Thank You For Your Service
I've been awake for a couple of hours now, and didn't sleep all that well before anyway. Came home last night from something that was billed as a "get to know your Congressman" event, emphatically not a "town hall". And my head is filled with a lot of thoughts and emotions and it's just keeping me awake. I started a post last night about it, but got distracted and I can't type as fast as my brain runs anyway, so it was kind of an effort in futility.
But this is the thought that got me out of bed, because I think I can keep up with it, get this down and not be chasing after it.
I wore my JOHN HANCOCK (DD-981) ball cap to the event. It was from my tour as XO in that SPRUANCE class destroyer ("strike destroyer" was the preferred nomenclature back then, after the ship was equipped with a Vertical Launch System and Tomahawk Missile capability). I digress, as I'm wont to do, and likely will again. Please bear with me.
Anyway, as is the fashion these days, a number of people said, "Thank you for your service." And it happens to me fairly frequently because I go to a lot of meetings now, in a mostly futile effort to try and effect change, and I often mention my career background, and when I do, well, that's what the title of this post is about.
I understand the sentiment. In some cases it sounds genuine, in some cases it sounds as if the speaker is really trying to make it sound genuine, in some cases it's as perfunctory as any other social lubricant, like "How are you?" And I understand the origin, the history of Vietnam veterans, and Korean War veterans, the seemingly ceaseless conflicts we throw our professional military class into today and the growing chasm of ignorance, and likely guilt, between those who've served and those who haven't. I get it. I don't object to it, but it's still kind of off-putting. So here we are.
It's hard to know where to begin, so I'll begin where I am. I did not serve for anyone's thanks. I do not require anyone's thanks.
I am grateful that I served. I am grateful that I had the opportunity to serve. I suppose I should be thanking you.
And now I think I should offer another caveat. This is my experience. I'm not comparing my experience to any other veteran's in any other service. I'm certainly making no claims about the nature of my experience being universal to all veterans. I have not experienced the same level of trauma in conflict. I have not witnessed the same amount of death and destruction, though I have witnessed both. This is just me.
And it's also important to mention that this is how I understand my experience today, as a 62-year-old veteran, almost 20 years since I took off my uniform. That perspective has also altered how I've come to understand my experience. And it's been a good thing, this distance. Many of the things that I didn't care for about my career have receded in their importance in my life. (Not getting command. Not making O-6. The toll it seemed to extract from my family and me.) Those things have lost a lot of their emotional charge; and it makes it easier to regard some other aspects that were perhaps obscured by pain and disappointment.
The journey metaphor is used to describe much of life, with good reason. One goes from here to there, points separated in time and space, and the person who set out on that journey is seldom the same one who ultimately arrives. I guess we're all still breathing, so we're still on our respective journeys, but I can look back on my service now, and see it as a separate part and what role it played in creating the sleepless man typing before you.
I began my service because of my father, and his service. He was a Navy combat veteran of World War II. He went on to serve 23 years on active duty, retiring as an E-6 in 1967 when his oldest son, moi, was 10. I loved my dad, and for as long as I can remember, he wanted me to go to the United States Naval Academy. And, loving my father, that's what I wanted to do too. At least until about the time I was getting ready to graduate from high school. We don't need to go into any detail, suffice to say that there were some, as my therapist used to call them, "noisy battles," before I finally arrived at Tecumseh Court in July 1975, raising my right hand and doing something probably far too few people ever do these days, and almost no one understands, swearing an oath. I certainly didn't understand what I was doing. I knew what the words meant, but experience has taught me that vast meaning is often hidden in a few simple words. Something I feel acutely today.
I did not enjoy my initial experience at the Naval Academy. I was a very unhappy young man. I recently completed a survey for some researchers gathering data from alumni from probably 50 years of classes, about their Naval Academy experience. I hope I gave them some useful data. Judging by the questions, I expect it may not have been what they were used to receiving. I digress (again).
My plan was to resign before the beginning of my junior year (Second Class Year), as that would allow me to leave without a service obligation and two years of "free" academic credits. (For whatever they would have been worth. I believe now that for most of my Plebe year, I was struggling with depression and my academic performance was abysmal.) But, as these things go, I fell in love with my first real sweetheart early on in my Youngster Year (sophomore), and if I didn't go back for Second Class Year, well, there would be no more Janie in my life.
And also as these things go, while Janie and I dated off and on for the rest of my time at the Academy, well, that was my first introduction to the pain of genuine heartbreak. Wouldn't be my last, but they have been very few, happily.
Service Selection is part of your First Class (Senior) Year, where you choose what part of the Navy you wish to serve in. I originally had hoped to become a pilot and fly fighters, and then become an astronaut, because who didn't? But I became near-sighted in high school, and so I knew being a pilot was out. I was still physically qualified to be a Naval Flight Officer, but they only had 50 spots for Academy grads that year, and your service selection opportunity was based on your class rank, and I was definitely not within shouting distance of the number of Mids who wanted to fly before me.
Earlier in the year, Admiral Rickover had to institute a special appeal to get enough Mids to volunteer for Nuclear Power School. I volunteered because I thought subs were cool, but Rickover took one look at my academic record and didn't even grant me an interview. (Those stories are legendary now. I'm kind of sorry I don't have one.) So, I couldn't see well enough to fly, wasn't smart enough to be a nuc, too smart to be a Marine! (Sorry Marines. I love you guys, truly I do, and you're God's gift to America. But I'm probably not cut out for it.) So I was left with what we called "surface line" ("mighty fine"). This is the traditional naval officer's career. Fast ships going in harm's way and all that.
But this was back in the day when the Navy still had a lot of old ships in active service. Rusty! Powered by steam! So the gouge was to get one of those new gas turbine ships! The SPRUANCE class! Failing that, a KNOX class frigate! Definitely not an amphib or logistics ship!
Well, by the time ol' 849 gets down to Memorial Hall, the only combatant hull left was USS GLOVER (FF-1098). 1098! That must be the newest KNOX class there is! Nope. It was an old GARCIA class frigate, and it was a modified one at that! Only had one 5"/38 cal gun on the bow (usual number was two, one forward one on the 01 level aft). Analog everything, not a computer to be found, except for the old Mark 1-Able gunfire control computer built by Allis-Chalmers, the tractor manufacturer, in, like 1944! Truthfully, the MK-57 gunfire control system was also installed, and also had an analog computer, much more advanced than the MK 1A, which relied on gears.
Let me also add here, that this is the one thing I have in common with my junior Senator, Rick Scott. In his brief 29 months of service as (his words) a Navy "member" (He's a "member" all right.) he spent some time in GLOVER. I had more time in GLOVER (36 months) than he had in his entire enlistment. Our periods of service did not overlap. Fortunately.
So, another disappointment. But, onward! Do my six year service obligation, resign and go to work making big bucks for someone else! That was the plan.
Well, long story short, turns out I liked going to sea. Actually took someone else to point this out to me. Had a shipmate who was also a roommate ashore and he told me one time at sea that the only time he ever saw me happy was when the ship was at sea. And, truthfully, he was right. And I hadn't even noticed it. Sea duty tied to a pier sucks. Ships belong at sea, and GLOVER spent far too much time in shipyards for a variety of reasons we don't need to go into.
While I was on shore duty, I looked at career opportunities as a civilian and I didn't have the right background to do anything I really wanted to do, which was mostly rockets and computers, and the Navy had guided missile ships. So I didn't resign. Went to Department Head School, got married, and came to Mayport, Florida expecting to be the Combat Systems Officer aboard USS STEPHEN W. GROVES (FFG-29). Well, go figure, skipper had this master plan that all his CSOs would roll in as Ship Control Officers (Operations Officer in conventional nomenclature) before "fleeting up" to Combat Systems. ("Life is pain." "Get used to disappointment." Dread Pirate Roberts)
Again, disappointed at the time. It worked out. In GLOVER, I was the most experienced ship driver. I was special evolutions OOD, always took the ship out to sea and brought her back to port. Loved driving, had a pretty good feel for it. Had a great first skipper who liked me for some reason and was an excellent teacher, when he wasn't kicking you in the shins. (Not me. Another officer.) And as Ship Control in STEPHEN W GROVES, I spent a lot of time on the foc'sle with the 1st Lieutenant and his deck gang. Enjoyed working with the Chief Bo'sun, watching him run his crew. Learned a lot from that time. I wasn't used to working with 1st Div guys. These are typically either your most inexperienced seamen, or those least qualified for any more technical rating. That's emphatically not to say they were "dumb", in fact, they were infernally cunning, and you learned a lot from watching them and listening to them. You either did that, or they ran all over you.
I had an Ops background from GLOVER where I was Communications Officer, and later Combat Information Center Officer (CICO). Ops is just a lot of paperwork, report writing, planning, admin. In GROVES, CICO reported to the CSO, so I didn't have the Operations Specialists who normally took care of most of the day-to-day admin, so it was just a lot of paperwork. But I eventually relieved the CSO and got to do the job I wanted to do, but I was grateful for my time with 1st Division.
This is going to turn into a book if I don't speed this up. While I was in GROVES, in February 1987, we deployed to the Persian (Arabian) Gulf. When a ship deploys, the Navy tries to make sure you have all the technicians normally assigned to you for your equipment configuration. Well, we were short a crypto tech, and one of the ways the Navy alleviates that is to "cross-deck" a tech from another ship that may have two. That's how ET3 Kelly Quick came to work for me. Now, I'd had some experience with "cross-decks" before, and they're not always great. The other ship isn't going to send you their best guy, and the guy they do send isn't very happy he's away from his shipmates in a strange bunk and so on. So it's often not a great experience for anyone. But Kelly Quick was different. Kid worked his ass off, any hour of the day or night you could call him to work on a piece of gear. He knew his stuff. He always, always, had a smile on his face.
In early May we received our permanent ship's company crypto tech, whose name I can no longer recall, and I sent Kelly Quick back to his assigned ship, USS STARK (FFG-31). On May 17th, 1987, Kelly Quick died in his rack in Operations Berthing when one of two Iraqi Exocet missiles slammed into STARK and 37 sailors (not Navy "members") died. And it's hard to type these words even today.
There's a whole lot more to that story. Suffice to say that I learned some valuable lessons about things like combat readiness. And we were ready. As my skipper was fond of saying, and I am in complete agreement, if GROVES had been where STARK was, the skipper and I would have been sitting on the wrong side of a green table, where you don't get a water glass, explaining why we shot down an Iraqi Mirage. Sounds like brave words, I know. I also know they're true.
Either I would have shot it down, or my ERO, LT Ken Fletcher would have. We stood port and starboard Tactical Action Officer watch, the ship's combat systems were always fully configured for weapons release from all systems within seconds of the order being given. The Captain's Battle Orders gave us full authority to fight the ship in the absence of the Commanding Officer in the Combat Information Center, we trained that way and that's the way we would have done it. That's very hard to achieve, and we worked very hard to achieve it. We would later test that theory, against an Iranian F-4, and we learned some different things. We were one button push away, fire control locked, white bird to the rail, launcher sync, flashing RECOMMEND FIRE, when Bandar Abbas finally came up on 243.0MHz and told us their bird would leave us alone. It didn't go smoothly, but we got it done. I am grateful that I did not have to fire, whether on the skipper's orders or my own.
So, some shit is serious. People die. Sometimes you have nightmares for days about dying in a fire as shards of plexiglass from an exploding vertical plot board shred your body. Eventually, you don't have those nightmares anymore.
But even writing this, it stays with you.
Anyway, moving on. USS BAINBRIDGE (CGN-25), oldest ship I ever served on. The absolute coolest ship I ever served on. Best job I ever had in the Navy. We don't build shit like that anymore. I had 95 guys working for me as Combat Systems. Two SM-2(ER) batteries, an AN/SPS-48C 3-d air search radar. Amazing SPG-55 fire control radars, can track on continuous wave fer chrissakes! You could fight the ship from, I think, AFT DIRCON because you had a 48 console in the space and the WDS Mk-14 was in that space. Could control 16 missiles in flight. (Might have been FWD DIRCON, memory's hazy.) Had the best bunch of sailors and techs working for me, first job I ever went into where I didn't have to fix anything. You could eat off the decks in the SPG-55 cooling rooms!
But everything's a yin-yang right? First skipper was Tom Gilmartin. Great guy. Deployed to the Med with him. One night, in very heavy seas, we go investigate some red flares the lookouts spotted. Turns out it's a dismasted sailing vessel with at least two onboard. Antenna was on the mast, so they have no bridge-to-bridge radio. Very long story. We got one aboard. I watched the face of the other one as the ship's embarkation net tore away and saw the expression on his face as he entered the water, while our XO was physically restraining Fire Controlman First Class Korte, our rescue swimmer, from leaping into the water. I returned to the bridge and Capt Gilmartin gave me the deck and ordered me to do an expanding square search to see if we could find the guy. Meanwhile, during a huge wave over the deck, several deck gang members had been injured. The 1st Lieutenant had sustained a severe laceration to his hip. Because BAINBRIDGE was a nuc, we had a real doctor onboard. I got a call on the bridge from Doc telling me to put the ship on a course that would give the best ride. I explained we were doing a search and would be experiencing heavy rolls as we made our turns. He told me he was trying to save the 1st Lieutenant's life. I rogered and put the winds and seas on the starboard quarter and called the Captain.
We found the sailboat again the next day. If they had simply remained calm, and tried to remain aboard, they both would have survived.
I saw the Captain perform some superhuman feats of shiphandling that night. The engineers in main control kept both engines online through enormous power excursions as the Captain would order from All Ahead Full to All Back Full trying to keep the ship close to the sailboat. That's a big deal in a steam turbine vessel where you've got to maintain condenser vacuum. We can talk about that some other time. We were inches from getting the second guy before the embarkation net tore away. I learned that you can do your very best, you can do better than you have any right to be able to do, and you can still fail.
You do your best. The rest is not up to you.
Anyway, a lot of other stories on BAINBRIDGE. Very difficult tour after Tom Gilmartin left. Did have the unique experience of appearing at Admiral's Mast before RADM Nick (the Knife) Gee. Stood before the podium as the charges were read. He said, "I've read your statement. The charges are dismissed." There is probably little else feels like that. I suspect it may be close to the experience of being shot at and being missed. Vindication? I don't know. I knew I had my shit together! I was offended to be there. But, it worked out. Do your job. Tell the truth. Trust the system.
Sometimes it works.
On to JOHN HANCOCK (DD-981) as XO. First day on the job, Gas Turbine Electronics Chief Petty Officer is severely injured by a falling engine removal rail being installed in the uptake while, against procedure, the chief was working on the bell housing below. He died months or years later, never recovering real consciousness. As was to be the case in HANCOCK, everything that went wrong did so when the Captain was off the ship. A lot of other stories, but one experience, well over thirty of them really, made me a different person.
Burials at sea. I think I'd seen one before I was XO in HANCOCK. By the time we finished, I'd participated in over thirty. I want to say 37, but I think I may be conflating that number with the memory of the sailors lost in STARK. I know it was over 30. That's the other part about distance, some things become less clear. Details mostly.
Anyway, the DESRON tells us we have to do a burial at sea for some veteran. The Navy has a procedure and an instruction for everything. No big deal, tell the Admin Officer to get me the instruction, draft a notice, go to sea, "Bo's'un, now bury the dead."
As XO, I'm the guy who consigns the cremains to the sea. March solemnly to the fantail in my dress blues, empty the container, march solemnly back to the burial detail. Except this is our first time, and the Navy instruction didn't mention anything about ensuring you have the ship facing into the wind. Remember the end of The Big Lebowski. Yeah, I was the Dude. I was not happy, but I remained "in character" as the whole ceremony is being videotaped for the survivors. The cremains don't show up on my uniform on VHS. I suppose HD digital might have been a different story.
So, live and learn. Hopefully never have to do that again.
Except we did. Over thirty times. Early on, in some exasperation, I asked the DESRON to please explain just what the hell was going on? Why am I doing so many burials at sea? Turns out that these are veterans whose families do not have the means to afford any kind of conventional burial, and they are turning to cremation and burial at sea as the least expensive way of... what? I'm not even sure what to call it. Disposing of their relatives' earthly remains.
Well, you get a package with the cremains in a container and some paperwork, usually a DD-214 or whatever documentation that established their veteran status. A lot of these guys were WW II, Korean War vets whose families, well, wanted the Navy to do for their family member what they couldn't do. And in many cases, it wasn't immediate family, a lot of these guys didn't have any immediate family. One time we screwed up because we did two the same day and sent the wrong video, chart, shell casings and letter to the wrong family. I got my ass chewed, I chewed Admin's ass and then I personally oversaw the packaging of all documentation and mementos.
So this was kind of a pain in my ass, but I'm sitting up there in my cabin, looking at these flimsy documents, a single page about a period of time in one man's life. I don't know a goddamn thing about any of these guys.
Except I know that I'm the last human being that is ever going to do anything for them, ever. And, somehow, through all that resentment at being inconvenienced by these folks who can't seem to manage to see to their relatives' final disposition, I realize that it's on me. I'm the guy. These guys served. They rate the service. They earned it. I'm the guy.
And then it's like, oh. Oh.
And from then on, with each one, it grew into something else. They served. They kept faith. I shall keep their faith. I shall serve.
And it became something warm, and valuable and something I will always treasure. I've done a few good things in my life. Not enough, I know. But some. This was one. And I'm grateful I had the opportunity.
But, we're not done yet. If you're still with me, God bless you. Seek help, you clearly have masochistic tendencies.
My last tour was as XO and for two fairly significant periods (~90 days each) CO of Fleet Training Center Mayport. And this is another story that gets sort of muddled up in the details. I think it was an HMC who asked me to be the guest speaker at her retirement. I had been to a lot of retirement ceremonies, but I had never spoken at one.
What the hell was I going to talk about? Because, frankly, most retirement ceremony speeches are boring, if well meaning, recitations of semi-amusing anecdotes, some serious reminiscences and then a thank you, you know, for your service. That's the speeches. There are other aspects that are often moving and done with great reverence and I'm not dissing those. But me giving a speech?
But I do love to talk. So there's that.
So I start thinking, which is an unnatural act, I know. I think about what the ceremony's about. It's about honoring someone's service. Honor. What's that? A word we use an awful goddamn lot, who ever thinks about what it means? So I had to look it up in the dictionary. Thought about it. Wrote a speech. Well, notes for a speech. I hate reading stuff.
The gist of it was this, honor is both a noun and a verb, and as a verb, it's the kind of verb that XO's love, it's a transitive verb, an action verb, something that has an object. So we honor people. What is that? Well, I think that means that we make a public expression of the value of their service. Service. Honor. What links all that? Is it a paycheck? Do we serve to get paid? Some do. Most don't. We serve because we're called to be a part of something. We do our part, and that makes it possible for others to do something else that's their part. We all do our part. And we do so in good faith, not for some other motive, because it's valuable do one's part so that others may do theirs, whatever that may be. Ultimately, it's an act of faith. And I recalled the burials at sea. Not in the speech, but it informed what I said. When we act in good faith, when we keep faith with one another, we bring honor, the noun, into being. When we publicly acknowledge the act of having kept faith, we are honoring that person. Honor and faith are inextricably linked and one does not exist without the other.
Anyway, that's what I recall and I still believe all that. Of course, no good deed goes unpunished. After that speech I was asked to speak at a LOT of retirement ceremonies at FTC. Not all of them by any means, but enough that it was a challenge not to say the exact same thing every time. But again, I was honored by the fact that those sailors wanted me to honor their service.
You should think about that sometime. Nothing you read ever really means anything until you live it somehow. How would you live honorably? Your call. Not mine. I can tell you when you're not, everyone can, but only you know for sure when you are. It's that "still small voice" no one listens to anymore.
So, here I am, 62, my father's son. He's gone now too. 2014. I love the Navy. It is a flawed institution, but it does always seek to improve itself, to hold itself to the high standards of service. I love my career in the sea service in the profession of arms. I love my brothers and sisters in the Navy, and I keep them all in my heart.
I am humbled by the opportunity I somehow managed to take advantage of, without ever truly realizing what I had.
I am grateful to everyone for having had the opportunity to serve, to take this journey I've been on, to become the man, deeply flawed to be sure, but to become the man that I am, who is far better for his service than he would be otherwise.
So, no. Thank you for allowing me to serve.
This has ended well. This piece was far more difficult to write than I anticipated. I do not recommend revisiting old trauma. It won't kill you, but it still hurts.
The Lord bless you and keep you;
The Lord make his face to shine upon you
And be gracious to you;
The Lord lift up his countenance upon you
And give you peace.
It's funny how everything seems connected. Makes life more interesting.
I got a new Swiss Army knife yesterday. A Victorinox, Swiss Army Multi-Tool, EvoGrip Pocket Knife (Yellow).
I don't like it. It's too wide. The lock-release interferes with deploying the scissors. The "EvoGrip" feels weird. It lacks the small blade, which would have been a deal-breaker had I noticed. I thought the little nail-file thingy was the small blade, because it doesn't look like a nail-file in the photos. Had I read the description more carefully, I might have noticed, but I'm visual guy first. Anyway, I don't like it.
So I ordered a Victorinox, Swiss Army Multi-Tool, Tinker Pocket Knife. This is identical to a model I had a few models ago, and apart from the absence of a corkscrew, most closely resembles my idea of the ideal Swiss Army Knife. It's Red, it's the ideal width, it feels "right" in your hand, it's got the appropriate assortment of tools. I should have ordered this in the first place.
Pocket knives, I'm sure, are one of those things a lot of people, men in particular, are very opinionated about. Opinionated to the point of passionate. It's a guy-thing. I'm probably just shy of passionate, but I am strongly opinionated. The Tinker has a parcel hook, and it made me laugh in the photos that they illustrate using the parcel hook by using a photo of opening a pull-tab on an aluminum can! Never use it for that. Blasphemy! The parcel hook is for carrying packages (parcels) by the string, from back in the day before we used miles of plastic tape to seal boxes and drove everywhere. You could walk home from the post office, holding your parcel from the hook of your comfortable, just-the-right-size, Swiss Army Knife and not sever your fingers holding it by the packaging twine.
It still comes in handy like that from time to time. At least, I have a vague memory of using it in that fashion for something. The only thing it's missing is the corkscrew, but since I don't drink wine, and Mitzi doesn't drink anymore, I probably won't miss it.
The most-used blade on a Swiss Army Knife is the small blade, though the bottle-opener is probably a very close second if you prefer your beer in bottles. One uses the small blade to slice through the miles of packaging tape that encloses packages from Amazon that you didn't have to carry home with your parcel hook because Amazon delivers them to your door. The small blade is also safer to use when cutting open those plastic blister packs that hold many of the modern conveniences of life we purchase from retailers. They're designed to protect the product and deter theft, but I'm surprised we don't hear more about severed fingers as people try to open them using kitchen knives, folding knives, machetes, whatever you have lying about with an edge and a point. The small blade is ideal for that, and in a consumer-based society, one should never be very far from a small blade with which to liberate whatever your heart's desire happens to be trapped inside a prison of plastic.
Opinions vary on the other blades, but I find a can opener useful from time to time, and the screwdrivers are essential, especially the phillips.
I always carry a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket.
So, you may be wondering, why I was buying a new one? Because I always carry a Swiss Army Knife in my pocket. I just put it in my pocket and forget about it, knowing that when I need it, it'll be there. Which is a problem on the infrequent occasion of me going to the airport to board a commercial aircraft. Because, you see, for the safety of all the passengers and crew, we cannot be permitted to bring a Swiss Army Knife aboard a commercial aircraft, and I forgot, again, I had mine in my pocket.
I was going to fly to Los Angeles, helping my youngest daughter move to her new apartment, and one of my specific tasks was to carry her cat, Sir Charles. Her original thought was that she would purchase the tickets and I would be a (free) companion fare on her American Express. This implied that I would be in coach, with her, her French bulldog, and the cat. And I am too old for that.
So, flush with my new Social Security income, and being the generous father that I am, I offered to purchase two first-class fares to Los Angeles. That way, we could sit among the well-heeled with our animals and annoy them, instead of the hoi polloi confined in steerage and suffering enough for the privilege of getting to Los Angeles in a reasonable amount of time.
But I'm not a man of unlimited means, and I am blessed with a wife who is skilled at finding the cheapest air fares, even first class. So the cheapest first class fare to LA from Jacksonville involved a flight to Atlanta that departed at 5:30 a.m.
I flew extensively in my working life, and I'd worked out a fairly comprehensive routine that reasonably assured me that I would not be throwing away Swiss Army Knives, or getting invited back to a private booth for an intimate search of my person because I had taken exception to the performance of the TSA agents assessing my overall threat to the safety and security of the aircraft. This wasn't my first rodeo. But, because I haven't flown in some time, and I'm not a morning person, and I was somewhat preoccupied by the uncertainty that my daughter would not be arriving in time to actually make the flight, I didn't observe my usual routine in preparing for this flight and forgot about my Swiss Army Knife in my left front pocket until we got to security (in the nick of time, as it happened) and started emptying my pockets. There was no time to fill out a mailer and mail it back to myself. And I'm loath to think of some security clerk amassing a collection of Swiss Army Knives at my expense just a bit more than I'm loath to consigning it to a landfill where it may or may not one day be excavated by some future archeologist, I tossed it into the trash and cursed the fear we Americans have that allows us to willingly surrender our civil liberties.
So, everything seems connected, as I mentioned above. I'd ordered the yellow "EvoGrip" knife on Monday. On Monday evening, Mitzi and I watched Netflix and a standup comedian named Ronny Chieng in a show called Asian Comedian Destroys America! Highly recommended. In his show, he contrasts how foreigners view America with how Americans view America. Foreigners tend to be far more appreciative than Americans. To Americans, "everything sucks!" And he makes reference to TSA, "TSA sucks! (Trying to save everyone.)" I'm paraphrasing because I don't recall his exact words. But the idea is that TSA is actually a good thing. Which made me sad. Because it's not, really.
Anyway, also in the show and that particular part of the routine is a riff about the abundance in America. How much stuff we have. So much stuff! There's a long riff about Amazon and Prime and how we order stuff and it's delivered to us instantaneously, nearly. And I thought of my yet-to-be-delivered Swiss Army Multi-Tool, EvoGrip Pocket Knife (Yellow), and how many different models of Swiss Army knives I browsed through before I got suckered into buying that one.
So that was kind of cool.
But that wasn't all. Because, just the Friday night before, at my brother-in-law's house in Irvine, California (Mitzi has family there too, and they graciously allowed us to stay with them for New Year) a vigorous exchange of opposing points of view regarding TSA took place. My brother-in-law has four kids, I think they range in age from 19 to 36 or so, and they were all there that last evening, along with my wife's daughter who's 34 or thereabouts. We had a family dinner together at a restaurant and everyone gathered at my brother-in-law's house afterward and chatted. They filled the living room, so I was seated on the periphery, in the dining room kind of checking in with my daughter before we departed the next morning. There were a number of interesting conversations going on about topical subjects, as one would expect whenever a group of young, intelligent people is together.
At some point, a chair opened up in the living room and I'd already said goodnight to my daughter, so I sat in with the rest of the group. I don't recall exactly how the topic came up, I expect it had something to do with my wife's nephew having to fly back to school the next morning, the topic of air travel came up and, as could have been predicted, I offered my opinions on the experience of flying, and the tragedy of Americans surrendering their rights under the Fourth Amendment for the illusion of security.
Now, I didn't think this would be a controversial view. To my surprise, however, it turned out that I was in the minority. Mitzi's nephew and her daughter were decidedly in favor of TSA screening, in return for the safety and security it supposedly assured. She pointed out that TSA regularly posts images of all the weapons and dangerous items it collects from the traveling public. I pointed out that they routinely fail their own tests, and dangerous weapons are brought aboard aircraft all the time without their knowledge. (I'd actually had a Swiss Army Knife make it through screening when I tossed it in my backpack and figured I'd try to get it through and surrender it if they found it. It works sometimes, sometimes it doesn't. One of the several I've "lost" was discovered on X-Ray, the other time it wasn't.)
As we're going back and forth, and I don't recall everything that was said but I do recall this, my wife's daughter asks me, "So are you an originalist?" in the context of the Constitution. This took me somewhat aback, because "originalists" (which, I could be wrong, but I think are the same as "textualists") are the right-wing folks who believe that we should interpret the Constitution strictly as it is written and not try to instill in it some meaning that was not contemplated at the time of its creation. This took me aback because, in general, I think this is a pretty liberal group, at least I'm pretty sure my wife's daughter is, and I know for damn sure I am, and this suggestion that I was an "originalist" felt like an ad hominem attack.
As an aside, I wondered later how "originalist" anyone who believes in the Bill of Rights could be, since they were added after the Constitution was originally written. I mean, they're an afterthought! Anyway, another time maybe.
I pointed out how meekly we've surrendered our Fourth Amendment rights, while there's a whole lobby that defends Second Amendment rights, even when they assure the mass murder of children.
And then we got into an intense discussion of guns and why people buy and own guns. Also a topic I'm somewhat passionate about. That got kind of interesting, and as it was getting late I think everyone decided nothing would be decided except maybe it was time for bed.
But it was interesting. The question about being "an originalist" stayed with me for some time.
I'm not an originalist, but I do believe in the Bill of Rights. For twenty two years, I was in the profession of arms, a commissioned officer of the United States, under oath to "support and defend the Constitution of the United States." For much of that time, we believed the Soviet Union was the greatest threat to the West, and our "way of life" (chiefly, "freedom" - to buy shit, as it turns out). I believed, quite naively it seems, that I served to preserve our way of life, so that we wouldn't have to live beneath a state security apparatus, surrounded by ubiquitous surveillance, subject to the whims of the members of a police state.
And here we are. That was all just a joke.
But, as it happens, I am something of an originalist.
At least when it comes to the subject of Swiss Army Knives.
Happy New Year?
Well, another decade and I'm still here!
Just got back from almost a week in Los Angeles. My youngest daughter has moved there to pursue her career and I tagged along to help carry her pets and get her set up in her apartment.
It was bittersweet, because this is the first time one of my children is going to be so far from me. But it made me think of my parents and how it might have been for them when I first went off to the Naval Academy, and then went on to my first ship, deployed at the time in the Med. My youngest is older than I was when I landed in Italy and had to figure out the trains to get to Taranto to meet GLOVER (FF-1098). For some reason, as a parent, it didn't come naturally to me to credit my daughter with the same capability that I had to manage my own affairs and solve my own problems.
But as we spent four days together, I think we had some of the best father-daughter conversations we'd ever had. I came away very impressed and proud of the preparations she'd made, and the goals and objectives she'd set for herself. While I still have some anxiety about my little girl (who is, after all, a grown woman) in the great big city, I'm also much more confident that she's going to be fine and have great success.
I did buy her a baseball bat. (Little league, aluminum, shorter, lighter weight. Easier to swing in the tight confines of the apartment. She's a 2nd degree black belt in taekwondo and I reminded her of her stick-fighting training.)
We spent some time with my wife's family while we were there. Mitzi flew into San Diego to be with her daughter and son-in-law. After Caitie and I got her settled, I met up with Mitzi at her brother and sister-in-law's place in Irvine to ring in the New Year and spend a few days visiting.
We viewed the floats from the Tournament of Roses parade at a street exhibition the day after the parade. While I think it was more appealing to Mitzi and her sister-in-law, there were some very impressive creations. It might have been a good opportunity for some interesting photography, but the crowd was a constraint I couldn't really work around. We also visited San Clemente, which I'd never been to before. It was interesting to note some efforts underway to protect a lifeguard facility at the beach that was at risk from either beach erosion or sea level rise. The state was also making some efforts to establish artificial reefs off the beach to help reduce wave energy and therefore beach erosion.
We flew back yesterday. Apart from the separation, one of the things that most troubles me about my daughter being so far away, is that the only practical means of visiting her, or her visiting us, is by air travel, the most carbon-intensive thing we do. I've been retired since 2013, so my air travel has been significantly reduced from what it was when I was working. But I'm still very conscious about the consequences of my choices. While I don't believe it negates the legitimacy of my concerns regarding the climate emergency, it does give me pause. Ideally, we should have regular, high-speed trans-continental rail service by now. I wouldn't mind spending a day or so on a train getting to LA, but the fastest regular rail route from Jax to LA is three and a half days! We really need a significant commitment to overhauling our national transportation infrastructure.
I hope to spend more time here in the year ahead. But I've said that before, and it hasn't worked out that way. This time feels a little different, but maybe it's just my imagination. Time will tell.
Until next time, thanks for dropping by. My best wishes to you for a safe, healthy and peaceful year.