Confessions of a Drunken Coastie, Part 20
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 twentieth of his true stories about fighting the War on Drugs and the War on Haitian Refugees.
“I don’t know how Coasties maintain relationships.” Sheila paused and took a long sip of white wine. Five years older than I, at age 26 she was serious and career-minded, focused on the world of finance. Definitely not in the market for a casual romance with a drunken hippie sailor. “I mean, you’re in port for a month, then gone for two.” She shook her raven mane. “By the time we get reacquainted, you head back to sea.”
“I admit,” I said, “it’s kinda tough.” This wasn’t the conversation I wanted to have. Sheila and I were hanging out, alone, in my government-issued bachelor pad — a condo in a development near a strip mall in Portsmouth. I was hoping to get laid. We’d been casually seeing each other for a couple months and had slept together a half dozen times. My sexual needs were especially acute that evening because, on the following morning, the Tumultuous would get underway for an eight-week North Atlantic–fisheries-and-drug patrol.
I took a swig from my beer, then added, “I think I hear what you’re saying.”
“And what do you plan on doing after the Coast Guard?” She stared intently at me with her pale blue eyes. “You’re getting out in four months, right? Then what? Do you even know?”
“Well, all kinds of stuff.” I tried to smile, knowing Sheila wasn’t gonna like my answer. I planned to sign on as an able-bodied seaman with the Merchant Marine and travel to exotic ports-of-call, just like my cool Uncle Jack “Crash” Lennon had done a couple decades earlier. My three years of seatime aboard the Tumultuous was about to pay off, especially with rumors of war against Iraq swirling around. Operation Desert Shield had already created lots of maritime jobs, and Desert Storm would undoubtedly mean more employment opportunities for semi-salty knuckleheads like me who were willing to scrape paint and stand helm-watches aboard freighters working the waters in war zones.
“What sort of stuff?” she asked.
Before I could answer, a piercing female scream — coming from the hallway outside my condo — interrupted our conversation. We both jumped to our feet as the woman screamed again.
“HELP ME! SOMEONE HELP ME!”
I threw open my door and there was my downstairs neighbor, Danny, choking and dragging a struggling woman by her throat. Without thinking, I drew back and slugged him, right in the snout. Blood spurted and gushed.
“MY NOSE!” Danny yelled, releasing the woman so he could cup his wounded snoot with both hands. “You broke my friggin’ nose,” he sputtered, as his victim sprinted down the stairs at the other end of the corridor. Palms and face covered in blood, he looked like a madman. I took a couple steps back and put up my dukes, ready to rumble, but Danny wasn’t hanging around. He just turned and staggered back down to his lair.
“Oh! My! God!” Sheila said while I locked the door. “That was absolutely crazy. Who was that guy?”
“Danny. Lives on the first floor. Kind of a loser,” I said. She didn’t need to know he was also a drug dealer who’d sold me weed, mushrooms and a little bit of blow over the past couple months. I’d heard from someone that Danny had recently gotten hooked on heroin as a cheap way to relieve the agony of his chronic back pain. “I don’t know who the girl was.” I frowned. “Never seen her before.”
Sheila picked up and drained her wine glass, then grabbed her jacket. “Listen,” she said. “I’m taking off. That scene freaked me out. Besides,” she tried to smile brightly, “you’re getting underway tomorrow. Without me around, you’ll get a good night’s sleep.”
“Don’t go,” I said. “I don’t need a good night’s sleep.”
“Yes, you do.” She engulfed me in a warm and tight hug. “Be careful out there, OK? And I’ll see you when you guys come back for your mid-patrol break. When is that again?”
“November fifteenth,” I grunted, disappointed. “For two nights.”
“We’ll totally hang out and have a blast, then. OK?” She looked up at me, smiling. Her red mouth glistened. I leaned over and our lips met for a soft and gentle moment. Then the kiss was over. “Be careful,” she said again, then she gave me a little wave and was gone.
After three weeks of monotonous, uneventful patrolling, the Tumultuous returned home for a break. Family and lovers packed the pier to welcome us back, but Sheila was not among them.
On the second and final night of the patrol break, she came over to my place with Chinese food and a jug of red wine. Dinner was fun, full of laughs. Afterward, I leaned toward her and we kissed. So soft. So gentle. So warm. After a minute, she pulled away.
“We’re not going to have sex tonight,” she said. “I’m having my period. Besides,” she looked me in the eye, “I’m not sure this is the right time for us to be” — she paused — “dating.”
“Oh.” I refilled my wine glass. “I see.”
“Thing is, I am attracted to you.” She sighed. “But that’s not enough. When I’m with a guy, I want to have a real relationship. Dates. Regular walks on the beach with long conversations. You know, more day-to-day involvement in my life. For example, you have no idea what’s going on at my work, right? And it’s not your fault. You’re often incommunicado. Out looking for drug smugglers and Haitian refugees. That’s just the way it is.” She sighed again and tried to smile. “Isn’t that why sailors have girls in every port?”
“You should still hang out and spend the night,” I said. “We don’t have to have sex, you know.”
She laughed. “I’d love to.”
Too soon after we spooned and closed our eyes, I heard what I thought was my alarm clock’s shrill, warbling scream. It took a few moments for me to realize it wasn’t my clock — a fire alarm was sounding throughout the condo complex. Sniff. Sniff. Was that smoke I smelled?
“SHEILA, WAKE UP!” I yelled over the siren, and gently shook her by the shoulders. “C’MON! WAKE UP!”
“Whaaa?” she murmured. “I wanna sleep.”
“IT’S AN EMERGENCY! I THINK THE BUILDING IS ON FIRE!”
In an instant, she was upright and pulling on her clothes.
“We’ve got to warn the others,” she said. “Where are my shoes?”
Ten seconds later, we were in the stairwell. The air coming from below smelled slightly burnt, but we saw no smoke or flames. The fire alarm seemed to be getting louder. How could anyone sleep through that deafening klaxon? A couple neighbors I’d never met suddenly appeared, tightening their bathrobes as they scurried toward the stairs.
“GO UPSTAIRS,” I shouted to Sheila. “KNOCK ON ALL THE DOORS!” I pointed downward. “I’LL GO TO THE FIRST FLOOR. THEN WE MEET AT YOUR CAR!”
She nodded and took off. I dashed downstairs, where I bumped into a trio of folks making their way outside. As I pounded on doors, the smell of smoke grew stronger, and I realized Danny was probably the cause.
It was lucky his door was unlocked, because Danny’s kitchen was on fire. And, 25 feet away, there was Danny, nodded out on the living room couch near the sliding glass door that led to his patio.
I yanked the door open, then muckled the idiot and roughly dragged him outside just as the Portsmouth Fire Department arrived on the scene, lugging extinguishers and dragging hoses. In less than a minute, with minimal effort, the fire was out.
“Oh, man,” was all Danny could say, once he stopped coughing. “Oh, man. Oh, man.” Ten minutes later, Danny recovered enough to explain what happened. After a long day and night of booze, pills and powders, he’d been hungry. Decided to cook up a couple burgers. That’s all he remembered.
The firefighters figured out the rest. On the front-right burner of the electric stove sat a frying pan containing two raw burger patties. On the left-front burner were the melted remains of a Styrofoam container and some charred meat. Danny had apparently turned on the wrong burner, then zonked out. The flames spread via a pile of dirty dish towels on the counter, which in turn ignited the curtains and cabinets.
When the PFD gave the all-clear, Sheila and I returned to my condo.
“Wow. That was pretty crazy,” I said, grabbing a beer from the fridge. “I’m all keyed up.”
“You know what?” she said. “I’m gonna get going. After all the excitement, I think I wanna sleep in my own bed. OK?” She gave me a hug and left.
And I never saw her, or Danny, again.
Crash Packs make great holiday gifts and are easily available via crashbarry.com. Packs include signed copies of Crash Barry’s gritty memoir, Tough Island;his rollicking novel Sex, Drugs and Blueberries;and the true story Marijuana Valley, plus a limited-edition bumper sticker.