There’s a Man on the Roof

                                              “There’s a man on the roof,” I said to my Duke University roommate. “How did he get there?” “You won’t believe this. He climbed up the bricks of the Chemistry building from the bottom using his fingers, shoes, and balance all the way to the roof.” “I’ve never seen anything like it. How long did it take him?” “I’ve been watching him since I first saw him half of the way up.” “Do you know him?” “Yeah. That’s Dave Craven.” “Hey, I know him!” “He’s the psychology major who wants to study ESP. Remember when he hypnotized you?” “That was when I met him two weeks ago. Look, he’s starting to come down now.” “Notice how he slides his fingers to the next point to find the lower line of bricks to come down.” “I’d never do it. I’m afraid of heights. What balance! Is he a gymnast?” “No. He goes rock climbing.”He carefully grabbed the top of a window to the third floor, swung to the window ledge, and placed one foot on the bottom of the ledge. “What agility.” “Foolishness if he falls.” “Hope he finishes soon.” Our classmates were gathering at the entrance to the Drama building to witness live drama from the Duke Players doing T. S. Eliot’s "Murder in the Cathedral." I thought from Dave’s angle the freshman class of eight hundred must have looked like a herd of blue ducks in formal clothing with their required Duke-blue dinks on their heads oblivious to Dave’s climbing, just a misstep from his death. “We still have plenty of time. The ushers have to seat every freshman before they begin.” “He’s walking along the second floor ledge about to drop down one level. Let’s go.” “We have to critique T. S. Eliot’s play, so get us two seats up front.” “OK. Hurry, so the ushers don’t close the doors.” Dave reached the top of the first floor window ledge and began to drop as I beckoned, “The ushers will shut the doors soon. Hurry, Dave.” “Relax. I’ll make it. A few more feet and a jump.”The last of the line had reached the concrete steps and were about to enter the doors manned by ushers wearing dark suits, white shirts, and ties. Unbelievably, Dave had climbed the entire height up and down a four-story brick building in a grey sports coat, slacks, blue pinstriped shirt, and maroon tie, but he wisely wore tennis shoes. I raced up the steps yelling, “Keep the doors open; another student’s coming. My roommate saved seats for us.” The skinny usher said. “We have instructions to close the doors at 7. The play begins in a minute. Your friend can’t make it.” “Please let him in.”Dave jumped to the ground; his class of 1962 blue dink fell. He retrieved the cap; and put it on as all freshmen were required to the first month of freshmen orientation. A white “62” embroidered on the front above the short bill made the freshmen resemble Donald Duck. I raced to the door, showed my I.D., and shoved my foot against the door. Dave ran behind me, sweat dripping from his face shouting, “Hold the door open.” “You’re late,” said the skinny usher. He began to close the door, but my foot blocked it, as did the muscular usher’s body. Dave leaped at the door, swung it open, and knocked down the muscular usher. He helped that usher onto his feet, brushed him off, and said, “Thanks for holding the door open for me.” That usher smiled, “Enjoy the play. You earned it by your balancing act, agility, and strength. I’m the captain of Duke’s rock-climbing team. You’re going to enjoy the steep mountain rocks we climb. Oh. Dean Jones, what’s the matter?” “I’ve heard a report,” the Dean of the freshmen said, with a worried expression. He gazed up, and looked around. The lights went down, and the play started. He said in the dark, “There’s a man on the roof?”

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Mediterranean Sparkle

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While in Barcelona as a Merchant Marine, I noticed many tourists gathered at an old ship docked near the walkways on my way back to the USS Rose. A sign identified it as Christopher Columbus’s Santa Maria, fully refurbished like the fourteenth century ship. Only seventy-four feet long, twenty-five feet wide, she had a compliment of forty men with a draught of seven feet. Columbus' crew worked in four-hour shifts. Their duties included pumping bilge, cleaning the deck, working the sails, checking the ropes, and inspecting the cargo. When they were off duty, they slept anywhere they could find space. Columbus spent days without sleep. Only the captain had private quarters. The sailors' lives were hard, and they often died from disease, hunger, and thirst. Religion was the focus of their lives. Every day began with prayers and hymns and ended with religious services. The crew received one hot meal a day cooked over an open fire in a sandbox on deck. Their diet consisted of ship's biscuit, pickled or salted meat, dried peas, cheese, wine, and fresh-caught fish. They lived in cramped quarters that made the voyage rough. It had a single deck and three masts. The slowest of Columbus's vessels performed well in crossing the Atlantic, but ran aground off present-day site of Cap Haitien, Haiti on December 25, 1492, and was lost.
Our voyage to Naples took us past white homes with orange or red shingle roofs splattered on hilltops and on perches with three hundred and sixty-degree views of the beaches from cliffs that tapered off gradually below, or in a steep incline. Ramshackle multi-storey apartments decorated with fluttering laundry, scrawled with graffiti, their balconies cluttered with furniture, dotted winding streets leading downward to the beaches choked with traffic and bathers. Naples stunk so bad I decided to wander out of the dirty dusty confines of the city.
Some of the friendliest people I found anywhere on my trip resided at this busy city. At a small restaurant I had to try pizza assuming the genuine Italian fare would dwarf anything I had sunk my teeth into back home. However, the dough tasted flat and spongy, covered with cheap cheese, far inferior to what I loved at home. When I mentioned this to a few of the experienced messmen, they made it clear that Italian chefs made pizza much differently from, and often better than, the way the chefs at American pizza parlors do—what did I expect from a tiny roadside shop? Surprisingly, our ship warned us about gangs of youngsters who had a reputation for shoplifting, fighting and stealing wallets and merchandise from tourists. They jumped onto buses to get a free ride if unnoticed by the driver. If the driver observed them, he yelled in Italian a warning or he chased them down. They roamed the streets at all hours and survived in squalor anyway they could.
A boat from Naples drove through splashing waves to the famous Blue Grotto on the Isle of Capri a few miles away. Sunlight passing through an underwater cavity and shining through the seawater, created a blue reflection that illuminated the cavern. The view of the bright coastline scattered with white homes, dazzled under the bright sky, while sail and motor craft left their white wake behind. The turquoise sea shimmered with the flashes of sunlight on wind driven curls rippling the surface. Myths the tour guide shared with us attached to the Grotto predicted good luck to those who swam here. When we departed from Naples, Mount Vesuvius sent plumes of smoke skyward that reminded me of the eruption we studied in Latin class at Jordan High.
A bus to Pompeii dropped me where I walked amongst its ruins. My textbook displayed pictures of statues made from people caught in a river of volcanic lava that buried homes, buildings, and inhabitants. Archeologists and historians had cleared away the rubble and reconstructed the city as it looked before the devastation. Mount Vesuvius erupted in 79 A.D. destroying Pompeii with a population of twenty thousand, and Herculaneum, with five thousand. Our guide took us to erotic frescos in the ancient city. He led us to an intersection and pointed downward, “Have any of you noticed these raised carved stones on each of the paths we have walked?”
Rock shaped penises were in plain view in the walkways. “Carved penises pointed in the direction to the nearest house of pleasure.” He took us to many houses where he showed us wall paintings of various sexual positions Pompeii’s prostitutes and their customers enjoyed. “Erotic images lured the Roman soldiers into entanglements with the sensuous Pompeian women, mostly slaves, who plied their trade inside these walls.” At the entrance of the excavation the shop owners sold necklaces that had a winged penis on a chain. Many elderly women tourists purchased these trinkets and placed them around their necks that created a humorous moment for the guide; “Do you suppose they know what they have around their necks?”he said laughing.
Local Pompeiians caught in the lava flow from the force and speed of the volcanic eruption appeared at various places throughout the city in the position their bodies had taken when they performed routine tasks. The lava preserved them, “frozen” for antiquity when they took their last breath. For example, the swift flowing lava caught a woman who had just finished baking bread, which excavators had carefully sculpted away. The ancient city, so close to Mount Vesuvius, had the haunting specter that another eruption could happen at any time while we casually ambled through ruins where nature locked so many lives in lava tombs. The guide said, “The people here are willing to take the chance of the volcano eruption to live in such a stunning area.”
On the way to Tripoli, North Africa, the Rose passed near an active volcano,the Island of Stromboli, puffing smoke and ash into the atmosphere. We cruised by rolling hills planted with gold wheat framed by grape vines and olive trees at the island of Sicily. Rock towers circled by seagulls nesting in the crevices jutted from the water and enormous rocky formations hurled up by the sea guarded glistening bays beyond.
A radio played Arabic music as we arrived at the North African city of Tripoli. The flute and obo wailed repetitious sounds followed by a high pitched voice in a prayer to Allah. Sonny and Chris joined me for a walk from the ship. A vendor sold me a ring of a many-scaled silver snake that wrapped around my ring finger. The brutal heat and dryness drew me to a bar where cold Lebanese beer quenched my thirst.
Piraeus, Greece, the port closest to Athens, had an obnoxious odor as awful as Naples near the wharf and ships. A tour bus to Athens’ stunning beauty and historic wonders rewarded my persistence to the birthplace of the arts,democracy, and western philosophy. Socrates, Sophocles, and Pericles, helped ancient Athens achieve the status of a powerful city-state. The guide pointed out the Parthenon on the Acropolis where we spent an hour dazzled by stories of Plato and Socrates. The heritage of the classical age flourished with ancient monuments, Greek sculpture, and art.
Roman ruins in Istanbul told of former powerful forces in this city that had undergone many changes and was once called Constantinople when Constantine ruled Rome. Catholic and Muslim structures housing different religions stood next to each other. At the bazaar vendors wore turbans with flowing robes. In a narrow alley a tobacco shop merchant sold me a yellow-stemmed meerschaum pipe whose whale-bone bowl was a turban man’s head that caught my fancy.The huge and decorative Blue Mosque, a spiritual place where people stopped to pray after washing themselves in fountains outside, with its beautiful domes and semidomes, courtyards, and six slender minarets, breathtaking interior chandeliers and blue tiles, enchanted me. I  enjoyed the acoustics of this ancient landmark. Immediately across from it rested the Hagia “Divine” Sophia “Wisdom” Church from the Golden Age of Byzantium. It became a mosque when the Turks invaded. Converted eventually into a museum, the huge red structure stood 150 feet high and 72 feet in diameter. Adding to its ambience were green and purple columns.
At Izmir, Turkey, ancient Greeks settled this central and strategic city on the Aegean coast of Anatolia. Once it had an acropolis on a steep peak about 1250 feet high overhanging the northeast extremity of the gulf known as the “crown of Smyrna,” but it lay in ruins. It rested partly on the slopes of a rounded hill near the southeast end of the gulf, and partly on the low ground between the hill and the sea. Ancient coins depicted the beauty of Izmir, clustering on the low ground and rising tier over tier on the tranquil hillside.

“Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness.” – Mark Twain

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.” – St. Augustine

“There are no foreign lands. It is the traveler only who is foreign.” – Robert Louis Stevenson

“The use of traveling is to regulate imagination by reality, and instead of thinking how things may be, to see them as they are.” – Samuel Johnson

“All the pathos and irony of leaving one’s youth behind is thus implicit in every joyous moment of travel: one knows that the first joy can never be recovered, and the wise traveler learns not to repeat successes but tries new places all the time.” – Paul Fussell

“Our battered suitcases were piled on the sidewalk again; we had longer ways to go. But no matter, the road is life.” – Jack Kerouac

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Columbian Prep School

When I arrived home from quitting Duke at the end of my first semester of sophomore year, I spilled my guts out to Dad: “I’m sorry for wasting your money and have decided to seek an appointment to the Naval Academy.” His face lit up with enthusiasm, “I’ll call Columbian Prep School tomorrow. They prepare young men for the SAT and have a high success rate for appointments to the Academy.” Having talked myself into a drudgery of returning to college preparatory courses I had previously studied nonchalantly, my chance for success was high with proven teachers at Columbian who taught how to achieve high scores on the SAT. If this plan worked, I would earn an appointment to Annapolis and enter in five months. Dad decided I should live with grandmother, Gammie, in a nearby suburb, sleep and eat meals in her basement where she had a desk, and furiously study Columbian’s courses. On my first day of class, a group of students talked about their expectations. One said, “I hope to have Duke accept me.” “I just quit Duke to study for an appointment to Annapolis,” I said to him. “Why would you ever quit Duke?” he implored with a curious expression. “It’s a long story.” “I would never want to go to a military academy,” he said. Other students indicated they wanted to enter West Point, the Air Force Academy, Annapolis, or other military colleges. The instructors taught how to analyze previous SAT test questions, approach them with a disciplined strategy, and  answer all questions we understood first, since each counted the same. They discussed trick questions, how to eliminate the wrong answer, and make an intelligent guess. We studied grammar and vocabulary lists from hundreds of sheets of printed information and took complete SAT's daily in a large auditorium under exam conditions. Instructors informed us Engineering Drawing was the most hazardous Academy course and taught us for an hour daily on professional drafting tables. Dad agreed saying he almost flunked it at the Academy. When SAT results arrived, I ranked number one for a presidential appointment to the Air Force Academy, and number two for the Naval Academy. That earned me a three hundred dollar scholarship from Columbian Prep towards my tuition. After contemplating attending the modern Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, I chose the Naval Academy as Dad and Chip had. Soon my presidential appointment to Annapolis came in the mail from the Commandant of Midshipmen announcing the Naval Academy had accepted me for the class of 1964 subject to a physical exam. President Dwight Eisenhower made seventy-five appointments to children of military officers depending on SAT scores, high school grades, and extra-curricular activities like sports. My hard work and sacrifice had paid off. I would fulfill my father’s greatest desire for me to pursue a naval career, finally earn his approval, and would follow a long tradition of patriotic family members. Dad took me to see "The Gallant Hours" about Vice-Admiral Bull Halsey and his team of decision-makers  fighting  Japanese forces descending upon Guadalcanal. James Cagney played Bull. Dad reminded me his ship, the George F. Elliot, a light transport, was sunk at a battle near Guadalcanal by a Japanese Kamikaze plane when he was the gunnery officer. His guns had destroyed the plane but its mass flew into the starboard side and erupted in flames on August 8, 1942. My commitment to the Navy was further solidified as was my relationship with my father. Although atomic bomb protests were prevalent, they didn’t interest me as I anticipated entering the world of military discipline where such ideas appeared as weakness. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Peter Paul and Mary, Johnny Cash, The Kingston Trio, and Harry Belafonte, were some of my favorite musicians. When they sang protest songs to end racial discrimination and nuclear bomb production, I sympathized with their causes, but did not march with their supporters.                       At a party where a college woman talked about the need to mobilize against America’s war machine, an attractive coed asked, “Where are you going to college?” “I just received my appointment to Annapolis,” I proudly responded. She wrinkled her nose like she smelled a dead rat, pursed her lips, and said, “Why would anyone want a military career now?” She was a politically motivated liberal and believed as strongly in her causes as I had in fundamental Christianity when sixteen. Her tone reminded me of how I had spoken with passion on religious matters to non-believers when the opportunity arose. A strange feeling like a twinge of conscience hit me from her question. Was I turning my back on a movement that would interest me if I engaged her in a discussion? Was I afraid to learn what this female activist believed? Having made up my mind to pursue a naval career for the next eight years, there was no time for me to waste with a peacenik. Instead, as my feet briskly strutted away from her influence, I imagined myself marching in a parade at Annapolis in full dress uniform in support of America’s role as protector of the world from threats to freedom everywhere. Convinced Dad would be proud of me by achieving success at Annapolis, my interest in the party evaporated.Enthusiastic about the change in my life’s purpose, believing America’s military forces demonstrated the best protection against tyranny in the world, serving my country was the most honorable thing for me to do, whether, or not, protesters agreed. The Naval Academy presented a worthy challenge for Dad and Chip and seemed a tremendous step forward for me after my experiences at Duke. Putting intellectual pursuits aside, I began memorizing Reef Points, a two hundred-page handbook that contained information each Annapolis plebe had to know: If a plebe were asked, “How’s the cow?” he would have to answer, “She walks, she talks, she’s full of chalk. The lacteal fluid extracted from the female of the bovine species is highly prolific to the nth degree.” (The number of glasses of milk left in the carton). If one forgot to say "sir" after addressing an upperclassman, they would ask, “Why didn’t you say sir?” A plebe was required to answer: “Sir, sir is a subservient word surviving from the surly days of old Serbia, when certain serfs, too ignorant to remember their lord’s name, yet too servile to blaspheme them, circumvented the situation by which I now belatedly address a certain senior cirriped who correctly surmised that I was syrupy enough to say sir after every word I said, sir.” The tedious memorizing of nonsense for a few hours bothered me. My mind returned to my Duke English professor who inspired me with the words of Walt Whitman, Gerard Manley Hopkins, T.S. Eliot, Robert Frost, William Wordsworth, D. H. Lawrence, Earnest Hemingway, and others but my decision was fixed on a military goal no matter how difficult. (Click on image to expand) Chip invited me to an Academy meal during the week before his graduation to introduce me to some of his friends and to acquaint me to the Annapolis environment. He wanted me to observe the rituals that occur during meals for the brigade of midshipmen and see how the plebes responded. At this festive time, the upper classmen had completed final exams and looked forward to June celebrations. Plebes sat only on three inches of the chair during meals, braced their chin rigged in to their chest, and fixed their eyes straight ahead ("eyes in the boat"). They recited requested information such as the menu and activities scheduled for the day. Announcements boomed over the loud speaker and a number of times the entire brigade cheered or sang in unison. Chills ran down my spine anticipating the day I would join a real fraternity of dedicated and patriotic men serving our country. I was surrounded by the best collection of hard working, intelligent young men in the world. My brother made me proud that he had endured the ordeals of the Academy education and indoctrination. I didn’t notice anything derogatory in his development. He seemed happy and fulfilled in his dream to achieve the most he could at twenty-two. His marriage was scheduled during “June Week” to his high school sweetheart who studied at a nursing school. We entered Bancroft Hall and climbed the massive tile and stone stairway, called a ladder, to his third floor room. Chip introduced me, “Kenny, meet my brother Dan.” “Congratulations on your appointment to boat school.” A tall midshipman with a blond crew-cut, in an immaculate Navy blue dress uniform with gold buttons and pressed Navy blue slacks, loosened his collar and took off his white formal cap. He threw it on a well-made bunk bed behind two desks with green tops pushed together in the center of the room. “Thanks. I’m looking forward to plebe summer.” “Now that’s a real vacation. We loved it,” he laughed bitterly. “Yeah, Chip told me you guys had a ball learning Reef Points.” Ken and Chip wore gold stars on both sides of their Navy blue jacket collar. Underneath was a separate stiff white collar an inch higher that pressed their necks. “What do the stars signify?” I asked Ken pointing to the gold. “Anyone with a grade point above 3.4 may wear them. Let’s go,” he said. "Blackie invited us on a boat trip. We’ll meet Mom at the dock in a half-hour,” Chip said.” A distant relation, Blackie took Chip out fishing from his motorboat whenever they could arrange it since he’d never turn down an opportunity to enjoy his favorite hobby. “Sounds like fun," I said. We bolted out the door, down the ladder to the parking lot, stowed our change of clothes in the trunk, and sped for the dock in Chip’s new Chevrolet four door blue sedan to meet Mom. They convinced me they had a bright future. And so would I. A short, rotund man about seventy years of age, walked towards us smiling, “Hi, I’m Blackie. Please come aboard my boat, but watch your step.” Chip, Pat, Mom, Ken, and I walked over a wooden dock to his boat and climbed down an old ladder. Blackie impressed me at once as a knowledgeable sea captain and avid angler. He told us he navigated all over the area searching for fish in his white aged boat with a small cabin and room for him and five passengers. He came alive when speaking of the different species of fish in the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. “If we have some luck we’ll find a striped bass. The record here is sixty-seven and a half pounds and more than five feet long. Look out for the bluefish known in these parts as the Marine Piranha because of its aggressive feeding habits. We also have a strange one, the Menhaden, called the Bug fish because of a large parasite that lives in its mouth.” He drove us around the area, pointed out landmarks, and gave us a fresh view of the beautiful arteries to the Bay and back to his pier near Annapolis. (Click on image to expand)                                                                        For Chip’s wedding to Pat in June 1960, the large ornate Annapolis Chapel was over-flowing.  A reception followed the marriage service where Valerie Lee and Paige were among the bride’s grooms. Ken was the best man, who gave a rousing speech at the wedding celebration honoring Chip and his choice of Pat and submarines for his future. Inspired by their camaraderie, the Academy appeared to be a fraternity of dedicated men on a lifetime mission. Mom hugged and kissed Chip as he met us from the ceremony, “I am so proud of you Chip for graduating from the Academy; this is where I met your Dad when I lived in Severna Park across the Severne River." Mom seldom talked about her relationship with Dad as after their three divorces and custody battles, no meaningful communications occurred between them. Nor did she dwell on the failure of that marriage. In her white bonnet with yellow flowered blue dress and dark blue high heels, her smile lit up the day like a rainbow after a summer shower.

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Merchant Marine

Dad commanded the Military Sea Transportation Service in the Navy from 1959 to 1962 and secured a fascinating summer job for me as a waiter on a Merchant Marine ship. My three cruises took me to ports in the Mediterranean Sea and Bremerhaven, Germany. During the summer of 1959, after obtaining a passport and passing a physical exam, I carried my suitcase, a bundle of favorite records, and my record player to the USNS General Maurice Rose (T- AP-126) docked at Brooklyn, N.Y. The personnel carrier was similar to the General Randall I had taken to Japan.

I trudged up the gangplank and reported as a crew member who earned $400 per month with free room and board. A Filipino steward took me to my room on the bottom deck where I bunked with three other “messmen,” who served meals to the large crew and cleaned officers’ rooms. Surrounded by a diverse mix of African-American, Hispanic, Asian, and Caucasian crew-members, I stepped into an entirely different world that made me hope it would broaden my perspective and help me mature.

Before we left for Spain, Coney Island’s great amusement park attracted my interest. Zooming around on the roller coaster, spinning on the tilt-a-whirl, shooting at targets, and ringing the bell with the sledgehammer, satisfied that youthful urge. The ocean breeze atop the Ferris wheel provided a relief on a scorching ninety-five degree day and my first spectacular view of the “Big Apple.”


While walking near the New York theater scene, Sidney Poitier appeared on a downtown street early that evening. Blackboard Jungle, Edge of the City, and The Defiant Ones brought race relations to a focus for me. He stopped, strolled into the Ethel Barrymore Theater, and played a leading role with Ruby Dee in A Raisin in the Sun, I absorbed from front row.

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Poitier played the son of a family that received enough money from an insurance policy after their father’s death to purchase a house in an all white neighborhood in Chicago. As a chauffeur, he soon trusted a hustler with the money his mother gave him to start a new life. When cheated out of her savings, he was tempted to sell his parents’ new home to a group of white racists, but detected the racist motivation, declined to succumb to coercion, and united the family as the leader his mother wanted him to be.


Poitier’s charisma penetrated my consciousness and made me realize how little experience I had with Blacks in my sheltered existence. Spending three hours with a Black family trying to solve their problem and hearing their dialogue express how they felt to be treated like second class citizens, made me better understand their plight. It also reminded me of the civil rights lecture I heard a year earlier on a train. These influences had begun to grow deep inside me and would blossom later.

The Navy used the General Rose to transport government employees, ambassadors, diplomats, military personnel and their families to overseas destinations. The Rose carried a complement of fifteen Merchant Marine officers and a crew of two hundred men to service the ship with its three hundred passengers. Many college-aged students embarked for the Mediterranean to visit their parents who resided in Europe. The only naval officer in charge warned the crew, “Do not socialize with civilians, or I will cancel your liberty.”

Unintimidated, on the first cruise I made a number of friends by surreptitiously joining them in civilian clothes where mixers were held for the students. When the officer caught me, the red-face shouted, “Get below with your kind. Never come topside again.” I had to avoid “hawk eyes,” but found it amusing he associated me with the crew he disrespected when my Dad was his superior officer. Beyond serving meals to the crew, my duties included cleaning Merchant Marine Officers’ rooms, changing sheets, swabbing, and waxing floors that required me to ascend to the upper deck where their large staterooms were. Not as disciplined as I imagined, many left a mess that required hours to clean.


I had three roommates. Jake was a street-wise, muscular Black and a natural leader in his forties who organized a black market cigarette operation. A smaller Mexican named Ramon, who loved Fundador cognac and bar hopping, bunked next to me. The oldest, he was quiet and muscular, but his belly stuck out like a watermelon. Chris, a lanky white scullery dishwasher from Minnesota, was about thirty, and had a scraggly beard. He was always with Sonny, who weighed more than three hundred pounds, had a dark beard with a goatee, was blind in one large ominous eye, and resembled a pirate with a Bronx accent.

After the ship departed, I met Frenchie, a crew-member and former bodyguard who lifted weights in an open area in a hallway on the bottom deck. He invited me to work out daily when I told him I wanted to get in shape for football at Duke. He outweighed me by forty pounds, but was four inches shorter. A disciplined athlete with a bull-neck and huge muscles that rippled over his body, his square head, reddish blond crew cut, sparkling blue eyes, and common sense, made him unique and interesting.

“You should lift your own weight soon if you work with me daily,” he said and started me pressing one hundred pounds. Eventually, I worked up to two hundred and twenty pounds by the end of the summer, added twenty-five pounds of muscle to my frame, and changed my body from slender to muscular.

Ben, a smooth-talking Black in his mid-forties, was the chief steward in the galley where messmen served the crew meals. Everyone respected him because of his leadership, superior intelligence, and position. Sporting a well-groomed goatee, he bore a striking resemblance to Jeff Chandler, a famous white movie actor.

The Invisible Man by Ralph Ellison, enlightened me how most white people, who had little contact with Blacks, failed to realize the differences in their facial features. When I took the time to observe them in conversation,  they had every variation of nose, eyebrow, ear, chin, mouth, teeth, or any other feature white people had—a lesson I had learned regarding the Japanese when I lived in their country.

Panama at sixty had a full, but sparse, beard flecked with white, blood-shot eyes, and mumbled constantly. A slender Black from Panama, he spoke Spanish, broken English, and was mysterious. He never performed his duty of cleaning out the large commercial urn that served a hundred men that made the coffee almost unpalatable.

“The coffee tastes so much better when the urn is cleaned. Are you going to clean it?”I said, hoping to have him do a task I would have to perform if he refused.

“Don’t mess with me, white boy,” shot from his lips as red-veined eyes glared.

Taking that as a threat and feeling the need to assert myself, I said, “Panama, you don’t scare me. Just do your job.”

He crept close to me and through heavy alcoholic and tobacco breath sprayed vitriol while jockeying his head left and right with each word: “Boy, I goin’ cut yo throat wid my knife while yo sleepin’ God Dammit! Leave me lone. I kill yo ass.”

Retreating from the verbal assault, my mind wondered, “What made him respond with a death threat?”

Ben warned, “Be very careful with everything you say to Panama. Never, ever, criticize him. He’s crazy in the head, man. Don’t you know that?”

“Do you think Panama would actually cut my throat?”

Ben rolled his eyes, “Man, Panama is very dangerous. Leave him alone.”

Days after we left for the Mediterranean Sea, I heard some yelling at night outside my room and opened the door along with Jake. A small, skinny black crew-member in white tee shirt and khaki slacks held a knife in his hand and stood over a bulky white German crew-member who worked in the engine room. Blood from the German’s neck gushed. In seconds, security guards and medical staff surrounded us, carried the victim away on a gurney, and escorted the black crew-member out. I never again saw the German, nor the black man who stabbed him. That violent action demonstrated as nothing else could, that I must not offend any crew-members. Who knows which one might be angry, hostile, or hold a grudge? Ben’s warning about Panama raced through my mind, as did an image of Panama resting a knife on my throat while I slept.


The Rose docked at Rota, Spain after eight days. It had taken me a while to acquire “sea legs” after the rocking and rolling of the ship but was relieved to have the motion of the ship cease. When I went ashore I experienced an odd feeling—the land continued to move as if the ocean were under it for a few hours.

Cadiz, only a few miles away from Rota, was inviting with its brilliant white homes dotting the countryside and green hills leading to the blue silk Atlantic Ocean. I walked the streets of Rota noting they spoke Castilian Spanish lisping their S’s and C’s followed by a vowel. When Spaniards understood me, it made the adventure of interacting with them enjoyable. Invariably, the citizens of any country we visited in Europe appreciated conversing with an American teenager in their native tongue. My Spanish improved dramatically. The locals spoke rapidly making it hard to understand them at first. Slowly,  Spanish vocabulary and grammar came back to me, my mind deciphered the unfamiliar sounds, and communications improved. If I had more time  in Spain I could become acclimated to their culture.

Barcelona was our next port that offered a breathtaking view as we sailed in. There were foreign ships, a huge castle on a hill, and promenades throughout the city with quaint streets, shops, and walk-up bars. A group of college students joined me for a hike to an impressive castle whose winding stone walkway beckoned us. We toured inside and decided to go back to the city by taxi and order dinner.

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Bartenders welcomed the tourists to sample specialties. Champagne, fresh seafood, ceviche, and escargot were plentiful, delicious, and inexpensive.

The messmen dressed in fancy civilian outfits meandered through the city to dance-bars like the Kit Kat Club, a chain of clubs prominent in most of the large ports where prostitutes were available, but dangerous. Fortunately the ship had warned us about VD. I drank local beer, wandered to clubs, bars, and promenades sightseeing, while hookers wearing heavy make-up hustled shipmates. They were interested in how much money they could make quickly before returning for the next trick. Ignoring the warning many shipmates spent a week taking pills to cure their symptoms later.

Bored by the scene, I tried out my Spanish on a vivacious red-haired female bartender named Rose who spoke English, appeared intelligent, gave useful advice about where to go while in Barcelona, and mixed a mean margarita. At twenty-five, she was a person I wanted to learn more about, but the bar noise made conversation difficult. My Spanish experience in Cadiz helped me gain her confidence and friendship while she entertained the customers with jokes. “One of the best Spanish customs in Barcelona is Las Ramblas--a late evening walk about eleven PM for an hour or more,” she said and added smiling, “You need to get away from the bar scene to appreciate my country.”

“Will you show me Las Ramblas this evening after you finish?”

“Come by when I quit at midnight and I’ll gladly take you there.”

Many men in Barcelona wore berets, as did a few of the messmen while ashore including Frenchie. When I put one on it changed my appearance from a college boy to a more sophisticated person.


At closing time Rose showed me Barcelona nightlife. We walked the tree-lined Las Ramblas past the Catedral de Barcelona. Kiosks were everywhere and vendors sold souvenirs and flowers. Street performers, cafes, and restaurants sparkled with the friendly crowd strolling by.

At the Royal Square she took me to a pub that played popular American music with a dance floor. We drank sangria, danced to “Kansas City,” “Donna,” “There Goes my Baby,” “So Fine,” and “Dream Lover.” On our way back to our table, I pulled her close, kissed her neck, and squeezed my inflamed body against her. She kissed me back and bit my lip, then playfully took my hand and scampered away with me laughing all the way into the street. A fire ignited inside when she invited me to her modern apartment.  We slow-danced to soft music. A moth to her flame, I fell into a burning passion. She bit me again and giggled through her voluptuous lips and smile. We were so attracted—off went her red skirt, orange blouse, my slacks, and sport shirt. In an intoxicating blaze her soft breasts and limber legs aroused all the passion of our entwined bodies like a volcano about to erupt, “Eres bonita...Te quiero...Cómo fantástico eres...Estás espectacular...”

A taxi took Frenchie and me to a beach resort not far from the city with some college friends from the Rose past the bustle of foreigners and travelers in bars where we nestled on the beach. A cool swim in the Mediterranean energized us for a nearby beach bar and ceviche marinated in lime with onions and chilled champagne.


At Livorno, Italy, a taxi drove me to the leaning Tower of Pisa. As I walked beyond each turn, gradually ascending the Tower, an increasingly spectacular view of the city with Mt. Vesuvius in the background spread before me. From there we visited Naples, Pompeii, Tripoli, Athens, Istanbul, and Izmir before returning to the United States. These ancient cities awed me for the thousands of years of civilization that had transpired and the different history each left their descendants. Walking the same roads, observing the artifacts, and touching the statues sent chills down my spine and inspired me to dive into the study of history my first opportunity at Duke.

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When we returned to Brooklyn, a train brought me to the Bronx and Yankee Stadium for a baseball game. With monuments to Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, and Miller Huggins in front of the centerfield flag pole, the fans were raucous, ferociously partisan, and demanding. The Yanks won a double header against the Red Sox and Whitey Ford won the first game. Mickey Mantle, Enos Slaughter, and Elson Howard homered and reliever Ryne Duren saved both games striking out most of the Bosox.

We departed for Bremerhaven, Germany and reached the port after eight days. I visited parks and gardens, drank at beer halls, and wandered cobblestone streets. Their open air Maritime Museum contained a large collection of German ships and the “U-BootWILHELM BAUER. I purchased a Black Forest cuckoo clock with hand carved figurines for my mother. The variety of clocks at the store had a collection of carved people and animals appear in a clock window or door at the beginning of an hour. Their melodies  filled the room astounding me as did their size and quality.


The exposure to people from different backgrounds with whom I lived and worked, visiting foreign ports, learning about exotic cultures, and having some success communicating in Spanish with local people and Rose, expanded my awareness of the world. As did developing my body with Frenchie, reading a stack of novels, and making friends with the diverse crew. I had gained confidence and felt excitement from sharing my adventure with others, especially my family. Arriving with beret, suitcase, and a newly developed husky frame, my appearance suggested my personality had undergone a complete transformation, but at nineteen, I had just begun to heighten my consciousness.

Wanting to share my experiences from this summer with Mom, Ruthie, and Grampa, I returned to Fernandina Beach, Florida. When I arrived, Mom informed me Grampa had fallen very ill during the summer and died from cancer. His death made me deeply sorry for his pain and suffering.  I felt a great loss not having my brilliant grandfather at home to play cards, discuss sports, and make us laugh at dinner. Ruthie hid her grief by playing her Hammond organ. Mom loved the cuckoo clock. Every hour a red and yellow wooden bird emerged from a door and chirped a cheery “cuckoo,” bringing needed laughter.

Mom wished she could have pursued college when younger but she sacrificed that to raise her children until Dad returned from war. His winning custody when I was five added to the burden she carried from her breakdown, shock treatments, and abuse. She and Ruthie worshiped at the Episcopal Church, watched sunrise every morning as it rose above the sand dunes and glistened its hues upon the incoming waves, seagulls, and Brown Pelicans gliding on wind currents. The Grey Porpoises rose and dropped in perpetual rhythm with the sloshing of the sea on the shore providing nature’s relief from the world’s conflicts on the most caring observers in my world.

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Get on Obama’s Train

(Sing to Johnny Cash's Folsom Prison Blues) Obama’s train is moving

It’s rolling around the bend

Corporations now are people

And big money they spend

Helping Romney and Ryan

Work for the one per cent

Obama’s team has a plan

To bring full job development

Along come young Paul Ryan

And rich stiff Mitt Romney

Both are out of touch

And act like royalty

Obama offers each of us

A much better way

Fair taxes for the rich and

Make Wall Street greed pay

He ended the Iraq War

Osama Bin Laden’s gone

Put an end to torture

Kept America strong

Say no to tea-party neo-cons

Who just want to disrupt

Vote for worker’s rights

And prosecute the corrupt

Most thoughtful world leaders

From East to the West

Support Obama’s platform

His vision is the best

Alternative energy and

And more efficient fuel

Higher teacher pay

No dumbing down of schools

Close all tax loopholes

Don’t subsidize petrol

Environmental protection

Immigration reform and gun control

Tax cuts for working families

Restore our economy

Strengthen alliances abroad

Fight terror relentlessly

On January 20th

Of the year 2013

Obama’s leadership restored

A more secure world scene

Nations around the world

Will join America once more

Encouraging all people to

Seek peace instead of war.


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