Monday, July 17, 2006

Crazy on a Ship of Fools

Underway‘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.

Stew SquidleyAfter 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.

Dock at TwilightA 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.

RackmatesBut 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.


HockeyPat said...

Grandma love a sailor who sailed the frozen sea.
Grandpa was a whaler And he took me on his knee.
He said, "Son, I'm going crazy From livin' on the land.
Got to find my shipmates And walk on foreign sands."
This old man was graceful With silver in his smile.
He smoked a briar pipe and He walked four country miles.
Singing songs of shady sisters And old time liberty.
Songs of love and songs of death And songs to set men free.
Yea! I've got three ships and sixteen men, A course for ports unread.
I'll stand at mast, let north winds blow Till half of us are dead.
Land ho!
Well, if I get my hands on a dollar bill, Gonna buy a bottle and drink my fill.
If I get my hands on a number five, Gonna skin that litlle girl alive.
If I get my hand on a number two, Come back home and marry you, marry you, marry you. Alright! Land ho!

Fec Stench said...

Demagogue, huh?

Cool. Thanks.

Great story and I'll bet you're just getting started.

Anonymous said...

That guy in the bunk on the right in the last picture kind of looks like befrank.

Lensmith said...

You should share more about your time in the Navy with us. It, without a doubt, helped make you the person you are today. In fact, it may have led you to the career you have today.

As usual, great writing 'Slinger.

I'll bet the day you left the Navy would make a good story too. Or maybe you already wrote about that and I missed it.

Several of my family did time in the armed forces. Two of them Navy men in the Pacific. There was my crazy Marine uncle but he'd kill me if I inferred he was a Navy man too!

You are a good example of the positives that come out of serving our country...even if those "positives" may not have been readily identified at the time.

Keep up the great writing!