Watching the Monkeys

At it's narrowest point, it's only seven nautical miles. 
It's still a long swim. 
Unless you're Aquaman.
 

                                                                                  
"See?  Makes you want to respect me, huh?"
"Naw, you still smell like fish."

    The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow strip of water which separates Europe from Africa.  It is the only shipping route from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea.

    To the south is Morocco and, to the north, Gibraltar, a British protectorate since 1713.  In addition to locals, all of whom speak English, and day workers from Spain, a troop of macaques, also known as Barbary Apes, inhabit the “Rock.”

Wrong Rock.
    In reality, these apes aren’t apes at all.  They are, in fact, tailless monkeys and the only animals of their kind living on the European continent.  Originally from the Atlas and Rif Mountains of Morocco, these mischievous critters are as much a fixture in Gibraltar as the many souvenir shops, pubs, and restaurants which pepper the small territory.

    I served aboard the aircraft carrier, USS America, in the last few years of the 1970s.  During that time, my ship made two cruises to support American national security interests in the Mediterranean.  Naturally, we used the “STROG” to come and go from the United States to our area of operations.

Because that's how we be in the Sixth Fleet

    On the night of September 9th, 1979, we transited west through the Strait of Gibraltar.  Our time protecting Europe’s southern flank was at an end.  We were heading back to our homeport of Norfolk, Virginia.  It would be the last time for me as a member of America’s crew.

    I would return to the “Med” seven years later, but that’s another story altogether.

    While at breakfast the morning before our transit, I brought up the subject of the macaques with a newly-reported crewmember.

    “Oh, yeah,” I said as I reached for a bottle of ketchup with which I hoped to kill the taste of powdered eggs, “there’s a couple hundred of those things living on the Rock.”

"Take five gallons of water, add to fifty pounds of powdered eggs, add a pinch of paprika. garnish with a liberal dose of salmonella, serve with diarrhea.  Voila!  It's what's for breakfast!"

    “So?  That’s a problem?” the rookie asked.

    “Well, they’re a crafty buncha monkeys.  They could easily swim over and climb aboard the ship.  If that happens, who knows what damage they could do?”

    My companion’s eyes widened to dinner plates.  I knew the hook had been set.

    Mustering all the bravado three years as a savvy crewmember could bring, I continued, “The Senior Section Leader is drafting up a watch bill which will put in place a ‘Shipboard Security Watch’ from midnight to four tomorrow morning.  We call it the ‘Monkey Watch.’”

"So, whaddya say we swim over to that aircraft carrier over there?"
"Actually, I'd rather go sniff tourists."
"Yeah, but Biden's beat us to it."

    “Why then?”

    I shook my head.

    “Because that is when we’ll be going through the strait and at most risk, of course.”
    “Won’t we be going pretty fast?”

    “Not maximum speed, but plenty fast enough.”
    “But, isn’t the strait seven mi-“
    “They’re pretty sneaky bugge-look, don’t you care about your shipmates?”

    “Well, sure.  I’m just wondering ab-“

    “Good.  Since you’re the new guy, the Chief volunteered you for the duty.”

    “Really?” He looked dismayed.  “Where do I report?”

    “Don’t worry.  Just come down to the shop at 11:30 tonight.  As you know, I work nights.  I’ll help you out.”

    “Well, okay.  I guess.”

    “Hey, could you pass the Texas Pete?  The ketchup ain’t doing it.”

 

    That evening at 11:30 (well, 2330, but I’m cutting those who don’t know military time some slack), USS America’s indispensable Monkey Watch stepped into the shop.  He looked a little nervous, but his working uniform was immaculate.  I guess he figured that, if he was going to represent our department, he may as well look like a recruiting poster.

    Steve, our Departmental Clerk, stood next to me.  An hour prior to the arrival of Airman Apprentice Gilbert Gullible, he had gone down to the ship’s detachment of Marines.  Asking the bemused Corporal of the Guard to play along, he relayed our plans for the evening.

    The corporal (who was an actual corporal) grinned and said in a thick southern drawl, “Oh, don’t you worry.  I’ll make sure that your baby squid is properly posted.”

    “So,” our ‘victim’ asked, “where do I need to go?”

    As seriously as I could, I said, “We need to go down to the Marine Detachment.  The Corporal of the Guard will post you.”
    That brightened him up some.  “Do I get to carry a gun?”

    Our clerk jumped in.  “Of course not.  You’ll get a billy club and a whistle.  They’re just monkeys, you know.”

    Then, to me, he asked, “Are you sure he can do this?”

    I gravely nodded my head.

    “You know, because this isn’t a game.”

    Then, to him, “All right, let’s go.  Jeez, tie your boots, man.”

 

    Minutes later, the Corporal of the Guard had him standing at attention.  He looked him up and down, intensely scrutinizing his appearance and that of his uniform.  He yanked down on his sleeves and peered at the tops of his (tied) boots.

    “Well, you’re no Marine, I’ll say that.  But, since you’re a Navy guy, I guess you’ll do.”

    He tossed him a white web belt with a nightstick, helmet, and a whistle.  “Here, put these on and follow me.”

"Whew!  Good thing I put on clean underwear."


    Just before they hit the ladder leading to the weather deck, the Marine turned to us.

    “I’ve got him, gentleman.  You swabbies can go drink coffee and color your nails while he’s protecting us all from roving bands of monkeys.”

    Well, even though this was all a joke, I suppose a Marine couldn’t help being a Marine.

    Still, a cup of coffee sounded pretty good.

"Eff those Marines, amirite?"
"Right on.  But, we still get to paint our nails, though, right?"
"And shave our legs."
 

    We soon shared some-what else?-coffee in the Department Office.  Steve told me what would be happening down below as the ship sped towards the Atlantic.

    “They’ll put him next to the portside whale boat.  He’ll be told that, if he sees anything suspicious, he’s to blow his whistle and one of the Marines will come up to investigate.”
    “What’s the billy club for then?”

    “To bash himself in the head when he realizes he’s been played.”
    I laughed.  “Can’t believe he fell for it.”

    Steve shrugged.  “New guys.”

    I set my empty cup down.  “Gotta get to work,” I said. “How long do we leave him there?”

    “Well, if he doesn’t figure it out, he’s on until three-

thirty or until the Marines let him go.”

    “Good grief, nobody could be that gullible.”

    “I didn’t think anyone could be that gullible to fall for this thing in the first place.”

    I nodded.  “Breakfast later?”

    “You bet.  I know a cook who got his hands on real eggs.”

    As I walked past an open door leading to the portside weather deck, I heard a frantic whistling, followed by a loud pounding of feet flying up a ladder.

    Huh.  I wondered how ticked off he’d be when he found out.

 

EPILOGUE:  Our Monkey Watch remained on post for an hour and a half.  He finally figured things out when a handful of Marines, wearing gas masks and grunting, “Ook, ook, ook,” approached him from the dark. 

I avoided him until the ship arrived home two weeks later.

  


 

      

 

        

 

 

 

    



Turning Point

     8:00 pm, Friday, April 4th, 1980.

    We were at Milton's Pizza in Virginia Beach.  I looked across the table at my two friends.  Our pizza was finished, as well as the second pitcher.

    “So,” I said, “what do you guys want to do?”

    “We could go down to the Oceanfront,” one offered.

    “Naw, it’s not tourist season yet.  Nothing going on down there.”

    “Well,” he said, “what about Nag’s Head?”

    “Why?”

    “Why not?”

    Even though Nag’s Head would be as dead as the Virginia Beach Oceanfront, the scheme sounded logical.  So, after a detour to a liquor store to pick up a bottle of Jack Daniels and Seven-Up,  we headed two hours south into North Carolina.

    A few hours later, my Chevy lay upside down in a Moyock, North Carolina ditch.  Miraculously, even though none of us wore a seat belt, we were virtually unharmed.  

    But, the car was totaled.

********

    Last week, while perusing Twitter (X...whatever) in search of some lunatic to pick a fight with, I came across this...

    It caused me to ponder.  Sure, there are many events in my life which caused me to go in this direction or that.  After all, 65 years has a tendency to do that.

    But, if I had to choose, it would be that decision made by (okay, let's be honest) impaired numbskulls who thought driving to a darkened beach on the Outer Banks was genius.

   Now I know that this may bore you.  We all have those things in our past that have profoundly affected us, but don't feel the need to put them down in writing.  Not so with me.  Such is my ego trip.


Speaking of ego trips, still available by the truckload.

    So, I may be typing this is in a vacuum where only I will tread.

    Anyways....

    By the time April, 1980 had arrived, I'd nearly reached my fourth anniversary of serving in the Navy.  I had seen a lot and done a lot, but I was determined to get out when my time came in August and return home to Connecticut.

    Even a few months after my accident, that was still the plan.  However, I had lost a few thousand dollars and was dropped like third grade English by my insurance company.

    Despite brave attempts to put on a happy face, things were bleak.

    Then the career counselor told me I could reenlist for four years of shore duty.  What's more, the Navy would give me $10,000.  

    Well, since it was for shore duty and I was going to get thousands of dollars, I saw a way to ease the financial burdens in my life.  So, why not?

    Plus, that summer I started dating a local girl.  So, why not hang around?

    If you've read this far, I'm going to cut you a break and "speed round" how a night of idiocy affected me:

1.  I remained in Virginia.

2.  I married the aforementioned girl.

3.  I did separate from the Navy in 1984.  But, I joined the Naval Reserves.

VA-0686 at NAS Oceana, Virginia Beach.
Huh.
I didn't know we had a patch.

4.  The aforementioned girl told me she was leaving me at our fourth anniversary dinner (this sounds depressing, but things turned out pretty good).

5.  I then determined to return to Connecticut to go to school.

6.  I met another girl from Virginia Beach (if you think you know where this is going, you'd be correct).

7.  Stubbornly, I moved to Connecticut in August, 1985.  However, because of that girl, I remained drilling at Oceana.

8.  While making a sock puppet as part of my elementary school teacher training, I decided to drop out of school at Central Connecticut State College.

9.  I returned to Virginia Beach.

10.  I married the girl I had met several months prior.  No, I can't figure it either.  I must be a player.

11.  I reenlisted in the Navy and changed my specialty to Naval Aircrew.

Yeah, this was fun. 
Cheesy moustache notwithstanding.

Fast forward because even I'm getting a little bored...

12.  My wife gave me two beautiful children while we were living in Maine.

Fast forward some more because it's close to dinnertime...

13.  After thirty years, Wife #2 told me we were done.  Clearly, I could get 'em.  I just couldn't keep 'em.

14.  Our daughter moved with her husband from Pennsylvania to, you guessed it, Virginia Beach.

15.  Once I retired for the second time (I had retired from the Navy in 2005), I planned on moving to, I get the irony, North Carolina.

16.  My daughter asked if we could live together while they saved up for a house so I moved to, you guessed it, Virginia Beach in 2020.

17.  Shockingly, I met a girl who will become Wife #3.  These women I meet must have shockingly bad taste in men.

18.  We bought a house in Virginia Beach.

I call it the "Kenderosa." 
Remember that ego trip I was talking about?

19.  So, though my daughter and her family moved back to Pennsylvania, I know I shall remain in Virginia.

    None of this is what I would have envisioned over an empty pitcher of beer (or in an upside down Monza) all those many years ago.

    But, that is what happened and I am very happy that that was the turning point that set the stage for a wonderful life then, during, and now.

    And now?  Dinnertime.

I remain impaired, though.


 

 

   

Fun With Don

 Orange Jesus Bone Spurs has his bases covered just in case he's convicted and gets thrown in jail where he'll be forced to wear-what else?-an orange jumpsuit...


"If I wind up going to jail, believe me, it will be the most beautiful jail ever created because-very few  people know this-it was my great-great-great-great-great-can you believe how great he was?-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Marcus Aurelius Trump who invented prisons and got the Huns to pay for it, not those loser Parthians who were actually Iranians.*  And, let me tell you, people were dying to get into those jails, which were more like resorts.  With locking doors, shankings, and bed checks."

"Don't forget sodomy."



*the Parthians were actually from Iran.  Yeah, I'm a nerd for knowing this.  And now so do you.  So what does that make you?   Thatttttttt's right.

More Fun With Joey From Scranton

 

"I think Dr. Jill got a new haircut.  But, she's not wearing the drapes she normally wears. 
Maybe I should have a little sniff to be sure."

Happy Independence Day!

     Or "Fourth of July" to the rest of the world.     Yes, yes, sigh, I know.  Many other countries, other than the United State...