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Subs, Subs, Subs

Less than a month after my transfer was signed I stood in the corridor of the nuc division headquarters, which was located on a FLUB (Floating Utility Barracks).

Five minutes later I already knew where my cabin was and in another five minutes the better part of my hair had been dismantled.

And I started to live on the FLUB.

The FLUB deserves some special mention. On the first deck of the ship, with the propeller, was the headquarters; on the second, third, and fourth decks lived the crews. Below was the ships hold with a dripping ceiling, protruding cables, and huge rats the size of Darwins Origin of the Species.

The rats lived in the ships hold, but roamed everywhere. If a group of sailors saw one approaching along a corridor, they would take great pains to fling themselves against the walls to get out of its way; as a rule, only the most intrepid ever dared to challenge a rat directly.

One morning our cook discovered a whole colony of the beasts in one of his huge empty kettles: he opened the lid and there they were looking up at him.

The cook clamped the lid shut and marched to the garbage heap where he rounded up the biggest and dirtiest stray cat he could find and brought it back to the ship.

The cook threw it to the rats and sealed the kettle. The feline howled in horror. When the cook finally removed the lid, the cat shot out like a bullet. A graveyard of corpses lay scattered on the bottom: the cat had butchered them all. Of course you cant blame him; it was his life he was fighting for.

Afterwards, the cook threw out the rats, washed the kettle, and boiled lunch as usual.

The FLUBs that we lived on were designed and constructed in Finland, and when they were ready for use they would begin the long journey to the Russian North. Each of them came complete with chandeliers, rugs, dishes, liquid soap, faucets, carved handles, and even toilet paper in the bathrooms.

As soon as they were moored, it all disappeared - right down to the toilet paper in the bathrooms. The last thing that managed to vanish was the patterned curtains from the cabins, which the sailors used to sew swimming trunks during the warm summer months. Not until much later, when they began turning up in the military hospitals with shaggy groins and severely bloated scrotums, did they learn that these curtains had been made out of fiberglass.

In the Russian navy, floating barracks can serve as long-term residences not only for submariners, but also for their families: wives and children and baby strollers.

One time it happened that a strategic nuclear sub was dispatched from the North to a new base in the East. Dropping everything, the wives rushed there by ship. Well, as military life would have it, the base was there, but the housing wasnt....at least not yet.

Lieutenants were allocated double-bunk accommodations: hers on top, his on the bottom. Or vice versa. Each set of bunks was separated from the others by a bedsheet - a white one at that.

And have at it!

Initially, people were embarrassed at these living arrangements. But their fastidiousness quickly gave way to more practical considerations, and in no time at all a wondrous squeaking could be heard throughout the quarters....

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