Wednesday, January 17, 2007

18 June 1956

Dear Folks

After three false starts (one got up to ¼ page) & several detours, I’m back again. The mail finally caught up with us—I got four or five letters from you, which came as a very welcome relief from the somnambulistic molasses existence I’ve been leading.

Yes, I know it’s easy to say "stiff upper lip" (have you ever actually tried to keep a stiff upper lip?) & all that; I can do it myself when I’m in the right mood. At the moment, I’m sort of on the upswing.

Last night I had Shore Patrol. It rained. I did not bring a raincoat. Our "beat" was the long ramp from fleet landing to the heavily ornate Maritime Building, where the Shore Patrol Headquarters was. Running parallel to the town, the "ramp" had as a background a long, viaduct-like passageway, with a long building underneath. People stood in droves along the rail, watching the two American destroyers tied up, fantail-first, to the ramp—about halfway between the Maritime Bldg & the pier on which fleet landing was located. Our liberty launches were sharing the pier with the liner "Constitution" out of New York. She pulled out while we were there; it was almost as much fun to watch as trains used to be.

There was a cold wind, & the rain, when it came, didn’t help much. To climax the evening’s festivities, boating was canceled due to heavy seas. Being the Navy, however, they did not say: "Go, my children, & find a nice warm bed for the night." They instead canceled it "temporarily," from seven o’clock on. We spent most of the evening huddled under the viaduct, or sitting in a tiny restaurant eating pizza (not too good) & drinking hot chocolate. Whenever the rain let up, we made the rounds of a few bars, checking to see that none of our flock got into trouble. None did. When we arrived at 5:30, the first casualties began to come back—liberty had begun at 1:00. One kid, an SA (Seaman Apprentice) obviously just over from the States, came up in the arms of one of his buddies, an SN (Seaman) & therefore more accustomed to drinking. When he saw us, he stopped short (the Shore Patrol brassard does that to a lot of people) & turned to his buddy with tears in his eyes & said: "They’re gonna write me up."

"Nah, they wouldn’t do that."

"Oh yes they would—I’m drunk & they’re gonna write me up."

Reminded me of a mother trying to convince Junior that Santa Claus won’t bite.

One of the bars we visited, which wasn’t on our regular beat but fairly close to it, was owned by an acquaintance of my partner.

Never will I get used to these bars over here—the ones with hot & cold running blondes.

This particular bar was cut into a block of sheer-faced brown buildings set back from the street by a broad sidewalk. No doors—just a tall wide opening with red drapes that billowed out into the sidewalk. Sawdust on the white marble doorstoop reminds me of a butcher shop.

Inside, a smallish room with six or seven tables & a bar on the right, just as you enter. Mostly civilians, four or five "girls." At one table, just to the left, a fat, balding man sits across from a bored-looking woman in a brown sweater. On the outside of the table, a small thin woman with very bleached hair, pinched face, & red dress being pawed by a dark, silent-screen idol type. A girl in a green suit, thin & attractive only when she smiles, dances—very well—a mambo with a short, middle-aged guy in a brown suit without the coat. The music must be by Victrola, though it’s possible they’re hiding an accordionist & piano out of sight to the left.

From a room in back comes a little old woman in black, carrying a wicker hand-basket. She sings a few notes to the music, showing that most of her teeth are missing, & shuffles across the floor. Short & heavy, she looks like the Italian Momma-Mia’s you see in the movies.

One of the civilians at the bar offers me a drink—cognac. I refuse, since we aren’t allowed to drink on duty (besides, I hate cognac), but he hands it to me, & I drink it quickly, practically choking, & hope to God no one reports me. My partner is discussing a business arrangement for later in the evening with one of the girls—he’s behind a potted palm at the end of the bar drinking a beer—I can see him in the mirror behind the bar.

"Gratzia" I say to the cognac man

"Prego" he says.

Ate supper at the Seaman’s Club—in a cold, echoing former palace. The club itself is upstairs, in what was evidently a suite. The ceiling of the room where we ate (just off the bar room) had fallen in at one time, & was bare bricks, but around the curved edges can be seen the very ornate murals typical of Italian palaces. They might have been beautiful at one time, but I can never imagine them being comfortable.

French doors open onto a terrace, which looks out over a garden, now gone to seed, with a cracked & broken fountain.

"Look upon my works, ye mighty, & despair."

We were finally secured at about 0130, after having secured boating until 0700. I got a room at a nearby hotel & went to sleep immediately, only to get up at 0545. It was raining again.

55 days to go & I’m going to bed.



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