Thursday, January 2, 2014

A Doughboy in Bagdad

(A Doughboy in Baghdad was published back in '07 by Altar magazine. An editor took the liberty of altering something without alerting me, so here it is again with that 'correction' error corrected, and a sentence or two improved. I offer this reprise in honor of the supposed end of war in Iraq, and the news reports of lingering high rates of birth defects in Iraqis and illness among US veterans. My country, 'tis of thee.)

               Jason has a swimming pool in downtown Baghdad.  That caught my ear. I’ve heard about extended tours of duty, denied VA benefits, the closure of veterans’ hospitals.  I’ve heard about a lot of ways we fail to support our troops, from fabricating reports of WMDs, and serving up a plastic Thanksgiving turkey, to sending them shampoo but failing to provide water so they can use it.  So I wondered, how was it Jason had a swimming pool?

               Jason’s dad is mighty proud. At the airport he looked so good in uniform, six and a half feet tall and buff. His dad just cried, big tears rolling down his face. Jason’s aunt says he’s six two but no, his dad says, he looked seven feet tall.  In Los Angeles Jason bought ski gear then hit the Sierra snow. In San Francisco, he bought a wetsuit and a surfboard then spent the rest of his leave in the ocean.

               Jason’s dad is proud of the way he invested his pay. Jason bought penny stocks and did well. After his four years, Jason will get out with 40K in the bank, plus the 60K towards college. He’s fit. He’s smart. He’s solvent. He’s everything we admire.

               Meanwhile, with ten-hour workdays, a guy has to have some way to unwind. That’s why Jason has a swimming pool in downtown Baghdad. “But Iraqis are going without drinking water and electricity,” I could have interrupted, only then Jason’s dad would know I was eavesdropping, and I didn’t want to stop the flow of his talk.

               Jason is smart, and he knows how to work the system. Jason has a swimming pool full of cool, refreshing water. He has chlorine, liquor and pool boys. Pool boys? I wished I could ask about that. Iraqi pool boys, I suppose. While destroying infrastructure, the military brings so many jobs to locals: bartender, prostitute, pool boy.

               It would be nice if all our soldiers had such a cool way to unwind, but isn’t it a bit ironic?  A doughboy is an infantryman. The word should call up an image of hell in the trenches, in World War 1. But a "Doughboy" is a brand name swimming pool.

Of course, if we really supported our troops they wouldn’t need a pool in downtown Baghdad: they wouldn’t even be there fighting an unjustifiable war. Iraq today is no summer vacation. But Jason has it wired. Jason in his small way embodies the American wartime opportunism brought to large-scale perfection by Blackwater.

               Jason’s aunt says she happened to run into a young woman on leave from a tour of duty in Iraq, and this young woman knew Jason. “Oh yeah, Jason? He’s the one with the pool party!”  So I’m not revealing any state secrets here. Everyone knows that Jason has a swimming pool. But nobody knows why these people hate us. They hate our way of life, we’ve been told, and what we stand for.

(Yes, it was an actual overheard conversation. Welcome home, Jason. I wonder if you're still buff seven years later or if like some other veterans of that war you're pissing blood.)

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