|Issue 57||September 2000||Volume 5 - Number 10|
Welcome to the CANDOER News. Suggestions as to what you would like to see in the CANDOER are welcome. Letters to the editor, articles consisting of general information, feature articles, G-rated jokes, or poems, written/submitted by retirees or OC/IM employees, past or present, will be published, unedited. Material may be submitted on a 3.5" floppy disk (disk will be returned) using WordPerfect Version 6.1 or earlier (if it contains graphics), on a plain sheet of paper (if it has no graphics) or via e-mail. The deadline for submitting material is no later than the 25th of each month. Material received after that date will be published in the next issue of the CANDOER, space allowing. Please, restrict articles/submissions to two single spaced, typed pages. No hand written submissions, please.
The snail-mail address for submissions or letters to the editor is:
Robert J. Catlin, Sr.
Publisher/Editor CANDOER News
2670 Dakota Street
Bryans Road, MD 20616-3062
A new serialized story starts this month, Jim and Mary Prosser's trip around the world on the freighter "Dagmar MAERSK."
A reminder from your friendly neighborhood publisher/editor, namely me.
If you are presently receiving the CANDOER via hard copy, and are capable of getting it off the Web site, please, switch the next time I remind you your donation is due. It is not necessary to do it before your due date, but PLEASE, consider it on your due date. Both my wife and I will appreciate it.
And, as I said the last time I made this request, I know that some of you do not have a computer and/or your computer does not have the capability to access the Web page. I have no intention to quit publishing the hard copy version, I just want to cut back on the amount of time I am spending printing, stuffing envelopes, addressing, and stamping the mailed version.
I anticipate that there will always be a hard copy and I have no problem with that. This is a labor of love, I am just trying to cut out some of the labor, so I have more time for the love (grin).
A Web page is available to all members at: http://www.CANDOER.org. The WEB page has the current issue of the CANDOER News and the two previous issues of the Newsletter available.
With sadness and regret, I inform you of the death of Joseph A. Pancamo (Age 82) On August 3, 2000, the beloved husband of the late Sarah Pancamo; loving father of Kathleen Kessler, and Thomas Pancamo; step-father of Robert L. Brown. He is also survived by his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Friends may call at the Lee Funeral Home, Inc. (301) 868-0900 Branch Ave and Coventry Way (Exit 7A on Beltway) on Sunday from 2:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. A service will be held at the funeral home at 11:30 am on Monday, 7 Aug at 11:30am. Internment at All Faiths Episcopal Church Cemetery, Charlotte Hall, MD.
Contributions may be made in his name to the American Cancer Society.
The above was received from Mick Miller.
Our voyage was arranged through Freighter World Cruises of Pasadena, California (www.freighterworld.com; E-mail email@example.com; Tel. 1 (800) 531-7774). We boarded February 1, 2000 at Long Beach, California and ultimately disembarked at Newark, New Jersey, 52 days later, after crossing the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans plus a number of seas in between.
CANDOERs interested in making a freighter voyage may contact us for advice and information. We are glad to assist, for it is not easy to arrange the first time.
The reader will note that this is written in a mixture of present and past tenses, but we're sure you'll understand. It's not the best journalistic practice, however.
It had been an ambition of Jim's to do this, and this was the perfect time in our lives to realize something that others can only dream about.
Traveling with our IBM laptop computer gave us the opportunity write this journal and other articles plus file reports while the ship is in port. Also, send/receive some E-mail.
First, a few brief facts about the ship. It is a Danish vessel, the Dagmar MAERSK. It is four years old, built in Korea and one of the "giant" class container ships. It is 958 feet long, 130 feet wide, with a 45 foot draft (depth below water line), travels at 24 knots and weighs 77,000 tons when fully loaded. It carries 4,233 containers. The ship is highly automated and staffed by a total of 22 crew members with a maximum of three passengers.
Our cabin consists of a bedroom and living room. They are very spacious, comfortable, and with plenty of storage cabinets and closets. The bathroom with shower was through the bedroom. Each room has two windows facing the sea on the starboard side, but with vision obstructed somewhat by the lifeboat hanging nearby. The living room has a small refrigerator, credenza, desk, couch, table and two easy chairs. As mentioned, it is quite comfortable.
Actually, it is rather eerie going about the ship for we rarely see anyone. Sometimes we felt like shouting "Is anybody here?" Walking around the main deck three times, is just more than one mile. We'll need that to work off the meals.
Besides ourselves, the other passenger is a very nice 25-year old man moving to a job in India. He'll disembark at Colombo, Sri Lanka.
The ship's officers are German, Russian, Lithuanian, Gabonese and balance of the crew are Kiribati (pronounced Kira-basi), of the Gilbert Islands in the Pacific. Several years ago the German government built a seamen's school at Tarawa. Many of the freighters of the world are now being staffed by Kiribati.
To those of you who ask "What do you do with all that time?" Or, "Why do you even bother to go by sea?"
Answering the last first, we love the sea. Secondly, we get to know the crew very well, brush up on our German language, read up on all those books we've been meaning to read, study the weather patterns, observe sea life (birds and fish), evening stars without any ambient light interference. And if we are exceptionally fortunate, we might have the opportunity to observe the wonder of the prismatic effect of the "green flash" on the ocean horizon immediately after sunset or before sunrise under the rare conditions necessary. We've been lucky to have seen it twice.
Tuesday, February 1
We boarded the Dagmar MAERSK in Long Beach, California and sailed after midnight, heading to the next port of call, Oakland.
We found the ship's personnel to be most congenial. This will be a very relaxed voyage, regardless of whatever the weather might bring.
At this writing, we have had four meals already, and find the food to be exactly what you would expect with a German/Kiribati crew. We've got great German beer/wine, bratwurst, brotchen in the morning, strong coffee, sausages, schnitzel, with side dishes of Polynesian spiced meats, rice, fish, seafood, fruit, etc. No danger of starvation here!
Right now Mary is making friends with the cook, for he uses onions and garlic liberally in his cooking. She is hoping to have him prepare something at each meal without them. Good luck. The steward said that if there weren't lots of onions in the food, there might be a mutiny for Kiribati can't live without them.
Wednesday, February 2
Our first day at sea finds the skies cloudless, the ocean calm, but with large swells coming a great distance from the north Pacific. Dolphins were the main aquatic life observed. This is the season for southbound whales, but none were sighted. We'll try again after sailing from Oakland. The temperature is a delightful 65F.
We entered San Francisco Bay beneath the Golden Gate bridge at 2345. What a marvelous sight! Mary has been beneath the bridge before, but it was a first for Jim. The monkey deck (top deck) on our ship came within 20 feet of the bridge roadway! Now this is a tall ship!
Oh yes, the projected countries for stops along our itinerary are: Korea - Taiwan - China - Hong Kong - Singapore - Malaysia - Sri Lanka - Oman -Egypt - Suez Canal - Italy - Spain - Canada - disembarking at Port Newark, New Jersey.
Thursday, February 3
Our call duration at the port of Oakland was just under 24 hours, enough time to load over 700 40-foot containers bound for ports all along the way.
Being able to go ashore at each port is one of the advantages of this type travel. They usually are off the beaten tourist path.
In Oakland after a breakfast fit for a seaman about to do a heavy day's labor, we set off ashore by taxi to mail letters, make a number of telephone calls and have lunch in an Afghan restaurant in the Jack London Square complex by the water. It was the perfect location and time, for the place was almost empty on this blustery day. We were joined there by long time good friends from our years in Munich, Don and Gwen Petro, who drove down from Petaluma. There was plenty of time to enjoy ourselves leisurely dining and chatting.
The Petro's took us back to the ship. Their eyes sort of popped when they realized just how large the Dagmar MAERSK is.
At each port the local agent always has a telephone line put aboard so that personnel can make and receive calls. We took this opportunity with our laptop computer to send/receive the final batch of E-mails until we reach the next "scheduled" port of call, Changing, Korea, after about ten days at sea.
We say "scheduled" intentionally, for with freighter service, last minute changes are almost par for the course. Several years ago, we were sailing on a freighter from Europe to the USA and the announced point of disembarkation was to be Norfolk, Virginia. About one day away from New York, the captain was directed to stop instead at Port Newark, New Jersey and drop all cargo and passengers, a diversion of 370 miles. More recently in 1995 when sailing from London to Cape Town, the captain was instructed to skip Cape Town just before arriving there and instead to proceed to Port Elizabeth, South Africa, a diversion of 500 miles.
At 2130, under overcast skies, our ship cast off and began its slow way out of the Oakland and San Francisco Bay areas. The lights of the cities and bridges provided us with a glorious memory of the departure from US shores. In our opinion this is a sight equaled only by those of Vancouver, Sydney, Rio De Janeiro and Cape Town.
For all large vessels entering and leaving ports, a pilot from the local port authority is normally required. The pilot is responsible for guiding the ship safely into or out of the navigational paths of the port. About ten miles outside of the Golden Gate, the ship slowed to a crawl.
At this point a small, fast, pilot ship pulled abreast of us to receive our pilot. What a hazardous job this is! A "Jacobs ladder" about 40 feet long is unrolled by lowering it over the side. Fortunately this was good weather and the sea was "slight". The pilot climbed down the ladder which is pitching to and fro a bit until he reaches the bottom, and at the precise moment jumps on to the deck of the pilot ship bobbing up and down in about eight foot arcs! It's not a job for the faint hearted.
So you might ask "What is in all those containers?" Just about everything mankind uses and produces. There are close to 4,000 on board. We even are carrying about 300 containers of chilled or frozen consumables. The latter are kept in special locations on the ship in order that the shipper's temperature control instructions can be continuously and automatically monitored.
Years ago on freighters, the chief engineer's office used to be in the bowels of the ship, just off the engine room, incredibly hot and noisy, full of equipment, grime and filth, with boisterous seamen coming and going. On today's modern freighters, it is usually on the upper deck, spacious, quiet, almost antiseptic, full of computers, security monitors, dials, gauges, switches, all automated and sometimes attended by just one person. This engine room is certified for 24-hour unattended operation! Thanks to all the security monitoring systems installed.
On July 27, Rich Modrak notified me of a new e-mail address. It may be found in all the usual places.
On July 28, I received a Web site membership application from Mary Jo Lange. Welcome aboard Mary Jo.
On July 31, I received a Web site membership application from Bill and Mary Covey. Welcome aboard.
On August 04, Glenn and Patsy Smith applied for membership via snail-mail. Welcome aboard.
Perhaps it is silly to write about something twenty-six years after last seeing it but having never been known to get carried away practicing good sense, here goes. It's Cat's fault and yours too since so many of you have been reluctant to write about your experiences overseas or elsewhere. In case Cat offers a free case of Bell's scotch whiskey for the best story of the year, herewith my recollection of what a bullfight is.
This is about the spectacle known in English, quite improperly, as "bull fighting:. The proper name of the affair is "corrida de toros". I don't have my Spanish/English dictionary handy but those whose Spanish is better than mine may agree that "corrida" equates to "spectacle" though it isn't a proper translation of the word. "Toros" obviously is "bulls", so the whole description is "Spectacle of the bulls". No reference to a battle or fight. Thus, there is no fight.
The point of the spectacle is to kill a bull in a highly stylized manner; one in which the various participants, chiefly the matador, is skillful and courageous. One should understand that the bull is, once selected on the farm, a goner. He may be allowed, in rare cases, to leave the bullring alive but will quickly be dispatched once out of sight of the paying public. His wounds will be so severe that no amount of help could possibly save his life. There are no exceptions, at least in Spain. Bull meat is highly prized and is likely to be sold by a butcher who has signed a contract with the bull-ring to collect the carcasses. At Las Ventas, in Madrid, the dead bull has been seen dragged out of the bull-ring by mules, slit up the middle and chopped down to butcher shop size in about two minutes flat.
There are two beginnings of this saga. One is the beginning of the whole story of "bull fighting" and the other is the story of how a bull is selected and sent to participate in the "corrida de toros."
Origin: First, the evolution of the spectacle. I haven't a clue. Well, maybe a good guess will do. I recently learned that the Roman's brought a form of bull fighting to the Iberian Peninsula a long time ago and, in the town of Ronda it evolved somewhat to what is seen today in the bullring. Ronda is around 50 kms north, over the mountains of the Costa del Sol, over a very winding road. These days, now that EU money has been turned on, the road is navigable thoroughfare.
The business of the corrida de toros: There are hundreds of bullrings in Spain. The largest are in Madrid and Barcelona but there are a lot of other ones in much smaller cities. Matadors work the business by traveling from city to city and use the press to the maximum to create the impression that their skills are magical. They pay off reporters; they manage to select nearly crippled bulls to "fight", leaving the more dangerous specimens to less well-known matadors, etc. They know all the tricks of the trade and work them well. Few tourists have a clue to what's going on in the bullring so the matadors who work the tourist crowd in Barcelona, Madrid and Torremolinos don't take foolish chances with a particularly dangerous animal. My informant, still in Spain, tells me that the big bullfighters only come to Madrid during the San Isidro in May because, if they don't, their reputation is on the line. Otherwise, they avoid Madrid like the plague as it is a very difficult ring where to win any trophies (ears, tails, etc.) you is nearly impossible but a matador can certainly loose his reputation. Madrid is where the lesser known matadors go in order to establish their reputation or demolish it. In other words, it's a tough joint; they'd rather stay out in the boonies and play before the local yokels.
Da Bull: These creatures grow up happily on a farm, doing what bulls like to do and are protected from any would-be matador horsing around with them. The point of that is to keep the bulls stupid! Imagine if a bull were able to learn to disregard the hunk of cloth and go after the dude who is holding the cloth. By the time this beast reached the bullring he would be too smart to mess with. It is estimated that it takes the average bull about 20 minutes of chasing the cape to learn it is a waste of time, thus each round with the bull, known as a lidia, lasts about 20 minutes. Nevertheless, owners of farms where bulls are raised need to be wary because a would-be-matador may well sneak into the fields in the middle of the night and play around with a bull. Not only does this potentially teach the bull a lesson but it also risks a serious injury to a young man who could well bleed to death out in the fields.
In the ring. A normal corrida de toros will feature three matadors and six bulls. Each matador will have a team of perhaps 8 assistants. At the beginning of the spectacle, at the sound of trumpets and cheering crowds, the three matadors will enter the ring followed in a line behind him, his various assistants, all dressed up in their "suit of lights."
Now, before the event a little business will have taken place behind the scene. Each matador will have sent his senior assistant to where the bulls are kept. This person will eyeball the animals and try to decide which is the most dangerous, etc. With this information in hand, the matador will use whatever influence he has to make sure he does not get the worst bull or even the second worst one. Clearly he doesn't want one that limps noticeably so he plays his cards so that a junior matador gets the real bad one. My informant tells me that, these days, the bulls are actually drawn for each matador and it is possible to watch the draw being made, amongst the bullfighters representatives.
So, the spectacle is about to begin. Each matador will work two bulls, in rotation so matador A gets bulls #1 and #4; matador B gets #2 and #5, etc.
It starts with the bull being released into the bullring. Now it cannot be overemphasized that he is royally upset for several very good reasons, among them (1) he has been taken away from a life of ease and females; (2) he has had perhaps a hundred or more miles in the back of a truck and doesn't like riding anywhere unless its to a new bunch of females; (3) a 3-inch long staple has been driven into the back of his neck to hold the ribbon which is the color of the farm from which he came and it irritates the crap out of him and; (4) he's in a bullring and doesn't like it or the several thousand, or hundred in a small bullring, screaming like crazy. There is, in fact, absolutely nothing he doesn't hate about the whole darned thing.
There is a curious thing that one might observe in this situation. Given the opportunity, the bull will find a place in the bullring to which he wants to go and stay. Well, if he could get out of the bullring he'd prefer that but short of that he goes to his querencia, or favorite spot.
He doesn't get much time to enjoy it because the first of three acts are about to start though there will be a preliminary procedure in which he will be the feature attraction.
Preliminary: The matador whose bull is fuming in the bullring will either go out with a large cape to test the bull or send one of his best lieutenants out to do it. This is considered essential to learn how bull-smart or bull-stupid the beast may be. They want to see if he knows whether to go after the cape or the dude holding the cape and whether he seems inclined to lunge to his left or his right and whether he is persistent in going after man or cape time after time. He isn't accustomed to not getting his way and may think that once he charges man/cape that he will no longer be challenged. This test will determine how much of a threat he will be once the show starts. This can be a very colorful process. The bull hasn't yet been blooded (the 3" staple in his neck is equivalent to a splinter in a man's hand, irritating as heck but not serious) and is full of rage and energy. The bull will charge the matador or lieutenant and that person may have to duck behind a thick wooden shield or even leap over the wall into the first row of seats; in some cases where the matador or lieutenant is scared witless, he may make it to the third row! Then again, the bull may just wander over to his querencia and to hell with the people who are taunting him. I consider this to be the fun part of whole spectacle.
After 5 minutes of this performance, during which some famous matadors may get on their knees twenty feet in front of the bull and yell "toro, toro" (also being about ten feet from the shield or the wall over which they can leap into the front row) and when the bull charges, depending on how he goes about it, the matador can use his cape and deceive the animal into going for it instead of him or run like hell for safety.
When the preliminaries are done, Act 1 begins. In this act, one of the matador's chief lieutenants, usually, will approach the bull while holding two 3-feet long sticks with 6-inch long barbs in one end. This guy will start about 50' from the bull and run at an angle to the bull, generally in the bull's direction. This will provoke the bull into charging the guy, known as the banderillero, in a line intended to intercept the guy. So this amounts to the banderillero running in a decreasing circle and the bull going in an increasing circle with a point of interception, according to the bull, but just as they are about to meet the banderillero leaps into the air and thrusts the banderillas toward the hump just behind the bull's neck. This usually results in these two long sticks being well embedded into the bull and held there by those long barbs. If you think the bull had a bad attitude before, this really gets his goat. He has missed creaming that annoying little s.o.b. and on top of that he has got these great long sticks stuck into him and they are banging together and hitting him and everyone in the stands seem to be cheering for the miserable bas**** who did it!
Unfortunately, for the bull, this stick routine will be repeated, probably two more times! He, the bull, can end up with six of those damned sticks stuck in his neck and without a doubt, those individuals with queasy stomachs would be well advised to leave the area because blood is now flowing down the bulls great neck and it isn't going to get any better. Just the racket of those sticks, as many as six but perhaps fewer if some didn't get stuck in, banging against each is fascinating.
Now with Act 1 out of the way, Act 2 is about to begin. This is the act in which a horse and rider come into the ring and further taunt the bull. Now the horse is (a) blind folded on one side so he can't see the bull and (b) has been drugged so he wouldn't know if he was in a bullring with a bull or a pterodactyl. There will be a huge quilted blanked draped over the "action" side of the horse and the rider will have armored protection in case he goes down and the bull has reasonable cause to stomp his butt into the ground. And the bull will certainly have reason to hate this guy who is called the picador because he will have a 10-foot long javelin with a very stout, coca-cola shaped bit of metal with a very short point on the end. Very short so it does not dig too deeply into the bull's flesh. The target area is, again, the hump behind the bulls neck. The bull will charge the rider and horse and maybe even lift them both into the air and throw them down. In this event, several members of the matadors team will be out there with capes to distract the bull while the horse and rider get up but the bull may disregard them and really go after the horse and or/rider. (Years earlier the horse was not protected. One day horse guts got thrown on some spectators, so it was decided to protect the animal and prevent repeated gory spectacles.) It needs to be said that there is a purpose for this continuous damage to the bull, in particular, his neck. It is necessary to weaken those muscles so that he cannot hold his head up as he normally would in preparation for Act 3.
So, after three or four well placed jabs with that huge pike, the blood will be pouring from the poor beast and Act 3 will begin.
Whether the matador has participated in any of the previous action, he is the principle character in this act. He will go out with his small cape and get the bull to charge the cape while standing still, demonstrating great courage and skill. He must keep his feet planted on the ground. A quick shuffle to escape the bull indicates that he failed to execute his moves perfectly. He wants to calmly taunt the bull into a charge and have the bull follow the cape as he moves the cape around his body, thus the bull will charge from, say 12 o'clock and follow the cape around to 3 o'clock, 6 o'clock and on to 9 o'clock and away from the matador. This will be repeated maybe a dozen times but may be interrupted by a miscalculation in which the bull decides to hell with the cape and goes for the man. In this case it will either be disaster (often before penicillin) or just an upset in which case the man is tossed into the air and lands on his head or his butt and the bull will need to be distracted while he gets to his feet, brushes off his beautiful suit of lights and regains his dignity and tries to stop shaking. (This reminds me that I used to wonder why brown wasn't a popular color for the suit of lights.) If he is not so lucky, he may have a severe wound which, as noted above, before penicillin, could have been fatal. This doesn't usually happen, however, and thus the matador gets the bull to charge many times and then decides to put the animal out of his misery. This he will do by using his sword which is about 3 feet in length. He will do this skillfully or will muck it up, depending on a number of things, chiefly his courage and skill.
The ideal is to draw the bulls charge, lead him away from the body by moving the cape around and getting the bull to follow it and with his other arm, reach up and over the horns and drive the sword down through the hump and into the heart. It is done perfectly now and then but more often it is screwed up. After all, the animal, in spite of all his wounds, is still a 1,200 pound bull and is loaded with horns and the will to maim. If the matador doesn't strike at just the right spot the sword will bounce off a bone or, almost as badly, will go in and puncture a lung. A punctured lung will result in blood pouring from the animals mouth and the beast stumbling around in a stupor. The matador may try it again and, if it really gets bad, may end up with a knife trying to strike the spinal cord and putting the beast down. It isn't unusual to see such a messed up final act that the crowd screams at the matador; derisively suggesting he go get a gun.
A good end by the matador will, these days, be rewarded at times with an ear but I am told that this is mostly because the spectators don't know much about what they've seen and so it has become part of the show. At times the bull is spared the coup de grace on the grounds that he put up such a good show, and is led from the bullring alive. In this instance, however, he isn't going far because his wounds are severe and he will be en route to a butcher shop somewhere. So he is dispatched out of sight of the crowd while the next bull and the next matador get ready for the second performance.
Generally the bull's carcass leaves the bullring by being pulled out by be decorated mules and goes straight to the butchers block. At times I felt that it was such a shame to see a beautiful animal in his prime, ready to kill anything that messed with him, reduced in half an hour to a carcass. But that's the way it is, in Spain.
Some other things have changed in Spain in recent decades. Years ago, the civil police ruled the land and they appeared in force at all the bullrings to discourage the crowd from becoming overly emotional. There might be twenty "Guardias" sitting as a group in several parts of the bullring and more hidden out of sight but Spain's desire to attract more tourists persuaded the government to reduce the visibility of the Guardia Civil thus, in large bull rings like Madrid's Las Ventas or the one in Barcelona, you will see the Guardia sitting as a group in their dress uniforms. Go out to the provinces, however, and you will see, in much smaller bullrings, the Guardia in not so neat uniforms and their automatic weapons slung over the shoulder. If Las Ventas could hold 5,000 spectators, a provincial one might hold 500 and the action is much closer to the ground and the eye. The Guardia will be much more evident as a reminder to passionate Spaniards that order will be maintained one way or the other.
I generally much preferred the provincial bull rings because it was possible to get a lot closer to the action, though the risk of getting blood splattered was greater. It never happened. My wife and I traveled extensively throughout Spain and it was a great event to take in while in one of the beautiful provincial cities.
Some bull-fighting is done in southern France, where they also kill the bull but bulls are not killed in Portugal. Bulls are, I believe, killed in Mexico. In Portugal the animal is not hurt. I saw on TV a "bullfight" or whatever it might be called in which a bunch of men tackled the bull and wrestled it to the ground. Of course, until the bull got tired, men were flying all over the place. In another twist, men used to charge out to the bullring and thrust a pole into the ground and leap high on it as the bull charged. Both forms of combating bulls call for a heck of a lot of athleticism, courage and stupidity. I believe Spaniards regarded it as just plain silly and had no use for it.
So that's it. An afternoon at the bull-ring can really generate an appetite for a steak dinner. Or fish.
A while back, I wrote a piece about puttering, pointing out that while men are really good at it, women can hardly putter at all. Now I feel compelled to point out another area in which men excel. It is the most obvious, yet the most often overlooked. I's sure all know to what I am referring. Yes, you've guessed it: The Sneeze!
I know there is a certain danger in making blanket statements, but with few exceptions, men are better sneezers than women, Generally, men sneeze like an eruption of Old Faithful while Women's sneezes are more like shorts bursts from an aerosol can.
The verbal characterization of a sneeze, "Ah-choo," certainly did not originate with a woman. If it had, it would have been more like "chiff."
As a high school teacher for many years, I observed countless student sneezes. Invariably, boys would pretty much clear their desks with an average sneeze. Girls' sneezes were hardly noticeable. There was an exception. One year, a girl in one of my classes sneezed with a high-pitched "YIPE."
I haven't the slightest idea ow she did that. I was always hoping she would catch cold or develop an allergy so I cold study it further.
Much of my teaching career centered on biology, and yet with all my vast experience, I do not fully understand what a sneeze is.
Think about it: tickle your nose and you explode! That's a pretty bizarre reaction to a rather mild stimulus.
It is said, and it seems to be true, that you cannot sneeze with your eyes open. I's afraid women may have the advantage here. Especially if driving in heavy traffic. Their little, petite sneeze required no more than a blink, while in my case, my eyes may be closed for several seconds.
For some reason, sneezing has always been funny to me. In fact, the word, "sneeze" is funny itself. It comes from an ancient Germanic term. "Fnusen," which can only be pronounced correctly while sneezing. Good word, fnusen. Too bad its not still in use.
I think most of us men take price in our ability to sneeze long and loud. We sneeze with such gusto and enthusiasm that I'm sure women must be jealous.
My father was on of the all-time great sneezers. World-class, I'd say. You could hear him a block away. And that was when he was in the house. If he sneezed outdoors, people all over town said "Gesundheit!"
I am proud to have inherited some of Dad's talent. I am not a large man, but I sneeze like a sumo wrestler. (The thought of a sneezing Sumo conjures up a rather frightening mental picture, doesn't it?)
I often sneeze for o reason at all. Colds and allergies are helpful, but not necessary. My sneezes come in groups of three or four, and lately I've developed the highly-regarded double-sneeze. You know, two sneezes in quick succession with no chance to such in a breath between them. Double-sneezes are at once exhilarating and devastating. I usually have to sit down for awhile, if the act itself hasn't knocked me down already.
And is there anything worse than the sneeze that does not come to fruition? You get all primed and cocked for a humongous sneeze, complete with "ah- ah- ah-" and nothing happens. It is one of the great recurring disappointments of life, surpassed only by the pony that never showed up all those Christmas mornings.
Men everywhere should be proud of their natural sneezing talent. And while some may look down on the talent, take heart. It is nothing to fnusen at!
This past spring, I decided to attend a high school reunion, my first ever. My school has had a reunion every three or four years --- not for one class but for many classes. This one would be held on the Memorial Day weekend and be for all classes through 1966.
The registration form came in the mail and one glance told me that ninety-some percent of the attendees would not have been born when I graduated in 1939. Nevertheless, I returned the registration and on May 10 we began our trip, first spending a few days in Virginia with family, then three days in Indiana. We arrived in Kearney, NE, the Buffalo County seat, on May 23, where the main event, a banquet, would be held on the 27th.
One of my classmates invited the classes of 1938 and 1939 to his farm for a luncheon. As we drove the 20-odd miles northward, I could only agree with Roger Welsch, whose book about Nebraska is titled, "It's Not The End Of The Earth, But You Can See It From Here." At this luncheon there were five present from the class of 1939, counting the host and myself.
The banquet was held at the Holiday Inn in Kearney, there being no suitable facility in the little town where we attended school. I will say that the town is growing, as they now claim 320 residents.
Everyone was pre-registered and fortunately, the name tags were pre-printed with the names in letters approx an inch high. Believe me, not one person would I have recognized without their name tag.
I had many good visits with friends and schoolmates, brought back many good memories.
The real highlight of the visit was being with my 86-year old sister; she is in good health. She also attended the reunion, where she represented the earliest class present, 1930.
The recent closing of the Bonn Automated Exchange (BAX) brought back memories of my assignment to Bonn just prior to the opening of BAX. I have seen numerous testimonials and tributes dedicated to the 30 years that BAX was in operation. BAX replaced the Bonn Torn-Tape relay facility, which had been located at the Embassy. I remember few, if any, testimonials to its passing. I arrived on the scene in Bonn a few short months before the grand opening of the new state-of-the-art automated relay. The torn-tape relay it replaced was barely limping along at that time. Preventive maintenance had become a thing of the past and old, antiquated equipment was being held together by spit and bailing wire. Understandably so, with brand-new shiny computer based stuff to be installed and learned at BAX, who wanted to work on the old mechanical switchgear. Likewise, there was very little interest in remaining proficient in a dying art --- torn-tape relay work. It didn't help that the BAX project kept getting delayed. This meant that manpower became more and more scarce and equipment became less and less useable. Given the above, it is probably understandable that my first memories of Bonn don't quite coincide with those glowing tales that have been written about BAX in CANDOER and other publications. But, sitting here at my computer many years later, it doesn't seem that bad. The few of us assigned to keep the torn-tape running developed a sort of esprit de corps and, somehow, managed to keep everything more or less together until BAX was ready. Sure immediate messages were delivered late (in some cases probably days late) - but better late than never. We would all become better communicators for the experience --- even if we didn't know it at the time. I'm sure that older retirees who were assigned to the Bonn Torn-Tape Relay during its heyday have much different memories.
Maybe I should have seen it as an omen of things to come! Here we were at the Cologne airport holding a crying infant, after a long flight, and nobody from the Embassy in Bonn was here to greet us. When my wife Pat and I had discussed our next assignment, we had agreed that surviving the Libyan revolution had provided sufficient excitement for a while. An assignment to a more civilized part of the world was definitely in order. It also crossed our minds that if we went to Europe we were likely to have plenty of relatives visit. Particularly since Karen, our first child, had arrived on the scene less than a year ago and was sure to draw plenty of adoring relatives. Bonn had seemed the perfect assignment. Even in the backwater that was Benghazi I had heard that something special was happening in Bonn. A group of ASUPERCOMMUNICATORS@ had been chosen to open the new automated relay facility (BAX). The fact that I wasn't one of those picked was due only, I was convinced, to the fact that word hadn't yet gotten out about the fantastic job I had done during the recent Libyan revolution. An assignment to the Bonn Embassy would surely be the next best thing to being at BAX and my talents would be on display for all to see and admire. One of my strong points was my technical prowess and that was what was required at BAX. I couldn't wait to strut my stuff!
Ok, wandering around a strange airport late at night with a crying baby wasn't the perfect beginning but, I was sure, it was only a small bump in the road. When I finally figured out how to use the German pay phone system and got through to the Embassy, everything would be fine. Sure enough, the Marine guard, after consulting with my post sponsor, discovered that, somehow, the wrong date of arrival had been sent. The post thought we would be arriving the next night. A decision was finally made that rather than wait at the airport for the appointed date to arrive, we would take a taxi to the Embassy. There we would be provided with keys to our new apartment. With new assurances we gathered up our luggage and our unhappy daughter and strode purposefully to the nearest taxi stand. Once again things were right with the world. We had arrived and were ready for our new adventure.
Who knew that in Germany the word for "Embassy" is "Botschaft"? This was our third Foreign Service assignment. We considered ourselves fairly worldly. We had traveled in several different countries and had always been able to play around with the word Embassy (Embajada, Embassade, etc.) and make taxi drivers and others understand what we needed. This taxi driver must be really stupid! We tried every variation of Embassy that we could think of and he still didn't understand. Bonn, he got, but where in Bonn seemed a mystery. Finally, probably because he was tired of the two babbling foreigners in his backseat with their crying child, he called taxi headquarters and found someone who could make sense of where we wanted to go. Was this a premonition of things to come? With our destination now determined, and Karen finally deciding that things were under control enough for her to go to sleep, our feeling that Germany was the right place for us was once more secure. Sure enough, the keys were waiting at the Embassy. After some haggling and instruction from the Marine the taxi driver was convinced to take us to our permanent quarters.
After a peaceful night in our new apartment it was off to the office to meet my co-workers and see where I would be working for the next couple of years. Because of its recent closing, much has been written lately about those nostalgic days when BAX was new. It was surely a large milestone on the still ongoing road to upgrading the Foreign Service to a fully automated state-of-the-art communications operation. For those of us that stayed behind at the Embassy to convert that facility from a torn-tape relay to just another European terminal, there are fewer wonderful memories. Instead, there was just a lot of hard work --- at least in the beginning. But on that first day of my arrival, there was no premonition of what was to come. I was in awe, staring at the seemingly miles of crypto devices, torn tape machines, HW-28's and other assorted and yet to be understood equipment. There was noise and clutter and flashing lights. What a place of wonder and excitement. I supposed I should have been a little suspicious when I was quickly told that as a newcomer I would be working exclusively in the back room with the relay. The more senior members of the staff, it was explained to me, had earned the right to work in the outer office sending and receiving the Embassy's telegrams. But what the heck, that's where the action appeared to be and that's where I wanted to be. I had done that other stuff at my last post as was ready for something new.
When fully staffed, it was easy to man both the torn-tape relay facility and the Embassy processing section. When I first arrived, each shift had a full complement of communicators and things ran smoothly. Unfortunately, this complement included the BAX guys and as the date for the activation of BAX approached, there was an ever- increasing need for them to assist with installation needs and receive training at the new relay site. To say that this put a strain on the manpower situation at the Embassy is a large understatement. Lose half of your staff at any large Embassy and you will be very busy. Trying to run a large torn-tape relay with one or two people on a busy evening shift goes way beyond busy. Today, many years later, I only remember snatches of what it was like. I remember the 50 gallon drum (or so it seemed) that we used to throw rolled up tapes containing messages that were to be transmitted to other European posts as time permitted. IMMEDIATES, PRIORITIES and ROUTINES were thrown in indiscriminately because there was no time to segregate or send them --- hopefully the mid-shift would have time. I remember trying to do 20 things at once. Replacing a roll of tape here, changing a crypto setting there, trying to send a collective message to 10 posts with one tape and hoping to be able to notice when the first one finished so the tape wouldn't get hung up necessitating that you start over again. I should mention here that there was a "ZVA" machine that would allow you to make several tapes out of one which was designed to eliminate the hung tape problem but who had time to use that. I remember hand logging all the incoming and outgoing messages and trying to keep it all straight while chaos reigned all around me and I remember the numerous equipment failures. But, most of all, I remember those special times when there would be a power failure and every crypto device in the house would need re-setting at the same time. Thank god there was going to be another shift replacing you in 8 hours. As it was, I would go home from one of these beyond busy shifts and relive it all night in my sleep. For some reason, I never noticed that the tape was nearing the end in time to prevent a catastrophe. At night, in my bed, it always stuck, over and over again!
Of course, nothing lasts forever, and the long delayed BAX relay site was finally opened in a warehouse near the Embassy housing area in Plittersdorf. There was a fine ceremony with dignitaries coming from all over. I was able to attend that ceremony where I heard the Deputy Assistant Secretary for Communications tell the assembled multitude that "This is but the first of many". In all the final BAX epitaphs that I have heard, I don't remember any of the reporters mentioning this statement. I guess because, as it turned out, it was the first and only Department of State major overseas relay. One that served its purpose at the time but that had finally become obsolete because of a changing environment. It did, however, usher in the golden age of the Department of State "communicator". No more pass slots --- we could do it all ourselves now.
With the final push to open BAX came a TDY team from the Department to assist at the Embassy while the two facilities worked concurrently. It was necessary to keep the torn-tape relay operational until it was certain that BAX worked as advertised. With the team's arrival things got back to normal, at least near normal. We at the Embassy were extremely grateful for their help. They provided us with expertise and even added a little levity. In particular, there was one instance where one member of the group was having trouble finding her niche. No matter where she was assigned, she had trouble performing the assigned task. This was not really her fault. Her previous experience did not include working at a torn-tape relay. Finally, someone had an inspiration and decided that she could work the desk where incoming telegrams were logged, torn off the printer and hand cut and taped to a pre-printed form before sent outside for reproduction and distribution. This was a job that was tedious but easy to grasp with little or no training. It only required hard work. At first, all seemed to be fine. She kept up with the never-ending flow of telegrams and prepared them properly. Then it was noticed that whenever the person who relieved her checked their log, they were missing large blocks of incoming telegrams. What was happening? Everything was connected properly and there seemed no way that many telegrams would not be received --- particularly grouped in consecutive blocks. Finally, someone was selected to silently observe what this person was doing. It soon became clear! Whenever it got busy, she would reach over and unplug the printer. Then, when she was caught up, she would plug it back in and begin fresh. When questioned, she said she thought the messages would stop in the wires until re-connected and resume from that point. When it was explained to her that it would be better to let the messages continue to flow and not worry about a backlog, she became a very useful member of the team.
As it turned out, Bonn was a fantastic assignment. We made many great friends. We had many visitors. The Plittersdorf Housing Area and facilities were wonderful. After the completion of BAX, the work was pleasant - if not quite as challenging. We enjoyed the many opportunities to travel in Germany and other nearby European countries. Our second daughter, Elissa, was born and our family was well on its way. Though it didn't seem like it at the time, I even came to value the time spent trying to operate a busy torn-tape relay with too few people. I learned a lot about myself and developed skills that served me very well at future posts. It was not, however, the start that I had envisaged when I first contemplated my new assignment to Bonn.