[Excerpted from the U.S. Coast Guard Magazine, date unknown]- Retitled By Jack


Just Grumbling - On The Light Side

by D. E. Hobelman



“Of course,” remarked the bos’ns mate who had been in the South Pacific a while, “it’s nice to be back. But you have a good many nuisances ashore, too.

“Take for instance that expression that you hear everywhere. I mean I went into a place this morning to buy some razor blades and all they had was junk¾the kind that hack and don’t cut, and when I mentioned my brand all I got was, ‘Don’t you know there’s a war going on?’ You hear that everywhere. Now I don’t need to be told about whether there’s a war going on or not, and neither do most people; but it seems to be a civilian excuse for everything from scalper’s prices for theatre tickets to street cars that whiz past people on street corners and don’t stop. They need a little morale back here¾some stuff about doing this quietly and trying to make things come out right instead of yapping all the time.

“What do you suppose would happen if I told off a seaman for some laxity on the ship and he just gave me the fish-eye sadly and says, “Say, Boats, don’t you know there’s a war going on?’

“These gazoneys take the line of least resistance and shove the blame off on the war. They remind me of a very successful congressman they had back in my uncle’s town. The only thing the big bag of legislative wind was good at was getting re-elected, but of course the real laboratory test for a politician is just that.

“This congressman did it by the simple system of voting for all appropriation bills, and against all tax measures. It worked fine, because it wasn’t his responsibility to make the finances come out right.


“I wish they’d stop talking about ‘morale.’ It’s one of those things that you shouldn’t talk about, ‘cause it depends on action, not on shooting the breeze. It’s like the weather, you can talk about it all you want, but all that beating the gums won’t get anywhere.

“There’s too damn much talk anyhow. It’s the curse of the age. People talk too much about what they don’t know anything about; and there’s always the chance of information leaking to the wrong people not because anyone has had bad intentions but just because they suffer from a congenital running off at the mouth and keep up a conversation clatter. It’s like people that turn on the radio the minute you come over to have a visit and keep it going, with nobody listening to the soap opera, and it’s just a background for the ensuing conversation. Too many people talk that way--just to furnish a noisy background to offset mental fog.

“Well,” he continued, studying a menu which consisted mostly of fish, which he hates. “I’ve been building up a resistance. I can stand looking politely attentive while some dam blabs without taking a breath for a solid twenty minutes, and yet not hear a word she said. Only this I hear is one of those cocktail lounges is when the guy next to me says, ‘How about having a drink on me?’

“I guess I’m getting to be like an ostrich. I can bury my head in the sands of conversation and feel mentally safe. Yeah, people laugh at the ostrich for burying his head in the sand, but nobody every heard of an ostrich having a nervous breakdown. I guess I read that somewhere.

“One of the good things about sea duty is that you get less talk. You can stand at the rail and look at the sea for a solid hour without is saying a damn thing. Some dope wrote some verses about ‘What are the wild waves saying?’ but he was a poet and they don’t know much about ships. If he was a sailor he wouldn’t ask. He’d know the waves weren’t saying anything. And he wouldn’t call ‘em wild. It’s a very poor descriptive word for what the waves do. You got to respect the sea. It not only keeps its own secrets, if any: but it has enough hidden power to make itself felt. It can make itself felt.

“I guess the lesson you learn from that is that silence is often power. These gabby people generally haven’t much power any way you look at it. Probably they yap all the time and make all that conversational noise just to keep up their own courage. Like the boy that whistled at midnight when he passed the grave yard.

“Did you ever hear Hitler on the radio? He has one of the most disagreeable voices I ever heard, and he likes to talk. Boy, he just shrills at ‘em all the time. Can talk for hour. That’d be enough in itself to make me sick of the jerk; but just think what the Germans have got to put up with.

“They got to listen to that runt if they want to or not, and that’s enough in itself to make them punch drunk. We used to have a skipper on a pot I sailed aboard that never said much, and mostly he answered with grunts -- you could tell which was yes and which was no by the pitch or tone. He was a fine man. He was not only a fine officer, but when everybody else was sounding off the old man was quiet and you felt there was a mountain of sense under his old gray dome and something solid about him. There was more meaning in two of his negative grunts that in five reels of rapid-fire oratory by Hitler.

“Me, I’m a quiet bloke myself; and I don’t like interruptions and too much blah. . . . Let’s go home, pal, and get in the sack. I’m tired.”

“I hope I haven’t seemed too chatty tonight,” I said cautiously. “But it’s been good to see you again.”

“No,” said the bos’ns mate grudgingly. “You always were fairly reasonable that way. I manage to get in a few words edgewise with you anyhow. Shall we send for a cab, up to your house?”

“They don’t come on call nowadays” I said with a yawn. “Don’t you know there’s a war going on?”




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