Tuesday, April 5, 2016


Long ago and far away I was in an advanced, for the time and my age, math class, when the teacher demanded to know why I was squinting at her and in other ways making faces rather than attending to the microprint she was using to decorate the blackboard at the front of the room which, to be honest, I never saw the point. I was sent down to the Stalag Commander's office to await his pleasure and, as it happens, that of my mother, who was summoned to take this disrespectful and thoroughly rotten ne'er do well away for 3 days of bread and water. The truth was slowly revealed to all of us as she dove right into the heart of the matter.

"I couldn't see what she was writing." We stopped at the post doctor shop and found some 89 year old physician who saw action with Custer doing the late unpleasantness with the Indians and he determined, via the most careful and precise measurements known to mankind, that I could not see much further than the end of my nose. Much was revealed in this observation.

I was a devastating player of the game of soccer, so-so at football, and pretty much useless at baseball. As the discerning reader will comprehend, much of my ability in sports of this nature had to do with the size of the ball and the speed at which it traveled. This wan't all. No. The enlightened source of all knowledge suddenly realized that my penchant for coming from behind to win in the sailboat races was due to the fact that I was following the leader until I could see the mark at which point I almost inevitably sailed in for the kill.

Not more than one or two dozen people asked me how I could possibly have gone through years of health class where every year each student is called to the front and compelled to read aloud from the eye chart for the edification of the instructor. They failed to understand that this was competition; this was something I was damned good at; this was a test of memorization, and when one's last name starts with a W, it is not all that hard to memorize 20 or 30 letters sight unseen. What's the point of audible calls if they don't mean it's a game?

The good folk of Huntsville had some sort of optical shop where spectacles could be purchased. I was promptly fitted with a pair. I hardly ever wore them. I mean, guess how much bigger the target pins are when bowling if you can only see a vast blur downrange. You can't miss! You aim for center mass and learn to put some english on it because there is no hope in hell of picking up single pins and getting a spare.

I was also outfitted with a pair of contact lenses and was happyish to wear them and slowly adapt to the agonizing pain discomfort until I wore them too long one day while out racing sailboats and ruptured most of the blood vessels in both eyes. Driving home from the lake and then to work that day was an experience on par with Toad's wild ride. I was completely blind at the end of my shift and didn't see anything after that for the next 3 days. The logistics of getting a sister, who thought it was better to put down blind dumb brothers, to enlist in the quest to join my parent in the sole remaining family car to come and fetch me and the car I had taken to work, was probably screamingly funny to the rest of the family. I don't like to talk about it.

I went crazy mad as a lieutenant and bought two pairs of glasses before deploying for the second time. One was a pair of prescription sunglasses and the other was a nice pair of spectacles that looked good as they flew off my nose about a mile off the coast of the Bahrain Yacht Club (no, not the one in Manama) as my Laser tipped over while in a pretty tight race with the locals and my skipper. I was in the lead on the downwind leg when a sudden gust caught me by surprise. A Laser does a peculiar thing known in the sport as a deathroll when sailing by the lee and getting jammed by a jibe. I hit the rising side of the boat like a ton of cement but the glasses were unconstrained and lived to be wild and free.

It was kind of sad that day to realize one's purpose in life is to serve as a humorous example of blind misfortune. For you see, about a mile off the coast of an island that doesn't rise anywhere more than 3 feet out of the sea, it is somewhat hard for a blind man to see it and head his boat in the direction of home. I was left to follow the others around and around and then follow them back to the marina. Sad really. Didn't really hear the end of it from the skipper until about 3 days later in a minefield.

As the blind do, I felt my way carefully through the tragedy that is the Administrative Support Unit, Bahrain in 1988, and found the doctor shop staffed by one of those armadillos that is convinced that you are some sort of drug seeker and a pest and the worst sort of custodian of valuable government property. She took some delight in telling me that my Commanding Officer himself! would have to sign off on the script to get her to give me a chit good to take to a real doctor of eyes in Bahrain to get my prescription checked and a new pair of glasses in 24 hours. Some people don't understand that I was wearing my glasses and not my sunglasses when the whale surfaced right under my damned boat and pitched me into the water. I could see her just fine.

New glasses in hand, I was prepared for the rigors of combat. I see you sniggering over there! Let me tell you about how we did combat. I would spend between 8 and 20 hours a day in the very very very dark Combat Information Center where I would gaze upon men doing the actual work, occasionally reaching out to rap them on the head when their eyes closed and the drool started to make itself conspicuous on their chin. I payed careful attention to both the search and the classify sonar consoles and the meticulously maintained navigation plot behind me and to the ISS/Hyperfix display units and keenly observed, most carefully, the state of the propellor pitch and the steering indicators and sometimes I merged a sonar shape dragged slightly behind and beneath a zodiac, as I steered it into a mine shape I saw on the sonar display. That was Combat (what we called CIC), and one cannot really do all that from behind some cool blue shades.

The glasses have sallied forth once again dear friend. They were right there on the windowsill just the other night when I put a towel upon the same surface, which movement, pitched them from the third floor window into the cold and dark and snowy night. They safely slithered off the tile roof and since they aren't on the metal roof above the portal, they must have been launched into the ground cover where they dwell even now, in the cold and dark because I'm going to wait until it warms up before I go out and run my hands carefully through the ground cover and retrieve them. I will come across them once again.  But at this point in life I have about 9 pair of glasses lying around, at my fingertips, thank God!

And all this puts me in mind of this wonderful bit from Master and Commander.

Over the years I've seen my glasses fly but I remain convinced they are flightless. They'll be in the tall grass under a poisonous weed.


Anne Bonney said...

This is a good story and . . . they're not going anywhere.

(not necessarily your) Uncle Skip said...

It is so much easier to call it Combat than it is to call it CIC and then have to explain what it means.
It always seemed to extend the conversations further.
Someone would reply, "Oh, the radar room?"
Then one would have to explain that the radar room was an entirely different room on a different deck.

OldAFSarge said...

Ah yes, having spectacles is a bane innit?

HMS Defiant said...

Just so long as the mailman doesn't step on them.

HMS Defiant said...

I remember wondering aloud with my Chief Air Conditioner if we could get it to snow in Combat and we tried. I think it did snow in Radar 1. The ETs had decided that they could increase the flow of cooling air and reduce their PMS load if they took the inline steam heater out of the vent and threw it overboard, which they did.

HMS Defiant said...

It is a terrible burden and it pinches the nose and is an ache to the temples.