Monday, March 31, 2003
Weekend in the 'Dad Special
It's two a.m. Baghdad time and I've got my foot so far up Petey Arnett's ass that I have to ask him to open his mouth so I can tie my shoe. It's hard enough to play quarters at the local journalista watering hole with shit blowing up two blocks away, but Arnett thinks it's endlessly funny to flick our quarter off the table every time it lands in front of him. Koppel and I sort of laugh it off the first couple of times, Petey just being Petey with his naughty-British-boy-in-the-line-of-fire schtick. But after the tenth time, even Koppel, who's just been the picture of whimsy during this war with his photo-ops in front of various light artillery wearing ill-fitting helmets, warns Petey that I was just about to snap. And then I felt the obligation to snap, yanking his chair out from under him and giving him the Timberland refresher course in wartime drinking game etiquette.
Geraldo, of course, is drinking by himself in the corner. Well, not totally alone. He's subcontracted a ring of local beef to stand sentinel around him, because he got tired of the other reporters having five too many whiskeys, asking him if Barbara Walter's equipment tastes like sardines, then stubbing out their Lucky Strikes in his mustache. He looks over at our table like it's his fondest wish to bang some loose change on a table and into a pint glass.
Petey promises to play nice so I deign to remove my boot from the small of his back. Admittedly, I'm a little grouchy because I woke up on a transport plane two hours from touching down in Kuwait City following a drunken phone call to Rumsfeld asking him why we haven't won the war yet. He decided I should spend the weekend having a look-see, maybe spread the Total Fucking Victory love around the city's as-yet-undemolished taverns. Everyone knows that all great wartime movements start in the types of pubs where the toilet seats aren't just missing, they're being worn by the guy passed out in the corner.
But I'd told Rummy that I don't do war zones. Things are always blowing up and my chances of dying acrobatically between a pair of Argentinean cocktail waitresses are greatly reduced. He promised me I'd be getting plenty is-this-the-end-of-the-world play from nervous, fresh-from-college adrenaline junky field editors each night when the bombs rock the city. Just for the weekend, he said. Couldn't I just go to Kabul and do a softball piece on how well we're rebuilding Afghanistan?
Sure enough, during my first night in the 'Dad crews were leaving their cameras on tripods when the explosions started and the tracer fire rained in reverse into the sky and paired off like their names were drawn at Two Minutes in the Closet. Except I got Five Minutes Fumbling Around in a Sleeping Bag in the Bunker with a comely scribe from MSNBC who thought the hazard money would help her pay down her credit cards. I told her a little bit about the Total Fucking Victory campaign and she promised her crew would wear the T-shirts when they posed with the pile of rubble where Saddam's favorite squash court used to be.
After I let Petey up, I tell him about my romp in the sleeping bag. My stomach drops when he asks me which sleeping bag I'd used. When I tell him the red one by the back wall a smile rolls across his face like an armored column through the desert. He tells me the red one's where he zaps Christiane Amanpour and they tend to sweat.
If Rummy sends me back I'm demanding a sleeping bag. Maybe two so that Arnett doesn't get any ideas about performing additional weapons inspections in mine while I'm busy chatting up some Australian humanitarian nurses who'd heard that I'm the man behind Total Fucking Victory. I tell them that they should watch the lightshow with me on the roof of our hotel before I catch the first transport plane back to the States in the morning. I ask the tall one who looks like "Uptown Girl"-era Christy Brinkley to bring her own sleeping bag, just in case we feel like sleeping up there.