Working Girls

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

If you were the mother of young lady within a fifty-mile radius of a submarine anchorage, a pool shooting, beer swilling, line handling, paint-chipping sonuvabitch did not look like a hot marriage prospect. The fair girls of Norfolk were more inclined toward lads who understood that a slide rule had more uses than to stir jungle punch in a galvanized bucket.

So if you were a red-blooded American North Atlantic bluejacket, you either had to consign yourself to monastical life of self-imposed celibacy, or dabble in the world of commercial lovemaking. It was either that, turn queer or start winking at furry critters.

That brings us to what I have always felt were the most misunderstood and wrongly stereotyped class of girls on earth… The pierhead working girl.

I'm not talking about the organized crime whore, the pimp sponsored prostitute or the "My husband is in the Med" hobby whore. I'm talking about the barmaid or little gal from East Jeezus, North Carolina who dropped her bloomers for the brass Balboas it took to put together a down payment on a mobile home… Gal who would toss in a freebie if your boat pulled in late Friday night when the disbursing office was closed until Monday… The girls you gave all your money to before shoving off. Girls who knocked big dents in the lonely world of E-3 boatsailors.

"Hey sailor, how 'bout a fifteen dollar hobby horse ride?"

"Darlin' sounds' great… Hell, I can get my laundry outta hock Tuesday."

They weren't fancy… They sure as hell weren't sophisticated, but any history of the diesel boat service that didn't include their great contribution to America's Cold War victory would be chronically flawed by the ungrateful sin of omission… And the author would be either a fellow who missed a wonderful part of service in submarines or a despicable hypocrite. They costumed themselves in plastic barets, black lace pop-up bras, high heels and fancy lace panties. They would give you a tantalizing peek-a-boo as a preview of coming attractions… pre-release advertising known in the trade as a 'tantalizer'.

We all remember them 'Peggy', 'Dixie', 'Tiger' and the rest. We bought 'em beer and gave 'em jukebox change. We told them our stories, patted their fannies and they took us in like stray cats.

We weren't the first. It went back a long time. An old World War II Torpedoman told me that in those days it was "Three dollars for three minutes" and you had to stand in line. In the ensuing years, the rates had gone up and you didn't have to stand in line. But cab fare and cash layout for the room and a hot shower, had worked their way into the equation.

They weren't old hardcase veterans who had become cynical, worn and heartless. They were bouncy-bouncy, full of life kids who truly liked idiots who rode submarines. Most of them left after they bankrolled whatever it was they were dropping their bloomers for. One gal announced that she had her tuition for "hairdressing school" and bought us a round, tossed a quarter in Bells' jukebox and kissed us goodbye.

"Hey Jack… Did you ever run with her?"

"Yeah, she was different… Used to finish you off then try'n sell you stuff outta 'n Avon catalog… Some kind of scaly skin oil… After shave that smelled like the inside of a French girls lingerie drawer… And deodorant. Bought some of that damn deodorant… Got my armpit hair all wrapped around the gahdam roller ball so I shot the sonuvabitch out the GDU."

"She seemed nice enough… What was her name?"

"We just called her the Avon Lady… The guys off the Runner called her Alice."

They were a part of it. They knocked the edge off of being a long way from folks who knew you or had any idea what you were up to. They taught you the value of human companionship. And if you were any part of a worthwhile man, you never forgot them and what it felt like to wrap your peacoat around one who came down to Pier 22 to tell you goodbye.

Ladies, I truly hope you got what you were looking for and that life has been as good for you as you made it for us. You were a piece of our screwball history.

Submarine professional ladies… A very important part of After Battery history… Maybe the best part.