I was new, my lap was wet, and everyone was laughing at me.
Was I having a nightmare? Yes. But I wasn’t sleeping. Was this a scene from a horror movie? Yes. But there was no camera.
My first few days on board had been pleasant, like the first few minutes of every scary movie you have ever seen. I enjoyed being invisible and irrelevant.
One night, a few days after arriving, I was invited to sit next to the Captain for evening dinner. Nobody wanted a seat next to the Captain. The problem with sitting there, of course, was that you had to actually talk, instead of doing what young guys really want to do which is stuff their faces as fast as they can.
That night, the rest of the wardroom was uncharacteristically pleasant (cue the spooky violin music). They were engaging and seemed genuinely interested in what I was saying. Each time I looked down to sneak a bite, I was asked another innocuous question: “Where are you from?”, “I understand you’re a football fan.” Things like that.
In retrospect, they sounded a lot like Eddie Haskel laying the honey on a little too thick. All my alarms should have been going off – it was like a scene from Friday the 13th just before Jason comes at you with an axe – but I didn’t see it. I was young and naive.
As I was trying my best to be charming, witty, insightful (choose the adverb), a strange sensation began to creep into my consciousness. My pants….were getting wet! Real wet. I jumped up, looked down, and to my horror I saw that my lap was completely soaked. In confusion I looked up, and watched as the entire wardroom erupted in uncontrollable laughter. Even the Captain.
I had been troughed (pronounced “troffed”), and everyone was in on it. I was Sissy Spacek in Carrie, and this was Prom night.
Troughing required a lot of people to accomplish. The idea was to hold the edge of the tablecloth in such a way that a trough would be formed, its end aimed into the victim’s lap. While the guest was distracted by animated conversation from the other side of the table, water was poured into the trough.
All it took to start the sequence was for someone to ask for a “glass of water, no ice.” And like Paul Newman flicking his finger across his nose, everyone knew the game was on.
Over the years we troughed Commanding Officers, Battle Group Commanders, visiting dignitaries, and almost – but not quite – the Chief of Naval Operations of an allied Navy (the Captain nixed that one). The trough begat other water pranks – surgical tubing under the table, buckets of water over the door, buckets of water poured from the signal bridge onto the XO below (that one didn’t turn out too well).
The tradition never caught on, and with the decommissioning of that ship, it died. I’m afraid it has gone the way of sailing ships, deisel submarines, and Latin. But you never know. If you ever hear someone ask for a “glass of water, no ice”, I recommend you look down. I’m just saying.