My agent says enough off-topic blathering...more Voodoo Lounge.
Actually, she said no such thing, but she will, I'm sure, shortly; so I'm preempting her proposed predictable pronouncement (and may I add, and why not, what a lovely person she is? She is. Diana Finch, ladies and gentlemen. Take a bow, take a bow).
Voodoo Lounge opens with a description of the invasion of Haiti, from the perspective of the lower-enlisted army soldiers on Tory’s boat (an LSV, for the 2 of you out there keeping track of these things). It was September, 1994. The Haitian president, Jean Bertrand Aristede, had been ousted in a coup by a man named Colonel Cedras. President Clinton sent the army and Marines to get Cedras out and bring Aristede back. The plan called for a very violent, overwhelming invasion. Severe urban combat was expected, and those of us going were…shall we say, nervous. In the last hours (literally) before the planned dawn invasion, ex-President Carter and Colin Powell convinced Cedras to step down voluntarily. I describe this toward the beginning of the novel:
The ship cut through the night waters, silent and slowing. Thirty-four soldiers, wide awake with nothing to say.
At 0340 general-quarters sounded again and Mac called to prepare for battlestations. Time to stop waiting down below. Time to hurry up and wait somewhere else. Time to go.
When you go—when you go for real—you put on pounds. Even Waterborne soldiers, with no field equipment, bore some weight going in. Real-time weight. Kevlar helmet, flak vest, web belt, LBE suspenders, ammo pouches and clips, M-16 rifle slung over back. Mac had told them not to tuck their pants into their combat boots because it would be easier to swim if they fell overboard. No one bothered to point to the dead-weight of their flak jacket and ask if it mattered.
A few weeks before, Jersey had picked up a dog-eared copy of The Things They Carried at the USO and the book¾the cool parts, anyway¾had become standard reading for bored quarterdeck watches in the last days before they went down range. They made up their own lists of things soldiers carry, filling in what the book left out, scribbling anonymous notes on the inside cover: CRYSTAL METH AND A CASE OF THE ASS wrote one wit. HERPES FROM SCABOO’S MOM----WE ALL CARRY THAT—a penciled line reported. Riddle, signing name to note, pointed out that Snaggletooth carried the weight of ugly for the whole detachment. Even with the patience of paper and pencil Snaggletooth wasn’t quick enough to transfer the weight of anything back to Riddle. Now it didn’t matter; this morning they were going for real. All of them—privates to sergeants to warrant officers alike—for the first time. All of them combat virgins. All any of them carried was gradients of fear. […]
They were going, going for real, but their reality was shaky. Shifting. The truth as elusive and unsteady as the deck beneath their boots on a long rolling swell. They’d had a week to prepare for one stark reality; made peace and tied themselves into its probabilities like they tied themselves into their racks to sleep through rough weather. Then it shifted, with only hours to spare.
“Ex-president Jimmy Carter has asked Mister Cedras and the Haitian army not to blow us out of the water,” Mac [the first mate] intoned on the loudspeaker, voice floating and alien in the dim, empty passages. “Jimmy Carter says they’ll be surrendering to us instead of shooting at us.” They heard a click they all understood to be Mac’s Zippo in action on a Camel Light. “The Skipper voted for Jimmy Carter—twice.” The officer exhaled. “Me, I was too young.”
Nothing changed. Just more anxiety. When you finally go, you go for real. Jimmy Carter or not. You have to. And you have to hold on to that¾keep it first in your head. If your cracked-leather black combat boot crosses from deckplate to soil and there is a rifle in your hand, those watching from high on hilltops or from behind thick curtains have drawn their own definition of you. It doesn’t matter how you define yourself, or how a president or general defines you, what official title or task is given you and those who travel with you. All that matters is how those watching your arrival define you. They provide your definition. And they know the neighborhood better.
When you go, you go for real, because those watching you arrive may not agree with your own definition. If your cracked-leather black combat boot crosses from deckplate to soil and there is a rifle in your hand, that is definition enough. […]
It had taken five days to sail from Newport News. A midnight departure from Skiff’s Creek, running lights blacked-out through the Dead Fleet and into the James River, past Norfolk and the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, ten miles to sea, then due south. Five days, marked by the slow fading and gaining and fading of TV signals from Virginia and the Carolinas and Florida, intercut with bad zombie movies and war novels, engine readings and bridge watches, midnight rations, and one halfhearted rain-soaked late-afternoon battlestations drill somewhere in the Bermuda Triangle. Five days, and crossing the Windward Passage past Cuba they’d found five empty Haitian refugee rafts - - bobbing silently between swells, plywood and plastic and two of them upright again, with makeshift canvas sails - - the Catholics on the LSV crossing themselves as the big boat steamed between the ghost rafts, the soldiers as one scanning shadows in the whitecaps for bodies, shuddering at the deep-ocean fates of the desperate Haitians who’d stepped barefoot into midnight waters pushing these deathtraps past the waves and jumping on to huddle with their families below a matchstick mast, whispering unheard prayers for clear winds to Florida.
Five days, this run. As a crew, they’d run longer—much longer—and harder, to accomplish nothing: celestial navigation training sails around Long Island to Nantucket and Portland, a stomach-wrenching North Atlantic crossing to the U.S. Army Waterborne depot at Hythe near Southampton, a mid-winter sleeper run to the Azores to pick up rusty port equipment and bring it to Livorno. Only five days, this run—just a stone’s throw from their backyard—but to accomplish something real this time, sailing through death floating silent and apathetic at the gates of their arrival.