Tuesday, March 30, 2004

She's Taking Over!

There is a brand-new lieutenant taking over my current position in about a month...and given the decidedly unfruitful housing market in the area right now, she's also taking my apartment as I move into the House I Own. She hasn't even seen the apartment yet...but I can absolutely understand where she's coming from. She's seen only crappy apartments, just like I saw during my househunt. Folks in this area just aren't very aesthetically oriented. They're beauty-challenged. Not the locals as people, cosmetically (although no one in the Army looks to the locals for lovin', it's decidedly slim pickins)...the homes. The apartments. They're just awful. There's still a great deal of panelling and dark carpet out there.

Except mine. I'll actually miss it, my pretty little apartment in my pretty little harbor town. I'm sure the joys of ripping up nasty carpet and painting over pink grossness will get me past missing the old place in short order.

I submitted an initial application to the FBI. I want to see that it's a solid possibility before I go submitting any paperwork to separate from the Army. I don't think I'll make the move unless it's for the FBI--the last thing I want is to find myself out on the civilian job market, even with my skills and marketability. Uncertainty, I don't need, AT ALL...been there, done that, never going back.

We have an NBC range today...entailing the following: ride out to a sealed building, spend about three hours putting on a chemical mask over and over again, then go inside the building, breathe in some riot gas until you're covered in snot and drool and vomiting all over the floor, put the mask back on, exit. Sound like a monstrous pain in the ass? It is. Then tomorrow we have a grenade range...get a bunch of fake grenades, sprint around on a course throwing them into bunkers and over little walls while someone shouts at you to get the lead out, repeat four or five times until any motivation you might have had is long gone and you're exhausted beyond redemption. And in my case, so sore the next day that Physical Training is excruciating.

At least for now I'm spared the ultimate in pointless, painful training, the Bayonet Range. I've never even heard of anyone affixing a bayonet to their rifle in modern times. We prefer to SHOOT the rifles, not use them as great big knives. The unit went through a Bayonet Range last year, and the entire time I tried to appear like a motivated leader while thinking, Jesus, this is the stupidest shit I've ever seen. And true to the Army doctrine I like to call Make Everything as Miserable as Possible, you're forced to lowcrawl through a pit of slushy, slimy bilge that smells like dead fish, bayonet/rifle in hand. And you're supposed to holler, "Kill Kill Kill What makes the grass grow green...GUTS GUTS GUTS." I'm not kidding. And at the end of it all, you've ruined a uniform and will spend the next two weeks scrubbing your kevlar helmet and flak jacket of the filth you've ground into it with your full body weight.

I think I've just grown irrevocably uninterested in all this crap. I'm sure machine guns and grenades are exciting for a 20-year-old guy, but I only participate because I have to. The fact is, I hate this shit, the "soldier skills." I haven't touched a grenade since basic training and have a very difficult time imagining a scenario in which I would deploy one...if your intelligence officer is throwing grenades, you have lost the fort and you're all gonna die. I know, I know, we're all soldiers first and individually skilled in our jobs second...but I can't help having completely lost interest.

I am, however, still very interested in the intelligence work. Which contributes to my gut feeling that it's time to think about leaving the Army in search of greener pastures. The direction the Army's moving is toward more and more of the kind of training I so detest.

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Pushy Bitch in Public

Okay, I'm having to resubmit this entry--had to delete it entirely after it published twice. So now it's a bit out of sequence, but here goes...

I walked into Sears last night after work because the tires I'd just had put on seemed to wobble. The effect was strong enough I could hear loose change rattling in the cupholder. There was no one behind the counter, so I stepped five feet to the right in order to check out a nice barbecue grill (which I bought), over a hundred bucks off on sale. I chatted with the salesman and noticed an older woman come in and stand at the counter. The salesman noticed, too. He got on the store phone to the mechanics.

"Flora, there's a lady out here in military uniform, she was actually here first."

But that lady who walked in behind me, she was not having it. She proceeded to assault the poor counter person with her conviction that her new tire had a broken belt. Another mechanic had told her so. The counterlady took her keys and left us all standing there...another man had come in behind her. He had a kind look to him. Pushy Woman looked at the American flag on my uniform, sewn (with much trouble on my part--I had to keep ripping it off and recentering it) just underneath my combat patch.

"Why is your flag backwards?" It is backwards, the stars and stripes live on the right side as you're looking at it. But the way she asked it, she clearly thought I'd just sewn it on wrong. When did I tatoo the red letters spelling IDIOT on my forehead?

Me: "You know, I don't know, but I'm sure there's a reason."

She rolled her eyes, "After 23 years in the Air Force, I can tell you there's not always a reason. It's probably a mistake." !!! Here's where I stopped trying to be polite.

"I can tell you that IN THE ARMY, when it comes to uniforms or customs and courtesies or The Flag, there is ALWAYS a reason. WE actually have three hundred years of history that come through in various ways." My tone was downright nasty. Meanwhile, an Infantry Captain walked in.

She sniffed. "They're probably made in China and once they ordered them, they couldn't make it right."

Me: "Do you really think the Army is that STUPID?" I looked to the others for support. The Captain raised his eyebrows as if to ask what the trouble was. I gestured toward her. "This lady thinks we all put the flags on backwards BY MISTAKE. As if 300,000 soldiers are all complete imbeciles."

Infantry Captain: "Actually, it's 'backwards' because as you're charging forward into battle, that's how it would look on the flagpole. The stripes are always forward...you'll never see it from behind, because we never retreat. It's NOT an accident."

Me: "Thank you! I just hadn't heard the reason yet. But I knew there was one."

Pushy Bitch: "Well, in the Air Force, they just put things on the uniform without much reason."

Me: "Well, the Air Force doesn't have three hundred years of tradition dictating these things."

The counterlady came back and we all stood there in line rolling our eyes at each other as she spent the next ten minutes arguing about the broken belt--the Sears folks advocated it was some other defect, not a broken belt. This was after they had already agreed to replace the tire, so the whole conversation was completely pointless and I couldn't help but think she was stalling to make us suffer after she'd already been proved wrong once that day. She was unbearably pushy and the poor lady behind the counter was as patient as she could be. The store manager finally had to be called. He asked what the problem was, heard the bitch's argument, and asked again what the problem was, since they'd already agreed to replace the tire.

She finally left the store and I noted the time they'd told her to come back and get the vehicle, made a mental note not to be around at that time. I shook my head as I got to the counter.

"And you were actually here first," the counterlady said.

Me: "What a bitch!" Everyone laughed.

Bad Army Day

I have tried everything to get blogger to delete that double post...I even deleted the whole thing, both entries. It still shows up. Maybe it's time I figured out the Dreamweaver html program I have, suck it up, and create my own website. That way I could post photos as well.

I keep dreaming about the new house, about opening a door and finding a whole new room or set of rooms. Last night it was a big, gorgeous bedroom with many windows and a walk-in closet so large someone had pulled a desk in there. The real bedrooms in my real house are rather small, like the kitchen...but I'd rather have small rooms I can paint and floor and, well, own, than big rooms I've rented. There will be time later on to have a bigger house. And I am only one person and a couple of rowdy cats, this house is more space than I've ever had.

It was a busy week and I'm so sore from physical training, I feel like I aged fifty years in two days. We played basketball (which I don't enjoy, by the way, I'm just not an agile person), but had to play as vigorously as possible so as not to let down the other two members of my team. And yesterday we had a company formation run that was pure torture. And I suppose there's a first time for everything--I couldn't keep up. However, the company commander (a guy I'm not wild about) took off at the beginning. The first mile was in less than seven minutes. The standard is to be able to run four miles at a nine-minute-mile pace, or four miles in :36. My fastest two-mile time for the Army Physical Fitness Test is right at fifteen minutes, or two 7:30 miles. I cannot maintain a seven-minute-mile pace even for one mile. AND I still finished the four miles in under 36 minutes.

It pissed me off. I guess this guy thinks he has something to prove, that a company formation run is an opportunity for him to stroke his ego. I've never fallen out of a formation run in my life. And you know, later in the day I spoke at length with a woman I met who is an FBI agent in Kentucky...this Army ego bullshit will only get worse for me as I get older and my run times start to decline. It's not that I cannot meet the standard--I score the maximum on my PT test every time I take it--but it ruins my whole day to fall out of a run, even though logic tells me there is nothing I can do when someone takes off at that pace.

The FBI has roughly the same physical standards the Army has--you must be under a certain body fat percentage and pass a physical fitness test every six months. The big difference (and it is BIG) is that in the FBI, you are expected to maintain your fitness on your own, there isn't this group training. They even allow you time during the work week to work out. In other words, they treat you like an adult by trusting you to take care of your own business. That aspect alone could sell me on switching over.

The very idea of waking up in the morning, getting out of bed, and running from my home, showering there, and getting to work--it's VERY appealing. And military veterans get all kinds of perks and preferences--higher pay, more vacation time, more autonomy in choosing assignments, etc. I've been tossing this idea around for a couple of years now--I have 18 months left on my obligation. I have to drop the paperwork one year out, and it puts a cloud over one's head to do so. Supervisors don't treat you as well, everyone regards you with a certain degree of condescension, they treat you like a bit of a traitor. But you know, I'd emerge from that year even more convinced that I'm doing the right thing.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Stoplight Races

There's a stoplight just past Wal-Mart on the way to Sackets Harbor on Route 3 where the four-lane becomes a two-lane about two hundred meters past. It's also just after the left everyone makes to Lowe's. I usually stick to the right-hand lane, the one that ends, because there's usually one in every crowd wanting to make the Lowe's left, and if you get stuck behind them, forget about the next light or two, you're Stuck like Chuck.

Today I spent over $200 at Victoria's Secret (sounds excessive, but they make The Only bra I can wear, period) and on the way back, got caught in the right hand lane at the light. I'd have to merge over. The car to my left was a little Neon, or the Dixie Cup of automobiles. They drive like a sewing machine, I rented one once. Behind the wheel a typical North Country character hunched--morbidly obese, long stringy hair, general look of disgruntlement on her face.

Mind you, I'm not usually one of those jerks who floors it on the green light. I drive a four-door pickup truck, a far cry from a Camaro or some other hey-look-at-me sports car. I'm perfectly content to merge in behind someone else at that light. Today, however, was different.

At the exact nanosecond the light changed, Miss Neon stomped the gas. Her tires squealed a bit. Oh, hell no, I thought, and gunned my big V6. I glanced across at her--she actually leaned forward over the steering wheel, as if this would be a photofinish, and perhaps her glasses would get her across the wire first.

Fortunately, my big bertha has a fierce third gear, got me safely into the left lane, ahead of Miss Neon...who then slowed to about twenty in a forty-five and made a left into a driveway about three minutes later. ??? I don't get it.

Anthropologists have their work cut out for them. Once, at that same light, some jerk cut me off so sharply I had to hit the brakes HARD. He then slowed to about fifteen where there was no way to pass him, blowing his horn and flipping me off all the while. And I wasn't even the one merging, the light was green, I was just driving along, minding my own business. He had those absurd silver silhouettes of naked, seated women with big hair and bigger boobs affixed to each mudflap, you know the ones. He was one of those. I didn't tailgate him, I know for a fact that those stupid Playboy girls go hand-in-hand with a large-caliber rifle in the backseat. Or a readily-brandished lug wrench.

I've learned that in most situations behind the wheel, if you just RELAX, quit viewing every driving transgression against you as a personal snub, be courteous enough to let people get in front of you, etc--you get there in the same amount of time and in a much better mood than if you'd tailgated, swore, showed people your middle finger, and cut them off.

But I still couldn't resist once I saw that lady hunched over the wheel. She had to get left behind, and that's all I've got to say about that.

Monday, March 15, 2004

Irene, You Shore Look GOOD In That Hot Pank Sweatsuit!

I waited until the mid-afternoon to venture to Wal-Mart. Big mistake. Always go at about 7 am, before the throngs of screaming, scampering toddlers and pushy, toothless women leading surly, scruffy little husbands descend upon the place like the American Army in a sandscaped country. I was a P.O.W. for over an hour.

Mind you, this dynamic, the general populace of the Watertown area missing teeth and looking for all intents and purposes like products of an all-too-shallow gene pool, explains the interiors of those houses I looked at last week. Why did it come as a surprise that bad taste translates rather seamlessly from oversized, hot pink sweatsuit (complete with holes in places that make one wonder exactly how they got there--delete! delete! Damn, I can't lose the image!!) at Wally World to brown and orange shag carpet in the home?

Lord, folks, I KNOW you're watching television--surely you noticed the absence of hot pink sweatsuits and brown shag carpet? What, are you watching The Brady Bunch by day and Flashdance all night?

And I have to make the point that I spend more money at the grocery store than I would if I ate out every single meal. Why do I spend over $100 a week on groceries? Because it costs more to eat healthy food. Fresh blueberries cost more than a supersized combo meal. I don't even want to TALK about how many packages of low-calorie raisin English muffins (LORD, they're yummy) I go through in a given week. Not to mention the luscious, 3-point Chocolate Chocolate Chip muffins I have to have you know, every day. Nuke it for thirty seconds, it tastes just like a freshly baked brownie. For about two bucks each.

Soft, gooey, fragrant chocolate cakey muffin for 3 little points--hell, I earned 5 points running this morning...again, in the snow, in a punishing wind. Only this time, when I got to my turnaround point out on the shore of Lake Ontario, I had it made--the wind that had made me feel like I was in that Talking Heads video, Road to Nowhere, suddenly felt like a helping hand, like it was all downhill without the knee-crushing impact.

It's okay that I spend a small fortune on foods like out-of-season fruit and things that taste amazing but won't make me fat. Again, commitment. And the alternative is a hot pink sweatsuit and brown shag carpet.

Sunday, March 14, 2004

Update on my dad: he's been moved to a "Psychiatric Care Facility" in a nearby town where we also have family. He's still completely delusional, not to mention a little beaten up after his commando low crawl across the street. I'm told his house is an absolute disaster, the kind of place you walk into and know that there is something dreadfully wrong with the occupant. I worry about how all this will be paid for--I know I cannot contribute much if anything, and my brother is homeless. With any luck, though, Jon will come home to Oxford and move in with Dad, look after him. I hope that arrangement works out--he clearly can't live on his own, and since Jon's homeless and all...living with a raging lunatic beats sleeping in the car.

I just watched Breakfast at Tiffany's for the first time in years...20/20 hindsight, I was appalled at the Mickey Rooney character. So unapologetically racist! I know, the movie's a classic, it was a different time, and I understand...still, it was almost unbearably annoying. I'm not judging Blake Edwards or Audrey Hepburn or Mickey Rooney--I can be annoyed and sympathic at the same time.

Then I spent about an hour cleaning the house top to bottom, all except this office room, which is a disaster beyond help until I move out. I plan to go through all this crap this week, throw out masses of clothing, paper, etc. Even at my worst, this room is really NOT that bad. A little cluttered, but you can tell the clutter is recent clutter, not the buildup of one losing touch or the ability to care.

Saturday, March 13, 2004

5 Miles-O-Hell

Last week I read on the area running club's website that there was a 5 Mile Shamrock Run to take place this morning. It was mid-afternoon as I read about it, cozy warm in the home, and it all sounded like a fine idea. I have to get back into middle distance at some point, right?

So last night I went to the Brewpub only briefly, and sat there with my little glass of water, went to bed early. I accidentally awoke at 4:00 this morning (it happens from time to time), made coffee and oatmeal, then took a little nap prior to the 10 am start time. I saw that it was 6º outside, but was not discouraged. I layered up, drove downtown, and followed the other runners to the starting line.

It was a pretty sparse crowd--given the increasing rate of snowfall and the bone-chilling wind, it wasn't surprising. I chatted with an old teammate of mine from the Fort Drum Army 10-Miler team. It's amazing to me now that I could run 10 miles only six months ago.

I knew the first mile would be a bit difficult, with the cold and wind and snow. But actually, the first mile passed fairly pleasantly--I hit the mile marker in 9:00, which is pedestrian for me when I'm in better shape, but the way I'm rolling right now, I have to be patient, take what I can get.

Then we took a hard left turn, into the blistering wind, and straight up a steep hill. It would be the first of many. Despite our location in the middle of the formidable Hindu Kush Mountains in Afghanistan, Bagram Air Field is flat as a pancake. Nary a hill to be found.

I comforted myself by thinking that the return trip of the out-and-back course would be all downhill. And the wind would be at our backs. I even felt a burst of energy and motivation just before the turn-around point, surged ahead, and passed one runner after another...I'd set my sights on the next struggling figure, and accelerate until I'd reeled them in. I felt great. For about a half-mile.

Then came the turn-around point, when you get to see just how far back in the pack you are as you face everyone behind you. At first I saw literally no one outside the few I'd passed in my moment of strength. There was a car behind one lady...the trail vehicle? I wondered. A deflating thought, that I was this close to the trail vehicle, otherwise known as the vulture, the buzzard, waiting to pick off those of us who succumbed to the strong temptation to lie down on the pavement.

Someone hit the toggle switch, on both the wind and hills. So much for a downhill, backwinded cruise home. That stretch where I'd felt strong enough to surge ahead? It was downhill, now a fat uphill that snaked as far as the eye could see. The urge to lie down on the pavement became a compulsion. I began to wonder what the hell I'd been thinking to leave my warm bed--I could be at the Tin Pan eating pancakes with my buddy right then, rather than chugging up a long hill. In the snow. In the wind. What was I thinking?

I passed the ambulance coming the opposite way, the real trail vehicle. Just in front of it loped an old man, all decked out in ski goggles and bright red tights, just grinning away, happy to be there, even if it was just in front of the vulture. I remembered the half-marathon I ran in Korea, when I was the one just in front of the ambulance--I could hear it patiently breathing behind me, wondered what the guys inside were saying (probably pointing out my big ass, I figured). And right now it was all I could do not to lie down in front of the ambulance, take me! But that old guy, he shouted good morning at me as he waddled past.

Then reason kicked in...I know what I was thinking, why I do this shit to myself--I've made a commitment to fitness, one I hedged on while in Afghanistan by not working out as hard or as often as I knew I should. At least I'm out here gutting it out, I thought, at least I've still got the drive to do this. At least I'm not walking.

And there were plenty of people behind me--younger, thinner, many of them male. Behind me. I finished in an unimpressive :47 and some change. My lungs feel as though I spent the morning in the gas chamber. My right knee, recently diagnosed with osteoarthritis, crunches and creaks and causes great pain going down the stairs. I'll be sore tomorrow--I haven't run that far since early January. But I'm glad as hell I ran that race instead of stuffing my face with pancakes this morning!

Besides, pancakes don't fit well into the Weight Watchers program, another commitment I've made. Too expensive, points-wise. As The Penguin (John Bingham, another back-of-the-packer who writes for Runner's World) points out: The miracle is not that I finished, it's that I had the courage to start.

Waddle on, friends.

Friday, March 12, 2004

"I was FRAMED"

I must admit, Dell is doing better than I thought with this damn laptop I bought...they're sending me a whole new one in two days, and I don't even have to pay to ship the busted one back. The real maddening thing about this new one is, the t and y buttons keep sticking, so I have to go back and retype each letter four, five, six times. Drives me insane. Maybe the new one won't lock up and act all stupid.

Dad was admitted to inpatient psychiatric care earlier today--while he sounded confused and a bit out there yesterday, today he's completely incoherent. I called and he went on and on about Peter, Paul, and Mary...yeah, the musicians. ??? The doctor thought it could be precipitated by some mad DT's, but thinks it's much deeper than that. I can say he's always been paranoid to the point of unreasonable for about a year--he threatened to sue the police department after his public drunk arrest, because he was "framed." Nevermind his blood alcohol was four times the legal driving limit. My uncle is the Police Chief, and according to Dad, was carrying out a long-standing personal vendetta.

So this has been brewing for awhile now. How this extended inpatient psychiatric care will be PAID for, I haven't a clue.

I've had enough drama for today. I think I'll go to the Brewpub and have a beer. One beer. I'm following the Weight Watchers plan to the letter, and in three days am already down three pounds. Water weight, I know, but I'll take it. At least the numbers are now moving the other way. Besides, I'm running in a 5-mile race tomorrow. I must be a glutton for punishment, because it'll be about 18º out there, not exactly ideal.

This morning, however, was lovely--we had a blizzard that dropped about seven inches of snow, and it raged until about noon with 35MPH winds. I awoke at about 6:30 am, just about the time I'd be getting ready to walk outside for PT if I weren't on leave. I opened the windowshade so I could watch the snowstorm from under my flannel sheets and down comforter, let both kitties curl up on the bed, and went back to sleep for about four hours. Delicious.

Thursday, March 11, 2004

Crazy Crazy, Now Playing Everywhere

My dad has straight lllloooost it.

A bit of background: he's been an alcoholic for as long as I can remember. My mother, being a classy lady from a really good Mississippi family, was all that stood between him and total loss of control. She died in the spring of 2002. And the hits, they just keep comin'.

Last summer, he got falling-down drunk on the Square (in Oxford, Mississippi, where everyone knows your business) and was picked up by the cops stumbling around like a frat boy. He's seventy years old. The police report indicated that he'd pissed himself and was looking for his car. Good thing he didn't find it, I'm thinking.

There have been any number of minor instances since then. Today I walk in to find an email from my aunt--subject line "Jack," which automatically lets me know he's slipped again.

Here's what happened, from the varying points of view:

HIS PERSPECTIVE: He came home last night and there were eight people in the house. Three were old women and sat on his bed. He began issuing threats, "You've got five minutes to get outta here!" He loaded a pistol and went running around outside the house, fell into a hole, and damn near broke his leg. Then he saw one of the guys out in the woodline and "I fired a round about eight inches over the sumbitch's head, and they all went running around everywhere. So I took a couple more shots and made a break for Ben Massey's house across the road...I had to crawl past some of them, they were standing there when I tried to run past."

ME: "Did you call the Sheriff?"

HIM: "They cut the phone lines. I need to talk to Steve about fingerprinting the place...but you know, the weird thing is, they never said anything. Not one word."

Do you have the image yet? Old guy running around the woods in Mississippi firing a pistol all over the place, then crawling across the street to the neighbor's? It's a wonder he didn't get shot himself!

EVERYONE ELSE'S PERSPECTIVE: Dad hallucinated wildly and ran across the road to the neighbor's house with a loaded pistol. The neighbor, of course, directly called the Sheriff, who said that when he got there, Dad was hollering at the wall, asking it who it was and why it was in his house. No one knows where the little dog is. He's in the hospital and is still convinced there were "eight weird people in the house."

Here's another odd twist--the Sheriff found no alcohol in the house (believe me, that's unusual), didn't smell alcohol on him...again, unusual. Dad told me he hadn't eaten in three days because "his legs haven't been working."

Has he had a small stroke? My uncle, a retired doctor, doubts it's DT's--he says no one would voluntarily dry out like that, to the extend they had the DT's. So he's either: 1) schizophrenic, 2) on drugs, or 3) maybe has Sleep Deprivation Psychosis? What else induces hallucinations so real you load a pistol and fire it off into the woods at silent, house-dwelling strangers?

The maddening thing is, the hospital or doctors cannot tell me anything--he still lists my mom as next of kin, and until it's documented otherwise, they're bound by law to keep the information private. So my uncle, the doctor, is on his way there to "visit," i.e., covertly examine him.

It's a good thing I'm here and not in Afghanistan...I can see the Red Cross message hitting my Commander's desk: "LT B needs to come home now because her dad's chickens hath flown the proverbial coop." And then everyone would look at me crosseyed, wondering when I'd follow suit.

Dirty Rat Bastard

I think, despite all my anti-viral and firewall protections, I've somehow gotten and spread a virus. I keep getting messages with subject lines like, "Security @ Drugstore.com--You Sent a Message With a Prohibited Attachment." So this thing must've gotten into my history or email addresses (although I don't think I've ever emailed Drugstore.com) and sent itself to all my contacts. I never open attachments unless it's from someone I know. If it reached your computer, I'm terribly sorry--I have the latest and greatest protection, but I suppose nothing's foolproof.

Oscar, my goddamn black cat, somehow is able to sense the exact moment when I drop off to sleep. And yowls in his ugly, warbling voice precisely at that moment, often accompanied by (quite literally) knocking at my bedroom door. Bastard! I had to get up rather early by the standards of being on vacation and all, since I have a home inspection this morning...I had to pry my eyelids open. I bet I slept three hours.

Believe me, when I move into the new house, I am locking both of these little shits downstairs. I keep a squirtbottle next to the bed, and will roll over and squirt at him under the crack in the door. But then I'm already awake, and it's always been hell for me to get back to sleep.

I think I'll pick him up and toss him around every time I see him sleeping today. It may not teach him a lesson (I know for a fact he's stupid as hell, else he would not risk his very life waking Mama up), but maybe it'll wear him out enough, he won't have a choice but to sleep all night tonight. The little fucker.

Do you see why I don't have kids?

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

The Formidable Matrons

I got up this morning, turned on my shiny new laptop, and watched in dismay as it locked right up. That's why I wanted a new one, because the old one was sluggish...and it took over half an hour to get the new one up and running properly this morning. So I boxed it up and it's sitting on my kitchen table, awaiting Dell's piss-poor customer service to give me an "authorization number" so I can send it back and get refunded. Minus a 15% "restocking fee," of course. Complete bullshit. Well, I can eat the $200 or I can keep this boat anchor and eat the $1300. Gotta cut my losses. Mama needs a washer/dryer anyway.

I finally bit the bullet last night and attended my first (in two years) Weight Watchers meeting. I gained enough weight on deployment that my knees are getting beaten up running, and I just feel sluggish with the extra pounds. I don't look bad, at least that's what I'm told...but losing a few pounds would be like running around with a medicine ball for months and months, then dropping it. It would feel so much better. The cosmetic benefits are fringe--I just loved the feeling, several years ago, of being much lighter. There were days when running felt so amazing, like I was skimming the ground. I want that back.

Right now I run outside and think, "Damn it, I wonder if people can see my belly jiggling with this jacket on. Shit, my knee hurts. This sucks. I should stop. I can't believe how slow I am. Damn, this sucks." And soon it'll be warm and there'll be no jacket, no hiding the fluff.

I joined Weight Watchers in El Paso several years ago, lost about 20 pounds, then deployed to Colombia and gained most of it back. Damn it. My first meeting there, a very large older lady scoffed at me as I sat next to her, "What are you doing here? I wish I was your size." But I don't wish to be my size. I've been much smaller and felt much better that way.

So Watertown actually has a fairly large chapter. I was the smallest member there, which I admittedly felt a little smug about until these formidable matrons began filing up front to collect awards for the weight they'd lost. One hit her 50 pound mark. Several reached 10% body weight lost. There were a handful of lifers there, folks who had reached their goal weights and maintained them for years. Holy crap, these ladies are onto something. And they're able to do this with big families to cook for.

I, on the other hand, have no excuse. I cook my own meals, usually just for myself but occasionally for friends who would appreciate something lighter. I can't imagine making a big ole pot of mac and cheese for a child, serving him/her their little portion...then what, put the rest in the fridge? Right. I'd trough that shit right down until the whole pot was gone and I'd just consumed about a billion calories. I don't do well with certain foods.

So off I go, off IT goes. The timing's perfect--with the big move approaching (damn, still almost six weeks away), I'll be too busy to sit at the trough like a little piggy. And I suspect I'll earn copious Activity Points moving, painting, reflooring, unpacking, cleaning...I may as well shut off the cable until next August.

Tuesday, March 09, 2004

Teeny Weeny Little Keyboard

Before I was inspired to buy a house, I was inspired to buy a new laptop--mine is maddeningly slow at even the simplest tasks. What can you do, it's two years old, and therefore already far, far down the processing food chain. And I most certainly would not have bought this sumbitch if I'd planned to buy a house when I ordered it a whole week ago. This amount of money could've been a new washer and dryer, dishwasher, AND the pantry. Foolish. And I paid for it outright, no credit card or financing or any other bullshit.

So, you're saying, just return it! The perfectly logical solution.

But I can't. This thing is twenty times faster--the old one would freeze up if all you wanted to do was view another open window. Just infuriating. My one complaint, though, is that this one completely lacks the little keyboard jack. Are you kidding me?? I had a full-sized, normal keyboard hooked up to the old one, I could type away happily. And this is the one time in my life I've been able to have long fingernails without the threat of their getting ripped off during some Army bullshit.

I guess they make keyboards with USB connections out there somewhere. I'm just surprised by this--why would you omit such a simple connective jack? It does solve the upstairs vs. downstairs conflict raging in my mind for my internet connection--downstairs means tucking it neatly beside the couch when I'm not using it, but it sits in my pleasant den. That means no external keyboard. Upstairs would mean a full desk, the keyboard, etc. I just don't like the look of a desk taking up a corner of the den or dining room.

Problem solved. That's right, one more indication that this house thing was meant to be. I can't even sleep at night, plotting and planning and going over color schemes in my mind...right now I've settled on a gorgeous dark amber for the kitchen (right now it's hunter green with lighter green sponge splotches, the last lady's faux-something treatment). A buttery beige for the den, with the baseboards going from that horrid industrial gray to maybe chocolate brown. The same gorgeous, dusty purple for the bedroom that I have in mine now--I'm still in love with it. The bathroom? I'm not sure yet--it's so small, I'm afraid a strong color would overwhelm it. I'm thinking the same look as the den.

The seller's name is Sherry and she's a cop. Or state trooper, or something. She had a police scanner going ninety-to-nothing in the den and uniforms hanging in the closet. I didn't linger long enough to see what kind. I think it's unusual that the house is going from one single lady to another, both of us uniformed and all. I like that.

Alright, I'm going into the other room to chop off these damn nails...that's just not worth it.

Sunday, March 07, 2004

Oh. I forgot.

I neglected to address the other homes I looked at yesterday...one was gorgeous but $20,000 higher than the one I went with, and the other three were positively nasty. We're talking '70's brown shag carpet, bright orange kitchen cabinetry, dingy little cramped rooms, and two reeked of cat piss. It depressed me just to walk into these places. One place had a "half-bath" downstairs that was basically a toilet in a small coat closet. The other just looked utterly neglected throughout the entire interior. And the funny thing is, they both looked fabulous from the outside.

Sounds like some people I've known.

Mi Casa

My bid was accepted last night--I offered the list price with the seller agreeing to pay closing costs and scrape/paint the exterior trim before closing. So in reality, I'm paying about 5G's under the list price.

And last night I dreamed I was moving in and there were all these people around, working on the house or just hanging around, I'm not clear. Every time I walked into the kitchen, it was substantially bigger, much to my growing delight. It's on my brain because it is smaller than I'd like...but you can't get everything you want in my price range, at least not in this wonderful neighborhood. The other glitch in the kitchen: it's carpeted. Why would anyone carpet the kitchen?

All these flaws, they don't scare me--it just means when I rip out kitchen carpet and pink bathrooms, I'll get to redo them MY way. I'm already thinking laminate/wood floor in the kitchen, and eventually in the den and dining room. This place will look fabulous when I'm done with it.

Those rugs I scored in Afghanistan and Qatar, the framed advertisement posters from the '20's and '30's , the beautifully framed black and white photographs...I buy things when I see them and have faith I'll find a place for them at some point. Self-fulfilling prophecy.

I found an old CD I haven't listened to in years, Lord knows why...it's a Billie Holiday collection, those wonderful songs she did before the heroin took hold. Big band-era. It was given to me by the one frat boy I've ever dealt with, named Stephen. We dated briefly in 1991, having met in a poetry-writing class (imagine that!) taught by a sage named Anne. I still see her when I visit my family.

Stephen, he couldn't write a poem to save his life. I suspect he was there to meet women. I was an English major, did well enough in the class. I still have them, the poems--two of them were published in a Southern journal that year. The great thing about creative tendencies, they stay with you lifelong, you never lose it.

Part of my excitement about the new home is that the basement will accomodate my kiln, and I can start sculpting again. When I joined the Army back in 1998 in order to get rid of my unmanageable student loan debt, I had a studio in New Orleans and had been selling and showing art regularly. I had just signed with one of the more respectable galleries in the Warehouse District and then had to back out--the way my Army contract went down, I had two weeks to ship to Basic Training.

It was the worst two weeks of my life. I felt like a traitor, like I was going to Debtor's Prison, giving up the house and studio I loved, the job I didn't, and even had to give away the cats. It was a barely-subdued panic, thinking perhaps I was making the worst kind of irrevocable mistake.

And here it is, almost six years later, and it was actually the best decision I've ever made. I have a job I love (most days), I make enough money to buy a house, and the sculpture: it's still there. I just have to nudge it back awake.

Friday, March 05, 2004


It's tough to look at houses and imagine what I can make it look like, because the fact of the matter is most people have horrible taste.

Saw two houses today--the one close to the park, I'm heavily leaning toward. It needs some work--cosmetic, mostly. But I already plan to rip the entire bathroom out and put all new fixtures, vanity, tub, etc. I shall not sleep until all PINK is out of the house.

PINK. Why would anyone decorate with it? Horrid, silly-looking, little-girl PINK. One of the 3 bedrooms is absolutely glowing from within, goddamn bright pink.

I don't like the carpet, but I can fix that, too. What's going on with the 80's style valences, frilly shit, the Kountry Kitchen look? Folks, it's gross. Someone out there is thinking, "What's wrong with frilly shit and Kountry Kitchen? My kitchen has little duckies and chickens and shiny ruffled taffeta valences, and I have taste!"

More power to you. It's just not MY taste.

The big plusses of that Indiana Avenue abode: fabulous front porch. It's a Cape Cod house, very cute. Fabulous deck. Big basement that means I can go get all my sculpture equipment from Dad's house and start cranking again.

The kitchen could be great, even if it's a bit small--needs a new dishwasher and I'd have to build something for a pantry. There is space enough for all this. There's this weird, built-in chest of drawers thing in one hallway and two glass-front bookcases built into the den partition thing--all lovely period touches. It was built in 1910. The average utilities run about half what I pay now.

It's right across the street from Thompson Park in a gorgeous, historic neighborhood. There's a perfect place for a garden. Plenty of closets. An attic. Connections for a washer and dryer in the basement.

I'm looking at four others tomorrow, but I think I'm going for this one. I hope the weather's better by then--it's raining sideways out there.

Thursday, March 04, 2004

Lil Ole ME? A Homeowner??

Gentle readers, yours truly may be about to fulfill a longtime dream--home ownership. I go back tomorrow for my second walkthrough of two likely candidates. It's astonishing what $60,000 will buy in this area--both 3 BDR, all the amenities. One was built in 1840, one in 1910, both beautifully renovated/maintained.

This is the wise move. Fort Drum will expand in the next several years, property will only appreciate. My mortgage would be several hundred dollars per month LESS than my current rent. I qualified for over twice as much mortgage money as I plan to spend, thanks to the lovely VA benefit we soldiers get. And now's the time...my lease is up, and if I wait another year the market will be tight as hell with the base expansion well underway.

Holy crap. I can't believe I can do this--I didn't realize my credit was so good, that it would even be a possibility. Mostly, I didn't know there were great houses out there so cheap! They're both in Watertown, which would mean I'd have to leave my beloved harbor village...but my work commute would also get cut in half. The pros, they far outweigh the cons.

I need house buying advice! Any of you out there who've bought your share of homes, help me out! The one I'm leaning toward lists for $64,000...how much should I offer tomorrow when I go see it again? 60,000? I don't want to get outbid, but I don't want to be a sucker, either! Any sage wisdom about this process would be MUCH appreciated!


"Reverse SRC" is the painful process all redeploying soldiers must go through...it involves much standing in lines, shots (Anthrax! Ouch!), paperwork...the usual Army drill. We all stood in a particularly long line at the end of it all. At a desk in front of a computer sat a National Guard woman, a Specialist, and it looked from my vantage point at the end/middle/front of this queue that another female soldier kept walking up and bullshitting with her, at which time she'd stop what she was doing and devote her full attention to Soldier B. It was maddening. I joked about it with some Infantry guys around me.

These guys, they were hilarious. On one piece of the paperwork, it asked for "Specialty," or your military job title. He'd written "Strangulation." He showed it to me.

"Although," he said, "I did kill a guy with an E-Tool." The E-Tool is a tiny little shovel we carry around.

I said, "I make a mean cornbread," pretending to write on my own Specialty line. He laughed.

He was rather attractive, a Captain and not wearing a ring. But silly me, I didn't introduce myself...another missed opportunity.

Monday, March 01, 2004

Treading Water?

I have three days this week to wade through before I sign out on leave. We have a four-day weekend, I'm staying home for the internet guy on Wednesday, and I get promoted on Thursday. I am ashamed to admit, I didn't even finish unpacking last weekend...I worked for several hours at a time, got sick of it, and ended up sinking my fat ass onto the couch to read magazines and watch the Food Network. I love that Esther is so fat--she looks great with the rolls of fat around her neck and works better than a blanket keeping me warm.

I did take the time to purchase and fully assemble both a lingerie cabinet for the bedroom and a baker's rack for the kitchen--both very attractive and inexpensive due to the fact that these muldoons spent about a million bucks figuring out how best to package the 8,000 parts of the furniture, and about five bucks putting the directions together. In both cases, instructions were maddeningly unclear. I ended up ditching them and going by the photo of the finished piece, playing puzzle pieces...easy with the baker's rack, a bit more hit-and-miss with the lingerie cabinet. I was almost finished with it at one point when I realized I had the back/front reversed and had to take it apart and start all over. That electric screwdriver is the best twenty bucks I ever spent. I think I would've smashed the whole thing into a million pieces in a fit of rage had I been turning all those little screws manually. This afternoon, the huge wooden bookcase I needed badly--the cheapies I've been using list badly to one side and will surely collapse and kill a kitty any day now.

That run Friday, the one in 0º? It was pure hell. My lungs were on fire with that cold and I spent the rest of the day wheezing and hacking. They felt damaged. I'm thinking it may take awhile to reacclimate to this cold...and to think I'd been lulled into thinking the altitude training would take care of me. It went better this morning--it was in the upper twenties, a virtual heat wave, and while I still felt like I was dragging ass, it was managable. I'll get it back in short order, I always do.