I'm still tinkering with the opening of my novel-in-progress (Fobbit), but here's the latest version of what I hope will draw readers into this dark comedy about the Iraq War.
Let this be known: I, Chance Gooding Jr., never wanted to be a man of war. Growing up, and well into my adult years, I never imagined myself uniformed, head-shaved, be-gunned. A hard, stoic minion of the military going around saying things like “Kill a Commie for Mommy!” and “Last night I drove my POV to the PX so I could DX my BDUs” or “I’m being all I can be”? Nope, not in the cards for Chance Gooding Jr.
A writer. That was more like it. A lover of language, a scribe of moonlight and madness, chronicler of the human condition. Someone like John Cheever or Raymond Carver or the great F. Scott F. But without all the drinking and early death.
If you’re like me, when you’re sitting in the high school guidance counselor’s office and you’re looking at the computer printout tabulating your ASVAB and you’re wondering if, in the end, it really does boil down to a choice between mortician and commodities trader, all sorts of possibilities branch out in your head, roads opening to the horizon, untrod paths waiting to be trod. You start giving serious consideration to standing at the front of a college lecture hall wearing corduroy jackets with elbow patches ogling the heavy-bosomed co-ed in the front row who insists she really does love the feminist spirit of Edith Wharton. You begin to wonder what a pipe would taste like clenched between your teeth. You imagine yourself chopping wood outside a Walden-style cabin as you turn the lake into poetry, or framing a scene in a box between your hands on a Hollywood movie set, or hunching over a slab-sized manuscript with a red pen on the 18th floor of a Manhattan skyscraper.
But a soldier? No. Especially not one sardined into an ass-crunching seat between identically-clad, slick-sweating men sitting in a C-130 which, skittish of sniper bullets and mortar shells in the sky above Iraq, danced a wild tango of what the pilots called “pattern irregularity,” scrotum shriveling at the thought of terrorist rocket launchers which, at that very moment, could be aimed directly at the plane’s fuselage.
And yet, there I was: buzz-cut and be-gunned and shit-pantsed. To borrow a phrase from the New Testament, I was in the war but I was not of the war.