"Gonna be a hot night in the jungle," Gelare Ottel declared grinning, hovering protectively over a machine gun that looked like it could definitely do a world of hurt. "I figure right, this here night will seem about a hundred years long...maybe more. All depends on Charlie."
Ottel’s look was so deceiving. His childishly chubby, cherub face looked like he belonged to a kinder, gentler time and place. Ottel saw my look. "Don’t let appearances deceive you none. War has stripped away the varnish built up over twenty or more years of living. I’m not a nice man, Jacob. You learn to live with war and dying here...or you die. It's as simple as that."
"That so," I gulped, already feeling faint from the rancid smells of the decaying jungle. "Thanks for the warning. I can think of a lot of words to describe Vietnam...simple isn't one of them. No, I would say simple doesn't even come close."
"War's a blatantly, no-nonsense microcosm," Ottel drawled philosophically. "It's a small world of terror forever going on within the larger world we live in. War is an omnipresent factor on this terrestrial sphere, because someone somewhere is always slaughtering someone else in the name of moral decency and freedom. And somewhere someone is forever dying a violent death. This goes on whether it comes to our attention or not. Our mindfulness of other people’s tragedies lies in direct proportion to the number of people involved, how high the respective countries stand in the geopolitical pecking order, and whether the carnage makes the front page of the New York Daily News, or is buried on the back pages along with the Spam recipes. War is a constant, well-documented fact. War is so commonplace that right now, somewhere out there, people are living and loving without the slightest, foggiest idea of our little bullshit predicament."
"Here we go again," snarled the wiry little cockfighter, Franklin O'Neal, from the dark of the foxhole. "Professor Ottel is at it again, the high and mighty sage of Vietnam is on his soapbox. Why don't you just shut your face, Jelly Belly? Or do you want me to fix it for you permanent like? I'd sure like nothing better'n to dam up that fuckin' slimy gibberish spilling uncontrolled out of your putrid mouth with my fist? I'd gladly oblige ya."
I flushed at the words. They sent a shiver like a rapier of cold steel down my neck, despite myself. It wasn't so much the rough talk...after all, this is the Army, but I couldn’t understand the hate burning in O'Neal's eyes. I mean, weren't we on the same side? All I could see of O'Neal was the fiery red rim of his cigarette glowing in the bowels of the hole where it couldn’t be seen by anyone out there looking our way...but his eyes. I saw his eyes, and what I saw there made me tremble involuntarily.
"Now boys, cool it,” I said, acting the peacemaker. “How ‘bout we not fight each other...how 'bout we save our energy for, oh, I don't know...the Vietcong?" But I might as well have whistled “Dixie,” for all the notice my suggestion got. It was then I noticed O'Neal staring at me.
"God, how I hate F.N.G's..."
Ottel whispered with a shrug of his shoulders, "Fuckin' New Guys..."
"Damned F.N.G's think they know everything...everything! Jesus H. Christ, they been through fuckin' 'Advanced Infantry Training,' and fuckin' F.N.G's think that makes them soldiers. Just do me a favor, boy. When the firing starts, you just keep the hell away from me. Just keep the fuck away! I don't want to die from the fire you'll draw."
Ottel seemed busy fishing out his poncho liner, untying it from his rucksack. Finding it, he laid back on it as if not noticing the goings-on, though he and I were the butt of O'Neal's threat. He ignored my suggestion to cool it too, continuing undaunted right on into the teeth of trouble. "Nam imbeds a new set of senses on us, Jacob. We're mere children fighting adult wars, you see. Now, you would think that when we become men we would learn our lessons, turning our swords into plowshares, and putting away childish things, like the Bible tells us...wrong!"
O'Neal cursed once more, his face twisted with almost uncontrollable anger as he glared at Ottel. "I'll give you something to learn if you don't zip up your yap-hole. The cold steel of my bayonet will imbed itself into your maggot-infested guts, opening up a whole new perspective for ya."
I was incredulous! I gave up trying to intercede. I just watched the interplay between Ottel and O'Neal, and could only shake my head in dismay. But I noticed one revealing factor...O'Neal made no move to back up his threats. The thought occurred to me that his arguing was almost like a kind of therapy. I wondered about that. Perhaps being constantly at each other's throats momentarily relieved the tremendous fears and tensions hanging over the foxhole. Perhaps directing attentions at each other helped take their minds off the real enemy. Maybe it was their way of relieving stress.
"Sadly, we don't learn our lessons," Ottel said, nodding at O'Neal. He again appeared nonchalant, as if seeming to notice the hard little man for the first time. "The wars keep coming, and childishly we keep plunging right in there and fighting them. It’s almost as if we, both collectively as a nation and singly as macho individuals, can’t resist the impulse to engage in a good chest-thumping scrap."
"You got that right, Jelly Belly. War is our business. War is our chief concern. Peace can only be brought about by war...and that's the truth."
Ottel looked out into the night. "America is an aggressive nation, always has been...that’s a fact."
"You want aggression...I'll show you aggression," O'Neal said in a hard, low voice.
Ottel must not have heard. "Americans have always felt a God-given duty to right the wrongs perpetrated on mankind, Jacob. We have to be the world’s policemen. It's like we feel a calling or something. We see injustice everywhere. Whenever fires spring up, and trouble spots appear, no matter where, America's right there to try and put them out.”
O’Neal gave an aggravated, overtly loud sigh, and turned away, but Ottel acted like he didn’t notice, hardly missing a beat. "Americans say they despise war, man’s inhumanity to man, yet we are war's most avid proponents. We have a history of displaying righteous indignation when people don’t adhere to our standards, or think the way we do. Americans see no vice in extreme nationalism. We habitually rush headlong to judgment, whether it be saber-rattling rhetoric, or full-blown war. It’s an age-old story. We don't turn our swords into plowshares, because we like to dictate the way things should be run in this world, and the hate takes over."
"I'll show Charlie what kind of saber-rattling rhetoric he can expect from my M-16," O'Neal growled as he lit another cigarette in the bowels of the hole, "he raises even one eyebrow on his fuckin' head." There wasn't much light, but I could see his torn and dirty fatigues that spoke of "being here awhile," and the ugly, pus-filled scratch across his cheek...but it was once again the eyes staring into forever that turned something in me. They were two deep, black wells that seemed to stretch bottomlessly, endlessly.
I was caught in them for a second before Ottel resumed where he had left off, totally ignoring O'Neal's part in the discussion. "Yes, the hate takes over, and the hate, my friend, drives us to do exactly the opposite of everything that we learned of love and brotherhood in the formative years of our youth. Hate builds on itself, growing into something in us that is sad, yet comically ludicrous at the same time. Hatred engenders something totally against everything our parents and teachers took great pains to teach us all our lives. War's a curious thing, Jacob."
I nodded, though keeping an eye on O'Neal. At the same time I pictured the look on Ottel's parents' faces when Ottel first showed them his draft notice. They had probably smiled, but with a pained smile that was both empty and hollow. I could see their eyes still, even though I had never met them. Parents everywhere are a lot the same. I was haunted by the thought of them, eyes full of sadness and fear, distant and afraid. I wondered what had they known then that we didn't know? And why didn't they tell us? What was it that had kept them from stopping Ottel from going into this valley of the shadow of death? Didn't they know?
O’Neal broke into my thoughts, sneering, “I’m impressed, Jelly Belly. You got that whole thing all out, and you didn’t even pause for a breath.”
Ottel continued his diatribe unperturbed, letting the sarcasm roll off him like water off a duck's back. "War not only flies precisely in the face of every principle of doctrine religiously taught in Sunday School, it flouts them contemptuously. War is base and carnal men over here, trying to kill base and carnal men over there...and for what, I ask you? Why do we fight...for a piece of real estate, an economic advantage, a distraction to ease political pressures at home, to make others more like us?"
O’Neal leered. “Maybe we just don’t like the bastards' looks. Ever think of that?” When he rolled over and went to sleep, everything got quiet...too quiet. I turned and asked simply, "Ottel, you a religious man?"
"Religious," Ottel laughed, "I never thought much about it. I mean, I was christened and all that...but religious? I hardly ever go to church. I guess I believe in the man upstairs as much as the next guy. Jacob, over here religion doesn't exactly compute with what's going on...but then, when you think about it, I guess it kinda does. Yeah, I guess you could say I'm religious...staunch Catholic. Why you ask?"
"Oh, I was just wondering?"
Ottel looked distantly into the jungle, but appeared to be looking far beyond that. "Yeah, I'm Catholic. My family's been Catholic for generations, but I haven't been to church in ages...since I was christened as a kid. Sometimes I think the church is just...a little misguided and out of touch in times like these."
"Well, I mean they just don't have the answers, you know. Take where it tells you in the good book to love your neighbor as yourself...even going so far as to saying something about loving those that...let’s see, how does it say it again?"
I breathed heavily. "It says, 'Love those that despitefully use you.'"
"Yeah, that's it, love those that despitefully use you. Well Jacob, I feel despitefully used. I mean, really, I do feel despitefully used by these little bastards...extremely despitefully used, and you know what? It makes me want to love 'em...love 'em to death!”
“I get the picture,” I smiled.
“But how are you going to love your neighbor...what do you do when your damned neighbor is trying to kill you? He's sniping at you from the trees and blowing your buddies away with his booby traps. How you gonna love them hit-and-run bastards then?"
I just shrugged my shoulders.
"I feel so vulnerable here, with nobody to intercede -- nobody to save me -- nothing standing between me and hideous death. I looked to God when I first got here, but Hell... My parents will be destroyed if I come home in a body bag..."
"Yeah that'll piss me off too," O'Neal smirked. I thought he'd gone to sleep, but I guess in a foxhole in Nam, you never really go to sleep.
Ottel didn't even notice. "Yet my demise can come any minute, and for very little reason. I can be zapped while I’m taking a leak, dragging on a cig, walking along the trail. Death can even come in mid-word while I'm talking to you now, right here, right this minute...or the next, or an hour from now, or tonight...and who cares? Who the hell cares? No, I don't think I can love the Vietcong, and do my damnedest to kill them at the same time. I just don't work that way."
Ottel ground another cigarette butt into the foxhole, ducking his head into its lower depths out of sight of prying eyes to light another. "If someone expects me to forgive the slant-eyed bastards, or even forgive the ones that sent me here, well they can forget it!" His lips pursed to utter a profanity, but he paused. He shook his head violently, and said again, "Forget it!"
The two of us were silent for a minute, each absorbed in his own thoughts, his own horror. Finally I spoke. "Ottel?"
"Yeah, I'm here," he said, laughing silently at the absurdity of the thought. "Where else would I be? You think maybe I'm gonna take a walk...enjoy the moonlight? I'm imprisoned in the bloody infantry here in Nam, remember? I'm here in this godforsaken foxhole beside you for the count, till they recycle me home. I'm just another expendable killing machine, taught the fine military trade of slaughtering, flown far away to occupy some designated place at some designated time, to sit in some damned designated hot jungle beside a hotter enemy. I’ll follow my orders, and dig the VC out of their holes, and force a grenade down their throats...or I'll die by the same designated numbers...who the hell cares? I get home they'll make over me like some kind of hero that died for his country...and my parents will cry...but for what? Tell me, anybody...for what?"
"Ottel, I don't know if I can forgive the Vietcong either. I've thought about it, God knows. Forgiving is a commandment! But I just don't know that I can do it...not really. I mean, I could flippantly say I could...but can I really? I don't even know that I can love them that are trying to kill me, like the Lord wants me to.”
"Join the club," O'Neal jerked up, cursing under his breath. In an obviously annoyed voice, "We all agree we can't love them VC jerk-offs. Now, would you two just put a cork in it already? Jeeze, guys are trying to get some sleep here. I'll forgive Charlie like I do you two, after I slit his goddamned throat and watch his goddamned blood boil out and soak the goddamned ground."
After a moment of silence, Ottel and I smiled at each other, giggling awkwardly like boys caught in a prank. After a few moments of quiet Ottel spoke in a low whisper, "Jacob...you say you're Mormon."
"Yeah, that's right, born, bred, and raised."
"Well, the weapons squad leader, Sergeant Jonathan Caulkins Wright...he's Mormon too, I think. I think he has a prayer group, or something like that. I presume that at least some of them are Mormons too."
"Damn!" O'Neal swore once more. "Don't trust anyone that goes by three names....an' besides, must be hard wearing a combat helmet and halo at the same time. One o' them babies got to give," he chuckled sinisterly.
"Hark," Ottel chuckled, baiting the surly O’Neal with words even angels would fear to speak, "Once again the terror of the Le Hong Fong Forest deigns to raise his gory head and peruse his darkened kingdom, bestowing upon we lesser mortals his caustic wit."
"You lame-brain, jelly-bellied dork!" O'Neal fumed. "One of these days you’re going to go too far -- you're about to drive me crazy. Think you can figure this war all out with your puny, cockamamie religion? Well, I'm here to tell you it cain't be done. We're here, dammit, and we're gonna stay here until there's less of them little yellow bastards than there was when we got here! That's the last damned word I want to hear about it. Now, what else is there to say?"
"I think the reason we’re here is important," I said. "I mean, don’t you know why you're here? What say you, O'Neal?"
"Who the hell cares what I think," O'Neal spluttered. "I'm just a scumbag groundpounder...a Cong killer doin' his business."
"Well," I blurted, "the reason we are here defines whether we are here for a just cause, or just here bullying."
"What's wrong with bullying?" O'Neal smirked. "I cut my teeth on bullying."
"Why you figure you're here, O'Neal?"
"Why am I here? Let me understand this, dorkling. Why am I here? Well now, let's see...God almighty, what a question."
"That's why I asked it. Why are you here?"
"Don't go gettin' cute with me, boy, or you'll feel the tickle of my bayonet in your Adam’s apple. But I'll just tell you why I'm here, you pompous piece of horse crap. I'm not here for any of your righteous causes, first off. I'm here only because some smug, self-righteous idiots like you, back in their stuffy offices in my home town drew my name out of a hat...and it came up lucky. So they shipped my lousy butt over here to Nam to do their fightin' for 'em. That's the only reason I'm here, you lily-livered scumbag."
“Don’t be shy,” Ottel quipped, “tell us what you really think.”
"Isn't there a greater reason?" I asked.
"What other reason could there be, fool?"
"Well, for instance, I'm here because, well, the Lord wants me here.”
O’Neal rolled his eyes, and Ottel looked at me with a hard, calculating look.
“Oh, isn't that nice! Isn't that just peachy-keen! For the love of almighty God," O'Neal spouted like a boiling teakettle. "Your Lord must really hate you. I mean, he must really despise your stinking guts. ‘My Lord wants me here,’" he said, mimicking me in falsetto. "Now I've heard everything. You really think you're in Nam because of God? That's not only incredibly hard to believe...it’s not just stupid, it's plain dumb-ass thinking."
"I wouldn't be here for any other reason. Believe it or not," I said. "I fasted, and prayed...gave a lot of soul-searching thought, and..."
O’Neal glanced over at me with an expression of mock surprise on his face. "Now let me get this straight, you fasted and prayed about this...and your God sent you to Vietnam in answer to your prayers. So God's the one you have to thank for getting you into this holy mess? Damn Jacob, you've sure got a God with a mean streak in Him. Now, the only thing you have that does you any good in Nam, and the only thing Mr. Charles respects, isn't your God. It's right here in my hands!" He patted his M-16, caressing its barrel lovingly. "Worship this!"
"You certainly don't worship your gun, do you?" I frowned, “That’s blasphemy.”
"That I do," he smiled irreverently. "God hasn't done anything for me lately, certainly not much to save my ass, but my M-16 sure has. I'm alive today because of my M-16. Now, say you come around a turn in the trail, smack face-to-face with ole Victor Charlie. What you gonna do? What will give that VC more respect? You know, what'll make that old fella notice you the most, praying at him, or shooting him? It's no contest -- end of question -- Subject closed!" O'Neal raised his hands in mock tribute, victoriously holding his M-16 high above his head.
"I idolize my holy weapon and give praise to its power. I am an altar boy at its holy shrine. I willfully and joyfully spread and spray the good news of its gospel to anoint the masses. I gladly send its holy messengers forth to consecrate the heads of any unholy VC who care, or dare, to walk in the killing fields of the tabernacle of the almighty gun. Its sacred bullets are a blessed sacrament I gladly dispense to the unwashed masses. I truly know no other God before me. That's the last word, gentlemen. Now, let me get some sleep."
"There are horrible ogres in this world," Ottel said, looking hard at O'Neal, trying to change the subject before O'Neal grew even more irreverent. He had seen him go off before. "There are brutish monsters in history, like Hitler, or Mussolini, vainglorious men with nothing short of world domination in mind. In such cases, war's a necessity...but Vietnam...give me a break. Vietnam's insane! It's boys from Tuscaloosa, Pocatello, and Oklahoma City, thrown together in a far-away place, far beyond any hell I ever heard about, consumed with romantic visions defined by old men, preserving a far-flung freedom bedecked in glory. You want Glory, Jacob?"
"You want a mouthful of knuckles," O'Neal snapped. "One more lousy word out of your mouth and my bayonet will carve you a new asshole, I swear it will...go on, don’t believe me, just try it. Please, I want you to try it."
"How charming," Ottel smirked in the darkness. "O'Neal here is a case in point, Jacob. Just look at him. See the low forehead, the bushy eyebrows? He's profane! He’s...sacrilegious..."
"And proud of it," O'Neal sputtered, "you measly, good-for-nothing lowlife, mental case."
Ottel only chuckled, grinning wide. "Tch, tch, tch, all that bottled up hatred's gonna make you have a conniption fit. O'Neal's a real pressure cooker all set to explode, Jacob. Look at his toy gun, would you...made by Mattel. He loves it so, and why does he love it, I ask you? He loves it because it gives him power. His M-16 makes him bigger! It's an equalizer that makes that short, squinty-eyed runt equal to the biggest, baddest Charlies."
O'Neal fumed. "Don't go makin' fun of my weapon, you hear, you low-life nitwit...you cerebral monkey puke. Make fun of anything else, but best not make fun of..."
"Oh, come on O'Neal, admit it. How can you worship your M-16? Everybody knows in any firefight half the lousy M-16's jam. They're crap on a stick. A speck of dirt will make your precious 'equalizer' jam up useless as a stick," Ottel chuckled, "and then where are ya'? Up shit creek without a paddle, in a cement canoe, that's where you are. A jammed M-16 is just a big stick. 'Don't tread on me,' you bad boys, or I'll hit you with my big stick,” he pantomimed in a mocking high voice, holding an imaginary gun at "present arms." A big smirk was on his face.
"You crazy mongrel cur," O'Neal said, spitting over the lip of the foxhole. "You are one crazy little son of a..."
Ottel smiled! He obviously delighted in the conversation. "Look who's calling who crazy. Everybody knows the M-16 ain’t shit. Hell, I'd rather have the M-1 carbine like the boys in World War II had, and now we give them to the ARVN's, just so the 'modern Army' can carry this piece of malfunctioning crap. Even the Vietcong have their Russian AK-47’s and are much better armed. It’s utterly and profoundly ridiculous to the point of absurdity."
"Nobody ever accused grunts of being too smart," O'Neal hissed.
"Yeah, O'Neal," I chimed right in, "we're 'bout as menacing as cavemen. I can hardly believe it, the cream of America's youth...and here we are, fighting with clubs like Neanderthals."
"Shut your mouth, Jelly Belly. Keep flappin' your gums and I'll put my fist into it," O'Neal threatened. "I'll shover 'er in up to my elbows, you just see if I won't."
Ottel paid him no heed. "American boys come here like this is some kind of game, like this can't really be happening to them. They walk around in some kind of dream world, and they just don't know why we're here, and some of them never will. Too many of them will die without ever knowing why. Eell, it's no game..."
“You want to die? I’ll be obliged to help you die,” muttered O’Neal, snarling. “And most assuredly, you’ll know why...I guarantee it! You'll know why.”
But Ottel continued on like he hadn’t heard. “Dying's our trade, methinketh, and Vietnam's real, all right...least as real as it gets for American boys. Then, after we've been here awhile, you know, fighting and dying for God knows what, slogging knee-deep in a world of muck and blood, we finally see something's amiss. Then at last we raise our numbskull heads and say, 'What am I doing here? It's dangerous here.' But too damned often, it's too damned late by that time, so chalk one more up for the demon of Vietnam."
"Greenhorns," O'Neal snarled, "worthless, farthead kids playing cowboys and Indians. It’s the good guys against the bad guys, just like back on the block. Them newbies can eat my bayonet...so can you, Jelly Belly."
"Still," Ottel droned on, oblivious to the fomenting hatred next to him...or in spite of it, "They say you never hear the bullet that takes you out. I'd say that's small consolation, wouldn't you, when the bullets overhead fly so despicably close all you can hear is the whooshing whine tearing through this foil of darkness under the sickle moon?"
The moonlight cast eerie shadows on O’Neal's twitching mustache. "Jelly Belly, I'm warning ya for the last time, you accursed poetic smart aleck. Shut your measly mouth, or I'll be obliged to shut it for you."
O’Neal's poisoned words made me feel ill at ease, to say the least, even if they didn’t bother Ottel. Oh sure, I figured O’Neal’s threats were hollow and disemboweled -- at least I hoped they were hollow and disemboweled, harmless, but O’Neal's obscenity-laced tirades left me feeling profaned alike by enemies within and enemies without. I wondered why Ottel kept going on when he obviously knew that he riled the smallish, knotted rope of a man. Could he be doing it on purpose?
I had first observed Franklin O'Neal standing innocently alone on the tarmac, just after I had met Ottel. The first thing that caught my attention about O'Neal was his eyes. His eyes were intensely serious, like dark lumps of coal, with the hint of passionate flame in them. O’Neal was ominously sinister almost, his lips lined tautly, rigidly resolute. Ottel and I quietly snickered at the nickname "Short-timer, O’Neal had scrawled broadly on his camouflage green helmet liner. “'Short fuse,' might be more appropriate,” Ottel had joked.
It was as if Ottel could read my thoughts, when he saw I was worried. He nodded towards O'Neal. "He won't do anything. He's just talk. But don't get me wrong, O'Neal's a killer! I know that...and you'd best know it too."
"You pompous punk!” O’Neal snapped at Ottel. “You pompous piss-ant! I'd slit your throat before breakfast anytime it pleases me, and it wouldn't spoil my appetite none. I can't think of anything sweeter than killing you, I surely can't, but I want to savor it. How'm I going to do it, eh Jelly Belly? That's the question of the hour. Your wondering about that is what makes me let you go on living. It gives my life purpose. It makes my living in this jungle more worthwhile somehow...got it?"
"Yeah, I hear you," Ottel smirked, then feigned a yawn.
"I get great pleasure knowing you're thinking about your death...worrying about it...dreaming about it. Get the picture? Sure you do! I like the thought of you staying up nights, wondering how I'm going to do it, conjecturing when it's going to come. Maybe I'll jump you when you round a tree out on the trail, and I'll pick just the right time too, when you're out of sight of the rest of the patrol. I'll just tell 'em Charlie did it. How're they not going to believe me? Maybe I'll cut your throat as you sleep in your bunker. Maybe you'll get a dose of friendly lead in your back during a firefight,” he said with mercurial eyes. “Who knows when the grim reaper will strike?”
Ottel paused, looking at O'Neal's shadowy figure in the dusky night. Without taking his eyes off O'Neal, he said, "Jacob, O'Neal's nothing but hot air. Don't worry about him. I don't. A lot of men learn to love it here in Vietnam, too much I think. Nam teaches them to hate anything and everything. They love to hate. After awhile they accept it here...they belong here...couldn't live anywhere else but here. This," he spread his arms to the jungle, "is their life! They no longer fit in polite, God-fearing society back home. You don't have to tell them, they know it. If they weren't natural-born killers when they got to Nam, Nam makes them so. O'Neal's like that. The boy's no longer an apprentice, no sir. O'Neal's graduated! He is a natural born-killer, trained stateside, and honing his murderous craft in Vietnam."
O'Neal scowled, a gutturally evil laugh rolling on his lips. "Can't hardly wait to stick a fork in that fat jelly mouth of yourn." But if O'Neal was waiting for Ottel to show alarm at his threats, he went away empty.
"Killing is a job O'Neal finds great satisfaction in," Ottel said. “That boy loves his work. It has become his greatest passion in life. He takes pride in it, and he does his job well. He's a real pro, and he wants people to sit up and take notice. It spurns explanation, but after you’ve been here awhile, you'll know what I mean. Won't be long before you too see it."
"Hell, Jacob," O'Neal snarled, pushing right up into my face. "You might even come to appreciate the adrenaline rush that takes place when you kill a man...like I do."
I laughed slightly, uncomfortably, unsure if O'Neal was joking or not. I didn't want to get on his wrong side -- especially not now. Later in the shank of the evening, after Ottel and O'Neal had rolled over and went to sleep, again the silence of Nam overpowered me. I now welcomed being all alone with my thoughts...and the omnipresent spirits wafting in the air of men out there looking for ways to kill me.