Summer Is a Walkman in Kuwait

I used to have a waterproof yellow Sony Sports Walkman. This one. I got it in the 8th grade. It was my favorite thing ever. When I think of it, I think of summer. I think of being young.

Pretty much all I remember about being a YMCA lifeguard the summer after my 8th grade year is sitting poolside listening to shitty mainstream "punk" rock and the smell of chlorine. I spent hours floating on my back in the pool listening to it.

After 9th grade I'd moved on to a more lucrative job: working for a construction company at its equipment warehouse that paid $5 an hour. I thought I was tough. I smoked cigarettes out back, and painted all the exterior walls with the sounds of Bob Marley and even shittier punk rock rock piped through a pair of yellow plastic earbuds jammed in my ears and that hunk of plastic hooked on my belt. I felt like a man.

Just after high school, I skipped my graduation ceremony and flew to Kuwait to work reconstruction after the first Gulf War. There was fucking nothing there. No restaurants. No bars. No police. No electricity. Nothing. It was just chaos and heat and burning oil wells and me and my Walkman and my Metallica tapes.

But after we got the lights back on all over Kuwait City that summer, commerce returned, very slowly. A tape store opened up downtown where you could buy bootleg cassettes imported from Saudi Arabia, cased in thick, heatproof vinyl. The selection was terrible. But I had gotten totally sick of the dozen tapes or so I'd brought with me. So, I bought a bunch. I remember one of them was Tom Petty. Another was Jesus Jones.

There was this Nepali guy named Dill who I worked with who always liked to listen to my Jesus Jones tape. Most of my co-workers were Nepali or Filipino or Pakistani or Somali. We had no common language, so there was a lot of gesturing to make things happen. Dill fucking loved Jesus Jones and my Walkman. He'd point at it and I'd hand it to him, and he'd put it on and give me a huge grin and a thumbs up and rock the fuck out while pulling five months' worth of Iraqi Army turds out of a stopped-up squat toilet. By hand. He was basically my best pal over there.

Kuwait really affected me. It had a profound impact on my thinking. And although I was certainly still an immature little brat when I left, I think it's fair to say I also left my boyhood over there. Not only did it change my perspective on war, and society, and poverty, and politics, but I saw, and did, a lot of fucked up shit over there.

There was this mangey (literally) dog that kept coming around the office, begging. We ran it off a few times, but it kept coming back. My boss ordered me to take it out in the desert and leave it to die. I didn't want to do that, but I couldn't say no. Or at least, I didn't.

It wouldn't stay in the bed of my pickup truck, so Dill and I forced it into the back seat of the extended cab and slid some cardboard between the seats to keep it from jumping up front with us, and headed out past the 7th ring road.

I drove until I saw a compound where people lived. I hoped the dog might be okay there. I told myself it would be, that someone would feed it or at least give it water and it wouldn't die of thirst and heat out there in the goddamn desert. We opened the back doors, and now the dog wouldn't leave. It knew what was up. So we pushed its ass out onto the side of the road, and drove off.

The back of the car was covered in dog puke. The whole way back into the city we were gagging, but couldn't roll the windows down because it was too damn hot. We played Jesus Jones.

When I left Kuwait, at Summer's end, I gave Dill the Walkman, and all my tapes.


You can keep up with Mat Honan, the author of this post, on Twitter or Facebook.