From: topman4u@io.com (Greg Havican)
Subject: Memories
Date: Thu, 10 Aug 1995 16:55:17 GMT

I was sitting in the law library at the office this morning doing
updates on some of our publications (a mindless activity that takes
some time to do), when suddenly I was hit with a flood of memories of
work from 15 and 20 years ago.  It was very strange and somewhat
depressing to recall some of the stuff.

Twenty years ago, after graduating from high school, I went to work in
the shipping industry in Houston as a boarding agent.  Boarding agents
were people who worked for shipping agencies that represented other
companies that either owned ships or chartered them to carry cargo.
Our primary responsibilities were to take care of the needs of our
customer and the ships such as arranging for provisions, bunkers
(fuel), overseeing cargo loading or discharge, shipís payroll, etc.
We were also responsible for arranging for customs, immigration, and
agriculture clearance when a vessel was arriving from a foreign port,
or customs clearance when it arrived from a domestic port (which was
called "coastwise").

Back in the 70ís, about a third of all boarding agents in Houston were
gay men.  I donít know what it was about the shipping industry that
attracted them; for me, it was the continuation of a family history of
at least one person from each generation being involved with either
the navy or the merchant marines in one form or another.  I even went
so far as to get my A/B ticket (able-bodied seaman license) and become
a member of the union in Houston which would have allowed me to sign
on to an American flagged merchant ship at any time.

Many of the memories that came back to me this morning include things
that I did with some of the other gay agents.  Often a ship would have
both a chartererís agent and an ownerís agent.  The chartererís agent
was responsible for overseeing the loading or discharge of the cargo,
while the ownerís agent was responsible for seeing to the needs of the
officers and crew.  As I said above, upon arrival of a ship from a
foreign port, customs, immigration and agriculture would have to come
onboard and clear the ship before cargo or other transactions could
begin.  As part of that process, the chartererís agent and ownerís
agent would have to board the ship with them to facilitate the
clearance.

Dealing with customs was a simple matter of presenting them with
paperwork that you had prepared in advance and copies of the shipís
documents.  Immigration would need to see the passport for each
crewmember and then see each crewmember to compare pictures, etc.
Often immigration would question some of the crewmembers.  Whenever
there were two or more of us gay agents onboard, we would sit back and
watch this process and whisper back and forth to each other about the
physical attributes of some of the crew.  We dubbed the process of
interviewing each crewmember as the "meat parade".  There were
certainly some prime specimens over the years.

Some of the hazards of working as a boarding agent were the high
stress of the job (considering that even an hourís delay in arrival,
departure, etc. could easily cost between $12,000 and $20,000
dollars), the liberal use of alcohol, and long hours of work at all
hours of the day or night.  

Since we were on call 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, we did our
partying whenever we had a little free time.  I was a big drinker back
then and whenever I knew that I wasnít going have to work for at least
8 hours, I would get drunk with my buddies.  The captains of the ships
were always pushing alcohol on us too.  I canít tell you how many
times I would meet a ship at 07:00 in the morning and upon boarding
have the captain immediately offer me scotch, vodka, champaign, or
just about anything else with alcohol in it.  It was considered
impolite to refuse, so it was common and acceptable to drink on the
job.  As long as we didnít get too drunk to perform our duties or
endangered the safely of the ship, ourselves, or anyone else, it was
OK to do it.

At one point in my career, I was the operations manager of an agency
that exclusively represented the ships of a company which was owned by
the same family that owned our agency.  We found that business had
picked up quite a bit and I needed to hire a new agent.  I talked to
several of my friends in the industry and they all recommended one
particular man who I ultimately hired (he was gay also).  Although a
very good worker, he and his lover would often get into fights and he
would come to work with cuts on his face, a black eye, or worse.  We
talked about it on many occasions, but he was so much in love with
this man that he just couldnít bring himself to leave him.  When the
situation got to the point that he started missing work because he
would get drunk after one of their fights, I had to fire him.  It was
a difficult situation for me because I really liked him a lot, had
wanted to be able to help him, and he did excellent work when he did
show up.

Some of my fondest memories from those days revolved around a British
tanker which was involved in lightering operations in the Gulf of
Mexico.  A lightering ship is a tanker of approximately 30 to 40
thousand tons which would go out to a VLCC or ULCC (Very Large Crude
Carrier or Ultra Large Crude Carrier) in the Gulf and load part of
their cargo (thus lightening the ship) and bring it in to port.  The
reason the VLCC or ULCC didnít come in to port was because they were
loaded too deep.  In otherwords, the ships went below the waterline
too far to make it up the ship channel.  The Houston ship channel at
that time was at itís maximum depth 40 feet deep.  A VLCC or ULCC
would often draw 50 to 60 feet of water so they had to stay anchored
in deep water and let smaller ships take on their load and bring it in
to port.

The Algol was on a one year charter to do lightering operations, so it
would be in the Gulf for three days and then in port for one day.
This cycle was repeated over and over.  I got to know the officers and
crew of the ship very well during this time and one evening the crew
asked me to go to the straight bars with them.  I told them I would,
but that they would have to let me take them to some of the gay bars
sometime.  After that, whenever they would come in, they would want to
hit the gay bars because they got to dance and really loved all the
attention they would get from the men there.  The first time we went I
had one after another dance with me while all my friends stood by and
watched with envy.

Ultimately, when the charter ran out for the Algol, they were called
back home and I had to say goodbye.  The officers and crew threw a
party for me on the ship and gave me an engraved clock as a present.
They also wrote a letter to my employer complimenting me on the
service I had given them over the previous year which earned me a
large raise.  I still miss all of them.

As for the other gay boarding agents I knew at the time (about 20 of
them), theyíre all dead now except for one who I havenít seen or heard
from in 12 years.  I hear about him on occasion from people in Houston
so I know heís still alive.  Perhaps next time Iím down there Iíll
look him up; but then again, perhaps not.  While many of the memories
are wonderful, they are also painful because the so many of the people
involved are no longer alive to share them with me.

Greg
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