Like they say in detective stories, "The criminal always returns to the scene of the crime..." I visit those display boats that have gone to the Naval Taxidermy Shop, gotten the bunk and battery hysterectomy and big, gaping "ENTER HERE" and "GET THE HELL OUT HERE" holes cut out for a public sheep-dip process. The process relieves citizens of bucks and allows them to be herded through a gutted smoke boat like cans of Green Giant peas on a conveyer belt. At various locations, people whose knowledge of submarine operations was obtained at a local movie house or paperback books, regale the passing mob with information right out of Mother Goose. For three bucks, you get pixie dust and horse shit.
I return for the smell... It never leaves, and to get my 59 year old memory kick-started. I return because of a more than 40-year-old love affair with the old gals. I return for the same reasons all old boat sailors do... To revalidate my dolphins and show off for my pretty blue-eyed Norwegian wife.
The old girls are always kept immaculate when it comes to external appearance. To lure the public, they paint 'em up, buff 'em up, simonize 'em and doll 'em up like a Venus Flytrap. (In Baltimore, they painted ridiculous shark teeth on the bow... Some idiot whose mommy bought him the Little Golden Book of Flying Tigers, confused a smoke boat with a P-40... Just another example of what happens when you hand naval hardware to the incompetent idiots who never rode them.)
The outside looks crackerjack but 'beauty is only skin-deep.' An old Chief once told me the one thing you had to remember about submarines is that "Rust never sleeps..." Once you get past the cosmetics, damn near every boat has four or five inches of superstructure rust flakes on the pressure hull below the walking deck. The same folks who think ferocious shark teeth improve the appearance of a sub are the same clowns who think if the public can't see oxidation's equivalent of widespread cancer, it doesn't exist.
I visited a boat that looked like it was just launched... To the unknowing, she was a doll baby... But there was a hole six feet above the free flooding limber holes on the bow buoyancy tank that you could see daylight through. I'm no Dick Tracy, but that would tell me there had to be a set of corresponding holes on each side of the tank... And the tank walls couldn't stop a high velocity lightning bug.
Like most good women, the boats are high maintenance creatures. When you get married, you not only expect both lipstick and pap smear expense, but if you start neglecting stuff you can't see, the next thing you know you are tap-dancing with the devil.
Ray Stone, RamJet, Doc and several other highly dedicated "above and beyond the call folks" are busting their collective butts making sick submarines well... Sort of like 'Fleetboat Florence Nightingales' who travel miles for the weekend privilege of doing work every bluejacket did his best to duck. Old men in need of Geritol, Jim Beam and Viagra, screwing around with cutting torches and skill saws doing work the lazy-ass municipal bloodsuckers who pocket the tourist bucks should not have deferred. The caretakers who promised the Navy to exercise responsible stewardship of these fine ships, paint clown teeth on them... Turn them into caricatures from Terry and the Pirates and consign them to death by rust.
What's the first thing you tell an 8 yr. old kid that wants a puppy?
"It's YOUR puppy. If you don't care for it, it will starve, get sick and die..."
Eight year olds don't have a bunch of old coots with seaweed fouled around their tallywackers and bunker oil pumping through their primary system to bail out their worthless butts when Fido gets worms and ticks. Any city who takes a boat, milks it for all its worth and lays three quarter inch plywood down as large sections of the walking deck caves in, should be required to post a sign reading,
"VISIT THE U.S.S WHATZERNAME AND CONTRIBUTE YOUR MOOLAH TO VIEW ACCELERATING DETERIORATION DO WHAT THE NATION'S ENEMIES FAILED TO DO - END THIS BOAT'S EXISTANCE"
No, in the true American tradition, responsible adults... The kind of men who stop and give a hand at auto wrecks... The kind who donate blood regularly... The kind who take the neighborhood elderly shopping... The kind who find the time to be PTA board members... Little League coaches... Scoutmasters and Vestrymen. The men we were proud to call shipmate and who made up the ship's company on some of the best boats God, E.B., Portsmouth, and Manitowoc ever made. These marvelous bastards, the Navy's equivalent of Jack with Magic Beans, will show up and bail out their worthless, good-for-nothing hineys.
Kinda makes you proud to be associated with that generation of boat sailors.
None of this of course applies to Ray Stone who is, as we all know, a misguided deviant, who's addicted to cutting torch smoke, sawdust and lousy coffee... The kind of unrepentant pervert who goes to HOOTERS just to see what's new in athletic socks and tennis shoes.
The After Battery Rat may be dumber than a box of Post Toasties but he can still recognize damn fine men when he sees 'em. .