The second and third blasts lit up my hotel room in a pink-orange hue. Three more blasts, unmistakable, echoed and cracked. Counterattack? For the previous hour, in a fourth-floor room at the Treasure Island Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, Nevada, I graded Basic Composition essays and watched bombs fall on Baghdad. My first night in Vegas, and I was buried in paper in front of a TV. I couldn’t turn it off. So much heavy ordnance: Tomahawk cruise missiles, smart bombs incendiary bombs, 2,000-pound bunker-busting bombs, and now, apparently, bombs outside my window.

I darted across the room and threw open the curtain. The desert evening sky glowed an ancient red. Below, in a fake lagoon, actors dressed as pirates fired pyrotechnic cannons from plastic wooden ships. Rival pirates shook their fists and fired back. Shells whirled through the air and exploded in electric green sprays, neon orange tendrils, showers of indigo. On the decks, the play-wounded staggered and fell overboard to join the play-dead in the shallow, roiling waters. The sky turned green. Surround the scene, dozens of tourists with fanny packs and bright, round faces—my countrymen, my people—cheered in something like shock, awe.