Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Catch-22 Week: Touching Down

Touching Down
by Roy Scranton

The last time I read Catch-22 was in Kuwait, on environmental leave from Baghdad—I can’t remember now whether I was coming or going.  It was a strange limbo, either way, raining in the desert, waiting for a flight, blissfully suspended between home and the war.  It was like nothing counted there, nothing mattered.  Since all I had to do each day was wait, then show up to formation to find out I had to wait some more, it was even more of a vacation than actually being on leave.

Back in America, nothing seemed right.  I missed my rifle.  I missed my buddies.  Nobody knew or understood what was going on in Iraq, and when people thanked me I wanted to ask them “What for?”  I got back just before Christmas, and among the lines of cheering supporters who greeted us at Dallas-Ft. Worth, an old man in a Santa suit handed us chocolates.  I changed out of my DCUs as soon as I could, drank a beer, and eyed the crowds nervously.

The war, of course, was as surreal as Heller paints it—Milo Minderbender had taken over the whole thing, just like Yossarian said, from the huge dining halls to the mercenaries protecting visiting senators.  Oil money paid the insurgents to place IEDs, while KBR, Blackwater, and countless others got fat off American contracts.  But what Heller missed was how surreal it was to come back: how it wasn’t just that the war was good American business, but how good American business was the war.

In Kuwait, though, headed for America or headed back to Baghdad--I can’t remember which--it was like flying over the thing.  Caught, yes, in the stupid bureaucratic machine, but lifted, airy, floating.  Freed from the roadside bombs, random fire, supermalls, and supermarkets, I spent every day going nowhere, shuffling through the chow hall, wasting money at Subway, lying reading on my cot in a tent full of bored, listless soldiers, circling around and around in the cold wind blowing over Snowden.

Roy Scranton's poetry, fiction, and essays have appeared in New Letters, The Massachusetts Review, Another Chicago Magazine, Denver Quarterly, LIT, Theory and Event, The New York Times, and elsewhere. He has an MA from the New School for Social Research and is currently earning a PhD in English at Princeton.  Visit his website here.

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