Monday, November 26, 2007

Life’s a funny old thing.
Often though, life’s got a much different sense of humor than people do.
It’s a dark sense of humor. It’s mean, brutal, juvenile and often ironic in a way that’s only funny in a cosmic sense. You might think that a knock-knock joke is funny. Life thinks that a deaf guy getting his hands cut off in a horrible industrial accident is funny*. Seeing a guy get hit in the crotch with a wiffle ball on TV might amuse you. Life is amused by the fact that the invention of pills like Viagra and Levitra has given AIDS a whole new demographic to run rampant in.
Some people see the twisted humor in life, and while they might not laugh, they certainly get the joke. For some people, the best coping mechanism for dealing with their own existence is to laugh the pain away; make jokes at their own expense. Sometimes, when life has you on the ropes and is pounding the will to live out of you, it’s either laugh through your tears, or go mad.
The best comedians are the ones with shitty lives, or the ones that recognize how shitty life can be and how shitty we can be to each other. Those comedians harness that pain and turn it into something to laugh at, something to be made fun of until there’s no space for pain because its all been pushed out.
There are people who are very good at this. They perceive the world through somewhat jaded eyes and can appreciate humor in a cosmic sense. They get the joke, whether they want to or not. It can be a gift and a curse. Sometimes the funniest people are the ones who are dead inside, their point-of-view of existence turning them into cynical observers of life. It can be lonely.
I’ve been to Iraq twice, (three times if you count that adventure with Hiro Nakamura, but that’s a story for another time, and I’ve got Scheherazade’s panties to prove it!) Back in 2003 I was in Kuwait when the first rockets were fired in March. My unit was part of the second wave into Iraq, once the war started. I didn’t get to see too many battles; all I got to see were the results of American influence on the area. Destroyed buildings, homes with holes the size of manhole covers in bedroom walls, partial donkeys, horses and goats in the gutter. I never got to see a lot of Iraq in its original state, only after a military make over.
As a photojournalist, I went to the front lines (as if there were any) quite often in those first few months of the invasion (I mean, liberation) of Iraq. It was during one of my first embedded missions with an infantry unit that I came across Achmed.**
I was spending the night with an infantry company at an agricultural college in An Najaf. I was excited to be in downtown Najaf because it could mean that a firefight could break out at anytime. I wanted to see some action; getting shot at by SCUD missiles wasn’t doing it for me anymore. I was there to do a story about a cache of explosives that had been discovered and was going to be blown up by an E.O.D. team, (explosions are always kick ass!) As I wandered around the college campus -camera in one hand, rifle in the other- I noticed a group of soldiers hanging out by a grove of trees. They seemed to be having a good time, so I headed over there to see what the happy haps. That’s when I was introduced to Achmed.
Achmed looked to be in his forties, maybe early fifties. His hair and beard were white. He didn’t look like a soldier, or like much of a threat, which is why it was weird to see him with a giant hole where his face was supposed to be.
It seems that Achmed had attempted to sneak back onto the campus earlier in the day, possibly to steal some explosives (possibly to get back his red Swingline stapler from a classroom. We’ll never know) and ended up in a body bag for his troubles.
The soldiers were all excited about having Achmed around, because it was proof of their killing skills. He was shot in the back of the neck (just a tiny little hole, no bigger than a penny) by a M-16A2 gas-powered, semi-automatic rifle at 50 yards. At that distance, the exit wound made ground beef out of his face. Naturally, I took an assload of pictures. I’d seen violent movies and dead bodies in funeral homes and on dissection tables and I thought that I was properly desensitized; but I’d never seen a violent death in its natural state.
As gruesome as it may seem, I wanted to study my first dead body. See, the army doesn’t do a great job in introducing soldiers to the horror of war. They’re great at making sure soldiers have all their proper immunizations, but drop the ball when it comes to showing soldiers what happens when they do their job properly (namely, killin’ folks). They’d probably have a lot less cases of suicide and PTSD if they actually treated soldiers like people instead of disposable weapons with legs.
I studied Achmed’s head: the way the layers of skin and fat under the top layer of skin were exposed, the interesting shades of purple, pink and red that blossomed from the wound, the remaining eye: sitting gray and sightless in what was left of the eye socket. I tried to imagine if he knew when he got up that day that he was going to die in the outfit he had put on. I wondered if he was able to sense that he was going to die. I wondered if he felt the bullet go through his head and splatter his thoughts all over the ground, to dry in the hot sun or get eaten by feral dogs. I wondered if there was anybody back at his house waiting for his return; if he was going to be missed.
The soldiers around had no such thoughts in their heads. They preferred to practice their flying elbows. There were three of ‘em, they were guarding the body so the dogs wouldn’t come for a night buffet. It was a boring job, so they decided to spice it up. What better way than by practicing WWE moves on a dead body? With smiles on their lips and laughter in the air, they would take turns attacking this body lying on the ground. Flying elbows, flying knees and other aerobic moves of pain where inflicted upon this body, further damaging and insulting an enemy combatant who could do nothing in return. I’m not a religious person, but I felt that more reverence or respect would have been natural. I didn’t know that people would take such delight and pleasure in adding further insult to injury. I didn’t know that some people would like their job that much.
In the many months that followed, I saw more bodies. I saw bodies that were burned; torched until the fat under their skin liquefied and boiled. I saw bodies of adults with gapping holes in them (a testament to the shooting skills of the American soldier. God Bless the U.S.A.) abandoned in ditches. I saw frail kids held in the arms of parents --smeared with their own children’s blood-- plead with soldiers to be let into bases for medical aid. I saw what was left of a driver of a car bomb, hell I almost tripped on his large intestine, which, along with other unidentifiable pieces of the guy, were splattered all over a street and nearby buildings and trees.
I attended and photographed dozens of memorial services for dead soldiers. (For more info on that, read the first Eighty-Four Glyde ever!) People that I only got to know after they died, through pictures and anecdotes told by their grieving friends. I saw the good that soldiers are capable of and I saw the evil that they can do (sometimes with big smiles on their faces.)
I saw the best-prepared soldiers killed and people who should have been killed walk away from the scenes of their near-deaths, whistling. I saw a guy get blown up by a mortar on the way to the mess hall. It was the day after Thanksgiving and he just wanted a good turkey sandwich.
I was already an atheist before I went to Iraq, but what I saw and experienced just confirmed my beliefs. When you know that the guy to the left of you could die simply because he was standing in that the wrong spot at the wrong time, you start to question things. In Iraq, anybody could go at any moment. It doesn’t matter how well prepared you are or not. It doesn’t matter if you just got promoted. It doesn’t matter how smart, or funny or attractive you are. When you (and by you I mean I) realize that the only thing keeping you alive is dumb luck, well, you just gotta laugh. It’s either that, or a lifetime of medication to keep you from going nucking futs.
I write this to give people an idea of my sense of humor. It’s not for everybody. Sometimes my jokes are funny, sometimes they hit too close to home or piss people off. Sometimes they aren’t funny in the slightest (well, that’s a lie, I’ve never said an unfunny joke.) Sometimes they’re just too over the top and my words turn into an Andy Kaufman-like inside joke, funny only to myself. But hey, if you can’t laugh at how pathetic and miserable life can be, then what’s left to laugh at?
Now, who wants to hear something funny?

*In the land of the deaf, he with no hands is truly mute.

**Not his real name, but I doubt he’ll put up a fuss about it

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A better woman you’ll never find

My oddly disturbing appreciation of Danielle “Topanga” Fishel has been well documented in Eighty-Four Glyde, (you may remember my groundbreaking entry about Topanga in the appropriately titled “I have an oddly disturbing appreciation of Danielle ‘Topanga’ Fishel”*) but it doesn’t stop just there. I often find myself day dreaming about cute t.v. vixens from the 80s.
Anybody remember Soleil Moon Frye? You might remember her better as t.v.’s lovable Punky Brewster. Now, Punky wasn’t all that as a child --if I recall correctly she had the appearance of a Muppet—but she had one asset that many other girls in the 80s didn’t have. Well, two assets really, and I’m not talking about her Converse chucks with the mismatched shoelaces. Nope, Soleil had a disease. A terrible, life-threatening disease that affects countless people everyday and can destroy marriages and families.
I’m talking about whatever the hell that disease is that gives chicks ginormous ta-tas. Some call it a blessing; some call it a curse. Soleil was of that second group. Her ridiculously large bewbies often gave her back trouble and it was embarrassing for her to blossom at such a young age when all of her other friends were as flat as Mila Jovovich (have you seen her chest? She’s so flat I think it’s concave.) So, she got rid of her huge dirty pillows, and the fantasies of boys around the country died that day. It was as if a thousand voices cried out in pain, and were suddenly silenced. If you want to see pre-surgery Punky Brewster, then check out Pumpkinhead II. You’ll enjoy her performance.
But Punky, in all of her splendor was just the appetizer to the true perfect girl of the 80s: V.I.C.I., (which is short for Voice Input Child Identicant. And I’m pretty sure that identicant isn’t a real word.)
For those who may not recall, V.I.C.I. (pronounced Vicki) was a ten-year-old girl robot from the show Small Wonder. The concept of the show was that some nerdy guy created a robot but decided to hide her from the government by claiming that she was adopted. She lives in the bedroom closet of her “brother” Jamie, and gets involved in zany shenanigans. I don’t really care who the girl who played V.I.C.I. was, (though she was cute) I always thought the concept of keeping a girl in a closet was great! (Though not as good as keeping a girl in the well in your basement and forcing her to rub lotion on herself all day so her skin will be nice and pliable when it’s removed and re-stitched as a cardigan.)
She’s the perfect girlfriend! No unnecessary emotions to complicate things, the need to do everything I say hardwired into her brain, and best of all, when you’re done with her, you can just put her in the closet or under the bed, for easy storage.
“But Josh,” the ladies say, “where’s the love in a relationship with a robot you keep in the closet? How can you grow as a couple or feel the joy of loving another human being?” To which I reply that if vibrators and dildos had the ability to listen (and care) to all the jibba jabba that comes out a woman’s mouth, they would have gotten rid of men a long time ago. Don’t judge me! I feel that I would find great happiness with a girlfriend whose off switch I could flip whenever I felt like it. And I’m sure a lot of other guys would agree with me.

Robot girlfriend: Josh, I heard some new gossip today that I want to share with you, about my friends that you are indifferent to. Plus I had a rough time at work because of my boss and I want to let you know all about that. And I think I’m getting fat, I’m considering taking up yoga, or that exercise class where women use stripper poles. What do you think?

Me: Wow! That all sounds really interesting! Tell me all about it!

Robot Girlfriend: Okay, well first I…

*sound of me pressing the off button located on her left nipple*

Me: There. Much better. It’s Miller time!

Now that’s a relationship that’ll last.
On another note, to get everybody in the holiday spirit, and because I love to educate and raise awareness, here’s The history of Thanksgiving. Eighty-Four Glyde style. Enjoy!

*Not the actual title, but an incredible facsimile

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Stalking: for fun and enjoyment!

The interweb is a great thing. Without it I’d never be able to buy the copious amounts of Japanese porn that I love so much. Not to mention all that great Viagra and Prozac I’m getting. And without the Internet, I’d never have been able to increase my penis size by four inches in two weeks (total length: 4.5 inches. I feel like Ron Jeremy now!)
So it hurts me when people forget the initial reason Al Gore invented the Internet: the gathering and storing of information, (at least, I figure that’s why he invented it. I mean, that’s the “Green” thing to do right? Now, instead of cutting down trees for paper, we’re just running up huge electricity bills. Sounds good to me!) Anyway, the Internet is a place to go for information. Remember those commercials for Encyclopedia Britannica? (I’m sure that nobody born since the creation of Hypercolor tee shirts has any idea what an encyclopedia is, let alone the Encyclopedia Britannica) Well, those are instantly outdated. No longer do people have to go digging through enormous tomes of coma-inducing prose to find out the flight ratio of the un-laden African swallow. Now all we have to do is log onto your favorite search engine, type “African swallow” and enjoy the many pages of results about African fellatio porno movies. It’s brilliant!
And the beauty is that the Internet doesn’t just give you information about useless things that only your teacher and 26-year-old virgins would appreciate, it also allows you to keep tabs on anybody in the world. Sounds like a win-win situation to me. My favorite part of the Internet is looking up exes.
Oh come on! Everybody does it! Don’t act all high and mighty. Hell, these days it’s common practice to google the name of somebody you’re going out on a date with, just to see what they’re all about. But I’m not talking about getting information for advance planning. I’m talking about keeping tabs on people from your past.
I’m always checking up on people I’ve known and lost touch with for one reason or another. Some people like to call this “stalking.” I prefer the term “Proactive Individual Surveillance, (or P.I.S. for short. I love to P.I.S. on people. It makes the day so much fun!) If I didn’t P.I.S. on people, I’d have never known that my last high school sweetheart is preggers. Or, I’d have never have found out that another ex of mine is a totally hot lesbian now. And that’s important information dammit!
Knowledge is power, (I believe G.I. Joe taught me that, or something similar). That’s why our government and military spend so much time and money on making sure they have the best and most accurate intelligence before doing anything rash…like invading a country to find weapons that don’t exist. (Oops. I’m sure they meant well.)
Internet stalking comes especially in handy when the person you’re “stalking” won’t talk to you. How else are you supposed to insert yourself, unwanted, into their lives? And without the Internet, how are you supposed to know her work address and phone number so that you can show up outside her office at a strategic time with a bouquet of flowers and her name tattooed on your chest to show her your undying love? I’d like to see the Encyclopedia Britannica do that!
There’s a negative stigma (though I’m pretty sure using the word negative is superfluous*) attached to researching people with the help of the World Wide Web. I’m not sure why. After all, that’s basically why sites like Myspace and Facebook are around, isn’t it? Somebody realized that people aren’t so good with closure and moving on with their lives, so they invented “networking sites” that make on people that much easier.
I’ll admit. There’s one particular ex girlfriend that I stalk. Our relationship didn’t end well, (or start well, or continue well now that I think about it.) and she refuses to talk to me (some people would take that as a sign wouldn’t they?) I still care about her and much like a demented guardian angel, I like to check into her life every so often to make sure she’s doing well and enjoying herself (I know, I too was shocked when I heard that it’s possible for somebody to live well and enjoy life without my being there! Imagine how sorry I feel for all those people out there who are forced to go their entire lives without the benefit of my company! I shudder to think of it.) Sadly, she never had much of an Internet presence, so all I know about her is where she works. But I like to think that she’s very successful there and is rising through the ranks quickly to a high level of power and responsibility. It makes me feel good to think that she’s running shit (though it also makes me feel bad to think that she was able to pick up the pieces and move on so well after our breakup, I wonder if she ever stalks me?)
Oh, hey look! According to Google maps, there’s a tattoo parlor two blocks from her job. I wonder if I can set up an appointment for today…

*and redundant

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Campfires are good places to dispose of evidence

Nothing shows one’s appreciation for Mother Nature in all her bitchy glory like a good, old-fashioned, half-assed camping trip!
Last weekend was my 27th birthday. After a four-hour crying session, lamenting the fact that I grow older and closer to death with each passing year, I rallied, packed a bag with all types of things that are inappropriate for outdoor use (though really, when is it ever inappropriate to have a blow up doll with “real vibrating labia action”?) hopped in Keep Getting Caught (my car) and headed out, with some friends, for an exciting weekend of ball-freezing weather, unsanitary conditions and a whole lot of irresponsible drinking.
I love the great outdoors. Sure I don’t actually know what’s so great about them, but I do think they’re pretty nifty and as long as I’m not missing anything good on television (and these days, with nothing but dumb ass reality shows like Win a shot at Herpes with Tila Tequila, or Who cares about child labor laws? I know that I’m not missing a thing. End soon writer’s strike!) then I’m always happy to spend some time breathing in great big gobs of nature.
For those of you not in the know, I was a boy scout for many years, back in the days when the only thing a boy scout had to fear was being mauled by a bear, or forgetting how to do a taut-line hitch, and not his scoutmaster with the “bad touch.” Though it could be crappy at times, I enjoyed sleeping outside, cooking all my food over a fire and all that other shit that used to give Teddy “Bully” Roosevelt such a hard on. I’ve only experienced homesickness once and that was back in 5th grade when I went to a weeklong summer Webeloes camp. I thought that a week was too long to be away from the comforts of home. Little did I realize that a decade or two later I’d go camping in Iraq. Twice. For a yearlong stretch at a time.
Anyway, this camping trip was going to be sweet. We were going to Cape Henlopen, Delaware, on the shore of the lovely and not at all polluted Atlantic Ocean. We hoped to enjoy the august views of the mighty ocean crashing down upon the shore in majestic splendor. The plan was to do a little kite flying, a little grilling, a little drinking and enjoy the good weather. What we hadn’t counted on was Hurricane Noel.
Ever tried to set up a tent, chop veggies or pee in 45MPH+ winds? It’s not very easy and involves a lot of running around like a chicken with its head chopped off. Funny to look at, frustrating to be involved in. Of course, all those things were easy compared to trying to fly a kite the size of a parachute at the beach. Here’s a little advice for you: Don’t do it!
It’s not everyday that one gets to invent a new sport (though if kite/parachute dragging is a sport already, I don’t want to know about it) especially a new sport where, if done properly, your reward is to be dragged out to sea, never to be heard from again.
A few of my friends are kite people. I’m not talking Mary Poppins “Let’s go fly a kite” people, I’m talking “I wonder if I can use my kite string to chop off that dude’s head” people. So, they brought out a few power kites to play with at the beach. My friend Patrick brought a giant kite he made called a bowl. It’s almost the size of a parachute, but a lot more colorful, as if he split open Raggedy Ann and used her skin to make his kite. We decided that this would be the perfect kite to send up in almost hurricane-like conditions. Obviously we had had much to drink by this point (and it was only 10 a.m.).
Three of us wrapped the kite rope around ourselves, confident that our combined weight of at least 300 lbs would be enough to maintain control of the kite.
After, oh, 5 seconds, it was obvious that we were the kite’s bitches. It immediately picked us up into the air as if we weighed no more than Calista Flockhart (now there’s a name from the past! What the hell has Ally McBeal been up to these days anyway?). The smallest of us was tossed aside. Me and the other person foolish enough to hold on were dragged a few dozen yards, screaming our heads off at our friends to throw rocks at the kite, set it on fire, anything to get it to stop!
Eventually, people were able to jump on the kite to get the wind out of it and I was saved from a watery grave.

I lay on the ground, locked in a death embrace with my friend Charles, until the adrenaline subsided and the tears of fear and joy were swept away from my face by the powerful wind.

Then we got up and did it again.
We decided to be smart the second time and wrap the kite rope around a large driftwood log that looked to be between 300 and 400 lbs and hadn’t moved since the last time Oprah’s va-jay-jay got a work out (and you know that poonani hasn’t seen any action since before 9/11!) Then we hopped on top of the log, figuring the added weight would only help to keep the log and the kite in place. This time we lasted two whole minutes. Once it looked as though we had conquered the bowl we got lax, stopped paying so much attention and all had a good laugh at our last misadventure.
This was the break the kite was looking for.
Suddenly the wind picked up, the log reared up like a Wyld Stalyn (San Dimas High School football rules!) and bucked a few of us off. Unlike last time, I immediately jumped off. My first ride, face first, through yards of wet sand, had cured me of wanting to do it again. I yelled at my other friends to let go as well, that there was no way we’d be able to get the kite to stop before it reached the surf. But they didn’t let go, so I leapt at the rope, hoping my 220 pounds of chiseled man-flesh would help slow things down. I was wrong. Once again we went for a ride down the beach. I’m sure we were quite the sight, five grown men running around, yelling and swinging from this big ass kite. A few people were actually lifted in the air. Luckily, my prodigious beer belly kept me grounded.
It was a titanic struggle my friends. One for the ages. An epic battle between man and nature! We again were eventually able to subdue the kite. Afterward we caught our breath, checked our pants for any frightened pee stains, refilled our beer mugs and headed home to spread our tale of windy adventure. Much as I have just done for you.

P.S. Other shit happened during the camping trip as well, a lot of it involved throwing things into fires that were not meant to burn, (and would help bring sense to the title of this entry). But If I wrote about everything, it’d be a multi entry and I don’t get down like that.