Blip Magazine Archive

 blipmagazine.net

 

Home : Archive : Links

Seth Tucker

Gymnasium

The way Jimmy described sex, you would think he was talking about soccer if you didn't know him.

"You see, when you get to the goal, you got to trick, you got to trick, see, the ball into the goal."

As far as Jimmy was concerned, Wilt Chamberlain and Isaac Hayes had a lot to learn in the ways of lovemaking. Jimmy had it all going on too. He was a Reggae love-machine, who, if it weren't for the military, would have long, stanky (he called them that) dreds down to his waist. As it was, however, Jimmy was as bald as a Mexican hairless cat. The rest of the goods were intact; he was six-foot four, two-hundred twenty pounds worth of Nubian god, earrings and all. If he had the hair, he would be a handsome devastation to any feminist group, a thorn in the side to any lesbian. Unfortunately, like Samson, Jimmy was powerless without "the dreds." His noggin was prone to pimples, and there was an almost saggy quality to his scalp, like maybe the weight of the dreds had pulled the skin loose from the skull-bone moorings.

It wasn't like Jimmy didn't know he had an ugly cranium. His goal, once we returned from the Persian Gulf, was to get medically discharged by making up some fictitious ailment, and then go straight to his new house in Raleigh, North Carolina to grow his hair to an appropriate length for extensions. Then, WATCH OUT. That was the plan, but for the meantime, he just fixated on his skull. When he talked, he rubbed on his shiny, gloriously lumpy head. He constantly oiled his scalp, he never went out into sunlight without some kind of cover, and he would only use a female razor to shave, and even then only with extra, extra virgin olive oil. He said you had to keep the hair follicles healthy, or they would not cooperate when the time came to develop them into the splendid, chick-melting hair shafts he was visualizing.

"And once you are in the goal, you must never take the ball out of the net. You must leave the ball in the net until it is time to once again, put the ball into play."

At the time, we were on a military compound outside of Dhahran, and enjoying the wonders of running water and air conditioning. The officers had tried to get all the soldiers rounded up to form a defensive perimeter when we had arrived, but the only thing most of us could think about was getting water, any water, on our asses. It had been forty-nine days since I had the luxury of a shower, and even that one had been icy cold while standing in an oil drum somewhere in the middle of Iraq.

We settled for a quick, five minute rinse, then got more accustomed to the surroundings by pulling eight-hour guard shifts. Jimmy didn't care, and neither did I. Something happens to the human body when it is deprived of water and cleanliness. It begins to rot and dry up before your very eyes. I swear, when the initial spurt of water hit me, it didn't splatter, but thunked into my chest, and not a drop ran off of me onto the porcelain floor. For the first minute of my shower, the water just got absorbed. Jimmy said he had the same thing happen to him, only the water ran down his front to his genitals, and then got sopped up there. Either way it means just one thing: we were DIRTY.

The gymnasium we settled into wasn't the sort of gymnasium I have ever seen--there were no lines on the courts at all. Jimmy thought it was because it was new, and we had kicked the Saudi's out before they had time to decorate. More importantly, however, it had air conditioning. When we weren't on guard duty, or any other busy-work detail, we were on our sleeping bags in that gym. That's where we were on the day Jimmy hinted to us about his wife.

"The important thing is that you make sure that the goal you are shooting at is your own. See, in lovemaking, the goal can be deceiving. You may think you are shooting at your opponent's goal, but they very possibly could have switched goals on your dumb ass. Therefore, it is very important that you paint your goal a specific color, so that you can tell which one you are firing at. You can also see, I might add, what goal your opponent is shooting at."

Jimmy ran his hand thoughtfully over his skull, rubbing his skin into wrinkles that receded to the back of his head, like tapioca pudding on a swaying ship.

Andrew spoke up, his eyes peering over his hand as if it were a brick wall, "Pain it. Whatchoo mean pain it?" Andrew was Filipino, but a Chinese Filipino who had learned his English from a Costa Rican nun. He looked Chinese, had skin like a Filipino, and spoke like a Costa Rican. He was tall though. We all were. Our platoon won every Division basketball tournament we were in in the states.

"Paint. You know, P, A, I, N, T. Paint."

"That's what I said, main. Pain. Pain."

"Whatever man. You paint," Jimmy said, looking over a sleeping Private Stinky at Andrew, "your goal any color you like. You paint your goal with attention. You never let your goal out of your sight, even when you are playing defense, you keep your peripheral vision on it."

Stinky rolled over, put his hand over a plastic Pepsi cup he had entitled, "The Cup O' Grossness" and speaking over his pillow said, "Man, I ain't never met a goal I ever wanted to shoot at more'n once." He was grinning under his pillow, and you could tell he really wanted to laugh at his own joke, only he wanted to do it after someone else started. He didn't have to wait because Andrew was already doubled over trying to talk through his laughter, saying, "Yo, Man. Yo, did you, did you hear what o' Stanky said, he, yo man..." We were all laughing, but after a couple of minutes of "yo, man" I thought I was gonna have to punch him. Jimmy was simply smiling. Only his smile had turned a little crooked, like it was ahead of the game, watching the rookies try to catch up. "Well Stinky, if you ever find that goal, you make sure you paint the mother-fucker. Make sure you paint it real good. See, I don't have to even look for a game anymore, because I got my goal, and when I get home, I am going to paint it real good."

Stinky was a little nuts. He looked normal enough; dark brown hair, a fairly handsome face, kind eyes, just a couple of tattoos (although one of them was of a demon, painted to seem like it was coming out of his back). His "Cup O' Grossness" kept all of us a couple of extra feet away from him on the moldy tarp we had lain down to protect the gym floor. I don't know where the cup had come from, but I remember when the idea for it started. During the ground war, as we ran from one form of cover to another, Stinky misjudged the distance from a destroyed jeep and caught his shoulder on a sharp protrusion. The metal dug deep, and it required about twenty-five stitches to mend him up. When it was all healed, he pulled his stitches out, and threw them in the cup to save. He thought that he needed proof that he was injured in case he was recommended for a Purple Heart. However, after a week or so, he began throwing other things in there: a tooth from Sergeant Ivey, used Band-Aids, boogers, butt-hair, you name it. It became his little monument to filth. He even tried to get another soldier to masturbate into the cup, but even the guy from the waste management team couldn't be persuaded to do it. It was one of the foulest things I have ever witnessed outside of combat, but just as primitive. Somehow, we learned to laugh.

I should mention this about Jimmy--he talked a lot about being a lover, but he had hung up his cleats the year before when he had married a waitress with two children. We didn't trust her right from the start. She seemed used up to us--like she didn't care about anything. It didn't matter what we thought though--Jimmy loved her, and moreover, he was dedicated to her. He loved those two girls too. For the first five months of our occupation he always talked about his kids and his wife. However, as the war began to really draw out, and none of us knew if we were ever going to get home, he just kind of shut up about them and began talking about the women he had scored with, and how he had scored with them. I don't know. All of us got a little crazy about that time. I had even tried to soften up one of the lesbian girls in the Med unit while we were out in the desert, but I guess I just wasn't her type. And anyway, it was a fucking war, and that should explain it all.

We were having this discussion sometime in March I think, and the fighting was over. Every day seemed like a new, fresh day. Every day we woke up and thought that maybe today would be the day we would go home. Most of us didn't have much to go home to, but we wanted it just the same. We had no idea that we had a long time more to wait, and that after all the combat we had seen and survived, that some of us wouldn't make it back. It's funny, but it wasn't until years later that I remembered that afternoon in the gym, talking about soccer, or sex or whatever, and it was still longer before I realized that Jimmy was trying to tell me something. Maybe he wanted me, or any of us--we were that close, to ask him about his wife and family. I thought he didn't want to talk about them, but the more I think about it, the more I think that he did. In fact I think he was counting on it.

A couple of weeks later, we were called back to the border of Iraq and Saudi. Man, how we hated leaving that compound, but orders were orders, and we were promised that it wasn't much longer until we would be going home. I looked at the calendar one of those days and realized that we had been in the desert nine months. I don't remember the dates anymore, so I couldn't tell you the final tally, but we were there the longest of any soldiers, and I sometimes think that it was those months out there that aged me, that made me feel old.

We lost Stinky on a Sunday. I remember that. We were working only a half day that day, clearing bunkers. It was a horrible job because much of the clearing involved body removal. I will never know how many dead men I held chest to chest, dragging them backwards, letting their feet drag behind them in the sand, but every one of them sucked a little bit of life from me, and I'm sure it did the same to my friends. It was also muy dangerous. You never could tell if a corpse had a pin pulled in a grenade, or a mine underneath their body. I was lucky--a couple close calls, some shrapnel in my calf, but otherwise I was pretty unscathed physically. Stinky got it a bad way, but a quick way.

We were sitting against a tank, in the shade, all four of us, and Stinky got up to forage for keep-sakes. He was a wonderful collector of trinkets-he found treasures in the oddest of places. He had a solid gold royal escutcheon that he found in the boot of a dead tanker, a naked picture of a Saudi woman he found in the helmet of another dead soldier, and other remarkable things of the like. I think he was most proud of the naked picture because of its rarity. I found it noteworthy for the way it humanized every dead soldier I would ever touch. Stinky walked around the tank and a couple of seconds later there was a huge explosion, and we were up on our feet, and the smoke from the explosion seemed pink almost, and to the left of us something wet and heavy landed on the ground, and I couldn't quite see because Jimmy and Andrew were in front of me, but I could see that there was a mist falling on Jimmy's shoulder and it was like red oil, like transmission fluid. So we lost Stinky. He stepped on the only landmine in miles. I guess his time was just up. Just like that. I can only hope that his last thoughts were good ones. I guess that's all we ever hope for anyone. Ironically, I don't even think it was an Iraqi mine--it could have been ours, it could have been the Saudi's, the French, take your pick.

So we lost Stinky to a landmine, and you would never believe it, but we lost Jimmy to a carwreck with a Saudi Arabian. Nobody's fault really. He was driving our CO into Riyadh, we were finally going home it seemed, and he pulled out in front of another car on the driver's side. The Humvee had no doors on it, and Jimmy took the full impact, just Jimmy versus car, and he died right there on the hood, or so I'm told.

You probably had already guessed that Jimmy's story ends tragically. Unfortunately, I'm not through yet. I think Jimmy was bound to die over there somehow, but that's not what makes this tragic, or sad, or depressing. The worst part was what Andrew and I found when we were gathering his things from the gym. We had to itemize everything, and I thought I pretty much knew about everything that Jimmy owned, but there was a VCR tape I found with his hygiene kit that I had never seen before. Some soldiers had received videotapes because they had access to a VCR. I had sent one home for Christmas when I got a chance to get a couple minutes recorded by a reporter, and I had watched a couple of tapes with Jimmy that his wife had sent him, but this was not one of them.

It would have probably been better if Andrew and I hadn't walked over to the Military Intelligence tent and asked to use their VCR. I don't think I would have learned to hate like I do, but we did watch that tape, and I won't go into detail, but it dulled whatever compassion for humans that I had left, and it made me so angry, and Andrew too.

It was basically a tape from his wife telling, well showing, Jimmy that she wanted a divorce. She had an interesting way of doing it, I must admit. Apparently she thought the best way to break it to him was to tell him she was taking all his money, and the girls, and his home, while being fucked from behind. She was grinning. She was looking back over her shoulder at the man fucking her, who will never know how lucky he is that the camera cut off his face, and then back to the camera, smiling. I wouldn't believe it if I hadn't seen it, and it made me so ashamed for us. And I think how strong Jimmy was, and noble. And I think it's probably lucky that Andrew and I didn't go home for another couple of weeks, because I'm not sure that I wouldn't have gone over to Jimmy's house and painted his goal blood, blood, blood red.

Maintained by Blip Magazine Archive at www.blipmagazine.net

Copyright 1995-2011
Opinions are those of the authors.