Cisco Houston Web Site

Cisco in Print

Excerpts from "Woody, Cisco and Me:
Seamen Three in the Merchant Marine"

Jim Longhi

From Page 88

A restless crew sits on their ship offshore of Gibraltar.

After a few days of lazing about, time began to drag. On fourteenth of July, we celebrated Woody's thirty-first birthday; on the twenty-fifth, Mussolini was deposed; on the twenty-sixth the allies took Palermo; on the twenty-seventh we were still stuck in Gibraltar; and after more than two weeks of no shore leave, the crew began to get very restless. "A man could be at sea for two months without grumbling,"Cisco said as he faced the near shore, "but to be less than 200 yards from land for two weeks without shore leave is a heavy load to bear." He sniffed the air.

The mere sight of a girl strolling along the shore brought forth moans, wails, endearing shouts, and furious cursing. To make matters worse, Newington had cornered the market on girly magazines. He sold the pages singly at exorbitant profit.

"You guys got any magazines you want to sell?"

"You can have those free." Woody pointed to some on his bunk. "There's Time, The Atlantic, and the New Masses."

Newington looked around at our pinupless walls. "Jesus, in addition to being Reds, you guys must be a bunch of homos!" He slammed the door behind him.

The tension on board mounted with each waiting day. The drinking got heavier and the gambling became more reckless. Fly killing got a lot of betting action.

Killing flies was a necessity as well as a sport, for there were millions of them in Gibraltar Bay. Cisco was the ship's champ. The fact he couldn't see beyond three feet didn't matter. He would quietly get within a foot of the fly and then wham! He never missed. He made a small fortune until the men realized that he had a secret technique and stopped betting with him. Woody and I got him to tell us his secret: face the fly head-on and aim for its ass. It never failed. Flies fly backward when attacked from the front; aiming at the ass traps them every time.

From fly killing the men turned to boxing matches. Again Cisco quickly established himself as the ship's champ. He had a simple strategy to compensate for his bad eyes. When his opponent danced around, Cisco couldn't see him clearly and therefore couldn't tell where the punches were coming from. So Cisco would wait for his opponent to throw the first punch; then he would pin the man's glove with one arm, and with his free arm he would beat at the other man's ribs with amazing speed and tremendous power. He could easily have hurt his opponents badly, but he was careful to never hurt anybody.

Cisco also made time pass for us when he would sit on the hatch cover and start singing for himself. In no time the crew would gather around him, and at Woody's urging he would sing the songs he loved best, lonesome ballads like "Tumbling Tumbleweed" and "Bury Me Not on the Old Prairie." But sometimes he would switch to a funny song like the one about a drunken mouse who came out of his hole to fight a cat. For a quiet man, Cisco had a surprising comic ability.

When he was in the mood he would tell jokes by acting out all the parts with such talent is to turn the joke into a little theatrical production. The crew's favorite was Cisco's joke about a German Egyptologist who was duped into buying six ancient petrified vaginas, of which half turned out to be rectums. But Cisco's talent and Woody's talent could not distract the crew from its boredom for more than an hour at a time, and as the waiting lengthened, tempers got shorter.

To make the time pass faster the three of us conducted mental telepathy experiments. Cisco was very cynical about the project, but having nothing else to do, he participated. We tried card guessing first. Woody got a markedly higher score than anybody, and he got it consistently. "Luck -- shit ass luck," Cisco grumbled.

The next day we put Woody in one mess room and we stayed in the other. Cisco and I were to draw anything that came into our heads and Woody would try to guess it. We drew a cigar box. In the cigar box I drew a monkey. Cisco drew a ball in the monkey's hands. Woody guessed that we had drawn a cigar box with a monkey in it playing a game. Cisco still thought that it was just an extraordinary coincidence. Most of the crew thought otherwise--

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