Very much can be written about my buddy Edward T. Antkowiak, but for the purpose of this narrative all that needs to be said is, like me, he can be very intense about pursuing an objective. One such objective in 1977 was a three-day symposium that, as the Director of the Navy’s Computer Application and Development Office, Ed had organized and was conducting for the Naval Sea Systems Command in Washington, D.C.
Since I would be in Washington, D.C. on other business, Ed advised, “The first day of the symposium is scheduled to end at four thirty. Immediately afterwards, I plan to debrief my people and give them instructions on how to conduct the second day. I’ll phone your hotel room before six and tell you where we should meet for dinner.”
Knowing Ed, I suspected that the debriefing was going to turn into a full-blown symposium about how to conduct a symposium. It could be a long evening. I returned to my hotel room about five, donned my pajamas, and went to sleep.
The phone rang at nine. Ed was calling from one of those new waterfront restaurants on the Maryland side of the Potomac River just downstream from the 14th Street bridge. I was there by nine thirty. He had started to sip a second double martini, and it didn’t seem likely that a third or even a fourth would get the tenseness about him to abate. His condition called for drastic action, so I told him about an event that happened on the old battleship WEST VIRGINIA many years before.
The sailors in the deck division responsible for the appearance of the weather area reserved for the Captain, were especially proud of the bleached white teak deck that they holystoned every morning. During his constitutionals and when escorting visitors, the skipper never failed to compliment members of the deck gang who were about. But there was a change of command and the replacement skipper brought with him a Scottish terrier. The sailors were horrified when they discovered that the dog was permitted to regularly perform on their deck. Left even for ten minutes, each dropping caused a stain. The nominal holystoning performed early each morning with a rhythm that all enjoyed, had turned into drudgery.
One of the distressed swabs got a bright idea. Why not borrow the monkey that another deck division kept as a pet and train the monkey to pick up after the dog? As soon as the dog performed, the monkey could heave the offending spoor over the side. The idea was a hit, not only with the sailors, but as it turned out, also with the monkey that until then had been bored with its life as just a mascot.
The little creature was determined to be a success at the only job it ever had. The word spread. Other crewmen were impressed with the monkey’s zeal. The ship’s tinsmith beat out a monkey-size dustpan. The chief petty officer in charge of the machine shop, turned the handle of a regulation foxtail brush and trimmed the remainder accordingly, so that it could be effectively wielded by the tiny new member of the deck force. The ship’s tailor, overwhelmed by the esprit that the monkey caused, spent off-duty hours, foregoing liberty, just to make the smallest uniform ever seen in WEST VIRGINIA.
Regarding its assignment, the monkey had a 4.0 record that was soon acknowledged by the division officer who permitted the monkey to participate in morning muster. Dressed in its uniform the monkey stood at attention at the end of the line. In response to names read from the role there were deep-toned, “Here!, Here!,” etc. followed lastly by a high-pitched “Eek!”
During morning colors the monkey saluted and seemed to have the same reverence for country that the stars and stripes inspired in others. Beyond anyone’s expectations, the idea to assign the monkey to clean up after the dog was an overwhelming success. No dropping was on the deck more than ten seconds. But a dark cloud appeared on the horizon in the form of a member of the black gang who was brought back to the ship by the shore patrol.
During the story thus far, Ed had been occasionally lost in thought. After I mentioned the black gang, because he had shipped out as a marine engineer, a bit more of his attention was diverted from his martini to my story.
I continued by describing how the denizen of the machinery spaces who was being punished for behavioral lapses ashore, became bitter when the captain ordered two-months with no liberty. The black-gang snipe vowed revenge. Thus during an evening when the captain’s pet was on deck alone, the diabolical hellion from below decks slipped a cork into the poor animal’s anus.
Not more than a day went by when the dog’s behavior changed. Within a couple of days the creature lay inert while occasionally whining. But the dog’s physical problem was nothing compared to what happened to the monkey’s psyche. Suddenly the ship’s smallest crew member had no responsibility. The monkey missed morning quarters. It appeared disheveled and later completely discarded its uniform. The monkey simply lapsed back to being just a monkey.
The monkey’s routine degenerated to spending hour after hour parting the hair on the feverish-dog’s back and picking out the minute salt flecks that remain after sweat dries. Following a full day of such inane activity, the monkey while looking for new territory raised the dog’s tail. Seeing something that attracted its curiosity, the monkey pulled out the cork.
At this point in my narrative, Ed was laughing almost uncontrollably. I had a hard job trying to sound serious so I could finish the story the way it had to be told for full effect. I then put my left hand over my eyes and with my right, I made believe that I was holding the end of a cork and poking it repeatedly ahead of me in a desperate attempt to put it back in the dog. At the same time I said, “Have you ever seen a monkey doing this?”
The taut wire in Ed snapped. He went over sideways and fell onto the unoccupied chair alongside while simultaneously grabbing his stomach and bringing his knees to his chest. His face became wet from tears and his laughter was way past the point where sound vanishes.
Just then a stranger as tense as Ed had been, came running from across the room, grabbed my arm and demanded, “You must tell me the story that you just told him!”
Copyright © 2006 (text only) by Louis D. Chirillo