When we were in Pakistan, I had strolled, quite by accident, into a bazaar and, somehow, within the maze of stalls and kiosks, I discovered a vendor of military stuff. I say stuff as there was very little order to the displays: there was a bin full of helmets from various nations; there were no guns, but there were some bayonets, old swords, and camp knives; there were several baskets of assorted insignia on display, at first glance these appeared to be British, but on closer examination, it was that graceful flowing script that was revealed, no Latin or English. No great surprise that, as we were, after all, in Pakistan.
My attention was quickly drawn to a bin full of military hats. There were all sorts of garrison caps that interested me not a bit; I had, however, long been an admirer of those British peaked caps with the fabric covered bill and I knew I was soon going to be the owner of one. What possible use a petty officer in the U S Navy might have for such a cap was unclear and unimportant. Need was not a factor.
I selected a nice one, it had a sort of quilted lining inside that suggested perhaps it was for winter wear. That was the hat I wanted. I could see myself wearing it back home in the wintertime. I picked an artillery cap badge to go on it, not from any love of artillery, but because in the crest, it had an old-time artillery piece with those big, spoked wheels, and I rather liked the look.
So, I then spent a happy afternoon, sauntering through the crush of merchants and customers. This marketplace was so completely exotic in comparison to all the shopping I had previously done in my life, that just the experience was energizing. I had thought that shopping in Beirut was different: while bargaining for a beautiful dagger, I had been given a seat and a boy seemingly materialized beside us with cups of Arabian coffee. It was even more elaborate in the gold dealer’s alley where I was bargaining over several items on my Christmas list. The table had a crisp white tablecloth and there was a carafe of mineral water with the coffee. An altogether civilized experience and far superior to any shopping adventure I’d ever had in the States. Anyway, I bought nothing further. I sauntered in the general direction of the ship with my cap tucked underneath my arm. I had immensely enjoyed Lawrence of Arabia when they showed it on the ship; so, I fancied myself a British officer entering the lobby of Shepheard’s Hotel in Cairo.
I had the duty next day. We were in a port and starboard rotation, liberty one day, duty the next. You didn’t get the whole day off. If we’d been at home, liberty wouldn’t start until 1600 hours; but we were supposed to be doing a sort of good will tour, so in Karachi, liberty started at 1200 hours. In this manner there were always enough sailors aboard to man the ship in case there was an emergency of some sort. I stood my watch on the quarter deck and later, when it was dark enough, we watched a Vincent Price horror flick on the torpedo deck.
The next day, we left Karachi and our next stop would be Aqaba, Jordan. The trip was completely uneventful for those of us in the Gunnery Department, but there was one moment of interest. We challenged a vessel in the normal manner, but we received no reply and she turned away and increased speed. We repeatedly ordered her to stop, but she was faster and easily outpaced us. We had been loafing along with fire in only two of our four boilers. On the mess deck that night, all the talk was that the officers thought she was a slaver.
“Slaver? What the fuck does that mean?” Wondered Ed, a sonarman, between bites of pork chop.
“Yeah! Fuck. That’s old-time shit.” Commented Mike, also a sonarman, and a strikingly handsome one at that. I crushed on him all the time but never did anything about it.
“Well fuck, that’s what Mister Gasconne said,” Tom went on with complete assurance. Tom was a signalman and had been on the signal bridge when the whole thing happened. As a participant to the event, he felt qualified. “She was painted white…showed no colors…no name or home port on her stern. An’ she was makin’ turns when she pulled away. She was a looker all right.”
“Yeah, but slavery? Come on. You saw Berbera. They don’t need no slaves fer chrissake.” Mike was having none of it.
“Jesus Mike,” rejoined Tom. “Rich A-rabs buy ‘em fer their harems an’ shit. Come on, man, they won’t be pickin’ cotton.”
We considered such a thing in silence. Considering the enormity of such a trade, we continued dining. The chops were excellent. Plus, we had already done everything that we could do and that is always a comforting thought.
We loitered outside Aqaba for a while as we were early and there were going to be some welcoming ceremonies at a set time. While we were busy loitering, not an unfamiliar activity, two Israeli motor torpedo boats came motoring up. An unofficial escort, I suppose. We would not be making a call at Eilat, or at any other Israeli port for that matter; there was peace at this time, but you could visit the Arabs, or the Jews, – but not both, on the same cruise.
I immediately began considering the threat potential these boats posed to us even though we were allies. Gunnery, after all, is my job. They could not be considered dangerous except in a surprise attack. Highly unlikely from the Israelis. Our guns were aimed by radar and computer systems and each of our three five-inch gun mounts could fire one round every one and a half seconds. Just a couple of years ago, old Dutch destroyers had sent a couple of Indonesian MTBs to the bottom without even blistering their paintwork. If you’re going to have a navy, it seemed to me, you should have proper ships. Though not proper in my opinion, they nevertheless came muttering alongside and rendered honors as naval protocol required.
We manned the rail in our dress white uniform as we entered the port and approached the dock. There was a band, and uniformed soldiers, as an honor guard, were all lined up precisely. Flags waved and there was a small crowd present. They were quiet and reserved.
Our captain managed to flub the ceremonies. He neglected to salute the Jordanian flag as he passed the honor guard, though all the Jordanian officers in the party saluted their flag just as they had saluted our flag earlier in the ceremonies. This was no big deal, it was standard operating procedure for this captain. In marked contrast to our previous captain, who was the embodiment of everything a naval officer should be, the new guy was inept. Previously, our ship had seemed like home, it was happy, there were no cigarette butts in the scuppers; now it was just a place to sleep and work. You could really feel it. We watched the ceremonies half expecting the new guy to trip over his sword. He had no class whatsoever.
I wasn’t sure I was even going to go ashore at Aqaba. At least that’s what I told myself. It didn’t look interesting in the least. Of course, I knew I would go ashore, even if I only took a cursory look around, sampled the beer – if there was any, and then returned to the ship.
But I was elated when it was announced that the Jordanian Army was going to provide transportation to the ancient city of Petra and I immediately signed up for the trip. I always went to see these sorts of things: cave paintings in Malta, Roman villas in Tunisia, Crusader ruins in Crete, museums whenever and wherever, all that sort of stuff.
We were told not to wear uniform, but to attempt to seem as casual and unmilitary as possible. We were told not to wear shorts, as part of the trip would be on horseback. Better and better, I thought; I’d had horses when I was growing up, and I loved them. I sometimes felt I’d been abused as a child as I’d grown up with one foot in a deck shoe and the other in a cowboy boot.
So I dug into my unauthorized locker (everyone had one). I came up with a cotton sport shirt and a gray windbreaker, to which I added a pair of 501 Levi’s and, as a final touch, my newly acquired British style peaked cap; however, I removed the insignia as I thought that would be inappropriate.
They had us sign out on the quarterdeck with our name, rank, and service number. This was unusual and I think it must have been something the Jordanian Army wanted, or maybe their tourist bureau, or something government like that.
There were three army trucks lined up on the dock. They had canvas covers over the top, but the side covers were rolled up so the sights could be seen. I prepared to clamber aboard when a Jordanian corporal grabbed my arm and, rattling on pleasantly in a language that I did not understand, he placed me in the passenger seat in the cab. It must have been the hat. The corporal deferred to me pleasantly and we exchanged mutually incomprehensible pleasantries as we started off. I noticed that his peaked hat lay beside him on the seat, top down, and there was a picture of him on the inside of the hat. Somehow, I didn’t think this was vanity; I suspected that a large enough segment of his army was illiterate so standard written name tags could not work.
We trundled through a series of city streets. At least they were paved streets with curbs, gutters, and streetlights; but there were no buildings. It did not take too long and we were out of town and gathering speed along an arrow straight highway through the desert. And it was a real desert, not the sage covered flatland that I had grown up in and considered to be desert. No: extremely sparse and stunted vegetation, small sand dunes, that the wind had organized, then reorganized. All of it scattered across a uniform backdrop that was a reddish sand color several notches darker than the sandy beaches of Malibu or Miami.
Upon arrival we were directed toward a group of horses, each one of which had a boy as handler. With much gesticulating and incomprehensible encouragement, we were led to these stone blocks that were used to mount the horses. We got into vague lines behind each block and the boys led their horses up for us to ride.
When it was my turn, I stepped around the mounting block and looked my horse over carefully; she was clearly an Arabian with fine conformation, and she was looking at me just as carefully as I was looking at her; she was an elegant gray and I thought she might be around four or five years old. She was sturdy and looked as if she could kick ass and take names in any endurance race back in the states.
The saddle was interesting; there was no cantle to speak of and a modest pommel with no horn of any kind; it gleamed with care; full knee pads and the look of a good saddle that was well used and well cared-for.
Then I looked at my boy. He also gleamed. Raven black hair curled from beneath a sort of cap that had a headband of red and white checked cloth around it that was nothing like the classic turban I had been half expecting. His complexion was clear and darkened by the sun; his shirt was partially open. He was smiling and his teeth were straight, sparkling white and even. Either his dentist was genius, or he had a naturally perfect mouth. His eyes sparkled and he grinned happily, nodding and pointing at his horse with enthusiasm. I understood not a word of his little welcoming speech.
I had thought of him as a ‘boy’ because of the general situation and because it seemed plausible that a horse handler would be called a ‘boy’. But if he was a boy, then so was I; we were both boys, we were both on the cusp of manhood.
He was dressed in no particular manner that a European or American would consider riding clothes. But then, neither was I. He wore a dark red vest with some restrained embroidery over a very loose shirt with wide sleeves that did not reach his wrists; there was a very informal cummerbund of white cloth around his waist, and his trousers were loose and baggy. I could not see his boots.
I mounted in the normal way, finding the offside stirrup without difficulty. There followed several moments of talking and gesturing as I indicated that I wanted the reins and I wanted him to ride with me; when I kicked the left stirrup free and reached down for him, everything became clear to him, he was then up behind me almost instantly. Through all this unusual activity our horse was unconcerned. I remembered reading that Arabian horses, in the past, frequently lived in the tents with their people. As a result of generations of this, they were remarkably friendly; they considered people to be a simple, standard issue, fact of life.
Our horse, who knew her job thoroughly, started up the trail toward the ruins and my boy, whom I had decided to call Rider for lack of understanding his actual name, snuggled up behind me with his arms around my waist.
This was great: a beautiful day, a beautiful boy, a beautiful horse, a foreign adventure – what could possibly be better than that? Well, Rider could brush his hand across my secret place. A gentle caress that could be an accident caused by our horse’s motion. I had started calling our horse Missy after a fine old quarter horse that I’d known as a kid; this new Missy had a smooth walk, but Rider and I were in contact from crotch to shoulders moving with that smooth walk. There it was again. A little longer this time.
“Mmmmmm,” I purred.
“Mmmmmm,” he purred and his palm remained in place gently massaging me to Missy’s motion.
“Mmmmmm, ahhhhhhh,” he purred in my ear and I could feel him hard against my lower back, one arm tight around my waist, the other moving gently against my boner which was, sadly, insulated by the heavy denim and buttons of 501 Levi’s and official United States Navy issue, boxer shorts, cotton, white in color. These would soon be damp if this continued.
But they only got a little damp. We had been longer on this trail than it had seemed, distracted as Rider and I had been, Missy brought us around a bend and there was Petra, in all its majesty.
It is incredible. Thousands of years ago they carved a city out of the stone walls of their canyons. They engineered an excellent water system; they carved classical style buildings with all the ornamentation imaginable out of the living rock. It was breathtaking, but it wasn’t sensual.
I was still ready to be sensual as we dismounted. I had to fuss over Missy as I rearranged myself in my clothes. I’m sure Rider knew exactly what I was doing, and it looked to me as if he were doing the same thing.
Someone from the Embassy had put together a short guide to Petra in English which had been provided to us. At this time it was not open to the general public unless you were part of a licensed tour. I had my copy, and I was going to look around; I stood admiring the Treasury Building for a while and then started off down one of the many canyons thinking I would be able to see their water works. My home is in a desert so I’m always interested in irrigation. But I didn’t get very far.
“Hssssst!” This came from the shadows of a small defile. There was Rider, smiling coyly, he had opened his shirt and bared one breast. I started growing again and followed Rider down the defile to a small chamber that had been carved out of the rock face. I followed Rider inside and we kissed passionately. Rider had absolutely no trouble opening the buttons on my 501’s and he quickly had them down and me out and available for fondling and stroking.
What I had thought to be a cummerbund, vaguely remembering my high school prom, turned out to be a sort of sash that even had some pockets sewn in. It came lose and off quickly and there was Rider in all his considerable glory as his trousers came quickly down. I admired his lovely bush as I tasted him.
“Umphhhhhhh,” he said as he pulled away. He made it clear that he just didn’t want to explode too quickly. He tasted of me, and I pulled away too. It had been a long time since I’d had sex that wasn’t solitary.
We smiled at each other and kissed and stroked one another. Then, by mutual accord, we settled into the famous sixty-nine position. There, in the dark of a Petran chamber, in a litter of hastily cast-off clothing, we consummated our almost instantaneous affection for one another. We climaxed in the ultimate affirmation of our humanity. Sex.
We cuddled in the afterglow. We relaxed and murmured sweet nothings. We were young. So we did it again. But ultimately, our respective duties summoned us down from our plateau and back to horse and ship.
When we got back to the trucks, I wanted to kiss him. But there were too many others, I could only squeeze his hand. “I will never forget you,” I murmured inadequately.
I have the hat still.
It has a spot in one of my bookcases next to an agate bookend and The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.
I look at it often and hope that Rider found love and joy of life. I think of Petra. Passionate.
All the usual disclaimers apply. I found the pictures on the internet and believe them to be within the public domain. All of the characters herein are of my imagination and any resemblance to any real person is entirely coincidental.
My thanks, as always, to my editors and to Mike and John for all they do for AD.
If you enjoyed this, or have comments or questions, I would love to hear from you at the address on the site.