If you read my last post (no pressure, just sayin’) then you know I found some cool stuff while looking for something else. Another thing I found was a short story I wrote, nonfiction, about my experience with Wog Day in the Navy. I’m gonna transcribe this story as I wrote it about 11 years ago, with the exception of making grammatical corrections. The words will stay the same. Enjoy!
THE DUNK TANK
I am being dunked into a tank filled with the foulest stuff you can imagine. The water is a murky brownish color, slightly thick with unidentified chunks floating in it. I know that some of the people who went before me have thrown up in here, but this hardly my first close encounter with vomit today. Somebody I don’t know, crudely dresses as a pirate in tattered cutoff dungarees and a coarsely drawn T-shirt with a skull and crossbones, grabs the collar of my shirt and force me into the tank. He pushes me under the water and holds me there. I fight to keep my breath, not wanting to drink the rancid soup. Finally, just before my breath gives out the unknown pirate pulls me up. “WHAT ARE YOU?” he shouts.
A smartass to the end, I reply “I’M STILL A SLIMY WOG!” That earns me another dunk in the tank, this time a little longer. I almost black out.
He pulls me out, shouting in my face. “Better get it right this time! WHAT ARE YOU?”
“I AM A SHELLBACK!” Yes, I am. Finally! Almost eight hours after the ceremony began, after weeks of torture and taunting. I am no longer a slimy pollywog. I was a shellback, dammit! But it took a lot of work to get there.
WOG DAY BEGINS
At one minute past midnight a whistle blows a long note of the 1MC, the ship’s PA system. “Welcome aboard our mighty ship, your Highness King Neptune!” So it begins. This is Wog Day. This is the initiation ceremony that the Navy performs on board a ship when it crosses the equator. It originated long ago when trans-ocean ships first became a reality. Times were harsh and a ship required a tough, durable crew to survive the arduous sea journey. Thus was born a test, which would evolve into what I was about to experience.
The terms “Shellback” and “Pollywog” have rather simple origins. Historically, the turtle was a staple of the sailor’s diet because it was a hearty animal that could survive for months if turned on its back. This was one of the only foods that it was practical to store on the ship for months at sea. Thus the turtle, known as a shellback, became a symbol of strength and endurance. Those untested souls who had not yet crossed the line were referred to as pollywogs, or just wogs. They had no strong shell to protect them. They had to pass a test to ensure they could survive the harsh conditions of extended life at sea. Those who passed the test became shellbacks and were allowed to continue serving on the ship. Those who failed were thrown overboard as a tribute to the mighty god of the sea, Neptune. This sacrifice was thought to ensure His good favor during the voyage.
The original test was much more savage than what I was about to experience. People were severely beaten, tortured, harassed, and starved for days, in the name of determining endurance. Our test would last less than a day.
Right now I was hiding in a mezzanine, along with two other slimy wogs from my workcenter. We were armed with wet rages, ready to defend the only ladder that led to our wog lair. We were dressed as dictated by the shellbacks of our boat: dungaree pants worn inside-out and backwards, with underwear on the outside, white t-shirts with a taunt of our choice crudely printed on them in black magic marker (mine said “Get your hand away from my ass, shellback homo!”). I was what was known as a “special case” wog, meaning there were a lot of people who wanted my ass. Well, they were going to have to work for it. We all had to shave the lower portion of our left leg, for the sole purpose of humiliation. I shaved the length of both of my legs, and gave the hair to a bald shellback as a joke. This earned me another entry in the Wog Log, where he kept track of my slimy misdeeds. We also, out of necessity, were allowed to wear thick leather gloves and kneepads.
ONE WEEK BEFORE WOG DAY
This is when the ceremony really starts. The shellbacks begin to seriously harass the wogs, threatening them with tall tales of what will happen, most of which later turn out to be pretty damn true. This is also when the shellbacks start making their shillelaghs, the obejt d’art of their threats. A shillelagh is a foot-and-a-half long piece of three-inch fire hose, with one end wrapped with a rope handle. It is used to beat people. The shellbacks start carrying them around with them everywhere they went. Of course, rebellious wogs like me attempted to grab them and throw them overboard. I succeeded about eight times, earning eight more marks in my wog log.
WOG DAY EVE
By now most of the wogs are in a state of constant alarm. We have to stand at assigned posts and “pipe” shellbacks whenever they pass. This means that when they walk by we have to come to attention and state “Honorable shellback, arriving!” standing at attention until they pass. They never pass without harassing you in some way.
The “official plan” put out by the ship says the ceremony will start at 0600. I wasn’t dumb enough to believe that one. I knew it would be midnight. My friends and I met around 2300 (11 PM) to scout out our hiding area and stock up on weapons. Nobody would get any sleep tonight.
The mezzanine held for about 45 minutes before we were overwhelmed. We were marched out to the flight deck and lined up on the foul line, on our hands and knees. My two mezzanine compatriots were in line with me, along with a handful of wogs from other departments on the ship. We had already had eggs broken in the cracks of our asses, grease and peanut butter rubbed roughly in our hair, and gotten our first taste of the business end of a shillelagh. Now, it was time to drink the Truth Serum.
Truth Serum is the vilest concoction you can imagine. The formula varies, but here is what I remember: coffee grounds, sour milk, mustard, horseradish, tea, and pepper. I came up with the clever idea of holding my dose in my mouth and then spitting it in the face of the administering shellback. No dice. As soon as the stuff hit my mouth I couldn’t control the vomit reflex and instantly spewed it, along with my dinner, onto the flight deck. I wasn’t the only one; people were puking throughout the line.
Now that we had made a mess it had to be cleaned up. Two shellbacks turned on a two-inch fire hose, spraying the deck with it, splashing our upchuck back onto us. Since we were now dirty, we had to be washed down with the hoses, as well. I imagine the outside temperature was about 45 degrees, maybe 50. After being sprayed with the hose, we were all freezing. My friend next to me suddenly got a big smile. I asked him why. He said “Pee your pants, man! It’ll warm up your legs!” I tried and tried but couldn’t make my bladder let go. Finally, after about five minutes I succeeded. Damned if he wasn’t right! My legs did warm up, for about half a minute.
SEX AND FLIPPER
We had now crawled on our hands and sore knees, to the front (forecastle) of the boat where wogs were lined up like kids waiting for a ride at Disneyland. A very sick ride. This was where the fun really began. There were shellbacks from all departments on the boat up there, doling out punishment as they saw fit. I can’t remember all of the blows from the shillelagh I received but it was pretty constant. The blows were always hard enough that you could feel your welts stinging in the salt air. After the first 50 hits my body mercifully became somewhat numb.
The shellbacks decided to express their imagination, limited as it was. “Wog McKee! Front and center!” yelled a random shellback. Front and center I went. “Wog Phillips! Get over here NOW, goddamnit!” He stood on hands and knees right beside me. “Wog McKee, since you are such good friends with wog Phillips, I want you to mount him. NOW!” NOW was a command that was always in the air that morning, and one that was suicide to refuse. I began to dry-hump my friend to the amused hoots and catcalls from the gathered shellbacks. This went on for about five minutes before I was relieved by a shellback that allowed us to switch positions. Now, I was the humpee. This went on for another five minutes. Eventually we were allowed to stop, after a few good-natured whacks for a great performance.
My break was short-lived. “McKee! Get over here to the deck edge, NOW!” So I went. “It seems that we’ve lost Flipper a while ago, McKee. We need you to call for him. NOW!”
I stuck my head overboard, screaming ‘HERE, FLIPPER! C’MERE BOY! HERE, FLIPPER!”
WHACK! WHACK! Two hits with a shillelagh. “He can’t HEAR YOU, McKee! LOUDER!” So I screamed until my throat was raw. When would this end? Twenty minutes later it did. Since we all did such a hot job we were rewarded with the high-pressure saltwater blast from a fire hose, all over our bodies.
A rare moment of peace as we worked our way back to the fantail (back end) of the ship. It seemed the wog obstacle course was clogged with wogs, so we would have to wait for our turn. After thirty minutes on our hands and knees, one kind shellback decided to allow us to sit on our behinds. I never loved sitting as much as I did at that moment! Even though I was wearing kneepads and gloves my palms we rubbed raw and my wrists were screaming with agony. I hoped the break would last until sunrise! It didn’t.
Some of us were falling asleep, myself included. Suddenly a new shellback voice rang out like a demented alarm clock.
“ON YOUR HANDS AND KNEES, FILTHY WOGS! NOW! GET YOUR FACES OVER THE WATER!” What choice did we have? I heard the sound of people getting hit with shillelaghs down the line, working its way toward me. When it got to me it stopped. “Well well, wog McKee! How good to see you!” I recognized the voice, but my tired mind couldn’t put a face to it. WHACK! The shillelagh went right up the crack of my ass and just barely caught my scrotum. I saw spots for a minute and my anger exploded.
Heedless of the rules I jumped up and grabbed my assailant. It turns out he was the ship’s postal clerk, a big black guy with a lot of free time to visit the gym. I didn’t care. I slammed his body against the railing on the side of the ship. “If you EVER hit me there again I will throw your fucking ass OVERBOARD! DO YOU FUCKING HEAR ME?” Two pairs of arms quickly grabbed me as I put up a fight. They were “shellback sheriffs”, shellbacks that monitored the event to make sure it didn’t get out of hand.
“Calm down now, it’s just a game.” one of them said.
“Bullshit!” I replied. “He tried to hit me in the nuts! That’s way out of fucking line!”
The postal clerk spoke up. “It was an accident, man. I didn’t mean to hurt you.”
“My ass you didn’t!” I yelled back.
The sheriffs dragged me out of the line and eventually calmed me down. It felt good to stand up and stretch. We hadn’t been allowed to stand up for nearly three hours now, and it was really taking a toll on our bodies.
Through a chance meeting with shellback Boyle, I became a wog dog. A wog dog is a wog who get led along personally by a shellback, the wog biting down on his shillelagh while the shellback moved forward, like a dog and master. Shellback Boyle was a friend of mine and before wog day he promised me he would hook me up with some good treatment. Why did I believe him?
Bruce led me to the front of the wog obstacle course, much to the anger of the wogs I bypassed in line. The shellback guarding the entrance smiled at Bruce. “Got yourself a wog dog, eh?” he said conspiratorially.
“Yep, he’s my bitch all right!” Bruce laughed back. Yep, I was in for it all right. Fuck, fuck, fuck!
The first stop was the Royal Baby. This was the fattest shellback on the ship, and he was sitting on a chair, shirtless and with grease all over his butterball of a belly. Bruce parked me right up against it. “Guess what you get to do?”
“Skip all this bullshit and go to the end?” I asked sarcastically. That earned me another shillelagh crack on my now-numb ass.
“Nice try, smart guy.” Bruce replied. The Baby grabbed a Cheerio from a bowl next to him and put it in his belly. “You get to eat the Cheerios, without using your hands.” Smiles all around, except for me.
“Without using my hands?” I whined.
“Yep! Dig in, big boy!:
I hesitantly leaned forward, inching toward his greasy mound. I intended to delicately run my tongue into his buttonhole and grab the oat, but he had a different plan. He grabbed my head with both hands and stuffed it into his gut, rubbing it around. I managed to grab the Cheerio and pull my head back.
“Swallow it! Swallow it!” they yelled in unison. Ulp. There, it was gone. Piece of cake.
“Good job!” Bruce congratulated me. “Well, ready for the next stop?”
THE ROYAL DEVIL
“The next stop” was the Royal Devil, a man dressed in a ludicrously comic devil suit. Yeah, I am in Hell, all right. He had a bowl as well, along with a spoon which of course meant I had to swallow something nasty again. It was a mishmash of diced onions, peppers, vinegar, and some other hot stuff. Think really hot and you’ll get the idea. The Devil gleefully shoveled a heaping spoonful into my mouth. I tried not to swallow as my mouth caught on fire. I could feel my eyes water and my nose run. I gave in and swallowed, painfully. SHIT! THAT BURNED!
Bruce leered over me. “Since I could see you trying to hold back on that one, wog, why don’t we give you another spoonful?”
Somehow I managed not to smart off to him, although I did give him a serious stink-eye. He just grinned back at me and asked me what I was waiting for. I swallowed my second spoonful. The first spoonful must have burned most the nerve endings in my mouth because this one didn’t hurt as bad. Either that or it killed my brain cells responsible for passing along pain signals. Either way, I survived, runny nose and all.
THE GARBAGE CHUTE
This was the final obstacle, and the most disgusting. It was a plastic chute, about 50 feet long, bent in odd places at different angles. The bottom was piled about two inches thick with wet, pungent garbage. Since I was about the 60th person to attempt to go through it, there was a fair amount of vomit in it too.
Bruce grabbed an egg from a stand next to the chute. “OK, here is what you have to do, wog boy.” he instructed me. “First, put this egg in your mouth. Good. Now, lie on your back, head facing into the chute. Got it? OK. You have to slide all the way through the chute on your back without breaking the egg. If you break it you start over.” His smirk was completely unnecessary.
I am unable to accurately describe the smell of that tube, the feel of the garbage in my hair and eyes and on my back. I remember my eyes burning with tears, from the smell and the taste, and the humiliation. I remember the chute seemed longer than a football field. I remember vowing to kick Bruce’s skinny little ass after I got out of this hole. I remember finally sliding out of the end, egg intact in my mouth. Bruce slapped me on the back. “You made it, man! YOU FUCKING MADE IT! All you have left is the dunk tank!” I was so happy I slammed my teeth shut and broke the egg in my mouth. On to the dunk tank!
FRESH SHELLBACK COMING THROUGH
I climed out of the dunk tank, screaming in incoherent joy. WHOOOOOOHOOOOOHAH! YEAH! YEEEEAAAAHHHHH! WHEEEEEEEE! GODFUCKINGARRRRRRGHDAMMIT!” I ran around until my legs told me to stop, which wasn’t really that long because I was exhausted. It was just after 8 am, eight hours after I had started. It felt like a week had passed since we started. I was tired, sore, and completely filthy. I had eggshell fragments in my pants, grease and jelly in my hair, a taste in my mouth that even Listerine wouldn’t kill, and I felt like a tank had run over me and then backed up over me to make sure I was dead. But I couldn’t recall feeling more alive than at that moment.
But, the ritual wasn’t complete, yet. I went back to the edge of the boat and briefly watched the engine propellers churning up white, foamy sea. Piece by piece I stripped off every shred of clothing I had on and cast it into the sea, until I stood naked. The clothes were my tribute to Neptune, my symbolic flipping of the finger to him. Ha HAH, Neptune! Didn’t get me, motherfucker! I took one last look at the sea, and turned and ran my naked ass through the ship and into the showers.