Rumors are as important as chow. Whatever the plans are for your unit have a lot to do with how long you live or keep your body parts. A couple days before what I'm telling about here a roadside bomb blew up a general. Somebody somewhere knew he was in the wrong place at the wrong time but it wasn't him and nobody told him. A rumor might of saved his ass. The next best thing to printed orders from your CO's rumors, because they might be true and they at least give you something to put in the shithole we call tomorrow.
The way it turned out these rumors did come from the CO. He was shooting the shit in the officers' CHU and said there was some different noises coming from Command. Something was up maybe a move or reassignment or some such shit.
That was all. Lt. Bricard mentioned it to the platoon sergeant who repeated it to me over a illegal cold one and it fanned out from there. Nothing new. There's always rumors. Or maybe it was something new, who knows.
I forgot all about it and then Sarge woke us up in the middle of the night—this was like a couple days after the rumor started—and there were lines of motorized vehicles standing like bigass statues in the dark, engines off. I don't know how they got lined up so quiet as that. Sarge said throw the important stuff in a duffel bag and get the hell on board. Not a word about why or where to. He said don't leave behind what you don't want to lose, you got five minutes.
An Army five minutes can go on for days but this one was only off about an hour. We were out of there. I remember my stomach felt queasy. This whole Iraq thing was too much like war and for all I knew we were probably going to someplace worse than where we already were.
One thing sticks in my mind. It was like old war movies when Navy ships are talking to each other in the dark with blinkers. All those vehicles stood quiet until somebody flashed a light and hundreds of engines kicked over at the same time—no gunning, just hundreds of big engines idling quiet and loud at the same time, filling all that open desert space with this big soft rumble. I'll never forget that sound and then we started to roll easy at first, still quiet, nobody winding it out. I mean it was weird how everybody was in step with each other like a real tight band. We snuck the fuck out of there. You don't often see the military operate like that. It's usually all fucked up.
The barber shop at the west end of Al Azamiyah had salvaged steel netting where there used to be plate glass in the street-front window. Scrounged rebar, in differing thicknesses but skillfully bent to shape, held it in place. Behind it, in the dim light (the electricity was off) Awra spoke with Zainab as he cut his hair. Drifting through the steel, the air from the street diluted the odors inside. A whiff of cordite—old ammunition from Saddam's stockpiles—mingled with bay rum and garlic, not unpleasantly, if one ignores the connection between the smell and the sounds of shouting and gunfire a while ago. Zainab listened deferentially. The other man was older.
"My son, my brother's son, others from my building, they're gone, my friend. They're with God. What in this world is worth this? Is our life improved because the dictator is dead, if indeed he is? Are these strangers liberators? That's ridiculous!
"Now we fight each other. Have you once heard me ask anyone if they are Sunni or Shia? Have you once heard me speak of my faith? I hold a razor at their necks. Do they tremble? Nor should they. We are neighbors and friends, whether we share identical religious beliefs or not.
"You were a boy, your first time here. Your mother was a liberated woman and most beautiful. We celebrated the luxury of seeing beautiful women every day, and they celebrated their new place, in the universities, in the professions. I had a niece who was an engineer, God is my witness, an engineer! She went to work in Baghdad dressed like a man, in those stiff blue trousers they all prize and a man's hard hat on her head. Bare arms. A lovely woman also. Now they are hidden from us again and permitted nothing. They contribute nothing more now than sick babies and the cooking of meager food. Saddam was maybe a brute, but he was our brute. He was a peasant, but he was an Arab peasant, and our lives were far better for his leadership, especially in the beginning, when he was Mister Deputy and the Ba'ath Party was strong."
Awra is reminded of Zainab's high, almost girlish voice when his customer responds. It contrasts with his muscular shoulders.
"But we are constantly told that he was an enemy of the state and a monster…"
"Lies, or at least half-lies. He took our oil back from the goddamned English and spent it on luxuries for everyone, rich and poor. People who had never seen refrigerators and air conditioners received them free from the government. I suppose he was a monster, too, I don't know. He was a politician. But he opened the prisons just before the Americans came. What does that tell you?"
"What does it tell you?"
"It tells me that if Saddam was the vampire they say, he would not have turned his victims loose in the streets by the thousands."
"But the war with Iran and then, the first time, with the Americans…"
"The Iran war was the most stupid thing he ever did. Vanity. The Americans whispered in his ear. The said he was the new Saladin, bigger than Nasser, and he believed. They sold him weapons and promised their alliance. These very men who occupy us now, they were the conspirators who played him for a fool. Stupid, a small country like Iraq attacking a large one liker Iran. They may be shits, but it is better always to keep peace with one's neighbors."
"Israel has never earned the name of neighbor, but yes, if they could be reasoned with, them too. They are bound to American support, too, and it is poisonous. The Americans told Saddam, before their first attack on us, the one from Bush's father, that they approved his drive against Kuwait and its degenerate old coward of an emir. Then they betrayed him and attacked us. I have never been to America. I don't know if the people are as decent and attractive as in the movies and TV shows, but their leaders are black-hearted men, believe me."
"How can you know all this?"
"I am a barber, my friend, and often a fool, but I can read, and I have the words, sometimes, of worldly and intelligent men, right there in that chair. Do you see the Internet? You can examine a thing from many viewpoints. More importantly, I can remember. Age is not all loss, you will find, and in time the things you see become connected to the things you remember, and understanding begins."
Farrah runs in, as if from a Sesame-Street set, western clothes, bright western sneakers, hair plaited in a pigtail. She is nine.
"My joyous one, can you say hello to Mr. Al Sabah?"
She immediately turns shy, both hands spread before her mouth. Her plum-dark eyes glance at the seated man and then at the haired and amply cigarette-butted floor.
"Hello, cousin Al Sabah." They are, in fact, cousins, several places removed.
"The soldiers are gone!"
"What, child, what soldiers?"
"The American soldiers, grandfather, and the traitors with them. They are all gone like magic!"
The men's eyes meet in the time-dimmed mirror.
"I'm sure they'll return. They always do. Doubtless they're busy on some all-important quest. God help the maidens and old men in their path."
"Grandfather, they are truly gone. There is only trash and machines they've left behind."
He looked closely at her. "Are you happy or sad, granddaughter?"
"Well," she said, "they're Satan's spawn. I'm glad they're gone. Some were not so bad as others."
"Yes, and they had candy, too, didn't they, and soccer balls for the boys?"
Farrah is not to be drawn into this. The action is outside the shop.
"Come on, grandpa. You too, cousin. See for yourselves." She tugs her grandfather's hand. The men glance again in the mirror, see accord through the haze of tobacco film and mirror-senescence. Zainab rises half barbered as Farrah tugs her grandpa through the door.
As they pass several blocks, they hear more gunfire, quite a lot.
"Wait, wait, child. Where are you taking us. Men are fighting. We'll all be dead…"
"No, grandpa, they're shooting the sky. I swear to you!"
They proceed cautiously, and it is as the child says. They gaze out over a scene by Hieronymus Bosch: young men and boys cavorting and shooting, helicopters and humvees leaning in disrepair, the concrete monoliths, blast shields, standing and fallen, sheds, tents, rows of the dismal aluminum houses the soldiers called CHUs, women and children hurriedly hunting treasures, smoldering debris, trash everywhere—a most unmilitary disarray.
"Maybe they were raptured," says Awad in wonder.
"What?" asks the younger man.
"A belief they have. The righteous will be taken to heaven. All others will remain below for eternal fire and torment."
"Americans believe this?"
"Who knows? You can't trust everything you read, especially about your enemy. You may go, Joyful one. Thank you for bringing me here. Whatever this means, I approve. Stay away from those with guns. Find what you can for your mother."
General Bob Gates and Admiral Mike Mullen met on the way to their West-Wing appointment with President Bush and Vice President Cheney. It was 6 A.M. The new Secretary of Defense and the new Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff are separated in age by three years, the secretary senior in years and position. He looks older, with his white hair and softer physique, but both men looked military, sharply tailored black suits, Mullen's with gold braid on the sleeves and ribbons on the chest, flashing shoes, both of them. Mullen's a head taller. They fell into step together in the softly lit corridor, everything fitting. These are the precincts of statecraft. These are the men.
"Coffee after," said Gates.
Cheney had confectioner's sugar at the corner of his mouth, the snarly corner. He spoke to Gates. He'd known him forever, four, five different administrations. He barely knew Mike Mullen. Distinguished record, all that. Both brand-new in these fancy jobs.
"What the hell is this—a coup, a mutiny—what?"
Gates regards Cheney closely. The veep looks like hell, like his pacemaker's going to burst out of his chest like a baby alien.
"There's no language on how this should be, uh, characterized. One of the ringleaders…"
"Bullshit, Gates, who? Don't give me any of this 'anonymous-source' shit. Who're you talking about?"
"I think it was Petraeus. He described it as an 'outbreak of common sense.'"
"Yeah, well I call it mutiny. Mr. President, I don't recall you issuing an order to stand down, redeploy, withdraw or any of those bullshit words for quitting."
The president stirred. "No, I—"
He was the newbie in the room, hardly more than a decade in government, not counting his service as enforcer during his father's short stretch as Forty-One. Six years as governor, five and change here. Okay, so eleven-some. These other guys had way more than a century in government between them.
What Bush started to say is lost to history. Cheney snapped the next question, shaking off the tiniest bit of white.
"Why haven't you arrested these men?"
"Sir, that would cause instant chaos. These are your top military men. We'd be without a head over there."
Cheney lowered his gaze to his emblazoned coffee mug. The smudge moved.
"We can handle chaos, but we will not stand, Mr. President…"—sideways glance at Bush—"…for fucking insubordination."
Bush straightened and composed his face. "No, I—"
Cheney returned his look to Gates, pausing a microsecond on Mullen to let this long-faced Navy guy know he wasn't safe on the sidelines.
"Goddamn right, no. Hell, this is not just insubordination, it's fucking treason!"
Mullen spoke. Bush and Cheney turned and looked right at him because it was so unexpected. So did Gates. Mullen spoke calmly to the commander-in-chief.
"Mr. President, this is an emergency. We can't prevent it from happening because it's already started. We can, sir, rush ourselves into reacting too fast, without adequate preparation. I'm not speaking for the Secretary, only myself. I need at least a day, and the way I read the situation, a day won't affect our situation, uh, decisively."
It had an effect, this little speech by Mullen. The four men bent their heads together, Cheney's with veins prominent. They scribbled plentiful notes and took leave of each other.
The military men are not in step as they retrace their route through the White House corridors, their arms busy in gestures. Gates yanks a cell phone from his pocket. Coffee is forgotten.
The Internet is the wild card in world affairs. One can masturbate and follow sports with it, and when one finishes with these, one is limited only by time and imagination. There is also a secret, hidden in plain sight, about the Net. It favors smart people over dumb ones, people who seek information, even if it's a baseball score or the contour of a breast, over people who don't. Users of Google know that the utility works best for those who know how to frame their inquiry, often a subtle matter. The gnomes of Wall Street are adepts with the worldwide web.
"What do you think, Charlie? Look at this: KBR, Bechtel, Berger, Fluor, Blackwater, Halliburton, for Christ's sake, Kellogg. People are dumping war stock. What do they know?"
The window has a view of lower Manhattan. Charles Stevens, master of the universe as defined by Tom Wolfe in "Bonfire of the Vanities," soars over and beyond to where the Brooklyn (Charles's native borough, though his speech retains nothing of it) riverfront windows flash coppery gold in the early sunset. There was that cool brief Tokyo custom of gold flakes in cocktails. Charles's Persian chauffeur is Mossadegh. Charles's interest in Middle Eastern history is less soaring than his gaze. The Fifties of Iran's sad Dr. Mossadegh are irrelevant from here.
"My driver's son's over there. Mossie said this morning he might be coming home, which is good because the towelhead look makes him a target for everybody, even his own. Company called Zapata. He didn't say why, and he wasn't sure, but something sounded like it's up. I don't know. I need a drink. I'll go online, sniff around."
By morning, there is speculation all around the Street, none definitive, despite the divining skills here concentrated. Losses by military contractors notwithstanding, the trend is sharply up.
"Jesus, what?…" Brisk British accent. The slang sounded funny in it. "You're kidding, you're fucking kidding me!… I—when? No, I'm not going anywhere, for the love of God. We're underway." He turned to his first officer, stunned, face transformed by amazement. "Lay a course for the Suez Canal. We're commandeered."
"What! Nige, we need fuel."
Nigel Smith-Parkhurst removed his captain's cap and passed his hand through dense and wavy gray hair. "We'll get further instruction within the hour. That's what they said. I presume that will account for our logistic requirements. If not, I'll have to sort it out. Lay a course for Port Said, Mr. Craghan. I'll assemble the crew."
The biggest and second-newest cruise ship on the Mediterranean Sea answered to the helm, turning eastward. Other vessels also changed course at approximately the same time.
Baghdad Bureau, IFA: Mortar rounds don't make much commotion before they strike. They don't whistle in the air, but you can hear the blast when they're fired. They're not faster than sound, like bullets, and they're big enough and slow enough that you can see them, if you happen to be looking up at the right place at the right moment and you're not blinded by dust and glare. It's possible that you can dive for cover and spare yourself from all the pain that happens around a mortar shell when it hits the ground, but that's a long shot, so it's a fine weapon of terror, the mortar. One moment you're going about your business, the next you're discovering really big, ugly pieces of hot twisted metal here and there and maybe big, ugly pieces of meat. You can see a grizzled old warrior shudder when he picks up a piece of shrapnel.
We let Saddam keep his mortars when we first went there. Make no mistake, he had plenty of weapons of mass destruction, but they didn't happen to be "nucular," as the president says, or Anthrax. They were huge caches of weapons and explosives, and we stood by and let the young men of Iraq help themselves. Whatever might have been the tactical reason for this has never been explained. Of our nearly four thousand uniformed dead, most were killed by those high explosives, made into bombs. We guarded the oil ministry. It was on TV. As for the irreplaceable art and artifacts of the cradle of civilization or the mountains of conventional weapons, those evidently didn't concern the masterminds, and when U.S. Proconsul Mr. Paul Bremer disbanded the Iraqi army, any shot at control of these munitions was lost. So we meet them every day, and they meet us, sending our men and women home in bandages and big heavy zip-lock bags, missing major parts, many of them, both the dead and the quick most tragically, with the latter, head parts that modern medicine, often cruelly, enables us to live without.
If you're playing keep-away, tossing the ball or car keys or whatever over the head of the person you're teasing to your accomplice, that's how a mortar round flies. It goes up and comes down, like that big arch in St. Louis, not like a rifle or a cannon, which shoots straight at its target. So a wall means nothing to a mortar. The thick cement battlements around the Green Zone look as though they'll stop anything that moves, but they're irrelevant to the insurgent mortar crew. They have someone posted somewhere—he or she might be scrubbing pots in a kitchen in the "bubble" or peering into the zone from a lookout outside it—with a tiny radio or a cell phone or a mirror the size of the palm of your hand. The mortar crew is waiting for the signal to fire and then another signal to adjust the aim. They can't see the target. They drop a round into the tube and duck away from the jolt and noise, then drop another, and life and death go on as usual where the round lands. The crews don't stay in place long, for obvious reasons. All kinds of heavy fire will be directed at wherever the bang came from that sent the mortar round up and away, and it will hit nothing except cigarette butts and meal scraps. There are reinforced places in the Green Zone for sheiks and generals, but it's not generally a safe or comfortable community, and a day without incoming is keenly noted.
There have been no incoming, now, for several days. We reporters can go "in depth" on some subject of our choice (or our editor's) or do human interest or maybe even venture out of the bubble.
Oscar the Ogre sells gasoline, diapers, beer, wine, convenience foods, tobacco and such. Rudolph Hetchner was Oscar until Rudy died; now Marina is Oscar, and the business is still especially lively on Friday evenings. Gas-marts are all the same: depressing and festive, depressing because they are America so pitilessly unvarnished; no one dresses for shopping at the Seven-Eleven, the business is trivial, and the commodities bought and sold are beneath consideration.
It's slightly more toward the festive end of the scale. Fridays tip Oscar's toward festive because it's Friday, people are freshly paid, time is opening up instead of closing down (you grow "youthier," as Steven Colbert would say, on Friday), most of the items you buy in a convenience store are for your pleasure, however slight, and Oscar's is a place to celebrate with friends and strangers the commencement of the Great American Weekend, without any more obligation than the tender of cash or plastic. It's okay to talk to another person in the checkout line, even if you don't know them or care to know them.
"Salems, please, Marry."
Marina knows which kind of Salems Joanie smokes.
"What do you hear from Sean?"
"He may rotate out early, I don't know. He doesn't know. The email I got from him yesterday was, like, something's up, y'know? It didn't sound bad. He didn't sound worried. He sounded kind of like maybe something good was—I don't know. It was a weird email."
Behind Joan stands Efraín, a short, powerful man from El Salvador, balancing a heavily dressed—onions, chili, hot sauce, jalapeños—hotdog on a bun and a flimsy paper-cardboard holder.
"Same with Mike. He's got a feeling." His accent has nearly faded away.
Efraín arrived illegally, was sheltered by the community, worked feverishly, became legal and now drives a new Ford pickup. He cannot forget El Salvador's revolutionary Bishop Óscar Romero, gunned down in his pulpit in 1980. Efraín is a product of poverty so profound as to seem almost fanciful. His son Michael was in the National Guard and was activated and sent to the Middle East, where he has seen more than he has told Efraín and Sandy, his tall American mother.
Marry Hetchner has the beauty of eye and skin of someone ten years younger. Her hair is whiter than snow and wavy as wash in the wind. A white Oscar's cap is jammed down on it, and she chews a wad of gum like a baseball manager. The cap's bill moves up and down with each jaw-grind.
"Oh God, God," she says. "Maybe it's ending."
Behind Efraín waits a sun-ripe young woman with her brown navel peeping out over the tops of her chopped-off jeans. Tourist.
"They got to finish it," she says. "That's what my boyfriend says. He's a Marine."
Marry is giving Joan change and glances at the newcomer.
"Is he in Iraq, dear?"
"Oh, no. He's at Twentynine Palms. They haven't shipped him out yet."
Twentynine Palms is a Marine training center the size of Rhode Island in California's Mojave Desert. The bill of Marry's cap twitches up and down. She accepts Efraín's money, his calloused brown hand smaller than her delicate white one.
"I didn't know they were still sending Marines to Iraq," Marry said. "Aren't they considering pulling them out and sending them to Afghanistan?"
"Yeah, well, like, you know," said the young woman. "They don't tell you. Isn't Af— isn't that in Iraq? Almond Joy. I thought—you know, whatever."
Marry hands her candy for the rounding tan midriff, stylish, as the taste in American body types becomes more Reubenesque. She declines any have-a-nice-day civility with this young woman whose brains are well south of where they might best serve her.
Sybil "Bil" Heller, niece of the late novelist Joe Heller and New York Times executive editor, talks with Al Ibrahin, managing editor, who refers to Jan Glazer, the Times Baghdad reporter and Sean Basque, Washington bureau chief and assistant managing editor.
"Treachery, treason, mutiny," asks Heller, "meltdown of military discipline, internecine warfare, squabble, Washington divided between White House and Pentagon, field commanders versus desk commanders, big, huge, medium-sized, little—how're we treating this?"
The Times has had more scandals and mea culpas in recent years than in its first hundred. No more. Not on her watch. Whatever this is, it doesn't exist until the Times says it does, so they've got to get it right the first time.
"I was about to come and ask you. I talked to Glaze. He said there's lots of buzz in the bubble, but no two stories are remotely alike. He said from the looks of it, it might have the makings of an evacuation. Maybe they're expecting a kind of Tet offensive. The brass in the Zone are not taking calls, no matter how loud he shouts. So I talked with Sean. He said they're not talking at either the White House or the Pentagon, but he said there's a different sound when you call. The White House says Bush and Cheney are, as usual, conferring with top commanders about the situation on the ground—naturally. Usual boilerplate. His Deep Throats are not helping. He says answers are no more forthcoming from the Pentagon, but the tone's peculiar—um, 'anticipatory,' I think was the word he used. It's still too muddy to answer your question, Bil. Any advice?"
Heller tells him to tell the others to keep pushing, work down the chain until they're talking with janitors and drivers. Meanwhile she'll make a couple of calls.
When Heller works a lead, it becomes Priority One. There are similar exchanges at a number of other high-profile news organizations, print and broadcast. Famous names are working phones, hanging up violently. All are concerned that their competitors know more than they.
Twenty-five minutes later, Heller stands in the door of Ibrahin's office.
"Al, does Boomer Stufflebeem mean anything to you?"
He looks up curiously at his boss. "Comic strip?"
She smiles. "No, he's real, he's…"
"Wait! Wait! He's—he's military. He's, uh…"
"He's an admiral in the Navy. Summer '06 he was in Lebanon. They pulled nearly a hundred thousand people out of there while Israel was bombing Hezbollah."
"Right! It was a huge deal that we didn't give huge space to."
"It started the same time as baseball playoffs and the ceiling of the Ted Williams Tunnel on I-90 in Boston crushed a new bride, right next to her groom."
"I remember that."
"Israel said Hezbollah kidnapped two Israeli…"
"Soldiers, right. The White House flak said it was Iran's and Syria's fault. It went from another skirmish to—what?—to Dunkirk redux. But a hundred thousand? I thought it was like fifteen thousand.”
"Fourteen thousand Americans, fifteen thousand Canadians, ten-K Indians, God knows how many Australians, Brits—everybody has people in Lebanon. There were twenty countries getting them out of there to—Cyprus, mainly, then home from there—Navy, cruise boats, anything that floats or flies. Everybody was pretty much behind the curve except the heroes doing it. The G8 summit was just about to start. The White House was not playing up big stories on international cooperation in the Mid-East. There were no reliable numbers. It was a giant multilateral effort, so sources were dispersed, news came in in little pieces while bombs were dropping. Anyhow, get hold of Stufflebeem, if you can. He probably won't say anything, but he knows. What he won't answer will help us know where to look."
"I ask for Admiral Boomer?"
"John Stufflebeem. He got 'Boomer' when he was a punter for the Naval Academy and the Detroit Lions, I think it was."
"Jesus. Man of many parts."
"Quick, please. There was an old pleasure ship, the Orient Queen, Arab owned. Bahrain, I believe. Fitted out like a casino. She carried maybe most of the Americans, but there were hundreds of others."
It sounds funny but ex-Boy Scouts make good soldiers. They already know a lot of stuff you learn once you're out there. If you're a fast learner and you're lucky. Like I'm a city kid. If you see the moon and a couple of stars it's a clear night, but these guys—not just Boy Scouts but guys from the country—they actually look up to see where they're going or what the weather's going to do or even what time it is. I thought it was kind of bullshit you know but I watched these guys. I learned to spot the Big Dipper and you can go from there to the North Star and shit like that. You know, you can look at your watch and its o-six-hundred but that doesn't tell you when first light's going to come. You got to know. It wasn't stuff you learned in street gangs, but I got better. When they loaded us in that convoy I knew we were going south and east. I could make a pretty good guess about how fast and how far too and we were going a long way, I mean a long fucking way. Iraq's about the same size as California and I've been up and down California. It's a long fucking drive from Oregon to Mexico but say you're going thirty or forty miles and hour and its over a hundred out and you're in a cloud of fine powdery dust the whole time—it settles on your face, all your gear, your battle rattle, and gets thick at the openings of your nostrils and turns all your nose hairs white, especially the black guys; they look really comical—but nobody's laughing because it's so fucking miserable and you never know when you're going to hear an explosion and the whole convoy slows or stops for a while and your sweating like a fucking pig and nobody says anything. You've seen the movies. It's like being in a submarine when they're dropping depth charges. Maybe they'll open the doors and let you out to piss every couple hours, but there's shit else to do. You can't go ten steps away because you don't know what kind of hazard is laying around and the column is going to start again and you better be fucking in it. One stop there was this haaj village and little boys come up and one's pointing and he says "kumballa kumballa!" I knew the word. It means bomb but at the time I forgot. I thought he was asking for a ball. These kids are crazy for soccer balls. We got underway and then I remembered and shit if I didn't hear it. I still don't know if it was detonated on purpose or not. I wished I had a crotch guard. They got these Kevlar pube plates.
A guy got out a deck of cards but the dust and sweat ran down them and we hit holes that made them go flying and for a second you think its an IED. Water ran short. It felt like we were wetbacks trying to cross the desert into the states in a locked 18-wheeler. Embrace the suck. Thats what Iraq is, the suck.
A truck came by fast and I thought oh shit what's this. It was off the packed road and in the soft sand with the wheels churning up big waves of sand like the wave at the front of a speed boat and it fucking came right next to the guy up front riding shotgun in our truck and a guy passed over a bunch of MREs so that was what we were going to eat. If you get jambalaya you can trade for money, cigarettes, porn, anything. Jambalaya's not bad, but its the pound cake and the Skittles in that pack.
I was looking out the window when we passed what was left of that truck later. The windshield was blown out and the passenger door blown open. There was MREs scattered all over the place. The cab didn't look like a healthy place to be. It was still smoking. "Improvised Explosive Device" doesn't give a good picture of how violent this shit is. But you never know. People come out of some amazing shit. Look at me. With my clothes on you'd never know.
We stopped somewhere to gas up. It was dark and everybody in the back was sort of sleeping. You nod out and hit a pothole and you're wide fucking awake and you nod out again. Its a fucked way to rest but hey embrace the suck, right?
I don't know, fuel dump or what. We stopped for a while and I could smell it but I couldn't hardly see anything. This was still a very fucking tight operation. Then we were going again and I guess I was asleep and that's all I remember from that part.
Next thing was being carried on a stretcher. It was really like rude, like a couple of sticks with a piece of tarp or something. I raised my head and it felt like a cement watermelon and I dropped it again and one of the medics said relax it's okay and I thought what I saw was just part of the whole dream thing. I must have been hurt and I dreamed I saw a ship, a cruise ship, and I went back down.
That part wasn't a dream. I woke up and I didn't feel much pain and I thought it's cool. It was still claustrophobia city in there. Instead of a personnel carrier, I was on a boat. All's I could see out the window was ocean and like a zillion other boats but inside it was as crowded as the truck and it looked like a meat locker. Everybody was all fucked up. That's when I guessed I wasn't too minor. These other guys were like very fucked but I wasn't sure anything was real and I went back under. Morphine does that. Next I heard guys talking and I said where are we and they said we're on a cruise ship buddy and I said where we going and they said they heard Germany. I thought I was dreaming still.
The cruise ship surgery was tiny and the surgical team looked like a scene from M.A.S.H. right after a flock of choppers came in. They were bloody as hell and asleep on their feet. There was actually a guy on a gurney that hadn't been wheeled away yet. He was shoved up against the wall and covered (including the part where your face usually is but the shape wasn't right) with a sheet that was more red than white at that top end. I heard accents from everywhere until they put the mask on me.
When I woke up I felt sleepy and fine. I'd doze again and wake up and I felt some pain somewhere but it didn't matter much. I decided just to dive back down into sleep again. I didn't know where I was, or care, it was pretty quiet and the noises were not the noises of engagement. I wondered why it was so easy to sleep, like turning off a switch, but I liked it.
Then I got to a point where the morphine didn't take me back down under again. They lowered the dose like they do so you don't get too hooked, and my catheter got plugged. That got my attention. The nurses were so busy a patient needing to piss was not their biggest problem like it was for me. I finally pulled it out, the catheter, which got me even more alert. I didn't know they're designed not to come out that way. I got up and looked for someplace to let it fly. I had to catch myself against the wall, the bulkhead, or I would have fallen I was so weak and fucked up. I didn't find anyplace. There were guys sleeping on cots around me. I just went out into this narrow hall and pulled up my hospital gown. I was going to piss on a fire extinguisher. I know that sounds bad but this was an emergency and I wasn't together in my head yet. When I pulled my gown aside I saw what no man wants to see ever. There was cuts, bruises, bandages, swelling, that orange or brown betadine they pour on everything, but it looked like my nads were gone, and what was left was kind of small and ugly. And it didn't work. I went through two different hells, one mental and one physical, before they got the piss drained out of me.
There was this doc there. Old. He was a Brit. I don't know if he was part of the ship crew or what. He said I'd be fine but I was done with fucking. He said he was, too, and he knew it's not the same but you carry on he said.
In all her years of storekeeping, with Rudy and alone, Marina Hetchner has never seen this, a total Friday crowd on a Tuesday, everyone acting like they're carbonated (and buying out her stock of that crappy champagne). The television over the coffee bar attracts a small throng of shoppers, looking up as though it were the World Series and both sides just won, shouts of "yeah!" at events on the screen—mainly a single event replayed in countless variations—uniformed people and civilians embracing fervently. She hasn't seen Joan Dunphy in this mob. Maybe they'll be on TV.
She glances out the window to the business at the gas pumps, people laughing and talking together, the drivers of land yachts and junkers, filling their tanks with the suddenly cheaper gasoline. She got an unprecedented call from the Arab wholesaler guy this morning, jubilant in his liquid English, telling her to please reduce the price.
It wasn't just sex with Joanie and me.
JESUS I LOVE THAT WOMAN!!!!
It’s like we grew up together. In fact it sounds weird I know but it's like we were brother and sister we were that close. So I don't know. The love's still there. Maybe we can work it out. I'm all over her. I know every inch I mean every inch. She's okay that way but she wants kids and I can't, you know. Busted idiot stick. There's adoptions. I could see an Iraqi kid, but somebody said you can't. Fuck if I know.
The suck comes home. They should make a movie.
The old doc told me his father was in the second world war and he got trapped in France when the Germans were kicking serious ass and they got backed up onto a beach. The English got like over a million guys captured but they rescued more than three hundred thousand guys from that beach. He said every Brit with a boat was in on it. Little and big, navy boats, fishing boats, pleasure boats. Everything that could float. He said this ship I was on was doing the same shit. There was hundreds or thousands of boats shipping us out. Just like that. Every kind of boat you can think of. I seen them out the windows over the next few days. The one I was on was this cruise ship. Joanie showed me on the computer when I got home. Pictures of it on the inside and shit. Theaters, restaurants. Shit I didn't see any of that. Guy I know was on another cruise ship. He wasn't fucked up or nothing so he did it all. Said it was crowded but fine. Lot of women, crew women, tourists, all them desert foxes who wouldn't look at you in country. There wasn't no room for private sleeping. There were movies, bars. They ran out of everything but pussy, he said.
Joanie told me military and civilians, like from all over everywhere, did that whole thing. Bush didn't ever authorize it.
Fine with me. Should of done it sooner. I say fuck him.
I remember now what the doc said. Dynamo. That's what they called it when they got all those men off the beach in Europe or wherever. Operation Dynamo, like Operation Iraqi Freedom, only it worked. Iraqi Freedom's fucking bullshit. They were freer when Saddam was in charge before we even came. So were we.