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Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World

Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.

Does Size Matter?

Life and Island Times April 29 2016

A dozen or so islanders opened their email inboxes three weeks ago one morning to find an email with this piece’s subject line from a guy named Sexton. Its sender is a sly jokester who sometimes plays off his surname’s more pious meaning.

Some readers marked it as junk (pun intended). Off it went to their spam folders. Others thought it might be a invitation to a “We’re Halfway to the Next Key West Fantasy Fest Party in April.” Those that did considered wearing costumes they had seen and/or worn in years previous.

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Size matters? Only to dickheads. Photos taken during past Fantasy Fests

Regardless of initial impressions, all knew that contrary to the reassuring catchphrase “size doesn’t matter,” penis size may matter in bed — but only for some women, and for certain types of orgasms. Most islanders deeply know these things (pun intended, again).

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The email’s author, Bobby, is more like a verger — a person who assists in the ordering of religious services, particularly those involving wine. He is rarely even gently profane but always vintage gentleman. He is a highly successful and a much-beloved wine distributor along this coral island chain.

He was inviting his confrere addressees to taste white and red wines from select vineyards and years in different sized bottle formats from 375 ml and 750 ml to 1.5 liter bottles.

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From left to right: 187.5 ml Piccolo or split, 375 ml Demi, 750 ml Standard, 1.5 L Magnum, 3.0 L Double Magnum, 4.5 L Jeroboam (this picture is worth a 1000 puns here!)

The crowd swelled at the appointed hour, as Bobby’s guests gathered at his home on Flagler Avenue. Things moved along swiftly as the quaffers sniffed, swirled, tasted and spit (well, some likely claimed they did, but most of them that Marlow knows are swallowers). They started with light and dry white wines then moved onto heavier, aged, more extracted whites. Next up came the light and medium red wines before climaxing with the big, flourishing, dark reds.

With each vineyard’s offering, participants were served three tastes from three different sized bottles. They all kept notes.

All invitees were assiduously compliant with Bobby’s rules. At the end of the tasting, they shared their notes with each other. No universal across-the-board conclusion was reached, possibly due to the number of wines tasted, palate recovery times, and the small differences in taste across different bottle sized juice. All could tell there were differences but forming a qualitative opinion proved difficult. So in the end, there was no real answer.

Save for this one from Marlow’s wine buddy, Chicago, who attended: “Size does matter when it comes to a wine I like. The bigger the pour, the better it is.”

Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat

Things to Do in Naples

things to do in Naples

06 Dec:

Up early, hangover not withstanding, to read the message boards and plot our escape. Not to be. DCAG insisting we stay to support the possibility of a Distinguished Visitor Visit, which didn’t occur.

Biding my time, I watched Star Trek in my stateroom until 1430, when I finally wandered back up to CAG Admin to find out what was going on only to find that Scooter had told us we could go away an hour before only he hadn’t looked that hard to tell us.

ampitheater puzzioli

We escape on the utility boat and embark on the torture bus for a crowded nightmare at NSA. Attempting to get back to Pozzuoli to see the Stadium- it is a big deal. It is the third largest remaining, with only the Colosseum in Rome and the Capuan Amphitheater being bigger. The Judge says it is in good shape, and some of the gears that raised the wild beasts from the galleries below still extant. Emperor Vespasian commissioned the place, and twenty thousand fans could pack the seats to watch things like the the persecutions of the patron of Pozzuoli, Saint Proculus, and that of Naples, Saint Januarius. They survived being thrown to the animals, who were apparently having an off day, and were beheaded (the Saints, not the beasts) at nearby Solfatara.

It was a shame. We had a confrontation with the taxi drivers near Fleet Landing:”30,000 liras to the Amphitheater Flavio? You guys are crazy.”

“Wella, whaddayo wanna pay?”

“Nothing to you, thanks”

hupty dumpty

So, rather than a cultural adventure, we took a different one on the strange walk up Whore Hill to AFSOUTH and experience the Italian reality, a Fellini movie that is life. The fat whore sitting on the wall- is she related to the legendary Humpty Dumpty of song and story?- the middle-aged man with long blonde hair and pink lipstick, the hundreds of pink condoms that litter the sidewalk. I’m happy we are walking up the hill with C-Gull and Cone from the fighter Kitties. There is safety in numbers.

Safe at last on the NATO compound, we find wonderful surprise shopping at the concessions at StrikeForce South. I buy strange things: a pepper grinder made from an Italian Tuna can and plastic imitation Lira; model cars and stuff for the boys.

Later, we enjoy deep beers at the AFSOUTH club, and, consciousness waning, the wild excitement of a ten man ride in the rental Peugeot back to Napoli with Skipper of the Red Lions at the wheel. I tour the Gut with Lutt-man and Josh, equipping the lads with blue berets before a last prosciutto sandwich and joining a very dapper CAG and DCAG for the boat ride home.

Farewell, Napoli you bizarre town. We are in bed by midnight……

carrier naples

07 Dec:

Only to awake to awake to disaster. I’m in my room, picking up my clothes and filing them away. Flight schedule doesn’t start until 1300; first brief at 1100. Except things are horribly screwed up and nobody knows why. The phone rings at 0800. “What nine o’clock brief?” I ask Charlie cleverly, dropping a folded set of underwear.

Apparently the entire Air Wing was tuned into CVIC channel 2, expecting some sort of coordinated presentation on EMCON Recoveries and Rules of Engagement. Instead, we started a tape and canceled it when we realized there was an alert being set and they required a brief. Bottom line was that we were appallingly uncoordinated and tremendously embarrassed in front of everybody. DCAG is pissed and I am bagged and thoroughly had by somebody.

Who did this to me? I will have my answers. I do not like getting humiliated like this but I do not whimper. I harbor dark suspicions. I will launch an investigation. Later that day, the Campaign Brief goes well, except John S’s mother is dying- he is the Assistant N2 on the CARGRU Staff- and he is gone, suddenly, and CDR Horton is helpless and my hip joint is killing me and I can barely walk and this sucks I hate it I hate I hate it.

This must be the first time this ship ever left port….

08 DEC:

Big day in West Med. Eight cycles of flight operations with 134 sorties. Upon consideration, I think Scooter was the one who bagged me. I think the Deputy tasked a major presentation involving my television station and didn’t bother to tell me or my duty officer. We toyed briefly with the idea of crucifying IS2 Jonesy, who is nearly beyond help, but that would have achieved nothing. The problem is that OPS isn’t talking to anyone.

It ain’t that hard; shoot, he doesn’t even go ashore. I don’t know how to fix this without digging the hole around him deeper, which I don’t want to do.

He is a great guy and besides, we have to work with him win lose or draw the rest of the cruise. I explain my deep concerns to Mark and he will sidle up to DCAG and attempt to brief the Deputy on the fact that for us to give an effective presentation we have, at a minimum, be told what it is we are supposed to present.

The hell with it. Perhaps a visit to Spain tomorrow will clear things up.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

The Scavi

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At the AFSOUTH Club, I tried to get on a phone and then, worse, when I did I had to try to figure out how to use it. By the time I cracked the code and get a Transatlantic line there is no one home to speak to. The Italians can’t hold a candle to the French for telecommunications. I was frustrated and drunk and finally just said the hell with it and climbed back on a bus for the hermetically-sealed trip back the Fleet Landing, nothing accomplished except getting a headache and wasting the day. The only saving grace was the wonderful prosciutto et fromaggio sandwich in that hole in the wall right before the landing….

Otherwise, I returned to the ship depressed and tired. And utterly determined not to be sealed in this gigantic steel box the next day.

05 DEC:

My eyes flew open when Chop started to stir in the rack above me. I had to get up and go to Italy. I literally bounded out of bed and into my slightly-wrinkled khakis. It was 0620. I had fallen asleep about 2100 the night before and had more uninterrupted rest than the last two weeks. I went to breakfast as a rare treat. Talked to CDR Kirkpatrick about meeting the ship’s Intel guy from Sarah who happened to be in town and wanted to come out and tour the ship.

My omelette from Cookie was delicious. CAPT Riley, the senior Ship’s DOC was making some wild and erroneous statements about officers being searched on the Quarterdeck. He was of the opinion that such individuals should be brought to
Mast if they refused. I bit my tongue rather than get into a beef with the idiot. He had missed the point entirely. The issue was not of being searched, but rather ”who• was doing the searching. I trust our Senior Medical Officer is a good doctor because his grasp of tradition and protocol are conspicuously deficient.

I went up to Mission Planning and read the message boards. After 0700, I called Josh Randall, who was to be my wingman for the day, and told him to get on the 0830 standby for departure to Ercolano and points south to Sorrento. Although CAG wanted a pre-brief on the Campaign Plan, my bet was that he was going to be hung up on the Birddog issue all day and I didn’t want to get trapped aboard waiting. I swung down past CAG Admin and saw the Deputy, who had just arisen to discover that he was to be the next EA to USCINCLANT, the four-buzzer Joint Commander of the Atlantic.

He was a made man now. This job would give him the connections and the horsepower to go all the way. If he didn’t fuck up on his deep draft command, he would be a shoe-in for Flag. He was happy and I took advantage of the opportunity to state that I was leaving and expeditiously exited stage left.

Josh and I made the first boat (which did not actually leave the stern until 0910) and ventured forth into the strange world of Italy. You have to admire the total anarchy of the Italian system. Really.

Trying to walk to the train station we wound up on the median on the main drag, which narrowed from a sidewalk into a narrow strip on which pedestrians, cars, and motorbikes competed in about equal shares for passage. Finally terrified, Josh and I ducked off the thing and tried to walk up a side-street. Which was impossible, due to the fact that the insane little cars were parked helter-skelter bumper to bumper so you couldn’t cross the streets or the alleyways.

Everywhere there were quaint shops, bakeries, fashion clothing, strange looking Neapolitans everywhere and a light drizzle that brought the shipboard oils out on my sneakers and made the paving stones as slippery as ice. Cars and traffic and people and garbage were everywhere, and we had no clear idea where we were headed. We finally broke right down a diagonal alley and through an ancient gate into a square in front of a theater.

The direction felt right, but in the free form urban structure we were essentially clueless. We picked our way through the trash and made a point of not stepping in the dogshit. Another aimless right turn and sure enough we were directly in front of the
Circumvesuvia Station.

We had some problems in getting across what we wanted to the little man behind the biglietta window, but after some minor hand waving and repetition of the word “Sorrento” we came into the possession of two bargain tickets to the peninsular city. We got down to the tracks under grey skies and found a train leaving in about five minutes. We piled in with a significant number of people who clearly did not enjoy the same modern bathing facilities that we do back home. We rolled off across the
industrial city right on time, stopping with less frequency as we rolled out toward the slopes of Vesuvius. I had found the name we were looking for on a map at the terminal; at least I assumed “Ercolano” was the modern term for classical Herculaneum.

We rolled into the station and wondered if we could get off without invalidating our tickets. Is this the honor system? In Italy?

We walked out of the station and saw some signs reading “Scavi Ercolano” (Herculaneum Ecavations?) and wondered if meant what I thought it did. We took a 5,000 lira cab ride to ensure we would find out; it was just down the hill, impossible to miss.

We walked from the pandemonium ofmodern Italy into the tranquility of the grave.

hercolano

The Herculaneum gate leads into a free park and a great bridge that takes you down over the scavi. There below you is the Roman town, lying beneath up to 60 meters of dark volcanic tufa, the rest of the city brooding above, the ancient city running right into the cliff and uch more obviously sleeping below. Josh and I had the place to ourselves, except for some hey-joe kids who hassled us for cigarettes. Walking through the doors and into the chambers, looking at the murals, the bones and through the baths and temples of the ancient city.

It was wonderful, strange, and utterly silent.

The suburban baths; marble, silent as a tomb, the terrible violence of that day 2,013 years before frozen with the lava left cascading through a door; surrounding the ancient wood of a door left ajar; freezing the image of a great marble basin as the scalding flow carried it across a room.

At the ancient waterfront, a Roman boat is lying forlorn in a cradle beneath a tin roof.

Odd, strange, weird for the city to be exhumed and then to see the decay begin again, slowly allowing the plants and the corrosive atmosphere to resume the slow entropic dissolution…to save it, we have to expose it to the air and destroy it for all time, accomplishing with love what the raw fury of the volcano could not.

Walking back up the hill to the train station and back on the slow train to Sorrento we will filled with thoughts as gray and moist as the sky. Now raining without pity. The train tracks took us on a ride around around the living mountain that had killed the cities below.

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Ah, Sorrento…A toy resort town. Lovely shops, handsome people and pretty girls dodging the rain. Quaint streets and outstanding opportunities to buy all manner of things. A music box at the shop of the Three Sisters, with little inlaid boxes for the boys at home. A rakish beret for me. Now I am at one with my environment; invisible and completely local. We enjoyed lunch at the Pizza Fauna Ristorante. Real pizza, with the liquid olive oil and cheese pooling in the middle and thin crust; picante sun dried tomatoes; tall draft beers; watching the people come and go and the guys from the Staff line up at the pay phone.

I called Rick, the Judge in charge of all Navy Legal matters in the Med; he was busy the next day with the Randy Traverse Concert at the aeroporto, so it was that night or nothing; oh well, what the hell, we thought, it was raining anyway, so back to Napoli on the train.

Rick had given us exacting directions, and we rode the main station at Plaza Garibaldi; transferring to the Metropolitana Line to Pozoulli; meeting Rick at the station, he was fortuitously able to escape the rigors of Command a trifle early. We took a wild ride through Pozuolli to get to his house; past the third largest extant Stadium remaining from the classical world, its great concrete buttresses erupting from the low-tech, low-aspiring modern city around it. Along the modern highway, laid over the Roman road, great anonymous masses of Roman buildings still erupt in incongruous places.

A truncated arch forms the boundary of a Fina Service Station. I ask Rick “Who are these pygmies that now inhabit this world wrought by giants?” He says it was the lead lining to the wine Jugs that got them, a point to ponder. We arrive at the high security Casa Schiff; all white tile and bidet in the head. Judy is gone, on business, and Rick cooks Rigatoni as we listen to Elvis and drink Heiniken, fine white wine and fiery brandy.

He has Air Force dependent kids in town from Germany or England who were visiting to attend a math and science competition. He directs them on a tangerine hunt in the orchard which surrounds the building. Finally the wild autostrada ride around the city and back into the gloom of Napoli at night.

Making it right to the boat safely, we see CAG and company, only to discover Rooter and Beth P are in town, TDY, and have the googly eyes for one another. The couple and I first met at Aviation Officer Candidate School in Pensacola, ‘Cradle of Naval Aviation.’ The memory of the screaming Marine Drill Instructors will be with us forever.

Another gratuitous beer in the Gut before the groping on theater side of the table convinced Josh and I to hold to the better part of valor and get our asses back to the ship and let the lovers have their way.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicscotra.com

The Best Cuban Mixte in Key West

Life and Island Times April 27 2016

A Cuban Mixte is a Caribbean version of a ham and cheese sandwich. It is made with ham, roasted pork, Swiss cheese, pickles, mustard, and sometimes salami on Cuban bread.

As with Cuban bread, the origin of this Cuban sandwich (sometimes called a “Cuban mix,” a “mixto” or “mixte,” or a “Cuban pressed sandwich,” is somewhat clouded. Its history goes back to the late 19th century, when travel between Cuba and Florida was easy, especially from Key West and Tampa, and Cubans frequently sailed back and forth for employment, pleasure, and family visits. This sandwich is the perfect two-fisted workman’s lunch — portable and hearty.

There is a long term argument regarding whether to serve New Orleans’ signature sandwich, the muffuletta, hot or cold. In the Conch Republic, there is no disagreement – it is a cold-cut sandwich meant to be served and eaten after being warmed under a press.

Putting out one’s top five island Mixte list in public, however, could get your scribe shunned, beaten or fitted for concrete shoes. But what the hell, here is Marlow’s personal guide to his city’s most celebrated dish — the Cuban Mixte.

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1. Sandy’s Café @ 1026 White St (at Virginia St). Sandy’s deserves the claim of the original (and best) Cuban Mixte. It is the largest, cheapest and most available Cuban Mixte in town. Sandy’s is open 24/7. All of Key West goes here.

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2. Five Brothers @ 930 Southard St (at Grinnel St). Great coffee. Beer. Try their Media Noche, if you want something smaller.

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3. El Meson de Pepe @ 410 Wall St. Try their black bean soup, yellow rice and the best mojitos this side of Havana.

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4. Ana’s Cuban Café @ the corner of South and Simonton Streets. A favorite place to people watch. Fresh coconuts and smoothies too!

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5. Frita’s @ 425 Southard St. Excellent Cuban burgers (see above)

– – – – – –

Marlow just received this email notice from Orbiz.com:

Flights from Key West are dropping!

Reply|

Tue 4/27/2016 2:41 AM

Looks like it’s the car and banana boat ferry service for off island excursions for the time being.

– – – – – –

Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat

Inport Naples

Editor’s Note: I had a chance to find out the thousand-dollar surprise for April, and didn’t even have to wait until the end of the month. New spectacles are the order of the day, since I dropped the perfectly serviceable ones from the night table and they hit with precisely the perfect impact point to chip off a chunk of lens as perfectly as a master diamond-cutter. So there was that, and the long awaited eye-exam in which the Doc informed me that I should have my eyes dilated more than once every twenty years or so, which after being (temporarily) blinded (I hope) I was thinking back to the thrilling days of yesteryear, and now, sadly, you are stuck with it.

I do miss Naples. There are a lot of people who bash the city for the trash and the chaos, but once you are in it, the place is perfectly serviceable for liberty purposes for you and a couple thousand of your closest personal friends.

-Vic

view-of-naples-harbor-_3663

04 DEC:

The day got off to a bad start. The anticipation of going ashore is a fierce desire, a burning flame. The urge to be under real skies and breath unprocessed air. Instead, Scooter found a new piece of tasking which would occupy us for three hours that morning. Lessons Learned for Distinguished Visitors…..it occurred to me that these were people we had known were coming since sometime in August and I was getting the tasking just at the first time I could have really got out of Mission Planning since we got here.

There is an undercurrent of trouble in the OPS department, more of which I was going to hear at the end of the port-call.

But of course none of this really mattered because they had difficulties getting the camel out to the fantail and they couldn’t start boating until about two or three in the afternoon.

We managed to escape by going on the Captain’s Gig with Skipper Thomassy and a cast of infamous commissioned Ship’s Company and Air Wing personnel. It was a lovely day. Some sort of Castle loomed on the top of the hill that dominates the city. A much more imposing structure- rather Bastille like- dominates the port near the Fleet Landing.

The city is generally low and the landmarks that have defined the skyline since about 1500 still do so. The buildings are stained dark with age and pollution and the steel mill down the coast belches out particulate smoke the like of which I haven’t seen back home since the ’50s.

Once we get ashore, we have a long wait for the Shore Patrol to arrive so the buses can to the Navy Support Activity (NSA, no not the other one) and AFSOUTH can start running.

The alternative is Ali Babba and the forty taxi drivers, the local version of the buccaneer. Since we have to wait anyway, Lutt-man and I enjoy four beers off a little cart while we get the scoop on the Birddog Affair. It was all much more messy than we thought, and it had all sorts of bizarre angles.

Makes you wonder why anyone would rationally aspire to be Commanding Officer.

As we talked, the man himself walked by. His face was grim and he didn’t look around. He was wearing a flight jacket and khakis. He borrowed some lira from Whiskey Bob for cab fare and got into one staring straight ahead. He roared off for the airport without looking around. I have rarely seen anyone looking so grim and alone. I guess that what you look like if your career just got tanked right in front of your eyes. One moment, a steely-eyed fighter pilot, leading twelve jets against the Godless Commies and then in a cab for home.

Eventually we got the Shore Patrol ashore and the Eurobuses started to run. We were sealed hermetically in the tall gleaming machines and plowed through the incredible confusion of Naples.

Anarchy. Madness.

There are ancient tunnels and antique narrow streets. Traffic is from a nightmare land, no rules, only the law of the right foot. The streets are so narrow that I can only presume each strange and terrifying encounter with oncoming vehicles will lead to death. No one has an exterior mirror left, but those are presumably only advisory in nature only. We roll north through the town to NATO’s Armed Forces Southern Command (AFSOUTH) compound, a former war-time Luftwaffe bunker complex and manage the trip from Fleet Landing to NATO HQ without ever actually setting foot in Italy.

The AFSOUTH Club is where all the Officers go the first night in Naples.

program

It is clean, fairly cheap, they take American money and you don’t have to deal with things Italian any more than you feel like.

In fact, you could be in just about any O Club anywhere and not notice the difference. The Admiral and his Staff are there, and everyone is big. So are the first ten beers.

This is where everyone is going and the crowd surges and the noise gets louder and louder. This must be the place where the famous mushroom soup trick was set in Pat Conroy’s epic novel The Great Santini.

You can see the locals are a little uncomfortable with our presence s an unknown and possibly dangerous presence. The female USAF light colonel who manages the place is holding her head as she walks away from a confrontation with RADM Allen, who told her she wasn’t closing the bar at 1800 while there were sixty Air Wing guys in there trying to relax and make phone calls just because it happened to be Monday….and then passing the hat to pay Tony the Bartender so she didn’t have a bureaucratic leg to stand on.

Turns out that the bartenders have been here since we won the war and with step increases and seniority bumps they are making more than the Admiral, but what the hell.

So Admiral Sweetpea is a hero and the light Colonel has a headache.

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Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
WWW.vicsocotra.com

Settlers

Life and Island Times April 26 2016

While Marlow and W were wandering the northern Georgia coast, things on their coral island were heating up on the front page of the papers.

For the second time during the past year, exotic dancers also known as strippers had filed suit in federal court claiming job misclassification (striptease artist?) and underpayment of wages due.  The first suit against a men’s entertainment club, Bare Assets on Truman Avenue, was filed by the same attorneys who filed against this most recent suit.

In the current suit filed last December, two former dancers at the Red Garter Saloon on Duval Street sued the business and owner Mark Rossi, a just retired City Commission member, over unpaid wages.   Micheal D, who now lives in Palm Beach County, and Rebecca Wiles (no, Marlow is not making this up), of an unknown address, allege that Red Garter Saloon, Rossi, and his company, Keys Productions, Inc., violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by not paying them an hourly wage or overtime.

The women assert their only form of compensation was tips and that the business “failed to pay the plaintiff any wages whatsoever, throughout their employment.”  Their Miami lawyer wrote in the complaint that the business has a “longstanding policy of misclassifying their employees as independent contractors.”  He alleges in the complaint such a classification is illegal.

The lawsuit is very similar to multiple other law suits that have been filed nationwide by exotic dancers alleging wage theft via the independent contractor classification – a common theme in these litigation’s.

The women further allege in their long complaint that the business also violated the Fair Labor Standards Act by its alleged practice of “siphoning away those tips to distribute to non-tip eligible employees,” which the lawsuit lists as the disc jockeys, wait staff and security guards.   Dancers had to pay “house fees” depending on the day and shift the dancer was working.

Both women sought all unpaid wages for that time, including all “misappropriated tips” and house fees as well as attorney fees.

In Thursday’s edition of the local paper announced that Rossi through his attorneys that he had agreed to pay up to $1.2 million to settle this class-action lawsuit.  The settlement, filed April 8, awaits a federal judge’s approval but was signed by Rossi on March 31.  The proposed payout covers an estimated 122 dancers.  Payments could range from $150 for an artist who worked there for one month up to $9,450 to one who worked there for a little over five years.

The 60-page agreement also requests $295,900 in attorney fees for the plaintiffs.

Marlow’s takeaways: 

  • Lawyers are always paid best and first.
  • It’s about time that these artists are getting what they deserved.  They worked hard for money.
  • Rossi, a former neighbor of Marlow and W, decided to sit this dance out.
  • All islanders, regardless of their birthplace, are settlers.

 

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Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat

Junior Officer Initiative

Editor’s note: The speculation about what the Russian aggressiveness toward U.S. Naval ships in the Baltic has had many agog of late. The spike of interest in Russian interest brought memories back to some old Shipmates, including the irrepressible Point Loma. He contributes this account of life on the bounding waves- with Russians- to the annals of the Daily Socotra.

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(USS Carl Vinson (CVN-70) underway on Fleet business. Photo USN).

When I was a Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) and conning officer on VINSON -back in ’83- we were being trailed by the duty Soviet intelligence collector- the AGI- in the Northern Arabian Sea (NAS). There was always one of them with us, to providing targeting data to the Soviet subs or bombers if the balloon went up. We were finally permitted to depart station and take a course southeast towards Perth, West Australia, for our scheduled port call.

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There was a huge storm down south of Diego Garcia (DGAR) that was tossing at us a rhythmic series of 15-20 ft waves. We were done with flight ops when I assumed the 1600-2000 watch, and I noted we were a little bit behind PIM (Position of Intended Movement), which was 165 degrees at 14 knots Speed of Advance (SOA), and there were no night orders posted yet, so we had some flex room to catch up. After I assumed the watch, I took a look around to gain some situational awareness (SA) and noticed that our AGI escort was having a bit of trouble with the periodicity of the swells, which were of little worry to the carrier or our small boy escorts.

I did a little bit of study on the Mo Board and figured out that a subtle change in course and speed could make life a little more miserable for our Soviet pals, and maybe give us some viewing pleasure. So, I consulted with the OOD and since he was a bored SWO and interested in my idea, he told me to go ahead and make some course and speed changes as long as they weren’t too much so that the deck movement didn’t adversely impact the maintenance work on the flight deck, or get us too much off of PIM.

I started slowly, increasing speed to 15 kts, and ordered a five-degree course change to port – 160. I gave the order myself over Fleet Tactical – “MIKE CORPEN 160, MIKE SPEED 15″. it took the AGI about 10 minutes to figure out what we had done even though they were copying us, and when he corrected, he was now taking seas over his deck..fuck, I had figured it out correctly. The next order, cleared by the OOD was “MIKE SPEED 16.”

More misery for our poor AGI-mates. We were hanging out on the port bridge wind and laughing our asses off, watching the AGI valiantly trying to keep up with us, the seas now smashing them repeatedly over the bow. We let it run for a while, and I got back on the Mo Board to figure out a new way to punish our enemies. Since we were operating on only one reactor, we couldn’t exceed 17 kts, so why not? We were a little left of PIM at this point, well within limits, and the sun was going down.

My next maneuver, 155 degrees at 17 kts was duly transmitted. Now, the AGI was not only pounding through the swells, he was cork-screwing due to his only 200 ft. or so length. Their doughty crew was undoubtedly hurling, since the seas were relentless and punishing. We had the enlisted members on the watch team not only engaged, but also rolling on the floor as they took turns watching the AGI curving and swerving on an otherwise bright afternoon in clear air, smashing through the waves. They never would have believed that they could fuck with the Soviets like this until i showed them how to do it.

Morale on that watch team was sky high. I had been driving the boat for about six months at that point, and had good rapport with the troops. The sailors knew and respected me because i treated them and the watches that we stood together as something like a sacred trust and obligation to those who had gone before us, our duty. I used to get asked how long had I been an enlisted guy? I wasn’t, and instead was some sort of hybrid deck officer, having gone to OCS in Newport and now was an A-6 Intruder Bombardier/Navigator-qualified aviator. However, I acted like them at times, mostly on liberty. I used to say that it was a blessing for me to be an officer, because I would have never made a 27-year career as an enlisted guy. I guess I was just simpatico with their situation.

For example, on night watches, we would turn on Gertrude, our underwater communications system for subs, and listen to whale songs – i gave everyone a chance to listen to the harkening of the whales that surrounded us in the open ocean. We would go up to the 0-10 level and look through the Big Eyes to count the moons surrounding Jupiter and the rings on Saturn and plumb the depths of the Orion Nebula. No-one else did that for them. They knew that I would do the unexpected and bring them along, as a team.

So, when I showed them this trick, they were ready for it. when LTJG Point Loma requested permission to enter the bridge and assume the conn, that watch was going to get very interesting.

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When I joined the Navy, I treated it as a by-God adventure and I was going to have all of it. Having gone to OCS in Newport, I learned how to drive big ships. Then I went to the Replacement Air Group (RAG) at VA-128 and then in VA-52 and learned how to fly jets. Since I was eye-sight challenged, I was told that I could do neither. Once I got to the Fleet, I was able to do both – go figure. So, I did. No one told me no, and I pushed it to the limits.

I was the only guy on the carrier who briefed and de-briefed, flew, and was on the watch bill to drive the boat. Yeah, it was hard, but young guys can do the impossible for a while. When I was named the interim CAG AI, I had to drop the ship’s watch commitment, which sucked. I wanted to say I had navigated around the world, but wound up being a passenger for the last half of it. I dare say that, to date and the best of my knowledge, I am the only Special Duty- Intelligence Officer (1630) who has ever done this.

At this point, the Soviet AGI had been bouncing about in our wake for about two hours puking their guts out. However, all good things must come to an end, and this was one of those times.

Vinson’s Gator (an S-3 aviator), having finished dinner in the wardroom, entered the bridge about 1930 towards the end of the watch. He went over to the quartermaster’s table, took notice of our position, course, and speed – the orders that had been given, and then confronted the OOD. Oh, shit.

“Why are we off course and speed?”

The OOD did what every good Shoe-boy does and pointed to me, in the process throwing me under the bus.

“Ask him, he’s the conning officer.”

He came over to where i was standing on the port side of the bridge and drew himself up to his full height.

“So Lieutenant, why are we left of PIM by five miles, and exceeding speed?”

I took off my binoculars, and handed them to him. I pointed aft to the laboring Soviet AGI.

“Look.”

He looked, and then delivered the buzz kill.

“Knock this shit off, and get back on PIM.”

He stalked off the bridge to his stateroom. The enlisted guys were pissed off beyond measure but orders are orders. I computed the course correction and transmitted it to the battle group. A little later, we were relieved from our watch duties, and I went below to the intel center before heading up to the dirty shirt wardroom for chow. Another watch completed. One more day underway.

Copyright 2016 Point Loma
www.vicsocotra.com

The Amber Room

castle
(One of the places the Amber Room has rested. This one is what used to be Koenigsburg, in the former East Prussia, now Kaliningrad, the city of Kant now named for a Soviet Apparatchik).

They may have found it. Buried treasure worth millions, a traveling moveable feast from the darkest days one can imagine, including the one I am wrestling with this last couple of weeks. Maybe worse, I don’t know.

I wish I could still go down to the concierge desk at Big Pink and ask Elsbeth what it was like to be a young girl in East Prussia when the Soviet 3rd Belorussian Front stormed Koenigsburg. It was not a pleasant experience, from what she said. But she is gone now, along with her stories, which I will treasure forever.

I was interested in the place for a couple reasons. At the time, I was researching the time there for another friend who had purchased a horse, whose lineage came from Frederick the Great, and a product of the 600 years of German expansion to the East, all overthrown in a matter of months when the East Front collapsed and the Russians laid waste to orderly farms and German villages.

I understand all the issues, and all the justifications for the manifold horrors, but am really just happy that the Ossies in my family line fled the region a hundred years before that particular human disaster occurred.

So, the area has always had a fascination for me, though no family memories of the region were ever passed down. I had reason to turn my attention to the area again a couple weeks ago. When I heard the news about the buzzing of the USS Donald Cook (DDG-75), I first assumed it was a part of some Freedom of Navigation Act (FON) deployment in the Black Sea or something. Unpleasant, to be sure, but not unusual in the conduct of the necessary demonstration that the seas are a global common for all nations.

buzz

It wasn’t until days later that someone told me the incident had occurred in the Baltic, and far from being a semi-provocative demonstration of the right of innocent passage in waters adjoining the Russian Federation, it was the freaking Baltic, off the coasts of NATO member states.

That dragged me back into the story of the strange enclave known now as “Kaliningrad,” the former East Prussian Koenigsburg, which is cut off from Russian territory by hundreds of miles of Estonian and Latvian territory. Mr. Putin has heavily militarized the place, and frankly, the situation is more than a little creepy.

Our pal Chris was A/ALUSNA in Moscow back in the day, and he remembers vividly what it was like to visit the military outpost thrust into what was the eastern part of the Reich. It is weird, home both of philosopher Emmanuel Kant and a bunch of Soviet-era junk.

Anyway, horses and current geopolitics aside, there is the matter of the Amber Room. The Nazis took back the gift given to Russia by a rising Germany in order to counter the aggressive Swedes- if you can imagine anything like that. It is a roiling emotional tale that has everything: history, vast treasure, and the smell of cordite.

amber room

The “room” isn’t anything of the sort. It is paneling made originally to be a cabinet, but so spectacular that it was transformed into paneling for the walls of a state chamber constructed of by several tons of the gemstone Amber, the Jurassic Park substance found on on the Baltic coast that is the petrified remains of sap from the indigenous trees. In the movie, the insects trapped within gave the DNA to re-create dinosaurs.

In our world, it went to create the last great mystery of World War II.

The Amber Room was called “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” and it has been missing since Elsbeth and her sisters tried to (unsuccessfully) flee the predations of the Byelorussian Front. Installed in the castle of Koenigsburg, the room disappeared as the Russians advanced for the final conquest.

Well, maybe it was the final conquest. I guess we will see about that.

Anyway, since the Amber Room was worth about a half billion bucks in today’s money, you can imagine people have been interested. The original story was that it was completely vaporized by Allied bombing in the last days of the war. It is plausible, I suppose, but people have been wondering since early 1945 where it actually went. The Germans were meticulous about a lot of things, and it seems unlikely that they would have just left the treasure to await the tender mercy of the advancing Red Army.

Of course, they did abandon the families of East Prussia, but this is neither the time nor place for that discussion.

Technology is a wondrous thing. Ground penetrating radar is one of its marvels. Just this year, in Egypt, they scanned the walls of King Tut’s tomb, and scientists announced that they may have found another burial chamber contained within, that of the famed beauty Nefertiti.

I hope it is true. I would like to see the artifacts before I become one myself.

Anyway, the news out of Poland is that they may have used the same techniques on an old Nazi-era bunker to find a concealed space that could contain the panels of the Amber Room.

A Polish museum curator named Bartlomiej Plebanczyk has announced that he thinks he has discovered a previously unknown underground room in a bunker complex that has he conducted a search of a complex of Nazi tunnels and bunkers.

The hidden room- “measuring two metrers by three meters” has never previously been recorded in any study of the warren of bunkers in the Mazrian Lake District, which contains one of the best-preserved complex of undamaged Nazi bunkers and barracks, frozen in the Cold War desolation of what was the East Front. .

At the height of its power, the complex had its own Panzer tank division on call, though I can think of other places that might have been more secure, like Chile. But what the hell. Everyone likes the resolution to a good mystery.

And the Amber Room is one for the ages.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com

Squares

Life and Island Times April 23 2016 – Savannah Stories Part IV

Squares
Savannah was laid out in 1733 around four open squares, each surrounded by four residential (“tything”) blocks and four civic (“trust”) blocks. The layout of a square and eight surrounding blocks was known as a “ward.”

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The original plan (now known as the Oglethorpe Plan) allowed for growth of the city by the addition of squares. By 1851 there were 24 squares in the city

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1770 plan of Savannah showing the first six squares. The Savannah River and “north” are to the bottom of the image.

In the 20th century, three of the squares were demolished or altered beyond recognition, leaving 21. In 2010, one of the three “lost” squares, Ellis, was reclaimed. Most of Savannah’s squares are named in honor or in memory of a person, persons or historical event, and many contain monuments, markers, memorials, statues, plaques, and other tributes.

Although many moderns cherish the squares’ aesthetic beauty, the first squares were intended to provide colonists space for military exercises. To those with military service backgrounds, the plan resembles the layout of contemporary 18th century military camps. Oglethorpe’s layout also appears to have a public safety purpose in limiting the spread of fires that could have razed the city.

Time has bejeweled these landscapes. Architect John Massengale has called Savannah’s city plan “the most intelligent grid in America, perhaps the world.” Edmund Bacon wrote that “it remains as one of the finest diagrams for city organization and growth in existence.”

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Locals and tourists have added vibrancy to these places by using them for public and semi-public celebrations each and every day and night. Savannah, Key West and New Orleans are the only three US cities that permit the open public consumption of adult beverages.

God Bless America.

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Rat Show

Clary’s has been s Savanah landmark diner for 113 years. It grew in popularity mostly among tourists in 1994, with the publication of John Berendt’s book Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, in which the restaurant was prominently featured.

Twice in the past fourteen years, it has been spotlighted in local and regional media reports — some out of jealousy and some in outright spite of its enduring popularity. The last spate of reports in 2012 for some odd reason attracted locals back in droves to the place despite the crushing numbers of tourists who infest the place.

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Most locals heard about the rat show from friends, who lived nearby. At irregular intervals the show would begin with a variety of performers scampering over the floor and tables. The favorite seats for locals to observe the show were the stools at the bar given their wide vista of tables packed with tourists.

“If we closed every restaurant in town that had a rat or mice problem, then there’d be a lot closed,” said an inspector for the county environmental health division.

This is not the stuff of urban legend. Hospitality is an art form in Savannah. It has been dubbed the Hostess City of the South. This deliberate attention to and pride in the way the city presents herself goes back to its founding. Constantly being on stage. so to speak, would take its toll on the inhabitants/performers. Perhaps the Rat Show is a Savannahian dark side reaction of its Disney-esque performers?

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Copyright © 2016 From My Isle Seat

Thread Count

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May Sot is a sweaty little town halfway up the Thai border with Burma. I was listening to the radio in bed. A Correspondent was up there reporting on the misery of the Karen refugees, persecuted by the thug gerontocracy of the rulers of what they called “Myanmar,” and I heard his words from the radio as I lay flat on my back on the 600-count sheets I put on the credit card and will pay for next month, for sure.

The sheets are a luxury, I know, but I justify it on the grounds that I should live at home in small ways that are as nice as being on the road. When I was last in May Sot, looking at the misery, it was two decades ago. The sadness was real, and the children at the orphanage we visited would be raising their own now, the ones that lived, and their eyes would have lost their innocence.

Nothing appears to have changed there. The Junta in Rangoon has changed its name since then, but they are just as ugly, and just as implacable as the day my Boss got up and walked out of the meeting with them, walking out of the old British-built colonial pile of a building briskly with all of trailing in his wake like wind-blown leaves.

The Strand Hotel in downtown Rangoon (I could not then or now call it “Yangon”) was where we were staying, a remarkable stately old building with a majestic internal courtyard all of tropical wood built by the Victorians, and recently refurbished by the thugs who run Burma, or Myanmar, or whatever it is they are calling the lush country these days.

The bedding was excellent, and if the houseboy at his desk in the hall worked for the state security services, so be it. I propped a chair against the thick mahogany door just in case.

We were staying at the Oriental Hotel in Bangkok on the next leg of the Congressman’s trip, and the sheets were nice. There was a big press conference about the trip to May Sot, and we did not get enough time to sleep, except at the state dinner where I awoke to find a delicate dessert course in front of me.

The Thai general to my left had been nice enough to let me doze without interruption, and taking the cab back to the hotel we had no inclination to stop by New Patpong Road, where busloads of Japanese and Europeans were on the prowl for what trouble they might find.

There was plenty, if my first visit to the bars of the old Patpong thirty-five ago was any indication. Maybe that is the definition of age; caring more about the sheets than who is tangled within them.

Even miserable places have nice places to sleep, and that affects the quality of the reporting. In Haiti there are a few exceptional hotels high on the hill above Port au Prince, the Montana being the one preferred by the press corps and visiting firemen. The key is to have a decent base of operations, and a good night’s sleep.

The last time I passed through the city that once was known as Saigon, the skyline was already undergoing a metamorphosis from sleepy imperial humiliation to a bustling tiger of economic growth. The construction cranes towered over the skyline, and the familiar view from the sky bar at the Caravelle Hotel to the former Embassy would be obstructed soon.

There was talk of building a tower alongside the original ten-story building. That was where the correspondents gathered at the rooftop lounge to watch the evening rocket attacks against the big airbase at Tan Son Nhut, and chat about how the war was going.

There were several new five-star hotels in Ho Chi Minh City, and we could have stayed in one of them and slept on new mattresses, but it seemed to me that was not the point. Something was slipping away, just like the MIAs we were ostensibly there to find.

That was nonsense, of course. We were there to see if there was a way to finally end the war, at least the niggling details of the one that had ended unsatisfactorily (to us) twenty years before our visit. The MIAs were almost certainly going to stay that way, though of course assorted remains would be parceled out (at considerable expense). O one wanted to inquire too deeply as to exactly when the remains stopped being living men, and became heaps of often-charred bones and ash.

Our presence in Vietnam was a liaison office in Hanoi, which kept its name, and we stayed in the Metropole, a very nice hotel indeed.

The officers assigned to the liaison office had noticed that the Host Nationals were tearing down the Maison Central, the French-built prison for Vietnamese dissidents and criminals that had an emotional ring for Americans. In our time of involvement, it had been the Hanoi Hilton. The liaison officers took away some of the bricks from the demolition site to hand out as souvenirs for visiting firemen, like us, and as the horse-holder for the expedition, the had the opportunity to haul the better part of a brick wall around in my luggage.

That brick from the Maison Centrale is now in a frame on the wall down at the farm, along with a copy of the rules imposed on the prisoners there. I think about it sometimes, when I actually limp up the stairs. Back then, the Caravelle belonged to the State, and had sunken into a Stalinist Intourist-style somnolence. It had not been upgraded. As penance for our defeat, and because I was responsible for the logistics, I booked us into the Rex Hotel, the massive colonial hotel near the Opera House and the market.

REX-Hotel-1

The Rex had been the home to the Military Assistance Command’s afternoon briefings on the war, timed to permit the correspondents to file their reports for the morning news in Washington. The beds were hard and the rooms Spartan, and I spent part of the evening washing the grit from some souvenir bricks we had been given in the capital of the united Socialist Republic of Vietnam the day before. That night, I felt I was not alone in the little room in the great dark hotel, and there was a physical feeling of enduring sadness that one does not find in a new place that has not yet created its ghosts.

In the bad times, it was possible to walk from the Caravelle over to the Rex, take in the afternoon briefing, and then return for dinner and drinks in the rooftop bar for the evening glimpse of the war in the suburbs.

Overlooking Lam Son Square and the Opera House, the rooftop was the ideal place to watch the story go by as the sky was lit with rocket attacks at Tan Son Nhut. There were plenty of sources who came to the bar, and many an excellent story was written without ever leaving the immediate precincts of the Hotel.

Sometimes the story is really about the thread-count. Before the fall of Saigon, the beds and the sheets were pretty good at the Caravelle. And it was an easy walk over to the Embassy when it was time to get a helicopter out of town.

Why the ghosts and the hotels? Why today?

There is something bad that happened, a really bad footnote to a lost war that has been papered over for too long. I am not sure if I have the energy left to follow all the threads that are left over. All the men left behind, or kidnapped to foreign lands and whose stories will never be told.

I feel like I have to try, at least until the images from those days long ago make it too difficult to sleep, regardless of the thread count on the bed in which I sleep.

Copyright 2016 Vic Socotra
www.vicsocotra.com