I was going to see Ben Lee and Rooney at 'Canes. It was a weekend night without a party to crash. The girl I was going with was taking care of someone's dog, and I had to pick her up in PB. I told her we had to get to 'Canes before they stopped serving food, which is early, and I'm addicted to 'Canes' fajitas. When we took the dog outside, I saw a party going on. I said, "Hey, let's get some free food instead of the fajitas." We walked over with the dog, and a guy on the balcony said hello. My date blurted, "Do you wanna be in the Reader ?" "What's that?" he asked. "It's a weekly," I explained. "I write about parties. I could write about yours." He said, "You're the crasher! I've read that. Come on in."Nothing like saving a little money on a date.
We walked upstairs and met a group of military guys. Joe, who had invited us up, explained, "We're having a little celebration. It's my last day on the ship." He was on the Stennis. I asked him what he'd do now. "Take a two-week vacation, then probably some boring desk job."
His wife walked into the room. She was pregnant and getting hit with the usual questions. I asked the Do you have names picked out? question. They had a few good names chosen. If I hate a name future parents are considering, I tell them. I figure it's the one chance that unborn child will have for somebody to stick up for them before being branded with a lousy name.
Joe headed outside to pick mint leaves for the mojitos. He came back in and handed me the cocktail. It was strong. As I sipped the drink and chatted, I noticed my date devouring lettuce wraps. I smiled, happy knowing that, with each bite, I was saving money.
One guy proposed a toast to the Nimitz, the ship that he worked on. I said, "Hey, I just heard on the news that there was a fire on it yesterday." He explained what happened, but started by saying, "Off the record." Sorry.
I asked him what happens if someone joins the Navy and then finds out they get seasick. He said, "I get seasick." I asked what he does for it. "I just lay down and go to sleep. But, there was a woman who got seasick really bad. They put her in a part of the Navy that didn't have to go out to sea." I said, "She didn't know she got seasick before she signed up?" He laughed and said, "She claims she didn't, but who knows? People sometimes make claims on various things to get easier jobs."
I asked a woman walking by how difficult it is when her husband is out to sea for six months. "Oh, it's tough. I miss him terribly." I asked Joe's wife the same question. "He was gone for six months in Iraq, when the war first started," she told me. "Then he did an eight-month tour. When he stopped in Hong Kong, I flew out there." Joe interjected, "It was more humid there than it was in South Carolina." Someone handed me another drink. "Maybe having your husband gone for six months at a time can be refreshing," I offered. "The 'absence makes the heart grow fonder' thing." She smiled. Someone asked her about a picture, and she left to get the sonogram of her baby. I looked at it and said, "Oh, your baby is so cute. He's got your eyes." One guy leaned in and asked me why I said that when you could hardly even tell it was a baby. I said, "That was the joke, but I guess it wasn't very funny. Even when I see photos of babies, I don't think they ever look like the parents."
I found that asking people what they did on the ship was useless. It made no sense to me. Someone told me they were a "reactor control officer." Someone else told me they rewrite logs.
I finished the second drink, having eaten only a few chips, and I was getting dizzy. I met a childhood friend of Joe's who's a lifer in the military. He looked like David Caruso with muscles. He said, "I have two brothers who are in Iraq right now. My mom doesn't watch TV anymore."
He never got married, and as he was explaining why -- sounded like a mix of Dr. Laura and Tom Leykis -- I told him I needed to grab something to eat. I stumbled into the kitchen, which was packed with people making drinks. My date looked for a bottle opener for her beer. One guy said, "I can use my ring." He put his finger over the bottle and popped off the top. He said, "This is my ring from the academy. It comes in handy for that."
The kitchen table was surrounded by people getting food, and I didn't bother. I grabbed a few chips and went over to the guy I had been talking with. He was from New Mexico and had been in the service for ten years. He told me his dad and brother are both stationed out here. It made me realize that, though we often think about how difficult it is for our military when we're involved in a war, even when we aren't, being stationed and going city to city must also be tough.
We talked a little about politics, and I was pleasantly surprised that he didn't get heated when we didn't agree. He said, "Hey, I have friends that are Republicans and others that are Democrats. I love hearing all sides of the issues."
I finished my third drink and was having a little trouble walking. I told my date she'd have to drive. I asked her if she got enough to eat. "Yeah. The lettuce wraps were great."
We got to 'Canes, where I thought I'd be able to get my fix of fajitas. The bouncer told me they had stopped serving food, and just as the alcohol was making me brave enough to get in his face and yell, my date said, "Let's just walk down the block. There're lots of restaurants over there."
That bouncer was lucky.
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