UNITED STATES—A kid in South Los Angeles saying with no particular somberness, sidelit by a TV set, “The war will start in 18 minutes,” blew open the thing that had been building since last August; the moreso since November when the United Nations set a January 15th deadline for Iraq to withdraw from Kuwait. Or else.
Now the world was about to learn what ‘or else’ meant.
There were no air sirens here that night: they would have been appropriate. I always opened my window a crack before sleeping. The night before the war was no exception. Outside was dark and clear. Los Angeles was dead still, no action in the room across the driveway. I looked out over the mini-mall with the sign for Tommy’s #32 sticking up and the flat commercial roofs of Washington and Western that spread out into more houses and more mini-malls. I spent the night in waking dream and passed over thin clouds above the Arctic Circle and felt in my bones something fearful was about to be born, a rip in the fabric of our post-Vietnam civilization.
The whole house on Manhattan Place was following the progress of Dee’s young husband. Having bought his plane ticket months ago, Ahmet was now stuck in Istanbul. The airport had closed. All flights had been grounded the eve of the bombing of Kuwait and Baghdad. Then the bombing began, a thing watched on television, a silent light show, punctuated by occasional crackles, heard down the hall on Joe’s TV.
A few of us were up into the wee small hours, gathered at the foot of the staircase, this funny family headed by Joe, girded in his wide terrycloth robe. Dee shared the latest on her husband. The sense of connection, so lacking in global events, saturated our small gathering at the foot of the stairs. We were caught up in the drama of this young Turk in his mid-20s and his slightly older American wife trying to be united. We were downcast when his flight was grounded. We cheered when Ahmet finally made it out of Istanbul, and now he was waiting for a plane out of Frankfurt. Dee got a call around 3 a.m.
The new day dawned and the neighborhood was still in place. At the panadería, where I got my coffee and mollete, the baker and a Salvadoran truck driver were already talking: there was something fishy about the lack of Iraqui response. In one day, our forces had destroyed all the Iraqi’s army bases and the army elites, the Republican Guard.
Finally, a day after the bombing began Pan-Am kept up its end of the bargain and brought Ahmet to Los Angeles. He was a kind soul with an anachronistic mustache. To see him in person, after the long build-up took away the myth of this mysterious foreigner who had swept Dee off her feet—like a figure from a magazine—obviously she had a role in sweeping him off his feet, as well, bringing him to a new land.
Ahmet on his second day in America went to Disneyland. (I wonder what was going on behind Mickey Mouse’s smile that day.) Ahmet brought a dose of life and folkways into the house where I lived alone with six people. He made Turkish tea, a great ritual. Infused by both warmth and awe, as we gathered in the kitchen, Ahmet, Joe, Moorehead, Tina and me. Yes, you heard right. Moorehead had returned. Just as the world went crazy; he cooled down. I got a heads-up call in the small hours that he was on the way, after being released from a care facility; his mother warned us. We went into our own localized syntax of panic. Wylie’s muscle, Bill Bailey came to talk to him. Of course Bill Bailey’s most important muscle was his brain. Without having to raise his voice, Bill got Moorehead to agree to vacate his room within a week.
Grady Miller is a humorist and author of the comedy Hollywood story collection “Later Bloomer” (available on Kindle). Grady can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.