Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Speedy in Mombasa

Speedy in Mombasa

When I became a shellback, back in August of 1982, on board the USS Coronado, one of the chief instigators of that ceremony was a black gentleman named Speedy. When I chided him about the appearance of his shellback costume, he informed me that he was going to hit me with his wog whacker. I kept a low profile and did not get whacked.

The day after the shellback initiation, we pulled into Mombasa, Kenya. During that stay, I did take the opportunity to go on a wildlife safari in one of Kenya’s national parks. I also repeatedly passed up opportunities to get up close and personal with the local working girls. I won’t say that all American sailors go wild in the presence of “economically priced pleasure providers,” but many do. To accentuate the positive, I want to single out one of my shipmates, a Mormon fellow named James White, for special praise. One afternoon, the two of us were in a city park and one of the local girls tried very hard to close a sale. Jim behaved himself in an absolutely exemplary manner, informing the young…well, lady wouldn’t be appropriate, that he was a married member of the LDS Church. I was half-expecting him to tell that woman to sin no more.

In August of 1982, no one had ever heard of AIDS. The thought of needing a shot of penicillin was enough to keep me on the straight and narrow. Needless to say, I have never regretted my abstinence in Mombasa, even though some of my shipmates razzed me about being the only virgin ever to return from that place.

Probably every one of the prostitutes we saw-and they were ubiquitous-died before the age of thirty. At the opposite end of that spectrum was Speedy, as shipboard legend had it, hit the beach with the intention of engaging in relations with every woman in Mombasa. Legend has it that he went ashore with a huge carton of the blue XXXX lambskin condoms. Legend further has it, that he came back for a second huge package before we set sail a week later.

The reason why that detail stays in my mind, more than twenty-seven years later, is that that brand of condom now carries a warning that it doesn’t protect against the transmission of HIV/AIDS.

Years later, I was teaching a PACE class on board the USS Josephus Daniels. One day in Bahrain, I bumped into Speedy. He was paunchier than I remember, and he was wearing a wedding ring. Speedy was an amiable fellow. I did not bother mentioning that I was glad that he had apparently avoided any horrific consequences. It has often occurred to me that if his wife found out what he was doing that day in August, she is quite likely (and justifiably so) in doing something that would make Lorena Bobbitt cringe.

The gateway to Mombasa, Kenya.

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