James Conner is having a dream.
In that dream an entertainment news program is running. Two men are sitting next to each other on the sort of tall stools found in bars. One looks uncommonly like Ron Burgundy from Anchorman, and the other resembles a more artistic version of Dick Cheney, in a black turtleneck and a beret. The interviewer clears his throat, and begins.
-Thank you for joining me. Tonight we have a new guest, the esteemed producer and director of the Conner show, D____. Thank you for joining us.
-Thank you for having me.
-For those of you who dont follow it, the Conner show is the award winning reality based program following the life of James Conner, from inception to his current role, as a member of the US Military. The show has won multiple awards, and has some of the highest ratings in Cable Television, isnt that right?
-We did very well this season.
-Now, James Conner is the first person to ever be legally adopted by a corporation.
-Thats right. And within the reality of the program, there is a sort of inside joke to this, we shot a full length movie with Jim Carrey about a similiar situation, and let Conner see it.
-Did he enjoy it?
-He did. We monitor his (Conners) brain activity to see how his mood is going, and post the data on the internet. So we can say for certain that he did enjoy the movie.
-Now, this is the second season following Conner's deployment overseas.
-Thats right. What I want to establish is, this idea, that all wars have a common theme. A common sense of artistic purpose, that reflects the sentiments of whats going on in society at the time. We can trace this back to World War 2. If you look at the art, the fiction and literature that came out of that conflict, and what I'm talking about is the stuff done by the actual veterans of it, you get a real sense of realism and humanism.
-Can you define that?
- A sense of, appreciating the moment, what you have, and taking life at face value, more or less. And the Americans that went through that conflict took that attitude and brought it home with them.
-The greatest generation.
-I think that- I mean, I think that definition is a little stifling. That generation did a good job, but America came out of that conflict on top of the world, through its own actions, certainly, but also through the forces around it.
-If you continue, with the metaphor, the theme of Vietnam is surrealism. Psychotropic drugs were introduced to the culture at about that time, and if you look at the art of the time-
-Like the movies, Apocalypse Now, or Platoon,
-Exactly. Two good examples that reflect that.
-So, the theme of Today?
- I believe the theme of our modern combats is postmodernism.
-Can you elaborate?
-I can. Irony is one of the chief concerns of postmodernism, at this point in American society, irony permeates. Consider, the president declares a "war on terror". Now if we check the Oxford English Dictionary, we find the definition of terror as a state of extreme fear and panic. An emotion, in other words. A negative emotion. And we have sent American troops, real people, into harms way to battle against our own feelings.
-There does seem to be a disconnect.
-Thats another theme, disconnect. Consider that in this major conflict, we have not had a draft. An all volunteer force fights for us, representing only a slender percentage of the populace. Not only that, but we havent been asked to make any sort of sacrifice at all- taxes have gone down. If you choose to, you can live a normal life in America completely oblivious to any sort of war at all.
-Unless your a Marine.
-Thats right, exactly. or a private contractor such as Blackwater, who doesnt exist, who arent tallied or regulated in any shape or form.
-Will this be the final season?
-I cant answer that. I never have.
-We have some footage to show now, I do want to extend a word of caution to out audience, the following images are extremely graphic.
Mario spits the dip out the window and wonders how fucked up Darrel really is. All the guys done is drink and rant, about some bullshit reality show he appeared in. As if Mario gave a shit. Mario spent the last three years in Florida City working for the Miami-Dade police department and he doesnt give a shit if the guy was a SEAL, Mario is one hundred percent sure that Darrel is a meaty exterior protecting a core full of shit. It was fun work, but he had to get out. The bitch was on his ass for the money, was the reason she squirted out the kid, the department was up his ass about the missing blow, and it was in blinking red neon letters now, time to go. He knew the guy that knew the guy to get him here, and now that he was here, it wasnt going to stop he wasnt going to quit, he was going to get the paper together to get gone. Curucao. He would get a place on Curucao. It was perfect, it was Dutch Carribean with perfect white sand beaches and clear blue water with no American tourists and a really badass whorehouse, Campo Allegra, really fucking awesome, that girl had sucked a duck like it was about to blow chocolate flavored gold, and when he had fucked her he stared at his reflection in the full length mirror facing the bed just like that guy, whatshisname, that Batman guy from that Psycho movie. He would live and fuck and swim, maybe buy a boat and fish. That seemed like the thing to do.
The black SUV rolled out from the gate and burned out onto the main street of Fallujah. It was midday, the streets were crowded, and Mario drove hell for leather. The state department compound was on the other side of the city, the shortest distance between two points was a straight line, and that was the point Mario had chosen. Had he asked, he would not have been advised to do so. Why would he have asked? Like Darrel, Mario is assuring himself of his own certain place within a majestic tableaux. A meaningful end for him brought about by violent ends for others. This is the American Dream as they both understand it.
It is also the understanding of the crowd. Look at them! Listless, restless, feckless, thin! All of one uniform, of one color, thin and brown bearded and shaven, young and male, barefoot sandaled, appearing through doors, windows, not smiling. Ones and twos, fives and tens, do they stop? Do they acknowledge? There is no time to do either. A screaming comes upon the street. The shot was beautiful. A wonderful trail of smoke, arching, in the death howl of some horrible monkey bird the RPG fuwumph! Kerbleoy! Such beauty! Mans first friend! Fire! fire, arching, from the earth killer, the pertroleum guzzler, the black crumpled tin can, and in this moment at time, this wondrous moment, God, what we would do, to see it again and again, the shot, the fire, the beauty.
There is nothing but quick movements. Were the guns always there? Maybe. Cloaked like klingon warbirds, AK-47's in the hands of teenagers, a barrel tapping on the window casually. Blaat blaat the window is no more. The impacts are terrible but we do not see them. What we do see is the bodies, in three stages, one, the recognizable, with uniforms and gear, in this stage they appear to be listless. Darrel Eggers especially appears as if he would ask to the youth removing him, why are there pinholes on my face? Why do they bleed? Is this a new and severe acne? The camera follows, jostling to stage two, the burning. In the burning stage a machete is produced and an arm is severed. The severing is not shown but instead the arm appears, above the crowd, to instant applause, to an enourmous roar of approval. The camera follows behind the men, who have become suddenly aware of it and now tell the camera;
-God is Great!
-God is Great!
But what does the camera know of God? What does it care about his being great? And what are the choices? God is great in relation to him being otherwise small? God is great because he is theirs, a sort of sports game football god? But here we are, at stage three, the camera sees two blackened limbless naked burnt things, two torsos and heads, held by wire, hoisted up to tangle above a trestle bridge, and here the camera speaks, to tell us, in the language of pictures, that God is terrible.
The motorcycle was a means of self-punishment, in that it hurt to ride it. The seat was uncomfortable, and on cold days, the wind whipped right through his face and hands, sent them numb or tingling with pain. It was often cold in winters in Browning, even though it didnt snow.
He had bought the motorcycle on a whim. Or more of a sudden decision that had brewed for some time in his head. In much the same way that he had joined the military. He had been angry at Jo, for reasons he didnt fully remember. A fight about nothing. Driving away in rage to clear his head, he came to the strip bar.
It was a strange combination given to this part of Texas only, full female nudity and drinking in the same place. It was noon on a weekday. Most of the talented girls had left by now, or would only arrive at night on the weekends. There was one girl, a black girl, who had neon light shining off her dark skin and innermost hidden self that he had spent a hundred dollars on lap dances and drinks. The only part of it he could claim to enjoy, was when she came outside the club to smoke a cigarette with him in the nude. Knowing a woman like that was something he wished he did. But he emerged from the experience intoxicated by early afternoon and talking with an old biker in the parking lot.
"How would I buy a bike?" He said. "A Harley, I mean. I've got bad credit."
"Do you have a job?" The biker asked.
"Yeah." He said.
"I work for the government."
"Son." The biker said. "If you work for the government, in this economy, Harley-Davidson will finance your damn bike."
It was a short drive to the dealership, which was named Cowboy Motorcycles. He picked out a black model, all black, except for chrome pipes. It was called the Nightster. He signed the paperwork, and then realized that he didnt know how to drive it home.
When he brought the bike home, it was not an immediate fight with Jo. Rather she made the pretense that their relationship was now terminal, and she was preparing for its immediate dissolution. Meanwhile he learned to drive the thing through the parking lot of their apartment complex. He dropped it on the ground twice, and ended up with a few cuts and bruises, but no broken bones.
Now he rode the bike to work daily. He owned two vehicles, the Honda Accord and the Nightster. Through an agreement they had come to the motorcycle was his and he would drive it to work regardless of conditions. It was a thirty minute drive from the part of Browning where they lived and the border, where the detention center was kept. Before the economy had crashed Browning was known for its oil refineries. On the road directly before the center stood an old Oil tower from around the first turn of the century, the Spindletop, from the early Texas oild boom. Long dry now. There was desert to his left, and if he stretched his mind significantly, Conner could imagine himself back at Afghanistan.
The detention center complex had been intentionally constructed in the middle of nowhere. There was a guard shack with a warning sign, that read DEPARTMENT OF HOMELAND SECURITY and ALL VEHICLES SUBJECT TO SEARCH. But the guard shack was left empty. It cost too much money to keep it staffed with personell. There was a yellow speed bump right next to the shack which Conner deftly avoided. Here the road split into the multitude of buildings, that incorporated the complex. Conner turned right, toward the yellow. In the old days of the federal prison system, before it had gone extinct, inmate facilities had been classified as low, medium, or high. Now detainees were classified by colors, green, yellow, or red.
The greens worked out of what would have been a camp if it were a prison. They ran the grounds and drove vehicles, cleaned buildings. These were the undocumented illegals that were considered low risk to escape. Perhaps they had spent years in the US, and hoped to have their cases overturned. All of this was mostly fiction. No one that entered detentions had their cases overturned. There were only two ways out, a bus ride to the mexican border, or a noose in your cell. Anything else would have jeopardized Homeland Security.
The red was the opposite. The detainees that were classified red were hardened criminals, that had done violence. Some were convicted of terrorism. The red facility was ringed by a series of gun towers, and multiple rows of electrified fencing topped with razor wire. There were often fights at the red facility, own group of mexican nationals against another group, hacking each other to pieces with homemade knives on the recreation yard. People died there.
The yellow, where Conner worked, was somewhere in between. Some violence, but not as much. A fence to keep detainees in, but no gun towers. He screened in through the metal detector. His co-workers greeted him with a dour look. That look permeated most of the employees he had worked with so far. No one enjoyed working detentions. It was the bottom of the barrel, as far as federal law enforcement was concerned. And most everyone had ambitions, to move up to Border Patrol, or ICE. If they did work as a low level Dententions Officer, like Conner, they had ambition to move up into one of the higher paying GS-11 positions. The GS-11's wore suits, and had weekends and holidays off.
Conner had worked every single weekend and holiday for the last two years. He didnt mind. When he was in Iraq, he never had a day off.
Today, like most every day, Conner worked a housing unit. The detainees in the yellow slept in metal bunks kept in concrete cubicles. It was not a cell, strictly speaking, due to the abscence of a door and roof. Conner had an arrangement with the detainees:
Leave me alone, I'll leave you alone.
The duties of an Officer were to keep order, stop fights, and respond to emergency situations. In the red, this alone would have been enough to keep him busy all day. At the yellow, this occupied his time maybe twice a month. Beyond that he was expected to conduct searches of the prisoners for contraband, and make rounds throughout the unit. Conner ignored both of these responsibilities. He was writing a book.
The book, which had gone through several revisions and drafts, was called War Memories. It was about what he went through in the Marines, more or less, and mostly about his Time in Chosin Company. A lot of it had to do with Ryan. He had started the book with nothing more than some idea that he wanted to write about the time the President made a speech in Fallujah, and after that the memories had come pouring right out from under him. Writing it down felt like trying to drink from a fire house, everything wanted to get out, and so fast. If there was a problem, it was that he was angry.
Conner had started to get angry months after getting out of the Marines. Jo wanted him to see the VA. Conner was worried about doing that. But lately, he was worried about what he might do. The other day Jo and him had been fighting, and he broke down a bedroom door, clean off the hinges. Was that normal? Every day he thought about Iraq.
Then there was sleep. Conner slept for three hours a night. No more, no less. If he thought about it he knew the reason. Three hours was the time between watches in the desert. When he awoke, it was bolt upright, breathing rapidly. This was conditioning. It was an asset, in case he had to react suddenly.
"When would you need to do that?" Jo would say. "Your not in the Marines anymore."
"I dont know." Conner said. "At work. I work at Law Enforcement."
She laughed. "But you dont sleep there." She said. "You need to see someone."
But maybe, Conner thought, all I have to do is get it out. Get the words down on paper, and banish it from the system. Maybe I dont need a doctor to tell me anything at all. If I can write this one book, and tell people how it was, maybe that will be enough.
And so he wrote, and ignored his work, and drove his motorcycle. At home his wife was pregnant and afraid.