All posts by Jim

Mike’s Wait Is Over

Last night, i sat outside and hurriedly wrote of Mike Dixon’s passing. As i noted, it was a tough night.

i think i have corrected all of the errors that were originally in that post.

This morning, i began to consider how to deal with Mike not being there when i go home (or perhaps he will be there when i really go home). i returned to a poem i have posted here before when other friends and family have left for the other side if not too soon, sooner than i hoped. This poem is for me, written after observing my parents in their early nineties.

There is one less of us waiting tonight. So my wait will be more difficult. Hopefully, repeating this poem will make it a bit easier:

Waiting Grace

the old folks sit in the too warm room,
television images blink randomly,
the mute button silences the room
although they do not know as the hearing aids
lie on their respective tables with other
paraphernalia required for the elderly;
they sit knowing the time will come soon:
waiting grace.
Noble,
Sad,
All is right with the world.
They and the remaining few of their generation
know how to demonstrate
waiting grace.
No threat, no fret, no fear
shows in their countenance:
they do what they can and
what they can decreases perceptively daily,
faculties fade and with the fading,
the joys of their industry escaping slowly:
waiting grace.
They have endured the test of time when
times were harder and
simpler and
they hold to those codes of right and
simplicity and
goodness to the neighbor, friend and
to service:
waiting grace.

 

One of My Men

Gloria called  just after 8:00 p.m. PDT tonight. Mike Dixon’s number appeared on the screen of my phone. i was thinking Mike was going to give me an assessment of Vanderbilt football, basketball, or baseball when i answered.

When i heard Gloria’s quavering voice i knew before she told me that Mike died suddenly today. She told me she just wanted to be sure i heard this from her.

i don’t think i have my emotions in check enough to express my feelings about this news. Mike and i played sports either against each other or with each other from about 1956, perhaps earlier, until we spent our time on golf courses every time i came back home. And when we were there in June, we had lunch with Mike and Gloria at Five Oaks, laying out plans for when we would  come back home next.

i will be coming back for Mike, but it won’t be to play golf.

We began at Castle Heights the same year, 1958. I was an incoming freshman. Mike and Jimmy Hatcher transferred from Lebanon High School to Heights that fall as sophomores.

Mike and i played baseball together at Heights, against each other in Little League and the Babe Ruth League, and together in an uncountable backyard versions of the game, including whiffle ball adaptations where we had to use the stances of our favorite Pittsburgh Pirate players, then again for Lebanon’s American Legion team.

We were huge Pirate fans, and the story our celebration of their 1961 World Series win has been documented here before.

We played basketball on Height’s junior varsity, and somewhere around a half-million hours of pickup games at most gyms in Lebanon. At Heights, we would have others join us on in the Heights gym at lunch and after some sport practice or military drill for more pickup games. And more times than i can count, he and i would play one-on-one in that gym until Ms. Fahey, who lived in the apartment in the front of the gym, would kick us out and we would both get our just due for being late for supper at home.

We were teammates on the rather remarkable Texas Boot Company fast pitch softball team in our high school summers. And i followed him as sports editor of the Heights’ award winning newspaper, The Cavalier. We continued our discussion of sports journalism until just last week.

i will not expand on my stories about Mike here. I’m just a bit too raw to go that deep right now.

i have many close friends back home. Mike was one of the closest. He, Jimmy Hatcher, Earl Major, Mike Gannaway, Jimmy Gamble, and Lee Dowdy were my closest running mates at Heights. They are gone. Lee Dowdy and i are still here. “Town boys” they called us.”

It is not a good evening.

Mike, i love you. You are a good man.

 

A Prince I Missed

There are likely to be a number of posts like this one coming from me. Some, like this one, i may have posted before, but those earlier posts have either been forgotten or i liked the subject so much, i posted it again because i’m just too damn lazy to look up the old one and repost.

Summer, 1975. The USS Hollister (DD 783) was one of the destroyers in Destroyer Squadron 9, home-ported out of Long Beach. i was her chief engineer. The sea stories gathered in my time aboard, just shy of two years, are almost limitless. But this little radio  “wire note” exchange and what generated it remains one of my favorites.

The reserve squadron deployed in the summer of 1974 to Hawaii and back to its homeport. En route, the U.S. destroyers conducted exercises with the British Navy, notably the HMS Jupiter, a British Navy Leander class frigate.

Upon arrival, i took leave, and my wife Kathie and our two-year old daughter Blythe flew over. We had secured an old housing unit on the back side of Fort DeRussy, the U.S. Army’s “rest and  recreation” area on Waikiki. Our tin roofed house, complete with a momma cat, was adequate, which was all we needed as we spent a wonderful week on the beach and seeing the sights. It was quite rudimentary compared to the megaplex Hale Koa Hotel for military personnel that stands there now amidst the Hilton, Sheraton and Trump resort hotels. But boy, was it wonderful.

While we were enjoying our time, toward the end of our port visit, the Jupiter and DESRON 9 ships put together a picnic over on Pearl Harbor. i was not interested, but nearly all of the officers of the Hollister not on duty attended. There was the usual Navy picnic fare and lots of friendly competition.

The Hollister’s communications officer was Wendell Parker. He was very good at his job. He was also very gregarious. During the picnic, he met his counterpart on the Jupiter. They got along very well and spent nearly the entire picnic talking to each other.

His counterpart was Prince Charles.

The ships sortied together, standing out of Pearl Harbor. i was up to my neck in distillation plant problems (we called them “evaps”), another story. But as the Jupiter headed west and the Hollister with her sister ships turned toward Long Beach, the two comm officers traded this wire note:

It seems the prince possessed my kind of humor. i was sorry i didn’t get to meet him.

But you know what? i wouldn’t trade it for what i had:

Judy and Baby

It is after my underachieving Padres hung for a win in a crazy race for the last wild card spot that just shouldn’t be a part of baseball, engineered entertainment for money, and i find myself embarrassed for checking the scoreboards. It is quite a while after Maureen retreated to our bedroom to read a book on her kindle before falling asleep. The light is on so she is still working on completing her read. The animals are all put to bed.

i walked out to check the stars. They are still there in their place right along with Venus and Jupiter and Mars. So far, so good.

i began to wrap up when i stumbled across the post with the poem i wrote about Judy Collins a couple of years ago. It jarred another thought about her and another singer.

Back in the old days, the Subic Naval Station was a legendary spot for sailors, officers included. It was the doorstep to the bridge across “Shit River,” aptly named, to Olongapo, the city that was either the closest thing to Fiddler’s Green on earth, a modern reality of No Name City from “Paint Your Wagons,” or a den of iniquity. Probably a combination of the three and a bunch more. Wild until the U. S. of A. pulled out, and the world changed, at least in the Southwest Pacific.

There was this woman…Actually, there were two women.

Laverne Baker was one. She had become someone i adored when she came out with her 45 RPM “Jim Dandy,” even though i knew she wasn’t singing about me in 1956 when i was twelve years old. When she sang “I Cried a Tear” two years later, i was infatuated. In 1969, she was admitted to Subic’s Naval Hospital suffering from bronchial pneumonia contracted during a USO tour in Vietnam. According to Wikipedia, a friend suggested she stay in Subic as the director of the Marine’s NCO club on the base. She did. For 22 years until the base closed. If you were a good officer, you could be invited to the Marine NCO club, or if you were a sneaky officer, you could wiggle your way through the protocol to attend her singing her songs. i did that twice. i remained enamored, perhaps more so.

But the lady i’m relating to here was Baby. i do not know her last name. Everyone just knew her as Baby.

Baby was about five feet tall and to put it politely (i think) a bit rotund. But that young lady — actually, she was somewhere between 18 and 50. It seems like she was there forever, but i really don’t know. She was the stuff of legend. She sang. Lord, did she sing. She could cover anything. Incredible voice.

i first heard Baby sing at the Chuckwagon, the county music themed burger bar across the street from the more formal Subic “O” club. i was drinking a San Miguel while playing the slot machines just opposite the bar. The band in the dining area started up and Baby sang a Loretta Lynn song. Nailed it. i no longer can recall which of Loretta’s songs it was. And then Baby took me back. She sang Patsy Cline’s “I Fall to Pieces,” a song i loved so much i would play it amidst my rock ‘n roll songs on the WCOR top forty weekend shows.

i had not ventured from my slot machine and San McGoo, but then, i got up and walked around the wall of slot machines. She was in front of the band, a pretty woman in a mumu. She could flat sing, and boy howdy, she sang everywhere on that base. She sang at the Cubi Point (the aviator’s world) O’Club, and as i mentioned the Chuckwagon. She did not sing at the Quarterdeck, at least not when i was there. It was a small bar on the second deck of the Subic O’Club. They had a great jukebox and the waitresses would dance with the officers when they weren’t waitressing. But the Quarterdeck has too many stories of it’s own to delve into here.

But Baby was The Show in the main dining room, also ballroom of the Subic O’Club. The dining room was a vast place for formal dining. Great food. With a dance floor in the middle. One of our favorite songs of Baby’s in 1979/80 was “Send in the Clowns.” Stephen Sondheim wrote it and a grunch of folks sang it, but “Send in the Clowns” was Judy Collins’ song as far as i was concerned. And there in front of the dance floor ahead of the band was Judy Collins, about six inches shorter and about 25 pounds heavier, but if i closed my eyes, it was Judy Collins. That good.

The tables were full with couples who were stationed at the base and officers from the ships in port. The crazy perpetrators had their own table. Mike Peck, OW Wright, Pete Toennies, and yours truly. If i remember correctly, one of the more serious guys, Will Walls, was with us. It was December, just before we would spend Christmas in Hong Kong and New Year’s Eve and Day in Singapore as members of the staff for Amphibious Squadron Five. Bruce Brunn, the marine combat cargo officer could have been with us, but i don’t think so. Regardless, Baby was about half-way through her set. We knew one of the next songs would be “Send in the Clowns.” So the crazies plotted. Trouble.

As my song began, we slowly rose and moved to the side of the ballroom. When Baby reached the fourth stanza, she reached the lines “Send in the clowns / Don’t bother, they’re here. We waltzed, in line, around the dance floor.

As i recall (and i can recall just about anything, fact or fiction at this stage of the game as 42 years have rolled by, the O’clubs, the base, and Olongapo as we knew it are all gone), we received a standing ovation, along with Baby, of course, who stifled her laughter at us to get through the remaining lyrics.

Don’t know where Baby is. Judy is still around. Heard her sing “Send in the Clowns” at Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival in San Francisco about three years ago. She is still the best.

And when i hear “Send in the Clowns” by anyone. i laugh while loving it…

i guess i’m still a clown at heart: Send in the Clown. Don’t bother, i’m here.

The Current State of Customer Service, Nailed by Sean of the South

Once upon a time in the Southwest corner, i facilitated customer service training. It was fun. i think i might have made a little bit of an impact on creating satisfied customers for the firm who used my program. It was one of those times i could feel the click in the eyes go on when my trainees realized what customer service meant.

i’ve seen little of that kind of customer service since then and that was in the mid-90’s. In fact, it seems to be dwindling. Sean of the South’s experience is oh so familiar. And it’s worse, far worse, with “chats” and most, but not all, phone calls for customer service aren’t a great deal better because.

Thanks, Sean. You made me laugh and accept i’m not alone:

https://seandietrich.com/customer-service/

Booster

Maureen and i received our booster for the Moderna vaccine at Rite Aid yesterday afternoon. We both have sore arms and are fatigued today but believe it will be gone quickly.

We went ahead for several reasons. Neither one of us really want to catch COVID, especially at our age. If we do, we want the affliction to be as mild as possible, which of the people i know who have contracted COVID after vaccinations, the effects have been milder.

But the primary reason we went ahead, we want to do everything we can to protect other people. We wear masks in indoor settings outside the home. We also want to make those folks who are very concerned about contracting COVID to feel a little more comfortable.

Unlike some people who claim they know more than medical experts and scientists, we do not, and while we question some of the regulations, none seem to threaten us or people around us, so we go with it. We aren’t quite so into political games to believe it’s some plot of some government, especially ours, cause those folks just aren’t smart enough to pull off something that complicated. We don’t think anyone is going to turn into a cannibal or a vampire if they get vaccinated (although that might be an upgrade for some of those folks) and we are pretty sure women will still be able to become pregnant and deformed children will not be birthed because of the vaccine.

All of us certainly have the right to believe what we believe, but not to the extent it endangers others. We should not play games with that.

Especially for those who received the Moderna vaccinations, we wanted you to know we are glad we did and the post effects of the shot are mild.

A Nice Little Place for Breakfast, maybe later

Yesterday, i was going to write about my feelings as i waited for my wife. She had an early doctor’s appointment. i mean way early cause it was at 6:00 am. Although she groused about having to get up (she always grouses if she can’t sleep grunches of hours and has to arise before 8:00), she was actually happy as the last time she had an 8:00 appointment with this particular medical jail, it was over an eight-hour ordeal. Anyway (every time i write or say “anyway,” i think of my mother who used it to dismiss the subject at hand and move on to another), i was waiting for her and one of our go to eateries, and was going to write about how i enjoyed this particular place.

Maybe later.

You see, this morning, we didn’t go out for breakfast. i started my morning routine, early, even for me because i went to bed much earlier than usual. Why? Because i was tired. Don’t know why. But i listen to my body and at my age, my body is a non-stop gossip.

So i get up tp go through my morning routine and plan to add a couple of things. Productive or perhaps just fiddlin’ around? Depends on how you look at it, i guess.

Regardless, i went to my little cabin in the woods, which i don’t really have, but the garage serves that purpose in my life.

i noted the sun is rising later. It was dark throughout the house. i walked to the breezeway for the paper and stuff out of the long-lived refrigerator, which they don’t make no more as pointed out by one Danielle Boggs, but i guess the new ones are prettier in the kitchen, and it was dark, but as i emerged from the garage and walked to the driveway to retrieve my paper, which had been delivered by some old man in a late model car when he tossed it out the passenger side window and some ungodly hour long before i made it out and that always hacks me off because our newspaper, now printed in LA ’cause the local publishers valued money over community identity and now the sports scores are not included because the games ended after the deadline ’cause the papers have to printed before sent to down here and perhaps that is really why i favored afternoon papers in my newspaper days as the Nashville Banner and the Watertown (NY) Daily Times always had the complete scores in their editions. But that is another matter, and…

Anyhow, as i walked toward the plastic bagged newspaper, which is never tri-folded and delivered by a “paperboy” on his bicycle, one-speed, mind you, with a basket on the handlebars where the tri-folded papers were carried…oops…

Anyhow, i saw first light, real, no-kidding first light. Like on the bridge of a ship for the morning watch (0400-0800 but not really cause it was truncated due to the morning mess). You see (and man, did i see a lot of them), first light occurs about 45 minutes before dawn. It is truly first light. Like a band of lighter dark on the eastern horizon, gradually turning black to gray, brightening the sky, all of it before that old man sun does his rolling around the heavens all day.

It is a quiet time of day. Peaceful. Doves like it and announce it but they do not disturb the quiet. This morning, there was a different call, a plea, but repetitive. Not dove, not coyote, not owl. i imagined a big bird, or perhaps something like a fox. The sound didn’t disturb my quiet, which feels like i hear it. It is not a passive thing. This quiet feels like it covers the earth with its friend first light. There are no honks or sirens or screeches of brakes or slamming of doors or chatter of neighbors or televisions, radios or whatever blaring stuff, noise mostly.

It is just me on a driveway in Southwest corner suburbia watching first light in the quiet framing Mount Miguel into focus to the east, fading the stars into the depths of the heavens.

Most mornings, i just stand there rapt with first light, marveling at how i got here, where i came from.

i take a sip of my coffee from my last ship’s mug.

I am at peace.

And that, i think, is all i can hope for.

 

Something i Wish i Had Written

i went on my semi-power walk this morning, succumbing to my doctor’s advice not to run. “Too old,” he said. Probably right, but i did an old man’s jog for a tenth of a mile wishing i was running like i used to on the Coronado Beach from the Amphibious School, crossing Orange Avenue, on the beach to the air station’s security fence, turning around, and back, a distance just about six miles. Ran it every work day with Dave Carey for about six months until he retired (an education in itself, my friend: Dave was a POW; his thoughts about everything were always enlightening, still are). Then i ran pretty much by myself for three years. A lovely run. Note: for Dave, except for that part where they don’t have that stuff in Acapulco.

But i was wishing, walking, not running. So i think. i also have succumbed to listening to my music, what i’ve transferred to my song library, shuffling to get an assortment. Listening, walking, and thinking. Before it was just running, enjoying the world as it was, no interference, no earbuds.

i was thinking about how i was fiddlin’ around with writing something philosophical (ha, ha) about growing old and the meaning of life and all of the craziness that is roiling around this old earth, probably bored from watching repeat stupid on its surface.

Then this song came on. i heard it shortly after it came out when i played the demo during the “JJ the DJ, the Weekend Warrior,” top 40 music show on Saturday and Sunday afternoons out of WCOR AM in Lebanon, Tennessee, the bright spot on your dial (or something like that). i later bought the album in the Sasebo Navy exchange in early 1970 because i wanted to marry Susan Taylor, the lead singer who was also that beautiful woman on the album cover.

Anyhow, i was walking, stopped thinking, just listening. When the song ended, i thought there wasn’t any real need for me to wax philosophical anyway. i mean folks i know would either laugh or get up on some straw principle and beat me up.

So then i thought why not just put the links of songs on this site that have meant a special something for me during a rather gadabout life.

So here are the Pozo Seco Singers hitting pretty much all my notes.

Rest easy. The song that shuffled on right after “Time” was Little Johnny Taylor’s version of “Who’s Making Love” with the chorus lyrics of “Who’s making love to your old lady while you are out making love?” i don’t think that will make my philosophical song list…but man, it’s a great song.

 

Difficulty, a Good Laugh, Stillness

Been a while. Things happen. Some good. Some bad. Folks my age remember.

Catching up.

So, in my cloak of bouncing all over the place, this is a conglomeration of thoughts.

The dark has called me away for a while. i know, i know the dark is owned by me. i should control it. For the most part, i do. i tell myself bad to some degree happens to everyone. It’s inevitable. It’s life. Get up. Move on. Don’t let the dark catch you. Sometimes it does, at least sometimes it catches me. i get through it. Lots of experience. It makes it hard to write without whining. And i hate whining, although curmudgeons shine at whining.

Then, there was this other thing called a manuscript. It was mailed this morning to my editor, a princess. i finished the draft yesterday good enough to send to a princess. Oh, i know there will be lots more work: revisions, layouts, photos, etc., but it feels done. It only took about 36 years. Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings: A Memoir i call it.

And so the difficulties and the manuscript are handled, not gone, but handled.

i laid off for a while.

So it’s been a while. Hi.

And Southwest corner weather has been on my mind. Weird weather. Not disaster stuff like north of here where fire and smoke are literally destroying lives as folks have known it, or back home wet, or withering heat, or the northeast where tropical storms or hurricanes are wreaking havoc.

Southwest corner August has been weird. Clouds, humid, cool…er cooler. The marine layer, a denizen here in May and June has stuck around: Cloudy mornings, mist even, sun breaking in for several hours in the day to revert to cloud cover at night. 70’s. Dare i say pleasant? Two weeks ago, it wasn’t cool. It was hot, muggy. Walking a golf course, i had a case of mild heat exhaustion. Would have been scary except i knew and i knew what to do. i mean in Mission Valley, it was in the high 80’s with about 75% humidity. But i am older and it got to me.

So i shouldn’t complain. i remember two-a-days, and golf bargains.

Two-a-days were pre-season practices in mid-August two weeks before school started after Labor Day. Those practices were on the field down Hill Street from Castle Heights, ’59-’61. Heavy cotton jerseys over tee shirts, shoulder pads, cotton football pants with hip pads and knee pads underneath, high-top leather football shoes with rubber cleats and helmets that didn’t quite fit and were echo chambers for good hits. 95-95 we called it: 95 degrees and 95% humidity. And you were a sissy (and i cleaned that up considerably being conscious of the politically correct forces among us) if you drank any water. And to “help” you, you swallowed salt pills by the dozen. Why did we think that was the way to go about it?

Then years, decades later, there were the golf bargains. In the desert. It’s Jim Hileman’s fault with a little bit of help from Mike Kelly. You see in the late ’80’s or early 90’s, they talked me into being the fourth of a foursome to take advantage of golf in the desert, like in the sprawling conglomerate in Coachella Valley of Palm Springs, Palm Desert, Desert Falls, Indian Wells, La Quinta, and Indio. In July and August. Great green fees back then in the summer. Essentially your cart fees, which were significantly lower than today’s taxi fares and car rentals, like $20  or less unlike what they charge for carts now. Great deal. Did i mention the weather in July and August hovers around 120, give or take five or ten degrees? Oh yeh, the humidity is somewhere south of 30%, usually way south.

And being brilliant macho men, we would play two rounds daily for three days, with 18 holes on the coming and going days. Then, Marty Linville and i started doing it with a legendary drive over the San Jacinto and Santa Rosa Mountains in my RX7 through what then was a small sod farm and horse ranch area called Temecula, which is now a megalopolis of its own, and we drove up and up and down and down with switchbacks and blind curves and never-used pull-out lanes for slower vehicles and the Paradise Valley Cafe where the original owner, Pistol Annie, toted two six-guns on her hips and wore them into the ’60’s before we headed down the continuous switchbacks into that Coachella Valley, and i shall not tell you of the case of beer in the cooler in the back, which dwindled rapidly accompanied by the number of pit stops sometimes in the aforementioned pull-out lanes and other off the road spots until Marty joined our foursome, and it remained brutal for oh, about, 15 years or so, and of course, we still did it, but slower in the desert heat.

And i’m complaining about 85 degrees and 75% humidity?

Which brings me to stillness.

i started to make some comments about religion and my beliefs, but my brother is much better qualified to discuss this kind of stuff if he wishes to do so.

i simply want to tell you about something i’ve experienced. It has come upon me in the last several years. It was not something i tried or even intended to try. It has not been on a yoga mat or when humming or chanting.

Sometimes, not often, but sometimes, i wake up early in the morning. Okay, early damn near every morning. i’m not sleepy, just relaxed, considering when i should get up and become productive. Just laying there in the bed trying not to do anything to disturb the sleeping fawn at my side. Then occasionally with no planning on my part, it comes upon me. Don’t know how to describe it exactly. Stillness. Nothingness (Thanks, Jean-Paul Sartre). Peace. Calmness. i think of nothing. It’s almost like floating. Oh yeh, goodness.

i hope everyone who might read this, and actually, anyone i know, experiences this stillness. It makes me okay. It focuses me on caring about people, especially the ones i love. It gives me peace. i would like everyone to feel that.

Thanks for putting up with my ramblings.

 

 

An Event Long Anticipated

It’s been a while, but it’s finished…at least, the first phase.Steel Decks and Glass Ceilings: A Memoir goes to a rather exceptional editor, Jennifer McCord, whom i met through my gifted and successful novelist sister-in-law, Carla Neggers and my brother Joe.

It is my thoughts about the USS Yosemite (AD 19) during her deployment to the Indian Ocean in 1983-84. She was the first U.S. Navy ship with women as part of ship’s complement to spend extended out of port, at sea time when the Women at Sea program was in its infancy.

The work, of course, has just begun. But it is a huge step for me. After all, it’s been in the making for thirty-eight years and thirteen days.

i can guarantee it won’t be exactly what you think it will be because it isn’t what i thought it would be, but i do think it will be interesting.

It will likely be published in the first part of 2022.

i’ll keep you posted.

Right now, i’m going to rest for a few days.