All Hands, Set the Special Sea Story Detail! Set Condition TINS!

Pier Walk

In the yard for repairs and upgrades, about 1970.

Eight O'clock reports are done, the movie stinks, and I've got the duty. It's too early to lie in my rack and inspect the light green painted insulation on the pipes above me, but I'm not in the mood to do any work either. I might as well go and make "the call".

I check with the CDO, he agrees that the security of the western world will not be seriously threatened if I make a trip down the pier. I stop and talk with the quarterdeck watch a while as I leave, they're even more bored than I am. There is no flag flying from the fantail, since it's long past evening colors, but as I go down the brow I nod to the empty staff out of habit.

Once on the pier my slight military bearing disappears completely and I put my hands in the pockets of my foul weather jacket. It is of course strictly against the rules to wear such gear off the ship. This prohibition makes it all the more delicious to flaunt a garment with a hull number stenciled across the back. To say that I swagger down the pier would be an exaggeration, but I am very proud of looking like a disreputable destroyer sailor.

Even in the yard, water in all its forms dominates the Naval world. As the river water gently laps against the pier pilings, cooling and flushing water splashes noisily from the scuppers and drains of the ships around me. Their steam vents hiss continuously, and the resultant clouds combine with the harsh mercury vapor lights to cast spooky shadows against the concrete block walls of the shipyard buildings. I can just barely hear the crunch of my shoes on the ever-present sand blasting grit that covers every surface of the yard.

As I reach the phone booth, I reflect that sometimes it's easier to be at sea, totally cut off from your family. When you can't see land, the world recedes to a memory and you can simply postpone your thoughts of home. When you're only an area code away, though, you can't ignore the reality of separation. A phone booth can be a lonely place indeed.

Soon the familiar voice is on the line, and all the standard phrases go back and forth: How's the baby?...No, I don't know how long....Yes, I know Christmas is coming....No, it won't be that long....No, don't wake him up....Are you doing OK?....Did you get the furnace fixed?.... Someday........

It would perhaps be better if our families were like mooring lines, stowed in the locker until we have the time and opportunity to deal with them. But when you leave for six months, your kid will be six months older when you get back, a mathematical certainty which nevertheless always seems to be a surprise.

After I hang up, I have my usual second thoughts. Is it better to call and feel bad, or to feel bad because I haven't called? Can I ever admit to her, or to myself, that I actually kind of like what I'm doing? Am I nuts?

I pull up the collar on my jacket for the walk back, and it feels good. Uncle Sam may screw up from time to time, but he does know how to buy clothes. I briefly remember visiting college a year after I graduated, attending a cocktail party resplendent in choker whites. Yes, I was definitely cool. Nothing else in the history of the world can compare with choker whites. Even that single gold stripe looked good, despite the scorn and abuse it normally brings in the Fleet.

Returning down the pier, I encounter the ship bow on. The white hull numbers almost glow in the dark, but I know they will almost disappear in rust after we splash salt water on them for a few weeks. I remember watching that enormous pointed mass of steel as it was buried under tons of green water, rising up time and again, throwing spray everywhere. I remember taking rolls in a storm, when everybody on the bridge wanted to watch the inclinometer mounted on the rear bulkhead, but nobody wanted to be seen watching the inclinometer mounted on the rear bulkhead. I remember that sometimes all eight million pounds of ship changes direction because I tell it to. I think about the thirty or forty guys that work for me, and I for them. I remember the red glow of the bridge at night and the green glow of CIC all the time, and the almost musical chants as commands and reports go back and forth. I remember standing on the port bridge wing during the midwatch, looking back up at the fluttering Stars and Stripes. Stained by stack gases and a bit worn from weeks at sea, it's still my favorite flag.

Yes, I do like it. And yes, I guess I am nuts.

All Hands! Secure from Special Sea Stories Detail! Set the Normal SMN Watch!