Monday, August 30, 2010

Pain and Shadows

I suffer from Migraine headaches, been suffering from them since I was 12. Well, at least that’s the earliest memory I have of those wonderfully painful vacations of daily life. Over the years I’ve come to know what triggers them, what helps prevent them and how to take care of them once they make their ugly, black, pain encrusted existence known to me.

It aint fun and if you suffer from them then you know what I’m talking about. We are an odd group of people, us Migraine-Masters; once we meet each other we quickly trade medicine knowledge, dietary suggestions and a metric-ton of home remedies. Which we all say we will try out and let the suggestor know if it works or not. (This rarely happens. Simply because what usually works for one person does not work for another.)

Now, if you don’t suffer from these blessings from hell then you need to get on your knees right now and say a prayer to God, Allah, Yahweh, Eros, Cthulu, Zeus, Set, Ptah, Mother Mary, Jesus, Odin, Thor, Nodens, Ob, Buddha, or whoever it is you worship and pray to. Because they have sparred you from locking yourself into a darkened room with the shades and curtains drawn, all the electrical and electronic devices unplugged from the sockets in your abode, buckets of ice and cool, damp wash cloths the eventually get hot and fall off your face and make your pillow too wet to sleep on, ear plugs in your ears and noise suppressor ear muffs on top of them to help tune out the noise the housefly’s are making on the pile of steamy dog poop in the neighbors back yard. They have saved you from cold sweats, nausousness and the feeling of stabbing pain in your forehead every time you blink, breathe move or even try to form a coherent thought.

I know that not all migraines are equal; some suffer in different ways and take different medicines for them. Shoot, do a web search on the many different types of medication available and it will literally give you a headache just reading through them. From Acupril to Zoloft. Yes, that Zoloft! And those are just the oral forms. I won’t go into the injections too much but I have had to take the “Shot” on occasion just to keep my brain from turning into tapioca pudding. Those “shots” will turn you into a Zombie quicker than you can say George A. Romero. (And if anyone steals the idea of injecting people with a Zombie Virus I expect ROYALTIES from the book and movie sales!)

So, where am I going with all of this?

Simple, I felt the oncoming black clouds of pain headed to my mental shores on Sunday afternoon and I had no medication with me. This was one of my first migraines in quite some time. You see, I figured out what my particular triggers to a day or two of seclusion and hermitude and I have been avoiding them. One of my biggest triggers is what I call “over-stimulation” and I simply need to have some down time for my brain to digest all the information it has collected during the day, week, month or year. This year has been ridiculous for information overload but I have been managing it quite well and I usually keep my meds close to me or at least on my body.

Not Sunday.

I had to take a trip to Williamsburg to see a brother of a cousin in law of mine at a restaurant that is also located here in Hampton Roads. On the way to this historic city I got lost, which is really nothing new, I am an Ocean Navigator not a land navigator and I don’t have a GPS system to assist me where to go. I hate those things, especially the snarky; know it all voices that are pre-programmed into them (“Please perform a U-turn while doing 76 miles per hour in a 25 mile per hour school zone so I can laugh at you while you die in a fiery car crash.”) You know, somewhere in an underground bunker there is a computer programmer with the I.Q. of 1,000 laughing his ass off at us all for not being able to read a map as he uploads all those wonderfully angry tones.


So, I got lost and I was in overload with information being screamed at me through my cell phone, the street signs, the helpful gas station attendants and the clerks at 7-11 as well as the clerks at Advanced Auto. Yes, I believe in tertiary knowledge, something the military taught me. I got back on track and arrived at the eatery with my daughter in tow. That is when I felt the first aches of the upcoming roller coaster ride of pain my brain and body had in store for me.

There were 16 people in our group and the conversations were overwhelming, I could not even concentrate on my food order and I know I must have read the menu 4 times and each time I made a choice I forgot what it was. Finally I just kept my menu open with my finger on my choice of palatable flavors of fried food.

I tried to tune things out. I tried to ignore the couple that was fighting with each other behind me. I tried to ignore the kids yelling, screaming, whispering and fighting. I tried to ignore the smells of food mingling in with the sweat of the waiters and waitress’. I tried.

I sort of succeeded.

As soon as the food was finished and the bills paid I grabbed my daughter and left in an attempt to cool my head down in “TrnMan’s” air conditioned cock pit and I even rooted through all of his storage areas thinking I had stashed some meds in him. I found nothing.

So we drove in mostly silence. The pain continued to grow in my head, the storm clouds amassing like an electrical storm in the Midwest. I tried every trick in the book to keep it at bay and I was somewhat successful.

We made it to my brother in laws house, we were the first to arrive. I was disappointed. I sat on the porch, eyes closed, pain growing and a joyous daughter playing on a tree swing. Her laughter and delight sending lightning bolts of pain through my ears and into my frontal lobes. Who said parenting wasn’t painful?

Eventually others arrive, 4 Advil gel-caps were located and dry-swallowed quickly chased by a glass of water. Children and animals were banished to the back yard and all the adults to the garage. I dozed on the couch. Once I felt good enough to drive I was sent home while my daughter stayed behind.

I drove home on autopilot and avoided causing any accidents to the best of my knowledge. But, by the time I did arrive at “The Heart of the South” the pain had returned and I barely stumbled my way into the house. Found my shot and injected my leg. The veil of sleep descended quickly and the couch beckoned for me to sit down and be enveloped into its overstuffed cushions. I complied.

When I awoke about 40 minutes later the pain had receded from the shores of my mind, leaving behind the shadows of blinding pain. I hydrated and tried to remember my thoughts on what I was going to write this week. I couldn’t remember. So…

This is what you got instead.

And, yes, I have rambled on again but I also have done some mental editing as well. I could have gone on and on but I didn’t. Well, time to sign off and post this. You all have a great week.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

A Day...

Four months ago I started to experience neck pain followed by numbness and tingling sensations in my arms. A month ago I finally went in to see a doctor about these reoccurring problems. She diagnosed me with “Degenerative Disc Disease-Cervical” which is a fancy way of saying that the bones of my spinal cord in my neck are falling apart crushing my spinal discs and pinching my nerves.

So, I have a pain in the neck. Woo Hoo.

I have named that pain “Bob”. Why Bob? Well, for reasons I care not to go into right now, but some of you may already know or suspect why “Bob” was chosen as a name for this particular, non-curable pain.

This Blog though isn’t about “Bob” but it is about a serendipitous occurrence that came through a very painful moment with “Bob”.

The bone doctor has me in physical therapy twice a week, she wanted 3 times a week but I felt that would be a bit excessive and it wouldn’t fit within my work schedule. Heck, twice a week is a bit too much if you ask me. But, I go.

My torturor’s name is Zach and he has a fancy plaque with his name on it from “Tomas de Torquemada School of Professional Abuse, Torture and Inquiry”. It even reads, “Superiority through the excruciatingly painful removal of the testimonies of enemies, rivals, slaves and lower life forms. We reserve the right to perform mental anguish and Physical pain on our victims and heretics by depriving them of any of their misguided thoughts of personal rights and views for they are not equal to us and never will be.” There’s even an authentic replica signature of Pope Lucius III right next to a neat, little, shiny, gold-foil seal.

The days I have my body wrung through the wringer are Tuesdays and Thursdays, first thing in the morning. I like to have all my poking and prodding done at the start of the day, it makes me appreciate the rest of the day as a civil servant and waiter. When you think about it, there’s not that much difference between those two jobs. Maybe that’ll be Blog-Fodder for another day.


So, on Thursday as per my Doctor’s instructions I arrive at my Torturers dungeon and commence to the indignity, ineptitude, inconceivable, inappropriate and inane torture known as Physical Therapy. Go ME! After signing in I sit down and wait for my name to be called.

“Mr. Novak,” the impersonal voice of my torturer calls to me from nowhere. “Yes.” I reply as I squint my eyes and gaze into the void where the voice is emanating from, “It is time, come with me.” The faceless voice beckons from a mist filled hallway. I get up and start walking down that dark, dank hallway that reeks of sweat, fear, pain and black mold. I stumble and try to reach out with my arms to catch myself on the walls but they are covered with the slime of 10,000 pureed eyeballs of victims before me. An opaque hand with gnarled fingers that are tipped with bloodstained fingernails reach out of the fog and shoves me hard into the gore encrusted walls. “Careful there Mr. Novak, we can’t have you hurting yourself now. Can we?” the evil voice says. “Leave that for us.”

I shall not go into the type of torture I suffered at Zach’s hands after that, simply because I have blocked them from my memory. Although, I will say this, Zack muttered the word “Oops.” And I could barely move afterwards.

By the time I got to work I was nearly blind with pain and even the slightest turning of my head caused me to see white spots before my eyes. The good news is that the white spots looked like the ladies from Sports Illustrated Swimsuit issue. Unfortunately it was the Amish version of the swimsuit issue.

My supervisor took one look at me in my hunched over and semi-paralyzed state of existence and told me to go home. I did not argue, which, looking back now seems like a major miracle. Imagine, ME actually listening to my supervisor AND not working. Yup, it’s true; the “End of Days” is here.

As I gimped my way to my trustee steed “TrnMan” I call my bride and inform her of my good fortune of an impromptu day off with pay to which she invites me to lunch. I almost balk but then decide it actually may be nice. So I say, “Certainly my bride, I would love to come spend time with you and enjoy a healthy meal in your most interesting and congenial company.” (Ok, that may be a slight exaggeration but I’m going to blame it on the painkillers that I’m currently taking.)

We hang up with each other and I continue on my semi-mobile way. TrnMan greets me with the enthusiasm of a puppy that has been left home alone for an hour and proceeds to start up immediately in the hopes of a cross-country road trip. I explain to him that we are just going home and resting, then, maybe if he is good I will take him to a mall parking lot so he can mingle with some German, Italian, Korean, Japanese and American cars and motorcycles. He was happy; he even tooted his horn in delight as we rode home. It makes me smile when TrnMan is happy.

I rested, I did laundry, I took out the trash, I played on the internet, and I got bored. Then a spark in inspiration struck me, why not go to my favorite cigar shop and see Chet the manager? I have time to kill and I rarely get over there during the work week. Plus it’s a block away from where I’m supposed to meet my wife. Brilliant! So I stumbled my way to TrnMan and off we rode. TrnMan knows the way there so I knew the autopilot would work perfectly.

Well, I suppose TrnMan had other ideas rolling around inside his engine mounts because when I looked up from my stupor we were not parked in the normal parking garage at Waterside, instead he chose to park us at the more well traveled MacArthur Mall garage. I dismounted and tethered him to the nice sunny spot where he stood “You sure about parking here?” I asked him “The last time we were here someone smacked your side and left a mark. Or did you get fresh with one of the Bavarian cars again and just not tell me?” I questioned rhetorically. He chirped at me as I walked away. A chirp that said he would be fine and if I came across a nice can of 10w-30 he would be happy to take care of it for me. I nodded, waved and looked for the entrance to the mall.

I stumbled my way into a mega-department store; all of my senses were assaulted immediately by the insane genius of the marketing department. The smell of the new clothes, shoes, perfume and chocolate all mingling into an intoxicating aroma that screams into my mind to open my wallet and let the sales reps feast greedily upon the plastic and green paper hidden within its supple leather folds. The overhead florescent lights so bright that if you look directly at them you go blind so you try to look elsewhere, to a softer gentler glow of light that is casting it’s mellow beams on the newest, most spectacular article of clothing or electronic accessory, all the while beaming straight into your cerebral cortex that you “MUST BUY THIS PIECE OF PLASTIC THAT WAS MADE IN A FORGIEGN COUNTRY BY UNDERAGE KIDS WORKING THEIR WAY THROUGH SCHOOL!”

I resist the urges and zigzag my way to the escalator that will carry my living carcass to the lower levels of consumer hell. As I step off the escalator with the grace of a wounded jackalope a sales associate attempts to get my attention by shoving shirts at me while telling me about the greatest sale in the company’s history. “Sir, you need to purchase this shirt!” She bellows to me, “It’s made from the hides of 21 pre-pubescent white seals. The texture is soft and supple. It just screams affluence and high-knobbiness! It would go wonderful with your Levi’s and your Chuck Taylors! BUY IT! NOW!”

I scream in fear and pain. I attempt to run but stumble into a clothing rack and send paisley printed shirts and sherbert colored slacks flying.

“Security!” I hear a voice yelling.

But, I don’t stop. I see light coming through a large set of doors and I head for it. My legs get tangled up in themselves and I find myself crawling through tears of anguish that is emanating from my neck. “Just want cigar.” I mumble, “Out. Need air. Can’t breathe.”

“Sir! you need to buy this shirt and the pants you just got dirty.” A voice booms. I ignore it. I am close to the door; I push, push and push. It doesn’t open. I feel sweat dripping down my forehead and into my eyes. I try to focus on my hands which have become tingly again. Thank you Bob. Then I see the sign, PULL TO OPEN, it reads, I heave with all my might and I am blasted in the face with fresh air. Joyous, wonderful, polluted air but it is fresher than the canned air they have been pumping into the store for eons. I turn to look behind me and I see the clerk shaking her fists at me as two shaved gorilla looking security guards stand in the wake of my destruction, scratching their low-browed heads in confusion.

I try to act nonchalant as I saunter to the corner, while at the same time Bob has decided that more pain and numbness in my extremities is needed. I can’t even lift my arms to push the pedestrian crossing button. My head is swimming while I try to figure out why it was such a good idea to leave my pain meds at home. I get to the corner and cross the street barely getting missed by a tractor trailer, a city bus, and a SmartForTwo, all of whom think it would be fun to blare their horns at me. I would flip them off if I could lift my arms or even control my fingers. But I can’t so I do the next best thing for them; I pray to God that their worst enemy wins the 100 million dollar lottery.

Two blocks to go. Two block to safety. Two blocks to sanity.

I turn the corner onto Granby Street and I can see the canopy of Emerson’s Cigar shop. My destination, my home away from home, my sanctuary. The one place where a person is allowed to still smoke inside with the company of new friends and old. Where, regardless of your political affiliation or gender, you get to say your piece as long as you allow someone with an opposing view to state theirs. A true bastion of intellectual freedom. No topic is off limits and no fisticuffs are allowed. Where if you have a bottle of hooch it’s there to be shared and cops have to check their badges at the door. A haven of freedom and equality. John Galt would live there if he could.

As I approach the door I peer inside the windows and I see Chet the manager standing at the register with his head down with his pipe hanging out of his mouth sending tendrils of smoke into the atmosphere only to be absorbed by the cherry wood cabinetry that is home to some of the best hand rolled cigars in the world. I open the door to the wonderful chiming sound of the bell that lets the proprietor know he has a customer. Chet looks up from his paperwork, over his eyeglasses and a smile that lights up his face brighter than the magnolia Hawaiian print shirt he is wearing and says “Skip, my man! How are you?”

“I’m good Chet, nice to see you. Hope all is well in your world.”

“It is, it is. What brings you in on a Thursday?”

“I need to relax and try to get comfortable.” I reply

“Well here man, try this new cigar.” He states and hands me one of the largest sticks I’ve ever seen. “Oh, yeah and here have this too.” He says and then opens a box filled with 13 Coconut Encrusted Colossal Shrimp that have been skewered on what can only be described at tree branches. The shrimp themselves were bigger than my hands and had more coconut fried onto them than the trees they harvested the coconuts from. I didn’t know what do first. Eat. Light up my cigar. Try to sit down. Give Chet a hug. I opted to eat first. It hid the tears of joy that were close to erupting from my eyeballs.

More friends streamed in the place, more food was brought out, bruchetta with fresh mozzarella and heirloom tomatoes that were basted in extra virgin olive oil. Drinks magically appeared and the conversation never slacked. The television was magically turned off and the entire room filled with a comfort that was shared by all. My hour and fifteen minutes spent there seemed to work magic on my soul, my pain, my psyche. Even Bob had a good time and decided to take it easy for a while.

When it came time for me to leave I said my goodbyes to Chet and the others who were still sitting around enjoying the bubble of comfort that keeps the evil of the world at bay. I left with happiness and joy in my heart. Off on another adventure but this one with my wife and our lunch together. A lunch where we would connect and rediscover our friendship for each other. Much like the discovery and friendship I received from Chet at Emerson’s.

As I re-read this blog I realize that I have gone on and on and if you, my dear reader, have hung out this far then you know I have. I apologize for this and I think I will do an honor to Led Zepplin and rename myself, at least temporarily, “Ramblin’ Man.”

Have a great week.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Time Travel

So I thought I had lain to rest my Navy Demons and I thought that most of the incidents from the mid to late 1980’s had vanished in the fog of the past. They didn’t. Well, that’s not being completely accurate. Most of what happened back then onboard my ship, the world record for an all time low morale on a military vessel or base, the extremely high suicide rate, the constant harassment of the JAG, the lack of trust of any new shipmates, the unbalanced ratio of sea time to shore time. It was all fodder for the insanity that became known as the Crew and Delinquents of the USS Austin, is nothing but memories shrouded in a vale of disbelief.

You may be asking yourself right about now “What the heck is Skip talking about now?” well, I’ll tell you my Dear Reader, last week I spoke of the slaying of demons from an era before cell phones, personal computers, instant gratification of any and all desires, a time where mail order meant mail order and people ran around in neon clothes. The heady days of the 1980’s. Crazy times for everyone, Reagan was in the White House, Hunter S. Thompson was writing for Playboy and yelling at Colorado State Troopers, satellite navigation systems were still classified top secret by the US Government, Castro was our enemy and so were the Soviets and Chinese.

Almost all of that has changed, except Castro and the Chinese.

But you know the one thing that was lost? The one thing that I forgot about and it took going to Philadelphia and Camden, New Jersey to bring back from the dark recesses of my mind. Something that I have written about without realizing I was writing about it.


Yes, that is what was made so blatantly apparent to me onboard the USS New Jersey.

Let’s see if I can paint a picture for you…

By now you should know that I was in the company of two former shipmate and we had been bonding and creating all sorts of havoc wherever it was we went. Social graces and polite conversation had literally left screaming and on fire when even just two of us were in a room. Tobacco was smoked, whiskey flowed and farm animals were scared. We played off of each other’s energy like a well lubricated piston engine in the Indianapolis 500. We held nothing back from each other and expected the same in return. But things did not really hit home with any of us until we all stepped foot onboard the ship that held our reunion.

The USS New Jersey.

The USS New Jersey is not battle ready nor will she ever be again. She sits almost welded to the pier she is berthed at and it is doubtful her boilers will ever create steam again. But that did not stop the docents from trying to recreate the sights and sounds of a real live, breathing war machine. Those tricks of sound and light had no effect on us. We knew deep down in our souls that she was slumbering and will lie in that dormant state until she is nothing but rust at the bottom of a body of water.

What got to us? What broke through all barriers and grabbed us by our testicles? Simple, it was a question.

“Having flashbacks Novak?” Brian asked me as we walked past one of the 16 inch gun turrets on the Battleship New Jersey.

“Yeah, I am. I even have goose bumps. Look at my arms dude.” I replied “What about you?”

“Nope, I put to rest all that shit a long time ago.” Was Brian’s response.

“What about you Danny?” to which we got no answer. Danny just walked forward to the forecastle of the ship, ignoring us and lost in his own thoughts of the past that brought us all together.

“You know what gets me B?” I say


“The smell. I can smell the fuel oil, the haze gray paint, the staleness of the bedding, the spray and wipe used to get rid of the grease. It’s the smell of things that are tugging at my guts like an umbilical cord.” I say

Brian grew quiet and walked past me up to where Danny was standing. I stopped and took in the sights, sounds and smells. I gaze up from the rotting teak decks and see Brian and Danny standing by the Starboard anchor chain with a look of longing in their eyes. We all felt it. We all knew our youth had slipped past us while we were making our way in the world. Working brain dead zombies all of us, while all of our youthful angst slowly faded to black as the pressures of starting a family, a business, a life got in the way.

No more saber rattling for us…


We made a pact. We were going to go UA from the reunion if things did not take an upbeat turn for us. Fortunately for us it took a downturn. As soon as the opportunity presented itself to us we made our way to the Quarterdeck and hit the bricks. Funny thing is we picked up a straggler on our way. SN Jude Coleman. Who is now apparently a Leutenent Commander and stationed in Hawaii. One of life’s mysteries I suppose.

Oh, for those of you who have never served in the military, UA means Unauthorized Absence.

The four of us walked the half a mile to the ferry landing and stood around waiting for the ferry to take us from Camden, New Jersey back to Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Our conversation had its ebbs and flows and while I don’t remember most of what we were discussing I know that most of it dealt with catching up on what we had been doing for the last 20 years. Most of it was just plain filler. Life’s filler.

The ferry arrived, we boarded in silence, found some seats and did some people watching. Text messages were sent to loved ones and not so loved ones.

Once we arrived in Philadelphia proper we disembarked and headed for the Taxi Stand. I don't know why or how but we changed our minds. We decided to walk back to the hotel. And on that walk is where all the distant memories that had been held back by the Dam of Time started to flood in through the slough gates. Memories of foreign cities and liberty calls, lost memories of nights spent in smoke filled bars with shipmates, memories of bombs going off in a USO with the bodies of Marines and Sailors alike burning like so many pieces of cord wood on a chilly autumns night, memories of laughter at our own expense, memories of bartering and dickering with the “Hey-Joes” over the price of a coat or a pair of earrings for a loved one back home. Memories of long lines at phone booths and pockets full of foreign coins, memories of over inflated exchange rates, memories of great food and great times with guys you would even to this day take a bullet for.

That is what the mile and a half walk back to the hotel brought me along with some conversation and bonding that would never have happened inside a taxi cab. A conversation that will one day be lost in my memory banks as just another day. But the imprint of those few hours spent walking, talking, laughing and just re-living our youth in countries like Egypt, Italy, France, Israel, England, Germany and Jamaica is a gift I don’t think we were prepared for. Nostalgia is a pain in the ass and it crept up on us like our middle age. I don’t know if Jude, Danny or Brian felt it the way I did. I don’t know if they think of that walk and talk the way I do. I don’t know.

The disappointment I felt when shipmates I was hoping to see, to talk to, to relive old times with in cities that may not have meaning to most people, quickly faded as we walked along the cobbled streets where Ben Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams and the rest of our founding fathers tread. Our footfalls and voices blended into a mixture of poetic music that cast magical spells and transported us back to a time when the aches and pains of middle age were nothing but a warning by higher ranking men we served with. A time when we held in our hands the future of America with all the promises of riches and fame that had been spoon fed to us as children of the 1970’s. We were young again. We were invincible. WE WERE!

We got back to the hotel and I tried to hang on to that magical tapestry of youth that had presented itself like a lost Christmas gift but it slipped away like so many other things in life. It left behind only the fond memories and the feeling of connectivity that is rarely passed between people in this day and age of electronic communication. I am happy to have had the opportunity to walk with these men and to talk with them; they all mean something to me and also represent a time in my past before all the mistakes I have made caught up with me. It almost feels as if I have cheated death again.

Well, I am going to wrap this blog up and get it posted. I hope you all have a great week. I also hope that next week I have something else to write about besides the Navy.

Have a great week.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Scar Tissue and Demons

I spent the weekend locked in a hotel room with Hunter S. Thompson and Vincent Van Gogh.

Ok, so it wasn’t really Hunter or Vincent but you know for an opening line that’s pretty damn good and it’s more than a bit accurate. My shipmates Brian Keene and Daniel Blumenthal who I served with onboard the USS Austin (LPD-4) from 1985 to 1989, those are my dates of service. Brian’s and Danny’s vary slightly, have both been tortured, like myself, by our time of service on Her and in the US Navy and each one could be compared in their own right to Hunter or Vincent. Brian paints with words and Danny writes with paint.

Where was I? Oh, yeah, in 1988 Brian and Danny left the Her and I followed in 1989, we all went our separate ways in this world without really thinking where we were going. Typical mentality of our youthful ignorance. We made our way and didn’t get killed or incarcerated for life in a penal system of our respective states. Then, almost 2 years ago we got together in through an act of God and the assistance of Paul McCann in Virginia Beach, Virginia to relive the glory days of the mid to late 1980’s. It was a very painful time for us all. Old wounds that we thought were healed were reopened and the rotten, pus laden emotional flesh was exposed to the midnight sun of the Brotherhood of Service. It hurt like hell! We screamed, we laughed, we cried and we rejoiced. We tore through Virginia Beach that night like an uncontrollable, category 5 hurricane. When it was all over we went our separate ways. Few goodbyes were passed along between us. Instead we exchanged emails, facebook pages, web addresses and cell phone numbers.

We stayed in touch. We talked not just about our experience onboard Her but our lives afterwards. We shared with each other our innermost secrets of loves won and lost. Of pain swallowed like a bitter pill and the vengeance of our wrath on the world when we couldn’t digest anymore. And through these sharing’s we healed. Our infected, scabbed over wounds had new fresh growth of healthy tissue. Scar tissue, new, pink, flexible and strong.

So this reunion for us three was a bit different, old friends who didn’t show up left us with a feeling of disappointment and loss. New friends were a blessing for us and gave us all another layer of perspective in the history of Her. We added to their own perspectives with our stories creating a richer and more vibrant history for Her. But, at the end of the night, lying in the hotel room with just the sounds of my fellow shipmates shallow breathing and their almost whisper like voices as they cry out to their dreams it took me back to those long, cold and lonely nights on the ship when I would lay in my rack and listen to those same night sounds. The only difference now was that there was no deep thrumming of Her engines, no sounds of the ocean being pushed out of the way by Her as she sliced Her way through whatever body of water we happened to be in like a dull knife through 3 day old bread.

I suppose this is where I tell you a little about Her. Some history perhaps and maybe even a physical description? Maybe…

She was conceived in February of 1963 in New York Naval Shipyard, Brooklyn, New York but was not born until June of 1964 and in February of 1965 she was officially welcomed into United States Naval Service. The name she was given was the USS Austin (LPD-4) and she was the first in her class. The Austin Class. She was named after Stephen F. Austin and her home city was Austin, Texas. She had two huge hearts in her belly that controlled the steam turbines that pushed her almost 17,000 tons of weight through the water and an uncontrollable speed of 21 knots. She sat 23 feet below the water line and she was almost 570 feet long. At any given time she had onboard her a little over 1300 sailors and marines that loved her for her all she was worth. She was murdered on September 27, 2006. She was 41 years old. (Date of Commission to Decommission)

And she was a beauty. A large, clumsy, gray, fickle beast that would take all you could give and then ask for more. She demanded everything from you and gave nothing back but a sense of safety and occasionally a comforting nights rest. We paid tribute to her with the blood we spilled on her, for her and by her. When she got upset and refused to work we paid her tribute and stroked her ego until she was placated and decided she would allow us to ride on her through the oceans of the world. We spent countless hours making her look as pretty as we could but in the hierarchy of Naval Warships she would always be the 5th or 6th runner up in an ugly pageant and she knew it. We knew it too but didn’t care. She was OURS! We fought the Cru/Des sailors over her, the Carrier sailors over her and even the Bubbleheads over her. And through every fight, whether won or lost we had the USMC backing us up and we always returned to seek Her approval.

Enlisted men assigned to her whether straight from boot camp or as a second or third command left as better and stronger men. Officers came to her only to see their careers get chewed up and spat out on the rocky shoals of life. Marines came onboard seeking just a taxi cab ride but ended up giving their lives for her.

She was the mistress none of us was looking for but all of us fell in love with and in the end when our love was not reciprocated we abandoned her. Some with tears of sadness, some with whoops of joy and others with the taste of bitterness and failure in their mouths. The point is we all LEFT HER! She knew we would. She knew she could never become as attached to us as we were to Her.

People look at me funny when I describe Her and my love for her and the time I spent on her. Sailors don’t though, they understand. She was a living, fuel oil eating, steam spitting, overweight bitch of a ship and she deserved as much respect and honor as any Battleship or Carrier in the fleet. She helped out with the Space program in the 1960’s, and carried dead Marines from Beirut in 1983 to their final resting places in Arlington. She served America honorably and faithfully as did the sailors and marines that served on her.

The demons of our youth were exorcized 2 years ago and this weekend I think we all realized how important that was. We also realized that we don’t need to be around each other and just tell the same old Sea-Stories from our time onboard Her. We all have lived our lives and made our way in this world. We have families of our own that we fight for daily and work to perform. Are we all happy? No we are not. But we all have a bond that was forged in the depths of a Warship and that bond has been hardened through not just the trials and tribulations of life alone but our collective shared experiences over the course of time. Our journey to Manhood started onboard Her and continues to this day. I thank God I have had this opportunity to serve with these men. I hope they all know how much they mean to me.

God Bless Us.

Have a great week.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

In response to Kelli Owen/Dunlap

This blog comes from some questions last week on another blog site that I visit regularly., if you have never heard of her that is ok, I won’t judge you. I should also mention her name is not Kelli Dunlap now but instead it is Kelli Owens. Kelli is an awesome writer in both fiction and non-fiction categories, she is also a person whom I have grown to respect over the past year. Her blog last week was about compasses and what gives you your true north and your direction in life. Here is the question she posed to all of her readers:

Do you have a compass? Nah, that’s a given, even if it’s a little broken one, you’ve still got one. Ok, how about: Where’d you get it from? Does your moral compass come from your upbringing? Your faith? Your experiences? Your desires to be a certain way? How did you come to the morals that you hold yourself by?”

My initial reaction to these questions was to be short, snarky and disrespectful. You know, the way I normally am when faced with something serious.

But then I stopped and thought about the meaning of the questions, where they came from and what was this person trying to learn. Once I did that I just knew I had to write a response, but that response quickly became long winded and quickly outgrew the comment section of her blog so I erased it and started this as my response and what you are about to read is what I came up with:

Yes, of course I have a compass, and yes that compass has been known to malfunction on occasion much like a 1988 Yugo. Sometimes at the most inopportune moments, going uphill for example or downhill or sitting in a meeting with my supervisor, at dinner with my spouse, on the phone with my dad, in polite conversation with… well… anyone. I am by far from being tactful and responsible in just about any given situation but I always try to do the right thing. I try.

Where does this “Due North” unseen plotted course come from in me? No idea, I am sure that if I had spent more time on one of my many therapists couches I would have discovered it quickly and efficiently and in a way that would have cost thousands of dollars and many expensive mood altering drugs. To which I say “NO! I don’t want ‘em and I don’t need ‘em!”

But I can guess.

I can guess where my Northerly direction yearning is from. If hard pressed I would say it comes from a variety of outside influences as well as some pre-programmed, hard wired NEED to be a good person, to not goof everything up and upset everyone in my life. To try and get along with folks but not necessarily to fit in with them.

I do believe that all humans are born onto this our earth with an inherent desire to good and that as we grow and mature other “Outside” influences and experiences imprint themselves on our psyche. Now, how we handle those influences and experiences will dictate our course in a Northerly, Southerly, and Easterly or Westerly direction. But, that it were so easy… We need tools to handle life’s issues and it is the responsibility of our Parents and Siblings to help us develop those tools.

Through those teachings or in some cases failed teaching We learn what we should do, should not do, what is acceptable and what is not acceptable. We grow, we discover our path and our purpose. I know it sounds crazy but this is the way I see things. In some cases the best lessons we learn are through our failures and the failures of others. We learn that to forgive and show grace is right and to seek revenge and hold grudges is wrong. We learn to look after our fellow mankind and be charitable, we even teach our children to share. (Remember taking your offspring to the local fast food joint and trying to get a French Fry from them?) You taught them how to share, whether you meant to or not that is what you did.


Back on track

So, where does my Northerly compass course come from? Simple, I am a faithful man, I try to follow and I believe in the teachings of Christ but even before I started down that road I still maintained the Golden Rule, which I believe, comes from one of Christ’s teachings as well as being written in Leviticus 19:18 which is the 3 book of the Old Testament.

Where does that leave me in all this introspective drivel? Simple:

1. I believe I was not born to do bad things.

2. I believe that everyone has within them the desire to treat everyone as well as they want to be treated.

3. Through life’s growth and experiences do we learn how to interact with people in our community.

4. What is acceptable in some places is not necessarily acceptable everywhere.

5. I try to be as good a person as I can be and not let things bother me too much. Although I don’t always succeed in this, I at least try and when I do fail I am not above not apologizing for my actions or inactions.

6. My Northerly Direction comes from the fact that I want to leave this world a better place than when I was in it and I want to leave this world in more loving and capable hands such as my Daughter.

7. My Daughters nickname is Goose in honor of the real life weapons and navigation officer who kept his fighter pilot from crashing and burning and getting too out of hand and her nickname serves as a constant reminder to me of why I am here and what kind of impression I am trying to leave behind when I am gone.

Have a great week and try to be nice to each other.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Brain Freeze/Overload

Normally when I sit down to write my blog I just reach into the recesses of my mind, find the one topic or idea that has been jumping up and down all week waving its’ hands in the air, screaming for attention like the 14 year old teacher’s pet/know it all. You know the one that always blew the bell curve on tests and always had the answer to everything? The one that eats lunch all by themselves and ends up playing freeze tag alone at recess. Yeah, that one! That’s the one I pay heed to, give my attention to and I then reach out with my mental hand and grasp it and pulverize the little sucker till he screams no more.

That’s my method. True, I am sure that some folks out there will consider it crass, crude and barbaric but it works for me. Except right now it’s not working for me. I mean, it is but it’s not. You see when I looked into my mind yesterday to write down a thought or thoughts I saw not just one screaming idea but an entire ocean of hands in the air, everyone of them demanding the same amount of attention. So instead of just trying to work through it and find the one that was just a tad bit higher than the rest of them I shut them all down. I walked away thinking that I would come back later and find one. I did just that. I walked away. Now today I came back and I found that the same occurrence was going on. An entire sea of thoughts and ideas screaming for me to let them out. Stories both fictional and fantasy, political views, social commentaries, jokes, scripture, historical forgotten facts and just a bunch of other mental debris that seems to clutter up my daily thought process.

So if you all will just bear with me for a few days or so I will try and get something a little more substantial to you. I’m not going to promise anything of a meaty variety or even some sugary confection but I will say that it is definitely going to be better than this.