Enjoying a consulting contract helping recent MBA graduates enter the realm of enterprise / large corporation sales = selling IT to big companies. The final week-long module of 4 comprises exercises in story-telling both written (proposal) and delivered (presentation). The seemingly innocuous narrative of a barrel, bricks and a rope with perfect pauses and well measured delivery becomes a tale worth repeating 50 years later.
“Steve and I met here, at Stanford, the second week I lived in California. He came here to give a talk, and afterwards we found each other in the parking lot. We talked until four in the morning. He proposed with a fistful of freshly picked wildflowers on a rainy New Year’s Day. I said yes. Of course I said yes. We built our lives together.”
“He shaped how I came to view the world. We were both strong-minded, but he had a fully formed aesthetic and I did not. It is hard enough to see what is already there, to remove the many impediments to a clear view of reality, but Steve’s gift was even greater: he saw clearly what was not there, what could be there, what had to be there. His mind was never a captive of reality. Quite the contrary. He imagined what reality lacked, and he set out to remedy it. His ideas were not arguments but intuitions, born of a true inner freedom. For this reason, he possessed an uncannily large sense of possibility—an epic sense of possibility.
Steve’s love of beauty—and his impatience with ugliness—pervaded our lives. Early on in our marriage we had long dinners with Mona and Richie. I remember a particularly wide-ranging discussion that lasted late into the night. As we were driving home, Steve launched into a devastating critique of the restaurant’s sconces. Mona agreed with his assessment. Richie and I looked at each other, whispering, “Is a sconce a light fixture?” No object was too small or insignificant to be exempt from Steve’s examination of the meaning, and the quality, of its form. He looked at things, and then he created things, from the standpoint of perfection.
That could be an unforgiving standpoint, but over time I came to see its reasons, to understand Steve’s unbelievable rigor, which he imposed first and most strenuously on himself.
He felt deeply that California was the only place he could live. It’s the slanting evening light on the hills, the palette, the fundamental beauty. In his very soul, Steve was a Californian. He required the liberty it afforded, the clean slate. He worked under the influence, and the inspiration, of the sublimity of the place. He needed to be refreshed by the primal rhythms of the natural world—the land, the hills, the oaks, the orchards. California’s spirit of newness invigorated him, and ratified his own spirit. Its scale is contagious: such natural grandeur is the perfect setting for thinking big. And he did think big. He was the most unfettered thinker I have ever known. It was a deep pleasure, and a lot of fun, to think alongside him.
Like my children, I lost my father when I was young. It was not what I wanted for myself; it is not what I wanted for them. But the sun will set and the sun will rise, and it will shine upon us tomorrow in our grief and our gratitude, and we will continue to live with purpose, memory, passion, and love.”
Excerpt From: Brent Schlender & Rick Tetzeli. “Becoming Steve Jobs.” Crown Business, 2015-03-24. iBooks.
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I received my acceptance to USNA via a yellow telegram on 16 June 1970 at 11:55am. “pleased to announce that you are fully qualified for my principal appointment to the Naval Academy.” Russell B. Long US Senator. Quite the achievement considering it was nearly the height of avoiding the draft where nearly no one volunteered for a billet in the military.
I informed my supervisor at the Pelican Ice House that I would no longer be the carpenter’s helper, thinking to myself that some other fool desperate for $50 a week could go up and down those ladders in the haze of ammonia vapors from 730am to 4pm. Of course, 50 simoleons weekly seemed large when my first year pay as a midshipman reduced my walking-around cabbage to $50 per month. The carpenter, a retired Army sergeant, was incredulous upon hearing my story of an appointment to an Academy, thinking that I was ducking-out of hard work. I brought him my telegram to prove my assertion. There were a few times that I considered immediate alternatives to the likes of tyrannical upperclassmen, YP training, P-rades, EE anything and Brigade Seats when I would then consider the worse of the two evils beingthe heat, tedium and bone-tired exhaustion of those few weeks in the Pelican Ice House. Of course, until I qualified as EOOW.
After my Western Union missive, my first thought was “how should I pack?” How much underwear does one need for four years away from home?! Fortunately, I went to camp for a few weeks one summer to learn that two pair is all that one needs for a journey of every duration. Steve Frick’s brother was home from West Point and advised me that you will need nothing as they “issue it all to you.” Issue seemed like a weird description, but I figured it had something to do with being in the Army. So, I packed a small suitcase.
My less than two weeks remaining at home were carefree (home of record for 18 years; dissolved in less than two weeks). Don’t get me wrong. I never believed that I’d last more than 6 months at the United States Naval Academy, home of scholars, athletes, future war heroes and Roger Staubach. I did figure that a few months there was better than my immediate prospects of no other college acceptance (my plan was to enroll at LSU later in the summer, although Tulane University offered me an NROTC scholarship……in late August of plebe summer (college began after Labor Day in those days). I was sort of getting the drift that I being invited to join things after every other possible candidate had either said ‘no, thanks’ or had died unexpectedly. The only other tales that compare to mine are Jimmy Schreiber who had a four year NROTC scholarship to Stanford, then the hippies burned-down the NROTC building in protest over Vietnam which suspended the ROTC program and retracted Jimmy’s offer. He graduated 56th in our class, P-3 NFO, Harvard Law School and now a senior IBM patent attorney. A level headed chap, for sure, unless he dives into that second martini where tales of opportunity missed and what could have been a la Stanford surface to the level of that olive. The other late to the party mid was Robert McCabe who joined our plebe class in late August after enough had mustered out to make room for him. He became commanding officer of at least 3 ships.
My high school friends had a surprise party for me. The ruse was that we were off to see the Woodstock movie but forgot the tickets. We returned to my home to be greeted by more than I imagined who I suppose were curious what a future dead person would look like (Vietnam, right?!). My girlfriend’s father was even more nice to me and eased-up on the curfew and the instant greeting at her front door after a date. I still want to see that Woodstock movie.
On Sunday 28 June, we had an afternoon dinner at my girlfriend’s home; they were Italian and this is what they did after church every Sunday. I tried to find this house about 8 years ago. Gone due to Hurricane Katrina. After dinner, we drove around, bemoaning our impending separation and promising to write every day. Letters, remember those!?
We picked up my mother and drove to Moisant Airport in New Orleans. Two memories are vivid: my mother gave Gerry and I a few minutes alone, then misunderstood the actual departure time of the flight. We never said goodbye in a traditional way, which was fine, and maybe lots of deep-seated meaning could be assigned to this twist of fate and my resultant shortcomings as an adult. The other memory is that I had $20 in my wallet.
Arrived at Friendship Airport around 2200. Me and my suitcase packed with underwear; soon to be replaced by a B-4 bag. I find a Blue Diamond cab at the curb. Ask for the fare. Am told $20. I say that all I have is $20. He agrees to $12.
We get to USNA at the old main gate. Mr. Jimmy Legs directs me to the Field House as I am in search of my overnight accommodations. I was supposed to find a rack in Rickets Hall I later learned. I never saw Rickets Hall except through the eyes of a sleep deprived plebe-to-be. Here’s why. No one, and there was only one or two people around the Field House, knew what to do with me. There were no rooms, no racks, no reception area, no sign-in; just me asking where to go to join the Naval Academy. Others had passed through earlier in the day, yet this gent had no idea what became of them. Somehow, somewhere he found a room or a waiting area where I was welcomed to stay for the night. Seemed odd to me, but then again, I was from New Orleans. Odd is normal there. So, I slept on a two person couch as best as I could.
In the morning, very early, I was roused by an official looking guy in a kakhi uniform who checked my name on some list on his clipboard, commenting that ‘they had been wondering about me.” This was to be the theme of the day.
I recall the breakfast in the mess hall. Lots of chatter and talking and camaraderie, even with this guy who was a senior or first-class as he put it. Cracked me up. 1st class. Like some cabin on an ocean liner.
I’m not sure of the order of the day but the (mis)adventure began for me at the issue of our gear in the serpentine corridor below Bancroft Hall outside the Midshipman Store. Two moments of that afternoon are emblazoned in my mind’s autobiographical movie. One, I stood in line behind a future Federal prison inmate who regaled me with stories of his impending success due to his family’s military heritage (his dad was a commander, as if I knew what that was). He enjoyed a sterling career from beginning at USNA until his crash-landing as commanding officer 20 years later for falsifying travel documents and misspending ship’s funds in order to routinely visit his GS-15 paramour.
The second vivid memory of that day, and it had to be a living dream, was that I could not find my way from the Midshipman Store along the tunnel, up a ladder to our rooms in the 6th Wing. I dragged my issue up and down that tunnel for several hours. I kept getting referred to a ladder up to the a placed called the Rotunda (RowTundra?) which would lead me through a series of passageways, to a wing and up a ladder to my deck. I was bewildered. I transversed the same ground dozens of times, dragging my seabag and laundry bag of issue, sweating in discomfort, strung-out from the near all-nighter at the Field House and delirious with frustration that no matter how many times different people told me a different way to get from here to there, I couldn’t figure it out. I’m sure that I spent, at minimum, 2 hours trying to just get where I was supposed to be. Irony Alert, indeed!
Maybe the universe was trying to tell me something? Somehow, I found the rabbit hole or the Stargate to the 6th Wing. I believe that someone led a couple of us there. Upon arrival, many members of Hotel Company were in the ‘passageway’ standing outside of the doors to their rooms. I and we were greeted, actually reamed-out, for being late and making my new classmates suffer due to our /my tardiness on station.
I am not clear about how I got into my new white-works uniform; when was the oath-taking ceremony; or much else beyond finding room 6332. The Pelican Ice house, Gerry Rotonti, Woodstock all seemed so very, very far away.
Disclaimer: contains references to time and jargon long past.
We just elected our board of directors for the local alumni chapter with representation ranging from the classes of 1974 to 2010 (I can hear the the clacking footsteps of the Grim Reaper chopping down the passageway near the mate’s desk) including grads from 80, 81, 87, 93, 08. Such a gathering divides the brigade into interesting demographics such as all-male Academy or the University of Navy; summer cruise destinations; mile run or not; steam vs gas turbine; Isherwood and Melville Halls; June Week or Commissioning Week.
Do you recall that as President Richard Nixon delivered our diplomas on that stage in the stadium and that the custom at the time was for each acknowledged company to offer a worthy collective comment. I remember that one company threw cassette tapes into the air. When 23rd was announced, only soon to be Ensign David Sharpe arose and clapped insincerely.
Related to 1971 graduation, I remember the stern warning issued to the Brigade by Admiral Coogan, Commandant, that ‘if you did not like the cut of a man’s jib, then you are obligated to tell him so in person.’ He referred to the standing-boo that Rolio Golez, 23rd company, received from the Brigade at his graduation in June 1970. Mr. Golez, Brigade Boxing Champion for 4 years, heads the PI Alumni Association Chapter. From the self-promotion at his Wikipedia site, I’m trusting the wisdom of the Brigade.
As our alumni chapter alums relayed vague memories of the final days on Severn River, I mentioned the good deal / red ass of completing exams then heading home for leave…then heading back for June Week. The collective response was, “we didn’t have leave after exams, we had Dead Week.” D E A D W E E K !!!! I exclaimed. I had not thought of or heard of that term in ding ding ding 46 years. Hell on the Hudson! D E A D W E E K !!!! Then the untagged valve of related memories, which hadn’t seen a PMS check in 4.5+ decades, unwound and out drained recollections of Drag Houses, June Week rentals, girls from Hood College, ladies from New Jersey, Wagon Wheel Restaurant, a locker somewhere in some wing of Bancroft Hall where we were supposed to stow our gear for the summer, the smell of starched TWLs, the eyeball liberty in T-Court of the drags dressed for spring near the cannons behind the Brigade Staff at formation, the p-rades for the tax-payers, the Ring Dance and the incremental, nearly contrary to every theory of relativity, the seemingly reverse passage of time. June Week was like the First Circle of Hell. Get me out of here. D E A D W E E K !!!!
BTW, Yorke Warden, at the end of Youngster Year, tried to fake-out the ‘stow your gear for summer movement order’ and sent all of his clothing and uniforms to the laundry & TSP on the final day in the halls. This is not an HO. His laundry bag occupied nearly the entire two man desk. Clever was he until the return of the Brigade in September, his gear was nowhere to be found nor delivered. He had to submit a long, lost laundry chit where he was invited to the laundry facility outside of the Yard where he was able to introduce himself to the OiC at the Laundry who wanted to meet this wise-ass. Yorke got all of his gear back.
I’m still talking about D E A D W E E K: Mary Nadolski set me up with Betsy Walters of Hood College during this June Week just before second class summer. She was great and we had a great time at some drag house on the other side of town, Eastport or such, which was like a set of islands that one only heard about but never actually saw because the only transportation we had was on foot and usually up and down West Street.
Unfortunately, town libs ended at midnight for Youngsters and we were on the other side of town at about 11:45. Making muster looked highly improbable. Plus, we were drunk. I also recall that Bob Fretz was one of my running mates for this escapade which is odd because Bob and I never hung-out. We got to the center of town near the sailboats and before that market was built, realizing that All Head 2/3 was insufficient and that more steam was needed. We still weren’t going to make it back to the third wing in time. A green, Oldsmobile 442 pulled up with an upperclass mid at the helm offering our crew a ride back to the halls. Piling into his car, he navigated around State Circle, down Maryland Avenue to King George’s Street. As we turned right on King George’s Street, the road was a sea of red tail-lights making little headway. We’re were definitely not going to make it back to the Halls in time. Editor’s note: I had just been fried 50 and served my 10 tours for returning late from DC one Saturday evening. ’50 more’ I thought and suddenly dear Betsy didn’t seem as attractive as she did about 3 beers ago.
We tacked down King George Street only fast enough to maintain headway. We were going to be fried. Without encouragement or question, our upperclass helmsman/OOD, executed a sudden left rudder, right rudder maneuver that put the Oldsmobile 442 in the opposite lane of traffic, heading down the up lane or driving on the side of the road that would have seemed familiar to every British driver. Then he punched it i.e. all ahead full; the four barrels of the 400 jumped on-line and we began to pass the other vehicles in their stationery queue. We could not believe his audacity; we were thrilled; we were wide-eyed as we arrived at the head of the line. The Jimmy Legs waved us in; we motored to the entrance near the Mid-Store and scrambled up the ladders to the company area in time for John Goodrich or George Fessler or other naval hero to mark us present for muster. I don’t know how Betsy got home, although we did continue to date so she didn’t run-off with the knight in the 442.
To this day, when I think of bold action, taking a risk, the foolish courage of youth and He Who Will Not Risk, Shall Not Win, I smile in the fondest recollection of that unknown, unmasked man flying down King George Street.
Best for Memorial Day. Let’s remember all of those who’ve gone before us who, in little and large ways, helped us get to where we all needed to be.
I’m kind of sorry that Djokovic lost yesterday’s match for the French title which would have fulfilled his quest for the career grand slam. I really hated to see Roger lose to Stan earlier in the week. In the end, great for Stan, good for tennis and a superlative example of tenacity and sportsmanship for us all.
A first serve percentage of 67 accompanied with 60 winners is even too much for the great defender and returner, Novak D, to withstand or is it With-Stan?!
In watching the match, I admired their sense of fair play, desire to win, vivid mutual respect and, especially, the prolonged recognition of Novak by the audience as he accepted the Finalist and Runner-Up trophy.
I believe that we admire our sports heroes because they can be examples of diligent sacrifice in the pursuit of excellence. Indeed, Stan and Novak are athletically gifted individuals; their singularly unique achievements are founded in commitment and persistence. I cannot wait for Wimbledon.
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I was born in Vienna, Austria in July 1952. I am eligible for the Presidency and have a letter from the Library of Congress to support my campaign, if necessary.
As a member of the 796 Military Police Battalion, my father opted, actually begged, for this European assignment rather than be ordered to Korea in 1951. He found himself in this predicament because he used his GI Bill to attend Loyola University in New Orleans where he joined the Army ROTC program for a few extra bucks. The GI Bill benefit resulted from his service as a Signalman Third Class on a sub-chaser in 1944 and 1945. He enlisted on his 17th birthday because his mother, my grandmother, would not permit him to enlist any sooner. He never dreamed that he have to serve in combat after college having been mustered out of the Navy in 1945.
One of his initial assignments as an MP was to supervise the firing-line at Camp Gordon, Georgia qualifying infantrymen for their own assignments to Korea. He described with some relish and a good deal of relief of the early weeks of that duty where the men were not doing particularly well in their qualifications as Marksman, Sharpshooter and Expert. Apparently, the word was that if you didn’t qualify, you would not be sent to Korea. This backlog was such a problem that his superior officer counseled him that if the scores didn’t improve ASAP that he’d find someone who would improve the situation, reminding my dad that MPs were needed “over there as well.” Dad convened immediately his own rifle range staff which consisted of senior enlisted men, most with combat experience in WW2. Threatening and cajoling, my father was in desperate need for an immediate program improvement process. One senior sergeant, without much explanation, volunteered that he’d ‘take care of the problem.’
The next morning as the long line of shooters adopted their prone positions, aiming at the raised targets down range, ready to commence fire, my dad observed the senior sergeant pause from his inspection walk down the line and literally kick one of the prone-positioned shooters out of ranks. This sergeant took his place on the line in a prone position like the rest of the shooters. As the firing commenced, sarge shot bullseyes into the targets of those suspected of purposely underperforming. My dad described the responses as stunned and immediate. If a shot was wide of the mark, the sarge shot through the center of the target and the score was announced as a bullseye by the spotter. At first, the firing infantryman was made incredulous by the outcome; after several repeated episodes, he would inevitably zero-in his weapon and fire with purpose. The word spread rapidly up and down the firing line that no matter if you qualified or not, the Army was sending you to Korea.The scores improved immediately; the daily and weekly through-put goals were achieved; there was never such a problem again.
Of the innumerable evolutions during our Naval Academy Plebe summer: PEP, forming-up in T-Court, lectures in Mahan Hall, marching in circles through and around the Yard, memorizing rates, chow call, folding laundry, the sailing and YP classes, my favorite or the one that I remember the fondest compared to all of the ones that I despised was the two weeks on the pistol and rifle range. I have no idea today where those facilities were located, although I recall that a daily Mike boat ride was part of the program. I qualified as an expert with the .45 pistol and as a sharpshooter with the M-1 rifle. Irks me to this day that I was but one errant shot away from being a double expert. My left eyebrow aches thinking about it.
Six or seven years later after that summer of 1970, I had the collateral responsibility as the security officer aboard the USS Joseph Strauss, DDG-16. We may or may not have had nuclear capable weapons aboard, and we sure had plenty of procedures for protecting them in case that we did. These procedures included qualifying 20 to 25 sailors of every above decks rating, e.g. no engineers, as weapons-carrying members of the Security Alert Team (SAT) and Back-up Alert Force (BAF). This is when I-realized how privileged that we were on the rifle and pistol ranges at Annapolis.
Larry Sobel was my partner for the .45 pistol qualification. Our instructor was enlisted Navy, tall, laconic, friendly, patient and capable. His match-quality weapons were polished, well-balanced, easy to handle with the smoothest of trigger mechanisms. I learned this because the standard issue from the Joseph Strauss’s armory were none of these. So good did we get at handling and firing these weapons, that on one live-fire for time and grade, something like a full clip of 7 rounds in 20 to 30 seconds, before the target rotated 90 degrees to present the bullseye, Sobel fired, hitting the side of the target, the thin edge initially presented. You could see where the bullet hit the ‘side’ of the target.
I fired and fire a side-arm in my right hand. I fire a rifle from my left shoulder. I also bat right and throw left; I play golf right and putt left. One office colleague commented, “you may not be left-handed, but you certainly act that way!”
In the second week of our range qualification, after the days of fam-fire and clicking-in and learning how to sight, breathe and squeeze, we got our chances to fire the 7.62mm rounds from these gas-operated, air-cooled, semi-automatic shoulder weapons. An odd recollection is that we’d each possessed such a weapon, unlocked in our rooms for 4 years, and never again fired an M-1 while at the Academy.
Given the expert instruction and the match quality of the weapon, hitting the target down-range at 200 yards was merely a plug N chug exercise. Sight, breathe and squeeze. Except my routine was sight, breathe and squeeze, ejected heated cartridge hits me about an inch above my left eye since I shot left-handed. I am able to point to the spot right now. Somehow in the heat of the qualifying competition and having had dozens of hot, brass casings ricochet off of my brow, I was not the expert as I was with the .45. I even tried a clip or two from the right shoulder without satisfactory results. I qualified as a Sharpshooter.
Like everybody else, I wore the blue marksman ribbons with the E for expert and the S for sharpshooter next to my National Defense Ribbon on my service dress uniforms. After a year or so aboard ship, I stopped wearing them as I didn’t feel as though I was still the same shooter that I was 5 or 6 years ago on the range.
I mentioned in a previous note that I transferred on sudden notice, like 30 days, from San Francisco to the Joseph Strauss in Pearl Harbor to relieve as Anti Submarine Warfare Office, the Brigade Commander from our plebe year. Let’s just say that his files and records and the overall condition of his nuclear weapons safety and security program were not of 6 striper quality. I believe the material and administrative conditions as well as the pending annual inspection of the ship’s Nuclear Weapons program, NWTPI, caused the sudden back-problems that necessitated his medical transfer from the ship.
I was also in charge of the ship security force which we tested daily by issuing M-14s, riot shotguns and .45 caliber pistols. Live ammo, of course.
To maintain morale amongst these security teams, e.g. have them fire the weapons in case, well, they ever had to fire the weapons, we reserved the Hawala pistol range one morning. We signed-out weapons and ammunition from the Strauss’s small arms locker, 15 or so sailors and I headed by launch to the Halawa Pistol Range. Nothing dramatic occurred except that the safest place to hide would have been as near the targets as possible. These .45 caliber weapons were old, stiff and out of calibration. Targeting was accomplished by shooting first to see where the round landed, then walking the rounds to the fixed target. These were not the match grade weapons of Plebe Summer and I was not an expert instructor. A testament to the standard issue M1911 was that despite the nearly terrifying short-comings in the marksmanship of the shooters, I don’t recall that a single weapon jammed or was otherwise required to be taken of service.
We returned to Strauss, returned the weapons to the Duty Gunner’s Mate and decided that the riot shotguns would probably be the weapon of choice if we truly needed to deploy tour security teams.
To pass time and enliven a Sunday afternoon while peddling across the Pacific on deployment to Japan, we slowed to headway only, toss the large bags of accumulated cook-out trash over the fantail, laid-out the M-60 machine gun – the ultimate weapon in our nuclear weapons security arsenal – and gave those huge bags of paper plates, plastic forks and hamburger debris the full nine yards. You are correct. The safest place to hide would have been sitting on top of this trash as the belt-fed, high velocity 7.62 mm rounds sailed into the far distance or shot-up the water just aft outboard of the life-lines. Would have been no problem for that Army sergeant.
Growing-up in Catholic New Orleans offered one a potpourri of holidays uncelebrated by others in our country. Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday (Alka Seltzer Wednesday); King Cake parties in grammar schools on 12th night complete with the concealed porcelain baby Jesus; May Day crowning of the Virgin Mary in the corner of the school yard; and the long holiday for Easter which began on Wednesday at the Holy Name of Jesus Church (my elementary school of the same name) with a seance of sorts termed The Stations of the Cross. Boring! And we knew that after the hymns, incense and ritual, Easter would begin. Four days away from the Sisters of Mercy and their co-conspirator Jesuit priests of Loyola University. The floating holiday was usually replete with good weather, bike rides to and with friends, sports, preoccupied adults and the jackpot of Easter Sunday, except for the mandatory muster at Mass. Easter Monday was a holiday also. I’m not sure why. Maybe the apostles needed a few minutes to figure-out exactly what happened: here, there, gone, now missing. Someone’s got to write this down!
Easter Leave was equally special at the Naval Academy, mainly because it gave us a chance to act like and to be with other college kids. Everyone goes home for Christmas and our summers were consumed with a sequence of training programs which permitted us only 30 days of summer vacation (Leave in the vernacular, but you had to come back).
I recall with relish a couple of the Easter Leaves, especially the one to Wauchula, Florida in my green van with Charlie Cannon, Roger Smith and Billy Ellis, circa 1973. We drove non-stop in 2 man, three hour shifts. Ate out of a cooler, slept in the back. Underway from USNA at 1600, shift to Florida shore-power (arrive) at 0800 the next morning. Charlie’s sister, Sara, who latter married Tom Fargo the future Commander of all naval forces in the Pacific (CinCPac), introduced us at the beach to her friends, females, several each, who worked at Disney World. Mids Gone Wild!
The advent of spring directs my thinking to the May opening of the pool at our tennis club. A cold beer at the pool after a tennis match can be a delight of adult refreshment. Of course, spring leads to summer where real blue water, aka the Atlantic Ocean, is but a 2 hour, 2 red-light journey between my home and the closest beach of North Carolina.
I’m fond of seaports: New Orleans, Baltimore, San Francisco, even London, Marseille and Stockholm (three via the Navy and three via IBM). Regardless of my genetic predisposition to water (born in July as a Cancer), bodies of water bring to mind swimming in pools without deep-ends and bursting with flash-backs of the frog-kick, side stroke, breast stroke, 30’ tower jump, inflating my cotton khakis and the exercise in drowning classified as the 40 Minute Swim where 300 midshipmen swam the perimeter of the Olympic-sized pool in uniform minus shoes. I’ve seen Pandemonium. My eyes are beginning to ache in chlorine memory as I recall the dash across the red tiles in the cold air between Bancroft Hall where we lived and McDonough Hall which contained said natatorium.
I passed several classes that I should have failed, escaped demerits even when the paperwork was completed (I’m advised that in today’s Conduct System, the demerit form is delivered electronically. A kind of AOL-like “Ding! You Have Demerits.”) and there is an reasonable argument about the decision for graduating me into the bosom or bosun of our Navy.
I did not escape the Swimming Sub-Squad (the official process for recovering from failure). I recall fearing the 50 meter test, and in a panic, ending-up three lanes over after turning 135 degrees shortly after leaping from the edge of the pool at the commencement of this time trial. I suppose that I didn’t realize how much stronger was my right arm stroke than my left one. Driving while texting is dangerous; swimming with both eyes closed is, shall we agree, highly disorienting.
Anyhow, I mustered for several afternoons at the natatorium to improve my sub-squad strokes. Actually, the deal was that you showed-up at 3:30 pm, impressed the duty lieutenant that you were ‘taking a strain’ and after 4 or 5 sessions, you passed the test.
By the way, the nautical value of the free-style 50 only ensured that if you ever fell overboard in the North Atlantic or somewhere in the Pacific 1,000 miles from both Pearl Harbor and Japan, that you could swim 50 yards at panic speed before drowning in the sea state that hurled you overboard in the first place. No one goes overboard in calm waters unless they miss the gangplank returning from liberty (twice I saw this on the Joseph Strauss while on quarterdeck watch in Taipei).
There you have it, I am fully qualified at the 50 yard freestyle so long as direction is not critical. Had I fallen overboard, I probably would have swam (swum, swimmed?) 25 yards west of the amidships and then returned 25 yards to the east. Probably a good flight plan in assistance of the Man Overboard team. Probably a Famous Naval Bad Idea if my launch was inspired by an abandon ship command.
Aboard my second ship, USS Joseph Strauss (DDG-16), in an attempt to spice-up the Oscar / Man Overboard Drills, we inflated a life-sized, anatomically correct rubber doll as purchased by the Supply Officer in a Hong Kong R&R shop, clothed her in a life preserver (now the term Mae West begins to mean something) and threw Rubber Rhonda, her stage name, overboard. The bridge watch team would sound 3 Prolonged Blasts, the Bosun’s Mate of the Watch would announce, “Rhonda overboard, port side (we usually got this correct) and the Gay Jose’ (an actual term of endearment by the crew of the Joseph Strauss) would dispatch its crack man overboard team to the amusement of the entire crew, including officers. This drill would occur about once per week as we ambled across the Pacific conserving fresh water and husbanding our aging engineering plant.
Nothing good lasts forever. One sunny day in the middle of the Pacific, the MOB crew motored out to Rhonda. Amidst conflicting instructions to the helmsman regarding from which side to approach her, he maintained a heading of 000 relative. Rhonda met the 5 bladed, spinning brass propellor and struck her colors. Actually, she lost her air. This scene was both diliriously funny to all aboard and simultaneously regretful, especially when we each realized that it could have been one of us overboard meeting the prop. These drills were never again as well executed (ignoring Rhonda’s murder).
Remember how I began with that natatorium in McDonough Hall. I’ll end there also. Now that I am the certified 50 meter free style Mark Spitz of the Brigade of Midshipmen, I join Lenny May in enrolling for scuba diving qualification. Color me Lloyd Bridges, father of Jeff aka The Duder. We take these classes after evening meal and more importantly after the sun goes down. Therefore, it is cold in January on the way over to class and super FillInYourFavoriteExpletive cold on the way back to our dorm rooms in a wet bathing suit and a gym shirt. I won’t protract the conversation except to say that I really, truly, nearly drowned as one of the requirements of the class was to tread water for 10 minutes while holding afloat your buddy who acted immobile. I was not Louie Zamperini-like; my partner-victim was Lenny the starting tackle on the varsity football team. Me at 150 pounds, fresh from the sub-squad where I could barely keep myself afloat, kicking like a desperate crab trying to keep both Lenny’s and my head out of the water. I am certain that to those on the side of the pool it looked as though I was trying to climb up on top of Lenny as if he were the nearest island. He was spouting like the Trident Fountain. Somehow, we passed this test.
My scuba career ended where it began in a submerged rock quarry in Pennsylvania one Sunday morning in February. All went according to practice until I cracked my wet-suit to let the water in that my body was supposed to heat to provide the required layer of insulation. What an Urban Legend! Then I descended through the black, mucky water, hands on a rope stretched between a buoy and weight at the bottom of the quarry. 50 feet down, up, pause, regulator shut-off, restore air flow, mask removed, clean, drain, restore mask to face. I’m trying not to vomit in panic. As I neared the light at the surface, I took one, not too long look around my ice box of a sports adventure, declaring that this would be not only the first, but also my last time in scuba gear. This is one promise to myself that I’ve kept.
On occasion at the tennis club and just before enjoying a beer and the scenery, I’ll thrash along a couple of lengths in the pool designated for lap swimming. Thanks to the plastic lane buoys and my investment in waterproof goggles, my tacking to the other side is not so pronounced as it once was. I still do not float well and expend much of energy trying to stay on top of the water. Whenever I regret what a weak swimmer that I am, I remind myself of how it could be worse in a wet suit.
PS the CO of the Strauss nixed the idea of a proper burial at sea for Rhonda. She departed Strauss via the fantail along with the weighted bags of trash and message traffic.