I've often said that working as a merchant mariner exposes you to the best and the worst people in the world.
It's Summer 2002 and I'm working as an Able Seaman aboard an oil tanker. It's my first trip as a permanent crewman, which means that for the first time, I was working on a schedule and would have a job waiting for me, no more sitting in a union hall for months, praying there was enough gas in the car to get me home to try again next week.
I'm feeling good, is what I mean.
Half way through the trip, it's the end of April. It's getting warm. We're sailing from New Jersey to Savannah, Savannah to Southwest Pass, then 14 hours up the Mississippi river to Norco, Louisiana. Pretty regular for us. We went to all those places a dozen times or so a year.
The thing about Norco is that there's an excellent bar within walking distance to the ship. Literally, it's on the far side of the dock from us, maybe 600 feet away.
I've been on board for 2 months. I'm pretty well stir-crazy. I had agreed to stand an extra watch and cover for someone in Savannah so he could go ashore to get laid, and I had to square up, so he was covering my watch in Norco, which meant that I had 18 hours or so free.
So I went to the bar. I had some drinks- I think I was drinking lite beer, and flirting with the bartender, who was ridiculously hot, and the southern accent to my Boston ears... holy hell, that's sexy. There's a quiet guy next to me, a young giant, also pounding cheap shitty beer.
I'm no little fella. I'm 6 foot tall, and at this point in my life, I weighed 250lbs, and while some of that is fat, most was not. And this guy's a head taller than me, and half-again as broad across the shoulders. Immediately annoyed me. I like being the biggest guy in the room.
Anyhow, the guy's just a kid, and is friendly once we get to talking. He's got a drawl, and, turns out, is from a town in Texas that we visit sometimes on the ship, but we don't have a lot of common ground there, because he doesn't know the bars and titty bars in his home town well. Suspicious.
Seriously, get 2 strange sailors together, and they'll talk about which ships they were on, first, which port calls they have in common, and then which regular and titty bars in those ports they liked best.
(Singapore, Orchard Towers for me, but NOT the Crazy Horse, if you're in the know).
Anyhow, I drank for a solid 2 hours, and the guy matched me, beer for beer. When I was feeling pleasantly buzzed (9-10 pints), I got up, stuck out my hand, and said "Big Texas, it was nice to meet you. I'm Boston Paul, and I hope we meet again." I then stumbled out and walked 4 miles down the road to a grocery store (not easy, but worth doing), drank a quart of gatorade, bought a candy bar, and walked back towards the ship, another 4 miles. By then I was sweating out most of the beer, and hours had passed, and it was getting dark. I stopped at a shitty store and bought 5 cases of diet pepsi, and lugged them back the 1/2 mile to the ship, hugged to my chest (seriously, that's how much of a junkie I am for the stuff. No shit. Here's the fridge in my room from that trip. )
Anyhow, walking to the gangway, I am now sober and sweating, and my arms are on fire from the weight of the soda. And there's Big Texas with a seabag, looking up the gangway with a happy smile.
"Big Texas, what are you doing here?"
"I'm your new deck cadet." A cadet is a maritime academy student, who has to serve 360 days on a ship during his college years in order to sit for a 3rd mate's license exam.
"Holy shit, how old are you?"
So I bought some of his beers. The kid's the size of a truck, so they didn't card him. And to look at him, he's not showing the effects of the beer at all, considering that I left him at the bar and he had to have been there for about 7-8 hours. Well, he was awful big, so I guessed he could hold it.
"Well, you better follow me, and I'll get you set up. You OK to come on board? We drank some."
With a big, beatific smile, he says "Naw, I'm good."
So, knowing that I don't have to stand a watch for 12 more hours, and that the new kid isn't a watchstander, but can't be out underfoot with any booze in his system, I made the command decision to stow him in a spare room until he gets a nap in and can present himself, make a good impression on the officers.
Didn't quite work out. We go up the gangway, and are walking to the house, when the chief mate comes out of the cargo office and yells "Who's that with you, Paul?"
I point my thumb behind me, and yell back "This is Big Texas, your new deck cadet!" As I turn around to look at the kid, planning on explaining that this was the Mate I was talking to, I see Big Texas projectile barfing over the side in a stream the exact rate and diameter as the cooling water exhaust for our 3 massive hydraulic turbines that power the cargo pumps- seriously, that kid's stomach must have been the size of a damn fuel tank on a car.
"Jesus. Get him out of here." The mate walks off.
"Who was that?"
"That was the chief mate."
"Oh. Well, shit. I guess I have 89 days to get over his first impression."
And that was Big Texas in a nutshell. Kid just didn't give a shit. He ended up being an excellent cadet, despite his very inauspicious start.
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