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Asbury
Mar 23, 2007
Probation
Can't post for 4130 days!


Hair Elf

Edit: I somehow ended up deleting my comments after I cut and pasted the story, so here they are again: for this submission, I'm not looking for line edits so much as I am looking for a holistic view of the story. Does it work as a slice of insight into the people that enlist?

-----
loving Isaac.

Most of the time he was retarded. Total Jerry’s Kid. I’d be lying in my rack, trying to read or sleep or write letters home, and I’d look up and see him walking around naked and twirling his cock like a propeller while he made airplane noises with his lips. On libo once, at some bar in Jacksonville, he invited me and Aiden out to watch while he dry-humped some troll of woman in the parking lot. Probably weighed twice what he did. She chain-smoked Marlboro Reds and left body glitter behind where she was sitting at the bar and had a cesarean scar like a big brown grin. When she got on top of Isaac in the bed of her truck he was like the witch under the house in the Wizard of Oz. Couldn’t see anything except his feet and those stupid argyle socks. Aiden and me laughed so hard we threw up. I think Hewitt was there that night, but I don’t know. He might’ve drawn duty that weekend. Can’t remember.

He did a lot of crazy poo poo, too. Isaac, I mean. He’d put in a horseshoe of dip, get almost two whole cans in his mouth, and hit the timer on his watch. Wanted to see how long he’d last before he puked. Never made it past five minutes. He had a run of scars on his left arm, puckered little circles, where he put out his cigarettes. That was his way of punishing himself when he wasn’t good enough. Like, his first time on the 240 range, he kept missing his targets, couldn’t get the traverse or the elevation right, something, but anyway when he was finished he reached out and grabbed the barrel of the weapon in both hands and held it for five or ten seconds. Burned the poo poo out of his palms and the insides of his fingers. Spent the next few days popping blisters with his bayonet and making jokes about using the pus as lube for jerking off. He liked hurting himself. Took pride in it. Said it made him better.

So Isaac was stupid and he was a little hosed up in the head. But he was also poo poo-hot, in his own way. Got perfect scores on his fitness tests and never shot less than expert on the rifle range. During downtime he’d study old common skills handbooks he’d borrowed from Sergeant Galen. And he always had starched cammies and spit-shined boots. Put at least an hour into them each night. When we got the new uniforms—the digital-patterned cammies we weren’t supposed to iron and the suede jungles we couldn’t polish—Isaac bitched about them for months, saying the Marine Corps was turning into a bunch of worthless turds. Can’t put effort into the uniform anymore, he said. Can’t stand out, he said. We’re a bunch of fuckin nasties. Mightas well be the fuckin army.

Lot of guys, they stopped caring. Turned into shitbirds in SOI and stayed that way when they hit the fleet and counted down the days until they hit their end of active service. But not Isaac. He wanted to make the Corps his life. Aiden and me, we’d be out after our six, and Hewitt, he was smart enough to do a four-year contract, but Isaac meant to stay in forever. Said he was gonna retire out this motherfucker. Be the new Grand Old Man of the Marine Corps. Archibald Henderson wouldn’t have poo poo on him.

We were walking back from evening chow when he told me all that. It was the middle of June, I guess, maybe almost July, and we’d been back in Kuwait for almost a month, doing nothing but standing post in the camp during the day and playing Halo and watching movies at night. We had electricity. A PX where we bought our Xboxes and our Playstations and our televisions. An internet café. They’d even moved in a Burger King that sold Whoppers and large fries out of a trailer. The invasion was over and we were just burning time until we got orders to go home.

Isaac looked at me. Said, Tell ya somethin. Don’t tell nobody?

Sure, I said.

He scratched his head through his cover. I feel kinda lovely about this, he told me. Like, this war’s total bullshit. Ain’t no way we was ever gonna lose.

Yeah, I said. So?

So, like, it ain’t a fuckin fight, Isaac said. Like, okay, World War Two, that was a fight. That poo poo was serious. Iraq’s a fuckin joke. Feels like we didn’t even do nothin. You know?

I didn’t. Not then. I felt like I’d done my part. Wasn’t much, but I was content with it. I’d seen Iraq. Did my job. That was enough for me. So I shrugged and told him, Sure, I guess.

Isaac slid a thumb under the sling for his 249 and pushed it farther up on his shoulder. Folded his hands on the weapon while he walked. I’m just sayin, he said.

I guess, I said.

He was quiet for a minute. Then he asked, You still thinkin about college, Corporal?

I was, but I didn’t want to talk about it, not with Isaac. It was personal. Like admitting I listened to Enya, or something. I don’t know, I said. Maybe.

You totally should, he said. Hate to fuckin say so, but Hewitt’s right. It’s worth it.

So why the gently caress don’t you go, I asked.

We were at the hooch. Isaac stopped walking and put a hand on one of the guy ropes that ran down from the roof. It was taut enough for him to lean on it. Cause I don’t want to, he said. Ain’t my thing.

And this is, I said.

Isaac nodded. Yeah, actually. This poo poo’s great. I mean, this war’s gay as gently caress, but the life’s good, you know? Lot better’n bein back home. Only thing I miss is the bitches.

The way he said that, I couldn’t help laughing. But Isaac didn’t even smile. He said, I mean, look. You get out, you’ll get your school done, you know, get a good fuckin job and buy a house and all that poo poo. I don’t wanna go to college, so like, if I get out? I’ll be flippin burgers back at fuckin McDonalds. I used to work there, I ever tell you that? Did it for a year after high school. Fuckin never again, dog. No way.

It wasn’t hard to picture. lovely but true. I could see the visor and the red collared shirt and even the little badge with his name under the golden arches. Hear him asking customers if they wanted to supersize their combos. He’d spend his day slapping together quarter pounders and chicken sandwiches and he’d go home to whatever home he had smelling like grease from the freedom fries and sauce from the Big Macs, giving most of his paycheck to bills and the rest of it to child support. Spend his nights drinking Nattie Light or Coors and wondering what the gently caress he was doing with his life. He’d see himself in ten years, twenty, maybe living in a trailer or a lovely first-floor apartment, a gut from too much beer and tits from too little exercise, most of his check going to child support, seeing his kids maybe once a month. If his exes let him see them at all. Yeah. So I could see why he enlisted. He didn’t have anything else. It was why he cared so much about getting things right and why he hurt himself when he got things wrong. This was all he had.

I didn’t say anything. Couldn’t think of anything to say, really. Then the flap on the front of the hooch opened and Hewitt ducked out. Aiden was behind him. They were wearing their boots and their trousers and their green skivvy shirts. Had their rifles slung across their backs. Aiden was rolling a hacky sack between his palms.

Well, poo poo, he said. Me and Hewitt was gonna kick it. You guys want in?

gently caress yeah, Isaac said.

Sure, I said.

There was an open area not far from the hooch. Out by the wire. We walked over there and stacked our weapons and played until it got too dark to see.

Asbury fucked around with this message at Aug 8, 2015 around 21:46

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Eau de MacGowan
May 12, 2009

Just a poor man's Park Ji Sung

Leapord


Is it an opening chapter or an entire piece?

Asbury
Mar 23, 2007
Probation
Can't post for 4130 days!


Hair Elf

It's an entire piece. Kind of.

It was originally a part of a novel I wrote a couple years ago. I'm starting the third draft now, and that means cutting the things that don't work. This was one of those things. I liked what's here but there's too much reflection and not enough forward momentum to justify putting it in a novel (the only real action that happens is a short dialogue and an after-chow walk). So I took what I had and tried to rewrite it as one of those insight-through-slice-of-life short stories that Raymond Carver was so frustratingly good at. I'm not sure if I was successful.

Edit for some more background - I was in the Marines from 01-07 and I went to Iraq for the invasion, so this story probably reads a lot like the HBO version of Generation Kill: there's a lot of verisimilitude but not a whole lot of context. That was intentional for (what I think is) the same reason Simon did it with GK: context, in this case, is irrelevant. It adds to the background but it isn't the story. The story is about a guy coming to understand something about one of the guys he works with. The minor details--like "libo" or "SOI"--are, by necessity, implicative. I think that's the heart of good writing. It's a game of implication. There should be enough context to imply what those things are, but there's no reason to explain them. My biggest concern is that there's a lot here to swallow for an audience member who wasn't in the military.

As for the style, what's here is an attempted stew of Carver (not-quite-obvious insight), Cormac McCarthy (line-level minimalism) and Elmore Leonard (simple structure housing dynamic dialogue). I think it works with the subject matter but of course there's a huge difference between how the writer reads their work and how the reader reads it. This section, like the novel, was surprisingly hard to write.

Asbury fucked around with this message at Aug 9, 2015 around 17:03

Eau de MacGowan
May 12, 2009

Just a poor man's Park Ji Sung

Leapord


It reads well, your prose is good and tight, the dialogue sounds real. The problem is I wanted to read on. The revelation 'poor people often have no choice but to join the military' is not really profound enough on its own to carry a whole piece. As an observation it works as a deepening of the relationship between the two characters, very well I might add, but considering it on its own there's something lacking. Learning it has been excised from a novel explains a lot.

On the other hand, people wanting to read on is a loving good problem to have.

Asbury
Mar 23, 2007
Probation
Can't post for 4130 days!


Hair Elf

Eau de MacGowan posted:

The revelation 'poor people often have no choice but to join the military' is not really profound enough on its own to carry a whole piece. As an observation it works as a deepening of the relationship between the two characters, very well I might add, but considering it on its own there's something lacking.

Thank you, this is exactly the kind of feedback I was looking for.

The "poor people join the military" revelation wasn't meant to be the heart of the piece; I meant to use that as a springboard into a somewhat more nuanced point - that the poo poo-hot guys in the Marines, the ones that care about being perfect in every regard and come off as exceptional, they aren't always that way for the right reasons. It's often their insecurities that drive them to excel. For Isaac, he wants to be good because there's nothing for him outside of the military. He's afraid of what he enlisted to get away from, and that fear is what pushes him to punish himself when he fails to live up to impossible standards.

If that didn't come through then I need to add a little to be more explicit, which is exactly what I was looking to know. Thanks for the review!

Asbury fucked around with this message at Aug 9, 2015 around 17:28

AStrangeDuelist
Nov 27, 2013


Good work, no glaring errors I can see. One thing I would say is that the piece doesn't feel complete enough. It feels less like one whole story and more like the beginning to a larger one.

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sebmojo
Oct 23, 2010


Legit Cyberpunk


It's a very nice and tightly written character sketch, but it's not a story.

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