Sunday, April 17, 2011

From the Cutting-Room Floor: Prima Donna in the Combat Zone

I continue to make merciless cuts to my novel-in-progress (Fobbit), littering my office floor with thousands of words.  I'm knee-deep in wadded-up paper by this point.  (Okay, only ankle-deep and the paper is metaphorical, but you catch my drift.)

Here's one scene I cut yesterday, a conversation between two members of the Public Affairs staff at 7th Armored Division headquarters in Baghdad.  This comes relatively late in the novel and was trashed because I never developed the movie-star visit any further, replacing it instead with a blow-dried TV reporter from Georgia who comes over to embed with the soldiers.

One other thing: like so many other scenes in the novel, this is based on actual events from my year in Iraq.  I'm not naming names.

*     *     *

Major Filipovich wheeled out of his cubicle with a twirly-twist of his chair and rolled over to Staff Sergeant Gooding.  “Guess who’s coming to visit our little war?” he said.

Gooding swiveled around in his chair.  “No idea, sir.  Rumpunch?”

Filipovich shook his head.  “Nope, he’s got too many webs to weave back at the Pentagon.  I’ll give you a hint: You won’t regret this, babe.”

Gooding’s jaw dropped.  “Are you serious, sir?   Jack Ridge?   Here at FOB Triumph?”

“The one and the same.  The I’ll Be Back, Pump Zone, and Comoros Jack Ridge.  Live in the flesh, direct from Hollyweird.”

Gooding clapped a hand to his forehead.  “Ho-ly crap!  Now my combat tour is complete.  This is way better than Bob Hope and the Playboy Bunnies dropping in for a visit.”

“Well, don’t get your knickers too knotted just yet, Sarge.  Wait’ll you hear the e-mail I got earlier today.  Turns out, the guy’s a huge dickwad.”  Filipovich scooted back to his cubicle and Gooding wheeled after him on his desk chair.  (Why stand and walk when you can roll between cubicles?)

Filipovich clicked on his Inbox.  “Here it is.  Forwarded to me by Harkleroad this morning, who got it from Corps PAO, who got it from Army Public Affairs in L.A., who got it from Ridge’s personal assistant yesterday.  Get a load of this:

“Items for Procedures Regarding Mr. Ridge’s Upcoming Trip to the Theater of Operations:

“Item One: Mr. Ridge does not want any Public Affairs engagement at any level at any time during this visit.  He is not to be met at the plane by any Public Affairs professionals—either officers acting in a liaison capacity or journalists with cameras, tape recorders or microphones.  This is to be strictly a low-key event and should not be advertised in any publications, either nationally, internationally or in base newspapers.”

Filipovich grinned at Gooding’s crestfallen face.  “Was that the sound of your Hollywood fantasies being dashed against the rocks I just heard?”

“I don’t get it,” Gooding said.  “We can’t even run his photo in The Lucky Times?”

“Wait,” Filipovich said.  “It gets better:

“Item Two: Mr. Ridge must be assigned to Distinguished Visitors Quarters in a trailer which is in a remote part of the camp.  Said trailer must have two entrances, one on either side of the trailer and must be equipped with a sink, shower and toilet facilities.

“Item Three: The Visit Assistance Team from Los Angeles must be housed in a separate location and not be co-located with Mr. Ridge.  The only person authorized to co-locate with Mr. Ridge is his personal assistant, Miss Ensleigh.”

Filipovich winked.  “Co-habitate is more like it.”

He went on: “Item Four: Mr. Ridge will hand-pick a select group of soldiers with whom he will interact during his visit.  These soldiers will be given the privilege to ‘Spend a Day on the Ridge,’ which entails dining with Mr. Ridge at a pre-determined, isolated location on camp, the chance to take personal photos with Mr. Ridge, and a special sneak preview of his next summer blockbuster, Hailstorm in Copenhagen.  The soldiers’ prize package will also include an autographed 8x10 glossy of Mr. Ridge and a DVD of his previous smash-hit comedy, The Poodle Walker.  Please forward the names of no more than thirty soldiers who meet the demographics of the attached checklist.

“Item Five: Mr. Ridge would like you to arrange a time when he can meet with your top generals over there so he can discuss what he calls ‘matters of grave importance regarding the future stability of the nation of Iraq.’  Mr. Ridge would also like your office to make arrangements for members of the media to be present at that meeting (but ONLY at that meeting).

“Item Six: During his stay, Mr. Ridge requires a fresh bowl of green M&Ms to be placed in his trailer every morning—”

Gooding looked at Filipovich.  “Really?”

“Okay, that last one I made up, but all the rest of it is there in the e-mail.  The whole thing ends with, ‘Remember, Mr. Ridge is doing this for the troops because he truly cares about them!’  Can you believe this shit?  What a punk!  What a fucking prima donna!  I swear I’ll never go see another one of his movies.  In fact, when he shows up, I’ll be there with the biggest wad of Red Man I can fit in my cheek and I’ll spit right on his boots.  That’s exactly what I’ll do.”

Despite his disappointment, Gooding had to laugh.  “You’ll be like, ‘Oh, I’m sorry—did that really come out of my mouth?  I meant to swallow that.’”

“Yeah, and then I’ll whip out my little camera and snap a picture of the look on his face.  Maybe send it to the National Fucking Enquirer.”

Gooding grinned.  “You’re bad, sir.”  He wheeled himself back out of Filipovich’s cubicle.  “Well, I don’t care what anyone else says, I still want to meet Jack Ridge.  Maybe I can get Lieutenant Colonel Harkleroad to put me on that list.  They don’t have to know I’m PAO, do they?”

Flip Filipovich didn’t answer.  He was lost in his own world, wondering if he, too, could get on the list so he could punch Jack Ridge in the face and then, when he was down, piss in his mouth.  “I fucking hate prima donnas,” he growled.

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