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 ]

Quest for non-Fire, Ice Tea and a Paleo-donut

In the late summer in the American West, life has challenges including “excessive heat” warnings, brush and forest fires, snarled traffic, and where to go for a getaway that is  not “tourist pricey”.     Living in a region that everyone heads toward:  beaches, nearby islands, amusement parks, and mountain retreats, I want to avoid all these in summer.   Of course,  getting out away from the crowds of people for the weekend leaves the desert  and the deep sea.   Without a boat of my own, the sea is out of the question and the desert – only a few foolhardy migrants and the Border Patrol are out there in August.

Last weekend, in a spur-of-the-moment outing to celebrate my birthday,  my spouse and I thought we would go to Catalina Island off the coast southeast of  Los Angeles.  With no ferry seats on a return trip that day,  we looked elsewhere.  The popular amusement parks like Disneyland were off-limits, not because of the crowds, but because our annual Pass does not permit entry during the popular summer months for tourists.  And Nature was also causing chaos.   Brush fires along destinations we alternately considered were, like the Spirit blocking the Apostle Paul’s travel to Asia, directing me to go north up the I-15 freeway.  And so we went to Temecula, about sixty miles north of San Diego.

Yet no road trip with my wife is properly prepared unless she has a large cup of  fresh – or at least, recently-brewed UNSWEETENED ice tea at launch and part-way through the adventure.  I could write reviews on scores of places , “convenience” stores and “fast food” drive-in windows, who must not sell a lot of unsweetened, fresh tea.  When you no longer tolerate sugary soft drinks, water is about the only other choice. Even the dozen brands of bottled iced tea are a last resort.   Does anyone really like a passion-fruit-flavored Iced Tea beverage?  (For my European and British-tradition tea drinking readers,  while you have no idea whatsoever about “iced” tea as a beverage,  it is consumed by the millions of gallons annually in the United States. I have had Britons and Irishmen in those respective countries look at me as completely mad when I described brewed tea, refrigerated and poured over ice.)

Once her tea is secured, and the approximate travel time between consumption and the need for the first bathroom stop is calculated in my driving computer ( my head) we set off.  As anyone in Mid-Life, who travels frequently with their spouse, that is, fifty-ish,  the climate control in the vehicle is a frequent issue.  I generally like the air conditioning ON in the car anytime the outside temperature is above 75F.    Normally we are at opposite extremes -when she is cold I am hot.   When I am comfortable, she pulls out a sweatshirt or a jacket.  If roll a window down, she wants it up.  And so on.

At least now with our lifestyle that can at times be confused with the “Atkins diet”, the “Keto diet”, “Paleo diet” or “vegetarian”-ish, we do not bother with correcting folks.  I can eat anything, though I choose more often to eat healthy food and in smaller portions.  So what is the meaning of “Paleo donuts”?

The Paleo diet seems to be at odds with any encounter with donuts.  However, as some may be aware,  I have been focusing on a better diet and exercise for much of the last eight or nine months.  I do not subscribe to fads, particularly ones identified with the eating habits of extinct people.  But on our travels into Temecula, we found a farmers’ market I talked about in an earlier post .   I spotted a vendor offering samples of donuts and like a smart aleck, opined that that they would have to be gluten-free or Paleo -diet friendly for me to accept.   Those were.

When someone has the opportunity to eat his own words, and if they are in a donut,  I will.  Without regret or “cheating”.  A sliver at a time.

 

Better living through Nature

After a quarter-century of military service, and now somewhere in late middle-age,  I am like many of my peers, working off “sudden” obesity.   I want to enjoy my upcoming retirement and not help fund my health practitioner’s yacht fund.   I am not the stereotypical military retiree: I want to be much more energetic in my next, hopefully several, decades of life.
23467227_10214700064361881_7515546182225330890_oThe stereotypical military member in film and television for decades were depicted as hard-drinking, hard-living, and either “bullet-proof” loners or stressed-out figures off the battlefield.  Many of our popular movies today feature technology or medical science improving people to “superhuman” capabilities.  But reality is more sobering.  In our Twenty-First Century America, the focus on exercise, outdoor activity, and a balanced diet went away in the late 1960s.   Fast-food convenience like McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken,  microwave lunches and Starbucks hyper-sweet coffee drinks and delivery pizza are turning people obese in grade school.
But you do not have to be a retiree or a military member to notice the country has a serious problem.    After decades eating processed food, junk food, sugar additives, and artificial flavors, anyone can look in the mirror and to many around us and see health problems or in the making. We don’t have to live like this. We can minimize or reverse 1527438516044the effects through smarter choices and exercise. 
One of the reasons to practice eating better and  live healthier is a practical one.  Health care in the United States, or for that matter, in the industrialized world is expensive, tied up in bureaucracy, or when available, can be a long series of procedures, painful, and difficult to maintain a “normal” life while being treated.   Cancer, bad hips, bad knees, respiratory diseases, diabetes, and obesity may be more widespread because we hear about them now in daily conversation or may be a result of our eating habits and stressful lives.
I decided to become better informed and to change my eating and exercise habits.  One of these is to drink a lot of water now – half my body weight in fluid ounces daily.  And not flavored water which often have sugar or sugar-imitating chemicals.    I take long walks before the day starts,  during a lunch break and after work.  (I commute long distances to an engineering job).   With training I am receiving as a part of an online community,  I am using the skills I am learning.   
One of the foods I have been consuming in smoothies for a couple weeks now contains various plants that I realize I know little about.  So  I will share my findings in a series of posts, “Therapeutic Uses of Plants”. Much of this is corroborated by the National Institute of Health (NIH):
 
ROSE HIPS. Contain anti-oxidants. Used as a medicinal ingredient in many cultures. Being studied for its properties in fighting skin diseases, renal (kidney) issues, diarrhea, arthritis, diabetes, and obesity.
 
CHAGA MUSHROOM. Used in folk medicine for its ant-cancer properties. At the NIH, the anti-cancer properties are being studied using mice. Early research indicates the compounds in these mushrooms inhibit certain cancers.
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Results vary.  But guys like me have dropped a lot of weight, and resolved a lot of obesity-related health issues.  And with the weight-loss, improved energy, and better attitude, the result in the bedroom are pretty fantastic too.  If you would like to know more, I invite you to visit my website:
And connect with me on Facebook or Twitter.

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!”

Honor and lament: Southwest Air 1380

12 Moreover, no one knows when their hour will come:

As fish are caught in a cruel net,
    or birds are taken in a snare,
so people are trapped by evil times
    that fall unexpectedly upon them. Ecclesiastes 9: 12

https://www.cnn.com/2018/04/18/us/southwest-emergency-landing/index.html

Grieve for the Dead and her Family

A passenger on Southwest Airlines Flight 1380 died in a freak accident yesterday.  One of the engines on the Boeing 737 had a mid-air explosion and shrapnel entered the passenger compartment causing depressurization.  Seven others were injured.  According to the British tabloid The Sun yesterday,  she was Jennifer Riordan, an Albuquerque banker with Wells Fargo.  Seems like such a brief statement, to be identified by a person’s occupation.  Whose lives did she change.  Whom was encouraged or loved or cared for.   Yet, a husband has lost his wife, and their children have lost their mother.   Let the community rally around the living  and that the airline company moves quickly to do everything possible to care for them, the injured, the other passengers and crew.

Honor the Pilot’s Skill

The flying public, myself included,  take for granted, after sixty or more years of travel that nothing will disrupt our cocktail and peanuts, the in-flight Wi-Fi or movie.  But silently we depend on the professionalism and skill of the pilot and crew.  Hundreds of lives at 35,000 feet depend on a machine and an operator.   The pilot of the aircraft,  Tammy Jo Shults, has been a pilot in commercial aviation for decades.  Prior to that, according to news reports, she was one of the first female naval aviators and of a smaller, more exclusive group of skilled aviators – pilot of an F/A-18.  The skill of our commercial and military pilots is without a doubt exceptional.   More than a hundred passengers and crew owe their lives today to the skill of the crew in landing at Philadelphia.  That no other lives were lost is a credit to cool professionalism.  Yet I hope she is comforted as well as lauded for handling that emergency so well.    Military training or long years in commercial aviation: no one wants to lose someone on their watch.

An instant changes everything

Every day, a split-second can be the difference between life, death, or serious injury.  The decisions we make affect us.  Yet we are not always in control.  Nobody can predict what the day will bring.  In a complex machine that is a commercial airliner, a bolt that passed inspection may have sheared causing mayhem.  A tree limb weakened by a harsh drought may crack and fall on a sleeping camper.  A wrong turn or an earlier than normal start to a work commute may result in an accident with someone distracted on the way home.  A routine medical procedure that saved a hundred lives that week, may result in a rare complication where someone died.

Twenty-five years ago, a Sailor I served with on a Navy destroyer, was driving a Navy van on a pier during a snowstorm.  The van skidded and drove off into the harbor and that sailor died.  His body was not discovered till months later.   And last year, another Sailor, in a horrible collision at sea, tried to get everyone out of a berthing compartment.  To save his shipmates, he told others to seal the hatch and sacrificed himself for others.

Life of Faith, or Fear

Life is unpredictable.  As a follower of Jesus Christ,  a retired Navy Senior Chief, and a devoted husband and friend,  I hope I may respond as my faith and training enable me.

it is all Turkish to me

Word of the day, in Turkish:  hamur işi    (ha’ -moor i-shi).  Pastry.

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A modern view of Izmir, Turkey

How many times have you thought about places and people you have not seen in twenty-five years?  As we get older,  do you, like me, reminisce about the adventures of your youth.   Or has the worries of life crowded out the faces, names and places?  Perhaps it is due to long-dormant memories that are triggered by seeing one of the random bits I have collected an carried with me over the decades.  Or, in not thinking every single day about work,  a calmer mind has time to reflect.

As Sailors, most of us looked forward to foreign ports of call.  (I say “most of us” as I knew some shipmates who wanted nothing to do with anywhere that was not the the USA.) But  I was interested and excited to get off the ship.   I have always been a people person.   Probably why I was so interested in learning foreign languages.  A conversation might only take using (badly) the six or so words.  Some might even have a couple phrases learned prior to visiting Egypt or Turkey.  With a “hello” or “how do you do”, in Arabic -I purchased a cassette tape introductory lesson before leaving the American base –  it was a good thing that most spoke some English.

I am thinking about that first visit to Hurghada, Egypt, when I had a conversation with a young Egyptian dock worker while I was waiting for my ship to come in.  I had just flown seventeen hours from the U.S. to board the ship that was in mid-deployment.   I still have the papyrus bookmark and a photograph in my random collected “stuff”.   Or talking with the merchant while we drank tea, who hoped one day to get to America so his young daughter might get needed surgery.   Or riding with my buddies in a cab, at night, while the cabbie raced along, no headlights (to preserve the battery, he said) honking and dodging people and animals in the street.  Completely unperturbed (the cabbie, not us).

Once when I traveled to New York City, and hailed a cab, the driver was “middle eastern”?   Then as now, I think about the gentleman  near the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul wanting me to buy some gold jewelry.   “How did you learn to speak English so well?”,  I kidded.

“I was a cab driver, New York.   Two years.” he replied.

“I think I have ridden in your cab!” I said.

For a brief time ashore in Turkey I was a millionaire.  Well,  it was when I exchanged my U.S. currency for Turkish Lira, at a time before the currency was revalued by their government to track with other world currencies.  With all my new “wealth”, what would be my most prized purchase? a book.   A bilingual dictionary.  Twenty-five years ago, with no Google and no Amazon to browse and shop, a book – in a stall in an open-air Izmir market –  a  sözlük (pronounced sooze’ luke) was my Rosetta stone.

With that dictionary, I met Hikmet and his brother during our Izmir port call.  They were  entrepreneurs in international  business of shipping and receiving (they owned and operated a MAILBOX, ETC store).  I was their opportunity to practice “american”.   Over tea, we “conversed” in their broken English and my crash-course (on the fly) in Turkish.

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teacup 

In 2018,  Sailors do not appear to be deploying to the Middle Eastern waters any less than their predecessors.  For thousands of years, armies and navies have been making port calls.  Greeks, Romans, Byzantines,  Ottomans, Western Europeans, Americans, and now Russians,  So I am sure that vendors, street hawkers, and students will know  “my friend”, “how much?” and “I’ll give you a good deal!” in everything from ancient Greek to Chinese.  But what of the millennial generation? I hope they  find an Internet connection for their smartphone translator app.   As for me,  I still have my bilingual dictionary.

 

 

 

Museum piece

Starting today, I am going to focus THTASS on funny observations, uplifting naval history and memories that are service-related that I find. As an old fussy Senior Chief, there’s plenty to ramble on outraged about. I’ll leave that to the Marines.

Every ship save on that I have gotten underway on, is rusting at the bottom of the ocean, or perhaps is reused as glow – in – the – dark blades. The one is the Queen Mary, a floating hotel in Long Beach California. And it, too, could use a little more upkeep.

All the electronic equipment I learned to maintain and operate is junked or in a museum. And even the uniforms I wore have been relegated to parades and retirement ceremonies. Of course, I can fit in them again.

My first voyage, not including the steamboat or submarine at Disneyland, was aboard the Cunard Lines RMS Sylvania in 1965. I was destined for the maritime life. I could swim. I never got seasick, and I could drink (sodas) like a Sailor.

But now I’m a museum piece. My stories about writing letters, 1 MB computer storage, and replacing vacuum tubes find a smaller audience these days. Maybe I can find a new audience for sea stories at the Midway maritime museum?