a heartbreaking work of stagnating geniality, e-rocky-confidential chronicles the experiences of a young man playing a small role in america's ongoing military undertaking in the mideast.

Monday, June 28, 2004

Ladies and Gentlemen, L. Paul Has Left the Building

NOTE: Just as this post was going up yesterday, the internet connection failed, as it so often does, and this is my first opportunity to re-post it.

It’s true: earlier today the Coalition Provisional Authority evaporated as sovereignty was officially bestowed upon the “Interim Government” headed by Iyad Allawi and Ghazi al-Yawer, in a small ceremony surreptitiously held two days early but also publicly broadcast on Arab television. According to Yahoo! News, Mr. Bremer was leaving on a jet plane before the ink had dried.

Many of the man’s policies have been roundly criticized, but I’m inclined to credit him for at least getting us to this point and then making a rather graceful exit exactly as soon as he could.

None of this confronts the fact that we, the military, are still as much here as we ever were, so everyone’s curious to see how much our roles are going to change, if at all, and whether the environment will grow more or less peaceful, and how soon.

Yesterday I woke up to the sound of outgoing artillery. The day before had been the steadiest day of firing I could remember since arriving in Baghdad. My roommate’s fiancé was down from Taji for another visit, and she couldn’t believe we weren’t scrambling for the bunkers. At her camp they don’t have the mammoth howitzer/ paladin apparatus that we have here; there is no such thing as outgoing rounds, only incoming—and thus they receive quite a bit more.

About a month ago a mortar screamed in and blew up the living trailer directly behind hers. She’s a combat lifesaver (as I am and about one in five other soldiers are—it’s like being to a medic what a crossing guard is to a police officer) so she administered an IV drip to the soldier who had been in the ill-fated trailer. He died while she was standing in front of him.

“How do you tell the outgoing rounds from the incoming?” she asked us.

“You just do.”

“After the harsh boom of an outgoing round there’s a sort of secondary thump. You’ll hear it if you listen to it. Of course, we don’t really listen for it anymore. What’s the point?”

Today our standard uniform has been upgraded: we’re now required to wear the Kevlar vests and Kevlar helmets at all times when outdoors. Before this morning I hadn’t worn the vest since my last convoy; some time ago the edict requiring us to wear them at night was lifted, so the only occasion for pulling it out of the duffel bag was a trip outside the gates. It’s a huge hassle to wrestle with this gear every time I step into and out of the shelter, and it’s also a huge reminder that someone is anticipating new hostilities.

Who? Who could be anything other than ecstatic about the fact that Iraqis now own their country?

A lot of people, it seems. Zeyad at Healing Iraq has a lot of good ideas about who these people are. Here’s an excellent observation from his June 24 post:

Personally (and in contradiction of many who are in a better position to judge) I’m predicting a Renaissance of Iraqi Culture in the near future. It’s not exactly right around the corner, with Allawi already implying his intent to impose something like martial law in the days to come, and others already contending that under the constitution he has no authority to do any such thing— but I am prone to the occasional bout of optimism, and so I say: before too long we will all be thinking of Baghdad as an *international hotspot*, in an altogether renewed and positive sense of the term.
Blogs Are on the Way

June has been a bad month for blogging, largely due to the fact that it's been pretty much a bad month in general.

But fear not: things are looking up.

I'll tell you all about it. Stay tuned.

Monday, June 07, 2004

Saturday, June 5, 2004
I Got You in a Stranglehold, Baby

Ted Nugent has come to Baghdad, and he’s brought Toby Keith with him. A few days ago there was an article in the Stripes about their concert at one of our other camps; the same day we began to see flyers for another show here in our particular area. Earlier today my teammate Reece swung by the site and informed me that he’d just seen them rocking out, albeit with poor amplification, near our PX. I laughed and snarl-mimicked, “Aah’m an Americaaaaan so-uldierrr.”

“No I didn’t go to see him. My wife likes Toby Keith, but I went to see Nugent.”

“Oh yeah? Did he play ‘Cat Scratch Fever?’”

“Yup. After the show there was just this sea of DCU’s thronging the stage trying to talk to him.”

“Mister Nugent, do you really hunt with a bow?— Yes, my child. Mister Nugent, did you really have sex with lots of groupies?— Yes, my child.”

“Yeah one guy actually brought a bow to get signed. There were a whole lot of people with guitars.”

“I wonder how many of them went to that bazaar and paid $300 for some cheap guitar just to get his signature on it. Can you see the American Express ad? ‘Seeing a classic rock icon perform past his prime in an exotic locale: free to you, thousands to the American taxpayer. One guitar, hastily constructed by the authentic indigenous people of Iraq: $300. The name of The Nuge on your axe: priceless.’”

“Nah. Too wordy.”

This isn’t the first USO show we’ve had staged for our benefit, but Nugent and Keith are the biggest names yet to get so close to us. A couple months ago there was a big stir about a PRC-77 concert (pronounced Prick-77). They’re a band composed of ex-military guys who perform hard rock cover tunes and originals; supposedly the lead singer knows a Sergeant Major out here and that’s how they got the gig; their name comes from an Army radio that’s no longer in use. There were full-color flyers all over the place with their name in huge letters followed by “Southeast Asia Tour, 2004” in a vaguely dangerous-looking font, and a picture with everyone sporting Doc Martens. I was on shift at the time; after hearing about it later I was glad I’d missed out.

Then about a week ago we had another concert, this one a surprise but a very loud one. We’d been languoring outside our trailers during another unscheduled afternoon power outage, and when it finally kicked back on a few of us converged in Castner’s room to bask in the AC and watch whatever movie he had on deck. We then subjected ourselves to The Stoned Age, a forgettable flick about the stupidest kids who ever went to high school in the Seventies. Just as the final credits were rolling, muffled sounds began to filter in through the thin trailer walls to mingle with the classic rock soundtrack.

We opened the door and were practically knocked over by noise: “Well aah’m as fray-ee as a bird, now, and this bird you cane-not chay-ee-ay-ee-ay-ee-ay-ee-ange!” It wasn’t Lynyrd Skynyrd, but another cover band, playing on the very stage more recently employed by Nugent and Keith. The whole afternoon felt like a tired replaying of the admittedly-brilliant movie Dazed and Confused. (Despite the fact that every last one of us is about five months sober at this point, perhaps dazed and confused is precisely what we are: dazed by the heat, confused about the future of this country we thought we came here to save.)

This progression of performers has given Reece an idea, and I think it’s worth looking into. At first he used to talk about writing to Tenacious D and pleading with them to do a show out here, but he’s finally accepted the fact that they’ve got far too much going for them right now to do a thing like that. So instead he’s going to be writing letters to all his favorite bands telling them that he’d sure love to see them out here, but since he knows they’re far too cool to ever go to a place so hot, he’d settle for some free tickets to one of their future shows back in the States, and isn’t that a small bone to throw to someone who’s been defending their freedom, etc. I’m thinking about employing the same tactic, sprucing it up with some clever phrases.

Listen up, Pixies: you are defenseless against my charms.

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