Saturday, September 01, 2007

Cullen's Tiger Shark from The Chorito Hog Leg

Tim Cullen was sunning his filmy Irish pallor into a robust red after days at sea. In the Gun Tub within hailing distance of the bridge, Tim, Sal and Watson maintained the ready boxes and changed the water in the empty barrel tube with cold salt water. As there was a scarcity of fresh water on board the LST and limited to one shower every three days Tim and the other enlisted men had become used to oily feel of their skin and applied moisturizer to their faces immediately after shaving. Other than that and the BA PALM, BA PALM, BA PALM that the flat ship made as it coursed its way to the anchorage at Kwajelain, where the men would go ashore for running and conditioning, Tim and the others rested and prepared themselves for the invasion by reading and studying maps and hand-outs, but mostly by cleaning and re-cleaning their weapons. Into the sun’s bright rays broke the towering majesty of Gunny Higgins whose shoulders eclipsed the late morning sun over Tim.

‘Brig-rat, it is time that you learned to eat of the sea’s bounty and as you are most mechanically aptituded fuck-up in this august body of fighting men under my mothering gaze - Get your side-arm and come with me.’
“Gunny we are not supposed to carry side arms on board but have them stowed,’ replied Cullen with a cat’s sense of scalding water to come.
‘Pipe, down shit-bird, and lash on that Smitty Wesson, we going fishing.’
Cullen snapped to and donned the shoulder holster and the .38 revolver that he had carried since Bob Foster had handed it to him before Bougainville.
‘Throw on your cover, Altar boy! We are in the shadow of our betters and they are in the Officer’s Ward Room for the next three hours.’ Tim put on his khaki fore and aft cap. ‘Choirboy we are fishing for the fat-fucker who ate Jonah; ‘Course being a Pope’s Pussy you do not know or appreciate the beauty and majesty of the Bible – King James only. See the starboard davit? Aft of the LCVP is a small crane for lowering cargo and ammo. That is our fishing pole and this is our bait.’
Gunny Higgins produced a twenty pound slab of fat back bacon that he had commissioned from the Cook on condition that all galley ratings got a cut of shark steak. Gunny held the huge slab aloft as if he were a king and this was his first born male heir!

‘We go fishing for the great fish – the Great White or his fat-assed lazy brother the Blue Shark. You will operate this crane and drag bacon until one of those torpedo-like chow-hounds gets more than he can swallow.’
Cullen almost wet his pants with excitement and took the gaffing hook from its lashing and pulled the large thick cargo hook over the gun-whale and Gunny Higgins speared the huge slab of bacon through the grain and then against it.
Tim operated the crane out and lowered way the chain slowly and carefully so as not to bring the line crashing into the thin hull of their transport.
‘Kiss my heroic ass, if you don’t handle mechanisms like you were born to them. Jesus, Brig-rat, you amaze me and I fucked humped back midget sluts in Shanghai before going to YMCA meetings. Makes you want to throw up; doesn’t it Junior? Why, the taste of fine snatch in the Orient is only bettered by its nibble on a working man’s wallet. You a Virgin, Candyass?’

Tim lied, ‘No Gunny, I took pleasure in the whores of San Diego.’

‘Don’t lie to Gunny, Needle –dick, I have your service record and you went home to Mama after Boots, got tossed in the Brigs, took a Summary Courts, boarded Bloemfontaigne for New Caledonia, shipped to the ‘Canal, surveyed on the .30 under Bob Foster, a better man never drew breath, crapped in your pants and everywhere else on Boogan, and you still got you cherry.’

Tim laughed to himself but tried to concentrate on the job at hand.
Between LST- 448 and the horizon were LCIs of every type- The Landing Craft Infantry was roughly half the size of the LST 128 feet in length with a beam of 23 feet and, like the LST, almost flat bottomed so every sailor and Marine aboard felt every wave. With crews of between 40 and 60 sailors the LCIs carried up to 200 Marines. There were also derivative models of the LCI modified to be gun ships, rocket ships, and mortar ships

The LCI(g), or gunboat carried 3” and 5” guns, extra 40 mm Gun mounts, and bristled with 20mm guns as well as .50 caliber machine guns. The LCI(r) carried rocket launchers and up to 600 4” rockets. LCI(m) was outfitted with heavy mortars to bombard hill-lines and take out bunkers on the defended beaches.

Destroyers of every Class and designation darted like ballroom dancers among the plodding transports. Like every day thus far aboard LST-448, Tim marveled at the vastness of the Pacific and imagined that he had traveled farther and to more historic impact than any other person in his bloodline. He did not need to imagine that he had in fact done so in his full year in the service of his country.
His mother and father had told their children of their individual odysseys from County Kerry: his father working in Liverpool and Manchester and fighting the working man’s fight with Big Jim Larkin and taking the passage to New York, boarding train for Chicago and the stockyards in time to work as a policeman during the Strike of 1912 and his mother, leaving a cabin on the Great Blasket Island and heading to Queenstown in County Cork for passage to New York and herself a train to Chicago to work in the kitchen of Metropole Hotel on 22nd Street. These were day trips in comparison. Tim had voyaged farther than anyone in his bloodline and that was fact.

Let’s take this time to sweep out the attic of our imaginations and suspend the trinkets, tinsel, ticket stubs and teary-eyed treasures above the level of our thoughts-vision and look to port from Tim Cullen’s thin steel housing. We have had, this narrator has at any rate, a clutter of junk that he imagines are the important mirrors of his experience on earth – a pretty good time most of us, despite the disappointments, deaths, diseases, distractions, and in some cases whole-sale de-railings of our journeys; but in the might and main we have had it pretty good.

The boss walks in and tells you that the McDonald’s account will go to the guy who leaves at 3PM, spends the next three hours at a martini bar with the suits from the next level and ‘big pictures’ all the ideas that you have presented to the ‘team’ and that you should give this slug all of your notes and work-ups and keep him apprized. You have had it rough; you pay your own way; you meet the mortgage payments; you take the extra classes; you do the heavy lifting; you do not cheat on your husband; you do not make your wife do the lions share of the work with the kids and then beef about Andy’s inability to master freshman algebra; you do not sleep-in when it’s a twenty below zero wind-chill factor and Sacred Heart is five miles from the house; you do not reap the rewards for which you labor as a good woman or man – tough shit.

Your kids are not coughing up their little lungs and shivering under wet blankets in a tropical rain-forest after having had their cottages torched and pulled down and sent with all your belongings to Manengon on the other side of the island; you did not risk your life sneaking dried fish and fruit to an uncle named Blas who would walk thirty mile north through jungle and kunai grass, evading patrols of Japanese Naval Landing Force troops led by Boson Otayama, who was pissed off to have to take his twenty-seven sailors out of Agana to the wilderness on a wild-goose chase for the last of the Yankee sailors cowering in a cave; Otayama vowed that he slit open any gook that he found, from the dick to the lungs and leave him or her for the bugs and toads; You are disappointed. Take it and embrace it. Grow up.

Tim Cullen grew up fast, but he was still a kid even after Bougainville and he had a kid’s sense of fairness and the arm of God and the protective cloak of the Blessed Virgin taking a direct part in his journey, like catechism books when he was a little guy at St. Sabina’s Grammar School, do good and you will be taken care of – what about martyrs? – don’t be a wise guy. Tim Cullen believed that Gunny Higgins was going to take care of the boys in the squad with a shark steak dinner.

Out there, strung out for miles, ships and smaller craft folded the waters into prayerful wakes like the hands of Virgins and saints in the statuaries of St. Sabina’s a prayerful voyage and beneath the palms of foaming waters darted Tim’s prey, who themselves sought out the weaker and the plaintive unfortunates who fell overboard – and they did with some frequency – American, British, Australian, Dutch, and Japanese combatants who were too clumsy, too trusting, to cocky, and too human and plunged to mercies of what they believed and what would be. Those sharks would eat them.

Tim had an American made Harrington Hoist built on Tchoupitoulas Street in downtown New Orleans by Standard Services Crane Company and a twenty pound slab of Iowa Landrace Hog in the palm of a very sharp hook. After an hour of slow and methodical trolling the bait hooked a sixteen 1/2 foot long Tiger Shark! The powerful monster threshed and thrashed and yawed in attempts to unhook itself from the baited trap, but the thick American steel cable and the Gary, Indiana forged hook help the trapped victimizer of overboard sailors and troops of all nations. Tim Cullen worked the controls slowly and eased the heavy dinner toward the starboard hoist aft of the rocking LCVP above Tim’s khaki covered red-hair. Gunny Higgins watching from the starboard fly-bridge hooted and laughed aloud as his cloud-covered altar boy once again proved himself to be a boy of talent and steel.

‘Cullen, you pie-eyed unregenerate brig-rat, you by God bested my take off of Cuba in 1932! That is a tiger and I snagged a damn thresher! Boy, you are a fire-tested pair of brass balls! Get that fucker aboard!’

Tim’s heart pumped and he half-giggled but maintained his focus as scrums of sailors and Leathernecks jostled near the starboard crane when word of the feat spread through the Company. Cpl. Jack Howard’s Jackie Coogan –face thrust through the scrum of faded blue denim and salt-bleached green herringbone – “YAYYYHOOO! Hook ‘em Cullen! That’s my gunner boys and girls!’ Similar encomiums fell around Tim’s shoulders and now the bridge above them was thick with pressed khakied officers who slept in well-ventilated berths in the ships castle while those below sweated and slumbered in the bowels of LST-448. The officers, especially Maj. Opley and Lt. Buck cheered their accomplished underling’s feat of skill and luck.

After twenty minutes of coaxing and dexterous manipulation Cullen swung the huge gray fish over the gunwale and lowered the Tiger shark to the deck. The monster thrashed and snapped as if un-troubled by the snare of steel. Marines and sailors turned into mincing girls and danced toe-touchingly back from its razor sharp maw. Tim pulled the Smith and Wesson from his shoulder holster and put two bullets in the shark’s brain and then the three last as the shark’s last acts of will slowed to a violent and final snap.

‘Now Hear This! Now Hear This! This is the Captain Speaking! Master-At – Arms! Disarm that Man and drag him to the brig!’ Over the ship’s loud-speaker, the voice explained the folly of Tim Cullen’s trust in Gunny Higgins. Hoots and howls of laughter replaced the high Hozannas! ‘The Brig-Rat’s Return! Now, Playing ‘The Man in the Iron Mask!’ ‘Piss and Punk Cullen!

‘Aye, Aye, Sir!’ Chief Chaffee replied to the call from the ship’s Captain Lt. Mo Higgins.

Tim received three days on bread and water for firing an unauthorized weapon aboard a ship in a combat zone without the stated authority of the Master at Arms. Gunny Higgins took one arm while Chief Chaffee confiscated the machine gunner’s side arm and marched the pawn to his steel screened dungeon behind the galley.

‘You’ll sweat off some chubby in here, Brig Rat,’ opined Chief Chaffee.

‘Hold on, there MAA this is a combat tested, fighting man only trying to feed the men who guide his life. Besides, he’s all ribs and dick now as it is. He’s a shell-back and won’t miss kissing your disgusting paunch, Chief, any how! That’s tomorrow we cross the equator – number twenty for me.’

Tim was stripped of his boondockers, shirt and trousers and in skivvies and socks laid down upon his bed of pain – again.

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