Confessions of a Drunken Coastie, Part 5
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 the Gulf of Maine to the Caribbean. This is the fifth in his series of true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
“Why do they call you Egg?” Seaman Apprentice McGee asked, taking a seat next to me on the messdeck during evening chow. A tall, soft-in-the-middle, pimply 19-year-old from a town near Bangor, this was his first day aboard Cutter Tumultuous. “That’s a funny nickname.”
I didn’t answer.
“Because his head is shaped like an egg,” said D-Man, his mouth half full of pork adobe (a mainstay of Coastie cook cuisine). “Obviously.”
“I thought we called him Egg ’cause of all those books he reads. He’s an egghead. A brainiac,” squeaked Virus, the most annoying member of the deck force. “Plus he’s got that dictionary.”
“Oh, shut it, Virus,” D-Man said. “You’re such a dimwit, you can’t even use a dictionary.”
“Can so!” Virus said, nodding vigorously. “Don’t matter anyways. Now I can see how his head looks like a chicken egg.”
I hated my nickname because I knew it’d be tough to pick up hot chicks in exotic ports-of-call when your drunken shipmates called you Egg. But once baptized, monikers usually stuck — at least aboard the ship. Besides, I was much better off than Dicklick and Virus.
“I see the resemblance!” McGee grinned widely. “It’s totally egg-shaped.”
“Go to hell,” I said. No boot camper was gonna diss me. And considering this dude’s giant noggin and face chicken-poxed with oozing pimples, he shouldn’t be talking about head shapes or sizes. Plus, the kid was a weakling. We’d had a good time earlier in the day mocking his inability to swing a sledge. “Shut-up, you pus-leaking pussy.”
“Hah,” D-Man said. “By the way, boot camper, you wanna come out drinking with us tonight?”
“Yeah, I’d love to.” McGee smiled. “Thanks for asking.”
“Where you guys going?” I asked. On duty for the rest of the night, I’d be stuck aboard the ship. I knew from personal experience, however, that a boot camper’s first time out with the boys usually went badly. “Gonna have a hard time getting this pimply geek into a bar. Looks like a friggin’ teenager.”
“Technically, I am still a teenager,” McGee said. “My twentieth birthday is …” — he paused for a second, figuring — “27 days away. Doesn’t it drive you crazy that I can serve my country but I can’t be served a…”
“SHUT UP!” I snapped. “Did anyone ask you a question? Or give you permission to speak? Huh? Huh?”
“No, but…” he stammered. “I, uhh…”
“THEN SHUT UP!” I turned my attention to D-Man. “Where are you guys going?”
At 0330, I took over the messenger watch, just as Staples, D-Man and Chamberlain staggered down the pier, each doing his part to drag McGee back to the ship. When they arrived at the quarterdeck shack, it was apparent that McGee was passed out. Worse, his face was a mess, coated with makeup. His mouth was lipsticked a luscious red. His acne-covered cheeks were beige, blushed and bumpy, due to a heavy application of foundation. His eyes looked raccoonish with mascara and glitter. And on his forehead, written in neat letters with black eyeliner, were the words “Boot Camper.”
“What in the hell?” I laughed and pointed. “Not very pretty, is he? Even with all that shit plastered over his zits, he’s still pretty nasty.”
“Check out the faggot’s pretty fingers,” Staples drawled, grabbing McGee’s right wrist and showing me how each nail was painted a different bright color. “Ain’t he sexy?”
“I’m almost afraid to ask what happened.”
“Well, we went over Lacey and Kerry’s apartment and he gets drunk, then stands up and asked — no, begged — to use their makeup.” D-Man shook his head. “Said he wanted to give himself a makeover, to show us what he was really like. When he was done putting on that shit, he danced and pranced around the place. Then he passed out and we had to carry him back here. Can you believe it?”
“No,” I said. “Not a word of it.”
“Well, it’s the truth,” D-Man said, “as far as any of us are concerned. In case there’s an investigation.”
“Truth is, Egg,” Staples drawled. “This fat bastard drank and drank, and when the gals cooked up a mess of spaghetti and meatballs for a late-night snack, he ate and ate.” Staples paused and slapped McGee’s cheek. “Then this dang bastard threw up. And sho’ ’nuff, he spewed all over Lacey’s new couch.”
Lacey was a stunning redhead, Staples’ girlfriend, who lived with her older sister, Kerry, a gorgeous blonde that Turmoil lusted after. The sisters’ pad had recently become a Coastie hangout, which was awesome, ’cause living and working aboard Tumultuous had gotten pretty lame since the skipper banned us from drinking in the ship’s parking lot.
“Yeah,” D-Man said. “It was friggin’ disgusting. And I had to clean it up.”
“I helped,” Staples said. “Don’t you friggin’ forget it. Besides, you’re the durn fool who kept feeding the kid shots.”
“He told me that he liked whiskey.” D-Man smiled. “Apparently, he was mistaken.”
“That’s why we had to give his pretty face a makeover,” Staples said. “To teach the punk a lesson.”
“Yeah.” D-Man nodded. “And our extra revenge was the nail polish. That shit don’t come off easy. Plus, we shaved off one of his eyebrows. Hah! That’ll teach him not to puke on Lacey’s couch.”
“Yes, suh!” Staples shook his head and laughed. “I guaranteeee he’ll remember this night for the rest of his cotton-picking life.” He yawned. “C’mon Egg, give us a hand lugging him aboard. It’s late. Gotta hit the rack ’cause I needs a couple hours slumbo before reveille.”
Three hours later, all hands were supposed to be on deck, getting ready for the day’s work. But McGee wasn’t easy to wake. We’d stashed him in one of the married guys’ empty bunks, closer to the deck, where I could make sure he wouldn’t choke to death on vomit. I knelt next to his elephantine ears.
“RISE AND SHINE, SEAMAN APPRENTICE MCGEEK!” I screamed like a banshee, inadvertently nicknaming the fella. “NOW, MCGEEK! NOW!”
His eyes opened with a start. He groaned and reached for his forehead. “I don’t feel so good,” he moaned. “I’m not sure I can work today. My stomach…”
“GET THE FRIG OUT OF BED, YOU STINKING SON-OF-A-BITCH!” I hollered. “NOWWWW!” I stepped back to give the kid room to crawl out of the rack. “AND YOU’VE GOT FIVE MINUTES TO GET THOSE COSMETICS OFF YOUR GODDAMN UGLY MUG.”
Once vertical, he wavered on his feet. Confused, he wiped the back of his hand across his mouth, then dully looked at the traces of lipstick that rubbed off. He dashed for the head to check his face in the mirror. The rest of us watched and laughed — until Seaman Young came aboard and discovered his rack, where McGeek had slept, was soggy and reeked of urine. McGeek’s night out suddenly wasn’t so funny after all.
We pitied Seaman Apprentice Boswell, who appeared a week after McGeek, just before we headed out on a fisheries patrol. First, he had the bad luck to be assigned the rack below McGeek’s, which meant Boswell was forced to endure McGeek’s stench — a mix of overripe cheese, rotten eggs and dirty underwear.
But Boswell’s real trauma came on the fifth morning underway. He was still sleeping when McGeek triced up his rack and the fluid started to flow — enough liquid to awaken the dude. It took Boswell a couple seconds before he realized it was urine and freaked.
A half hour later, Petty Officer Black, the new Bosun’s Mate second class and our immediate supervisor, investigated and discovered McGeek’s mattress was thoroughly sodden. The news traveled across the ship like an explosion.
“I just don’t see how the kid could make it through boot camp without them figuring out he was a chronic bed-wetter,” D-Man said. “I mean, this sort of problem doesn’t just develop overnight. Does it?”
“I don’t think so,” said Staples. “He’s probably been wetting the bed his whole life.”
“Yeah, well, it’s gotta stop, ’cause it’s friggin’ gross,” said D-Man. “And bad for morale.”
“Well,” Staples drawled. “I suggested to the First Louie that we start by moving him to a bottom rack.” We all laughed. “Then I suggested when we pull into Baltimore, we buy him an egg crate mattress. Then, when he does piss the rack, he can just wring it out over the side every morning.”
“Ha-hah. Did he take you seriously?” I asked. “’Cause that’s a crazy idea.”
“I dunno,” he said. “But we gotta try something.”
McGeek solved the problem on his own. When we tied up in Baltimore for a 72-hour patrol break, he went ashore and disappeared. Two days later, he was found on the bridge, sitting in the captain’s chair, gabbing away to nobody, wired and crazy, like in the tailspin of a major coke binge. The kid hadn’t hooked up with any blow, though. His coat pockets revealed the source of his speediness: numerous empty bottles of NoDoz and White Cross, over-the-counter caffeine and ephedrine that we sailors loved so much — but in small doses. He must have been eating them by the fistful.
“I haven’t slept,” he chattered to the ship’s corpsman. “Can’t sleep. Don’t want to sleep. No sleep.” He started to cry. “I can’t … I can’t … go to sleep. No. No. No.”
Two hours later, Doc escorted McGeek off the ship and took him to Boston for a medical eval ordered by the skipper.
Three weeks later, the First Lieutenant told us the news: McGeek was returning to the Tumultuous. The Boston doctors found nothing wrong with our shipmate. Then the First Louie passed along a direct order from the Captain: Any sailor who mocked or hazed McGeek would be dealt with. Severely.
“Why don’t they send him to another ship? Why send him here?” D-Man asked. “Hasn’t he suffered enough?”
“Haven’t we suffered enough?” Staples added. “And what happens if he starts pissing the durn rack again?”
Less than a week after his return, McGeek lost control of his bladder. Then again. Which was enough to convince the skipper to send him back to Boston, where he’d be granted a medical discharge.
I was standing the quarterdeck watch a couple months later when the phone rang and a voice asked for Seaman McGee. It was his dad. The man hadn’t heard from his son in a while and wanted to speak to him.
I put the call on hold, then dialed the First Lieutenant’s stateroom. Not my job to break the bad news to Mr. McGeek.