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All the Brave Dancers

These are not good times. I am still weakened by the flu, the Raiders have crept from sight like beaten dogs and . . . there was one more thing . . . oh, yes, we are at war again.

By placing it last on the list, I do not mean to minimize the anguish of battle, but to fit it in proper perspective against the greater tapestry of social conditions.

A true horror of war is that life goes on where death does not immediately prevail.

Even nonsense persists in times of crisis. While missiles fly and humans die, the California State Bar announces with solemn concern that it probably isn’t a good idea for lawyers to have sex with their clients.

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Whatever else they can manage outside the boundaries of moral constraint are fine, so long as their flies are zippered and their pants up.

Normally, one would not think twice about the idiocies of ethical controls placed upon those in constant need of reminding.

But banalities become compellingly surreal when juxtaposed against the screaming pains of battle.

I can remember a moment from the Korean War of an old woman sweeping the porch of her small home during quiet moments in the calamity of battle around her.

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When mortars and artillery shells began to fall, showering her home with debris, she took cover. But the instant they stopped, she resumed sweeping.

I asked a Korean interpreter how she could sweep so calmly when death was all around her. He replied with a shrug, “Her house gets dirty.”

Even as war began on that sunshiny day after deadline in Los Angeles, the dichotomy of brutality and delicacy were evident in my home.

I was lying on the couch, emerging slowly from a fog of influenza and its deplorable by-products, when testosterone flowed and muscles flexed in the Persian Gulf.

It was time, our leader said, to kick ass.

My friend Nicole, who is 4, was attending to my illness. She had brought me a raw hot dog to eat and was now sitting next to me watching cartoons.

The show was “Duck Tales,” which, while not among my favorites, pleased my friend. I bow to her wishes in such matters.

The telephone rang.

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“Are you watching the news?” my son said.

“No,” I said, “we’re watching ‘Ducktales.”’

“Switch to the news. We’re bombing Iraq.”

And so we were. As quickly as it took Donald Duck to quack-talk his way into another batch of trouble, the world had rolled into hell again.

I switched quickly to CNN, and there it was. Voices from the edge. Glimpses of Armageddon.

My wife, out for the day tending to business, called.

“My God,” she said, “I can’t believe it. A madman has lured a fool to disaster.”

Bored with the talk on the screen, Nicole danced in front of it, feather-light, arms outstretched, a pixie spinning before the falling bombs.

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I watched the war beyond the dance, dumbstruck by the horror, entranced by the contrast.

“The liberation of Kuwait has begun,” Marlin Fitzwater said.

Nicole stopped. “Can we watch ‘Alvin & the Chipmunks’ now?” she asked.

There was no sleep that night and there has not been much since.

But I continued the orderly routine of civilian conduct against the heat and light of cataclysmic events. Didn’t we all? Don’t we have to?

I fed the dog while bombs fell on Baghdad. I paid bills while missiles sliced into Tel Aviv.

Talk of chemical warfare did not keep me from dinner. A growing casualty list did not preclude the necessity to brush my teeth.

When I was able to go out, calamity continued against its contrarieties.

Peace marchers shouted through microphones and war-backers through bullhorns, while lines formed for “Dances With Wolves.”

Saddam praised Allah, Bush praised God and blood spilled on the desert floor.

There was also a tie-up on the Ventura, a play at the Mark Taper and a drug bust in Lennox.

“Do you know about war?” I asked Nicole.

“It’s bad,” she said. “People get killed.”

On CNN, a young Marine was saying he could hardly wait until the ground fighting began. We’d teach them a lesson they’d never forget.

In Westwood, a man representing Witches for Peace marched and shouted.

And Nicole danced a butterfly’s dance, sailing and spinning across the sun-splashed floor. . . .


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