Arizona Desert Warfare for Pussies (and Some Record Reviews)
"How ya doin', Green?" asked my cell captain, as I stood in the Arizona desert wearing a green ski mask, an army jacket, protective headgear with goggles, black ladies' stretch jeans and an old pair of sneakers now entirely covered with sharp thorns.
No one had told me that there were things called "fire ants" in these hills of sand and bush. And no one had told me that they bit. Hard.
"Well," says Red, "hang in there, and watch out for the ants. They bite."
"Thanks," I mumbled, as I brushed off the nasty little fuckers with the loaded M-16 I carried in my hands just like my guitar.
As the minutes clicked by, I became more and more cranky. Not only were the ant bites beginning to swell, the thorns were making my feet hurt and the heat and dust had triggered an asthma attack. And I didn't have my Woofer.
"How ya doin', Green?" Red asked again a few minutes later as we patrolled our assigned area of the top-secret military base.
"Bored," I told him, as I looked over the miles and miles of empty desert, wondering if there were snakes or scorpions waiting to kill me.
"Well hang in there," said my cell captain, "we should see some action soon."
"Cool," I lied.
Actually, I didn't wanna see any action. Being in a terrorist cell was bad enough. Having someone from the SWAT team actually shooting at me would suck. I'd picked the bush I was behind for a reason. I could have been a sniper on a rooftop. Or a hostage guard. Or a door patrol guy. But they were all easy targets. With the twigs and leaves sticking out of my mask's headband, I was hard to see. And liked it that way.
I just didn't like the heat. And the ants.
Suddenly, to my left, I saw something move on the desert floor. I watched the object intently to see if it would move again. I had already almost opened fire on two trash bags, an old oil can and a sock.
It did move. So with all the nerve I had in my body, I rushed toward the thing, yelling, "Die, motherfucker!" I began to fire my rifle at it. It stood up. All 6 feet, 4 inches of it. And returned fire. As I heard ammo whiz past my head, all I could think was that I had to kill him before he killed me. I ran faster and faster toward him, pulling the trigger as quickly as I could. Our Special Forces trainer, Nick, had told us in these situations it was best to keep moving and firing to stay alive.
What he didn't tell us was that it was important to wear belts. Because as I was running and gunning, my ladies' stretch jeans began to slip below my waist, exposing my underwear and those vile little bugs crawling on my legs. And all I could think was that I was gonna die like this. With my pants near my knees, thorns piercing my feet and insects approaching my balls. In the Arizona desert.
They'd have to write "Pussy" on my gravestone.
It had all started a few weeks earlier with a mysterious message on my answering machine. "Hello," said a mechanical voice, "you are needed for a top-secret mission in the Arizona desert. You will be contacted soon with information regarding travel. Keep your ears open and your mouth shut."
When I played the message for Wendy, she was as confused as I was. For about a minute. Then she told me it was probably 989 Studios calling to fly me to God-knows-where, put me up in a fancy hotel, give me lots of free food and gifts and have me do God-knows-what. The last time the PlayStation video game company had called, I ended up driving in a demolition derby. This time, who knew?
"You better not be jumping out of any planes," said Wendy, after we discussed what the "event" might be this time.
"Why not?" I whined.
"Because it's dangerous and you could be killed, and then P.J. would be an orphan. Plus, I don't know how to set the VCR," she said.
"What if we're bungee jumping?" I asked.
"Same thing," she replied.
A few days passed, and I got a call from 989 Studios, the makers of Syphon Filter, the most kick-ass spy game for the console, asking if I was coming to the desert. "What's the event?" I asked, wondering how the hell they would top the last one.
"It's top secret, George," explained Kristina, who I understand was a little bit perturbed at me for writing that her breasts were too large in my article about their last event. "We'll also show you our newest project, which is top secret as well."
My flight landed in the Cactus State with my old pal Alex from Maxim and me both zonked out on Klonopin. I had given him some of the anti-anxiety drug because he seemed, well, anxious. A few minutes after taking it, he was out like a light.
We dragged our shit through the airport and found the limo guy who was to take us to our hotel. It wasn't hard. He had our names on a sign he held up.
"You guys are here for 989," he said as he carried our bags to the car. We told him we were as he took us to the longest stretch limo I have ever seen.
"This car is for us?" I asked, in utter amazement.
"Just you two," said the driver guy as he put our bags in a trunk the size of my bathroom. The back of the limo was larger than my apartment. On the way to our hotel I opened the sky roof and rode around like one of those high school prom idiots, while Alex fucked around with the two televisions, a loud stereo system and the wet bar.
Our hotel was actually a resort with a golf course, two swimming pools and the whole nine yards. We met up for drinks with people from 989, then went to bed. We still didn't know what "the event" was to be the next day, but we did know that we were to wear the 989 army jackets that they left in our hotel rooms, as well as the Dickies steel-toed boots, left with a note reading "There are many things you must accomplish during your stay. Your mission objectives will be revealed in due time," and "Trust no one."
The next morning I tried on the boots before breakfast and decided I didn't trust anyone. The things were supposed to be a size 11 but felt like a size 13. My feet swam in them. So I wore my old Nikes.
I arrived at breakfast and met a nice guy named Ron who was dressed in full army gear. I mean the hat, the vest, the pants, the boots. He asked me how I thought he looked. "Great," I told him, and then asked him why he was so dressed up.
"I'm covering this event for the E! Entertainment Network," he told me. "The Gossip Show."
I knew I'd recognized him. He was the guy who always talked about which hot chick was fucking whom. Cool.
About an hour later, we all found ourselves in a hotel conference room, learning secret details about an upcoming game called Syphon Filter 2, which has now been released, and that looked like it totally kicked ass. Big surprise. Then we went off into the desert.
As our bus full of 989 employees and assorted journalists pulled onto the secret military base in the middle of the Arizona desert, we were asked to sign waivers that basically said that if we died, 989 wasn't responsible. This was gonna be fun. We were met by two older guys in army suits, who told us that this location was top secret and we couldn't give out the location to anyone. They also told us that the base was active, and that some "experimental aircraft" were produced here. Putting two and two together, I began to understand why folks in the Cactus State always see "funny lights" in the sky.
We were then told the reason we were there: SWAT training. The old guys explained that we were on a base where SWAT teams from around the world came to train. That more than 130 units had trained on this base. That one of our teachers was still active with Special Forces, and that what we would learn today was absolutely real.
Then they asked if any of us had ever used a paintball gun before. A few people raised their hands.
"Good," one of the old guys said. "Then you know if you get hit by these suckers, they can really hurt you."
"Great," I moaned to Alex, as we stood there in the morning desert heat.
"Uh-huh," replied Alex.
Next, the 43 or so of us there were split into two different groups. One group was a team of about 30, the other 13. I was with the lucky 13. We headed to separate training buildings. When we got to our "classroom," which was a bunker with seats, Nick, our supervisor, said, "You guys ain't gonna be SWAT. You're gonna be terrorists."
We all went into shock. "That's right," explained Nick in his camouflage army suit, "the other team is, at this moment, learning SWAT techniques. And they think you guys are learning the same. But I'm gonna teach you guys how to break down doors, take hostages and learn the truth about negotiations."
Nick told us some of his history. He's in the Special Forces. He goes down to South America as a security consultant on a regular basis to teach corporations how to protect themselves from kidnappers and other terrorists. He also explained that we had to break up into smaller "cells" so that we really didn't know what the other cells were doing if we were caught and tortured. That paintballs fly at 200 feet per second, and could make us bleed. That we were to take commands from our cell leaders. And, most of all, have fun.
Then he gave us our guns.
Most people took rifles and pistols, but I just wanted a rifle. A rapid-fire rifle. The pistols were supposed to be used for up-close fighting, which I had no intention of doing. Not at 200 feet per second, thank you very much.
After I got my rifle and loaded it with paintballs, I got a feel for the thing. It was thick, long, heavy and felt good in my hands. Better than a guitar, but not as good as my Wiener schnitzel. Then I got to practice firing it, as we were all issued ski masks, face masks with goggles, and names. I was Green. Because that was the color of my hat. The other two guys in my cell were Red and Blue. Red because the guy had red hair, and Blue because, well, I dunno. Anyway, I found myself getting pretty good with my gun. So good I walked around with a Tony Montana accent saying, "Make room for the bad guy!" a zillion times. Finally Special Forces Nick told me to "zip it."
We then were taught how to take a hostage. How to break into a room, create confusion, grab the intended victim and get out. All in under 20 seconds. The method is called "The S.A.S. Choo-Choo." As in train. We were to all bust into the other building in a line formation and grab our "hostage" (actually, a 989 employee). We were to use the back and side doors, to yell and scream a lot, to fire into the ceiling and create pandemonium. "If this was a real situation," explained Nick, "you'd shoot anybody who didn't immediately get down on the floor, or whoever looks at you. You'd cap their ass. Remember, you don't want witnesses."
Then he told us about cleanup crews, who stay outside and "clean up" anyone who saw anything. He explained to us if we were to ever be bystanders in a real situation like this that we should not "rubberneck." That we should do as the terrorist says and lie on the floor and don't look. That terrorists are usually pros, trained by ex-military guys, and they know what they're doing.
Nick then taught us that there is no money in a dead hostage, and how it takes about three guys to take care of one victim. How the hostage should be kept healthy, and if we were to cut off any body part, to mail it on ice so that the part can be reattached later. That only amateurs let their hostages die. We heard some stories about kids wandering around in South America who are missing fingers, ears and the like. Wonderful. Then we practiced.
Then we went and took our hostage.
I was the first guy through the back door?the locomotive of the Choo-Choo. As I ran into the other classroom full of 989 people and journalists I yelled, "Everyone down on the floor, everyone down!" We all began shooting at the ceiling with our ski masks on, as another cell grabbed the hostage and fled. As this was going on, I kept yelling and firing at the ceiling. While I thought I was yelling, "Everyone Down!" over and over, it turns out I was saying, "Get down, you motherfucking pussies!" (I was told this by a journalist from Good Morning America who said she'd have to bleep that out.) I was also told we pulled off our entire kidnapping in under 14 seconds.
After lunch the real fun began. We had taken our hostage, and were now to protect him from the impending SWAT raid. I asked Nick who was supposed to win, and he told me the SWAT team. It was then I felt like one of those red-shirted guys on Star Trek. Or one of those faceless guys working for Ernst Blofeld in some volcano on some island. Kirk, Spock, Bond always survive. But the bad guys? Dog meat.
And that's what I was. I was born to die. I told Nick I would do my best and die with honor. But I had other plans. And they didn't include the Grim Reaper. Or 200-feet-per-second paintballs. They involved the desert. And the bush. And me hiding in it.
So it was more than luck that my cell ended up guarding the perimeter as the hostage was held in a military base house. I volunteered us for the job. Much to my cell's dismay.
The first hour or two in the sand and heat weren't so bad. Sure, dust and sand went up my nose, and my throat was as dry as an AA member, but I was safe. I heard some shooting over by the army housing, but it wasn't anywhere near me. I was at least 100 meters out in the sand. Looking for those who would try to take us out from behind. Yeah, right. All that was behind us was sand. And more sand. And some shrubbery. And cacti. So I felt okay.
As the afternoon wore on, I watched some firefights from afar. I saw as terrorists fired at approaching SWAT team guys. I watched as SWAT team guys fired at terrorists. They were all yelling and having fun, but when one of them would get hit they'd yelp in pain. Yessiree, I liked it just fine where I was.
Until I thought I saw something move. I was crouching in some bushes, watching one of the 989 p.r. girls walk by and wondering if I could nail her in her fine ass with my rifle. As I was doing so, I saw a flicker out of my left eye. I turned my head and looked through my goggles to see a black thing move. My heart leaped into my mouth. Someone had penetrated our perimeter and was gonna take me out.
I aimed my gun at the black thing, and waited for it to move again. It did. First backwards, then forward. Then sideways. As I was about to fire, I realized it was a plastic bag. Phew. I didn't want to give my location up to those SWAT guys. Then they might actually try to shoot me.
Time marched on as my cell heard more and more firing near the military base. I think they were pissed at me for choosing the pussy way out, because the first time Red asked how I was doing, I heard a bit of anger in his voice.
The second time he asked is when he told me about the ants. But it was already too late. Those little red fuckers were crawling all over my legs, biting the shit out of me. I shoulda known that stepping on little piles of sand with holes on top could have some serious consequences. But I was so busy sneaking around, trying not to be seen by paintballs, that I wasn't thinking straight. That nature sure is evil.
So there I was, in the middle of the Arizona desert, on a top-secret military base, with a gun in my hand and stretch jeans on my legs, fire ants biting me, having an asthma attack, when I saw another figure move that wasn't a bag, rock or sock. Or cellmate. It was a person. A SWAT person. With a 200-feet-per-second paintball gun clutched tightly in his hands.
I rushed toward the 6-foot-4 guy screaming as loud as I could. "Motherfucker, make room for the bad guy!" I yelled as I pulled the trigger on my rifle as fast as I could. My heart was beating at one million beats per second, and as his return fire whizzed past my head I cursed even louder. "You fucking pussy, I'm gonna waste your pansy-ass you motherfucking fuck!" I yelled.
As I was doing this, I somehow managed to step out of my body and watch the whole thing. There I was, a normally peaceful sort of guy, yelling and screaming and shooting at someone. If only those draft guys who yelled at me for writing "conscientious objector" on my draft registration card could see me now.
I kept firing and yelling, and eventually hit my target. Then I hit him again, again, again, again and again.
"Enough," yelled the guy who I think works for CBS News Path, "you shot me enough."
"Are you fucking dead?" I yelled. I kept my gun trained on his head with one hand, and used the other to pull up my pants.
"You got me," he said, depressed. "Those damn things hurt."
After our second food and drink break, I returned to the desert with Alex as a new member of my cell. I told him that it was real fun running around in the desert. He told me he had been on the roof earlier and sniped quite a few people. He was afraid of getting hit by a paintball, because he heard they really hurt. I told him the desert was the perfect place for him. I didn't tell him about the ants. Or plants.
Time ticked by as Alex and I and some chick hid in the bushes waiting for what was supposed to be the final attack. The big one. The battle to end all battles. The one where the SWAT guys break into the guarded house, shoot the terrorists and save the hostage. The way I figured it, when they rushed the house I'd pick them off like ducks.
And it almost worked. The SWAT team ran up to the house and prepared to enter with the "S.A.S. Choo-Choo." As they did so, I started to pick them off, one by one. So did Alex and the chick. Eventually, they saw us and started shooting at us, but not before we hit every one of them. I swear.
But that didn't stop them from shooting at us all the more. I kept yelling that they were supposed to be dead, but they just laughed. Cheaters.
Moments later, I complained to Nick, our Special Forces Commander, that I killed all of those motherfuckers, and they were still gonna enter the house.
"Well, go in and defend your unit," he yelled at me. "Get in there and waste the guys coming in the front door."
"Me alone?" I asked.
"You seem to be the only guy left with ammo. Get in there," he screamed.
So I did. I ran into the house with my mask, hat, ladies' stretch jeans, thorny sneakers and socks, and searched for the kitchen. When I found it, I also found the SWAT team kicking down the front door as glass began to shatter from paintballs going through windows at 200 feet per second.
"Holy fuck," I yelled.
"Freeze," yelled the captain of the SWAT team, who, as it turns out, was Ron from The Gossip Show. I could tell it was him behind those goggles because of the green hat, green vest and green pants he told me he purchased for two bucks in Compton. Behind him was his whole posse. There were at least five guys. With five guns. With paintballs that traveled at 200 feet per second. And I was only about three feet away. So I knew what I had to do.
And I did it.
"Fuck you motherfuckers," I yelled and started firing at their faces.
Out of San Francisco comes Enemy You and their new CD Where No One Knows My Name on Panic Button/Lookout! Records. What I find amazing is how many bands can sound just like Bad Religion and Green Day. It's incredible. Not just the vocals, but the guitars, backing vocals, even the drums. I like this album. But then again, I like Bad Religion and Green Day. I suppose if I didn't like those bands, I'd hate this. It's a nice solid record. Hardly original, but then again, what is these days?
Speaking of not sounding original, out of Old Bridge, NJ, comes Sedated, possibly the world's first Ramones "tribute" band. Not only does the guitarist have the perfect Johnny Ramone haircut and Mosrite guitars, the singer, Franky Sedated, has a dead ringer of a voice for Joey. I really can't tell the difference between the two on record. Anyway, the Sedated CD is self-titled and released on Commodity Oddity Entertainment, and contains covers of "Teenage Lobotomy," "Judy Is a Punk" and, of course, "I Wanna Be Sedated." Oh, and live, these guys will SCARE you. I wonder if Da Brudders cloned themselves.
Also down with the punk rock comes the new CD called Why Don't You Fucking Die? by Rocket Romano, self-released. These Plainview lads tear into some of the most violent and frenzied and funny hardcore I've heard in quite some time. Sounding like a cross between S.O.D., Slayer and Motörhead, these guys even have enough balls to sing some Styx! Songs like "Shoot the Principal," "Romanian Handjob," "Munster Not Manson" and "Shit, Shower & Shave"?you know where these juvenile delinquents are coming from. And that place is cool.
The Bouncing Souls' Hopeless Romantic on Epitaph has more pop-punk on it than you can shake a skateboard at. Solid stuff from this long-time NJ/NY band. I used to love these kids when they did Metallica and Dead Kennedys covers. I guess I still love them. But dudes, play the hits!
This Six Song E.P. is the title of the new EP from Hidden Agenda. And of course it's self-released. Musical mayhem from Massapequa is what this is all about. Loud, fast rules. Very, very hardcore, even though the band thanks Peavey on their liner notes. Hey wait, I got a Peavey. Doh.
The Floodplain Gang is a weird name for a band. Blind Ride is a sort of strange title for their CD. Plug Records, their label, sounds okay, but this CD sounds absolutely, well, fuck, like something Wendy would steal from me, which she did. Folky, hippie-dippie music with some down-home fiddle playin'! I dig this disc. Good melodies and it's warm and fuzzy. Plus it makes Wendy feel happy?lets me go in the other room and kick some more ass at Donkey Kong 64.
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