Full Plastic Jacket

War is wet. That’s what I’m learning behind the lines with my twelve-year-old son, another warrior in the waterwar marines. Our targets: the deadly terrorist forces or bad guys from Grand Theft Auto or something (and seven years ago it would have been the Putties from that insipid Power Rangers teevee show) in the form of neighbors Cameron and Kevin.

“Water guns?” he says, for the thirteenth time this afternoon.

“Sir, yes, sir,” I dutifully respond.

“Water balloon launcher?”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Water balloon catapult?”

“Sir, yes, sir.”

“Very good, private,” he says, pacing back and forth in a straight line before me. I’ve never been in the military, but it’s scary how well he plays what seems to be a realistic part. What kind of bloody DVDs has my ex-wife been letting him watch? Is it the World War II video game? “Very good, Private Maggot. Now recite the code again.”


“Are you questioning my orders, Dad-uh, private? Private Maggot?!”

“Sir, no, sir.”

“Then recite the code.”

“This is my water balloon launcher. There are many like it but this one is mine. My water balloon launcher is my best friend. It is my life. I must master it as I must master my life. Without me, my water balloon launcher is useless. Without my water balloon launcher I am useless. I must fire my water balloon launcher true. I must shoot straighter than my enemy, who is trying to drench me. I must bomb him before he bombs me. I swear this creed: my water balloon launcher and myself are defenders of my fort, we are the masters of my enemy, we are the saviors of my life. So be it, until there is no enemy but heat.”
I pinched it from Full Metal Jacket and paraphrased. I never should have brought it up. I used to love the quote so I memorized it. Now I’ll never want to hear it again. “Now code number two.”

“Do I have to?”


“Ssssh! You’ll, uh, give away our position.”


“Okay. The deadliest weapon in the world is a marine and his water balloon catapult. It is your killer instinct which must be harnessed if you expect to survive in combat. Your water balloon catapult is only a tool. It is a hard heart that bombs. If your killer instincts are not clean and strong you will hesitate at the moment of truth. You will not bomb. You will become wet marines and then you will be in a world of excrement – “

“Excrement, uh huh huh,” my son kicks in, breaking character to go to Beavis. Or Butthead. “Um, Sergeant Butthead?”

The sergeant returns instantly.

“That is not my name, private!”

I continue. “because marines are not allowed to get wet without permission.” “Oh no,” he says, but it’s far too late. Cameron and Kevin are upon us with two fat balloons each, water guns at their sides and one with a power rifle slung over his back. Guerilla tactics. I told him he was going to give away our position. We’re soaked. We got schooled, in the parlance of their times. I managed to fire the water balloon catapult that is a tool and the water balloon launcher that is mine, but it is to no avail.

“We win! We win!” Our opponents cheer as they dance around, and run away again, no doubt giving us just barely enough time to dry in the hot summer sun. We don’t need any rules for this pure joyous fun, just the anarchy of fun with war. And the chain of command. “Private, reload the water balloon launcher. And the code, Private Maggot!”

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