Monday, December 25, 2006

Greetings from the South Rim

I'm so glad I did this. Here's my first look at the Canyon:

From here, I rode the shuttle to the steepest trail on the South Rim, the venerable South Kaibab. I linked up with a festive group of German tourists, decided we'd tackle it together, and down we went.

From the trailhead:

If it looks cold, that's because it IS...when I started out, it was 13º with a stiff wind. I wore four layers, including a North Face Summit Series jacket I bought in Afghanistan. By the time we were halfway to Skeleton Point, I stripped down to a t-shirt and wore all the other layers around my waist...somewhat cumbersome, but it worked.

My legs shook uncontrollably after the hour of straight-down to Cedar Point. I kept looking up at how far we had to climb back to the top:

This is after only 15 minutes down. See those tiny black specks? Those are people.

From the same point, looking down...we still had a LONG way to go.

The way back up was the most gruelling Stairclimber workout you can imagine. But I surprised myself--I consistently got far ahead of the Germans, and felt like I could have gone all the way to the bottom. After my bum knee started to stiffen up, however, I knew that I'd done the right thing stopping where we did.

This was definitely a Christmas to remember.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Grand Canyon, Part One

I wanted to go home for the season, but with classes lining up just before and just after Christmas, it didn't make sense to spend the money. I got to go for Thanksgiving, so everyone understands.

I spent several hours at the office this morning--we have nothing to do right now, so I surfed the Web and bought some meds for Moonpie, looked at my credit score--which is pleasingly high, right up there. We ordered pizza and I became impatient at noon--I had a long drive ahead of me, and wanted to approach the Flagstaff area while it was still light. So I left obscenely early, put Moonpie in the car, and started driving.

It began to rain in Tucson. It was pouring by the time I got to Phoenix. I spent two full hours creeping through that damn city at about 10 MPH--it rains so rarely here, everyone freaks out and goes straight into Gramma Mode behind the wheel. It changed to snow just north of Phoenix, just as the scenery began to get really spectacular. Then it got dark.

Even still, I could make out the astonishingly massive mountains, sleeping behemoths on both sides of the road under a forest of humanoid saguaro cacti. The drive between Phoenix and Flagstaff is straight up, the right lane populated with straining tractor-trailers and those unfortunate souls not sitting on a big, 260-horsepower engine. Times like these, that car is worth every dime--it drives beautifully in these extremes, hugging the curves and sprinting up the steep bits.

Sedona--I can't see much right now, in the dark, but the snow will glow amber in the morning light. One quality I love about the high desert is the light--the entire state of Arizona turns amber, then periwinkle, then glows blue as the sun sets. The moon was a thin, luminous fingernail hanging at eye level and close enough to touch.

Here's the only picture I was able to take, Moonpie's first yellow snow:
He is, by the way, quite the man-magnet, especially in his spunky leopard-print coat. Every time we walk through the hotel lobby, every man in sight is all over him like they're all grammas and he's a baby in Gap.

I'm having room service for breakfast--absurdly early for a vacation--then driving to the Canyon to hike the South Kaibab Trail. I hope there's snow--I can't imagine how it will look with all the contours highlighted with white.

I will, of course, take many, many pictures.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Christmas Vacation

The thing I don't like about not going home for Christmas are all the charity-case know, "I'm inviting all the single people over," always with the best of intentions. But I'd rather stay home than be the Christmas charity invitee. So I'm stuck in Arizona, determined to save money to buy a house in Oxford pre-law school.

Which is why I made a reservation for Moonpie and myself at the Grand Canyon. Yep, I'll spend the whole weekend hiking with my dog and exploring northern Arizona restaurants, then drive home Christmas morning. I have two day-long hikes planned out on the South Rim. It's a bit cold, but I'll be layered up, carrying water, and no, I won't have to get rescued. It's a national park and it's not THAT cold. Besides, if they pull your dumb ass out of the Canyon, you pay for it, every dime.

Although I've seen J several times now and I know he wants to go with us--he keeps dropping not-so-subtle hints--I think I'd rather not bring him along. I don't know him well enough for a romantic getaway on Christmas--it's just too weird. And there's the fact that I'm not sure I like him enough to spend three uninterrupted days with him, truth be told. He's smart, attractive, and has a lot going for him, but I'm a little taken aback by how much he talks...the stories that should be five minutes long drag on for twenty. I'm sure I'm guilty of the same thing from time to time, but I'm also okay with just shutting my piehole--which is a good thing, with this one. I get the distinct feeling he's uncomfortable with silence and feels he has to fill it up, and content is immaterial. He is clearly not a keeper and one of us will quit calling the other any day now.

I know myself--I learned the valuable lesson about travel partners when I got to spend some time in Germany while deployed to Afghanistan. I met this other female officer--I found her slightly annoying from the get-go, when she relayed to me a tale about how she drank with her soldiers in Iraq, which is completely against my leadership philosophy (not to mention dangerous), but there you have it. I decided to get on the train and see the sights, final destination Munich. She asked if she could come with me, and a little voice in my head told me to say no.

But I didn't want to be rude. Lesson=better rude than miserable with the wrong traveling companion. She rattled on the entire trip about how great she was, and by the time she got to the part about how Active Duty soldiers should get crammed four to a room so that the National Guard officers (herself included, of course) could get their own rooms when getting ready to deploy, I had my forehead pressed to the window, trying hard to convey that I didn't want to hear it by not responding and staring at every passing blade of grass with intense concentration. Which only seemed to make her more determined...on and on it went.

Finally, in the middle of Munich, she prattled incessantly about how she could keep up with Special Forces in the 17,000-foot Hindu Kush in Afghanistan, 100-pound ruck and all, when she'd complained when I'd taken the stairs at the train station too quickly, and I was done. I handed her the map and her return-trip ticket and told her we would now have to separate.

She was aghast. "But I don't speak German," she gasped. I speak just enough German to get around or elicit enough of a sympathetic response from English-speakers to get help and directions.

"But you're Special Forces," I was already walking away. "And you have the map. It's just urban land-nav, shouldn't be an issue for a Special Forces-caliber soldier."

I know, it was horrible. But I just couldn't listen to another minute of it. J is nowhere near that bad, and if I left him in the Grand Canyon I have no doubt he'd beat me back to the top and not look back...but that voice is telling me not to bring him.

So just me and the dog. I'll take LOTS of pictures.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Adventures in Online Dating

I went out with a very attractive soldier last night, another pilot. We met on a dating site, exchanged photos, and he asked me to come over and watch a movie. I liked that he was so forward, because you can often talk on the phone or exchange emails for weeks before you actually meet someone online. I prefer to invest as little as possible before sitting down face-to-face and discerning if we have anything to talk about.

So J ordered pizza, I brought wine, and I followed the directions to his house. His pictures were typical guy--J snowboarding, J in uniform, J shirtless (very nice) on a motorcycle, J's dog, a picture of J's dog poking out from under a porch--not sure how the dog did this, but here it is:

This date was decidedly one of the stranger ones I've ever been on...and there have been many. His house is also typical guy...cluttered (but not dirty) and plain, heavy emphasis on the electronics--surround sound for the movie in this case. I noticed that his laptop was beside the couch, and every few moments, his email program would make a loud Ting and he's lean over to check it. It didn't take long for me to figure out that he was trolling several other dating sites, and taking messages from all the interested parties even as I sat there. Same thing with his cellphone--text messages, ringing frequently...he mostly just looked to see who was calling and sent it to voicemail, or replied to the texts. I teased him about fielding all his other ladies while one's at his house, and he stopped looking at his email, quit texting back.

The pizza came and we sat on the floor to watch Pulse. I kept dropping pizza toppings on his carpet, which I could tell he wasn't happy about, so I ate one piece and switched to the wine. By now I knew we had little in common.

Pulse is a horrible movie, completely trite and sophomoric with the worst imaginable acting, about a computer program gone wild and making everyone commit suicide after infiltrating their dark and shabby apartments through their computers, all in this relentlessly grey setting. Even outside in broad daylight, no real color. All to make sure you get's an apocolyptic landscape, trash and newspapers blowing around the deserted city streets, buildings afire, the howling wind. And we watched some of the special features afterwards, and a confederacy of dunces paraded onscreen to explain how this very thing could happen...hairy old guys holding seminars on the paranormal, more rubes sitting rapt, nodding in agreement, yes, computers can take over and suck out our collective will to live.

And to J's credit, we made fun of the movie all the way through, shouting insults at the screen, then I closed his laptop and put it beside the couch so we wouldn't go hang ourselves from the ceiling fan in the bedroom. The man's no idiot, he's just not that great at picking movies.

I asked him where the dog was, the one from the pictures, and he said, "Oh, he died." Now I was a bit surprised...I asked if it happened while he was in Iraq, and he said, "Korea, actually." So I'm not sure if the dog was with him in Korea and died, or something happened while he as in Korea.

And then I remembered that picture, the dog's head by the porch steps...holy whore of babylon, is that head attached to the rest of the dog?? And why post pictures of your deceased dog, even if it is still alive in the photo?

I didn't ask. We talked for about another hour--we've had many of the same experiences in the Army--and then I left. He said he'd like to see me again, and I said, "Sure, call me." I won't be surprised either way, if he calls or doesn't.

But it was an interesting evening, to say the least, what with that picture of the doghead in my brain for the second half of the night.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Modest Proposal

Well, here’s something crazy…I’m considering a jaunt in Iraq to help pay for law school. I can go for four months with option to extend. I am determined to get through law school debt-free, and this looks like the only plausible way to make that happen.

I can do it this way, or I can potentially borrow and/or run up credit cards during school and start practicing law at age 40 with a crapload of debt. AND the bar often looks very unfavorably on bad credit—they figure if you can’t be fiscally responsible, you likely won’t make such a great lawyer. I do not want to put myself in the position of limiting my practice of law to the highest-paying option out of the need to repay debt.

Patience now will pay big rewards in the long run. And I’m not just talking smack when I say that going over there as a civilian is a whole different ballgame. The job they’ve offered me is something I teach and have a great deal of expertise with—I could do it very well, make a strong contribution to the effort.

Throw Imama from the Plane

I read an article today about the Imams ejected from the plane in Minneapolis/St. Paul (and the entire airline, turns out) after "an anti-American remark and ostentatious Muslim prayers just before boarding the plane," (as it was reported) and how they've hired lawyers in hopes of effecting a great public outcry about their civil rights. I didn't pay the story much attention until we began discussing it in the office, and did a little research. *Caveat*: I know, the internet is a mixed bag when it comes to reliability, as is any medium.

And something I found astonishing—turns out, according to the police report, they didn’t just say a little prayer, stand up, and quietly queue up to board the plane. No, they changed their seats to a pattern that would aid in a hostile takeover, requested superfluous seat belt extenders (which could be used to choke a victim), shouted anti-American, anti-Iraq war slogans, and made a big, loud production of the prayers—which is completely contrary to my experience with the Muslims I know who don’t want us all dead...which is 99.99%. Prayer is a more private affair, certainly not something for ostentatious display in that setting. Why would someone behave this way, knowing how it looked, the risks involved? It’s like joking about bombs as you go through security. It just isn’t done by anyone sane. So then you have to question motivations and possible desired outcome(s).

It seems the likely scenario here was that the whole thing was absolutely deliberate, for one (or all) of the following reasons: 1) They wanted to make an issue of it, get the airline in the hot seat, so that others might be more reluctant to remove suspect Muslims from the plane in order to avoid the profiling/racism charge, 2) It was a reconnaissance effort, meant to probe reactions of airline officials, fellow passengers, and our media as part of the planning phase of an attack, or 3) The most benign of the three, they wanted to make noise for the sake of making noise. Hence the follow-on protests…unless that also ties into reason 1. Note that before the plane even landed in Phoenix, these gentlemen's lawyers were already talking to Jesse Jackson and the press.

Now, granted, I understand that of course profiling was at work here. If a white dude hollered out some “Praise Jesus,” told everyone around they were going to hell, and loudly protested the war in Iraq, chances are he would’ve boarded the plane. But until a zealot Baptist blows up a plane or executes suicide attacks on civilians, that dynamic is reality. Yes, yes, Tim McVeigh…but that was a tiny group of wackadoos and we’ve not seen that type attack happen before or since. Hence, isolated. And that same behavior in a Muslim country? A day spent answering questions would be the least of your concerns, daddy.

Not all Muslims are terrorists—in fact, the vast majority doesn’t entertain the possibility. But in this particular point in time, the terrorists hell-bent on mass-murdering Westerners are Muslim. And all the media coverage, cultural sensitivity, and propaganda to try to “win hearts and minds” falls on deaf ears—once someone has reached that point in their hatred for the West, there is no going back. Period.

Kudos to the airline for standing firm, to the passengers for raising their concerns, and to the employees who had to make the tough call, at the risk of being labeled racist, xenophobic, etc.

And to anyone who would put this PC bullshit over the lives of American citizens: keep that naïve attitude until another mass attack takes place on our soil. We live in an era when the effective application of security measures will cause some folks to get offended because their civil rights are compromised.

You know what offends me? Dead Americans.

Sunday, November 26, 2006


My biomom’s (I was adopted as a baby and found them back in ’96) family in Tennessee is a hoot. My bio-uncle and aunt, Ed Neil and Carolyn, drove over on Friday for (my second) Thanksgiving dinner. The discussion turned to a hill near where they live that’s one of those illusory hills, where you can put your car in neutral and roll uphill. Carolyn expressed amazement, all wide-eyes and raised eyebrows.

“I declare, you roll right up that hill. Wonder how they do that?”

Someone said, “It’s an optical illusion.”

“Why, no it’s not, you’re really movin’!”

I hope she didn’t think I was laughing at her.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


Driving all over northern Mississippi (or Misipi, if you're a native) taking care of business for my law school application turned out to be a revealing little slice of my home state.

1) Drivers are exceedingly courteous here. If you're making a left against traffic, it will not take long for some kind soul to stop and wave you through. Same with backing out of a parking spot into the street. And then there's the Finger you pass an oncoming vehicle on a small road, there is this funny little one or two-fingered salute from the hand on the wheel. Hey, howya doin'.

2) The convenience stores do not carry half-and-half, you know, to use for coffee creamer. I stopped at five last night as I drove in...not one had it. That's the exclusive perview of the grocery store, whereas in NY and AZ, every convenience store carries it. I don't care to speculate about "what it all means."

3) There is no DMV. To change over my license and registration, I went to two distinct offices--the "driver's licence" office out on the highway, and the tax assessor's office downtown. While a bit inconvenient, would anyone lament the demise of the DMV?? Long lines, screaming kids, "take a number"...I didn't wait at all in either office.

4) At the "driver's licence" office, in huge, hand-scrawled letters on the wall behind the ladies processing your forms: "PUBLIC PROFANITY IS A MISDEMEANOR. VIOLATORS WILL BE PROSECUTED!" I must've been there on a good day, no one looked like they were fixin' to cuss the ladies.

5) I love barbeque. I miss barbeque. It's sloppy, it smokes for hours, it runs down your chin...I adore it.

6) Southern hospitality is not a myth. Everywhere I went today, everyone greets everyone else, even the cop at the social security office took the time to get me pointed in the right direction.

I can't wait to permanently finish up with Arizona and get back to Oxford without having to leave all the time. I always dread coming back out here--Arizona's just not home.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Made My Bed

Joe stood up, glared at me, and stomped out, slamming the door behind him. He'd already declared that he would never play in another hand against me again--he's a good player, but I always seem to have a slightly better hand when we end up in a pot. It's not that I'm a better player, it has just worked out that way every time we've played--I've taken him out every game for the last couple of months. It happened twice last night--the first hand of the night, he went all in, and I called...I had a pocket pair that made for a full house on the flop. Why the hell wouldn't I call? He also had a full house, but mine was higher--I had eights over tens, he had tens over fours. I don't know how that computes, but there you have it. And then it happened again later, when it was too late to rebuy--that was when he stomped out. He's a good guy, I don't take it personally, but he really hates to lose, especially to the same amateur player, every damn time. So now he hates me. Or not me, per se, he hates playing against me.

Wow. I took first place last night in the Poker League tournament...the one that's generally much tougher, where I just made it to the final table last week for the first time. Pretty nice little pot of money, too. This was an especially gratifying victory because I was down to nearly nothing TWICE and came back to win it. The guy who took second had a veritable mountain of chips all the way to the end--I managed to whittle away at it when we got to the final table. That's the thing about No-Limit Hold'em, why players maintain a love/hate relationship with it--fortunes can reverse in just a few hands, for better or worse.

Of course it's fun. Anything you're good at is fun. And when there's money involved? Even funner. Hard to believe I just started playing in August--now it's a big part of my life, I play at least once a week. I look forward to it all week.

And I'm convinced that being a woman can be a huge advantage at the table--we had a new player last night, some old guy who apparently wins at casinos all the time--who tried hard to bet me out of a huge pot. I had a feeling he was playing bully--when someone bets huge with 4,9,7 on the board, they are either bluffing or holding a high pocket pair. And in the case of a pocket pair, you wouldn't want to bet enough to scare the other player out--you want them to call, so you'll get their money. So I called and sure enough, my little pair of 7's held up. I really think many guys naturally assume you're a weak or timid player if you're a woman. It doesn't work anymore with the regular players--only when someone new shows up. The regulars have all played with me enough to know I'm more likely to call a big bet than walk away.

I hope I'm right about that. But I can't help but notice that there are never any women at the final tables at the World Series of Poker, and they have a separate "Ladies' Event." It's not that women aren't allowed to play in the main event, there just aren't many who do, and then make it that far. I watched the WSOP Ladies' Event and quickly decided I don't care to play in those tournaments--these bitches hissed at each other the whole time. The commentators kept referring to a "catfight." Talk about insulting and demoralizing.

I'd rather win as a poker player than as a Female Poker Player, in any event. And why a ladies' event in the first place? Poker isn't like running or doing pullups, there's no advantage that would necessitate separating the genders.

Like the question posed last night: Can Siamese twins play in the same poker hand? It shall remain a mystery.

Friday, November 03, 2006

My entire crew moved away in the span of six weeks. Shannon just called to tell me she's leaving for Tampa tomorrow morning--so I went to her house with the birthday present I got her and said goodbye. So she, Gus, and Bob constituted the only three people in town I cared to hang out with regularly, and they all abruptly moved to Tampa. The bright side of it for me is, I'll always have a place to go on vacation where I'll be 100% guar-aan-teeed a good time. Which will certainly come in handy during law school. But in the meantime, this drab little town just became that much moreso. *Sigh* I'm glad I don't live here year-round...those three people made it fun to be here. Without them, it's just work.

It's a good thing I started playing poker--I'll hit it with a vengeance once the LSAT is out of the way on December 3. I'll even start playing weekend casino tournaments, see if I can learn enough to sock away a little cash here and there. Mostly, though, it's just fun. Last week I took out one of the Grand Poohbahs of the venerable Saturday night game (the one I never win, the level of play is much higher). I'm starting to figure out how to read people and the play a bit more accurately, and to take more chances, call more big bets...which is how I took Rob out last week, I called his all-in and beat him with a pair of 5's. He was NOT pleased. Funny, these guys beat me and send me packing all the time and I laugh about it, figure that's the game, it's not personal. But when I win, they all immediately tell me they'll be gunning for me next time. It happens every single time I take someone out.

I've been watching World Series of Poker reruns, and there is one side of poker I really do not like--that juvenille, shit-talking, playground bully dynamic that often comes up. I've only played friendly home games, and I've even seen it there from time to time. I think women draw that reaction at the table was disturbing reliability--there are many men who immediately think the way to behave toward the token chick is to bully. Or try to. I vow that when I do start playing at the casinos, I won't take the bait. I won't make an ass of myself responding to some sophomoric trash talk. Taking someone's chip stack seems like the best response, and if you lose, at least you leave the table with your dignity.

Dear John Kerry--

Please, I beg you, SHUT UP!! Go home, go away, you've done enough damage to the Democratic Party over the last two years to last us all a lifetime.


The Sandbox

Sunday, October 15, 2006

As if I weren't homesick enough (for upstate New York, which I loved), this article in Cooking Light had to go and make it worse. It's on the Seaway Trail, a series of little highways up the coast of Lake Ontario to the St. Lawrence River. I used to ride my bike on those roads. The little beer glass on the map? Yeah, that's for the Sackets Harbor Brewing Company, my old haunt. And that crazy lighthouse is also in Sackets, where I lived before I bought my adorable little house and where I still had friends and spent a great deal of my leisure time. I really miss it up there, especially right now when the fall color is at its peak and the snows will soon fly. I loved my little house and my neighborhood. I'm beginning to think I should have worked at getting through the NY State Police Academy--I'd be in it now, in fact--or found some other way to stay up there...but here's the thing: being out here in a town and job I only feel lukewarm about has pushed me to law school. So eventually, it will all be the right path...I just have nearly a year to stick it out here and set myself up for success in law school and beyond. And maybe I can get back up there at some point.

And on that note, I'm taking a test-prep course (to the tune of $1400 I did NOT have to spend) three nights a week. It makes for some brutally long days--work at 7am for eight hours, drive over an hour, home at about midnight--but it will really be worth it. I've only had two classes so far, and the light bulb has already started burning.

Turns out we were all wrong about my friend S's boyfriend--he's an ass and she has dumped him. Now I'm sorry I encouraged her to work it through with him. He's deceitful and manipulative, he was cheating on her, and she's moving all the way to Tampa to get herself away from him. Which means that both of my close friends here are gone, both to Tampa. If I weren't so dead-set on law school next year, I'd do the same thing--I really do not like this town and I'm looking forward to getting back on my side of the Mississippi River without having to keep coming out here. This limbo stuff is for the birds, but I know it's what I have to do to get where I want to be.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

The Uda Loop

I am so averse to the bar scene here that I only go out on weekend nights to play poker. No poker last night, so I settled in to watch a movie and just enjoy my home—I still appreciate the normalization, not sitting in the den amid the piles of chaos.

My friend S called—she’s been dating T, which has been a huge relief to us all. S’s tastes have heretofore run to Thug, as in, plumber ass-crack pants, backwards baseball hat, that “I’m too cool for you people” air, you know the type. Not so with T—he’s outstanding, loves her kids, and seems the perfect solution to her aversion to moving through life without a man around.

But right now they’re having big issues, their first real fight. I listened patiently and provided what feedback I could, but after we’d gone over Every. Single. Minute. Detail, I became impatient and told her it was her decision, I can’t make it for her, and I had stuff to do. Bottom line, he got caught in a big lie, she completely melted down to the point of near-violence, and now he doesn’t seem to want to talk about it and work it out. Read=he didn’t want to spend hours going over Every. Single. Minute. Detail…hell, I’m a girl and it was about to drive me crazy.

I seem to think more like a man the older I get—I just don’t have the patience to microanalyze every utterance, every gesture, every text message or phone call. My final advice: first of all, NEVER have a meltdown like that, especially that early in the game. Men do not respond well to female meltdowns, ever. Even if he did something shitty, to me, meltdown=The End. I put myself in that situation, and if a man I was with completely lost his bearing like that, I would most definitely look to the door. Second, stick to the big issues when you finally DO talk to him…do not comb through the minutia. I know men HATE the whole “We need to talk” dynamic from the get-go, so to torture him with hours of explaining every single gesture would shut down any human with the patience of a sage.

So then we hung up and I went about the business of putting together a really killer tamale pie. It was in the oven when S called back.

“Hey, are you busy?”

Me: “Umm, sort of, why?”

S:  “Can you come over here? Because Cherie thinks I should dump him and I want to talk to you both at the same time.”

I hesitated. Keep in mind, S is ten years my junior. The prospect of spending the next two hours arguing over something I had resolved and dismissed in my own mind (and had long since tired of hearing about) sounded like about as much fun as a poke in the eye with a sharp stick. And to put a third party in the mix, a woman who’s been married to the same guy for over ten years and does not see this thing from the perspective of a single mother of two? Nein, danke.

So I compromised and went over to S’s house later that night—I’m a good friend and I know she needs to keep on talking about it…but MAN it’s easy to see why men think all women are neurotic naggers. Not that S is, but to obsess over it for a week straight…sigh, I’d rather be single forever than have to comb through minefields ad infinitum.

So now I’m on my way out to the desert to shoot my new firearms—the .357 hand-cannon and the .22 Luger. Which sounds like a much more satisfying way to deal with frustration than getting caught in the relationship Uda Loop.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Baghdad Burning

Baghdad Burning is a blog I like to read. This young Iraqi woman doesn’t post much—electricity is spotty, and internet access is rare indeed in Baghdad. You just don’t hear this perspective in the media—about how daily life has changed on a deeply personal level, the amount of effort required to shop for food or get across town to visit a friend. I’ve been reading her since 2003, when she started out hopeful that the Americans brought a better life with them. Now her writing is filled with anger and sadness—and she is a highly educated, moderate woman, not some easily-influenced, uneducated slum-dweller in Sadr City. The illiteracy rate among Iraqi women is over 80%—and that’s for Arabic. For English, it’s not measurable—but suffice it to say, this young woman is very unusual, to have the education required to write English so eloquently. Most English native-speakers don’t write this well.

This post really touched a nerve for me—it’s so beautifully written, so wistful, and such a sad snapshot of what life has become for most Iraqis, despite most Americans’ good intentions:

Summer of Goodbyes...
Residents of Baghdad are systematically being pushed out of the city. Some families are waking up to find a Klashnikov bullet and a letter in an envelope with the words “Leave your area or else.” The culprits behind these attacks and threats are Sadr’s followers- Mahdi Army. It’s general knowledge, although no one dares say it out loud.

In the last month we’ve had two different families staying with us in our house, after having to leave their neighborhoods due to death threats and attacks. It’s not just Sunnis- it’s Shia, Arabs, Kurds- most of the middle-class areas are being targeted by militias.Other areas are being overrun by armed Islamists. The Americans have absolutely no control in these areas. Or maybe they simply don’t want to control the areas because when there’s a clash between Sadr’s militia and another militia in a residential neighborhood, they surround the area and watch things happen.

Since the beginning of July, the men in our area have been patrolling the streets. Some of them patrol the rooftops and others sit quietly by the homemade road blocks we have on the major roads leading into the area. You cannot in any way rely on Americans or the government. You can only hope your family and friends will remain alive- not safe, not secure- just alive. That’s good enough.

For me, June marked the first month I don’t dare leave the house without a hijab, or headscarf. I don’t wear a hijab usually, but it’s no longer possible to drive around Baghdad without one. It’s just not a good idea. (Take note that when I say ‘drive’ I actually mean ‘sit in the back seat of the car’- I haven’t driven for the longest time.) Going around bare-headed in a car or in the street also puts the family members with you in danger. You risk hearing something you don’t want to hear and then the father or the brother or cousin or uncle can’t just sit by and let it happen.

I haven’t driven for the longest time. If you’re a female, you risk being attacked.I look at my older clothes- the jeans and t-shirts and colorful skirts- and it’s like I’m studying a wardrobe from another country, another lifetime. There was a time, a couple of years ago, when you could more or less wear what you wanted if you weren’t going to a public place. If you were going to a friend’s or relative’s house, you could wear trousers and a shirt, or jeans, something you wouldn’t ordinarily wear. We don’t do that anymore because there’s always that risk of getting stopped in the car and checked by one militia or another.

There are no laws that say we have to wear a hijab (yet), but there are the men in head-to-toe black and the turbans, the extremists and fanatics who were liberated by the occupation and at some point, you tire of the defiance. You no longer want to be seen. I feel like the black or white scarf I fling haphazardly on my head as I walk out the door makes me invisible to a certain degree- it’s easier to blend in with the masses shrouded in black. If you’re a female, you don’t want the attention- you don’t want it from Iraqi police, you don’t want it from the black-clad militia man, you don’t want it from the American soldier. You don’t want to be noticed or seen.

I have nothing against the hijab, of course, as long as it is being worn by choice. Many of my relatives and friends wear a headscarf. Most of them began wearing it after the war. It started out as a way to avoid trouble and undue attention, and now they just keep it on because it makes no sense to take it off. What is happening to the country?

I realized how common it had become only in mid-July when M., a childhood friend, came to say goodbye before leaving the country. She walked into the house, complaining of the heat and the roads, her brother following closely behind. It took me to the end of the visit for the peculiarity of the situation to hit me. She was getting ready to leave before the sun set, and she picked up the beige headscarf folded neatly by her side. As she told me about one of her neighbors being shot, she opened up the scarf with a flourish, set it on her head like a pro, and pinned it snuggly under her chin with the precision of a seasoned hijab-wearer. All this without a mirror- like she had done it a hundred times over… Which would be fine, except that M. is Christian.

If M. can wear one quietly- so can I.

I’ve said goodbye this last month to more people than I can count. Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were hurried and furtive- the sort you say at night to the neighbor who got a death threat and is leaving at the break of dawn, quietly.Some of the ‘goodbyes’ were emotional and long-drawn, to the relatives and friends who can no longer bear to live in a country coming apart at the seams.

Many of the ‘goodbyes’ were said stoically- almost casually- with a fake smile plastered on the face and the words, “See you soon”… Only to walk out the door and want to collapse with the burden of parting with yet another loved one.

During times like these I remember a speech Bush made in 2003: One of the big achievements he claimed was the return of jubilant ‘exiled’ Iraqis to their country after the fall of Saddam. I’d like to see some numbers about the Iraqis currently outside of the country you are occupying… Not to mention internally displaced Iraqis abandoning their homes and cities.

I sometimes wonder if we’ll ever know just how many hundreds of thousands of Iraqis left the country this bleak summer. I wonder how many of them will actually return. Where will they go? What will they do with themselves? Is it time to follow? Is it time to wash our hands of the country and try to find a stable life somewhere else?

August 8, 2006

Iraqis don’t care to move around like Americans do—they tend to stay near their families unless some great turn of fortune, for better or worse, befalls them. I cannot imagine the grief that each and every citizen of that country must feel.

That said, I remain deeply ambivalent about where to go from here. More and more, it’s becoming clear that security in Iraq is simply unattainable. The Washington Post reports that Col. Pete Devlin's assessment, written in mid-August, says that "there is almost nothing the US military can do to improve the political and social situation there,” speaking specifically about Anbar Province from the perspective of the Marine Intelligence Chief there. But, as we’ve seen, what happens in Anbar, generally foreshadows or mirrors events in Baghdad. And where the capital goes, so goes the entire country.

I don’t have much hope and I’m furious at this Administration for getting us into this mess in the first place (for reasons many of us still don’t understand and never will), then refusing to listen to the people who had the experience to know how best to conduct the operation. The decision-makers only cared to listen to the yes-men (including the intelligence community yes-men) who lacked the operational experience to dispense competent advice, and any military leader ballsy enough to speak truth to power was systematically humiliated and driven out of their long and distinguished careers. It’s no coincidence that nine of the Army’s best Generals Officers chose early retirement over the appointment to Secretary of the Army—no one wanted to work for Rumsfeld. Can you blame them, after what happened to Shinseki, Powell, and White?? It’s also no coincidence that many of these same General Officers have come forward to condemn Rumsfeld—and believe me, as a former officer, I know that takes some serious cajones. The climate and structure of the officer brotherhood rewards compliance with commanders and strongly discourages (to put it really mildly) even the appearance of discord with anyone of superior rank. This dynamic cannot be overstated and does not diminish in applicability after leaving the service.

So what now? I don’t know, I honestly don’t know. Iraq is already looking more and more like Afghanistan under the Taliban, where militias rule, terrorists galvanize and train, and absolute interpretations of the Koran dictate policy. If we leave, does it descend into complete chaos, or are we already there? Will the Iraqi “leaders” step up, or will a bloodletting pave the way for an even more permissive environment for terrorist training and recruitment? I don’t like what I think will happen if we leave (another Afghanistan, no real government and a Whole Lotta Terrorists), and I don’t like what’s happening while we stay.

What I do know is that I can barely stand to watch the news, when one or the other of the Administration Monkeys stand there and talk about how well it’s going. I can’t help but picture a tantrum-throwing child with hands clamped over both ears to the deafening roar of Evidence to the Contrary, shrieking, “We’re making progress!!! The Iraqi people chose Democracy when they voted!! You can’t vote and be a terrorist at the same time!!”

Really? Does anyone know whether Timothy McVeigh ever voted? Why is that a contradiction? When it comes to voting here in the Land of the Free, one thing is abundantly clear—a single-party controlled trifecta of White House and both elements of Congress is clearly not a good thing, not in any respect of what government is supposed to do for its citizens. There has to be some balance, or there are no checks. Even many conservatives feel it’s time to break the single-party stranglehold.

Sunday was the day the house was truly set back up again—I could have company without walking behind them saying, “It really doesn’t normally look like this, it’s still under construction, it’s usually much nicer…” I’m enjoying myself out here, but looking forward to going home to Mississippi next week, insha’h Allah. God willing.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Holy Card-Sharking Whore of Babylon, Batman!!

This is the pile of money I won last night playing poker in Tunica. I spent ten bucks on the initial buy-in and never bought more chips. I took second place in the weekly tournament I've come to enjoy so much. The reason I like tournaments so much, is that you only stand to lose your buy-in, which is never more than I'd spend at a bar or restaurant. There is no danger of losing large sums of money, which seems like it would cloud your judgement and serve as a distraction. The other reason I like these tournaments is that I'm getting to know the regular players fairly well, and it's a great group of folks, very friendly game where no one gets pissed when the girl who still accidentally says "Raise" when she means "Bet" cleans them all out. I still don't have the etiquette and terminology down, which leads to charges of card-sharking from the boys who show up wearing headphones and sunglasses, all business. It is great fun--I'm getting really good at punking people out, bluffing them when needed, and padding the pot--that is, getting them to put large sums of money on the table when I do have a winning hand. But that's probably not the correct term, either, I just made that up.

This is Tigger. Well, his track name was Chestnut, and I suppose I should be calling him RC Cola, since it looks like I'm going to keep him as Moonpie's companion. So his official name will be RC Cola, nicknamed Tigger--it just fits him so well, he's tall and skinny, red and black striped, with that funny-looking Roman nose. He had a rough time of it--got into a fight at the track and his shoulder was ripped up. He had surgery and kept tearing the stitches out--so when I got him, I had to keep him in a crate 24/7, walk him outside on a leash for potty breaks. He's only 18 months old, so life in a crate was miserable for him. But now he's paroled and a sweetheart of a pooch. I love walking the two of them together--they make a striking sight.

Wonder how he'll adjust to the back and forth between here and Oxford? I may need to leave them both here or there, pick one, and quit lugging the poor beasts around.

Friday, September 01, 2006

The Week in Pictures

I just got a new camera--it's small and takes lovely pictures. The Mondavi Vineyards--a perfect 72 degrees. And later in the day, into a different microclimate:

I tried to catch the condors that flew out from these cliffs--too far away. Someone tried to tell me they were pelicans--no way, these suckers looked prehistoric.

Damn, I have to go to work--I'll post more later...

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Birthday Fun

I’ve been waiting for my camera to boomerang back to me, having left it in my friend’s Saab in San Francisco, before I wrote about the trip. It bears adding photos, no doubt about that.

It was lovely. It felt like November, cool and damp and dark. But with the Bay Area’s ten thousand little microclimates, we spent equal time in glorious sun-drenched spaces, like the little restaurant in Tiburon on the water with the skyline and Golden Gate Bridge spread out before us while we ate Crabcakes Benedict and sipped Mimosas.

We met Luci’s old friend Marlow, a gay Asian nurse who rides a spankin’ BMW 5200. I’d known Marlow in New Orleans, and I think she’s lovely—she has this childlike enthusiasm and capacity for delight that all these years and thyroid cancer (she’s still in treatment) haven’t diminished. Other adventures: Napa Valley and Mondavi Vineyards, Chinatown, where I spent more than I had a right to with a house under construction, Stinton Beach, hour-long massages in San Rafael, the Ghiradelli factory…food, food, and more food. Hell, it’s vacation, that’s what it’s for. And we walked for miles, compensating for some of it. I’m back in the gym this week and the couple of pounds I managed to bring home have already gone away again.

And here’s an odd thing: while we wandered around Chinatown spending like tourists, the gauntlet was thrown down in a little bar and we started in on tequila shots. They normally waste me in no time flat, which is why they are for special occasions only. My 36th birthday, in this case, in Chinatown, with friends who promised not only to care for me, but suspend judgment if I wanted to get silly. I took three huge shots—the last one was served in a highball glass in a bar where I was surrounded by lecherous older men. It took me three passes to drink it all—it was more like two shots. And I felt NOTHING. A little giggly, maybe, but a long way from buzzy. And we’re talking Patron, not cheap shit. Maybe the cheap shit has more alcohol. But I gave up after that last one—why bother with shots if they aren’t working, for chrissakes??

I love the way northern California looks—the fog, mountains, the ocean, ethereal architecture. Too much of a commute to get from place to place and NOT a good area to ride a motorcycle, but a very cool corner of the Earth regardless.

Oh, the Reserves thing—I knew there had to be a catch. They would permanently take away the disability I get from the Veterans’ Administration. Screw that. OH, and I’d deploy for six months out of every eighteen. Double screw that. It’s one thing to sit here all comfy in Arizona thinking a deployment might not be so bad, but I know all too well that even in the best of circumstances—a good boss, a great mission, cool co-workers—I’d hate being deployed again. I understand that my center of gravity is my home—the pets, cooking, nesting. And that was what I missed the most while deployed—my home, the house itself, the total sanctuary of it. The nesting instinct became much more pronounced when I became a homeowner and it’s not likely to diminish as I get older.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I Must Be Nuts

“Would you be interested in a Reserve MI slot as the S2 in a CA BAT?/ I can get you a 10 thousand dollar bonus.


This message landed in my inbox this morning. CA=Civil Affairs, a component of Special Forces. And the crazy thing? I’m seriously considering it. A Civil Affairs Battalion would not have responsibility for the security of their Area of Responsibility, which makes a HUGE difference in what a deployment would look like. And Special Forces? Completely different animal from a light infantry brigade.

So I have some questions out to the guy who sent this to me—what does the unit’s deployment schedule look like, what educational benefits could I qualify for, what happens to my disability rating, etc. I understand it would mean deploying again—but as I said, completely different animal from conventional Army stuff. And the clincher—as a Captain with over 8 years in, I would make almost double what I make now if I deployed. Plus the $10K bonus. What about law school, you may rightly ask. I could still do law school…and if I deployed during school, I would pick up where I left off on returning. With at least $50K in savings to apply toward tuition and living expenses.

The next clincher—I could not be deployed more than one year in any five-year period. So if I did deploy, I wouldn’t have that threat of another deployment, and could join this animal called IMA—Individual Mobilization Augmentation. Which means for two weeks each year (or more, if I wanted), I could call my branch manager and choose whatever cool assignment I wanted—counter-drug in South America, diplomatic observation in the Balkans, that type thing. On my terms. Oh, and then there’s retirement pay if I stayed in twelve years.

But the experience is what is tempting me—Civil Affairs’ mission is out among the population, working with local authorities on stuff like getting clean water to them, infrastructure, etc. Basically, it’s working friendly with the locals, trying to improve relations and living conditions for them. Not shooting at them. Plus, most CA soldiers were active duty Special Forces types—which means that a great deal of the bullshit in the regular Army, the crap that runs counter to common sense, gets bypassed. And it may not be Iraq—CA does stuff all over the world.

So then the big question becomes, who would take care of Moonpie? That one, I’d have to study on, figure something out.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

The Lipstick Trick

I quit going to my usual nail spa after the third time I sat there for half an hour waiting for an appointment for which I arrived five minutes early. They were constantly overbooked, always working a walk-in between appointments and therefore, never ever on time. So then the obvious question becomes, why bother to make an appointment if you’ll get pre-empted by a walk-in every damn time? So I stood up, told the owner that this was the third and final time I’d wait and that I wouldn’t be back, and drove to the mall.

The nail spa there got me right in. The owner herself, an older Vietnamese woman, did my nails. I told her I’d just left Tam’s and she went into a tirade.

“He talk too much. He say he the only one who do Solar nail, everybody do Solar nail. I been in this business twenty year. I buy Solar nail wholesale.” She reached under the counter and produced a rather large jug of the powder. “See? He can’t get it wholesale. He come to me three year ago and asked for job, I said no, now he talk too much.” This went on for a good twenty minutes—the length of time it took her to finish my nails, about half what it took at Tam’s. And they looked fabulous.

If someone had told me a year ago that I would be a regular at a nail salon to the point where I had insight into the rifts in the local Vietnamese population, I never would have believed it. But at the end of it, the woman stood up and asked me, “What your name, young lady?” We shook hands and I told her I would come back and I only wanted her to do my nails, knowing it would please her. She was already pleased she’d stolen a customer away from Tam’s…I bet I’ll get right in and out of there with fabulous nails every time now.

So later that night (Friday), I drove out to my now-customary poker game. There are usually between forty and sixty players squeezed onto the tables, some in the host’s garage, some out on the patio. I always choose the patio—nice out there if you remember the bug spray. It was a gorgeous night—the mountains turning purple with the sunset, cool breeze. And I couldn’t help but notice a rather beautiful young man as he sat across from me.

I couldn’t keep my eyes off him, despite the indicators of youth that worked somewhat against him. He wore a black t-shirt which read, “101 WAYS TO TELL SOMEONE THEY’RE A STUPID MOTHERFUCKER!!” And it listed them out…fell out of the stupid tree and hit every branch on the way down, you know the drill. Horrible shirt that no one past the age of about thirty would wear. And a ball cap that had that Playboy silhouette you see on the mudflaps of big rigs, the seated big-boobed woman, you know the one. It said something about single moms and I already stared at him more than I should, so I never could read it properly.

Boytoy. That’s all I could think, watching his muscular chest beneath that horrid shirt. We watched each other—it was so much fun to play poker and flirt with this hottie under the radar. Rob, an old friend, sat to my immediate right and talked to me the entire time—Rob’s a great guy, hilarious, married but constantly pressing the EO limits by making comments about my appearance. He calls a “hottie alert” whenever I go to his office, in a different building from mine. That type thing.

So I have the Lecher on one side teaching me poker tricks and this beautiful boy across the table. He introduced himself immediately and held my attention by commenting on my game—damn you’ve got a great poker face, etc. Teasing me and locking his hands behind his head in order to flex his sculpted arms at me.

It was intoxicating. I couldn’t stop looking at his chest—this guy looked like something out of Men’s Fitness. He even had a cleft chin and blue eyes. I laughed at myself—I knew I was behaving just like a guy and I didn’t care.

And I played it—he flexed his chest and arms, and I played the Lipstick Trick. See, if you apply lipstick the right way and catch a man’s eye in the process, all nonchalant and accidental-like, it works like a charm. I don’t know what it is about that gesture, but every man I’ve tried it on has behaved as if I suddenly grew three cup sizes in a bikini. This guy looked like he’d been slapped.

How did I learn this trick? I applied lipstick in a bar one night with Shannon’s friend Harris in attendance, and he went nuts and let me in on the secret—you do that and catch a man’s eye, it’s the sexiest gesture in the arsenal. I’ve thanked him at least ten times since.

In this case, Boytoy played out long before I did, and hovered around the tables waiting to see if I’d play out soon…and I considered it, going all-in on a crap hand so I could stand up and see if he’d approach me on the way to my car. He prowled around, staring at me and my chips, for about half and hour, then gave up and left in a very loud little old sportscar. See, nothing in common. But I’m looking for him next time—smart, easy to talk to, and friendly, who looks like that? Who cares if he’s ten years younger??

I’ll be in California next Friday, going to San Francisco to visit my old friend Luci. So I’ll miss him this week—but I’ll go every Friday night I can. If for nothing else, to enjoy the cross-table tension and watch his big chest flex under whatever bad t-shirt he wears next time. I’m already one of the only females there, I may as well behave like a guy while I’m at it. Behave like a guy but look like a girl, with pretty nails and lipstick and heels. Oh yes.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Prodigal Daughter

My lovely grandmother (on the Bramlett side) passed. I didn't have time to drive all the way back, so I flew into Nashville. My boss wasn't happy--we're in the middle of a class--and logistically, it'll be messy coordinating the next Oxford/Arizona trip. But no arguing, Mamere died suddenly and peacefully as anyone could wish, and I needed to get home quickly.

I rented a car in Nashville—I’d reserved a compact and they’d run out, so I got a free upgraded to Luxury, which meant a funeral-black Lincoln Towncar. I thought the drive would be about three hours, which would put me there just in time to change out of the sweaty jeans and get to the funeral home for visitation. Four hours later (did I mention it’s been ages since I drove this route?) I pulled into the parking lot of a Zaxby’s Chicken, dug through my luggage, and changed into a skirt in the bathroom.

The visitation was set for 5-7 pm. When I pulled in at about ten after five, the greeting line was out the door and fully wrapped around the building. Grandmother was an Oxford icon, and the directors had to turn people away. I knew exactly four of the hundreds of well-wishers—my high-school guidance counselor (a great lady), my former boss in the Engineering School (another great lady), and representatives from our Batesville side of the family. Okay, so maybe it was about ten people. For not having lived there until recently for fourteen years, I guess that’s about right.

I discovered during the course of all this that my dad hadn’t been told yet—people were sick, there was so much activity surrounding the arrangements—so I made plans with my Uncle Stephen, Oxford’s Chief of Police, to ride out to the VA home the next morning and go tell him, make sure he would be up and ready to go for the funeral.

We didn’t call in advance, we just went out there. We wandered around a few minutes looking for his room, finally asked around, and found D-wing. There were men in wheelchairs everywhere you looked—catatonic or chronically disinterested in it all, needing help with basic functions—and I told myself that Dad wasn’t in that kind of shape, that we’d find him in the rec room playing cards or chess or something. His roommate was parked in front of their door as if on guard, his days in the military having never worn off. We asked him about Dad and he confirmed his housing status, and rolled back enough to let us in.

Dad was asleep, but dressed, no shoes. He sat up, confused, as Stephen told him about Grandmother—his stepmom. They’d been pretty close. Then Dad turned to me and asked, “So what’s your name?” I couldn’t hide the shock—at his evident neglect, at how much he has slid since I last saw him. “It’s Kristen,” I said. “I’m your kid!”

Excuses were made about my hair looking different, and I studied his external condition. I was horrified. His toenails were so long that one had begun to curl. There is no way to walk normally or wear shoes like this. His hair lay flat and dirty, unwashed and unfamiliar with the barber’s shears, not combed over his much-diminished scalp so much as smeared over. He was unshaven and it looked as if he’d missed many spots the last time he’d cranked up the electric. His face sagged and the look of total hopelessness had settled in. He didn’t smile once. Two years in this place had taken their toll. Mind you, Dad was always well-dressed and wouldn’t walk to the mailbox without a good shave. His hair never looked unkempt or uncut.

He remembered I have a dog, asked after him, asked if I’d heard from Jon (I heard through my still-solid local connections that he’s on the Gulf Coast living in a FEMA trailer and working for a non-profit), and looked as if we made him uncomfortable, like he wanted us to leave. He must know how he looks and it likely made him feel worse. He begged off attending the funeral, citing a pervasive nausea due to some medication.

I considered stopping at the nurse’s station and raising hell about his condition. But I don’t know the rules here as far as how much care they’re supposed to take. Is it normal to let an able-bodied patient go unwashed and uncared-for until his toenails extend an inch past his toes?

I think it was then and there that I made my next huge life-decision: I intend to return to Oxford and go to law school at Ole Miss. I'm more than halfway there anyway--I technically live in Oxford (although working in AZ could make things a bit weird).

I could study at a “better” school, more expensive, but I had a feeling this was the right move—I need to be near on a more permanent basis, take Dad out a couple of times a week, get back to my family full-time. I will likely practice there in Oxford when I finish—the female equivalent of the country gentleman lawyer. And as soon as I made the decision, everything began to magically fall into place. I can either rent or buy the lovely house I stayed in three miles from campus—it’s on a gorgeous piece of land, shaded by enormous old trees. Offers were made to speak to admissions officials—my family is deeply entrenched there, and I knew the built-in support system would kick in and take a great deal of the stress away. I will come out of it with very little debt. And Oxford is home, always has been. I won’t even have to live in a crappy little apartment like I’d expected, won’t have to make all the quality of life sacrifices I’d come to associate with school.

I'd been considering Georgia or Arizona, but I think this is the right move. I won't even apply anywhere else.

Maybe Grandmother’s passing at this pivotal moment was part of some link of fate. It felt true, like everything had been leading up to this, and I finally made the commitment to return to the one place on earth where I have some real history, still have some friends, don’t have to do everything by myself. Easy living and a cacophony of cicadas at sunset, fireflies and rain.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

...And The Hits Just Keep Comin'

I should start buying up lottery tickets, due to the debt karma owes me. My grandmother, who figured prominently in the better memories from my childhood, died this morning of a massive heart attack at the age of 88. She survived the death of her husband in the early ‘80’s and several strokes, but was still quite lucid and still got around town to visit with all her children and grandchildren. She came from an old south Louisiana family, smoked Pall Malls throughout my childhood, and had a wonderfully warm, raspy voice that never scolded the three kids, despite my brothers being extraordinarily wild and notoriously difficult to keep under any semblance of control. She was quite a lady and will be sorely missed.

So I’m flying into Nashville and driving down to Oxford this Tuesday. I’ll be glad to see my family in its entirety (well, minus my self-exiled brother), and I’m spending one night with the bio-mom in Tennessee on the way back to Nashville.

I don’t know if it’s just this summer, but this has quickly grown tiresome. I’m afraid to answer the phone or check email, wondering what the hell is next.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

One Foot in the Trailer Park

This all started with the rains. After seven months of scorching drought that drove the coyotes and mountain lions down from the mountains into the front yard, the monsoon rains swept in and so began the streak of hard luck that seems to have blanketed all of southern Arizona.

First there was my house. Then Gus’s fiancé broke his heart. Then Shannon got arrested for driving on a suspended license. They cuffed her in front of her kids and the one other woman in lockup told her that they don’t allow smoking in county, either. Bailing her out took seven hours and her boyfriend had to put his house on the line and three hundred bucks on the counter. The cops were courteous, but as soon as she was booked and shackled, the lockup staff treated her like a crack whore. Also in front of her kids, who tell anyone who will listen that Mommy went to jail. Shannon tried to explain to the boys, ages five and seven, that there are some things that happen in a house that aren’t discussed in public. The older one shrugged and kept right on telling us all that mommy had cuffs on both wrists and ankles. She didn’t have the money to pay for a speeding ticket from six months ago and drives like a bat out of hell on a good day, but who the hell am I to judge after I nearly destroyed my home with bad decisions?

Times like these bring it all into glaringly sharp focus, how little control any of us have over anything. Most people are hanging on by their fingernails and are one bad decision away from the trailer park on the corner of 7th and Busby, and it may be a long time before I can drive by the weed-clotted little dirt patches and not wonder how long I can hold out, even ensconced in the cool interior and black leather of my car. No amount of salary or savings can entirely neutralize the perceived threat, which has only grown worse in six weeks of living in one hotel or another here in town. I felt it most acutely when the nice hotel where I stayed before our business trip to Texas overbooked and landed me in that skid-row motel next to Domino’s Pizza. Other guests looked like they are on vacation from that same trailer park and the third mammoth cockroach I killed in the tub drove me out the door and back to the nicer digs near the front gate of the base.

This morning I helped Shannon move into the painfully dated house where she’ll live rent-free for one year while the homeowner is in Iraq. While suffering from three decades of bad taste, the home is enormous and is, after all, free.

Sunday, July 16, 2006

Despite the manner in which it began, this was actually a good weekend. I spent some quality time on my bike (the Harley)--I miss upstate New York, but there is good riding to be found here in Oxford. I've been riding every day at sunset (if it isn't storming), following whims on side roads up as it's getting dark. And somewhere along the line, I started feeling very comfortable on the bike, none of the white-knuckled grip-o-terror whenever the wind kicks up. I'm really enjoying it, and I long ago quit caring to look like one of the cool kids--I wear a full-face helmet (less wind=better visibility and comfy contacts) and have no desire to add all the expensive Harley accessories. It will ride the same regardless, so who cares if the pipes are stock?

Trouble is, my tailbone won't have it. It takes about ten minutes to get from dull ache to sharp pain, and yesterday I had a tough time even getting off of the bike, it hurt so much. I do need a new saddle, one wide enough to actually accomodate a substantial woman's injured ass.

Part of what spurred the riding, especially yesterday, is that my good friend, the retired Marine interrogator, was given the boot as he got off the plane. He was on the same business trip I was on--but don't even think of it, he's well outside my age range. We're friends, and I'm not interested in anything else. BUT, his longtime girlfriend told him she didn't love him anymore and got dressed up in her nicest shoes to go "stay with a girlfriend." I suspect there's another man and Gus is heartbroken. So heartbroken in fact, that he intends to leave town as soon as he can pack the truck and figure something out for himself and his two sons elsewhere, either Tampa or Iraq. He wants out of this town most posthaste, and I can't say I blame him in the least. I cannot even imagine how that must feel.

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Fourth of July, The Sequel

Spent my Fourth preparing for the business trip to Texas--eleven days of teaching and fighting the urge to eat bad things. I've been so good. I even went to Ross today and bought new work and workout clothes--I only have a few outfits of each, and I'm tired of washing stuff and hanging it on the shower rod.

Some random yard shots--it all looked much better without the construction debris and chaos, but the backyard is still pretty interesting.

Thank God all these ceilings are going away. HATE the popcorn. In the den and dining room, that dizzy broad tried to scrape it off without wetting it--so there are gouges and toolmarks, like a monkey went at it with a sharp stick. Then she smeared some sand-laden mud up there, and all over the walls in the foyer. I'm eventually going to have to manually sand it down--I'll make it a long workout and only do that one thing on whatever day I get to do it. I say, get to do it because that would mean I'm living in my house...and it looks like it will be quite some time before that happens. *Sigh*

Look at the wee little watermelon! It's smaller than a pingpong ball--I feel like a proud mama. It's a sugar baby variety--maybe it'll be ready to eat when I get back...along with the maters and corn. I bought special self-watering boxes and planted all this stuff--the strawberries never got off the ground, but the artichokes, basil, sunflowers, and carrots are coming right along. It ain't easy, gardening in the desert.

See the little yellow bird perched atop one of my bedraggled sunflowers? They are bedraggled because this innocent-looking little bastard has been directly chowing down on the leaves of the big, gorgeous flowers. So I won't be winning any awards for gardening. It's okay--my cats have eaten enough birds, I'm glad to pay them back a bit. What, you don't think some sunflowers leaves are a fair trade for early death by slow torture?

Now I'm back in the hotel and there is a huge approaching thunderstorm framed in my third-floor window. So now I'm going to watch it.

Happy Fourth. We are impossibly blessed to be Americans.

Thursday, June 29, 2006


I got the determination back from the insurance company—they will cover it, and the estimate stands at about $30,000. I shudder to think about the position I would have been in had they not covered it—max out all the credit cards, get some home equity loans, go back into the kind of debt I had after leaving college. After all I went through to get rid of that debt, to fall right back into that hole would have ruined my whole day. Not to mention my now-sterling credit.

The “contractor” seems to have disappeared. No surprises there. Given the charges and the various agencies that are after him, he’ll only delay the inevitable by running. We’ll get him soon enough…and everyone has his passport number. Score one for the hometeam for nicking it from his portfolio…I had to wonder why he had his passport on him in the first place. It’s all just desserts, his uppance will come.

I’m proud of my handling of this thing—I haven’t missed any days at the gym, I’m eating well, haven’t drowned my sorrows in tequila, and I’m letting my friends and family rally around me. I have a tendency to reject offers of help in the interest of not “putting anyone out,” but in this case, everyone seems to feel better when I accept some assistance. I’ve grown so accustomed to doing everything myself, I’ve had to accept that it’s not a sign of weakness to get help when things go horribly wrong.

I need to figure out what I'm doing here in Arizona, if maybe it's time to move back to Oxford permanently, and do this part time. I don't like it here and never meant to stay. This was the last straw.

Sunday, June 25, 2006


The other thing I have going on right now, is that I'm in the process of finally shedding the extra pounds I've accumulated in the last couple of years. I'm down eleven pounds so far, and counting. After trying over and over to do it myself, I joined Jenny Craig and started going to the gym at least five times a week, no exceptions. I even stuck to it through this nightmare week and lost four pounds since last Sunday. My clothes are looser, I'll soon have to buy new pants, and it feels extremely do-able.

What was the final straw? My old friend, Luci, snapped a picture of me at Jazzfest, with a huge bowl of boiled crawfish in one hand, and a crawfish puff pastry in the other. My arms look like an open can of refrigerated biscuit dough. I used to have enviable arms--muscle comes naturally to me. When the layer of fluff comes off, I have a washboard belly and great definition.

So off with the fluff. I'll post before and after pictures when the difference is dramatic enough to brag about. The last thing on my mind right now is food, so this is the time to make it happen.

Loose Ends

It occurred to me, reading through the last few posts, that I've left some loose ends dangling.

LSAT--I checked into a hotel in Tucson the weekend before I was to take the LSAT, and took three practice tests. I ran out of time on the logic section all three times, leaving 4-6 questions unanswered. I scored 161, 163, and 161, which is good enough to get into any of the schools I like, but not good enough for fat scholarships and grants. So I changed the test date to September 30 and bought two more workbooks for the logic games with the intent of gaining speed on the problems. My accuracy is good, speed is bad. It can be done. I'm also looking around for any workshops in the area that specifically address the logic problems--all the other sections of the test, I scored quite high. If I can pull my score up to 165, I can expect to get recruited--I can get at least that high if I work at it. They average the scores if you take it more than once, so there was absolutely no benefit to taking it now as opposed to September.

Patience, I've learned, can pay big dividends. If I'd been more patient with the roof contract, I wouldn't be typing this entry from a hotel room. I'd be in my pretty house with my animals and no daylight shining into the master bedroom from above.

This whole ordeal has demonstrated to me once again that living in a small town has its tangible advantages--I saw it when my mother was diagnosed with terminal osteogenic sarcoma, a fancy-schmancy name for cancer-that-will-spread-unabated-like-desert-wildfire. Oxford, Mississippi, quickly galvanized and rallied around her--and us, the helpless family. It was amazing.

The same thing has come to pass over the last four days with my house--neighbors I'd never met arrived with offers of help, the phone tree was activated, and I suddenly had District Attorneys, Judges, insurance adjustors, contractors, city building inspectors, you name it--they all showed up with pledges to string the contractor up by his toes and help me fix what's broke. Everyone was enraged. The contractor who owns the water extraction team has been in this business here for over 50 years and I suspect he has a granddaughter my age, as he seems to have taken this thing very personally. He was on the phone the whole time he was in the house saving my earthly possessions and minimizing the destruction. And comes by to check on the house (and me) several times a day.

That brings me to my new roofer. He came highly recommended and showed up while all this drama came down (with the ceiling) with his wife, who owns a cleaning business. They took me out to dinner and we talked about how to fix it. He immediately got up on the roof and spread thick black plastic, nailed it down for real this time, and sealed the roof. He's going to finish the roof at the minimum possible cost to me--these are good people. He'll work right through next weekend, one section at a time, and knock this thing out. And yes, of course, he is licensed--and has had no complaints filed against him, ever. They helped me move the furniture back inside and they call me every day to see if I need anything.

Like I said, good people.

I can't secure the house right now--all windows have to be wide open, fans in each, to keep mold at bay. The police pull into the driveway and walk around several times during each night, the neighbors are on alert, and I leave my car in the driveway to make it look like someone's home. I ride the motorcycle to the hotel. I halfway expect that jackass roofer (the first one) to come back and try to steal all my stuff to compensate for my keeping his tools. The police know about that as well, and they know to check him first if anything gets stolen.

And from my perspective, this just doesn't feel like such a horrible thing. Perhaps it's because everyone has been so kind, but I think it's because I spent thirteen months mired in the kind of misery that makes getting out of bed in the morning feel like a Herculean effort--Iraq has forever changed my perspective. Short of getting paralyzed from the neck down and/or someone close to me dying, nothing I ever encounter will ever feel like the end of the world after The Iraq Experience. Even in those few moments when it looked like insurance wouldn't cover this disaster, as the ceilings caved in and the ceiling fan crashed to the floor, it didn't feel like anything I couldn't handle.

In this respect, I'm fortunate--true despair may never visit me again, as long as no one's getting killed. And after all, the house and everything in it, it's all just stuff. As long as my standard of living isn't compromised in the long haul (which, make no mistake, it is not), losing stuff just isn't that bad.

That's what savings are for--a rainy day. Pun intended.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Disaster Chronicled

Remember this room from a previous post? Well, here's the cavalry trying to save my house. This was after the ceiling fan crashed to the floor--the water ran right through it until the ceiling gave way. I was in tears at this point. The roofer just sat in the kitchen with his head in his hands--he knew he was screwed. I'm done crying, I'm done beating myself up. Now I'm just angry.

Yes, Xine, it's illegal in Arizona to contract without a valid license. The minimum fine is $8000, and there are criminal charges as well. I reported him to the Registrar of Contractors this morning. And the IRS. And he's on disability, so I'm researching how to report that as well--I'm pretty sure that if you're collecting state disability for a back injury, you cannot contract to repair a roof. I'm just sayin'.

The master bedroom. I wish I had a picture of what it looked like with all the art and my gorgeous sleigh bed.

This is their version of "the roof is secured." Did they start making waterproof plywood? Look toward the bottom right corner--I'm pretty sure that water bottle is full of urine.

Yes, that's a cooler full of beer and a bottle of Jagermeister. Which goes a long way to explain the piss bottle--wouldn't want to negotiate a ladder while heavily intoxicated. I wonder how many times they just pissed from the roof into my yard? This photo will figure heavily in the lawsuit, I'm sure...I bet getting the plastic up there and secured would be quite a challenge on three-quarters of a bottle of Jager. I can't manage three shots of that stuff...see how the bottle floats? That's because it's nearly empty. So if some assclown gets drunk while repairing your roof and falls off, you, the homeowner, gets sued.

See why I want to become a lawyer? I will not be the ambulance-chasing, burn-your-tongue-on-coffee-and-sue-type lawyer, even if it means I turn away many potentially lucrative cases. I will only represent people like me, who were genuinely screwed, against dirtbags like this "contractor."

Revenge is a dish best served cold. One day, I'll watch his face across a courtroom as the verdicts are read--and I would imagine that a jury here in southern Arizona, where homeowners have issues with contractors regularly, would give me maximum damages. Sure, he doesn't have anything to go after (and the insurance company will get whatever he does have), but I'll sue him anyway. He'll never get a mortgage, never get another contracting license, never get a tax return, lose his disability, and the IRS will do their thing.

So this little fiasco cost me $8000. I hate to lose it and I will likely never see it again, but at least I had it to lose. It came from my savings, the money I made in both Iraq and selling my house in NY.

This is the top view of the dumpster in my driveway. To add insult to injury, I still have to pay the trash company to haul it away, to the tune of over $700. Nothing like paying for things twice--the roof, the haul-off, the whole deal.

And now for the grand finale:

This is the trunk of my car. These are his tools. 'Nuff said.

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Absolute, Utter Disaster

I made a mistake which I will forever review as The Stupidest Thing I Have EVER Done. I hope I at least get some wisdom out of this. I cannot BELIEVE, that after all I've done and been through, that I can be this stupid.

I hired a roofer from Tucson (not the one I mentioned before, he gave me the creeps) to come down here and get this roof torn off and recovered. So they showed up, ripped off the roof, and suddenly there were all kinds of excuses--one guy quit, one guy hurt his back, blah blah blah. It was taking too damn long to finish, and I was starting to get ugly, starting to be alarmed--shit just did not seem right. There were usually only two dudes here, I'd see them sitting around shooting the shit, and despite all my raising hell, they were dragging their feet, and they had over $8000 of my hard-earned money.

Keep in mind, during all this, that my roof is flat--it's a Santa Fe style house, over 2000 square feet, one essentially, all roof. And as a flat roof, the ceiling is only about a foot below the outer surface, with nothing but insulation and wiring in between.

So imagine my panic when I walked outside today--here, in Arizona, where I can count on the fingers of one hand how many times it has rained since I moved here, and it has never soaked the ground--and it was storming like it was the end of the world. I rushed home to find these two clowns struggling with a tarp on the roof...and inside? I've taken pictures, I can't post them right now because I'm in a hotel and the camera cord is someone in the disaster that used to be my home. It is indescribable.

Water water everywhere does cause the boards to shrink...and the ceilings to cave in. It cannot be overstated, the catastrophic level of destruction. I got all the furniture and precious things into the one room that wasn't ruined (it caved in later, after The Cavalry arrived and wrapped it all in plastic). But everything else? Carpet, walls, ceilings, wiring, all destroyed.

So I called the insurance company, halfway expecting them to laugh and say, "Oh, hell no, we don't cover man-made disasters," but they put me through to the national office, who determined that wind WAS a factor--it blew the tarp off. The tarp was nailed down, that I can prove. So *thank God,* Divine Providence is, for the moment, smiling on me.

So here's where it gets even more distressing...the insurance company told me to call a water extraction team, and they decended upon the home like a flock of condors. The owner/foreman walked through the house, got on the phone, and said, "Tammy, I need you to call everyone in, I need everybody, the whole crew." You know you're in trouble when the WATER EXTRACTION TEAM FOREMAN shows signs of alarm. But THEN (oh, it gets even better), the foreman confronted the roofer, who was sitting at the kitchen table with no color in his face (after my rather large former-Marine buddy threatened to kill him), and asked to see his contractor's license. AND HE DOESN'T HAVE ONE. Well, according to him, he didn't have it with then I checked the Arizona State Board of Contractors website (little damn late for that, huh?), and didn't find his name.

I must be the biggest fucking dumbass on the planet. Pardon my French, but this kind of catastrophe threatens my entire financial future, and I'm not exaggerating. The guy showed me a portfolio, but I never asked to see his didn't even cross my mind. What the HELL am I going to do if the insurance company ultimately denies my claim because this shitbag has no license???

I'm encouraged that they sent me to a hotel and called in the team. But will this all change once they find out he has no license??

As it stands right now, things are okay--I may even come out ahead: as we speak, they are ripping out the carpet, linoleum, and popcorn ceilings that I hated. Didn't hate the walls--in fact, spent a great deal of time and money painting them--but at any rate. Assuming the insurance covers it, I get many of my home improvement projects knocked out most ricky-tick.

But the roof?? There is no way in HELL I trust these idiots to finish--so I'll have to hire a new roofer, and the startup fee I paid (8000 dollars!!) is gone until all the lawsuits run their course. And all the insulation up there has to be replaced, and it's the start of monsoon season, and how the hell am I going to fix this thing???

I am currently accepting any and all donations, seeing as how I'm homeless and just threw away my $210,000 investment, otherwise known as my home. All right, everyone pray with, please get me out of this mess.

*Sigh* Hindsight is 20/20. Hard lesson to learn--but never never never hire anyone to so much as pound a nail in your home without asking to see their license. Just ask me, the homeless, distraught woman you'll soon see wandering the aisles of Home Depot buying stacks of tarps to keep stretching across my roof for the entire monsoon season.

My two best friends came over to see what they could do, and I had my freakout with them--I haven't cried like that since Iraq. I've worked so hard and gone through so much to buy this home, to live to this standard, to have it all ruined over something I SHOULD HAVE BEEN SMART ENOUGH TO AVOID.

But I'm done freaking out, and now it's just time to pick up the pieces, empty my savings account of all the money I had socked away for law school (not much, after shelling out for the roof), and figure it out. I'm getting back to Oxford for sure now...this town sucks and I want out ASAP. I think I'll leave all the rest of my crap there (thank God most of this furniture was rented and insured), and I just made up my mind to unload this house and get off the fence, go South, and make AZ a part-time gig. I'll sell this house as quickly as I can, stay at J's house when I'm out here, and hang out with my uncle in Oxford for the rest of the time.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

Day at the Races

Dave, the hero who saves all the Greyhounds in AZ, NM, and TX, called Friday afternoon.

"I have an emergency," he said.

"What's up?"

"I just got a call from the track vet." The track is a Greyhound park, where many of the hounds come from. "They're about to put one down--his racing weight was 72 pounds, and right now he weighs 48. I'm in Texas--can you go get him? The deadline's six o'clock."

It was four, and the track was at least an hour away. "I'm on my way," I said. I was at home, just got back from the gym (I've been such a good girl), and the prospect of striding into the Greyhound Park and rescuing an emaciated pooch sounded like just the right way to spend my Friday evening.

I arrived at 5:30. The track had gotten into some bad meat, and over thirty dogs were sick. I cannot describe the smell--it rivals only some of the crap I saw in Iraq for shock value.

And this one, named Braveheart, is what I found:

If you've ever considered whiling away an afternoon at the local Greyhound park, just stare at this picture a minute or two.

He's been sick, the guy says, then he got that bad meat, and he's just not getting any better.

Moonpie, my big Greyhound, weighs 70 pounds. Look at the difference:

Sorry for the crap camera-phone pics, but the real camera is out of batteries.

This other dog's racing weight (generally the lightest you can safely get the dog) was 72, and Moonpie's couch potato weight is this is a big Greyhound. And he weighs 48 pounds. So needless to say, every time I think about it, I'm feeding him hotdogs, cooked hamburger meat, rice, eggs, nutrition shakes, medication, canned dog food...he probably doesn't know what the hell is going on. He's scared of the doggie door, so I have to take him outside every hour or so, he still trembles, and he's extremely timid.

But I'm already seeing that look, the same one my other foster dog had, the one who also just came off the track. He's loving it. I lifted him onto the couch last night (no amount of coaxing could get him to jump up there), and he sat there, still as a graveyard, staring at me, clearly confused. Then he fell asleep, and woke up, looked around the room, shifted his bony frame on the cushions, and let out a big sigh. This is the life.

The only reason I haven't already decided to keep him, is that I'm going to law school next year...if I have two big dogs and two cats, I might as well accept the fact that I will have to buy a house. Finding a rental with a fenced backyard that will allow my menagerie might be challenging, not to mention expensive. I might have to buy something very cheap, not as nice as I'm used to, so that I can avoid roommates and keep all the accumulated strays and gypsies in their accustomed level of comfort.

I may end up keeping him anyway. He's a very sweet dog, and Moonpie loves him. If I do keep him, he will be RC Cola, so that the two of them together pay homage to the classic Southern Scooby Snack. It's weird, but their coloring works for their respective namesake--Moonpie looks like a vanilla moonpie, RC Cola has all the colors of a tall cool glass.

I'll probably keep him. It's almost like it was meant to be.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Holy Ass-Melting Car Seat, Batman!!

Oh, yes. The skin from my hamstrings shall peel off on my black leather seats. And go crunchy directly. At least I'm not wearing forty pounds of gear.

So this guy is coming down here from Tucson to do my roof. He's doing it for about three grand less than my lowest bid to date, he's licensed, and he's going to run wiring into the ceilings so I can have ceiling fans in the bedrooms. See, right now, there are no fixtures on the ceiling--each room has a wall sconce. The one in my room is actually kind of nice, but in the other two bedrooms? Oh, my. They look like cheap '70's bathroom lights. Which is most likely what they are, just incidentally.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Hold My Beer, I'm Fixin' to Try Somethin!!

James is this good-looking Border Patrol Agent. We chat from time to time, even though he lives about forty minutes from here in a little Copland town. He asked me what the fee for the LSAT is these days, clearly insinuating that he possesses some knowledge of that test, and here's my response--it's rare that I'm proud of an email, but I like this one:

"I registered several months ago...I think it was $110, but don't quote me on that.

The appliances turned into a total fiasco--to make a long story short, the two dudes who came to deliver and install my new range and refrigerator got soaked from head to toe and at the end of it all, there was water gushing out of my ceiling. Yep. Just another day out on the prarie. And now I have to drill a hole in the house to get water to the icemaker. Go figure. I think the Sears guys were completely mystified by it all. The previous owners of this house must've had an Uncle Cletis who came over with a six-pack and did all their wiring and plumbing..."Hold my beer, I'm fixin' to try somethin..." It's pretty bad...*sigh*...bit by bit, I'll get 'er up to code. It's a great house, though, worth the trouble.

Did you take the LSAT at one point? Lemme guess, you scored absurdly high and now you're going to try and punk me out...bring it on, I can take it...165? Higher??"

It's not undue flattery, he's a pretty sharp guy. And the bit about the appliances--well, this a blog, not an email, so I'll elaborate. I bought gorgeous new stainless steel appliances for the kitchen, and had the fridge and range delivered first, since they don't take much installation and my moving cabinets around won't matter. So they show up, these two bubbas, and one strongly reminds me of Woody Allen at his absolute bitchiest, bossing the slow one around, ostentatiously impatient and annoyed with his subordinate. The other one was guileless as a stuffed animal. But you could tell his heart was in the right place.

So the range goes in, no problem, and they pull out the white refrigerator, disconnect the water line to the ice maker water-door thingy, which worked when I first viewed the house, but not after I moved in. And they get the fridge out as I'm sweeping up the dust kittens, and we all witness that there are two (2) water valve stems, one connected to the white fridge, the other not. So they figure out that it leads to the sink on the other side of the room, and switch them out. So Woody goes under the sink to turn it on, frickin' cranks it, and jumps right up before he's had time to realize that water is shooting from the wall and all over the simple one. And by that time, it was soaking his ass most democratically.

He went on and on about how he couldn't understand how it could happen--it was pretty weird--and we swiched to the other hose, the one that had not been connected to the old fridge, the one that has just firehosed these two dudes from Sears. Then Woody goes back under, doesn't friggin' crank it this time, barely opens it...and we hear water pour into the ice maker. See? It comes out of the door just fine, let's push the new, stainless steel fridge back against the wall.

I keep thinking the two guys are standing too close, because I keep feeling dripped on. A little surreal. Even moreso when I looked up and water gushed from the ceiling, the part I'm told is called the soffett, where the a/c ducts are. Flat roof, you know, nothing between the ceiling and the actual roof.

Turns out, when they replaced the east side of my patio due to termites (all gone now), they'd snipped the water hose that came from inside the kitchen, out the patio wall, along the patio ceiling, to a spot on the wall that I now have to drill so that we can reach the extra valve at the water heater. I drilled holes in the ceiling so that the water would drain out most ricky-tick, then cranked the a/c to dry it out. Patched the holes in the ceiling, painted over it, seems to be okay.

A pox on that previous owner, though. I don't even want to disrespect anyone's Uncle Cletis, I'll just hypothesize that they were hopeless drunks with an endless supply of duct tape.