Monthly Archives: October 2014

“The Birds”

Among its entertainments, the downtown Norfolk YMCA had a room which served as a small theater, in which they played movies; free to anyone with a military ID card, and which filled many a lonely hour. It was here that I saw a lot of Frankie and Annette and various beach parties, as well as many other first-run films.

One Saturday evening I stopped into the “Y” to see what was happening — just in time to see the movie “The Birds”. And see it I did. I will admit that by the time the film ended, it had thoroughly scared the hell out of me.

The next day, on board the ship, as several of us were hanging about in the Engine Repair Shop – our weekday workspace and after hours lounge – the ranking member of the group decided it was time to tidy the place up a bit. When we had done this, one of the petty officers told me to empty the wastebasket into the dumpster on the pier to which the ship was moored. I didn’t have the duty, but it was a simple request, and not the sort of thing that one refused when requested by a petty officer whom, on other days, you worked for.

So off I went; up the ladder (stairs), through the mess decks (dining hall), on to the main deck (outside) to the quarterdeck (entranceway), down the gangway (ramp) and onto the pier. The dumpster was quite large, so a set of steps and a small platform had been erected to get you high enough to actually deposit your trash into the receptacle. Without looking I dumped the contents of my wastebasket into the dumpster, and also onto a seagull that happened to be inside just then searching for its lunch.

The startled gull was huge; there was barely room inside the dumpster for its spread wings as it started to fly up, and out, and past a very startled me still staring down into the trash. Having watched the movie The Birds no more than 16 hours prior, and perhaps even having had a minor nightmare featuring vicious avian creatures, I had the hell scared out of me once again. I turned and scurried back to the gangway, up onto the ship and safely inside where I’m sure I stayed for the rest of the day.


East High – The Final Year: Athletics

My senior year at East high featured a mixed bag of athletics. My classmates were now the seniors on the ‘63 Tomcat football team and – supplemented, to some degree, by some of the more talented juniors – were totally, and completely, unbeatable; winning the inaugural year championship of the new Upstate Eight Conference, as they had won the final crown of the old Big Eight Conference the year before.

Sad to say, but I had given up on football a year prior. Not through lack of desire, or of wanting to be a part of a team. But the team was just so damn good. My decision to leave was based on the reality that in this group, the time, effort, and the grueling practice schedule (especially the brutal two-a-day sessions in August) led only to the frustration of sitting on the bench until the last minute or so of home games, and the humiliation of never ever wearing an “away” jersey.

Still, I attended the games, and rooted for my former teammates, and took pride in “the schools” accomplishments. But, I reasoned, if I were going to just watch, the view was better from the bleachers, and there were girls there as well.

To round out the year athletically, the basketball team was the yang to the gridiron yin. Several members of the Wrestling team went to the state tournament and did well, but they had been there before so that was no surprise. The Track and Field, and Baseball teams were average, but unremarkable.

For me, as I have previously mentioned, “athletics” meant ice skating, where Gang Tag was not an IHSA sanctioned sport, unfortunately, but where I — I don’t mind saying — was a standout.


“Brown October Leaves” – Milwaukee 2014

I hope I’m not breaking a rule (or a law) by posting the following in its entirety. But these last couple of mid-October days in Milwaukee have reminded me of a Rod McKuen poem of which I was very fond very nearly fifty years ago.

Leaves fall down now, brown and beautiful, brittle to the touch
lying on the ground or filling public fountains.
Swirling down the street, catching in the gutters
and diverting little streams of water.

Brown October leaves, trampled under foot
banged about by brooms that sweep the gutters clean.

I remembered today that among the silly things you saved
was a brown and yellow leaf
pressed between the pages of a book somewhere.
We found it in the park, remember?

I shook out every book I owned to find it.
Still it’s lost, or owned these days by Hemingway or Whitman.
Maybe even Gertrude Stein.
Would she know what to do with a brown and yellow leaf?
And would she give it back?

The Norfolk YMCA

Outside Gate 2 of the sprawling Norfolk Naval Station, on Admiral Taustig Boulevard, there was a “strip”; much like the one outside the Great Lakes Naval Training Center. I would learn that every military facility has such an area “just beyond the wall” and Norfolk, being a huge naval facility and also Atlantic Fleet headquarters, of course had its version.

The Norfolk strip had its bars and gift shops of course, but the only business there with which I concerned myself was one of the “Locker Clubs”. Enlisted sailors at that time were required to wear the uniform both on the base, and when leaving and returning. A locker club, as the name might suggest, was a large, usually second-floor, room filled with lockers which could be rented for a monthly fee, and where sailors could keep their civilian clothes.

This provided us with a place outside of the gate to change; thus allowing us to, hopefully, present ourselves to the Norfolk citizenry (well, the girls anyway) as normal people – although I’m sure we didn’t fool anyone. Conveniently, there were also a few sinks and showers. The genius of locker clubs, as business establishments, was that they were almost universally located above a men’s clothing store – which of course offered easy payment plans to military personnel.

I recall the Norfolk strip as being not quite as large as the one at Great Lakes; probably for the simple reason that unlike North Chicago IL, in Norfolk there was actually somewhere else to go. The area outside Gate 2 also included a bus stop, and for a dime a simple bus ride took you to downtown Norfolk VA, which offered many more opportunities for lonely young sailors to be exploited.

One of the (few) non-exploitive features, near the end of the bus route, in downtown Norfolk was the YMCA, which organized and hosted activities for the many many young sailors (and marines, and others – but mostly sailors) who filled the downtown area on evenings and weekends.

Principal among these events were dances. These were much like dances at the “Y” back home in Aurora, but here everyone was a bit older of course, and no one knew anyone else. Here, everyone was a stranger, and the competition to dance, or to just talk with the local Virginia girls who volunteered to entertain the lonesome boys could sometimes be overwhelming. But it was occasionally worth the effort.

Life and Work Aboard the “Toot”

Upon reporting aboard the USS Tutuila, I was assigned, as expected, to the ICE (Internal Combustion Engine) shop. As the Tutuila was by designation a specialist in diesel engine repair, this was, to those of Engineman rating at least, the hub of the ship’s activities.

I was assigned to Repair Division One and was given a quick tour of the ship. I was assigned a rack (bed) which consisted of a tube frame, slightly larger than I, with canvas stiffly lashed in the middle, upon which lay a thin mattress. Racks — mine and those of my 34 room mates — were attached via hinges and small chains to side walls, or to rows of poles, with six racks on each side. Each morning all racks were triced (folded up and secured) thus providing space for daytime activities.

The berthing spaces for repair divisions (and engineering divisions) were, by long standing naval tradition, located in the aft portion of the ship. This comes I’m sure from the fact that in the days of sail, there were no engineering personnel, and the entire crew — officers excepted — slept in forward part of the ship. When the steam engine was invented, and quickly adapted for naval propulsion, there was a sudden need to accommodate those bothersome grease monkeys. It was at that point, I’m guessing, that some deck officer decided to “put ‘em in the back somewhere”, and so it has been ever since. Deck divisions, and generally any enlisted who was not an engineer, lived in the forward part of the ship; far from the constant thrashing and thumping of the ships propeller when at sea.

The personnel working in the ICE shop were divided into three groups. This organization was not strictly adhered to but — emergency jobs, or special needs notwithstanding — the group to which you were assigned was your primary job.

One group (the elites) was dedicated to the repair and/or rebuilding of fuel injectors for various diesel engines — from small to very very large. This group had their own compartment (room) within the larger shop. (This space was often used — after hours — as our poker parlor, as well)

The second, occasionally supplemented, group was tasked with large engine repair. This almost always took place aboard other ships, which had come to us to solve and fix their propulsion or generator problems.

The third, and largest, group — to which I was assigned — focused on small boat engines, primarily the four-cylinder Gray Marine diesel, and the ubiquitous six cylinder, supercharged GM 6-71*, the real workhorse of the small-boat Navy. The job of this third group was mostly day-to-day routine, as we maintained a large rack full of freshly overhauled engines from which we could dispense an immediate replacement when given an engine requiring a rebuild. This service made us very popular with ships having to adhere to sometimes very tight movement schedules.

And so I settled into the daily routine; only occasionally interrupted by voyages to the Caribbean, or once to Rhode Island, or to the shipyard in Portsmouth, VA, or finally, through the Panama Canal and beyond.

* Some months later, on the other side of the world, we would largely focus on the V12-71s of the Swift Boats, and the V6-53s of the River Patrol Boats (PBRs).