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February 11, 2004

Ry’s Answers
My old friend Ry has sent me his answers to the Interview Meme via email, so I’m sharing them here. They speak for themselves and have not been edited or altered by me, except for the addition of boldface to the questions.

1. What’s the scariest non-classified thing that happened to you during all the time you’d spent underwater? 

Well there was this brothel in San Diego where…oh, not classified. Might ruin a marriage there. So I’m sittin’ in the ranch playin’ cribbage with a buddy, about day 100 of a miserable 122 day deployment. It’s the middle of the night, we just got off watch and can’t sleep, when Jeff looks over at me and asks “Did you just have a cigarette”? Not for the last two hours, why? “Oh, I thought I smelled smoke, no biggie, your cut” when I smell smoke. I open the door behind me and light grey smoke is rolling out from the deckplates. Now, in general, fires are bad things, but on a ship there’s nowhere to run. On a submarine, you wish you were as lucky as guys on a ship because at least on a ship there is a place for the smoke and heat to go. The worry on a submarine (besides the burning, toxic gasses, and general unpleasantness) is over pressurizing the compartment and being unable to do anything at all. You can do the math, but in general when something burns, 100 times the volume of the burning material is produced as off-gasses. No big deal if you’re outside: a change in thousands of cubic meters of gaseous volume won’t cause a noticeable change in relative pressure. In a sealed up submarine you have about two minutes to put out the source, come up and ventilate (not an option here because snorkeling would mean detection which where we were would mean incoming torpedo), or die a horrific death as your diaphragm cannot overcome compartment pressure and you are unable to draw a breath. Plus at this point I notice an acrid smell to the smoke, meaning an electrical fire, meaning burning insulation that gives off cyanide. But also a good thing (you’ll see…) As Jeff and I streaked down the passageway to the ladder leading to VMA, the alarms went off, announcements were made, and the whole ship began to rumble. We hit the deck (8 feet below…I don’t think either of us used the ladder) and saw the test power control cabinet erupting in a stunning array of 450 volt fireworks. At the same time another guy comes though the door on the other side, sees the groovy light show, and reaches over and pops the breaker for the cabinet (right by the door). Here’s the good thing about electrical fires: no juice, no fire. It might smolder a little bit, but it’s out. Granted, we expended two 30 pound CO2 bottles into the cabinet just to be sure, but no more smoke ‘n sparks. Everyone goes back to bed, Jeff and I go back to cribbage (as I remember, he won) after quickly vomiting, and we get home a few weeks later.

2. Which girl brings the most regret when brought up in conversation? Was she a was or was she a wasn’t?

Julie. She was, I wasn’t.

3. What song do you get to perform with whom and where?

“Acadian Driftwood” with The Band et. al., at Winterland, San Francisco. Thanksgiving, 1976 (The Last Waltz).

4. Can you give me an example of a mistake you’ve made that you’d gladly make again? What is it?

Fucking up second semester of my freshman year at Purdue. Three “F”s, and “A” and a “B”. All of my grad-school applications have two optional essay questions. One involves if I have been convicted of a felony (I thank God every day that I did it in South Carolina…). The other asks to explain any failing grades on your transcript. Many people would cringe at the mere thought of having to explain your own failure. I look at it as I can empirically demonstrate that I have overcome adversity. I work with people who have never had a real challenge in their lives, and when they encounter one they simply collapse (I’ve seen more nervous breakdowns in the four years of the Navy that I will probably see for the rest of my life. And not little ones. No shit sudden, physically incapacitating mental collapse). I learned to get my ass kicked and then get up and keep fighting when the stakes were much lower, and I believe it has served me well.

5. Where’s the worst place to eat in all the Navy? 

A few notes: First, only Navy Mess. I can tell you horrible places to eat all over the place, but government subsidized ones should all be the same (they are most definitely not, especially Army and Marine Corps. Air-Force chow is OK). Also, the entire galley staff rotates about every three years, so quality can change drastically in a very short time. And finally, the price for all you can eat at any of these establishments is $3.30. Not too bad even if the food sucks!

Worst:

NRTC Great Lakes, IL (I think they cook the sewage, but without any presentation)

U.S. Naval Academy, Annapolis, MD (slightly better food than Great Mistakes, but no pop machines, and you get served family style)

SUBASE New London, CT (just an all around shitty galley, period)

Anywhere in the Pentagon.

Best:

Navy Mess, The White House, Washington, DC (You just need to find an excuse to have business in the White House. And you can’t be in khakis, which sucks, but if your in the White house you’re probably in SDBs or whites anyway.)

SUBASE Kings Bay, GA (Yeah, I’ll have crab, oysters, and goat cheese in my omelet *snicker*. OK, anything else sir? We got some fresh lobster in this morning. *gasp!*. No shit.)

Nuclear Power Training Command, Goose Creek, SC (Kinda preferential to this one since I had just about every meal for eight months there. Great selection and a double line so it moves quickly.)

Any British or Australian ship (The food is orders of magnitude worse than ours, but they have a full bar!)

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