Thursday, April 23, 2015

Chapter Two

             The walk to the Enlisted Men's Club took them across a parking lot, past one set of barracks, through another parking lot and around a building to the front entrance all the while Lynn pointed out landmarks in a mock-tour-guide manner. As they entered the club Sidney saw a young man handcuffed to a chair in the office. “Bummer, I bet he’s had better days.”
            Lynn laughed, “Yeah. He must have really pissed someone off. They don’t usually start busting people until later.” 
            They stopped at a small desk to show their ID’s. The bouncer was a large, incredibly tanned man with an over-developed upper body amplified by an extra tight T-shirt. Sid stifled a giggle and whispered, “Bet you he’s got a little dick.” Lynn couldn’t contain her laughter and blushed as she presented her card.
            He smiled, “Good afternoon ladies.”
Everyone must show proof of age and get their hand stamped either red or blue. Red, apparently for stop meant no alcohol. People age twenty-one and older got a blue stamp. Sidney, only 19, received a blue stamp with a wink from the bouncer. Lynn was 21 so she too was stamped blue.  
            Sidney showed Lynn her stamp, "I think I'm going to like it here."
            At Lynn’s direction, they headed directly for the main ballroom. The red hue of the décor reminded Sid of an Old West brothel. The ballroom was wrapped by wallpaper of reddish-gold with a raised velveteen pattern. The carpet was in the same color family though not a direct match. Booths lined the perimeter and tables and chairs cluttered the carpet leading to the central dance floor and stage. There was the typical scent of beer and cigarettes accentuated by the oily odor of a distant deep-fryer. Jukebox music played muffled by the crack and clunk of a pool game and the general buzz of conversation.
            Lynn and Sidney stood just inside the ballroom entrance scanning faces. Much to Sidney’s delight, the entire place was full of physically fit, handsome young men. “It’s wall-to-wall testosterone in here. Let the games begin.” She paused a minute then continued, “Aren’t there any women on this base?”
            "The ratio here is about five-hundred men to one woman so they’re kind of hard to spot, but trust me; they’re here and probably checking you out.
Sid looks at Lynn questioning her last statement.
“Oh, no, not like that. You’re the new meat and that means you’re their competition.”
“Whatever.” Sid dismissed Lynn’s comment and turned to head back to the smaller room they passed on the way in.
“Where are you going?” Lynn asked.
            “Over here.” Sid raised her cue-case and headed towards the pool tables. Lynn followed.
Sid found a small empty table near the door. She claimed it with her case and went to the bar and ordered a beer. Lynn sat on a tall stool next to the table, waited and watched.
Sid returned to the table, placed her beer on a paper coaster and opened her case. She took out her two-piece cue and screwed it together. Then she donned her three-finger glove designed to eliminate the need for hand chalk.
            “What are you waiting for Lynn?”
            “You’ll see.”
Sid reached in her back pocket, pulled out 4 quarters and put them on the table closest to her. “Lynn, why don’t you get a beer or something?”
            “I’m waiting.”
            “For what?”           
            “Trust me.”
            A few minutes later a drink showed up in front of Lynn. “See, that didn’t take long.”
            “Where’d you get that?”
            “Sid, on this base, women rarely buy drinks. Guys are ready and willing to get us drunk because they think they’ll get laid.”
            “Gee, you could have said something sooner.” Sid laughed, sat down and lit a cigarette.
            Lynn’s about the same height as Sidney, but a little heavier. Not obviously overweight like Janna, although not boot camp fit either. Her ample breasts, belly and butt go with her round face topped by curly red hair.
Jokingly Sid asks, “So where are you from, how long have you been in, what’s your rate and all that rot?”
“I’m from Columbus, Ohio, I’ve been in 3.5 years, I’m a Yeoman and I have 155 days left. I have a serious short-timers attitude.”
“What about boyfriends -- girlfriends?”
Lynn chuckled, “Boyfriends thank you, and no I don’t have one.”
“Why not, there are plenty here?”
“I don’t usually go out, I’m not really into the bar thing. Besides all my friends that I used to hang with left already.”
“Well, we have to do something about that. I can’t have my roommate sitting home at night dateless! What would the neighbors think?” Sid jokes.
“Ok. Hey, do you like Sidney or Sid?”
            “Either is fine.”
“So how about you, how long have you been in, what’s your rate, etc…?”
“I just finished my first year, I’m an AME. I start at the LOX farm on Monday and someday I want to work on ejection seats.” She smiled and waited Lynn’s admiration.
            “What’s LOX?”
            “It’s liquid oxygen that the pilots use to breathe when they’re flying. It’s pretty cool.”
            “Cool,” Lynn replied without the expected awe.
            “You’re up” said a man as he tapped the table.
            Sid put the quarters in the slot of the table. The balls fell to the end reservoir to be racked. Sid racked the balls making sure they were in the proper sequence and as tight as possible before she took the form away.
            “I’m Jim.” The man said extending his hand for a shake.
            “Sidney” She shook his hand. “…just for shits and giggles?”
            “What?” Jim asked
            “Are we playing just for shits and giggles or do you want to bet?”
            “I’ll play for a beer, OK?”
            “OK, that works.”
            Jim broke the rack and the game began.
            A few minutes later Jim returned from the bar with the 2 beers. “Where did you learn to shoot?”
            “You’re good, but I’m going to have to try and get my beer back.”
Jim noticed a friend entering the room and excused himself. As he walked away, Sidney took a quick inventory. Broad shoulders, nice butt, great smile and not an ounce of fat on him, “Not bad.”
            “Yeah, he’s cute. But, forget it, he’s taken. The girl across the hall, Meg is his girlfriend. They’ve been hot and heavy for a long time” Lynn added.
            “Nah, I wasn’t thinking that––just checking him out.”
            “Hey honey! It’s your break,” a man shouted from the other side of the table.
            “Oh sorry.” Sid got up quickly and began to play.
Jim and his friend Steen took a seat on the opposite wall and prepared to play on the second of two pool tables in the room.
            “So who the new chick? Some Admiral’s daughter slumming?” Steve asked Jim.
            “No, she’s a new squid-ette. She’s over at the Lox Farm. It think she moved into the room across the hall from Meg.”
            “Too bad. Did I see you buying her a beer?”
            “Yeah, she beat me in a game.”
            “Psssh, anyone can beat you.” Steve continued to chalk his already chalked cue while stealing glances at Sid’s pool game. Impatient for the break Steve growled, “Are you done with that rack yet?”
            “I’m done now. Just like we like ‘em, nice and tight.”
Steve took a house stick and broke the rack with a mighty stroke. The crack was loud and the force of his stroke sent the cue ball sailing off the floor and right by Sidney’s foot. She laughed, “Oops, I think you dropped something.” Lynn ran and retrieved the ball and handed it to Steve.
            Embarrassed at is error he accepted the ball and quickly turned back to the table, “Thanks.”
            Jim completely amused said, “Scratch on the break, that means I win right.”
            “Shut up and shoot” Steve said as he gulped his beer.
Sidney shook her opponent’s hand, “Good game.”
            “Yeah, thanks” the man said as he walked away.
            Jim asked, “You win?”
            “I was stripes,” the man said with a grimace. Steve and Jim looked at the table where there were four striped balls still sitting on the green.
            “He probably sucked,” Steve said.
            “I don’t know dude, she’s not bad.”
            “Are you going to shoot or what?”
            “Alright, I’m just saying the girls got some skill.”
The balls fell on Sidney’s table as her third opponent of the evening began to rack. Lynn finished her free drinks and looked to see if there were any more on the way. “Well, I guess the free ride is over for a while.”
            “Lynn, do you drink beer?”
            “Yeah, sometimes.”
            “Well, here” Sid hands Lynn a five-dollar bill “go get us a pitcher. It’s cheaper that way.”
            “Ok” and Lynn bounced off to the bar. She returned shortly afterwards with a large clear pitcher and two fresh glasses. A waitress came over, emptied the ashtray and took the dirty glasses away.
            Sid grabbed a house stick and made a solid break sinking one striped ball in the process without knocking any balls off the table. She grinned and looked at Steve, “Let me know if you need me to show you how to do that without dropping your balls on the floor.”
            Jim laughed loudly but was quickly stifled by a glare from Steve. With a fake laughed Steve said, “Just shoot your game and keep your mind off my balls.”
            Sid turned and continued shooting. Jim chuckled and once again received a glare from Steve.
            The men played each other several times. Sidney beat her third opponent and had no more challengers. Steve sinks the eight ball and celebrates, “Ha! That’s three for me, you’re buying!”
            “Hey Lynn” Jim called “Do you shoot?”
            “Not really.”           
            “Oh that’s too bad. I was thinking we could shoot partners. You and her” pointing at Sidney “against me and Steve.”
            Steve interrupts, “Uh, no, that’s OK. It wouldn’t be fair, we’d beat them too easily.” Steve starts to break his stick down.
            “Oh really.” Sid walks towards Steve with cue in hand.
            “You know what? I don’t really want to play” says Lynn looking at Jim twitching her head indicating that he should back out too.
            “Uh, yeah, I think I need a break. Why don’t you two play with each… oops I mean play each other” Jim suggests.
            “I’m in if he doesn’t think it’s beneath him to play a woman” Sid challenges.
            “Beneath me is a very good place for a woman, but I hardly think it would be a fair competition. I mean, your OK, but… please.”
            “Hey, I’m not the one chasing my balls all over the room.”
            “Fine. You’re on.”
They split the cost of the table and Sidney offered to rack. “You think you can do this without putting holes in the walls?”
            “You gotta get a new line.”
The game was short and beautifully played. In the end, the eight ball was the only ball on the table. Sidney missed it on a long bank shot. Steve sliced it masterfully into the corner pocket.
            “Beautiful. Very nice game” Sid said extending her hand.
            “You surprised me. Nice game” He shook her hand “Now about those shots…”
            “What’s your poison?”
            “OK” Sid went to the bar and Steve followed behind. She ordered to shots of Jack Daniels. They clinked to the game and tossed them back. The smacked the glasses down on the bar in a race to see who finished first.
            “You going inside?” Steve asked

            “Not tonight, it’s been a long day.”
Sid packed up her stick and waved good-bye to the guys as she and Lynn left. Steve watched her leave and raised an eyebrow. Jim looked at him and shook his head.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Chapter One

By Bonnie J. Johnson                 
 On a mid-March afternoon in 1981 a rickety, battleship gray bus arrives at the barracks. Sidney, the sole passenger, is happy the rock-tumbler ride is over despite the destination. Her first taste of Southern California comes as the bus doors open allowing the Santa Ana winds to force-feed her a mouthful of grit. Struggling with a fully packed seabag, one smaller suitcase and her prized pool cue case Sidney exits the bus with a less-than-graceful plunge. 

            The sun, shining hot and bright, forces a squint as she stands in the parking lot facing the barracks. It’s a three-story, stucco cube fronted by three rows of tilt-out windows. As a typist would strike through errors, the windows are halved by a wide horizontal bar limiting the range of motion. This safety-inspired afterthought eliminates any chance of an aesthetically pleasing exterior. Muttering to herself she quips, “It looks like a mental institution.” 
            The bus pulls away creating another cloud of exhaust and dust. She spits  the grit out of her mouth, picks up her things and plods toward the entrance continuing to entertain herself with semi-audible commentary about her new home.
            She climbs the four wide cement steps leading up to the two sets of double doors that open onto the barracks quarterdeck. Per Naval tradition, everything is spotless. The floor is highly buffed, the walls are the brightest white and the brass trim is polished to perfection. The rear exit is directly across from the front doors and two long hallways run off to the left and right. A semi-enclosed square office featuring a wide, rectangular, glassless window facing the front entrance occupies the main part of the quarterdeck. A rather large woman lounges in a straining office chair. Her untidy uniform matches her casual demeanor. Sidney finds her slightly repulsive and somewhat masculine and wonders if she’s gay.
            Questioning someone’s sexuality is a new sport for Sidney; one picked up in Memphis. Sid knew about bi- and homosexuality but A-school was her first opportunity to get to know men and women living a life of such forced secrecy. Now that she has a few friends of sexual diversity, she considers herself an expert and thinks she can spot someone who is other than heterosexual within seconds. Regardless of her accuracy rate, she considers herself quite the expert homo-spotter.
            The Petty Officer approaches the window and speaks,            Hi, I’m Petty officer Hunter your Master at Arms, but everyone calls me Janna or Ma. I assume you are Sidney Caldwell.” Sidney confirms and Janna continues, “I have you assigned to room 303.” With an apologetic look knowing how far away it is she continues, “I’m sorry that’s the best I can do right now” she points up and to her right, "It's all the way up and all the way over." 
            Sidney picks up her things, adjusts them into a neatly balanced load and heads toward the stairwell. She stops when she hears the familiar crack of a pool cue. A uniquely pretty girl with a crooked smile skillfully clears the balls from the pool table in the barracks lounge. Considering herself a good shot Sidney examines the current play. She concludes that this girl has no suitable competition and decides to remedy that as quickly as possible. 
            She shifts her bag onto her shoulder, rebalancing her cargo and begins hauling them up the two flights of stairs to the third floor. At the top, she walks through the swinging double doors, stops and looks around. Unlike the spit and polish of the quarterdeck, the upper decks have a more lived-in look. The long hallway runs north and south from the entrance. The walls are dotted with smudges and a few off-shade brush strokes spotlighting damage repair. The heavy brass-adorned doors clash a bit with the well-worn brownish orange carpet. “Lovely, they really went all out on the décor,” She snarks.
            The contrast with her previous barracks is unpleasantly surprising to Sid. Since Memphis is a training base, the rules of boot camp cleanliness still apply. Here, at Miramar, the focus is on billeted work versus barracks inspections. There are specified groups of people, such as those on restriction for some legal infringement, who must clean the public areas of the barracks. It’s no longer the responsibility of the barracks inhabitants.
            She continues down the long hallway to her room. By this time, her slight 5’4” body is getting tired. Her luggage slips from her shoulders and crashes against the room door. Sidney leans her head on the door for balance and fumbles with her key. Before she can get the key in the lock the door opens wide and she barely escapes a vaudevillian pratfall into the room.
            A chipmunk-cheeked, freckle-face redhead with a bright round smile greets Sidney and laughs, "Let me guess, you’re my new roommate, right? I'm Lynn.” 
            Sidney gives up, lets everything drop to the floor and shakes Lynn's hand. "I'm Sidney, but you can call me Grace," she jokes while dragging her stuff inside. 
            Lynn grabs a few things and explains that she has the one single cot on the northwest side of the room. “Since it’s just us two you can have any of those,” She points to the two sets of bunk beds at the other end of the room.
            The space is surprisingly large housing five cots, five double-sided wooden lockers, a table, and four chairs. The outside wall sports windows on the top half and cement blocks on bottom. The black horizontal bar is as hideous from this side as it is from the other. The windows offer a beautiful view of the Pacific sunset sinking behind a tree-rimmed golf course just on the other side of a small street. There’s a rare patch of grass between that street and the barracks parking lot. Everywhere she looks, there is activity. Not great crowds of people, just one or two golfers swinging clubs, car driving by and a group of friends on their way somewhere laughing and goofing around. She watches the group of friends until they are out of sight.
            “Is it a hot guy?” Lynn asks.
            Retrieving her focus, “What?” Sid asks.
            “What you were staring at, is it a hot guy?” Lynn giggles.
            “No, no; just taking it all in.” Sid replies turning into the room.
            Sidney moves to the bunk in the corner opposite from Lynn and begins to unpack. First, she opens her locker wide. It’s more like an oversized wardrobe than a military locker. She inspects it as if strategically planning the placement of each item. She’s impressed by it’s volume. She moves to her seabag, dumping the entire contents onto the lower bunk. It always amazes her how much stuff she can fit into one of these things. Her movements are quick and deliberate as if executing a well-rehearsed mission. 
            Lynn looks up from her book and watches her new roommate moving about the room. Sidney is a natural beauty with a striking figure. Her look is neither glamorous nor wholesome. Somewhat like Marilyn Monroe meets your kid sister. She swims in a pool of devil-may-care punctuated by a highly expressive face. Long dark lashes frame silver blue eyes alive with life and anticipation. Lynn watches as the sunset fills the room with a copper glow. The evening colors reflect in Sid’s long blonde hair as it moves on her shoulders softly from side to side. Lynn’s admiration comes without jealousy, instead she is appreciative, as a museum patron would be viewing a new work of art.
            An hour or so later the unpacking is finished. Sidney flops on her bed catching her breath. A moment later she stands and announces, "I need a drink, where’s the E-Club?"             
            Lynn grins, “Come on, I’ll take you over.”
            “Is it open?” Sid asks.
            Lynn laughs, "It's almost always open."
Happy to have the company, Lynn bounces off her rack and out the door. Sid follows.