Where In The Hell Did They Go?

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

It's funny how late in life, you can come across some seemingly insignificant piece of long ago memorabilia that can trigger a virtual avalanche of memories.

My running mate, Adrian 'The Emperor of The Topside Gang' Stuke mailed me an old dog-eared business card. An old worn dirty card that looks like something you would pull out of an eighteenth century cadaver's pocket. It reads: Known from Ocean to Ocean, LOVEY'S NAVAL GRILL and KRAZY KAT, Where Friends Meet, at the Main Naval Base Gate, 9896 Hampton Boulevard, NORFOLK, VA

Lovey's Krazy Kat, once an icon of the Atlantic Fleet along with Bells Bar and Naval Tailors, The Big "O", The Victory, Old Bill's, Little Italy, and the Jolly Rodgers… Gone. Victims of the old wrecking ball of progress.

Long ago on the night after payday, Lovey's was a bluejacket's paradise. The strip outside the main gate at Norfolk's' Naval Operating Base (NOB) was one-stop shopping for suds, sex and seamstress services.

You could get a snoot full, digital stimulation, a marginally acceptable meal, a game of pool, dance with women playing dental hookey, blow fifteen bucks on a 'out by the railroad tracks' stand-up, listen to shitkickin' standards played on some of the world's most abused jukeboxes and pledge eternal love to creatures that would give your mother a heart attack.

Lovey's Krazy Kat… Known from ocean to ocean. We're not talking small reputation here. We're talking an establishment known throughout the free world. We are referring to a known conduit through which the riff raff of the seven seas passed at one time or another… A location with once-upon-a-time specific longitude and latitude coordinates, where women's breast attributes were discussed in semi-coherent multilingual conversations over glasses of cheap draft beer. A location where friends and shipmates met, according to the card, to crowd the bar… Step all over each others' liberty shined brogans… Throw quarters in a battered juke box… Shoot pool on tables that looked like a mole convention had been held under the felt… Eat lukewarm pizza with toppings recently removed from snap traps… And fondle women with Roller Derby scars.

Where did they go, the bluejacket bars? The dark, smokey joints with yellowed photographs of ships that got decommissioned and towed up to the scrap yard before anyone in the place was born. The places where big-busted, hard as nails peroxide blondes drew beer in heavy bottomed mugs, blew the excess foam off and yelled,

"Hey Dumbass, that'll be two bits."

And slid it to you down a bar that had fifty coats of spar varnish on it.

What happened to 'crew hangouts' within walking distance of your mooring lines? What happened to the dingy joints, illuminated by neon beer signs that had tin 'BUY BEER NUTS' signs at eye level above the urinals? Where does a tight crew buy a 'reporting aboard' shipmate a round of 'welcome aboard' beers? Where do you take new dads to smoke their cigars and toast the new arrivals?

Where do the Salvation Army 'Basket Hat' gals go to fill their tambourines on payday? Where do you go to find tables with ship's names and hull numbers carved in them and old faded The NAVY NEEDS YOU posters in dust covered frames hanging on the wall next to an old 48-star flag? Where are those places? What in the hell happened to them?

Where do you take a wife or a son to show them the traditional hangouts of your old Squadron? Where can you go to see an old Squadron Six pennant or SUBDIV 62 burgee? An old photo of Orion… Kittiwake… The yellowed photos of old SUBRON SIX meateaters? Where do you go on Halloween night to find a bartender wearing a gorilla mask and a chief's hat? Or a barmaid that will come to your table, hike up her skirt and let you pin a newly issued set of Dolphins on her panties and get a kiss? Do those places exist anymore?

What the hell did the United States Navy do to Hampton Boulevard? They keep asking, "What can we do to improve morale?" Stop leveling our gahdam history. Leave us places to go and run our hands across the tangible evidence of our youthful contribution to the defense of our nation… When we plowed the North Atlantic and knew we would live forever. Sure, base Burger Kings and Taco Tilly's drive throughs, Jiffy Lubes, and Wal-Mart size ships service and curbside geedunk distribution venues are nifty.

But where are the old standby joints where young bluejackets go to hoot, holler… Piss against the wind, cuss northern runs… Light up cheap cigars… Make crude comments… Bitch about sea print movies, chow selections, naval leadership, voo-doo meteorology, stinking flash pads, tender MAAs, Trailways bus schedules, lack of paper in the head, the number of flies on the Shell 'No Pest' strip over the cash register… Barmaid perfume… The prime interest rate… The price of snow tires… Superstructure rust… And the skipper of the Orion finding a previous-owner tampon in a bridge butt kit?

They were more than bars. First and foremost, they were the repositories of small bits and pieces of the history of America's forces afloat. They were the unofficial clubhouses of the lads who went to sea under the flag of the United States. They were places where a downline bluejacket could go and park his butt where his heroes of the past had once parked their butts. They were the poor man's Valhalla, where lads who plowed deep salt water, could go and share fellowship and sea stories with fellow practitioners of the nautical arts… A place where well intentioned exaggeration and bullshit-gilded flawed recollection were readily forgiven and accepted.

They were places where lonely strays could find convenient harborage alongside a warm feminine fanny on a cold night… For less than forty bucks.

A curse on the brainless bastards who destroyed them. Removing history and erasing everything but the warm memories in old sailor's hearts and replacing that tradition with grass and sterile asphalt was a stupid idea… A decision probably made by a bunch of supposedly civic-minded mass-manipulated hand puppets who had no idea they had removed our Br'er Rabbit laughing places.

Adrian Stuke, my forever running mate and fellow ark animal returned to me the nickel plated memories of youth… Long ago shore patrol paddy wagon pier deliveries… Standing on sidewalks in penguin polka weather singing Christmas carols with a Salvation Army band, drunker than a hoot owl… Shooting pool for Slim Jims two days before payday… Leaving the lucky silver dollar your uncle Joe gave you, for a barmaid tip because on E-3 pay you had to survive on living moment to moment.

Lovey's Krazy Kat is gone, only to live on for the brief time God has allotted the remaining coots who patronized this historical landmark. The corner opposite the main gate at the Norfolk Naval Base is a bare as a baby's fantail . But somewhere out there, somewhere on this earth, there has to be a plywood head stall door panel with the date I qualified, whittled on it… Right beside, "For a good time phone Trixie NA 3-2195 Newport News" written in ballpoint…The only remaining evidence of an old wornout, long ago bluejackets boatservice.

 

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