A read

by Michael O. Allen on July 25, 2008

I don’t know how well Esquire magazine is doing these days. I was a subscriber to the magazine in college and read it religiously long after I stopped subscribing. But those were the days when you could count on a Norman Mailer, Gay Talese, or a Truman Capote to regularly contribute a piece.

It was nearly sacrilegious when, as a newspaper reporter, I tried to submit my profile of Bill Bradley during the 2000 election to the magazine for publication. It was rejected outright and I’ve not had any occasion to pick up the magazine of late. Esquire might still be publishing first rate fiction and non-fiction. I would not know. I had simply stopped reading.

But a friend told me this week to read a piece about prisoners who tunneled out of a prison. And added, almost as an afterthought, that I should also read the first item that they have in a feature called “What it Feels Like . . .”

For such an august magazine, the Esquire magazine website is simply atrocious, unnavigable, and the search engine leaves a lot to be desired. Needless to say, the two pieces could not be found on the site. I tracked the magazine down some other way (I’m not saying).

I have not read “The Tunnel” yet but my friend was right. That first item that my friend mentioned is haunting.

Since Esquire has not made it available online, I could not provide a link. However, here’s a taste (you’ll either have to buy or borrow a copy to read the rest of the piece):

What it Feels Like . . . To Be a Prison Guard at Guantanamo Bay by CHRISTOPHER ARENDT, 24, student:

I like working night shifts, because whenever they were awake, I wanted to apologize to them. When they were sleeping, I didn’t have to worry about that. I could just walk up and down the blocks all night long.

There was usually one detainee who would lead the call to prayer at five in the morning. That person was in the very last cell. The detainees, they sang beautifully. It was so eerie to hear, because it was such a beautiful song, and to hear forty-eight detainees just get up in the morning and, in unison, sing this gorgeous song that I could never understand–because Arabic is way out of my range of possibility–it was really intense.

Camp Delta is on a cliff that overlooks the ocean. I had never been to the ocean before in my whole life. There have been a few times in the military when I’ve been so stricken by the juxtaposition of how awful what is happening inside the moment is, and how aesthetically beautiful it is at the same time. Seeing the first couple of detainees start preparing for prayer, and then at the same time the sun starting to come up over the cliff base–that was probably one of the most confusing moments of my life. . . .

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Todd Drew July 28, 2008 at 7:35 AM

Those two stories are worth the price of the magazine. But it’s even better if you can check it out at the library or the barbershop.

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