Smokes and Suds
I Never trust a fighting man who doesn’t smoke or drink.”… Admiral William Frederick (Bull) Halsey Jr.
I started smoking, surreptitiously, at about twelve or thirteen. It was shortly after my Dad died. I wouldn’t even have taken the chance while he was living. Growing up in a state where tobacco was king, where everyone smoked, cigarettes and cigars were easy to come by. Everyone would sell them to a kid. You just had to say they were for your Mom or Dad if anyone asked. When I could afford cigarettes, I bought them. When I couldn’t, I bummed them or did without. Looking back, that would have been a good time to quit. I thought the Maverick brothers on the TV series were cool with their cigars, so I started smoking cigars also. In those days you could buy a decent cigar for ten cents and a good one for a quarter.
I smoked until boot camp, where I was presented with another great time to quit smoking. The Company Commander got pissed off and turned off the smoking lamp for the entire company for about six weeks because the Battalion Commander found a cigarette butt adrift. I, unlike some of my fellow victims, obeyed the rules and didn’t smoke during this period. After the six-week hiatus, the only thing that I can equate that first smoke to is an orgasm.
In those days, cigarettes cost about two bucks a carton at the Exchange. A payday trip to the Exchange to get cigarettes, cigars and toiletries always saw the essentials in stock. We all ran into the perpetual bum, the guy who never had his own smokes. I never wanted to be that guy and always made sure that I had a stock of smokes on hand.
On my first ship, I learned that “Sea Stores”, non-tax paid cigarettes, only sold when outside the three-mile limit, were less than a buck a carton. Now this was a smoker’s heaven. I served in an Ocean Going Tug that was too small to have a store. It was also slow, with a top speed of twelve knots, and much slower when burdened with a tow. I learned to buy a large stock of smokes before leaving port. I remember one extended mission where everyone ran out of smokes. We pulled into Singapore and for some time afterward, we were all smoking English Cigarettes.
I smoked throughout my Navy career. In 1985, I was presented with another opportunity to stop smoking. I had stomach ulcers and it became necessary for surgery. The Doc’s decided to remove one-third of my stomach and a portion of the small intestine. In preparation for the surgery, I had a consultation with the anesthesiologist. He told me that the gas they used during surgery was an insult to the lungs and sometimes people died and it was always people who smoked that died. This was said while the whole time he was smoking a cigar. I quit smoking for a week before the surgery and for about two months afterward. Having coffee one morning and my wife’s cigarettes were on the table. Took one and lit it without even thinking, like I had done thousands of times before.
I smoked for another eleven years after that. Finally decided that the time to quit had arrived. Smoked my last cigarette on Christmas Eve 1996. No patches, no therapy, no hypnotism, just quit.
My first experience with drinking occurred when I was about fourteen. The juvenile delinquents that I palled around with and I found a quart jar of clear liquid under a bush in the woods. Of course, we knew that it was moonshine whiskey. This was bootleg country. Just about everyone I knew had a relative that was or had been a bootlegger. We decided to drink the stuff. Of course we were all lying about how many times we had drank white likker in the past. I recall taking a sip and thought the top of my head was coming off. But of course, I said, “Damn that’s good.” We each had a sip and all proclaimed how good it was. We hid it for later, but could never find it again. I always suspected that one of my cohorts took it.
I was about fifteen when my uncle gave me a six pack of Pabst’s Blue Ribbon beer. I learned that beer was something that I could enjoy drinking. In those days, the age to purchase beer, in North Carolina, was eighteen. Twenty-one for whisky or other spirits. I quickly learned which of the small country stores in the county never bothered with identification. I remember one farmer/store operator who proclaimed his policy of, “If a boy is old enough to tote the money in here, far as I’m concerned, he’s old enough to tote the beer outta here.”
I arrived in San Diego at seventeen, and of course, there was no drinking until twenty-one. The naval authorities and the state of California took the no drinking thing seriously. I saw a long dry spell before me.
The next year while stationed at Lemoore California, someone left a half fifth of vodka in the dayroom of the cooks barracks. A fellow cook and I drank it, with grape kool ade, the only thing available. That was the first time I got sick from drinking. I remember the purple water in the toilet. I haven’t been able to drink grape kool aid or grape soda in the fifty years since. No problem drinking Vodka.
The following year I was assigned into an ammunition ship in Port Chicago, Ca. When I reported, the ship was in the yards in San Francisco. Expected the California rules would keep me dry, but my shipmate Ike introduced me to some dives in the questionable neighborhoods of Frisco where no one seemed to give a damn how old you were. After we left the yards and moved to the Ammunition Depot at Concord, I learned that there was a club on base where underage sailors could drink beer in undress blues.
After taking on an ammunition load and enduring REFTRA we departed the Bay Area for Hawaii and the Far East. During our stop in Hawaii, I learned that the EM Club just required underage personnel (the age in Hawaii was twenty at the time) to sign a log acknowledging that you understood the drinking age. Then they sold you booze. No problem, unless you got into trouble or got drunk. Then they used your signature in the book against you. After Hawaii came Guam and then Japan, the PI, and Hong Kong.
After leaving The ammo ship, I went to CS “B” school in San Diego. I was barely twenty. I had recently made second class. I sewed a hash mark on my liberty blues. This was in the days when many third class cooks were sporting two and three hash marks. I would go into a bar, put my left arm on the bar and order. Worked. San Diego wasn’t so dry after all.
After San Diego, I was ordered to the Navy Commissary Store, Yokohama, Japan. For the remainder of my naval career in the Far East and Hawaii, I drank when I could. Unlike many of my shipmates and friends, I could always take it or leave it. I quit, for a while, about a year and a half ago for health reasons until I read a study that found evidence that an ingredient in hops may be beneficial to persons suffering from Parkinson’s disease. Yea, let’s hear it for hops!
Many of my FaceBook friends ask why I always share Bud Light posts. I have been asked if I own stock in Anheuser Busch. The truth is: I have a born again sister who has categorized me as a drunken sinner. I do it to irritate her.
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A native of North Carolina, Garland Davis has lived in Hawaii since 1987. He always had a penchant for writing but did not seriously pursue it until recently. He is a graduate of Hawaii Pacific University, where he majored in Business Management. Garland is a thirty-year Navy retiree and service-connected Disabled Veteran.