Playing War For Real

A year has come and gone, and I can hardly believe it. Last year I saw most of my family that I hadn’t seen in years. I probably won’t see them for another span of uncounted years. I hardly stay in touch with them, only hearing second hand stories from my mother. The last time I saw my cousin we were reminiscing about our days playing war, when we built forts in our grandpa’s pile of scrapped farm implements. He was just going into high school. The time before that we were actually playing war. I saw him last summer and he was a senior in high school. He looked so much older and capable. The wild kid I always saw in him was subdued. That wild kid always filled me with a sort of fear and dread. We had fun playing as kids, but you never knew if he was going to turn on you. I sensed that same quality now, but it was hidden, buried under a high school facade. But what do I know? These are just off hand thoughts from the passing conversations we had.

Now he’s joined the marines and is playing war for real.

So It Goes

Another day, another book. This one slightly off-kilter. It was a book about a crazy man who didn’t seem to be bound by time. All the good books seem to be about crazy guys. Or at least people every one else thinks are crazy. When you completely understand someone they seem kind of shallow and boring. Those people never make good characters. They make good action heroes, but I’ve never met anyone who would make a good action hero.

The book I read was about war. I’ve always wondered what happens to people in war. Your mind is turned upside down, the best of people crack up, and the worst of people come together. Everything that you know is lost and you never see the world quite the same again. It’s an odd little thing we like to subject ourselves to every now and again. Sometimes you see hollow old men with their eyes sunken and the skin hanging from their throats. They fought in the war. Now that have just have memories more faded than the stale black and white photos. But they’re still haunted. Their world was shaken and they never quite reclaimed. Or maybe their world wasn’t so shaken. They went over there, did their job and came home. Those are the people I understand the least. Those are the people with no soul. You have to wonder how most men get through it. Do you just suck it up and squeeze the trigger? How can you walk so close to death for so long? Perhaps it’s simply a more enlightened way to live.

The old man lying in the bed, with a child’s lost gaze, fought in the war. He doesn’t recognize me and just wants to know where his teeth are. They’re loosely clenched in the palm of his hand. He’s my grandpa. He sat in the trenches at Iwo Jima, squeezing the rifle in his hands until his fingers turned pale like an onion. He clenched his teeth as the bullets whizzed by and he swore and he ran and he fell and fired that gun to save his own life. Or so the story goes. I don’t really know what he did in the war. I’ve only seen happy pictures of him and friends in the Pacific with girls. In the basement my dad has a knife my grandpa brought back from the war. Somebody made it out of pieces of scrap metal. The end of the handle is shaped like a boot. My grandpa traded somebody for it. I wonder if that guy died in the war. I wonder if his grandkid knows where whatever his grandfather got for the trade is.

But now I can’t even ask my grandpa about it. Maybe I could, they tell me he’s gotten better. The last time I saw him he was barely alive, sucking on a cigarette like it was the only thing he recognized. I think it was. So it goes. That’s what Kurt Vonnegut always said. I wonder if anybody knows how many times he said that in Slaughterhouse Five. That’s the book I finished. So it goes.

Nuclear Nasties

I always thought that since the Berlin Wall fell and the Soviet Union came toppling down, the Cold War must have thawed out as well, like a bucket of ice cream on the counter. But apparently the threat of nuclear annihilation still plagues us all. As naïve as I must be, the threat of nuclear disaster will be with us forever. Since that fateful day in New Mexico more than fifty years ago man has been cursed with the ability to destroy himself—and to destroy himself pretty damn good.

The Cold War was fought on the basis of deterrence: if we can nuke them as bad as they can nuke us, then they won’t want to nuke us. Brilliant idea. Of course if anybody decides to get testy, the meek get screwed and cockroaches inherit the earth. Of course the Soviet Union collapsed and we won the Cold War. I don’t really know what we won, but it must prove capitalism can kick communist butt.

Now we jump ahead to today and the latest nuclear holocaust scenario. Now we’re not so worried about Russia as we are about all these little ragtag countries with nuclear capabilities. They probably couldn’t completely wipe us out, but they could take a nice bite out of Los Angeles. And our brilliant notion of deterrence doesn’t work anymore. You can’t point intercontinental ballistic missiles at every country on earth and dare them to so much as look at us the wrong way. Now the brilliant idea is to build a missile defense system. If they launch a missile at us, we’ll just blow it out of the sky.

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Gas prices go up, Gas prices go down

Gas prices go up, gas prices go down. Gas prices go up, gas prices go down. It’s really funny how mad people can get about the price they pay for their fuel. Everybody is willing to do anything to stabilize and lower the price of gasoline. You’d think someone would realize that this is just a tiny little warning light. Hello America, you’re over dependant on fossil fuel. But nobody’s listening for that. That doesn’t make gas prices cheaper. Nobody’s thinking about how in fifty years we’ll have squeezed the earth of all its oil. We’re only concerned about the here and now, and what the bottom line means to me; the selfish disease that will surely topple America.

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Chasing the Reading List

I love reading. When I was in third grade I remember vying for first place in our class’s reading program. Of course I was reading for number of books, not content. I remember my grandma taking me and my brother to the library during our vacation so we could find something to do. I remember curling up in the back of the minivan during family vacations and plowing through a pile of books–and then getting car sick.

Last night I went to a used book store and thought I was in heaven. I was wandering back and forth between the paperbacks and the hard covers, looking for every author I could think of. By the time I left I had whittled my pile down as much as possible. I walked out with $30 worth of books, birthday money well spent.

Now I’m trying to get through my summer reading list. Which is difficult, considering I’m continually adding to it. But it gives me a great feeling of satisfaction to finish a book and put it back on my shelf. Too bad I’ll always be chasing the end of my reading list. But in a way that’s the fun part.

Outside Looking In

Have you ever felt like you’re on the outside looking in? Being a college student has done that to me. I’ve lost all sense of home and belonging and there are very few places I can call my own. The result is that I’m an outsider wherever I go. The most interesting thing is how I’ve become an outsider in the one place I should truly be an insider–church. And let me tell you, the view from the outside is a little strange. I never before realized just how odd of a bunch we Christians are. We’re constantly preaching to each other and constantly not listening. We’re like robots pretending not to be robots, which was a phrase I saw on the back of a t-shirt today and thought it was rather appropriate.

Scheduled Boredom

This summer I’ve joined the paid working class (as opposed to last summer when I joined the slave intern caste) and am working the typical 9 to 5 desk job. Typical 9 to 5 with your commute. Luckily traffic isn’t too bad, but it’s still a 20-30 minute drive. I’ve quickly discovered that by the time you get home have dinner and clean up, it’s 7:00. You have three hours to “play” and then it’s 10:00 and you need to seriously start thinking about bed. By 11:00 I’m usually in bed or on my way. That’s only three hours of time to spend however I want. How pathetic is that? I suppose you also have your weekends, but who wants to endure 9 to 5, Monday through Friday drudgery just to look forward to the weekend? I guess it’s really teaching me the value of finding a job you like. Living for three hours each day is kind of pointless.

The other day I overheard a child in passing. He was explaining to his friend what he had to do that afternoon. The only coherent part I caught was that from 4:30 until 5:00 he was going to be bored. Scheduled boredom. I long for that.

I’m a Hyper-Sensitive Christian

Two days after I turn 21 I’m sitting around a table cluttered with at least seven beer bottles. Three Coronas and four Heinekens. They’ve all got slivers of lime floating in the foam. A can of Pepsi is sitting in front of me, and I feel like an outcast. Having grown up in the church, I have a tremendous stigma associated with alcoholic beverages. It’s to the point of lunacy. Most people who’ve grown up in the church have this overblown defense mechanism for anything that can be remotely considered a sin. And it’s usually the trivial things. It’s evident when I assume that anyone who smokes or chews tobacco simply cannot be a Christian. It’s evident when a pastor gives a sermon about how husbands and wives relate and uses whatever awkward technical words he can to avoid saying “sex.”

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