Horse and Cow

by Ron Gorence
 
 

A high-school classmate called me with the news that he was in San Francisco. Right here, right now, today. He'd tracked me and my submarine down somehow through the Navy Locator. I hung up the outside-line phone in Control Room, and stepped through the After Battery water-tight door. I was immediately quizzed about the call. I told them about John.

"Another Swabbie from Leadville?" Gears contemplated aloud in the mess deck, "Now we can check out that Beer Can Hill B.S. you been putting out."

"Yeah," answered Rotten Ralph, "probably find out all them beautiful chicks were really Colorado mountain goats. Whole goddarn town's in the Navy now; only one left is Unsinkable Susie."

"Molly Brown, an' he's in the Coast Guard," I corrected. I also informed them that there were almost forty people in my graduating class. Big-city guys tended to be smart-arses.

We then had a serious discussion regarding just where I should meet John this evening. I had to call him right back. We considered the revolving restaurant on top of the Mark Hopkins, but the last time our crew had tried to get in the Mark, the local police had become unreasonable. It wasn't opera season, and my dress blues hadn't been pressed for weeks, so the Symphony was out. We were careful to consider all logistical and social aspects of the situation before we finalized the plan. They came into Control to help me make the call.

"Eighteen hundred. They teach Navy time in the Coast Guard? Six o'clock. Just tell the taxi driver to take you to the 'Horse and Cow,'" I told John, "If he doesn't know where it is, he's not safe to ride with anyway. Get another one."

I had to say most of it twice because I was holding my hand over the mouthpiece most of the time. They were leaning over the chart table with things like, "How much money does he have? Does he know any wimmen? Can he get a car?" We all went aft to get a shower. Plenty of water on a diesel boat in port, especially in the yards.

The Horse and Cow is difficult to describe from memory. Not so much because it was indescribable, but because it moved at least three times while I was riding the boats. Before now it had been in a stand-alone (because of the noise) building near Hunter's Point, and later I had even found it in a different city. Anyway, at the time, the Horse was right downtown San Francisco, on Ellis Street, in a brick building (despite the noise) shared by a couple of hotels, sandwich shops, and a pawn shop. Inside, though, the decor pretty much endured whatever superfluous exterior changes that time and maritime misfortune imposed.

The large mahogany bar had a brass foot-rail and stools all along one side. At the far end, it had a swiveling pull-out stool, taken from the stern planes station on an unnamed boat, and left religiously-vacant in memory of downed WWII subs. Otherwise the elbow-polished bar was just like all other bars. Nothing else in the Horse was

The lighting was brighter than other bars. Sub sailors liked to see what they drank and kissed, so several mis-appropriated regulation Navy Type II flourescent lights, presumably tested to four-hundred feet, dangled from the ceiling, and dim little bunk lights buzzed constantly lighting up whatever corners otherwise might have been dark. Of course the diesel-boat switch on the bulkhead had been correctly wired so that the duty bartender could give it a twist to rig for red whenever a smooch was immanent. Half the fluorescent tubes in each light fixture were covered with a red plastic tubes. You could develop film under rig-for-red lighting. This was accompanied by the gong-gong sounding of the General Alarm and a chorus of, "Battle Stations, Battle Stations. Man battle stations torpedo."

There were round or shield-shaped wooden ships' plaques on the bulkheads from every submarine that had ever sailed the Pacific, and most of the Atlantic boats too. The plaques had ceramic or brass depictions of sharks eating Japanese flags, Tuna fish with torpedoes in their mouths, cats arched over submarine silhouettes and wolves heads in various nautical settings. Probably two hundred, all different. There were pictures of boats in overhaul, surfacing, diving or just serving as a platform for a crew in inspection-whites, all squeezed in between the plaques. A ragged smelly old bum kept the decorations dusted and clean in return for an occasional bottle of Thunderbird, which, because of its portability, he preferred to bar-drinks. Diesel-boat sailors seldom noticed his odor.

There was a helm wheel with mahogany-colored coxcombing, seizing and turk's-heads tied at each spoke; a shiny silver bow-planes wheel, several ships' bells, and oriental dragons embroidered in every color on cuffs detached from dress-blues. There was no wallpaper showing, and the plate glass windows were covered with plywood painted navy-grey, because glass was worthless when it came to hanging things. I may be wrong, but I seem to remember that the insides of the plate-glass had a large pink pig painted on them, visible from outside - logic says it was a horse or a cow, but seems to me it was a pig - before the plywood had been applied.. Anyway, it was easy to locate our sanctuary no matter what kind of inebriating experience you were returning from. Might even have been a "Horse and Cow" sign out front.

So anyway, we'd caught a ride with a yard-bird, and arrived about an hour early. Rotten Ralph wanted to make sure we were there first, because he thought if John showed up at the Horse and Cow without a submariner to escort him, I would someday have a hell of a time explaining to Leadvillites what had happened to him. We had time to drink a couple before John came in the door. I recognized him immediately, but he had on a Coast Guard flat-hat properly squared above his eyebrows, spit-shined shoes, and a neckerchief hanging (per regulations) at the bottom of his jumper v-collar. Just out of boot. No problem, we could fix all that, but It took me a few minutes to get everybody back to their seats and quiet the cat-calling. Barnie was a little under the weather, so I had to hug him and make him repeat, "Not a skimmer, Gorence's high-school buddy ... not a skimmer."

Barnie fell back into the naugahyde booth and shouted toward the bar, "Gim hshkool budn nabeer." and grinned forgiveness at John.

So after that introduction, John shook hands with Ralph and Gears we and walked over to the bar and sat down and we ran through events of the year since we'd seen each other. Or rather, we started to. About two sentences into our reminiscences, Snorkel Pat came out of the ladies room and approached from starboard. She zeroed right in on the tender new face like a wire-guided Mk14 torpedo, and she was grinning big until John screwed up.

"Oh," he jumped up from the barstool, "Am I in your seat, lady?" Gears grimaced.

Snorkel was not a bad looking woman. Pretty old, probably over thirty, but she still had a good shape, and most parts of her face fit fairly well together. She put on her lipstick and make-up with a spatula, and her hair was bright red - not henna - red. She wore several bottles of perfume, but that was probably just a defense against our perpetual diesel-fuel odor.

"You dog-loving somobitchin, goat-screwin, g'dam arshole," and some foul words which I won't repeat, "Who the frak you think you're callin' a lady." Pretty much the standard lecture for anyone who called her names.

"These knees look like I been kneelin' in front of an Admiral?" she whipped up her skirt, and I noticed John was looking mostly at her thighs, or maybe at the tattoos on her thighs,"Ain't no g'dam for'd battery whore!" she put her nose next to his.

The bartender sounded the klaxon and shouted, "DIVE . . . DIVE," The klaxon was the main reason the Horse and Cow generally had neighbor-problems wherever it was located.

Anyway, Snorkel Pat went on to make certain that John understood that she only serviced the enlisted submarine fleet. Grease under your fingernails was preferred, and diesel smell was mandatory. She must have noticed that everyone was going back to their drinks, or maybe she was thinking of making an exception for this tender young non-submarine thing, because her voice tapered off, "Screwed every bubblehead in the Pacific twice, and startin over; might even turn YOU inside out. No more lady-crap! Siddown." John sat. He said, "Sorry, mmmmmmff." I'd gotten my hand over his mouth just in time. She didn't like being called "Ma'am" either.

John was returning to normal color, and Rotten Ralph whispered over to him, "She ain't so bad, and she really didn't screw the whole fleet - if she did, she missed me," and out loud to the bartender, "Give Pat a rum."

"Anybody don't drink straight rum is a friggn la..idy," she shouted to the world.

"Last week it was gin, I confided to John. She keeps a hundred-dollar bill in her dresser -- says she'll give it to the first man who's as good as her dearly-departed husband." She spotted Gear's flask of whiskey - he'd gotten bored with us and moved to a table - and John became a dim memory. I was thinking that John had started to look interested, but I couldn't tell if he meant to steal her hundred, or earn it.

It took a while to get back to old times, in fact we never really did. John had seen the regulation stainless steel commode and urinal in the head, and I assured him they really were off a sub, but had been re-rigged to civilian specs so there was no possibility of a back-flush. No danger of getting your deposit back in the face like aboard ship. Flapper valve had been taken off the thunder bowl but the brass plate instructions were intact. John looked blank, so I dropped the subject.

In a few seconds, he brought it up again. He had noticed the centerpiece hanging conspicuously behind the bar among the plaques, equally spaced between a brass chronometer and a barometer, above the booze bottles.

"Why'd they hang a urinal there," he said.

"That's for dolphin-dunking." Man, I thought to myself, John hasn't been out of Leadville long. I tube-locked his neckerchief.

"Submariners have to learn every air system, fuel system on the boat. Hydraulics, electrical, fresh water, salt water, all the valves and switches, and all the equipment." He nodded, really listening, so I went on, "Everyone has to be able to do everyone else's job in an pinch."

"Watch," I said and raised my voice, "How long is Razorback?"

"Three-hundred-six feet, six inches," several shouted above their glasses, "Bu-shit, nearer five inches," from another corner, and an argument ensued.

"How many valves to secure sanitary number-two for a blow?"

"Seven." said someone.

"Eight." came another. More arguments.

"Well, they wouldn't be drunk on the boat," I weaseled. "Anyway, when a guy passes his qualification tests, he gets to wear dolphins - he's qualified," I tapped mine on my chest, "but first, he has to come down here and get his dolphins out of that urinal with his teeth."

"Yuk," said my friend.

"Oh no, it's clean," Rotten Ralph assured him, "That thing has been alcohol-sterilized for years. By the way, we got a guy qualified yesterday and he'll be here tonight. See, when he gets here everybody dumps whatever's left in his drink into the urinal. Bottom's plugged with damage control epoxy. He has to drink most of it before he can see the dolphins - drown if he just tried fishing around for 'em."

I pointed out the round bottom. "Dolphins stay right in the bowl there. Red wine's the worst to see through - but don't worry, he'll get some first-class brandy too."

San Francisco usually filled with damp fog early in the morning at that time of year, but that night it came in just after sunset. Chilly. John had also just been through some major climate changes. That's probably why he decided, with regrets, that he had to miss the ceremonies of the evening. He wasn't feeling to well, and was concerned about getting back to his base or ship or something. We really hadn't had time to talk about whatever it was that he did.

Ralph mentioned that he hadn't been in the Coast Guard long enough yet to get his sea-legs because he staggered a little when he went out to the door to the cab we'd called two beers ago.

I didn't see John again for several years, and we talked mostly about our wives and kids then, so I never did finish telling him about Snorkel Pat and the Horse and Cow.

Let's see... There was the collision alarm........The easily-replaceable Betty Grable, Jane Russel, etc., etc. pin-up dart-targets where a stray dart going into anyone's drink (the dart area was above the corner booth) was cause for immediate replacement (darts which stuck in a skull only rated a curse, no drink).......The bombed-out but always-spotless heads with their shiny thunder-bowls and empty molly-bolt holes on the bulkhead where some naive fool had once hung a condom dispenser.

Historical sites can seldom be appreciated in only one day, particularly evolving ones. I'm sure John would agree.

- END -

Passed by a Horse and Cow the other day by the old Recruit Training Command main-gate here in San Diego. I wonder.... I'm gonna update my data-base next time my wife goes out of town; I'm planning to light off the stair-master tomorrow - gotta get in shape. Let's see, flack jacket, steel-toed boots, drink a gallon of olive oil first. . .

Or maybe I'll just tell another old story (to steal a thought from Dex Armstrong: I don't think Snorkel Pat would have signed Monica's qualifications card - no class); recent role-modeling oozing out of DC has probably taken the fun out of raunchy.

 

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