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A Rainy Night In Charleston
1997 - by Sid Harrison ETCM(SS) USN(Ret)

When I was on the HAMILTON in the mid 60s, I and a buddy from the JOHN ADAMS had been making the rounds in Charleston. Deciding to return early to the base we left the Merchant Seaman's Club on East Bay around 2200. It was a typical hot, rainy Low Country evening as we pulled into a muddy lot in North Charleston near the train tracks about a mile from the main gate. We had seen the carnival tents all week and figured they would be gone soon and thought there just might be something interesting to check out before heading back to the barracks.

Lights glowed a dim yellow from the booths and we seemed to be the only ones there when we saw the faded sign on a tent that advertised "Strip Show. Girls-Girls-Girls".

Fifteen or twenty guys stood in that little tent with the water oozing under the edges, a few light bulbs strung through the center and the rain pounding on it's sagging roof. We all just stood there facing a small lighted stage with a record player sitting on the front edge of it.

Presently the man who had collected our money walked over and put on a scratchy record of some type of "stripper music" as a scantily dressed and badly out-of-shape young woman appeared from behind a plastic curtain.

Fixing her eyes on a place above the audience she began a half-hearted little walk around that small stage with a performance that was both sadly mechanical and uninspiring. No catcalls ensued, but rather a stunned group silently watching a very pitiful girl who was missing part of her left arm from just below the elbow.

After traveling the world over from the South Pacific to Istanbul and thinking I had seen it all, I was now standing in the mud in a steaming damp tent in North Charleston with a bunch of drunk men watching a one-armed woman do a bad ersatz strip routine on a dirty wooden stage. It was definitely a surreal moment - I almost expected the scene to shift to black and white. Maybe we were all extras in some weird, artsy foreign film by Ingemar Bergman or perhaps we had inadvertently stumbled onto a Tennessee Williams movie production set. None of that seemed to be the case.

After a brief interval and with some quiet grumbling the crowd began to slowly thin out. Dropping a couple of bucks in the "donation box" my buddy and I walked by the stage and into the night rain and the mud. Seriously in need of some additional cheering up we went back downtown.

A downer of a no sh**ter but no s**t nevertheless. I wonder about that sorry girl and her story.

Note: If you knew Chasn back then .. .then you knew the "Merch". Going there was referred to as "perchin' at the Merch". It was a "private club" to get around the liquor laws and anything that resembled an ID could get you in.