It was moving day. Now that I had become permanent enlisted staff for the base, I would live in housing that offered a little more privacy. I wouldn't miss living with 50 horny guys in the same room and sharing the 'three S's' - showering, shitting and sleeping. As I stood outside the student barracks, personal possessions at my feet, I discovered that I didn't know how to find my new home. Building 3-D. Being confined to the training 'campus' as a student, I hadn't had time to be a part of the real world on the large base.
I noticed the Officer of the Day, driving up in the OOD Navy pickup. I was a little concerned when the pickup stopped next to me, as I stood on the curbside with all my personal belongings, looking a little forlorn. The LTJG - Lieutenant, Junior Grade - was spotlessly dressed in summer whites and wore shoulder boards with 1 gold stripes. He rolled down the window and asked if there was something he could do to help.
After my customary salute to the officer, I explained that I had been assigned to the Naval Air Station and was trying to locate my new permanent barracks. "Sir, I haven't the foggiest idea where 3-D is," I stated.
"Well, this is your lucky day, son," came back the reply from the officer. "Throw your gear in the back and jump in. I'll take you there."
Whew! What a godsend. I put everything into the rear of the pickup and got into the cab. I smiled at the LTJG and noticed that his nametag stated 'DiMarco'. "Thanks for the help, Mr. DiMarco. I want to get squared away at my new barracks as soon as possible. I'm a little embarrassed that I don't know where it is. Oh, I'm Airman Apprentice David Swenson."
"Well, Swenson, I would have been driving by your barracks anyway. And, since you are now assigned to the Naval Air Station, you're family. We look out for each other," LTJG DiMarco said with a wink of an eye. "Where are you assigned to work?"
As cheerfully as I could muster, but without much conviction, I wistfully replied, "Special Services...as a lifeguard at the Officer's Club pool. So much for seeing the world." Looking at the lean officer, probably somewhere in his mid-20's, I was taken aback by his classic dark, handsome features contrasting against his crisp, white uniform. Christ, is there anything sexier than a hot looking Naval officer in his 'whites?' My thoughts drifted to Kevin Costner and Richard Gere in their earlier Naval movie roles.
I couldn't tell much more about him because he had been sitting in the cab since we met. But it appeared that his summer white uniform was expertly tailored to fit his physique. Muscles were faintly outlined beneath his pants, and there didn't appear to be any extra fat in his mid-section. 'This man has some serious guns,' I thought as I checked out his biceps. Thankfully, my sunglasses hid my roaming, inspecting eyes.
"Special Services is not the end of the world. Think of it as summer camp, Navy-style," Mr. DiMarco replied with a smile and a slight twitch of the eye.
"No, Sir. I just had my heart set on my first cruise on a ship as part of the crew." 'Yikes, was that another wink?'
"Swenson, or David, if that's okay, I advise you to make the best of your situation."
"Sir, everyone calls me Dave."
Then, Dave it is...except in morning muster. Your time here will fly by. And now that you are out of school, you'll have time to discover the delights of the Memphis area," he said, as he turned the corner and stopped in front of my new home, barracks 3-D. "By the way, we'll get to know each other very well. When I don't pull OOD duty, I'm officially the Special Services Officer for the base. I recognized you as soon as you said your name. I've already studied your file." He turned on that killer smile and extended his hand. "Welcome aboard, Dave."
My face reddened to a sunrise glow. "Sir, I certainly meant no disrespect. I'm sure that I'll enjoy my tour of duty here." I looked nervously into his eyes. 'Jeez, it only took me five minutes to insult my new boss,' I thought as I got out. I stepped to the back of the truck, reached into the bed and grabbed my gear. 'So I'm going to be working for this commissioned hunk of an officer. Not bad.' I went back to the open window of the passenger door and said, "Thanks for the lift, Sir."
"Not at all. Be sure and pick up a map of the base and a bus schedule so you can find your way around. Over the weekend, I suggest you take the time to get your bearings and the layout of the base. If you want to, I can arrange for you to shadow the lifeguard you are replacing this Sunday. Is that convenient?"
"Sir, I would appreciate it very much cuz I want to get off on the right foot, Monday. What shall I wear?"
"You look like you wear medium size swim trunks?" I'll have Jim Weiss, the man you are replacing, bring two sets of regulation lifeguard trunks for you Sunday. Meet him at 0800 so that you can qualify to be a NAS lifeguard before the pool opens at 1000. I know you passed the swimming training at Great Lakes so the qualification is merely a formality for our records. You and Jim will repeat the drills and review potential emergencies you might encounter at the pool. Weiss will still be around. He's being transferred to the enlisted gym and pool. If you have any problems later, on the routine, you can call him at his new job."
I popped a smart salute that he returned in a relaxed but correct fashion and Mr. DiMarco drove off. I gathered my belongings and headed to my next Navy home.
'What was with all those winks?' I wondered, 'and does an officer wink at an enlisted man? This is something they didn't cover in boot camp.'
I walked up the steps of the barracks and as I entered 3-D, I noticed that the barracks was built in a 'T' with three wings. At the window segregating the entrance from the rest of the facility sat a dungaree-clad sailor with an E-4 chevron. He appeared to be the security watch detail for the building, but was engrossed in reading Ludlum's latest Jason Bourne thriller. 'That's promising. At least there's an intellectual level here beyond comic books,' I mused.
"Pardon me, my name is Swenson, David Karl. I've just been assigned to this barracks and would like to find my bunk," I voiced to the blank stare of the guy who vaguely looked up from his book. Aside from a clean-cut, squared-away image, his general features would blend in with any crowd. 'His fair skin, big brown eyes, dark hair and light beard suggested some sort of a Spanish heritage, but probably not Mexican,' I thought as I stood at the window.
The Petty Officer, obviously not excited about standing watch on this late Friday afternoon, casually scanned his roster and very slowly cross-referenced the manifest. At the bottom of the last page, he found my name. When he discovered I was going to be a part of his life as a barracks-mate, he slowly lifted himself off the chair at the desk and grinned.
"Well, Swenson, I guess I should officially welcome you aboard. This is your home, as well as mine. I'm Phil Gonzalez."
Phil extended his hand as I looked into tired eyes that didn't quite match his 20-something year-old body. We were about the same height. But Phil was what you would politely call trim and slim. Ah, hell, he was downright skinny. I shook his hand politely. "Your room is number 11, down the left hall. Rodgers mustered out yesterday. The mattress hasn't been used that much other than for his jerk off sessions." He added with a smirk and a shrug. "You'll find the head and showers at the end of the hall. Later, I'll show you the laundry room and the rec lounge. There should be clean sheets in the room."
"Thanks, Phil," I decided to use first names to complete the defrosting process between us. "Who's my roommate, by the way?" 'Jerk off sessions? Hmmm,' I thought as visions of this Rodgers guy, pulling his pud, sprung into my head. 'TMI...too much information.'
Laughing, Phil said, "Brent Williams. You'll meet him later this evening. Much later, if he returns to the base tonight. Actually, he's thought of as our stealth sailor. You hardly ever see him during the week. And almost never on weekends." He volunteered no further information.
"Sounds like I'll have the place to myself most of the time. Does Brent have some sort of part-time job?"
"Maybe. He's a nice guy but pretty buttoned up," Phil replied while his eyes intently studied my face.
He suggested that we have a beer after he got off watch and I'd had a chance to move in. Not having a better offer and really curious about this new guy, I accepted - without adding that I wasn't legally old enough to drink beer. 'I'll just have a Coke and wing it if the locals are strict on checking I.D.s.' I had the feeling that quiet Phil knew what was going on around here and could give me the scuttlebutt. He issued me a key to my new digs and we agreed to meet back in the foyer at 1800 hours.
I found room #11 and unlocked the door. Once inside, the first thing I did was to drop by duffel bag and secure my room key on the chain around my neck with my dog tags. That way, I'd never get locked out, even if the security watch did have a passkey.
There were two single bunks in an "L" shape layout, divided by a large, corner bedside table. The rest of the space consisted of two chests of drawers and built-in storage drawers under the bunks for our gear. A washbasin with a mirrored medicine cabinet above was flanked by two towel racks. 'At least I don't have to brush my teeth in the community head,' I realized. A desk with drawers on either side of the leg space, a swivel chair, and one side chair completed the furnishings. On the desk sat a Mac PC. 'Whoa, that's pretty neat,' I thought as I admired the computer, 'not even my geek roommate at college had one of these puppies.' I was even more impressed when I saw a phone line connected into the computer tower. "Maybe I can use this once in a while to keep in touch with Russ," I said out loud. We both had AOL accounts.
The lighting, other than the dome light mounted on the ceiling, consisted of a desk lamp and two reading lights for the beds. The roller shades in the window and pale green, Navy-issue paint topped off the standard USN institutional look. The linoleum floor was aged but well buffed.
The made bed had enough tension on the taut blanket to bounce quarters off the cover. 'Brent must be a squared away guy.' My bed was stripped; folded blankets, pillow and bedding were neatly piled on the end of the mattress. Looking at the naked bed, I was relieved to find it free of any telltale pecker tracks left by a previous occupant. The closet and drawers were equally divided for two roommates 'More than enough space for me,' I thought while stowing away my loose personal effects and toiletries.
'My roommate, Brent, is one neat dude,' I concluded. His side of the closet had all of his trousers, suits, jeans, shirts and jackets lined up and organized by color. He had a variety of shoes ranging from Cole Hahn to Ferragamo to New Balance to Dan Post ostrich skin boots.
OK, I did a bit of snooping in the closet when I hung up my shirts and pants. Judging from his wardrobe, it appeared that Brent was about my size. And judging from the labels I saw, he was a devotee of Ralph Lauren, D & G, and Armani. Curious. Not a sailor's usual civvies wardrobe. 'What's promising is the 32" waist size of his pants and the large shirts. Bingo. My size! Maybe I could get his hand-me-downs?' I thought. 'He doesn't shop at the thrift shops. That's for sure.'
On his side of the desk, next to the computer, I found a picture of a handsome guy I assumed to be Brent standing next to a striking female. She looked to be in her early 20's. Must be his girlfriend. Under the desk and on the deck was a set of 25# hand weights. 'Maybe Brent would like to work out with me,' I wondered as I took extra effort to make up my bed as well as its twin, 'Two can play this game.'
After tightening the blanket one more time, I got out of my uniform and freshened up at the sink. I dressed in a pair of jeans, polo shirt and Doc Martens, and joined Phil back at the front desk. It was approaching 1600.
"Did you get yourself squared away?" Phil queried as he checked me out. Phil had changed into similar civvies gear. I did notice that he was a 501 button-fly man that matched well with his brown Western boots.
"Yep. Everything seems to be ship shape." I was getting hungry so I asked, "What say we go to a local cafe outside the gate for dinner and a beer? Someplace that won't look too hard at my fake ID."
"No problemo. I've got wheels. We'll go to the Spotlight Cafe in Millington. It's nothing fancy but serves home-style Southern food and great burgers. Because it's primarily a restaurant with a good reputation, the Shore Patrol stays away. You won't have any problem with your ID. How old are you, Dave?" Phil asked.
"I'll be 21 in July. The 4th actually. It's a helluva party I get every year," I threw out, while thinking of happier times celebrating the 4th and my birthday with Mom and Dad.
Phil picked up on the faraway look that came over my face. "If you don't mind me asking, you seem to be feeling pretty sad all of a sudden. Is everything OK?" Phil queried.
I snapped away from my distant memories and said, "A year ago, my folks were killed in an auto accident caused by a fucking drunk. I'm pretty much on my own now. That is one reason I joined the Navy; to kind of retreat for a while 'til I get my shit together." I focused on Phil's concerned face and added with a smile, "Hey guy, I'm fine. Let's hit the road. I'm hungry!" I playfully tapped Phil's arm with my fist.
Phil returned my smile and led the way out of the barracks to the enlisted men's parking lot across the street, where we jumped into his very sensible five-year-old Honda Civic with Georgia plates. In no time we were off the base and at The Spotlight. The lot was jammed.
As we entered, a friendly older woman greeted us. We lucked out with a small table that had just been cleared. I looked around and surveyed the crowd after we were seated. This was definitely a base hangout. At the large, round table of six in the corner was a family consisting of a guy in his mid-thirties, a woman who was probably his wife, and four curtain climbers ranging from 2 years to 7. From his haircut and bearing, it was obvious he was a jarhead marine - although he was in civilian clothes, I could tell that this was one fighting machine. I was glad to be on his side.
A young waitress came over to take our drink orders. Phil immediately ordered two Corona Lights. Without hesitation, the waitress smiled and said she would be right back with the beers. In a sugary drawl, she said, "Guys, y'all really are missin' out if y'all don't order momma's meatloaf and the mashed sweet 'taters."
"We'll think it over, Grace," Phil remarked as he noticed her nametag. "My buddy and I will be ready to order food when you return." She nodded and smiled before she turned away. "Although I'm 23, now, and it's not really an issue, part of the game when ordering a drink is to act confidently."
When Grace returned with the beers, we both ordered cheeseburgers with curly cries, and their homemade slaw. That out of the way, I gave him a brief rundown of my earlier background, growing up in St. Paul, and my first year of college. As I explained my short-term assignment to Special Services and the lifeguard job, Phil blew a low whistle, and said, "Wow, Dave. You've got it made, dude. It's like you'll be working at a country club for the summer. A lot of the senior officers have some pretty hot daughters who will be home from college. With your looks, it will be like the fox guarding the henhouse." With a shit-eating grin, he patted my shoulder.
"Right. Like I'm going to whisk them over to my room at the barracks," I replied with a laugh, and with less amusement to myself. 'Like I have any desire to.'
The food came and we were silent for a few minutes while we prepped the burgers with ketchup, tomato and lettuce. They were gigantic and juicy. Phil had steered me right. After months of mess hall food, this was a real treat.
As our conversation picked up, Phil volunteered that he was originally from Cleveland but moved to Atlanta when we was 12, because his Dad was transferred to Coca Cola world headquarters. Mr. Gonzalez started as a Coke route driver in Cleveland while he was attending college and had gone through the ranks from supervisor to area manager, before moving to Atlanta to become a regional sales manager. In Atlanta, as Phil was growing up, his dad got a Masters Degree from Emory University's Business School, and pushed himself to advance his career. Two years ago, he had been promoted to vice president of distribution.
"My dad was really disappointed in my rotten grades for my first two years of college at Georgia Tech. He forced me to study engineering, which I hated, and I wanted to transfer to the University of Georgia. But, I didn't know what I wanted to do. Then, 'pow' - we had a serious impasse. Dad told me that he wouldn't finance my education until I got myself pulled together and figured where I was going in life. He suggested I join the military and take the four years to get everything sorted out. So here I am with one more year to go on my enlistment."
We continued to devour the food and Phil ordered two more beers. The cafe produced its own spicy ketchup that really made the curly fries delicious. I had never experienced that taste. "What is your job on the base, Phil?"
"Nothing glamorous. I'm in the transportation pool as the dispatcher for vehicle and truck requests. I keep track of 150 different rolling stock," he shrugged. "I don't volunteer for anything. Just keep my nose clean, work my shift, and stand that shitty rotating watch. I've been taking night classes at the University of Memphis. And ya know, I've aced all the English lit classes I've taken so far. By the time I leave the Navy next year, I'll have completed enough credits to almost finish my junior year."
"That's something I need to do down the road."
He looked earnestly in my eyes and continued, "Dad and I have come to an understanding. He is helping me pay for the night classes and has promised to fund my further education, including graduate school after I get out of the Navy. My goal is to become a college professor."
"Phil, I'm impressed with your goals. But, all work and books can make Phil a dull boy."
"Don't worry about that, Dave. A by-product of my night classes is that I met a terrific girl who I've become quite close to. I think there will be wedding bells next year when I'm out of here," he beamed. "You're obviously going to meet her soon. And if Beth has anything to say about it, I'm sure that she'll seek out a little female companionship for you."
I smiled, thinking 'Gads, what a life for a gay man closeted in the Navy. If Phil is the real deal, I should consider coming out to him...once we know each other better.' "Sure, that would be great. I look forward to it. Let me get squared away with my new job first. Maybe we can get together a couple of weekends from now?"
We finished dinner, paid Grace, leaving a generous tip and returned to the base around 2130. Phil lived in the right wing, so we split and promised to touch base with each other on Sunday. He turned out to be a nice guy who was going to study tonight so he could be with Beth tomorrow. His study habits probably explained that tired expression around his eyes. I was ready to hit the sack.
When I entered the room, it was obvious that Brent had been there. There was a damp bath towel and washcloth on his towel rod. And I noticed that the computer was on with a screen saver of blue squiggly shapes showing. I "accidentally" hit the mouse and Brent's AOL email screen came on. Being curious, I read the last message:
I know you wanted to chill tonight, but I've got a last minute job for you. You and your gorgeous ass need to be at the Peabody Hotel at 8:00 p.m. Your client is in Suite 2304. You are expected to be a prepped-up college frat man - pull out your best Polo and khakis. It's all vanilla, but you're booked for the entire evening. I'll transfer $1,000 to your account tomorrow.