Monday, December 26, 2005

What I Did for Christmas Vacation

I awoke early on Friday, the first day of a 4-day weekend, and continued slogging through the mountain of boxes in my soon-to-be studio and home gym. I'm about half done now and can't unpack all those books until I paint the office in one of the lovely shades of terra-cotta I've picked out...imagine dragging them all back down off the shelves to paint. No thankie.

So, my buddy Shannon called at about 9:30. Through the bull-dyke who sold Shannon a male chocolate lab whose balls never dropped, and was therefore sterile and cheaper than his studly littermates, she met a Border Patrol Agent, name of Dave. She was on her way to meet him at Popeye's (huh?) and then go check out their hangar/place of business. They fly those wee helicopters, the little fast ones that can herd sheep and chase down people on foot. Good stuff.

"Listen for the helicopter. Then stand out in your yard and wave."

"Um, what was that?" It just sounded like crazytalk. But half an hour later, I heard it, the mosquito-like buzz of an inbound chopper. I had to walk down to the end of my driveway to clear the big mesquite out front and scanned the sky. It appeared low over the trees, green and white, and circled my house as I waved. I distinctly saw Shannon's lime-green jacket in the tiny window, they flew so low.

"That's unacceptable," I later found out the pilot said. "She should've flashed us."

Then Shannon came over the next morning, Christmas Eve, and as I dished up two blueberry-raspberry pancakes I'd made from scratch, no mix, she invited me out to the airfield. The pilots said I could take a ride in the little bird.

So no shit, there I am, Christmas Eve, running crazy through the Arizona landscape in a little helicopter. It's 80 degrees and just a fine day, and the pilot was a really cool guy named Mike. I was KICKING myself for not bringing my camera.

He showed me the little grove of scrubby trees where would-be immigrants from Mexico crouch to wait for their ride by the highway that leads to Tucson and points beyond. You could see everything in their little hollow--blankets, clothing, garbage, empty water jugs, loose plastic. Mostly garbage. I thought about how foolish it must look from up there when someone actually tries to hide from this thing--he landed it on top of a shipping container on some guy's farm to show me how maneuverable it is.

Mike showed me how after they get picked up, they are taken to another spot on the other side of the highway, where they are usually beaten and robbed of all their possessions. They usually just sit in this clearing, also clotted with garbage and clothing, and don't protest when the Border Patrol takes them back to Mexico. He showed me where they found a Winnebago out in a field with over 3700 pounds of pot in it, and how the dozen or so occupants of said Winnebago scattered like roaches in the kitchen light when the helicopter damn near landed on the roof. He told me about their night operations, catching dozens of people at a time, walking silently with water jugs through the desert.

Then another pilot contacted Mike, some guy named Dennis, on his way to their hangar. Mike told me over the push-to-talk that this guy was an ass-hole. So we stayed out there in the desert for an extra 15 minutes so Mike could avoid Dennis. All told, about 45 minutes up there seeing how they operate, listening to the stories. It reminds me a LOT of the Army.

Christmas--rode my bike (the Harley) to Shannon's in the morning, and greatly humiliated myself in the parking lot of the big, new Gas City. I rode to the pump, confidently sporting my new riding jacket (gorgeous black leather, plain, not like other leather with all the zippers and Michael Jackson-looking shit), put down the kickstand, went to get off the bike, and directly laid it down on the pavement. All 550 pounds. The kickstand wasn't locked out when I tried to dismount.

"Hey, can you help me for a second?" I asked the young guy pumping gas next to me. "I don't think it's damaged, it's just too heavy to pick up by myself." Unfortunately, it was. I tried like hell to pick it up, minimize this embarrassment. He helped me hoist it back up, and fortunately, not a scratch. No way to recover all those coolpoints once they've so irrevocably been snatched away in this manner.

Later that night, Shannon, her kids, my friend Ben, Dave (the Border Patrol Agent), and Dave's friend Will. Also a Border Patrol Agent. His family's Colombian, he's from Atlanta, he's about my age, and never married. And very intelligent, with adorable blue eyes.

I'm such a sucker for baby-blues. More to follow, with any luck...

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Beer and Paint Don't Mix

I've painted two large rooms so far, and the kitchen is next. I went for a gorgeous terra cotta and I'm sticking with variations on that palette all through the house. It looks amazing.

However, the master bedroom got done with a Mike's Cranberry Lemonade in my hand--several of them throughout the day. So not really beer, but same alcohol content, better tasting. As I was finishing up by the second closet, disaster struck. I dropped the handheld paint dish right onto the floor--stain about the size of a dinner plate, and terra cotta on light beige carpet presents a cleanup challenge worthy of a master.

Cursing and patting all the extra paint out, I set the dish on the ladder next to me. Then promptly bumped into it and sent the remaining paint back to the floor, different spot. CRAP! I spent the next hour soaking, soaping, and mopping the carpet with paper towels--I bet I used two rolls. I set my Mike's Cranberry Lemonade next to the ladder for the last push. I moved the ladder for the next bit of trim to paint around, thereby knocking the bright red concoction right onto the floor near the original paint stain. Oh, for the love of God, I give up.

The good news is, I managed to eradicate all the stains over the course of several days. And the one I didn't bother with, the big one near the far wall that resulted from the power paint roller's hose disconnecting and pumping paint all over the floor, will be covered by my bed when it finally arrives Tuesday.

I don't like this damn carpet anyway.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


I stopped somewhere between El Paso and the Arizona state line for gas, an event that repeated itself about every two hours, twenty more gallons sacrificed for sake of a fully loaded, rather large trailer in 60 MPH headwinds in the mountains. Slow, painful going, and I didn’t mind pulling over so frequently.

After filling up, I made a beeline for the restroom, having emptied both a venti latte and large bottled water during the early afternoon. I closed the stall door, and sat to read the perfunctory graffiti: For a good time call Brandy M. she’ll screw anything. That type pearl of wisdom. I had contracted a touch of Montezuma’s Revenge somewhere between the three Thanksgiving dinners I ate and four days of road food. I tried to keep it to myself, polite and quiet, and suppressed a giggle when the occupant three stalls down let loose with a blast of explosive rectal discharge. Nothing to be shy about here.

Then I watched a pair of ostentatiously trendy brown leather shoes skirted by boot cut jeans step into the stall beside me. I flush every few moments when confronted with an inevitable Class 2 Download in a public restroom, hoping to spare fellow restroomers the stench. I flushed and watched the shoes turn around to lock the stall door. And here’s where it got odd—the shoes then turned back around. As in, pointed toward the toilet. As in, never sat down.

I stared, mystified, at the shoes as a distinct stream of urine hit the bowl. Now I was in a hurry and struggled to finish up business before this person went unidentified. No such luck. The Shoes zipped up and quickly exited, not stopping to wash hands.

I walked out into the convenience store (after washing my hands, I'll have you know), looking at everyone’s shoes. I found them, attached to a very tall but decidedly feminine-appearing foreign tourist, late teens, long blond hair and slight build. I watched the group of them, wondering if any of the others knew that Shoes likely wasn’t sporting the equipment that went with her/his appearance.

Was he pre-op transsexual? A sharply skilled drag queen? Or, weirder yet, a girl who pees standing up??

I exited with the questions still buzzing in my head and found two other adolescent, foreign tourists, standing by my truck, tapping the camper-top window and cooing at my kitties. These two were overtly male. Or were they??

“Nice cats,” one said. The accent sounded Polish. “So you’re from nye?”

“Nye?” I asked.

He waved the cigarette he should not be smoking so close to the pumps, gesturing at my license plate. “Sure, New York.”

“Oh. Um, yes, I drove here from New York. I’ve just never heard it called ‘Nye.’” N.Y., pronounced together. Hm.

“Well, that’s what all the people in the know call it. The ones who are hip.”

“Hm. Well, I lived there and never heard it. Guess I’m not hip!” I laughed, trying to be friendly despite this ludicrous assertion. “So lemme ask you, do you then call New York City, Nyce??” NYC=nyce.

“Of course!” His tone suggested the patient schooling of a toddler. “What else would you call it??”

Home Sweet Bare Home

I have a whole slew of entries to input—forgive me for the lag, but I did move across the country with a large U-Haul trailer and two cats, plus managed to stop in Mississippi and Tennessee for Thanksgiving.

*Whew* I’m here. The gas just got turned on in my new house today, and with it, the hot water and heat…why do you need that? You may ask, since I moved to southern Arizona, after all. Well, we’re having a rare cold snap, below freezing every night. Plus, I attempted a cold shower. It was brief, it was more pain than my now-soft civilian ass cares to endure, and afterward, I huddled by the fire wrapped in a towel for a full thirty minutes.

But I’m here. I started work yesterday. I love the job already. I’m in the house waiting for my furniture. I already painted the master bedroom a gorgeous terra-cotta from the odd lavender with army-green trim slopped on by the previous owner. I have the “before” pictures, and I’ll post them alongside the “after” pictures once the furniture is set up. I’ll post each room as I complete it. And the backyard—it needs quite a bit of love and attention. The septic people were kind enough to dig up the spot I’d already picked out for a spring garden, and I’m planting bulbs now. I’m trying to knock out as much painting as I can before the furniture crowds the effort.

More to follow, a fair number of posts composed in my head while on the road and here dealing with all the little new-house calamities…

Sunday, November 13, 2005

The Mother of All Fears

Shannon and I went to a salon for pedicures and eyebrow waxing. We lazed on the massage chairs and engaged in a satisfying bout of "girl talk."

The subject of the Brazilian bikini wax arose. We pulled both nail technicians into our raucous discussions. One of the ladies also does all the waxing for the salon, and detailed the Brazilian procedure, although she does not provide that service herself.

"They even get all the hair near your butthole," she swore, eyebrows raised. "You should see all the crazy positions you have to get in, they get every hair."

Shannon and I howled. "Can you imagine?" I gasped. "Paying someone to rip ALL the fur off Miss Kitty?"

"Oh, HELL no," Shannon yelled. "I mean, excuse me, I missed an ass hair, let me pluck it real quick."

"If some man tried to talk me into getting that done, I'd tell him, sure, as soon as you're willing to put duct tape on your nether regions and rip it off."

Then the discussion turned to facial hair, which we all have in greater abundance than we'd like. I disclosed that I'm always rubbing my thumb under my chin, looking for the alarmingly wiry hair that grows there and requires constant vigilance to keep under control.

The nail tech laughed, "Me, too! I thought I was the only one!"

"Actually," I said, "The whole time I was in Iraq, I worried that if I got wounded, I'd wake up in the hospital three weeks later with a full goatee."

"I think that, too! It's my greatest fear!" The nail tech was laughing to the point of tears.

"Think about it, there'd be all these important people coming in to see you, and here you are, prone in a horrid green shirt with gorilla brows and a goatee. My first request would be a mirror and tweezers," I declared.

Walker Percy said that the more intimate you get, the more universal. Proof positive in the nail salon.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005

Part Two

Here's the second half of the biker bar story, which I didn't have time to add until this morning. It's about 5:30 am and I woke up almost an hour ago, stared at the ceiling for about twenty minutes, then got up.

I mentioned I'd left the rental car--a dreadful little Kia that drives like a sewing machine--at the restaurant. So the next morning (Sunday), I had to walk about half a mile to go get it. The Arizona sun felt like stepping into a microwave--I had a slight hangover. But there was a pleasant breeze, it was about 70 degrees, and once my mole-eyes adjusted to the sun, the walk was actually quite nice.

I saw a large, white Dodge pickup pass me on this busy street, travelling the same direction I walked. The guy slowed, honked, and waved. There was a big Harley window sticker on the back of his camper top. I gave that little not-sure-who-you-are-but-you know, hey wave, thinking maybe it was someone from the training, or whom I'd met at the Sorry Gulch, something.

He slowed still more, and made the next left. Oh, maybe it's Gus and he's going to give me a ride, I'm thinking. He stopped at the next cross-street as I was about to walk across it, and I saw this old Mexican guy, baldness and long, scraggly hair in the back visible even from that distance. He pretended to play around with some papers in the passenger seat, and my spidey sense started tingling.

I crossed in front of him, looking straight ahead. Just for the record, I'm dressed in blue jeans, a nondescript brown t-shirt, hiking shoes, and sunglasses. I'm clearly not one of the hookers strolling down Fry Blvd. in tight, skimpy clothing. And, I might add, it's 10 am on a Sunday morning. And I'm a little hungover.

I watched the traffic travelling my direction, across the median, for the truck. Sure enough, there he was, leering out the window at me, making another left in front of me. He turned into a used car sales lot and made a big, stupid production of pushing down on the front end of a 'Vette, like he's just out car shopping, nothing going on here, no sirree!!

"You need a ride, honey?" he asked, still bouncing the 'Vette's fender.

"Not from you. Keep moving." I said, walking a bit faster. I heard him take a few steps toward me, burbling some shit about I just want to help you out. Yeah, help me out of my pants, I'm sure.

"No, really, keep moving," I said loudly over my shoulder. He got back into the truck and I watched him drive past twice more before I reached the Kia. Well, I'm thinking, it's over, I'm here at the car.

I got in and drove toward Pier One...I just bought a house, now I get to look for some sort of outdoor lighting for my wonderful patio. I checked the rearview mirror...and there he was, several cars back. I turned right down Coronado to see if he'd follow. He did, hanging far enough back, I guess I wasn't supposed to see how slick he was.

I remembered that my friend John, a very large, Puerto Rican, ex-Special Forces type, was looking at a house nearby. I turned down that street, thinking I'd invite dumbass inside and let John pound the crap out of him. No such luck, John's car wasn't there.

After several more turns, I pulled up at Fry Blvd. again, to make a left. There were two turning lanes and he pulled up next to me. I waved, smiling, and motioned for him to roll down his window.

"STOP FUCKING FOLLOWING ME. IF I SEE YOU AGAIN, I'M CALLING THE COPS." I bellowed as his face went from oh, goodie, she likes me to oh holy shit. And I saw his teeth were rotted. Probably a meth addict, they're all over the place down here.

The light turned green and I sped off. He was still behind me, hanging back, and I thought, screw this mess. I pulled my cellphone from my purse and dialed 911.

I explained it to the dispatcher--no, I didn't get the license plate, but you can't miss it, it has a huge Harley window sticker--and told her I'd make a right on Lenzner, please have a squad car meet me somewhere on that street.

He followed. I saw the cop about two blocks up coming toward us. I waved out the window and pointed to the truck. He turned on his lights and blocked his path. Game over, asshole.

I told the story later that night to a co-worker's wife, and she said the same guy stalked someone she works with at the bank. The police tell me they can't arrest him because he didn't touch me. So I suppose we have to wait until he actually attacks someone, which he will, before they put him in the clinker. So I'm halfway tempted to walk up and down Fry until I see him again, and have John about a block behind me, and execute a little community policing on his ass.

But I fly out Thursday and I'm busy as hell until then. Next time, though, I've got John on speed dial and he's raring to stomp all over our little friend.

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Channeling Bukowski

Yesterday was Shannon's birthday and I promised I'd get drunk with her. Within reason, of course, and I'm happy to report that I am quite cognizant of that fine line between happily buzzed and stupid, unbecomingly drunk. And I stay squarely on the happy buzz side of the equation by periodically standing up and walking to the bathroom, even if I don't have to go, to gauge how well I can see beyond the tiny glass on the table in front of me.

I spent a year in Korea. The last time I drank Soju, I came to in the middle of the street in Seoul as a blessedly large friend hauled me up on his shoulders for the subway ride back to Uijongbu. And I don't actually remember the subway ride. Thank God for battle buddies.

Last night, we commandeered a small Korean restaurant for Shannon's party. I had no intention of drinking Soju. I had a feeling the smell alone would make me heave. To my surprise, the Soju sold here in the States is only 40 proof, and lacks that lingering formaldehyde flavor. After Much Talking of the Shit, the gauntlet was thrown down, the challenges issued from both ends of the long table, and we all began rounds of ice-cold Soju shots. As is my habit, I took my Stupid-Drunk tests every so often, and switched to ice water as soon as the giggles set in. I'm a pro.

Then they cranked up the obligatory karoake machine. I sang my ass off. Norah Jones, Rolling Stones, Stevie Wonder, I was up there belting them out...fortunately, we were the only ones in this little restaurant, Gus knows the owner, and we talked the staff into taking shots with us. It was a blast. I left the rental car at the restaurant--yes, when I go drinking, I do it like an adult. Cabs are called, purses and cellphones are safely stashed in the room, and designated cattle herders keep everyone in line.

From there we made our way to the Sorry Gulch Saloon. The name, the line of Harleys under the airbrushed sign, and the "Thursday Night Amateur Stripper" events go a long way to properly describe this dive. It's big fun...pool tables, lots of big tatooed characters with great stories, and again, Gus knows everyone there.

But this time, it was oddly deserted. We tumbled in the door, loud and obnoxious and sporting jaunty little birthday cone-hats. I soon discerned, even in my somewhat compromised state, that the reason it was deserted was that the owner tended bar by herself. She was a supremely sour-looking woman, mouth puckered to the size of an eraserhead with general disapproval, and a face that likely hasn't smiled since the last Presidential election.

I emerged from the bathroom and the room felt distinctly hostile, waves of ill-will wafting our way from behind the bar. We played some pool, and someone yelled Fuck! on missing a shot. It may even have been me. A big bouncer with one leg pegged his way over to me and said, with a straight face, "You can't say that word in here."

Of course I laughed. He didn't. I may have even hooted something that sounded like, "Do you mean to tell me I can't say FUCK in a biker bar?? What kind of crap is that??"

So now, gentle readers, yours truly has been ejected by a peglegged bouncer from a biker bar in southern Arizona, with a Thursday Night Amateur weekly stripper event, for cursing.

Friday, October 28, 2005


Despite my initial determination not to move out here and all the hullaballoo with taking FBI and NY State Police exams, I've accepted a permanent position as an Instructor for what's called the 2X course, managing Human Intelligence. The clincher? The people. I've never walked into a professional situation and just fit in, like a duck to water. And I love to teach. And I love Human Intelligence. And the starting salary is very comfortable. It absolutely feels like the perfect fit.

And so what did I do? Went out and found an adorable house. I'm writing an offer tomorrow. I went to the mortgage company and got blanket approval, not even contingent on selling my house in New York. I've managed to pull my credit out of the gutter and in the last two years, vaulted it into the top tier. All that cursing at the computer in Iraq and disputing all the little dings on all three agencies' reports raised it a full 150 points. Ka-ching!

I have to be out here the first week of December, at least for two weeks, after which I can go back to NY and tie up any loose ends. My goal is to drive my truck, Harley in tow, out here for that. Maybe I can get out here permanently before Christmas.

This whole thing just fell right in my lap with little effort on my part...these people got my resume' via another position for which I'd applied, invited me here for this temporary contract, liked me and my performance, and pulled me in.

I've been shit-giggling to myself since yesterday afternoon, when I signed the contract and got the big green light on the house. Now all I have to do is get my offer accepted, and I'm on my way.

Funny how the ball got rolling with great momentum the very day after I left the Army...

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Oh We Got Drama

As is always the case when a group of previously unacquainted men and women converge in space and time, then spend a great deal of time in the same space, we got drama. Where would Reality TV be without the requisite personality conflicts?

This morning, we filed into our common classroom for a day of "role-study," in which we attempt to memorize the details of the detainees we portray--their sect of Islam, intelligence they can provide on successful interrogation, family histories, personalities, the webs of connections among them. We've been studying them off and on for weeks and have become bored with it. We've played several of them now (great fun!!), and are easily distracted from the study.

J. is an utter nincompoop. He spouts off at the mouth, shrill rants at professionals with years more experience and at least 50 IQ points to their advantage. He has hit on the women in the class (shudder), despite being married and a self-proclaimed card-carrying crusader for the religious right. I generally just avoid him; I have my tightly-knit circle of friends and it's easy to dodge the Village Idiot. The directors are horrified by him and have vowed never to rehire him once this contract is complete.

He brought his personal computer to class this morning, and the screen saver sported a slide show of nearly-pornographic images of nubile, young, big-boobed women dressed in little more than a come-hither smile.

Is this appropriate in any professional environment? If you have to ask, you're part of the problem, friend. And the Department of Defense explicitly prohibits this type display in the workplace, period. So S., my friend, also big-boobed and young (plus hilariously vocal), raised a loud objection.

"What, how can she have a problem with it, with the way she dresses? I've seen more of her cleavage than these pictures!" he shouted. Not true. She has not worn anything low-cut that I can recall, she just has very big boobs. He ranted on this way, unbeknownst to S., who had turned her attention elsewhere. I, however, kept listening and he attempted to rally support from the men around him. No one would look at him. In my desire to avoid an ugly scene, I just stared at him and listened, fully intending to tell S. and everyone else after the moment had passed. He finally noticed that he had my full and undivided attention, and directly shut his piehole.

Meanwhile, two of the other men in the class pulled him outside for a pointed discussion about professional behavior, and his lack of it. In keeping with his penchant for spewing verbal diarrhea at every turn, he ranted and raved and I walked outside just in time to hear him sputter to one of his friends, "Someone needs to rein in the femi-nazis in this class."

I stopped in my tracks and honestly saw red. Thank God for Prozac, I didn't verbally eviscerate him on the spot, but only said, very angrily, "That is completely inappropriate. You are so far out of line you can't find your way back at this point." He began to shout at me and I walked up and put my hand in his face, glaring him in the eye. "SHUT IT. Just STOP." And I walked away because I knew I was about to be part of A Scene. I'm being offered a job by a major defense contractor out here, and do not need any perception of unprofessionalism. I will defend the high ground, not lose my composure.

And by the time I walked back inside and told my posse, they were ready for blood. I took a moment to calm down, then asked to speak with the director. He was speechless and assured me he'd take care of it.

I personally don't care about pornography. But I know at least one other woman in the class would likely feel uncomfortable. And it is, after all, a clear-cut regulation. Insisting on a harassment-free workplace makes S. a femi-nazi?!? I haven't even heard that word in over a decade, and I'm sure it fell from the fat lips of The Grand Poobah of All Asinine Radio Personalities, Rush Limbaugh.

The rest of the day, S. made loud comments about her cleavage and even stuffed a bag of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups in her shirt and paraded around the classroom. Probably not the way to diffuse the situation, but admittedly funny as hell.

I love these people I've gotten to know in less than a month. I'm considering this job out here--I love the work and the people, it's great money, and each day I still marvel at how much I enjoy this civilian thing. We can hang out without the rank force-field, the competitiveness, all the political position-jockeying I'd come to hate in the Army. It feels completely different. Riding in the back of another friend's convertible Mustang on the way to lunch this afternoon, it struck me: I'm happy. And I don't think it's just the Prozac. (Sidebar: the Prozac references, I was diagnosed with clinical depression shortly after we returned from Iraq, and I think I've probably dealt with it for years, thinking the symptoms were just glaring character flaws, my cross to bear...turns out, not so much)

I even looked at houses last Sunday, and found one that felt exactly right. Needs some work, but exactly right. More to follow, I'm sure...

Monday, October 24, 2005

Pain in the Arse

I sought the services of an acupuncturist for my tailbone/lower back pain, at the behest of a co-worker. I've never taken much stock in new age happy-crappy, but I have heard positive reviews for things like carpal tunnel I figured, what the heck.

His name is Juan and he's a smallish Native American/Mexican guy who insists on hugging on first meeting. I don't mind, but it further reinforced my impression of this practice as touchy-feely new age happy-crappy.

We consulted briefly. I described the problem, that I can't sit for long periods of time, where it hurts, etc. He opined that my body was getting rid of some past garbage and reliving some crap from Iraq, since I'm teaching and reliving the many myriad nightmares of that year. OK, no, I think it's pretty much an injury, call me crazy.

So as in massage, I stripped, wiggled under the sheet and centered my face in the little donut thing at the head of the table. The room smelled lovely, like sage and rosemary, and a little fountain sported little floating bells orbiting a bigger bell, gently tinking it as they passed. Other than that, the requisite new age happy-crappy music, random-sounding windchimes and lutes and what the hell else. Juan entered the room and unwrapped the needles; I could hear the wrappers crinkling. He spoke of opening my chi channels or some such.

Then he stuck the first needle in my scalp and rubbed it in. It felt like it was scraping my skull. Another farther down my scalp. The one he stuck in my neck felt like it dug straight into a nerve. Juan told me to relax. Right.

Soon I had a couple dozen needles stuck in my shoulders, fingers, toes, feet, hands, and about fifty in my lower back and upper ass. The Juan pulled the sheet back up, touching each and every needle, and told me to take a nap.

I tried, I really did. The new age music began to annoy the hell out of me: wolves howled, a thunderstorm crackled somewhere in the new age distance, there were gentle waves, chimes, gentle rain--every cliche' of relaxation under the sun. The donut began to dig into my face, but I was afraid to move for fear of All. Those. Needles.

Then disaster struck. I sneezed. Four times in a row. It felt like I was strapped to an iron maiden and all the needles moved under the sheet, digging into my skin. There must be something to all those points he chose, as the pain shot up and down every inch of my back half, pain radiating like a nuclear reaction from each tiny laser point now canted under the sheet. I couldn't move to readjust--the needle in my neck felt like it would pierce my spinal cord. I lay there with my face stretching into the face donut, wishing like hell that Juan would come back in and end the torture session.

I swear, I sat through an entire playing of the howling little wolves CD. After what felt like an eternity, he finally came back in.

"Did you take a nap?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure," I lied. He pulled the little laser points one at a time. My shoulder bled enough he had to put a bandaid on it.

"The best way to use acupuncture, is to schedule the sessions close together. So I need to see you Wednesday and Friday. What time can you come in?"

"Umm, I'm not sure what my schedule is like, it keeps changing. I'll call you."

I drove back to the hotel 50 bucks lighter and somewhat disoriented. And there's no way in hell I'm going back.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

The Honeymoon's Over

This afternoon we attended an Iraqi History class. The class is composed of about 130 military members from all ranks and branches of service, and the sequestered corner of contractors. Us.

Before the instructor stepped onto the platform, a very angry GS-15, the program director, addressed us.

"These are the RULES. If what I'm about to say doesn't apply to you, tune out for the next fifteen seconds." He went on to detail the RULES, none of which applied to any of us. Or so I thought.

No civilian clothes, don't walk in late, no disruptions, and above all, do not argue with the instructors. That one was aimed specifically at a female Captain who was in my Officer Basic class, now Reserves, no combat patch, pinned O-3 early because that's how Reserves do business. She flat-out told the instructor (who, by the way, has briefed Congress on Islamic History), in front of the theater full of students, that he didn't know what he was talking about. It was fairly horrifying, and I silently thanked Allah that I wasn't sitting in there as an officer, sliding to the floor with embarrassment. It was obvious to all present that the RULES were not sternly reiterated for the contractors' benefit, as we hadn't violated the only ones that could potentially extend to us.

Then the guy next to me, who is normally very courteous but on occasion shows his true nature(which is loudly argumentative), raised his hand. I knew it would be bad. I hid my eyes with my hand in anticipation.

"Excuse me, sir, who are you?" He nearly shouted. The annoyed man became even more annoyed as he restated his name. "And what's your role here?" LF demanded. LF's foul breath washed over me as it does several times a day as he invades my personal space. A sensitive nose is often a miserable burden.

"I'm the Director. This is my program. Does that clarify it for you?"

And I slid down in the chair. And stayed like that all afternoon as many of my fellow contractors read the newspaper, passed notes, ate sandwiches, and chatted loudly all through the class. My notebook is filled with such pearls of Iraqi History wisdom as Oh my GOD shut the hell up before I pull a piano wire out of my purse!!! There is NO excuse for such unprofessionalism and overtly rude behavior and my irritation grew until I was so incensed, I couldn't even talk to the perpetrators on break. I was afraid I'd say something just ugly.

And then, to my horror, about half of them got up at exactly 4:30 and caused quite a stir as they brazenly exited the room because the syllabus listed 4:30 as the end time for the class. Mind you, we're paid by the hour and on the clock until 5pm.

Tom, who looks for all intents and purposes like a street bum and walks the Earth amid a nearly visible cloud of stale cigarette smoke, called out to John (who's great), "I'm going upstairs to wait for you!" Another nincompoop asked his buddy for the keys to the rental car, so he could go out there and sit in it until the end of class. Shannon also just left the Army and we looked at each other in utter disbelief. Then ranted about it all the way back to the hotel.

We've been together all day Monday-Friday for nine hours a day and we're just at that point where politeness wears thin and the rosy glow of new acquaintences has dimmed. Oh, and LF? Got his ASS chewed.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Opening Doors

I just heard from the FBI that I passed the Exam and will now move on to the next phase of Special Agent processing. Fortunately, I was alone when I got the voicemail...I jumped around like a damn fool. Then I changed into workout clothes and knocked out some pushups and situps. If I make it all the way, I'll need to get all the way back into shape. Quickly. So few people even make it this far, I feel very fortunate.

The more I'm out here, the more I understand I'm not cut out to live in the desert. It simply does not feel like home, and it isn't because I live in a hotel room. I need to live in the East, with lush trees and grass and distinct seasons. I'm not sure what I'll do if I'm offered the instructing job...great money, great for the resume, great experience. But it's here.

I'll cross that bridge when/if I come to it.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Ass Donut

My colleagues have recommended I find an ass donut. For my tailbone injury--I can't sit for more than about an hour without gradually escalating pain settling in for the night. Makes all-day flights most uncomfortable.

I argued that it would be quite humiliating to stride through an airport or into class sporting an ass donut, since they're mostly for hemmorhoids. So then L said, "Write on it in big black letters, ASS DONUT FOR TAILBONE INJURY. That'll get some laughs."

"No, no, just write Kristen's Big Ass Donut," S interjected.

"Are you trying to say I have a big ass?" I looked sideways at S. He laughed.

"No, then I'd just call you Donut Ass."

"Well, I may be a cop this time next year, so I'll remember that."

I like the people I work with for the most part. We're in training, which is great, for the training we'll turn around and give to the students. The class is mostly made up of current or prior contract interrogators, and that particular field attracts folks with very strong personalities. Every so often I'll sit back, amused, and watch the "One time? In Baghdad?" one-upmanship pissing matches. I am the only person who was at the Brigade level, these guys were all in the upper-echelon stratosphere, so I have a wildly different perspective. I'll occasionally interject for the tactical level reality, but I'm usually content to let these guys snap at each other. Must be the Prozac working, I'm becoming very patient and tolerant.

And any time you get thirty Military Intelligence types together, there is always one complete assclown. In this instance, it's JJ, who spent a whopping four months in the Green Zone screening local employees. He is wildly argumentative despite the fact that his experience is markedly scant compared to the rest of the class. He says inappropriate things about the few females, and has made it clear that he wants action. And he's married. And he looks like Beavis from Beavis and Butthead. Zero social skills. I avoid him entirely, I don't care to argue with a fool lest I become one myself. Keeps it entertaining, though, because everyone detests him and the men in the class love to shout him down. It's a lively class of contractors from four different defense corporations.

I've been a "defense contractor" for a week now, and still feel I'm on some odd temporary duty for the Army that allows me to wear my own clothes. And I love getting up in the morning and choosing an outfit.

I drove to Bisbee, Arizona, to look around. I may soon be offered a lucrative position out here that would involve a great deal of travel, instructing units on new systems and software on a Mobile Training Team. And I may just take it. If I do, I want to live in Bisbee. And here's why:

See what I mean? Lovely. Sierra Vista has no town, no community feel to it. The town sprang up around Fort Huachuca, strip malls and fast food creeping along Frye Boulevard until it is an unattractive, homogenized zombie zone. Bisbee is a 30-minute commute and would be a lovely ride on the bike.

Old Bisbee

Sunday, October 02, 2005

Day One

I thought that certainly two hours would be plenty of time to finish all the extended-absence tasks around the house, eat breakfast, finish packing, and get out the door in time for the 7am cab. Turns out, it was barely enough; I ran around the house with hair on fire, and the cab pulled up just as I’d finished the note to the neighbor who’s caring for the house, flora and fauna, at ten bucks a day. Forty days…peace of mind comes at a price.

The cab driver’s name was Bob, which fit him perfectly: NASCAR hat, plaid shirt, mustache. In the South, he’d be a Bubba, Southern for “mensch.” We chatted amicably about the Army, Iraq, New Orleans, and I’m not sure what else. He spoke so softly that once we were on Interstate 81, the wind noise all but drowned him out. I found myself catching the occasional phrase (“…study in college?”) and answered what I could. The rest of the time, I nodded and said mm-hmm like a non-English speaker who knows a sentence has ended by the inflection and the pause, and acknowledgement is expected.

He settled down into the classic rock on the radio and I was free to stare out the window at the amber-tinted maple trees. This exact time last year, I had just finished my leave and was in transit back to Iraq, feeling about as bad as I’ve ever felt, with eight months to go in that hellhole. Today’s my first day as a civilian in seven years and I’m in the same airport as that deep and abiding low-point, and I feel like a million bucks.

Friday, September 30, 2005

Rearview Mirror

It took three hours longer than I'd expected to outprocess the Army because I was able to amend my orders to gain six months of full medical coverage by virtue of having been stop-lossed for the deployment. And by then, my VA benefits will kick in. *Whew* Nothing wrong with free medical care, no indeed.

And while I expected to feel a rush of either sadness or elation or both, I felt nothing driving home with the Army shrinking in the rearview mirror. It hasn't hit me yet, and won't for weeks or months, I'm sure. But for right now, I'm fixing to take this uniform off for the last time, and spend the rest of the day preparing for my 40-day adventure in Arizona. Then I think I'll sit on the front porch and enjoy a glass of wine, knowing I'll never have to relive that nightmare year in Iraq, won't have to go through anything like that again.

I am, officially, a civilian. No more PT formations, property layouts, TA-50, weekly platoon reports, none of it.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Unholy Trinity

I took the NY State Police Exam this morning. I arrived early enough to sit in on a Q&A session with a seasoned Trooper. And like every other Trooper I've met to date, he loves his job and doesn't mind telling you about it.

"I know you, by the way," he stated, looking at me. He didn't look familiar, and I haven't been pulled over in years. Then I figured they probably look up our driver's licenses, registrations, etc., and he likely remembered me from the license photo because I was, after all, the ONLY woman in the crowd taking the test.

I finished the test in half the time limit--it was nothing like the FBI Exam, which is astonishingly math-heavy and time-constrained. As I was leaving, the same Trooper took a thumbprint, had me sign some stuff, and said, "I know where it is I thought I knew you from. Trinity, from The Matrix."

I'm sure I looked confused. "Oh, okay," I laughed it off. I figure it must be the haircut--mine is pretty similar to hers, but mine's red. I look nothing like that actress--I wish I did, believe me, but I most assuredly do not.

When my hair was long and straight, I was sometimes told by cashiers and the occasional waitress that I looked like Julianne Moore, and I got Fergie a time or, I really don't look like either of them, either. Funny how your hair can remind people of others. I also get a great deal of, "You remind me so much of (insert some random name here, a cousin, sister, whatever)." Everyone knows someone who looks just like me, or talks like me, or something. And it's always total strangers.

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Do Not Drive or Operate Heavy Machinery

Sidebar--evidently Al Qaeda has developed the ultimate WMD: a weather-controlling device. How many Category 5 storms can we line up in a row to destroy the entire coastal South?!? Now for the story:

I returned from Pilates, settled in to watch CSI, and ordered Chinese. I had a new Ambien prescription, having been hit with the same insomnia I've battled for years and years. I figured, by the time the food gets here and I eat, this'll kick in and I can go straight to bed. So I popped the tiny little pill.

It wasn't ten minutes later that my eyes crossed and I had that same feeling you have when you try to keep up tequila shots with your 230-pound linebacker buddy. Suddenly, you look around and think, holy crap, that was one too many. The Chinese hadn't arrived and there were dirty dishes in the sink. The cats hadn't been fed. I hadn't washed my face and still wore dirty gym clothes. And as I struggled to stand and focus on the floor to walk, I tried wildly to remember where I'd put the cash for the Chinese.

It felt like a dream, where you know you have to get someplace or face dire circumstances, you can see your objective, but it's like swimming through honey. I slammed into the wall on my drunken way up the stairs. Felt my way along the wall to my Army uniform, where I'd left my cash (maybe), and once I had the money in my hand, stared at it for an eternity, struggling to recall why I needed it, how much I needed, and when. The knock on the door sounded like the Four Horses of the Apocalypse and time stopped as I inched down the stairs, in full view of the driver. I vaguely remember a shadowy figure standing outside in a baseball cap.

I don't even remember how much I gave him. I don't know how much was in my pocket but I think the tip was obscene. I'm sure he sniffed the air for the smell of the crackpipe I'd surely just set in the ashtray, then probably joked with his buddies about that really stoned lady who gave him twenty bucks. Dude, she could barely stand up!!

I had the presence of mind to set the bag of food on top of a tall speaker, unsteadily shut and locked the door, and crawled back up the stairs. The nausea hit me and I bent over the toilet, puked a bunch of watery bile since I hadn't eaten, and pinballed down the hall to my bedroom.

I awoke at 5 am sprawled face-down on top of the bed, still fully dressed in the dirty gym clothes, with all the lights and the TV on. The cat that sniffed the top of my head distinctly smelled of steamed pork dumplings.

I stood in the den and laughed myself breathless. Sure enough, they'd pounced from the windowsill to the speaker, and the Chinese food was spread out all over the den floor. They were kind enough to keep it on the hardwood, no damage to furniture or pretty rugs. These cats evidently don't care for rice, that was pawed through and played with, but not eaten. I couldn't have eaten it anyway, having sat out all night. And I had not, after all, fed them.

Ambien, I now understand, mixes with nothing. How anyone could even attempt to drive or operate heavy machinery inverse to the stern warning on the bottle, I cannot begin to imagine.

Happy news: I got the temporary job at Fort Huachuca, Arizona. So I'll miss the best of the beautiful upstate New York autumn, but I'll have five weeks of great experience as a contractor, and a fairly fat paycheck. My first reaction was to run out and buy the Nissan Altima I've been wanting, but I'll save that reward for when I get a permanent job.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

What the ?!?


Chondromalacia patella--causes softening of the cartilage. This occurs when the water content of cartilage increases, a process associated with osteoarthritis. As a result, cartilage loses its shock-absorbing ability. Chondromalacia patella damages the cartilage behind the kneecap. The main symptom is pain in the front of the knee that worsens when walking uphill or climbing stairs.

Or running.

Bursitis--You have more than 150 bursae in your body. These small, fluid-filled sacs lubricate and cushion pressure points between your bones and the tendons and muscles near your joints. They help your joints move with ease. Bursitis occurs when one of the bursae becomes inflamed. When inflammation occurs, movement or pressure is painful.

Both hips and right knee.

And what's causing the right side of my body to go to hell? Hip pain and that bum knee? Scoliosis, for chrissake. My right leg is longer than my left, my right hip is higher, and it's been beating the shit out of my right side to run or wear a rucksack. The doctor told me that unless I want a hip and/or knee replacement, cease and desist with all running. What???

I walked right over and made an appointment with a podiatrist, to see about getting orthotics to correct the discrepancy. If that doesn't work, my running days are indeed over and done. I would rather find some other way to exercise than find myself unable to walk or climb stairs in ten years.

So holy crap, if I get into the FBI or State Police, I'm going to just have to grit my teeth and get through the Academy, then stay in shape in the elliptical machine and bike, and take the PT test twice a year. It can be done.

But they'd make me get out of the Army. The disability will be the same whether I leave voluntarily or by medical board. No running, no ruck marching, no walking more than a couple of miles at a time? As an Army officer? Can't be done. I can get by as a cop or Federal Agent, they don't exercise together for an hour every long as I can pass the tests, I can hang.

But Jesus, never run recreationally again?? It's been a huge part of my life for more than ten years, that's like telling me I'm allergic to taking showers or sugar or reading.

*Sigh* I guess I'll download volumes of recorded books for my iPod and get to the gym each day. I'll miss being outside--a bike would be a good investment, but the season's almost over for that. They're probably on sale...

Saturday, September 17, 2005


The Crescent City is no stranger to disaster, and has responded exactly the same way since the 1710's, when the Ursuline Nuns wrote their own lyrics to popular French music of the day and created the first New Orleans-specific musical genre. You can sift through the history of New Orleans and draw a direct correlation between strife and musical prolification.

In 1721-22, the city was hit with three severe hurricanes, one after another, and suddenly opera companies emerged, competing fiercely, with membership drawing from rich, poor, black, white, Haitian/Creole, Latin, you name it. That is certainly not to say the city was a bastion of racial harmony then or now, but music has always been the neutral ground.

The city boomed after the Civil War, then the stock market crash of 1873 wrought economic disaster. The city came to understand in the years that followed that it was poor and backward, with races that interacted despite segregation. It began to define itself by culture, not wealth or property. When the going gets tough there, the tough get dancing. And so were born jazz and blues.

The early 19th century dealt the city plagues, race riots, economic ruin, and ultimately birthed the unique burial ritual so closely associated with the city. Brass bands populated the streets of cities and towns all over America, but New Orleans alone developed the second line tradition, and has also been unique in its proud maintenance of its rituals, the continued incorporation of heavy traditions in daily life. The dirge that accompanied the body to the cemetery paid respect to the dead. But once the dead made it into the ground, the second line follows...joyous, raucous, at least a dozen brass instruments and two drums (a snare and a bass, kept separate) followed by ghetto kids beating on pots and pans and stabbing open umbrellas into the air, celebrating life with all its imperfections. This is how New Orleans addresses life's central tragedy and all the lesser demons that run through it.

Music has always been the antidote to the perils of being a person living in New Orleans, the musician has always been the troubadour.

In the great flood of 1927, sharecroppers just outside the city left their homes with their Victrolas under one arm, their record collection under the other, and the shirts on their backs. They'd saved for months or even years for that Victrola, they weren't about to leave it behind. It was the family's prized possession.

Jelly Roll Morton discussed the Storyville murders in the music-soaked red-light district (now Bourbon Street) in his interviews for the Library of Congress in the early 1930's. But if you listen to what he wrote, it's all about joy. That's the dynamic of New Orleans; even the blues are celebratory. The abysmal social and economic conditions that shaped New Orleans rarely made it into the music, and that is still true even now. It is a special genre of music that has always been more interested in celebrating life than mourning loss.

I had a friend from college named Dave who visited me down there in 1997. I brought him to Esplanade Avenue, the graceful street that runs from Mid-City/City Park to the back of the French Quarter, to see the Treme' Brass Band. They were in their usual fine form, dressed in crisp tuxedos, the bandmaster clutching a fine, ivory-topped cane and wearing a top hat, solemnly stepping in time, slowly down Esplanade. Then someone toward the back blew a whistle, and they leaped into the second line, dancing wildly, that huge music swirling up the street. It sounds like nothing else on earth.

Dave was literally struck dumb. These same bands play in the clubs at night, that astonishing anomaly called sousafunk. Tuba instead of a bass, pure brass and percussion, a force upon the land. New Orleans distilled.

So what of post-Katrina New Orleans? The same as always--an outpouring of joy after the bodies make it into the ground. The Krewe of Orpheus is already planning their Lundi Gras parade. You watch. The already musically prolific city will explode with new recordings in the years to come. The streets of Evangeline will ring again by Mardi Gras in February 2006--still wounded, of course, but I predict this next Mardi Gras will go down in history as truly special. Everyone will be amazed to see two-story floats gliding down the street, as if this is the first time New Orleans has had to scrape up the pieces and make a po-boy.

It's just business as usual. Mardi Gras 2006 could be the biggest second line in history.

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Harley Helmets, A Sociological Photostudy

A fine upstate New York afternoon. The big September 11 pig roast at the local Harley dealership. That's my little bike out front, with a couple hundred of her sisters scattered about.

Barbeque, a battle of the bands, and the big drawing for a Screamin' Eagle V-Rod Destroyer, which is a great big honkin' streetbike, and recently clocked a new world record in straight-distance acceleration. I bought six tickets last month at ten bucks each. I wanted that bike, even though it was orange with garish lightning/flame things all up the gas tank.

I wandered around and started taking pictures of the bikes, but then became much more interested in the helmets.
"I'm in GOOD Shape
for the Shape I'm In"

"I was born ugly
what's your excuse?"

In the absence of a bumper, the helmet becomes the forum, expression.

These are all verbatim, by the way, I even kept the capitalizations and line integrity.


and throw me to the LESBIANS"

Did I mention that I don't quite fit in with this crowd?


Just after I took this picture, this old fat guy waddled up to the bike and shifted some shit around to prove it was his, grinning sideways at me all the while. I wear a double-A, I cannot imagine what he was thinking. He, like everyone else, assumed I was snapping shots of His. Awesome. Bike.

One for the ladies:


Girl power for the Harley crowd? I don't get it.

I actually like this one:


And he's got the hardware to back that up.


I'm not entirely sure what this means...does it mean the rider likes tits and brains, or has tits and brains? The use of the word "tits" makes both possibilities somewhat unlikely.
My personal favorite:



The third sticker was some pearl of wisdom about the perfect woman being a nymphomaniac with a boat.
And finally, the Grand Poohbah of Helmets Protecting the Melon of a Shithead:




Yes, I'm sure they do, many of them female.

And now for the finale, and I'll post it as large as I can so you can read for yourself:

Lady Luck, The Sequel

I'm being invited by three different Defense contractors to interview for part-time Intelligence instructor positions in southern Arizona. It would mean flying out there for a couple of weeks at a time, conducting training events and some classroom teaching, then flying back here...all expenses paid, including hotel and rental car, plus a salary that we haven't begun to discuss yet. The Harley dealership in Sierra Vista rents out bikes. I cannot imagine a more perfect solution to my year of limbo awaiting the NY State Police job...all three companies will call me back Monday with more details. This all happened in the space of two hours on Friday afternoon, while I cleaned the house with a storming brain, still cloudy with indecision about leaving the Army. It must be a sign.

I rode down to Pulaski (pronounced pull-ASK-eye, not pull-ASK-ee), New York, for a 10K run. Another idyllic upstate New York town, bisected by the Salmon River and overflowing with fly fishermen, standing only about four meters apart in the river wearing their comical hip boots and the bucolic flop-hats dotted with flies. Just like in some sentimental movie about times past. One thing I love about this area is that the old homes have been lovingly preserved, having been spared such inconveniences as Sherman's bloody swath of ruin and centuries of hurricanes.

The two small Southern towns I lived in: Oxford, Mississippi, and Athens, Georgia, were also lovely and featured the older homes and buildings I love. But college towns are bleak and annoying if you aren't actually in college. All the downtown restaurants and bars feel hostile to the over-30 crowd and there is nothing, nothing so irritating as a home football weekend. The next day's mountains of chicken bones and beer bottles alone were enough to drive a local mad.

I may not feel so charitable after I've lived through one of the formidable winters up here. We've already hit the mid-40's a couple of nights, and the leaves are changing. I couldn't enjoy this last year, when I was home for those two weeks, because I couldn't climb out of the hole that knowing I had to go back to Iraq for eight months dug me into.

This year, I get to enjoy it fully.

Wednesday, September 07, 2005

Slight Change

Due to the increasing volume of moronic comment spam, everyone now has to type in a word verification in order to post a've seen these before, it'll have some squiggly-wavy word, and you have to type it in the little space. Talk About Annoying.

Thanks for your patience.

...OK, Now I'm Better

Whew, that was a strong one. No, I'm not staying in...because while it is miserable not having enough money, Iraq was even more miserable. And while chances are, I'll never run out of money again, the chance I'll go back to Iraq if I stay in sits at 100%.

The NY State Police job means almost a full year of unemployment--or not-gainful employment, anyway--as the first Academy date I can reasonably expect is next August. But that's one tough year, and I'm back on my feet in a job I'll like and will pay me well. And looking out two years...NY Bureau of Criminal Investigation on one hand, Iraq on the Even if I lucked into a cushy assignment, I strongly predict I'd still deploy. MI Captains are just too scarce. And anyway, staying in would just delay the inevitable--I don't see doing thirteen more years, and in a couple of years I'll be established with another career, rather than facing Army separation.

I can't believe the damn advertisers have figured out how to spam blog comments. A pox on your houses, spammers one and all. That last one was a true idiot--poor grammar, and obviously thinks I'm one of those pundit bloggers...give me a break! I just discovered I can delete comments as I see spam all you want, you rat bastards, I'll just delete it anyway.

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

I'm Getting Weak!!!

Someone please promptly drive up to northern New York and slap the crap out of me. I'm thinking about staying in the Army, giving it a shot as a Captain in an assignment far, far away from the Infantry. I just don't know that I'm ready to take off this uniform yet--I'm so proud of what I do. And I make a lot of money...and while money isn't everything, not having to worry about anything even vaguely related to money is pretty liberating. I can't remember the last time I used a credit card; I just pay for everything outright. No kidding. And I have a ready-made family everywhere I go, complete with a wide safety net. I just don't perceive the civilian workplace as having this sort of family feel.

Watching all the Katrina drama unfold on CNN just brought back a flood (pun intended) of memories of my time in New Orleans. There is nothing worse than having to call your landlord and tell him you'll be late on the rent, again. My truck languished on the curb for three months because the starter broke and I couldn't scrape up the cash to fix it. I finally pulled the old one out myself, put in a backpack, and rode my bicycle to AutoZone for a swap-out. I didn't buy new clothes for a couple of years. My credit cards and student loans were all miserably late and my credit was in ruins.

It felt like shit. It took until just now to fix my credit...and fix it I did, my score is nearly perfect now. And the Army is, regardless of the mission and how people feel about it, an eternally honorable profession.

I could: go to the Captain's Course (about six months long) in Arizona, and see where they assign me. If I don't like it, I'm out in less than a year--with more savings and a renewed Top Secret clearance. But I could get Fort Gordon in Augusta, Georgia, putting me back in the South. Or Fort Meade, Maryland, where I wouldn't deploy. Or Arizona, no deployments.

I know my friends are now howling NNNOOOO at their screens. Maybe I'm just feeling weak, but everyone must admit, the Army can be a really sweet deal with the right assignment. I think what I've hated the most about it is being a Lieutenant in an Infantry brigade...LT is the most odious rank in the entire military, because they put you in charge of momentous things, yet encourage a dynamic where LT's are looked upon as buffoonish amateurs, no matter who you are. It's a constant power struggle, and most of my heartache in Iraq was from Captains.

As I said, someone come up here and slap me hard across the face, quickly.

Sunday, September 04, 2005

It's My Blog and I'll Cry Foul if I Want to...

But I don't want to. This will not become a forum for my political rantings...there is enough of that unpleasantness on every TV station, 24/7. I occasionally include a hiccup or two, and keep the rest to myself.

I lay awake many (ok, most) nights, staring at the ceiling fan, listening to geese honking overhead as they already fly south, and asking myself, for the ten millionth time, Am I doing the right thing by leaving the Army? Will I live to regret it?? I was up until 1 am last night, deeply engaged in another mini-freakout.

The Army has given me things I never thought I'd have--home ownership, professional purpose, direction, and skill, a Top Secret clearance, an honorable profession, and a wealth of experiences in five states and six countries (not even including the ones I got to see while traveling). Not to mention great stories. And I've given the Army seven years, most of which were spent deployed, recovering from deployments, and training for the next one. And it struck me, the perfect analogy:

My relationship with the Army is much like a marriage.

I'm sure every unhappy spouse goes through the same process, the same fears, the same apprehension about turbulence and instability, when considering a divorce...what if I never meet another man? What if I end up living in a box in Thompson Park? What if he reforms after I leave? What if I miss him??

But alas, our relationship has soured. We fight all the time and the kids (otherwise known as my subordinate soldiers) will probably be healthier in the end without Mom constantly pissed off at Dad. This last year, I've asked myself countless times, Why do you put up with this crap?? Are you some kind of coward??

When my friends witness and hear about how he treats me, I find myself a bit embarassed and defensive: He's not usually like this. He didn't mean it. Really, he's much nicer than you see. We're constantly having to move from city to city, before I can really settle in fully. I'm making more sacrifices than he is, he doesn't listen to me, he makes all the decisions about where and how we live, and I'm beginning to not like who I am in this thing. I'm not comfortable around him, I'm almost never at ease unless he's not around. I wake up in the morning, I dread spending time with him, even if the kids are on their best behavior. I'm tired.

In short, he brings out the worst in me. And that has got to be the death knell of any relationship.

I have an interview Tuesday with a headhunting firm that only interviews candidates with security clearances. And here I sit on a Top Secret, with a college degree and more awards, experience, and honors than you can shake a stick at. I'm the divorcee' equivalent of a supermodel, and yet I lie awake sweating about finding a new man.

Granted, I am picky. I may never find marital Bliss. But I'll settle for Not Misery.

Right now, the NY State Police gig looks like the best one--not the richest, but infinitely interesting (not to mention rewarding), especially with the prospect of becoming an agent in the NY Criminal Bureau of Investigation or the Albany Counterterrorism Task Force in two years. There are a dozen large corporations out there with defense contracts who would pay me big go live in Washington, DC. They'd have to pay me extra big bucks for that one--I'm not prepared to sacrifice my quality of life to live in a big city like that. The FBI is still in the dating pool, but I think the FBI bears too much resemblance to my husband...same man, different package.

Stay tuned, I think the drama could look like Jerry Springer in uniform when the divorce papers get signed...

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Missing in Action

I would gladly extend my Army service if the unit deployed down south to help out with Katrina. Helping American citizens on American soil would be a welcome change.

It's tough for me to watch the news--my old neighborhood in New Orleans, the upscale restaurant where I worked, my studio in the Warehouse District, all appear to be destroyed. It's gut-wrenching. And I just do not understand why people would not go to shelters if they didn't evacuate. That's where the casualty tolls originate, all those people who looked a Category Five storm in the eye and decided they could take it on.

Unfortunately, among those lacking the sense God gave a billy goat seen hanging from rooftops, I have a bad feeling my brother could well be among them in Mobile. I haven't heard from him in nearly two years, and last anyone knew, he was homeless in Mobile. If I know Jon, with the anti-government/anti-authority bent that landed him on the streets in the first place, there is no way in hell he would have evacuated, or checked in to a shelter. The only communication I've had with him since our mom died is through email at the public library or friends' houses--which, if he did make it okay, he won't have for months. I just have a bad feeling about it and there is no way to get information. We may never hear anything at all.

And, interestingly, I was invited to interview for the Chicago Reader, an alternative publication, to give the supervisor point of view for the same mo-mo who disastrously spoke with a reporter in Baghdad. I'm sure the article will paint him as a hero among amoral, knuckledragging cowboys. So be it. I'm not saying shit. We all signed a Non-Disclosure Agreement that has no statute of limitations, and if this idiot wants to be court-martialled, I say, give him all the rope he needs to hang himself. But leave MY happy ass out of it.

Shame on the oil companies for gouging in a time of such national crisis. And it is gouging--there has not been time for the shortages to effect a 30% increase, for God's sake.

Friday, August 26, 2005

File Under "TMI"

Just in the last 24 hours, I've been subjected to personal revelations from two different neighbors that were neither solicited nor welcome.

Dave lets me use his lawnmower--I don't have a garage, and I only mow when the grass is high enough to hide my truck anyway. I just pop over and pull it out of their garage and run with it. Yesterday I walked into his garage as he was fully unzipped and pissing into the drain in the middle of the garage. Perhaps walking into the house was too much trouble.

Then, this morning, I arose at about 4:45 and stumbled into the kitchen, thirsty and looking to get rid of the foul flavor the antibiotic I'm taking leaves on my tongue. A movement outside the window caught my eye, and I glanced up just in time to see the neighbor on the other side, the woman who removes her teeth to shout obscenities at her husband from the porch, upwards of sixty years old, fully framed in her kitchen window and completely naked save for the towel on her head. I'd hate to have mammaries that large at that age. They have a teenaged son living at home...hell, I don't walk around downstairs like that, and I live alone!

Our houses are entirely too close together. I also get center stage for every shouting match, every teenaged temper tantrum, the drunken parties. Consequently, I have far more insight into that marriage than is proper or desired.

Switching gears here: this morning, I rode to work behind a pickup truck with a dryer strapped to the bed. I tend to keep a pretty good distance behind any truck with open cargo. We were clipping along at about 70MPH when a pipe, looked to be the dryer exhaust pipe--about three inches in diameter and eighteen inches long--flipped out the back of the truck, clanged to the pavement, and bounced end over end directly in front of me. I had enough time to swerve (sharply) but had to make that split-second prediction of which way the pipe would bounce. I went left. It also went left, but I went about an inch farther left, into the oncoming lane. I missed it by a hair and shudder to think of what would have happened if I'd hit it, if I'd been three feet closer to the truck, if I'd tried slamming on the brakes.

Skills Test #1 successfully completed, I suppose. But it scared the shit out of me--my hands were shaking as I pulled my ID out at the Ft. Drum gate and the guy behind me, who'd seen the whole thing, pulled up into the lane to my right at the gate.

"I thought you were going down," he said, eyes wide, eyebrows raised.

"Yeah," I said, "You and me both."

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Biker Barbeque

Last Friday, a Warrant Officer who works in my building asked me to go riding on Saturday. His name is Jay, I don't know him very well. But I figure, what the hell, might be fun.

We rode all day...down to Syracuse to a BBQ joint (wait, they have those up here???) called Dinosaur BBQ. We pulled up and there were about a hundred bikes lined up at the curb, mostly Harleys, two crotch-rockets, and a spare Yamaha or two. I smelled that lovely barbeque fragrance from four blocks away--this place was like a visit home. The bikes were all huge and tricked out. We sat down with a table of Harley ladies--I don't really fit in, but they are outgoing and friendly by nature. They have great stories.

Harley ladies tend to be ten to twenty years older than I am. They wear tight Levi's, the kind that go all the way up to your natural waist, tight black t-shirts and they don't care to hide the spare tire, high-heeled boots, lots of makeup, and they've done entirely too much chemical damage to their hair. Their faces are heavily lined and they smoke.

They've lived.

And here's where Harley folks and soldiers have a great deal in common, besides the bikes: they are all deep and abiding patriots. Soldiers develop more love of the Land by traveling outside it--you see how small the living is throughout the rest of the world, and greet each day with grateful appreciation for the astonishing good fortune to have been born American. And bikers, they get it on the road here in the States--they ride all the backroads from sea to shining sea and they experience it all atop an icon embedded in Americanism more than apple pie itself. The Harley. Freedom and the spirit of adventure embodied.

And here I am, chin-length hair (no chemicals), low-waisted boot cut jeans, also high-heeled boots but mine are Nine West casual and brown, and a purple long-sleeved t-shirt. Little to no makeup. But I ride, and that's all they care about.

We got to talking to Ed, whose ruined right arm concerned me a bit (did he wreck??). He rides a gargantuan, custom-built Dyna Wide, and told me a story about the two soldiers to whom he rents his back apartment. He speaks of them with reverence. Bikers love soldiers, no doubt about that.

Then he got to looking at my bike. Jay pointed out that I'd only been riding a month and had put over 1000 miles on it. Ed looked at me with raised eyebrows.

"That's your first bike?"

I nodded. "Have you laid it down?" he asked.

"No, thank God."

Now he's nodding. "If you've logged a thousand miles on that baby without laying it down, you're all set." He waves to the other ninety bikes out there. "If you can ride a Sportster, you can handle anything out here."

He goes on to say that Sportsters are extremely difficult to ride--they are very narrow, where the larger bikes gain stability through width. He was very impressed that I started out on a Sportster.

Jay rode it around the block to try it out. "That sucker is fast," he said. "Yeah, you can ride anything if you can ride that."

I gathered names, phone numbers, and times/locations for group rides. I finally feel like I can keep up, having barrelled down to Syracuse behind Jay at about 80 MPH. It's infinitely more fun with people--I've only ridden alone, and this is a great way to meet people with great stories. I don't listen out of shallow politeness--I want to hear about the road, the wackos they've encountered, the years of unconventional living.

Maybe I'll start writing about them.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Lazy Last Day

I've been blissfully hiding out here for three weeks, against my better judgement...after all, I'm about to be unemployed, and three weeks of leave would have paid a couple grand when I get the payoff from all my unused leave. But I've been running so hard for the last several years, I haven't taken much vacation...and therefore, even after these 20 days off, I still have fifty to sell back at the end of it all.

And this last week, I rediscovered my love of reading. I'm working on the fourth of the stack of books I bought, currently ass-deep in Walker Percy's The Moviegoer, set in New Orleans in the late fifties. The protagonist's aunt lives in the Garden District, not too terribly far from where I lived, and it's wonderful to read about it in Percy's capable hands.

The last several days have gone like this: up at around eight, breakfast and coffee, gym, and back to the house by about 11:00. Then the rest of the day is mine to spend sprawled out in my now-gorgeous den (the floors really do look amazing), the breeze flowing through the bank of open windows in the den to the screen door to the deck, and I spend hours intermittently reading and just listening.

After a year in the desert, I still richly enjoy the sounds of my home, yard, and neighborhood. The steady drone of some north-faring locust, a sound forever entwined with lazy summer afternoons. Crickets, the wind in the huge maple in my back yard, the neighbors getting to know their new puppy, faroff lawnmowers, and an ice-cream truck that blares a tinky-sounding rendition of The Entertainer for blocks before it crosses my field of vision. The dishwasher or washing machine completing a cycle. More wind. One amazing afternoon, I killed all the lights in the house (which aren't needed in the daytime at any rate--I get great light from the tall windows) in favor of a crashing thunderstorm, complete with hail and visible strikes of lightning to the ground.

I could be out of the Army on September the fifth. I'm hoping for October 31st, as two more months of pay and accumulated leave wouldn't hurt. But in my heart, three weeks from now would be lovely--never have I been in such a good position to leave the Army, with all the deployment savings.

Six months of reading, working to get my sculpture mojo back, and enjoying the seasons, followed by about four months of waiting tables. It sounds perfectly lovely. The thing I enjoy about waiting tables is this: at the end of the shift, your feet ache, your pocket bulges with straight cash, there's a cold beer and good company/gossip, and not a care in the world. After the many stresses of Army Officership and the attendant 24/7 weight of it all, a year spent this way sounds heavenly.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Springer Spaniel

My three weeks of blissful vacation are almost finished; I return to work on Tuesday. I managed to get some things accomplished--I've faithfully gone to the gym at least four times a week, and running is already much less painful, and I made some progress on the house. The horrid pink room is still pink and junky, but I'm about to have a great deal of time to kill while gainfully unemployed. The next State Police Academy I can get into is next August...I'll be eligible for 26 weeks of unemployment, which is not much but will get me through the winter with my savings. Then I plan to wait tables out in Sackets Harbor once the weather warms and the wealthy tourists reconverge on the town. So a year of pretending to be 25 again. No problem.

So today I'm spending the day on the porch with a book, The Devil Wears Prada, which is pure fluff and a great summer read. Like reality TV--bitchy and entertaining, devoid of any meaning or real quality. In the same book-buying frenzy, I bought Walker Percey's The Moviegoer, two titles by David Sedaris (you must read this man if you haven't already), Cormac McCarthy's latest (also a must-read: William Faulkner meets Charles Bukowski out west--not literally, of course), and Gabriel Garcia Marquez's autobiography. Plenty of meat in those dishes, I'm just having dessert first. I'll bring the other books to work and not feel embarassed to be caught reading them.

On the porch, reading about spoiled New York princesses I'd probably fight the urge to drop-kick if I actually met one, 98 pounds of flying fluff squealing EEEeewww all the way, I witnessed a real life princess in action. I'm sure, gentle readers, you recall my observations of my nextdoor neighbors, known to me and my friends and the other neighbors as the Springers. Drama from Day One. That fateful morning I moved in, when all my friends' cellphones rang because the notice of the Iraq deployment had just made its way from Rumsfeld to the 10th Mountain Division HQ, I got my first taste of the Northcountry's answer to trailer park trash. The matriarch, clearly sauced, stood on the front porch before us all, removed her teeth, and spat pure obscenity-laced vitriol at the patriarch...who, by the way, seems like an upstanding, agreeable man. Also recall my own latenight bouts of screaming obscenities from my window in response to their incessantly-barking dog, chained outside all night just beneath my window.

Fortunately, something clicked in the mind of the dog while I was away--it is now an angel. I have no decibel-related complaints about the NNY Springers. I have one aesthetic complaint--all the trash piled up on the side of the house, and the exposed Tyvec on one side. The combination means I cannot truly enjoy my deck--it's like sipping a Stoli martini in a junkyard. My plan is to build a trellis along the offending side of the deck, and coax morning glories up the side come spring, just block it all out entirely.

I digress. Today, the teenage son and his quintessentially Northern New York girlfriend appeared on the porch. Here we go, I thought, and focused intensely on my book while listening to their conversation. If you could call it that.

I've never heard this young lady speak in a volume under Pure Shriek, just as foul as her potential mother-in-law. Twenty years from now, she'll be standing on some poor bastard's porch in Daisy Dukes gumming obscenities at said poor bastard.

You don't make any sense! She screamed in that flat, almost-Canadian, nasal twang they have up here. Ten times more grating than any Southern accent I've ever heard. You been screwing around with a buncha skanky bitches! At least TELL me before you wanna go run around with those whores!

And just like with his dad, I can never hear his responses. Low muttering. When she noticed me on the porch, she really started railing, as if to impress me--looka here! I don't take NO SHIT offa NO ONE!

And all I can think is, you poor girl. He'll be gone any minute now. Women like her feel that men are lucky to be with them because they're reasonably cute in an area of the country with a sky-high obesity rate. But I've never quite understood what any woman felt she would gain with shrill, self-righteous, nagging tantrums. Who would want to hang around? A man without other options, that's who. And as young as these two are, he still has other options. And I'm thinking, someone should tell her, maybe she'll learn. No one ever kept a lover by screeching at them night and, it would take ONE interaction like that, I'd leave and never look back. If you can't handle life's day-to-day challenges without becoming histrionic, how would you handle the real problems in your life, the ones that blindside you at 4 pm on some idle Tuesday? Just fall apart??

But the fact is, they don't learn, ever. This town is full of them--miserable married couples, both of whom just look exhausted, hounded to the nub. It's the men, too--they talk to these women like they'd just as soon spit on them. Not the neighbors, mind you, these are the couples I see in the grocery store, or resignedly pushing baskets through Wal-Mart, dull and glazed-over, quarrelling visciously over some real or perceived slight.

This princess, she ended this row by spinning around on her flip-flopped heel and prancing to her car, her middle finger extended over her retreating shoulder. The boy just watched, at once puzzled and resigned. I went back to my book.

Sunday, July 31, 2005

The Circling Sharks

Raoul, his wife Karen, and Mark. Friday night at the Brewpub out in Sackets Harbor. Mark traveled up here, rather unexpectedly, with this terribly unpleasant dude named Fred.

Mark and Fred arrived at about midnight Thursday, sent by their company to install some A/C unit on a piece of equipment on Friday. Mark sounded less than thrilled that Fred was along, told me the guy would get fired when they got home because he didn't know what the hell he was doing; their company is so desperate for techs, they hired this guy sight unseen.
And what a scary sight he was. One eye peered about forty-five degrees to the right and his eyebrows protruded at least a full inch from his temples. When Mark told me he'd been bouncing from job to job for years and would soon lose this one, I felt sorry for the old guy. Especially since he's from a town in Mississippi about one hour from my own.

But then he started in on the rants about "women drivers," while in the same breath declaring he spends his life fighting for "women's rights." Well, that term hasn't been used by anyone actually interested in that concept for many years. We won the vote, you know. No wonder he can't hold a job--I bet he spouts the same shit about "black's rights" whenever that's his audience. We got rid of him as soon as we could with any professionalism and/or relative civility. What a mo-mo.

We had dinner and drinks at the Brewpub before the Comedy Club (which was a blast), and ran into Raoul and Karen, owners of the 44-foot sailboat I occasionally get invited to enjoy. I thought perhaps it was my imagination that they both looked a bit, well...predatory as we sat and had a drink with them, and I attributed the sensation to a rumor I'd heard that they were, you know, swingers. But they're in their sixties, for chrissake, I'm thinking. Surely not.

But then they went on about how next time Mark is in town, we'll have to come sailing, just the four of us, and then my gay friend Eric later relayed the tale about how he'd been nearly ravished on their boat. "Always go in groups," Eric repeated, shaking his head. "Always, always in groups." So much for sailing...I was somewhat horrified. I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a more uncomfortable scenario. I think Mark was amused. I always knew Raoul was a dirty old man after he pulled my underwear that peeked out a bit in the back because all the ladies who wear the lower-waisted pants know, when you lean forward, the panties become a bit visible. Nothing too tawdry, just a little bit of fabric. But not something you want and old guy tugging on, not by any stretch of the imagination. But I adore Karen and I'm sorry I won't see her in the same light after not one, but two tales like Eric's are making the rounds.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

Paradise Found

I got a map of New York State--a detailed map, the kind that differentiates the types of roads: solid red for highway, dotted double line for dirt, etc--and mapped out enough day-rides to last several weeks. That's the thing about northern New York--it's rural enough for this type thing, and here we sit at the foothills of the Adirondacks.

I write the directions on my left forearm because I can take my left hand from the clutch and read it while I'm moving--you can't really wave your right hand around on a bike, it's the throttle and the front brake, not to be abandoned, ever.

Sidebar: notice, if you get behind a motorcycle, that when another bike comes from the opposite direction, both riders lift left hands and point them down at a 45-degree angle. It's a salute, hey howya doin', and it doesn't matter what kind of bike you're on. Harley, crotch-rocket, whatever, we all wave to each other. Initially, I was too unstable to remove the left hand, felt like I'd hurtle right off the road with one wrong move, and I left many salutes rudely unrequited. I'm comfortable enough now, I always pay respects.

So today, I plotted a ride I figured would take about two hours, winding through the hills to the east of Watertown, all of it on small, paved roads. And it was amazing.

As soon as I turned off the main highway (itself only a two-lane), I knew I'd found heaven. I like to ride at about 6:30 pm, when the going-home traffic has reached destination and most folks sit down to dinner. It's cooling off, the breeze dies down, and I love that amber light. This far north, it doesn't go dark until about 9:00, which allows for a long, leisurely ride every day.

Out where I ride, there is no traffic at all--it's purely farmland, and what farmer has any use for a post-supper joyride? It's all rolling hills and winding roads, the shadows are long (no need for sunglasses, another plus), and I ride through cornfields, past rusting silos and old farmhouses. These are family farms, here for generations, and the land shows it--old growth hardwood forest, rolls of hay out in the fields, cows, gracefully aging barns, rocky creeks winding throughout. Closer to Adirondack Park, rock outcroppings and steep grades, absolutely breathtaking scenery. God's country. And when the leaves change in early October, it'll knock my eyes out with all that color--it's primarily maples up here, queen of the autumn, my favorite season.

This is what I had in mind when I bought the bike. I have no desire (blasphemy, pure blasphemy!!) to ride cross-country--long rides at highway speed have got to be exhausting. Put your hand out the window, hold it up straight next time you're on the freeway, and imagine your entire body subjected to that force of wind for hours at a time. I am still surprised by the force of it, even at 60 MPH. Freeways are not attractive by their very nature, and my truck would be much more comfortable. You can't eat or drink, or listen to music...although many bikers do, to me it just doesn't seem right...and you're at the total mercy of the elements, other drivers, and the large bugs that would take the paint right off your helmet at 70 MPH. Your eyes would feel like sandpaper, even with protection--just like in Iraq, the wind always creeps in, no matter what precautions you take. Doesn't sound like a good time to me.

Besides, I've seen this country and quite a few others, I've been from one coast to the other and back again, several times. And it's mostly strip malls, tacky car dealerships, fast food joints, and most freeway towns look the same. The real living is along the country roads, dotted with little mom and pop ice cream stands and cider mills.

I learn something on every ride, such as face-shield placement: if you know you'll travel at over 40 MPH, it goes all the way shut, no anti-fogging crack needed. Plenty of wind still circulates through there, and any more than the bare minimum sets the eyes to watering. And in my case, it mixes with the sunscreen, they water more, and then I have to pull over and wipe my eyes because now I can't see shit.

Also, even though it might seem silly to pull into a gas station and put one gallon in the tank before a long ride, do it. I actually ran out of gas today, out in the middle of bum-fuck nowhere. Guess that little low-fuel warning light is either non-functional, or an extra I didn't pay for. It's in the owner's manual, but at any's pure jackassery to run out of gas. And of course, I had no cellphone along. Fortunately, Harleys have a reserve fuel valve, with about a half-gallon. More than enough to get me back to Burrville's Mobile station, which was *blessedly* open.

Another event that would ONLY occur out there in the land of no people--I picked up where I'd left off on my route after gassing up, and as I made the left onto 162, there was an old dude on his porch, completely naked. No shit. He sat beneath a blue umbrella-thing, which he moved to shield his face as I rode past. I probably wouldn't have even seen him without the blue flag movement...but all the guy wore was a baseball cap and some house shoes. I giggled inside the helmet. There's no mistaking my gender out there--I mostly wear a lavender long-sleeve t-shirt, and no guy I know would wear lavender.

More adventures to come, I'm sure. When the leaves start to change and I have my saddlebags, I plan to ride up into the Adirondacks, find the scenic routes a couple of hours from here, and fully indulge in the "leaf-peeping" ritual (peeping? Why the hell "peeping?") I'll ride until I get tired, and stop at one of the thousands of bed-and-breakfasts up there.

*Sigh* I feel like myself again, not that bitchy, stressed-out, watered-down version in Iraq.

Monday, July 18, 2005


This, in my Army email box just now:

1. A reservation has been entered in the Army Training Requirements and Resources System (ATRRS) by the quota source manager controlling the subject course for the following soldier/student: XXXXXX, KRISTEN E, O2, XXX-XX-2948, MI BN MI CO GS, 0110 MI BN CO GS, FT DRUM, NY, 136020000, UIC: WDR5D02. FOR: School Code 301 Intelligence School - SC: 301, Fort Huachuca, Arizona 85613-6000, Course Number: 3-30-C22, Phase , Course Title: MILITARY INTELLIGENCE CAPTAINS CAREER, Class 003,Report date 2006-03-05 End date 2006-07-27, Class Location Fort Huachuca, Arizona 85613-60003. O2 XXXXXX, KRISTEN E. has a valid reservation in ATRRS under quota source OPMD - HRC ALEXANDRIA, VA. The copies of the soldier/student reservation are posted in ATRRS under the Class Roster Function for the subject course and the Reservation by Soldier/student function on the ATRRS Portals...blah blah blah...

SHIT! What this means: I'm in the system for attending my Captain's Course in March...and yes, I should be out by then. BUT, if they generate orders based on this slot, I will not get to leave the Army. No kidding. Yes, they can do that. And, since everyone is on block leave (except, of course, the office that issued this email, they're in DC), I can't even start to fix this until August. So I have to hope that they won't shit out some orders. Damn it!!

I have one last hope for fixing this now--a civilian who handles officer personnel issues at Division. Here's to hoping civilians don't get block leave...

Sunday, July 17, 2005

Have Harley, Will Travel

How I'm Spending My Time

"I've never owned a bike before." Me, at the dealership, signing the final papers.

"But you are a rider, right?"

"Of course!" Yeah, as of last Saturday at 9am. I figured they wouldn't let me leave the parking lot with it if I provided that tidbit of information. I joked about it being a starter bike, a little bike, and the guy peered at me over his glasses.

"You know, I hear people say that, and it's just crazy...we're talking a bike with almost 900 cc's! It is NOT a little bike. And many people get Sportsters saying it's a 'starter bike,' and never buy another one." All said and done, it's the second-fastest bike Harley makes--first being the 1200cc Sportster. Because they are lighter than all the rest, they jump.

They walked me through all the peculiarities of the Family of Harleys...starting with the choke, the wierd kickstand (called a "jiffy stand," which sounds too sissy for a Harley part, if you ask me), the maintenance schedule, how to clean it without ruining all that chrome, the Harley Owners' Group (HOG, get it?) automatic membership, group rides, welcome to the family, etc.

Then I mounted the bike. At 550 pounds, it ain't the little 250 I learned on, not by any stretch of the imagination. I must be out of my damn mind.

I fired her up...holy shit you should hear this baby roar. I can't even move it in neutral unless I stand up and lean into it. And did I say, you should hear it. Pure power. I sat there, with a growing nervousness, feeling all 883 cc's firing away, as it warmed up. I gave it some throttle, still in neutral--it felt like it would jump out from under me.

So the mechanic and the sales guy, both very evidently old-school Harley dudes, watched as I shifted into first and began testing out the friction zone in the know, that sweet spot where it catches...trying to find the balance. Again, it felt as through the cheetah was fixing to leap out from under me, and I'd be left astonished on the pavement, squarely on my ass. All I could think about was the highway that led home--20 miles of two-lane, and me trembling on this monster.

I spent about half an hour in the parking lot, stopping, starting, figure 8's...nothing like the little class bike. The weight makes the cornering feel like tipping over. But all the instruction came back immediately--keep your head and eyes level, and you won't feel like you're going over. Look through the curve, not at the ground. Roll some throttle to gain traction when cornering.

Still somewhat intimidated, but determined to get 'er done, I left the parking lot, baby bird flying from the nest. The first few stoplights and turns were a bit tense, but then I got it, started to get the feel of it. The wind at 50 MPH (max speed in the first 100 miles of break-in), plus unstable weather patterns, definitely had me gritting my teeth on the highway. Some jackass tailgated me until I slowed enough that he had to pass, not allowing him to rush me.

I took it to the empty lot at the high school close to my house, more figure 8's, more quick stopping, up and down-shifting, etc.

That was yesterday. And today, I rode it almost all day, despite the threat of rain. And now it feels more like an extension of my legs than some external beast. I'm relaxed now--not completely comfortable, mind you, but relaxed. This afternoon I headed toward Lake Ontario on one of the many gorgeous 2-lane highways around here, and just rode, no particular goal in mind, just out for a Sunday ride. It was amazing. I came to one of the little villages by the lake, ate lobster at a quaint little restaurant, and a couple crusty characters saw my helmet, connected it to the Harley outside, and sat right down.

I told them it was my first bike. They grinned ear-to-ear, welcomed me to the Family, and proceed to regale me with bike stories--Sturgis, St. Augustine, cross-country rides that veered up into Canada's mountains, etc. The Harley dynamic--it's truly a brotherhood.

They had me follow them a bit, one guy behind me and the rest out front. They showed me a great little road to ride, and told me to stop back in anytime I find myself back out in Clayton. And again, as I rode home through Watertown, singing in my helmet (perfect acoustic environment, by the way), pulled up next to another hog-rider at a stoplight, had another great little conversation, waving to each other when I veered off onto my street.

There are motorcycle riders, and then there are Harley riders. A friendly, unpretentious lot they are. They do not look down on my smaller Sportster, it's all in the family. What a great thing, to have bought this bike on a whim with encouragement from four Harley riders I worked with in Iraq. I knew I'd love it.

So now it's time to order some saddlebags...carrying everything in the back pocket is less than ideal. I need someplace to put the sunscreen, wallet, waterbottle, etc.

Zoom zoom.

Here she is. I've put almost 300 miles on her in two days--only 200 more miles until the break-in period is finished. I can't go faster than 60 until I hit 500 miles...but honestly, 60 is plenty fast right now.