Friday, December 25, 2015

From 1959, and still perfect

Monday, December 21, 2015

Gift guide 2015

We all have that narcissistic acquaintance who thinks the world actually gives a shit about what they're doing, where they are, and what they're eating at any given moment. Those subscribing to their Twitter and Instagram accounts are treated to a never ending stream of food, street signs, tables, weather conditions, toilet paper marks, and other pointlessly mundane information about their everyday life.

So what's the ideal gift for that person? Well, I'm sure they think that, in a world as insane as ours, someone out there is just dying to watch them eat breakfast cereal up close and personal.

So why not get them the selfie spoon?

This life-altering device allows you to attach a smart phone to the end of your spoon and happily film yourself sucking down cereal, soup, ice cream, oatmeal, and pretty much anything else you can eat with a spoon. Every slurp and close-up of something caught in your teeth is captured and broadcast to your worldwide followers.

This concludes the 2015 gift guide. Please keep sending the ideas in as you find them, as there's always next year. I'll be off for the next 2 weeks, and wish all a happy celebration of whatever they choose.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Grumpy Gift Guide 2015

Your friend loves seafood. In fact, you've often heard her say how much she wishes she had a nice big shrimp to cuddle up with and use as a pillow, but cuddly crustaceans are hard to find.

This would be perfect for her!

This adorable giant shrimp pillow is ideal for anyone who's ever wanted, um, an adorable giant shrimp pillow. Get yours here. Or at least enjoy reading the badly translated ad.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015 Gift Guide

By this time of year, you're probably sick of Santa Claus. He's everywhere. But have you ever hated him enough to want to, uh, relieve yourself on him?

Well, now you can have the satisfaction of doing just that!

With this cheerful 3-piece toilet decoration, you can take out your frustrations on the jolly old elf by lifting his head and giving him a golden shower (or worse). Need your kids to help clean up before family arrives? Hand them a toilet brush and tell them Santa needs his teeth cleaned. And I'm sure Father Christmas would love to have your thirsty Labrador drinking from his throat.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Share the love

Doing some CME (continuing medical education) on Sunday, and saw this question on the post-test.

Part of me is just dying to check "D."

Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Gift guide - Star Wars edition - part II

So yesterday I ranted about all the horrible shit that surrounds the Star Wars movies. But here's one you may not know about. Even worse, I admit I watched it first run.

In 1970's American television, pretty much anyone who had some claim to celebrity got either a variety show and/or Christmas special. Captain and Tennille? Check. Shields and Yarnell? Yep. KISS television special? Of course (REALLY! It was called "KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park" and was a strange production of the rock group - with superpowers - solving a Scooby-Doo type mystery). Mercifully, the trend ended before we had the "Men Without Hats Variety Hour."

So, of course, in 1977 there was the hurriedly slapped together Star Wars holiday special. Featuring all the original actors (who likely weren't sure they'd ever work again at this point) as well as such 1970's TV staples as Bea Arthur, Art Carney, and Harvey Korman. Not to mention R2D2 "as himself."

Realistically, I'm not sure it was any worse than the prequels Episodes I-III. And, when it got bad, at least there was a commercial for Sears, Close-Up toothpaste, or whatever was "coming up next!" to break the monotony.

Be sure to get a copy now for the person who has to have EVERYTHING Star Wars related. Because where else can you see Star Wars featuring special musical guests Diahann Carroll and Jefferson Starship?

"Use the force, Luke... and change the fucking channel."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Gift guide - Star Wars edition - part I

My first contact with Star Wars was in the spring of 1977, when my friend Mark and his family took me to see Wizards, a sadly forgotten, but quite good, animated movie by Ralph Bakshi. The showing was preceded by a "coming attractions" trailer for Star Wars. The only thing I remember of it at all was Chewbacca (though to my aging memory I thought he had white fur in the clip), storm troopers, and lasers. I saw the movie itself a few weeks later. For the first few months after seeing it I thought the storm troopers were supposed to be robots, not guys in worthless armor.

Little did I, or anyone, know where this would lead us. Consider: In the 1970's, my dad showed me old clips of the Flash Gordon cliff hanger serials he went to see in the theaters on Saturdays. At that time the serials were roughly 40 years old. Some nostalgia for them, yes, but certainly not appealing to a new generation. Even the campy 1980 movie, with Queen doing the soundtrack, wasn't able to re-start the franchise.

Today? Well, it's almost 40 years later, similar time difference now from when Star Wars first came out... and it's more popular than ever. Kids still are fascinated with it. Adults still are fascinated. Some argue that the new movie is being pushed down our throats, but let's face it: this is all driven by money. If there wasn't a huge demand for it, no studio would put up the money to make it. Like the heavy criticism of early-opening Black Friday sales, the bottom line is that it's being done by consumers, not by stores. If there was no public demand to go kill someone to buy discounted TV's at 2:00 a.m., no store would waste money being open at that time.

The original Star Wars, likely because no one expected it to be a success (least of all 20th Century Fox who only spent a paltry $9 million for it) had no product tie-ins initially. Movie merchandising was nothing new even then. Toys and fast-food movie-related crap have been around a while.

But certainly, once the movie exploded in the theaters, the commercial tie-ins took off like mad. A pattern that followed its successors and changed the industry forever began.

But I don't remember it being this insane. And that's saying a lot considering I remember the bizarre 1999 ads featuring Colonel Sanders (with a lightsaber), the Taco Bell chihuahua, and the previously unknown (and not seen since) Pizza Hut Girl (Really! That was her name!) uniting to fight the dark side and make the galaxy safe for greasy food, strokes, and coronary artery disease.

It reminds me of a late 70's Funky Winkerbean strip (back when it was funny) where a TV program was interviewing a producer about the characters in a new space movie, and all the toys, fast food collectible cups, T-shirts, and other merchandise from them. As the strip went on he admitted they hadn't actually made a movie at all, since it seemed like a waste of marketing dollars.

Anyway, besides the previously published Darth Vader shower and toaster, here are some of the merchandising horrors (thanks to all who sent them) you can consider for the co-worker you don't like but have to get something for, the person who actually collects every POS that says "limited collector's edition" even if it's something no one in their right mind (except Frank) would actually put in their closet, and anyone else who's just dying to own a pair of Yoda-themed dish sponges.

Anyone else remember the 70's comic book where Vader picked up a cup of coffee and you wondered how he was going to drink it? Anyone?

Foreigners putting the Lucky Charms leprechaun out of a job.


To show you I'm not above this... Here is my own, original, 1977 Chewbacca miniature action figure. It came in a set with R2D2 (which made clicking noises when you turned its head), Luke Skywalker (with an extendable, and rapidly broken, lightsaber in the right arm) and one other figure I don't remember. Maybe Ben Kenobi. As you can see, Chewbacca has a broken left hip. I think I still have R2D2 somewhere, without legs and a marble stuck in him, and maybe Luke, with the left arm gone and the lightsaber broken. Probably in the back of Frank's closet.

Come to think of it, I'm pretty sure I borrowed them all from my friend Mike and didn't give them back (maybe I stole them). Sorry, Mike. If I can find you on Google I'll ship 'em over.

To be continued...

Friday, December 11, 2015

Dr. Grumpy's 2015 Gift Guide

Your Catholic friend didn't get to see the Pope during his smash-hit 2015 "No Mass 'til Hammersmith" American tour, and is very depressed about it. What can you get to cheer her up? A souvenir "My friend met the Pope and all I got was this crappy T-shirt" top? A box of "Holy Whites! The official bleach of Vatican City" ? Or maybe something truly meaningful like...

A solar-powered Pope!

This amazingly life-like statue of His Holiness will happily reside on your dashboard. In direct sunlight (sonlight?) he'll wave at passersby, cheering them with his radiance. And you just know it's made in China, too.

For those of you who prefer the British royalty, you may notice the solar-powered Queen at the bottom right (Leigh, who sent this, didn't get a separate pic). You can make out the top of her blue hat. Like her plastic brethren Pontiff, Her Majesty will stand on your dashboard and wave. I admit I was kind of disappointed to find out that's what the solar-powered Queen was. I was hoping for Freddie Mercury, because I'd definitely buy that. He was awesome.

It's nice to know that, here in the 21st century, the human ingenuity to create pointless gadgets to be unloaded at discount stores is limitless.

Thursday, December 10, 2015


I'm with a patient and her son.

Dr. Grumpy: "I think the next step is going to be getting further labs and..."

There's a knock on the door. Mary leans in and says my call partner, Dr. Brain, is on the phone and needs to talk to me immediately. I apologize to my patient and pick up the phone.

Dr. Grumpy: "This is Dr. Grumpy."

Dr. Brain: "Ibee! Do you remember that guy you saw last weekend at the hospital?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I saw 28 consults last weekend. I have no idea who you're talking about."

Dr. Brain: "It was the guy with the stroke!"

Dr. Grumpy: "Uh, that narrows it down to about 27 of them."

Dr. Brain: "Clinically he looked like a left deep white matter stroke? He was the one visiting from Farawayville? Now you remember him?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Vaguely... Why?"

Dr. Brain: "What other area do you think could cause his symptoms?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I'm with a patient here. Is there some reason you had me interrupted for this?"

Dr. Brain: "Well, there was an article, maybe you remember, in the May, 2007 issue of Archives of Intellectual Masturbation about the statistical distribution of deep white matter strokes in..."

Dr. Grumpy: "Look, obviously this isn't urgent. I have a patient here, and I'm going to hang up now. If you want to argue about a differential you have my home number. Or bother Dr. Cortex or Dr. Nerve."

Dr. Brain: "You should have more enthusiasm for your work."


Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Gift guide 2015

Barbie is so passé. Nowadays she has all these different kits to convince little girls that they can be doctors, or astronauts, or nuclear physicists. Whatever happened to dolls that really encourage a young lady's ambitions?

Well, maybe your daughter needs this:

"Is this the T&A journey the doctor told me about?"

Yes, this lovely toy will help your precious princess set her sites on a REAL career: working for tips at a strip club. What more can a girl ask for? Maybe some Ken dolls to fill the place, and little $1 bills.

Of course, the pole dancer needs a pet she can go home and relax with:

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Seen at the doctor's

Handed to patients at a pediatric ENT's office:

"Is this what the guys in the frat told me about?"

Thank you, Allyson!

Monday, December 7, 2015


Mary: "Dr. Grumpy's office, this is Mary."

Mr. Panic: "My wife needs to get in RIGHT AWAY! She was at the hospital yesterday, and they told her to follow-up with Dr. Grumpy this week!"

Mary: "Okay... The only opening I have left this week is Friday morning at 8:30."

Mr. Panic: "FRIDAY?!!! That's 4 days away! Don't you have anything sooner? She really needs to get in ASAP!"

Mary: "No, we don't, but the schedule changes a lot, and someone may cancel. How about I call you if anything opens up?"

Mr. Panic: "PLEASE! I'm worried about her!"

They hang up. 1 minute later:

Mary: "Dr. Grumpy's office, this is Mary."

Mrs. Mom: "Hi, I have an appointment at 1:30 today, and my kid cracked a tooth at school. I have to take him to the dentist. I need to cancel. Can I call back tomorrow to reschedule?"

Mary: "Sure. I'll take you off here. Hope your son is okay."

Mrs. Mom: "Thanks, I'll call in the morning."

They hang up. 1 minute later:

Mr. Panic: "Hello?"

Mary: "Hi, Mr. Panic. It's Mary, at Dr. Grumpy's office. I spoke to you a minute ago about getting your wife in before Friday, and we just had a spot open up for today, at 1:30."

Mr. Panic: "1:30... No, we're going over to the casino this afternoon. It's the 'Monday Madness' slot tournament."

Friday, December 4, 2015

Gift Guide 2015

With the release of a new Star Wars film, commercialization of movie tie-ins has exceeded all previous levels, bringing us products we never knew we needed.

Do you have a friend with a crush on Darth Vader? Do they possess a fetish for loud, mechanical, respirations, and hide in ICU supply closets more than most? Do they talk about the Dark Lord seeing them naked in the shower?

Then this is perfect for them!

"Come to the other side... of the shower curtain."

Yes, with the official Darth Vader shower head your sithsexual friends can live out their darkest fantasies, re-enacting the "Psycho" scene with Anakin Skywalker instead of Norman Bates. Loud, stridorous, respirations aren't included, but I'm sure they can make their own.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Tuesday morning, 1:09 a.m.

Dr. Grumpy: "This is Dr. Grumpy, returning a page."

Anna Flaxis: "Hi, I saw you last week, and you gave me a prescription for Nitrocin? I think I'm having an allergic reaction to it."

Dr. Grumpy: "What's going on?"

Anna Flaxis: "Since then I've been very lightheaded, and I've noticed some weird bumps on my hands and face, and I just don't feel well."

Dr. Grumpy: "When did you last take a dose?"

Anna Flaxis: "I haven't yet."

Dr. Grumpy: "You haven't taken any today?"

Anna Flaxis: "I haven't taken any at all. I dropped the script off at Pill Haus, but haven't had a chance to get back there."

Dr. Grumpy: "So you haven't even started it?"

Anna Flaxis: "No, and I'm not going to, either. I mean, if just having you prescribe the drug makes me feel this way, I hate to think what actually taking it will do."

Tuesday, December 1, 2015

2015 Gift Guide

Yes, as the planet's revolution brings us back around to the holiday season, it's once again time for the annual... Dr. Grumpy's Gift Guide!

I'm going to kick off this year with a musical item. How many times have you been at a party and thought, "Gee, it would really liven up this party if I could just whip out a flute to crank tunes?" I know, it's a pretty common occurrence.

At the same time, how often do you find yourself trying to cover up an attack of terrible flatulence in a social setting, and wishing you had a way to cleverly hide it? Me, too.

Well, now you can solve both problems with... THE RECTOFLUTE!

"Boy, can that asshole play the flute."

Simply slip this gadget, with its "ergonomic easy entry shape" into your rear end, and start ripping off some tunes! Using the muscles of your nether regions you can perform all kinds of colonic symphonies. Plus, it comes in 3 vibrant colors!

It doesn't say if it comes with any sort of manual, training DVD, or shit sheet music.

Dr. Grumpy takes no responsibility for your laundry bills if you play with too much enthusiasm.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Black friday was HELL

Seen at a San Diego Costco on Saturday morning:

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Some "fusion" cuisines... just don't work

Thank you, H!

Heading west for the 4-day holiday. See you next week!

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

The good old days

Earlier this year, Medscape ran some awesome 1940's-1950's era medical ads, and I'd like to share my favorites with you (you can click on the link above to see them all).

This one is just awesome. I mean, how better to face the challenges of everyday life and bad hats than to pop amphetamines?

"How does Ellen Sherman do it all? She’s smart. She takes Speed!"

Next is this pic, by the great Dr. Frank Netter. It's called "Ambulance Call" and shows a cheery scene of an elderly lady being hauled off to the hospital while her neighbors gawk.

What product was this advertising? Actually, none at all. Then why, you're asking, was it in a medical journal? Because the picture ("suitable for framing") was sponsored by Chicago's Armour Laboratories, and - get this - was available for FREE to doctors who wrote in and requested a copy for their waiting room. Because nothing gives you more confidence in the doc you're about to see than thinking his last patient was carried away on a stretcher.

Old ads saying that doctors prefer a certain cigarette brand aren't uncommon. This one, however, got my attention.

"70 years from now we'll be sampling pot at the Seattle meeting."

Why? Because here they are pushing them at medical conventions. Yes, out there on the sales floor, between booths selling pharmaceuticals, EEG machines, locums offers, and other stuff... are tobacco companies peddling their wares as a normal part of a medical practice.

Then there's this gem:

"What the fuck? I have to wait another 40 years for them to invent Diet Coke?"

Yes, apparently when the doctor has had a shitty day of irate patients nothing will perk him up more than a paper cup full of tomato juice. Honestly, if someone offered me anything non-caffeinated and/or alcohol-free in that situation... I'd probably throw it at them.

I also have to wonder exactly what kind of refreshment they're REALLY trying to sell... Which leads us to:

This one, about the eternal scourge of armed forces around the world, VD.

"Phil, have the art department make the ampules look more phallic."

Ads like this were actually pretty common in WWII, showing how drug companies (Merck, in this case) were contributing to the Allied victory by keeping winkies and their owners healthy, so they could go get killed somewhere else.

Then for the home front, was this ad intended for Rosie the Riveter. It features (I SWEAR TO GOD!) the top-secret blueprint for... a tampon.

Gotta love the slogan "don't let morale ebb with the flow." Likely the same ad agency that 60 years later thought up "have a happy period."

And last is this one, reminding us that yesterday's health food is today's heart attack. Next thing you know they'll be claiming that cigarettes cause cancer.

"If butter is good for you, straight lard must be even better."

Monday, November 23, 2015

Saturday afternoon

Dr. Grumpy: "This is Dr. Grumpy, returning a page."

Ms. Wilter: "Yeah, I called your office yesterday, about a refill on my Spazinox?"

Dr. Grumpy: "I approved that, and Annie called it in."

Ms. Wilter: "Oh REALLY? Because I just stopped by Pill Haus, and THEY DIDN'T HAVE IT!"

Dr. Grumpy: "Well, I know she called it in. I was in her office when she made the call."

Ms. Wilter: "Well, that doesn't change the fact that I'm standing in Pill Haus and IT'S NOT HERE!"

Dr. Grumpy: "Which Pill Haus are you at? There are a lot of them. We called it to the one on Starr & Harrison, like you wanted."

Ms. Wilter: "So what? I'm at the one at Narn & Centauri, and regardless of what Annie said MY SPAZINOX ISN'T HERE!"

Dr. Grumpy: "Then why... did you ask us to call it in to the one at Starr & Harrison?"

Ms. Wilter: "Why would it matter?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Um, because they're different stores, like, 5 miles apart?"

Ms. Wilter: "But they're both Pill Haus pharmacies! If you call it in to any of them, they all fill it."

Dr. Grumpy: "Uh, no, just the one we call it too."


Ms. Wilter: "I thought that when you call it in to any Pill Haus, it goes to every store, and so they all get it ready for you. That way, I can pick it up anywhere I am. Isn't that part of the internet and all? That all their stores are connected and fill it for you, so you can just go to any of their places to get it?"

Dr. Grumpy: "No, they just fill it at the one we call it to."

Ms. Wilter: "Well, that's not very convenient, or customer friendly. I'm going to complain to them about this."

Dr. Grumpy: "Okay. Your Spazinox is at Starr & Harrison. Have a good one."

Friday, November 20, 2015

Thorough exam there, dude

Seen in a chart:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Mary's desk

Mary: "Okay, so we'll see you on Friday, at 1:30. Do you need directions here?”

Mrs. Scan: "No, but what tests will he order on me?"

Mary: "I don't know. He's never seen you before, so it will depend on what he finds when he hears your story and examines you. Every patient is different."

Mrs. Scan: "Well, I really don't want to come in unless I know what he's going to do."

Mary: "I understand, but that's up to him. I'm not the doctor. You'll be able to talk to him about this during the visit."

Mrs. Scan: "Look, I'm not calling you to play games. Either you tell me what tests he's going to order, or I'm going elsewhere."

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Tall and skinny. REALLY tall and skinny.

Seen in a chart:

Monday, November 16, 2015

The badge

 I'm sitting at the nurses station, writing a note.

Suit Lady: "Excuse me, Dr. Grumpy? You're not wearing your ID badge."

Dr. Grumpy: "It's in my black bag. This shirt doesn't have a pocket for me to clip it to."

Suit Lady: "Well, the staff can't see it."

Dr. Grumpy: "I figure after almost 20 years here they all know me." (loudly) "Hey, you guys all know me, right?"

Passing nurse: "Too damn well, if you ask me."

Dr. Grumpy: "See?"

I go back to writing my note.

Suit Lady: "But it's your new badge, with our new Local Hospital logo, isn't it?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Yeah, you guys inactivated the old one so I couldn't get in the parking lot. I didn't have much of a choice."

Suit Lady pulls up a chair and sits real close, like she's about to make a dirty proposition.

Suit Lady: (softly) "Haven't you noticed the effect this is having?"

Dr. Grumpy: "Um..." (looks around) "on what?"

Suit Lady: "It's terrible for employee morale! They can all see you're not supporting our new branding. If they don't think you're behind them, it will affect how they do their jobs."

Dr. Grumpy: "They're not even paying attention, and don't care."

Suit Lady: "They're trying to be polite, but it's obvious that your lack of support is disappointing to them. You really should have your ID proudly displayed."

Dr. Grumpy: "Look... I need to finish writing my note. I've got 2 other consults to see."

Suit Lady: "Well, please wear the badge. Not doing so is bad for patient care."

Dr. Grumpy: "Do you really believe that?"

Suit Lady: "You need to envision the whole of who we are today at Local Hospital. It's all part of our new brand in the community. And, of course, that includes doctors like you."

Dr. Grumpy: "If I'm your brand, your brand sucks."

I turned back to my note. Suit Lady glared at me for a few minutes, then left.

Friday, November 13, 2015

Seen in a chart

I bet the dentures don't smoke, but use alcohol and caffeine occasionally.

Thank you, Anon!

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Veteran's Day, 2015

What is a veteran?

People, of course, are the best known. Those who risk it all to protect others.

But humans certainly aren't the only ones. For most of history, horses were a key factor in military campaigns, serving even into WW2 (although not widely known, most of Germany's logistics early in the war depended on horses).

Of course, dogs have played a key role, and are likely the most important non-human serving in the military today. So have birds, dolphins, bats, elephants, monkeys, and many other creatures.

But what about a ship?

Except maybe warplanes, perhaps no inanimate object carries in it the spirits of those who built and fought in them. The people who mined and processed ores and turned them into metal parts. Sat at a desk and carefully designed the finished product. Welded, riveted, and cut steel to build it. And, finally, lived, served..., even died, on board.

Every country has its museum ships. Here in the U.S. we have an assortment of preserved battleships, aircraft carriers, submarines, and a few other fighting machines.

Perhaps the most meaningful ships are the ones that never fired a shot, but contributed as much (if not more) than any warship ever did. Yet they're often the most forgotten.

Sadly, there are only 2 of such left intact in the world. But in the horror of WW2, they were one of the most critical factors in crushing Nazi Germany.

Britain, like Earth's other island empire, Japan, is heavily dependent on trade to supply her people. Food, fuel, and countless other necessities of life are imported through a vast network of oceanic routes. This obvious weakness was attacked twice by U-Boats in the last century. It was a war of numbers: if Germany could sink supply ships faster than the allies could build them, the Nazis would win. And, for a while, this appeared to be the case.

While a late comer to World War 2, the massive American industrial output quickly rose to the challenge. An 1879 (yes, you read the year right) British design for a cargo ship was taken, modified for technical advancements, and simplified for mass construction. Companies run by the American industrialist Henry Kaiser (ironically the son of German immigrants) had developed mass production techniques in building the Hoover, Bonneville, and Grand Coulee dams. They turned these skills into the production of freighters - called Liberty Ships - at a level never seen before.

In 4 years, 18 shipyards built 2,710 of these ships. At 1 ship every 2 days, it was by far the largest number of ships ever built to a single design. Like many other industries, their construction depended heavily on the huge number of women - including a large percentage of black women - who entered the workforce in the war effort. Society made some huge changes in WW2, and would never be the same again.

The ships were designed to have a service life of 5 years, though most survived far longer. Although many were sunk by U-Boats, Germany was never able to catch up with the rate of production. This was a key factor that led to the ever-growing bridge across the Atlantic carrying the soldiers, tanks, planes, and other supplies that eventually landed at D-Day and moved into Germany. Many, including the S.S. Jeremiah O'Brien, served at Normandy. Offshore at D-Day, they rapidly unloaded supplies of every kind onto barges and smaller boats, which were then taken to the beach for the men who needed them.

Cargo ships, while far from the glory that the battleships, carriers, and submarines are accorded, are fighting ships all the same. Without them no overseas war can be fought or won. Logistics and supply lines are everything.

A few Liberty ships actually did fight, including the Stephen Hopkins. Using her single gun, she battled the German raider Stier until they both sank.

The sailors on these forgotten ships gave as much as those in other service branches... if not more. By percentage, more men in the U.S. Merchant Marine died in WW2 than in any other branch, and statistically were over twice as likely to be killed as someone in all other services combined:


(Air Force veterans wondering why you aren't on the list: you're grouped in with the Army. The USAF didn't become its own service until after WW2)

After the war the Liberty ships - so crucial to victory - were forgotten. Now they were just surplus freighters, far more than the world needed. Some were sold off, others put in reserve, and others... just left in port with no where to go.

They sat and rusted, and, eventually, when it was clear they weren't needed, sold for scrap.

But a few of these veterans are still with us. Trident Seafood has the former Albert M. Boe (renamed Star of Kodiak), now land-locked, working as a processing plant in Kodiak, Alaska.

Yes, that's a Liberty ship

The hulls of 2 others serve in Portland, Oregon as dock supports. Another, without engines, is a museum in Greece. Another... isn't quite as popular.

But 2 of them, remarkably, are still operational. One is the John W. Brown, in Baltimore and the other the Jeremiah O'Brien (named after an American Revolutionary War sailor) in San Francisco. I visited the latter this summer.

She's remarkably well-preserved, still set in the 1940's. After the war she quickly went into the reserve fleet, and was never sold off or modified. She spent over 30 years in mothballs before it was decided (in 1979) that a Liberty Ship should be saved for future generations. Amazingly, it was found she was still operational after 34 years of sitting at anchor, and became the only Liberty ever to leave the reserve fleet under her own power. Volunteers swarmed her, cleaning, polishing, and painting.

Under the gray reserve paint at the bow they discovered the original crew had painted a googly-eyed topless lady, and she was carefully restored following the original outlines (ensuring snickers from teenage boys for generations to come).

Inside, the ship is in great condition, with very few restrictions on where you can go. The kids and I wandered the passageways, peering into cabins and imagining the merchant marine sailors who lived here as she crossed the ocean and supplied Operation Overlord. You walk across the simple bridge - a far cry from those on a warship - and imagine staring out at the vicious waves of a North Atlantic winter crossing as the ship pitched and rolled beneath you.

Her single small artillery piece is still there, quite different from the massive guns in fortified turrets you see on warships. Here the fighting men were exposed to the elements and enemy fire, and their aim was entirely by sight. Today the gun is protected... from roosting pigeons by a line of spikes on the barrel.

Marie draws a bead on the Transamerica Pyramid.

The engine rooms are open for access, though it involves squeezing through hatchways and taking steep ladders up & down. Beneath the water line engineering buffs will find one of the few working triple-expansion reciprocating engines left in the world. The engine is so well-preserved that (if it looks familiar) it was where they filmed the engine room scenes in 1995's Titanic.

The film's sound engineers also recorded the creaking and rocking of a metal hull as she steamed through San Francisco bay, and the clanking of the obsolete engines. They went on to win 2 Academy awards for their work.

But the Jeremiah O'Brien wasn't content with just sailing around San Francisco harbor. In 1994, with the 50th anniversary of D-Day approaching, a crew of volunteers climbed aboard her. Many of them were veterans of Liberty Ships (even some who'd served on her) and brought her back to prime shape. She had a long trip ahead.

Setting out from northern California, her outdated engine and single propeller drove her south to the Panama Canal, from where she crossed into the Atlantic and turned north again.

On the morning of June 6, 1994 she was again off the beaches of Normandy. She'd brought a crew and passengers who'd fought there. Now, 50 years later, she was back at the site of the largest military operation in history.

She was the only large ship who'd been there originally and returned for the anniversary. Only one other big ship that served that fateful day still exists - the battleship U.S.S. Texas - and she's long been immobile.

In a former cargo hold aboard, there's now a D-Day museum. One of the items there is simply this picture, taken at Normandy beach on the morning of June 6, 1994. The simplicity of the black & white print belies the subject: 4 men who'd swarmed ashore that terrible morning 50 years earlier, and now returned to the same spot, alone in their thoughts.

All around them, but not seen, are many others who never left the beach that day.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

November 10, 1975

40 years ago today, 29 men died on the Edmund Fitzgerald.

In terms of shipwrecks, 29 isn't much, but if one of those is your father, or spouse, or sibling, or friend... it can be everything.

Like the recent El Faro sinking, the overwhelming lesson of the Fitzgerald is simple: the forces of nature are bigger and stronger than can be overcome by technology and metallurgy. As long as people have been sailing the seas, some have been lost to storms. In our era of GPS, radar, and satellites we're lured into believing the sea is safe. And, compared to previous eras, it is.

But the power of a storm can be far beyond our best designs. Even if you take out the factor of human error, the sheer destruction caused by storms, tsunamis, and many other natural phenomena is overwhelming.

On December 17, 1944, during WW2, the U.S. Pacific fleet lost to a violent foe. 790 men were killed. Of the 86 ships present in Admiral Halsey's Third Fleet that day, 3 destroyers were sunk and 27 other ships (including massive battleships and aircraft carriers) suffered serious enough damage that they had to return to base for extensive repairs... And the Japanese never touched them.

All of that damage was inflicted by a typhoon. Admiral Nimitz, in his report on the disaster, wrote it "represented a more crippling blow to the Third Fleet than it might be expected to suffer in anything less than a major action."

View from the carrier U.S.S. Cowpens as the storm approached.

For many, their first (and only) knowledge of the Fitzgerald comes from the Gordon Lightfoot song. That's where I first learned of it, too. But there's more.

She was named after the CEO at the time of Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance, who commissioned and financed her construction. Built in 1958, she was (at the time) the biggest boat on the Great Lakes (yes, on the lake they're technically called boats), and remains the largest one ever lost there. She spent her entire career hauling ore between ports.

The lifespan of a Great Lakes freighter is generally twice that of their ocean-going counterparts. Spared the corrosive effects of saltwater, at 17 the Fitzgerald was still in overall good shape, though had the usual wear & tear all ships (and people) get with age. By 1975 she'd made 748 trips on the lakes, for a distance equivalent to circling the Earth 44 times. She set several records for ship size and loads carried.

She set out on November 9, 1975 from Superior, Wisconsin to Detroit, under the command of Ernest McSorley. A second freighter, the venerable Arthur M. Anderson (enroute to Gary, Indiana), joined her for a distance. The Anderson was skippered by Jesse Cooper.

As they sailed, a vicious November storm was brewing, though the initial predictions said it would pass south of the lake. As the day went on it moved northwards, going across the lake and taking the ships into its path.

As the afternoon of November 10 went on, they encountered winds averaging 50 mph (93 kph) with gusts up to 75 mph, and waves 35' (11m) high breaking over their decks. At 3:30 p.m. McSorley told Cooper the Fitzgerald had taken some damage and had a list. A few minutes later the U.S. Coast Guard issued an advisory for all ships to head for the nearest harbor due to the unexpected ferocity of the gale, and the 2 ships changed course for the nearby safety of Whitefish Bay.

At around 4:10 p.m. McSorley called Cooper to say his radar had been lost to the storm. In the blinding snow and rain, the Anderson closed the distance to the Fitzgerald, trying to act as the eyes for both of them with Cooper calling directions over to McSorley based on his radar plots.

Sometime around 5:30 McSorley told the coast guard he was "taking heavy seas over the deck in one of the worst seas I have ever been in."

At 7:10 Cooper radioed McSorley about the position of a 3rd ship that was now on his radar, and asked him how the Fitzgerald was doing. McSorley answered "We are holding our own."

It was the last message ever received from the Fitzgerald. A few minutes later the Anderson's radar was unable to find her, and she didn't answer the radio.

Cooper, not believing at first the Fitzgerald had been lost so quickly, gave it a few minutes to see if she showed up again on the radar sweep. He contacted the other ship nearby to see if they had her on radar (they didn't). Finally, at 7:39, he radioed the Coast Guard to sound the first warning. Unfortunately, in the violent storm the Anderson was the nearest ship to make a rescue attempt. Against his better judgment, Cooper turned around.

It must have been terrifying, knowingly going back into a storm that had just destroyed a ship bigger and more modern than yours. One of the Anderson's crewmen, upon hearing what they were doing, scribbled a last letter to his family, sealed it in a bottle, and tossed it overboard. A second freighter, the William Clay Ford, bravely joined the search that fateful night.

But there was nothing to be found. In the next few hours both the American and Canadian Coast Guards sent ships and planes to the area. Only a few pieces of debris, and a badly damaged lifeboat, ever turned up.

As news spread, the families of 29 men (ages 21 to 63) began coming to terms with their losses. Reverend Richard Ingalls, Sr., of the Mariner's Church in Detroit, rang its bell 29 times, a tradition that continued until 2006 when the service was changed to remember all lost on the Great Lakes.

Mr. Edmund Fitzgerald's son, also named Edmund Fitzgerald, died in 2013. Like his father, he was involved in many endeavors through the Midwest, though is perhaps best remembered for bringing the Brewers baseball franchise to Milwaukee.

The Arthur M. Anderson, now 63 years old, continues to work on the Great Lakes today, 40 years since that fateful night her name became forever entwined with the Fitzgerald.

The Edmund Fitzgerald lies in 2 large pieces, the bow upright and the stern inverted, in 530 feet of water, oddly straddling the American-Canadian border. The cold freshwater has kept her well-preserved and her name is still clearly visible. She's been visited several times over the years by different expeditions, though they're tightly regulated by both governments out of respect for the grave site. The ship's bell was recovered in 1995, and is now in the Great Lakes Shipwreck Museum. A replacement bell, with the names of all 29 crewmen engraved on it, was left with the ship.

In the wake of the disaster a number of regulations were changed regarding maintenance, safety equipment, weather forecasts, ship loading capacities, and annual inspections to address concerns the sinking raised. To date another large ship hasn't been lost on the lakes.

No matter what country you're reading this in, some aspect of your life depends on those who sail. Likely more than one. The clothes you're wearing, the food you eat, the computer or tablet or phone you're reading this on, the car you drive or the fuel it uses, the metals and construction materials in your home and office... may have came from somewhere else by ship.

Shipping is still, after 1000 years, one of the cheapest and most efficient ways to transport goods. All of us in our interconnected world depend on it. But never forget that for those who take the big boats to sea, sometimes the price is higher than we realize.

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