Tuesday, January 17, 2017


One of the greater
sights I ever saw
was the collection
of battleships and
war-craft in Philadelphia
harbor. I don't know
the ins and outs of it
all but, back in the
mid 60's, seminary
days and all, crossing
the river right there,
you'd see a bevy of
serious, military
watercraft just
idly sitting. Old
style, real battleships;
like my father had
been on in the South
Pacific in WWII.
A battleship-tender
was just that, and
did just what that
said  -  it 'tended'
to battleships.
Just like a truck
that re-supplies a
these smaller
versions of
battleships do the 
same for ships.
 They look about
the same as the
battleships they
supplied, in form,
but they were
smaller and way
more fleet and more
swiftly manueverable.
They would ferry
supplies around, to
the other battleships
in the fleet. Regular
weird stuff, like toilet
paper, corn flakes,
magazines, peanut
butter, bags of flour,
sides of bacon, you
name it. Everything
a floating town of
Navy guys needed.
Re-supply ships,
with guns. I forget
the millimeter of
the guns, but they
were pretty big-bore
units. My father was
always proud of his role
as a 'gunnery-captain'
to some arrangement
of four, long-gun
cannon type, rotating
and movable-to-aim
battery emplacements
on board the ship.
In addition to the
truck-like deliveries,
back and forth,
they also had to
fend off the Jap
planes that were
always strafing
and trying to sink
them. So he said
the guns got
awfully warm
on some days.
Planes shot down
from the skies,
bullets whizzing
around. But he
said the worst
were the kamikaze
planes  -  guys
intent on suicide
or something who'd
just aim their planes
down to your ship
and crash it, for
the God of Japan
or the Emperor,
or one of those
usual bizarre
war-story things,
even like we still
have today  -
Muslims beating
their chests to kill
for God, Americas
on 'Jeopardy, and
all that. Wait, no,
that's not war stuff,
is it? Those kamikaze
guys (I don't know
how his shipmates
or he could tell
what was what,
but it made a
somehow) had
to be, if at all
possible, picked out
of the sky and blown
to smithereens in
the air, before they
could hit and do
you some real
damage. My luck,
if I was there,
would have been
to blast the stupid
plane and all, and
then have it the debris
come down on the
ship anyway, in a
worse fashion.
Anyway, two
more things
on this count.
First, another
part of my father's
task also, when
they'd have to
pick dead bodies
up and get them
off these ships
they supplied  -
sailors who'd
gotten killed and
stuff, his other job,
where he first got
an interest in
upholstery actually
-  his later life-work
-  was to sew these
dead guys up in canvas
body-bags, using a
large, curved needle
to sew the heavy twine.
A chaplain or whatever,
would do a cursory
service and they'd
dump these guys, in
the bags, over into
the sea. With a
salute and services
and all, not just
heaving them. I
guess they were
weighted or something,
so they didn't just
float around. That
would be a real
mess, really making
war on the sea a
true pain, for the
living anyway.
I used to figure
it as Charlie Chaplin,
instead of a 'chaplain,'
and a real funny
scene ensuing 
when none of these
bags would sink,
and Charlie would
go out there and
be stepping on
the bags, one from
the other, trying
to make his way
back or something.
I never told old
Dad that one; he'd
probably have
gotten mad. And
then, lastly, about
1960, my aunt,
his oldest sister,
somehow, through
the Navy Department,
had gotten for him,
all framed and nicely
done up, as a surprise
gift, on, I think it
was maybe his 45th
birthday, or something
like that, a large,
maybe 3 foot by 4
foot, enlarged black
and white photo of
his very ship, clearly
staged and all, afloat
on the sea somewhere.
My father lost control;
he was like crying
and tearing up and
bubbling over this
for days. I really
think the guy re-lived
the complete best
instances of his
life in front of
and through this
picture and that
ship -  it was
amazing the
effect it had
on him.
I never knew
what to make
of it, and now l
longer see that
sort of thing
anywhere around
there. Philadelphia
Navy Yard, and
places like that,
I've visited and
and walked around
and all  - even to
the extent of an
open-house tour,
jitney-bus ride
through there a
few Summers
back. But, no
matter what I've
done I've never
been able to recreate
the jumbled assortment
of those days' emotions,
spying all those big,
gray ships, on the
water like that. It's
happened in other
places too  -  but
different feelings
for different
locations; you
know how that is?
The first few times
I spent some long
afternoon hours
waltzing through
Laurel Hill Cemetery,
atop Philadelphia,
same thing  -  I was
just taken away
with spirit and
emotion. Amazing
places. Laurel Hill
was one of those
first, bucolic, agrarian
kind of rest and respite
cemeteries for families
and visitors to visit
their dead, spend
the day, enjoy the
rural scene, foliage,
vistas, plantings
and monuments. 
People even picnic'd
for the day amidst all
that scenery. It became 
so popular, in fact, 
that by whatever the 
year was, let's say 
1890, they had 
overflow crowds 
and all  -  to the 
extent that, below it 
and around, they 
extended and opened
 into what is now 
Fairmount Park, 
another absolutely 
beautiful and expansive 
place. No one connects 
the two anymore, and 
most people don't 
even think of them 
together in the same 
thought but  -  yes, 
for sure  -  the one 
grew out of the other
as sure as a fingernail 
grows out of a finger - 
and in the reverse 
order of what you'd
 think. But, it's a 
funny and deeply 
philosophical quandary 
type thing  -  for a 
thinking human anyway. 
Most people just blur right 
through it, never thinking. 
What takes pre-eminence  
-  Death, or the Eden in 
which Death is presented? 
In the original Garden
of  Eden story, death 
was not yet an 
existent concept. 
Only after the betrayal,
 the apple, the 'Original 
Sin' (if it wasn't sex, 
it was a forbidden
apple)? Seduced by 
a demon named 
Satan? By those 
standards, Eden 
came first. But here, 
in this Philadelphia 
graveyard and park, 
Death came first, 
along with its 
bucolic place, 
and the Garden 
only came later. 
Very confusing, 
and twisted over 
on itself. Good 
thought though.
When you're five 
or six, the big 
temptation is in 
stealing or not, a 
candy bar from 
Murray's candy 
store, all 14 cents 
of it (my day, 
heading way back, 
1958). Or if you 
do, successfully, 
the challenge is 
'living with yourself.' 
I never had any guilt 
over things like that. 
The Grab 'n Go model 
store always worked. 
The nascent 'repetitive' 
criminal type, a'borning, 
would do it again and 
again. Other kids 
do it once, perhaps 
 -  and get their fingers 
seared with guilt, and 
a hangover from which 
they don't return, 
about that which they 
just did. There's not 
much talking about 
stuff like this.  Recidivists 
are born, not made? 
Who knows. The 
train's on the track, 
and it ain't never 
getting off,
Quarrel and conflict;
 I always hated both 
of those; plus I really
 hated the people who 
were always prone to 
either of them  -  and 
I had come from a bunch 
of people with both 
always at the ready. 
If it was blue, it 
was green, round it
was square, too hot 
it was too cold. I 
could never win. 
There were days at 
home when the 
simplest things 
would take on the 
absurdity factor of 
a cat chasing a cloud 
shadow. I mean to 
the craziest extent : 
the phone rings, once.
That's it, one assumes
 the caller gave it up 
that quickly, or 
realized a mistake. 
OK. But no, the 
ensuing home argument 
had to be five minutes 
of 'the phone rang  -  
the phone did not ring.' 
I used to walk my 12 
year-old head away 
just to say 'where's 
Hanna-Barbera when 
you need them?' (That 
was a cartoon-studio, 
I guess in Hollywood, 
which used to churn out 
all those children's 
cartoons when I was 
a child and ripe for 
cartoons : Tom and Jerry, 
and the rest; though 
I can remember 
Popeye being a 
Fleischman Studio 
project. I don't know. 
I thought they made 
margarine, not spinach.). 
Boy, that was a failed joke-run.

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