Waiting for the SunBy Slade Ham
May 25, 2010
I have seen more of the Middle East than I ever expected a kid from a small town in Southeast Texas would see. I won’t pretend that my time there has been completely positive, but it has been eye opening. Iraq, Kuwait, Yemen, Qatar, Abu Dhabi, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia… they all start to bleed together, a mixture of people in ghutras and thobes and burqas speaking a harsh language I have never managed to figure out. It’s not a slight to the region or its people, but it is the acknowledgment that it is not the magical land of the Aladdin and Scheherazade of our imaginations. The romanticized world of the Arabian Nights gets lost somewhere between the airport and your destination.
I took off from Washington DC this time with my usual sidekick, Sam, and another comic named Katsy, an upbeat, sassy black woman from Los Angeles. Katsy was on, always. I technically didn’t meet her until we got to Kuwait, but I quickly realized that the pressure was definitely not going to be on me to have to entertain people off stage. She couldn’t be turned off or unplugged. Her mouth was a machine of energy and stamina, her thoughts projectiles launched at anyone that passed. Questions, answers, ideas, laughter – her food had to turn sideways and tiptoe to get in around the words when she ate.
I don’t know that I ever found out exactly how old she was but it became the subject of discussion over the two weeks. Comedians tend to latch on to one thing and drive it into the ground, and with Katsy, that thing was her age.
Initially she couldn’t remember our names, changing our identities from Sam and Slade to Quincy and Slam Bam. Someone fired off an Alzheimer’s joke and it spiraled out of control from there.
“You can talk about my age if you want,” she said, “but it just means that I’ve seen things you haven’t.”
“Yeah. Like the 1800’s,” I said, rolling around in the back seat with laughter.
A day later the three of us, along with our security escorts and a Sergeant named White, climbed on board a boat – a heavily armed 30 foot Army SeaArk – and headed out into the Persian Gulf. Once we cleared the harbor and got out into open water, the pilot turned around toward us. “You want to drive?” he asked.
“I’m going first!” Katsy yelled and sprinted to the driver’s seat.
“You better hold on,” Sergeant White said, and we did.
Katsy hit the throttle and the bow of the boat shot ahead. Not content with simply going fast and straight, she hit a comfortable speed and then threw the boat into a hard turn, almost tossing our Marine escort in the Gulf. She pulled down on the lever and then hammered it forward again, cutting through the rolling wake left by the bow as it slid sideways through the water. Waves rushed onto the open deck in the back where we held on to the rails and roof and attempted to stay on board.
She spun the boat into another donut and then circled back through it again. The cameraman fell down. More water gushed on board, soaking us below the waist. Her yells echoed over the sound of the engine as White came crashing into me. We hung on.
“When is it my turn?” Sam tried to ask.
“Woooooohoooooo!” screamed Katsy from behind the wheel as she punched it again.
We held on longer until the call came that it was time to go back to port. “So wait, no one else gets to drive?” I asked.
“Sorry, we have to get you guys back for the show. You can bring it into the harbor if you want though. You just have to keep it under five knots.”
“Thrilling,” I replied.
I didn’t know it then, but I would soon long for that cool ocean spray. We were leaving for Iraq in the morning and as we sat around at dinner that night we had hopes of an uneventful travel day. Katsy, however, wasn’t ready to move on to the next day yet.
“You like how well I drove that boat!” she said, rubbing it in.
“If by ‘drove’ you mean ‘filled with liquid’, then yes. You’re a natural” I replied. “How about you go re-drive my coffee cup?”
“You’re just jealous,” she said, and I was a bit.
“It’s cool. Just wait.”
* * *
The room where we waited was a thousand degrees and it was constant. For thirty-six hours things had been tedious and stagnant in a way that only Iraq could be. We managed to get in one amazing show at the Kuwaiti Naval Base before our itinerary was lost in an avalanche of unscheduled detours. Manifested on the wrong flight into Iraq out of Kuwait, we ended up in Balad, a place we were not supposed to be until the end of the week. A quick nap later found us waiting for a flight into our original destination, Kirkuk. Two shows had already been cancelled, and after a quick unscheduled guerrilla show in the dining hall we got orders to fly again in the morning.
I remain baffled at why the country of Iraq is so hotly contested. I understand the oil argument now, but not the reason people ever managed to want to live here in the first place. It is alien and dry, with powdery brown dust settling on everything that isn’t perfectly vertical. The hazy air is translucent tan at best, opaque at its worst. And the heat – dear God, the heat – is incessant. It hit 130 degrees the day before we left. I’m pretty sure all those suicide bombers blow themselves up just to cool off.
So in Kirkuk that next morning, we waited. You fly at 0930 they told us. Everything is always military time, which means automatically translating it in my head. If it’s higher than noon, subtract twelve. It is awkward. 0930 is now cancelled they said. Just a few more hours. The air conditioner was broken. There might have been a small fan somewhere but it was defeated by the open door at the end of the room, as if the sun had banged away at the gates until the building simply gave up.
You’re new flight is at 1330 they said. The dust was too thick to fly in. Visibility was zero. They couldn’t get the rotaries in the air with the sky like that. Even bubbly Katsy was beaten at that point and lay motionless on a bench. In that heat your soul cooks to medium well. 1330 came and went. 1700 was now our next possible fly time but the air was so thick outside that you couldn’t see across the parking lot. We were nowhere near where we were supposed to be and another scheduled show was cancelled while we sat there. All we could do was wait, but the only thing that came was more sun.
* * *
Blackhawk helicopters are quite possibly the coolest pieces of machinery I’ve ever seen in my life. My last time through Iraq, I took them everywhere. They look like sharks, if sharks flew in pairs and had massive guns hanging from their skin. At night the insides glows green and if you look hard enough through the darkness you can just barely make out your companion helicopter as it hovers next to you in the black sky. The desert air, regardless of the time of day, slips hot through the open sides as you cut your way across the landscape. Occasionally, flares flash green and white as they break a target lock. It is intense.
As the rotors slice through the air they generate a massive current of air that circulates clockwise. It whips downward and blows directly into the open back window on the right side of the chopper. It blows hard there. Very hard.
* * *
We eventually made it out of Kirkuk and headed to a forward operating base called Warhorse. An hour after landing we hit the stage. Outside and under halogen lights, the bugs swarmed around us as we told our jokes. A sea of soldiers in fatigues and reflective belts laughed in front of us, making the dust and the waiting over the last few days worthwhile. I like these people, I thought to myself. Good, said Life. Get used to them.
Three days later found us still there. Another dust storm, another missed flight, another day in that godforsaken brown powder. The Muslims can pretend that they defend the region for religious reasons, but even they at some point would have to admit that no god, Allah or otherwise, has come anywhere close to caring about that hell hole for some time.
There was the dust and then there were the flies. Lots and lots of flies. They hovered and buzzed and landed on everything, their bodies stuck to traps in black masses, while thousands of others swarmed, still alive and hungry. I expected the river to turn to blood next, but there was no river. I sat there, hoping a flight would leave before the other eight plagues hit.
We arranged an additional show at the DFAC, the dining facility, on Warhorse. Sometimes you hear stories from other comics about the flawless shows where everything goes exactly like it should and you step off stage to roaring applause and a standing ovation.
This was not one of those.
The ambient roar of a thousand people conversing and the clanging rattle of contracted Iraqi nationals pushing metal carts of food swallowed our jokes as they limped out of a sound system that barely reached forty of the hundreds of sets of ears in the dining room. It was like screaming into a jet engine. Halfway through his set, Sam made the comment that he deserved a Purple Heart for surviving that show. He wasn’t kidding.
* * *
Eventually they managed to schedule a chopper out to Warhorse to pick us up. My new best friend, Sergeant Nethers, had arranged a nice little diversion in the event that we were unable to get out after all.
“If the sand doesn’t break, I’ve got you cleared to go out on an MRAP and shoot the .50 cals,” he said.
“Who’s shooting cows?” Katsy asked, wide eyed.
“We just met her yesterday,” Sam and I said simultaneously.
“I’m gonna get you, Slam Bam. Watch,” Katsy shot back, making us all laugh.
“I didn’t forget about the boat, you know. You have one coming.”
“Uh huh. Try it,” she said, and we laughed some more.
Thirty minutes before we were supposed to follow Nethers out to shoot the .50 caliber, word came that our bird was inbound. “Grab your gear,” someone said. “You have to go. Now.”
As I put on my vest, Katsy shot past me. She wants to be first on the chopper just like on the boat, I realized. Well, cool. How perfect, actually. I eased in behind her in the queue as the rest of the passengers lined up. They opened the door leading out top the helipad and we marched out in single file. Only as we approached the chopper did I move in beside her.
“Take the good seat!” I yelled over the wind and sand, and motioned with my hand toward the back right. “I’ll take the one facing backwards since I’ve flown before! You take the good view this trip!” I wasn’t completely sure that she’d heard me until she slipped over into the seat I had indicated. She gave me a quick thumbs up.
“You’re welcome!” I yelled.
We buckled our four point harnesses as Sam and a group of soldiers piled in after us with their gear. We were packed in tight as we levitated off the pad and into the baking desert sky. “Your turn to hang on!” I said, and winked at Katsy.
At 150 miles per hour the wind tore into the cabin like a rabid dog. She tried desperately, hopelessly, to cover her eyes. Her cheeks vibrated as the burning air clawed at her face. She squinted and turned her head, but it was everywhere. The gale pried her mouth open and ripped her gum from under her tongue, where it hovered for a brief moment before it bounced off a soldier’s helmet. She tried to bury her head in the corner but the wind found her. It rocked her back and forth and made her skin quiver and flap.
I cackled across from her, my camera snapping picture after picture while I tried not to hyperventilate with laughter. It was totally worth the wet blue jeans.
* * *
We ultimately made it back to Kuwait in one piece and on time after several unscheduled stops. We spent a day at a base dubbed “Mortaritaville”, so named for the relatively ineffective daily shots lobbed over the wall by insurgents. We marched up the ramp into C-130’s and fought the engines as they hummed and pushed blistering air at us across the tarmac. We sat huddled in our rooms waiting for the all clear after a warning siren went off at another base. “Just wait for the boom,” we were told. “If you don’t hear the boom, it’s not good.”
“Wait, what’s it mean if I don’t hear it?’ I asked.
“That means it hit you.”
Climbing on board our flight back to DC, I was exhausted. As we drew close to the States, I watched the sun rise through the window somewhere over Newfoundland. At 40,000 feet, things fall into perspective. Staring down through the cobalt blue and orange tinted clouds you could make out the twinkle of city lights. As people shook themselves awake seven miles below me, I wondered what they were doing.
Somewhere down there, someone was rushing to get to an office so they could yell at people for not pumping out enough of some trivial product or another. People were neglecting their families to race after a paycheck that would only buy more things that probably wouldn’t make them as happy as time with their family would have. From the air, it was so easy to see how worthless a lot of our efforts are. I remember hearing a story about a businessman and fisherman somewhere in Mexico, a story that I can’t quite recall now but that I am certain sums up my feelings as I stared out that window.
Then I thought of the soldiers that I had just performed for and just how tough the conditions can be, not only for them but for their families back here in the States. I was there for two weeks and was worn out from the heat and the early mornings and the cramped conditions. What our soldiers have chosen to do, for years on end, makes them nothing short of amazing to me. They’re heroes.
I don’t know a lot of things. I don’t know if our presence in the Middle East is good or bad. I don’t know if it changes anything on a grand scale. The global aspect of our efforts over there aside, I know that I’ve met individuals that have made an impact on a personal level with the people of Iraq, and that’s where it counts.
A real impact, too; not one that seems insignificant when viewed from a distance. I spend a lot of time wondering if I’m doing the right thing or if I’m in the right place or if I’m not supposed to be somewhere else with someone else doing something else. The one thing I got while staring out that window was that it doesn’t really matter as long as I’m happy.
There’s a world where bombs go off and people carry guns and other people will blow themselves up because God told them to. It’s a world where life can end abruptly and without warning, and I don’t want to spend any more of mine than I have to chasing something unnecessary and useless.
I am grateful to those men and women that put themselves in that situation so that I don’t have to.
“How about you go re-drive my coffee cup?”
Every time, man, every time I think I’ve got things a little bit figured out, something comes along to upend me. Which is good, I guess, but this sort of line:
“Somewhere down there, someone was rushing to get to an office so they could yell at people for not pumping out enough of some trivial product or another. People were neglecting their families to race after a paycheck that would only buy more things that probably wouldn’t make them as happy as time with their family would have. From the air, it was so easy to see how worthless a lot of our efforts are.”
Yep. That’s about it.
I’m glad you heard the booms.
You know, it was one of those pure moments of clarity that comes in quickly and quietly and then never lets itself be recaptured. I swear though, at that moment on that plane, everything made such perfect sense.
Kinda felt like enlightenment. Then the flight attendant brought me United’s shitty attempt at an omelet and the zen crumbled.
Side note… I heard you won 5K?
I was out all morning so I lost the chance at the funniest line ever!
That re-drive my coffee cup line killed me!
You win, again.
Hahaha. That line was the only dignity I salvaged from my dunking in the Gulf.
You’re HERE already?
Damn, no one tells me anything.
You’re probably sleeping at Lenore’s too!
(Unless you have cat allergies.)
I’m nowhere near allergic to cats. I miss my two terribly actually.
And no. I’m HERE.
Best sleeping spot ever…
Side note answered: I totally did win $5K!
You sly devil. Jack Reacher himself. You’re buying the first round with your 5K 🙂 More importantly, are you going to turn it into an “in” with those people?
Simon won 5K?! Let’s see, divided by —- how many TNBers are there?
Sod that. Anyway, he prolly bought another couple cats and kitty litter and Chinese porcelain catfood bowls and such, even a cat bedjacket and diamond collar n cuffs. Can’t trust cat lovers.
Rodent lover Judy
Tsk, tsk, Judy. There is nothing wrong with cats, as long as those cats think they’re dogs and come when you call them. My two were amazing, but thy didn’t do any of that cocky “cat” stuff.
Cats are good at giving you a ‘fuck you” and walking away. Dogs rock, but can be pretty needy. I’ve never had a rodent.
Oh well you had dogs wearing cat meatsuits (as Simon might say it), Slade. Aberrations, totally. Cats are prolly the cutest creatures alive, and they know it; that’s why they can walk away or give you The Look like Garfield and get away with it.
I never thought of dogs as needy; will have to cogitate on that revelation.
Thing is I do get a laff watching perfectly wonderful humans walking their dogs on leashes and carrying a ready-to-scoop plastic baggie in their hand. What a hoot and a tragedy! It’d be the main reason I wouldnae get a dog. I’d want it to run around and poop everywhere but NIMBY, natch.
A dog will categorically love its owner, and that’s a frightening phenomenon to consider. I’ve seen dogs being beaten, but still the dog will come back later as if it’s been at fault. OTOW, I’ve known men to weep when their dog died, but not when their own father died.
My cats were indeed very anti-cat-like. Watching the humans follow dogs around with the baggies must look strange to visiting aliens. They have to assume the dogs are in charge, right? They must. We would only look like slave-pets from the outside.
The neediness of dogs lies in the fact that they really aren’t very self sufficient. You can’t leave them for days at a time like cats, which was hugely helpful in my line of work.
The unconditional love aspect… it’s nice to be on the receiving end but it does make me think them a little dumb.
‘I’m glad you heard the booms.’
damn it! simon nailed it again. when will this shit stop? simon? when? great descriptions, slade. details, details, details. i don’t think i will ever want to visit the middle east. i’m too soft. whay…
well, slade, another gem. have a beer in celebration of yourself. uh…
Desire aside, visiting the Middle East puts a lot into perspective when it comes to the politics of the region and our involvement. The pros to my trip far outweighed the cons. I’m glad you dug it.
A beer indeed… er, um, club soda.
Blackhawks. I wanted to join the air force once. Wanted to be a fighter pilot. When I realized I couldn’t do that, I wanted to pilot attack helicopters. Apaches, specifically, but a Blackhawk would do in a pinch. It has a gun, right?
I don’t know if you realize this, Slade, but–at least from a lexical perspective, this piece is making a warzone sound like the very fucking coolest place on earth.
Getting all kinds of Saint Crispin’s Day sentimental over here.
I only just learned what St’ Crispin’s Day was. I suppose in some ways I have made war sound somewhat cool, hahaha.
The truth is, it is a thousand times more calm over there than the last time I went. We’re in the process of pulling out 40K plus troops, and while there remain mortar attacks and suicide bombers and IED’s, it is nowhere near the full blown battlezone it it used to be.
With that said, to me, who lives in a calm little neighborhood a black away from an elementary school, Iraq still seems incredibly wild and dangerous. It was a fun story to write.
As for attack helicopters, let me share a video with you. The last time I was in Africa, I spent some time out with the Marines that crewed MH-53 helicopters. One of them had edited together a video with all the footage that had been shot by the military of those birds:
Watch It Here
Missiles!!! *Beavis laugh* *bounce in chair* Brratt taatt tatt tatt… pew pew PEW!!!
Couple of Chinooks in there, too.
You do not help me to resolve my warlike tendencies, Slade.
Shame on you.
You are the best.
Yeah. That video is siiiiiick.
And if it weren’t heavily armed enough, it turns into a robot, too.
Blackout? Wasn’t that its name?
That said, I prefer Apaches. They have mean little faces. About 90% of their visage is dedicated to shooting you.
I always thought they looked like hornets, but I suppose that name is taken.
I think so. I kept making it change in my mind. And yeah, Apaches are pretty much the baddest motherfuckers in the sky. I’ve never been on one though, so I only get to be jealous from a distance.
WOW, Slade, what a video!
The rappelling and the running and jumping out into thin air.
Lord, these are strong people!
Yes, they are. And super cool guys.
These are the guys here
Yes, they are. And super cool guys.
These are the guys here
Grrr. Won’t let me do more than one link… I’ll post them separately.
And also here
You just wanted us to see that you’ve met Christian Slater.
Yes. I was sooo showing off Slater. Hahahaha. Hahahahahahahaha. Kal was cool as shit. They both were actually. I’ve never watched House though. I heard he was good in it.
WTF is with people never having seen House? Do you and Richard live under a rock together?
Look, it’s one thing to be too cool for Glee or Grey’s Anatomy, or stupid-ass shows like that, but House is one of the few truly decent shows on TV, man. That and Dr. Who.
You should totally try it.
I actually watch almost no TV at all. I am super comfy here under my Houseless rock.
And which Dr. Who? Is there an American version now?
Yeesh. You “no TV” people. What am I supposed to talk to you about? No wonder you couldn’t remember Blackout’s name.
And no American Dr. Who. You can see the British version on BBC America, though.
DVR technology makes it pretty easy to keep up with a lot of shows without becoming a total recluse. It is especially helpful for educational miniseries.
People always rant and rave about how TV rots your brain and makes you stupid, then ask how I know so much random shit about every goddamn random thing.
TV is only stupid-making if you watch stupid shows. And watching stupid shows might mean that you were already stupid in the first place. That’s my feeling on the matter.
I have a DVR but its in the living room and I never watch TV in there. I do, however, use bitorrent. That’s how I watched all four seasons of Battlestar Galactica.
I use my TV for nothing but Discovery, Animal Planet, The Travel Channel, and The History Channel.
And the Food Network. I’m pretty sure Paula Dean is going to kill America.
Battlestar Galactica and Food Network, eh?
You and my husband would never fight over the remote.
He and i seem to have a lot in common actually, if I remember our comment discussions. I can’t remember what specifically though…
Me either. Maybe we talked about TV before.
Did Battlestar get any better after season one? I absolutely loved the three-hour pilot and filled up my Netflix with the discs from the first season, but to me it felt like the story ground to a halt as the writers presented us with little calamities like We’re Running out of Fuel or Starbuck Is Marooned on a Desert Planet, etc. I’m thinking about reading the summaries of all the episodes and then watching the finale.
“Thoughts?” About the show, few. About Tricia Helfer, many.
Many, many, many, many….
In my opinion, Battlestar was one of the best shows ever. There are certainly some spots where they drug it out more than they should have, but it ended well. You could probably catch up reading summaries, but if you have the time, it’s worth watching – mainly because it takes away from any of the emotion of the finale.
But… if you’re not totally committed to that, just catch the finale. I’d hate to entice you with four seasons of TV only for you to feel slighted in the end. I’m not taking responsibility for 70+ hours of your life, hahaha.
I liked it, but then again I also haven’t watched Lost… Did that end happily for you? I just downloaded the first 3 seasons but haven’t started watching yet.
@ Anon – It was always Katee Sackhoff for me… but Tricia is quite nice as well.
I’m sorry – I just can’t get past the last name. It start with “sack” and is too close to “jack off”. Even in my fantasies, I’d just keep snickering immaturely at the worst possible times and ruin everything.
Oh lord, Tricia Helfer. Fantastic figure, but it was her sultry presence that drove me crazy. Maybe it’s all acting, but that’s the way you’d like your lady friend to speak to you in every possible situation.
Lean into you, run her fingers through your hair, and whisper into your ear:
“For the last time, will you please take out the trash?”
Of course I will, honey.
Well, the comic in me reeeeeally wants to give it a shot with her. For comedy. Obviously.
@ Rich – Nooooo shit.
Plus, I like it rough.
Wait – you can edit your comments once you have a login, right?
Slade, I admire your willingness to suffer and sacrifice for your art. So noble.
Let them never call me selfish.
Somewhere up there Richard asked if all of Battlestar Gallactica was worth watching.
(This is as close as I can get, here!)
You can blame Tricia and Katee for that.
Glad you concur though. He should watch it.
In fairness, I was saying yes. More accurately, “Yes, and you don’t even need the volume on.”
Love the use of “Jaizus”, btw…. 🙂
I suppose that is the best argument for not reading the summaries that’s been mad e yet.
Okay, okay, okay. Jaizus!
I really enjoyed reading this. You offer clearer descriptions on things I’ve read about – like the heat, the dust, the helicopters – and through more human eyes without some of the earnestness and self-importance that accompanies journalistic writing on Iraq. So thanks for sharing this and thanks for making the trip in the first place.
This trip was good for me. The last time I was there, we made it to ten or twelve different spots and it all went pretty flawlessly. This time, I got more of the real experience. A lot of the soldier’s experience is “hurry up and wait”. The dust and the heat just becomes a way of life over there. Hanging with those guys and girls makes it really hard for me to approach it with any self importance. I get sick of that too.
I’m happy my perspective helps. There’s not a lot of glamor to it but hopefully it’s honest. Thanks, Nate.
I am well familiar with that Mexican Fisherman story, my step-dad likes to tell it. I found it online here http://www.trackthetime.com/fun/story-of-the-mexican-fisherman.
Life goes by too fast man, it’s time we learned to slow down and enjoy where we’re at and stop trying to chase happiness. Guilty as I am of chasing things, somewhere in my soul I know it’s all temporary and I better get to living life today, not tomorrow or yesterday.
Good read Slade.
Oh and I really dug the line about your soul simmering to medium well at 130 degrees and suicide bombers blowing themselves up to cool off. How is it that people ever decided to settle and live in these conditions?
Our soldiers are the best. God bless them.
Yes, that’s the one.
130. That is not fair to anyone. I don’t know how they made it past the first summer there. After 115 degrees or so, it all starts to just melt you. It’s totally unlivable.
Maybe I’m just a whiny little bitch though 🙂
And yes, yes they are.
Rock and rolling a .50 is good times. The MK19 is still my all time favorite to shoot.
I spent some time living in an Air Force tent outside of Cairo. Desert living has made me completely detest the beach. I want nothing to do with sand ever again. Out tents had A/C and heat, but unfortunately the Army just won’t let you stay inside all day every day. We worked the night shift and the one thing I will never forget is at about 0530 every morning a mist would roll in off of the Mediterranean. It was so thick it would soak your clothes as if you were standing in a heavy rain. It was bone chilling cold. An hour later is was gone and everything was completely dry again.
If you get the chance see those pyramids. The awe will stay with you for life.
“Rock and rolling a .50 is good times.” Sure, if you’re not paying for the ammo. 🙂
My all-time favorite motivational poster is a guy directing a Mk19 with the caption, “See that guy over there? Fuck him and everybody near him!” It was my desktop for awhile.
@ Anon – Hahahaha. That sounds about right…
I have time for fly-by one-liners but this deserves more. I’m going to try to carve out some time over lunch to catch up.
That pesky job, hahaha. Not to rub it in, but I’m taking naps and checking this in between them 🙂
Hey, you know what’s a good one-liner? Fuck you. One line. Easy to type. Yeah. Fuck you.
I’m going to lunch now. I’ll try not to wake you when I start the truck.
I’ve seen the MK19… never fired it. Something about a grenade launcher gets me really excited though. It’s on my to do list…
The tents are not as bad as i thought they would be. Quite nice actually, all things considered. But yeah, you’re not allowed to hide in them forever. I have every intention of seeing the pyramids. They seem like one of the few big “you have to do this” things that would actually live up to the hype.
Next time you go though DC book a room up the road in Hagerstown for a few nights. We’ll drink some Irish Whiskey, see the battlefields, and eat the worlds greatest donuts.
Believe it. Amazing, actually, that we haven’t actually crossed paths in all these years. I miss that part of the country. The club I used to play in Tyson’s Corner, VA closed down. I need to look back into it.
If military recruitment statistics are to be believed, the bulk of our armed forces are made up of people from small towns, in Texas and elsewhere. So there’s probably a decent chance you could’ve seen the Middle East while wearing a uniform.
Good for you for going, man. I don’t support either war, personally, but I think our soldiers deserve all the support they can get.
I could go on for days about the separation between the men on the ground and the men making decisions.
I remember when I went over for the first time – to Germany in October 2001. I was playing for and talking to a bunch of those small town kids that were pretty much just in the service so they could pay for college. Then 9/11 hit, and all of a sudden they were flying missions off to Afghanistan.
My ongoing argument with any sort of authority has always kept the military from being an option for me. The people who start wars are never the ones that fight them though… and I try to help out where I can when it comes to the guys out in the middle of it all.
The Marine Corps came after me pretty damn hard when I was about to get out of high school, and again when I was about to graduate college. My own predilictions towards anti-conformity and my utter refusal to obey stupid instructions would probably have doomed me in any sort of military career.
They never really came after me. We’re in the same boat though. Had I signed up, I have no doubt that the words Dishonorable Discharge would now be on my permanent record.
And not in a sexual way.
Had I signed up, I’d be Darth Vader by now.
I think they would have been scared to kick you out….
I didn’t need any encouragement to be militant. That was what I decided. I COULDN’T resist the power of the dark side. Plus, I liked partying too much when I was 18-19.
I hear morning PT is a buzzkill.
Yeah… that whole “we do more before 10:00 am than most people do all day” sales pitch was really counterproductive with me.
“dishonorable discharge” LOL!
Nicely done Slade. I could almost feel the sand pelting my face. It’s amazing that 1.) people live under those conditions ON PURPOSE and 2.) that Americans still voluntarily enter into the armed forces knowing full well that they likely will spend time in those conditions.
Nosy question time: When you go overseas to entertain the troops are you an employee of the government? Do they get to censor your material or are you trusted to know your crowd and what material works best?
It really is amazing. Part of it now has to be the shortage of jobs available here in the States. When it comes to job security and benefits, the military makes a good pitch.
As for the people that live there? That part will never cease to confuse me. It is a shithole.
Dammit. hit Submit without answering your real question…
We travel as GS-15’s, basically high ranking civilians. We’re technically contracted by the MWR (morale, welfare, recreation departments). I also have a Department of Defense passport though that I travel on when I go through Armed Forces Entertainment. We really are just contractors that get a little more VIP treatment.
There hae been a few shows that I have had to clean it up for, predominantly shows for officers and their wives. When we’re out in the middle of nowhere though, all bets are off. It’s pretty hard fopr them to give someone the ability to kill and then pretend that they’re not grown up enough to hear the word “fuck” 🙂
I forgot to mention that those moments of clarity will come to you more the older you are. That’s cool! Pretty sweet to have that DOD passport too.
I’m glad that you’re allowed to say fuck in front of the troops. I don’t suppose you venture too far into politics or religion. And now I’m dying to hear you work… 🙂
Politics and religion are definite no go’s. Particularly anything Presidential. I forget sometimes that Commander in Chief is a military designation. He’s their boss. And the religious stuff is primarily avoided because we are “guests in a Muslim country”. That’s how they put it.
I have some stuff up on YouTube (I think the clips are all consolidated on my website actually). Don’t go to iTunes though. The CD there is way outdated and if I could find a way to take it down I would. I’ll have the new one out by the end of June. Remind me to send you a link to a download.
* end self-promotion *
It’s all about the self promotion! If you don’t who will?
I will hook myself up; I can google like a guerilla. 🙂
Now, all TNBer’s, please STOP posting all these great pieces for a day or two. I’ve fallen so far behind and I haven’t even had a chance to comment on a few yet, and I need to get back to work. So stop being smart and clever and poignant.
The danger to Google is that there is almost certainly stuff up that I wish would never be discovered, hahaha.
And I know, right? TONS of stuff I haven’t been able to get to. I reeeeally didn’t know I scheduled my piece to go up at the same time as Simon. I also have to get to Reno’s last one and several, several others.
I am way behind today.
I was playing catch-up all last night. We really all need to de-sync.
Link me up Slade – I don’t want to watch/hear something that you don’t care for. 🙂
Keeps marking it spam when I try to post it :/ Damn. I guess I’ll email a link.
I love it when you write. 🙂
And I love it when you read. How’s that?
I know It’s God-Awful Hot there, but I didn’t know about the plague of flies.
Do you know why there are so many flies there?
Sounds like Hell to me.
Thanks and all that.
It was in one place in particular. I don’t know why exactly. It was a creepy feeling… the heat and haze and flies. It’s a little surreal in hindsight.
And you’re welcome, though I hardly feel like I did anything.
You did plenty, Slade. My nephew-in-law just rotated back out, almost literally pulled from the arms of his two-year-old and only a month after the birth of his second son. He’s in Afghanistan this time, should be back around Christmas. You give these guys even ten minutes of a mental break and you’ve done something worthy of praise, so thank you.
Of course, the “fuck you” for taunting me with your naps still stands. But, still, thanks for stepping up. And for writing about it.
Thanks, Anon. This was totally worth waking up for 🙂 When I would go into the computer rooms to jump online, there were always five or ten soldiers on webcams with their families. Really a touching thing to witness, though you try to give them what little privacy the room provides. it’ is hard not to be aware of them though.
And I totally deserve the “fuck you”.
*stretches and rolls back over*
Mister Ham? This is your noon fuck-you call. Wakey-wakey. 😛
That’s one thing that I found really amazing – the online access available. Can you imagine being able to check up on your loved one after Normandy or Khe Sanh? I was going to include Grenada but we were done there after about a week :D. Much as I bitch about technology, this is a real blessing for families.
I’ve thought about that too. The instant access is both a blessing and a curse, particularly in the instances where you can’t get a hold of someone. Still, even with the access I cannot imagine being away from friends and family on an extended basis like that, and I don’t even have a wife or kids.
And yeah, those guys probably beat their letters home from Grenada.
Nice one. You really create a sense of total immersion with this piece and with your moment of complete clarity. Though this trip may not have gone according to schedule, it sounds as though you learned far more on a completely different level.
I very much appreciate you writing of your experiences over there, it’s nice to have a new perspective on the world. I think it gives us all something to think about.
Oh, and I want to meet this Katsy person.
Katsy is on my Facebook page. I figure it is only a matter of time before she flits over here to give her side of things 😉
I enjoyed writing about this. It was new experience, even though I’d been before. I have the luxury of going over there and writing about it with no agenda. I would make a horrible journalist I think.
I look back on the two weeks with fondness now, though as it happened, I know I was less than thrilled about some of it.
You miss a lot when you have an agenda. Life is better (usually) as an adventure.
I know. I do more cool shit on accident…
My kids say: “on accident.”
It drives me CRAZY!
In New York we said: “by accident.”
I hate that my kids say OOOOOrange too, instead of the proper are-ange.
Where are you from, anyhow?
I’m way too lazy to read your bio, apparently.
I’ll bet you say: roooof instead of ruf.
Irene, my kid and his friends, all Chicagoans, around age 8, used to say “on accident” and I figured it was bcuz they were backforming from “on purpose”.
My kid doesn’t say it anymore.
@ Judy – I’m pretty sure that’s exactly why I say it. I’ve never thought about it though…
@ Irene – It’s pure Texas vernacular from me usually… I pronounce it ore-unge and roooof. Always. And they’re pu-CONS, not PEE-cans.
I’m from a little Southeast Texas town but I lost most of my accent working in radio after high school. My accent is now an amalgamation of everywhere.
“…her food had to turn sideways and tiptoe to get in around the words when she ate.” Slade, that is one of the best descriptions of anything that I’ve ever read.
“How about you go re-drive my coffee cup?” Man…I think you’d be the best road trip buddy ever. Or, possibly, the worst..
Katsy sounds hilarious. The Middle East sounds horrible. I was born in Roswell and reared in Barstow, Vegas and Southern New Mexico in general. The Middle East sounds worse than all of those – if that’s possible. I mean, I’m sure the people are lovely. (Are the people lovely?) But the heat and sand? Ugh!
Thanks, Gloria. Best or worst… hmmm, hahaha. You’d have to ask the people that go with me about that.
Katsy was a blast. Super funny to travel with.
I’ve been all through the American Southwest, and it doesn’t hold a candle to the misery of the Middle East. It’s hard to find any redemptive qualities at all.
Sounds like an amazing perspective-giver, this trip. And great descriptive writing. I felt dusty and sweaty just reading it. Katsy sounds feisty. (:
I’m glad you got home all safe and sound and whatnot. xoxo.
Whoops. Bev Naps was my “pen name” from earlier. I’m back to Tawni again. *sheepish*
I was gonna ask about the name. “Who stole Tawni’s picture?” That was my first thought.
I totally think we should all change our picture to Tawni’s picture.
I am Tawni!
I am Tawni!
I am Tawni!
Yes. And you are too. We all are. It’s like the end of Spartacus.
“Feisty” is a good way to put it. Feisty, but hilarious. She was great. I’m glad the descriptions are coming out the way I intended them to. Finding the right words for this piece seemed iimportant to me.
Totally excellent story as usual Slade. *tips hat*
Many thanks, Joseph.
I just want you to know that since your gravitar looks like Dylan, I always read your comments.
Thanks for all the times you journal your trips to the Middle East. Your perspective and ability to be so descriptive helps me to feel connected to my kid. He’s a young man of few words and doesn’t say much except “It’s hot”, “I’m fine” and “work is busy”. Glad you had a safe trip and Katsy was the only real threat to your well being. 🙂
She was actually a wonderful addition when it was all said and done with. Surviving a trip with me and Sam is a feat all on it’s own.
I’m always happy to show you that part of the world through my eyes. When he says “I’m hot, fine, and busy” he’s pretty much telling the truth. The details would bore you 🙂 I wish him a safe and speedy return.
It sounds like you had a good time. It brings back a lot of childhood memories for me. Growing up on a military base, I went to many many airshows and explored every aircraft. The pilots would let us climb in and out, and occasionally take us up.
My father and me were the first to ride a Harley up four (very slick & steep) flight decks, and posed next to fighter jets and helicopters with the crew. I want to say it was the aircraft carrier Enterprise. An amazing day.
I’m sure the soldiers had a blast, anything to take their minds off of reality for a few hours.
How did the re-driving your coffee cup go?
I’ll bet she re-drove it and poured it down his neck!
@ Irene ,
Hahaha. Down his neck, or “everything below the waist”. 😉
Yeah, could be that area, too.
Unquestionably the coffee cup was re-driven.
The question Slade has to answer is where exactly she drove it.
I’m glad this is hilarious to you two.
Ehhem. Irene and I are waiting to hear where this coffee was re-driven to.
Since it’s my story… it ended up in my cup, and it was served with a smile.
I think this is where we need Katsy to jump into the conversation. 🙂
I’m sure she will.
I’ve almost been on a carrier. I was supposed to fly out to one for an impromptu show when I was in Bahrain a few years ago.
“We can’t compensate you for the show,” they said, “but we will get one of the pilots to take you up in an F-15 and bring you back down. It’s pretty cool.”
Pretty cool. That’s how they described it. Pretty cool.
The run ended up being a scratch, so I never got to do it. The F-15 or the carrier. Kind of anticimactic story I suppose…
They’re amazing. The one I was on had nuclear capabilities. We were allowed to actually see the bombs.
I was terrified the bike was going to lose traction. You have no idea how steep the ramps were. :/ Totally worth it once we made it to the top though.
I have a feeling you’ll make it onto one eventually.
I was on a nuclear sub and got to see all the bombs. The weapons weren’t nukes, but the sub was powered as such. Still, being in a room with billions of dollars worth of missiles and torpedoes was pretty cool.
Katsy may have been feisty and a blast to tour with but I’m glad you blasted her with what amounts to RFD winds from a tornado in that “good seat.” Awesome.
I agree with what Megan said about the sense of immersion you create with your posts, and though I haven’t read a lot about the conditions in Iraq, this definitely was the most visceral. I like seeing it filtered through the eyes of a civilian, and particularly one non-committal about our presence in the Middle East.
I’ve missed reading and commenting on your work. Excellent as usual, Slade.
Kinda missed having you around too, actually. Hope all is well. I’m very happy that my impression of the region came through, and that it did so as unbiased as I tried to be.
As for Katsy, just between you and me (and the rest of the internet)… I’m glad too. She totally had it coming.
Was heat warming (I mean heart warming )aside from the funny that you took the time for the troops .Bob Hope is certainly smiling. I’ve seen pictures of Iraq and Afghanistan and if I was an investor in real estate or merely wanted a summer house the landscape of the friggin moon is more alluring than these two shit holes. It seems from Korea to the Nam to the Mid East we fight these wars in shit holes and our men and women get killed in these shit holes and who should even care about a shit hole that these jerks think is the Holy Land? By the way did you get to ask any generals why we aren’t napalming the poppy fields while we’re in Afghanistan? After all only 70% of world’s non cocaine dope comes from there
Korea I like. Most of the other places though… geez. You are very correct. You’d think they would come attack the pretty places instead.
As for the Afghan poppy fields… I’m going out on a limb here, but I bet money has something to do with it. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but if I were in the CIA (and soulless), I would totally sell that stuff to kids around the world to finance some shit on the down low.
I will keep this one with me forever:
I’m pretty sure all those suicide bombers blow themselves up just to cool off.
You’re writing is the perfect blend of comedy and poetry. Respect. (I YouTubed Katsy so I could hear her voice. Sounds like you had an unforgettable time.)
That was one of those pure lines that wasn’t written ahead of time. It happened as I wrote, like it was just supposed to be there. I need that voice to write me a bunch more stuff. It’s a keeper.
And thank you 🙂 you know I always love it when you come by…
Youve got to invite Katsy down here so I can meet her! And i want to see those pics of her from the copter!! Great piece. I was smiling the whole time i read it:)
Hahaha, I’m gonna email you a few Katsy pics. I haven’t posted them yet, but I should.
Okay. I have since learned that I can upload video here at TNB. Wonderful. The link of Katsy in the wind is now in the post above, or you can see it here:
Katsy With the Wind
Oh my. She did keep her arm up! The cheeks were a little scary.
If I get a chance to take you to Disney, you’re not allowed to film any roller coaster footage.
You’re a brave man for having gone over there, Slade. I applaud you. I don’t know that I could have done it. And no matter how un-ideal the set-up, I’m sure the soldiers were happy you guys were on hand.
You didn’t happen to see any WMDs, did you? I hear they’re still missing, perhaps concealed in the same bunker with Nicole Brown Simpson’s killer and the last unicorn.
That one rough show was definitely the exception to the rule. For the most part I would rather play for those guys than to drunk people here at home. They are beyond appreciative.
And the WMDs are everywhere, didn’t you hear? Warehouses full. OJ watches over them as he rides around on his one-horned steed. Just wait til the news story drops.
reading about how the dust was too think for you to fly made me start sneezing. seriously.
Hmmm. Maybe I should write a piece about allergy medication, and describe it just as well…
Funny fucking stuff, man. You sound like a funny guy to travel with. And I thought I was witty – answering each and every statement with a very loud “That’s what she said!” I was once punched in China after saying it for the tenth time on the Great Wall of China. I think people just kept setting me up with comments about the sheer size of it.
The Middle East sounds interesting. I have a weird travel kick for seeing places I don’t necessarily want to see. I don’t like the idea of not liking something… so I tend to check it out. The positive side of that is that nowhere is really as bad as I imagine, and so I’m constantly in a state of pleasant surprise.
The Middle East would probably be that way. I’m not big on soldiers, though… There are enough of them in Korea and I wouldn’t really want to spend much time on military bases in Iraq and so on… But I’d like to see the country and even feel the heat for a while. Just to check it out.
It’s strange, but if we were a few decades older we would have seen the Middle East as more exotic, and less of a “that’s where our enemies live” kind of place. But then again, we’d probably be falling into the Aladdin sort of story.
The Great Wall seems like the absolute most awful place to take a “That’s what she said” person, hahahaha. It can’t take long before someone says “I can’t believe how long it is!” It’s certainly downhill from there.
You and I share similar tastes in travel. Some of my favorite experiences have been Third World ones, the ones you’re not supposed to enjoy. With the Middle East, or more specifically, Iraq, with the soldiers is the only way to see it right now.
I would prefer to have seen it before all of this myself. I try to believe that the romantic image of Arabia still exists and that I just haven’t been able to get to it yet. That hope dwindles a little more though with every trip over there.
The more you and I converse, the more I begin to think that you and I would probably explore well together.
I travel a lot. I’m sure we’ll be in the same country at the same time eventually.
Man, I miss the old days of TNB
when we were all sort of dull
and groused about how hard it was to write
and a good comment count
was anything over ten.
How can we compete with this guy
who’s charming, witty
& goes overseas to support the troops?
Plus, this guy
makes Dio number one on TNB?
We need a TNBland (like TVLand)
for all us old has beens.
You flatter me as always, JMB. There are certainly no has beens to be found. I generally just read with wonder, and try to express some gratification for being allowed in in the first place 🙂
I’ll happily take credit for Dio’s skyrocket here (LoooookOWWWWT!), but everything else is just me clawing to keep up with people that actually write. So many fascinating stories to read. This week I’m sandwiched between Rich and Simon. For a bit even I forgot I had a post up.
My thanks as always, my friend.
Beautiful descriptions of your trip and companions Slade. You bring the reader along with you and that is a talent that not all authors can boast about. Then the complexities of what you do with your craft come through as well. To bring a moment of sanity to an otherwise completely crazy environment is breathtakingly admirable. You risk your life as well to bring them that hour of joy. Our soldiers are heroes, no denying that ever, but I guarantee that some of them see you as a hero as well. You represent the reason they are there, the world and the home that they are looking forward to returning to and are so eager to defend.
Bless our troops and bless you guys for bringing them laughter.
It is always a bit uncomfortable taking thank yous from the troops. My natural tendency is to shake it off and try to downplay it, but I realize that the sentiment is heartfelt. Usually we just agree that we have mutual respect and admiration.
Privately though, I often wish I was half as fucking cool as they were.
I’m so not trusting you to pull out my chair, Slade.
This was a very nice piece. Got me thinking and that’s always a good thing. I think.
Just don’t start anything and you’re safe 🙂
But yeah, I wouldn’t trust me with your chair either. Or your iPod. I’ll fill it with the Jovi.
Slade, that helicopter pay-back move was all-world.
Nice writing about it all, too. I think you found just the right balance between humor and seriousness.
I’ve been thinking about the “shithole” business. A lot of comments along those lines, and your description of 130 degrees, dust, and flies didn’t make the place seem very attractive.
I read everything I can about Allied troops in the Solomons (and Japanese troops too, whenever I can find anything). I can’t think of many first-person accounts that said anything other than “this place is a shithole.” Mud, rain, insects, disease, crocodiles, jungle . . . .
I’ve never been to the Middle East, but I’ve spent a lot of time in the Solomons, and I like it there just fine.
I’ve come to think that the people calling these places shitholes are doing it because they have to do things that aren’t easily done there, because usually there’s no reason to do them, and do them while people are trying to kill them.
I’ll just stick with the Solomons. Mud? Walk through it. Rain? You get wet, you dry out. Insects? They bite. Crocs? Don’t go where you know they hang out. And so on. In other words, if you interact with the environment the way the people who live there do, it’s not so shitty. It might even be pleasant.
But, to state the obvious, soldiers can’t, and don’t. I never had to be a WW II GI moving heavy equipment through Solomons swamps or on tracks where the mud was two feet deep. Well, actually I have done the latter, but not under time pressure and certainly not in combat.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I feel bad that so many people call places like this shitholes. It’s easy to see why they do — but I wish they’d say, I’ve never lived in a place like this, I don’t like it, and not only that, I have to fucking fight a war here.
I’m actually really happy that you said this. It does seem a bit knee-jerk to simply decry such a place. From the outside, I could understand why people would say the exact same thing about Houston.
It is unfair to shove the entire region into a box simply because I – or anyone – went through it in the worst way. Thinking back, I clearly remember how alive and happy I felt walking through the Bahraini dessert to see the Tree of Life years ago. I was enjoying a day off between shows. The whole day was wonderful actually. Wandering the souq, eating shawarma in a very small and dirty yet unbelievably friendly restaurant, walking through a herd of camels, and then laying in the shade underneath that magnificent tree….
You’re right. I understand why people do it too, but I personally could certainly be a bit more aware. There is beauty and merit below the surface of the bad experience.
I’m really glad you swung by, Don.
Slade, when I said “I’ve been thinking,” I meant that I’ve been thinking for many months. That might not have been clear. It was just a coincidence that your fine posting turned up when it did. I guess it looks like a direct response, but it wasn’t meant to be.
I’ve been trying to create excerpts from Army diaries during 1943-44, on Bougainville. By “create” I mean invent them, as in fiction. And I’ve been trying to work out interactions between soldiers and the local people, because I only know about those interactions from one side — the local side.
So that’s why I’ve been needing to work out the ways in which Bougainville seemed just awful to the soldiers. I don’t have any good US diaries to crib from, but I do have some good Australian ones — but they were later, in a different phase of the fighting.
Direct or not, it certainly applied.
The soldier/local interaction is interesting to me. My exposure to it is quite limited, but hearing the topic come up – in conversation with troops and somewhat out of context – leads me to believe that at least some of them have managed to transcend the typical “this shithole” mentality. I doubt it’s the majority though.
What a bold, and fascinating, undertaking you’ve chosen.
I am thoroughly impressed and awed by your experiences. I think it’s fantastic that you entertain our troops, that you get to lift their spirits.
I think many people still don’t realize that they are performing a very noble, very dangerous service, weather or not we agree with the impetus for the need of such service.
I hope to read more of your travels, especially with your new partner, Katsy. You two make a good team 😉
I’m with you, man. What the world needs is a Slade & Katsy act 🙂
Katsy has become quite the popular one here. See how she steals my thunder?
Ah, no, man. I think thunder is perfectly divisible. BOOM! BOOM!
Some people can’t make the distinction between the war and the people fighting it. To me, Iraq is just an “assignment”. What impresses me is the spirit of the men and women that – whether it’s just a job or not – have chosen the job of defending our country.
The same soldier fighting in what some deem an uncalled for war might just as easily be on the Korean border soon, of in the Afghan hills, or responding to whatever the next, completely justified cause is.
UI guess what I’m saying is that they are more than just their orders.
Ugh. I can never seem to make that point the way I want to, and I am not awake enough yet to clarify it, hahaha.
Amen to the above. May the despicable treatment of soldiers returning from the Vietnam never again occur. I once heard (in the UK, mind you) that at least Vietnam vets were drafted, and that the current crop are guilty of having volunteered for an unjust war. I responded pretty vehemently that anyone who doesn’t think our present army is drafted is blinded by their legalistic perspective. Our supposed all-volunteer armed forces is largely in practice a draft from populations who are poor and marginalized, and for whom the armed forces is the only reasonably sure option to emerge from those disadvantages. Of those who declare war, who approve funding for war etc., very few have children in the forces. Whatever one’s politics may be, it is essential to realize that the sociological composition of today’s US armed forces could not possibly be more removed from the moral levers of those politics. The armed forces mostly comprise the best among us those of us who have rarely known the beneficence of policy in their own lives.
I always enjoy your travel blogs. I can actually feel the uncompromising heat, the grit of the sand, and I think I got a little sea sick. My favorite part aside from tricks, high tech illustrations and new nick names was the insight of what people in that region go thru. I would not be surprised if the soldiers started flying around wearing masks and capes. Ok maybe a little… Maybe it is the fact that they really don’t have super powers, makes them just that more AmazinG. TY Slam Bam and HB for the 3rd time…
Dude, between this and your camping story, you might be the best road trip guy ever. Nice job of creating a piece that leaves plenty of room for insight, observation, and plenty of humor. It’s really cool that you so willingly leave the comforts of home to travel to the other side of the world to help a bunch of people forget about their terrible (or at least insufferable) reality for awhile. Well done, man!
Oh, and this: “I’m pretty sure all those suicide bombers blow themselves up just to cool off.”
Mint it- pure gold.
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