I came here for an argument

The older I get, the more I find it ironic how some people argue and protest about fairness in life – as opposed focusing on gaining in-demand skills, creating work to employ themselves and others, or volunteering to share their talents and good fortune with others.  College students and academics are often the noisiest, when they themselves are better off than most other people in the world.  Ironic, as, once upon a time I was one of those post-high school, underemployed, single people whining about fairness.  And at the time,  I had my own apartment, a vehicle,  and was a spendthrift living on credit.    In my early Twenties, I was not skilled sufficiently due to personal choices I had made about education.  I was economically disadvantaged.

As I grew older,  I made better choices.  I made the military a career.  I used skills and resources gained there to obtain a better living.  I have been able to serve my fellow man, here and abroad, with material things I can provide from my income.  I have taught some to read. Others, I have helped through translation.  And still others I help through donations to Non-Ggovernent Organizations (NGO)  medical clinics, disaster-response efforts and  volunteers.   In the process of working for myself and for others,  I learned the maddening impossibility of an efficient bureaucracy.   Governments may be able to provide for the national defense, but can spend trillions of dollars and still not have good roads, education that translates into skilled occupations, or decent healthcare.   Often I find myself in an argument because I believe more in principles that are in line with my religious and personal views, and individual responsibility, than government “nannies”.   I will tell people,  “I’m here for an argument, not abuse.”  And that usually gets a quizzical look.

In the 1970s,  Monty Python, a British comedic troupe was very entertaining with comedic sketches that lampooned society, politics, culture, and history very irreverently and often quite bizarre in a very British styled humor.   While many today are focused on the dire future prospects of any given subject from climate to health care to international relations.   Perhaps if we could laugh at each other and disagree with one another – in a manner that Monty Python did so well -we could find solutions in the best interests of our fellow man.

 

Sailors see red

A long time ago I was a young sailor.  On a couple of occasions I recall seeing a Chief Petty Officer wearing his Dress Blues, and the hash marks (service stripes) on his sleeve ran from cuff to his elbow. One time I saw a Second Class Petty Officer in his dress blues who I joked crewed with Noah, by the years represented on his uniform.   More often than not I would see “red” instead of the “gold”.   For those who are unfamiliar with hash marks, or Navy uniforms,  these once represented four-year periods of service (now they represent 3-years).  After twelve years of “good conduct” – we earned a “Good Conduct” medal/ ribbon for each four-year period – we had the right to wear gold-threaded rating badges and hash marks on our service blues – either the “Cracker Jacks” for junior Sailors,  or the Chief’s Dress Blues.

The Chief pictured here,  and in particular, the Master Chief (the rating badge with two stars, red stripes, and hash marks to his elbow) seems to be a shipmate of mine from the days of Sail.    However,  he screwed up somewhere.  Probably chewing out a junior officer over one of the Sailors – or stupidity that the Officer committed.  And he didn’t get punished badly.  He just didn’t earn a “Good Conduct” ribbon somewhere in the previous twelve years!

But you do not become a Master Chief Petty Officer by being a screw up.  Or a “politician”.   We could use a few more of these “Salty Sailors”, particularly in our universities and halls of Government.  But then they would never earn gold hash marks.   Too much stupidity.  Too many opportunities to cuss out kids, professors and politicians for unprofessional conduct.

If we only still used “fan room” counseling.

 

Flooding, flooding!

The practice of medicine is a thinker’s art the practice of surgery a plumber’s. Martin H. Fischer

There’s not too much concern in my neighborhood with the dangers at sea.  No real danger from collisions ( unless a Cessna on approach to the airfield makes an improbably short landing).  There is no danger of grounding.   Likewise, the chance of sinking is very slight at a few hundred feet above sealevel.   And until I attempted tonight to replace the fill valve in my toilet,  I never considered flooding.

As a homeowner, and a technically proficient electronics engineering technician,  I tackle most maintenance myself.  Unless my wife is at home, in which case,  I will opt to call someone to do maintenance.  Some tasks are a little complicated in an old house  whether replacing a dishwater fill line or tinkering with the gas water heater.    With my wife on travel visiting the kids,  I thought tonight would be a good opportunity to replace an annoying toilet fill valve.  For a “water-saving” device,  the last valve I installed has required two or three flushes routinely, and sometimes a manual intervention to the tank.

0512-0707-1115-1056Tonight,  my famous last words were “it’ll only take five minutes”.   I studied the new valve.  I even consulted YouTube.  Simple job.  But the line into the tank – at the bottom continued to drip onto the floor even as I tightened the nut.  I gave in and removed the valve with more water going on the floor,  needing to grab several towels, and getting sprayed from the line as I did not shut the valve from the main all the way.  The job called for and resulted in a few choice “Sailor” expletives after assembly and the tank still had a small leak.

The man who has experienced shipwreck shudders even at a calm sea. Ovid

I was about to resort to calling my neighbor when I noticed one small failure.  I had installed the rubber seal under, not inside, the inner (tank) seat of the fill valve!   And in my zeal, I had nicked the plastic nut which would cause leaking as well.   Fortunately, the old unit had a pristine nut that I was able to reuse.   The Damage Controlman and the Hull Technician can stand down.   Flooding in the compartment has been cleaned up.  General Quarters is secured.  All hands can get back to their Saturday evening.

I was planning to start preparing to paint the living room this week to surprise my spouse.  It would not take that long as I have all the tools, tape and drop cloths.  I have a couple days to call in some “expert” help before my wife returns.  On second thought, I shall postpone this Intermediate Maintenance Availability for another time.  I will not set a watch, but I think it prudent to check the compartment for flooding in the morning.

 

balls to four

In naval terminology, and in many other workplaces, the twenty-four hour clock is used.  The first hours of the new day are called “zero”  as in “zero-thirty” or 1230 AM,  or “zero -three hundred” for 3 AM.  Sailors have a particular term for the mid-watch, between midnight and 4 AM,  the “balls to four” watch.

Personally, I prefer the ‘balls to four’ than the ‘zero-four to eight’ watch.  Because I was often working till late into the night aboard ship,  and then getting a little rest, only to be wakened at 0315 to relieve the off-going watch by 0345.   And as you get older you appreciate sleep more – I stood most of these watches in my early Thirties.  I was just into that deep, wonderful place, seeming moments before someone roused me for my watch.

This morning,  Tuesday, is one of those mornings!  For the briefest of moments around 3 AM,  I was in my sweet spot.  And then my wife, who is boarding a flight today at “zero six” to visit the grandchild (and his parents) stirred me.  For the briefest “Inception” (the movie) -like moments,  I was in my rack with some Sailor shining his flashlight telling me it was time to relieve the watch.  ARRRGH!

My wife is mostly a light-sleeper.  I am one not by choice nor biology.    I was on standby to drive her to the airport should our son (the one who does not work the nursing Third Shift) fail to arrive at “oh-dark-thirty” to pick Mom up for the airport drop-off.

Well,  the son did make it.  Mom’s got her mother and son time this morning. I’ve had two cups of coffee and been blogging for an hour.   What the hell?   It is going to be okay.   I will get at least seven nights of solid sleep before I pick her up coming back.

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Meh

My wife and I are well-suited.  Her strengths complement my weaknesses.  My strengths do the same for her weaknesses.  We both help the other with a soapbox commentary on blogs and Facebook posts.  I get on one (sometimes), and she helps me back away from publicizing commentary that makes me sound like the old opinionated Chief I am.

And then we tend to have random -topic conversation on the way to COSTCO.

“Meh.   I just love the videos that have goats interacting with people.”  My dearest love continued, “Meh?   I wonder if that really is a word.  Or just a sound?   Sounds like a goat.”

animal farm fur black
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

There was a time when I might have known the origin of this.  I was raised to be both physically-active and a bookworm.  But I digress.

In the decades before iPhones and Androids,  I might read a lot of books to invigorate my vocabulary; these days not so much.  On my smartphone, Internet dictionaries tell me “meh” in indeed a word.

Meh: used to express indifference or mild disappointment

No less an authority but the Merriam-Webster dictionary tells me it has been a word in common use since 1992.

What other words became part of the lexicon in 1992?

  • arm-candy
  • cyber
  • Gen X
  • time suck

With everyone using text, Snapchat, Twitter, or other app – the spoken word is probably going to disappear.   The written word is already only trendy – but is my stock in trade  so I cannot believe it will ever become an archaeological artifact.   Is language going to hell?   Meh!

Not just the sound goats make.  At least this post has not been a time suck.

iphone with snapshot logo on screen
Photo by Tim Savage on Pexels.com

Condition Zebra

CPO_coverTwo retired Chief Petty Officers meeting over cigars one evening were only casually known to one another.  Two other veterans and two others, a high school wrestling coach and an auto mechanic were all enjoying the late afternoon absently watching a baseball game on the television.   As the cigar burned to a nub,  the two salt- and barnacle-encrusted old seafarers became fast friends.  It is the shared experience of Navy life. Deployments, wartime, and good and lousy beer five thousand miles away from home. Sharing stories of Red light districts and Shore Patrol.  Looking out for our shipmates who may have enjoyed liberty a bit much.

When did you serve?

Went to bootcamp, in San Diego, in ’77.

Oh, I went through RTC in Orlando in ’78.  I retired in ’99.   

You ?

2010.

Shellback ?  Oh yeah,  I remember those @#$# shelaylee (shillelagh)   

Went through 3 times. Wog first deployment and then Shellback for the next two crossings.

They used GREASE!  Took forever to get it out of my hair.  @#@#$@#!   

Did away with it ten years ago.  Sailors just aren’t tough anymore.

What about Chief’s initiation? They are bringing it back?  Great.

It was a great life.

Yeah. It was a great life!

Gotta be moving on.  CINCHOUSE is expecting me. 

Underway.  Shift colors.

w12-1-mail-buoy

Our other pals looked quietly confused;  all they heard was gibberish.

 

Haze gray memories

All of us have in our veins the exact same percentage of salt in our blood that exists in the ocean, and, therefore, we have salt in our blood, in our sweat, in our tears. We are tied to the ocean. And when we go back to the sea whether it is to sail or to watch it we are going back from whence we came.
~John F. Kennedy , Newport dinner speech before America’s Cup Races, Sept. 1962

I have never learned to sail a wind-driven vessel, nor do I recall the difference between a sloop and a ketch. That said, it does not mean I have no familiarity with ships, storms, life aboard ship, or the special bond that seafaring men (or women) have as a crew at sea.  For eight years out of a twenty-six year Navy career, I was a member of ships company, on a Virginia-class cruiser, a Spruance -class destroyer, and a converted amphibious transport dock-turned-command ship (for the U.S. THIRD Fleet).  I have spent months at sea repetitively in the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans, Mediterranean,  and Caribbean Seas.  Perhaps the readers of this blog, merchantmen and military navymen (and women) have also looked upon Naples, Italy with Mount Vesuvius as a backdrop in the early morning.  As a Petty Officer on a ship that was one of the very first Navy visitors after forty years of the Cold War,  made port in Varna, Bulgaria. On deployment to enforce blockade of Saddam Hussein’s illicit oil trade after the Gulf War, transited the Suez Canal and made circles in the Red Sea. Like the apostles of Jesus two millennia ago, I walked the streets of old Jerusalem, visited Cyprus and Crete, Turkey and Greece.  Gazed upon the ruins of ancient seafaring civilizations four thousand years old.   I’ve ridden trains on a day’s liberty time as a Pacific Fleet sailor between Yokosuka and Tokyo, Japan,  and as an Atlantic Fleet one from Marseilles to Paris, France.

I must go down to the seas again, to the lonely sea and the sky, And all I ask is a tall ship and a star to steer her by, And the wheel’s kick and the wind’s song and the white sail’s shaking, And a gray mist on the sea’s face, and a gray dawn breaking.
~John Masefield

A man I have known casually for years at a place I have written about many times, Liberty Tobacco, a cigar lounge in San Diego, California, is another Old Salt.  We both have long careers in the electronics industry and worked at some of the same places in San Diego.   But tonight we learned that we have been to the same places underway on ships,  and to shore stations around the country.  Twenty-five or thirty years ago is a long time in an age where, in a social media-world, memories last minutes or perhaps hours till another attention-seeker replaces them.

We shared memories of the school buildings for our respective Navy trades being across from one another on the shore of Lake Michigan.  We were assigned to electronics schools ( perhaps five years apart) at the Great Lakes Naval Training Center north of Chicago.  And we both have been through the fire-fighting trainer in Norfolk, Virginia. This is a large complex of buildings built to resemble shipboard compartments where fuel-oil fires are set ablaze.  Into the heat,  dense smoke, and real danger, crews are trained to combat them,  and to become familiar with all the tools and roles needed to fight and preserve a ship.  At sea, there is only your shipmates to keep your vessel afloat.

Other memories of putting to sea on your first ship get dusted off and refreshed while talking.   The times standing watch on the ship’s Quarterdeck in the middle of the night alongside the pier in Italy, you can chuckle about the garbage barge alongside – with something moving (not human) in the shadows.  Or noting wharf rats the size of cats rooting around a dumpster in the dark at the head of the pier. And realizing what “rat guards” on your mooring lines are designed to block.

Memories of winter rain in Panama that will soak you to the skin in minutes.  One of the wettest places on Earth,  the year-round rain recharges the waters in the Canal Zone powering the locks on each end of the Isthmus.  Swapping stories of liberty visits in ports ten time zones away from home that are extended to a month when a casualty occurs.   For one it was the ship’s screw (the propeller, in civilian-speak).  Without a shipyard and drydock, this enormous thing had to be replaced underwater by specially-trained teams.  For the other,  when a gas-turbine engine has to be flown from the USA and replaced in the Netherlands Antilles.  Due to a prior transit in a freshwater river in the Northeast USA, killing the built-up marine growth – and then immediate transit to the Caribbean resulted in the cooling inlets for that turbine being choked by dead organisms and engine destroyed by overheating.

The sea speaks a language polite people never repeat. It is a colossal scavenger slang and has no respect.
~Carl Sandburg

While some of my friends have experienced sea-sickness on a harbor ferry in San Diego bay, and worn the medical patches when first putting to sea on cruise ships and small frigates,  these aids may become unneeded when accustomed to life at sea for months at a time.   With merchantmen and Navymen, the camaraderie of sharing shipboard stories,  having weathered hurricanes and strong gales in the mid-Atlantic and off the western coast of Mexico transiting from the Panama Canal, the memories seem only days old instead of a quarter-century.   My shipmates and I have marveled at the  different colors of ocean water, the patterns of currents, bright sunshine and placid seas turn gray-black and stormy within hours.  I’ve been concerned for brightly color birds alighting on our ship as we leave port and then been still there twenty miles to sea.  Crossing the Equator and the International Date Line,  as a Navyman I have been both Pollywog and seasoned Shellback during the traditional ceremonies of the “Shellback Initiation”.

And some of the other ‘initiations’ like standing a first watch on the bridge – learning to always check your binoculars handed to you,  especially at night.  Some salty Bosun’ mate (Boatswains mate) may have first smeared a little shoe polish in the eyecups.   Or being especially vigilant while  manning instruments and reporting conditions during underway replenishment.  Any sailor will acknowledge the gait at sea is unique, an adaptation to simply performing your duties while the ship rolls in heavy seas.   Huge waves breaking over the bow of your ship become commonplace.  Watching a smaller vessel in your group seeming to disappear in the trough of the waves and then pop up as the waves crash by.  While performing maintenance on deck, looking out and seeing a small sailboat, manned by an individual sailor, pass alongside hundreds of miles from shore.

The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in its net of wonder forever. Jacques Yves Cousteau (brainyquote.com)

For the many who are serving or have served honorably in uniform, we have a bond that few understand.  For those who have spent several months, several years, or a working life,  at sea, we have another strong bond that years and decades later we recall clearly.   Perhaps it is indeed the stirring of the salt in our blood,  the sea spray on our skin,  and the experience of working together in times of routine,  in danger and in emergencies when we all realize just how we are and will always be, Sailors.

[quotes, except where noted, via writebyte.net ]