Wednesday, December 19, 2007

IN MEMORIUM

JACOB McMILLAN
14JULY1981 - 20DECEMBER2006














As I explained in my earlier blog, I am going to continue to chronicle my exploits from the deployment here (and eventually, the totality of it all, as well as the previous five years of my military life, will be put together in a book).

Today, it is especially important, not just for me, but for many.

Today is the anniversary of a soldier’s death. That soldier is SSG Jacob McMillan.

I can only recount what I know of SSG McMillan (or Mac, as he was commonly referred) from my own memory. I first met Mac when he joined the Brigade PSD team (Personal Security Detachment). I was in the 1-501st PSD as one of the section leaders and trained alongside Mac as we were indoctrined into the program.














Mac was tall and skinny, but with a commanding presence. He was in the kind of shape most of us want to be in. He was exceptionally athletic and competed and trained in the Army combatives program. He had also studied martial arts before that and was always eager to spar.

Mac had a devilish charm, which was accompanied by striking good looks. Mac had no trouble pulling in the ladies. He had a deep, almost grainy voice, an instantly recognizable voice.

What struck me most about Mac was his professionalism. Mac looked like that heroic soldier that we all aspire to be. Strong, agile, smart, handsome, and tough. When he spoke of military tactics and training, you listened. There was no doubt in what he had to say.

In short, Mac not only looked the part of a soldier, but lived it. Mac had been to Afghanistan before, with the 10th mountain division.He often talked about a friend (whom he referred to as his “brother”) who was killed there.

I trusted Mac. I felt that he was always someone that would be straight with me and someone that I could count on. In the end, it was always so. When he talked about some of the things he’d been through, I listened, especially when it came to losing a soldier or a friend. It was a fear I had never had to face, as my prior deployment I was just a joe, in charge of no one but myself. Now, I was a leader and I had soldiers to worry about.

The irony would end up being that his own advice would come back to haunt me.

When we were finally deployed and running missions for our respective PSD’s, I would see less and less of Mac. However, anytime our paths crossed, usually on mission, I would always feel that I was in the presence of someone special.

Mac was like the cool/bad kid on the block. He had that edge. He was that guy you wanted to think that you were cool and to hang out with. You were careful what you said around him and sometimes tried too much to try and get into his circle. You wanted Mac to like you, if even just to grab onto some of his charm.

During his time in Iraq, Mac met and fell for a female interpreter at his FOB (Forward Operating Base). He showed me a letter she had written him and she was clearly smitten with him.

Mac talked about going on leave with her and taking it to the next level. He had already gotten in trouble for seeing this girl. He was reprimanded and basically forced to not see her anymore. But, in true Mac form, he never gave up. Mac would sneak off in the darkness and visit with this girl, hiding away from prying eyes and keeping the flame alive.

It was true to his spirit. Mac had a lot of heart and a lot of drive. Mac was the embodiment of a free spirit.

What follows is my journal entry, written the day after Mac’s death. Some of the terms may be confusing, as I didn’t explain acronyms and the like to my own journal. I share it for the accuracy of not only the day as I remember it, but also for the truth in my own thoughts, feelings, and reactions to the loss of a fellow soldier and a friend.

DECEMBER 21, 2006 22:12 Hours

God, a month has disappeared and I’ve written nothing. Well, that’s not entirely true, as I have been working on my memoir, but much has been lost in my experiences here.

Up until yesterday it was very much like Groundhog Day. My b
iggest concern was getting itunes to work on my computer with wireless Internet.

Yesterday was the
shittiest day so far in this deployment. Yesterday many of my fears were realized and I was left with the knowledge I never wanted. Yesterday I learned what it felt like to lose someone you knew…someone you never expected to die.

I have to start from the beginning. It was supposed to be a day off; a day of classes and down-time. Then came the call down from the LTC that we were going to roll to Jurf. A-co had been hit by an IED.

The call came down that there were 3 wounded (in truth it was more). Then, came the news that a soldier was dead from an electrocution on the site. Apparently, the IED had split some electrical wires and the soldier grabbed an ungrounded pole and was shocked.


SPC Dykman was worked on for an hour to revive, but ultimately died. I didn’t know him personally and couldn’t place a face to the name.


We waited all day
to finally leave and left around 1600. We arrived at Jurf and the LTC and CSM did their BDA. PJ and I stood there and chatted in the cold. I ran into Carman and Gilbert and talked to them a little. I put my guys in the towers to give the A-co guys some rest.

Then, another call came in. The Scouts were hit, somewhere near BDE’s AO. PJ ran back and fort
h for the SIPR updates. SSG Gray had been hit with shrapnel in his arm, but was ok. IED on MSR Tampa.

Then, came the news that someone had died in that explosion. I was relieved it wasn’t someone in the 501st. I asked if PJ knew who it was. He didn’t.


We waited for a few more hours, letting the LTC and CSM do their thing and then, finally around 2130, we left. The ride back was uneventful and we pulled back into the FOB.


I had it in my head to smoke Fagan and Cooper, as I had noticed that the windows in the vehicles were dirty on the way out. Little details that could cost a life.


I called them into the office after everyone had downloaded and began conducting vehicle maintenance. I told them to get down and proceeded to lecture them on why they w
ere pushing. I tried to tell them how the little details made the biggest difference.

Then Mike knocked on the door, irritating me. He
motioned for PJ. “Hey, can I talk to you for a sec?” PJ walked out, closing the door behind him. I continued to smoke the team leaders, filling them with the fuel I felt they needed to make sure these deficiencies wouldn’t come about again.

Then, the door opened again. PJ stood there, tears in his ey
es.
“Hey…Mac. Mac,” he said, then turned away.
“What? Are you serious?” My chest burned. Coop, in his smart ass way, looks to me, “You see those tears in his eyes? He’s serious.”

My contempt towards Coop was short lived.

“Take care of your soldiers,” I said and sent them on their way.

I was in a state of shock. I walked out to PJ. He was shaken and upset.
“Fuck, I’m so pissed,” he said in anger.


And we stood around the office, just staring. We stared and said nothing, not knowing what to say. I’d never encountered anything like this befor
e. I kept picturing Mac, that smile on his face, always so cool and calm.

I had just seen him a few days before, that same smile on his face. He walked into the office and immediately drew two stick figures butt fucking and drew his and PJ’s name on them.

I thought of the letter he had shown me of the interpreter chick he was falling for over at Kalsu. She was head over heels for him. I thought of him sparring with PJ. Showing me his tribal tattoo and talking about what he was gonna have added to it.

I thought, that this was a man, a good man, a friend, that was now gone. And I pictured the rest of the BDE PSD guys and I knew they were hurting. I knew what a tremendous loss this was to them.

PJ was and is beyond upset over this. They were really great friends and sparring partners. CSM Knight gave him a hug and expressed his concern. LTC Balcavage did the same. Although I was visibly upset, they didn’t attempt this with me. It was awkward.


SSG Trampush was there
as well and he had tears in his eyes. And then another SSG (I can’t remember his name) showed up. He was looking for PJ like a man on a mission. He walked up to the office and you could tell all he wanted was confirmation. He looked at PJ and then turned away.
He knew and that was enough.
We took the next day off and then the air was RED (meaning Medevac status was RED, which means we go NOWHERE). Eventually, we totaled out to nearly four days off, although each day we had something scheduled.

A fog had rolled in and stopped us
in our tracks. It was like a strange omen.














Here is the epitaph that was written in Mac’s service, both in-country
and back home:

Staff Sergeant Jacob McMillan was born on July 14, 1981 in Louisiana. He joined the Army in August 1999 and attended OSUT and Basic Airborne School at Fort Benning, Georgia.

SSG McMillan was reported to 1st Battalion, 508th Airborne Infantry at Camp Ederle, Italy in April 2000, where he served as a SAW gunner, RTO, Rifleman, and M240B Gunner. In April 2002 SSG McMillan was reassigned to 2nd Battalion, 87th Infantry, Fort Drum, New York, where he served as a Team Leader.


SSG McMillan was reassigned to 1st Battalion, 501st Parachute Infantry Regiment at Fort Richardson, Alaska in February 2004, where he served as a Squad Leader in Apache Company. In April 2006 SSG McMillan was reassigned to Headquarters and Headquarters Company, 4th Brigade Combat Team (Airborne), 25th Infantry Division at Fort Richardson, Alaska, where he served as the Personal Security Detachment Section Leader.


SSG McMillan’s awards include the Bronze Star Medal, the Purple Heart, the Army Commendation Medal with one Oak Leaf Cluster, Good Conduct Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, NCO Professional Development Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Ranger Tab, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Infantry Badge, and Parachutist Badge.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

The Gift of a Christmas Blog

Christmas Shenanigans (Now and Then)


















Ah, that time of the year…everyone is draining their bank accounts and hitting the “fuck it” button in their brains to anything and everything. Excess is in full tilt boogie as we fumble with our terrible present wrapping skills while eating not-worth-the-calories sugar cookies and listening to John Tesh tell holiday tales to warm your heart and make you barf at the same time.

But, was Christmas always this way? In a word; yes. And it always will be, hopefully.

(NOW)

I love Christmas. Just about everyone I know does. It’s that perfect holiday where, even if you aren’t a Christian you find yourself putting all your efforts into getting something special for someone or many someone’s. You finally have an excuse to think of someone other than yourself and you can use it as ammunition for the rest of the year or to try and justify a trip to heaven when your clock stops ticking.

Last year I wrote to Santa and asked if he could arrange for me to keep all my limbs and to return home safely (thanks, Santa!). So, this year, I get the ultimate excuse to jump into the pool of Christmas excess and spend like a hillbilly that just won the lottery. Except I’m not buying a hot tub for my trailer.

I wanted to take on this holiday season with a heightened sense of spirit and joy. I wanted to make it as perfect as possible, saying yes to everything, not caring about cost or consequence.


Then, I went to put up the fucking Christmas lights.

Of course, we made a plan with certain goals in mind, a certain ‘look’ if you will. All white dangly ones, along the eave of the house and the trim, creating that not-quite-tacky Griswald feel of some truly motivated Christmas spirit…

So, here I am, dressed for success in the cold, standing in the garage, and I’m going to do this shit right this year. No fuckin’ around. I’m gonna lay the lights out, test them to make sure they are all good, and then I am going to systematically make this house glow with enough Christmas glee to make Chris Rock never swear again.

I lay out the lights, undoing every tie, taking them out of the plastic ever so gently, taking this bitch on like a pro. That’s it. I am a professional Christmas light installer-guy. I am the fucking best. I got this shit.

Look at how smart and professional I am. I have all the lights laid out in a row, side-by-side, ready for their inspection. Probably because I’m in the military, that’s why I do it like this, like a smart, meticulous killer. Thanks, Army! You even help me with Christmas decorating!

I’m plugging in the lights, making sure they work. I give a hearty, stern nod as each plugged in strand passes my test. We run into one that does not. I set that one aside, congratulating myself on doing it this way, making sure I didn’t hang duds. I am so fucking good.

Lights are tested. Ready to be hung. I stand before my opus, about to begin. The twirling lights in my head start…twirling…like a nuclear plant breach alarm. Gotta do this right. I start to think about which end will go where when I start stapling these bitches up.

I already screwed that up once this year with the Christmas tree. When I was done with the tree the male-end of the plug was by the star. It’s times like that when you truly wonder, “Did I really just do that? How do I think I’m smart when I do something so freaking retarded? Something that I would laugh at a child for doing…also, why are my pants on backwards? Need some more Arbor mist…”

Anyways, that mistake would not be repeated. It was a minor hiccup. We don’t dwell on such things. They will impede progress. Forward.

I start to get giddy with excitement when I think about how I’m going to get the lights up on the eave of the house (which is on top of the garage). I had thought of it while driving home from work and, once again, I am congratulating myself on what a crafty and handy young man I am. I am that guy you want on the island when you are stranded.

I am Locke on Lost. I even have knives. No shaved head, though. Also, my dad never tried to kill me. Oh, and I never killed my dad. Oh, man if you haven’t seen Season 3, I just ruined that shit for you…

…Where was I? Ah, my idea. Ingenious. Because I don’t have a tall enough ladder, I will BACK MY TRUCK UP, put the ladder in the bed of the truck and viola! I am hanging lights WAY HIGH. All this in a ten-minute drive home.

I get the stapler. Check the level of staples. Get extras ready. Lots of lights to hang. We have work ahead of us. No bullshit. No driving back and forth to the store. One stop, one job, and that’s it.

I pull the truck back and park it perfectly under the eave. I’m smiling. “Nice.” I grab the ladder and put it in the bed of the truck. Moment of truth. I rock it a little. It’s holding. By God, it’s holding. I get in the bed and climb up the ladder and test my reach. Perfect. Fucking perfect. I am SO the man.

I grab the first strand of lights. I grab the stapler. I take one last look around. I’m ready. This is it. Let’s begin. But first…which end goes up first?

Okay, if I hang this end up first…then, it will plug into…waitaminute…okay…this end in first…then it plugs into the next strand…so, I’d staaaaart…fuck…okay…this end plugs into this end…but…what the fuck? Where the fuck is the other plug? What the…? Oh, you’re fucking kidding me…

This is where sudden realization sets in. When suddenly you realize that you have been HAD and by HAD I mean taken, like lobotomized by aliens and shit…

And I blame it all on the creative genius that designed Christmas lights for Home Depot’s deliciously titled “Home Accents” line of Christmas lights…What follows is a trip into this genius’ head after completing this masterful strand of lights:

“Man, these lights rock the house so much, they don’t even NEED to connect to the next strand of lights. They are perfect on their own. They are individuals. These lights need a fucking name, they are that good. I like Randy. Randy, you are an individual and you do NOT have to listen to any stupid ass customer that wants to connect you to another strand of lights so that he can have the convenience of using only one plug. No, sir-ree, you are on your own. Go get ‘em Randy!”

I can’t believe this. I must have overlooked something. I just missed a step, that’s all. But no. I grab another strand. No, it’s true. They do not connect. In no way, in no form, in no strange coincidence of fate or magic will these strands connect to one another to create one long, beautiful stand of Christmas lit joy that will shine from my house and out to the heavens inspiring all those who drive by my humble home, reminding them of the joys of Holidays and that, “Oh yes, it is Christmas and it is a wonderful time of the year and…oh, shit, I’ve got to get to Wal-Mart and get Guitar Hero 3 before they sell out and my kid burns down the Christmas tree…”

I am standing there. My truck is parked under the garage. A small ladder sits in the bed of the truck, ready to do it’s job. I am dressed in full-on winter gear, ready to fight the cold until the job at hand is complete. My stapler is full of staples.

And my five hundred feet of lights will not connect to one another. They are individuals. Each special. A beautiful and unique snowflake. Unique and useless all at the same time.

Suddenly, I am hoping that none of the neighbors are watching. Suddenly, I’m hoping that none of them have been watching from the beginning. I can see them now, watching from their windows, gathering the family to watch the war vet hang his Christmas lights to see if he cracks, if he can do it, if he remembers how to plug shit in and hang shit.

They make egg nog, put on music, giggle at my every hiccup, gasp at my daring, and marvel at my genius. And then, look at that, he has given up. He has stopped. He’s…what’s he doing? He’s…Oh no. Oh my God, honey, will you look at that? Will you look at this moron? Oh my God, he bought lights that don’t connect. Honey, get the camera. Oh man…this is too much…Kids, do you see this? This is a lesson in poor planning kids…learn from this…learn from this buffoon…This is what makes the difference in life…this is what sets you apart from losers…and that man…he is a loser.

Suddenly, I’m the American version of Mr. Bean.

I quietly and purposefully begin to collect up my things. I hang the stapler back up, put the ladder back in its corner…

…but wait…what about…last year’s lights? Fireworks are going off where my brain lives. I yank open the box that houses our old lights. There they are. A tangled mess…but there they are nonetheless.

I take them out…quickly go through my steps…fuck it…they work. I don’t hesitate. This will be good enough. It’s not the “all-white” look we were going for, but whatever…it’s Christmas…they’re lights…deal.

They’ve got the big color bulbs with the hanging white icicles. It’ll look great. It’ll work. I grab the ladder. Put it back on the truck. I check the lights one last time. They’ll plug in. By God, these will plug in and I can create the masterpiece strand!

I am renewed. I am full of confidence. I am ready to do this shit. I start to step up onto my truck. A loud POP fills the air. I hit the deck and push some snow up to form some cover, pulling out my knife and facing out, never missing a beat. The round must’ve come from across the street…where…

Oh…I’m not in Iraq. I’m in Alaska. I’m safe. Not many snipers in Alaska. Or people who speak Arabic for that matter. I get up. The neighbors are loving this. I see multiple camera flashes from multiple windows. Suddenly, I’m a celebrity on the cover of US Weekly.

I look down at my foot and see the shattered bulb of one of the lights. I quit.

I’m not nice about it. I yank the ladder down, shove it in its corner and slam-dunk the shitty strand of lights into the aluminum garbage can. I jump in my truck and pull it back into its parking spot. I head to the garage and start to close the garage door. I give the neighbors a view of my full moon, twig and berry’s as the door slowly closes shut.

Merry Christmas, you bastards!

(THEN)

As a kid, Christmas means so much more because it’s that one time when you get to get that BIG GIFT, that one thing you’ve been dreaming about all year. That thing that your mom always says “Maybe for Christmas,” while you’re pulling every string you’ve got to get that shit in July.

So, you plot and plan, like Ralphie with that fucking Red Ryder B.B. gun, you do everything you can to secure that mega gift. For me, growing up with two brothers, everything was about He-Man, G.I. Joe and Transformers. Well, it was for me.

For us, the ultimate gift was a base. Every year, the major themes would release a base for your action figures…a Mecca of bases to end all bases…every year they got bigger. It all started with Castle Greyskull of He-Man fame. Two big molded pieces of plastic that folded open to form a base, with platforms and traps and all the trimmings.

I’m sure most dads dreaded these things because putting them together was a bitch. They looked pretty badass on the cover. Painted like a Boris ‘Death Dealer’ poster, the base looked like the coolest thing on earth. Then you opened the box to a bunch of plastic pieces and an instruction manual from hell. “Here you go dad. Put this shit together while I play with my lite brite…and hurry it up will ya.”

We had all the bases. Caste Greyskull, Snake Mountain, and every G.I. Joe base you could name, except the Aircraft Carrier, which I don’t think any kid ever got in the history of kids. That thing was unattainable. It was all for show, I was convinced.

I can still see it now, sitting on the top shelf at Toys R Us…You would have to call an associate to come and get that thing down…with a metal push ladder…A crew would have to carry it out…and it had the ultimate price tag…the unforgivable price tag of death…ONE HUNDRED DOLLARS!

Oh, you heard me right. In my house, you were looking at a hundred bucks being spent on you TOTAL for Christmas. To get that thing alone is just…unheard of. But, a boy can dream can’t he? One year, I did get the mega cobra base, which fanboys will know as “The Terror Drome.” This thing had it all, including an opening at the top that housed a mini-jet. Seriously, how badass is that?


For me, the childhood Christmas ended on two counts: One, in the fourth grade when I got my mom to confess that Santa wasn’t real (she killed this myth with a hushed and simple “No, he’s not real”). And two, when I stopped getting bases for Christmas and started getting cologne. That was it. Childhood was over. Welcome to adulthood…neckties and moustache trimmers, ahoy! (I have never received either of those items, but have bought them for my step dad and just now realized how much it would suck to get either of those things and man, I do not ever want to be a grown up.)

My brother would always ask for the same thing every year. A remote controlled vehicle of some sort. Every year, it was the newest, coolest, fastest whatever that you could remote control.

The commercials sure sold that shit well…two enigmatic kids (boys hyper on sugar) who had the BEST fucking area to roll their RCV (remote controlled vehicle…I’m not typing that shit every time I want to mention it, so log that acronym now, please), complete with trees, mud, water, hills, and man, look at that thing fly and turn in slo-mo! Must-have-RCV-now-or-will-die.

So, every year, my brother gets the newest, latest craze in RCV’s and we run outside to test it out, like Raphie with that B.B. gun, because we can’t wait a second to see this thing cruise and careen all over the place (just like the commercials!) and we stand and watch and marvel at…

…This hunk of shit, stuck on a pebble in the driveway. Surely, there must be something more…something deeper to this minor snafu…but, no…no…oh, and look, yeah, there it goes over a dip in the front yard, falling over, stuck, wheels spinning in the air…

I stand there with my brother, his hand on the remote and he seems unfazed. He has seen this before. Last Christmas. With that hunk of shit that is sitting at the bottom of the toy bin. He will work through this. I can’t watch anymore. It’s too sad. I have to leave.

I have a base to put together.

I’ve never had a ‘bad’ Christmas. It’s always been fun and joyous and filled with anticipation. It has evolved over the years and will continue to so (as I get older…and… evolve).

However, one thing that has changed is my Christmas will. Yes, the will to not peek at my presents or even actively search them out to spoil the surprise. Today, I am perfectly content with having no idea what I may or may not get. I don’t even submit any kind of wishes unless asked. I will leave it up to the giver.

But as a kid…Man, I was in full on peek mode. My brother and I (we usually left the youngest out of our shenanigans, because the youngest is always the tattle tale) would come home from school in early December and begin ‘Operation: Find the Presents’ and commence the hunt.

It was never that hard of a search. My mom usually just buried the goods in her closet. Perhaps she trusted us or perhaps she just didn’t care to hide it. Perhaps she figured that if her sons wanted to spoil their Christmas then just let the little shitheads have at it.

And have at it we did. We were like Indiana Jones and that foreign dude he always works with, exploring a cave, looking for treasure;

Foreign Dude: Indy, I have found something!
Indy: Whatdya got, Foreign dude?
Foreign Dude: Indy, I believe I have found one of the lost treasures of Wal-Mart!
Indy: (inspecting item) Hmmm…Looks like a Transformer…Wave One…’Starscream’ I believe he’s called…this will look perfect in my museu-uh, room.
Foreign Dude: And look there, Indy…At the top of this shelf…could it be? Could it possibly be the almighty Cobra Terror Drome with Firebat and Pilot?
Indy: (looking on in awe) Foreign Dude, I think we have hit the jackpot…This could be the base we’ve been looking for all our lives…Imagine the Joe battles we will have…Imagine the adult that will have to build this and put the stickers on…Imagine the pieces we will lose in the first week…but the adventures…the adventures will live on forever!
Foreign Dude: Indy, quick, I think mom just pulled into the driveway!
Indy: Shit, close this up…and get to your room…you must act like nothing is wrong!

Of course it wasn’t always that easy. Sometimes, we’d have gifts that arrived in the mail, already wrapped and secure from our prying eyes. Or so they thought.

God bless kids being home by themselves after school when parents are at work! You have a good couple of hours to cause mischief that could in no way be covered in just a paragraph of this little story. Some other time. But, God bless it nonetheless!

In that time, my brother (a.k.a. Foreign Dude) and I would take turns UNWRAPPING the presents (usually in the bathroom…the only place of privacy for an adolescent) and ogling the goods before REWRAPPING them and placing them back under the tree.

We would keep watch over one another, having a special knock (which always degraded into “Hurry up, Mom’s home!”) to warn us of those pesky parents. Perhaps that’s why I’m such a good present wrapper today…I have been trained in the art of being a present spy, wrapping and rewrapping to conceal any thought that a child has already opened and peeked the booty.

At one point we got really bold. Sitting at home after school one day (Bless the Freedom! Bless the mischief!) A knock came to the door. We opened the door and welcomed the knock in and fed it cheerios and then burned it with an iron and pulled its legs off and then buried it in the backyard. Stupid knock.

The knock turned out to be a UPS guy with two big boxes from our estranged father. Our estranged father always sent the coolest shit, (estranged fathers either send the BEST shit or nothing at all…we were lucky.) stuff that would make all the other kids jealous. He packed it up in such a way that the gifts just seemed to BLOOM out of other gifts. You would turn over a G.I. Joe and there, on the other side, a box of Nerds, Holy Shit…and attached to the box of Nerds is a Pez dispenser! Holy Freaking Blooming Christmas Present, Batman!

Anyways, we have these two big boxes sitting in the living room, filled with what we knew would be the best gifts of the season. My brother and I stared at these boxes in wonderment and quickly reverted to our alter-egos, Indy and Foreign Dude:

Foreign Dude: Indy, what do you think is inside?
Indy: Something magnificent, Foreign Dude. Something awesome.
Foreign Dude: Alas, we will have to wait until Christmas day to find out what surprises await…
Indy: (thinking for a moment) Maybe not…
Foreign Dude: You have an idea?
Indy: Well, nobody knows these boxes are here…Estranged Father usually wraps all the gifts he sends…We could open these boxes, peek the presents and then simply put them under the tree…Our parental unit will never know…and if she ever asks if we received a box from estranged father…we simply tell her that we did receive a box and that the presents were put under the tree…she’ll never know the wiser.
Foreign Dude: Indy, you are a genius!
Indy: Get a knife…and be careful…we must make sure this isn’t a trap…

We opened the boxes gingerly and sure enough, all the gifts were wrapped. We took them out and studied each one, experts at guessing what was behind each meticulously wrapped gift.

Foreign Dude: I believe this one to be a G.I. Joe…individual figure…with a large accessory pack…
Indy: I think you’re right…this one here, though…a complete mystery…Heavy, boxed in…could be a game…possibly some type of sporting good…amazing…

In the midst of our shenanigans, I came up with another brilliant idea. Since my mom had not been home to receive these boxes and to inventory them, she would have no clue as to what was supposed to be inside. Estranged father would dare not call and demand accountability. So, that being said…who would notice one or two or three presents missing from this little shipment? Who says you can’t have a little early present opening ceremony during the first week of December?

And so it was to be that my brother and I would sleep with a suspiciously new toy (or three) in our beds that night (hey, kids sleep with toys...I don’t know). It’s hard enough for parent’s to feed, cloth, and make sure homework is done that there’s no way they can keep an accurate count of what your latest toys are. They’re good, but not that good.

Nowadays, although the great PEEK WAR of my childhood is over, there is still room for shenanigans. Even though they come in different forms, such as eating all of my wife’s chocolate from the chocolate advent calendar or putting elf costumes on my dogs, there is always room for shenanigans.

As I look back on the life altering events of the past year of my life I can be nothing but grateful for this Christmas and the excess that it brings. I will spoil my family and myself with glee and reflect on the days of old, when things were so different and mysterious, when Indy and his Foreign Friend reined supreme…when someone else put my toys together…when the anticipation for Christmas morning was asthma inducing…when there were plenty of surprises to ruin…

…when shenanigans were king…

…and I didn’t have to hang the Christmas lights.














MERRY CHRISTMAS!

Friday, November 30, 2007




THE LAST DAY





“The last day. It’s hard to believe it’s here. Just like Afghanistan, it seemed like it would never get here and now that it’s here I’m left to wonder where all the time went. I haven’t allowed myself to get excited or to anticipate leaving in any way, which may be why I am not overflowing with joy.

I am happy to be leaving to be sure, but it’s never what you’d expect. There is a connection to this place now, one that can never be undone. Like a scar it will be with me forever, a reminder of what my life once was. It is the quintessential moment in all war stories; when the battle is over do you rejoice or do you cry?

I would never want to stay here, but there is that connection again. As much as I hate it, this place is now intertwined with me and me with it.”


- except from personal journal, dated 17 November 2007.

Because it needs to be said and because it will answer many questions that I will field in the coming year, this is being written to provide some insight into the frame of mind of a soldier returning from war. I have many experiences to share, but cannot and will not attempt to cover them all here. That is being put into a much larger body of work that I look forward to sharing with everyone once complete. In the meantime…let’s get into my head a bit, shall we?

It’s hard to put into words what it means to return from war. This being my sophomore effort at it you’d think that I would have some great and epic insight into it, but I don’t. It’s very different and very much the same for everyone.

We worked until the very last hours of our departure. I finished my last COR (Commander of the Relief) shift the day prior to the journal entry above. Doesn’t leave much time for reflection, but enough that I had to put something down. Twelve hours later I was on a plane to Kuwait, away from the rockets and bullets and roadside bombs.

When your mindset is stuck in survival mode it is near impossible to recognize the difference when you find that you are no longer in harm’s way. You realize it, understand it, even accept it, but it’s not like a light switch. You simply continue as you are.

I dreaded the questions that awaited me upon my return, from both friends and family; there are the most common, which are almost like a formality… “Are you happy to be home?” which begs the most sarcastic response you could fathom, but because of the seriousness of my safe arrival I give the cordial response, which is “Yes, yes, I am happy to be home.”

But, that’s not true. It’s not happiness. It’s not joyous glee. It’s not a celebration. It is the most humble and grateful feeling on earth, that somehow, someway, by God or luck or both, I managed to survive where others didn’t, some right before my eyes.

That is the truth of it and it is in no way a lesser truth than what happiness can mean. It is a greater and deeper truth. Happy to be home is a given. Grateful to be alive and with all your body parts is something else entirely.

Rushing back into the world, back into the United States, it’s a shot of adrenaline straight into the cerebral cortex. Everything is fast and bright and colorful and self-important. It leaves your head spinning, makes you dizzy and drains any energy you can muster.

It takes time to readjust. That’s another big ‘no duh.” And we will. Most of us will readjust and assimilate back into our big, busy, important lives and forget that for fourteen months we lived on the edge. That we lived for one thing and one thing only; survival.

Many people try to find that place within themselves where they can let go of everything, accept the fact that they will one day be nothing but ashes, and truly live in the moment.
For the group of people that are having trouble finding that place, they need look no further than their nearest recruiter. Take a trip to the desert and don’t skip on the MOS that puts you on the front line.

It’s not about choices. It is how you must live. You cannot afford to think about next week or next month or next year or what college you will go to after you are out of the Army or where you will work when you graduate or where you will vacation on your twentieth wedding anniversary or your unborn son’s high school graduation.

You live in the few passing seconds that it takes you to read this sentence. That is your life. Because at any moment, at any time, and many very creative and gruesome ways your life could be over.

In the course of my tenure in Iraq, people were killed sleeping in their beds from rocket attacks.

The running joke was that if you were hit by a rocket while sleeping or, worse yet, simply walking around the base, then it is by a much greater design that you are dead. You were simply marked and it was written in the stars that it was your time to go. Or you could pretend that you were just in the wrong place at the wrong time, at which point it won’t matter, because your opinion will no longer be heard.

As author Chuck Palahniuk put it in his well-known novel Fight Club ‘once you give up everything, you can do anything.’ It is a similar mind-set in war. Which isn’t to say that all soldiers become careless barbarians. Or start Fight Clubs. They cling to the love they have in their life, savoring those daily phone calls, e-mails, and online chats. It’s the only good thing they have and it could very well be the last one they ever have.

There is something liberating about this mind-set, namely that you can truly focus. For us, obviously, it was focusing on the mission. Your job is your life or your death. It is everything. It is the obstacle course that exists between the living, breathing moment and ends at your future.

Your future is your ending. Your ending is your beginning. It is this bass-ackwards mentality that truly fucks with your head and leaves your head spinning when you are immersed in the color infused explosion of America and it’s early morning shows with cooking recipes and celebrity guests and the obsessive world of fame, toys, gadgets, and of course, the new “green” movement.

You come home and latch onto the familiar and scratch your head bald wondering what the fuck happened to your universe. The truth is, nothing much. The iphone is out, the green movement is on, Brittney is lost, O.J. is locked up, Beowulf is in 3-D, and Harry Potter is over.

And there’s a new fucking Old Navy. Great. Just what we needed.

In the divide between soldier and civilian, the lines eventually converge and we all live in happy harmony and live, love, hate, and fight for all the same shit all over again and the only difference is that we wear a uniform and train to kill during business hours. Until the next time. And there will always be a next time.

Many people hate that we are in Iraq and don’t understand it, etc. That’s fine. This isn’t about that. But, the truth is, this is not the last war that this country will ever fight. War will end when we end. I know that there are a lot of hippies out there that think they will lead a charge on the battlefield armed only with hugs and cultural understanding…and that’s awesome…I’d love to use those people to hug the IED’s that are emplaced for our dismemberment pleasure and see where that gets us. At least it will clear the road.

I’m an optimist.

It is the fundamental lack of understanding by the civilians that will conflict with all soldiers who return from war. As much as people hate to hear it, roll their eyes at it, or generally miss the point of it, the truth is, you really can’t know and will never understand war until you are in one.

It’s a special club and the membership requirements are simply to bear witness to the worst that humanity has to offer, shoot bullets at it, watch it shoot bullets at you, blow up your friends, and separate you from the people and places you love for an extended period of time. If you do it good, you might get a ribbon.

I can understand the concept of building a house, but until I actually build one I’ll never know the intricacies of that experience. That’s a weak analogy, but you can run with it from there. Dream up a better one.

It’s good to be home. It’s good to see the country alive and well and vibrant and, well, the same. After all, isn’t that what we are here to protect anyways? Whether we are fighting in Iraq or Afghanistan or defending against an alien invasion on Independence Day, we are here to preserve this way of life. I’m happy to do it.

No, not happy…grateful.









AUTHOR’S NOTE:

I’m looking forward to sharing more thoughts and experiences. I’ve got my usual observations on daily life and this crazy world of ours, and some serious, deeper thoughts and experiences to share.

If you enjoy my blogs and want me to write more, here is a tip; Give me some feedback. I’ll always write. I don’t have a choice. There is a sentient being that lives inside me that won’t allow me to NOT write, but he requires a special fuel to keep the words spinning out of my head and through my fingertips and that is feedback.

Let me know what you think, hate, like, etc. It provides that being with the motivation to talk back and puts my ass in the computer chair, staring at a blank space and filling it up with words that form sentences that form paragraphs that become some kind of prose and is delivered to you via the internet for your reading pleasure.
COMING UP: BEST OF MOVIES 2007 and WHY IT SUCKS TO BE 30

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Did I say a few weeks? I’m gonna have to go ahead and use my “I’m at war” excuse on this one. Without further ado…




















LEAVE: Part 2

Arm and arm, we walk. It’s reintegration time. We reintegrate.

Cherie tells me she has a surprise for me. I can’t imagine what it would be, but, as nice as it would sound in theory, I had hoped it wouldn’t be my entire family there to greet me at the gate. I just didn’t have the energy to give the expected surprise, shock, and awe response.

Pleasantly enough, my good friend Brian, who had just gotten back from a year and a half long tour in Iraq, was there with his wife. Brian and I had served in Afghanistan together before, heading up the 501st debate team while in country.

Brian is a writer as well, leaning more toward political commentary (shameless plug – his blogspot is linked to my page at BuckSargent). Not to undercut my brothers-in-arms, but it is exceptionally difficult to find someone on the same playing field as you when it comes to intellectual conversation and Brian always fit that bill for me.

While serving in Afghanistan together, our debates became something of legend. No one dared to interfere or disrupt the magic that was a Paul and Brian debate. No one could hang.

It was good to see my friend again. We made small talk. I congratulated him and his wife on their bun in the oven. It was great to see them together and happy. In truth, to me, it was just good to see him alive and well. Having just come back from the torturous hell that is Iraq, it is always good to see a survivor, let alone a friend.

It was cold. It’s Alaska. It’s March. It’s cold. The air was nice, refreshing. Nothing had changed. It’s Alaska.

I am anticipating my two dogs response to my being home. I know they will be excited and jumpy. They are like that for everyone. I have no doubt they will recognize me. Some may think it’s sad to say, but in truth, they are like my children and I’m cool with that. They bring a lot of joy and humor to our lives.

They’re on me like a chew toy.

Whatever jogs the memory of a slobbering, snorting, bouncing bundle of pug joy, it certainly did its trick in my two pups. It was a nice welcome home. Even if it was from dogs.

The house is flawlessly clean. It’s like a museum. I walk past the exhibits. Kitchen, Living Room (check, plasma TV still on the wall…), Office (check, fanboy action figures still there…no garage sale…whew! Close one.), and Bedroom. The caveman display is closed for maintenance.

It’s an odd thing, settling back into your “normal” life. In the time that I’ve been gone, I have to wonder which one that really is. Fortunately, I’ve left the combat jitters back in Iraq where they belong.

However, I brought a case of jet lag to redefine the term. I am a fucking zombie. Everything is a blur. I am showering. There is space in the shower. The hot water never ends. I close my eyes and twenty minutes go by. That thing happens. That thing when you get out of the shower after a long day and you feel refreshed to the point of exhaustion.

I am sleepwalking. And like any other day at any other time when I’m not gone, I lie on the couch, my dogs cuddled next to me, my wife across from me, the TV blaring in front of us, our cozy little family, small as it is, together again and in the peaceful, couch potato bliss of our “normal” life.

I’m asleep.

The next morning I’m treated to pancakes. Made from scratch. With that extra ingredient. Indulge me. Yes, it’s love.

It gets later into the day and I am, for some odd reason, completely relaxed. I thought it would be harder than this. I’m supposed to be rushing around, getting ready for a patrol, filling out patrol cards and coordinating with every element under the sun and trying to appease the bosses. Oh, and try to stay alive. That too.

But no. No. I’m relaxed. I’m not even thinking of work. But, then it comes. My men. And I worry. Not too much, but enough. I think about them going out. I think about me, sitting here, eating pancakes (with love), and I think about my men.

I think of them, as I have known it to be myself. 75 Ibs. of gear piled around a human vessel, standing, sitting, driving, thinking, waiting, hurting, stressing. I’m not there. I’m supposed to be there. But, I’m not. I’m here.

And then, a thought. A memory. Something that Stephen, my traveling companion, had said. I was telling him how I didn’t even want to take leave. How it was going to make things worse. That I’d worry too much about my men, like I am now.

He was blunt. He didn’t care. He said that he went out with his men all the time and that if they were to make contact (firefight, IED, etc.) and he wasn’t there…that there’s no reason for him to get upset about it. He doesn’t have to be there for everything. Shit is always going to happen, whether you are there or not. He was going to enjoy himself, just as his men will (or have already) when they’re on leave.

Wisdom. Wisdom that I had in me, but didn’t apply until I remembered his words. I make a pact with myself. I will enjoy this time. I will drag it out. It is not going to fly by. I am going to soak it up. My men are in competent, confident hands. I had to have faith in my fellow leaders in order to move forward. The faith was there. The deal was made. Let leave begin.

We don’t leave the home front until much later. We decide to see a movie locally. We settle on “Ghost Rider,” which I’d already watched bits and pieces of in “haji-vision”(the bootleg copies of DVD’s that we get in Iraq, which are filmed with a camcorder, sometimes quite shoddily, and burned to DVD for our deployment pleasure). It was an awful copy that I viewed, with the focus going in and out, so I decided to give it a go. It was making bank in theaters anyways, so maybe it would be fun.

Yeah, and maybe one day getting your wisdom teeth pulled out with no anesthetic will be like an acid trip to the moon. With go-go dancers.

It was pretty fucking terrible. The only redeeming quality being that of Eva Mendes’ luscious “assets.” I mean, Nicholas Cage’s character eats jellybeans out of a martini glass and it just FEELS like Nic Cage being a weirdo on the set. Here is a top-secret transcript of Cage talking to the director, Mark Steven Johnson:

CAGE: Mark, I think I should eat jellybeans…
MSJ (director): jelly beans?
CAGE: Yeah, man…jellybeans…red and yellow ones…y’know…to represent fire.
MSJ: Ooookay. So, when would you eat these jellybeans?
CAGE: Like, all the time. It’s like a character tick. Like, instead of drinking, he eats jellybeans…out of a martini glass.
MSJ: A…a…a martini glass? Nic…
CAGE: Mark, listen…it’s the character. It signifies his inner struggle with his demons. It’s a symbol of the beast within…
(A PROP MAN brings in some red and yellow jellybeans in a martini glass)
CAGE: Yeah, man, yeah, fuck yeah, man. Look at this. Great. Great.
MSJ: (eating a few jellybeans)….hmmm….not bad. What is that? Pina Colada?
CAGE: Fuck yeah, Mark. Fuck yeah. Pina Fucking Colada. It’s the character struggle.
MSJ: Well…they are pretty good…
CAGE: See? You’re getting’ it man. Y’know, the whole time I was watching Daredevil, I kept thinking that Affleck should be eating some fucking jellybeans…but just red ones. Y’know…for the devil and stuff.
MSJ: Uh-HUH. Well…I don’t know. If we can get Eva to eat some and drop them down her cleavage…
CAGE: Nice!

I will make feature films when I’m out of the Army. I can’t wait for these conversations to actually happen. I’m not kidding.

So, “Ghost Rider” was a bust (and I mean that literally when relating to the aforementioned co-star). Thankfully, the wife agreed. Even about the boobs. I’m not the only perv here. Our movie taste has gotten in-sync quite well over the years, which is actually a great thing, considering how many movies we watch together.

Which brings up the thought: How the fuck does a married, American couple stay together when their movie tastes are so vastly different? I truly believe that you can gauge how well a relationship will work out with someone based on his or her movie taste. Now, granted, a lot of women (not all, thankfully) tend to not like the more violent films, and stay with the dogshit fairy tale romcoms that are rampant in theaters.

These are women you don’t want to marry. Unless you like them, too. In which case, there is probably a little too much sugar in your tank.

Do you want to spend the rest of your life watching Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore making moronic puppy love onscreen or do you want to see Bruce Willis jump out of an exploding building whilst shooting two pistols? Yeah, there’s a balance and there are many types of films out there, but you have to ask yourself which kind you want to watch more of.

Thankfully again, my wife has graduated into an advanced filmgoer, even though she still sees anything with Mandy Moore in it. Nobody’s perfect. And, then again, I did drag her to see “Doom.”(oops).

Just like there is nothing sexier to a woman than a man that can really make her laugh, there is some serious credit due to a woman who would rather watch “Texas Chainsaw Massacre” than “Ever After.”

So, singles…watch what ticket that cute guy/girl is buying in the theatre line. The signs are all there. Pay attention. Or spend the rest of your life watching “Never Been Kissed” and let the vomit fly and the manhood be scraped from your nutsack.

We go to dinner. Chinese. Fuck yeah.

For some fucked up reason, Cherie believes in fortune cookies. Many people tend to grasp at the straws of hope when they get a “secret” message or “prophecy” that foretells good fortune. However, a fortune cookie is a mass generated piece of hardened dough that has no real bearing on your future.

It’s the same as astrological signs. Yeah, there are some interesting things when you look beyond your horoscope in the newspaper, but ultimately you could apply any of the horoscopes from any of the signs throughout any day of any year and make it apply to you. They are too vague and open-ended to truly follow with all your heart.

Cherie makes me take the fucking fortune cookie. I throw it to the ground, smashing it into a kajillion pieces and leave it. Cherie acts like I have just pissed on the Sears Santa Clause display while kids are in line and picks up the fortune, reading it to me, as if it is my punishment to still have to listen to my fortune.

“Wealth will come easily to you” or some such shit. What the fuck ever. Wealth didn’t come fast enough to pay for the stupid fortune cookie.

We eat at home in front of the TV as is our lazy, American, non-traditional way. Our dogs stare on in a blissful, yearning drool, hoping against hope for the stray piece of broccoli or fortune cookie to hit the ground.

Bo maws down the fortune cookie. Strangely, he doesn’t give a shit about the fortune.

I wake up the next day a zombie. Only without a hunger for brains or any weird blisters and slow, unsteady movements…man…We’ve really gotta stop calling ourselves zombies.

We hit the town. We hit the mall. There are lots of colors. There are lots of people. I can see women’s faces. And the outline of their figure. Men have jobs. They actually work. Everywhere we drive, I watch the road. I cringe every now and again when we pass a crack and Cherie hits a pothole. I would usually yell at my “driver” for doing such a thing.

I have choices for lunch. And dinner. And snacks. I have no timeline, no appointments, no meetings, no layouts, no nothing. I have a coffee from Starbucks. It fucking rocks.

I shop, I peruse, I stare, I ogle, and I didn’t use the dictionary once to come up with this shit.

I go to my favorite clothing store, “American Eagle.” Now, before I came home, I actually checked out their online store to see what was shakin’ with their new line up. You bet your fucking ass I just typed that. Aloud.

I dig their style. It’s not over the top, but stylish enough for a Banana Republican like myself. I usually find their t-shirts very comfy. I take a look. I don’t like what I see.

“American Eagle,” must be under new management, like maybe Greenpeace or Cindy Sheehan. They have t-shirts that say, in big, bold, white letters, “Kill Your TV.” There’s another one with a picture of a whale that reads “Save The Humans.”

Seriously. Did they forget that they are called “American” Eagle?

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Who gave you permission to speak? Just sell your frolicking spring, summer, fall, and winter fashions and shut the fuck up. If we want a message we’ll go to Hot Topix.

Or FUBU.

I wake up the next day and I’m thirty years old. Where did the time go? I know I left it around here somewhere.
The day blurs by. We shop. We never drop. I keep looking at this as a time for “refit” which is what it’s called when you basically get new gear. I am looking for knives. I need a knife. A good one. An expensive one.

Why do I need a knife? If I get in a knife fight over there then there’s some real fucking issues with the U.S. Army. Not saying it couldn’t happen. But, it’s not likely. This mindset…this “I need a good knife” mindset is a plague of sorts in the Infantry. We are always looking for the coolest new things we can use to kill people.

A knife. What better way? Aside from using your bare hands, it’s the most simplistic and barbaric and raw way. Wait, wait, wait. Come back, don’t get scared. I’m only telling the truth, there’s no need to get upset.

Anyways, I’m obsessed with getting a knife. I don’t know what kind. A good kind. For killing bad guys. I see a fantasy moment in my head, directed by Tony Scott (as all good fantasies should have a bad ass action director) and I’m doing my job on some random street corner in Iraq and this guy approaches and oh fuck he’s got a gun and he’s so close, coming at me, and God Bless REI, because I’ve got the knife out in no time and I’ve stabbed and slashed him several times and his blood is spurting all over me and fuck where’s my camera I need a picture of this moment with blood soaked into my ACUs so I can show people one day and prove what a bad ass murdering bastard I was and my kids can print the picture out and take it to show and tell…

And there it is. The knife fantasy. It’s in the heads of all the infantry. Some will tell you I’m full of shit. I will tell you that they who say I am full of shit are themselves full of shit and I am not bullshitting you. They will tell you they “just like knives” and that they use it for cutting stuff, “like a tool” and blah blah frickity blah.

Why can’t we just be honest boys?

So, the knife thing takes a backseat. I need to ponder this knife. I need to go to a good knife place, not fucking REI. I need them to look at me when I walk in the door and stop dead in their tracks and KNOW what kind of knife I need. They’ll walk to the back…there’s no way anything up front could satisfy me. They know this.

And like finding Harry Potter’s wand, they search for the right knife. It’s in an old, antique case. Dust covered. It was made by some Chinese knife maker who lives in the mountains and it’s all custom, one-of-a-kind. They can’t charge me for it. It’s like a fucking magwai. Except you can get it wet and get it in sunlight.

Definitely need time to think about the knife.

The days continue to blur. We eat McDonalds a lot. We go places. We see things. We buy shit we don’t need. We indulge. We sleep in. We cling. We don’t talk about Iraq. We don’t fight. We don’t argue. Not once.

Okay, maybe once. Or twice. We watch a lot of TV. We watch a lot of movies. We snowboard, (or ski, if you’re a sissy), we avoid old friends (total bullshit), we drink alcohol, like everyday, we have sex (why do we say, “have,” don’t we “do” sex? These matters are beyond me), we watch “The Other Sister” and call each other Carla and Daniel and pray that we don’t have retarded children, we act ridiculous and chase each other around the house and wrestle and pour lighter fluid on each other and set ourselves on fire and run through the neighborhood giving out free hugs…

Some of that shit is a lie. I’ll leave it up to you to figure it out.

We see “300” three times in the theater. It’s fucking ingenious.

Cherie has a planned meet and greet thing with her friends. Apparently, I am talked up to an extent that I am a local celebrity, at least of the dancing furniture guy caliber. Man, even that’s a stretch.

Anyways, we are to meet and I recommend a familiar dive in the Eagle River area. The Homesteader. It’s attached to a bowling alley. It’s the kind of place you’d go if you were a casting agent looking for the “shady” crowd.

Well, okay, maybe they’d hire actors. You get the point. We had some new faces and some old faces and even a drunk, gay bodyguard that kissed me on the cheek and when I grabbed him and shoved him back he told me “It’s okay, I get my ass kicked all the time,” which reminded me that I really don’t need to get into a bar fight here, especially when it would just be a beat down and I’d get arrested and holy shit would that be fun to explain when trying to get back.

Arrest does not get you out of your deployment. It just brings you back with lower rank and less pay.

We took drunken photos and the girls compared cleavage and it was an overall enjoyable time. In the midst of a military life you sometimes blur the friends you have. They separate. You have military and civilian friends and the only difference is one understands what you do and the others don’t.

It was nice to see, once again, that the difference doesn’t matter at all.

We go home. We soak up the last of our days. The feeling in my gut gets tighter every second that I get closer to leaving. The countdown in my head begins again. I’m looking at my watch, checking the date, checking the time, doing the math, figuring out exactly how much time I have left and when the answer comes I breath a sigh of relief. The glass is always half full. As long as it’s not time to go then there is still time enough to relax.

Until the last day. The last day is hell. It’s somewhere in between waiting for the results of an HIV test and the last hour on death row. We do the normal things. We talk. We try to hide the pain. It doesn’t last. The hiding. The pain never leaves. It just gets bigger.

I have all my stuff laid out. The stuff I’m bringing back with me. The stuff I’m sending to myself. I did my best to get it all ready early so that I could soak up every last second and not be running around trying to get it done at the last minute like I always do.

It doesn’t matter. It lingers there, a reminder of what must come to pass.

I get dressed. I put on the ACU’s. They’re tighter, no doubt from the excesses of the last two weeks. Soon it will be 130 degrees and I will sweat it all away.

Cherie’s eyes have a permanent glaze over them. I don’t recognize it in others, only her. It comes when she is about to cry, but it’s very evident. She can’t hide it. Even though she tries.

I say goodbye to my little furry puglets. It will be like nothing to them. I was merely here and then I wasn’t. Their lives will go on without a second thought. I will miss them.

The drive to the airport isn’t nearly long enough. The sun is going down and it’s that super bright shine that turns everything orange. I watch all the buildings and people and cars and lives going about their business and I envy them all because none of them know or will ever know about where I’m going or what I’m doing. Most of them don’t care and never will. And a part of me wishes they knew. And it takes me back to why I joined in the first place. Back when it was about something else.

Back when I felt myself separate from everyone else. And I know it will always be so. It doesn’t make me special or better, it just makes me different. Perhaps it was always that way, I don’t know, but it’s a divide that I know I will always carry.

We pull up to Departures. We both know it will be hard. We both know it will hurt. And it does. Every word spoken, every emotion set free, it stings and burns and we make plans and promises, fate or God’s will be damned, and we say everything that needs be said and we leave it at that.

I don’t look back.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

True Tales of Leave: PART ONE

Something a little different. The following is not my normal narrative, but rather my journal-like/novel style writing. I hope you enjoy. Feedback is always appreciated.


Bearded Gay Bodyguards and the Plight of a Sore Snowboarder and other True Tales of Leave: A look inside the three-week travels and exploits of a soldier on leave from Iraq.

28FEB2007

I’m running around as usual, trying to take care of last minute bullshit. Everyone needs something for some reason. My graphic design skills and military prowess are being put to the test at the zero hour and I’m trying my best to fulfill all orders. It’s not happening smoothly and I’m reminded that this has been my life for as long as I can remember; Everything, all at once, at the very last possible minute. Some things never change, no matter how old you get.

My leave brief is at 19:15 (known as 7:30 p.m. to those not in the know). I look at my watch and realize I have an hour. I’m pretty much packed and it’s kind of silly how hard it is to unhook all my gadgets…It’s like I’ve lived here forever.

I start to get weird nervous. I’m thrust into leave, not even really wanting to take it. I think about how hard it will be, I think that it will take away my “edge,” and needlessly burden my wife with a second good-bye. I worry about my soldiers and my partner in crime, Ken. We run the show at my job and I know that he is more than capable in handling it…but still…It’s like leaving your children.

I go to the leave brief. It’s the usual gayness. We run through the info; where we’re going, how we’re getting there and the rings of fire and dragons we must slaughter to reach the gates of the homeland. Then the guy in charge darts his eyes to the nearest E-6 in the room and appoints him in charge of the manifest (making sure everyone is present and accounted for at all times).

Even though there are several people that outrank E-6 present in the room, E-6 is and always will be the middle rank that can handle the workload of higher responsibility since E-5 and below is considered not quite ready and E-7 and above are too responsible to worry about such issues.

I turn out to be that E-6. Bullocks.

I read off the manifest and tell everyone that I’m only going to read it one more time. Big boy rules apply. You miss your flight then you miss your flight. I’ll still sleep like a baby in my wife’s arms. It’s on you. Surprisingly, everyone is happy about this. The less the control and formations and accountability the better.

We wait.

We wait at the LZ (landing zone) for our aircraft to pick us up. We are given a time that they are supposed to arrive but I’m told that they are always late.

They’re an hour late. Everyone falls in suit and I have no worries as we get on the bird and fly to our next destination.

Baghdad. The Airport. We funnel into the “terminal” and begin the process of letting someone else figure out what the fuck to do with us. I call off manifest one more time, as promised. Everyone’s there. It’s in their hands now.

The Airport is chaos. Transient’s everywhere. Everyone going every which way. No one knowing what’s going on.

Drama begins. Turns out the manifest is wrong. We are not on the correct list. We’re too early. There is no record of us. At all. They have a future manifest of people coming at the end of the month. That’s it.

In short, we are told that we are screwed. This has never, in the history of Operation Iraqi Freedom, ever happened. For some reason, since I was appointed manifest bitch, I feel the need to stick around, take responsibility and figure out how to get things right. I get the assistance from a 1SG (First Sergeant) that is traveling with us and that I know fairly well.

I let him do his thing. Rank has its privileges. And advantages. There are some people you just don’t want to butt heads with. 1SG and above qualifies as such people.

I sleep. On the floor in a waiting tent. The tent is packed with people in transit. Some are on laptops using wireless Internet, some sleep, some watch movies on the cheap big screen TV at the center of the room. They’re playing “Down with Love” which I’ve never seen and have no desire to see, but somehow I still know that it’s playing. I sleep. On the floor, in the dirt.

I check back with the E-6 that is trying to figure out our dilemma. We call back to base. We pull every string we have. We wait. I sleep again.

I wake up and move back to the E-6 in charge of our mess. I am told to check with someone else, somewhere else. I do. A female E-5 at a desk asks me how many people I have and where we’re going. She has a flight. She is anxious to get us on the flight. It’s her job. Filling seats.

I note that she is attractive, even though she looks beat and tired and worn down in the way that the Army wears you down. No matter what sex you are, if you actually work in this Army you will acquire this look at some point during your deployment. If you ride a desk you will no doubt look like you rode a desk.

The female E-5 squabbles with a male E-5 who seems to think he’s in charge and it’s too late because we’re already manifested. They start talking about lists and how things are “supposed” to be done and I realize that this always seems to be the case, especially in the Army.

There is always a way that things are “supposed” to be done, a protocol that “must” be followed. And to the outsider looking in you always seem to wonder, “Why can’t they just fucking do it?”

As if we could take over that person’s job and do it for them to meet our end result and look back at them with a “was that so hard” glare. In most cases, this would be true.

We get everyone on a flight to Kuwait. Everyone except four of us. I’m one of the four. For some reason the four that didn’t get on this particular flight are all from the same battalion. We all know each other. Weird.

We go get a coffee and go to their ramshackle PX. Every overseas PX (meaning “deployment” PX) has the same shit. The same magazines, the same towels, the same OIF t-shirts, the same portable DVD players, shitty selection of “new” DVD’s, and the same choice of beverage.

I buy nothing. I have everything there.

We sleep. On picnic benches. I’m already jetlagged and all I did was ride on a helicopter. This is going to suck.

We catch a flight for later. It’s on a C-130 and we pack it in. Normally, when I’m getting in a C-130 it’s in order to jump out of it. We’d be air landing for sure, so I didn’t fret. However, the ride itself made me queasy as the mix of cold and hot air blowing on me turned me into a 55-year-old woman going through menopause. Only without the ovaries.

You get the idea.

We land. In Kuwait. We get on a bus. I have to pee so bad I can taste it. However, with my superior military training I have mastered the art of holding my bladder. For hours. And I mean hours. I suffer. My traveling companion, Stephen, is having a similar problem. He suffers as well, only not so silently.

The bus ride is long. I am trying to fathom where the fuck we’re going and I don’t understand. I see no civilian airplanes. I see fences and desert and a massive military base.

This is Ali As Saleem. Kuwait.

We make it to a building where we are instructed to go to. We enter and are greeted by female E-4’s (yes, I have to point out the sex…stay with me, this will be long). They look like they’ve been riding a desk. They have.

One of them gets on a microphone and walks us through the process we must endure to get home from there. It is tedious, but necessary. I suppose.

We are released until the next day when our flight is to leave in the evening. We get itineraries for our entire trip, from start to finish. I keep counting the days in my head, hoping to squeeze an extra day or two into my leave. So far the math only gives me one extra day. I still continue to count, hoping for a different number. It comes up the same every time. Fuck.

We are released. To a tent. We drop off our gear and explore the strip. The strip has a McDonalds. We’re all starving, having not eaten anything since Kuwait. I get a Quarter Pounder and fries. It’s not heaven, but it’s at least purgatory.

I’ve been here before. On my way to Iraq the first time. I go to the Internet center and hook up my laptop. I talk to the wife. She’s excited. For the first time, so am I.

I drag myself back to the tent and curl up with my small blanket that only covers my bottom half. At least I’m on a mattress. And on the bottom bunk. I sleep.

Our itinerary doesn’t begin until later in the evening. I have an entire day to waste. How to waste it? I don’t bother with the Internet. Everything is packed already. I eat McDonalds again. I move to a covered area with picnic tables. It’s super windy and annoying because of it. The fries are crunchy and I like them soft. Small birds crowd me, as if to rob me. Relax, they just want the fries. I give them up. Everyone is happy.

I make the rounds, the PX, the shitter, then back to the tent. I play games on the computer. My three traveling companions are finally up and about and we go to the chow hall for lunch. It’s terrible. I would’ve preferred McDonalds again. There are many Australian army personnel here, including females. A lot of them. My traveling companions and me take notice, as it is uncommon for us. Our base has fewer than ten females. There are thousands of males.

One of my companions says that he’d marry one of the female Aussies. There is no proposal on the way out.

FREE TIP: It’s all talk ladies. From the majority of us, anyway. So, take it easy, eh?

We wait some more. We sleep. And finally, we congregate and wait for the next phase of painful movement. We get on a bus. Again. The airport we’ll be taking off from is nearly two hours away. I watch South Park on my iPod. Then, I sleep.

We arrive at the airport. Thankfully, we waste no time. From bus to plane, directly. Thank you, Jesus.

Airborne. We are in a big ass clunker of a plane and on our way. I am in the middle row, sitting next to a female E-4 (see how I did that again?). She makes small talk, asking about my patches. I explain. I watch the in-flight movie “Invincible.” I note how strange it is that I like football movies a lot but not the professional game at all. Perhaps all the dramatics are best captured in a two-hour story rather than an entire afternoon.

In five years I’ll probably be hosting football parties.

I sleep, I eat in-flight meals, I listen to my iPod, and I pray for a quick turnaround.

Germany. They bus us to a terminal where there is a bevy of mini-food courts and a small “German” shop, that sells every sort of thing you’d expect from Germany. Beer mugs and candy underwear. And nude playing cards. I couldn’t make this up.

All of the food seems very stale and hard. They have fresh made sandwiches and doughnuts and pastries and while it all looks good, it’s not. It’s like the plastic toy food that little girls get in order to learn how to be a Betty Crocker and you pick it up and smile and look around, wondering if anyone else finds it amazing how real this plastic pancake looks and how you want to take a bite out of it.

Yeah, so that’s the food at the German airport. Betty Crocker Plastic Chow.

We take off again. Destination: Atlanta. More of the same. Sleep, iPod, Read, Movie, Eat, Sleep, Patch Explanation, Sleep, Eat.

Land.

We are in the U.S. My head is spinning. I have no concept of what time it is or how long it’s been since I’ve been on a schedule. We are filtered along to get our leave forms stamped and sent along our merry connecting flight way.

We meander through the airport. People stare. A lot. Men and women in uniform. They’re real. They aren’t just those guys on CNN that are always yelling and shooting things and wearing all that crazy gear.

Random people stop, shake my hand. Tell me thanks for my service, etc. I am proud, but embarrassed at the same time, but don’t know why. I don’t have a pre-loaded response…it’s usually just “thank you,” even though they just thanked me.

Like when you’re at the movies and the concessionaire says, “Thanks, enjoy your show,” I always feel compelled to say, “Thanks, you too.” Then you walk away, feeling like a moron.

The layover isn’t long. I’m on my way to O’Hare in no time. My old stomping grounds. The plane is small. Almost like a biplane. The flight attendant, a tall black woman, gives the rundown and I wonder if I’m losing my mind because she’s saying things like “Don’t attempt to use your cell phone while we are in the air or I will confiscate it. I have lots of nieces and nephews that need Christmas gifts,” and “For you smokers there is only one authorized area for smoking and that is on the wing of the plane, so good luck.”

The flight is short.

In my daze of stupor I wander out of the secure area and back out to the main terminal. Now, I have to go back in, through security. Fuck.

I make my way through and as I get up and take off my boots and download my laptop and make a stool and semen sample real quick, I find that I am beeping through the walkway. I go back through. I beep again.

“You sure did it now,” is the vibe I get. Move over to this area. Stand up with your arms outstretched. A kid scans me and pats me down. I think about what he’s doing. I think about what all the other soldiers in the very same uniform I’m wearing at this moment are doing in Iraq and Afghanistan right now and it’s this exact same thing, only it’s reversed.

I feel like an insurgent. I don’t expect special treatment as a soldier, but how about a little professional courtesy? They thank me for my service as I walk away and all I can say is “Yeah.”

Putting my boots back on all I can think of is the tragic irony. Getting through airport security is almost enough to validate the war. I can’t even walk through the airport, a U.S. soldier, without being suspect. I almost think this is enough to fight terrorism. I am a suspect in my own country which I am deemed to protect.

Fuck you, terrorists.

I get a cheeseburger. I have a Diet Coke. I calm down.

I use the Internet. I read. I shop. I wander. I watch. I stare. I stare at the ceiling and open my mouth and groan at how slow it’s all going.

Finally, I board a plane to Alaska. It’s a long flight. I drink some cranberry juice and fall immediately asleep. I sleep almost the whole flight. Butterflies kick in my stomach as we land. I start to get excited and don’t allow myself to start a countdown.

The countdown is the worst. Most of us do it. I think. I hope. I can’t be the only one. When there is a deadline of some sort, I start to countdown. I want to know where I stand so that I can measure if I have more or less time in my favor. After the math is computed, I rationalize my time; “Fifteen days…plenty of time. I got it made,” and then “Seven days. That’s a week. A whole week still,” and then “Two days. That’s two more nights that I sleep in my bed and wake up in my house. You can do a lot in two days,” and then “Nine hours. I could watch a movie. Two movies. I could lie on the couch. I could even take a nap and still have time,” and then “Fuck. Time’s up.”

I hate the countdown. It rules my life only when things are good. When I’m in Iraq there is no countdown. I simply wake up and start moving and that’s it. One day we will pack up our shit and leave. That’s my countdown. It will just happen.

I walk off the plane. I’m nervous. I’m excited. You never know what to expect when you see your loved one. Time and distance will do a lot to you. Sometimes you forget their voice. You forget how they move. How they talk. Their mannerisms. You forget what isn’t common. You forget what is so great.

And then, when you see them, if you’re lucky, it all comes back.

And I see her. And I never left.

We embrace, we kiss. We do this again and again. She is crying, but with a smile on her face. I can deal with this.

I put my arm around her and we walk out, slowly. I feel as if I have just completed this huge, epic adventure. And I have. I have followed the tumultuous rainbow and here I am. This is my pot of gold.

END OF PART ONE


Join me for PART TWO, coming later this week (hopefully...I swear!)

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

BEST and WORST of 2006

WHat So, I’ve had a little pressure to post my "best of list", and well, it’s mid-way through February, but what the hell. Here it is. Enjoy.

The Departed – Martin Scorsese’s epic remake crosses the tracks from the mean streets to the green streets with an Irish-American gangster film that will leave you guessing until the very last frame. It is an exercise in precise and intelligent filmmaking with a cast that becomes the characters they portray. Personality and the quick and unexpectedness of violence make this film shine even beyond its already solid script and perfectly streamlined aesthetics. Scorsese, for the first time, delivers a film that is accessible to modern filmgoers while never sacrificing his filmmaking integrity. A powerhouse.

Blood Diamond – Just as he has done in every film (including the aforementioned “Departed”) DiCaprio “becomes” his own character, alive and original in this politically themed actioner. Director Ed Zwick (The Last Samurai, Glory) continues to prove that he’s not a by-the-numbers filmmaker, providing us with a taught story, infused action sequences, a political message (albeit an unexpected one) and still manages to pull some outstanding performances from his cast, especially DiCaprio and co-star Dijimon Hinsjou. An excellent score by James Newton Howard rounds out this visceral experience, which almost feels like a throwback to a Bogart-esque era film.

Borat – I predicted this would either be huge or fall flat. I’m glad it was the latter. This surpassed even my expectations as THE comedy to see in 2006. Having already been a fan of Sasha Baron Cohen’s “Ali G Show,” I knew we were in for a treat from as a true comedian. Not only does he pull out the laughs, but, much like South Park, brings out the social commentary as well. It's like America being caught with its pants down and there’s nothing funnier than someone calling you out and making an ass out of you. The fact that Cohen was able to stay in character for so long and in so many real-life situations is a tribute to the man as a comedian. However, Borat doesn’t become a U.S.A. bashing film, but rather has fun with our own idiosyncrasies and giving us a character to cheer for even when you’re staring at his naked, hairy ass.

Apocalypto – Say what you will about Mel Gibson (what’s going on with all these actors I grew up with?) but the man is not only a talented actor, but now a three-times proven outstanding filmmaker. Building on the template he’s laid for himself with the classic “Braveheart,” Gibson takes us into another world, another time, and doesn’t preach history, but rather takes us on an action/adventure ride filled with culture, vision, and true cinematic flair. This is an original and exhilarating film and it never fails to give us a glimpse of something we haven’t seen on film before, weather it be hastily made blow darts from a poisoness frog or the ancient sacrificial ceremonies of the Mayan empire, this is something engaging and original. Gibson is a filmmaker to watch and I eagerly look forward to whatever he brings to the table in the future.


Casino Royale – Despite Brosnan being a great Bond, the previous outings (Goldeneye not included) felt a little overly kinetic and drawn out with not enough development beyond its toys and trinkets. Sometimes it takes starting over to get things right again (Batman Begins anyone?). And what a difference it makes. Daniel Craig brings a tough and chiseled presence to the Bond franchise, while also showing a more physically adept 007 as well. Roger Moore was always a little too stiff and Brosnan was able to pull off the stunts but never did any of them look as convincing as Craig. Giving us the first Bond tale ever was an excellent idea and invites an entire new audience to get into the mix without chastising them for not already being in the club. Some great action sequences from director Campbell, who has been here before (Goldeneye), and seems to be forming up into a very formidable action director. Depth, action, character, and freshness bring Bond back in a big way. Jason Bourne is no longer competing with a dinosaur.

Children of Men – Alfonso Cuaron’s epic tale of the near future, which shows what becomes of the world when humans can no longer have children, is probably the most visionary film of the year. Clive Owen is impressive as always, playing a drunk ex-activist forced into helping deliver a miraculously pregnant woman to a safe zone where, along with her child, can begin to repopulate the world. The supporting cast and characters are all outstanding and Cauron stages his world of the future in such a believable and realistic way that you have to wonder how he did it. The film feels almost like a fairy tale in its settings and oddball characters and yet is strikingly violent at times, giving it a darker edge. Watch for the continuous, uncut sequences that put DePalma to shame. This film is kinda brilliant.

Mission: Impossible 3 – On another “say what you will about so-and-so” note, Cruise delivers his best of the MI films in writer/director J.J. Abrams action-spy thriller. Starked in quirky originality and fast paced, cool-guy action sequences, Abrams brings freshness to his vision of the franchise (most likely the last with Cruise) and gives us the best action film of the year. All the elements for success are lined up here and everyone pulls their weight, making nothing less than a rock-solid entry into the action-spy genre. (See my lengthier review below).

United 93 – The most powerful film of 2006 undoubtedly belongs to “United 93”. Director Paul Greengrass (Bourne Supremacy) took great pains and measure to portray the final hours of the doomed flight in a realistic, honest, and non-exploitive way. Kudos to all involved in this film, from the actors that portrayed the passengers, the air control, and even the terrorists. It takes guts to make a film of this magnitude and it leaves a lasting impact long after the credits roll. (See my lengthier review below).

Little Miss Sunshine – The most fun and original film of 2006, this offbeat family road trip film is filled with family dysfunction and in depth characters to boot. What may seem like your run-of-the-mill road trip movie is actually a grown up coming of age story involving people of all ages. The hijinks throughout left me rolling with laughter and many performances moved me at the same time. (Wait…what does “move” me even mean). Many times I found myself predicting the worst but not feeling the filmmakers had the balls to pull it off…and then they did. Great stuff. This is a film you could watch anytime, which speaks volumes.
Hilarious and touching.

Déjà vu – Hey, I’m a Tony Scott fan, what can I say. The only time he ever did wrong was “The Fan” and he’s more than redeemed himself for that. The screenwriters cried about Scott changing the script and although I haven’t been able to take the Pepsi challenge on this one, the film felt on par with the best in the sci-fi thriller genre. Denzel Washington is at his usual best here, playing a cop that finds a way to travel in a limited amount of time to catch a killer. Fast-paced, fun, original (but not TOO much), and with the signature Tony Scott-isms that we have come to appreciate and love over the years make this film an absolute blast. Although clogged with some holes, this is still a great, fun, and clever action Sci-Fi film that hits all the right notes and then some. Added bonus: Harry Gregson-Williams score, another knockout from a composing genius.

Honorable Mentions:

Miami Vice – Michael Mann’s vision of the 80’s show was harshly judged and left to the slaughter, but thankfully critics and viewers alike are starting to recognize the vision that it is now that it’s on DVD, with a director’s cut to boot. Mann does not disappoint.

The Hills Have Eyes – The best horror film of 2006, French director Alexandre Aja takes this remake and jolts it to life with flinching violence and taught suspense. This is what good horror is made of. Although not perfect, this is still ten times better than the original and it’s great to see a horror filmmaker not play it safe for the sake of a rating.


Thank you for Smoking – Brilliance all around in this wordy caper about an exec, played by Aaron Eckart, that backs the tobacco industry. An excellent script is done justice by a stellar cast that showcases both the American tobacco industry, Hollywood, as well as many other organizations, and gives us a comedic social commentary that, for once, doesn’t preach to us, but rather tells it like it is.

Brick - Another notch in the murder/mystery genre for this top-rate film that unravels the mystery of a girls death with teenagers in a modern day setting but with 50’s era dialogue. Great stuff, and with the actors delving so deep into characters that are so out of the norm, this is a film that will leave you confused, interested, and engaged throughout. Joseph Gordon-Levitt proves that he is ready for the big leagues, giving a performance well beyond his "3rd Rock" days.


Over the Hedge – Now that Hollywood is churning out the Pixar-ish animated films at a dime a dozen, it’s come time to separate the good from the trash. Here, thankfully, is the good. Brilliant and vibrant animation brings the “Hedge” comic strip to life with a playful and adventurous story. What really tips the hat in the audiences favor is the voice actors that have a blast voicing their respective characters. Bruce Willis is particularly great as the lead character. This is certainly a “fun for all ages” kind of film, but seriously, I never thought I’d enjoy it as much as I did. Hopefully, my future children will drag me to more of these than to the millions of “Ant Bully’s” out there.

Superman Returns A devout (which doesn't mean I loved the character just for the sake of it) Supes fan, I felt this film did great justice to the character (while still taking some liberties) and brought Superman back to the masses, but ultimately failed todeliver on the action front. Director Bryan Singer (X-Men) has promised a more action-oriented sequel and thankfully so. At – least he got us on track, now it’s time to get down to business.

World Trade Center – The second entry into the 9/11 accounts is no less powerful and thought provoking. Your heart rate will beat at an abnormal rate and your mind can’t help but linger back to that day and reinvigorate those emotions as you watch Oliver Stone’s well made, and well-acted chronology of two trapped police officers inside one of the fallen towers. Emotional and powerful.






The Protector (a.k.a. Tom Yong Gong) – Amazing. That’s the only way to describe Tony Jaa’s martial arts choreography in this kinetic and eye-popping action film that follows a man tracking down his baby elephant. No, seriously. The action scenes go on for 15 minutes or longer at a time and some of them with ZERO cuts, which leaves you in awe of Jaa’s abilities and presence. A force to be reckoned with.

Rocky Balboa – Everyone loves an underdog and I think that Stallone moreso than his character of Rocky plays that role here. Many and eye was rolled when mention of another Rocky film was made, but Stallone has proven himself to still be a formidable writer, actor, and director with this final entry into the Italian Stallion’s tale. Filled with great monologues and a fitting wrap up to the franchise, this film could be watched after the original Rocky and stand alone as the only sequel to the film. Great work and a great comeback for Stallone.

Babel – Interwoven stories of the confusion, violence, and fear that is caused when people of different languages and cultures collide, Babel is a strong and scary film, which certainly doesn’t encourage you to travel abroad (but seriously, WHY would you want to go to some of these places?) but also dives deeper into the emotional distress of not being understood and how victims are created out of this confusion as lives are shattered as a result. Nail-biting throughout.

Little Children – Todd Fields gives his second film another bout of originality, this time featuring a voice over that reads from the book throughout the film it is adapting (got all that?). A smart and talented cast round out this film about the secret lives that supposed “ordinary” people lead and the repercussions of them. Much like “Babel” this is a film that you can’t predict and you can only imagine the worst, but you may be surprised by the actual outcome. Kudos to Thomas Newman for another great score.


Inside Man – The smartest heist movie made since David Mamet’s “Heist” is a another nod to Denzel Washington and Clive Owen respectively. A tight script and unpredictable story is given an urban feel, both with suspense and comedy, as Spike Lee takes a break from preaching and takes a stab at filmmaking. Entertaining, solid, and unpredictable. The way a good heist movie should be.

Give me my time and money back

Bloodrayne – Made with a SVHS camera crap.

Ultraviolet – Who thought Matrix-style action could be made boring? Who thought that even Milla Jovovich could be just as bad?

Slither – Waste of talent and potential. Teases us with a genuine entry into the horror genre and turns out to be more of the same.

The Benchwarmers – Holy fuck, please, I’ll tell you anything you want to know, just don’t make me watch “Benchwarmers” again, PLEASE!!”

Scary Movie 4 – Hang it up. It’s done.

American Dreamz – Message to Paul Weitz. You made American Pie. Also, your political views have the resonance of an MSNBC headline story that you read after checking your hotmail. Thanks for the garbage. We’ll clean it up.

The Sentinal – How the fuck did Jack Baeur get boring? Keifer Sutherland took a wrong turn out of “24” and stumbled onto this paycheck with Michael Douglas trying to be an action star again and forgot to do anything new or original. Don’t forget your caffeine pills for the action sequences.

Silent Hill – The director of the awesome “Brotherhood of the Wolf” decides to quit making cool shit and give us some extremely Unhorrifying crap that severely disappoints due to the talent involved. Back to the drawing board, kids.

Running with Scissors – Fuck this gay opus on Augusten Burroughs life. I’m sorry, but this is an exercise in homosexual boredom. Plus, perfect opportunity to show Evan Rachel Woods tits. But, the protagonist is gay. Even Brokeback Mountain gave us some gratuitous female nudity.

Eragon – Piece of crap Harry Potter wannabe without a SHRED of originality.

We Are Marshall – Holy melodrama and disgustingly bad wardrobes, Batman. This is just plain achingly sappy and dull. Waste of celluloid.