To the reader: I came across this on what was a great blog, Ask the Skipper, back in 2016. The owner of the blog soon after stopped blogging, citing the amount of time it took to have a good blog. Looking at the thousands of posts Neptunus Lex made in 9 years, I came to realize just how much effort Hizzoner put into his own blog.
Anyway, I saved the post, and in going through my documents folder last night, got reacquainted with it. If the owner of Ask the Skipper ever comes across this and wants it removed, I will be glad to do so. All credit goes to this unknown author at Ask the Skipper.
In the meantime, I will leave it to you, the reader, to ascertain whether “Tex” is indeed “Lex”.
It was the 90s. The angst-ridden, caffeine-fueled sound of Seattle’s grunge-scene was oozing its way across the American landscape, what with all their flannel shirts, exposed long-underwear, and boots. The kind of boots you’d typically see on a homophobe, neo-Nazi, construction worker, or some combination of the three. I don’t know what Smells Like Teen Spirit, but I have a sneaking suspicion it has little to do with deodorant.
We were underway in the East China Sea, or the Sea of Japan, or the Yellow Sea, or the Western Pacific Ocean. One of those. There was water everywhere, and you couldn’t see land. Of that I am certain.
It wasn’t necessarily his last flight evah. It was his last flight in that particular tour of duty, in that squadron, on that boat. Then again, there was certainly no guarantee of another sea-based sortie. This fella – if I remember the callsign correctly – we will refer to as Tex from this point forward. His callsign sounded similar. It might have even rhymed.
Tex was in his Department Head tour. For those who’ve not spent anytime on the inside, Department Heads are middle management types. They are not sidled up next to the man, nor are they worker bees. They implement the man’s vision in their various departments, hence the clever name. As it was explained to me, Department Heads are lobotomized on day one of their filthy duties, at which time their spine is removed, and the top of the vertebrae (around the neck region) is replaced by a hinge that enables the head to rock back and forth, never side to side. They are yes-men incapable of creative or independent thought. They are a wretched lot, to be sure. Except for when I was a Department Head. During that era, and only during that era, the Navy enjoyed a golden age of enlightenment with regard to its crop of Lieutenant Commanders. We were the backbone of the Navy. A pool of creative genius that nobly served as the Navy’s engine-room. That’s how I remember it, anyway. The point of all this is that Commanding Officers were and are chosen from the best of the Department Head syndicate, and advancement to CO is far from given. For this reason, the trap you get at the end of your Department Head tour may well be your last.
If you’ve been here before – here being this website – you’ve heard me talk about the fighter-attack crowd’s fully-developed ability to enjoy the misery of others of their ilk. Consider it a moderate form of schadenfreude. And such it was about the time Tex was due to recover on our city of floating steel, for schadenfreude is at its peak when the mighty have a chance to squirt ketchup on their face. Mighty in what way?
I’m willing to feed the beast of adoration here. Tex was ice-cold behind the ship. Chill-water in the veins. Like Tiger Woods of 2000 standing over a five-foot putt. He knew it was going in. You knew it was going in. His competitors knew it was going in. The only thing left to do was watch it go in. To benefit those who had not yet developed his considerable skill, he would often hold court in the ready room and talk through the art-form that is a carrier landing. He would draw complex diagrams to explain how the jet responds in different circumstances. He would describe, in great detail, the manner in which you could predict and stay ahead of deviations before they even occurred. In many ways, it was a trade custom-built for Tex. A beautiful blend of art and science. He wasn’t always number one in the ongoing competition for the best landing grades, if only because there were too many variables. You never knew when another guy would catch a heater. I might have even beaten him once. Just the same, it’s fair to say that he was number one more often than anyone else. If the CAG had to pick one guy to get a broken jet aboard in horrid conditions, Tex would have gotten the nod.
Which is why everyone gathered around to view the PLAT camera for his last flight. Danger TV is fertile ground for those bent on enjoying another’s misfortune. It doesn’t get any better. It’s not that anyone wishes to see a mishap, and they certainly don’t want to see anyone get hurt. Embarrassment? Humiliation? Pride shattered? That ball is in fair territory. The best analogy is watching your favorite NFL team play a fierce rival. You don’t want the opposing quarterback to be sidelined with a severe concussion. At least I hope you don’t. On the sidelines with a twisted ankle so he can watch his team get pummeled from the bench? Absolutely.
With everyone not otherwise encumbered by some ancillary duty glued to Danger TV, Tex finally rolled into the groove. As was his custom, he arrived in the crosshairs’ dead-center, wings level, at just the right distance. Approaching the ramp, nothing had changed. It was another yawner, yawners being a good thing in this particular business, wishes of the carnival-barkers notwithstanding. Tex comfortably set his jet down in the wires, but instead of hearing the hydraulic arresting gear motors groaning while they paid out the wire, we heard a loud clang, only to watch Tex spring back into the air.
Oh my God! Oh my God! Oh my God! He forgot to put his hook down! Raucous laughter ensued; the insatiable appetite for schadenfreude had been temporarily gratified. At night, the LSOs will help you out and tell you to verify your hook position. During the day? You’re on your own.
Tex rolled into the groove for his second approach, again showing us what we had seen hundreds of times. Another yawner. But again, there was no arrestment, just another touch-and-go, Tex’s jet nimbly bouncing back into the air for another look. What the heck? Was this just a show? Was there some malfunction preventing the hook from lowering to the proper position? Whatever it was, the crowd quickly lost interest. Briefs resumed. Paperwork commenced. Coffee was poured. The air had come out of the balloon.
Tex came around for his third approach. Like so many others, we would not be treated to a bolter or a taxi into the 1-wire. His hook touched the deck just in front of the 3-wire and he came to a stop. It all happened just as you would draw it up.
By the time Tex made it below-deck, the rancor had considerably diffused. There were unanswered questions and speculation, but not to the extent that they dominated the mood or landscape. Tex was all smiles when he took his debrief from the LSOs. He had the look of a man who just got to do something he loved, at which he excelled, not once, not twice, but three times.
I couldn’t take it. An hour later, I cornered him. “Tex, come clean now or I’m going public with rumors and half-truths.” He knew I would do it. Having resigned himself to fate, but only after swearing me to secrecy, he offered this…
“My man, if you roll out behind the ship with your hook up once, you look like an idiot. If you roll out behind the ship with your hook up twice, you look like a man executing a carefully crafted plan.”
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