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.