Confessions of a Drunken Coastie, Part 15
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 Gulf of Mexico. This is the fifteenth of his true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
“Intel says at least one of the mother ships is out here.” The First Lieutenant pointed toward the gray waters surrounding us, 30 miles off the cloudy Connecticut shoreline. We’d been on a North Atlantic fisheries patrol for two weeks when the Tumultuous was diverted to assist in a Drug War dragnet. “There will be at least one helo searching for the fishing boats that pick up the marijuana and bring it to the mainland. We’re probably going to be refueling the helo in the early evening.”
The gathered sailors groaned.
“Hold on.” The First Lieutenant took off his hat and sighed. “I’ve got good news for all you complainers. We’re pulling into New London tomorrow afternoon to take on fuel. And liberty will be granted for all hands except Duty Section One. So let’s get going and prepare the flight deck. And be ready for a long night of boardings.”
“You know, this ‘mother-ship’ bullshit is just a load of malarkey,” Staples drawled. We were taking a smoke break on the fantail, one deck below the new guys struggling to remove the six-foot-tall steel post and tow light from the aft end of the flight deck. “To the best of my dern knowledge, the Coast Guard ain’t never busted a single mother ship. Ever.”
“Yeah, I can’t imagine a ship just waiting out there,” I said, pointing off the starboard side, “loaded with bales of reefer, offloading to fishing boats to ferry the stuff ashore. They’d be sitting ducks. These smugglers aren’t idiots.”
“First of all,” D-Man said. “Whose team are you on?”
“It ain’t about choosing sides,” Staples said. “It’s about…”
“LOOKOUT!” shouted one of the sailors messing with the tow light.
Then I saw stars.
“EGG! EGG! ARE YOU ALRIGHT?”
I opened my eyes. Why was I laying on the deck? Why was Staples hovering above me? What the hell was going on?
“Don’t just stand there,” Staples barked at D-Man. “GO GET DOC!” He turned back to me. “How about it, man? Say something, will yah?”
I’d never seen him so anxious. Confused, I gently touched a pulsing spot on my head, just north of my right ear. “What? What happened?”
“Those friggin’ idiots.” He gestured up toward the flight deck. “They accidentally let go of the tow light. Friggin’ thing dropped and the edge of the post clipped you on the noggin’ on its way down. Man, it was nuts. Boom! You hit the deck, hard.”
“Really?” I grunted, trying to roll onto my side, wanting to sit up, then stand.
“Don’t move, dude.” Staples gently placed his hands on my shoulders. “Doc is gonna be here in a minute.”
“How you feeling, Egg?” Doc asked the next morning over breakfast. “Is there still a lump? Or is your head always shaped that way?”
I gingerly touched the bump. The swelling had mostly receded, but was still sensitive. “Getting better.”
“Good,” Doc said. “’Cuz I don’t wanna have to confine you to the ship. Don’t wanna mess up our night out on the town.”
“That’s right,” Red said, taking a seat at the table. “We’re gonna get so hammered.” He shook his head. “Man, I haven’t had a drink in forever. Can’t even remember what beer tastes like.”
“Watch,” Seaman Apprentice Archibald said to Red. “I’ll demonstrate on Egg.”
For the past couple hours, we’d been boozing in one of New London’s seediest waterfront dives. As dusk approached, we stumbled down the street, in search of burgers and beer. Then we intended to visit a nearby hotel bar where, we were told, we’d meet chicks who dug Coasties.
“Show what?” I slurred, turning and stopping. “Show me what?”
“The best way to take a guy to the ground,” he barked, extending his arms wide as he lunged at me. The unexpected tackle buckled my knees, throwing me backward and down. My head struck a car bumper and the curbstone on the way to darkness.
Upon awakening, a bright street lamp glowered at me through a large window. Where the hell was I? Looking around, clues indicated a hospital room. My head pounded. Touching my skull, I felt a bandage wrapped around the circumference. Sitting up was a struggle. Finally, after considerable effort, my torso was vertical. I closed my eyes, trying to recall what happened. Almost nothing came to mind, just a murky memory of a hazy circle of my shipmates’ concerned faces and dreamy flashing lights.
I had the worst headache ever, and it didn’t help that all sorts of clamor and racket was happening outside my curtained lair. Taking a deep breath, I tried to ignore my throbbing cranium and swung my legs to the side of the bed, aiming for the floor. That’s when I noticed my shirt and sweater had been replaced with a hospital johnny. Still wearing my pants, shoes and socks, though.
Wobbling, I got on my feet and stumbled toward the counter in the corner where, amazingly, my wallet sat, still fat with cash, along with my smokes and lighter. Grabbing my stuff, I peeked through a break in the curtain. Despite the sounds of noisy confusion, there was no one in sight. A sign pointed to an exit. Without a second thought, I bolted for the door and escaped, stumbling into the darkness of a salty spring night that was a tad too chilly for hospital johnny and jeans.
In the distance, maybe three city blocks away, a green sign glowed. Food, I thought, and perhaps even a shirt. As I staggered in the direction of the luminescence, details of recent events slowly surfaced in my brain. I was in New London, partying with my pals. Now hungry and tired, I wanted to eat, then sneak aboard the ship and into my rack without anyone seeing me. No need for the bosses to know about my antics. The Skipper, we’d been warned, was unhappy about a recent spate of alcohol-related incidents and intended to crack down on drunkards.
I tottered and weaved toward what turned out to be a convenience store. I read the sign: Grampy’s. I pulled the door open and inhaled the overwhelmingly delightful aroma of fried chicken. Wiping drool from my mouth, I bee-lined in the direction of the smell.
The dude behind the counter seemed surprised to see me.
“Gimme the chicken dinner,” I said. “Please.”
“Uhhh, are you OK?” The fella looked concerned. “Your head is bleeding through that gauze.”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I paused and pressed my palm against the bandage. “I’ll have the chicken dinner.”
“OK. Uhhh, you want the four-piece combo?”
“Yeah, gimme the four-piece combo.” I stepped back from the counter. “Do you sell shirts?”
“Shirts? Do you sell ’em?”
“Ummm, no. Sorry.”
“How about yours?” I pointed at his green polyester button-up with a yellow silhouette of Grampy in a rocking chair over the breast pocket. “Wouldya sell me yours?”
“Sorry, man.” He grabbed the chicken tongs and started to assemble my order. “It’s my uniform.”
“Oh, c’mon. I can see you’ve got a black t-shirt on underneath. Just wear that.”
“Sorry, man.” He grinned and put the fourth piece of bird, a container of coleslaw, a biscuit and some butter into the cardboard box. “Anything else?”
“Nope,” I said, reaching for my wallet. “Except your shirt.” I smiled. “Seriously.”
“Sorry, I can’t.” He worked the cash register. “Four seventy-five.”
“I’ll give you ten bucks for it.” I offered him a twenty-dollar bill. “Actually, fifteen. Keep the change from the four-piece combo.”
“I wish I could.” He shook his head. “But I can’t. I gotta have the uniform for the rest of my shift.”
“How about twenty more?” I pulled out two tens. “Thirty-five bucks for that lousy shirt. If the boss comes in, say you spilled stuff all over it.”
“Oh, man.” He looked around the store. I was still the only customer. “You’re making this difficult. Very tempting.”
“I need that shirt. I really do.”
“Yeah, I see that.” He paused. “OK.”
“RIGHT ON!” I bellowed and forked over forty bucks before he changed his mind. “I totally appreciate it.”
He unpinned his name tag and unbuttoned the shirt and handed it across the counter. “You lucked out, ’cuz I need the cash.”
“Egg, wake up! C’mon, dude. Wake up.” Red shook my shoulders. He turned and shouted. “I found him! He’s in his rack! Sleeping! Covered in blood!”
“Wha…” I groggily moaned. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, man. We’re gonna have to bring you back to the hospital,” Red said. “The emergency room staff was super pissed. They left you alone for a minute to deal with some accident victims and you disappeared. For the last couple hours, we’ve been searching all the bars for you.” He grinned. “Where did ya get that shirt?”
Crash Barry’s new book,Marijuana Valley, is available most places books are sold. For signed copies and details about Crash’s summer tour visit marijuanavalley.com.