All posts by Jim


i will not mention names here. In a way, names aren’t important. Although this name is very important to me because of our shared experience and how we think alike.

My only clue to the name is the two of us met tonight in a Scottish pub called Fourpenny House in, of all places La Mesa, a pretty neat place for a suburb of San Diego.

Amongst the “Smoked Auld Fashion,” some ales, a Scotch egg, and fish and chips, we talked of many things: the usual state of the world, change, life, family, the past…ahh, the past. We remembered a sea we had been on when being on and under the sea was different. i remain convinced, in spite of curmudgeoning (my word) creeping into my old age…okay, not creeping: crashing in like the curmudgeon in me owns the place. We talked of many, many things.

It was a wonderful evening. The kind of evening this old folk would like to have with many, many friends in a world from far back in time. This is not a knock on now time. Now time is different. It is unfair of many of us, if not duplicitous, to accuse now of being worse than then. After all, we had something to do with now being what it is because of then. But now is changed, different, not bad or good, different.

We talked about that, and, i think, resolved it in our own minds.

It was a good evening. When i got home and related the news of my evening to my wife, i sat down and thought of the evening.

It occurred to me friendship, relationships to love ones are more powerful, more important than all of the other things in this world. And as long as that is most important to most of the people in this world, we are going to be all right.

Now, i’m going back in time tonight. The rain in the Southwest corner has made it cool enough for my first fire on the hearth in the living room. i will read some Robert Penn Warren and Wordsworth, two sources of my strength and belief in us.

Most folks east of here have gone to bed. Perhaps they will read this tomorrow. Regardless, i would like to convey to folks still up and those friends and family who will see this after they wake tomorrow morning, the way i feel right now, with a song i find…hopeful:

and i believe in you.

An Evening Sublime, Not

It had been a good day, at least up until supper.

No, no, the supper wasn’t bad. Maureen made fish and shrimp tacos. They were tasty with a nice glass of white wine.

The problem was i turned on the television. You see, we began pulling out the TV trays for the evening meal when the Padres play baseball, and it has become somewhat of a tradition to eat supper on the television trays and watch something of interest.

Now, i shun television news for the most part, but i do watch the local weather. And since there were no sports events on that interested me. i decided to watch the local news.

And that is when i began to wonder about a bunch of things. Like why would i even consider breaking my vow to not watch television news.

The first news item was about the weather. As predicted, a storm front passed through in the early afternoon bringing much needed rain to the area. Rain is predicted for the next two days. There was a five or six minute segment about the rain, the forecast, and how alarmed the citizens of San Diego County were, in panic in fact, over all of this torrential rain. How much? Well, down here in the Southwest corner of the Southwest corner, we got just a wee bit more than it takes to wet the streets. There were some places in the highlands north and east of us that got as much as two inches. Panic, total panic. Most of the non-weather part of the segment was at an auto parts store where folks were frantically buying windshield wipers. Then they had this guy filling up sand bags and putting them in his truck…for two inches of rain. They interviewed a woman who was afraid her house would drown…or something like that.

Now i spent the most of this segment laughing.

Then came the big news. Some student and mother of another student have sent requests to the California State University System demanding bunk beds be removed from the dorms at San Diego State University. The station kept interviewing students who were very concerned about safety. You see, a student had gone to a fraternity party a couple of weeks ago, got drunk, went back to his dorm room, climbed into his bed, the top bunk, and fell out, hitting his head and killing himself. First, the university put all of the fraternities on suspension to investigate possible hazing. That seems to have been forgotten. The big deal now is how bunk beds are unsafe, apparently because drunks can fall out of them — i instantly was reminded of a daily entry in my old “Murphy’s Law” desk calendar: “Paul’s Law: You Can’t Fall Off the Floor” — even though all of the bunk beds at SDSU have been certified by the state fire department and are inspected twice a year.

Then, the next item shifted to my neck of the woods. There has been about a three-month fight over the Chula Vista Library. Someone, i don’t know who, thought it would be a good idea once a week to have drag queens read children’s stories to children at the main library. Now, it might surprise you, but there have been protests. And the protests have produced anti-protest protests. And the city, concerned about public safety, called out the city police for security at the protests and anti-protests in front of the library (i’m guessing they didn’t measure up to library quietness). Ah, then the police billed the city for $40,000 for security services. Some folks think the protestors and anti-protestors should have to pay the bill. Others think…oh hell, i don’t know what any of them think…if they do.

And i am still in amazement those were the three lead stories in the 6:00 News.

Before they went to the next segment, i changed the channel to watch the end of “Snowy River.”

Good choice.

Late November in the Southwest Corner

We’ve had Santa Ana conditions for the last couple of days: dry, winds off the desert, and highs approaching 90, not bad, but around here, dry is the operable word of worry this time of year.

Tonight, they are predicting “torrential rains.” Unusual. In past years, we expected about one month of rainy weather per year, sometime between November and March, but the torrential stuff was usually in the first couple of months of the new year.

But if one wonders why i like living in the Southwest corner. Here is one reason from my dawn amble around our house:

There’s this iris in early bloom somehow in the middle of our day lily plant outside our kitchen:

And then there were Maureen’s roses on the front’s side yard:

Oh yes, the dawn sky with its wisps of pink and gray hanging over Mount Miguel was almost as spectacular as the sunset over the Pacific last night. i was too enthralled with both to take pictures. Maybe another awful day in the Southwest corner, i’ll do that.

Snake Oil

i am not afraid of snakes. i have been around cottonmouths, water moccasins, southwest rattlers, cobras, and even some weird dude snakes in northeast Florida, which i could not identify yet knew they were poisonous by their eyes being on the side of their heads,  not forward. No, i’m not afraid of snakes. Just use good sense if i am around them.

But i am, most definitely, afraid of snake oil.

It occurred to me over the past few days, i am, this country is, awash in snake oil. I am afraid.

Growing up, in case you haven’t figured it out, i loved westerns. i loved them so much, i continue to use the terms “oater” to capture the essence of the genre. I love them still and have discovered the Starz network has a “Westerns” category with many of the great “B” oaters in the library. In fact, there seems to be at least one hundred Hopalong Cassidy movies there. I plan to watch all of them when Maureen and Sarah are not in the house. i even am considering setting up a theater in my garage workshop to watch oaters, complete with fountain cokes and popcorn (and one quarter for admission), only to be watched in the afternoon to honor the Saturday matinees at the Capitol and Princess theaters in Lebanon, Tennessee in years gone by.

In a great number of those oaters, there was a scene or two where some snake-eyed yahoo would come to town in a painted up wagon, stand atop the wagon bed, and sell snake oil.

A small crowd would gather round and listen to the yahoo proclaim this snake oil was a miracle cure for what ailed you, whatever ailed you, and if someone would purchase it, it would cure gout, pneumonia, allergies, gunshot wounds, whooping cough, even snake bites, and bring about world peace. It would always turn out the yahoo’s miracle cure was a syrup consisting of perhaps honey, vinegar, a good dose of rot gut whiskey, and maybe some spices to make it taste a little better.

The snake oil never worked and some duped settler would demand his money back. Eventually, the snake oil salesman either would be ridden out of town on a rail or perhaps, tarred and feathered before being chased out in just his red long johns (and i still laugh when i think of him awkwardly running toward the wide open range in his long johns).

Well now, it seems, snake oil is everywhere, permeating our society, actually running it. And everybody is buying it like it’s going out of style. Well, not everybody. i ain’t bought it and don’t intend to. i am still afraid of snake oil.

It seems we don’t sell products or services anymore. We sell marketing and reader/listener/watcher/target victim statistics, and all those folks standing around the snake oil wagon are buying it. By the ton. We are convincing us to buy something without having something to sell. We sell stuff so we can make more money, not make money by selling products and services. This system permeates our world. As one very shaky “business development” guy asked when i also was in the gig of military contracting, we are all “selling smoke.” It’s a shell game.

Hello. It’s snake oil.

Some yahoo somewhere came up with the idea we could make money by not having a real person answer the phone and providing us a phone tree connection that makes poor Charlie on the MTA look like a quick commuter. Sometimes i think the purpose is to piss me off enough i will hang up and not use any of the service or go to the website text where it will take me about ten times as long to get to anyone who happens to be headless and voiceless and never quite figures out what i really want.

Snake oil.

And politics. Yeh, that’s snake oil. Everybody claiming they know best and they are going to take care of your problems and make you happy with no worries by making it a hell of a lot less happy for all of those folks you don’t agree with. And all those folks on the other side are heathen and worshippers of the devil. Oh, and in the process, they are set up for life and play the role and probably don’t give a damn because they and their families are set for their lives and the lives of their offspring. And that’s all sides, all points on the political spectrum.

Snake oil.

Look, no government system is going to work if the folks keep screwing it up. The one we’ve got had the best chance, but it turns out people running it from the start had their own agendas while they created a wonderful dream and one of the few that would work. One many of our citizens now won’t buy into because:

It’s snake oil. They turn the dream upside down.

And no politician or website or corporation or attorney is going to make your life work the way you want it. They are selling making it easy, making it not hurt YOU.

Snake oil.

As my friend and former POW, Dave Carey, once said, “Life ain’t supposed to be easy.” It’s life.

The key to having a good life is having good relationships with people because you are willing to go more than halfway. If you go more than halfway and it doesn’t work, it’s time to look for new relationships. And whatever it is we are doing, it ain’t easy and never will be.

We aren’t perfect. People having difficulty with each other is part of the game. We need to work on that, and as my friend Mary (Mary, i apologize because i can’t recall your last name right now and am too lazy to look it up) in a program for facilitating a new auto selling program) once said, “You can always say, ‘I’m sorry.’” We make mistakes.

Hopefully, we aren’t selling snake oil.

And “easy” ain’t the answer. Working at something is a good thing. In fact, working at something feels good.

Money ain’t the answer. It’s snake oil. Oh, it helps, and i wish i had enough to do all of the things i want to do, go to all of the places i want to go, and to some extent make my life work better, more effectively, but not easier. Ain’t gonna happen.

Money seems to have become some status symbol, some misconstrued measure of power and fame and status. BS. The snake oil salesman made a goodly amount of money before the settler town folk found out it was garbage. Found out that bozo was selling snake oil. They wanted to believe it worked, but they found out.

Snake oil.

Money is effectively ruining sports. i was effusive when sports contests i wanted to see became available in mass on television or TV’s successor. But the rhythm, the beauty, the joy of a game or a meet has disappeared. Now it’s a circus of replays, talking heads never stopping, telling you how, why, and what is wrong with everybody, and how they could do it so much better, and the halftimes of marching bands and majorettes and the Texas A&M Military Marching Band, have given way to ex coaches, athletes, and trained snake oil salesmen known as sports media journalists sounding more like a bunch of old women at a quilting bee (and the latter is much better) babbling, crowing, whining, over analyzing, and talking ad nauseum off point. It’ no longer sports.

And now, the coaches aren’t in it for the players. They are in it for the fame, the glory, and, of course, the money. The athletes themselves are selling snake oil as well. They no longer, in spite of their protestations, play for the love of the sport, taking one for the team. It’s the money, either right now or in the future.

Snake oil.

Okay, i’ve had my rant. I needed it. i will get back to my life, and i will enjoy it. You see, i am old enough to have seen plenty of snake oil salesmen fail in oaters. And i am old enough, i don’t have to buy snake oil. And i don’t plan to.

I do worry about the next generations of my family and friends having to deal with snake oil because if they keep selling it and the people keep buying it, the next thing down the road ain’t going to be pretty.

Snake oil.

i wonder if i could get Hoppy to take ‘em on.

one hundred miles at sea

i wrote this in December 1970 on the East China Sea as my tour of taking ROK troops to Vietnam and back on USNS ships was winding down. It was included in my book of poems, A Pocket of Resistance: Selected Poems, under the title “Morning at Sea.” Something just moved me as i came across it again this morning to post it here.

one hundred miles at sea
this morning,
i saw a gull
flapping white
against the tremolo wind,
whitest i’ve ever seen;
the gull was captured
in a prism of time
from which i shall soon escape
to watch and listen
for mockingbirds.

Close Call: Near Collision At Sea

Please bear with me. i’m reliving my past. This time, it was sponsored by the Facebook group, US Navy Gearing Class Destroyers. The admin guy for the page posted photos of radio central aboard the USS Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr. (DD 850), which continues to be restored as a museum in Fall River, Massachusetts. A shipmate from my first ship, USS Hawkins (DD 873), Gary McCaughey, commented and added a photo of him as a second class radioman, ET3 Mike Rebich, and RMSN Michael Jury  in the Hawk’s radio shack in 1969.

i began to comment on the post, but decided i wanted to post my thoughts here because it is part of my story for my grandson Sam. i began with a question for Gary:

Gary, were you on another, ship, like a cruiser before the Hawk?

USS Hawkins (DD 873), circa 1969

Hawkins barely missed a collision with the oiler in rough weather that autumn (i believe it was autumn, October perhaps). i remember talking to a second class (i think) radioman in the radio shack afterwards. i’m wondering if it was you.

i had the 20-24 bridge watch and had the conn during an exercise for a sub testing a new streaming sonar array system. The oiler had replaced another FRAM, which had engineering problems.

The Hawkins had problems of her own as en route (i recall the exercise was in the op areas northeast of Newport, Rhode Island) a freak wave curved around a port side weather deck bulkhead and dumped at least 50 gallons, probably more onto the after switchboard (hmm, i think i’ve written of this before) requiring the damage control gang (LTJG Nemethy was the DCA) to run emergency electrical cables throughout the ship for the remainder of that time at sea.

The Hawkins and the oiler had made several runs on different patterns. Each ship’s CIC and bridge would work outmaneuvering board solutions for the designed run toward the sub’s location with a turn out as we neared the center of the plot, over the sub.

The next run would produce a CPA a bit closer than the others. i asked Captain Max Lasell (i think he had made captain by then) to remain on the bridge instead of going down to watch the movie in the wardroom, adding i would call the wardroom to have them hold the movie’s start until he arrived. Captain Lasell agreed.

For this run, the oiler did the calculations and ran the pattern correctly but apparently executed the maneuver a couple of minutes late. As i realized we were close to in extremis with CBDR, i shouted “The captain has the conn,” and he took over while i made sure his orders were understood and executed immediately. With the captain’s  emergency maneuvering, the oiler passed in front of us, port side to, by about fifty yards. i remember looking up and seeing their pilot house.

After the near collision, Captain Lasell and i discussed what happened as he sat in the captain’s chair on the port side. We decided i would have done everything he did although i was not sure i would have ordered the port engine all ahead flank. we weren’t sure we would have collided if i had retained the conn, but we knew it would have been closer.

After the watch, i went to radio to pick up my radio messages. The second class told me he had been on a cruiser that had a collision. We talked for about ten minutes before i went down for midrats. To put it mildly, it had been a bit more exciting than i would have preferred. i had learned some valuable lessons i would use in future close calls.

After my talk to the second class radioman (perhaps Gary), the possibility of what could have happened sunk in. It took me while to go to sleep that night.

This was written in Navy “shipese.” If you would like an explanation, just let me know.

quick draw jack

i wrote this in 1991. Reading it tonight, i would like to proclaim i have never used any drugs. i suspect i rewrote it in 1991 from something i had written earlier, perhaps in my Newport, Rhode Island days, which seemed to spur my thoughts in an…er, independent direction. As i read it tonight, i kept thinking about the grad student who taught my spring class of English 101 at Vanderbilt. She was tall, rather gangling, and the thing i remember most about her is her wearing those sweat pad things on her arm pits underneath her blouse . She demanded we find symbolism in poems, which i thought was a bit unfair to the author. i’m guessing she became a college English professor and has written a number of scholarly books and a couple of major novels. i do not remember her name. But i still think poems are what the author intended them to be, and your interpretation is yours.

quick draw jack
got sacked
by a damsel in disguise;
she blew out his eyes;
fallen arches
on skid row tree
plumbed down
on jack’s head;
not sacked,
he’s dead;
sally jean
was the girl
who wore her ankles high,
never did deny
her lack of coy,
which did annoy
the horde of roaring thousands
eyeing for the goal line
quick draw jack
was dead;
the green went six ahead;
quick draw was sacked,
not dead.

Twenty-Two Hundred

i have written, probably ad nauseam for most of you, of  how the sea captivated me on my third class midshipman cruise in 1963. Last night, in my continuous and fruitless effort to organize and reduce the piles of paperwork in my home office, i found the below: a poem i had written soon after that experience while still aboard the USS Lloyd  Thomas (DD 764).

twenty-two hundred

twenty-two hundred,
the destroyer was running dark:
moonless night, blankets of stars covering
the black of the heavens;
wind strafed the 01 weather deck,
caressing my face with her warm, soft arms;
sailors had hit their racks;
i tarried at the lifelines, port side,
for why? i don’t know;
i was utterly alone amidships
on a grey warrior,
herself so purely alone on the boundless sea;
perhaps my vigil beyond taps
was just a whim of mine;
held me aloft
the sea spoke to me,
taking a part of my heart
with her.

The Atlantic
Summer, 1983

“All i Have to Do Is Dream”

This was fun. When it began, i queried the Facebook group, “If you grew up in Lebanon (Tennessee) you remember…” about verifying the name of the “Tasty Shop.” i’ve had about thirty comments with tales of the Tasty Shop and other memories shared about growing up there in the 1950’s. Thanks to all of you, and especially Susan Smithwick Felts who recalled the “suicide” cokes.

It was 1958 at the Tasty Shop when i first heard this song.

You can listen if you want by going to this link:

It was the spring of my eighth grade year at Lebanon Junior High, the old high school building on the corner of High Street and North Cumberland (US 231 North). i’m pretty sure i had been to a Saturday matinee, an oater of course, with a cartoon and a serial (Rocket Man or Lash Larue?) and, as usual, wandered in the Tasty Shop next to the Capitol Theater and, if i had another dime, fruitlessly try to win a game at the pinball machine. It was a high cost to fail considering the movie ticket was a quarter and the theater coke was a nickel and the popcorn was a dime.

It was then i heard that song…and i dreamed.

i had been in pre-teen love since being in Mrs. Major’s fourth grade class on the second floor of the new wing addition to McClain School on West Main Street between Tarver and South Hatton (where Townley Johnson, Bill Cowan, Henry Harding, several others, and i would go to the boy’s restroom and see if we could pee a stream the length of the urinal).

When the Everly’s put this dream song on vinyl, i was in  the throes of my angst created by pubescence, testosterone building like a Pontiac-Star-Chief-three-two-barrel-carburetor-engine-pumping lovelorn heartache (and perhaps losing at the urinal peeing game), and then someone plunked a nickel in one of the table jukebox machines with the Formica top and the red faux leather benches while i drank a “suicide” fountain coke, thinking i was a cool dude, and that nickel machine feeder picked the Everly’s new top forty hit. The lilt of the Everly’s harmony ignited all of my angst, making that suicide coke do strange things to my innards.

But that was long ago, and almost everything in this story is gone. But still, all i have to do is dream.

i often dream of a small town in Tennessee with a square at the center of town life (which is now beginning to stir to life again with renovation, i hear) where you didn’t lock your car anywhere anytime; and you didn’t lock your house except when you went to bed; and the children walked to and from school from the first grade on until high school; and autumns were crisp and golden and rust-red, brown, and yellow; and you could smell the wind; and the girls wore skirts and blouses or dresses and black and white saddle oxfords and were put on a pedestal by the boys; and many of the town-folk went to the stadium down the hill on Friday nights to watch the football team in the chill of the autumn evening; and the next day, many folks went up  another hill on the “western border;” and the military marching band on that hill played Sousa songs while their team clashed on the field Saturday afternoons; and the cadets handed out autumn mums to those beautiful young women; and worship was every Sunday and several other days; and almost everyone went to church, sometimes all day Sunday; and the churches rang with organ and hymns (except for some churches who didn’t believe in that instrument music thing)  when the cadets marched in the streets on those Sundays in their starched and pressed uniforms in formation to those churches to sit in their section and march back to that hill again while the other church goers would go out to Winfree’s Restaurant, which was later turned into a pub and had a shuffleboard table but they didn’t call it a pub, out where West Main turned into the Nashville Pike, and other restaurants; or they would go home to a big Sunday dinner where the normal biscuits of the other days would give way to dinner rolls; and a gelatin salad would replace the lettuce and sliced tomato; and ham was a treat, but it was baked, not salt-cured country ham (that was for weeknights cause no decent human could have Tennessee country ham without biscuits and red-eye gravy) and, of course, some incredible dessert like banana pudding or chocolate pie with a meringue frosting; and all was served on fine china, the special heirloom silverware, and crystal in the dining room with other family members joining; and all of the women would contribute to the cooking; and the young-un’s old enough would wash, dry, and put away the dishes while the adults sat around and told the stories of the town, and it all paled to those young sirens calling me, or rather me dreaming again of them calling me; and making “All I Have To Do Is Dream” my anthem.

But even then, that world was a dream. The youths of then were shielded from the realities i will not speak of here because my dream was real, and i will not allow it to be sullied by the world as it was/is.

Because all i have to do is dream my world of then has the possibility of becoming a reality in the future.

But not now. No, not now.

“Murphy’s Law”

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

Robert’s Axiom: Only errors exist.
Berman’s Corollary to  Robert’s Axiom: One Man’s error is another man’s error.
 Goofy guy’s corollary to Berman’s Corollary to Robert’s Axiom: A politician’s error is his or her opposition’s data.