Sunday, October 31, 2004

And Speaking of Smells...

Yesterday I ventured to the Interrogation Facility, where we hold the knuckleheads rounded up during raids. Bad Iraqis, in other words, whose offenses range from arms dealing to toting RPG's to emplacing IED's, fananciers, etc. The men are mostly from Baghdad and include shieks and bottom-rung, filthy street thugs.

I stood outside the medical screening room while they brought in one character who'd been fingered by his piso as an IED-emplacer. This one in particular fell into the "filthy street thug" contingent--he evidently hadn't washed in many moons, maybe since the last Ramadan. He removed his shirt to reveal a full, greasy chest and back of matted, black, unspeakably thick hair. I don't even wish to speculate what parasites and stench-producing bacteria resided there. Out in the hall, several of us exchanged "holy-crap-did-you-see-that" faces.

And then they removed his shoes.

A funk arose like the spooge from the bottom of a Turkish sewage canal. There was a stunned silence. The medic bolted outside and vomited into the gravel. The handful of soldiers--myself among them--assembled outside the door scattered as if a grenade had been deployed. The guy stood there confused, wondering why the Americans were so offended. The other medic picked the shoes up one at a time between thumb and forefinger as he held his breath and sealed them in a small garbage bag.

And it made a great story later in the Headquarters.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

Scratch 'n Sniff

Everyone has a signature smell that has nothing to do with the products they use to mask it. I read an article in Psychology Today that touched on this phenomenon, how just before a really nasty divorce, often the involved parties would exclaim, "I just couldn't stand her/his smell anymore."

I only notice men's smells. Women all smell roughly the same to me. Mark smells very clean and masculine, but not in an Old Spice, bullshit way and has nothing to do with when he last showered. I caught a fresh, clean smell from TK, my fellow platoon leader. Several others. Mark swears I smell great, and so do two other women we work with. And he says a couple of the other female soldiers do not smell sweet to him--I swear, I've never smelled any of them, and we work in close quarters.

I suppose that explains why, even when showered and fresh and ostensibly unoffensive, every time my commander comes around, a truly offputting odeur wafts straight up my nose. I have a physical reaction to it--revulsion so strong, my gag reflex kicks in.

There must be something to this scent thing, and all those billions people sink into perfumes and powders and showergel that smells just like white chocolate hazelnut cake, and we're all walking around just smelling like we smell anyway. So I guess I don't necessarily smell like the sandalwood powder I sprinkle on every morning, or Shalimar, which is the ONLY perfume I'll wear. I think the point of the products, the reason I spend sixteen bucks on a bottle of delicious-smelling shower gel, is that I derive great pleasure from the scent. My shower is one of they day's true pleasures, and the lovely smell of baking cake as I'm lathering up in soft, rich bubbles just makes it that much nicer.

I'm getting in on some football betting pool action. I get actively solicited for participation--I'm sure it's because I'm not only female, but I also choose the teams based on what city I like better. Atlanta v. Miami, I'm voting Atlanta. I'll always pick New Orleans, Seattle, San Francisco. So they're all convinced my five bucks will just go straight into the kitty with little risk of my ever winning a cent. And I'm teased about it, and then the guys all admit that my picks are actually really good, that I could end up winning at some point. And then I'd be the one laughing, it would be like one of them winning first prize in a flower arranging competition. With all their smells.

Monday, October 18, 2004

More Tolerable Every Day

A small group of us stood outside one of the rooms, talking shit at the end of the day. The guys think my roommate is gorgeous (she is), and they talked of all the other ladies around here they think are beautiful. As a matter of habit, I tend NOT to wax poetic about men I'd like to see naked, at least not around other men. It's tacky behavior...Mark was there, so of course I didn't list off the many attributes of that Navy Seal I'd been lucky enough to stand behind during a briefing.

And I got my own room back. Moved to a smaller room right next to the latrine. So I can stand in my room and make monkey faces at the rest of the company. Funny how something so small as having a private room can mean so much--I slept like a baby in that blessed silence, woke up at 4:40 to run, smoked a hill workout with Josee and felt great all day.

It's like that wonderful Xiang Jimou movie, To Live: Time passes, and things get better and better each day.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

Wish List

For those of you out there who have my address and like to send me things (those of you who don't have my address and would like to send me things, email me through the profile :) ), here's a short wish-list, things I can't get over here and miss:

*Lipton Cup-a-Soup Spicy Thai Chicken flavor
*David brand BBQ sunflower seeds
*Bath and Body Works Lemongrass Facial Scrub (this especially! If you haven't tried it, run right out and get some!)
*Raspberry Ice Crystal Lite
*Nips--coffee flavor
*Southern Living magazine
*Zapp's chips, any flavor but especially vinegar & salt and the Cajun mesquite BBQ

We can buy candy over here and since so many people send it anyway, the break room already looks like a 7-11.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Pumpin' Them Man Buns 4 Life

If you haven't peed in a plastic portajohn since that stint in construction ten years ago, you're missing out on some prime graffiti.

My favorite string in the big blues outside our headquarters involves the misadventures of "8-Ball," who evidently fancies himself quite the ladies' man. The first entry went something like this: 8Ball Pumpin' Them Buns 4 Life!! A truly frightening illustration of what looked like a horror movie skull-mask performing oral sex accompanied. Rumor has it the original 8Ball is a Sergeant I've assessed as a walking harrassment complaint, no military bearing with female soldiers whatsoever. He stood in front of my desk last week, executing his best Eminem impersonation: "Sup, LT? When we goin' out? You never smile no mo', LT, 'sup?" And I didn't smile then, either, as I asked him who the hell he thought he was talking to.

The rumors flew for weeks, everyone wondering Who Is 8Ball? It became the headquarters joke. 8 Balls were drawn on dry-erase boards with the initials PTMB4Life. At least three different men claimed to be 8Ball. Then the many talents of a female named PNut were extolled, and the attendant conjecture of her identity.

Someone replied by inserting "Man" before the "Buns", Pumpin' Them Man Buns 4 Life. Then ensued the usual homosexual accusations, more crude sketches of female anatomy, a comment about my good friend Josee (LT R___ski is HOT!!), and the best of them all, the comments surrounding the actual plastic urinal sporting the required solid air-freshener disc upon which I suppose the gents are supposed to pee.

An arrow into the bowl: Our hopes of leaving theater, do what you must...

Hmm, I wish I had a silver dollar-sized piece of candy, oh look! It really is a wishing well!

Only the dead have seen the end of war

From the sophomoric mire springs the occasional gem and even a quote from the classics. Infinitely entertaining.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Truth or Scare

I've settled back into the rhythm here, resigned to the fact that I'm stuck here until such time as Uncle Sam sees fit to let me go home. I haven't written because I haven't had much to talk about, and there always seem to be people lurking around reading the screen.

I am in the process of buying a Harley. Is it wise? Of course not. Abe Lincoln said that people without vices generally have no virtues either, and I've always had a gut feeling that I could get very passionate about bikes if I ever took that plunge. I'm buying a smaller model, the Sportster 883 Custom, often snidely called a "chick bike." Last I checked, I'm a chick, and I don't see spending $15,000 on a bike just yet.

If it becomes as much of a passion as I suspect it will (and I'm never wrong about these things), I can always trade it in for one of the pricier models. It's a "starter" bike, just like I bought my home as a "starter home," and certainly don't plan to retire in it. It's just one more thing for me to look forward to and get excited about when it comes time to finally leave this place. It's a frivolous, impulsive purchase, I'm fully aware of that fact...but I was talking about buying one when I got home from Afghanistan, it's something that has always been there, wanting a Harley. Too early for a midlife crisis and too late for a teenage obsession.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

Back in Box

The flight back to the Box should have signalled impending doom, or at least the intense unpleasantness that accompanied my return to this hellhole.

It took three days to get back, mostly sitting around in airports. I slept for much of it. However, when we got onto the military aircraft that ferried us into Baghdad, all peace and harmony ended unceremoniously as I dealt with the worst motion sickness I've ever known.

The flights into Baghdad have to drop out of the sky like a rock, it's fifty times worse than any rollercoaster known to man, and it goes on for about ten minutes. I first broke into a nasty, hot-flashy, oh-crap-I'm-fixin-to-puke sweat, took out the barf bag while the other passengers eyed me in nervous anticipation. Sure enough, as soon as I lost lunch, it passed up and down the line until about two-thirds of the plane vomited violently. I felt wreched for making everyone else sick, fought it as hard as I could.

Then landed here to the news that I have a roommate. Her name is Lisa and it's not her fault, but I was livid. Everything I'd found bearable about this deployment got yanked away in one single motion--my sanctuary, my privacy, my uninterrupted sleep.

And for the rest of that day and night, and for much of yesterday, I fell into a deep, dark hole that hit me so hard, I couldn't eat or sleep. I still haven't slept well, but at least I'm not walking around with my stomach in a knot, feeling like I barely retained a shred of control, unnecessarily worried sick about the future, all the makings of a world-class funk. It was dreadful. I told Josee that if I didn't feel better in a couple of days, I'd need to go see someone about it, get some meds or something. I knew I couldn't walk around like that for long.

My roommate, she's a brand-new Second Lieutenant, straight out of school, and this is her first Army experience. And then she arrives to a very grumpy roommate in this shithole--I just couldn't pull off a friendly welcome, as shitty as I felt. And on her first day in country, she stood about twenty feet away as a guy got his hand blown off my a dud round some fool had tossed in the back of his truck.

So she came into the room shaken and terrified, having suppressed that feeling all day. It didn't help that the low-flying Kiowas swept overhead every few minutes. I sat up and talked her down for a large portion of the night, then couldn't sleep again--two nights in a row of intense insomnia, on the tail of the night in Kuwait during which we had no time to sleep for more than a few minutes at a stretch.

So I'm exhausted. My eyes sting. But at least I feel better, that intense sense of dread has mostly disappeared. It's not that bad here. But all day yesterday, I wished I hadn't taken leave at all, having been freshly reminded of the striking differences between here and all the things I hold dear at home. I am very strongly invested in space, in my personal surroundings. The room I had to myself was already poor substitute for my home, and with a roommate seemed nearly intolerable yesterday.

I suppose I just needed a 36-hour freak-out adjustment period.