To the tune of the new Brad Paisley album American Saturday Night.
Well, it's official, I'm back in the good ol' U.S. of A. And let me just state for the record, this place is soooo much cooler than the Middle East. Really. I know you are probably having a hard time believing that, but I'm serious. So serious, in fact, that I will now give you a list so you can follow along (people like lists, I'm told. It's all the rage).
1) Air Quality: You know what I can see here in the US? Everything. Call the airport here in Colorado and they will tell you that the visibility is only impeded by the curvature of the earth. Get that same report in Iraq and they'll ask if you can see your shoes. If the answer is yes, it's a good day. My friend got lost coming back from the shower for crying out loud, simply because he couldn't see the road our house was on.
2) Travel: Moving from point A to point B seems rather simple now. I jumped in my gas-guzzling SUV and drove -- all by myself, mind you -- 250 miles without even filling out a trip ticket with my blood type and weapons serial numbers. Nor did I have to call in my "check-points" to command. Even crazier is that I traveled over 35 mph for an extended period of time without wearing a helmet or doing a COMSEC check (shhhh, don't tell anyone).
3) Food: Well, the one downside to the food here is that it isn't free anymore (and no, I'm not just talking about the kids I beat up to take their falafels). Having three free meals a day does have its perks, but I have to tell you, food has never tasted so good as it does here. Places like Old Chicago and Chili's seem like gourmet now. What's that you say? You use an oven to make pizza? Well, sign me up. And you will bring it to my table? Well this just gets better and better. I just had a spinach, artichoke and salmon quesadilla today. Yeah, you read that correctly. You know what? I loved it. Probably because it tasted like America being awesome (and possibly because an attractive young waitress served it to me, leading me to point 4).
4) Women: Holy smokes, girls! Everywhere! And they're not in uniform or wearing a burka! Don't get me wrong, I was starting to really dig on the ninja-style fashion of Middle Eastern women, but it is really quite something to see attractive American women dressed... well, like women. And bless their little hearts for doing so. Especially this demographic known to scientists as "college girls." While not the most engaging when it comes to conversation, their uncanny ability to giggle, flirt, and wear a mini-skirt is unparalleled anywhere in the world. Most notably the Middle East, where a woman is measured by her ability to carry a load on her back and drive a donkey cart. While important qualities to be sure, they are still second-tier in comparison.
5) Communication: I wanted to talk to someone today, so you know what I did? I picked up my cell phone and called them. Yeah. Believe it. I didn't have to stand in line or pay for extra minutes or anything. I just called them and talked until the conversation was over. No one told me my time was up, the line didn't fail, and I didn't have to walk home after the call was over. Then I jumped on the internet. How cool is this? I can click on things and things happen. I don't have to plan other events like reading a book or warming up food in the microwave around loading an web page. I just click on it and poof! There it is. I can write an email of nearly any length and I will still be connected to the internet. Fascinating.
6) Movies: Yeah, we watch movies in Iraq, but something weird happened to nearly every guy I know over there -- we developed some kind of strange attention deficit problem, so movies have to be either really, really entertaining or we will make our own dialogue. Although I still have the urge to do the same here (probably to the annoyance of some), I am able to sit and relax and just enjoy the movie. I don't feel the need to swear violently at the main characters for doing something I don't like and... oh who am I kidding, I still feel that way, but that's just because most movies are really bad. Let's be honest with ourselves, there just aren't that many movies out there that don't make you want to punch the actors in the throat, are there? Exactly. Now, where were we? Oh yeah, while our movies aren't that great, they are about 18 billion times better than Middle Eastern movies. And that's not cultural bias, they will tell you the same thing over there. Have you ever watched an M Night Shamylamayayamayamayn movie? Ok, now watch it sober. Middle Eastern movies are still worse than that. True story.
7) Family (best for last): There is simply no substitute for family and their appreciation of you. Well, unless you have some kind of weird, David Koresh-type thing going on, in which case that's just wrong and you should probably get out of that situation as soon as you can. There are people out there who can help you. But seriously, I am truly blessed to have a family that genuinely enjoys spending time around one another and is grateful to have that time together. That is an under-appreciated thing, to be sure, and I am finding out how important it can be. Family and friends (those few, close friends which can be synonymous with family) and the love and support they offer can not be quantified; through the magic of technology (it's voodoo, I tell ya), service members in Iraq are able to maintain communication with their loved ones back home better than at any time in history, but the fact is that it isn't the same as being here. There is no substitute for quality time being spent with your support network (even if it involves gorging yourself with cake to the point where you can't talk to them). Time and presence supersede activities; especially after a long absence.
Oh sure, I guess they have "families" in the Middle East. Who knows. I guarantee they're not as cool as ours. We don't have to dress Mom up in a hijab to get her to make cookies, so right there we are way ahead of their standards.
At this point right now, I am trying to decide what to do with all of the stories I have about the last year. While they would make for some interesting blogging, I find myself torn regarding this being the best place to present them. Truth be told, I think that shouting them from a mountain top would with an eagle on my shoulder and a giant slab of dead animal carcass at my feet would be more appropriate, but also possibly too much for most people. So over the next few weeks I will be arranging my thoughts (shut up, I have like four or five of them) into printed text and seeing where that leads. Your thoughts and opinions are appreciated. Unless they are negative, in which case you are clearly inferior and should be subjected to a strict diet of Kenny G records.
Oh and I'm also moving into my own apartment shortly, which should provide some entertainment, seeing as how I don't have a lick of furniture. Or dishes. Or... crap, I don't have anything! Man I hope people with extra stuff are reading this so they can feel sorry for me and give me free stuff. Did I mention I literally saved freedom over the last year? It was dangerous stuff, I tell ya. But I did it. For you. No, no. Don't worry about me. I'll just be the maladjusted veteran who digs holes in the backyard because you didn't give him a bed. But I'll be fine.