Saturday, May 19, 2007

Major Distraction and the Downward Facing Dog

This environment is just soaked in testosterone. And this time, it's in a good way.

I once read that men think about sex once every nanosecond, women once each ten seconds, something wildly disparate like that. I think I've migrated more toward the nanosecond side of the scale. And who could blame me?

You can't swing a dead cat around here without hitting an athletically built man wearing a fitted shirt tucked into fitted cargo pants, many with a gun hanging off. AND they're smart, witty, driven, all the characteristics we ladies really like. Well, at least this lady.

I stare at their backs when we stand in line for chow, follow the lines of all those well-defined shoulders, picture the washboard abs. Watch them like a circling tigress in the gym. I'm undressing these men with my imagination with increasing frequency and intensity. It's both distraction and motivation; I spend at least 90 minutes daily at the gym and the two I like to watch the most are there at the same time I am every day. I'm never late and neither are they.

So is this what it's like for most men? To walk around in this state all the time??? If this is, indeed, the case, I'm beginning to understand some of the behavior that puzzled me in the past--why would X ruin his/her career and marriage sleeping with that brainless private?

It's different, though. What I'm understanding is the temptation. I only ogle the ones whose temperaments I find agreeable. The really young ones are out, no matter what they look like. Similarly, the guys who stare at themselves in the mirror and prance around the gym don't even warrant a lingering glance. But the barrel-chested Major (no wedding ring, a girl can look) with the face that's a little off, but when he smiles, transforms the room? The one who does his pushups right in front of my elliptical trainer, then spends about ten minutes stretching, complete with Downward-Facing-Dog, also five feet away? God help me. He has to know I watch him, I don't even bother trying to keep it subtle. If he minded, he'd move.

Like I said, not a very ladylike way to think.

I don't cross any lines that could lead to trouble with anyone who's married, period. There's always that point in these work relationships when a fun little daily flirtation could become more serious if you take the verbal bait that's dangled. I still ogle them, but I'm no home wrecker. The Agent who greets me with "Hey, gorgeous" every morning, to which I reply, "Morning, cowboy?" Married. "Cowboy" is all he's getting. He can do pushups and Downward Facing Dogs in front of my desk all day long, it's going nowhere.

Actually, the thought of this guy doing pushups and DFD in front of my desk, that's a nice visual...great, now my concentration's blown for the next two hours.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

You Think YOUR Shit's Hot...

There are many little reminders, even ensconced in our thick, air-conditioned building, that we are indeed in a third-world country.

This morning I rolled out of bed at about 7am--yes, I get up at the late (for me) hour of 0700, since all I'm doing is walking downstairs--and went to the bathroom next to my room. As I sat down to rid myself of the gallon of water I drink each day, I noticed that the toilet was HOT. Not warm like someone else just got off the can, but like luxury-hotel heated hot. Which would be great if you're in Colorado getting ready for a day out on the slopes, but we're at a daytime high of about 110ยบ here, and by 7am, it's already in the 90's. It just don't feel right. A toilet shouldn't be hot because sewage shouldn't be hot. Heat=fumes=dry heaves. It's just that simple.

I stood up and looked around. It was coming from somewhere, this wave of heat. It made the bathroom smell funny, and not in the luxury hotel way. I touched the pipe to the shower--it's always hot. Each day, you have to carefully test water temperature for both the shower and sink--one day, the left is hot (boiling hot, take your skin off hot) and the right is cold. The next day, it's the other way around. Or both cold. Or both hot, which means no shower.

Someone will have to explain to me how the physics of separate pipes translates to the daily switcharoo--is one of the Iraqis who works on the building swapping them out at the water heater, just for shits and giggles? I climbed into the shower one day, having cranked only the cold water after a long workout, and damn near skinned myself when the cold water cleared the pipe and the lobster boil was on. It only happened once, and that's all it took.

I touched the exposed plumbing by the shower, then put my hand on the top of the toilet tank to steady myself as I touched the showerhead. And lo and behold, the toilet tank was FLAMING hot.

We have boiling water in our toilets. I swear I'm not making this up. Unpleasantly fragrant steam wafted from the bowl after I flushed.

Then this afternoon, I spent an hour on the elliptical trainer. One more perk of working in this building in this job--I leave at about 2pm each day, work out as long as I want with my cellphone handy in case of emergency, then wander back in at about 4:00, work until maybe 9pm. So back to the workout--I was into it, and the hotty-body Major was in front of me running on the treadmill. Good music on the iPod and plenty of iCandy to go with it. Do you blame me for spending an hour on that machine??

I felt a vibration, and not the laser hottie rays from the running Major. Then another. And another. I took my headphones off. One. After. Another. I figured it must be building construction, we never get that many rounds of indirect fire (rockets and mortars) at one time. I put the headphones on and kept on staring at the Major's ass.

Found out very quickly--yep, it was mortars, over 20 of them at one time. You'll probably see it on CNN. We are not the target and no one here was injured.

Just another day in the Sandbox--steaming turds and raining mortars.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Tree Poker and the Gatekeeper Wench

I owe you a big post. I've been busy in a good way--I got promoted to a position of greater responsibility and I'm drinking from the fire hose from the retired Special Forces Sergeant Major who had the position here for two years. Big shoes to fill, but I can do it--I'm charged with managing a big piece of our operation, to include keeping it all within legal parameters. Great training for law school, I'm thinking. I hate to walk away from the job I was doing, though, which was working directly with the Agents on Jaysh A-Mahdi and Al Qaida to roll up some of the turds killing our brothers and sisters. Needless to say, that was very rewarding and often rather exciting, but they needed me in the new position more...what're ya gonna do? Salute smartly and cowboy up, that's what.

This looks great on a resume'. But the thing is, my resume' looks great for anyone in the intelligence business. It's damn near unintelligible--pun intended--to anyone else. I can't imagine what the Law School Admissions Office made of it, despite my best efforts to put it all in layman's terms.
And I just decided to do a whole year, plus maybe even a couple of months after that, to help pay for law school. I'm already so far behind, one year won't matter...and it could mean getting through without debt. I was only supposed to be here for a few months, back in time for the fall term. But this feels like the right thing to do.

I spent last night under a huge tree by the Embassy pool playing poker. This tree is amazing--the branches dip all the way to the ground, it's filled with birds, and there's a patio within this cool, green canopy, little lights all around, and salsa music playing from the pool area. It was right civilized, felt like Key West. They don't allow cameras in there, unfortunately, or I'd post pics.

It's every Friday night, so I can keep playing, provided the nasty control-freak civilian wanna-be-General broad chooses to bestow upon me a coveted Embassy badge. At this time, I have to have an escort--and this gatekeeper broad doesn't allow just anyone to escort, either. That's an additional privilege on the original golden badge, and handed down like a gift from Divine Providence. There seems to be no codified system for the award of such badges and privileges--you have to catch this woman on the right day and suck up to her with just the right amount of obsequious shuck-and-jive, for if she refuses you once, you are forever damned to eat the horrid chow we have on my little compound.

Hell, even the Sphinx gave folks three shots before damning them to hell.

This environment promotes huge egos, nepotism, and general silliness in all things related to quality-of-life. All the chow halls are in one big pissing match--you have to have a badge for each specific one, and ours is the worst of the bunch. It all started with the Embassy and their gourmet fare--they decided that eating there was not a right (despite the fact that Lockheed Martin pays huge money for me to eat over here, and it's the same rate for everyone, regardless of where you eat), and tightened the noose by yanking all badges by personnel who don't live/work right there in the Embassy. So then all the other chowhalls followed suit, as if anyone would want to eat in most of them, and now the International Zone is one big can of spiders--shake it up and watch everybody eat each other.

It's like one of those psychology experiments where the subject is given a red button to push to torture a prisoner under their control, and they ratchet it up just because they can. And we are under the control of the select few wanks in the Embassy who are The Deciders--we're a captive population, and all of our quality of life details are in their hands.

One more example of how this can make things Extra Stupid: AAFES, who runs all the American shops, has a local manager here who has taken it upon himself to quit cashing checks. There are no ATM's in Iraq. The only other place to cash a check? Oh, yeah, that would be THE EMBASSY (see issue #1). Why? Well, AAFES doesn't want you to have cash, because then you'll spend it someplace other than in AAFES shops. Instead, you can get an Eagle Card, which allows you to spend your money in...yep, you got it, an AAFES store. But how this ludicrous Eagle Card differs from a good ole debit card, someone will have to explain to me. Oh, here it is--you can get a whopping $20 cash back when you use a debit card--which leads to long lines as we all buy one bag of chips at a time until we have all the cash we need. No cash back on an Eagle Card


It all makes about as much sense as a shampoo cocktail and goes down about as easy.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Planet of the Apes, Part Two

OK, back to the tour. I did a little research for your edification. I found some "before" pictures...that is, before we bombed the shit out of everything. Al-Rashid Hotel: this was as close as I could take pictures; the hotel is a huge target, so no photos are allowed on the grounds. Shame, too, because it's considered Iraq's finest hotel, but the once-grand gardens are clotted with weeds but the rose bushes are coming back nicely. You can see a little of the pock-markedness of the facade, but it's a bit chilling up close: the rockets and mortars have clinked out dozens of windows. The hotel was built in 1983 and was named after Harun Al-Rashid, an Abbisad Caliph, who reigned from 1135-1136. After the Gulf War Saddam had a tile mosaic of President George H. W. Bush’s face, as well as the inscription “Bush is Criminal,” installed in the floor of the hotel’s entrance, requiring visitors to step on his face to enter the hotel--a grave insult in Arab culture. They must've gotten the prototype photo from one of those "Separated at Birth" bits. I won't venture to guess who/what the "twin" was. Within days of the coalition taking control of Baghdad in 2003, U.S. Soldiers removed the mosaic. The shops in the lobby are wonderful--I bought a painting that reminded me of an Arab Renoir--beautiful light. Shocking, because most of the artwork you see around here is stiff and painfully cliche', like Native American paintings for sale in a second-rate tourist district in the Southwest. I paid sixty bucks for it. I'll go back for one of the exquisite, hand-woven silk rugs once the United States sees fit to allow me to get my own money out of my checking ATM's here and they act like they're loaning you the money when you try to cash a check at the Embassy. But that's another gripe for another time.Believer's Palace: Yeah, you better have been a Believer if you were inside when this muldoon got hit. It reportedly housed regime officials. Actually, it's not really a palace--it's just a shell for the bunker below, which was built by a German firm for protection against Iran. Despite being heavily bombed in 2003, bunker remained relatively undamaged. The 3-level sprawling bunker was large enough to house 250 people, had an air filtration system and large kitchen, and was fully prepared for an attack with biological or chemical weapons. It could also generate 3 megawatts of power. Between the palace and bunker is even more protection, a two-floor "plug," which served as a reinforced helmet to make up for one of the bunker’s shortcoming of being only 50-60 feet underground. Worked, evidently.14th of July Statue: Named in remembrance of the 14th of July Revolution. On July 14, 1958, Arab nationalists led a coup that killed King Faisal II and his family, which ended the British monarchy’s reign in Iraq. This revolution should not be confused with the bloody coup on February 8, 1963, also known as the 14th of Ramadan Revolution, which brought the Ba’ath Party to power and eventually led to Saddam’s reign of terror. Iraqi Biker Bar: Sorry, I couldn't resist.

Stay tuned, more to come...these photos take time to upload, with our less-than-snappy connection. Not complaining, just statin' the facts, ma'am. Still trying to get the "before" pictures to work...

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Planet of the Apes, Part One

In at least two parts, because I have to go back to work, and my connection, while wireless, is slow.

Bob has been here--Iraq--for two years. He's a retired Special Forces Sergeant Major. So when he offered to take me on a tour of the Green Zone, of course I accepted.
This is the palace Saddam built for one of his wives' mother. That is, the mother of a favorite wife. It caused great jealosy among the other wives and mothers. But how loudly can you protest to the guy who assassinated his own son-in-law? Note that we bombed the crap out of it. Now it's some sort of military headquarters. We've concocted an elaborate episode of While You Were Out for the Ba'athists.

That big structure on the right is the Mahmun Tower. I'll edit this post when I find out what it was and is.

Everything here has that eerie, Planet of the Apes feel to it. I'll have to post a photo of the gym in the building where I work--it's like hitting the elliptical trainer in an abandoned Roman bath, all marble and columns.

Same building, closer up. The three guys in blue are, indeed, vogueing for the shot.

The Tigris. Source of all civilization. If it looks brown and shitty, that's because it's brown and shitty. That's Baghdad University on the left. I saw a wonderful documentary about the Fertile Crescent that went into how some civilizations developed more quickly than others, about how it all started here because wheat was indigineous and contains protein, and hence there was enough surplus energy and food supply that some members of the society were free to experiment with tools and invent stuff. This area is where the first farming took place, then spread along lines of latitude (roughly) to Rome, India, China, and points east and west. Then the Fertile Crescent held the most advanced of all civilizations due to guys who could get away with not hunting or gathering. Until they overfarmed it and there was a climate change, not sure which came first.
But the wealth all dried up (until oil came along) and left them with this barren, hostile place. Entire cities and civilizations burned, fled, who knows what.
And with that, I have to get back to work.