John Q Boatsailor, Always a Class Act
by Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong
Ray Stone… Retired chief… Ex-petroleum-powered submarine sailor and Master of Socially Unacceptable Behavior, turned up at my front doorstep the other day. He had behaved himself for a complete 24 hours – in a row – so Toots attached his 20-foot logging chain leash and took him for a walk. When he arrived, he had two incredible e-mails.
The first was a real keeper from an ex-raghat from East Tennessee, who had some very heartwarming things to say about Ray’s website. Hark, “…Elephants at a dime a herd?” Great stuff!! Ray and I damn near busted a gut. Thanks ‘Cracker Box’… A real keeper.
Next, an e-mail from ‘Tiger Flower’… Who’n the hell is Tiger Flower? Used to be a barmaid named ‘Tiger’. Used to haul suds at the George Washington Bar outside the main gate at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard, Portsmouth. Good looking little sweetheart, married to some can sailor, riding an old Fletcher 700 class antique, operating with DESRON 22. He was a lucky guy… She was his girl and she let you know it. If you made a pass, she would say,
“Back off bubblehead, I’m a tin can sailor’s girl.”
Then she’d wink, flip up her skirt and show you the two, three-bladed propellers embroidered in a three inch spread right smack in the seat of her panties.
“Twin screws and built for speed… Destroyer girl…”
Thelma at Bells never did that. Maybe that’s something we can all be thankful for this Thanksgiving.
Tiger Flower? I read on through the e-mail… Holy Jumpin’ Jeezus! This is not the ‘Tin Can Tiger’ from my diesel boat days, but an old teenage flame from years long ago. She was an absolute angel… One of God’s sweetest creatures… One of a very limited number of female type personnel who could read my trash with forgiveness and understanding.
A gal whose beauty has stood the test of time and who never looks like she needs a yard period. A smiling lady who can pack a bra tighter than an electrician’s bunk bag.
Tiger Flower’s married to a Cracker Jack fellow. Our spouses are tolerant enough to permit the world’s most passionate long distance platonic love affair to survive. Forty-five years… Gotta be some kind of record. Actually, I’ve always been in love with her mother… You can see where her beauty came from. Mary, her mother, got packaged with beauty at the Grace Kelly level. We’re talking prettiness upon which teenage fantasies are built.
Unfortunately, the keeper of the harem, the husband and father, was an active duty high-ranking Army officer, with combat decorations running over his shoulder and three quarters of the way down his back. One mistake… One misinterpretation of honorable intent… One misguided secret thought about unknown treasure beyond forbidden nylon borders… And you knew beyond a shadow of any doubt, Col Pit Bull would have you for lunch.
The Sultan of the Harem let you know in no uncertain terms that he fully understood the circuitry of the male teenage mind and that flirtation, no matter how minor, with improper behavior within a ten-mile radius of Tiger Flower would without question, lead to your immediate destruction and eternal damnation. In short, you’d be tap dancing in the firey furnace with no parole. All thoughts of sub-elastic lingerie exploration could be immediately erased by one fleeting vision of Col Mad Dog ripping out your jugular vein. This only left long range, no hands love… The 45 year kind.
A small story by way of illustration… When I rode Requin some years later, Tiger Flower was to be married and I got an invitation. Her dad was then flag rank… Heavy duty bone crusher. I was at the time, an east coast smoke boat qualified E-3… Possibly the number one lightweight in the naval establishment. The general’s favorite breakfast I am told, was two bowls of E-3s followed by a spit-roasted second lieutenant.
I was broke. We had just come in from punching invisible holes in the North Atlantic. Somewhere, between the Chesapeake lightship and making the turn around fort Wool,I showered, shaved and doused myself with the requisite two and a half gallons of Aqua Velva. In the early 60s, everyone in the navy knew that you had to cover up a diesel boat smell to be acceptable in anything resembling polite society. On the scale of social acceptability, submarine sailors registered four points below Mexican pimps, right above child molesting mass murderers. Aqua Velva was developed so those diesel boat sailors could disguise themselves to pass among those in polite society.
I threw a clean set of starched whites and a pre-pressed “greasy snake” neckerchief in a valpack and shoved off. There was magic in the old thumb and by morning I arrived at my destination, having hitchhiked through the night.
At the wedding, I was the token enlisted man and the singular representative of the naval establishment. John Q. Bluejacket… Dolphins… One lousy ribbon… You remember the red and yellow ribbon we called the ‘bellybutton ribbon’ because every sonuvabitch had one? I was up to my armpits in guys wearing every medal ever invented. If you could have highjacked all the coats in that church, you could have opened up a thriving mail order war surplus business.
The bride was absolutely four-oh, knockout, beautiful… Hell, she was always four-oh beautiful but, there is something about a good looking girl in all white that makes you want to rake your antlers on pine tree bark… How did that guy up there with my long-range fantasy get past General Buttbuster? How did he break the code?
Well, the wedding concluded and the pride of the United States Submarine Service… Naval rep assigned to witness (at range) the forever-lost possibility of fantasy fulfillment… Left for the reception.
At this point, I would like to present my side in explanation for my subsequent behavior. I would like to use the “Sonuvabitches Sandbagged Me” defense.
I arrived at this very exclusive country club… We’re talking the kind of place where guys who were dressed up like organ grinder monkeys, parked your car. Not the kind of place where you run into other boat sailors… You know, guys who rode boats in other squadrons… Guys you ran into everywhere you went… Places like, coincidentally peeing in the same alley in Panama. It wasn’t that kind of place.
These people never heard of paper plates and Styrofoam cups. Everything was served in silver plated cups or on little crystal plates. They had a guy who shined your shoes when you hit the head (Thought about kidnapping the poor rascal and chaining him up in the head in Bells Bar).
The bride was off somewhere… You know, that place women go to giggle a lot and exchange coded information only understood by other women. The bride’s mom looked like something Michelangelo whittled out on an exceptionally good day… One beautiful lady.
The father of the bride, displaying a ton and a half of hardware accumulated sending Germans and North Koreans off to Hell was circulating making it known that the bar was open and big time whiskey swilling was underway.
Not wanting to get a snoot full (Please re-read… Very important in my defense, considering what follows), I repeat… Not wanting to look like a typical torpedoman, I found this ginger ale fountain… This great big silver-plated contraption with three lion’s heads… Big ol’ silver lion heads with ginger ale squirting out of their mouths into this big silver bowl.
It had some kind of interior recirculating pump that kept recycling that cold ginger ale. All you had to do was hold a silver cup up to Mr. Lion and the rascal would spit you a cup full of ginger ale. I was really thirsty, so Mr. Lion and me did some heavy thirst quenching.
Problem… Mr. Lion was spitting out flat champagne… You pump French champagne over and over, and all the bubbles take off…Leaving what I was to discover was a consumable version of an anti-tank mine behind. It had a delayed fuse that went off between your ears that totally impared your ability to behave like non-boat service personnel.
Shortly after my dibilitating attack of armor piercing ginger ale, the bride appeared in all her radient lovliness… At least, I think so… She was very out of focus and appeared to be on some kind of rotating amusement ride… And my kneecaps detected siesmic disturbance taking place in the floor tile.
Someone announced that the bride was about to toss ‘the garter’. At exactly this point in time, five of the seven dwarfs began to ice skate across the backside of my eyeballs and I was siezed by an acute attack of spinal jello-itis and space aliens from the planet Mongo highjacked all of my gentleman genes.
I heard this voice say something to the effect of,
“Dex… Here comes my garter!”
“Dex, what happened? I threw it right to you!”
Just at that moment I was the victim of what had to be transmigrating ventriloquism… Out of my idiotic mouth came,
“I’m waiting on your panties!”
History was made at this point. A former SUBRON Six diesel boat messcook and deck ape was given a brigadier general escort to his car and given directions to the North Pole.
I have my bride’s permission to love this lovely lady… One of a very few people in my life who can take my nonsense for a very extended period of time.
Never got her panties… Should have… It was the least she could have done for a drunk boat sailor who traveled all night, stinking of over indulgence in Aqua Velva, to bring the Class of SUBRON Six to the festivities.