Thursday, June 23, 2011

June 22, 2011. Feet And Ass

June 22, 2011

Dateline: B-Hut K-3

From:  George “What’s that smell?” Shreves  

Subject:  Feet and Ass 

Smells are a funny thing.  They can take you back to an exact time and place in your life.  The smell of lilacs for instance, always makes me think of mushroom hunting with my Dad.  Everybody has their favorite smells.  I like the smell of babies, with fried onions a close second.  People have different likes and dislikes.  Some like the smell of restaurant exhaust - some don’t.  I know there are perfumes that some people love and some people hate.  There are certain smells that everybody agrees on though, and there are two in particular that I think I can safely say nobody likes: feet and ass.  Unfortunately, here at Camp Phoenix, feet and ass are the featured “odors du jour” if there is such a term.

Nowhere are the twin odors of feet and ass more prevalent than in the B-Huts.  Not to brag, but my B-hut, good old K-3, stands head and shoulders above the others when it comes to foul odors.  In the first place, these B-huts have been here about 10 years, and have had about a million different people in and out, along with assorted rodent deaths, mildews, night sweats and spilled water bottles filled with urine by guys either too lazy to walk ¼ mile to the latrine or simply couldn’t make it.  Secondly, the B-huts are for the lower level guys like me.  Higher class folks stay in what’s called Lego land, which are these stackable huts that you get ALL TO YOURSELF.  Lower level guys like me and Sar’ Gilmore get to stay in the B-Huts, “8 to the bar”.

Over the years, the smell of feet and ass has literally permeated the wood of these barracks.  This is especially noticeable when the air conditioning conks out, which is most of the time.  They try to keep the air real cold in the B-Huts, kind of how they keep the morgue super cold so the corpses don’t stink so bad.  When the air IS on, and you’ve been inside for a while, you become accustomed to it, sort of like living over a Chinese restaurant.  But, when the air goes off, oh boy!  Generations of feet and ass smells come crawling out of the woodwork and greet each other like college buddies at a reunion in Vegas and mix with the dank humid air in the B-Hut.  At that point, if it’s close to time to get up, get up and get out!  If it’s not, then you have to employ some creativity, like opening your deodorant and setting it on the pillow in front of you, like the forensics guys on CSI put that shit under their noses.

The big problem that I have, in addition to the feet and ass, is my cellmates, er roommates.  I call them Rip and Brock.  I call them that because of the constant stream of farts and belches that come from either side.  As I lay in my bunk, Brock is to my feet and Rip to my head.  Just as I start to drift off, the party starts.  RIIIIPPPPPP says the farter from the north. BRROOOCCCCKKKK comes the answering belch from the south.  This goes on for about an hour, as they rid themselves of excess gas.  They really get this thing going, kind of like coyotes calling to each other from ridge tops.  Unfortunately, I’m in the valley.  Sometimes they get a rhythm going, and in spite of myself, I find my toes tapping along.

In addition to the musical aspect of this nightly extravaganza, there is also the olfactory component.  As the Rips and Brocks increase in frequency and intensity (almost as if they’re building to a massive – wait, even I’m not going there), the odor starts to pool and swirl.  So now, in addition to the feet and ass, I have fresh farts and belches added to the mix.  This unholy amalgam of fumes, if distilled, could be put to good use in several practical applications.  Riot control and pest management come immediately to mind.  

After a while, say, 60 consecutive nights, this can get on a guys last nerve.  Last week, Sunday in fact, Father’s Day, they served lobster tail as a special treat.  (Actually, the menu said lobster; I would describe them more as a large crawdad.  They also have an interesting way of cooking them, which is to boil them for about 2 weeks, until the meat has the consistency of a Super Ball).  But, still, it was lobster, and I ate along with everybody else.  

That night as I lay in bed, those lobsters started working on me.  Not to be crude, but before long, a small ‘Brock’ had escaped, just a “whoopsy”, no big deal.  A few minutes later, though, I let loose with a world class RRIIIIPPPPPPP.  Well, my God, you’d have thought I ate a baby!  

“For God’s sake!” barked ‘Rip of the North’.  

“Excuuuse You!” added ‘Brock of the South’.  

Well, I never!

The next morning, I happened to pass both of them walking to Patriot Square.  They looked at me, kind of disgusted, shook their heads and walked on without speaking.  Their disapproval and indignation were obvious.  The real kicker came that night when I went to turn in.  Rip and Brock had both bought stick-ups and glued them to their hooch doors, I guess as a subtle hint to me to try and control myself. 

That night as I lay in my bunk, listening to the cheerful cacophony of farts, belches, whistles, snorts and wheezes coming from all sides, I couldn’t help myself.  “Excuse Me”, I said, and waited.  No answer.   “EXCUSE ME”, I literally yelled.  Nothing.  

No wonder they were so incensed the night before: they were awake.

Me and Ronald will see you all soon!


Wednesday, June 22, 2011

June 17, 2011. Hot Dog! It's A Package From Home!

June 17, 2011

Dateline: Kabul, Afghanistan

From:  “Keep them cards and letters coming” George  

Subject:  Hot Dog! It’s a Package from Home! 

Back in the “Good Ole U S of A” (as Sgt Gilmore calls it), people get mail 6 days a week.  If you get any that is.  Here at Camp Phoenix, such is not the case.  Mail delivery is dicey at best.  Sometimes mail comes 2 or 3 days in a row, then maybe nothing for a week or more.  There are several reasons for this: sometimes the mail choppers from Bagram have other, higher priority missions to fly; sometimes they ‘misplace’ the mail (remember, the mail is stored in Conexes, which are containers about the size of a semi-trailer, so you can understand how easy it is to misplace a couple); and sometimes the mail gets here, but there isn’t anyone to go get it and pass it out.

When the mail does come, though, it is a big deal.  Some people get packages and letters almost every mail call.  They’re filled with goodies, letters, magazines, clothes, all kinds of stuff.  Opening these packages is a public matter.  None of this ‘stashing your box and waiting until you’re alone’ to open it, no siree Bob.  You try that and you’ll quickly find yourself outside the “family”, friendless and alone.  You see, the people that don’t get packages live vicariously through the packages of those that do.  So holding back on opening your package is like telling people to butt out.  That may work at home, but over here, these folks are family!  Another unspoken rule is that anything edible that comes in packages from home is “group eats” as Jeff says.  

Enough packages have been opened here in J-8, that I feel a part of many lives and many families; for instance, I have learned to tell the difference in the artistic style of Maj. Daniel’s daughter Mariah’s pony themed crayon drawings from the harsher, minimalist works of young Victor Cuthbert, rendered in pencil and invariably featuring dead Taliban strewn about a bleak desert landscape (you can tell they are Taliban, because there is a line drawn from the bodies to the word Taliban in a circle).

I also know that Jeff brushes his teeth with Pearl Drops (I didn’t even know they still made that product), and that Carl Smith prefers his beef sticks with a hint of mesquite. Col Slater loves his Car and Driver, while Sgt Gilmore insists on added Aloe in his Wet Wipes (I started to razz him about that, but one look in those steely eyes revealed that in this instance, discretion was indeed the better part of valor). 

I had just about given up on ever getting a package myself (I had started to get pitying looks from my co-workers, who would clam up when I walked in on a package opening event, to spare me the embarrassment.  I was feeling like the kid wearing patched bib-overalls at boarding school).  Garry says he has written me four times, but since I never received any letters, I just assumed he got drunk four times and thought about writing.  So you can imagine my giddiness when the mail call included a package for yours truly.  To show you the kind of people I work with here, I truly believe everyone was happier that I got a package than they were with their own!  Bless their hearts!

I hesitated, and had a moment’s trepidation when I remembered Sue and Karol telling me that there was a BS box coming.  Could this be it?  What horrors might reside within the box?  What embarrassments might I endure as I revealed the contents in front of my co-workers….? Oh, to hell with it!  I started ripping it open (nice job on the duct tape, I ended up having to borrow K-balls ever-present Gerber tool to open it).  

I took out the items one by one and tried to explain them to my work family.  First off, copy of the North Scott Pest, dated April 17.  Ok, a little out of date, but what they hey.  Next up: yippee! A backscratcher from the ION’s!  Iowa Hawkeyes too!  Great!  If I were there, I would give Missy, Amanda and Madison a big kiss.  Not Dan.  Next, a battery powered toothbrush from Kevin and Jules.  All right!  I’m cooking now.

I’m trying to take my time and savor the moment.  The top of the box is spread thickly with peanuts, jerky and 2-for-a-dollar candies, so I can’t quite make out the blue object and the yellowish object, but I’ll get to them.  Next up - bumper stickers from the BS rack (thanks Sue and Brenda).  One says: “You’ve Entered Gun Country” and the other “Without our Families, Alcohol Wouldn’t be Necessary” Classics, baby, Classics. 

Let’s keep going.  Some Tums, a chapstick, toothpaste, flavored water to put in water (only in America),… hold on, here’s something good – a green BS ticket!  Woo hoo, that’s 40% of a beer (except happy hour when it’s over half).  I tucked that ticket in my badge holder with my passport and my Peace Dollar Garry gave me.  A birthday card from Karol, a funny card from Meynard and Deb, ½ a notepad from Clinton National Bank with a note from Sue, some Nu Breath (won’t need it here but I will when I get back – Oh yeah), and what’s this?  A blue box, Sammy Sosa on the outside, Hmmm.  I open it.  Its, Its…. It’s crayons!  What the…?  And colored pencils and markers.  I don’t get it.  Either my BS family is trying to subtly encourage a heretofore unrealized artistic skill…. Or… perhaps Deb and Patty got this in the donation bin at the Salvation Army?  Well, whatever, I’ll soon be giving Mariah Daniels a run for her money.  Pony's indeed!

I can’t tell you how much I appreciate this box.  Thanks to all my friends at BS for making this a great day for me.  I love you all and think of you every day.

Well, all that’s left in the box is a thick layer of honey roasted peanuts, candy; beef sticks and – wait a minute! What’s that yellow and red peeking through the gummy bears and Grammas’ cookies? (Play sound track from Psycho here, the “stabbing in the shower part” Eek, Eek, Eek, Eek).  


How did HE get in there?  Feverishly, my mind sought to unravel this riddle. I know Karol wouldn’t do it, and Sue hates the little bastard, and everyone else at BS knows how I feel about clowns, especially this little demon.  Did he crawl in the box by himself?  Did he use satanic powers to teleport himself here to Camp Phoenix?  Or… did BRENDA have something to do with this?

Look at him!  Arms outstretched, a maniacal smile on his evil little face.  “What’s that Ronald?”  “You’re going to kill me?” This is bad.  Very, very bad.

I’ve shut him in a desk drawer for now, until I decide how to deal with this situation.  I can hear him now, thump, thump, thumping to be let out.  What to do?  Think George, think…

(to be continued)

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

June 12, 2011. Sunday Morning, Coming Down

June 12, 2011

Dateline: J-8, SCO-A HQ

From:  ‘Ole Lazy George’  

Subject:  Sunday Morning, Coming Down 

Well, folks, I’ve now been AWOL from BS for almost two months.  The hard “jones” I had at first has somewhat faded.  It’s been eroded by eating right, not drinking and exercising, all things I avoided like the plague before I got here.  Now when I imagine my good times at BS, it’s all fuzzy, like those wedding pictures where the photographer smears Vaseline around the edge of the lens to create a “dreamy” effect.  Don’t get me wrong, I still miss my “home away from home”, just in a more sentimental way.

For instance, I really miss sleeping in till around 10 on Sunday, taking a shower, grabbing a bite of breakfast at Village Inn with Karol and then heading to BS to watch the Cubs or NASCAR (or both, if I get hold of the remote).  The camaraderie, the laughter, the ice cold beer; it’s all there in my mind.  It makes me grin just thinking of it.  But, like people do, I tend to block out the bad parts; spending too much money in the Prince machine, dragging my hung-over ass out of bed Monday mornings and vaguely wondering if I set anyone on fire.  See what I mean?  Time softens memories. 
When you are in a combat zone, every day is the same.  There is no weekend.  Every single day, you get up, work all day, and go to bed.  Sunday is no different than Thursday.  It becomes monotonous.  So at a recent staff meeting, General Gator’s comments really got my attention:

“Folks, burnout is a real thing.  We can’t have a single point of failure here at Phoenix.  It is important that you take care of yourselves and each other.  Therefore, I want everyone to consider Sundays de-compression days.  Take care of what needs taken care of, but also take care of yourselves.  If you need to clean your hooch, get a haircut or whatever, feel free to do it.  Take time for yourselves and for each other”  

Everybody solemnly nodded their heads in agreement, marveling yet again at the wisdom and kindness of our leader.  I also nodded in agreement, but I was already plotting!  I’m thinking to myself “Hold on a minute. Is he saying what I think he’s saying?”  Oh yeah.  Lazy Day.  Right up my alley.  Quicker than a flash I added sleeping in, skipping exercise and eating whatever I wanted to the ‘haircut and taking care of myself’ thing or whatever he said.  Boy, oh boy!  Lazy Day!

Sunday, I got started right away.  First I slept in till 9:00.  Then, after my morning constitutional, I showered and headed for breakfast (this was a small hitch in my plans; if I sleep in, I miss the good hot breakfast, but if I get up and eat the good hot breakfast, I can’t sleep in.  Hmmm… I sleep in).  After a leisurely cold breakfast, I gave the ‘Stars and Stripes’, the daily Armed Forces newspaper, a thorough read.  Here’s something weird:  I’m a crossword master (as Karen Gerenson will surely attest), but I’ll tell you, whoever makes up the crossword puzzles in the Stars and Stripes must be an evil bastard, because these are the hardest I’ve ever done, bar none.  And this paper is aimed at young soldiers for God’s sake!  But I digress.  

Next, I wander over to the office and check out the Cubs web-page and Fox News web-page.  Another weird thing:  you’re allowed to access certain commercial web-sites, like the Cubs and Fox news, but others you can’t; for instance Facebook.  Ok, I can see Facebook.   But, you also CAN’t get to any site that contains song lyrics, although you CAN go to Victoria’s Secret.  You CAN go to NASCAR, but NOT to religious blogs from missionaries.  Like I say – it’s weird.

Anyhoo, after catching up on e-mail and shooting the shit for a while with my equally lazy co-workers, we all wander over to the DFAC for lunch, and then take care of personal business like haircuts, laundry, etc.  I have to hustle through these chores though, because The Movie starts at 4:00.  That’s right, friends and neighbors; we have a Movie on Sundays.  General Gator lets us show it on the big screen in the conference room.  There are reasonably comfortable chairs (although one is faulty and promptly deposited me on the floor last week, an event the entire office found inordinately humorous.  Frankly, I have always had a rather low opinion of those who find humor in the misfortune of others – seems mean-spirited).  Sometimes we even have popcorn! (Actually, only once, because the microwave blew out the power in J-9 and J-10, where the lawyers work.  Those grouchy bastards have no sense of humor.  Personally, I think they’re constipated).

After the movie, it’s back to the office, put in a couple hours of light work and then head to my hooch for a little reading and then to sleep. 
Since it was such a nice evening, before going to my hooch I went out to the running track and walked a few miles, watching the sun set on the mountains.  My Lazy Day was over.  It was a good day, but something didn’t feel quite right.  As I walked, I’d been humming a tune, “Sunday Morning Coming Down”, by Kris Kristofferson.  

“There’s something about a Sunday that makes a body feel alone”

I realized that you can be surrounded by people and still be lonely.  You get my point.  I miss you all.  See you soon.

“Ole Lazy George”

PS FOR SUE:  I can get cool Harley shirts from Afghanistan and Kuwait.  If anyone wants them, get a count along with sizes and let me know, I’ll bring them in July.  They are probably 20 bucks or so apiece.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

June 8, 2011: Racehorse Shanks And Funhouse Mirrors

June 8, 2011

Dateline: Kabul Afghanistan

From:  George (Mr. Potato Head) Shreves

Subject:  Racehorse Shanks and Funhouse Mirrors

I have not been in a motorized vehicle, or anything with wheels on it for that matter, for almost two months.   That has to be a record for me.  I started riding a bike when I was 4 (my brother put me on a 28” Schwinn, pushed me down the terrace at Fair Avenue and yelled “pedal, Georgie, pedal”).  Well, I pedaled all right, and kept pedaling for the next twelve years until I got myself a car.  When I turned sixteen, I threw my bike in the dump and swore I’d never ride one again (which is why these modern bicyclers or “cyclists” as they call themselves piss me off.  They probably didn’t have to use a bike for their main means of transportation growing up.  Or live light years from anywhere, like I did.  If they had, they wouldn’t be pedaling around on the damn things now.  I mean, for Christ’s sake, these guys are my age and wearing spandex britches and silly little shoes that click-click-click across the floors – Sissies!)

Sorry, I got sidetracked.  The point I was trying to make is that I now have no means of conveyance other than what my Grandpa used to call “shank’s mare”, meaning, walking.  I walk every damnplace: PX, quarter mile; Laundry, 1/2 mile; DFAC, 1/10th mile.  You get the idea.  Basically, I walk what seems like seventeen hundred miles a day.  Then, like a fool, I go to the gym for an hour or two a day and… (Drum roll please): you guessed it, walk some more.  The result of all this self-locomotion has been two-fold:  I’ve just about worn out my boots (tell Judd good times are coming) and I’ve got my legs into Olympic condition.

I hadn’t really noticed anything until a day or so ago.  You see, there are very few mirrors here at Camp Phoenix.  In fact, there are only two that I know of.  One sits above the hand sink in the latrine, and for some reason, whoever installed it installed it high up.  I’m 6’1” and I have to crane my head back to look in it, which gives me a good luck at my nose hair, but I can’t see the hair on my head at all.  The hair on my head, like a herd of ornery cattle, has decided to drift north, I guess to greener pastures.   The other mirror isn’t really a mirror at all, just the reflective film on one of the Humvees.  I can see my face in it, but it’s kind of distorted like a fun house mirror so I can tell it’s me, but I have a big smiling mouth that looks about a mile wide and my beard looks long and pointy like a psychiatrist’s, so I look sort of like a smiling Frisbee with a goatee.

The other day in the gym, though, I noticed they have a full length mirror.  The reason that I never noticed it before is that the muscle men always stand in front of it to lift weights.  They SAY it is so they can concentrate on their form, but I know better, it’s so they can admire themselves, the gay-asses.   I must have hit it right the other day, because when I went by the mirror, no musclemen were preening and there I was, in all my glory.  It was scary.  I was soaking wet with sweat, my face was red and mottled, and I looked 50 years old.

The most amazing thing however, was my legs.  Between all the regular walking and exercise walking, my legs had magically turned into racehorse shanks.  Shapely, muscled and well proportioned.  I admired those legs for a minute.  It made me feel good.  I said to myself “show me another 50 year old man with shanks like that and I’ll kiss your ass”.  My self-adulation didn’t last long however, as my eyes slowly traveled up the rest of me.  Apparently all this walking is real good for your legs, and thins out your neck for some odd reason, but seems to have little effect on the rest of you.  What I mean is:  I look like Mr. Potato Head.  Picture this:  toothpicks for legs, russet potato for the body (regular sized, not a jumbo baker, I know how you bastards think), then a stalk of celery for a neck with an olive for my head, with the pimento representing my drifting hair.  There you have it.  Me.  I tell you folks; it was quite a letdown.

The Man in the Mirror was downright depressing.  I was just about ready to say to hell with all this exercising and throw myself off a bridge, if there was one around.  As I sadly trudged away from the mirror, contemplating the misery of life, a miracle occurred!  Glancing back at the mirror, I was no longer Mr. Potato Head, I was Hercules!  There I was, wasp waisted, barrel-chested and about 7 feet tall to boot!  Oh, boy!  I didn’t realize you could actually increase your height by exercise alone.  All lingering thoughts of Potato Head fled as I gazed on the Adonis before me.  I swaggered away, looking back one more time, just to see if perhaps my derriere had become as shapely as the rest of me.  My swagger was short-lived; Curses! Potato head again!  

Then it hit me: the mirror was bent.  It had the same effect as the Humvee window!  In a matter of less than 30 seconds, I had gone from the jungles of despair to the top of Mount Jubilation and back again, just by moving a couple feet.   I moved quickly back and forth: Potato Head, Hercules, Potato Head, Hercules.  Then I moved real fast: Potatocles, Hercuhead!

I guess the truth must be somewhere in the middle.  I’m not Hercules by any means (after all I may not have mirrors but I do have eyes), nor am I Mr. Potato Head, although it’s peculiar how much quicker your mind will accept bad news than good.   Turns out I’m just a normal middle-aged feller trying in vain to conquer (or at least tie) the dual effects of gravity and time.  

Anyway, I’ve decided to keep walking, running, and doing sit-ups and pushups.  Old school stuff.  I’ll probably just get into reasonable shape for a man of 50, and most likely feel a lot better too.  BS’ers aren’t cut out for perfection anyway, right?  It’s not in our DNA.  Like Swamp says, “We ain’t much, but we’re all we got”.  Well said, Swampy.  Well said.

Till next time