Fear and Self-Loathing with the Merchants of Death
Or, Tripping Balls at AUSA, the largest Weapons Trade Show in North America
At the Swiss Ammunition and Arms booth a two dimensional Schweizer Fahne pulsed and popped into three dimensions. The quarter ounce of 'Penis Envy' psychedelic mushrooms I'd ingested back in the press room were kicking in; a quarter ounce, I'll note from the outset, was perhaps too much. I was there with the Commodore, a serious Journalist from a Major Paper, and Yael, a woman I suspected was Mossad or CIA. I have a high tolerance for edibles, a high tolerance for mushrooms, and a low tolerance for bullshit. I was going to test all of those boundaries today, at the largest weapons show in North America, one sponsored, in a roundabout way, by the Army.
Live and learn. This was October 10 in Washington DC, at AUSA:2022, a professional development forum / expo / conference for the Association of the United States Army, up at the DC Convention center across from the Carnegie Library that's now an Apple Store.
In civilian language, AUSA was a major merchant of death convention I'd attended while still a soldier freshly back from the conflict, over a decade ago. It was coming back on-line fully for the first time since the Pandemic. I was going to be out on the east coast for Yorktown Days, celebrating the 241st anniversary of the battle that finally won the American revolution. Why not go?
I needed a plan; I needed a companion and a local guide and I knew of only one person with the balls it'd take to pull this off. Enter the Commodore: once a sailor who spent a lot of time in the desert defusing bombs, he would be unflappable as my battle buddy. I'd planned on the two of us doing bounding overwatch up the aisles of AUSA's vendors, collecting shwag, asking questions, running the routes, learning the things but I hadn't planned on an infiltrator this early.
Yael was ostensibly doing PR for a company that made directed energy weapons to shoot down kamikaze drone swarms of the sort that the Ayatollah's military was getting pretty good at developing, she told me. I figured that was a cover job. Spies don't just come out and tell you they're spies. She looked surprised when I ate the mushrooms right in front of her.
She'd shown up when I was typing on my laptop in the press room after the opening ceremonies, waiting for the Commodore to arrive—he'd agreed to keep watch on my six on the floor, make sure I didn't get out of line—before I ingested the psychedelics to begin my very serious research into this Merchant of Death convention's heart of darkness.
Spies do their research, they would've known these things from SIGINT, signals intelligence. Me and the Commodore talk on the phone. We text. We can't escape the spiderweb of digital surveillance any more than anyone else on this spinning marble can. Especially not now, with starlink and shit.
It definitely wouldn't have been from HUMINT, human intelligence. The Commodore's a friend from way back and one of the few people on earth I trust. We got our start in journalism at roughly the same time and with freelance pieces in the same section of the same Major Paper, but we're wired different.
For one thing, he was a Navy Officer, Naval Academy guy in fact, who tried in his military career as an Explosives Ordnance Disposal guy, to make sure things *didn't* blow up. I barely made it through college, wound up enlisting in the Infantry, and literally blowing up things up with forty mike mike grenades lobbed from the .203 launcher slung under my M4 was, for a time, my professional specialty. I still covet an old school M-79.
A similar dynamic applied here at the merchant of death convention. The Commodore had always been more professional than I. He'd even gone to journalism school. Our interests overlapped. My original plan was to stay with the Commodore in Arlington once we were done walking the floor; that way we could rap about what we'd seen, figure out what it meant, two pairs of eyes that look for different things. I'd brought a bouquet of gem corn as a thank you for his family's hospitality, but he had to jet out to Brussels with the Secretary of Defense, and his wife had to travel too. So today was all we had.
If you enjoyed this story and want more like it, please subscribe to “The Hunt for Tom Clancy”
Mushrooms haven't really ever done it for me. I first tried them at Bonnaroo 2004, split some with my buddy Ben; he wound up writhing on the ground during a Beth Orton set, I hardly felt a thing during "Stolen Car," and I quite like that song.
So I decided to do what my Mushroom guides called a "heroic dose," consuming somewhere between six or seven grams of DC's finest fungus (I'd ordered a quarter and had a nibble of one a couple nights before) washing it down with some $4.50 Doctor Pepper from the convention gift shop. I can count the amount of times I've eaten them on one hand. I liked the idea of this in theory.
The Army and the failed war in Afghanistan occupied most of my twenties. Writing about and recovering from the Army and the failed war in Afghanistan had occupied most of my thirties. My forties were fast approaching and Afghanistan had fallen to the Taliban and the next year I'd gotten a divorce. I didn't want to end up repeating mistakes I'd made in the past. I was broke, living off veterans disability compensation for the most part.
So, I thought, in October why not push the big reset button on the whole thing, the direction of my life, rewrite the whole goddam story. I got my suits pressed, prepared my accessories, and thought of my gimmick. A retired Navy Captain I knew up in Hampton Roads had gotten seriously into Mushrooms over the summer. That. That might work.
To a thinking person AUSA was a hallucinogenic enough place straight stone sober; on the trade show floor there were laser weapons mounted on dune buggies, all sorts of drones and giant optical sensors suspended in mid-air by cables, tanks and armored fighting vehicles, Booth Bunnies by racks and racks of rifles, grenade launchers and rockets.
Espresso machines were a draw at the large, expensive booths run by the richest of the bomb-makers and contractor body shops from around the world, General Dynamics and Leonardo and Booz Allen Hamilton.
Booths selling Belgian guns, German lenses, Italian drones. All visited by American soldiers, Australian commandos, Japanese Self-Defense Force generals, defense trade writers and military contractors (green badgers) always hungry for their next tax-payer funded meal.
The contractors were the worst; they circled the floor in bad suits worn shiny by constant green badge lanyard wearing, looking to my increasingly pulsing, dilated eyes like lazy inbred sharks in a fish-tank at Sea World, protected by the economies of scale of their "essential to national security" industry from the normal vicissitudes of American capitalism.
If I'd put all the money I saved one summer working at a Virginia horse racing track in 2000 (which wasn't much) into Raytheon or Northrop Grumman stock, I'd be sitting pretty right now. But I've never made the best decisions.
So, like a player before the big game, I sat in the press room wearing headphones, jamming to an alternation of Nasheeds (Like the strong wind is always a favorite, it pumps me up good) and Britney Spears, knocking out some writing. I wanted to get a thousand words done before I tripped balls; I've had the experience of understanding, on a cellular level, the deep evils of computerized technology while on mushrooms before, and it seemed hard to file a story that way.
The opening ceremony was thirty minutes away; I retrieved the Penis Envy mushrooms from my bag. They kept in the same type of plastic and foil pouch that my pot came in. General Robert Brown, a retired 4 star who used to be a special operations helicopter pilot (like the current Chief of Staff of the Army, James McConville) would be at the opening ceremonies. I've been around the Army a long time, outside of my blood family, its one of the few institutions in America I love.
This day would be a tough balancing act for everyone; they were talking about building the Army of 2030, but they'd missed quarterly recruiting goals by nearly 15,000 soldiers, setting a goal of 60,000 and accessing 45,000. This seemed bad, long term. The general in charge of Fort Benning, one of those bases responsible for training those soldiers, Major General Pat Donahoe, recently had a whole thing on twitter where he came out to defend women in service, but also attracted the trolls and got disciplined for it, for getting the Army 'bad' attention, not for being wrong.
So, you can understand, in that sort of environment, why I waited until my buddy the Commodore got there.
He'd also made it home from a war over a decade ago, and he worked for a Major Paper. Seems like everyone's forgotten about the wars we fought in. I was in Afghanistan, he was in Iraq, the focus at the conference was mostly on China and North Korea, as well as the Army's most serious, persistent enemy: the inability to tell itself, or anyone else, the truth.
Not one of the leadership pointed out that maybe, just maybe, the high rates of sexual assault and low rates of convictions were affecting recruiting numbers.
No one mentioned that most of the combat guys I know from the first five years of the wars, say, 2001-2006, are all a fucking mess in the head and our bodies are just beginning to catch up.
Strange cancers from burn pits, weird neuro-degenerative conditions, brain toxicity from mefloquine, it was all shit I hadn't thought of when I signed up to close with and destroy the enemy in 2005.
Not a single panel discussion was devoted to learning or applying the lessons of Iraq and Afghanistan. The lessons of those two decades filtered through the office at the end of the Coen brothers' "Burn After Reading."
CIA Superior : What did we learn, Palmer?
CIA Officer : I don't know, sir.
CIA Superior : I don't fuckin' know either. I guess we learned not to do it again.
CIA Officer : Yes, sir.
CIA Superior : I'm fucked if I know what we did.
CIA Officer : Yes, sir, it's, uh, hard to say
CIA Superior : Jesus Fucking Christ.
The Army may have gone goldfish on the Afghan war, but it's all I can remember sometimes. Start tripping balls alone at a place like this, there's no way of telling where you'll wind up.
In between the Strong like the Wind and Soldiers of Allah; (seriously it's the *only* good acapella) there was an ad for WaWa.
I wondered if I could expense the mushrooms.
I wandered up to the ballroom to observe the opening ceremonies, a room absolutely jammed full of soldiers. Which started with a presentation of the colors by the Army's fife and drum corps, who hang out with the Old Guard, a bunch of sham-ass "infantry" dudes who chose to do ceremonial shit in the military district of Washington rather than kill people in a resource rich area of the world as God intended. I wanted a good view, so I stood in the aisle and some busybody retired master sergeant in dorky shoes sitting in an easy chair tried to tell me where I could stand.
After the fife and drum corps and flag ceremony came a prayer and invocation from the chaplain. The Army was going back to the World War II style pinks and greens; I think they're sharp looking uniforms, except for the hats, which are dorky, but Army hats always are.
I'd persuaded a magazine to let me cover the conference, but I compartmentalized my plans. I showed up in my reporter camouflage, suit with Army flair pins—a Combat Infantry Badge and a Gold Star Family Member pin, Army man cufflinks, leather attache case with laptop and tape recorders, spare batteries and notebooks, the whole nine yards. I was about to do real, serious investigative journalism, the type of shit that no one else is doing.
I was about to trip balls and walk around the floor with a bunch of battle hardened killers from all sorts of armies. There were robot dogs patrolling the floor, surveillance was everywhere, and it was my first time back in the military district of Washington since the pandemic, I was a little on edge.
Outside the opening ceremonies, I'd seen one of my buddies from the war, when I knew him, he was a Sergeant from the Scout platoon; he was now a Command Sergeant Major with the Old Guard, wearing a fully blinged out uniform that made me vaguely jealous. We got a selfie, but he was on duty today, making sure his guys got where they were going and acted right; the room was filled with women and men with stars on their shoulders, not the environment for a garrison soldier to be fucking around. I was never a good garrison soldier, but I did fine in the field.
I'd gotten in trouble here at AUSA 2009 when I was a soldier on the staff of the Training and Doctrine's Command Group. I was on temporary duty to DC from Fort Monroe be a factotum for my boss, a Green Beret Command Sergeant Major who reported directly to the Four Star General. A Colonel from Forces Command who wanted to get a job with his buddy at Raytheon saw my Combat Infantry Badge, asked me to follow him, and I wound up having a flashback hooked up to an early VR training simulator with a couple actors on my side, pretending to be in a fire team.
I didn't know I was also hooked up for audio and being filmed by CBS, Kim Dozier, (I knew one of the guys who got blown up with her, we were in a PTSD program in California together). I didn't like the simulator, I said so, and then I wondered aloud, while mic'd up, what kind of idiots would buy it.
Then it dawned on me.
I worked for the Training and Doctrine Command. We bought it.
I had to go tell the General, the Colonel, and my girlfriend at the time, a woman who worked in Public Affairs.
The General and the Colonel took it fine but my girlfriend was pissed. I'd embarrassed her by going against the program.
The Scout platoon leader was here too, he was now the operations guy for a major veteran's charity.
I knew I could rely on those guys if the shit hit the fan.
There was a bit of a risk involved from the rest of my peers in the press room, who seemed like amiable squares stuck in some high school cafeteria hellscape. They were awfully cliquey for people who made their living recycling talking points for people who's products killed children in Yemen, Afghanistan, Syria, Iraq, and many other countries.
That was why I was out on the floor; but now I couldn't find the Commodore and the mushrooms were really kicking in, I was feeling pretty good, I was starting to really understand some things, and there was some information I desperately had to share with my new friend, who was also probably a spy. Ah well. I've lived around spies all my life, what's one more? Not like they can read your thoughts. Or can they?
"The Swiss are the most evil people on earth," I told the Mossad lady, passing a fake wall painted in school bus yellow, under a giant banner of the Alps and the Swiss and German flags. "Can you get a photo of me with the the Swiss? My mom's family's from Switzerland. Swiss Catholics stole the farm in the 1500s. We still remember."
The Commodore and I are friends from way back, we got our start in journalism at roughly the same time and in the same Major Paper.
We get along real well but we're wired different. For one thing, he was a Navy Officer, Naval Academy guy, I barely made it through college and wound up enlisting in the Infantry. Similar dynamic applied here; the Commodore had always been more professional that I, he'd gone to journalism school, he did real work. My original plan was to stay with the Commodore at his crib in Arlington, but he had to jet out to Brussels with the Secretary of Defense, so we settled on walking around AUSA.
The Might-Be-Mossad lady took the photo. She was from Iran originally, Israel helped get her family to California, when she was home she went to a synagogue I knew from walking around when I was homeless out there post war and living with a girlfriend from Latvia, her mother and her father, dealing with some shit.
"Got it, got the Swiss logo and everything, you want some chocolate?" Yael asked, noting the foil-wrapped Swiss Chocolates in a dish for the conference trick or treaters.
"Yes, I replied, thinking this was an excellent idea "let's steal something back from them."
"I could use some chocolate," she said.
She was one of those hard-charging, highly capable, vibrating with intensity and anxiety mid-twenties types you encounter all the time in DC. They all seem to wish they could just skip to their late forties, when they'll inevitably be in charge of a directorate or running a program; that dichotomy of people capable of toppling governments overseas while also being powerless to subvert their local homeowners association in Falls Church.
"This is good chocolate man..." I trailed off, remembering I was still in the presence of my enemies. "Switzerland...the Swiss. They're evil otherwise, but good chocolate."
I was having trouble modulating my voice as the drugs kicked in harder. I said that pretty fucking loud, part of me thought. Maybe you should try to blend. Look normal.
When I lifted the Swiss chocolate to my mouth, my cufflinks (cast metal that looked like old school green Army men, a bazooka guy and a rifleman) appeared to move, like they were beginning squad attack maneuvers on my sleeve. The Bazooka guy pointed towards a tall, grey-uniform clad Swiss Army Man who I was sure had heard me. The fear crept in. The Swiss play by different rules. They're mountain people so they know knots, and you never know what they'll do with that corkscrew on their knives.
The mushrooms were also giving me heightened powers of perception. Pasty, pre-diabetic men who'd spent their last twenty years pretending we were winning the war in Afghanistan and then cashed out and went to work for the defense contractors, were flooding by, and I tried to hum a tune to keep their thoughts from entering my skull; I didn't want to read their minds, God knows what I'd find. I suspected they all knew I was on very powerful drugs. A Swiss Oberstleutnant stared at me, or seemed to. It was time to go. The Commodore and the Spy were talking about power requirements for directed energy weapons—it was too goddam much.
"Hey we gotta get out of here...I insulted the Swiss." We began to move, but didn't get far before I was distracted by a display case filled with 40mm high explosive grenades, not the type you throw, but the type you shoot out of an M203 or a MK-19. My buddy Pichardo shot one through a dude's chest on OP-4 once, his M4 jammed and the guy was so close the grenade didn't arm and blow up until *after* it flew through his torso and hit a tree; body parts and viscera flew back on Pichardo. I was, at one time in my life, jealous of that. Not everyone can tell that story.
"Oh look at that shit, I love grenades, those are my favorites!" I picked up a demo grenade, eying it like a sommelier eyes a glass of freshly poured wine. "Oh, look at that."
I looked around for the staffers from this booth, motioning towards one, relieved they weren't the Swiss. "Hey excuse me, I'm gonna take a picture of these grenades. I love these things," I told the dude.
"Do," he replied.
Again I couldn't shut up. Shrooms, man, I wasn't sure what they would do. They made me into quite the Chatty Kathy, as it turned out.
"I used to shoot these shits, they were amazing. My favorite weapon dude. Would you get my picture with these Grenades?" I asked.
Sure thing, he said with an accent. I asked him where he was from; Germany. I lived in Germany for a while, I told him. Bitburg. From when I was eight until I was eleven. We lived out in the countryside. My dad worked on base.
"I speak German like a redneck," I told the German Grenade Seller, "I say Ish rather than Ick, when I say Ich...thanks for letting me take a picture with these," I waved vaguely toward the weapons. I took a flyer; like I could buy anything here.
Unlike the Pentagon, I operate on a shoestring budget, most days. I was staying at the Safe House across the river (i.e. with a friend who works in Public Health and lives in Arlington) past the Pentagon.
I could hardly afford a hotel room, much less a directed energy weapon or hand grenade from one of these big beltway bandits. But a man could dream. I saw all the evidence here, If I got on with a defense contractor, worked really hard, from this point out, perhaps I too could one day live the American dream of running a bomb factory in the mid south.
“Where’s the Commodore?” I asked, looking around and only seeing Yael.
"He went off to find more flyers and I said I could babysit you," she said.
Was she Mossad? CIA? FBI? One of those weird Pentagon spy shops that don't exist?
"Think you can assume that mantle?...of babysitter?" I asked, skeptically, as scenes from 1987's "Adventures in Babysitting" starring Elizabeth Shue poured, unbidden, into my mind.
The Commodore knew how to jump out of airplanes, defuse bombs, and make defense contractors nervous. He was the ideal walking around buddy, except...he was so goddam professional that I couldn't quite keep up. He liked to go collect all the flyers with the industry tech specs; he had a stack of them in the Major Paper's Washington Bureau from the pre-pandemic. When he had to do an explainer story about a bomb or a weapons system pulled them out as reference material for stories for his Major Paper. The guy was always working. It was impressive.
"I'll take it on for a little bit, I'm walking around, getting the lay of the land," she said. The mushrooms were really taking hold, and I felt very aware that we were both just human beings, in a room full of other human beings facilitating the murder of human beings. I didn't like that very much. So I went for the positives.
"I like you," I said to Yael.
She didn't hear me. My thoughts were running together in my mind.
Her name is like Yale, but better, because its not Yale, I thought. Even though she also has a Skull and Bones, but she does not have a Wolf's Head, Not all my thoughts were making sense. It seemed like I could read the thoughts of those around me, but only as long as their faces didn't start spinning slightly, starting out with the pursed lips where a normal person would have a smile.
"Eventually I have to go back to the press room. Because they were like, 'more,' more, and I'm like 'how much more do you want?"
"Yeah, you gotta sell this shit to people," I said,
"Unfortunately," she agreed.
"Gotta keep the machinery of death going..." It was sad.
"I insulted the Swiss, which you can't do."
At this point I hoped Yael was a spy, as long as she wasn't a Swiss Spy, because then she'd be attuned to the particulars of surveillance and counter surveillance, and could watch my six without knowing she was doing it all I'd have to do is watch her reactions.
I was beginning to worry about the Militärischer Nachrichtendienst, Swiss military intelligence. Helveti hillbillies can't take a joke, that's why they protect the Pope; especially if they're still from the homeland in the Alps. Historically the Swiss do violence even better than they do banking or chocolate. That's the other reason they protect the pope.
"Are you going to insult the Aussies, too?" The Yael asked, as we passed the Australian Defense booth. I looked at the guys in the booth, human animals with shoulders bulging out of expensive polo shirts or Australian Soldiers, who don't really fuck around.
"No, I'll try to avoid it. They look big. Especially that guy" I pointed.
"That guy can fight," I sauntered towards him, "You can fight, can't you? You know how to fight, don't you?"
"Matt!" The Might-be-Mossad lady hissed, “you are something else”
The Commodore showed back up. "Let's see if they have more flyers," he said, motioning in the direction of a booth.
"Yeah!" I said, feeling more enthusiastic about just about everything than I had in months as the Psilocybin coursed through my bloodstream. "Let's go General Dynamics it up!"
Yael disappeared. Further evidence of years of training in the dark arts of espionage. It didn't matter. There was a rack of bazookas at the General Dynamics booth; I'm sure they have a technical name
"Can you get a picture of me holding that rocket launcher? Can I pick up that rocket launcher, that thing's cool man. See, I'm a lefty...when I shoot. So shoot it like this?"
I swung the rocket launcher around on my shoulder, pointing the business end towards the escalator that linked purgatorial registration part of the of the expo center to the hellscape on the convention floor. I'm a former action guy; simply as objects, I like the old tools of my trade, even as I despise their manufacturers. Human beings are vast, we contain multitudes, and Bazookas are cool.
"Fuckin' A!" I made an explosion noise with my mouth like I was a five year old playing GI JOE. "BOOWOOSH."
I imagined an explosive projectile flying toward the contractors catching up on business while descending the mechanical stairs to military industrial hell on earth to sell more death weapons to demon ghouls.
I had an RPG fly about two feet in front of my face once, if the missileers hadn't jerked the trigger slightly, messing up his shot I might not be here. I respected the power of this weapon. My voice seemed loud but I couldn't stop talking.
"Yeah, take out the escalators, right? Trap everybody. Cool. This is neat."
I'd be doing them a favor. They were already trapped, all those retired colonels, the soul-less fucks, they had mortgages on McMansions outside Manassas, where the real estate market was built on blood and is maintained by blood. After putting in their twenty in the military, they'd gone right back to blood. I was tempted to give some Sergeants time training to this whole crew of clue-less fucks. Good thing the rocket launcher was an inert, demonstration model.
I was, for a while, the guy who saw the end use of these products. We did bomb damage assessments occasionally. We had contractors crawling the FOB installing bullshit we didn't need on trucks we didn't want, earning ten times our pay, a large amount of it tax free, while never leaving the wire. I'd worked for a drone company as an intern for a brief time in college and once copy and pasted text I didn't understand from one proposal into another proposal that eventually became a six million dollar contract for my company. The game was rigged as long as there was conflict in the world that these guys could sell weapons for. It's been bullshit for a long time.
The Commodore finally finished interrogating the guy who ran a factory that did something with recycling bombs.
We continued until we saw the robot dog operated by remote control powered by AT&T 5G; the dog had a speaker on its "face" and the guy could make it bark.
The mushrooms were fully present in my system and I was beginning to regret the decision to trip balls here.
I'd gone with a friend to the botanical gardens a couple days earlier after eating a small sample of the Penis Envy, just to calibrate it, and had a great time. There's a goddam Zoo in DC, Matt. I thought. You could be at the zoo. You could be at an Art Museum. You could be trying to get laid. But you're here, Matt, you're here and you're tripping and you're fucked because you're trapped in this room too.
I hate being confined. I hate being trapped. I had to escape and rally. I tried to find the Commodore, finally remembering I could call him on his phone. The phone was hard to look at, and it seemed like a woman's nose was doing the Pinnochio thing in my peripheral vision. Why in the fuck did I take mushrooms at a merchant of death convention? Why did I make such poor decisions?
The reception in the conference center sucked on my piece of shit iPhone 6 that I've dropped a whole bunch, and I heard him say he was near the Stryker with the Death Ray before the conversation cut off.
It was at this point that I got lost on the expo floor, asking everyone I felt I could trust where the Stryker with the Death Ray was.
No one knew.
One person asked me what a death ray was. Like a thing that shoots death, but it's invisible. It's mounted on a tank thing, but it's not a tank, because it doesn't have tracks, whatever, it's got wheels, so its a "fighting vehicle" you can't use them in the arctic. I gave up and went upstairs to get Ben's Chili Bowl, which took forever. I told the guys behind the counter that I was tripping and asked if Ben's Chili Bowl could be my safe space, my anchor. I got two waters. I drank both of them by the time my order was ready. Army dudes in sharp looking uniforms based on the world war II suits, Band of Brothers. I kept complimenting people's ties. I finally got my chili bowl, took two bites, and threw it away.
By one of the security line, a DC cop (Officer Singh) was hanging out around, and as a very serious respecter of lawful authority, I wanted to make sure I wasn't doing anything wrong. Officer, I asked, it is my understanding that Psychedelic mushrooms are decriminalized in the district now. Yeah, he shook his head, world's going to hell. He had two kids, eight years on the job, was going to stick it out but man.
I found myself back in the press room, explaining to Gina from AUSA that yes, I'd ingested a significant amount of psychedelic mushrooms in front of a press corps that by and large didn't believe me until they stared at my saucer style pupils. Jeromie, who normally shot bluegrass festivals, held his camera close to my eye. “I am an accredited reporter doing very important, deep journalism today,” I told Gina in the press room. She was facing a deadline and as I looked at her face melted & pulsed, I repeated, “did I tell you I ate mushrooms, that it's my whole schtick for this story, it’s my gimmick?”
The rest of my colleagues looked on in horror, and I began to suspect some of them of being agents of Swiss FIS, the Nachrichtendienst des Bundes. I was no longer safe here, I could no longer stand it this far inside the Belly of the Beast. I'd once hung out with a board member of CERN on the day of a total solar eclipse, that thought seemed very relevant right now.
A time tunnel was opening up in my consciousness, past was flowing onto present, the future was a forking fractal tree of freaky probabilities. The fear arrived. I saw one possible bad outcome, winding up in a VA rubber room due to a 5150 from AUSA, written in a scroll. Mushrooms, man.
I threw my laptop and my gear into my attache case, made for the exit, and then bummed a cigarette—my first since December 2017, I quit when I was living in Las Vegas—from a ROK Army guy standing outside. I returned to my car, rode the elevator into the deep underground parking beneath the Moncler store at city center, stashed my stuff, rolled a joint. Blazed that shit walking back to the convention center.
On the walk, I gathered my wits and rallied, returning back in the convention center to find the Commodore, who was going to drive my Subaru back to northern Virginia.
Let me tell you what, once you *own* the fact that you're tripping balls and there's no way to stop, then decide that you belong at an Army convention more than just about anyone else in there, the game changes.
You're on psychedelic mushrooms around a bunch of squares with security clearances and ulcers who have absolutely no idea what the fuck that means, you realize you're not in the danger, you are the danger.
Outside, I told a two star paratrooper General with his nifty red beret what I was up to. He didn’t know how to respond. Asymmetric threat, indeed.
Finally I found the Commodore; we walked the streets of DC back to his office, talking about the lost people we'd seen inside.
Both of us were vaguely surprised in some ways we hadn't done our twenty in the family business. Both of us were glad we'd never gone to work for some of the guys we worked with in the War, and both of us were aware of the enormous privilege we had in peeking behind the curtain, and learning what the Wizard looked like early. The Commodore was a father now, he couldn't imagine being in while raising a child.
"Spend seven months living in a plywood shack in god knows where for god knows why and miss my son's first steps? For what? For a mission that never mattered, anyway?"
The mushrooms and the merchant of death convention de-compartmentalized and unlocked emotions I, in my Swiss German way, kept neatly closed off and I found myself crying and telling the Commodore how much I loved him, that he made me feel less alone, that I was grateful for his courage and his example and his friendship, the way he'd managed to remain a human.
We got back to my safe house in Arlington with my friend that worked in Public Health; despite that, I trusted her, trusted that she'd keep me safe. We've known each other for years. At her house, there was healing and love, and there was no place I wanted to be more in that moment. I smoke pot, I don't know much about mushrooms, so I called another buddy for advice. He'd been using them on the weekends out in Nature, throwing some tunes on his iPod, chowing down some magic mushrooms, and feeling his feelings. This is something military guys don't do especially well. It is trained out of us.
As the Penis Envy of the day wore off, me and my lady friend sat on the couch talking about our feelings and the tornado of the day while her dog, who looked a little like Toto, begged for belly scratches, and I was grateful I no longer lived in the land of Oz, washing blood off the gold brick road.