I was commissioned an Ensign in the Navy many, many moons ago. The date was April 2nd; the year is immaterial…and, yes, I remember! It was a cool and clear day in Newport, RI. Sixteen weeks of Officer Candidate School had finally come to an end and the real adventure was about to begin. My beloved, slightly naughty, and always fun Mom, accompanied by her evil consort Fulldemerde, came out to Newport for the grand event.
Mom and Fulldemerde (FdM) stayed in a nearby hotel for the three or so days before the commissioning ceremony and related tomfoolery. In a surprising move, my real father showed up, too. He was a Captain in the Naval Reserves and, unbeknownst to me had made arrangements for me to have a private commissioning in the Commanding Officer’s office before the OCS-wide ceremony. I found out about this when my Company Officer, LT Barke (a fairly horrid officer and Naval Academy graduate), dragged me out of class one day by my hair, yelling that he did not like surprises. Who does? I tried to convince him that I had no knowledge of what CAPT Dad had arranged with the CO. In fact, I assured him, I really preferred to just get commissioned with my peers. That was a non-starter and LT Barke continued to scream at me. He was a tool. I heard that he was later caught in flagrante delecto with an enlisted female staff member and was booted. I hope the booted part is true.
We had some whirlwind days and nights. I tried to balance time with Mom and Fulldemerde (FdM) and include CAPT Dad in the Navy activities that he wanted to attend. For instance, there was a graduation Ball. It was not on my list of fun things to do, but Dad wanted to wear his uniform to escort me. To the Ball we went. He charmed and danced with the impressionable young female ensigns-to-be while I scowled and drank beer. After the soiree, CAPT Dad and I decided we needed coffee and donuts before I returned to my residence to turn into a pumpkin. That was the highlight of my evening.
Meanwhile, Mom and Fulldemerde were out on the town. They had dinner at The White Horse Tavern, which frankly sounded more my speed and style than a stinking dance! I had made arrangements to have dinner with Mom and her tagalong the next evening. FdM had heard of some seafood restaurant in Jamestown. Turns out, it was known for huge portions and was rather ticky-tacky (translation: dirt cheap), which was right up Fulldemerde’s alley. During dinner, Mom gleefully informed me that she had met my Battalion Chief Petty Officer (CPO) the previous evening. I was at a loss for words, but she was chomping at the bit to tell her tale.
Generally, I would venture to guess that the Battalion CPO wouldn’t know an individual Officer Candidate (OC) unless there were problems with said OC’s behavior (not my case) or if the OC were in a Brigade or Battalion leadership role (I was not). There were three companies in each battalion, so this poor guy had his hands full! He was a Senior Chief Boiler Technician (BTCS) and was as great as LT Barke was substandard. Senior Chief Jones had his office on the third deck, which is where the three companies in his battalion lived. He conducted room inspections, taught a few classes, and generally instilled order and discipline; essential tasks that LT Barke was unfit and unable to perform. I was fairly klutzy and somewhat irreverent and always greeted Senior Chief Jones politely, sometimes even with a passing snide observation. He took that well and replied in snarky-kind when warranted.
Time for me to digress…I know, what a shock! I started OCS in November and was fortunate enough to go home for Christmas that year. After my short leave period, I flew back to Providence and set about arranging transportation to Newport. I ended up sharing a ride in the shuttle bus with a young man in Naval Academy Prep School (NAPS); we called them “Napsters.” His name was Alvin, he was going to the Academy to play football, and was probably close to my age. I had turned 22 over the Christmas holiday. He was very talkative and attentive and I was coolly polite in return. I think he came from a wealthy family, or at least I was left with the memory that he wanted me to think that. When we got to the base, I skedaddled back to King Hall, and the Napster went wherever Napsters went.
Fast forward a couple of weeks…I was in my room after class and Senior Chief Jones hightailed over from his office down the hall to see me. I didn’t realize who it was at first as he was not a normal visitor in our wing outside of room inspections, and his face was obscured by a massive bouquet of long-stemmed red roses. He grumbled and griped, told me that he had taken delivery of the floral monstrosity, and handed me the vase. I protested and said that he must be mistaken, I didn’t have a boyfriend. After telling me that Senior Chiefs are NEVER mistaken, he again foisted the vase off on me, then stood around with a goofy grin, waiting for me to read the card. They were from a secret admirer. I tried to hand the flowers back to him, but he’d already turned on his heel, and I could hear him laughing in the passageway. I had this massive floral arrangement crouching on my desk, leaving little room for me to study. I was also, to the best of my knowledge, the only damn person in King Hall with flowers in their room. I was decidedly not amused.
We had personnel and room inspections every Friday. If we didn’t pass, we didn’t get liberty over the weekend, so Thursday nights were a flurry of activity. A light bulb went on in my head…I would NEVER pass inspection if my room were bedecked with dozens of roses. What to do? I wasn’t smart enough to toss them; after all, I’d only had them since Monday and they were still pretty. I marched myself to Senior Chief Jones’ office and handed the offending flowers to him. He was perplexed, and sputtered at me. I told him that it just wouldn’t do for an Officer Candidate to have roses all over one’s room for inspection the next morning and that I had elected him to be the keeper of the vase. I was gobsmacked when he agreed, with a chuckle, muttering that some people had a lot of nerve.
This happened two more times. I really didn’t associate the flowers with the Napster dude I’d met on my way back from the airport. I finally badgered the florist into telling me who ordered the arrangements, each successive one being larger and more floral-y than the previous one. They confirmed that the source of floral overindulgence was Alvin. BTCS Jones was starting to get a bit irked about having to store humongous bouquets in his office on Fridays, mumbling that it wasn’t very masculine. I had to find the eager Napster and set him straight. Pronto.
The third and last Friday that I had to borrow the Senior Chief’s office, I was called to the Quarterdeck. There stood Alvin the Wee Napster with a gift-wrapped box. I escorted him outside to a nearby bench where I had a direct chat with the young man. The gift was some ornate crystal carving from what I recognized to be an expensive shop in downtown Newport. I told him that I could not accept it. He declared his undying love. (Heavy eye rolls on my part). I told him that his generosity was lovely, but that I was not the woman for him. I also told him to stop sending flowers, for crying out loud. I had to be stern, downright mean even, but he eventually got the clue that his amorous overtures were unwelcome.
Fast forward to graduation week. Mom was having a nice dinner at the White Horse Tavern, the best place in Newport. We’ve already established that I would have liked dinner there…Mom noticed a nice, clean-cut man (and his wife) at the next table and overheard him talking about OCS. She was mesmerized by his earring and asked him if he were a pirate or a biker. Apparently, the man took it in good stride, laughed, and told Mom that he was assigned as Battalion CPO at OCS. Mom oohed and ahed over his diamond earring and said she didn’t know that the new Navy let their Sailors wear such doohickies. She then said that her daughter was an OC. As soon as she let those words fly, Senior Chief Jones squinted at her and burst out laughing. He said, “you must be OC Mari’s (he used my last name) mother. I see the resemblance in appearance and demeanor!” Mom was tickled, bought Senior Chief Jones and his wife a drink, and then they swapped embarrassing Mari stories. Mom told me all about this at dinner the next night in the seafood dive. I think I was mortified.
Commissioning came and went. Senior Chief Jones honored me by rendering the first salute I received as a newly commissioned Ensign. Then, after thanking him for his counsel, leadership, and patience, I was sprung from OCS. I got some leave en route my next duty station in Norfolk, VA, where I had several months of school. Mom and Fulldemerde planned a little journey to drive me there. First off, we spent a few nights in the Boston area with a childhood friend of FdM. From there, we went to New York City. The highlight for FdM was that he had tickets for the Yankees’ Opening Day. The highlight for Mom was that she had tickets to see 42nd Street on Broadway. The highlight for me was shopping, civilian clothes, and museums. We stayed in an apartment somewhere in Manhattan. Fulldemerde went to school there and one of his fraternity brothers, Bryce, was an investment banker. Bryce’s company maintained a fully-furnished apartment in the City for clients or for shenanigans or whatever. It was a decent place, in a good location, with a well-stocked bar. Huzzah!
The weather took a turn for the worse, and by “worse,” I mean we experienced a blizzard. Ten inches of snow does not bode well for a baseball season opener. I took it in stride, bundled up, and went to several museums. I don’t know what the parental units did. I think FdM fumed and griped and wailed about not seeing his beloved Yankees. Mom and I would have said “meh” if we’d known the term then. FdM pouted and stamped his cloven hooves and refused to attend the musical on Broadway that night. Mom was overjoyed – she could take me. I didn’t like musicals, but I loved spending time with Mom, so I agreed. The three of us had dinner with another one of Fulldemerde’s boozy frat brothers, Chuckie, before the show; then they bundled Mom and me into a taxi to go to the theater. The two frat boys planned to return to the apartment and put a dent in the booze, reminiscing of their miscreant days at Columbia.
The show was okay for a musical. Mom enjoyed it immensely. During intermission, when we each savored a glass of wine, we decided we should prolong our girls’ night. We knew the boys would be in their cups in the apartment and we frankly didn’t want to rush back there. What to do? We were both simultaneously gobsmacked with the same brilliant idea – we needed to repair to Sardi’s for après-theater drinks and snacks. Sardi’s was boisterous and crowded, but we managed to nab a table in the bar area, after ogling many of the caricatures that adorned the walls. We ordered martinis, because we thought that was de rigueur, and a couple of appetizers. The blizzard had stopped, but we’d gotten chilled trudging through the snow between the theater and the restaurant. The temperatures didn’t dissuade us, however! We were giggling and hooting and hollering when another round of drinks magically appeared at our table. Yes, Virginia, there are men who send drinks to women! That amused us greatly, resulting in peals of laughter.
The two men, emboldened by our mirth, approached our table. If only we’d invented the Zeldas! The Zelda name was a foreign concept to Mom, but the Zelda personality was completely familiar. Recall, too, that my nom de bar in college was Catherine. I quickly introduced myself thusly, and in turn introduced Mom as Alice. She went into full Queen of Hyperbole mode and was thoroughly entertaining. The dudes were enthralled. I sat back, nursed my martini, and enjoyed the show. Her wit and story-telling resulted in another round of drinks. What fun! What a great country! Free drinks for the girls! Huzzah!
Eventually, we dismissed the gents, probably had one more adult beverage for the road, and considered our next move. We’d completely lost track of the time; it was after midnight, well after midnight. Our next move, therefore, had to be getting back to our apartment. I was just about to ask the Maître D to hail us a cab, when Mom asked me to check the address of our destination. Address? I didn’t have no stinking address!
The conversation went thusly, punctuated with giggles, hiccups, and outright laughter:
Mom, AKA Alice: “What’s the address of the dump we’re staying in?”
Mari, AKA Catherine: “It’s not The Plaza or The Pierre, but the apartment isn’t necessarily a dump, Bette Davis. And it’s centrally located for our activities.”
Alice: “Centrally located doesn’t mean diddly if you don’t know where it is.” [Fresh peals of laughter, accompanied by gulping hiccups and tears].
Catherine: “I guess that make it hard to get a cab. We could just have him drive around until something looks familiar!” [Mom found that to be a highly amusing concept].
Alice: “It’ll soon be last call; I don’t want to be thrown out on my arse into the snow. Besides, could you identify the apartment, in the dark, with snow all over?” [The apartment was on a narrow street, with a totally nondescript entrance that was accessed by either a key or buzzing up to convince some unsuspecting soul to open the door. I guess it was a dump – no doorman!].
Catherine: “Maybe we could find a hotel nearby.”
Alice: “Not a particularly helpful solution, but it may work. I wonder if the bartender would make us martinis to go?!”[We had to stop talking for a moment; our hilarity was overwhelming. Frankly, I’m surprised that Sardi’s didn’t just toss us out on our arses for good measure].
Alice: “You’ve been wandering around Manhattan for two days, yet you always find your way back to our pied-à-terre. Why is it that you have been struck by ignorance now?!”
Catherine: “I didn’t bring the address. You’re the adult – why didn’t you?”
Alice: “You’re the naval officer. I put my fate into your hands.” [Touché].
Catherine: “Okay, give me some change. I’ll go over to the payphone and call Fulldemerde and Chuckie. They can tell me the address.” [Clearly WELL before the advent of cell phones].
Alice: “Great idea. What’s the phone number?”[Rather than cause us to worry, this revelation that neither of us had the address or phone number resulted in more guffaws].
We had to take a short break to boost our confidence with another drink while pondering our options. The options that were quickly dwindling. Suddenly, that hotel room idea seemed pretty good! We hadn’t defined what we’d do in the morning, still having no earthly clue where we were staying. I suppose we could have turned ourselves into the nearest police station after a day or so – surely, Fulldemerde would have had a cow and alerted the authorities at some point.
I had an AHA moment! Fulldemerde was famous for making itineraries for any trip he undertook. I often thought he derived more pleasure from itineraries and AAA Triptiks than from the actual journey.
Catherine: “Hey, Mom! Didn’t your weasel of a husband leave an itinerary with Mimi?” [Mimi was my maternal grandmother].
Alice: “Why, yes, he did.”
Catherine: “Problem solved. Hand over your change so I can call her.”
Alice: “Make it a collect call; she’d like that!” [Since it was probably 2AM in NYC, it was 11PM in California – getting awakened by a call, then having to accept the charges, might not please my grandmother. Mom and I both thought it was a capital idea!]
I wandered back to the pay phone and placed the call. I explained our plight to Mimi, who burst into laughter. Mom was a chip off the old block, that’s for sure. Mimi was completely entertained by the fact that her less-than-sober daughter and granddaughter were stranded at Sardi’s with no idea how to get back to their accommodations. Mimi told me to hold my horses while she looked for the itinerary with the address and phone number on it. She returned to the phone momentarily, saying that Fulldemerde only left a phone number, so she’d give that to me. I realized that I had nothing to write with or upon, alas. The hits just kept on coming!
My brilliant solution was to have Mimi call Fulldemerde and have him either get into a taxi to come collect us or send a taxi to Sardi’s and have the driver come inside and ask for Alice. Mimi agreed to my hare-brained scheme. I told her we loved her and that we’d see her soon, unless Fulldemerde killed us first! I teetered back to our table, explained the plan to Mom, paid the bill, and went to wait by the front door. Soon, a taxi driver came in asking for Alice. We interrogated him on who sent him, where he was taking us, and how far was it anyway before we poured ourselves into the cab. Clearly, Fulldemerde was far too steamed to want to fetch his womenfolk personally. Mom and I should have just found a damn hotel room.
Ironically, the apartment was not that far away. I could have easily walked it, if I’d known where it was, the ground wasn’t covered in snow, and if I’d been sober. None of those conditions existed so the cab ride was the best option.
Mom and I didn’t have a key to the building, so we playfully punched the buzzer repeatedly. Just to make sure that Fulldemerde was awake, you see. Surprisingly, after all our antics, he did let us into the building and then into the apartment. We were still giggling. Fulldemerde was not amused. He sent us to bed after scolding us loudly. We promised to behave better in the future. Naturally, it was a promise that neither of us could keep!
2 February 2018