Coldness Comes

It’s beginning to get cold. The leaves aren’t dying yet but the chill is in the air. The sun goes away sooner and twilight and darkness arrive sooner. Something about me enjoys the early evening sometimes, when you feel the briskness against your skin and you hurry a little faster and noises of bustle become quiet more quickly. Soon the freeway to Nashville will begin to turn yellow and brown and you’ll be able to see through the skeleton bones of tree branches to the other side of Interstate 24. Soon we’ll switch to wearing our highspeeds in the morning, our warmup outfits that we wear in the wintry months. It should be my last winter in the Army.

The commissary and everything else are now packed with returning 101st soldiers and their new families. I see a lot of scrawny boy-fathers shopping with their plump wives and newborn children in strollers. They’re all so young! Typically the older senior soldiers do not age very well and look well past their years.

I’ve begun the process of separating from the Army. What’s amusing is that everyone in my shop is leaving the Army too. So we all just converse about what steps we need to take before we out-process, and where we’ll all get work. Available jobs with high-paying salaries are easy to find — everyone is optimistic about that, thanks to the perpetual war on terror. I seem to be the only one going to grad school.

This weekend the universities updated their web sites to add applications for the 2007-2008 year, since new students just began the fall semester last month. So I’ve begun filliing out the online applications. There weren’t online forms for schools when I was applying to undergraduate school back in 1996. Now it’s pretty sophisticated although still not as good as the wired online crowd could produce.

I’ve committed to grad school now, but if I make it into all the schools I want (Georgetown SFS, Johns Hopkins SAIS, Columbia SIPA, McGill Poly Sci, UT Austin, Fletcher School), it will come down to free tuition vs. immediate new family vs. lots of debt but top-notch school. It will be a difficult decision to have to make.

On Saturday I went to my friend’s wife’s painting display at a street festival in downtown Clarksville. Clarksville is a shitty Army town but the downtown area is beautiful. A street was closed off so people could sell their art. The street hosts the Black Horse Pub, a neat place to go for bar food and beer on tap. The famous Roxy movie theater is down the street.

My friend’s wife paints in the Chinese style, so she had koi, bunnies (they own a bunny named Rembrandt), even a bald eagle to appeal to the Screaming Eagle 101st crowd. I took photos and put them on Flickr.

The downtown area has Austin Peay State University and an old-fashioned, grand architectural style. The buildings look majestic, given the town’s size. The nearby houses look like the professors’ homes that you see near a university.

Downtown almost makes up for the seedy, trashy strip outside Ft. Campbell. It almost makes up for the billboards nearby that read things like “Stay Married to Protect America”.

Later that day I went to my favorite local fast food restaurant, Backyard Burger. Brendan showed me where it was a while ago. They have fresh burgers with fresh buns and little grease. With seasoned fries. And one of their fountain drinks is this awesome diet Sobe cranberry grapefruit drink. It’s like ambrosia. I don’t know why I love it so much, but I will drive the half hour it takes to get there in order to have that sweet taste with the sour grapefruit kick.

I’m trying to enjoy the smaller, simpler things.

One of my soldiers is in the last week, jump week, of airborne school. He should do fine. The other is already a pro at his job and we try to exercise every morning together while other people try to grab some extra hours of sleep. In a few months these guys will be in Iraq so I hope I have helped them get up to speed before they go.

I remember reading an article by Colby Buzzell in which he talked about his last day in the service. He got a fresh recruit for a roommate, and the new guy was all pumped about getting to Iraq and killing people. But Mr. Buzzell told the kid something to the effect of, “Don’t let the Army grab you. It’ll chew up your life and spit you out, and then you’ll just be replaced by someone else and that’s that.”

That’s how it goes. I’m on the way out, new soldiers are on the way in. Everyone is replaceable. It is endless attrition and endless recruitment.