As I write this in my comfortable book-lined basement office, I’m sitting at my desk and enjoying a good cup of coffee and a fine cigar.
I’ve never smoked cigarettes, as I was an amateur boxer in my youth, and we were told that smoking cigarettes would rob us of our valuable second wind. (Although some professional boxers smoke crack these days). But I’ve enjoyed cigars for many years, going back to my early 20s.
I recall when I was a young man serving in the U.S. Navy back in 1975 and stationed on the USS Saugus (YTB-780), a 100-foot-long Navy harbor tugboat assigned to the U.S. Navy’s "Site One" nuclear submarine base at Holy Loch, Scotland.
Having previously served on the aircraft carrier USS Kitty Hawk during the Vietnam War, I had to adjust from serving on one of the world’s largest warships to one of the smallest.
Although I was not thrilled with Scotland’s awful winter weather, especially when the tugboat was ordered out into the Irish Sea to meet with submarines and we encountered 50-foot waves and Gale Force winds, I generally liked serving on a small boat with a small crew.
I also recall how I often enjoyed smoking a cigar out on the tugboat’s deck while gazing out to the sea.
Stationed on the USS Natick, the other assigned tugboat to Holy Loch, was a big and burly West Virginia hillbilly named Joe Marks. He was quite a character and we enjoyed cutting each other up. It became something of a rivalry.
He took my sarcastic asides in good humor and he sometimes gave as good as he got.
One morning he tried to rile the Saugus' chief and get to me.
Most of the crew were afraid of the Saugus’ chief, an odd, humorless man who rarely spoke, but when angered he would bark orders with a powerful voice that made most errant sailors shake.
With his aloof and taciturn manner and a deadpan face, he reminded me of the silent film comic Buster Keaton.
I called him “Chief Cool,” and the nickname stuck.
Marks saw the chief sitting with us and drinking coffee in the galley that morning.
“Morning, Chief Cool. How are ya?”
The guys in the galley were shocked that Marks would address the feared chief as “Chief Cool.”
The chief ignored him.
“Did you know that Davis started everyone calling you Chief Cool?"
There was dead silence in the galley. Then, quite unexpectedly, the chief looked at me and smiled.
I don't think anyone had ever seen him smile before. He got up and left the galley without saying a word.
Everyone laughed. Apparently, the chief thought the nickname was complimentary.
Marks was taken aback, but he later tried to get the better of me.
The weather that day was nice for a change, and I took a break from my supply petty officer duties and stepped out on the deck and lit a cigar.
Some of the crew were also on deck smoking cigarettes. Marks came out and saw me with my cigar and he laughed and pointed at me.
“Don’t you feel old smoking that cigar?”
“No,” I replied. “I feel – prosperous.”
This got a laugh from a couple of guys, and as Marks probably didn’t know what prosperous meant, he had to come back with a good zinger.
“It looks like you’re smoking a big ole dick,” he said with a laugh.
I took a long draw on the cigar and replied, “I would prefer to think of it as a woman’s elongated nipple.”
I got the bigger laugh.