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Thursday, June 2, 2011

The "Buddy Plan"

  At eighteen I joined the Navy to keep from “ground pounding” in the jungles of Viet Nam and get the GI bill for college. My best friend came hollering one night at the loading dock where we toiled. “I know a way we can go to Hawaii free!” Randy was excited. I was reticent yet willing. We thought we were going to freeze to death in Great Lakes, Ill. during boot camp. One subfreezing day he laughed at my misery as we all stood in an outside chow line for over two hours with no cover on our ears.
  Arriving at the ship we had been assigned to we trudged wearily … thin and heavily laden with canvas sea bags down a darkened and huge concrete pier during the first hours of night. Monsters loomed about us. Up the gangplank and we peered into the red glow of cave like entryways at metal and machinery. There was a steady hum emanating from everywhere.
  As deck seamen we discovered that we had joined a cadre of sea faring men who knew secrets of ship and sea and of far away places. The wind angrily howled in our faces. Mother Sea sprayed us with her salty breath, as young boys became hardened creatures.
  We were “deck apes” and knew violent grinding and banging … heaving, splicing, cutting of line and dangling from precarious heights. We lived within the history of men at sea and our lives were forever bound in the toils and tales of pollywogs become shellbacks upon crossing the equator. We could clearly see our place on the face of the earth. We smelled the sweet stench of the mysterious and ancient Far East. We caressed the fair skin of almond-eyed ladies with distant and troubled hearts.
  I’ll never forget the horrible explosion of metal as that gargantuan anchor and chain escaped the rusty bowels to secure our fate in the dank and deep sea. You could taste the metal in the air. Our hearts racing, our eyes meeting as we yearned for port; haven of excitement, world of foreign and obscure depths, portentous and ancient cradle of man.
  My friend lives each day now as if it will be his last. He struggles with profound kidney disease. Last I saw him he seemed angry at his fate. We were boys once. Then we were China Fleet sailors. Now we are middle-aged men with memories of a briny and eternal sea. We are forever bound. Someday I will see him again across the deck of an ethereal vessel of knowing.

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