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  • Joe was one of the guys I had connected with in Boot Camp. He’d figured out what I was doing when I meditated, and we’d connected over that. He was doing the same thing to get through the drills. It was like we were in on this secret that no one else knew about. It was cool. He seemed like a really cool head. He had talked about a fiance, Sherry, back home in Kearney, Nebraska. I had talked to him a lot about Sarah, back home in Connecticut. We seemed to have a lot in common.

    Joe was the first familiar face I saw when I got to Great Lakes Naval base, my next duty station, where I would be learning how to be a Machinist Mate on a ship. It was a three month program, going from mid-August to mid-November. I was ready to learn all about shipboard propulsion plants and all the duties of a machinist mate. I was really looking forward to acquiring a good, saleable skill.

    I had flown into Chicago and taken the shuttle from O’Hare airport up to the base, which was north of the city and right on Lake Michigan, where I’d be staying in a dormitory style barracks, with all my gear neatly squared away in a large duffel bag, like they’d taught us in Boot Camp. I was into order and clarity, with everything in its place.

    Joe, on the other hand, rolled onto the base in cloud of crazy, kinetic energy, in an old beat up jallopy he’d driven all the way from his home town of Kearney, Nebraska, full to overflowing with stuff for setting up homekeeping, including a disheveled blonde half asleep in the back!
  • I was on my way to the Mess Hall for my first meal on the base, when I saw him hanging out the driver’s window, yelling, “Hey, Hawkeye – hey Pete, old Boot Camp buddy! Where the hell is the Admin Building on this godforsaken base?” He threw some stuff from the front seat into the back with the blonde, threw open the passenger side door, and said, “Hop in! Man, I’m blitzed, I need to find out how much quarters allowance I can get. Oh, yeah – that’s Judy. Judy, this is my best buddy from Boot Camp”, he said as the car veered around a bend, pointing to the blonde, who looked like hell, though if she cleaned up a little, probably would have been hot.

    I wondered what had happened to Sherry, but didn’t say anything. Joe seemed really out of sorts, and I could only imagine what had happened to get him into this crazy situation. I would later learn that he’d had a little one-night fling with Judy while he was home on leave, and she’d threatened to tell his fiance about it, unless he brought her to Great Lakes with him. She had reasons to want to get out of town, and saw Joe as her ticket out. She also had hopes of convincing him to ditch his fiance for her. Joe clearly seemed like a guy being held hostage, and none too happy about it. I felt bad for the guy – but just had to laugh. What a crazy situation he’d managed to get himself into! I didn’t think I’d mind so much being held hostage by a gal like that – that was before I got to know her. She was nuts!

    He got her set up in a cheap apartment right outside the base, along the strip where the hookers trolled for horny sailors, above one of the bars, there. Joe split his time between the barracks and that apartment, taking full advantage of the situation, but also trying to convince Judy to leave, without saying anything to Sherry. He was a mess. I tried to help him out, as best I could.

    Early on in the program there, on Labor Day weekend, I caught a ride with a classmate to Pittsburgh, where I met up with my brother Brian and his wife, who were driving to my parents’ place in New Jersey. I was planning to surprise my family. As soon as I walked in the door, my father looked at me, his face turned ashen and a look of horror crossed his face, and he said, “What are you doing here - Are you AWOL?” That so typified his attitude towards me, throughout my time in the Navy. I always got the sense from him that he was just sitting back, waiting for me to fail, waiting for the other shoe to drop, never willing to really share in my accomplishments, always expecting me to screw it all up.
  • During those three months at Great Lakes, we drank a ton of beer, and smoked a fair amount of pot. It didn’t take long for Joe to finally convince the blonde to beat it – she was still threatening to tell his fiance, but he just said he’d deny it all, and enlisted me to back his story up. She was just too crazy, and no matter what he did, she was going to try to hold him hostage, so he wisely cut it off, finally.

    We spent most of our weekends running up to Kenosha and Milwaukee, both in Wisconsin north of there. They were a lot cheaper for a couple of poor sailors than Chicago would have been, so we never made it down into Chicago the whole time we were there. Besides, we had plenty of fun in those two towns – so I’m told.

    When I say we had fun, I’m only reporting what I heard about those trips, from Joe and others who went with us. I really don’t remember much, first hand. This was when I began to experience alcoholic black-outs on a regular basis. Entire nights would be lost to me, as I would find myself back in my barracks, my last memory being walking into a bar in Milwaukee. I’d hear all about my exploits, and think “Wow, I must have had a great time. I sure wish I could remember any of it.” But, I couldn’t. That might have been my first clue, but I really wasn’t even thinking that I might have a problem.

    I got through the program there o.k., but I don’t know how. I was usually hung-over during the day in classes, and mostly drank and got high in the evenings. Those three months were mostly a blur to me.
  • Once we completed the school at Great Lakes, we were to get assignments to conventional ships in the fleet for the next 6 – 8 months, to get a little seasoning on an actual ship, and get the hang of working in an engine room, before we went on to the much more intense Nuclear Power School.

    We were able to take a few weeks of leave between the school and our conventional ship assignments. Joe suggested we hang out together during our leave, spending a week at his hometown in Kearney, Nebraska, then driving across country from there to Connecticut and New Jersey to visit my friends and family there, then he could drive me as far as Norfolk, Virginia, where his ship was ported. From there, I could fly down to Mayport, Florida, where my assigned ship was.

    I thought it sounded like fun, so said sure. A lot happened on that leave – not much of it that I ever had a memory of. That was three weeks of my life that pretty much never made its way into my memory banks. I was in an alcoholic blackout for most of it. By the end of it, I was glad to get the hell away from Joe, and hoped to settle down and get back to basics on my first ship.

    But, things there were destined to get much worse, instead of better. I was in a real spiral, and had no idea how bad it could get - until it got that bad, and worse.
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