Thursday, April 28, 2005

Cultural Bias

I fully admit, there are some aspects of American culture I feel are superior. So shoot me. The one I have in mind right now: Americans, in general, tend not to slog their muddy boots up onto the seat of the portajohn, in order to then miss the potty hole and spray shit all over the seat.

A platoon of Iraqi National Guard troops pulled up at our headquarters, and moments later, BOTH portajohns outside my office were smeared from one end to the other with mud and shit, color making them virtually indistinguishable. But you knew the boot prints on either side of the seat and the unmistakable shape and stench of human shit, there's no misidentifying that. Iraqis do not sit on a toilet seat--in fact, out in Baghdad, I've never seen a toilet seat. So when faced with a portajohn, surely a curious structure to these guys, they did what they felt they had to do: climb up on the seat, somehow manage to balance without slipping in the mud and landing squarely in their own waste: squat. It's actually pretty remarkable--I'd wind up with all manner of unpleasantness soiling my clothing and buttocks if forced to maneuver in this way.

Toilet seats are a Western cultural phenomenon. The non-Western countries I've visited, the bathrooms a) were coed, and b) consisted of a filthy, odiferous maw in the floor. The upscale restaurants in Korea might feature a Western toilet in one stall, and a contraption on the floor that looked roughly like a urinal on its back, complete with a little flush handle.

I like that we Americans are generally pretty clean. I've seen more filthy latrines than I care to ever see again. Some other cultures and people sneer at us, say we're "soft." Fine. I'll take it.

Sunday, April 24, 2005

Home Soon

We were informed yesterday that my unit will get on the plane to Kuwait a week earlier than we thought. We stay there for a couple of days to get the standard briefings--you know, don't beat your wife and drink every drop of beer in Watertown when we get home, health screenings, etc. Then we're just waiting for transportation. I packed up a couple of boxes yesterday to send home, less stuff to deal with.

Fewer than 60 days until this nightmare ends. It's all I can think about.

Monday, April 18, 2005


I don't know why I thought of it this morning on the treadmill (and might I add that I am in the worst shape ever and will have to slave mightily when I get home to make up for it). My second job ever was as a checker at Kroger. The first was Kentucky Fried Chicken, where I learned that there are plenty of people whose lives just stall out there. They work at KFC and that's that.

At Kroger, you're supposed to start out as a bagger. I was referred to Kroger via the Student Employment Office, and the position was "checker," not "bagger." Evidently, no one informed the ladies of the aisles of this Student Employment advantage. So I had no idea what the hell was going on when they treated me like radioactive furniture.

I was nineteen. And if there's anyone out there who wasn't awkward at nineteen, to hell with you.

I assumed I was looking at the same dynamic I'd seen at KFC: Those Who Somehow Stalled There like a tropical depression over southern Louisiana, did not much like Those Who Would Only Work Here While In College. Which pissed me off, because most of my friends didn't have to work at all, and here I was clearing minimum wage AND taking a full class load AND somehow living on about $350 a month (with rent and a car payment, and this was the late '80's, folks), and then I have to come here and be treated badly by these people??

I befriended a sweet-natured black girl whom I'd sort of known in high school. Her name was Kim and she was the kind of girl who would laugh at anything and everything. We started talking one day about the color pink, and how we both hated it, and all cute shit in general. Then on break one day, she told me the reason the Other Ladies didn't like me, was that I had started as a checker, and not a bagger. One of them even sniffed, "I wonder what she did to get that job."

At the time I recall being terribly offended. Especially since the Manager was this wormy-looking old guy, ew!! But how silly is that, that someone would screw the Manager for a checker job?!?

A high school friend I hadn't seen in quite some time came through my line one day, and remarked that I looked like I should be blowing up buildings or something. Hmm. And what's even more odd, is he sounded hugely respectful when he said it, like it was the best compliment ever.

And now my job is to catch people who blow up buildings. Well, here, they mostly blow up cars. I want my next job to involve catching even more people who would blow up (or fly planes into) buildings. Who'd'a thunk. And my friend? Maybe I should look him up, just to make sure he's not blowing up buildings, seeing as how he thought that was so cool.

Last night I dreamed I stood outside the big tent where we work, and watched several mortars come in, all in very slow motion. It was as if someone had gently tossed them from just over the wall. One landed right in front of me and I said out loud, "Well, shit! I'm glad that one's a dud!" And I think it was the sound of my voice that woke me up...good thing I don't have a roommate.