Reading this week:

  • Strategies of Slaves & Women by Marcia Wright
  • Why Buildings Fall Down by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori

As I have referenced elsewhere on this blog, I went to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Academy is a strange and wonderful place, and during my time there I wound up in charge of The LOG magazine. The LOG is a weird little institution. It is at this point over a century old, and a very strange fit for a place like the Naval Academy. It’s a humor magazine, and humor is always at least a little subversive, and it is weird to have a subversive institution at the Naval Academy. When I was in charge, at least, people always wanted us to Fight for the Users, as it were, be underground, stick it to the man, etc., and then I had to explain that we were in fact funded by the Naval Academy and I had to run all the jokes by the Commandant before publication.

I wound up in charge of The LOG mostly by virtue of having shown up to all the meetings and also submitting my articles by the deadline. As I learned when I was in charge of the thing, these are rare and valuable traits in midshipmen (this is not really a dig; midshipmen were busy with academics and stuff all the time and my only real skill in this area was a strong ethic of avoiding work), and so I became the anointed successor. I did not do a good job! I have reflected long and hard on my failings and I learned a lot from the experience, which is actually the point of every Naval Academy experience, so maybe I was in some way very successful. But a positive trait I will grant myself here is a passion for the institution and history of The LOG.

One of my favorite things to do between classes when, again, I was avoiding work, was to go to Nimitz Library and peruse old copies of The LOG, every one of which (except for a banned one) they had on file. This is a remarkable little window into Naval Academy life because who are we truly, as a society, but our jokes? Reading old copies of The LOG was really the quickest way to get into the minds of all the midshipmen that had come before you and realize they also complained about the food.

One time I had just sent to the printers an issue which included a cartoon of a laundry machine. At the Academy you sent your laundry out to be done by the Academy’s central laundry service (in my day they also had washing machines you could use, or people brought it all home on Christmas vacation to ask their mothers to do it). The cartoon was the imagined machine that did the laundry, replete with stations that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. After hitting send that day I walked over to the library and, I swear, picked a random issue of The LOG off the shelf, opened up to a random page, and discovered, right there in an issue dating from the 1950s or so a cartoon of the machines in the laundry service that added weird stains to your shirts, poked holes in your socks, lost your underwear, and then returned to you someone else’s laundry entirely. Clearly, nothing ever really changed.

Which brings us to Ploob! While my super amazing girlfriend and I were in Charlottesville one of our many activities was visiting used bookstores, which is where I found this particular gem. Despite my recently professed expertise in all things The LOG, I was unfamiliar with the character of Ploob. I will quote from the book:

The character of Ploob was originated by Midshipman Thomas A. Hamil of the Class of 1952. While still a Plebe himself, Hamil found time to laugh at some of the problems with which he was confronted. Taking out his pen, he rapidly sketched a ‘typical’ Fourth Classman in the meshes of ‘the System’ which baffles many and yet has so successfully indoctrinated young men from all walks of life into the intricacies of Navy procedure. Hamil sent his sketches to the undergraduate bi-weekly [Ed note: in my day it was monthly at best] publication of the Academy, ‘The LOG.’

The character continued after Hamil graduated and the book I picked up is a collection of those cartoons up through approximately 1957, when it was published. When I spotted this book I immediately knew I had to have it for the fun artifact it was, a window into the Naval Academy of the 1950s and also the Naval Academy of forever and always. And so I wanted to present to you, dear readers, some of my favorite cartoons from the book, first ones that struck me particularly and then a bunch more presented as a gallery:

This cartoon I liked because it is a prescient prediction of my mom giving me this same advice and me taking it just as seriously as Ploob.
This one I like because the goat is cute.
This one I like because I was a chemistry major.
And this one I like because it shows how things HAVE changed. Or so I hear. My plebe company gave an upper classman the brick while I was there. The ritual is like this: a Midshipman is spotted going home with a woman who has been deemed ‘ugly,’ i.e. a ‘brick.’ The plebes then, in our case bedecked in our hoodies and sweatpants and with a lot of chanting and suspense, throw said upperclassman into their shower along with the brick and turn it on, much to their embarrassment and frankly to the embarrassment of society as a whole who should have moved on from this sexist bullshit by now (at the time I thought it was quite a lot of fun). When I went to the Naval Academy it was about 15% women, but now it is a whopping 30% women, and I am told the sexism has died down a LOT. I’ll be happy when we get it to about 85% women. Honestly, crewing a ship doesn’t typically require a lot of upper body strength, and most of the women I went to the Academy with could kick my ass anyways.

And now the rest (I could go on about each and every one of them but suffice it to say that each one captures the Naval Academy experience perfectly and timelessly):