Boy in the Hood

Woke up this morning at about 5:30 (well, 6, following a few blows to the ol’ snooze alarm) to make the remarkably boring 3 1/2 hour drive from Dallas to Ft. Hood. My publicist booked a signing at the world’s largest military base—said they’d have tons of books; would be an amazing venue; etc … etc.

I was there for two hours.

I signed four books.


Yes, four.

Really, four.

Not five.


Initially, I was pretty miserable. I was under the impression I’d be in a room, speaking to any interested soldiers about the ’90s Cowboys. Tell some stories, share some laughs, etc. Such was not to be. On the base they have their own version of a Target•K-Mart hybrid store, where items are somewhat discounted for military members. I arrived, and they led me to the front of the store. There was a table with, oh, 200 books, a chair and a big sign that read something like: JEFF PEARLMAN, AUTHOR in enormous letters. So for the ensuing two hours, I sat there, feeling as naked as ever. It was shaping up to be my worst nightmare as an author—the sympathetic stares; the one or two let’s-help-this-sorry-SOB-out purchases; the banal conversations just to make me feel slightly less loser-esque. Man, do I loathe that scene.

And yet, roughly midway through, something happened: I began talking to people.

There was the wife who worked at one of the store’s kiosks; whose husband will be deployed to Iraq in December, leaving her alone with four children. There was the soldier who, three years ago, thought he had completed his military commitment; who had entered the real world and never expected to return. Then, somewhat recently, he received a letter in the mail. “You are being recalled.” He’s leaving for Iraq later this month, for a year-long deployment.

As a loudmouth political junkie, I think/talk about the war quite often. But, in hindsight, I never before discussed it with the proper perspective. We think of the troops and utter “Support the troops” and argue whether they should stay overseas or come home. But how often do we—I—think of them on the personal level? They’re not “Troops”—they’re human beings trying to go about their lives under uncommon, unnerving circumstances. The kiosk wife was describing for me the fear—the absolute, unrivaled fear—of getting that knock on the door. Equally disturbing: Every so often, she told me, the wives are pranked with a fake, “We’re sorry to inform you, but your husband has died” phone call at 2 or 3 in the morning. When I asked, “Who would do that sort of thing?” she just shook her head. “I don’t know,” she said. “I don’t.”

I am a Jewish agnostic—whatever the hell that means. I usually sign books “Good luck” or “Go Cowboys!” or “Snoop Dogg forever.”

Today, however, for one of the few times in my life, I signed all four books with the exact same inscription: “God bless.