I'm outside a bar in my hometown, taking a break from the enjoyment of beers with my brother to smoke a cigarette after a family dinner. It's illegal to smoke inside bars in the state of New York, for reasons that I'm sure would baffle the framers of the Constitution.
Next door is a bar reknowned for its party scene. Cortland is home to one of New York's many state university campuses, and the majority of its students attend for degrees in education and physical education, which leaves many (guess which) with lots of free time to drink it up downtown, which is only a few blocks down the hill from the serpentine campus.
This bar, called the Dark Horse, has a bouncer minding the door. He's not your typical bouncer -- in fact, I would have been less surprised to have seen him outside one of the neighborhood drugstores rooting through the trash cans.
We strike up a conversation while I suck down my Camel. He tells me about his dog and hollers at some of the girls walking by in the evening darkness.
Eventually he asks me what I do for a living, and I tell him I'm the sports editor for the newspaper on an Army post. He shakes his head.
"I have a cousin who just got back from that war you guys are having," he says. "It's such a shame."
That war you guys are having. His words offend me -- it is as if he blames me for what is going on in Iraq and Afghanistan. I pull harder on the Camel.
"Believe me," I say. "No one is more interested in having this thing over with than the people who are actually in the military."
What I mean is, members of the military are the only ones who actually have their asses on the line in this one. There's no draft; we're all volunteers, whether we signed on for this particular shitstorm or not. We didn't make the decision, we just followed orders.
It's odd to see the kind of patriotism that's so prevalent in the Army. Of course we're loyal to our country, and of course we love everything it stands for. But there's nothing in the contract that says we're supposed to be any more excited about the prospect of taking and losing lives than any other average citizen -- because that's what we are: average citizens.
Culture has painted the soldier into a rather strange corner. There's an expectation that the military is composed of some elite corps of supermen and women who can do no wrong and never err. No quarter is given for mistakes and missteps -- but, then again, none is ever asked, really.
The bouncer looks at me and shakes his head.
"Well," he shrugs, "good luck with that."
"Thanks," I say, and wonder who all this is for.
Oh, somewhere in this favored land the sun is shining bright.
The band is playing somewhere, and somewhere hearts are light.
And, somewhere men are laughing, and little children shout,
but there is no joy in Mudville --
mighty Casey has struck out.