Pier Dollies

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I guess to normal folks, that would appear to be a derrogatory term.  Then again, normal folks didn't ride diesel-powered submersible iron septic tanks.  The women who waited loyally in all kinds of weather, at all hours of the day or dead of night...  And smiled and waved to welcome you home, were collectively known as 'pier dollies'.  Any smokeboat sailor who doesn't have a special place in his heart for our beloved pier dollies...  The same women who waited rainy night after rainy night for 'their boat and their sailors', is a coldhearted rascal.

Pier dollies were...  And always will be some of God's finest work.  What made them so wonderful was their devotion, loyalty and the ability to stand on a lousy navy pier in weather unfit for dogs, Marines and anyone in France.  They never broke faith with the ship and her crew.

They came in a variety of types from devoted officer's wife to professional 25 & 7 working girl...  PTA regulars and old barmaids fighting cellulite and vericose veins...  From starry-eyed sweethearts to veteran submarine wives who had met enough incoming boats over the years to know that all you get at 2:00 AM after all lines have been doubled up and liberty goes down...  Is a smelly guy who stinks of diesel and hydraulic oil...  A sack of disgustingly dirty laundry...  And a raging erection looking for a home.

Maybe all this has changed.  Maybe the Salvation Army and the Singing Nuns meet the boats that throw their heavies over in the middle of the night...  Who knows?

The old expression that all boatsailors used,

"Ain't nobody up this time of morning but burglars and bad wimmin..."

Didn't apply to pier dollies.  They were saints.

There were gals who used to call SUBRON SIX Ops on the Orion...  Get your ETA...  Then drive out Willoughby Spit to Fort Wool and sit there drinking thermos coffee, waiting for an old rust-stained smokeboat to come churning past Thimble Shoals light.

As you passed Fort Wool in 'balls and brass monkey' weather, in the pitch black darkness someone would yell up to the bridge,

"Hey Stokes, flash an Alpha-Alpha over to Wool."

You would hear the shutters on the signal light bang away and see the light reflections in the rising and falling swells.  Then you would see the dual flash of automobile headlights that told you several cars would be pulling into the gate at DES-SUB piers and parking in the pier head parking lot.  One guy's wife told us she could sit out there at Willoughby Spit...  Listen to the radio...  Read a paperback book and breast-feed a kid, all at the same time.  We never could have won the Cold War without gals like that.

It's nice to be remembered.  The lousy part of being a gahdam boatsailor was that nobody knew where in the hell you were or what in the hell you were up to...  And probably wouldn't have given a good gahdam if they did.  But pier dollies did and there is something wonderful about standing topside waiting to toss a heavie to some half-asleep sonuvabitch on the deck of the outboard boat in the nest...  And seeing the smiling face of a devoted fan whose panties past experience told you...  Were taking a rest break in the glove compartment of a 55 Chevy that needed new tires.  Little unsolicited gifts like that made life worth living.

If you got in at a decent hour...  'Decent hour' defined as 'Before Thelma secured the beer taps at Bells'...  You could take a dolly or two up to Bells and treat them to a gourmet meal of Slim Jims and Rolling Rock...  Breakfast of Champions.

Pier dollies had the straight skinny on the information that E-3s needed...  Sports scores, what the new cars looked like, baseball scouting prospects, and what supermarkets were running beer specials.  The vital intelligence for anyone who parked their boots in Hogan's Alley.

I have always been disgusted with anyone whoever looked down their nose at a pier dolly.  Those wonderful women were the closest to angels I've ever been next to.  Where in the world would you be able to go and find a smiling, big-busted bleached blond who would sit in a car for two hours just to wrap her arms around a foul-smelling line handler, standing under a dim pier light in a drizzling rain?  They were saints and they were truly glad to see you at a time the rest of the world cared less what you were up to.  They gave or sold at reasonable rates, unreserved, no bullshit love, to guys who weren't exactly prize packages.

A whore can sell her wares without stepping over fuel hoses and ration boxes on a cold pier at 2300 Zulu.  You can bet your thirteen-button blues on that, horsefly.

I am damn near sixty years old and no one in my life ever welcomed me and made me feel ten feet high and bulletproof like those gals did.  In my book, they are and always will be, shameless gals who did a helluva lot more in Cold War service than a lot of the worthless sonuvabitches out there taking all the bows.

And you returned to the boat...  Dropped below, your foul weather jacket reeking of dime store perfume...  Cheap red lipstick smeared ear to ear all over an unshaven face only a mother could love...  And the coffee tasted great and all was right with the world.

Sure, the little woman out in the kitchen fixing your dinner would never understand.  She never lived on the snorkel for weeks at a time in a forgotten world.  But you did...  We did.  And the world was a better place when there were women who waited to welcome worthless bastards on the bitter ends of heaving lines.

My idea of heaven is a mental picture of Saint Peter on an ivory pier standing up to his armpits in the middle of a bunch of perky busted pier dollies yelling,

"Put your lines over when you can."

If any woman reads this who ever stood out there on a dark pier waiting on incoming smokeboat bluejackets, God bless you, darling..