A Sailor Walks into a Bar
By Garland Davis
I grew up in a farming community north of Winston-Salem, North Carolina in the Piedmont foothills of the Appalachian Mountains. Nothing much changed as my childhood passed. The seasons were marked by preparing the fields and setting out tobacco plants, looking up a mule’s ass plowing, then hoeing the growing plants, topping the plants and picking off the worms that could devastate a crop, priming the leaves and tying them onto sticks and hanging them in the barns where they were cured by burning wood in the furnaces, then stripping cured leaves from the sticks, preparing them for market, taking them to the market, hoping for a good price from the auctioneer and then collecting sticks and cutting wood for the next year. These actions proceeded from cold and wet, to warm and humid, to the days of hot summer in the fields, to the coming chill of fall, and collecting wood and moving it to the barns in the freeze of winter.
I determined early in my young life that I would never be a tobacco farmer. It was monotonous, hot, wet, back-breaking, never-ending work and a few hours of handling green tobacco leaves a black gummy tar built up on your hands that was almost impossible to wash off unless you pre-washed your hands with gasoline or kerosene.
Everyone knew everyone in the neighborhood. By neighborhood, I am not talking about a few square blocks but square miles. Our closest neighbor was almost a half mile away. The elementary school I attended was a little less than a mile from the house. We walked, rain, snow, or shine. My mother had walked to the same school as a girl. You could leave your doors unlocked without a worry. It was a predictable farmer’s boring life.
The key word here – was.
I learned to read early and read above my grade level from the time I started school. In Third Grade, I read a biography of John Paul Jones. This one book whetted my appetite for all things Navy. I read anything and everything about the Navy I could get my hands on. After my family finally got a TV set in the mid-fifties, I watched all the Navy shows and every WWII Navy movie that was televised. Somewhere along the way the decision to make the Navy my life coalesced. I was sworn in on my seventeenth birthday and reported to RTC San Diego the following day.
My earlier statement was erroneous. I began growing up in boot camp and came to manhood at nineteen in the bars and fleshpots of the Western Pacific. Did you ever find an old photo in a drawer or shoebox? How over the years vivid colors fade and turn ghostly hues, yet you know how it all looked, you were there. Looking at all the pictures of that world posted on social media, that’s how I remember WestPac.
I remember a time in sixty-three. Along with my shipmates, I walked into a bar, having been told that no one cared if I wasn’t old enough, and ordered a San Miguel. She was young, pretty, and wanted to sit with me. After the second beer, she asked if I wanted to go “short time.” I was willing and she led me to a room above the bar. She asked me for money, the four Pesos she asked for as her cost. I paid her and she passed the money to a lady outside the door and took her clothes off. It wasn’t my first time with a girl, but it was my first time with a woman, albeit her age. I had groped and rolled around with a couple of different girls in the back seat of my mom’s De Soto, but had never seen one naked and so willing. Needless to say, it was a very short time, but I learned for another four Pesos I could do it again. And again.
Over the next twenty-six years, I walked into a myriad of bars in the ports of Sasebo, Yokosuka, Olongapo, Hong Kong, Keelung, Kaohsiung, Singapore, Sattahip Port, Pattaya Beach, and Phuket. The women were always there, some not so young and not so pretty, but all were willing and comforting,
Yeah, I walked into many bars there and that world still exists in my memories and dreams. Would that I was young again and the Asia fleet still called at those ports and girls still waited for a Sailor to Walk into a Bar.