Paper or plastique?
The delegation arrived at the market [in Baghdad], which is called Shorja, on Sunday with more than 100 soldiers in armored Humvees ... and attack helicopters.... Sharpshooters were posted on the roofs. The congressmen wore bulletproof vests.... At a news conference shortly after their outing, Mr. McCain ... and his three congressional colleagues described Shorja as a safe, bustling place full of hopeful and warmly welcoming Iraqis -- “like a normal outdoor market in Indiana in the summertime,” offered Mike Pence, an Indiana Republican. -- New York Times
MY WIFE came into the living room wearing a Kevlar vest, helmet and night-vision goggles.
“What are you doing?” I asked.
“Have you completely forgotten, silly head? We’re going to the market.”
I placed my hand at my head. I’d been so caught up in stitching a minor wound I’d received earlier in the day after going to an outdoor fruit stand that I had completely forgotten.
“I’m a dope, aren’t I?” I said, chuckling, slowly shaking my head back and forth. She chuckled too, also shaking her head. We both chuckled. Then I winced from where a stitch popped.
Carol helped the boys get ready, putting on their sneakers and body armor. I phoned the Indiana National Guard so that they could radio the 434th Special Air Wing at Grissom Air Force Base, which in turn scrambled two F-14 Tomcats. Then we hopped in the wagon.
Carol and I moved to Muncie from Detroit. Frankly, we were tired of the noise, the dirt and the crime. Here, you feel so safe, as long as you move very quickly through the market, keep your head down and have appropriate air cover.
Carol handed each of the boys -- 8 and 5, and a handful, let me tell you -- a juice box, a Xanax and personalized Navy SEAL-issue GPS systems.
“Dad?” said Kevin, our 8-year-old, from the back seat.
“Yes, Kev,” I said.
“Can we go to that cotton candy stand again?”
The F-14s flew by low. Each of us activated our earpieces and hand-held mini walkie-talkies, agreed on a frequency, and I slowed the car to 15 mph as Carol and the boys opened the doors and rolled out, taking cover under shrubbery near the Bibb lettuce stand (the boys love salad!).
So far, so good.
I hit the gas and spun the car and parked in a ditch that had once been a Tasty Donut before a tactical nuclear weapon had decimated it. Great parking space, though.
I saw my neighbor, Larry, under his car, from the looks of it a spanking-new Bradley fighting vehicle. “Snipers today,” Larry said with a smile.
“Nice ride, Larry,” I said as I dove under the car, a sniper’s bullet exploding inches away from my foot. “Looks solid.”
“The hull is constructed of welded aluminum and spaced laminate armor,” he said, burying his head in the dirt as another round came in. “The Israelis use them. I had an Explorer, but it was blown to bits last time I went out for garbage bags.”
“Ton of room. Carries three crew, commander, gunner and driver, plus six fully equipped infantrymen. Mileage is awful, but with all the space in the back, it’s great for the market.”
I borrowed his high-power binoculars to check on the family’s progress.
Kevin and his little brother had successfully bought lettuce, fruit and homemade jams before a particularly well-placed rocket-propelled grenade destroyed the stand (the owner managed to avoid the hit and began rebuilding immediately, as weekends are, obviously, his busiest time).
Carol, I noticed, had found cover behind the wall of a largely destroyed warehouse. A sniper had a bead on the glint from her eyeglasses, which the afternoon sunshine had caught (Indiana is known for its beautiful summers).
Larry asked me to cover him, and he rolled out from under the BFV and hopped in. I activated heavy smoke bombs, and his car tore out of the field. I made it back to my car as Larry’s choppers came in low over the market, taking heavy fire and destroying the sniper’s den (about time, thank you very much) as well as a Toys R Us that was closed for renovation.
I could see the smoke in the rear-view mirror when Carol dove onto the hood, managing to hold onto the bundles (that woman never ceases to amaze me). I hit the brakes and she got in quickly.
“You put on face paint,” I said, giving her a quick kiss.
“You wouldn’t believe how crowded it was,” she said, panting. “I saw Margie Hynes. Boy, has she put on weight.”
A CBU-52B cluster bomb exploded to our left, and I hit the gas. We could see the boys ahead, waving flares in the dense smoke. I didn’t stop the car completely. Kevin threw Chip in first, then jumped in himself.
Both immediately vomited from the smoke.
“You kids have fun?” Carol asked.
“Yeah!” said Chip.
“He was holding a loaf of bread and it got blown out of his hand!”
“It was so awesome, Mum.”
We all laughed. Really hard. That’s how shopping is in Indiana in the summer. It’s just fun. It’s fun and safe and hopeful and full of warm and welcoming Indianans and insurgents and snipers and bombs.
“Oh darn,” Carol said.
“What is it, honey?”
“We forgot milk.”