Killer Fish

You and I will spend the summer fishing—if we fished, and we don't; we can't stand the stench, the scales and the senseless suffering—out of Davey's Locker or Newport Landing alongside 60 or 70 beer-bellied, sunburned guys from the Inland Empire on a sportsfishing boat that is positively pincushioned with poles and floating at anchor just off the poop plume at the mouth of the mighty Santa Ana River in Huntington Beach.

Eileen Padberg? The 60-year-old Republican political consultant closed her Corona del Mar home a year ago and moved to Baghdad, part of an American team helping to steer postwar reconstruction projects to Iraqi women. Between business seminars that wouldn't seem extraordinary in your local Holiday Inn, the mortar attacks and the grim advent of summer heat that makes ours look positively autumnal, Padberg fishes the Tigris River—every Friday if she can—with two friends from the Army Corps of Engineers. Is it safe to fish in the middle of a war? Does she bring a security detail? “It's like fishing at home,” she says, except her friends “carry their guns. But I wouldn't call them security.”

No, and I did get into a little trouble for not wearing my vest and helmet, but I felt adventurous that day.

The water is very polluted, but the Iraqis eat the fish from the river all the time. The Iraqi women who work here want me to keep the fish for them—and they'll cook it.

I do. It's actually a beautiful spot. Right across the river you can see the Babylon Hotel and downtown Baghdad. Lots of Americans used to stay there, but it got bombed so much I think they're all gone. The Iraqis tell me it is known as the “honeymoon” hotel because when the young Iraqis get married, that's where they would go to spend the night. It was—and probably still is—one of the best hotels in Baghdad. Believe me, it is all relative.

It seems that the violence has escalated outside. Although we are sort of protected from it, we can definitely hear the car bombs, mortars and gunfights. It's sad. There are days I would like to go out there and kick the shit out of them myself.

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