Don't Ask, Don't Tell
by Jack Scribe
Tom and I arrived at Hamburger Mary's on West University at the same time - just before seven - and opted for a table inside because of a chill in the air. A very cute waiter, wearing a tight, uniform tee shirt and faded, body-hugging jeans approached us and we ordered two beers and a couple of Maryburgers. He winked as he wrote the order on a pad and brazenly pushed his well-formed crotch against the table edge. 'Probably angling for a better tip,' I sardonically reasoned, smiling at him, 'or tipping for a better angle?' I noticed that Tom had momentarily focused on this young man's bulge on the corner of the table.
"Jeez, nothing like dining at a gay restaurant," Tom said after the waiter left, "I almost reached over to grab his package and ask if his nuts were an appetizer."
"And I don't think the stud would of blinked an eye," I replied. "We're both married men so the hypothetical is moot."
"But it is a nice fantasy to file away when our guy's ships are out at sea."
"Horny little devil, aren't you?" I asked with a grin.
"Just window shopping. You're right...we're married to the core. Very happily, I might add, in all departments." Tom paused, leaned into the table and quietly said, "I was really worried after we spoke this morning, Mike. Did you find out anything?"
"From what I was able to learn, it sounds like the commanding officer on the Stennis is on some sort of witch hunt concerning some gay sailors or airmen on his ship. That's all I can figure out. Dave was completely baffled when I pointed out the car that had been following him."
"He didn't know of anything that might draw suspicion to him?"
"No. I mean, he's mentioned knowing a few guys on board that he's pretty sure are gay. Kind of a wink-wink, I know thing between them. But we're completely monogamous and I trust Dave." I stopped talking as the hunky waiter returned with two beers. 'Dave would have mentioned if he had messed around with a buddy on the ship, I thought as I picked up the bottle and sipped, 'and he's never mentioned anything.'
"What a shitty situation. Mark told me that he'd keep his eyes open on the Kennedy this week. Maybe we can compare notes when they both get back?"
"Good point. I don't want to get paranoid about this, but I feel a defense mode kicking in and I've still got a year to go in this man's Navy. Any ideas about what we should do if this goes any further?"
"If you don't mind, I'll call dad. If there's a violation of the 'don't ask' policy by the Navy, he'd really like to know," Tom said, as the waiter served the burgers and our sides of slaw.
"You'd get your dad involved?"
"For my close friends, absolutely. Dad has a law degree and is pretty tight with the administration in D.C."
"I'll pass on any info when Dave gets back, but I don't want to hit the panic button...yet." We backed away from any further discussion and ate our dinner. It was country western night at Hamburger Mary's, so we ordered two more beers and humorously attempted the two-step a couple of times before leaving around nine.
The maneuvers went off without a hitch. I was pretty busy in the tech command center that monitored all radar and sonar activity - my mainframe computer controlled the programmed 'enemy' sorties that the other two carriers and destroyer groups monitored for evasive action while the fighter squadrons scrambled into attack mode.
I thought it strange that I hadn't seen Carson Perry on this exercise. He was with the combat aircrew and he usually broke for lunch or dinner about the same time as I did. We had become casual acquaintances and I thought there was a good possibility that we'd develop a friendship. My gaydar would always go off when I was with Carson, although neither of us had ever said anything. It was just a gut reaction.
Sunday, after attending early church services in the forward hangar deck, I returned to my bunk for a little naptime before the mid-watch. In that the ship was due to berth back at North Island around 1600, the last operations watch would be a short, three-hour duty from noon to 1500. Before I had a chance to strip down to my skivvies, a runner told me to report to my department head immediately. 'Wonder what this shit's all about?' I thought.
I immediately went to Lt. Howard Bono's stateroom and knocked on the outer bulkhead. "Airman Swenson, reporting as ordered, Sir," I said, standing at attention.
"Swenson...come in, and close the hatch." Mr. Bono was a 'mustang' officer. He had come up through the enlisted ranks and was scheduled to retire next year. I guessed that he was close to 4o years old.
"Yes, Sir," I said, entering his small space and closing the hatch.
"Sit," he replied and pointed at the side chair.
I nodded and complied.
"I'll get right to the point. Do you know a Carson Perry?" he asked with a raised eyebrow and cocked head.
"Yes, Sir. We're not close, but I consider him a casual friend. What's wrong? Has something happened to Carson?" My eyes widened and I felt my gut tightening as I prepared for the worst.
"As a matter of fact, Perry has been relieved of his duties. Information was received that Perry is a homo...sexual, and the 'old man' is concerned that this is just the tip of an ugly iceberg. Do I make myself clear, Swenson?"
"Um, not exactly. What does this have to do with me?" I was becoming very puzzled, and concerned, by the direction of this conversation.
"You, along with several others, seem to hang out together. Looks pretty suspicious," he replied very sternly, "too all of us."
"Sir, because I know Carson Perry and have lunch or dinner with him in the mess hall makes me part of a homosexual group of sailors? This doesn't make sense." 'Okay, Dave,' I thought, with growing alarm, 'time to be very careful as to what you say.'
"We've been watching you. You're always at a house in the gay part of town and have gay friends. Looks very strange to us, Swenson."
"Mr. Bono, Sir, I really don't want to answer any more questions without legal advice."
Lt. Bono slammed his hand on the desk and I jerked back in reflex.
"You're not a fucking civilian, Swenson. I'm confining you to quarters until we get to the bottom of this. You disgust me and any shore leave is cancelled."
"Stand up and salute me. You're dismissed," Bono said, in a growl-like tone.
"Yes, Sir," I replied, with urgency, as I stood and braced myself with a smart salute. 'You fucking homophobic asshole,' I thought, as I did a 180 and left the office. My stomach was in overdrive, my heart was pumping at an accelerated rate and my mind was focusing on a road of no return.
Returning to my bunk, I noticed a few other guys I was friendly with talking about getting back to their wives and girlfriends. After a brief wave, I went to my berthing compartment and quickly found my stationery. I urgently dashed off a note to Mike and sealed it in an envelope addressed to the attention of "Ltjg. M. Cole, Officer's Club", marked "urgent". One of my buddies came over and started talking about the week ahead. The crew would be off three days before returning to the ship.
"Sam, I've got a problem that I need help with," I said very quietly.
"Dave, whazzup, my man?"
"I've drawn some shit detail that's going to keep me on the ship. The problem is that I'm scheduled for a part time job at the officer's club tomorrow and can't contact the club officer by phone. Would you do me a big favor and deliver this message to the reception desk at the club? It's really important. I don't want to screw up on this gig."
"Hell, yes. It's maybe five minutes out of my way."
"Whoever gets this envelope needs to understand that they should call Mr. Cole as soon as they receive this," I said, nodding my head with urgency.
"Wow, must be important."
"Yeah, the job means tuition money for school next year. It's kind of a safety net for when I get out."
"Dave, leave it to me. In the meantime, I hope the extra detail works out okay."
"Thanks, buddy," I replied, seeing him join the other guys as they prepared to go ashore. 'What deep doo-doo had I stepped in?' I wondered. Bono's attitude was creating deep resentment within me. That he apparently was the hatchet man for the C.O. made it all the more troubling.
I was watching the tail end of the Lakers-Bulls game as Michael Jordan and the Bulls were making the once-invincible Los Angeles Lakers look like a small town high school team. The phone rang, and I got up to answer it. 'Probably Dave calling to say he was running late,' I thought, 'cuz he should be home by now.'
"Mr. Cole, this is Melanie at the reception desk." Melanie was the youngest daughter of a retired Navy captain and worked weekends at the club.
"Hi, Melanie. Is there a problem?"
"No, Sir. A sailor delivered an envelope for you a few moments ago. It's from a D. Swenson. The writing on the envelope says that you should be called immediately."
"Okay, Melanie. You did the right thing. Put the envelope on my desk. I'll be over in a little while. It's just club business." 'Something not good is going down,' I thought.
"I'll do that, Sir."
"Thanks for handling it. See you in a few." 'Holy fuck,' I thought as I hung up the phone, 'whatever is happening, Dave needs me fast.' I dashed topside and threw on a pair of slacks and a long sleeve shirt.
Taking advantage of a quiet Sunday evening on San Diego's streets and freeways, I was at the club and in my parking space 30 minutes later. I imagined an earlier time, not too many years ago before the Coronado Bridge had opened. Waiting for a Coronado Ferry to forge across the waters would have been a bitch in an emergency like this.
I walked into the club and headed for the dining room. After saying 'hi' to the manager, I repeated the same course with the bartender. It was a slow Sunday night and I didn't want to appear that anything was troubling me. Fortunately, Melanie had already gone home for the evening.
I immediately spotted the envelope for me, addressed in Dave's handwriting. I closed the door and retrieved the letter from the sealed envelope.
Something is very wrong on the Stennis. At 1130 today, I was called to Lt. Howard Bono's office. He is my boss at the tech command center. He asked me if I knew Carson Perry. I said yes...that we were casual friends.
He said that Perry was being investigated for being part of a homosexual group of sailors. He then said that I had been observed visiting...in his words...'a house in a gay part of town' and had gay friends. Bono implied that Captain Morgan, the C.O., was behind this.
At that point, when I asked for legal advice, he told me I wasn't a 'fucking civilian' and dismissed me. I'm now confined to my bunk. I'm being railroaded by a bunch of bigots with Morgan and Bono in the lead.
Please call Uncle Trey Swenson at 651-835-0131. He's an attorney and can help find a solution. Uncle Trey was Senator Paul Wellstone's head fundraiser in the last election.
Anything else you can think of would be appreciated. Just so you know, Carson and I were only friends and had lunch or dinner together. He's a pretty nice guy. Funny, we never discussed sexual orientation.
I noticed that nothing in the note implied our relationship. 'Smart,' I judged as I dialed Trey Swenson's telephone number. It was 2200 back in St. Paul.
"Swenson residence," a mature female voice answered.
"Mrs. Swenson, this is Mike Cole, Dave's friend. Sorry to disturb you tonight."
"Mike, Dave has mentioned you several times. Trey and I hope to meet you soon. Is there anything wrong with Dave?"
"Some Navy stuff that Dave asked I call your husband about, immediately."
"Just a moment, Mike." I heard a short muffled conversation over the line. "Mike, this is Trey Swenson. Or, I guess I should say Uncle Trey? From Dave's description, sounds like I've got another nephew?"
"Yes, Sir. Dave and I are very much a couple. And, I would be proud to refer to you as 'uncle'. However, let me get to the point: Dave's in some deep shit, I think. He sent a message off the ship to me tonight and asked that I contact you immediately."
"Why don't you read the message and we'll go from there?"
I liked this guy already. Over the next five minutes, I read the note and told Trey about the ONI investigation team. "And, that's about it. I'm very worried for Dave, obviously. What's happening doesn't seem to jive with Clinton's 'don't ask, don't tell' policy."
"It certainly doesn't, Mike. It's 11:00 p.m. in Washington, and it's Sunday night. I may start a series of phone tag messages tonight. But, I'm on this like 'brown gravy on potatoes' tomorrow, first thing in the morning."
"That's great, Uncle Trey. Dave needs us in his corner. I really feel confident about your ability, Sir, to help." I gave him all of my contact numbers and we disconnected, with the promise to speak at noontime CST, tomorrow. Something told me that people returned Trey Swenson's phone calls.
I immediately called Tom Feldman. Without mentioning my name, I asked the guys to meet me at Madison Street and Park Avenue at 2000. This was the location of Bourbon Street, our neighborhood gay bar. They understood my vagueness - we were concerned that our phones might be bugged.
I always felt comfortable at Bourbon Street. It was a great mix of surfer dudes, college students, business professionals and retired men who appreciated the eye candy. Tom and Mark were sitting at a table near the pool table when I arrived.
"Hey, guys. Thanks for getting together on such short notice." I gave them a rundown of Dave's predicament without running any editorial comments. Tom was taking notes.
"Those fuckers," said Mark. "Sounds like the C.O. has started an 'ask and tell' policy."
"Mike, I won't mention your name, but I do want my dad to look into this. Do you have any problem with that?" he asked.
I smiled, thinking about Brent's description of Tom as a 'baby mogul' in the making, with killer instincts. "Absolutely none. They're screwing around with my other half and I'll do anything to protect him," I answered, in a determined stance.
"Okay, bro. I've got a few phone calls to make. Can I call you at the club tomorrow morning?" Tom asked.
"Absolutely. I'll be in from 0900...whoops, 9:00 a.m. on. I'll let my secretary know you'll be calling." We finished our beers and departed before 2100.
'Thank God for an old Robert Ludlum novel I found that I had not read before,' I thought, as I lay in my bunk after breakfast. I was required to let the duty watch know when I left for a head break or chow in the galley. It was almost Monday noon, and I was ready for lunch when a runner from the bridge interrupted me.
"Swenson, Captain Morgan is expecting you. Follow me." 'Well...well, the old man wants my presence in his court,' I thought, sarcastically, 'so he can put the screws to me. Bastard.' I put on my well-polished shoes and followed the runner to the command post.
I saluted and said, "Swenson, reporting as ordered, Sir." Before me was a slightly pudgy, middle-aged officer who was sweating slightly and had a smile that blended condescension with spite.
"Swenson, please sit down. Can I get you a cup of coffee?" he said, with a look that telecommunicated 'don't push me'.
"If you have a Coke, I'd appreciate it, Sir," I replied with an innocent look. I was determined to push buttons, if I could.
"Sure, Airman." He walked over to a wet bar, shaking his head, and retrieved a can of Coke. He handed it to me and sat behind a humongous desk. "Dave, I understand we have a little problem?" he asked quietly.
"Problem, Sir? The only problem is Lt. Bono trying to associate me with some sort of gay group of sailors that he says you want to get rid of, Sir. Seems to center around a guy I know by the name of Carson Perry." I could see small beads of sweat forming above his upper lip. "Perry's someone who I have dinner with...nothing more."
"He said that?"
"Yes, Sir, in so many words," I said, with an intense stare into his eyes.
"I completely deny any association with Bono's comments."
"All I know is what he told me, Sir." 'Good,' I thought, 'the C.O. is very worried. What a lying sack of shit.'
"Bono doesn't speak for me," he said, without conviction.
"What about those scary guys following me around in a black car?"
"I'll call ONI immediately and make sure that the surveillance ceases."
"Good. I felt very uncomfortable with them behind me." Funny, he knew who was following me.
"Well, what else can I do for you, Swenson?"
'Great,' I thought. This cocksucker is groveling. "For openers, Sir, I want to be released from being confined to my bunk. Until Lt. Bono spoke, I was ready for 72 hours of leave."
"I'll arrange that immediately. Anything else, Swenson?"
"I just want to finish my enlistment and go on to college, Sir."
"What if I could arrange for an early discharge?"
"When, Sir? And would it be honorable, Sir?" I locked into his eyes with conviction.
"Immediately, Swenson, and a honorable discharge can be arranged." He squinted at me before mopping his brow of sweat.
"I would consider that a resolution, Sir." At this point, I was ready to exit the Navy. This situation had created a very bitter taste in my mouth, and I was tired of hiding. "What's happening to Perry, Sir? Is he going to be all right?" 'Might as well go for the gold,' I thought.
"He's being released, too. I'll get back to you on the discharge, Swenson. You're expected back on board Thursday morning at 0730. Report to me at that hour."
"Just tell me one thing. How did you get the White House and the offices of Senators Boxer, Feinstein, and Wellman involved in this little problem?"
"Sir, you'll have to ask them. I've been holed up at my bunk." I stood and gave him a smart salute before leaving. 'Squirm, you four-striped asshole,' I thought, as I returned to my bunk and dressed for shore leave. Whatever Mike had accomplished with Uncle Trey had been successful. But where did the California senators fit in?
I went back to my compartment and collected my gear to depart from the ship. As soon as I hit the dock, I immediately went over to the bank of pay phones and dialed Mike's club office. "Hello, may I speak with Ltjg. Cole?" I said when Mike answered. "This is Mr. Davidson calling," I said, remembering our adventure in Memphis at the Peabody. I was sure that Mike recalled the special name.
"Mr. Davidson, how the fuck are you, man?" Mike asked.
"Better, now that I hear your voice," I answered enthusiastically. "Just wanted to let you know I'm on my way into town. I don't know exactly what you did, but the results were spectacular."
"I'll be able to get away around 1600. See ya then?"
"Yes, Sir." We both knew to keep our phone conversation to the bare essentials...just in case.
I was very relieved as I dialed Trey Swenson's private office number from a pay phone in the club lobby. It was 1500 in St. Paul.
"Trey Swenson," the now familiar voice answered.
"Uncle Trey, it's Mike. I just spoke to Dave. He's been released and is going to the house," I said in an upbeat manner.
"Terrific. Paul Wellstone and I have been friends for a long time and, among other things, he's very concerned about gay rights and the military. But, my nephew must have some other friends in high places because Diane Feinstein office called a while ago. The senator wanted to assure me that she was looking into the situation, along with her California colleague, Barbara Boxer."
"That must be the work of TJ Feldman, the dad of a close friend of ours."
"I'm impressed. TJ is an important ally - I know him from his work on the Democratic National Committee."
"I don't know much more. Why don't I have Dave call you this evening around eight your time?"
"Ideal, Mike, I'm really pleased that I could be of assistance. Knowing Paul, and now the California senators, some people in the U.S. Navy are in for some tough sledding, as we say in Minnesota. Give my love to Dave. I'll talk to you guys tonight."
After showering and putting on my favorite cotton sweat-pant cutoffs and a tee, I padded around in the kitchen and made a late lunch. Out on the patio, in a chaise lounge, I slowly chewed on a tuna fish and tomato sandwich, and drank a cold Bud Light. I analyzed the past 48 hours and wondered how many others - enlisted men and officers - were being fucked over and considered myself lucky to have connections. We had all heard about incidents of beatings and murders of sailors and soldiers in the hands of other ignorant homophobes in the military.
I planned out the rest of the day with tomorrow on my mind. Mike would be here in a couple of hours and I had some definite ideas about that reunion. Then, tomorrow, I would definitely go over to UCSD admissions with my transcripts and begin enrollment for the fall term. The more I thought about it, I became determined to take advantage of an early discharge, if one was offered. 'That asshole captain will do anything to appease me and cover himself. Thank God for friends in high places,' I thought, gratefully, as I closed my eyes. I felt sorry for the poor bastards who didn't have political leverage.
The next thing I felt were warm, moist lips on my forehead. I slowly awakened to the image of my man in officer khakis. "Hey, Babe." I reached up and pulled him down to sit on a corner of the chaise lounge. "This is the best sight of a guy in a uniform I've had in several days." I sat up and offered myself for a heavy-duty embrace and kiss.
"Seeing you home has just made my day a lot brighter." Our lips met and immediately I surrendered to his advancing tongue as it danced with mine. His hands strongly held my back as he continued a passionate assault.
Pulling away, I said, "Mike, I notice a big growth in your pants. Why don't you change into something a little more comfortable and come back to the patio. We can update each other on what's happened."
"Good idea. I'd better change before the pants get marked with pecker tracks. Open me a beer, and I'll be right back," he said, as he rose from the chaise lounge.
"Aye, aye, Sir. Fair warning: don't put on anything that will be difficult to take off, later," I replied with a laugh.
"At ease, sailor. That is, if your dick can follow that order," Mike tossed out as he entered the house, laughing.