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?

an Ulchi by any other name

“Saretsky, Eric W. CTMC (UFL N39 COPS3)” <xxxxx> wrote:
It’s 6 AM in El Cajon and I’m hoping that you’ve been able to sleep. I know how hard it is for you when you are in the middle of problem-resolution (baby-sitting) teachers and students!
I’ll be here all night, so I am just sending you lots of virtual hugs to comfort you!
Love you,
me

My wife found and shared with me old email we exchanged over ten years ago when I was on a Navy Reserve assignment to COMSEVENTHFLT AOR.   It was my second visit to  Yokosuka, Japan.  Seven years earlier, in 1998 or 1999, I had been on Active Duty, aboard the USS CORONADO,  when it visited Japan and Korea.   That previous time,  I had only just begun dating my future wife, and our exchanges by email were very slow and tedious.  This,  from a ship that was “state of the art” in most things electronic.  In 2006 I had been a Reservist nearly six years, married five years and when I received orders to the SEVENTH Fleet for ULCHI FOCUS LENS,  it was my first time in seven years that I was again on sea duty.  And email was quite a bit more advanced in comparison.

My assignment aboard the USS BLUE RIDGE during UFL was interesting work, simulating tactical intelligence options, “PsyOps”( (psychological efforts to dissuade North Koreans from participating in the event of hostilities) and so forth.  Other teams had different scenarios to develop.   One of the things I learned, working with a joint unit of intelligence professionals ( Reservists who were also civilian experts in the fields they supported in uniform),  is that some battlefield commanders, i.e. the Active Duty Army general heading up this exercise, are “warhead on forehead” types and not given to deep consideration of other forms of military conduct.  I had previously seen that in a prior year working with an Air Force team who were reluctant to employ a new technology- because it was new, and not part of their manual (printed before the technology was in development).

Were I to do it again,  I would again prefer to be a Navy Chief Petty Officer aboard ship.  There is truth in Rank Has Its Privileges.  While a Reserve Commander from my unit was also on this same Exercise,  he had neither the camaraderie, nor the access to good chow that came with being a Chief in the BLUE RIDGE CPO Mess.  It’s a tradition that all Navy Chiefs past and present are one, and all Navy units’ CPO Mess are one Mess

  new Chief Petty Officers initiated into the BLUE RIDGE CPO Mess (Sept 2006)

One other thing that seems to remain constant over the years since I last donned a uniform, is the fondness for change – in uniform styles, acronyms and Joint Exercise names.   When I was reminiscing about ULCHI FOCUS LENS,  online I found that this Joint exercise was subsequently changed to ULCHI FREEDOM GUARDIAN.   In the decade that this has been in use,  I presume the Pentagon is probably searching for a new name.  “ULCHI FREEDOM MAGA”?  Anyone?  It undoubtedly will be huge.

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article:  U.S. Army STAND-TO! | Ulchi Freedom Guardian

bezpomoshten (stranded)!

Watching the movie “Castaway”,  I think anyone got a little emotional when “Wilson”, the soccer ball with the hand-stained face,  was adrift in the open ocean.  It might have been the character’s (loose) connection with sanity.   Now,  I’ve never really had that one thing that I held onto for dear life;  I’ve never been stranded either.    Yet,  I have been known to leave ballcaps,  bluejeans, and engraved Zippo lighters behind when leaving port.  Most of the time, it was a voluntary trade for something unusual such as a Soviet Navy belt buckle.  Or a Turkish lighter, an Ecuadorian fishnet hammock and even an Egyptian thobe (male one piece garment).

The USS PETERSON visited the Black Sea on the way back from a Red Sea deployment.  We  were unaccustomed to being welcomed as tourists; however, the Ukrainians were just as welcoming to American ships visiting Sevastopol.  And we had cameras openly, not the kind you see in spy movies set in Eastern Europe, but like tourists from Scotland to Burundi: Japanese models.   Like everything else marketed in the early 1990s.   DD969

Taking my new camera,  I went out to look for amber  .  I tried to order a Black Russian (vodka and coffee liqueur) in a  hotel bar that looked out upon the Black Sea; I had an equally impossible time finding an ice-cold Pepsi.  And there were other distractions.  Several of us ventured into a nightclub that was a bit of a circus.  It featured a woman doing an acrobatic dance floor show that might have been a strip show.  Who spoke or read Bulgarian to know from the marquee?  Later, I was looking at some Russian znachki,  these enameled badges or pins, that were collected in Russia like sports memorabilia or Hard Rock Cafe pins, back in the early 1990s.  And  walked away only to realize that I didn’t have my camera over my shoulder.

maxresdefaultAt the waterfront, I found a Port official to report my loss.  He spoke no English and I spoke no Bulgarian.  But nearly a dozen years after my last college class in Russian,  we could haltingly converse about my missing camera in a common language.   A few months later, the reply to my inquiry sent to the Canon marketing office in Sophia, Bulgaria was not promising.   How many regular people could possibly own a Canon SLR camera in a nation that only had capitalism (glasnost?)  for five or so years?

Bulgaria became a hot destination for inexpensive vacations by young western Europeans staying in hotels and hostels. Beachgoers enjoying the Black Sea.  varna_beachPerhaps some young entrepreneur used my camera to start a business.  (Babes of the Black Sea?)  Marketing ads for amber jewelry.   Fashion images for the newest Yuppies.  And perhaps my old camera is living there still.  Twenty-three years ago I left my heart in Varna, Bulgaria.  Well, not really.  But I did leave my  camera there.

“Wilson!!!!”

 

embrace of the sea

I am a happily married man and yet I have a mistress.  No, not that kind.  The Sea.

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

The sea used to call to me as a child.  I read stories about life at sea. I was fascinated by Jacques Cousteau’s shows exploring the sea.  As a youth, my family would frequently make the short drive to Half Moon Bay  from Belmont, California.  After body surfing and boogie-boarding in the cold ocean surf we would warm up by a bonfire on the beach.  Moved by my mother to to the Atlantic coast as a young teen,  I would swim and take a sailboat or rowboat out in the waters off Cape Cod, Massachusetts.   Though swept out to sea once by a rip current,  I responded by learning to snorkel and scuba dive.

There is a witchery in the sea, its songs and stories, and in the mere sight of a ship, and the sailor’s dress, especially to a young mind, which has done more to man navies, and fill merchantmen, than all the pressgangs of Europe. -Richard Henry Dana, Two Years Before the Mast

I was a captive, not unwilling, during eight years assigned to Navy ships.  Then, I spurned my love-interest. I retired from the Navy.  As I  dallied with camping,  hiking, and cycling,  the sea called me back to her.   It was a recent cruise to the Caribbean that has me spellbound again.  I am not too old to don a wetsuit, or rent a boat, or take another cruise, all the while listening to Jimmy Buffett on the radio.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jamaican smoke

“The most futile and disastrous day seems well spent when it is reviewed through the blue, fragrant smoke of a Havana Cigar”.
Evelyn Waugh

“Tobacco is the plant that converts thoughts into dreams”.
Victor Hugo

“If smoking cigars is not permitted in heaven, I won’t go”.
Mark Twain

NOTE:  the following may lead some to engage in foolish behavior,  potential pregnancies, fondness for dens of iniquity, and loose talk.  Forge ahead if you enjoy the company of Sailors, and  such things.

Writers, thinkers, curmudgeons, and satirists enjoyed a fine cigar.  Actors, artists, and politicians also, but it seems the powerful’s lesser vices these days involved tobacco.   Only in America, in 2017,  can we have a state, California,  that now frowns on the cigarette, pipe and cigar smoker, but promotes the consumption of marijuana.

What should an old curmudgeon, retired Chief, and blogger do?  Relax.  With a glass of Johnny Walker Black over ice,  and a  Jamaican -label Montecalvo cigar, purchased on my recent cruise in the Caribbean.    As another post-Thanksgiving day wanes,  it was an accomplished day: some writing, dogs groomed,  yard  trimmed, and exercise.  First a hike this morning and then a former pile of stones now have taken the shape I envisioned three weeks earlier.  Christmas yard ornaments are laid out.    Where a stress-filled work-day can be a disaster repaired with a good cigar, it has been a remarkably good day.

 

edible currency

Many of my military peers may recognise that many things were part of a system of barter during our tours.  For my Navy shipmates, we found cigarettes, Froot Loops and some items in “care” packages could be used to trade for watchstanding in certain ports of call. At other times, it might be a needed safety audit, such as that I could perform to use a boom box in a kitchen (galley).  I was a ship certified electrical safety petty officer.

The Supply division received the stores. And strangely, Froot Loops were always missing from the single serving selection of breakfast cereal.

But onboard a cruise ship, these precious currencies are devalued. Just placed out in the cases at breakfast for everyone to enjoy.

The call of the sea

When I was a kid, maybe younger than 8 years old, I went on my first passenger ships, the Cunard Lines SYLVANIA and QUEEN MARY. Traveling with my mom one summer from New York to England and then returning to New York City. I generally recall 3 memories of that time. Two were shipboard: being entertained with other kids by the staff while our parents were so seasick they were in their cabins, receiving a die cast model of the ship(s), and a random memory of being fascinated by men working on a pipe in the middle of the lane in front of my grandmother’s home in the Isle of Man. But the point of this all is that I don’t get seasick.

Rowboats, canoes, kayaks, harbor ferries and water taxis of various sizes and conditions, and three U.S. Navy warships have been how I went to sea in the intervening fifty years. Until this week, so many years ashore dulled my senses and passion for travel and the sea. The dining, getting to know some people, the excursions in our ports, and the shows we took in have been the highlight of cruising. The rocking even as slight as the large liner does pleasantly lulls us to restful sleep. For me it has again stirred my memory of the wind and wave.

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This ship, however, is too big. Too many people. And although I am not, well, insensitive, I really do not want to travel with large groups of some tourists. I’ve been irritated by their cultural norm of pushing through around and over, mobbing really, at the brow coming on and off, (like at our travel stop in Cozumel). I imagine if you come from a place that has 2 billion residents you push to avoid being run over. Yet this ship has travelers and staff from all parts of the world. After several days, a vessel with six thousand passengers is too much like vacationing on Southern California highways during rush hour.

Give me a smaller, more personable ship and I’ll take the adventure anywhere. Nevertheless, I know my wife and I will make new friends, see some amazing sights, and enjoy more cruises in the future.

Ja-merican

Usain Bolt and Harry Belafonte grew up in my parish – tour bus driver & guide

On a zip-line and rafting tour in Jamaica, the limes, bananas, coconuts, and sugar cane compete with mangroves, towering Hindu bamboo and brightly colored flowering plants for my attention. While zooming through trees up to 40 mph (there are big cushions at the downhill station if the brake and guide fail to stop me) fed my adrenaline-junkie, the afternoon spent on the river was a great way to take in the people and history of Jamaica. The rafting guide explained how various plants have health and medicinal properties – and though Americans sterotypically associated ‘ganja’ with Jamaica, nothing Reginald listed in the average diet included weed.

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Patois is the native Jamaican dialect, and after a brief intro, we were all “ai’-ree” (doing well) and affirming questions with “ya, man”. Jamaicans have a deep pride in their country, and while it is very evident that the poorest Americans are richer than most of the population, I think even the “CJs” -Crazy Jamaicans, (self-named) locals who walk in front of moving trucks and buses – would find much of my complaining young countrymen more than foolish. Though this is my first trip in the Caribbean as a civilian, and a first ever to Jamaica, I can see why people return again and again. For me, the food, grog and Cuban cigars are pleasant but bouncing up and down a rocky and muddy road with a group of laughing fellow travelers and guides on the way to rafting is a lasting adventure.

“Put da lime in de coconut, stir it all up” -Jamaican health tip for lowering blood pressure

Forty years

“I can imagine no more rewarding a career. And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction: ‘I served in the United States Navy.”  _John Fitzgerald Kennedy,  PT-109 Commander, WWII;  President of the United States

In the pre-dawn hours of Oct 3,  1977  I arrived at the Recruit Depot of Naval Training Center, San Diego, California.    I had signed my life away the previous afternoon at the Military Entrance Processing Station (MEPS),  Phoenix,  Arizona.   And despite the very attractive female Marine Sergeant at the MEPS,  I did not on-the-spot decide to opt for the Marine Corps.

Marched as a gaggle – that would be rectified very shortly – to get haircuts,  none of us really knew what was happening.  Then lined up for clothing issue,  and medical checks and barracks assignment.  Nothing was fast enough, efficient enough nor military enough for the Recruiting Company Commanders that day.    After a full day, we were assigned our bunks.   And at O-dark Thirty,  0330 or  3:30AM,  the loudest bang from a metal trash can thrown down the center of the barracks woke everybody.   Welcome to Boot Camp,  ladies.

Forty years later,  I have been retired seven and a half years.   I can look back on the best  and most challenging times of my life: two periods on Active Duty from  1977 through 1980,   and 1987 through 2000,  and two periods in the Reserve,  1987 till I opted for Active Duty again;  and from 2000 through 2010 when I retired.   Eight years assigned to sea duty – most of which spent going to sea.   Pacific,  Atlantic, Mediterranean ,  Red Sea, and Caribbean deployments.  Panama and Suez canal, Equator and Date Line crossings.

Not a bad life.