“I use wine, Pepto-Bismol, ammonium, urine, my menstrual blood. A lot of people do it so seriously, like ‘Hey! Boy, isn’t this funny?!’ – because it’s so gross. It’s on hand! It’s not meant to be taken so seriously. I save my menstrual blood. I put it in bottles. Blood is so cool to work with and I did a piece I needed tons of blood for. Each month there’s a little less than half a bottle of beer. It’s a little bit witchy, I guess, but it’s so practical. I’m not going to cut myself and bleed – I try not to be too romantic about it. Your period is just a practical way to get blood. [Laughs]”
“Originality is nothing but judicious imitation. The most original writers borrowed from one another. The instruction we find in books is like fire. We fetch it from our neighbors, kindle it at home, communicate it to others, and it becomes the prope.”
I once thought long and hard in an attempt to say something witty and original. I avoided reading anything, watching anything, hearing anything – really just everything. But then I came to the realization that I couldn’t avoid everything. The only way I could do that is if I stopped living – or something. But even if I did that, what about the afterlife stuff? So I said, ‘Fuck it.’ Maybe if I avoid the process all together – that would be original. I was wrong again. So I contemplated long and hard about circumventing the thought process of avoiding the thought process of how to be original completely. I smoked a lot of weed that night and got shit-faced off cheap beer in an effort to reach some sort of mantra state of being. I later passed out that evening. The next morning I woke up and told myself, ‘Shit, that was pretty original, huh?’ I soon realized it actually wasn’t at all. So I came to the conclusion that I could either continue to live my life as a cynic and accept that originality is impossible – or I could live my life like I wanted to live my life. I mean, shit – isn’t the word ‘originality’ pretty unoriginal itself? But then again, even that idea is pretty unoriginal.
“Claptrap!” she said. “You’re a claptrap-producing, finger-pricked, jezebel whore without a damn worth in this world!”
“Excuse me?” Ms. Horace responded. “Do you know how many men I have slept with in my short career as a woman?”
“Like I give a damn you dirty, gonorrhea-oozing miscreant!”
“You should be a bit more respectful to women who have seen the world,” added Ms. Horace. “I have seen more than seventy percent of the 1001 Things To See Before You Die. You should admire that.”
“So you think just because you tear down a temple you can build the eighth wonder?”
“The Eiffel Tower was a joke,” Ms. Horace rolled off her tongue with a scoff. “I’ve seen far more respectable constructions in my life.”
“Girl, you probably seen things far wider than the Grand Canyon for all that I can imagine,” said Mrs. C. “I can play the Discovery Channel game myself all day long. HBO, TNT, National Geographic – but you don’t see me pluggin’ in new batteries every other day!”
“Listen, honey,” Ms. Horace said. “I know—“
“Who you callin’ honey? Suga’? I may like biscuits but I surely don’t let them sweeten up themselves.”
“Wha--? Biscuits?” stammered Ms. Horace. “Who--? What? Are you on —?“
“Suga’, a word of advice,” Mrs. C calmly said. “I know about the good stuff. I know about the biscuits. I know there are Seven Wonders in the World. I even know where to buy those endearing, lil’ caps that look cute on little boys. Trust me, I’ve been there.”
Ms. Horace was counting the rays of the sun.
Her eyes came back down to earth.
“If you ever want to survive in this world like a normal human being that realizes that were are seven wonders to this world and not eight – you will listen to me when I talk to your worthless cavity of brainless substance!”
My trips to the market involved browsing, eye-scanning, finger-touching and nose-smelling. I didn’t fully utilize tongue-tasting or ear-hearing because I had to block some things out. There were many takers worthy of being taken, but I skipped them in an effort to cut-back on what I thought I already had enough of. Little did I know, the quality of what was being offered was to supersede what had already been in a current cycle of consumption. The trade-off was superlative. I dined like a king for the rest of my days.
When the time came, I was to be tested on my knowledge, observations and utilization. I told them a plain je ne sais pas would get the job done. What did it matter after you threw the detour sign out and left everyone to stand there in a dazed state of being? It only took four words to get your point across, yet it took them three words to counter-balance your queerish statement.
I repeated the words in case they didn’t know how to ear-hear. Je ne sais pas I said aloud. I made sure to add the “neh” to the ne and a “pah” to the pas. Had I forgotten the “saeh” part of sais, I would’ve been left with something that sounded more like the home of a sherpa. I surely didn’t want to confuse anyone over phonetics.
After a successful trip I took a nose dive into everything else I felt that I had been missing out on. People always spoke of the fruits de mer as being an odd concept, but it was more of the fruits de vie that got me going. Why settle for just one when you can have it all? Throw out a je ne sais pas and it’s like a get-out-of-jail-free card plus benefits. The benefits being the corner with all the dough. The more money you had in your pockets the more fun you could have, right? The benefits for the beneficiary. Life’s a bitch, then you die. Isn’t that how they cut the pie? My oh my, you’re almost sly. I forgot to tell you your work’s a lie. If you rhyme once more I’ll cut your bit. No, not a typo - I meant to write _ _ _ _.
ALIABAD, Afghanistan — The two Army lieutenants crouched against boulders beside the Korangal River. Taliban gunfire poured down from villages and cliffs above, hitting tree branches and rocks and snapping as the bullets passed over the officers’ helmets.
An American platoon was pinned in the riverbed, which had blossomed into a kill zone. One squad and the radio operator were trapped in a wheat field on the far side. An improvised bomb had just exploded in their midst. The blast wave had blown the soldiers down, and, though the platoon did not yet know it, killed a soldier on the trail.
The platoon leader, company executive officer and another squad crouched exposed at a stream junction, trying to arrange help as the bomb’s smoke drifted through the misty rain. A third squad was on the slope behind them, returning fire.
Two footbridges separated the three American groups. No one could run across them during fire like this.
Another pitched firefight in a ravine in eastern Afghanistan had begun, shaped by factors that have made the war against the Taliban seem unending: grueling terrain that favors ambushes and prevents American soldiers from massing; villages in thorough collaboration with insurgents; and experienced adversaries each fighting in concert with its abilities and advantages.
The Taliban fighters had struck with surprise, stealth and familiarity with the ground, executing the sort of ambush that Afghan guerrillas have mastered for generations.
The Americans, seasoned by years of war here and in Iraq, would seek to create an intricately violent response, designed to undo the odds, save the pinned soldiers and kill the insurgents who, for a moment, had shown themselves.
Second Lt. Justin R. Smith, the platoon leader, called for help from an artillery battery, then radioed Sgt. Craig W. Tanner, the squad leader on the opposite side. Each man had found what cover he could. The platoon would fight where it was.
“Lead element: stand by where you’re at,” the lieutenant said. “If you come back across the river you’re going to expose yourself.” He glanced across the water at his radio operator, Specialist Robert Soto. “Soto!” he shouted. “Stay there! Stay! There!”
There are moments in many firefights that verge on chaos. This was one of them. Specialist Soto’s ears were ringing. He could not hear. “We gotta move!” he shouted.
The American patrol had left Korangal Outpost, the base for Company B of the First Battalion, 26th Infantry, on Wednesday, roughly an hour before the ambush. Its mission had been to enter the village of Laneyal and meet with local elders.
Preparing for the mission, the company’s Second Platoon had predicted a fight. The platoon had ambushed a Taliban unit a few days before, killing at least 13 insurgents. The Taliban would want revenge, said Sgt. First Class Thomas Wright, the platoon sergeant, and a patrol to Laneyal meant a walk into a bad village.
Afghanistan is myriad wars within a war, with varying terrain, climates, economies and insurgent groups creating a puzzle of shifting contests for influence. The Korangal Valley is the center of one of the most vicious contests of all.
Relatively few Arabs or foreigners come here, the company’s officers say. But the Korangalis, a hardened and isolated people with their own language, have managed to lock the American Army into a bloody standoff for a small space for more than three years.
The Korangalis have fought, the officers say, in part because they support the Taliban and in part because they are loggers and the Afghan government banned almost all timber cutting, putting local men out of work.
Korangal Outpost itself symbolizes the dispute. It occupies a former sawmill, and the mill’s displaced owner is a main organizer of the insurgency. The Taliban pay the best wages in the valley now, the officers said.
Company B’s relations with local villagers are cordial but ultimately unhelpful, undermined by deception. After the platoon ambushed the Taliban patrol several days earlier, for instance, elders arrived at the outpost to say that the Americans had shot up a search party of local men who were looking for a lost girl. The company commander, Capt. James C. Howell, told the elders it was one of the most ridiculous lies he had ever heard.
The platoon reached Aliabad, the village on the slope opposite Laneyal, and began the descent down a stone staircase to the river. On the way down they met Zarin, an elder from Laneyal, who was heading up. Zarin exchanged pleasantries and shook hands with Company B’s executive officer, First Lt. John P. Rodriguez, and bounded quickly away.
The platoon continued on. With several soldiers remaining in Aliabad with guns aimed at the opposite side, two squads and the officers crossed a narrow footbridge and reached a point where two branches of the river converge.
Then the lead squad crossed the second bridge, entering a terraced wheat field. The Taliban let the first five men cross, then detonated the bomb under Pfc. Richard A. Dewater, 21, as he walked up the trail. It was a huge explosion, heaving dirt and rock high in the air.
The Taliban opened fire. The ambush was on. Lieutenant Smith asked Sergeant Tanner for a report. The blast had blown the sergeant off his feet, spinning him around and throwing him down. He was disoriented. He said he thought he had all of his men. As the firing neared its peak, Lieutenant Smith ordered the men around him to disperse so they could not all be struck by a single burst of fire. Then he provided covering fire so the artillery observer and a machine gun team could run back across the first bridge, gain elevation in Aliabad and cover the squad in the field.
A soldier caught in an ambush — looking for safety while returning fire, with ears ringing and skin pouring sweat — can feel utterly alone, trapped in a box of crisscrossing lead and terrifying sound, with death an instant away.
He is actually part of something more complicated. Bullets flew down into the riverbed from three sides. But as the lieutenants worked their radios, soldiers outside the kill zone were trying to erode the Taliban’s opening advantage.
Within the platoon, the squad in the rear of the column set up its machine guns and was firing on several of the Taliban shooting positions. A group of Afghan National Army soldiers, directed by a Marine corporal, was also firing.
In American firebases on ridges along the valley, soldiers with heavier machine guns and automatic grenade launchers focused on Afghan buildings in three villages — Donga, Laneyal and Darbart — from where the trapped platoon was taking fire.
Farther back, at Company B’s outpost, a pair of Air Force noncommissioned officers was directing aircraft into position, while two 120-millimeter mortars were firing high-explosive and white phosphorus rounds at targets the platoon had identified.
Alternately crouched and standing on the open rock spur, the lieutenants rushed to influence the fight and plan an escape from the trap. Once the American response began to build and the Taliban firing subsided, Lieutenant Rodriguez told Lieutenant Smith, they would throw smoke grenades along the river bank and pull back.
Specialist Soto could not wait. After mortar rounds began landing, he and a photographer for The New York Times dashed down the bank, splashed into the chest-deep brown river, lunged across the current and crawled out on the opposite side.
They staggered up the Aliabad slope and slipped behind a building as the platoon’s guns fired, covering their dash. They had made it out of the worst of the kill zone.
The Taliban kept firing. The American squad in the wheat field, perhaps 50 yards away, radioed that insurgents were getting closer and that the soldiers risked being overrun. At almost the same time, Air Force Staff Sgt. Kenneth Walker radioed Lieutenant Rodriguez with news that the first 500-pound aircraft bomb was about to strike.
“They’re going to do the drop in, like, 30 seconds!” Lieutenant Rodriguez shouted to Lieutenant Smith. “Let your boys know!”
The aircraft had arrived just in time. A Taliban fighter appeared behind a stone fence. He was almost atop the soldiers in the field.
“We got muzzle flashes,” Lieutenant Smith said, and now the Americans had clear targets. The stones beside where the Taliban fighter had stood began to splinter as the platoon’s bullets struck it. Then the satellite-guided bomb whooshed in and exploded.
Two stray rocket-propelled grenades landed to the lieutenants’ left side. But the Taliban’s firing decreased, as if the insurgents, experienced with American tactics, had sensed the battle shifting and were being ordered back.
The platoon threw smoke grenades, obscuring visibility in the riverbed. Five soldiers appeared at the edge of the green stand of wheat, running toward the officers.
They leapt into the water. The two lieutenants had spent the fight exposed; now they ran back across the first footbridge. The platoon climbed the steep staircase into Aliabad and took cover.
As the soldiers panted for air, they cursed Zarin, the elder who had walked through the kill zone just before the ambush; he had set them up, they said. Two more airstrikes blew apart two buildings on the opposite side from where the Taliban had been firing. The battle quieted.
Pfc. Rogger J. Webb looked at Specialist Soto, the last man to cross the bridge before the bomb had exploded on the trail. “Man, I thought —” he said.
“You thought I was gone?” Specialist Soto said.
Private Webb nodded. The platoon did a head count and came to an awful realization: Private Dewater was missing. He had walked into the wheat field with the squad. He had not run out.
Private Webb swore. Had the Taliban captured him? Had he been struck during the fight? The soldiers did not know. The platoon retraced its steps toward Laneyal as the sun set.
Back at the outpost, American and Afghan soldiers flowed out into the darkness. The Afghans would scour the riverbed in case the missing soldier had ended up in the water. The captain told the platoons to be prepared to search every house in the villages, in case the Taliban had dragged him off.
Wearing night-vision equipment, the platoon combed the ambush site in the rain. The company waited for news. At 8:10 p.m., Specialist Soto’s strained voice came over the radio.
“Break, break, break,” he said, using the convention for stopping all conversations.
Everyone knew what it meant. Lieutenant Smith’s voice replaced Specialist Soto’s. “We found him,” he said. The first explosion had killed Private Dewater and lifted his body into a tree.
“Roger,” the captain answered. “Understand all.” Sgt. Matthew R. Kuhn climbed the branches to free the missing man. In an instant, Second Platoon’s mission had changed. It would carry Private Dewater on the first steps of his journey home.
The soldiers gently rested their friend onto a stretcher, organized into teams of litter bearers and began the long walk back, over the two footbridges, up the Aliabad staircase and past the other soldiers and Marines, who provided security and stood quietly in respect.
He was the fourth member of Second Platoon killed during nine months in the valley.
When the platoon reached its outpost at midnight, the company’s commander, Captain Howell, was waiting. The soldiers gathered in the darkness. The captain spoke of his pride in the platoon and offered the first of many words of condolence.
“There is nothing I can say or anybody else can say that will bring Dewater back,” he said, and reminded the platoon of its own ambush of the Taliban the week before. “But the best thing we can do for him is to continue to do the type of stuff that you guys did the other day.”
The soldiers headed for the plywood shacks where they live, for the remainder of a night in which almost no one would sleep.
In the morning they disassembled and cleaned their weapons and recalled their friend as they played his favorite song: “Nothing Else Matters,” by Metallica. A heap of their bloody clothes burned in a small fire.
Private Dewater had been a combat replacement in the platoon: “A real humble dude, and totally positive about everything we did,” Specialist Soto said.
His body had already been flown off the outpost by helicopter in the night, the next step of the trip back to the United States.
A few hours later, the soldiers slipped into their body armor and helmets, hoisted their weapons and walked back out for an overnight patrol.
There was a child went forth every day; And the first object he look'd upon, that object he became; And that object became part of him for the day, or a certain part of the day, or for many years, or stretching cycles of years.
The early lilacs became part of this child, And grass, and white and red morning-glories, and white and red clover, and the song of the phoebe-bird, And the Third-month lambs, and the sow's pink-faint litter, and the mare's foal, and the cow's calf, And the noisy brood of the barn-yard, or by the mire of the pond-side, And the fish suspending themselves so curiously below there--and the beautiful curious liquid, And the water-plants with their graceful flat heads--all became part of him.
The field-sprouts of Fourth-month and Fifth-month became part of him; Winter-grain sprouts, and those of the light-yellow corn, and the esculent roots of the garden, And the apple-trees cover'd with blossoms, and the fruit afterward, and wood-berries, and the commonest weeds by the road; And the old drunkard staggering home from the out-house of the tavern, whence he had lately risen, And the school-mistress that pass'd on her way to the school, And the friendly boys that pass'd--and the quarrelsome boys, And the tidy and fresh-cheek'd girls--and the barefoot negro boy and girl, And all the changes of city and country, wherever he went.
His own parents, He that had father'd him, and she that had conceiv'd him in her womb, and birth'd him, They gave this child more of themselves than that; They gave him afterward every day--they became part of him.
The mother at home, quietly placing the dishes on the supper-table; The mother with mild words--clean her cap and gown, a wholesome odor falling off her person and clothes as she walks by; The father, strong, self-sufficient, manly, mean, anger'd, unjust; The blow, the quick loud word, the tight bargain, the crafty lure, The family usages, the language, the company, the furniture--the yearning and swelling heart, Affection that will not be gainsay'd--the sense of what is real--the thought if, after all, it should prove unreal, The doubts of day-time and the doubts of night-time--the curious whether and how, Whether that which appears so is so, or is it all flashes and specks? Men and women crowding fast in the streets--if they are not flashes and specks, what are they? The streets themselves, and the façades of houses, and goods in the windows, Vehicles, teams, the heavy-plank'd wharves--the huge crossing at the ferries, The village on the highland, seen from afar at sunset--the river between, Shadows, aureola and mist, the light falling on roofs and gables of white or brown, three miles off, The schooner near by, sleepily dropping down the tide--the little boat slack-tow'd astern, The hurrying tumbling waves, quick-broken crests, slapping, The strata of color'd clouds, the long bar of maroon-tint, away solitary by itself--the spread of purity it lies motionless in, The horizon's edge, the flying sea-crow, the fragrance of salt marsh and shore mud; These became part of that child who went forth every day, and who now goes, and will always go forth every day.
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