Adjusting the Screwguards

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

The animals used to gather aft in the vicinity of the screwguards, drink coffee, discuss various intellectual topics and solve world problems. Things like the long range ramifacations of global breast development... Stocking suspension systems... And other subjects of vital importance to mankind.

We would gather for these after evening chow summit meetings because the first guy topside after chow would plant his worthless butt on the after capstan. There was some kind of mystical magnetic attraction between the after capstan and worthless butts... Especially E-3 worthless butts.

In port, raghats could stow a couple of wooden orange crates. The officers were issued butts that conformed to the configuration of the nice upholstered chairs in the Orion. The lower pay grades received asses specifically designed by God to fit wooden orange crates. This is a little known physiciological fact... Just like all girls from Nebraska come with a John Deere tractor ass... Big fannies with dimples strategically placed to fit the ventilation holes drilled in the seat.

(Don't let anyone say that Ray Stone's 'Scurvy Skivvy Sack' isn't informative and educational.)

Orange crate furniture dragged topside out of the superstructure increased your I.Q. and like Ron Martini's BBS, made you an authoritative expert on any subject… Didn't matter… World politics… East-West arms negotiations… Snead's golf stroke… Surgical procedure… Mantle's fielding technique and speculation on what a weekend of sexual promiscuity with a variety of movie stars would be like… Also wondering how often Ike checked out Mamie's under rigging. You name it and the 'Requin E-3 Screwguard Council of Serious Stuff' discussion group could render contemplative judgment… Judgment known indelicately in some circles as totally uninformed bullshit opinion.

We used to look out over the Elizabeth River and Craney Island. The Elizabeth River was proof that Mother Nature could liquefy filth. The only difference between the Elizabeth River and the Ganges in India was that there were adverse legal consequences that keep folks from tossing the putrefying carcasses of animals into it… And the ashes of dead Hari-Krishna believers. But then, the entire 'in port' representation of the Second Fleet didn't blow their shit tanks in the Ganges before sunrise every morning.

The poor fish in the Elizabeth River had long ago forgotten what it was that God had intended for their diet. Local anglers all knew that if you wanted to reel in the limit before 10:00AM, the bait that was best was a combination of semi-decomposed head paper and a Texaco station tampon.

The Elizabeth River gave ecologists cardiac arrest. Anyone who ever saw it, understood immediately why Norfolk was known throughout the entire maritime world as 'shit city'. There was so much crap floating around in the river that after a carrier came in, it took three days for the wake to close in.

I heard that when some guy on the Carp qualified and they ceremoniously tossed him over the side, he hit the surface and bounced up on the deck of the Redfin. I didn't actually see it, but the story was going around in Bells… Ray Stone's version has the kid passing over Redfin and two other boats in the nest, and landing in the morning quarters formation of a Fletcher class can… I'm not convinced… Ray lies every now and then.

Coffee consumed after sundown in the glow of the stern light is the best you get… Especially when you share the times with boat sailors while you wrap yourself around a couple of cups.

"Hey Dex, you think we stand a chance of goin' somewhere decent next run?"

"I doubt it… But then it depends a helluva lot on what you consider decent."

"Jamica… Rio… Montevideo?"

"Fat chance, Kemosabi…"

"Why not?"

"Horsefly, you're riden' diesel boats… No glamour… No showboats… And you'll be damn lucky if you put into a place with cold beer and usable fuel hose fittings."

"Anyone short of smokes?"

"Yeah… Had the duty last night. Used up the last of my sea stores this afternoon."

"You're covered…"

"Did the geedunk truck come down to the pier tonight?"

"Sure did… Came about an hour ago."

"Who went over tonight?"

"Jack… John T… Fritz… The Twins… Hobo… And two or three others."

"You think Nixon will take Kennedy? Seems like Nixon will put the wood to Kennedy… Least that's what it looks like in the After Battery."

"Don't count the little mick out… He's a politically savvy little monkey. His old man damn near invented inexhaustible wealth… Besides, the sonuvabitch was navy."

"So was Tricky Dick… He was a public information officer in the navy."

"Sounds like WAVE work to me compared to Kennedy."

"Hell, Jack's a good looking womanizing lightweight… With a lot of cash."

"Bears and Giants… Anyone want the Giants for ten?"

"Yeah… Y. A. Tittle, Sam Huff and Andy Robestelli for a sawbuck."

"The Bears will go through 'em like fat through a duck."

"Bullshit… Don't spend my ten."

Conversation over coffee… A pow wow of the clan… The forming of life-long friendships. Moments in time, long remembered… Moments recaptured years later.

Someone sent me an e-mail and wanted me to tell his wife what being a submarine sailor was like. I have tried to do this with these stories. I wanted to show what submarine service… The smoke boat service was like to a kid at the absolute lower end of the responsibility anchor chain… The 'After Battery Rat' was the social equivalent of the 'untouchables' in India… The folks who carry everything they own in shopping carts and live in discarded refrigerator crates.

Nobody in his or her right mind, should ever put any weight behind the personal opinion of an E-3. If anyone does, they should immediately see a doctor and check out the level of his or her brain deterioration. Informed opinion from diesel boat non-rated personnel is rarer than hobbyhorse manure.

It started with some idiot drawing a cup of coffee after evening chow… One of the Rats that called the after battery home. He'd draw a cup from that all night stuff perking in the urn and head topside.

"Where you goin', Stuke?"

"Goin' topside to adjust the screwguards."