Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Six years ago this month, Paula Poundstone made me collapse laughing. She went on a rant about Pop Tarts on "Wait Wait Don't Tell Me." It was so funny I literally fell on my face. You can listen to her stand-up pop tart rant here.
It wasn't a long fall. I wasn't hurt. Except my dignity. I was working out in the House of Pain Gym on Camp Adder in Iraq. I was 56 years old. I was surrounded by weight lifters in their 20s and 30s bench pressing 300+ pounds and listening to speed metal music. I was listening to the "Wait Wait" podcast on my iPod. It took 40 minutes to download on the anemic Camp Adder internet.
I had done just 10 of the 60 pushups I usually do when the host disparaged Pop Tarts as junk food. Paula was outraged!!! She went into a 2-minute rant on how Pop Tarts were in fact the secret of her good health and the greatest food ever. On pushup 21 I collapsed laughing.
With the rant still on full tilt, I looked up and saw a couple of beefy metal heads looking at me. More specifically they were looking at the old guy on the floor who collapsed doing pushups and was shaking. They didn't know I was laughing. For a second, I imagined myself trying to explain that I was listening to NPR and not Metal Music, then my senses returned.
I paused the rant, got up, and pretended I was done. We could not wear headphones outside, so I grabbed my gear and walked over to my CHU (home) so I could finish listening to the podcast without looking like an old guy having a heart attack.
Clearly, Paula Poundstone made that rant on purpose just to embarrass me in the "House of Pain."
On my 56th birthday, the ramp dropped in the back of the C-17 cargo plane at 1130 hours. We had taxied to the edge of the airstrip. More than 100 soldiers in battle gear struggled out of the five-across seats and walked down the ramp with short, unsteady steps. The same ramp in the picture above.
Heat shimmered on the concrete airstrip. The air temperature was almost 120 degrees already. The surface temperature of the airstrip was closer to 140 degrees.
“Happy fucking birthday, Gussman,” said Sgt. Jeremy Houck when I reached the bottom of the ramp. The baggage pallets were still on the plane. We would have to wait for the bags, then hope for a ride to our new homes behind 20-foot blast walls here on Camp Adder.
The base we were on was Camp Adder to the Army, Talil Ali Air Base to the US Air Force. It would be home for the 28th Combat Aviation Brigade, me included, until January of 2010.
On that day, the outside of me was hot, tired, confused and miserable. I was wearing 45 pounds of body armor, carrying 50 more pounds of weapon and gear, and I was melting.
But underneath the sweat, I was soooooooo happy. My dream was not comfortable or fun, but it was my dream. I wanted to be in Iraq. I enlisted during Viet Nam, but missed the war. Ever since I was a little kid I wanted to be in the Army in a war. Now 50 years later, I arrived.