Build Date: Thu Jul 18 21:10:12 2024 UTC

I suggest you get very very drunk.
-- Johnnie Royale

Interview with Adam and Todd Reported 2002-5-5 19:42 by Negative Nancy

Vacationing from Somnambulant Narrow Realities

So about six months ago, I was chilling in Chang Mai, Thailand with ICBINJ, perusing the Bangkok Times over my banana pancake and Big Chang breakfast when I spotted this article reprinted from the LA Times. It was about some kooks from California (where else?) who were claiming to have been to the front lines in Afghanistan in mid-December and had recorded the whole feat on their website. "Holy Fuck!" I thought, "Now That's web journalism. Who are these guys!?"

And then I read a bit more, and was thinking, "This sounds like something Adam & Todd would do. Wonder what those guys are up to these days?" Really, I really thought that, I'm not just saying that in retrospect cause it makes a better story -- since it WAS my friends Adam & Todd. Not only was it my two buds mentioned in some random Siamese reprint of an old LA Times article, but they were gonna be in Bangkok at the end of the month -- perfect for a little eight-year reunion and some serious catching up. I caught up with them at the elegant Chateau de Merry V, a few blocks off Kho San Rd and I was all set to do a groovy in-person, up-close-and-personal, hard-hitting interview.

But first there had to be some Big Chang Beers, and then there were a few more -- like I said, a lot of catching up to do -- and then we were in a taxi headed to the Morgan Beat Dance Club. By the time we'd installed ourselves on one of the crowded balconies and got our hands on a bottle of Mekong wiskey and a bucket of ice, I sorta forgot my questions. By 2AM I'd also forgotten my name and passport number.

The next morning I woke up two countries away in Vietnam, shackled to the mast of a sanpan. A large Vietnamese woman was insisting that she'd bought me fair and square for a pack of smokes and some sat-phone time, but I managed to purchase my freedom with a pair of blue jeans and the gold from my belly button piercing. I had to walk to Hanoi with no pants on, but that's another story. To make up for it, Adam & Todd agreed to do an interview via email. And here it is:

Maj:   So the obvious question that everyone wants to ask — WHAT THE FUCK were you thinking when you decided to go to the front line?!?

Todd:   I wanted to see if somebody would shoot at me, and what I would then think about that. Would something awaken? Something turn on? Or would it just be another scene I would passively watch?

I used to do performance art with an East-German friend and hundreds of pounds of raw meat.

It was a desire to witness first-hand something on a scale of enormity difficult to process — every day we consume newsblahbs of death and destruction with our donuts and coffee without reacting. We assimilate all of this information without digesting it, filing it away into some convenient niche in the colon of our personal worldview construct.

One motivation was to observe these things as directly as possible, instead of hand-me-down images and sound-bites. Free from the unseen hand of editors, producers, and bias — some full-length raw experience, no special edition director's cut.

Maj:   Todd, You wrote some about your motivations but when did it first occur to you that this is what you were going to do?

Todd:   When people told me I was crazy and/or stupid I realized it was a good idea.

Back home, I check five to six times a day and have done so since its inception. In the two seconds it takes for the site to load, I am filled with anticipation and expectation. Watching events [of September 11th] play out, I knew that I was going to go to Afghanistan. The first person I called was Adam, though I didn't tell him we were going until we were at the border and it was too late for him to say no.

Adam on the move through the sultry Bangkok night

Adam: I think when I started buying Yashica Mat-124 G in mass around Rawalpindi, Pakistan. They all had slight mechanical flaws in their mechanics. I thought they would be the perfect camera for the topography of the area. Nobody would assume that Pakistan had a large market of cameras for public consumption.

Maj:  So how come you guys are the only ones in the Whole Wide World who pulled a stunt like this? Could anyone buy themselves a 100 baht press pass in Bangkok and show up a few week later hangin' with the Sky News Team?

Todd:   Only if they can bullshit as well as we do. To be honest I expected to encounter other kindred nutcases in the field, but Adam and I were indeed the only ones. The price of admission kept many freelancers away, but we just haggled fiercely with the mujahadeen commanders as if we were buying souvenirs in a bazaar. The press passes helped us avoid some additional bribes, but really, it took a lot of confidence and big big smiles.

Adam:   I think some others tried. We heard from the guys on the street that they had been turned away. Word around town was they didn't want to pay. I even bought you one. I think it's in the mail, if it doesn't get flagged by the USPS.


The locals think we are idiots.

Maj:   I was reading a recent article about Pakistan and Afghanistan and the reporter made it to the border, but didn't cross, saying, "The Taliban were asking for large cash bribes to take reporters on shepherded tours across to Kandahar, and I didn't feel like paying up that day." What do you think of reporters like this?

Todd:   His Platinum card must have been maxed out.

Maj:   You talk about the book Passage to India and the idea that there are some cultural gulfs that you just can't cross. Do you think that your Website is going to bring some sort of reality to the average Western Web surfer?

Adam:   No way in hell.

Todd:   What sort of reality? We really just did it to take sexy pictures of ourselves on tanks. Although we've been called self-aggrandizing, I would not delude myself to think we could break through the hardened shells of comforting misconceptions maintained by inhabitants of the "First" World. For most of our small audience, we are already preaching to the converted.

Maj:   How were you received by locals on your way to the front line?

Adam:  The locals think we are idiots. I'm not sure. They treated us well but behind it all they laughed at us. It's a natural reaction though. Laughing at the others. Westerners are a funny bunch you know.

Todd:   As long as we smoked out with them, and not there to smoke 'em out for Dubya, we were "okay."

The one on the left wanted to get shot. The one on the right tagged along to take photos

It would be hard to generalize how we were received. It really depended on the motivations of whom we encountered. In Pakistan, people on the street treated us with respect and hospitality. The government officials and mujahadeen saw us as income, and mostly ignored us once it was apparent we weren't going to throw around bricks of cash. We never hesitated to admit we were Americans and never faced any direct hostility because of that. Men would tell us that they were... displeased... with our government, particularly their policy in the Middle East, but they did not hold us accountable for that. Instead they called us "brother" and did what they could to help us. An approach surprisingly civilized in a part of the world we are led to believe is filled with irrational reactionary zealots.

Maj:  Was there a strong feeling on either side of the border of Good Guys and Bad Guys?

The protagonist doesn't even take off his cap while feeding his daughter at home, and certainly only fucks missionary.

Todd:  As far as local opinion on whom to blame for their boundless misery, it varies. The Afghanis are very aware of the non-absolute "gray areas." Here is a gross oversimplification:   They liked the public works projects and programs initiated by the Soviets, but resented foreign rule. They liked the mujahadeen for ejecting the Soviets, but grew to fear and loathe the oppressive warlords they became. They liked the Talibs who kicked out the Warlords because they brought peace and security, but were definitely not happy with their legal implementation of Islamic law. America has been both friend and foe - supplying weapons one year, raining down Cruise missiles the next. Dropping from their planes identical yellow food packets and yellow cluster bombs. Pashtuns are known for their honor and hospitality, and as long as you haven't come to try to tell them what to do, are quite friendly.

Maj:  How is the Western Media misrepresenting the average Afghani and Pakakistani?

Todd:  The Western world signed off on these people a long time ago. They are all predictably malignant comic-book villains and hate-filled fanatics.

Maj:   For a while there was a flood of stories about the Happy Liberated Afghanis and all these woman running around nekkid and men shaving their bodies in joy over being Saved By America -- did the people you met feel like America was really helping them? Is there any reality to the idea that we are freeing suppressed people and not just dropping War Turds from the sky to make us feel better?

Our intrepid reporter - somewhere in Thailand - drunk as usual.

Todd:   They probably would have appreciated more our government's initial doomed plan of causing a change of guard in the Taliban by more moderate elements. The amount of "collateral damage," AKA dead Afghan civilians, has really undermined our propaganda message of being the good guys. As far as the infamous burqah, with or without the Taliban, the women are in no rush to take it off, we have never been made to understand that it's a *cultural thing* because we refuse to accept that they would *want* to wear it. It would result in cognitive dissonance, which really pisses us off. We are so confident in the superiority of Individuality and forget that the majority of the world does not share those values.

Maj:  What do you think is going to happen to Afghanistan after the bombing is over? Any thoughts on visiting again in a year or five?

Todd:  I think they will enter a golden era of peace and prosperity. The Nintendo Age. I gave one of my business cards to a young guard at the Eastern Alliance compound in Jalalabad, and told him that when he was done Jihading, when they had Internet at every corner, to drop me a line. He didn't understand the words from my mouth nor the smirk it was twisted into.

The bombing is going to end? Operation Enduring Freedom, Operation Anaconda, Operation Harpoon. I think they will run out of strong assertive codenames before they run out of operations.

We just returned from a tour through Vietnam, and if there were not so many good movies made about it, you would never guess there was an enormous war there. Afghanistan could go the same way, and might be if like Vietnam, we entirely left them alone for twenty years while they sorted their own mess out. The people there are mostly easy-going farmers who like to make music, dance, and smoke copious amounts of hashish. The majority, the ones not profiting from ongoing war, would certainly welcome peace. Instead of transitioning to eco-tourism or something, they could make buckets of money taking tourists on war-tours. See the Al-Qaida caves! The Bamiyan Buddhas! The Ministry of Vice and Virtue! The soccer execution stadium!

Maj:   You haven't got much press Back Home, except for that yahoo at the LA Times who appears unable to report his way out of a wet paper bag. Would you say that there are still some "real" journalists out there, or is American Media pretty much a farce?

You don't want to find out you have a bit-rate synchronization issue in Jalalabad.

Todd:  Some of the journalists we met, particularly Nick, Lisa and Martin of the Sky News team, were very decent people. Cynical former idealists turned realists, much like us. Having a job with a corporate entity to answer to, they all have become too comfortable with compromise. Doing the work desired of them, complaining about it later over their tea and power bars. Their professional malaise contributed to the respect they conferred to us - they admired our lack of accountability and do-it-yourself approach. The downside to our "street-cred" is that the more you "keep it real" the less of an audience you will attract. The photojournalist who admittedly inspired me to commit to this endeavor was an Italian named Ralph Ciriello. His work was the most legitimate hard-core shit I have ever seen. He was shot dead in the streets of Ramallah last week by Israeli soldiers.

Maj:   How did the recent CourtTV interview go?

Todd:   CourtTV. They rented a studio on Sunset Blvd. for me and sent a limo, but my compensation was a plug for the site.

They wanted me to talk about how titillatingly dangerous it was to work in the region, in relation to the Dan Pearl kidnapping. Unfortunately, I told them the truth of the experience, which disappointed them. I did have some provocative comments about working the frontline to make, but they moved on to their other guest who had a stunning suit and salon-job, but I cannot believe ever set foot in either country.

Maj:  I know you've gone over this before, but what's your reaction when people just don't believe you did what you did?

Todd:  Laughter. The media follows the company line of propaganda and perspective much more then they would like to admit even to themselves. They just do it in a systematized way to engender legitimacy. All of the civilian deaths by US bombing are always "unconfirmed" and "alleged" while they scrambled to play that obviously doctored "smoking gun" video of Osama. Being treated with doubt, suspicion, and disrespect leads me to believe we are doing something right!

He was such a nice, quiet boy

Maj:  Geek with me for a minute-- what's the connectivity like Over There? How did people respond to you huffin' a digital camera and laptop all over the place? What was your biggest tech issue and how'd you deal with it?

Todd:  I can geek with you for much longer then a minute.

Our Sony digital camera uses their proprietary "memory stick" format, fortunately our Vaio has an integrated reader that makes dumping images fast and easy, even under fire. The camera was a great multi-purpose rig, and served some very useful roles that were not intended by the engineers. The ability to display images on the rear-panel LCD made instant friends, smoothing difficult situations and misunderstandings. Those "lesser-developed peoples" really went nuts over it - in Amritsar we had mothers lining up with their babies for a chance to be blessed by our Western mojo.

Also, the integrated Firewire port on the Vaio allowed Adam to grab video from his mini-dv, alas also a product of the Sony mega-zaibatsu. Going mono-corporate with our tech was helpful in a world of competing implementations of "industry standards." You don't want to find out you have a bit-rate synchronization issue in Jalalabad with no phone and no Internet, let alone a BestBuy.

Between these three compact lightweight pieces of equipment, we could do almost everything the big news outfits require trucks loaded with crates of equipment. A full digital studio in a backpack.

What we couldn't do, our Achilles' heel actually, was get online. Our charms and hashish earned us a few minutes of sat-phone time, but we really needed our own to consider our Death Star to be Fully Operational. This was only an issue in Afghanistan -- anywhere else with basic infrastructure had some sort of inexpensive net-café, and I designed our site to be easily maintained from remote bandwidth-challenged locations with archaic browsers. Unfortunately, we are usually sharing a sub-38.8k or worse connection with 10 to 20 (40 to 60 if you count the lap-sitting) locals feverishly downloading the sweet fruits of pornography.

FrontLineDispatch runs on a self-tweaked version of "post-nuke," a freeware engine i grabbed off PHP renders the frontend while MySQL manages the data in the background. Between the included tools and some others I authored, we were able to manage content, resolve problems and make changes anywhere from Bangkok to Peshawar.

Maj:  Ummm, what's with all the pictures of meat?

Adam:  That's Todd.


Meat is Life. Life is Meat.

Todd:   Meat is Life. Life is Meat. I'm veg, but find raw flesh incomparably beautiful and powerful. It's a primal thing. I used to do performance art with an East-German friend and hundreds of pounds of raw meat.

Maj:  The real question we're dying to ask-- did you see Geraldo?

Adam:   Yes, and he smiled at me. I tell Todd that I was touched by an Angel.

Todd:  Returning from one of his bogus "frontline" remotes, he passed us in his fancy-fancy 4x4 while we were proceeding to the front on foot. He was surrounded by mujahadeen and offered a fey smile. He was acting like this was no different then Al Capone's vault. I heard he was so paranoid and delusionally concerned that Al-Qaida would target him he packed a gun, a serious no-no for a journalist. He was a good source of comic relief/disgust in camp.

Maj:   What did you miss most? Was there anything you really had to go without, or could you pretty much scrounge up chicks, smokes, booze, etc, everywhere you went?

Todd once bought a kite, just to see it fly

Todd:   An International Playboy doesn't reveal his secrets. I will say this - Even in the most Islamic of Republics, money can procure anything one needs or wants or both.

We took two backpacks into Afghanistan consisting of our digital gear, a minimal medkit, water-purification tabs, a loaf of bread, and lots and lots of cigarettes. Cigarettes are like a universal currency, except during Ramadan (my bad).

Maj:  Would you encourage other people to try what you did? What advice/warnings would you give them?

Adam:   Bring money. Go for it.

Todd:  If you prefer using travel agents, taking tour buses, and always having a hot shower, stay home and read the site. If you have any important expectations on how you should be treated or the service you should receive, stay home and read the site. If you can think on your feet, don't mind your own stink, and have a boundless sense of humor then by all means, make your own damn site and send me the link! Seriously though, one of our points is to say, "Look, we left our somnambulant narrow realities to go to these places, AND WE'RE OKAY!" The world is a big interesting place, and not nearly as dangerous as "they" (you) would like to believe. Every non-American I meet loves to mention a statistic:   that less then one in ten Americans hold a passport. We encourage anybody to go check it out.

Two tips:   If there are recent tank treads on the ground, there are probably no landmines where they cover. Don't kick the funny yellow metal balls with the fins.

Maj:   So what's next?

Todd:   How does the 2003: Axis of Evil Tour grab you!

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