Growl, Tiger

by Ron Gorence
 
 

The ship passed between Najimo Saki and O Shima lighthouses while it was still dark. When the short-long flashing of Tsurugi Saki's white light was sighted dead ahead, she came around to a northerly course toward Tokyo Bay. Normally, the ship made fifteen knots at standard speed, but the pit-log showed eighteen; the men on the sticks in the Maneuvering Room had been told repeatedly to maintain standard turns, but the screw-count had gradually increased each time. Channel Fever was rampant below decks. The showers had run all night, and the diesel-fuel smells in the air mingled with Vaseline Hair Tonic, Mennin After-Shave, and Aqua Velva. Two rocks sticking out of the water at the southern end of Tokyo Wan, called "The Brothers," became visible at sunrise and the Maneuvering Watch was stationed. The Officer Of the Deck regained precise control of the ship's speed and engine-room snipes, who had not seen sunshine for a month, rushed topside in preparation for handling our mooring lines.

The Razorback (SS-394) had been on Northern Patrol for 36 days - not a record run, but long enough for Baby Huey to develop a hearty thirst to match his size. The ship's log read: "0830 - Moored starboard side to Berth 1, Yokosuka Naval Facility, Yokosuka, Japan. Present are various units of U.S. Navy and Japanese Maritime Self Defense Force."

Huey sprinted across the brow and jumped into the first taxi in the base-cab lineup awaiting our arrival. He was shouting, "Hiako, hiako," to the driver who had wanted to wait for a full load. Some crew members pretended they were too cool to have channel fever while others attacked the second taxi but all hands understood the fever well enough to overlook his almost-unforgivable breach of pig-boat etiquette and Baby Huey was in the Starlight Club by 8:45. It was almost noon before enough crew members had assembled to completely obliterate Starlight's tranquility.

When I finally drifted into the Starlight, everyone but the serious drinkers had a gal on his lap or alongside. These were beautiful women, in western dress like bobby-soxers back home or in full-dress kimonos. They would have been breathtaking - all of them - even if we hadn't been smelling diesel fumes and each others armpits for two months. Baby Huey's regular, Mioko, sat across from the bar on a bench and pouted. I guess she realized that tonight her "big teddy bear" would not be promising to marry her and take her back to Ohio. He was dead-serious drinking. She glared at the bottle which he was stroking with uncharacteristic tenderness.

Huey was about six-four or five, and almost as tall. He weighed 250 or so, with no beer-gut. We drank our suds from Asahi bottles in the Starlight but at picnics, in the days before aluminum cans, Baby Huey always crushed his beer cans in one giant hand to improve their throwing ballistics. He brushed imaginary dust from the lip of his Seagram's bottle.

We ate squid on a stick, drank Saki, Jack Daniels, San Miguel and anything available while we smooched, smoked cigars and discussed world affairs, but then just about sunset every face, the soberer ones at least, turned toward the commotion at the bar. Huey was half standing, with half his butt on the bar stool, leaning on his elbows toward Papa San on the other side. It was starting.

"Yeashhh, I'll flip you fer the juke-box..."

He slammed a hundred-yen piece on the bar, and with the back of his other hand cleared the stool next to him, where a shipmate, now on the floor, had muttered something like, "No, Babe. Please don't do it."

Everyone calmed down though, because Huey lost the toss. He put a hundred yen in the machine, played "She Ain't Got No Yo-Yo" and a couple of others.

"All yours." he said to Papa San.

At the Starlight, we brought in our own bottles of booze, and Papa San labeled them with our names and stowed them while we were out on patrol or weekly ops playing hide and seek with the surface skimmers and airdales. He charged us a hundred yen (about 30 cents at the time) for a glass of mix and ice and poured a very generous shot. Most of our drinking was hard stuff, because Ten High was about a buck, and JW Red was under two dollars at the tax-free package store. The real expense was the Cherry Drinks for the girls, usually 300 yen a pop, but if a guy wanted to compete for one of the girls that everyone else liked too, it could go to five- or six-hundred. These nymphs could drink a torpedo tube dry if anyone had the cash.

Anyway, about the time six-hundred yen was starting to sound cheap, and the noise level had gone past uproar, Baby Huey was back at it again. He'd won the toss. He slipped once getting off the bar stool, staggered over to the wall behind the Juke Box and yanked the cord out of the wall. Dean Martin's ". . . Amore . . . " groaned down to silence like he'd been dropped down #2 periscope well, and Huey put his shoulder behind the Wurlitzer and began pushing it toward the door. Papa San vaulted the bar in one jump, and yelling in Japanese, tried to curtail Baby Huey's progress. Papa San was about five feet tall, so I couldn't see him on the other side of the music box; Huey towered over them both.

Baby Huey was bellowing, "I flipped him for the somobishhh, 'n I won," while he brushed off shipmates like flies.

Papa San was shouting Japanese profanities, and leaving skid marks on the cement threshold. Huey's eyes were glazed over so bad that he was navigating in darkness like a sub at three-hundred feet, but he had no problem getting the Juke Box out the Starlight's door and into the alley which was lined with drinking establishments. He headed it in Razorback's direction with vividly-colored reflections shimmering on its curved glass face, and its little wheels clacking on the cobblestone. Papa San disappeared down the neon alley, screaming bloody murder and apparently looking for help.

Knowing that the police or the Shore Patrol would soon be on the way, several of us, like monkeys hopping around a giant organ grinder, tried to talk Baby Huey into putting the machine back, but he was concentrating too hard because of the added weight of a couple of guys on top of the machine.

Finally, after about half a block, the word "Beer" penetrated his fog and he agreed to stop in an adjacent skivvie house for a large Ashai. He had to take the machine with him, which provoked many excited and unintelligible Japanese voices, but we got him to sit down and drink a beer. I guess we hoped in our snickering desperation that he would pass out, so we could just find a skip-loader or something to get him back home.

In fact, he was starting to look a little drowsy when the Shore Patrol showed up, and we were relieved to see him submit docilely to the authorities. He even helped them as best he could by now and then moving one foot in front of the other as the four military police dragged him by the armpits to the Shore Patrol wagon.

"You're in a lot of trouble," one of them said as though Baby Huey could have understood either English or Japanese in that condition.

"Take me t' my f*ing bunk. I'mn tafter-pedo-room," he slurred softly.

"You're goin' to the brig, fella. We got a Status of Forces Agreement here, and you can't get away with that kinda crap."

Of course we weren't helping much: we offered everything from a twenty-five-pound can of coffee to a case of steaks for his freedom. They were too busy to write us up for attempted bribery. Unfortunately Huey liked the idea, and started mumbling that they ought to let him go with us. Their nasty mood got worse, and they roughly manhandled Baby Huey into the back of the wagon and slammed the expanded metal gate shut with a loud clang, and snapped the padlock shut. Huey sat down, slumped his shoulders and was a teddy bear again. We were just turning away from our hopeless task when we heard the biggest of the SP's bang the side of the cage with his nightstick and bellow, "Now, let me hear you growl, tiger."

Well, that was a mistake. Baby Huey woke up and tried to find the source of the voice through his glazed eyes. He shook his head once and backed up until his butt was against the pick-up's cab. He bent down like a spring compressing, and roared as he slammed forward into the locked door.

The door held, but the entire rear wall of the cage, onto which the door was hinged, flew fifteen feet into the street. Huey landed on his knees between the twisted metal and the pick-up. He got up very slowly, with two SP's trying to tackle him, one swinging his baton and one sprinting for the radio in the truck. Baby Huey walked over to the pick-up, grabbed it under the driver's door and tipped it onto its side. A rear view mirror went flying; sparkling little gems of broken window glass spread out in a fan across the asphalt, and it sounded like a dumpster had fallen out of a third story window.

We were screaming, the Japanese audience was screaming and the SP's were screaming. Only Huey was quiet. Three of the SP's were hauling the fourth out of the pick-up cab with the radio mike dangling from a loose wire in his hand. The Japanese were shouting louder now, yanking on the SP's sleeves and pointing to the puddle of liquid which was growing under the truck. We ran around a corner-bar into another alley, with Baby Huey in tow, and immediately nearly got run over by a cab. He who looks after stray dogs and drunken sailors had provided us with a base taxi.

We got Huey into his bunk in the After Torpedo Room, with a minimum of trouble because he was getting kind of tired by that time. I think we were the last ones to get on base before the gate guards started checking all incoming cabs. Some guys complained that they were held up for over an hour. Razorback sailors chuckled, but the rest of the navy simmered.

Of course the swift minds in Naval Law Enforcement eventually homed in on SS-394, and the skipper had to ensure the base commander that the villain would be severely punished at Captain's Mast. It was held two days out at sea after we departed Yokosuka, and Baby Huey was reduced to Engineman 3rd Class - suspended for one month. Huey was suspended for most of the three years I spent on Razorback!

There was never an engine out of commission when Baby Huey was aboard, not on Razorback or any other boat he sailed on. Some said that those diesels were afraid to make Huey mad, but he's the only one I ever saw actually cuddling those 1600 horsepower monsters, and wiping oil from every surface like a mother caring for a new born kid's butt. At sea he hovered over them perpetually checking for whooping cough or something. In port, before heading ashore, he always patted them gently on his way to the After Torpedo Room escape hatch. No one had ever seen him actually kiss an engine, but I'd caught him smooching Mioko once, and his scowl convinced me that I should keep my mouth shut for the rest of the century.

I did.

 

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