Bourjaily: A Story from Fred
Fred, who finished second in the “Name Phil’s Dog” contest, sent me a nice note that included this story. It’s...
Fred, who finished second in the “Name Phil’s Dog” contest, sent me a nice note that included this story. It’s closer to Reader’s Digest’s “Humor in Uniform” than it is to hardcore “Gun Nut” material, but I liked it a lot and Fred agreed to let me post it:
_I was a Wing Weather Officer in the midst of my 1st Inspector General visit: a team of inspectors who could make or break your career with a single mark on their checklist, spending 5 days microscopically examining everything you’ve done and everything you can do, upon command.
We had actually aced every part of the examination and were down to the last hour of the last day, and I was anxiously awaiting the windup when I heard the words, “Well, I think we’re done here.” My shoulders slumped and I let out a long breath of relief…just a little too soon.
The major in charge said, “Wait, we need to have someone demonstrate how to use the Mariner’s Guide to Celestial Navigation.”
Just so you have some idea of what the major was talking about, this “Guide” was a hardcover book of roughly 600 pages filled with arcane charts, diagrams, formulas and instructions written in English but surely composed by a devotee of the Marquis de Sade. Knowing your current latitude and longitude, you theoretically could, with the assistance of this book, find the minute-by-minute, past, present or future position in the sky of any known heavenly object: sun, moon, planets, constellations, etc.
The problem was that neither I, my colleagues, the unit commander nor anyone I knew could make heads nor tales of the unbelievably complex instructions it offered.
Hearing the major’s declaration and knowing I was the senior forecaster present (and thus ultimately responsible for this part of the inspection), I snapped to attention and said, “Yes sir, would you like me to do that, sir?”
The major gave me the fish eye (obviously suspecting a ringer), looked slowly around the room and said, “No, I think I’ll have the lieutenant take care of this. Lieutenant, tell me what time the moon will rise tonight.”
2nd Lieutenant William Roeder, 3 weeks out of school and to my knowledge never having seen this book before, snatched it out of the major’s hands and started flipping through the pages with a frightening speed, running through the charts, making calculations in his head and mumbling to himself the entire time. Pausing only to check with me concerning our exact latitude and longitude, he eventually snapped the book shut with a flourish and exclaimed, “The moon will rise at 7:32 pm tonight!”
The major, obviously surprised, raised his eyebrows, looked down at his checklist and made a tiny mark next to the last item. “We’re done here”, he proclaimed, then turned and walked out of the room._
_Everyone followed, with only the 2nd lieutenant and myself remaining. I shut the door, came face to face with him and demanded, “How did you do that? No one knows how to use that book! I’ve studied it for weeks and I couldn’t figure out how to use that book!”
He smiled, shrugged, and said, “Well, the moon came up last night at 7:32 pm. I didn’t think it would be much different tonight.”
Sometimes just a little bit of practicality wins the war.