A beautiful afternoon in San Diego seemed like a nice opportunity to enjoy a cigar and watch birds from my front patio. These are some of the perks of being self- employed.
A young guy – anyone appearing under 45 is looking young – approached me with a flyer advertising his real estate business. We got to talking about cigars, work, dogs, and the benefits of being self-employed. He, too, is a Navy veteran who worked in electronics engineering, deciding there was a better way to earn a living in San Diego. He started buying and fixing up houses and then went the additional step of becoming a realtor.
As a video interview via Facebook, with actor Morgan Freeman, also a veteran, affirmed, we limit ourselves and make excuses. He absolutely confirmed the American Dream is possible if one is willing to put in the work.
For more than 25 years, I wore a command ballcap as a working uniform item with dungarees and BDUs. And kept the caps as mementos long after retiring. I hardly go anywhere without wearing one. And they always start a conversation with another veteran.
Do you have a favorite that you wear still? A company in the Carolinas makes embroidered shirts for my employees, and last month, I contracted them to create these to spread the word about my blog dedicated to veterans and families of vets.
Long before the “sand Navy” was an actual thing – those Navy servicemembers who did a tour in Afghanistan or Iraq during the war- I remember a man who was building a boat in the Arizona desert in the 1980s. While the region is still subject to monsoon flooding (late summer thundershowers that over centuries carved riverbeds flowing west and north from Tucson and elsewhere), I think the builder was overly optimistic. Until I saw what I presume was the same boat launched from the bay in San Diego some twenty years ago. There are other latter-day Noahs still building boats in a parched land. Yet, owning a boat seems to be a short-lived experience for most would-be mariners. While there are many sailing and power boats moored in marina slips all along the San Diego bays, I have seen many hundreds high and dry in storage yards far from the sea. And I live the experience through others. One of my friends, a Navy veteran, invited me out on his boat. Though I enjoyed the experience, I have not had the urge to buy one myself. It would also be another frequent chore to master; between financial and maintenance needs of boats, or cars, or homes, there are rare times to enjoy one. Perhaps, it is why I remember movies where a boat owner was spending an afternoon drinking beer, in his boat while it was stored in his driveway. But having a boat sitting in my driveway in El Cajon most of the year would remind me of one of my running jokes from long ago.
What still causes me to chuckle forty years later is my years spent at the University of Arizona when I would frequently tease a former submariner and fellow student about his participation in the “Rillito River fleet”. The Rillito is, and has been for most of the last several decades, dry but for the previously mentioned “monsoons”. Also, it was the closest non-body of water near both of our homes during that period. That he was a drilling Navy Reservist at the center located on the Davis Monthan Air Force Base at the southern end of Tucson, was amusing to me then. However, the “bubblehead” may have had the last laugh, as I too, became a Reservist there. Within less than I year, I submitted a request to return to Active Duty and subsequently spent the next twenty-three years on ships, and shore sites, from Middle East desert to tropical jungle. From performing observation and interdiction of narco-traffickers in Latin American waters, seizing smuggler’s vessels during a Haitian revolution, supporting Allied efforts in the Serbian – Croatian war, supporting no-fly zones over Kurdish Iraq, I fulfilled my promise to get back out of Arizona and go to sea.
These days I do not make light of any veteran’s membership in the “sand Navy”. They have seen and done some stuff. Whether Reservist or Active Duty Sailor, female or male, if they would have me, I would be willing to crew with them even in the dry washes of southern Arizona.
A veteran friend of mine sent me the link to an article on the military use of pigeons back before Marconi’s invention revolutionized communications. The Navy employed pigeons to courier messages, even developing a Navy Rating with special training to care for and train the birds. If the world goes to seed, I may have some recruits for a new pigeon command here.
I may not have been a Navy Pigeoneer in my career (I was a guy who maintained the electronics), though I am getting more into birds at home. With the change to some waterwise shrubs, my wife wanted to put seeds and sunflowers to bring them back. Recruitment seems to be working. Finches, hummingbirds, California Towhees, and mourning doves are again welcome guests at Camp Feathers. I had originally wanted to attract some nearby raptors, but these are perhaps following the gophers which have gone elsewhere in the neighborhood.
A fisherman, a boat captain, and me put out from Dana Landing just before first light on a gray Saturday morning. The fisherman was experienced, the boat’s owner, a former Navy man but not a fisherman, was hoping for a large catch and me, a retired Navy Senior Chief, neither boat owner nor fisherman, was keeping a weather eye on the horizon. With choppy seas ahead, the fisherman brought along Dramamine. (We all took it.) Had I brought along any bananas? To the fisherman’s question, I responded none.
luck and bananas
Apparently, sailors should not bring bananas on a voyage if we wanted fishing luck. With eight years at sea in the Navy, the thought crosses my mind, had I “ever” seen bananas in the fresh fruit available on the mess decks? Apples and oranges, I remember, but never bananas. Sailing superstition links bananas to lost ships and cargoes. (I looked it up online.) I heard that overcast days are pretty good days for fishing. Our companion, a passionate fisherman, who knows where he has had success and what signs might mean good fishing, provided me a rod and reel. He also showed me how to properly tie a weight and hooks. The rest was left for me to figure out. Fish are not waiting for the unsuspecting fisherman to drop his line and jump on the hook.
seabirds and dolphins
Nine miles off Pacific Beach at mid-morning, the swells were past tolerable, and the overcast remained. With a couple larger boats in the distance, and seabirds, pelicans and dolphins for company, we found some floating kelp and put down our lines again. We took it for a good sign when the captain caught a seabass and the fisherman brought up a rock cod a little later. We decided against going farther out. (One of us admitted to being queasy.) We put down our lines again off Sunset Cliffs and determined the fish finder was not malfunctioning; it had not detected fish all morning. (The seabirds told us as much as neither tern, gull nor pelican were seen retrieving fish from the water at any point.) Back in the channel leading to Dana Point Landing that afternoon, I snagged two mackerel. No fish were worth keeping.
I learned a few things from our adventure. Overcast days do not suggest good fishing weather. The lack of bananas does not conversely bring good luck. Neither does bringing a large cooler. Dolphins do not mean lots of fish are about. And a bad day fishing is better than a good day working. Twelve hours after suggesting to our wives we’d be fishing “three or four (hours)” we got home. The fisherman is one I admire. He intended to play softball all the next day. I slept for ten straight hours. And might go to bed early tonight. But I have Craigslist and OfferUp dialed in; I’m looking for a rod and reel at the right price.
To someone other than a veteran, the idea of possessing only the minimum essential items to sustain life, military preparedness, and fighting effectiveness, may be strange. To a fighting force, whether a ground, air, or naval unit, storage space comes at a premium. Mobility, which means a fighting force’s lethality or in defensive situations its survivability, requires individuals, units, or battlegroups to necessarily limit the amount of stuff to drag along. Too much stuff not only means complicated storage, but the likelihood of being unable to have sufficient resources for things that break down or need more maintenance.
Civilians entering military service are conditioned to this sort of thinking in the first weeks of recruit training. We are issued seabags, ruck sacks, or compact lockers to store our gear. It’s the sort of preparation for young military men and women to pare down to essentials. Of course, as some sailors I served alongside got financially stable, they tended to acquire things like clothes to go clubbing, camping, scuba, fishing gear, or golf equipment. Others developed hobbies that require a place to store equipment. Self-storage facilities thrive around military communities. Yet these facilities are not necessarily catering to single people. Young couples starting out get caught up in the consumer culture that drives so many economies. So the idea of traveling light as a uniformed military member runs into a civilian mindset of “accumulation”. It arriving in – or exiting – middle age with the more common tweaked backs, and moderating enthusiasm for having stuff one has not touched in years, saving money and preparing for retirement that brings us back to traveling “light”.
Helping move a family member into his family’s first home proved to be one of those occasions where my inner-voice of incredulity of what two people can accumulate in a few years struggled to remain “inside”. Relatively little of the thousands of odds n’ ends that we boxed, bagged and stowed on a moving truck or in personal vehicles would likely be missed if lost in the move. In the end, the young family should make a decision about their possessions and whether to begin disposition. Yet the odds are that they like most of us, will just stow everything in an outbuilding until some future time.
What the experience over the past weeks has wrought is to create an angst in me What am I leaving to my children, my spouse or another to wade through? For the twenty years prior to my marriage, I rarely owned anything more than what I could carry in my car. Increasingly, I have gone through things I have accumulated, but only disposed of items that I “wouldn’t miss” or have little value to me. There are still hundreds of items I could shed and not miss. I thought it was my Boomer generation that liked to accumulate “stuff”. It starts off with small things, home maintenance projects, spare parts, projects that need work, and of course, “toys” we need to have to cope with all the long years of working. I’m nearing retirement now. I just do not have the will to go through my “stuff”.
I have storage bins of electrical parts, copper tubing, and nearly full gallons of interior paint. Pictures, some framed, I have not put up for five years or more. And “collections”. I recently donated thirty or forty glass medicinal bottles from the last century. Dozens of books on various subjects I have not re-read in ten years. Some fragments of charcoal art from the 1920s and century-old stamps in an album I have held onto since age 13. Anybody want a 120 year old English ceramic vase, a slightly-worn New England carved chair, or a decade-old, still-unused bathroom exhaust fan?
As a retired Sailor with 8 years spent at sea, I remember my initial introduction to Navy chow was not very appetizing. From breakfast where hot sauce was the most-prized condiment for the scrambled (rubbery) eggs, to the other meals that were often recycled leftovers, especially sliders that became the meat in spaghetti dinners the following day. But these soft sugar cookies were probably the tastiest of any dessert. Before I earned the rank to eat with the Chiefs’ Mess, when the menu items were planned and paid for – by the members of the Mess, those cookies were a treat.
Just like a show I remember from years ago, when “Cookie”, a onetime cook aboard an Aircraft Carrier was reciting a recipe for his friends, the recipe reprinted in the linked article is crew-sized quantity. You may want to follow the pared-down version.
The Fox article was from material originally published by the Naval History and Heritage Command in April, 2021.
The “Perseverance” Rover landing successfully on the surface of Mars this week is a metaphor for the amazing success of a team – thousands of people – who rose to the challenge of putting that vehicle on a planet 300 million miles away. Human beings focused on delivering their best effort can make ambitious goals possible. This has been the case since before recorded history up through sending probes beyond our solar system. Over thousands of years people have advanced their understanding of the universe from erecting temples aligned with the relative movement of stars and planets, navigating across oceans, to physicists, engineers technical specialists, and support teams landing on other worlds. Closer to home, it is tragic that a microscopic organism, one (or more- mutations) of billions on our planet, in the 21st Century has killed or harmed millions of people across the world in the last eighteen months. Prompted by the urgency of finding a vaccine, a lot of dedicated people have been working to determine the nature of the COVID virus, obtain cooperation of billions to slow infection, and then test and distribute a vaccine to eight billion people in the last couple months time.
In both of these examples, the challenge of getting humans to work together, to seek to understand, or to solve a complex problem is tested. We can send probes to study Pluto and Oort Cloud objects, but preventing species extinction, or mitigating natural and man-made disasters seem impossibly difficult. Problems mobilize communities for a period of time, but it requires ongoing teamwork and collective vision to make meaningful change. However, if every person took the opportunity tomorrow and every day after that, to make a small yet positive change in thought and action, we can achieve goals. The book Atomic Habits: An Easy and Proven Way to Build Good Habits and Break Bad Ones, by James Clear, introduces an insight into how in every endeavor, small yet continual process improvements can achieve incredible results. Perseverance is a necessary attribute whether it is landing on Mars or solving an endemic human problem.
Relationships inform you and me whether others perceive us as whom we consider ourselves to be.
While this may be a great starting point for a philosopher or intellectual following Goethe, Erikson, or Jung, in a modern society, your identity is whom you can prove yourself to be. Bureaucracy has replaced oral recitation of your birthright ( e.g., descent of your family or tribe from Moses, Seneca, or Charlemagne). If you don’t have a driver’s license, a passport, a social security card, or another government- produced identity card, how do you prove who you are?
It is always the same: once you are liberated, you are forced to ask who you are.
Jean Baudrillard, 1929-2007, French intellectual (best-quotations com)
It might be unnecessary for the Queen of Great Britain to carry identity papers (there, everything official is issued in her name) but in most every country, everyday life, that is, in one’s financial and legal relations, use identity as a basis for meaningful exchange.
Most who have suffered identity theft, where unknowingly, someone has enjoyed your savings or credit to buy yachts or Teslas, or found themselves wanted in Pennsylvania for fraud ( though you have never left Nevada) are painfully aware that your identity is you.
One must be something in order to do something
Wolfgang Goethe, via best-quotations.com
As someone now engaged in an occupation that is thoroughly entrenched in institutional bureaucracy, valid identification of my prospective clients requires official documents. In a world now telling people they “are” whom they believe themselves to be, in terms of “identity”, these same folks in bureaucratic circles tell us we are whom our documents dictate.
An Army veteran and great-grandfather, Rudy was buried Monday. This nonagenarian was full of life and wisdom up until he died, and it was evident in all those who shared his impact in their lives. After an Army enlistment, he spent a career in industry. And his interests were just as varied as his life: step-father and father, an artist and sculptor, avid tennis player and golfer. Asked for advice at various times he would tell stories guiding the person asking to decide the answer for herself.
At the graveside for the rendering of military honors, an Army bugler played “Taps. The most memorable scene most in attendance missed, was noted by a child’s grandmother during the playing of “Taps”. His 14-month old great-grandson had been squirming, smiling, and making “mam…mam” noises for most of the preceding service. But the little boy became still in his mother’s arms, and cried silently as the bugler played.
4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.”
A Navy Chief Petty Officer is never given the “how-to” just the task to accomplish. The wisdom of the Chiefs’ Mess provides suggestions and a sounding board. That is the wisdom I have lived for the past thirty-five years. For the last several days, I have been dismantling, cleaning, and priming the wood cabinets in our sixty year-old galley kitchen. Removing grime of years needed scrub pads, many buckets of hot water and TSP, and elbow grease. Cleaning and dismantling was easy compared to the next phase of the “in-port Habitability period” (remodeling, for you civilian-types).
What color do I like? I am not sure what “warm”, “complementary” or “2019” colors are. What drawer and cabinet hardware do we want? After hours of online research for kitchens resembling ours, I was given some wide margin. The retired Boatswains Mate at Lowes suggested a cabinet paint that will be “one coat and done” at $50 a gallon. Suspecting, if up to me, I would get the wrong shade, I bought a small can of primer instead, and had Valspar “Voyage” tint added.
In 2019, matching paint and counters to a thirty-plus year old floor was low on my list of worries. Few current-millennium homes have white-tile floors throughout (the previous owner cursed us). Tearing up the floor was a job all my friends said would be a nightmare, so my first thought, would a terrazzo coating over the tile be an option? I kept that idea to myself. I had some experience working with it aboard the USS PETERSON. Color-matching the terrazzo, cabinet paint, with a yet-undecided new countertop, would challenge this Chief’s can-do. We both decided that the floor could be covered with a mat. As for colors, I was going to opine to the Admiral that her next shade pick was a glossy (Navy) Deck Gray. Shipboard colors were kept utilitarian and for camouflage. Deck Gray for decks. Haze Gray for exterior bulkheads (walls) and White, plain white for most everything else. I decided to keep that to myself also.
Next item: these cabinets and drawers never had handles before. I am thinking how to install cabinet handles and pulls precisely. I will need to design a rig to do that. With the ongoing plan to repaint the whole house interior, I am scheduling my “Intermediate Maintenance Availability” for as long as it takes. But time is not really the issue; I am not commuting to a job any longer, so as long as the job is done well, the Admiral shouldn’t fire me?
Any seasoned veteran of the U.S. military who has served overseas, dealt with foreign military allies, patrolled in a war zone, had liberty in many regions where English was not well-understood, or stationed at a U.S. military installation in a foreign country, understands many of the benefits and shortcomings of “Home” better than most.
The reason many 16- to 29- year olds in the United States today embrace “socialism” is due to their ignorance. Without long personal experience of the more mundane aspects of Government bureaucracy, they have only what they were taught and limited exposure. These might be obtaining a driver’s license at the Department of Motor Vehicles, and perhaps a simplified annual income tax filing. Young military members (especially those who marry early in their careers) are exposed to misfiled paperwork, outdated computer systems, confusing terms, differing support for ‘sponsors’ and ‘dependents’, procedures, and the overwhelmed administrative staff inherent in large bureaucracies. Utopians talk of modeling Swedish-style and European Union socialism – without really understanding the development, successes, drawbacks, and requirements. Ignorantly, many promote Government as the best delivery of human needs and wants when they haven’t yet experienced much of what is already under Government administration.
Big Government inefficiency is evident in every aspect of Government-provided services: obtaining vehicle registration and drivers’ licensing; real property titles and building permits; and in family trusts, wills and probate court filings. The limited experience of many, influence the mis-characterized belief that Government harass racially-targeted innocents (police maintain order and enforce laws), disenfranchise non-citizens and “formerly incarcerated” persons (per local, State, or Federal statutes), or limit the living standards achievable to low- or unskilled labor due to “unregulated” employers’ wages and benefit plans.
For others, Government should be reformed to accommodate cultural and social practices of the day, from gender, sex, race, citizenship, language, culture and criminal or civil conviction and incarceration. Policies are very slow to change, requiring many years to make minor improvements. Away from politics and media ballyhoo, Bureaucracy is what the governed are directly affected by and not politicians. Five ordinary examples of Government bureaucracy as it exists today should give some pause to embrace further Government control:
Probate: an old woman dies without a “valid” Will. With negligible assets and few bills, selling a home should be a simple affair. But Probate is not simple and not inexpensive. The State Court system is a labyrinth of procedures and calendar entries; an inexperienced layman is doomed to failure.
A stolen vehicle is recovered, and one seized for a traffic or criminal violation, are towed away. The towing company applies towing charges, and daily storage fees payable by the registered owner, but requires owner identification and registration validation before releasing the vehicle. When the vehicle owner has lost cash, debit and credit cards, or misplaced a state-issued identification, it becomes a Catch-22 where the vehicle cannot be released to the owner until valid ID is presented and payment made. Until such time as ID can be presented, storage fees continue to accrue. Sometimes, the value of the impounded vehicle when sought is less than the accrued fees.
A person with an employer health plan, pays biweekly insurance premiums. In an “emergency”, he visits an in-network hospital Emergency Room for a major health issue. Though the State mandates many “guest” workers, the unemployed, and under-26 year old adults have healthcare, paid by a legal resident taxpayer, the suffering taxpayer waits in line with all the rest who still primarily use ER services (they cannot be turned away legally).
A sixty-year old home requires upkeep. A forty-year old, improperly built “retaining” wall collapsed. The solution? Start excavation and proper reinforcement of a new wall in the same location. A homeowner’s decision to follow county regulations: permit, payment of fees, submission of plans and wait for inspections were far more onerous than expected. After project completion an added bonus: An unexpected (higher) property re-valuation and corresponding property tax increase issued by the County.
Transportation infrastructure: the Government is authorized by its citizens to maintain and upgrade. While citizens continue to pay higher fuel taxes, fees, and other taxes and fees to pay for maintenance, the Government executes over four to five years, a 25-year old improvement plan which then fails to meet the needs of the community. Bureaucrats and politicians redirect new transportation funds into special projects that overrun budgets by billions. Many of these pet projects are public transit measures that lobbyists favor but 2 percent will ever actually use.
the reason the Soviet newspapers, Izvestia and Pravda, were always sold out was not due to the news content. Toilet paper was chronically limited throughout the country.
interview with a resident of the former Soviet Union (1983)
But the merits of employment, housing, public transit, and basic health care in a so-called Socialist system do not justify an even more complex and inefficient bureaucracy than that which presently exists. Limiting the choices available for services to that provided by State-approved operators only, resulting delays, greatly simplified care, and regulation will disappoint everyone.