A 1-In-100 Blogger: A Mideast Summer’s Dream

Monday, November 2, 2009

A Mideast Summer’s Dream

Act I—Introduction

Act II—A Mideast Summer’s Dream

Maneuvering from lane to lane, it is all so easy for me to get lost in the dunes of Iraq – as if there is anything here but flat, endless lanes of sand. I jack up the music; a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival blasts as loud I can set it, titled Heard It through the Grapevine. Oh the joy of freedom, the reckless driving in the open desert. The military hummer and myself behind the wheel, we showed the sand dunes who’s in charge. Every now and then I notice a slight lump of sand out in front and ahead of the vehicle. Pressing down on the gas pedal, I gun it, hoping to catch air. Just for the thrill of it, testing out the power of its engine, the hummer gets me where I need to go. I am able to easily maneuver in and out of things in my way at top speeds – as fast I can go there isn’t a damn thing to stop me. The song nears its end, drifting quieter and quieter to the whisper of a siren.

Snapping back to my being, racing down the highway, I notice a police officer in my rear view mirror. In a hurry to go somewhere with flashing lights and a blaring siren, he crept up directly behind my vehicle. “How odd,” I think to myself. Even more peculiar is the fact as I slow down allowing him to pass he let his vehicle get within feet or inches of my own. Unsure what to think at this point, other than, well, I wonder, “When did he start following me?” Slowing down to 85MPH, then 75 to 65 and slower, I prepare to pull over. Realizing I had been racing along at who-knows what speed, I suppose this journey on the freeway was fun while it lasted. I’m home in the good state of Oregon.

Stopping the car I roll down my windows as two officers slowly walk up from both sides of the vehicle, hands on their holsters – I gulp, though swallowing mostly air. My hands tightly grip the steering wheel. The first officer reaches my driver side window, speaking first he says, “Where are you going?!” Pausing for a moment, I don’t want to say anything stupid or lie to him. “I’m going home, officer.” Looking up at him, I try appearing innocent. I swear he’s reading my thoughts because the next thing he mentions answers my unasked question. “I’ve been chasing you since you screeched your tires leaving the Costco parking lot. Did you not see me?” I didn’t. That was five miles ago. It occurs to me I’m probably going to jail. “Officer, I-I had no idea…” Stumbling to fix the situation, I say, “I apologize, Officer. I truly had no idea you were following me. I had my music turned up and was just driving home.” Soon thereafter I’m holding a yellow sheet of paper with five unique ticket violations on it, totaling about $1,000.

During my trial in court, I plead “not-guilty.” Before leaving court, after receiving my next trial date, another police officer stares me down as he walks up to me. He tells me sarcastically of my new fame, having been ‘the guy in a black sedan running from the cops.’ Wearing a collar-shirt during my show in court, I have a high-and-tight military haircut. I explain to the officer my recent return from Iraq. I assume it is easy for him to see that I was telling him the truth. Lo and behold, weeks later when after posting a plea bargain to reduce my fine – I’m told it’s denied. Instead, the court informs me that I must pay the sound violation fine for screeching my tires upon exiting the Costco parking lot. Shocked but extremely appreciative, I take it. The fine totals about $94. I can rest assure I’ll pay more attention while driving from there on out, lesson learned. I don’t want to do that again.

Immediately upon my return home from Iraq I notice my bank account has about $10,000 in it. Not having to pay taxes for ‘living’ outside the U.S. during the previous six months, each paycheck accumulated very nicely. Doing the math, I calculate the net income of $10k by the number of days I was in Iraq – which is six months, so approximately 180 days – it turns out each paycheck I received a cool $55.50 a day. Having worked twenty-four hour days with no weekends, I was paid a hefty $2 or $3 an hour for my work. What the money did offer me was a nice cushion for beginning school at the Oregon State University.

Walking on campus to class, my backpack is loaded with books. I’m a college student aiming to achieve an undergraduate degree. Sometimes I’m still aiming the barrel of my M-16 toward the enemy, wondering if the convoy my hummer leads is about to get ambushed. The campus streets fill with other students, each searching for their own building and classroom destination. Mine is for an English Philosophy class. Before entering the building where my classroom is located, I double check the streets, accounting for each remaining student still meandering along. Some appear lost. Making sure there isn’t anybody hiding on the roof-tops of other buildings, including my own, it’s time to head into class. “No snipers,” I imagine. It’s safe to enter the building; there will be no incoming fire. Lining the stairway up to the door, sandbags rest on either side, barbed wire along the railing. Quickly entering through the doors I search for room 189A.

Sitting down at my desk, we’re told to take our reading material out so we can follow along with the instructor as he takes us through the lesson plan of the day. Following instruction I quietly find myself looking around the room, impatiently waiting for everyone else to shut their mouths and do as we’re told. Time passes and eventually the other students catch up. Class begins. The instructor carries on, discussing something about William Shakespeare and poetry, or whatever. "Lord, what fools these mortals be!" the instructor quotes. Trying to keep focus on the lecture I take notes along with the lesson. At all costs I keep my head up, occasionally writing down what I hear, though mostly looking straight ahead. I must stay confident. I mustn’t show weakness from a lack of knowledge in lectures.

My head snaps forward, realizing my eyes are looking out the window. Stay focused. Keep alert. Class is still in session. I go over my notes and begin to recollect the instructor’s strategy given to us that morning, right before our convoy plans to head deeper into Iraq and into a hostile city. We are told of the enemy’s willingness to use all means necessary to kill Marines. Stay focused. Another convoy had run into trouble that morning after being suspiciously halted by “civilian vehicles and people” blocking the road. Look, read over my notes. The enemy, a child clutching a live grenade ran up to one of the stopped hummers packed with Marines, resting the device onto a wheel before running away. Focus. Many Marines were killed in that ambush. We prepare to move out.

The desert peels away from the earth under the tires of the hummer. “Now class,” the instructor continues. “We have to ask ourselves some important questions.” Nothing remains here; it is a constant state of motion. “Because we now have a Lysander who is under the influence of pixy dust.” With a fully loaded, locked-in-place magazine to my weapon, I have three remaining magazines strapped to my Kevlar vest. I am deadly at a distance of up to 500 yards. “His motives have been altered.” I am armed and kill-ready, there are few who are able to stop this weapon. “They are displaced, I’ll admit that. Puck may have used pixy dust, but can we still view his qualities as those of natural human beings?”

The instructor continues his lecture, quoting another reference to our reading from Shakespeare. He said:

"I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream past the wit of man to say what dream it was. Man is but an ass if he go about t’expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was, and methought I had—but man is but a patched fool if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream. It shall be called ‘Bottom’s Dream’, because it hath no bottom."

A few minutes later I check my notes, or at least I believe some time had gone by, because I apparently wrote the same quote down. I have no idea what it means, but satisfied with myself for writing it in my notes. “Ooh-Rah” I think, relieved that I’m staying on top of class work. The bell to end class blares and I realize my own shock that it’s already over. I pack up my things and leave. Assuring myself that I took quality notes, I’m pretty sure I gained something from today’s class lecture. Heading into the hallway there’s a lot of people in my way, I need to get out of the building and to my next class.

Locking my bayonet into place, I hold up my M-16 A2 service rifle while noting to self, “Not today.” It’s my life or theirs. And I sure won’t let it be mine. Our convoy enters the ‘hot zone’ in Iraq. The streets are filled with civilians and people, trucks and cars all pulling over to the side as we pass by them. Except for one, which did quite the opposite, it pulls out directly in front of our convoy ahead of me. About twenty yards in front of the hummer.

Staged on the back of the lead hummer I look over to the Marine next to me, his weapon mounted on the top and center portion of the vehicle. The M240 Machine Gun is extremely powerful having the capability to rip into and demolish the potential threat in front of us. Leaning to my right I also notice people begin to crowd near us, moving closer to our vehicle and the convoy which has now slowed down slightly – due this truck ahead of ours. Aiming my weapon at those getting closer, I’m yelling for them to get back, to move away. My bayonet-mounted rifle fiercely interpreting to them what I want. Searching for a weapon of any kind, I’m looking for the enemy. Noticing the white truck in front of our convoy hadn’t moved out of the way, I know our orders. Thirty seconds to a minute, that’s all we give them. We cannot afford another ambush. Not today. A minute passes by.

Waiting outside the classroom for my next class, a student near me asks if I finished the homework assignment from the night before. “I think so,” I reply, simultaneously dropping my backpack to the ground, rummaging through it for a particular sheet of paper. Apparently this is a follow up lecture teaching the same genre of written poetry and plays by Shakespeare and other well-known artists. Also apparent to me now, there was an assignment given the other day for us to complete. The ten-minute warning bell rings alerting us that class will begin soon but I couldn’t find my homework. I didn’t do it, it wasn’t there. My classmate tells me he hadn’t finished his either. He asks me if we should work on it before the class begins.

“Let’s do it,” the Marine next to me atop the hummer yells. He reminds me the truck in front of us seems all too suspicious, which is full of Iraqi’s standing in the truck-bed. I aim my rifle at them, frantically searching for a weapon aboard the vehicle or potentially held by those inside of it. Realizing some of the Iraqi’s in the truck bed were looking at us, I wave them off; motioning to them, they must move aside. Seconds pass by. No change of direction. There will be no warning shot. Not if my life has anything to say about it. General George S. Patton once stated, “The object of war is not to die for your country but to make the other bastard die for his.” It’s my life or theirs.

“Wait,” I say to the Marine next to me. Still looking down the barrel of my rifle, aiming directly at them I say, “Are they looking to die or for an open street corner so they can turn?” After all, the street is crowded with people. And just as I mention it they turn. Satisfied with their movement, I finally exhale; taking note that there will be no killing here today. The men in front of us will live another day, and so will we.

A philosopher named Bertrand Russell who lived during the WWI and WWII-era once said, "Patriots always talk of dying for their country and never of killing for their country." How true it is, our willingness to sacrifice our life for our country do indeed make us heroic. Yet killing for our country isn’t a discussion veterans talk about or want to hear about. This is probably for the better.

I am accustomed to this mentality in Iraq; it is in my training, and it’s a daily routine I am used to in order to remain at the top of my game. But make no mistake; war is no game at all. It reminds me that, "There are no atheists in foxholes…” isn't an argument against atheism, it's an argument against foxholes. Few understand this, luckily even less experience it. Nobody wants war, but if war is an intrinsic quality of humanity, then Marines should be the ones to punish those who try and restrict or damage the freedom that every human deserves a life of. I am proud of the freedom I’ve given to the Iraqi people.

In class I listen to our instructor speak. At least I can see that she is telling us something. Reciting and translating a final quote from Shakespeare’s play, she says,
“If we shadows have offended,
Think but this, and all is mended,
That you have but slumbered here.”

“To help translate,” the instructor clarifies, “What Puck is saying is this: ‘if the actors in our show made you mad, it’ll be okay if you think of it this way! You fell asleep and dreamed the whole thing anyway.’” She continues,
“While these visions did appear;
And this weak and idle theme,
No more yielding but a dream,
Gentles, do not reprehend.
If you pardon, we will mend."

Following along in the text, I ask myself, “What does the rest of it mean?” The struggle to regain focus and the concentration I know all too well I once had. “Where does it go?” I suppose that is asking for too much. I cannot know everything. I have many goals, though no regrets. Everyone’s life is unique and challenging in its own surrounding. Understanding this I comfortably remind myself that, “This is my challenge, and by way I will work around it.” And the instructor completes the recital, “Now to scape the serpent’s tongue, ‘illustrating the hissing of the audience,’” she says, “...So, good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends.” Paraphrasing, she states, “This demonstrates a yearning of applause from the audience, if they so desire. ‘And Robin shall restore amends.’ For William Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the instructor finishes, “This is the end.”

Cite this story
APA style
Erwin, D. (2009, November 2). A Mideast Summer’s Dream [Online exclusive]. A 1-In-100 Blogger. Retrieved from http://derekerwin.blogspot.com/2009/11/mideast-summers-dream.html

MLA style
Erwin, Derek. "A Mideast Summer's Dream." A 1-In-100 Blogger. 2 November 2009. Weblog entry. Retrieved from http://derekerwin.blogspot.com/2009/11/mideast-summers-dream.html

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