I am determined to steal a few minutes to get this blog entry done and out there for those loyal readers who are looking for hi-jinks and giggles. I think that we need something to read besides the depressing stuff that fills the media these days.
The weather for beautiful downtown Fallon, where the grandkids of people we know are now in the work force, will be mostly sunny, 70F and a mild breeze from the East. Beware allergy sufferers! The pollen count for Tree pollen is HIGH and Grass pollen is VERY HIGH. You could sneeze your face off!
Our weekly ride in the countryside has had to be postponed due to having to refile paperwork for Mr S. in order to keep his VA pension and medical benefits alive and coming in. It is a bona fide paperwork nightmare, and if an old veteran had to do it on his own, it would be impossible and he would lose his benefits. This is definitely a fly in the ointment. Those who need help the most, are least capable of dealing with the bureaucratic red tape. The battle rages on and we will be victorious... eventually!
Today we shall hop in the way back machine and visit a floating city of more than 5,000. The story is very appropriate for the writer and the readers of these blogs, as it is about books. Read and enjoy!
I’m Not Throwing Them Away
I have always hated wasting things or throwing something out because a newer or replacement version has arrived. I guess I was into recycling and didn't know it. You would probably just say, "Just like a man, pack rats got nothing on you!" But I think you will all agree with me that this time, saving these items was a good thing to do.
It was 1984 and I was in the U.S. Navy aboard the aircraft carrier USS America, CV-66. At the time we were in the Indian Ocean and flying like crazy. Spending every moment working helped the time pass, but it was also very hard on the body.
You never really got to relax. You just collapsed when you got a few minutes away from work. Before you knew it someone was rousting you out and it was back to work until the next break.
There were times when we would work for as many as four days straight without ever stopping. You got no sleep and food was brought to you in the form of box lunches. Bathroom breaks were at a premium and believe me you were very appreciative of those opportunities when they came around.
Those were memorable times, but let's not even think of referring to them as "the good old days." It wasn't fun or exhilarating; it just had to be done. Our job in CATCC (Carrier Air Traffic Control Center) was to get the planes back aboard the ship in one piece, and we tried our best at all times to do just that. Sometimes it didn't happen; that was the way of military aviation.
When those unlikely times happened that we were able to sleep more than a couple of fitful hours, I would read a book to relax and get my mind off of our daily grind. It didn't really matter what it was, and I had read several books more than once.
The ship had a small library, maintained by the chaplain and his staff, where books were available to check out daily. You could keep them long enough to get them read, even with our wacky schedule.
I confess that I started out being a reading snob, only wanting to read certain authors. Then I branched out to just certain kinds of books like, mysteries, adventure, etc. As my choices got fewer, my methods of selection grew broader until I had read everything in the library.
That got me to where I had to start going by how many times my name was already entered on the check-out sheet in each book. I was a voracious reader and was not about to apologize for it. If I had more free time they would probably have had to throw me out of the library so that others could have a chance at the books.
When we got word that a new shipment of books was aboard a supply ship steaming towards us for a rendezvous we yelled (literally) “All right, new books!” But the chaplain didn't seem terribly overjoyed to hear the news and I couldn't figure out why.
As you would expect, the ship's chaplain is privy to more inside information than this lowly enlisted swabby was. What he knew did not make him happy and didn't exactly "blow my skirt up" either, once he let slip what was going on.
Once the shipment of new books was on board, everything in the library with the exception of religious or reference books was to be dumped over the side. The reason given was that it would make room for the new books. The order came from the admiral.
That was inconceivable to me. You just didn't dump BOOKS; you treasured them and took care of them and read them again, or let others borrow them. But never, under any circumstance, would you throw away perfectly good books without so much as a pencil mark in them.
The chaplain was sick from the stress of having to obey this order. He actually had to go to sickbay and have one of the docs give him something for his stomach and his nerves.
He became an ordained minister prior to coming into the Navy and had done missionary work in some of the poorest countries of the world. Places where they had NO books and no way to get them. They taught kids about the power of written words by writing on a wall with a piece of charcoal.
If it weren't for the Bibles that the missionaries carried in on their backs, a lot of those kids would never even have seen a book. With this ignorant directive they wanted him to throw books into the ocean and no discussion about it. He tried protesting and got reminded by the admiral "who was in charge around here."
The ignorance and wastefulness of that planned action made me mad. I told the chaplain, "I don't care who's in charge. I'm NOT throwing them away! I will think of something, don't worry about it and we won't tell you any more than we have to, so you won't be guilty of any disobedience."
I got together with some of my coworker buddies, who were also avid readers, and we set about devising a plan to save the books. But, we had to move fast and could only include those who could keep their mouths shut. The admiral had snitches in every department, mostly to spy on and tattle on the officers, which I thought was a pretty childish way to do things for a guy with two stars.
First things first; we "checked out" as many of the classics as we could carry and hid them in our lockers or wherever we could find a safe, dry space to put them. Once we were filled up, we had to start working on a way to look like we were complying with the order and still not actually dump the books into the drink.
We got in touch with one of our friends in communications and asked if he could get a message to the supply ship. He said, "No problem, I talk with them all the time now. What's the message?"
I gave him the shipping order and crate numbers, and asked him to get the message to a particular deck hand, who just happened to be a cousin of one of our guys. We asked him to make sure that the identified crates (they contained the new books) were the very last to come over to the America.
We really needed that extra time. I asked that he reply with his nickname for our buddy if he could do it. We had the answer back in less than thirty minutes: "Squeeky,” which was the correct name; we were in business.
The next step was to find a way to keep that pesky little busy-body of an admiral, out of the area while we carried out the "disposal" in front of all the witnesses. Let me say this in defense of the rest of the crew, no one else but the admiral thought it necessary to toss the books into the ocean. But, you had to be crazy to cross this guy and disobey an order from him. He did outrank everybody in the entire ocean, which pretty much left it up to crazy old me.
One of the guys wanted to give the admiral rat poison. I told him, "delightful idea, but it would cause a rather large stir, don't you know old boy." But he may have had something there. Memories from my past life in the army came flooding in.
I went to the medical dispensary to check out my idea. One of the corpsmen working there wanted to become an air traffic controller and hung out with us in our work space every chance he got. He said yes definitely, he not only had what we needed, but he had a friend doing duty in the admiral's spaces that could and would help us out.
There was never any love lost between the admiral and anyone who had to be at his beck and call 24 hours a day. The guy was a little tyrant. That step of the plan was set.
In order to make it appear to the staff on the bridge (the steering and command location for underway vessels), who looked right down on the spot where we were to dump the books, that we were complying with the admiral's order we need a couple of things: cooperation from some deck department guys to help in the execution of the plan, and an obstruction so that the actual "dumping" was hidden from view as much as possible.
The deck guys were no problem, I had friends there. The obstruction had to be such, that the bags could be seen going to the edge loaded, and coming back to the cart empty. We had a friend in the handler's office (the guy responsible for moving the aircraft around on the deck, other than flying), and he solved that problem for us. He just parked an F-14 (fighter jet) in the way and adjusted the sweep of the wing until our man standing watch on the bridge said it was right.
We were ready.
The chaplain was notified that we were going to bag up the books to carry out the sentence and he was told where he should stand to witness the “Execution of Literacy.” He was about to break down and cry, until we reminded him, "Remember what we said. Trust us, no matter what you think that you see."
I called my corpsman friend and told him to execute the plan. We had to be careful that we didn't say anything that would give us away if overheard. He had already supplied his friend in the admiral's quarters with some powdered laxative that while it was very strong and fast acting, it wouldn't harm the old goat. It would make him fall in love with the porcelain throne, and never want to leave it again... ever.
Once we had all the books bagged up, I called my deck department buddy and said, "Twelve” and he replied, "OK" and we hung up (nothing there to give anything away.) Twelve was the number of laundry bags full of books that were to go over the side; and they did go over the side.
It may sound like we were overly cautious and paranoid in our communications, to those who have never served on a ship. There was absolutely nowhere in that floating steel city where a human could speak without being heard by at least one other person. You had to act as if the admiral himself were listening at all times.
We had another accomplice on the bridge that I hadn't counted on. The ship's navigator, (who was traditionally referred to as "Gator") was standing watch. He and I were good friends, which didn't hurt a thing, as he was third in command of the aircraft carrier (behind the Captain and the XO) and he was a reader.
Next we hauled the bags up to the flight deck where we had a guy standing by with a cart to move them all. While we stacked the bags, slowly and carefully, one of our deck department guys secured "D" rings to each bag. Everything had to appear methodical and proper to those who viewed our actions.
Once the loading and securing of the bags was completed, we started our journey across the flight deck. We marched in a solemn escort processional with measured steps for emphasis and to further sell the idea that we were carrying out these awful orders. A New Orleans funeral procession (without the jubilant dancing) would be close to what we did.
Prior to our arrival on the flight deck a crew of deck (department) guys had rigged a ring back under and out of sight of the flight deck. They had run twelve ropes with snap hooks on them through the ring and hooked them on the edge of the flight deck, just where you couldn't see them from the bridge.
As our funeral procession made its way slowly across the deck, I waited for a signal from one of our accomplices that the admiral was indeed, indisposed. We did not want him getting into the middle of things at that stage of the game.
The “unscripted” signal appeared, a guy waving a pair of boxer shorts from a doorway in the side of the superstructure, and they had a brown streak running the length of the middle. My God! Did he steal the admiral's shorts? HA! That was too funny.
With the admiral safely out of the way we could speed up and get the mission done, before we had gathered too much of a crowd. We off-loaded the bags one at a time and made a show of how heavy and full they were, and that was no lie, they weighed over one hundred pounds each.
One at a time we carried them to the edge of the deck and sat them down to get a grip on the bottom. While we were squatted down we hooked a snap hook into the "D" ring on the bag and eased it over the side. The deck hands below would swing the loaded bag through an open hatch and stack it in a corner.
As we stood up we would be holding an empty bag (that we had stashed in the top of the full bag) and shook it out like we were being sure that all the books were out of it. We did that twelve times with the all of the flourish of stage actors. It was hard not to “over sell” the actions.
After the last bag was folded like a flag at a funeral by two of the men, it was presented to the chaplain, who was almost in shock. We had promised that we would save the books and it served our purpose for the chaplain to believe that we dumped the books and react like he did, while the enemy's men were watching.
On the bridge, the Gator had spies present from the Little Dictator (who was getting "lighter" by the moment) trying to snoop and get a better view. He had moved over enough (all the way against the window) to be able to catch the bags swinging under the deck and disappearing, but he wasn't telling; he was one of us!
When the snoops tried to get in that same spot, he threw a pretend "temper tantrum" and ordered everyone except the underway watch off the bridge. The guy actually steering the ship said later that the Gator couldn't quit giggling after his performance. He was very pleased with himself. We were too!
There was one final step for the chaplain to accomplish before we could set his fears to rest. He had to go and report directly to the admiral that the deed was carried out. A requirement mandated by the admiral, the purpose of which was further humiliation and power asserting by the Two-Star-Twerp.
When the chaplain got back to the library I was at work in CATCC. Some of the other guys involved were there and brought the tale back to me. They reported that the chaplain said how awful he felt that the admiral was so indisposed, and how bad he was making it stink up there in big shot land.
We assumed that the chaplain didn't know what we had done… or did he? The guys told the chaplain that what he saw was not really what happened. They couldn't say any more, for his sake, but the books were safe and dry, really!
The last detail that I worried over, and I think that I was lead along by this wily old preacher, was to have all of us who took part in this episode confess to the chaplain. That way he could never tell anything because of the sanctity of confessional.
Before y'all go off into that "you're not even Catholic" place... there are two things that you should keep in mind. Chaplains aboard naval vessels are considered interdenominational, kind of an all-purpose-God-guy, and have volunteers from the individual faiths to help with conducting their particular worship services.
Religion wasn't the admiral's strong suit anyway, so there really wasn't anything that the admiral could do about it. But, we never mentioned anything about the alleged cause of the admiral's sudden malaise, even to the chaplain; it must have been an Act of God... or something.
The books were safe and never came to harm.
If y'all are interested, I will tell you what we did with them another time, but I promise you, I didn't throw them away!
P. S. S.
The sequel story is titled “More Valuable than Gold” and is now available for your reading pleasure.