I had stayed behind on Christmas break, saving up all my leave, because I wanted a good couple of weeks at home before I had to go to a boat. I wanted to steel myself to being the lowliest scrub by hanging with my dad and my friends and then reporting to the Salt Lake City refreshed and scrubbed free of the nasty mud and snow of Connecticut.
I spent two weeks in my hometown, and on the night before I left to report to my boat, I'd gotten into a fight with a drunk and he'd opened my face up, left me bruised and split from the top of the nose to my chin.
The next day I disembarked a plane from San Francisco to the salty smell of the ocean and a warm breeze in San Diego.
"How the hell do you say that name?" the kid asked.
"It's 'All uh very,'" I said slowly. We were in the sun on the rounded rubber top of the submarine USS Salt Lake City SSN 716.
"Yeah, the new nav ET's here," the slender sailor said into a black phone. "Name's All-uh-very. Yeah. O-L-I-V-I-E-R-I, All-uh-very." He hung the receiver up on an electronic box. "Guess what?" he said. "Your name's Ollie now. Nobody's going to be able to pronounce that thing the way it is."
His name was Matt Turner. Through coincidence, he was on topside watch again when I was banished from the island nation of Singapore, and I was on watch when he was dragged down below decks when he was drunk and raving on the pier in Abu Dhabi.
I say I was banished from Singapore, but that's not exactly the truth. I was politely asked by a local magistrate to leave Singapore and never come back. It's not as if they have pictures of me up on their post office walls. It was just a broken bottle at the bottom of a pool.
A small bit of glass in a pool filter cost me 120 days' restriction onboard the boat and 976 Singapore dollars, plus a Singapore nickel.
There were two swimming pools on the entire island of Singapore. One of them was at a New Zealand army barracks, where I was staying with some of the other crew. We were a night painting crew; we worked the graveyard shift dabbing globs of seafoam green on dilapidated sections of the boat. Because of the odd hours, we bunked at the New Zealand barracks.
It was a nice barracks. It had a big TV lounge, a small snack stand by the pool that served fried-rice dishes, and the swimming pool. The pool I had to pay to have drained, cleaned, and refilled.
We were given a night off because we'd done a good job painting, and me and the guys were doing it up. We were a little groggy from having worked at night for weeks and we should've been catching up on sleep, but we started out with beer at a bar on base. When the bar was closing we hit a liquor store, and I was feeling sophisticated so I bought a bottle of wine. Other guys got vodka and mixers. Rum and Coke was popular too.
We got to the barracks after hours, and all the New Zealanders were gone. Nobody lived on that part of the base, only visitors. So we set to getting our swim trunks on and fired up a movie in the lounge. We were getting good and sauced, and I don't know who came up with the idea. The stupid idea. It was probably me.
We started pitching stuff into the pool and diving down for it. Because it was night and the only light was through the sliding-glass door to the lounge by the pool, we couldn't see most of what we tossed in. A lot of Singapore coins went in, and we never found them.
We'd yell, "Sea Hunt!" before diving in, and pretty soon I'd polished off the wine and pitched the bottle in. We dove down and nabbed it quite a few times. It didn't break right away. Then one time I jumped in, skimmed the floor of the pool, and came up with nothing. Some of the guys were yelling at me to come in. It was late and they were tired and a Muppet movie was on. I skimmed the bottom again. My ears hurt. They'd been stuffed all week with Styrofoam plugs while I ran sanders and grinders along the bulkheads we were prepping for paint.
We'd pulled into Singapore from Hawaii. It's a long haul, and the pressure in a boat changes a lot when it's diving and surfacing. And I was diving and surfacing in that pool and digging into my ears. Flakes of blood were coming out when I'd get to the surface and clear my ears. I'd pick at my ears and get a breath to go under again.
I never found it. In my drunken mind I told myself I'd dive again after the Muppets were done taking Manhattan. Maybe my ears would be clear by then.
I fell asleep in a recliner in front of the TV and later bumbled my way up to my room to pass out. I was woken by the paint crew chief at the door, saying, "Ollie. Ollie, get up. The New Zealanders want to talk with you."
In the bright sun out by the pool, I could see the destruction we'd caused. There were beer cans all over. A trash can overflowed beneath a sign that read No Drinking by the Pool.
With the hot fumes of booze in my mouth and nose and chunks of dried blood in my ears, I stood, taking a reaming by a pudgy blond New Zealand sergeant. She was ranting about how irresponsible I was, and all I could focus on was her mustache and the hurt of being caught in a royal fuckup, and hungover too.