Life in the Alley

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Hogans Alley was the after section of the port passageway in The After Battery compartment... Six racks and Docs' medical locker. If you lived there, you were non-rated, you were deck force and you were a rat. The mothers of the lads who 'holed-up' in The Alley would have shot themselves if they saw the place after two weeks out... Politicians would call it a major disaster area. The Chief of the Boat gave up on it... The place looked like the part of town your folks avoided when grandmother came for a visit. Officers tried like hell to avoid and ignore it... In short, it looked like Nagasaki the morning after. It was my home.

Someone I knew once went to Russia. When he got back he said,

"Dex, you wouldn't believe the place. Thirty people crowded into one room... They don't own anything... They work unbelievable hours... There aren't enough beds so people take turns sleeping... They're so gahdam poor, they have to pool resources to get a bottle of Vodka to pass around. You would have to see the gahdam place to believe it."

Hell, we had the sonuvabitches beat. The bastards in Russia could see the sky, knew when it was raining and could open a window and get fresh air. I knew a place where we had the Reds beat by a mile... Hogans Alley.
 Men on death row have more space. A guy in a casket has more space to stretch out in and it all belongs to him... Nobody wakes him up every eight hours and tells him to crawl out of the box to make room for an incoming stiff... And nobody pokes a foot wearing a sock that hasn't seen soap and water for two weeks in his face on the way to an upper vault.

My wife once saw this homeless individual (we used to call 'em bums) pushing a grocery cart and dragging two shopping bags full of accumulated crap.

"Dex, look at that poor man. Everything he owns is in that cart and two bags."

"Hell darlin', a diesel boat sailor would tell you the sonuvabitch has an excessive amount of gear."

To her that was just another of a long line of insensitive comments that she had come to expect from the idiot she married. Any guy who lived in The Alley would have told her that was no bullshit.

Let's inventory the stuff we had...

A Gillette razor.
Everyone had a Gillette because it made bumming blades a lot easier and the damn things were built like a Sherman tank.. You could drop one of the bastards out of a B-29 at 40,000 feet onto an asphalt parking lot, pick the sonuvabitch up and shave with it. Anvils, bowling balls and Gillette razors... Damn near indestructible.

Zippo lighter made in Taiwan.
Not really a Zippo but a Zippo knockoff called a 'Zingo'. Fake sonuvabitch. Looks like Zippo... Works like shit. You do better to light smokes by rubbing two sticks together. Eats flints like a rat tail file. Bought one once that had dolphins and insignia glued on... They fell off, demonstrating Chinese quality control and the wisdom of our Oriental purchase choice. None of 'em were worth a damn when air wouldn't support combustion.

Bead chain and dogtags.
Mostly for inspection and to check periodically if you forget what religion you were. Nobody wore the damn  things...They got hung up on stuff and they could drive you nuts when you slept. We all knew if you went below 800 feet, everyone would know who you were... Maybe where you were... That you would be there one helluva long time and no one would be checking gahdam dog tags and besides, the sharks had a helluva hard time digesting the sonuvabitches.

Loose change.
Very important for those two days before payday Easter egg hunts you got into when some idiot yelled,

"Anyone wanna go in on a pizza?"

Dog earred photo of girl.
The photo of an absolute knockout of a girl who used to love you but was now in college and letting Joe Cool feel her up in a car that daddy bought him. All because you made a four-year date with the North Atlantic. Good for reference on nights when you were starting to forget what major league tits looked like.

Skin books.
The medium of exchange on smokeboats. Your personal wealth was measured by the depth of your girlie book stash. Fortunes changed hands regularly. Paperback books on lesbian love were big because it was somehow comforting to know the guys back home were not getting everything.

Everyone had them, but damn near nobody knew what they went to. Bootcamp locker... Car you used to own... Back door at former girls house... Who the hell knew?

Foo-Foo Juice.
Bottles of Aqua-Velva... Old Spice... Mennens after shave... Vitalis... Lucky Tiger... Hell, you name it. The stuff that made the Alley smell like a cheap New Orleans whorehouse when they opened the showers for liberty.

Rarely used. Did come in handy for scratching those hard to reach spots on your back or itch-relief for your athlete's foot sores.

 Church Key.
Part of the equipment every submarine bluejacket carried in case you overhauled a Budweiser supply ship carrying beer to the Air Force Officers Clubs overseas and the Old Man could work a deal.

New Testament.
Good for when you said, "I swear to God" and had to prove you actually knew who He was. Also had a place where you could write in your name and address, in case you forgot who you were and where you came from.

Mostly from girls telling you that they were true... Loved you more than anything and would wait a million years just to feel your arms around them.. Who didn't.

Draft Card.
Good for a laugh when you needed one.  Usually carried along with other cards for free drinks in places you'd never go again.

Toothbrush and Toothpaste.
What the hell happened to Ipana toothpaste?

Cheap drugstore sunglasses to replace the two pair of Ray Bans. One pair that you last heard bouncing through the inside of the sail when you were clearing the bridge... And the pair that made a real nice forty-dollar crunch when Stuke stepped on'em.

To poke your wristwatch in and tie a knot in, which would waterproof your Timex if you had to swim back to the boat... And other things, if you got lucky.

High School Graduation Ring.
To show to The Chief of the Boat when he called you an idiot with a second grade mentality.

Sea Stores Cigarettes.
God-awful stale smokes that the tobacco companies unloaded on the Navy to sell beyond the continental limits of the United States because a hard-up bluejacket will smoke damn near anything and they knew you couldn't punch them in the nose at sea. But at five cents a pack, a diesel boat sailor would have smoked horse manure packed in a Tampon tube.

Bag of Bull Durham and a Pack of Rolling Papers.
No man would smoke homemade butts if he had a choice... Sometimes you didn't.

Reciept from Bells Naval Tailors.
For the Requin patch the gal sewed on your white jumper that read U.S.S. Redfin when you got a good look at it... And you said,

"What the hell...the stencil inside read Miller, J.E. and you finally had something Stuke didn't have."

Bottle of Pills.
Doc gave them to you and wrote 'Take 2 every four hours'... Musta worked, you were still alive.

Hell, I could go on but you guys were there... You remember.

There were times when you crawled into your rack tucked your foulweather jacket under your head, listened to the steady drip in the overhead air conditioning condensate pan and wondered just what contribution you were making to the Defense of the Free World, living like a Hindu in a coal mine... And you listened to a shipmate rooting through his bunk locker drawer, making sounds like a socket wrench band... And you wondered what life must be like on those new nuke boats that smelled like the inside of a new car... Everything bright, new and all shined up and there you were riding a boat that sold you a lighter that the insignia fell off of.

The Alley was home. It always will be. The finest sonuvabitches I ever knew lived there.