Some of the folks on the team compensate for being away from home and family by eating. Food gets fetishized. Not so much the food at the KBR dining facilities, although there are the quirks there, the exotic things some eat when away from home: chunks of blue cheese by the salad bar, sliced boiled beef tongue for lunchmeat, Nutella. But the true fetishizing happens in spending money on food. There’s a real Thai restaurant on base, staffed and run by Thai nationals who got the contract and rotate over here for six months or a year like the AAFES and KBR workers, and a Turkish restaurant operating under the same circumstances (the Thai place is better), and a pizza and sandwich shop, and a tiny, smoky two-picnic-table kebab shack that’s mouth-wateringly excellent on the other side of the runway. Guys will spend fourteen Euros for dinner or four Euros for lunch, sometimes two or three times a week. “It’s my only luxury,” one of them says. “It’s the only thing that gives me pleasure here, besides Skyping with my wife.”

Or folks compensate by going to the gym. It’s open 24 hours, and there’s usually a wait for the treadmills. Everybody reads, of course. There are swap bookshelves everywhere, weirdly diverse (or not so weirdly; as diverse, perhaps, as the military itself): there are the usual titles you’d expect, Tom Clancy and Dan Brown, and Mack Bolan The Executioner, whose novels I had never encountered until I saw one of the series on a bookshelf at the National Training Center in Fort Irwin, California in 1993, and who I never saw after I got out of the Army until I came here, but there’s also a copy of The Book of Mormon on the same shelf as an old library-bound hardcover of The Hite Report, and a while back I spotted Charles Stross’s The Atrocity Archives a couple shelves down from Grace Paley.

And the pirated DVD shop at the bazaar does booming business. Every DVD is $2, lots of them of movies that are still in the theaters (I’ve watched Black Swan and The Adjustment Bureau while I’ve been here), although many are DVDs of the movies being shown in movie theaters, so you sort of get the whole experience. Since we’re prohibited from taking them home to the U.S., some folks buy one or two or three a week and just leave them on the swap shelf, which makes for a sizable library. From what I’ve seen, I’m anticipating that The Hangover and The Losers will get picked up a lot more often than Inland Empire and Enter the Void, but you never know.

My habits are pretty much what you’d expect.

reading desk

I’ll cop to being selfish: I’m not going to leave any of my scholarly books on the swap shelf. (I am planning on leaving my Afghan books behind, though, and Chronic City is very far from the Jonathan Lethem I know and like.) There are two seasons of The Wire on those hard drives on the left, as well as about 260 GB of my music collection, mostly ripped from CDs just before I left. And while it sounds OK on the Bowers & Wilkins 600s at home, the Sony earbuds I brought with me weren’t cutting it, so I ordered the pair of Etymotics there on the keyboard. They go much deeper into your ear than other earphones, so they’re a initially little uncomfortable. We’ll see how well I get used to them tonight as I give them a test drive and take a look at Zombie Economics.

Warren Zevon, “The Hula Hula Boys”
Metric, “Satellite Mind”
Albert King & Stevie Ray Vaughan, “Match Box Blues”
Outkast, “The Way You Move”
The Clash, “Straight to Hell”
David Bowie, “Modern Love”
Morphine, “Honey White”
Dengue Fever, “Sui Bong”
Emmylou Harris, “Walls of Time”
Greg Kihn, “Breakup Song”
Joan Jett, “I Wanna Be Your Dog”
Depeche Mode, “Stripped”
Lupe Fiasco, “The Coolest”
M.I.A., “Jimmy”
Beck, “Farewell Ride”
Melvins, “At a Crawl”
My Brightest Diamond, “Feeling Good”
Rachid Taha, “Kelma”
The Grass Roots, “Midnight Confessions”
Firewater, “Borneo”
Sisters of Mercy, “This Corrosion”
Steve Earle, “Copperhead Road”
Natacha Atlas, “I Put a Spell on You”
Talking Heads, “Girlfriend Is Better”
Neko Case, “Furnace Room Lullaby”
Jurassic 5, “What’s Golden”
Led Zeppelin, “Over the Hills and Far Away”


One thought on “Downtime

  • April 7, 2011 at 10:57 am

    Quality post! ***** =) Just the right type of study break I needed, and I found it unique that your experience is right on the mark of my most recent experience over there. You are doing a fine job (I hear) on the job, but your work on this blog is exemplary! Great prose which you pair with great graphics–you’re not an expert in composition and rhetorical analysis, are you? =)

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