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Wednesday, May 24, 2006

A bit of naval [sic] gazing

The announcement of 'MailCall' over the 1MC (ship-wide loudspeaker) system is one of the most wonderful things a sailor can hear during a long stint at sea. 

During my years aboard a frigate in the US 3rd and 7th Fleets, I watched longingly as countless helicopters would come and go bringing spare parts, food, people and who-knows-what else... and silently wondered if there was also a mailbag in there somewhere. 

Likewise, whenever we would make a port call, there would usually be a few dozen pallets of supplies for the ship waiting on the pier.  And as we inched closer to the wooden pilings every topside eye would be scanning to see if some evidence of a mailbag could be seen peeking out from among the boxes and crates.

So coveted was a letter, magazine or package from home that new crewmen were easily tricked into standing out on the fo'csle (the pointy end of the ship) on 'mail-buoy watch'.  This tedious detail required that they stand out in (usually) inclement weather with a pair of enormous binoculars looking for a fictitious buoy among the waves and white-caps to which mail bags for the ship had allegedly been fastened.  Stern warnings were issued that if the man on watch failed to spot the mail-buoy, we wouldn't be able to turn back and go looking for it... and all the ship's mail would be washed into the ocean!


I know what you're thinking... but no,  I never stood a mail-buoy watch. 

However, I did once get sent down to sickbay in order to ask an incredulous Senior Chief Hospital Corpsman for two fathoms of fallopian tubing.  And I'll readily admit to sending more than a few new recruits to the mess decks for '20 feet of chow line' or to ask one of the ship's burly Boiler Technicians for a badly needed 'BT Punch'.

But I digress. 

Where were we?  Oh yeah.... 'MailCall'.

The hell of it was that you never new... not for sure anyway... if mail had been brought aboard until an hour or two later when speakers all over the ship would crackle to life with a string of unrelated announcements dealing with ship cleanliness (sweepers) or work parties (muster on the flight deck)... followed by the final terse announcement 'MailCall'.

Instantly all the other announcements would be forgotten and a representative from every division would dash up to the ship's post office to get a small sack-full of letters, periodicals and packages to be distributed to his workmates.

Each division had a set location where its members gathered to intercept the group's stash of mail... and ours was Sonar Control.  This dimly lit room full of silent men wearing comically large headphones and unblinkingly watching their displays would suddenly come alive with activity and become both brightly lit and crowded with bodies.

Of course, just because there had been an announcement of 'mailcall' was no guarantee that there was mail for everyone.  So the few minutes until the distribution began was always fraught with tension and half-serious jokes about friends and family who must have forgotten about us way out here in the middle of the ocean.

My friends and family were usually pretty good about staying in touch... but one of the things I did early on to ensure I'd always have something waiting for me at every mailcall was to subscribe to a few periodicals.  It didn't matter that they would arrive weeks, and sometimes months, out of date.  Receiving something... anything from the outside world while floating around the Pacific and Indian oceans was enough to slap a silly smile on any sailor's face.

I subscribed to National Geographic, Biblical Archeology Review and the Jerusalem Post International Edition.  The first two usually were put aside under my rack (bed) for later reading... but the Jerusalem Post was immediately taken out on deck to a quiet spot sheltered from the wind... and devoured cover to cover for news of the place I had already decided I was going to live after I got out of the navy.

After the headlines and front page stories, the very next thing to which I would invariably turn was the Dry Bones cartoon. 

These pithy cartoons drawn by Yaakov Kirschen allowed me to feel like an insider... like I was in on the latest sarcastic joke about the economic, political or security situation.  The news and human interest stories elsewhere in the paper constantly reminded me of how little I really knew about my future home... but this minimalist cartoon somehow made it all make sense.

Dry Bones quietly assured me that all that other stuff was so much chaff... window dressing meant to obscure the small, essential kernel of information that was really important to Israelis at the moment.  And Kirschen's creations spoon fed me those kernels of information in such a way as if to say, "See?  That wasn't so complicated, was it?"

Each time the announcement for 'Mailcall' rang out, I knew that no matter what else I might or might not receive, I'd have the Jerusalem Post and Dry Bones to give me a conspiratorial wink and make me feel a bit Israeli... if only for a little while.

From that time to this I have been been a fair-weather follower of the Jerusalem Post... but have remained a devoted Dry Bones fan.

So you can you fathom how completely chuffed I was to find a comment from Yaakov (can I call you that?  Sir??) on one of my recent posts?

Even though it's not like we've met for coffee or anything, I still feel like I've finally met one of my childhood heroes... and he turned out to be exactly as I imagined!

Pardon me while I go sit down.


Posted by David Bogner on May 24, 2006 | Permalink


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Back when I actually posted to these here internets somewhat regularly, I found out that two contemporary composers that I'm fond of had read some of my musings (one of whom wound up emailing me to defend a show that I criticized). It is pretty wild, I must say...

"Two fathoms of fallopian tubing"... HA! In similar circumstances, my mother can recall being sent out by a mean classmate to the hardware store to get elbow grease.

Posted by: efrex | May 24, 2006 3:02:35 PM

that is a great story :)

Posted by: Sarah | May 24, 2006 4:24:43 PM

I was wondering when you would get to the point of the story ;-).

Posted by: Essie | May 24, 2006 4:28:10 PM

I'm just wondering if the announcement of fleetweek is what brought this post about...

Posted by: Jewish Blogmeister | May 24, 2006 4:59:28 PM

The last time I was asked for Fallopian tubing I ended up with a son. ;)

Posted by: Jack | May 24, 2006 5:18:00 PM

Great story, Dave and I 2nd Essie's comment! ;)

Posted by: val | May 24, 2006 6:51:58 PM

One more thing... I googled the drybones cartoon and I'm hooked on his blog within minutes... thanks - very informative in a non-preachy way!

Posted by: val | May 24, 2006 6:57:36 PM

Congratulations David - it must be great to "meet" a hero from the past.

Posted by: westbankmama | May 24, 2006 7:30:07 PM

My first job was at a McDonalds where the usual initiation for new employees was to send them to the butcher's shop across the street for a "long stand and weight."

Posted by: Andy Levy-Stevenson | May 24, 2006 9:39:07 PM

Awww... That's nice.

two fathoms of fallopian tubing

hahahooohahaheeteehehee!!! Ahem. That's funny!

Posted by: Doctor Bean | May 24, 2006 10:14:44 PM

I started reading the Dry Bones cartoons a little under a year ago. I wanted to use one of his cartoons in a post and he said I could use any of them that I wanted to, making sure to give him credit. He has been a fixture on my blogroll since.

Some of our new employees we are sent on a quest for an air hook. :)

Posted by: seawitch | May 25, 2006 6:00:14 AM

Efrex... Luckily he I haven't said anything bad about him and he didn't find too much in my post with which to take exception. :-)

Sarah... thanks... I gotta million of em. :-)

Essie... Great... everyone's a literary critic! ;-)

Jewish Blogmiester... DO you really think I keep track of what's going on in New York? Puleeze. All I need to know is that H&H will continue to send bagels to my corner grocery store. Everything else is just so much blah blah. :-)

Jack... Uh, I'm trying to picture in my mind how that transaction/conversation took place. Do tell.

Val... Great, another critic heard from. You do realize I do this for my own enjoyment, right? You guys are just along for the ride. :-)

Westbankmama... Yeah. It feels like a circle of some sort has been closed. Really neat feeling.

Andy Levy-Stevenson... I'm trying to imagine how "You want fries with that" would sound with that proper British accent of yours. :-)

Doctor Bean... You mean to tell me that with all the hazing you took in medical school they never did stuff like that?

Seawitch... The greatness of Dry Bones is that even when you don't fully agree with the point being made it makes you smile and think.

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 25, 2006 11:53:59 AM

A roll of Flight line... Bucket of prop wash... Fresh batteries for the Chem Lights... and there are more I cannot remember.

On a carrier we would get a "Nugget" (a new pilot on his first cruise) to run the At Sea Bowling Team, meeting at the non-existent bowling alley. The more elaborate the ruse the funnier it became; one squadron even had the "Captains Bowling Ball" and a couple of League trophies in the Ready Room.

Another good story and thanks for the memories.

Posted by: Oceanguy | May 25, 2006 3:27:09 PM


I could go into detail, but I think that it might send some people into shock.

Posted by: Jack | May 25, 2006 7:27:17 PM

Wow, that is fantastic! I love that story!

And the stuff about the mail call- it reminded me of boarding school (maybe not quite so fantastic)...

Posted by: Alice Bachini | May 25, 2006 10:54:48 PM

Oceanguy... I thought you might enjoy this one. :-)

Jack... Thanks for the consideration. :-)

Alice... Y'know, the navy was totally like boarding school. Except without the girls, the education, the recreational opportunities and the good food. Other than that it was spot on. :-)

Posted by: treppenwitz | May 30, 2006 5:17:15 PM

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