May 30, 2011.
Dateline: Patriot Square, Camp Phoenix
From: George Shreves, (CUB Man)
Subject: Four wings and a sneeze guard.
Here in Camp Phoenix, they take care of you. Kind of. For instance, laundry is free. If you drop it off before 11:30 one day, you can pick it up the next day after one. But… they don’t fold anything, and they use too much soap, so for the first few hours you wear your clothes, you leave flurries of Borax in your wake. The guys that take the laundry are all Afghans that can write in English. Not speak. Write. They have the best penmanship you’ve ever seen. You can imagine how their eyes narrow when they see my chicken scratches on the drop off forms. “What this”? “It’s my name” “NO, no letters like that spell “G-E-O-R-G-E” “Yes, keep forward” (HUH?) “S-H-R…” You get the point. They’re particular.
They also take care of you on housing. Meaning, they give you a spot. They don’t clean it (and neither did the 900 other guys that flopped there), nor do they give you supplies to do so. If you want to clean: “Go to the PX and buy the shit” as SGT Gilmore says. He doesn’t understand why in the heck you need to clean anyway. “See this dust? The minute you clean it’s coming right back Shreves” I tried to explain that I knew that, but I still would like even a few moments of cleanliness, but he just gave me a suspicious look, like I was a plant from a Peace group, so I spat on the ground and farted, just to let him know I’m not a pansy. It seemed to work.
The craziest of all is the food. The DFAC is open 24/7/365. While there are regular mealtimes, you can always get something to eat. You can go as many times as you want, no one keeps score. You can have all you want too. That’s why a rule they recently, briefly had, seemed crazy to me. The 4 chicken wing rule. Two days a week they make chicken wings. Good chicken wings. Get in line, mouth watering, people line up for these chicken wings. So they put up a sign: FOUR WINGS PER SERVING. That went over big. People still piled their plates high. To stop this blatant poultry pilferage, they installed a cafeteria worker (Nepalese guy) with a pair of tongs who would dole out 4 wings. This worked OK, except people came back for seconds and thirds, and when the desert badasses came to eat, they just gave the Nepalese guy “the look” and grunted “more”, which worked like a charm. This didn’t go over with Basia, the cafeteria warden or overlord or whatever.
But the other day, I witnessed the “irresistible force meets the immovable object”, when a perfect storm of cafeteria drama came to pass. First, they had chicken wings; second, Basia was the doler-outer (is that even a word) of the chicken wings (relieving the Nepalese for his break); and third, a tired and hungry group of soldiers came in from Helmand province, fresh from kicking ass and taking names. I had a front row seat for this collision.
It gets better. The first sunburned warrior approached the chicken wing serving tray. He says to his buddy “I love chicken wings, I’m going to eat a hundred”. Folks, you can’t make shit up better than this. As he approaches Basia, the world seems to slow down. In the background, faintly, I hear the buzz of a rattlesnake, and the theme from The Good, The Bad and The Ugly. The soldier holds out his plate, his stance almost challenging, eyes narrowed to mere slits. I watch, spellbound, as the tongs slowly drop 1, 2, 3 4 wings on to his plate. To her credit, Basia met his stare, defiant, throwing down the gauntlet, issuing the challenge. The soldier grunted “more”. A hush fell over the DFAC. Taunting, Basia took the tongs and rapped on the plexiglass sneeze guard 1, 2, 3, 4 times. “Read sign, 4 wings only”, her lips twisted into a sneer. The soldier tapped his finger 1, 2, 3, 4 times in the same place “It says 4 wings per serving. I want 5 servings”.
OOOHHHH. The tension was a living thing, a malevolent force given life by this chance, karmic encounter. Basia was clearly flustered. The sign did say 4 per serving, with no mention of a maximum number of servings. A bead of sweat appeared on her hairy, Bulgarian lip. Attempting to retain at least a modicum of her tattered dignity, she shoveled 10, not 20 wings onto the soldier’s plate. He looked at the wings, looked at Basia, and with a swagger, moved on to the French fries. The room let out a collective sigh of relief.
At that moment, the hapless Nepalese came back from break. Basia unleashed a torrent of abuse on the unsuspecting little man. “Your break 10 minute, not 15” “Take down stupid sign, tiny man, people hungry”. Then she stalked away, accosting an unsuspecting Aghani along the way for the condition of the salad bar. As she disappeared through the swinging kitchen doors (which swing both ways, similar to batwing doors in old westerns, ironic, huh?), I noticed the Nepalese guy resignedly scraping the 4 wing sign off the sneeze guard.
You know what really makes the story funny. Once a month, they have lobster. No limit. No shit.
Til next time