“What did the Captain see on my record when he said, ‘Look what they sent us’?” Taking a drink of water, he looked at McDonald.
Who looked away. “Nothing.”
“Come, on, Mac! He even brought it to you to see. I haven’t been in the Coast Guard long enough to do anything that bad.” Cutting another piece of steak, halting the trip to his mouth, “What was he pointing at when he brought my papers to you?”
Standing, taking his cup, beginning to walk out of the mess hall, stopping, McDonald turned back. “Hebrew,” he said softly. “Where it says ‘Religion’, it says you’re Hebrew.”
“Yeah, that’s what I thought. Thanks, Mac.”
“Hey, Mitch, I’m takin’ off! When you’re done, just wash your stuff and leave it on the sink, okay?”
“Sure, Joe. See you tomorrow.”
He’d been lying on his bed, reading. “Hi.” When Mitchell entered the room, the young man sat up. “I’m Sal Minnossa. Looks like we’re roommates.”
Recognizing him as the man that had spoken to him in the head, crossing the room, shaking hands, “I’m Mitch Lipensky.”
Twenty years old, Minnossa had a thin, handsome face with dark-brown eyes and tightly curled brown hair. In clean denims, he had one chevron with the Machinist Mate emblem stenciled on the sleeve.
“The asshole had you cleaning the head before you even got unpacked, eh.”
“Yeah. I wouldn’t have minded, except he knew that by the time I’d finished you guys would be securing for the day and it would be getting filthy again.”
“Sounds like the cocksucker… Where you from, Mitch?”
Taking his sea bag from the closet, putting it on the bed, he began to unpack. “Chicago… You?”
“Brooklyn. Not too far from here.”
“That’s great! You get to go home whenever you want.”
“Yeah. I spent more’n a year and a half on a buoy tender out of Boston, and when I got transferred here I could hardly believe it, and if it weren’t for that motherfuckin’ cocksuckin’ son-of-a-bitch it would be like heaven.”
“You got a…” stopping, smiling, “gal, Sal?”
“Minnie… The guys call me Minnie. Yeah, we’re engaged… You?”
“Nah,” he sighed. “No one at home but my family.”
“Just as well you don’t have a girl that far away, Mitch.”
Putting his underwear into the top drawer of the empty dresser, “At boot, the guys called me Lippy.”
“Okay,” smiling. “You had a chance to see New York yet?”
“No. I caught the subway at Grand Central and came right here.”
“If you’re a drinker—or even if you’re not—there’s lots’a broads to pick up at bars.”
“Nah, bars ain’t my thing, and the girls you can pick-up at them seem…?”
“Yeah, I never liked that kind either. You ought to go to the U.S.O. over on 42nd Street. There’s lots’a good looking broads there, and even if they’re not supposed to, a guy looking as good as you should have no problem talking some of ’em into going out with you.”
“What about girls here, in Rockaway?”
“In summer, yeah! Lots’an’lots of ’em. But in winter? Forget it!”
Changing the subject, “So tell me about here, Minnie. What do we do here all day?”
Lighting a cigarette, “Shit, don’t worry about that. The old man’ll be sure to keep you busy, even if it’s just to go to the beach and move sand dunes around… Just a word of advice.”
Lighting a cigarette also, “Yeah?”
“Do whatever you got to do and stay the fuck out of his way, and don’t do anything to make him madder at you then he already is.”
“I got a feeling just being alive makes him mad.”
“Yeah, for the both of us. He don’t like wops either. Mac’s a good guy, though, and he tries giving guys that bunk together the same liberties and watches, so’s we don’t wake each other coming and going, so I’ll usually be in the con, when you’re in the tower.”
“The communication room. I’ll usually be on the switchboard there when you’re in the tower. And if I know the fucker’s coming, I’ll give you a call to warn you. Problem is, sometimes the prick sneaks out and we don’t know he’s gone and, believe me, you’ll always want to know when he’s coming.”
“How’s a jerk like Ewing get to be skipper of a place like this?”
“He was a Chief Petty Officer during Korea and had a couple’a LSTs shot out from under him, and he even got wounded; the gooks should’a killed the motherfucker, but they shipped him stateside and made him a warrant officer and gave him Rockaway as his first command, and it went to his head and he became a first class asshole.” Standing, “I’ll help stow your gear, then how’s ’bout we shoot some pool?”
At 0700 a recording of reveille blared through the halls. The men used the heads, dressed and ambled downstairs for a breakfast of cereal, eggs with bacon, sausage or ham, juice, and coffee or milk.
After eating it was duty stations till 0900. Throughout the day they did whatever their daily assignments had them doing, which, for the first class and seaman apprentices, such as Mitchell, usually meant watches in the tower, the never-ending scraping, sanding and painting of the station’s four wood- and steel-hulled boats, or work in and about the station.
The second brick building was a garage and machine shop with two large sliding-door entries. One door, opening to the bay, had rails that ran into the water and a boat-cradle crane for the lifting, dry-docking and repair of the station’s boats. The second door opened to the concrete-covered parking area.
The third building, a white, clapboard structure, was nothing more than a roofed, three-sided façade that was fully open to the water on the fourth side. Inside that structure were two docks. Tied to either side of one dock were two powerful motor-patrol boats, and to the other dock, two sea-proof “crash boats.” Anchored into the concrete alongside the boathouse was a large winch with a web sling that was capable of hoisting a medium-sized boat out of the water.
The lookout tower was located four miles south-west of the station on a lonely wind-swept, rock, sand and weed-strewn finger of land that overlooked the Atlantic Ocean to one side and Sheepshead Bay on the other.
The only way to the tower was by means of a bumpy, bone-jarring, two-lane road that ran past two well-used “gin mills” and groves of seedy summer cottages.
Watches were set in four-hour shifts, giving six men to the lookout tower and six to the communication room in any twenty-four hour period.
Unless there was an issuance of storm warnings, boat crews of six men each were designated as the port or starboard crew, and were on duty the entire twenty-four–hour period.
At Rockaway Lifeboat Station there was one full time cook and two cook strikers.
The personnel complement was thirty-five to forty men, including the commanding officer and non-commissioned officers. With Mitchell Lipensky aboard, U.S.C.G. Rockaway Lifeboat Station was fully manned.
Using a powerful, commercial floor buffer—that, until he learned how to take it where he wanted it to go, rather than the floor buffer taking him where it wanted to go—Mitchell discovered that maintaining the mirror-like shine on the second floor deck was not quite as difficult as he’d first thought it would be.
Duty stations over, he was driven to the lookout tower and shown the proper shortwave radio and log procedures.
Upon returning to the station, he was handed a paint scraper and joined four other seamen in the boathouse scraping the hull of the number two crash boat.
He had an early lunch, then was driven back to the tower for his first long, boring, uneventful watch.
That evening, after dinner, Mitchell boarded two buses, then the two subway trains, and took his first New York City liberty.
With the collar of his pea coat turned up against the raw wind, he wandered the cold street looking at the sights along Broadway.
Soon, being alone in this strange city depressing him, as he walked his mind went to Susan, and he became even more depressed.
Seeing the sign on 42nd Street, Mitchell climbed the long flight of stairs to the U.S.O.
Inside there were a dozen or more servicemen scattered throughout the huge room. The men sat by themselves, or talked to one another or the few girls that were in attendance. On the floor, a soldier danced listlessly with a hostess to a Glenn Miller recording.
Refusing an offer to dance with a pimply-faced hostess, he had a cup of coffee and within twenty minutes left.
Back on the street, feeling increasingly homesick, Mitchell had a coke and a hamburger at the Wimpy’s on 42nd Street, then took the subways back to Flatbush Avenue, and the busses to Rockaway.
Joe Mendez was right.
Oh, yeah! The name Lipensky did show up twice as often as any others for KP, and also for the hated 2400 to 0400 (12:00 a.m. to 4:00 a.m.) or the 0400 to 0800 watches.
From somewhere, though, Mitchell found a source of stubborn pride and refused to give Ewing the satisfaction of knowing that he was getting to him—though he certainly was. And his seeming indifference to the unfair duty assignments and all reference to his being a “pretty boy” or a Jew, of course, only added fuel to Floyd Richard Ewing’s hatred.
“Excuse me.” Having KP for the second time in the first week of June, lugging an overloaded 40-gallon garbage can, Mitchell crossed paths with Ewing and Boatswains Mate First Class Ed Cagle, who were sitting on a low retaining wall smoking. “Were you talking to me, Sir?”
Looking at him, looking through him, ignoring him, “Yeah, Ed, that’s what we used to call ’em,” Ewing said. “Christ killers!”
As weeks became months, a strange phenomenon took place.
As though the emotion of hatred is stronger than the emotion of love, the preponderance of Mitchell Lipensky’s hatred of Warrant Officer Floyd Richard Ewing began to outweigh his love of Susan, and his thoughts of her began to dwindle… And in time, amazingly, even forgetting her phone number—except for the lonely hours in the tower—almost all thoughts of Susan stopped.
(A "Becoming? Excerpt)