I am grateful for the friendships I was able to make in the Navy and the memories that came with them.
Back in 2001 I made friends with some hilarious shipmates named Buck and Henry. They invited me to go out to New Orleans with them one late afternoon and I happily accepted.
Why they call it the “Big Easy” I have no idea especially since it was over an hour drive from where we lived in Pascagoula MS. But the roar of the highway, the hot rushing air, the smell of salt in the breeze, and the sound of the guys talking happily and singing along to the radio highlighted the ephemeral happy memories that I can recall from this tense time.
We parked in the old French quarter amidst narrow streets of 100+ year old Creole cottages and townhouses in bright colors, and walked down to Bourbon Street with its enigmatic entresol houses standing proudly, their prominent mezzanines wrapped with ornate metal railings. In the background was loud music, crammed cemeteries and large live oaks with moss hanging off them like old ladies silken scarves. We walked the lit streets in the golden hour where the sun was just right in the sky to make everything seem sad and lonely. I felt alone even amongst companions; my deep running secrets created a chasm that I couldn’t begin to fill with enough concrete to ever make it solid again. I thought that as long as I pretended to laugh and pipe up now and then with what seemed like normal small talk maybe no one would notice…
But the vivid and loud world around us was a good distractor from my internal conflicts, and so were the good scents in the air. We caught the smell of food grilling and noticed a welcoming bar just down the way. Inside we chose a booth where we sat and ate cheeseburgers medium-rare while watching a college football game, laughing at sea stories, all of us guzzling cold beer from tall brown bottles. We were young Sailors having fun, and the night was full of potential.
After eating Henry took a vote on plans for the night, and after walking the streets more, and visiting a couple stores, we all decided to haul ass for Biloxi. There we were again in Henry’s old Ford Explorer, speeding away on the interstate blasting Pink’s album Missundaztood especially the song “Get the Party Started!” the whole way there.
It was at the casinos in Biloxi where Buck taught me the finer points of playing Black Jack, being he had worked as a dealer in a casino prior to his enlistment. It was hilarious fun – we all got drunk for free while Buck showed me how to “Pet the cat” or “Stroke the dog,” as he called it, where you either wave towards yourself to take another hit from the dealer, or you wave away, showing you were happy with your hand.
We all sat and made a little money and had a laugh at the expense of folks on the ship as well. There was this one guy in their workspace they called “Milton” being he looked exactly like the infamous “Red Swingline stapler guy” from the film “Office Space.”
Henry filled me on his recent verbal slip. “Oh he fucking hates being called that too. I accidentally called him that at work the other day and he threw a big fucking tantrum all over the place. I couldn’t do anything except run and laugh my ass off.”
I loved listening to the guys talk. I felt like if I didn’t have so many terrible things I was struggling with I could genuinely be friends with them. It was horrible feeling like the icy crevasse I was standing on could collapse any minute, and take me and anyone around me down with it.