A Little Christmas Cheer

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I don't know why, exactly, but every year around this time, I seem to end up writing about, uh, drinking.

It might have something to do with the stress of trying to choose between the Chia Pet and the Smart Clapper. Decisions,

decisions ...
Or maybe it's just that I'm not much of a holiday guy.
In any case, I'm happy to report that--thanks to the generosity of a loyal reader--this year will not be an exception!

"Mr. T" (as I'm gonna call him to protect his innocence) sent me an e-mail message the other day in response to something I'd written in a column titled "Criminalizing Hatred" awhile back: specifically, my claim that our fighting men and women stationed in Kuwait during Operation Desert Storm eight years ago had no beer to keep them going while they were busy making the world safe for democracy--and contracting that mysterious Gulf War Syndrome that our government doesn't want to acknowledge or pay for the treatment of.

We'll skip the part about how checking out Scene at a Cleveland coffeehouse has become a Sunday-morning ritual for this guy. And I'll spare you his effusive compliments re: "Reality Check" ("I haven't read one that I didn't like," etc., etc.).

Suffice it to say that my correspondent served in the Air Force, and his particular duties involved setting up and running the airport operations near Kuwait City.

"First of all," he writes, "there was beer in the Persian Gulf . . . Lots of it!!!! Unfortunately, it was a nonalcoholic (what's the point??) Saudi swill. Even if you tried to fool yourself into thinking you were 'having a cold one' after a hot day, it only brought to mind images of what human waste would taste like if bottled.

"So with that in mind, and being in a 'dry theater of operations,' a lot of us GIs used some good old 'Yankee ingenuity' to come up with solutions to this dilemma.

"When you run the airport you have access to a lot of air carriers, both military and civilian. About a week after hostilities ceased, there was a U.S.-contracted air carrier ([which] shall remain nameless, just in case!) that started coming into Kuwait City regularly. After the second time, the pilot asked me if there was anything we needed there.

"As you could guess, drink was right at the top of the list.
"The next time he came in, he brought a very special package of a half-gallon of Jim Beam and a half of some brand of vodka. He did this every so often for the next couple of months.

"He never asked for money, though we always offered. I don't know if this was his way of doing a patriotic duty or what.

"But I do know that, 'Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus'--he flew in the Persian Gulf, and his name was Alex."

Now isn't that an uplifting story? I thought so, too.
"Another memory," Mr. T continues, "was with our sister unit of the Royal Air Force.

"Being a coalition, we worked with other countries' militaries, the British being one of them. They arrived within hours of us to set up their operations and worked rather well with us for the duration.

"Their aircraft sometimes flew through Bahrain, an island nation in the Gulf noted for its tolerance and availability of drink.

"In late March, the initial cadre of Brits [was] scheduled to rotate to the rear. All this time, they too had been horse-trading for libations.

"On the day before their departure, their 'ship came in' in the form of [an] R.A.F. C-130 from Bahrain, carrying a case of assorted liquor and a case of assorted orange juice.

"I have a very fond memory of fellow airmen from the Royal Air Force inviting (and I quote) 'our American cousins' for a drink:

"There we were--military professionals and victors of a 'just campaign'--cementing over 200 years of relations over rum and orange juice, vodka and orange juice, whiskey and orange juice, anything and orange juice. And in the backdrop, the roar and glow of over 200 oil-well fires! A scene, and hangover, I will never forget!"

Nor will I. My head's aching just from reading about it!
But there's more: "The final recollection I have was one that we produced ourselves.

"At some point in mid-April, we had a makeshift kitchen that was manned on a voluntary basis by unit personnel. We had access to what is known as Class IV rations. This is a lot of canned, dry, and dehydrated stuff that is used by military cooks to feed the troops. We also procured a refrigeration van of fresh food, including some fruit.

"Well, one of our most resourceful NCOs (now retired) came to me one day shortly after that and asked me if I knew what the last word in the dictionary was. Needless to say, I was at a loss. With a smile, he told me it was zymurgy. Zymurgy is 'the branch of chemistry that deals with fermentation processes, as in brewing.'

"He then led me to the kitchen, where after he produced one of those one-liter water bottles that were so common in the Gulf. This one had a rather cloudy, greenish-yellow liquid in it. He told me to try it, and I did.

"All I can say is, it is amazing what can be produced with a bunch of apples, five pounds of sugar, yeast, five gallons of water, and about ten days of waiting!

"It was not something I would recommend at a bar or after a fine dinner. It looked kind of nasty and it didn't taste exactly great. But conditions being what they were, it was just fine!

"We then proceeded to try various other ingredients.
"We found that a No. 10 can of pie filling (cherry, blueberry, etc.) worked rather well as a substitute. We even found that, if you added some of the everpresent Saudi Sprite that showed up later, it made a reasonable facsimile of a wine cooler.

"So," my correspondent concludes, "thanks to some good old GI horse-trading, some international cooperation, the spirit of American technical know-how, and the quest for discovery, manna flowed in an otherwise 'dry' desert!"

He signs off with these heartening words:
"Keep up the good work in your articles. And don't let the whiners in the Letters section get to you."

Not a chance, my friend!
When somebody writes in and takes me to task for besmirching the memory of "Michael Shepard," and the kid's name--as I had it throughout my column--was Matthew, I just consider the source.

And when another well-meaning ignoramus confuses government intrusion into our urinary tracts with coming down hard on noise-polluting cretins for disturbing the general peace, accusing me of being "inconsistent," I simply recall Emerson's famous disclaimer: "A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm gonna go mix up one of those home-brews . . .
Did I mention it's Christmas?

David Sowd's e-mail address: [email protected]

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