Tuesday, March 3, 2009

A Latrine in Indochina

A wooden latrine constructed of pine bracing and plywood sat suspended over two sunken fifty-gallon oil drums, its smell familiar, its lure driven by need. He kept the rifle, but dropped the pack, walked in, unbuttoned his trousers and sat on the flat plywood seat worn smooth through use. His M-14 rifle, wedged against a block of wood nailed to the door, provided the locking mechanism.

Someone had stenciled Property of the US Navy on the inside of the door, reminding them who owned them and whose latrine this was. On ships they were heads, on land, no matter how much the navy tried to hold with tradition, they were latrines. The word latrine interlinked the sailors and the grunts on the ground in a way head never could.

Privacy, a place to think, undisturbed. Flies  bounced against screened windows trying to get in. Distant helicopter rotors chopped the air, muffled morning coughs, laughter, metal banging metal, and more light through the screened windows. A radio clicked on playing popular music through a cheap speaker that yielded a tinny sound. Martha and the Vandellas crooned, Nowhere to Run.

The latrine provided a bulletin board, a barometer showing the mood of the men. As an officer sitting in the enlisted latrine, he read what the men were thinking and filed it all away. Careful! I sublet the basement to a gook; Ensign Turner can suck my dick; and there were also the unheralded poets, I come here to itch my balls, and read the writing on the walls. Some of the writing could be attributed to an author: Article Fifteen this, asshole -- accompanied by a crudely drawn phallus, clearly the work of Machinist Mate Second Class Nelson, recently hauled before a captain's mast. Killing for peace is like fucking for chastity, Commander Atwood. Atwood delivered a rousing "why are we here" speech two days before.

Having perused the angst and frustration of others who also sat and shat, he pulled up his trousers removed the M-14 from its position and pulled the door inward, stepping onto the planking with heavy boots.

Once out of the privy, the jungle surrounded him. Thick green in every possible shade. Growth and decay backed up by jungle sounds that were quite apart from the human stain created by the navy's presence. The smell of chlorophyll masking rot on the shore of a muddy river, languid as a mill pond. Itching jungle, wet, dripping tangled jungle, a maze that could swallow you forever without a compass and some idea of where you'd been and where you wanted to go. Big spiders, deadly snakes, monkeys and endless, thick swarms of blood sucking insects. 

He didn't think any place could top a reeking navy latrine, but he knew he erred when he stepped through the plywood door and let the spring pull it closed behind him.

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