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.