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THE SUBURBAN ARMY

by

Marcos A. Uzueta




9:30 a.m.

We mobilize in the morning in Darby's backyard. Everybody is late, including Darby. It takes us a good twenty minutes to round up lawn chairs to accommodate everyone. And there still aren't enough, so Darby sends his kids to the park three blocks down to fetch picnic tables. After everyone is seated, Darby's son throws a fit and says that his arms are tired and that he wants to be a conscientious objector. Darby leads him inside the house. In a few minutes, he emerges from the porch door, spots his daughter idling on the swing set. He asks her if she wants to be a conscientious objector, too, just like her older brother, and she has the good sense to answer, "No, daddy."

Darby says the seriousness of the battle should first be felt at home.

Officers are elected over doughnuts. The results are disappointing. Apparently, a lot of the guys think that a few years of pushing papers in the National Guard qualifies a person for leadership in this sort of thing. So Darby wins by a majority. Gerbin reads the votes loudly, marking them on the chalkboard that Darby's wife set up for tactical briefings. There are twenty votes for Darby and only five votes for me. We are the only two obvious candidates. All the rest of the guys are actually pretty dense, even though they have worked for years as dentists, managers, consultants, etc., and have been fairly successful in their fields. Darby is to be the General and I am to be the Secretary General. I shake hands with him amidst cheers and swear my loyalty. It's the polite thing to do. Second in command, I suppose, is good enough for now. The actual fighting will change everything. True leadership has a way of shining out eventually.


9:45 a.m.

"Well," says Darby, jovially, "let me get you a tablet."

"A what?"

"A tablet." He stares at me as if he were trying to think of a better way to say "tablet". "A tablet," he says again. "You know. For the minutes."

I take him aside, so the troops can't hear. It's never good to publicly undermine authority only a few minutes into its appointment. "I don't think the duties of the Secretary General are like an ordinary secretary's," I tell him.

"Sure they are."

"No, I think it's a little different."

"Well, who's going to take the minutes, then? Garrison? He misspelled his name on his own mailbox. You're the only person literate enough."

I accept the chore, but do not appreciate it. I somehow thought being a leader in an army would feel more important. Darby has his daughter fetch me a tablet and a pencil. In a few seconds, she runs out of the house and hands Darby a Garfield tablet and a severely chewed up pencil stub. He hands these to me.

"Record it all," he says. "For the history books."


10:05 a.m.

Miller says his wife could have the uniforms done sometime next week. When some of the guys mumble about the wait, he reminds us of her dazzling work on the costumes for last year's community Christmas play. She was even in the paper for it. We all agree that she is perfect for the job and vote to have her design and stitch a flag while she's at it. On a napkin, Kurtan scratches a shield-of-arms and a motto. He reads the motto out loud. "Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, or Death."

"That sounds wimpy," complains Rutgers.

"All right." Kurtan crosses that out and writes something else. He holds the napkin up. "Raise a Hand to Us," he reads, "and You'll Take Back a Bloody Stump."

"Hurrah!" the guys shout, amiably enough.

"Glorious!" shouts Darby.


10:32 a.m.

Darby knows the guys like to have fun and horse around a little, but he wants to get serious for a second. He takes a drink of lemonade and clears his throat a few times. "Listen, boys," he says, "I know we're all excited. But we're going to be asking a lot from each one of you. Nobody knows how far this thing will go. Now I know that most of you guys had to ask for some time off from work for this. And I know you'll be losing those paychecks. Maybe even you're lives. But the time has come to defend this ground, to defend this suburb, as if it were the last suburb on earth." He points downward, to show us the earth he's talking about. "Now, gentlemen," he says, "I want you to bow your heads with me, so we can say a little prayer."

Everyone bows their head.

"Garrison, why don't you go ahead and say the prayer this time?" says Darby.

Garrison stutters. "Uh. I don't want to say it. Have Harris say it."

"All right. Will you say the prayer?"

"I don't want to say it," says Harris.


10:35 a.m.

"Oh, all right, I'll say it." Darby clears his throat again. "Good Lord, we pray to you for swift victory on the battlefield."

"Where is the battlefield?" asks Marsh. He doesn't understand figurative language. He's a pretty likable guy, but has been divorced three times from the same woman.

Darby ignores the question. "Now, Shamar," he says, addressing a brown-skinned guy in the back row of the army. "I know you're a Hindu, or something, and I know we have our differences, but we're in this together now, and so I ask you to pray with us to the Good
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