Saturday, October 07, 2006

23 December 1955

Two days from Christmas & 3,000 miles from home. But only 283 days more in the Navy. How wonderful it will be to be free again!

Last night was the Division party. I left the ship about five o’clock; it had been raining on & off all day, & the streets were shiny black, reflecting every light in long, wavy strips.

The party was to be held at the "Little Paradise" restaurant, far on the other side of the city, overlooking the Bay of Naples. I decided to take a bus instead of a cab, not only because it would be cheaper but also more fun. After wandering aimlessly about looking for the bus, & with the aid of a non-English speaking policeman (who for some reason was dressed just like a British Bobby) I found the right corner & stood there. My bus was number 240—an electric trolley.

After a few minutes, one turned a corner & came my way. I got ready to get on, but it whizzed right by—you’ve got to flag them down, which is quaint but a little inconvenient. The next one that came along I waved at wildly & it stopped. You enter from the rear—that is, if you can. It must have been the rush hour, for every bus was jammed with people, to the very doors. After getting on, you pay the conductor, who sits in a special little booth just behind the door, 35 Lire (4 ½ cents?). And off we went, stopping every block or two as the guidelines to the wires bounced off with a boom & a great flash. The conductor would patiently get off, put the guides back on the lines, get on, & we’d be off. Most of the time he didn’t even have to bother getting off, as there was a transit company employee on almost every corner, evidently for just that purpose.

No matter where you go in Europe, you run into at least one American. On the bus were a woman & her mother, whom I knew immediately was American (you can spot them in any crowd). She looked exactly like thousands of American women on our own busses, going home from a day’s shopping. We exchanged a few words as they squeezed past me on the way to the door. And then they were gone.

The conductor signaled me about a block before we got to the restaurant, but by the time I fought my way to the door (helped by an American man & a friendly Italian who pulled me through by my coat sleeve) it was two blocks past my stop.

By the time I got to the restaurant, everyone was nearing the saturation point, & a couple were past it. We’d rented the whole place for the night, so there was no one else coming & going.
The two chaplains on the ship are leaving for other duty soon, & so both were invited, & a cake, white frosting with green trimming & a green cross in the center, had been made for them. One had gone to Rome, & Father Kelly was just getting ready to leave, tactfully pleading another engagement.

Along one wall a buffet had been set up, with food commandeered from the ship. Drinks were served at a bar at the far end, & a three or four piece band was at the other.

One of the cooks, Botz, was already fairly well on the way to oblivion, & was at the stage where everything he does is immensely funny (he thinks). He came staggering by the table with the cake &, grabbing the knife, started brandishing it at everyone. Someone told him to put it down, so he swung it with all his might & stabbed it into the cake, then walked away, laughing, leaving the knife sticking out of the cross.

And so the party progressed. I satisfied myself by grabbing a plate of food & a glass of gin & soda (mostly gin). Soon, Botz tore a photograph belonging to one of the other guys (Winston). Winston then proceeded to pour his beer over Botz’s head. The fight was broken up quite nicely and no one was hurt.

By this time, Tiny Lishman (6’3", 320 lbs), who had been completely smashed & was dancing with everyone and everything, disappeared. General speculation was that he’d fallen over the outside balcony & into the sea, but no one was in much of a state to care. Pappy Daniels, who after his last liberty was found asleep on the floor of an officer’s stateroom, had been carried into an adjoining room where our coats were stowed, laid out in state on a couch, & covered with a white sheet.

Several of the guys had crowded around the microphone & were singing, marvelously off key on every note, as the band struggled valiantly to keep up with them.

When arrangements for the hall had been made, it was agreed that, along with ice, Coca-Cola, & waiters, the management would also furnish girls ("…the best!"). Well, they were girls, anyway. I had my gin to keep me warm &, since there weren’t enough to go around anyway, didn’t press the issue. It was amazing to watch the contrast—the Americans, drunk & reeling, happily singing & shouting, & the Italians—the waiters looking disdainful & the girls looking completely bored. They kept busy by eating & wrapping sandwiches to take home.

Pappy came out of seclusion to join the line at the balcony railing &, somewhere along the line, lost his teeth.

One of the choir had taken over the drummer’s position & was keeping fairly good time, except that he’d slow down when the band went faster, & sped up when they slowed down.

Girls kept popping in, taking one look, & popping out. The midget, whom we’d met at the "private home" a few days before, was there, as were several of the girls.

At about 9:30, feeling very nice but definitely not drunk, I & three other guys set back for the ship.

On the way, Grinshaw, the kleptomaniac among us, stole the little doll that dangled on a string from the rear window of the taxi….


hopkins said...

Do we ever find out what happened to Tiny? What a great eye for detail the writer has.

Thanks for publishing these letters!


hopkins said...

I'm too old for this...

I just looked at your header and found out you're the writer!

You do have a great eye and definitely are a talented wordsmith. I will look forward reading more...

(So what did happen to Tiny?)


Dorien/Roger said...

Tiny was fine: these little adventures were merely routine for the crew and nobody thought much of the time Steinager fell into the fire pit at a beach barbecue in Beirut (coming up in a future blog, I tink).

Thanks for reading: I hope you'll stay with it.