Tuesday, June 5, 2007

A War Worth Killing For. A Dream Worth Others Dying For.

OK, OK, scootch on over and sit around Uncle JP’s feet because he’s about to admit something that he’s perhaps never confessed to in his two decades of life. (I’ve never confessed, even, to occasionally lying about my age.) I can never see The Horsemen without thinking of the terrorist bomb threat I’d egged my friend to make that cleared an entire military base.

It’s one of John Frankenheimer’s lesser-known efforts that starred Omar Sharif, Leigh Taylor-Young and the late Jack Palance although it’ll prove to be timely and remarkably prescient if you stay with me. But back to our terrorist plot.

Back in 1971, my friend Ganz and I must’ve been really bored so Ganz thought it would be really cool if we phoned in a bomb threat to Headquarters of San Vito Air Base in Italy. Lesson #1: If you ever feel compelled to do this in the future, make sure that you don’t actually do it from the base itself, as we did.

Well, despite the fact that neither of our voices had broken, yet (we were 11-12), Ganz must’ve done a creditable job of sounding like an adult while he said, “There’s a bomb on base” before hanging up. Far from trying to talk him out of it, I was just as curious as he was what the result would be.

Well, alarms and sirens didn’t exactly go off immediately, so I suggested going to the movie theater next door (which, on reflection, would’ve been a far better way to amuse ourselves than our original idea). So Ganz hung up the phone and we sauntered on over to the theater.

Well, we got through about half of The Horsemen when the AP’s (Air Police) walked in with flashlights and immediately made us. As they were asking us to come with them, it amazed me that they were somehow able to connect the phone call with us, especially since we were a whole fifty yards or so from the pay phone at the cafeteria next door.

It never occurred to us that they then had the technology to trace the crank call back to the very pay phone used to make it, that they could canvas the immediate area, get descriptions of the two little boys who were last seen using this very public pay phone and even that the helpful citizens would point the way to where they were last seen going. “Yes, sir. One was black and heavy-set, the other was white and they’re probably sitting together in the single theater even as we speak.”

Likewise, it had never occurred to either of us that the entire base would be in lockdown because they had to take even this amateurish threat seriously, that there would be men with automatic weapons sweeping across the base, that Headquarters would be evacuated and that my Dad, who worked there, would’ve been one of the last people out since it was his job to see to a safe evacuation.

All over one little phone call. Fancy that.

So they brought us back to what passed for police headquarters and grilled us in separate rooms. They tried every dirty trick in the book. Good cop/Bad cop. They tried pitting us against one another and even plying us with ice cream, those bastards. They just wanted to know one thing: Did you help him or did you make the call?

“What made you think I had anything to do with it?” I asked in my most choirly voice. Well, you’re here, aren’t you? You were seen with this boy while the call was being made. So, were you helping him?

“Me? Pshaw! Balderdash,” I said, “I… I was trying to talk him out of it.”

And I clung to that fucking story like a Republican to a hedge fund because Lesson #2, as Jean Shepherd tells us in A Christmas Story, just because grownups tell you that honesty is the best policy don’t make it so. Every kid since the Iron Age knows that not owning up to a fuckup, especially since your admission is the only way they could pin it on you, is always the actual best policy.

“Well, Ganz is saying that you were trying to help him by giving him the right number.”

That fat little bastard! Rolling over on me, eh? “No, no, I was trying to talk him out of it.” Actually, the only smart thing I did was to make sure my voice wasn’t recorded while Ganz was making his boneheaded threat.

In the end, they had no choice but to let me go. Ganz remained behind. I can only imagine the hiding Ganz got from his old man later on that night (think of Schwartz getting it from his old lady for teaching poor innocent Ralphie the “F” word). In fact, come to think of it, I don’t recall seeing Ganz at school the next day. Perhaps it was due to his sudden inability to sit.

Anyway, that’s not the end of the story: There’s the audacious postscript:

After I left Air Police headquarters, I marched straight to the movie theater, walked up to the window and actually said to the guy behind the glass (No shit, I'm not making this up), “Hey, you remember the bomb threat earlier today? Well, I was a witness to it and I had to leave in the middle of the movie to help the police. So can you see your way clear to letting me in so I can see it again?”

Yes, I loved movies that much and still do. In the space of a couple of hours, I had gone from terrorist accomplice and perpetrator to victim to hero without skipping a beat.

Sort of like the way George Bush made the identical transformation with astonishing rapidity from September 11th on. It had never occurred to me that not only did I not have the right to see the movie again, I also forfeited the right to have skin remaining on my young behind for being complicit in a prank that diverted precious resources, needlessly scared the bejeebers out of perhaps thousands, including the base commander himself. But, oh, I didn’t actually make the phone call, I didn’t intend on creating so much havoc. Oh, and can you throw in a free popcorn with that?

And parenthood had taught me the difference between the juvenile mind and the mature one: Juveniles think that punishment ought to be apportioned according to intent rather than on breaking the letter of the law. “Oh, I never intended on using that switchblade and loaded gun that I brought into school so can’t we just forget it ever happened?”

George W. Bush, whose murderously fumbling derring-don’t in Iraq and Afghanistan is perfectly symbolized by the very movie I’d been watching in that theater 36 years ago, proves this with perfect certitude. It doesn’t matter that he got all his facts wrong, that things are going south in both countries, that thousands are dying for his messianic dreams of being the Lawrence of Arabia of the 21st century. He meant well.

Now, every dime store psychologist from Maureen Dowd to liberal bloggers have made inevitable and slam-dunk cases about Georgie’s neverending attempts to cockwand with his father’s failed presidential legacy. The Horsemen, which takes place in Afghanistan (including Bagram and the capital, Kabul), is all about a young man’s attempt to prove himself a better horseman than his father. If you’ve ever seen this movie or Rambo III, you’d be aware of an equestrian game called Buskashi in which men ride around with the headless body of a goat and try to drop it into “the circle of justice.”

Bush not only is failing to live up to even his father’s tepid presidential legacy, his own horsemanship, he seems to be avoiding the circle of justice at all costs. The result is brainless, deranged optimism in the face of incontrovertible facts. Increased anonymous Iraqi corpses dug up? Success with the surge! Escalating troop casualties? We got them right where we want them, which is there and not here (again).

And any and all truly unavoidable failures, like bombs going off in the Iraqi parliament’s cafeteria and mortars landing within a hundred yards of where the Iraqi Prime Minister and the new Secretary General of the UN were meeting is the fault of the Iraqi people themselves.

No, it wasn’t me needlessly ratcheting up the terror level, it was someone else. Gee, I’m sorry that things are less than perfect but that’s someone else’s fault.

I had the best of intentions, after all.

Can you throw in a Good-n-Plenty and an extra hundred billion with no strings attached, while you’re at it?