I wake up. I'm hardly conscious of the fact that I have actually awakened. The first realization that pops into my head is that no one is actually chasing me, and I'm not actually riding a motorcycle that defies gravity. I also realize that my dead friend from high school, who I've been conversing with off and on for the last six hours, is indeed still dead. Well, I've come to terms with the fact that I'm back in the 12 X 12 closet in the crew dorms that I share with another guy. I remind myself to remain quiet so he can sleep until exactly fifteen minutes before we catch the Toyota truck that takes us to work. I then remember it's his day off and try to act just as concerned. Now I'm in search of the time. By instinct my eyes land on the brightest thing in the completely overcast room -- the alarm clock. It says 4:00 AM, although it's a filthy liar. This clock, and hundreds like it, was purchased years ago and abandoned by its original owner. The alarm would be nice if it was a slightly tinny broadcast of NPR beamed by satellite time-delayed from the states, but instead it's a half-buzz half-screech that works the same resonant frequency as the spinal column. The bastard hasn't gone off yet, so it's not 4:30. If you're sitting on the bed it perpetually looks like it's 7:25 from the parts of digit that have gone dim from years of use. It runs fast by about thirty seconds every hour because French assholes built the dorms and insisted on a 212-volt power supply, and the clock manufacturers were dicks who didn't figure out that just because you put a plug on a device that will fit a 212 socket doesn't mean the amperage will be conducive to keeping accurate KSA time. After ten seconds of fumbling around three separate cold metal shelves and knocking over packages of Jolt spearmint caffeinated gum (which works like a one-armed swingset), sticks of deodorant, and any other clangy, snappy, jingly noise I can make, I find my watch. Then I find the "light" button on the watch that activates the special indiglo backlight. 3:45. Shit.

Well better to get up a bit early than rely on some annoyance to force me into consciousness. Not like I could sleep on a bladder this full. I drink two 16oz bottles of Gatoraide before bed so I wake up in this manner. Then I curse my prior intentions because this is really uncomfortable. Now I have to hunt around for my sandals, which are under the bed next to some very rattly plastic AAFES bags I keep my shower supplies in. Then the reflective belt. The dorms have no dedicated bathrooms, so we are required to go outside, and walk about fifty paces down a sidewalk toward the nearest satellite toilet/shower/sink facility. They call them "cadillacs," though I don't quite see the resemblance. If you do this after dark, or in periods of low visability, you have to wear a reflective belt like you're on a damn motorcycle that defies gravity. Anyway, I let the light waterfall into the room as I walk past my roommate out the door. Oh well, if it was a problem he should have picked the bed on the hinge side of the door.

On the way to the can I pass by all the sandbag and concrete bunkers between the buildings. They're well blocked-off, so you can't really see if there's anything inside them. Last rotation I was hand-selected to spearhead the implementation of special procedures for the reorganization and safety-enhancement of the adjacent bunkers. Our ADO walked by one day and told me they were a mess and I needed to get them cleaned up somehow or another. I can only wonder what resides there now. What dirty deeds to people think they're getting away with behind all that concrete and sneakiness. Better yet, what do I think I could get away with in there?

Twenty feet from the caddy I catch a warm robust swell of a stink. It's the kind that you can't really breathe through even with your mouth open. Fortunately it's over fast, but it knocks you for a whirl. I'll skip to the part where I wash my hands and go.

On my way to the chow hall I pass by approximately ten people wandering about. I make eye contact and say "good morning" to each one, something I never do outside the base with civilians. My dad does, but I've never had much desire to start. Anyway, it's nobody I know, so I blow right by and head for the food. Redundantly I wash my hands again outside the building. This time I fight with the locally purchased paper towels, which are in dispensors with a hole at the bottom for the product to go through. It's the consistency and strength of hand toilet paper. The water faucet has hot and cold knobs, but the cold one is strictly a technicality. That or it's considered the hot knob, and the real hot knob is there in case this one breaks off. Either way you're not getting water that is in any way cold, as advertised. Hell, you're lucky if the red goo soap in the push-button dispensors hasn't been sitting in the sun for hours. It's lava (literally) for a second and a half before the alcohol gets on your skin and it feels slightly cold. Lather, rinse, dry, pull sticky bits of hand toilet paper off of you for the next fifteen minutes.

The air outside at 3:45 am is actually kind of nice, sort of leukewarm. This is relatively speaking because even though the sun is nowhere to be seen, it's still 90 degrees outside -- which at this point feels leukewarm. Inside the main chow hall entrance all unwanted hot air pools in the corridor, making this feel like Dead Man Walking while you're in line to the sign-in sheet. Pratt - last 4 - 745, pick up tray, sort through plastic silverware, tell the TCN what kind of omlette I want (ham, cheese, tomatoes, mushrooms), stand and watch the magic happen. Omlette's done, sort through some fruit at the salad bar -- usually tangerines or plums, sometimes melons -- carefully balance a gatoraide on the tray I'm holding with one hand, find an empty table.

Dammit, gatoraide shortage. I select an Emirates bottle of water, and a Coke. Sort of a middle-eastern approximation of Coke. Haji-Coke. Maybe it's the pop-top, maybe it's the dust contamination, maybe they use sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, whatever -- it doesn't taste like normal Coke. I've been drinking domestic-canned Coca Cola since I was four years old at the latest, and it's my expert opinion that this ain't quite it. Anyway, it's not water. It's got a "win cash" promotion on the can, written in Arabic and English. The underside of the pop-top is all Arabic, which translates to "sorry but Allah doesn't shine on you today, try again." If you win something, the top is bilingual. I've won 250 ml Cokes before, though the 330 ml cans at the chow hall are free. If I'd been smart I would have saved all these tops for a trip downtown, and had a special supply of carbonated beverages for the whole afternoon. Of course I'm smart enough that I just take lots of free drinks from the chowhall with me when I do go downtown. The factor standing in the way of this brilliant plan is the Gatoraide-Nazi. She's a skinny, attractive, young Staff Sergeant who I won't get to know with blond hair who sits at the table closest to the Exit sign and faces people going out the door. Two million dollars of military training and GWOT funding has led the way for this young professional to sit and gripe to people walking out the door with more than one unopened beverage in plain sight. Fortunately she's also in a good position to spearhead the reflective belt issue.

Nobody I know or care to talk to is eating at this hour, which is fortunate because the list contains no entries in the first place. I have awakened in a grumpy state. What I can do aside from eating is think about random notions, such as the recent observation to compare people you knew in high school to characters from "Napoleon Dynamite." Of course most of the school is the two-dimensional cheerleader or future professional athlete, I'm talking about the people you really remember. I didn't hang out with many slow, quiet Pedro types, though the girls I liked had Deb qualities. I wonder if I can remember any Napoleons. There were plenty of obnoxious geek kids, but none that really stand out as Dynamites. Unless I was the one, which I wasn't.

I sit reverse-blowing the steam off the bits of omlette I should have waited before putting in my mouth. Choking on egg would be inadvisable at this point, but I drink some Coke anyway. My Coke has the Arabic translation of the Coke logo. Originally I thought it would say the Arabic word for "chimney soot" or whatever coke implies in real life. Then I've come to the conclusion it's probably the word Coke spelled out phonetically. I'm sure even if it consisted of consonants that get lost between us and them, they probably recognize it like we recognize the "n" in "pinata." Billions of advertising and marketing dollars has led to middle-eastern citizens all over to pronounce the word "Coke" before drinking 330 ml of it and swearing about how much they hate America, Bush, and the infidel swine who invented the drink.

It's been another thirty minutes of me immersed in thought and munching breakfast, so time to move on. Though no one else is at the table I still do the customary dropping of the wadded up napkin onto the tray, then scoot the chair back, stand up, and pick up the tray with everything on it in a smooth, fluid motion. On my way to the finish line I pick up an additional soda to take with me to the office. Eyeing me, the Gatoraide Nazi recites her prepared announcement that "Sir, I can't allow you to take any drinks from this building." It occurs to me to respond with something smart. "No, this is mine -- I bought it." Then she asks how I bought it seeing as how all chow hall drinks are free, and I say "How do you think I bought it? With blood, sweat, and sacrifice as a war hero. Gosh." Then I reconsider how that would sound. Put the Coke back, Napoleon.

Walking outside on base has become a completely automated procedure. I keep no track of who I have "how's it going'd," much less what their responses have been. I guess I never really cared how it was indeed going for them. Of course most of them answer me with "how's it going," which means they don't actually care either. I suppose if somebody came back with a textbook case of the blues or suicidal tendancies, and said they really were doing horrible, then I would care. If you're happy or at least mildly content given the circumstances, let me move onto the next person. Sorry sir, I've got a lot of people to good morning today, and my good afternoon is pretty much booked as well. Usually if it's not morning it comes out as "what's up," so I don't give a post-emptive good morning to somebody at 12:01 pm. I guess I care even less about what is up that I do how it's going.

The prospects of a shower at this point are moot, which is why I bought all that cologne before I left the states. Mornings mean doing everything within the scope of my willpower before the Toyota comes at 4:45, then coasting for a couple of hours. Roomie's still pretty much asleep, and the light is still in O.F.F. mode. With the flashlight I keep in the knife pocket of my uniform, I beam carefully about the room for underwear, socks, and a tan cotton shirt. My favorite item is the pair of Under Armour briefs I got from the BX. Your crotch will still stink at the end of the day, but it'll be consistently dry. Actually I think they were originally meant to be panties, which is why I change in the utter darkness. Screw it, they're cool, comfortable, and I wouldn't care if they were pink in color. This deployment can have a dragging-down effect if you fall into too strict a routine. That's why so many people smoke over here, when they don't back in the states -- it's something out of the ordinary that distracts them from the boredom or the repetativeness. This being said, I did buy a thong version of the Under Armour panties. How do women wear those things? Makes me want to hit the caddy every two hours to make sure there's nothing extraneous in there for the panties to bump around with. Well at least it's something.