The Snake Ranch

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

We rented a place at Ocean View. For those of you who never had the pleasure of operating out of C. E. Piers Norfolk, Ocean View was the prime cross-pollination area. If you couldn't get next to female flesh out there, then you needed an appointment with a plastic surgeon... Because you had to be one ugly sonuvabitch or you had major dental or hygiene problems.

Ocean View was the pilgrimage destination for every lunch pail girl from every mill town in the Carolinas. Any girl with a tube of lipstick, two pairs of clean cotton panties and a Greyhound bus ticket, eventually found her way to Ocean View - mecca of the Atlantic fleet... Home of the largest per capita population of totally irresponsible sonuvabitches with vast resources of disposable income, and an appreciation for sexual commingling on a grand scale.

In short, the place was, to put it mildly, a dump. Not an ordinary, run-of-the-mill dump, but a four star, major league, hazardous waste site... Home of the "World's Largest Collection of Empty Rolling Rock Bottles and Coed Bathtub."

The sign over the door read, "COMANIMALANT HEADQUARTERS - HOGAN'S ALLEY FRANCHISE" We worked some cumshaw deal over at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard and some yard bird made the sign for equal his weight in Maxwell House. The sign looked official... In fact, the sign was the only thing about our total arrangement that may have been considered acceptable.

Rent became a pain in the butt, so we sold stock, and created a set of regs.

1. You had to be single, third class or below.

2. Non-quals could buy in with absolutely no say in anything, until qualified.

3. No picking on non-quals at the Ranch.

4. No gahdam phone!! (We knew if we installed a phone, the duty officer would be calling us every time the Orion called for line handlers.)

Nobody above second class could know about the Ranch... If your mother had been captured by the Apaches or your dad won the Nobel prize, you were a dead man if someone came to get you. We were a sort of Masonic Brotherhood of Free Spirits with a totally non-regulation Shangri-La.

We took the screens out of the rear windows so we could spiral pass empty beer bottles out to our ever-growing backyard display.

We got mattresses from the shipyard and those tubular frames they used with stretched canvas for racks on tin cans. We through-bolted 3/4 inch plywood to the roof joist and two by tens supporting the deck... Rigged frame hooks and bunk chain hangers, and mounted 24 racks... 4 high, 12 to a bedroom. We were all 18 to 22, and wouldn't have known a building or electrical code if it hopped up and bit us in the butt.

We also wired the place. You'd think someone fresh out of some electrical rate "A" school would understand the danger of daisy-chaining drug store extension cords, up to six in a row. We had straight-wired three locations on the fuse box. When they remodeled the N. O. B. geedunk, Jack Pringle and "Bullet head" Jackson hijacked a large stainless steel refrigerator box... It held six cases of beer and had enough space left over to hold a VW bug.

We were young... We had no idea what normal electrical bills looked like... Our bill would have been normal for a Holiday Inn...

We consumed consumables, conducted research into the effectiveness of panty elastic, and read literature never even considered for the Pulitzer Prize. Some guys went fishing. They would bring back half-dead fish that would expire in the beer box. It later turned out that nobody knew how to gut fish.

"If you bastards think I'm gonna surgically remove stinking fish gizzards, you're crazy as Hogan's goat!"

Bill Rivers later confessed that prior to Great Lakes, the closest he'd been to fish had been boxes of Mrs. Paul's fish sticks. So, we had a vote. No more stinking stuff eyeballing you when you opened the beer box. It was the end of fishing expeditions.

If you couldn't round up female companionship, there was always a poker game. Straight poker, non-complicated five and seven card poker... No gahdam girl scout camp "high low, over and under, round and round, hippy dippy, all the red cards wild" bullshit. Straight cowboy movie, no crap poker. Some guy off the Kittiwake sat in on a game one evening... When it was his turn to deal, he said, "Let me show you a game my mother taught me one day when I had the mumps..." We tossed his idiot ass out the door.

We had 'Hat Night'... If you wanted to play cards on Hat Night, you had to wear some stupid hat. Jim Tripp had this green John Deere tractor hat. Buck stole some midshipman's hat... Kid gave him a ration of crap one day when he was standing a charge in the after engine house... Cost the kid his hat. For two weeks, all we heard from 'Annapolis Jack' was,

"Hey, any you guys seen my cover?"

Saw it every 'Hat Night'.

No TV. We did have a TV once, but a couple of fights broke out between the 'Rocky & Bullwinkle' crowd and the Huntley-Brinkley evening news watchers... We got rid of the TV.

Snake Ranches are wonderful places for the lower end of the submarine social spectrum - the After Battery Rat. You remember, the guys who hauled shitcans to the pier... Replaced locker lids... Made salad, washed dishes and made the popcorn foor the all-night in port movie marathons. Stood topside watches and announced important stuff like the arrival of the gedunk truck, and, "Hey below... Need a hand with a cab full of drunks..."

Ever see the statue of the Lone Sailor in DC? He's an After Battery Rat... His damn peacoat collar is up. How many times did some old barnacle-encrusted E-8 coot yell,

 "Hey sailor, turn that gahdam collar down... How long you been in this man's Navy?"

"30 minutes Mr. Sailor Man, and loved every second of it."