Razorback was breathtaking. She was big, black, and beautiful, but the little girl standing on the brow ahead of me said my submarine looked like an alligator.
My first impulse was to sternly inform this annoying copy of Shirley Temple that she was mocking a noble American Ship of War, but at just the time I had decided that an indignant grunt would be more dignified, she looked at me and said, "Are you the Captain?"
"No," I answered, "I am the ship's Sonar Technician," which wasn't exactly true yet, since I was just reporting aboard and this was the first ship I'd ever been on. I thought I'd been sublimely subtle when I implied that my perspective job was more important than the Captain's, but she wrinkled her nose in a perfect expression of doubt.
At her age, I'd been just as obnoxious, and she forced me to remember when I was a six-year-old, like her, jumping up and down in joyful anticipation of going to school with the big kids - until that moment when I had to let go of mom's hand on the first day of school. The little brat looked like she knew I was going through a First-Day right now, even if she couldn't know I had been dreaming submarines for the past six-months.
Six months ago in boot-camp, two of my best buddies were just about to join the ten-percent of those who couldn't 'hack it' in recruit training, and got kicked out. I suggested we all should think about why we had joined. As a result, we made it a point to carefully observe all Fleet Sailors we could find. We watched for them whenever we marched around the perimeters of Recruit Training Command, or when we caught a glimpse of a real sailor while doing the sixteen-count-manual with our plugged-up 1906 Springfield rifles. Then we compared notes in the evenings during smoke-break, and finally concluded that real Fleet Sailors didn't appear to be crazy or stupid; in fact some of them seemed to be downright cool. We gradually convinced ourselves that we were just being tested: if we could learn to march and hold our pieces correctly - which we knew instinctively had nothing to do with ships - and if we forced ourselves to memorize that two plus two in the Navy sometimes equals twenty-two, we could eventually get into the Navy we'd been promised. There was life beyond the gates of RTC. It was a grand revelation, and survival was the key.
In Submarine School the rifles were gone, abuse of subordinates like me - a form of morbid recreation for senior Petty Officers - was halved, and memorization of trivia doubled. New friends replaced old, and since I'd learned that survival was a specific location somewhere between excellence and failure, I set my sights. One of my sub-school classmates knew more than most of the instructors, while another student couldn't comprehend the idea of water going in one end of a pipe and coming out the other - never mind mastering hydraulic theory. My aim was excellent, and I managed to graduate twentieth out of thirty-eight. I might have done better if seventeen-year-olds hadn't been allowed to drink beer on base, and if my pay hadn't gone up to sixty-four dollars a month. I also might have done much worse if I'd found more places to serve me in downtown New London. I'd shared my survival theory early-on with a new best friend, named Romeo, and he ended twenty-fourth in our class. We graduated into the real Navy together when one morning we both received orders to submarines on the West Coast. We were sent immediately to a civilian travel office with a stack of papers. No instructions or directions - just a couple of envelopes filled with file folders. We began to smell freedom.
I haltingly told the ticket agent I'd like to have a layover in Denver so I could spend one day of my three days' travel-time at home in nearby Leadville, Colorado,
"Ok," she said.
"Can I do that?" I asked.
"Next?" said she.
Romeo's hometown in the Phillippines wasn't on the way to the West Coast, so I'd invited him to come with me,
"Me too?" Romeo asked the ticket person.
"Ok," she said, "Next?"
Damn, I thought. So this is the freedom American Servicemen defend. Government is paying our way, Coach Class, across the whole United States plus giving us time to stop at home! We packed our possessions into our seabags and headed West for the Pacific Ocean.
On the plane, while Romeo was gawking at PanAm-embroidered doilies on all the seat backs and velvet curtains on the oval windows, I saw a lone female about where I guessed row twelve ought to be, so I rushed ahead and took the middle seat right next to her. He gave me a dirty look, and then sullenly refused to thank me for letting him have the less-cramped aisle seat.
I straightened the tips of my double-rolled neckerchief as I sat down, and said politely, "Hi, I'm Ron. I'm in the U.S. Navy."
She gave me a dumb look and said, "No kidding," and returned her eyes to the window.
I told her that I'd been to Times Square - in New York City - but she appeared to be extremely tired, probably from a modeling session or maybe negotiating a movie contract back East. I told her how cold the snow had been in New London - Connecticut - and she said, "Hmm," and closed her eyes.
About a thousand miles out, the stewardess brought us dinner. I didn't care much for the sandy mashed potatoes, but the Salisbury Steak with little green things sprinkled on it was great. When I told her we only had steak once or twice a month back home, she seemed to liven up, and offered to give me hers.
"You sure?" I asked, "Want my potatoes?" she shook her pretty head while I scraped her meat onto my plate.
"They serve steak and escargot and all that stuff on submarines all the time." I was going to mention that I preferred my escargot well-done, but she'd already perked up, and she interrupted me.
"You are on a submarine?" She'd spoken her first real sentence.
"Yeah, me and Romeo are going to San Diego to catch our boats. He's going to the Menhaden, and my boat's the RAZORBACK." I thought the name sounded cool.
"Must be awful to live in such a small place."
"Nah," I said, "our boat is bigger than this airplane we're in right now." I did my figuring out loud: "Three seats, at two feet each, port and starboard, add about two feet for the passageway - that's twelve an' two; put in another set of three seats, and it would be twenty feet wide, same diameter as a sub. About a hundred people sitting on this plane, and a sub's maybe twice as long with the same number of people; 'course, you gotta put the engines inside. And torpedoes," I added for dramatic effect.
She was wide awake now, so I told her that Pan American Airlines had been able to start nonstop service from New York to London a couple of years ago, flying DC-7's just like this one - only because of its new three-thousand horsepower engines. My submarine, however, has four sixteen-hundred horsepower engines! I looked over at her to watch her amazement, but her head was bobbing against the window again, so I folded up my white hat and propped it between her ear and the plastic bulkhead. Wonderful gal, I thought, Little dopey though.
When we were preparing for landing, I told her that I had to get off in Denver, but she assured me that she was in the San Francisco phone book, so I wrote her name down. I never got around to calling her when I got out to California. I'm sure, once she realized that California is actually a pretty big place, she forgave my negligence.
Visiting home had been great, but on the last leg of our journey we were getting a little nervous, finally realizing that maybe the travel time we'd been given was intended to ensure that we wouldn't be AWOL. Our plane was to land in San Diego at 0855, and we were due to report before 1000, local time. We were beginning to appreciate that Freedom could be dangerous, and we worried about being sent back to boot-camp.
Fortunately, at Lindbergh Field, where Romeo and I parted company, I was lucky enough to pick an experienced taxi-driver who knew exactly where my ship was located. "Razorback's got Open-House today," he said, meaning absolutely nothing to me. He drove me to Broadway Pier, at the foot of Broadway, for six dollars, which seemed steep for a five-minute ride. Damn, I thought, A lot of money - but with my ship right downtown - I probably won't ever need a cab again.
San Diego's main street, stretching inland from the pier, was dominated by a huge hotel on a hill just to its left, on which a giant neon sign, undimmed by the morning sun, proclaimed, "El Cortez Hotel." On each side of Broadway's automobile traffic was a sea of pedestrians for as far as I could see, sprinkled with many bobbing white-hats and a few flashes of colorful dresses.
The cabbie responded to my comment regarding other cities I'd seen with big skyscrapers, "Yeah, can't build anything more than five stories high here because the city's built on wet sand; there's no bedrock to hold up tall buildings in an earthquake." I probably squinted a bit, but then I decided I liked the way the El Cortez looked like it was defending the bank buildings and hotels on Broadway, like a castle on a hill.
I got my seabag, which contained everything I owned, from the taxi's trunk, threw it over my right shoulder, and walked under a sign on the gate at the head of the pier which read,
USS Razorback (SS394)
Open House 0900-1600 (9AM-4PM).
A seaman handing out brochures at the gate told me to go right through the crowd. So I maneuvered my way, trying to look salty and saying alternately, "Gang way. Excuse me. Coming through," until I got to the gangway, which submariners called a brow, and nudged my way in just behind a guy with orange shorts, a lady with the whitest legs I'd ever seen, and the talkative little girl.
"See mama," she told her mother, "it's mostly underwater, like a gater, waiting for something to eat." The topside deck was only a couple of feet above the water, which lapped the tank tops and washed over the turtleback.
When her father raised his eyebrows, I came to her defense by remembering National Geographic pictures of alligators with eyes protruding just above the surface, "And see that," I said, pointing my elbow at the sail protruding above the deck amidships, "that's where the periscopes are. They're her eyes." I swung my arm forward, balancing my seabag, "the teeth are right under those limber holes where the water is draining out. There are six torpedo tubes on each side, underwater." I almost knocked my white hat, which was crushed against my head, into the bay.
I got past the little girl and stepped onto the teak deck of my new home, "Yeoman's ashore gettin' drunk," said the Topside Watch, as I put down my belongings, "So ya otta' get your pay records to ComSubRonThree if ya wanna get paid," he informed me as he took down my name and serial number and then told me how to get to ComSubRonThree, which was located aboard a Sub-Tender called USS Sperry anchored in the middle of San Diego Bay.
He didn't offer to let me leave my seabag there.
Following instructions, I rode one of the Nickel-Snatchers, a civilian fleet of little boats with peeling paint, to the Sperry. There, the man in charge - the Junior Officer of the Deck (JOOD) - told me that I was supposed to have reported aboard my ship, at Broadway Pier, fifteen minutes ago.
"I thought I did," I said, but he just shrugged.
The Nickel-Snatcher got me back ashore, and after a few minutes of high-speed running - my seabag alternately hanging on my back or dragging behind me - I got to the head of Broadway pier just in time to see my ship backing out into the harbor.
The long-drawn-out foghorn sound from the ship's whistle was the saddest thing I'd ever heard as she slowly eased away from the pier. Then she sounded four short blasts on the ship's whistle, indicating that she was backing into the traffic lanes. The gate guard, whose attitude was much too calm for the situation, motioned sarcastically to me, and then shook his head as he watched me jog half a block back to the Nickel-Snatcher in the next two minutes.
I passed through the anchored tender's starboard and then port gangways onto the nest of subs moored alongside Sperry. I was wearing one-hundred percent wool Dress Blues, perfectly comfortable in Connecticut, and required for travel, but not so good in San Diego. They were soaking wet with perspiration. They smelled so bad that the Sperry's JOOD had just waved me through and wrinkled his nose as though he thought I'd thrown up on myself.
When I told the watch on the outboard boat that I was waiting for Razorback's return, he informed me that the boat underway was not mine. Razorback was still moored at Broadway Pier holding Open House.
"Walcha worried about?" Razorback's Topside Watch said after another boat ride, "Sez here you logged in four hours ago; an hour before reportin' time. Did ya' drop off your pay records on the tender?"
"Oh well, the Yeo'll send 'em over tomorrow." he shrugged, "I can lend ya' five."
Rotten Ralph volunteered to give me a tour of my new submarine because there weren't any girls in the next group of civilians lined up waiting for an escort. Ralph had recently gone through the trauma of reporting aboard, so he ignored my smell. It was all over the boat that the new guy had said Razorback was a big, black ship that looked like an alligator, so for starters, I learned that submarines were called boats because submariners liked to ignore Navy Regs where they are designated as ships. On the other hand, floors had to be called decks, and ceilings were overheads, stairs were ladders because Navy Regs said so. I should not say "I like my new boat," because she'd sailed during World War Two, and to imply she was new was to ignore her war patrols. The boat wasn't big; she would fit inside the hangar deck of an aircraft carrier. She wasn't black, but mostly Haze Grey; only the places that might be visible from helicopters or planes overhead looked black, which was really Navy Grey #7. Apparently the beautiful part was OK, and he didn't mention alligators.
"Let's go down Tubes Forward," he said leading the way.
Ralph took me down four stairs, a ladder, descending through a two-foot square hole in the teak-wood deck called the Bear Trap with stanchions and safety chains on three sides.
"Dunno why it's called a Bear Trap, but this here's the pressure hull," he said stomping at the bottom of the ladder, "Leave your seabag over there, up forward of the trunk. We'll get it when the tourists are gone; this is the Escape trunk door."
He patted a two-hundred pound, two-inch thick piece of steel with a spinner wheel on each side for dogging it shut, and a little round window with glass too thick to see through in its center. "Doors open an' close horizontally, and hatches are vertical." I nodded, because I already knew that.
We entered the Escape trunk, with a vertical ladder, and many valve wheels and gages. Ralph repeated information I'd already picked up in school, "Upper and lower escape hatches," he motioned up and down, "Eight men at a time, with the diving bell topside."
"I've been to sub school," I told Ralph, "I know all that."
He acknowledged that he had been giving the Open House tourist lecture all day, and promised to limit my indoctrination to what would really be of some use to me.
In the Forward Torpedo Room, a Torpedoman named Hoot Gibson shook my hand and welcomed me aboard, "Been to A-school?"
"Nope, just graduated from Sub School, after Boot; but I'm gonna see if I can get Sonar School."
"Sonar Girl, huh? Well somebody's gotta find targets for the Torpedomen."
Hoot showed me the six torpedo tubes in the FTR, all loaded with armed torpedoes, plus eight fish for reloading stowed in the room with bunks mounted on top of them. The bunk hanging up in the loading hatch in the center of the overhead was called the Bridal Suite.
"There'll be a question on your final quals: 'Who is the most important person on a submarine? Answer: Any Torpedoman.'" Hoot tutored me.
I knew from sub school that the After Torpedo Room was almost identical to the FTR, except there were only four torpedo tubes, and no Pit-Sword (lowered beneath the hull at sea to measure the ship's speed) and no officer's head, but I'd been wondering if Hoot thought the ATR Torpedomen were important too, and he'd clarified that.
Ralph pointed out the glistening brass inner-doors of the torpedo tubes, and cautioned me to never touch them; their shine depended on an occasional non-qualified fool who got caught leaving a fingerprint, and consequently spent his next liberty polishing them. Gibson was obviously disappointed that I'd been warned.
Next, we went through a water-tight door into the Forward Battery, where below our feet were a hundred-and-twenty-six, one-ton, wet-led-acid battery cells. Above the battery well, the ship's officers ate in the wardroom and slept in small compartments. The Captain was the only one to have his own stateroom, which was next to the closet-sized ship's office called the Yeoman's shack. It was big enough to hold an office chair with wheels, but the chair was limited to rolling about eight-inches in any direction. I yawned as I saw my orders sitting on a Formica table about two feet wide, waiting for the Yeoman to get my pay records to ComSubRonThree. I'd had a going-away party in Leadville last night which was still in swing when it came time to start the two-hour trip to Denver. I'd had no sleep on the airplane, and plenty of exercise since, so I decided that my remaining eight dollars was adequate. I'd begun to wonder where my bunk was and when I could use it, as we went through the forward Control Room water-tight door.
A crew member was telling a couple of Air Force Officers that it was extremely important for submarines to surface exactly as many times as they submerge; Control was like a big cockpit where most of this was accomplished.
"Sort of the opposite of what your Airedale propaganda," he said, "We believe that what goes down must come up." Everyone laughed.
He pointed out two large chrome wheels, larger that bicycle tires, which controlled the bow and stern planes, like ailerons on an airplane; the trim manifold for shifting weight around the ship, air manifolds to blow tanks dry, and the vent manifold to let the air out of the tanks that kept the ship on the surface. Control contained all the valves and switches necessary to connect almost anything, anywhere to everything else. Above was the conning tower, where the periscopes were operated, torpedoes were fired remotely, and the Captain had his Battle Station. The ship's master gyro was under a chart table in the center of the Control Room, where an IC Electrician was talking to a group of civilians participating in open house.
"Look right down there," he pointed through the nearly-opaque plexiglass above the gyro, "See, there goes one now."
"I see it," shouted a young boy, "Right there; A big fish, see mom?"
I looked under the edge of the plexiglass, and verified that the barrel-like gyro was really there, with its round viewing window on top. "Looks nothing like a porthole," I started to say, but Ralph yanked my sleeve and whispered in my ear, "He's got a five-dollar bet that he can find a group of three or more people who will agree unanimously that they see a fish. This is the last group. Don't mess with him."
Just then, the lady with the boy said, "Yes, darling. I see it now."
The radio shack was in the after end of the Control room, and had room for two office chairs. Several radios and two Remingtons. The next water-tight door aft led to the Crew's mess and the After Battery compartment. Another hundred-and-twenty-six battery cells were below where the crew slept, and where Ralph had said my bunk would be. My eyelids lifted a little at the word bunk, so he said, "You look tired."
Little Shirley Temple entered Control from the Forward Battery just as Ralph and I were about to go into the crew's mess. I winked at her when I saw her sticking her head under the chart table and arguing that there could not possibly be fish inside a compass. Her mom and dad saw the fish, but she rolled her eyes and winked back at me. I'd sweated out my fears since I'd seen her topside; she'd apparently gone to lunch with her parents, and was on her second trip through the boat. I figured she'd probably be President some day, because there was a lot going on in that little brain. I smiled at her and went on into the crew's mess to meet some of my new shipmates.
After the last group of tourists had passed through, the mess hall was set up for supper. We had coffee with a diesel fuel rainbow on top, and Ralph showed me how to hide it with some sort of powdered cream. He confirmed my suspicions that Razorback normally tied up to the Sperry or Nereus in the middle of San Diego Bay, and that mooring at Broadway pier was not usual. He promised to show me later how to catch the Nickel Snatcher. I responded that I was already pretty good at it, and didn't bother to ask why they called it the Nickel-Snatcher when it cost a quarter.
I'd eaten good food on airplanes, and Id been ecstatic on the boot camp train to San Diego when the steward had placed a cellophane package into an oven, twisted a dial, and when a bell sounded, magically served me a steaming ham-and-cheese sandwich. Even with this vast culinary background, I was still looking forward to my first submarine meal. I stowed some of my gear, and then ate my first lobster tail. Unfortunately, I was so discombobulated by my journey, that I was asleep before I had time to properly savor the experience.
The next month or two went by quickly, and I'd been past the breakwater on daily-ops several times but a six-day transit from San Diego to Honolulu was my first real sea time. I loved every minute of it. Up on the bridge, on lookout watch, I reveled in new feelings and smells and sounds. Warm salt-spray blew on my face during balmy sun-drenched daytime hours, and brilliant sunsets enhanced peaceful and brilliantly-cool star-filled nights. As a kid I'd read sailors venturing out under topgallant-main sails slapping romantically in the wind, but the deep sounds of our throbbing low-throated diesel engines, mixed with the lighter noises of sea water splashing against the hull convinced me that reading had given me only the tiniest taste of life at sea. Working sailors of yore had to have working knowledge of a dozen sails sheeted from main-, fore- and mizzen-masts; I had only to know that our three sixteen-hundred-horsepower Fairbanks-Morse, ten-cylinder, opposed-piston diesel engines, while growling and grumbling, would take us to places undreamt of in Moby Dick. I appreciated the engines mostly at night in my bunk. Their rumble was a gentle vibration, changing pitch and intensity as the ship rolled from side to side, and felt as much as heard. The lullaby of Mother Morse and the ocean's whisper against the ship a few inches from my ear compelled sleep like a baby's cradle.
I'd completely ignored warnings that oranges, potatoes, milk and such things were nonexistent after a few weeks at sea, because I'd not only eaten my first lobster, but mouth-watering greasy chili on toast called 'Shit On a Shingle' or, in polite company, 'SOS' and Foreskins on Toast. Complaining about food poisoning and blaming the cooks for seasickness was customary on the diesel boats. I was, however, in gourmet heaven, complimenting the cooks, and letting everyone know that there were few places I'd rather be. In my home town, even after the war, oranges only showed up at the grocery store, form Florida or California, about one month a year.
Of course it is said that if a sailor isn't bitching, he must be dead, so I gradually adapted. I had made the comment, confidentially, that I believed that seasickness was all mental, and only pansies got seasick. Secrets were like the air on the submarine: they floated through the ventilation piping and were eventually shared by all. It didn't take long to learn that my opinion was not held by the majority. I felt it would be wise to say no more about it, and I cut way back on my use of the word hypochondriac.
On the evening before we were to enter Pearl Harbor, we were advised over UHF radio that our mooring time had been moved back to 1300, so the Skipper decided to press on at fifteen knots, and then practice snorkeling drills in the morning. Just after sunrise, as we were preparing to dive, I saw a shape on the horizon to the West that I reported looked like a volcano; then, as the OOD confirmed my sighting, a second pyramid-shape appeared.
The OOD called the Quartermaster up to the bridge for a look, and a couple of minutes after he'd gone below, he confirmed on the 27MC, "Bridge, Conn: Affirmative on landfall, zero-six-fourteen Hotel time. Peak to the left, bearing 255 is called Mauna Loa; three degrees to its right is Mauna Kia; range to the island of Hawaii: ninety-two-point-four miles. Navigator's being informed. Remarkable visibility, sir!"
"Conn, Bridge: Very well," and he gave the growler on the X1J phone a spin to ring the Skipper.
We postponed the dive for enough time for nearly half the crew to come up to the bridge, two at a time, to peer at the conical peaks. Most were impressed because sighting land and making landfall at that distance was apparently rare. Some were dazzled that the mountains were almost-fourteen-hundred feet high. I shrugged at the notion, and let most of them know that my hometown, was not only twice as high as mile-high Denver, but that Leadville sat at the foot of Mt. Elbert - which was fourteen-thousand-and-four-hundred feet above sea level. Finally, after I'd busted the bubbles of a dozen hawkers, the QM came up to the bridge, and informed me that there was another fifteen-thousand-feet beneath the sea's surface. Even a mountain man had to admit it: that was a good-sized pile of rock. I mumbled something about the ocean air, not being as cool and crisp as in the mountains.
Later, after I got off watch, we submerged to fifty-six feet, the snorkel masts were raised so the engines could breathe, and we commenced snorkeling. If the head valve was closed automatically by a surface wave to prevent flooding, the engines sucked their air right out of our living spaces and we all puckered up a bit while our ears popped. If the exhaust diffuser plate was too deep, the exhaust came into the same spaces. I happened to make a comment, while shoveling down some steak and mashed potatoes, that we were fortunate that there was at least some oxygen suspended in this visible haze of diesel fuel that submariners called air. Oxygen was rare in Leadville, but at least mountaineers didn't have to filter it through their nose-hairs.
Doc was sitting on the bench next to me, and after the subject of conversation had changed several times, suddenly tilted his head to the side, and asked me, "O2 fixation?" He grabbed the pulse on my wrist, and everyone in the crew's mess looked on with concern as our Corpsman continued to examine me.
"Any sensitivity there?" He hammered my chest with the heel of his fist, and made me cough. "Do you feel any lightheadedness when you hold your breath? Any equilibrium problems?" He stuck the tip of a pen-light in my ear.
Despite my insistence that there was nothing wrong, he shook his head, mumbling, "Oxygen Narcosis . . . probably not serious. Just go ask Cookie give you a packet of Hace, and I'll keep an eye on your steak for you."
"H - A - S, Heavy-Atmosphere Scents, Hace . . . ya' know, like smelling salts - He knows what it is."
The duty cook, who'd heard everything from the galley, sent me to the Chief of the Watch for the keys to the Fallopian Tube Locker where Hace was stored. The COW sent me to the Wardroom to see the First Lieutenant, who sent me to Maneuvering Room where I learned that the Skipper was the only one who had access when we were at sea. I figured my illness must have been apparent, because everyone frowned silently and nodded at me as I made my way aft and then forward again.
The Captain looked a little irritated at first, after I had knocked and entered his cabin, but he said, "Look in the Dictionary."
"Where's that, sir." I'd genuinely not understood, but apparently whatever he was doing was important, so he became abrupt, "THAT WILL BE ALL!"
"What I meant, sir . . . ah . . . is . . . where is the . . . ah . . . Dictionary?"
He stood up, and snarled, "Any dictionary!" in a way that told me I ought to leave now. As I went through the Control Room watertight door, I heard him shout, "XO, I need to see you!"
There was a chorus when I got back to the Mess Deck, "What did the Old Man say?"
And the chorus roared when an IC Electrician who had been in the Forward Battery near the Old Man's stateroom, and had heard the whole thing, enhanced my stammered response:
"He's in there, stuttering; askin' the Old Man for a dictionary . . . Ha Ha . . . The Old Man's screamin' Ha . . . Ha . . . made it for two and a half minutes, 'fore the Skipper blew his stack . . . Har Har Har . . . Then the Old Man hollered: 'Executive Officer get 'ur ass in here."" Har Har Har." He grinned at me, "XO should be heading aft at flank speed any minute now, I'd guess."
Finally, Billie Joe, a fellow non-qual, reached to the shelf above a mess table where a few books were stowed next to the RBO radio, and handed me a Webster's Collegiate. They all gave him nasty looks for rescuing me; I found out later that he had recently visited the Skipper while looking for a bucket of electrical-grounds, so he understood why the Captain might be upset with me. I took the dictionary into the berthing spaces where I might have a chance to evade the Executive Officer, and learned something absolutely useless. I can only assume that my Chateaubriand ended up in the garbage, but it was a small price to pay because I was getting saltier day-by-day. Before we got to Hawaii, I got in trouble again because I refused to look for the Poppet Drain Valve until I had checked with both Webster and the Ship's Qualifications Manual. Fortunately, Rotten Ralph and Billie Joe saved me from searching for Skyhooks.
Never having been in a foreign port before, I was excited to be pulling into Honolulu, but I was careful not to act like a giddy virgin. We moored at the sub-base in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, which was actually not even on Hawaii, but another island called Oahu. Honolulu was three-dollars from Pearl and Waikiki Beach was another two bucks by taxi. I had learned from older shipmates that during The War, the Government had completely taken over the Royal Hawaiian Hotel so boat sailors could party, eat steaks and raise any kind of hell they could come up with, on the Government's dime. This made sense because about a third of our submarine sailors never returned from their war patrols - suffering manpower losses as high as the Marines - and the Navy needed a steady supply of replacement volunteers for submarine service.
Ralph and I were both non-rated, non-qualified perspective-submariners, but we had the spirit and managed to get to the Royal ahead of most of the crew. Ralph was my partner in head-cleaning and paint-scraping duties aboard the ship. His whole biography would fit on a post card: he'd come from a farm in Ohio where he'd watched submarine movies, castrated bulls, butchered chickens and thinned beets - then he joined the Navy to be on submarines. He was a good friend, who spoke in short, thoughtful sentences, but seemed not to mind my tendency toward babbling.
The cabbie let us out in a jungle under some palm trees, and motioned toward a continuation of the cobbled street that curved off toward the sea, beneath large banana leaves.
"Ala Moana," he gestured slightly to the right, "En a Royal, brudda," gesturing left.
We could see Diamond Head over the surf, right through the hole in the jungle he pointed to, and finally we saw the sign, 'Welcome to the Royal Hawaiian Hotel'. Giant green leaves and monstrous flowers were hiding most of the letters. Ralph and I stayed pretty much to the center of the pathway through the jungle just in case there might be crocodiles or boa costrictors hidden in there. We followed the sounds of Ukelele music around the corner and a stage came into view. I'd been amazed that there were no doors or ceilings anywhere, with everything open to the outside - obviously it didn't snow much in Hawaii in spite of its mountains. There was a giant Banyan tree with a trunk, or rather twenty trunks, growing right down into the middle of the room - or flower-garden or whatever it was. It had been the Banyan that had obscured our view of the gal on stage. Neither of us had ever seen anything like her. Ralph bumped into the tree and had no idea whether we were indoors or not - he was totally mesmerized. I was almost dumbstruck. She wriggled her grass foliage so fast that her navel was a spinning blur.
We had just blown a buck for a glass of beer, and Ralph was not known for being free with his money, but we had half a month's pay, nearly thirty-dollars apiece, so we made our move. I was more turgid than Ralph, so, fully-aware that it might cost upwards of two-dollars, it fell to me to tell the waiter we'd like to buy the hula-hula girl a drink. The big Kanaka immediately corrected me, in understandable Hawaiian-English: She was doing a Tahitian dance. He walked up on the stage and, when he whispered to her, she glanced toward us. Ralph gripped the arms of his rattan chair to keep from sliding off. When the song was over, she started weaving between the tables toward us. It looked like Ralph was trying to hide under his white hat, with only two big blue eyes bulging out.
She arrived as I absently paid two-and-a-half-dollars for a drink called a Mi Tai. Ralph's eyes didn't even blink when the cash disappeared, and I wasn't the slightest bit nervous because I had been rehearsing. I said, "Alooo ha, ma . . . miss," standing up as I'd been taught to do when a lady approached, "Doo yoo, speak the Amariekaan?"
She had straight coal-black eyebrows above dark eyes, and golden sun-browned skin. Her dark hair, woven and mixed with pink and red flowers, was waist-length and it covered her breasts. She looked at me and then at Ralph's hat, where two eyes were fixed on her bellybutton. I took advantage of the two-second interval to look for a bra.
She wrinkled her forehead and said, "Yeah, Jack, I can talk. I'm an English Major from Seattle State U. Thanks a lot for the drink. Aloha."
Seattle Sue walked off and drank her three-and-a-half-dollar Mi Tai at the bar with a local surfer. She tilted a polite salute our way, but her next dancing set didn't seem as exciting to me, probably because I'd determined that there really was a bra; Ralph was too mad at me to discuss it.
We blew the rest of our paychecks on a couple more Hawaiian floor shows around Waikiki, to find out if the experience with Seattle Sue had been a fluke. We found several librarians and school teachers from the mainland who'd smooch - if we could have afforded a dollar a minute for drinks - but who had no idea that there was more to romance than just kissing.
After I'd put aside bus money, I decided to try one of those Mai Tai's in a joint where their cost was just under three-dollars; it tasted like Texaco Ethyl, but it didn't smell as good.
Finally we ended up at a bus stop, where Billie Joe happened to be waiting. Billie Joe was from Texarkana, Texas or Arkansas. He had a little drop of blood on his whites, and he was just as quiet as Ralph until I told him all about our experience with Seattle Sue. I had to explain that we didn't really know the Hula Dancer's name, but she was from Seattle U, so she was Seattle Sue. That seemed to cheer him up. He'd had a more practical plan than Ralph and I: He'd gone to the Enlisted Men's Club on the Submarine Base for fifteen-cent-beer, had a few there, and then asked a taxi-driver to take him someplace for a "Good time." The plan sounded brilliant to us, and even Ralph perked up thinking about our next liberty. Unfortunately, Billie Joe had been rolled by some local Kanakas, who'd called him a "stinkin' Haole." He'd given one a black eye, and another his twenty dollars; he had grass stains on his whites, and a bruised knuckle to prove it. He was left with only the money he'd hidden in his sock. I was feeling a lot smarter by then, but the way Ralph was looking at me stopped me from saying so.
The following day, Ralph, Billy Joe and I went to the EM Club with fifteen dollars we'd borrowed, and which we figured would be completely adequate at eighty-five cents a pitcher, even though they had to be emptied quickly, before they got hot. The club was outside like everything else. Eventually, we decided to go to Honolulu, but when we all stood up, Billy Joe announced that he had to use the head. We sat back down with another pitcher. Then Ralph had to go, then me. Because one of us was always missing, much of what we discussed had to be repeated, so we double and tripple-checked our way to a foolproof strategy: We would go to town, and each order a Mai Tai - regardless of cost. Since they tasted so bad, each one would last a couple of hours, which over time could be even cheaper than base beer. An added advantage was that no bartender would ever expect a customer to order more than one. Sandy, a Forward Engine Room oiler had joined us at the table. He liked to drink gillie, White Lightening, Aqua-Velva, Mai-Tais or anything else alcoholic, but he told us our plan was stupid, which we considered to be validation. We drank another couple of pitchers while we did the math: five bucks for a taxi, three dollars each for drinks, times two bars. . . one buck for one beer to pass around for a chaser. . .and the return taxi.
At sundown, we had two dollars and eighty-four cents left, but were unable to find the Main Gate. We staggered back to the ship patting each other on the back, about our wise decision to rest up for getting underway tomorrow and heading for Japan.
"J'pan's 'at way," a white sleeve pointed to the water.
"Long way t' J'pan," someone responded, "Et's gissom spleep."
Sandy was already back, sitting topside on the forward capstan and drinking clear liquid from a catsup bottle.
"Thought you were gonna go see Seattle Sue?" he grinned, reminding me that there were no secrets on a sub.
"Nah," somebody said, "Too 'spensive."
Sandy informed us that booze in our next port would be much cheaper. I thanked him for the information, and bragged that we'd also learned a few things on our own. For instance, at the EM club, we'd been informed that workers at the Dole Pineapple factory have water fountains that squirt pineapple juice, and that Kwai was the wettest spot on earth. And we'd learned some words, like Kanaka, Haole, Aloha, and Mele Keliki Maka, which was a valuable phrase meaning Merry Christmas.
"How about the women?" asked Sandy, "Any of 'em say 'Aloha' to you? Did you know that means, 'I love you' in Hawaiian?"
I'd always known that it meant Hello, but I was drunkenly contemplating this new knowledge, when Ralph disappeared down the After Battery hatch, shouting, "Aloha," in perfect Hawaiian, which also means "Good-bye."
The next morning on lookout I noticed that the both other lookout watch and the OOD looked nostalgically sad as the Hawaiian Islands slowly receded beneath the horizon. Actually, I was pansy-sick, but I hoped my face showed sadness like theirs, even if it was for a different reason. We each kept our personal grief to ourselves. Nauseating refrains of "Aloha, O . . . " kept forcing themselves into my brain, and putting a lump in my throat, but I managed to resist throwing up.
I warned myself never to forget that vocabulary, unlike romance, is best learned from a book.