The ship's office had me
piped and was advised I had orders for the USCG ROCKAWAY WAVP-377, Staten
Island, New York. That was in April of 1955, while serving aboard the Cutter
TRITON in Corpus Christi, Texas.
There was a time when everything you owned HAD to fit in your seabag.
Fully packed, one of the sonuvabitches weighed more than any poor devil hauling it. The damn things weighed a ton and some idiot with an off-center sense of humor sewed a carry handle on it to help you haul it!
Hell, you could bolt a handle on a
Greyhound bus but it wouldn't make the damn thing portable.
The Army, Marines and Air Force got footlockers and we, the seagoing cuttermen, got a big 'ole canvas bag.
After you warped your spine jackassing the goofy thing through a bus or train station, sat on it waiting for connecting transportation and made folks mad because it was too damn big to fit in any overhead rack on any bus, train and airplane ever made. And the contents, skillfully packed, looked like hell. All your gear appeared to have come from bums who slept on park benches.
Traveling with a seabag was something left over from the "Yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum" sailing days. So you stowed your issue in a big canvas bag and hoisted it on your shoulder and in effect moved your entire home and complete inventory of earthly possessions from station to station, cutter to cutter, or for some, office to office. I wouldn't say you traveled light because with one strap it was a one-shoulder load that could torque your skeletal frame and bust your ankles. It was like hauling a dead Academy linebacker.
They wasted a lot of time in boot camp telling you how to pack one of the sonuvabitches. There was officially sanctioned method of organization that you forgot after ten minute on the other side of the gates at Pataluma or Cape May. You got rid of a lot of issue gear when you went aboard. Did you ever know a seagoing cutterman who had a raincoat? Two flat hats? How about one of those nut hugger knit swimsuits? And those roll your own neckerchiefs...like the one my ex-girl friend would use on HER baby when she ran out of diapers.
Within six months, we were down to one
set of dress blues, port and starboard undress blues and whites, a couple of
raghats, boots, shoes, assorted skivvies, a peacoat and three sets of torn,
paint-stained of leper colony-looking dungarees. The rest of our original issue
was either in the ships lucky bag or the snipes would steal them and reduce them
wipe down rags in the engineroom. I once saw a pair of my favorite skivvies,
with my half-inch stenciled name, in B-2 Engineroom.
The confines of a berthing area, with racks four to five high, dripping water from asbestos covered overhead steam pipes and one foot wide locker did not allow one to live a Donald Trump existence. And after the rigid routine of boot camp we learned the skill of random compression packing. It is amazing what you can jam into a space in bigger than a breadbox if you pull a watch cap over a boot and push it in with your foot. Of course, it looks kinda weird when you pull it out but they never hold fashion shows at sea and wrinkles added character.
We operated on the premise that if "Cleanliness was next to Godliness" , we must be next to the other end of that spectrum. We looked like our clothing had been pressed with a waffle iron and packed by a bulldozer
But what in the hell did they expect from
a bunch of jerks on a contraption that leaked seawater through watertight
hatches! After a while you got used to it. You got used to everything you
owned, picking up and retaining that distinctive vessel aroma. You got used to
old ladies on busses taking a couple of wrinkled nose sniffs of your peacoat
then getting up and finding another seat.
Do they still issue seabags? I remember making a couple of bucks sitting up half the night drawing rate insignias, sea gulls, and other stuff with black and white marking pens that drove the master-at-arms into a 'rig for heart attack' frenzy, his face red, veins on his neck bulge out..and yell. "Jeezus H. Christ! What in god's name is that all over your seabag?"
"Artwork, Chief...it's like the work of Michelangelo...great, huh?"
Here was a man with cobras tattooed on
his arms, a skull with a dagger through one eye and a ribbon reading
'DEATH BEFORE SHORE DUTY' on his shoulder. An eagle on his chest and a full
blown Chinese dragon peeking out between the cheeks of his butt. If anyone was
an authority on stuff that looked like a comic book, it had to be this
ex-Merchant Marine E-7 sonnuvabitch.
Sometimes I look at all the crap stacked in my garage, close my eye and smile... remembering a time when everything I owned could be crammed into a canvas bag.
Maturity is hell.
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