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.

Saturday, July 16, 2005


I go get my bike in a couple of hours...I had to wait almost a week. They say you need a couple of hours--they go over every inch of the bike with you (which I like), and there are papers to sign, saddlebags to buy, etc. I didn't know what my work schedule would look like this week (it looked like this: sit around and stare at each other until 5 pm each day--a total waste of time, but there you have it); I made a 9am Saturday morning appointment knowing I could make it, and spend the rest of the day playing on the bike. AND today is Day One of a three-week vacation period for me. Three weeks of working on the house, riding the bike, and job-hunting.

And I have found my perfect job. No, really. I did finally decide (again) to leave the Army. I can't even abide the garrison crap--we had four formations yesterday, during which the Sergeant Major stood up there eating a sandwich and screaming about the same shit he screamed about the last formation. And the one before that. And the one before that. And mind you, our weather right now is exactly the same as MIAMI--92 degrees and humid as hell. So we're all standing out there getting soaked, my sunscreen running down my face, annoyed as hell. And earlier this week while standing there like that, I had an epiphany: my heart is just NOT in this anymore.

So my perfect job--get ready for this one--New York State Police. Yes, I want to be a State Trooper. It pays extremely well, I think I would like the actual job, and the work week is a huge plus. See, one week you work 60 hours, or five 12-hour shifts. Say you have Tuesday and Wednesday off that week and work the rest. Then the next week, Tuesday and Wednesday are the only days you work! So it averages to just over 40 hours a week, 12-hour days are nothing, and you get these great chunks of time off all lumped together. AND, going in with a Bachelor's means you can go Investigator after two years, with the attendant $15,000 raise. Good God!

The first assignment may not be terribly desirable--downstate somewhere--but then I could get back up here, keep my house, and live happily ever after. I take the exam on September 25, and after reading the study guide, I know I will ace it. Easy stuff. Nothing like the FBI. Actually, this sounds better to me than the FBI--fewer hours, better pay, less stress.

I will definitely post a photo of myself in the grey uniform when/if the time comes. But for now, today is Hog Day around here. Now, I just need to find a parking lot where I can go practice without feeling like an idiot...oh, and the bike is really loud. It is, after all, a Harley.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

You'll Never See a Motorcycle Parked Outside a Psychiatrist's Office

I have a confession to make: until yesterday at approximately 9 am (in the pouring rain, I might add), I had never been on a motorcycle. Yes, I bought a Harley and had never ridden a bike.

But I knew I would love it. I took the Basic Rider Course, taught by state-certified Rider Coaches, and the program was worth every penny of the $275 I paid for it. Even guys who'd been riding twenty years said they learned a great deal.

The day began with how to start the motorcycle--I mean, this was basic in the beginning--and by the end of today, we were cornering at 30 MPH, quick-stopping, swerving to avoid obstacles, shifting up and down while scanning for the stop signal, all of it. Me? I took to it like a duck to water. I loved it. AND I passed my New York State road test with flying colors--scored about the same as the experienced riders. The coaches said it was because I didn't have any bad habits to unlearn, and I did exactly what they told me to.

I am now a fully licensed motorcyclist, and can pick my bike up whenever I find someone to take me to the Harley dealership. I'm not going to be stupid about it--I'll spend as much time as I need to in the Harley parking lot until I'm comfortable with my bike before I take it on the road to my house. I learned on a 250cc bike, and mine's an 883. It'll take some getting used to, to say the least.

But that course was so great, I honestly feel well prepared to get the bike and practice around here, get better and better. And I'm signed up for an Advanced Rider Course in August, where I'll learn even more.

I knew I'd love it. I just knew it.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Don't Kick the Baby!

Hurricane Claire

I'm trying not to kick the baby, but she's so tiny and always just underfoot. She has definitely imprinted to me--she does not leave my side. In fact, as I type, she has concluded another dizzying rampage around the house and collapsed, exhausted, in my lap. She's so tiny, you can barely see her under my dining room table. And here you can see a bit of the destroyed hardwood floor, soon to be replaced.

Esther and I were so saddened by the Oscar Incident that we went and got this tiny new roommate. She behaves as if the folks at the shelter taught her how to be conspicuously cute for her new owner.

Wish me luck on the FBI Field Agents' Exam on July 27. I'm actually having to study for it--it has been many, many moons since I deigned to address any math above basic square footage calculations...I've got my work cut out for me. I don't suck at math, I just find it terribly tedious and I'm easily distracted.

Monday, July 04, 2005

Independence Day, a Retrospective

4 July 2004...Yes, Iraq looks like this. Trash and random animals everywhere you look.Posted by Picasa

4 July 2003...big fun, our own sanctioned Pirate Day, out sailing on Lake Ontario, terrorizing the Yacht People with water balloon artillery volleys and threats to scuttle them one and of these philistines called the Coast Guard and we were subjected to a Stern Lecture. Posted by Picasa

Independence Day 2002 Posted by Picasa It looks more fun than it is. 10-mile ruck march with 45 pounds plus weapon and gear...this was Officer Candidate School, fourteen weeks of hell, at the end of which, you become An Officer. Which I thought I would love and maybe I still will, but right now I'm wishing I'd stayed a Staff Sergeant.

And this is what I'll likely end up doing today. ;) No, really. I was supposed to go sailing, but the owners of the big boat got called back to Montreal. So I'm going to a big family barbeque with my excellent nextdoor neighbors. Drink beer, maybe some Redneck, wait, I'll be the only redneck there. Posted by Picasa

Sunday, July 03, 2005

Sneaking Suspicion

Downtown Baghdad, Election Day Posted by Picasa

Just thought I'd throw that one in there; besides, I wanted to try out the other method for posting photos. Good picture, and one of the scant few positive experiences I had during that year. This was taken from the roof of the Al Khadra Iraqi Police Headquarters the evening of the elections--I didn't stay out there long, what with all the celebratory gunfire and all.

I've been thinking about Oscar all day, running through what I could have done differently to keep him alive...and there's nothing, he had a very happy life. But here's my sneaking suspicion: four days after he disappeared, I walked by the road next to the heavily wooded south end of the park, whistling for him. My neighbor from two doors down was out watering his yard.

"You looking for the black one?" He asked. (How would he know that???)

"Yes, have you seen him?"

He scratched his head. Old guy, pushing seventy or maybe even eighty, standing out there in dingy shorts and a stained tank top, hose in hand. "Well, I saw him a few days ago, he wandered into my basement and was locked in there for two days."

"But you let him out?"

A pause. "Yeah, that was a few days ago. I haven't seen him since."

Now I'm thinking he'd been locked in there long enough to die, and this crumbly just put him in the ditch across the street to make it look like he'd been hit by a car. I hope I'm wrong. How could he be in there for two days, though? That cat did not have a soft little polite voice like Esther has--rather piercing and annoying, actually, so how do you not hear that for two days?? I really think that may be the case--the old guy looked rather uncomfortable, and took a rather longish time to answer when I asked about letting him out. My gut tells me he was lying, that my little panther died in his basement...and knowing what a prolonged, excruciating death it must have been makes me feel much worse than if I'd found him visibly run over.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Rockets' Red Glare

This is how I spent the day…cluttered with crap and hot pank to boot. The previous owner of my home, in her infinite wisdom, painted my third bedroom hot pank with battleship gray trim and this conspicuously bucolic lighthouse border. AND the wench didn't bother to cover the 1910-installed, original hardwood flooring in doing so. Because as we all know, battleship gray carpet is much more attractive than original oak flooring. Good lord. This is what I'm dealing with here.

The mess, though…all mine. Just before I deployed, I piled everything I didn't immediately need in this horrid room, shut the door, and walked away. Honestly, if I lit the whole thing on fire and danced around the flames, would I even miss any of the crap in there? I waded about halfway through this garbage yesterday, and at about 5:30, poured myself a glass of sauvignon blanc and stepped out onto the porch. It was a perfect northern New York summer day—low 70's, no humidity, blinding blue sky.

Except that it wasn't exactly blue at that point.

Thick clouds of black smoke boiled into the sky from what must have been a massive fire, seemingly only scant blocks away. I strolled out onto the street, where a small group of my neighbors gathered, and asked, "What the hell is that??"

One neighbor, the one across and down three, openly glared at my wine glass, as if the moral fabric of the neighborhood was suddenly threatened by this open display of hedonistic consumption. She's no prize herself—every recessive gene in her evidently shallow pool manifests itself in her: Coke-bottle thick plastic-framed glasses, eyes slightly crossed (or perhaps it's an illusion), pasty skin, wormy, downturned mouth, thin, broken-off hair…I guess if I looked like that, I'd be bitter, too. No, actually, I'd put my ass on the treadmill and get some color, find a good eye doctor, and learn that tank tops are not for everyone.

She didn't answer, still openly glaring at my gorgeous glass with guileless contempt. The other guy out there, he lives one house down from her, answered that it was a factory downtown. And just then, the power went out—you could hear the fans and televisions simultaneously power down.

I relished a long sip of wine, exaggerating the whole act for Lady Miss Contempt's benefit, and took my time strolling back inside. I was barefoot to boot. Screw you, moron, I more than earned this glass of wine.

So Miss Esther, my obese little kitty who is very saddened by the recent departure of her brother and has not left my side since his demise, curled up in my lap on the porch. And we dozed off. Every home on the street boasted barbequing masses—we live at the base of the city park's steeply wooded hill, and the Sunset Symphony celebration was underway. So from our houses, you could clearly hear the orchestra.

Then there was a chest-thumping explosion unlike anything I've heard since the 122mm Chinese rockets impacted our base in Iraq and killed about a dozen soldiers. Esther clawed my left leg to shreds on her six-foot launch into the air and subsequent barreling into the house, all the way to the basement. I instinctively dove belly-down onto the floor of the porch. And then remembered where I was…and that the Sunset Symphony culminates in the big fireworks display. The neighbors directly across the street stopped what they were doing, staring at me and whispering among themselves.

I dusted myself off, feeling pretty damn stupid, and called out, "Sorry! I just got back from Iraq!" They laughed. My hands shook for about fifteen minutes…which explains why the pictures came out so wonky:

Backyard Bombardment Posted by Picasa

The best view was from the back deck, so I poured myself another glass of wine, propped my feet up on the café table out there, and donned a sweater. It went down into the forties last night.

After the grand finale, you could hear every American in town cheering and honking car horns…every back yard for miles, plus the crowd in the park, all screaming their heads off.

Power was restored about an hour later, and I did something absolutely asinine…that damn computer, the one that has been a piece of crap since I bought it last year, once again gave me the Blue Screen of Death, eating a rather large blog post I'd just written. Furious, I slammed my fist onto the keyboard…and killed it. It felt damn good. But it definitely proved to be the fatal blow for that miserable excuse for a $1500 laptop…and when I went back to the one I bought back in 2001, I wasn't even very surprised to see that it works ten times faster. I tried fixing the stupid thing all last week—ran all kinds of diagnostics, ensured it wasn't infected with spyware or viruses, etc.

I'll get that damn thing fixed (maybe), but I forsee getting rid of it one way or another—since Dell has miserable customer service and wouldn't take it back even three weeks after I bought it without the unethical "restocking fee," I'll likely just sell it for parts, consider it an expensive lesson in consumer wisdom. And NEVER even CONSIDER buying another Dell product, ever.