Sunday, March 13, 2005

Taking a Shower

I haven’t taken a shower in a couple of days. My busy schedule has kept me from doing so. I’m tired, hungry and my back is aching from wearing the ridiculous amount of shit that is required of us. The weight and tightness of my body armor cause my upper torso to sweat, even when it’s chilly outside. My face, neck, and hands have a light coat of dirt and dust that cling to the perspiration and oil that seep through my pores. The oil that lubes my gun is on my hands, causing me to leave marks on whatever I touch. My feet, blanketed with wool socks, are damp with sweat and white from powder, creating an unmistakable odor. When I remove my boots, my nostrils are filled by this smell. It’s neither overwhelming in its stench, nor is it a welcome invasion of my nose. It’s just something that I must get rid of. This odor, joined by the sticky feeling that has enveloped the rest of my body, creates an intense desire in me to want to take a shower. I can’t stand it anymore.

While I undress, I wonder if the shower will miraculously be warm. I nod my head in doubt as I put on my black pt shorts and my grey pt shirt. Both the shirt and the shorts have ARMY printed on them in some kind of reflective print, put there in case I ever forget which branch of the military I serve in. Remembering that I am indeed in the Army, and that I signed up three years ago to this day, I sit down on my mattress that is covered in a floral design. What is it with this place and their mattresses? Are those flowers supposed to make me happy? Maybe they are an act of deception, designed to conceal the fact that hidden underneath their pretty petals lies a year or more worth of sweat, dirt, and filth. Why does my mattress feel as though it has to mock me? I’m well aware of the fact that it’s not clean, so quit bull shitting me with the flowers for Allah’s sake. Why can’t they put smiley faces on them? I could think of a hundred other designs that I would rather have on my mattress. How about little army men, or different models of airplanes. How about pictures of terrorists or maybe Michael Moore’s fat ass. I could role out of bed in the morning, look down, and become so thoroughly pissed off that I become wide awake with rage, bounding from my bed ready to attack the day ahead. What about scantily clad women, looking up at me with a suggestive smile. Forget the women. I have more fun dreaming of my wife. Pictures of my wife would be nice, but I wouldn’t want her beautiful face adorning something so ugly. Cars, boats, trains, buses. Kites, balloons, lollipops, or rainbows. On second thought, the rainbows might not work. People might think I’m gay, and then accuse me of violating the don’t ask, don’t tell policy that Clinton, no doubt while receiving a blowjob from that fat chick, started during his time in office. How about pictures of all the presidents or pictures of all the planets. Maybe guns, tanks, bombs, bullets, and grenades would be more appropriate. How about pages of a dictionary or a classical book. How about chapters out of the Bible printed on my mattress. That would be good, since I need to read my Bible more anyway. Dolphins would be good too. I like dolphins, they always seem to be smiling about something. Maybe their laughing at the fact that I have to sleep on a damn floral mattress. It’s like someone had diarrhea and went around shitting flowers everywhere. It would have been nice if they had made it to the disgusting port-a-johns we have to use and shit a few flowers in there. Thankfully I have a poncho liner to cover my mattress. It’s camouflage too, which will come in handy if I ever need to conceal myself from the flower shitting bandit.

I come back to my senses when I realize the significance of me signing up for the Army three years ago to this day. I signed up for three years. Today is my ETS date. I’m free to go home. They must have a jet fueling up right now, waiting to fly me back to my wife, home, and freedom. Maybe Michael Moore will be there to greet me at the airport with a video camera in my face. I could take him my mattress, with its shit covered floral design, and let him eat it, since I know he’s hungry. As soon as he’s taken a bite, I have kicked him in the balls and punched him in the teeth, shit flowers rising into the air, light as snowflakes, with every hard breath he takes. Settling down, they come to rest on him, forming a shit flower blob.
I’m once again brought back to reality and remember that my enlistment has been extended for the duration of this deployment, plus a few months after I get home. This doesn’t bother me since I would feel like a floral mattress with the weight of Michael Moore on me if I didn’t come back over here a second time. I slide my flip-flops(shower shoes in military speak) over to my bed, careful not to touch them with my hands. No amount of antibacterial hand sanitizer can kill the germs that are making their home in my shower shoes. The nylon strap that goes over my feet is hard and crusty from their last use. The bottom of each is dirty with mud from walking back through dirt the last time. Struggling to get my toes underneath this nylon is difficult without using my hands. I will my toes to burrow underneath and finally succeed, the part that goes in between my toes now in place. Heading for the door, I grab my towel, soap case, shampoo, and a clean pair of boxers.

Stepping outside, my shower shoes touch down on the rocks that seem to cover every square inch of our FOB. I assume they were brought in to keep the dust and mud down to a tolerable level. In exchange for not having wind blown dust covering everything we own, we now have to walk through mountains of loose rock. This isn’t gravel, these are big round rocks that move underneath your feet with every step you take. You have the sensation of spinning out whenever you try to walk, fighting for every inch. It’s like walking on a treadmill, with loose rock magically hanging onto the belt as it makes its revolutions. It’s hard enough when wearing boots, but put on some flip-flops and you have a real battle to fight.

Flexing my toes downward, I strain with all my might to keep my feet secured in the flip-flops. I’m also straining my ankles to remain upright, something I must do to keep from twisting them. I’m slowly gaining ground and can see the shower trailer up ahead. I think I can, I think I can, I think I can. Finally I arrive at the stone steps which offer me solid footing. My feet are cramped from the exertion. I open the door to the trailer and step in, inhaling the damp musty odor.

The linoleum floor is wet and muddy with puddles of dark water in low places. There are five shower stalls to my front, two sinks on both sides of the door I just entered, and a long wooden bench stretching from one end to the other. On both ends there are also two wooden shelves, holding the cleaning products that never seem to be used. Mirrors are hanging above three of the sinks, with one sink looking lonely without its mirror friend. It sits broken and lifeless, leaning against the wall underneath its lonely friend, exiled into an eternal hell where it will no longer return the image of someone’s vanity.

I turn to face one of the remaining mirrors. Mirrors are rare here, and you sometimes go days without seeing your image. As my image magically looks back at me, I am surprised at what I see. I look older. My eyes are blue but look tired, their color more emphasized by the dirt and sun that have darkened my face. It’s also made more dark by the day’s worth of stubble that has cast a shadow of its own. My lips are chapped and starting to crack, and I remember the unopened tubes of chapstick sitting in my room. My nose has dirt coating its nostrils. The scar on my chin stands out in contrast to the darkness of my face, the result of playing football in college. My hair is thinning on top and my forehead is growing as my hairline continues its retreat. My head has begun to win the war it has been raging with my hair. My sideburns are too long by military standards, but the fact that I’m in a foreign country, fighting a war, keeps me from caring. I don’t just look older, I look uglier. I no longer look youthful in my appearance, the last few years exacting its toll on my face. I can remember the last time I was over here, seeing the faces of boys growing old overnight as the threat of battle loomed. I guess I wasn’t immune to this rapid aging. It’s okay though, I’m not here to look pretty.

I turn from the mirror and face the showers. The trailer is empty except for me, giving me a choice among the five. All of them are dirty, with cloudy water standing in the bottom. Discarded soap, body hair, and mold occupy each one. I choose my shower based on the serviceability of the shower head. Some have leaks at the same level of my crotch, which based on experience, would cause a cold spray to stun me in my private’s. I settle on one that looks to be in good order, turning on the water to test my judgement. It has good pressure and no leaks, proving my initial judgement was correct

I began the process of undressing, which is not an easy feat with the dirty water on the floor. Taking off my shirt is done quickly and easily, it’s my shorts and the boxers underneath that will take me some time. I chastise myself for not taking my boxers off back in my room where the floor is dry. My feet must not touch the wet floor. The army has taught me to fear the microscopic organisms swimming in the water. I slowly take my right foot out of its flip-flop, balancing on the left while I remove my shorts and boxers, careful not to let them get wet from the floor. Shifting my weight to the right, I take my left foot out of its flip-flop and remove the shorts and boxers from that side as well, almost losing my balance in the process. Standing now fully nude except for my flip-flops, I place the shorts and dirty boxers on the bench next to my clean boxers. I throw the towel over the curtain rail and squeeze into the small stall, desperately trying not to brush up against the damp curtain.

I’m in. Turning around, I close the small curtain, which leaves a few inches on both sides open for all the world to see. I place my soap case and my shampoo on a little ridge that stands above the bottom of the shower. I turn the shower head to the side as I turn on the water, knowing that the initial stream will be ice cold. The water is coming down in a steady stream, and I wait for the warmth I’m so desperately seeking. It finally begins to get warm enough to endure, and I quickly step into its stream, mindful of its changing personality. A constant temperature is impossible to achieve in these showers, with it changing from warm to scalding hot to ice cold in rapid succession, tormenting me with its indecisiveness.

While it’s still warm, I quickly try to wet my entire body, taking the shower head off the hook to more quickly reach my legs and feet. I’m almost entirely wet before the temperature becomes scalding hot, stinging one of my feet. As it cycles through its differing emotions, I busy myself with getting lathered up. I cover my body from head to toe with soap suds, balancing on one foot while I lather my feet. I rub some shampoo into my hair, still waiting on the water to get back to a bearable temperature. It is now cold with emotion, imploring me even more to stay away. I try adjusting the levers with no success as my eyes begin to burn from the soap on my face. Finally it’s back to being a bearable warmth, and I quickly get underneath to rinse off. I start at my head and work my way down, knowing that I only have seconds to spare. Yanking the head off of its hook, I focus on my waist and continue my descent. The floor of the shower is now a greyish cloud of water that has enveloped my feet. So much for wearing the shower shoes. I tell myself that it is okay, that the murky water below is the remnants of my shower, not someone else’s. I finish rinsing my feet and have time to stick my head underneath the wonderful warm stream once again. Cherishing this luxury of letting warm water run over my body, I begin to feel the temperature rising. Knowing that I am about to be burned, I turn the water off, completing my shower.

I grab my towel and begin drying off as fast as I can, not wanting the cool temperature outside to intrude on my warmth. I dry off every part of my body with the exception of my feet. I have just cleaned them, but in my mind they are still dirty, tainted by the microbes swimming in the water below. I refuse to let them infect my clean towel. Even if I did dry them, my wet flip-flop’s would only make them wet again. They and my flip-flop’s will remain wet, making my trek home all the more difficult.

The thought of having to put on my shorts and clean boxers while my feet are still wet is almost too much to bear. I once again have to do the one-legged dance, trying desperately not to let my wet feet come in contact with my clothing. The most difficult part of this is trying to get my feet out of the firm grasp of my flip-flop’s without using my hands. Lord God Almighty, why do I do this to myself. Why do I care? Why should I go through such a painstaking process to avoid a few germs? I go all day with hands dirty from everything I touch, and yet it doesn’t keep me from eating with them. Why can’t I not care now? I could sit down on the bench to make the job easier, but I’m still naked and I fear what is hidden within the wood. At this point I wish I could walk back to my box in the nude. Under the cover of darkness and with no artificial light to give me away, I might go unnoticed.

Thinking that it would also be nice to shed the excessive amount of body armor we wear and go out on patrol in the nude as well, I begin the task of getting un-nude. My boxers are first. Taking my foot out of my flip-flop, rolling up my boxer’s to create a bigger hole, I slip one foot through without touching the garment. I’m reminded of playing the game Operation as a child, trying to grasp the tiny bones with my forceps’, careful to not let them hit the small openings. I’m forever fearful of the shockingly loud buzz noise that is created when my hands were too shaky. I repeat this process three more times, one more for the boxers and twice for my p.t. shorts. I put on my p.t. shirt, grab my soap case and shampoo, and I’m out the door.

Walking on the rocks is made more difficult by the wet flip-flops. The wetness has made them slippery, causing me to flex my toes downward even harder to prevent them from coming off. I’m also careful to avoid any patches of dirt that may accumulate on my wet feet. Finally, I am back at my box, and my mind is at ease. Sitting on my bed, I douse my feet with powder as if it is some magical cleanser, forever ridding my feet of any foulness. Rubbing my feet together until they are fully covered, I am reassured in their whiteness. I finally feel as though my entire body is clean. After reading a short story by Jack London, I look at a picture of my wife and me taken at another time far from here. Thinking good thoughts, I turn my light off and lie down to sleep. My roommate’s have the heater going too high, so I decide not to get in my sleeping bag. As I’m in the midst of saying my prayer’s, I feel as though something isn’t right. Wanting to confirm my fears, I turn on my light and sit up on my elbow’s. Gazing down toward my powder covered feet with horror, I can see that the end of my poncho liner has released its hold. My feet are now resting on my mattress, covered in shit flowers.

26 Comments:

Blogger Lisa, New York said...

You're a great writer, Michael. This had me laughing out loud and nodding my head in recognition.

3:52 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great story! You make something as boring as a shower hilarious! I'm sure you weren't laughing when it was happening, but I sure was laughing while I read it.

7:01 PM  
Blogger AFSister said...

OMG! Michael, that is too funny- and not funny at the same time!

Maybe we should send you some juvenile sheets- my kids don't like their top sheets, so I have plenty. Spiderman, cars-trucks-planes-trains, Rescue Heroes, cammo, Bob the Builder, Pooh Bear, construction trucks- you name it. LOL! At least it wouldn't be flowers- unless, of course, the flower shitting fairy pays a visit...

I can't say I've ever read a milblog with this much detail about showering, although I have heard about the standing water, hot-cold water and shower shoes. Your account was fantastic- had me smiling and laughing, shaking my head the whole time. Too cute!

I love it when I surf and find you have written a new post- you have quite a talent!

8:02 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

Awesome story -- you are a great writer. Thanks!

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Semper Fi! I love reading your posts, and the way you write. I wish I could write like you, and highly respect the anonymous stance you've chosen. Better safe than sorry, and I'm sure the shower entry hasn't violated any OPSEC. Keep on keeping on!

-A Jarhead

9:17 PM  
Blogger Brian H said...

Don't get too O-C about the germs; there are more bacteria than human cells in your body already. Just be careful not to overdose; your internal defenses will take care of the rest, and need the exercise anyway! :)

9:53 PM  
Blogger Howard said...

We didn't have all that bady armor and shit when I was in the paratroopers..It sure would have been nice to have..All we had was our pack and a hole in the ground. Im not complaining though because I'm here to tell about it....

10:06 PM  
Blogger Inanna said...

This is some incredible writing. The irony of your feet ending up on the shit flower mattress is exceptional.

10:14 PM  
Blogger ALa said...

This was truly brilliant... I am so glad AFSister emailed me the URL for your site.
I really look forward to reading more and I am going to link you right now...

11:51 PM  
Anonymous Bill H. said...

Michael, I read the "Big Name Blogs" for news and what is going on in the political world. I read yours for the thoughts and feelings of a man on the front line. As you described the shower routine I could see myself doing the same thing when I was over there working. As lousy as the showers were they still felt so good after not having one for days. Oh, I covered my mattress with soft warm blankets to keep the flower shittin fairy away. Keep up the writing.... and thanks for all you do.

12:32 AM  
Blogger louisianagurl said...

Awesome story, incredibly hilarious! Reminded me of sneaking in to my ex boyfriend's dorm community shower for a quick washdown. All I can think to help with the germs is lysol, LOL. Hmmm this reminds me that the bf might need new shower shoes. Keep up the writing!!!

12:39 AM  
Blogger Toni said...

I loved the mattress metaphors to go along with your life in Iraq. Your references to Michael Moore were hysterical along with fmr President Clinton's ummm. chick! Who ever knew taking a shower involved logistical planning?

7:46 AM  
Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said...

I remember our second mortar attack and I was in the shower, of course I jumped wrapped my towel around my waist and hauled butt out of the comfort trailer, jumped out and landed on one of your said rocks and blew out my shower shoe. Of course I went down with towel flying in a different direction from my body, people were ducking and laughing at the same time. Great post!

8:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I remember our second mortar attack and I was in the shower, of course I jumped wrapped my towel around my waist and hauled butt out of the comfort trailer, jumped out and landed on one of your said rocks and blew out my shower shoe. Of course I went down with towel flying in a different direction from my body, people were ducking and laughing at the same time. Great post!

8:31 AM  
Blogger Sean from DocintheBox said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

8:32 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your destiny is waiting...
Looking forward to reading your Books and watching your career take off.
Hooah.
Proud Army Mom of 2

10:15 AM  
Anonymous Max said...

Man, you are GIFTED son. Zinnser, Strunk, EB White, etc... should bow down.

I'm going into the Marines. I hope one day (maybe from Syria???) I can write something this entertaining for the folks back home. Stay alive, and kill some islamo-fascists for me

5:58 PM  
Blogger Papa Ray said...

Hey,

Good, really good writing. You have a nack or is it a flair...which ever or both.

Have to compare with long ago, back in the day, in my favorite place in Asia.

We didn't have showers or a really our own base camp, so we enjoyed somebody elses showers, and such, when we could get transport.

The one instance I remember the most is a bunch of us were in a shower made up of ex-crate materials, hung with old tent pieces for sides.

It was on built on the side of a small hill (so the water would run through the cracks in the floor down the side of the hill. Think of a small room on stilts with one set of legs longer than the other.

There was a sudden explosion which was noted, but too far away to worry. We kept scrubbing and grab assing.

The next explosion was much closer, and we started to think about finding cover.

The next thing I know I am in mud flat on my back and covered with pieces of crate material and torn canvas.

Ears ringing, nose bleeding I set up to see other guys scattered out in the mud at the base of the hill. I can't stand up and keep falling from being dizzy and the almost knee deep mud.

But not to worry, no one had more than just scratches and a slight concussion and fractured eardrums.

And they got the water tank too. The next air delivery of water wasn't due for another two days.

We said the hell with it and went back to the bush. We knew it would rain sooner than that.

Papa Ray
West Texas
USA

11:30 PM  
Blogger American Soldier said...

I hear you about the ol' Shower Shoe routine. I just want to thrust my feet through my shorts and not have to worry about. However the fear of some crazy exotic rash riddling my crotch area doesn't allow it.

9:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

flower shitting bandit?

F'n hilarious

10:02 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

flower shitting bandit?

F'n hilarious

10:02 AM  
Blogger Army Wife said...

damn.......great post. I will be cetain to appreciate my next month of showering....

10:55 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your writing is so descriptive I could see weeds coming up through those stinken flowers, and hear you walking on the rocks. At least you didn't have to wear girly shower shoes like someone I know....hmmmmm....

8:01 PM  
Blogger wild bill said...

great writing, Ihope you get back here all right

12:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are a great story teller and make things that arent funny but were probably just plain annoying actually sound funny. keep it up. im so glad i found ur site. i love your rants about everybody having a blog and bloffifying everything.

Stephen

5:29 PM  
Blogger Blondie said...

That story was hilarious!! I've done that whole routine in the shower before on each of my 3 deployments and didn't realize other people were as annoyed as I was. Its so funny what we go through for a simple shower! But I think the rocks were my biggest pain in the ass. I don't know how many times my feet slipped out of my wet shower shoes and I cut my foot on those stupid rocks or twisted my ankle or broke the strap on my shower shoes!! I think the whole shower routine was the most annoying part of deploying for me!
But you are a fabulous writer and storyteller. I hope you write a book, so I can read it.

3:24 PM  

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