Confessions of a Drunken Coastie
Editor’s Note: From 1988 until 1991, Crash Barry served as a sailor in the U.S. Coast Guard aboard a 210-foot-long ship that patrolled from Canada to the Caribbean. This is the first in his series of true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
Suddenly my shipmates turned on me. D-Man began the assault with a sucker punch to my gut. Then he slugged me again and again. Drunkenly surprised by the blows, I bent over, clutching my stomach. Staples grabbed my right arm and twisted it behind my back, holding me stationary so Jimmy Turmoil could get in a quick one-two to my midsection. Then Chamberlain stepped up to deliver his own gut shot. When Staples let go, I collapsed to the asphalt of the parking lot of the State Pier in New Bedford, Massachusetts. This was my second night stationed with the Coast Guard cutter Tumultuous, which was about to relocate to an island in the Piscataqua River on the border between Maine and New Hampshire.
“GET UP OFF THE FRIGGIN’ GROUND, BOOT CAMPER!” D-Man screamed. “GET UP OR I’LL MAKE YOU WISH YOU NEVER JOINED THE U.S. COAST GUARD!”
The dude stood over me, poking at my sides with his feet. Shocked and in pain, I still had the sense not to cry. Moan, perhaps. Maybe whimper. But I wasn’t gonna let these fellas see tears. During basic training, my fellow recruits and I had been warned that new Coasties reporting to ships might encounter hazing at the hands of other sailors. The proper response was to report such activities via the chain of command. But I was no snitch. Besides, I was tough and 20. Super-strong from eight weeks of rigorous boot camp discipline, I had convinced myself I could handle anything — even getting beat down by a crew of crazed sailors. Then, according to the unofficial rules governing hazing, I’d be considered part of the gang.
“GET UP!” D-Man screamed again. A lanky, tobacco-chewing Oklahoman, D-Man and I were the same height, but his muscles were bigger. We were the same rank, seaman apprentice, but since he’d graduated boot camp six months earlier, he was acting like a salty old dog. “GET UP!” he bellowed. “OR OTHERWISE I’M GONNA BEAT YOUR ASS!”
As I tried to assume the fetal position, multiple hands hauled me to my feet. Then D-Man punched my gut again. I turned and staggered away, in a pitiful attempt to escape further fisticuffs, but tripped and fell against the tailgate of a pick-up truck parked next to the cooler full of beer we’d been drinking before and after our night of dive-bar-hopping.
I leaned against the truck, trying to catch my breath and get my bearings, but D-Man was instantly beside me, yelling in my ear. He tried to pull and tug me away from the vehicle but I grabbed the truck bed tight. Even after a series of rabbit punches to my neck, followed by several kidney jabs, I wouldn’t let go. That’s how tough I was. Finally, he stepped back.
“Gonna resist me? Gonna try to run away? You’re making me mad.” His voice was back to a normal volume. “And that means I’m gonna have to punish you.” He shook his head and pointed. “More than just kick your ass.”
“Yeah, ya’ll should definitely punish him,” drawled Staples, a handsome and rugged Alabamian who’d been friendly to me during the workday and throughout our night of cheap drafts and rotgut whisky. “Something downright memorable.”
“Exactly,” D-Man said. “Something he’ll never forget.”
I should have run. But bruised and battered, I could barely move, let alone release my grip on the truck. Dizzy and disoriented, I’d be an easy target if I tried to get away. Plus, I was so confused. What the hell was happening? Last I knew, me and the fellas were enjoying a parking lot nightcap, practically in the shadow of the ship.
D-Man grabbed my belt and tugged on my pants. He pulled and pulled, roughly, and somehow wrenched my trousers and boxers down and over my right shoe, which forced me to let go of the truck. He grabbed my right wrist and twisted it behind my back, then spun me around, away from the truck, and bent me, half naked, over the trunk of a nearby Olds Cutlass Supreme.
“You fight back, I’ll friggin’ break your friggin’ wing and you’ll never fly again,” he threatened in my ear. His breath was hot on my cheek, stinking of beer and tobacco. “You know I’ll do it too, boot camper.” Then he pushed my head down, smushing my face on the cold steel of the car trunk.
Still holding my wrist, he turned to the posse and issued the orders. “Chamberlain and Staples, grab his legs and spread ’em. Jimmy Turmoil, you take over the arm-twisting. Don’t let the lil’ bastard squirm his way out of his punishment.”
What the hell was he doing? Gonna rape me to teach me a lesson? Was this prison, I wondered, or the Coast Guard?
“Guys, let me go. Please,” I begged. “Please let me go.”
“Not a chance,” Turmoil sneered, wrenching my wrist, bending it until it felt like it was about to snap. “You gotta be punished, boot camper.”
Two of my new shipmates had pulled my legs apart by the ankles. I started to thrash, but Turmoil applied more pressure. “Quit moving,” he warned, “or I’ll break your friggin’ arm in two.”
Meanwhile, D-Man had reached into the beer cooler and cupped a handful of half-melted ice that he then unceremoniously shoved between my ass cheeks.
“THAT’LL TEACH YOU, BOOT CAMPER,” D-Man shouted. “MESS WITH ME AND YOU’LL GET A LESSON. HAH!” He slapped the side of my head and laughed. “Let ’em go, boys,” he said. “I’ve made my point.”
I collapsed to the pavement again. My eyes were closed tight as I tried to squeeze back the tears desperate to flow. I heard the cooler opening and the fellas grabbing more beer. It was approaching three in the morning. Reveille aboard the ship, where all of us lived, was in three-and-a-half hours. Despite all the drinking, I wasn’t drunk. The beating had sobered me. But I couldn’t move — trousers and shorts bunched around my left leg, my bare, wet and icy ass exposed to the world.
“C’mon, dude, pull up yer pantaloons and drink this beer I done brung yah,” Staples drawled from above. I opened my eyes and looked up at him. One hand was outstretched towards me, offering assistance. The other offered a can of Budweiser. “You’ll feel much better. Guar-an-teed!”
I ignored his help and awkwardly struggled to my feet, trying to pull up my pants and boxers without tipping over. Once my clothes were back in place, I accepted the beer and took a long sip. Then another. And another.
“Thanks,” I said, not meaning it. “Thanks a lot.”
The fellas continued to drink and smoke cigarettes and laugh, acting like nothing had happened, like I hadn’t just been anally assaulted with the ice cubes that had kept their beer cold. Then Jimmy Turmoil started telling a story about their last patrol to Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The tale involved a rented van, a stolen keg of beer and a trio of angry prostitutes, but I wasn’t really listening. Just trying to stay vertical. Trying not to cry.
When the beers were finished, we staggered home, a hundred feet away, to the ship. I stumbled across the gangway and down to the berthing area. After brushing my chompers and examining my face in the mirror, I hobbled to my rack.
Despite my exhaustion, I was wide awake. And sore. I knew my instinctual desire for revenge had to be ignored. I couldn’t lash back at my assailants, because that’s not the way the game worked. If I wanted to be accepted by the cool guys, I needed to forget about the beating and keep my trap shut. My revenge, I realized, would be exacted on a future boot camper unlucky enough to be stationed aboard the Tumultuous. I would become the aggressor and bully the new kid, continuing the vicious cycle.