Making a loop in the wide turnaround, “End’a the line, fella.” the driver said to his lone passenger. Stopping, facing in the direction they had come from, “Rockaway Beach!” the rear door opened.
Standing, “Yeah, thanks.” Glancing at his watch, still thinking in civilian time, 3:43, he buttoned his coat, put his cap on, slipped the web belt of his sea bag over his shoulder and stepped down the two steps to the curb.
The cold wind hitting him, turning his collar up, he jammed the cap further onto his head.
Shutting the door, the driver put the bus into gear and drove away.
February 8, 1953 to March 19, 1954
U.S.C.G. Rockaway Lifeboat Station
He stood at the crest of an asphalt- and concrete grade that overlooked Brooklyn to the north, Long Island to the east and Far Rockaway to the west. Below, to the south, row upon row of white-capped waves furled out of the ocean, slammed onto the sand and rolled back into the dark green sea.
Except for the swarming sea gulls that hovered in the air and milled on the sand, the beach was vacant and, becoming lost in the mist in either direction, seemed to go on forever. The sharp cries of the gulls could be heard above the wind and crashing waves.
The wide street made a hairpin turn to the right, narrowed to two lanes, went down the incline, turned to the left, passed the station about a quarter mile below and went through the narrow, Rockaway peninsula for as far as Mitchell could see.
Dropping his sea bag to the curb, he put his gloves on, swung the bag onto his shoulder and started down the incline.
Still above it, he saw that three sides of the compound were fenced in six-foot-high chain link, and that the fourth side was open to the bay. There were three structures: a red brick, oblong, two-story building; a smaller red brick building; and a white, clapboard boat house.
Coming closer, he heard the whine of a high-powered marine engine and the sounds of men at work.
Opening the plate-glass door at the front of the two-story building, he stepped into an alcove entry. Directly across the wide hall was another alcove leading to the bay and work area. In the exact center of the bisecting hallways, in the high sheen, dark-blue linoleum floor, was the gray and blue Coast Guard emblem. To his right there was an up-going stairway. To his left was the closed door to an office and an open, small sliding glass window. Two men were in the office. At the far desk, wearing work blues, the younger man had the double red chevrons and crossed quills of a yeoman second class on the sleeve of his tunic. At the desk directly below the window, wearing sharply pressed khakis, the second man had the silver boatswains symbol on the point of one collar and the emblem of a warrant officer on the other.
As Mitchell approached the sliding window, both men looked up.
Letting his sea bag drop to the deck, “Hello,” nodding at the sailor, handing his orders through the window, “I’m to report in today, Sir.”
His eyebrows knotting over his dark-brown eyes—causing the young man to squirm under the man’s intense gaze—Warrant Officer Floyd Richard Ewing stared at the face framed within the window for seven full seconds before… Taking the envelope, turning away, opening it, removing the sheath of papers, he laid them on the desk and, “Holy shit, Mac!” he said. “Will you look at what they sent me!”
Standing loosely at ease, now bringing his head through the window, looking at his papers, Mitchell tried to see what might have caused the man to make that kind of an exclamation. “Uh, something wrong, Sir?”
Ignoring him, taking the papers, “Christ, Mac,” crossing the room, “just look at what they sent me for a fuckin’ replacement!” Slapping the papers on the Yeoman’s desk, Ewing pointed a stiffened finger to something on the top of the first sheet of paper.
McDonald glanced at the paper, then looked at Mitchell and, when their eyes touched, quickly averting his, “Yes, Sir.” he said to Ewing.
Smiling, his thin lips twitching, “I know what to do with his kind,” jabbing McDonald on the shoulder with his elbow, “don’t I, Mac?”
Answered with minimal enthusiasm, “Yes, Sir.”
“How do you pronounce your fuckin’ name, sailor?”
He’d only been there for about two minutes, certainly not long enough for this man to form any type of an opinion, to dislike him, yet he knew he did, but had no idea why. “Lipensky, Sir.”
“Well, Lipensky,” going back to his desk, “I’m Captain Ewing, and I’m the boss here!” His mouth twitching, “And you know what?”
Thinking the man was smiling, relaxing somewhat, “No, Sir.”
Hardening, his eyes made contact with Mitchell’s—who looked back a moment, then lowered his—“Your ass is grass,” Ewing said. “And I’m the fuckin’ lawnmower!” His stare stationary, turning his head slightly, speaking over his shoulder, “Who’s he go with, Mac?”
Looking at a clipboard, studying the roster, “210, Captain.”
“Who’s in 210?”
“Minnossa, Machinist Mate Three, Sir.”
“Minnossa and Lipensky, eh? Sounds like a fuckin’ vaudeville team.”
Looking at the chronometer on the wall, “1602… Looks like the Coast Guard can still get some work out of you before chow, Lipensky. Take your gear to 210, stow it and get into denims and report back to the bridge in five minutes.”
“Uh, the bridge?”
“Sir! Whenever you speak to me you say Sir or Captain! Here! You don’t understand English? This is the bridge!” Waving his hand. “Now get your ass in gear!”
“Yes, Sir… Uh,” pointing upward with his thumb, “210, Sir?”
“Yeah,” Ewing said facetiously, “seems like a pretty good bet that 210 would be on the second deck.”
Feeling a bit queasy in the stomach due to his reception at U.S.C.G. Rockaway Lifeboat Station, “Yes, Sir.” Hefting the sea bag onto his shoulder, he went up the one flight of stairs, turned right, then, noting the brass numbers on the doors, realizing that he was going in the wrong direction, turned back.
The second floor contained the enlisted men’s quarters with ten bedrooms on either side and one head at each end of the highly polished, blue and gray linoleum-floored hallway. The doors were open and Mitchell could see that nearly all the rooms were exactly alike: twin beds against the walls on either side of the room, with two three-drawer dressers and a window.
Room 210 was the last room on the north side of the building, in the corner, and this room had two windows: one overlooking the peninsula and the other facing the bay. As in the other rooms, the beds were tautly made with blue bedspreads with the Coast Guard emblem in their exact centers.
Ain’t too bad, he thought, real beds and… turning, he saw two closet doors, opened one, found it full of hanging clothes, government issue and civilian, closed it, opened the other and found it empty… my own closet, a great view and even cross ventilation.
Remembering Ewing’s order for him to be back in five minutes, dropping his sea bag, opening it, he rummaged till he found a pair of rolled jeans and a chambray shirt, then, digging deeper, felt for his work shoes. Kicking his dress shoes off, hanging his pea coat and uniform on wire hangers that had been left in the closet, he hurriedly dressed.
Glancing at his watch as he ran downstairs: 4:10.