A Toy Story – (of sorts)

San Diego, 1979.

Near the end of my time there—late Oct or early Nov, I think—I came into class one day to find that all of the other guys had brought stuffed animals in. Dave had a Kermit the Frog doll; Bill had Fozzy Bear, I believe – or possibly Gonzo; Ray had something I don’t quite remember – a generic bear of some sort, I think; and Wayne had a six-foot Pink Panther. I was the only one in class who didn’t have a stuffed friend with me.

During one of our breaks they all decided to bring their dolls with them later that night to our usual hangout:

San Diego, Ca 1a

The Whirlybird Inn

They also decided that I needed to bring a friend with me, so I had to go get one after class was finished that day. I don’t remember which store I went to back then, maybe a K-Mart or a Shopko or something, but there wasn’t much of a choice there. There were both Sesame Street and Muppet Show dolls there, and in the end it came down to either Oscar the Grouch or The Count, being as they had always been my two favorite Sesame Street characters and I really didn’t have a favorite from the Muppet Show back then. I ended up getting an Oscar doll and we immediately had an adventure.

First of all, the dolls proved to be very popular down at the Whirlybird, and ended up spending quite a lot of time with many of the customers. At one point, while I was busy playing a game of pool, Ray came up in the middle of the game to tell me that someone put my Oscar doll in a pitcher of beer. When I got back to my place at the bar, sure enough, there he was, floating in the middle of a full pitcher with everyone standing around and laughing and calling him a souse and stuff.

It was hard not to laugh, but I pretended mock outrage and lamented his condition and took him outside to spin him through the air, trying to get as much beer out of the doll as I could. He was friggin’ soaked through.

That, thankfully, was the worst that happened to him there, but the adventure wasn’t over. After the bar closed, I was feeling hungry and stopped at a Denny’s that was out at the entrance to the highway (I-5). I took Oscar in with me, partly as an excuse to order two plates of food because I was really hungry, and partly because I was feeling goofy at the time and it seemed like a fun thing to do.

The waitress was entertained by it, (I’d put the first plate in front of Oscar when I was done with it) even asking me if Oscar wanted some too when I ordered apple pie for desert. But the two Start Patrol officers who were also there getting something to eat were less entertained. They followed me for almost ten miles when I left the restaurant and pulled me over just as I signaled for the exit to the naval base. Oscar was strapped into the passenger seat.

I passed the field sobriety tests as far as I remember but they arrested me anyway, (it was justified, of course. My bac was later confirmed at 0.15) and I got to spend the night in one of San Diego’s drunk tanks where they did not discriminate between violent on non-violent offenders. The night passed peacefully enough, though (there was some pushing and shoving and yelling and stuff, but nothing serious) and in the morning I was released to the Navy rep who went around every morning to gather the previous night’s miscreants.

He took me back to the base where I had to report to the weekend duty officer, a Chief Petty Officer (E-7), actually, who said something along the lines of, “So, you got in a bit of trouble last night, eh?” After I admitted I did he said, “Well, if you don’t tell anybody, I won’t.” which of course got a big smile and immediate agreement from me.

Later that day I went to get my car out of the impound lot, where it had been baking all day in the hot sun with the windows rolled up. Oscar was completely dry by then, but the car had an overwhelming smell of stale beer in it and it took several miles of driving with the windows open for it to dissipate. I had to run him through the washing machine three times to get the smell out.

From that day on, and for the next fifteen years or so, Oscar sat stuffed between my driver’s seat and the center console of every car I owned. The Celica then, the Mustang, the Datsun 310 for a short time, and finally the Plymouth Horizon.

Sometime in the mid nineties I lost my driving privileges for a time (long and different story) so Oscar came up into the apartment on Mount Vernon with me. Then, one winter, someone who shall remain nameless, left him out in the yard over the winter. When I found him in the spring, one arm, part of his body and the opposite leg, were yellow instead of green and he was missing an eye. I kept him anyway, for nostalgic reasons, but somewhere along the way he disappeared.

I might get a new companion someday (either Guy Smiley or the Muppet Newscaster, I’m thinking) but for now, I miss Oscar.

SatCom School – San Deigo, Ca.

I re-enlisted for six years while I was in Guam. Aside from the re-enlistment bonus I got ($16,000 over six years … minus taxes) I also received more Navy ‘C’ School training at NTSC San Diego on the ‘CUDIXS’ satellite communications system. I knew it was going to be an interesting experience right from day one.

San Diego, Ca 5a

Secondary gates into the training center.

During roll call on our first day of class, as the instructor, an E-6, was checking off the names, he called out, “Drill?”

Everybody got a WTF? look on their face when he said that, but no one answered. After a few seconds he called out “Drill,” again, but there was still no answer, just a lot more questioning looks. Finally, after the instructor called out “Drill,” for a third time, one guy said, “Do you mean Drye?”

Most of us started laughing as the instructor checked his list again and said, “Oh, right. Drye. Sorry, I misread that.” but George wasn’t about to let that go.

“What do you mean, you misread it?” George said. “It’s Drye. D-R-Y-E. Drye. How the hell do you get Drill out of that? Is your list handwritten in cursive or something?”

He had a nice little diatribe that went on for about a minute and a half or so, with other comments about how he’d had his name mispronounced before, but no one had ever called him Drill until that day, and several other choice words.

By that time all of us were laughing pretty hard and it was too late for George to do anything about it. He was Drill from that day on, and it took almost no provocation to get him going on that rant for the next six months.

I knew right away that I was going to like this guy, and even though they spit us up after the first two classes (some went on to the the shipboard version of the system while others of us went to the shore based one) we still hung out together after hours sometimes. One of the guys, Greg, I think, had a sailing license, so a bunch of us rented a sailboat a couple of times and sailed down to Black’s Beach once and out to Catalina another time.

During testing periods, when only the testee was allowed in the classroom to work on a physical problem, the rest of us spent a lot of time in the lounge doing crossword puzzles and playing hangman. (I used to have an entire three-ring notebook filled with hangman puzzles).

There were five of us in the shore-based class that hung out together quite a lot. Me, Dave, Wayne, Ray and Bill. I’m not going to give their last names here, partly because I don’t remember all of them and partly because they aren’t really relevant here, (unlike George’s story). We went out on the town ocaasionally, downtown a few times, but mostly we hung out at a place called the Whirlybird Inn (more on that in another story).

One of the times we went downtown wasn’t to go drinking . . . we went to a movie theater to see ‘The Amityville Horror’ when it came out. We jumped in the appropriate places and whispered the usual comments such as, “Jeeze, I’d have been out of there ten seconds after the first ghostly groan/vision/flying object/etc.” and pretended not to be scared when we really were. It was a pretty creepy movie at the time. 😉

The comments continued, of course, after the show and we stopped at a small diner to get something to eat. I don’t remember what the other guys ordered, but I was in the mood for some chili and rice, and while we were waiting for the order and joking around with the waitress (it was pretty late and there weren’t any other customers) we all noticed a guy with a white apron running across the street toward a late night grocery store. One of the other guys – Dave, maybe – said, “I wonder what he’s doing?”

Just kidding around, said, “He’s probably going to get a can of Hormel Chili.” which drew a couple of short laughs from the others, until we looked to see if the waitress also thought it was funny. Instead of laughing, though, she had a slightly embarrassed look on her face and was blushing a little. We all realized at the same time that that’s what he really was doing and we started laughing for real.

She got over it pretty quickly when she saw that none of us were going to make any sort of deal out of it. Hell, I thought it was hilarious, and it pretty much took our minds off the movie, which we’d been discussing with the young lady before that. The other waitress that was still working then came over and joined the conversation after that and we had a pretty good time for a night that we didn’t go out to hit the bars. 🙂

Injuries and Things

NCS Agana, Guam map

This is probably going to be my only post about my time in Guam, (Aug. 1977 – Apr. 1979) but not because I didn’t have any fun there. It’s a sad but true fact that members of the military services were not particularly well liked or well treated back in the 60s, 70s and much of the 80s. Some places were worse than others as far as that goes, and Guam and Hawaii were two places where the military was especially disliked at the time. I don’t know how it is now.

During my 20 months on Guam I never found a little corner bar type place (like Noah’s Ark in Okinawa) where military personnel were welcome and I never met anybody else who did either. So, most of my spare time there was spent playing softball and golf (which I played as often as I could afford), and most of our trips to beaches for cook-outs and frizbee and stuff were to ones on military bases (mostly at Agana itself or at Pati Point on Anderson AFB).

But . . . these posts are about fun and/or funny things that happened while I was in the Navy, and I’m not going to get into the whys of that shit . . . so enough about that.

I lived in the barracks at Agana, Guam for the whole time I was stationed there, but I worked at a transmitter site called Barrigada.

NTF Barrigada Guam 1

NTF Barrigada, Guam

Most of the guys I hung out with for my whole time there also worked at Barrigada, and five of us (Mark, Ed, Joe, Benny and I) spent a couple of seasons in a bowling league. We called ourselves ‘The Pretenders’, the running joke being because we were pretending we knew how to bowl, but actually the name was influenced by the Jackson Browne album of the same name.

I don’t recall ever actually repairing a single transmitter the whole 18 months I was stationed in Okinawa, but at Barrigada something clicked. I don’t exactly what, when or how it happened, it just did. I was especially good at the power supply, IPA (intermediate power amp), and PA stages.

NTF Barrigada Guam 2

AN/FRT-40 100KW HF Transmitter

Benny Allen started calling me IPA Bob, and one of the Radiomen (I don’t remember his real name, but he called himself Doctor Touchenstein – Dr. T for short) started calling me SuperTech (in a cartoon-ish sort of way). While I secretly liked both names, I wasn’t real fond of being called them out loud. Benny and I could roughly tune one of those to the right place (using the black knobs on the second and third sections) before powering them up just by knowing the frequency ahead of time.

Those are some of the ‘Things’ from the title.

As far as the ‘Injuries’ go the lesser of the two happened when I was playing softball a couple of months before I left. I hit a slow-rolling infield grounder at the time and the first baseman was blocking the base as I got there, so I had to step over his leg in order to tag the base. I was safe by just a bit, but I turned my ankle out sideways as I tagged first and heard a really icky crunching sound as I did. I thought I might have broken it at the time, but it turned out that sound was just a couple of ligaments being stretched out way too far.

The doctor said later that I probably would have been better off if I had broken it. It would have healed more cleanly. Since VA medical coverage does not include ‘sports medicine’, especially for recreational leagues, I spent about a week on crutches and about a month with ankle wraps before I could walk semi pain free.

The second ‘Injury’ was actually the first – time wise – and happened at one of the few off-base places we visited often—Talofofo Falls.

Talofofo Falls

This place appears to be protected now, but back then people visited and spent the day at the falls on a regular basis.

One of the things all visitors to the falls were warned about right away was that there was a fairly large rock about eight feet under the surface right in the middle of the pond below the falls. While diving from the large rock on the left side of the falls (from this vantage) was not strictly prohibited, it was highly recommended that only shallow type dives be attempted.

But I, in my 22+ years of wisdom at the time, decided to try a 1½. I aimed (or thought I did, anyway) away from the rock, and while I did manage to complete an acceptable dive, I also grazed the rock with my head. I still had my hands in front of me, and did catch the rock with them first, but I couldn’t quite keep myself from grazing it.

It didn’t hurt at all, and I thought I was okay as I got out of the pool. Mark was complaining that I hadn’t given him a warning I was going to do that, so he didn’t get a picture of it. While he was doing that a woman walking by said, “You’re ear is bleeding.”

I’m like, “Really?” and started feeling the top of my head because that’s where I hit the rock. It turned out the young woman was a nurse or something, so she looked at the wound and said I was going to need some stitches, and should do so immediately. So we had to leave after being there for only about 20 minutes or so (which caused a fair amount of more bitching from Mark).

I finished the beer I’d already opened as we packed up to leave. Turned out the nearest military hospital was quite a ways away (about two more beers) and by the time I got there and it was determined I’d need four stitches, it was also determined I didn’t need any anesthetic—and they were right. That didn’t hurt either.

Leaving Okinawa

This one needs a bit of a set-up before I get to the day the packers (not the Packers) and the inspector came to pack up, inspect and send all my stuff on to my next duty station, Guam.

The Set Up

I came home early one morning after a night out (maybe 3 am or so) and went to the fridge and grabbed the milk for a swig or two before going to bed. I only bought half gallons back then because a whole gallon usually went bad on me before I could drink it all. Anyway, I was taking a drink out of the carton when I noticed this grey sort of shapy thing out of the corner of my eye on my left and turned to see what it was. What it was, was a freaking cane spider about the size of my hand.

Now, it’s possible (and even probable) that my mind has exaggerated the size of that spider over the years, but the damn thing was BIG I’m telling you, and it scared the shit out of me.

Cane Spider

This is not the actual spider from then; I never consciously let it crawl on me. This photo does approximate what was in front of my face that day, though.

I’m pretty sure I teleported to the middle of my kitchen, because I don’t remember actually moving there. I just know that one second I was standing at my refrigerator with a giant spider a couple inches from my face, and then I was ten feet away with milk coming out of my nose and coughing “HOLY SHIT!”

I considered, and immediately dismissed, any thought of squishing it for two reasons:

  •  Because it would have been really ickily messy, and

  •  I wasn’t sure what might happen if I missed

Instead, I got out my handy dandy can of Raid (Okinawa also has a fairly large species of cockroach that can fly, so I always had a can of Raid around) and sprayed that thing thoroughly. In fact, I emptied about half a can on the thing but it didn’t move or react in any way. I’d swear the damn thing just gave me a sort of ‘meh’ shrug.

So, with the Raid being ineffective and me being unwilling to squish it, I made a deal with it instead. I said, and I did literally say this out loud. “If you leave me alone, I’ll leave you alone.” I said a lot of other things too, but I don’t remember all of the exact words. As far as I know, it accepted the deal because, while huntsman type spiders aren’t dangerously poisonous, their bites are very painful and leave a noticeable mark (so I’ve read) and I never woke up with a bite. It went about its business of eating the occasional cockroach, I’m guessing, and I went about mine.

And that’s the setup.

Leaving

The navy sent some local company to pack up my things a few days before I was to leave, and the air force sent an inspector to make sure I wasn’t taking anything I shouldn’t (such as local flora and fauna, etc.)

I was in the bedroom with the movers watching them pack up the stuff the inspector had already approved, and she was in the kitchen checking the rest of the stuff I’d already sorted through and decided to take with me. Suddenly there was this very high-pitched scream from the kitchen, and – I really really didn’t mean to, but – I could help laughing just a little, because I knew what had happened.

I said, “I take it you met my spider.”

There was only silence for a few seconds, and the a very soft voice said, “Yes.

The two movers were saying, “Nan de? Nan de?” which is essentially “What? What?” so I tried to tell them what happened, but I didn’t know the Japanese word for spider and they didn’t speak English. Finally I just made my hand run across the floor and said “Oki.” which means big.

It wasn’t exactly the proper word or context, but they got the idea and both ran into the kitchen to see it. I followed them. I guess her scream startled the spider enough that it ran back behind the refrigerator where it lived, though, because it was gone when we got out there.

The inspector was still standing in the middle of the room, looking kinda shocked. I said, “I’m sorry. I probably should have told you about it, but it doesn’t usually come out in the daytime. I don’t know why it did today. It scared the crap out of me, too, the first time I met it.”

I told her the full story behind my first meeting with the spider, (which I never named in case you’re wondering). She got a hold of herself pretty quickly after that, and even smiled a little bit when she saw that the movers were trying to crane around behind the fridge to see the spider, (I’d shown them where it went).

So even a plain old ordinary thing like moving ended up having a story for me to tell, all because my spider chose then to make a rare daytime appearance. 🙂

Fourth of July (2) – 1977

This one is a relatively short story that happened just a week or two before I was transferred from Okinawa to Guam.

There were no plans for a get-together of coworkers this time, but I did go down to Gate 2 Street and get some fireworks, anyway. Pretty much the same things as the year before: bottle rockets, fountains/showers, roman candles: that sort of thing. This time, however, I just figured I’d shoot them off in the driveway and maybe the neighbors would come out with their own, or at least watch while I set off mine, and that is sort of what happened . . . eventually. The thing is, after work, while I was waiting around for it to get dark, I ended up falling asleep. Next thing I knew, it was dark and I was under attack.

I was awakened by the sound of small pops—bottle rockets to be exact—going off at minute or so intervals around both porches and over my roof. I’m not sure how many they sent my way before I woke up and figured out what was going on. Once I got my bearings, I peeked out the window and saw the neighbors getting ready to launch another rocket at my house. I decided not to go out and surrender, but, instead, I left the lights off, grabbed my bag of fireworks, and went out the back door.

Watching them from the back corner of my house, I saw that after they launched a rocket they ducked back around the corner—laughing and talking, though I couldn’t hear what was being said from where I was—so I waited until they fired the next one and ducked back, then ran down the stairs and around the far side to the back of their house, sneaked over to their side, and watched them get ready to fire another one. I could hear them from where I was, this time, and the conversation went something like this . . .

Dad: “I wonder why he’s not responding. Are you sure he’s home?”

Mom: “I’m pretty sure. We heard him drive in, and his motorcycle is still in the garage.”

Dad: “Huh. I don’t think he’s the type to just ignore us.”

Mom: “Maybe he’s sleeping.”

Dad: “Maybe, but he doesn’t strike me as a heavy sleeper. He might be up to something.”

(The above is not verbatim—it has been almost 40 years after all—but it’s pretty close.)

Their son was mostly just laughing as far as I can recall, and while they were discussing what I might be up to and deciding whether to launch another one, I got out a bottle rocket of my own.

– Side bar: As I’m writing this it suddenly occurs to me that, since I didn’t smoke back then, I’m finding it hard to remember how I managed to light the bottle rocket. Best I can recall is I either lit a punk before I left the house (most likely, I think), or I bought some matches, but I don’t remember doing that. –

In either case, I did have a way to light it, and while they were still wondering if I was home or not, I let my rocket go (aiming by hand since I also forgot to bring a bottle). It arced over their heads and popped in the driveway, but they heard the fuse and had already turned around with smiles I could see even in the semi-dark.

Dad: “Aha, he was up to something. He’s behind us.”

I told them how I was asleep at the start of their offensive, and how I managed to get behind them and stuff, and it was mostly just casual conversation after that. We set off the rest of the fireworks in the driveway like I’d originally planned and sat around talking for a little while after that, then they went back inside and I went out for some drinks and to spend one of my last few nights with my then girlfriend.

A Good Deed

A rather short story this time. 🙂

I came home from work one afternoon and found the neighbor’s young son sitting out by the driveway when I rode through the gate. He had his head resting on his chin and looked pretty sad to me as I rode past into the garage to park my bike. Kinda looked like he either had been crying or was about to when I sat down next to him and asked what was wrong.

He told me that neither of his parents were home and he couldn’t get in his house and he was worried that something had happened to both of them and quite a lot of other stuff that kinda just came pouring out. I wasn’t really sure how to handle this kind of thing, but I told him that being that they were both in the military they were probably just working late. He was pretty adamant they weren’t though since one of them was always home before him. Always!

I didn’t really have any toys like a ball or a frisbee or anything back then or I would have just tossed it around with him until one of them got home. I wish I’d thought of going up on his roof to get some of the toys which were likely back up there, but that never occurred to me.

However, when he mentioned that he couldn’t get into his house, it reminded me of something that I’d completely forgotten about, and I suddenly got up (surprised him a little, I think) and said, “Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

Amazingly for me, the thing I went looking for was still in the middle junk drawer in my kitchen, right where I put it over a year before. He was still sitting there when I came back with the third key the rental agency had given me when I first rented the place.

I said, “You know, a long time ago the agency gave me three keys, but I was never able to figure out what this one was for. I doesn’t fit either my front door or the back one, and it doesn’t fit the door to the storage area below the stairs either.”

He was looking up at me then with a hopeful look in his eyes when I went on. “Come on,” I told him as I led him back down the short path to his house. “Let’s just see if maybe this key might fit your front door.”

Damned if it didn’t. He got a big smile on his face when I gave him the key and asked if he’d be okay now. He said yeah, he would, and I told him that it was his key now and that needed to take good care of it.

It seems like that would be the end of the story, and to be honest I thought it was, but . . .

A couple nights later I was just lounging around, listening to some music and reading a book (I don’t remember which one) when there was a knock on my door. It was the neighbors and they were bearing gifts. Well, a gift. The wife (I believe I called her Mary in a previous story) had baked me an apple pie to thank me for being nice to their son earlier.

That was just so damned cool I was completely overwhelmed. Nothing like that has ever happened to me before or since. 🙂 🙂 To use an entirely overused and inaccurate saying – That was awesome!

Fourth Of July (1) – 1976 (Bi-Centennial)

I don’t remember exactly where this story starts. Possibly at work on the 4th, or possibly a day or two before. I only remember that at some point or another, several of us at the Awase site decided to celebrate the bi-centennial at [David’s] house. (No, I don’t remember his last name.)

To that end, Cyrus Brooks and I were tasked (or possibly we took it upon ourselves) to go down (up?) to Gate 2 Street and get an assortment of fireworks.

Gate 2 Street Night Life

Gate 2 Street at night

Largely, what was available there was pretty much all the same things you can get at any stand here—bottle rockets (both the noisy ones and the ones with exploding showers), roman candles, various ground shower displays, etc. So, after work, off we went to cruise Gate 2 Street to see what was available at the various outdoor shops.

A curious thing about Okinawa, at least then, was that while it was not illegal to sell fireworks, it was illegal to buy them. Just as the lady at the stand where we bought all the things we wanted (and lots of them) was giving them to us, a couple of local foot-patrol policemen came up and took all of our fireworks away. The lady from the shop immediately got into an argument with the officers, which Cyrus translated as best he could, (he, like Willie, was married to an Okinawan, so could speak Japanese fairly well). This was how I learned about that curious law.

In any case, the woman lost her argument and the police confiscated our fireworks and continued on their way. But, while Cyrus and I were standing around wondering what to do next, the woman handed us another bag filled with all of the same fireworks we had just bought. When we reached into our pockets to pay again (which neither of us could really afford) she shook her head and waved us off and told us not to worry about it; that the police would bring her fireworks back later. Apparently, after long exposure to U.S. troops being stationed there, the police are well aware of what the Fourth of July means, and do their best to limit the amount of ‘celebrating’ that goes on. So we got our fireworks and immediately proceeded to prove that the police might have been on to something.

We drove over to BC Street and had the crazy (and somewhat stupid) idea to shoot some roman candle flares out the windows in celebration.

BC Street, Okinawa 2

BC Street

It was our intention to shoot them straight up in the air so they wouldn’t land on people on the sidewalks, but I’m not so sure a few of them didn’t get away from us. After I lit the first one and handed it to Cyrus, who was driving, I turned to light my own, but … before he could transfer it to his other hand and point it out the window, the first flare went off, bounced off the roof above his head and landed in his lap. By this time mine was lit too, so I had only one hand to deal with the situation while still keeping my candle pointed out of the car.

For his part, Cyrus had one hand on the steering wheel and one hand pointing his candle out the other window. This meant he had zero hands of his own left to deal with the burning flare under his ass. So he’s bouncing around in his seat trying to drive the car and also keep more flares from going off in the car … and also screaming at me to get that ball of fire out from under him. (He wanted me to pick it up and throw it out the window.)

Now, there was not a chance in hell that I was going to pick up a ball of fire, and besides, I was laughing too damned hard to be of any use, plus I still had to keep my flare pointed out of the car. I don’t remember for sure if I managed to brush it out of his seat and onto the floor or if it just went out on its own, but we did get through the ordeal unscathed. We did, however, cause something of a stir on BC Street, so we (Cyrus) decided not to go out to the main road to make our getaway.

He took an alley over to, and across, Gate 2 Street, before going out to the highway and back to the housing area on MCAS Futenma where [David] lived. As we crossed Gate 2 Street, we did see a couple of police cars with their lights flashing heading toward BC Street, but whether or not that was because of us we never found out.

The funny thing is, while we were shooting off the rest of the fireworks at Dave’s house, the base police showed up and took our fireworks away. Apparently it’s illegal to shoot fireworks off on base, even during the bi-centennial celebration.

Go figure.

Four Wrecks

As you might be able to guess by the title, this post is quite a bit longer than the earlier ones, since there are four stories and some rambling.

When I finally got to my duty station in Okinawa—the Awase Transmitter Site—there was another consolidation going on. There were originally two sites, the HF Site provided communications to, from and between ships (ship-to-ship and ship-to-shore) and the LF Site, which was for sub communications. But they were just finishing up merging the two site when I got there, moving all of the antennas and the control building for the HF antennas to the LF Site. As far as I can tell by recent maps, The old HF Site is now some sort of sports park. 🙂

Shortly after I moved in to my new digs, I also bought a motorcycle since I was going to need a way to get to and from work. The taxi station right outside the fence around my place was convenient and all, but I wasn’t going to spend eighteen months riding everywhere in a taxi. So, I took out a small loan via the Navy Federal Credit Union and bought a Honda 450-2 from one of the guys who was transferring on to his next duty station within the next few weeks.

Honda450

My actual bike. This is one of only a very few surviving photos from my navy days. Most of them were eaten by mold demons when I left the photo album in a damp, dark, musty place for a long time.

(1)

It was a dark and stormy night . . . well it was drizzling at least, and it was night . . . and I was on my way home after the eve (second shift) watch. Shifts ran from:

Day watch = 0600 – 1400

Eve watch = 1400 – 2200

Mid watch = 2200 – 0600

Willie was behind my in his car. One of us usually followed the other every night. I didn’t know this at the time, but quite a lot of the people working at Awase lived up on the same hill I did, but I was the only one who had a private little place surrounded by a stone wall. 🙂 🙂

Anyway, just before the stoplight at the intersection to the main thoroughfare through Awase town, there was a side road where rolling stops—if they bothered to slow or stop at all—were a common thing. The general rule for coming off that side street was: if you thought you had enough time and space to make it, GO FOR IT.

Even though I’d only been there for a very short time, I was well aware of how the Japanese tended to drive. (One of our indoctrination tours at NAS Naha included a trip through some weird place in Naha City where five or six roads all converged at one big circle and nobody stopped for anything. It was one helluva free-for-all.) However, on that night, in that weather, the guy coming off the side road didn’t see me when he decided he had enough room and time to get out into traffic.

I still remember every last detail of the next few seconds. It’s amazing how much shit can happen in a very short time.

First there was the crunching sound as my front tire hit his rear quarter panel just in front of the wheel well.

Then there was me watching the guy’s trunk passing by below me as I sailed over his car, not like superman with my arms out in front of me and on my way to save the world from evil, but rather more limply, my arms kind hanging there at my sides, or maybe waving about slightly.

Then I was sorta twisting around in the air, managing to land on my ass and my elbows and watching my bike come around the end of his car as said car sped away into the mist and the dark. The bike landed on my left foot, which hurt like hell, so I put my feet up against the seat and let it push me down the road until it stopped. (About 15 or 20 feet, maybe.)

Then I heard Willie—who thankfully did not run me over—yelling “God Damn It!” and many other profanities I won’t repeat here. He’d seen the whole thing, including the guy speeding off, and was really, really pissed. (He told me later he thought I was dead.) But he stopped yelling and just stared at me when I got up and limped over to his car. He asked if I was okay and I said something like, “Well, my foot hurts.” or something close to that, and he stared at me some more, then started swearing again. (I don’t know why.)

Then the police got there, and shortly after that the guy I hit came back (in a different car) and there was a lot of discussion in Japanese (Willie spoke it, I didn’t). The gist of it was that the guy offered me 30,000 yen as compensation (Sounds like a lot but at the time it was about $100) but I said no and pointed to my bent front forks and other damage, and then he offered to pay for the repairs, which the police encouraged me to accept and which I finally did. I think the police were happy with whatever caused the least amount of paperwork.

Willie took me home, my bike got repaired . . . eventually (thank god for that taxi stand right outside my wall) . . . and most everyone was happy.

(2)

This one was my fault, obviously, and the first case of plain stupidity.

I had two favorite hang-outs while I was in Okinawa. One was Noah’s Ark, a little album bar near MCAS Futenma.

Emiko Matsushima 3 - Okinawa (Noah's Ark) - 1977

Emiko, Emi, Chiemi (partially hidden) & some guy inside Noah’s Ark

The other was an after hours place between Gate 2 and BC streets just outside Kadena Air Base. I can’t remember the name of the second place because I didn’t go there as often, but, if it’s still there, I bet I could find it. (A few blocks up from Gate 2, turn left toward BC Street, turn right at the first little alley, three or so doors up on the left.) It’s slightly below street level and even smaller than Noah’s Ark.

I’m starting the story there because, well, that’s where it starts. I was giving a marine friend a ride back to the barracks (one of them) from that place off Gate 2 Street at around 3 am or so when this happened. We were just off of Gate 2 Street and onto the main road between the two bases, and pulling up to a stop light. I was expecting him to put his feet down at the light and he was apparently expecting me to put mine down. Neither of us did, so we fell over. (I probably should have taken that as a warning sign.)

We had a bit of a laugh about that while I picked the bike back up (as did some of the people around us) and we made it to Futenma without further incident. I dropped him off there, then left to go home, myself. As I was leaving the base, I cut the corner a little too sharply and clipped the curb, which took the wheels out from under me. Luckily, no-one was coming from either direction at the time, and I was wearing a helmet.

The funny thing about those wrap-around helmets is that they don’t protect your chin when you slam your face into the pavement. The bike wasn’t damaged except for the left hand mirror, which I ended up having to replace, but I wasn’t quite so lucky, though I didn’t know it at the time.

I went home and went to bed and didn’t get up until my roommate, JJ, (that’s his bike behind mine in the picture) showed up with a couple other guys from work. He saw a lot of blood on my pillow and stuff when he left for work and they came to see if I was okay. Apparently I got a fairly deep cut on my chin when I hit the road, but I never felt a thing and had no idea I was bleeding all over the place.

The bleeding had stopped long before, but they took me to a medical facility on some other base I can’t remember, where I got a couple of stitches (four, I think) and yelled at for waiting so long to get treated.

This one’s not really a wreck I suppose, but I count it because I did have to replace the mirror.

(3)

This one was my fault, and is the second case of plain stupidity.

I was on my way to work when I started to pass a guy who was going too slow for my tastse. This was on the same road where the first accident happened, incidently, though not the same guy . . . that would just have been weird. Another Japanese driving quirk is, while they do use their turn signals for the most part, it’s more sort of just a thing that happens as their hand passes the lever. In plain words, they’re already turning when the signal comes on.

This is significant because I was already passing this guy when I saw his signal come on out of the corner of my eye, and I thought Oh shit! It was pretty much too late to do anything that was going to work, but I sped up anyway and tried to veer around his car. It didn’t work. My bike slammed into his car just ahead of his rear wheel well (Déjà vu) but, amazingly enough, it didn’t knock me over. I managed to keep the bike up as I went across the road, into the dirt, and over a covered (thankfully) benjo ditch.

For those who don’t know, benjo ditches are the Japanese version of a sewage system. They’re usually covered with cement slabs about 18 inches wide and 2 or 3 feet long. All but one of those slabs was properly laid flat, but I happened to hit the only one that was sticking up out of the ditch. I still managed to stay upright, but the corner of that slab put a nice, neat hole in the crankcase of my bike, and all the oil drained out. Also, the foot lever for the rear brake was bent back 180 degrees.

I stopped the bike and went back to check on the guy I hit. He was fine, and also spoke English, but his car had a seriously nasty gash through his right rear quarter panel, caused by my brake lever, I’m sure. He was mostly going on about how it was my fault and that he’d even signaled and everything (I didn’t see any point in arguing about when he’d signaled) when the police arrived. I just agreed with everything, gave him, and them, all of my insurance and other info, and everyone was eventually satisfied, (that paperwork thing) though I was a bit late for work.

On a side note, GEICO, my insurer at the time, covered both repair bills and neither canceled my policy nor raised my rates. :O

(4)

This one is the extraordinarily stupid one.

We had a ping-pong table at the T-Site, and one day I signed a friend of mine, John, and our girlfriends onto the site so we could play (the girls were pretty damn good) and we played for a couple of hours or so and had a pretty good time. Before we left, though, John and I took our bikes out into the antenna field and were having fun doing donuts and speeding around and stuff. I was a ways away from the LF building, where the ping-pong table was, and saw John riding in circles around one of the tower’s guy-wires, spinning his rear tire and slinging mud about ten feet into the air behind him.

Awase, Okinawa LF Antenna

600 ft. LF tower and the control and connection buildings. Cyrus Brooks and I climbed that thing-once-to change the warning lights. 😀

Not to be outdone, I decided I was going to jump the road leading to the LF building, which was slightly raised from the rest of the field. Too late I remembered that there was a drainage ditch on one side of that road. It was another ‘Oh Shit!’ moment.

Luckily, I suppose, that ditch was one the same side of road as I was, and I saw it in time to slow down (though only slightly since the field was grass, after all, and also wet) enough that I only popped about five feet or so into the air and landed short of the road. I don’t even want to think about what would have happened if the ditch had been on the other side of the road and I’d jumped into it.

Anyway, everyone came running or riding over to see if I was okay. I wasn’t seriously hurt, or hurt at all, really, except maybe my pride. It was rather embarrassing. It took a while to get the bike restarted (flooded, I guess) and it ran pretty raggedly when it did finally catch, so I took my girlfriend home and my bike to the shop.

I guess the bike wasn’t too badly damaged, and the owner was getting to know me pretty well by then. He only charged me a bottle of Johnny Walker Red, which I could get much more cheaply than he could. 🙂

#

Much as I beat the hell out of that bike, I loved the thing, and was very sad when it came time to sell it. Good thing CarFax wasn’t around back then. 😉

A Stooges Moment

Even though there were only two of us involved, I’m pretty sure this qualifies. I probably should have posted this one first, but I didn’t remember it until now.

When I first arrived in Okinawa (Jan. 1976) the navy was in the stages of moving the Naval Air Station from Naha (The capaital of Okinawa) to an expansion area at Kadena Air Base.

Kadena Air Base 1

Aerial view of Kadena Air Base, Okinawa, Japan.

Got to NAS Naha a little late and was pretty worn out from the flight and stuff, so after getting to my assigned place, I went directly to bed. Sometime in the early morning hours I experienced my first earthquake. It wasn’t a very strong one as far as these things go. In fact, I thought someone was shaking the rack just to screw with me, except no-one was there when I woke up.

I went down to the lounge and found several other guys there, all having either been up during the quake or woken by it. Since we were up, and there happened to a pool table there, some of the guys wanted to play, but … while there was a pool table, there weren’t any cues. Not to be deterred, someone unscrewed the handle from a broom, and they used that to play. (Worked pretty well, too.)

But that’s not what this story is about. Since I had to spend a week or so there before being transferred to my final duty station at the Awase transmitter site, they (those in charge) had to find things for me and the others in the temp barracks to do. Me and another guy … we’ll cal him Frank … were assigned the job of going through some old quonset huts, dragging all of the old, useless crap out of them, and sorting that crap into piles of varying degrees of uselessness. (Or something like that.)

Naha quonset

Typical quonset hut.

It was typical make-work, of course, and while moving some of the larger things was physically demanding, it wasn’t really all that hard from a decision making standpoint. Pretty much everything in there was useless, and we didn’t find any desks with secret compartments containing long-lost riches, treasure maps, or coded messages, much as we were hoping otherwise. 😦 What little furniture we did find was so rotted it would probably have been dangerous to attempt using.

Around noon or so we had a couple of them emptied and sorted into three piles:

  • Dangerously useless junk

  • Questionably useless junk

  • Intriguing junk that we wished we had a private storage area of our own to hide it in and go through more thoroughly later but couldn’t and didn’t.

Since it was around lunch time, and since we had found nothing worth sitting on and didn’t feel like sitting on the ground, we improvised. Frank found an old two-by-six about eight feet long and I found an old crate about two feet high and the same wide, and sturdy enough to support our weight. We balanced the board across the box and each sat on one end. (I’m guessing you can see where this is going, but I’m going to finish the story, anyway.)

While we were eating, an officer appeared from around the corner of one of the huts and was coming our way. Not being idiots, Frank and I looked at each other and nodded our agreement to rise at the same time. HOWEVER, I decided to put my sandwich down before getting up and Frank didn’t. He got up immediately. I, of course, went to the ground and rolled off the end of the board. (I did manage to save my sandwich.)

When that happened, the other end of the board rose with Frank and must have struck a nerve just right or something (so he claimed afterward) because he sank back down onto the board. But, since I was no longer on the other end, it kept on sinking to the ground, and he rolled off the other end.

The officer had reached us by the time we were scrambling to get back up, but he was laughing too hard to say “As you were.” and just kinda waved us off.

As unlikely as it sounds, this really did happen to me.

A Rescue Operation

I don’t remember exactly when they moved in, but for the last six months or so that I was in Okinawa an Air Force family moved into the other house next door to my little place on the hill.

Awase, neighbor's roof

This is not my neighbor’s house, but it approximates the view of their roof that I had from my back porch.

The dad was a helicopter pilot (Air Force Lieutenant, I believe) and the mom worked in personnel. They also had a young son, maybe 6 or 7, who was quite active. *(A lot of his toys spent a considerable amount of time in the air.)*

All of them were very nice (the dad offered to take me up in a helicopter any time I wanted) but mostly we didn’t really see each other very often since our work schedules were very different. Sadly, I don’t remember any of their names, but at least three of my stories involve them, including this one, so I’m going to have to make some up—just for storytelling purposes you see.

So, I figure I should use easily remembered names, and the first three that popped into my head were Larry, Curly, and Moe, but that won’t really work for this. Then I thought of Dick, Jane, and Sally, but if by some chance the boy ever found out about this post and read it, I don’t think he’d appreciate being called Sally. Probably come kick my ass or something.

Then I thought of Joseph and Mary, which would of course make the boy’s name Chester, or Chet for short, so that’s what I’m gonna call them. And here we go.

One of the days, a few months after they moved in, that I was home and they weren’t, I was standing on my back porch and noticed *there were quite a lot of the boy’s toys on their roof.* (My little house above the garage was on a slight rise compared to theirs.) I also noticed an easily-climbable tree near the back corner of the house and decided it would be friendly (and fun) gesture to gather all of those toys and leave them in a pile at their front door.

So that’s what I did, and also left a note taped to the door that read: Compliments of your friendly neighborhood Spider Man.

I didn’t see them for a couple of days due to our work schedules and the fact that I went out after work quite a lot, but when I did finally run into Lt. Joe he had a big grin on his face. Aside from asking if I was the one who’d retrieved the toys (duh) and how I’d gotten up there (showed him the tree), not much else happened at that time. We had a laugh over it and went our own ways, but it was a prelude of things to come. 😀