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"So what’s it like?”

Very often people ask me:

“So what’s it like out there?”

“Out where?” I respond.

“You know, out there...at sea...underwater...”

“Well, fine, I guess: I mean, you stand watch, then sleep, then another watch, then sleep again - and, in between, there’s the Captain and the Zampolit. If they’re busy, the second-in-command and his assistant. And that’s basically how you spend your patrol, never lacking for entertainment.”

Women usually ask if you can see fish through the portholes, and are very surprised to learn that submarines do not have portholes.

“So how do you sail without portholes, without seeing anything?”

“Well, we sail like this...with our eyes squinted...and from time to time these long sliding devices jut out which help the sub feel its way through the enveloping darkness. The projectile comes out, feels around, then pulls back in...and this is repeated over and over: ...in and out....in and out....”

“Reaaalllly?” these women will murmur thoughtfully, and it’s clear to everyone that they are carried away by the impending allusions. After a few pensive moments, a knowing silence comes over them. Only the most treacherous will continue:

“But how do you deal with your ‘needs’ - you know, for such a long time?” And their very essence while asking this question leaves no doubt as to which of our ‘needs’ they are referring to.

“Well, you see...,” I tell them, “in order to provide a natural outlet for our needs, we submariners take part in a multitude of specially organized events and activities including - but not limited to - political discussions, lectures, theme parties, debates, talent shows, I mean hey, if worse comes to worse, there’s always blindfolded charades....”

After the part about blindfolded charades they usually leave me alone, and finding myself left alone, I fondly remember my second-in-command. Always, on the twenty-third day of a patrol, he would burst into the dining quarters and demand loudly:

“What do I have to do to get a woman around here?” After which, he would slump into a chair and insist that someone show him a movie with a woman. The Second-in-command is one of my favorite literary figures. When I look at him I recall that even a herd of baboons has its own recognized leader. Some people think that the Second-in-command is the ship’s designated bully: a bully by definition; a bully by nature; a bully by air, land, and sea. But I beg to differ. It’s just that being rude economizes time: the shortest way to a person’s soul isn’t through politeness, after all, but through boorishness. And when you’ve got more than a hundred of these souls, and you’ve got to deal with them day in and day out, and when you have to convey to each of them the will of the higher command....well, I’d like to know how you can get by without being rude?

Of course there are other ways that we submariners entertain ourselves. For example, there are any number of Russian amusements.

What are Russian amusements?

Well, Russian amusement is when a sailor is picking up something off the ground, his torso bent over in a position in which the most elevated part of his body is his anus; all that’s required to turn the given situation into a hotpot of infectious mirth is to put your foot square into this anus. Of course the person who does this is highly advised to start running, for he will most definitely be chased by the person into whose anus the foot has just been placed - and more often than not, the recipient of this foot is not a happy sailor. Meanwhile, the first person sprints like lightning from room to room and, as he goes, slams the doors behind him. At that exact moment, someone else, sensing the opportunity, leans a broomstick against the other side of the closed door. The offended party, in pursuit, rips open the door and charges forward. The broomstick falls as he pulls open the door and catches him right in the stomach...or a bit lower. As a finale, everybody roars out laughing.

Another good one is waking up in the morning to find your boots resting peacefully on your pillow next to you - and dangling from the upper bunk, about an inch from your nose, somebody’s filthy sock.

And for those people who, after washing and undressing, like to do a back-first dive into their bunks, it’s always good to put a little something between the springs and mattress: like a metal can or the leg from a chair. Then, they will lay themselves flat out and with all their weight come crashing down on this can. (The most edifying thing in this whole scenario is to watch their reaction upon crashing; traces of utter astonishment will be visible in their expression for the rest of their natural life.) Or you can simply remove the springs from under the mattress. To the naked eye the bunk will look good to go, but as soon as the person jumps onto it, smiling at the prospect of a long sweet sleep, the mattress will give way and this person in a fraction of a second will find himself looking up from the hard floor.

And now that you’ve been properly introduced to Russian amusements, we’ll tell you a heartwarming story about how we got a rise out of our Zam.

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