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Why I didn't rise in the Navy.
When I turned 17 I went to he recruiter. My dad, who had his reasons, gave me permission for a minority enlistment, a "kiddy cruise." I had been in Boy Scouts and Sea Scouts, and this didn't seem much of a transition. In Sea Scouts we had gone to a scout regatta at the Mare Island Naval Station. I'd been impressed, particularly with the food. My mother wasn't interested in the kitchen, my dad was busy, and my sister and I got our own meals. The Navy, it seemed to my teen appetite, knew how. At induction I was found medically serviceable, and sat down with the recruiter over the paperwork. I remember one question" "Religious preference?" None, I said. The chief had to fill in the blanks. "What religion are your parents?" I shook my head. "What church is closest to your house?" Methodist? I got a "P" stamped on my dog tag.
I went through the usual initiation and got assigned as a seaman aboard a World War II-vintage destroyer escort home ported at a naval base near New Orleans. This was in 1962. During the Cuban Missile blockade the ship was on picket off Guantanamo. But most of the time the ship was in dock undergoing repairs and refitting. At sea I usually served as a combination night watchman and janitor. I had tested out on vision, and often was a bridge lookout. Sometimes the fantail telephone talker. At general quarters I passed ammunition on the 40 millimeter mount. Other times I joined a couple of other deck apes cleaning a compartment. Nothing demanding. At sea it's all routine. Once settled in, no need for many orders or other guidance. I did notice this:
When a seaman advances to Third Class Petty Officer he attracts closer scrutiny. He has begun his training as an apprentice to a machine. A boiler, a generator, a gun, a torpedo, an engine. He has to be closely supervised. For many this is good. They want to learn a trade which perhaps can apply to civilian life. Personally, not wanting a trade, I preferred loose supervision. And as an E-3, a seaman, I could be inconspicuous, particularly ashore, on the naval base. While the latest shipboard mishap with the sonar or the evaporator got repaired, the crew shifted to barracks ashore.
I learned to volunteer for certain on-base assignments. Driving was a good one. Officers and VIP civilians always had to be shuttled back and forth to the airport or into the French Quarter. The admiral wanted to see the daily weather map, which meant that someone had to make a long drive out to the naval air station. Packages and documents went back and forth between the base and Fort Polk. The command needed a pool of drivers. Then I heard about a Second Class storekeeper who headed a detail picking up surveyed office equipment and trucking it out to a warehouse on the far end of the base. We would pick up a load of battered typewriters and adding machines and toss them into an empty warehouse. That took an hour. We chatted and smoked on the steps until eleven, then broke for chow. That was the day. After lunch I went to the base library to read magazines until it was feasible to head for the EM Club.
Once the admiral issued a directive to all officers that their reports had to be grammatically sound. No dangling prepositions, misplaced modifiers or split infinitives. I knew about an up-through-the-hawse pipe warrant officer in a machine shop. I figured maybe... Greeted with a gruff "What d'ya want ?" from the elderly warrant, I mentioned the admiral's directive. After some reflection, he pointed me to a typewriter and a pile of much-amended typescript. I had light duty for a month, relieved of inspections and other MickyMouse, until the warrant got orders to a ship. When a chief yeoman on the base had to take emergency leave, I offered to hold down his office. That involved nothing more than collecting the mail. But the chief's leave got extended, the mail stacked up, One day an officer remarked on the piles of accumulating mail. Brilliantly, I redirected large chunks of the mail back into the base mail system to keep it circulating through one shop after another until the chief came back.
In all, save for a few incidents, I had a good ride in the Navy. The food was excellent. A glass of beer at the EM Club was a dime, a movie a quarter. The base had tennis courts and a shooting range. Space available flights to Puerto Rico. A dance with local girls every weekend. And New Orleans a short bus ride away. I had a bicycle to get around, my seaman's pay covered a modest life, and I even saved a little for college.
“No. No. Fuck you. Fuck you. No. No. Fuck you in the ass.”
The voice came out of the dimly-lit recess of a walnut paneled den in the Bellaire home of a wealthy investor and money manager. “My dad’s working,” Penelope said as she and her friend Everett walked to the open door. “I don’t know exactly what he does, but he’s on the phone a lot.” Penelope and Everett were going to Cedars Sinai to visit her mom, who had just got out of surgery.
“Ready?” said her dad as he emerged from his den. He gave Everett a fist bump, having learned that this was an acceptable generic greeting between generations.
Tom Keaton didn’t try to make conversation with his children or their friends. He liked to be polite, but knew from experience that he had no idea. There was an awkward pause.
“You watch the game?” said Everett, who was tall and athletic.
Detroit vs. New York. Tom Keaton had watched the highlights, listened to the post-game analysis, and memorized the stats. He didn’t care about sporting events, but followed the major teams as a business practice, since sports is the lingua franca of disparate men, the Swahili that bridges the chasm between classes and races.
“I don’t think Evans will have his job much longer,” Tom Keaton said.
Everett nodded, and began a short, heart-felt exculpation of the player’s performance.
“So boring,” said Penelope.
At the hospital, they were assured by a doctor that Mrs. Keaton was making a speedy recovery. After half an hour in her room Tom Keaton excused himself to make calls. Penelope and Everett remained to chat.
Tom Keaton wandered to the end of the hallway where a janitor was sweeping. The hall was quiet. A cart with medical supplies stood unattended. Outside some noise as a crane lifted a heavy generator out of the back of a truck. Keaton, stopping by a window, noticed the grass needed cutting.
The janitor looked up. He wore a cap with the New York logo.
“So what about Evans? Keaton said.
The janitor had been very disappointed with Evans. He was an embarrassment not only to New York but to his parents and his girlfriend.. He needed to go back to the minors, if they’d take him. He should never burden another major league bench with his disgraced posterior. There was no excuse.
“I don’t know,” said Keaton, and recapitulated Everett’s exculpatory opinion from earlier. “No, no,“ said the janitor. “This ain’t the first time.“ The two then reviewed some statistics from Evans professional life. Keaton said, “What’s going on outside?”
During the storm last week, the power had failed, and one of the backup generators wouldn’t work. It was one damn thing after another. Poor maintenance was the reason. Cutbacks, ever since Aldon Capital took over. No upkeep. “Look at the plants in reception.” Supply cabinets under stocked. Staff shortages. Lay offs. Double shifts. The janitor didn’t know how much longer he’d have a job
“Maybe you’re right about Evans,” said Keaton. Down in reception he looked at the plants. He called Easton. “What’s Aldon Capital doing?
Easton turned to his screen. “Good. Up a tick since yesterday. Shares are $50.19. They’re on an acquisition binge.”
“Why not go ahead with five cents and short it,” Tom Keaton said. “Three months.”
Easton scrolled to the coverage. “Tom? They’re solid. Solid financials….
“Oh, why not. Go ahead.”
A few minutes later Penelope and Everett joined him in the lobby. “Mom’s doing good but she hates the food,” Penelope said.
“I’ve been thinking about Evans,” Thomas said to Everett. “He repeated the janitor’s argument. “This isn’t the first time.”
Everett thought it over. “Maybe you’re right about Evans.”