Posts Tagged ‘Humor’


Wednesday’s Humor: We Can All Use A Little Laugh

May 2, 2012

USS Birmingham (SSN-695)

I think we can all use a little laugh in the middle of our week, something to take our minds off work and all the things that drag us down.  Here is a reprint of my short story regarding my nickname in the Navy.


They Called Me Barbie


You really can’t tell someone what life is like on a submarine.  It’s one of those things you have to experience for yourself.  I mean, you can understand the words for sure; just it misses something in the telling.  Still, there are stories to share that, at the very least, should give a smile.  I guess the best place to start is at the beginning.

I joined the Navy way back when Jimmy Carter was still the President.  It was November 26th when I jumped on a plane heading for Great Lakes, Illinois.  We arrived there around 11:00PM so my first meals in the Navy where the next day, Thanksgiving Day.  It is enough to say, that meal was nothing like the one I was sure momma made back home, but they did try.  Later in my career in the Navy, I would have paid real money for a meal like that but those were lessons yet to learn, on that day, the only lesson was my life had taken a drastic change.

I would not dare compare the Navy’s boot camp to the downright toughness of the Marines, but as far as the Navy goes, Great Lakes was as tough as it got.  Not only the nature of it was harsh, but also I am a Southern boy and Great Lakes, Illinois is no place for the faint of heart in wintertime.  I am sure some smarty out there is just itching to point out that winter does not start until the end of December.  True as that is for the rest of the world, God starts it much earlier in Great Lakes!  I think the Navy put in a special request chit for that so our enjoyment of the nice, cool breeze off the lake would be all the more refreshing.

Back then, most guys that joined the Navy only had a general idea of what they would be doing, for me it was a given from the start.  I have always loved the field of navigation and refused to talk to them unless they let me do that, a job they called “Quartermaster.”  Now, no one gets a guarantee from the Navy unless they give something in return, for me, that give was to volunteer for the United States Submarine Service.  Only then would I be allowed to navigate, so volunteer I did.  As it turns out, that decision had a greater positive impact on my life than any other.

How we saw volunteering.

As others struggled in boot camp to figure out what they wanted to try for, I knew what was ahead for me.  After Great Lakes, I was off to New London, Connecticut for Basic Enlisted Submarine School or BESS as it was commonly called.  Then, it was Orlando, Florida to start Quartermaster “A” school.  I toed the line well through boot camp and BESS; nothing was going to stand in the way of my getting to “A” school.  That’s one of the funny things about the Navy; many a young man join because they are tired of school and want to do something else before going to college.  As soon as they do join, they end up in a year or two of school.  And let me promise you, they know how to give you and education!  On that score, the Navy does not play around.  A Navy school can best be described as long, hard, and demanding.  By the time I was finished, I was ready to go to sea, or so I thought.

I was assigned to the USS Birmingham (SSN-695) out of Norfolk, Virginia.  It was one of the few Los Angeles Class Submarines built at that time.  It was a type of sub called a Fast Attack and I was happy.  She was one of the newer boats in the fleet.  When I arrived in Norfolk, I discovered the Birmingham was out at sea and would not be back for several weeks.  In that time, I met the members of the crew whom did not make the run, along with the other new crewmembers waiting to report.

A new guy on his first submarine is looked on as a necessary waste of food and water by the more seasoned crew.  They cannot do anything and only get in the way.  I soon learned this fact meeting a crewmember topside whom came up to take us aboard.  “Where’s the nubs?” he demanded of the topside watch who just pointed at us.  He was Hap Clark, a Machinist Mate 2nd class or MM2(SS).  The “SS” after his rate meant he was qualified in submarines; new guys, like us at the time, had an “SU” after our rates.  A Master Chief told me “SU means stupid and useless,” who was I to argue the point.

As we followed Hap, he told us to call him Hap, he greeted all the men he passed and introduced us as “the new batch of air-breathing, food-eating nubs.”  We met Rat, Woody, Benny, Scooter, Cam, it seemed everyone had a nickname, most everyone that is.  We’d pass a few guys and Hap would say, “That’s Smith, he’s no good (I made Smith up, no point in putting the finger on them now).  It became obvious to us that when you got a nickname, you knew you had made it in with these guys.

I reported onboard with another new guy from West Virginia, Tim Pearce.  He was a Machinist Mate too, like Hap.  As it turns out, Tim and I often studies together that first year.  See, everyone has to “qualify” on his submarine.  When it is your first one, it takes about a year to learn all the systems and components.  I mean you have to learn everything, where it gets its power, how it operates, how to turn it off (they are big on knowing how to turn things off), and you have to know it from memory.  One day, Tim and I were walking aft to engineering and passed Hap along the way.  “How’s it going HD, you keeping Benton straight?” he asked.  Tim had a nickname!  Of course, Tim had red hair and freckles, so it was only natural for him to get HD.  That was short for Howdy Doody.

I had mixed emotions at this, I mean I was happy that Tim was fitting in but I began to wonder what it would take for me to get a nickname.  Some of the guys had really horrible ones.  You can imagine how rank a bunch of guys can get isolated at sea for a length of time.  Still, things were going well for me and I was well on my way to being qualified and earning my dolphins.  Dolphins are the uniform pin awarded when you qualify in submarines.  Regardless of my lack in the nickname department, I was fitting in.  I had learned to stand watch and at least earn my keep aboard.  I might not have been an expert on submarines at that point, but I was in navigation and being the guy that knows where you are and how to get you home goes a long way aboard ship.

After about six months, I learned that Hap gave out a majority of the nicknames aboard.  He had a knack for it.  I asked him one day if I had one in the offing, he simply told me they come when they come.  I would just have to wait.  We had been to sea a few times by this point and I was comfortable being there.  I did fit in and it felt good.  Still, a little part of me wanted that nickname.  When it did come, it took like wildfire!

In port one morning, about 3:00AM, Hap woke me up to go stand topside watch.  He was the “belowdecks” watch and part of his job was to make sure people were up.  “Barbie,” he said as he shook my shoulder.  “Barbie, it’s time to get up for watch.”  I was still half-asleep as I dressed.  I walked to the mess decks to grab a cup of coffee to take with me topside and saw Hap sitting there with a few others that were up.  Then is hit me – “What the Sam Hill did you call me?”  I demanded.

“Barbie,” he replied with a smile that reminded me of a jackass eating briers, and everyone burst out laughing.

Barbi Benton

“Why Barbie,” I further demanded to know while shaking my head in disbelief.  I knew regardless of his response, I had my nickname.  It was just too good not to stick.  He pointed out that one of Playboy Magazine owner, Hugh Heffner’s girlfriends had been Barbie Benton.  From that moment on, it did not matter, because we shared a last name, I was now stuck with her first name too, at least as a nickname.

Everyone called me “Barbie.”  Guys that reported after that never even knew it was not my name.  At first, it bothered me and when someone would call me that, all I could think about was that song by Jonny Cash, A Boy Named Sue.  A visiting Admiral even told the Captain “that Petty Officer Barbie does a wonderful job.”  Soon I began to accept it for what it was, a nickname given in fun.  It was the crew’s way of telling me I had indeed fit in at last.


Story previously appears in Military Writers Society of America and Writer’s Café.



Sammie and the Goose

March 24, 2012


When my brother-in-law is out-of-town, I take Sammie for his morning walk.  If you are not a “dog-person” you may not know the wonder of this daily event.  Dogs have an innate ability to brighten even the gloomiest of days, simply by being glad to see you.  Add to that, their own excitement and joy knowing they are going for a walk and you cannot help but be overcome with the pure joy of the moment.  Most dogs and dog people have keywords they share that let them know something good is coming.  In Sammie’s case it’s “want to go?”  You say that to him and you will see the embodiment of joy.

Recently, as my brother-in-law was out-of-town, I was going to take Sammie.  He is a creature of habit.  Throughout the day, he will remind you he gets to go outside at certain times, if you forget.  He likes his dinner between 5 and 6PM, things like that.  His walk comes in the morning between 7 and 8.  Forget that one, and as sure as shooting, he will be nudging you towards the door.

On this particularly nice spring morning, I asked him “want to go?” He did.  Boy did he!  It is short drive to the park where I like to walk him. His excitement grows with each turn as we get closer to the park.   It is right next to the Lehigh River and the Northampton Canal Park.  Most people use the paved path that heads south along the river, Sammie and I take the unpaved northern path that takes us down the jetty that separates the river from the canal.  It is sort of wild and secluded and provides a much more interesting walk.  As Robert Frost would say “the one less traveled by.”

In the winter, the path is snowy and the canal is iced over and the jetty seems the preferred sleeping ground for a good number of deer.  As we would approach in the early morns, they would break and crash through the ice in the canal, fleeing to the safety of the far shore.  It was quite a site for Sammie and me to see.

D & L Canal

As the weather has warmed, all the migratory birds abound.  Many like to make a pit-stop on the canal before heading off to their final destination; to summer around Hudson Bay most likely.  So here we were, heading down the path.  Sammie is not an aggressive dog towards birds.  Squirrels on the other hand seem to be his sworn enemy.  He sees one, lunges on his leash, barks his head off, then looks back at me like “that was fun,” all the while, the squirrel scampers off, snapping its tail, as if laughing at Sammie, to the safety of a tree branch.

There we were, walking along, playing our squirrel-hunt game, ignoring ducks and geese along the way.  I guess we had gone about a mile, maybe a bit more when all of a sudden, seemly out of nowhere, a big, mean, noisy, squawking, white bag of feathers  charged Sammie taking him by surprise.  It flapped and squawked and bit Sammie with its beak right on the neck.  Now, by no means did it hurt Sammie, I mean, how could it?  It was a goose for crying out loud, not to mention Sammie’s several inches of fur protecting him.  Still, it did give him a startle.  I jumped too, but that was just to make Sammie not feel so bad about it all.

Even when chasing a squirrel, Sammie has a happy bark, a playful bark.  Not this time.  Sammie seemed incensed by this unprovoked attack.  He lunged and snarled and was just about to bite that damned goose’s head off when I pulled him back.  I pulled with all my might – I had too.  Sammie was in a rage.  That stupid goose just stood there flapping his wings making that god-awful racket that they do.  For a few moments it was a Mexican standoff with the goose having the distinct advantage.   Finally, I was able to pull Sammie far enough away he began to settle down.  All the while that damned goose just kept squawking.  I had enough, Sammie wanted to continue the debate with his feathered friend.

We made our way back to the car, all the while poor ol’ Sammie looking over his shoulder.   To be honest, I was half-tempted to let Sammie put that goose in his place but thought better of the idea.  Sammie was none the worse for wear but the next morning my arm sure was sore.  Sammie is a pretty much a passive dog.  Mostly we think of him as the sort of dog that will show a burglar where to the good china is.  It is good to know he can handle things when the situation calls for it.

Old Dam D & L Canal

The next morning, it was time to take Sammie for his walk.  All seemed perfectly normal.  Sammie was back to his never-ending battle with squirrels and ignoring all the birds around.  Then something changed.   As soon as we reached the part of the jetty where the battle-royal took place the day before, Sammie’s mood became intent.  He was on the hunt.  He lowered himself as we walked with his eye fixed in the distance.  Then he saw him, he saw that damned goose from the day before.  It was uncanny.  We must have passed four geese that looked just like this one with no problem.  Sammie knew the difference.  This one was still under his skin.  Again, he barked and pulled like he meant business.  This time, the goose kept his distance in the canal. I guess he figured he pushed his luck far enough the day before.  He did not even squawk.  Sammie barked and pulled but soon calmed down. He stood there on the bank of the canal and just watched his nemesis swim away.

He may have felt he lost the battle the day before but now he knew he had won the war.  No longer hunting, no longer feeling slighted, Sammie and I walked back to the car.  All the while Sammie held his head high and bounced with a swagger that all could see.  He did not even bother with the squirrels; he was living in the moment.  It was Sammie’s day to be king.


Ferdinand the Bull

March 21, 2012


ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive: Filmography: Ferdinand the Bull (1938)

This is a story I heard a long time ago. I thought I would share it this morning. With spring in the air, it seems a good time:

Ferdinand was a bull. Now he was no ordinary bull – he was a Spanish bull. Being a Spanish bull, he was a romantic bull and boy did he love cows. Out of all the cows in the world, Ferdinand loved heifer cows the best. When he was about two years old, it was his time to go to the market and get a heard of his own.

After much haggling between the two men, Ferdinand was on his way to his new home walking beside his new human. You see, the farmer that bought young Ferdinand was poor but seemed a nice sort so things looked pretty good. As they walked the man talked with his new friend.

“Now Ferdinand,” said the man, “I don’t have much to offer you. If fact I am just starting a new heard and all the cows are still heifers.”

Ferdinand’s ears perked up even more, you don’t have to worry about me, the young bull thought, I’ll do my part.

And that he did. A couple of years later, the farmer was looking over his fields one morning and could see cows everywhere. In fact, he now had more cows than he could feed. “That Ferdinand sure is one good bull,” he told his wife. “I will have to do something about it thought; we cannot afford to feed all these cows. I will build a pen for him, just until I can take some of them to the market.”

Ferdinand watched the farmer build the pen and even help out by pulling the wagon for him. It was not until he was inside his finished home he began to understand something was wrong. Walking around the pen, he found he could not get to any of his cows. All he could do is look at the farmer with a deep sadness in his eyes.

“Now, now Ferdinand, do not worry. You will be back with your cows soon. I just have to take some to the market,” the farmer reassured him. “After that, things will be back to normal.”

Thinking on it, Ferdinand realized the farmer had been very good to him so he would play along for a few days and then just knock the fence down and visit his cows. After about a week, he was feeling kind of frisky when he awoke and looked out to see a group of cows about two-hundred yards away. Yep, today is the day, he thought. I’ll just bust out of here and pay those girls a visit.

Ferdinand back up a few yards and trotted at the fence and rammed it. It did not move. Hmm… this is going to take some effort, he told himself. Now as he looked out, the cows where about one-hundred yards off and he really wanted out of the pen. Moving halfway across the pen, he snorted once stamped the ground and charged the gate with enough speed he thought would carry him through. BOOM! Ferdinand hit the fence, again it did not move. This time the bull had to shake it off and was now mad. “How could my friend do this to me,” he let out in one long, low moo. To make it worse, now the cows were close enough to dive him wild. He was determined to get out.

Backing up to the far side of the pen, Ferdinand snorted and pawed the ground blowing dust up and he dropped his head low. Just like his cousins that fight the matadors, he charges with everything he had, this time the fence will surly fall! A KABOOM rings out as Ferdinand hits the fence and dust and dirt clouds swirl about. As the air clears a bit, there is Ferdinand, flat on the ground. Coming too, and shaking his head, he sees the fence held fast.

The cows came over to see what all the fuss was about and now he could rub noses with them. This just made him beyond sad as he knew he was trapped. Poor Ferdinand just wandered over to a tree away from the cows and dropped in huff to the ground and hung his head. Looking back over at his cows, he was just about to loose all hope when he really started looking at the fence.

All of the sudden, Ferdinand formed a new idea. I can jump that fence, he thought as the smile returned to his face and he stood with new energy. He looked at the fence again, I am sure of it, I can just jump it. Backing up to the far end of his pen and this time with more speed than he had ever run before, Ferdinand charges the fence. Getting to just the right spot, Ferdinand jumps with all his might and barely goes over the top and lands right next to this cute little heifer cow.

“Hey, you must be Ferdinand the Bull!” she moos with excitement.

“Just call me Ferdinand,” he moos back. “That fence was just a little higher than I thought!”


Mr. Murphy and the Problem of Size

October 13, 2010

Even in life’s sad and most trying moments, humor finds its way in, not the Abbot and Costello “Who’s on First” humor, but the little things we did not see coming.  Maybe it is a way for humans to deal with heavy emotion; perhaps it is more luck.  Regardless, even years later, it is the lighthearted moments we often recall.  Soon after my father passed away, just such a moment occurred.

A few days before, I had to face the fact Daddy was dying.  He had cancer and that is not a pleasant way to go.  I can sure understand how people, who are touched by this evil, feel drug companies are more interested in prolonging treatment for profit than earnestly seeking a cure.  Still, this was the situation we were in and the family was gathering as families do at times like this.

For me, I took a leave of absence from work and headed home.  One night, I was awoken by a phone call and by sunup, I had thrown a mixed bag of clothing together and was on the road.  I lived in North Carolina at the time and home, St Simons Island, was about a six-hour drive.  Perhaps it was my haste in packing, or maybe I just did not accept my father was dying and had my mind elsewhere, but for whatever reason – I did not pack a suit.  Basically, I had toiletries, jeans, and shirts, not much more.  Strangely, I did pack my dress shoes.  Since then, I’ve asked myself a thousand times how I could pack the shoes and not the suit to go with them.  I guess some questions in life never get an answer.

Coming home during a time like this is bittersweet.  The last thing my dad needed was a bunch of family members sitting around crying and feeling sorry about things.  It was enough to know we were there for a reason and enjoy the time left.  Besides, contrary to common thought, it is a very busy time; at least it was for me.  Every day some little project needed attention.  Being busy was a blessing of sorts as it kept my mind off the inevitable.

That is the way with things inevitable – they happen whether we want them to or not.  When dad passed away, all the emotion held inside found its way out and seemed to make up for lost time.  I have always handled stress, but this time, stress handled me.  Stress took me to a surreal world where seconds lasted hours and days seemed beyond measure.  Still, there was a lot to do so I marched on, it is what my father would have wanted, and the family needed everyone rowing in the same direction.

During this time, where my hour-long-seconds had control, a small seed took root.  It was more a feeling than something I knew but I was absolutely sure I had forgotten something.  As the time past, and my seedling grew into a mighty oak, the harder I tried to remember, the deeper in fog the issue slipped.  It slipped, that is, until late in the afternoon the day before my father’s funeral and the fog cleared and I understood what that oak tree had been trying to tell me all along – I had no suit to wear.

While it’s true the fashion police would certainly let me off with a warning, I was not about to show up to my own father’s funeral in a worn pair of jeans and a Crab Shack tee-shirt.  It’s not like the tee-shirt had holes in it or anything.  OK – the jeans might have had holes, but not the tee-shirt.  Still, having “Where the elite eat in their bare feet,” scrawled across my chest somehow just did not seem right.  So, off to town I went, surely I could find something “off the rack,” as it were.

Now, I’m as fair-minded as the next guy, but who gave this Murphy fellow permission to go around making laws to begin with?  Regardless of how I feel about Mr. Murphy, I discovered there is really no way around his law “Anything that can go wrong, will go wrong.”  First store – closed.  Second store – everything required tailoring.  The drama went on and on, at each store, something stood between me and a proper suit of clothes.  All I purchased for my trouble was more stress on an already stressful day.

Finally, I went to Belks.  I figured I would throw myself on the mercy of the clerk and hope for the best.  There he was, the slim, well-dressed salesman with effeminate features and manners.  I have all the style sense God gave a bowling ball, so I was really happy to have someone other than a teenager with strange colored hair to help me.  Mr. Murphy must have been asleep on that point.

Within a few minutes, there were several jackets laid out.  We, well the salesman, decided I should go with a jacket and slacks rather than a suit as we could find pants that did not require hemming.  Still feeling stressed, I relied on his judgment completely.  Then it happened, we were selecting pants and he asked “what size?”  Guys tend to think of things like clothing size as if it were some sort of quantum physics, understanding it is just beyond most humans.  I would be happy if everything was small, medium, or large.

There I was, trying to figure out what size pants I wear.  Normally, I think it would have been an easy question to answer.  Certainly, I understood it.  Finally, after what seemed many more of my hour-long seconds, I knew I had to say something; I blurted out 32.  The salesman placed his hand on his hip, gave me that knowing kind of frown, and said, “Oh please, I’ll bring the 36s.”  I laughed and laughed.  I literally laughed until I cried.  I laughed so much the salesman started laughing with me.  There we stood, in Belk’s Department Store, laughing like two hyenas.

You see, as much as Murphy would like to control things, perhaps divine providence uses him to set our lives up where something small and silly, like the salesman’s comment, is just the cure for horribly stressful situations.  In my case, it returned my mind to a sense of normalcy and allowed me to face the following day’s events.  I took my jacket and proper fitting 36s and went home.

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