6 Things Movies Don't Show You About Life on a Submarine

#3. Everything Stinks

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Everything stinks. It's not just the flatulence (didn't think of that, did you? Imagine your old dorm room, only there's 20 guys in there and you can't open the window for months) or the sweat, or the one guy who was allergic to the chemicals in the CO2 scrubbers, which gave him a skin rash that caused flakes of him to fall off constantly, but he was the only one technically qualified to operate it, so fuck it all, flakes ahoy, good buddy. The whole thing is a machine, and machines need oil. Oil stinks. God, does it stink. I stuffed dryer sheets in my pockets just to remind myself that there were better things in the world.

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You know, just like people used to do with flowers. During the plague.

But no, let's not get distracted. The farts are what's important here: After two weeks, the milk would be gone. Three, and there were no more eggs. The freezer was only so big, and most of the stuff in there was for special occasions. Special occasions like the time a guy had a heart attack and they had to make room in the freezer for his body, so there was a somber memorial meal with the food they pulled out. It didn't happen on my sub, thank fucking God, but it did happen ...

Anyway, it all boils down to most of what we ate being canned food. Bad canned food. You know what goes well with 120 men in an airtight container? Suspicious, off-brand canned food. Every day was an experiment in how much methane poisoning a man can take before he becomes more fart than man.

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"The fuck if I'm going in there."

#2. Boredom Leads to Pranking

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With that many guys dealing with nothing but each other for weeks on end, you can imagine the sort of Jackass-style shenanigans we'd get into. I once saw two guys taking turns beating each other with a stapler, dozens of staples sticking out of their backs, arms, chests, and necks.


"We're bored."

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"And suffering from a slight iron deficiency."

After I qualified for my first watch, I was so proud. I stood the watch, a true submariner at last, no longer a NUB (Non-Useful Body). I went back to my rack to grab a change of clothes so I could shower. There, where my uniforms had been lying six hours before, were the loveliest sets of lingerie you can imagine. The options were: 1) raise a stink, get some officers involved, and generally be an ass, 2) start to stink and wear the same clothes until someone gave mine back, or 3) throw on the beautiful nightie and thong someone had so kindly purchased for me.

The only downside was that the chiefs wouldn't let me sit down to eat; my mostly bare ass couldn't touch the same seat they had to sit on. I made sure to stand front and center so everyone was forced to see my bulging thong while they tried to eat. It didn't take too long for my uniforms to show back up.

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The fan dance may have been a factor in that as well.

By the way, when the reactor goes "critical," it's a good thing. That's what reactors are supposed to do. Criticality means that the fission inside the reactor is at a sufficient level to maintain itself, so when a reactor goes critical, it's powered on and capable of moving the ship. Every movie or show where someone yells, "The reactor's gone critical!" has been messing with you. One guy's family came down for a tour and his friends decided to mess with them. So right as they're being shown around -- blah blah where's the periscope -- he stares at a screen and shouts out, "Dear God, it's gone critical!" and then sprints out of the room. The rest of us paused for maybe half a beat before we, too, fled screaming out of the engine room.

The captain was a little upset when he found out.

#1. Even the Surface Sucks

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When the sub is submerged, everything stays nice, level, and calm. You might as well be tied up in port. Sure, somewhere inside you know the walls have contracted a bit, and the gauges showing the incoming seawater temperature are cold in a way that sends existential terror shooting through your subconscious, but at least things are stable. Submarines are meant to be submerged. Now take that brilliantly engineered tin can and put it on the surface. The damn thing wallows like a pig in mud. And since you're inside, you have no frame of reference. You don't realize how much easier it is to deal with a rocking boat when you can see the waves, or at least the horizon. Inside the sub, it's basically a carnival fun house, with everything liable to tilt wildly at complete random and with no warning.

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Oh, and make sure you keep the most powerful and dangerous energy source ever built from killing everyone slowly and horribly.

There's this thing on the roof of the submarine, right in the middle of the main walkway, called a rising stem valve. It looks like this:

US Navy

That's a closed one, but when it's open, that center piece projects outward about a foot. It's pretty easy to avoid when you're submerged and the ground hasn't spontaneously come to life, motivated only by its hatred for you -- but when you're on the surface and the ship is pitching and rolling ... well, one way you can tell someone served on a submarine is the forehead scars.

But that isn't so bad compared to the showers.

There are only three showers on board, so each one of them has about 40 guys using it every day. And sure, we clean them ... but 40 guys a day? Forty guys ... with no other privacy, sealed up away from the world for months? Let's not be delicate: Everyone's jerked off in there. You really don't want to touch the walls. I can't stress that enough. You shower like you're in an iron maiden. But then, when you're surfaced, showering means something terrible. Something unspeakable. It means constantly getting slammed face-first into a wall covered in the crusted semen of crusty seamen.

Subukkaked, if you will.

With all that said, lifetime submariners are a salty, hard-boiled bunch of awesome bastards. I wish I had the stones to be like them. The only time I ever thought I might want it was during our transit from Norfolk to Pearl Harbor, when we surfaced as we entered the Panama Canal. I popped out of the hatch and breathed in the first fresh air I'd tasted in weeks, stretched out, and saw the sun coming up over a lone mountain beside the canal. SEALs were racing around in their small boats to escort us, giant freighters were lined up so far into the distance that they disappeared, salt water was spraying, the birds were calling and singing. My master chief was standing to next to me, showing a rare smile.

"Almost makes it worth it, huh, Langdale?"

Almost, Chief.


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"What the hell is that smell?"
"That's not-fart, Master Chief."

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