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I first met Nick a little under 7 years ago. We were both working night shift on T- Track, the holding period between A-School and Power School. He was a few months older than me, a Machinist's Mate. He was an only child, adopted by his significantly older parents, who were Polish. His own heritage was Greek. That much was overly obvious from his olive complexion, dark hair, and dark eyes. He was an avid soccer player, and during those nights goofing off in the school building, we quickly came to realize we had a lot of interests in common. As another plus, he was just as wet behind the ears and naive as I was at that time. Looking back, that should have been a warning sign, but I wouldn't have known better if somebody had told me. 

We quickly became good friends, and hung out quite a bit outside of work; we'd run together on our class's morning River Run (3 1/2 miles total down and back to the bank of the James River through the humidity and mosquito- filled August mornings, chatting about whatever crossed our minds, cracking cheesy jokes (Nick MUCH more so than I), and just enjoying the feeling of a good, strenuous workout. 

With the end of our T- Track break looming quickly, we took one last weekend road trip to Myrtle Beach before we were forced to buckle down for the mental balancing act that is Naval Nuclear Power School. I remember the weekend very well: I woke up around noon and walked over to Nick's room- he was already awake, toting a bag for the weekend and a handful of tools to work on the new sound system on his car with- we'd previously decided that his Nissan Maxima was much more attractive to the ladies than my little decal- adorned Honda Accord (but not by much). Besides, in the event we decided to take turns driving, nobody else knew how to drive a stick. After wrestling and wrangling with the custom enclosures for his Sony Xplod speakers (they were brand new at the time) for the better part of 3 hours, I suddenly realized that we didn't need to use any adapters or drill any additional holes- the damn things would just drop into the stock speaker holes reasonably well. Besides, we were burning daylight, and in my virginal mind, the sooner we got up to Myrtle Beach, the sooner we could find girls to (attempt to) hook up with. Plus, it was Labor Day weekend, and I had a vague idea how heavy traffic was going to be. Finally, new speakers (somewhat) securely installed, we jumped into Nick's car and hightailed it up the old US-17 through coastal swamps and across the Santee River to the Myrtle Beach.

Now, for those of you from San Diego, Myrtle Beach is a little like Pacific Beach, but much more wild. Think block upon block of hotels and motels on the beach and on either side of Ocean Blvd (the main drag running parallel to the beach), with tourist trap t-shirt shops, bars, theme restaurants, and clubs shoved in between. Now, add literally thousands of alcohol and hormone- fueled teens and young adults cruising down the strip, pretending they're in New Orleans during Mardi Gras (complete with beads, flashing, hooking up in/ on cars), and you've got a pretty good picture of Myrtle Beach seven months out of the year. We loved it- after all, with all the young, hot, wild, drunk girls around, who COULDN'T get laid?

Yep. You guessed it. But not without a monumental effort on the parts of both Nick and myself. Birds of a feather, as they say.

After we checked into our hotel, we grabbed dinner, changed, and wandered down the street until we found a club that looked sufficiently shiny- The Freaky Tiki. The thumping bass pouring out of the door drew us in like moths to a flame. We flashed our ID's, paid our cover charge, and were given the "black X's of death" as we called them (back east, most clubs are 18 and up- San Diego bar owners don't know how much money they're missing out on), and walked into the biggest tunafest I'd experienced in my scant 19 years alive. Seriously, the girl to guy ratio was ridiculously skewed. I'm not sure how we'd chanced upon that, but I wasn't going to complain. We grabbed Cokes, and enjoyed the scenery. 

This was my first exposure to Nick's dancing. Mandy, you know exactly what I'm talking about. You see, my tall, dark, handsome friend fancied himself an accomplished techno/ house dancer. Me, not knowing any better at that point in time (I didn't go clubbing a lot in A- school with my classmates. I should have, though...), was impressed with his moves. Problem was, while Nick was definitely enthusiastic about his moves, his long, lanky limbs made him look more like a flailing chicken than a smooth dance king. I somehow failed to notice the looks on the faces of the girls around us, but then again, who said I was looking at their faces? 

As is customary for all clubs in major Spring Break destinations (Rosarito is the same way), there was of course a wet t-shirt contest, and a boxer short model show, whatever that meant. I convinced Nick to enter the latter, and he almost won the whole thing outright, if not for some Marine from nearby Camp Lejune who started making his pecs dance while he was modeling. The wet t-shirt contest was immediately after that, and when the gratuitous nudity was done with, Nick made a beeline for the girl who had won the competition. I watched from a safe distance to see how he'd do, and was surprised to see him get himself shot down inside of 30 seconds. More about exactly why in future posts. Undaunted, Nick moved on the second- place runner up, only to get shot down by her almost as fast. This continued for a while until the girl who'd been boo'd offstage during the contest laughed in his face and walked away. Meanwhile, my experiences hadn't been much better- all the girls I'd ended up talking to only wanted to tell me about their last 5 boyfriends, or ask me why they couldn't just find a nice guy like me instead of all the assholes that were at the club. I saw several of those girls later making out with the same assholes they were complaining about to me earlier. Go figure. 

At last call, Nick and I beat a hasty retreat back to our hotel room. Yes, we'd come home empty- handed, but we'd seen some naked breasts, and had even had the chance to grind on some half- naked chicks for a few minutes before they looked over their shoulders and moved away quickly. As we headed back to Charleston the next evening, our friendship was sealed, and the stage was set for what would be one of the most eventful, drama- filled years of our lives.

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So I was sitting in traffic on the 405 yesterday during Rush Hour (I know, big mistake), when I recieved a call from one of my guys who'd joined the navy out of my office a few months back. He shipped to Boot Camp back in February, and had just gotten to Charleston about a week ago to start the lovely mental marathon known as Naval Nuclear Power School. 

Before he shipped to Great Lakes, I'd told him to call me when he arrived in Charleston, and I'd give him the low-down on all the best places to hang out (after all, he's going to be there for the next 2 years- might as well enjoy the time spent there, right?). As I started listing off the various bars, clubs, dives, restaurants, and other hangouts, it brought back a flood of memories from those days, well over 6 years ago now. (Wow, we're getting old, aren't we, Mandy?) After I hung up the phone, I started remembering incidents, encounters, and drama that I'd long forgotten about- and was reminded of what a profound effect those 20 months had on me in the following years. I learned a lot in that time, and I'm not just talking about electron interactions and neutron absorption ratios. 

When I initially joined the navy and left home for the first time, I was a bright- eyed, wet- behind- the- ears idealist who viewed the world through rose- colored glasses. I was incredibly naive in the ways of the world, and hadn't the foggiest idea about much of anything. 

Contrary to what I believed, of course.

With that in mind, I've decided that I want to rewind the clock to my early, formative days back in Charleston- circa 2000- 2001. Mostly focusing on the crazy, drama- filled year that was 2001- my first apartment, my first roommate, my first 'real' birthday party, and my serious heartbreak. It was a long, interesting journey, and I'm glad we all made it out without getting arrested, kicked out, or worse. Anyway, I'll start with those soon.


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Tiger In A Cage

May 2017

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