You arrive in Rome, Italy, "The Eternal City" at the airport and do not understand a single soul. Including little children running up to their parents, and you feel so stupid. You fight your way through droves of people chattering words that make no sense to you at all. Totally confused you light up a cigarette and take a deep drag and then you see people confronting you face to face and you don't have any idea what they may want. Are they telling me to put that thing out? Or do they want a cigarette too? As luck would have it, you see a sailor holding a sign with your last name on it, spelled wrong. You fumble your way toward him with your seabag and carry-all bag being pressed against many other people. You say, " Hey, how do we get out of this mess?" and he puts the sign in the garbage can and steers you in the direction of a haze gray Econoline van that is labled, US NAVY.
He drives all over the city yelling at crazy people all the way out of the city making you feel like your some sort of fifth wheel. You ask the driver, "How long till we get to the ship?" and he looks at you like you're not even real or there for that matter. You ask if you can light up a smoke and he asks you if you have an extra cigarette. After you give the guy a light too, he tells you that you really fucked up wanting to come here in the first place, because it all just sucks. You circle around the city and pass the Coliseum.
Finally after about an hour or so he tells you that the ship isn't in port anyway, so you can't even see it when you finally get to this little town called Gaeta, and he doesn't know what your supposed to do until it comes in port.
It has been over twenty hours since you were in bed last, because you flew from Detroit Metro Airport to LaGuardia Airport in New York and flown in a helo to JFK Airport and delayed for several hours there. As your throat gets raw from smoking cigarette after cigarette at the airport it is time to depart from the terminal. As you fight your way into the seat, of a Boeing 747, and struggle to find your seat, some clown is sitting in the aisle seat and a woman near the window and I have to figure out how I am going to sit in between them. Sitting between two strangers is bad enough, but when the plane taxies down the runway and one of the engines stall and the plane returns to the terminal seems light the last straw.
You wait for over seven hours at the airport talking to whoever will listen to your sorry ass and hear the life story of people you will never see again. And then something is said in a muffled tone over the address system and you scatter to find out if that is any information you need, so you won't miss your next plane. Another false alarm, useless information broadcast over and over ad nauseum. I'm walking around this damn airport by now about 7 hours and I see on those little TV's with all the arrivals and departures on them that a plane to Rome has been found. This guy comes up to me and says that he would give me 20 bucks if I carry this weed on the plane for him. I look at him kinda strange and all and ask him why he can't bring his own pot on the plane. He says, "I'm afraid I will get caught through the metal detector with it." Now I have heard everything, I said, "You can't set off the metal detector with a bag of weed, like there is no metal in the bag!" He agrees and sticks the baggie in his pants. I walk away and light up another smoke.
Finally another plane has been brought to the terminal and another long line quickly develops that you struggle with all your belongings as fast as you can so you can board. People push and shove and cut in line, every time and you end up somewhere near the end of the line anyway. That guy with the weed in his pants gets stopped at the metal detector, and is getting frisked by some fat black woman. The guy is starting to freak out as the metal detector starts to sound as he walks through it! I start to stare at him and he returns my glance. A Zippo lighter has set off the detector, but he is frisked anyway and he gets busted for the weed. Go figure. You try to muster up as much enthusiasm as you can this time, just thinking that WOW, I'm going to Rome, Italy, and a little fear that the plane may crash before you ever really ever get there, and I'm a wreck. Some lady quickly checks your boarding pass and you wonder if for some reason they are going to find something wrong with it and you'll have to get out of line for some stamp or baggage check or something. Luckily you get through this obstacle and go through the door of the cabin and the stewardess points you down the long aisle to another seat. This time you are really lucky. No one else is in your way and you find a nice seat next to the window and wait for the plane to taxi down the run way.
A stewardess comes in front of the aisle and shows how to put on the oxygen mask if it should drop down in front of me, and shows us all where the sickness bag is. I say, " Can you tell me where the parachutes are?" She looks at you like your some kind of moron and tells you later that there are no parachutes on the plane! Now you're getting really nervous now but the plane is now picking up speed fast down the runway and I know now that I better not think about this anymore cause I'm getting messed up.
The flight was long, about 10 hours and like no one to talk to so you start buying drinks to pass the time away. Damn I hate having to go to the john on planes. Especially in dress blues with those stupid thirteen buttons on the pants. There is no room in those johns either. Airplane facilities scare the hell out of me. I wondered for a long time where all the stuff goes. Years later I heard about people being killed by frozen turds falling from the skies. No magazines, and some flight attendant keeps knocking on the door wandering what you are doing in there.
The next morning the ship is about 12000 yards anchored out and a small boat is heading my way to the pier with a bunch of guys aboard pounding the water really hard. I slows down as it arrives and about a dozen guys step out quickly onto the ground in front of me. The boat is bouncing up and down as they depart and they are all fumbling around. I wait for them all to unload and I get told to get in the boat now. I quickly sit down on one of the side benches and wait for anyone else to come aboard. I start staring at the ship out there and see a 7 on the hull, it looks like a long grey cigar to me. It still doesn't quite kick in yet that I'm going to live on that thing. The driver pulls away from the landing and the boat starts bobbing and pounding the waves as I get closer to the grey cigar. I see people on board walking around now and I wonder how I'm going to get on it somehow. We ram the side of the ship by the ladder strapped to the side of the ship and have to struggle with my sea bag and suitcase all the way up this long plank.
I see an officer and a sailor walking towards the edge of the ladder and yell at me, "Can you hurry up, we can't wait all day for you." Finally you get up there and feel foolish to try and salute and drag all this up there. So now you're here and nothing makes any sense anymore because now you don't know what to do now.
It was about an hour or so later when I was brought down to G Division and introduced to the guys down below. I am so confused, and tired and I haven't got a clue what to say or do at this moment. The First class petty officer comes to your aid though and looks at your orders and says since you don't have to technically report in until tomorrow, that you can get into your civilian clothes and go back to the beach and discover the local bars in the area. You change your clothes quickly and follow the guy in front of you closely because you still do not know how to find your way around. The first class calls himself Mike and another guy named Kent take you back on the liberty boat and you head off back to the landing away from the big long grey cigar.
Staggering out of bars called the Texan Motel and the Red Light was not exactly what I thought Italy was all about all of a sudden, with strange women called bar-hogs, (more about them later) was really an eye-opener. I must of put away about 10 Heinikens before I realize that some woman called Anna Maria wants me to buy her another fish drink. I like had no idea they were to cost me about 5 dollars or 3 thousand lira to feed this bitch to kiss my mouth and rub my crotch for about 5 minutes or so. She turns into something else as the night goes on when she asks me if I want to suck on her, and she points to her boobs. I was getting drunk but I wasn't deaf yet. I go, like yeah. And she pulls up her top and she like has no bra on. Nice. I put my mouth on her firm nipple and start to taste as I lay my head on her lap. Drink after drink I buy for her like a madman, not believing this is actually happening. Mike comes up to me and says that we have to go to catch the last liberty boat. I go, no way man, and he says, "Yes!" so I get out and follow Mike and Kent back to the pier. I'm standing around, for what seems like a year and Mike and Kent split. I wonder what is going to happen to me since I haven't even reported on board yet and I am smashed. The last liberty boat arrives and I fall into it. I passed out on the way back to the ship.
I get lost aboard ship, and I walked around the ship a few times at 0200, that's like military time, 2 in the GD morning that is. I fumbled around and found my way down below decks and I saw one of the guys from my division. At 0700 I get woke up by some clown who wants to know who I am, since he hasn't seen me before. His name is Pender, like I think this is so cool, like no one uses their first name at all. I became my last name on board the ship. I freaked out, literally. I never sucked on a woman's teat before in Italy or like anywhere, so I couldn't deal with this.
Everyone I talked to, asking question about this or that told me bullshit. Everyone was trying to fuck over the new guy as best and as many times as he could. Damn I hated the guys in my division all of a sudden and I didn't know anyone else. Here I was… as straight as an arrow that drank since A school, but I needed an edge. But what could it be? Quickly, I came up with this story that I was really an Englishman, from Manchester and I moved to Detroit, when I was twelve. As the days and weeks went on I created a mock accent and most of guys on board the ship believed it. Sometimes some guys would question me about it and I would later study up on things like currency and words like, quid, lorry, tram, windscreen, bonnet, etc. and incorporate it into my vocabulary.
I really don't think I needed to really do all that, but once it was done, I couldn't renege on it since I went to all that trouble to begin with. I started finding my way around ship a lot better in the last few days and I started moving about the ship in different divisions. Mostly I was hanging around signalmen and deck apes and later on I made a new friend of a COMSIXTHFLT sailor that was the ship's weatherman. His name was Dwayne. He was a really funny guy who was from Wisconsin and he had his own office where he would burn off weather conditions from his equipment and send them to the Admiral's staff. I was talking to John, the signalman, and he asks me if I wanted to share the rent on an apartment in Gaeta. I said, " like how much, and he said, 60 dollars a month." Now go we got this little one bedroom place that I see like one week a month or so.
We get underway and we head out for Toulon, France and I don't know if I can really believe all this. I arrive in Toulon in about 3 days, the longest 3 days of my life. About half of the department that I now hate, is getting out of the Navy when we come back to Gaeta, and they want to mess with my head every day. Especially since some of the guys think that I really am not from England and they try to trip me up. I start to hang around the jarheads, one deck above in the MARDET detachment and start pumping iron with these guys because I am such a shrimp. I bench press about 100 lbs everyday for the next 3 days and get to be friends with these guys and the guys in my own division get like pissed off at me and tell me to stay away from these guys just because they are grunts. Well they sure were a lot friendlier than those jerks were. So the hell with them. I also hung out with deck apes from the 1st and 3rd divisions, because they were really cool, and friendly with me.
We come into port and I get changed into civies and head off for the main deck quarterdeck and get sent back down below for a shave! Can you believe this shit, I say to myself. One of the guys in my department gets sent down too for a haircut and I borrow a pair of scissors and an electric razor and I give him a trim. He then becomes one of my best friends after that. Even though I screwed up his hair big time, we stayed friends. I shave again and head back to the quarterdeck and the liberty boat has left. Damn it I say! I had to wait about another half an hour to get another boat and now it's after 11am and I want off of the ship and to get drunk again, and maybe find some women at the bars over here. I go over and see one of the guys I met from 1st division, a deck ape named Mark and we start hitting the bars in Toulon and since I was like the only one with money, awe don't get paid for another week so I go through a lot of dough but I have a great time, and I get laid for the first time with this fat woman named Anne and she like knows that I never had sex before and so she spends a lot of time with me in her room which totally pisses off her pimp. She keeps yelling, not yet, not yet and he keeps knocking on the door. Finally out of there and 20 francs gone forever, I start thinking that fucking these women is pretty cool, but not so much the one I laid. I really don't want to tell anyone that it was my first time and she was some fat woman that smelled, and had hairy armpits, so I head out to the bar and get drunk and tell everyone that she was really fine. I discovered in just a little over a week that all of us lie and we enjoy doing it! So ends my first week aboard the ship. In 2 different countries in a week, get drunk, suck on boobs for the first time in my life, and get laid. Formal education.