Monday, July 25, 2005

Light at the end of the tunnel.

It's been awhile since my last update, due in large part to the mind-numbing boredom of road repair. In case I've not yet mentioned it, road repair entails us getting up way, way too early (3 AM-ish) and driving down one of the MSRs (Main Supply Routes). Once we find blast holes/potholes in the ground, we use a jackhammer to even them out, then mix concrete by hand and pour it into the hole. We typically run through about 9,000 kg of cement each day. We get the next day off, and then go right out and do it again.

As you might imagine, it's not exactly the most exciting thing to do. Consequently, not many stories to share.

The reason for this update is to pass along a little word your way. First of all, we've been told that no more packages should be sent after August 1st. Motomail should still be fine, however. If you don't know what motomail is, don't worry about it.

Secondly, "When am I getting home?" I can't tell you exactly. What I -can- say is that I should be home sometime around labor day. Maybe a little sooner, maybe a little later. Right now, plans are in a very liquid state. Even if I had a real date to give, it would probably change by this time tomorrow.

That's really all I've got for this update, I'm afraid. I like to make my posts as interesting and fun as possible, but I realize if I go too long without posting something, people start to wonder if I'm still in one piece.

As soon as something remotely interesting happens, I'm putting it up here. Scout's honor.

Monday, July 11, 2005

The Tooth Hurts

It is said that to produce great art, one must suffer for it. Until today, I thought that this only applied to the real fancy stuff. Painters and Sculptors and such. I find myself hoping that the aforementioned saying can pertain to a writer as well, because I've certainly paid my dues to the art club after sitting in the dentist chair today.

I am, to put it simply, terrified of the dentist. Every time I go to one, I find myself in a great deal of pain. Now, it could be because I only visit a dentist about once a decade, but that's beside the point. What I'm getting at here is Me + Dentist = Misfortune

A lot of people consider the dentist to be a friend, of sorts. What those people don't know is that despite the falsehoods they may have read about dentistry, it is not a way to ensure that your teeth remain in your head. Dentistry, in fact, was invented by the Germans in WWII as a means to further torture it's prisoners, extracting information and tearing apart any vestiges of sanity that said prisoners may have still possessed.

In my case, a dental checkup has to take place within 90 days of a servicemember's return home. There is no way around it. You go to the doc, they peek into your mouth, and if something is wrong, you come back in the afternoon for them to fix it. As you may have guessed, they found something to fix. But we'll get to that shortly.

This morning, I got my dental folder and headed off to the dental center. We get in a big line, take off our blouses and get our blood pressure checked. What this has to do with getting your teeth looked at I have no idea, but it must be important because you are sure as hell not sitting in the dental chair until they know your blood pressure.

After a few minutes, my name is called and I lay back in the chair. The beautiful Lieutenant Tant is attending to me this morning. I strongly suspect that this all-female lineup is a ploy to get me to act manly and not break into tears as she begins probing my mouth with that godawful metal stick. The ploy works. I don't even let out a whimper when she informs me that a filling has come loose and they'll have to replace it. I take advantage of the long silence to ask if my bottom retainer (put in my head when my braces were removed) can come out.
Chipper as ever, she replies in the affirmative.

That said, she barely allows three seconds to pass before she thrusts the needle into my mouth, injecting novocaine into the gumline near my afflicted tooth. Out comes the needle, in comes another. My understandable fear of having a needle in my mouth never even gets a chance to kick in, she moves so quickly.

After a few minutes, my mouth has gone numb and she begins drilling into my tooth. The pleasant smell of burning fills my nostrils as the drill burns into my fang. The filling material is then packed in nice and tight and we begin phase two.

Lieutenant Tant begins sawing off my lower retainer. I tell myself that despite the fearsome sounds emanating from my mouth, all the teeth down here are intact. "Just sit there, don't whine, and see if you can walk out with some dignity.", I silently muse to myself.

Moments later, the brace is off, and I'm a free man. I make ready to bound towards the hallway and freedom when a hand braces my shoulder. "Uh-oh.." Lt. Tant intones. "Looks like we had a cavity hiding under one of the metal bands." Because this cavity is at a more difficult angle to reach, another female joins us to assist her. Shining the light into my mouth, they begin to probe around. "Yep, yeah...uh-huh.." Lt. Tant continues, "I think we can do this one without novocaine." At this point, she looks down into my eyes, silently challenging me to disagree. I squeak out "'ve've done this before, have you?" To which she replies "Of course!" and with the same speed and precision demonstrated earlier with her needles. I come up with a brilliant scheme to stall her: "Is this going to hurt?" "Well," she replies "You may feel a little discomfort."


At this point, I have two attractive females hovering over me, breasts inches from my face, while one sucks my drool up with a straw. Usually, you've got to pay double for that kind of action. Unfortunately, the same burning smell was drifting into my nose again, distracting me. Even more distracting was the sudden bolt of pain that flooded through my mouth, causing me to yelp and thrash about in the chair like a freshly landed trout.

"Hang in there, we're almost done." murmers the Lt. Easy enough to say when you're not the one in the chair. A few whimpers and squirms later, we're done. Or so I thought.

"There is some residual glue and plaque on your back teeth. I'm going to send you next door to have them cleaned, and you should be out of there in about ten minutes." she tells me brightly. "Fine, fine. I'm okay with anything that gets me away from YOU, Herr Doktor." I think.

Armed with my dental records, I move into the room adjacent to the last. I step inside for yet another surprise. I honestly don't know why my eyebrows raised, I should really be used to this kind of stuff by now. Standing in front of me is a guy loudly rapping along to the radio -- hand movements and all.

Hey, this is fantastic. I just got out of a room with Dr. Giggles and now I'm going to have my teeth cleaned by 50-Cent in the temple of Bling-Bling Hygiene.

"Gon' ride till I die....Oh, hey dawg, sup? You da guy needs his teefs cleaned?"

Apparently, this is how gangster dentists communicate. I decide to go along with it. "Yep, need to get some plaque and glue removed on my lower teeth. I just had a lower retainer removed." He informs me to take a seat, and we get going. It is soon clear that I would have had better luck using a leatherman on myself.

"Sorry dawg, that yo' gum?"
"Sorry dawg."

And so on. Eventually, he finally gets it all scraped off, along with a few inches of my gumline. Free to go at last, I make my way home.

The moral to all this? The hell if I know. I suspect it has something to do with military dentists and getting what you pay for. Oh, there is probably a lesson somewhere about annual checkups too, if you really want to start searching. *cough* I uh, don't want to search that deep.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day

"For those who have fought for it, freedom has a flavor the protected will never know."

I first read those words on the back of a kevlar helmet in Kuwait, sometime in February of 03'. It was only two and a half years ago, but it seems like a very, very long time to me.

When I first joined the Marine Corps, it wasn't out of a sense of patriotic duty, or a desire to kill. It wasn't even for the money. I was just, well... bored. College was boring, my friend Luke had just got home from boot camp and he said the Corps was tougher than shit. Well, I thought I was pretty goddamn tough at 18. Had a couple tattoos, did some skateboarding, drank bad malt liquor at parties, shit, I could handle boot camp. Bring it on. I was bored and this looked exciting.

At precisely the 30-second mark after stepping off the bus and onto the yellow footprints, I realized that yeah, the Marine Corps was pretty tough and whatever else I may have been, tough wasn't on that list.

Well, 30 seconds down, five years, eleven months, twenty-nine days, twenty-three hours and 59:30 to go.

The next 13 weeks, which were agonizingly slow, seemed a blur in retrospect. Then I graduated, went to MCT (Marine Combat Training), and finished Engineer School. At long last, I was back home, on "active reserve" status. If anyone had told me I would be going to war in a couple years, I doubt I would have believed them. And yet, in January of 03', that is exactly what happened.

As I said earlier, I didn't have any strong sense of patriotism, but after I got back home from my first tour, I felt different. I don't know how or where the change occured exactly, just that I only noticed it after I returned to the States. Maybe it was that new flavor of freedom. But I take anything written on a Kevlar with a grain of salt. You're as likely to find true wisdom there as you are to find an ex-girlfriend's phone number & measurements. However, that saying stuck in my head as I surveyed the many wonders of a civilized society. Clean sheets, cold beverages, hot showers, washing machines, good food, I was awestruck. I imagine that this sense of wonder had less to do with "fighting" for freedom and more to do with being deprived of it.

In the months that passed after my return home, not a day went by when I didn't think "Hot damn, this is nice.", about at least one aspect of my life. Every single day. And then my dear old Uncle Sam asked me for one more favor.

As you know, I'm back "there" again. And in spite of the heat, and all the complaints I can (and often do!) make, I know I'm doing a good thing. Despite the fact that our invasion has been criticized from day one (and I wasn't 100% behind it either), the point has become moot. We're here now, and all we can do is try to fix things.

On this fourth of July, I'm a long way from home. But I can't think of any task more noble than ensuring a lasting freedom to strangers. Yeah, I sometimes wish that we could have liberated a more uh...comfortable climate, but I'm honored to have this opportunity.

Happy Independence Day.