Confessions of a Drunken Coastie, Part 7
Editor’s Note: From 1988 until 1991, Crash Barry — then known as Egg — 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 seventh in his series of true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
“Someday soon, Eggggg, I’ll repay this favor.” Doc was hammered and slurring his words something wicked. For the last couple hours, I’d been buying his beverages at a Baltimore strip club because, like most married guys aboard the Tumultuous, Doc had a wife who only allotted him a $20 drinking budget in an attempt to keep him out of trouble.
Young and single, without restrictions on how to squander my cash, I was happy to share my wealth with a shipmate like Doc, who was funny, smart and kind. Besides, his hangover remedy — eating charcoal tablets and spending 10 minutes with an oxygen mask behind the sick-bay door — had cured my morning sickness several times.
“Oh my,” Doc said as a stripper bent over, exposing her genitalia. “I’d love to give her a physical.”
“Told ya I’d hook you up.” Doc handed me a manila envelope. “It’s speed.”
“Wow,” I said, examining the gift. The envelope was full of bright pink pills the size of mescaline microdots. “There must be a thousand of them.”
“Actually,” he grinned. “More like sixteen hundred.”
“Why are you giving them to me?”
“They just expired. Regulations say I’m able to dispose of them at sea, if the situation merits it. But I thought you might dispose of them, instead.”
“Hell yeah! What’s the dosage?”
“That’s the funny thing. These are the uppers that go with the downers to treat serious seasickness. The treatment just prior to getting a silver bullet suppository shoved up your ass. But I didn’t think you’d want the downers.”
“No thanks.” I reached into the envelope. “How many do I take?”
“That’s for you to figure out.”
Four at a time, I decided, was a good start. A week later, I upped the dosage to six, twice daily. The buzz of 12 tiny capsules was just enough to provide the strength and sense of invincibility needed to maintain the lifestyle of a drunken Coastie.
“Yeah, man,” the Air Force dude said to me, a couple minutes after I had popped my third six-pack of speed for the day. “We’ve got it pretty easy. Nine to five, five days a week.”
“Wow.” The wingnut and I were standing in the late-night line for drunk burgers and dogs inside Portsmouth’s infamous Gilley’s food stand. “We just got done with a brutal two-month North Atlantic fisheries patrol. Friggin’ non-stop boardings.” I shook my head. “Plus the weather was shit the whole time.”
“Hold on a sec. My buddy is yelling for me.” The dude leaned out Gilley’s doorway. “Oh shit. They’re fighting some assholes. C’mon. Wanna help?”
Either the amphetamine, adrenaline or anger took control and ordered me to tag along. I followed my new pal outside, where a crowd had gathered around the duelers.
Two large, inebriated monsters were squared off. And one of ’em was my shipmate, friend and drinking companion, Turmoil, a gentle giant who turned into a son-of-a-bitch when drunk. D-Man, Staples and Chamberlain stood behind ’Moil. Nine airmen — all trim and butch in their Air Force–logo windbreakers and sweatshirts — were congregated around the other monster.
’Moil drew back his massive right arm, almost in slow motion, and swung, connecting with his opponent’s jaw. Then the brawl began, like a movie fight, with hollering men charging at each other. The speed rushing through my veins told me to wage war.
I jumped into the fray, swinging. The first airman I encountered was my size, but probably not under the influence of amphetamines. He was no match for my right or left, and neither was his nose, which turned red with blood after a quick jab.
“Yeah!” I yelped, watching my enemy stagger away, hands cupping his bleeding snout. “Take that!”
I spun around and plunged back into the combat zone. My next move was to muckle another adversary who, along with a bigger fella, was engaged in two-on-one fisticuffs with Chamberlain. My arrival evened the skirmish, but my sudden burst of fury won the battle. I tossed the Air Force runt in the direction of Gilley’s big propane tank. The dude landed befuddled. I picked him up again and flung him against the tank, after which he tumbled to the ground and didn’t dare move.
About to return to Chamberlain’s side, I spotted ’Moil in trouble amid the pandemonium. “MY STOMACH!” he roared, pointing at the guy backing away from him. “THIS ASSHOLE JUST BIT ME!”
The biter put up his dukes, like he was gonna fight ’Moil fair. No chance of that. I approached him from behind, tapped him on the shoulder, and when he turned, I slugged the bastard. A sucker-punch, sure, but his just desserts for dirty fighting and belly chomping. My punch surprised, but didn’t injure him, and he soon responded. First came a fist, which I easily dodged. He followed with a roundhouse kick that I stopped short by grabbing his foot and giving it a sharp twist and yank. He lost his balance and landed hard on the ground, where ’Moil delivered a couple boots to the belly.
The crowd had thinned rapidly. D-Man and Staples had both dispatched a couple airmen. ’Moil and Chamberlain throttled one each. And I, with my three kills, was King Brawler. For the first time in my life, I was a bad-ass thug.
In the distance, I heard the song of sirens getting closer. Then a taxi pulled up beside the restaurant. The door opened and two girls got out.
“Here’s our cab,” D-Man said. “Let’s get the hell out of here.”
I squeezed into the front with Staples, while the others climbed in back.
“Where to?” the cabbie asked.
I was about to give the address of the Coast Guard station in Newcastle, but Staples spoke first and gave the cabbie the name of a street a couple blocks away from the pier where our ship was moored. Smart thinking — the last thing we needed was cops coming to ask questions about a fracas downtown.
“Wow, Egg,” ’Moil said from the back. “You were pretty nuts out there. A real slugger, kicking some serious ass. What’s gotten into you lately?”
The pills, of course. But I’d been keeping them a secret from my colleagues. Not because of worry or fear or shame. I just didn’t want to share.
“Nuthin’,” I answered. “Man, I’m starving. Never had a chance to eat.”