Monday, April 27, 2009

Kuwait Part 9

You step into the barracks and your eyes ache as you adjust to blazing sun to dim fluorescent twilight. Inside there are instructions stating that the hangar-like structure can hold 70 people, 85 in a surge. The cots are arranged in three rows. You try to grab a cot by the wall, near the outlets, but you’re too late. You’re an island in the middle, surrounded by people walking and people talking and people packing and you’re flanked by a Vietnam vet and a character from Dubliners. The Soldiers who have been living in the barracks before you complain about the depleted space, but that’s just the Army way. You bus out to the range tomorrow, and you will shoot.

Kuwait Part 8

There’s a briefing. Do don’t this. Always do this. Camp Buehring has this: PX, two gyms, two cafeterias, internet cafes, KFC, Subway, Taco Bell, etc. Camp Buehring also has this: Persian sand vipers, camel spiders and scorpions. “We do not actually have anti-venom for the Persian sand viper yet.” Well that’s good to know.

Kuwait Part 7

We arrive at Camp Buehring. The buses stop and we are told to go to chow. The choices: stuffed Bell pepper or Bombay chicken. They had warned us that the food was much better here. There’s a fountain that they say came from one of Saddam’s palaces. I try to throw money in but get tangled up. My plate whisks to the edge of tray and I have to recover abruptly so as not to lose it. I did lose my spoon though. People laugh.

Kuwait Part 6

The fence disappears; we’re out in the wide open. There’s a Blackhawk on the horizon. And then another. There’s a line of fuel trucks and a sign that says Ali Al-Salem Air Base. We continue on. A dreary stretch of road: a dead sheep, a hollowed up mangled wreck of a ambulance, a dead camel, a graveyard of shredded tires, and a telephone pole chopped in half, its splinted comrade dead nearby. So it goes?

Kuwait Part 5

“Ice” is painted on the side of one truck. There are other trucks joining the “Ice” truck on the side of the road: a roadside flea market, I guess. We pass under a bridge and see that a section of the chain link fence is sagging; the sand and trash has overwhelmed it. There’s trailer house with graffiti everywhere, one cinderblock wall and a tower with a crescent. Check point: obligatory stop. The traffic barriers are short, squat cement pyramids, I can only think of Gaza.

Kuwait Part 4

There are trees, the low kind. Warning! Sand drifts, one sign says. I see a building with two towers and a golden dome surrounded by sand and hundreds of lonely high voltage towers. Amid these high voltage forests I see clusters of garish blue and white striped water towers, thin up the stem, ballooning to a bell, and flat on top; upside down they look like the world’s tackiest bell bottoms pants.
“We’re not in Fort Lewis anyone,” Lt. Col. Kevin Olson says.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Kuwait Part 3

From the freeway we see castles of houses with balconies and turrets. There's a lot of scaffolding, scaffolding and construction equipment. Kuwait is clad in the same colors as ancient Rome: pink and brown and khaki white. Then again, the desert is really the only place in the world you should be allowed to have a pink house.

Kuwait Part 2

We ride and look out the windows. The freeway is black and mostly clear: a truck hauling Land Rovers, a truck filled with white easels, a cop. A chain link fence guards the highway and harvests the trash that the wind sweeps in. And there is trash everywhere.

Kuwait Part 1

We fly into Kuwait through clouds, which I'm told means sandstorms. We get off the plane and sure enough the horizon is heavy with dust.
We're loaded onto buses for Camp Buehring, but in short time we stop at a station and get water, urinate and smoke. The people who've been deployed before swap horror stories. Just before we leave, a waft of fishy sewage breezes our way. "Welcome to Kuwait," say the vets.

Friday, April 24, 2009

What I've been doing

Alright, in the last month that I haven't been posting I've been finishing up some reading.
What that has to do with anything is up in the air.

On the Road: Revelatory for the first third, then the author tries to paint the main character as a scumbag. Some all too brief redemption at the end, but there's a point when you have to say Hey Jack Keroauc! Dean is lost, he won't grow up, we get it!

Mother Night: I'm starting to realize that all Vonnegut novels are exactly the same. At least the book doesn't get bogged down in characters like Breakfast of Champions, and the novel makes some great points about death and choice and book publishing.

Garlic And Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise: There's a awestruck way that this New York Times food critic talks about food, and learning about life on the inside of the New York Times was a fun, witty and ultimately insubstantial ride. The author's attempts to make the book heftier by emphasizing a case of cancer struck me as superfluous and vulgar.

Lolita: This book will make you fall in love with the English language all over again. Also puns. You will learn to love literary puns. With over 160 pages of meta-textual material, since unlike Vonnegut, Nabokov seems to have the discipline to lurk in the texture but not in the text.

Lullaby: A very cinematic book spliced with a series of parables. The ending seems rushed, and the flash forwards seem tacked on, and half of the weaksauce McGuffin plot would have been averted had the alleged hot-shot Sherlock Holmes journalist been able to pay attention to a certain book he was investigating. Read it on the plane from MSP to SeaTac.

There, between Kerouac and Nabokov and Vonnegut, I think my writing my be ruined forever. Goodbye to AP Style. Next up: the collected works of e.e. cummings

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Every Story a Story

I was flying high above Olympia looking down at the twin halogen pythons saying hello to each other as they passed in the night upon the freeway. (Cars. I'm talking about cars.)

Four days earlier I had flown from Fort Lewis to Minneapolis for leave; now it’s a flight into Seattle and then waiting for my ticket to Kuwait and then Basra and then home. A plane and a room and a train and a room and a room and a room and a plane.

I thought of all the stories trapped in each of those cars, waiting to get out. It’s a game I used to play as a kid, and now I’m older and I do it for a living.
My slated title in Iraq: new media specialist. I don’t actually know what that means; I can only assume it means Facebook. People have reported everywhere that the whole Web 2.0 thing can only lead to a glut of information and a dearth of wisdom and that soon people will reach the point where they start tuning out this ever-present noise.

I disagree, but then again I’m barely 19.

At the NBC Digital Journalism School at the New York Film Academy, they give us all the usual YOUR CAREER FIELD IS METLTING! MELTING! stuff, but they also instilled in us a belief that in this fractured brave new world, the journalist is more important than ever as THE GATEKEEPER. By using journalistic ethics and practices to ensure that only the best and the truest rise to the top, theoretically the new journalist can inform the public in ways that ol’ Greely and Pulitzer could only dream.

We’re planning for our content to automatically go to yer ol’ Facebook, Myspace, twitter, picasa, flikr, youtube and other sites with wacky made-up names. Now, this plan may fall under too much info territory, but there are times you just have to know RIGHT NOW that the 34th Red Bull Infantry Division sponsored an Easter egg hunt.

I guess we’re operating on the assumption that every single person has a story, and every story has a home. Hopefully, we’ll be to use this Interweb thing to our advantage.

Also: I haven’t posted much lately. I shall, more often, I promise. That said, we must till our garden. (Ask me what that reference means. Do it!)

Thursday, April 2, 2009

The Governor's Visit Part 3

While Sgt. Pond and I were taking pictures of VIPs, Sgt. Roos was taking pictures of the Governor. I think this picture pretty much sums it up.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

They went on: no this, no that, nothing at all of that, and don't even think about it.
Death by PowerPoint.
All the while I had to go, I really really had to go, and I looked around and scoped out where the bathroom was; there it was but no! there's drill sergeants everywhere and no one else is moving so stay low, stay low but AHHHH! I got to go! how many slides are left?
Luckily the drill sergeants found some kids sleepy and smoked us.
"The overhand arm clap!"
One two three 80! One two three 81!
The overhand arm claps helped.
But alas then came more slides, more slides, more slides.
Yup, I pissed my pants that night; it was my introduction to the Army.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

They told us it was only 30 minutes to Benning from Atlanta but they were wrong. It had to be almost two hours. We got into Benning around 0200 and as we got off the bus we realized that we were in fact, here; this is it, this is Fort Benning. As we got off the bus I remember Jandro turned back at me and said, “Are you nervous?”
“I think I should have used the bathroom in the bus.”
The reception room in Benning is nothing but a bunch of benches and a huddled mass of nervous kids surrounded by a drill sergeants in funny hats.
"Don't think of running," they said. "It's too late now."

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

We went to the north and then we went to the south and yet we couldn’t find our bus. We asked and we went outside and we considered taking a cab but then eventually there downstairs and to the right there was our bus and a long line, a long clustered line of kids from all over the United States. We waited in line for a bus and when they came we loaded up our few possessions and waited some more. A line of Boy Scouts walked by our window; they were going to some camp and we made jokes about them mercilessly because we were going to the big boys camp and they weren’t and certain individuals may be in the wrong group etc.

Beginnings: Basic at Fort Benning

Once we got to Atlanta we became immediately lost. We were four Minnesota kids lost in the Atlanta Airport looking for our ride to Fort Benning. Riley, who signed up to be in the Army band. Jandro, a big guy, bar fight, women problems, now in Army. Some scrawny chatty kid whose name I don’t recall. He was going to the great Fort Benning Infantry School so he could be a paratrooper someday. I couldn’t stand the kid, really. Oh, and me. I was that kid the officers made fun of at the military processing station.