Without question, some shipboard jobs are considered less desirable than others—rite-of-passage-type chores that are necessary as part of the ship’s business. Compartment cleaner, head cleaner, and mess cook are a few that spring immediately to mind, and I’d like to nominate side cleaner to join them at the bottom of the list. In July 1963, I encountered the side-cleaner chore firsthand when I spent two weeks of Naval Reserve duty on board the attack transport USS Cavalier (APA-37) as a seaman apprentice.
I reported aboard when the ship was at the 32nd Street naval station in San Diego. During checking in, I talked to the duty petty officer in one of the deck divisions and said, “I need a bunk and a locker.” His reply was short but not sweet: “You don’t need shit!” Obviously, we differed on what my needs were at that point. It certainly was a far cry from the warm “Welcome aboard” I had hoped for. I did eventually wind up with a bunk and locker. Bunk time was limited because the ship had a series of early reveilles. I do recall falling in with a kinder, gentler boatswain’s mate third-class whose name shows up in my 50-year-old diary as O’Connor.