Observations of an After Battery Rat from The Sirago / Sea Leopard Reunion

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong

We arrived at the Reunion. The Metric Built Blonde was navigating and giving me directions since I had the helm, couldn't fool with the map and Norfolk traffic is like a Demolition Derby for employees at the Lighthouse for the Blind. By the time we reached the Holiday Inn, we had visited most of the neighborhoods in Norfolk and talked to most of it's citizens.

We arrived, parked, walked into the lobby and there was the registration desk… And what looked like a retired pirate's jamboree. While we were standing in line waiting to register, some fellow who looked like he might have been the result of an act of procreation between Blackbeard and Leona Hemlsey asked,

"Hey, anyone got a couple of Viagras? I just met a cute old woman in the bar."

What was funny was that we all had some.

At the registration desk I met Dave Glaser, one of the spark plugs of the reunion. Dave comes with a smile that looks like someone transplanted a Steinway Grand Piano keyboard in the grill of a '49 Buick… A smile like that classic painting 'The Laughing Cavalier'. You know that line in Ghost Riders in The Sky, 'Tryin' to catch the Devils herd'? Dave would have caught the sonuvabitches, loaded them on buses and made them behave. For four days, Dave herded a herd of worn-out smokeboat senior citizens through his and Mike Bikel's wonderfully choreographed magic sheep dip maze like the ringmaster of a Chinese circus.

It was great.

There were so many old barnacle-encrusted Chiefs there that on day two, they held a Leftover Chiefs yard sale.

The first event we attended was something called 'The Duck-in on the beach'. Being a diesel boat sailor, I naturally figured it would be something held in a gas station parking lot where you could duck in, meet folks and grab a couple of Miller Lites iced down and snorkeling around in a couple of galvanized garbage cans.

Was I surprised to find out that the Duck Inn was a beachfront restaurant on par with the Grand Ballroom at the Newport Yacht club… With the longest ten-switchback handicap ramp in North America. The actual ramp is 2 ½ miles long with two rest stops. While we were there, some old grinning Sea Leopard coot came up and asked,

"Hey Dex, you get the crabs?"

"Here? You got crabs HERE?"

"No, not those… The crab cakes, you idiot!"

I went up and got some… Great stuff. Everything was first rate. It was so nice, women went to the ladies room and shaved their legs.

I had two rum and cokes in memory of days long ago. The folks at the bar only use Coca-Cola for coloring.

The next day we hung around the hospitality room, telling lies, drinking Miller Lite and meeting absolutely wonderful people.

That night we were loaded on the bus by the trail boss, Dave Glaser, for the scheduled dinner cruise. Old Dave and Ringmaster Mike didn't lay on some old antiquated shot to hell 'Fly-by-the-night Bus Company' being kept alive by artificial means, bus… No sir, we got one of those giant bend-in-the-middle, with opera house over upholstered seats and ceiling mounted TV sets. I had never been on a bus with TV sets… I figured that forward of the bend in the bus must be wardroom, so I moved aft of 'Bended Knee' and sat with Glenn Herold and Ed Brooks, in Enlisted Indian Territory.

That was when we heard Joe Roche complaining about no stewardess, no bar, no observation deck, no strolling musicians.

"What the Hell is this? I was promised a massage and Champagne!"

His lovely bride jerked his choke chain and made him sit down.

For those of you who have not had the absolutely delightful privilege of meeting Elsie Roche, you've missed one of life's truly great experiences. Elsie Roche is the 'lovely lady' complete package. She comes with a radiant smile that could light a ballpark. Joe sure got a wonderful prize in his marital Crackerjack box.

The cruise ship was great… Food was excellent… One of the hallmarks of this reunion was the quality of the food. Every meal was great.

The first thing Roche, an ex-engineroom inmate said was,

"Wow! What a neat invention! A ship you can see out of."

After dinner, we retired to the fantail to suck down diesel smoke and watch passing landmarks.

We passed DesSub Piers. The destroyer tenders Shenandoah and Grand Canyon were gone… The Fletcher Class cans were gone… The Orion is sitting up in the Rustbucket Boneyard rotting… All the smokeboats are at best, memorial boats… At worst, flying aboriginal flags and loaded with weird talking monkeys who pray to a painted stick… Or became simply Gillette Blue Blades years ago.

There is no Pier 22 anymore. They have replaced it with a double deck contraption… The Magic Kingdom is gone. The double-deck Pier allows Joe Nuke to transit from his shipover pay Mercedes-Benz to the brow of his moonbeam whizbanger without the inconvenience of noisy raindrop pitter-patter on his headgear. Ain't modern technology grand?

Thanks to this innovative technologically-driven Naval architectural marvel, the filet mignon wagon can drive right up to the robot stores loading conveyor belt and be met by LT. Polyester, the Supply Officer in high collar whites, who no longer has to worry about high-altitude-delivered seagull crap.

Speaking of seagulls, I saw the great, great grandson of the gull who crapped on the piping of my brand new sharkskin dress blues in 1959. His great, great grandson was strutting around the parking lot with the seagull accurate crap delivery 'E' painted on the underside of his right wing. The boat just went on past the location of old Pier 22. Joe Roche couldn't recognize anything.

"Hell, Dex, I was in the engineroom… Everything looks the same in there."

Joe wanted them to tie up so he could go up and place flowers at the statue of the 'Lone Barmaid' but the cruise ship can't do that. So instead, we held a prayer meeting there in the presence of true diesel smoke and put in a request to the Goddess of the Main Induction for the return of 25 cent draft beer, five cent 'Slim Jims' and barmaids with loose panty elastic.

When the boat tied up several old coots noticed a nearby 'Hooters'. Dave Glaser nailed them with his Marlin Perkins 'Wild Kingdom' tranquilizer dart gun and Mike Bikel dragged them to the bus.

We returned to the Holiday Inn and sat in the hospitality room drinking beer, exchanging chunks of little known submarine history, smoking cigars and staying up way the hell past our bedtimes.

The next day there was combination pig roast and Sirago / Sea Leopard softball game.

Mike Bikel selected a site that was a cross between 'Old McDonald's Farm' and a children's petting zoo. Mike broke one of the cardinal rules of smokeboat sailoring … 'Never let Enginemen and Machinist Mates get anywhere near farm animals.'

First, several of them started winking at the chickens… Then they started chasing a turkey and writing love letters to a cow.

They cooked up a drawing for the Kentucky Derby. Glenn Herold sold me a ticket that read 'Domestic Disturbance'. At first, I thought it was a Chinese fortune cookie prediction but found out it was a horse that could have stood a chance without the hoof amputation. Glenn Herold is a Derby pickpocket. He sold one guy a ticket on a bronze horse General Grant is sitting on in a park in New York.

I have no idea who or what won the Derby, but the pork barbeque was great.

I have no idea who won the softball game… But that night at the banquet, I sure wished I owned a whole lot of stock in Ben Gay because you smelled it everywhere.

You heard a lot of frequently repeated phrases like,

" I only wear them for reading."

"Going to get my hemorrhoids worked on in June."

"Mary snores like a Santa-Fe locomotive."

"I must get up to pee ten or fifteen times a night."

"Gonna start getting social security in September."

And, "My prostate's the size of a truck tire."

The last and most magical time for me was the Banquet. The food was outstanding once again. The door prizes were great. The whole thing was first rate.

Some fellow who works for Prudential Insurance made a very motivational speech about a Med run, where he saw a Russian smokeboat and later had an Ukrainian (I think) exchange student, whose old man rode Red Navy smoke boats Then, he had a part about the U-505, a German U-Boat on display in Chicago. At intervals, he held up a photo of a Guppy conversion and we yelled "DBF!" in accordance with his initial instructions.

I was asked to follow him and make a few remarks. I'm not a polished public speaker, but was kindly received. Those moments standing there and being accepted as what I am so damn proud to be… A Diesel Boat Sailor… Having my credentials revalidated by men I totally respect… Was one of the greatest moments of my life. A major stop on my 'After Battery' magic carpet ride.

In closing, I would like to thank Glenn Herold who presented me with a fantastic carved likeness of an American Bluejacket imposed over a perfectly made ship's wheel, that was hand carved by Ed Brooks, a true master of the art of woodcarving. That work of art now hangs on our dining room wall. I am deeply grateful, and Solveig and I treasure the friendship we have formed with Ed Brooks and Glenn Herold. Solveig is having the cruise ship photo of the three of them (Solveig, Glenn and Ed) professionally matted and framed for her dresser along with Adrian Stuke, who watches her put on her nightie every night.

Life appears to have treated us well… The lads who once tore holes in the North Atlantic,have done okay. We sure talked a lot of truly wonderful ladies into marrying us.

From the look of things, no SubRon Six breast-fed baby went to bed hungry. The combined bust displacement of the ladies present appeared to be in the 25 to 27 ton range and in many instances registered max load bra cup recordings.

White hair has become general issue.

The generosity level remains as high as it always was.

And Mike Bikel and Dave Glaser can hit the rack tonight in full recognition of a job well done and enjoy the feeling of deep gratitude, felt by each and every one in attendance.

Especially Dex and Solveig.