Well, maybe it is not that big, maybe it is just long and drawn out.
The other day somebody was telling us about a cruise they were on and it reminded me the only cruise I have ever been on was a 3 week cruise Uncle Sam paid on the USS Newport News which left Norfolk, Virginia, went around Florida, up the Gulf of Mexico and up the Mississippi to New Orleans.
Reuben also was on the cruise. Reuben and I were both Personnelmen. Rueben worked in the Personnel Office and I worked next door in the I & E Office (Information and Education).
Reuben is the old friend who comments from time to time.
We were in Helicopter Utility Squadron Four (HU-4). Our squadron furnished helicopter service to non-aviation ships. The other men that went were specialists with the horse helicopter. They were either mechanics, electricians, hydraulics specialists, or whatever else you need, and of course pilots.
The most mechanics Reuben and I knew were how to change a typewriter ribbon. Why did we go? Because we wanted to.
We were also the gophers. If the mechanic needed something we would go and fetch it for him.
Sometime right after Christmas of 1964 we flew to Norfolk, Virginia, to the USS Newport News, which was a Destroyer. I think that is a DD in Navy talk. We may have spent one night before we set sail down the coast. We had no sails. I am not sure “set sail” is accurate, but it is good nautical talk.
The USS Newport News was a big ship. But it had a lot of people on it, so there was no space wasted. We were assigned bunks in a very tight living space. Which I suppose was ok just for sleeping. It was not like our cubicles we lived in at our barracks back in Lakehurst. Our cubicles had four bunk beds, and a table.
The head was even worse. In the Navy and on floating vessels the bathroom is known as “the Head”. And the garbage can is known as “the shit can” – not that the garbage can has anything to do with this. The head, I was saddened to see were four or six rolls of commodes. The “waste no space” here, I thought they went a bit overboard, or that is the problem, it wasn’t overboard at all. It was on-board.
No toilet seat was available. Men were standing in line. Studying the situation I saw that the space was so limited you almost had to touch knees with the man in front of you and touch thigh with thigh with the men on each of you. As you grunted and let it roll you were eye to eye with the man you were almost touching knees with. I suppose if you are a tall person you had to have an agreement with the person across from you that one of his legs would have to go in between yours. I knew one thing, there was no way!
Up until this moment in my Naval career I have always had the privacy of doing my bowel movements in the privacy of a stall. Touching bare knees with another man taking a shit? No way!
Our work area was a room area not very big. We didn’t have a whole lot of work either. So, we sat around and talked a lot and read a lots. A couple of times I had to go to the front of the ship and work myself down a man hole to lower levels and bring up some hydraulic fluid but as I remember, we did not work ourselves into oblivion or anything.
We went down the coast to Jacksonville Naval facility named Mayport. When we arrived in Mayport I was one of the first ones off the ship. I rushed to the Geedunk (Navy talk for a place to buy concessions). I rushed in and went directly to the men’s bathroom, into a stall and ahhhhhhhh. I had a sacred private dump.
It was December the 31st. Several of us took a bus into downtown Jacksonville, Florida, and visited bars for our New Years Eve.
In Jacksonville there were lot of people on the streets to bring in the New Year. I spoke politely to a little scraggly scrawny lady with an eye patch on and it was sort of like removing a thorn from a lion’s paw, I had a friend for life… or for the evening, anyway. She had a long cheap horn of some kind with her that she could blast out a solid long sound. Every once in a while she would stick it in my face and blast it, then laugh. I don’t think she went into bars with us but would reappeared when we walked out.
There was a big football game, a bowl of some type to be played the following day in town – there were plenty of jocks roaming the streets.
The next day or so, I forgot which, we left Mayport and headed down the Florida coast. Someplace out in the ocean the USS Newport News did a little target practicing. They had a float of some kind floating way out in the ocean. The big guns took times shooting at it. The noise was ear-drum splitting. It was almost unbearable. What got me through it was telling myself it was bound to be over eventually. This will not go on the rest of my life.
Interesting, after many tries, the target was not hit once. I turned to Reuben and said we were in big trouble if the Russians found out about this.
During these days out to sea I decided that if I went to the head about 2 a.m. it should be not as crowded. I tried it. I was wrong. But, I did take a quick dump, I wasn’t there to make small talk as it seemed some of the men.
On the back deck where the helicopter pad was the ship’s executive officer (XO = 2nd in command) hung out there a lot. He was short and stocky. He reminded me of a rooster with a inflated cocky ego. I think he was also the nosy and meddling type. I don’t know this from personal experience but just from what I observed and what I overheard him to say to various people. Remember, to him I was invisible.
The first level when you enter the back of the ship there was a big opened area that looked almost like a recreation room. On counters around the room were baskets of fruits for men to help themselves and also an old fashion ice cream box with black doors on top to reach down in and get yourself a ice cream treat.
In the same area we slept was a little short blond headed guy with oversized glasses who was the ship’s disc jockey. He spun records playing music all day. On this cruise was his first time being the ship’s DJ. He played mostly top 40s but occasionally played some country and western or crooning music like Frank Sinatra. He was doing okay until he tried something new: He initiated a thing to increase his audience maybe, which, he had a captive audience, so I am not sure why, but he encouraged people on the ship to call his station and voice their complaints about whatever they wanted to talk about. They could complain about the captain, the food, or any thing. The executive officer put a stop to such nonsense after the first day.
Reuben on the USS NEWPORT NEWS
I don’t remember much about the galley (chow hall), only of standing in line of the galley. I remember one old lifer sailor who I got along great with and seemed to enjoy my company. In the lunch line one day he was saying he disliked reserves. He didn’t want anything to do with reservists. I laugh and told him I was a reservist. “Really?” He asked.
I showed him my dog tag which had USR-R stamped on it. He glared at me and kept his distance from then on.
We crossed over the Gulf of Mexico to the mouth of the Mississippi River. I just thought, shouldn’t the mouth of a river be it rectum. What leaves the river leaves at the mouth. It seems the rectum would be more accurate.
We went up the Mississippi River. I thought that New Orleans was at the mouth of the Mississippi River. Dumb me. It was many miles up the river. I forgot how many miles, maybe 50 or so miles.
I was amazed at the river and the life in the swamp or Bayou along the edges and people fishing. It would have been a sight to behold if I wasn’t dancing around on my tip toes because I haven’t had a bowel movement in too many days.
The ship came to a halt at the French Quarters. The famous Jackson Square Cathedral was right there in front of us. A British ship was there waiting on us. The following day the crew members of the ship I was on and the HMN sailors were going to reenact the Battle of New Orleans. I guess we were going to be Laffite’s pirates. Then the only things I knew about the Battle of New Orleans are what Johnny Horton sung to me.
Almost as soon as the gang plank was in place I was one of the first ones off, skipping and dancing. Reuben said he was going to his home to see his family for a few days. His home was in Louisiana.
The first thing I did was go to a cheap motel and rent a room and stopped up the commode.
Then, later that evening I went out visiting bars in the French Quarters. I went to Pat O’Brien’s. Pat O’Brien’s is famous for making the Hurricane drinks in a kerosene lamp shaped globe-like glass. I ran into someone on the ship we first had drinks in their garden then moved inside to the bar. The bar had beer glasses, mugs, and steins in all sizes and shapes hanging from the ceiling. I thought that was unique. An old lady came in selling roses. She saw that I had a camera and asked me would I take her picture and send it to her. She said she hasn’t seen her son in over twenty years. She would like to send him a picture. I took several pictures of her and she gave her address.
Later I mailed her the pictures to the address she gave me. I am still waiting on the thank you note…. She is just trying to say the most touching warmest thanks, that’s all, it will come any day now.
Next door to Pat O’Brien’s was the New Orleans Preservation Music Hall. Admissions was donations. You sat in church pews. I sat there and really enjoyed the Dixieland and Ragtime music performed by elderly non-pretentious men who only did this part time to keep that style of music active.
I visited a couple more bars. One of the bars I started talking to a lady who was an Indian. The American kind. Her husband, also an Indian, was sent to prison that very day for killing a man. She was sad and getting drunk.
The next morning I visited several old used bookstores and art galleries. Interesting, there was a scrawny old lady, who looked something like what I think a witch should look like with a clothes line up and on the clothes line were magazines for sale. She had several TRUMP magazines, which was published by PLAYBOY and was much like MAD magazine… the reason it was very similar to MAD because it was by the same people that created MAD, people such as Harvey Kurtzman, Bill Elder, and Jack Davis. Somehow or another she got a hold of some used issues of the only two published (it only lasted two issues) and also had a magazine-like with her (the witch) picture on the cover dancing. It was a publication of her poetry. I had to buy that too.
I missed the reenactment of The Battle of New Orleans. I think it was a volunteer thing or our helo detachment wasn’t part of it. They didn’t miss me and I didn’t miss them.
The night before we were to leave Reuben arrived back from visiting his family. He came in when the room was all dark. I heard him clanging in his locker. He had a block of meat he called souse meat in white wax paper and brought from home. He offered me a piece. After I ate it and found it delicious and very hot and spicy he told me it was made up of hog brains and anything else unused on a hog.
We made our trip back about the same way we came.
I remember out in the middle of the Gulf Reuben and I climbed up in the helicopter and was just talking and the ship began to rock, and the helicopter was so high, almost like being on top of pole, you could feel the ship sway back and forth more, back and forth, back…ooopppphhhhhhh… I thought I was about to throw up.
Me on the USS NEWPORT NEWS
Near Miami some luxury boats come up fairly close to get a good look at us and wave.
When we were near Norfolk, Virginia, on our return the fog caused a visibility of maybe 25 feet. We were standing looking off into the low gray-like cloud when through the cloud came a tug boat with the men wearing bright orange gear. They appeared almost magical or with a certain flair of the mystic.
Thus, our trip was near the end.
And to me, I was back to the privacy of a stall.