Saturday, August 19, 2017

Nautical Archaeological News

Researchers Announce Wreckage from USS Indianapolis Located

History buffs will recall that the Indianapolis had just delivered the atomic bomb to Tinian Island when it was attacked.  While most of the crew survived the sinking, their rescue was delayed due to their secret location.  Sharks came and fed on the survivors for about three days.  700 or so crew we're devoured.

Now for Some Real News

South Carolina 'Warns' of Possible Lizard Man Sightings During Eclipse

Friday, August 18, 2017

Mickey Marcus


I found less than I expected and more than I hoped for

Imagine if your life were defined by your tendency boldly to leap into unknown circumstances and do the best you could do with as little as possible.  Now imagine that you're pretty good at it.  In a capsule, that's the story of Mickey Marcus.

Not too long ago, I was at the Thayer Hotel in West Point on a brutally hot evening, even the hotel's air conditioning couldn't take it and had broken down, waiting for a very slow elevator that was similarly challenged by the heat.

As I had time to kill, I was walking up and down the hallway reading the plaques near the rooms dedicated to graduates of the United States Military Academy [West Point's real name] who exemplified the best of the corps of cadets.  I was staying in the Buzz Aldrin room and, as it was July 20th, the anniversary of his moon walk, I was appreciating the weight of history and accomplishment in that promenade.

There were a few others in the hallway, each listing the accomplishments, medals, and citations earned by the honoree.  On the other end of the hallway was a room dedicated to Mickey Marcus.  Not a well known name, which is a pity.  As I began to read of his story, I became so engrossed that I missed the sluggish elevator.

David Daniel Marcus, known as "Mickey" in his Hester Street neighborhood in New York's Lower East Side, was born in 1901 to parents who had fled oppression in Romania.  He was a scrappy kid who excelled in both sports and academics to the extent that he was appointed to West Point.  While it is common for first generation Americans to be patriotically committed to their new country, it was not common in the early part of the 20th century to find Jews among the officer class.

This may have been his first jump into unknown circumstances.  It would by no means be his last.


Marcus graduated in 1924 and satisfied his required service, remained in the Army reserve while graduating from Brooklyn Law School, and became one of the assistant United States attorneys for New York.  In that role, he participated in some high-profile prosecutions, such as that of the gangster, Charles "Lucky" Luciano.  He eventually became a staff member of Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia's, serving as the mayor's Commissioner of the Department of Correction and the judge advocate for New York's National Guard division.

These, alone, are achievements worthy of a lifetime, but his finest service was yet to come.

Upon the attack on Pearl Harbor, New York's National Guard was activated as a standard unit of the Army and, along with Marcus, sent to Hawaii.  Being as he was a graduate of West Point assigned only the petty legal matters associated with a divisional office, the bored Marcus heard of the new Ranger battalion that was being formed in the European Theater of Operations and gained permission to organize a similar group in the Pacific, becoming the commander of Fort Shafter's Ranger Combat Training School.

Hopeful of gaining an infantry, rather than legal, command, Marcus had his hopes dashed when he was transferred to Washington D.C. to help prepare the documents for the various conferences between the heads of state during the war, including participating in the drafting of the surrender treaty with Italy in 1943.


The scrappy kid from Hester Street was then transferred to England to help with continuing developments in military diplomacy while seated behind a desk in London.  This would not do.  As it was May of 1944, and everyone knew that the invasion of France was imminent, Marcus prevailed upon one of his West Point classmates, who was now the commanding general of an airborne division, to be included in Operation Overlord.

Here's where he jumps, again; this time with particular drama.

If you haven't had the experience, let me describe a small portion of what it's like to commit to a combat parachute jump.  Remember now, this isn't skydiving with an instructor Velcroed to one's backside.  This is stepping out of a plane into the remarkable propeller wash that blows grit into your eyes and teeth, loaded with fifty pounds of supplies, a rifle, one hundred rounds of military ammo, and a hand grenade or two.  If lucky, no one is shooting at you on the way down.

Now imagine you're doing so with the 101st Airborne Division.  You know, the "Band of Brothers".  Further imagine that it is D-Day in the first wave of the invasion and you're 43-years-old and have never been trained to para-jump!

Upon his thudding, but successful, landing in France, Marcus gathered a collection of soldiers who had been separated from their various units and formed them into an informal group that aided the disorganized Allied forces for the remainder of that week.



Col. Marcus, West Point '24, finally had his first infantry command.  It would also be his last for the U.S. Army.  Upon discovery of what he had been doing, the general staff wagged their collective finger at him and sent him back to a desk in the United States to help aid in the repatriation of those displaced in Europe and organize and otherwise prepare for the Nuremberg and Tokyo war crimes tribunals. 

During Nuremberg, Marcus was sent to Germany to ensure the proper documentation of the Nazi atrocities.  This new assignment included a mandatory tour of Dachau.  Marcus' Judaism, dormant during his days of legal and actual warfare, began to deepen in response to what he saw of the death camp and what he heard in the Nuremberg trials.  Suffice it to note, he was no longer blase or secular in his religious practice from that time forward.

Tired of war and shocked by the gross inhumanity of the Holocaust, and despite the offer of a promotion to brigadier [or "one-star"] general, Marcus left the Army and returned to his private, and lucrative, civilian law practice.  It was time for peace and prosperity.  Well, at least in the United States.

The post-war world was disrupted, certainly, at this time, with new governments, new political boundaries, and very old animosities once again animated.  Given their experience, the Jews in Palestine now began to build their own state, a process that was proving inflammatory to their neighboring populations.  With the influx of refugees from Europe, the early days of modern Israel were dire.  If they were to solidify their borders, or merely survive, they were going to need to have a proper army.  However, a proper army needs proper leadership, and despite the surplus of experienced battlefield commanders in Europe, none were willing to help the Jews.

So, the leaders of Israel turned to the United States, asking Mickey Marcus to find for them Jewish officers who would be willing to come to Israel to organize an army.  Marcus approached them all; none were willing.  So, it was time for Marcus, settled Manhattan attorney and political hopeful, whose spiritual sense had been awakened during a tour of a death camp, to once again jump into a battlefield.

In January of 1948, Col. David Marcus boarded a ship in New York City and disappeared.  A few weeks later, "Michael Stone", private citizen, arrived in Jerusalem and enlisted in the Haganah, which is to the modern Israeli army what the Minutemen were to our U.S. Army Special Forces.  Shortly after his arrival, when Israel was surrounded by the Arab Legion, he was appointed the general [not "a general"] of the Israeli army, the first since Judas Maccabees in the 2nd century B.C.


There were sieges and battles, and more sieges and more battles, in which Marcus adapted everything he had learned and experienced into enabling a small, un-trained, and under-armed force to resist and, eventually, prevail against their enemies.  The modern reputation enjoyed by the Israeli Defense Forces in our era can be traced to Marcus' efforts.

Finally, once it appeared that Israel was not going to be destroyed, the United Nations, itself a new organization, organized a cease fire.  General Marcus had succeeded.  However, there is this reality known to any combat soldier as "the fog of war".  Battlefields are messy and unclear, with battle lines changing from moment to moment and victory or defeat resting on a razor's edge.  Sometimes, soldiers can find themselves unwittingly fighting against their own colleagues.  Sometimes, this can lead to horrific accidents.

Shortly after the cease fire, General Marcus was killed by one of his own sentries, apparently mistaken for an enemy attempting to sneak into the base.

There is a cemetery in West Point that is worth a visit for anyone interested in American history.  In it are interred the remains of George Custer, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., Winfield Scott, and Ed White, the first astronaut to walk in space.  There are others, too, of course, lesser known but of similar courage.  But of them all, there is only one who died while in the service of a military other than that of the United States'.

Marcus' gravestone proclaims him "A Soldier for All Humanity".  Had I had anything to do with it, a simple quote from the Book of the Maccabees would have served:

“As for Judas Maccabeus, he hath been mighty and strong, even from his youth up: let him be your captain, and fight the battle of the people.” - 1 Maccabees 2:66

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Along With Everything Else, Yes

Have Bestsellers Become Dumber?

Complete with Venn Diagram

CAMBRIDGE, MA—A study performed by researchers at Harvard University found a strong link between supporting the idea of communism and never once having even briefly opened a history book, sources confirmed Tuesday.

Dear Colleagues,

You should really read this before you issue a press release.

The Atlantic: The Rise of the Violent Left

If we are to exist in the public square, the church cannot take the side of one mob against another.  We rightly condemn the remarkable racism on display by the "alt-right", but we also need to address the increasing violence of the "antifa" rioters, too.  One side flies the Nazi flag, the other that of Communism.  Neither respects or supports Christianity or Christian public witness.  Both are, to boringly repeat myself, locked in a co-dependent cycle of violence that will continue to escalate until there are more deaths.

We cannot depend on politicians and the media to address this.  Politicians use social division to shore up their voting blocks; the media highlight abherrent social behavior so as to create "clicks" to their websites and advertisers.  CEO's of corporations issue statements on public morality that are in service of retaining those who purchase their goods.  None of these groups is interested in anything so obtuse as the public good.

That leaves us.  The easy route is to dust off another pastoral letter and fill in the blanks with contemporary information; the proper route is to address the moral horror that is being perpetuated upon us by both extreme ideologies.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017

A Query

After all of the offensive statues have been destroyed, what's next?  Historically, mobs are never satisfied with just one impulse of destruction.

So That's Where I Left That Thing

Removal of Westerly mystery object scrubbed, rough surf to blame

There's a Lot of That Going Around

“It’s a universal law — intolerance is the first sign of an inadequate education.” - Alexander Solzhenitsyn.

The Post-Christian World

Iceland is Using Abortion to Eliminate Down's Syndrome

Well, well, well.  It looks like the Nazis took Iceland, after all.  Yay, eugenics.

My cousin, Maureen, had Down's Syndrome.  She was loving and fun and I can't imagine life without her.   This creeps me out more than mobs tearing down statues and millionaire footballers who sit for the National Anthem being treated like MLK, Jr. at Selma.

What Happens When Authors Are Afraid to Stand Alone

Writing as an individual pursuit has been replaced by “community”—and literature is the worse for it

Tuesday, August 15, 2017

Finally, Some Really Good News

Grand Central Terminal’s Swankiest Bar Reopens As the Campbell

I mean, look at this place:


St. Mary the Virgin



[This was originally written in the summer of 1998; I can't recall if it was for a parish newsletter or some other publication.  Anyway, it's a good day to get in the water, regardless of weather or temperature.]

It arrives every summer.  It's a package that is usually mailed from Ocean City, a barrier island in southern New Jersey.  It's a heavy package.  I always forget that it's coming, although I'm not sure why, since it is an annual event.  In the package is a container (it's different every year; sometimes it's a used soda bottle, sometimes an inexpensive thermos) filled with seawater. 

It is, as anyone would agree, a strange gift to receive.  Certainly my wife felt that way the first summer of our marriage when she got to the mail before I did.  "Your mother sent us some...water, I think."  Seawater doesn't travel well in the summer heat.  It grows things during transit.  Maybe that's the point.  The reason that she sends it to me, and has done so for as long as I've lived away from home, is because of August 15th.  Actually, that's the secular date.  On the church calendar, it’s the Feast of the Assumption of St. Mary the Virgin.  On that day, all of the seawater in the world is considered holy water.  It is an old European custom and, as my father jokingly reminds me, my mother is an old European.  Once a year, she travels to the ocean, steps into the water, fills containers for my sibling, my nieces, my nephew, and me.  We get them right before the beginning of the school year (as I’m from a family of educators, the new year begins in September) as reminders of…something.

The connection between water and holiness is ancient and complicated.  As is water with our physical being, God is the key element of our spiritual being.  God is necessary for our life and present with us in a multiplicity of forms.  As with water, so with God; things grow in the relationship.  To this day, in seashore areas around the continent of Europe, families make their pilgrimage to the Atlantic or the Mediterranean.  While others run into the water in recreation, Christians do so on the Feast of the Assumption as part of their spiritual re-creation.  They seek to be reminded of the ways in which we are borne by God; immersed in the great, deep, and liberating mystery.  They find themselves, as we all do, afloat on grace; ever present, ever abiding, and all surrounding.  Perhaps the relationship between humans and the sea was best captured by the author Joseph Conrad who, before he became one of the greatest writers in the English language, was a commercial ship’s captain.  He once wrote "...the sea is a mystery, deep and impenetrable.  We are borne on it, knowing it as impassive yet passionate.  We can never completely know it as we cannot completely know the Almighty."

Last year it was a soda bottle sealed with duct tape.  In a filtered state, it will be part of the holy water that I use in baptisms and at the Great Vigil of Easter.  I do this to honor the feast day and because there are occasions when I need to be reminded of the unfolding mystery that surrounds us and the grace that supports us.

It’s also because, as I am reminded every year at this time, things grow in it.

Okay, Things are too Heavy. Here's Some Levity.

Pineapples banned by Popular Music Festivals

Unpopular Thoughts

I don't care what the rationale, mobs tearing down statues is a sign of societal disintegration.  It will take a long time, as it did with Rome, but any nation that denies its history, however difficult that history may be, is doomed.

Speaking of which, anyone who grants me their un-solicited political opinion while quoting from Teen Vogue magazine has a misplaced sense of our relationship.

I could find no commentary about the Bernie Sanders campaign volunteer who shot a U.S. congressman in any of the official statements from the powers-that-be of the Episcopal Church. I've found a lot about some lunatic who drove his car into protesters.  The former was just a nutter, it has been explained to me by colleagues, and the latter a member of a dangerous social movement.  The church has avoided dealing with the escalating violence of the leftist "antifa" folks, too, I suspect because they are more closely aligned with the politics of Episcopal Church clergy.  This is ill-advised.

I will repeat myself and note that the two extremes from the right and the left are locked in a codependent spiral of violence. If the Church is going to take sides in this, it is failing its purpose in the public square.

More "Hillbilly" Shaming

Judgey about the way people dress? You’re killing America.
A little twang in speech or that habit of ending sentences in a prepositional phrase does not mean West Virginians cannot speak English. It just means they are part of a region that still clings to the Scots Irish speech pattern of their ancestors.

Fifteen years ago, as social media started connecting us in ways we never imagined, America looked up and across at the other America; as they looked back at each other, neither side was terribly pleased.

As long as the coastal elites look down their noses at the middle of the country, we’re going to be a divided country.

Hillbilly Shaming is Unbecoming

J.D. Vance is the author of the New York Times non-fiction bestseller, Hillbilly Elegy, which details his life from his birth in a rural portion of Ohio through the Marine Corps and the Ivy League.  His compelling story is familiar to me.

I appreciate socially-addled people like the NYT's Rich assume those of us from the less glamorous portions of the U.S. are not evolved, intellectually or morally, but the reality is the members of both the "alt-right" and the leftist "antifa" are more like Rich's neighbors than my cousins and childhood friends.

Really, these are hillbillies to you, Frank?

Tiki torches from Home Depot?  Polo shirts?

On the other end of the spectrum, here's an "anti-fascist" protester sporting a Schott Perfecto:

I wanted one of these, back when I had a bike, but couldn't afford it as it cost more than my motorcycle. 

Monday, August 14, 2017

Needlehooks

I admit that I agree with all of this:
It's becoming so clear now why the war of words between SJWs and the new white nationalists is so intense. It isn't because they have huge ideological differences -- it's because they have so much in common. Both are obsessed with race, SJWs demanding white shame, the alt-right responding with white pride. Both view everyday life and culture through a highly racialised filter. SJWs can't even watch a movie without counting how many lines the black actor has in comparison with the white actor so that they can rush home and tumblr about the injustice of it all. Both have a seemingly boundless capacity for self-pity. Both are convinced they're under siege, whether by patriarchy, transphobia and the Daily Mail (SJWs) or by pinkos and blacks (white nationalists). Both have a deep censorious strain. And both crave recognition of their victimhood and flattery of their feelings. This is really what they're fighting over -- not principles or visions but who should get the coveted title of the most hard-done-by identity. They're auditioning for social pity. "My life matters! My pain matters! I matter!" The increasing bitterness and even violence of their feud is not evidence of its substance, but the opposite: it's the narcissism of small differences. - Brendan O'Neill
For those blissfully unaware of our common societal dysfunction, SJW stands for "social justice warrior", those most commonly associated with dressing in black and smashing shop windows in the name of...anti-fascism.  The alt-right are the latest form of a "white identity" group.

While much of the media is fixated on "right wing extremism", it is part and parcel with the equivalent on the left wing, an aspect that the media seems to studiously avoid.

Clearly, the "alt-right" and "antifa" are in a codependent spiral of violence.  So far, a leftist has shot a congressman and some others, and a rightest has committed vehicular homicide.  It is going to get worse unless we admit that this is happening on both sides of the ideological divide.  Such are the wages of a post-Christian age.

On the Bright Side, It Probably Worked

Residents Who Lost Home In Fire Were Trying To Ward Off Evil Spirits

Yes, There are Surf Gangs, Even in the US

Insiders of the notorious surf gang the Bra Boys have slammed a new generation of thugs who are claiming affiliation to the group.

It's not all Frankie and Annette, is it?

Sunday, August 13, 2017

A Word from Coop

"I call it treason against rock 'n' roll because rock is the antithesis of politics. Rock should never be in bed with politics. ... When I was a kid and my parents started talking about politics, I'd run to my room and put on the Rolling Stones as loud as I could. So when I see all these rock stars up there talking politics, it makes me sick. .... If you're listening to a rock star in order to get your information on who to vote for, you're a bigger moron than they are. Why are we rock stars? Because we're morons. We sleep all day, we play music at night and very rarely do we sit around reading the Washington Journal.” - Alice Cooper

Politics is the New Religion

Hillary Clinton's pastor compared her election loss to Jesus' death and resurrection

Methodists.  Honestly.

Friday, August 11, 2017

Wende Wagner


"I've never worried about work.  I've been an actress and a model.  I can swim, dive, scuba, fish and surf.  I can fly a plane.  I create art that hangs in galleries and that people buy.  I'll always have work and it doesn't have to be near a camera."

This profile requires a confession.  I have to acknowledge something that has occasionally prevented me from getting a position in the Episcopal Church or in academia.  Are you ready?

I'm a heterosexual.

The reason I mention my heterosexuality is that, like other young men of my generation with blood that's red [trust me, I've seen enough of it], I had a "first crush".  I appreciate that this happens to most people, regardless of their sexual identification, but I wanted to get that shocking detail out of the way, given the antiseptic manner in which clergy are to comport themselves in public.

I also appreciate that "first crushes" are generally harmless and involve someone who is not only completely, totally unavailable, but may not even exist outside of some publicist's fortifications.  For example, my sister and her friends absolutely loved David Cassidy.  Around her room would be David Cassidy posters, Partridge Family posters, magazines featuring David Cassidy, and a 45 rpm version of "I Think I Love You" would be playing incessantly from the tinny, portable turntable.  As annoying as that could be for her older brother, it was normal and she outgrew it.  I think.

Mine was a little different, as she was not a mass-marketed celebrity [although she could have been if she had wanted that] and, unlike my sister's relationship with David Cassidy, an ardor that seemed to cool the more she learned of the real Cassidy, my appreciation for my first crush increased, mainly because of her singular accomplishments on the periphery of celebrity.

That, and she surfed.

Like many of the people whom I've admired and about whom I've written on Friday mornings, she did not easily fit into a simplified category.  She seemed effortlessly to exist outside the society's constraining box and was shruggingly indifferent to any attempts to place her in such a position.  I've known many people like that whom I've admired and envied.  For me, she serves an archtype for that healthy attitude.

Wende Wagner [yes, that's her parents' spelling of her forename, not Hollywood's] was born the day before the attack on Pearl Harbor to a Navy officer and his wife stationed in New London, Connecticut.  This meant that, before she could walk, she moved three times, as her father was transferred from here to there to back again as the United States ramped up the naval war in the Pacific.  Typical for military children, she never lived anywhere for very long, at least not until she was well into her teens.  By that time, her father was stationed at the vast naval base on Coronado Island in southern California.  It was actually an ideal setting, as Wagner's father had been a U.S. Olympic swimming coach and made sure that his daughter loved the ocean in all the ways possible.

It was the mid 1950's by now and the early surf culture was capturing its first collection of personalities.  Very particular personalities, actually, as these were the days when WWII and Korean War vets were self-treating their PTSD by shredding waves, building beach bonfires, and living in shacks made of driftwood.  Along side them were the usual collection of misfits, both young men and women, who embraced the surf culture before it was a "lifestyle brand".  They tended to be the teens that are inevitably tagged by their teachers as "having potential" if they would only "apply themselves".  [I think I just gave the reader the leitmotif of my own school records.]

Bright and worldly, the teenage Wagner found herself attracted to the waves and the collection of youths who were known informally as the Coronado Gypsies, guys with nicknames like "Dooley", "Skeeter", and "Gunker".  As Wagner was the only girl, she didn't need a nickname; she was just "the girl".  Anytime they could, the Gypsies could be found in the surf by the well-known Coronado Hotel bringing a certain California flair to their truancy.  She was a natural athlete and waterman [that term is gender-less, by the way] who would, when not surfing, swim back and forth the length of the beach in perfect, languid strides.

One day, the Gypsies were bid to move out of the way of some cameras that were filming scenes for a movie at the hotel.  This is normal in southern California, and they didn't take umbrage.  A curious figure, a short, portly, older man with a German accent, improbably wearing a suit and tie at the beach, gave his card to Wagner and invited her to make a screen test.  She was curious and mentioned it to her parents.  They preferred that she wait until she had graduated from high school.  What ensued was an argument recognizable to anyone who has ever raised a teenager.  In an episode of pure adolescent defiance, Wagner and the Gypies ran away to Hawaii to surf the bone-crushers of Oahu's North Shore.  She may have been the first non-Hawaiian woman to do so.

[For information about Rell Sunn, who was the queen of those waves, please follow the link.]

Wagner waxing her board with a puppy during her Gidget days
Inevitably, the money ran thin and her anger at her parents cooled.  Upon her return, they relented and allowed her a screen test.  She did have some advantages in that, however.  The odd man in a suit on the beach that day was Billy Wilder, at the time directing Some Like It Hot.  Observing Wagner, too, had been some of the actors in the film, including Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis, and Jack Lemmon.  With these references, and the fact that her screen test revealed that she could photograph as a Latina, an American Indian, a European, or an Amer-Asian, Wagner was almost immediately offered a role on an episode of the TV show Wagon Train.

It was fun, but not as exciting as modeling her way across Europe, or living with, and eventually marrying, a stunt man she met on the set.  Next thing her parents knew, Wende was living in the Bahamas and working as a scuba diver and stunt woman for the TV shows and movies that were being filmed in the area, including Flipper, The Aquanauts, and September Storm.  She even worked an underwater stunt or two on Sea Hunt. This work enabled her to live in the tropics, surf whenever and wherever she wanted, and raise a daughter.

With her first husband, helping him with his "monster" costume for an episode of Flipper
Eventually, the marriage that was born of impulse ended, and Wagner returned to California where she had no difficulty finding roles in westerns, thrillers, comedies, and TV shows.  In 1966, she landed her only steady television role, that of the stalwart secretary to the eponymous hero on The Green Hornet.

Wagner and her co-stars, including the fellow on the left who would have a pretty good career in kung fu movies


That was when I noticed her.  I may have watched the show to see the mad karate offered by Bruce Lee, but I would also watch for Wagner who, when I was ten-years-old, I wanted as my secretary.  It's a pity she really didn't do more than sit behind a desk and answer her boss' phone, that seemed a waste for someone as physical as Wagner.  But, she answered that phone beautifully.  Little did I realize that I had already seen her on Sea Hunt, but always with a scuba mask on.

After The Green Hornet was cancelled, she married again, this time to a Hollywood star's son, and moved to a beach house in Malibu, so close to the water that she could fish from her deck.  She accepted parts on episodes of Perry Mason, Mannix, and It Takes A Thief, but would otherwise avoid working too hard as she didn't want to be too far away from the water, her daughter, and now a son.

She would befriend other actresses, including one who was to be the next big thing, and who would become Wagner's best friend.  She would even serve as her friend's stunt double in a Dean Martin spy spoof.  So close were they that the friend's husband, a film director, would give Wagner a role in a well-known film about a woman who finds she's to give birth to Satan.  Although listed in the credits as "Wendy" Wagner, it would be her most significant work.

Wagner choreographing a stunt with Bruce Lee
The film, of course, was Rosemary's Baby, the director Roman Polanski, and Wagner's best friend was Sharon Tate.  After the infamous events of the summer of 1969, Wagner withdrew from television and film work and became remarkably anonymous.  The dark underside of Hollywood is well-known in our cultural history, and certainly to those who have lived in its viscera.  Being a Malibu mom, with days spent fishing, surfing, and swimming, seemed the best therapy in light of her best friend's horrific murder and the disintegration of her second marriage.

I can't help but wonder if she didn't recall those post-war beach bums from ten years before who, recoiling from the violence of the world, found solace and peace on those surf beaches in Hawaii and California, and decided that was the better portion.

There's one more chapter, however, and this is the best part.  When I was working as a free-lancer, I asked an editor if I could write a feature about the surfing scene in South Jersey, as I wanted to spend some time on the waves there and needed to have a justification for it, not to mention the 5 cents a word I would be paid in those days.  Ordinarily, he would say "no" to my ideas and then swear at me for awhile.  This time he said, "Yes".  I'm still not sure why, except that I volunteered to pay my own way and, maybe, he just wanted me out of his office.

There are various events that take place during summers at the shore, of course.  There are string band parades, beauty contests, concerts by over-the-hill rockers, and even a baby parade in one community.  There are also appeals to nostalgia that include former sports and television stars who agree to ride in the back of parade convertibles and be interviewed by the local media.  I'm not sure how I landed it, maybe because no one knew who she was, but at a celebration of 1960's TV shows, I was able to spend thirty minutes with Wende Wagner.  [Eat your heart out, sis.  You never got to meet David Cassidy.]

Instead of asking her about The Green Lantern, I asked about the early surfing days and what it was like to be the first, and for a long time the only, underwater stunt woman.  Her face changed, I remember, and instead of the studied expression of an actress well-rehearsed by publicists, she smiled [and what a fine smile it was, too] and spoke of the Coronado Gypsies, the set on Sea Hunt, the big waves of Oahu, and the aquatic life in the simpler days.  It was the fastest half hour of my life.  I didn't even care that the feature I wrote was never printed and my 5 cents a word never received.

Wende Wagner would die of cancer shortly after her 55th birthday in 1997.  Her ashes, appropriately, would be scattered in the Pacific, which was where she was most at home and the place to which she always returned for healing and purpose.

When I think of her I also think of those whom I've known who have thwarted the expectations of others and pursued that which granted them balance.  She never limited herself only to those things considered proper and appropriate for a woman, never became a studio mannequin, and knew when to walk away from the intoxication of fame.

Besides, she was a waterman, which means she was one of our bizarre fraternity, and I really don't need to add anything to that, do I?


Thursday, August 10, 2017

Again, Someone Steals My Idea for the First Day of Retirement

Man steals Splash Kingdom go-kart, drives it around San Bernardino movie theater parking lot, police say

The police are a real buzz-kill, aren't they?

An Obiturary of Note

Haruo Nakajima, actor who played original 1954 Godzilla, dies at 88

This Will Make the Rehearsal a Little Tricky

Weed-themed weddings becoming latest trend in legal states

I've officiated at weddings where everyone from the bride and groom to the flower kid have been gooned on something.  I've had grooms so drunk they pass out during the exchange of vows, so hungover they run from the ceremony during the nuptial Eucharist to vomit in the rose garden, fathers of the bride so clobbered on pills that they wander around the sanctuary after "giving away" the bride trying to remember where they sit, and mothers of the groom who are sedated to the point that they could be used for first base in a pickup softball game.

Then there are the mothers of the bride who are addicted to rage.

A weed wedding doesn't sound that bad, considering.

"Riot chic: how violent protest became fashionable"

Rage is all the rage – and the middle classes love it

Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Carl Sagan in 1995


Wait. What?


Yet, You Mean

No one worshiping Satan at the library: Forest Grove police log

More Needle-hooks

Ethics Hipsters are the new Puritans:
In times of real artistic genius, creative people turn their backs on prigs and prudes and do what they want to do and make art. The history of art is a history of incorrectness, even offense. It’s time for real artists - writers, actors, musicians - to reject the hysteria of the righteous mob and celebrate the true diversity of ideas, because that’s what ultimately leads to better art. It probably won't happen—just try to find a little artfulness on your TV or at the movies. How ironic is it that the very people who claim to be fearless artists, fear art most of all.

Because They're Too Busy Learning about "Social Justice"?

Why Kids Can’t Write

Back in 1989, I was charged with teaching a course entitled "Basic Writing Skills" at an Episcopal high school.  Since virtually none of my students had any of these skills, there was a lot to cover.  What was particularly noticiable was that they had no idea, absolutely none, about the parts of a sentence.  The whole notion of subject and predicate was lost to them.  So, that's where we started.  It took almost half a year, but they were eventually able to recognize the difference between direct and indirect objects and diagram complex sentences with at least a 70% accuracy.  Hurrah!

The director of admissions for the school came to me in some distress shortly after the start of the second semester.  After clearing his throat for awhile and hemming and hawing, he finally got to his point.  "You need to teach them how to write, not to grammar."

Yeah, that's how we got to where we are today.  By the way, my response to him was beneath the dignity of my profession.  I still smile when I recall his reaction to it.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Well, He has a Point

An Obituary of Note

Glen Campbell dead at 81

I know people tend to associate him with the showier form of country music, but I'm not sure how many people realize how much, as a recording session musician, Campbell influenced a broad range of pop music in the 1960's.

From the obit:
Campbell's guitar acumen and versatility made him an essential player on Los Angeles' thriving recording scene in the 1960s, and he contributed to sessions for Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Rick Nelson, The Mamas and The Papas, Merle Haggard and many more. Campbell couldn’t read music, but he quickly became a respected, first-call player. He played on Elvis Presley’s “Viva Las Vegas,” The Monkees’ “I'm a Believer,” Frank Sinatra’s “Strangers in the Night” and more. He played 12-string guitar on the Beach Boys’ “Sloop John B.,” and toured with the Beach Boys in 1965, as a replacement for the band’s troubled and reclusive leader, Brian Wilson.
By the way, "Viva Las Vegas" was written by Doc Pomus, who has been profiled in The Coracle, and Campbell was one of The Wrecking Crew, that loose-knit collection of session players mentioned in another profile, that of Carole Kaye, that may also be found on The Coracle.

"I'm A Believer", written by Neil Diamond, was the first song that I ever sang with a band in public.  [When testing the sound system in an empty church, I still sometimes sing it.]

I always liked this one by Campbell, written as it was by a serviceman in Vietnam during some rather dark times:

Needle-hooks

Occasionally, I come across articles that snag my attention like a needle-hook to yarn.  As I like to read things from many ideological perspectives, these may or may not come from sources to which the reader corresponds.  It's old-fashioned of me to do this, I suppose, as we live in an era when we are to condemn anyone who disagrees with us, but I prefer to look at our world from as many perspectives as possible in order to come to my own understanding of our cultural issues.

[I hear my Scottish cousin saying, "Oh, hark at him".]

If you have read more than one posting on The Coracle, I suspect that you agree.

Anyway, from a review of a D-List musician's memoirs:
Shared reference is the definition of cultural identity, and America, like every other nation, is defined by what its citizens know in common. But is the key here what gets known, or the fact of its being known?

The old middlebrow knowledge, the aspirations to culture of the middle class as late as the early 1960s, can be discerned in everything from the leather-bound sets of Great Books to the classical themes that made up the background music to Bugs Bunny cartoons. We had a kind of consensus that the high arts, what the Kennedy Center used to celebrate, were the goal of cultural knowledge. And as that consensus died, the music of the Monkees became part of what took its place. The pop songs of the 1960s merged with the movies of the 1970s to fill the vacuum. And regardless of its quality it became the new shared knowledge.

Sometimes that quality was quite high, but it isn't Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven, and old episodes of I Dream of Jeannie are not Faust. If the key to culture is the greatness of the shared references, then we have no culture in America anymore. If the key is that something is genuinely shared, then we do have culture. We have the Monkees.

The Benefits of Ocean Swimming

The sport of ocean swimming is not for everyone. It is particular to a certain type of person….one who eschews the comfort of a warm bed for full body immersion into into brisk, salty water at dawn. But there is nothing better than the feeling of emerging from the freezing cold water into the comparably warmer air after a swim. For this and many other reasons, ocean swimmers return again and again to the water, taking pride in their local waters and creating companionship in their shared love of this unique sport.

Monday, August 7, 2017

A Lot of Carp

10-year-old reels in record-setting 33.25lb carp

We used to reel in 20-25 pounders in Lake Erie in my youth, but this is spectacular.  Check the photo.

It's Kerouac Monday

Kerouac invoked to encourage tourism:
Sleep on the top of the world in a Washington fire lookout

Actually, that sounds like fun.

Kerouac invoked to spark up a rather prosaic remembrance:
This must be the place: ‘We will get by, we will survive’ 

Bonus: Jerry Garcia.

Kerouac invoked to camouflage the fact that this writer knows little about the era about which he's writing and is also a Millennial snob:
Commentary: Baby boomers sell out 'Summer of Love' for cheap T-shirts
I get chills every time that I hear Jimi Hendrix play “The Star-Spangled Banner,” or when I watch Richie Havens tapping his foot and hearing him singing about finding freedom. I am not a baby boomer, of course, but I know about the Woodstock Festival in 1969. That said, I’ll pose a question to boomers (or members of that generation who were once hippies): Why did you sell out?
I can answer that question.  We "sold out" so we would have enough money to pay off your exorbitant student loans.  You know, the ones for which we had to co-sign?  The ones you can't pay yourself because you needed $200,000 for some gaggle of professors to teach you how to write gormless dross such as this.

Also, I'm glad you "still get chills" when you hear a digital recording of Hendrix.  Some of us Boomers get chills because, in the rainy morning in upstate New York, we recall that it was actually chilly.

The Episcopal Church in the News

Top Episcopal bishop removes L.A. bishop from control over Newport's St. James church

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Obituaries of Note

Hywel Bennett obituary: Beloved actor who rose to fame as a sitcom star 

and

Robert Hardy: Harry Potter and All Creatures Great and Small star dies

If Hardy isn't a household name, you will recognize his face, as he has been nearly ubiquitous on British television and film.

Bennett starred in a sitcom that was never shown in the United States.  The only reason I was able to see it was because I grew up on the Canadian border and it was shown on the CBC.  It was a success because Bennett was perfect for the role.  I can't imagine anyone else making a go of it.

Exceptional Archaeological News

Roman ruins in France are called "exceptional".

They really are.  See the photos at the link.

Archaeological News

Jerusalem: Temple gate stairway uncovered

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Yes, because Rural Townsfolk don't have Smartphones

Because they're rural, you see.  You know, like the cast of Petticoat Junction or something.  They ain't never seen none of them there "smarty-phones" or what have ya.  What's the dang deal with that?

Sorry, but this is the dumbest perspective I've seen yet from the condescending people of the media.  Jeez, it could have written by an Episcopal priest or bishop.

Shark Attack Saturday

This Year's U.S. Open of Surfing Was a Bit Like 'Jaws'

For our convenience, both surfing news and shark attack news combined.

In related news, the English think this is a big shark.  Those English:
Britain's biggest shark caught off the Cornish coast

Also, while this isn't really news, a journalist says something dim on Twitter:
Indiana reporter 'sorry' if USS Indianapolis tweet offended

Is being "sorry" the same as being sorry?  Words are tricky in our post-Christian, neo-Marxist age.  Good general advice for those who seek to inform and/or influence the American public:  Stay off of Twitter.

Friday, August 4, 2017

Christian Lambertsen


"He wasn’t someone to let someone else do it."

When I was a child, my parents bought me a diving mask from Woolworth's.  It didn't fit too well, did not include a snorkel, and came with no directions as to how to keep it from fogging while underwater.  It was one of the best gifts I ever received.

I often used it underwater in Lake Erie, on the shores of which I grew up, to crawl along the bottom observing the carp and marveling at the rich variety of discarded beer cans, and would take it with me to the Jersey Shore in the summers, to see what life was like under the waves and in the midst of the forest of legs, ankles, and feet.

I would hold my breath for as long as I could, sometimes using a length of scrapped garden hose through which to breath, despite that it tasted of petroleum.  I longed for the day when I could afford underwater breathing equipment like my TV hero, Mike Nelson of Sea Hunt.  Eventually, that day would come and a remarkable world would be revealed. For this, I credit not just Lloyd Bridges' fictional character, but another who found joy and purpose in those fresh and salt water waves of Lake Erie and the Jersey Shore and freed divers from the tether.

Christian Lambertsen was born in 1917 in New Jersey where he spent many a summer in Barnegat Bay.  In attempting to stay underwater for as long as possible, he had a frustration similar to mine and any other child enthralled by the underwater flora, fauna, and geography.  In his case, he brought a bit more machinery to its address and used some surface muscle from friends and family.

While he and his grandfather were exploring the habitat for clams, Lambertsen used a length of hose attached to a bicycle pump operated from a boat above to feed him a supply of air that was retained in a simple rubber bladder. It must have been a bit like playing the bagpipes underwater.  While not ideal, it did give him the kernel of an idea he would study and perfect for remainder of his life.

Lambertsen would graduate from Rutgers University in 1939 with a degree in biology and then attend the University of Pennsylvania's medical school.  While there, recalling the curiosity of his childhood spent by and in the sea, he studied human respiration and environmental medicine, refining his bicycle pump air hose and rubber bladder idea.  In 1940, while not even an intern, he found time to submit his first patent application for the Lambertsen Amphibious Respiratory Unit, or LARU, a device for breathing underwater for extended periods without having to be tethered to a boat or air compressor.  It would eventually bear the secret military acronym of SCUBA, for Self-Contained Underwater Breathing Apparatus.

An example of pre-LARU diving equipment
This required extensive experimentation, though, and, as is often the case with creative personalities, the inventor made himself the guinea pig.  With the help of the Ohio Chemical and Manufacturing Company, Lambertsen made several dives, sometimes at great risk and in no small amount of danger, in Lake Erie and other, smaller bodies of water, each time making small, but noticeable, improvements to his invention.
Lambertsen's original drawing for his patent application
This is where some explanation of terminology is needed.  There are two forms of underwater breathing apparatus.  Most people are more familiar with the "open circuit" configuration, that which was being perfected by Jacques Cousteau and his partner, Emile Gagnan, at approximately the same time as Lambertsen was creating the first version of the LARU.

An open circuit breathing apparatus relies on the diver inhaling oxygen or a similar gas mixture from tanks strapped to his or her back, and then exhaling the carbon dioxide through the mouthpiece into the water through a considerable release of bubbles.  A closed circuit system such as the LARU, better known as a re-breather, takes the exhaled carbon dioxide and scrubs from it the still-abundant oxygen that remains, then recycles it back to the diver's air supply.

In addition to reducing bubbling exhaust, the re-breather enables a diver to stay underwater much longer than does an open circuit system, and to dive more deeply without the need for time-consuming decompression.

An open circuit apparatus with bubbles.

A closed circuit re-breather.  See?  No bubbles.
For most divers, the open circuit apparatus, reliant on the Cousteau-Gagnon regulator mouthpiece, is generally used.  The system is simple and relatively economical.  Also, due to the limited supply of breathing gas in the tanks, open circuit divers are less likely to have the time to get into difficulty underwater with hypothermia, the bends, or rapture of the deep, as they must surface every 20 to 40 minutes.  It helps that the release of exhaled bubbles leaves a very obvious trail both in the water and on the surface, which can aid the "buddy system" common to diving.

However, what is convenient and helpful in peacetime may not be so in times of war.

Lambertsen had originally conceived of the LARU as a potential open water life-saving device that could also aid trapped miners to breathe.  With the attack on Pearl Harbor, and the United States now fully included in the world-wide conflagration, Lambertsen realized that his invention would enable a military diver to stay underwater for extended periods, dive deeply, and not give away his position through the release of bubbles.  A healthy swimmer could, at the depth of fifty feet and for over an hour and a half, cover a mile underwater and be undetectable.

Unfortunately, the U.S. Navy, after being introduced to the device, didn't share Lambertsen's enthusiasm.  There were still improvements to be made, apparently, so he went back to the literal drawing board.  A year later, in the swimming pool of a Washington D.C. hotel, the next demonstration went...um, swimmingly.  This time, though, instead of the Navy, it was a representative of the Office of Strategic Services who saw the LARU's advantages in covert warfare.  Ironically, a breathing apparatus designed for divers was rejected by the Navy, but accepted by the Army.

Just another day at the office for Dr. Lambertsen
As the war progressed, Lambertsen, having become a medical doctor, was commissioned as an officer in the Army Medical Corps.  With the Army's acceptance of the LARU, he was promoted to the rank of major and seconded to the OSS, the forerunner of what would one day be the CIA.  His orders were to continue to perfect the breathing apparatus and adjust and customize it for the various commando missions on which it would be employed.

As has been noted, and like many other inventors, Lambertsen was more than willing to test his invention himself, even in untoward circumstance.  While commanders on secret missions welcomed Lambertsen's participation, especially as he would be able to address any issues that might develop with the re-breathers in the field and, as a medical doctor, treat any wounds suffered in action, they came to realize, to their surprise, that Lambertsen's intention was to, in fact, accompany the commandos on their missions.  He did so with distinction during the war and, it is rumored, upon occasion in the Cold War, as well.


Returning to the University of Pennsylvania, he served a variety of professorships, from medicine to pharmacology to veterinary medicine, in each exploring how the bodies of humans and animals may survive in circumstances of extremis.  His research served not only the rapidly growing community of military, commercial, and recreational divers, but was of great use to NASA when adapting re-breather technology to the Mercury space capsules and early spacesuits.  He would found The Environmental Biomedical Stress Data Center at Penn and contribute to a vast body of discoveries in diving physiology, undersea and hyperbaric research and related medical treatments, and hydrospace, biomedical, and environmental sciences.  

So sensitive was much of Lambertsen's work that it remained classified until the mid-1990's.  He is credited with inventing the technology used by NASA, the Navy's Underwater Demolition Team, the Army Special Forces combat swimmers, and the US Coast Guard's rescue diver program.  The famous Navy SEALs used his re-breather design until the mid-1980's.  The Navy, which originally had no use for his invention [or for him, as he was rejected from their officer program due to allergies] now credits him as the "Father of the Frogmen" and the Army issued him a green beret with honorary status as a member of that elite force.

Christian Lambertsen eventually retired to the eastern shore of Maryland, where he died at the age of 93.  Much of his story may be found on the websites of the Central Intelligence Agency, the Army and the Navy, and the International Scuba Divers Hall of Fame.  Any one who has ever dived with the use of SCUBA, or who has been unfortunate enough to have needed a decompression chamber, or has marveled at the achievements of the space program, or who has simply flown in a passenger airline, has enjoyed at least a portion of what Lambertsen achieved, all from those casual days clamming with his grandfather.

Not bad for a Jersey Shore waterman.


Tuesday, August 1, 2017

A Remembrance of Eloquence

Appropriate for Sam Shepard.
He would call me late in the night from somewhere on the road, a ghost town in Texas, a rest stop near Pittsburgh, or from Santa Fe, where he was parked in the desert, listening to the coyotes howling. But most often he would call from his place in Kentucky, on a cold, still night, when one could hear the stars breathing. Just a late-night phone call out of a blue, as startling as a canvas by Yves Klein; a blue to get lost in, a blue that might lead anywhere. I’d happily awake, stir up some NescafĂ© and we’d talk about anything. About the emeralds of Cortez, or the white crosses in Flanders Fields, about our kids, or the history of the Kentucky Derby. But mostly we talked about writers and their books. Latin writers. Rudy Wurlitzer. Nabokov. Bruno Schulz.

The Police Terrorize an Innocent Family

'We'll never be the same': A hydroponic tomato garden led police to raid Kansas family's home
The April 20, 2012, raid would not furnish JCSO with the desired arrests and publicity (a news conference had already been planned for the afternoon.) But it would cause considerable embarrassment. Not only were the Hartes upstanding citizens with clean records, they were also both former Central Intelligence Agency officers. And they were not weed growers. Rather, the quick-trigger suspicion of law enforcement had snagged on — it would later turn out — tea leaves and a struggling tomato plant.
The Hartes would eventually file a federal lawsuit against the county, city, and officers involved. And although a federal judge later threw out their claim, this week a three-judge panel on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 10th Circuit ruled that the family could move forward in court. The decision has larger implications for Fourth Amendment litigation and legislation targeting badly behaving police officers.
They should count their blessings they weren't an Australian woman who made the mistake of reporting an apparent crime.  Or that they don't have a dog.

An Interesting Commentary on Musical Taste

"Everything Except Country and Rap:" What You Really Mean

Now I'm Confused. Last Month I was Told He was Hitler.

NYT: President Trump’s Really Weak

The shifting narrative of the post-Christian world-view leaves me all at sea, sometimes.  As there is no consensus on truth, and science is bent by social concerns and corporate money, that which most people would describe as reality seems to rest on a precarious foundation.

Monday, July 31, 2017

A Convenient Myth

The simple fact is that plastics do degrade in the environment, especially in the ocean (and lakes, streams, rivers). 

When real scientists went out to investigate the marvelous Pacific Garbage Patch imaginatively described by Charles Moore, they found — well, almost nothing.

I'm a little embarrassed by this since I actually taught a class lesson based on the existence and eco-structure of the Pacific Garbage Patch.  That was back when I would assume that the media were telling me facts.  Instead, these days I feel we're just to be manipulated by "stories" in service of the media's corporate and political masters.

Of Limited Interest, but Still Interesting

When Beethoven Met Goethe

One of My Senators Declares Himself a god

"Last night proved, once again, that there is no anxiety or sadness or fear you feel right now that cannot be cured by political action." - Chris Murphy

Actually, what causes me anxiety is politicians thinking that they cure any of life's vexations.  I'm guessing he was up late, was a little high on himself, and felt the need to grandstand.  Besides, he wants to be his party's next nominee for president.

It is an interesting window into the spirituality of politicians.

To quote a Twitter comment: "Relax, bud. You're just a politician. You're not Zeus."

Or, as my grandmother used to say, "That boy's gunning his engine so much, he's breathing his own fumes."

In Which Dawkins and I Find Common Ground

Ever since the Middle Ages, universities have nurtured people with unusual brains and minds. Historically, academia was a haven for neurodiversity of all sorts. Eccentrics have been hanging out in Cambridge since 1209 and in Harvard since 1636. For centuries, these eccentricity-havens have been our time-traveling bridges from the ancient history of Western civilization to the far future of science, technology, and moral progress. Now thousands of our havens are under threat, and that’s sad and wrong, and we need to fix it.

Random "Jack Kerouac" Reference


Again, the sign of a tepid writer is to throw a Jack Kerouac reference into an article.  This time, from an article about European kickball.

What jobs would Premier League managers have if they weren't in football?
A man whose talent is equalled only by the driving force within his tortured soul, Slaven Bilic would most certainly have gone down the route of a misunderstood artist had he chosen a life away from football.
Passionate, skillful and possessing the fiery eyes of a ancient preacher, Bilic would be the first to pronounce his own genius throughout a life of struggles and constant creation, though few would listen.
He would live out his days as if attempting to recreate the beatnik scene pioneered by Jack Kerouac and his band of cohorts, and would unfortunately face his ultimate demise at the age of 70 after a fight over an unkind critique of his most recent painting.
Despite a cruel life, Bilic would eventually find posthumous fame and go on to be considered the greatest artist of his generation a mere 15 years after his death.
Yes, a multi-millionaire kickball coach notorious for taking baldness medication would be just like Kerouac.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Shark Attack Saturday

Not specifically about shark attacks, but the perspective of an ivory tower intellectual about the "gritty" beach life of Australia, with necessary mentions of racism, sexism, environmental ballyhoo, and all of the other things that obsess the non-physical.

It's dreary, of course, as the writer must point out how the beautiful beaches of the continent belie its horrible, horrible, socially un-just history. Goodness, how tiresome and unoriginal these people are, yet they continue to get published.

She may be the only Aussie afraid of the outdoors.

Postcards aside, Aussie beach life can be gritty as well as pretty!

Looks okay to me.  Your host at Bondi Beach in Sydney, reading the water and getting ready to shred some waves.


Friday, July 28, 2017

Tristan Jones


A small craft in the ocean is, or should be, a benevolent dictatorship. The skipper's brain is the vessel's brain and he must give up his soul to her, regardless of his own feelings or inclinations.

Get used to the qualifier "maybe" as I tell you these tales.

So, there I was at some bar on an uninhabited island near St. Martin.  I believe its name was Tintamarre.  Although no one lived on the island, a French woman with a disdain for Americans [I told her I was Canadian so that she would serve me] would boat over in the mornings with the tide, set up a plank of driftwood on a couple of barrels, and serve drinks from some coolers ["Drink Gatorade!"] to the nomadic yachting crowd who would inevitably find her and her establishment.

At the time, I was crewing on board the S/V Polynesia, a 250 foot schooner out of Miami Beach.  As I was searching for good stories and anything cold to drink, I found myself engaged in a two-hour conversation under a palm tree with the past commodore of the famous Bitter End Yacht Club in Virgin Gorda who had sailed over 200,000 nautical miles through the Leeward and Windward Islands.  He regaled me with stories of his adventures both at sea and on land, and gave me a flavor of what life may be like when one surrenders to the wind.  It was enthralling, of course, and almost enough to encourage me to quit teaching philosophy at a dreary boarding school in New England and never leave the Caribbean.

The S/V Polynesia
When I got back on board the Polynesia, I mentioned to another crew member that I had met the commodore.  The crew member gave a derisive snort and said, "He's no commodore.  I don't think he can even sail.  He probably rowed over here in that...thing."  He motioned to a small, disreputable rowboat that looked more like a poorly re-purposed bathtub.  "That's Whiskey Pete.  He's always around somewhere.  Everything he says is complete bosh.  He used to sell hardware over in BVI.  I don't know what it is, but every port seems to have a Whiskey Pete.  They're fun to listen to, and they tell great stories, just know it's bosh."

I eventually found that to be true; there was and is a Whiskey Pete in every port.  Apparently, there can also be one in the non-fiction section of bookstores, too.

So it follows that there comes a time for all of us when the heroes of our youth are revealed to be merely human.  It is not an easy moment, but it is necessary for mental and emotional growth.  If at first one is disappointed, perhaps a tad cynical, about those who have let down our naive hopefulness, for normal people this is mollified when we realize that our heroes, like us, have their moments of failure, along with their moments of success.  As in Christianity, we all have the capacity to be both sinners and saints, often simultaneously.

About a decade before my Polynesian days, on one of those rainy days on the Jersey shore from whence much of what has vexed me during my life has come, I was wandering around a boardwalk bookstore [yes, boardwalks had bookstores back then; it was a more literate time] looking for books about sailing.  While I had rented and summarily wrecked a small sailboat the summer before, I was undaunted and wanted to actually learn how to do it without becoming a hazard to navigation or a drain on the budget and patience of the U.S. Coast Guard.  While technical manuals were to be had, they were...technical.  I was looking for something that might grant me an understanding of the essence, the soul, of sailing.  That's when I found the maritime visage of Tristan Jones.

His books took up an entire shelf, each with a simple, dramatic title: Wayward Sailor, Seagulls In My Soup, The Incredible Voyage, The Improbable Voyage, and Ice!  Each was a log of his adventures at sea in a collection of boats, usually rather small and generally tended only by him.  In much the spirit of Joshua Slocum, Bernard Moitessier, Francis Chichester, and even Bob Manry, Jones sought ill-defined, sail-driven adventure and, having taught himself how to sail, then taught himself how to write and create a persona [what is nowadays called a "brand"] that would ensure book sales.

Whether or not his tales were burdened with truth is another matter.

As Joseph Conrad, a sea captain before becoming one of the English language's greatest stylists, wrote in the opening of his novella, "Youth":
This could have occurred nowhere but in England, where men and sea interpenetrate, so to speak the sea entering into the life of most men, and the men knowing something or everything about the sea, in the way of amusement, of travel, or of bread winning.
Born as Arthur Jones in 1929 in Liverpool, the son of an unmarried mother and unknown father, and raised mostly in orphanages, Jones found his way out of squalor through the traditional route available to men of his social class, namely through the military.  Once he was of age, Jones joined the Royal Navy and remained in service for the next fourteen years.

However, the Royal Navy of the post-WWII period was hardly that of Lord Nelson and his fleet of oak heart.   Jones spent most of his service in the bowels of various metal ships, tending to the boilers.  Still, his desire for adventure was not daunted; in fact, it was probably exaggerated by the routine drudgery of military life.  When dismissed from the navy in 1960, he found himself released in the Mediterranean, where he purchased a small, cabin-equipped sailboat and plied his trade in any way that he could, including those that weren't entirely legal.

However, even that maritime life was not quite exciting enough, so Arthur began his transformation.  If one is to become a hero, one needs to embark on an heroic journey.  As is common with other English adventurers, Jones settled on an obtuse, but compelling, goal.  Its satisfaction would result not only in his first popular book, but in his re-birth.

Jones' quest led him to Israel on the first stage of his odyssey to sail the Dead Sea, the world's lowest body of water.  As this was sometime in the early 1970's [maybe, Jones' dates have always been a little nebulous], when Israel was occasionally at war or otherwise under attack from its neighbors, the local authorities were not enamored of British eccentricity.  While Jones was not permitted to use his own sailboat, the Barbara, he was allowed to borrow a boat belonging to an Israeli naval officer.

The S/V Barbara.  Maybe.
Having satisfied the first part of his hero's journey, Jones then sailed across the Atlantic, traded Barbara for another, smaller boat [named Sea Dart] in the West Indies, sailed to Peru and transported the Sea Dart to Lake Titicaca, high in the Andes, now to sail the world's highest body of water.  Not satisfied with this quixotic, two-part journey, Jones hauled the boat, often by hand, all the way to Brazil to sail the Moto Grosso to Argentina.

The S/V Sea Dart
Well, that's his story, anyway.  Somehow, Jones made it to New York City, found a small, cheap apartment in Greenwich Village [remember those?], and wrote what is still regarded as his finest book, The Incredible Journey.  While maritime narratives are among the most common tales published [seriously, find a bookstore in a port popular with an upscale crowd and there will be a surprising number of true, or "true", sailing stories, often in their own section], Journey revealed an eloquence and sense of fun that made it highly readable and certainly memorable.

Realizing that he had created an opportunity that could guarantee an income and satisfy his sense of self, Jones began the process of becoming his own literary incarnation.  Arthur Jones, the English discard, would become Tristan Jones, the Welsh son of a sea captain.  Instead of squalor in Liverpool, the new Jones would have been born on board his sea captain father's tramp steamer, somewhere off the coast of Tristan du Cunha in the southern Atlantic.  [Hence his new forename, you see.]

To quote from Jones eventual obituary:
It all began with a breach birth in a full storm, aboard a British tramp steamer, 150 miles north-east of Tristan da Cunha - hence the Christian name - in May 1924. Mrs Jones was the ship's cook and both she and Tristan's father came from a long line of Welsh master mariners. "By God, this one will always land on his feet!" the ship's mate was reported to have said, as he delivered the baby from the 10-hour ordeal. "He may be a candidate for hanging one day, but he'll never drown!"
That's a fine yarn, isn't it?  Complete bosh, of course, but still a compelling story and one worthy of a drink or two at a seaside tavern.

Well, why not make some other adjustments, too?  Since his naval career was dull even by the daunting standards of general military service, Tristan Jones would age himself by five years, moving his birth date from 1929 to 1924, so that he could plausibly have been in the Navy during World War II, where Arthur's dull days as an engine oiler would be transformed to Tristan's lusty derring-do during the 20th century's greatest conflagration, service that included voyages on the infamous Murmansk cargo run and being wounded by a terrorist bomb in Aden.  [Note: Jones did suffer a serious injury to his leg at some point, although those who knew him thought he may have done the damage himself after stumbling on his way home after too many drink-rewarded yarns at a local pub.]

These, and other dramatic adjustments, gave Jones all he needed to become an in-demand public speaker, a well-known international sea dog, a member of The Explorers' Club, and a published author.  From his Greenwich Village apartment, Jones published several more books detailing his adventures in the Arctic in Ice! [which is bosh], his days in the Royal Navy in Heart of Oak [great bosh], his boyhood at sea in A Steady Trade [legendary bosh], his post-Titicaca adventures in Adrift [mostly true!], and his circumnavigation in The Improbable Voyage [maybe, who knows?].

Jones does offer an honest bookend of sorts to his career, something that is the basis for Outward Leg, the name of his second best book and second most famous boat.  As has been mentioned, at some point Jones had suffered a leg injury that was then exacerbated in NYC after a collision with a taxi cab [maybe; take that second portion of the story with some salt, will you?], requiring his leg to be amputated.  Instead of seeing this as the end of his solo sailing adventures, and relying on the fame of "Tristan Jones, the last of the adventurers", he commissioned the construction of a sailing trimaran, designed to be operated by a one-legged solo sailor.  With that, the adventures continued, although rather more real from this point forward.  Whether or not it was intended, Jones, both Arthur and Tristan, would become a true hero to the growing number of physically challenged sailors who refused to let accident or happenstance remove them from the sea.

The S/V Outward Leg
Jones would eventually move to Thailand, suffer many health issues, including the loss of his other leg, and die in 1995 at the age of either 66 or 71, depending on which Jones one prefers.  His obituaries, of course, would recount the tales of Tristan Jones, offered in lurid and loving detail by those who had enjoyed his books.

About a decade after his death, a biographer discovered the real world of Arthur Jones and would challenge the existing record.  While this was tough news to Jones' legion of fans, it has to be noted that, whether it was sailing the lowest and highest bodies of water in the world, or learning how to circumnavigate with one leg, there is much of the true story to admire.  Also, whether Arthur or Tristan, Jones loved the sea and boats, and that love is obvious on every page he wrote with an inspiring eloquence.

All of his books are still in print and may be purchased in new, used, or electronic editions.  For a time, the Sea Dart, now owned by a Jones fan, would tour the country on a trailer so lovers of the books could see it for themselves.  I don't know whatever became of it, but it really doesn't matter.  I have my own boat with which to create my own stories.  Heck, maybe some of them will be true.