Louis L’Amour Shitkickers and Skin Books
By: Garland Davis
I know all of you will remember reading just to pass the time. There were Louis L’Amour shitkickers, Shell Scott, and Travis McGee adventures along with semi-pornographic literature with titles like Swamp Woman, Boarding School Babes, or Dixie Darlings that set one looking for an odd sock after taps. Those of us in the Asia Fleet were hooked on a series of “Kill Me in ______” detailing the Japanese exploits of Karate Master Burns Bannion.
I’ll tell you that no one ever ran into a John Steinbeck or Herman Melville novel that was in as much demand as Showdown at Laredo, The Running Gun, or Pink Pussycats.
The Chaplain had pocket-size New Testaments available. Anyone could get one. You would see one or two before Easter or Christmas and on Sunday mornings when Divine Services were conducted aboard. I’m sure some guys read them regularly, but they didn’t berth with the cooks or snipes.
Let’s face it, we read worthless “no literary merit” paperback trash. At sea, U.S. currency had little value except as counters in the various games of chance. Horse trading took place in a barter system involving smokes, razor blades, and fuck books.
How many of you have ever started a book and discovered the last dozen or so pages were missing? Some guys tore books in half so they could pass on the first half to some other idiot waiting for it while they finished the second half. I still have no idea how some books I started ended.
I remember a book that was making the rounds on one ship. Don’t remember the title, if I ever knew it. It had been well read; some of the pages were even stuck together for some reason. It was about a Navy pilot who was shot down by the Japanese and bailed out over an unknown South Sea island. When he landed, a tribe of two hundred beautiful sex-starved Amazons with perfect large bust development captured and subjected him to a myriad of sexual perversions. By the time he was rescued by some Baptist missionaries in 1948, he was down to eighty-five pounds, was blind and had been promoted to Commander with six years back pay accumulated. We always figured that it took the plastic surgeons at least a year to get the smile off his face.
Sailors will read anything just to fill time. I was being facetious when I said it was just shitkickers and fuck books. I served in one ship where Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire was passed around and read by many of us.
It sometimes got to the point where we found ourselves reading the printing on cereal boxes at breakfast or the labels on the catsup bottles. You hit the high point of desperation for something to read when you resorted to reading the dry cleaning instructions sewn in your peacoat.
Ships contain miniature societies. Little municipal jurisdictions afloat on the seas. Libraries of books were stored under mattresses, in lockers, bunk bags, and in overhead nooks and crannies. You didn’t need a library card. All you had to do to scare up a trade was yell, “Anybody want to read Snow White and the Horney Dwarf or Goldilocks and the Sailor?