by Bob 'Dex' ArmstrongWhen you live in a three hundred eleven-foot steel pipe, there isn't a whole helluva lot you can do for entertainment. We showed movies, played hearts, acey-ducey, chess, wrote stupid letters, told lies to each other, listened to our toenails grow, and accumulated bellybutton lint. We didn't rate a magician's mate or a pony ring. Life in the boats was very basic.
Sometime during a run, the animals would organize some kind of a tournament... Chess... Gin Rummy... Hearts. We would go through preliminary challenges... Leading up to the crowning of our grand champion, who would issue a challenge to the wardroom.
At this point, LT Schilling would come aft, clean our clock, declare himself the Master of the Universe and return forward. Didn't matter what game... LT Schilling always took all the marbles. He had been a raghat many years before and had an uncanny ability to unravel our plots and know when we were up to no good. No man ever understood the enlisted mind like Mr. Schilling.
We loved him... He was the best advocate for our great unwashed mob. When it came to saving a lad who had strayed over the line of regulation behavior, he made F. Lee Bailey look like a rank amateur... He could extinguish the fires of Hell with some of the most convoluted logic from a silver tongue that never failed to amaze us all.
He would save you then waltz you aft and light you up like Joan of Arc... Blister you with a verbal bullwhipping that could make you feel so small, you could hide in a shot glass. His favorite line was,
"Armstrong, let me disabuse you of the idea that the United States Navy was created for your personal amusement... This is a Naval Vessel with important missions to be carried out in a responsible manner... Not a seagoing treehouse for idiots. When is that going to penetrate that thick skull?"
He would spend the better part of ten minutes reciting a littany of your accumulated transgressions, stupid stunts and uncalled for abberant behavior. This is not to imply I was the singular recipient of his volcanic invective. The man could incinerate butts at an incredible rate but never once did he feed anyone to the UCMJ shark.
On nights when we had run out of mischief to get into... Nights when our stern tubes were dragging and we just couldn't muster the desire or energy necessary to stir up the barnyard, we camped out in the crew's mess and if riding surfaced, listened to the R.B.O.
Have no gahdam idea what 'R.B.O' stood for. It was a big radio with an amazing range of reception. Our favorite program was news in English on Radio Moscow. It was a hoot... Kind of like the poor man's peacetime Tokyo Rose... Nobody really cared about the number of tins of codfish the lovely ladies of the Murmansk Canning Factory turned out... We didn't care if they exceeded their quota... But we could picture Olga, the people's darling, leaving the plant stinking of codfish oil and meeting Ivan, sweatsoaked hero fresh off the assembly line at the manure spreader factory. It was always good for a few smiles.
The BBC brought you cricket matches. They could run for days. We figured there must be folks somewhere who cared... None on Requin. One night when we were beginning to run low on smokes, some clown brought in a couple of cartons of British cigarettes, called 'Player's Navy-Cut Cigarettes'.
For anyone out there who never had the amazing experience of firing up a Player's cigarette, let me enlighten you. The Brits figured out how to package 20 little paper tubes filled with Easter basket grass that tasted like Band-Aids off a mummy's toe. If anyone breaks out a pack, run like hell.
We had trading sessions. A big trade was a session where hundreds of girlie mags, skin books, novels, packs of smokes, and assorted junk changed hands. The entire after battery became a wierd bazaar... This was always good for some laughs... Especially when crew members would announce the wonderful contents of a dog-eared book everyone had owned at some point. More lies got told, in less time than at any other time. For example, if a boat sailor wanted to unload Alice in Wonderland, he would tell you something along the lines of,
"Hey guys... Great book about a young virgin and all the wierd stuff that happens to her when she gets lost and has to do a lot of strange stuff to get home."
That kind of silly nonsense made it a helluva lot of fun. Sounds stupid now, but at the time it was a hoot. It provided a break in life regulated by light switches and watch cycles.
Being on the forward edge of western defense was as boring as hell. Not a whole lot different from mushroom farming or watching snails mate... It was your messmates that made it great. To those of us who call each oher 'shipmate' it holds wonderful memories... Original monkey business made life worth living. We worked hard... We performed our jobs very perfessionally and gave the boat a good reputation for dependability and performance... They used us a lot because we were good at what we did. I never fully understood what the big picture was... Or what contribution we made in winning the Cold War... Other than giving the finger to Russian ships at sea... The Portachenko salute.
But we knew Arliegh Burke had the big picture and that was good enough for us... Granted, there were times when we thought we might take a run out to the pay phone at the head of the pier... Phone him up and get the straight dope. But who knows? We might have caught him on one of those big admiral trading nights. We heard those guys unloaded complete sets of the Encyclopedia Britannica, Gutenberg Bibles and original oil paintings by Michaelangelo showing Rickover explaining stuff to God.
Nah, Admiral Arleigh would have been hawking a first edition of Swamp Girl and loving every minute of it.