Special Meals at Sea

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

How many times over the years has your wife prepared some meal, or your friends mentioned some dish and your mind drifted back to a day long ago when you remember a grinning cook saying,

"Man are you ugly bastards gonna like this… Learned from a stew burner off the Clamagore… You're gonna love this stuff… Meatloaf a la SUBRON 4."

And it was every bit as great as advertised.?

Compared to the seagoing monsters they bolt together today, a smoke-belching fleet-boat was small. Small boats with a single crew become a kind of communal order with a tribal hierarchy. We had a tribal king… A medicine man and some witch doctors who wore aprons and worked their magic in stainless steel pots and baking trays in a galley no woman would tolerate in today's modern appliance world. Hell, kitchens in house trailers are bigger than the huts our witch doctors operated out of.

Boat cooks were the best… Any ship that got a cook with the hull numbers of submarines listed as previous duty stations, held a three day prayer meeting to thank the almighty for bestowing such a gift on them. I don't know what the next level of proficiency is just above 'Totally gahdam magnificent', but that was what they were… Not at the time, but later when we had grown older and had the experience and the ability to make the comparisons necessary to recognize truly gifted cooks. At the time, they were a bunch of loudmouth jerks in dirty aprons who spent far too much time telling you how much you were going to like what they had been spending the last three hours whipping up for your express delight. A good submarine cook can bake a tractor tire and make it taste great.

One of their secrets was that they got the ingredients beyond the bounds and limits of the Naval Supply System. Every gut bandit had secret stashes of sherry… Spices that could start a major blaze in your nose hair and cans of saved grease and other culinary drippings that would have given a health inspector a terminal stroke.

They made trips to the base commissary like 'little Mary the Housewife' to buy stuff big ships never saw… The Requin cooks bought bottles of 'Texas Pete' by the boxcar load. We had guys… Mostly snipes who would have poured Texas Pete on an ice cream sundae… We had animals living in our engine rooms that would have eaten links out of our anchor chain if they could have laid their hands on a 55-gallon drum of 'Louisiana Hot Sauce'. The sonuvabitches had to have had asbestos-lined colons.

We had a cook who had a perpetual soup pot going… He just tossed leftover stuff in a big heavy aluminum pot… Kept tossing in kidney beans and adding water. It was great… We called it 'Sump Pit' soup… The stuff gave you green gas farts that could have inflated the Goodyear blimp and could make Hogan Alley rats cry… But it tasted great. We used to yell,

"'Hey Rat… Better throw in some more beans... The toad guts are floating to the top again."

But, when you dropped below on a 'Freeze the Balls off a Brass Monkey' night and called for a bowl of Sump Pit… And the Duty Cook slid it to you across a messtable, it beat anything you could get in any restaurant in the 'Capital of Frogland.


"Hey Rat… Wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?"

"Dex, they are making 110 bucks a month plus sub, sea and foreign duty pay… Standing lookout on antique submarines and sitting around in wet foul weather gear, grinning like idiots and slopping soup all over just wiped down messtables and saying dumb stuff like, 'I wonder what the poor people are eating tonight?'"

Rat Johnson was a great cook but he left a lot to be desired in the sensitivity department. He also said, 'I'm not your gahdam mother' enough to leave no doubt in anyone's mind that he had never once given birth to anyone riding the 481.

They had big old mixers that looked like the barrels of cement trucks. They whomped up stuff in those mixers miles at sea that was the next best thing to erotic thrills provided by buck-nekkit fan dancers.

Anyone who rode the old boats will remember the smell of cinnamon buns baking that wafted up to the bridge… By the time the first load cleared the oven door, the lookouts and deck officer would be on the verge of resorting to wholesale cannibalism. Any old boatsailor who can't remember the great smells of his night bakers, better get a rack at the Mayo Clinic because he is rapidly approaching test depth of mental deterioration.

They say that confession is good for the soul… Well, once a cook who will remain nameless for the sake of his criminal past, bought two boxes of illegal Cuban hand-rolled top of the line, stogies.

After a particularly memorable meal at the point where the creatures that had crawled out of the engine spaces were rocking back for a good belch, the cook passed around the cigars. While the messcooks were doing the dishes, we sat there firing up our nine inch 'contraband Castros'… Content to put a twist in the panties of the Secretary of State and tapdance in the glow of a possible Captains mast… For the simple joy of sitting in a stinking smoke cloud, enjoying a forbidden pleasure. It was another thing old boatsailors did… And did best.

We loved 'mung'… A contraction of monkey dung… It was a mixture of ground beef, onions, bell peppers ans a half gallon of napalm-based hotsauce… The next morning, it would char the seat of your skivvie shorts but the meal itself was pure Cordon Bleu.

Once we had swordfish steaks… We'd been out a few weeks and somewhere in that time we passed the point where God starts to recall things no longer living… Phase one of that dust-to-dust concept. When the cooks made the break-out for the meal, our forthcoming, seafood treat smelled a little weird… But since swordfish was not a primary dietary staple of the crew, we failed to recognize the telltale imprint of the early stage of finned-critter putrefaction… And in fact, we later consumed a load of something that should not have cheated the GDU. Just the mention of the word 'swordfish' still gives me the 'green apple quickstep'.

Every lad on board knew that the outboard waterway in the Goat Locker held the cans of warm Pabst Blue Ribbon it took to make the beer battered onion rings we ate during the movies… It was no damn secret, but by the time National Geographic photographs a GDU bag on the ocean floor containing a load of crushed beer cans we'll all be dead, sitting in Hell, telling each other lies and reminiscing about those great onion rings we had watching 'Gunfight at the O.K. Corral' for the tenth time.

If anyone tells you they rode smokeboats and didn't eat like a king, check his ass for surface ship tattoos and run like hell… Anyone that full of shit is likely to explode. .