Today, fast approaching the three-quarter century mark, I am penning my 300th post in Rosyfinch Ramblings. Before the days of File Transfer Protocol, and before the word “blog” was invented, I created the rosyfinch.com web suite devoted to the birds of the Sandia Mountains, near our former home in New Mexico. In those days I wrote daily updates in HTML code by hand, and uploaded strings of ASCII characters via a telephone modem. When I started using blogging software in 2006, I simply intended to record memories from my childhood in New Jersey. In my fifth post, Discovering Birds, I tried to remember how and why I ever got into bird watching.
How lucky I was to have had a father with an infectious interest in the natural world. I remembered those long walks with him in the woods (Habitats and Inhabitants) and, more recently on Father’s Day, described how I especially felt his his loss. Now we and our children try to inspire our grandchildren to put away the Wii’s, Game Boys and iPods and get outdoors. See Birders Start Young, and Early Birder.
I recounted adventures from my medical career, as the Rookie Doctor in Town , and wondered Why It’s Called Medical “Practice”. Then, suddenly and unexpectedly, I entered the field of public health, only two weeks after receiving a telegram: Greetings, You’ve Been Drafted . Providing medical care in the aftermath of Hurricane Camille, and Closing the Grand Canyon were but a couple of highlights of many exciting experiences in public health practice.
I always wanted to marry a bird-watcher, but this never happened until after I retired to the mountains of New Mexico. Don’t look so startled– Mary Lou and I just celebrated our 50th Wedding Anniversary, but she suffered as an SOB (spouse of a birder) for many years before I could say “Finally, I’m Married to a Bird-Watcher.“
We do not feel the need to travel far and wide to enjoy the beauty of nature, whether from the windows of home, in backyards, or in local patches of semi-wild land. From early childhood, I have found Beauty in the Commonplace, mostly in the good old USA. While Mary Lou and I keep life bird lists, and have taken several wildlife-oriented jaunts and cruises, neither of us has a compulsion to see all the birds of the world. We greatly enjoy seeing just that tiny sample of the avian multitude that live in, or visit our neighborhood.
Muscovy Duck in flight:
No, this is not a Frog-mouthed Four-legged Crow, but rather part of a ritualistic encounter between two male Boat-tailed Grackles in our yard. They take turns posturing, and soon one will open his mouth and flap his wings while the other points his bill to the sky. They posture and then the other bird does the same. At no time did both birds sing and flap at the same time. This went on for several minutes, until they peacefully walked away from each other and resumed catching dragonflies on the lawn. Click on image and view sequential photos of the “dance” at the “comment” link below the photo.
Boat-tailed Grackles perform a ritual “dance:”
I’m still experimenting with my little Canon A-1100 IS point-and-shoot. It packs 12.1 megapixels. This is a cropped image zoomed 4x optically to about 25 mm focal length. If you click on the photo, an image will appear below it, lightly cropped and not zoomed at all, about 6mm focal length:
The Canon A-1100 takes surprisingly sharp macro photos, such as of this Garden Snail (Zachrysia provisoria):
I had been hearing little chirps in my garage in the vicinity of the corner where I store my fertilizer and garden stuff. The chirps would stop whenever I got near, and I could not find their origin, though I presumed it might be a tree toad or frog, or maybe a Mediterranean Gecko. When potting a plant one morning I reopened a bag of potting soil. Inside were at least 6 or 7 of these little frogs, about 3/4 inch in length. Greenhouse Frogs live in plant litter and their tadpoles develop into frogs inside the eggs, so they don’t need a pool or pond to breed. They lack webbing between their toes and have been erroneously called toads. Native to the Caribbean, they have invaded most of the Florida peninsula. Listen to an mp3 of their little chirps that I heard: puca.home.mindspring.com/mp3s/Greenhouse.Frog.mp3
A Green Heron dropped by our back patio just before we departed for Illinois:
When the birding slows down there are always butterflies, and it is fun to separate the Queen…
The clock was ticking. My days as a civilian were numbered. When I learned of Max’s past that morning after my Washington adventure it was February 2, 1966. Only 7 weekdays remained before my induction date on Monday, February 14th. My partner took on most of my patient care responsibilities as I rushed to set up my appointment for a physical examination in Staten Island the next day.
The uncertainty was killing me. Should I just go ahead and accept a commission in the Army Reserve? I called the Army, and they told me that if I immediately applied for a commission they would allow me to delay my entry on active duty until around June or July. However, if I failed to obtain a commission before February 14 I would be immediately inducted into the Army as a buck private.
I did get my physical examination and passed it. I was commissioned as a US Public Health Service Inactive Reserve officer on the spot, and on February 4th I received a telegram informing me that orders had been issued for me to report for active duty on February 16th. I called the Army and was told that this was not enough to stop my induction. They clarified that I had to be on active duty in the PHS before my Army induction date, and reiterated this with a telegram to that effect, reminding me that I would be subject to arrest if I did not keep my appointment at Fort Dix on the 14th.
After several anxious calls to the PHS I received new orders, to report for active duty on Sunday, February 13th, to commence official travel to San Isidro, California. There I would be working at the border quarantine station as a General Medical Officer. The next day a phone call and another telegram modified my orders, as now I would be stationed in El Paso, Texas in the US-Mexico Border Quarantine Headquarters as Assistant Medical Officer in Charge.
In the meantime, I sold my white 1963 Sunbeam Alpine roadster (a red one is pictured above) and Mary Lou and I put our Glen Ridge house on the market. Happily, the snow hid some troublesome cosmetic defects and added drive-up appeal. We held an open house on February 6 and sold it the next day for $24,000, exactly what we had paid for it two years previously. (Zillow.com lists its present tax assessed value as $196,000.) We immediately put all our furniture in storage.
On Sunday morning the 13th I set off for El Paso in our remaining family car, a 1965 Chevrolet Impala Coupe. Mary Lou, pregnant with our fourth child, stayed at her parents’ house in Wood-Ridge with our three children. I was to find a home and they planned to fly out after the furniture shipped.
This is Part 4 of 4 episodes. The first episode begins at this link.
The next morning I caught the first Eastern Airlines shuttle out of Newark Airport, a four-engine turboprop Lockheed Electra, my first airplane ride.
A short cab ride from Washington National Airport took me to the House Office Building. Congressman Pete Rodino’s aide greeted me as I entered his office. He informed me that he had received my letter and contacted the Public Health Service. They had already located my record and they were expecting me. The aide said to return to his office and we could go out for lunch.
Things went smoothly at the PHS office, and I probably was treated the same as any other applicant, despite the political meddling in my case. One surprise was that I had to pass a written examination on public health and preventive medicine as a condition of acceptance of my application. Luckily, my interest in microbiology and parasitology, along with over three years of private practice experience with venereal and other communicable diseases left me confident that I had passed the test. Before I left the PHS offices, I received a phone call from one of NJ Senator “Pete” Williams’ staff members, asking if they could be of any further assistance, surely thanks to my patient Jack’s intervention.
The only hitch was that I still needed to pass a physical examination, and that day the clinic that usually performed it was not staffed for that purpose. They set me up for an exam at the Marine Hospital in Staten Island during the following week. I walked back to the Congressman’s office, and his aide and I had lunch at a spot frequented by many members of Congress. I met Senator John Tower of Texas, who dropped by to speak to Congressman Rodino’s aide. I was impressed that a man with such a tall name was indeed very short!
I flew back, and the next morning after making rounds I recounted the prior day’s events with other medical staff members in the hospital coffee shop. One of those present was an Internist, who immediately recognized my Max as one of his long term patients. He said Max was a lawyer, and quite an accomplished one.
He asked if Max told me about the time he spent in Federal Prison.
Yes, Max got caught up in some kind of contract fraud involving a Greek shipping magnate, and was convicted a few years after the end of World War II. Seems the Greek was purchasing Liberty Ships from the US Government and there were misrepresentations and financial shenanigans. Max did his time in a “country club” type of prison up near White Plains, New York.
Max never mentioned the name of the Greek. Does the following passage apply to Max’s grateful client? From The Life of Aristotle Onassis: The Man, the Myth, the Legend, by Eva Prionas, Christos Kiriazis, Mike Elisofon, Andy Roberts, and Andy Salter:
“[Aristotle Onassis was] offered one of the greatest business opportunities of the post-war world. The United States Naval Commission put the Liberty Ships that were built during the war on sale. The price was established at $550,000, of which $125,000 could be used as a down payment, with the rest coming in 7 years at 3% interest.
“Many ship owners were skeptical on the construction techniques used on these boats, but Ari’s opinion was that they would be a good investment. His problem was that he didn’t have the money for the 16 Liberty Ships he had intended to buy, so he applied for a bank loan. His technique was quite a bit risky; for, before actually receiving the money from the bank, he contracted transports of coal in South America, France, and Germany on ships that he didn’t own. He then used these contracts as a guarantee to the banks, who gave him his money.
“He used a different method to buy the T2 oil tankers that the navy put on sale for 1,500,000 each. As the principle clause of the sale, however, the tankers must be sold to an American citizen. Ari avoided this obstacle by creating an American company, United States Petroleum Carriers, with American shareholders. The government sold the new company four oil tankers. The next day, Onassis and his men anonymously took over the shares of the company that fell under the control of Ari.”
According to Reference.com, “In 1954, the FBI investigated Onassis for fraud against the U.S. government. He was charged with violating the citizenship provision of the shipping laws which require that all ships displaying the US flag be owned by US citizens. Onassis entered a guilty plea and paid $7 million.”
This is Part 3 of 4 installments. Click here for the first post.
In fact, Max said, it was a chance encounter with a stranger that resulted in “a most rewarding outcome.” He said that after World War II he was in the habit of spending the first part of the week in his New York office, and then taking a train to his Washington office on Thursday mornings. He was such a regular traveler that the porter on the dining car always recognized him and had a little table for one reserved for him, along with the morning paper and a cup of coffee.
One morning, the porter told Max that there were more passengers than usual. Apologetically, he asked if he would mind sharing his table with another man. Max assented, and he found that his new table partner spoke very poor English. He had just come over from Greece, and was trying to close a business deal involving purchases from the US Government.
Max told me he recognized how badly the man needed assistance, and devoted that entire day and many days thereafter helping him. This was the chance meeting that carried such a great reward.
This is the second installment of 4 parts. Click here for Part 1.
After I had applied for a commission into the Navy Medical Corps, Mary Lou found an alternative that I had never even considered, in one of the “throw-away” medical journals that cluttered our mailbox: “Options for your draft-eligible medical student son.” It described the Commissioned Corps of the US Public Health Service, the oldest but next-smallest of the seven Uniformed Services with some 6000 officers on active duty (The NOAA Corps is the smallest, and the Coast Guard the next larger– you know the other four!).
I learned that USPHS served as the medical arm of the US Coast Guard. I had considered joining the Coast Guard Reserve back when I was in college, but quickly changed my mind after I attended my first drill and recognized one of the Petty Officers who gave us the orientation as someone who had recently dated Mary Lou— yuk! (I had only recently started paying attention to her, but that’s another story!).
In addition to providing medical care to American Indians on reservations and American Seamen at port cities, and staffing the National Institutes of Health and the CDC (then called “Communicable Disease Control”), the USPHS also fielded teams of Epidemic Intelligence Service officers who were dispatched to investigate disease outbreaks all over the world, something that sounded very exciting to me. So, I completed an application for a PHS commission while still awaiting word from the Navy about appearing for a physical exam and negotiating a date for my call to duty.
The telegram notifying me that I had been drafted into the Army arrived on the last Friday in January. I immediately called the Navy, and was told that they had an agreement with the Army that blocked anyone from being commissioned into the Navy after receiving an Army draft notice. After an anxious weekend, I called the PHS from my medical office on Monday morning and was put on a long hold. When the clerk returned to the line she said that she could not locate my application. The person who handled it was on leave and would be away for more than a week!
After seeing my morning office patients, I headed back to the hospital. It had snowed overnight and the streets were freshly plowed. As I drove along Ridgewood Avenue in Glen Ridge, I encountered an unusual hitchhiker. He was a nicely dressed man in suit and tie and black overcoat, standing in the plowed part of the roadway in dress shoes, quite out of place. I stopped and asked if I could help him. He asked if I would be so kind as to drive him a couple of miles to Bloomfield Avenue, where he might catch a bus to the tubes in Hoboken that would take him to New York for a business appointment. Seems that his car was in the shop and the only cab in town was someplace far away.
Since I had some time to spare, I offered to take him all the way down Belleville Pike to the train station. I recognized him as the man who sometimes walked his dog past our home. He told me his name was Max. After we exchanged pleasantries, I told him of the recent significant events in my life. He seemed shocked at the inefficiency of the government bureaucracy. He told me to write a description of my experience in a Special Delivery letter, addressed to my Congressman and stamped with the proper postage. He would come by my house at 7:30 that night and we would drive to Newark Airport to deposit the letter in a mail receptacle there. This would assure delivery of my letter to Rep. Pete Rodino’s desk tomorrow morning. I was to plan to fly to Washington DC on the first Eastern Airlines shuttle in the morning.
It sounded crazy, but as he exited my car he reiterated the instructions, saying he would see me at 7:30 PM and to be sure to clear my schedule tomorrow. After a short stop at the hospital I got back to the office a little late and had a busy afternoon. One of my afternoon patients was Jack, with whom I shared my story of the hitchhiker.
Jack was a prosperous businessman who owned the major cold storage facility at the Hudson River terminal of the Erie Railroad. He said that he was going to call one of our US Senators and ask his staff to provide me with any necessary assistance. It was an unbelievable set of experiences.
Continued in installment #3 of 4