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.