Sailing the Seven Seas and discovering the hidden treasures of faraway lands and exotic scenery have always been on the bucket list of a sea going Crackerjack! China, India, & Timbuktu among many were lands of fabulous rumor, inhabited by giants with three heads if you hadn’t fallen off the edge of the earth on the way!! There was magic, the mysteries of the unknown, a sense of things yet to see and places to go… the adventure!!!
Well fortunately for me I belonged to a ship full of ‘rag tag’ shipmates that could’ve put McHale’s Navy to shame! The ol’ Baglady could have operated under the Jolly Roger she could!! And we all joined this here Canoe Club for more than just the Adventure, but the allure of all those Dens of Sin we’d heard about in the South Pacific and the Far East!! The Far East at the time was known as the Mecca of commercial sin and carnal delight!!!
I can still remember pulling into my first overseas port…
“Now remember boys… you are America's Ambassadors to the Seaports of the World! Don’t do anything I wouldn’t do, and if you do… be prepared to see the Doc when you get back!”
“I wonder what kind of souvenirs they have in Olongapo?”
“Hell kid… The only thing you could possibly want from Olongapo is San Magoo, whores and silk kimonos and silk kimonos ain’t even made in the PI!”
In many a first day out on the town, you slid right into a fresh set of blues or whites depending on which end of the Julian Calendar you were presently in and hauled your happy ass off the brow! Unless of course we were allowed to wear civilian clothes which was often the case!! We should’ve stuck to wearing the uniform! I’ve seen wounds better dressed than some people leaving the brow!!!
We had a Chief wearing a tropical print shirt, plaid shorts and black knee high socks with a set of beads around his neck! To top it off he had on his ‘BC’ glasses!! It seemed in those days anyone over the rank of CPO had absolutely no taste in clothing… at least that was from a lowly enlisted man’s perspective!!!
We'd hit the streets on liberty after weeks if not months of plowing the white caps of Neptune’s Seas! Out there on the streets there were pick pocketeers, street vendors, lady street walkers and anyone else whose idea was to fleece the fleet of its money!! I think the little bastards learned to pick pockets as toddlers!!!
A smart sailor would take out what he needed and stuff the rest of his money in his shoe! Money in pockets evaporated like rubbing alcohol if you didn’t keep it secured!! It didn’t help that the locals running the damn shops could hardly speak a lick of English… but don’t worry, your money was safe in their hands!!!
In the South Seas you had to relegate yourself to a life of celibacy or fiddle with the professionals of commercial lovemaking! After all, it was cheap, cheap… love you long time no shit!! I’d like to say I spent lots of time collecting souvenirs and mementos to bring home but that usually wasn’t the case!! Instead I somehow managed to blow twice as much and had absolutely not a gauddamned thing to show for it!!!
But there were the smart ones… The ones who knew how to barter! Every day underway, they'd buy cigarettes or other sundries from the ship store, then on liberty fill the seabag and make the trade on the black market!! No one ever searched us going ashore, only coming back!!!
I never was much of a barter or haggler… I’m a firm believer everything should have a blue book value attached to the price tag! To me, hunting for souvenirs was about as interesting as watching a scab form!! As I recall, it was much more fun to drink the Tiger, Singha and the Anchor with your fellow scallywags!!!
By day we’d cruise the streets and markets looking for the best prices for beer & brothels and by night we’d fill those watering holes… and other holes!! It was all about getting plastered and patronizing that tantalizing booty!! They traded pesos for horizontal refreshment while selling cheap barbequed monkey meat on a stick!! At the going rate in Olongapo, you could get drunk, laid, and a monkey meat fiesta for the amount of a Happy Meal back in the states!!!
It was strangely typical to get ashore as soon as possible and whoop it up at the closest oasis before the rush back to the pier for the last liberty boat back to the ship!! You know what it feels like to be three sheets to the wind, standing on a pier in a place you've never been before and will never be again, wondering what the hell you did with your white hat!! The only good souvenirs were liquid souvenirs as a young buck still scraping his antlers in the Far East!!!
Many a shipmate’s most memorable souvenir turned out to be the drippy dick or something even worse! Ladies from certain locations could sell you stuff that could make certain extremely important anatomical appendages, turn black and fall off!! You just had to hope you didn’t fall into that category!!!
What’s that line from W.C. Fields…
“I spent half my money on gambling, alcohol and wild women. The other half I wasted!”
But time you enjoy wasting is not wasted time!!!
I’d hoped to spend plenty of money on souvenirs to bring home! But somehow I only managed to blow most of my money and had nothing for show-and-tell!
We usually took home a few small items for the family and some funny money from a dozen different ports! While the rest of us idiots were out doing our best to destroy ourselves, there was always that one fella doing the things proper young boys like Wally Cleaver were expected to do!! But doing those types of things in those kinds of places you don’t get to meet a lot of fine women or see a lot of interesting stuff!!!
Yeah, then there were those shipmates who found that glorious nugget… the needle in a haystack to bring home and show to momma! You learn from Customs how sailors can jackass some of the damnedest stuff ever seen from faraway places!! Every son-of-a-bitch in the crew was a deputized customs negotiator and was prepared to deny any existence of contraband up to the point that they administered the truth serum or set fire to your feet!!!
If you look real hard you might have found something as rare as rocking horse shit… A few silk kimonos from the Orient and some perfumes from the Middle East! But beyond that… there were no guarantees, no refunds and no returns!!!
Yes... we swigged lots of beer, danced with women we never saw again... Chanted like Sailors do, told tales of grandeur, laughed out loud, and built legacies and memories that’ll last a lifetime! As a young’n I never fully understood what the big picture was!! I was just along for the ride enjoying the experience!!!