Twenty-First Birthday

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

I don't have birthdays… Never did. I was born the day after Christmas. As a kid, I went to other kids birthday parties but I never had one. My old man thought it was neat to split presents… One skate on the 25th, one skate the 26th… Boy Scout uniform shirt Christmas… Pants the next day. This is not funny… It's stupid. Most folks just give a kid one present with a card that reads 'Merry Christmas, Happy Birthday'. Kids born on the 26th are a great economic benefit to cheap relatives.

So my birthday passed unnoticed. That's the way it was until 1961… The best birthday I ever had.

We were out… I stood the 4 to 8 on the planes on the 25th, grabbed a leftover turkey roll sandwich in the messdeck, found an empty rack in the alley and crawled in. To be honest, I didn't even think about it being my birthday. Like the fact that you don't think about your speedometer rolling over each thousand miles, mine just rolled over and that's it.

So I am racked out, dead to the world and I feel somebody shaking me…

"Dex…Dex… Wake up and piss… The worlds on fire."


"Roll out."

"Is it time to go on watch?"

"NO… Get your worthless, good for nuthin' butt outta the rack and come up to the crews mess."

"You shittin' me? What is this?"

So I rolled out… I slept in my dungarees and rarely took off my boots so I was wearing my party duds. I came into the bright light of the messdeck and all of my running mates were there. Rat Johnson was night baker and God bless him, he'd taken time to bake a cake. He stuck 21 Marlboros in it for candles. That silly looking lopsided cake was one of the most thoughtful things anyone had ever done.

There they were…The damnedest collection of goofy looking, unshaven idiots ever assembled… A roster of men whose names and faces remain and will always remain indelibly imprinted in a grateful undeserving heart… The best I have ever known.

They had this human barricade formed beginning at the air manifold and ending at the coffee urn, so that if any officer came aft, he would have to move six to eight idiots to clear the passage way. Why? Because John T. pulled a fifth of Hiram Walker Ten-High out of his dungaree shirt and poured me a damn coffee cup half full of it.

"Take your first legal drink, peckerhead."

And I did.

I don't want to offend anyone who has cultivated an appreciation for Ten-High whiskey, but you could save a hell of a lot of money just mixing low grade gasoline with weed killer. That would create a reasonable facsimile... 'Nasty shit' doesn't even begin to describe that stuff.

"Jeezus, John T… What'n the hell is this?"

"Grown man's whiskey, son… Puts hair on your chest."

John T. had hair on his chest. All over his back, shoulders, up his neck… All over his arms, on the back of his hands… All over his feet and toes, a thick black beard, and shoe brush-looking eyebrows. The damn stuff sure must have worked... The sonuvabitch could have passed for a gorilla.

What a great birthday. You only need one of those to last a lifetime. That's all you need… Every year you just haul it out of your heart, dust it off and enjoy the wonderful memory.