I can’t remember if that’s the Fifth or Sixth Law of the Salt Mine. Others include: “Don’t spit (or do other things liquid) into the wind”; “Never stand when everyone else is crouching”; and “You can’t push a rope,” to mention but a few.
Anyway, I learned this particular truism while in Hamburg, Germany, back in 1970.
One evening while there, I was aboard ship (USS Wasp — an aircraft carrier) along with everyone else in the duty section. We’d just finished an open house, and I’d wandered topside to see who might be going on liberty when I noticed a German family coming up the gangway. Husband, wife and two young kids.
I watched as it was explained that the open house had ended. Dad then told the kids — who were obviously disappointed. On the spur of the moment, I mentioned that I wouldn’t mind giving them a tour since I wasn’t doing anything else that evening.
The father (who spoke English) was delighted — as were mom and the kids.
The tour took the better part of two hours. Bow to stern. Flying bridge to crews’ quarters. When we finished, everyone seemed tired, so I asked if the kids would like some ice cream. No argument there, so we went down to the wardroom for banana splits. And, that’s where the trouble started.
There were others onboard that evening who had time on their hands and several of them came over and began talking with us. Thus began the second tour.
The pilots grabbed the kids and they went to sit in the cockpits of the planes we had aboard while dad was hauled off to Combat Information Center for an explanation of how all of our nifty radars worked. Mom got a tour of the galley spaces and was shown some rather interesting recipes. “Peel a gazillion potatoes. Bring several cauldrons of water to a rolling boil. Cook until done. Salt and pepper to taste. Feeds 4,000.”
The family finally left (with an escort that would make an admiral proud) at around 11 p.m. Payback came the next day — which was a Saturday.
I was reading the newspaper when I was paged to the quarterdeck. When I got there, I met “dad” from the night before. He told me he wished to return the favor and show me around Hamburg. I was already in civilian clothes and recognized what I thought was a good thing.
It being nearly noon, he said we’d stop at his neighborhood tavern for some lunch and “a beer.” Then we’d pick up his family and take the grand tour.
Ever seen those pictures of the German waitress with about 20 steins of beer in her arms? I met her that day. I don’t remember what (or if) I ate.
Eventually, we collected the rest of the family and headed out. I vaguely remember a museum that was having a display of the works of Rodin which I managed to pronounce as “Rodan” — of Japanese monster movie fame — earning a round of giggles from everyone nearby.
After a few more stops at various gardens, zoos and shops, I was beginning to come around. By then, however, it was back to the tavern for some refreshments before dinner. Same waitress. Same beer.
When we got to the house, I discovered that German families serve wine with their meals — before which Dad and guests usually have a beer or two. I didn’t fall into the food but, once again, I don’t have a clear recollection of eating it, either.
Following dinner, I was taken to several night spots in Hamburg. This I deduced from the coasters I found in my pocket the next day.
My roommate told me that I stumbled into the stateroom at around 1 a.m., sat down in a chair, bent over to take off a shoe and went to sleep in that position.
The next morning, I attended church services aboard ship — mostly, I remember, to ask for relief from the hammers of hell that were pounding away just behind my eyes.
As I said, no good deed ever goes unpunished.
And, as I discovered, truer words have never been spoken.
Larry Simoneaux lives in Edmonds. Send comments to: firstname.lastname@example.org
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