There Are Worse Things Than Incoming Mortars (Updated)

Luck is a relative thing.

Take, for example, a summer vacation.  You arrive at the hotel and the front desk clerk tells you,  “You’re lucky.  We ran out of regular rooms and had to upgrade you to a suite.”

Or you go outside to the hotel pool and the pool attendant tells you, “You’re lucky.  We’ve had rain all week, and today is the first sunny day.”

But luck is different in Afghanistan.

“You’re lucky,” said our military escort as we got off the plane, “The base hasn’t been attacked in weeks.”

See, that makes me feel about as lucky as I would checking into a motel and being told, “You’re lucky.  Guests here are kidnapped from their rooms a lot less than they used to be.”

As if that wasn’t enough, our military escort then delivered a more devastating bit of news.

“You’re rooming with Jeff Keane.”

As though having a bomb dropped on my head wasn’t enough.  Now I’d have to stare at the creator of Family Circus standing around in his “Kiss Me, Dolly” underwear.

And don’t take my word for it.  Just look at him in this pre-removal-of-pants shot and imagine for yourselves.

All that separated me from him was that little desk on the right.  See, here was my bed on the other side of that desk.

That’s a mere four feet between me and The Jeffy.  Almost close enough that he could reach out and hold my hand during the night.  I finally understood the meaning of the phrase, “War is Hell.”

But I am a trooper.  So I took one for the team and roomed with The Jeffy.

Our first step was to unpack.  I took out all of my cool clothes and put them in drawers.  He laid out his “I Love Billy” underwear for Tuesday, his “I Love PJ” pajamas for Wednesday, and the “I Love Dead Grandpa” thong for Thursday.

When we finished unpacking, we sat on our respective beds wondering what we could do for the next couple hours.  He was thinking about getting something to eat.  I was thinking about how I could change the locks while he was gone.

We compromised and each sat at the desk signing a bunch of the postcards with our characters on them that the USO had given us to hand out to the troops.

There we sat, me and the creator of Family Circus.  Him doing his patriotic duty by signing the postcards.  Me doing my patriotic duty by not pushing him out the window.

And that’s when the air raid sirens went off.

“GET DOWN.  GET DOWN.  GET DOWN,” shouted the garbled voice across the base’s PA system.

And at that moment, my greatest fear was not my possible demise.  It was that my last vision on this planet, the one that would have to carry me toward the afterlife, would not be of a nude supermodel begging me to make these last few moments count.

It would be this:

So much for being lucky.


UPDATE:  Jeff Keane responds in the comments section below.  But keep in mind, his version of events is one-sided, biased, slanderous, exaggerated and wholly false.  Unlike mine, which is the God’s honest truth.


Hey, Let’s See You Sit Next to a Comic Strip Legend for Eight Hours and Stay Quiet

I’m on a flight sitting next to Doonesbury creator Garry Trudeau and I have a lot of questions.

Questions about how Doonesbury started.  Questions about the Doonesbury strips he liked the most.  Questions about the strips he liked least.

For me, this is out of character, for I make it a point to never talk to the person sitting next to me on a flight.  Especially a long flight.  And this one qualifies.

We are flying from Washington, D.C. to Frankfurt, Germany and then on to Afghanistan.  We are on a USO trip to visit the troops in Kandahar.

But this is Garry Trudeau.  And I have questions.

Making my mouth move even more freely are the Sierra Nevada beers I pounded at the United Airlines lounge just before getting on the flight.  (My goal was to get so drunk that my buzz would carry me through the next seven days of alcohol-free Afghanistan.)

Before I know it, three hours have passed and I’m still asking questions.

That’s when Garry puts his index finger to his lips and says, “Shhh.  We should probably keep our voices down.  The guy on the other side of me is trying to sleep.”

That’s when I notice we are the last two guys with our overhead lights on.  We are the last two guys awake.

But that doesn’t stop me.  So I keep firing away.  Only quieter.

Questions about what it’s like to win a Pulitzer.  Questions about what inspires him.  Questions about any regrets he may have.

And then it happened.  I don’t know exactly when it happened.  Or how.  All I know is that I had asked him this question about regrets and then looked over at this legend of syndicated cartooning and saw it with my own two bloodshot eyes.

Garry Trudeau was wearing noise-canceling headphones.

Because of me.

The guy he had chosen to sit next to.

At least now I knew one of his regrets.