Naw. That ain’t disgusting.

by Joe Holt

I saw some disgusting stuff when I was in the Corps. When I think about it I can come up with all sorts of little flashbacks that make me wince. Truly disgusting memories can do that to you. We all have’em. Lifelong experiences that stay tucked away in our little brains until, for some reason, they just pop out.

I’m not talking about embarrassing stuff. Or scary stuff. I’m talkin’ about moments in your life when you have the bad luck to see somethin’ that just makes shudder. When I was in grade school I remember a kid showing us how he fed mice to his snake. I was so disgusted. I couldn’t even open my eyes when the snake cornered the mouse and latched on, but the memory that sticks with me is when we walked by the snake’s cage later that afternoon, and there it was with this huge bulge in his body a couple of inches downstream from it’s head. Ugh! What was I, ten maybe? I remember thinkin’ that was the most disgustin’ thing I’d ever seen.

Of course fellas think disgusting stuff is entertainment. At least that’s what we tell each other. In high school, and later in the Corps, guys would make an art form out of it. Do barbaric or disgusting stuff just to get a rise outa the other guys. A real riot. One day after somebody pointed out something particularly disgusting, I remember the comment that followed. "That ain’t disgusting. Hickeys on your hemorrhoids, now that’s disgusting!"

Some other guy one upped him with, "Naw, that aint’ disgusting. Hickeys on your grandma’s hemorrhoids, now that’s disgusting!" It just kept goin’ and goin’. We were laughin’ like hell. What makes disgusting stuff funny to guys? It’s a mystery.

Even though guys have a list of disgusting stuff in their heads I feel sorta special because I can remember the most disgusting thing I ever saw. No matter what I’ve seen before or since I always come back to this one moment. If anybody ever mentions anything disgusting, or even uses the word, I guarantee my memory bank will rewind to one special event on the USS Renville in 1966. This deserves a lengthy explanation.

In March of ‘66 the Third Battalion, Fifth Marines boarded the USS Renville, a troop transport. It was the first time Private Holt had ever been on a ship. I was excited. It was a completely new experience for me and I was lovin’ every minute of it. We stood in lines forever waiting to get on the damn thing. It wasn’t all that big, and we were putting something like fifteen hundred guys aboard so it took a while. We were given a few seconds of instruction on how to board a ship. Walk up the gangplank, salute the colors, which were aft, then salute whoever the officer of the deck was as we said "Request permission to come aboard Sir". They salute back and say "Permission granted." Then we’d follow the line of guys going below decks and get assigned a rack, which was nothing more than a canvas platform.

Real confusion. We had field transport packs and they weren’t any small matter to maneuver around those cramped areas. A bunch of screamin’ and jostling. We were told to put our packs and rifles on the racks then jump in the rack as best as we could. Looking back, I’m surprised more guys didn’t get affected by the close quarters. We were crammed in! Especially with all our gear and stuff. We were told to stay in our racks until everybody got squared away. I had a rack that was three up off the deck, which were stacked five or six high. Private Holt was just as excited as could be.

We’d been given a C ration as part of our gear because somebody reckoned that gettin’ to chow would be a trial that first evening so I just laid there in my brand new rack on my brand new ship and chomped away on some peanut butter and crackers.

I couldn’t really feel the ship move. I mean we were tied up at the pier. Later that afternoon I began to feel movement. Somebody said that we’d just "shoved off". Private Holt was just so damn excited. I couldn’t just lay there and miss the spectacle of my first sea voyage so I clambered out of my rack and went topside. I wasn’t the only guy who had the idea so there were maybe a hundred or so guys on deck. All at the rails looking at the breakwater of Long Beach harbor slip by slowly. It was a beautiful late afternoon. The air was crisp, and there were folks standing on the breakwater a ways off with signs of goodbye or shouts of some sort. I couldn’t really hear what they were yelling, but it was neat that they cared if we were going anywhere. Private Holt was happy as a clam just leaning up on the railing watchin’ the world go by.

More and more guys had come up on deck so they were beginning to back up two or three deep behind me. The ship wasn’t going very fast, but it was swaying slowly from side to side. Very peaceful I thought.

As I was standing there listening to the folks shout from the rocks of the harbor somebody came up behind me and just threw me back. Knocked me right into some other guys behind me. I damn near fell down. What the hell??!! Who the hell did this shithead think he was?! I took a step forward and saw the chevrons of a Gunny on his collar. This gave me pause as you might expect. Still, I was pissed. I was standin’ there in this angry dilemma when I realized this Gunny was lookin’ at somethin’ over the side of the ship. What the hell is down there, I thought? Must be important, I thought, or he wouldn’t have yanked me around like he did. And he kept lookin’. And kept lookin’. I finally edged around a guy or two to try to see what the Gunny was lookin’ at. Golly was Private Holt surprised. The Gunny wasn’t lookin’ at anything at all! He was bent over the railing pukin’ his guts out! Here he was in his nice starched utilities with his cover in his hand lookin’ all blue around the gills. Eyeballs about twice their normal size.

My little brain was tryin’ to figure out what the Gunny had eaten that would make him this sick when I heard a word from the crowd behind me. "Seasick". Ahhhh, Private Holt thought. That’s it. He’s seasick! Another new experience for me. I’d seen my first seasick person. I’d heard about seasick folks before, but I’d never seen one up close. So that’s what seasick looked like.

I turned to the fella next to me to point out this new phenomenon when he himself buckled over and started blowing chunks over the side. Whoa, I said to myself. Two guys seasick. This was too cool! Considering the somewhat disgusting spot I found myself in I back off the railing a bit. Only then did Private Holt come to the startling conclusion that nearly everyone on deck was barfin’ all to hell. "Geez! This is disgusting, Private Holt thought. We aren’t even out of the harbor yet. How could these guys be seasick? I’m goin’ below."

As I stepped through the hatch I put my foot down on a slippery fistful of puke. The head, which was directly in front of me, was packed with guys who were making the most disgusting noises. There were guys lined up to get into the head and they were pukin’ in almost perfect rhythm. I only glanced at’em, but in that second or so one guy lost it and the other guys followed suit one after another. The whole short passageway was awash in barf in less than five seconds.

"Yuck! Get me outa here. This is disgusting."

There was puke on the ladder going down. There were two or three splats of puke on the deck as I made my way to my rack. I climbed in my rack and just shuddered. "These poor sorry son’s o bitches", I thought.

It got worse. All through the night as the ship got to speed it swayed all the more. More and more guys were succumbing. The smells in the troop compartment can only be imagined. The sounds, the wretching, the moans, the splat of puke on the decks from the upper racks. This was truly disgusting. I put my utility cover over my face to hopefully dull the odors, and with the gentle swaying of the ship, went to sleep.

Corporal Luzietti woke me up. He needed a working party. He’d been told to muster some guys to clean the head, but when he stalked the aisles he found that nearly everyone was sick as a dog. He was lookin’ for somebody who wasn’t seasick, and considerin’ that I was snorin’ away, and that I had a somewhat normal color to my face, he determined that I was as healthy as anybody so I was volunteered to clean the head. I don’t think Luzietti had gotten seasick himself, but he was lookin’a bit off his feed.

I tiptoed through the messes on the deck and went up the ladder to the head. I was surprised to see that it was dawn. At the top of the ladder, in the small passageway, there were four or five other unlucky souls who’d been volunteered to be part of this working party. They’d all seen the condition of the head and they were standing in the passageway trying to decide their best course of action. From the sounds of their suggestions I reckoned it wasn’t out the question to just jump overboard and start swimmin’ back towards Long Beach.

The commodes, as it turned out, had all overflowed. They were clogged, as were the sinks. The head was a mess. Private Holt got curious. I trusted that the head was in bad shape, but just how bad was it?

I sidled by the guys and got a breath of wonderful fresh air from the hatchway to the deck. It was a glorious day outside. Sunny. Brisk. The delightful swaying of the ship with the horizon teetering as I looked aft.

I turned back towards the head. The door was closed. I turned the knob and stepped over the lip of the doorway and put one foot in, but the second I did I regretted it. The deck was awash in puke. Three, maybe four, inches deep. The smell was horrendous! With the swaying of the ship the puke was sliding back and forth. Lapping at the bulkheads. Lucky me. With my one foot in, the ship rolled, and this wave of puke slid towards the hatch. I recoiled but not quick enough. The barf sloshed up against the lip of the doorway below me and splashed all the way up to my crotch. "Aaaaaaah, shit!!" I stumbled back out into the passageway. "That’s fuckin’ disgustin’!" Truer words were never spoken.

Ever since that moment, as I continue on through life, I know, no matter how ugly something is or how disagreeable, what disgusting really is. Whenever anyone says "That’s disgusting", I silently say to myself "Naw. That ain’t disgusting. Let me tell you what disgusting really is." But I never do. They just wouldn’t understand. Just like beauty, I reckon that disgusting stuff is in the eye of the beholder.