Wednesday, October 27, 2010
This photo is of what we called "the real Big Island" when I lived in Hawaii. The people that live here call it North America generally and California specifically. I probably took this picture because in 1959 it was a rare day there wasn't a thick brown haze obscuring the view. We also had some killer fogs in those days.
After boot camp we all went on leave to visit our mommies and our daddies. It seems that was the U S Navy's intention anyway. My trip to visit my folks was uneventful and going around to the places and visiting with the people I knew before enlisting was not very positive. I loved my folks but my thoughts were a million miles away in the unknown future and I wanted to get on with it. My old friends treated me like I had two heads. I had a similar experience when I moved to El Paso, Texas from Little Rock, Arkansas then returned to visit. You see, once you've been away you are an alien. You have seen things, committed sins, learned new words, gained knowledge of the world and maybe even seen the elephant. In other words you become a freak. No one ask questions or rejoices in your experience because to do so would have admitted being somehow inferior. I guess. SHMBO (she who must be obeyed) and I have discussed this at great length as we have had like experiences.
Anyway when that ordeal was over I rode the the big greydog bus line to Long Beach, California to report to my first duty aboard ship. That would be the USS Mansfield DD728 that I have spoken of in prior post. I slept for the whole trip I guess as I don't recall a single minute of it. I do remember getting off the bus in Long Beach, California at a shoddy slightly dirty little bus station with a lot of questionable activity in the rest rooms. I was a man of the world now but I hung on to my gear and my wallet for dear life. I had a little extra time so I checked my stuff into a locker and went exploring. The Nu-Pike amusement park was nearby. I later found that it was a popular spot for sailors. The activities there were a little bit backstreet but I had spent a good deal of time in Juarez, Mexico so I could deal with these amateurs. I Made a little extra money too. That story is not going to be told here or anywhere else either. Just think of all the things I shouldn't have been doing and one of them is bound to be it.
It turns out that of all the ports both foreign and domestic this, my home port, was the most dangerous. The port in which I was most likely to be taken advantage of. There was no second. It was still a good little town as soon as you learned what to avoid.
I finally made it to the ship which was docked on the "mole" about as remote as you can get in the harbor. This was not a sailor friendly harbor. Since this was my first time aboard a ship I was a little nervous. You see there is a serious boarding procedure that we were taught but had never practiced. It's not too complicated but it has a certain order. So here I am about to do a procedure I had never done and do it with a 70 pound seabag on my shoulder. I could feel disaster hovering right above me just out of sight. The procedure is to first salute the flag, then the officer of the deck and then say "reporting aboard for duty sir" that is if that is what you are doing. If you are already a crew member then it's "permission to come aboard sir".
There were two junior officers (I guess they were junior they all looked alike to me) on the quarter deck because it was time for the watch to change. So I saluted the wrong one, then saluted the flag. When directed to the right one I saluted the flag again and then him and said "permission to come aboard sir" er, ah, "reporting aboard for duty sir" or something like that. For all I know now I might have then recited the lords prayer. I only knocked my hat off once. I come to find out later that nobody even noticed. These juniors officers were not any smarter than I, about the same age mostly well off young idiots that didn't pay anymore attention than I did.
Some kind soul took me in tow, assigned me to the first deck crew introduced me to the third class bosun's(boatswain's) mate who did all the flunky work for the first class bosun's mate. What a dumb fuck. He was a nice guy it turned out but not too bright. He had been in for ten years, was married to a girl in the Philippines and had a couple of kids. The first class he worked for wasn't any better just meaner. In fact before I left that ship the first class bosun's mate managed to get busted down to seaman that's how dumb he was. He did not make good decisions.
I was assigned a bunk in the forward crew quarters which I was to find out at sea does a positive two G's to a negative two G's depending on how the sea is running. You had to go through the Mess deck to get there and then down one level. It always smelled of too many men and burnt coffee down there. Puke city.
The bunks were three high and as the new guy I got the bottom bunk. The bottom bunk is right above the lockers so anytime a crew member in the bunks above you need something they just shove your bunk up out of the way. There was occasionally a fight about that.
They set about teaching me about being in a deck gang. They taught me swabbing decks, chipping paint and then painting what I chipped with red lead. I learned how to lean on a mop, not chip to much so I didn't have to paint too much and stretch it out until chow time and maybe later someone else would do it. I must have done good because someone soon decided that I was as useless as family planning advice from a priest so I was sent to the lowest job on the ship. I was going to be a "mess cook". A mess cook is not a cook. He works for the cooks on the mess deck. There is a reason that the crew dining facilities are call the mess deck on a ship. You couldn't call what we did "dining". I didn't like the smell of the burnt coffee.
As luck would have it there was a need for a mess cook in the chiefs quarters. The chiefs on a destroyer live in stately elegance in a space the size of the crews bunking quarters and just forward of the mess deck. You go down a ladder to the crews space but just to the left is a door into the chiefs quarters. I don't know why me but it was probably because I could communicate, combed my hair and wasn't worth a damn for anything else. It could be ene mene mine mo for all I know but it was a lucky break. You were only supposed to be on the mess gang for three months and the time was up for the sailor that was the present mess cook. It was not a sure gig but when it was discovered that I could cook breakfast to order, make decent sandwiches (at thirteen I had worked in a short order cafe) and get it right I was in. When I later developed a talent for cooking eggs over easy on a flat grill at sea I was solidly in and even treated with respect. I loved it. I was their servant but I was my own boss and worked alone. I kept the place clean, made sure they got their extra goodies (which I got as well), made them snacks at any hour and didn't talk about their business. I got eight hours in my bunk every night. I had no other duties on the ship except for my combat station which was pointer in a five inch gun turret. They gave me extra money and when I pretended I didn't see one of them masturbating I was forever trusted. We never made eye contact after that however. Not much privacy on a ship that size.
I had not yet been to sea but one Monday morning the exciting news came that we were going out that very day for some sea trials. We would only be out for the day and its a good thing because as soon as we hit the seaway I turned into a wad of slimy, puking greenness in the corner on the floor. The only thing I didn't do is crap or pee on myself. It all came out of my mouth, nose and and I think my ears. I would have hung myself but I was too weak. I did, however, vow to hang myself as soon as we got into port. As soon as we hit smooth water everything was wonderful again so I immediately forgot my vow until the next time we went out.
On one of our sea readiness forays onto the Pacific Ocean someone had the bright idea that we should learn how to shoot something. In this photo there are two specks on the horizon the one on the left is a navy tug with live idiots pressed into service I'm sure. The speck on the right is the target. We were supposed to shoot at the target says here in the manual. We shot out there somewhere and the tug broke off early and headed for port. I guess he didn't have a long enough tow cable.
I was too far down the ass chewing list to hear about it but I did notice a slight grumpiness of those above me for a while.
With continued forays onto the high seas I eventually got over it, got my sea legs as it were and learned to swagger with the best of them. My job with the chiefs rocked on without incident and then my time was up and it looked like I was going to go back to some real work. I was about as good at the second attempt at being a swabby as I was the first. Meanwhile the chiefs fired the next three mess cooks the first week I was gone and I was sent for to fill in temporarily. I was delighted, they couldn't live without me. I was called in after a few days and asked if it would it be acceptable to me if an exception were made and I was assigned for another three months . Oh boy would it.
You see the chiefs hold the real power. They are the most experienced at running the ship. They can do every job on the ship from the captains done to the brand new guy cleaning the bilge. A good place to be for a 19 year old snot nose kid that weighed less than a few links of anchor chain.
I was befriended by the Chief Radioman when he found that I knew how radios worked and when my time was up I was assigned to the radio gang. My bunk was now in the aft crew quarters that had a much better ride, I worked in an air-conditioned work space with radios and teletypes, something I had a talent for, and was around people that communicated at a level higher than grunts. There was one little problem. I could send code like a demon but I couldn't copy worth a damn and I still can't. I made up for it by fixing things and typing up messages.
The fixing of typewriters was just messing with mechanical stuff and seemed pretty straight forward but the typing of messages was a little awkward. I had taken typing in high school and had learned touch typing from a book taught by a Mrs Crouch. I didn't do well. Mrs Crouch was a grouch. I was working a full time job and making more money than she was (probably). I decided to lighten my load and drop typing. Mrs Crouch said "you might as well. You are not any good at this and never will be". Thanks Mrs Crouch, I'd like you to know that I typed my way through the Navy and have been typing rather well ever since.
My experience as a printer paid off here. I could spell and I could proof read so the messages I typed were always without a flaw.
All in all I spent enough time in the deck crew to know I didn't like going over the side on a stage to paint or the tedium of busy work on deck. I really didn't like the cold night watches on the fantail and the bridge watches weren't great either. The deck crews are absolutely essential but I just wasn't cut out for it. Later when I had my own boat and had to do everything including be the deck crew I really came to appreciate those guys and their work.
The smoking lamp is lit. I'm sorry to say I only remember one of these guys names and that would be Bryan (left side third from the bottom) and I don't remember his last name. A quite soft spoken guy that I hung out with. He shot a 4.0 when we went to qualify with small arms and the Chief Gunners Mate snapped him right up. He was a natural. A Texas boy I believe but there are a lot of holes in my memory. I do remember Subic Bay when he first got lai........well maybe I don't. I didn't see nothin'.
I still don't like the smell of burnt coffee.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
With a need to get out of my head I went to my bike shed chapel to change the rear inner tube on my folder. This little jewel rides around in the back of my car as a life boat. Lately I've been riding it a lot more and having to pump up the tire every time has become a pain. It's called a ZEN and I got it for cheap from Chinaland. I think it may be a Dahon knock off as it has a sticker that says to seek maintenance from a shop that deals Dahon's. It rides nice since I set the seat back three inches. I have a basket for the back and a handle bar bag so I can carry a surprising amount of stuff. It's five speeds are all I'll ever need. It's a little heavy at 30 pounds but it folds to no larger than a medium size suitcase. It is clumsy for me to carry and if you don't bungy it together it can get clumsier quickly. When folded I can grab it by the front of the seat and tow it only occasionally drawing blood from gouging my heel. Nothing wrong with the tube except for the &^*(^%%$#) valve stem. This abomination has to have been invented by the French. With this valve you can pump air in. It won't hold it very well so you get to pump air in a lot. You can let air out. All you have to do is disassemble it. Even with an adapter the air chuck on a compressor won't work and a tire pressure gauge won't either. After five years of dealing with it I decided it had to go.
Meanwhile other forces were at work on a collision course with my important bike meditation. When our paths crossed I was instructed by the head of the Domestic Department that the dogs were through with this chair and it should be put out with the trash. I took this to mean "get this goddamn nasty thing out of here so I can sweep the porch if I decide to" more or less. O. K. that's clear. So I got the rake and raked a bale of dog hair, some chair parts, some skate board parts and two tuna cans out of the way so I could get to it. After wrestling it out from the other chair, pressure washer, empty weed killer bottle and the potted plant with dead potted palm I finally won it over and flung it off the porch.
Showing me it's most private parts really started to turn me on. I saw some really sturdy stuff there. I didn't know for what but I just knew I could use that stuff. Oh look wheels.
Stripping it down was easy. Between the dogs and the tussle we had getting it out into the yard things kind of loosened things up. When I got to this point I knew what I had. I had a first class SHOP STOOL. I finished my bike job with it just like this. I could roll around under the back of the bike reassembling the drum brake which was designed by a committee of sales clerks. I believe it was originally installed by a team of three with really small hands and they may have been the design committee. They work cheaper than engineers or mechanics. I had on shorts so it worked but if I had been in my work kilt it would have required care to not cause pain. Use your imagination. Not good.
Rummaging around in the scrap wood short piece box brought up this. It's a piece of board that has some wood in it but it's mostly glue. Strong though. I wouldn't want to eat it and neither would the termites. Now that's a comfy stool. Sitting there on that stool thinking I'd really like to be somewhere else doing something else but knowing that when the nine pound pork roast that SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) was smoking was ready I would want to be here I looked around for something else to do. My eyes landed on a "bass chair" under a pile of used bicycle tires. I had collected it for a recumbent project that never came true. It's one of those chairs that mounts on a stand on the front of a fishing skiff.
Now that is a first class eighty dollar shop stool that actual rolls around. I have a ten dollar shop stool with wheels but to roll it you have to get up and push it. Something was lost between when the idea was put on paper and the actual product was made. I store my next compressor on it.
This new stool actually rolls around with me on it. It's comfortable. I could almost take a nap in it. It may not seem like much but to a person with a lot of ankle and heel pain it is high luxury.
Needs a cup holder. Maybe a front pouch for tools. Appropriate girly pictures and mud flaps.
Wednesday, October 20, 2010
People notice it but nobody notices how clever I am in putting it together. They notice instead how clever the inventor of the kickstand was. Most people can't even figure out that it was once two bikes.
This followed me home last week sometime. I make-shifted a tongue and it towed nicely. It has a slightly bent axle and needs bearings which is easily done here in the "Discard nothing, fix everything" bike shed. I don't know what I'll do with it as I already have a conventional trailer. Perhaps make it into a specialized trailer for carrying lumber or a plant stand for the head gardener. I could even fix it up and sell it. I'm through giving bike stuff away as it gets abused. When you give someone a bike they treat it just like they got it for free and easy come easy go.
Why is this soup can art
but the potted meat can not?
For my money both are just photos of commercially canned food like products. Neither is art. What comes in them is not quite food either but it taste good.
They are good for holding things and cleaning small brushes that are use to make art things. The have steel in them and can (get it? can...har har) be recycled.
Do you have any idea how hard it was to levitate that potted meat can?
I had to get the dogs to help.
This is every day stuff here
LOCKPORT — A Raceland man was in critical condition today after his 18-wheeler was in a head-on collision with a dump truck Monday on La. 308 in Lockport, La. police said.
Todd McNeil, 41, New Orleans, was inattentive and did not notice traffic ahead of him had stopped, said state trooper Bryan Zeringue of Troop C in Gray. McNeil tried to avoid a rear-end crash and steered the dump truck he was driving across the center line into oncoming traffic, colliding with Johnson’s 18-wheeler.
McNeil sustained minor injuries and was transported to Ochsner St. Anne General Hospital in Raceland, police said.
Me: It looks to me like McNeil wasn't actually driving but instead was just riding while the dump truck drove itself. He did avoid a rear end crash so that part was successful. Now the lawyer can defend him by saying that the oncoming traffic should have served off the rode to avoid him. I would be so ashamed. No one even gets upset. It's just normal.
I talked to a young man the other day that explained to me that the law against texting while driving was silly. He explained to me that he was just naturally a great driver and could drink, drive and text with no problem at all. Now he was forced to hold his phone down under the dashboard and the light was bad. We are doomed.
Is this an artifact in the year 2400? I think not. I think that butt wipe will still come on a roll just like this. It may be made of something different from dead trees but it will still look like this.
I really don't care but it was a thought (brain fart).
This is my new pet. It's very quite, doesn't require a litter box and eats nothing. It has soft fur and is nice to pet but it doesn't respond. It probably hasn't responded in more than thirty years.
I found it in my trash and come to find out that a young friend (21 years old) had put it there. He told be that it had belonged to his grandmother and his grandfather had trapped, skinned and cured it for her as a gift. I explained to him that it had value as a connection to his past but he wasn't interested. So I adopted it even though they are an invasive species and a nuisance. I would not have gone to this trouble but since it has given its life I will not further waste it's existence by allowing it to be just discarded. It was once alive just like me and maybe, just maybe it died for my sins.
It's kind of cute and really soft. The grandpa did a good job. It's really flat so I was going to name it Frisbee but it wasn't round enough so I call it "Naomi the Nutria".
I thought of making into a sporran but I really do not like sporrans much less the ones made from dead animals. Google sporran if you don't know what it is.
I am busy these days preparing my hovel for winter. We have had a nice but cool fall so far but I have the deep down feeling we are in for a cold winter at least for here. I hope the feeling is wrong. I have been in the planing stage of a DIY wood stove made from a steel tool box just in case. I have a lot of wood.
Today I ran across a military type small tent stove on the Interwebtubenet that is just the right size and shape. Best of all the price is just the right size. I heated my 40 foot sail boat with a much smaller one than this in coastal weather similar to what I have now. When I had this old bus up on the side of a mountain I used a much larger wood stove and it worked well when it was really cold but would drive you out in mild weather. Sizing is important and I'm hoping my experience in these matters pays off. Reports to follow.
Monday, October 18, 2010
In the military "Boot Camp" is where Sailors and Marines go to train for active duty. The Army doesn't have a boot camp they go to "Basic Training" instead. At least that's the way I understand it.
So there I was curled up in my bed warm and cozy dreaming of music when suddenly I heard music. Actually what I heard was not music at all it was reveille. Someone was playing a bugle badly and jerking me from a good dream to a bad one. I could hear feet hitting the floor all around me and the water being turned on in the shower. It suddenly came to me that I had made a terrible mistake. In days to come I would sometimes wake up around five o'clock or so and I would hear the marines in their camp next door doing calisthenics before they double timed to breakfast in formation. I realized in those moments that I had not made as big a mistake as I could have and happily got up, shaved, showered and sauntered over to the mess hall for my breakfast of eggs, meat, cereal, pancakes and toast with butter. As I walked back to the barracks to fall in for the days drills and schooling I could hear the marines double timing it back from from their breakfast. I was oh so glad that I had not been a "real man" and joined the Marines.
As I said in my last post I had a good idea one day about getting out of a rut and seeing the world. So off I went to the Navy recruiter. I didn't even consider the Army or the Air Force because even though some of my ancestors had been in the army my dad and my step-dad were Navy. Besides the ocean was located right under the Navy and I had known since I was 12 or thirteen that I was going to the Pacific Ocean. Being in El Paso, Texas will give you your fill of dirt. El Paso also had Fort Bliss a huge army base and Biggs Air force Base so I had enough of those already.
The Navy recruiter told me tall tails and lies about how they were going to school me and train me in all manner of things. He said that I would even qualify for pilot training....sign here. The only thing he didn't lie about was the food. He said it was good and it was.
Next thing I know I'm on a Greyhound Bus bound for Albuquerque, New Mexico for the official swearing in and physical. I had never been to Albuquerque, hell I couldn't even spell it. I just knew it was somewhere north of Elephant Butte, New Mexico where the city fathers had prostituted themselves and renamed the town "Truth or Consequences " after a dumb radio show. I had been there many times while following a high school country swing band around (The Texas Trailblazers) and had dated a pretty young Indian maiden there.
There were four of five of us and in the last bit of efficiency I saw in the U S Navy they quickly processed us, told us more lies and got our names on the dotted line of the contract that none of us had time to read but in essence said that we were swearing to die for what any politician or military officer thought was worth dying for. We so solemnly swore. We found later that if we didn't get killed in the defense of our country but did anything to anger those in power then they would kill us. Hmm should have read the fine print. The large print said four years the fine print said six years. So it goes.
The best part of that whole thing is we were given first class cabins on the train bound for San Diego. I don't know how that happened but as I have said many times it started a lifelong love affair with trains and train travel.
After the initial greeting of "Welcome to San Diego you poor bastard" we were led like sheep to the slaughter to an office building were we were to told to take off all our clothes and put them in a package we were given. The packages were to be mailed to our homes of record. There was soon around 80 young men standing naked in one big room. We were told to line up, face the wall, bend over and spread our cheeks. I thought "oh now here comes the shaft I had heard of". Some guy walks down the line checking our butts out and I was starting to think that the rumors I had heard about the Navy might be true. If that was not humiliating enough we were walked (you couldn't call what we did marching) through a group of people with syringes with big needles and given a bunch of shots to stave of the plague. No one passed out. I think that was the physical.
But wait there's more. We then were herded through a room full of fully dressed men and women working at desk where we were asked questions and given a sheet of paper that we were not given time to read. By this time there was not a visible penis in the group. The penis's had all retreated to somewhere up inside the gut of everyone of us. Not one of us could have peed standing up without dribbling on his balls which, by the way, had moved mostly indoors.
Finally that was over and in retrospect I am really glad of that exercise in reducing us all to nameless humiliated nobodies. After that the worst that ever happened was all up from there. I was born with the nekkid gene which means that basically I like to be nekkid, I've never been ashamed or self conscious about it and throughout my life I have spent as much time unclothed as I comfortably could. The U S Navy put new meaning into the phrase "I was naked and I was ashamed". It was the first and last I time I was ever ashamed of being naked. You know here is a difference in being naked and nekkid. Naked is vulnerable, nekkid has some sin (fun) in it. I like nekkid.
Just about the time we started to notice that it wasn't all that warm in there and that we were likely to die of terminal goosebumps they issued us a stencil kit to warm us up followed by one piece of clothing at a time starting with boxer shorts. We were to stencil our name on each piece as they were issued before putting them on. First we had to make the stencil of our name and service number. Picture 80 naked cold humiliated goosebumps trying to remember how to spell the name they'd had all their life and a service number they'd had for a few minutes then trying to stencil it on their clothes. More than one got it wrong. When we walked out hours later every man was carrying a seabag full of U.S. Navy issued clothing including a wool blanket and a fart sack (mattress cover). I lost the blanket sometime in the 1970's but I still have the seabag and my government issued bluejackets manual.
I was told that his book and the Bible were all the books I would need while I was in the Navy and that I should read them. I did read them both. I found the Blue Jackets Manual to be the more useful of the two and a thousand times more truthful. When lightening ship I kept this one and still find it useful.
The seabag is under the settee just in case I get called back in.
Boot camp as it turned out was an exercise in growing up. We all thought we were men and I at 19 years old, who had been self supporting since I was 17, held that mistaken belief. At 19 I was one of the older children that was about to be taught everything we thought we already knew from brushing our teeth and wiping our butts to how to polish a shoe and kill without asking why by a thirty something year old first class something or other. He turned out to be a good guy and he did turn almost all of us into muscle that had a chance of survival. Some didn't make it.
We learned to wash clothes on a concrete table with brush, soap and cold water. We learned to iron our uniforms and patch them with a needle and thread if need be. We learned how to fold and roll them so they could be worn straight from the seabag or have minimal ironing. Once we got past understanding that you can't clean anything on a dirty table that went OK. We learned to tie our clothes to the clothes line properly. They were taken down and thrown into the dumpster until we got it right. We found out how far we could reach into a toilet bowl to clean it by watching the inspector reach in to check it for cleanliness. We learned that the top of a door frame gets dusty and so does the far corner behind the last toilet. We learned that a job wasn't done until it was done and the mess cleaned up. As in if you were dusting and there was one speck left you were not done. Almost did not count. Mainly we learned how to work together and we got good at it.
Being the shortest guy in a company of giants most of which were younger than I was a trial. In marching I was what is called the right-marker now, I don't remember what we called it then. I called it hell. I was just in front of the right column of men and often forced to walk at a speed beyond my capability. My job was to keep us centered in position behind the guide-on (the fool carrying the flag) and the correct number of paces back. When ordered eyes right (or left) I was not to look but to maintain the pace and position. The pain in my legs was at time excruciating but saying anything was out of the question.
I had couple physical problem while there. We were being punished one day for having fun. Having fun was not allowed. The punishment was to hold the Springfield rifle we carried out in front of us at arms length. It was in a few minutes very painful. That particular day had been long and hot and under that sun that day my body said enough and the next thing I knew I was on the ground looking up but I was still holding my rifle out and it had not touched the ground. I got up and got back into position and said nothing but the punishment for that day was over. I'll never forget the eye contact of the D.I. It had in it a mixture of fear and respect. Fear that he may have gone too far and respect for those of us learning his lessons.
Another time I came down with the beginnings of bronchial pneumonia. It wasn't a bad case but I became delirious and nobody wanted me around. I don't know why, I never felt better. When the fever got to 106 they put me in the hospital. My young constitution was so strong I was out and marching with the company in about a week. I did notice that I was not pressed for hard duty for quite a while.
You never know what you will eat until you are really hungry. When I lived at home I would not eat liver. Oh I loved the smell of it cooking and would eat mounds of mashed potatoes with the gravy on it but I would not eat the meat. During the first week of hard work in boot camp I found out one evening that dinner was beef liver. We were using about 10,000 calories or so a day I reckon and I did not hesitate. I ate about a pound and what's more I liked it. I would have eaten it all but I got tired. It is to this day a favorite of mine and is what I am having for lunch today.
Boot camp got easier as time went by and we learned what to do and what not to do. I only had one really bad time and that was when my maternal grandmother died. We were very close. My mother was my mother and I loved her very much as all good sons do but gramma was something beyond that and the news of her death nearly brought me to my knees. It must have shown as I was sent immediately to the chaplain. We discussed things including me returning home for the services but that would mean I'd have to start boot camp all over again. I think gramma would not have wanted that. I wondered around for the rest of the day visiting with her and accepted it. I got used to knowing
she was dead but I never got over it.
So I missed a day. It was the day of tear gas training. From the looks of those guys it looked like a good day to miss. I didn't have a guardian angel I had something better. I had a guardian gramma. She is still to this day the best gramma that ever lived.
Boot camp eventually ended and we all went home on leave before reporting for duty. A bunch of those morons got tattoos and swaggered even though they had never set foot on even a row boat yet. I looked like I was about 16 years old.
I was headed for sea duty which was a disappointment. I wanted to be in Naval Air but I was told right off that I did not have what it takes to be an aviator. At least I got my second choice. I was going to a ship on the west coast.
We never know what the future holds. Four months later I would marry the most beautiful girl I had ever seen. Two and a half years later I would meet and fall head over heels in love again with a most beautiful baby girl. Eight years later I would be an airline pilot and a hippy one at that My my, how the wheels turn.
Who was it that said I couldn't be an aviator?
This last photo is of me and my step-dad when I was home on leave immediately after boot camp 1958. I'm the kid with the "I don't have a clue" look. Pop is wearing the uniform he was wearing at the end of World War 2. He was a photographer. He was in the first group to go ashore at Bikini right after the atomic bomb test. He had thousands of hours in the bomb bay of B24's taking pictures in the south pacific. That war to end all wars greatly affected him but did not keep him from living a good life. His name is Francis Clifton Herrington RIP
He relived that war for me many times answering my questions patiently.
Friday, October 15, 2010
Every time I have thought I had a good idea I have received unexpected results. When I was about to start the tenth grade my parents presented me with a chance to go to school in the big city of Little Rock, Arkansas. We didn't live in Little Rock but lived well outside the city limits to the west on Rodney Parham Road. The route 5 postal address I believe. Rodney Parham Road was named for Judge Rodney Parham who had a place out there but we were part of the untouchables and did not run in the same social circles. It would require sacrifices on my parents part as tuition would have to be paid for a hillbilly hick from out in the woods to partake of the fine segregated Central High Schools facilities. Rodney Parham Rd. had been paved for a couple of years and I had a motor cycle so I had transportation. The reason for sending me there was for the full on print shop in the school basement. Since my dad was a printer and Benjamin Franklin was a printer it seemed like a good idea.
That is as about as deep as I thought about it. Later when I was riding in the freezing rain I thought more about it and most of those thoughts were listed under "good god what have I done?" or maybe it was "goddammit I'm cold". It still turned out to be a good idea as I had been an unremarkable student in most everything, especially English. I did well at printing and my English necessarily got better but I still can't explain the construction of a sentence whatever that is.
Then my parents had a good idea which involved moving to El Paso, Texas. Their explanation was that Pop could get a better job and we had family there. I think the real reason was to get out of Arkansas because some rough social times were ahead. That was two years before the National Guard was used to forcibly integrate Central High School. My family apparently did not agree with segregation and I think that since they were part of an unpopular minority that thought it was wrong they were just getting out of "Dodge" before the shooting and lynching started. They certainly weren't going to El Paso to get away from integration as El Paso was fully integrated. The only thing I thought about was girls, cars, girls, motorcycles, naked girls, cars, more naked girls and pictures of naked girls. I think my most frequent activity was masturbation. Mostly I didn't get involve with thinking. So with all that in mind I thought it was a good idea.
Turned out El Paso was full of Mexicans. Turned out I liked Mexicans. I liked Mexican food, music and mostly the girls. Give me a break I was sixteen. One anglo girl (they called us anglos in those days although I am on the brown side) told me that if I didn't stop going out with those Mexican girls, whose families had been there for many generations, that no "white" girl would go out with me. O.K. Since I was dating Rachael de Leon at the time and she was the prettiest girl I had ever seen in my life I wasn't too worried. That turned out to be a good idea.
She had a bad ass brother so nobody tried to kick my ass. Double good idea.
The next good idea was when my dad (Pop) told me that there was a opening for an apprentice at the newspaper. It was full time employment and paid one hundred dollars for a forty hour week. I was going to be rich so I thought it was a good idea.
The hours were from four PM to one AM and school was from eight AM to four PM. Some conflict was created. I decide to cut my school hours. So I did. Seemed like a good idea.
I was still having a hard time making it and a dope head friend at the newspaper said "here take a couple of these and they'll pep you up". Seemed like a good idea.
I made it almost two years but the amphetamines were not doing me any favors and so I finally went to home study. In those days it was called correspondence school. Seemed like a good idea.
It was the same as quitting school. I was eighteen, made an adult mans wage and I could do anything I wanted. Let me qualify "adult mans wage". I made 5200 dollars a year with full benefits. I rented a place to live for 25 dollars a month and you could buy a new Pontiac for 1700 dollars. A steak dinner out was $1.75 and an order of 3 tacos was 35 cents. Seemed like a good idea.
I rocked along like that for a while. I took easily to being a printer except that I got bored quickly. I could do everything the journeymen did for half the money so everybody was happy. Except me. I was spending my nights from one AM to daylight in Juarez, Mex. popping pills, drinking pink gin fizz, enjoying the music and all the sins that a town like that provides. I have vivid memories of the music and the movie with the donkey in it. Seemed like a good idea.
One day it came to me that I was really fucked up (no other way to properly say this). I quit taking the pills. That was hard but I eased it by drinking a lot of three dollar a case Pearl beef. I traded one drug for another. Seemed like a good idea.
It was good training for quitting smoking cold turkey later on. It took a while but I did get free of that stuff but then I was bored. When you are on drugs everything is exiting. When you are not you are dead so in a moment of clear thinking I decided to join the Navy and see the world. Seemed like a good idea.
Being unencumbered by the thought process I for certain did not foresee boot camp. I did not know the unexpected events that would happen because of that good idea.
Good ideas to come that I did not have a clue about.
Learning to operate an air machine
Finishing High School
Applying for the exalted position of Airline pilot
Running around with that girl
Getting married again
Drinking and driving
Drinking and riding a motorcycle after an all night orgy
Sailing to Hawaii
Running off with a 20 year old blond when I was forty (I was unattached at the time)
Landing my airplane on the road and running off with the craziest woman I had ever met
Sailing around the world (not completed)
Investing in race horses
Getting married again
Driving an over the road big truck with my wife
Taking up chewing tobacco again
Moving to Louisiana
Some of these had a pleasant outcome and some didn't. This is only a partial list. I could go on and on but I think I'll stop. Seems like a good idea.
Wednesday, October 13, 2010
I have way to many bikes but this one is special. This 1975 Schwinn was built in Chicago in December 1975 and and given to me by the original owner when he cleaned his barn out in 2005. It came piled on a trailer with six other bikes. I have featured it many times and I consider it my main ride. I have never had a more comfortable bike.
I have taken it through a lot of changes including fat tires that would just barely fit in those graceful slim forks, 21 speeds and heavy duty cargo buckets. Now it is back to stock which is were it should be.
I last did a major overhaul and paint in the summer of 2005. Look at those slender gracefully curved forks made of spring steel, the fillets where the top tube and down tube join the head tube and that pleasing curve to the top tube then tell me there are no Italians in Chicago. Even the handle bars have fine feminine curves. OK so maybe I'm getting carried away but I can't help it. I see sexiness here.
For those who are offended by the pie plate on the rear wheel "Get Over It". For about 125 dollars an hour you can get therapy to help that.
In this most recent incarnation I removed the large chain ring since I haven't used it in years which also allowed me to remove the shifting mechanism. Makes for a much cleaner simpler bike. I now have 5 speeds but I mostly just use third and forth. First is for tall grass and fifth is for a really strong tail wind. Second is for pulling a trailer. See, they all have a use.
I added a chain guard. Notice the color coordinated hub cleaners made of long pipe stem cleaners.
This seat is one of a long line of torture instruments that the evil scientist movement within Schwinn back in those days conjured up to punish people that were being overly happy with their bicycle. They were part of that same group of church folk that do their utmost to make you feel guilty for enjoying sex. I have noticed that since I started losing weight that it seems to fit my fat ass better now and instead of being tortured I now only feel mildly uncomfortable. At its worst it is still better than that proctologist tool I see on road bikes.
As soon as SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) saw the paint I realized that it was doomed to be called "The Bumble Bee". Once she reveals the obvious there is not a chance it will be any other way.
I still have work to do on it. I'm going to try to get those things that slow the speed slightly to actually work as brakes. With those chromed steel rims the word brakes does not described anything on this bike.
A DIY no bullshit skate board rack is under construction now. It should be able to handle the weight of an normal adult. I only know three or four of those because people in this area are fat as pigs so maybe I should say a half a normal Louisiana adult.
That will be covered here as it happens.
Meanwhile the further adventures of the young sailor that "protected democracy around the globe and insured that that no wars would ever have to be fought again" will be up as soon as I can sort my memories out. I find things running together and sometimes out of sequence so that may be the way it comes out. I don't see that it makes any difference anyway as it's all from memory and I don't know how much of it is true. Oh look, a bicycle.
Monday, October 11, 2010
At the end of the last episode our hero had found his way to Subic Bay in the Philippines.
I don't have much to say about Subic Bay other than it was a nondescript little hole where little ships like ours could fix things. Olongapo City however was hopping. It wasn't much of a city then but they liked sailors and I mean really liked sailors. What I'm trying to say is besides the money they could get from them they actually liked the men in those sailor suits. I remember it as dirt streets but a pretty tidy friendly place.
We weren't there for long after I arrived but we did return several times. I was there several other times on another ship a couple of years later. There was really nothing to do in town but drink beer, socialize and eat. Most of the guys would not eat off the street carts but I had just spent a good portion of my last three years as a civilian roaming around Juarez, Mexico in the bars, whore houses and nightclubs so I had eaten a lot of stuff from street carts. I figured that Philippine street carts wouldn't be any worse. I was young, dumb and bullet proof in those days. A Young Fool that would grow into an Old Fool.
One of my favorites served up a stringy roasted meat wrapped around a stick that he swore was monkey meat. I think he was not telling the truth as he had that twinkle of a story teller in his eye. At that time, not knowing my close kinship with monkeys, I didn't care. It tasted good so I ate it. Now I would feel like a cannibal. SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) says I am a cannibal when she serves up "turkey". She may have a point. My estranged step-daughter said I was a cannibal when I ate "pork". I wonder what they are trying to tell me.
The propaganda sheet that was sent to the families on our return to the U.S. included at the end of this post mentions a school that was refurbished and that did happen. I arrived too late to be involved in it. I didn't know anybody that participated in any pig hunts or track meets. There was plenty of wrestling although it wasn't called that. The track meets may be referring to sailors running to escape the shore patrol.
We left Subic soon after my arrival heading for the Formosa (Taiwan) straits to do war-like things. The red Chinese had a bad habit of shelling the civilian population on the little island of Amoy in those days claiming the island was theirs. The Chinese Nationalist claimed it was theirs. The mere presence of American ships deterred that. The Straits always seemed to be rough and I really got to where I disliked duty there. It was seasick city. The ships in the squadron took turns to give the crews some relief. In one of those relief periods we once steamed north into the East China Sea. I don't know how far north we went but it got very cold. We stayed close along the coast harassing the Chinese. It was rumored that we were warned by a Chinese warship that we were in Chinese waters and to get out. They were ignored as we were outside of three miles. I heard they were claiming 200 miles. That Chinese warship looked like an antique tug boat to me. It had no radar and a top speed of about 8 knots but we went to general quarters anyway. Children playing war with deadly weapons.We once pointed the five inch guns at a sailing junk that got to close and they made tracks for a more friendly part of the ocean. Mostly it reminded me of playing war in grade school. The photo above is in Hong Kong and is not very good but is representative of the junk. The camera was new to me and high tech and I hadn't a clue of how to use it. If we had shot at that junk and accidentally hit it (a miracle) it would have turned it into toothpicks. Massive overkill.
After a while harassing the Chinese became boring so off we went to Formosa (Taiwan) for a little ship maintenance and R&R. Kaohsiung was a dirty little port that left a big impression on me. They had lots of book stores with books in English for cheap. They did it by having cheap labor and ignoring copyright law. We were not supposed to buy and bring those books back to the U.S. but I did it anyway of course. Being poor will sometimes cause things like that. Hoards of Chinese were allowed aboard ship for various duties one of which was collecting the garbage at chow time. They would cheerfully scrape your tray for you. They took it all with them not leaving a crumb.
I was impressed with the beauty of the women on the street. When I really started looking around I saw that these were altogether a handsome people. I once remarked about that to another of the unwashed deck gang sailors and he surmised that the cream of the crop of the Chinese people had come here running from the Red Army with Chiang Kia Shek. I knew little of that but over the years I can see how that could have happened. I saw girls there that were so pretty they would bring tears to your eyes. I did not yet have a camera so I have no proof and I regret that. When you are out chasing around with aircraft carriers you do a lot of this. They like to go fast and going fast uses a lot of fuel. Those ships in the background are at the gas station. From right to left the first ship is a destroyer hooked to the next ship, a tanker, with fuel hoses and the tanker is hooked to the aircraft carrier (the Lexington I believe) fueling both ships simultaneously. In the background to the left of that is another tanker fueling a destroyer with a cruiser ready to hook up (I believe). We were following in the starboard flank position with two other destroyers to port all running abreast in case of an unfortunate event that would require a rescue. The pressure is on the one in the middle and we switched off regularly to lighten that load. The pressure was mostly on the lookouts. They were doubled up and had to continuously observe every detail without a break. Binoculars get really heavy when you have to hold them to your eyes for an hour. I did not like that duty but we all took it seriously.
In four years of doing this we were involved in only one unfortunate fueling event. I'll tell of that in another post. It is not a happy story that did not turn out well and I don't like to think about it. Too depressing. There were other unfortunate events that I hope to get to before these tales are finished. So it goes.All in all it became pretty routine boredom. Even having a woman aboard did not deter me from my bunk when I was not on watch. The flag in the photo above is supposed to be bloomers signifying that a woman is on board. The photo-journalist Dickey Chapelle was aboard for a few days and the entire fleet got all hot and bothered. Anytime we would get any where near another ship the crews would line the lifelines. She was a few months older than my mother (about 40 at the time). I couldn't get to excited about that. I was on that ship and I never even saw her. No one was predicting that women would be going to sea as fighting sailors and get knocked up doing sea duty. My my, Thangs change.
Just about the time that between the boredom and the migraine headaches I was about to throw myself into the sea it was rumored that we were en route to Hong Kong for R&R. Now that perked us all up. Adventure lay ahead.
Click to embiggen.
Wednesday, October 6, 2010
Yellow. It's taking more time looking for all the parts (now where did I put that?) than it's taking to put it back together.
My favorite shifters. Stem mounted and seldom touched. The black one is the original from the bike the other is an older model that is all aluminum alloy. Both are Shimano. I'll probably use the all aluminum one.
Here is a little something I'll bet you don't know about Shimano. In addition to making bike components, Shimano is also one of the world’s largest manufacturers of rods and reels for fishing. While Shimano claims to be committed to conservation, healthy oceans, and environmental stuff, they are spending millions of dollars financing efforts to undermine California’s ocean protection law, the Marine Life Protection Act. The company has funded similar efforts in Oregon, Washington and the Gulf of Mexico. I currently don't buy any new Shimano products. It appears to me that the Japanese have a war on with everything in the ocean.
The bicycle is losing the double chain ring and gaining a chain guard. It will now be a five speed and I only use two of those. I plan to rig the chain ring shifter to ring a spoke bell. How fun is that? Now I just need to figure out how to make one.
It has turned off cold as you can see I'm wearing socks. First time since last winter. 48 degrees F (9 C) in the early morning and for us thin blooded old white people that's cold. I'm also wearing my heavy weight camo shop kilt that is made from discarded Air Force battle dress uniform jackets following the intent of beating swords into plowshares. After two days of my legs aching so much I couldn't do anything I finally got the big picture. I am so dense sometimes.
I've been riding my bike and on my ride to the voting booth last Saturday I spotted another work bike. There are more of us around than I thought.
Look at all those people waiting in the No Wait Zone.
I wonder what "NO" means in this case. I know what "WAIT" means as I was doing that. They have a good idea there but I don't think they have quite got it perfected yet.
Meanwhile our young hero is back in Subic Bay sorting things out for the U S Navy and will be back as soon as the words come.
Monday, October 4, 2010
Old Fools Journal: Adventures in the Tea House of the August Moon or Okinawa, Ryukyu, what's in a name
I don't know how many Tea house's of the August Moon there are now but for me there is only one and it will always be in Naha, Okinawa. Before I boarded the airplane in Yokosuka bound for Okinawa chasing my errant ship I knew nothing of it. I had not lived so far back under a rock that I had not heard the name but that's all. Somehow In my youth I missed reading the book, seeing the play or seeing the film. I still plan to but I am so distressed by the tragedies of relationships during World War 2 that I'm dragging my heels. Anyway I'm going to tell of my adventure there but I am getting ahead of myself.
I only knew Okinawa as an island in the Pacific. I soon found that Japan claimed it but the USA ruled it. Such are the ways of war and it's aftermath.
After a rumbling shaky night run from Yokosuka, Japan in that airplane we arrived in Okinawa in the early morning bleary eyed and slightly rumpled. In my case I felt very rumpled but it seems that the enlisted mens dress blue wool uniform holds up very well for sleeping sitting up or laying in a ditch. I guess that is to be expected of a uniform that is kept in a seabag or locker aboard ship and can be ready for inspection by shaking it out and removing the lint with some masking tape. All I had to do to be presentable was retie my neckerchief, shake out some wrinkles, do a little lint removal, straighten my white hat and I was good to go. Damn I was pretty.
Thus began a memorable stay in Ryukyu. At first I could not understand why they call it Ryukyu. I was so naive that I thought everything and everyplace was named and that everyone everywhere used those correct names. I had not taken into account that the white man had a tendency to name things that already had names and I soon learned the people of Ryukyu did not call themselves Okinawan just as few Native American people call themselves what the white man does.
I don't even remember how long I was there but it was more than a few days and less than a month. As I had run out of money it seemed like forever punctuated with a couple of storms starting out with the typhoon the ship had run from. It made a close call on the island and sent fist size rocks rolling across the ground under the clothes line where I was hanging clothes. I learned that a fifty knot wind will really dry clothes fast but it kind of frays the ends. I had a lot to learn. One of the things we learned in boot camp was to tie our clothes to the clothesline. I could see why now. No one had said anything about the effects of 80 knot gust.
The Quonset huts we bunked in were equipped with barrels of fresh water in case we really got hit. These huts had been erected shortly after the island was taken in WW2. Made of corrugated iron with no windows they were well suited for typhoons but sleeping in that humid climate was miserable. Fortunately it was getting on into Autumn and there was a great big fan. Air conditioning had not been invented yet for the Navy.
One day lady luck smiled down on me and laid a dollar bill in the yard right in front of me. I hit that dollar so hard I left a hole in the ground where it had been. Of course I thought about asking around to see if anyone lost a dollar but I had been in the Navy more than six months and if you don't know by then that everyone lost a dollar and can identify it then you are really slow. So what can you get with an American dollar bill on a Naval Air Station in Okinawa in 1959? Well for one thing you can get ten (10 count'em) 16 ounce cans of American Beer at the Flightline beer hall.
Off to the Flightline I went. I didn't drink all ten that day but I managed quite a few. Enough to give me a headache the next day but I needed that little respite as I was dying of boredom. There was no library I could find, I had no duty and no money. Then all of a sudden I had a friend. A guy about my age that had a penchant for getting into minor trouble.
One day he suggest we go snorkeling. Actually he handed me some flippers, a mask and a snorkel and said come on we're going swimming. I had used a mask once in a mud hole in Arkansas but was unimpressed. I had never been snorkeling before and was eager to try. Boy was I in for a surprise.
We walked to a spot on the air station he knew about stripped to our swim suits (Navy issue speedos) and entered an under water world of pure magic. It was a world of towering coral heads rising from a white sand bottom to within a few feet of the surface. The water was perfectly clear. There were fish, eels and sea snakes of every size, strip, color and shape. From that day forward I was a diver (that's another story). The point is I was hooked.
We lost all sense of time so when we came to shore it was afternoon. My new buddy said "lets just walk down the beach and get some refreshment in town. So we did circumventing the main gate and I thought oh no not again. AWOL twice and I hadn't even been in the Navy a year. He said "not to worry" and "it's no problem". How many times have I heard that in my life. He knew a place we could go to rest and relax in town.
He took me to the real "Tea House of the August Moon". It was the first place that I had ever been where it was customary to take your shoes off and leave them when entering. I had read about it but never experienced it. I was starting to realize that I was not in Kansas anymore Toto. I liked it. It is customary in my house with exceptions for guest if they require it.
I didn't have a clue what we were going to do there as between us we didn't have five dollars but I didn't know about the graciousness of the ladies in attendance. My friend warned me that this is a geisha house and that any time these girls went with anyone it was on a personal basis and pretty special at that so be a gentleman. We were ushered into a a small room with paper walls, a long low table and cushions.
The room was soon full of women. Girls in their teens right on up the age scale and most dressed in dressy kimonos. A couple had Japanese stringed instrument. The older lady then explained to us that the girls were in geisha training, it was early in the afternoon and they were not open for business yet so we were their practice. We explained we had little money. She said any amount would do. We gave it all to her.
We were entertained for several hours with music, tea, bowls of flavored rice and Sake. The tea ceremony was performed several times and was very formal. I forgot we were off base without authorization. Sake will do that.
Most people think that Sake is just a rice wine but it's more than that. It's not wine and it's not beer although it's brewed similar to beer. Uncut it has a high alcohol content much like fortified wine.
The girls took turns making us feel exceptional good. There was only the occasional touching of your arm or the reaching up to brush your hair back. They were good. If I'd had any money I would have given it all to them. If I'd of owned a house I would have signed it over too. They had a way of making you feel important, masculine, clever and potent. I did notice the several that did not speak any English still laughed when I said anything funny. I guess I said a lot of funny things. It was wonderful and I don't care if they were just practicing they convinced me and I loved it.
So we went back to the NAS and my now good buddy sweet talked us past the marine on duty. Meanwhile the Sake, tea and rice had tuned into a red hot bowling ball in my gut and I was paying the price for my sins. It was probably the tea.
Things were brewing in the U S Navy's department of transient crew members. It was actually noticed that I was on non paid vacation at the U S Navies expense so they gave me a little money, packed my butt on another airplane bound for the Philippines. It was rumored that my ship was there. I had little faith.
I was soon on an air force airplane out of Kadena, Airbase in Okinawa bound for Clark Air base in the Philippines. I did not know at the time that I only had one more flight before I would start taking flying lessons and that one year after that I would be flying for a living. That was four years away in 1963. There was a lot of life and death in those next four years. Some of it I have not thought about for nearly 50 years but I'm going to drag it out and tell about it while I still have half a brain.
Meanwhile I was en-route to Clark Air force Base then on to Subic Bay by bus through country where a sailor was reported found hanging by his feet with his head chopped off. Oh boy. We were told to stay with the bus if it broke down and to stay together. The driver was armed but he didn't look smart enough. I think I was more scared of him than the bad guys.
It was all anticlimactic after landing at Clark. I found that the Air Force people ate even better than the Navy but like the Navy there was a lot of waiting. This time for the bus to Subic Bay where I was to learn about San Miguel beer, tiny pretty girls that can fight like mad dogs and fences that had glass embedded in the top (the hard way). I also found out that in a bar fight it was best to exit the back door but be prepared to jump past the guard dog. You can outrun the shore patrol that way as the dog kind of slows them down.
All in all it was a good time. I had to get settled in again just like a brand new crew member. So began the project of convincing the bosun that I was not worth a damn at chipping paint. That's another story.
I apologize for these over long post but I have not been able to figure out how to divide them up. I am an amateur you see but I will work on it. Stay tuned to hear of my exceptional mess cook skills and why I was forbidden to handle ammunition.
Friday, October 1, 2010
For over a month now I was a sailor in transient trying to catch up with a ship that was chasing all over the East China Sea and the Philippine Sea trying to avoid typhoons. Over three weeks out of Long Beach, California I had arrived in Sasebo, Japan to find the USS Mansfield DD728 had left without me because of an ensuing storm. I couldn't see how, since I was so essential, that they could leave me but leave they did. I wasn't in Sasebo long but I did have time to find they had a department store, with an escalator, open ditches for sewers that made the place smell bad and the ugliest prostitutes I had ever seen.
I bought a pocket knife at the department store for 100 yen (I still have it)*, discovered Sake and that if I drank it the prostitutes became down right beautiful.
The navy didn't leave me hanging around there very long as the navy was falling apart without me in my proper place. I was hoping to catch my ship and get it shaped up hoping that would straighten up the hopeless mess I had seen that the navy was in so far. Nine mouths in and I had discovered the real meaning of FUBAR. After about 5 days of drinking sake and some really good Japanese beer I was given my traveling papers once again and sent on my way. This time by train. I had been in the navy less than a year and had been to sea on two ships, now I was going on my second train. A seasoned world traveler indeed.
They put me and three other sailors on a pre-WW2 steam train bound for Tokyo and ultimately Yokosuka. What an adventure. After swearing me in at the recruiting offices in Albuquerque, New Mexico I had been given a roomette on the Southern Pacific (I think) bound for San Diego, California. I don't remember much about that except I decided then that it was my favorite way to travel and I haven't changed my mind. We transferred to a bus somewhere along the way and arrived as a thoroughly bedraggled group of new recruits in civilian clothes. The first words we heard were from a Second Class Bosun's mate greeting us with "Welcome to San Diego, You poor bastards". It had kind of a nice ring to it don't you think? That boot camp thing is a whole different story for another time.
Meanwhile back on the pre-WW2 steam train out of Sasebo I was finding out that not all train travel is equal. The cars were built in Japan I assume as everything was sized for the Japanese population. I was the shortest sailor in our group at 5 foot 6 inches and I could see over the local peoples heads. The train was a sleeper with the upper bunks and lower seats that made into bunks at night. The bunks were less than six feet long. The tallest sailor in our quartet was six foot four inches. I have no idea how he made out. He was a really nice black kid about my age from Mississippi and I never understood a word he said. The Puerto Rican from New York City did the interpreting.
I'll never forget the first night because when it came time for bed people stripped down to their underwear and changed into sleeping clothes. Even the young women. I thought that was the most practical and civilized thing I had ever seen. I was already impressed with the politeness and courtesy the people exercised in these tight quarters. To find that they were not self-conscious about their bodies was another plus.
That train would go forward a few miles then back up a few miles. That went on for the better part of the first 12 hours. When they finished that exercise and got out on some straight track that engineer put the pedal to the metal and we made some real time. I estimated at one point that we were making over 80 miles per hour. The engine was an oil burner and it could pour out the black smoke. The passengers were old hands it seems because when we would come to a tunnel they would scramble to close the windows. The first one was a shock as I had this young female scrambling across my lap to slam the window shut since I was not doing it. She then backed out with downcast eyes mumbling something in Japanese that I assume was an apology but she could have been saying "you stupid Amelican plick close the window so we don't get the smoke and soot in here". The next time, being a quick learner, I closed the window in a timely manner but I really wanted not to so that she would crawl into my lap again.
The rest of the trip went quickly. I had teamed up with the Puerto Rican that had shacked up with a local girl in Sasebo for the last two years. He had picked up conversational Japanese which made our way easier. We had our meals in the dining car on white linen and tableware that looked suspiciously like navy tableware. Tabasco sauce on every table and automatic beer at every meal. We were American sailors so they just assumed we wanted beer.
We changed trains somewhere near Tokyo and took an electric train for the run into Yokosuka standing room only but it didn't matter. That damn thing must have been doing over a hundred miles an hour so our trip didn't take long. It made me dizzy looking out the window. Even in 1959 those people didn't fool around when it came to train travel. They closed the door when it was time to go even if you were standing in it.
It was a real adventure for a young American. Except for the one fat loud mouthed American woman that demanded everything but didn't speak a word of Japanese (she made up for it by shouting) it was a pleasant time. The good thing about her is she shamed us into acting like gentlemen.
I still remember that countryside as it looked like any rural countryside I had seen in the southern United States with the exception of no cars and trucks. There were animal drawn carts and people on foot. I do remember some rice paddies but I didn't know what they were at the time. The people were dressed different as I didn't see any overalls. One scene stands out and that was the woman in blue squatting in the road peeing. No one else noticed.
Arriving at the transient barracks in Yokosuka was downright laid back. A week there and I was putting on weight. We sat six or eight to a table and were served with heaping bowls and platters of delicious food by beautiful young women. The noon meals and evening meals were family style with whole pies for desert. Breakfast was to order. I was starting to be impressed with how the navy adapted to overseas duty. I needed to get out of there as I had porked up to 125 pounds.
That could be me on the right but it's not. This was taken a few years after I was there and before the uniform had options. Even after the uniform had options I remained traditional. After all I had joined the Navy to be in the Navy. If I had wanted to wear short sleeve shirts and have a zipper in my pants I would have joined the Air Force. I have walked (staggered) down this street .
I learned about Sukiyaki and chicken fried rice in town. The girls in the bars taught me to eat the fried rice with Heinz ketchup and Tabasco Sauce and I still eat it that way and I have it often. SWMBO (she who must be obeyed) finds that disgusting. Back in Japan there was nothing like sitting around a charcoal brazier in a closed room with paper walls chatting with really friendly girls, drinking beer, eating fried rice and breathing carbon monoxide. If you breath enough carbon monoxide you get to thinking you can attack Pearl Harbor and get away with it.
That paradise didn't last long. My ship was located again this time in Okinawa and it was decided to fly me there. I was put on that red-eye special that started this story with maybe a dozen other people including a pretty little girl about 10 or so that sat next to me. Pleasant company I'll never forget.
We arrived in Okinawa about two days before the next typhoon and of course the ship was gone which stranded me again. That however is another story.
I didn't have a but a few dollars by that time. It seems the navy was a lot better at moving people around than moving pay records. Times were getting lean but I still had a memorable time in Okinawa. That's in the next episode of "How in the hell did we manage to win WW2?". Come to think of it did we win WW2?
*The exchange at the time was 360 yen to the dollar. I had not carried a pocket knife since I had entered boot camp and felt ill equipped without one. This was the perfect gentleman's stainless steel pocket knife. It was small, lightweight, with a blade, a can opener and a bottle opener. Remember this was 1959 there was no pull tabs or screw off bottle tops so these tools were handy.