Personal History : 1989 – 1990

George Bush became president last year and is sworn in on January 20th.

Over the last year or two the US has gone from cold-war cloak and dagger ‘tear down this wall’ to saber-rattling Iran-contra style backroom deals. Dick “Warhawk” Cheney became my boss this year, and there is clear escalation of the Iran-Iraq situation… This has been guiding much of my Navy career planning for this last year.

I’ve decided to get out after my four years is up in August of 1990 to avoid the war I’m certain is coming.

Unfortunately, this did not go as planned…


Early 1989

I can’t find any mention of the incident online (it was a long time ago after all), but one cold evening while I’m standing F&S on the boat, which is now floating, I was returning up the aft gangway from a walk-around.

The deck area forward of the aft LET (Logistics Escape Trunk) is cordoned off because the shipyard is doing the radiography of the hull patch over the reactor – basically x-raying the welds on several inch thick steel.

As I reach the top of the gangway and made the turn to go down the engine room hatch, I hear a “clank, clank, ting, sploosh – FUCK!” come from the radiography area, followed by one of the shipyard guys telling another that they just dropped a Cobalt-60 source into the Thames river.

I continue on my way, stopping in maneuvering to casually ask the nuke folks on duty “What’s the Curie rating on a Cobalt-60 source used for radiography?”

“A couple hundred probably” was the answer.

“Oh. Well they just lost one over the side” I say while waving a thumb at the upper deck…

There’s a good five-second pause before the room bursts into activity and sailors head in a dozen directions and I wander off to make a log entry.

The shipyard had to hire some lunatic diver to go get the thing – fortunately the shutter was closed on the source so it wasn’t overly dangerous. But that was the most exciting watch I had on the Pennsylvania.

June 1989

June 3rd was the sea trial for 735, and my chance to put to sea on the boat I helped build.

Sea Trials are where you take the boat out and test it. You drive it out to the 100 fathom curve, submerge, do some angles and dangles, stair step down to test depth while looking for leaks or other failures, and then do an emergency blow back to the surface.

It’s probably the most exciting (and expensive) amusement park ride in existence.

Sea trials are also an interesting way to do quality assurance. See, what they do is randomly pick a bunch of the E.B. folks who worked on the boat and send them with the crew to do the testing. So there’s a chance that you’ll be in the boat when your welds are subjected to hundreds of pounds per square inch of water pressure.

The E.B. folks got the berths, so that was the first and last time I slept on top of a MK48 torpedo. And while they’re not designed as a mattress, they aren’t too bad if you’re tired enough.

On our run out to do sea trials we were shadowed by a Russian trawler, which prompted a full speed transit on the surface to mask the screw signature with cavitation… We also had a 6 knot speed advantage, on the surface – the 735 is a quick boat.

Anyway we did our trials, found a toolbox someone left in the overhead on the emergency blow, and the 735 passed with flying colors.

When we returned the 735 began preparing to be a real commissioned boat in September, and then moving to King’s Bay Georgia. Meanwhile I was working on transitioning to shore duty just as soon as I got my ‘dolphins’. Being submarine qualified would give me a leg up on other sailors entering the various schools I was planning on going to, as well as a pay-raise.

My qualifications were slow going though – partially because some of the systems I needed to qualify on were still being built.

At home I had been slowly building a truly epic home stereo system for my personal enjoyment… I’m talking SAE components and Adcom amps running Accoustat speakers.

Towards the end of June I finish my submarine quals and now just have to wait for the paperwork, and to celebrate I buy tickets to the Doobie Brother’s concert up in Danbury Connecticut.

July 1989

On July 2nd a friend lets me borrow his car (a blue ’87 Cavalier RS) because the Chevette is acting up, and I head for Danbury to see the concert. I think I looped the cassette of Queensryche’s “Warning” about a dozen times on this trip…

A week later and I finally get my Submarine Service (SS) designation – on July 7th, 1989 – which coincides nicely with my sea-shore rotation plans.

My official squid papers
My first dolphins, given to me by Masterchief Haddad.

Fun fact about the dolphins up there; there are no lapel pins on the back of them because the tradition in the Navy is to ‘tack on’ new dolphins – essentially punching the new guy where the dolphins sit on the uniform – which impales those pins into the wearer… I clipped off the pins and used a military grade adhesive to affix them to my dungaree shirt for a couple of days to avoid the impaling. 😀

The set of dolphins I used for the rest of my time in the Navy I purchased from the base exchange, but these were special and I’ve kept them all these years.


A week after I’d gotten my SS, my duty station moved from E.B. back to the base and I was either standing watch somewhere on the base or in class five days a week.

It was around the end of July that I traded my “Little Red Chevette” in as the down payment on a 1989 Chrysler Le Baron… The LeBaron is my first “new” car and I’m absolutely in love with the thing.

August 1989

It takes a few weeks for the plates to arrive for the LeBaron, and afterward I start upgrading the stereo in it. I also drive the wheels off of it and spend a lot of time cruising every scenic backroad of Connecticut.

By August of ’89 things had started to level out; I was doing the Navy thing and either standing watch or attending electronics and computer classes on the base – and it was looking like a smooth ride to my separation date.

We were planning for Doug’s departure in a month or so… It’s decided that I’ll take the bedroom when Doug ships out, and Brian will move in and take over the living-room / front bedroom.

On August 22nd the 735 had completed her final construction and was delivered to the US Navy.

September 1989

It was well after dark on Sunday, September 3rd 1989, when I returned to the apartment after a 15-hour day on the base. Doug and Brian had spent the weekend up in Boston at WorldCon ’89 – a gaming convention.

When I arrived home there were a half dozen people in the living room / my bedroom having a grand old time finishing some adventure they’d started at the convention. This adventure was being run by “Canth” who was being attended by her boyfriend Pete, and there were two other new folks there as well. One was another submariner who went by “T”, I don’t think I ever got the other fellow’s name…

Anyway, being tired and cranky I pulled Doug aside and pointed out that I was tired and cranky and would really appreciate some peace and quiet. His response was that they had found this GM and she was the greatest thing since slice pre-wrapped peanut butter, and that I should join in.

I snorted derisively; an amazing GM eh? I’ll be the judge of that…

She was good. Real good… I didn’t get any sleep that night and was a literal zombie on duty the following day.

I’d also met my future ex-wife.


The next bunch of months were a complete blur and I can only piece it together from sketchy thirty year old memories and the odd document that has survived. So the dates may not be exact, but the tale is as accurate as I can make it…

It was about two weeks before my ex and I had hooked up. What cinched us being together was actually a tarot card; we were sitting in the living room and she was doing a reading, looked up at me and said “If the next card is the queen of cups, then it’s you and me together.”

It was, and we were.

The 735 was commissioned on September 9th.

Note the postmark is New London, because the boat was tied up on the New London side of the river for commissioning.

By the middle of September both Doug and the 735 were gone, leaving the apartment (and its bills) to myself and Brian.

My ex moved in shortly after this. It took another week or so for Pete to move on and stop hanging out in the back stairwell of the apartment building pining for her at all hours…

I finally got a 68000-based machine shortly after my ex moved in; an Amiga 500. They’d been out for about a year at that point and I’d been lusting after one since they launched. I found a used one with a monitor for $500 at a nearby computer store, and with my ex’s insistence purchased it… This was the true beginning of my digital art life and both of us gave the machine a hell of a workout.

Any free time I had usually involved gaming, the computer, or my ex and I putting a lot of miles on my LeBaron. Between September and December there were probably a dozen 250 mile round trips up to Framingham Mass. and back to either gather stuff from her ex-husband’s parents place or just hang out with folks or at places she knew up there.

We also made several trips to Manchester Connecticut just to go to the best comic shop I’ve ever seen; Newbury Comics. It was a trip to Newbury Comics in ’89 where I discovered Vicky Wyman’s “Xanadu” which changed everything role-play wise…

October 1989

One trip to Mass. in October saw us hanging out with a guy my ex knew who ran a public access show in Boston called “Vanity Plates”. The premise was people could call in and make a request for a message to be displayed for 60 seconds or so on the TV. Said messages were created on video toaster Amigas and sometimes included live artwork done in PhotonPaint. My ex became the most requested artist of the day. 🙂

That evening, after the broadcast, we hung out that the Boston Museum of Science and I talked Tesla transformers with the guys who maintained the ones the Museum used.

It was an amazing day.

Anyway, most of the road trips tended to use the Transformers movie soundtrack, the Queen “It’s a Kind of Magic” album, a random Def Leppard album, or the new Anderson Bruford Wakeman Howe album as driving music.

One trip back from Framingham involved listening to my ex’s cat, Merlin, serenade us for an hour or so from the back seat of the LeBaron, or yowl loudly into the AC vents to hear himself amplified.

It was outside the arcade “Fun & Games” in Framingham, in late October, that I had my first kiss.

Fun & Games from a stay in Framingham in late 2001

The next few months were a blur of amazing roleplaying games with a half-dozen sailors that we’d picked up for the evening gaming sessions, late night art jams, Lazer Tag games over at the Arboretum, and some extremely complicated electronics and computer classes.

We played a lot of Lazer Tag…

One of my original Starlyte pistols from back in the day…

My ex dual-wielded Starlyte pistols with vicious accuracy, and her primary tactic was charging the enemy base and slaughtering them all in a quick, glorious firefight. Taking cues from the roleplay game, one pistol had the “zenera” symbol and the other the ‘abacab’ symbol – and both the pistols and their owner were legendary in the Groton – New London area.

I tended to use my highly modified Starlyte rifle, which used an up-rated infrared emitter and a hand-built focusing rig using glass lens elements. The rifle also had a built-in IR detector that would alert me to near misses and a directional microphone and amplifier to hear the ‘bad guys’ before I saw them. I wasn’t much for running about, and would instead take overwatch for my ex and eliminate anyone trying to flank her.

I remember the apartment crew going in together on a Sega Genesis in October of ’89 and we played a stupid amount of “Ghosts ‘N Goblins” on the thing over the holiday season.

November – December 1989

The holidays came and went. The time off was filled with yet more roleplaying, computer games, art, and the camaraderie of the crew. We kept our apartment open to anyone looking for a place to hang out over the holidays.

February 1990

We had a huge Lazer Tag game in the Connecticut College Arboretum for my birthday in February of 1990. It was cold and gray, but it was my 21st birthday present and I aimed to make the most of it. It’s also where folks learned that Unicorns aren’t extinct — we just learned to hide in the trees…

March 1990

In March Steve Jackson Games is raided by the US Secret Service because “GURPS Cyberpunk is a handbook for computer crime”… As GURPS players, we all get a big chuckle out of this.

July 1990

My ex and I were married simply; just the two of us in our living room by a justice of the peace on July 31st, 1990.

July also marks the end of the longest peacetime expansion in US history, the beginning of the early 90’s recession, and the start of a two-year spike in unemployment…

Of course this happens just as I’m planning to depart the military…

August 1990

In August Iraq invades Kuwait which kicks off the Gulf War – and I get to have an “I told you so” moment with the crew.

October 1990

After a series of unfortunate events, I did eventually leave the Navy on the 18th of October, 1990, after having served my 4 year contract.

We borrowed a Chevy S10 from a friend, loaded everything that would fit into it, gave the apartment and everything left in it to the crew, and headed for my parent’s place in Colorado…

In the span of about ten hours I left behind what was essentially my entire life up to that point…

My characters; Flinthorn (who Wolf would rename to RiHahn in a few years) and Raeshlavik – some of the only surviving pieces from my ex’s 1990 artwork, making these two drawings over thirty years old as I write this.
One of my pieces from 1990.

November 1990

We arrived at my parent’s place in Longmont in early November 1990 without issue; but as it would turn out the issues were simply lying in wait.

My parents put us up in the spare bedroom, but my ex’s cat, Merlin, had to stay in the crate in the garage because my mom didn’t want a cat in the house. My parents also immediately started in with all of the things that made me leave in the first place and didn’t seem to realize that I was not only 21, but I was married and wasn’t at all interested being treated like a nine-year-old.

The second week back the truck was broken into and cleaned out… Welcome to Longmont I guess?

Around the end of November I’d landed a job at PrairieTek in the QA department.

A few days after that I drove over to Philip’s place (my neighbor for many, many years who played D&D with me) and at 10pm my mom showed up to chew me out for not being home at a reasonable hour.

December 1990

Things deteriorate with my parents through the end of the year, culminating on December 12th, and I start working on finding a room or something that my ex and I can rent for both of our well-being.