Thursday, April 19, 2012

Mac Hawk Down

Right when word of the new Mac trojan horse came out, my machine started going loopy. The timing was not great, as I was rushing to get a long edit out to a client so she could read it on the red-eye back to DC. Strange warnings unintelligible to non-geeks kept popping up on my screen. I got hit with slo-mo operations, email glitches, the dreaded spinning pizza and – the scary part for a copywriter – word crashes. Was my computer infected? Had my machine been turned into a zombie bot, using my good name to hook my friends up with Canadian mail order drug companies? I was so rattled, I pasted my 15 page document into an email to my client, just in case the attachment was corrupted.

Time to call the mac guy.

I use a service that makes house calls and they just happened to have a tech in my neighborhood when I called in my request. I never know who they're sending, but they all do a fine job. This time, I got a former ranger.

No, not this kind of ranger.

And definitely not this one.

THIS kind of ranger.

Special ops, baby. 75th Ranger Regiment. An elite fighting force groomed for challenging and often top-secret missions. The fittest of the fit, strongest of the strong, bravest of the brave. Their slogan is "Rangers Lead the Way" and boy, do they deserve a more manly motto. (Which I would gladly provide, for my usual hourly rate, but I digress, which is also usual.)

You would never know from the fellow's placid demeanor and well-fed physique that his boots were on the ground during our ill-fated forray into Mogadishu, Sudan. He was chatty from the get-go, informing me that he was having a good day, as indicated by the fact that his previous customer had tipped him, which "Doesn't happen very often,". Hint, hint.

Of course, I immediately decided that I would tip him too. His is one of those professions, like dog grooming, where customers don't necessarily think about giving a gratuity. (Years ago, I had my consciousness raised by my mother in law, who always tipped hotel maids. "Why would you give three bucks to a guy for taking your bags up on a wheeled cart and ignore someone who makes your bed and cleans your bathroom?"  I have tipped hotel maids ever since, except for the time I found the previous occupant's pubes in the tub.)

Ranger Mac got to working on my machine, and soon called me over to show me something. (Since it had to do with the workings of my computer, I have forgotten what it was.) Rather than shlep back and forth with my broken leg, I sat down on a stool next to him and hovered while he worked. He was a talkative chap, and told me lots of war stories. Not the metaphorical kind: Actual war stories. He didn't go into too much detail about the battle of Mogadishu, other than to say that he was part of "Task Force Ranger", the first group of ground forces to enter the city. Their mission: to capture Sudanese warlord General Aidid. Ranger Mac was one of the 73 American wounded in that ill-fated venture. He showed me the bullet wound scar on his leg, which earned him one of his two purple hearts. "October 3rd 1992," he declared,"was the worst day of my life,".

Sudan wasn't his only combat experience. Ranger Mac was part of the invasion of Panama, code name "Operation Just Cause." ( Just Cause. Shock and Awe. Desert Storm. I have often wondered who names these things. Probably a civilian dweeb with a windowless office in some forgotten corner of the Pentagon.) I learned that prior to the official invasion, we were already fighting a covert war against Panamanian cocaine processors. Ranger Mac flew on several secret sorties in which he and his brothers in arms bombed coke labs deep in the jungle. But the most startling yarn involved a 23 year old soldier from Nebraska. The Ranger unit was on a stealth operation through the Panamanian jungle. My computer guy was walking ten feet behind Nebraska boy when the kid was hit with what looked like a "a bolt of lightening" coming up from the jungle floor: the deadly and rabidly territorial Fer de Lance snake. It latched its jaws onto the young soldier's hand and bit down so hard, it broke two of his fingers. Five minutes later, the poor lad was dead.

Ranger Mac's last deployment was to Afghanistan. He didn't go into a lot of detail, and I was afraid to pry for fear of appearing ghoulish, or bringing back memories he'd rather not revisit. What struck me most was when he remarked that he understood why Robert Bales snapped and went on a shooting rampage in Afghanistan. You go into a village one day, he explained, and are greeted by smiling villagers and throngs of  curious, laughing children. You return the next day to find the streets eerily empty and all the doors and windows shut, a sure sign that the Taliban are around and a fire fight could break out any second. It's impossible to tell the "good guys" from the "bad guys." After a while, this messes with your mind. Indeed, Ranger Mac confessed that he too had experienced PTSD. Fortunately for his wife and child, his manifested itself through depression rather than violent rage and he managed to work through it.

Despite his hero status and  three stints  "fighting for our freedom" on three continents, Ranger Mac didn't see the point of any of the conflicts in which he had taken part. In fact, he sounded like a typical East Bay liberal. He had enlisted to get his education paid for, and he had paid for it in spades. Ranger Mac was a gentle, outgoing, intellectually curious guy. Besides his military service, we covered several other topics - Oliver Sachs books, our favorite hiking spots, and his baby daughter, whose photo he proudly showed me. After he left, with my $20 tip in his pocket, I had a sudden pang of guilt that I hadn't "thanked him for his service." I don't think he minded - he's a different person now.

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