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The United States Navy Memorial

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The Rooster

04/20/2013 11:00AM

By: Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired

There is a brief period in life’s journey when the planets align and all seems right with the world. A fleeting moment of self-assumed invincibility coupled with an unquenchable thirst to sample those forbidden delights previously denied...an affliction usually occurring as the male of the species approaches his majority…

The Korean War had come to a draw at the 38th parallel, Ike was President, Elvis was “The Pelvis” and all was right with the world. Like rock and roll music, life was on an up-beat. To a couple of young Third Class Radiomen just finishing RM school at the Naval Operating Base, Norfolk, life was not only a “bowl of cherries”…it was the whole blooming orchard!

As to the alignment of the planets…it was Friday, the “eagle had crapped,” a long Fourth of July liberty weekend loomed and the decadence of Norfolk’s notorious East Main Street was only a twenty-five cent bus ride away! Cliff “Bobby” Bowers and David “Skeeter” Simpson having just completed sixteen weeks of Radioman school swaggered from the graduation ceremony waving their completion certificates and giving the finger to fellow students still in the training cycle. Carefree, and as the old adage goes, “feeling ten feet tall and bullet-proof,” the cosmos was definitely in sync…

Simpson spun the combination and opened his locker. Removing his neatly pressed inspection Whites, he carefully laid them out on his bunk, kicked off his shoes and stripped for the showers. Glancing at Bowers who had flaked-out in the upper bunk he popped the towel at him, “Come on Bobby get your skinny butt in gear… I’m hotter than a fox in a fiery forest! I can’t wait to get down town to see those Rathskeller lovelies!

Bowers unmoved grunted still staring at the overhead. “Move it, move it bunk-buddy! We want to catch the six o’clock Granby Street bus.”

Stirring, Bowers sighted, “I’ve been laying here wondering about my assignment. I asked for any type sea duty, but I’ve been down to the Destroyer Piers eyeing those sleek hummers. Got invited to see the radio shack by the First Class in charge! Damn, it was neat. I can see me now, the legendary “Thirty-knot Bowers” cutting furrows across the Seven Seas!

Simpson blowing breath on his liberty shoes carefully wipes them with a dirty tee shirt; “Well Mister “Thirty Knots” the Chief said we’ll get orders next week…you know I applied for submarine duty. Just think; the new “Nautilus” is like Jules Vern’s “Twenty-Thousand Leagues under the Sea!” Admiral Rickover said it can stay submerged indefinitely on atomic power...can you fathom such an achievement?”

Then hesitating, Simpson frowned, “But I’m not sure I can hack the close quarters. On a dare, I got stuck in a road culvert when I was a kid… seemed like hours to dig me out! I get a little screwed-up sometimes when things close in on me. So if I can’t qualify for subs I don’t care where I go…however, [raising his voice] I would like to go to Rathskellers’ bar before the damn long weekend is over! So come on the lovely incomparable Miss Tanya Lamoure and a cold pitcher of suds are waiting!”

Bowers the more mature of the two propped up on his elbows, “You are soooo naive Skeeter. Tanya is older that my mama and got more miles on that thing than Daddy’s old Packard! You noticed I said “thing,” I’m still not convinced Tanya is not a he-she. Hell, with her voice she could sing “Old Man River” on Broadway! And then there’s the Adam’s apple and five o-clock shadow which should give you a clue! She gave your privates a squeeze after you spent your paycheck on her and now you think you’ve in love…

Bowers had Simpson thinking, “I would rather go to the Red Rooster at least I know the girls are girls and more our age. But, if you prefer the puffers…” Simpson bug-eyed, gagged, “Don’t play with me Bobby, you really think Tanya is one of those he-she things?” Bowers laughing at Simpson’s anxiety did not reply…“Okay, the Red Rooster it is shipmate, cause I’ll never get caught in Rathskellers again! Maybe we’ll visit the Krazy Kat, Ship Ahoy and the Palomino Club too…hell, we’ll hit em all if the money holds and we don’t miss the bus. Hell, forget the bus, its payday lets take a cab we can get a couple of other liberty hounds to share the fare.”

Before going any further with Bobby and Skeeter’s exploits, as a First Class Petty Officer in the early Fifties, I witnessed firsthand the seedier side of Norfolk, namely East Main Street. Awaiting transportation to Guantanamo, Cuba I was assigned to Shore Patrol. Patrolling that area in its raw decadent heyday was an adventure! I would attempt to set the stage however; I could never describe the place as eloquently as it is portrayed in the short story “East Main” by one of my favorite writers, Bob ‘Dex’ Armstrong. Dex who wrote through the eyes of a spirited young White-hat, painted word pictures of the street with colorful strokes, “K-mart of Whoredom, Casbah of Carnal Delights, and of eating Slim-Jims, drinking cheap beer and peeing in the street…

 

Now back to the story. The cab pulled up at the corner of Granby and East Main. The three Submariners who shared the ride were headed to Bell’s, an unofficial watering hole for Smoke-boat sailors. Simpson wanted to go, but reneged, feeling if all went well he would first earn his Dolphins. Squaring their hats they stepped out smartly for the Red Rooster.

Dense fog off the Elizabeth River began drifting across the waterfront as they made their way through the myriad of seafaring fun-seekers. The pending darkness brought the gaudy neon-jungle flickering to life. The bright hues of flashing signs cast a kaleidoscope of color across the infamous mist-dampened street as the pair reached the familiar swinging-doors of the Rooster.

Inside it was wall-to-wall sailors, marines, tattooed bar maids and painted ladies that follow the fleet. The oscillating ceiling lights and corner jukebox reflected off the rancid haze that floated like some ion-charged cloud across the expanse of the place. One of Les Paul’s guitar instrumentals thundering above the alcohol enhanced babble rattled the glassware on the back bar, while undulating masses gyrated to the beat…

In a darkened back booth, an aging fouled-anchor curmudgeon whose leathery face matched the worn upholstery had a bowling ball grip on Tugboat Annie’s crotch. The two in heat, were engaged like sumo wrestlers in a nauseating bout of suck-face. Nearby; several inebriated Seamen were washing down pickled eggs with the dregs of their last pitcher of Falstaff. One tadpole, with yolk dribbling from the corners of his mouth, digressed to licking mug circles from the tabletop before going limp and sliding unnoticed into the moldy substance encrusting the floor below…the “Rooster,” was definitely a Five-star establishment!

Bowers and Simpson having squeezed in at the bar were drinking drafts and an occasional shooter to celebrate their graduation. The juke cranking out Hank Williams’ mournful “Your Cheating Heart…” had sailors and b-girls belly-rubbing across the linoleum like a flock of Sand hill cranes in some sort of mating ritual. Simpson surveying the room spotted two attractive girls at a floor-side table. They seemed out of place as most of the girls he recognized as regulars. Curious, he elbowing Bowers, chug-a-lugged his beer for courage, hoisted the glass for another round and with a swagger nonchalantly meandered over to make his moves...

The long-legged brunette facing him, whispered to her partner who turned to eye the two sailors. With a drawl dripping with magnolia blossoms the brunette purred, “Ahoy Swabbies! I’m Miss Savanna and this is Cheyenne, we were just discussing how dreamy and cute you sailor boys are!” Simpson’s chest swelling in typical macho fashion replied with a smirk, “Well hot damn, two ladies right out of the travel brochures… in that case my friend here is Buffalo Bob from New York and I’m Big Dick Daddy from Cincinnati! Would you girls consider joining in some navel maneuvers?”

 

Eagerly waiting a reply, Bowers and Simpson hovered over the small table with boyish anticipation. Savanna smiling up at Simpson winked, “Well…with such impressive credentials why don’t you and Buffalo thingy-ma-Bob join us and we’ll tweak your radio knobs!” This warm invitation was much to the chagrin of a group of young warrior-gods from the Marine Barracks who had been strategizing and ogling the girls from a nearby booth. Bowers with an eat-your-heart-out grin shot them a bird.

 

As the two sailors fumbled for chairs, Savanna uncrossed her long legs giving Simpson a glimpse of the dark mysteries beyond. Blushing, he dropped his drink! Cheyenne giggling incessantly squealed, upending her chair as she pushed back from the spill. The sudden movement of her body sent her ample bosom heaving upward. Bowers reaching to steady her gawked at her abundant charms and was smitten…

 

Responding to the commotion, a burly barmaid with features matching those of an Upland Gorilla tossed a soppy bar-rag on the table. Mumbling expletives, she took a broad swipe at the spill pushing the residue to the floor. The half-smoked cheroot hanging from the snarling hole in her face bobbed up and down strewing ashes in Bowers’ glass. Unconcerned she barked, “What’ll it be for you Mates and [sarcastically] the Ladies?”

 

Cheyenne still giggling, “Miss Savanna and I just adore sipping on those creamy Black Russians.” Bowers grinning shot back, “How’s about sippin’ on a White Upstate New Yorker?” They all laughed! Simpson cozying up to Savanna introduced himself, “Ladies I’m David Simpson…everybody calls me Skeeter, and this is my shipmate Bobby Bowers. As you mentioned we are Radiomen and are celebrating our graduation.”

King Kong returned with the drinks and Bowers tipped her a dollar…what the hell, sailors are big spenders on payday. The girls toasted the graduates as the old Wurlitzer dropped Rosemary Clooney’s “Hey there” on the turntable. The popular love song filled the floor with couples. Simpson saw two of the Marines rise and come toward the table. Without asking, he grabbed Savanna’s hand and led her into the midst of the crowd.

“I didn’t want to share you with those guys,” he cooed, pulling her close. Then blushing, apologized for stepping on her foot. She smiled, gently resting her cheek on his chest. Arching her back slightly, she pressed that wondrous “Hill of Venus” against him. As they move to the music, the rhythmic movement of her hips filled Simpson with lust.

His youthful giddiness however, was mixed with apprehension. His experience with the opposite sex had been limited to high school petting and a few backseat-wrestling bouts at the drive-in theater. He had never gotten “lucky”…hell; the girls in Ohio were all lock-legged virgins!   Now he was with a mature passionate woman…his mind was nearing burnout calculating the various “what if” scenarios. Could he respond without making a fool of himself if the occasion presented itself? The situation was serious; his self-proclaimed status as a sexual predator was at stake…   

The record over, Savanna went to the jukebox. “Skeeter you’re a great dancer lets play some more music! I just love to dance the slow ones…especially with you.” Simpson elated fumbled for some change as she perused the menu. Punching in “Stranger in Paradise,” Teach Me Tonight” and “Three Coins in the Fountain,” she interlocked her fingers in his and moved back to the floor. Simpson glanced toward the table to check on his shipmate. One of the marines, a handsome six-foot Adonis, was leaning against Bower’s empty chair putting the make on a very receptive giggling Cheyenne. Where was Bowers?

During the dance Simpson continued to watch for Bowers return. When he did not, he told Savanna of his concern and they returned to the table. Lover-boy was now sitting in Bowers chair holding Cheyenne’s hand. Glaring at the smug intruder who in defiance ignored his presences, Simpson questioned Cheyenne, “Where’s Bobby?” Without taking her eyes off her new suitor she pointed, “He went to the little boy’s room.”

Simpson quickly made his way to the rear of the bar. Two sailors exiting the head commented, “Man, someone had their clock cleaned in there!” Splattered blood and smudged handprints formed stark contrasting patterns against the white tile of the walls and floor. Hearing moans from a rear stall he pulled open the door. Bowers beaten senseless was stuffed in a crumpled heap between the wall and toilet fixture.  Startled at his friend’s condition Simpson quickly got his hands under Bowers armpits and began pulling him out into the open floor.

Suddenly the adjacent stall door was kicked open with such force it sent Simpson crashing into the row of sinks on the opposite wall. In a heartbeat Bowers two assailants were on him with merciless vengeance. In an animalistic rage they punched and kicked Simpson into near oblivion.

Laying face down on the cold tile floor, an attacker straddled his back, grabbed his hair and snapped his head back then hissed in his ear, “Remember this asshole, swabbies don’t -----” before he could complete the threat, several sailors stormed in for a head call, turned screaming back into the bar, “Fight! Fight! Jarheads and Sailors!” The infamous clash at the Red Rooster was underway…

Crawling through puke, Simpson struggled to get to the broken window in the paddy-wagon door for some fresh air. The beating, stench of stale booze plus being confined had him dizzy and nauseated. Pushing between several prostrate forms, he locked his fingers in the wire mesh and painfully pulled himself up to the opening…his ribs were killing him. Taking several deep breaths, he sighed pressing his swollen face into the coolness of the steel door.

 The lampposts along Hampton Boulevard passed like symbolic mile-markers of doom, counting down the distance to his impending fate. Simpson’s mind was in chaos... Will the Chief understand he was an innocent victim? What punishment lay in store? Hopefully not Captain’s Mast…he didn’t want to lose his new Crow. Was Bowers okay? Cracking a painful smile he remembered kicking one of his assailants in the nuts! His mind still scrambled, why, why did he wear his inspection uniform on liberty? He would have to deep-six it, stupid shit! Damn he was hurting…

To top it off, he still had his virginity…the friggin’ Marines seen to that! He was so close to getting “lucky!” Would he get to see the playful Savanna again? Naw, too sophisticated for an Ohio farm boy anyway. Slumping into an inert heap, he sighed and slowly closed his eyes…how in holy hell could he get so screwed-up in such a short time on such a special weekend?

As a First Class Petty Officer awaiting transportation for recent orders, I was assigned to the Norfolk Area Shore Patrol for several weeks. Apparently the planets were in alignment as well as a full moon that July weekend for we loaded four paddy wagons with Uncle Sam’s finest from the Rooster that evening! Three days later I was on a MATS flight winging south to Cuba…

 

By: 
Commander Ed Bookhardt, USN Retired