“Clean. Lift. Jerk. Repeat.”

By Jay Robbins

They get up at what civilians call “5 AM”, the military refers to as “0500” and the Wyoming Guardsmen describe as “too fuckin’ early,” especially outside of hunting season.  They are on the trucks at 0530 for a daily patrol that leaves at 0700.  Only about fifteen minutes are needed to fire up the truck and radios, do a quick PMCS[1], and for each team to complete an informal PMC[2], PMI[3].  The rest of the hour and fifteen minutes are spent stamping their feet and wiggling each toe so their little piggies don’t go numb from the cold.  They wear caps instead of beanies because the new Saj Maj said so, while, by the way, wearing a fuckin’ beanie.  To senior noncoms with too much time on their hands, image trumps utility, to the great detriment of cold ears.  Some hop from one foot to the other while blowing temporary warm air into palms and rubbing their ear lobes.  Others get up early enough to cross the dry, long forgotten ditch to the DFAC and back to fill their travel mug with coffee, as much for the caffeine as to warm fingers and cartilage flapping off their heads.  Some secretly wear their beanies under their Kevlar.  A few wear their beanies openly and don’t even bring their caps, conjuring Spartacus killing his own horse before battle to provide no retreat.

There was efficiency in repetition, and the ‘Boys used to be on the trucks by 0630 with food in their bellies, have the trucks on and ready and be out the gate by 0659.  This all ended because some soldiers were getting on the trucks looking half dead from lack of sleep.  And clearly this lack of sleep was derived from a lack of discipline.  Surely the men weren’t losing sleep from Jody, Dear John, The Big Giant Voice booming at all hours of the night, or homesickness.  So because of sleepiness, the soldiers now get up an hour earlier due to a logic only a man wearing stripes could understand.

They go on patrol, dreary monotonous patrol, each one being the same except Tuesday they go to Qoria, and Wednesday they go to Aruba, and so on.  Most the time nothing of import happens.  Once or twice a week a soldier might tell a buddy from another squad, “hey, we saw crazy naked guy again,” or “hey, did ya see them two gals wearin’ t-shirts and showin’ off all that forearm?  They must be absolute whores.”  Otherwise, a patrol is just another scheduled and regimented part of their day.  But sometimes they eat falafels from street vendors or cop cooks, and sometimes people die.

Then they come back, except they come in through a different gate from the one they went out to remain elusive to an enemy that probably doesn’t give a shit which gate they use.  And they clear their weapons at a dirt berm, which they have become so complacent at doing that every few months a bang will ring out which is what you hear every time a private loses his wings.

They fuel their trucks and Saturday they spray them down at the wash racks.  They go to the 2-300 maintenance bay and clean: clean the crew-serves, clean the inside of the truck, check air pressure in the tires, blow out the dust, wipe brake fluid on the dash to give the hard plastic a sheen and now every driver does it because that asshole Kern did it and made the other trucks look bad.  Perry doesn’t though.  The Green Bean is different, older, more distinguished, and doesn’t go along with frivolous fashion trends like the younger trucks do.  Besides, with as beat-to-shit old as it is, Perry is far too busy oiling the Bean’s undercarriage, helping the wrench-turners replace a u-joint (or a transmission that one time when Perry was a dumbass and put engine oil in where transmission fluid belonged), or reorganizing the back to make things fit more flush, organized and military-like.

And then they do an AAR[4].  An AAR that looks eerily similar from the one completed a day before and two weeks before that.  An AAR that could be photocopied and accurately represent 100 separate patrols.  An AAR that has the same three sustains and three improves as any other AAR, but worded slightly different each time because the assholes that collate, analyze, and file each one prefer each sheet to look unique even though the daily patrols are anything but.

Then Perry goes to his CHU[5].  And he cleans.  He takes out his tackle box of Q-tips, oiled rags, bore brushes, bore patches, lubricants, preservatives, dental picks, brushes, solvents, and the air duster they aren’t supposed to have because some pecker-headed fly boy killed himself huffing “Air in a Can.”

He cleans.  Outside and in.  He cleans because he loves her: Stefanny III, more so than he did Stefanny II and Stefanny I.  He whispers sweet nothings into her ejection port as he fingers her magazine well with a cotton swab and strokes her fore end and butt delicately with an oil rag.  They are soul mates.  Stef III was incapable of lying.  She hit true at whatever she was pointed at.  If a target was missed it could only be from Perry’s misguidance.

He loves her, so he cleans.  Dust and carbon are repulsive; only dirty girls wander around the FOB looking like that.  He rubs down every crevice, every curve, every luscious bump and angle.  He runs patch after patch after patch through her barrel; some with solvent and some dry because she got so wet she drips out her muzzle.  Perry runs so many patches through her bore he thinks soon the bullet might tumble out rather than spin from the number of times his patch has rubbed against the rifling.  But he runs a few more patches through her anyway so when he takes her into the light she rippled baby blue and lightning white.

When he is done he checks her “function.”  He draws the charging handle, listens to the smooth compression of the spring, lets go; her bolt shoots forward and lands tight in her star chamber.  He tugs on the trigger and nothing happens because the selector switch is on safe.  He flips the switch to semi and pulls again and is rewarded with the “klack” of the hammer rocking forward to strike the firing pin.  She works, oh so well.  He runs the bolt forward and back, back and forward, and pulls on the trigger a few more times, because the hammer dropping klack, klack, klack is the audible Feng Shuei that holds the Universe together.  And he leaves a thin layer of oil on her that brings her gun-metal-black coating to a glimmering shine and takes her with him everywhere looking like the gorgeous sophisticated girl she is.

And Perry runs.  He runs four or six miles on the stretch of asphalt half-a-mile long that separates the CHUs from the showers.  He runs slow and methodical, back and forth, and only stops because other tasks remain.  Or he runs along the FOB’s[6] perimeter looking out the long chain-link fence and wondering that if he slows a sniper may end his run for good.  The thought maintains a steady pace.  He likes to look up at the towers that keep watch for those sleeping in their CHUs, except 4 out of 5 towers run by the Air Force are manned by dummies and broom handles rather than 50 cals and airmen.

Then he would run the hill, the one desolate hill with one quarter of it stolen by engineers for spare dirt leaving a forty-foot drop off right next to the single track trail to the top.  The hills peak has an old abandoned observation post made of a scrap-wood frame and camo-net walls.  Above flies a small American flag, weather worn and battle hardened.  He sprints up to Old Glory, ten times or more, sometimes pushing a tire.  Up to the Stars and Stripes and down, always cognizant of the mini cliff holding hands with the trail.

He finishes with 200-yard sprints.  Yards, not meters, because he’s a patriotic country boy from Wyoming and not a no-good commie from Uzfuckistan.  He sprints down a strip of asphalt laden with gravel land mines kicked on the path from all the foot traffic.  Down and back, back and down, each sprint quicker lest another sprint be added.  And Perry pukes, pukes out his morning miniature Rip It drink and maybe a falafel if they went to the PJCC[7] or the detainment center where the red headed Iraqi works.  And he pukes ‘til he wretches up stomach air, then he does one more sprint because the body does the mind’s bidding.

And he lifts.  Not glamour lifting like the metro-sexuals do, who wax their legs because it “shows more muscle definition that way.”  They come and only do bicep curls and bench press and then flex in the mirror before peacocking out the door and into the night.  But Perry lifts: traps, lats, tris, bis, pecs, and muscles in the neck and legs with seldom uttered names.  He lifts more than he should; enough to bend the bar from the weight of the plates and imagines that the bar is bending to his will.  Exercise.  Sets.  Reps.  He grips the bar to develop hardened pads on his palm, and does incline sit-ups until he can’t rise out of bed the next day, and a few more reps still.  Perry consumes the repetition, the steady rise in strength and endurance.

And when he has had his fill of the lift he trains in the pugilistic arts.  He hits the bag over and over wearing cheap gloves with Velcro straps.  He hits and hits some more.  He keeps hitting until his hands swell and sear to the gloves.  He dreams of one day Kalima-ing some mother fucker and clenching his heart between his fingers, letting the blood trickle down his forearm in sticky rivulets of victory.  He thinks with a few more punches to tin and fiberglass and concrete that his knuckles will harden to stone, and then he could Hulk smash his enemies to dust.  And then he kicks, kicks the padded column in the middle of the room, draws back and kicks harder with each swing.  And he kicks and punches and pukes and punches and kicks some more.  And he fights.  He boxes and takes hits from all on comers, because eating hits like they were Reese’s Pieces make your dick hole smile.  And he rolls, taking straight arm bars and giving rear naked chokes.  He leaves sore, bruised, and cut, but leaves stronger each night, no matter that each morning he might need to explain a black eye or a cut lip and reassure people that his sergeant didn’t beat him at night.

He goes to church on Sunday and bible study on Wednesday, because that’s what’s on his schedule.  And he prays, prays that a mortar won’t drop on his head while asleep, prays for forgiveness for laughing at the mortar that landed close.  Prays for the strength to die with dignity, honor and while doing something badass like jumping on a grenade or bear hugging a suicide bomber.  Prays for forgiveness for seeking glory and prestige in war.  And prays again for safety because he was so fucking stupid for volunteering to go to war-twice.  And for good measure, he prays for the people of Iraq, and his family, and his brothers, and he tried once to pray for his enemies, foreign and domestic.  Above all, he prays to God for God to be real, and not just a floating piece of purple light on the inside of his eyelids.

And Perry beats off.  He beats off to an old Curves mag from a basket in the 2-300 maintenance bay latrine that was built by the Baathists out of mortar and cinderblock and painted blue.  He beats off soft and slow to the methodical whirr and squeal of air-powered socket wrenches, flipping to the same pages of scantily clad babes, but clad nonetheless, because that’s classy.

He goes to the internet café and gets hard looking at the Victoria’s Secret website.  He can look at that site and tell others walking by that he is simply shopping for something nice for his girlfriend.  Or he might go to the converted shipping container that serves as a phone bank and whispers things to his fiancée, and asks her to rub herself and moan into his receiver when she climaxes.  He doesn’t even mind that she isn’t doing anything but rolling her eyes and painting her nails and fake-moaning.

Fake phone sex orgasms is just fine to Perry, but he can’t jerk off in the phone bank or internet café, so he wedges his boner behind his belt and scurries off to the nearest camp latrine.  There the stalls have doors, but the heat ensures that the whole place smells of, well, shit.  It isn’t an ideal place to rub life’s troubles away.

The showers are just slightly better.  The water is always warm and there is the scent of Ireland and apricots rather than poop stewing in a box of metal.  Also, he stays clean while he beats off.  That is, except for his feet.  The drains are always partially clogged from the melting pot of pubic hair that finds a home in the pipes.  Pube-blocked pipes mean that used shower water remains, lapping against his ankles.  Perry is all too aware that his feet are simmering in a cesspool of semen and broken dreams.  He is at least glad that the stall walls and curtain are white to cover the shame.

He beats off in bed when he is lucky enough to be alone. And sometimes he beats off even if his bunk buddies are there.  He does it as quiet as he can and pretends like the others don’t hear, and hopes they also have the decency to pretend, like pioneer children in a one-room cabin ignoring the grunts and moans and shuddering of their parents.

He beats off angry to fucking that snooty hot bitch he fought with so much in school.  Or he beats off to that young teacher he had in 10th grade, the one that has her hair pinned up like the librarian in a VHS porn.  He beats off to her contorting into awkward positions like a Russian ballerina.  The coupling seemed plausible, Perry tells himself, because he swears she flirted with him at the Jubilee Days street dance two years ago.  Again, he beats off to the refined gals in Curves and Glutes magazine, focusing especially hard on the Asian ones.  He beats off to female griffins born in his creative mind with the face of Jessica Alba, tits of Jennifer Tilly, and ass of Vida Guerra.  He lubes with sweat, soap, Vaseline, and when he feels really romantic, he uses meadow-dew-lavender-ocean-breeze-scented lotion with aloe.  It’s his civic duty to beat off, because the loaded pistol he keeps in his pants could end up killing somebody, and requires frequent, safe unloading.

And he eats.  He eats for fuel: to get bigger, leaner, stronger, faster and meaner.  He has chili, with a dollop of low fat sour cream and a sprinkle of cheese.  He adds one slice of toasted whole-wheat bread and water.  He could have salad, but that’s what prey eats, predators eat meat.  Otherwise, his meals are all powder and pills.  He even tried special dick performing pills to be in fighting shape for his reunion with his fiancée that promised three more inches and two hours of constant jack hammering.  But after a month his dick didn’t look any bigger unless he could find a funny mirror maze to beat off in and his self jack hammering never took more than 15 minutes, so he doubted he would last two hours with an actual physical woman.  So he stopped, but takes Whey, Casein, and Creatine, and NOX and others, which causes “creatine rage” as the soldiers call it.

The rage rests coiled just under the skin, and starts to spring and shake out into the fists, especially when Perry walks back from the gym tested and exhausted and is confronted by Cougan with his acoustic guitar and stupid face, teasing Perry about his Charlie Brown head while he strums some protest tune from a Bob Dylan-inspired bongo drum special.  Perry doesn’t respond, but scowls with his little eyes.  He fantasizes about cold cocking that hippie mother fucker when they make it stateside.  When crossing paths, Perry reveals the slightest devious grin, but Cougan never guesses that Perry sees him flopping and shaking on the beer-soaked floor of a dive bar in Wyoming from a cold strike to his temple.  Keep runnin’ yer mouth, get it all out before they have to wire yer slack jaw shut, Perry thinks to himself, and smiles an evil smile.

Sometimes Perry takes a day off.  A day off from cleaning, training, and jerking off.  He momentarily swears off masturbation (usually right after shamefully masturbating) like a monk taking a vow of silence, only to start up again the next day.  He spends a day watching the latest Rom Com to hit the MWR[8] rather than going to the gym.  He goes to the food court and eats four slices of pizza rather than going to the Dfac[9] for his mundane Spartan meal.  And he calls his mom: the one who carried him to term, raised him, and taught him to care for others.  He misses home.  He misses family.  He misses missing things.  Thoughts creep in like, why does war exist in the world, or, gosh darn it, why can’t we all just get along.

And he self-loathes.  He wonders how queer he must be to feel feelings.  With each bite of pizza he feels himself getting fatter, slower, weaker-softer.  He stops the movie and instead watches the towers fall again, watches a recording of those Al Qaeda fucks behead a lowly-paid Western truck driver.  He goes outside and pukes out pizza and doubt to reinstate his resolve.  His nuts swell with thoughts of revenge.  Of killing.

He sleeps.  He dreams he lives in a machine, as a willful tooth on the sprocket of a finely tuned, regulated, machine.  He is a machine, with blood and bones and organs, but a machine all the same.  He could die, young and vibrant; but he can kill too, by any and all implements at his disposal.  The routine is a performance-enhancing drug from which he thrives.  War is fun.  War is simple.  War is easy.  Just…

Clean.

Lift.

Jerk.

Repeat.


[1] Preventative Maintenance, Checks, and Services

[2] Pre-Mission Check

[3] Pre-Mission Inspection

[4] After Action Report or Review

[5] Containerized Housing Unit

[6] Forward Operating Base

[7] Provincial Joint Command Center

[8] Morale, Wellness, and Recreation

[9] Dining Facility

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Categories: Essay, Issue 4 | Leave a comment

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