Monday, March 22, 2010

Garden Party

I'm standing under the portico, by the cannon, with the rest of the security guys. We all have little curlicue ear pieces coming out of our collars and tucked into an ear. Official Cool-Guy Secret Service style. I'm the only one wearing a uniform. Three of them are wearing dark suits and ties, one wears the typical 5.11 tactical pants and vest over his light dress shirt. His vest is bulky and heavy on him, and I wonder what he is carrying under there. Some sort of subgun, I'm sure. I'm the smallest security guy there. Oldest, too. I have pulled my ACU top down to cover my pistol. I'm not authorized to do this, but nobody else is openly carrying, and well, it just seems more polite somehow. The band plays and a KBR waiter offers me a tall skinny can of Coke.

We were greeted at the gate by a British general in dress uniform. He has a bright green beret and red lapels on his tropical khaki uniform. In his hand he clutches a dark carved walking stick. He could have stepped out of a WWI movie. The Boss and he exchanged handshakes and hearty backslaps. "BGs are over there," a suited guy with a clipboard said, pointing. His hair is sort of long, feathered and gray at the temples. He looks very preppy, very country club. His tone was polite enough, but did I pick up a little hint of riff raff over there? The English are so good at the subtle slight. It took me a second to realize he meant "bodyguards"  when he said BGs. We, the U.S. Army, tend to call guys like me PSOs, Personal Security Officers or Protective Services Officers, take your pick. The Boss and his aide, a Marine First Lieutenant, headed over to the party on the grass with the British general. I went up the walk to stand with the other BGs, out of the way.

The grass is green and freshly cut. A little breeze is blowing, and it's not too hot. The air smells clean and nice. Trees shade the people mingling on the grass, drinks in hand. Waiters in white shirts and black bow ties circulate with silver trays, bearing hors d' oeuvres. A U.S. Army band is set up across the lawn. One of the soldiers is singing, but I can't see which one. They don't sound bad. They are doing 'Tunnel of Love' by the Boss. There's a bar with a bar man, and more waiters hustle back and forth, taking away empty glasses, bringing back clean sparkling ones. General Order Number One does not apply at the British Embassy.

The cannon, a plaque mounted on the carriage informs me, was cast at a British foundry in 1848. The plaque lists the cannon's vital statistics; caliber, weight, range and so on. There is a cannon ball there, too, about as big as a good sized grapefruit. I wonder how much it weighs but do not try and lift it. I wonder how many battles this cannon has been in, how many times it has roared and belched fire and hot metal at onrushing masses of enemy troops, how many campaigns and victories and defeats, fighting for the Empire in Mesopotamia. So much history. The band goes into 'Layla.' I do not like Clapton.

One of the BGs come over to me and says hello. His name is Blake, and he is with the Australian embassy. He is polite and friendly. He calls me 'mate.' "What unit are you with, mate?" We tell each other how long we have been in Iraq. After that, we don't have anything much to say to each other, and he wanders back over with the other BGs.  I wish I was more social. It would have been nice to chat with that guy, find out a little about him, what he does, pass the time. I'm too shy, which is often mistaken for aloofness. I can't talk to people very well and I don't make friends easily. Usually it doesn't bother me, but as I watch the other BGs chat and laugh, I wish I knew how to walk over, introduce myself and hang out.

The band works its way through 'Hotel California.' I smile inwardly. I remember when this song was the devil, the devil! and now the U.S. Army is playing it at a posh embassy party. Surreal. 

I see the Lieutenant, who the Boss keeps calling "Aideman", or, maybe "Aide Man" chatting with a female British officer. The Boss chats with some suits. There's maybe fifty, sixty people on the little lawn. Mostly people in nice suits and ties, the ladies in summer type dresses. They are pretty well outnumbered by the males. There's one big guy wearing a blue blazer, tan slacks, and a wide brimmed safari type hat. Across his big belly is a loud and colorful tie, alive with reds and blues and yellows. A couple of helicopters fly by. The band is playing 'Learning to Fly' by Pink Floyd. Occasionally I slip around a big carved column and take a sip of my Coke, which I've set out of sight. The KBR waiters offer me some of the little treats on trays. I don't recognize what anything is, some sort of spread on crackers with garnishes and stuff. After I decline three or four times, they stop offering. The other BGs take a little snack here and there. I stand off by myself and watch people.

It is amazing to me that I should be here, in this place, at this moment. I come from No Place Special, Texas. I did not finish high school. I am neither very smart nor very educated. What small talents I have don't seem to be particularly useful in my life. There is no reason why I should not be living in a single wide trailer with a bad drinking habit. Yet here I stand, in the British Embassy in Baghdad, Two thousand and ten, ten! watching diplomats and generals and assorted political fancy people drink and mingle and visit. Hired help, yes, but I'm here.

One time Connie and I went to Key West.Our first night there we ate dinner overlooking the water. The food was great, the service even better. I drank a beer out of one of those aluminum bottles. It was so cold and delicious. We sat on the patio, enjoying the cool of the evening and we held hands. I had driven a boat of a Cadillac to Key West with a beautiful, amazing woman I was (and am) crazy in love with. We had just finished a fine meal and pretty soon we would be going up to our nice room and have some private fun. It was a special spectacular moment and I wanted it to last forever.

There have been many moments like that with her. I wanted to pinch myself, and that's how I feel now, standing in a war zone at a fancy party. The two experiences don't compare, not even close, but the wonder of the experience, the disbelief, the feeling that I have no business being this lucky is the same.

If I believed in luck...

And is luck even the right word? Am I lucky to be in Iraq? Maybe that's not how I mean it. It's the...un-ordinariness of it. I mean, say what you will, this is not an ordinary situation. How did I come to be here? How is it I am not sitting dully in front of a TV someplace, vacant eyes and slack jawed, instead of living this amazing wonderful crazy life?

Aide Man gives me the high sign. I get on the radio and tell SSG M we will be coming out in a couple of minutes. He acknowledges in my little ear piece. I walk up the sidewalk a bit. The other security guys nod as I leave. "Cheers, mate," says Blake. I nod back and wait on the Boss. The band plays 'Careless Whisper' by George Micheal. They played a lot of songs by English guys, I can only suppose in honor of our hosts. The British general escorts the Boss up the sidewalk. The two generals walk me, and I fall in behind with LT Aide Man. We walk out the gate, past Mister Country Club, towards the main entrance, which is guarded by bad ass former Gurkha's with their bad ass Kukri knives.

"You get her number?" I ask the Lieutenant, and he smiles and shows me a business card.

Beats filling sandbags, I think to myself as we get back in the trucks and head for Route Irish.

13 comments:

Zelda said...

I know how you can break the ice with the other BGs next time: walk up with a fistful of confidentiality agreements and tell them you're kind of a big deal.

Jack said...

And that I have many leather bound books.

Zelda said...

...that match your leather bound hood with the zipper mouth. You're gonna be so popular.

Connie! said...

Luck might play a small role, but the rest is all you. I mean, come on, if you weren't that smart in the first place, would you be dating me?

Zelda said...

Oh Jack's smart, Connie, but I don't think there's a man a live who wouldn't want a shot at dating you. :-)

Zelda said...

*alive. Sheesh.

Connie! said...

Haha! I'll amend my comment to read as follows: "I mean, come on, if you weren't that smart in the first place, would you be friends with people as brilliant as Zelda?"

Zelda said...

:-)

travlinlite said...

Always time well spent when I stop by to have a read. I gather from other comments that much of this is for friends and loved ones. Don't want to intrude on that, just want you to know that your music is being heard in many different places...

Jack said...

Thanks, very kind of you. And pretty much everybody is welcome, so don't feel shy about commenting.

Dave K said...

I understand that feeling, there was a Pink Floyd song with a line about trading a walk on part in the war for lead role in a cage; that's comes back to me over & over the past 30+ years. I've got it pretty good now, better then most, but I still think about my little walk on part in the war...

Jack said...

Thanks, Dave, and thanks your service and commenting.

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