The Thrilling Days of Yesteryear

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

At 0530, the obnoxious, loudmouth Below Decks Watch would enter the berthing area in The After Battery… Flip on the light and launch into five minutes of complete idiot behavior.

"Okay ladies, up and out… C'mon you lazy bastards.… Roll out. Hit the deck… Drop your cocks and grab your socks..."

He would whack somebody on the butt with his clipboard and yell,

"Hey you stupid bastards… HIT IT… ROLL OUT! I haven't got all gahdam day, got a lot to do. The old mans aboard… Got orders to pull this pig away from the pier by 0800."

"Jack… You whack me with that clipboard once more and I will shove the damn thing down your gahdam throat… You got that, sweetheart?"

"Oh, get screwed… Rat and the messcooks are putting down first chow… Coffee… Fresh milk… Fresh fruit… Eggs… Bacon… They are going to secure the messdeck in thirty minutes."

"Jack… What's the chance of you serving us breakfast in bed? Be a shipmate… I'll take coffee… Some scrambled eggs… Toast… Butter the toast… And four or five strips of bacon."

"You've gotta be a mental defective… You non-quals get some chow and get your worthless butts back here and stow the gear in this frigging pig sty, for sea."

Helluva way to greet the dawning of a new day. Hell, you could look up the After Battery hatch and still see stars… 0530 is not morning. Morning doesn't start until the gahdam sun comes up… Everybody but the Submarine Force had figured that out. Anything before God hangs the sun out, is night.

But you hit the deck… Found socks and boots… Wiped the sleep out of your eyes… Sniffed the armpit of your dungaree shirt to see if you can get another day out of it before the crew asks you to take up residence in a pier dumpster. You scrubbed your teeth… Threw some cold water on your face and stumbled forward for coffee and some doughnuts… Or some chow.

After chow you hauled your worthless butt topside.

"Dex… You ready to start getting ready for sea?"

"'Bout as ready as I'll ever be, Chief."

"Well, when your running mate Stuke finds his way topside, you two goofy bastards grab a T-wrench and pop open the line locker lid studs… Then crawl the superstructure and round up any loose crap… Check the water tight lockers and make sure they are closed tight and check the bowplane bull gears and make sure they are clear. I rode a boat where some dumbass laid a paint scraper in the gears and the damn things jammed on a trim dive."

Dutch told us that story every time we got underway.

"Good morning Captain."

"Morning… All the stores aboard?"

"Aye sir…aboard and stowed."

"Anyone passed the word to place outgoing mail on the control room chart table?"

"We passed the word last night and made a run up to Orion about 2AM to pick up some radio traffic and took the mail over."

"Well, pass the word again and run anything left up with the guard mail and sailing list…There's always some brown-bagger who comes aboard at the last minute with an armload of bills… Car payment… You know."

"Aye, sir."

"We'll be taking in lines as soon as Redfin and Grampus get underway. Call down and have a cup of coffee sent up."


"Aye, sir"

"Have you drawn charts?"

"Aye, sir."

"Didja check'em for Notice to Mariners corrections?"

"That's affirmative, sir."

"Very well."

"Where are we heading, Captain?"

"North… Scheduled to operate with a pair of cans out of Newport."

"Ping time, sir?"

"Ping time."

"Sir, how come we get all the hide the weenie bullshit? I mean, how come the Squadron doesn't tag Cutlass with some of the fun stuff like getting PDCs dumped on 'em? Stuke said it's because the bastards are welded to the pier… Must be true, they are always inboard boat in the forward nest everytime we pull in."

"Armstrong… Anyone ever tell you, you talk too much?"

"All the time, sir."

"Where's that coffee? Go holler down again…and turn to son."

"Aye, sir."

"Doughnut truck on the pier…"

"Hey below!"

"Hey below, aye."

"Somebody better get a gahdam black and bitter up here for the Old Man mucho pronto…"

"Quesada is on his way up now."

"'Bout time."

And so it went… Married guys returning with AWOL bags filled with clean clothes… Smiling… Grabbing a doughnut and heading below.

"Hey Stuke."

"Yo, Babe."

"How come those married guys always come aboard smiling when we're getting underway? You notice that?"

"Horsefly, they're getting laid regularly for free… And the bastards are getting out of taking their kids to the dentist and going to those gahdam PTA meetings."

"Makes sense."

"Maybe we should pop line locker lids… Pull the lifelines and stanchions and get the lockdown plates for the brow. Dex, we've gotta at least look like we're engaged in some kind of productive work or Dutch will be up here going into one of his 'you worhless bastards' routines."

"Screw Dutch."

"Yeah… You and what six other guys? You ever see the arms on that sonuvabitch? If he ever hit a guy they'd hafta pull the poor bastard out of the heel of his boot."

"He's a gorilla in a size ten Chief's hat."

"You'd better stow that or spend the rest of your life going around with a Masonic ring for a front tooth."

Looking back, it was mindless, senseless bullshit… With conversation to match. It never meant anything at the time, .just a bunch of guys going to work early Monday morning. Guys whose entire inventory of earthly possessions could fit in your mother's bread box. Guys who cheerfully shared anything they had with each other. They did not know it at the time… Or would have thought much about it if someone said it… At nineteen, riding future scapyard inventory in Squadron Six, consisted of pooling resources for cold beer… Spending an inordinate amount of your spare time finding some gal with easily removable panties and getting yourself out of hot water with one or more elements of Naval authority.

You had no idea at the time that you and those goofy bastards you were sharing ragged foul weather gear and strong coffee with, would be forever bound by a silver pin over your pocket… Or that 40 odd years later, you would find each other in a parking lot outside of a Holiday Inn in Pittsburgh.

You would stand there with your bride and yell,

"Adrian Stuke, you big bastard… Man, you're a sight for sore eyes… Jeezus, it's good to see you!"

And two old, porked up, in need of overhaul, idiots would hug each other… Two, forever connected prizewinning jerks who had once had the world by the tail and every oyster they pried open contained either a pearl or a liberty card.