Christmas at Sea

by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
 
 

Boy, that was a real downer... The Old Man coming on board and gathering all the animals topside, forward of the sail... Guys with steaming cups of coffee in ratty foul weather gear with the COB yelling,

"Knock it off! Pipe down ladies... Knock it off... The Captain has an announcement... Settle down... Stand easy... Gahdammit, STOW IT!!"

Nothing that came down from squadron ops was good to hear, especially if the skipper had that 'My dog just died' look.

"Listen up gentlemen... It looks like we'll be out over Christmas... On the bright side, the boat is scheduled to pull in on the 28th. in time for New Years. I'm going to talk it over with the COB and see if we can work out something to leave a few of our older married men with families in."

Now, there's a good deal... Christmas out, standing port and starboard watches...

"Jeezus wants me for a sunbeam!"

"What are you whining about? When you signed up for the boats, what'n hell did you think submarines were supposed to do? Hang around the friggin' pier so you and Rudolph can play grabass?"

"Yeah Dickerson... You and the horse you rode in on..."

"Maybe we'll go north and catch Mrs. Santy Claus in her nightie while her old man is outta town."

(There was a standing joke in the boats in our day... When you pulled alongside after being out a long time... You told the married guys to take a grenade with them. When they got home, they should knock on the front door, yell,

"Honey, I'm home!",

count to ten, pull the pin on the grenade, toss it over the roof and nail the Marine crawling out the back window.)

"Gentlemen, you heard what the Old Man said... Give you ten minutes to finish coffee, scratch your butt, piss and moan among yourselves, then we form loading parties... Merry Christmas, my little darlings..."

The COB pulled the wings off butterflies as a kid... Somewhere, Navy surgeons had removed all of his kind and gentle impulses and installed the personality of a prostate-plagued porcupine.

"Okay, put your cups inside the sail door, toss the butts over the side and become the little Santa's elves I know you are. Form loading parties and hit the lower brow on Orion."

Never understood why they stored everything you needed on Orion in the forward holds and you had to haul it all aft to the lower brow. I would also bet a dollar to a donut that every report card the COB got as a kid said, "Talks too much"... He once delivered a twenty minute speech to the entire population of Hogan's Alley concerning the erosive disrespect of calling the Goat Locker, "Toad Hall".

So we moaned... We groaned... Then we sucked it up and went to sea. Nothing can tube morale like churning up saltwater over Christmas.

During the few days before Christmas, all sorts of non-regulation nonsense broke out... We all hung dirty socks on the overhead vent line in the Alley with a hand-written sign made out of a cardboard pea carton flap that read, 'In hopes that St. Nickolas soon would be there"... The cooks made mincemeat pies whose main ingrediant came from a couple of bootleg fifths that mysteriously turned up in the lower flats of the after engine house. For one whole wonderful night, we knew what it must be like to work the graveyard shift in a distillery. The wardroom either turned a blind eye or suffered from a helluva case of collective poor sense of smell.

We doctored up the words to traditional Christmas music to turn these songs of peace and goodwill to men, into tunes that would make a sewer digger blush. Looking back, we turned doo-doo into the stardust as only boat sailors can do... And did.

Christmas eve arrived and found us bouncing around on the surface somewhere in the middle of God's great ocean and then it started... Over the magic airwaves came an avalanche of some of the lamest bullshit that ever flowed from the pen of man... Greetings from every half-baked politician or top-heavy admiral in Washington... Up to, if not including, the SECNAV's cat.

"Tonight I know our men and women of the armed forces are standing their vigilant watches throughout the far-flung reaches of our vast globe... To those of you safeguarding the ramparts of peace and freedom, I send the warmest greeting from those of us here by the hearth of home fires. We want you to know that on this night of cheer and celebration, our hearts go out to you and your loved ones in wishing for a safe and speedy return to a most grateful nation... Merry Christmas and God bless, we hold you in our thoughts this night... Rear admiral William P. Numbnuts USNR, COMDOOFUSLANT."

Horseshit rained on our radio shack for hours. Each was read outloud with all the appropriate emotion by an idiot standing on a potato locker bench in the crew's mess... Morale soared with every disrespectful crack. From the radio shack came,

"Here comes another one... Wait 'til you get a load of this simple sonuvabitch... He wishes he could be with us!"

And so it went... Out of control laughter... Men who couldn't have cared less, listened to hand-crafted crap and rolled on the deck. Adrian Stukey was in his element with his accompanying commentary...

"Hey Stuke... You think these guys actually think up this hogwash?"

"Hell no... They have this third class diddledick in the basement of the pentagon who spends all year writing this stupidity."

And they just kept on coming... When we couldn't take it anymore and were totally worn out from laughing, we turned into our bunks.

In the wee hours of the morning, we hit some floating object the size of a phone pole. It sounded like a railroad locomotive wheel bounced off bow bouyancy and whacked a couple of ballast tanks on its way aft.

"What the hell was that?"

"Three men on camels in a rowboat!"

And the laughing started all over again. Somewhere in the night, Christmas came to a bunch of good-hearted, totally unimpressed men, snoring in the after battery, dreaming of mince pie, turkey roll and all the bug juice a man could want... And life was okay.

And the belowdecks watch made his rounds... Number two got blown and vented inboard... And amid the glow of red light, amid the cases of cans, stinking laundry and assorted rumpled foul weather gear, could be found the Defenders of the Free World in gentle repose... While visions of bar maids danced in their heads.

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