To be brutally honest, there are better jobs than being Orlando Weekly's official war correspondent. As I write these words, it's Friday, Feb. 7, 2003, and I'm cooling my heels in a 60-dinar-a-night room in a Comfort Inn in downtown Baghdad. By the time this week's issue disappears from the stands, Hans Blix will have rendered his Valentine's Day verdict to the United Nations, and you -- and the rest of the civilized world -- will most likely know where the international peace-keeping community stands on Saddam. We may even be at war. Don't ask me: Right now, I'm as clueless as Kim Basinger at an investment seminar.
So try telling that to my bite-in-the-ass of an editor, who expects me to file an in-depth, up-to-the-minute report anyway (not to mention prerecorded bulletins for our media partner, the Orlando Weekly Network, conveniently located at Channel 383 on your cable menu). A seven-day lead time, and I'm supposed to drop the journalistic dime on an earth-shaking conflict that hasn't even happened yet? What do I look like, John Edward over here?
Nobody ever said winning the Pulitzer was easy, I guess; less so a People's Choice Award. And a gig's a gig. So bear with me, as I talk us all through a moment that's bound to reverberate in history, depending on how the wind blows.
Um, it's bad here. Real bad. I'm carefully peering over the balcony of my hotel room, and I can just about see some suspicious streaks of light in the nighttime sky. I think they could be scuds. Or maybe a Hyundai dealership is having its grand opening in Abatash Ramadan Square. I'd probably be able to tell for sure if my room actually had a view of the city, instead of the maids' station and the icemaker. Thank the big news nets, who swept up every halfway-decent suite in town. Freakin' Geraldo, always strutting around like he owns the joint.
Sorry. Back to the war. It's definitely being fought from the air. Or on the ground. Or by mail. But something's absolutely happening. I can hear a commotion going on just beyond the hotel grounds. There's frenzied shouting, a persistent mechanical drone and an overall tenor of confusion. First lesson of the offensive: Attacking U.S. troops sound curiously like Turkish businessmen staggering home from a karaoke night. You always learn something unexpected on these assignments.
We were all worried that Saddam would use this war as an excuse to unleash his arsenal of banned weapons, and that's exactly the scenario I see unfolding all around me, possibly. Not to be indelicate about it, but the whole country is swimming in anthrax. This very afternoon, I had room service send up a bacon double cheeseburger with fries. Right there on the tray, there was a miniature glass receptacle filled with white powder. It looked just like the stuff Colin Powell brought to the U.N. Next to it, somebody had deposited an identical receptacle filled with equally fine-ground powder, only black. I guess this outlaw regime sees nothing wrong in trying to poison peace-loving reporters. Of course, I flushed the food down the john and refused to sign for it. Cancel the pie? Damn skippy I did.
OK, I'm back out on the balcony. Things are getting extremely intense out here -- really, unverifiably intense. The air is glistening with a moist substance that's dropping from the sky above the hotel. I think it's some new form of chemical agent, one light enough to be carried aloft at cloud level but heavy enough to ultimately fall on car windshields and into the mouths of drainpipes. Even as I write, I can hear it pattering on the roof above. I'll lay odds it's only a matter of time before the stuff eats through the stucco walls of this half-star joint. Plus, I'm reasonably sure I can detect the aroma of nerve gases in the air, though that may just be the Turks again.
Man, they do not pay me enough to face this kind of peril. I'm going back inside; let the non-tabloid journos take their chances with the crazies. The bathroom will make a serviceable hiding place, just as soon as I get rid of these little bars of individually wrapped biological warfare left on the sink. Who would ever have imagined that terror could come in such tiny packages (and be so redolent of bayberry)?
I've brought the phone in here with me, so our readers will still have some contact with the outside world. Right now, I'm dialing Ashleigh Banfield over at the Embassy Suites. (Good thing I hit her up for her number when I met her at the foreign-press welcome mixer last night.) It's ringing, ringing ... Son of a bitch! Now that the hostilities have (arguably) heated up, all of her calls are being routed through a U.S. defense switchboard. I know that Ã?Welcome to MovieFoneÃ? has to be code for something, but what? What?
I'm going to risk exposure and leave the bathroom, just to see if I can get any updates on the TV. Ha! Just as I thought. The government is obviously trying to suppress coverage of its mounting atrocities and military setbacks by running a Jim Belushi marathon instead of 24-hour news. In your face, Saddam! That's exactly the kind of thing we're fighting to prevent.
Wait ... what in the name of God is that? I hear a knocking at the door. I'm going to go out on a limb here and say that the Iraqi military has unequivocally laid siege to this hotel, more likely than not. Through the peephole, I can see the Ã?waiterÃ? who tried to charge me for the cheeseburger, accompanied by a senior army official dressed as the hotel manager.
I'm going to stop writing now, because what happens next, I'll lay you dollars to doughnuts, is going to be too awful for a family audience to endure. This is Steve Schneider signing off for Orlando Weekly, and remember: When the enemy comes for you, he comes with a napkin draped across his arm.
The horror! The hypothetical horror!