Lookouts - God's Idiots

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Mothers, when your male children are born, have them checked for the 'Lookout gene'. If they have it, kill them in their sleep or put them in a bag full of rocks and toss them in the nearest river.

If you can't bring yourself to do this, put anti-freeze in their formula and raise them in walrus hide diapers. Name them 'Stupid Idiots' and teach them how to stamp their feet and say,

"Jeezus, it's cold up here..."


"Sir, my 7x50s are fogged up and I couldn't see a friggin' neon elephant out there."

Fortunately for this and all future generations, the only place you can see smokeboats anymore are on the History Channel or slowly decomposing in various cities throughout the nation. Nobody has found a way to embalm rust and arrest oxidation. It never ceases to amaze an old E-3 that very intelligent people have never figured out that no matter how much lipstick and make up you put on your dear dead granny there comes a point where her bloomers rot away and her butt falls off. Two inches of rust flakes covering the top of your pressure hull is a fair indication that 'granny' has worms.

There are no more smoke-belching iron submersible monsters anymore. No bridges where idiots in foul weather gear stand for hours with frozen nose hair and ice forming on their eyeballs. Places where men wearing padded gloves like a prizefighter try to adjust focus wheels on binoculars... An exercise that's a lot like trying to wind a Timex watch through a gahdam pillow.

Until 1959, I thought the ocean was clean and blue. Nobody told me that there were phone poles, empty oil drums and whole palm trees floating around in it. Nobody told me that when God was having a bad day, He could stir up his ocean and damn near turn your duty assignment upside down. Nobody told me that Mother Nature would put some of her ocean in with your Maxwell House. Nobody told me that blood circulation in my toes would become the entire focus of my attention for several hours at a time and that I would offer up prayers… Many, many unanswered prayers for a faster wristwatch and spontaneous combustion to take place in my skivvies. The stuff nobody told me would fill the Chicago Public Library.

If you see the words 'Diesel Boat Lookout' on a man's resume, it tells you he was a professional idiot. If a man wrote, 'Lifeguard at a deserted beach', you would immediately recognize that the fellow had a loose screw. Lookout was essentially the same thing.

If a circus barge or a seagoing roller derby could have made an appearance, life could have been a lot more interesting. Only if from time to time, seagulls could have crashed into each other or a porpoise catch fire… Or a sea monster appear and take a bite out of your screw guards... Hell, we would have even settled for a flat-chested mermaid.

If you look up 'lookout' in the dictionary all it has is… 'Two jerks bored as hell, wanting the world to explode.'

To make things worse, Uncle Sam put a two-striper up there. A gentleman whose entire lexicon of the spoken word was,

"Check you contacts", "Take a sweep around", "Mind your helm", and "Knock off the bullshit".

Bullshit was the thin connection we had with civilization… That and opening and closing the zipper on a heavy weather parka. Slaves on Roman galleys had a big oar to monkey with… All we had were a pair of binoculars with so many scratches on the lens, it made you think the cockroaches had taken up figure skating.

It was a weird way to make a living. I guess in a war when there are folks out there whose sole purpose in life is to pack your boat off to Hell in a flash of fire, you become important. Not so in peacetime… Radar, sonar, and satellite observation are important… In peacetime, lookouts are a clown act.

But it had some great moments, some extending into wonderful hours in the sun. Days when seas were flat… Seabirds soared above you… Porpoise frolicked in your bow wave when it was great to be alive and being a lookout was the best job on the boat. On those days, hours passed too quickly and you wished you could capture some of the fresh air and sunshine to store and use in the months of winter operations.

When you see submarines gliding along on the surface in movies… Just sliding along gently moving up and down in an almost symphonic motion, you remember those times and how truly wonderful they were.

Getting old, you tend to have perfected your own style of complaint. I have fun exaggerating stuff… Amplifying the discomfort for effect… Old folks used to call it 'gilding the lily'.

If you had a shipmate like Adrian Stuke, being a lookout was great… You enter either one of us in a liars contest and the best anyone else could come in would be second place. We perfected our techniques, lying to each other for hours on the bridge. Lookouts run out of the truth in six months, then it gets lost in home-grown horse manure which is exchanged as the only negotiable currency an E-3 has. You just spend hours trading it back and forth like two fairy tale merchants.

There were never small leaks on submarines, they were all monsters… When you lost your bubble, you always passed 600 feet with a 45º down angle… All Chief of the Boats had hair and horns… All cooks were trying to kill the crew. The air was always lousy… The bread was stale and roach populations reached epidemic proportions. The boat was only held together by two rivets and chewing gum, and no woman ever created could resist any boatsailor in Subron Six.

You believe any of that? Good… Now wanna buy some vacation property in a Florida swamp?.