Battleship Names of Yesteryear
Peter Tatara - November 24, 2010
I had to pee. It was a brisk autumn day in NYC around 5 PM. The sky was already black, and if not for the neon of Times Square, I'd have been in similar darkness. But, the city's lights did keep aglow, extending daylight through the result of year upon year of capitalism and ingenuity. The end result of this? I had to pee. The girlfriend and I had spent the day crisscrossing streets, avenues, cafes, and patches of green, adding up to, among other things, two cups of hot cinder, one bottle of water, and four cups of tea inside of me. I pride myself in the amount of liquid my bladder can carry, but its warm contents coupled with the chill permeating the air was more than I could take. I had to pee.
While I could have rushed into the closest Starbucks, fast food joint, or other eatery and ordered something stupid as an excuse to get into their restroom, I've found it never a certainty that serendipity will bless me with a restroom in these cases and -- if there is physically a toilet in the place -- one that's working and/or not behind some godawful line. It's been my experience the latter will always be the case at Starbucks. Always.
As such, I decided to go to a destination bathroom. Rather than run into the closest one I could find, I moseyed a few blocks to Kinokuniya Bookstore, just across from Bryant Park. Kinokuniya is the largest Japanese bookstore in the USA. Its owners are good people. I spend far too much money there on curios and books on byzantine topics. And they have, perhaps, the best bathroom in the city. Big, easily accessible on the first floor, and with nary a line, it's The Promised Land for potty seekers. (And interestingly, it's humble compared to the bookstore's original bathroom. A half dozen years ago, before Kinokuniya moved to its present location, the store was located in Rockefeller Center, and its restroom there had an original, commissioned mural across its walls.) So, I went to Kinokuniya this brisk autumn day and made water.
Kinokuniya is clever, though. While most merchants place impulse items by their cash registers, Kinokuniya's also got a stash by its restrooms. Right outside them are the store's discount racks, stacks of books at rock bottom prices the eye cannot help but notice as other parts of the body lead it to the toilet. And, this brisk autumn day -- although, technically, it was evening -- I spotted one such book while on my way to wee. The First Destroyers by David Lyon.
I like boats. Growing up, I wanted to be a moviemaker, but before I wanted to be a moviemaker, I wanted to be a genetic engineer, and before I wanted to be a genetic engineer, I wanted to join the Navy. While I no longer foresee a tour of duty on a battleship as a viable career path for me, I still love ships of all shapes and sizes. The girlfriend and I spent our fifth anniversary on the deck of a reconstruction of an 1854 cargo schooner, and whenever Fleet Week gets into town, anyone who's with me can attest that I touch everything. (But, what anyone who's with me fails to notice is that I lick everything, too, when their backs are turned.)
So, I bought The First Destroyers by David Lyon for $8. Published in 1996, it's an obsessive account of the first Torpedo Boat Destroyers commissioned by the British Navy circa 1890. I've learned a lot from it, too, and while I could bore you with facts and figures about armaments and tonnage, I'm instead going to speak a bit about names. See, going through this book, I've learned the British Navy had no clue what the fuck it was doing naming its first Torpedo Boat Destroyers. Don't follow me? No worries. Plain and simple, what follows is a listing of some of the more striking names the Brits gave these ships...
I could easily comment on all of the above names, but I really think they speak for themselves. I must admit that the HMS Spiteful, while a bit too on the nose, isn't that bad of a name, really. The other names on this list, though, seem like jokes. Most of 'em would fail to strike fear into the heart of a kitten, and -- actually -- I'm surprised Kitten wasn't on the list. And Arab? How was this one approved? I suppose the US military has things named Apache, Comanche, and Tomahawk and this is kinda the same thing, as England was shitting all over the Middle East back then. Still, I'd have questioned it if I was in that naming committee.
But, at some point after the Arab, someone finally did raise their hand -- and hopefully someone did get fired -- as looking down the long list of Torpedo Boat Destroyer names, we can see that there was a breaking point. The HMS Squirrel. For, this ship's entry has an annotation. While she was originally laid out and constructed as the Squirrel, before she was commissioned, the British Admiralty came to their senses, said enough is enough, and renamed her the Wolf. That's a better name. But it's not as good as Werewolf.
See, if I was in charge of naming battleships, I'd probably name the very first one the Werewolf, with her sister ships called the Dracula, the Mummy, the Bigfoot, the Frankenstein, the Mothra, and the Chupacabra. But as I no longer see the Navy as a stop on my career path, I will never be in charge of naming battleships. Which is a shame. I imagine there's always hope, though, that I could come into possession of a time machine and transport myself back in time to England in 1890 so that I could raise objection to their stupid plans for their stupid, stupid names.
Actually, who the hell am I kidding, if I traveled back in time to England in 1890, I'd be the person who proposed all these names just to fuck with myself in the future.