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David A. Schwinghammer

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· Soldier's Gap


Short Stories
· Seminary Boy, a memoir

· Fisher of Men, Chapter Nine

· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three

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· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8

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· Capital in the 21st Century, book review


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· Myth

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· Girls Who Wear Glasses

· The Do Drop Inn

· Ode to Neve Campbell

· Jacks or Better 101

· Never My Love

· 3 O'Clock

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Non-Qualified Swimmer, Part Five (The End)
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
Last edited: Tuesday, December 30, 2008
This short story is rated "PG13" by the Author.

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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· Little Crow
· Electra
· Black and White and Red All over
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
· Calliope's Revenge
· Dissecting Beowulf
           >> View all 70
Hayraker is transferred to Polaris Missile Facility outside Charleston, South Carolina, where he utimately is discharged. Oh, happy day!

.  

If Zeke did something crazy, Max would say, “Zeke!”

And Zeke said, “Max!”

These two had a real friendship. Hayraker couldn’t remember a time where he’d had a friend who would accept him unconditionally.

And so Hayraker was transferred to Charleston, South Carolina. He flew in on Delta airlines. The airport was a cow pasture out in the middle of nowhere. The cab driver took him to the wrong duty station, the Naval Shipyard instead of Polaris Missile Facility. Someone at the shipyard finally straightened it out and he took a bus twenty miles north of Charleston and wound up at NAD, Naval Ammunition Depot, an annex of POMFLANT. He was in the wrong place again. They’d driven by POMFLANT on the way. They had to go through a security gate to get there and it was another six miles to the actual base. Apparently POMFLANT was two barracks in the middle of a swamp with a snack bar across the street and a chow hall next to the marine barracks. He arrived at eleven PM, dog tired.

Not too many people were up at that hour but those that were hounded Hayraker with the same old question: “Where are you from?” The kid on duty put him in an almost vacant cubicle on the second floor.

He had to wait for his security clearance to come through so he would be working in the barracks for about a month. This meant swabbing the decks, washing windows, buffing the floors. It also meant standing watch in the barracks at night, waking people up in the morning. There was no reveille.

After about two weeks of barracks duty, he was assigned to work on the golf course at NAD, cutting grass and laying sod and finally he was assigned duty in the admin office as kind of a receptionist.

It was also during this time that he had had the chug-a-lug incident where he burned his arm trying to show how macho he was. The next day he was sick all day long (you don’t call in sick in the navy). He threw up in the wastebasket in the receptionist’s office. When his stomach was finally empty he got the dry heaves. His body was trying to tell him never to touch Falstaff again.

George Greenwell was assigned to Charleston as well. They were to work in the radio shack together. It was such a shock to see George again. Hayraker never expected to see him again. It was good to have a familiar face, though. Turns out it wasn’t all that rare to meet someone you’d had previous duty with. A little later an ET student named King showed up for permanent duty at POMFLANT. He had worked in the office with Max before starting school.

Hayraker gradually got to know some of the radio shack people. Denny Capling worked up there. He was a roly-poly little fellow with a lust for wine, women, and song. He was like a little brother. He liked to grabass and tease. His description of the radio shack personal was appropriate:

“Clickety clack, clickety clack, here come the boys from the radio shack.”

POMFLANT was not just two barracks in the middle of a swamp. About a mile down the road was a security area where they made Polaris Missiles. Occasionally, you would see one come out of the gate, probably on its way to a sub. The big truck pulling it would move along at a rate of about ten miles per hour. These things were about as big a nuisance as railroad crossings. A train was always coming just when you were in a hurry.

Hayraker no longer had to worry about not being old enough to drink. There was a canteen directly across from the barracks. They served Falstaff there. According to Denny the only thing worse than a case of Falstaff was a case of the clap. A black kid named Richard worked there. He swabbed the floor and did all the janitorial work there was to do. An older woman waited on the customers. She must have been about thirty. One day, Richard told Hayraker that she had said that if Hayraker would be her boyfriend, she would support him. She wasn’t that bad looking either, but good old indecisive Hayraker never did anything about it. She never gave any indication that she felt that way. Hayraker would have. He’d stare at her or something. Well, Hayraker could never catch her. Maybe she was just shy.

After what seemed like years of menial labor, Hayraker’s security clearance finally came in and he was assigned to the radio shack.

Chief Drum was his immediate boss. Chief liked to go out on the town, get exceedingly drunk and call the radio shack for a ride home. And the guys working there thought they had to go get him. The Russians could have attacked and no one in POMFLANT would have known about it.

There were too many chiefs and not enough Indians working in the radio shack. There was a First Class named Patton and two second class radioman named Bryan and Hubbell. Bryan was a day worker; Hubbell stood watch as did JD Halford who was about to be transferred. There were also two seaman apprentices and now George and Hayraker, 3rd class postal clerks. There were three watches: day watch, mid watch, and graveyard. Day watch ran from eight in the morning until four in the afternoon; midwatch ran from four till midnight and graveyard ran from midnight until eight in the morning. Nine days of duty and three days off. Like with the cooks in boot camp, the three days off could come in the middle of he week when on one else was off.

The chief, Bryan, and Patton did practically nothing, unless there were some reports to fill out that Hayraker didn’t know about. This was a much busier place than the post office. The mid watch would usually get anywhere from 50-75 messages to send out and during hurricane season, the incoming messages would run almost constantly. If they were op-immediate, the captain had to know at once. There was also a machine connecting POMFLANT and NAD, and they would relay the hurricane messages to them. Once Denny sent a secret message in the clear to NAD because the hurricane message was on the same tape. The radio shack was usually a mess because there was too much work and not enough people to do it. At least two of the day watch regulars should have been transferred leaving room for two new watch personnel. The day watch did all the work anyway.

Privilege had reared its ugly head again. The chief and Patton had been to sea for so many years that this was their reward. They were supposed to supervise and supervision meant sit in the front office and drink coffee while all hell had broken loose in the restricted area. Bryan was Chief Drum’s fair-haired boy. He had come to POMFLANT as a seaman and the chief had recommended him for Radioman school. He had stood all of the long watches and been through all the hard work that George and Hayraker were now doing. He felt it was now his turn to slide.

Back at the barracks, Hayraker was getting another education of sorts: how to play poker. He once went into a pot limit game with five dollars and never got to see all of his cards in the first hand of Five Card Stud. Most of the time, though, they’d play “payday stakes.” It was hell getting these people to pay up. Some of them never did, the family men you never saw except at work or the mess cooks who never had that much money in the first place. About the only punishment you could hold over their heads was barring them from any future game.

Playing with the old salts could be a psychological trauma. “No wild cards; no ‘Spit in the Ocean’; no ‘Blackbottom’; no ‘Roll your own’; no joker is wild; we don’t play no pussy poker in this barracks!” And you better never draw one card to an inside straight if you didn’t want a GI shower.

Some of the relationships established at POMFLANT were very meaningful to Hayraker. He saw himself from a different perspective. He had always been very shy. He didn’t go out of his way to make friends.

One day Mike Graveson, a kid he barely knew, called him into his room. Graveson was different. He grew a beard for one thing when beards were unheard of in the navy and he got away with it. He put curtains on the windows in his room and carpeted the floors. This was also unheard of during those sterile times. That day Mike told Hayraker how much he admired him. He told him he was his idea of the ideal buddy. Hayraker fit his mental picture of the ideal friend Mike had always wanted. Mike was drunk and a little worried Hayraker right get the wrong idea. But he was one of the cool guys in the barracks that everybody looked up to and Hayraker was flattered. “What really impresses me is that you go your own way,” Mike said. “You don’t seem to care what anybody thinks of you.”

Later on Hayraker would move in with Graveson, Cook, and Smith at Graveson’s invitation. Cook was an eccentric in a way, too. He was one of the Smith brothers also (he had a beard, too) but he was also an adventurer. He was the first in the barracks to try skydiving. It turned out to be a sad experience as a lady friend’s chute failed to open and he saw her die. Smith was the intellectual of the group. It was probably his idea to decorate the room and grow the beards. He had some college and introduced Hayraker to suck books as LORD OF THE FLIES. He also arranged a date for Hayraker with his girlfriend’s friend. It was a fiasco. Smith drove a little Triumph with virtually no back seat. Hayraker and his date were squeezed in back there. She was very easy on the eyes, but the muffler made so much noise that it was impossible to hold a conversation, not that they had anything to say to each other in the first place. They went to Folly Beach on a day when virtually nothing was happening. They went to a sort of dance hall; she didn’t dance and Hayraker wound up dancing with Smith’s girl (whom he would eventually marry); Her eyes told the story: What are you doing here?

Hayraker wrote letters to Max and the boys complaining about the South. Jarrett, who was from Atlanta, got really upset and Max’s return letter described the episode in the barracks when they received the letter. It was a recurrence of the Civil War with the others joining in on Hayraker’s ridicule. You could be from Calcutta, India, and you would think the place was heaven because it was home. Jarrett actually believed the oppressively humid South was the land of mild and honey.

Charleston, South Carolina, was the home of some mighty important national landmarks. Fort Sumter is located in the harbor for instance. Hayraker wasn’t remotely interested. The Battery was also in disrepair at the time Hayraker was there. The cannons were rusting, the antebellum houses on the harbor front needed paint.

Those places that catered to sailors were strictly out for the buck. Hayraker remembers one particular place whose idea of décor was aluminum foil walls.

Charleston was much more liberal in respect to sex than the North had been. Sailors from POMFLANT frequented a place ironically tabbed The Polaris Club. This was one of the local whore houses.

One of Hayraker‘s friends, whose name shall go unspoken in the event that his wife knows nothing of this episode in her husband’s life, persuaded Hayraker to go there after they’d been in the Neptune Lounge for several hours. This was a nightclub about half way between Charleston and POMFLANT.

They must have served salt peter with the drinks because Hayraker could not get it up.

He also got a gal who didn’t really have her heart in her work. She wouldn’t take off her bra at first. This was his first sexual experience. Typical. What the heck, it was only ten bucks. In later years he imagined her as a housewife doing this to supplement her income. Or perhaps a divorcee who had kids to support. Hayraker made the mistake of telling the guys that she wouldn’t take her bra off, that she’d said her breasts were lumpy. Hayraker would never hear the end of this. But only two of them had gone with the girls. The other guys must have thought they were too good to pay for it, or they were just scared.

George was really lucky with women. After they’d been at POMFLANT for a year he hooked up with this barmaid and got steady action for the rest of the time he was there. Hayraker had had the same opportunity with the same woman but had been too shy to cross the Rubicon. She was a skinny trailer park type who bragged about going to the bathroom standing up like a man. She was about thirty and already had a couple of kids. The pill wasn’t as prevalent in those days.

Goose Creek was a bedroom community a few miles from the base. There were two bars there that also catered to sailors. She worked in one of those bars. She was married but her husband was at sea.

One night Hayraker gave her the eye. She returned his advance but Hayraker, who suffered from a hearing loss hadn’t been able to make out what she’d said. Music was always playing so loud it was impossible to carry on a conversation. He also thought you had to go through some kind of courtship ritual to get a woman to go to bed with you. Not with her. She did the hustling.

George went with her for something like six months. Then she disappeared. She just took off. Left her kids behind and everything.

About six months before the end of his enlistment, Hayraker applied for the University of Minnesota and was accepted, but he wasn’t sure if he was college material so he took the college GED test and wonder of all wonders, passed the sucker. It was supposed to be worth thirty credits at Florida State. He was also told he could apply for an early out if he had proof he’d been accepted at an accredited college. For once luck was with him. He got an three month early out. All he had to do was report to his recruiter when he got home, whom he would give a piece of his mind for the Journalism school snafu. Oh, happy day.

Hayraker now lived in the staff barracks a Service School Command in Great Lakes, and a guy named Dennis Thurmond immediately took him under his wing. Turns out Dennis took all the new people under his wing, especially the good-looking ones. Dennis was a Storekeeper 3rd Class, and he would encourage Hayraker’s literary talents, take Hayraker to his office and let him use his typewriter.

But then Dennis went home on leave, and Hayraker began hanging out with Zeke and Max. They were more irreverent, more fun to be around. They would go to the theatre in Waukegan, and Max would bring along a six pack of beer. Hayraker was always afraid they’d get kicked out. He had trouble drinking one can he was so scared. He didn’t know that the theatre people were more afraid of sailors than he was afraid of authority. Max even used to smoke in the theatre. He just didn’t give a shit, and he never got in trouble.

Hayraker was along one time when Max, who had his own car, and Zeke took it in mind to follow these two girls in their car. They followed them for about an hour until they finally stopped and asked what Max wanted.

“Lay down, I think I love you,” was Max’s response.

Finally the girls drove onto the base. That discouraged Max and Zeke because the MPs could call the Shore Patrol and identify the car. Luckily the girls were bluffing.

Max and Zeke poisoned Hayraker’s mind against Dennis. They said he was probably gay. He liked to pet people.

That was enough for Hayraker. He had nothing further to do with Dennis. Dennis was probably just a nice guy, but in the Navy, any swishy tendency is misconstrue d.

Affection is turned in upon itself. A male dares not put his arm around a friend. He dares not tell his friend how he feels about him. He has to maintain a false macho front. He accepts a challenge or is looked upon as not quite male.

Once, when Hayraker was stationed in Charleston, he had been chugalugging beer with this kid named Hank, and Hank challenged him to play chicken. By this he meant putting a lit cigarette between each other’s arms and the first one to give up was chicken. Only neither would give up. Both of them were drunk. Someone else had to come along and take the cigarette away or they would have let it burn a hole in their arms.

Zeke would later be transferred, but before he left, he need Christmas money. Hayraker and Zeke played Blackjak. Zeke always won the deal. Hayraker lost ten dollars of his Christmas money.

One of Hayraker’s student helpers was a kid from Minnesota. Ron Christensen asked Hayraker if he wanted to come along on their weekend forays back to Minnesota. They would drive right through Barnesville on their way up north.

Christensen knew this crazy fellow named Larson who had a car. Both of these guys were in for six years. They’d signed up for nuclear subs. Hayraker thought they were crazy at the time, but nuclear submariners got to see places like Scotland and Spain and there were two teams: Gold and Blue. When one was on duty, the other was off. They were the elite sailors of the navy if you didn’t count the Navy Seals who were Rambo types. Sure beat the Postal Clerk rate, that was for sure.

The weekend expeditions would start by loading up with at least two cases of beer. There were at least eight guys stuffed into that ‘56 Chevy. Luckily two got out in Wisconsin. They’d drink all the way to Red Lake Indian reservation. Budweiser was even good warm.

One time Hayraker was asleep in the back seat. Usually only Christensen and Larson would drive. They didn’t trust anybody else to be able to drink and drive. Larson fell asleep and climbed up the back of a brand new 63 Oldsmobile. The cops took him off to jail and impounded the car. The rest of them had to hitchhike. Christiansen would arrange for a new car. Everyone would meet at the intersection of Highways 100 and 10 in Minnesota Sunday afternoon. They started hitchhiking. It was about one AM when they started. Finally a man stopped. He would only take one passenger. Nobody seemed to want to go, so Hayraker volunteered. After a while it became clear why the others had been reluctant. The man began asking about Hayrakers’s sex life, then asked if he’d ever had a blow job. Hayraker told him to stop the car and let him out.

Later Hayraker found out that the guy had gone back and picked up the other guys, one by one. One of them hadn’t been as lucky as Hayraker. He was taken down a side road about a mile before the guy finally let him out.

Meanwhile Hayraker tried to walk back to hook up with his buddies. They drove by going the other way with this carload of Indians who didn’t have any room anyway.

Pilots who were shot down in Vietnam were segregated and confined in five by four tiger cages, just high enough so that the Yankee dog would have to squat. Pencil and paper were forbidden. Reading material was not allowed. How would these men maintain their sanity?

Highway Twelve on the way to Minnesota was like those Tiger Cages. There didn’t seem to be any hope that he would ever get a ride. Who would pick up a hitchhiker in the middle of the night? Nothing to do but think. Put one foot after the other. Maybe he could walk to Minneapolis. So many cars went by that Hayraker gave up sticking his thumb out. Finally after three hours of walking, a sewing machine salesman picked him up and took him all the way to the Greyhound Bus Terminal in Minneapolis. He’d aged ten years that night out there all alone.

The only experience that would compare was years later when he took a group of eighth graders to Valley Fair, an amusement park. The kids disappeared as soon as they got in the gate. They didn’t want to be seen with a teacher. Hayraker went to see the performing dolphins, listened to a barbershop quartet, he even had a beer. That killed an hour, five or six more to go. He stumbled upon some concessions. Gambling was a life saver. You had to flip a dime, and if it landed within the square you won a giant tiger. Most people would just toss the dime out there, hoping to land in the square. Hayraker flipped it like you would if you were tossing quarters. It usually landed flat. Hayraker won twice in about a half hour. He gave them to a couple of his female students whom he happened to run across. Gradually some of the boys showed up, too, and they rode the rollercoaster, first time ever for Hayraker. Walk around, walk around. Have a hot dog. An hour goes by. Have another beer. Go see the dolphins again. Hayraker had aged another year. Would this torture never end? Find a book and read. Nobody reads at an amusement park.

These “no way out” incidents seemed to be a pattern in Hayraker’s life. Once after a night out drinking with his friends, Hayraker turned too sharply on a country road and went into the ditch. It was really cold out, in the fifteen below zero range, too cold to walk, although he was only about a mile from his parents’ farm. Luckily, there was a farm about a hundred yards away. But the widow who lived there thought Hayraker was a murderer and wouldn’t let him in. He had to stay in the barn all night. It was warm enough but this was a real predicament. What do you do in a barn, talk to the cows? This was a real Tiger Cage. Was he cursed? Why always him? These things didn’t happen to other people. Alone in a barn at one AM. It would never be daylight when the widow’s son came to milk the cows. Hayraker would die of boredom. He would pray, that’s what he’d do. He’d say the rosary. Saying the rosary takes years.

It didn’t take years. It took twenty minutes.

Hayraker had developed a tolerance for boredom. He read almost all of ULYSSES before it finally got to him. He could sit staring straight ahead waiting for the dentist to finally call him in.

When Hayraker returned from Christmas vacation that year he found the mailroom in pandemonium. The system had been changed back from barracks and billet to class and section. There was a new officer-in-charge at ET School. It was the former executive officer who had not agreed with Hayraker’s new method. Shortly thereafter Hayraker learned he had been transferred with orders to Japan.

How do you fix this mess? Hayraker would have to re-convert to the old system. Apparently Lieutenant Parker had not even sent out change-of-address cards, assuming his ET students would tell their correspondents about the change themselves. Not so fast, Throckmorton. Ego got in the way of good sense once again. Lieutenant Parker wasn’t about to let some seaman apprentice overrule his god-like authority, even if it did screw up the system. To make matters worse, the coward had done it when Hayraker was on leave.

November 22, 1963. President Kennedy was shot. Hayraker was working in the ET School mailroom when he found out. At first they had said he’d only been wounded.

He’ll be all right, Hayraker thought. Nothing can happen to the president. He’d probably been wounded in the arm or something.

What was he doing driving around Dallas, Texas, with the top down anyway? Was this the presidential version of macho? Kennedy had that war record: PT 109. His ship had been hit by a torpedo, and he’d rescued a fellow sailor by swimming about a mile attached to the guy with a strap which he held in his teeth.

Wow! The adventure of it all. The president had really been shot. They’d catch the guy, and there’d be a big trial and everything. But he didn’t really think the president could die.

While he was at Great Lakes, he again met Lang, the reserve who’d been so squared away in Boot Camp. Lang was going to radar school. They went to Chicago together to a baseball game. Kansas City was playing the White Sox. Dave Nicholson, a notorious slugger who also set records for striking out, was hot that day. The Sox won 11-3. It was the first professional baseball game Hayraker had seen, but the subway fascinated him more than the game. It was his first subway ride, and he would have been really lost if it hadn’t been for Lang. What if Larry had a heart attack? What if he got conked by a baseball?

Lang wasn’t interested in baseball or subways. He was after girls. The girl in the seat just ahead of them kept looking back at Hayraker and Lang, but Lang was with the wrong guy if he expected Hayraker to hustle her.

In high school it took Hayraker an entire year to summon up enough courage to call a girl he’d been saying hi to all year long. He never said anything else, just hi. He knew her entire itinerary, and he just happened to be in the right place at the right time so he could say hi.

Finally, the summer before his senior year, he called and asked if she wanted to go to the county fair with him. She didn’t know who he was, but she went anyway.

It was a fiasco. She threw up on The Octopus, his friend lost his car keys on the Ferris wheel, and he missed her lips when he tried to kiss her good night. He remembered what she’d done on the Octopus but it was his first kiss, and he wasn’t about to let a little bad breath stop him.

Hayraker also had his first job at Great Lakes, unless you wanted to count picking rocks for neighbors back home and the Canoe Club, which was more like doing prison time. He got a job as a busboy at the Officer’s Club and he was always in trouble because he was too slow. Actually, he was too considerate. He didn’t want to grab somebody’s salad before they were finished. The other busboys would whip right in and steal their salads before they knew they were gone. It was a different sort of job. You got to eat before the customers and it was usually really good food. Filet Mignon, lobster and the like. You also got a drink after the place was cleaned up. A real drink. Hayraker was only eighteen years old; he didn’t know what to order.

The waitresses and the busboys would split the tips but there was this one time when the head waitress had been yelling at him right in front of God and everybody, and one of the customers had put a silver dollar right in the palm of his hand. Hayraker figured that dollar was meant for him and him only. He kept it.

It was either quit or be fired so he quit after he’d been there only three weeks. He got another job setting pins for one of the ET chiefs who was managing a bowling alley at one of the residential areas.

He’d set pins before in Barnesville, but this place had the same problems: speed-crazed bowlers and no tips. The pins would fly up out of the gutters if you threw the ball too hard, so the pinsetters were constantly yelling “slow down.” If that didn’t work, you would put forward spin on the ball when you sent it back and it would jump off the rack and hopefully hit the bastard on the foot, or else you’d put reverse spin on the ball and it wouldn’t make it all the way back and the bowler would have to go out on the lane to get it.

The chief was a maniac. On the way to the bowling alley, if another car did something he didn’t like, he’d speed up and try to crash into them. He was OK though because he always tried to embarrass the bowlers into leaving tips for the pinsetters.

Some of the other pinsetters were students at ET school and Zeke didn’t think much of them. He had a new nickname for this one student every time he saw him:

“Did yah get any tips today, Oswald?”; “How’s it hanging, Zebidiah?”; “Was your mother white, Wendell?”

Zeke was from Neptune, New Jersey, and he was definitely hip for 1962. He had a charge account at Posner’s Men’s Clothing in Waukegan. He’d get imported slacks from Hong Kong, and he’d wear them with suspenders. He was also a muscle freak, so he’d wear these fancy pants with a colored T-shirt.

Zeke finally persuaded Hayraker to open an account there, too. He had those fancy Hong Kong slacks two months before the back went out on them.

It seems Hayrkaer had been intended to reform the mail problem in all of the service schools, not just ET School. And so he was being transferred to Japan. His replacement had shown up one day. Hayraker hadn’t known he was being replaced. What you don’t know can’t hurt you.

The guy was straight off a ship. He wanted to paint the mail room. What the hell. It would give them something to do.

Hayraker had passed his 3rd Class test so maybe being transferred wasn’t such a bad idea. But he didn’t like this idea of duty with the Seabees in Japan. The Japanese were too different. The Orient was too far away from home. He had made three adjustments since being in the Navy. Everyone looks for stability. This transfer meant a trip to the Pacific Coast. He’d never been farther west than North Dakota. It meant a stop in Hawaii. But he knew what that meant. You got to see an airport and some palm trees, no actual beaches.

Japan would probably mean working in a big post office, working with a bunch of other postal clerks. He could maybe learn enough to make 2nd class. But duty with the Seabees? The Seabees were navy builders. What would they be doing in Japan? Most likely getting ready to go to Vietnam. He could get killed in Vietnam. Ironically, later he would volunteer for duty in the war zone to get out of Charleston, South Carolina.

What about the Geisha girls? Their only job was to make men happy and Hayraker was still a virgin. Nuts! Had to get his head on straight. Popping your cherry was a macho thing. Virginity is innocence and innocence is childlike. Suffer the little children.

Japan was supposed to be a beautiful country with cherry blossoms

and everything, and there was the history of the place: Admiral Perry and the Samurai, and Buddhism. Hayraker had always been interested in Buddhism. Buddhism was Siddhartha Gautama’s process of becoming your true self with a loss of fear and anxiety. Hayraker would like that as he knew he didn’t really know who he was. He just followed along, whatever happened happened. His two older brothers had been in the navy. Japan meant Suma wrestlers. Two big fat guys with practically no clothes on coming to grips with each other, trying to push each other out of the ring. Japan meant Hiroshima and Nagasaki. They’d probably been rebuilt, but what would the Japanese think of America. What would we think of the Japanese if they’d nuked Washington D.C.?

Great Lakes was supposed to be permanent duty. Hayraker went down to Admin and had them check it out. About a week later he got orders to Charleston, South Carolina instead. Never make waves.

South Carolina was a safer bet, but it was another missed opportunity, a missed chance to grow as a person. Charleston would be the most monotonous duty Hayraker could imagine.

Meanwhile, Jarret, who was Zeke’s cubicle mate regaled the South. The food was better. Grits were ambrosia to Jarret. The women were prettier, the cities were cleaner, the air was fresher. He didn’t mention the humidity, the racism and the general dislike of sailors.

The transfer meant that Hayraker could go home on leave again for thirty days, only this time it meant “basket” leave. Basket leave was when your request for leave and its approval wound in up in the wastebasket. Hayraker knew the yeoman who worked in the administration office, and he simply got rid of any record that Hayraker had been on leave.

The navy taught Hayraker to swear, cheat and embezzle. He later got paid for the thirty days leave when he was discharged. On the other hand, the navy got a lot of cheap labor. When Hayraker left boot camp he was paid seventy-five dollars. When he got out of the Navy he was making $225 a month. Tit for tat.

Sexual dysfunction had returned at Great Lakes. Ever since he’d been fourteen, Hayraker had been masturbating. And now it returned with a vengeance. How do you masturbate with another guy in the bunk beneath you? You wait for the sucker to go to sleep and then you do it very quietly. The bed sheets could give you away, though, so you took the top bunk. Occasionally Hayraker would get some jizz on his blanket. Luckily boot camp had taught him how to fold his blanket so it wouldn’t show. Or he could always play the nocturnal “wet dream” emission card.

Hayraker tried to use behavior modification to get himself to stop. “If I go two weeks without jacking off, I’ll buy myself an electric razor,” he told himself. But you can’t stop nature.

It was a religious matter with Hayraker. Spilling your seed was a mortal sin in the Catholic church and at the time he believed that stuff. He was getting tired of confessing that sin every time he went to confession. He went to church regularly at Great Lakes. The mass was still in Latin at the time, the bluejackets choir would sing.

Confession always made him feel so much better about himself, but if you really thought about it, and Hayraker often did, just what was he confessing? He masturbated; he doubted his religion; he used obscene language. He never confessed his real crimes, like cheating on his seaman’s test and taking basket leave. Confession was a good opportunity to talk to someone, though. It was like having your very own psychiatrist. But Hayraker never used it like that. He could have talked about his lack of self respect:

“Why do you feel that way, son?”

“Everything goes wrong for me, Father.”

“Like what?”

“Like 35 demerits in boot camp.”

“How did you get them?”

“I couldn’t swim.”

“Is that all?”

“I couldn’t tie a square knot.”

“Anything else?”

“Dirty white hats.”

“Is there anything you could have done to avoid these demerits?”

“I could have admitted I didn’t know how to swim.”

“Why didn’t you?”

“I was scared.”

“Everybody’s scared.”

“What do you do about it, Father?”

“Try to confront your fear. Go to Japan. Talk to that girl. Ask BK why he’s picking on you.”

“Wouldn’t that get me in more trouble?”

“Probably.”

His lack of self respect went all the way back to the farm. He was never much good at cultivating corn, plowing, and the like. He couldn’t pound nails very well. He preferred to be in his room writing stories, listening to the radio, drawing pictures.

Drawing dirty pictures. He got pretty good at it, too, but he wasn’t so sure about the female anatomy. There had to be more to it than public hair. Then he had to go and confess this every two weeks. He felt like a hypocrite because he never had a firm purpose of amendment. If you went to communion and you didn’t really feel sorry for what you did wrong, you had committed a sacrilege, which meant you needed a dispensation from the pope to be forgiven.

His dad was another BK. He was always yelling at him for backing the tractor into the barn, or for running over the corn while cultivating. Some of these jobs were impossible. Throwing down hay before they got a hay bailer was no fun. The Alfalfa got all tangled and you couldn’t get any out with a fork. Maybe a stick of dynamite would do it. Then there was silage in the winter. It froze. You had to use a pick ax to loosen it. Cleaning out the barn was another trial. The loader would trip in the middle of the walk. Milking cows were awfully ornery, too. You’d get kicked, especially if the cow had chapped teats. Looking back on the whole experience, Hayraker could see that his dad had an impossible job: farming 280 acres of land with practically no machinery, or worse yet, old machinery that was always breaking down. So his dad had to be a mechanic, a veterinarian, an accountant, a foreman, a psychologist, a carpenter and a butcher. How do you get six boys between the ages of six and seventeen to pick rocks? You do a lot of yelling, especially if one of them is a lazy recluse.

Hayraker had built up a wall inside that room. He had his own baseball team for instance. He collected baseball cards and he created his own imaginary league. In this league, Thornton Kipper was a winner. Wally Westlake was a slugger. The batters had batting averaging, RBIs, and home runs. The pitchers had won/loss records, ERAs, and strikeouts. The players had personal lives. Ted Stone was an alcoholic with marital problems; Joe Camel wanted his job and would point out these indiscretions to the manager.

Hayraker also had his own bowling alley in the upstairs hall between the two bedrooms. A railing ran along the stairs. He rolled a 300 once. Usually he’d choke, though. The walls were chipped from being hit by the plastic pins and the softball he used as a bowling ball, which got him in trouble with his mom who rarely went up there, except to chase some recalcitrant kid.

While in the navy he kept reverting to his religious upbringing. There really was no place to hide since the navy couldn‘t afford private rooms unless you were an officer. Then the Ecumenical Council was held in 1962. Pope John XXIII wanted to change the church to attract converts. No more “mumbo jumbo.” The mass would be said in the vernacular. Lay members of the parish would distribute the host. Nuns could wear civilian clothes. No frickin’ way! In a constantly changing world, a guy needed some stability. Certain things just didn’t change. The world was going too fast the way it was. If the Catholic church changed after two thousand years, what could you count on? Later, Hayraker realized the church had been changing all along. The hierarchy had become stronger for one thing. Celibacy had not always been a mandate.

As a boy Hayraker had wanted to be a priest. He had played dress up in his room and damn near burned down the house. There was an old stove up there with no chimney stuffed with old papers. He’d set fire to the paper with his Communion candle. Who knew a stove needed a chimney?

Hayraker stopped going to church while stationed in Charleston:
“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned. My last confession was over two years ago. I’ve become an agnostic, but I thought I’d come to confession to brighten your life a bit. It must get awfully boring listening to the same sins time after time. I remember mine. Impure thoughts, disobeying my parents, playing sick on Sundays.”

The roughest thing Hayraker ever had to confess was the first time he’d had oral sex. He didn’t think the priest heard him, though, because he didn’t say anything about it. When he was a kid, the priest wanted to know everything about when he got his first feel.

He used to confess every once in awhile that he’d denied God or his religion or some such thing, but then he came to realize that doubters are the real chosen ones. That was why we were here, to find our own way. That was why God put obstacles in our paths: cancer, famine, war, death of loved ones. Those who have unthinking faith were in trouble. Hayraker was convinced God didn’t want his children to worship him. What would be the point? A parent, and God was a parent, would want his child to be able to stand on his own two feet.

But Hayraker dearly loved the music. He loved the Glorias and the Kyries and the vestments and the statues and the stained glass windows, even the nasty nuns. He’d hated them when he was in school, but they were so unbelievably mean it seemed like a fairy tale now that he’d grown up. He loved the incense and the holy water and even the rosaries. During lent his mother made him and his brothers say a rosary once a week and you weren’t allowed to eat meat on Fridays. The few protestants in town called Catholics mackerel snappers because all they got on Fridays was fish.

It was too bad. Hayraker could use that crutch these days.

Hayraker would miss the guys at the staff barracks in Great Lakes. Max was a yeoman at ET school and they’d all do exercises together at muster, part of Kennedy’s physical fitness program. Max could never take them seriously. He ran in place in slow motion; his jumping jacks resembled the scarecrow in the Wizard of Oz


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Books by
David A. Schwinghammer



Soldier's Gap

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