Saturday, October 30, 2010

“Well, isn't that SPE-CIAL?!”

Yes, actually it was.  I had an opportunity to make naval history.  I saw this as my opening to make up for my assoholic decision to pass up OTC.  I viewed my selection for Yeoman "C" school as a sign my career in the Navy was blessed and I was being given another chance to get it right, as long as I didn't screw up and flunk out of school.  (I wish I had remembered throughout the rest of my enlistment how fortunate and blessed I felt at that time.)

I could not image how I could possibly flunk.  In 1969, The curriculum for Yeoman "C" school consisted mostly of learning Gregg shorthand.  That is no longer even included in the course.  So much has changed since 1969.  This is a description for Yeoman "C" School today that I found on the internet:  "provides senior Navy enlisted Yeoman the knowledge and skill sets to perform the duties of a Flag Writer on a Navy admiral’s staff. Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to work independently in an office setting, and use associated computer software in creating and maintaining clerical documents.  In an instructor led group-paced environment students learn: Usage of the English Language, Microsoft Word, PowerPoint and Outlook, Official and Social Correspondence, Preparation of Briefings, Presentation of Admiral and Staff Briefings, Social Protocol, Scheduling, Ethics, Legal Responsibilities, Cursive Handwriting for Invitations, Place Cards, Menu Cards, Honors and Ceremonies, Fitness Reports, Official Funds for Social Events, Conference Calls, and associated computer software in creating and maintaining clerical documents. Instruction includes audio-visual materials, practical, and classroom exercises."  That's a lot more information than just learning shorthand.

I had taken shorthand in high school.  In 1969, in order to graduate from "C" school, you had to pass a test during which you took shorthand while someone dictated at 120 words per minute for five minutes  (normal speaking is between 125 to 150 words per minute).  Piece of cake!  I had been able to do 120 wpm before I graduated from high school and I had been working as an executive secretary for almost three years prior to my enlistment .  I not only already knew all the shorthand characters, I was already fast enough to graduate and we hadn't started classes yet.

I didn't even take leave between the two schools.  I kept my room in the barracks and went directly from graduation at "A" school to the first day of classes at "C" school.  I was the only female in my class.  The rest of the class (and it was a very small class) was composed of male Yeomen who had chosen to make the Navy a career.  They were much older than I, and had been in the Navy much longer.  However, I already knew shorthand and they didn't.  Shorthand was similar to learning a foreign language and these guys were starting from scratch.  I have to say, they did a remarkable job.  I had the advantage of an entire school year during high school in which to learn shorthand and work on getting up to speed.  These guys had to learn from the beginning and be able to write at 120 wpm in just a few short weeks.  It was a terrific class, the guys were wonderful, and I did everything I could to help each of them as we went along.

I did make history as far as the Navy is concerned.  I was the first nonrated person in the history of the U. S. Navy to graduate from a "C" school.  There was a story written about me and published in the Navy Times.  I know there was another female Seaman Apprentice in the class after mine, but I don't know how much longer they continued with the program.  I know the program was discontinued, but I don't know when or why -- maybe because none of us became lifers and they figured they were wasting time and money on flighty females who were just going to go civilian at the end of their initial enlistment.  Again another case of hindsight being 20/20, but I have learned to accept my decisions and not regret too much the road not taken.

The "fame" as a result of the article in Navy Times brought me to the attention of the command in Norfolk, Virginia.  The position of J3, Director of Operations for CINCLANT / CINCLANTFLT in Norfolk was designated as an admiral grade billet, but was at that time being filled by CAPT John W. Fair.  He read the article in the Times and thought since he was a Captain filling an Admiral's billet, maybe he could get a Flag Writer who was not "really" a Flag Writer.  By the way, the military just loves acronyms. Admiral Ephraim P. Holmes was the top dog in 1969 at the SACLANT / CINCLANT / CINCLANTFLT / CINCWESTLANT (Supreme Allied Commander Atlantic / Commander in Chief Atlantic / Commander in Chief Atlantic Fleet / Commander in Chief Western Atlantic) headquarters and that meant he was commander over every active duty U.S. military man or woman stationed anywhere in or on the Atlantic Ocean or surrounding countries.  SACLANT and CINCWESTLANT were part of NATO and that made him top dog also for all Allied troops in, on or around the Atlantic.  On a joint military command, if your position designation begins with a J, it means you are in charge of that job for the joint command --Navy, Marine, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard (during wartime), etc.  If your position designation begins with an N, you are only responsible for the Navy's part.  The base in Norfolk, which is a separate facility not physically attached to the Norfolk Naval Base or the Norfolk Naval Air Station, was crawling with people of all branches of the military and members of many foreign services.

Soon school was drawing to an end, and once again it was time for the game in which you pick the duty stations where you would like to be assigned.  Again I chose Jacksonville, San Diego and Honolulu.  I couldn't believe it -- I actually received orders to report for duty at the Naval Air Station in Jacksonville, Florida.  I was ecstatic!  That lasted one day.  It seems a special petition had come from CAPT J. W. Fair in Norfolk, requesting me by name.  New orders were issued for me to report to Norfolk.  I guess being "special" had gone to my head because I loudly protested to anyone and everyone who would listen.  Actually, I would have protested whether I thought I was special or not -- I'm just that way; I speak my mind.  But, lo and behold, someone was paying attention and the next day the new orders were rescinded and once again I was headed for NAS JAX.  That lasted one more day.  The next day the orders to Norfolk were reinstated.  When I went to my Commanding Officer to find out why, I was told that CAPT Fair had pulled rank.  He went to ADM Holmes, who had signed off on the request, and there was no way anyone was gonna buck that particular four-star Admiral.

So, I was going to Norfolk.  Well, at least it was close to the beach.

The three guys in the front were Instructors.  The four guys in the back row were my classmates.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Don't give up the ship

"I can imagine no more rewarding career.  And any man who may be asked in this century what he did to make his life worthwhile, I think can respond with a good deal of pride and satisfaction:  'I served in the United States Navy.'"..... John F. Kennedy.

In the Navy, "A" school can be compared to high school.  It's where Navy personnel learn the basics for their rating.  There are a lot of ratings in the Navy and each has its own "A" school where newly graduated recruits go to learn a trade.  Some ratings have a "B" school, which could be compared to college.  Usually the personnel attending "B" school have been in the military and at their job for awhile and are further up the food chain.  "B" school training is much more specific and career oriented.  Some ratings have "C" school, which could be considered post graduate.  In "C" school, you refine your training to a specialty.  Most of the personnel attending "C" school are pay grade E-5 (petty officer second class) or above and have chosen to make the Navy a career.  To the best of my knowledge, the Yeoman rating only has "A" and "C" schools.

I returned to Bainbridge, Maryland a new Seaman Apprentice (E-2) and ready to learn all about being a Yeoman.  After boot camp, life in the military was a breeze.  Oh, sure, there are regulations and inspections and watches to be stood.  But after boot camp, you almost feel as if you're a normal human being again.  I lived in the enlisted women's barracks.  I had my own room.  I didn't have to share it with anyone else and I didn't have to clean up anyone else's mess in order to pass inspection.  If my quarters failed inspection, there was no one else to blame.  Yes, we all shared the same head, and yes, we had work details and were assigned to maintain all the common areas on a rotating basis, as well as stand guard duty once in awhile.  But, if I wasn't on duty, I could come and go as I pleased.  I could go to the enlisted men's club and drink 3.2% beer (that stuff is awful) and dance with trees.  I was my own master as long as I payed attention to all the regulations, didn't get caught out after curfew, and studied and passed everything necessary to graduate from school. 

Actually, school was intellectually painless since I had an administrative background.  We were taught how to properly format military correspondence and how to file it.  We learned about security classifications and how each classified document was handled.  And, we learned not to make typewritten mistakes because the Navy wanted 13 carbon copies of everything and there was no such thing as a photostatic copier (never mind a word processor or anything wonderful like a computer).  The classroom was filled with males and females, though there were noticeably more males.  Not coincidentally, there are also noticeably more males enlisted in the Navy than there are females (by about three to one).  We had a lot of fun together.

One day while we were taking a break between segments, I was standing around outside with a group of classmates, probably smoking cigarettes, when one of the guys accidentally popped me in the mouth with his fist.  He had been playing around and had not really meant to hit me.  And, he didn't really hit me that hard.  I felt it, but by the time we got back in the classroom, I had all but forgotten the incident.  Until the middle of the night.  I woke up with an agonizing toothache and it was the tooth he had accidentally hit.  That tooth throbbed with each heartbeat.  I took some aspirin or something (this was long before the plethora of today's pain relievers) but there was no relief (or sleep) to be had.  The next morning, I reported to dental sick call.  One of the benefits of being in the military is free medical and dental care.  Unfortunately, mine was a case of you get what you pay for.  My tooth had abscessed at the root and I needed a root canal.  Now this was not my very front tooth, but the one right next to it.  Obviously, this tooth was going to show every time I smiled (I don't smile often, but when I do, I don't want any gaps).  I did NOT want it removed, I wanted it saved.  And so it began.  Oh, did I forget to mention, the dental staff in the Navy had apparently never heard of that great new invention -- Novocaine -- which had only been in common use since the early 1900's.  The dentist had both his hands and a number of dental implements in my mouth all at the same time.  I have a structurally small mouth; an awful lot of noise comes out of it, but it is not very big.  The dentist drilled a hole in the back of the tooth and then took several different sized "reamers" and used them to rip the nerves from the tooth.  I was awake and NOT ANESTHETIZED throughout the entire procedure.  Then he punctured the abscess and plugged the hole to allow the abscess to drain.    It was some relief to have the pressure of the abscess diminished, but I had been sitting in that chair with my mouth propped open by a dental dam for over an hour.   I thought I was going to have lockjaw from this simple procedure.  I had to go back two more times to have an anchor inserted in the tooth to keep it from loosening now that it was "dead" and to finally permanently fill the hole in the back of the tooth.  None of the subsequent trips was any where near the horror story of the original, but I have to tell you, I would still be reluctant to visit a military dentist to this day.  I have a niece currently in the Air Force who has just recently had a root canal and, apparently, no one has yet informed the military about the use of Novocaine.

Yeoman "A" school was nearing completion and we were all anxious to get our new orders.  Once again the Navy allows you to choose, sorta.  They ask for your top three choices where you would like to be stationed.  Again, no promises are made.  I picked Jacksonville Florida, San Diego California, and Honolulu Hawaii.  Sometime during our last week of school, an officer came into our class and asked if anyone in the class knew how to take shorthand.  There were a few women who raised their hand.  They took all of our names and asked if we would be interested in participating in an experiment.  It seems the Navy was curious about sending nonrated (meaning E-3 or below) personnel to "C" school.  Yeoman "C" school was specifically for long term Yeoman personnel intent on becoming NEC 2514, Flag Officer Writer.  This meant you were assigned to an Admiral (Flag Officer) as his personal secretary or admin.  Cushy job if you can get it, and it was, up to this point, only offered to lifers.  But, in a totally uncharacteristic and unprecedented flight of capriciousness, the U. S. Navy chose one of those nonrated Seaman Apprentices to go to Yeoman "C" School -- ME!!!

So, once again my  preferences were ignored.  No Jacksonville.  No San Diego.  No Honolulu.  But this time it was by my choice so I was thrilled to receive orders to report to Yeoman "C" School in Bainbridge, Maryland.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead

As new recruits, we, of course, had physical training exercises and were expected to pass a strenuous physical fitness examination.  Part of the exam included being able to jump (or dive) off a 10' platform into a regulation Olympic size pool, swim to the far end and back, and then stay afloat (out of the swimming lane) for five minutes.  It didn't matter what method you chose to stay afloat; treading water, floating, whatever, as long as you didn't drown in the alloted five minutes.  This was the U. S. Navy, after all -- ya know, ships, water, that kinda thing.  There were an amazing number of women who had voluntarily enlisted in the U. S. Navy and did not know how to swim, but non-swimmers were given lessons.  If you could not pass the swim test, you could not graduate from boot camp and your days in the Navy were over.  One girl in our company, who unfortunately never passed the test, was so afraid she could not even jump off the platform into the pool.  I had learned to swim while we lived in Miami.  Two of my brothers (who shall remain nameless but whose first names start with G and J) got frustrated with trying to teach me to swim.  Just for the record, learning to swim in the Atlantic Ocean is not quite the same as learning to swim in a swimming pool.  Anyway, nameless G and J somehow "found" an inflatable raft.  They must have stolen it from some other poor kid at the beach because we sure didn't have the money to buy a raft.  They placed their darling younger sister in the middle of the raft and floated her out past the breakers.  Then they picked her up and tossed her out into the ocean.  This is known as the sink or swim method, and it was quite effective, though more than a little bit scary.  J assured me he would have saved me before I drowned if their approach had failed, but I for one am glad we never had to put it to the test.

So, the swimming part of the test was no big deal for me (actually none of the physical fitness stuff was a problem).  I dove off the platform, stroked to the shallow end of the pool, did a splendid underwater turnaround, pushed off the side and cruised my way back to the deep end.  Then I slipped over to the designated floating area and proceeded to lie on my back and float atop the water.  There was a girl in our company we nicknamed Baby Huey.  If you are not familiar with Baby Huey, look him up.  She was the perfect human incarnation for this cartoon character.  She also was not a particularly good swimmer and was not comfortable in water (she joined the Navy, why?)  As I was relaxing and waiting for someone to tell me my five minutes were up, Baby Huey came into the stay afloat section and began her version of treading water.  This very closely resembled someone drowning as she thrashed about in a great imitation of a wounded windmill.  One of the desperate flings of her arms landed in my stomach.  I was not prepared for an assault and unfortunately in my surprise opened my mouth to tell her where she should go with her floundering at precisely the moment her other arm came down and pushed me beneath the water.  I swallowed an enormous amount of pool water, came damn close to drowning and almost failed the swimming test.  Our Company Commander cleverly insisted my five minutes had expired before I had a chance to retaliate.  I did learn one very important thing during our swimming classes though.  I learned to make waterwings out of my dungarees.  I'm hoping I'll never need to use that little tidbit of information, but it's nice to know if I had to, I could do it.

As I mentioned earlier, we were all tested to find our strengths to determine for which rating (job) we would receive further training.  Not everyone was chosen for additional training out of boot camp.  Some girls who may not have tested well were immediately assigned to a duty station in an open billet and received on the job training.  It was harder to make rank (pay grade) if you were sent to OJT.  Each recruit was allowed three choices for additional schooling and training.  You were not guaranteed to get your first, or your second, or even your third choice, but it gave the Commander some idea where you wanted to go with your Navy career.  My first choice was Air Traffic Controller.  I had no background in anything having to do with airplanes, but it sounded like an exciting job and that's what I wanted.  I don't remember what my second choice was, but it was something equally off-the-wall.  My third choice was Yeoman.  It was my fall back choice since it was an administrative type job and I had been an executive secretary for three years prior to enlisting.  I had done well on the testing so I was fairly confident I would get my first choice.  WRONG!!!!  I was selected to go to Yeoman "A" school (which coincidentally was right there in Bainbridge) directly from boot camp.  When I protested (you're not supposed to rock the boat; that's what following orders is all about but I have always played by my own rules), I was told they could not in good conscience ignore my three years of practical experience and it would be best for all concerned if I were to be designated a Yeoman.  Bull!  And just so you know how much bull it really was, several years after I was discharged and had gone through a painful divorce, I thought I might re-enlist in the Navy and make a career of it.  I went to the recruiter.  I filled out the application and took all the tests again.  They dug up my personnel file from my previous enlistment wherein I had been promoted in the Yeoman rating several times and received special training (we'll get to that later).  Then they told me they were going to send me to Air Traffic Controller school as they currently didn't need any more Yeomen.  So much for not ignoring practical experience.  I was furious, so I tore the enlistment application into confetti, told the recruiter exactly where he could put his control tower, and never looked back.

While attempting to adjust to life as a Navy recruit, you are also expected to learn some things.  We had a lot of book-learning to do.  We took classes in military ranks, Naval and the other branches because you salute a General just like you do an Admiral.  We studied Naval history, identification of ships and airplanes (ours and theirs), guns, artillery and weapons of mass destruction, and biological warfare.  We all got a wonderful treat one day when we were exposed to tear gas.  Oh, we were given gas masks, and learned how to put them on.  It's just the tear gas canister was set off without warning and we had to don the masks as we were being gassed.  What a disgusting mess.  I truly hope I never come in contact with tear gas again.  Thank God they only told us about nerve gas and gave us the atropine kit.   I wasn't too worried about having to use the atropine because I knew I'd never be leaving U. S. soil.  Of course, I also assumed no one would ever bring war here to our country.  Well, I was right on one count -- I never was stationed outside the U.S.  But I was tragically proven wrong on the other count on September 11, 2001.

As our ten weeks of training were drawing to a close, certain outstanding recruits were chosen for leadership roles in the graduation ceremony.  I wanted very much to be the standard bearer for our class.  The person who carried the U. S. Stars and Stripes during graduation ceremonies could not have received any demerit points during recruit training.  We were only two weeks away from graduation and I was still in the running.  Until one morning, as we were hurrying back from breakfast, I tripped going up the stairs and scuffed the toe of one of my shoes.  We had no time at all to do anything other than get back to the barracks and muster for personnel inspection.  I tried rubbing the scuff mark on the back of my leg, and that helped a little, but it was still there.  The personnel inspection was conducted by the Company Commander of our sister company.  One of her girls was also in the running for standard bearer.  I got five demerit points for unshined shoes.  I believe if anyone else had been conducting the inspection they would have let it pass, but she didn't.  I did have a leadership role at our graduation, but it wasn't the one I wanted.   Not only did her girl get to be the standard bearer, but I found myself having to attend shoe shine school one evening during my free time.  I use the term free time loosely here.  In boot camp, your free time is spent washing and ironing, studying, writing letters home (an unyielding requirement each week), stuff like that.  No one is ever just sitting around contemplating their navel.

At last our recruit training was completed and we really were in the Navy.  My mother and sisters came from New Jersey for the graduation and I went back with them for a few days of leave.  It seemed no time at all before I was packing my seabag and heading back to Bainbridge for Yeoman "A" school. 

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

You're in the Navy now (maybe)

The naval base at Bainbridge was old -- built before World War II.  When I was there a large part of the base was condemned and off limits. The entire facility was soon closed.  I know because my sister enlisted in the Navy shortly after I got out and she went to basic training in sunny, hot, humid Orlando, Florida (there is more to come about the differences between her experience and mine).  One section of the base at Bainbridge was cordoned off for basic training use only.  The few other parts of the base that were still usable were for schools, regular enlisted barracks, the dispensary, officers' quarters, commissary and all the other things you normally find on a military base including an enlisted men's club with 3.2% beer and music.  Of course, anything not on the basic training facility was off limits to recruits.  We were restricted to our specific area except for meals. There was one mess hall for everyone on base, though there was a section of the mess designated for recruits only.  We were forbidden to have any contact with anyone not attached to the basic training command, and specifically we were NOT to speak with any male personnel, at any time, for any reason.  Men were to be considered trees, and people do not talk to trees (I have been known to talk to houseplants).  It was necessary for me to talk to a male doctor while I was at the dispensary, but that was a most unusual circumstance.  On the recruit training sector there was one new building.  It was a four story barracks, fashioned after some college dorms, in which there were cubicles with four cots and four lockers rather than a seemingly endless row of bunkbeds on each side of a long narrow passageway.  After two weeks in the old barracks, our company moved to the new building.  

The recruit training system usually brought in another 70-75 women each week for basic training.  Once every six weeks they would bring in 150 or so and train two "sister" companies at the same time.  My company had a sister company.  That may seem like a lot, but the attrition rate was astronomical.  Of the 73 women who started basic training with me (this does not include the 70+ in our sister company), only 58 made it to graduation.  Some were allergic to wool, some were unable to adjust, some were held back because they just didn't get it, one was discharged when she was caught in an off limits area with a tree.  Of the 58 who made it to graduation, there were only three of us still on active duty at the end of our three year enlistment.  For a woman in the military in the late 1960's through most of the 1970's, it was a simple matter to get discharged.  Many women joined the military to find a husband.  I know how that sounds, but it was true.  One of our first nights as a company, we were called together to introduce ourselves and explain why we had joined the Navy.  Our Company Commander specifically told us we were not to say we joined the Navy to find a husband.  Several girls stumbled and mumbled through spur of the moment explanations, because they were making it up as the went along since they had been forbidden to give the real reason.  A few girls had fathers in the Navy and were following the family tradition.  One girl said, "Well, I actually joined the Navy to find a husband but since I can't say that, how about I joined the Navy to see the World?"  Once a girl found a husband, pregnancy was not far behind (often for those without husbands too).  Military women were not allowed to be pregnant.  I know that rule has changed, but when I was in if you were pregnant, you were out.  You could also get out by crying a lot.  If you just wanted to go home, all you had to do was appear to be having a breakdown and you could get a general discharge and be on your way.  It was way too easy to get out of the military if you were a woman.

I had four really close friends while in boot camp:  Mary Bisulca, Norma Hinchey, Rosie Lippincott and Libby Noga.  Mary was a full blooded Penobsc0t Passamaquoddy Native American from Maine.  She joined the Navy because there just weren't a lot of choices for her on the reservation.  Norma came from Boston and had the thickest Boston accent I have, even to this day, ever heard.  Rosie came from either Washington or Oregon and was just as sweet and shy as her name implies.  Libby came from somewhere in the northeast (I think Pennsylvania) and though she was not really outgoing, she was hysterically funny when she let herself go.  One of these girls tried to kill herself because training for her rating (military ratings are your job) once she completed boot camp was very intense and she felt overwhelmed.  One of these girls stole money at the duty station where she was billeted after boot camp, then she went AWOL.  When she was caught, she was sent to court-martial and received a dishonorable discharge.  I don't know what happened to the other two but they were gone by the time our three years was up.  We had been tight as ticks in boot camp (although I loathe ticks and include them in my vermin category), but we were all assigned to different bases for our schooling or first duty station and we soon lost track of each other.  One thing you learn in the military is to not get too attached, because sooner or later everyone gets new orders to a different duty station.  Military people come and go so rapidly it is almost impossible to form lasting bonds.

Once we moved into the new barracks, it seemed as if we became a "real" company of recruits.  We all had proper uniforms, we could march and sing at the same time (well, I have never been able to sing, but I can call cadence which is sorta sing-songish), we knew how to salute (though some of us required special saluting classes),we knew how to shine shoes, fold clothes (there is a special way to fold every item and I still fold them the same today), stow our gear in the proper way and appropriate place so as to pass inspection, polish floors until you could use them as mirrors, and countless other mindless chores recruits are expected to learn.  We even had a girl in our company who knew how to blow a bugle. Instead of having someone scream "reveille" every morning to wake us, the night watch would wake her five minutes early.  She would take her bugle and go to the center of the building and blow "Reveille".  It echoed throughout.  We had many friendly competitions with our sister company.  We were Navy and we were proud!
And once again I have prattled on and we are still in the first few weeks of basic training.  Ah well, I didn't realize how much I actually remembered.  It was an exciting time in my life, an experience I will never forget, and I'm having a lot of fun sharing it.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Reveille, reveille

The bus from the Newark Recruitment Center arrived at the U. S. Naval Recruit Training Center in Bainbridge, Maryland around 11:00 PM.  It had been a long ride.  The bus was packed with young women, most leaving home for the first time.  Initially it was raucous and loud as we all tried to meet and learn a little about each other, but after awhile we settled down to our own thoughts and fears.  Once we arrived, we were offloaded into a barracks that had been built prior to World War II.  Some women were already there, others were yet to come.  Each of us was assigned a bunk and told where to stow our gear.  We were shown the head (we had a lot of Navy terminology to learn) and told to make up our bunks and get to sleep.  Since more busloads of women continued to arrive until the wee hours of the morning, sleep was not easily achieved.

At 5:00 AM the next morning our Company Commander turned on all the overhead lights and paraded up and down the center passageway yelling at the top of her lungs, "Reveille, Reveille!"  It was a rude awakening.  To this day if I am asleep in a dark room, all anyone needs to do is flip on the light and I will fly out of the bed and begin searching for my clothing.  One of the girls sat straight up in her bunk, obviously not remembering where she was, and screamed "Shut that damn fool up.  I'm trying to get some sleep here."  We all had a good laugh, until we discovered all 73 of us had exactly 20 minutes to get up, showered, dressed, bunks made and mustered for roll call.  We didn't know how to make up an acceptable military bunk, though that was one of the first things we learned that day.  We didn't even know what mustered meant (though I knew it had nothing to do with a spicy yellowish condiment).  After roll call we were assembled in formation (well, not really, but we were trying) and marched to the mess hall.  What a rag-tag bunch of neophytes we were.  And there, in perfect formation in front of us, all dressed in the same uniform, calling cadence as they marched in-step, were hundreds of other young women who had already begun training.  I didn't see how our group was ever gonna look that good, but you'd be amazed what can happen in just a few short days.

That first week we were measured for all of our uniforms.  Each recruit was tested to see if she was allergic to wool.  Now, maybe I'm being a little too logical here, but it seems to me you should test for a wool allergy before you enlist and get shipped off to boot camp.  Since the winter uniforms are wool, it would stand to reason you won't be able to wear it if you are allergic.   Since you can't be in the military and not wear the uniform, those who are allergic have to go.  Why not weed them out before they sign the commitment, er enlistment, papers?  Anyway, since I was so skinny, they made all of my uniforms too big.  When I went back for the first fitting, and everything was way too large, I complained and was told "Oh, you'll put on weight in boot camp.  Your uniform will fit by the time you leave."  Obviously these people had never had the problem gaining weight that I had when I was young.  I actually did gain weight in boot camp, because I was forced to eat three "balanced" meals a day at the same time every day.  They watched everything I put on my tray (and you got no choices, you ate what they slopped up there though an exception was made for my allergy to eggs) and they made sure none of it got tossed in the trash (which in my mind was where the majority of it belonged).  I weighed 117 pounds when I got out of recruit training.  Two weeks later I was back down to 98.  Fortunately, I had a sewing machine, and I knew how to use it.  Once I was no longer a recruit, I altered all my uniforms to fit me.

We also were taught how to march in formation.  It only took two days until we were able to march in-step while calling cadence.  I was amazed.  All that marching caused me to develop a bone spur on my left heel, which made marching a real challenge.  I was allowed to wear one sneaker with the back cut out until the spur healed.  I'm sure you can picture what an attractive mess I made wearing one shined black oxford shoe and one white sneaker, but it made it possible for me to march without being in pain, so I was all for it.

We underwent endless testing to decide our strengths and weaknesses for determining what further training we would receive, if any.  Your job in the Navy was determined by how you did on these tests.  After all the testing, the Recruit Training Commander asked to see me.  Talk about being terrified.  I knew I had done well on most of the tests, so I couldn't figure what could possibly be the problem.  She told me I had done so well they wanted to recommend me for OCS (Officer Candidate School).  I didn't have any college, and it was necessary to have a college degree in order to be an officer in the military, but she said they would pay for my college eduction and send me through OCS provided I was willing to make a longer commitment to the Navy.  Talk about hindsight being 20/20!  If I knew then, what I know now -- well you know how that goes.  I turned it down.  I had found school to be one giant boring wreck and I was not anxious to spend four more years that way.  I also didn't have a lot of faith in my ability to lead.  Not that I'm much of a follower either, but my self-esteem had taken some serious abuse in the last several years and I just didn't have as much confidence in myself as I should have had.  Dumb!  Still, if I had made the choice to go to OCS, none of the rest of my life would have unfolded in quite the same way.  Maybe I would never have known the difference, but I sure would hate to have never met Bud.

We were poked and prodded and checked from head to toe.  We were vaccinated against every possible disease in the world.  I swear they must have given us shots to prevent Bubonic Plague, Yellow Fever, Black Fever, etc.  We received smallpox vaccinations, though most of us had already been vaccinated.  We received polio vaccine.  In my lifetime I have received enough polio vaccine to have given me polio.  I've had the liquid, the sugar cubes, the shots.  I guess we baby boomers came along just at the right time to be guinea pigs for the various methods of administering the vaccine.  I assume all of these vaccines were necessary, but in 1969 women were not stationed aboard ships and only medical types were sent to war zones. There were a few overseas billets, but the rest of us would probably never leave the U.S., and therefore, never be exposed to any weird diseases.  Still, I always went to the front of the line when shots were being dispensed.  I'm the kind of person who wants to get anything difficult or unpleasant done immediately, so I don't have to think about it or have time to stew about it.  And there I was at the head of the line the day they were administering flu shots.  I'd never had a flu shot; I'd never even had the flu.  I knew I was allergic to eggs, but I didn't know the flu vaccine is typically incubated in eggs.  It must have been a good ten minutes after I got that shot before I keeled over.  I got chills, I got fever, I was sweating and shivering all at the same time, I lost everything I had put in my stomach in the last week.  I was rushed to the dispensary where fortunately someone knew immediately what was wrong and took measures to counteract the toxin.  Let me tell you from experience, the LAST place you want to be sick is in boot camp, because if you don't have a signed note from God explaining that you are dead, you are expected to get on about it -- whatever it may be -- marching, cleaning, polishing, etc.  I was sent from the dispensary back to the barracks and told to rest.  Well, that'll never happen to any military recruit.  If you are discovered in your rack in the middle of the day, every Company Commander, Instructor, Officer, or person standing watch who sees you will tear another strip off your hide.  Fortunately, I was sufficiently recovered by the next day to participate in life again.

Jeez, here I've run on endlessly and I haven't even gotten through the first week of boot camp.  I sure am wordy.  Oh well.  Tomorrow, hopefully, I'll pick up the pace a little or this part of the blog will become as long as my three-year enlistment.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anchors aweigh

I decided to join the military in the latter part of 1967, but didn't do anything for almost a year.  It wasn't that I was indecisive, though it would certainly be a major change in my life.  I didn't want anyone to think I was "running away from my troubles" after my fiancé shot himself.  So, I stuck around and held my head high.  After all I wasn't the loony, but many people wondered what kind of a girl would cause a man to do such a thing, as if I had driven him around the bend.  I suppose, based on some of my subsequent relationships, there may have been something to that.  Still, I believe I attracted sociopaths, I didn't make them that way.  By early winter of 1968 I thought I had done my penance and it was time to get on with living.  I have always been a patriot and a supporter of my country.  I am still a patriot, but my attitude about war has changed significantly over the years.  I unceasingly support our armed forces and respect the job they must do.  My oldest brother, Harry, had been in the Air Force.  My middle brother, Glenn, had been in the Army.  Joe had somehow managed to develop a heart murmur at his physical and had been given a medical deferment.  Joe had many health problems over the years, but he never again had a problem with a heart murmur.  He also never told me how he pulled that one off, but it was best for everyone.  Joe was not military material.  My sister, Cindy, went into the Navy shortly after I was discharged.

When I went to visit the military recruiters, I had already eliminated two branches in my mind.  It was the middle of the Viet Nam war and the Army was taking anyone who was breathing.  I felt I might be a little more extraordinary than high school dropouts and juvenile delinquents.  I also eliminated the Marines.  Although I was an athlete and in extremely good shape, the women marines are trained in much the same way as the men.  To be honest, that scared me.  I was healthy, but I was not a bruiser.  Since Harry had been in the Air Force, that was my first choice.  I went to see the Air Force recruiter.  There was a bit of an interview and then I was given an intelligence test.  After he graded my test, he asked me to step over in front of a plain white wall so he could take a full length picture of me.  I was a little confused, but he proudly informed me he had to send the picture to Lackland AFB in Texas for approval.  In 1968 the United States Air Force did not want any ugly WAFs.  I was flabbergasted.  I refused to have my picture taken.  With a bit of a leering sneer, the recruiter generously informed me I was attractive enough and would have no problem being accepted.  Surely I was either on Candid Camera or had somehow stepped into the Twilight Zone.  However, he insisted I could not be considered without the photograph so I thanked him for his time and walked across the hall to the Navy recruitment office.

The only thing the Navy cared about was my intelligence.  I passed the test and the recruiter was anxious to get me enlisted, but he also had one small problem.  According to the fitness charts a female who was 5'-6½" tall must weigh a minimum of 106 pounds.  At the time, I weighed 98 pounds.  I told him it was no problem.  I had three weeks until the entrance physical and I would somehow manage to gain eight pounds.  The fact that I had been trying to gain weight most of my life and had been hopelessly unsuccessful didn't seem to faze me at the time.  I mean seriously, who was I kidding?  I had a boyfriend (yes, Wayne, this one is about you) who once said "Carla is so skinny if she turns sideways and sticks out her tongue she will look like a zipper."  Anyway, I went home and started eating every fattening thing I could find.  I pigged out on sundaes and pasta; any and every food I could imagine would put weight on.  I knew it wasn't going to stay permanently, but I only needed it for one day.  (I wish I still had that problem.)  On the day of my induction I got up two hours before the recruiter was to pick me up and drive me to Newark for my entrance physical.  I ate three bowls of Cheerios and an entire bunch of bananas with about a gallon of water.  I had been told bananas and water would "bulk up" and cause me to temporarily weigh more.  Whoever told me that forgot to tell me I would also be constipated beyond description as a result.  At the physical I weighed 104 pounds.  I thought I had been defeated, but apparently the Navy wanted me as much as I wanted them.  Somehow, the scale managed to register three more pounds before I stepped down, so I made it.  Of course, the fact that my recruiter was standing close while I was being weighed and may have rested the toe of his foot on the scale is totally irrelevant.  On January 21, 1969 I was sworn in and put on the bus with the rest of the girls from the northeast area.  We were off to Bainbridge, Maryland for 10 weeks of recruit training.

The rest of this story is too long to included here, so it's gonna be written in chapters.  Tomorrow we'll talk about boot camp and Yeoman "A" and "C" school.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Love is a many splintered thing

As a teenager and young adult I had an uncanny proclivity to attract psychopaths.  There were a few notable exceptions (Wayne if you are reading this you are one of the exceptions), but for the most part, my choice in romantic partners was seriously flawed.  When I was 15, I dated a boy who thought it would be fun to make me believe he was gonna throw me off a mountain top.  I failed to see the humor in it, and was truly terrified when I found the only thing keeping me from pitching backward off a cliff was the snap on my blue jeans.  My prayers were answered and the snap held, but that was the last time I went anywhere with that lunatic. At 18 I was engaged to be married to another misfit.  (It took me a very long time to be able to identify insanity early in the game.)  He didn't try to kill me, but he did shoot himself.   At 20 I married a maniac out of fear because he threatened suicide.  Having already been down that road, I didn't want to venture that way again.  I don't really count it as a marriage.  I never wanted any part of it, it barely lasted long enough for the ink to dry, and the screwball slashed his wrists anyway.  It would not even qualify for what today is known as a starter marriage.   At 22 I married for love, but if he wasn't a nutcase before he went to Viet Nam, he certainly qualified for commitment papers afterward.  Something about all those terribly young people dying all around him turned him into a serial cheater.  Maybe he was that way all along and just hid it better before he went to Nam, but I think the war turned him into something even he didn't like.  After that, I gave up.  I had never actually "looked" for anyone to love, but I made up my mind I was going to actively avoid any entanglements from that point forward.

I found myself young and single and living in Atlanta at a time when the young male population outnumbered the young female population by a large margin.  I had a big time!   It is likely I dated some young men who were probably relatively close to sane, but as I was not having anything to do with any relationships, it just didn't matter.  There were times I felt lonely but never enough to let down my guard or let anyone get close.  My brother-in-law once fixed me up on a blind date.  It was with a coworker of his at Georgia Power, so I figured he had to have some degree of intelligence and maybe even a social grace or two.  Wow, was I in for a shocker.  I sure hope my brother-in-law had no clue what this dude was really like.  They just worked together, so I would like to believe George only knew him professionally and did not have a great deal of insight into his personality.  The first place Homer (yes, that was his real name) wanted to take me was to an X-rated movie.  I told him I thought maybe that was inappropriate for a first date, so he suggested the Playboy Club.  I was beginning to get the drift.  I countered with the suggestion we go bowling.  He thought maybe we should just go back to my apartment and "watch television".  We ended up going bowling.  The ensuing wresting match when he dropped me off at my apartment later was really unpleasant, but he did win a place in my memory banks, forever.  I wrote a poem about how horrible my date was with him.  I won't publish it here because it includes his entire name.  I'd like to think somewhere along the way he got a clue in life.

As I've mentioned, I took a job in Atlanta and ended up in Baltimore.  Actually, the timing was perfect because I was attempting to ease my way out of a situation with someone in Atlanta and moving to another state seemed like a good solution.  Turns out, it was.  For the first year I lived in Baltimore I did the same tap dance, slipping and sliding my way to avoid romantic entanglements.  Then along came Bud.

I had no intention of falling for Bud.  He had several strikes against him from the beginning:  he is significantly younger than I, we had just gone through many months of intense hostility toward one another, and he wasn't my type (which could mean he was actually playing with ALL his marbles).  I fought against my feelings every inch of the way.  But we started dating and before long we were seeing each other exclusively.  Bud moved in with me, and eventually he and I shared a townhouse with our friend Tim.  There are some stories there, but most remain untellable.  Then Bud and I split up.  Or, at least we weren't living together any longer.  I'm not sure we ever quit seeing each other.  We must have found a thousand reasons we needed to go somewhere together or do something together until finally we were exclusive again, though we kept separate apartments.  In October of 1980, Bud moved to North Carolina, along with many of our friends, to open a company specializing in high end grandfather clocks.  We had all worked at the Daneker Clock Company in Maryland (which is how we all met) and the company had folded.  The managers of Daneker still wanted to make clocks and found  investors to help open a new company.  The move to North Carolina came about because North Carolina was the furniture capital of the world and the company needed skilled furniture craftsmen.  I had a job in Maryland (not at the clock company) and did not intend to make the move to North Carolina.  From October through December, Bud drove from North Carolina to Maryland almost every weekend to see me.  By December he had convinced me to move to North Carolina.  Originally I thought I would get my own apartment once I got settled, but somehow that never happened.  I also ended up working for the clock company in North Carolina.  In 1982 we decided to buy a house.  The house we selected (where we still live) would allow for a VA loan requiring no down payment and since I was a vet, that was the route we chose.  Unfortunately, my salary was not enough to make the monthly mortgage payments and the only way they would consider Bud's salary was if he was also a vet or if we were legally married.  I asked him how he felt about two years in the Army, but all I got was daggers shooting from his eyes and a stony silence, so we got married.  I didn't know it at the time, but it was the smartest thing I have ever done in my life.  I didn't go in search of a short (well shortish, he's 5'-10"), fat, bald man, but that's what I got and I wouldn't trade him for any man I have ever met.  Not only is he remarkably well balanced, he is a Boy Scout, loyal and true (he really was a scout).   He is reliable, basically honest, faithful, and most importantly of all, he has a well developed sense of humor.

I have found something for which many people claim to be searching but never seem to find -- true, lasting love.  I wasn't searching when it knocked me over like a steamroller, but I will forever be grateful it found me.

Friday, October 22, 2010

C's knees

I have two brand spanking new (what an odd phrase) knees.  They are made of titanium and they set off metal detectors in airports.  Flying with Bud has always been an adventure.  He does not fly well.  I don't know if he is afraid of flying and won't admit it, or exactly what the problem really is, but whenever we went anywhere by airplane there was an excellent chance I was gonna feel like shrinking to the size of a gnat and flitting out of the terminal or airplane.  Now I will admit, it seems there is no such thing as service in the airline industry any longer.  It has gotten worse and worse until now passengers are barely treated better than cattle to slaughter.  But Bud has zero tolerance for blunders or confusion when it comes to flying.  He is impatient, unruly, unreasonable and loud.  Most of the time his complaint is justified and he gets what he demands, maybe just so they can get him to shutup.  Once in awhile he comes up against someone who faces him down,  and then I have to intervene before we find ourselves stranded in some strange airport because they wouldn't let us on the plane.  Of course, 9-11 made flying a nightmare for everyone because of the security measures and restrictions on what you can and can't take onboard.  Bud has sleep apnea and must sleep with a CPAP every night.  He takes the CPAP as carry-on luggage.  He is always singled out at the security checkpoint so they can manually search the CPAP and test to make sure there are no explosives in there.  Now, with my new knees, I am also singled out and made to stand aside to be "wanded" from stem to stern.  Of course, I tell them I have artificial knees.  I would never wait until the buzzer sounds to bring up the subject.  But it is always necessary for me to be put in a special location where I will become a spectacle for all to see.  I wonder how many passengers think I'm a suspected terrorist?  They check me over to be sure only my knees beep.  I even wear shorts so they can see the scars, but that makes no difference.  I suppose it is possible someone who smuggles drugs or who wants to conceal a weapon might have knee replacement surgery, but having gone through it twice, I can assure you that is a pretty drastic measure.

Anyway, I love my new knees.  I have suffered from osteoarthritis most of my life.  I have it in my hands, my neck, my back, my shoulders, my sacroiliac and I did have it in my knees.  I have taken medication to alleviate the pain for 20+ years or so, and that always seemed to help.  All of my employment has involved typewriters or keyboards so my hands always got a lot of exercise.  Still, as I've aged there is only so much you can do to ease the pain and the rest you just learn to live with.  I make certain when I go to sleep each night that my fingers are extended and not balled up, because if they are balled up I will have a difficult and painful time getting my hand open in the morning.  About ten years ago, my knees started bothering me so severely it was difficult to walk.  I located an outstanding orthopedic surgeon (a big shout out and thanks to Dr. Andy Collins) and over the years we became great friends.  We started out with cortisone shots.  If you have never had a cortisone shot you're lucky and you don't ever want one.  It feels as if you are being injected with hot lead, and that large needle stays in you until everything in the vial has been slowly injected into your joint.  When they work, they are wonderful.  But the effect of cortisone lessens each time you get another until you reach the point the injections are useless.  That happened to me in 2007.

I had been delaying surgery until I just couldn't stand the pain one minute more.  So, of course, that happened at the worst possible time.  We were on our first and only trip to Las Vegas in March of 2007.  We were traveling with Bud's brother Mike and his wife Andee and her brother Richard.  Our friends Tim and Ann Webb were also with us.   We had to change planes in Dallas/Ft. Worth, which involved running from the end of one terminal to the end of another.  DFW is not a small airport.  Then we had to stand around for about an hour waiting for transportation to the hotel once we got to Vegas and found our luggage.  I was hurting pretty badly, but I was so excited about being in Las Vegas and I wanted to see and do everything.  We were only there for four days so we were planning to pack a lot into each day.  One of our friends is a drummer for the Blue Man Group in Vegas and seeing Nick play was gonna be the highlight of the trip.  I also wanted to be sure to see the Hoover Dam.  We went to the Hoover Dam on the first full day we were there.  It was a lot of walking, but I was fascinated by the whole thing.  I'm not much of a gambler and wasn't really interested in the casinos except from the standpoint of all the flashing lights and noise.  I played a few quarter slots, but for the most part I didn't go to Vegas to gamble.  The next day we all did a little sightseeing and Ann and I went to see a great show by a man who trains cats.  No this is not a joke.  His name is Gregory Popovich and he makes those ordinary housecats do amazing things.  The others in our group went to the casinos and Tim went to visit Nick (they are cousins).  That night we all went to see the unbelievably clever Blue Man Group show and went out with Nick and his wife Jeniffer for dinner after the show.  The next day we set out to visit all the magnificent hotels.  Before we even made it to the first hotel I was unable to walk another step.  Bud put me in a cab and sent me back to the hotel and that was the end of the trip to Vegas for me.  Before anyone gets outraged that Bud didn't go back to the hotel with me, I would not let him.  Just because I was not able to function was no reason he should miss out on any of the fun.  I would be just fine back in the room, off my feet, and he could still enjoy his trip.  It would only have made me feel worse to have ruined his vacation too.

As soon as we got back to Greensboro, I contacted my orthopedist and went in for an evaluation.  X-rays showed there was little to no cartilage in either knee and it was just bone rubbing against bone.  We scheduled arthroscopic surgery for my left knee in September to see if it could be built up enough to hold me for awhile, because my right knee needed to be replaced first.  The surgery was set for October.  In July, we went to Pawley's Island, South Carolina for a week at the beach with our fantastic and generous friends, Dr. Dave and Dr. Terry.  My knees hurt so much I was not able to stay in the water because the waves and the undertow were killing me.  It is the first (and I hope last) time I spent any time at a beach and did not go in the water.  That was the final straw as far as I was concerned.  I had my left knee scoped in September and it seemed as if it was going to hold.  I had my right knee replaced in October.  I will not go into all the details, but suffice to say it is serious surgery and you are in a lot of pain for a long time afterward (thank God for better living through chemistry).  Physical rehabilitation takes about six weeks or more, but the first two weeks are really the only part that is nearly unbearable.  Our friends Rita and Harold had a wedding for their youngest daughter Clark two weeks after my knee surgery.  I went to the wedding but I can honestly say I do not remember one single thing that happened that night.  Such a shame too.  It was at the Grandover Resort, one of the classier establishments in this area.

I was back at work within six weeks and I healed remarkably fast.  Unfortunately, now that I had a really good right knee, it caused my left knee to deteriorate rapidly.  We schedule surgery for the second knee replacement for the following October.  The second surgery and recovery went as well as the first and by the end of 2008 I had two good knees and was a walking fool.  My oldest brother Harry has problems with his knees, but he is still in the cortisone shot stage.  Because he is 10 years older than I am, he likes to brag that his younger sister had knee replacement surgery but he hasn't needed it yet.  His younger brother (and my 5 years older brother), Glenn, has also had both of his knees replaced (much more recently than my surgeries), and this seems to make Harry gloat too.  I don't know what he's crowing about.  His knees still hurt.  Mine don't and I'd venture to guess by now Glenn's don't hurt him either.  So far I haven't heard either of my sisters complain much about aching joints, so I pray this whole mess bypassed them.

So, I was able to walk as much and as far as I wanted from the beginning of 2009 until August 27, 2009.  Oh, my knees are still perfect.  They'll probably last longer than the 15-20 year expected lifespan because I don't get to use them a lot.  Now that I have SCDS, walking is a chore.  It doesn't hurt (unless I fall), but it sure isn't any fun.  Ain't life strange?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Catch up or Catsup or Ketchup

Today's post has nothing at all to do with the tomato based condiment.  Unfortunately, my brain is a mystery, even to me, and every time I write the words "catch up" I go wandering off in a query about which is the correct spelling for the stuff and why there are two totally distinct words for the same thing.  So I did some research this morning.  The controversy over the spelling actually made it to the Supreme Court, so obviously I'm not the only lunatic on the loose out here.  Apparently, the Supreme Court had problems with the squabble and opted to keep both spellings (by a vote of 5-4).  So, in my opinion, the discussion continues.  Just for the record, I prefer the flavor of Hunts (they spell it both ways depending upon where you live) to Heinz Ketchup.  There are countless web pages with great insight about the spelling for this sauce.

Now about catching up.  I didn't post yesterday for a number of reasons.  The first was that it was storming.  I tried going back to bed, but apparently dogs don't have any idioms about letting sleeping humans lie.  So, the going was slow, but I managed to accomplish a few things.

I finally have had meaningful communication with our tax accountant (when voicemail fails, use email with a copy to your hotheaded spouse) and we have figured out the problem and settled on a plan of action.  We do owe the IRS for an erroneous omission of income on our 2008 return.  We will file an amended return and make arrangements to pay the back taxes.  It will be a ginormous relief to get that settled.  The IRS is an agency no one even close to being in their right mind would want to be on the wrong side of.  (Sorry, I tried to rewrite that sentence so it wouldn't end in a preposition, but I couldn't get it to come out sounding sensible any other way.)

I spoke with a human at the North Carolina Employment Security Commission.  Actually, I spoke with a human on Tuesday and Wednesday.  The person on Tuesday told me to ignore everything and wait until I received further instructions.  The person on Wednesday was a bit more helpful.  She explained why they thought I owed them money (even though I was still eligible and still seeking employment), but said she would put in the paperwork to have that waived.  We closed my claim as I am no longer eligible and I am not looking for a job.  I haven't filed any claims in quite some time so it should be obvious to the ESC that I am not attempting to deceive them.  At the end of our conversation I said, "Okay, so now we're even.  I don't owe you anything and you don't owe me anything.  Right?"  To which she replied "Yes".  So, I wonder why when I checked my bank balance online this morning, I discovered the ESC had deposited over $700 in our account last night?  I guess I'll start calling again today and see how long it takes me to get a human so I can give the money back.  What a mess.

The insurance check arrived yesterday.  I wish people would understand it is so much easier to deal with me than it is to get Bud involved.  I may be sarcastic (no may be about it), but I seldom yell, I am even less likely to cuss, and I can be reasonable if you are not a total doofus. Bud, on the other hand, approaches almost every issue in bulldozer mode.  Right, wrong or somewhere in between, when Bud is finished with you, you need a good stiff drink and some rest in a nice quiet, dark room.  He's actually a wonderful person until you piss him off.  I used to do it for fun, but it got to be more trouble than it was worth.  He has enough fools in his life every day at work.  The last thing he needs is me being a jerk on purpose. 

Since I had still not received anything in writing from the Social Security Administration explaining the generous deposit they made to our checking account, I decided to call them.  I have heard nothing but horror tales about filing for disability with Social Security, but I must to say, I have not had a single problem with them.  Everyone has always been courteous and well informed.  They have returned my calls promptly, and have answered every single question to my satisfaction.  They may move a little slower than I would have liked, but I'm sure there are countless numbers of people who have dealings with Social Security.  I am one of the beginning Baby Boomers.  There are a bunch of us out here and we are all approaching retirement age.  What a nightmare that must be!  When I asked why the money was deposited before I was informed of the decision to approve my disability application, I was told they always send the money first because you can't eat the paperwork, but you can use the money to buy food.  I like that attitude.  I am one of the fortunate ones who does not have to rely on Social Security as my only source of income, but for those who do, having the money before the paperwork could make a big difference.

And finally I spent much of yesterday (and will spend a lot more time today) trying to reconstruct many of the documents that were lost when my hard drive crashed.  Bud is a member of the McLeansville Wildlife Club.  Most of the time he is also on the Board of Directors for the club.  They have pork shoulder cookings four or five times a year, and they sell the shoulders to make money for the club's charitable and special projects.  Bud is always in charge of the shoulder sales because basically we figured out a way to keep track of who ordered what and where each shoulder should go (we, of course do this on the computer).  Bud prints tags to put on each shoulder so it will end up with the correct buyer.  I also create all the posters and certificates and announcements and brochures for the club.  It is something I can do without much difficulty and it helps them a lot.  Of course, all of this was on the hard drive that bit the dust, so I must recreate most of this from memory.  Another big mess I've gotten myself into.

And that's how I spent my day yesterday.  I'll spend much of my day today in the same way.  But, I'm a whole lot more lighthearted.  The sun is shining (though it's only 49º).  I'm not so worried about the IRS.  The SSA is not an issue any longer.  The ESC is still a mess, but hey two outta three ain't bad.  And I now know more than anyone could ever want to know about a spicy little tomato sauce.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Odds and ends

Today I don't have a subject. I haven't put any forethought into what I should write.  I guess this will truly be off-the-cuff.

Yesterday I was thinking about this blog, and I discovered something about myself.  When I started writing it was for my own benefit and I didn't really care if anyone read it.  Then I started to get some positive feedback from a few family members and I started feeling pretty good about myself and the blog.  I still didn't get too cocky because neither Bud nor my best friend Ann had read a single word I had written.  I thought if I wasn't interesting to the people who know me best, maybe I was pretty moronic to everyone.  But that has changed now.  Bud, at least, has read some of what I have written and after a third degree interrogation (I swear it was like pulling teeth), he admitted he likes it.  And I've discovered I do want people to read and be entertained by my musings.  But, I don't get much feedback and I think that is bothering me some.  Odd, because there is a blog I follow daily that is written by an acquaintance who just happens to be one of the owners of the family-owned company where Bud works (her brother is the president and her husband is something like vice president of production or some such thing).   She is pretty off the wall and I've always "gotten" her sense of humor.  I read her blog (it's titled "All Fooked Up") every day, but seldom do I comment.  So, if I'm not willing to comment on her blog, why would I think people should comment on mine?  I can't answer that, but I do!  So, if you are reading this, comment once in awhile, please.

I finally got the North Carolina Employment Security Commission to call me back yesterday.  It was an unusual conversation, during which the woman basically said they have no idea what they are doing and haven't been able to figure it out yet, so just ignore everything they have sent me so far and wait until they send me something else.  Okay, got that!  I just hope I'm not gonna end up being penalized for not doing anything, once they decide what it is I'm supposed to have done.

We own a few shares of Bank of America stock, and by a few I mean well under a hundred shares.  A few weeks ago we received a notification from the Securities Exchange Commission that we might be eligible for compensation in their class action suit against BoA.  I have no clue what any of this is about, but Bud gave me the paperwork and asked me to fill it out since I have nothing better to do than sit around on my butt all day (that's the truth -- depressing, but the truth).   Well, of course, the paperwork couldn't be completed without some amount of research on our part, so I put it aside "until later".  Every day I would look at that notice from the SEC and tell myself I would definitely look up the information "tomorrow".  Of course there is a deadline on when the claim can be filed, and that is sometime in November, so I knew I was safe procrastinating for awhile yet.  Unbelievably, I actually did the research yesterday and will be putting the whole mess in the mail today -- a good three weeks before the deadline.  Little things make me so happy sometimes.  :)

Bud has taken over the responsibility for contacting our insurance agent to find out where the check is.  I'm not sure what possessed him to do this, but I am grateful because that is one less telephone call I have to make.  I also don't have to admit (again) that I have no idea what our agent's name is.  However, the agent is probably gonna wish I had been the one who called.  Bud tends to be a little more strident than I.  I always go with sarcasm; he goes for the throat.  I still haven't managed to contact my tax accountant, but I'm nothing if not persistent, so he'll get tired of my messages sooner or later and call back. 

I left a message for our friend Joe.  You know the old warning about not lending money to a friend?  I think this is sorta like that.  I feel as if Joe is avoiding me because I asked him to look at my computer and he hasn't been able to fix it yet.  I wish I had never asked.  His friendship is more important than the computer.  I don't want him to avoid me or my calls because of that dumb hard drive.  I know he is busy; he has a full-time job and a wife and family.  I just don't want him to feel obligated to me because of that stupid computer.

I think I got some good news this morning.  When I went online to check our bank balance (which I do every day because I hate surprises having to do with insufficient funds) I discovered a not insignificant amount of money had been deposited in our account overnight by the Social Security Administration.  I'm not going to do anything with the money until I am absolutely sure why it was deposited, but I believe it means they have approved my application for disability.  I fail to see how I could be considered anything other than disabled since I cannot drive, cannot walk straight, and pray to the porcelain god regularly because of my dizziness.  But, I have known others who had serious health problems and were not able to collect disability.  I had also been told everyone is rejected on the first application and it is necessary to get a lawyer to finally get your claim approved.  So, I'll wait until I get something in writing, but it definitely looks as if I might have been approved the first time around.  That would be such a relief.  I really feel as if I am not contributing much to this marriage right now.

I am finishing up the final few unread paperbacks I have in the house.  Bud has promised as soon as I have read the last one, he will take all the boxes somewhere.  I assume he means Goodwill, but at this point I'm not really sure I care.  Once they are all gone, it is strictly eBook for me.  I made an amazing discovery (as usual a day late and a dollar short) about my eBook.  The charger that came with it is a USB connection that plugs into a computer to recharge the battery.   The last time we went to Baltimore, I didn't bring any paperback books, just my eReader.   But I did not bring the charger connection cord, and I forgot to recharge the book before we left town.  So, of course I ran the battery completely down on the way to Baltimore and had nothing to read while there or on the way back.  This was definitely not good because reading in the car is one way for me to keep from being carsick -- sleeping is the other.  Thankfully, I am able to sleep at will most of the time, so I was able to avoid unscheduled stops to hurl.  However, I have recently discovered that Bud's cell phone charger has exactly the same connection as my eReader and I can use his cord to power my eReader.  Just wish I had noticed that on the way to Baltimore last time.

And that folks, is the way it is on Tuesday morning.  I sure hope I get some inspiration between now and Wednesday morning.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Newton Minow's "vast wasteland"

My family got its first television the year I was born, 1948.  It had a teeny little roundish screen and, of course, showed only black and white and shades of gray.  Television was still in its infancy and there wasn't much to see on it.  My father sold the set as soon as he reappeared in our lives again, but television was already becoming a part of American life.  When I was a child there were three networks: ABC, CBS and NBC.  A few years later, PBS came into being but you had to have a special UHF antennae to receive the signal.  Each station signed on with the National Anthem every morning and off with a test pattern every night.  Now, thanks to cable, there are countless networks and almost all broadcast around the clock.

As a child I watched Romper Room and Captain Kangaroo and Howdy Doody and Saturday morning cartoons.  I also watched all those great old westerns like Bronco Lane and The Rifleman and Wagon Train and later Gunsmoke and Rawhide (with Clint Eastwood as Rowdy Yates) and Bonanza.  But mostly I played outside with my friends.  TV was for Saturday morning or rainy days.  When we were all in the Children's Home for a few years, I got to be on television.  They paraded a bunch of us waifs around on a TV show in an effort to drum up donations so the Home could buy a TV to keep us all occupied and out of trouble.

When I lived in New Hampshire, I worked for WENH-TV, the PBS station at the University of New Hampshire in Durham.  It was 1972, and though color television was standard in most homes by then, many public television stations were still black and white due to funding issues.  While I worked at WENH they made the change from black and white to color.  Because I was a redhead, I got to sit on a stool in the studio for hours at a time so the engineers could tweak the settings on the new color equipment.  That was not my job; I was the secretary in the engineering department.  I was also the only redhead who worked there.  My sitting on a stool was never actually broadcast over the airwaves.  It was just to give the engineers an opportunity to figure out the new equipment.  One really great thing did happen while I worked there.  I got to go on a "field trip" to WGBH in Boston where I was fortunate to meet Fred Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood and Julia Child of The French Chef.  The on-air persona for these two stars was not an act.  They were exactly the same in person as they were on their respective TV shows.

As time went on, I probably watched as much television as the average American.  I have seen every episode of M*A*S*H.  I watched most of the Dallas serial and Falcon Crest, but never got into Dynasty or any of the other nighttime soaps.  I would usually come home from work and turn on the television to catch the local and network evening news.  The TV would stay on until bedtime and Bud and I would usually sit like two blobs in front of it and watch.  I think I really started to lose interest in TV about the same time we got our first remote control.  As everyone knows, the remote control is the property of the man of the house.  Whenever he was in the house, he had the control and I had no choice but to watch what he chose.  Actually, I had little to no objection because our viewing tastes are similar and by then I was beginning to think there had to be something better I could do with my time.  I gradually quit watching TV until it got to the point where the only thing I chose to watch was The Weather Channel.  If I turned the set on at all, it was on The Weather Channel and would stay there until Bud came along and changed it to some other station.  Interestingly, Bud seems to have the same addiction to the Food Channel now.

I no longer turn on the television.  I tell people I don't watch TV and for the most part that's true.  I have seen only one entire episode of Seinfeld (a rerun while laid up in the hospital for knee replacement surgery).  I have never seen a complete episode of Friends.  There are some television stars who are favorites and if any of them are in a show I might make an effort to watch.  I adore Martin Sheen, Alan Alda and Jimmy Smits, but I caught only a few episodes of The West Wing.  I did watch a lot of L. A. Law when Jimmy Smits was in it.  He's got a new show now called Outlaw.  Bud records the show on DVR and we watch it on Sunday morning.  We also watch some other shows he records.  Both of us are big SciFi fans (I HATE  they have changed the station name to SyFy).  We have seen every version of Star Trek (the original, Next Generation, Voyager and Deep Space Nine) as well as all the Star Trek motion pictures.  We have seen all of Battlestar Galactica (the original with Lorne Greene also know as Bonanza in the Sky, and the second version with Edward James Olmos) and we now record and watch Caprica.   There is a show on SyFy called Eureka that we like a lot, so Bud records that for us.  We also record and watch Sanctuary, but I think Amanda Tapping was much better as Samantha Carter in the StarGate series than she is as Helen Magnus.  That's odd because I think as Helen Magnus her British accent sounds phony; Amanda Tapping was born in England.  And speaking of StarGate, I think we have seen every permutation of that series as well (SG-1 and Atlantis).  We currently record and watch Star Gate: Universe.  So I guess I can't say I don't watch television, though I almost never watch it at the time it is actually being telecast.

The thing is, if Bud never recorded any of these programs and I never watched them, it wouldn't matter to me.  I enjoy sharing the time with Bud on Sunday mornings much more than I care about what's on the tube.