On Board

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I should be man enough to admit it. Iíve had a change of heart. After the events of last week, I realize I was all wrong, all along. About everything. I understand it all now.

Watching that amazing scene of the Saddam statue being toppled, I understood finally not only what this was all about, but who I was and what my part had been. And I wasnít ashamed the way one is of a crime, but ashamed the way one is of having made some ridiculous and embarrassing mistake of inexperience, like showing up for your first day of college thinking you look suave in clothes that people stopped wearing three years ago. We just didnít get it.

With all this hand-wringing about the war, we were acting like the shrieking chick in every horror movie ever made, freaking out and always running stupidly upstairs away from the vampire, straight to the room from which there is no escape. We canít even run in a straight line without knocking over furniture and tripping and falling and giving the slow-moving monster time to gain; meanwhile, heís moving effortlessly. He floats up the stairs, arms folded calmly in front of him, while we fall down five times on the way up. We lock ourselves in a room, turn around, blink, and heís there in an instantóhe has some other way of moving, one not known to us. And we want to scream, but nothing comes out as he leans over and depresses his hot fangs into our neck, never guessing thatÖ

It feels good. Yes, thatís what I thought as I watched the statue scene unfold. I could almost feel the blood mixing in my neck, and it was a warm obliterating rush like straight dope. Iím an American. America rules the world. It feels good. No more need to be ashamed now; it was useless to resist. More to the point, thereís no more need to deny it: I want in. I want to be part of this awesome, destructive revolutionary power.

Sign me up. Tehran. Pyongyang. Moscow. We Americans must get used to all kinds of climates. Iím white and I went to collegeóthat ought to give me some kind of status. A member of the torturing class. Good enough at the very least for administrative duty, somewhere at the far edges of the empire.

Morning on a beautiful spring day on the shores of the Black Sea. I am deputy mayor of a little town near what used to be Yalta. Perfect for meómountains, beaches, Slavic with an Asian minority and plenty of disposable people. I am walking through town en route to the outdoor cafe where I always have my breakfast. Iím dressed in my civilian uniformócrisp khaki all over with glowing green alligator cowboy boots and a kind of wide-brimmed outback hat bedecked with gold cord and four-foot ostrich feathers. Afraid of what it might mean, no one on the street makes eye contact with me. Across the street, an old babushka carries an armful of bread loaves, her eyes fixed on the ground.

"Hey," I shout, in English. "You. How much for a loaf of bread?"

She stops, then struggles to get out the words. "MmmÖ" she says. "Meester mayor. Tventy cents for breat!"

I strike her hard across the face with the back of my hand and she goes flying. "Bitch!" I scream. "Not for me it isnít! For me itís free!"

I bend down to snatch a loaf off the ground and quickly lift up my head to look around. Just as I expected: Everybody pretends not to watch. I walk on, spurs jingling.

Ah, this is the good life. I have everything I want here. Days of leisure, and nightsÖ Yes, how to describe the nights? This used to be a resort town, and I entertain a lot of visitors. I often get journalists on vacation here from tours at the front. They wear uniforms too, now, sharp suits emblazoned with skulls. The other night, Aaron Brown and his crew were here, and we stayed up all night at the Turtle Club, snorting coke with strippers and drinking fine cognac and laughing about what a whiny little pussy Russ Smith is. I had Aaron all wrong; heís a great guy with a great sense of humor. And heís a professional. At the end of the night I offered to take him out of town to the country, where we could get ourselves a couple of farmer children, but he said no, he couldnít, he had to get back to his suite and file.

My house is a palace. Gravel driveway with two Lincolns in it; full-size basketball court with plexiglas backboards in back; pillars and servantsí entrances. I eat sitting in a high-backed, jade-encrusted chair at the head of a long table 50 feet away from my wife at the other end. We havenít spoken in nine months. Itís ecstasy. I spend most of my time in my quarters, either writing letters in the computer room (I have a personal correspondence with star NFL safety Brian Dawkins) or lounging on the plush leather furniture of my basement den, eating peanut butter and honey sandwiches and jerking off to old videos of Gidget that I watch on the giant, high-resolution digital television that stretches across a whole wall like a huge bay-window.

Sometimes I carry a sword and go walking through the villages. There is a girl in Podelkino who is genuinely in love with me; she dreams that I will give her an American child. Perhaps I will. Iíll make this my own personal Little Rock, a faraway princedom full of children bearing the leaderís face. But I can always have favorites, my Podelkino girl.

There are problems, of course. The mountains are full of rebels and I am, naturally, their prize target. Itís kind of a game I play with them. When I first got here, I was afraid. Now I know they wouldnít dare. Sometimes I go riding on a horse, alone, right through their territory as F-16s break overheadÖ Just trot right into a hovel, pull out a young girl, slice her up like a lobster. And stand there. I dare you, you fuckers. I fucking dare you.

Back at the cafe. Rolls, coffee, a fruit plate. A boy has brought me my mail. There is a package. I open it. Finally: my Kontainment Kubby SP-90 Deluxe Livestock Sorting Stick, special delivery from Grand Rapids, MI. The top-of-the-line cattle prod. Three long feet of pure juice. Cost me $99.95 of my own money. I wonder if it works.

"Waiter!" I shout. "Waiter!"

The polite young man with the parted hair whishes forward, carrying a tray of water glasses. "Da, Meester Mayor?"

I zap him. He shrieks and tosses the tray straight up in the air, water and glasses flying behind him like shrapnel. Screams in the restaurant, panic, then sudden quiet. Like a beach at night after the tide. He picks himself up off the floor, wipes his trembling hands on his apron, then smiles, relieved he didnít spill anything on me.

"Very good, sir," he says, nodding. "Ha, ha, very good!"

Applause and breakfast. When Iím done, I lean back in my chair with a glass of prune juice, throw on the Discman headphones. My favorite album, then and now: Doggystyle. Perfect for the moment. E Pluribus Unum, baby. Send me anywhere you want.

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