There Were Many Nights

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

Nights on the bridge... Flat sea... Night steaming... Full moon with a reflection that ran to the horizon... Stars twinkling like a zillion diamonds scattered on black velvet... The aroma of hot coffee mingled with whiffs of pipe smoke... The drone of two on charge and two on propulsion and the gentle roll with green water sliced by the bow rising along the tanks, sloshing through the limberholes then cascading out and over the tanktops passing the screwguards leaving a phosphorescent twinkling wake illuminated by the glow of the stern light.

Lookouts bullshitting about cars they had dreamed of modifying, touchdown runs, where they had been nailed on the six yardline... Fish that outwitted them and cheerleaders panties they never got into. Watch officers... Killjoys who kept saying,

"Knock off the crap and keep an eye on your contacts."

Then five minutes later told you about some honey they courted in their third year at the Naval Academy.

Ships seemingly going nowhere passing on and off the radar screen. Red or green sidelights turning to stern light illumination until lost over the curvature of that thin line that isolated you from the rest of the known world.

Night baking smells filling the boat below and gently wafting up through the conning tower hatch to the bridge.

Sneaking a peek at a wrist watch hiding up the frayed cuff of your foulweather jacket and wondering where the bell tapping sonuvabitch was who was supposed to relieve you five minutes ago... And wondering if midrats would include whatever it was you had been smelling for the last hour, wondering who's blanket you would have to steal tonight. And, wondering when the tin cans you were to be working with would show up.

Scope packing was leaking again, Loran was acting weird and the cooks were out of garbage bag weights.

But it was early in the run, the milk hadn't clabbered. There were some new sex books in circulation, three movies you hadn't seen and the salt stains in the armpits of your dungree shirts hadn't reached the 'rinse out radius' yet. You still had smokes and soap... Two pairs of clean socks and fresh memories of two nights with a nineteen year-old barmaid from North Carolina who was doin' bluejackets to bankroll the down payment on a second hand 'mobile home' that looked a helluva lot like a trailer.

You knew the boys of the Cubera were in... Tossing down suds at Bells and feeling up Thelma. And the kakki-sackers off of Orion were at home getting their worthless backs scratched by mamma in front of a big screen T.V.

French toast for breakfast meant the cooks were unloading the last of the pier-loaded bread... Must be going stale.

The ink on the love letter in your dungaree shirt pocket was starting to go fuzzy from moisture saturation... Sweat. In a week it would be unreadable, but by that time you would have it memorized.

Your Selective Service board was still sending you nasty letters threatening to sic the dogs on you if you didn't show up for induction. And, you wrote back that you had been kidnapped by a major world power and were being held hostage at sea, and used a fleet postage return address. They never seemed to get it until the Exec sent them a 'Get off his ass' valentine.

It was late... Damn near zero four hundred... No relief... The binocular strap on your 7x50s felt like it was attached to railroad locomotive and you had to pee like a gahdam racehorse. Where in the hell was your relief?

Then you heard,

"Bridge, conn. permission to lay topside and relieve the watch."

"Very well, permission granted."

Boots wacking ladder rungs...

"Hey, somebody give me a hand... Fresh cinnamon rolls... Right out of the oven... Rat made 'em... The animals are having an all night movie marathon... We cleaned out the mid-rats."

"Cleaned out the mid-rats? You worhtless bastards! All of you are lowlife one-way sonuvabitches. Take these gahdam binoculars and get in here, you bell-tappin, movie watching bastard. You've got a merchant out there damn near hull down at 354 and a whole lot of empty ocean."

"Hold on till I get night adapted."

"Night adapted... I've had to pee for damn near an hour and Mr. One-Way King of the Bell-Tapping Bastards isn't night adapted."

"Eat your damn cinnamon bun and gimme a second."

"Bullshit! Get in here... Take these friggin' binoculoars and go to work. I don't know how to rig a damn cinnamon bun for a bladder swing check."

"Conn, bridge... Yell down to the stand-by on the trim manifold and tell him to run four black and bitters to the bridge."

"Bridge aye... Haulin' four topside in ten."

"Movie any good?"

"Yeah... Natalie Wood... I fell in love."

"That'll be the gahdam day... You and Natalie Wood... Jeezus that's a laugh. Get in here... Now, sweetpea! Mr. Smith, tell Natalie Wood's number one squeeze to relieve me."

"You heard him... Get in there Jerry and knock off the bullshit."

Life at sea... Peace, tranquillity and the perfect harmony of dedicated bluejackets manning bulwarks of a free people and as I stood on deck returning a quart of residiual bug juice to the ocean, I wondered how much of the sea out there was fish pee and thought about Natalie Wood... Boy if she's got smoking skivvies for me, she was in trouble... I belonged to Debbie Reynolds. At nineteen, I would have pulled a six month fifty dollar dead horse for one peek up Debbies nightie... And spent a lot of time wondering if an E-3 qualified man could ever show a movie star a good time.

At nineteen, everything seems possible and what the hell, Debbie might not even own a gahdam nightie.

"Rat... Who ate up all the friggin' mid rats?".

 

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