A Soldier's Thanksgiving
Ernest Hemingway once said that Paris is a movable feast: That if you're lucky enough to have experienced Paris as a young man, then wherever you go Paris goes with you. Having seen Paris, I think I would agree with him (despite the bad lighting and grainy quality of the video, which left something to be desired). Although I've never actually been with the iconic heiress, from what I can gather it would seem the old man was on to something.
Certainly Hemingway has been a lot of places, including Africa where he crashed a plane into a tree and nearly died of gangrene and he could probably tell me a thing or two about the other Paris, that city in France where everyone is either playing kissy-face or torching cars. But I don't think Hemingway ever made it to Baghdad. And he certainly never ventured into the Sunni Triangle of Death, which is a very scary triangle, far scarier than the triangle of isosceles, or the triangle of isostacy, which just sounds uncomfortable.
But I have. And let me tell you, habeebi mio: Baghdad is no movable feast. Unless by movable you mean explosive and by feast you mean carcass. For Baghdad, unlike Paris, is a place where booby-trapped roadkill is something of a cottage industry. Or in this case a mudhut industry. In any event, many roadside items, including bloated animal carcasses, are ingeniously fashioned there by swarthy operatives into deadly bombs, and a day in Baghdad, unlike a day in Paris, can be and often is a day of exploding carcasses: fleshy bits and pieces ending up in strange places like in your coffee, or your hair, or even a stray dangly piece clinging wormlike to the edge of your glasses that goes unnoticed for a long time.
The truth is I have never seen so many exploding dogs and goats and horses and pigs and sheep and cows and black birds in one place at the same time. If I had to come up with a pop culture approximation for this phenomenon, it would have to be something like “Ripley's Believe It or Not” on crack, hosted by Willem Defoe if Willem Defoe was both Satan and French and “Ripley's Believe Or Not” was a show on gory haute couture.
It was more than a little disgusting, but not without elements of morbid black comedy. Especially when they are obviously more bomb than animal and you're not fooled even a little.
I particularly enjoyed advice on animal bomb detection along the deadliest stretch of roadway connecting the highly fortified International Zone to the Baghdad International Airport: "If there are wires or cables emerging from the animal's rectum, keep your distance and inform EOD ASAP."
I never felt anyone could pay me enough to "reconnoiter" an animal's backdoor for wires, particularly if those wires were attached to explosives and a timing device. But apparently they could. Hazardous duty pay in the amount of an extra $150 per monthæor "hazard-ass" pay as we called it. Funny how one's ability to detect thin wires from a distance improves in proportion to the degree to which those wires and cables feed from an animal's explosive bunghole.
In any event, here's an important tip whenever dealing with Ali Baba and the Forty Carcass Bombs: Always tread softly and shield your coffee with a spare hand, thus preventing RTC (also known as "riki-tiki" or rectal tissue contamination).
It's been a couple months now since I've come back from Iraq. And with each passing day, the whole experience seems more and more like an impossible dream. I suppose it is an achievement of sorts to return from Baghdad unscathed, despite all the flying offal and viscera and effluvium. I keep forgetting this even though I know I shouldn't. For example, I forget it in the morning when I eat breakfast and the toast comes out a little black. Or when I discover I'm out of cream.
And I forget it in the long afternoon hours before leaving the office, or when I lose my ticket at the cleaners. And I forget it in the evening at the sight of dirty dishes in the sink, or when I am brushing my teeth and catch a glimpse of my receding hairline in the mirror. Or when I am thinking about all the stuff waiting to be done tomorrow, and the day after tomorrow, and every day after that for the rest of my life. I forget it, too, when I lie alone in bed and wait for sleep to descend upon me in the dark silence of my bedroom.
I know what I'm supposed to be thinking at such times. Hallelujah, you're alive, you made it, you survived the gauntlet of exploding offal and effluvium, each day and each moment hereafter is a miracle of untold blessings, yadda yadda yadda.
But the truth is this, which brings me back to the great paradox of exploding roadkill: If it's not one thing, it's another. If it's not a bristly black pig corpse bloated by the side of the road with wires protruding from its rectum and attached to explosives and a fake Rolex, then it's a problem at the dry cleaners. Or it's blackened toast. Or wilted parsley. Or mottled avocado innards. In other words, if it's not offal and effluvium of one sort, it's offal and effluvium of another.
Which isn't to say that I'm not happy to be back home in Albuquerque. Sometimes, when the light is coming in just right through the windows of my home, hitting against the wood floors, and the furnace is roaring in the basement, and the dog is stretched out on his green bed sleeping peacefullyædreaming of cranberries and turkey and stuffingæit all makes me want to weep very much.
Alex Limkin, a reserve captain, served in the Sunni Triangle with the Multi-National Security Transition Command-Iraq from November 2004 to September 2005. An airborne ranger, CPT Limkin was put to work training Iraqi special police. He has since returned to his job as a Public Defender in Albuquerque Metropolitan Court, where he is known to carry curiously strong mints at all times.