Suggested Audio Jukebox ♬
 WHAM! “I’m Your Man”
 Janis Joplin “Ball & Chain”
 Björk “It’s Oh So Quiet”
 Status Quo “In The Army Now”
 Alexander Courage “Star Trek Theme”
 PJ Harvey “Long Snake Moan”
 The Mushroom River Band “Mud Crusher”
 Martika “Toy Soldiers”
 Paul Young “Wherever I Lay My Hat”
 Tina Turner “Private Dancer (Instrumental)”
Do you know what really gets me excited? Nights like these. You see, in just a few minutes, I’ve got myself a hot date and can hardly contain my excitement right now. Ordinarily I’m hidden away like some kind of dirty little secret and nobody gives me the time of day. But tonight is my chance to stand up and be counted, to show that I’ve got balls, and to do precisely what I was placed here to do. It’s astonishing when you think about it as the path to this moment has been anything but smooth and there have been far more disappointments than highlights. However, there’s a lot to be said for never giving up on your dreams, for keeping the faith even when all appears lost, and for remaining true to yourself which is precisely what I’ve done the whole time without exception. Now I’m within thrusting distance of my ultimate goal and not about to fritter this opportunity. Yet it could all have been so different.
Like all good rags to riches stories, I shall begin mine from the very start or, at least, as far back as memory serves. The early years are something of a blur if I’m honest as I had no real idea where I fitted in or what my purpose was. Largely ignored, I sat around waiting for something to happen and, when it did, it was usually pretty underwhelming. This led me to feel like something of a spare part and considerably under-utilized in comparison to others settling into everyday life. The commencement of your journey is supposed to be exciting, eventful, and something you experience in wide-eyed awe. That’s all well and good in theory but unfortunately I was born with only one eye and found myself at a distinct disadvantage. Worse still, there was precious little going on to enthuse me and I spent most of my time questioning my own validity. When you consider how vital these early years are to development, it’s no wonder I got off to such a stuttering start and didn’t really find my identity until the following stage of my evolution.
In a split second things began to change all around me and, at first, this terrified me as I had no idea whatsoever what was going on or whether this was something to be embraced. Guidance had been at a severe premium up until then and I always seemed to be the last one in the know. So when my two closest friends, Nad and Chad, suddenly became considerably more distant, I naturally presumed that this denoted the beginning of the end for me. The boys as I affectionately refer to them were born identical twins although Chad was admittedly packing a little more puppy fat. We’d always been so tight, were seldom spotted apart, and pulled together when the walls closed in around us but, while our three-way dynamic was strong, I couldn’t shake the feeling that we were cut from different cloth as we had very little in common outside of the fact that we enjoyed hanging out together. This revelation actually couldn’t have come at a better time as they too had noticed that something was up and were just as in the dark about it as I was.
For me, my existence until then had lacked a sense of purpose, but I’m assured that’s just the way it is for late bloomers. Despite this, I never stopped believing that I was special and the fact that it had taken this long for me to begin growing into my skin just made the enlightenment all the more rewarding. I would confer regularly with Nad and Chad as we attempted to learn our collective meaning although none of us could quite fathom where this was leading or the part we would play moving forward. They ran a well versed vessel side by side and always seemed to be cooking up some kind of harebrained plan but, where they fell down, was final product. All talk and no walk seemed to sum them up fairly accurately, not that they’d likely appreciate me saying that. But the fact remained that they would be required to work harder and communicate better from hereon in as the three of us couldn’t ever realistically hope to flourish without somehow pooling our resources.
This is where a thinking hat comes in handy and that was something I was never without. It’s strange really as I’m aware that Nad and Chad consider themselves the brains of the operation and I wouldn’t argue with that logic either. That said, it was clear to us now that I would be the one on frontline duties, and that is a pivotal role when exploring the brave new world I was about to step into. Naturally they would be the last to be informed of any advancements but their role was no less critical as they really knew how to get their heads together and figure shit out. I was more than happy to leave the development side of this gig to them and push on with the research as, while I’d never been au fait with my surroundings, exploration had always felt like the most natural progression to me and I was beyond enthused to get cracking. It all sounds dreadfully exciting doesn’t it? Rip-roaring adventure on the horizon right? Please allow me to pitch you a little poser – have you ever seen a film called Jarhead?
For the uninitiated amongst us, Jarhead followed a single unit of United States Marine Corps as they were shipped to Saudi Arabia during The Gulf War and highlighted just how uneventful this turned out to be. All that backed-up testosterone had nowhere to go and their days largely consisted of firing off rounds to keep themselves sharp and sitting around scratching their heads while awaiting further instruction. This had pretty much been me in a nutshell and I could fully understand their frustration. However, this movie taught me much as, while my trigger finger had been growing ever more itchy, the whole target practise deal appealed massively and there seemed nothing to lose by ensuring that I was battle-ready in case skirmish was necessitated. I reported this intelligence back to the boys and they began processing immediately. Then, after a few hours huddled together in their bunker, Nad popped his head out and offered their take on affairs. Chad would have come but his bunk is deeper into the barracks and all this intensive conflab had his nut throbbing.
If a gun were pointed to my head and I was asked to name a favorite twin then I have to come clean that Nad is the more approachable of the two. He’s also more diplomatic and, despite them seemingly having things figured out, felt it only right to include me in this phase of the process. I make him right too as I’d be the one putting in the legwork and had already exhibited considerable aptitude in the field so deserved to know what I was getting myself into. When I say “getting myself into”, I bloody well mean it, as I was about to join the ranks of such famous explorers as Christopher Columbus, Sir Francis Drake and William Shatner. You guessed it, I was going where no man had gone before or, at least, in theory. The truth of the matter is that I wouldn’t know if this country was undiscovered until I entered the atmosphere, docked my vessel, and planted that all important flag in its surface. The mere thought of touching down had me positively light-headed although I must admit to having a couple of concerns.
Firstly, I needed assurance that I wasn’t set to burn up on impact or arrive to find this fresh terrain uninhabitable. I may possess the courage of a pride of lions but I like to think that I’m not stupid, and besides, a decent contingency plan could prove critical should the unthinkable occur and crisis loom. Nad wasn’t about to offer guarantees that couldn’t be backed up and I respect him for his honesty as I’d imagine Chad’s approach would have been far less sincere. Instead he said four words that supplied the swing vote and had me all in before the flop. “I believe in you” was all the convincing it took and I had belief enough in my ability to take things from here. What was more important to me was that he had faith in me to pull us through the eye of the storm and my second concern became little more than a formality. Indeed, he’d already answered whether he and Chad would have my back and, if there was any lingering doubt about the firepower they were packing, then it was about to be utterly demolished.
Do you remember The A-Team? If not then I have to say that you really need to get out less. John “Hannibal” Smith, B.A. Baracus, Templeton “Face” Peck, and Howling Mad Murdock were there or thereabouts right through my childhood and had that whole four-way MacGyver thing going on when let loose on a workshop. Granted, Nad and Chad couldn’t boast constructing an armored tank from a Renault Clio, staple gun, three yards of licorice, and a chewed-up Wrigley’s Extra. But they knew their hardware and there were no finer weapon specialists than these two on a roll. The ammo they had devised was non-lethal and this pleased me greatly as I’d always wanted to say “we come in peace” and mean it. Is it just me or, when an extraterrestrial offers suchlike assurance, do they seem to lack a dash of fidelity to you? I know E.T. didn’t get up to too much mischief during his brief but eventful stay on planet earth but they kind of broke the mould when making that one as attested by one look at his ridiculous face. It doesn’t make what happened to John Hurt any less unpalatable.
I’m digressing but I really was about to come in peace, to go boldly, and with phasers only set to stun. If I’d wanted to be a prick about it, then I would have requested incendiary grenades instead of flash and armor-piercing bullets as opposed to the rubbery pellets on my kit list. It mattered not that many of them would barely set foot on the beach before being torn asunder as it would only take one brave soldier to infiltrate the nest and we’d be sipping mojitos on sun loungers by the time any rear offensive could be launched and I’d have tracked down the opposition blueprints. This wasn’t search and destroy, this was a good old-fashioned rescue mission and any fire from our side of the barricades would be 100% friendly. Of course, none of us knew for sure whether this would be enough to encourage a white flag from the opposition but we lived in hope and Nad’s confidence in my ability provided just the shot in the arm I desperately needed.
While the period of inactivity that followed felt suspiciously eternal at the time, my gunslinger skills were increasingly well honed and I could now argue my case for being the fastest draw in the west. Actually it’s more south-west if I’m honest but that’s by the bye as I knew how to squeeze that trigger, had mastered the recoil, and spent bullets like unscrupulous politicians fritter the tax payer’s money on malt whiskey and whores – daily – often twice on a good shift. Given that I was effectively a sniper, it was all about assuming position, extending to capacity, and adjusting sight before zooming in for that extreme close-up and picking each shot with precision. I certainly had the whole stretch side of things sussed and my posture in a combat situation was as rigid as could be without straining a muscle and ending up on the first chopper home empty-handed. Rumor had it that the enemy gates weren’t far away and one final push would see them fall directly into my crosshairs. With full metal jacket (lined with moleskin) zipped up tight and two sergeants willing me on from the sidelines, this private was primed for active service and about to receive his first intoxicating whiff of morning napalm.
Regrettably things didn’t turn out to be as easy as I’d hoped. The battlefield was vast and not at all like the blueprint drawn up by my associates. In addition, my opponent had far more combat expertise than I and, as I prepared to go in all guns blazing, my musket jammed and I was left floundering at the critical moment. Sheepishly I retreated and headed back to the boys with tail tucked between my legs so we could fathom out where I went wrong. However, their guess was as good as mine, and the first seed of doubt had now been planted. It appeared that, while something of a crack shot in training, this failed to translate to active combat and I was starting to wonder whether I was cut out for this serviceman gig after all. Even more disconcertingly, this wasn’t an isolated incident and each subsequent failure to launch affected my poise a little further.
It was then that it occurred to me that the problem was a lack of any real identity. If I was to overcome this crisis of confidence then I needed to know my place as winging it clearly wasn’t working out for me in the slightest. I’d heard all kinds of whispers on the battlefield and there certainly wasn’t any shortage of titles donated although none of them seemed to sum me up particularly well. Let’s have a look at the available options shall we? Atomic Turtle, Georgia Kingsnake, Baloney Pony, Dr. Feelgood, Beef Bayonet, Lap Lizard, Big Jake the One-Eyed Snake, The Blue-Veined Aristocrat, Elmer the Glue Shooter, Fat Albert, Captain Winky, Otis Deepthroatis, Spitting Cobra, Clam Digger, Happy Harry Hard-on, Custard Launcher, Flesh Flute, Fuck Puppet, Tan Banana, Womb Broom and Zipper Ripper. While charming enough for the most part, none of these suggestions seemed to define me adequately and I knew I had to come up with something and fast, if I ever hoped to obtain that much coveted purple heart. After an exhaustive brainstorming session with the boys, we eventually conjured up a suitable alternative – Mud Crusher.
From this moment on, this would be my official title and I would wear it with great dignity and pride. Soon afterwards, I finally made my first breakthrough and it had me wondering what had me so worked up in the first place. Where previously I’d struggled to navigate this mine-strewn battleground, I’d been here enough now to have learned the layout and had ascertained precisely where my hard target was stationed. Close combat was intoxicating and I started to approach each skirmish with chest puffed out and stiff upper lip. Furthermore, the shrapnel was flying left, right, and straight down the middle and I knew it was only a matter of time before I landed that tide turning critical hit and ended this cold war once and for all. However, while Nad and Chad did their level best to keep my bayonet firing, their productivity levels left a lot to be desired and their reload rate was truly abysmal. Consequently it concluded in stalemate every time and I knew this wasn’t likely to earn me any badges of honor.
That was until my own personal Ohama Beach, an overcast December morning when I charged into battle just as shell-shocked as usual but managed to focus at the pivotal time and pop off a bona fide hot-shot straight to the dome. The damage wasn’t initially clear but I’d planted this mole without arousing suspicion and fell back while awaiting intelligence. Six weeks or so passed before I heard from my informer and I was forced to consider the possibility that he may have been captured. Poor little bastard was no doubt being subjected to horrendous water torture or rotting away in some dingy cell and there wasn’t a damn thing I could do about it. However, with hope all but diminished, I received comms from my wayward companion and it turned out that his plan was already underway. He’d planted an explosive charge right in heart of the crow’s nest and it was rigged to blow once the timer chimed. The problem was that it would take 36 weeks for Blitzkrieg to be achieved and it barely made it to ten before fizzling out with little more than a faint pfft.
This miscarriage of justice hit us all hard and morale plummeted to an all-time low as demoralization took swiftly over. To come so close to victory only to be denied so callously just felt cruel to me and I’ll hold my hands up to pondering what war was actually good for as all signs pointed to absolutely nothing and said it again just in case the penny hadn’t fully dropped. I was required to call upon every last word of wisdom imparted and knew all too well that this was make or break as another suchlike defeat would invariably spell the end of my active duty. That said, once you’ve ascertained where that elusive bullseye is, half of the job is already done for you before you discharge a solitary round. Skirmish commenced, I took my shot, and this time something felt different. Operation Penetration had been a resounding success and, despite a short spell on Def Con 5, the nine month term soon flew by. I’d considered myself prepared up til that point but, never in my wildest dreams, did I expect D-Day to be such a game-changer.
Sure I was a soldier and a pretty effectual one to boot, regardless of any earlier foibles. But what I hadn’t entertained was that I was also something of a creator and this miraculous gift of enlightenment supplied the identity I had needed all along. Moreover, we’d done this together, Nad and Chad could pat themselves on their backs too as I could never have hoped to flourish without plotters and spotters. There had been a dearth of life-affirming instances to feed from prior to this battle of the bulge but all it takes is one to feel like you belong after all and, after many years of confusion as to my special purpose, I knew why I’d hung on in there even when it appeared that true meaning would elude me perpetually. I may have been a Dick by name and also by nature, but Dick just so happens to be short for Richard and, the last time I checked, this denoted a ruler, a leader, a king. Now if that’s not purposeful then I don’t look good in a turtle neck pullover and this thing is tailor-made dagnabbit.
So all’s well that ends well right? Triumph had been achieved, decorations awarded, and I was to return to my country a national hero. Job sounds like a good ‘un on paper. However, when you’re born on the 4th of July, homecoming tends to be something of a Debbie downer and any past success has long since been forgotten, leaving me little more than an ailing war vet with limited function and the screams of my fallen brothers in arms forever ringing in my ears. I haven’t done battle in some time and it would be reasonable to assume that corrosion has begun to set in. Nowadays I barely squeeze the trigger out of remembrance and, with time marching on, I’m beginning to shrink away like a violet. Old age is all I have to look forward to now and we all know what happens to the elderly once they reach a particular checkpoint beacon. These once proud stallions end up resembling guinea pigs and I’m terrified of winding up a mere shadow of my former self.
Even Nad and Chad seem to be growing ever more distant and seem to prefer hanging out in their own personal space now rather than sharing mine. And there was me thinking we would grow old together and close out our service in a nice quaint retirement village, where we would eat custard creams together while forgetting one another’s names and soiling ourselves. Things may not have worked out quite as I’d envisaged and it would be foolhardy of me to suggest that the finest victories aren’t already behind me, but I live in hope and that appears the only way to truly earn those stripes. Thus don’t be surprised if you still spot me out by the rifle range on occasion, firing off a few rounds for old time’s sake, and polishing my firearm just to ensure that it doesn’t misplace its lustre. I may not stand to attention so frequently, but I haven’t forgotten how to salute thanks to two parts muscle memory and one of good old-fashioned belief. I guess what I’m saying is that, while hardly in the condition to drop and give you twenty right now, I may just be seeing you on the battlefield soldier.
I’m a Private Dick and I’m dancing for money,
I’ll do what you want me to do,
I may not be wise, only borderline funny,
but I do pack some marvellous glue.
Should those cards be played right then this wondrous adhesive
no longer becomes such a mystery,
while not all its outbursts are exactly cohesive,
it can bind and combine to make history.
I’m telling you sarge, my intention’s to barge
my way behind enemy lines,
once I learn my surroundings, I can then place my charge,
and all’s left is a matter of time.
Take a look at my musket and I’m sure you will trust it,
to come good with back against wall,
I know how to load it and just where to thrust it,
There’s really no finer a tool.
Give me five just to wake it, comes alive when I shake it,
and the more rigorous all the better,
I just ask that you pay for that shit if you break it,
or ruin my turtle neck sweater.
Nad and Chad may be distant but I don’t really miss them,
as one tends to grow tired of their frolics,
indeed the one thing with the boys that’s consistent,
is that most of the time they talk bollocks.
I can stand on my own, look how much I have grown,
since the first time I burst through the zipper,
not much to condone, so much industry shown,
I believe I’ve earned right to be chipper.
Thus I’ll leave it to you to work out what to do,
You can split but I’d rather you stick,
as the one thing I can guarantee once we’re through,
is that you won’t forget Private Dick.