Friday, July 30, 2010

Portrait of a Dockside Doll

The Naval medical supply ship, USS Derbley, is pulling into port and Marga D. hopes to be pulling everything off soon sfterwards.  She's been at every Navy ship's return to the Port of Hampton Roads since 1986 providing much needed relief for our servicemen (and, so far, 3 women) moments after they return from the sea - the nagging, familiar sea. 

Continued deployments to the Middle East mean steady business for Marga.  On average, 7 ships return to port from distant waters every week and local television news cameras only show up at about 1 a month.  "They want the hugging and the kissing and tears," says Marga, "all for some short, 20 second clip to show in between car crash footage and gang shooting stuff to make people feel good.  Cameras don't show up for the supply ships or the maintenience cruisers.  Nobody cares about them.  But I do."  She winks.  A slow wink.

A cackly laugh turns into a minute of violent, thick phlegm gurgling.  She spits outta gray, clam-sized chunk into the water and lights another cigarette.  "Sure, they feign and faw for the cameras, but a few hours later, they're at home changing a squishy diaper, looking at a stack of credit card bills, and miserable.  We'll go to my van, take care of business, and they'll really open up to me - tell me all their fears and hopes.  At some point I gotta hurry 'em up 'cause there's a fella or two waiting for me."  A seagull lands nearby.  Marga yells at it and laughs.

Wait a minute - something slipped by real quick.  She doesn't mean the MARRIED ones?  Does she?

"Oh, I've had guys wear disguises off the ship - fake beards, glasses, and a cane or something - to sneak past their wife and kids to be with me," boasts Marga.


During the days of the first Gulf War in '91, Marga rented the top floor of a nearby hotel and employed several female associates (and one guy) to accomodate over 100 sailors a week.  "You also gotta remember all the shipbuilders, plumbers, electricians, and so forth in the area during that time.  Those were the glory days - the glory HOLE days," she adds as she flicks her cigarette straight up in the air and dodges it as it falls back down.  The USS Derbley is approaching.  "Showtime."

She's used to long, complicated docking process that a ship goes through.  Ropes are thrown.  Big bubbles explode underwater.  There's lots of yelling and whistles.  It's like some kind of nautical foreplay and Marga loves every minute of it.  "You know, they call ships 'she' and 'her'.  I like that."  The gangplank is lowered and a few wives start quivering with excitement.  They hold bags of fast food up in the air and wave them.  The little kids yawn and stare at Marga as she applies a fresh coat of "Cherry Lick" lipstick and smacks her lips together loudly.  "Schmmmmmmmop."  She checks her teeth in the reflection of her Zippo, finally spotting that chunk of Dorito I noticed earlier, fluffs her crunchy bangs, and does a few slow motion squat thrusts for preparation. 

The men disembark the ship with big, bulbous bags over their shoulders.  One at a time, they all acknowledge Marga with a grin or a nod, but none stop.  Cars leave the parking lot with contented shipmen and their families inside.  Just when it seems like today is a bust, a sailor yells her name from the poopdeck.  He looks like a young, bald Mexican Rick Moranis. 

They embrace as he steps onto dry land for the first time since March.  They kiss.  He lifts her off her feet and spins her around.  When their lips part, Marga lets out a long, wet burp and doesn't even say goodbye to me as he carries her, honeymoon style, to her van.  A muffled "Anchors Away" blasts from the speakers as sporadic laughter slowly turns into angry groaning and slapping sounds.  I back away slowly at first, then start sprinting.