I couldn’t help but perk up when I heard my pastor mention “London” as he led us in prayer this morning. My folks are in London vacationing. I just figured he misspoke, but then he also mentioned Manchester. Having not checked the news since early yesterday, I inquired of my pew-mate. Then I cried. My parents are fine. But this scene from Cooper’s classic came to mind.
So long as their enemy and his victim continued in sight, the multitude remained motionless as beings charmed to the place by some power that was friendly to the Huron; but, the instant he disappeared, it became tossed and agitated by fierce and powerful passion. Uncas maintained his elevated stand, keeping his eyes on the form of Cora, until the colors of her dress were blended with the foliage of the forest; when he descended, and, moving silently through the throng, he disappeared in that lodge from which he had so recently issued. A few of the graver and more attentive warriors, who caught the gleams of anger that shot from the eyes of the young chief in passing, followed him to the place he had selected for his meditations. After which, Tamenund and Alice were removed, and the women and children were ordered to disperse. During the momentous hour that succeeded, the encampment resembled a hive of troubled bees, who only awaited the appearance and example of their leader to take some distant and momentous flight.
A young warrior at length issued from the lodge of Uncas; and, moving deliberately, with a sort of grave march, toward a dwarf pine that grew in the crevices of the rocky terrace, he tore the bark from its body, and then turned whence he came without speaking. He was soon followed by another, who stripped the sapling of its branches, leaving it a naked and blazed trunk. A third colored the post with stripes of a dark red paint; all which indications of a hostile design in the leaders of the nation were received by the men without in a gloomy and ominous silence. Finally, the Mohican himself reappeared, divested of all his attire, except his girdle and leggings, and with one–half of his fine features hid under a cloud of threatening black.
A tree which has been partially or entirely stripped of its bark is said, in the language of the country, to be “blazed.” The term is strictly English, for a horse is said to be blazed when it has a white mark.
Uncas moved with a slow and dignified tread toward the post, which he immediately commenced encircling with a measured step, not unlike an ancient dance, raising his voice, at the same time, in the wild and irregular chant of his war song. The notes were in the extremes of human sounds; being sometimes melancholy and exquisitely plaintive, even rivaling the melody of birds––and then, by sudden and startling transitions, causing the auditors to tremble by their depth and energy. The words were few and often repeated, proceeding gradually from a sort of invocation, or hymn, to the Deity, to an intimation of the warrior’s object, and terminating as they commenced with an acknowledgment of his own dependence on the Great Spirit. If it were possible to translate the comprehensive and melodious language in which he spoke, the ode might read something like the following: “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! Thou art great, thou art good, thou art wise: Manitou! Manitou! Thou art just. “In the heavens, in the clouds, oh, I see Many spots––many dark, many red: In the heavens, oh, I see Many clouds. “In the woods, in the air, oh, I hear The whoop, the long yell, and the cry: In the woods, oh, I hear The loud whoop! “Manitou! Manitou! Manitou! I am weak––thou art strong; I am slow; Manitou! Manitou! Give me aid.”
At the end of what might be called each verse he made a pause, by raising a note louder and longer than common, that was peculiarly suited to the sentiment just expressed. The first close was solemn, and intended to convey the idea of veneration; the second descriptive, bordering on the alarming; and the third was the well–known and terrific war– whoop, which burst from the lips of the young warrior, like a combination of all the frightful sounds of battle. The last was like the first, humble and imploring. Three times did he repeat this song, and as often did he encircle the post in his dance.
At the close of the first turn, a grave and highly esteemed chief of the Lenape followed his example, singing words of his own, however, to music of a similar character. Warrior after warrior enlisted in the dance, until all of any renown and authority were numbered in its mazes. The spectacle now became wildly terrific; the fierce–looking and menacing visages of the chiefs receiving additional power from the appalling strains in which they mingled their guttural tones. Just then Uncas struck his tomahawk deep into the post, and raised his voice in a shout, which might be termed his own battle cry.
And these scriptures.
But David said to Saul, “Your servant was tending his father’s sheep. When a lion or a bear came and took a lamb from the flock, I went out after him and attacked him, and rescued it from his mouth; and when he rose up against me, I seized him by his beard and struck him and killed him. Your servant has killed both the lion and the bear; and this uncircumcised Philistine will be like one of them, since he has taunted the armies of the living God.” And David said, “The LORD who delivered me from the paw of the lion and from the paw of the bear, He will deliver me from the hand of this Philistine.”
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Pray for mercy. Preach Christ.
I fought in Iraq.
Not often, but sometimes while I was there I felt a unique-to-me sensation which I later determined to be my body’s response to feeling afraid-for-my-life. For me, this kind of fear feels similar to run-o-the-mill crying. But whereas everyday crying feels localized to my face and eyes, afraid-for-my-life doesn’t leave any part of me untouched–plus it is many times more intense. Put another way, I might say crying cuts like a scalpel, afraid-for-my-life cuts like a semi-truck.
That said, as I keep reading about these attacks, I hear the interstate. What about you?
Maybe you don’t think you’re smart enough to see what is going on. It’s not that difficult. If you can read, you can get it.
Here’s what I could track down as the formal response of some of the West’s leaders. One formal statement is different from the others. Can you discern whose it is and how it is difference? Or do you need pictures?
Germany – Merkel: “We have to assume it was a terrorist attack.”
Russia – Putin: “This is a shockingly cruel and cynical crime committed against peaceful civilians.”
America – Trump: “Our hearts and prayers are with the loved ones of the victims of today’s horrifying terror attack in Berlin.”
America – White House Spokesman: “…we stand together with Berlin in the fight against all those who target our way of life and threaten our societies.”
Poland – Szydlo: “…with pain and sadness we received the information that the first victim of this heinous act of violence was a Polish citizen..”
London – Khan: “My thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected by the awful suspected attack on Berlin last night…”
Can anyone explain to me what Khan means by “suspected”? Does he not know what “an attack” is? Does he not know that even if it turns out to be the equivalent of a Columbine or Sandy Hook mass-murder that it is still an attack? Is he really asking us and expecting us to withhold forming an opinion?
What about you? Are you with Khan? Am I being silly? Does he seem reasonable to you? Should we put our ability to match like-with-like on hold? Also, who is he praying to? Allah? The same god that the “suspected” attacker prayed to? How does that work?
The Gospel of Jesus Christ is only path to victory. For H-‘s sake, do not believe the lie that the war is against flesh and blood.
Our God’s Word–the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who loved the world so much He sent His son Jesus the Christ to die for us and whom He resurrected on the third day, this God and no other–could not be clearer: For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.
Do not send our children to fight flesh and blood. Instead, turn off the television and fulfill your calling and proclaim the Gospel. In our day this looks like ensuring and insisting the people in your life know that Our God is not their god. This begins with you knowing this is the case. Do you know this? Do you know our God? Do you know Jesus? Really know Him? If you have any doubt, then track down a “Christian” and ask them to remind you what the Gospel is. If they don’t seem to know, or if what they say doesn’t sound like good news, thank them for their time and find another one. (Christian churches are a good place to start…)
I took a course in college called “Mass Media and Communications”. I can’t remember the reason. But what I will never forget is one of the lessons. This was back in the early 2000s, so HDTV (1080p etc) wasn’t prevalent yet. The professor taught us how a television worked. I had no idea before then. He explained that a device inside the box quickly draws a very thin line–two hundred forty evenly spaced lines actually–across the screen. Then on its return trip, this device fills in the blanks just left with another set of lines. That’s where 480i (NTSC) comes from. Old televisions in America had 480 “interlaced” lines. Now we all watch in some level of progressively scanning lines, meaning the picture is fully refreshed each trip across the screen and the image is high definition. Now you know.
What all this techno-mumbo-jumbo means to us mortals is that the images on the television screen are an illusion. They’re not really there. Different than a painting, sculpture, or the words and images in a tangible book/magazine/newspaper, which we can really see and feel and touch, the images on the television screen are an optical illusion. Our brain is able to put together all these rapidly moving lines and we think we see a man or woman or if you’re four and a half years old, it seems that all you see is an Octonaut.
But the truth is there is nothing there. There is only an illusion. Mr. Williams is not in our living room. Only a powerful illusion that our brain wants to believe is a trustworthy man named Brian Williams is there. But even that is not true. This illusion isn’t on or in the television, the illusion is in our minds.
The question then becomes, “Can an illusion lie?” I say no. I say there is no non-fiction television to begin with. How could there be?
If there is anything to be learned from current events, it is that we’ve allowed ourselves, yet again, to be fooled. The new question, the only question I see remaining at the end of this is, “How many more times will we let it happen before we turn off the TV?”
A text from my brother last weekend informed me both that Europe had recently been terrorized and that three (point seven) million people demonstrated unity in and around Paris. My thoughts were “no surprise” and “that’s seems pretty remarkable” in that order. Honestly, as you can tell by there being no post released this morning, the show of unity has actually rendered me speechless. (Mon and Tues were kinda already developed over the weekend). I’d love to comment on such a big event. But there didn’t seem to be anything to say. It seemed awesome that that many people gathered together. When was the last time that many people got together? I want to say the million man march way back when claimed a million, but it’s always hard to count. Several other marches here have attempted to gather a million people, but they never succeed. One million people is a lot of people in the same place.
But here’s the thing. I don’t think any relatives of terrorists were in that show of unity. Were any parents of terrorists there? Or sibilngs? Or first cousins? Second cousins? How about their children or wives, did any of them show up?
I want to talk about America. There are three hundred sixty million Americans. Subtract the approximately seventeen million college students and their professors who believe the terrorists may have a point, and that leaves three hundred forty million Americans walking the streets in unity against terrorism daily. Does anyone really doubt our resolve? Where’s that headline? Where’s that photo op?
Moreover, the United States’ active duty military numbers over one million men and women. And these people are serious. They don’t march down streets of peaceful cities lined with world-renowned architecture. They walk down dirt roads lined with IEDs. It’s easy to let piecemeal news stories about a couple fuck-ups ruin the larger organization’s image, but honestly the only image that counts is the one that includes American men and women serving this country today, American men and women who put their family through hell and risk their own lives near daily, American men and women who volunteer to do this because they were born (or fought their way) into a country that knows its way of life is better and worth sacrifices, American men and women who are constantly setting higher standards of honor, respect, service, integrity, excellence, decency, dignity, and a whole host of other virtues unlike any of their armed predecessors, American men and women who travel away from their neck of the woods to yours because you can’t get your shit together.
So yeah. It was neat that over three million Europeans went to the park. But when are you going to impress me?
I started writing the posts that make up this book April 20, 2012 after serving for eight years as an Air Force Captain and pilot. The most common response readers give is a smiling, head-shaking look of disbelief that is sometimes sprinkled with joy. What no one has said–but I’m confident all feel–is that after reading these posts, after reading this book, they know they are not alone. And that’s the truth. You are not alone. And the only way to get there is together.
The first Transformers movie will always have a special place in my heart. Instructor pilots of mine piloted the MH-53 that was the movie-opening Decepticon “Blackout”. Michael Bay even hand chose the pilot that marked me “unsatisfactory” once to be the hologram that “piloted” Blackout and later had a scene in the police car that interrogated Ladiesman217 (Shai LaBeouf).
I need a minute.
Okay, back to the review. Then came the second and third installments. Admittedly they were less than inspiring.
Then number four lost LaBeouf, but gained Marky Mark. Not interested enough to see the film in the theater, I started watching it four weeks ago, and finally finished it yesterday. Why did it take so long? And why did I persist, you ask? Because Optimus Prime riding a T-Rex Dynobot only happens once in a lifetime. And because that darn scene didn’t occur until the 133rd minute in the 165 minute film. But I still got goosebumps. It is awesome.
Here’s what some reviewers said about number 4 on Rotten Tomatoes:
“In the end, though, this is still a movie about giant robots fighting each other, which is to say it’s nearly impossible to take seriously on a narrative level.”
“Inflated, interminable and incoherent …”
“Transformers: Age of Extinction is simply more of the same mindless action, flat characters, and utter boredom that we’ve come to expect from these bloated mechanical sequels.”
And my personal favorite:
“Transformers have souls, this movie repeatedly tells us, but does Michael Bay?”
Know what I say? I say Michael Bay has a soul and it is the soul of a genius. Stay with me. I began watching this movie after listening to H- play for hours on end with a Beauty and the Beast doll set. The set included Belle and a few dresses, the human prince, and a Beast suit to put over the prince. (She hasn’t seen the movie yet.) These three characters became Belle, Belle’s father, and Beast (never mind he doesn’t have legs). And soon thereafter a lego character entered the mix so that it was an even two-on-two. Good guys became bad guys; characters that died came back to life; Beast was always asleep in the moments before only he could save the day. You know I love this child, but listening to her play can be mind-numbing.
Now, I can memorize a two hour movie’s story-line after one viewing, yet can’t follow, let alone repeat, H-‘s story-lines. Michael Bay, on the other hand, can. If you watch Transformers 4 as if you’re watching a four-year-old holding the actors and robots alike and performing all the voice acting, then the movie is perfect. Simply perfect. All the characters are yelling, injured, needing help, fighting, crying, whining, dying, or repeating some cheesy line they probably just heard the day before on TV. Even the scene where the boy and girl kiss after the victory seems like a child is forcing the two of them together while saying, “Mmua, Mmua” and thinking, “Eww gross”. The poor kid knows kissing is what happens when good guys win, but doesn’t understand why.
The genius of the movie and what the critics forget is that it is quite literally a movie about toys in the first place. Perhaps it is the 2007 installment that should be viewed as the fluke. But now with the fourth installment we’re finally getting to the heart of why Transformer toys and Transformers 4 are so great. And all these nay-saying critics probably don’t recognize that when they got big, they became the guy from Big who thinks that there’s something fun about a building that turns into a robot.
The reason to attend college is debatable. It shouldn’t be. Let’s clear the air.
College, if you’re lucky enough to go, is simply the place to finish out the “how to be human” training we began in kindergarten. It is not, nor will it ever prove to be, a kind of vocational training ground. But that is what a lot of people seem to believe it is. My question, the question this post asks, is why? Why is college now discussed as merely a part of our professional development, as opposed to our human development? Perhaps more important than that question is this one: what can be done about it?
Lucky for all of us, I have the answers: College became known as a place for professional development because the baby-boomers found out they actually had to work for a living, and the resultant anger they felt clouded their subsequent decision making. Poor decision making led to them not wanting to accept or own the fact that the America they grew up in did not happen by accident. The question about the future is, of course, one that I can and will answer, but it is one that we all have to answer for ourselves. Do things have to get worse before they get better? Some seem to believe that. Or can we just start making things better right now?
It’s a given that I had the least military bearing of any of my peers in the Air Force, but even I still recognized the value of “Integrity First, Service Before Self, and Excellence In All We Do.” I’m sure the other branches have some similarly applicable ideals to guide their decision making.
In other words, we should never forget that college is the place where we learn how to be human. Being human entails getting along with people who are different from us.
Veterans know what it’s like to not get along with people who are different from us, and therefore must accept the new duty of re-enforcing college’s mission. But there is more. Veterans must not shirk the responsibility of reminding the country of the value of values. Unfortunately for veterans, then, it seems the fight never ends.
I’ve been thinking a lot about you recently. While I’d love to report that my memory of you grows fonder as the years pass, quite the opposite is true. To begin, I want you to know I feel like you took something from me. I think you took something I didn’t even know I had it until it went missing. I’m talking about care. And concern. Care and concern for things. Take work for example. How am I supposed to believe anything that is not life and death is worth spending energy on? Of course I’m capable, and of course I’m qualified. But the drive to ‘fight the good fight’, when it isn’t a fight, is gone. I think you took it.
I also feel like I’m not sure how people expect to be treated. While we were together, everyone was equal. It was beautiful. During missions the mission was all that mattered. Everyone checked their feelings at the door. Now, people’s feelings are the mission. Every experience since being with you has included not only completing the mission, but making the person feel like the mission was completed. Instead of results, people want to purchase experiences. I just don’t understand it. I know you don’t either.
Lastly, for now, because of what you taught me about what’s important and what’s not important when lives are on the line, taken together with the depth of the learning experience, I can’t shake the appearance of having a large ego. It’s like I’m expected to just forget all the lessons you taught simply because not very many people ever learn them. The trouble is, as you know, I couldn’t forget your instruction even if I wanted to. With you, there wasn’t endless debating. There was action. There was doing. Indecision was an enemy. Now, decisiveness is a detractor. It doesn’t make sense.
You know I love you, right? Don’t you? At the same time, I just can’t help wanting to blame you either.
In the end, I guess I really just wanted to say “Thanks” and “No Thanks”.
PS – This is just a little thing, and I don’t know if it’s you or just flying that is responsible, but I’m not loving how I can’t pass up a bathroom without feeling like “Might as well. Who knows when the next time I’ll have a chance to go will be.”
A difficult, challenging, and generally confusing collection of 3,000+ words–that is “Eight Acres.” The title and opening line prove to mislead the reader. Surprised by our being caught off-guard, we read on. The quick-to-read staccato dialogue encourages giving the story the benefit of the doubt, and before too long, we reach a full paragraph which acts as a barely legible legend to the story’s map and provides the basest of hopes that our travels will end safely. As we hit the first set of asterisks, we’re certain about only two things. It is war. The characters are pilots. We also are given a big clue that this Mugwump is attempting a post-modern writing style. This means that as we enter a WWII veteran named Jerry’s basement, we don’t get stuck on the question “Why?”, we simply read on.
The writing is decent enough that our curiosity begs us to give the story a chance. Continuing on, as the story jumps around, we quickly warm to the idea that, like building a jigsaw puzzle, we won’t see the picture until the end–at least that’s our hope.
As “Eight Acres” settles in, a distinct, though unconventional, picture begins to emerge. The picture gains even more clarity with the use of sparsely placed details which arrive just in time to prevent our motivation from completely diminishing.
In the end, “Eight Acres” is not light reading. It cannot be read quickly, and it does not hold the reader’s hand. But there is definitely a theme, and it is definitely one a child won’t understand. The question is will an adult?
“Okay crew, coming down.”
“Clear down right.”
“Come down four, down three, down two, down one.”
“Collective’s full down, cyclic’s neutral. Pilot has controls.”
“Pilot has controls.”
“Pilot has controls.”
Though they joked that at night it was pointless to go through the motions of holding up your hands to prove you’ve transferred the flight controls, the truth was there was always enough light to see the other pilot’s gloved hands being held up as if waiting to catch a ball. Plus, these men knew the score. They were the best at what they did because they executed their job with a studied eloquence. And so when Pete raised his hands to prove he had released control of the aircraft to his pilot, he knew it did not go unnoticed and served the greater purpose.
Two minutes later, never sooner, the aircrew began the post-flight routine of collecting their gear and buttoning up the aircraft. His plastic sleeve pad thing on the seat-belt-like strap never remained in place on the helmet bag. After adjusting it, he realized he’d put his kneeboard in the wrong pocket. Or had he? Dropping the bag to check, he discovered it was in the right pocket after all. Good. Everything was where it should be. Sliding the plastic comfort thing into place once again, he hoisted the bag up. His helmet bag now over his shoulder, he bent down to grab his go bag. Containing enough ammunition to scare away at least the Iraqi wildlife, he also kept some energy bars, and a good first aid kit within the pockets on the bag whose original purpose was to house a water bladder. He always regretted that he didn’t know the contents of that kit better. As he went to sling the bag over his other shoulder, he almost fell over. While he had un-carabineered the go-bag from the helicopter, he hadn’t noticed his M4 was still attached to both his bag and the helo.
“What took so long, man?”
“Oh, nothing. Just saw life through Beetle Bailey’s eyes for a second there.”
“I cannot wait to get back to the trailers tonight.”
“Yeah, I got a package today from the wife. If it’s what I think it is, I’ve got some good reading for the night.”
“What do you think she sent?”
“Well, she told me the other day that some stuff I ordered from this company that sells dome home’s arrived back in the States. She said she knew I was waiting for it, so she packed it up right away and sent it here.”
“I didn’t tell you about it? Are you sure? I feel like I’ve told everyone.”
“Well, I’m pretty sure you haven’t told me.”
“In a nutshell, this guy name Buckminster Fuller invented the geodesic dome. It’s essentially a perfect structure. Much stronger than a box home, it’s cheaper, has more space, and is more efficient.”
“But it’s a dome.”
“Well, where are you going to put this dome?”
“That’s the genius of it. Her dad has eight acres in West Virginia. He’s held on to them all these years, and would basically love to give them to us to use. We’re thinking about taking him up on the offer after I get out of the Air Force. We hope to start a little farm on it. It’s going to be perfect.”
“Oh yeah? Do you know anything about farming?”
“No. But I know how to read. And there are books about it.”
“Ha. Okay man. If you say so.”
Neither man would ever voice such things, but the truth was that they loved their little chats after a mission.
Closing the white Dodge pickup truck’s door had the effect of launching the men into space where they experienced weightlessness for the first time. No more pressure to perform, no more lives at stake, and no more straining to decipher unreadable radio calls. Unlike the helicopter, the truck always started, had good climate control, and there was a cd player. The truck, which was only needed to drive laughably short distances, was only fueled at great intervals at a full service station by a third country national straight from the set of Kevin Costner’s Waterworld. This TCN wore a raincoat with a hand-written “COL” above the right breast pocket and gloves and safety glasses and all. The truck was the envy of many. The truck, like everything in that place, was a symbol. And it symbolized mobility. Who needs to be especially mobile in a combat zone? Important people. Aircrew. It was good to be king.
The life support sergeant was nearly asleep when the crews returned from their missions. The endorphins were contagious as the men returned each piece of their equipment to its proper place. Night vision goggles, already in protective cases, had a place on a padded table. Helmets and helmet bags went into cubbies, along with body armor. Some pilots removed the back plate of armor in favor of lighter travels, but Pete and his aircraft commander simply chose the path of least resistance. Plus, it would just be silly to get hurt in a way that was preventable. Either way, they hoisted the guardian vests into the beat-up plywood cubbies by their elastic shoulder straps turned handles. Next up, the walk to debrief, and hope that the POC crew had done their job correctly and had dinner ready. And some cookies.
Pete stopped off in the social trailer to grab a soda from his personal stash. Sure, the variety of free sodas was enough to please any fan of the beverage, but there was nothing like a Mountain Dew Code Red after a mission. And part of him just enjoyed being able to have something that was his. Something he bought. Something that no one could take without offending the property gods. Given that everything else was communal, he treasured his soda.
“If nobody has anything else to add, debrief complete.”
The first time he saw it, it was leaning against a corner in the basement. The carpet on the stairs leading down to the basement had a plaid pattern. Red with black lines. The kind of pattern that would make a great shirt or wool jacket. What was it doing on the ground? The wall was on the left and wasn’t so much a wall as a bulletin board. It was a mosaic of all sorts of framed pictures. Baseball was the theme, but a few Polish novelties could be found hanging as well. And some scales. Jerry had worked for Toledo Scales after the war.
Jerry lived with his mother still. A five year old doesn’t have any reason to think this odd. Instead, Pete just liked being over there. Jerry would give him pop. And cookies. And if they ever went into the front room, there was always hard candy in a dish. The dish was porcelain. It was a slippery white bird. Slippery, despite being textured with tiny bumps. Being portable, the cookies came from a round tin that Jerry opened by pressing it against his large belly, where he seemed to struggle just for a moment until the lid came free. Jerry loved watching Pete eat cookies. Pete loved eating cookies. But he loved seeing the sword more.
The sheath was brown. It almost looked rusty. There was a ring where a belt or some such thing could be threaded through. The handle was a very hard textured plastic. A real katana would have had a handle that was hand sewn. This clearly mass produced weapon kept up appearances, but also gave off the feel of uncertainty. Jerry had a kind of hesitation every time he brought out the sword. Who was he to deny a child happiness? And yet, Jerry brought the sword back from his time overseas where he had engaged in World War Two. Pete could tell that Jerry was great for other reasons, but for most, it was because of what men like him did during and after the war that put Jerry in the greatest generation.
Jerry would laugh off Pete’s attempts to get him to divulge the sword’s secrets. Had Jerry killed the previous owner? Had Jerry used the sword to kill? For Pete, war and guns and swords and bombs were fascinating. Everyone that was involved with such things seemed to be viewed as special, he might go so far to say they were viewed as other worldly.
“You ready to go back to the trailers, or do you need to use the computers for something?”
“I could go either way. There’s always something to read on the internet, but like I said, I’ve got dome home research to do, too.”
“Oh, right. Dome homes. For your farm.”
“Hey! Don’t laugh. In a few years, I’ll be living the good life. And what’ll you be doing? Probably be out here for the 15th time in as many years, fighting somebody else’s fight. If those are my options, I choose farming.”
“You know that those aren’t your only options, right?”
“So are you going to make me walk, or are we taking the truck back to the trailers?”
“Alright. Alright. We’ll go back now.”
Back at the trailers, the routine continued as normal. Boots were taken off, and flight suits removed in favor of almost comfortable PT gear. Every time their fingers touched their ridiculously poor fitting, lined PT shorts, each man wondered why the Air Force didn’t just contract Nike to develop the uniform.
Then, some went to work out, while others headed to the showers. Pete just wanted to read. And after reading, he wanted to talk. He was so excited about the future. About West Virginia, about farming, but most importantly he was excited for the chance to invite people on to his off-the-beaten-path property, and in to his dome home.
“Alright Tail, give the team the one-minute call.”
He knew those exact same words were said in flight lead’s aircraft. But what flight lead radioed next was not what anyone expected.
“Mongoose 01 flight, abort. Abort, abort, abort.”
“Mongoose 01 flight, go-around, go-around, go-around.”
“Mongoose 02 going around.”
Quickly scanning the ground for enemy combatants, all Pete could think was, “They’d be so small. How am I supposed to see anything from up here?”
“Mongoose 01. Confirm the tail of your aircraft has been hit?”
“Negative. My tail gunner’s been hit. Standby.”
“What the hell is Mongoose 03 doing? It looks like they landed and are unloading their guys!”
“Mongoose 01. Mongoose 02. It looks like 03 missed the go-around call. They’ve landed and are completing the infil.”
“Mongoose 01 copies. BREAK BREAK. Mongoose 03. Mongoose 01. Abort the mission. I repeat. Mission abort. Mongoose 01’s tail’s been hit, Mongoose 01 and 02 are headed to the Baghdad CASH.”
“Mongoose 01. Mongoose 02. If you’re good with it, you keep the lead, and we’ll cover you since you don’t have your tail manned right now. We can make the radio calls if you want.”
“Sounds good. We’re going direct. Try to get us clearance, I’ll listen up, but we’re going direct no matter what.”
“Mongoose 02 copies.”
The before and after black and white photos were stored loose in an old shoe box. Those pictures imprinted themselves on Pete as what should be listed next to the word “war” in the dictionary. Having no standard size or border, each photo was meaningless without its pair. A grey building, against a grey sky, along a grey street could have been anywhere and meant anything. A pile of grey rubble, against a grey sky, along a broken grey street could have been anywhere and meant anything. But when viewed side-by-side, against a backdrop of a shoebox full of photographs balanced on top of a man’s knees while he sat in his mother’s basement, the pictures contained a story. Pete interpreted the story to mean that if you need to win, this is what it takes to win.
“I know. I can’t believe it either.”
A gunner washed the blood out of the back of the helicopter with his water from his camelback as everyone else searched for bullet holes.
“It was friendly fire.”
“Apparently the team’s translator was given a rifle instead of handgun, and a rifle with a round in the chamber no less.”
Uncontrollably turning to see the culprit, Pete saw him. He was bawling. They wanted to hate him, but his genuine remorse couldn’t have insisted itself upon them with greater ferocity.
“That still doesn’t explain why he pulled the trigger.”
“I know. I know! But it sounds like when he stood up at the one-minute out call, he carelessly did.”
“Then what happened. How did you know he was hit?”
“He told us over the intercom. He said, ‘I’m hit. Tail’s hit.’”
“Yeah, no kidding. Luckily we had the Doc on board. It’s a head shot for sure, but it seems to have missed his brain.”
“What’d you get today?”
“A book on gardening.”
“Oh yeah? For the farm? You’re pretty serious about this, then.”
“When am I not serious about something that interests me? Sheesh. Why is it that I always have to be your entertainment? I am planning on buying a dome home. Yes, I will assemble it myself. Yes, I know that sounds bizarre. Yes, I plan on living off the land. Happy?”
“Touchy, touchy. Take it easy man. I’m just giving you shit.”
“Well, sometimes, maybe once, it’d be nice if you just respected that I get to live my life how I want.”
“Of course you do. You know you bring this on yourself, right? If you just talked about what everyone talks about, nobody would bother you. You see that, right?”
“Oh, I see it. I don’t think it makes any sense, but I see it.”
“Can I get you something to drink?”
“I’ll have a ginger ale.”
Jerry had died many years earlier. On this, Pete’s first paid-for-by-the-Air-Force commercial flight he decided to toast Jerry’s memory with a glass of ginger ale just like Jerry used to drink. It was Jerry’s parting gift that afforded Pete the opportunity to pursue his dream of gaining the kind of respect that men like Jerry received.
“For real. What are we doing over here?”
“I don’t know. I kind of like it.”
“Like it? How can you like it? We invaded a foreign country on questionable logic and evidence and we know there is never going to be a clear cut victory, no matter how hard we try. Hell, there’s not even a clear cut enemy.”
“Pete, I get it. Really I do. Don’t you think you might be focused in a bit too tight? A democracy in the Middle East will be a good thing. That’s as zoomed-in as I get. How we do that, if we are able to provide enough temporary stability to actually let the people here accomplish that, those are questions that are above my pay grade—and yours.”
“Yeah, that’s what everyone says. I just refuse to tow that line. I’m responsible for what’s happening here. Even if only on a miniscule level, I’m responsible. What’s worse is the manner in which I became responsible. I volunteered.”
The two men, two warriors, two friends, laid on separate bottom-bunks in silence. The conversation ceased being valuable. Each other’s prolonged silence said as much. Two men to a room, three rooms to a trailer, each trailer housed an entire crew. Besides the metal-framed bunk beds, the rooms were furnished with two tall metal wardrobes most commonly used as partitions to create privacy, and a desk, and a heating/ac unit. The windows were immediately blacked-out with any material that would do the trick, whether cardboard, foil, or fabric.
The Air Force, for all its greatness, severely lacked instruction regarding what to think about war and death. For some reason, it was just assumed that the men knew. The Bushido-type list of warrior attributes that he had packed and hung on the wall next to his bunk spoke volumes. Bushido—the Samurai code. He knew the Samurai were an unmatched group of warrior-poets. Their swords were said to contain their souls. And the swords were unbreakable and could cut through anything. He’d seen the videos.
Jerry’s faux-samurai sword would probably have broken if put to task. Was it even sharp? Did it ever need to be? All these years later the memory of the brown sheathed, brown handled, silver bladed sword loudly resting in the corner began to fade. Yet, in his own way, its memory still provided him with the strength necessary to do his job.
“Courage is living when it’s right to live and dying when it’s right to die,” he recited silently.
No matter what other thoughts filled his head, he knew it was not right to die. And he knew the others he served with agreed.
“So I think I found the one I want. It’s a double-dome.”
“Double-dome, eh? What’s that mean?”
“Well, you know I’ve got that piano, right?”
“The thing is, it is loud. It really should have a place of its own. So they have this home that is essentially two domes connected by a little walkway. Over three thousand square feet in all. The main dome is around two thousand, if you count the second floor, while the smaller dome is about a thousand square feet. It’s be the perfect piano room, library, study, parlor-type thing.”
“Sounds pretty good. Having a separate place to go from the main house would be nice.”
“Nice? It’d be perfect. During fights, everyone could retreat to their separate places until they cool down. I can’t wait to get back and visit the property.”
“So you’ve never seen the eight acres?”
“Nope. But I can just picture it. I know there’s already a house on it now. But it doesn’t have running water or electricity or anything. I’d probably knock it down and go from there. It’s on a bit of a slope, but nothing extreme. There is a huge shade tree, I know that. And the winters are brutal, but there’s nothing I can’t handle. All you have to do is be prepared for it, and you’re good.”
“What about the summers? I imagine they’re not exactly pleasant. What kind of work would you do?”
“The summers? They’re hot and sweaty. But the dome home stays cool. See, the air circulates perfectly because it never runs into a dead end. Its course is just constantly redirected. As far as work, I’ll be fine. Always have been. There’s a small town nearby. I already own most everything I want. And we’ll be farming, so food won’t be a huge expense.”
“If you say so.”
“You know, one thing I can’t picture though, is how to hang things on the walls. Tons of people have dome homes, but I can’t say I’ve seen enough pictures of the interiors to know if people still hang portraits and stuff. I only ask because we have this awesome framed set of Samurai swords. You know, with the three swords. The two pretty big ones, and then the smaller blade they used as a back-up, or when fighting in very close quarters.”