Our Lady Of The Blues
The Heart Of The Matter:
Back In The USSA
My dear fellow, said Sherlock Holmes, as we sat on either side of the fire in his lodgings at Baker Street, life is infinitely stranger than anything which the mind of man could invent. We would not dare to concieve the things which are really mere commonplaces of existence. If we could fly out of that window hand in hand, and see in at the queer things which are going on, the strange coincidences, the plannings, the cross purposes, the wonderful chains of events, working through generations, and leading to the most outre results, it would make all fiction with its conventionalities and foreseen conclusions, most stale and unprofitable.
And yet I am not convinced of it. (Watson) answered.
-A. Conan Doyle
Dewey arrived on the fo’c’sle as the ship was passing Lindhberg Field. Joining the others he stood at parade rest as the ship turned up bay to the Naval Station where the Dependents gathered on the pier in the homecoming ritual that is such a vital part of Navy life.
Mrs. Irene Pardon was there quietly talking to Inez Dieter. A passel of others strung out along the length of the pierside either unwilling or afraid to make the acquaintance of the others. Quite apart and aloof standing in the imperial majesty of convinced Communists were James and Elizabeth Kanary there to welcome back their precious son.
Standing back in the shadows was the form of Yehouda Yisraeli, Our Lady Of The Blues, not to greet Dewey Trueman, but to feast his eyes on the man he hoped to make his victim.
The Wild Bunch had lost their last best chance, if they had had one, of killing Trueman during the abandoned Honolulu layover. Their last chance had been the previous evening. The spell of the tropics had been broken. As Dewey ambled up he was greeted by guilty, embarrassed glances. He had no idea how to interpret them as he was unaware of what was going on and who was involved.
If he thought about it he saw it merely as a contest that he had won. As usual there was so much happening tha there was little time to think about it. The pageantry of the homecoming immediately absorbed his interest.
Irene Pardon gave a dutiful wave to Blaise. The early arrival had upset some of her plans. As Dewey looked at the woman he thought to himself that Blaise’s dream of tramping the world was a fantasy. This woman was not going to spend her life on tramp steamers. Mabye as a tramp in bars but not on a tramp steamer.
She was dressed in a brown suit, nicely tailored for a woman of her social status; her makeup was elaborate and good. Her hair was arranged in braids wrapped around her head which women seeking to project respectability so often employ. Dewey was quite right in thinking that fidelity to her man was not uppermost in her mind. Her meal ticket had come home.
Inez Dieter was even coarser. As the prow edged in toward the dock she ran alongside yelling up to Dieter: ‘Angus, Angus. How come you’re back early?’
‘I’ll tell you later. Later.’ Dieter said visibly embarrassed by his wife’s gaucheness.
Indeed all the Dependents had had to quickly change their plans when they learned the Teufelsdreck would return three weeks ahead of schedule. Perhaps the turnout might have been larger if the ship had returned on schedule. No Black dependents showed up.
There was one Dependent who stood out from all the rest. She was most conspicuous in her oriental finery. She was very eager to please her occidental husband. As Dewey eyed her he was almost ready to fall in love himself. She was the epitome of the song ‘My China Doll’ except that she was Japanese.
She wore a gorgeous gold brocade kimono with an intricate design that her fellow prostitutes in Yokosuka had presented her as a wedding present with a wonderful obi encircling her tiny waist. Her makeup was immaculate as was her hairdo done up in the traditional bun with the chop sticks sticking out all over. Everyone had forgotten her up till then.
Including her husband Lane Vincent.
He, as well as most of Operations, was standing on the boat deck drinking in the excitement when Lane spotted this very beautiful apparition awaiting him on the dock with an overflowing heart of love for her man who had brought her eight thousand miles to be his bride. Poor, poor lovely thing.
‘Hey, look there’s a Japanese girl on the dock. A real knockout too.’
‘Yeah.’ Mike Deasy said with some bitterness, for he understood Lane Vincent quite well. ‘That’s your wife.’
Lane had forgotten. It had been so long ago, so far away. For him his marriage had just been a fantasy of the moment. He hadn’t even thought of it as real, certainly not as real as the clap he had picked up in Hong Kong. The memory had faded with every mile that separated him from his bride. Now, as he looked at this quite gorgeous creature, he realized that she was one of those little yellow Japanese people. He realized that his White friends would have nothing to do with her. He was horrified at what he had done and shamed by the reality.
The Captain was on the bridge guiding the little subkiller to its mooring. Lane could not be responsible for his conduct; someone else must be.
Beginning to shake uncontrollably he rushed up the ladder to the bridge. Maddened and hysterical he screamed at the top of his lungs so that his voice carried over the ship from stem to stern as well as out on the dock: ‘Why did you let me do it?’
Lane had truly lost control. The bridge was crowded with every officer aboard ship as well as the watch.
Captain Ratches, who had tolerated more than any man should, looked at Vincent in disbelief.
‘What are you talking about, Sailor? What did I let you do?’
‘Control yourself, Vincent.’ Morford sternly admonished.
Vincent couldn’t hear him.
‘Look at that, you bastard.’ He screamed pointing to his lovely bride on the dock. ‘You let me marry her against regulations.’
Still taken back, Ratches tried to defend himself: ‘I didn’t let you marry her, Sailor, you demanded the right as a free born American man. Remember?
‘Don’t give me any of that horseshit, buddy. Navy regulations required you to dissuade me from marrying a Japanese p-p-prostitute. that’s all she is you know. You didn’t do your duty, you son-of-a-bitch.’ And then, and this is incredible beyond belief, Vincent punched a Captain in the United States navy as he stood on the bridge of his own ship doing his duty.
The reaction was instantaneous. Morford seized Vincent by the neck casting him to the deck while the other officers took up positions in front of the Captain. Out of his mind with grief at his actions Vincent had no idea or even knowledge of what he had done but his concentration was broken as he hit the deck.
Leaping to his feet he slid down the ladder to the boat deck nearly leaping from there to the main deck. He vaulted over the lines clearing the three feet from the ship to the deck.
Racing up to his poor wife, who mistakenly thought he was very eager to see her, he stood in a half crouch screaming into her face: ‘Get away from me you filthy whore. You goddam prostitute. Go back to where you came from but get out of my life.’
May such a thing never happen to a poor innocent thing again. The poor woman backed away from the onslaught still clutching her bouquet of flowers as her dream was blasted to smithereens just like Hiroshima. The import of Vincent’s actions hit her hard. She backed, staggered and then tried to run but there was no where for the poor little girl to run. She was alone and unwanted in a place she had never been before among an alien people.
The hurt surrounded her like a garbage compacter. Her pain would never cease.
Neither would Lane Vincent’s although he deserved it. A couple of Firsts and Seconds followed him over the lines at Morford’s command. They seized Vincent to take him back aboard for his Court Martial. You don’t hit the Captain of your ship and walk away scot free.
Within a couple days they hauled Lane Vincent off to the brig. What happened to his wife is unknown.
Lane Vincent, the free American man. He was so typical of the common man. He was free and tough when he wanted to do something but it was somebody elses fault when he learned the error of his ways. The Captain couldn’t stop him in Yokosuka but it was still the Captain’s fault when he realized the error of his ways.
The shame was that he destroyed the psyche and life of this innocent girl. Lane Vincent deserved more than he got as bad as that was.
As the ship was secured Trueman was interested by the fact that Kanary had somehow dragged the Captain out on the dock to talk to his parents. Having just been struck by one of his own sailors poor old Ratches had to put up with catering to the Kanarys. Truly there are no jobs without indignities attached.
The Kanarys were an odd couple. He was five-three while she was a diminutive four-eleven. They had a fussy, precious appearance and manner. One might have thought that Teal was adopted.
As they talked to the Captain both stood on their tiptoes leaning in toward Ratches gazing up sharply with birdlike expressions on their faces.
‘We have only two days to be here with this fine boy, our son, Captain. He has informed us of how important he is to the running of your ship. We know that there is a great deal of paperwork connected with your return, but really Captain couldn’t you let us have him for this one evening. Surely you could spare our wonderful son for one evening.’
Ratches realized that rather than say Teal had been Court Martialed and restricted it was best to let it pass for the moment. Teal had explained himself as being required by duties to remain aboard. Ratches was always too kind.
‘Well, just for this one evening.’ He said looking reprovingly at Teal.
So Kanary weaseled out of his restriction as his kind always knows so well how to do.
Trueman read this exchange quite correctly as with a smile the Kanarys settled back on their heels.
Trueman didn’t see the eyes of Yisraeli burning a hole through him from the shadows as he slipped down the port side to get dressed for liberty.
‘Uh, uh, Trueman. You’re not going over.’
‘What’s your problem now, Laddybuck? Since when do you tell me whether I can go over or not?’
‘I’m telling you now. We all got restriction and the only reason you don’t is because you’re too chicken shit. If you go over and we can’t you’re gonna regret it.’
‘Up yours, Ifrit. The only reason you’re restricted is because you’re a stupid crook. How could anyone be dumb enough to take double pay and not realize they wouldn’t get caught. You don’t really think I’m going to do time for a crime you committed, do you?’
Dewey was insulting Laddybuck Ifrit but his comments applied to over a hundred other men who were similarly restricted.
As one of the few honest or intelligent men on board Trueman now became the victim of the criminality of the others. With a shipload of criminals they all considered it unfair that the honest men could go on liberty. Just as when crossing the equator the inmates were once again in charge of the asylum.
Trueman disregarded Ifrit looping his scarf over his head and heading for the Quarterdeck. The Blacks were disappearing down the pier when Dewey crossed the gangway. Some few others straggled down the pier as those restricted lined the deck to watch arms folded grimly across their chests.
The divisional officers were sitting around the breakfast table the next morning.
‘There’s a great deal of unrest among the men, Captain.’ Sieggren said.
‘About what?’ Ratches idly inquired.
‘Well, they’re in an ugly mood. I mean a really ugly mood because now that we’re back in the States they can’t go over for a month.’
‘What then? They were clearly guilty and justly sentenced. What do they want?’
‘They want their restrictions lifted, Sir.’
‘Lifted? Why? They committed a serious offence, I could have sent all of them to the brig. Why shouldn’t they be restricted now I’d like to know.’
‘You’re quite right, Sir, that the sentences were justified but as a politic move, if the restrictions aren’t lifted there is liable to be some very ugly violence before the thirty days are up. They are already threatening the men who weren’t restricted.’
‘What are you suggesting, Lance?’
‘Sir, we’re already in hot water with the Commodore. If several men are seriously injured or even…uh…killed, I don’t think your command, our ship, will ever recover. We would go down in infamy.’
‘Killed? What do you mean?’
‘I mean I’m certain there will be some not so subtle accidents and possibly some men might be beaten to death.’
Lt. Sieggren understood the temper of the ship very well.
Ratches quietly reflected nibbling at a strip of bacon held perpendicular with his teeth. ‘What do you suggest, Lieutenant?’
‘As much as I’m opposed to it, Sir, I think we would be very wise to remit the last twenty-seven days. Change the restrictions to three days and let them go ashore the day after tomorrow.
Ratches rechewed the bacon breaking it down into very small pieces and swallowing hard to get it down. He thought his sentence was just, really too lenient. They should all have gone to the brig. It was too late to send them there now, however.
With a cloudy face he growled at Sieggren: ‘Do what you think best.’
The restricted men were released two days later.
Hostilities were defused but not eliminated as the crew streamed off the ship for the gates. Trueman found himself walking beside Mike Deasy and just behind Kayo Kreskin who was lugging forty pounds of heroin to his father waiting anxiously across from the gate.
The bag sagged heavily as Kreskin tried his best to keep his shoulders light and level to conceal the weight of his burden.
As Deasy and Trueman walked along they both looked at each other. The friendship forged overseas melted away. Trueman had no use for a friend as dull witted as Deasy while back on the soil of the US Trueman’s difference and strangeness became repellent to Deasy. Without a word they dissociated themselves from each other.
‘There goes Kreskin with his heroin.’ Deasy sneered.
A cold shiver went down Kreskin’s spine as he heard.
‘Really! Heroin?’ Dewey said in awe.
‘I’m going to have to check that bag.’ The Marine sentry said reaching out for it.
‘What kind of bullshit is this?’ Duber said. ‘We’re all one here, you don’t check any bags.’
‘It’s alright. That’s my son.’ The very respectable looking Soter Kreskin said from the other side of the gate.
The sight of Soter intimidated the sentry who stepped back letting Kayo pass.
Dewey followed Kayo and Soter across the street where Soter threw the bag into the trunk of his Caddie with a sigh of relief.
‘Everything go alright?’ Soter asked superfluously.
‘Great. Fine.’ Kayo said as they both watched Trueman gawk into the trunk as he walked past.
How Now, Young Sailor?
Trueman gave the Kweskins a wondering glance as he passed on the way to the bus stop. Their guilt made his interest seem sinister to them but in truth Trueman was eyeing the sartorial splendor and magnificent carriage of Soter while noting the fifty-nine Cadillac which was the first he had seen.
The fifty-nine GM cars were indeed of singular design. The very apogee of American self-confidence. Some things are truly unique. Even though the fifty-nines were the culminating year in the style begun in 1955 so they were so extreme in their styling as to dissociate them from their predecessors.
The fifty-nine GMs were the most forward looking cars ever designed; they seemed to catapult you into a blissful future. Short stubby engine compartments flowed back toward the long line of the fins rising ever higher into a mad desire to fly.
Furthermore they represented a crisis in American confidence. There was never anything like them again. The following year the design changed to an unimaginative prosaic functional design which was the height of timid bourgeousie. The close of the fifties disappeared into the silly Corvair in response to pressures from the more timid who now began to control American society. Wars against smoking and the speed limit now commenced.
Tuli Kupferberg of the Fugs was to shortly proclaim that America was insane. While he was certainly projecting, regretfully it seems that he was right. All the stresses proved too much for the American mind.
But for Dewey on his bus ride downtown the astonishing changes that had taken place in less than six months as reflected only in the car designs was mind boggling.
He was now half way through his enlistment. For anyone to think he would re-up was laughable. He knew he would never go back to the midwest; its whole atmosphere seemed oppressive compared to the West Coast. The bright dazzle of Southern California clashed with the dark inner recesses of his soul. He much preferred the dark overcast skies of the San Francisco Bay and its surly blue collar mentality which matched more closely the turmoil of his own soul.
Had he been thinking he would have realized that before plunging into the thick of life he needed a period of time to recuperate to gain a semblance of balance. He should have used his time to explore rural settings along, perhaps, Highway 49 with its old mining sites like Angel’s Camp where with his savings he could have rented a cabin at reasonable rates and sat out a year to gain a sense of direction.
Instead, prompted by P.J. O’Rourke in Hong Kong, he was bound and determined to get a college degree in order to make himself a first class citizen. He saw himself as the equal if not the superior of any officer he had ever seen.
California with its well developed college system was cheap and available to any applicant who cared to apply. The murk and gloom of the Bay Area was most congenial to his general depression. He bethought himself of his friendship with Roque Da Costa who lived in Oakland. Da Costa had been lucky enough to escape the brig in Guam; Dewey now decided to press him into introducing him to his family and Oakland.
Thus would begin a period in Dewey’s life which condensed into one of its most meaningful periods. The next few months might be said to be the core of Dewey’s entire life. The coming future memories would embrace the whole of his Navy career and spil over both backward and forward. The mere twenty-six weeks would be as a thousand years in his sight.
For now, Dewey got off the bus to walk up to Broadway and the corner of the El Cortez. The long cruise had changed all his sensibilities. The long days and nights at sea had slowed his perceptions. All was orderly at sea. There had been no need to rush or hurry. The pace of life had even been slower in the ports of call. Entombed in the long slow shuffling strung out mass of humanity in Hong Kong he had been compelled to move at less than a snail’s pace.
Back in San Diego which had always seemed leisurely to him everything seemed to be rushing and hurrying. Cars raced by at seeming blinding speed. It seemed as though he would have to reorient himself just to cross the street.
The pedestrians seemed to fly by him. Dewey had always been the fastest of walkers passing everyone on the street but now he would have to train himself to even keep up with the flow.
As he stood on the corner peeping timorously into the traffic of Broadway Marcia Mason whizzed by him on the way to her job in the record store. She recognized him immediately giving him a disdainful look. Dewey, whose psychology gave him little capacity for remembering names and faces had only a faint glimmer of recognition which passed as soon as it appeared.
Abashed by the tumultuous activity Dewey entered a drug store bought a copy of Time and Newsweek, spurning US News And World Report and retired to the Y to sit quietly reading his magazines.
The world, as usual, was in flux. Fidel Castro was in full revolt in Cuba. Even though it was apparent to the least informed reader that Castro was a Communist, the Revolutionary writers of that supposedly conservative Time magazine were in a quandary as to whether he was merely an agricultural redistributor or perhaps only a fellow traveler using the Communists for his own ends but certainly not a Communist. It never seemed to bother these pundits that whether in China, Cuba or elsewhere no land was ever distributed.
‘Boy, if Joe were still around there wouldn’t be much confusion on that issue.’ Dewey thought as his attention slipped over to an article on growing tension in Lebanon. Nasser was stirring the Middle East. As important as Castro’s declaration of Communism would be after the turn of the year for the United States it would have no effect on Dewey, however the growing tension in Lebanon which burst into flame in the summer of ’58 would.
As Dewey flipped back to the book reviews which he found more absorbing than the news accounts which in the Time style were little more than fictional he failed to fix his attention on a man now about forty years old who arrived to sit in a chair three or four away from him.
The man hadn’t removed his hat, wore dark sunglasses, had a thick bushy mustache and wore a suit that looked like it might once have belonged to someone else.
Dewey read quietly a review of a book by Lederer and Eugene Burdick called The Ugly American. Little did Dewey realize that this book by two Jews would completely unsettle the American psyche.
Until this time Americans had considered themselves as decent, righteous, beautiful people. They saw themselves as generous to a fault. It was that generosity that Lederer and Burdick turned into a vice thereby making Americans see themselves as dirty and vile. The notion of being ‘ugly’ Americans became an article of faith that it was impossible for them to shake. Any denial of its truth would bring forth a violent reaction of affirmation. Curiously they enjoyed thinking of themselves as ‘ugly’ Americans.
Time Magazine in the future would devote feature articles denouncing us as ‘ugly Americans.’ We were vile because even though we broadcast our resources wholesale over the ‘poor little yellow-brown people’ of South-East Asia for nothing but altruistic purposes we did so with ‘strings attached.’ We wanted their affection and gratitude. It is truly said ‘You can’t buy love.’ and the US didn’t get any for its generosity.
On the question of was it good for the Jews it should be noted that the Jewish state of Israel was sponging off the US for hundreds of millions a year. Perhaps using the technique of shaming Americans in one place would free the Israelis of any obligations to affiliate their goals with those of the United States. Or by making us feel ashamed perhaps the simple Americans would give Israel more. Just because you made their state viable didn’t mean they owed anything to you. The Israelis wanted no strings attached. Thus Lederer and Burdick were really acting as subversive Israeli agents posing as American citizens. Always look for the ulterior motive where Jews are concerned.
Dewey read and watched in disgust as the US, his people, himself, was reviled and insulted for the generosity it gave Southeast Asia and the world. He saw the flaw in the reasoning of the elected representatives of the people in Washington but as only one of the multitude he could do nothing about it. Indeed, when the people embraced the notion of the ‘Ugly American’ they almost demanded to be taken advantage of and they were.
The attitude would end in the folly of the Viet Nam debacle which was then appearing sporadically in the back pages of Time.
Fifty-eight was also the year of Philip Marlowe’s last caper.
Heaving a sigh, even then angry at the concept of the Ugly American Dewey got up to head back to the base intent on a confab with Roque Da Costa.
As he got up he became aware of the heavy breathing of the man in the hat. Dewey gave him a glance figuring he must be a queer or something who haunted the Y to look at men then walked out into the sunshine to catch a bus.
While Da Costa and Trueman had had a troubled friendship in mess cooking Trueman had not been that friendly toward him since then. They hadn’t gone over together once while overseas. Trueman did not consciously think of such things for indeed had he tried to analyze his feelings about his treatment overseas he would have gotten nowhere but subliminally he resented the fact that Da Costa had never given him any warnings as to the intents of Dieter and Deck nor had he ever openly sided with Dewey.
Nevertheless as these were times that were trying his soul he believed he had no choice but to impose himself on Roque if he were to get his post-Navy life in order.
Da Costa for his part was unconcerned with Trueman or his welfare. As Trueman got all the dirt jobs there was no real value to his friendship thus whatever friendly feelings were left over from mess cooking had worn pretty thin.
Still, as Trueman had an Anglo name he was considered, as it were, pure blooded English. Da Costa carried the stigma of being a Portogee, as he called it, hence having an inferiority complex versus the Anglo. So, even if Trueman was at the bottom of the pecking order in Deck he was socially above Da Costa. Roque was therefore somewhat intimidated causing him to defer to Trueman.
He wasn’t anxious to let Trueman go home with him on a weekend but Trueman with the subtlety of the proverbial sledge hammer bludgeoned him into acceptance.
This feat had just been achieved as Trueman sat on his locker to shine his shoes. He was giving a good rub to the second application of Shinola when a ruckus on the Quarterdeck could be heard all the way in First.
‘We got five new guys coming down, Trueman.’
‘Oh yeah? Lucky us, lucky them. See if the like it any better than we do.’
Now half way through his enlistment Trueman following the universal pattern found any new people an imposition. He was no longer interested in forming relationships. Guam had gutted the ship of most of the familiar faces. Transfers and expirations would keep the crew in perpetual flux. Except for those in Deck Trueman wouldn’t even know the names of new men in other divisions. Of the men in Deck they would merely be bodies filling positions.
The five new deck hands streamed noisily through the hatch half carrying half dragging their sea bags in a juvenile eighteen year old manner. They were all fresh out of boot camp and had the wild eyed excited look of beginning the great adventure. That attitude would last one day. Well, they weren’t mistaken but they weren’t going to get the magnificent Pacific tour of duty the Teufelsdreck had just aborted. Navy life was big adventure but not necessarily a pleasant one. Just a big one. Somehow, someway in the constricted environment of a steel ship three hundred six feet long, twenty-five feet wide midships something new, startling and dramatic seemed to happen every day. This day was no exception.
Dewey was shining away. The seers who ran the Navy apparently believed in the old adage: Idle hands are the devil’s workshop. so they insisted on spectacular shoeshines. By mixing a little water in the polish and rubbing for hours one could actually shave by one’s reflection in one’s shoes. It was a feat quite equaling Einstein’s creation of relativity; important to the Navy but stunningly irrelevant to any swabby. Still neatness counts.
Laboring patiently away he was ignoring the newcomers when an unfamiliar super eager grinning face shoved into his: ‘Are you Dewey Trueman?’
Trueman pushed the unfamiliar face back a little looking at it in a quizzical manner: ‘Yeah. So what?’
‘I really wanted to meet you.’
‘Oh yeah? Who are you and where have you heard of me?’
‘My name’s Tory Torbrick. I’ve been wanting to meet you.’
‘Yeah? OK, Torbrick. So where, when or how have you heard of me?’
‘Oh. I don’t know. Just around. I think we’re going to be good friends.’
Dewey put on his shoes to go up on deck to relieve the watch. He gave Torbrick an acknowledgment walking off mystified by where Torbrick could possibly have heard of him. He was disturbed by Torbrick’s reluctance to tell him how he had heard of him. Torbrick always evaded the issue in the future so Dewey never did learn why Tory was so ardent to befriend him.
Dewey elected to avoid Torbrick as he was suspicious of him. But the ship was small. Torbrick was a deck hand who slept in the same compartment so there was no way to avoid him. Torbrick simply forced himself on Trueman with the subtlety of a load of horse puckey.
Torbrick was following his father’s orders. Shortly he would ask Trueman to spend a weekend at his home in Long Beach as his father began his plan to commit Trueman to Atascadero.
North To Oakland
Trueman disregarded Torbrick avoiding him as much as possible but he pushed the reluctant Da Costa into inviting him to Oakland on their first forty-eight. Weekend passes from Friday afternoon to muster on Monday morning were called forty-eight hour passes.
Trueman was disappointed that Da Costa wouldn’t travel with him but chose to go separately. Actually Trueman felt this keenly but faced with a future with no guideposts he swallowed his pride concentrating only on the necessity.
Oakland was six hundred miles from San Diego. The Navy required a sailor to get an out of bounds pass to travel beyond one hundred miles. LA was technically out of bounds by a few miles but those miles were officially disregarded.
Trueman had to suffer the humiliation of asking Kanary for an out of bounds request form. The officious little Yeoman asked impertinent questions rather than just handing over the form. That was why the Communists demanded the Yeoman rating. They learned whatever was going on and what everybody was doing. What was now to become Trueman’s habit of going to Oakland was learned and passed on, in this case to Our Lady Of The Blues. Trueman cringed as he gave evasive or incomplete answers finally just blurting out: ‘C’mon Kanary, just give me the form; I don’t have to answer any questions of yours.’
Having filled out the form Trueman had to present it to the Executive Officer Lt. Lance Sieggren for approval. If Kanary was an impediment Sieggren was an obstacle. Trueman’s hatred of the officers left him all but tongue tied in their presence. It was all he could do to keep his hostility in check.
Repairing to the wardroom he stood before the seated Sieggren who gave him the third degree before reluctantly approving the request. Seething with anger at having to submit his manhood to a man he couldn’t respect Trueman choked out a thank-you but was unable to conceal the disgust and resentment he felt in his facial expression.
Downtown in the Greyhound station the realities of life began to hit him. He had always envied the California kids who could escape the degradation of Navy life by going home on weekends. Some could even do it overnight. He hoped that going to Oakland would offer him that respite as well as preparing him for civilian life.
As he paid for his roundtrip ticket he realized that he wouldn’t be able to make the trip as often as he liked. Bus tickets weren’t that cheap. As he stood around the station waiting for the bus to leave he realized in addition that bus stations were very unpleasant places.
San Diego wasn’t too bad. So much of the traffic was Navy that the undesirable elements were not too prominent and they put the Navy men in a different category and didn’t bother them as much. Yet the young ne’er-do-wells that habituated bus terminals were still unpleasantly conspicuous.
They were nothing compared to LA. It seemed that the City Of Angels had more evil angels than good ones. So many young men and women flocked to LA that the station was full of not not only ne’er-d0-wells but predators.
The LA station was large but not nearly as large or as well organized as Chicago or even the much smaller town of Joplin, Missouri. The building was single story with few amenities. Pimps, thieves and sexual predators congregated and operated openly in numbers unseen in other bus stations. Perhaps the lure of Hollywood brought so many naive young bumpkins into town that the pickings were as plentiful as schools of carp around a sewer.
The predators were not timid either but behaved in a feeding frenzy as each bus disgorged its bevy of young innocents.
The scene must have approximated that at Castle Gardens or the landing from Ellis Island in the old days as the acclimated Jews and Italians or whatever gathered to prey on their exiting greenhorn landsmen and paisanos. In many ways the situation was the same. Whether the old immigrants were as transparently criminal as the predators in LA isn’t known to me.
Dewey had a layover of over an hour in LA as he had to transfer buses. As his bus rolled to a stop inside the terminal a bevy of predators gathered at the very door of the bus to glom onto any newcomers.
‘Welcome to LA.’ In an eager friendly voice that came from a seedy looking guy of twenty-one or twenty-two.
‘Thanks.’ Dewey said in a startled voice.
‘Whadya come for, the movies?’
‘No, man. I’m just passing through.’
‘Well, you got a little layover, let’s talk.’
‘How do you know I’ve got a layover?’
‘That’s the bus from Tucson. It just runs back and forth between LA, San Diego and Tucson so if you’re passing through you’ve got to change buses, have a layover. Always takes at least half an hour.’ The guy said, pleased with himself for his knowledge of the schedules.
‘Yeah? Well, thanks, but I’m just going to look over the town a little while I’m waiting.’
‘Great. I’ll go with you.’
There was no shaking the guy short of violence so Dewey was compelled to suffer his company.
At that time LA still had a vital downtown. The streets were lined with more and bigger stores filled with more unusual and expensive merchandise than Dewey had ever seen before even in Detroit. It made his mouth water.
This was LA and that meant something. No other city in the world could then compete with LA in style. OK, so maybe the LA style did tend to the gauche in some ways but who’s to say which standard of judgment is correct. It was a choice between stuffy or open. The style may have been a little more blatant but it was vital and exciting just like the sun and sand of the Southland. London, Paris, New York were all shrinking violets compared to the bumptious, in your face confidence of LA. The City of Angels didn’t care what you thought.
Dewey’s attention was arrested by a display of men’s shirts in one of the windows. His mouth dropped open at their sight while in quick succession his face screwed up in revulsion at their unfamiliarity.
The shirts merely had striped bodies surmounted by a solid white collar and cuffs. But rather than seeming fashionable they just seemed outre to Dewey. In truth the fashion never really caught on.
His companion who, believe it or not, called himself ‘Flash’, mistook Dewey’s look for admiration thinking it time to make his move: ‘You’re never going to be able to afford shirts like that, unless…’
‘I wouldn’t wear one if I could afford it.’
‘Hey? Bullock’s is a very nice department store.’ Flash said indignantly. As his taste was determined by where an item was purchased he considered anything from Bullock’s primo.
‘I know how you could make the money to wear those shirts. I’ve got the right contacts.’
Dewey’s year and a half in the Navy had been well spent. He knew what was coming next.
‘I know how to get money if I need it.’ He replied scornfully.
‘Everybody knows how to get a few bucks but I know how to get lots and have a good time doing it.’
‘Yeah? Well I don’t flip it up for anybody.’
‘Ha! Whadayou? One of them goody goodies?’
‘I’m no faggot.’
‘Watch who you’re calling names. I’m not either. I just know a thing or two.’
‘Who cares? Get lost.’ Dewey said turning to walk back to the bus station.
Flash followed along behind Dewey heaping abuse on him with the effrontery of the recruiter unwilling to let his prey escape him. Back inside the terminal Flash quieted down taking his place against the wall with the other predators and grifters who were waiting for new buses to arrive.
Some crud was chatting up a young girl at the entrance to the waiting room promising to help her if she would just trust him. It was then Dewey realized who and what all these guys were.
Rather than realizing that Flash had approached him just because he had gotten off a bus Dewey took his indecent proposal as a personal affront. He began to spout off not only at Flash which he had a right to do but at the whole clusters of pimps and hustlers.
The crowd was listening to him in dumb astonishment when a bus attendant called him over: ‘This is none of my business, Friend, but I’d advise you not to antagonize those guys. They’re dangerous when riled.’
‘Who cares about them?’ Dewey said indignantly and loudly. ‘They’re nothing but cons and cheats.’
‘I know, I know.’
‘Then why don’t the cops run them out?’
‘They’d just come back. They’re an unpleasant fact of life. We don’t like them but we have to tolerate them. My advice to you given in all friendliness is to brush this off but don’t antagonize them.’
Dewey was saved the trouble of dealing with them further by the announcement of his bus but the damage had been done. The pimps and hustlers marked him well. The next time he came through, even if years later, they would remember him and be waiting for him.
The police who say they are powerless to find criminals without informers allowed these criminals to operate openly in a public place of business.
Dewey’s bus pulled out headed over the Grapevine for the cities of the Central Valley of California. Called the Central Valley, the San Joaquin and the Sacramento it’s all the same thing, one long dry desert made productive by irrigation. The slopes of the Valley were lined with man made reservoirs coming down from the Sierra Nevada. The big Shasta Dam at the headwaters of the Sacramento was still in construction but when it was finished there would be enough water to flood the Valley.
Dewey had caught a local so when the bus pulled into Bakersfield on the other side of the Grapevine a lean, thin faced, hawk beaked man who appeared to be looking for a fight got on. Dewey threw his feet up on the empty seat beside him to preempt it. This was all the challenge that Dean Moriarty needed.
‘Move your feet. I want this seat.’
‘There’s plenty of other seats use one of them.’ Dewey said amiably.
Moriarity went for the bus driver. It has been said that your physiognomy is your destiny. Whatever that means it always seemed that the faces were applied against Dewey. If he had asked the driver for the seat the driver would have told him to take another. Now he sided with Moriarty. However personality determines fate whatever was in Dewey’s face never did him any good. Maybe it was the pimples.
‘Look. You’re going to have to move your feet, buddy.’
‘OK.’ Dewey said getting up to move to another empty bench sliding in against the window. Moriarity followed him sliding in beside him.
Dewey shoved him over complaining to the driver: “Hey, Driver, make this guy go back to the seat he wanted.’
‘I can sit where I please. I’ve paid my fare.’ Moriarty said self-righteously.
‘There’s nothing I can do about it, buddy.’ The Driver groaned more than familiar not only with Moriarty’s type but Moriarty himself. Moriarty was so cranked out that he rode back and forth from Bakersfield to Sacramento seeking such confrontations. Yes, it is a form of homosexuality. Dewey had to endure the crank.
The bus had been rolling down 99 toward Fresno for an hour before Moriarty spoke to a thoroughly irritated Trueman.
‘You look like the type who’s never cracked a book in his life.’
These guys are nearly always astute psychologists who know just which button to push. Dewey should have kept his mouth shut but unfortunately he had been raised to be courteous. An onerous curse in itself.
‘I’ve cracked a book.’ He mumbled as low as possible so as to obey the rules of courtesy but discourage conversation.
‘What’s that? Have the courtesy to speak up. Don’t you have any breeding?’ It was Moriarty’s purpose to have Dewey thrown off the bus. What twist had been given him by whom can only be guessed at, but he was more successful at raising ire than not.
‘Yeah. I read.’ Dewey replied miserably.
‘Name one author you’ve read other than tripe like Mickey Spillane.’ Moriarty said contemptuously. ‘I mean real literature.’
Mickey Spillane had written some gory sex-filled detective stories with Mike Hammer as his hero which had been popular a few years before. Dewey hadn’t read them but Moriarty had.
Dewey lit a cigarette, looked at Moriarty resignedly then blew smoke in his face. ‘Kipling.’ He replied.
‘Driver. Driver. For Christ’s sake, I’ve got asthma. Make him put out his cigarette.’
‘If he’s got asthma, buddy, put out your cigarette.’
‘Better yet, Driver, I’ll move away from him further back.’ Dewey rose to move back but Moriarty jammed his knees against the back of the forward seat refusing to let Dewey pass.
‘No.’ Moriarty said self-righteously and indignantly. ‘I don’t have to do what you want me to do. I’m not your slave. You can climb over the seat.’
‘C’mon Driver. Make him let me out.’
‘Look buddy, just put out your cigarette.’
‘No. I won’t. If he won’t let me out then he’s giving me permission to smoke.’
‘I’ll stop the bus and put you off if you don’t put that cigarette out as I say.’
‘I’ll testify he’s trying to start a fight.’ Moriarty rapped out.
Faced with the possibility of being expelled from the bus Dewey put out his cigarette. Chalk another one up for the gay guy. His chest swelled at the realization of his power to make another man do what he didn’t want.
‘You’ll learn not to mess with me, mister.’ The twisted Moriarty said with satisfaction. He was a past master at starting and winning disputes of this nature. He now returned to Dewey’s answer to his question to keep the agiatation of his perverted mind in motion.
‘Kipling was the spokesman of colonialism. what he and those bigoted English did to the Indian sub-continent was criminal. If you like Rudyard Kipling then you share the guilt of the English. I’m not sure I can continue sitting beside you.’
‘I did try to leave but you wouldn’t do what I told you jerk. ‘Sides the English didn’t do anything to India nearly as bad as what the Indians did to themselves.’
‘I have no idea what you’re talking about.’
‘The caste system for one thing. The very idea of making a huge part of your fellow man ‘untouchable’ while putting red dots on the foreheads of others to give them special privileges should make any decent man puke. If you back that system, then you’re just as screwed up as they are, probably worse. Kipling was a good and decent man.’
‘What the Indians chose to do with each other is their internal affair; what invaders like the English do is criminal.’
‘You’re twisted, man, you’ve got a mental disease.’
‘Did you hear that everybody?’ Dean Moriarty said turning to address everyone on the bus. This ‘person’ here advocates criminal behavior. That makes him a criminal himself. We should all be ashamed to be on the same bus with him.’
By this time the bus had entered and left Fresno. The next stop was Merced toward which they left the highway. The driver had not responded to this latest outburst of Moriarty. The pervert played his next card.
‘As a matter of fact I won’t stay on this bus with you another minute. I will get off here at Merced and await for the next bus to continue my journey to Sacramento.’
‘OK. Great man. You’re not hurting my feelings.’
As the bus stopped the twisted tortured pervert that was Dean Moriarty stood at the door reviling Trueman until the driver closed the door to pull out even then trying to hold the door open. Moriarty knew his act so well that everyone on the bus looked at Dewey in disgust.
As it was now quite dark Dewey just sat there ignoring the world. ‘Damned if I’ll take the bus again.’ He groaned.
Another short hop brought to bus to Modesto from which they left 99 to take the Manteca cutoff bypassing Tracy over to Oakland across the Bay Bridge into San Francisco. It was now three in the morning.
The San Francisco bus station was deserted that early in the morning. Dewey grabbed his bag to walk up the deserted street to Market, the main drag of San Francisco. The dark night glistened in twinkling patent leather black against the lights of Market. As Dewey looked down Market he was relieved to see the street deserted.
He took no more than three steps than simultaneously down the entire length of Market a person or two stepped into the street from every doorway on both sides of the street. Each looked hopefully in his direction eager to be chosen for whatever adventure he might propose.
There were winos, homos of every description, men who looked like women and women who looked like men. There were even lonely women hoping for any kind of companionship. As Dewey walked along Market there was a delicious shiver of anticipation for the habitues of this midnight obsession. What was in his bag? Which one would he choose?
Sneers of indignation were launched at Dewey’s back as he passed each hopeful leaving them crushed and rejected. They spat hatefully at his heels. Block after block Dewey passed them by as he walked down Market.
When he turned to make his way to the Key Systems terminal for the ride over the Bay Bridge to Oakland a wave of pain washed over him as the injured devastated souls sank back into their doorways to stand in the withering night in hopes that a car might pull up to select one to make his life meaningful. But the sun would come up driving them back to their lairs before a redeemer would arrive. Today there is no salvation.
‘Man, what a town.’ Dewey said as he climbed the steps to the trains. The arcades were all closed. Only a couple sailors on the way back to Treasure Island waited for a train.
Da Costa lived out on E. 86th Street about five blocks off East 14th which was the North-South drag of Oakland. East 14th was the longest street Dewey had ever seen stretching from the bay all the way to the future Fremont over four hundred blocks long.
Da Costa, who had just arrived let him in without having to knock which was well because Roque’s father was a cranky old soul.
The Heart Of Oakland
Pietro, or Pete, Da Costa had emigrated to the United States as a young boy with his parents. He was now sixty-three. He was a widower who had sired four offspring: three girls and Roque. The two older sisters were both married and out of the house. Roque’s younger sister, Terry, at seventeen was fifteen years younger than the oldest sister.
Oakland had a substantial Portuguese population. They were a clannish lot who believed that they had suffered serious discrimination at the hands of the Anglos. They were very sensitive about being confused with Mexicans, who they considered inferior, because of the similarity of the names.
Gomez and Rodriguez were not to be confused with Gomes and Rodrigues. The final S designated a Portuguese while the Z was emblematic of the Mexican.
Pete Da Costa but illy concealed his rage that his son had brought an Anglo home. He let Dewey know that he was not welcome in his home.
Rather than face his father’s anger Roque whisked Dewey out of the house. ‘He’s kinda living in the past.’ Roque lamented the first generations traditional lament. ‘Still hasn’t left the old country in his heart. A lot of the old guys are still fighting battles from years ago. Come on, I’ll show you the stomping grounds.’
Roque was able to borrow his father’s car which he headed down East 14th toward the cannerys and the heart of Portuguese Oakland. In the old days the immigrant Italians and Portuguese had staffed the cannerys such as the big Del Monte plant that backed onto High Street. High Street led across the channel to the city of Alameda. Oakland itself is the seat of Alameda County. Adjoining it to the West is the City of Alameda on Alameda Island with its huge Alameda Naval Air Station. The big carriers like the Kearsarge home based at Alameda.
As the boys drove up to the Big Top Drive In just east of the cannerys what the Bay Area called the ‘high fog’ still obscured the sun. The high fog was responsible for giving the city its dull dark cast. Anyone else would have called the ‘high fog’ cloud cover. The fog or clouds formed out over the ocean during the day then as the temperature dropped in the evening the moisture laden air condensed into clouds which were drawn through the Golden Gate by winds created by the cooling land. The East Bay and San Francisco were the most affected areas. Contra Costa county which is actual desert was either unaffected or burned off early. The Peninsula West across the bay from Oakland was usually bright and sunny. Santa Clara County with San Jose at the South end of the bay was usually covered over to East San Jose. That cover usually burned off about noon.
Oakland was kept perpetually cool by the cloud cover…and gloomy. Gertrude Stein was once quoted as saying of Oakland: There’s no there, there. That isn’t entirely correct, there’s plenty of there there, they just don’t know what to do with it. It seems like only the dullest mentalities chose to live in Oakland. It is their lack of interest in everything that makes it appear that there is no there there.
In San Francisco the mix of races and nationalities created an exciting cosmopolitan atmosphere but in Oakland the same mix as working class folk thuds along like a ruptured inner tube and just lays there.
They were perpetually at war with themselves and society. They accepted the cannery jobs as fate with no appeal. Many of them never left the several square bocks of their neighborhood nor did they have any desire to. For entertainment they had contests with the police.
The High Street Bridge was the nightly scene of high speed chases between themselves and the police. In those day municipal police had no jurisdiction beyond their community limits. the middle of the bridge was the ending of the jurisdiction of the Oakland police and the beginning of those of Alameda.
If any of the Wild Boys saw flashing red behind them they immediately took off for the High Street Bridge hoping to get over it before they were hauled off.
High St. lay athwart the Black enclave of West Oakland to the North and East Oakland to the South. The blacks who were a fairly recent phenomenon being brought West only in the forties were still resented by the Whites who kept them in what Iceberg Slim called the Stockade. By keeping them out of sight the Whites tried to ignore their presence. William Knowland who ran the most boring newspaper in the world ever exposed to the light of day, The Oakland Tribune, made the mistake of his life by trying to pretend they didn’t exist.
The Blacks liked Oakland perhaps for the reason that Gertrude Stein detested it. They seemed to fit Oakland like the proverbial hand and glove. At the time they were approaching 30% of the population. Within a few short years they were to be over 50%. As Knowland excluded Black affairs from the pages of the Tribune they had no reason to read the paper. So the distribution of the Tribune shrank daily as Blacks displaced Whites. Any Whites who didn’t want to be bored to death read the San Francisco Chronicle or Examiner. Those newspaper cats ran exciting stories like: Why Doesn’t San Francisco Have Good Coffee?’ And it wasn’t that there wasn’t excitement in the world at the time either.
That’s how boring the Tribune was, they couldn’t even think up exciting leaders about coffee. On the other hand, who cared whether Oakland had good coffee or not. The lack of good coffee kind of complemented the lack of there there.
Historians concerned with Black history all seem to think that the doings of Mike King down in Birmingham jail were representative of Blacks all over the country. Yes, friends, Martin Luther King Jr. was one of the most successful name changes in history, comparable to that of M. Arouet who changed his name to Voltaire. Marty King’s real name was Mike. That also means that he as a Jr. his father was also Mike.
The South was only one part of Black society. The more adventurous Blacks, or those who didn’t mind cold weather, split the South for the North and West. Once freed of the danger of lynching they changed their whole attitude quickly. White culture toward Blacks outside the South was repulsion tinged with indifference. Without developed mechanisms to intimidate Blacks they allowed themselves to be intimidated by Blacks.
One of the most notable civil rights figures of the sixties was then residing in Soledad Prison. Eldridge Cleaver had been one of those who wasn’t going to take it anymore. He honed his raping skills in the Stockade on Black girls then crossed East 14th to prey on White women. He would have been in Soledad a lot longer except for the civil rights movement that made egregious crimes into legitimate social protest.
West Oakland or the Flatlands as the Blacks called it in opposition to what would soon be White enclaves in the hills was a very lovely area. The trees were old and stately; the lots were all level and spacious. But in the Black intellect whatever Whites will let them have must be of no value or they woudn’t let them have it so they despised what were, in fact, the choice lands of Oakland.
Further South in East Oakland where the burgeoning Black population was expanding with geometric force a lot of conflict was occurring down along the interface with displaced Whites.
People didn’t understand the nature of the Black/White confrontation. Because the movement of the Blacks was within the borders of the United States the Black immigration into Oakland was seen as internal movement whereas it was in reality an invasion of an alien people. It was fortunate that there was no large scale warfare as in New York, Chicago, East St. Louis, LA and other places where Blacks had migrated in large numbers. After all half the city would turn Black.
The absorption of so many aliens ill adapted to life in a foreign situation would have been next to impossible if they were White and wanted. Many were country folk unused to city ways, most were illiterate or barely literate. Frankly, they didn’t know how to act. The police force which was all White didn’t understand them and didn’t react properly to their alienation.
The Blacks reacted badly to the p0lice whose harassment they believed was directed especially at them. This was not true. The Oakland police force was a savage repressive force of vulgar beasts without the class or shine of the LAPD. The OPD pulled cheap suit crap the LAPD would have sneered down their noses at.
The crudos of of the OPD had no qualms about stopping female drivers and demanding sex. They had no qualms about stopping men with their dates and demanding the men allow them to have sex with their dates. They had no qualms about demanding sex from men.
They would write you up for doing ninety down a city street when you were safely within the speed limit to negotiate the speed down depending on whether you would accede to their wishes. The CWBs in Oakland were truly Criminals With Badges. It had nothing to do with whether you were Black or not. If you were Black they may have called you a nigger; if you White they called you White Trash. The guys they called White Trash had no recourse and never made the papers; the guys they called niggers could get the people who called other Whites White Trash to act on their behalf. Racism in America? You bet.
In 1966 the Black resentment would erupt into the Black Panther Party led by Huey Newton who attended Oakland City College at the same time Dewey did. It was a strange coincidence that Roque Da Costa would be a victim of the Panthers.
Roque returned to work at Lucky Stores on his discharge. He had worked his way up to manager by 1968. One day a Panther came in demanding that Da Costa cash his stolen check. He refused to show Roque any ID so Da Costa rightly refused to cash it. The Panther accused him of racism rather than good business practices. Da Costa waved him off.
The next morning when Roque was out emptying the trash the enraged Panther drove by and shot him dead. Maybe Roque would have been better off at Safeway than Lucky.
At the time Blacks were not often seen outside the Stockade so even though they were nearing a majority of the population in 1958 the segregation was nearly complete except for adventurous sorts like Eldridge Cleaver.
Thus the drive in hangout of Da Costa and his crowd even athough virtually surrounded by Blacks was completely White. The Anglo influence was nil; the patronage was entirely of South Mediterranean provenance.
This was a fairly rough crowd. Toughness was at a premium compared to the more genteel Anglo hangouts. They had their own problems too, don’t get me wrong.
‘OK, Dewey, now it’s really improtant to act like you’re ready to fight. It’s all just show and push and shove unless you act chicken and then they’ll really come after you. So just do your strut now.’
As they walked up they were greeted by an acquaintance of Da Costa’s.
‘Hey, Roque. Where ya been; haven’t seen you ya around lately.’
‘Hi, Sam. I just got back from Hong Kong. Been gone for a while.’
‘Just got back from Hong Kong! Get outta here. You’re talking to Sammy boy, Roque.’
‘I really did just get back from Hong Kong, Sam. I’m in the Navy now and we just returned from a Pacific tour. I’ll be around a little more now but I’m stationed in San Diego.’
At the mention of the Navy Sam noticed Dewey who doing his tough act, with his long sour face, it was a pretty good imitation of mean looking. Sam had been around some of the Navy bars near the Air Station. Tough Navy bars were legendary in California. Sam went into defensive posture.
‘Oh yeah, Navy, huh? Anybody want to fight? C’mon. We’ll choose up sides and smell armpits.’ He said clowning a pose where he lifted his arms and strutted left and right.
Sam got a good laugh, Dewey was accepted as Da Costa’s buddy. But the longer he talked to the Da Costa crowd the more Dewey was repelled. Dewey had nothing in common with the negative immigrant attitude. He didn’t understand how these guys could be so down. Coming from the Children’s Home Dewey had more reason for despair than these guys yet they had no hope, no ambition, no desire to improve their situation.
Dewey watched a Wild Boy dash past on the way to the bridge running a red light followed by a squad car as he wondered what he exactly hoped from Oakland. His mind was made up to make this place home so he pondered thoughtfully as Da Costa drove back to 86th. Street.
As luck would have it Dewey picked up a racking cough somewhere on the way North. It was one of those uncontrollable dry things. Coming at night as it did Dewey wasn’t able to buy cough drops. As everyone turned in, try as he might, Dewey couldn’t stop coughing but hacked away non-stop all night.
Already enraged at having an Anglo in the house the cough was sufficient grounds for complaint against Trueman’s visits.
By noon the next day it was time for Trueman to leave if he was going to get back in time. On the bus ride to the Key Station the cough disappeared as quickly as it had begun. One can only guess that Trueman’s subconscious was trying to tell him something.
The thugs hanging around the bus station zeroed in on Trueman as he was their age. Bus stations always have a group of low class thugs hanging around because the people who ride buses usually come from the least affluent levels of society. Trains still took a better class while the affluent types clustered in the airports. Fighting the toughs off Trueman boarded the bus for the trip back.
Whereas San Francisco had been deserted at three in the morning when he’d arrived the pimps and hustlers still filled the LA terminal at one AM when the bus pulled in. They recognized Trueman from the previous Friday. The layover was short but Trueman realized they had his number.
The bus had taken much too long. It had also been very unpleasant. As Dewey wended his way back through the Naval Base at four-thirty in the morning he thought there had to be a better way.
The Wages Of Sin
Dewey got every other weekend off. While he was waiting for the next forty-eight to come up the rest of the squadron returned from their magnificent seven day layover in Honolulu. Dewey was put out at his fellows who had been so stupid as to accept pay advances they should have known would get them into trouble.
Even though they had sacrificed Hawaii his shipmates were too dull to regret it. Mostly they lamented that being on half pay for their durations diminished their enjoyments. Many tried to make up their pay shortages by other means.
The first such casualty of the over payment scheme was Trueman’s overseas pal, Parsons. Practical morality is largely the fear of censure by one’s fellows. While one might never disappoint the expectations of family and friends in one’s home town the same rules of behavior are not necessarily followed in a different milieu.
On the one hand Parsons felt he had no reputation to lose in San Diego while on the other for less serious crimes the civil authorities simply remanded the transgressor to the justice of the Navy. As before noted the Navy was tolerant of the deeds of its wayward boys.
Relying on the leniency of the Navy, Parsons tried to augment his reduced income by burgling a San Diego store. He was so unfortunate as to be caught in the act on his first attempt. His expectations were not disappointed; the San Diego police simply turned him over to the Shore Patrol. Ratches gave him a stern lecture about holding up the strict standards of the Navy and the remarkably lenient sentence of seven days restriction.
Disappointed at the failure of his burglary Parsons was nevertheless satisfied with the results of his apprehension. He had not however counted on the reaction of his shipmates. Most labeled him for what he was, a criminal. He was surprised to find himself rejected by his fellows with the exception of Screw, Easy, McLean, Kayo Kreskin and the criminal cadre aboard.
Parsons was stunned when Trueman reluctantly advised him that he could no longer associate with him. Parsons was incapable of understanding. He had worked out all the consequences but one, the reaction of his shipmates.
Parsons considered that his crime was no different than being AWOL for a few hours or even minutes. He took his seven days restriction considering the matter closed. The rejection of Trueman and the crew struck his self-conception like a sledge hammer. He was forced to hang out with the criminal element although he did disavow his criminal ways when he was once again safe with family, friends and hometown.
A more corrosive effect was made by Kayo Kreskin. The effect of the forty pounds of heroin on the finances of his father was explosive. The return was so sensational that Soter’s appetite for the easy money was increased accordingly. The land of opportunity for Soter and Kayo lay close at hand just South of the border.
Soter bought Kayo a fifty-eight Edsel, setting him up to make bi-weekly runs from the border to the Bay. Soter saw no reason to put his son at risk with border crossings so he arranged for delivery of the stuff to be made to a lawyer friend in the yacht harbor of Coronado where Kayo picked it up.
Trueman with his need to include everyone he liked in his schemes soon included Joe McLean in his weekend jaunts to Oakland. While there McLean ran into Jim Chance who was continuing his criminal career burgling warehouses in Oakland from his base at the airport.
In an effort to increase the take Soter persuaded Kayo to recruit some mules. There was no more likely candidate than Joe McLean. Joe, who was also feeling pinched on his reduced wages, was delighted to drive for Kweskin. The couple hundred he received for each trip more than made up for his loss in wages.
As he had no car, to his further delight the Kreskins bought him a fifty-one Buick convertible. McLean was in hog heaven. Teal Kanary also flew a few kilos up to the Bay Area on his fequent trips home. There may have been other mules as well but in any event Soter Kreskin blossomed as a social lion with his few found means. He too was in hog heaven though of a different quality than Joe McLean’s.
His next weekend Dewey chose to fly to San Francisco as were a number of men of greater means than his own. At the time Southwest Airlines was the industry phenom. They were running cattle cars between San Diego, LA and San Francisco at incredibly low prices. They packed you in like sardines but most people found the resulting frotage sexually exciting.
This was the beginning of the heyday of sexual promiscuity. The stewardesses were young, beautiful and wanted the same sexual freedom as men. This was somthing like saying that nails could have the same freedom as hammers. Whatever gets used gets abused. Strangely it took women several decades to discover that all the physical and psychic wear and fell on them. Then they turned viciously on men to make them pay for their own stupidity.
That consequence was far in the future. For the time being the stewardesses seemed willing even eager to be groped amongst the party atmosphere provided by the airlines. It was as though being able to fly made them giddy. Through it all the morose and angry face of Dewey Trueman shone like a dirge at a wedding. Everything in Dewey’s past conspired to exclude him from this merriment. The high spirits even seemed an intended affront against him. For Dewey it hurt so good to feel so bad.
Not only had Dewey spent more than he could afford for the flight but upon disembarking he discovered that the airport was a long way from where he wanted to be. San Francisco airport then as now was halfway down the Peninsula between San Francisco and the Santa Clara Valley. The trip over to Oakland consumed another three hours and more expense than Dewey was willing to absorb.
Although old Pete Da Costa was no less happy to see him Da Costa’s sister Terry had decided to take an interest in him. As with so many Southern and Eastern European immigrant women the Da Costa girls had sought to avoid the stigma of inferiority by marrying men with English names.
By coincidence both of Roque’s older sisters had married men named Clark although Earl spelled his name Clarke with an E while Alton didn’t. Trueman seemed an eminently suitable English name to Terry.
Dewey had no interest in her. Call it what you will but Terry was of a deep olive complexion as was the rest of the family which Dewey disliked. Then too there was that about the Da Costa style of living which was distasteful to Dewey’s sensibilities. It bespoke an intellect which was foreign to him and to which his intellect could never adapt. It may be said, however, that both Mary Clarke and Estelle Clark kept a much more Anglo style of housekeeping although Mary was incomparably the better of the two.
So Dewey idly passed the weekend flying back to San Diego with time to spare. He realized that if he had to pay to travel to Oakland that he wouldn’t be able to afford more than one trip a month. He was so desperate to get away every week that he made a decision that would forever declass him in his own mind.
He remembered how he had felt pity for his high school pal, Jerry, who used to hitch everywhere. He had felt then that Jerry had declassed himself and felt pity for him because it always made Jerry inferior in his eyes.
But now, faced with the horror of not being able to get away from both ship and San Diego he made the fateful decision to put out his thumb.
An E With A Hashmark
The Commodore was exceedingly wroth with the Teufelsdreck. Not only was Ratches ruining his own career but the unusual proceedings on board the Teufelsdreck were affecting his own reputation as squadron commander. The unexplainable logic of the payroll advances abord the Bucket T had been the last straw for the Commodore. He wanted nothing better than to himiliate Ratches and his ship as he felt he was being humiliated. See how they liked it.
Thus the Monday after Dewey’s flight back from the Bay Area the squadron put out to sea for gunnery exercises. The complement of the Teuf was not yet up to full strength thus the Commodore believed that with a number of green hands and short of men the Teuf would not be able to defend its pants.
Chief Dieter had not relaxed his animosity toward Trueman. If anything it had deepened. Trueman had been assigned some mopping up work on the fo’c’sle. He was beginning to lose his enthusiasm for working hard although he still did good work. Rather than hurrying to get the job done he was sitting in front of the 20MM gun tub leaning with his back against it while leisurely scrubbing some discolored area of the deck when he heard the voices of Dieter and Morford discussing him. Dieter had apparently forgotten the task he had assigned Trueman.
‘The guy’s a tough nut to crack.’ Morford said still rueful about his failure to break Trueman over the rammed supply ship incident.
‘I know. But I think if we can break his will his ass is ours.’
Trueman should have lain quietly and listened instead he stood up to indignantly exclaim: ‘It’ll be a cold day in hell when you guys will ever break my will.’
Both men looked at him in surprise. Without a further word they parted, walking around opposite sides of the superstructure.
Perhaps in an attempt to break Trueman’s will he was taken off the forties for which he had expressed a liking to be sent up to the Hedgehogs as exercises began.
As they were not to be fired for gunnery practice Dieter called him down to handle shells for the three inch.
The forward three was the prestige gun aboard ship. Dieter, Ratman and Pardon, all three, stood around to supervise. Premier Seaman Cracker Jack Driscoll, who, by the way, was so devoted to the navy that he had refused the payroll advances, had the prestige job of ramming the shell into the breach. While not dangerous the task was not without hazards. When the shell was rammed the breech snapped up with speed and force. The trick was to not wrap your fingers over the flange of the shell which was a half inch wide but to keep your fingers straight and ram with the heel of your palm fingers extended.
It was on this day that Cracker Jack Driscoll failed to follow instructions.
As mentioned before, Boatwain’s Mate was a closed rating. It was virtually impossible to make Third Class even. However Dieter liked Cracker Jack Driscoll. He spent long hours tutoring the man; he moved heaven and earth, pulled every single string that existed to get his man a Third Class chevron. He had succeeded. Two weeks after the Teufelsdreck returned Driscoll’s promotion came through.
One would have thought Driscoll would have been overjoyed but he wasn’t; he was in awe. As a cracker back in Georgia he had accepted everyone’s opinion that he wasn’t worthy as fact. Thus as he’d sewn his chevron on his blues he felt he was unworthy of having achieved this insignficant distinction.
It my be argued that he simply forgot to remove the middle finger of his right hand from the breech but, in fact, he subconsciously wanted to disqualify himself from what he thought was umerited distinction.
Trueman had raced under the barrel cradling the three inch shell in his arms anticipating the devastatingly sharp crack from the three inch barrel overhead when he was met instead by a scream of pain.
When he got around to the breech he found Cracker Jack Driscoll attached to the gun by his middle finger. The accident was so unexpected that neither Dieter, Ratman nor Pardon had made a move to lower the breech manually. There Driscoll stood with his finger up to the second knuckle inside the barrel behind the shell.
The pain was excruciating. Cracker Jack let out peal after peal that was heard all over the ship. Finally the Petty Officers recovered to grapple the breech down. Driscoll’s finger wasn’t severed but the finger was definitely hanging by the skin.
To Trueman’s consternation the first intelligible words out of Driscoll’s mouth were an anguished: ‘This doesn’t mean I’ll have to leave the Navy does it?’ Then his gaze fixed on Trueman’s wondering eyes who always ridiculed Cracker Jack because he found distinction in being in the Navy.
Dieter followed his glance to say reprovingly: ‘Go back to the forties Trueman, you’re not wanted here.’
In one day Trueman manned the Hedgehogs, a three inch and the forties. Not many could claim that.
‘What happened up forward, Trueman?’ Bent Cygnette demanded.
‘Nothing. Cracker Jack forgot to remove his finger from the barrel before the breech snapped back up, that’s all.’
‘Is he hurt?’
‘Well, if you think being able to put the first two knuckles of your middle finger in your shirt pocket is being hurt I should think so.’
The order for the forties to fire terminated the conversation.
Morford and Kanary were both looking for ways to get Trueman in trouble. As he walked a narrow line he would have to be induced to commit an indiscretion that could be escalated into a crime. Having watched Van Wye throwing the spent cartridges overboard during the last exercizes Morford encouraged him to do it again, as if he needed it, but to get Trueman involved so he could be written up.
One might think that Van Wye was placing himself in jeopardy but the rules can be selectively applied. Even if Trueman objected that Van Wye also was discarding the cartridges it would be argued that Van Wye was not the one on the carpet, Trueman was, and Trueman was guilty. He would be told that Van Wye would be dealt with later which he wouldn’t be.
Thus while Trueman clipped his cartridges to put them back in the cannisters Van Wye threw them over the side.
‘C’mon, Trueman, don’t be a simp; just chuck them over the side. The Navy can afford more.’
Waste was not Trueman’s way while he also looked up to the bridge where he saw Morford and Kanary eyeing him intently. He fluffed Van Wye off continuing to clip the shells. Thus he saved himself a fair amount of trouble.
Whitening The Teufelsdreck.
Whatever tests the Navy was conducting with the sixteen Black sailors must have been completed. As the Blacks were put aboard just before the Pacific Tour and removed just after its completion perhaps the notion had been to see how they would react to foreign locales or how the foreigners would react to them. If that was the case the results were inconclusive as the Blacks had been too terrified to go ashore.
As no one ever knows what is in store for him from day to day the transfer of the whole contingent could be taken in stride although the situation was certainly unusual. Unfamiliar with such procedures the Blacks had little idea what transfer meant.
There was a great deal of discussion as to its meaning and signficance. The agitated mind of Tyrone Jackson whose preoccupation had always been the imagined insult to Blackness made by Trueman in the laundry room evolved a notion that now that they were to be transferred any crimes committed on the Teufelsdreck would remain a transgression of that ship’s laws and would remain on that ship. As Tyrone reasoned it he could murder Trueman, then, once having crossed the gangway, he would be beyond the ship’s jurisdiction. Blacks must have thought that if you committed a crime in Chicago then lammed to LA you only had responsibility to the LA police until you committed a crime there alhtough you couldn’t go back to Chicago.