Politics, Sex, Religion, and all those impolite Human Conversations...

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Location: Oaksterdam, California

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The hottest spot north of Havana ...

Excerpt from The Travel Issue:

All around Copacabana’s were barricades, check points, barbed wire and blinding bright lights. Located in the Wazir Akhbar Kahn district, it was close to Kabul’s embassies. At the entrance was a badass, olive green armored jeep sporting a stenciled Bulgarian flag on its doors. Two sullen soldier girls stood next to the vehicle, looking bored and smoking cigarettes.

Copacabana’s owner is an Afghan-American with meticulous facial hair. He wore light blue jeans with splotches of bleach in the thighs. His eyebrows were waxed into geometric shapes and his hair was gelled into a spiky barb. His whole head looked sharp and precise.

“Waz’ up, man?” he asked when I got to the door. He was standing in a tight knot of other spiky haired 20-somethings.

“I wanna drink,” I said.

“Sure, man,” he said. “Inside.” He opened the door and I went inside.

The interior of Copacabana’s looked like a Starbucks; large red couches, solid colors, long, angular lines. It was air conditioned and cool. The DJ was playing an up-tempo, break-beat version of “Tom’s Diner.”

I ordered a Jack and Coke and sat down.

There were three girls dancing on the dance floor. In a seat near them a fat old man in a white suit patted his leg and flopped his bald head around lamely to the beat. A smoke machine noisily hissed out clouds of white steam, which wrapped around the legs of the girls and dissipated near their heads.

Some off-duty soldiers came through the double doors, scanning the room as the DJ began playing “Eye of the Tiger.” They went and stood at the bar. Upright and southern, they all wore tight blue jeans with large belt buckles. They stood in a tight circle, talking and laughing, telling dirty jokes and drinking their Budweisers.

One of them recognized me from town and sat down across from me on an oversized maroon chair.

He bought me a beer. I told him I was a writer and he put his cigarette in his mouth and took out his wallet, squinting from the smoke.

He pulled out a card, crossed something off of it, then handed it me. It showed his name, rank and an Afghan flag crossed with an American one.

“I am very cautious of writers,” he said.

“You should be,” I said. “They will screw you, if you’re not careful.”

Then I asked what he was doing in Afghanistan.

He looked away from me. “Now, well,” he said, chuckling. “I am gonna be real honest with you.”

‘Go ahead, man,” I said. “I don’t give a fuck what you do.”

“I do… radio stuff,” he said, wincing. “You know… for the army radio. I teach Afghans how to broadcast from the radio stations and do news. I’m like a journalist, kind of. But for the army.”

What the hell is so wrong with that?” I asked. “Sounds a fuckin’ lot better then gettin’ a bullet in your ass.”

“Well,” he said, looking around. “Just once, I mean… it sounds crazy, but just once I would like to get into a firefight. To prove to myself that I’m worth it. I know it’s not cool to kill anyone and that’s not really what I am talking about. I don’t wanna kill no one. I’ve known guys who have killed and they are fucked—really fucked. They go home, discharged and are never the same. But still, I want to know if I have it. That edge they teach you about in training. You have it or you don’t. I wanna know if I got it.”

I looked at the rest of the soldiers. They were all dancing with a fat blond girl who worked at the Swiss embassy. Everyone was gyrating and making pained faces.

“Look, you have guys here… it’s like a game,” he went on. “They wear all the shit—you know, full armor, M-16’s, but that’s all photo ops. To show the grandkids. Because it’s safe here, you know. Kabul is safe. You can do your time and feel like a real hero. Afghanistan is easy. I know guys who got bronze medals for sitting in an office. Out in Kandahar or Nuristan, that’s where the action is. I want to go there to prove it to myself. That I can do it and survive.

“There is a culture in the army,” he continued. “To get respect you have to take risks. Radio journalists get no respect. It’s a macho culture, know what I mean?” (read the rest)