Saturday, May 30, 2009

Dave's Story

We didn’t get into Kuwait until mid-February, 2003. Then all we did was just mope around in tents and hate life, bored out of our minds, waiting to go north, or wondering IF we’d even go north. Then they issued us our MOPP gear[mission-oriented protective posture chemical warfare clothing] – which was woodland camouflage. It was the stupidest thing you’d ever see. A bunch of Marines in desert camouflage, huddled under tan cammie netting, wearing woodland camouflage. Not only did it look idiotic, but it absorbed all the heat, too. One night I looked out and we could see all the scud missiles flying over and around us. I pretty much decided right then that I wasn’t coming home. Actually, it made me a better Marine. I figured I was dead, so mission really came first.

We started pushing north on March 19th, moving towards Al Nasariyah. We rode in ridiculously long convoys right up highway one. In southern Iraq, the whole highway was littered with blown out cars with the bodies burned and slumped over the steering column. There were oil rigs billowing smoke and fire in the distance, darkening the horizon in all directions. Whenever we drove pass little villages, we could see that half of the buildings were leveled and some were still on fire. There were refugees everywhere – all trying to get down into Kuwait. Before we saw them we were joking and just being stupid as usual, but when we saw them, everybody grew silent. I remember precisely what my buddy said then: “I know why we’re here now,” he said. It was a good way to put it, and we all agreed. We felt so sorry for them. They had nothing. I was thankful to be an American.

As we rode out of the total desert of the south, we started getting shot at a lot. We’d be just driving along, and then these Bedouins would pop up from behind the berms and fire a few potshots at us. Then they’d disappear. We weren’t really allowed to shoot back at them, which was bullshit. They were more irritating than threatening, though. They couldn’t shoot worth a damn.

One day we halted and set up camp some distance off of highway one. They’d put us next to a minefield for some reason. EOD [explosive ordnance disposal] had put out those signs that said don’t advance beyond this point or something. Way out in the minefield, one lone camel wandered around lost. And for reasons I cannot explain, they ordered us to load up a humvee and drive into the minefield to chase away the camel. I remember thinking, “hmm. Here’s a whole humvee full of Marines, driving through a minefield, just to chase away a camel. This is absolute bullshit.” And it was, too. If the camel was that disruptive, just shoot it. It’s not as valuable as a truckload of Marines. We got pretty close to it, too. It had the largest lips I’ve ever seen on an animal. It was pretty weird.

Right before we drove through Nasariyah, we’re driving along and suddenly we feel this enormous gust of wind, then we see a literal wall of dust and sand coming at us from the north. Everybody’s screaming, “get in your bivvie. Get in your bivvie.” And a moment later, we get hit with this sand and dust storm that permeated everything, filled our clothes and gear with shit, and choked us all day. We hunkered down for hours in this – completely blinded. Everybody was filthy and we looked like hell. Then it poured rain for the next day and a half. It was so bad we’d get vehicles stuck in the mud and have to abandon them, put all our crap in other trucks and keep going. Our convoy got split up into three groups by accident, got stuck a lot, and then the rain suddenly stopped. That was it. Now everything was covered in a layer of mud. We looked like pigs.

When we were just south of Nasariyah, we were out in the middle of nowhere and we got mortared badly. They walked the rounds all up and down the convoy, and we didn’t have much of anywhere to take cover. I didn’t get hit, but I did get knocked out and got a concussion from one. Somehow the shrapnel didn’t hit me. We had a couple of guys get shrapnel in the arms, and one of my buddies now has permanent damage to his frontal lobe. I think he’s a vegetable, actually.

We rolled through Nasariyah just after the initial forces pushed through, and it was still bad. We were rolling through streets littered with debris, bodies, burned-out cars and buildings, and all the sudden we ambushed from all sides by small arms. I remember like it was in slow motion. The gunners on the 50s and on the mark [Mk-19, 40mm grenade machine gun] never slowed down. You could feel the rounds pinging off the humvees, too. We were firing constantly, just trying to keep their heads down a little. There were guys in the windows, guys on the roofs, ducking into the alleys. Everywhere. But Nasariyah wasn’t our mission. We were supposed to get our convoy to northern Iraq. We had to keep going. I remember seeing bodies of Marines lying in the streets.

Not long after, we were going to cross the river, but because almost all the bridges were blown out, we all waited for hours in a traffic jam of military vehicles. Hundreds of them. We were just stopped in the wide open, parked. I remember wondering when we’d get attacked. Not if, but when. That was when I started crapping blood. I had doc check me over, and he said, “Dave, you’re looking kind of yellow, like you’re jaundiced. How do you feel?”

I told him I felt just fine, which was true. I guess between all the adrenalin and whatnot, the only symptom I was showing was the blood in my stools. I was still hyped up from the combat, I guess.

“Am I okay, though?” I asked him.

“Yeah, just be careful. Keep an eye on your condition” he told me. I was relived; I didn’t want to leave. I’d feel like I was abandoning my family. Some crusty gunny [gunnery sergeant – E-7] laughed at me and said, “Live to fight another day; you can die then.” It was funny at the time, but now that I think about it, it’s a really screwed up thing to say.

Eventually we crossed the river and headed up to Tikrit, and while we were supposed to stay there for awhile, we only did couple days of patrols in the city. It wasn’t much, but it was long enough for my buddy Jordan to get killed by a sniper round to the neck – right in front of all of us. It was pretty rough.

Next thing I know, we’re out on a patrol and I just collapsed. I guess my body decided it had had enough abuse. My eyes were completely yellow, I was bleeding from my mouth, my ass, and the blood was pooling everywhere. My platoon sergeant says, “Dave, you’re getting medevaced.”

“Like hell I am” I shot back. I guess I shouldn’t have been saying that to a staff sergeant, but whatever. He got quiet and told me, “You can either get out of here with a perfect record, or you can get out of here with an NJP [non-judicial punishment]. Either way, you’re going.” So I went; I had to, but I felt like I was betraying everybody.

They had to drag me to the CH-53, since I was so weak I couldn’t walk. I was still bleeding from everywhere, too. As we were flying south, you could hear the rounds hitting the chopper and then the gunners would engage them back, so there was brass flying all over the troop area and making a mess.. I had an IV in both arms and was just lying on a stretcher, feeling helpless.

They’d switch us from chopper to chopper because of refueling issues, and eventually we landed in Basra [southern Iraq], where they dropped me outside of a hospital tent. They were so packed with people that they couldn’t even put me inside, out of the sun. They just started stacking us outside. Well, the base got rocketed and there I was, too weak to stand, just lying on a stretcher in the open, IVs in each arm, feeling completely vulnerable. I felt like a paper target on a shooting range, though. Like it was only a matter of time. Somehow, I didn’t get hit.

But the British took a bunch of casualties from the rockets, so they stacked them outside the tent with me – lining up like bodies just waiting to die. And the British guy right next to me did, too. He was gasping for air. All I could do was watch him go. Just watch him go… He’d try to moan or speak, and instead he’d just gurgle. Little by little, he got weaker and just died right there. Nobody came out to help us, not him, not the other British wounded, not any of us. They were too busy with the wounded guys inside I guess. I was completely alone, just lying on a stretcher outside a tent. Nobody talked to us, and I didn’t know anybody anyway.

Finally they put me on another chopper and fly me Kuwait, and then on another chopper out to sea – to get on the Comfort [hospital ship]. While we were flying along out to the ship the bird hit some sort of air pocket and started fishtailing. We dropped fast and hard, like we were going to crash. One of my IVs ripped out of my arm then; I still have the scar from it. I remember looking at the crew chief and he was grabbing a hold on anything he could and he was mouthing ‘oh shit, oh shit.” He caught me staring at him, though, and I guess he saw how terrified I looked. I really got to give him credit. He managed to pull off a smile and mouthed the words, “we’re gonna be fine.” I needed to hear that right then. I was scared out of my wits, sick as hell, doped out of my mind, and convinced we were going to crash, too.

When we landed on the Comfort, they put me in quarantine with all the other guys who had crazy, undiagnosed illnesses. I heard a lot of screaming and moaning, and all around me were stretchers with the sheets pulled completely over and covered in blood. As they started to work on me, they cut off all my clothes since they didn’t want to pull out my IVs. They cut my boot laces and pulled my boots, cut my trousers, then my blouse too. Then they ran me through the shower, and all I remember was this huge puddle of mud and filth in the drain as they washed me off. I was completely disgusting after that sand storm, all the rain, and just riding in an open humvee for hundreds of miles.

I stayed in quarantine for two weeks. They wouldn’t let me eat with anybody, talk to anybody outside of quarantine; nothing. Then they gave me a weird diagnosis. Apparently I had jaundice, jaundice, hepatitis A, anemia, and I’d lost 35% of function in my kidneys and liver and my intestines were so inflamed that they weren’t working at all. Why? They had no idea really, besides exposure to some unknown toxin. That’s all they could tell me.

When they had me stabilized, they announced that they didn’t have the right equipment to treat me, so they flew me back into Kuwait, then to Rhoda, Spain, where I stayed a month. After that, as I slowly improved, they flew me to Bethesda, then back to Camp Pendleton. Then they announced they were going to discharge me for a personality disorder; I have no idea why. I asked them why, after I was medevaced from a combat zone for toxin exposure, why they were going to kick me out for a personality disorder. Nobody could give me a good answer, obviously. They ended up giving me a medical discharge under honorable conditions in the end, and that’s the end of my Marine Corps story.

Three years later, I was sitting in a History of Africa, Post 1800s class in college, and the professor asked us what we thought of war. Nobody answered. “What do you all think of war,” he asked again, and then he singled me out, knowing that I was a vet. “Dave, what do YOU think of war.” So I told him.

“Sir, I think war is evil but necessary, awful but productive, unfortunate but essential, and for as long as humankind continues to exist, war will continue also. It was needed to stop people like Hitler and depose Tojo, to halt Napoleon, and to end slavery. It’s not perfect, and it’s full of atrocities, but it serves a valuable purpose.”

You know what he said back to me? He seriously said, “I don’t agree with you. I think your opinion is invalid. What do you know of war?”

So I responded: “Sir, I have been in combat, and I have lost friends. I have seen men do horrible things to innocent people. I have seen others blow themselves up for their cause and take children with them. I have had friends shot and killed in front of me and seen soldiers bleed out unattended as I, too, lay helpless on a stretcher next to them. I have been medically evacuated from Iraq and nearly shot down, nearly crashed, and had IVs ripped from my arms. I have been quarantined on a hospital ship and watched more death around me. I have been diagnosed with diseases most people have never heard of and nobody can explain how I got them. I have been exposed to foreign toxins that to this day continue to affect me and prevent me from living normal life. I have been discharged from the Marine Corps for being permanently and totally disabled, and I can’t continue with the life I once had. I can hardly walk some days from the pain. I have a whole bag of medications I take daily.

"After I was discharged and my unit went back for a second tour, I lost more friends than I did on the first. One friend survived two tours and then came back and killed himself. Part of me died over there, yet part of me was awakened. I volunteered for what I did, as did we all, and even after all my medical problems, I tried to go back again. I have watched my father kill somebody in front of me and seen a child killed by stray bullets from criminals. I have seen horrible things, and I have seen war. Not only that, I have experienced it, too. Sir, what war have YOU survived?"

When I finished, he just shook his head and turned his back to me. So I got up and walked out. I couldn't believe he said that...

If I don’t know about war and tragedy, then who does?

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Friday, May 29, 2009

Those We Collected

“We had this guy in our unit once; the sort of person who makes you want to go out and strangle a recruiter for letting him into the Marines. None of us had any idea how he stuck past all the psychological screening and interviews. Spend five minutes with him and you want to go out and read a book or something just to feel smart again. Not only was he slow, but he didn’t even have heart to make up for it. He was a liability. To make matters worse, he’d been in the Marines for about twice as long as I had been, held the same rank as me, and still didn’t seem to have any idea what he was doing. Come to think of it, we had a lot of these people. Bozos that slowed us down.

“One dude was really quiet, but that may have been because he either recognized that he had no idea what he was talking about, or because his wife was a great deal larger than him and beat him a lot. It was so bad he called the cops on her once – which has to be the most embarrassing thing in the world. But she was scary, though. Even our platoon sergeant was afraid of her.

“He was one of those guys we called ‘retreads.’ In hindsight, almost ALL of the problematic troops in our unit were retreads. Those are the Marines that do four years and somehow escape with an honorable discharge. Yet then they get out into the real world and quickly discover they can’t hack it, and so they come running back into the Corps. But they’re basically useless to us, too. They were too unmotivated and clueless to hold leadership positions, but because they had the rank for it, they somehow ended up in charge of something – which is unbelievable. They were incapable of formulating a complete sentence, much less being combat leaders.

“So this jackass was out on an anti-tank rocket range one time, and instead of waiting for his a-gunner to clear the backblast, he fired before they gave him the command, and ended up knocking out a bunch of people him. A few, I’ve been told, were medically discharged for permanent, life-altering injuries. Then they sent him to us, which was a waste of our time. A few months later, he fell out of bed and broke his wrist. Yeah, I suppose we could have been disappointed to be down a man, but we were glad that we didn’t have to supervise him in a combat situation. He might have shot us by accident, too.

“There was this other guy who I swear had fetal alcohol syndrome – right down to his facial structure and mannerisms. He was always talking about smoking up and he’d end every sentence by punching you in the shoulder and saying, ‘you know what I’m saying?’ Thing is, we never had any CLUE what he was talking about. He mumbled too much. You’d swear he was drunk, or maybe high.

“We were in Iraq during one tour, and this idiot’s convoy gets hit with small arms and RPGs. Well, he’s so panicked and confused that he empties his machine gun in the OPPOSITE direction – into the desert. Later on, he insisted he heard something over there. I don’t know how he could have heard anything, what with the maevent that when one of my friends asked him about it, he pointed his machine gun at him and threatened to kill him. Naturally, they took it away and shipped him home in short order.

“But when we got back months later, he was still there. And you know what? They’d promoted him to sergeant. God only knows where he is now, but I pray he’s not in charge of anybody. He had no business being in the Corps. Or holding rank.

“There was another guy that used to sneak off all the time while we were on ship, burrow into the trash heap, and sleep away the day. He did it for weeks before anybody noticed he was gone all the time. When they finally found him, his muscles were atrophied, he smelled awful, and he even had open sores festering on his skin – mostly from being hunkered down in garbage all day. They had to supervise him showering for the rest of time we were on ship. Then we went into Iraq and they gave him a gun, which was just awesome.

“Of course, I had the guy in my unit that tried to exorcise one of the other Marines, but I’ve already told that story. He was a real whack job, to say the least. He did other stupid stuff, like lose his gear, not know what to do when we stopped the humvee, etc. He’d just stand there right in front of the missile tube, until somebody yelled at him to do something. Then he’d backtalk and say, “you don’t have to yell at me Corporal.” But we DID have to yell at him.

“We had one kid who I swear believed in werewolves and werejackals. In fact, he told people he’d refuse to go to Iraq until they let him buy a silver dagger to fend them off. He was terrified of the werejackals. He also thought he had a goblin living in his barracks room and stealing all his stuff. Obviously, it was his roommates hiding it from him, but he swore up and down that it was a goblin that followed him from his parents’ home into the Marine Corps and continued to haunt him. I can’t begin to describe how unbelievably retarded this guy was. He did too many weird things. He did a lot of mopping and sweeping for us. That was the only thing he really knew how to do – for five years. They’d sent him to us after he spit in some sergeant’s face. Maybe they sent ALL the dumb people to my unit.

“There was one young Marine who heard a rumor that if he had ten children in the state of North Carolina that they wouldn’t make him pay child support, so he was seriously aiming to have ten illegitimate kids. I think he had about six, last I heard. He’d drive around in a low-riding pickup truck with a turtle-top in the back. The whole thing was spraypainted gold, too. You know what he had in the back of the truck? A mattress; complete with red, satin sheets. You could seriously just walk out to the parking lot and stare at it. The funny thing is that as weird as he was, he was still a good Marine. The rest of them were just morons, though.

“We had other useless members of the unit, but none were quite as awful as these guys. Sure, we had a Marine that used to hide his trash in his wall locker during inspections. Then the locker would crash open during the inspection and spew trash all over the floor. Or the other guy that caught a fungus on his head from not bathing ever (in the states). Or the one who wore his helmet backwards sometimes (by accident). Or the one who lost his rifle on another base and forgot about it for a few hours. But they were all actually decent Marines when it came down to it. It was only the special ones that were detriments.

“I guess what I really want to know is this: with Marines like those in my unit, the wrong-way shooter, the abused husband, the exorcist, and the trash boy; how the hell do they consider us America’s finest? How the hell do they call us the tip of the spear? And how in God’s name have we won any wars at all? Seriously? We’re still better than the other guys? How? We’re chock full of idiots.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Farms Are For the Bees

Although I have never claimed to be a farm boy by any means, it still stands that at various times in my life I have found myself laboring hard on fence lines, mucking barns, or mowing fields. Yesterday found me mowing, raking, and pitching hay long overdue for a cut.

With the rains being what they were this spring, the grass in two small fields had reached an outrageous length and direly needed cutting. Furthermore, the clippings were so thick that they would require prompt removal to prevent smothering the live grass beneath. While tedious and at times arduous, it was a straightforward project. Mowing can only be so complicated.

But one of the sad facts of living in Central Virginia is the profusion of stinging, biting wasps and bees, many of which enjoy the seclusion of old logs, overgrown fields, low-lying branches, etc. Nearly every time I have undertaken a large mowing project, I have encountered a nest of these awful things – the hard way, which means not seeing their nest, mowing over it, and then getting immediately accosted by hundreds, if not thousands of bees all looking to singularly punish me for destroying their home. To say the very least, it is extremely painful. If I were to have a serious bee sting allergy, these attacks would easily kill me. Long story short, after years of accidentally mowing over yellow jacket nests, unintentionally disturbing old logs full of Japanese hornets, bumping branches with hornets nests, and even a few years of bad luck as a beekeeper, I am truly terrified of bees. I believe I would rather be shot at. Bullets hurt, just like bees stings do, but at least bullets aren’t mean and don’t chase me.

With this terror looming over my head, I undertook mowing yesterday. Thinking ahead, I wore long pants, boots and a thick shirt. Bees, yellow jackets especially, always manage to find their way into shirts, down pants, and occupying every shred of fabric one wears, commencing an elaborate dance that involves simultaneous sprinting and stripping. Though I cannot explain how, I have managed to move a few hundred feet in a matter of seconds, all the while clamoring out of a pair of pants. My hopes yesterday were that the pants I wore allowed no access to bees. I had tucked the cuffs into my boots. Clever me.

Though I was extremely skittish every time I saw any sort of winged insect, no bees attacked me as I mowed, leading me to the startling conclusion that after years of being stung here, they must have finally moved on. I should have withheld such presumptions until the end of the project. Three quarters of the field completed, I felt the familiar sharp pain of a sting to my arm, punctuated by another on my back a moment later. Next, the inside of my thigh. Panic set in. Run, drop clothing and kill whatever bees are still on me. Run FAST…

When I was a small child, our home would be frequented at random intervals by Jehovah’s Witnesses compelled to tell us about their faith. We always politely expressed disinterest, but they’d still persist. After a time, we discovered it was easier to simply let the Saint Bernard out and not answer the door. The dog, extremely big and loud, would keep them pinned in their car until they gave up and drove away. After a few more attempts met only with a large dog (which they never learned was a sweetheart), the Jehovah’s Witnesses gave up visiting us altogether. If I had to guess, they’d get together and say, “yeah, don’t bother going to that house; they have a huge, vicious dog and they never answer their door.” I realize it sounds discourteous, but it worked.

Well, after a 20 year hiatus, the Jehovah’s Witnesses chose to reattempt a visit to the house yesterday, and two well-dressed men and one woman were stepping from their car just as I streaked by, fleeing bees in terror.

When being chased by bees, I instinctively run for the house. There are fly swatters there, mirrors, showers, changes of clothing, and usually people there to assist me with getting the bees off of me. Yesterday, unfortunately, there were Jehovah’s Witnesses. But I had not simply shed my shirt this time. I was wearing pants that, while tucked in at the cuffs, had a button fly which apparently invited bees to swarm in. In horror, pain, and panic, I had flung them down to my ankles, beaten my groin with my hands to kill whatever I could see, and then proceeded to drop my shorts to kill those that I had missed. All this at a dead sprint, and my pants flailing out behind me. They were, after all, still tucked into my boots.

So when I ran through the parking lot, this is what the nice Jehovah’s Witnesses saw: a tall, pasty white guy, naked save for boots and inside-out pants flopping behind him, flagellating himself mercilessly with open hands, shrieking, cursing, and racing for the house. Additionally, I’m covered in Latin tattoos, so I look like a Vatican billboard.

So consumed I was with slapping bees off myself, I didn’t notice them until I was virtually upon them. In embarrassment I turned around immediately and headed back towards the field and the swarms of bees. I wish for no accusations of being a pervert. I heard but one remark behind me as I ran: “Oh my LORD!”

After some more running, smacking and stinging, I mostly got rid of the yellow jackets on me. I sought refuge in some bushes until the Jehovah’s Witnesses opted to leave (which was quickly), removed my inside-out pants (I could still hear the occasional bee in there), jumped up and down on them brutally, and stumped back to the house naked to nurse at least three dozen bee stings.

This is not the first time this has happened, by any means. Nor is it probably the last. This is, however, the first time that the whole ordeal has been witnessed by people who are completely unaware of what is happening and what I am doing. The stings certainly hurt, and between that, the Benadryl and the painkillers, I’m feeling dopey and disagreeable. But the worst part is that I’m fairly confident that the Jehovah’s Witnesses won’t be visiting for another twenty years. Yet there’ll be no mention of a dog. No doubt they’re saying, “don’t go to THAT house; naked people will chase you.” And that, alas, is not how I wish to be remembered in this community.

*This post is fiction.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Coming Soon...

Farms Are For the Bees

Monday, May 25, 2009

We, The Memorial

While listening to the radio last week in the midwest, I heard an advertisement reminding listeners that Memorial Day is a time to remember our loved ones and that we should honor them by giving blood. Yesterday, another ad frenetically raved that this weekend heralded their annual “tent event,” and they would be selling cars at deep discounts. A third announcement reminded us all to be safe as we kicked off our summers with a cookout. A fourth admonished us to buckle our seatbelts. All I could think about was Eddie.

The mission went completely to hell when one of our humvees was engulfed in the fireball from a carbomb, but we were relieved to learn a few minutes later those inside sustained only relatively minor injuries and had been evacuated. Eddie, before the debris even settled from the explosion, had led two more humvees off in search of a triggerman, tearing north along the Euphrates River and quickly searching any suspicious persons as they continued. Moments later, both of their vehicles were devastatingly hit by a “daisy-chain” IED. As the survivors tried to save the dying, one humvee lay burning and the other badly damaged, we lost radio contact.

An hour later, the platoon commander gathered the remnants of our unit for debriefing. We were missing multiple humvees, personnel, and unsure what had happened to them all. He began to speak quietly:

“Anthony took a piece of shrapnel into the back of his head, but he’s going to be okay. Jake got some in the face, but he’ll be fine, too.”

He paused and looked completely miserable.

“Ron got hit with shrapnel and a bullet in his shoulder and they’ve already evacuated him. He’ll be alright once they dig out the metal. But Eddie…”

His lip trembled.

“…Eddie didn’t make it.”

He had died doing what he loved and for those he loved - many of whom he never met.

It is written that, “greater love hath no man than this; that a man lay down his life for his friends.” How much more his love, I should think, that a man lay down his life for a stranger. I can fathom no higher honor.

When I think of Memorial Day, I think of Eddie, and the roughly 623,000 men and women who have died similarly violent, premature deaths in service to this country. More than a sea of tombstones, though, I see an irrevocably changed nation.

I see children growing up without a father, wives painfully aware of how empty their houses have suddenly become, fathers overcome with grief as they bury the broken bodies of their sons and daughters – legacies that were meant to long outlive their parents. I see a nation bent in mourning for her youngsters but standing proud for having produced men and women of such selfless character.

This holiday doesn’t mark a long weekend, a huge sale or a backyard cookout. Instead, it is a solemn day of freedom, one purchased at high cost. Yet those who deserve the honor are no longer with us to receive it.

We, this land, the flags on tombstones and flying in parades, the families of the fallen, the widows and widowers – this free nation is the memorial; a living, breathing one. We dwell in a place of perpetual gratitude and debt.

Let us remember today, let us fall silent, let us set an empty place at our tables for those still missing. Let us mourn the great expense of our freedom, and celebrate those who were willing to pay for it. And in our somber quiet, let us pray for peace, make ready for war, and always remember.

Thomas Jefferson once wrote that, “The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time, with the blood of patriots and tyrants.” Tragically, he is correct. In the past week, more than five patriots have paid the ultimate price. Today, I will be thinking of Eddie.

“It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us—that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that the government : of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.” - Abraham Lincoln, Gettysburg, PA, Nov 19th 1863

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw, All Rights Reserved

Sunday, May 24, 2009

I'm Home Now

The highway exit’s dining selection was scarce, so I opted for the non-chain restaurant of the two. An enormous egg adorned the side of the building – and it was wearing an apron, had arms, legs, a human face, and was waving invitingly to all enter. The lighted sign overhead read “Egg Shoppe.”

Despite the extremely late hour, six employees move hurriedly throughout the place – busying themselves with unknown tasks. At the far booth sit out-of-towners. They have no accents, dress oddly, and though there appears to be two men and three women, they actually have only one woman in their midst. Inexplicably, an oversized moleskine notebook sits on their table. Complete with elastic band and black faux leather bindings, it was the size of a photo album – and what one might expect to see in a Dr. Seuss story. They break into giggling frequently. They’re definitely not locals. At the far end of the restaurant, an old man sits bolt upright in his booth and stares at me. I do not stare back.

The diner door swings open roughly and a drunk man staggers in singing. Maybe 25, covered in tattoos and earrings in both ears, he’s immediately followed by a girl in jeans and a Realtree camouflage coat. She and another friend – an extremely heavyset girl still in her mid-teens (and wearing a spandex outfit), closely supervise Daryl as he slumps heavily into the booth behind me. As he lands, he rams his elbow into me unintentionally and begins the first of four sincere, drunken apologies. I inform him it’s no big deal and he begins to prattle.

“Is that a Dodge?” he says hopefully, staring out the diner window.

“Oh,” he growls a moment later, “it’s a goddam Chevrolet.”

“Daryl, SHUT UP! We shoulda’ just took you home.”

“Why, woman?” He directed his attention to the waitress behind the counter.

“Can I get a Bud?”

“I WISH we done had ‘em here” she called back.
Realtree camouflage girl walks over to the jukebox with spandex girl and five minutes later the entire diner, excluding myself, is singing along to Hank Williams, Jr. Gretchen Wilson’s “Redneck Woman” plays next and this time Daryl makes up his own lyrics, sufficiently crass that Realtree camouflage girl clamps her hand over his mouth. I can still make out the clever lines, which very involve private acts in very public places. He switches to singing about runny eggs.

“Where’s MY plate,” he whines to the waitress.

“It’s comin,’ sweetie. Real soon.”

The girl in the Realtree camouflage jacket leans forward yet again.

"Shut UP, Daryl! There's cops coming in!"

The group with the giant moleskine notebook started roaring with laughter again. Something about pickle races and vomiting onto Baby on Board signs. The out-of-towners pay and leave as the four cops take their seats by the bathroom door.

"It ain't no thing. I'm gonna go over there and piss."

"Like HELL you ain't. You're damn drunk!"

"They'll never know."

"You been sangin' about beer and runny eggs since we got here. They'll know."

“My uncle’s a cop.”

Another man sitting nearby felt the need to pipe up at this point. “It don’ matter, son. They’ll still jail your ass. Hey, y’all goin’ south tonight?”

Realtree girl indicates that they were.

“Well, watch out up through there. They got some real nasty law dogs up down [sic] there.”

Daryl wanders off to do his pissing, and ends up standing, swaying, and reeking of booze right next to the cops’ table. They smile and greet him and he somehow avoids a “dumb in public” citation. Realtree is still paranoid and continues talking to spandex in his absence.

“We should just pay and leave. I got money. I’m so scared of cops.”

Spandex girl whispers something incomprehensible and then I hear, “shh! He’s a MARINE!”

Daryl returns to his seat and attempts to tell our end of the diner about his bathroom experience and how he fooled “them cops.” More “shut ups.”

The guy across the aisle pipes up again. “Y’all goin’ up down [again, sic] to the river this weekend to fish and drink?”

Daryl moans. “Aw hell no. I’m never drinking again. I just wanna drive home and sleep.”

“Like shit you drivin,’” Realtree camouflage interjects. “I’ll drive, and you’re parking your truck.”

“Aw come on. Everybody drinks and drives around here. Everybody!” He starts getting loud. Realtree hits him and he amends his argument.

“Um, whenever we drink around here, we always walk. It’s safer.”

The doors opens again and a middle-aged man wearily trudges in. His baggy jeans look several sizes too large, and they’re tucked into his enormous rubber boots. His face is blackened with coal dust and streaked with the occasional stream of sweat from his temples. He looks exhausted. His son, covered in tattoos and piercings and probably 17 years old, sits across from him in silence. Neither of them utter a word for as long as I was in the restaurant.

Daryl also quiets, prompting sarcastic remarks from spandex girl.

“You gonna throw up now? You had enough?”

I wonder if it’s occurred to her that Daryl, sitting directly across from her, will be throwing up onto HER. It’s time to go.

As I pay, the four cops, ignoring the drunks and everybody else, stare at me intently. As I leave the Egg Shoppe, a fifth police officer pulls up hurriedly. Leaping from the car, the attractive female officer slams the door, lays her hands on her sidearm, and storms into the diner. Daryl must have just thrown up.

It’s 2:47AM and I’m home now.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved