Stuff We Missed

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

Life is a little weird when you attempt to take a fairly serious look at it.

If you went out and beat someone to death with a gahdam coal shovel, got convicted and got sent to prison, they would give you a room with your own rack, a window, fresh air, regular hot showers, and access to a TV… And with the current state of American justice, you would be back in eighteen months.

If you volunteered for submarines, you didn't get any of that. Guys at Sing Sing were living a helluva lot better than you were. Hell, they probably got enough blankets and didn't have to steal them from each other to keep from freezing to death.

But, they also never missed stuff.

They stayed connected to what was going on in the world.

We didn't. Aborigines in the darkest jungle in Pango-Pango knew more about what was going on in the world than we did. Hell, for one thing, they knew what the weather in their part of the world was like. You can be naked, eating raw lizards and praying to a dead owl and still know that rain was falling on your empty head.

We lived in a world where sunrise and sunset was controlled by an electrical switch and if you were an E-3, time became damn near meaningless. And we lost our link with the civilized world. In short, we missed what was going on in the world around us.

From 1959 to 1965, I have no idea who won the World Series, what happened to Y.A. Tittle, where Old Gold cigarettes went, what happened to those Latex rubber girdles that were damn near impossible to get past in high school, and where all the Edsel cars went. I know that somewhere Kennedy got shot, men went into space and somehow, Indo-China became Viet-Nam… How, why and when is still fuzzy as hell.

You would come in and find yourself parked in some rat hole bar dining on salted peanuts and beer and doing your damndest to wind down. Some guy would say something like,

"Hey sailor, whatcha think of John Glenn?"

"Who's John Glenn?"

"The guy they shot into space."

"What did he do that got him shot into space?"

"He's one of them astronaut fellows… Them NASA spacemen."

"I'll take your word for it, sir… Honestly, I haven't got any idea what you are talking about."

"Jeezus, son where in the hell have you been?"

"Out in the ocean sir… Ask me anything about dirty laundry, freezing your butt and seagull crap and I'm your expert."

Some guy would drop down the after battery hatch and yell,

"Man, you won't believe this you dumb bastards but Major League Ball Clubs are movin' all around."

"No shit?"

"No shit, Horsefly."

"Hey… They still makin' Krispy Kreme Doughnuts?"


"Well screw everything else, when does the truck come rolling down the pier?"

It's not that we were stupid and totally unconcerned, it was strictly a matter of access. If you grow up living in a mayonnaise jar, the only thing that matters is when the sonuvabitch who unscrews the lid shows up.

"Hey… They're sendin' Army guys over to some place that sounds like Ding Bang Foo… They're helping some little chink guys fight the Reds."

"Never heard of it."

Then the Chief of the Boat would light his cigar and say,

"Boys, if it ain't on the Halifax to Hispanola chart, it ain't in your gahdam ballpark. Knock off the bullshit… Toss them cups in the deep sink and haul your worthless butts topside and turn to before I have to plant a size eleven brogan in your loafing hip pockets."

Dutch was not what one could call an avid student of current events.

"Jack, didja ever hear of the Congo?"

"Yeah, I heard of it…. Somewhere over in Africa. The bastards don't have a Navy, so if you ain't writing for National Geographic, forget it."

We were mostly around nineteen. The world expects you to be dumb and unconnected at nineteen. Hell, you could make Third Class and not understand how zippers work.

Riding submarines was a lot like watching a three-reel movie where someone had high-jacked reel # two. We had a clear picture of everything before New London and a clear picture of everything after we tossed our gear in the lucky bag and passed the Receiving Station gate. What happened in between is anybody's guess.

Before Sub School, all the guys had flat top haircuts and the gals wore pop up bras, saddle shoes and smelled like a gardenia garden. When I got out, guys had hair hanging halfway down their ass and girls were braless, wearing tie-dyed T-shirts and smelled like a bus station bathroom.

So much for progress.

I remember going to a high school football game…

"Hey darlin',what's that hanging out the back of number 42's helmet?"

"His hair, sweetheart."

"You gotta be lyin'… Jeezus, is the sonuvabitch queer?"

"No Dex… He's every girls dream."

Boy, that sent a message... There wasn't a hair on my head over an eighth of an inch long.

"What do they do for sex… Check into a motel and give each other home permanents and swap panties?"

"Oh, be serious. Ever hear of The Beetles?"

"Yeah… They crunch when you step on'em."

I spent the rest of the game hoping some sonuvabitch nailed him and rung his bell.

The Beetles… What a worthless waste of manhood that was.

After riding the boats I never caught up. Never understood poor personal hygiene… Looking like bums… War protesters… Psychedelic anything… Dope… Gene McCarthy… Hubert Humphrey… Gremlin cars… A whole lot of stuff. I'm still living twenty years behind.

But the Navy gave us Dolphins and a seabag load of great memories of tough times spent with damn fine men who in the words of John McCain, understood the concept of serving a cause greater than ones self.

The world changed… We never did.