Saturday, July 29, 2006

23 May, 1955

Dear Folks

Got back to sunny Florida last night about 9:15—eleven hours after taking off from Los Alamitos, Calif. On the way we ran into some beautifully violent storms—the plane bucked and plunged all over the sky; the clouds were so thick that we couldn’t see our own engines. One time, the plane lurched so violently that luggage, instruments, & everything else was thrown out of the overhead storage racks & all over the plane. My clarinet flew half the length of the plane.

The guy next to me was a marine hitchhiking a ride across country (his first time in a big plane)—a box lunch flew from somewhere & hit him—a small cup of catsup opened up & spread all over his pants & hand. He looked as if he had been in a particularly horrible accident. After dark they turned all the lights out on board, & it was weird & rather exciting to look out the windows & watch the green wing-tip light winking on & off—whenever we flew through a cloud, the light looked twice as powerful, but no brighter. And lightning seen from inside a cloud doesn’t appear in any streaks—just a general glare of yellow-grey, outlining the wings & engines, with the blur of the propellers eating away at the night.

Going out was rough, but not so abruptly so—instead, it took the form of slow oscillations; up & down, up & down, sideways, up & down, etc. After nine hours of this, you can be sure we had some very green NavCads—pre-flight boys; they were miserable. Even a few hardened "advanced" cadets got sick & cursed themselves for it. I was riding in the very rear of the plane, which is the worst place to be under such conditions, & I’ll admit that after nine hours, I wasn’t feeling my peak, either; but I wasn’t sick—I have a very wonderful ability to talk myself out of being sick when my stomach tells me I should be.

I saw mountains & deserts for the first time—and I was glad I was far up above them rather than on the ground. We flew for at least two hours over land I didn’t think existed outside of science fiction books. Any visitor from space, landing by chance on Texas, Arizona, or New Mexico would swear ours was a dead world & return to where he came from. The very clouds over these deserts are a dull sand-red, either a reflection of the land below or colored by dust particles. How our pioneers ever lived to get across these wastes is a miracle.

What is really amazing is when, after flying over miles & miles of dead earth, to suddenly come upon a city—no warning; no farms or little towns. One moment it is desert, & the next is the city. With no trees or rivers, they look scorched brown under the relentless sun. And, as soon as they’ve come, they’ve gone, and there is only the endless sands.

The desert laps at the mountains like a dead sea. First comes a small ridge of mountains, which acts as a reef in the sea, breaking the desert & turning the sands on the other side from yellow to drab & mottled browns & greys.

Arizona west of Phoenix is a monotonous winter brown. Between the ridges the earth looks like nothing so much as dirty snowdrifts.

Well into Southern California the landscape takes on the appearance of the surface of the moon—huge bumbling mountains surrounding a completely flat yellow plain.

Slowly the desert ended—not gradually or gracefully but in well defined patches & chunks. How man has done this without any visible signs of water is amazing.

Somehow I get the impression that Californians believe that when they die, they go neither to hell nor heaven, but to California. I doubt even Texans are as zealous over their home state as Californians. Personally, they can keep both of them—I’ll take Illinois & the Mid-West.

We landed at NAS Los Alamitos at about five o’clock, their time. Getting out of the plane was like walking into an open refrigerator. Overhead the clouds (I could never tell if they were really clouds or just high smog) scampered by, looking as though they belonged there. Sunny California—HAH!!

No Little Lirf in sight. I figured either he hadn’t gotten my telegram, or else he had gotten it &, being Lief, decided he’d rather go to a movie than come & meet me.

We were given liberty almost immediately, & I hurried into my blues (which felt very good) & headed for the gate, to go into Long Beach. However, it seems that Los Alamitos is ten miles from Long Beach, & no busses run from there (only an occasional Greyhound). Even worse, it is not even on a main highway. Fortunately, I got a ride into town with a Negro man who works on the base.

I spent most of that evening looking for Lief. Long Beach is where his ship was docked. The town was crawling with sailors, but none of them was Lief. I considered going down to the ship, but decided against it, since it was a long way, & he probably wouldn’t be on board anyway. I ended up going to see Daddy Long Legs. Now comes the problem—how to get back. Not another NavCad was in sight, so at last I got discouraged & took a cab ($6.45).

Next morning we were informed that we were to play for an Armed Forces Day TV program to be held, by a strange coincidence, aboard the U.S.S. Toledo, Lief's ship. First, however, came the Armed Forces Day Parade in Long Beach. I kept looking around, hoping to see Lief, but finally gave up. About three-quarters of the way through the parade, I caught a glimpse of someone striding along behind the people watching. I could recognize that walk a mine away. Sure enough, it was Little Lirf—he was about twenty feet ahead of us, & marching straight down the sidewalk, in the same direction as the parade was moving. He didn’t look back once, & kept on walking. He was outdistancing us, & I thought "Oh, great!" He stopped briefly to speak to a policeman, & then on he went. Finally comes the end of the parade, & there is Lief, looking about vacantly. He looked at me about four times before he saw me. I was at attention, supposedly, & couldn’t do much but grin at him. He glared back.

We were dismissed & told to get back on the busses to go back to Los Alamitos for dinner. Got a chance to talk to him for a second, & told him to meet me on the Toledo; also told him to write home.

The U.S.S. Toledo is huge, blue-grey, & very formidable looking. It fairly bristles with guns. Although most of the ship is heavy steel, the main deck is covered with wood, for reasons I’ve known but forgotten.

This was the first time I’d ever been on a big ship, aside from the Monterey, & the second time I’ve had to salute the national ensign (flag)—really military. Of course, today the whole place was swarming with civilians & enemy agents, & all sorts of pennants & flags flew everywhere. I was on board half an hour before Lief strolled up casually. He took me downstairs to show me where he lived—my God; at that proportion of space to men, twenty-three people could live in our front closet!

We talked for awhile, back on deck, & then came time for the TV program. We played "Anchors Aweigh" & were told we could quit for an hour while the program went on. Part of it consisted of a demonstration of frogmen, whose job is underwater demolition. Lief & I were rather hoping they’d blow up a giant cargo vessel alongside the Toledo, but were disappointed. After an hour we came back, played the national anthem, & were secured for liberty—we didn’t have to be back till 0700 Monday morning.

Lief & I went to downtown Long Beach, where he changed into civilian clothes. Although it’s against the rules, a lot of guys rent lockers in a private locker store. We then ate supper & hopped a trolley for Los Angeles—an hour’s ride.

After looking around town for a while, we went to see a Japanese movie called "Ugetsu"—Gate of Hell. It had English subtitles & was very good. By the time this got out, it was quite late. I got a room in a hotel & Lief went to someplace like a U.S.O; it was free (& he’s saving money to come home) but I didn’t care to sleep with fifty or so guys—he’s used to it in that hole he lives in.

Sunday morning, bright (HAH!) & early, Lief came over for me & we went trundling off to glorious Hollywood, where I stood on Hollywood & Vine, saw Grauman’s Chinese Theatre & all the footprints of the movie stars, walked by the Pantages Theatre, where the Academy Awards are held, strolled into NBC & CBS to see if we could get tickets to a TV show (we couldn’t—what they had available we didn’t care to see), & meandered about from one place to another. Saw two pictures: "The Little Kidnappers" (English) & "Mr. Hulot’s Holiday" (French).

Later that evening, back in LA, went to Little Tokyo, the Japanese section of town, & to another Japanese movie. It was a double feature—one was a classic, like "Ugetsu," & the other took place in modern Japan. Though I couldn’t understand a word they said, it was very interesting—especially the modern one. It showed, though it was not its purpose, the contrasts in Japan today—the heroine (it was a romantic comedy) wears the latest New York fashions, but removes her shoes in the house & sits on the matted floor.

The hero wears a kimono or a western suit, whichever he feels like.

Stopped in a little Japanese restaurant & had a glass of Sake—which, as you probably know, is a rice wine served warm. It tastes both bitter & sweet at once, & is all right, though I didn’t care for it particularly.

Back to Long Beach, where I walked Lirf back to his ship—it was pulling out to sea at 0700 the next morning (it was now about 12:30). We shook hands (the first time he’s ever volunteered to do so) & made tentative plans to see one another in another year or so. Then he went up the gangplank, & I walked back into Long Beach. It was too late to try to go to bed, so I went to an all-night movie, went back to Los Alamitos at 0600, & came "home."

And there you have my adventures in Sunny California.

Don’t forget, mother—as I told you in the card—that print that Lief sent you is a 17th century original Japanese print on rice paper—unfold it carefully & put it under glass.

Well, I have a bad case of writers’ cramp, so I’d best close now. More later.


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