All posts by James Jewell

A Ride Down Another Memory Lane

This morning, i shared a photo of Col. JB Leftwich i had put on Facebook five years ago. The link attached to the memory doesn’t work. It was a Lebanon Democrat work and apparently, the new owners of the newspaper did not transfer older editions with Coach’s columns and mine. The below is my column from the bad link in the . As i said, i wish i could sit down with him on that back porch room and talk to him, with one of Glen Ed’s dirty martinis of course, and discuss the state of journalism, especially print journalism, and sports. He inspired this column:

Notes from the Southwest Corner: A ride down another memory lane

SAN DIEGO – After six months of pretty frenetic travel, my wife and I are back in the Southwest corner for what could be as much as three months.

I am not sure what to do with myself.

There are all sorts of things I need to do. This retirement thing is so full of medical checkups, administrative requirements, honey-do’s, home projects, keeping track of family and friends, and, of course, golf. Then, there is this column I write every week. I feel like the Haigha, the March Hare in “Alice in Wonderland,” running hither and yon yelling “I’m late, I’m late.”

As I mulled over all of this last week, I also attacked my “to-do” list. One item was to ensure my old files, contacts, and ticklers were not required from my last employer, Pacific Tugboat Service. Thursday, I gathered up my laptop and headed toward the bay.

As I drove down my hill, I decided to bypass the freeways even though I was late enough to miss the dreaded Southwest corner commuter traffic. I wanted to drive the roads that have been part of my life on and off for forty years. I took the back roads.

As I turned down my alternate route, the back way as we used to say, I thought of JB Leftwich, “Coach” as I and other journalists from Castle Heights called him. He wrote a beautiful column for this newspaper about 40 years ago. His path led from his home on Castle Heights Avenue through a winding route to the Methodist church, then on East Main next to the post office. Coach reflected on what used to be at various sites along his route.

Coach’s route was two miles. Mine was close to 13…so I drove. But I reflected on what used to be much like Coach must have done on his hike.

I headed northwest from Chula Vista to National City. Both were sleepy little residential bedroom communities when I first came to the Southwest corner. Both still have small pockets of small homes, typical of houses built in the 1950s. Chula Vista has grown into a major city in its own right and continues with continual development of the 100,000-acre ranch once owned by the Scripps family. National City is auto dealerships and industrial businesses with those residential pockets decaying and slowly giving ground to commerce.

When I reached the waterfront, I turned north on Harbor Drive. The Naval Station’s southern piers used to be for the Mothball Fleet. Decommissioned ships, mostly destroyers from World War II, silently held vigil over that end of the bay. They had been weather proofed for a possible later call to action. No one was on the piers except for a lone guard.

Later, the mothball fleet was mostly scrapped with a few moved to other locations. The Mothball Fleet is now located in Philadelphia, Pa.; Bremerton, Wash.; Suisun Bay, Calif.; and Pearl Harbor. Active ships, mostly amphibious ships moved to the southern piers. My favored route to work 30-40 years ago was through the back gate, opened only for a few hours at the beginning and end of the workday. The route was not well known, and I could slide in and out while avoiding the mass of traffic at major gates.

Driving north, I shrugged. Modern has replaced shabby. Training buildings, well-appointed maintenance facilities, and a dental command are where old boats and landing craft were strewn haphazardly in weedy lots on the “dry side,” inland from my route. Now the gates to the “wet side” are modern, expensive technical security wonders. Base security civilians and “aquaflage” uniformed security Navy personnel man the gates. Sharply dressed marines with snappy salutes were the sentinels back when.

Officer, chief, petty officer, and enlisted clubs have been replaced by a few and little-used “all-hands” clubs. The gate itself touts the new Navy. Just past the entrance is roundabout with a an impressive flag display.

The Navy has changed. Like it’s surroundings and entrances, today’s Navy is more efficient; more technically savvy; in its way, more pin-pointedly lethal; safer; and more politically correct. Until my latter years on active duty, it was ribald; labor intensive; a work hard, play hard bastion of…well, sailors being sailors. Today it is more a social engineering system, embroiled in political positioning and using weapon technology “platforms.”

In truth, it is a much better Navy. On my drive of memories, I accepted I liked the old Navy better.

Murphy’s Law

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

The Ultimate Principle: By definition, when you are investigating the unknown, you do not know what you will find.

Goofy guy’s question concerning The Ultimate Principle: When investigating and you find the unknown, how will you know you found it?

Night Garden

have you ever walked in a garden
before the dew fell on the roses,
after the lights in the house were out
and
the world was quiet
and
the stars were dancing with the planets?
have you ever stopped to listen
to the sounds of silence in the garden and beyond
when there are no lights in the house
and
there are whispers from the stars dancing with the planets
and
the moon is the smiling chaperone in the heavens?
and
if you have walked in the garden at night
and
listened to the sounds and the whispers from the sky,
have you forgotten?

i almost wrote a lecture here about being locked into your role
because if you are old and locked into to your role,
you have forgot about walking in the night garden
or
you are a youth
on a quest that does not bear consideration
of anyone who disagrees,
which demands you could never walk in the night garden
but
that is for you to decide, not me.
because

i still walk in that garden at night
before the dew falls on the roses,
after the lights in the house are out
and
the world is quiet
and
i still stop to listen
to the sounds of silence in the garden and beyond
and
i still hear the whispers from the stars dancing with the planets
and
i see the moon smiling as the chaperone of the heavens?
and
i still refuse to lock myself into a role
or
pursue a quest that forbids
my walking in the garden at night
and
hearing the sounds of silence and beyond
and
the whispers of the stars dancing with the planets
and
see the chaperone moon a’smiling
and
it is night
and
the garden, the sounds of silence, the stars, the planets, the moon
beckon.

Boots On

i am trying to collect my thoughts. Old days of an old salt  are resurfacing, and i am trying to tame my feelings running amok with the fire on the USS Bon Homme Richard (LHD-6)  and watching “Greyhound” tonight with Maureen. i wrote this in what was both one of the darkest hours of my life and when i realized there was so much more, so much more. It was in 1978 at Texas A&M when i wrote the below: The ships are no longer “a thousand miles away,” but visible from my hill at the Naval Station, San Diego, three miles as the crow flies. One is still burning. i leaped to fault the current Navy two days ago, and i am ashamed of being such a hypocrite. And those ships, although much closer are even further away from me right now.

Boota on

no longer do i have a ship to steam;
the oceans upon which i sailed are
more than a thousand miles away;
my life is no longer entwined
with courses, currents, tides
and
coarse men of the sea;
academia flourishes here:
alive and well.
professors stalk truth
behind their horn rims in cow country,
walk the pebbled paths,
loiter in the shade of trees
where birds are killed at night
by good ole boys
to prevent droppings on the pebbled paths;
i sit in my fluorescent lit office
laughing at the moon through the window,
which forgot to go down
this morning;

i wonder
how many cowboys
died
with their boots on
in the streets
where the defeated general
grew into a legend?

if it rains,
i can watch
academia expound
and
let the world slide by
without getting my boots
muddy
on the bird dropping free paths;

the seas, though far away,
sometimes beckon
with simple fury;
i remember
walking the decks
in the eye of a storm
with my boots on.

A Tale of Woe (if you ignore my derisive guffaws and a few moments of almost crying)

Amidst all the craziness in this world right now, we found some comic relief…if i don’t get killed for writing this. Perhaps i should explain.

My wife is one of the most wonderful humans in this world. i have maintained for a long time there are a number of incredible women i have loved, still do, but i sincerely don’t believe any of them could put up with my peculiarities as Maureen does. i mean by the end of this month she will have been putting up with me. ME. for thirty-seven years, damn near a lifetime in purgatory. She is an angel of mercy.

She bends over backwards to be involved with things i like. She became an ardent baseball fan, went to several hundred Padre games with me and now will often comment on why the pitcher should have thrown a changeup rather than a fastball on the low outside corner or a slider. And now, we play golf together. She, although unwilling to practice and will pick up her ball at any time she is frustrated, is getting better and better and better. Her knowledge of the game continues to improve.

Well, except for tonight. i had watched the first segment of today’s PGA tournament  at lunch and recorded the remainder. i like to do that so i can skip through the interminable bullshit (excuse me) with which the talking heads can bore me and just watch the play. Maureen loves to watch it as well and often asks me questions about strategy, club choice, etc. (which is rather scary because anyone who has seen me play knows i have no clue).

She watched with me before departing for another trip to the grocery store. i turned it off.

After supper, a superb steak dinner, steak provided by her grocery trips and my amazing and secret but simple seasoning and grilling on the egg knock-off along with another of her and Sarah’s collusion on a salad beyond what i’ve ever experienced in a restaurant, and Maureen’s potatoes and her seasoning on tomatoes from our small garden plot.

After the scrumptious meal with an after dinner glass of wine, i actually quit working on or worrying about my seven thousand, four hundred, and sixty-eight home projects  and my two hundred and thirty-seven writing projects to watch the rest of the “Workday Charity Tournament” where Justin Thomas, Collin Morikawa, and Viktor Hovland were the final threesome.

It was exciting. Great golf. Maureen and i were both intrigued. i kept making my asinine curmudgeon comments which Maureen ignored while she kept asking valid and honest questions. Until she had to take her bath. But she kept hanging on because Thomas and Morikawa had tied at the end of regulation and were in a playoff.

i was glued in. The first and second playoff holes were spectacular golf. i was so glad i had recorded it so i could end my evening with the conclusion of great drama. Maureen’s bath was calling and she began preparing for that, apparently because her bath takes precedence over great golf, which i will never understand. She washed her face with special soap before the bath, something else i will never understand, and went in to check her email on her computer.  i was locked into the epic battle on the course.

As she headed for her bath, she stopped and revealed she had looked at the final scores on her computer. i was bellicose in my admonition for her not to tell me the final result.

She said she would never do that, but she had a question. i, being a complete idiot, asked her what was her question. My recorded version was entering the third playoff hole.

And then, she asked,

“The computer said Morikawa won but their scores were the same; how could that be?

Aghast, i explained as cordially as i could, their scores were the same because they tied with those scores at the end of regulation play, and the playoff was separate. i’m not sure she yet  understands the concept.

i turned off the television. The drama was over.

And i gotta a lot of stuff to do tomorrow…while i’m still sadly laughing.

i do love her, you know.

 

gridiron gone

I.
long before the game became
what it is today,
which, by the way,
is not a game,
but
an entertainment industry,
boys played it in backyard dirt and scrub grass
with no grownups around,
wearing shirts or skins,
blue jeans and sneakers
after they all stood around
while the team captains
appointed by some mystifying process,
picked them one by one
and
the last one picked felt a little unwanted
yet thrilled to be selected:
touch,
although occasionally
someone would get slapped in the head,
or scratched on the back,
or skinned on the arms,
or poked in the eye,
or bruised pretty much anywhere and everywhere
but
it did not matter,
what mattered was
making the run
or making the tackle
or throwing the pass
or catching the pass,
or intercepting the pass,
and
crossing the goal,
and
what mattered more
was not getting spanked
for being late for supper,
afer showing up grimy, sweating like a hog,
but
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

II.
then, the boys thought they were big, grown up
when they went to junior high
(nope, they weren’t middling; they were junior-ing)
early practice,
tossed their uniforms with
shoes too big and stiff with cleats they could feel on their soles,
helmets large enough to rotate on their heads,
padded pants too long, knee pads hanging down to the shin,
and
shoulder pads,
those magic instruments designed for invincibility
and
they went out to the recess playground,
another place for dirt and scrub grass
in the heat and humidity of August
to whack and push blocking sleds,
learning gee 36 and haw 37, 6-2, 7-1, 5-3,
until they were completely spent
before the showers,
leaving the uniforms in their lockers
in the open bay
where they would stink and stiffen
overnight from the sweat and dirt,
even a little splotch of blood
before their mamas picked them up
to take them home to supper,
and
then a game with spiffy uniforms,
gridiron field with stands,
sprinkled with parents,
while cheerleaders yelled,
outside the
painted lines,
between the goal posts,
and
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

III.
a couple of years later,
they advanced to the big time in a small town
high school freshman pre-season practice
after being tossed
shoes too large, helmets that could rotate,
pants too long,
and
those magic shoulder pads of invincibility
to run out to a practice field
with dirt and scrub grass,
and
the day after the first unforgiving coach’s shouts,
they thought they would die
from muscle pains and stiffness
to lay on the floor
in the morning before
grimacing, rising to hit
the practice field once more
to get in shape
and
then playing real games
on that gridiron
with no one in the stands
except mamas and papas;
yet it didn’t matter because
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

IV.
the next August, it was time for the real thing
when the trainers tossed
shoes, helmets, pants and invincibility,
which were no longer so ill-fitting
but
the practice field was still dirt and scrub grass,
the blocking sleds seemed heavier,
the other players bigger, hitting harder
with warm-ups more demanding,
practices where you were a sissy if you drank water
after you had gulped down salt pills
perhaps suffering from injuries
serious enough to warrant hours in the hot whirlpool bath
until
the big day
with packed grandstands on the gridiron
with immaculate green grass and painted lines
while they donned the uniforms that felt like silk,
the invincibility spreading from the shoulder pads
to produce a hero in their minds
for the game, the game
and
for nine or ten autumn weeks,
the highs, the lows, the wins, the losses
took their souls almost to heaven,
repeated for two more years
and
oh man, it felt so good, so good;

V.
then, it was gone;
the superb players went on to college,
only a few, of course,
to perhaps become part of the entertainment industry
while the others turned in
cleated shoes, helmets, padded pants, shoulder pads
that once made them invincible;
hung ‘em up;
went home to supper;
went to college or work
and
for a while, they played touch again
in vacant lots with dirt and scrub grass
but
it was never the same again
because they had touched the grail
and
oh man, it felt so good, so good.

1960 CHMA Tigers after beating Marion (Alabama) Institute Junior College, 7-6.

Green

i saw him in the dark last night
walking up the road;
he was wearing dark, dark green
i could tell by the sheen t’was cast
coming off the crescent  moon;
with his hat down on his forehead
i couldn’t see his eyes;
he walked with a slight limp,
yet he carried not a cane;

it was strange he walked here
on these roads with modest homes
of the small town not far but still
a good way from the city
from whence he obviously came;

he turned and cocked his head
toward me sitting on my porch;
i raised my left hand in greeting;
he nodded, saying not a word,
then turned his head straight away
continuing on his way;
i watched as he continued on
until he vanished from my sight;

now i often think about him
when i sit on my porch at night:
he just seemed so familiar
though i had seen him ne’er before;
i wish that we had spoken
so i could have learned a thing or two;
he’s gone; i fear he shan’t come back
around this way e’er again;
i wonder where he’s gone
as the crescent moon fades
behind a dark green cloud.

A Sad Goodbye

Except when i was deployed on Navy ships, i have been reading newspapers daily since 1950  (of course, the first “reads” were looking at the photos and the comics). Seventy years. There were times when i was getting morning and daily papers, conservative and liberal. On many Sunday mornings in Newport, Rhode Island, i would buy The New York Times and spend most of the day reading the whole thing, methodically  going through each section i had spread across the living room floor. Since Maureen retired, reading the morning San Diego Union-Tribune at breakfast has become part of a tradition for starting my day.

i worked in the newspaper business nearly thirty years from office boy to editor to correspondent to op-ed columnist.

i have spent untold hours communicating with others i have known in the newspaper business about the state of the art, why it was declining, what could be done.

On the first of August 2020, this will all end with a sad goodbye.

i have cancelled my subscription to the Union-Tribune. That’s it.

Why?

It ain’t worth it. And i can’t get a straight answer even if can understand the “customer service” (an oxymoron if i ever met one) agent.

You see, when we received our last bill, the subscription fee had risen to $164 for eight weeks, that’s over a $1,000 a year. Wow!

So i called. The language barrier was so bad, i couldn’t even understand the guy’s name. And yes, i had my hearing aid in my right ear. And yes, he might have had some difficulty understanding my Tennessee twang because, no, even after being all over the place in the Navy for 22 years, and having been in the Southwest corner for 31 years since my completion of active duty, i still sound like i am from Tennessee…and proud of it.

When i informed the young man why i was cancelling, he didn’t even wait for me to finish to tell me they would generously lower the fee to $124 for eight weeks.  Yep: just a bit over $800 annually. What a deal. When i protested even more, he reluctantly and not so generously dropped the fee to $94 for eight weeks.

So having learned some stuff from bartering in Tijuana years ago, i pushed my luck. No dice. This kid must not be from Tijuana. Didn’t sound like it anyway. And, i discovered, his supervisor must have been in another country than him. He couldn’t let me talk to him.

Now to be fair, this fee is for the electronic version and what they now call the “hard” copy daily delivery. We only use the electronic version…actually, only i use the electronic version and that’s when i’m traveling and i haven’t been traveling except for an occasional distance observing, mask wearing trip to Home Depot two or three times in the last four months and am not likely to be going anywhere else for the foreseeable future.

But guess what? You get a break if you just get the electronic version. You have to pay extra to get the hard copy, but it comes with the electronic version, you know, the one we don’t use.

They also have this deal where you can get the  Thursday through Sunday hard copy or Sunday edition only in paper.

i would give you the exact cost for all of the options but that, my friends, i have discovered is a moving target. If you go to their website, all you can get is the fees for “introductory” offers and i don’t think after 70 years of newspaper experience on both ends of creating and reading and 35 years of subscribing to this paper or one of its version before they killed the afternoon Tribune puts me in the need for anything “introductory.” And there is no way one can determine what the fee will be after the “introductory” period. Hmm, thinking about it, i guess it doesn’t make any difference since whatever the real fee is, it will go up as soon as the financial whizzes with their superb “customer service” figure they can sneak it pass the subscriber, aka me.

Now, this kind of marketing, gouging the customer nonsense amazes me. You see, newspapers, especially large city newspapers are dying. This particular one reduced the size (width and height) some years ago so they could charge more for less. Then they started reducing the newsprint, i.e. actual news, to cram in more advertisements. Now with COVID, it is, i estimate, about one quarter of the amount of news it used to be and the sports section is not a section but a couple of many-ads pages in the back of the business section.

Insulted when i realized the extent they were yanking me around, i cancelled. And this was after we had finally reached the point where the “agent” and i could have an intelligible conversation.

i had pretty much stopped reading anything but the sports and the comics anyway. Maureen would read the other sections, but i didn’t want to get depressed that early in the morning. In fairness, the Union-Tribune is a bit less biased than most large dailies in my opinion. However, news journalism of all kinds has taken a dive over the last few decades. News stories aren’t. Period. They don’t follow the basics i learned because the reporters wish to be spectacular, lure you in, push their opinion, and slew the facts to get you to buy into their great writing or political position or both.

You see, when i was in the business, i believed the first paragraph of a news story should never, NEVER, be more than 25 words, and should tell the reader what, when, where, and how of the news article’s substance. Doesn’t happen very much anymore. Check it out.

But, but, Maureen and i have loved our tradition of the tactile feeling as well as of the reading the newspaper over juice, coffee, eggs, toast, and fruit each morning. So i decided to try again this morning.

i walked through the interminable and magic telephone recorded voice tree for about five minutes, less than the norm these days and thankfully with no really bad elevator music to reach a young lady who was decidedly worse at  English as a Second Language than the previous agent. i asked her for the exact, non-introductory, special pricing on all the options available so i could determine to cancel my cancellation or not. Apparently, they had not trained her for such an inquiry. There was a long silence, the only thing i had understood in this call so far. Then she began to recite all of the “introductory” offers.

i gave up. i told her i was not upset with her. i hope she understood because now i was screaming into my phone. i asked her to forward my displeasure to her superiors, which i am almost sure she didn’t because of that different countries problem. i hoped as they had warned the conversation had been recorded because perhaps, perhaps one of the marketing geniuses might listen and actually have a brain to understand. Fat chance.

So it’s over. In just a bit more than three weeks, i will be out of the newspaper thing. Oh, if i were back home, i would still read one or both of the local newspapers there. But out here in the Southwest corner, the newspaper boys have killed it for me, and i believe are already ringing that death knell for the their business.

And oh, i wish i could sit down with “Coach” JB Leftwich and Fred Russell, and Bill Roberts, and J. Bill Frame, and John “Yanch” Johnson…and Yanch, you may be getting a call soon because you, Lee Dowdy, Andrew Nemethy, and David Hall, if i can figure out how to contact him, are about the only ones with whom i could talk about the demise of newspapers as we knew them.

It will be a very, very sad goodbye.

 

To Blythe

This was not easy. i decided i would stick to the photos i have in my computer’s “Pictures” file. You see, there are approximately 284,321 photos of her i have in various places. One reason i have that many is i never was with her enough. For the first six years, i was deployed to the Mediterranean and the Western Pacific and when i was home, i had jobs that were not nine-to-five, but more like an average of 0500 to 1800.

Then she was with her mother and i was in other parts of the world, even though i used all my available leave time to be with her, never quite 30 days a year due to operational requirements.

Now she is in Austin, Texas, and i am in the Southwest corner.

i have never been with her enough for me, but i have never stopped loving her.

Happy Birthday, Blythe Jewell Gander. i am so proud of you for what you have been and what a wonderful woman, mother, and daughter you are now. Wish we could be with you today.

This was taken July 3, 1972, the morning after she was born at 9:37 p.m. EDT in Watertown, New York. Her mother was a trooper. Back in those days, many hospitals, including this one did not allow the fathers to be in the delivery or labor rooms. i waited on a cold bench in a small dark area. i got to see her for oh, about ten minutes afterwards, kissed her mother, and immediately called both sets of grandparents to let them know they had a granddaughter. Also back in those days, we didn’t know if she was a girl or a boy. i’m glad i had a daughter. She captured my heart then and still has it.


 

With her Snookers in Pacific Beach Navy Officer Housing in 1975. She had a cat, BK named after her aunt as well. She was so much fun and loved to go to Disneyland and other fun places, especially with her grandparents when they visited from Paris, Texas or Lebanon, Tennessee.

 

 

 

 

This was the last year i was the live-at-home dad. Shortly after this was taken, i headed to the Western Pacific. Except for having to leave her there, my time at Texas A&M was wonderful, primarily because of her.

 

 

After that, i would travel to Texas or take her to where ever i could during my leave time. Her mother was very good about allowing her to fly alone to be with me. She loved the rides. After this trip to Disneyland, we went to Knotts Berry Farm. She loved Montezuma’s Revenge, but when we boarded the small cockpit of the Loop Trainer and began to rotate up, she was not a happy camper. She was screaming, i was holding on to her for dear life while trying to keep toys, candy, and my camera from flying out. Afterwards, we went on a carriage ride when she told me she wanted to go back to the Loop Trainer. We did. She loved it. i loved her even more.

Every once in a while our time would include my parents. i spent 10 1/2 months of 1981 deployed to the Western Pacific and Indian Ocean. In between those two deployments in August, my parents visited me in Coronado while Blythe and i were seeing the Southwest corner in my Rx7 she helped pick out.

 

She and my buddy, shipmate, and apartment mate, became good friends. Here, Blythe and i are at the helm of JD Waits’ sailboat on San Diego Bay.

 

 

Then she met this sailor when visiting Maureen and i and the two of them kept finding ways to be in the same place, and then in 1996, they got married. At the reception, my toast included the observation that her grandparents had an incredible marriage and i thought Blythe and Jason had the best chance of being just like Jimmy and Estelle Jewell. Her grandfather was very special to her.

 

 

 

Then in 2007, Samuel James Jewell Gander was born (the middle two names for her grandfather). My heart gushes when i see them together.

 

 

 

There are many more photos and many more tales i could tell, but i will close with letting you know she remains beautiful. She is a business success. She is creative, intelligent, and passionate about what she loves. One of the best parents who ever lived. She and Jason go so well together. And she also takes wonderful care of her mother.

i love you, Blythe Jewell Gander. Happy Birthday.

Murphy’s Law

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

Tenth Law for Naive Engineers: Interchangeable parts won’t.

Goofy guy’s realization from the Tenth Law for Naive Engineers: I didn’t finish my degree in Civil Engineering, but i certainly am further along than a “naive engineer” if  they don’t recognized interchangeable parts won’t.