Wednesday, January 31, 2007

14 July, 1956 (Part 2)

The bar—which was rather out of the way—was a small, old-ish place with large, small-paned windows. The lady who owned the bar speaks seven languages, & was very friendly. Actually, it is not a restaurant, but if you want something to eat, she will run out & get it. We explained that Marc, Michel, Guntar & Yohakiem were probably on a low budget & asked her advice accordingly. She suggested an omelet, some ham, chicken soup, & salad. Her husband ran out & returned with a head of lettuce & some carrots, fresh from the garden. The soup was delicious—a large bowl, with noodles. The ham & omelet were also very good, though the omelet was a little underdone for my taste. We also had a glass of wine & later a large bottle. Total price for the meal & wine? 2,500 Francs ($8.00 for 6 of us.).

While waiting for dinner, & afterwards, everyone began doing stunts—Guntar yodeled (he is very good), Tom did the Charleston, Marc & Michel did balancing tricks with chairs (i.e. holding one’s body at a 90 degree angle in the air while holding onto the arms of the chairs). Guntar tried—unsuccessfully—to swallow burning matches. He is really a natural comedian, though he doesn’t mean to be.

After we left the bar, we walked arm & arm down the street, singing old German war songs.
A grand time was had by all.

Yesterday, we met Marc & Michel at the ruins at 2:00, & spent the afternoon the same way—swimming & diving. I even dived for bottles this time—got them, too, only the pressure hurt my ears.

Guntar & Yohakiem had gone to another beach, & said they’d join us later. Two girls on bicycles came by (Marc & Michel are typically French—especially Michel). Soon they were swimming with us & we spent the rest of the day with them. At sundown, again, we left—the girls peddling off a few minutes before, & went to eat.

Tom, incidentally, had gone to & flunked out of OCS (Officer Candidate School), & one of his buddies who had gone through is on one of the ships with us. We ran into him, & he joined us. We never did find Guntar & Yohakiem.

After supper in a little restaurant near the railroad station, we went to the Normandie Bar, a sailor hangout. Phil (Tom’s friend) had a friend in the floor show—a girl called "Cobra." The show at the Normandie was much better than that at the U.N. Bar, where I’d stood shore patrol. The girls were all very nicely constructed, which you do not see much of in America.

During the "intermission", the piano player/hostess asked for five volunteers to come to the middle of the floor. Phil pushed Tom out, & the bar girls dragged out four more. Each was to do a dance—the first, a ballet; the second, a can-can (he backed out); the third, a Russian Dance; the fourth, a strip-tease, & the fifth—Tom—the Charleston. The winner was chosen by applause, & Tom won; the prize being a bottle of champagne! We decided to keep it until Sunday—Marc & Michel took charge of it until then.

On the way back to Fleet Landing, we stopped at Shore Patrol headquarters & got six passes to come to the ship—the two girls had said they’d like to come.

Today it rained for awhile, but cleared up & became quite hot. Marc & Michel arrived on the second boat, & Tom & I showed them around as much of the ship as we were allowed. Tom had to go back to work, & just after he left, we saw Guntar & Yohakiem. Yohakiem was fascinated by everything & anything.

Tomorrow, if possible, I plan to go over again to drink the champagne. Monday is our last day in Cannes, & our last port (except Gibraltar) before heading for home. I rather hate to leave Cannes, in a way.

More Monday.



Tuesday, January 30, 2007

14 July 1956 (Part 1)

Dear Folks

The last three days have been a sort of star-spangled climax to my European tour. They have been more like a vacation; for two days I laid on the Riviera, soaking up the sunlight & swimming in the glass-clear water. But the best part of it happened like this….

Tom Dolan & I decided Thursday to go ashore & go swimming, just so we could say we’d been swimming on the Riviera. Neither of us wanted to go to the "Plages Public," where the sky is all umbrellas & the sand is all people, so we began walking up the half-moon seafront toward Nice.

We had seen, while bicycling, the ruins of a fort with extensions out into the water, & thought we’d stop off there. These ruins are about halfway up the crescent, just past the cement sea wall which sweeps along most of Cannes’ waterfront. At the end of the concrete pier, covered with flagstone, steps lead down to a landing, evidently used at one time for small boats. Four young guys were already there—all of them between twenty & twenty-three.

"Hello, boys—come on down" one called, & then began yodeling (he did it very well). We couldn’t figure out what they were (nationalities, that is), for they spoke two different languages & English.

We found out that two were Germans, & two were French. Since the French didn’t speak German, & the Germans didn’t speak French, they "conversed" in English, all of them knowing at least a little of it. One of the Germans (the one who yodeled) spoke quite good English; his name is Guntar (Goon-tar). The other’s German name is unspellable, but it is pronounced "YO-hah-kiem"; he looks typically Bavarian—blondish hair, blue eyes, & a fascinating way of speaking German. Tom also speaks German, so they got on well right from the start. The Frenchmen’s names are Marc ("Mahk") & Michel.

All of them were campers—Guntar & Yohakiem hitchhiking from Munich, Germany; Michel & Marc came the same way from Paris, where both work. Yohakiem likes Americans because "there are many American soldiers in Munich, & they fight a lot." Guntar was part Swiss (i.e. the yodels), & learned English from the American soldiers around Munich.

Marc is a bartender in Paris, & Michel works just outside Paris, though what he does I don’t know—he is the Junior Champion Skin-Diver of all France, as we soon discovered without anyone telling us.

We spent the afternoon talking (many gestures; "compre?", "understand?" & such), swimming & generally fooling around. The water beside the landing is about twelve to twenty feet deep, & you can see every rock on the bottom. One of Marc & Michel’s favorite games was throwing a water-filled bottle in, letting it sink to the bottom, & then diving down after it—they never missed. Another trick was to dive down, pick up a large white rock, & walk across the bottom with it.

Oh, I forgot to tell you how one changes into & out of a bathing suit on the Riviera! One carries along a towel, naturally. When wishing to change, sometimes in the middle of the beach, one wraps the towel around one’s middle, like an apron. The trick is in fixing it so it won’t fall off, which might prove embarrassing. Then simply remove your pants (or skirt) & slip on the bathing suit. Remove the towel, & Voila! Oh, these French are clever, I tell you

Guntar wandered off to pick up sea shells & look for crabs ("for souvenirs"); Yohakiem, in his plastic bathing suit, slept. Marc, Michel, Tom & I splashed around, jumping off the edge of the pier where it came out & covered the landing.

Marc & Michel wore identical red-&-blue male Bikinis; I wore the old pink boxer suit I bought in Pensacola.

About sundown we all went to supper at a little place miles away Tom had found a couple days before. Guntar was wearing Levi’s & cowboy boots, with a wide leather belt embellished with cows & brands. Yohakiem wore shorts—which made him look more Bavarian than ever—& sandals. Michel & Marc wore Levi’s & moccasins. Tom & I wore sailor suits.

Monday, January 29, 2007

8 - 9 July 1956

Dear Folks

And then it was Sunday afternoon---& here I am, all wet-nosed & bushy-tailed, eagerly looking forward to the 35 days I have left in the Navy.

Last night I spent in the U.N. Bar, on Shore Patrol. There were two of us assigned to "keep the peace," but they needn’t have bothered—that was the only bar in Cannes where the Shore Patrol outnumbered the sailors. The only excitement of the evening came during one of the times the place was fairly crowded. A bunch of guys came in to see the floor show, but they didn’t want to buy anything. The manager told them they’d have to buy a drink or they couldn’t stay. They were completely loaded anyway, but got highly indignant when the manager called off the show in the middle of a dance. Words flew hot & heavy, & we were asked to tell them to get out. Within two minutes, the place was swarming with Shore Patrol—chiefs, officers, & whitehats. Where they’d all come from I can’t guess. At last the insurgents left (calling the owner "A Communist; that’s what y’are; a Communist—won’t serve American sailors. Shore Patrol ought’a lock up the place"), & the Shore Patrol left, & all the other sailors left, leaving just the two of us & the five barmaids.

The "floor show" consisted of a belly dancer who came out in a grass skirt & a lei, & another dancer whose object was rather vague. Prices were terrific, I understand—beer was 275 Francs (about 80 cents). Fortunately, they closed at 12, & we got to come back earlier than the roving Patrol, who stayed out till three.

Cannes late at night is very pretty—the night was warm, & along the boulevard beside the sea, colored lights projected in & from trees & bushes—greens, pinks, blues. People strolled along, not at all in a hurry; out in the water the spangle of lights from an ocean liner glimmered on the water….

The next day was Monday, that being the way things went in those days, & as we look in on our hero, we find him hunched over his pen & paper after a long hard struggle with two sets of whites & an iron.

The movie for this evening is a Hollywood extravaganza called "The Cult of the Cobra" starring no one in particular. It deals with a voluptuous young woman (always good material for a movie) who has the rather annoying habit of turning into a cobra at the most opportune times. She runs (or slithers) about biting people until there is just her, the hero (with whom, as a woman, she is madly in love), & the hero’s girlfriend—of whom the cobra lady is not overly fond. I will not tell you who triumphs in the end, for that would spoil it for you, & I am sure you will want to see it next time it comes to your neighborhood nickelodeon.

One month from today I should receive my discharge, if all goes well. You must excuse me if my letters become wider apart; I honestly don’t feel like writing—no gloom, no nothing—it’s just that if I try to find something to do every single minute, the time goes by so much faster.

I’m sending off another roll of film today, most of it on the Riviera. By the time you get it, I should almost be home, so I’d rather you didn’t look at it. I’m not in it, anyway.

The first week I’m home we’ve got to go to DeKalb so I can pre-register. The first few weeks we’ll have to stick together like glue to make up for the two years I’ve been away.

It is comforting to look at the calendar & know I have more leave time accumulated than I could possibly use.

Tom Dolan loaned me a book of Aldous ("Brave New World") Huxley’s short stories, & I am considering sending Mr. Huxley a shovel so that he can dig a hole & bury himself alive. If life is so terrible to cynics, why do they bother living it at all?

It is now ten minutes till nine. Above the office, in the barber shop, they are weight lifting. Every time they drop one, it is as though we were inside a bell tower at the stroke of midnight.

You will notice this letter has a 9 cent stamp. I’m desperate. Now to take a shower & then to bed.



P.S. Tell me, do you think Roosevelt really has a chance at a fourth term?

Sunday, January 28, 2007

6 July, 1956 (Part 2)

After returning the bicycles, we decided to take a train for Nice. Back in the Cannes railroad station, with which I have become very familiar, I decided what the covered waiting platform reminded me of—one of the Exhibition buildings at the 1898 World’s Fair.

The "train" we took was more like a subway, with streamlined red-&-yellow cars. The driver, or conductor, or whatever he’s called, sits in a raised bump on the roof in the center of each car.
While in Nice, we looked around various clothing stores & antique shops. Tom has some friends living in Williamsburg, Virginia—the reconstructed colonial town—who asked him to try & locate an 18th century mirror.

Browsing through a newspaper, we found that one of the theartres was playing two Russian films—one of them an animated cartoon—that had won the grand prize at the recent Cannes Film Festival. The theatre didn’t open until 9 p.m., & the last train to Cannes left at 10:30. We decided to wait, see the cartoon at least, & make it back to the station in time for the train. While waiting for the theatre to open, we walked around some more. Each of us bought a small box of fresh raspberries from a small shop, & walked along the street in front of the Ruhl Hotel (one of the world’s most exclusive) eating raspberries.

The cartoon, "L’Antilope d’Or" ("The Golden Antelope") was a very pleasant surprise. The movement of the characters was smooth, the colors were soft & pleasing, & the backgrounds & characters very well drawn. The story takes place in India & deals with a young boy who hides an antelope fleeing from the Raja’s hunters. The antelope, by striking the ground with its rear hooves, makes gold coins. The Raja learns of the Antelope’s powers, & that the boy has befriended it. He brings the boy before him & demands a certain payment of gold for some trumped-up offense. The boy seeks out the Antelope by coming to the rescue of various animals, who in turn aid him in finding the Antelope. Of course, the boy is being followed by an unscrupulous character in the employ of the Raja At last the boy finds the Antelope, in a silver cloud. The Antelope gives the boy the money & a flute, telling him to play it whenever he needs her, & she will come to him. The stooge tells the Raja, who takes the money the boy has brought & steals the pipe, summoning the Antelope. She appears & is seized by the palace guards. The Raja commands her to make gold, & she begins leaping about the court, a shower of gold coins falling wherever her feet strike the floor. The guards soon go into a frenzy, running after her & falling all over themselves, trying to get more gold. The boy calls her & she leaps up the stairs, striking the steps again & again with her hooves, until a cascade of gold rushes down the steps & knocks the Raja off his feet, burying him. The gold then changes to stone, & the Raja is buried alive. The guards, seeing the gold they’ve gathered turning to stone, walk away in disgust. The boy & the Golden Antelope go quietly up the stairs & out into the night….

No doubt many could & would find the whole story a sinister communist plot, with the Raja representing Greedy Capitalism, the boy Russia, Everybody’s Pal, & the animals the nations of the world. But I prefer to think of it as the story of a boy, an evil villain, & an Antelope of Gold….
Tomorrow I have Shore Patrol, which I am looking forward to with no great glee. They haven’t paid me for the last time, yet.
Oh, did I tell you I got a letter from the garage where my car is stored? Already I owe them $83. Oh, well—it’s only money….

The other day they were selling 1956 Fords & Chevrolets on the Hangar deck for $1500; delivery when we get home. Had I $1500 or father’s excellent advice, I might have gotten one. They were also selling Wedgwood China, some of it beautiful (for $141 you could get a $450 set). I wanted to get some very badly, but again didn’t have the money.

Again, the hint about stamps—the envelope to this letter is probably plastered with six one-centers. If you haven’t sent any by the time you get this, don’t bother, because I won’t be writing. Either that, or will wait until 20 cents worth has collected, then ship them off.

Well, the mail situation has been pretty bad all the way around—I’ve only gotten 3 letters from you in the 6 days.

Something is going around the ship—we don’t know what, but it’s causing diarrhea & stomach cramps. At first we thought it was the food, but officers, chiefs, & enlisted men all have it & they eat in different messes. No doubt it’s the water. Nothing is quite the same when you’re thirsty as running to the fountain for a nice, cool drink of salt water. They’re doing that too often to be even vaguely amusing anymore. When someone turns the wrong valve, salt water flows through fresh water mains & contaminates the whole ship.

Well, more Sunday.



Saturday, January 27, 2007

6 July 1956 (Part 1)

Dear Folks

I could say that the reason I haven’t written for the past six days is that I’ve run out of stamps, but that wouldn’t be a very good excuse. Or, I could say that we’ve been working very long & hard, which would also be true, but not too good a reason either. And then I could always say that I’ve had no interest at all in writing letters, & that would probably be the best reason, though the poorest excuse.

Almost every day I’d start a letter, write three or four lines, & then quit, thinking: "Well, I’ll get at it tomorrow." Finally, tomorrow has caught up with me. I can’t promise that it won’t happen again, but only that I’ll try not to let it..

I have a bad case of Short-Timer’s Fever, the symptoms being 48 hour days & a general slowing down of the external world contrasted with a speeding up of mental processes. The victims of this fever, though seemingly in good health, are addicted to fingering the pages of a calendar as though it were a rosary, incessant glances a the clock, & scanning of newspaper & magazine datelines.

Fortunately, I am not nearly as bad off as some of the other guys, & I only have 37 days to go (869.5 hours as of this writing). One other thing—whether in my favor or against it—is that I am almost Senior-in-line-of-discharge. Everyone who gets discharged up to two days before me has left the ship. Oh, well….

Ran over to Nice on the 4th. Cannes & Nice are swarming with movie stars & assorted celebrities. Some guys who took a tour to Monaco got to see a fleeting glimpse of Grace Kelly’s hat ("white with lots of feathers") driving past from the cathedral to the Palace. She & the Prince had gone to mass to celebrate the American 4th of July. Darn nice of her, I’d say.

I saw one mess cook (being carried down a ladder by a buddy) who had been on the tour. When he saw me he said "Oh, hi!" & then, very confidentially: "I saw Princess Margaret," & went on down the ladder.

The Riviera is all now that it wasn’t in November. People everywhere—many Americans—sidewalk cafes, small orchestras playing on the patios in front of the stately & dignified white Ruhl & Martinez Hotels—the beaches thick with the bright, mushroom-like beach umbrellas—the water dotted with little pontoon boats for two (the kind you paddle with your feet)—the light surf a brownish green from the swirling sand. All very picturesque. The water is wonderfully clear, its only bad feature being that it is salt.

I went over with Tom Dolan, a college graduate who plans to work in Istanbul when he gets out of the Navy. We rented bicycles, & peddled along the coast almost to Golf Juan—the next town to Cannes. When the road left the shore & crossed over to the inland side of the railroad tracks, we half rode, half walked up a mountain to find a French Chateau belonging to Louis XIII. We found it, halfway up the mountain. It must have had a beautiful view, though we could see nothing but the walls which lined the road on both sides, topped with shards of broken glass to keep unwanted guests away. Tom thought we should see if the chateau was open to visitors at any time, so we stopped by a wrought iron gate. Through it we could see the yellow-tan house with its wooden shutters & bits of the garden in front of & below the house—patches of bright pink flowers & green grass. To the right of the gate, & a part of the wall along the road, was evidently the caretakers’ or servants’ home. A small woman in a nondescript blue smock came out & to the gate. Tom spoke for us—was this the Chateau of Louis XIII? Yes, it was—did we wish to see the Prince?

Somewhat taken aback, Tom said "Yes." The Prince, it seemed, was away "in the South," & the Princess was upstairs, asleep. We thanked her for her trouble & rode off, completely mystified.

"I wonder," I said as we peddled away, "what would have happened if the Prince had been home?"

Friday, January 26, 2007

28 June, 1956 (Part 2)

I’ve saved Paris for last because it was the best. There, I had a marvelous time & made no bones about it. I even got a big charge out of Pigalle. The very first night we were there, we were stopped by a very pretty redhead in a fur coat. She was willing to take us all for 1,000 Francs apiece! Well!! That got things off to a rousing start. One of the three other guys kicked himself ever since for not accepting her offer.

In Paris, prostitution is taken as much for granted as the SUZE signs & the Eiffel Tower. Paris just wouldn’t be Paris without it.

In a restaurant we met Yvonne & Kitty. Kitty was heavy-set & spoke Spanish, so we got along beautifully until the time came when I had to decline an invitation to go dancing. Yvonne & Bob Schmall were getting along very well, too, & it was they who suggested the going someplace. Jim Bessette had run off to a movie with a Russian named Olga, who showed Jim a picture of her brother (in the Red Army) in front of the Kremlin. He endeared himself to her by yelling: "Yea, Bolsheviks! I’m a Bolshevik from way back" & drinking a toast to the Revolution—in vodka, of course.

It seems I am getting off the subject again. Good. I’ve grown tired of it all of a sudden, & there isn’t much more to tell anyhow. Maybe some other time…

Coutre & I have just been talking about our houses—the ones we’re going to have, that is. The more I think of my house, the more I am crazy about it & want it. Oh, well, someday I shall have the required amount of money. I know I want that house more than anything in the world (& surrounding areas).

Let’s speak of money now, for a moment—a topic which never ceases to fascinate me: As of the 1st, I will have $300 on the books. By the 15th I’ll have $350 on the books. With all the miscellaneous stuff I’ll gather, such as leave time, etc., I should come home with close to $500. School is about $300 a semester. Oh, well—anyway, I should have some money left.

Hooray! They have film on board again! How long it will last I don’t know, but I scraped enough change together to buy one roll. I have $29 loaned out, but aside from that, I’m broke.

Tomorrow we replenish (again)—at the cheery hour of 0600. Which means it is going to be one hell of a long day.

Every time I get my hands on a men’s magazine (Esquire, True) or any substantial mag with a fair degree of advertising, I paw through it eagerly, looking for the latest in men’s fashions. (I note they have practically done away with button shoes & spats. Oh, well.)

Coutre says hello, by the way. "Greetings, Salutations, & Know Ye…."

You know, there is nothing that gives a boost to the morale like a mail call—either a boost or a kick, depending on whether you get any or not. I like to hear from you both as often as possible, so write. Mother has been very good about it, but slips up occasionally, & dad could do much better. Also have Stormy drop a few lines every now & then.



P.S. No mail will probably leave the ship till we get to Cannes, so you’ll get batches again. Envelopes will be dated until the stamps run out, then there’ll be a long silence.

Thursday, January 25, 2007

28 June 1956 (Part 1 of 2)

Dear Folks

Our little chat for this evening should be called "Prostitutes I have Known". Granted, one does not generally discuss such things in letters—especially to one’s parents, but I have no qualms (though I probably wouldn’t be able to talk about it), being of Pure Heart & Mind.

I have no intentions of going into sordid details, sobbing confessions, or hatchet-waving denunciations. However, it is a subject which does affect the Navy in particular &, therefore indirectly, me. It is something which is as much a part of our in-port liberty as is sightseeing & drinking. In many cases it is much more important than either sightseeing or drinking.

Coming, as I do, from a comparatively isolated town with amazingly high morals—compared to what I’ve seen since—I knew there was such a thing, but had never seen it, just as I knew there was a Europe, but had never seen it either.

My impressions of Norfolk’s East Main Street have been recorded before. Norfolk, being a Sailor Town was therefore a Den of Iniquity & other trite exclamations for "somewhat promiscuous."

Not to be waving a little American flag (while a music box tinkles The Star Spangled Banner), but Norfolk’s worst only comes up to Europe’s average. I suppose a lot of factors enter into it—the war, the low standards of living, etc.—enough things to write a large & not very interesting volume.

It’s here, it’s been here a long time (the Second Oldest Profession—what is the Oldest?), & will most likely to be here for a long time.

However, we seem to be getting away from the topic—namely Prostitutes I have known. Actually, there aren’t a great number. I try to avoid the bars where the B-girls come with every bottle of champagne (in some places, they’re included with the champagne). Whenever I’m with a group of guys, though, we almost always end up in one of these bars.

Naples was where we held our divisional party. The manager of the restaurant we’d rented said he would provide "everything," & sent the word among the girls of Naples.

Most of them spoke no English—or only enough to transact the necessary financial arrangements. They simply came in, sat down, & ate. Some of them looked half starved, & ate accordingly. Almost all of them wrapped sandwiches in napkins & put them in their purse. One small, mousy-looking girl was seen scooping potato salad into her purse. They didn’t try to laugh, but just sat there, eating & being mauled & looking bored. One short, plump girl in a white sweater looked like a 1929 Betty Boop (or whatever her name was). She looked definitely disdainful & didn’t try to hide it even by looking bored. There was also a midget, whom I may have mentioned at the time. Had she been normal size, she might have been very pretty—rather like Donna Aden. I’d seen her before, in a "business establishment" which I believe I described before,-- if not, I will sometime in the future.

In Valencia, I talked with a girl whom I like to think was not a professional, or even an amateur, but then I’m pretty gullible. She gave me the story on the operations of the bar—how the girls get a commission on every drink they make the guys buy. All in all a very sound business, & quite complex, too. I enjoyed talking to her, because she was not the clinging-vine type, & was also not stupid. We conversed as much as was possible with my limited Spanish, & I had a very good time. Later that night, after we left the bar, we met a very young girl I like to think of as an apprentice streetwalker. One of the guys was fascinated by her, with the result that we followed her all over Valencia. She was definitely new at the game, & giggled quite a bit when he tried to talk to her. Then she’d shake her head & walk off down the street, only to stop at another store window & wait for us to catch up. I won’t tell you whether they ever came to terms or not.

In Istanbul, one bar employed girls under 14—I know I told you about that place! I didn’t even try to talk to them—we left as soon as we could. That was going a little too far.

(To Be Continued)

Wednesday, January 24, 2007

27 June 1956

Dear Folks

This afternoon I tried to spell Connecticut; whether I spelled it correctly or not is another matter. I tried it three different ways, & none of them looked right. A trip to Webster’s showed the above to be correct, but even it looks funny. Massachusetts I can manage, after quite a struggle.

Mother mentioned in a recent letter—recent being 1956—that my first word after Mom & Dad was "Constantinople.". Doesn’t it strike you as a little odd that out of 600,000 words in the English language—among them such commonplace gems as "dog," "cat," & "the"—I should come out with "Constantinople"? Maybe it was just baby talk that sounded like Constantinople.

Which brings us to the subject of penmanship, for no particular reason. I have the feeling that somewhere, deep in my subconscious, I have a hidden loathing of my Penmanship teacher, & am showing my resentment every time I take up a pen or pencil.

Penmanship, as I recall, was a class squeezed in between History & Mathematics (or, as it was known in my younger days, Arithmetic) twice a week. For this class we were issued thin, blue paper bound books about half the size of a comic book. On its cover was a beautifully written "penmanship" with a pen trailing off the last "p" as though someone had just dashed it off. It became increasingly obvious that no one just "dashed it off," but that it had been written with a pair of calipers & several fine machine-tooled instruments. The idea being given by Miss Hines that we were all supposed to write like that, with improvements.

Now, to make things worse, we had all been raised on pencils, & pens were as cumbersome as trying to write with a crowbar. The pens we were to use were only one step above the sharpened ostrich-plume stage, & the points looked like someone’s buck teeth from our habit of dotting our names on our desktops with them. Inkwells were in the upper right hand corner of the desk, at the end of the pencil trough. Most of the inkwell holes were without inkwell, though which we pushed pieces of paper & shreds of art gum erasers. What few inkwells there were were dry, caked with a blue smudge.

Upon opening our Penmanship books, which we did grudgingly, we saw wide, blue-lined pages like an enlarged section of a sheet of music. The paper itself was something of a marvel—in the middle days of the war, the paper available for our everyday use was coarse & rather yellowish—the Penmanship book’s pages were smooth & white. I hated to louse it up.

At the top of each page was the exercise for the day. The first page was circles—sort of like a compressed steel spring.

Again, it was machine-drawn, & don’t try & tell me it wasn’t. The object was to repeat this exercise, using swift, circular motions. Mine, I’m afraid, left something wanting. It was a rare thing if my circles even resembled circles to begin with, & if they somehow touched either line, it was a miracle. And to think we were graded on that stuff! To this day, I doubt if I could make a passing mark.

The remarkable thing about it all is that not once since I left fourth grade have I been called upon to make freehand coiled springs.

I have finally figured out how they’re working that "Three-Room Suite" bit at Northern. Two rooms next door to each other will have four bunks each, for sleeping. One room across the hall will be a "Study Room" for the eight men. Frankly, I think it’s a lousy idea & I wish now I hadn’t enrolled there again. I think also that one semester will be plenty, & then I’ll drop out & look around for another college—if I stay at Northern sure as hell I’ll end up teaching & that is far down on my list of Things I Would Like to Do.

What I would like to do is write to Pensacola & see about buying an SNJ—they’re changing from SNJ’s to T28’s, & have literally hundreds of them sitting around down there. Some of them are in excellent shape, & the J is a good little plane all-around. They should be fairly cheap, as the Navy now has no further use for them.

Mmm—a quick calculation throws a thin blanket on things—the J uses 110 gallons of gas in about four hours. Now, I don’t know the cost of Aviation Gasoline, but at, say, 50 cents a gallon, the price is a little prohibitive. Well, let’s face it—on my income almost everything is prohibitive.

Today we had "Battle Messing" which means feeding 2,600 men during General Quarters. The result was a little like a picnic—I laid on a large bag of laundry & sipped pink lemonade (Fruit Punch) from a paper cup, while munching on a ham sandwich, a beef sandwich, & a piece of cake—simultaneously. I had an orange, too, but didn’t like the feel of it so didn’t bother eating it.

Cannes is our next port, where we arrive 8 July, & I have that old "Gee, maybe I’ll be leaving" feeling again. Like 9/7 of my premonitions, though, I’ll end up riding the ship back.

On sale in the Ship’s Store are some beautiful pieces of Wedgwood China. I fell in love with all of them but can afford practically none of it. It is, in my humble opinion, the most perfect china in the world—the simple, clean lines with the white figures on the blue of the china. Today they offered a dinner set of 109 pieces—serving for 12, for $228.00. It isn’t like the other in color, design, or anything but the name—it’s called Florentine Wedgwood. I don’t particularly care for it.

Haven’t heard from Lirf for some time now. Tell him to get on the ball.

Say—what do I do about voting? I’m eligible, you know, but I won’t be home in time to pre-register, or will I?

Just had a surprise mail call—one letter from Dad & one from Mother.

Now it is I who feel slightly sheepish—I would like to say that I planned down to the minute when the package would arrive, but unfortunately the Navy doesn’t work that way—I mailed the package Aunt Thyra got about a week after I mailed the binoculars. Besides, they are your Christmas present (last Christmas, that is). Still, I’m very glad they got there when they did. I am also pleased to hear that they met with your approval; I was pretty sure you’d like them.

Now that I know the other packages got back all right, I think I’ll send the rest after the 1st of July (taking no chances with Customs—relieved that they didn’t charge for that last batch). All told, they made pretty good time.

Well, this should hold you for one night. Till tomorrow or so.



Tuesday, January 23, 2007

26 June 1956

Dear Folks

Now that’s an original beginning. I’ve been sitting here for three minutes, staring at it & wondering what was going to come next. I still am.

I suppose I could tell you what we had for supper (stew, & not very good), or go from there into a brief resume of the week’s menu, but somehow I doubt that it would hold your interest—or mine—very long.

My admiration for Benchley grows by leaps & bounds. He shares with other writers that ability which I covet & lack; to ramble on at great lengths about almost anything. In the case of the first person singular, it is an impossibility; had I been designated to write "The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire" it would have been about three pages long--& then only by using short paragraphs.

My mind is rather like the little ball in a pinball machine, bounding from one thing to another & remaining on none of them long enough to do much good.

In line with the idea-duration in the physical makeup of my sentences, most authors write so fluently that the reader is scarcely aware when one sentence ends & another begins. With me there is no doubt; they are as conducive to smooth reading as a brisk gallop over a stone quarry.

Just went out & bought a box of candy bars, which I will regret, even though they don’t last long. Since I had to get up from this letter to do it, I bawled myself out for running away just because there was "nothing to say." It is wonderful the lengths to which I will go to avoid work. It is so much simpler, when stymied, to say: "Well, I’ll do it later" & go off to something more pleasant & less exacting. By sheer will power (badly underdeveloped), I dragged myself back.

No one ever "forgets" anything. Just by sitting here concentrating, all sorts of things come back—First grade in Loves Park; the long white building with the porches onto the play-yard. Miss Johnson, my teacher, about whom I remember very little except that she lived in a big frame house on a corner, which had been there when most of the rest of the town was its farm. The little colored boy whose mother died of a heart attack trying to chase him out from beneath a bed, where he’d hid to avoid a spanking. David Wrena—poor, ugly David, whose parents wouldn’t allow him to say the Pledge of Allegiance to the Flag—and this in the thunderstorm first days of the war. We used to sit in his unfinished basement & build sand houses until his father (E-ville Personified) came & chased us off. What an unhappy life he must have had.

One thing, no matter how I may have turned out, I’m glad I had you for parents. Several things could have been arranged so that the end result came out differently, but it’s too late for that now.

Then there was the time I fell backwards off the outhouse roof & was saved from a broken neck by being caught on a nail halfway down. Of course, I stayed there, upside down, yelling like mad until Mother came out & picked me off like an overripe banana (they grow upside down, don’t they?).

The"185" stamped on the side was put there by Andy, who has been playing with a numbering machine. He tells me a number, clicks it furiously, & then asks me what number he’s on now.
They’re having a tour to Paris, & I must say I’m tempted. But $69 will buy a few clothes, which I’ll need pretty badly. And besides, there’s always that "maybe they’ll send you home" possibility.

Latest rumor is that now something has happened to the Intrepid & that when the Randolph arrives, she will relieve the Intrepid instead of us! One more extension, & I’m afraid this crew has "had the course."

We are now into our third extension (from 23 May to 17 June to 27 June to 3 August to ???)

I’m writing this at Mr. Clower’s desk—mine I haven’t the energy to try & find amid all that rubble--& staring out at me from the protective safety of the plastic top is a paper on which is printed the following "Ship’s Schedual" (their spelling, not mine).

May 29 - 1 June – Naples, Italy
June 4 - 7 – Gibraltar
June 7 - 16 -- Enroute to States
June 17 -- Norfolk.

Oh, well; guess I’ll go to the movie.



Monday, January 22, 2007

Fleet Operations from rescue helicopter. U.S.S. Ticonderoga CVA-14, 1956. Photo courtesy of Dale Royston, V1 Div. Posted by Picasa
24 - 25 June 1956

Dear Folks

Oh, what a night I had! I got up at least three times for various reasons, & felt I was going to be sick—which I successfully fought off. Every waking-time would be preceded by a dream that everybody wanted their liberty cards and I couldn’t get them for them.

I’m sure it wasn’t the negligible quantity of alcohol that brought it all on—I haven’t been feeling too well in the stomach department for about two days.

When I was not surrounded by clamors for liberty cards, I was directing shipping for the entire port of Genoa. All in all it was a strenuous night.

Oh, yes, at about five thirty, JL (he has no name, just initials) woke the compartment strumming on a guitar & singing: "It’s reveille, you all."

Just got back from a quick breath of fresh air. We are now underway from Genoa as of ten minutes ago, so we haven’t gone very far. I thought I’d go up & take on last look at it. It isn’t a very nice day—not raining or anything, but the whole sky & sea (& Genoa, which hasn’t gotten out of bed yet) are a stodgy grey, & the wind imported from a Scottish castle.

Somehow I was tricked into getting out of bed at 0600, but didn’t know it until I got down to the office and began wondering where everybody was. Once I’m asleep, there is nothing I like better than to stay asleep. Today we start 72 straight hours of Fleet Exercises, which means GQ at any & all hours of the day & night. Oh, such fun.

With a pleasant surprise, I noticed that today my calendar says there are only 48 days between now & 12 August. Isn’t that nice?

{LATER (MUCH)} Do you know what the name of the movie for tonite is? No, not "Birth of a Nation," but you’re close—it’s "Naughty Marietta" with Nelson Eddy & Jeanette McDonald! I think the Navy should have a new motto to replace "Join the Navy & See the World;" we’ll call it "Join the Navy & See All the Movies You’re Far Too Young to Remember." Actually, I guess I wasn’t "far too young"—I may have been a devil-may-care rogue of six months when I sat through it the first time.

I’ve been reading some more of Robert Benchley. I think he’s influenced me—that is, I hope he’s influenced me. Just think, he was funny day after day, & always found something humorous—even if it was only a blackbird doing a pratfall (which doesn’t strike me as being particularly amusing—but then I don’t have a daily column in the "World.").

Mail call today bought forth two letters from you, in which Father mentioned the fact that Father’s Day had come & gone with no word from yours truly. Again I say I’m sorry, but you are not forgotten, & I’ll make up for it next Father’s day.

{STILL LATER} Now why should I criticize the Navy’s choice of movies? Every now & then they come up with one like "Camille" or "Rasputin & the Empress" or "Naughty Marietta" which are excellent or, at least, very enjoyable. It’s amazing how well movies got on before the advent of Technicolor, Wide Screen & Stereophonic sound.

Perhaps the shortest, & by far the most fascinating conversation of the day took place this evening between Andy & myself:

"Did you know," asked Andy, "that I can crack a walnut with my big toe?"

"No, I did not," I said, expectantly.

"Well, I can."

And so to bed.



Sunday, January 21, 2007

24 June 1956

Dear Folks

For some reason I feel like writing tonight—why I can’t say, and what I don’t know. Someone has spit in the wastebasket; that is one thing that makes me violently ill. I am not the type who usually goes peering into wastebaskets, but when I do, I very much dislike looking into someone’s expectatorial (?) remains. Oh, well….

I have just come back from the beach, and it is only nine o’clock, which proves either that I’m a very good boy or else that I’ve run out of money. In this case, it’s the former; I still have 3,000 Lire I don’t know what do to with, and will probably never have cause to use again.

If there were just some way you could see the interesting places in Europe and yet not have to spend twenty-four hours a day there, it would be very nice. Europe at night is far more alien than Europe in the day; the only possible thing to do is sit in a bar (or, if you’re very wealthy, go to a nightclub, which amounts to the same thing)—television, plays, almost everything else is out unless you speak the language fluently.

America has her faults, as I’ve said often before, but she is still my America.

Tomorrow being Sunday once again, I can and plan to sleep as late as possible; naturally, I’ll get up around nine. The kid two racks above me (I sleep in the bottom rack of a tier of three) has acquired a fondness for the guitar, two of which have mysteriously appeared in our compartment in the last few days. He also likes to sing, and what he lacks in quality, he more than makes up for in volume. Also, he has a friend who thinks anyone remaining in bed past 0600 is mentally deficient, and he does his best to arouse his acquaintances by shaking the rack and bellowing in a stage whisper : "Time to get up now" over and over and over and over and over and over until everyone in the compartment is awake except the one he’s trying to get up. I’m afraid I tend to get a wee bit cross with him at these times.

Whenever I go ashore alone, I try to take a book of some sort (the smaller and least conspicuous the better) to read while waiting in the various lines leaving and returning to the ship. I finished the one I brought today before we even left the ship. You may inform my friend Lirf that I picked up two Fantasy and Science-Fiction books for him at a second hand book stall. He should enjoy them very much, as they are both in Italian. Well, that’s what he said he wanted.

It had been my intention, as was mentioned a few days ago, to go over tonite and get quietly plastered. Whether I did or not, I’ll leave to your judgment (only by the content of the letter—not by the mistakes, which I make all the time). However, I do not feel more than just a little "good;" a fact which I attribute to sticking to Vermouth (via one bitter sweet wine and one gin fizz), eating one pizza (good cheese), and absorbing the alcohol with a large doughnut & a cup of cocoa—which was made in the same container as a pot of coffee and thereby had some features of both.

I went once again to the cemetery, which still fascinates me. I think it would have been even more fun if I’d gone alone, but I got stuck with a guide who rushed me through and out before I really was satisfied. Ran out of film once again, after taking some shots of a few statues (there are 3,500 in the cemetery). Most of them are in long arcades around the grounds, and the lighting was not of the best. Met an American tourist who’d just come from Yugoslavia, where he’d visited his parents’ home town. I definitely think every American child should be taught at least two different languages (one of them preferably not Swedish).

To get back to the cemetery—some of the crypts cost up to 50000 dollars ($50,000). The main part of the cemetery, enclosed within the walled arcades, is for the middle class and poor of Genoa. Here the dead may be buried for seven years; no more (there is a section for nuns and priests with a thirty year option). After that the bones are disinterred and buried in a common grave with 300,000 to 500,000 other defunct Genoans. Remind me never to die in Genoa.

This cemetery is the only one in the city—from twenty five (in the summer) to seventy (winter) dead come to it each day. No burials are permitted between the hours of ten and five; anyone coming in between those hours rest in a large chapel until burying hours are resumed. Outside the entrance to the cemetery is a long row of flower shops and small stores selling candles and souvenir pictures of Genoa. As you walk in the main gate, directly to the right is the chapel just mentioned. Further on ahead is the common grave (entrance below ground—covered with flowers and trees); to the left the solid wall of the mass crypt. Inside this, long corridors stretch away in gloom, the walls on both sides lined with lengthwise crypts. From there you step into the arcade of the statues which surrounds the major part of the cemetery. On the hill which acts as a background for the whole, is a church copied after the Parthenon in Rome. To the far side of it, on a smaller outcropping of the same hill, are the elaborate tombs of the very wealthy (one the miniature of the Duomo Cathedral in Milan—another a complete tiny church with steeple and stained glass), all odd shapes and sizes, giving the effect of a grotesque fairyland, set among tall poplars.

I’ve spoken before about the detail on the statuary; really amazing. I should very much like to have a statue made of myself. I have a habit of placing people in pictures as I would have them painted. Nick, for instance, I pictured standing on a dark, windy hill, dressed in purple, with great storm clouds behind him, and he himself framed in front of a flash of lightning. Myself I rather fancy as dressed in a white and gold toga, complete with laurel wreath, my right hand raised in a sort of Papal blessing.

Well, I see my typing is degenerating almost as badly as my handwriting; besides that it is nearly taps, and I think I’ll go to bed.


Franklyn Roger Margason

Saturday, January 20, 2007

21 June 1956

Dear Folks

And here we are at the fluorescent-lit Three-Quarters of another day. This pen has a new point. Isn’t that nice? How could you possibly have gotten through the day without knowing that.
You know, there’s such a thin line between humor & sarcasm it is impossible to tell them apart. At least for me it is.

The other day a sullen young man was brought before the Captain. This young man did not like the Navy. The Captain, in an unusually good mood, said: "Tell me, son, what’s bothering you?" Silence. "Come on, speak up—just what seems to be the trouble?" More of the same. "What’s the matter, boy? You needn’t be afraid to say what you think. Let’s drop this Captain-&-enlisted man stuff & talk man to man. Now, off the record, what do you think of me for instance?"

Interest entered the boy’s eyes: "You sure it’s off the record?"

"Yes, son; now, what do you think of me?"

"I think you’re a no-good son of a b…."

That ended that interview.

Suppose now that I were a very young boy just home from school—rosy cheeks & all the usual equipment. You say: "Tell me what happened at school today, Roger" which, if I remember, you seldom did. And I would say that today I bought a box of cookies which lasted exactly long enough to get the wrapping ripped off & that I typed twenty liberty cards & shuffled twenty new mess cooks (fresh out of Boot Camp in the New World); that I argued with Mordeno & laughed at the Chief’s songs (today’s favorite being: "Tomorrow’s the Day They Give Babies Away With A Pound of Grated Cheese"), & ran as thither & yon as is permissible aboard this vessel, accomplishing not a great deal, & that I sat down & picked my nose for a moment trying to think of something to say, & finally picked up the pen & got from the beginning of the letter to here before I ran out of ideas.

But ideas are rather like an escalator—no sooner is one step gone than another pops up. I’m afraid my escalator is broke.

Why is it I get such a huge kick out of reading what other people wrote, yet seem unable to do it myself? I just finished a short story about the people in a model-railroad town, & how they plan to kill the brat who owns it.

Coutre & Andy borrowed $20 from me tonite to go over & get smashed. I think it’s an excellent idea. Lloyd is having a case of the Navy-blues because he hasn’t heard from his girl since the 1st of this month.

One of the MAA’s discovered his wife is expecting a baby. We have been over here eight months. Hmm.

The moment the ship docks in Norfolk, I plan to dash down the gangway with a French flag on a pole, plunge it into the ground & claim the land in the name of Louis, Emperor of France. That ought to shake them.

A couple of the guys I know who went on the Venice tour just came back & I, as I knew I would be, have been "beating myself severely about the head & shoulders" for not having gone. Oh, well, maybe next time we’re in Genoa.



Friday, January 19, 2007

20 June 1956

Dear Folks

I wish I had had Shore Patrol last night; they had some lovely riots. At least five guys I know were involved; one got kicked in the face when a guy he hit fell backwards over the seat in a liberty launch. Another cold-cocked a Second Class Corpsman as he was coming to the aid of one of the fallen at Fleet landing—a Shore Patrolman then proceeded to pound lumps on his short-blond head. Fun? I tell you, boy….

Botz just came running in with a new rumor, which he handled like a hot potato—we will be in the States by the 16th of July (you may take this letter out on the 16th & chuckle to yourselves if we end up in Suda Bay again). A certain Chief who shall remain nameless (Humphries) because the Captain threatened to break him if he let out any more rumors—says it is in the Captain’s safe.

Mail closes out in twenty minutes, but it doesn’t look like I’m going to make it.

Everyone has emotional cycles, like a bowling ball suspended on a string & let swing. On the "outside," as I awesomely refer to That-Part-of-Human-Existence-Which-Does-Not-Come-Under-Jurisdiction-of-the-Navy, everyone goes their own merry ways, like the workings of a gigantic clock. In the Navy, though, the swinging is as ponderous & heavy as the steel ball used to wreck large buildings. Either everyone is going through a soft-shoe dance accompanied by witty sayings, or black crepe hangs thick over the entire ship. There are, of course, few exceptions—one guy in a bad mood will stay miserable all day & do his best to louse up everyone else. But everybody in a bad mood can smash flat anyone who has the audacity to feel halfway human.

Coutre had a wart removed from his finger about a week ago, & has been going about like something out of "East Lynn" ever since. Whereas Steidinger, who fell into a barbecue pit during the last beach party & was so badly burned on his arm & hand that he’ll be lucky if he isn’t scarred for life, never says a single word.

Godwin—the guy in the butcher shop who loves Hillbilly music & never wears socks, had a heart attack on the beach the other night. He didn’t want to come back to the ship & staggered into a bar, while guys tried to drag him back, saying "No, dammit, I’m going to get drunk if it kills me." Now that’s the spirit!

Please inform my bosom buddy L.D. Ayen Jr. That if he doesn’t get on the ball & write, I’m going to cancel his subscription to Howdy-Doody Comics.

Aha! Mail doesn’t close yet for another half hour—I can still make it (it was 2200, not 2100). So, con su permiso, I am

Su Hijo


Thursday, January 18, 2007

19 June, 1956

Dear Folks

In the last mail call Ohls, the kid who relieved Nick, got a Father’s Day card, & suddenly it dawned on me! I’m sorry I didn’t send you a card or something, dad, but evidently America is the only country that celebrates it. Anyway, you are not forgotten, believe me.

Today was the day I should have gone on the tour to Milan, if they hadn’t canceled it. Oh, well, that’s just that much more money saved. As of this coming payday, I’ll have a little over $300 on the books. That will come in very handy.

I got a letter from Northern about the new dorm arrangement at Gilbert Hall—8 men to a 3 room "suite"—how they figure that "Suite" part I’ll never guess. One thing I do know, & that is that I’m not going to like that set up at all. Two to a room was nice, but eight guys cluttered together will be impossible. Oh, yes—room rent is $288 a semester.

If I don’t like it the first semester, I‘m going to drop out & look around for another college.

Well, let me see—what is new. Nothing is new, that’s what. Fifty-four days from now I’ll be out.

Got another roll of film back from Istanbul—pretty good from what I can gather by squinting at it. In the box was a notice that developing costs are no longer included in the purchase price due to a Federal Court Decree. Now what was wrong with that, I wonder? Now you buy your film, take it to your friendly Kodak dealer, & he will send it in for developing. If they think for one minute I am going to run all the way back to Genoa, Italy, to have my film developed, they are sadly mistaken.

Read an article the other day which says your handwriting mirrors your health. If that is true, I owe somebody about sixteen years. Today I went back to Plato. That Socrates irritates the hell out of me sometimes. You should read it sometime. He takes any plain simple statement like "John, you are a naughty boy" & breaks it down into its atoms & molecules, twisting it around until if finally comes out that John isn’t really naughty, after all—in fact, John isn’t really a boy. Of course all this is made easier by the fact that whomever he is speaking with never says more than "Yes" or "In that case, Socrates, I should say that we must agree." Still pretty good, though, at times.

I am hungry, which also isn’t new, but not much can be done about it at the moment. I also stink, which can be remedied, I hope, by taking a shower.

When I get home I want to have a six month’s stock of pretzels, three gallons of milk on hand at all time, & an ice cube tray full of Coolade popsicles. If we go to the lakes, don’t expect me to be around much in the evenings, as I will be taking the car into Fort Atkinson to any & all movies.
I’m worried about my movie film. I hope it isn’t ruined. Let me know as soon as you get the binoculars.

Don’t think I’ll be going over any more unless possibly Saturday. If I do, my sole purpose will be to get stinking drunk.

It is as hot as a pizza oven in here tonite, & we still must suffer through wearing whites every day. We wear them because the Captain says we will wear them—& he has his clothes cleaned & pressed every day.

My writing (hand-type as mentioned before) is improving, or at least changing. I used to write uphill. Now I write downhill. Oh, well.

Oh, did I tell you I bought a shirt? I really like it—it’s blue & short-sleeved, which means I probably won’t get to wear it until next summer; by the time I get home, snow will be ready to fall.

Which reminds me, for no particular reason—that I’ve got to clean out my locker. It’s a mess—I just jam everything into it & force the door shut. Think I’ll do that tonite.

Enough for now.



Wednesday, January 17, 2007

18 June 1956

Dear Folks

After three false starts (one got up to ¼ page) & several detours, I’m back again. The mail finally caught up with us—I got four or five letters from you, which came as a very welcome relief from the somnambulistic molasses existence I’ve been leading.

Yes, I know it’s easy to say "stiff upper lip" (have you ever actually tried to keep a stiff upper lip?) & all that; I can do it myself when I’m in the right mood. At the moment, I’m sort of on the upswing.

Last night I had Shore Patrol. It rained. I did not bring a raincoat. Our "beat" was the long ramp from fleet landing to the heavily ornate Maritime Building, where the Shore Patrol Headquarters was. Running parallel to the town, the "ramp" had as a background a long, viaduct-like passageway, with a long building underneath. People stood in droves along the rail, watching the two American destroyers tied up, fantail-first, to the ramp—about halfway between the Maritime Bldg & the pier on which fleet landing was located. Our liberty launches were sharing the pier with the liner "Constitution" out of New York. She pulled out while we were there; it was almost as much fun to watch as trains used to be.

There was a cold wind, & the rain, when it came, didn’t help much. To climax the evening’s festivities, boating was canceled due to heavy seas. Being the Navy, however, they did not say: "Go, my children, & find a nice warm bed for the night." They instead canceled it "temporarily," from seven o’clock on. We spent most of the evening huddled under the viaduct, or sitting in a tiny restaurant eating pizza (not too good) & drinking hot chocolate. Whenever the rain let up, we made the rounds of a few bars, checking to see that none of our flock got into trouble. None did. When we arrived at 5:30, the first casualties began to come back—liberty had begun at 1:00. One kid, an SA (Seaman Apprentice) obviously just over from the States, came up in the arms of one of his buddies, an SN (Seaman) & therefore more accustomed to drinking. When he saw us, he stopped short (the Shore Patrol brassard does that to a lot of people) & turned to his buddy with tears in his eyes & said: "They’re gonna write me up."

"Nah, they wouldn’t do that."

"Oh yes they would—I’m drunk & they’re gonna write me up."

Reminded me of a mother trying to convince Junior that Santa Claus won’t bite.

One of the bars we visited, which wasn’t on our regular beat but fairly close to it, was owned by an acquaintance of my partner.

Never will I get used to these bars over here—the ones with hot & cold running blondes.

This particular bar was cut into a block of sheer-faced brown buildings set back from the street by a broad sidewalk. No doors—just a tall wide opening with red drapes that billowed out into the sidewalk. Sawdust on the white marble doorstoop reminds me of a butcher shop.

Inside, a smallish room with six or seven tables & a bar on the right, just as you enter. Mostly civilians, four or five "girls." At one table, just to the left, a fat, balding man sits across from a bored-looking woman in a brown sweater. On the outside of the table, a small thin woman with very bleached hair, pinched face, & red dress being pawed by a dark, silent-screen idol type. A girl in a green suit, thin & attractive only when she smiles, dances—very well—a mambo with a short, middle-aged guy in a brown suit without the coat. The music must be by Victrola, though it’s possible they’re hiding an accordionist & piano out of sight to the left.

From a room in back comes a little old woman in black, carrying a wicker hand-basket. She sings a few notes to the music, showing that most of her teeth are missing, & shuffles across the floor. Short & heavy, she looks like the Italian Momma-Mia’s you see in the movies.

One of the civilians at the bar offers me a drink—cognac. I refuse, since we aren’t allowed to drink on duty (besides, I hate cognac), but he hands it to me, & I drink it quickly, practically choking, & hope to God no one reports me. My partner is discussing a business arrangement for later in the evening with one of the girls—he’s behind a potted palm at the end of the bar drinking a beer—I can see him in the mirror behind the bar.

"Gratzia" I say to the cognac man

"Prego" he says.

Ate supper at the Seaman’s Club—in a cold, echoing former palace. The club itself is upstairs, in what was evidently a suite. The ceiling of the room where we ate (just off the bar room) had fallen in at one time, & was bare bricks, but around the curved edges can be seen the very ornate murals typical of Italian palaces. They might have been beautiful at one time, but I can never imagine them being comfortable.

French doors open onto a terrace, which looks out over a garden, now gone to seed, with a cracked & broken fountain.

"Look upon my works, ye mighty, & despair."

We were finally secured at about 0130, after having secured boating until 0700. I got a room at a nearby hotel & went to sleep immediately, only to get up at 0545. It was raining again.

55 days to go & I’m going to bed.



Tuesday, January 16, 2007

14 - 17 June 1956

Dear Folks

I saw an ice cream machine today. It drips white, & when you try to carry five cups of semi-fluid ice cream (two in each hand & one clenched in your teeth), you drip white, too. I left a trail like a punctured milk truck all the way from the forward Gedunk to the office. I passed an officer who said very cheerily: "Say, where are they selling the ice cream?" I hope he wasn’t hurt when I didn’t answer; not intelligibly, anyway.

When one’s entire daily adventures reach the state where a trip to the ice-cream stand is a newsworthy item, things are not exactly at their peak. I still wish we had sea monsters. Things like that made a voyage interesting. Nowadays you can’t even find a halfway decent mermaid. Oh, well, times have changed.

No mail call now for a week. Somebody in the Post Office Department is under the happy illusion that we arrived back in the states the 23rd of May & is holding it at the dock for us. His supper will be cold.

Latest "who’s-getting-out-when?" news is that everyone with discharge dates prior to 11 August 1956 will leave in Genoa. I get out 12 August. Ha-ha. Is that not a funny joke on me? No, it is not.

Taps, & goodnight.

Now wasn’t that the fastest three days on record. I’m sorry for not having written, but no mail has come on or gone off in that time, so it is only the volume, not the frequency of delivery, that suffers.

Today being Sunday, I slept till eight thirty, which was a pleasant change. I have shore patrol from 3 this afternoon till about 0300 tomorrow morning; which should be lots of fun.

Yesterday I went over to Genoa, & walked at least two miles (uphill) in the wrong direction looking for the down-town area. I finally spotted it—by locating the 24-story skyscraper—from the top of a mountain, & walked back down again.

I had only ten feet of film in my camera, & the ship is completely out. I tramped all over Genoa trying to find 8mm Magazine, Color. Some places had 8mm Magazine, but in black & white. Finally found a shop that had some, & paid L3,900 (roughly $7.00) for one roll. That one is going to have to last me until the ship gets some more.

Walked around window shopping for a couple hours, & decided to go to a movie. There are quite a few new American movies playing here, but all are in Italian. Since I had read the book "The Man Who Never Was," I figured I could struggle through. It was very good, & I must see it again in English so I can hear what it’s all about.

The theatre was modern & comfortable, even though they had an intermission halfway through, plus ten or fifteen minutes of Technicolor & very elaborate commercials before the main feature.
After the movie, I was walking down the street when I started shaking like a leaf—I wasn’t cold, though, particularly It was more like spasms, & I had to bite my lip & fight like mad to try & stop. Don’t know what caused it & I wouldn’t care to have it happen again; I was afraid I was cracking up.

Just goes to show what the Ti & an eight month cruise can do.

All in all, Genoa is much the way I remember it—I still have to remember to hold my breath while walking past the butcher shops.

Well, I’ll end this now, to make sure it gets off, & will write more later.



56 Days

Monday, January 15, 2007

11 - 12 June 1956

Dear Folks

"You know, I’ve always wondered—how come you can touch the rails on an electric train & not get a shock?"

The train the Chief was speaking of was of the Lionel variety. This led into further mysteries, such as "What makes the whistle blow?" & awesome observations along the line of "I saw this one once, where it had a cattle car that made noises, & then when it stopped the cows came out on a ramp & went back in again. No they didn’t walk, they slid."

Oh, well, as has been said before—it’s been a long cruise.

As for myself, after having read another book, I sit chewing the skin around my fingernails—the nails themselves are more or less intact. The movie on the mess decks tonite is "The Gun that Won the West"—a light situation comedy, I gather.

The USS Ticonderoga Literary & Letter-Writing Guild is gathering for its nightly meeting, armed with ink-less or leaky pens, pencil stubs, & writing paper of varying quality. They use these only as props, however, & their motto appears to be "Silence is Coal."

Andy, one of the members, has a cold—I keep waiting for the next sniffle, which is on the same level of mental agony as the Chinese Water Torture.

One of the mess cooks, Andres (a boy from Durand, Ill.), fell asleep while sun bathing & now resembles a cherry popsicle. He’s in agony, but since it is a court martial offense to become sunburned so badly it interferes with your work, he’s working.

News is that we’re planning on playing games tomorrow morning about 0430 (again). If it would be all right with them, I’d just as soon not join in, but that would dampen the "camaraderie" & jolly good humor which is expected of eager young sailors of His Majesty’s Fleet.

My name is back on the list at Personnel—only about fifty guys ahead of me. By my name is "5 August," which means I must be back in the States by 5 August—one week before discharge. We get back on the 3rd. Oh, well….

New day, & I’ve decided to go to Venice & to hell with sitting around chewing my nails. I know when my discharge date is, & have enough confidence in the Navy to think they can get me back before that time. Just to make sure, I’m going to ask Mr. Clower to check with the Personnel Officer to see if he has any ideas. The more I think of it, the more sure I am.

Cities I have visited up till now—Paris, Cannes, Nice, Genoa, Rome, Naples, Beirut, Istanbul, Athens, & Valencia. That’s only the bigger ones. Venice will just about top it all off.

Another nice day, only not as sharply defined as yesterday—the sky was a milky-mist, & the water was choppy (beautiful blue-&-white contrasts in the waves) but not too high.

Oh; we didn’t play games at 0430, but my sleep was ruined nevertheless, because I kept waking up every half hour waiting for it..

Glancing down at my shoes, I see they are badly in need of a shine. They look as though everyone had walked on them but me. The designers of this ship are largely to blame. Every hatch combing is exactly one half inch higher than I think it is—with the result that I almost never fail to stub my toe.

The decks around here are actually dangerous—it’s a wonder several people haven’t been killed or seriously injured by falling down on them. The least little spot of water makes them as slippery as ice, & with nothing to fall on or against but metal. Twice I have fallen (with poise & dignity, of course) flat on my face. It’s especially dangerous if you happen to be stepping through a hatch & slip—I still have the scars from the time it happened to me.

Before me sit two Special Request Chits, requesting that I be allowed to go on a 3 day tour to Venice, which I filled out between the first page of this letter & this one.

Oh, well, such is life.

A book I would like to get ahold of (a literary phrase from the ancient Gaelic) is "The Search for Bridey Murphy"—a true story of a modern woman who claims, under hypnotism, to have lived in the 18th Century in Ireland as one "Bridey Murphy." Though a Reader’s Digest article pretty well disproves it, it seems like it might make interesting reading. Why do you see if you can get it for me, mother?

And speaking of getting things, what happened to Tchaikovski?

Oh, let there be singing & dancing in the streets—two months from today I’ll be out!!

And so to bed.



Sunday, January 14, 2007

10 June 1956

Dear Folks

Though it is now well into June, we are 5,000 miles from home, & the temperature is sufficiently warm to scorch cloth, I sat in Hangar Bay 1 & watched the movie "White Christmas." I’d seen it before, of course, but I liked it the second time almost as well.

Got a surprise during the "intermission" between the first & second movies—a guy walked up the aisle in civilian clothes (thereby he was an officer) & I’ll swear he went through Pensacola the same time I did. It was quite a shock.

Quite a bit going on for a change—Nick left this morning for transfer back to the States, while I still sit here. It sure will seem strange not to have him around.

It was a beautiful day, & the flight deck was littered with masochistic sun worshipers. I got brave & laid up there for an hour, watching helicopters take off like grasshoppers from the escort carrier Siboney (like the one we were on in Pensacola, mom). With me, though, a little sun is enough—I don’t get burned, but I just can’s see sitting &/or laying around doing nothing. I think when I get out, I’ll print books in assorted colors so that the glare won’t hurt your eyes so much.

Last two days I’ve read two books—one of them the biography of Robert Benchley, & the other a good pseudo-fantasy.

Naturally, they are having no less than five wonderful tours from Genoa—three days to Venice; three days to Florence; one day to Milan, etc. And I don’t dare go on any of them. Damn them.
In two days I have managed also to dirty two sets of whites. The ship generously deigns to press one pair a week. As you can see, things soon get out of hand if you don’t happen to have an iron.

On the Siboney came 79 new boots, all with the usual rosy cheeks & wide eyes. The first day they got here (Saturday) I overheard two of them complaining about the chow: "Gee, on that one we came over on we could get all we wanted to eat; we served ourselves, too." I tried to explain to them that A) we have almost twice as many men as the Siboney, B) we have been over here seven months & are surprisingly short on "pate de fois gras" & roast guinea hen under glass, & C) if we tried giving everybody all they wanted, we’d last about two days. They were not satisfied.

As the Chief says: "We’re here to feed ‘em, not fatten ‘em."

Tomorrow morning we’re having Quarters for Leaving Port, which is almost as useless a tradition as I can think of at the moment. Here we are, surrounded by mountains, where nobody can see us, or would be very interested if they did, yet we fall in on the flight deck in whites & look very impressive.

Short, but sweet. More tomorrow.



Saturday, January 13, 2007

8 June 1956

Dear Folks

The day began at 0430 with the cheery clamor of the GQ warning. This time I was ready for ‘em. I’d carefully placed a book under my rack, which I grabbed along with my socks & T-shirt. Thank God today was the last of these exercises (we hope).

No, I am not coming home early. Oh, well….

We have started wearing whites, & nice as they may be in the States, where a cleaning service pulls up to the dock every day, they do not go over so big with yours truly here in the middle of the Mediterranean Sea. Already the pair I put on this morning looks like I’d been dragged through the streets.

Suda Bay tomorrow, operations with 13,000 Marines off Turkey from the 12th to 14th. Then a mad dash to make it to Genoa by the 16th.

You’ll probably be getting at least two letters today (your today, not mine); this one & yesterday’s. You’ve no doubt noticed they’re more or less in the same tone—namely a dull grey. If the Navy would stop playing its silly little games for long enough to make one definite statement & stick to it. Oh, well, all is not a bed of roses.

The Navy acts as an opium, deadening even the staunchest hearts, & blurring the brightest of eyes. This has its advantages—mainly that I have been counting the last 150 days of my enlistment; I am now down to sixty-five, & the preceding eighty-five have been just a "blah," each a carbon copy of the one before. Next time the Navy offers me a $10,000 cruise, I’ll ask for the cash instead.

Oh, there have been bright spots—ones I wouldn’t change for the world—but at the moment it is hard for me to look at it that way. From where I stand, boredom stretches away in all directions. I use the word "boredom" not exactly in Webster’s sense. There is always the partial escape of reading—but only the mind gets away; the body still sits in the same general position, acquiring a secretarial or middle-age spread without being either.

So, for a change, I get up—I walk around the office in my battleship greys, hands behind my back. I sit down. I look at the paper & see nothing but Sanskrit—a rather illegible Sanskrit at that
Mr. Clower has just come in—an MAA & a mess cook have been waiting for him. The mess cook’s name is Reuben Gimple. He has been placed on report so many times we’re thinking of starting a file on his report slips.

I feel a little better now—just got back from the library, where I read some halfway recent magazines & listened to some light music. Still nothing new or exciting. They had a mail call tonite, but it was a very small one, & I got what the little boy shot at.

Think I’ll go to bed & play solitaire. Love


Thursday, January 11, 2007

6 June 1956

Dear Folks

Nine-fifteen & just time for a quick bit of lugubrious chatter. The Navy is a big outfit; one you should think would be able to make decisions, but no. Nobody knows from one minute to the next what is going on.

If they would jut say to me: "Margason, you're not leaving the ship till we get back," I'd say: "Too bad, but OK." Maybe they did stuff like that in the Confederate Navy, but not here. Here they say, in a sniveling, nasal tone: "You might get off. Maybe in Genoa, or Cannes. Then again, maybe you won't get off. No, you won't! Well, maybe…." Etc. ad nauseum.

The other happy bit of news for today is that yesterday, after shipping a huge package to Aunt Thyra's, I find that the government allows you to send only $50 a month through the mail—everything else is liable to Customs. So, Aunt Thyra might get slapped with a bill for from $38 to $50. Oh, ho ho, what a jolly life we lead!

For breakfast we had boredom, for dinner monotony, & for supper limbo.

Which brings to mind a beautiful dream I had last night—I really enjoyed it and only wish I could remember more of it—it concerned a man who could fly (sometimes it was me, sometimes it was someone else—you know how dreams go). He/I had no wings, but could fly—by my time-worn method of two running steps & a leap, arms upward.

This man was married, & lived in a white house on a corner. His wife was ashamed that he could fly. The only time he was unable to fly was when wrapped in a blanket.

He was flying—over a sidewalk with bushes along it, & over a policeman, who didn't seem at all surprised to see a man flying. This was the only time he was really happy—when he was flying.

He was walking toward his house—his wife came out with a blanket. I felt his/my sick fear &, crying, he leaped high into the air, twisted around, & plunged to the ground---.

It was so very real; no doubt there is a moral in there somewhere, & a very significant one, but I don't know where to look.

So you see, aside from my dream world, there is very little to tell you. We are at sea, & the sea is no doubt very blue & very wet—I wouldn't know, since I didn't even get near the hangar deck all day.

I went to Personnel Office today to re-check the list of discharges—this morning my name was there, 17th from the bottom, & the list ended 14 August. Tonite I went back & the entire page with my name is gone—the list now ends at 7 August. See what I mean?.

Tomorrow's plan of the day promises that it will be no less nor no more exciting a day than this. More then.



Wednesday, January 10, 2007

5 June 1956

Dear Folks

There is so much nothing to tell you, I don’t know where not to begin. For one thing, I have a sneaking suspicion that these will be the longest 68 days on record. I will from here on out be a virtual prisoner aboard ship—afraid even to go on liberty for fear they will call a draft away. Of course I really shouldn’t worry, since my name is 17th from the bottom on a list of over 300 names. Still---. By my name there is the mystic note "5 July." What that is supposed to mean I have no idea; since they don’t know until almost the last minute when a draft will go, it seems unlikely they’d set July 5th as a definite day just for me. I’ll still probably ride the ship back. Oh, well….

Nick put in a request for shore duty someplace in Florida, near Jacksonville. The chit was approved, & now he is certain he is leaving within the hour, even though a letter must be sent to the Bureau (of Personnel) before he can get it. As a result of his enthusiasm, the office is strewn with boxes—whole & dismantled—torn scraps of paper, two wooden crates, a pair of scissors, stenciling gear, & God knows what else.

Speaking of boxes, I mailed dad’s binoculars & ten rolls of film yesterday, insured, of course, plus Ann’s shawl. Today I sent a huge package of assorted paraphernalia to Aunt Thyra’s. She is not to open it, but to put it in a cool, dry place till I get home. More will be coming to her later—that way it removes the temptation of opening it. Also, she is home more than you are, & will no doubt be around when it arrives.

Life in the office is, to put it gently, not pleasant; Coutre & I are not speaking, Nick is all on edge, I am not in the best humor. Otherwise, everything is getting along nicely.

To say that I am not in the best of humor is a gross understatement; I can feel myself falling apart on the inside, & I am running out of adhesive tape. I want to be somewhere, do something, & my dreams do not include the Flying Dutchman (nee Ticonderoga) & her motley crew. I want to run out to the fantail & scream & holler & wave my arms—but this is frowned upon by Navy code, & so I shall just sit here, like a hollow statue, & slowly be filled up by my cracking & chipping exterior.

In front of me is sitting a medicine-brown bottle chock full of aspirin—the Chief claims they are bad for a person, yet people around here act as if they were candy drops. Never touch the stuff myself; never need it.

Which brings to mind for no particular reason the play "The Shrike," wherein the hero takes one hundred & fifty-three sleeping pills, after having read that one hundred & fifty were not quite enough to kill a man.

Actually, the bottle says they are not aspirin—they are Acetylsalicylic Acid Tablets. That sounds so much better than aspirin, don’t you think?

I am quite hungry, but after a little stabbing incident the other night, we are not permitted in the galleys. So now the cooks make box lunches to eat later at night. I don’t think they made any tonite.

Coutre just walked in, looking amazingly like Captain Bligh, with his usual cheery greeting: "What the hell does this look like—the crew’s lounge?" No comment. Aha—the story comes out—he was kicked out of the aft galley this afternoon by one of the cooks.

Nick’s relief, when & if he goes (there are 300 men awaiting transfer for discharge but Nick is under the happy illusion he’s going right this very minute!!) is a German boy—he arrived in the U.S. two years ago, was married three months ago, & drafted.

My relief, when & if I go (& Coutre is doing his level best to get me shifted back to S-1) is most likely one of the mess cooks. We shall see….

Well, I have another letter to write yet, to Harry (Ens. Harrison), so I’ll close now.



Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2 - 3 June 1956

Dear Folks

This evening’s movie was the 1938 Bette Davis-Henry Fonda release "Jezebel"—the story of a sort of pre-Civil War Scarlett O’Hara. I enjoyed it.

Tomorrow I’d rather like to go over just to spend the afternoon in the Grand Bazaar, but I doubt if I will. Save my money for Venice, which may well be my last European fling.
I plan to start packaging everything either tomorrow or Sunday; that way, if I do get shipped back, I can mail it—but if not, I can just bring it with me.

No mail call tonite, but probably one tomorrow—at least we hope so.

Got reminded of the NavCads this evening, while waiting for the movies; some guys were playing basketball & one had on the yellow & blue sweatshirt & brown khaki shorts we wore. Sure enough, he was an officer & an ex N/C. Oh, well—I am consoled by the idea that I only have 72 days to go, instead of two years & 72 days!

Wandered up to the library just now & caught a glimpse of my boy Boswell’s London Journal.. Personally, I don’t think he ever did anything—he just sat & wrote twenty three hours a day. Of course, I’ve only been over here six & a half months, but already I almost outdo old Bos in volume if not in quality. I suppose if you took out all my "Nothing much doing tonite"’s & "only (blank) days to go" you wouldn’t have much of anything left.

Recently I have been worming my way out of Coutre’s confidence—today he yelled "Are you trying to make a fool out of me?" and I replied "Coutre, you’re a self-made man." He went on the beach tonite, & will come in tomorrow afternoon, if at all, looking as though he’d just fought his weight in hippopotami (& that’s a lot of hippopotami). His eyes will be a cross between a detailed road map & a wounded hound dog.

Oh, I forgot to mention the book I picked up this time at the library—it’s called "Studies in Murder." I get around. Had to check it out this time, since the librarian had his eye on me while I sneaked to the door.

And another day, like the Indians in a cheap Western, bites the dust. This one brought the dubiously good news that almost without a doubt I will be leaving the ship in Genoa. Of course they had to water my enthusiasm with the rumor that the ship is going to Cannes, France, for 15 days, from where there will be "beaucoups" ("Boo-koo") tours to Paris. Well, I’d only spend all my money anyway.

Spent the afternoon packing all my excess junk—a total of six boxes. If I get off, I’ll send them home—if not, they’ll be all together anyway. Dad’s binoculars are all set to go Monday.

Possibility of a mail call tonight—at least they have it on board. Best get off for tonite.



Monday, January 08, 2007

31 May 1956
Istanbul, Turkey

Dear Folks

And here it is 73 days B.D., & I honestly don’t think we’re going to make it. I used to build sand houses, & then poke a stick under them & raise it slowly up, watching them crack & crumble. That’s what has happened to this ship—not structurally, but morally. Surely a lot of these guys have been on equally long trips, if not longer—but this one seems to be a special case.

Me—I’m torn between behaving like Chicken Little, dashing madly off in all directions, afraid the sky will fall in, & a stoic, dumb acceptance, not giving a damn if it falls in or not. The Chicken Little part is the contagious one, the one I mentioned yesterday.

Payday today---doesn’t all this seem awfully boring? Here I am, sitting in Istanbul, Turkey, which should be very exotic & call to mind visions of beautiful women with long black lashes & veils; of snake charmers & Ali Baba, & of gongs beating somewhere in the dark oriental hills.
But it doesn’t. I haven’t seen a beautiful woman, long lashes, or a single veil. There are no snake charmers &, to the best of my knowledge, no snakes.

I have said it before & I’ll say it again, for clarification—you have a weird son. The other day, when we were in a taxi stalled in a narrow street by the Grand Bazaar, an old woman—bent & twisted, hobbled by in a shaggy grey shawl. Her stockings were sagged & had large holes in them; she carried a basked of something in her right hand. I couldn’t help but think, as I saw her & the other poorly clothed people around her: "Where do they live? What do they do all day? They can’t just pop into existence for my benefit, then vanish when they go out of my sight. That old woman—she has lived for years & years. How? Was she young once, & did she laugh & talk & have children & friends? Where is she going now?" And what were the others in the cab thinking? They were engrossed by the back of a young woman in the cab ahead of us.

Not to give you the wrong impression of Istanbul, for Istanbul is alive, cosmopolitan, modern. It is only in the out of the way sections that the tourists only glimpse as part of the scenery, where time flows more slowly, or lies in pools & stagnates. America has her share of these people too. We just never see them. We don’t look.

When I went "off to the wars," Ann Zubas said: "Don’t let them change you." Hmmm. Well, you can see for yourself in a few months.

Wrote to Gilbert Hall today for room reservations—I asked to room with someone who’s never been to Northern before. Why I don’t know.

Dad told me last time he wrote to write every night, even if it was just to say Hello & Goodbye.

Hello. Goodbye.



Sunday, January 07, 2007

30 May 1956

Dear Folks

Just had a mail call, & got two from you—the 23rd & 24th. Mother said my letters sounded "different" lately. Hmmm. She didn’t say "good-different" or "bad-different," but I can imagine. I suppose they have lost some of that Rover-boy luster & sparkling good humor. Unfortunately, you have never spent six months in Europe. That is enough to dim anybody’s outlook.

My, how I talk—like an embittered old man. Actually, I’m not—I’m an embittered young man. I guess it’s just this continual "Well, we’re going back home…oops, no we’re not" routine that gets very tiresome in almost no time.

Well, I shall try to regain my boyish charm in the future. It’s sort of like playing Russian Roulette with all six chambers filled. Really, I shouldn’t care one whoop in hell, but it is contagious, being with two thousand other guys who want to go home & don’t know when they’ll get there.

I’m rather worried about my car—with my phenomenal luck, it will need several major repairs.

Nothing new here—people kept running through the mess decks & galleys all day; everyone from Turkish naval officers to the crew of a KLM (Royal Dutch) Airliner.

As for the Commissary office—my 20 x 20 green & grey world—there are more people per square foot running in & out of here all day every day than there are in Times Square. We’re considering installing traffic lights & railroad timetables.

Tomorrow is payday, & I have $273 at my disposal, from which I am going to draw $60. I owe the Chief $20 & figure that since we get into Genoa on the 16th (next payday) & the tours to Venice begin on the 18th or so, I want to get my ticket early.

Can’t you see me running into the living room yelling "Hey, Mom, can I go to Venice?" And dad saying "Now think of all that money—you can use it for school." Oh, well, times change….

Now here it is five till ten. I had a fascinating dream last night, if only I could remember it—I remember I was having a mental duel with some alien thing whose mental powers were next to omnipotent. I had, it granted, 18 questions to try & discover its weakness & conquer it. I said: "Well, if you can foresee the future, you can foresee the outcome of this debate. Will I destroy you?" And then I woke up. Darn, & it was better than a movie, too.

August 4th. Question of the day—will the Ticonderoga get back to the States in time for Roger’s discharge, or will there be still another extension? Can Roger adapt himself to civilian life? Will his parents & his faithful dog Stormy recognize him when he does get home? Tune in August 12th for the next thrilling chapter in this true-to-life adventure.

It is now five after ten, & I am going to bed.



Saturday, January 06, 2007

Roger Margason (L), Lloyd Meyers 1956. Photo referenced below. Posted by Picasa
29 May 1956

Dear Folks

Here I am, bright, early, & stone sober—rather than spend my money, Lloyd insisted on coming back to the ship; since I didn’t care to stay over alone, I came back too.

You’ve probably already seen the enclosed picture—we got six this size & one eight by ten for 20 Lire (not quite $2.00). Not too bad, all things considered (namely, me). How could two so handsome people have one so ugly son. I only recently made a discovery—my left eyelid droops—just a bit, granted, but noticeable. Have you ever noticed it before? And I do have a lopsided smile. Oh, well….

Had lunch at the Hilton, where I took a majority of my film. We had a drink on the roof terrace, & looked out over the city. Rates there range from $2.75 to $10.00 a day, & that is downright cheap.

The tour was very interesting, in spurts. When Rome fell to the barbarians, the emperor Constantine searched the East for a place to serve as a capital city. He picked a town founded by the Greeks several hundred years before the birth of Christ, & renamed it Constantinople, for obvious reasons. He evidently wished the new capital of the Empire to be as proud & ornate as the fallen Rome had been, so he sent word to all the provinces—Egypt, Greece, & all the others, to send works of art. Greece sent the Serpentine Column; rather, it was taken from Greece—I doubt she gave it of her own free will. This column has an interesting history—the Greeks had defeated the Persian attacking forces at the Battle of Salamis; from the vanquished Persians the Greeks took all weapons (bronze in those days), melted them down, & made the Serpentine Column. Constantine also built a wooden church in front of the Hippodrome—the Constantinople version of the Roman Circus Maximus, where chariot races were held. Egypt sent, as its contribution, the obelisk I mentioned in the last letter. However, in between the time it was ordered & the time it arrived in Constantinople, Constantine died. When the obelisk finally got there, it laid on the dock for twenty years until Theodosius, the then-current emperor, had it dragged up the hill & placed in the Hippodrome, atop a pedestal showing scenes from Theodosius’ own life. It is amusing to note that, while the obelisk itself looks brand new, the pedestal is badly worn.

Comes now the time of Justinian, who was not too popular with his subjects. During a rebellion, Justinian wanted to flee, but his wife, Theodora, gave him courage to stay. The rebellion was put down &, in gratitude to God, Justinian ordered the erection of St. Sophia (the original & one successor having been burned at various times). This took five years, a surprisingly short time, considering the size of the building & what they had to work with. Justinian himself prayed in the newly finished church, saying "Solomon, I have exceeded even thee."

Constantinople, being located where it was, had always had trouble with roving bands of savages, both European & Asian. Over the years, successive walls had been built around the city until the outer walls were seventeen & a half miles long. Seventeen times barbarians attempted to destroy the city—even Attila the Hun was turned away (he probably would have kept after it until it fell, but the city fathers gave him a large sum of money to go & destroy somebody else). The city’s one major problem was water—every time an invader would come along, the first thing they did was cut off the water supply by knocking down an aqueduct. This was solved by Constantine & succeeding emperors by building huge underground cisterns—one of them called "the Sunken Palace" because it has 360 columns supporting the roof.

Europe was groveling around in the Middle Ages when the Moslem hordes, under Mohammed the Magnificent rode down on Constantinople. The walls he did not worry about—he brought along cannon. The only trouble was that the cannon could only be fired once every six hours—the rest of the time it was being doused in olive oil & wet rags to cool it off; and during those six hours, the defenders had time to patch up the holes made by the cannon. This went on for three months, but as was inevitable, the Moslems broke through.

The people of the city, seeing the end was at hand, crowded into the churches—10,000 of them in St. Sophia. Mohammed the Magnificent crashed through the south door & galloped into the church on horseback. Legend has it that, upon seeing the people massed within, he struck a marble column with his sword (the nick can still be seen), pressed his hand print into the wall twenty-five feet above the floor (it must have been a tall horse) & proclaimed that all people would be free to go & worship as they please.

St. Sophia was then converted to a mosque—which doesn’t say much for the legend, & remained so until 1934, when it became a museum.

Some time later the Christians on the Fourth Crusade gained entrance to the city & ransacked it completely with no regard for the fact that half of what they destroyed had been Christian to begin with. Among other things, they broke off half of the Serpentine Column & took it to Italy.
And there you have a short, if inadvertently garbled, history of the city of Constantinople /Istanbul.

The mosques are particularly interesting, mainly because of their difference from Christian churches. First of all, as I’ve mentioned before, all mosques are of the same general outline—one huge dome, convoluted like a pumpkin, with numerous semi-domes beneath it, & from two to five minarets. The Mosque of Sultan Ahmed is the only one in Istanbul with five—he wanted to build a mosque with six minarets, but the only other one in the world with six was the great mosque at Mecca, & people resented his copying. He solved that one by building a seventh minaret at the one in Mecca, & then felt free to put six on his own. One was beginning to lean toward the big dome, so it was torn down; they plan to restore it.

Before entering a mosque, Moslems wash their hands, feet, faces, & arms so as to be clean outside as well as inside. They then remove their shoes prior to entering. Inside, the mosque is one big room with no furnishings except carpets on the floor. Chandeliers hang low over the floor, & once burned olive oil in glass cups—now they use electricity. The altar is a little sentry-box with a long, narrow stairway leading to it. It is located on the south wall, or the side facing Mecca. There are beautiful stained glass windows, but on this one side only. A balcony runs around the outer edge of the room, & to the left of the altar or sermon-box is the Sultan’s box (Sultans do not pray with the common people).

Unique in mosques: the fact that they have neither statues nor paintings nor image of any living thing in them. Around the center of the dome are the names of Allah & Mohammed, in Arabic—other decorations are quotations from the Koran, all in that fantastic scrawl called Arabic.

One good thing is that when they converted St. Sophia, they did not destroy the frescoes & mosaics inside—they merely covered them up with a sort of plaster, which has preserved everything beautifully. On entering St. Sophia, there is an excellent mosaic showing Mary holding Jesus—to her right, Constantine is shown presenting Jesus the city—to his left, Justinian giving Him St. Sophia.

Well, I’ll have to finish this tomorrow. Got to get to bed now.