Afghanistan is no joke
A little comedy brings levity to serious surroundings
Posted: Thursday March 6, 2008 11:45AM; Updated: Monday March 10, 2008 2:14AM
Editor's note: Peter King is on a seven-day USO trip with NFL players this week. Here is his latest diary entry from Afghanistan and a link to a composite file.
Wednesday, 11:15 p.m., Bagram
Seven bunk beds, eight men. Sounds like a sitcom. And for awhile in the pitch black of the guest barracks at this huge airbase, it was.
Understand something. When eight people leave the United States, fly halfway around the world and try to adjust their body clocks immediately to the exact opposite time (day is night, night is day), different sleep patterns ensue. I've been napping on planes and in vans taking us from one activity to another. Chicago Bears defensive tackle Tommie Harris falls into a coma on planes.
Tonight, Harris could not sleep.
Lights out. Silence in the barracks for 10, 20 seconds.
"Anybody got any stories?" Harris says, sounding like a kid who needed a story to fall asleep before bed.
A few chuckles. No volunteers. Finally, I speak up.
"I've got a joke," I say.
"Yeah?" Harris says. "Go ahead."
I say, "Termite walks into a bar. Says, 'Hey, is the bartender here?'"
Silence, then a few pained chuckles.
"I don't get it," Harris says.
"A termite eats wood," I say.
"Ohhhhh," he says.
"Sandwich walks into a bar," I say. "Bartender says, 'I'm sorry. We don't serve food here.'"
A couple of guffaws. I'm on a roll now.
"Three-legged dog walks into a bar. Looks around and says, 'All right! Who shot my paw?'"
Luis Castillo roars. The house is brought down.
Punchy Americans in a smelly wood hut between mountain ranges in northeastern Afghanistan are acting like it's a third-grade sleepover in the middle of Kansas.
"I've got a riddle," says Harris. "A man is found in a car. Bullet in his head. Windows rolled up. No gun anywhere. How'd he die?"
We throw a couple of bad ideas out. Harris knocks them down.
Finally, I say; "He was driving a convertible."
"You got it," Harris says.
I have to say it's a surreal thing to be laying in blackness on the other side of the world, with the cabin-rattling noise from an occasional night mission taking off from a runway 500 yards away while I'm having a joke-off with a Pro Bowl defensive tackle.
"We're in Afghanistan," Harris says, echoing the wonder of us all just being here. "There's a war going on!"
Nobody responds. But you'd be inhuman, with F-15s piercing the eardrums, to not think exactly the same thing.
Thursday, Noon, Kandahar Afghanistan Air Base
Now our traveling party knows what it's like to walk, talk and breathe in dust with every step. We're in the desert. The real live desert of south Afghanistan. Already Harris and Castillo are in need of some of my Singulair, which is a pill to help you breathe deeper, and we've only been here an hour.
Castillo, in particular, has been deeply touched by the dedication of the soldiers we've seen, not only here, but at the other two bases, in terms of their attention to the most minute detail. We just saw a crew of airplane mechanics taking apart a helicopter, cleaning it and putting it together piece by piece.
"What blows me away about these people," says Castillo, "is how much they care. Everything they do has to be done perfectly. That's one of the reasons I think that football players really admire people in the military. But the big difference is that when we play football we might hurt a knee, these soldiers can lose their lives."