At the gate

Kaczmarek and I leave the USO lounge and walk to Gate E13, sit down in a couple of glossy chairs with chips off them and foam flecking out of the torn spots. Most other passengers have Blackberries or laptops or at least a USA Today, but we just sit and wait. Then this guy, fifties-ish, who’d been sitting across from us and a few seats over, comes over and sticks out his hand and starts talking. He wants to shake our hands and thank us, I realize, because we’re in Desert Battle Dress Uniforms and about to go somewhere. I’m polite, but it’s weird. I look about twelve in this haircut, it makes my ears stick out, but here I am, a man to him, whereas otherwise he’d have been following me around Dillard’s trying to catch me shoplifting. I doubt this guy’s ever been in uniform himself; something about the extra-big smile. Maybe his dad or a brother or two. He doesn’t look rich, so we’re probably not protecting his investments, maybe just his gas tank. I know the military statistics: working for not exactly noble causes, getting PTSD, being more likely to abuse women or become a drunk, etc. I’m not as clueless as the pair of hippies stealing glances at us supposes I am. I know what this is about, and I’m not especially doing it for my country, not sure why I’m doing it, actually—something new, maybe some money, get me out of here, maybe transform myself. I’ll pick a reason later, in hindsight. For now I’m sitting at the gate with another pale-faced rookie from Wyoming, ready to go. The lady at the desk gets on the intercom and starts boarding first class, and everyone gets busy with their own baggage and leaves us alone.

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