I’ve been slaving away (putzing with would be far more accurate) on a collection of anecdotes that I’ve tentatively titled Wee Tales for years now. I’ve finally realized that I might never finish it. So before the paper yellows and crumbles away I’ll share a few with you. Here’s six of my wee tales.
Psst…they’re all true.
Wee Tale #1 - Semper Fi, Colonel
We took a much needed break from our tactical maneuvers (war games) deep in the Mojave Desert to gather around a jeep-mounted radio as John Glenn orbited the earth in Friendship 7. Lt. Col. John Glenn was one of our heroes, being the only Marine astronaut in the space program. There was reverent silence as we craned our necks to hear the voices through all the static. The silence was broken by our old Gunny (Gunnery Sergeant). “Last flight they sent up a monkey, this time a Marine. Looks to me like they’re workin’ their way up the evolutionary chain.”
Wee Tale #2 - What Color Was That?
I was transferred from California to a Navy base in Florida for schooling. I dropped Linda and our infant daughter, Deanna, off in Denver and went on ahead to find us an apartment.
Linda and Mabel Rivas, the wife of a Marine buddy, took the train from Denver to Jacksonville with a layover in Memphis. They arrived at the Memphis train station to find that the segregated south had separate white and colored waiting rooms. These two Hispanic girls didn’t see themselves as either, so they stood with their babies and luggage on the desegregated platform for hours until their train arrived.
Wee Tale #3 - We’re Above What?
I was killing time as field services engineer at this small computer company when my boss came to me with what I thought was an unusual assignment. He asked me to teach a course on a data acquisition and telemetry system our company had installed a few years earlier at the Nevada Test Site. I pored over a host of manuals, scratched my head a lot, put together a lesson plan, and headed for Las Vegas.
I spent the night on the strip in a big Las Vegas hotel. Early the next morning I drove to a parking lot in the center of town and boarded a bus bound for the test site some distance north of town.
My classroom was a trailer in a cluster of twenty or so far into the desert. The techs were eager to learn and I was happy to be there until one of my students explained where we were exactly.
We were 200 feet directly above a nuclear warhead being assembled below us. Our data acquisition equipment would measure the characteristics and intensity of the blast.
Wee Tale #4 - Oh, Lana
We moved into our first house, a cute Japanese modern bungalow two blocks from the ocean in Laguna Beach. It was built and owned by a big-time contractor up in LA. We had a sunken living room with a real fireplace, patios in the front and along the side, and an outdoor shower, but the most distinctive features were the crystal knobs on the built-in bedroom cabinets and the crystal chandelier in the master bedroom. Our builder salvaged these somewhat tacky knobs and this gaudy light fixture when he remodeled Lana Turner’s house.
Eat your heart out—we pulled the same knobs and made love under the same lamp as Lana Turner—so there!
Wee Tale #5 - Konnichiwa (goodbye) Mrs. Tanimoto
I was the guest of honor at a very formal reception in a factory
town way up in northern Japan. The beverage of choice was sake. Not hot sake
served in those cute little cups that we always have with dinner, but chilled
sake in wine glasses. The host, my friend, asked me, through a translator, what
I thought of the sake knowing that he and I had been in a wine cellar in California
a few months earlier. I said as tactfully as I’m capable, that I loved hot sake
with meals, but I preferred chilled white wines to sake served this way. He
said it was because I had never had any really good sake. He grabbed my arm and
along with our translator led us to the taxi stand and on to his home.
You have to remember, this is a small factory town. The town has
one factory, and this guy runs it. I didn’t know what to expect when we pulled
up to his modest two-story house on a street lined with many similar homes.
We took off our shoes in the foyer and went up a steep flight of
stairs into what must have been the living room or parlor. He made a big fuss
out of taking his prized sake out of his modest liquor cabinet and pouring us each
a glass. Just as we were toasting something or other, a woman in a kimono
entered the room bowing and carrying a dish of goodies. I expected to be
introduced but neither of my Japanese friends even acknowledged her presence.
She set the bowl down and backed out of the room bowing.
We drank a bunch of his private stock before deciding we should
get back to the party. While we were on the lower landing putting on our shoes,
I looked up and saw the woman of the house on her knees bowing to us like a
Moslem in prayer at the top of the stairs. We left her there without saying a
Wee Tale #6 - Sir Robert?
And would you believe it, I actually held a press conference at Carlton House Terrace, the home of the Royal Society in London, and in the Michael Faraday room, of all places. This learned society was founded in 1660, and functions today as the UK’s Academy of Sciences. A plaque must hang somewhere in this historic place that reads: Sir Isaac Newton, Charles Babbage, Michael Faraday, Bob Rockwell…