Answering Bells on the Battery

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Running submerged, the control room, engine rooms (when you were on the snorkel) and the maneuvering room were the only compartments 'open for business'. Those not on watch played Hearts or Acey Duecy, watched movies, drank endless cups of coffee and told bullshit stories, or argued about anything under the sun.

Aimless, stupid arguments passed time... Submarine sailors can spend hours arguing about stuff nobody in their right mind would give a damn about. We spent half the night trying to remember the words to radio ad jingles... Totally stupid stuff... Very important at the time. Being on subs, you miss a lot of what's going on in the real world... Memory is very important.

"Hey Dex..."

"Jeezus, I was dead asleep. What'n the hell do you want? It better be life or death, you idiot. Watcha' need?"

"What was the name of Hopalong Cassidy's horse?"

"Hoppy's horse? Topper... Did you jack me out of a deep sleep for that?"

"Yeah, you can go back to sleep now..."

"You're an idiot... A stark-raving idiot."

"You wouldn't happen to know the name of Gene's horse, would you?"

"Autry? Champion... What is it, gahdam cowboy horse night in the crew's mess? Are you stupid bastards inventorying cowboy horses?"

"Yeah... After chow, we got into Rita Hayworth films but that played out pretty quick. Then we got into cowboy horses."

"Get outta here..."

"Topper... You sure?"

"I'm sure... I saw every damn Hoppy movie ever made. Now, get the hell outta here."

A couple of nights later, I'd be rooting out some poor sonuvabitch trying to get the name of some jerk who played with the New York Giants and dropped a perfectly thrown Y. A. Tittle pass in a game against the Bears.

We were all idiots.

There are times now when I would give anything to have someone to drink lousy coffee with and bullshit with about stupid stuff at midnight.

You got an education on diesel boats that you couldn't have gotten in any university in the country. One night, we spent the better part of two hours discussing various nipple types.

There were nights when we had ten to fifteen guys sitting around drinking coffee, waiting for the first tray of whatever the night baker was turning out to come out of the oven in the galley, and trying to figure out if anyone would believe Him if Jesus showed up in south Alabama.

I used to hate discussions about the stuff you could do by jury-rigging equipment on the boat.

"Dex... The boat has been trimmed to perfect neutral buoyancy. You raise all the masts... Both scopes... BLR mast... Snorkel... Will the change in displacement make the boat surface?"

"Who gives a shit?"

"You wear Dolphins... You should care."

"Give me one good reason, horsefly."

Anyone remember that stupid question where you had 5,000 pigeons in the forward torpedo room and how would it affect the trim if all the pigeons left the deck at the same time and started flying around the room? The answer had something to do with 'opposite and equal reaction'... To me, it was total bullshit. I never got past the mental image of 5,000 birds in the forward room and the reaction of the Chief of the Boat when he stepped through the watertight door into 5,000 piles of bird crap between him and the tubes.

"I'm not interested... The skipper pinned special 'I don't give a shit about pigeons' Dolphins on me."

I flunked Algebra II twice... Hated complicated math problems. We actually had idiots who worked out foot-long equations for laughs. I got 'A's in History. I would sit up all night discussing the Mexican War.

Nobody would believe me, but I served with men who engaged in more intellectually stimulating conversation than any other group I have ever associated with... I don't know how the Navy chose us, but they packed the old smokeboats with some very interesting folks.

"Hey, Dex..."

"Watcha want? You got any idea what time it is?"

"What do you care? We're running at 300 feet with no turn-to in the morning..."

"Watcha want?"

"Who played Miss Brooks?"

"Eve Arden... You bust me out of another wet dream and I'm gonna kill you... Cut you into small chunks and shoot your stupid ass out the GDU."

"Nighty-night, sweetheart."

It kept us sane in a world where night and day was controlled by electrical switches and all we had was each other. Memory can be a most wonderful thing.