MUCM Ken Davenport had called the Navy Band Newport staff together and announce a few changes in responsibilities.
"And Frank," he concluded, "as administrative petty officer, you'll come in at 0730 every day to get the coffee ready."
Coffee? 0730? Neither concept was enticing.
"Wait a minute," I said. "I don't drink coffee."
"So?" said the master chief.
"So, why should I make coffee if I don't drink it?"
"Because your shipmates drink coffee. Lots of it." He gestured around the office and I had to admit it: Dave DeKoff, Ed Helm, John Farquhar, Dave Lock, the master chief, everyone but Frank Mullen had a cup of coffee in hand. "And the bands are in and out of here all day on different schedules, mustering for rehearsals, returning from gigs." he said. "It's a great convenience if someone has made the coffee when they come in."
"Well, it'd be a great convenience to me if someone would light my unfiltered Camels for me when I come in," I said.
"Funny," Master Chief Davenport said. "Just make the coffee."
"I don't know how."
"Ed Helm will show you."
"No more questions?" the master chief said. "Dismissed."
I came to work the next morning at 0730 to make the coffee. "Ed told me to put in a pound of coffee," I reminded myself, "but that seems wasteful." I pondered my responsibilities as a Navy man. "It's every sailor's job to fetter out fraud, waste and abuse," I said, and put about 1/4 pound of coffee into the 4.3 gallon urn.
Morale was poor that day. The sailor's right to bitch was exercised fully. "Who made this crap?" was the most common response to the change in staff assignments.
Master Chief Davenport was no fool. "Nice try," he said at the end of the day. "And before you ask, no, you will not be relieved of coffee-making duty. This is the Navy, not vocational training day school Sailors like their coffee strong. Make the coffee strong."
"Aye, aye, master chief," I said to myself the next morning at 0730 as I poured a pound of coffee into the urn. "If my shipmates like their coffee strong, they'll get it strong." I opened up a second pound of coffee and dumped it into the mix. "That ought to make them happy," I mused as I whistled a medley of jaunty nautical jigs. I saw yesterday's open pack of coffee sitting on the shelf. "No point in wasting that," I said and topped the brew off with another 3/4 pound of coffee.
Screams filled the passageways of Navy Band Newport that day. Four-letter words were used with forceful regularity. Mouthfuls of coffee were spit into ashtrays. My name was cursed.
At 0728 I parked my car in the parking lot and walked around the building to the main entrance. Outside the door, Dave Dekoff stood at attention in his crackerjacks. When I got to the door, he stuck a cigarette in my mouth. "Can I light that for you, Frank?" he said, and whipped out a lighter. "By the way," he said, "The master chief says Ed Helm is going to make the coffee from now on."
Of course, I'd already figured that out.