Monthly Archives: June 2017

A Friend Indeed…In Fact, Two Friends

i have unpacked and settled in for this ride to somewhere. i have even gone a three-mile hike in the hills.

i promised myself not to work on my writing project tonight, but get organized and close some loose ends.

So far it’s been good but i haven’t been tested yet.

One of the loose ends is making comments about my friend’s retirement this past weekend.

At Frank Kerrigan’s retirement party Saturday night in La Quinta, i had planned to read a piece Noreen Leahy sent to me via email and make a few comments of my own. But it became evident, the party was not structured for me jumping into the speaking segment. There would have been enough of others wanting to say something, the party would have never ended. So i am using this post to write what i wanted to say and record Noreen’s thoughts.

In August 1983 in Mayport, Florida, Lieutenant Frank Kerrigan reported aboard the U.S.S. Yosemite (AD 19) to become the medical officer. I reported almost the same time to become the executive officer, a position the Brits call “Number Two.” One month later, we deployed for eight months to the Indian Ocean.

There are enough stories about Frank and i during that deployment, and the year plus back home afterwards, and through today to fill a book. In fact, i may write one someday.

But just about everybody at that party has an abundance of stories about Frank, so i’ll just put mine on the back burner for now.

But i do need to point out Frank and i forged a friendship on that deployment which remains one of my best friendships. i suspect that almost all of those party attendees feel the same. Frank is that kind of guy.

i would like to relate one story, which i think captures the essence of Frank Kerrigan.

We were on liberty in Mombassa, Kenya. Frank and i were returning to the ship by cab one afternoon. i believe we were returning from one of the German resort hotels on the beach. The driver came upon a crowd of locals filling the two-lane road. A local had been hit by a car and was lying in the road. The crowd of around a thousand were angry and upset.

Frank wanted to get out of the cab to see if he could help the downed man. Having some experience in such things as liberty incidents in foreign countries, i recommended caution and urged Frank to stay in the car.

Being Frank, he did not listen to my urging. He got out of the car only to find out the man was dead. But before he left the car, he told me, “But i might be able to help him.”

Frank Kerrigan cares about other people more than anyone i know. He remains a much needed confidant for me. He is the godfather of Sarah.

So i guess it’s manly enough to say i love him.

And i want to share Noreen’s thoughts. Noreen was one of the first women to receive a Navy commission from the United States Naval Academy. Lieutenant Leahy was the operations for most of that cruise. In actuality, she also was the ship’s navigator although i held the official title. Noreen was one of the best Naval officers with whom i served. After she left the service, she received her doctorate in education and is currently the vice-superintendent for a Long Island school district.

This is what she sent Frank:

I wish I could have beamed myself to California to celebrate your retirement Frank and spend an evening with you and Jim; two dear shipmates who made such an indelible mark on my life.  My words and best wishes will have to do, but will serve as poor substitutes for the bear hug I would have preferred to deliver and the glass I would have liked to raise to celebrate with you!

I also wish I could beam myself back to the early eighties to relive just a day aboard the Busy Lady!  Now, with so much of life lived, I know I would better appreciate the greatest job I ever had, working shoulder to shoulder with the best people I have ever known. 

I remember with much affection the sailors who helped me cut my leadership teeth,  And I remember the senior officers who patiently mentored junior officers such as myself.  These were wonderful patriots.  I suppose we were working hard, but mostly I remember the camaraderie, the laughs, the warmth and the fun.  

And you were in the thick of that camaraderie Frank.  You were  the third ship’s Doctor  to serve aboard  Yosemite while I was assigned to her. But the one I could not and will never forget.   I had no idea when I met you that you would one day save my life, in more ways than one. 

You made quite an impression when you showed up on Yosemite.  Smart, fit, good looking and a killer smile just began to describe our new Doc.  But it was your heart of gold and kind disposition, which became evident almost immediately, that defined you. Of course, you knew next to nothing about the Navy.  Lord knows.  We could convince you that the strangest combination of uniform parts were required for inspections. The supply officer, Linda, and I thought it was hilarious. Placing it in context we were thousands of miles away form home, in the middle of the Indian Ocean.  We were desperate for entertainment and Frank Kerrigan seemed to be fair game. Frank, you  took it all in stride and with good humor. And despite our shenanigans still allowed us to read your medical school textbooks.  I say again…we were desperate for entertainment. 

I remember how you would often wander up to the bridge.  You were interested in the operation of the ship and what we did as watch standers.  Often you would find me monitoring the navigational charts and always asked about our location and how I figured that out.  In doing so, you demonstrated your respect for us and our work.  You had no obligation to spend time with SWOs.  You could just have easily watched movies when medical shut down for the day or banked precious sleep, which we as watch standers all craved.  But instead, you became part of the operational team. Thinking back it was an incredible show of support.  As a holistic healer, perhaps it was your way of ensuring our social emotional well being during those long, lonely nights. 

Your dedication as a Medical Officer was clear.  You were then as I am sure you are now, an incredible doctor. Jim and I could never repay the care you gave me when we lost our first child.  We were stupid young newlyweds scared out of our wits.  You calmly and expertly took over that wild scene, allaying our fears and restoring my physical and emotional health.   Nothing was lost on us, including your decision not to give me a blood transfusion in the months just prior to the outbreak of the AIDS epidemic.  I remember you standing there telling me I could probably use a pint, but I was strong enough to allow my body to replace what I needed.  A year later I found myself wondering if you had an inkling about what was to come.  You probably don’t even remember these details, but we sure do.  You set the bar very high for any doctor I have seen since. 

I was so happy to reconnect via Facebook (and Jim Jewell) a short time ago.  I wish we had stayed in better touch, but life happens.  With any luck our paths will cross again one day.  But if they don’t please know that you remain a bright spot among my happiest memories.  I wish you the very best in your well deserved retirement.  I understand you are heading home.  Enjoy every second! 

Fair winds and following seas old friend.  God Speed.

Love,

Noreen

And Frank, as Noreen said so well, Fair Winds and Following Seas.

Frank Kerrigan and his family at his retirement party, Will Kerrigan, Lindsey Wurtz, Frank, wife Deborah, and TJ Wurtz.
Maureen and i with another couple with many Frank Kerrigan stories.

A Drive to Somewhere

Later this morning, i will drive just under two hours to a studio apartment by the mountains outside Flagstaff, Arizona.

i will not go via Interstate 17, which the map directions say is the fastest route. But Sybil Kuny, one of the greatest cooks and nicest people the world has ever known, advised me US 89 to I-40 would be easier and faster. She and Lance Cook, Maureen’s cousin, hosted us in their beautiful home in the mountains of Prescott, Arizona last night (Maureen will stay here for a couple of days before returning home.

i will be driving on to somewhere in my life.

Getting to somewhere has been a great trip. i opted to play my usual Friday golf round, planning to leave immediately, get a quick nap, and leaving home just after midday to miss the commute traffic. But Al Pavich was waiting at the nineteenth hole. Al is on the rebound from from some health problems. He, Pete Toennies, and i go way back to the staff of Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five and one of the craziest “WESTPAC” deployments ever. On the next deployment, Al and shared a stateroom on the USS Belleau Wood. We have remained friends ever since. He is a hero.

So i stayed longer than intended, and Maureen and i hit the road almost two hours later than planned and into the teeth of the commuter traffic on I-15. It was brutal. From Escondido to Temecula, a half-hour trip normally, took way more than two hours. My little Mazda 3 rarely got out of first or second gear. When we arrived in La Quinta, it was almost seven.

It was worth it. Dr. Frank Kerrigan’s retirement party was Saturday night. Frank was the doctor on my last ship, the USS Yosemite. We were mutual support partners on our eight month deployment to the Indian Ocean and pursued our mutual love of golf together. We’ve been close friends ever since. Saturday, we played a round at The Hideaway course. That evening we attended the retirement party. It was a blast. (i will have another post about Frank later).

But now, i’m headed to somewhere. When i get back home from Flagstaff in two weeks, i will not only know where i’ve been, i will know where i’m going, which is the intent of this trip. To know where i am going.

From tomorrow until Sunday, June 25, this site and Facebook will be shut down. i have some things to do somewhere. My phone calls will be limited. i do not plan to turn on the television, dine out, or do much of anything except write, read, walk or run in the woods, and meditate. You see, i plan to be doing a lot of something somewhere, just not the usual stuff i do.

This morning, i read an item in “The Writer’s Almanac” about Leo Tolstoy. On this date, Tolstoy began his pilgrimage to a monastery. He had found God when he took a walk in the woods. Well, i think god and i are good and i don’t expect to find him, but i am hoping to find me.

It will be nice to get to somewhere.

A Personal Thing You Don’t Have to Read

This post is primarily for me.  So if you are not interested in my physical fitness, pass on this one.

i am hoping to potentially embarrass myself if i don’t stick to my new regimen for i am a superb procrastinator and a champion slug if i allow myself the pleasure of not working out.

i have been a super slug for about three months, resolved to turn it around and two days after beginning to actually  work out, went down hard for three weeks with “asthmatic bronchitis.” i’m still not fully recovered, but i am very tired of being a slug.

i also have noticed almost every man my age can’t run. They have had hip replacements, knee replacements, replacement replacements, heart problems, back problems, or strokes (Pete Thomas and Bob Schoultz, i’m not talking about you two). Although i’ve got my share of old man banes, they are minor in nature compared to my friends.

Doctors, chiropractors, physical therapists, my friends who are much more knowledgeable about such things as working out than i am, medical journals, family, other friends, and at least two dozen people i’ve passed on the street including two homeless guys, and a crow, have told me old men shouldn’t run: too hard on their old bodies, things break.

So naturally since i am a pocket of resistance, and in a way because i want to do it for my friends, i have started running again.

i plan to regularly post my progress here. It is not for any who might read the status. It’s because i know you can read it, and knowing that, i am vain enough to not miss on my schedule. So you might say this is for me.

i have done a walk/run four times in the last two weeks. Streets around my house are hilly. i let that keep me in my slug state for quite a while, but now, i have returned to an old route of mine. It’s 3.25 miles round trip. i have begun a plan. i run from the house until i it hurts. Today, i went past four minutes, about three-tenths of a mile. i plan to increase this a minute a day until i am running the entire length.

After that, i plan to continue to pick up the pace and extend the run until i’m running about six miles in less than fifty minutes. That is the time i used to run about six miles from the Naval Amphibious School to the beach barricade for North Island and back.

When i have run/jogged my goal for the day, i will continue with my version of the “Sprint 8,” which my physical fitness expert, Pete Toennies introduced me about four years ago. The regimen requires sprinting all out for thirty seconds and then walking at a comfortable pace for two minutes, repeating the sequence eight time. Today, i ran for four minutes, and the began the sprint eight routine, but walking for five minutes rather than the program’s two minutes. When completed, i walked about another one-and-a-half minutes: 0:51:02 total.

i feel good. i think it’s time for a nice glass of wine.

 

The Tall Angel and the Goofy Guy

It began about three months before i met her.

i met her husband in Tasmania, November 1979.

Pete Toennies was the UDT advisor for the Commander, Amphibious Squadron Five staff aboard the USS Tripoli (LPH 10). I arrived on the squadron’s last day of liberty in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia to become the staff’s Current Operations Officer. Over the next four months, Pete and i became fast friends, working together, and enjoying our liberty together in one of the wackiest deployments i ever made. Our friendship remains one of the strongest i have had in my life.

When we returned to our homeport of San Diego in January 1980, i  met Nancy. i was still recovering from losing my daughter as a full-time father when i was divorced by her mother. My meager household goods were in storage. i did not have a clue as to where i should find lodging.

Then Pete and Nancy invited me to stay with them in their home on Coronado until i could find an apartment. i was an imposition to put it mildly. The house had a “double/double lot, but the house itself probably was not larger than 1,000 square feet. My place was the dining room nook to the side of the front room. The two of them put up with me for a little more than a month and were instrumental in my moving into a great apartment on Coronado.

After i moved, Pete took off to Alaska on a SEAL/UDT exercise. i had planned to take them to dinner for their kindness, but now Pete was gone. i came up with an alternative plan and invited Nancy to Sunday brunch in the Crown room of the Hotel Coronado Crown room.

 

The Hotel Del is a famous 1890 hotel on the beach. The Crown room is an reminder of how elegant and special the hotel has been throughout its storied history.

Nancy accepted.

Did i mention Pete is 6-6, a hall of fame swimmer at St. Johns, and an incredible athlete? Or did i point out Nancy is a striking 6-1 blond/redhead? When she and i walked into the Crown room for brunch, i estimate about a dozen diners broke their necks doing double takes. In case you didn’t already know, i top out at 5-6.

Then last month, we learned Pete was going to have replacement left shoulder surgery. The procedure is planned for later this month, but Pete has been shut down on any activity using his left arm until the surgery. So Nancy who belongs to the Women’s Golf Club at the Sea ‘n Air course on Naval Air Station North Island did not have a partner for the monthly couples tournament. She asked me to join her. i accepted. It was the least i could do.

Sunday, we played. We had a good time, but i didn’t help very much in the competition. But to explain the double takes at the Hotel Del Crown Room 37 years ago, i asked our golfing partners, Steve and Jennifer Tosh, to take a photo:

i think that says it all.

Thanks, Nancy (and Pete).

So What the Hell Am i Doing Here

It is about an hour before sunset, which will actually be a sunset tonight. This town, where most folks here forget is first and foremost a seaport town, has been May gloomy for almost two weeks. i like it. After all, i can feel and smell the sea in the mist that the marine layer blows inward. But the skies cleared in the late afternoon. i sit in the backyard. It is refreshing. That sea wind is blowing cool. The temperature is already hinging between the high 50’s and low 60’s. i have on a light sweater. It’s not enough. i used to have a earthen chimaera here but it cracked long ago. i’ve yet to replace it because we can’t quite figure out what we want for outdoor heating, a must of outside sitting in the Southwest corner evenings. The world is green. The agpanthea are  beginning to bloom their purple and white. The sage under the breakfast nook window is healthy and will soon attract our hummingbirds for breakfast viewing.

Maureen is watching an interesting movie in the family room.

i came out to write my Democrat column, the third from the last.

There are several other writing projects i considered.

But i sit here in the cool and reject the idea of creating. There is enough creation around me. It occurs to me that twilight is not bad in oh so many ways.

So i will just put a couple of poems i wrote in 1965 in the space remaining. Sit here in the cool, listen to Duke Ellington on my bluetooth thingie, and enjoy before giving it up and going to bed.

This was written when i was smitten by a beautiful young woman in the summer of 1965. She and i took a Southern Literature class together. Mr. Evins, the professor and a thin, bald, old man, read the antebellum novel So Red the Rose by Stark Young, through most of the classes. The young woman sat to the right and one row in front of me. i spent most of the classes surreptitiously watching her and wondering how i should introduce myself. My opportunity came when i had to wait for Jimmy Hatcher to complete a class so we could commute back to Lebanon together. i went to the student union/cafeteria and saw her in line. i went up to her as she waited with her tray and introduced myself. She recognized me and for a moment, my opportunity seemed golden. That’s when i looked down and saw her hand had an engagement ring. C’est la vie.

a furtive glance at what might have been

winsome woman
sitting there
unaware
of eyes drinking in your beauty:
don’t you know the hollow pit
which constitutes
and
reputes
all emotions running amok
in my soul.

your olive skin
smooth as custard
compliments
the large black pools
fools have named eyes;
the long silken hair
blacker than Poe’s dark bird
shine in the dim light
of the cramped room.

then you smile,
white teeth flash,
to splash
the pale red lips
with soft humor:
somewhere deep down
a whine of mine
begins to swell
into a moan,
and
then, like roaring thunder,
attempts to crash
from my lips
in a bleating, pleading frenzy
but
i conquer the cry,
settling back to enjoy
your tender presence
for the short while
before
we go our separate ways.

for you see,
yesterday,
i noticed your long graceful hand
and
know you are taken.

Murfreesboro, Tennessee
October 1965

i’ve always been drawn to irony. i wrote this on one of my thousands of trips to Nashville, most likely to Vanderbilt for another Saturday with my friends. The poem was generated by the view of the city at the base of Church Street when coming over the Shelby Street bridge from U.S. Highway 70, better known back then as “Lebanon Pike” by Nashvillians going east, and “Nashville Pike” by Lebanonites going west. i did not include the large ad painted on the side of one building which encouraged me to by “Goo Goo’s.”

Noticings

Have you ever noticed
cobblestone streets
always run beside
auto dealers
and
dirty brick buildings
with the name of the warehouse
painted on the side?

Nashville, Tennessee
1965

 

More Dog Stuff

Several comments about my post “That’s not my dog” made me to decide to visit Cass once more.

The first is what i wrote within days before i had to put him down. The second was my way of dealing with what has to be one of the saddest days of my life.

Cass’ ashes are part of the base of my flag pole at the top of our hill, looking over his domain. The pole went down hard in the February winds. i’m working on a newer, stronger version. It will go up, i just don’t know exactly when. But it will go back up. It’s a tribute to Cass.

Old Dog Gone

i am not sending this to you because i need solace or support. I do not want your agreement nor disagreement. i am sending this to you because i want to share my feelings at a critical moment of my emotional well-being. I want you to know how i feel because you are my friend.

My old dog will be leaving soon. It will be my decision as to when. i will take him to a clean, neat, well-lighted room, and hold him while these well-meaning, kind and helpful people inject him with an end-of-misery liquid. He will not know. i will. For the first time in my life, i will be in total control of the situation. It will be the most miserable day of my life.

Hell, i’ve had some pretty miserable days in my time, but without fail, part of the misery was because i wasn’t in control. This time it is totally my decision, although i will give time and age a partial credit. Worse, i must interpret how he feels about all of this, and for 15 years all i could figure out about how he feels is that he really does love me, he enjoys people and he is, literally, one stubborn son-of-a-bitch.

Now i’m not a pets’ rights advocate. My oldest daughter gets that from her mother, not me. And there’s nothing wrong with that either, especially for these times, but i do believe in the natural law of the animal kingdom. i also recognize dying is part of the scheme of things: damn near impossible to avoid. But here i am putting more worry into this old dog dying than some people worry about killing other humans.

Ole Cass is a fine dog, even noble. Even yet, he’s noble though the eyes aren’t clear, the legs are hobbled by big dogs’ bane, the ears don’t hear. He has taken to yelping to gain assurance that i am near by.

Have i mentioned he’s stubborn too? Won’t go like most dogs do. He keeps on hanging on, noble-like, never giving up.

But lord, what a magnificent, splendid, independent cuss of a dog he’s been, a joy for 15 years. Pain in the ass, sure, but a joy.

i never have owned him. Yeh, i bought him, even tried to train him. He took what he wanted and discarded the rest.

But now, he can’t tell me he’s ready. He can’t tell me the pain and the lack of freedom outweighs the benefits of breathing. i must interpret, act in his stead. There is no living will to guide me. He is not totally incapacitated, just enough so to require me to make decisions about his quality of life.

He has chased the rabbits, run over the possums, played with the coyotes, caught the polecat, outfought the doberman, body-surfed to the delight of the crowd, dug holes that would awe the “diggingest dog,” damn near caught the roadrunner. No more.

i am reminded of the last morning i spent with Ray Boggs, a hero in my mind. Ray was in his last day, and, despite the morphine that was deadening the pain, he knew. He was not big into big, dramatic productions, and i think that early morning talk with me was what he wanted. While i sat in the respond mood only, he began an engineer’s analysis of the curtain rod hanger around his bed. His static and dynamic breakdown was methodical, mechanically engineered, correct, and accompanied by my nods and grunts of agreement. He neared the coup de gras of rendering this curtain rod hanger a most ineffective product, when he stopped, looked me straight in the eye, and said, “But hell, it’s only a curtain rod.”

So now i must deal with a curtain rod, when in certain moments it seems to be the hanger of the universe.

And it is all so irrelevant because soon ole Cass will be a good dog gone regardless of my decisions. And my life will be a bit easier but a bit more empty than it’s been in a while.

Then i will be able to deal with my belief that dying is a part of the life experience and that we must deal with our dying and other dyings as a consequence of living, not a tragedy.

It will be easy then, but not now.

Bonita, California
September 7, 1999

Cass Done Gone

a part of my soul left today.
the stubborn, ole cuss of a lab was more me than him
i worshiped the way he defied the world
until it no longer mattered.
some people told me
i would know when it was time.
i did not believe until
that silly old dog told me two nights ago and
told me last night it was okay.
he has been my mirror, my dreams, my soul
fifteen years.
i could tell him me like i can tell no other.
i am not ashamed of crying, feeling lost.
my granddaddy would scoff:
it isn’t the way it was back then.
there is an emptiness in my soul.
i am really not sure i’ll recover.
yeh, the pain will go in time;
the emptiness will be covered by events passing by,
but the hole will never be filled,
he was one of a kind to me.
he was me
he is gone.
i will bury his ashes at the top of the hill behind the house.
you can see the beach where he body surfed;
you can see the trails where he ran with abandon,
scaring hell out of coyote, rabbit, possum and birds alike;
if you turn around you can see the home he ruled
welcoming unknown people as if they were long lost friends;
taking on all dogs who foolishly entered his territory:
the doberman, the big shepherd, and all other intruders
stood clear after one encounter .

my feet feel cool now.
for most of his life, he would lie under my desk,
while i read, contemplated or typed with
his head resting on my feet.
the silence is awkward:
even in his sleep, he would grunt, wheeze,
kick the walls, chasing something in his dreams,
my dreams.

run sweet dog again;
pant with delicious tiredness after chasing the blues away;
scan the field with those keen sparkling eyes that
always read joy to me;
catch the next wave to bound into the bubbling surf
shake the misery with the salt wetness
from your coat of gold;
lick the face of someone
to give them unmitigated joy.

goodbye, sweet Cass.
goodbye, you joyful part of my soul.

Bonita, California
September 13, 1999

“That’s Not My Dog”

Inspector Clouseau (Peter Sellars) was told that when he said, “I thought you said your dog did not bite,” in “The Pink Panther Strikes Again.” It remains one of the funniest lines i’ve ever heard in a movie.

It is also the way i think of Cass.

i have had dogs for pets, not as many as most, about six by my count. i have loved them all, enjoyed them all.

But Cass was not my dog.

We lived together for fifteen years. We played together. We walked together across the high desert lands. i chased him. He chased me (along with about every critter he ever came across). He body surfed while i watched. i carried him on my shoulders when he was too tired and refused to walk. The damages he caused are legendary, especially when it came to Maureen’s prized possessions.

i have more tales than most about Cass.

But Cass was not my dog.

i have had many friends. Still do. Many remain close. i hope they are not insulted when i say they are not my closest friend.

Putting him down, even though i remain certain it was exactly the right thing to do, is the toughest thing i’ve ever had to do in my life, and i’ve had to do some pretty tough things.

Even today, tonight, as i run across a photo of him, he remains not just my closest friend, but part of my soul.

But no, Cass was not my dog.

A Lonely Thing

i wrote this in 1963. It initially seemed a bit strange to me as it sounds so much like my first experience with the Santa Fe Station here in San Diego, but i was not in the Santa Fe Depot until at least the 1980’s. Then i remembered. In early June 1963, my parents took me to Nashville’s Union Station. There was no train involved, but at the time, Trailways Buses had a station in the old depot. As a third-class midshipman, i took a bus from Nashville to Newport, Rhode Island. i could have flown but reasoned (well, may reason wasn’t really involved) i could take the money i saved and use it for other purposes. i blew it all. The bus went through Kentucky, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York, Connecticut, and probably several other places. i left Nashville noon Saturday and arrived in Newport around 7:00 am, Monday morning. There are a couple of other stories around that trip. But i’m sure this poem was generated by a scene in one of the bus stations on that trip. i’m thinking maybe Louisville.

A Lonely Thing

the huge room with the high ceiling was virtually empty;
the loud speaker’s bark echoed with a hollow ring;
the black night air was forlorn, almost chilly,
the bus’s muffled roar was a lonely thing.

the old man with ragged shoes sat down in the wooden seat,
his odor was of the musty, smoke-filled air;
he picked up the butt of the nickel cigar and caressed it,
lit up and stroked his long, near-mangy hair.

the huge archaic clock showed it to be early morning
as the speaker throated huskily once more,
the old man arose, straggled out of the entrance;
alone, he gazed back through the glass-paned door.