Rockaway, New York
“Lippy… Hey, Lippy! It’s 0330!” His shoulder shaken, “Come on, Pal!” Shaken again, the voice faded. “Minnie! Hey, Minnie! Come on, 0330!”
Opening his eyes, he closed them against the glare of the overhead light. “Fuck, Duane,” mumbling, “it can’t be three-thirty.” Sitting up, he looked through squinted eyes at the other bed.
“Bullshit!” Minnossa grumbled from under the blanket.
“No bullshit! Time to relieve the watch!” Boatswains Mate Third Class Duane Merton jiggled the light switch, flashing the overhead light. “I wouldn’t bullshit ya, Minnie. Come on!” He looked at Minnossa, who, although still beneath the blanket, now had his rump in the air. “See ya two below.” Merton left the room.
Slipping his feet into slippers, holding his erection down, taking his towel and toilet kit from the closet, covering the front of his shorts with the towel, going into the head, Mitchell put the towel and kit on a sink, went into a stall, closed the door and, standing in front of the toilet, parting the fly of his shorts let his penis poke through. Tightening his rectum, squeezing the shaft of his penis, closing his eyes, he pumped rapidly, until a delicious pain flooded his testicles, and just short of ejaculation, when he felt he could no longer hold his urine, loosening his rectum, Mitchell let the strong stream flow through his urethra. Standing with his eyes closed and his head pressed into his hunched shoulders… as the flow diminished so did his penis. Relaxing his shoulders, he flushed the toilet, and was at the sink brushing his teeth when Minnossa, holding a towel in front of himself, went into a stall and closed the door.
Waiting in the mess hall, Merton was sitting at the table with a half-cup of coffee before him. “Ready, Lippy?”
“Yeah, Duane. Just give me a minute to fill my Thermos.” Unscrewing the cap, he held the wide opening beneath the spigot and, pressing the handle, filled his Thermos from the 40-cup, stainless steel percolator that sat on a side table in the mess hall twenty-four hours a day.
Preparing and making the large pot of coffee was the last job of that day’s mess attendant, which yesterday—so, what else was new—was Mitchell.
Men having KP would normally have a twenty-four hour grace period from all watches…unless your name was Lipensky and your captain was Floyd Richard Ewing.
The men at Rockaway Lifeboat Station were all aware of his hopeless and helpless situation, and most of them, glad it was he and not they, went out of their way to show Mitchell some degree of empathy.
“Okay, Duane, all set. Let’s go.”
On their way out, “Phil,” Merton poked his head into the communication room. “Minnie ought’a be down any second.”
“Yeah, Duane, thanks.” From inside the glass enclosure, Machinist Mate Third Class Philip Mallard waved at the two men as they went by.
Even though it was mid August, the early morning was chilly and both men wore khaki watch jackets with the words U.S.C.G. Rockaway LB Station stenciled in black across the back.
The revving of the motor in the Ford pickup always seemed to be excessively loud in the very early or very late hours and Mitchell was always glad that his room was at the far end of the building, and not nearer the garage.
Putting the truck into gear, Merton stamped on the accelerator and the Ford squealed out of the compound and onto Rockaway Beach Boulevard, which at Rockaway Point was nothing more than a bumpy, twisting, two-lane road.
Both windows open, the night air chilling him, rolling his window up, the fur-like collar about his ears, Mitchell hunched into the warmth of the jacket.
Jolting along the road, rather than slowing, Merton downshifted as the Ford cornered, then upshifted as it came out of the bend. Shooting a sharp hump, leaving the blacktop, the shock absorbers clanked at the concussion as the wheels made contact with the road again.
They roared past The Rockaway Bar & Grill, past rows of blackened cottages, past Pete’s Tavern, past The Rockaway Eatery and Bait Store, past more cottages… and then all signs of human habitation disappeared and the last mile of the bone-jarring, four-mile ride was nothing but barren rock and weed-choked, sandy soil.
There it is!
One hundred and seventy-five yards off the road. At the very tip of the thin finger of land that jutted between the Atlantic Ocean and Sheepshead Bay.
Outlined by the light of a pale moon from behind wispy clouds, the three-story tower eerily resembled the upright skeleton of a giant, prehistoric monster.
Rounding the last bend, Merton pressed his foot to the accelerator and, gaining even more speed, the truck heeled dangerously to the left, then righted itself. Slamming the brakes on, shifting from third to neutral, the front end of the Ford shimmied from right to left as the wheels attempted to gain purchase on the sand-swept road… then it stopped, thankfully, right side up.
“Hey, Duane,” opening the door, stepping down, “great ride,” smiling, “you dick!” Mitchell slammed the door.
“Yeah, Lippy, glad you liked it. See you in four hours.”
“Yeah.” Putting the Thermos under his arm, jamming both hands into his pockets, he began the walk through the sandy soil.
Coming closer, he saw the dull light of the four-sided wood and glass enclosure atop the steel structure.
There was a brief splash of light when the bottom hatch was lifted as Seaman Apprentice Marty Masco prematurely left the 8x8 lookout shack and started down the fifty-seven steel steps bringing him that much closer in time and distance to his warm bed.
Passing as fleeting, moonlit shadows, anxious to be away, one ran as the other, in no hurry, walked at a normal pace.
“Minnie called,” Masco said in passing. “The dipshit’s asleep and I left the radio.”
“Thanks, Marty,” Mitchell said over his shoulder. “How’s it tonight?”
The Ford’s headlights momentarily brightened the path before him as the truck made a sharp U-turn and started back to the station.
Jamming the Thermos into his right armpit, grasping both steel handrails, he started up the steep, steel steps.
The bottom section of reinforced steel ended in a deep-set, concrete slab. There was a solid steel platform between each of the upper two sections of steps. At the juncture between the steel deck and the third flight of steps, at a point just under the second landing, barely within reach, there was a joining of steel that formed a small, unseen compartment where an illicit radio or a book might be hidden.
This compartment was one of the best kept secrets in the entire U.S. military, barring the invasion of Normandy, of course, and had been passed on from generation to generation of seamen standing watch in the lonely, isolated Rockaway lookout tower.
Climbing higher, approaching the trapdoor, pushing the hatch open, he climbed into the shack.
Appropriately, the song on the radio was “Ebb Tide.”
Putting his Thermos on the desk, taking the, abominated, black-leather-covered time clock—that read 4:03—going onto the catwalk, Mitchell walked to the outside, southwest corner of the shack where a key hung chained to a steel box that was bolted onto the wall. Fitting the key into the slot in the time clock, being sure he turned it three times, he went back into the shack.
Coney Island was across the bay to the northwest, and on any spring, summer, or fall night, unless there is a fog, the lookout was able to see Coney’s millions of boardwalk lights and the highly illuminated roller coasters and parachute rides. Sometimes, on windless nights when all else was quiet, the lookout was able to hear an occasional, high-pitched scream. On Wednesday nights during the summer, and on the Fourth of July, the man on the 20 to 2400 (8:00 to 12:00) watch had a choice seat and was entertained by a massive fireworks display fired from a barge anchored a half-mile off Coney Island Beach.
At this time of morning, though, with the exception of the red and white flashing lights atop the parachute ride, all was still and quiet at Coney Island.
Outside again, Yup, ain’t nothing out there but sea’n’ski. Mitchell swept the horizon with the lookout tower’s powerful binoculars.
Inside again, writing in the log book, he logged the type and density of the covering cloud formation, and the direction and size of the sea swells, which, because Mitchell could not see the sea swells, he logged in exactly as Masco had four hours earlier, which Masco had logged in exactly as the man on the 8:00 to 12:00 watch, who had been able to see the size and direction of the sea swells.
Mitchell checked the radio transmitter procedure: to be sure it was in proper working order; set onto the proper channel, with the volume set at just below crackling.
With the log in done, having nothing more to do for the next hour, until he must once again punch the “God-damned clock”—except, of course, to listen for radio transmissions of any type of airborne or nautical distress, and to stare into the darkness for any type of airborne or nautical distress—he positioned the chair so that he would be looking out the ocean-side windows, rotated the radio dial until he found his favorite radio station, poured himself a cup of coffee and sat down.
The binoculars held around his neck, tilting the chair back, he put the heels of his feet onto the narrow ledge beneath the window, and began the four-hour struggle to remain awake… Occasionally he didn’t, but if he did fall asleep, his feet would usually slip off the ledge and he would awaken. On the rare occasions when Mitchell did fall asleep, and his feet did not slip off the ledge, somehow the mental alarm in his head would jar him awake within a few minutes on either side of the time he was to punch the “God-damned clock.”
(A "Becoming" Excerpt)