Category Archives: Good Stuff

Europe In B & W, 1973-1974

A thought popped into my head that I have never shown you these photos. Or if I did, I can’t remember it 😉

But since I was 12 years old and found a grandfather’s old twin lens reflex camera – an Ansco – not a Rolleiflex – photography has interested me.

Anyway one of the first things I bought at the PX once arriving at my first station in Landstuhl, Germany was  a Pentax single lens reflex camera. I used a lot of Agfa color slide film, but once I got to my second station at Neubreucke – about 60 miles away – I soon discovered they had for our use a photo lab complete with Leitz enlargers.

Maybe I am getting ahead of myself.

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by lex
Posted: Sat – October 9, 2004 at 09:41 AM


While on the ship last month, I had some spare time between events and at night to read. Reading is a luxury I used to enjoy much more frequently than I have of late.

There are of course all sorts of time pressures in our daily lives, everything seems to happen so quickly these days. There seems to be very little space for contemplation and reflection. And reading literature at least, as opposed to email, ought to be a contemplative pleasure.

Where has the time gone? Sometimes I am subject to the gnawing concern that these “labor saving” devices we have built for ourselves have chained us instead to tyrants of “Better” and “Faster.”

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Thanga, and that

By lex, on April 29th, 2011

Your host is independently informed by two different sources that these our humble scribblings have been awarded “Best Veteran’s Milblog”, after the late unpleasantness with those submariners. Who, if they hadn’t have thrown the gauntlet down might have borne the bell away, etc. Ourselves being utterly unaware of the competition’s existence, even.

So much for the “silent service.”

And all in good fun.

So, thanks.


Editor: Unfortunately we do not have that earlier post of Lex’s (A Competition 4-26-2011) nor is it on the Wayback Machine. But I put this in for posterity’s sake. 


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Wasn’t Going to Post Today

By lex, Sat – April 2, 2005

Editor’s Notes* 

Was going to take the day, it being a Saturday, a day of rest.

But occasional correspondent DM wrote me a note, and like most of his notes, it made me think while writing back. And it seems a dern shame to waste good thoughts, or at least those I spent some time on.

So – we’re sharing, again.

First him:

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Friday Musings Feb 11 2005

By lex, Fri – February 11, 2005

Vodka martini (Ketel 1), very dry. One olive. With Brie cheese and crackers, if it do ya.

I save the olive ’til the end.

It’s raining again in Sunny SoCal. And in combination with the olive, I believe this has affected my mood.


Big day on campus today – we had a change of command. Out with the old flag officer (and a wonderful gentleman) in with the new (no one really knows, yet.) So we were all a-flutter in our service dress blues, and your humble scribe was the formation commander. If any of my USMC readers would have seen the appallingly random and shockingly inconsistent result attended by the command, “At a close interval, dress right – DRESS!” they would maybe forgive us more than they have already.

We’re just saying.


Driving down the 5 today (in the autovoiture, it being a rainy day), just south of the La Jolla swoop, I espied a single representative of the state of California’s finest pulled over on the shoulder, lights out. Which I took as considerate, knowing as I do the inevitable custom of SoCal freeway drivers to jam on their brakes and rubberneck at the sight of a CHP light show. Which, in combination with the rain, would have no doubt made for a pile up of epic proportions.

Very clever, these CHP.

Anyway, there was a car down in the holler off the road edge, a BMW M3 by the grille, in the brambles, facing the wrong way and with the blinker tapping out a slow dirge to eventual battery depletion. Nothing more could I see, but I imagined all in a moment the inevitable human drama – the slick road, the excessive speed, the panicked stop, the spinning of the wheel, the road edge flying up, the sound, the silence.

This goes on all around us all the time, and we do not see it.

It’s the rain, I tell you. Or perhaps the olive.


I cannot tie a necktie, and it drives me to distraction.

I hope I do not sound more than ordinarily arrogant (for a fighter pilot) when I say that I tend to be good at things. You know, stuff. I pick it up quickly, whatever it is. I’m not bragging, it’s just the way it is, and I have gotten used to it.

You should too.

Which is why my inability to tie a proper necktie drives me to distraction.

I don’t have to wear a necktie very often. It’s been flight suits, for the most part. Open collared khakis, for the rest. Sometimes I wear a tie to church.



I was getting dressed today for the change of command today, and as I buttoned up my shirt, I lifted up the (previously tied) necktie (that someone else had tied for me) and lowered it over my head, only to discover that the end of the tie did not quite reach down to my belt buckle. Which of course, it is absolutely supposed to do.

No – it fell short of my belt buckle by a measurable distance. Leaving me feeling, in my service dress blues, a bit like Popeye’s hamburger-chomping friend Wimpy. Which simply would not do, for so many reasons. Most of which having to do with his 1940’s attitude, mustache, waistline and name.


I determined that I would retie the damnable thing. How hard could it be?


I must have retied the thing a dozen times, trying to get the length just right. Never mind the knot. And the clock kept ticking.

I’d make the finest possible adjustment in starting positions, on my way to the essential half-Windsor – and find the tie end reaching to my knees. Or nearly.

A centimeter’s adjustment would I go in the opposite direction – and the thin end would extend below the fat end, neither reaching to my belt. Meh.

Finally, at the last possible moment, I created a knot that would not, by itself, shame the naval service. And that reached all the way to my belt.

Fully satisfied (may I say smug?) with my success, I came home, and in a moment’s distraction, pulled the knot apart.



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Motion sickness

By lex, on January 11th, 2005

I don’t get it, myself. Motion sickness, that is. Neither from the sea, nor from the air.

Pilots generally don’t – If the gentle heave and swell of an 80,000 ton aircraft carrier puts you ’round the bend and over the bowl, you’re going to have a hard time flying a 20 ton fighter round the sky.

Which makes it all the more pleasant to see a fellow aviator get ill. Lose his cookies. Talk to Ralph.

Get airsick.

Because at the end of the day? There’s nothing quite so funny as someone else’s misery.

It always tickles me to see distinguished visitors arrive aboard the carrier – civilians. In a crowd of 15 or so, there will always be at least one who has the little dramamine patch behind his ear. This on a ship that can shoulder aside the waves almost as an afterthought. There are buildings in major cities which move more than a Nimitz-class carrier, at sea. C’est amusant – n’est ce pas?

But no one starts out so secure in the soundness of their stomach – I paid good money as an ensign for three rides in a Cessna 152, only to ensure that I wouldn’t go down to Pensacola, discover something embarrassing about myself, and fail out of flight school. I learned next to nothing about how to fly – but I did learn that I wasn’t prone to motion sickness.

Not everyone found out so easily: I had several friends who drove down to the cradle of Naval Aviation only to find out the hard way that they weren’t “aerodynamically adaptable.” If, after successfully competing for a coveted billet as a student naval aviator, you find out (to your shame and dismay) that you get airsick, there are two options available: Drop on Request (DOR), or go to “Spin and Puke” school.

That’s not its real name, of course. But it describes the subject matter pretty well. “Students” are seated in a chair, in a dark room, with a single point of light shining down on them from the middle distance. The chair is spun at high speed, and then quickly stopped. The student is then asked to stand up, look into the light, and describe his sensations. Most of which, apparently, being with, “Ralph.”

It’s conditioning – the theory went that anyone, given the time and the will, could overcome the nausea. Spin and Puke school provided the time. It was up to the student to bring the will. But it’s hard for some folks – one of my classmates got so sick, so often that eventually it became a conditioned response: Just walking out to the flight line, and smelling the JP-5 jet fuel, would provoke the reaction. He’d fall to his knees and spill his guts before he even got to the airplane. Which is where he really got in trouble.

Didn’t make it of course. Not his fault, just the way things were.

I had a guy as a student back in the ’80s. Great guy, an All-American lacrosse player from the Naval Academy who had served for two years as a black shoe aboard a destroyer prior to deciding that aviation had so much more to offer (duh!). Came from a big family in New York.

He got pretty sick, in the jet.

We were flying a basic instrument flight one night – he was under “the bag,” to keep from getting any visual cues from the night horizon – when, according to the training syllabus, I put him through some “unusual attitudes.”

Now, unusual attitudes aren’t the posings of UCLA undergrads – it means putting the airplane, under simulated instrument conditions (i.e., bad weather) into a position that you’d ordinarily try to avoid, and then recovering it to normal flight. The usual drill would be for the instructor pilot in the front seat to say, “Close your eyes,” and then fly the jet maybe 30 degrees nose high, and 120 degrees angle of bank, while pulling the throttles to idle. Once established, the IP would say, “Open your eyes. You have the jet.”

And then the student would check his gauges, assess the situation, and (hopefully) execute the proper recovery procedures. Which in this case would be to throttle up, gently fly the nose back to the horizon, and then when that was accomplished (with sufficient airspeed) roll the jet back up right again. All on the instruments.

Now, as a student, when the IP would say to me, “Close your eyes,’ I would. And then of course, because I was curious what kind of attitude he was going to fly us into, I’d open them again, and watch avidly. Which made the recovery so very much more easy to accomplish. After a suitable delay.

Because I’m all about knowing.

But my student on this particular night apparently didn’t “peek.” Because he delayed a bit longer than normal each time, recovering the jet. Not so long that I had to take over again, but long enough that I started to think about it a couple of times. But eventually he met standards, and we headed back to the field for some precision approaches under radar control.

The students do dozens of these in the simulator before they will ever do one in the jet. So they get pretty familiar with the procedures. My man did a fine job getting us checked in with approach, and set up on the final approach course. He got to glideslope perfectly, and when the controller called, “up and on glideslope,” he made the proper power correction, gently bunted the nose, and set us up for a perfect approach. On course, 500 feet per minute rate of descent.

Passing 2000 feet, as per the standard operating procedures, he turned the intercom on “hot mike.” Now I would hear everything he said, approach checklists, landing checklists. Breathing.

Passing about 600 feet above ground level, I heard a strange choking sound, and then the unique, unmistakable sound of my student taking the oxygen mask off, while the flow was still on – a strange, rushing sound as the O2 went past his face. The aircraft started to drift left, and then sag off glideslope at 500 feet AGL, as the next sound to fill my headset was the that of my student retching.

All those “under the bag” unusual attitudes had finally caught up to him, some 20 minutes later, at 600 feet AGL. And when they did, he proceeded to load shed all his aviation responsibilities in favor of becoming very, very ill. On the intercom. Right there in front of God and everybody.

He let go of the stick and throttles, since, at that moment? It was all the same to him whether we lived or died. Either way.

You want to live, instructor pilot-boy? YOU fly the airplane. So I did.

But I started off talking about sea sickness, and that’s where I want to end: Aboard the USS Constellation in 1989 off Karachi, Pakistan – a place where we had stopped to sample some of the least pleasant liberty I have ever known – air wing pilots were required to serve as the officers-in-charge of the picket boat watch. In those more innocent days, it was thought perfectly suitable to have a small boat with four or five Sailors, one of them maybe armed with a shotgun, and commanded by one officer, drive around the aircraft carrier all night, in order to prevent the more curious natives from coming alongside and either getting fouled in the anchor chain or in some other way making a nuisance of themselves.

On one of the nights I went ashore, in one of the local dhows, a young F-14 pilot was the boat officer on the picket boat. The expertly handled dhow dealt with the sea admirably, but as a rough cross sea was up, the stem and stern lights of the picket boat seemed to play the dance of the hyperkinetic see-saw. On speed. Our hero was himself observed by the assembled liberty party manfully laying across the stern sheets, covered in a blanket, and drooling over the side, utterly spent, entirely exhausted. He was nearly as miserable as a man is allowed to be without actually dying.

Which we of course, considered great sport. And never forgave him for.

A fighter pilot, forsooth!

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By lex, on January 9th, 2005

Not quite the same thing as a mid-life crisis…

But it will do.


I’m at the 23 year mark in the Navy this spring. Having just made captain last summer, I must spend three years (two, with a waiver) as a captain to retire at that grade. Which will neatly mesh with the last longevity pay step at the 26 year mark. And, I’m up for orders soon, orders ashore most likely. Three-year orders, in other words – the first shore duty orders I will have received since 1996.

They will quite possibly be my last set of orders in the Navy. Oh, I could go on to 30 years, eke out another four years of duty, max out the percentage points. But even on a 30 year career, I’ll have to find work again – seven years from now the Biscuit will still be in college, and the Kat will just be starting. It will be no time to walk the beach, growing a pony tail. And 26 years makes good sense, if you’re going to start a second career – there’s a big difference, I am told, between starting a job hunt at 47, and starting one at 51.

It seems impossible to believe – I can scarcely comprehend – that the life I’ve known since I was I was 17 years old is coming, if not to its end, at least to the beginning of the end. The next job I take will very likely be the last job – it will either set the stage for all that comes after, or it will not.

Now, there are places in the US where a family could live quite comfortably on a captain’s retirement. San Diego, however, is not one of them. And yet, my little clan of neptuni has found a home here in San Diego. We have so often moved, the children have so often left their friends behind. These are the psychic costs of service – costs that do not seem so burdensome when you are in your twenties and thirties, when life is very much an adventure of discovery, but which start to accumulate with interest as the moss starts to grow under your feet. When you become comfortable.

When, suddenly, it stops being about you.

Son Number One had lived in two countries, eight cities and 12 houses by the time he was 14 years old. He’s gone on now, in order to demonstrate that children, however much they are loved, will leave home. But for the girls at least, there’s a part of me that wants to make the rest of their lives while they’re still at home as much like “normal” peoples’ live as I can, at this late point. Neighborhoods and friends, like I had. Stability. Predictability.

If I had someplace to go, someplace important to be, I think I’d still go there – but I’m past the age for service on the battle line. My days of combat are over, I have seen the wolf (under arms) for the last time. It’s staff work, from now on. A job, like other people have.

When I was young, before I’d made any of the really big choices, I used to wish that I could split myself each time I came upon one of those either/or decisions: College, marriage, career – I would go both ways, over and over again. And at the end of the day, we would all meet up again at the retirement home and talk about the paths we had taken, the things we had seen, the lives we had led.

But you don’t get to do that, so you make the best choices you can, informed at each opportunity by researching and soul searching. As Yogi Berra famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.”

If it were just up to me? I’d take a job at the Naval War College, or at National in D.C. – I’d get a master’s degree, and stay on to teach for another three years or so. In that time I’d find a way to get a doctoral degree, and upon retirement I’d set myself up as a professor or mid-level administrator in some small, private college with a modest reputation. Bowdoin, for example. I can see it now: Holding forth at length with great erudition and uncommon insight. A tweed jacket with leather patches at the elbows. A meerschaum pipe. Single malt scotch. Co-eds.

Did I say that out loud? Excuse me. No internal monologue.

But that’s unlikely – I sense that I am a bit out of favor with the company, being as I am ineligible for major command at sea and having declined the opportunity for major command ashore. A long story, with which I shall not burden you except to say that while there are some who would, like Milton’s anti-hero, prefer to rule in hell than serve in heaven, your humble scribe no longer counts himself among that set. And it would mean another move. And that would break the girls’ hearts.

Which I decline to do.

Another part of me wants to settle back and write my book. The Good American Novel. It’s all locked up inside my head, ready and waiting to be released. It’s just that I don’t have the key, and haven’t the slightest idea where to find it, and can’t afford to spend much time looking for it. So that’s out.

I had researched a job here in San Diego with a part of the acquisition force – a trigger-puller buying weapons systems, what a novel concept. But despite an initial flare of interest, that particular souffl?

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