The Old Days

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I used to hate it when old worn-out coots used to sit in the control room and tell horse manure encased lies about something called 'the Old Navy'. Every watch, the old rascals used to talk about "Times long ago when kids of today wouldn't have lasted 20 minutes..." 'Kids of Today' was old coot code for any sonuvabitch listening below the age of 40.

Somewhere along the line, I joined the old coots. I think visions of something called 'the Old Navy' come with white hair and an AARP card... The point where studs of yesteryear become old goats. The point where you can trigger moonbeamer whines and watch people who understand fissionable doins, jump through ever diminishing firey hoops until they hop up their own stern tube.

Jeezus it's fun! Like being turned loose in a New Orleans cat house with a credit balance!

If anyone had told me at the time I would look back someday and use terms like "The best years of my life...", I would have said the sonuvabitch needed clinical help.

Time softens things like being so gahdam cold and miserable, wet and smelly, unshaven and standing on the bridge staring at endless miles of saltwater for 4 hours twice a day... Day after day.

Or painting acres of inanimate metal until you either recognized you had a blue ribbon sunburn or sniffed enough methel-ethel-keytone that you actually thought you might be a direct decendent of God or the King of France.

Or breathing totally environmentally unacceptable air... A foul, funky airborne Mulligan Stew of bilge odor, percolated sanitary tank air, cooking smells, the unmistakable aroma of three tons of fermenting dirty laundry, and 80 naughty boys who had been playing soap and water hookey for thirty days... Cigar and sea stores cigarette smoke and God knows what else. Unlike our President, WE inhaled... Regularly... Hell, the inside of our lungs probably look like the inside of a movie theater Hoover bag. Asbestos? Crissakes, we wandered around in it. Stuff was floating around like ragweed pollen. Hell, on Requin, we poured milk on it and ate it for breakfast... Asbestos? If you served on diesel boats, when they cremate you and pull out what's left, they'll have to bust your lungs up with a sledgehammer.

Ask a moonbeam Navy man if he ever heard of 'dead air'... Air that would not support combustion... Air you could test with a Zippo lighter. If you had a good flint, fully fueled lighter and you flipped the wheel 67 times and just got sparks, 99 times out of a hundred it was dead air. You could always tell bad air time... Marlboro men went rooting through side lockers for plug tobacco.

Moonbeam boys never had magic raisin bread, either. Remember the raisin bread you could shake and all the raisins would run away?

Speaking of stuff you could eat, there was something I never figured out. Out on pier 22 there was a collection of dumpsters... Each dumpster had the intended item it received, painted on it. Oily rags, metal, egg shells, coffee grounds, and edible garbage... Edible garbage? Who ate that crap? Someone said they hauled the stuff to Quantico and fed it to the Marines... Called it Halls of Montezuma Suprise... I never believed that. I think they bagged it and hauled it over to the tin can piers.

Some beamer responded to some inane drivel I wrote with, "Man, if you ain't been on a nookie dookie 120 day run with no algebra book and Vienna symphony tapes, you don't know anything about submarines... So shut the hell up!..." Sweetheart, if you ain't never laid in an after battery rack reading skin books, scratching your athlete's foot on a bunk chain and listening to four Fairbanks rock crushers hammering out turns for home... You got paper mache dolphins, and when the prince kisses you... You're still gonna be a frog.

I love this stuff! Some things never change except when you get old, you don't throw furniture.

You know you're getting old when nobody knows what you're talking about when you say diesel submarines, or gives a good gahdam... And when you watch the Discovery Channel and they show a program about The Hunley, an old Reb handcranked one compartment submersible that set up housekeeping on the floor of Charleston harbor during the great war for southern liberation. Have you seen THAT contraption? Now, there was 'Old Navy'. You know those sonuvabitches could tell you something about 'dead air'... They probably invented the stuff.

One of the great things about growing old is you run into old dogeared rapscallions like Ray Stone who wouldn't know a CO2 scrubber from an iguana prophylactic... Who never spent 120 days under anything that didn't wear lipstick and whose name was still whittled on a barstool at Bells when the wrecking ball hit the place.

Then one day, your wife comes downstairs laughing like hell with a response from some guy named Sid... A guy you never met but know instantly that you'd like to buy him a beer.

And the world's okay. Smoke boat bluejackets still live... Someone has the helm... And the first load of midrat cinnamon buns will be clearing the oven in 20 mins.

Thanks Sid.