Death and
The Sailor

Part II

    I fell for your jivin' and I let you in
    And now all you got to offer is a drink of gin;
    Why don't you do right
    Like some other men do.
    Get out of here and get me some money too.

I remember that song because along with "In the Mood" and "Comin' Home on a Wing and a Prayer" they played it endlessly on the loudspeakers at the Neptune pool the day we, my family and I, met Ensign Anonymous. Mom and Dad and Sister Melissa and I had spent the morning swimming and cooking wieners and our faces and backs at one of the cabaņas at the Coquina Beach Hotel. After lunch, I wandered off to the Hotel pool, which was deserted.

I remember it as a day of particular brilliance, with a blaringly cruel Florida sun. I ended up lying face-down on a black, well-patched innertube: floating, mindless, the particular laggardness that comes after a large lunch, when one has spent the morning immersed in the waves in the sea. Mother had told me not to go swimming in the ocean or the pool (fear of cramps, instant death). I reasoned that lying in an inner-tube was not swimming. Besides, they were asleep in the sandy cabaņa and no one was there at the pool with me except Glenn Miller and Harry James and Woody Herman, who arrived in the speakers set in the wall. One record, the last of the stack of 78s, repeated itself over and over again because no one was around to change it:

    Is you is or is you ain't my baby?
    The way you're acting lately makes me doubt.
    For you was once my baby baby;
    But the way you're acting lately makes me doubt...

In those years, I thought all animals were portable --- so one of my cats had come along with us for our monthly outing on the beach. It had stayed quietly in the cabaņa during the day, but later, when we started to drive away, it took leave of us through a window of the car. We had to stop there on the beachfront road to look for what my father was, under his breath, referring to as "Carlos's Jesus-bitten goddamn cat."

We looked along the shore and through the weeds near the bulkhead, sea-oats bowing and tossing in the wind, but the cat, a dun-colored tabby with a kinked tail and not too much in the way of brains was no-where to be found. When we got back in the car, Mumsie and Dad got up front --- she always drove --- my sister and I ended up back in the back with a young sailor, presumably from the St. Petersburg Naval Station.

Later, after all the many things that had to transpire had done so, my mother said that she thought my dad asked the sailor to come with us and he said that he was sure she had invited him. No one made much of it because Mom and Dad didn't communicate worth beans anyway, and in those days, during WWII, one always gave a lift to servicemen from the Naval Air Station. The military installation had brought great war-time prosperity to St. Petersburg, mostly in the form of a free-spending military and a freer-spending military procurement service, and we wanted to show our gratitude for the war they were waging on our behalf.

Somewhere between leaving the inner tube in the pool and rounding up our things in the cabaņa and getting in the back seat of the car, I had wet my pants. I was ten years old and by then, not much given to such antics --- but it had happened and I wanted to get home before anyone caught on and scolded me.

The sailor was seated between me and my thirteen-year-old sister. He was dressed in standard issue of the day: heavy black sailor suit, white navy cap, and black shiny shoes. The sun had long disappeared and the drive home along the Beach Road took the better part of an hour. After a while, I noticed there was some altercation going on between the sailor and my sister and soon enough she crawled up front to sit between Mom and Dad.

The sailor then leaned over to me, put his hand on my knee, and whispered something that I didn't catch. I thought that somehow he had found out I had wet my pants and was going to feel the wet and report me to my mother and father.

He leaned over and whispered again, "Have you ever..." and I was sure that it had something to do with my mishap so I said, "no." He looked down and motioned towards his sailor cap and lifted it up and there was this big white thing lying on top of the black flap of his uniform. He leaned over again and whispered "Have you ever..." I said "no," because I didn't understand the last part of his sentence and I didn't want to embarrass him or get him irritated so that he would rat on me about the wet shorts. The car radio was playing,

    You'd be so nice to come home to;
    You'd be so nice by the fire.
    It would be so nice,
    It'd be paradise,
    To come home to, to you....

The sailor reached over to put his arm around my shoulders and at the same time my father looked around and said, "Jesus Christ! What the hell are you doing back there!"

I figured I was sunk, but fortunately Ensign Anonymous answered for both of us by saying "Nothing, sir." Then he asked my Dad for a cigarette. My mother immediately pulled the car over and the sailor and his uniform and cap and that white thing whatever it was got out of the car at the corner of Beach Boulevard and Manly Street.

When we got home my mother called my sister and me into her bedroom and looking somewhere down near her left foot, said "There are people who are strange, who do strange things, things they shouldn't do." She thought for a minute and then said, "They are very strange. You shouldn't let it bother you."

My mother was pretty articulate on most subjects, like on not blowing your nose too loudly or the need to wash behind the ears but on this one she struck out. My sister and I conferred later and agreed that neither of us could figure out what the hell she was talking about but I learned from Sister Melissa that our sailor had tried to show his whatever-it-was to her too and she didn't care for it or him at all so she got up into the front seat leaving me alone back there with that monster. Thanks sis.

Mumsie probably said more than that, but I couldn't remember it and it didn't make any sense anyway. I had made it home without anyone finding out about the wet pants, for which I was relieved and thankful.

I am sure of one thing, though. If all this happened fifty years later the Shore Patrol and the sex police would have been called at once and there would have been a great to-do. Counselors and social workers would have questioned me and my sister --- done grief therapy or sex therapy or whatever it's called --- and we would have had to tell our stories a dozen times or more. There would have been police reports, and doctor's reports and social agency reports, and they might even have pulled off our clothes to check us. All these things I can assure you would have cause us much worry (those questions! those explicit dolls! us standing naked in front of all those people!) Our stories would have ended up in a computer somewhere to haunt us up to and perhaps beyond the grave.

But ours' was a simpler time back then. Ensign Anonymous was dumped by the side of the road, Mumsie mumbled something when we got home, Dad went upstairs to bed to read another Ellery Queen, and neither my sister nor I were scarred for life --- at least, speaking for myself, I don't think I was scarred. I haven't asked her. She's pretty weird, but I don't think it has to do with having some guy try to fondle her or show her his private parts before she reached what they call the age of reason.

It's only years later that I find myself thinking about Ensign Anonymous. He certainly had a heavy dose of chutzpah, didn't he? Getting into a strange car without invitation --- the parents up front driving, two kids in the back --- and the first thing he does is pull out his weenie and try to pass it around.

Maybe "You'd Be So Nice to Come Home to" brought up something sad inside him. I would guess that he was on the brink of being shipped overseas. Everyone knew at that particular stage of the war one's chances of returning undamaged, or not returning at all, were about one in three. Maybe he figured he was going to get murdered off some unknown island in the Pacific and so he thought that since he would be dead anyway, he might as well act out his biggest and most lurid fantasy while he still had the time.

Go Home    Go on to Part III     Go Up