My One and Only Squeeze and I went to Hook '13 because Lenny and Leanne, good Lemoore-on friends from Nam days, planned to attend.
On Friday, we rendezvoused, and the four of us cruised the Geedunk booths. Many companies who did business with the Navy, set up booths at the convention and passed out Geedunk: marketing literature and things with their company logo on them: lapel pins, luggage tags, etc. We gathered Geedunk and then passed in front of the convention sign-in booth, and, lo, I met a couple of people I knew and stopped to talk.
Our four-plane became a three. They meandered on without me.
Acquaintances kept coming up to say hello. A couple of guys had sons in tow. One man I’d worked with a number of times beginning in those China Lake days. His son was an F-18 instructor pilot. I congratulated the lieutenant on getting his looks from his mother. Not from “what’s his name.”
They left, and before I could, other people I’d served with in one assignment or another rolled up. Friar, Gabby, Skunk, Dog Lips, others. Amid the, “Hey! How the heck are you?” and, “Man, you haven’t changed a bit,” I noticed this yellow push-toy airplane with a toddler in the cockpit. His coupla-years-older brother pushed, weaving skillfully around walking and standing legs. The little pilot grinned top-of-the-world big. The pusher never once bumped even a wingtip into anyone. That kid had chief aviation boatswain-mate blood in his veins.
My three-plane came back. They’d found a booth passing out Dove ice-cream bars.
“Follow us,” Lenny said, “before they’re all gone.”
Another acquaintance from the good old days came by. The Dove bar snarfers left again. As I talked to an F-14 turned F-18 pilot, I noticed a freckle-faced, redhead off to my left. About nine, wearing a purple sundress and purple Crocs. She walked intently along a green-vine-with-purple-flowers pattern in the carpeting. The design led her to a Geedunk booth where a tall fellow stood considering the merits of different airplane lapel pins. Without looking up, she pushed on the long legs until they moved out of the way. Then she toodled on, following the vine.
Shortly after Little Red disappeared in a sea of legs, and just about when I was going to start worrying about adult supervision for the vine-walker, Rat and Mrs. Rat stopped by. Conference nametags came in three variations: real name only, call sign only, or the combo with both. Mine had the combo. Folks called me Swede though. The rodents were call sign onlys. Great to see Rat, to rediscover that he, like me, had been blessed with luck and managed to marry above himself. We were talking, and a working Hooker came up to us with a short man (shorter than me even) in tow.
“Mr. Ascuaga wanted to meet you guys,” the Hook volunteer said.
It took me a moment. Mr. Ascuaga, he owns the hotel and casino! Turns out he saw our nametags. A Swede talking to a Rat. Apparently, he found that interesting. Shoot, I thought it was beyond interesting that the owner of the place came down to rub elbows with us Hookers.
Toto, this is not the Tailhook of yesteryear!
I thought about when it all blew up, the scandal stories on TV, in papers and magazines, when all the sordid crap hit the fan and many of us found out that what we’d heard was tip of the iceberg stuff. 1991.
And there in 2013, at the resurrected institution, wives and children seemed to outnumber Tailhookers. Amazing! I was moved.
Lenny, Leanne, and my Only came back. Each had another chocolate covered ice cream bar on a stick.
“You’ve been holding court here for two hours,” Lenny pointed out.
I checked my watch. He was right.
“Where’s the Dove bar booth?” I asked.
“They ran out,” Leanne said.
“Because you each had a dozen!”
“Petulance does not sit attractively on your otherwise studly appearance,” the Squeeze said.
Lenny snorted melted ice cream out of his nose. It took both the ladies’ purse packets of tissues to clean him up.
After he wiped his face, he said he wanted me to meet someone. He led me to the Bella Luna Winery booth with Sherman Smoot winemaker, wine-marketeer, and pylon racer behind the counter. He had sip-cup samples. One of his products, Fighterpilot Red, became a favorite of mine on the spot. The Dove bar disappointment moved over into the part of my head where dead brain cells are stored. There’s room to store lot of stuff there.
It was a great Tailhook Friday. Saturday was even better. I’ll tell you about that tomorrow.