81. Puffed Up Arms in San Francisco

Early 1966

I thought about it most of the night and chose not to return to the hospital that morning as I knew it would be far too difficult to leave at all.  

I trusted Alok was safe and I hugged and kissed my children before leaving for the few days I assumed I’d be away.  My previous job at Santa Ynez I had left on good terms and with positive reference, as was my habit of doing.

I knew in my mind that if I was going to get to Fiji it was now or never.  Diana drove me to the station so I would catch the 10a Greyhound into San Francisco.  After dropping me off she went back to the hospital to bring Alok home.

For the most part it was a straight through drive up north with only a few key stops along the way.  I arrived some time that evening just after the dinner hour.  Upon arrival in San Francisco I took a taxi to a friend’s apartment.  I’d known Morris since Fiji.  This is where I’d stay for nearly a week.  

It just so happened the Seafarers’ International Union of North America was across the street from his apartment building.  What were the odds?

Next morning I took that fateful walk across the street and made myself known to them, stating my intentions and then fell into their process.  One of these things was to take their form to a doctor (choose one from a list f I didn’t have one up there, which of course I didn’t) for shots, check-up, etc.,  whew!  What a lot of technical to-dos.  

I returned to Morris’ apartment late that afternoon with the certificate of completion of the union’s medical requirements.

I also had the need to go to bed.  My arms were loaded with shots, painful, swollen and these caused me to feel quite ill.  Well I was forewarned by the doctor this most likely would be the side effect.

I did manage to call home and check with Diana about Alok’s health, how Amar and Asha were doing, how she was getting on, things at home and you know, stuff.  

She comforted me, telling me that all is well and how wonderful it was having Susan and Lisa with her young son just next door.  I told her about the not-so-fun time at the doctor’s office.

Fortunate for me, Morris’ wife nursed me a bit, fed me good Indian food and I was able to rest the remainder of the day and the night through.  The next two days I was really a mess.  I felt much better the third day.

In that next morning I returned to the Seafarers’ Union office to submit the doctor’s completed form and certification showing I had all the proper vaccinations.  

After what appeared to be a thorough review the staff behind the counter gave back to me all of my papers, the ID clearance card which I had previously obtained in Long Beach and my identification to include my British passport and my Green Card.

I was instructed to sit with the other fellows over in the reception area.  We would wait. Little conversations took place, something to pass the time.  I noted I was the only Indian, there was a small handful of African origin gents, a couple of Irish men and the rest were American or something.  I’m guessing.  It’s not really important, is it?

My name was called and I went back up to the counter.  I was told,  “We need a waiter.”  The one agent asked if I was experienced.  I replied, ‘Yes and I have worked on a ship before.’  I was then instructed to throw in my ID card, like literally.  

It felt like a gamble; it’s the way they do it.  Other people reviewed my papers and near immediately I was accepted for the position.

Next thing is I’m being told where the ship is docked.  It was at my own expense to get to this ship.  The location is on Suisan Bay at Concord, California.  I’ve been given everything I need to report to that ship.  Grateful for the job I returned to Morris’ apartment and shared my exciting news.  

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Suisan Bay   a part of Contra Costa County which is located in north-­central California.  This is where you’ll find the Concord Naval Weapons Station.  That’s about 70 miles southwest of the capital of Sacramento.  

 

78. Naval Clearance & Not-so Scary Neighbors

Day to day life is running normally, anyway as normal as one’s idea is of that.  My children are growing into their own sense of self and Diana and I are getting to know one another on yet another different level.

Somewhere in the telling of this year 1965, a cousin of mine came over from Fiji, their ship stopping in Los Angeles en route to Great Britain.  She brought her son with her as they were moving to London.  The ship arrived at eight in the morning and would leave at five in the evening sharp.  The very same as in Fiji; remember reading about that?

I went to the docks at San Pedro and picked them up and brought them home to meet my family.  Of course I made them a nice Indian lunch too.  It was a wonderful visit and getting news of the family directly from a close member made it all the more special.  Diana really enjoyed meeting someone from my side.  In the late afternoon we took them back to their ship.

Not too long after seeing my cousin my eldest niece (my brother’s daughter) who was also traveling to London to marry and start her life, stopped here in California and we did the very same with her.  

More current news of home, a loving embrace from a dear one and another one to meet my family; my nieces and nephews were just like little siblings and the smaller ones, like kids to me.

And now to a deeper degree I’m realizing the depth of my longing for the bond of my family back home, especially after those visits.  I began contemplating how I would get back to Fiji for a long overdue visit; how could I do this?

To undertake this journey would involve a good chunk of change and that would be a bit harder to come by now that I’m raising a family.  Then I remembered how my working on the ships got me around well, why not do it that way?

I shared this thought with Diana and she agreed, it was a smashing idea.  Ah but how would I do it from here in America … probably not the same as when I applied in Fiji.  Diana showed her enthusiasm by reaching out on my behalf for information.

She found out it would be necessary to first contact the US NAVY for clearance followed by applying for a union card.  And the union end of things would have to happen up in the San Francisco Bay Area.  Subsequently I’d have to find a ship which would hire me and take me sailing … or some such water adventure!

One day we left our kids with Susan (who was visiting us every weekend anyway) and the two of us drove south to the Naval station in Long Beach.  It would be the Merchant Marines with whom I’d be making application.

In the process I was given paperwork, information and instructions and I was directed to return as soon as possible with a photograph to be used on the US Navy clearance identification card, should I be accepted.  

At home we discussed this option further; what all would it entail and make solid the decision once and for all if it really was a step I should take.

In agreement on the subject we returned to Long Beach with forms filled out and a bit of underlying excitement to go with.  We waited patiently in the reception area.  They called me up.  I was informed I’d receive my security clearance to board any US ship and was handed my United States Naval clearance ID card.  

Wow! with a little extra adrenaline pumping and feeling pretty special, we left there happy and hungry.  We decided to stop for lunch before returning to Santa Monica and our kids.  

C - stawberries & coffee

With that part out of the way, I relaxed and returned to the daily normal routine, that being still going to work at the Santa Ynez Inn up PCH and playing daddy, husband and son-in-law.

A few weeks later we found out our neighbors would be moving out.  An opportune vacancy at the Euclid apartments and right next door in fact at that, the only other apartment.  

It was a spacious 1 bedroom unit.  Diana and I both thought right away to tell Susan about it.  My wife’s little sister Lisa had been wanting to move out to California (she had been recently divorced and was now doing the single mom thing) and so in this convenient and happy news, her mother absolutely wanted it!

I discussed this possibility with the landlady and after a brief moment of thought, she said it was actually a very wonderful idea; she liked the thought of family close and being there for one another.  Delighted we all were.  The landlady told us she’d need 3-4 weeks to prep it after the current tenants moved out.

Everything was quiet on the ship subject but to be sure I was waiting to hear about one going to Fiji especially now that I had the sense of security that would come with Susan living next door.  

As you’ve probably figured out by now, I would be taking this journey to Fiji alone.  For this being the only feasible way to get there, the rest of the family couldn’t go.  Diana really seemed to be quite all right with it all.  She knew how much I missed my family, especially my mother.

And so the days went by as they tend to do; we made sure to take the kids to the park and beach and much as possible and usually followed by ice cream.  If I was at work, the ladies still took the four children to the park.  You know we were all just busy enjoying the lovely southern California weather in between the days of our lives.

The living arrangement with Susan and Lisa next-door worked real well, an added sense of security if you like, especially on those late nights at work that kept me over night at the Inn.  You may recall reading in a previous post that I had access there to a room at the graciousness of the owners.

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