What’s that technique for remaining calm? In through the mouth, out through the nose. In through the mouth, out through the nose. Let’s try.


Okay, it doesn’t work with beer. Let’s try air.

Better, but not by much.

Standing in line at the grocery store this afternoon, I noticed a row of books. It’s part of the Great Retail Bleed, the gathering of all stores into one smear of meat, furniture, electronics and periodicals. I noticed a familiar book: mine. Two copies of the Gallery of Regrettable Food, in my local grocery store. This was good news and bad. Good: this means I’m still being sold and distributed lo these many months later, but I knew that; one of the reasons the next book has been pushed back is because the last book is still selling, Which is good. Bad: now I can’t go to that grocery store for five months, maybe more. Once I see the book somewhere, I can’t stand to go back and see it unsold. I had to make an exception for Target; can’t live without Target. (They sold the entire allotment in a week, which spared me the shame of seeing it there in perpetuity, a few sad editions with grubby dustcovers to show how it had been pawed, perused, and rejected.)

Sometimes when I find the book in a store, I autograph it and add a message pertinent to the store where it was purchased. Why not? Who doesn’t like an autographed copy? So I took the books to the store manager - a lanky fellow having a mid-aisle meeting with an equally tall stockboy. I’ve been going to this place since 1994, and he’s been working there as long as I’ve been a patron, so he probably recognized me as a regular. “Hi,” I said. “I noticed you had this book up by the register, and, well, I wrote it. I wondered if you’d mind if I autographed it.”

I could tell he thought I was absolutely daft. Sure you wrote it, fella. Sure you did. Now let me take the books, and I’ll give you a nice sucker. You like suckers? We all like suckers.

But he said okay. I walked away, and as I stopped to rest the book on a shelf and sign it, I heard the manager and stockboy laugh, a brief explosive bray that juuuuust might have been at my expense. So I signed each book “Bon Appetit! Don’t buy the salmon here, I was throwing up all night. Throwing up worms.” Then I smiled, waved, and put them back on the shelf.

Well, no. But it was tempting.

Let’s master our breathing again, and check the news. Troops moving out of Baghdad, according to the news right now; Kuwait wracked by a sandstorm. A preemptive strike would be . . . interesting, and it would be equally interesting to see how the world reacts. But we know the answer to that, don’t we. It would be America’s fault for not letting inspections play out! For putting all those troops in place! Which applied the pressure that made the inspections possible!
Uh - wait a minute -

No, I have the answer. We put too many troops in the theater. Too many planes. When the United States deployed a reservist from Nebraska - Sgt. Bob Harrison of Wichita, married, two kids, insurance adjuster in real life - that was when we crossed the line from “enough troops to threaten an invasion” to “enough troops to win an invasion,” and Saddam had no choice.

So much for containment, eh?

But - but - he only moved because he felt an attack was imminent! So, containment works when we pile 200,000 troops on his border but promise not to attack. Should we decided to attack, we'll give warning two weeks in advance, delivered by certified letter, radio broadcasts, loudspeaker annoucements, leaflet drops, and a series of witches riding over Baghdad spelling SURRENDER SADDAM in the sky in English, Arabic and French.

On the radio today I heard an interview with Liev Aleo, who intends to be a human shield as soon as she can scrape together the plane fare. She believes that Saddam would be dissuaded from his path if we just talked things out - as though a deficiency in conversation has led us to this point. It would have been just another argument of the sort we're all sick to death of hearing, but she's ready to go. She'd hop a plane today. As an American, she believes her place is outside the chain-link fence of an Iraqi electrical substation.
She doesn’t think she’d die; she believes that the presence of the human shields would shame the military into calling off the war. You can say, well, fine; you want to be red paste on the side of a transformer outside an Iraqi military base, it’s your life. But my God, it’s so much more than that. The host asked how her parents felt, and she admitted that they were nervous.

Nervous. For Christ’s sake, my heart is in my throat when my child falls down and knocks her head against the soft wood of her crib railing. I get a small rill of fear in my gut if I can’t find her in the house - the idea that she might be camped by a target in the butcher’s backyard would drive me mad with dread. So before she left I’d invite her out for a farewell dinner; I’d invite her back to the car to give her some things she might need on the trip. Then I’d hit the locks and drive all night.

If we were stopped in, say, Illinois? Let’s say some Burger King drive through attendant got hinky vibes after seeing her in the backseat screaming and weeping, and called the cops. I could explain it all quite easily. You see, officer, she’s mentally ill. She thinks she can stop bombs from falling. She has become obsessed with George Bush, and she thinks he is trying to blow up the world. Here - you listen to her.

Let me go! Let me go to Baghdad! I have to go to Baghdad and stop the war!

You see what I mean, officer?

Let me GO! A million people will die if I don’t stop them!

The officer shines the light in the car. “Ma’am, how are you intending to get to this Baghdad?

I can fly! I have a ticket right here - oh, no, he took it! He took my ticket to Baghdad! Damn you daddy I hate you now everyone will die!

The officer would probably let us go.

If he had kids of his own.


(Thanks to Brian in Portland for this week’s Bleat graphics - they’re scans from YANK c. 1945, explaining this newfangled UN to the American troops. Much obliged.)

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