There is a village named Douaumont just outside the city of Verdun. If you look there you'll see it's still listed on the map. Douaumont still has a mayor and town council. But as you get to the sign saying you're in Douaumont you may not the red diagonal line drawn across the name. For Douaumont is not there any more. There are signs marking where a house stood and what the family did who lived there. There are pictures of what the town looked like in 1915. But nothing stands there now. Along with eight other villages it was wiped from the earth in February 1916, in the opening days of the great Battle of Verdun.

I cannot begin to talk about my trip to Verdun without discussing the great battle that lasted for a year there, a battle that took 300,000 soldiers lives, and wounded half a million more. In late 1915 a great stalemate reigned over the battlefields of the Western front. Once the Race to the Sea had been completed along with the slaughter in Flanders fields the German military commander, General Erich Von Falkenhayn chose to stand on the defensive in the West. His reasoning was sound, Germany was fighting on two fronts with Russia and Turkey allied against them in the East. His armies occupied Belgian and French soil, while German lands remained free of the fighting. The fighting at Flanders had already shown that under the military conditions of that time the defense was far more powerful then the offense. By standing on the defense in the West he could free up soldiers to fight in the East, where the areas involved were greater and Russian political and military weakness made the prospects for victory brighter. Let the French and British bleed themselves white trying to drive German soldiers from France.

In late 1915 he changed his mind. No one is entirely sure why, perhaps it was political pressure, or simply the weight of his on conscience after such a brutal struggle, but he resolved to go on the offensive and he chose Verdun as the place Germany would attack. He intended to seize territory so emotionally important to France that the French would fight like madmen to get it back. He hoped France would bleed its army white trying to drive out the Germans and become amenable to a negotiated settlement. Verdun was critical to Frances economy but also to its ego as France still stung from the loss of Alsace-Lorraine during the Franco-Prussian War. It was known that the common French soldier, the poilou, was angry to the point of rebellion by then. French commander Joffre had tried multiple offensives and lost tens of thousands of soldiers without result. The French soldiers were proud, but thought their commanders idiots and with reason. The reason so much valor proved in vain are complex, but simply put barbed wire, machine guns and quick-firing artillery were more then men could hope to march against armed only with bravery and a bayonet. Still, they knew there were dying and were willing provided it was for a reason. By 1916 they could see little reason.

Second, the demands of offensives further west had led the French to strip the defenses around Verdun. Fort Douaumont's defenders numbered under 500, while it was designed to house several thousand at need. The land was studded with forts built during the 19th century, and though combat had proven many inadequate in 1870 many, including Douaumont, had been upgraded using the lessons of that war. It was a quiet sector, troops were needed elsewhere and they had the forts, which included guns in armored turrets that could be lowered beneath the earth. Nearby Lorraine was under German control and heavily forested, which made possible the construction of the logistics support needed for a large army in a place where such preparations might not be easily discovered. In short, von Falkenhayn chose to bet the farm in Verdun. On February 16, 1916 the Germans attacked, firing over 2 million artillery shells in their initial, preparatory barrage. German soldiers attacked using infiltration tactics and moving barrage. They were able to seize Fort Douaumont, and so a year long struggle that claimed began. The Germans kept their troops in the whole time, while France rotated her entire army in and out. But when they loaded their trucks the poilou knew they were headed for Verdun. When the battle ended in November 1916, 300,000 lives had been lost, half a million men had been wounded, and the battle lines were pretty much where they were a year earlier. The French had not been bled white, but remained determined as ever.

If you are French, the name Verdun means something to you. The day I was there a platoon of French soldiers was visiting the site as a unit learning about their history and a little bit more about the realities of war.

My visit began at the Verdun Ossuary. The Ossuary was constructed from 1925-27 as the many thousands of dead were being moved from temporary to more permanent graves. Understand this, while artillery has improved over the years in many important ways World War I was the first war fought with cannon and mortars modern soldiers would see as direct cousins of the weapons we use today. It was an artillery war. The largely fixed front lines made concentration of even very heavy artillery pieces practical. Guns such as the German "Big Bertha" and the French 14" railway guns hurled projectiles very similar in weight and power to the 'flying volkswagens' hurled by the more modern battleship USS New Jersey. Mortars with mouths 40cm wide were used. Artillery was fired and used every day of the year, turning the landscape into a moonscape of craters and ridges. No trees stood then upon the battlefield at Verdun. Mud, soft mud that hadn't packed down after being hurled a thirty meters into the air was the rule. You had to put boards on the ground if you didn't want to sink in. The earth was barren and brown, scored with trenches and lined with barbed wire.

Why do you think they called the space between the trenches "no man's land"?

The simple fact is that when a large artillery shell goes off next to a human being made only of flesh, blood and bone, not much remains. When comrades are left on the battlefield for a long time they rot, and many were not quickly recovered when recovering your dead might get you shot! Entire units might be wiped out, and it became impossible to identify many of the dead. The bodies of 130,000 unknown soldiers had been recovered after the fighting. More are still being recovered. The Verdun Ossuary was built to house their bones.

I don't know how to describe the architecture, it corresponds to no style I recognize. The building is shaped like a short T, about 80 meters long and ten wide and carved out of solid gray rock. A tall, rounded central tower stands over the main entrance at the center and there is a chapel dedicated to the Catholic soldiers of the France, England, Germany, the colonies and the United States sticking out the back, though I suspect its use is more ecumenical today. An eternal flame burns at each end of the main section, and each of the large light brown blocks inside is marked with the name of at least one fallen soldier. There are windows dedicated to each of the provinces and colonies of France, with what look like two small sarcophogi in each arch. There is a small museum and gift shop, and you can climb to the top of the tower which houses a large bell and from whose windows the entire battlefield is visible. The most interesting part of the gift shop and museum are the three-D pictures taken during that war, of the trenches, the denuded countryside, of tanks rolling and exploded, of soldiers relaxing in life and death, some hideously burned or mutilated by combat. I watched a short, moving film on the battle in the theater an then went out to see the real point of it all.

For the bones of the dead lie intermingled beneath the ossuary. And you can see them there, thigh bones bleached white and stacked up, there a trio of skulls, a partial jawbone, the bits and pieces of what were men visible through the windows. French, German, American, Christian or Muslim, it does not matter, they rest together there beneath the Ossuary. It is a sight that chilled me to the bone, and reminded me again why Europeans rush less swiftly to war then we Americans. They have paid a far deeper price.

Were that not enough a cemetery for the identified dead stands in front of the Ossuary, one that dwarfs the American Cemetery in Luxembourg. I don't know how many lie there. Tens of thousands, I'm sure. And I saw another large cemetery inside Verdun. The idiotic chicken-hawks who called the French "surrender monkeys" have never been to Verdun.

From there we drove a short distance to Fort Douaumont named after the now destroyed village that once stood there. It was built before 1870 then restored using concrete and the lessons of the Franco-Prussian war. It has rotating armored turrets housing guns up to 155mm in caliber and dozens of armored casemates. It had it's own power plant, maintenance shops, bakery and chapels, and at its peak the Fort housed 3,000 men. Once its stone walls stood in clean lines, the earth-over-concrete roofs smooth. Much of the masonry is battered and broken, the surface represents the more cratered sections of the moon. But the armor and concrete bits still stand, the view-ports out there, even if the armored metal is pitted and scored from hits.

Did I go underground? Absolutely! The tunnel roofs are six feet thick of masonry and concrete with even more dirt above. They drip water and small stalagmites hung from the ceiling with small round knobs on the walkway below forming from the dripping. I was able to examine the mechanism of the 155mm turret, and the machine geek in me was quite fascinated. Two counterweights made it possible to raise and lower the turret below the earth if you had three strong men to crank. The tunnels go deep, very deep but we were only permitted into the top levels, which were housing primarily and had the one of the fort's entrances. I never got deep into the deep, counter-scarped trenches that divided Douaumont from the surrounding country. I did stand on the roof, and it's rough as the country surrounding it. But I really only scratched the surface.

The Germans took Fort Douaumont fairly early into the battle and the French recapture of it in October marks the end of the battle. It's quite a place. From there we drove down to the Trench of Bayonets, now covered in Masonry, left as it was with the graves of still more unknowns resting under the roof, marked only by wooden crosses. It seems so peaceful now and wooded, if you ignore the overgrown shell craters, and bits of broken masonry walls.

From there we made a quick stop at the England Trench, still preserved and extending into the woods between the Ossuary and Fort Duoaumont. On one side the trench runs into a pine forest, very peaceful if you once again, ignore the omnipresent shell-cratering. It is really quite lovely, only I know none of those trees stood there back then, for artillery would have knocked everything down. The Trench winds through the hills.

As time was pressing we stopped at the destroyed village of Fleury. It's now something of a preserve, with lots of trees growing atop the craters and a small white chapel at the base. I got one picture here before my memory card maxed out. Once again the battlefield is now peaceful and beautiful, rather then nude, muddy and strewn with bodies. Or buildings.

And thus ended my visit to Verdun. Kevin had to head back to pick up his children and I had a lot to think about. In America we have Gettysburg, Antietam, Vicksburg, and Fredericksburg. They were tremendous battles upon which a new republic stood. But their combined death totals does not match the unknown dead whose bones rest beneath the Verdun Ossuary. More people died at Verdun that in any American war, and more died there in all our wars combined if you do not count the American Civil War. More men died at Verdun then during the Civil War. America's combined losses in all wars does not equal the French or German losses in World War I. We should think on that before we open our mouths and call others to sacrifice.

According to Albert Herring the red stripe through a town is in fact normal for leaving a town. I did see signs leading to the town without being "x-ed out" and he's spent more time then Europe then I, so he's right. But I hadn't noticed that anywhere else (I plan to look now) and it seemed so appropriate I committed this narrative to begin with that image.

Today is Friday, May 7th.

Wednesday was Cinco de Mayo.
Sunday is Mother's Day.
Today is nothing.
Today is the day I I work.
I had the last 4 days off.
I work 2 days this week.

Wednesday I had an audition for a job dealing poker for about 6 weeks. The hope was they would hire me on the spot. This did not happen. I told the story to my friend who got me the audition and I told it to one other friend. I didn't want to tell it anymore. Do I still not want to? I don't know. Everyone, and yes, this is an exaggeration, but ALMOST everyone who knows me and ever talks to me asked about it. They know it's important to me. They know I hate my life. I suspect most are rightfully sick of me. I know I'm sick of myself.

I am not ambitious. I barely know how to spell it. I am not a go-getter. I'm not motivated. I have no desire to change the world, and I am finding it very difficult to change my life.

You see, really, I'm not much different from when I dropped out of college and waited tables. I'm sure most 36 year olds on the planet can remember being 22, and they can all point out the differences. What do I say to those who aren't in their 30's yet? How can I warn them not to end up like me?

I don't know.

Maybe it's as simple as being true to yourself. But really, I think I was. It's all relative. Yes, I did some things, namely letting my ex use my credit cards and not pay off the balance, that were out of character for me. But it is VERY MUCH IN CHARACTER for me to throw everything into one woman.

I've given up on the world a long time ago. I reject so many norms you have to really get to know me to think I'm not just all about shock value and doing things differently just for the sake of being different. And probably, I even do that too. It's this gut reaction I have to a mental lock. "This is the way things are reason" drives me insane. Or drove me.

Not that "insane" is a very useful word.

But yeah, credit card debt. It would be nice to blame that. It would be nice to think if I just didn't have those $500 in bills every month I could live my comfortable life of sloth and I wouldn't have to bother anyone. I really feel I'm bothering people. I'm a mooch. A leech. A parasite. What am I giving back to anyone?

Yes, if you like sex, or games, or jokes, I have something to offer. But it's hard to get anything from me when I don't believe in obligation. I owe my parents something? I owe society? I owe mankind? I owe you?

What about the credit card companies? This is where it gets interesting. I feel legally that my ex owes them the money I've been paying the credit card companies.

"Legally" is a more useful word than "insane."

But I don't care about what's legal. I think people should do what they think is right. Decide what is right for yourself. Use your mother fucking brain. Seriously. Think about shit. And if someone disagrees with you try to follow what they are saying. Logic. Reason.

So my slacker lifestyle is not paying the bills. I need a better job, so I can more easily pay the bills. I need to be different. I need to be the kind of person who get's himself a new job. I need to be able to do it.

I really feel I missed my opportunity to get my foot in the door to the poker world.

My audition went from "how do you know so much?" to "You aren't quite ready" so depressingly quickly. It all slipped away. And now I feel on the outside again. Left by myself I have no clue what it is people do to get called for auditions. Maybe people are just failing a lot more than me. Maybe it's just numbers. You just keep banging your head against walls and eventually you don't even notice it's not a wall but a door, and eventually you go to bang your head against it right as someone opens it.

Or maybe you do something different.

"It's just that we start in 3 weeks, and we don't have time to train you.'

Should I have told them that 3 weeks is an eternity to train ME? That maybe the average retard on the planet can't learn anything, but if you just tell me what I need to know I'll remember most of it?

I have no idea. Some people like confidence, some people hate arrogance.

Maybe I'm just not resilient enough. Maybe when people tell me no I need to not take it for an answer. I think I'm just scared I really have no clue how to not take no for an answer without whipping out the barbed acidic tongue and laying waste to the surrounding area.

And I'm not motivated. I think it's understandably hard to get how I can do a good job at a menial task, but not be motivated. Motivated people are good, right? Those are the people you want to hire. Those fucking people are the ones who are motivated to always get a better job. I don't want to be in charge of anyone, I just want to do what I'm told, make guests happy, and count my money each night and do math and know I don't have to worry.

Being the college drop-out was fine in my 20's because I really did love my life. And really it would be fine now if I just felt I had job security. Even my $13 an hour office job would have been fine if I could just work 40 hours a week all year round. My budget would be tight, but I could do it. I can budget much more easily than I can always look for a better job.

"Well then change!"

Fuck you.

And while you are at it, why don't you sell me some motivational book or some shit?

It's a weird place I'm in. I don't feel right, even. I just feel I'm not much good for the other people on the planet. For once I can see why they want everyone to fit in. I still don't fit in, the difference is now I kind of feel bad about it.

Evolution makes me happy, though. The thought that I'm not reproducing. People used to love to say I'm smart, but smart isn't as good as social and ambitious for the world, methinks. Whatever my problems are, I'm not passing them on. Genetically, I'm already dead.

"Take care of yourself, okay?"

"I will," is what I'm supposed to say. The subtext is they don't want me doing anything stupid like trying to kill myself (Do you know anything about Dr. Kevorkian? If I give you that it's probably a bad idea for any healthy 36 year old to kill themselves, can you agree that sometimes, death is best?) and I'm supposed to let them know I won't without anyone ever having to even mention the word death.

What I'd like to say is:

Fuck you, again.

I realize I'm a lover of sophistry and advocating the devil, but it's only natural when you find yourself consistently arguing the minority opinion that you begin to see all sides of things.

Yes, I understand that being a selfish prick is not cool, I need to work with people and I shouldn't be a burden to the society I live in. But how do we measure my own enjoyment of life? Am I even entitled to enjoy it? At what point does it become slavery? When I'm a just a slave living a life doing shit day after day that I just hate? Do you know what it's like to hate? Way down deep inside? Yes, it's easy to still have fun in life, to make references to songs only some people will get. Yes, I know that something like killing yourself is irreversible. But guess what? So is having a fucking kid. We don't exclude that as an option just because it's irreversible. Talk about an extreme solution to a problem!

Stop fucking worrying about me killing myself. It's not death that I want. What I really want is for you to be okay with it. We are all going to die. The sooner you start dealing with it the better. Go watch some Six Feet Under. No, seriously. Stop reading this and go watch some. You'll thank me later. "Holy shit, Brian was starting to creep me out, but then he suggested the best series to ever come out of HBO (and THAT is saying something), and I was all better! What a pilot!"

In all fairness, I haven't seen The Wire OR The Sopranos and I know what you are thinking, I should. And to that I can only say:

Fuck you a third time.

I don't even own a fucking TV. Yes, I might be able to watch shit on my computer, but I don't want to, I just don't like watching stuff on my computer.

"Well then change!"

And it comes full circle.

For those of you feeling sorry for me, wanting to cheer me up, or wanting to help, I'll tell you what you can do.

If you want to make me happy, just communicate with me. I might be in a shitty mood, but if you can let me be in a shitty mood, you'll do fine. Just talk about your shit. Let me help you and your problems. If you like this shit I wrote and like it when I write "fuck" and "shit" a lot, tell me! Feedback is always welcome. If there is something I can do for you, let me know. If you don't know me, you encouraged to write me even more. A little Brian goes a long way, if my friends aren't sick of me, it's only because a lot of them have children and they are well versed in the art of patience.

Now, if happiness isn't your goal, and you still want to "help" then the only thing I can think of is some nepotism action. Or maybe you own your own business and can just give out jobs to strangers. Or maybe you're a millionaire and can just send cash. Perhaps you know a psychologist that does pro-bono work? Perhaps she almost lost her license because she was accused of sleeping with her patients? I seem to have drifted back to happiness again.

You see, I don't WANT to change.

A few things happened yesterday that I thought others might find interesting, so they are being noded.

This one actually happened last week, but I found out this Friday, so I'm including it here. I work at a school every Friday. As I'm sure is not unusual in a school, classrooms get used for more than one year level. The year nines come in after my class to use the electronics workshop. The class bully had been asking for it all day. Today the smallest guy in the class just happened to be holding a pair of dividers when the bigger guy came up and started physically harassing him. He reflexively thrust back, plunging the points into the attacker's chest. The dividers sunk in about 12mm, striking a rib. 5mm either way, and the steel tips would've gone straight through his heart. I have to say I would've felt sorry for the teacher when he had to do the paperwork for that one. Possibly the worst part is that the kid was back this week and hadn't learned anything.

Now for yesterday...

Although it's not uncommon for them to do so at other classes, I haven't yet got anyone show up stoned. Well, one of my students showed up high. I'm always a little worried about her getting stressed or anything because she's prone to having seizures. I don't really want someone having a seizure with a soldering iron in their hand. This particular student has also had a history of self-harm. Today I had to take her to the em-oh after she deliberately burned the palms of her hands with the tip of a soldering iron. Her only explanation was that it was apparently "fun".

The only other girl in the class is the best student I have. I keep going to call her Circuit Girl because that's who she reminds me of. Cir... er, K. began asking me about my other half, relationships, etc. It's a sad fact that not one of my year 10s lives with both their biological parents. Our discussion resulted in her probably being invited to my wedding. K. later attempted to climb out the classroom window, prompting me to wonder if my bad habits are rubbing off on people.

Waiting for my train to leave after work, a pair of men boarded, both dressed in shiny sports shoes, new-ish looking blue jeans, fully zipped up black spray jackets, and dark sunglasses, with identical close cropped blonde hair. Clearly smokeys in plain brown wrappers, I thought to myself. They sat a few rows up from me, on opposite sides of the aisle. Once we started moving, the pair moved back to sit in the row behind me, again one either side of the aisle. For a moment I thought the one directly behind me was going to say something to me, but he didn't. Instead the other guy began talking to a pair of high school boys opposite him, he got their details, physical descriptions, etc, before returning with his partner to their original seating position. All four then left the train at the next stop, disappearing out of sight.

All in a day's work for me :-)

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.