We were ready to carry out the age old tradition of Coasties getting ready for liberty call – shower, shave, count your money and hit the beach. A Coastie on liberty was usually seeking three things; women, getting drunk and a tattoo.
Waiting on the wharf was a big four door 1939 Packard car, with a hand written sign taped to its door.
Red Rooster House
White, Chinese and Black Girls
Smooth Service – Sailors Welcome A huge black man, resembling Pop-Eye the Sailor, wearing only a ragged pair of cut-off pants and a small white captain’s hat perched on his huge mop of dreadlocks
stood next to the car.
“Hop in mon, Big Nelson take you to the Red Rooster house, you be big-time happy tonight, we got sweet ladies, cold red-stripe Jamaican beer and first class gangi for smokin”.
Yours truly and five shipmates quickly piled into the old Packard with Big Nelson.
Big Nelson hadn’t lied; the downstairs rooms of the Red Rooster were stocked with ladies of all different sizes, shapes and colors. A female version of Big Nelson, smoking a large gangi joint, ran the bar, phonograph and the ladies. The game plan was simple – drink a few red stripe beers, then dance and hang out with the ladies while sizing up the one you wanted to take upstairs after paying “Madam Nelson” one British pound ($4.80 U.S. in those days).
I chose a Chinese looking Jamaican lady who didn’t look too tired; certain she or my shipmates didn’t know it was my first time. I paid Madam Nelson and told her I was taking Miss China upstairs.
“OK mon, you got 30 minutes”.
It was over quick. But, I had finally done the deed; I had passed the test, I had earned my spurs and achieved the sexual nirvana that all virgin young guys strive to reach in their quest for manliness. I was in the brotherhood! Unfortunately, the feeling of euphoria I was basking in was dashed within a few seconds by Miss China.
4 “Hey sailor boy; not bad for first time upstairs,
tie a knot in your condom and toss it out the window”.
Not quite what I imagined Deborah Kerr said to Burt Lancaster after they made love on the beach in From Here to Eternity. How did Miss China know it was my first time? I had been so cool with all my moves. I hoped she wouldn’t spill the beans to my shipmates.
Leaving my white jumper top askew, I did my best “John Wayne tough guy” act as I swaggered down the stairs with a freshly lit Lucky Strike hanging out of my mouth – giving a nonchalant wink and grunt to my shipmates. “Gimmie a red stripe and make sure it’s cold” I barked. I didn’t fool “Madam Nelson” behind the bar, she smiled and winked at me in a motherly way – she knew the drill.
Back on the ship the next morning I could tell it had been a great liberty. There was a good assortment of bruised faces and knuckles, ripped and dirty uniforms, and a new array of fresh tattoos, still oozing little droplets of blood from the blue and red ink needle drawings of leopards, eagles and anchors. It had been a good liberty.
I’m now 71 years old, semi-retired and living back on Long Island. I don’t hang out in the Hampton joints anymore but I still chuckle sometimes when I’m shaving and catch a glimpse in the bathroom mirror of the USCG tattoo on my left shoulder. Yes, I never had a cushy assignment on a Long Island lifeboat station but I wouldn’t trade my time as a young Coastie “blue water sailor” out to see the world for anything.
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