Jody Is Your Boy Back Home
The day the war started I went with Parker to Portage Liquors and bought six tallboys of some shitty malt liquor called "Camo." I was wearing an army helmet and a flak jacket I picked up at the surplus store. It was one of the old "pot-style" helmets and I put an ace of spades and a pack of cigarettes in the elastic band. It looked cool.
I took off my helmet and started placing the cans inside. A crackhead lady from the neighborhood came up to me holding a bottle of Mad Dog 20/20. She was missing teeth. And she was balding. At first she just stood there and teetered, blinking her yellow eyes. One of her eyes was all bloody on the inside like she was hemorrhaging. She clutched the bottle of fortified wine with both hands in front of her stooped body: the long, bony fingers wrapped devoutly around the bottle like a monk might clutch a bible. I stared at her, and she stared back at me.
"YOU'RE DRINKIN' CAA-MO'?" she cackled.
"Hey, man. There's a war on. We've all got to make sacrifices."
"HA-HAH!" she threw her shrunken head back and almost fell over. "THAT SHIT WILL FUCK YOU UP!"
"That's the idea," I said.
The beer cost less than five dollars for six cans. Parker bought a case of Budweiser, three bags of ice, and a pint of Jim Beam. We drove back to our place and got ready for the party. Nolen was getting the kegs together. For now we went back to HQ to pack some bowls and watch CNN.
I had gone all out at the surplus store. I bought one of those big camo nets with the plastic leaf-things tied to the mesh. We hung it up on the ceiling and along the walls of our main room. I also went over to Anthony's place and borrowed all of his tropical potted plants and placed them around the room. Then I changed all our light fixtures from normal white bulbs to ones that were tinted red.
I had planned to fill sandbags, but that's where the roommates drew the line. Besides, I didn't know where I would find any sand, except maybe the volleyball courts. Nobody wanted to help me do that. And it was a bitch to fill up sandbags by yourself.
The living room had been decorated like a bunker since the "shock and awe" air campaign began. We all stopped going to classes to watch the latest developments on the news. I wanted to get the full wartime experience, so we had Jimi Hendrix and Creedence playing exclusively for some time now. Every now and then we switched it up with a protest song or two, and then some Rage Against the Machine or maybe some Jefferson Airplane. We had a separate stereo playing war sounds, like artillery and gunfire. I stole the CD from the film department's sound closet. We played it quietly in the background.
Nolen came in with the kegs and three big New York Strip steaks. We threw them on the grill. For days now I had been wearing only the flak jacket with no shirt on under it, despite the chill.
I ate my steak rare with the third can of Camo. The shit was truly disgusting. It tasted like a malt liquor mixed with vodka; very sweet and sickening. I relished it, especially toward the end of the can when it started to get warm, and I gave out a loud "ahhh," and crushed each can against the table.
After dinner we tapped keg number one.
"Fire in the hole," Erich said as he fastened the tap. We had two more "auxiliary" kegs. That's what we called them. We tried to use as much military speak as possible.
It was my tap, but it floated around from party to party. It was a nice tap, a tall chrome one, not like the shitty plastic ones they give you at the liquor stores.
Parker dug out a permanent marker and wrote "SADDAM: THIS BUD'S FOR YOU" on the side of the keg. Nolen bitched that we wouldn't get our deposit back.
"There's a war on, you have to make sacrifices!" Parker said.
People started to show up about an hour later. I was already buzzed from the Camo so I decided to roll a big B-52 sized blunt.
"Take cover, men. I'm calling in an air-strike," I said, holding up the blunt.
"The first round will be smoke, to check our co-ordinates, then fire for effect. We're surrounded by the enemy, so I'm dropping most of the ordinance right on our heads."
Everyone came into the bunker and we smoked the entire thing. Not everybody smoked, but there were a lot who did, so I loaded a pipe too. I walked over to the CD player because it felt like the perfect atmosphere for some sultry Motown music.
"That's some superior firepower," Patrick said.
"You can never spend too much on defense."
We sucked on the blunt, grooving on Motown with beers in our hands. Nolen tied a red piece of cloth around his head like Rambo. Erich had a pair of dog tags.
Feelin inside me
Oooh deep inside me
Just then Carly and the girls came over. She hadn't stopped by since we redecorated, and I could see right away she wasn't impressed with the new aesthetic.
"What's wrong," I said, knowing full well what was wrong.
"Do you think this shit is funny? Acting out your little war scene?"
"Sir yes sir."
"Drop the shit. People are actually dying over there."
"Look, I know it's fucked up, but sometimes you just have to laugh at it."
"It isn't funny."
"Oh, you'd be surprised what can be funny. Here, have a beer."
I handed her a cup.
"Seriously, let it go," I said. "There's nothing we can do about it."
She frowned at me, but she took the cup all the same. I set up some dominoes.
Carly and DP joined me, but we needed a fourth. Then Reilly sat down and we rolled another, smaller blunt.
"I like the jacket," Reilly said.
"Yeah, man, it was only ten bucks."
"Fat Daddy's Army Navy Surplus."
"By the post office, kinda. And across the street from Ralph's News Stand where you can buy crack pipes and dildoes and shit."
"I bought a gas mask too."
"Jesus," Carly said.
"What? Scoff all you want, but I'll be the one laughing when ya'll are spitting up your own lungs and puking out your large intestines."
Shit. I wasn't paying attention. Game over, man.
I made the rounds on my way to take a piss. The place was packed. People dug the war theme. I found the roommates hanging out in the kitchen, shooting the shit. Erich was applying grease paint to his face in a tiger stripe fashion.
"Auxiliary kegs are almost depleted, sir."
"Can we get reinforcements?"
"What's the plan?"
"Fall back to Club 23. Regroup."
"Wait till we run out of ammo. And don't leave any men behind."
"Hey did you ever see that WWII movie where the Germans are counter-attacking but they desperately need gasoline for their Panzer tanks and the end of the movie is this guy on the American side saying \'burn it!\' and they blow their own fuel depot to end the German advance?"
"Who's in it?"
"Gregory Peck? I don't know."
"My favorite war movie is Apocalypse Now."
"You're too fucking obvious."
"Well what's yours?"
"A Bridge Too Far. Excellent casting."
"What're you guys talking about?" Jerry Salmon walked in, trying hard to be nonchalant. He was wearing a trucker hat–a designer trucker hat.
"What're you guys talking about?"
"Favorite war movies, Jerry."
"Black Hawk Down, man!"
"Get out of our house!"
"Well what's your favorite?"
"Hell Is For Heroes."
"Never seen it."
"Steve McQueen, in his best on screen death."
Someone put "Morrison Hotel" on the stereo. I walked back into the bunker to turn it up. I lit a cigarette. CNN was showing footage of the latest air campaign. Tracers and explosions were bursting in that eerie green glow: night-vision as synonymous with war coverage as Christiana Amanpour. I took a big drag, exhaled slowly and swung back into the party, arms up...groovin. I turned the music up as loud as it could go, and dug on Robbie Krieger\'s guitar licks.
I thought about the times when I was a kid and I used to get up early to watch all the war movies when they played them on Operation TNT during Memorial Day weekend. It was impossible to have a learned discussion with people who had never seen Porkchop Hill or Anzio or Wake Island. All the classics.
Hard jawlines, grit and crew-cuts. Guys that chewed tobacco and didn't fuck around. They meant what they said and goddammit they said what they meant. Guys with brass balls. And when they went down under heavy machine gun fire they looked good doing it, spilling their guts in the sand while maintaining a hard-faced, stoic American grimace.
"Sound off," I said. "Ain't no use in going home; Jody's got your girl and gone. Ain't no use in feeling blue; Jody's got your sister, too. Ain't no use in lookin' back; Jody's got your Cadillac."
The beer dried up. People hung out for a while, talking and smoking cigarettes on the front porch, watching the low-riders cruise up and down LaSalle Ave. I walked out for fresh air, looking for Carly. She was outside smoking a cigarette on the porch swing with Tim and a few others.
Erich was giving a drunken, mumbled reading of "The Charge of the Light Brigade," without a book. He was holding a bottle of Captain Morgan instead, and badly slurring the words.
"When can their glory fade
Oh the wild charge they made..."
The party had all but dissolved into this kind of nonsense, and he didn't care if anyone was listening or not. I lit a fresh cigarette, and cracked the last two cans of "Camo" I had stashed in the vegetable crisper.
"Yo, Alfred," I said.
He continued reciting, and when he finished the last line he just looked sad and kept staring into the darkness. I poked him in the lower back with one of the cans. He turned around, a little startled. I handed him a can.
"Thought you might like a chaser for that rum."
"It' so fucked up."
"I know, dude."
"It's only going to get worse."
We clinked our cans together and toasted to a smiling death. It seemed appropriate. Then we both winced after we took a long drink. It still tasted terrible.
"So why did you buy this shit?"
"Aesthetics, man. There's a war on. You've gotta–"
"Right. You\'ve gotta. So now what?"
"I don't know. The plan. Club 23?"
That's not what he meant and I knew it.
ABOUT MATTHEW CREMER
Matthew Cremer grew up on the Great Plains, where he learned to shoot guns. He now lives in Washington, DC, and spends his time moving boxes, sweating out the wine.