In the old gravel-gut boat service, your only link with the civilized world was via the radio shack. A cubby hole on Requin aft of the scope wells in the control room... It was the home of the spark shufflers.
If you were in tight with a radioman, you could get ball scores. Sewer pipe sailors lost touch with the teams they followed... A hazard common to submarine sailors and people who take a moon walk and miss the ride home. Actually, we lost touch with just about everything. In the war movies when they come across some guy who claims to be an American, they ask him questions only an American could answer. If they had picked me up and asked me anything but (A) The names of Roy's and Gene's horses (B) Who won World War II and (C) Blaze Starr's bust size, I would have been one 'up the creek' sonuvabitch. Hell, we didn't know Jack Kennedy was the president until we snorkeled a day later.
Only a complete idiot would make a bet with a radioman. Chances were, the radioman had the final score before you tossed your wampum on the mess table.
I remember one great night brought to us by the spark pushers in the radio shack.
We had finished whatever nonsense they sent us out to do and were making turns for home. The Old Man opened the showers... Guys were bumming razor blades and rooting around in side lockers for something that would pass for a towel. Next thing you know, the foo-foo juice came out. Now there's a myth that all smoke boat sailors eventually bought into, sooner or later... Aqua Velva was never meant to disguise poor personal hygene. No matter how much of the stuff you poured on a dungaree shirt you had been inside of for two weeks, you were still one disgustingly foul smelling sonuvabitch. You could spray French perfume on an engineman with a fire hose and buzzards would still circle around the bastard when he went topside. But I digress...
A group of us were sitting around in the crew's mess drinking coffee and ragging guys heading fore and aft. A radioman came in and told us we were in for one helluva good laugh. He monkeyed around with the RBO and patched it into something in the radio shack.
For those of you who never had the pleasure of riding diesel boats or other seagoing steel-hulled garbage scows, I must explain something here.
You could make phone calls from a ship at sea. Here is how it worked. The radioman would raise someone ashore called a 'marine operator'. Then the radioman would give the marine operator the name and phone number of whoever the bluejacket aboard ship wanted to call. The marine operator would then place a collect call and when the party answered and accepted the charges, the marine operator would form a radio link with the ship and 'Bill the Bluejacket' could talk to his sweetie.
From sweetie to the marine operator was private and confidential... From the marine operator to Barnicle Bill, it was up for grabs... Great evening entertainment.
"Poopsie, is that you?"
"Yes ducky doo, it's me."
"You miss me, peach blossom?"
"Oh yes... YES, darling!"
"Miss me a lot?"
"Oh, I miss you soooo much I can't wait to hold you and..."
"Okay darling... Are you going to meet the ship?"
"No sweetheart, I parked the car in the pier head lot... Keys are under the mat."
"Why aren't you meeting the boat, sweetheart?"
"Oh, it was supposed to be a suprise... If you must know, the kids are spending the night with the Webbers. I bought a new nightie and I figured we'd break it in tonight."
The animals would cheer,
"LET'S HEAR IT FOR MAMMA AND HER NEW NIGHTIE!!"
And so it went. Bluejackets phoning in after six months in the Med... Great entertainment.
"Darlin' can't wait... Just you and me and a can of Crisco!"
We heard it all... It was great... Laugh after laugh. A very memorable evening... Best and cheapest fun we ever had on Requin.
There were times... Moments that we took for granted and that passed with little notice. It's funny how they come back late in life when you have the time to reshuffle your memories... The collected moments that constitute your life.
Radiomen linked us with the world. Another thing we just took for granted and that was so damned important looking back. Never thanked them... Should have.
Great guys, all of them.