chasing after wind

better one handful with tranquility than two handfuls with toil and chasing after the wind

Ecclesiastes 4: 6 (NIV)

I listen to an investment talk show on the radio Saturday mornings while driving home from my prayer-hike in the Mission Trails Park (San Diego, CA). The hosts were commenting that the House (Congress) has recently approved changing working Americans retirement savings programs (the SECURE act) to help people who put little to no money aside for their “old age”. The radio show’s hosts were remarking how consumer debt is growing again, and with workers left to voluntarily invest in company 401K plans, IRAs (Individual Retirement Accounts) and funding emergency savings ( e.g. six months of expenses), fewer than four in ten are setting money aside. With consumerism driving cycles of economic growth followed by downturns, unemployment, and bankruptcies since the 1970s, are we headed there again?

Perhaps it is one of the failures of a developed nation that savings and prudent investment is not taught in the K – 12 grades nor in colleges. And young adults, free of parental guidance, are heavily marketed to obtain credit and jump into the consumer lifestyle. After September 11th, our youth grew up with continual exposure to negative future images – homelessness, refugees, terrorist attacks at home and abroad, a bleak economic outlook, and hostility toward “traditional values”. It seems almost forgivable that young people are seeking to have it “now” rather than later.

For the last of the Baby Boomers, for Generation X, and Millennials, the promises of Government, particularly those seeking public office by positioning themselves as champions of the disadvantaged, should sound like a broken record of the past cycles. For those between thirty and sixty years of age, the financial missteps of the past should have served as a lesson to improve one’s financial security. Into one’s Forties, obtaining a trade or marketable skill (regardless of one’s “passion”) can still provide for one’s retirement. The traditional “invaluable employee” mentality should improve wages. If wage or employment benefits stagnate, different employment has been increasingly available.

Like Solomon four thousand years ago expressed, seeking to keep up with the consumerism of one’s neighbors, rather than living prudently leads to “chasing after wind”. Delaying gratification, investing prudently, living within one’s means, and looking to your own welfare instead of the Government’s plans for you, leads to a golden “old age”.

club for erudite Old Salts

A Thursday evening discussion with an acquaintance over cigars, as retired Navy Chiefs, we were amicably discussing the Navy “salty” life, adventure, and places familiar to each of us around the world. With a lifetime of experience including travel to the same parts of former Soviet bloc countries, we then opined on 21st Century socialist nations. While rigid politically, some tacitly approve of workers ‘capitalist’ use of an underground economy to support their families. He illustrated discussing the merits of fine Cuban cigars he obtained. Skilled cigar rollers have access to tobacco, paper and other accessories to make – after the day’s production was completed and inventoried – some personal cigars to provide under-the-table income. He learned of accessing such side channels during global business travel. And tonight, the ‘entrepreneurial’ wheels in my mind started turning. In a Progressive future, there will always be those who obtain – and those who will then purchase – a premier cigar.

no fear

Every motivational program I have heard or subscribed to since my mid-Thirties, has quite sensibly detailed a method to improve finances, marriage, or speaking in public. Several were focused on succeeding in leadership and/or business. Some gave ideas on raising confident and capable children, and others focused on achieving a healthy work/life balance. Most of these were in relation to a Spiritual foundation. While everyone I know who engage in these self-improvement workshops, get something from them, those who diligently apply themselves and are undeterred by resistance, seem to thrive. But am I alone in being stuck in old routines, jobs, or commutes, because of “fear of change”?

Thirteen years ago, I began working at a company located almost forty miles (one-way) from my home. For a few years there was the prospect that a subsidiary a few miles from home would have a position I could transfer into. The subsidiary was closed. Moving was not an option; not just the expense of a new home, but my teens and spouse had strong ties to the local area. As I got older, I made excuses that I would not find stable work somewhere reasonably closer. The issue is that I did not apply consistently or obsess about finding a different job. This goes against my experience, spiritual training, even rational common sense. Do I hate change?

Do others have this dilemma? Do many live with constant economic instability and change, because they prefer the “life” in “work-life balance”? In my mid-Twenties, in between periods that I eventually made a Navy career, I enjoyed not being serious about work. I had heard stories of people who were so driven to always be at work, they became ill or suffered cardiac arrest when they no longer had the constant adrenaline jolts of the job (stress). But I recall being so fearful of “starting over” that I remained stuck for years in something I probably was less suited for than the horses I cared for when a high school student, or the university where I participated in work-study. When the one co-worker told me she was leaving after a year because of her commute (twenty miles), I empathized.

Perhaps metathesiophobia is a covered condition in the employer’s health plan? However, to relieve this condition I might have to make a change in my work-life balance. And I fear hate the idea.

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-Governent 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.   This sort of humor might harpoon many topics sacred to a generation focused on a dire future.  Why few have any opinion on a solution for the topics they brood about, from climate,  health care or international relations is odd for an opinionated society.   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.

 

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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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 ]

How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise – Philadelphia Magazine

In my email today I saw this story from my feed Pocket posted from the Philadelphia Magazine.  And perhaps it is my age, my nostalgia, or something about potato salad or tuna with mayo – real mayo that is,  but mayonnaise stories resonate with me.  Alas, in truth I also have succumbed to post -20th Century condiments.  The mayo that I do buy – is avocado-based!

via How Millennials Killed Mayonnaise – Philadelphia Magazine