YoHi Freshman at Yokosuka

At a party Dad held at the house in Kamakura for about fifty or more officers and their wives, the bar tender served Chip and me any alcoholic drink we ordered. I asked an officer seated on the stairs what he was drinking and he responded, “Scotch and soda.”  After a period of two hours, that drink made me dizzy and high for the first time in my life. “You’re talking to that old naval officer two inches from his face and are drunk. Stop drinking now or you’ll get sick,” Chip said. Later people heard me calling Ralph, Ralph, Rahhhlph  in the toilet (benjo) and I staggered to bed with my head spinning and two aspirins from somebody. The next week our YoHi varsity baseball coach, Mr. Kirchner, selected me for a relief pitcher as a freshman. As the season played out, I developed a screwball, curve, saved a few games, and was proud to earn my first varsity letter.     After six months  in Kamakura we moved to a house on the Navy base at Yokosuka so we could live near Dad’s work,  had just one bus to ride to school, and enjoyed the benefits of the teen age club, gymnasium, pool, and movie theater.   The home had a huge back yard with a stone barbecue,  a basketball net, and a large tunnel located at the base of Edwina Hill. Chip and I explored the lighted tunnel that meandered around to various parts of the base. The Japanese dug and carved these tunnels in World War II for an escape from the bombing raids the Allies rained upon them. They provided teenagers like us hours of fun exploring short cuts to outlying areas or playing hide and seek. At about ten feet high, they had good lighting and the floor consisted of packed down dirt. Across the street the Officer’s club band played popular songs we could hear every night after dinner. Our house was attached to our neighbor’s. Both homes had three bedrooms and shared a patio on the second floor. Luckily our neighbor was Captain Purdum, a dentist with a family that included three children. Jack Purdum was in my grade and played football, basketball and baseball with me at Yohi. Chip and I shared a large bedroom on the second floor with two desks for homework. Dad often made fabulous barbecues in the large patio with basketball court, played his ukulele, and we sang along with him to his favorite songs after dinner. We seemed like a real family for the first time, but Dad and Nicky joined two broken ones in a marriage of convenience trying to make sense out of life’s dramas in a foreign country on a naval base that resembled an artificial America. After Jerry Cohen left his school bus and walked up my street he saw me hitting rocks with a stick that bounced off the tall wooden fence to the Officer’s Club or flew into a patio where officers ate with wives, danced, and listened to a band until 10 PM. My next hit cleared the fence into the patio. TWANG told me I had hit a metal table.   “What are you doing?”Jerry said laughing. “Pretending I’m playing baseball.” Aren’t you afraid you’ll hit someone with a rock?” “Not now, they set up in an hour.” “I’m Jerry. Can I join you?” “Sure. I’m Dan. Over the fence is a homer. Off the fence is a double except above the top slat; that’s a triple. A grounder that hits the fence is a single.” “Hasn’t anyone from the club complained?” he said snickering. “They have when I play after 5. That’s when they clean-up for meals." "Take a swing,” I said handing him my stick. Jerry smashed a rock over the wall. BONK “Shit, I broke something.” “No, you hit another table.” He glanced at our yard, “A basketball court! Let’s shoot around.” “Sure, after the game.” We blasted rocks over the fence that produced more jangles for ten minutes. “Let’s play horse,” Jerry said. “OK.” We walked into my backyard to the metal pole holding the backboard and net. I picked up my basketball and shot from the free throw line—SWISH. “How old are you?”Jerry asked as he launched a ball from the corner. “I’m fifteen.” His shot banked in. “I’ll be a sophomore at YoHi.” “I’m fourteen. I’ll be a freshman.” “What does your dad do?” “He’s a doctor and a Captain.” “Mine is in charge of Headquarters Support Activity.” I ran across the key and missed a hook shot. “He’s a Commander. Are you going out for football?” “Yeah, but I’ve never played tackle before.” He sank a jumper from the base line. “Do you play?” “Yeah. I played quarterback in Chicago last year  for a frosh -soph team and will try out for varsity QB,” and matched his shot. “I was born in Chicago, how long did you live there?” “Three years off and on. Dad transferred twice and I was born there too.” “Here comes Marsden, let’s lose him in the caves,” Jerry said with a chuckle. One could travel from Yokosuka to Tokyo if you knew how to maneuver through them it was rumored and easily get lost. “Hi guys, can I join you?” Phil Marsden asked. He was a regular for playing hearts with Jerry, Jack, and me on the long bus ride from Yokosuka to Yokohama for school. “Sure Phil, follow us in the caves in the hill behind us,” Jerry said as we raced into a lighted cave. A dank smell surrounded us, dust kicked up from our tennis shoes hitting the surface, and echoes rebounded from our voices and footsteps. We could hear Phil following while we kept darting into different directions the tunnels took us until we lost him and exited a few blocks from our homes delighted with our escapade.   Phil was one of our most intelligent friends and a practical joker who we knew would either turn around, or find his way to a near exit, but we might have put a scare into him with our ruse. Jerry, Jack, and I became good friends, went to the Navy gym often for basketball, and belonged to the Teen Canteen that had pool tables, served burgers, French fries, soft drinks, held parties, and fielded a baseball team.

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One thought on “YoHi Freshman at Yokosuka

  1. I, too, was in Yokosuka, 1956-58. My dad was CFAY and we lived in the house at the top of Halsey Road where the road splits right and left. I used to spend hours up at the microwave station talking to the Army guys there who ran it. I was kind of intimidated by the tunnels, but did explore a few. I think we Navy Brats shared a lot of similar experiences. I went to my freshman year of high school in Yokohama, and one day a buddy and I bought a couple of small bottles of Tory’s whiskey after school. The bus had already left so we took the train to Yokosuka, sipping our stuff along the way. When I got off the train I was staggering. It’s a miracle the gate guards didn’t arrest me. I didn’t want to go home drunk so we went into the cave halfway up Halsey and made our way back to a wooden shack that was there, probably, from the war days. I threw up and passed out; my buddy was gone when I woke up. I sneaked into the house and went to bed. No one said a word the next morning. Probably didn’t even know I was MIA. Strange…

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