Saturday, March 21, 2015

Lucy

There are people you run into from time to time and look forward to seeing them again.

One of them happens to be a woman that is a serving Marine. She has a nice way of making a guy feel pretty good about himself. She's an armorer and a damned good one.

I've only run into her twice but she stuck in my memory and I hope to run into her again, hopefully at Camp Perry. That's where I have met her both times before.

Generally when I shoot at Perry I get there a day early and check out things and see who is there from last year. I check in with the woman that has been making earplugs for shooters since Teddy Roosevelt instituted the National Matches and then off to check out the firing line.

When I get to the line I generally find a Marine armorer and ask them about how this year's team is doing. Marines do not have a dedicated team. They put together a pickup team from the fleet matches and run with them. They don't win as often as the Army team does, but you have to consider that the Army has a dedicated marksmanship unit.

A few years back I brought a huge trophy with me to the Matches to give away. It was kind of a joke among a couple of guys. We thought they ought to give trophies to married guys that never win anything to bring home to get their wives off of their backs.

Anyway, Marine armorers on the line are usually issued golf carts to use on the line. They put a tool box on the back seat and when summoned they run up and take care of the problem that the shooter is having with his rifle. It's kind of a safety thing. Better to have an armorer check a rifle out then a shooter. While most shooters are generally their own armorers it is not always the case.

I was walking the line looking for an armorer and spied a golf cart with a Marine in it. Uninvited, I simply hopped in next to her and she turned around. I hadn't been paying attention and hadn't noticed her hair. When I plopped down next to her she turned around to see who I was and realized she was a woman Marine.

"Hiya, gorgeous! Where ya been all my life?" I said. "How's the team doing."

She turned around and smiled and I could tell I had said the right thing. She didn't seem offended. She smirked a bit and started telling me about the team as she turned to scan the line awaiting a summons. She obviously recognized the 'Hiya, gorgeous' line for what it was. It was simply 'apply anywhere' bullshit stolen from the Three Stooges.  She was sharp enough to recognize it for what it was. 

Suddenly she said, "You gotta bail but I'll be right back."  A glance told me she had to do something on the line. She was gone a few minutes and returned to her standby post. I hopped back in and we chatted.

I mentioned the trophy and the plans to give it away. She was amused and thought that was pretty funny. When I told her I had gotten it at a flea market for two bucks she laughed outright. I told he we didn't have a name for it yet.

"Call it the Hyman Skrunkle award," she said, laughing. I agreed and the trophy became the Hyman Skrunkle award for marksmanship.
Note I didn't say good marksmanship or bad marksmanship because it didn't matter. It was not being awarded, it was simply being given to someone that could use it.

After the match she told me to hang around and introduced me to a few people, a few of whom I knew but a few new people. It was kind of her.

I ran into her again a couple of times that year at Perry. The next time was later that afternoon at the Marine Armorer van. She was working in it repairing rifles and I mentioned that mine needed rebarrelling. She said to go get it and gave me a list of parts to pick up.

I already had all the parts except for a peel washer and handed the rifle and parts over to her. She looked at the parts and the rifle and told me to pick up a peel washer as I had forgotten to get one with the rebarrel kit. I was off and running to Commercial Row and was back in a few minutes.

She went to work on it and I left. I know craftsmen hate having someone look over their shoulder. An hour later I picked it up. It was an excellent job.

The next day I shot the Garand match and afterwards on Commercial Row we had an impromptu awards ceremony and gave the trophy to some guy that said it was just what he needed to get his wife off of his back.

Middle of the pile shooters shoot for self-improvement and often people fail to understand why they keep at it even if they never seem to win anything.

I briefly ran into her and said I hoped I'd meet her again there next year and I left for home.

It was a few years later that I ran into her again. Last summer I didn't get to shoot but had a day to go to Perry and meet up with people. When I wandered by the Marine armorer van there she was.

I recognized her instantly. She was as pretty as ever with a few more laugh lines. When she saw me she said, "I know you."

"Does the Hyman Skrunkle award ring a bell?" I asked and was treated to a great laugh. Then she said, "Where's ours?" and looked around.

There used to be a trophy in the armorer van, a plain loving cup that an armorer used to keep change in. It was missing. We figured the guy that had won it somewhere had taken it when he transferred. We chatted a minute and I sat down at a nearby picnic bench and looked at a Marine sitting there waiting for something.

"I bet I can get her wound up," I said to the Marine.

"She's pretty unflappable," he said. His tone of voice was kind of protective. It was obvious he respected her.

"It won't take a cheap shot. Nothing sleazy." I replied, reasonably. "I'll just catch her off guard."

It was nearing noon and hotter than hell. She stepped out of the van, grabbed a coke out of the cooler. When she had a mouthful I walked up to her dropped down to one knee, folded my hands and asked her, "Will you marry me?" I asked, piously.

I had guessed the sight of an old fart 20 years her senior looking up at her with a face so innocently free of guile on someone like me would add to the the surprise of the out of nowhere ridiculous proposal.

She snarfed and quickly recovered and the couple of Marines nearby laughed outright as did she. I think she was the one that was laughing the loudest.

She sat at the table and chatted for a bit. She told me that three of her four kids were out of the house and the last one was coming along. I looked at her a little more carefully and realized she had joined the Corps later on in life because she is in her early 40s.

She had just a faint touch of tomboy in her when I had met her a couple of years earlier and now that had been replaced with a little more seriousness but she still hadn't lost the charisma and kindness. 

Actually she's more attractive now than she was the first time I met her. She's one of those women that attain their full beauty in their forties. 

She's had a lot of life to live because she's divorced, has raised three kids with one to go, working at a full time job and has a secondary career as a Marine reservist.

A couple months ago my service rifle rear sight worked loose and I needed it pinned. Armorers are hard to find and I decided to look her up for advice. I Googled around and found her email address. She offered to do the job but at the last minute I found someone locally.

A mutual friend, a Marine, told me she was just awarded a Navy Achievement medal. It's kind of funny because she should have had that medal earlier based on just who she was.

Anyway, I hope to see her at Camp Perry again and enjoy a few minutes with her. She makes me laugh and simply feel good about myself. 

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Paul


I just had to go into the generator room that contains a roaring diesel. On the way I grabbed my ear protection instinctively. I want to protect my hearing.

I attribute this to having met Paul.

I met Paul in Port Townsend, Washington when I was readying my sailboat, Karen Lee, for the trip back to Kodiak.

He was a little older than I am now, a liveaboard, retired and a real character. He liked sailboats, an occasional grog or three and women between the ages of forty and their late fifties.

This meant we had an awful lot in common as I very seldom bothered with women younger than I was and preferred them a bit older than I was. They tended to have less drama in their lives.

He was energetic, always busy and had a very active lifestyle and social life.

He was also as deaf as a post and as a result had a voice like a fog horn. He had no idea how loud he was talking and when he would try and say something quietly it would often come out audible for 200 yards.

I was slapping on a thick coat of now illegal tin based bottom paint on Karen Lee's hull and Paul came by to check out my progress. I had just replaced a thru-hull fitting and he inspected at and complimented me on the job.

Then he started telling me about one of his recent adventures at sea with some woman he had met somewhere along the line. All was good until he started describing her physical attributes just as a pair of women walked past. They likely would have heard nothing at tha range they were passing by but Paul had a voice like a fog horn.

I think they knew that he was deaf because they smirked as they passed by and heard it all.

I didn't know Paul for more than a few days.He was a character and 
I generally found a couple of them in every boat yard I ever passed through. Still, I have to say he effected my life by teaching me to take damned good of my hearing so I didn't end up like him.

Monday, August 25, 2014

Blaine.


Blaine was a pillar of practical wisdom. As a young man he started a small business to help out after his father died.
Blaine once said that if you gave a man a $50 bill for three days in a row if you didn't give him one on the fourth he would hate you. He was right.
Once I made a comment to him about what a nice outfit a nearby woman had on. Blaine replied that you never think of what the woman was wearing after you get her clothes off.
I couldn't argue with that.
Blaine was the most practical, unflappable logical person I have ever met. He could see through any smoke screen or mirror display and would go straight to the bottom line in his dealings with others.
The one thing Blaine taught me that sticks out the most is that he taught me that to get to the bottom of something all you generally have to do is follow the money, sex or power trail.
He was without a doubt either the most unlucky or the luckiest person I have ever met. He was briefly a room mate of mine when he got caught between places to live. During a three week period he survived a crab boat sinking, a fire at sea, and a three day period of being adrift at sea in an open skiff with no food or water.
After every one of these fearful events he would return to my place late at night griping about the event like it was routine and tell the story in such a way that the pair of us would laugh ourselves to tears. The following morning without a thought Blaine would return to the harbor and look for a fishing job.
After the adrift incident he got on a salmon boat worked all summer without incident and decided his luck was running thin. He returned to New Jersey and sold cars for a while.
He had given me a Zippo lighter he had engraved with an Ernie Gann quote. "Run as fast as you can and escape if you will, for you are the quarry and fate is the hunter."
I kept it for years.
In 1995 I heard that five years earlier he was killed off the Jersey shore in a pleasure boat wreck. It is believed he went down with the boat.
The following year I was running up the coast with a load of #6 oil and when we crossed the area he was killed I returned the lighter to him by casting it into the deep.

Wrongway Bob



Wrongway Bob is one of those characters that I met that had a world class knack of living up to his nickname. I'm not even sure his real name was Bob.

Strangely enough, he'd always seem to land in a pile of warm shit and come out smelling like a rose. A scruffy character, he was supposed to meet me at the Anchor Bar but showed up at the B&B instead.

When I never showed he sat there and waited. Some minor TV celebrity wandered into the bar and offered Bob dinner if he would show her around town and Bob ended up shacking up with her for the entire week she was in town.

She bought Bob a couple of nice outfits and after she left town Bob simply wore the outfits fishing. For a brief period he was the best dressed fisherman in the fleet.

He's here because he constantly made me laugh.

The Doctor once commented that Wrongway Bob could screw up a free lunch by asking for change.

He was killed in a fishing accident the following season and I attended his memorial service that was held at the Anchor Bar.

Stefan



I met Stef when he came to Ketchikan in about '88 to promote his sail loft in the Seattle area. During local yacht club races he hopped on my boat and noticed I hadn't stripped all the extras out to reduce weight like some of the others.

I had just hopped on board with a load of fast foods, beer and ice and sailed over to the starting line. In jest he commented that I was one of the more civil skippers because not only did I have beer but it was on ice.

Needless to say, we hit it off instantly.

He showed me how to hold course and speed at a starting buoy with a simple trick. Another boat was trying to use its size and weight to get me out of their way.

Stef stood up, looked at the other skipper that was 20 feet away and simply pointed to me and said, "This man has a minimum wage job and doesn't have a dime's worth of insurance."

The skipper panicked, quickly changed from his collision course, hit the buoy and had to restart.

Stef had a Baltic 42 sailboat and lived a dream of his own by entering the TransPac back in '89. He took a bunch of wealthier people with him for the race but offered me the chance to accompany him on the return trip from Honolulu to Tacoma.

My sense of humor can be pretty dry. A lot gets missed and during the trip not one single double entendre, hidden comment or smart- assed remark got past him. He didn't miss a thing.

We also shared a watch one night with a period of about 5 hours of confused, shifting winds. When things started getting weird he put a tape of Gregorian chants on the tape deck to add to the surrealism as we steered the boat through several 360 degree turns just to keep the sails filled.

He was an excellent tactician and instead of a straight route from Hawaii to Tacoma he headed well off course to follow a Pacific high pressure area and we wrapped ourselves around the high. This meant we covered an awful lot more miles but at a greater speed and we beat a number of boats back to Puget Sound.

The trip was a celebration of life and one of the most gentlemanly voyages I have ever been on. Every day cocktails (a warm beer) were at five and dinner was at six.  

I remember him not batting an eyelash when we entered the prestigious Honolulu Yacht Club. The doorkeeper asked our names and club affiliations. I told the doorkeeper I was Joseph Hazelwood of the Valdez Yacht Club and told him Stef was Captain Edward Smith of the Cunard Yacht Club.

It went over the head of the doorkeeper and he announced our entry as I had given it to him.

Joe Hazelwood had been the skipper of the Exxon Valdez and Smith had skippered Titanic.

Several members picked up on it and had a pretty good sense of humor. Instead of getting thrown out we were welcomed. The three or four days we were there we never had to pay for a drink and they gave us the run of the place.

My wife and I are planning a trip to the northwest next summer and I went to look up Stef to have dinner with him and found out he died last year. He is one of the damned few of my formative years friends that died a natural death.

Smooth sailing, Stef.

Helen

Around ten or twelve years ago one of my sisters was going through a bunch of my mother's paperwork and found a letter addressed to me. The letter was postmarked in '88 and was unopened.

My mother was pretty good about forwarding my mail to me and it was very much out of character that this letter had been missed. It was from a woman named Helen.

We had met in '86 and the letter said that she thought of me every so often when she saw a sailboat ghost out of port. I admit I misted up a bit.

The circumstances of our meeting were freakish. I was doing what was sometimes referred to as the Dogshit Dance.

I was going up the plank from the docks to the shore having tied up at the city dock. At the top I wasn't paying attention and stepped in a fresh pile of doggie poo. I was standing in a nearby patch of grass shuffling my right shoe scraping off as much of it as I could. I was clearly annoyed.

When I looked up I saw her looking amused. She'd seen the whole thing. She was a several years older than I was but quite an eyeful and dressed very professionally which is damned rare in a southeast Alaska town.

I didn't know what to say so I let my wry sense of humor take control.

"Buy you a drink?" I asked.

She laughed, a deep laugh from down within and said she would buy me one because I obviously could use it.

I took her up on her offer.

Over the drink I said, "Look, I know I'm obviously out of your league but I'll take you for an evening sail after you get off of work."

She replied with some indignation in her voice, "I'll decide who is 'in my league' or not. I'll be by at six and I'm bringing dinner."

I went back to the boat and turned it stern facing the dock and took a greased pencil and drew an X through the name, Karen Lee. Beneath it I wrote 'Helen' and left the boat that way. A dab of kerosene on a rag and I could change it back in an instant. I wanted to see if she had a sense of humor.

When she arrived she saw it, laughed and called me a scoundrel.
For the next three or four days we hung out together and did things. 

We went to a hot spring and soaked one afternoon she wasn't busy. 

We both knew I was leaving and one night when we parted company I told her I was leaving at first light.

The following morning Karen Lee ghosted from her slip. The sails filled with the light morning breeze and my eye caught motion ashore. It was Helen waving.

She had gotten up in the darkness to see me off. I waved back and then the sails filed and I had to pay attention to my sailing.

After meeting Helen I never felt that anyone was 'out of my league' again. Her comment in the bar over the drink when we met stayed with me and left me with a lot more self confidence.

Without it I very well may have lacked the confidence to ask the woman later married out on a date.

Maggie.



This is a plain and simple case of someone being at the right place at the right time.

Shortly after I married Mrs. Pic in '91 we went to midnight mass together. My wife has a Lutheran background, I'm a dogtag Catholic. We went to midnight mass because she wanted to go to the beautiful church in the neighborhood we were living in.

Father Gallagher gave a wonderful uplifting sermon that we both talk about to this day.

After mass we were discussing the sermon over hot buttered rums and I grinned and told my wife that a woman named Maggie had left me feeling like Father Gallagher made her feel. I told her the story.

She said that if I had the chance I ought to look her up and tell her that what she had done for me.

Maggie and I went to school grades 1-4 and were reunited in grades 7 and graduated high school together. By the time we had graduated we probably hadn't spoken a dozen words to each other. 
We were in different worlds.

Although she was a very pretty girl, she was basically part of the woodwork. I'm certain she felt the same about me.

We graduated in June, 1969 and went our separate ways.

Seven and a half years later I was recently divorced and freshly discharged from the army and living in a tipi in the Rockies. I was attending school a couple of days a week on my GI bill, studying by a gasoline lantern nights.

My transition from military service to the student had been fairly painless. My divorce had torn me up. I was in the hurt locker.

Living in the tipi was a return to trying to live a childhood dream. 

When we separated I simply returned to chasing dreams that had been set aside. The marriage was more important, of course. It had meant setting my dreams aside and I was glad to. When the marriage split the return to chasing my dreams had simply been pretty much Pavlovian.

I was home for the holidays having gotten a ride straight through from Colorado. 

I had met a few of my peers and they had seemed to think I was mad for doing what I was doing. Graduation had been 7 years earlier and some had embarked on jobs and careers, others had finished college and were beginning careers.

They seemed to think that I was mad for planning on weathering it out in the Rockies in a tipi. Coupled with the fact that my failed marriage had torn me up I really didn't feel very good about myself. 

It was a bad time.

I never dared tell anyone about then future plans of hitch-hiking to Alaska.

I was due to return to Colorado inside two or three days and ran into Maggie at a family pizza place in the next town over.

I recognized her first. She was sitting at the next table.

We had a brief chat, a few minutes and I explained my plans of wintering in the Rockies and a few other things I was doing. She commented that I had changed since high school. She asked a question or two about the tipi and when I explained the mechanics of tipi living she replied, "Sounds interesting. Good luck."  The four words were given with a warm smile.

The conversation was probably more than we had ever said to each other in the 12 years we had known each other in school. Those four kind words and the smile stuck with me.

While I was opening camp a few days later I remembered them and they stayed with me through the rest of my 'formative years' of adventuring in Alaska and in my career.

Four words and a smile.

I suppose that four words and a smile are not very much but in this particular case it was a case of timing. I don't know why but they left me with a sense of worth at a time of self-loathing. It changed my life for the better. Four brief words and a smile.

I would remember that time and again when life gave me a kick in the gut and left me depressed. I would remember that brief conversation and it would lift me from the gloom and give me a new sense of self worth.

I'd think about them and quietly whisper a prayer that she was doing well and happy.

During the winter of '85 she showed up again but got a name change. She became 'that pretty Irish girl' after I survived a brutal storm at sea.

We got the living shit kicked out of us. The storm turned the skies blacker than Satan's riding boots and the wind blew the entire seven bells of shit for two long days.

A couple of days later when the seas had abated to the 16 to 20 foot range we were eating breakfast together. The copper taste of fear was slowly working its way out of our mouths.

I had just finished a mountain of potatoes, onions, codfish and bacon and poured a cup of thick boat coffee. I grabbed a bottle of cognac and added about an inch to my coffee because I was going back to bed.

The fine aroma of the heated cognac added to the galley odors of coffee, bacon and fresh cigarette smoke. The final vestiges of fear were leaving our bodies. We were experiencing the cruel wild joy of being alive.

The Italian deckhand looked at me and grinned.

"I'll bet you last night you wished you had listened to your mother, gone to college, married a pretty Irish girl and gotten a job selling insurance!"

I chuckled and told him to go piss up a rope and we laughed. I told him I knew a pretty little Irish girl but I was sure I wasn't her type. I thought of Maggie for a minute, remembered her four words and smile and quietly wished her well and put the memory aside again for a long time.

In '86 I met my wife and five years and one day later in '91 I married her. She likes to tell people we met on the 6th and married on the 7th...five years later.

I mentioned Maggie to her one Christmas after midnight mass long after we were married and she told me I ought to look her up and thank her. I put it in the back of my mind.

The thought reappeared in '09 when I got word of high school reunion 40. I was on some kind of open forum or something and found out she was probably coming. However, work intervened and I never made it.

In August '14 I attended my 45th reunion and got to meet Maggie but only had a few words with her before I got grabbed by someone else. A few minutes later the band started and she left liike a lot of other people did.

I never did get a chance to tell her what she did when she smiled at me 37 years ago.

After the reunion someone gave me her address and I wrote her a letter telling her I wanted to meet her for a minute or two over coffee. I hope she answers.

What is interesting is that she very well may not even remember meeting me at the pizza place and if she did it's likely that she didn't even remember the conversation. It was such a small thing when you think about it.

What's funny is she may not have even meant it and was just being polite. Who knows? 

Four words and a smile so many years ago from a pretty Irish girl have stayed with me all of these years and seen me through the tough times of my 'formative years'.

When I came back home that time I met almost a dozen of my former classmates and she was the only one that didn't treat me like there was something wrong with me for following my dreams.

Over the years I have learned it's always the small things you remember. I still wish that woman well.

I hope she answers my letter and I can thank her face to face someday.