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Ollie: a Navy enlistment gone wrong

I was a bad sailor

I wasn't always in trouble or on drugs when I was in the Navy. But I did report to the boat with two black eyes, a busted lip, and mangled nose. My new chief took a look at me when I arrived and said, "You're going to be a handful, aren't you?" His name was Chief Jacques, and he was a stout, broad man with a New England accent thick as clam chowder.

I protested and tried to explain, but explanations fall short when you really look as if you've been in a big bust-up. And I had.

The first seven months I was in the Navy I'd been in boot camp, submarine school, and navigation electronics school. This was spread out over the fall and winter of 1995 and 1996.

When all the other young recruits in sub school had gone on leave for the holidays, I stayed behind in Groton, Connecticut. The command left a skeleton crew of students around the school to stand watch at different buildings and organize little work parties to keep the base running. School was closed, so there was only me and a few other guys who sat around in the TV lounge of the barracks and watched music videos. We'd take a cab through the snow to get coffee and watch movies at the local mall, while everyone else was home with their families and girlfriends, opening presents and eating Christmas dinner.

We had to stay around base on our duty days, which was every couple of days. On your duty day you stood a watch. Standing a watch meant sitting at a desk at the front door to whatever building you were guarding and waiting for nobody to come in, because everyone on the whole base was gone. There were procedures for what to do if a visiting admiral showed up or if someone without authorization came in, but during the weeks before and after Christmas there wasn't a soul on that base except us guys on duty. So we scribbled in notebooks, wrote letters, drank coffee, all the things you're not supposed to do on a formal watch. Mostly we counted down the time until our relief arrived, so he could sit there and count down the time until his relief came.

One thing I did was keep an extra log book at the desk. Not the official log book of the watch. That was a boring damn thing. The official log book was a blank notebook with a green hardcover. The first person to start a new log had to neatly write along the front cover, "Deck Log Building 381 United States Navy Submarine School New London Connecticut" and, inside the boring pages, especially during the down time, we'd write something like "0900 : Building is secure. No phone calls. No visitors."

On the front covers of the separate log books I kept, I drew pictures, usually something terribly un-military. I was good at drawing pin-up girls, girls like the kind you'd see painted on the side of old WWII bombers. Inside I'd write what I had done that week, who I had met, what I had seen.

"Man, there is this gorgeous girl who works at Starbucks in the mall. She looks young, a couple years younger than me, maybe she's just out of high school. But she has a soft light-tan face and three earrings in each ear. You can see her earrings when she tucks her chestnut hair back. And she has a nice round body under her green uniform apron. But I can't ask her out. I don't even know her, except the name on her tag, 'Amber.' I just go in and buy a big damn cappuccino, and she gives it to me and I can't say anything. I just turn around and leave so I don't seem like I'm uncool. Last time I went there I hung around and looked at stuff on the shelf like I wasn't just waiting to talk to her. Other people came in and she got busy and then I was standing there looking at coffee mugs and little chocolates and things, like I really had to make up my mind as to whether to buy something or not. Pretty soon I'd been there for 15 minutes, debating on buying something to not seem like a creep or just go up and ask her out. She's a local, so I doubt she'd go out with a sailor. Especially a sub school sailor and not even a real fleet sailor. When everyone had cleared out, I went to talk to her and she grabbed her friend's hand and leaned in and whispered something in her ear and then went to the back room real quick. I don't think I can go back there. I looked like a damned dummy. I can't even go back there to get coffee now."

The other watches would find the log. Some would scribble designs on the back cover or write things in the pages. One guy was notorious for hooking up with girls, and I didn't doubt he was lying because I'd seen him around school and he was good-looking, one of those cocky guys who has a bunch of other guys all around him talking and joking in the smoke areas outside the barracks.

His name was Mark and he said he was a tattoo artist from Chicago, and he'd draw spider webs and things on the back of the book and write, "I don't know how it is where you guys are from, but the girls here just seem easier than in Chicago. Dude, all you gotta do is go to a local party and talk to a chick and these girls are ready to go. There are so many parties with kegs and stuff out there in town. These Connecticut girls are fun and there's a party every weekend."

Mark had been in school before me and had been in Connecticut longer and he knew some locals. He was older and was either old enough to get into bars or had a fake ID.

I wanted to spice up my stories for the logs but couldn't come up with anything. "Last night Segura and I went to a movie. The movie was pretty good. It had that guy from Quantum Leap in it and he was a magician. There wasn't anybody in the movie theater until about halfway through these girls came in and sat right in front of us. There was nobody else in there and they sat right in front of us. They were local girls who snuck in a bottle of vodka. They smoked in there too. Segura talked to them for a little bit, and after the movie we all stood outside and smoked. I should've got the number of the one girl. She had black spiked hair and wore a lot of bracelets. But I didn't ask for her number. I don't know why I didn't. Damn. Well, maybe I'll run into her next week."

Other guys wrote things like mine. No luck with the ladies. "There's this girl at the Exchange. Her name is Siobhan, but it's pronounced 'Chiffon.' She's so hot. We talked the other day, but I couldn't ask for her number. What the hell was I going to do? I can't take her to the movie theater on base and I don't have a car. She might be a Navy wife who works here. I couldn't ask, but I wanted to so bad."

Mark wouldn't respond to them all. He probably got tired of trying to write out something that was pretty hard to explain.

A lot of the stories were about people's hometowns. The unofficial logs were full of stories of getting drunk and in fights, kegs and bonfires, and the luck of sitting on the same tailgate as the girl you liked -- or about how you were afraid your girlfriend was cheating on you back home.

One kid, Busciglio, heard that his girlfriend back home had made out with a guy. Busciglio didn't stick around over Christmas break. He used what little leave he had accumulated and probably went into debt to go back to Virginia to talk to his girl.

When I was in boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, Chicago was going through the worst heat wave in the last half-century. When I got to Connecticut, the East Coast was going through the worst winter it'd seen in the last half-century. I went from jogging on hot asphalt while old people in Chicago died from the heat to shoveling snow off frozen roads while old people in New London died from the cold.

On one duty day I'd finished up my watch and was sitting around the TV lounge, when the duty officer came in and rounded a bunch of us up to stop the flooding in a basement of the main sub school building. Pipes in the basement were freezing and bursting, and me and about a dozen other guys had to go up and push the water out the door. Right when we'd get all the water out the door or into a drain, another pipe would burst and shoot icy water through the room. It was a real flood, up to our ankles in water cold enough to freeze if it stopped moving.

Up to that point I'd considered staying on the East Coast and joining up with a sub that would be deployed to European countries and home-based in Connecticut. I hadn't been doing too well in school. I treated it pretty much the way I had high school, just doing enough to get by. The better you did in school, the higher priority you got when you chose a sub. Everyone wanted a San Diego boat or a Hawaii boat.

Man, right then, with frigid water soaking my socks and boots and my wet hands frozen around a broom handle, I decided to bust my ass in school so I could get to San Diego. Heat waves in Chicago, the "Blizzard of '96" in Connecticut; to hell with that shit.

When I got back to the barracks, I got every guy's classroom notes who had gone through the same schools as I had and I studied them. I wasn't a total lump though; I still went out and had fun. One night, when the roads were too icy for buses and cabs to get into the base, me and some friends bundled up in every piece of clothing we had. We wrapped towels around our heads and put two pairs of gloves on and three pairs of socks and every bit of long underwear and all our sweaters and jackets on, and we ran almost a mile to the other side of the base where the movie theater was playing Hackers, and for our long frozen jog we were rewarded with Angelina Jolie's plump lips, her sassy haircut, and bad attitude.

Even with the gloves and long underwear and sweaters and jogging, my hands were still frozen stiff when we ran back to the barracks after the movie. The other guys sat in the TV lounge and talked about Angelina's body and face and compared it to Gwen Stefani's, when No Doubt's video "Just a Girl" came on, and I went to my room and spread out my notes.

At the end of navigation electronics school I was fourth in my class and there were two openings for subs in San Diego, the USS La Jolla and the USS Salt Lake City. The guy who graduated top of the class was married and his wife was in Virginia, so he took a boat home-ported in Virginia Beach. Second in the class was a black kid from Tennessee who wanted nothing but to be stationed in Pearl Harbor, and he took a boat in Hawaii. There was a California kid who was third in the class. He was from Sacramento, and he took the USS La Jolla and I snatched up the USS Salt Lake City. Those were the last two openings in San Diego, and I couldn't have been more relieved. The guy behind me in the rankings was from Long Beach, and when I took the San Diego boat he almost broke down crying.

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.

A pool cleaner had come that day. There was supposed to be a race held there, but it was canceled because of the glass in the filter.

I wasn't cuffed, but the Singapore police were called. After I packed my clothes in my seabag, I was escorted back to the boat, past Matt Turner standing topside watch, and below decks. In the wardroom, my executive officer and captain negotiated with the police for my release.

When we pulled into Singapore, we were told of an American kid who'd been caught a few years earlier spray-painting black graffiti on cars. The punishment meted out to him was caning. It was picked up by American newspapers and became a pretty big deal back in the States. I remembered seeing his story on the national news when I was in high school.

Singapore is the cleanest place you'll ever see. Anywhere you go in the city there is someone cleaning. Open a door and someone wipes off your fingerprints. Take a leak and after you flush, a man in a blue janitor's uniform scrubs the urinal down with a brush. There are designated smoking areas in the city. Smoking outside of that area is punishable by a fine of up to 1000 Singapore dollars. Getting caught with chewing gum is punishable by the same amount. There was a rumor circulated among the guys onboard. They told of a British girl who, a few years prior to our arrival, had been caught with a bag of weed and hanged by the police in the city square.

These are the stories I should've been thinking of when I was being interrogated by the Singapore police chief, but I couldn't think of anything except his black hair, like Spock from Star Trek, and his perfect English except for a stutter.

"S-S-S-Singapore is a very pro-pro-proper n-n-nation. We have strict penalties for d-d-disobedience."

My captain and executive officer did all the talking. I nodded and only said, "Yes, sir," because I know when to keep my mouth shut, but also because I didn't want the smell of my breath to offend the Asian policeman.

"We will not try you in court. But you will be billed for the d-d-draining and c-c-cleaning of the pool. And Singapore k-k-kindly asks you to leave and never come back, please."

The boat had to pull out that night. We were not allowed to dock in Singapore, but we could finish the scheduled repairs at an anchorage in the harbor. A small crew, with me at the quartermaster plot, undocked the boat, motored it half a nautical mile away from the pier, and anchored it. When the rest of the crew arrived, we were in the harbor and the CO was radioing supply chains on land to arrange for a ferry service to bring the rest of the men to and from the boat for the remainder of the nine days we would be in Singapore.

At captain's mast I was given restriction to the boat for the rest of our deployment, 120 days. During the proceedings, I stood in my formal whites uniform that I had dug out of storage, but I still smelled of booze and I needed a shave. We'd pulled the boat away from the pier before loading on potable water, so all sinks and showers had been secured; they were all shut off and taped up so nobody could use them. The captain held a radio message printout of my bill, 976 Singapore dollars and five Singapore cents. The message also held a personal note from the commander of naval operations, which told of his displeasure with the USS Salt Lake City, its captain, and me.

Singapore, despite having a rainy, tropical climate, has very little natural water reserves. Water has to be shipped in from neighboring countries at a premium. The swimming pool couldn't be filled for a week, and the commander of naval operations of the Western Pacific Fleet, the admiral who'd written the personal message radioed to my CO, had a son who was favored to win the swim meet postponed because of my broken wine bottle.

The captain didn't read the message to me, but he let me know that his superiors were very, very pissed, and he reminded me that "shit rolls downhill."

Because I was stuck onboard for the rest of the trip, I took watches for anyone who asked. I had nothing better to do, and I didn't mind standing on the pier.

I was up there, standing on the pier in Abu Dhabi, when Matt Turner was strung up in a safety harness and dragged down below because he was drunk and causing a ruckus. After my antics in Singapore, our boat was put on notice in every port we visited. Abu Dhabi had assigned a guard from the army to stand next to our pier sentry in case any of us got out of hand.

Matt got out of hand. The Abu Dhabi guard had a small machine gun and a red-checkered head-wrap that I thought was beautiful and intimidating. He had taken it off a few times and rewrapped it so that it draped around him and only his eyes showed through. At night we were bored, and he came over and unwrapped his face. He was a little older than me, not quite the kid that I was, or else he had aged more in the sun of the desert. He was bony-thin and dark-skinned. He pronounced my name "Ali," and after some interpretation, we decided that I could call him "Al." Our names were the only things we could communicate.

As the night drew long, Al held up his hand in a "wait a minute, I've got an idea" fashion, and then he disappeared behind a warehouse building. After ten minutes he reappeared, holding a stick wound with string.

"What do you got there, Al?" I asked, and again he held up his hand. From a stiff khaki pocket he produced a bit of meat and tore off a hunk. He worked the short stick around until he found the end of the string, and I saw a metal hook made from a sturdy wire.

"Hey, hey. That's a great idea, Al, but I can't get caught fishing on watch. I better stand over here."

He looped some washers through and tied them off near the hook, hung some meat from it, then swung the weighted end over his head, casting it from his hand in an arc. The bait bloomped into the black water behind the sub, about 20 feet from where he stood on the concrete pier. I watched from my post by the gangplank as Al tugged and angled the string, winding it back onto the stick, letting a length out onto the pier, and casting it with a spinning swing.

"NoooOOoooO!" someone screamed from behind the warehouse building. Al reeled in his line, stashed the fishing rig behind a stack of pallets, and moved his hand to the grip of the submachine gun slung beneath his arm.

"Crap," I breathed. I popped the snap on the holster of the topside watch 9mm and dashed, clunking my boots across the aluminum grating of the gangplank and thudding down onto the rubber hull of the boat. I got to the communications box, unhooked the JA telephone, and waited.

"No!" It was Matt Turner's voice, cracking high, echoing against the warehouse walls, and rushing out over the water behind me.

I clicked for the below-decks watch. Petty Officer Henman answered, "Below decks."

"Jimmy, I think Turner's drunk and raising hell up here."

The line was silent.

"Jimmy?"

"Yeah, I heard ya," he said. "I was just gettin' ready to watch a movie. What do you mean 'you think'? You ain't sure?"

"It's him. I heard his voice, yelling down by that building, but he hasn't come down here yet."

"He's done for if the duty chief or duty officer hear him. Duty officer up there?"

"Nope," I said and opened the log book. "He was up here a couple hours ago. He's supposed to come up in 45 minutes and sign the midnight entry."

"Son of a bitch!" Henman hissed.

"Jimmy, Matt's almost out of here. He's a short-timer. When we're done with this West Pac, he's out. If he goes to mast, he's going to lose rank and all kinds of..."

"I know. I know," he said. "Is Doc onboard?"

I checked the log book again. "Yep, came back around nine. Check his rack, see if he can come up and calm Matt down. I don't know, give him a shot in the butt of something."

"No-o-o! I'm not going back on that damn thing!" Matt screamed, and Al's red-checkered head-wrap swiveled, looking beyond the warehouse.

"What the hell's going on up here?" Doc's unlaced boot stepped from the top rung of the ladder up and out the hatch. He pulled his hefty body in a crumpled shirt and pants up and stood on the top of the boat with me.

I told him what was going on and asked if he could do anything without involving the duty chief or duty officer.

"Let me see what I can do," he said. Doc was a big Texan, stood about six foot three and topped in at 250 pounds. He had that Texas drawl. "God damn, Turner. I'm going to beat that boy's ass," he said, and crossed to the pier.

A crowd emerged from down past the warehouse and swarmed down the pier to Doc, me, Jimmy Henman, and Al. "What the Sam Hill are you numbskulls doin'?" Doc yelled into the crowd. In the middle of the crowd was Turner.

Turner was tear-assing around and yelling about how he didn't want to go back down on the boat anymore. A few of the other guys, drunk as Matt was, were holding him from running off and wrestling with his hands and covering his mouth. Matt was a skinny kid, not too strong, but he was drunk and being contradictory, and it took four of the guys to hold him.

Al didn't know what to do. He stepped back over and took a stand up on the stack of pallets where he'd stashed his fishing reel, and he still held that gun tight to his body, and that was something else I had to think about: Al and his gun and what Abu Dhabi procedure for treating drunk Americans on a pier entailed.

I leaned down into the pile of guys on Matt and caught his gaze. "Matt, if duty chief comes up here, I'm going back to mast for not calling him."

"Shut the hell up!" Shawn Mitchell yelled at me in drunken theatrics. He gripped at Matt's wrists again, and Matt kept hollering and fighting.

"I got an idea," Doc said. "Jimmy, come down and give me a hand."

Doc and Jimmy dropped down the hatch for a couple of minutes, then came back up with a safety harness and some green storage webbing. Doc crossed the plank holding the orange harness out in front of him and shoved Shawn out of the way. Jimmy followed him with the webbing, and they bundled and cinched Matt up in it. Doc slapped Matt on the chops and yelled into his face, "Turner, you listen to me. We're going to drag you down below decks, and if you scream and wake up the duty chief, well then, you're on your own."

"No-o-o! I don't want to go back down!" Matt yelled.

"Have it your way," Doc said.

"Doc, don't let him scream when he gets down there," I said. "I didn't call the chief, and he'll come up here and ask me why I didn't call him, and I'll be screwed for standing an improper watch. You know we're supposed to call if somebody comes down drunk."

"Ollie, would you shut up for a damned second?" Doc said. He rolled Matt over so Jimmy Henman could hook a safety line to the D-ring on the back of the harness.

The crowd struggled and dragged Matt over to the hatch, and Doc put a big boot against the ladder, wrapped the line around his waist, and dropped Matt through. I closed my eyes. I heard Matt slung down and dropped into the mess decks in his papoose of webbing, and he started yelling. "NooooOOooO!"

"Oh, I'm screwed again," I sighed, listening from atop the boat.

Everyone funneled down the hatch, and it was me and Al alone again. I walked over to the pier and he came to meet me.

"Hey, Al. How's it going?"

Al nodded.

"You want some tea?" I asked. He looked at me, confused, and I made a sipping motion with my hands. "Tea? Coffee?"

"Ah. Tea," he said.

I had Jimmy bring me up a cup of coffee and a cup of tea for Al. When Al finished his tea, he disappeared around the warehouse building. A minute later he came back and handed me his mug, filled with thick, amber-brown, sweet dates. It must've been the end of Al's watch, because he gave me the mug, turned, and walked away.

"Hey, thanks!" I shouted as he got further away. He turned back, held his open hand up high above his head, and spun it in a gesture of thanks. I returned the salute and Al walked off.

Oh, in the morning I got it. At morning muster of the duty section, they laid into me. "Why didn't you get us up, Olivieri?" and "This is exactly what we're here for, Olivieri." More of the same ass-chewings I'd gotten before, because it was more of the same behavior, un-military-like behavior, from me. "You are a total screwup. First Singapore, now this," and that's when I knew I was not going to be a good sailor.

What's worse was the duty chief was Chief Jacques, my division chief and the assistant navigator. He gave it to me twice as bad than if it had been any other topside watch, because my behavior had reflected poorly on his leadership.

Up to a point, I was a gung-ho military man. When I first arrived on the boat, I was called a "dig it" because I was by-the-book. I did everything according to procedure, studied for my qualifications and watches, put in time doing shit jobs for the cooks and deck division with a smile. But it wasn't me. I was pretending. And the more I was screamed at, the more I hated the Navy and its ways.

There are certain people who thrive in that environment. Men who crease their uniforms smart and do things exactly how they're told, and I did for a while. But I hated the screaming. Everyone screws up at some point in their Navy career, and the standard reaction from a superior is to stand in your face and scream until they're red and your chin is wet with their spit.

There's a type of man who, once he's screamed at by another man, he'll learn quick to not get out of line again, and he'll stay in line, only screwing up at honest mistakes and taking his next screaming onboard and learning from that, forever correcting and changing his course. I'm the type of man who, if you scream at me for screwing up on something small, I'm going to keep screwing up, bigger and bigger, until I've been screamed at by everybody with a voice and I'm going to flip them off and get screamed at more. More. More.

I didn't know this about myself until I was signed into a five-year contract with the Navy. And by then it was already too late. I made it one month shy of four years before they kicked me out.

By then the screaming had shoved me off the sub base in San Diego. I rented an apartment in Pacific Beach with my buddy Steele. I was the worst sailor you'd ever seen. My hair was long, almost down to my shoulders, and I dyed the top orange. I kept it tucked up under my hat most of the time, but it still slipped out. When it did, somebody'd scream at me to go get it cut. My fingernails were long and on the weekends painted silver or green. I'd grown paunchy. I was failing the physical readiness tests, running, push-ups, and sit-ups, but had begun to excel at smoking cigarettes on the pier when I was supposed to be working. When I was supposed to be clean-shaven or, at most, have a thin mustache over my lip, I usually wore a two- or three-day beard.

In four years I had gone from a gung-ho "dig it" to a "shitbag." I had been to three or four more captain's masts and was perpetually in a state of advancing to petty officer and being demoted back down to seaman. Petty officers, chiefs, and officers would stop me on base, take my hat off, rub my scruffy chin, and scream at me. "Why, you dirty shitbag! You're a disgrace!"

"Yes, sir."

"Look at that uniform. You're a shitbag!"

"Yes, sir."

They'd be pissed just at the sight of me. More. More. "Next time I see you, you better be clean-shaven and that mop better be cut, shitbag!"

"Yes, sir."

I wouldn't do any of it. I wouldn't shave until someone stood behind me at a sink and watched me. I wouldn't cut my hair until someone dragged me to the barber. I told myself that the only thing I wanted was to get out of the Navy with an honorable discharge, like my dad. But it was obvious that I wasn't acting that way. Especially since I'd gotten a taste for drugs.

In spite of my looks and drug use in port, I was a damn good nav ET, and I was the best quartermaster of the watch onboard. The entire navigation department had turned over by then, all of them ending their commitment and either becoming civilians again or re-enlisting and moving on to another command. Even Chief Jacques had moved to a cushy office job at sub squadron.

As a lowly seaman, I was the saltiest nav ET onboard. The captain had me brief new officers on piloting procedures for whatever port or treacherous stretch of ocean we were scheduled to visit.

San Francisco? There's a swirling eddy south of Alcatraz that'll spin the boat around so that you're looking back at the bridge, but you can train the outboard motor to 90 degrees port and counter it. Yes, pirates tried to ram us last time we were in the Straits of Malacca. And it's about 30 hours to get all the way through Juan de Fuca.

Even though I was officially known onboard as a "shitbag," the officers still generally liked to stand watch with me as their quartermaster. My favorite thing to do with the officers on long midnight watches was to categorize things by smell. When a boat's running deep and fast, "punching holes in the ocean," there's not much to do and the mind wanders. I figured out that Scotch tape smelled like Christmas, that the fire-control computers smelled like my high school, and the radio division officer figured out that the underside of his watch smelled like one of his ex-girlfriends. No, sir. Not much to do on a long midwatch, just coffee and conversation.

I was good at getting the Salt Lake City through the water, but in port, because I hadn't attained any rank -- or what rank I did achieve I lost through misconduct -- I was always stuck with the cooks, scrubbing pots and pans, or working with deck division, chipping paint off the hull.

I'd signed up for five years instead of four to get an education in electronics, and when I was in boot camp they had me sign a paper that said I wasn't going to get an electronics education but instead was going to be a quartermaster, but they were going to keep me the five years anyhow. So when I got out of the Navy, instead of electricity and computers, I'd know how to navigate a submarine. Not a lot of call for that sort of thing in the civilian world, but that's the way it goes.

There was a bunch of us who'd had enough of the screaming and were rebelling with hard chemicals. We always joked around and called each other "crackhead." Steele, my roommate in Pacific Beach, was close to the end of his enlistment and was a cokehead. Trujillo, a half-Mexican kid from Santa Fe, liked ketamine, and he was the one who ratted me out and eventually got me booted. Baptiste, a Panamanian black kid, smoked pot three times a day. Mitchell, a supply clerk, one of the guys who held Matt Turner down on the pier in Abu Dhabi, was dating a woman in Ocean Beach who sold us ecstasy. And Sugar, a machinist, was strung out on crystal meth. I was on anything I could fit in my mouth or up my nose. We were the crackheads of the Salt Lake City

On our second deployment through the Pacific we smoked pot in Brisbane, Australia; took E in Guam; and got a bunk batch of coke from a cab driver in Bangkok. That day I was pretty sure one of us was going to have to face up and get the rest of us to a hospital. We all did a line in our hotel room and over the next hour lay on the beds and floor, sweating and shivering and heaving. After that hour of lying pale and green in the sun streaming through the window, Trujillo got up, railed another line, and put the straw in his nose.

"What the hell are you doing?" I yelled and swiped the rat poison off the nightstand in a puff of dust on the carpet.

"I was going to try it again. You know, to make sure."

Oh, it was bad. We were bad. In the "Zero Tolerance Navy" we were doing more drugs than the college kids at San Diego State University.

There were even chiefs and officers who'd smoke a jay or drop a tab of E with us on a Friday night.

We counted once at a party. We were at Shawn's girlfriend Taryna's apartment in Ocean Beach, and there were 13 people there. Ten of them were in the Navy, and we'd been awake for three days, cocktailing at least six drugs a person.

After Trujillo popped positive on a piss test, the chiefs started switching duty sections around. Me, Baptiste, and Sugar thought it was odd that we were put into the same duty section but didn't think about it too much.

They tested piss by duty section. If you pulled duty on a Sunday, you pissed into a cup. After Trujillo popped, the chiefs shuffled me, Baptiste, and Sugar around until we were all scheduled for duty the next Sunday.

It was the Sunday after my 23rd birthday, and we did it up all weekend. We knew there was a piss test. We knew we'd be caught. We knew we'd be kicked out and we were.

Steele and Mitchell didn't get caught. They cleaned out before their next Sunday duty. They both had only a few months left in the service and they skated. Both released with an honorable discharge. Me, Baptiste, and Sugar did our 30 days' restriction, surrendered our last two paychecks in fines, were handed papers that read "Other Than Honorable Discharge," and were civilians again. Once you're kicked off of a sub, you can't even finish out your restriction there. I had to do that 30 days at sub squadron, reporting again to Bernie Jacques, who had made senior chief in his time there. And I was stripped down to a rank of E1, seaman recruit.

"Where did I go wrong with you?" he asked. "You had a lot of potential, kid."

That was one month short of four years. If I had signed up for a four-year quartermaster slot -- the rate I eventually took anyway -- instead of a five-year electronics technician contract, I might've made it. But I don't know. There are a lot of "what" and "if" scenarios somebody can go through. If I was assigned to a different boat in a different port, would I have been so bad? What if Trujillo hadn't popped positive first and given me away? None of it really matters. I knew what I was doing on my birthday. When the straw went in my nose, I thought, "This is it. This is how it ends."

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I wasn't always in trouble or on drugs when I was in the Navy. But I did report to the boat with two black eyes, a busted lip, and mangled nose. My new chief took a look at me when I arrived and said, "You're going to be a handful, aren't you?" His name was Chief Jacques, and he was a stout, broad man with a New England accent thick as clam chowder.

I protested and tried to explain, but explanations fall short when you really look as if you've been in a big bust-up. And I had.

The first seven months I was in the Navy I'd been in boot camp, submarine school, and navigation electronics school. This was spread out over the fall and winter of 1995 and 1996.

When all the other young recruits in sub school had gone on leave for the holidays, I stayed behind in Groton, Connecticut. The command left a skeleton crew of students around the school to stand watch at different buildings and organize little work parties to keep the base running. School was closed, so there was only me and a few other guys who sat around in the TV lounge of the barracks and watched music videos. We'd take a cab through the snow to get coffee and watch movies at the local mall, while everyone else was home with their families and girlfriends, opening presents and eating Christmas dinner.

We had to stay around base on our duty days, which was every couple of days. On your duty day you stood a watch. Standing a watch meant sitting at a desk at the front door to whatever building you were guarding and waiting for nobody to come in, because everyone on the whole base was gone. There were procedures for what to do if a visiting admiral showed up or if someone without authorization came in, but during the weeks before and after Christmas there wasn't a soul on that base except us guys on duty. So we scribbled in notebooks, wrote letters, drank coffee, all the things you're not supposed to do on a formal watch. Mostly we counted down the time until our relief arrived, so he could sit there and count down the time until his relief came.

One thing I did was keep an extra log book at the desk. Not the official log book of the watch. That was a boring damn thing. The official log book was a blank notebook with a green hardcover. The first person to start a new log had to neatly write along the front cover, "Deck Log Building 381 United States Navy Submarine School New London Connecticut" and, inside the boring pages, especially during the down time, we'd write something like "0900 : Building is secure. No phone calls. No visitors."

On the front covers of the separate log books I kept, I drew pictures, usually something terribly un-military. I was good at drawing pin-up girls, girls like the kind you'd see painted on the side of old WWII bombers. Inside I'd write what I had done that week, who I had met, what I had seen.

"Man, there is this gorgeous girl who works at Starbucks in the mall. She looks young, a couple years younger than me, maybe she's just out of high school. But she has a soft light-tan face and three earrings in each ear. You can see her earrings when she tucks her chestnut hair back. And she has a nice round body under her green uniform apron. But I can't ask her out. I don't even know her, except the name on her tag, 'Amber.' I just go in and buy a big damn cappuccino, and she gives it to me and I can't say anything. I just turn around and leave so I don't seem like I'm uncool. Last time I went there I hung around and looked at stuff on the shelf like I wasn't just waiting to talk to her. Other people came in and she got busy and then I was standing there looking at coffee mugs and little chocolates and things, like I really had to make up my mind as to whether to buy something or not. Pretty soon I'd been there for 15 minutes, debating on buying something to not seem like a creep or just go up and ask her out. She's a local, so I doubt she'd go out with a sailor. Especially a sub school sailor and not even a real fleet sailor. When everyone had cleared out, I went to talk to her and she grabbed her friend's hand and leaned in and whispered something in her ear and then went to the back room real quick. I don't think I can go back there. I looked like a damned dummy. I can't even go back there to get coffee now."

The other watches would find the log. Some would scribble designs on the back cover or write things in the pages. One guy was notorious for hooking up with girls, and I didn't doubt he was lying because I'd seen him around school and he was good-looking, one of those cocky guys who has a bunch of other guys all around him talking and joking in the smoke areas outside the barracks.

His name was Mark and he said he was a tattoo artist from Chicago, and he'd draw spider webs and things on the back of the book and write, "I don't know how it is where you guys are from, but the girls here just seem easier than in Chicago. Dude, all you gotta do is go to a local party and talk to a chick and these girls are ready to go. There are so many parties with kegs and stuff out there in town. These Connecticut girls are fun and there's a party every weekend."

Mark had been in school before me and had been in Connecticut longer and he knew some locals. He was older and was either old enough to get into bars or had a fake ID.

I wanted to spice up my stories for the logs but couldn't come up with anything. "Last night Segura and I went to a movie. The movie was pretty good. It had that guy from Quantum Leap in it and he was a magician. There wasn't anybody in the movie theater until about halfway through these girls came in and sat right in front of us. There was nobody else in there and they sat right in front of us. They were local girls who snuck in a bottle of vodka. They smoked in there too. Segura talked to them for a little bit, and after the movie we all stood outside and smoked. I should've got the number of the one girl. She had black spiked hair and wore a lot of bracelets. But I didn't ask for her number. I don't know why I didn't. Damn. Well, maybe I'll run into her next week."

Other guys wrote things like mine. No luck with the ladies. "There's this girl at the Exchange. Her name is Siobhan, but it's pronounced 'Chiffon.' She's so hot. We talked the other day, but I couldn't ask for her number. What the hell was I going to do? I can't take her to the movie theater on base and I don't have a car. She might be a Navy wife who works here. I couldn't ask, but I wanted to so bad."

Mark wouldn't respond to them all. He probably got tired of trying to write out something that was pretty hard to explain.

A lot of the stories were about people's hometowns. The unofficial logs were full of stories of getting drunk and in fights, kegs and bonfires, and the luck of sitting on the same tailgate as the girl you liked -- or about how you were afraid your girlfriend was cheating on you back home.

One kid, Busciglio, heard that his girlfriend back home had made out with a guy. Busciglio didn't stick around over Christmas break. He used what little leave he had accumulated and probably went into debt to go back to Virginia to talk to his girl.

When I was in boot camp in Great Lakes, Illinois, Chicago was going through the worst heat wave in the last half-century. When I got to Connecticut, the East Coast was going through the worst winter it'd seen in the last half-century. I went from jogging on hot asphalt while old people in Chicago died from the heat to shoveling snow off frozen roads while old people in New London died from the cold.

On one duty day I'd finished up my watch and was sitting around the TV lounge, when the duty officer came in and rounded a bunch of us up to stop the flooding in a basement of the main sub school building. Pipes in the basement were freezing and bursting, and me and about a dozen other guys had to go up and push the water out the door. Right when we'd get all the water out the door or into a drain, another pipe would burst and shoot icy water through the room. It was a real flood, up to our ankles in water cold enough to freeze if it stopped moving.

Up to that point I'd considered staying on the East Coast and joining up with a sub that would be deployed to European countries and home-based in Connecticut. I hadn't been doing too well in school. I treated it pretty much the way I had high school, just doing enough to get by. The better you did in school, the higher priority you got when you chose a sub. Everyone wanted a San Diego boat or a Hawaii boat.

Man, right then, with frigid water soaking my socks and boots and my wet hands frozen around a broom handle, I decided to bust my ass in school so I could get to San Diego. Heat waves in Chicago, the "Blizzard of '96" in Connecticut; to hell with that shit.

When I got back to the barracks, I got every guy's classroom notes who had gone through the same schools as I had and I studied them. I wasn't a total lump though; I still went out and had fun. One night, when the roads were too icy for buses and cabs to get into the base, me and some friends bundled up in every piece of clothing we had. We wrapped towels around our heads and put two pairs of gloves on and three pairs of socks and every bit of long underwear and all our sweaters and jackets on, and we ran almost a mile to the other side of the base where the movie theater was playing Hackers, and for our long frozen jog we were rewarded with Angelina Jolie's plump lips, her sassy haircut, and bad attitude.

Even with the gloves and long underwear and sweaters and jogging, my hands were still frozen stiff when we ran back to the barracks after the movie. The other guys sat in the TV lounge and talked about Angelina's body and face and compared it to Gwen Stefani's, when No Doubt's video "Just a Girl" came on, and I went to my room and spread out my notes.

At the end of navigation electronics school I was fourth in my class and there were two openings for subs in San Diego, the USS La Jolla and the USS Salt Lake City. The guy who graduated top of the class was married and his wife was in Virginia, so he took a boat home-ported in Virginia Beach. Second in the class was a black kid from Tennessee who wanted nothing but to be stationed in Pearl Harbor, and he took a boat in Hawaii. There was a California kid who was third in the class. He was from Sacramento, and he took the USS La Jolla and I snatched up the USS Salt Lake City. Those were the last two openings in San Diego, and I couldn't have been more relieved. The guy behind me in the rankings was from Long Beach, and when I took the San Diego boat he almost broke down crying.

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.

A pool cleaner had come that day. There was supposed to be a race held there, but it was canceled because of the glass in the filter.

I wasn't cuffed, but the Singapore police were called. After I packed my clothes in my seabag, I was escorted back to the boat, past Matt Turner standing topside watch, and below decks. In the wardroom, my executive officer and captain negotiated with the police for my release.

When we pulled into Singapore, we were told of an American kid who'd been caught a few years earlier spray-painting black graffiti on cars. The punishment meted out to him was caning. It was picked up by American newspapers and became a pretty big deal back in the States. I remembered seeing his story on the national news when I was in high school.

Singapore is the cleanest place you'll ever see. Anywhere you go in the city there is someone cleaning. Open a door and someone wipes off your fingerprints. Take a leak and after you flush, a man in a blue janitor's uniform scrubs the urinal down with a brush. There are designated smoking areas in the city. Smoking outside of that area is punishable by a fine of up to 1000 Singapore dollars. Getting caught with chewing gum is punishable by the same amount. There was a rumor circulated among the guys onboard. They told of a British girl who, a few years prior to our arrival, had been caught with a bag of weed and hanged by the police in the city square.

These are the stories I should've been thinking of when I was being interrogated by the Singapore police chief, but I couldn't think of anything except his black hair, like Spock from Star Trek, and his perfect English except for a stutter.

"S-S-S-Singapore is a very pro-pro-proper n-n-nation. We have strict penalties for d-d-disobedience."

My captain and executive officer did all the talking. I nodded and only said, "Yes, sir," because I know when to keep my mouth shut, but also because I didn't want the smell of my breath to offend the Asian policeman.

"We will not try you in court. But you will be billed for the d-d-draining and c-c-cleaning of the pool. And Singapore k-k-kindly asks you to leave and never come back, please."

The boat had to pull out that night. We were not allowed to dock in Singapore, but we could finish the scheduled repairs at an anchorage in the harbor. A small crew, with me at the quartermaster plot, undocked the boat, motored it half a nautical mile away from the pier, and anchored it. When the rest of the crew arrived, we were in the harbor and the CO was radioing supply chains on land to arrange for a ferry service to bring the rest of the men to and from the boat for the remainder of the nine days we would be in Singapore.

At captain's mast I was given restriction to the boat for the rest of our deployment, 120 days. During the proceedings, I stood in my formal whites uniform that I had dug out of storage, but I still smelled of booze and I needed a shave. We'd pulled the boat away from the pier before loading on potable water, so all sinks and showers had been secured; they were all shut off and taped up so nobody could use them. The captain held a radio message printout of my bill, 976 Singapore dollars and five Singapore cents. The message also held a personal note from the commander of naval operations, which told of his displeasure with the USS Salt Lake City, its captain, and me.

Singapore, despite having a rainy, tropical climate, has very little natural water reserves. Water has to be shipped in from neighboring countries at a premium. The swimming pool couldn't be filled for a week, and the commander of naval operations of the Western Pacific Fleet, the admiral who'd written the personal message radioed to my CO, had a son who was favored to win the swim meet postponed because of my broken wine bottle.

The captain didn't read the message to me, but he let me know that his superiors were very, very pissed, and he reminded me that "shit rolls downhill."

Because I was stuck onboard for the rest of the trip, I took watches for anyone who asked. I had nothing better to do, and I didn't mind standing on the pier.

I was up there, standing on the pier in Abu Dhabi, when Matt Turner was strung up in a safety harness and dragged down below because he was drunk and causing a ruckus. After my antics in Singapore, our boat was put on notice in every port we visited. Abu Dhabi had assigned a guard from the army to stand next to our pier sentry in case any of us got out of hand.

Matt got out of hand. The Abu Dhabi guard had a small machine gun and a red-checkered head-wrap that I thought was beautiful and intimidating. He had taken it off a few times and rewrapped it so that it draped around him and only his eyes showed through. At night we were bored, and he came over and unwrapped his face. He was a little older than me, not quite the kid that I was, or else he had aged more in the sun of the desert. He was bony-thin and dark-skinned. He pronounced my name "Ali," and after some interpretation, we decided that I could call him "Al." Our names were the only things we could communicate.

As the night drew long, Al held up his hand in a "wait a minute, I've got an idea" fashion, and then he disappeared behind a warehouse building. After ten minutes he reappeared, holding a stick wound with string.

"What do you got there, Al?" I asked, and again he held up his hand. From a stiff khaki pocket he produced a bit of meat and tore off a hunk. He worked the short stick around until he found the end of the string, and I saw a metal hook made from a sturdy wire.

"Hey, hey. That's a great idea, Al, but I can't get caught fishing on watch. I better stand over here."

He looped some washers through and tied them off near the hook, hung some meat from it, then swung the weighted end over his head, casting it from his hand in an arc. The bait bloomped into the black water behind the sub, about 20 feet from where he stood on the concrete pier. I watched from my post by the gangplank as Al tugged and angled the string, winding it back onto the stick, letting a length out onto the pier, and casting it with a spinning swing.

"NoooOOoooO!" someone screamed from behind the warehouse building. Al reeled in his line, stashed the fishing rig behind a stack of pallets, and moved his hand to the grip of the submachine gun slung beneath his arm.

"Crap," I breathed. I popped the snap on the holster of the topside watch 9mm and dashed, clunking my boots across the aluminum grating of the gangplank and thudding down onto the rubber hull of the boat. I got to the communications box, unhooked the JA telephone, and waited.

"No!" It was Matt Turner's voice, cracking high, echoing against the warehouse walls, and rushing out over the water behind me.

I clicked for the below-decks watch. Petty Officer Henman answered, "Below decks."

"Jimmy, I think Turner's drunk and raising hell up here."

The line was silent.

"Jimmy?"

"Yeah, I heard ya," he said. "I was just gettin' ready to watch a movie. What do you mean 'you think'? You ain't sure?"

"It's him. I heard his voice, yelling down by that building, but he hasn't come down here yet."

"He's done for if the duty chief or duty officer hear him. Duty officer up there?"

"Nope," I said and opened the log book. "He was up here a couple hours ago. He's supposed to come up in 45 minutes and sign the midnight entry."

"Son of a bitch!" Henman hissed.

"Jimmy, Matt's almost out of here. He's a short-timer. When we're done with this West Pac, he's out. If he goes to mast, he's going to lose rank and all kinds of..."

"I know. I know," he said. "Is Doc onboard?"

I checked the log book again. "Yep, came back around nine. Check his rack, see if he can come up and calm Matt down. I don't know, give him a shot in the butt of something."

"No-o-o! I'm not going back on that damn thing!" Matt screamed, and Al's red-checkered head-wrap swiveled, looking beyond the warehouse.

"What the hell's going on up here?" Doc's unlaced boot stepped from the top rung of the ladder up and out the hatch. He pulled his hefty body in a crumpled shirt and pants up and stood on the top of the boat with me.

I told him what was going on and asked if he could do anything without involving the duty chief or duty officer.

"Let me see what I can do," he said. Doc was a big Texan, stood about six foot three and topped in at 250 pounds. He had that Texas drawl. "God damn, Turner. I'm going to beat that boy's ass," he said, and crossed to the pier.

A crowd emerged from down past the warehouse and swarmed down the pier to Doc, me, Jimmy Henman, and Al. "What the Sam Hill are you numbskulls doin'?" Doc yelled into the crowd. In the middle of the crowd was Turner.

Turner was tear-assing around and yelling about how he didn't want to go back down on the boat anymore. A few of the other guys, drunk as Matt was, were holding him from running off and wrestling with his hands and covering his mouth. Matt was a skinny kid, not too strong, but he was drunk and being contradictory, and it took four of the guys to hold him.

Al didn't know what to do. He stepped back over and took a stand up on the stack of pallets where he'd stashed his fishing reel, and he still held that gun tight to his body, and that was something else I had to think about: Al and his gun and what Abu Dhabi procedure for treating drunk Americans on a pier entailed.

I leaned down into the pile of guys on Matt and caught his gaze. "Matt, if duty chief comes up here, I'm going back to mast for not calling him."

"Shut the hell up!" Shawn Mitchell yelled at me in drunken theatrics. He gripped at Matt's wrists again, and Matt kept hollering and fighting.

"I got an idea," Doc said. "Jimmy, come down and give me a hand."

Doc and Jimmy dropped down the hatch for a couple of minutes, then came back up with a safety harness and some green storage webbing. Doc crossed the plank holding the orange harness out in front of him and shoved Shawn out of the way. Jimmy followed him with the webbing, and they bundled and cinched Matt up in it. Doc slapped Matt on the chops and yelled into his face, "Turner, you listen to me. We're going to drag you down below decks, and if you scream and wake up the duty chief, well then, you're on your own."

"No-o-o! I don't want to go back down!" Matt yelled.

"Have it your way," Doc said.

"Doc, don't let him scream when he gets down there," I said. "I didn't call the chief, and he'll come up here and ask me why I didn't call him, and I'll be screwed for standing an improper watch. You know we're supposed to call if somebody comes down drunk."

"Ollie, would you shut up for a damned second?" Doc said. He rolled Matt over so Jimmy Henman could hook a safety line to the D-ring on the back of the harness.

The crowd struggled and dragged Matt over to the hatch, and Doc put a big boot against the ladder, wrapped the line around his waist, and dropped Matt through. I closed my eyes. I heard Matt slung down and dropped into the mess decks in his papoose of webbing, and he started yelling. "NooooOOooO!"

"Oh, I'm screwed again," I sighed, listening from atop the boat.

Everyone funneled down the hatch, and it was me and Al alone again. I walked over to the pier and he came to meet me.

"Hey, Al. How's it going?"

Al nodded.

"You want some tea?" I asked. He looked at me, confused, and I made a sipping motion with my hands. "Tea? Coffee?"

"Ah. Tea," he said.

I had Jimmy bring me up a cup of coffee and a cup of tea for Al. When Al finished his tea, he disappeared around the warehouse building. A minute later he came back and handed me his mug, filled with thick, amber-brown, sweet dates. It must've been the end of Al's watch, because he gave me the mug, turned, and walked away.

"Hey, thanks!" I shouted as he got further away. He turned back, held his open hand up high above his head, and spun it in a gesture of thanks. I returned the salute and Al walked off.

Oh, in the morning I got it. At morning muster of the duty section, they laid into me. "Why didn't you get us up, Olivieri?" and "This is exactly what we're here for, Olivieri." More of the same ass-chewings I'd gotten before, because it was more of the same behavior, un-military-like behavior, from me. "You are a total screwup. First Singapore, now this," and that's when I knew I was not going to be a good sailor.

What's worse was the duty chief was Chief Jacques, my division chief and the assistant navigator. He gave it to me twice as bad than if it had been any other topside watch, because my behavior had reflected poorly on his leadership.

Up to a point, I was a gung-ho military man. When I first arrived on the boat, I was called a "dig it" because I was by-the-book. I did everything according to procedure, studied for my qualifications and watches, put in time doing shit jobs for the cooks and deck division with a smile. But it wasn't me. I was pretending. And the more I was screamed at, the more I hated the Navy and its ways.

There are certain people who thrive in that environment. Men who crease their uniforms smart and do things exactly how they're told, and I did for a while. But I hated the screaming. Everyone screws up at some point in their Navy career, and the standard reaction from a superior is to stand in your face and scream until they're red and your chin is wet with their spit.

There's a type of man who, once he's screamed at by another man, he'll learn quick to not get out of line again, and he'll stay in line, only screwing up at honest mistakes and taking his next screaming onboard and learning from that, forever correcting and changing his course. I'm the type of man who, if you scream at me for screwing up on something small, I'm going to keep screwing up, bigger and bigger, until I've been screamed at by everybody with a voice and I'm going to flip them off and get screamed at more. More. More.

I didn't know this about myself until I was signed into a five-year contract with the Navy. And by then it was already too late. I made it one month shy of four years before they kicked me out.

By then the screaming had shoved me off the sub base in San Diego. I rented an apartment in Pacific Beach with my buddy Steele. I was the worst sailor you'd ever seen. My hair was long, almost down to my shoulders, and I dyed the top orange. I kept it tucked up under my hat most of the time, but it still slipped out. When it did, somebody'd scream at me to go get it cut. My fingernails were long and on the weekends painted silver or green. I'd grown paunchy. I was failing the physical readiness tests, running, push-ups, and sit-ups, but had begun to excel at smoking cigarettes on the pier when I was supposed to be working. When I was supposed to be clean-shaven or, at most, have a thin mustache over my lip, I usually wore a two- or three-day beard.

In four years I had gone from a gung-ho "dig it" to a "shitbag." I had been to three or four more captain's masts and was perpetually in a state of advancing to petty officer and being demoted back down to seaman. Petty officers, chiefs, and officers would stop me on base, take my hat off, rub my scruffy chin, and scream at me. "Why, you dirty shitbag! You're a disgrace!"

"Yes, sir."

"Look at that uniform. You're a shitbag!"

"Yes, sir."

They'd be pissed just at the sight of me. More. More. "Next time I see you, you better be clean-shaven and that mop better be cut, shitbag!"

"Yes, sir."

I wouldn't do any of it. I wouldn't shave until someone stood behind me at a sink and watched me. I wouldn't cut my hair until someone dragged me to the barber. I told myself that the only thing I wanted was to get out of the Navy with an honorable discharge, like my dad. But it was obvious that I wasn't acting that way. Especially since I'd gotten a taste for drugs.

In spite of my looks and drug use in port, I was a damn good nav ET, and I was the best quartermaster of the watch onboard. The entire navigation department had turned over by then, all of them ending their commitment and either becoming civilians again or re-enlisting and moving on to another command. Even Chief Jacques had moved to a cushy office job at sub squadron.

As a lowly seaman, I was the saltiest nav ET onboard. The captain had me brief new officers on piloting procedures for whatever port or treacherous stretch of ocean we were scheduled to visit.

San Francisco? There's a swirling eddy south of Alcatraz that'll spin the boat around so that you're looking back at the bridge, but you can train the outboard motor to 90 degrees port and counter it. Yes, pirates tried to ram us last time we were in the Straits of Malacca. And it's about 30 hours to get all the way through Juan de Fuca.

Even though I was officially known onboard as a "shitbag," the officers still generally liked to stand watch with me as their quartermaster. My favorite thing to do with the officers on long midnight watches was to categorize things by smell. When a boat's running deep and fast, "punching holes in the ocean," there's not much to do and the mind wanders. I figured out that Scotch tape smelled like Christmas, that the fire-control computers smelled like my high school, and the radio division officer figured out that the underside of his watch smelled like one of his ex-girlfriends. No, sir. Not much to do on a long midwatch, just coffee and conversation.

I was good at getting the Salt Lake City through the water, but in port, because I hadn't attained any rank -- or what rank I did achieve I lost through misconduct -- I was always stuck with the cooks, scrubbing pots and pans, or working with deck division, chipping paint off the hull.

I'd signed up for five years instead of four to get an education in electronics, and when I was in boot camp they had me sign a paper that said I wasn't going to get an electronics education but instead was going to be a quartermaster, but they were going to keep me the five years anyhow. So when I got out of the Navy, instead of electricity and computers, I'd know how to navigate a submarine. Not a lot of call for that sort of thing in the civilian world, but that's the way it goes.

There was a bunch of us who'd had enough of the screaming and were rebelling with hard chemicals. We always joked around and called each other "crackhead." Steele, my roommate in Pacific Beach, was close to the end of his enlistment and was a cokehead. Trujillo, a half-Mexican kid from Santa Fe, liked ketamine, and he was the one who ratted me out and eventually got me booted. Baptiste, a Panamanian black kid, smoked pot three times a day. Mitchell, a supply clerk, one of the guys who held Matt Turner down on the pier in Abu Dhabi, was dating a woman in Ocean Beach who sold us ecstasy. And Sugar, a machinist, was strung out on crystal meth. I was on anything I could fit in my mouth or up my nose. We were the crackheads of the Salt Lake City

On our second deployment through the Pacific we smoked pot in Brisbane, Australia; took E in Guam; and got a bunk batch of coke from a cab driver in Bangkok. That day I was pretty sure one of us was going to have to face up and get the rest of us to a hospital. We all did a line in our hotel room and over the next hour lay on the beds and floor, sweating and shivering and heaving. After that hour of lying pale and green in the sun streaming through the window, Trujillo got up, railed another line, and put the straw in his nose.

"What the hell are you doing?" I yelled and swiped the rat poison off the nightstand in a puff of dust on the carpet.

"I was going to try it again. You know, to make sure."

Oh, it was bad. We were bad. In the "Zero Tolerance Navy" we were doing more drugs than the college kids at San Diego State University.

There were even chiefs and officers who'd smoke a jay or drop a tab of E with us on a Friday night.

We counted once at a party. We were at Shawn's girlfriend Taryna's apartment in Ocean Beach, and there were 13 people there. Ten of them were in the Navy, and we'd been awake for three days, cocktailing at least six drugs a person.

After Trujillo popped positive on a piss test, the chiefs started switching duty sections around. Me, Baptiste, and Sugar thought it was odd that we were put into the same duty section but didn't think about it too much.

They tested piss by duty section. If you pulled duty on a Sunday, you pissed into a cup. After Trujillo popped, the chiefs shuffled me, Baptiste, and Sugar around until we were all scheduled for duty the next Sunday.

It was the Sunday after my 23rd birthday, and we did it up all weekend. We knew there was a piss test. We knew we'd be caught. We knew we'd be kicked out and we were.

Steele and Mitchell didn't get caught. They cleaned out before their next Sunday duty. They both had only a few months left in the service and they skated. Both released with an honorable discharge. Me, Baptiste, and Sugar did our 30 days' restriction, surrendered our last two paychecks in fines, were handed papers that read "Other Than Honorable Discharge," and were civilians again. Once you're kicked off of a sub, you can't even finish out your restriction there. I had to do that 30 days at sub squadron, reporting again to Bernie Jacques, who had made senior chief in his time there. And I was stripped down to a rank of E1, seaman recruit.

"Where did I go wrong with you?" he asked. "You had a lot of potential, kid."

That was one month short of four years. If I had signed up for a four-year quartermaster slot -- the rate I eventually took anyway -- instead of a five-year electronics technician contract, I might've made it. But I don't know. There are a lot of "what" and "if" scenarios somebody can go through. If I was assigned to a different boat in a different port, would I have been so bad? What if Trujillo hadn't popped positive first and given me away? None of it really matters. I knew what I was doing on my birthday. When the straw went in my nose, I thought, "This is it. This is how it ends."

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