The Bridal Suite

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

If you ain't an old smokeboat retread, skip this one... It will mean absolutely nothing to you. But if you rode the old 'Make your depth six-five feet and report your leaks' oil-fired, rock crushing submersible looney bins... You'll remember.

The bridal suite. Two overhead racks suspended below the forward room torpedo loading hatch. Home of the officer's stewards... On Requin, it was two Philipino stewards mates who lived up there. 'Q'... Full name something like Emilio Gonzales Juan St. Something or other Jose De Fuerra Quesada... 'Q' for short. The sonuvabitch had a name so long, he would have had a manhole cover for a dog tag. The other little guy's name escapes me.

They were affectionally known as 'Big Monkey' and 'Little Monkey'... There was no such thing as any form of what is now known as sensitivity on diesel boats.

One night, four of us were playing Hearts for smokes and ragging the cooks. 'Little Monkey' came aft, broke out a skillet, sliced up a banana, and pan-fried the sonuvabitch in some kind of wierd oil somebody mailed him from wherever home was.

"You like mon... Good shit... You like... Everybody like... Good shit... All people like."

I would have just as soon taken his word for it, but the little insistent rascal wanted us to try this delicacy he had whipped up just for us.

He passed around a Pyrex plate piled up with little crisp things that tasted like poker chips cooked in Lucky Tiger hair tonic... I ate three. All three reappeared later when I was standing lookout. The last thing I saw of Little Monkey's 'good shit mon' was seeing it splattered all over the 481 hull numbers illuminated in the glow of the starboard running light.

Monkeys One and Two had a kingdom all their own... The Bridal Suite. You had to be a member of the ape family to get up there. No normal human being would do it. First, it was damn near impossible if you didn't have claws and a tail... And second, you could get a nose bleed from the altitude.

The stewards used to get a jump from the toehold they got from the inside dogging gear on the forward battery watertight door. Then they would hop on top of the NAVOL monitor, do some kind of orangutan flip and end up in their rack. Watching them get into the bridal suite was better than a trip to the circus.

They hauled all their crap up there. Paperback books... Letters... Photos of their ten thousand close relatives... The world's largest collection of individually blessed rosery beads... A can wired to a bunk chain with a collection of old, stinky cigar butts... Flip flops stuck in between the lower rack wire and the mattress and four or five sour towels that made the air on level with the lower escape trunk hatch, smell like the lower flats of a kitty litter box.

And two gahdam ukelalies.

The bastards played ukes... Jeezus, did they play the damn things. I never recognized anything they ever played and no torpedoman forward ever did, either. I'm not even sure it was even music... More like stuff they whipped up on south sea islands when they boiled people in pots... Or some kind of Tahitian mating ritual dance. What it was, was obnoxious racket with words nobody understood. You listen to five minutes of that crap and it became very clear why the Old Man kept the small arms locked up.

When you loaded fish or had to rig the collapsable frame (strongback) for deep submergence, you had to drop the two racks. When you did, crap fell out all over the deck... Stuff you had never seen in your life... Letters... Yellowed copies of the Manila newspaper... Occupation money... Calendars from home a couple of years old...Uke strings in cellophane packs. I wouldn't have been surprised to find Amelia Earhart falling out of those bunks. They had everything.

Big Monkey was a kind of amateur barber. He charged two-bits to give you something remotely resembling a haircut. He had a very dull set of clippers... When 'Q' cut your hair, it felt like fifty or sixty rodents were making a meal out of your head.

I was aboard when Little Monkey qualified. No one in the United States Navy worked harder for Dolphins than he did. As a steward, he didn't have to qualify... But being a part of ship's company was his dream. The qual board and the officer who took him through the boat were amazed at the knowledge he displayed. He was good... Very good.

He had made very good drawings of everything. I had never seen all of his drawings... None of us had. He had a stack four or five inches high... Very detailed. Every man who took the time to take his drawings and take a good look at them, felt humbled by the effort he had put into them. The COB called me into the Goat Locker and said,

"Dex, take a look at these damn things."

He had them rolled out on his rack.

"Did you know he was doing this kind of work? I didn't know the little sonuvabitch was this talented. To be honest, we all took the little guy for granted... Never paid attention to him like we should have. He told the qual board he had been a third year engineering student. Dex, Little Monkey gave us all a wake up call and a lesson in what it means to be a shipmate."

"Damn Chief... Did Little Monkey do all this by himself?"

"Damn straight, horsefly."

Then, the Chief pointed out little notations penned in at the edges of each drawing... 'Armstrong help me... Show me this.' 'Badertcher show me...' 'Stuke show me all salvage air...' 'Mr. Schilling tell me this.'

When I read Kipling's Gunga Din and read the line,

'Though I've belted you and flayed you... By the living God that made you... You're a better man than I... Gunga Din'

...I instinctively think of Little Monkey.

We all pitched in and bought Little Monkey a set of those Balfour sterling silver Dolphins. The Old Man pinned the standard set of Gemsco Dolphins on him and then the COB stepped forward and handed him the box with the Dolphins from the crew in it.

That night in Bells, Little Monkey became one of us... He was proud.

"Ask me anything... I tell you anything on boat... Study hard... Know all boat... You ask anything... I show you... No Santa Claus Dolphins... Real 'Know the boat' Dolphins... You ask... You ask anything..."

"Little Monkey, anything?"

"You ask Little Monkey anything... I tell you..."

"What in the hell did you fry those f-cking bananas in? Damn near turned me inside out."