I wrote this after the first Gulf War, when George Bush Sr was running for president. When I looked at it recently I was surprised at how much I liked it -- I had thought it was just venting. Warning: it's really bitter, not at all conciliatory or coalition-building, so don't expect to be convinced by it one way or the other.

Do it Yourself


       You know what? I'm not going to talk to you about fact and numbers. Other people are doing that and you don't listen. I know you like stories so I'm going to tell you one. I know you like the story about how your taxes are high because the person next to you in line is from Mexico. I know you like the one about how the most evil dictator in the history of humanity is whatever enemy your president chose to bomb first this week. I think you'll love this one.
      I'm going to tell you a gory story. I think you like gory stories. People do. People like to read about people's bodies getting mutilated and people dying slow, horrible deaths, and they like to read descriptions of bodies being piled up stinking in the desert sun. They like to hear about the sky turning black from oil well fires, only they like to believe that Saddam Hussein is creeping out there and setting those wells on fire, and not that our own forces are causing them.
      I know people especially like stories about lovely young women in peril, and maybe even more so when they get caught and crushed by the forces of destruction. So that's the story I'm going to tell. Only thing is, you'll have to help me out with the good parts, because I don't write this stuff much. And I can't do it alone.


     Here's the way the story begins. There's a woman -- it has to be a woman -- audiences like a woman in distress, like it when her body gets carved up and her eyes go wide with fear and pain, when they hear her scream. I don't know why, but that's how the story goes. God knows why but she's got to be young and petite and lovely, just the sort of person you'd think you'd want to preserve and protect and treat with care so she'd be around to raise the next generatiuon but I don';t think people think it out like that.
     This is a young woman, I don't know what she looks like exactly. I know that her skin is the same color of olive as my own mother's skin was, and her eyes are brown, or maybe hazel -- I think brown, so dark you can hardly see the pupils, a rich chocolate color. I believe her hair is long and wavy and black -- but I don't think you can see it much in the story because of the custom that the women of her people have to cover their hair with a scarf.
     Oops, I tipoped my hand. The woman is an Arab, a Palestinian I think, maybe an Iraqi or a Samaritan, and I think she lives in Kuwait, or maybe Saudi Arabia. Some people hate her already. But let me backtrack a little before you decide. She's almost thirty and she's not as slender as some people think she ought to be because she's had a couple of children and she has not been starving. I think her husband works in the oil fields. She can read and write and she speaks a couple of languages, Arabic, English, and some words in one or two others. She has two children, a boy born soon after she married her husband, and a girl who came after a few years of miscarriages and false alarms. Why's that part in there? Well, two reasons: a story is supposed to have specificity, and also, I promised a gory story, with a woman screaming in pain and fear and blood all over the place and now we've got that before the story even begins.
     Let's say, so you can really enjoy this woman's presence in the story, that she is beautiful in a way, but not too beautiful. Sort of a girl-next-door type, not too sophisticated, but even if she is the type to wear a chador, if she walks down the street people like to look at her. Now the men in her culture don't look too closely at a woman like her, that would be immodest and put everybody in a bad position, but they enjoy the fact that a young mother like her lives in their neighborhood and goes down the street to buy rice and lamb to cook for her husband to eat when he comes home from the oil fields.
     Her husband, by the way, is an okay guy. He takes himself very seriously as the breadwinner, and as the spiritual leader of his little family. He loves his wife and daughter, and he's proud of his son. He prays when he's supposed to and he's no drunk. He thinks it's up to him to understand what's going on and tell the others, so he discusses the world's events with the other men each day before supper. By his own calculations, he's no fanatic, though he thinks that religious war is a possibility, maybe inevitable, not desirable for its own sake. He'd really like to have a new television set and anopther bicycle so his son and he can go riding together.
     His son is almost an adolescent, a serious boy with ideas, who likes to read, and everybody thinks he's going to be somebody special someday: a doctor, a lawyer, and engineer. His daughter is much younger and she isn't as helpful as the son when the father is at work, but it's only b ecause she is so little. She's a pleasant child, free with her smiles though she hides behind her mother when people say hello. She likes sweets too much, and her brother gets impatient when she whines.
     And there are the main characters. Do you like a lot of plot, or do you think it just gets in the way of a good gory story? I thought so. You like plot, but you like it better when it's kind of thin and doesn't distract from the good parts. Okay, we have just a thin sliver of plot. There's this war, see, and the husband is trying to get home from the oil fields but he can't because somebody has taken the buses away to take the bosses' families to the airport so they can hide outy in England or Switzerland for the duration. So he tries to walk home and before you know it he's surrounded by those cool orange and yellow billowing flames and smoke so dark it turns the sky black. You can do the next part, okay? Fill in the details of his attempts to flee, the moment when the flames catch him, the changes in texture that his body goes through at different stages of the burning, his last sensations and thoughts. You do that part. Not me.
     And now we should cut to the scene of the woman's sister and mother. This is for the conoisseurs of exploding buildings. They're in Baghdad, at the hospital. They live there. The sister is going to school, and the mother's dying of congestive heart failure. Let me take a moment to describe these people, you'll like them. I know exactly what the mother looks like, because my mother looked the same way: olive skin, big hazel eyes, curly loops of heavy black hair. The sister, now, she's not so conservative as her sister -- notice she manages to be going to school in a larger, more secular, more modern country. She's a little unconventional, maybe, even for Baghdad: she's been known to wear a pair of jeans and a t shirt. Today I think she's wearing something slightly revealing, but not too revealing. And when the bombs hit the hospital, you can have fun describing the destruction of the building, the chunks of masonry flying, the flames from the oxygen tanks. You can decide how graphic to get, when you describe what all this falling cement and gliding glass does to this young woman and her old mother. Really, the fans of big-budget movies are much better equipped to describe this than I am. Don't forget to include sexual or scatalogical visual puns involving the young woman's crotch and breasts.
     After you've filled us in on the destruction of Baghdad and the women who live there, we can return to the oil town and that original young woman and her children. We've already seen what happened to the husband. I think I've figured out since the beginning of this do-it-yourself scary movie that they live in Kuwait. Much better to be specific, right? And it gives the fans an opportubnity to describe what happens when the Kawaiti police pick her up, because she is a Palestinian, and also because through their dossiers they know she has relatives in Baghdad, which is clearly the hereditary enemy of the hour. Now, we know about the Iraqi police, what they were trained to do and by whom, and we figure that they will want to practice this stuff on this enemy woman found so dangerously wlaking towards the oil field looking for her husband. Those of you who are into this kind of story, you can go to town describing what they do to her. You know they're not intending to preserve her for later use, so they can do anything they want -- anything you want. How long will you make her last? A few days? How long do you want to spend on it?
     So you've still got the kids. To round out the story, you can let them get hit by shrapnel. A nice touch would be if you couldn't relly tell where the shrapnel comes from. If you like, you can have one or the other, or even both of them, survive this and get to the hospital, which is not being bombed. But the Kuwaitis do return, and they send the "foreigners" out into the streets because they don't care to care for them, at the moment, More opportunities arise here: anything from starvation to exploitation. But you're the ones who like exciting stories, you write this part, too. You describe it. I don't want to think about it.
     Okay, we've gotten to the end of the story. Don't be sad. President Bush has a new one lined up for fall. All you have to do to get a nice new gory story is to swallow all the other stories he tells in the campaign.