Monday, October 7, 2013

Story Time: Fort Lauderdale

We were underway. I was in the barber shop doing my thing. Me and the guys were talking up a storm. Most of it questions at me about how I feel about my first cruise. Finally getting my feet wet. But in between the jibber jabber, my thoughts went to my newly formed family. Lori, Bernie, Bonnie and the twins. I was just glad I was able to say goodbye to them a few days prior. I had dinner with them and got to tuck them into bed and read them a bedtime story. They fell asleep midway through but I finished reading the story anyway. Afterwards, I would give them a little kiss on their forehead. I've really become quite fond of Bonnie and the twins.

You see, the man inside of me was trying so hard to get out. I can see that now. But for some unseen reason, another part of me was fighting it to the death. But thankfully, the guys in the shop kept me from getting too emotional.

The crew consisted of me, and "Shorty". We were the only two white guys working the shop. The other three were, "Motown" Brown, "Teddy Bear" Robinson, and "Stew Baby". In port, we worked from 8 AM to 4 PM. Now, out at sea, we worked 8AM to 8PM.

"Shorty" was in his early 30's, and sported a well groomed goatee. And yes, he was short. "Motown" was about mid 20's. He was from Detroit, Michigan. A very friendly young man, and full of interesting stories. He had a rough upbringing but you would never be able to tell because he was always smiling. I didn't get to know "Teddy bear" and "Stew baby" as well as I would have liked. They didn't really like cutting hair and after a couple of months of the cruise, they got transferred to other areas and were replaced. They were both mostly quiet though.

We did have some fun while they were there and everyone got along well with each other. Our supervisor, 2nd class petty officer Burke was also our division reenlistment officer. He was also the one to go to if you wanted to donate to charities. He also acted as our divisional religious counselor or something like that. I never heard that man swear one time. He was a very friendly and passive guy. He pretty much let us run things the way we wanted to just as long as he never got a complaint from anyone for any reason. he did get one complaint and I was quick to find the solution.

You see, most times the line for a haircut would be anywhere to one hour wait to three hours. A lot of people didn't like to wait that long for a five minute haircut. And the people from S-3 division had their own personal "hook ups" and by that I mean, there were other supply divisions. We would exchange favors between divisions sometimes and one of them was "line cutting" for a haircut in exchange for one of their services. Those who waited in th elines would see this and eventually, they complained. This led to me starting a "fake" appointment book. All the names in them were fake and the appointments ran for weeks. This way, if any of our "hook ups" dropped by unannounced for a quick haircut, and the line was long, we would look into the fake appointment book and say, "Oh, yeah, you had an appointment." And this seemed to satisfy the rest of the waiting line.

S-3 division was in charge of the barber shop, the ship PX, the candy stores, vending machines, and the tobacco shop. There were a lot of people who valued those services. Many who did not want to wait in lines or live with rations when supplies started to get low out at sea. Often times, other services and or money would be exchanged to make sure one would not run short of smokes, candy bars or even soda's and shit. I learned real quick how to make lots of extra cash. I had a storage place in the barber shop where I would stash extra goods and when supplies did start to run low, I would sale them for twice the price I bought them. Maybe more. Being out at sea, there was no ATM or banks I could go to and pull out my cash. I left plenty for Lori and Bernie before I left, and took a nice wad with me but now, it would be six months before I would see America again, except for our two scheduled stops at Fort Lauderdale.

Still, it soon became apparent who to go to if you wanted something that otherwise couldn't be found on the ship. Me. You came to see me. And when you did come to see me, you better come with a service I could use or some cash. And I know what you're thinking, who the fuck cares about a haircut? Right? I know, I thought that to at first, but it didn't take long to realize that when you have been at sea for a couple of months and you finally get to hit a port, a chance to get some liberty and get off the ship, you wanted to make sure you had a military regulation haircut because a lot of divisions on the ship had division officers who hold inspections a day before hitting port and if you didn't pass that inspection, you didn't get go have liberty. So trust me, I became quite popular. Besides that, everyone eventually came to the barber shop sooner or later. I soon got the reputation of not only being one of the best barbers, but I often would open the shop after hours to help someone who needed an emergency cut. That after hour service also came with a price. The other guys wouldn't do it. They often asked why I did it. "You don't need the money." They would say. My response? "How do you think I keep the money I have? By making more of it."

I also started cutting hair on the side. I had two different divisions on the ship where I would take my tools for the trade to their berthing area and give quickie cuts for 3 dollars a head. That earned me about an extra 150 dollars or more a month by itself. By mid cruise, I was making more on the side than my paycheck was worth. I also loaned money out. 20 dollars for 30 dollars to be paid back. Ten bucks a loan. I had about 10 to 15 people every payday paying me 10 bucks interest for the loan. Checks came twice a month. That works out to about 200 to 300 dollars a month I was making just from loans. I had a sweet operation going on. Occasionally I would take fire watch for people for 20 bucks a pop too. I had no cash flow problems while at sea.

But that was my point, we were out at sea, what else was there to do? Besides writing a lot of poetry which I always had time for. And along with all the stores we were in charge of, we also had storage holes which Hrisko had keys too. When he wasn't humping merchandise, he was in charge of one of the candy stores, as was another friend of mine, 3rd class petty officer Cannon. (Cannonball, as we called him) My nickname soon became "The Brain".

I also spent some off time hours hanging out with Hrisko in one of the holes to play guitars. It got a lot better once his younger brother, John arrived. Hrisko brought his guitars with him whenever deployed. That was his stress relief.

But here we were, heading for Fort Lauderdale as our first stop on our cruise. We left on Monday morning and we would be arriving there in a few days, or that Friday. I had no idea what to expect. And what ended up occurring was more than I could have guessed. Not even Hollywood could write the script of what I was about to experience. And it started the moment me and about six others jumped off the liberty boat and finally touched ground in Fort Lauderdale, Florida at about 6PM that Friday. Dressed in our civilian clothes, we were ready for the party to begin.

We started heading the five blocks towards the strip. About seven of us. We didn't walk two blocks when a group of college age girls were walking towards us on the other side of the street. They were already looking and sounding intoxicated. As our two groups started to pass each other, one of the girls broke ranks and started running towards me shouting, "Hey baby!". She leaped up and wrapped her arms around my neck and her legs around my waist. I placed my arms under her ass to better hold her. She was wearing a bikini with tennis shoes. Without any hesitation, she planted a wet one right smack on my lips. It was a thirty second make out session that when it ended, she leaped off and raced back to her group shouting, "Thank you, baby."

The guys were just standing there looking dumbfounded. So I was actually, but with a smile. Shorty walked up to me. "Know her?"

I shrugged my shoulders. "I do now." Then I extended my right hand to him. "Stinky finger."

"I don't want to smell it." He shriveled. Everyone started laughing as we continued with Shorty concluding, "Lucky bastard."

That little episode took us all off guard and was topic of conversation when we finally walked to the hotel we were going to be staying for the next few days. Torok and I split for one room with two beds located on the fifth floor. "Shorty" also crashed there but he crashed on the patio, on the lawn chair. He wasn't exactly rolling in the dough but since he was my friend, I let him crash for free. Now, Torok came from a wealthy family too in Michigan. His dad was a CEO of some company. Maybe that's why he and I got along so well. We had a lot in common.

Before we hit out to the bar, a place called "The Candy Store", I called home. I knew Lori was working but I left my hotel and room number for Tiff to give to her so maybe she could call me in the morning or afternoon on Saturday and Sunday. Once we were ready, we left the room and while in the hallway heading for the stairs, bypassing the elevator, three girls emerged from their room on the other end of the hall. One of them gave us a shout out. We returned the favor but disregarded it otherwise.

We made it to the bar and let me tell you, this place was freaking huge. Two different internal bars, one lower level and one second level. They also had a bar by a pool. The place was packed. Torok ventured off to talk to a table of girls while Shorty and I hung by the main bar in the second level. We put down a couple of drinks when a girl nestled up beside me. "Hey!" She greeted. "Didn't I see you at the hotel?"

I turned to look at her. "Oh yeah, in the hallway."

"Right." She concurred. "Nice hat there cowboy. I'm from Georgia. My name is Diana."

"Carroll." I introduced myself.

"Nice to meet you, Carroll. Buy me a drink?"

"Sure, why not? I used to live in Georgia for a year growing up." I then waved the bartender and got her fixed up.

"Thanks, Carroll. Can I wear your hat for a while?" She asked. After a quick thought, "Sure, Diana." So I took it off my head and placed on hers. She was all smiles. She then reached around my neck and pulled me into her and gave me a kiss. Breaking away, "You're alright Carroll." And off she went back to her table with her girl friends. I turned to Shorty and shrugged my shoulders at him because he was staring me down. Finally, he said his peace. "You are one lucky son of a bitch. That's two kisses already."

"It must be the hat." I said. Shorty shook his head. "I got to get one then."

About another hour passed when Diana showed up again at my side. "Hey Carroll, how about another drink for a Georgia peach?"

"Sure thing." I said, then thought to mention. "You look good in my hat."

"You would look in my bed." She fired back, knocking me off guard. I signaled for the bartender when Diana kept talking. "Hey, could you buy my friend one too?" Then she reached out and pulled another girl next to her. I studied them both. "Sure, why not? It's a party."

While the bartender was making the drinks, and the music blaring, Diana once again reached for me and handed me another kiss. When she was done, her friend did the same. By the time the drinks arrived, Diana made a request. "Come join us at our table. Buy us drinks for the rest of the night and Susan and I will be very grateful." Then she handed me a wink. So did her friend Susan. It sounded good to me. "Can my friend here join us too?" I asked her.

"Sure." She replied, leading the way. I tapped Shorty on the shoulder and off we went with them. We had a pretty good time. When I woke up, I found myself in Diana's room. I sat up, rubbing my head, and planted my feet on the ground, sitting there, trying to collect myself. I felt a hand on my back. "You leaving already?" It was Diana. I turned to her. "Yeah, I better get to my room and shower and everything."

Diana got up and wrapped her arms around me, nibbling on my ear. "Maybe I'll see you tonight?"

"Sure." I told her, standing up nude and searching for my clothes. Diana laid back down and started cuddling with Susan. Another girl was sleeping in the other bed. I got dressed and left, walking the hall to my room. I entered and about a few minutes later, "Shit!" I shouted.

Torok rolled over with a girl next to him in his bed. "What?" He sleepily wanted to know. I stood there in my slight aggravation. "I left my hat in her room." Then feeling a bit guilty. "Sorry to wake you dude."

Torok rolled around a little. "You didn't wake me. Your old lady called about an hour ago. I told her you were downstairs eating breakfast."

Yep, that's my friends, we look out for each other.

After a quick thirty minute conversation with Lori on the phone, and a shower, Shorty and I ventured down to the pool area and took a seat at a table. Along the way, he noted for me, "You forgot your hat."

It was 11 AM. We ordered ourselves each a banana daiquiri. The conversation was lite. "Thanks for letting me sleep in your bed." He mentioned to me from across the table.

"I wasn't using it." I mumbled.

We stared out at the pool and the sidewalk as people were walking up and down the strip. After an hour and a few more daiquiri's, he said. "You really shouldn't have done that."

I kept my eyes straight forward, taking a sip of my drink. "I know."

"What are you going to do about it?" He questioned.

I thought for a moment. "I don't know."

"Doesn't it bother you in the least?" He wanted to know.

I shrugged my shoulders. "A little."

We each took another sip of our drinks. "I'm a bit surprised that you did it." He said.

I was getting a little agitated. I turned to him. I knew what he was talking about. It was right there in front of my eyes too. I could see it for myself. "What do you want me to do about it?" I sounded off.

He shrugged his shoulders and took another drink. "Excuse me for caring."

"Fine." I finally caved in, and began to take off my boots and socks. "I'll do something about it." Once I had removed them, I stood up and walked to the edge of the pool. I slowly dove into it and swam to the middle where Diana was laying on an inflated chair raft in her bikini, her own cowgirl boots and, with my hat propped over her face while getting a tan. She must have sensed my presence next to her as I kept myself afloat and stared at her, my head poking out of the top of the water. She lifted the hat off her face slightly and turned to look at me. "Really?" She wondered. Then she removed the hat and placed it on my head.

I worked my way back to the edge of the pool and lifted myself out, walking back to the table and rejoining Shorty. I sat down in my chair. "There, I got my hat back. You happy now?"

He shrugged his shoulders again and took a drink. "That's all I was saying."

We sat there at the table by the pool until about 6PM, doing nothing but watching people come and go, and drinking one banana daiquiri after another. We ran up a tab of over two hundred dollars. A few buddies saw us here and there and joined us for a spell every now and then, but then they would dart off to go do something.

Once we decided to move, we went back up to our room to shower and change and head back down the street to The Candy Store for another wild night of partying. I spent a little time Sunday talking to Lori on the phone but by 7AM Monday morning, I was back on the ship and mustering in for another workday. I did go back to shore the next couple of days to do some shopping for gifts and stuff to send Lori and Bernie. Outside of that, nothing much else. We pulled out on Thursday evening. Next port? Naples, Italy. That was a couple months away.


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