Monthly Archives: February 2018

There in Spirit

i’ve been whining to Maureen for about a month now, maybe longer.

You see, Satruday afternoon, in a magic place far, far away from the Southwest corner, magic took me there again, but not really. A bunch of two classes of my Kappa Sigma fraternity brothers gathered at that magic place of long ago. They call it Memorial Gymnasium. They call it “Memorial Magic.” Saturday, it was both.

i whined to Maureen about my not being there was her fault. She, of course, knew i was kidding. That i was the one who made the decision it was just too hard for my taking off to be there. But i needed to ease my pain. So Maureen caught the brunt of my whining, but shrugged it off.

i don’t think she has yet to appreciate “Memorial Magic” or even college basketball, which has always been my favorite sport to watch, even more than football because that was the sport i wanted to play, not watch, but i did plenty of watching that as well. i tried to make Maureen and Sarah Vanderbilt basketball fans and would have tried with Blythe, but she is not too interested in sport and certainly more for Longhorns than Commodores. With Maureen and Sarah, i actually took them to some games when were back home for Christmas, but it was against games like Northern Louisiana, the students were gone, the stands were half empty, the cheerleaders were from area high schools, and there was no spirit band. Hard to get the mojo going in that situation. i don’t think they still understand.

Maureen, like today, will sit in the room while the Vandy game is on the air. She’s reading a book and will occasionally look up and ask a question about a play or a player, but more to make me feel good than to get into the game. i even mutter or yell suddenly when there is a great play or a bad play or a bad official call or a missed foul shot (i hate missed foul shots unless it’s the other guys missing). Then i realize i am yelling, muttering, even talking to myself.

Yet today, she got into it. We, over 2,000 miles away had a whiff of the magic. This was in spite of announcers who think what they think is more important than focusing on the game and the producers who throw a bunch of junk on the side to promote themselves and upcoming events. But it didn’t matter today. We could still get that whiff of magic.

But my brothers were there. Flat, smack dab in the middle of it — i think that word “brothers” is often overused in fraternity talk. i am about as much as a brother to the Kappa Sigma Grand Master as i am to Hogan’s goat. But those guys in my five years of association became more than friends. They became my brothers. i don’t know how to explain it. It even sounds a little hokey as i pen the words. But that’s what they are.

We were a bit different from the norm i think. We were somewhat a “pocket of resistance.” Like me. We made fun of the pomp and pomposity of the Greeks. We resisted being categorized. We were crazier than hell, and a couple of us, so caught up in all of it didn’t get to the finish line, but we were still brothers, still deeply, deeply enthralled with the magic.

A goodly part of that magic was  in Memorial Gym. Basketball. i didn’t miss a game. Even with exams the next day. Even with papers due, unfinished were due but put off until the game was over. And they were good back then. “Snake” Grace, Clyde Lee, John Ed Miller, Roger Schurig, Keith Thomas, Jerry Southwood, Kenny Gibbs, Bob Warren, Gene Lockyear, and on and on and on played like wonders.  Like winning the last five games in 1962-63, including an upset over Adolph Rupp’s Kentucky Wildcats, 69-67, in Lexington. Then, 1964. They beat #3 Duke, 97-92, in overtime and a legendary betting story was born; and they turned around and beat #1 Kentucky 85-83 in a good but not great season (19-6).

Two of the highlights of that 63-64 season was when the South Carolina bench was giving Roger Schurig a real ragging throughout the game. Then towards the end of the second half, a Vandy defender stole the ball and passed to Roger on a snowbird. When Roger hit an easy, unopposed layup at the South Carolina end of the court (because of the elevated court, the teams sit at opposite ends of the court, not on the side as with most basketball arenas), he ran the baseline in front of the Gamecock bench and shot a bird and held it the length of the bench.

The second highlight when Vandy surprised the Wildcats with an upset in Memorial. The Commodore fans gave the Wildcats’ Cotton Nash a razzing throughout the game. When the clock ran out, rather than getting in a line and shaking hands with the opposing players, Cotton walked to the middle of the court, shot two birds, his arms high in the air and slowly turned a complete circle to let the fans know what he thought of them. i still laugh when i think of both of those moments. Maybe bird humor is a favorite of mine.

i should know about those seasons. i went to every home game. i might have had one of those papers due or even an exam the next day, but i wouldn’t let anything interfere with my watching my friends play basketball.

When the next season, 1964-65, rolled around,  i was not in attendance at the “Harvard of the South.” i was the cub reporter, office boy, bowling editor, and figure 8 auto racing editor for Fred Russell and the Nashville Banner  sports department. i managed to see most of the home games and volunteered for one of my favorite weekends ever.

Vanderbilt won the SEC season and was playing in the Mid-East regional. The Banner photographer needed a way to get the game photo negatives of the NCAA Mideast Regional from the new field house for Kentucky in Lexington back to the Banner’s office in time to run in the Saturday afternoon paper. i volunteered to drive up, watch the game, and then drive back with the photos. i had purloined my sister’s 1959 Vauxhall for the year. It could top out at 95 downhill, which was good because the ensuing shaking kept me awake.

Vandy had a close opening round game, but beat DePaul, 83-78. Back then, there were only sixteen teams in the tournament. The major conference season champions (they didn’t have the money-grabbing conference tournaments back then) were given a berth and the other teams of independents and non-major conferences were chosen based on their records. And believe it or not, the regionals were comprised of only teams from that region, the East, the Mid-East (Vandy’s region), the Mid-West, and the West.

The trip between Nashville and Lexington back then was about 250 miles and took a little around five hours (at the speed limit). During halftime of the DePaul game, i walked down to the sports reporters table on the other side of the arena to talk to the photographer and Waxo Green, who covered the Commodores. As i walked to the corner of the end court returning to my seat, i looked back at the photographer while the teams were warming up. i turned around to head up the stairs, and i was staring into a clothed belly button. Cazzie Russell (it was his belly button), Oliver Darden, and Bill Buntin, the Michigan stars had come out to see what their opposition might look like on Saturday. They seemed to be gargantuan. i thought i was going to have to circle the field house to get back to my seat, but they were courteous and let me sidle through the mass of humanity to take the more direct route.

After Vandy won in what was a surprisingly close game, i grabbed the envelope of negatives from the photographer — i do wish i could remember his name: he was a great sports photographer, a great guy, and took me under his wing — and took off in my sister’s trusty Vauxhall. Except for through the towns (i took US 62; interstates didn’t go between those two cities yet), i had my foot down to the floorboard of the chugging British bundle of bolts. i left the field house around 9:00 p.m. EST, arriving at the Banner office before 2:00 a.m. CST. Had the trip not crossed from Eastern to Central time, i might not have made it, but i did.

Being a glutton for punishment and basketball, i turned in the negatives, got about two hours sleep, went back to the office to see if all was okay and help Bill Rogers, the managing sports editor with the makeup. i caught another two hours and then headed back to Lexington, arriving in time for the championship game between the Commodores and the Wolverines.

It was an incredible game with Vandy losing, 87-85, on one of the worst calls ever. Many experts said (of course, there was a slight Vandy bias), the Commodores would have matched up better against the Gail Goodrich UCLA team, which easily defeated Michigan, 91-80, and had a better chance of winning the championship.

i believe, i believe.

i also know, as in really know, the refs blew it. i think i have written of how i know earlier, and i will pass on that story for now.

But i was not required to bring the negatives back that night. The Banner was Nashville’s afternoon paper with no Sunday edition. i spent the night in Lexington (funny, i don’t remember where, but i’m pretty damn sure i didn’t pay for it as i didn’t make enough to pay for it). i headed back at a much slower race on Sunday morning. When i hit Bardstown, Kentucky just after noon, i decided to take a tour of the Jim Beam distillery. This was a long time before it was a chic thing to do.

A portly old man with white hair for what was left of it, finally opened the door. He took me through the distillery explaining the process. We were the only two souls on the property. i think he was the janitor.

As we neared the end, he stopped and looked at me.

“Be careful, son,” he admonished, “That stuff can do some bad things to you.

“I know,” he continued, “You see, I started out as a youngster, younger than you are, drinking white lighting, corn whiskey. Damn near killed me.

“In fact, have you ever heard about folks who drank too much seeing pink elephants?”

“Yes, sir,” i replied.

“Well, they are out there. I see them all the time. Not just pink either. All kinds of colors, these big elephants in my head. I see them all the time in my head. Terrible.”

As we neared the door, there was a small souvenir shop. i bought an ashtray etched with a bucolic scene with the Jim Beam logo across the scene. i kept it until i quit smoking almost forty years ago.

Just before he closed and locked the door behind me, he once more warned, “Be careful with that stuff, son.”

Of course, i didn’t pay too much attention, but i haven’t seen any elephants in my head…yet.

But that was long ago. A magic time. College basketball at its finest before it became a money game. Memorial Gym magic.

Yet Saturday, i sat almost 2500 miles away and watched my Commodores win a thriller with a Memorial Gym fandom raising the roof with “Dynamite” like yesteryear a half-century ago. i was there.

i kept looking for my friends wishing i could experience Memorial Magic again first hand. i never found them. Analysts and ads cut into the possibilities. No matter. They knew. Shortly after the ‘Dores had put the game away in the final minutes, i got a call. My friends were on the floor with the student body still celebrating.

It was magic, Memorial Magic, once again.

My friends included Alexis as one of the attendees. Alexis Stearns is the daughter of one Bill Stearns, one of our gang. The boys believe she brought them and the Commodores good luck. i got to thinking about it. Every time i have gone back for a game with my friends, my team took it on the chin. Yet this pretty young lady brought them luck.

Maybe next time, i should give her my ticket, stay 2500 miles away and watch on my flat screen. That should give Vandy double luck.

Regardless, the magic was there one more time Saturday.

From left: Cy Fraser, Mac Koch, Don Bouldin, Jim Hicks, Larry Creekmore, Alan Hicks, Alexis Stearns, and Bill Stearns. Great game. Great magic.


Mingling with the Olympians

No, not those kind of winter Olympians. And no, not those that actually occupied the real Mount Olympus.

i’m talking about two who are just as impressive as any Olympians. And they have energized me to write a series i’ve been considering for some time.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn’t like the Olympics. It was just a golf round. It was on one of my favorite courses in the world, Singing Hills’ Willow Glen course (it is now Sycuan Golf Resort, bought by the native American Kumeyaay tribe a number of years ago: but man, i still love that descriptive name of Singing Hills). It was three older guys playing golf, one  a really, really good golfer; one another incredible athlete, and this older goofy guy who sort of kicks it around the course.

As this goofy guy looked more than his age whacking the ball like it was an old rug on a wash drying line in the back yard. But he was thinking.

You see, i’ve been thinking about writing about my heroes. Back, oh about a million years ago, Cyril Vaughn Fraser, V, and i were goofing around in Maple Manor, a college story that is damn near a book of its own, when i commented to him it seems to me my fate was to be around incredible people so i could write about them. i didn’t call Cy incredible, but i was thinking about him.

Before continuing on this line, i am also thinking about writing about heroines. But i put women on a different pedestal. So that is for later.

But playing golf today, i decided it was time to write about my heroes.

i will not elucidate on the two who played with me yesterday. They are special friends to me in many ways for many reasons. i will write about  them at length later (and perhaps have them worrying about what i might include later). But they are heroes to me as well as close friends. Both were world class athletes. They could play any sport they attempted although one got started a little late in golf and injuries have kept him from getting to the highest level like the other one.

But this round of golf was with two special people. Heroes. Got my blood a’pumping about this series of posts i’ve been contemplating. But Pete and Pete are not just great athletes, not just the highest performers in their chosen Navy regimens, not just really intelligent and caring, not just two guys who gave me inspiration about what to write and how to live. They are good men.

And they are my friends.

Thanks, Pete and Pete. You made my day.

Pete and Nancy Toennies in Kauai with us at Brenneke’s, 2015.








Peter Thomas with his grandchildren, 2018.

Rambling Thoughts of a Crazy Man on Trash Day

The Tuesday routine is set.

i get up early. i’m programmed that way. i believe, probably falsely, it’s the product of so many morning watches (0400-0800, but not really: i was awakened around 0315, got to the bridge and relieved the off-going watch by 0345, and because of breakfast and the morning routine was relieved by 0700, three and a quarter hours or watch standing; not bad, but man, did i need a NORP by the noon mess), but i suspect it’s more likely produced by going to bed early.

Regardless, i awake, get ready, make coffee, collect the trash and recycle receptacles from around the house and the garage. i take a up of coffee to the garage, get the supplies, come back in the house, replace the litter bags in the cats’ two litter boxes, then take the old bags out to the front. i retrieve the yard waste recycle bins and put them off the curb. i move the trash bin to the front of the garage and empty all of the smaller containers into the big black bin and set it alongside the waste bins. i collect the newspaper, sort it (all that ugly news stuff for Maureen, sports and comics for me), retrieve the recycle bin from the side yard and deposit all of the recycle stuff, and once again, move the bin along side the other three.

My day has begun and the normal daily routine of setting the table, putting away the clean dishes goes into effect.

This morning, it was cloudy with only a few holes of light blue emerging through the gray after first light. Cool…well, cool for here, 55. Need rain. The Southwest corner folks are like farmers back home, watching the weather. Reminds me of Commander Lou Aldana, my first Commanding Officer aboard USS Anchorage. When i first reported aboard March 1975, Lou informed me, “You are just like a farmer: any time it’s not raining, they are working in the field; when it’s not raining, you will have your deck department painting everything exterior. And we did until we got to Hong Kong and gave Mamazan Mary a bunch of brass for her crew to paint out the ship for us.

This morning, i was not thinking about Hong Kong. It seems a long, long way away in time and space. It is. i was thinking, of all things, about Abraham Mazlow. You remember him, don’t you? He’s the guy who came up with the theory about the hierarchy of needs. You see, the top level of that pyramid of needs is self-actualization where i am working at a level which gives me personal satisfaction of doing the job well…or something like that. i thought it strange i reached a level of self actualization by taking the garbage out. But i do enjoy it, the whole thing, although occasionally i wish Jake Hughes were still around.

A few folks in Lebanon may remember Jake Hughes. He was our garbage man long before the city’s brand new and shiny (for a very short time) garbage trucks put him out of business.

Seems like when Jim “Beetle” Harding and i began our summer work for Jessie Coe at the city’s public works department, it was a toss-up as to what work we would be assigned. This, of course, was after we took the mini-scooter with a bed on the back and drug the big dead dog  out from under the porch, took it to the dump, returned to where the driver, aka me, hit the railroad tracks just west of the square on West Main too hard, launching the vehicle and it’s two occupants, when there was only suppose to be one, into the air and down on the fire hydrant outside Henderson’s Florist shop, slamming Beetle’s head into the frame of the cab while somersaulting me through the plastic windshield knocking me out and coming to with a beautiful blonde nurse who had been buying flowers holding my head in her lap and i swear for a few seconds i was in heaven tended by an angel only to be loaded into an ambulance with Beetle and being given crap by one selfsame Beetle for driving like a maniac and both of us laughing hysterically thinking of how Wilson Denny (that was his name wasn’t it, Henry?) would be pissed when he learned the mini-pickup scooter he considered his own had been wrecked. Outcome: Beetle had quite a few stitches on his forehead, which the cab frame had gashed open; i had some clamps on my right eyelid, which you can still faintly detect, from the plastic or the parking lot gravel engaging my head after the somersault out of the front of the vehicle.

Well, it turns out i went to the water treatment plant out by the river on Hunter’s Point Pike before becoming a grave digger for three summers. Beetle was assigned to a garbage truck for a short while.

Regardless, back to Jake. Jake had a wagon bed with car tires installed instead of wagon wheels. The contraption was pulled by Jake’s mule. Every Tuesday, Jake would pull his wagon up to the front of our house, walk around to the backyard, retrieve our trash can, take it out to the wagon and deposit the contents into the bed. Then, he would return the  trash can to its proper place. i’m told, and i believe, Jake got rich doing that before the city took his business away. His place was out on Hickory Ridge Road and as you drove around a bend, you could smell Jake’s pile of garbage. It’s a real nice house now. i don’t know who owns it, but there is no longer that aroma around the place. Good thing, too with it being so near the new high school.

Did i mention Jake had a darker skin tone than mine. i admired the man, his hard work, his ingenious wagon with car tires, and the mule. i’m glad his hard work was rewarded. i am sad i did not get to know his family.

But my whole point was not about Jake Hughes or Beetle’s and my wreck, or the garbage truck, but about ole Abe Mazlow and how i related this morning when i went out in the dark and gathered the bins and collected the trash and looked down the street and up into the sky where the sun slinging low on the Mexican border’s horizon could only give it’s morning’s soft glare from behind the gray clouds and how, somehow how everything seemed right with the world and ole Abe was right: that self-actualization stuff is real, no shit something we can all achieve even at routine daily tasks if we let it take us there, that top level of the pyramid.

♦     ♦     ♦

Yesterday afternoon, i was reminded of how close to the way it used to be. i am constantly reminded of this and recently had an exchange with my sister and brother about which location, Signal Mountain, Vermont, or the Southwest corner had the fiercest wildlife. i think it was a draw. Out here i talk of coyotes with whom my old lab loved to chase and scared the hell out of a whole bunch of them. But we have hunters out here in droves. Southwestern Rattlesnakes, Hawks, falcons, foxes. And just to prove my point, i was in the kitchen yesterday with Sarah’s dog Billie Holiday when i looked out the breakfast room window. There in the middle of the backyard, strutting around as if he owned it, was a bobcat. i would have taken a picture, but i was too busy trying to keep Billie from crashing through the window. So i hit the internet to come up with a photo of one. This one yesterday, except for the backyard green grass looked just like this. He was about average for bobcats, about two-fee tall and weighing about twenty pounds (We had one here about ten years ago who ruled the neighborhood; he was huge, more like three-feet tall, and i’m guessing about 35-40 pounds). This one yesterday looked up when Billie went beserk, shrugged his head as if to say, “Come on out here, dog; i’ve been needing to shred me some dog meat.” Then he casually strolled to the back of the yard and then cleared the six-foot fence with a graceful bound. Impressive.

He was a reminder we are not far from a harder existence than we have now. The Southwest corner was not a kind place to live for many years. Then, the weather, the bay, and lord knows what else, lured folks to move here, add water from mostly Arizona’s Colorado River, and grow and grow and grow, and  the development men built houses where houses weren’t intended to be but it met a demand and lined those development men’s pockets with silver and gold, la la, la la, la la, te da.

Now i am not so much of a romantic to wish we could go back to those earlier years. This place is a pretty damn nice place to live. But every once in a while, like when a bobcat strolls through the yard on his afternoon outing, i think of how beautifully wild it must have been.

Navy Chiefs, Part III

My personal introduction to chiefs came in 1963. It was on my third class midshipman cruise on the USS Lloyd Thomas (DD 764), a FRAM II destroyer out of Newport, Rhode Island. That is at least one, if not three or four stories in itself to be told later.

My next real recollection of a chief petty officer was the senior chief quartermaster who taught navigation at OCS. We learned quite a bit even though much of the course was movies the senior chief let us watch, nearly all as i recall being from the “Victory at Sea” series. But what i most recall was at the end of one class, the old senior chief tells the class, “Yeh, you guys are leaving here and going to the evening mess formation about the time i’ll be reaching over into the back seat of my car on the Jamestown bridge for the first of the six pack of Budweiser i have in the cooler.”

The Hawkins, nested outboard.

But then there was the Hawkins where my real lesson in chiefdom began. i have already written about Boatswainmate Chief Jones. He was my chief as First Lieutenant and first division officer from when i reported aboard until he retired in August 1968. His best buddy was also instrumental in teaching me how the Navy worked.

Unfortunately, i do not remember his name. i do remember his unique rating. Back in the late 1960’s for a short period of time, the Navy had created the rating of SP for chiefs at the E-8/E-9 level. Machinistmates and Boiler Tenders, when they reached the E-8 level became “Steam Propulsion Specialist.” Our man was an E-9 so his rating was “SPCM.” He was so good he was the Main Propulsion Assistant or in Navy lingo “MPA,” normally a junior officer’s billet, but Paul George, CHENG, didn’t want any JO between him and the SPCM when it came to running and maintaining the plant (until my good friend Rob Dewitt took over). He was still very much in charge before i moved from first lieutenant to ASW Officer.

He was a very a large, swarthy, black-headed chief who hung out in the engineering log room, the office and brains of the engineering plant off of the main deck passageway almost amidships. The first lieutenant and his first division were responsible for the maintenance and cleanliness of that passageway, which ran most of length of the main deck.

We began a major program of taking up the tile on that passageway, re-tiling, and repainting the passageway. It was a demanding work requirement, and i was constantly checking on how it was progressing. One workday, around mid-morning, i found my personnel not up to my standards in their work effort. i don’t remember what i did to address that, but i very clearly remember it was wrong.

The SPCM, hearing whatever it was i did or said, emerged from the log room, put his arm on shoulder, looked at me sternly, and said, “Son (not “Mister,” not “Ensign,” but “Son”), let’s have a talk.”

With that and his arm still around my shoulder, the SPCM led me out on the port side of the weather deck amidships. It was there, i got the best lecture on leadership i ever received. the SPCM talked to me about the world, about the Navy’s world, and how it all worked.  i think he gave me the best perspective i could ever had achieved on how to be a good leader.

Although i don’t remember his name, “SPCM” is a tribute to him, and i will never forget.

Navy Chiefs, part II

As noted earlier, BMC Jones was my entry into chiefs taking care of division officers. Ensigns and even Lieutenant Junior Grades (LTJG). BMC Jones was my chief when i was an ensign and first lieutenant on the good ship Hawkins.

We had a chiseled seaman apprentice in first division, who also thought he was a good sea lawyer.

The Navy was different back then. One difference was liberty cards. Normally the ship was in three duty sections, of which one  took the duty and remained on board every third day. When liberty call came, the two enlisted duty sections not on duty had been given their liberty cards, about the size of business cards, to show to the quarterdeck watch, a requirement before being allowed to leave the ship. These cards were usually passed out by the division’s leading petty officer at quarters each morning. If you didn’t get a liberty card, you didn’t go ashore.

Seaman Joe Shit the Ragman (a title we gave problem junior enlisted) had done something wrong and the LPO, BM2 Carrier, had not issued the sailor a liberty card even though he didn’t have the duty. To make it worse for Ragman — Back then, junior enlisted were addressed by their last name only. Petty Officers could be called “Petty Officer xxx,” but usually called by their last name only as well; Chiefs were called “chief,” “senior chief,” or “master chief.” Junior officers were called mister, like “Mister Jewell,” until they made commander, then they were called by their rank, as in “Commander Jewell” — it was Friday. That meant Ragman had to stay on board for the weekend. This was an unauthorized but common form of a sub-rosa justice system. Ragman, the sea lawyer, took offense.

Just before Friday liberty call, i had walked down to the first division berthing compartment in the after section of the ship. i was checking the material condition and the state of the berthing compartment. Ragman saw his chance to haul out his sea lawyer skills on a green ensign. He was ranting about the illegality of not allowing him to go on liberty. i was mulling over how to handle this situational ethics situation (even though i had no idea a term for this kind of thing even existed): i wanted to support my leading petty officer; i was sure Ragman had deserved having his liberty card “lost,” but i also was supposed to uphold justice, fairness, and adherence to regulations.

As i briefly pondered my quandary, Chief Jones, who had been looking for me, slid down the ladder to the compartment. This wiry, small man, with a cigarette hanging outside of his mouth, stopped Ragman’s rant by merely holding up his left hand toward him. Then he asked me what was going on. i responded.

BMC Jones turned, grabbed Ragman’s blue chambray shirt with his right hand, pushed the fabric he had grabbed up to Ragman’s throat, and pushed him up against the bulkhead. i swear Ragman, all 180 pounds and six feet of him was quivering.

“Listen, you little shit,” Chief Jones said evenly despite being red in the face with veins pulsing, “If you ever pull that kind of shit again, i’ll see to it you never leave this ship. Ever.”

“Got that,” the chief concluded.

Then he turned to me and said to me, “Sir, let’s go up to the main deck. i want to discuss when we are going to retile and paint the main passageway.”

He turned and quickly ascended the ladder out of the compartment.

This ensign meekly followed, shaking my head in amazement.

CPO’s, a Navy Thing

Of the three military branches, Army, Navy, Air Force (Sorry Marines, as good as you think you are and as good as you have been, you remain a subordinate part of the Navy and really have become an unnecessary part of the military force because you just duplicate the mission of the other services, even if you are good.), the Navy seems most unique to me.

One of my best friends, Marty Linville, an Army artillery wizard who received a well-deserved Silver Star for his heroic action in Vietnam as the commander of an artillery unit, and i have often discussed the difference between enlisted personnel and officers, Army and Navy.

The biggest difference, in which the Army’s side of this difference also includes the Navy’s Special Forces warriors, the SEALS is that the true, original Navy officers, now known as Surface Warfare officers (what a bunch of malarky) is their expertise in driving ships. Their other, equally important purpose is to lead or manage (or both) their subordinates, at least in rank. Officers in the Army and SEALS, especially the junior officers, are out in the field waging war while leading their subordinates.

Navy Chief Petty Officer insignia

Marty and i agree the differences in the historical structure comes from the differences in role. Obviously, there are some historical and tradition elements that foster the difference. The Navy, the surface warfare kind, seems to draw more distinction in the rank divisions of officer, chief petty officer, and other enlisted.

Their uniforms announce that difference. But in the Navy, it is significant, although the new Navy seems intent on wiping out any differentiation, both symbolically with uniforms and literally with less separation between the ranks. With the advances in technology and many other things, this merging may be necessary. i wouldn’t know. i’m old school. As in old.

i have formed a long distance bond with a number of sailors on my first ship, the USS Hawkins (DD-873). i reported aboard in April 1968, flying from Rota to Malaga, Spain and coming aboard as she was on her way back from a nine-month Mediterranean deployment to her homeport of Newport, Rhode Island. i had completed OCS in early February, spent two months in Key West attending the Anti-Submarine Officer’s School before flying out of Charleston with my entire belongings:   my uniforms,  a small civilian wardrobe, and a grunch of books, all in a plywood 2 x 2 x 4 foot cruise box that weighed in the neighborhood of a ton.

Underway: a sailor enjoying a quiet moment on the fantail of the USS Hawkins (Thanks, Gary McCaughey)

i was slated to be the ASW officer, but the resident ASWO was not leaving until early October, so i was assigned the first lieutenant’s billet for the return, the summer of minimal local operations until the September beginning of a  six-month overhaul when i took over as ASW officer.

Those first six months were a crash learning course in how Navy ships at the time really worked. The “Navy way” was continually emblazoned in my head for the next twenty-two years. A great deal of that learning curve concerned the differences between the enlisted, the chiefs, and the officers. Actually, there was another division: the “leading petty officers” or “LPO’s.”

The system worked well even though the different groups made fun of the others. A great example of that is the cartoon taking a shot across the bow at officers, Norm O’Neal, a radarman (RD) at the time and now a close friend through email and social media, sent me last week:

    My immediate reply was:

Norm, this one wouldn’t let me “reply to all,” the officers said this about a lot of chiefs.

   To which, Norm replied, “Ouch.”

To which i added:

Actually, Norm, as it is with nearly all situations, there are good people and bad people in every level of every organization.

My first chief petty officer was the Hawkins’ BMC Jones. He saved my ass on several occasions. He was a small, thin, wiry, gnarly, old chain-smoking chief from Arkansas. After teaching this ensign the ropes, he retired the Monday after the change of command on the Hawk in August 1968 (speaking of good and bad, there was the CO who made the deployment, the screamer whose name i can’t recall right now being relieved by Max Lasell, who remains one of the top three of the CO’s under whom i served, and that’s another story).

But Chief Jones was relieved by a short, portly, old BMC with thick white hair whose name i also can’t remember. He was the first of many chiefs who worked for or with me officers called “ROADS Scholar” for Retired On Active Duty. You could tell them by the permanent crook they had in their pointer finger from holding on to their coffee cup they used while they spent about 95% of their time in the chiefs’ mess.

But that was only part of  my crash education about Chief Petty Officers on the Hawk. i learned why Chief Petty Officers, a unique position in the military services, were so important. Through my remaining twenty-two years, this idea of chiefs being different was continually emphasized. For good reason.

My initial realization of the difference was from the get-go. i had wondered since i first became connected to the Navy when i began my NROTC scholarship tragedy at Vanderbilt, why senior enlisted had uniforms more like officers than the other enlisted. Although i was slowly learning why through OCS in Newport, Rhode Island, ASW school in Key West, and two weeks in Rota waiting to join my new ship, the difference slowly was becoming apparent to me.

But on the Hawkins, it became quite clear.



A Long Forgotten Walk Revisited

It was different. Even the paths we took varied from my original routes.

She wasn’t my dog. She and her boss, Sarah, are staying with us temporarily. Sarah has gone to work. Maureen was out on many of her daily excursions. It was way too warm for an old man to take a walk: high 70’s. Way too hot and dry for a Southwest corner February. We need rain. Like last year, but that ain’t happening. It looks like i’ll only burn about a quarter cord of firewood this year. Last year, i burnt more than a half-cord.

So midday with a number of my tasks accomplished, i decided what the hell. The dog needs to get out. Our gardener was at work and his and the dog’s relationship is tenuous at best. She senses fear, i think. We also now have to be aware of the dog jumping our five-foot fence to play with the neighbor’s Samoyed. She steals his toys and brings them back here. Our neighbors aren’t particularly pleased.

So it was a walk.

When Cass, the old labrador owned me, he and i would take a short retreat before bedtime. It goes down a hiking, horseback riding path around a couple of houses and back up to the street. Short. There are trails off of this path, but that was my night walk with that crazy dog and my excuse for a walk with Lena, the rescue who followed Cass.

Back then, there were three basic routes. One was this short one, used more often as both Cass and Lena aged. Then bane of old dogs dictated short. But before the hip problems emerged, we would go down the short trail but take the second path further downward to a drainage trough around to the arroyo and then back up to the street about a half mile below our home. We would walk back up the street for training purposes, not his or hers but mine before arriving back home. Earlier this week, i took Billie down on that route. Billie Holiday, that is. Sarah has followed in naming our pets after some famous person from the past. Cass was named for Ike McCaslin in Faulkner’s novels. Lena was named for Lena Horne. Our black and white cat is named Bruce Willis. Maureen’s long-haired black cats when we married were Bogart and Bacall. Only Dakota, named by Sarah when she got her while living in an apartment near SDSU, escaped the famous personality name.

The third route was a bear. About a half hour. We would go to the top of our hill and then take the trail west down, down into the canyon, all open space. once at the bottom, there was a nice walk through the meadow in the canyon. But then, the path climbed up, steep up to a ridge about a third of a mile, just steep climbing. We would walk along the ridge, back down to a path winding around the meadow and then the last, steepest climb of them all back to our house. It was just less than an hour (if i didn’t stop to catch my breath). That was the walk Lena loved. She would wander all over but keeping tabs on where i was and returning often. Cass? Hell, he didn’t care where i was. He was off. He chased coyotes and played with them when he caught up. i think they were afraid of him. He would roll over possums. Once, before i took him off leash, he damn near yanked my arm out of its socket when a roadrunner ran out into the path just in front of us. He didn’t love that walk. He was part of it, a master.

Checking it out.

Soon, i plan to take Billie on that one. But for now, we will stick to the tamer routes. Billie, by the way is a Catahoula mix, apparently there is some German Shepard in her. A Catahoula Leopard dog is also known as a Louisiana Swamp Dog, bred to hunt alligators. i believe it. Still Sarah has trained her to be the best obedient pet we have ever had.

The huntress.
Coming back on call (she knows the goofy guy has a treat).









Up the trail.
Down the trail.







An aroma of interest.
She’s telling me she is ready to go home.









The manzanita, growing wild in the Southwest corner, just add water










It was a good walk. We’ll do a long one soon. It’s good to remember.











A Dream; i Had a Dream

Since my daily “Writer’s Almanac” is gone, i have come to a new morning routine when i sit down in front of this infernal machine (oh, how i would love to return to the old Royal manual typewriter where the click of the keys and swoosh, that lovely mechanical swoosh of the return roller sounded like music, a percussion symphony to me, but although i admittedly am a romantic, i also am a relatively practical man as well — my parents and the Navy made me so — and this computer contraption allows easier, much easier editing, even though i am pretty careless about such things as grammar and editing; so i will continue to sit down each morning and stare at the magic light emanating from this addictive electronic wonder).

My new routine includes posting a “Murphy’s Law” item, which i pasted on to past calendars; checking my email and Facebook posts; and then reading Sean Dietrich’s email of his daily articles — i’m continually amazed at the amount of research he does to get good stories to report.

This morning, i read Sean’s article, and began to think about it:


It’s rather inspiring to think of good people with so little giving what they can and sometimes more than they can afford in helping others through acts of kindness or just some money. i would like to emulate the good folks in Sean’s stories, but i’m just a bit too lazy to go that far out of my way. After all, i have my own interests and my wife, my other loved relatives need security; so i don’t feel like i can afford it. Like most people i know, as my wife says, “paying yourself first.”

i’m also concerned about getting ripped off. i’ve had that happen in the past: Someone coming up to me, supposedly in dire straits, explaining their situation, and asking me to give them just a little bit of cash to help them fill their gas tanks to get to some place, provide a much needed meal, help them get a train ticket, convincing my gullible, wanting-to-help self to fork over the requested cash, only to realize, post scam, that i had been had, ripped off; even worse, fooled.

Then, i thought of my father. You see, back when the folks would come out every winter, long before south of the border became potentially deadly, we would cross the border at Tijuana for Mother to buy special things like glass animals, stained glass, and Mexican rugs for herself and others; and Daddy and i marvel at the thousands of shops, kiosks, tents, and street salesmen — once at a garden shop, he and i actually considered buy a ceramic, full-size replica of the creature from “The Creature from the Black Lagoon.” Our plan was to buy it and ship it to my brother with no return address. We would have done it, too, had not the shipping costs been about quadruple the cost of the statue.

But that’s another story. My recollection was from returning across the border on one of our adventures. We always parked on the U.S. side and walked across, returning the same way. Back then, the route to the border crossing for walkers was lined with all sorts of cheap goods sellers. Black velvet paintings of flamenco dancers and Elvis were very popular. Glass and stone jewelry and nicknacks were plentiful, and just about anything cheap and gaudy lined the path to the crossing. And near the end was a rather shocking number of beggars. Right before we entered the processing line, a mother, dirty and dressed in rags, pushed her daughter, probably around three-years old, toward my father. The little girl, wearing a soiled white dress and barefoot, had a sign asking for gum. Daddy reached into his pocket.

i admonished him to keep walking, explaining this was  just a means to get something from us, that actually giving them something would only encourage more beggars at the border. i knew. i knew because someone told me that. My father thought about my admonition, looked at the little girl with the big dark eyes and tear stains through the dirt on her face, dug into his pocket and gave her a quarter. The girl’s mother went super thankful and “Gracias” seemed to never stop as we proceeded to the border crossing. Me? i felt ashamed of my admonition and proud of my father.

But back to my thoughts on Sean’s article. As i read, i thought of my…what should i call it? philosophy? That sounds a bit too sophisticated for me. Okay, my ideas about life. i thought about my recent railings about pro sports. Tony Clarke, a San Diego native and a very good baseball player for the Arizona Diamondbacks who also had a cup of coffee with the Padres, is now the executive director of the Major League Baseball Players Association (you know: the union).

This week, Tony declared teams not paying the asking price for free agents this season suggested collusion by the owners and was detrimental to the integrity of the game. Tony was echoing Scott Boras intimation because Scott’s demand for his player, Eric Hosmer, had not been met, no one had signed for Scott’s asking price of $100 Million and a seven-year contract.

This is insane. No, no baseball player is worth one quarter of $100 Million, much less Scott’s asking price. This year’s minimum, MINIMUM salary for a major league baseball player through one season is $545,000. That’s not integrity. That’s sick. And of course, the owners are getting richer with crazy television revenue, seat prices escalating to absurdity, and so much more. The cheapest seats for two in the nosebleed sections of Petco Park run $46. Hot dogs are $4.00, peanuts are $2.00. The cheapest beer is $7.00. Even water is $2.50. Parking in decent places runs $20. It’s damn near impossible to go to a game with someone and come out spending less than $100, not counting the tickets.

Integrity? Everyone in MLB (and NFL, NBA, and NHL) lives in an insane world.

And just what if, what if, everyone of those financial clowns (after all, it has to be funny or i’ll cry), not just in sports, but in entertainment, corporate gluttony, political parties, and politicians themselves, quit trying to amass fortunes which should only be in cartoons and comic strips, and actually give some to individuals. And i’m not talking about Sean’s part-time truck driver and a night-shift security guard, a dad with two daughters, or John D. Rockefeller passing out dimes to the needy who passed his way. i’m talking about giving to the less fortunate till it hurts a little bit. Not through their appointed charity organizations where the CEO of the non-profits get salaries in the millions, but them making the effort to actually give someone something, face to face.

Won’t happen.

But maybe, just maybe after i have been thinking about it, i’ll start giving just a little bit more, face-to-face to someone in need.


The Old Sports Writer Succumbs…no, not like that: i know what you’re thinking

Well, i wrote this diatribe last week about the “stupid bowl.” i vowed i would not watch. It was a most excellent rant, even if i do say so myself.

My intentions were not just good, but superb.

i had decided i would do home projects in the morning and then go for a round of golf, figuring there would be no one on the course. i decided i would record the game because i knew Maureen wanted to watch the halftime show and the commercials. i liked the idea of being on the golf course during most of the game.

Mistake one. Then i asked Maureen if she would like to join me for golf, explaining my intention of recording the game for her. Surprisingly, she said yes.

Mistake two. Then, since we were playing and knowing my buddy Pete Toennies was not a big football fan, i called to see if he and Nancy would like to join us. To do that, i felt it necessary to get a tee time and got a 10:30 time. Subsequently, i found out Pete and Nancy were returning from Santa Monica after a visit with Pete’s mother. They couldn’t play as they wouldn’t get home until midday.

Mistake three. Then Nancy asked us if we would like to join them to watch the game, adding she had made chili and cornbread. Maureen loved the idea.

So i, this old curmudgeon of a former sports writer, succumbed, as in gave in, broke my vow not to watch.

i was not impressed…except for three things.

The commercials were okay, but i thought confusing and, except for a couple, not too funny. The halftime was all glitter, and i don’t think i understood one word of the lip sync. Maureen liked the dancing, but i would rather have seen it in a theater. Chris Collingsworth, whom i had come to appreciate as a color commentator, was absolutely awful, detracting from the game with his predictions of replay calls, and just being…well, like nearly all of the color commentators in professional sports. Unhappily for me, Al Michaels, one of the best play by play announcers in sport for the last half century just went along. Radio communication from coaches to players on the field is counter to all i love about sports. In short, i didn’t like any of the side shows to the game.

But, as i commented to Pete several plays into the first quarter, watching some incredible athletes perform at the highest level is always an enjoyable thing, like watching a ballet with the dancers doing awesome moves, like going to a symphony and absorbing incredible musicians create beautiful music, like going to a museum and standing in front of a piece of artwork and finding yourself breathless with awe at the talent. Yep. Incredible athletes.

And i must say watching on numerous occasions after a great play an Eagle or a Patriot player help an opponent up or patting the opposing player on the back was what i consider one of the most important examples of what sport should be.

And three? Well, it was one hell of a game.

Next year, i plan to make the tee time a bit later so i can miss the whole thing.


Random Thoughts Before the Stupid Bowl

Hear ye, hear ye. We have all come to the altar to worship the idols of what they call super on what used to be a holy day, but the whole concept, the playoffs extending the season beyond healthy for athletes, the hype, the hype, and oh, did i mention the hype, and what really isn’t all that super but really sort of stupid.

My wife says she will watch primarily to see the commercials.

i don’t like commercials. i like funny bits but not when there selling something. Just like i don’t like all of those product logos all over golfers and race cars because they are selling something, and i have yet to meet a product marketer who has offered to pay me anything for wearing their logo, and oh by the way, charge me more because they are paying the golfers, the race car drivers, and their agents so much they have to raise the price of the product i would buy if it wasn’t for the golfers and race cars wearing those logos.

So ain’t watching.

Don’t like six hour ball games…of any kind except maybe cricket, but i don’t understand that one so i don’t watch it either.

And halftime show? Razz ma tazz and all that ain’t jazz, just glitter and fireworks and besides that i don’t know one song ever sung by Justin Wooden Swamp…oh, Timberlake. Out of touch and glad of it.

i’m old. Don’t need such foolishness. Don’t like replays either, of which there will be a gump stump of in that six hour marathon of horse derves, beer, wine and other booze.

Football? February. Give me a break. The last football game every year should be on January 1. Period.

♦   ♦  ♦

Now if you have read much here, you know i have soured on pro not sports. It’s entertainment; it’s business; it’s even careers. But it ain’t sports. That doesn’t mean i don’t watch when they run under six hours and the hype doesn’t last two weeks.

Especially baseball. And this week, i watched a program that might tell you why. It was on the MLB Network. i don’t watch that either, but being in San Diego, i caught the news announcing it would be on the air. “MLB Presents: Mr. Padre.” It was a documentary about Tony Gwynn, his Baseball Hall of Fame career, his family, his warmth, and his allegiance to San Diego, refusing higher salaries even with pressure from the players’ union because he wanted to play in San Diego.

Of course, i’m biased, but if you want to see a documentary based on a good human playing the game he loved, then you should check this one out. The network is showing it several times a week over the next two or three weeks. i’m sure there are others, at least in the past, like Tony. But he truly was “Mr. Padre.” He identified with San Diego and with baseball, and all San Diegans, not just baseball fans, loved him. He was the way baseball should be.

It is a very well done, heartwarming documentary, not a local thing but done by Major League Baseball. i recommend it if you want to feel good…and just a bit sad Tony’s gone. i drink Alesmith’s  “.394” pale ale every time it’s available.

And if you don’t have the MLB network or care not to watch, here;s a great read from Jon Heyman of CBS right after Tony passed away: Good read.

♦   ♦  ♦

But today, Saturday, i’m trying to figure out if i should tackle some of the innumerable tasks around the house, write, or maybe, just maybe play golf…i’m pretty sure tee times will be available anywhere.