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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.
From a pretty good Fast Company article (click on image to access). What would Steve Jobs think of Watson? “Data driven decisions…” I prefer leading our clients with less of ‘give ‘em what we think the misleading data says that they want.’ The riff could be endless.
There is a seeming urgency to the pending 45th reunion of my high school. It’s certainly my own concoction as I realize that we’re more than half-way through the reunion cycle mainly because a 90th is pretty unlikely. In a separate post, I recited the selection process of Jesuit High School where 90+ rising eighth graders (we didn’t have this term then. I think we said, “I’m going into 8th grade.”) were permitted to attend Jesuit as pre-freshmen.
About 15 of us were so selected from Holy Name of Jesus Elementary School based upon performance in an related entrance exam. While considering this admissions process and its implications for my adult, I counted that this year is the fiftieth (I cannot write the number) anniversary of the year that I left Holy Name for Jesuit. So, I’m at the mid-point of today and just before the Russian Revolution. You know, the presidency of Woodrow Wilson; when my grandmother was 9.
I’m sure that I could come-up with 50 Jesuit recollections. I’ll begin with 10.
1. Jesuit High School is a montage of streetcar rides, touch football games at recess and living for dates on the weekend with Mount Carmel girls or any girls. #FarhadGrotto
2. My homerooms were S-3, 12, 2B, 3B, 4B. Of these lots of young and younger boys, who became what is hardly a surprise as I believe that when you know someone in high school, you know that person forever. Are Jack Neville, Mike Farrell and Mike Casteix really gone?!
3. I failed French in my sophomore year. The misdeed that probably pushed me over the edge was that I copied many or too much of John Cooper’s answers in our library exam room only to meet him in summer school. The summer session teacher, Gary Medina, was not fond of me and my streectcar-buddy, Jimmy Colomb. By only a few points, I passed the summer make-up course and JC failed the mark. At the Naval Academy, I earned 5 As and 1 B in 6 classes of university level French. #TheMorelock
4. Our Senior Year Graduation Party was organized, i.e. money collected and tickets sold, at an apartment complex in the French Quarter. At 11am on the morning of, the owner forbid such a party as he saw us packing one of the bathtubs with ice and beer. Fortunately, Mrs. Casteix let us use her home in Gentily that same night. #Pettingill #RoomKeyIntoPool
5. #4 caused me to miss a baseball team practice which put the coach at his wit’s end with me. I was kicked-off the team. #MissedStatePlayoffs #MasperoRandoMisuraca
6. Every time that I think of the narrative of my life and how it could have turned-out, I am grateful for the endorsement of Assistant Principal John Rice, a commander in the Naval Reserve. I had no plans for college until we spoke at graduation. #MunicipalAuditorium #PowerBlueTuxJacket #NotLSUNO
7. In hindsight, how good and patient were most of my teachers. Joe Dover, Jimmy Breaux, Mr. Ruffino, Father Leininger, Mr. Steckel, Mr. Canton and Father Koch.
8. I had to be the most misfit cadet (sic) in the JROTC program. It used to make Colonel Boehm USMC furious if he caught us walking down Carrolton Avenue not wearing our Marine covers (hats). #ButItsNotCoolSir #NavalAcademyAlumPresident
9. Jere Peterson of the Jesuit class of 1969 shepherded me through my first three years at the Naval Academy. He was clever, well-liked and so had the system there misdirected. Stunned at his suicide.
10. How the Lakefront seemed far from Uptown with Jesuit at Mid-City. Actually, my New Orleans world was such a small segment of the city and its population as my 9th Ward cousin in New York likes to remind me. #CameliaGrill #Valencia #PontchatrainBeach
For no other reason, I applaud the move because it is daring, really daring. Not an incremental 3% growth target in an existing marketing; not waiting to see what the store across the street is doing; not afraid to fail as success is certainly not guaranteed; imagine if the concept takes hold!? I’m a fanboy for sure. And been a customer since the early 80s. So often have they been written off or dismissed as…. Doesn’t the world need a dose of bold example? Something to talk about and to ponder. Isn’t a consequence of all things social that the face of the enterprise has to be familiar, trustworthy, available – and not because Don Draper says so?!. Real leadership.
I still think that we are at the steam-powered car phase of the Internet. Thrilled that Apple is making us think differently even if, even I, have no clue why I would want an iWatch.
Maybe spring is in the air?
The intent of the app is to migrate a well received publication to a mobile format so that changes may be readily made and for the convenience of clients on the move. Special thanks to Leslie Walden at Fidelity Investments for the introduction to NCCPPR and to Paige Worsham at NCCPPR for carefully and kindly managing the project.
I retired from IBM in January 2014. Feels good not to have separated with a cardboard box and the security guard or the make-believe classes for career transition. Ugh! Truth is that I accepted the Transition to Retirement program, an 18 month, reduced hours for reduced pay agreement because I felt that hanging-on as an employee in the Sam Palmisano era with his King Lear-like furor for an earnings per share milestone (now discredited after 13 consecutive quarters absent revenue growth and earning the company the moniker of the worst performing of Dow Jones Industrial Average for two consecutive years) would only be taking a number for a stroll along the gangplank.
“What have you ever done for the team?” I was asked this by two levels of management on that Emerging Internet Technologies Team of mine. My role was business development executive. The coup de gras was the directive that I drive to an office to sit in a cubicle to be with others on every Tuesday and Thursday or Monday and Wednesday. In my past, when times were tough sales types were told to get out of the office and go find some business. Clear was that my position along with my stature was fading fast. So I took less for longer and signed the Transition to Retirement contract.
Apple stock is at $127 today. I bet you that it eclipses IBM’s stock price once that the iWatch is released for sale. This is after 7 for 1 split in June of 2014. Instead of investing in innovation and especially innovative people of which there are plenty at IBM or even acknowledging the enduring trends in social, mobile, cloud and analytics, IBM went for stock buy-backs, repackaging of existing services and customer references and mindless cost-cutting. Funny is how the market seemed to like their themes of Smarter Planet and Watson even though IBM executives had no clue what this meant beyond IT services, renewing mainframe licenses and devouring companies, via many dozens of acquisitions, who had real ideas and real revenue growth. I knew that this jig was up when the CFO for the EPS forced-march retired (the way that the Wizard of Oz in his balloon retired) in January of 2014. Watson knows everything except how to make money and its flop was foreshadowed by the ship-jumping of its research-lab- father when he left for a a hedge fund company within one year of the Jeopardy parlor game.
I got to say it. What did I do?! I told them to buy Apple at $86 or the equivalent of about $12 today. I wrote about this in their blogs. I accompanied senior executives to meetings with important clients where they asked about leveraging Apple technologies. My manager and I even met a neighbor of Steve Jobs’s, a venture capitalist, who agreed that the pending iPhone introduction was intended to be more than a phone. “Apple’s going to be a consumer electronics company,” he said. My boss didn’t hear this remark because he left for a dinner with his brother in law. I spoke to IBM’s largest customers at the Manhattan Briefing Center about the genuine example of Apple. The Simon Sinek video says it all. At these meetings over 6 years, I observed that one compelling reason for these IBM customers to participate in the briefings was the opportunity to walk around the corner to the Apple Store on Park Avenue. Inevitably, the summary segment of the briefing, before all headed to the airport, was conducted amidst the crinkles and pops of clients unpacking their iPad and iPhone purchases so as not to have custom’s duties to pay at their ports of entry.
I reported back from a private CIO conference in New England that no one trusted Android and all wished that IBM would provide them with some kind of reliable enterprise app store. My senior management reaction was “That’s hard to do.” Now they’re bragging about developing 100 apps in partnership with Apple. Oh Big Brother!
I don’t want any more lay-offs. The country needs a vibrant IBM. Apple cannot do it all. I was paid to tell them what made customers curious and excited. That’s what I done for the team.
We will now return to regularly scheduled programming.
For all not in the know, a paragraph of context. In the 1960s, Holy Name of Jesus School (HNJ) in New Orleans was/is a feeder school for Jesuit High School. Run by the nuns of the Mercy Order and adjacent to Loyola University, a Jesuit college, one KPI (please laugh) was the number of students who attended Jesuit High School. Boys and girls attended HNJ through 8th grade; we were segregated into same sex classes, boys in kakhi and the girls in navy blue skirts. We, the boys, even had a kind of ROTC once per week led by a genuine ROTC student from Loyola. Jesuit High accepted 90 students each year into a Pre-Freshman program. Essentially, the 90 acceptees skipped 8th grade at their elementary school to begin classes at Jesuit with the program taking the 90 through a modified college curriculum by the fifth year of high school. I’m not sure that it worked this way in execution. We were divided into homerooms of S-1, S-2 and S-3. I entered in S-3. The memories are vivid of being a 13 year old amidst 18 year olds from across town with their whiskers, smokes, cars and nearly grown-up girl-friends. This milieu was quite the upgrade from wiffle ball games at Holy Name’s little recess from 10:10 to 10:30 each morning. The representation of this change in my life was taking the public transportation, street cars and buses of NOPSI in a new direction each day. Most everything else, although different in scale, was familiar as we wore kakhi uniforms, attended all-boy classes, lived for sports, ambling along with this educational Stations of the Cross.
It’s that time of life. How does one best catch-up with several dozens of people in a series of “Hey, What are you up-to conversations.” While thinking about that, here’s what comes to mind.
S-3:Damaret, Davis, Dazette, Cerise, Cobb, Cousins, Casteix. Ray Coates, Jimmy Breaux, Fabian Mang, Joe Dover and Dick Francis, the coach not the writer. Of course, coaches Maspero, Rando and Misuraca if one followed baseball. Father Koch, Fathers Leininger, Brother Ferlitta and Father Reed. Mark Maderi and Milton DeRanier. I don’t guess that any of them will be there in April. Master Sergeant Chapelle and Colonel Boehm. Farhad Grotto and the girls from Mount Carmel. Morning assembly and ice tea after school at Walgreens. Mr. Pratt the PE teacher. Gene Tarzetti and Father Coco. I realize that I’m away from there and over here because of them all.
Mike Mann and Phelps Gay from Holy Name did not make the Pre-Freshman selection process. How did I?! I’ve never made any list since. The divide of 1A, 1B and 1C from D,E,F and G. Uptown divided from the Lakefront with the unfair Fairgrounds in between. For two years, I walked past De La Salle to catch the Saint Charles street car, the Tulane bus and, sometimes, the Carrollton bus to the corner of Banks & Carrollton. John Rice accompanied me during these 45 years in two ways: the moment that he explained to John Ruth and me that “organizations exist first for administration efficiency, then the needs of their constituents.” I recall that we entered his Assistant Principal’s office to describe how we believed that the school should be run. I was given the other way in 1992 when I received a packet of my Naval Academy files. I learned of the extent to which he inspired other teachers at the eleventh of eleventh hours to vouch for my suitability as a midshipman. He had more confidence in me than I had in myself.
I suppose that college becomes that accepted launching point of our professional lives as I’ve grown used to describing my own as beginning in Annapolis. I didn’t see it this way early on. My career (sic) was launched by NOPSI as I’ve told others often. Being somewhere on time, managing carfare, asking for a transfer introduced something about the adult world that I wasn’t learning driving down Bourbon Street to the Cafe Du Monde at 9pm on weeknights with my mother, her friends and 3 sisters. That was normal, right?! Fun, for sure.
The Vietnam Nam War shepherded me into the Naval Academy. Clear am I that I would not be accepted in today’s competitive process. In between those streetcar rides and promenades about the Yard of the Naval Academy, I became a lot more of what I was to be than I ever figured while a Jesuit Blue Jay. Who else in high school left Latin class to learn to field strip an M-79 grenade launcher while meandering in the halls with hundreds of other boys in enforced silence?! Beware of the Prefect of Discipline along the stairways, especially Pat Screen’s little brother.
My best year at the Naval Academy was my first year much to the wonder of all and the disappointment of some who were quite sure that I wouldn’t be at muster for long. But I had all of these classes at Jesuit: French, Calculus, English and even Naval Science aka Military Science. One of my company officers eventually became Commandant of the Marine Corps. He was careful about who could besmirch his reputation as a promotable leader. Can you imagine his surprise when my denied-by-him request to attend the Cherry Blossom Festival Ball one Saturday evening in Washington, DC as invited by Cindy Hufft (the charming CH) was recanted after a call to the Academy from the office of Congressman F. Edward Hebert, Chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. The then Captain Krulak, as he handed me my now approved chit (form) to attend the Ball, only asked me, “how do you know someone in Congressman Hebert’s office?” “I’m not exactly sure, Sir,” I replied, “but I believe that Miss Hufft’s father worked for Huey Long.” He stared at me incredulously as he invited me out of his office “New Orleans must be quite the place,” he said.
So it remains, I guess, although I have no recent information or experience. I drove about the Lakefront between flights one year shortly after Katrina. I couldn’t find Larry Thomas’s house nor that of Gerry Rotonti’s having spent much time in both. Nothing had changed and everything was different, especially me. Aside from that 4 hour lay-over on Southwest Airline flights, I’ve only returned for a couple of high school reunions. I’ve become an outsider. I felt trapped in time as my Jesuit classmates had moved on to families and careers and epochs beyond tales of history class with Mr. Steckel, Dookie Chase Jr. or the III sitting in front of me or the 8 track sounds of John Fred and the Playboy Band in Sal Piazza’s Oldsmobile Cutless on the way to pick-up Dawn the colonel’s daughter and future Saint cheerleader.
Going back causes me to understand how different it all could have been if not for a word of advice here and a contact there and the intercession of the benevolent hand of Fate. I guess that I’m returning out of curiosity; to prove to myself that it all really did start there; in hopes of finding fun amidst the haze of collective memory; to remind myself that we were all really that young once; in search of some sort of acceptance for not having been more part of it. You never know. I prefer to remember the Saints with Les Kelly, Flea Roberts, Tom Dempsey and Billy Kilmer.
I recall a proper visit to NOLA in the late 1980s, before either of my two sons were born, a Sunday of Mardi Gras season. With my mother and wife, we walked to Magazine and Some Cross Street to view an afternoon parade. I was 36 years old. As is the custom, two of us spectators politely (ha!) fought for a pair of beads thrown from a float. As we each caught and held the same pair of cheap beads, we looked at one another to determine who would be the ultimate recipient. “Hi Beth.” “Hi Christopher.” “How are you?!,” we both said. I hope to the heavens that I let go of my half of the throw. “Fine, married, living here / living in North Carolina,” we said. “You look great.” “You too.” “Bye.” “Take care of yourself.” Beth Hakenjos and I were secret admirers in the 4th grade at Holy Name of Jesus behind Loyola and across from Mercy High School. Hadn’t seen her since 1965. It is quite a place.
Info on Festival: http://firstnightraleigh.com
Link to Apple Store: https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/first-night-raleigh-2015/id585627875
Link to Google Marketplace: https://play.google.com/store/apps/details?id=com.bluepane.firstnight