On this day in 1976, I met the love of my life.
I had, just the previous week, graduated from 12 stressful, grueling weeks of Coast Guard Boot Camp, and was now beginning my training as an electronics tech at the USCG Training Center on Governor’s Island, just off the end of Manhattan.
My personal items from home had arrived at the Greyhound package station in downtown Manhattan, and I was supposed to come get them.
Problem #1: I didn’t have a car, and the items included my beloved, battered 10-speed bike.
Problem #2: I didn’t want to go into downtown New York alone. Coming up from Boot Camp, they had given me tickets for the bus and a subway pass—forgetting to tell me that I shouldn’t ride it alone after 10 pm.
I thought I would be fine. After all, I was no naïve country hick–born and raised in the country’s second-largest city, Los Angeles. But I had never encountered the kind of ‘flasher-grinder’ sitting in the corner of the subway car, and spent the entire ride down to South Ferry determinedly looking in the other direction. I was NOT going to do that again.
The ‘Coast Guard Women’ (As the sign on our quarters announced) were housed on the bottom wing of ‘O’ section, right below the BOQ (Bachelor Officer’s Quarters). So with some trepidation I ventured upstairs to the lounge of said quarters to offer a tank of gas to anyone with a car who would go with me to fetch my stuff.
The trepidation came from recent experience. Most of the guys rooming upstairs were only noncoms, Petty Officer First Class and up—which isn’t all that high a rank. But in boot camp, that rank had screamed at us, made us do ‘cranks’ (pushups) crawl through icy beach mud on our stomachs, jump off 40-foot high dives, and port arms and run quarter-mile laps until your muscles burned like fire.
But that was boot camp. Once finished, the Coast Guard is a much more civilian service than the other branches, because Coasties are always among and working with civilians.
Anyway, there were only two guys in the lounge, and I could only see the back of their heads, watching TV. I made my offer, and Jay Cotton took me up on it.
Of course he already knew about me. There were only 30 of us ‘Coast Guard Women’ in the barracks below—the ‘Guard had only recently begun accepting female recruits—and as each new group of students arrived, gossip (mostly speculation about very un-romantic possibilities) ran rife. Me? I was ‘the blonde from California’. Where Hollywood is located, and Haight-Ashbury, and many another stereotypical loose lady.
Fortunately, strait-laced virginal me didn’t know this at the time. When Jay stood up and turned around, it was my turn to be shocked: his Greek good looks were reminiscent of a previous crush. But he was much more fun to be with.
Only half my stuff had arrived, so he volunteered to go back for the rest when it came in. We sat at the ferry terminal and talked and talked. I remember asking him where he wanted to be four years from now. Four years is a standard enlistment period, and I had just begun mine, so in the service, it’s a common ‘make conversation’ question.
Jay looked me in the eye and said, “Wherever you are.”
At the time I remember thinking, “Well, he’s pretty sure of himself.” I’m rather a skeptic when it comes to first acquaintances.
It’s gone beyond four years to forty years. And there he still is.
Still love you, Jay Cotton.
P.S. The clincher was that skilled guitar playing—when he sang ‘Nights in White Satin’ for me at the Whitehats Club. And ‘For Emily, Wherever I May Find Her’.
Okay, I’m bragging, just a bit. Old ladies do, sometimes.