In Our Time

He made his way through the exhibits on the first floor and took the elevator up to the third floor.  There were so many people there that he could not see the photos on the walls.  He had to squeeze people aside just to look at them.

But the pictures were good.  Some were of soldiers in action, like one of a Marine pulling another Marine to safety.  Another showed a soldier staring through the window of a Humvee that had just been attacked. The windshield is splattered with blood and gore, and an M4 rifle lies on the hood of the Humvee.

The picture was intense, but it was the casually placed or abandoned rifle on the hood of the Humvee that got him.  He remembered using that platform all the time for quick meetings, and how soldiers would often spread their weapons and gear across the flat surface. They did that to free their hands to take notes or look at their maps.

Now, in the picture, the M4 looked forlorn as it lay separated from the soldier inside the vehicle.  But also sinister, the jet black weapon and its equally black sling sprawled on the yellow-brown Humvee hood like a tangled nest of vipers on the desert floor.

Other pictures showed soldiers in calmer moments.  Many were of Iraqis and Afghans.  Some were taken during moments of fear, pain, and loss, others in the midst of daily life.  These pictures were good, too.

He looked at every picture twice.  Then he stood outside on the sidewalk and thought about going back in to see them again.  He watched the crowd come and go, and decided to head home.  The cab driver was a Sikh who seemed willing to talk.  But he let the cab roll on quietly, up the Avenue of Americas and then Park Avenue to Grand Central.

Four Hispanic men were clowning around in the line at McDonald’s. One of the men began singing a song in English, a time-tested radio tune:  “Open Arms” by Journey.   The guy could really sing.  He sounded like Steve Perry.  He was really good.  Then he stopped, and he and his friends started cackling and cracking up again in Spanish.

On the train, he read Hemingway’s In Our Time.  The stories were really good.  The best was “The Battler,” but the one that really made him wonder was “Soldier Home.” The protagonist, a WWI vet, goes to see his sister play “indoor baseball.”  What the hell was indoor baseball?

He was thinking about that when he noticed the woman across the aisle.  She had been fiddling with her iPhone and iPad and drinking a 24-oz. can of Budweiser.  Now, though, she was upset.  At first he tried to ignore her, but it was impossible.  She had a bloody nose that would not stop.

“Can you watch my stuff for a minute?” she asked.

She hurried to the bathroom.  He moved across the aisle to stake a better claim on her things.  After a while, she returned, and he went back to his side of the train.

When the train arrived at his station, he got off and went home.

NOTE:  This post recounts my visit to the Conflict Zone combat photography exhibit opening on 10 February in New York City.   Link to Conflict Zone:  http://www.conflictzone.org/#!__conflict-zone-home

Link to Conflict Zone New York Times notice, with a great gallery of Conflict Zone photographs:

http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/02/09/two-wars-seen-many-ways/?scp=1&sq=conflict+zone&st=cse

Link to Conflict Zone Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/pages/Conflict-Zone/173069199382013

Link to Conflict Zone in New York Facebook page:  http://www.facebook.com/events/324762420886061/

Link to YouTube video of Conflict Zone NYC opening:  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j48b25xeT2A&feature=youtu.be

Conflict Zone opening night. NYC, February 2012.

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