Monday, April 26, 2004

Hellfire and Damnation

First day on the job: I like the soldiers, I like the leadership, and I hear very good things about the Commander and First Sergeant who will take the company soon. We ran 3 miles as a company this morning, and it was easy enough for me that I jumped out and called cadence. The commander specifically requested me as a Platoon Leader/Executive Officer because there is no female leadership in the company and he thought my maturity and professionalism would serve all the soldiers, but especially the females, well. I am very comfortable in that role. That's the good news.

The bad news: the company spent a year in Iraq, and were among the first in, long before the initial assault. The stories the soldiers told me were unlike anything I've ever heard--the logistics were so bad, they were down to one bottle of water a day in that heat, they deployed with only a rucksack and so couldn't wash or change clothes for months.

What it all adds up to: the soldiers are highly competent, but they are beyond burned out. They just got back from that year in hell last month. Most of the soldiers now in the platoon will either PCS or leave the Army soon, as I'm sure is true at the end of any long deployment. So we're pretty much starting over.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Up at Four

I awoke at four a.m., after the quietest night of sleep in recent memory. I can lock the cats downstairs and sleep in silent bliss in that nice, dark room. I am utterly in love with this house and accepting housewarming gifts already...there was a hanging light thing, used but quite nice, on the porch this morning. No note.

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Mattress Taco

I'm sitting in my new den surrounded by boxes and rubbish, exhausted and sore but very happy that my internet already works. And what a ride these last two days have been.

I retrieved the keys at about 8:30 yesterday morning, drove straight here, and ripped all the carpet out of the den and dining room. I'll get to the upstairs eventually, right now I want the entire downstairs to look stellar. It was pure hell ripping out the carpets--filthy, backbreaking work, and I ignored the sage advice of the Do-It-Yourself Network by leaving it all in one piece rather than ripping it up into nice four-foot pieces. Just seemed like a waste of time to rip it up...that is, until that mammoth chunk of carpet got stuck in the door. I kicked, I pulled, I even slammed my full bodyweight into it. I was sweating profusely and I only had about an hour before I was supposed to go meet my new commander. I don't know what aspect of Providence finally smiled down on me, but it gave and I crashed through the door on top of the whole mess. It's all out on the porch, awaiting the trash hauler to come get it on Tuesday.

The floors...I was hoping for perfection shadowed by the ugly carpeting...and I got something between unsalvagable and perfectly presentable. Once I sand it down and refinish it, it'll look amazing. True to the shortcutting nature of whatever fool last made a weak attempt at restoration, the floor was sanded and finished in a ring around the large area carpet Sally Shittytaste had before Sally Shittiertaste covered it with the grey carpeting.

The next project: address the human filth caked all over the bathroom and kitchen. I sprayed Pinesol in the fridge and let it soften the layer of ancient orange juice on the bottom shelf. The crispers and what shelves could be removed soaked in soapy water on the back porch. I then had to use a putty knife to scrape the funk from the rest of the surfaces. Cat hair, people. In the fridge.

And the bathroom made my skin crawl. This was NOT the funk that accumulated in the span of a month or two. This was an absolute coating, an unspeakable spooge so thick and vile, I completely wore out two scrubby sponges just on the floor. I used an entire spray bottle of mildew remover in the bathtub alone.

Where I come from, we call people who live like that Po' White Trash. No hometrainin'. The next door neighbors even offered to help her clean it, and she flatly stated that she didn't plan to clean at all. Fine, I'll just knock about a hundred bucks off the price of the washer/dryer. We never agreed on a price and she can't take it back now.

So then, I dragged myself back out to Sackets Harbor to sleep, woke up very early, drove into town, and finished pulling staples out of the floor so my help wouldn't tear themselves up. All those people who told me they'd help out? Three showed, even with the keg of beer delivered by the Brewpub. God bless 'em, my three heroes. I don't know what I would've done. We completely filled that massive 26' truck. Unloading is so much more fun, and the Mattress Taco made my whole day.

See, my staircase is not very tall, as in the distance from the stairs to the ceiling at one point...the queen-sized mattress made it through fairly easily. I knew, though, when the guys had to bend it over and smush it through, we could be in trouble with the box spring.

It just flat-out did not fit. We needed about five more inches. I called a local mattress store and asked about buying a split box spring, and the jackass who answered the phone explained in a voice I don't even use with children that they aren't really box springs anymore, you rarely see springs in them, blah blah blah and who gives a shit, buddy?

Then, he went on to explain that I would have to buy two split support mattresses, just one wouldn't be big enough. Are you kidding me? Do I sound like a complete idiot? No, really, you moron, I thought I'd just buy one tiny little support (not box spring, mind you, very rarely do you actually see springs in them) and just let the rest of the mattress flop over it. Holy SHIT where do they find these people?

So screw that, I just spent a thousand bucks on this mattress set not even one year ago. But I figured, if I'm going to have to trash the original, one-piece BOX SPRING, we might as well try to McGuyver something. We discussed taking a hammer to the part of the ceiling that was in the way. Nah, it wouldn't buy us enough space. By this time, several more people had shown up and the keg had been tapped. We discussed pulling it up the roof and into a windows big enough.

So here's what we did...borrowed a Skil saw, sawed through only two boards, removed the center support bar, and folded that bitch in half like a taco. It actually worked. I took pictures. We were all in hysterics and someone suggested it looked like a cheap horror film, getting swallowed by a mattress taco.

Then the pizza came and the party started. Phil and Dave assembled my new barbeque grill and just for shits and giggles, we put some pizza on it. It was damn good. The patio furniture fits just right, Jon's iron mosquito sculpture guards the whole arrangement. Plans for the house were discussed. It was agreed that the floors wouldn't be a big deal...easy for them to say, they don't have to do it by themselves! Everyone left at around 7 pm, I took a very nice bath in my very clean bathroom, and now I'm sitting here drinking a beer. I'm fixing to go put my linens on and go to sleep.

I am one happy girl.

Thursday, April 22, 2004

Asscrackistan Revisited

I get the keys tomorrow to the new house. I met my new neighbors, and I got lucky once again in that department. Great older couple, been there 25 years. And they have redone their house much the same way I'd do mine if I had the money--knocked out the wall between the kitchen and dining room, gorgeous pine floors, new cabinetry and countertops. I doubt I'll be able to do all that anytime soon.

I've already been swapped from one company to another within my new battalion...I thought I'd be with A Co, who's still deployed, but now it's B Co and they aren't sure what platoon I'll have. They are leaning toward Human Intelligence, which is what I've wanted all along and what I had in A Co. AND, B Co will deploy sooner than A Co. I could find myself right back in Asscrackistan by the end of the year. In which case, I'd have to give away the kitties--I can't put them (or myself, for that matter) through all that again, locking them in the house with little human contact. I do like the company commander I'll work for, though--I'm told he's the type leader who takes his role as supervisor/mentor very seriously, puts much thought, time, and effort into developing junior officers. Sounds like what any LT would want.

I have a 6 mile ruckmarch tomorrow, my last PT with the Engineers. I've superglued extra-large bandaids to my heels, hoping to ward off the usual bloodying these things hand me. Damn it, I'll be all shitty-footed for the move...I'm not kidding, I use superglue on the bandaids in hopes of keeping them on there. Pain in my ass.

Friday, April 16, 2004

Is It Finally Spring?

Today was the first real springlike day--63ยบ, gloriously sunny, etc. Now, if we could just get some damn leaves on the trees, maybe some flowers, perhaps it could help get me out of this first-rate funk. It only strikes at night, the funk...certainly a byproduct of all the stress around Dad, the impending move, the job change next week. Let's see...Dad with dementia, first-time homebuying and the move to go with it, taking over a Tactical HUMINT Platoon (spies, they're spies, that's all I know about it) in a new unit where I don't know anyone...stress? What stress?

I think the best therapy will come by way of home improvement projects...I bought six gallons of paint today. I lovely soft amber for the den, a slightly darker of the same in high gloss for the kitchen, a cream color, also high-gloss, for the cabinets, my favorite dusty purple for the bedroom, light sage for the dining room, and an oil-based chocolate brown for the trim in the bathroom that is currently bile pink. The lighter amber will go on the walls. It will be perfectly lovely. Now, if I could just get off my ass and knock out the packing...

Last night the Commanding General returned with all the Battalion Commanders on board...arrival time, midnight. So being that I'm still on the staff, I had to be there. Pried my eyes open at 11:00, back into uniform, drove in cradling a large go-cup of strong coffee. Pull into the parking lot and notice a number of sleepy-looking folks getting back into their cars.

"Hey, soldier, did the flight get delayed?" I asked some youngun walking toward me.

"Uh, yes ma'am, it looks like it'll be 3:30." He has, in the meantime, locked himself at attention.

"Relax, I'm just a lieutenant," I told him. I don't insist on all the bullshit. You can tell if someone respects you or not, regardless of their attention to formalities. I find that putting subordinates at ease this way is an effective way to establish rapport...and rapport with young, lower-enlisted soldiers means they will tell you everything that is going on and you'll have your finger on the pulse of your organization.

So here it was, midnight, and I've got 3 1/2 hours until this damn ceremony even kicks off. It was too cold to sleep in the car. I opted to drive all the way home, 30 minutes each way...the entire time, thinking how wonderful it would be to live so much closer.

I repeated this statement all day long, when I'd gone home early in order to sleep, and the downstairs neighbor's goddamn dog barked all day long. I swear, if I'd had a loaded weapon, I'da shot that sumbitch through the floor. I was wiped out, and plus I HATE other people's noise. I like the downstairs neighbor, but I don't like his music, which is loud enough it makes my drink shake on the table.

Home ownership. It's a quiet neighborhood. The neighbors don't have kids or dogs. If the music is loud, I doubt I'll hear it. Ahhh.

Thursday, April 15, 2004

Do You Think She's Gay Why Else Isn't She Married Yet and What's Up With Wearing Boy Clothes All Day Anyway?

It has been brought to my attention that some saboteur bitch named herself Miss Kristen and made quite a name for herself and her blog back, oh, five years ago. So now I'm evidently plagerizing.

So help me think of a new title for the blog...the Bath Party? "Do You Think She's Gay Why Else Isn't She Married Yet and What's Up With Wearing Boy Clothes All Day Long Anyway?" Actually, I kind of like that last one. And no, by the way, in case anyone was wondering, I'm not gay. I would've been WAY out of the closet LONG ago if I were.

But I certainly don't have a problem with folks who are--I've even known a growing cast of characters in the Army who are. How do I know? They tell me, for some reason, and not because they think I might be a Sister, and not because I asked or assumed. They all just TELL me, and usually at the most unexpected times...S told me while we brushed our teeth in Afghanistan. C told me offhand while we shot pool. R told me because he was about to tell the Commander and get out of the Army. The other C had me come into her room in Colombia, showed me pictures of her and her girlfriend, and said, "Um, I'm gay." And these are some of my favorite people in the Army. My usual response? "Oh, okay."

Maybe they just know I'll be okay with it and find it helpful to spill the beans to someone. It cannot be easy, gay in the Army, in this culture where I feel mildly persecuted as a Democrat.

Insects, arachnids, arthropods

Someone in Iraq sent me a photo of some soldiers dangling two appallingly large and fierce-looking spiders. One appears to gnaw on a chunklet of the other's ass, latched on securely enough that he's just dangling from him. They look to be Bad. Mamma. Jammas. The debate now intensifies among everyone I forwarded it to, are they truth or fiction, is the photo doctored or not?

We hear all kinds of urban myths about the camel spider from our buddies as they redeploy...I know better than to believe they can run 25 MPH, jump six feet high, suck the blood from an animal four times its size...but you know what? If there's a 10% truth there, that is all I need, jack. We joked about them in the office, about the absurdity of some of the myths. One could chase your Humvee and flip it over with the characteristics assigned to them by the locals in Iraq.

In Korea, I always gauged my reaction to all the enlarged and threatening insects and arthropods by the way the Koreans reacted to them. Once during PT, someone picked up a rock and a H U G E red centipede/millipede I don't care which came boiling out from under it. One basic law of nature--if something that crawls on the ground is bright red, steer clear. It doesn't need to camoflage itself, friends and neighbors, and has survived as a species for these many milennia. And probably not due to its winning personality and sunny disposition. And besides, the Koreans solemnly scattered, directly. I'm sure among Koreans and some of the joes returning from Korea, those centi/millipedes run 40MPH, leap 7 feet into the air and onto your neck, and each little leg contains a poisonous syringe.

Again, a 10% truth is all I need. If it's bigger than my hand in any direction, I want no part of it.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004


This morning, six staff officers (myself included) stretched and chatted prior to our run. I mentioned I was having a bugout party next Saturday, with beer and pizza as the incentive for folks helping me move.

"Yeah," Stan said, "The seventeen-year cicada comes out this year. They said it'd be really bad in some places, cicadas everywhere. Cool idea to have a party."

Silence. What the hell's he talking about?? Reference earlier post from Afghanistan, my conversation with him about the Scooby Doo Mystery Van and Bigfoot up on the Hindu Kush slopes and were rugs invented or discovered? That's Stan. You gotta love 'im.

"Are you thinking of the 17-year locust?" I asked, thinking we'd somehow changed the subject away from my party and would now discuss large, musical insects.

"Same thing, really." Stan changed legs on the thigh stretch, wiped his nose on his sleeve. Suddenly, I got it.

"BUGOUT PARTY...NO, silly! Bugout as in bugging out of my apartment!" I kept recalling this conversation as we ran, giggled all morning.

Friday, April 09, 2004

Everything Must Go

Last Wednesday, the officers in the Battalion ran the Black River Trail...5 miles, and I love it. For one thing, it's too narrow to run all together, so it's at your own pace. Secondly, Josee joined us this time, and she's about where I am with running--in need of some work. We struggled to finish in about :50, when I was able to run it in :45 before deploying to the sand box. And thirdly, it's gorgeous, paralleling the river the full length.

Drove to the office and noticed there was a message on my cell phone...these days, any time I see a 662 area code pop up, my first thought is that Dad's done something again. I wasn't mistaken.

He was released from the inpatient psychiatric care necessary after his commando low crawl episode, directly got into his car, went downtown, got drunk, then subsequently picked up for DUI. The same day. Word on the street is that it took over four miles of being tailed by the squad car in full lights and siren to pull him over. There is speculation that it was intentional, that he wanted to go back to the hospital rather than home alone.

Initially, I was furious. I went to my supervisor to ask if I could take some more leave and get down there, and to my horror, started crying in his office. I am NOT one of those ladies who uses tears as leverage. In my business, bearing is everything and there is nothing worse than losing control. He was, of course, understanding (not to mention uncomfortable), and once I'd showered and ranted to Josee for about twenty minutes, I was fine. I'd even laughed while we were running earlier that I'd do damn near anything to get out of the battalion run on Friday...and I got my wish. I know, not funny, but it made me feel better to laugh about it.

So I loaded up the truck and drove south. It snowed all the way through Pennsylvania and most of Ohio. Then suddenly I rousted out of that autopilot distance-driving trance and noticed that somewhere in Kentucky, I'd crossed the seasonal line into full-blown spring. Wisteria, crepe myrtle, dogwoods, azaleas, all fully decked out. There were even leaves on the trees, even if they were that pale chartreuse of new growth, not the deeper green of full-sized, fleshed-out foliage. I shed my jacket somewhere in central Tennessee.

I also understand that my latent Southern accent reappears with a fierceness when I'm talking to other Southerners, especially if I need them on my side. The nurses at Dad's hospital, the guys who fixed my flat tire (for free, mind you!), old amused me to hear it from myself. If I'd brought someone I know up here with me, they would've thought I got hit with the Bubba stick at the Mason-Dixon line.

At some point in my late adolescence, I mistakenly judged the Southern accent sounded ignorant, and worked--successfully--at eliminating my own. How stupid. The only people to whom a well-spoken Southerner sounds ignorant, are themselves ignorant and snobbish, and fuck 'em anyway.

Dad is much changed. His speech is slurred, his hair uncombed, and he hadn't shaved...and he has always been a sharp dresser, even around the house. He asked me if I'd made Sergeant yet. "Yes," I told him. "Four years ago." Just the facts, ma'am, I didn't get pissed or sound surprised. We told him we were selling the house, it was his suggestion to sell the car, and we're working a spot for him at the Veteran's Home in Oxford. He was an Active Duty Marine for only eight months...long enough to qualify, evidently.

I visited the Veteran's Home and got the tour from the warm and professional staff nurse. It's a nice enough place, but the vast proponderance of (the first word that came to mind was "inmates") of the patients there were completely incoherent, drooling, babbling...I left the facility in a first-class funk. I kept thinking Dad doesn't belong there, but in reality, he does. The Easter decorations and crafts classroom only made me feel worse, as if I were sentencing him to relive his grade-school years. I don't see where there is another option.

He seemed relieved about the whole thing, as if he'd been overwhelmed by coping alone in that house in the woods. His mail hadn't been opened in months, there were about twenty loads of laundry all over the floor, he hadn't been eating, his finances in a sorry state. The gorgeous antique dining room table and matching sideboard languished in the open carport, where they'd been since early fall, judging by the leaves piled up around the legs and the fine yellow pollen coating it all. The hours I spent in the house were filled with phone calls from sharply demanding creditors, each of whom asking for a copy of my Power of Attorney. Exactly WHO would benefit from my sending it to them? Not Dad, and not me. So go get stuffed, ya'll.

It was deeply depressing. It was worse than when I'd gone home for Mom's funeral. The finality of it all was not to be dismissed. It would've been much worse if not for the good fortune of it all happening in Oxford, Mississippi. The thing about small towns is, when the shit hits the fan, everyone galvanizes, there is help everywhere you turn--from the guys who fixed my tire for free, to the honorable lawyer who's been handling all the mess, to the family who took the little dog and has tirelessly handled the daily details, to more old friends I ran into who scooped me up in great, sincere bear hugs. One old friend wants to buy the house. Another has vowed to drive the dilapidated old van up to New York with the rest of the stuff I can't bear to sell--in exchange, he'll get to keep the old van. I don't expect to ever again see the house where my parents lived for twenty years. Or if I do see it, Amos and his wife will be very happy there.

I rented a trailer, gathered up the dining room suite and a few things that had been on top of the mass of junk piled everywhere, loaded it up, and drove it home. I'm back in New York, and my accent's gone again. I miss it a little. And it's winter here, no dogwoods, no azaleas, and I don't think wisteria even survives here. And I can't be angry with him--in a sense, he did bring it on himself by drinking himself damn near to death--the diagnosis is alcohol-induced dementia, which is essentially brain damage, irreversable, and is enough like Alzheimer's that they are more or less interchangable.

But how could I hold onto anger when he is losing everything and will be locked away until he dies? My brother might be able to hold a grudge against even all this, but I can't. And I'm glad I can't.
Okay, okay, I know I've been curiously absent. I was in Mississippi dealing with my dad's rapidly declining mental state...I'll write a monster post later, or maybe tomorrow morning. I've been driving for almost three days with a trailer behind the truck. More to follow...