Saturday, May 28, 2016

Hijinks I

Idle hands are the tools of the devil.

That's the way I remember hearing it anyway. A lot of navy Chiefs seemed to have that one memorized.

And it's true, in a way, as long as you understand that young sailors aren't evil, they're just young men.

Never having been a young female sailor I'll not speak for them, though in my time I knew a few who could get up to no good with the best of their y chromosome-equipped shipmates.

As I see it, the problem (which isn't really a problem per se, more a potential problem) isn't idle hands, it's active minds.

No matter how busy the hands are, the mind always has plenty of spare cycles to get up to devilment.

At least that's my experience, and I don't think I was different than any of my seagoing peers. Or of my age and sex cohort in general.

Most of the devilment -- again in my personal experience -- was just for fun. Seldom was it intrinsically mean spirited.

All it usually took was an idle thought. "I wonder what would happen if..." Or, "you know what would be funny as hell...?"

On the bulkhead behind the sick call check in counter at the Oceana medical clinic hung a framed print of a seascape painting. It was a very pretty image; the open sea filled with storm-tossed waves beneath a glowering overcast. The original artist had done a masterful job in capturing the light and shadow of a restless sea, the frenzied disorder of foaming, wind-driven, ocean waves, the indistinctness of the horizon and commingling of sea and sky. It was beautiful. Something like this, although larger and perhaps, well, better.

Oceana was a Master Jet Base, though, the heart of Naviation on the east coast. I always felt the fine print was missing something, missing a key element to make it representative of its location.

Very early one morning when I had the duty -- 0200 or thereabouts -- I was bored to tears and in danger of nodding off. The emergency room was silent and most of the lights had been turned off. The mindless drivel of the paperback I was reading was turning my mind to mush. I got up and stretched and told whoever I was standing watch with that I was "going on rounds."

I don't think there was an actual written requirement that watchstanders make rounds of the clinic but we always did. It seemed like a good idea to walk around and make sure there were no smoldering fires or broken water pipes and that no hobos had taken up residence. It was also a good opportunity to get the blood flowing at zero dark thirty to help stave off incipient unconsciousness.

As I walked through the sick call waiting area I glanced at the seascape painting behind the counter. I wound my way through the chairs in the waiting area and a magazine caught my eye. If I recall correctly it was an issue U.S. Naval Institute Proceedings, and it featured a painting of a carrier at sea on the cover. Rather in this style, though from a different perspective.

Must have been one of the naval art contest issues. At any rate, the painting of the carrier showed an F-14 in the break, a planform view with wings spread against an indistinct gray-green horizon. Something clicked in my idle brain. I looked at the magazine cover, then at the painting behind the counter. Hmmm. I wonder what would happen if...?

In those days there wasn't always a lot of time wasted between thought and deed. It took only a few minutes to snip the Tomcat free of the magazine cover. I didn't have any paste, but unfiretruck would do. I carefully dabbed a bit of liquid whiteout to the backside of the little two dimensional airplane and attached just so on the seascape painting hanging from the wall. I stepped back and eyed my handiwork. The scale was probably wrong, for it seemed to my eye that the perspective of the painting was more near than far, and the perspective of the Tomcat more far than near. Nevertheless, the colors matched perfectly and, the more I looked at it, the more the jet looked like it belonged. The painting was now, to my satisfaction, appropriate for its location. My work was done. Now to kick back and wait for the fireworks. Surely someone would get their shorts in a snarl.

No one noticed. I waited in vain for a long time, but never heard any howls of horror. The little F-14 had found a home. Did anyone ever notice? Several years later I saw, upon returning from a long deployment, that the Tomcat had been removed from the print, leaving behind a blob of whiteout, which someone had tried to blend in with, apparently, a crayon.

Ah well. Guess I found out what would happen if...

And yes, this was a very tame hijink. It was also what the ground pounders call a shaping operation. Stand by.


  1. No one noticed the missing Tomcat on the magazine cover was the same size as the one that magically appeared overnight on the wall? So much for the hyper-observant Naval Aviators!

    1. IIRC I tore the cover off the magazine to cut it up so I probably threw the whole thing away. No one read those magazines anyway. ;)