‘Fecund Stench’, a local blogging demagogue and amateur naval archivist, has kindly chosen a vessel from my past to feature as the weekly banner image on his own potent site. Thanks, Fec. Not only have you shone the spotlight on a thoroughly impressive ship, but you’ve dredged up memories I buried at sea a l-o-n-g time ago. While I’m less than ready to examine everything I did or even witnessed while in uniform, I do recognize that period of my young life for exactly what it is - saltwater fodder for one hell of a coming-of-age story. I’ve known it since the day I last came ashore, yet I’m still not one-tenth the writer I’ll need to be to fully capture my surreal stint in uniform, even if the impressions are still clearly visible on my frontal lobe.
After all, I was just a kid - a bookish underachiever with a few dozen wild oats still to be sewn. How I came to enlist in the first place is a lesson in improbability. Never one to embrace responsibility, I exhausted the patience of every lucid adult I encountered with my lack of life skills and my abundance of smart-ass remarks. Once those wise grown-ups let me fall on my face a time or three, it occurred to me I desperately needed a new direction. So, under the influence of a delusional roommate’s naïve advice and who knows what else, I wandered into the local recruiter’s office and defied them to take me away. When they finished doing back-flips, they shoved a sheaf of important looking papers under my scruffy chin and I started signing.
A few weeks later, I found myself standing at exhausted attention on an icy parking lot, as the frigid winds off Lake Michigan turned my nose hairs to brittle stalactites. Somewhere behind me, a small, leathery man whom I truly believed to demon screamed obscenities at my brand new bestest buddy. As the swarthy agent of hell force-marched us to the mess hall for a lightning round of freeze-dried dog food, I wracked my addled brain trying to remember why exactly I’d willingly volunteered to go to prison. A month earlier I’d been an underage lothario of sorts, a harmless hoodlum of the shaggy sort quite happy to ply my charms on any young college cutie who didn’t mind slumming for awhile. It wasn’t an perfect existence, but as I double-timed it back to formation with a greasy bacon substitute roiling in my gut - my memories of it seemed pretty idyllic.
But that was only boot camp - an idealistic prelude to the ocean bound adventure awaiting me. While it took several weeks of nautical instruction to convince me these cats actually wanted me to live on a boat - I eventually seized on the idea and successfully completed my training. Newly qualified to operate navigational radar ( and chip paint with the best of them), I checked aboard my first ship just after nine in the evening. With a scowl and a curse the Officer of the Deck signed my orders and led my sea-bag laden form down a pitch black passageway. Motioning me into a darkened compartment, the annoyed Officer instructed me to climb a rickety ladder to the smelly top bunk that would be my new home. I did and, fully clothed, curled up around my sea-bag and lost consciousness.
Seven fiftful hours later, I awoke to find myself the object of amused derision. As the surliest of salty-dawgs rubbed their bleary eyes and pulled on incredibly crusty socks, they heckled, hounded and harangued the new boot staring back at them from the top rack. It was then I realized I was in too deep.