Before the Psychic Network, Quartermasters

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Every boat had a couple. Why? I'm not quite sure. I understand that today nukes just phone '1-900-WHERE-THE-HELL-AM-I'.

Stuke became a quartermaster. It was a good choice since the two of us had spent most of our submarine careers wondering where we were and what'n the hell we were doing... Not that it bothered us much... Somehow the Old Man always got us back to Pier 22 where Stuke and I could crawl from there to Bells blindfolded.

The crew became extremely concerned when Stuke decided to strike for quartermaster. Everyone kinda figured we'd start running into stuff and missing a lot of good liberty because we wouldn't be able to find where we were slated to tie up. The Chief said,

"Don't worry, if the place has two bars and a whorehouse, Stuke can find it in the dark."

That was reassuring... Every place Requin ever went had at least two bars and a whorehouse... And a great cathouse to convent ratio, to boot.

The tender had all the charts. The clowns appointed as the Keepers of the Charts took their work very seriously... It was as if they were sitting on the Dead Sea Scrolls or stuff actually handwritten by Jesus.

The Old Man would send some E-3 duty gofer to 'chop-chop' up to 'Mother Onion' to pick up charts and the latest Notice to Mariners. You'd get up there and find that the Eunochs of the Chart Harem had pulled them and wanted you to walk across a bed of red-hot bayonets, jump through the firey hoop, drink the rooster blood, and sign a mortgage on your first-born child. The sonuvabitches had more logs and authorizations that required signatures than you had to deal with for a car loan.

'Quartermaster' is not a rating... It is a cult. A society of strange individuals who practice highly refined mumbo-jumbo at a level only fully understood by God and Annapolis graduates. They worship at the temple of the LORAN god... LORAN is East Timorese for 'I got no idea where I am'... All you have to know to be a QM is the adjective, 'about'.

"We are about here... At 2300 we should be about there. The way I calculate things sir, we'll intercept her about at this point."

'About' was one of the best cover your ass words ever invented. If your voo-doo proved correct, you were a hero... If not,

"Sir, I never intended to imply an exact position... Only 'about' where it would be... Proximity sir, relative proximity. Portsmouth, England and Christchurch, New Zealand are very near each other if you consider the totality of the universe."

With Quartermasters, you can order bullshit in the flavor of the month.

Never tell them that since they were wardroom organ grinder monkeys, they should wear little red suits with shiny brass buttons and carry a tin cup.

There used to be a tourist trap franchise called 'Stuckey's (not to be confused with Stuke, as in Adrian). Stuckey's sold post cards, pecan logs and stale cigarettes at prices only happy people on vacation would pay. Every major highway in the south had them... To be considered a major southern highway, you had to have the following... (A) At least two zones where vehicles were required to go from 60 MPH to 15 MPH in fifty yards... Sometimes legitimized by a sign reading 'BLIND CHILD'... Sometimes known as North Georgia blind child revenue enhancing speed trap for out-of-state licensed vehicles. (B) Two barbeque joints with hand-painted misspelled signs (I think I loused up 'misspelled'... It might have one less 'S'). (C) A Texaco station with restrooms so bad a decent woman would pee in her pants before she would use one. (D) At least six giant concrete crosses with 'HE IS COMING AGAIN' on one side and 'JESUS SAVES' on the other. And (E) Five or more Stuckey's joints with signs nailed on trees and every other vertical surface for twenty miles, telling you how many more miles it was to the next Stuckey's.

One night, the gyro went nuts... LORAN crapped out and it was overcast. The Old Man was in the conn and yelled down,

"Can anyone give me a fix on something? Gahdammit, just where in the hell are we?"

And Stuke yells,

"Stuckey's, ten miles... We can pick up a pecan log and a roadmap."

This is enlisted humor... Not to be confused with officer's humor, usually based on golf jokes or funny stuff that falls out of polo ponies.

To fully appreciate the great skill required in quartermastering, you only have to see one very drunk quartermaster making pen and ink chart corrections. It is called the 'What the hell, that's close enough' school of accurate data entry. Stuke pioneered a lot of the methodology.

"Hey Dex, what's the chance this frigging thing will go to port Diddledick, South Africa before our enlistments run out?"

"Not much, why?"

"Cause they got a lot of wierd shit floating around there... Derelict ships... Loose channel markers... You name it and it's floating around down there."

"So what?"

"Well, if we're not going there why waste time marking up the chart?"

"Fold the damn thing up and I'll stick it up under my dungaree shirt and file it in the chart locker standing on the pier disguised as a dumpster."

Stuke let me in on one of the closest held secrets of the Holy Order of the Quartermastering Pathfinders of the Ocean...

"If you are in the North Atlantic and you go directly west, you will hit something where people there will speak your language and tell you where you are. Head east and you will hit something that probably won't speak your language and has no idea where it is... Head west."