83. Still Tied Up at Dock …Fire in the Hold! 🔥 Fire in the Hold!

Next day.

I awoke and went to find Phil, the Chief Steward you’ll remember.  He showed me our Captain’s quarters, the rest of the quarterdeck, some basic supply areas and at last the private dining area.  

If I’m remembering correctly we were on the top deck now where this dining room was situated.  Phil told me it’s where the Skipper, First Mates, Engineers, etc., would have their meals.  “You’ll give them the menu after they’re seated and take their orders.  Well, you know what to do,” he said to me with confidence.  

“They’ll be coming up in about an hour,” he pointed out the coffee machine as he spoke along with the table linens, sink, refrigerator, dishes & silverware, you know all that stuff to lay a neat table for the officers in their exclusive dining room.  

I’d always have my right hand man to assist me in the dining room.  I would utilize the dumbwaiter system for the food to come up from the kitchen below.  At the end of the meals we’d make use of it again for the return of the meal dishes.  I would also wear a starched white waiter’s jacket and those were kept aside on a few hooks… always at least three or four clean ones.

At this time the ship wasn’t fully staffed so only a few crew I would tend to.  As they took their seats they introduced themselves to me and were kind.  When the Skipper came into the room Phil pointed him out.  

And when the diners departed the room, my assistant and I had our breakfast and then cleaned up, changing the table linens,  making sure the floor was cleaned up and putting everything put away.

Phil arrived in time to see that all was done.  “You’re off for the next three and a half hours till lunch duty so have your time.  Go ashore if you like or rest or whatever.  And yes, Masala you have an appointment with the Skipper at 2:30 this afternoon.  You’ll be done with the lunch well before that.  He’ll be expecting you in his quarters.”

I left the ship to walk around Concord and most important to call Diana myself.  I walked up to a pay phone, pick one, any one, there were many scattered about here and there.  I deposited my coins and made the call.

Yesterday Phil had provided much useful information to me of which now I would share with my wife.  After asking after Alok’s health, I asked about Amar and Asha (I was missing my children even more now that I realized I wouldn’t be seeing my family anytime soon … maybe even never again).

‘How are you doing?’  I gingerly asked her knowing what I was about to lay on her.  It didn’t sound as though she was suspicious so I began to let it roll out.  ‘I didn’t get the opportunity to sail in the direction of Fiji.’

“Oh no, why not?” she asked rather casually.  In the quiet moment that followed she then of course wanted to know, “When are you coming home?”  My heart began to beat a little faster as I replied, ‘I don’t know.’  Diana plainly put it forward, “What do you mean you don’t know?”

‘I’ve been assigned to one of many ships belonging to Hudson Waterways which has been contracted by the U. S. Government during this war.  This is what the Chief Steward has explained to me dear.’

I listened for a few moments for her feedback but all I would hear was her deep breathing and so I continued, ‘I’m headed for Vietnam at the end of this week and the return date is unknown.’  Heavy silence remained on her side for a moment longer. “Did I hear you say you’re sailing to Vietnam?”

I told her she heard right and I begin speaking quicker.  I fed her all the information I had.  Diana just listened … or fainted, I don’t know.  I added that I was now technically employed by the United States Merchant Marines.  I also said that I couldn’t get back to Los Angeles before we departed and that we would be sailing under the American flag as a division of the United States Coast Guard.  

For added comfort I added the fact that the U. S. Marines would always be protecting us.  We were after all transporting vital supplies for the war effort. “I don’t believe this is happening!”  Okay she was still with me on the phone.

I told her about the pay, how it would be administered and that when we were within the border of the war zone (hazard pay), it meant double pay.  I don’t know what comfort that really brought her at the moment but there, I put it all on the table.  I think harder than the fact of my destination was the realization that we couldn’t see each other before I left.

Vietnam would have plenty of time to sink in.  What else did we have?  I know I didn’t need to remind her but I did; Susan and Lisa being there really was such a huge advantage.  Diana told me the kids were playing with their cousin (Lisa’s son) having a happy time and so I chose not to speak to them on this call.  

Unless I said something to them about what was happening they wouldn’t know but hearing their voices I expected, would devastate me and so I did not speak to them.  To be sure I would on the next call.

Conversation about the rest of everything transpired, I gave her an address to where she’d be able to write to me (everything went through New York) and so it came to pass and I sensed Diana was attempting to project strength on her part, for my sake and that didn’t occur to me till after I hung up the phone and opened the glass door, stepping outside of the phone booth.

The meeting with the Captain went well and why wouldn’t it.  He seemed a nice man speaking plainly with me and also with decency.  We finalized my employment that afternoon.  The Skipper had asked me questions mainly in regards with pay distribution to my family and final wishes should the need arise.

“And if you choose to go ashore at any port, be it known it’s your own discretion.  Also you’ll be given a ‘shore allowance’ from your own pay if you require it, you need only ask.”  

I smiled when the Skipper mentioned all the ports we may encounter.  “Oh yes and if you choose to go ashore in the not-so-favorable parts of the world and get your ass blown off, know it’s your call.”

One day as the last of the supplies and bombs were being loaded, there happened a fire in the hold, the bay if you will.  A few of the guys (not your everyday warship crew) and myself panicked, having never been in such a situation before … ever, decided to run off the ship and were stopped at the gangway.  “Where you running off to?” we were questioned.

Blank looks on our face, wondering why we were stopped and told straight up, “If this ship blows the whole town goes up!”  It was clear we couldn’t outrun the explosion should one occur.  We remained on the ship.

The fire was quickly handled by the crew who (thank God) knew what to do and in the end well, in the back of my mind this fear would stay with me every night …day time too actually.

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10. Kiwis For a Queen and Aussie Burgers For Me! – part 3

En route to Sydney, Australia and with that being an approximate distance of 1570 nautical miles, it took us about three and a half days.  Our ship was unloaded of her cargo which consisted of raw sugar from Fiji and the previously mentioned saved load of lumber.

Every evening we would go ashore to see the town and eat what we could.  As we are seaside and when the sun has gone down, there’s a bit of chill to the night air.

The next day, while it was still warm and sunny, the guys and I walked across the Sydney Harbor Bridge.  At the beginning of our trek I spied what looked like an amusement park underneath the bridge on the far side.  ‘Hey! something more for us to investigate, let’s go there!’

Our company of guys who would go ashore together exploring the new surroundings was usually the same four; two were say about mid 20’s in age while the other guy and myself were all of 18.

It turns out this point of interest is Lunar Park and as we got closer I could see it’s wasn’t exactly under the bridge, it only looked that way when seeing it from the other end.

As we entered the park it was almost right away we could sense eyes upon us; the girls were definitely checking us out but we also knew we had to be very careful as there may be boyfriends about and probably a lot of them, versus the four of us.  Most likely our appearance gave us away as foreigners.

I guess what I’m saying here is that we made great effort to stifle any urges to flirt, mainly for safety reasons you understand.

For the little bit of time we had left in the day we thought we could check out at least some of Lunar Park and so we did.  🎢 We walked around a bit, grabbing a snack here and there and played some arcade games.  It seemed like no time at all had passed and the moment to leave was already upon us.

As dusk rolled into Sydney, the Ferris wheel lit up with its dazzling display of lights 🎡 and so too did the entire park.  The rest of **the city donned her evening wear as well.

Oh how I hated to leave this place;  I realized it encouraged my youthful spirit.  🎠 It could have been a night full of great adventures, I’m sure.  We were nearly all the way back over the bridge into Sydney proper when I turned to look at where I had just been and saw a sight to behold.

For what I have seen up till now in my life -apart from my first sighting of Honolulu that morning not so long ago- and coming from a little south pacific island; as far as man-made sights of beauty, this was unforgettable for me.

The illuminated bridge, the lights of the Sydney skyline and how their reflections played upon the water, and all the various sized and types of boats simply buzzing about their watered way, left me momentarily speechless.

We all took in this sight and then turned to walk off the Sydney Harbor Bridge towards our return for an early morning shift.  The air has now brought back its sundown chill at the water’s edge and we are walking with our hands in our pockets.

There it is again, I caught wind of it before on the other side of the bridge and I suspect this beautiful smell in the air has to be following us around because now it has directly assaulted my nostrils!

I don’t think it’s going to let-up anytime soon or show any mercy until I’ve paid direct attention to it.  As if we didn’t already know it was dinner time this aromatic, similar to hamburgers but ….I don’t know, was delightfully wafting through the air working its magic on my curious taste buds.  The guys and I followed our noses to a cafe, stopping to peer in like window shoppers.

Beyond the glass there were many people happily enjoying every bite of what looked like well, fat sandwiches.  I’d seen these before …ah yes!  =It was while I was employed in the private home back in Fiji.  We could see the grill loaded with patties of meat smoking, sizzling, lapped by flame spurts and scenting the air.

That did it, we knew where dinner was!  Only moments later we too were inside and soon after, deep into our own dripping experience and so it is noted here, I ate a hamburger for the first time in my life!

Okay it’s a possibility; maybe it was a kangaroo, goose or wombat burger for that matter, I don’t really know but it sure was juicy and I enjoyed every bite of it!  It was the beginning of a lifetime of burgers, not a regular experience of course but I did love ‘em.

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** The Sydney Opera House wasn’t a part of the gorgeous skyline view at this time.  It’s construction didn’t begin for a few more years.

=    The house chef had prepared these hamburger sandwiches a couple of times for the family but I dared not indulge, still a youth living in my Hindu home; absolutely not a good idea.