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The Essay
Show #356
Diego Garcia
David Gunn

Diego Garcia tapped a little tattoo on the vinyl bench seat in Booth #12 of the Bismuth Café as he awaited his meat loaf special. He gazed out the window at the midnight storm. It was a hard rain, and fell in sheets, as if a giant bedding supply company above him had sprung a leak. Peals of thunder echoed off the buildings of downtown Dollar Bay and rattled the windows of the café. One especially loud thunderclap shook the eatery so much that Garcia's glass of tap water ducked under the table in panic. A vigorous wind peeled back the leeward wall of the Jiminy Cricket Savings and Loan across the street, sending hundreds of withdrawal and deposit slips hurtling upward into the wet, night sky. Blanche, the server, delivered his plate of meat loaf with a side of Keweenaw Kamembert Krisps, a local casein delicacy. She glanced out the window, tsk-tsked at the inclement weather, then gave Garcia a hard look. "You're not from around here, are you mister?"

Garcia waved his fork in the air as if he were outlining a Rorschach inkblot. Blanche correctly interpreted the gesture to mean "no, I amn't; and furthermore I can't imagine what attracts people to Michigan's Upper Peninsula, outside of the numerous Witness Protection Program retreats." But, the Krisps and generally bracing climate were in fact what drew him to these parts. For he was looking to relocate from one of the most unfrequented spots on earth.

Seventeenth century metaphysical poet and cleric John Donne once said "No man is an island," but Donne never met Diego Garcia. During the day, Diego Garcia is an 11-square mile coral atoll that lies an inch and a half--where 1"= 4.67°--below the equator in the magnetic middle of the Indian Ocean. But during the night, the largest island of the Chagos Archipelago turns into Diego Garcia, peripatetic man about town--where "town" might be any one of ten thousand population centers the world over.

An uprooted baobab tree danced down the street, propelled by the gusting wind. Garcia looked at it in amazement. The island weather was by comparison boringly balmy. The sun shone down from a cloudless sky on average 350 days of the year. The temperature varied only a few notches either side of 30 degrees Celsius. Storms rarely threatened the little island--which is one reason it intrigued the governments of the UK and US.

Diego Garcia, and I'm talking now about his island form, once sported a small indigenous population that had grown wealthy thanks to a thriving coconut oil industry. But this attracted the attention of the United States' armed forces, which used immense amounts of the oil in its line of military cosmetics. The Army especially wanted the product--its camouflage face cream supplier was increasingly unreliable--but it didn't want to pay for it. So Adjutant General Borakka B. Cromwell invented an international trade ordinance, charged the inhabitants with violating it, then in 1971 moved them, lock, stock and pork barrel, to the island of Mauritius. Fittingly, the coconuts shortly thereafter refused to give up their oily secrets, and the whole island industrial complex was shut down. Today, the island exists primarily as a "Keep Off!" military staging base for the Yanks and the Brits.

Tap tap taptap tap. A tree branch outside brushed against the window pane, approximating the fandangoesque rhythm that Diego's fidgety fingers maintained. The sheen of the meat loaf gravy in the café's fluorescent light reminded him of home--those friendly dun hues of the coral and sand--and suddenly he was eager to be back in the middle of Indian Ocean nowhere. A blast of lightning followed immediately by its attendant crash of thunder brought to mind the island's always exciting war games. Why, he had plenty of thrills back home--no need to seek adventure elsewhere!, he thought, as he paid his bill and wandered out of the café. Through the window, Blanche gave him another hard, tsk-tsking look as he pulled up his macintosh collar to ward off the sleet that had exchanged places with the rain, and disappeared into the stormy night.

Poor Diego Garcia. Each day he tires of the monotony of his island environs; each night the strangeness of a new place cows him, silencing the inner voice that urges him to move on. And so he remains displaced from both worlds, a consequence of indecisiveness, uncertainty, and systemic meat loaf desires.

On this 356th episode of Kalvos & Damian's New Music Bazaar, you're likely to hear musical abstractions of both monotony and cows, uncertainty and nowhere, thunder and meat loaf and, upon special request, Damian and Kalvos.