Monday, April 04, 2005

Guard Talk

A couple of weeks ago as I walked out to my guard shift, I was expecting a long four hours of intense boredom. I was back at the Tigris River, sitting on a tank, facing down a dark road with the moon offering little illumination. There was a stillness to the night that even the river couldn’t interrupt. The river itself had a stillness about it that made me think it had stopped flowing all together. This giant mass of water, which had been flowing since the genesis of time, seemed to have paused to rest. The moon’s dim reflection danced upon the black surface like city lights viewed from an airplane flying overhead. While the reflection was alive with animation, this stage of sparkling light remained stationary, giving the river a motionless appearance of restfulness.

Conversations on guard inevitably lead to some of the most bizarre subjects imaginable. Every now and then you have guard with someone that has a gift for storytelling. My buddy Rob is a master storyteller. He puts every ounce of his soul into telling a story. His laugh is boisterous and therefore infectious. His face is full of expression and his arms come alive with motion. With a harsh tongue and a rough voice, he entices your soul to join his and together you escape Iraq. The tank that we sit on becomes a time machine shooting us into the past. The past becomes present again as we relive the joy, sorrow, and foolishness of our youth. We are closer in age than most of the others and have both experienced life in college, which allows us to relate more with each others experience. The spirit with which he tells a story is enlivening. I found myself inspired and reciprocated in kind. My stories, and the manner in which I told them, became alive with energy, making our four hour guard shifts fly by with ease.

The calm night became full of laughter as we told each other stories about some of our college experiences. The Iraqi soldiers, who were crowded around a fire nearby, would look over at us and laugh as well, not having the slightest clue what we were laughing at. Most of these stories were a result of too much to drink. I realized after the first few stories that Rob drank a little more than me. I never was a big drinker in college. My problem was the few times that I did drink, I would go all out. Nowadays I may have a few beers every few months or so. Rob drank a lot more often than I did, and I’m pretty sure he went all out when he did. He says he has slowed down since college, limiting himself to the weekends.

We talked about how our personalities changed after having too much to drink. He said that he was always a nice drunk. I told him that it depended on what I drank. If I had beer, I was in love with every girl and nice to all the guys. If I had liquor, it was pretty much a toss up. Toss up is appropriate, since at the end of the evening I would usually toss it back up. During the course of the evening I could be nice or in some cases not so nice, inevitably waking up to find out I did something regretful. That’s one of the main reasons I quit drinking liquor. I haven’t had it in years.

We both talked about some of the stupid things that we both regretted doing. Some of these had to do with drinking and driving. I only did it a few times, but those few times were a few too many. If you’re in high school or college and reading this, don’t drink and drive. It’s not cool, and it’s totally avoidable. I guess this little speech would apply to anyone reading this, since drinking and driving isn’t limited to just those in high school or college. It’s easy to avoid. Find someone to drive for you or get a cab. Or you could plan on staying at someone’s house or just stay at your own place. Of course you could always not get drunk in the first place, which is probably the best thing anyway. There were many nights in college when I had just as good a time not being drunk as those that were and was able to provide them with a safe ride home at the same time. They’ll love you for it. Oh, and one more thing before I end this little speech. If you’re with someone who’s been drinking and they say they are alright to drive, guess what, they aren’t. They’re drunk, and they’ll say anything at that point. Okay, speech over, sorry about that.

One of the many stories Rob told me, involved him and a dump truck. He and his friends were at their frat house one night when they noticed some dump trucks parked outside the house that had been left there overnight by a construction crew. They’re all drunk and having a good time when Rob comes up with the grand idea to take one for a ride. With yelling and cheers all around, Rob jumps in the cab with a couple of other guys while the rest jump in the back.

They’re speeding down a quiet college town road with everyone in the back drunk and yelling. He said he crested a hill and began descending toward an intersection when he realized he had no brakes. Apparently you have to prep the brake’s hydraulics in a dump truck before you take off. He realized this as he was furiously pumping the brakes on the way down the hill, the intersection looming ahead. While he’s telling me this, his whole body is reenacting the whole thing. He’s yelling, pressing down on phantom brakes, and his arm is changing gears in the air.

The excitement was building as I was there in the truck with him, wondering if we were going to wreck. He said that by this time he was sober, as were the guys in the cab with him. The guys in the back were still oblivious to the fact that they were riding in a runaway dump truck.
He sees the intersection approaching with a few cars going by, wondering what to do. The light is still red and he has nowhere to turn. They fly through the intersection without hitting anyone, thankful for the early hour when the roads aren’t as busy. They continue on, losing a little speed but not enough. He finally thinks he’s lost enough speed and decides to cut into someone’s yard, hoping the grass will slow them to a stop. It wasn’t the grass that stopped them.

Turning into the yard, the truck jumps the curb, coming precariously close to flipping. Once in the yard, a massive tree appears in the headlights like a fortress, refusing to be moved. As he makes one last futile effort to mash on the brakes with all the strength he can muster, the truck slams into the giant tree, creating a monstrous sound that wakes the neighborhood. Rob and his friends are thrown forward with a violent jolt. Rob is dazed and has hurt his ribs. The rest of his friends are okay but for some minor scrapes and bruises.

As the lights in the neighboring houses begin to come on, they get out and run back to their frat house. The pain in Rob’s side prevents him from running, but he and the others finally make it back to the house. They turn off all the lights and quietly stand at the front windows, peaking out from behind the curtains, and waiting for the police to show up. A few minutes later five cop cars show up and speed past their house. One of them comes back and looks around with a flashlight but never comes to the door. Rob, relieved that he didn’t kill himself or his friends, goes upstairs to bed and passes out.

Once he was finished with his story he tells me it’s time for me to tell one. I told him a couple of stories from college, but then he wanted to hear some war stories from the first time I was over here. I told him a few stories about getting shot at while I was shaving or going to the bathroom and he wanted to hear more. Then he asked me how I met and married my wife. I told him the whole story right up to our private little wedding. Not thinking that he would enjoy the story, I was surprised to hear him say that it was a good one.

Sometimes when the stories have waned and he looks to be deep in thought, he’ll spring a question out of nowhere. “If you could have any meal right now what would it be?” “I’m simple when it comes to food,” I tell him, “So it would be a steak cooked on the grill, a baked potato, and salad.”

“Ok, if you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be?” “Somewhere out west, Montana, Jackson Hole, somewhere in Colorado.” “I also wouldn’t mind living at the beach, maybe somewhere down on the Gulf Coast.” “Next question, if you could have any job in the world, what would it be?” “Dream job?” I ask. “Probably getting paid to travel and write, if I was good at it, other than that I would want to own my own business.” “What kind of business?” “I don’t know, but something I could do from my home and live comfortably, so I could spend a lot of time with my family.”

“There’s also a part of me that thinks it would be cool to be a fisherman, or a firefighter, or a lumberjack.” “Are you serious?” “Yeah, imagine going to a party and getting introduced to a group of people.” “All of these people either work in the corporate world or are married to someone that is.” “They’re standing around talking about how unsatisfying their job is, and your just standing there listening.” “After a while someone turns to you and asks you what you do.” “You look around casually and respond ‘I’m a lumberjack’, or ‘I’m a fisherman’, imagine the stares you would get, it would be great.” “Those jobs are made for real men, the kind you read about in books.” “There’s something romantic about them.” He looks at me and asks, “Did you just say romantic while we’re on guard?” “Yeah, I did.” “I must be losing my mind.” “Yeah, you must be.” “Sitting on a tank in the middle of the night guarding a bridge is really romantic,” he adds sarcastically. “Hey, it’s better than sitting behind a desk.”

And here’s where the questioning became difficult. “Okay, if you could bone any girl in the world, not counting wives or girlfriends, who would it be?” Damn, I hate questions like these. “My wife, but I wouldn’t use the term bone.” “I know that, but that doesn’t count, anyone except your wife.” “There is no one except my wife.” He laughs and responds, “I knew you would say that.” “Are you wanting me to name a movie star or musician,” I ask? “Yeah, something like that.” I haven’t even begun to think of one name when he asks, “I want your top five list of who you would bone if you could.” “Let me think for a minute,” I tell him. Top five bone list. Am I really having this conversation? I’m almost embarrassed because I can’t come up with one name, much less five. I haven’t watched much tv or movies in the last couple of years, so I can’t think of anybody. “Have you thought of anyone yet?” “No, still thinking.”

A few minutes later I am saved by two dark figures approaching on the road in front of us. No, these aren’t a couple of bad guys trying to sneak up on us at night. I recognize the way they walk and can determine who they are before their faces can be seen. It’s Sgt.D and Ray coming to relieve us. I look at my watch and can’t believe our four hours are already up. This is great. Rob will be with me on the rest of my guard shifts, hopefully making the time go by fast during all of them.

We got down off the tank, exchanged some good natured name calling with our relief, and walked back to our camp. On the way in the building Rob looked over at me and said, “I expect that top five list when we have guard again in the morning.” “I’ll try,” I replied. “Why don’t you grab that People magazine that was lying around earlier and find someone to put on your list.” Thinking that if I did come up with any list, it certainly wouldn’t include any of the vacuous people that grace the pages of that glossy, I reply, “Because my wife isn’t in there.”


Anonymous Max said...

I've got an idea... pick five historical figures. You can give him a good story about why they are bone-able, and save yourself the indignity of tacit mental-adultery. For example, you could say you would bone...

1. Joan of Arc because it would be really strange to have boned:
a) someone who was burnt at the stake as a heretic, and
b) an officer

2. Elizabeth I, because you could have had heterosexual intercourse and still given your parner a reach-around

3. Eleanor of Aquitaine. Sometime, during the 116 year conflagration that took place in Europe based on her dowry, you could have said "Edward of Woodstock is leading another expedition from Bordeaux, in Aquitaine, to bolster England's position there? Aquitaine as in 'Eleanor of ___'? I boned her in high school"

4. Helen of Troy. While two powerful states battle it out over this woman, you can sit in your own little principality laughing your ass off because both of the key players are fighting for YOUR sloppy seconds

5. The 'girl' in Hanson. OK, this isn't a historical figure, but it'd be fun to see your buddy's response

Good luck!

3:48 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

ROFLOL!!!! Great ideas, Max!!!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Kat said...

ROFLOL!!!! Great ideas, Max!!!

7:36 PM  
Blogger Huntress said...

ROFLMAO.....well...I'd say something lips are sealed.

And then to Max's list you can always add a "safe" celebrity: Angelina Jolie - I say "safe" because everyone wants to bone her..INCLUDING women...;)

Hell I'd do her!

Actually I'd like to hear who your "guard mate" would like to bone....that should be interesting amd probably predictable!

8:40 PM  
Anonymous stephen said...

i think it is funny that he is asking you the type of questions a mother would ask her 6 year old (what is your favorite meal, where would you live if you could choose anywhere, what do you want to be when you grow up) then he pops out with 'what is your top 5 bone list'.

think of the oldest women youve ever heard of and theres your list

12:02 AM  
Blogger Rob Gutkowski said...

Excellent accurate portrayal of the crzy stuff soldiers do to pass the time, I know exactly what you mean.

2:31 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm so glad I found your site! I hope that you plan on putting all these in a book. You are a very talented writer.

11:11 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am so impressed that you can't think of anyone except your wife. Fidelity is a wonderful thing. Congrats to her for that as well!

11:12 AM  
Anonymous Jana Lane said...

If you want to make a living a living as a writer, I'm sure you can do it. Both your descriptions of setting and your development of character are very engaging and clear. Don't give up on your dream.

2:06 PM  
Blogger Army Wife said...

top 5 and top 10 listings are a fantastic way to pass time.
I think my husband and I have done this to pass the time in the car a lot.

10:24 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...


3:16 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:25 AM  
Blogger Doug said...

As others have said, Great Writing!
LOL at the Dumptruck Story.
(by the grace of God)
Katherine, Tsar of Russia.
In "Love and Honor," at least, she pines for a brave young American.
You could tell him five female shaggy dog stories.
Gotta go, off to the Gas Station.
The wife asked me to take her out to an expensive place.

3:27 AM  
Anonymous linda said...

Your comments were so funny and fun to read! And wouldn't your wife's love for you increase many times over!
Hang in there!

3:55 AM  

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