“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Pfeifer’s Principle: Never make a decision you can get someone else to make.
 Goofy guy’s exemplification of  Pfeifer’s Principle: Congress…with lots of rock throwing while waiting…and waiting…and waiting…for the next election cycle.

At Sea Indoctrination

Last Friday, after FMG (Friday Morning Golf, a weekly event in my life since 1991 with longtime pals), the six of us sat down with our beers (except for one of us) and began our usual palaver nearly always involving sea stories and war stories (one of us, Marty Linville, was an army artillery officer), both of which could also be called military history, personal accounts, or bullshit.

The group consisted of Marty who retired as a major, his son Michael, his grandson Carson, Rod Stark who was a commander surface warfare officer, Pete Toennies who retired as a SEAL captain, and moi, also a surface commander type.

Michael, who did not serve in the military, began by citing “Platoon” and how his father noted what occurred in the movie was pretty accurate in the events. Marty clarified they were but  that all of the events did not happen to just one unit. Then Michael asked Pete if “G. I. Jane,” aside from having a woman (Demi Moore) going through BUDS training at the time, was realistic. Pete replied that the training depicted in the movie was pretty accurate,

Carson, who is matriculating to Linfield College in Oregon with a golf scholarship this fall and the one with no beer, listened intently.

We wandered off to quite a few politically incorrect topics, and i told a story indicating a man should not get in the middle of women arguing about what they should be called.

But afterward driving home, i began to think about what Pete, Marty, Rod, and i went through long ago.  All of us did it several times: in college, at OCS, our first military tour, crossing the line, and any special group we joined. Some folks call it informal indoctrination, today it is called hazing and frowned upon, primarily because some people have let get out of hand, do stupid things because they think they are being tougher resulting in people getting hurt or killed.

To us, it was all about breaking us down to remake us into a unit, a team. As  Gregory Peck’s character in “Twelve O’Clock High” drummed into his Eighth Air Force unit, it’s all about “unit integrity.”

I have written of how i was indoctrinated to the ways of the sea aboard the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764) in 1963 as a Midshipman third class. But there were many other tricks or embarrassments ahead. Those earlier stories involved sailors trying to get a landlubber, a green newcomer, even worse an officer to be, seasick. The other tricks were to embarrass the landlubber.

When a new crew member reported to his division or his work station, he was often sent on a fool’s mission. Common were the assignment to go find “relative bearing grease,” or a “sky hook.”

My favorite was on my first ship as an officer, the USS Hawkins (DD 873). During one afternoon watch with turbulent seas looming and a severe turn about to be executed, the boatswainmate of the watch piped (blew) “Attention, All Hands” on his boatswain’s pipe through the 1MC speaker system and warned the crew to “Standby for Heavy Rolls.” The watch section in CIC (Combat Information Center, or Combat) sent a new radarman striker to the galley to wait for the cooks to give him some “heavy rolls” and bring them back to the watch.

Of course, there was no such thing, and the poor striker waited outside the galley for over an hour in an honest attempt to carry out his order.

Back to the Lloyd Thomas after my time in weapons and operations, i was sent to engineering, first to the machinist mate division standing watches in main control. On my first work day, the LPO (Leading Petty Officer) directed me to go the Auxiliary Shop and ask “A-gang” for some “relative bearing grease.” i did as directed. A-gang told me they were all out of relative bearing grease and i should go to Damage Control Central and ask them for the relative bearing grease. As i walked forward through the mid-ship passageway, it dawned on me there was no such thing as relative bearing grease.

So instead of returning to Main Control empty handed, i went to my rack in midshipmen berthing on the first deck aft, let it down, climbed in, and went to sleep. After about an hour, Main Control’s LPO became worried and sent third class petty officer looking for me. He lost my trail at DC Central and reported back to the LPO. Finally, the LPO himself started his search and found me asleep in my rack. It had been about two hours since he had sent me on on the search.

He woke me and demanded to know what i thought i was doing, that i could be put on report for sleeping on duty.

i responded by telling him after being unable to find the relative bearing grease, i was too embarrassed at my inability to find it and was afraid to come back to Main Control. Not having anywhere else to go, i came back to my rack and laid down.

He bought it.

And i got the best nap i had since getting underway six weeks before.

Chapter 11: Time for Reflection, Change, and Loneliness

This is a break in many respects. My old microfiche reader broke, i’m working on repairing, replacing, or going to the one place in San Diego with a microfiche reader and printer. For me, the story of my time on Cayuga is relevant in my being as prepared for the Yosemite as much as possible. i hope you enjoy it and see my purpose.

As with all things, the one thing constant about Yosemite’s stay off of Masirah was change. Change was doubly hard on me, I think. I was trying to make all things work, and recalled a comment, illustrated by a cartoon from a former captain.

Commander John Kelly, later Captain Kelly, was the commanding officer of USS Cayuga (LST 1186), which was a ship in Amphibious Squadron Five out of San Diego in the spring of 1980. I was Current Operations Officer on the squadron staff. At the conclusion of  a Wednesday morning “message meeting” of the staff, Commodore Jim McIntyre asked for a volunteer with no explanation for what the volunteer was volunteering. The staff of two dozen officers and enlisted were silent. After several seconds, I raised my hand, thinking “what the hell?”

The commodore looked surprised and then said, “The Cayuga needs an executive officer immediately. come to my cabin after this meeting and we can discuss.”

When I sat down with the commodore, he was amazed I had volunteered, especially since I was the only officer on the staff he could have selected for the job. There were only two lieutenant commander surface warfare officers (required to fill the LST XO billet on the staff) and the other was the material officer up to his knees in alligators in the maintenance of squadron ships.

Captain McIntyre explained, “Jim, Captain Kelly is desperately in need of an executive officer. His XO was taken off the ship in a straight jacket to Balboa (the San Diego Naval Hospital) this morning. He had a complete mental breakdown. The Cayuga has had a lot of problems.

“While they were in the yards at Long Beach, a personnelman (PN) hung himself in a fan room. The Philippine community was up in arms and began protesting at the yard gates and the entire mess made the newspapers and the LA TV news.

“Then about two weeks ago, a boatswainmate was killed when an alongside training barge was alongside, and they were conducting unrep training. A line parted and the boatswainmate was hit in the head by a block and tackle that broke loose. They apparently did not set up the rig according to instructions. The first lieutenant is under investigation by JAG.

“They start Amphib refresher training next week.

“You still want the job?” he asked.

I replied, as a good Navy officer should, “Aye, sir,” adding the caveat “But you must promise me I get the weeks of leave you approved for two weeks from now after I have completed the job. My eight-year old daughter is scheduled to come out here for a vacation. That is most important to me.”

Captain McIntyre promised to allow me my leave.

I interviewed with Commander Kelly the next day and was accepted. I reported aboard on Thursday morning.

Judging by the “In”  and “Hold” baskets on his desk in the XO cabin/office, the outgoing XO had not done any paperwork in six months. Personnel advancements had not been forwarded. Critical reports had not been sent. On my first “messing and berthing” inspection, I found total disarray. Racks were not made. Dirt, paperwork, and leftover food and coke cans were everywhere. Cigarette butts and ashes were strewn. Roaches and grease ruled the galley and the mess decks.

I held an all-officers meeting in the wardroom, took feedback from all of them, and laid out a plan, reporting the plan to the captain. I stayed on board for two months, going to my apartment once a week to collect mail and check on my belongings. I actually stayed at my place three nights, giving myself a break once, and the other was to run the Fourth of July Coronado half-marathon which I had entered the day before I “volunteered” (I was also too busy to train after becoming XO, and the half-marathon, my first, was a killer in rare ninety-five degree heat. But i made it, slept off the effects that evening and limped back to the Cayuga the next morning.)

As the two months neared the end and Cayuga had successfully completed the refresher training, the CO recommended to the bureau of personnel I remain the XO and complete a two-year tour. The Commodore endorsed the recommendation, but the bureau explained they already had a Naval Academy graduate in the pipeline who had completed the pre-XO training course.

I transferred back to the flagship by hi-line as the squadron was en route Esquimalt, British Columbia, the Canadian Navy port for Victoria on Vancouver Island. I met Blythe at SEATAC the day after we anchored out. We had a wonderful time in Victoria, with my friend Cy Fraser on Orcas Island, Seattle, and back in San Diego.

When I departed, Captain Kelly had drawn a cartoon of me. It referenced a conversation we shared near the end of my stay on board. He told me he was amazed at how I performed. It was like I was dribbling a half dozen basketballs at the same time. I replied it was more like a dozen basketballs and most of them were only half inflated.

He laughed and the cartoon had this balding XO attempting to keep about a dozen basketballs bouncing at the same time.

It had been a rigorous two months for me. I was disappointed the Navy did not let me complete the tour as it would have completed that check for advancement and been back on track for command at sea, my ultimate goal. In the late nights as Yosemite’s XO, I often reflected on how my experience on Cayuga had given me the right experience, the right perspective, and made my current XO tour easier to digest.

*    *     *

Sitting at anchor at the top of the Indian Ocean was still not a pleasant prospect. When we learned our initial ten days off Masirah had been extended until 1 January, I was upset and even lonelier when I wrote Maureen a note:

Lady,

New word. Schedule has changed again. i didn’t believe it possible, but it’s for the worse. We are now going to stay anchored in this miserable place for a long time. It has been requested we remain here through January 1, 1984. i guess i don’t mind. This is all marking time until i get back to you, but the crew will be bug shit by the time we hit a liberty port. Sure wish i had a tape to tell you all of my frustrations.

Mail call yesterday and none from you. Terribly disappointing but i’ve not been as good as you in writing. i really do go up and down in this job. Hope there’s some mail from you Saturday, even a lecture would be welcomed. Did Blythe tell you i called her? i may talk to you on MARS if get the reception back, but i greatly dislike exchanging thoughts with “over” interrupting.

My god, how i love you.

Got a great letter from Joe (my brother). i may send you a copy. This is a note getting out of hand.

i love you.

jim

Al Masirah, Oman
November 9, 1983

My focus was on our unique situation: 100 enlisted women in a crew of 900 and 6 female officers in a wardroom of 44 on a ship anchored of Masirah, Oman for what appeared would be at least two months. Our rules for male/female relationships were clear and in place. i was glad there had been no overt violation of those rules but didn’t know actually how effective those rules actually were. i and my admin staff were also aware the women were young sailors but women none the less. We attempted to keep them informed about uniforms and dress. This was a new world for me. An example was one POD note:

7. Grooming Standards (women) Hair pieces — Hair pieces or wigs, if worn while in uniform or on duty status shall be of good quality and fit, present a natural appearance, not interfere with the proper performance of duty, not present a safety hazard, and shall conform to the grooming standards set forth in these regulations.

Cosmetics — Cosmetics shall be conservative and in good taste.

This reads strange and out of touch while I enter it 35 years later.

We were in unknown waters in many respects.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Weber’s Definition: An expert is one who knows more and more about less and less until he knows absolutely everything about nothing.
 Goofy guy’s pronouncement concerning Weber’s Definition: It is amazing how many such experts i have met in my lifetime. 

Thoughts of Stuff in the Early Morning

When i woke up early, even a bit earlier than usual, i was pleased. i had slept through the night, a rare treat for an old man.

i fed the cats and began my morning ablutions. As i brushed and flossed my teeth, i looked in the mirror and began to think about…stuff. All kinds of stuff.

i considered how stuff seems to have accumulated, surrounded me. i wondered if all this stuff made my life better. Hmm…

Hey, until i was about 40, i didn’t have a lot of stuff to deal with in the morning. My ablutions lasted maybe ten minutes, if that. i brushed my teeth, washed my face, combed my hair, and left for work. Sometimes, i had a quick bowl of cereal with orange juice or ate on my ship with lots and lots of coffee in the morning, but my morning routine was nothing compared to now. And now, the stuff under the sink and in the drawer is extensive to say the least. There are lotions; salves; sunscreen (now apparently another source of cancer); contacts, extra lenses, rinse for contacts; batteries and cleaning devices for the hearing aid; nasal spray and rinses; floss. About the only thing removed from this list over the past fifty years is hair cream (no longer needed), after shave, and cologne (apparently men can make people sick with these aromas, but women’s stuff is okay; go figure).

We have a lot of stuff. One of my major considerations whenever Maureen and i discuss the possibility of moving or buying down is what the hell are we going to do with all of this stuff. Then i think, why the hell are we keeping all of this stuff? i mean our children aren’t going to want much of it or perhaps none of it when we are gone. And i’m pretty sure posterity isn’t going to give a damn about it. And i know we are not going to use at least half of it and don’t need at least half of the other half.

Sid high chair amidst other stuff…in the garage naturally.

But we like it, or at least most of it. There’s the high chair sitting in the garage. It needs some repair and begs to be refinished. It is not of the child safety variety that cost more than my first house. It is wood. The bottom of the tray has worn or rotted off. A wood bushing where a screw fits the tray onto the seat so the tray can be put down for use or lifted is missing. A wood slat has fallen off the back of the chair. It is painted brown and that paint is now of several colors. It was not painted when it was used from 1944 to somewhere in the early 1950’s. It was bought for me. My sister used it. My brother sat in it for several years. It was put in the  attic. My parents gave it to Kathie and i for Blythe to use. We painted it brown (earth tones were the thing in 1972. i have had this idea of refinishing it and giving it to Blythe to use as a plant stand or interest piece. But Blythe and Jason’s house is small, and all of this is really just a pipe dream of mine, and i’m pretty sure it will not make it to the top of my priority list. And it takes up space. But i know as i write this, i ain’t gonna toss it. Not yet.

And so it goes as i mentally go through all of the stuff we have. Finally, i decide i will have it arranged to get one of those junk removing outfits to go through the house and get rid of all of my stuff when i die, take it to the dump and dump it. Maureen can keep what she wants, which won’t be any of my stuff, which somehow has been designated as stuff to keep in the garage.

i make coffee and do the preliminaries for breakfast. i retrieve the newspaper and sort it so Maureen can read all the news and the “food” section which is in today’s edition, and put the sports section and the business section next to my table setting. Don’t laugh. The business section is not there for me to read that stuff. It also contains the comics. As i commented to Judy Gray recently, i don’t read any of that other stuff anymore. i check the headlines, but i simply don’t wish to get depressed in the morning when i read all the bad news, and it’s all bad news as far as i can tell.

While Maureen is still sleeping, i enter my home office for many reasons, one of which is to write this, which came in mind this morning during the ablutions and calls me to this infernal machine, and i look at all of the stuff, especially the wires. For most of my life, i had an all-in-one machine with no wires, not one. It was called a typewriter. It did not have a scanner, but it printed what i wrote instantaneously. It did not have to be charged with anything other than my fingers and my brain. It clacked when i hit the keys. It made me think. i dug into the Webster’s Unabridged, Roget’s Thesaurus, occasionally a French to English translation book, and more rarely an Italian to English translation book. It often inspired me as i saw my words appearing after the keys passed and the clank of the return lever put on its own exclamation point. No wires. i think i have one of last ones somewhere up in the garage attic.

But with wires and magic signals in the air (of which has electrons and invisible charges i figure will eventually be discovered to cause some kind of disease or mental disease), there is so much more knowledge (and misinformation, perverted political messages, and oh so much more) available, and its easier and you can scan stuff and insert photos and it even checks my spelling and screws it up even more than i normally do. It’s easier. Bah, humbug.

i return to the kitchen, after several stretching exercises, for my morning medicines. i only have a few prescription pills, but man, i’ve got a pickup bed full of over the counter stuff, mostly extra elements for addressing old age proclivities.

Being old ain’t so bad yet. Oh, i have some aches, occasional pains, and am a great deal stiffer than i used to be. But i don’t have to comb my hair. And i can dress anyway i want to (as long as most of this old body is covered) and be considered quaint or old fashioned.

And old gives me the license to whine about how i miss the good old days. But i forget, and i forget a lot nowadays, that if there had not been change, i would most likely be dead. i bitch about all my doctor’s appointments, but had it not been for those doctors and the new detection devices and the medical advancements and treatments, something that killed a number of my relatives and friends from the older generation i am sure would have killed me.

i curse the current state of politics and the lines in the sand. Yet when i read about the history of our country and recall the political cronyism, backdoor deals, criminal acts, and philandering that allowed prejudice, bias, immoral behavior, and subjugated people based on gender, color, religion, etc. to a subservient or worse role, i think we are better off…with a long, long way to go.

i must interject here i still believe the ideas promulgated by our founding fathers created the best system of government yet possible, and it’s the people who have screwed it up, and the difference is all the other systems would not allow those who protest now to protest at all, and those other systems would allow those in charge to be worse than they are under our system, and we need to fix what we got, not come up with something new. That equality and independence go hand in hand with accountability and responsibility and caring for our fellow humans, not fear, hate, revenge, and retribution. ‘Nuff said.

Maureen comes out and begins to prepare breakfast. i have fresh fruit, eggs, juice, coffee, and occasionally when she so deems i need it, Tennessee Pride Country Sausage. Our breakfast routine, with newspaper reading, and exchange of ideas usually breakfast takes an hour or more.

When it’s over, i normally clean up. There is…yep, a lot of stuff to clean up. Maureen has a cupboard full of spices, and oils, and lord knows what. My mother had some spices in her cabinet, but i don’t recall her using much more than salt, pepper, butter, and bacon grease. Condiments of all sorts fill our refrigerator and another shelf in the cupboard. Growing up, i remember salt, pepper, mayonnaise, mustard, and ketchup, with some rarely used hot sauce somewhere.

Stuff.

But you know what? i’m enjoying my stuff. i just won’t forget when i didn’t have so much.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Berra’s First Law: You can observe a lot just by watching.
 Goofy guy’s observation of Berra’s First Law being ignored: It seems to me this law is becoming obsolete much like the art of listening. i have observed by watching hardly anyone actually watching (or listening) nowadays.

“Murphy’s Law”

From my “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar archives thanks to Aunt Evelyn, Uncle Pipey, and cousin Nancy:

Law of Probable Dispersal: Whatever hits the fan will not be evenly distributed.
 Goofy guy’s analysis of the Law of Probable Dispersal: Hence, all systems of government insist their system will work while ignoring the Law of Probable Dispersal.
This law is one of my favorites.

Amazing Medical Science Discovery!!!!

Now you should know i am not a medical kind of guy. This was a realization i suffered when i thought i was capable of  doing anything in the world i wished to do.

It was my freshman year at Vanderbilt, the spring semester 1962. Engineering required me to take Chemistry 101 and then 102. i had made a “D” my first semester. i wasn’t doing much better that spring semester. Perhaps this might have been a product of not picking up my chemistry book for two weeks, then pulling an all night cramming session on Thursdays before the regular two-week test on Friday. You see, i really did think i could do anything, like not studying and passing an extremely tough college course in chemistry.

But even after the first semester grade and carrying a high “D” at the end of the semester, i went into the final exam with great expectations (i have always been and remain an optimist).

i scored in  the 50’s. Bad. But Chemistry 101 and 102 were weed-out courses for all of the folks who matriculated to Vandy with the goal of scoring well in the pre-med regimen with aspirations of being accepted for Vandy’s medical school, one of the best in the country . It was tough. It was doubly tough for my class of 100 or so who got the professor from Russia whom i could not understand and consequently slept through his dramatic lectures filling about thirty feet of black board behind him with chemical notations i also did not understand, perhaps abetted by previously mentioned time, or lack thereof, with my nose in the chemistry books and not yet mentioned proclivity to nap during the lectures because of drinking beer the night before.

Regardless, i scored in the 50’s. But looking at all of the other scores and knowing the professor graded on the curve, i actually believed i might pull out a “C” on the exam. i was on cloud nine, an optimistic cloud nine, but still cloud nine.

But then there was Andy Berry. Andy was in my graduating class in Lebanon. He graduated from Lebanon High School and i graduated from Castle Heights. He is a good guy. i like Andy a lot except for that semester in chemistry. Andy scored 97 on the final exam. His grade completely screwed up the curve. Consequently, i got a “D” on the exam and a “D”in the course on my way to an infamous exit from Vandy the next year.

So you are correct: i’m not a medical or science expert.

But i am a good observer, and i have been observing a lot of stuff for a lot of years, three-quarters of a century actually.

Through those observations, i recently stumbled upon a medical science phenomenon overlooked by the most brilliant medical and science experts.

i have discovered, through blurry observation, the primary, never-to-be-argued, undeniable reason for dying.

Are you ready for this?

Everyone, and i mean everyone, dies because of…

living.

Simply put: If you live you die; if you don’t live, you don’t die.

i think there is an important aspect in that revelation. But i also know each of you will  have your own idea about what that aspect is for you. For me, it means i should live, if it is the reason i’m gonna die, to the fullest everyday…and not sweat the small stuff.

Medical science: eat your heart out.