What it takes at Kings Point

I got to Kings Point, I worked like a sonofabitch.

When you take the test to be an officer, you’re allowed a grade of 70 percent on most things, but with The Rules of the Road, you had to be 100 percent. That involved what, when, how you turn, how you do things, how you navigate the ship.

I took The Rules of the Road and I memorized the freaking book, and when I sat to take that test, I ran the memorization through my mind and I answered it perfectly. So I’m blessed with a good ability to memorize.

Listen to this, I still remember it.

Be it enacted by the Senate and the House of Representatives of the United States of America and Congress assembled, that the following regulations for the prevention of collision at sea shall be followed with all public and private vessels of the United States, on the high seas, and in all waters connected therewith. A seagoing vessel will carry (a) on or above the foremast, or if a vessel without a foremast, in the fore part of the vessel, a bright white light showing twenty points of the compass, and so fixed at the shoulder light or right ahead, and two points of aft and beam, on either side, and so fixed to show at a distance of five miles.

Can you imagine, I had to memorize all that shit?

I was regarded pretty well because my LIFE magazine article was posted up on the bulletin board, and I had three medals – a medal for each ship that I was sunk on, and one for being in the hospital, the Merchant Marine equivalent of the Purple Heart.

For a while, I got up a half hour early. I played a record of a bugler playing Reveille and woke everyone up — Let go your cocks and grab your socks! — and then gave them exercises over the loudspeaker.

But you know what? I needed that extra half hour, I quit the job.

The officers would come in and examine your room wearing white gloves. They would climb up on the bunk, and run their hand up on top, and if there was dust on that glove, you were restricted for the weekend. No pass. We used to get away on Saturdays and Sundays.

They also allowed Jewish guys out on Friday nights to go to the synagogue. You know me, I’m not a synagogue-goer, but I went anyway, just to get some different air and see some women. The only women at Kings Point were two old ladies that worked in the shop selling Coca-Cola and candy.

On the weekends, I’d ride home. On the Long Island Railroad, I’m studying The Rules of the Road. I get home, and Henry is giving me lessons in trigonometry. I’m sitting on the toilet seat, I’m reading The Rules of the Road.

After the first six months, we spent the next six months at sea as a cadet. We went to Casablanca. As a cadet, I’d stand watch with an officer on the bridge.

There was this Polish son of a bitch, Shturkin, he was a cadet with me for the six months at sea. He was a fucking anti-Semite, he would always just throw this bullshit at me. We get back for the final six months at the Academy. One day, I’m walking along on the campus at Kings Point, and there was this prick in civilian clothes.

—Hey, whatcha doing? —Geez, I failed, I flunked out. —Oh, that’s too bad.

I knew that the son of a bitch, he’d be in the Army in a week, and that was before D-Day. —Aha, I hope you’re right in D-Day, get your head shot fucking off.

That takes care of guys that shit around with me.

Excerpt from LEON: A LIFE (Old Convincer Publishing, 2019).