Sunday, September 28, 2008

"Messing about in Sailboats"

I've been following Messing About in Sailboats and loved this tale of a lost dinghy. It involves all the elements of a great sea story: the Caribbean, rum, piracy, lovely naked wenches, rum, a barracuda, and a giblet bag. Go read it here: Too drunk to find my dinghy. I'll wait for you to return.

So, pretty funny, eh? Reminded me of a (mis)adventure of my own from my Navy days. We were out to sea for a month or so, in transit from the Philippines to Thailand, with some at sea international maneuvers thrown in with the Australian Navy. At the end of our trek, we anchored off Pattaya Beach for five days liberty.

Being in the engineroom and anchored too far away for an extension cord to reach the shore power outlet meant we had to keep the engineering plant steaming, so my liberty was cut by a fourth. It would have been half that, but the other underway engineroom supervisor and I worked a couple of the upper-level watchmen extra hard the last two weeks before we arrived to get them qualified to stand an auxiliary steaming watch, giving us four watch sections to cover the time we were anchored.

I steamed the plant for the first day and night and then hit the beach for the last three nights. It felt good to kick around on solid ground with the freedom to walk anywhere I felt like going, after a month-long stretch at sea. I explored the little beach side town, did some shopping, picking up gifts for my wife and new baby back home, and then found a hotel swimming pool to relax alongside.

As I sat down I overheard the two guys next to me talking in Aussie accents about their own engineroom duties. When I introduced myself, and they knew me for a fellow hole snipe, they offered me a 'gin and tonic' which I happily accepted. I tipped it up and took a sip of straight gin. I coughed a little and said, "That's a stiff gin and tonic" to which my new found mates replied, "Yeah, we ran out of tonic about an hour ago, but still have plenty of gin." To me this incident is an illustration of the split between Englishmen and Aussies. Although they will stand on form, and continue to call it a G&T, damn if they are going to stop drinking for lack of a mixer.

As the sun began to fade away and the gin ran out, I said goodbye to my (at this point highly inebriated) friends and headed downtown to try and catch up with some of my shipmates. Pattaya faces west on the Gulf of Thailand and has a long beach that's wider on low tide. Toward the south end the beach ends and a seawall begins. Above the seawall is a long row of buildings that house all sorts of money-making propositions. The first of which was a kickboxing arena (found a recent picture [to the left]; it looks like the kickboxing either expanded to include a beer garden, or got replaced by a beer garden). Most of the businesses along Pattaya Road are open air, so as you walk along you can see the current kickboxing match-up, the latest t-shirt styles, and who's drinking beer in the handful of bars along the way.

I found my engineroom crew in a bar about 200 yards down from the beach's end and stopped in for a beer with the boys. Lucky that I had the gin in my system because these guys were well down the road of stupidity and it would have taken a lot of beer for me to catch up. Did I say lucky?

As time went on I caught up on the beers, while drinking and dancing with the local girls in a big group. As the bar got more crowded, a couple of us got up on the actual bar, toward the back of the building. I turned toward the Gulf and could see the Wabash anchored a half-mile out to the West. By this time I was pretty soaked in sweat from the dancing and took my shirt off as I turned back toward the crowd.

By a coincidence of timing, two important things happened that led to the events I will describe forthwith. First, the guy next to me had drawn everyone's attention as he was encouraged to chug a bottle of Singha and, second, the song Tarzan Boy (one-hit wonder Baltimora: who it turns out was a gay Irish dancer, named Jimmy McShane lip-syncing and fronting an Italian pop-song making songwriter/producer; sort of Milli Vanilli meets Lou Perlman, with some Fabio and Liberace thrown in) kicked off with its trademark jungly disco beat. Just as these two worlds collided and this tragically happy coincidence occurred, my shirt came over my head and I turned around, swaying to the lyrics "Jungle life, I'm far away from nowhere, On my own, like Tarzan Boy" and the little Thai girls, who'd been cheering my shipmates beer-chugging, began hooting and whistling and gesturing to me, as though we couldn't have choreographed the whole thing better if we'd thought to.

I occasionally hit my marks and nail the timing, only because I've seen it all done before and I'm a great mimic. Having arrived at this moment so serendipitously, I took my cue and I tossed my shirt to the ladies, the perfect picture of Tom Jones. With loud approval they signaled that they wanted more. My brain having been reduced to lizard-size by this time, I reacted as requested and, to the pounding rhythm accompanying the Tarzan yell "oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh, oh" I kicked off my Sperry topsider, spun in a circle, and shoe number two followed, sailing out into the sea of inequity.

Our little group's focused cheers drew in more of the crowd, until the whole bar was bouncing and singing along (at least they had the oh-oh parts down; not sure anybody knew any other words; I had to look it up myself to ensure I hadn't misinterpreted, even though I've been singing along to it for 20+ years) with the manufactured electronica while pointing at me. Who am I to deprive the people of their entertainment? I unzipped my hiking shorts to "Night to night, Gimme the other, gimme the other, Night to night," slid them down and flipped them out to the crowd.

So, I guess this is the moment of truth, right? You're wondering to yourself: boxers? briefs? commando? Frankly, I don't recall, but I know there was at least one more stanza in the song and I had one final article of clothing. The Navy issued us Fruit of the Loom briefs, but I'm pretty sure I ditched those things right after boot camp. I think I must have been wearing boxers and at this point, the crowd wanted them.

And so but then to the oddly-accented encouragement of some Italian pop-mercenary, singing the strangely apropos words "It's all right, You won't miss home, Take a chance, Leave everything behind you, Come and join me, Won't be sorry, It's easy to survive," I slowly bent and worked my boxers down to my ankles. Stepping out of the left leg hole, I stood and flipped my right foot out over the crowd, tossing my shorts (and probably swinging a couple of other things) out to the masses, in the way that only a 23 y/o with no concept of consequences could do.

I took a chance. I left everything behind me (maybe in front, but I was in tune with the spirit of Jimmy's lip-synced request). And, to my surprise as I write this 22 years later, I wasn't sorry. I was, for a brief moment, happily liberated right up until the song came to an end a moment or two after my unveiling. What to do?

They always say, "Leave'em wanting more" which, of course, takes on whole different levels of meaning when a man is standing naked in the room, so, once more on cue, and again without much rational thought, I turned toward the Gulf and did a swan dive out the window, into the ocean. I had about ten feet before I hit and tucked to round off underwater.

When I came up I was facing out to sea with cheers coming from above and behind me. I turned, treading water and saw faces leaning out the bar and waving. Underneath the faces were the poles and piers holding the building up. I looked right and left and didn't see anywhere that looked like an access point back up to the bar or the street, so I started swimming back toward the main beach.

I stroked along for two hundred yards, mostly in the shadow of buildings, which were all similarly propped up and offering no apparent access to the street until I reached the beach just past the kickboxing palace. As I crawled out of the water, it dawned on me that I now had to return the same distance that I just swam, on foot, naked, down a crowded street.

With my fishing tackle in hand, I began the walk. Surprisingly, only about a 1/4th of the folks on my side of the street, shuffling down a crowded sidewalk, seemed to notice that they had just passed a naked man. One guy who did notice was sitting just inside and open air bar, facing the sidewalk. As I passed by a woman carrying a bottle of Singha on a small serving tray, placed the beer in front of him. He put his hand on her arm and said, "Hold on, baby, get me another, would'ya?" Then he handed his beer out to me and said, "This one's for you, sailor."

As I came back to the bar in which I'd last been seen clothed, a loud cheer went up. I saluted with my beer and my clothes were tossed back my way. One of my shipmates said that they had considered throwing them out to me in the water, but I'd swam away before they could gather them up.

Obviously there's no moral to this story, and, without passing judgment, there would seem to be very little morals involved either. I still wonder at the chance that I could have hit a submerged post, or a shallow bottom and broken my neck. But I didn't and I don't dance naked anymore, which is by no means a loss to anyone as I'm on the wrong side of forty these days and not quite the dancer I was at twenty three.


Robbin said...

I was led here after reading " Too drunk to find my dingy". I'm glad I did because not only did your story almost hospitaiize me from laughter but it introduced me to your blog. Is it alright if I share your writing on my Blog? I'm new at blog stuff but learning everyday a little more on how to shape my site. Mahalo for the story.

Greg and Kris said...

Sure, share away. Mahalo for asking.



Overboard said...

He he he. Dinghy stories! You gotta love them. For me it was Halloween 2007. Will have to tell you that one live one day.
My tender is called Vader. It's a Porta-bote. Love it.

Greg and Kris said...

What? No comment on the vanishing WV? I did it at your behest!