The Last Resort

Iraq is rocked, but our desert rocks

"What this war needs is a really hot weathergirl," groused Chris Gaffney on the phone to me recently as Operation Pretty Missiles rounded out its second week. Drastic times do call for drastic hemlines, and if the TV news insists on giving us the weather in Basra every half-hour, they could at least have a little hottie doing the bending and pointing as she strides over the big bas-relief map. In the interests of equality, they could also have a hot weatherguy squatting around in his skivvies, though, if you ask me, this war is already too butch.

You know how inventions made for war often wind up as practical items we use every day at home—semi-automatic weapons, for example? Maybe the new thing in home flooring will be these topographic maps of nations we've liberated, and your furniture can be in the shapes of tanks and jets that you can rearrange to suit your mood or strategic plan for the day.

Country singer Gaffney thinks we're already missing a huge opportunity to offset our battlefield expenses. "They should have sponsors, where the vehicles are covered with so many ads it looks like a NASCAR race. Everyone wants to see the Viagra tank roll into town."

Flour and water are nice, but if we really want to impress the Iraqis with the bounties of freedom, we need to do more in the free samples department. What better way to look for missing relatives in the rubble of your old neighborhood than with a raging hard-on, a Pepsi, and a headful of Prozac and Prell?

British Marines claimed an American fighter jet opened fire on them and a crowd of Iraqi civilians and children waving white flags, wounding several and killing one Marine, bringing to three the number of Brits killed by American fire in this war. Our Tomahawk missiles, lauded for the pinpoint precision with which they hit military targets, have also landed in a marketplace, a spot adjacent to a maternity hospital and three neutral countries. Al-Jazeera TV keeps coming up with footage of women and children killed or wounded by our fire, and folks who are counting claim we've so far liberated more than 1,200 civilians not just from an oppressive life, but from life entirely.

And there's a mounting number of our own troops who won't be around to hear the next Toby Keith record either. I do not like George W. Bush one bit. I think he is dragging America away from our deepest values and our best hopes for the future. Hence, I do not wish him one speck more credibility than the smidgeon he possesses now. However, I really hope he is right in asserting that Iraq harbors weapons of mass destruction, just so the loved ones of our war dead can feel those deaths served a purpose.

* * *

"Small is the number of them that see with their own eyes and feel with their own hearts. But it is their strength that will decide whether the human race must relapse into that state of stupor which a deluded multitude appears today to regard as the ideal."

That was Albert Einstein in 1934, a mere two years after the birth of Rupert Murdoch. Is anything so infuriating as watching Fox news, spouting its humans-vs.-bugs Starship Troopers-grade propaganda about the war? Edwin Starr, the singer who recorded "War" ("What is it good for? Absolutely nuttin'") died last week. And I am hitting war overload, unable to stop watching this slow-car-chase of a conflict for hour after hour.

You start to forget there's a sun and a moon after a while. Presciently, my wifely component had booked us into a weekend getaway some months in advance, in Borrego Springs, so we took a two-night war vacation.

I felt more at ease just getting out of town, motoring past that piece of terrorist candy, the San Onofre Nuclear Generating Station, past the tank exercises at Camp Pendleton, through the hamlet of Ramona and down to the desert floor.

There is a reason that seers and seekers repair to the desert for spiritual regeneration, but it's not the crab cakes. We stayed at the Palms at Indian Head, a place famous for its crab cakes, they claim. Maybe the crab cakes are famous for having legs and dancing, I dunno, because I tried eating mine, and they weren't much good for that.

The Palms is a bitchen place, though it's not without its Fawlty Towers aspects. Like you take pains in their restaurant to make sure your meal will be sans dairy because you're allergic, then the salad arrives layered with cheese, then the crab cakes—crab cakes!—come buried in cheese, and the entrée seems suspiciously lactose abundant, too.

That aside, it is a bitchen place, with an eye-filling view, a great bed, gigantic pool, fine Jacuzzi, and a fair vestige still of the 1950s resort it once was, attracting movie stars of the day such as Clark Gable, Marilyn Monroe and Raymond Burr. I think we may have gotten the Raymond Burr room. The place isn't cheap at this time of year, $169-and-up per night, but summer through winter, you can get a room for $79 or $89. And the ahi salad or angel hair pasta is the way to go in the restaurant.

There was engrossing hiking in nearby Palm Canyon, which terminates at a lush ancient palm oasis in the canyon. On the hike up, as we were rounding a corner on the trail, a woman just ahead of us let out a bloodcurdling scream, which saved me the trouble because there was a damn rattlesnake right there in the path! The woman's nine-year-old son—let's call him George—was intent on capturing the snake, whose rattles made a little sound like "saddam . . . saddam," while his mother—let's call her Reason—was trying with all her heart to convince the kid that the snake was going to bite if he went after him, while I—let's call me Goliath—was saying, "I don't know, Georgey. I don't think Jesus would pick up that snake." After a minute, it slithered into the bushes.

* * *

We did not put the TV on in our room, not once. Instead, for probably the first time in my life, I read a copy of the New Yorker from cover to cover. Granted, that was a Seymour Hersh article questioning how our president and intelligence agencies passed off blatantly forged documents as evidence that Iraq was trying to buy fissionable materials from Sudan, evidence that helped convince Congress to give Bush his war powers. Then there was Jon Lee Anderson's "Letter From Iraq," with its vignettes of tenuous everyday life in wartime Baghdad. And there was a fine profile on Noam Chomsky, with his thoughts on the war, and the Talk of the Town bits were about war, war, war.

But there also was the star-filled sky, the desert smells of day, the wildflowers and succulents, the date palms and the stark mountains, in the company of which even a mushroom cloud would have a dramatic beauty. The desert rocks!

But it is only a short drive and slice of Julian apple pie until one is home again, the TV back on, where we're now warning Syria in the tones we reserved for Iraq a few weeks ago, promising dire consequences if they continued supplying Iraq with night-vision scopes, making one wonder if we're going to war with Sharper Image next.

Meanwhile, the guy we've picked to administer postwar Iraq, retired General Jay Garner, is a vocal supporter of Israel's violent occupation and reprisals in the Palestinian territories, which should send a heartwarming message to every Arab in the region; while experts say the Bush administration's claim that Iraq's oil riches can help rebuild that country are a debt-ridden fiction; while our bombs keep pounding and there are uncounted thousands of uniformed dead who probably would have preferred to be neither uniformed nor dead; and conservatives in the Oregon legislature are trying to pass a law classifying civil disobedience protests (such as blocking a sidewalk) as a terrorist act punishable by 25 years in prison. I need a vacation.

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