Well, I'll make it official...I miss it. I've been back three weeks and long to return. The rounds of kith and kin have been made; Mother visited, cat petted, plants watered and daughter followed through the mall with credit card in my hand.
Life for a wide circle of friends and relatives continued in my absence with a vengance. Plates were kept full. I can say with confidence they've endured far more of the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune than I did out in the goo. Life here was far stickier. There are ongoing messy divorces, uncertain job prospects, diseases ranging from lymphoma to Alzheimers and bipolar disorder, injuries from car accidents, several unexpected deaths and subsequent funerals to contend with along with all the attendant trivialities and irritations that flesh is heir to. It didn't help that my nephew and I were in Iraq. I'm a firm believer that the greatest dangerous we face are damage to our psyches, and based on that I've been far safer than anyone I know these past 5 months.
One of my favorite books is A Garlic Testament written by Stanley Crawford. Crawford writes with Thoreau-like lucidity about the life he and his wife share on a small New Mexico garlic farm. He muses in one of my favorite passages about the "vampire" comments his patrons often make as they rifle through the crates of pungent garlic stacked on the tailgate of his pickup truck. Almost to a person they quip in some form or another that he must have no trouble with vampires. Crawford recognizes that the comments, though meant to be funny, are about his customer's assumption that he leads an idylic rural life relatively free of the joy sucking realities of their suburban nightmares. To the garlic buyers he jovially banters back, "No vampires here.", but he assures his readers that he has his own set of problems threatening to drain the life out of him. Life in Iraq was a very dangerous place....physically, but there weren't any vampires. They were all busy it seems back home.
I've spent the last five months carefully observing people...Marines and Iraqis. Its an ingrained vocational habit. Now, back home, I'm growing intensely aware, by it's absence, of the life force, the elan vitale, that I was accustomed to experiencing everyday there in faces, body language and voices. Here, in the suburbia I grew up in, it seems like everyone has a cell phone stuck in an ear. Bluetooths, cordless ear devices for hands-off use, are everywhere; if you didn't know what they were you'd think there was an epidemic of folks talking to themselves. Forgive me, but something is missing from people's eyes, from their voices and carriage. They're not zombies yet, but neither are they fully alive. I recognize this observation is as much about my transition to being "back" as it is about the well worn rhetorical references on the numbing properties of modern life. The WWI generation innocently sang "how you going to keep them down on the farm after they've seen Parie". Gregory Peck starred in a great post-WWII flick, The Man in the Grey Flannel Suit, which beautifully explored this topic, the veteran's return to the vagaries of everyday life. The movie The Deer Hunter, in the shadow of Vietnam, explored this theme's darker side. No doubt movies and books will follow in trace of this current war and carry on a literary tradition extending back to Homer's Odyssey.
The other thing I find myself contemplating is our "culture of hype". Over the past couple weeks I've found myself astride those deliberately uncomfortable mall benches waiting for my daughter to exit an Abercrombie and Fitch and convoy over to The Gap, or worse, Victoria's Secret. I've re-established intimacy with my television's remote and thereby reacquainted myself with all the major marketing campaigns underway aimed at America's purchasing psyche. I can't decide which one I find more offensive, the music blaring Abercrombie and Fitch stores selling $100 tattered blue jeans, or the "bucking chicken" Burger King commercials. Bucking chickens, come on now. But far and away the greatest bit of All-American snake oil salesmanship has to be the marketing of a one Bode Miller on the cover of Time magazine's January 23rd issue. How many products are there in that cover shot? Surely at least half a dozen marketing directors got bonuses as a result. And that unshaven heroic otherworldly look....Wow! Even we Marines are only allowed to look that cool in battle, but he gets to look that way all the time. Yes, that's jealousy you hear in my voice. Man, why did they even bother to have the Olympic competitions this guy was slated to be in, Time already declared him winner. Forget Abu Ghraib, secret presidential wire-taps and the UAE port deal, I want to know why this guy didn't win anything. Apparently an elite team of Playboy bunnies were sent in to sabotage him, so I'd start the investigation with Hugh Heffner or the marketing gurus of several brands of alcoholic beverages. Even Time had the honesty to print a tiny article about his demise, it was buried in the back of a subsequent issue no where near any advertising pages. Fictional hype always looks better on the cover than the truth. Fortunately, at least according to several googled articles, he won't forfeit most of his marketing deals....whew, there is a God.
Leave will be over next week and I'll be back in the studio. Standing on soap boxes and dissecting popular culture is just a fun little diversion set aside for vacations. Andy Rooney is safe.