The Washing Machine

In my first year out of high school, that is during the first year of United States involvement in World War II, I sailed in the merchant marine to places like interesting Panama, exotic Bora Bora, hospitable Australia, scenic New Zealand, wonderful Scotland, and intriguing Algeria. Thus, in 1944, steaming in and out of Key West in what was supposed to be the start of an exciting career in the U.S. Navy was the ultimate in monotony. During liberties I resorted to fishing from a borrowed 12-foot boat and playing baseball. Both proved to be dangerous pastimes.

More than once the boat was closely scrutinized by a shark that was bigger. Regarding baseball, I organized a ship’s team to the delight of the equally bored enlisted crew and challenged crews in other ships. Soon teams from visiting submarines and destroyers, including a Cuban warship that came to Key West periodically, were referred to me to book games for them.

The Cubans were wild. Their pitchers threw only fast balls and their batters let go of the bat after every other swing. For our survival we always established the Cuban dugout on the third-base line in order to limit our concern for flying bats to only their few left-handed hitters. When we were at bat we stood well back from the plate. We stood far enough back to lose every game until someone got the idea to require the Cubans to play one game of softball for every game of hardball. Thereafter the Cubans won every hardball game and we won every softball game.

During that miserable summer two more bachelor officers, neither disposed to play baseball, reported to EAGLE 19 for duty. In all respects they were as different from each other as they were from me, and perhaps because of the differences we quickly became good friends. Ben Dobson was twenty-five and planned to return to his job in Chattanooga with the General Electric Credit Corporation. Dick Goebel, just out of college when he entered the Navy, aspired to become, and after the war did become, an account executive for Batten, Barton, Durstein, and Osborne, a Madison Avenue ad agency in New York City. With me as a dedicated marine engineer, we were an unlikely threesome that collaborated in improving life in the non air-conditioned, World War I vintage EAGLE 19. I don’t remember which one of the two came up with, “Let’s build a washing machine.”

Translated, that meant that I would design and build the machine and they would provide élan. Thus involved, I designed a machine that featured a rotating horizontal drum similar to the type used by Brooklyn’s wet-wash laundries before the general use of home washers. As I prepared the material list I said, “We’ll use galvanized sheet steel for the drum, but copper would be better.”

Overcome by their self-inspired élan they demanded copper, a critical material during wartime, even though they knew that the priority assigned to EAGLE 19 was nil.

With a requisition in hand for a sheet of copper the three of us traipsed to the Supply Department in the Naval Operating Base where we were summarily thrown out by the Supply Officer, a smooth operator who had one of the two air conditioners on the Base. The other was enjoyed by the Base Commander.

As we paused to let off steam in the Supply Officer’s outer office his secretary arrived. She was a Conch, that is a Key West native of Cuban descent, and gorgeous to say the least. We were acquainted because we had dated some of her girlfriends. She asked what had made us so unhappy and we told her in no uncertain terms what we thought about her boss and why. “Let me have the requisition,” she said.

Our beautiful representative opened the door without knocking and left it open for our benefit. The Supply Officer was writing and didn’t look up. She sat on the edge of his desk, put the requisition on the paper he was writing on, and said, “Sign it!”

He quickly recognized our submittal, darted a glance at the six eyes peering through the doorway, signed the requisition, shoved it aside, and went back to his writing as if nothing had happened. Our imaginations went wild about why she had such power, but not that wild that we lost sight of our objective.

She was fantastic to behold as she came out of the office with a great smile and the signed requisition. But her smile lasted only seconds because the three of us, instantly having acquired the same idea, momentarily baffled her with, “Tear it up! Forget the copper!”

Because of our newly discovered priority we successfully requisitioned a washing machine.


Copyright © 2005 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo

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