by Bob 'Dex' Armstrong
Before I entered the boat service, there were a number of things I'd never heard of… During my enlistment, that list grew. One thing the submarine service taught me… Sure was a helluva lot of weird stuff out there a kid from East Tennessee never heard of.
The top of the list had to be iguanas. Those bastards have to be the ugliest living things on the planet. God must have had one helluva rough day when he started cranking out those rascals.
I figure He took your basic Mark One, Mod Six lizard, went to His Unit of Issue, One Each, major disgusting accessory locker and bolted at least one of every nasty thing in there on that stupid lizard. When He finished, He kicked back, popped open a cold one, smiled and said,
"I think I'll turn these ugly looking sonuvabitches loose in Panama to amuse the idiot submarine crews I'm thinking about putting together."
Iguanas must have sex when it is very dark. Things that nasty looking sure as hell couldn't do it if they got a good look at each other. In the now famous words of Mike Hemming,
"They couldn't have given it away free to a messcook."
Panama, early '60s. Eskimo Joe, Tubes and me were pulling liberty in Colon. Street vendors hawking all kinds of weird stuff to eat. Most of it looked like the feature of the week on Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom. We had developed an affinity for barbecued monkey strips. Warm Pepsi and monkey jerky consumed in the hot sun can become a gastric adventure after sundown. Evidence of digestive rejection could be found roaming around in the liberty launch bilges.
Big Joe said,
"You guys ever eat iguana?"
"You gotta be kidding!"
"No… Seriously… Not bad… Ate some down here in the mid '50s. Actually the stuff's pretty damn good."
"Eskimo man, I'd have to be ten minutes away from death by starvation to intentionally consider eating a gahdam ugly lizard."
"For guys who go around bragging about trying anything once, you guys sure reshuffle the deck. You'll never get another chance to say you did it."
Somewhere in the neighborhood of four or five warm beers later, I ate iguana for the first and last time. All I can remember was a little guy with a mustache… Four inch sideburns… Three days of beard stubble… Missing teeth… Shoe soles loose… A dented skillet… The wafting odor of rancid cooking oil and white chunks of prime lizard… Ugly Lizard McNuggets.
Eskimo Joe always blamed the rancid cooking oil. Whatever the hell it was, the net effect was that it damn near killed us. Dying would have been the easy part, it was living that was rough. Iguana attacks you at both ends and does its' damnedest to turn you inside out. You get 'so damn regular' that you could set the second hand on an Ingersol watch. Today, if I see an iguana on television, I start an involuntary sprint to the nearest head.
Someone once told me that iguanas were an endangered species. Jeezus, they should be! Being a career, Hall of Fame messcook-lookout-deckape, I never fully understood or appreciated the endangered species concept. Who in the hell is gonna miss houseflies, ticks, termites, rats, skunks, horny toads, iguanas, rattlesnakes, man-eating sharks, big hairy spiders, nuke boat sailors, and komoto dragons? You take the average idiot whining about thinning out the above-named sonuvabitches… Put him in a dark room with a couple of iguanas, a half dozen horny toads, a komoto dragon, and the sonuvabitch would undergo a genuine position transformation. Just let one of the sonuvabitches crawl out from under his bunk or come crawling out of a shower drain.
I have arrived at the conclusion that a large percentage of the weird stuff that resides on this planet lives in Africa, Australia, Panama, and within a thirty-mile radius of Reno, Nevada. The stuff there walks upright and wears hand-tooled boots. That brings this old SUBRON SIX duty messcook to question number two. Why would any grown fellow own a horse, when for the same money, he could wind up with a Harley Davidson? Take the fact that nothing ever fell out of a motorcycle's rear end that required a shovel or was good for roses. If it weren't for the Kentucky Derby and old Roy Rogers movies, horsemeat would be just one more weird ingredient in a Big Mac.
(Cowboy, I never said any of that. Ray Stone, well known horse pucky dealer and purveyor of bull dookey, is a ventriloquist.)
We were young, we were bulletproof and we were going to live forever. We never learned the arts of negotiation and compromise. We resolved disputes by beating hell out of each other… Took less time and solved most issues. Our behavior was a reflection of an attitude handed down to us by the men who pinned the tail on Tojo's donkey. But no one at New London ever said I would have to eat gahdam lizard.