Archive for April, 2007

The Year Zero

One of my all-time favorite Sci-Fi movies is Panic in Year Zero, starring Ray Milland, Jean Hagen and Frankie Avalon. I saw the movie at the Norwalk Theatre when I was a boy, and I’ll never forget the image of a nuclear cloud rising over the Los Angeles Basin, as viewed from the local San Gabriel Mountains. The movie was released in 1962, at the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis. I was only 11 years old at the time, and knew and understood little of what was actually going on in the world.

The teachers at Ramona School knew more about the crisis, I’m sure, than they let on. In Sixth grade our teacher gave us a Civil Defense lecture about the Atomic Bomb and the immediate and after-effects that a nuclear attack would have on our city. At the end of the lecture he asked one of the boys to come to the front of the class so he could use him to demonstrate to us what to do in the few seconds that we would have after seeing the unmistakeable “blinding flash” of such an explosion. Afterwards we all lay down on the floor with our head resting on one arm and the other hand protecting the back of the head.

In the days that followed, as the tension mounted in the world we had weekly drills. I don’t recall what the cue was, but on the teacher’s command we all came out of our desks and had to hit the floor. One day someone decided that it would be better if each student curled up into a ball on the floor, with their head between their legs, a position which lead to the popular late-60’s poster that suggested that in the event of a nuclear war you should “Curl up and kiss your ass goodbye.” I personally preferred the prospect of dying in the first position, but orders wuz orders in those days.

The crisis was over in less than a month, and I don’t recall when the drills were curtailed, but it probably wasn’t long after. John F. Kennedy became our hero, for having stood up to Nikita Khrushchev and forced the removal of the missiles from Cuba that directly threatened the US, and for all intents and purposes it seemed like it was over. But had I understood the magnitude of the arms race that led up to the crisis, that was just the tip of the iceberg really, I think I would still be curled up in a ball somewhere. In 1961 Khrushchev had ordered a series of nuclear tests and President Kennedy responded immediately by authorizing Operation Dominic, a series of over 100 nuclear tests to be conducted in Nevada and the Pacific in 1962 and 1963.

Read about Operation Dominic I and II at Wikipedia

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On December 1, 1969 the first draft lottery since WWII was held at Selective Service Headquarters in Washington DC. I wasn’t affected by that drawing, but in July of the next year they drew again for all men born in 1951. My birthdate was picked fourth.

I learned about it the next day. My brother and I were shooting pool with some friends, and when it came my turn to shoot, my brother dropped that little bomb on me. I’m pretty sure I missed the shot.

The next day I drove down to the Recruiting Station on Studebaker Road, mainly to see if they could tell me when I was scheduled for induction. I had dropped out of college to go to work, so I had no hope of applying for a deferment of any kind, and I had already taken my physical and been classified 1-A. Eddie had suggested that I might join the Navy. He had had several friends who were in the Navy, and they liked it. When the Navy recruiter informed me that I was going to receive my notice in a matter of weeks, not months, I began to listen seriously to what he had to offer.

I signed the enlistment contract for four years with a guarantee that after bootcamp I would attend foreign language school for a year, where I would receive extensive training in Russian. Additionally, they gave me up to 180 days to report for duty. I had already studied German for four years, and had an aptitude for learning languages, and this fit in with my plans for college anyway. Later I would request overseas service in Europe, perhaps in Berlin. The prospect of finding myself smack dab in the middle of the Cold War excited me no end. Besides, what could go wrong?

Well, for one, I couldn’t swim. Because of the two extra weeks I spent learning that skill and the two weeks delay over the Christmas holiday, I missed my school starting date, and was informed that I would have to spend several additional months in boot-camp. On the other hand, if I went to Basic Electronics School, I could get out right away.

In hindsight, I wonder that I did not choose wisely. Afterall how often do you win the lottery?

Read about the lottery and double-check your numbers

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One of my all-time favorite movies is To Kill a Mockingbird with Gregory Peck. I can especially relate to the scene where the little girl, played by Mary Badham, forced to walk home alone in the dark wearing a cumbersome yam costume, is chased by a killer, but rescued in the nick of time by an enigmatic recluse played by Robert Duvall. I can relate because a similar thing happened to me when I was in 7th grade. Well, it wasn’t really that similar – I wasn’t chased by a killer, and I wasn’t dressed like a yam, and I wasn’t even a little girl, and there were no enigmatic recluses around to rescue me, but I did have to walk home alone once in the dark in a humiliating costume. 

We had a talent show at Ramona School that night, and Hank, Eddie and I had dressed up as Beachboys and lip-synched several of their hits – Surfin’ Safari and Surfin’ USA. At that time, lip-synching was a relatively new and little understood talent, having only just been discovered several years earlier by Lloyd Thaxton, a local television celebrity. Thaxton hosted an after-school television show for teenagers in Los Angeles, where he played popular music, much like Dick Clark on American Bandstand, and each day he would have kids from a different local high school dance on the set and pretend to be young and exuberant and not alienated and misunderstood, as we all know we were.  Often he would paint faces on his fingers and move them to the music, or he would pretend to sing, which he dubbed lip synching. Now it’s called lip-dubbing, but it’s a whole new phenomenon, at least if you don’t remember Thaxton it’s new.

Our little group couldn’t have been very good that evening because none of us had ever been near a surf-board let alone actually surfed, and to this day I still don’t know the names of half of the cities, whose names we were mouthing in Surfin’ Safari. I knew that they were “angling in Laguna and kicking out in Doheny,” but that’s as much as I understood of the song. Still we had a lot of fun wearing our baggies and pretending we were ho-dads.

It wasn’t enough that I felt foolish that evening walking home alone in the dark wearing that costume, but as I turned onto Maryton Street I spied a gang of older boys coming toward me in pack formation, so there was no way I could slip past them undetected. When they were close enough I recognized most of them as classmates of my brother, who was three years older than me, and I had barely let out a sigh of relief, when one of them suddenly reached out and grabbed me by the shirt collar and pressed me up against one of the trees that lined the street. Then another boy pulled out a funny, wavy-looking knife and held it up threateningly.  

I recognized the knife immediately as the same Malayan throwing knife that my brother and I had been looking at in a mail-order catalog several weeks earlier, and as soon as I saw it I began to laugh. This made the boy with the knife angry, and suddenly his face got all contorted and he pressed the sharp tip into my throat. Just then a tougher boy that I knew from my own street stepped out and saved me, “Ah, let him go. He’s just a punk.”

Since then I’ve been attacked several times for real. In Japan once I was accosted in an alley by two black sailors off of an aircraft carrier, when they were having race riots aboard their ship. I had just walked past them, when I suddenly felt a feeling of impending danger, and sure enough one of them had come back and punched me with his fist hard in the ear. Just then, down the far end of the alley, I saw several SPs walking past, and my assailant must have seen the same thing because he and his friend abruptly turned and ran away. Another time three Japanese men clubbed me from behind, and they too ran away when I didn’t immediately go down, but spun quickly around and hit the man with the club square with my fist. I never actually saw the man, but I felt the sinews in his jaw, and then something felt like it gave way.

I have never personally felt any need in my life to travel as part of a pack, or attack somebody who chooses to walk alone, but I have often wondered what sort of person does.

——————–End of Story———————————-

You can read more about Lloyd Thaxton at Wikipedia:
Lloyd Thaxton at Wikipedia

Read more about lip-synching at Lloyd Thaxton’s Blog.
Lloyd Thaxton’s Blog

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The Great Olympiad

The USS Oklahoma City was a light guided-missile cruiser with a standing crew of about 1000 men serving in the various departments about the ship. There was an Engineering Department, a Weapons Department, Supply, Operations, and so on, each consisting of smaller Divisions. I was in FM division in the Weapons Department, the FM standing for Fire Control Missiles. There were about 50 sailors in FM Division. Because the ship was temporarily serving as flag-ship of the American 7th Fleet, there were an additional 400 or so flag staff personnel on board – yeomen, clerks, intelligence analysts, musicians, and assorted other sailors who worked directly for Admiral Holloway and his staff. Additionally there was a small detachment of Marines, who provided an armed security force for the ship in port and protected the weapons in the missile house.

Once a year, whenever the ship visited the base in Subic Bay for any prolonged period, all of the divisions would face off in a no-holds barred athletic Olympiad consisting of several events, that culminated in a day-long football tournament, a barbeque and beer-bust, and afterwards a lot of money would change hands. The event in 1974 was particularly auspicious because it coincided with a visit to our ship by the new Chief of Naval Operations, Admiral Zumwalt and several other high-ranking Admirals.

Admiral Zumwalt was very popular with the younger sailors, but a controversial figure with older traditionalists, having issued a series of what he called Z-Grams that generally relaxed discipline, allowed sailors to grow mustaches and beards, to wear civilian attire in liberty ports, and doubled the pay for men in the lowest ranks. There had been racially motivated riots on several aircraft carriers the previous year, and racial tension was still very high in the Navy, despite all of his efforts. But the performance of our ship was largely unaffected, and we had already received several commendations that year in recognition of meritorius service in the Vietnam war, narrowly missing the coveted Presidential Unit Citation, which went to the USS Sterrett, a DLG in our squadron that had shot down several MIG aircraft at close range.

I arrived at the football field that Sunday just in time to catch the end of the game between the Marines and X Division, and the sudden-death elimination of X Division, the largest flag division aboard the ship. They had a smallish team and an agile quarterback with a long beard, but their offensive line melted before the tough and well-conditioned Marines. Their quarterback ran several plays to the outside, but wasn’t able to turn the corner to get down field, and was forced right away into a kicking situation. When the Marine punt returner took the punt all the way for a TD it became immediately clear what we were going to be up against. The Marines quickly formed a solid, impenetrable wedge, and the juggernaut drove down the far side-line pounding the opposing players one by one into the grass.

It didn’t look good for FM Division that day when we took the field against the Marines. We had several outstanding high school players, and had defeated several weaker teams in the Olympiad, but we had recently lost our best man on offense, an all-city and all-state Quarterback from Washington, to the Yokosuka Seahawks, the base team in Japan. We did have a couple legitimate “ringers” on our team though – Rich had played Defensive End on the Freshman team at Notre Dame, and Chopper had been a highly touted fullback at Nebraska before he blew out his knee. Pound for pound we matched them in the trenches, but early in the game they ran a kick-off back for a touchdown, and when several of our players reported to the bench, too winded to get up for the next kick-off, it didn’t look good.

“Hey, little buddy,” Rich said, sucking in great gulps of air, and grabbing me by the shoulders. “Go in for me at Defensive End on this play, will you?”

“Sure,” I said, and ran out onto the field, feeling like Agamemnon or somebody.

We kicked off and as I ran down the field, I quickly ascertained that the Marines were setting up their wedge on the far side. The quarterback was about my size, but a little stockier and apparently a little slower, for as I played off the lone blocker in front of me, I saw I had outflanked them, and was gaining on him as he ran toward the far side-line, waiting for his blockers to clear the field before him. When I pulled the flags from him and dragged him to the ground for good measure, I don’t think he knew what hit him, and I could hear a cheer go up from our bench.

We went on to beat the Marines that day, quite soundly, and bright and early the next morning we assembled in ranks in our dress-white uniforms awaiting inspection by one of the visiting Admirals. It wasn’t Admiral Zumwalt, but a small, wiry man with glasses and skin like leather. He stopped in front of me, and I looked right through him, careful not to let my eyes meet his. He looked me up and down, and then side-stepped to my left and I could see peripherally that he was giving Rich the same going over.

Placing a hand gently on each of our shoulders he said, “Chief, you have a fine group of men. Especially these two men, right here.”

The Chief winced, thankful I’m sure, he was another day closer to retirement.

After the inspection party moved down the line, I looked over at Rich.

“I thought there was a piece of corn in my beard,” he said out of the side of his mouth, and laughed.
—————End of story———————————–

Note: You can read more about Admirals Zumwalt and Holloway at Wikipedia:


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Marina worked upstairs at the D-Shell club in Olongapo in the Philippines. Freddie took me there the first time our ship docked in Subic Bay, to meet his steady girl, whom he jokingly referred to as “Helen of Olongapo,” because, by servicing and sending on their merry way so many sailors, she had launched at least a thousand ships. The club was dark inside, even at midday, and had a huge hardwood floor and heavy expensive looking mahogany chairs and dining tables with white table-cloths that seemed out of place in such an establishment. The girls sat listlessly lounging on the chairs in the noon-day heat in their little cotton dresses, their slender brown legs bare to the thigh.

Helen was one of the prettier girls, thirty-ish with long dark hair and light skin and western features, and a splendid figure. When she saw Freddy, she stood up and smiled right away.

“This is my little sister, Marina,” she said, indicating the girl seated next to her.

Marina was prettier even than her older sister. She inched toward me, timid and uncertain as a deer, and when we sat down at a table and ordered our San Miguel beers she had pulled her chair next to me. Neither of us knew how it worked, or the right thing to say, but as the day turned to night, in typical Marxian fashion, economics prevailed and we ended up alone together in a room at the Prince Hotel across the street. It was a one-room room with white plaster walls and an open window on the back alley, a tiny sink, a chair, a bed and a large fan whirring in the corner. The rattle of an occasional Jeep-ney passing on the street outside wafted in on the wind.

Marina lay beside me on the bed, and when I drunkenly began to grope at her, she turned quickly onto her stomach and buried her face in the pillow. I thought she was crying, but when I started to stroke the back of her neck she playfully rolled over, laughed and began to kiss me. Her dress had ridden up on her, and I pulled gently at her panties, and back she rolled onto her belly. I could see that she was toying with me, for whatever reason, and she didn’t want to get right to business as advertised. So I pushed her off the bed.

She lay there on the hardwood floor, and when I looked over at her she stuck out her tongue at me. I knew that occasionally you got a whacky one and, if so, I was in over my head with her and needed help, so I tried to think what John Wayne would do in my situation.

“Have you ever been spanked?” I asked her, thinking that might be what she wanted.

“I have had that one,” she spat back at me angrily, so I quickly took a new tack.

“Please get back into bed,” I said. “I’ll let you alone. I won’t bother you.”

“But then you won’t pay me.”

“No,” I agreed.

She lay there thinking what to do, and pounded at the floor with her fist. When I called her a spoiled little brat who only wanted her way, that only made her more angry.

“If you don’t get up off the floor, I’ll pick you up.” I said, finally. How heavy could she be? I wondered.

When she still didn’t get up, I knelt down beside her on the floor, and put my arms beneath her prostrate body on either side of her ample center of mass, which she pressed harder against the floor, but despite all her effort, dead-lifting her was only slightly more difficult than lifting an ornery 100 pound bag of cement. As I held her in my arms, I suddenly realized how very lovely she was, and how aroused I had become while we were wrestling on the floor, and after all those days of abstinence at sea, I just couldn’t hold it anymore. When I threw her down on the bed, she rolled quickly back onto her stomach but there was no longer any need.

I stood there feeling not very John Wayne-like, and drunk enough not to care, and a trickle down my leg. Her dress had ridden up in the back, exposing her panties, so I smacked her rear end once with the flat of my hand.

“Ouch,” she said, a little after the fact.

I finally passed out on the bed beside her, and when I came to in the middle of the night, I fully expected to find Marina gone with all of my money. I wouldn’t have blamed her. But she was still there in all her glory. She had taken off her dress, and placed it on the chair with her shoes, and now lay on her back like the Queen of Sheba, with a triumphant simper on her face, her legs parted ever so brazenly. I rolled onto her and began to kiss her, but she didn’t wake up and after several more minutes of that I figured she must be pretending to be asleep. I pulled at her panties, and yanked them down to her knees, and didn’t get a response. I kissed her below the belly, and felt gently for her, and still she didn’t move. By now I was totally turned on to her little game, and the warm, blubbery moistness I felt inside her, so much so that I figured she must be menstruating. It never occurred to me that she might be ovulating.

When I awoke the next morning, Marina was standing at the little sink with her dress hiked up, and her panties pulled down.

“You f*cked me while I was asleep,” she said, accusingly.

“You were just pretending to be asleep,” I retorted.

“No, I wasn’t!” she insisted.

“Well, if you wasn’t,” I replied, mocking the way she had unvoiced the “S” , making it sound like “wassn’t”, “then you must have had quite a dream.”

“I was drunk,” she said, her lie betrayed by a sheepish little grin.

“Well, so was I,” I replied, and we left it at that.

I saw Marina several months later, and she seemed no worse for wear, though I noticed that she looked a bit heavier and felt thicker than I remembered, like she might have been retaining water. I’ve run it over and over in my mind for obvious reasons, and I didn’t think that she was pregnant, at least she never mentioned it and she wasn’t showing any bulge at all in her stomach. But when I saw her the following year, after who knows how many more months, she definitely was with child. I don’t know why I never thought to do the math to be sure – I just assumed after seeing her that second time, that I had dodged a bullet. Besides, I knew that many of the girls who worked the streets in Olongapo, had steady boyfriends that they lived with in Angeles City by the airbase, and Marina being one of the youngest and prettiest, was sure to have at least one.

Except for that one time, I had been careful not to get her pregnant, and she had been careful not to give me another opportunity. After our first encounter, I still liked her and would sit with her in the club and buy her drinks or dinner, or whatever she wanted, but I always left the bar well before closing. I’d stagger out to the street and buy a piece of the barbeque that the sailors lovingly called “monkey meat,” from one of the street vendors, and some girl would come along. Once I ended up way out on the edge of the city somewhere, with the “Ooh Ooh, Ahh Ahh” of the jungle birds cackling away and lizards stuck like decals to the walls and ceiling. Another time I found myself laying beside a young, pregnant girl, who wanted to make sure I got back safely, so she rode back to town with me on one of the Jeep-neys.

When it was clear that Marina had become pregnant, I began to feel a true affection for her, and a little sad that I wasn’t the father of her soon to be born child. We would sit and I would hold her hand or stroke her big belly, and she even spent the night with me several times. I knew that I shouldn’t fall in love with her for many reasons, not the least of which being the fact that she was a prostitute. We were fighting a war, and I was on a ship that came for days only, and went, and could be called away or sent home to the states any time, but she was just so lovely and vulnerable now – and safe.

We went away again to the war and on to Yokosuka, and many more months passed, and Freddy transferred to a ship in the Mediterranean fleet. When I stopped by the club the next time we were in Subic Bay, Marina had just had her baby and was still recuperating. She sat in her robe on one of the chairs with her feet up on another, and I could see one of the other girls holding a little bundle in her arms.

“Come and see your son,” she said.

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