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  • My friend Ramon and I had had an apartment a block off the beach down on the Back Bay in Norfolk before the cruise – it was available again when we got back in port, so Dave moved into it with me. When the ship was in port, we didn’t have to stay on it unless we had to stand watch. After seven months of that floating prison, the first priority was moving back into that apartment. We learned that Ray had managed to stay out of jail, but got booted out of the Nuclear Navy and was now on a conventional boat out west. I would never see him again.

    A lot changes in the world in seven months, and it seemed like returning to a whole different world. Disco was finally on the decline, thankfully, as a resurgence of decent, authentic rock n’ roll seemed to be emerging. Carter was now president – he was one of us, a Naval Nuke, which I thought that was pretty cool. He seemed like an honest enough guy, though a little strange – like us. We Nukes were a strange lot. At least the whole Nixon thing was finally behind us. Ford would have been alright, but he lost me when he let the bastard off the hook. He claimed it was for the best for the country to move on from Watergate and all of that, but he really lost all credibility when he pardoned him. I knew from the beginning, from the first time I’d heard about Watergate, in the fall of 1972, that Nixon was behind it all. No one would believe me, as I’d campaigned vigorously for McGovern in that election, who’d lost 49 out of 50 states in a devestating defeat that had really turned me off to politics. That had been the first election 18 year olds could vote in, and I’d missed being able to vote by 5 days, my 18th birthday falling on the 12th, while election day was on the 7th. But, I’d wanted to make it count, anyway. Now, 4 years later, I’d been floating on the Mediterranean Sea on Election Day, and hadn’t thought to arrange for an absentee ballot before the cruise. But, at least this time, my guy had won.

    I began running on the beach everyday, driven to shed the excess weight I’d put on during the cruise. I ate very little – I’d gotten dog tired of eating, as it was just about all you could do on the ship. That and read. I’d read 75 books during that 7 months – probably more than I’d read in my entire life before that. I’d become a reading fool. My head was full of ideas from all that reading, and now that I was out of “prison”, I just wanted to really live, again.

    I hit all my favorite bars along the bay, and Dave scored some great weed. I was in my element! Dave was content to sit in the apartment and get wasted after work, but I needed to get out and be a part of something. I was full of a level of energy I’d never known before. I just wanted to go, bust out, grab life by the balls and rip every shred of fun out of it. I’d been stuck on that ship, and in my head, for entirely too long. I was only 22 but I felt like an old man. I needed to live again!
  • I grew to hate returning to the ship everyday. We still didn’t know what the captain was going to do about what had happened on the ship, with the reactors scramming and all, but the atmosphere there had grown chilling. It was like everyone was just waiting for the hammer to fall. The captain was not allowing anyone to transfer off the ship. You couldn’t transfer without the captain’s permission. For all intents and purposes, he owned your ass. As this realization dawned on me, I became desperate to find a way around him. I just couldn’t stand the man, and couldn’t stand the idea that he stood between me and my freedom. To me, freedom was a simple idea – it was being anywhere but on that ship. I was just done with it. I wanted off, the sooner the better. If this man’s leadership, or lack thereof, could cause his own ship to go dead-in-the-water, either through some sabotage or a freak accident that never should have happened, it did not feel safe to me. The problem was, there was a long line of sailors trying to bail, and he wasn’t letting anyone go. This situation began to boil my rage all over again, which was harder to contain, now that I was tasting some freedom on a daily basis. I wanted more. I wanted off that ship. It became a real obsession. There had to be a way, and when I found it, I would take it.

    I had an interesting conversation with a young Lieutenant, one of the few officers on the ship that I respected – this one would actually take the time to listen to Enlisted Men, and seemed to have a brain of his own, not some useless clone of the captain’s. He was the ship’s legal officer, and I asked him how a sailor could get around the captain’s authority, and swing a transfer to another ship. “Without the Captain’s approval, it can’t be done. He has the final say.” But, I wasn’t satisfied with that answer. I pressed him further – there must be something, some way to get around that. “Well, and this is strictly off the record, you never heard me say this – there is a way, but it’s radical, and I am in no way suggesting you do this, but…” Go on – I’m all ears. “Well, if you were to go AWOL, and manage to not get caught for the first 30 days, then turn yourself in, they would have to transfer you to another ship. You could not be returned to your old ship. After 30 days, your slot on your ship gets filled, and they can’t return you there. That’s in the regulations.” I wasn’t ready to go that radical, yet…but, it was something to think about. He went on to say, “Now, again, I am not suggesting that you, or anyone else, actually do this, but if you did…there are some places that are better than others to turn yourself in at.” I loved this guy – man, if all officers had been as cool as him, the shp might not have been such a bad place. “The absolute best place, right now, to turn yourself in, should a sailor be compelled to go AWOL, is Treasure Island, in the San Francisco Bay. Word is, they’re very lenient with deserters, there.”
  • That word, “deserters”, caused one pause. Hey wait, don’t they shoot deserters? “In times of war, they can. In times of peace, it all depends. Right now, they’re going easy on them. The Navy is being forced to reduce its population, and that’s one way to get it down. Let the deserters go, without serious penalty”. Lt. Ray had given me a lot to think about. I was all about freedom, and getting away from the ship and that bastard of a captain, but deserting was not something I wanted on my record. I’d have to figure out some other way. I just wanted off that ship. Each day was becoming more and more intolerable for me. They were beginning to really fuck with us again, and there were a couple of officers that were beginning to fuck with me, personally, and I didn’t like it. I knew I wasn’t being quite as responsible since we got back from the cruise – I was suffering wicked hangovers from all my partying on the beach, and I wasn’t performing up to my normal level of excellence in the engine room – but, I just didn’t care about that, anymore. And I didn’t need some junior, fresh out of the academy punk-assed Ensign giving me a hard time about it. I’d get back on my game in due time. I kept working out, getting myself in top physical shape, losing 40 pounds in less than two months time, back to my playing weight, and then some. I was ready. For what, I wasn’t sure, but I was ready for something. Something big.
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