Sunday, December 18, 2011

The War is Over

I returned home from a trip to Georgia just in time to watch the breaking news online as the last US troops left Iraq and closed the gate behind them. Closed that rust white symbol of the end of a war. It never made it to the top of the “news pulse” on CNN’s website, which seemed about right to me. My girlfriend is gone back to Mississippi for the holidays and I found myself alone in my apartment and jet lagged. I had a party with all of my dead friends last night, we drank and danced and they told me about what could have been, that they wished they could live my life, simple. I told them that I wished we could be together and they laughed and sang, “Only the good die young…you stupid sonovabitch.” When we had had too much to drink they began to lay into me for bitching about their sacrifice on a blog as the highlight of my day, that some things were not for me to say.

They closed that rusty gate and America keeps on trucking. My grandmother wrote on a link I had posted that we should have never been there in the first place. Usually such bland sentences make me want to choke a random person but I remember that it is the grandmothers of the fallen who have to continue on and that the way she feels is a sort of genetic transference from mothers and grandmothers that must date back to the beginning of time. “Why do these men go off to die when we spent so much time raising and loving them?” I hear her heart.

Alone in a cold apartment with imaginations of people who were once as real as me and they whisper at me to stay away. “Go to school!” they all yelled at me. And they are young forever but this war is over and I will not be for long. I found myself thinking, that at least there is still Afghanistan so that my service will have some sort of prolonged relevance to American society but I remember that it never did in the first place. I pick up the phone in 2003 and my dad is back from his reporting of the initial invasion of Iraq, and he will make my high school graduation. I think about all of the parents who went to their son's high school graduations to send them off soon to die and their story was always the same as mine. Some shrink will be forever questioning what I mean when I say that I don’t want to feel better about it, this is how I keep them with me, in a haunting feeling I let ferment, the feeling of the death of a good friend. “It meant something to me grandma!” I want to yell, but who is listening?

I will clock into work tonight and clock out when I am done. The dead dancers have left my building again with a message, “It is always like this, it was always like this. Now go home kid!” No words will fill in between the lines, no tears will resurrect anything other than a void and no news coverage means any more to a stranger than it does to me. I will wake in the morning cold to light a smoke and I will remember when you will not. The only thing that has changed is someone’s son does not have to die in Iraq tomorrow.

Cajones Part 2: Jose Moracruz

I had dreamed of putting a helmet on since I was young, only to find that when I finally did, the helmet was an uncomfortable hunk of shit that dug into my scalp so I would find any reason to take it off. We debarked a commercial airliner in Honolulu and were funneled into a white school bus in our dress green uniforms. Something about the island seemed surreal and almost spiritual, a strange sort of vibe that made me think about the many Marines who had gone through this process before me. The bus chugged along until we reached Marine Corps Base Hawaii. We got out of the buses and received our room assignments, my orders were to join four other new Marines assigned to Alpha Company third platoon and my roommate would be a fellow teenager I had never met before, Jose Moracruz. We had heard the horror stories and were clear that hazing would probably be in our near future.

I did not know if a crew of bloodthirsty seasoned senior Marines were waiting for us and my new roommate looked at me in horror as we stood on a freshly mowed lawn a little before midnight. “Hey, help me fix this.” Moracruz said to me, referring to his shooting badge on his uniform which had somehow broken a link and was hanging awkwardly. Such a thing seemed a good excuse for a senior Marine to catch and commence hazing. I struggled with the cheap piece of metal and was able to jerry-rig something that resembled normalcy. A black sergeant appeared in front of us and let us know that many of our senior Marines were participating in something called super-squad and would not be present to fuck us up for a couple of weeks. The others were asleep and would guide us to pick up our gear and fill out paperwork in the morning. I thought it was a trick, but we were set free to our rooms and told to set out alarms for five thirty in the morning. I feared the morning's alarm and when it sounded, I awoke to my first day as a real infantry Marine.

Routine becomes the life of a Marine and Moracruz and I were forced into the life and became good friends. In the early Hawaii days we would watch movies every night on a television I had purchased and a video game machine he had bought, we would fall asleep to them and I would wake early in the mornings to the looped sound of the DVD's menu screen. We would usually order a pizza and a two liter of soda, only to burn the calories off the next day or in the Hawaii jungle. When the senior Marines who had been gone finally showed up I begged them to haze me. I explained to them that I had made it through boot-camp and the school of infantry without having my ass kicked and felt that I had been cheated.

The senior Marines were surprised and the word spread quickly the first day, I told them to show up at eight p.m. and informed them that I would be ready. One of the senior Marines pulled me aside to inform me that they could not kick my ass until they trusted me, so I continued to taunt them. Moracruz was horrified and not happy with my request because as my roommate the chances were good that he would be hazed as well, but he stayed with me even though he did not have to. At seven thirty I told Moracruz that I would be dressing in my "war suit" for the upcoming battle. Moracruz shook his head and said, “You are fucking crazy Anderson.” I had it all planned out and dressed in my "war suit" which consisted of; a reflective yellow glow belt around my waist, my boots with olive drab socks, a gas mask, and nothing else. I was mostly nude and ready for anything. At the strike of eight there was a knock at my door. I threw it open and howled inside my gas mask, jumping out of the threshold and shaking my genitals at those senior Marines who had showed up. They all laughed and left Moracruz and I alone, we had earned some valuable cool points.

I was waiting to board a commercial airliner today from Atlanta back to my home in Portland. I listened to a couple of Army Privates in uniform who could not have been older than nineteen and they reminded me of myself and Moracruz eight years ago. The two Privates were fresh out of training and comparing stories about how difficult and fun it had been. They are always convinced that they will deploy soon and talk about it unrealistically, idealistic about an upcoming mission that they had not yet received orders for. It made me smile, they were still innocent and baby faced. When the plane landed the stewardess requested that uniformed members aboard the airliner be allowed to be the first off and the passengers applauded as I watched the Privates leave.

When we were young there were two Marines who made it their business to give Moracruz a hard time. One was Big Mississippi and the other Big Texas. They would predict him a coward and crack jokes at him because they could. On November 12, 2004 we were in the Battle of Fallujah and the squad I was traveling with found itself ambushed by thirty terrorists. I was in the house next door to the ambush house and Big Mississippi was one of the first people to fall back to my house. He had always worked out for fun and was a gigantic meathead, his complex was not complex and I remember him looking at me with wide eyes full of fear, he simply froze and did not prove combat effective. As soon as the ambush began Big Texas ran as fast as he could away from the enemy gunfire. He ended up shot and many speculated this was because he had run into a friendly machine gun position. When he was tackled down the street by one of our Navy medics he was said to have exclaimed, “They are all dead, drop a bomb on the house!” All of us were very alive. I remember watching Moracruz walk into the house and as he did so he dumped a couple hundred rounds out of his machine gun toward the enemy position. He was bleeding from the calves from where he had been shot, he only collapsed after his job was done.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Cajones Part 1: Tijuana Prelude

Cajones will be a four part story focusing on Mexican American Marines who guided my military experience.

In the winter of 2001 I took a trip with a friend to visit his father in San Diego with the intentions of slipping into Tijuana Mexico when I was sixteen. I made the trip with sixty dollars, twenty of which was lollipop money from a school fundraiser that I hid in the back of my wallet in case of an emergency. I owed the money to a teacher of mine that coming Monday. After spending a day meeting my friend’s father and his family, and after a paintball game with some friends who played with no protective masks, we took off to the Promised Land. His father dropped my buddy, his younger brother and I at the border and recommended against drinking the water. The last thing my father had told me before I had left for the trip was, “Don’t go to Mexico.” We walked through the state fair styled turning pole gate and found ourselves in a new and magical country.

The first thing a person may notice when crossing the border to Tijuana on foot is the smell of feces coming from a concrete irrigation channel holding shallow brown water that children play in and vagrants wander. Ahead waves an enormous Mexican flag in the air, surrounded by what appears to be dilapidated housing and make-shift shacks. Filthy and impoverished children run up to the new arrivals selling “Chiclet” gum and begging for money. If you have a heart it should be shattered within ten feet of clearing the pole gate. Welcome to Tijuana 2001.

My friends and I made it to the initial shops before we reached Revolution Street, which is the main hub of the city. We stopped at a bar and sat outside as the server brought my friend and I a couple of beers and I bought a pack of smokes in my new found “Donkey Island”. His younger brother abstained from the beer and nicotine, he was a nice curly haired kid who should have been entering his freshman year in high school but had skipped so many grades that he was preparing to graduate ahead of us, and needless to say he was a genius. We finished our beers and continued the quest. I didn’t have a lighter so I would light the cigarettes back to back chain-smoking. My Spanish was good enough to get around and I knew the culture of Tijuana well enough not to get in trouble, the lollipop money would be for police, if we ran into them. My friend and I were in search of a strip club and talking about it as we stood by a fountain that is a local landmark. Out of nowhere a shady looking Mexican guy interrupted our conversation and exclaimed, “Hey! Three amigo’s, did someone say strippers?” We nodded our heads and he said, “Follow me! I know a great place!” My friend and I were determined to be the first kids in our class to get a lap dance. Our new friend guided us passed Revolution Street and passed the never ending bars until we reached our destination. A large man sat on a stool and asked for our I.D.’s, my friend and I shook our heads and said that we did not have I.D.’s. Our new friend vouched for us and the younger brother told us that he was cool with his older brother going in but that he would wait for us outside. My friend and I entered the strip club.

Having knowledge about how such things operate and having made many trips to Tijuana after this trip, I have still never told my friend the secret to my hot stripper trick. As we entered the club a server approached us and offered us a seat by the stripper pole. I let my friend lead and I put a twenty dollar bill in the servers hand and told him in his ear that this was a tip and to make sure we had a good time. My buddy had never seen my move and we took a seat. The server brought us a complimentary aluminum bucket full of ice and beer, happy with his tip. The strip club was dark and empty except for the two under-aged gringos and smelled heavily of cheap perfume. American hip hop music began to bump in the club and the DJ announced the entrance of the first stripper with gusto.

She must have been in her fifties and was missing a front tooth. She mounted the pole and went to work; my friend and I loved it, I think because we both wanted to be writers and had read Hunter S. Thompson. As the song played and the old lady danced a hot stripper came and sat on my lap; my friend looked at me bewildered as to why me and not him? I put together that it was the tip I had dropped the server but said nothing. She flirted with me and asked if I wanted to go to the back room for a lap dance that would cost twenty dollars? I explained to her that I only had ten dollars and at first she refused but finally caved. I had seen that done in a favorite war movie about Vietnam. She led me to the back room and a four foot tall Mexican man held his hand out for advance payment. I put ten dollars of the lollipop money in his hand and he shook his head no and said, “Twenty amigo.” I put the last of my money in his hand and disappeared to the back room for three songs worth of a lap dance.

After the first song ended my friend entered the backroom with the elderly stripper who had been dancing on the pole. I raised my beer at him and he waved…I laughed the whole way through the next song because I had the savvy to win the hot stripper and he had no clue why. My dance ended after my third song and my friend had one more to go when the four foot tall bill collector came rushing into the back room and asked, “Do you have I.D. amigo?” I shrugged and explained that I had already told the door man I didn’t. He looked at me alarmed and said “Policia amigo, you need I.D.” My heart sank as I looked passed the bead curtain at Mexican police who were questioning some new arrivals. “You got a back door?” I asked in a panicked voice. “You got money?” He responded.

I had spent the last of my high school lollipop emergency funds on the Tijuana stripper but figured my friend had some money so I pointed at him and said, “No but he does.” The short man broke up my friends lap dance early and ushered him to where I was standing. My friend was confused and I explained the situation as our guide ushered us out the back door that led to a courtyard where a scrap metal fence with a rusty hinge stood between us and Mexican jail. We could not open the gate that had probably been closed since the Mexican Revolution so the three of us desperately put our backs into it until the gate was forced open. The short man made my friend tip him and he guided us back to the front door where my buddies little brother was having an intellectual conversation on the political impacts of 9-11 to the doorman who could not understand a word the curly haired gringo was saying.

When I got back home I told my step-brother who was the same age the greatest story he had ever heard about a city he had never seen; a land where a sixteen year old could drink beer, smoke cigarettes and pay for a lap dance. Next I told him that I was short the twenty dollars I would owe the next day. We laughed at the story. He thought I was pretty screwed as we walked down our suburban streets heading back to our house. I saw something on the black asphalt and picked it up. It was a twenty dollar bill.

Friday, December 2, 2011

For CEB and Most Protected People of our United States.

CEB wrote a response to a blog of mine. Below is the link and CEB's comments can be found under and surprisingly..."Comments".

Combat and war is a harsh reality and I wish it were different but I don’t wish everyone to go as most modern Americans would prove worthless in combat. I do not subscribe to utopia as I don’t believe every human and every leader of humans can remain tame for a lifetime. I can’t say that my wars were just or sensible from the political perspective but as a field Marine it was not my job or my wish to consider these things. I was sent where the voters sent me. When I was young I did not want war but I did want to serve my country and with a gun, regardless of political affiliation, service is a tradition that my family has been involved in since at least the civil war that I can trace but with an oral and probably accurate history dating back to the revolution from my grandmother’s maiden side of the family, the Doans. The Doans were of English puritan stock and were rumored to date back to Plymouth-Rock, which made my grandmother eligible for some creepy club of people who were not quite Native Americans but had been here since colonization.
I do not feel more “American” than anyone else and would not consider myself a conservative or a liberal; as the extremists in both of those parties equally make me want to puke. If CEB is concerned I vote for Ralph Nader every election, not particularly because I want to see him as the president, but as a protest to a two party system that represents minorities of logic in this country. I joined the Marines a few weeks after graduating high school and did not come from a poor or tragic background that most liberals would like to subscribe to. I was not a red blooded flag waving mindless patriot angered by racism against the “towel-heads” that had brought those towers down as some conservatives would subscribe to. I came from southern California middle class suburbia; I read books on my free time, liked punk rock music from the eighties and at one time sported a Mohawk. My parents divorced when I was young, which was common where I grew up but remained proactive in my up-bringing until I left for service. My father was a reporter and my mother worked in sales for most of my childhood. I frequented museums of art and science during odd weekends as a kid and went to the movies with my family on others. I wanted to be a writer and a film director for as long as I can remember…the same amount of time that I wanted to serve my country. I am a life-long atheist but respect the religious views of all cultures and always have.
I write this not because I am special but because CEB wants to counsel veterans and is currently a student. I fell in love with a girl when I was a kid and would write her when I was in Fallujah Iraq, waiting to die and fight but finding the romance in every sunrise of every day that I had survived…marveling at that ball of light and wondering if it would be the last time I would see it or feel the warmth of anything ever again. I would write her about my observations of a strange place where people were trying to kill me and with the expectation that we would be together when I got home. After that battle many of my friends had been killed, the girl had found another man and so is the ancient story of the warrior. I was not bitter, I had a nice vacation back home where there was another woman and some rest with my family. Then it was time to leave again and start the process all over but this time in Afghanistan and with new Marines who would see battle; that I was very concerned about the same way a friend of mine who was killed would have been concerned about me the year before.
I served four years and came back home to watch many of my friends struggle with their journey and I would think to myself how strange they were and wonder why they were having such a hard time. I would drink all day and stay up all night waiting for someone I did not know to kill me in southern California suburbia. Months after returning I began to smell dead bodies before I reached an REM sleep state and would find myself immediately very awake and very alert. I still can’t sit for too long in a crowded room without breaking for a cigarette. As for humanity, I never killed anyone and never wanted to. I spent my recovery from myself writing about my experiences in an attempt to explain what the world looked like to me as a Marine Infantryman teenager who did his job.
There are many CEB’s in this world who will question our humanity through ignorance and I laugh for joy at what a pleasure it must be to go to school instead and have such an easy life without ever having a legitimate question of mortality. Today the military is an all-volunteer force…no draftees because people like me keep it that way. I have no shame for the city we leveled to the ground or for the people we killed. I am very aware that when I talk to a civilian psychiatrist who has never been shot at, that I will be talking to CEB and hope that this letter clears the air a bit. In my world CEB is a waste of space, same as the war mongers and the liberals who campaign for tolerance for everything except those things they do not agree with. The same country I left to defend was the same country I returned home to.