Babylon by Bus: Or, the True Story of Two Friends Who Gave Up Their Valuable Franchise Selling "Yankees Suck" T-shirts at Fenway to Find Meaning and Adventure in Iraq


Jeff and Ray had la vida: selling YANKEES SUCK T-shirts five months of the year in front of Fenway Park and spending the rest of the year traveling the world. Sure, they'd go back to college at some point, but for now, the future was comfortably on hold. But the play button got pushed for them after the Sox broke their hearts in the 2003 Series. In the painfully clear light of the morning after, they looked at each other and faced up to the fact that they were in danger of becoming losers. Sad cases. What to do, ...

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Jeff and Ray had la vida: selling YANKEES SUCK T-shirts five months of the year in front of Fenway Park and spending the rest of the year traveling the world. Sure, they'd go back to college at some point, but for now, the future was comfortably on hold. But the play button got pushed for them after the Sox broke their hearts in the 2003 Series. In the painfully clear light of the morning after, they looked at each other and faced up to the fact that they were in danger of becoming losers. Sad cases. What to do, where to go if you're a young American man craving experience and wisdom in late 2003? If you're Jeff Neumann and Ray LeMoine, you go to Baghdad. And so they did.

You might not think these two scruffy, lovably clueless characters would have made attractive candidates for the U.S. government to run the desk in Baghdad's Coalition Provisional Authority that served as the interface between the CPA and the Iraqi people, fielding complaints and requests for aid from all over for a city of more than five million people. You might be naïve. But Ray and Jeff would prove to be dedicated and ingenious public servants, and they managed to do a great deal of good during their tenure in the face of staggering frauds and feuds. They also had their full share of the wild times that young people under immense stress in war zones have had from time immemorial, especially young people who return each night to a hermetically sealed safe zone flush with money and all the temptations, legal and illegal, that money attracts.

Hard-core smart, hard-core scathing, hard-core funny, this is Apocalypse Right Now-explosive and appalling. 'Roid rage fueling gang wars between rival private-security contractors; staggering fraud involving phantom construction projects; naïve young Americans given responsibilities for which their lack of qualification would be laughable if the consequences weren't so dire-this is the inside-out view of an occupation gone wildly wrong, from the point of view of two radically unaffiliated authors, members of no tribe, beholden to no one, and afraid of nothing.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
What do you get when you mix a couple of booze-guzzling, Valium-addled, 20-something slackers from urban America with centuries-old sectarian hatred and a dubious war? Well, you get this alternately lame, alternately compelling tale from the first year after the American invasion of Iraq in 2003. At loose ends, T-shirt merchants (selling "Yankees suck" at Fenway) Lemoine and Neumann decide to head out to Iraq by way of Israel. Having passed on an opportunity to go to Baghdad earlier in the war-"During Iraq's looting, the thought of loading up a stolen Lamborghini with Persian rugs and Baathist booty had crossed our minds. Stupid, I know"-these scalawags quickly find themselves in the middle of the Green Zone in Baghdad, scamming their way into jobs managing an NGO, dodging angry mobs in Sadr City and partying with just about everybody in town. Along with the boozing ("Jeff and I awoke at the NPR house with searing hangovers from a night of booze and pills"), there's a lot of name-dropping (among many others, Jon Lee Anderson of the New Yorker). Not entirely without merit, the book does capture a sense of the madness of postwar Iraq. (Aug.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
In 2003, authors LeMoine and Neumann left their jobs selling "Yankees Suck" T-shirts outside Fenway Park and traveled to Iraq in search of wisdom and experience. Backpackers, stoners, and partygoers, they swiftly got jobs with the Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) coordinating the efforts of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs). Later, they worked for an NGO distributing clothes to dirt-poor children in Sadr City. Totally unqualified but willing to work, they traveled freely throughout Baghdad until a brush with a death squad made it clear that they had to leave or die. Their observations from the bottom of the CPA hierarchy and from the streets of the city add a considerable degree of texture to the reporting of the period after major combat. Their opinion that the CPA was largely unconnected to reality is shared by many antiwar writers, but their take is far from one-sided-they point to many able and dedicated people looking for solutions in an increasingly volatile environment. More memoir and travelog than history, this book provides a gritty look at the people who actually make a career of helping out in war zones and the ways in which they manage to keep some shred of sanity. Recommended for subject collections. [See Prepub Alert, LJ 4/15/06.]-Edwin B. Burgess, U.S. Army Combined Arms Research Lib., Fort Leavenworth, KS Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
"Or," as the subtitle puts it, "the True Story of Two Friends Who Gave Up Their Valuable Franchise Selling YANKEES SUCK T-Shirts at Fenway to Find Meaning and Adventure in Iraq, Where They Became Employed by the Occupation in Jobs for Which They Lacked Qualification and Witnessed Much That Amazed and Disturbed Them."Two feckless BoSox fanatics and first-time authors travel to Baghdad, where they manage to find some feck and do some good. They don't begin as characters many readers will like. (For simplicity's sake, LeMoine narrates their memoir.) When they decided to go to Iraq in October 2003, prompted by a heartbreaking-for-Boston World Series, they were young and dumb, full of early-20s certainty that they would never die and that just about everyone else was an idiot. But amid ruin and chaos in one of the most dangerous places on earth, they discovered that they liked to help the helpless, they realized their frailty, they . . . well, matured (sort of). The authors are certainly unafraid to admit their weaknesses, characterizing their 2003 selves as stupid, ignorant and gullible. What they did was indeed jaw-dropping in its chutzpah. In Jordan, they boarded a creaking bus to Baghdad, where they weaseled their way into working for the Coalition Provisional Authority. Soon, they were operating a charity they named HAND (Humanitarian Aid Network of Distribution) by day and downing drugs-alcohol and valium were their preferred downers-by night. Each day they drove out of the Green Zone (the high-security safety area) into what they called the Red Zone, where they distributed boxes of used clothing to swarms of children. They figured out how to circumvent or manipulate the militarypresence, how to communicate with Iraqis, where to find the best tobacco and the most drunken parties. When the U.S. shut down some opposition media, sectarian violence began to intensify, especially after the Abu Ghraib scandal erupted. In Jordan, the authors got in some scuffles, and the U.S. military cut them loose. Back home, they heard about the violent deaths of two friends in Baghdad. Some of the war-zone madness is reminiscent of Catch-22; some of the sorrow and tragedy is too. Or, "How Bill and Ted's Self-Indulgent Adventure Became William and Theodore's Moving Memoir."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780641856068
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 8/3/2006
  • Pages: 336
  • Product dimensions: 6.40 (w) x 9.30 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Jeff Neumann worked as a volunteer NGO coordinator for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Baghdad in early 2004 after several failed attempts at becoming a professional poker player. He currently resides in New York City and continues to travel as much as possible while trying to stay out of third-world jails.

Ray LeMoine dropped out of Northeastern University in 1999 and spent the next five years running the "Yankees Suck" T-shirt operation outside Fenway Park. As CEO, he was based everywhere from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to Spain's Basque region to Revere, Massachusetts. In early 2004, he traveled to Baghdad with Jeff Neumann to help spread freedom and democracy. He lives in New York.

Donovan Webster is an award-winning journalist and author. His work has appeared in The New Yorker, National Geographic, Vanity Fair, Smithsonian, and The New York Times Magazine, among other publications. He is currently employed as spiritual adviser and bail bondsman for Jeff Neumann and Ray LeMoine.

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