Duty Nights With The Animals

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Section Three… Kind of a family within a family. When you stand duty together for as long as we did, you get to know how everyone takes his coffee… Who has five bucks two days before payday and who's raising toe fungus in his seaboots.

Being assigned to Section Three on Requin was a lot like being a mangy, stray mutt at the dog pound that got adopted by the worst family in a rundown trailer park… Taken in by a bunch of guys who owned the most raggedy white hats in the fleet and answered, "Who gives a shit?" to damn near every question ever asked.

After the liberty section doused themselves with ten gallons of Old Spice in lieu of proper hygiene, scraped off chin whiskers with 'hand me down' Gillette Blue Blades and hauled off hell-bent for flesh and fermentation, the messdeck was like a night with Ma and Pa Kettle down on the farm.

While the duty messcooks scraped what was left of the evening meal into sharpshooter buckets, did the dirty dishes, dried them with rancid towels, stored them and racked the coffee cups, the 'stay-at-homes' sat around reading 3-day old newspapers… Trying to scare up a card game or get a ballgame on the RBO.

It never changed… There was always some poor sonuvabitch over in the corner of the messdeck using an electrician's knife to remove the green fur rim from a slice of baloney you had just hauled to and from Nova Scotia. Unlike fine wine, baloney does not improve with age… It's not good to eat the stuff after six months of shipboard birthdays. Green furry meat products… Potatoes with two-foot roots… Brown, speckled lettuce… Prune hide tomatoes… Cereal with acrobatic mites or a built in weevil population, and doughnuts that could be used as roller skate wheels, were diesel boat delicacies.

The lazy bastards in Requin's Section Three, operated on the premise that 'if a buzzard would eat it', it was still good. Somewhere we got the idea that catsup and Tabasco Sauce not only arrested decomposition but could make the dead live again… At least long enough to be eaten. I have seen grown men eat mayonnaise that could have been mistaken for the contents of a coyote zit.

But what the hell, nobody ever took the messdeck on duty night to be the coffee shop at the Waldorf-Astoria.

"Hey Mike whatcha reading?"

"Some gahdam three day-old edition of the East Jeezus Gazette."

"Any news?"

"Yeah, you will be glad to know World War II is over."

"Who won?"

"Doesn't say."

"Any ball scores?"

"Yeah if you're interested in the East Jeezus Double A Whizbangs…The bastards got their ass handed to them by the Bump-In-The-Tracks Bumble Bees."

"I mean Major League stuff… How 'bout Baltimore?"

"Baltimore? The idiots who read this rag couldn't find Baltimore on a Maryland map."

"What're you reading it for?"

"I'm queer for combine parts auctions and agricultural reports on pea prices."

"Anyone interested in reading Lesbian Lovers?'

"Jeezus… That thing still around? I swapped it for Truck Stop Babe last year on that Bermuda run."

"How 'bout a movie?"

"We've seen em all… Most more than once."

"Maybe we can get the duty officer to work a swap with the Cubera?"

"Maybe so."

"Let's do it… Get Buckner to work a deal and get us a shoot'em up… How' bout it?"

"As long as it isn't some tired-ass, black'n white, 1930's, 'Head'em Off at the Pass' cowboys vs. the sodbusters flick where some idiot kisses his horse."

"So does that mean if it's in color it's okay?"


So, you got the duty officer to make the swap… Having an officer to work a swap with another boat had certain advantages. Naval Academy guys trusted each other… You could unload weird movies in an officer-to- officer trade… First, movies were heavy as hell, and it was always a good deal to swap ten for a good movie… This way, the officer that got ten new movies for one and would think he was a master trade negotiator… When, what he had acquired actually was a half-ton of crap to jackass back to the motion picture exchange. Enlisted men understood this because they were the donkeys who did the jackassing.

"What did Jim Buck get?"

"3:10 to Yuma"

"Seen it."

"You're gonna see it again… And if you say anything that gives away the ending, we're gonna crush your skull with the GDU wrench."

"Wanna make popcorn?"

"Yeah… But, don't use the butter down in the Cool Room… Shit, smells funny."

"What kind of funny?"

"Smells like the inside of a dog dish."

"Well melt it… Heat'll kill the germs."

"You stupid bastard, it'll still smell like baby burp."

"OK… Popcorn without baby burp butter."

"Hey Jack… You gonna make popcorn?"

"Section One made popcorn the last time we were in. They left Rat Johnson a pot with a bunch of burnt black stuff in the bottom of it… Stuff he made'em use a paint scraper and steel wool to clean out. If you get that black stuff stuck in the bottom of the pot, go topside and throw the sonuvabitch over the side and we'll sign a blood oath that we never saw it."

"Dex, anyone ever tell you that you have a criminal mind."

"No… Nobody ever said I had a mind."

"Anyone wanna make a Geedunk Truck run and get some sodas?"

"Yeah… Let's pool our money… We'll put a cereal bowl out to collect money… Go root through your bunk locker drawer for loose change. No holding out. When we get the money, we'll flip to see who goes up to the pier to load the Guard Mail bag with cold soda."

"Don't forget to get one for the Duty Officer and Mr. Schilling."

"Schilling aboard?"

"Yeah… He was checking ordinance logs earlier."

And that scene was repeated many nights.

They were my family… We watched shoot-em-ups… Bare feet propped on spud lockers… Eating popcorn with rancid butter… Drinking root beer and commenting on every pair of tits owned by any actress appearing on the screen… And tossing dirty mess pots over the side.

That's what smokeboat sailors did… We either did that or just sit around cussing Master-at-Arms, used car salesmen, the Orion laundry, Castro, the dumpster watch, Navy dentists, and everybody in France.

Those nights were some of the best of my life… Why?

The ugly bastards I spent them with, were my brothers.