Late Fall – 1965, San Diego shipboard…
After a couple months aboard ship, I was feeling pretty confident that I knew the ropes and managed to stay out of trouble enough that I was able to go ashore on a regular schedule. Normally, I’d have 3 weekends off per month and would have to stand watch the 4th weekend. Since I was relatively new aboard ship, I’d get a lot of those early morning watches. It can get pretty chilly in San Diego back on the fantail of the ship at 4 AM.
(One of the things I had done years before I even joined the navy was to ask former sailors what it was like. I heard many stories of tricks the old salts would play on newbies. One of the chestnuts was to send a guy for ‘waterline’. Of course there is no such thing so some poor kid would go all around the ship asking for waterline with everyone having a good laugh after the kid was out of earshot…and sometimes when he wasn’t.
Since I’d taken the time to find out about that sort of thing, I was ready for it. When someone would ask me to go get something and I had no idea what it was, I’d ask a few questions about it, and if I couldn’t get a straight enough answer, I would just head off and not come back for 1 or 2 hours. I’d just wander around or go hide in my favorite hidyhole. Maybe go to the mess deck for a snack. Then I’d go back and go straight to work. When they’d ask me if I got the jewel handled gonkulator, I’d say I’d forgotten, or that someone else had already checked it out. Well, it didn’t take long for the older sailors to figure out that I was either too stupid for those kind of jokes or knew about them already so they stopped asking me to go get things for them.
This reputation helped me out when we crossed the equator. There is a humiliating little tradition in the Navy that the old salts do to newbies when you cross the equator the first time. A Petty Officer will get you into a situation where you’re visible by most of the crew up on deck somewhere. You’ll end up with a bucket on your head, and then some sailor with your rank will whack your rear end with a broom. Stupid. Anyway, a day or two before we get to the equator, a PO asked me if I’d crossed it before, so I just say, “Yes, I have”, wary of some kind of trap…I didn’t know about the specifics of the tradition for this ship, since they are different ship to ship, I just knew it wasn’t fun for the newbie).
We were still harbored in San Diego at this point and I was still on the deck crew, so much of my work was chipping paint, painting, removing rust, etc.
One fine day, I see a couple of good-looking women, probably late teens early twenties, walking up the dock heading for the ship. So I run down to the poop deck to see what’s going on. These girls were there to pick up some sailor and while waiting for him to come down, they got to talking to those of us standing around looking, and drooling, over them. Turned out that they invited anyone who wanted to go, to join them at a private enclave up in the hills outside of SD. There would be food, a library, movies, private bedroom, for the entire weekend and all at no charge. In short, relaxation. It sounded like a resort for sailors. I passed on the invitation that time because I was suspicious of their motives…I expected there to be a big surprise bill at the end of the weekend, and Seamen 1st class like myself didn’t make much, plus I was saving money for all the stereo equipment I expected to buy in Japan. But I noted who went along, hmmm, no older guys, just kids. Seemed too much like a set up of some kind.
When the weekend ended, and one of my friends who had gone along was back, I asked him what the whole thing was about. He says it was exactly as the girls had described, except there was a religious meeting they wanted you to attend each evening.
Well, I was pretty strong in my agnostic beliefs and didn’t think they would be able to sway me much so the next time I was invited, I accepted. So began a multi-weekend adventure for me. I would get a free ride over to the ranch, or take the bus as far as I could then walk the last mile or two, get to talk to lots of pretty girls who volunteered there, found the record changer with lots of albums in the library, read lots of books, got lots of free food, and generally tried to keep a low profile because of the damn Jesus freaks who were always trying to get me into a bible thumping meeting. These people were trying to convert anyone who ended up in the little church they had. I went to the thumping meeting the first and second nights I was there but didn’t participate much since it was so stupid, but I went since I felt I should pay them back a little for all the good time up till then even though I knew it was impossible that I would convert into anything they were hoping for. But it was funny watching those idiots trying to draw some teenage kid into saying he was ‘letting Jesus into my heart’ or he was ‘born again’. These were the same kids I would see going over onto the beach and looking up a local whore a few days or weeks later.
After politely joining them in that ridiculous show that first weekend, the next 2-3 weekends I went up there, I’d make an excuse and just wouldn’t go to the bible thumping session. I’d sit in the library and listen to records. Initially they would leave me alone, then they complained that the music was to loud and disturbing the worshipers, so I put on headphones. Then they told me that the music was ‘anti-Christian’ and that they threw away my favorite records, so they said…a lie, since I found them hidden a few weeks later. So I switched to classical, which I also liked, and they could not complain about. Then they told me that I needed to go to a bible meeting or my privilege to come there would be revoked. I reminded them that I was told that this was free, for any sailor giving to his country, with no strings…
That kind of logic threw them so they would leave me alone for the rest of the weekend. This all happened over several weeks so I got to know those two girls pretty well and they were deeply into the whole ‘converting sailors’ thing. They were not shy about telling guys that they were virgins and intended to stay that way until marriage. They were, in my mind, a little misguided, but sweet. I had no designs on them because of their over-the-top religiosity but if something had happened between us, I wouldn’t have stopped it. Nothing did. But I did see them get all involved and lovey-dovey with two guys who were into spouting all sorts of religious crap…I knew the guys didn’t believe it themselves since I’d overheard them plotting to get those two girls naked, whatever it took. And they had reinforced that during our conversations when I got rides with them. They were as creepy as they come, and I don’t care for dishonest people. I had tried to warn the girls but they just dismissed my misgivings about the guy’s motives as the ramblings of a non-believer who couldn’t possibly understand the true meaning of a Christian love affair. Right. So I shut up and let them learn on their own.
Around that time I was asked to not return to the enclave, since the staff decided that I wasn’t to be converted, though they had sent several deacons to talk to me personally, after they had sent the girls (bastards, using young girls like that) to try to talk me into joining them in church, and since it was private property, they didn’t care what I’d been told about who could be there. Too bad. Quitters. I felt at the time that they had thrown their best people at me to no avail. Yea, yea, logic prevails.
I remember very clearly one evening after all the sailors had been called into the church for the prayer meeting and bible thumping and conversions, seeing a deacon talking to one of the girls in the doorway and gesturing toward me. I was standing out in the yard by a tree smoking. She came out and talked to me for over an hour and for each bible story she had, I had the historical truth or had a historically accurate story to counter her story. I had many such stories. Eventually, she asked me if I would at least try to quit smoking. I told her I would, and she walked back into the hall after giving up trying to get me to join her inside. But in some ways, I was sure I had gotten through to her.
I kept in touch with many guys who continued to go there, talked to the girls when they came shipboard, at this point they trusted me as an adviser even if I wasn’t religious, and bummed rides from the guys, since they had a car, and a few weeks later the guys had convinced the girls that they were going to be married soon anyway so they could put out now…
The guys were very convincing and the girls should be forgiven for not noticing or caring that the ship had its orders to leave SD for a nearly year long trip to a war zone. No marriages occurred and I saw lots of gushing tears and over heard cries of anguish of the sort, “You told me we would get married!”. It was a scene I’d expected to see all along. Told them so. At this point in my life I didn’t have much sympathy for people who used ‘self-delusion’ to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions…