Saturday, August 24, 2013

Those Who Go Down to the Sea in Ships Part I

  This verse from Psalm 107 doesn't sound nearly as dirty as "Those Who Go Down to the Sea ON Ships."  
  Although it may account for all the seamen.
  Anyway, it's a slow day.  I'm in Virginia once again.  You see, I'm taking my son back to Virginia Tech.  It will be his senior year and by May, he'll be off the payroll.  What's more, he's accepted a job in Virginia Beach which starts next summer so I'll have another place to stay when I go on vacation.  
  So, yeah, I'm pretty psyched.
  Since I've been pretty busy, I thought I'd give you an excerpt from my Work In Progress (or, to use the pretentious "Writer-Speak" acronym: my "WIP"), It's Not Just a Job-or...INJAJ (hey, these acronyms work) instead of writing anything new.  Planned for release sometime before I die (CAUTION:  My mortality is closer than I think), it's the tale of my close to 30 years in the Navy.  Although I could have gone the serious route, I chose not to because...well...have you been paying attention to Penwasser Place?  I really don't do serious.
Shameless Self-Promotion
  My intention is that INJAJ easily exceeds sales of my previous work, Shag Carpet Toilet (available now on Kindle and Nook!  Get yours now!!  While an unlimited amount still remain!!!).  

  And, by easily exceed, I mean ten.
"Sharp end of the spear, eh?
Well, we did sing In the Navy."
This takes place during the first time I went out to sea on the aircraft carrier, USS America.  A fresh-faced 18 year-old (Meaning: wellllllllll before a lot of you were born.  I'm talking to you, Matthew.), I was excited to take my place on what I called the sharp end of the spear.  What made this even more special was that I was going to take part in one of the traditions of the sea, that of crossing the equator.  Sure, it was mostly nonsense and kind of gross.  But, we got this from the Royal Navy.  So, you can blame them.
  I'm not sure how many other navies do this.  Maybe the French, although they probably hit each other with pastries.  Or the Iranians, except they more than likely behead someone.
  In any case, hope you enjoy.  Hey, it's Sunday so you may as well (if nothing else, you can look up Psalm 107)...


16 JUN 1977
Atlantic Ocean
My first ship.
Commissioned in 1965, decommissioned in 1996, torpedoed a few years after that.
The intention was to evaluate our weapons' effectiveness against an aircraft carrier.
My guess is they worked.
Because she's now a reef. 
    The next morning, America was due to pass a major milestone on her way to South America.  We were going to cross the equator. 

The Equator.
Although that red line
confuses the hell out of the fish.
The Navy is big on tradition.  So, sailing from the northern to the southern hemisphere most definitely had to be recognized.  In other words, nothing speaks more to the time-honored mythology of the sea than grown men, dressed as pirates and mermaids (“shellbacks”), smacking the living hell out of hapless rookies with their pants on backwards (“pollywogs”).

    My scullery* crew was full of questions about one of the leading
"I don't know about this, Stavros.
I think the Turks are gonna kick our ass.
Speaking of ass..."
rituals of life at sea (flogging having been outlawed, although sodomy may still be practiced in the Greek Navy).  Pollywogs all, we were curious about where we needed to be, when we needed to be there, and would our genitals be safe. 

    We’d heard all sorts of wild tales from puffed-up shellbacks who tried to intimidate us.  Even though we were sure they were exaggerating, there had to be a perfectly good reason why we stopped tossing our trash overboard the past three days.

   As with all things, from what our working hours were to how we were going to get paid, we sought out the Wardroom Leading Petty Officer, Mess Management Specialist First Class (MS1) Angelo Abunzallah. 

NOTE:  "Mess Management Specialist" was the Navy's politically-correct term for "cook."  Now they're called "Culinary Specialists."  We also call "Garbage Men" "Sanitation Engineers."  As the man said to a handful of razor blades before he swallowed them, "I shit you not."

  During  a quiet period between late breakfast and early lunch, my friend Brian and I scoured the spaces for our supervisor.  We finally found him hunched over what appeared to be a tense game of Acey-Deucey** in the cooks’ lounge.

NOTE:  See what I did there?  I wrote "cooks."  Screw political-correctness.

    Stepping over the knee-knocker*** into what we mess cooks called “Little Manila,” all chatter ceased as a dozen set of eyes stared at us.  Abunzallah, a pair of dice gripped tightly in his hand, glared at us. 

    From the looks of his board, he was getting soundly whipped by Chief Santiago.

    “What you shitbirds want?” he growled.

    I cleared my throat, “We were wondering what was going to happen to us tomorrow, MS1.”

    His face brightened.  He smiled broadly, revealing a gold-capped tooth swimming under the few wisps of black hair on his upper lip.  “Oh, that’s easy, boddy.”

    “It is?”

"Oh, Penwasser, we sooo gonna puck you up."
“Sure.  You wake up at pife o’clawck.  Come down to wardroom.  Wash deeshes.  At nine o’clawck, you go up to plight deck.  We kick your ass.  You come down.  Wash more deeshes.”

    Then he cackled like a Filipino chicken.

    I have to admit, MS1 was pretty much on the ball with that one.  Although, he missed one small detail. 

    We started getting our asses kicked before we even got to the flight deck.

Dumbasses on the Titanic probably
wished they had a couple of these.
Although they played hell with shins.
Or knees.
Of midgets.
*    Dishwashing
**  A form of backgammon
***Since we were on a ship, which could sink, the door frame did not go all the way to the deck (floor).  That way, any water would remain where it was and not flood any adjacent space.

To be continued....


  1. I think that if you do make a big deal of it being a true story of your time in the real navy it actually could sell quite well. You might have to make a little more serious though, but breaking things up with humour will also help. It's a tricky and difficult business finding the right balance to things.

    1. That's not a bad thought. I do have a serious chapter on 9/11. I'm sure there's more out there.

  2. Hopefully there is no left over boot prints back there lol bet this one will be a top seller

    1. The physical marks are gone but the emotional scars linger. :-)

  3. My Dad told stories about the day he crossed the equator on a troop ship during WWII. I don't think I'd enjoy being on the receiving end of such treatment.

    1. It was pretty gross, as I think you'll see in part II.

  4. I am proud of you, Al. Despite what you might think, you are a very talented author.


    1. See, Robyn, you went and made me blush again.
      Thank you!

  5. Suddenly all the old Donald O'Conner and Gene Kelly Navy songs and dances are whirling in my head. Don't mind me.... I always make everything a musical production.
    It sounds great...Here's to success of old Navy Days.

    1. Makes me think of "South Pacific."
      That Rodgers and Hammerstein sure made war look like fun, huh?

  6. I'm sure I'll have to buy this one, too.

  7. I love your stories and can't wait to hear more to this one Al. Like Robyn says you really are a talented writer and I always enjoy reading lengthy posts like this so a book would be no different for me.

    1. Thanks! Believe it or not, these are like 99% true.

  8. Everyone loves a sailor. Let me know the date of your book-signing.

    1. Unfortunately a girl in Palma, Spain did. That's why I needed to visit Medical once we went back out to sea.

  9. Your book is going to be awesome, Al. I can't wait for the second part of this! Congrats to your son too!!

  10. Thanks! I am so very proud of him. I think one of our responsibilities as parents is to give the world better people than us. I'm happy to say Mrs. Penwasser and I have done just that.

  11. Now I found this an interesting think your book will be bloody awesome

    1. My hope is that it will be.
      And that I finish.

  12. Looks like life on the sea is not for me. I'll stick with being a landlubber.

    1. You'll definitely reduce your risk of drowning, that's for sure,

  13. Replies
    1. After Sammy Davis, my favorite little black man.

  14. Love the cover of Shag Carpet Toilet! Life on the high seas sounds absolutely charming. ;)

    1. Thanks! I'll be honest, going to sea was at times pretty exciting and beautiful (sunrise/sunsets, starlit skies, storms) but many other times it was quite mundane.

  15. My niece's best friend has a husband in the navy stationed in Norfolk. The pictures of the ship coming in are impressive.

  16. That was pucking punny!
    Although I was in the Marine Corps, I did get to spend some time on a ship. It wasn't much fun though. Everybody I ever heard of got to return from Vietnam on a plane. Somehow, I came back on a ship. The USS Vancouver. The guy driving it didn't even have the common courtesy to take us directly home. We stopped in Okinawa (and couldn't get off the ship). Then we stopped in Japan (and couldn't get off the ship). The final insult was brutal. We had to make a frigging landing at Camp Pendleton as part of some maneuvers. We had to climb down nets into landing craft. We were very uncooperative. Mostly because the sailors robbed us blind while we were on the ship. On yeah, there was also the small matter of us skirting the edge of hurricane. Heavy seas, greasy food, five high bunks, flat bottomed ship and you know... huge amounts of vomit.