Prologue

I edited the journals Cliff Porter created while my patient. I’m Laurence Morse, M.D., Ph.D. in Psychiatry with 20+ years of private practice.

 

Humanity has been trying to communicate with the divine from the beginning of time without knowing what the divine is. Mantras, chants, palindromes...’in the beginning was the word’ according to John 1:1. ‘Abracadabra’ became the magician’s invocation to the muse of magic. Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band cover occultist, Aleister Crowley, changed the ‘c’ to an ‘h’ and ‘’abrahadabra’ became his magical word for uniting the soul with God, the male with the female. The Ephesia Grammata - the words on Artemis’ statue in Ephesus - were used by the Greeks and Romans as ‘voces magicae’ to communicate with the divine. I hope this story, Voces Magicae - Book I, communicates something worthwhile, although I don’t expect it will locate the divine.

The original journals were witten by an ex-SEAL. Cliff Porter is a far cry from another ex-SEAL - Chris Kyle - “The American Sniper.” If Chris Kyle is a hero then his worshippers may think my patient is an anti-hero. Let the reader decide.

It’s mandatory that my patients write about those moments when they had insight into the meaning of their lives and who they are. I ask patients to write a litany of their epiphanies, life’s moments of clarity. My rule is to stay detached but this tale was so rich I had to share it. I didn’t break confidentiality: Cliff gave me permission to edit his journals. The added dialog is from what he told me in therapy. A deferred dream of mine (everybody has them) was to write novels. The dream has been realized without having to create a plot. Cliff’s life is the plot. He first came to me in 2007 and he’s been my client off and on for 10 years. I haven’t seen him in a while but I hope I’ll see him again.

Therapy modalities are rooted in structured analysis of human behavior - cognitive-behavioral, psychoanalytic, Gestalt, Freudian, Jungian and Reichian - they all have something meaningful to say about the human psyche. I can point to times when I know I’ve been good at psychotherapy and times when I’ve been bad and it’s always been me that’s screwed things up - not the modality I used. Complicating the process is that the philosophy of mind of the therapist can lead to good or bad results depending on the client. A therapist’ treatment of a client is part of a complex equation. The therapist’ worldview - what Germans call a Weltanschauung - often determines the sucess or failure of therapy. Liking Cliff, prevented me from staying objective; not always the best way to help a client.  

The early deaths of Cliff’s parents contributed to his struggle with self-identity. As a consequence he was predisposed to PTSD. Initially I used Gestalt to deal with his ‘unfinished business’ by asking him to talk to his parents in my office. He was unable to remember their faces, so I told him to find some pictures. He did.  When we talked about Baghdad I asked him to tell his father what happened there. He was silent for moment, then he sobbed and said, “Dad, I thought fighting for my country was an honorable thing, but I’m not sure anymore. We killed so many innocent people.”  

Hopeful words because they meant that Cliff’s wounds had come to the surface. That’s when our psyches heal. PTSD happens when our brain is unable to complete an experience. With some trauma we don’t store the experience in our brain the way we store the rest of our experience. We are unable to separate ourselves from our experience so that it stays with us like a scratched DVD playing the same scene over and over. The DVD of the mind must come full cycle to complete healing process.  PTSD causes the brain to shut down. The trauma gets stuck in our head. We experience the event as if it were happening over and over, instead of it being stored away as a memory of the past.

When Cliff heard or saw a helicopter he expected death and self-devastation.  He couldn’t delete past images of carnage so he drank to forget them. After Iraq when he heard a helicopter at the Hollywood Bowl or saw one from his office window PTSD kicked in. Understanding PTSD is the key to understanding Cliff’s behavior. In Baghdad he saw children die from a missile launched from a helicopter. That experience was stuck in his brain and each time there was a helicopter it replayed the trauma and fear of seeing those deaths again. Fear is negative energy in the brain thats plays tricks on us. The modality I used on Cliff was Eye Movement Desensitization Replacement. EMDR replaces negative energy with positive energy allowing the experience to go to completion so that it becomes unstuck in the brain. While Cliff visualized what happened in Baghdad I moved my hand and Cliff followed with his eyes. The EMDR hypothesis is that eye movement while holding a memory in the brain is a distraction that allows the left and right brain to synchronize eliminating fear’s negative energy. The brain is free to come full circle.  

Edwin Starr sang, “war is good for nothing.” War is mankind’s collective PTSD - an experience we repeat over and over. What saddens me is that the best of us are often hurt the worst. Cliff was the American poster boy. What he went through to keep the American dream alive was tragic. His leaders were not the man he was. I feel lucky that I was able to help him. I want to do more.

I didn’t know much about gypsies or Roma culture when I met Virginia Kaldera(Cliff calls her V in his journals). She lit up the room whenever she entered. One day she said, “You don’t dance with your feet only, you also dance with your head and heart.” When I heard those words I knew she knew Frederico Garcia Lotca wrote about fear in the Gypsy Ballads. I had been afraid to pursue my passion for writing, never had the guts. Lorca’s In Search of Duende provided closure for me. Duende is the animal spirit challenging us to sing our deep song (el canto junto). Artists, writers, dancers and musicians battle with ‘duende’ to create great art. It’s a choice the faint of heart don’t make.

I have feared doing battle with the master of the house (duen de casa, abbreviated to duende). Voces Magicae - Book I is my way of overcoming my fear.

 

 

 

 

“There are two different types of people in the world, those who want to know, and those who want to believe.”

― Friedrich Nietzsche

September, 2001

 

Looked like a Wyoming white-out, not New York City. Stuff came down covering streets, people, cars, everything. People looked like ghosts. I couldn’t do anything but watch. I didn’t want to watch though. Death, the reality show, was happening live on TV in my boss’ office in San Mateo. Our staff meeting was scheduled to start at 7AM and afterward I was scheduled to fly to a client meeting in NYC. When the first tower came down I wondered...how did that happen? A plane hits the building ¾’s of the way up and the whole building collapses? Half an hour later the second tower went down the same way. I figured there was something wrong in the structure...maybe an architectural flaw. When the second tower came down our boss cancelled the meeting. Everybody stood around not knowing whether to go home or have a drink. Too early to drink for most Silicone Valley nerds.  

I’d been working at EnterpriseTec for about a year on the web-based version of CRM.  We hit $1b in sales in 2000 and we were rolling. Hardly ever closed shop. The stock options I had were worth 20x more than my annual salary. Not that $75K was bad for a 22 year-old out of Berkeley for a year.

I stayed around the office since I had to catch a plane at SFO but the airport closed at 9AM so going to NYC to do a beta test was not an option.  I tried calling the client but couldn’t get through and stayed glued to the TV. When they said it was likely that Osama Bin Laden and al Qaeda were responsible I called Hatim.

“Hello.”

“It’s Cliff.”

“Hey man, how the fuck are you? Where are you?”

“At the office.”

“You must be the only man in America working.”

“No. I’ve been watching the TV in my boss’ office.”

“It’s been a while since we hung. I’ll be coming by in ten minutes.  I can pick you up.”    

“Cool.  I’ll be outside Bldg 3.”

Hatim and I had partied at Berkeley quite a bit. He was older than I was having diddled away some time at Stanford when his family moved to Palo Alto. They were Saudi’s with plenty of the right connections who had helped me get the job at EnterpriseTec. Hatim’s father was a partner in the Silicon Valley VC firm that had invested when Enterprise was a pimple on the ass of the Silicon Valley elephant before it became a pimple on the ass of the Delphi elephant.

Fifteen minutes later Hatim and I were on the 101 in the Lamborghini Murcielago, Daddy had bought him in honor of the bull market everyone was riding at the time. The 101 from San Mateo to Fog City is not made for straight-ahead speed but on that day at that hour there were so few cars on the road we went over a 100 all the way barely changing lanes.

“We’ll be back.” Hatim tossed the keys to the valet outside the Zuni Cafe and we walked east on Market past the strip joints, pawn shops, and knock-off electronics/cameras shops.  Around Turk St. a woman carrying a raggedy backpack approached us. Hatim stopped. “Here take this and get something to eat.” He gave her a 5 and she hobbled back toward the Tenderloin. “Not that she will eat, if I knew she would do something good with it I’d give her 20.”  

A couple of doors further we stopped again.

“This cafe serves good Turkish coffee. A lot of Arabs from Yemen, Kuwait, wherever. Talk to them, maybe they know what the fuck is going on.”

Twenty or so Middle Eastern guys drinking coffee were bug-eyed at the TV on the wall. A panorama of the Blue Mosque and St. Sophia’s Cathedral served as a reminder of Istanbul in the background. The gaggle was indecipherable.

“What language they speaking?”

“Arabic, Farsi, a little Turkish.  Guess nobody’s here from Cyprus today can’t hear any Greek. Most of them think the shit’s gonna hit the fan.”  

I spoke to three of them.  None of them were as sure as the guys on TV that Osama had done in the World Trade, but they all thought Islam was going to be blamed. We left and headed back to the Zuni.

“Hatim, who do you think did it?”

“Who do I think? That’s not the point. Who do you think? Judge for yourself, your guess is as good as mine. One thing’s for sure there’s no way the US government knows who did it yet, unless they were part of it. Osama bin Laden and his boys don’t have the resources or the smarts but he was, maybe is CIA.  Al Qaeda are into jihad, they do car bombs and suicide bombings but not fly planes at 500 mph into the World Trade. That takes a well-trained pilot or a remote control drone.  My dad thinks there was some high-level planning especially the way the buildings came down on top of themselves. Basic physics says no way. Maybe Muslims, maybe not. Whatever. There will be hell to pay in the Middle East.”  

If I had listened to Hatim that day maybe I wouldn’t have PTSD. Those buildings coming down the way they did should have raised more questions than they did but the talking heads weren’t asking questions they were just jibber-jabbering about what was coming from so-called ‘official sources’.

“You ever been to the Zuni?”

We were back on the corner where we had left the car.

“Nope.”

“Not Beckett’s in Berkeley, that’s for sure. Working with my father I eat here once in a while. I have an appointment with my realtor. Perfect timing for you to have called. Mona’s bringing a friend. Real estate’s not all business. You’ll know what I mean when you meet them. Mona’s friend should be all pleasure as far as you’re concerned. You mind taking her off my hands?”

“Same old Hatim. Playing the angles. You know me, I love David Gray and Babylon.”

Zuni Cafe is a pie cut of a building on the corner of Market and Rose.  The copper-topped bar runs parallel to the windows looking out on Market. Two 10’s stood at the bar wine glasses-in-hand and smiled as we entered.

“Mona, good to see you, I hope you have something to show me today. This is Cliff.”  

Mona offered me her hand then embraced Hatim in the way professional women do in San Francisco - I’m your superior or your equal and I’ll leave you at the drop of a hat if you think otherwise.

“Clarisse, Hatim and Cliff.”

Two shattered crystal blue eyes sparkled over a glass of yellow Chardonnay. Clarisse put her hand in mine. Welcome to cougar land. Hatim told me later she was 40. I would have guessed thirty with the kind of full-figure fitness that can make woman with some miles so damn sexy. Ever since I saw Doctor Zhivago I’d been infatuated with Julie Christie’s eyes. They came to mind when I held her hand. Taking a film history course hadn’t been a bad idea.

“Nice to meet you.”

“Likewise.” I was tongue-tied.

“Did your mother teach you such respect for your elders?” Her sarcasm cut to the bone.

“Never had one.” My faux pas showed my lack of savoir faire.

“Kind of impossible but I’m sorry for your loss.”

Hatim winced. Lunch with Clarisse was going to be one-and-done. The Twin Towers, Russian Hill properties for sale, and the Zuni’s signature roasted chicken with bread salad filled almost 2 hours. By the end of the meal we were a little buzzed from the vintage red Hatim had us all drinking.

“Hatim, you have to see this place before it goes on the market.  It’s right down the street from Danielle Steele’s.”

The house was part of an estate about to be sold.  Mona thought Hatim should make an offer before it was listed. The real estate bubble in the Bay Area in 2001 was blown out of proportion. Properties were listed and bid up rather than listed and bid down.

“We can drop you somewhere and meet up later.” Hatim waited for my response.

“How about the Buena Vista?” I looked for affirmation.

“Why not?” The shine in ole blue eyes said my faux pas about not having a mama had been forgotten.

“Tell you what. Take my car.  I don’t wanna have to come back and get it.  We’ll meet you at BV when we’re finished looking at the house.” Hatim was as subtle as the colors of his purple silk Hermes. It was his way of telling me he and Mona were hooking up for the afternoon. I didn’t mind being Jacqueline Bisset’s Steve McQueen driving Hatim’s Lamborghini for the afternoon.

September’s the best time of the year to stroll the Wharf. Great weather with few tourists. Alcatraz, San Francisco Bay and the cable car turnaround completed the postcard setting as we parked on Hyde Street after a drive across the Golden Gate Bridge and back.

Irish Coffee at the Buena Vista was a rite of passage for me that began one night after a rugby match. I was never one for the post-match parties with rugby songs, chug-a-lug contests and rugby queens. An ex-pat Golden Gate Maori winger from “the land of the long white cloud” introduced me to his traditional post-match haka - an Irish coffee for every try scored by our side plus 2 for each try scored by him or me in the day’s match. That first night we had 7 each.  That’s when I realized how hard it is to sleep with beer, burritos, coffee, Irish whisky, heavy cream and sugar roiling around in my gut. I still remember falling into my bed at 21st and Sacramento, sleeping for an hour, waking up to a spinning room and sitting on the edge of the bed until 5AM before falling back to sleep. It took a while to developed a tolerance for this haka. But a New York sirloin at Izzy’s chased by Buena Vista’s Irish Coffee with large quantities of bottled water became a routine allowing sleep.   

By 9/11 I had gotten to know the BV quite well - it’s one of those rare places where locals and tourists mingle to good effect.  No TV in the place but everybody knew what was going on in NYC. Clarisse was saying she favored Irish coffee in July when the fog rolled in and the temperature dropped in late afternoon as my cell phone rang. Without checking caller ID I knew who it was and what he had to say.

“Hatim and Mona aren’t coming.  I’ll take you home when you’re ready.”

“No biggie, I’ll take a cab.  Unless you want to give me a ride.”

Was that a double entendre I heard? This cougar cub was eager to play.

“My pleasure, ma'am.”

“Mine too, I hope.” She laughed with a tinge of lust.

Clarisse’ condo was in North Beach with Alcatraz and the Bay Bridge out the living room window. Another postcard in the making. The walls were hung with modern art - originals by some well-known locals I recognized. A sculpture caught my an eye.

“Reminds me of something I saw on campus in Berkeley.”

“Leander’s faculty there. Brilliant man. Ph.D. in Computer Science.  We’ve been friends for quite a while. The sculpture’s a hyperbolic hexagon abstract. He designs his stuff with a computer.”

Her inflection had the connotation that her friendship with the ‘brilliant man’ went beyond art and science. I knew Leander Elstella was legendary for his work in helping to develop the architecture used in the Apple Ipod. I didn’t know that he developed art abstractions or balled chicks like Clarisse.  As I looked around the condo, I concluded that Clarisse and her tastes were out of my league. She was a self-assured woman - assured of what she wanted and how she wanted it. 9/11 ended with Clarisse as unforgettably as it began. I hope I gave as much as I got.

That day turned my life inside out because I didn’t pay enough attention. I was charmed out of my skull. Clarissa was prime but if I had been paying attention maybe I...woulda shoulda coulda...fuck that. Hindsight is perfect 20/20. I was a patriot and I believed in the Red, White and Blue. I wasn’t thinking ‘inside job’ I was thinking ‘piece of ass,’ a different kind of ‘inside job’. If I had really paid attention would I have been convinced everything happened the way the way they said it did? The media can be persuasive. But WTC7 came down in a vertical footprint and so did WTC1 and 2. I know it doesn’t happen like that unless it’s been planned. I know it now more than I did then because I’ve seen more fucking buildings go down than I can remember.

Clarisse and I hooked up again the following weekend. During the “War on Terror” Camp David speech, Clarisse asked a rhetorical question.

“Who the fuck is Osama Bin Laden?  George W’s father and the CIA put him on the street, now they want to declare war without proof. And what about the way terrorism works? Terrorists go public when they succeed. Al Qaeda hasn’t taken credit for the World Trade. My brother was a SEAL - died on the USS Cole. Lance told me that the media version of conflict in the Middle East was a fiction that needed an author. No one from Lance’s SEAL class attended his funeral. Lance’s wife thought he might have gone CIA.  Pretty common for SEAL’s to become part of the Company. You and he have a lot in common.”  

Romps in Clarisse’ lair and conversations about the War on Terror pretty much filled our 3 months together. Ironically, Clarisse planted the seed for me to become a SEAL when she told me about her brother. There I was in North Beach snuggled next to Mommy Cougar unable to go with the flow. Not enough excitement for a dumb fuck like me. The seed came to harvest when I saw Colin Powell pitching WMD’s to the UN. The guy was a true warrior drinking and passing out the Kool-Aid. I told Clarisse I was going over New Year’s Eve dinner. She said as long as I believed all the bullshit it was our last dance. Her Julie Christie eyes glistened like blue eyes crying in the rain when she went into the bedroom. I waited a few minutes. When I tried to open the bedroom door, Clarisse whispered.

“Go. Please go.”

I never saw her again; Hatim tells me she lives on Maui now.

 

March - 2002

 

Pensacola was a far cry from San Francisco. There were no political movements afoot in the Bay Area to move Andrew Jackson’s bust so that it was more visible to folks in the Tenderloin.  I was prepared for a different vibe in the Redneck Riviera but the Florida Panhandle was more than just a sea change. It felt like I was swimming in the Mayan Underworld looking for a way out of a cenote. Twelve weeks later I was an Ensign and took the first plane back to San Francisco in search of Clarisse.  When I couldn’t find her I surfed La Jolla for a week before BUDS training began in San Diego.

The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday is the SEAL mantra on Coronado Island - a Top 10 US beach according to Parent Magazine. Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL(BUDS) training lasted 6 months. Fourteen hour days broke down 4 out of every 5 of us who didn’t block out everything but reaching the goal. Back then I was good at blocking things out so I got my trident. Don’t have much more to say about it other than to say it was the worst 6 months of my life until I got to Iraq. There are Youtube videos you can watch to find out what it’s like. I went through the training with my rugby mentality intact. I was a tough motherfucker back then and nobody could stop me from getting what I wanted. In England the military looks to the best rugby players for leadership, teamwork, stamina and toughness. The game demands stamina, strength and teamwork traits that have a lot to do with how many American ruggers make it as SEALs.

In the USA it’s the football field, not the rugby pitch, that’s most like the battlefield. The US Armed Forces sponsor NFL games and planes frequently fly over the field pumping fans up like Hans and Franz with zeal so they’re ready for the patriot’s game. Pat Tillman gave up NFL football and a lot of money to become a Ranger. We knew about him in Coronado. The rumors were that not everybody in his unit liked him, especially with all the publicity he received for joining up. From what I heard about him he was a tough motherfucker who didn’t care about being in the spotlight. He was a team guy, the kind that fits into specially trained fighting units well.

What happened to him could have happened to anybody. I know the feeling of being indestructible from college rugby championships at Cal. I guess Tillman knew it too from the NFL and college football, but none of us are indestructible when it comes to war. I hope the rumors I heard about Tillman being killed because he wasn’t liked by everybody aren’t true. I respected him for his patriotism and what he believed. I heard that his beliefs in the Iraqi War were shaken before he was killed. After a while the Kool Aid that George W, Dick Cheney and Colin Powell had us drinking stopped tasting good.    

 

 

March - 2003

 

When it comes to the American Express card’s “Don’t Leave Home Without It” I hadn’t. But I had left home without the copy of Song of Songs and amulet Grandmother Ryder gave me for luck in love when I turned 13. I hadn’t come to Baghdad to find a lover. When I remember the Iraqi hijabs maybe I should have. You’ll find out why later.

The first day of spring was the 3rd day of Operation Iraqi Liberation when I was introduced to the Middle East in a Mark 5 RHIB skimming across the Persian Gulf. After Officer Training School and six months of BUDS I was ready. They sent 250 of us to Iraq - the largest deployment of SEALs since Vietnam. Instead of SEAL-only missions we were mixed with foreign special forces. Finally we were playing for real; this was not some jarhead video game.  The Brits were in charge of the mission; I was in a  tactical delivery vehicle. Our mission was to make sure the Iraqis didn’t sabotage Mina Al Bakr and Khor Al Amaya - two offshore oil terminals. Operation Iraqi Liberation was later changed to Operation Iraqi Freedom OIF so it didn’t remind anyone that OIL was the first abbreviation. We were to prevent the Iraqis from polluting the Persian Gulf after Shock and Awe showed them we could destroy them without setting a foot on land. The powers-that-be knew Saddam and his boys would be pissed and might do anything after Shock and Awe. My platoon was responsible for taking over Mina Al Bakr. An underwater recce team had gathered intelligence the night before so we knew there were no underwater mines near the terminal and we knew the behavior of the guards. The sky was overcast with a slight mist and there wasn’t any moonlight but the guards couldn’t have done anything even if they had seen us coming. The Navy had jammed communications so the boys on Mina Al Bakr couldn’t have called anybody. From the way things started I thought we would achieve the “rapid dominance” I learned at the National Defense University in a couple of weeks. More than 10 years have passed and Iraq is still a war zone.

We didn’t have to fire a shot. The recce team had told us ammunition and rocket launchers were in weapon storage but not a single Iraqi headed for the storage bins.  They just put their hands up in surrender - some even smiled. They were glad we walked them off the platform and loaded them into our RHIB instead of shooting them like the fish in Saddam’s aquariums.

Psyops’ leaflets had the desired effect. They had been dropping from the sky for months before we landed. Millions of leaflets telling the Iraqis we were coming and Saddam was as good as dead. Between the PR campaign put on at the UN and the millions of leaflets dropped into Iraq by Psyops the war was as much a state of mind as it was an act. I became a SEAL to find and kill Osama Bin Laden and here I was part of a search and find mission for WMD’s that didn’t exist. I was clueless as to how Saddam or WMD’s related to 9/11 but I’d been told what to do and back then I did what I was told.

We waited for a couple of days to clean up the Khawr Az Zubayr waterway with dolphins and sonar for the troop and supply ships coming into Iraq. Underwater, dolphins can see more clearly than signals can be transmitted to a sonar screen.  Two trained dolphins worked the Gulf with us. When a dolphin saw a mine it marked it with a buoy and a SEAL went down to disable it. Trained sea lions also guard ships. The sea lions put leg clamps on divers when they come too close to a ship. Sometimes in Coronado, they put the clamps on friends as well as enemies.

A dust storm held us up on the way to Baghdad. It’s hard to believe what a dust storm is like. Everything has a dark orange hue in the beginning like a radioactive cloud in a science fiction movie. You can see maybe 50 or a 100 yards but then everything turns black and visibility drops to 10 yards. I needed GPS to get from one tent to another. I was talking to one of my men in his tent and his eyes started to cry mud. I was surprised nobody in my platoon flipped out.

When the storm ended, Aleksy Roman tapped my shoulder. “What’s going on?” Aleksy Roman was a Polish GROM, a Thunderbolt – one of Poland’s special forces. He spoke Arabic besides English, French, Russian and Polish. He had been added to my platoon as a language specialist and a medic. His family were “szlachta” - aristocrats from eastern Poland.

“They’re sending an ops video to HQ so they can watch.”

“Then the revolution will be televised. This is just another video game with you guys.”

Aleksy was in his late 40’s, maybe early 50’s, with a weathered face that matched his Polish POV. Drinking with him in Iraq was different from hanging with the run-of-the mill barfly. My journey through Mesopotamia would wind up being a history lesson lacking an American imprimatur. Aleksy’s  political snickers didn’t have the sweet taste of the Hershey bars he begged from me. He didn’t have to twist my arm to join him for some potato vodka at his bunk.

“The USA might be a combination of the most powerful military force with the most naïve people in history - a deadly combination. The American people have accepted its government’s explanations for 50 years of assassinations, presidential elections decided by judges with no right to decide, and a declaration of war that the rest of the world knows is unjustified. As long as politicians never have to tell the truth they just keep on lying. They figure they can get away with anything because we let them. I was in Warsaw in ’89 - what a heady time that was and the same thing happened. Solidarity taught me that evil thrives in men who have power. You think because you wrote the Bill of Rights you’re not corrupt? To me that means you are either the most stupid people on earth or you inherited bad genes. When I see American technology I say to myself you’re not stupid so either you’re evil or naive. So am I because I’m fighting on your side and I’m proud to be a Pole. Our heritage is rebellion and dissent like yours and we share deep hatred for the Russians. My uncle was Janusz Szpotanski. He created Comrade Scumbag - a political cartoon character in the 60’s - and was sent to prison for 3 years when he criticized Gomulka for fucking over the worker. I was 10 years old when it happened. Uncle Janusz was my hero. Still is, even though he died just after 9/11. Besides being a satirist and a poet he was a Chess Master who knew strategy and didn’t accept the simple or the obvious as an explanation for what was happening in the world.  My uncle taught me to question the leaders of all government including my own. Poles are accustomed to conflict, hunger, and poverty but we didn’t take well to waiting in line for food with ration cards under communism. My friends were being killed in the streets for protesting state-controlled wages that weren’t enough to live.  Solidarity gave us a common purpose. We wanted one thing - a living wage. It wasn’t about political ideology or economic theory it was about having enough to eat. Now that we’re a democracy things have changed. The young people are leaving in droves. So why did I become a Grom to defend the new Poland? After so many years of fighting for freedom from the Russians fighting has become a way of life for me. One of my old buddies asked me to train the Afghanis to fight the Russians and now I’m here.

“Zbigniew Brezinski, you heard of him? He worked for Jimmy Carter and helped get the US involved in Afghanistan. My family’s related by marriage to Brzezinski. He told us the State department hired a freelance translator for your president. In his opening speech Carter introduced himself with English words that were written as, ‘I have come to learn your opinions and understand your desires for the future.’ When the translator finished with them the people of Poland heard Carter say - ‘I desire the Poles carnally’. And Americans wonder why the world thinks you are assholes?

“Brezinski set the Russians up for a war like Vietnam that would bleed them dry. Afghanistan helped to end the Soviet Union. A lot of Russian money went into that war. Polacks aren’t the dummies the US thinks. Brezinski got even with Russia. He knew the American war machine wouldn’t shut down after Vietnam. The money was there for another war so the US delegated Afghanistan to fight the communists. It didn’t matter who was in power - Republicans or Democrats. When Reagan became President a Democrat-controlled Congress made the money available and the CIA took it from there. For 20 years they pumped money into Afghanistan and Pakistan to get the government they wanted in place. When I went to train the Afghanis there were guys from all over the Middle East getting trained. Young kids who knew nothing else but to fight for Islam were being trained to use weapons bought by US money to kill Russians. Now some of them are killing us and we trained them to do it. The US spent billions training and arming ‘freedom fighters’ when they were fighting the Russians. When the ‘freedom fighters’ turned against the US they became ‘terrorists.’ What did the US expect? Give someone an up-close and personal look at how the US and the Saudis worked together and they put 2 and 2 together. It all adds up - US was in it for the oil just like the Russians were. If the government of Afghanistan became US-friendly like the Saudis are then the oil from the Caspian Sea would be pumped through a pipeline in Afghanistan. The ‘freedom fighters’ may not have known ARAMCO was the world’s largest corporation before going to Afghanistan but once they were there it was pretty obvious why Russia, the Saudis and the USA had an interest in Afghani politics. We trained those Islamic militants to fight the way they do. Every CIA agent I’ve met fits the profile of a ‘terrorist’ from his enemy’s point-of-view. When an IED blows up your men it’s likely that it was made by someone trained in Afghanistan or taught by someone trained in Afghanistan. There are no sane wars but this one is more insane than most. We’ve taught our enemy and now we think they fight dirty. In this war ‘never underestimate your opponent’ is the First Commandment especially if he’s been trained in a madrassah.

“We wage this war in the cradle of civilization. This used to be fertile land but no more.  Before this place was called Iraq the land was fertile and it was a source of food for other places in the Middle East. Now look at it. Just a wasteland with a road running through it to one of the most important cities in history. When I first found out I was being sent here I almost said no but I thought to myself maybe I can talk to some Americans and make sense of all this. We keep laying waste to a part of the world where culture began and I have questions about why. Will we find Bin Laden here? Is that what this is all about? Not what we’re here to do from what I understand.  We are here to get rid of an Iraqi tyrant, the badass Saddam Hussein, that the first Bush didn’t get 10 years ago.  Now his son is after him. Why is that? Shouldn’t be a surprise if you’re paying attention. The Bush family and the Saudis have been doing business for years. Iraq and the Saudis have never gotten along and the Saudis have been the USA’s best friend among the Arabs. Ten years ago Bush Senior had the CIA start plotting with the Kurds to kill Saddam. The sooner you get it that there are no good guys in this war the better.

“Saddam killed his daughters’ husbands after promising them amnesty and George W Bush never flew a plane over Vietnam. We’re not being led by heroes here. The USA is the bad boy on the block in the Middle East now that the Soviets have gone. Connecting the dots takes time and thought. I guess that’s why it’s not a game for Americans. Too much thinking necessary. The Bin Laden’s are the largest construction company in the world and that’s because they’ve been building for the oil companies.  They invested money in Bush Jr.’s company in the 70’s and the whole damn lot of them were put on a special plane out of the country after 9/11. Osama was given money by the CIA to fight against the Russians when he was called a ‘freedom fighter’ now he’s called a ‘terrorist’ and we’re not even looking for him.  I heard Bush called off the troops when they were about to capture him and sent them to Iraq. Al-Qaeda and Bin Laden have not taken responsibility for 9/11. I find that odd, don’t you?  Terrorists usually stand up and shout after they have success. Bush blamed them the first night. No investigation, no nothing. A commercial airliner requires a professional pilot to do what they did.  They had to reduce altitude, change speed, and make complicated turns. The Air Defense system allowed them free use of airspace without confrontation.  Then a building came down in the afternoon that wasn’t even hit by a plane. The CIA, Secret Service and Office of Emergency Management had offices in that building. Might be a coincidence but it’s a very strange one. So many things went on that day have been explained in a way that intelligent people find hard to believe. Not much thinking going on in America. It was one of your ‘perfect storms’. You have the most technologically advanced infrastructure in the world and 9/11 your systems performed like you were an undeveloped third world country. Americans have been brain-washed into thinking their leaders are different than they are in other countries. Why should that be?”  

By the time we reached Baghdad Aleksy had gotten into my head. He was not one of the dread-locked hippie types I knew from Berkeley beating African drums and mouthing progressive platitudes in front of Zellerbach Hall. This guy was a hardcore revolutionary within the system - a warrior doing time in the Middle East. I wanted Bin Laden dead and Aleksy’s perspective on why we weren’t going to get him bothered the hell out of me. Our first few months in Baghdad were full of bad news. Iraqi infrastructure required a total overhaul. Under Saddam there hadn’t been much development of technical infrastructure and what little there was had been corrupted by tyranny and Iraq’s version of the CIA - the Mukhabarat. When the Coalition Provisional Authority disbanded Iraq’s army it created a huge vacuum. Aleksy snickered some more when Paul Bremer came on board.

“The man in the blue suit and construction boots will fix everything. Bremer used to work for Henry Kissinger. Wherever Henry goes there’s a money trail leading to the US. We’re here to make sure Iraq gets built in the US image and likeness. Bremer’s qualifications for rebuilding a country do not exist. Disbanding the Iraqi army wouldn’t be the first step I’d take. Just what we need to get things going here a guy who washes his hands 10 times a day. The all-American boy is a perfect choice for telling the Iraqis how to rebuild after smashing their culture to pieces. His Daddy ran a French perfume company and his Mommy taught Art History. I’m sure nightly dinners at the Bremer’s were all about military history and rehabbing political power structures.”

I checked out Paul Bremer’s quals.  He had everything a bona fide Preppie should have - Phillips Andover Academy (just like our Commander-in-Chief), Yale undergrad degree, an MBA from Harvard. This guy didn’t just look preppie his blood-type was P+. Like Aleksy, I was not impressed. Bremer had held minor diplomatic positions and been an anti-terror coordinator. I started to think about leadership. Until then I didn’t question my leaders. My family was 2 dead parents and a grandmother who thought she was a Jew until she found out she was a gypsy. Aleksy and his family were aristocrats. I wasn’t into critical thinking. It’s not the American Way. I was into acting on instinct with what I knew in order to win.  If I won, I had more than the other guy, that’s what it takes. My grandmother proved it in Germany. I proved it in the software business, on the rugby pitch and with women. I didn’t give much time to how the rest of the world thought about war and politics.

Aristocratic families grow up not worrying about where the next meal is coming from, about how to stay warm, about having clothes on their back. What’s the result? More time to develop the mind. Generations of that way of life and it’s genetic. That’s where Aleksy came from. I began to see things his way; the ruling class thinks differently than the rest of the world - the rest of the world being me. The ruling class is all about power and keeping it. It’s no different where they rule. Russia, the US, Israel, the UK, wherever.

When Paul Bremer came to Baghdad the questions formed in earnest among us.  Here was this guy with all the advantages privilege could buy anointing the new leadership of Iraq without first-hand experience of the people and communities these guys were going to lead. I didn’t know much about the history of the Iraqis when I arrived. Aleksy filled me in. I wondered if Bremer knew or cared about their history. One thing was for sure. Whoever was put in a position of power owed Bremer and the US and everybody knew it. I began to understand more about the complexity of governing the conquered. No time was being spent on analysis before a decision was made. That was part of the game plan. Do it fast. Speed was more important than getting it right and Bremer had his orders from the White House lead Preppie.

There was no Battle of Baghdad. The Shock and Awe campaign had been laser surgery - a not-to-be-missed CNN 2003 spectacle - with a narrative and timeline in accordance to the specs of the 1996 document Aleksy had swiped while attending the National Defense University in preparation for Afghanistan. Afghanistan started during the Cold War between Russia and the US in the 80’s. An engagement that wore the Russians down like Vietnam did to the US. In Aleksy view that’s what Brzezinski wanted.

Shock and Awe – Achieving Rapid Dominance reads like something out of  science fiction.  There was no doubt it was an American neocon military blueprint for global dominance. It was of divine origin conceived in democracy by the military-industrial complex - WWII’s saviors of the western world.  A military tactic totally based on dominance with no regard for the institutions, culture, philosophy, religion and will power of the conquered.  It justified deception, disinformation and misinformation as the building blocks of Psyops. Shock-and-awe tactics absolutely win the day for the short-term but when the human spirit re-surfaces it demands to hear the truth. The tacticians denied that the US military failed in Vietnam. Their thinking went like this...the US military is so far superior to the rest of the world it can’t lose. It was like they were talking about sports; if you don’t win the last game of the season (Vietnam) you’re not the champion and the US is the Champion of the World.

Shock-and-awe neo-cons believed in “decisive or overwhelming force” as the criterion for military success so moving to shock-and-awe was no big deal for them. The military mind, if there is such a thing, doesn’t take into account the long term psychological and political impact of a conquest. Win and go find another country to dominate. Let the intellectual pansies figure out what to do next. They don’t acknowledge that the people they conquer suffer from PTSD, hate the victors for the misery they cause and plot to get even. No time to think about how to create an Iraqi society sensitive to centuries of religious conflict. The US neocons created a new tactic aimed at rapidly dominating a culture so that the corporate military-industrial complex could be put in place with institutions and businesses feeding bottom line profits to oil production and services companies. The Bush family wealth came from oil. Dick Cheney was the man in charge of an oil production services company that became an extension of the military. They sent us Paul Bremer, a Harvard MBA who had never been to Iraq or the Middle East to fix things.

Enter stage right Bernie Kerik, make that far right. According to the media’s playbill, Kerik was the NYPD Police Chief hero during 9/11. I didn’t see anything heroic about him in Baghdad or NYC.

Kerik was made part of the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) to make sure the Iraqi police got their act together. Nicknamed the Baghdad Terminator, he stayed there only 3 months instead of the 6 months it was supposed to take. He had a street-cop mentality, instead of the CEO mindset the job needed, going out on all-night missions to “free the prostitutes” that some wise-ass jarheads called Prostitutes for Free. Aside from questions about the objectives of those all-night raids our military leadership told the Terminator that he and his people were at-risk from the friendly fire of the cleanup missions going on in the streets.

Bernie Kerik and Paul Bremer’s CPA in Baghdad fit another theory. The Green Zone where most of the CPA lived and worked was a stepping stone within the Republican party. Those of us in the fighting force were outside the Green Zone trying to get Ali Baba. That’s how PTSD started for me. Telling the difference between a friendly Iraqi and the enemy was almost impossible. The people as a whole were engaging, curious and friendly. Kids especially wanted to know if we were really like what they saw in American movies. After a couple of US-issue hand grenades and rockets exploded among us we knew Ali Baba was hiding and dangerous and in our midst. It all made sense; just like Aleksy said, we had funded the enemy.

 

Almost 2 years after watching 9/11 on TV’s carefully constructed cocoon, Aleksy showed me the Internet writings of pilots and structural engineers debunking the notion of 2 poorly trained pilots perfectly navigating those 747’s into the WTC. No more cocoon I became a butterfly. It’s hard for a SEAL to be a butterfly. Why did both buildings fall symmetrically vertical? The experts asked the same questions I asked myself watching in San Mateo. Their answers were different than the mainstream media’s answers. Their answers were that what happened to the WTC buildings according to the media defied scientific, logical and critical thinking. The CIA’s $6B funding of the enemy gave me a new perspective so I asked Aleksy.

“How can you fight this war if you believe it’s all orchestrated?”

“I’m a Pole. We hate the Russians. All wars are orchestrated. They have to be because they’re political by nature. The US and Russia are pulling the strings. The Middle East governments began as their puppets, but the puppets are getting stronger and are motivated by religion and hatred for what’s been done to them by the puppet masters. This won’t end the way the neocons think.”

Why didn’t I buck the system when it became clear that I was just somebody’s pawn in a chess game where the only important piece is what it always is - the king? I was a SEAL with all the fucking pain and misery of Hell Week behind me. My brothers depended on me. I was the leader. If I flew away life as I knew it was over so I went along with the bullshit.



 

 

September 2003

 

Napoli Pizza on Saturday afternoon was the regular lunch stop. Akram owned the place. He had worked in Rome in a pizzeria. He came home when his father died and built a brick oven with a small counter in the storefront of his family’s house. His father had been a shoemaker. Aleksy and I didn’t mind that there were no tables because the pizza was damn good and we didn’t mind that the CPA’s young Republicans eating inside the Green Zone were missing out on Baghdad’s Best. But we did mind that Akram was struggling. He always asked us if we would tell our friends to stop. “Open every day 11 to 10. You know I’m best, boss!”

We always passed where a building was destroyed during shock-and-awe. The neighborhood had cleared away the rubble for Iraq’s first love - soccer. Sunnis and Shiites  worship Ammo Baba, the legendary footballer, for his talent on the pitch and his courage in the face of the psychotic son of Saddam Hussein. They bond over their national team even though the stories of Uday Hussein’s treatment of the players read like a Thomas Harris novel. Littered with debris the first time we saw the field it was transformed over a month’s time into almost level dirt. Ragtag netting hung from makeshift goals at each end. Two teams of kids between 10 and 15 were playing with 50 to 100 people watching every afternoon.

It was a cloudy day and they said it was an accident. Just one of those things that happen with Hellfire I missiles when there’s a cloud between the target and the helicopter’s laser. The target was a van of Ali Babas on the other side of the apartment building next to the soccer field. We were sitting on 2 stools at Napoli’s counter when I heard the helicopter in the distance. The drone of the engine was an everyday thing in Baghdad so I didn’t pay much attention. As the sound grew louder I looked up and saw the flash of the missile being fired. We ran to the smoke and screams.

 

September, 2004

 

By the time my tour was over I was a changed man. It happens. The ones who’ve been- there-done-that know what I mean. We recognize each other from the empty eyes we turn to each other when we meet. We instinctively know each other.

I had been back in the States for a month and was being considered for assignment to the SEAL Scout Team. The Scout Team is responsible for finding SEAL candidates. The IT and rugby profile got me assigned. My profile gave me an advantage with young techies and jocks. We were meeting with a group of ex-Seals to get feedback from them on good ways to recruit.

The veranda of the Coronado Hotel on a Sunday afternoon does not seem like the typical gathering spot for a SEAL recruitment meeting but our get-together was social. The ex-SEALS had brunch together before the social. It was radiant sun-splashed Socal with hotel guests meandering back and forth to the beach mingled with the Sunday Coronado crowd. The NFL game playing on the bar’s TV could have begun with the SEAL SWCC creed instead of the National Anthem - ’In our nation’s time of need, an elite brotherhood of Sailors stands ready...’. I looked around feeling like an outsider. I didn’t see any empty eyes.

Current SEALs and ex-SEALs sat in alternate chairs. There were 8 of us. I was next to a deeply tanned fit man who could have been 50 or 60. We started talking.

“I’m Lester. How’s it goin’?”

“I just got back from Baghdad. How’s it goin’? Sunday at the Coronado? Very cool, man!”

“I like it too. Matter of fact I arranged it. Wanted to treat some of my old buddies to brunch. What are you drinking? Bloody Mary’s are killer.”

“Not my usual but hell yeah.”

Lester waved and a waiter was there in no time flat. Quite a feat given the crowd on the veranda.

“How do you feel about being assigned to the Scout team?”

“Good. I used to play rugby at Cal and there’s some guys I know  there who’d be ideal if they want to be all they can be.” It was still easy for me to hide behind the trident. I figured on a 10 minute wait for our drinks but they were there in 5.

“My company lost a good man who played rugby to the SEALs.” Lester eyeballed me over his drink.

“What company is that?”

“EnterpriseTec. I’m the CEO.” He stuck out his hand. “Lester Quarles.”

The name clicked in my head. “Cliff Porter. I’m the guy you lost to the SEALs.”

“I’ll be damned. Just don’t think you can come and recruit from us. I’m proud to help the SEALs out any way I can but I drawn the line when it comes to business unless there’s something in it for us. You know we moved corporate down here from San Mateo when I bought out my partner?”

“Didn’t know that. Don’t worry, my point of attack right now is college rugby. Plus they asked me to give some thought on how to use social networking to recruit. Facebook and stuff like that.”

“Glad to hear it. You know you’re stock options will re-activate if you come back to us.”  Lester handed me his business card.

 

February, 2005

 

Finding SEAL candidates from college rugby teams wasn’t easy. Cal was a complete washout. I was an aberration in a leftie stronghold like Berkeley. Three and a half years after 9/11 the echoes of Vietnam were the sounds drawing attention on campus. My cry for potential SEALs fell on deaf ears so I headed to Salt Lake City. BYU recruited Pacific Rim ruggers from their Mormon student missions. A team of no-necks from Samoa coupled with Utah high school ruggers was getting ready to challenge Cal for the USA college rugby championship.

High school rugby in Salt Lake turned out to be a better recruiting resource than BYU. I have a theory as to why. Military recruitment is aimed at the adolescent. A case in point. The phrase ‘be all you can be’ has been stuck in my brain for as long as I can remember. Adolescence is a search for identity. ‘Be all you can be’ is a way of saying you have the answer to the identity riddle. The specifics of the answer is the defense of the USA. Don’t think, act is the implication. An implication easily understood by adolescents.

I turned my 2 high school ruggers’ applications over to the recruiter in Coronado.

“Thank you, sir. Good job. Mister Quarles left a message to call him when you have time.”

Except for the sunshine, the veranda of the Coronado on a Tuesday in February was nothing like the Sunday in September when we first met. No hotel guests going back and forth to the beach, no NFL on TV just Lester and I sipping brandy after lunch.

“You’re doing a good job as a recruiter from what I heard.”

“It is what it is. Finding guys with big egos who need to be heros ain’t hard. It’s the mental and physical quals that we use to weed them out that are tough to measure. I’ve been talking to the recruiters about it. We’re working on Internet screening documents we can use to speed things up. Yeah, sure.” I nodded when Lester raised his empty.

“What about a mission? You getting antsy?”

“No. Matter of fact I can do without the intensity. I like laid-back San Diego.”

“I might be able to help you out. How’d you like to come back to work for me?”

“Three years to go before my enlistment’s up.” The waiter replaced our drinks.

“I can get you an early-out but you’ll owe me. Your stock options will be a nice signing bonus. They’re worth a lot more than when you left us.”

I didn’t tell him my SEAL-zeal was at an all-time low. I just said, “How long will it take?”

“Three months. I have to talk to my buds in DC to get things started. If it were an emergency it could be quicker but I don’t see the need.”

“No emergency here.”

June 1 I was a Senior Implementer at Enterprise with $775K in the bank.

   

 

 

 

December 2005

 

I met her in Hussong’s after a rugby match and the drive down the M-1D from San Diego to Ensenada de Todos Santos. I was sipping my third or fourth Margarita when I noticed a Modigliani with curves. Dark eyes, slim neck, the curve of shoulders with a black sweater draping her breasts evoked something primal. I drained the margarita and nonchalanted my way to her end of the bar. Brown, almost black eyes, flashed at me and my sense of self ebbed into the peanut shells on the floor.

“Hey girl.  Co...Cou...Could you smile for me? I just exhausted my come-on line. You gonna help me? Cliff’s my name.”

She looked away, a smile creasing her oval face.

“Virginia. Call me Vicky.”

“You from Ensenada?”

“No.  LA.”

”Me too; not really, San Diego actually . Want one?” I jiggled my empty glass on the bar.

“I’m waiting for someone.”

“Would it bother him?”

“No.”

“Up or on the rocks?”

“Up.”

I made the victory sign to Carlos. He placed two margaritas in salt-rimmed snowcone glasses on the bar.

“Here’s to us and all the other gypsies in this place, Virginia. You mind if I call you Virginia? It has the right sound for you.” I tipped my glass to her then arced it toward the crowded room.

“OK. Gypsies?”

“Curtis Mayfield and my grandmother.”

“What do you mean?”

“Grandma was a gypsy woman a gypsy woman a gypsy woman. Curtis Mayfield. Little off-key, sorry.”

“Not bad.  Bitchin’ song - didn’t know he wrote it. What about your grandmother?”

“She was gypsy but didn’t know it. Found out later when she was a teenager.”

“She live the gypsy life?”

“No. She was born in Zigeunerlager - the gypsy concentration camp in Auschwitz, but raised Jewish. Didn’t know her gypsy family, not even their name. Lucky for her, a Jewish family got her out of Germany.”

“I know about Zigeunerlager, all Roma do. Gypsy’s a made up name. Thought we were from Egypt because that was the story we told them. Roma’s the real name. We come from India. Steal wherever we go. You knew that, right?”

“That’s the reputation.”

“Look there’s been hundreds of years of misinformation stored in your head.  Go check the Internet. If you’re still interested I’ll be here tomorrow.  Carlos, tell Mom I went home.” She slid from her seat leaving the drink untouched.

“Damn, that chick’s a real bitch.” I licked salt from my upper lip.

“White heat, bro.” Carlos took my empty glass moving hers in front of me. I was still sipping from it when a middle-aged woman took my old seat at the far end of the bar. She wore scarves around her waist with a colorful skirt. Carlos whispered something in her ear.  The scent of patchouli lingered after she returned to the street.

“Vicky’s mom?”

“Si.  More white heat. Trust me I know. We were lovers for a while, I’ve got the burn marks.”

Carlos loose-wristed his left hand as if he’d touched a flame.

“I didn’t know there were gypsies in Ensenada.”

“Gypsies are everywhere. Outside of town there’s a flamenco show on Friday and Sunday nights. The Kaldera’s come from LA.  Vicky and her mother dance.

“Think I’ll call it a night. Stay away from the white heat, bro.”  

“You too, my brother.”

We did the hipster handshake – fist touching fist, then one fist on top of the other, switched bottom fist to top, a finger snap, ending with our index fingers pointed at each other. I trudged along Avenida de Ruiz and turned into the Ritz lobby.

Holding a 5 dollar bill in my hand I asked the desk clerk if I could get on a computer. “Yeah, sure.” The clerk took the 5 pointing to the corner of the lobby and a dusty cubicle with a kitchen chair. Ensenada’s Ritz didn’t belong to the Ritz hotel chain.

Grandmother never had much curiosity about her gypsy heritage so I didn’t know much. I figured 30 minutes and I’d know all I needed to know about the Roma to impress Virginia when we met again, if we met again.  That was before I Googled ‘Roma’ and entered the black hole of the Internet for 4 hours. Several pages of websites were listed. The websites had been set up to educate gypsies and ‘gadjos’(outsiders). The little I knew about gypsies came from the street and I needed to be re-educated.

I learned that Romani culture is non-literate without written history or myths. Everything’s been passed down orally. The Roma were slaves in Eastern Europe, treated like the ‘niggers of Europe’ according to one website. The Roma experience is a mirror image of the African-American experience. Unrecognized victims of the Holocaust they became a UN poster child in their “Say no to racism”  campaign.

They’ve been labelled criminals of the worst kind – murderers, thieves, white slavers, child abductors. Aside from looking different the stereotypes are false. There are some gypsy criminals of course, but not every gypsy’s a criminal. The child abductor label has been given to them because of tradition. The gypsy groom’s family kidnaps the bride the day before the wedding. The kidnapping is a gypsy joke - their way of saying ‘boy wants girl.’

I found a 1930’s film clip on Youtube of Carmen Amaya, “Queen of the Gypsies.” She danced hands over her head, twisting her body, and stomping her feet to a flamenco guitar with the strength and anger of a dervish. Around 3 in the morning I turned off the computer and sat back feeling foolish about my previous ignorance. There is an edginess in the Roma world about the word “gypsy” and its connotation.  I would make an effort to stop using the word.  I did not want to subject myself to Virginia’s anger for any ignorance of her culture. Being Roma was part of my heritage too. I drifted into sleep thinking of Elvis Presley, Rita Hayworth, Carmen Amaya, Charlie Chaplin, Michael Caine, Django Reinhardt, John Bunyan and Bill Clinton - others with Roma blood.

I didn’t wake early. Dawdling in bed, I remembered the fire in Virginia’s eyes. Whatever doubts I had about facing her was overcome by the image of her Modigliani neck. Removing my necklace from my neck I kissed the Venus pendant and read aloud from my copy of the Song of Songs I promised Grandmother Ryder to carry with me at all times.

“Come then, my love, my lovely one, come. For see, winter is past, the rains are over and gone.” I invoked the Lover’s Prayer because Virginia was the first woman I really wanted in the sense of being more than just a fuck buddy since getting back from Iraq. I hurried my way along Avenida de Ruiz more gypsy than gadjo.

“Buy a rose for your girl. Only a dollar.”

I was startled by her entreaty. A girl in a loose white blouse and multi-colored skirt was offering me a flower from a basket.  It took me a minute but the light in her eyes and slope of her neck told me. I mumbled the ‘how are you, sister’ I had memorized on the Internet.

“Sar san, phen?”

Virginia doubled over in laughter. “Nice try, but sister is never idiomatic. It’s always literal. Mistu sim. Sar san?”

Live and learn. The important things were she felt fine and asked me how I was. “I’m a little fuzzy this morning.”

“Morning? It’s almost the middle of the afternoon. Must have had a long night.”

“To be honest I stayed up reading about gypsy, er...Roma culture. I told you my grandmother was part gypsy I mean Roma.”

“I’d love to hear more but I have to go to Bufadora to deliver these.” She lifted the flower basket.

“I’ll drive you.”

“What”

“It’s a good day for a drive. I’ll put the top down.”

I’d never been to the world’s largest blowhole. Virginia directed us out of Ensenada. I told her I was starving and we stopped at a roadside stand in Estero Beach called El Rey del Tacos that was bustling with locals. I didn’t trust my Spanish so I let her order for both of us. The best tacos I’ve ever eaten. I’m not sure it was the tacos, how hungry I was or being bewitched by the work of art next to me.

The last 3 miles to Bufadora was a road winding west on the north side of the Punta Banda Peninsula that overlooked Bahia de Todos Santos and the Cove of All Saints. The hillside houses looking out on the bay ranged from shacks to Architectural Digest casitas - the terrain a mix of dirt and lush greenery. The peninsula ended overlooking the blowhole. Merchandise stands of Mexican clothing, wrestling masks, leather goods and tee shirts lined both sides of a cul-de-sac jutting over the Pacific.

“Everything’s overpriced here for the dumb gringo tourists. Wait here. I’ll be right back.”

I parked in an alley between two shops and watched a young girl shuffle down the street. She arranged Virginia’s basket with flowers from her own basket.  They hugged with affection before she went back to selling her flowers. Virginia carried an empty basket back to the car.

“Good day for my sister. It’s low tide. Nothing happening with the blowhole at low tide. You can see it some other time.”

“Back to Hussongs?”

“Let’s go to Erendira. You can tell me what you learned last night on the Internet.”

We went back to the highway. Erendira was 30 miles to the south - a fishing village with a few RV’s and tents freckling a beach far removed from the commercialism of La Bufadora.  A few casitas had been built on gentle slopes rising out of the Pacific.

“Go up that one.  We can park.”

She pointed at a dirt road leading to one of the casitas.

“How do you know there isn’t someone there?”

“It’s my uncle’s girlfriend’s place. We live together in LA. They only come down here on holidays or weekends. Nobody’s here this weekend.”

The end of the road flattened into asphalt. There were steps up to the house from the parking area. Instead of going into the casita I followed Virginia down the hill. We sat on  a patch of level ground speckled with cactus about 10 yards from the house.

“I’m a voyeur, love to sit and watch.” The horizon was punctuated with surfers, windsurfers, small fishing boats and luckily for me no helicopters. “Tell me what you learned last night.”

I told her everything I had learned about the Roma and the questions I had about them.

Roma are called ‘gypsies’ because eastern Europeans thought they were from Egypt. They actually left India and told the Eastern European community they were Egyptian because a few dark-skinned Egyptians from the Mediterranean southside were already known in Eastern Europe. Why did the Roma isolate? That was the question in my mind. Is it something they wanted or something forced on them? It seemed to go both ways. Because of discrimination the Roma probably thought to themselves, ‘fuck the outsiders, fuck the gadjos we’ll just hang together and live the way we want.’ The gadjo world has no problem with that because it lets them keep gypsies down the way blacks have been kept down. Some of the Roma have assimilated themselves into society and want to be recognized. They ache for respect for what their people have accomplished as artists, singers, actors, dancers, and athletes. There was plenty of resistance to giving up the old ways. Who could blame them since the gadjo world still pigeonholed them as thieves, murderers or white-slavers.

“I never asked my grandmother why she never found out anything more about her family when she found out she was Roma.”

Virginia was in my face. “Why would she want to know? Better to stay Jewish. Jews are discriminated against, but not by everybody. When I was in high school I lost all my friends when they found out I was gypsy. Hardly any of us go to school and that makes it harder. My cousins think I’m weird, and I’m not to be trusted because I’m in the gadjo world. I go to UCLA now. I love it and nobody cares if I’m gypsy or not.”  She stood up and pointed to a California Condor circling over a hilltop with a wingspan exceeding 10 feet. “I love it here. You never know what you’re gonna see. You know the legend of Erendira?”

I was drawn like a moth to flame. The more I looked into her molten eyes the more resolute I became...she was the way out of darkness I lived with every day.

“There’s a legend about surfing here? I know surfing in Mexico but never heard of this place until today.”

She laughed.

“Erendira’s a legend of the Michoacan. The one who smiles. She was one of the Purepecha. The Purepecha only allowed men to be warriors. Erendira disguised herself as a man and captured a Spanish horse from the Conquistadores. After she taught herself to ride the horse she went into battle. The Purepecha thought she had become a goddess because to them horses were magical. She was killed and her body was never found. The people of Michoacan still tell stories of Erendira sightings around Lake Patzcuaro. She was an outsider, wanted something forbidden, wanted to fight like a man. I gave up my karma when I said no to the guy my father wanted me to marry. I’m an outsider too.”

“You have more karma than any women I know. Everybody feels like an outsider. I know I do. They say it’s part of being young but I feel more like an outsider now than I did when I was in high school. You’re in your early 20’s, right?”

“Twenty next year and don’t sweet talk me. You don’t know me.”

Her voice felt like crushed velvet, not like the working girl screeches over drinks in the Gaslamp. I wanted her to know I was more than an ex-SEAL with a fast car. But that’s all I was. The women I fucked didn’t know my memories of Iraq and the trouble I had falling asleep. Maybe this gypsy girl with fire in her eyes could handle it.

“I’m not sweet talking. I hope we can get to know each other. I had no mom, no dad and I figured I had to do somethin’ to get an identity, so I became the all-American boy in the land of the free and the home of the brave. When 9/11 happened I joined up to get the bastards who did it. Got my Seal trident, went off to get Bin Laden, except it didn’t work out the way I thought. Bein’ a Seal was more about about bein’ a bully in Baghdad than it was about anything else. Sure wasn’t about defending my country.  Been back home a couple of years and I fit in less now than I ever did. Can’t sleep at night. Bad memories of all the shit over there. Top it all off I’ve been readin’ stuff that makes me wonder who the bad guys really are. No fuselage at the Pentagon, WTC’s came down like they were detonated, and dudes made a lot of money from insurance, including the guy who owned the place. Part gypsy, part Seal, mostly fucked up. Sounds like we have more in common than you think.”

Her eyes narrowed. I thought I saw a flicker of care. I’d rather it were desire but caring was a start. I worried about getting hurt by her. I don’t know why because I usually did the hurting when it came to women. We sat and talked for a couple of hours watching the condor, the surfers, the fishing boats in a time lapse film strip only nature could direct. She told me she was living off-campus with her uncle’s girlfriend and she came down to Ensenada to dance flamenco with her mother. She loved to dance. It was her life’s dream. Dancing was her link between heaven and earth. When she danced she could feel her duende. It felt like her soul straining to get out of her body.

I didn’t know what she meant. “What’s so special about flamenco and duende?”

“In flamenco the soul is speaking. Duende is the demon that brings out the darkness of the soul. In my dreams my duende makes me dance with the Queen of the Gypsies.”

“I never knew gypsies had queens.”

“Not real queens like a royal family. Just a title we give someone special. Carmen Amaya was Queen of the Gypsies in her day. She’s one of the best flamencas ever.”

“I saw her last night. Maybe she was telling me there was a flamenca in my future.”

“In a dream?”

“No, on the Internet. I was dazzled. So much energy.”

“And anger. Check out Nick Cave. My professor has a tape of a lecture he gave on duende.”

How many LA girls knew Nick Cave? I knew his music because of the Aussies who played his stuff in Iraq. She started for the house; I followed.

“I’m staying here tonight. You can stay if you want.”

“Cool. I’ll get my stuff from the car.” I had my room in Ensenada but  this was an offer I couldn’t refuse. My head was spinning as I went for my bag.

“The beds not made, but here’s some sheets and a blanket.” She ushered me into a bedroom behind the kitchen. “My room’s upstairs.”




 

July 2006

 

Lyle Descartes, my boss at EnterpriseTec, gave me two tickets to the Hollywood Bowl.

“It’s your chance to meet The Man. My f-in brother-in-law’s getting married. Kurt Elling’s at the Bowl. ”

Lester was ‘The Man.’ Obviously he hadn’t told Lyle he knew me, so I didn’t either.

“Best jazz singer there is right now from what I’ve read. Have nothing better to do.”

“You won’t be disappointed, but I am.”

I called Virginia. We’d spent the 4th of July together in Ensenada and Erendira at her uncle’s place. It wasn’t for a lack of trying that I hadn’t made it with her yet, but I was giving her the time she said she needed. We had been seeing each other off-and-on for 6 months and I was still mesmerized. If I believed in witches I’d say I was bewitcched.

 

“I came here to see Shakira last year with a guy from school. We bought some Zankou Chicken and a bottle of wine. We had a ball without the VIP parking.”

We were in the VIP parking lot. She was wearing what could have been worn to a UCLA dance rehearsal crowned by a bowler hat with the amulet I’d given her as a pendant around her neck. Not quite what I expected but she fit in with the LA hipster crowd better than I did in my old school Canterbury slacks and shirt. We found our way to the  Garden box section weaving through people picnicking along the walkways leading to the amphitheatre.

Lester and his wife were sitting on one side of the table in our box.

“Cliff, I’m glad you got here early. Food will be here in a couple of minutes. Hi, Lester Quarles and my wife Stephanie.”” Lester pointed to the other side of the table and took Virginia’s hand.

“This is Virginia. Glad to meet you.” Stephanie returned my smile.

“I hope you like the food. I took the liberty of ordering a steak and sushi for you.” Lester held a bottle of wine over Virginia’s glass waiting for permission to pour.

“Sure, thanks.”

“I’m a Tanqueray martini man myself. Want one?” Lester spoke to me reaching under the table for a cocktail shaker icing in a bucket.

“Yeah, OK. Tickets say 8 so I figured 7:30 was good. How long have you been here?” The martini was the way I liked. Lester must have waved the vermouth over the gin. “Nice.” I tipped my glass to him.

“Maybe 10 minutes. The food here is the same as the opera at the San Francisco War Memorial. Patina Restaurant Group runs both places. Not bad. I hope you’re into jazz singers. Sinatra sang at the Bowl in the 40’s. Kurt Elling is the best there is right now. You know him?” Lester turned to Virginia. as the waiter brought the food.

“A little. I was telling Cliff I saw Shakira here last summer.”

“Ohh my god! We were here that night. She was awesome!” Stephanie tossed her chicken Caesar as if she were an assassin.

The sound of a whirling chopper came from the HOLLYWOOD sign on the hill behind the shell covering the stage.

“Tanqueray, right? My favorite.” I reached for the martini shaker and poured.

“You know your gin, Cliff. Good call. I’ll make us another batch.” Lester found 2 flasks in a cooler.

“Don’t bother with the vermouth for me.”

“I knew there was a reason I hired you.” Lester shoved me from across the table.

By the time Kurt Elling sang ‘Nature Boy’ I was wrecked. At intermission I headed for the john and couldn’t find it. The next thing I remember was waking up at home Sunday morning.

Monday morning at the office Lester called.

“I can’t believe you found someone better than Virginia. I offered her a ride home but she said no. I got her a cab. Did you drive? You were pretty messed up.”

“I ran into an old girlfriend. She drove. Thanks for taking care of her. I’m sorry my old girlfriend and I had something that had to be taken care of. You know how that works.”

“I have to go. Let’s get together another time without the women. You’re dangerous.” Lester hung up.

The day before I had been trying to come up with something to explain what happened the night before. It was lame but it was the kind of story guys tell each other. I called Virginia and left a message.

“I’m sorry about Saturday. I got into a fight and wound up in jail. I’ll explain when we get together. Call me.”

After several voice mails we made a date for brunch the next weekend. Westwood is mostly a UCLA hangout full of trendy cafes, bars, markets and clothing stores where the better-off students and some Westsiders spend their money. Virginia didn’t spend much time there; she couldn’t afford it. She was dining al fresco in a side street at Le Pain Quotidiene.

“Am I late?” I bent over and kissed her cheek.

“No. I was early and hungry. You don’t look any the worse for wear. I expected a black eye at least.”

“I’m really sorry. You want to hear the gory details?” I hoped she didn’t.

“No.”

“Good. It wasn’t much but the cops were all over us. Some druggie tried to pick my pocket. I’m hungry too. That looks good.”

I ordered another salad nicoise. It was the only thing we agreed on that day.
“You could have called me or your boss.”

“My phone was in the car.”

“We looked for your car after the concert - didn’t see it. Don’t lie to me, you were pretty drunk.”

I thought about telling her how fucked-up I got sometimes but that would only make things worse.

“I’m sorry. You’re right I was pretty drunk.”

“You ever see the music video of Where the Wild Roses Grow? Kylie Minogue and Nick Cave?”

“No.”

“Minogue is Ophelia lying dead in the water. Cave plays Hamlet and puts a red rose in her mouth. The song’s about how deadly love can be. I’m not into Ophelia, Cliff.” She got up from the table with fire in her eyes and didn’t look back as she walked away.  

That’s when I started to get it. I was out of my depth. From the beginning I knew my Lover’s Prayer in Ensenada had been answered by a lover I couldn’t handle.  She left me a message on my phone...the amulet was with Carlos at Hussong’s.

 

 

January 2007

 

Rugby season came and went. Mission Bay had a good season but I didn’t. Too many late Friday nights. I had the best hands on the team but ‘the day after’ syndrome caught up with me and I dropped at least 4 tries. I promised myself the spring season would be different.

Virginia wasn’t answering my calls so i was spending time in the Quarter with Lester after work chatting up San Diego’s young professionals. At first I liked the idea of being buds with Lester because of my job but as time went on I felt like I was being measured. I didn’t know why. Lester made it clear one night at the Marriott’s rooftop Altitude Lounge or so I thought.

“Consulting Services is growing so fast we need more full-time project managers, Cliff. You’ve done great work for us on the technical side, how would you feel about being a PM?”

“I don’t know I like having my hands on the product. PM work can be pretty salesy. I’m not cut out for that.”

“Don’t be so sure. I see the way you work the women.”

I laughed. “That’s different.”

“I agree. Sales aside though, you had management experience as a Platoon Leader and you know having that trident goes a long way with me.”

“You know how that goes, sir. Whatever the team needs.”

“Glad to hear it. I’ll talk with Lyle and he’ll find a project for you with some extra money. Europe may be down the road if the business I’m chasing closes.”

 

 

June, 2007

 

The loss of Virginia, a bad rugby season and the project management position I didn’t want convinced me I needed help with my life. I started coming to therapy. Didn’t go well at the start. I had been seeing you for 3 months and hated writing the journals I’m still writing for you, Doc. The gestalt sessions we have after you read them are exhausting. Finally 4 years after coming back from the war my mind opened to what I had left behind.

Doc, you asked me what happened there that caused me to question what I did and I started fucking bawling. The images in my mind were blurred. It was as though they were bumping into each other trying to get out of a cave. What was it that made me so fearful and anxious?  You calmed me down and I took some deep breaths.

“Remember I told you about EMDR. You want to try?”

“OK.”

You took a pencil asking me to follow it as you moved it in front of my eyes asking me to remember the Apache in Baghdad.

The first part was easy. I remembered eating pizza, hearing the chopper and running through the smoke on th soccer field,  the screams. Until that EMDR session I was blind to the explosion of the Hellfire missile, the crumbling apartment building, and the bodies flying from it. It all came back to me. I saw the Hellfire missile hit the apartment building, the sight and sound of the explosion and the eerie sound of the chopper blades as the Apache veered off. When we reached the soccer field I realized when the Hellfire hit I saw people hurtling through the air - a woman and 2 children. Their body parts were strewn around the goalposts, a part of one of them dangling from the netting. A kid we knew from watching the soccer games sat in the field crying. Akram ran to him and lifted him from the field. They were both crying. I couldn’t understand what Akram was saying. Aleksy told me.

“The kid is Akram’s son. The bodies are his wife and 2 daughters.”