Dinner with Friends
Dinner with Friends
The menu tonight calls for steak, cream style corn, mashed potatoes, iced tea, fresh home-baked bread, canned fruit, and coffee. We have been at sea for several weeks, and this menu is one of the best we have seen for days. After several disappointing meals in a row, this one draws full attendance in the crew's mess of the submarine.
There are only sixteen seats, and there are 72 enlisted men, so there will be four or more seatings for the meal. The morale of the crewmen is the highest it has been for quite a while, as they eagerly anticipate the meal. As the line begins to form at 7:00 p.m., a definite pecking order emerges.
The twelve watchstanders who will go on watch at 7:30 get absolute rights to the first call to the evening meal. The remaining sailors get to choose to eat at the first seating based on their military rank. However, most of the Chief Petty Officers choose to wait for the second seating, so the ongoing watch is accompanied by several First Class Petty Officers.
The food is served family style. Each of the four tables has a bowl of corn, a bowl of potatoes, a plate of bread, a pitcher of iced tea, fruit, butter, salt, pepper, ketchup, steak sauce, and mustard. As each of the serving bowls gets low, a mess cook refills it in the galley and returns it to the table. The conversation is loud, quick, happy, and continuous. As the sailors in the first seating finish their meals, they scrape their plates into the garbage container, then they drop their dishes into the sink. The other mess cook begins to wash, since these dishes will be needed for the third seating.
Once the dishwashing starts, it continues non-stop. There are two sinks, each with a false bottom and a heating element in the bottom, to maintain the temperature. The dishes are washed by hand. When the rinse water gets too dirty, the wash sink is drained and refilled. Soap is added to the former rinse sink, and it becomes the wash sink. The sink with the fresh water becomes the rinse sink.
The second seating consists of the nine Chief Petty Officers who are not on watch, and the seven most senior of the First Class Petty Officers. These people are the heart and soul of the Navy. Officers come and go, and get their political assignments to the Pentagon, but the senior Petty Officers are the ones who manage to keep the ships out at sea where they belong.
The single cook is very busy, putting out food for the entire crew like this. He and the two mess cooks have worked for more than two hours just getting things ready to start cooking, and now they are extremely busy for another two hours getting everyone fed. By the time the second seating is finished, the dishes from the first seating are washed and available for the third seating. The majority of the third seating are Second Class Petty Officers, young men who are either nearing the end of their first enlistment or who have already re-enlisted for a second term. This is a make-or-break event for some of these sailors. The camaraderie of this meal may convince them to re-up. The yeoman has the papers available to do the deed whenever a moment of weakness strikes.
The last full seating contains the Third Class Petty Officers, the Seamen and Firemen, and perhaps some Apprentices. No one in this group would dare admit that he might, ever, consider another hitch in the service. It is possible that the corn may run low for this seating, but the food is still quite good by Navy standards, and particularly as compared to the food in the other services. The self-discipline of the earlier groups does not exist here, and the mess deck is now showing that it will need a good cleaning.
The last batch of most junior sailors jumps in for the last of the food. The cook has to use military discipline to enforce the slightest semblance of table manners in this group. They all sit on the port side of the mess deck, so that one of the mess cooks can start cleaning up the starboard side. When they last of the sailors has been hustled out after he finishes his meal, both mess cooks turn to cleaning the tables, the deck, the bulkheads, and everything else that does not seem to be alive. For almost an hour they are hard at it. Toward the end of the hour, an electrician brings in a movie projector, and begins to set it up.
Finally, around nine o’clock, the meal and cleanup is declared to be completely finished, and the Executive Officer gives permission to start the movie. The cook continues to clean the galley, and occasionally he is yelled at for making noise during the movie. When the galley is clean, the night baker comes on watch, and he begins preparing soup and sandwiches for the two dozen or so sailors who will want them around midnight.