Iraqi Tea Bags

The Bush administration was making a lot of noise about attacking Iraq.

Late March 2002

Well, I had quite a weekend. My wife went off to a two day conference, and my daughter was out of town on a school trip. Saturday morning I saw my wife off, and waited a bit to make sure she was far enough down the road not to come back even if she had forgotten something. Then I headed down to Mr. Manoor's grocery.

After a quick run through the aisles, I headed for the checkout. Mr. Manoor eyed my selections: half a dozen eggs, a pound of Jimmy Dean sausage, three frozen burritos, a can of Castleberry Chili with Beans, and a jar of Cheez Whiz. As he rang 'em up, he said "Your wife.... I hope she has a very nice trip....."

Then I headed down to the Red Dot and bought a case of Budweiser and a fifth of Black Jack. As he finished up the usual multi-bag disguise job on the liquor, Craig said, "Say hello to your wife for me when she gets back!"

Back at the house, I fried up the sausage and the eggs and chowed down. I left the plate and the silverware on the table, but I did put the frying pan in the sink. I didn't rinse it, though.

By this time it was eleven. "Well", I thought, "It's almost time to switch to Daylight Savings Time, and if it were time, it would be noon by now, so I guess I can have a beer."

Actually I had several, sitting out in the back yard. Then I got up and peed on the big oak tree out behind the shed. My agenda was almost complete. All that was left was to lie on the sofa in my skivvies and watch old John Wayne war movies. And belch a lot.

But all that could wait. The quiet in the house was gettin' to be a bit oppressive, and I needed a little conversation. I didn't feel quite up to drivin' the truck, so I hooked up the little trailer to the garden tractor, loaded it up, and headed to the dump.

I paused long enough at the dump itself to dispose of the day's collection of incriminating food packaging, then chugged down the path to Mr. Henry's special place.

He heard me comin' of course, and met me at the edge of the clearing. First he looked at me. I had changed into my favorite old jeans, the Hawaiian shirt my son had given me ten years ago, and the floppy blue Navy hat I got at a surplus store. Then he looked at the trailer. Then he said, "So when.........?".

"She's coming back tomorrow night." I said, and pointed to the trailer. "Help yourself."

He picked up one of the jugs of tea I'd brought, and said, "I'll stick with this. We need somebody around here with good sense."

About this time I decided to make a stylish dismount from the tractor. It would have been a lot more graceful if my left pants leg hadn't caught on the mower height lever. As it was, I wound up stretched out flat on my face at Mr. Henry's feet.

"If I'd knowed you was in such a hurry for another beer, I'd a got you one myself", he said. And he did bring me one as I pulled myself up and leaned back on the left rear wheel.

I opened it up, and five seconds later we heard a familiar voice. "Hey, y'all, anybody home?" I swear, I think Leroy can detect a popped top from five hundred yards.

I waved at the trailer, and he picked up a beer and made himself at home in the green chair, since Mr. Henry was over puttering around his garden. When plants get too raggedy to sell over at the Wal-Mart, Miss Maybelle brings 'em over to Mr. Henry rather than throw 'em out. It's amazing how much better some things do when they suddenly get a whole lot of attention.

After a while, Leroy piped up, "I gave Mr. Trout a couple of payments, so I'm only 90 days past due now, and he let me have the TV back, at least for a while."

"That's nice." I said, trying not to sound too interested.

"Yeah, I been watchin' the news. Looks like we's gonna whup up on them Eye-Rackies. Serves 'em right, after what they did in New York!"

Mr. Henry called out, "That's right, Operation Desert Encore, here we come! Them Bushies been tryin' for ten years to find an excuse to go back and finish the job."

"Actually, Leroy", I said, "Those terrorists were from Saudi Arabia."

"What?!", said Leroy. "So when we gonna attack them Saudi A-Rabs?"

"When Hell freezes over due to lack of heating oil.", said Mr. Henry, who had come on over toward us.

"Saudi Arabia is one of our allies." I said, "And they produce a lot of oil for us."

"Well, that's a funny peculiar way for a friendly country to act!", said Leroy. "I hope our President at least said some pretty strong things to their President about it!"

Mr. Henry coughed just a bit. I didn't like the way things were going.

"Well, Leroy," I said, "They don't have a President, they have a King."

"A King? I thought they was only in the movies! Is he a real King, or just one like them British royals that work for the supermarket newspapers?"

"No, their King runs the country", I said, "But a lot of the Princes help, of course. And there's a lot of Princes available, since the King gets a lot of wives."

"Yeah, I know some guys like that", said Leroy. "But I guess a King can afford a lot of child support. So do them Eye-Rackies have a King?"

"No, they claim to have an elected government. But we call them a dictatorship, since we consider their elections rigged and phony."

"So", said Mr. Henry, "If that Saddam guy ever retires, he can get work as an election official in Florida or Chicago!"

I glared at Mr. Henry. He wasn't helping me explain our foreign policy, he was making it sound silly and inconsistent. He went back to his flowers.

"So why are we so mad at them Eye-Rackies, if they didn't do that terrorist stuff?", asked Leroy.

"Well, the government thinks they did have something to do with the attacks, and they're going to spend as much time and money as it takes to find the link."

"That sounds a bit familiar", sang out Mr. Henry, "They gonna hire Ken Starr?"

I decided to just ignore Mr. Henry, if he weren't going to be helpful.

"Besides", I told Leroy, "the Iraqis are trying to develop nuclear weapons. That's evil, and we can't allow it."

"How about Pakistan and India?", said Mr. Henry, who had snuck back into the conversation.

"That's different!", I said. "It's OK for Pakistan to have nukes because they are an important partner in the global war on terrorism! And it's OK for India to have nukes because they are, uh, next to Pakistan. It's not the same as Iraq. And besides, the Iraqis have attacked and oppressed their own people."

"Oh", said Leroy, "I remember something like that from last year. Those guys in that country named after the Vice President, the Cheneyans, was blowin' up their own people and we was right hostile about it."

"Leroy", I said, "You're mixed up as usual. First of all, that was Chechnya, not Cheneya. And second, it turns out they aren't oppressing their own people, they're simply responding in a reasonable manner to Islamist terrorist extremists. And remember, Iraq also invaded Kuwait back in 1990."

"Well, now," said Leroy, "I have to admit, goin' around invadin' other countries is pretty much rude and unacceptable. Why'd they do such a thing, anyway?"

Mr. Henry answered, "Maybe Just Cause they had an Urgent Fury?"

Well, that was the last straw. I realized I couldn't explain things to Leroy while Mr. Henry was around making everything sound silly. I tried to close it all out. "Leroy, you just have to realize, it doesn't matter if we understand all this stuff. The important thing is that the folks in Washington have it all figured out. You know, they're a lot smarter than we are."

Well, this set Mr. Henry into a serious coughing fit. Or maybe he was just laughing, it's hard to tell the difference sometimes. Anyway, it pretty much put an end to the discussion.

After a while, Leroy made his good-byes and left. Mr. Henry brought me a coffee can full of daffodils and said, "Take these home, you'll need 'em tomorrow. From the looks of you, you prob'ly could really use some roses, but they ain't bloomed yet. Do the best you can."

I got back up on the little tractor, but before I could crank it up Mr. Henry stopped me.

"You know," he said, "I know what it's like to want something, really want it, without thinking it all through. You may not remember, but there was a year or so when I left here. I thought the big city was what I wanted. That was durin' my drinkin' days, and I wound up livin' in a shelter. Every day the band from one of the local church groups would come by and play and preach for us. I didn't pay much attention to the preachin', but I really concentrated on the tambourine player. Her name was Katie, and she looked like an angel to me. I wanted to get next to her, I mean I really wanted to get next to her. I followed that band all over town, and I pretended to read the tracts, and I tried to look real attentive to the message.

Finally, one night, she invited to her apartment for dinner and bible study, and one thing led to another, and then to several other things, and I woke up next to her in the mornin'.

But it was more an end than a beginnin'. She told me she really liked me, but that the Lord did not want her to behave like we done, and that she regretted having given in to temptation. She said she needed to get on with the Lord's work and live a better life. Then she kissed me on the forehead, and left on her musical rounds. I knew she didn't want me there when she came back.

A stronger man might have stayed and tried to change her mind, but I took her at her word. I came back here the next day, and I never saw her again."

"Mr. Henry", I said, "That's a sad but beautiful story. I'm sorry it didn't work out, but at least you got some wonderful memories."

"I got more than that," replied Mr. Henry, "I got the biggest dose of clap you ever seen!"