by Mike Hemming

Bells, Krazy Kat, Horse and Cow. There were many, they were world wide, they were our homes and they are gone now. Evil progress takes away the haunts of our youth. City fathers and planners see only dens of inequity to be scourged for progress and safety. Safety? Moving them away from the base so drunken car travel is required to get back to the boat. This is progress and safety???

In truth we were safe in them surrounded by our shipmates and others like us. Only when outsiders came was trouble a real possibility. These seemingly unfriendly places finished cementing shipmates together into crews.

That's why they are so important in our memories. They were our homes and families, for young men far from homes and the rest of the world. As your family accepts you, kinda warts and all, so do shipmates and these places were where the warts sometimes showed.

Learning how to be a crewmember is taught there. Thinking back to my introduction to Bells, I realize now crew dynamics was a lesson taught in that place. Lessons that can't be taught onboard. Yeah, subs are free and easygoing in some ways, but a bar allows you to relax and a chief will impart some wisdom that might not be connected to the boat. But it can be something that will help an 18-year-old move toward real adulthood.

Your new shipmates will both test you and tease you in these places. They want to know how you will react to all kinds of surprises, from the possibility of a fight, to Thelma grabbing your crotch and asking in not too polite terms what you have in there. Of course, the crew sicced her on you... It was good for a laugh for them and to find out a little how you handled stuff. Because submarines ARE about learning how to handle stuff. Your shipmates want to learn how unflappable you are, so they know if you can be depended on. We all wanted to know if a guy was dependable when the crap started to fly. Which, as we all learned, can happen at any moment.

Sure, places like Bells were nasty, dirty and smelly and most of us wouldn't go into a place like it today. Of course it wouldn't be full of our friends eithe, or at least men like us. We humans like to be among our own kind, whatever the distinction might be. Subs, skimmers, airdales, whatever, want to be with those that they consider friends, or at least not enemies. When a place like Bells became a sub sailor bar, it made it safer for us.

I miss those places... Bells, the Big 'O' and when you were in Norfolk Navel Shipyard in Portsmouth VA., the Jet Lounge.

Bells... I miss the stink, noise, the jar of pickled pigs feet on the bar. You know, the one that the number of things in there never changed during your entire enlistment. The night a TM off the Redfin threw an ear of corn in the door at Dixie's feet, yelling, "Soooui, pig, pig, pig." Old drunk Buster wanting to shine your shoes for a dime and having them look worse when he was done, but you let him do it anyway. Hogjowls throwing his false teeth into his beer to keep Thelma from drinking it while he shot pool. The lopsided pool tables that made the game a challenge, like shooting pool on a diamond deck plate. The hamburgers that weren't too bad, or was I that drunk everytime I ate one? Going from an 18-year-old that couldn't stay sober on one beer, to a 19-year-old that could drink a dozen before midnight and find his way back to J-50 and his bunk without puking. Hey, another one of life's little lessons that needs learning.

But the beer was cold and we were among friends and shipmates... It was home for a while. Gone now, but I'm sure they have been replaced, somewhere, at least I hope so.