.  Is my blogging getting BORING?  I am not suffering!  Where do I get inspired?  Suffering at work.  I am not used to working like this!

With my return to work,  there’s going to be an adjustment. Others are going to suffer.  Dogs won’t have my company during the day.  Barbecuing and making dinner for my wife coming from work are going to be a weekend-only thing.  Coming off the DL is an adjustment.  Work is going to expect that I will return to my suffering program and knock a homer out of the park.  Perhaps my dogs will be inspired to blog.

 

A culture of complacency?

Four American Special Operations soldiers who died in an ambush in Niger were reported to have died as a consequence of improper planning, training, and taking unnecessary risks – a “culture of complacency”.  Summarizing details in a classified Pentagon report, military officials found  “low-level commanders, eager to make their mark against local militants in Niger, “took liberties to get operations approved through the chain of command,”  ” according to the Wall Street Journal article today.

In the collisions between U.S. Navy warships and civilian freighters in 2017, the Navy found the same consequences of complacency,  not following procedures, and overconfidence.  In recent articles describing mishaps in Air Force and Marine Corps aviation,  both cite decisions regarding decreased training hours for pilots, as well as decreased material support and funding resulted in increased mechanical failures and pilot error,  particularly in the last several years.

For years, much of the attention paid to combat-action, training or mission-related casualties has focused on politics, funding (budget), and defense contractors, but less has been paid to warfighter training and culture.  In the last twenty years both the warfighters themselves and the military services have “adapted” by the social norms of the day.  Competitiveness, rigorous thinking, physical prowess, and unity of singular national identity ( e.g. American, not  hyphen American,  or French, not Algerian-French) has been debased internationally in favor of equality, fairness, tolerance, and individualism. Regardless of sexual orientation, gender, or spiritual concerns,  a warrior culture has to be obsessive and unyielding about unity, training, respect for and obedience to authority, to mission and to nation.   A warrior commander has to be  pragmatic about readiness, mission planning, and risk.   While there is always some acceptance of risk in any effort, there is no room for overconfidence, personal ambition, or politics in military operations.

However, with human beings comes human weakness.  From the American ambassador during the Barbary Wars (at the beginning of the Nineteenth Century) who diverted support from the U.S. naval commanders  interdicting pirates because he was not consulted, to the battlefront commanders who did not receive accurate enemy strength numbers when advancing on Tora Bora during the initial Afghanistan campaigns (with some fault from communication issues), character, training and planning shortcomings have resulted in unintended casualties.  While it is true that military forces, particularly among the NATO alliance, have become better trained, better equipped and more unified, particularly in communications (Blue on Blue, or “friendly fire” incidents declined), veterans, families of currently-serving members, and the public need to press our civilian leaders to make the necessary changes from the ground up. Better leaders make better institutions.  Better institutions makes better people. Better people make better warriors.  Better warriors make better decisions.

 

one man’s junk

“…is another man’s treasures” – see etymology

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Looking over all the random stuff I have collected in my travels years ago in the Navy, I am recalling how much I learned about marketing since those days. For the longest time, I was quite the buyer. Fresh out of bootcamp, I was “accosted” by a photography film and developing service. I think they were out of business before the contract expired.

“you are going to see the world, kid. You need something to take pictures and to develop them. Sign right here…”

It took a while to learn to bargain proficiently – which is how most of the world operates between vendors and customers. I love hunting for bargains today. I am always asking for any discounts, and chatting with anyone and everyone. But many, even today, will not admit they may subscribe to the old saying, “a fool and his money are soon parted”.

Thinking back to my childhood, two of my favorite characters from television or movies who were amazing at marketing (trading goods), was Pat Buttram’s Mr. Haney in the 1960s television comedy, Green Acres, and Don Rickles character, Crapgame, from the movie, Kelly’s Heroes.

Whether knowing the “talk” of a salesman with just about anything you wanted – or didn’t want, and helping me to avoid “being sold” to a guy who could trade up to get what he needed, I know that my experiences in the Navy were invaluable in my later years. If it was a more-comfortable chair for my boss in the Pentagon, I could get one through “appropriation”. Or if some repair work was needed sooner than the bureaucracy allowed, I could barter favors for moving the work order to the top of the “day’s worklist” stack.

But in the early years, particularly when traveling around the world, I was a tenderfoot with a pocketful of cash, so there were life lessons to learn in salesmanship and becoming a prudent shopper. How many of us, Sailor, Soldier, Airman, Marine, or merchantman have walked past a street hawker without looking or at least listening, to the pitch for gold, jewelry, or girlfriend – swag?

“My friend, my friend, I give you good deal!”

There was always a little marketing going on, from trading shipboard things like embroidered military unit patches, engraved Zippo lighters, military ballcaps. Before widely marketed, Levi’s jeans, Nike shoes, and other “Americana” might make good currency. Sometimes, barter involved Marlboro cigarettes, American whiskey, or music CDs. Yes, kids, there was a whole economy going on, before Paypal. Before Amazon. Before the Internet. A long time ago.

I recently found and then misplaced a picture of me and my shipmates sitting in a beachfront cabana somewhere in South America, decked out in Panama hats. Must have been Ecuador. We had encountered a pretty streetwise kid- a New York City kid visiting his uncle there – who was helping Sailors with the local menu and beer prices. I think he made a kickback but we weren’t complaining. Does any American twenty-something really understand the foreign currency conversion to the dollar? After blowing through your money on the first visit, wisdom then seems to show.

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Bulgarian currency circa 1995

And then there are unique buying opportunities. Ecuadorian vendors in Manta presented me with “genuine” Inca figurines. They were clearly cheap copies but the women selling them from a blanket made me feel I had to buy something. At a beach cabana a kid sold me (yes, I bought one) a fishnet hammock.

In Toulon, France, others offered ladies handbags far more reasonable than the Cannes Louis Vuitton storefront (of course cheaper meant a knockoff). I told my shipmate he could have saved $400 and his spouse wouldn’t have known the difference. Yet he bought the real thing. There were replica French (a nicer word than counterfeit) perfumes in Egypt. One sailor was buying these and fancy stopper bottles from other vendors, to resell at home.

Elsewhere there were Turkish carpets, former-Soviet Army medallions and belt buckles, and amber jewelry (in Bulgaria). Leather goods and inlaid gold and metal items in Spain. Jewelry using ancient Greek and Roman coins in Greece. Tailored suits in Sicily. How many visiting sailors bought panini sandwiches from buxom women in waterfront kiosks in Toulon, France? (These women were Italians!). Anyone visiting Toulon at the time knew “smash” sandwiches.

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With the Internet, I imagine these same vendors now have Point-Of-Sale shops, Apple Pay, PayPal and international shipping. Perhaps I too, shall open a little shop. “I give you good deal!”