|Back in our day . . .||
I served in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1969. The Vietnam war had just escalated when I joined, and would continue to rage long after I left. I began my naval service in minesweepers, serving my first duty aboard USS Fidelity. That's USS Fearless in the picture, Fidelity's twin sister. Last wooden ships in the U.S. Navy. I was there, got the shirt. I was a radioman, served a year and a half at the big communications hub on Guam, and finally returned to 'Nam on an oil tanker. The navy calls them "Oilers," and they're the ships you see in the movies steaming alongside another ship, topping off its fuel tanks.
By and large, I didn't enjoy my naval service. The military tries too hard to pound every peg into a square hole, and I've always been one of those people that doesn't fit neatly into compartments. I made some friends there, had some adventures, and as a radioman was taught to type. That one skill opened the door for the rest of my career, which could be better, I suppose, but I can't complain. I was fortunate not to have been assigned to one of the carriers or battleships, big spit-and-polish showboats where your career hinges on the quality of your shoe shine or whether your neckerchief ends are even. I'd probably still be in a brig somewhere.
But I'm not here to post about the navy. I didn't like them, they didn't like me, and that's about the only thing we ever agreed on. No, I'm here to talk about what happened right after I got out. I parted company with my first real employer on October 3rd, 1969 in Long Beach, CA. I took a Greyhound bus to San Diego, and a Yellow Cab from the bus station to the homestead in Point Loma. With everyone's blessing, I moved back into my room which I paid for by doing chores around the house. Grandma and Great-grandma were advancing into old age by then, and there was a lot they just couldn't do anymore. It was understood that a lot of my day would be spent looking for a job. I had just gotten that process well under way when Great-grandma, up on a midnight potty run, slipped on a rug and broke her hip, changing the course of my life forever.
The sole family income at that time was provided by Grandma, who supervised the cleaning staff at the Mission Valley Hyatt Lodge. I have related before how we lived rent-free in my uncle's house in exchange for keeping it up, and had we had to pay rent, we would have all lived together under a bridge somewhere. There was no question of being able to afford professional in-home care. She was only able to get primary treatment of the injury because her son was a general in the Air Force, which entitled her to care at San Diego's Navy Hospital. How this impacted my life was that I suddenly found myself a nurse. When Grandma was at work, I had to be at home to provide for Great-grandma's every need. A lesser man could have left, I suppose, but this was the woman who had provided years of care for a child who wasn't hers, and saved me from growing up in an orphanage. What would you do? What I did was to put my career launch on hold, and spend the next five years as an in-home nurse.
I adjusted my life to Grandma's hours, and found a job manning the counter at a dry cleaning drop-off shop a block from home, enabling me to be there at the drop of a hat should the worst happen. I walked my neighbor's dog for $10 a week, and put in paid hours doing grounds work at the Little League field a block in the other direction. My best friend Chip, whose father owned a surgical supply house, brought Great-grandma a walker free of charge so she could get around the house, and that was a lifesaver. And somehow, I was able to find time for myself in that strange whirlwind of constantly changing schedules and activity.
Chip and his little brother, Dennis, became my primary companions as I in some ways got back the last three teenage years the navy had taken from me. Dennis, who had been little more than a toddler when I met Chip, became a great guy to hang out with and discuss movies, TV, and world affairs... Especially after we'd put back a couple of joints. Yes, I smoked weed for a little bit, probably around six months, and unlike some famous BSers of the recent past, I did inhale. Back then, grass was just grass, without all the chemicals the dealers add these days to hook you faster and move you up to the expensive stuff, and smoking a joint provided a buzz that was comparable to drinking a beer, only without the violent follow-on tendencies.
There were a few other friends, though none as close as these two, and a girl occasionally passed through my life, though a guy who lives in his grandparents' garage and walks dogs for pocket change was as unattractive to women then as he would be now. I made models (ships, planes, tanks) and played tabletop wargames with whoever I could rope in. I got a kitten from Chip, and named her Lid. She was a hoot, and smarter than Lassie; more on her in a future post.
The highlight of this period was going cruising with Chip. His dad had financed him in his purchase of a '57 Bel Air. Not the classic then that it is now, but it represented freedom. Sometimes we would go to a specific place for a specific thing, but the best times were had cruising. Chip was going to UC Irvine, a college up the coast where he would achieve his Ph.D. in philosophy, and we would drive up and down the coastline, out into the back country, and through the local mountains while we had the most amazing discussions about anything that came up. Those were great times.
And then, in the summer of '74, my uncle retired from the Air Force and came home to live. His first decision was to sell his house, which sort of put us in a bind, as you might imagine. By that time, my mother had left the gambling arena and had a job at the Civil Service Commission in San Diego, and she was living with us and sharing the nursing duties. It turns out we needn't have worried. He wasn't about to leave his mother in the lurch, and he bought a house out in the east county that had once been a nursing facility, and had about eight rooms around a central living room that was huge. I suffered from hereditary migraine, and announced that I couldn't abide the heat out there.
I had been cut loose from the dry cleaners, having gotten into it with the main office accountant over an issue that I can't even remember now. There was a lesson that I took with me, though. I mean really, how was I to know she was the owner's wife? I was collecting unemployment insurance at the time, and in my naïve belief that I would find a job within a couple of weeks, I rented a studio apartment in North Park. This place was fabulous! Built seventy years ago atop a garage at the back of a driveway, it looked like something out of Follow That Dream. It had a gas heater with no safeties that stood out away from the wall, stained glass paper over the windows, a balcony off the kitchen that no one in his right mind would step onto, and a gas stove with a mind of its own. You turned this thing on, and for ten seconds you would hear the hiss of gas, after which it would blow the tea kettle a foot into the air, and then everything was fine. Brought my cat with me, and got around on a Peugeot mountain bike I got from Jeff Kelly, one of the Point Loma gang, for $5.00. Had to be stolen...
Not long before the move, Mom had signed me up for the Civil Service exam, which after some heated exchanges and blowing one off, I took. I posted a pretty good score, and not long after the move, I started getting calls to interviews. Grandma let me use her car, and I attended several before I was picked up at Naval Air Station, North Island, out in the middle of San Diego Bay. It was in the Maintenance Support Package Branch, and the job was to keep track of the location of small aircraft parts in a huge warehouse. It was the lowest-paying of the jobs I had interviewed for, but the others all told me they wanted to look at more applicants; MSP told me I could start Monday.
That was in 1975. I still work at North Island, though MSP is long gone. I sometimes think I could have done better financially or even in terms of job satisfaction if I had held out for one of those other jobs, especially one at the Naval Supply Center or the one at the VA, but I met Bonnie at MSP, so there are no regrets, and no second-guesses. Bonnie has completed me in a way that I can't compare to anything else. In 38 years of marriage, she has been in my corner, on my side, had my back rain or shine, right or wrong, no matter what, and had I taken one step down a different road, someone else would be with me now, or just as likely, nobody. But that's a story for another post...
For now, get out there and live life like you mean it, and I'll see you in a week or so.
This is for the grandkids, the family, close friends, and anyone else who can keep a civil tongue in their heads! It amounts to an interactive book of memoirs, but only if you interact... so get to it!
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California has been my home since 1965. I wouldn't want to be anywhere else. I'm home to stay!
What is there to say about a ten-year old turning 65, besides, what the hell happened?!??