Sunday, March 29, 2009

What's Cracklin'

"Name of the game is Texas Hold 'em..." Pete dealt the cards slowly to each of us. He gave the same introduction every week, every single week for a year, and we always played the same game, Texas Hold 'em. "You get two cards, there will be a flop which consists of three frags of hope, a turn, which only make some of you knuckleberrys even more hopeful, and then that river which will win me the pot."

Tony rolled his eyes at the Sargeant as he always did and Corporal Timmons shot him a glare... as he always did.

I hoped I'd win, as I usually did.

Marks sweating like a call girl in confession, told us for the 5,000th time he was "Burning up. Dang. This is fucking hot."

Iraq is hot. Steaming, burning insufferable heat. You could taste the sand in the wind and we were located in the most wayward, godforsaken corner of the desert any troop could hope to be. We called ourselves the Lost Guardsmen.

We were entrenched in a large camp, basically guarding a hatch in the ground. A couple of men from DC, CIA surely, had dropped in and taken a look, left and then six months later nothing. Still we guarded it.

Day after day of nothingness. Not that we'd complain. Plenty of guys we know elsewhere dealing with road side bombs and citizens who wave at them one minute shooting at them from a window the next. No in terms of Iraq, despite the boredome we had it pretty good. Most of us had already gotten enough of a taste of action in Afghanistan to know it was all it was cracked up to be.

If whatever we were guarding was valuable the Iraqis hadn't figured it out yet. We didn't feel like soldiers or guards we felt more like inmates. Every couple of weeks a copter would fly in with supplies and fresh decks or cards and we basically played poker and traded our salaries around like it was gold.

That's what Marks thought was in the hatch. Gold. Babylonian gold.

We tried to talk the officers into letting us peak in the hatch but no dice.

Somebody said that they were actually chemical weapons. A warehouse full of anthrax or something.

Others said if it were gold or munitions some warlord would have come looking for it. But nothing.

So we waited and "guarded."

Every night when it got cool and not too windy we played poker. Jackson, from Jackson, Mississippi, had somehow gotten some Makers Mark into camp and we were sipping it. I no longer bothered keeping track of where my rifle was and I thought of a TV show my dad got on DVD recently, Sgt. Bilko.

As we passed around the cards, Pete went through the texas hold'em rules again, and we kept sipping the Makers Mark and talk shifted to the hatch. Jackson spoke first in a quiet whisper, "I've been down there you know..."

"Down where?" The corporal asked.

"Don't get all narc on me, but I've been down the hatch... went last night," I couldn't take it no more.

"You went down the hatch?" The corporal swelled up.

"Yeah, and if you want to know what I saw, you'll agree to shut the fuck up, right?"

"Corporal you can keep it quiet right?" Tony got real close to Corporal Timmons.

The corporal wilted, "If the sarge is fine with it..."

"Of course, I'm fine with it. Now, Jackson, from Jackson, what's in that hatch of ours?"

Tuesday, March 3, 2009


"I can't go for that, no-o, no can do," she smiled with a glint in her eye.

We had spent half a day together, a long reckless day, driving 100 mph on the interstate in a beat up Honda that looked like it would struggle to go 70. Already that morning we took a dip in a fountain in a public park. We split a beer and then she came up with the destination.

We were cutting school. Anything went. Where we were supposed to be it was lunch time, b lunch, the second of three, yet we were far from the cafeteria. I could only imagine the stale baked ziti on a tray.

I watched her struggle to reach the volume knob on the radio. All she had to do was sit up, but for the last half hour she was leaned back as far as the seat would go, her legs perched up with her feet hanging gingerly out the window. She giggled when she finally adjusted it.

She slid a cigarette out of the box on her purse in between us, a Camel lite. As she reached for her lighter, I started to laugh and grabbed her hand.

"I can't go for that," despite doing 90 and weaving through the sparse traffic on I-10, I managed to make eye-contact with my most disapproving look.


"No can do."

She wrangled the lighter from me, and laughed some more.

"No!" I said.

"The window's open. Don't worry."


"Com'n it's not like your mom's going to know."

I shook my head.


I shook my head defeated. I didn't have to say it, she knew I relented. With her I always did. She always got her way. Where has that ever got me I thought to myself?

She smiled her little Meg Ryan, self-satisfied cute as hell smile, and I stopped caring. I just wanted that smile to never go away.

I had agreed to go to the casinos on the coast with her, on our cut day, but on one condition and that was not to smoke in my Mom's car. 30 miles to go and she was doing just that. But she was smiling.

She giggled as she breathed in the cigarette, she made an exaggerated effort to blow it out the window and I appreciated it. I watch the smoke disperse and stared at her long, tanned legs. They shined in the sunlight. I forced myself to look back at the road.

"We won't need I.D.?" I asked again.

"As long as you don't break the bank we'll be alright," she cooed, "just don't hit the jackpot on the slots or anything like that. Would suck not being able to keep it."

"And your sure, Tracey will mark us as not absent?"

"Don't want to ruin your perfect attendence? Jeez... you are already accepted in like five colleges."

"I can't be marked as absent..."

"Yes... It's okay. Stop worrying. You'll perfect attendence will be intact tomorrow. She's fudged plenty of cuts for me. She's the one that collects it and proofs it every day."

"... okay, and she's a space cadet."

"Chill. It's okay."

I sighed. I had never cut school before. In fact, I had never had a beer before, never hung out socially with HER before, but today as I was driving her to school she insisted we go right past it. I always thought she was just being nice to the neighbor boy who drove her to school, but now I didn't know so much. Maybe she liked me... like I liked her.

"And don't worry, we'll go play poker or something, they won't card us," she pulled her seat up and leaned over to me. As she got closer, my heart either stopped, jumped up into my throat, or sped out of my chest. "Don't worry," she lightly flicked my earlobe with her tongue and giggled, "besides, I think poker players are hot." Wow! What a day. "You going to wear these?" She took my sunglasses in her hand and twirled them before me.

"Am I going to be on TV?" I tried to find cool, I didn't really.

"No," she riffled the hair on the back of my neck with a gentle blow.

I re-adjusted my hands on the wheel trying not to lose myself. Our first moment. I took stock of it. Going about 87 on I-10 East with Florida in the rear-view mirror. One day I'll tell our kids about it, screw that tomorrow I'm going to tell everybody about it. "I don't think I'll need them."

"What if I want you to wear them," she was trying to distract me. The hairs all over my body stood up as she put soft lips to my neck.

I swallowed hard.

Her hand found it's way to my hair and she was almost in my seat.

"I want you to wear them," she said huskily.



"Well, I may need a little more convincing?"

"Really?" More laughing. "Let's see how the poker goes."

She pulled away, and then slid the sunglasses on my face, gently.

That was living.

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