Since I always wore civvies, and drove a limo with a Navy serial number on the door, and a Captain’s emblem on the plates, I could pretty well go anywhere on base with impunity. Except, of course, the enlisted men’s Club. Parking that car there could have necessitated some embarrassing, and largely unsuccessful, explanations.
Without appropriate ID the only way I could get into the Chiefs’ Club was as a guest of a member. That left the Officers’ Club as the only logical choice! But I know that in civvies, they would want to see ID. There seemed no sure way to enter without actually impersonating an officer, and even I wasn’t stupid enough to go that far. Not just for a drink, anyway.
I figured if I could ever get in there just once, I could circulate enough to be able to get in again on my face alone. So finally, one night, I put on a tie and jacket, found a young sailor in dress whites and offered him $20, and I was on my way.
When we drove up in front of the club entrance, my “driver” jumped out, opened my door and saluted. I studiously ignored him as I got out and started toward the door, but when I saw there was a small audience on the steps, I decided to try to grease the rails a bit. I turned around to the car just before the driver got back behind the wheel.
“Burnham!” I said, with a touch of irritation in my voice.
“Yessir?” he responded, snapping to attention.
“When you get back to the command, tell the Quarterdeck I want the CDO to call me here before 2100. And be sure and tell Radio where I am, in case that OPCON escalates.”
“Yessir!” answered my driver.
I started to turn, but turned back and added, “Burnham!”
“Yessir!” he responded, with yet another salute.
“Try to do something about the smell in that damn thing! I think the carpets are mildewing or something.”
“Yessir! Right away, sir!” The kid was getting nervous, and was anxious to go.
I had told him where to leave the car so I could find it later, so I turned and went up the stairs. A lieutenant was standing near the door, obviously on duty. As I approached, he broke away from his conversation and started toward me, obviously intent on determining who the hell I was.
“Has Kensington shown up yet?” I asked, brusquely, as I vectored toward him.
“I beg your pardon, sir?” the young officer responded quizzically.
“Kensington! Captain Kensington. Your Commanding Officer, Lieutenant! You do recognize the name of your C.O., don’t you? Has he shown up, yet?” I snapped.
He was thrown totally off-guard, but he was quick, I’ll give him that. “No sir, Captain Kensington hasn’t arrived yet, although we expect him shortly. He’s having a small reception in the Dolphin room.”
“Yes, I’m aware of that.” I commented, suddenly very pre-occupied, and obviously tired of wasting my time with this fool. Besides, he made my neck itch. “I’ll catch up with him inside.”
“Very good, sir.” The lieutenant apparently wasn’t going to push the ID issue, but he wasn’t going to be satisfied until he knew my name and command. “And may I tell the skipper who was inquiring after him, sir?”
He had me boxed, so I responded, “Yeah, tell him Scratch, NOPF.”
“Thank you, sir,” responded the fellow, as he returned to his previous position, obviously very satisfied with himself. He had shown his friends that nobody was going to bully him around, no matter who they might be.
I sat at the bar, ordered an Old Fashioned, and absently asked the bartender, “What time are they kicking off the shindig in the Dolphin Room?”
“Supposed to start in twenty minutes, Cap!” he responded cheerily.
That shook me! How the hell did this guy know I was a captain? (or at least, posing as one!)
A young fellow down the bar polished off his martini and raised a finger. “Another one, Cap?”queried the bartender.
Whew. It was a relief to know that everyone was “Cap” to this guy. Nevertheless, my neck still itched. With only twenty minutes before Kensington showed up, I needed to get the hell out of there, before he showed up and decided to observe protocol and greet the newest skipper in his tenant command. I reached down to my belt, and touched off my pager. As it sounded, I jumped up, tossed a five dollar bill on the bar, and told the bartender in a tense voice, “Get me a cab, quick. The name’s Harrelson…NOPF! Tell ‘em to step on it!”
“Yes, sir!” he barked, as he jumped for the phone.
I headed for the front door, with my neck sending me danger signals all the way. As I was nearly there, something told me to detour into the head. As I entered, I heard what sounded like a large party – several couples – entering the foyer. I heard someone call, “Kensington, you old dog!” so I feverishly prayed that no one had to pee more than they wanted a drink.
I waited about a minute and a half, then grabbed a handful of paper towels, and walked briskly out in to the foyer, and seeing a cab standing at the curb, I pushed out the door, mumbled something about “OPCON” as I tossed the wad of paper towels to the lieutenant, and jumped into the cab, saying “GO!” I never even looked back.
It was a number of weeks later when Scratch commented slyly that he must be getting old. I asked why he said that, and he told me that he had gotten a call from the CO of Dam Neck, saying he was sorry that operational requirements had prevented them from meeting at the club.
“You know, it’s funny. I don’t remember being inside that club in years. I must be getting senile!” he mused.
I was at a loss for words. I figured I was in deep shit, now. I decided to wait for the other shoe to drop, so I said nothing, just raising my eyebrows.
“Yeah, it seems the Duty Officer even described me to him, and told him I had to leave suddenly right after he arrived. Described me to a ‘T’ – right down to my moustache,” he paused there, watching me from the corner of his eye. Scratch had no moustache…never had…never would!
Mine twitched a little, while I fought the urge to scratch my itchy neck.
“Oh, well,” he went on, slowly. “I’ve been busy lately, and a little tired. But I’m caught up now, so I’m back to my old self. I bet I’ll never go anywhere again and not be able to remember it. What do you think, mister?
“I’d say you could put that in the bank, skipper” I offered sincerely.
“I was pretty sure you’d agree with me,” he said, as he went back to work on his papers.
I left his office very quietly.