Saturday, April 29, 2006

Friday Night at Saddam's Pool

I had yesterday morning off, and was able to do my PT (Physical Training, for non-military types) in the AM rather than before bed. So last night I decided to smoke the first of the cigars Marya sent me, using the cutter and acetylene torch of a lighter provided by my father, by the pool at the Republican Palace.

If there is one thing I wish I could see in this lifetime, it would be Saddam Hussein's reaction to having his private pool turned into a recreation center for American soldiers and diplomats.

Saddam's pool is (forgive the metaphor) an oasis amidst the concrete and concertina wire that surround the Embassy complex. Across the service road behind the Palace, on the south side, it is about 50x20 yards, with an inoperable fountain in the middle right, and two off-limit diving boards. (And yes, it is ironic that for safety reasons they won't let you use the high dive in a war zone). There is a grassy area of roughly equal size filled with picnic tables and a performance stage for bands or other MWR (Morale, Welfare, and Recreation) events. Since it is just behind the KBR dining facility, this area is a popular location for people to meet for lunch or dinner.

As I reclined in a lawn chair enjoying the cool Spring weather, a group of tattooed Marines played volleyball under the lights in the pool. From the gazebo behind me, came the crack of billiard balls crashing into one another on the two pool tables. In other areas poolside, people were engaged in games of table tennis, horseshoes, chess, and Spades.

There are two different types of cages in the grassy area beside the pool: one for a family of 8-10 tropical song birds, and another for hitting golf balls. On most nights a movie is shown poolside, but instead, last night was karaoke, as people absolutely murdered a series of country and Broadway standards. (I know understand why karaoke is typically restricted to locations where alcohol is served as well).

The assault on my eardrums aside, last night was a pleasant release from the stuffy confines of my office and trailer. Unfortunately, becuase this was my first cigar in several months, the nicotine had a stronger effect on me than expected, upsetting my stomach a bit. However, by the time I was finished, the DFAC was open again for "Midnight Chow" (which actually runs from 2200-midnight), so I was able to grab some soft ice cream to settle myself down.

I'm quickly learning to make do with the few small pleasures to be enjoyed here.