Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Only 17 Days...

...until I go on leave. Not that I'm counting or anything.

I put a deposit down yesterday to a plastic surgeon...that's right, folks, the AA's days are numbered. After 37 years of not being able to wear swimsuits and dresses I like, I decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. I will NOT go to Vulgar Porn Boobs. Just proportional--and given my build, I think C's will be just right. Having lost some weight (I'm not skinny, but muscular and substantial now), I've had a hard time even finding bras that fit and are comfortable. So here goes.

I'm having it done in Memphis so I can recuperate in my house, rather than the five-star resort in Malaysia where I'd originally planned to do it. My time is worth the price difference, and I do not want to go on a two-week vacation while I'm in Iraq, or when I get home next June. I just want to be at home for as long as possible.

Traveling back to Iraq post-op could be a bit uncomfortable--I have two weeks to recuperate, but the journey into the combat zone is really, really long: four flights, several days, visa bullshit in Kuwait.

Disclaimer: The rant below constitutes my personal opinion, and does not represent that of any organization. It is not intended to influence--nor will it, given that I make no claim to any sort of institutional credibility. It's purely the opinion of a private, pissed off customer. If Travelocity records its customer service phone calls, it only gets worse for them. I got so frustrated I cried on the phone.

And in that vein, I will ***NEVER*** use Travelocity again. I spent about an hour and a half on the phone (to India, mind you, never could get a corporate manager who wasn't reading from a flow-chart, and never once spoke to an American) trying to fix the mess that they made of my return trip. Bottom line: they've outsourced their "customer service" to India where no one is empowered to address their own mistakes (in this case, I was outright lied to about flight availability--I could see it right on their own site while I was on the phone), you cannot resolve complaints by telephone, they don't answer or even acknowledge complaints on their website.

Just ask Dell. You outsource your customer service to Asia, then don't train/empower employees there to address complaints, you will lose market share. Dell never did recover from that.

My solution? If I'm stuck in Chicago for 6 hours I'd rather spend at home? I'll squat my ass right there in the Chili's in O'Hare and tip back about six Presidente margaritas, so I'll be chock full of holiday spirit by the time I board. We're not talking belligerent, sloppy drunk. I won't get kicked off the plane for lifting my shirt and showing off my new boobs. I'm a giggly, happy-buzz type, never an angry drinker. So I'll board very happily buzzed, then happily passed out, all the way to Frankfurt. Layover in Frankfurt? That's got Hefeweisen written all over it.

I'm thinking I should save some surgery pain meds for when I get to Kuwait and get to sleep on a canvas cot for a couple of days awaiting transport to Baghdad. And I could be hungover. Pass the oxycontin!!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Shake Your Fist at the Sky

How is it that I can stick to my 3-meal, 2-snack plan, work out like a madwoman for a week, lose about a half pound, then regain TWO POUNDS on two lousy pieces of greasy pizza in a moment of weakness?? And do you ever get tired of hearing people (men, mostly) talk about how they can eat anything they want and just spend a few extra minutes in the gym to compensate, and never gain a pound?

Or here in Iraq, my favorite:

Kristen: “Hey, Ryan, you look like you’ve lost a couple of pounds.”

Ryan: “Thanks. Since I can’t drink beer over here, it just fell off. I’ve dropped 15 pounds just from not drinking beer!”

Kristen: You go to hell. A pox on your house. "Oh, that’s nice.”

I sat up on the roof of our huge building last weekend, where folks gather to smoke cigars and/or houka pipes and look out over Baghdad. Since it cooled off, it’s been pretty pleasant up there. We discussed how hard it is to eat healthy here, how limited the options are. The leadership of my organization has access to the Embassy, and we lowly contractors do not.

T: “The Embassy’s been coming up with some great salad dressings! And they’ve had grilled fish. Why don’t you just eat grilled fish?” Grilled fish?? Our chowhall boils and fries everything beyond recognition. It distinctly felt like Let them eat cake!!
Kristen: “Thanks, rub it in.”

T: “Oh, well, you can eat some salad and stuff here.”

Kristen: “Well, yeah, that’s what I’ve been doing, but I had to order dressings online. And they usually don’t have healthy entrees–I eat about ten sandwiches a week.”

T: “Well, I eat to live, I don’t live to eat. Anyone who wants to can manage it.”

Kristen: Practices admirable restraint in not dumping her cup of grapefruit juice on his sanctimonious head.

America, I was bumperstickered. Hit with a slogan from a dead standstill on a 7-story roof right in the middle of an active combat zone.

Don’t talk to me about how to eat here when you haven’t been in Iraq long enough to get tired of the crap food and can always skip on down to the Embassy for a grilled chicken wrap at any moment. I’ve lost 15 pounds since I got here in April, and still, a lecture by way of a bumpersticker slogan.

We can all go on and on about how unfair everything is, and how hard it is for us to lose weight. How smug and self-righteous most people who’ve never struggled with weight tend to be. How life continues to throw obstacles in the way. While it’s gratifying to gripe about it and a constant test of our patience to deal with the Sanctimoniously Skinny, it doesn’t make any of us any thinner.

So I laughed with a girlfriend about the bumpersticker mini-lecture and promptly resumed my small-portion, heavy-exercising ways. I’m on a bit of a plateau right now, but I won’t give up like I have in the past when dealing with plateaus. I’m still retraining my brain, but discipline is like a muscle–the more you use/train it, the stronger it becomes. Every time I pass up the care package overflowing with crap in the hallway, the easier it is the next time. And the next.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Burning Down the House

Weellll, this was just one hell of a day.

We had a meeting with some Special Forces guys this morning. Imagine my grin when I walked in to find that a couple of them were HHHHOOOOOTTTT!!! Movie star hot. Mantasy hot. Perks my Groundhog Day existence right up when this type thing happens.

I didn't have much to say during the meeting and the Hottest of the Hotties talked the whole time, so I got to just sit and watch him. They came into my office to chat a bit before heading out to another meeting, and some kind soul had placed my mail on my chair--a large package of Dr. McDougall's soups...yummy and better for you than chow hall crap. We talked as I removed the packing slip, put it on my desk, and began unpacking the little cardboard bowls into my file locker/pantry.

I turned from the cabinet to find my desktop on fire. And no, the beautiful men weren't sitting on my desk in their skivvies. The small stack of papers on the desk was On Fire.

I yanked the papers onto the tile floor and stood there sheepishly as it burned out. While my attention was focused on trying to look suave while rattling off some witty repartee', I had tossed the packing slip onto the girly little scented candle du jour I always have burning on my desk to chase off the smell of Enclosed Facility with Little Air Circulation.

No getting those cool points back. That's right up there with laying my Harley down at a gas station after forgetting to put the kickstand down.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Something Old, Something New

I'm still cranking it at the gym--intense 15-minute interval session on the elliptical, then about 45 minutes of heavy weights comprised of two sets of total muscle fatigue, then back on the elliptical for 30 minutes of endurance work. I do this at least 5 times a week, and the total calorie burn is about 650-700 calories. I don't think you should quit sweating when it's time for weights...in fact, I sweat more lifting than during the intervals. I'm not in there to waste time.

I just added the weights about five weeks ago, and the transformation is amazing--I see it most in my shoulders, where I'm already seeing MAD definition. It's a beautiful thing. I'm still losing about a pound a week without feeling terribly deprived.

Here are some of the items on my workout playlist, guaranTEED to get your blood pumpin' and your booty shakin':

Beck: Elevator Music, Cellphone's Dead, Strange Apparition, Earthquake Weather, Beercan

The Clash: This is Radio Clash, Untitled (Stand by Me)

The Cult: FireWoman, Wildflower

David Byrne: Make-Believe Mambo

Treme' Brass Band: Gimme My Money Back

Rebirth Brass Band: Do Wacha Wanna, Grazin' in the Grass

Lucinda Williams: Bleedin' Fingers

David Holmes: $160 Million Chinese Man

Dr. John: Blues in the Night, R U 4 Real, Sweet Home New Orleans, Good Night Irene (Trippin' Live)

James Brown: Sex Machine 1 & 2 from Dead on the Heavy Funk 1975, Funky President, Gimme Some More

Led Zeppelin: I Got A Woman, Fool in the Rain

It's a start, about 10% of what I've got loaded. I have a couple of hours of this stuff on the nano so I don't get bored, but these are some of the songs that make me forget that working out is supposed to be work.

Speaking of work--and none of this is classified--I finally finished a Counterintelligence Analytical Summary on some aspects of foreign influence here in Iraq that was due today. I spent three days researching it, all day every day, then banged out the first draft yesterday. Tweaked it this morning and sent it up...and was met with WOW, knocked it out of the park. It was good. It's always a bit daunting to present an analytical paper--so much is based on opinion. But if you've researched it and explain what led you to draw conclusions, it's what decision-makers WANT. They don't want journalism, they want us to use our brains, contribute to the dialogue. Good commanders do not want you to tell them what you think they want to hear.

Sometimes this job is incredible, and working at this level can be really exciting. I'm actually being moved out of my job as an operational manager to an analysis-pure position, acting as our organization's point person on Jaysh al-Mahdi, the biggest militia operating here. It's infinitely more interesting than management.

And I took the rest of the day off. I like writing point papers, but staring at a computer screen for three 14-hour days is exhausting.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Seasonal Sun Outages???

As I try to do every night, I'm watching Jon Stewart. Tonight's poker night with the Massachusetts National Guard crew that handles our security. I have a 12" screen, little bitty thing I watch maybe half an hour a day, Jon Stewart or one episode of The Shield.

Jon's interviewing--very cordially, I might add--Lynne Cheney, the Second (?) Lady. We get Armed Forces Network out of Germany and Italy. Check out this somewhat puzzling screen shot:

The full text: "Seasonal sun outages may interrupt TV and internet service until October 14."

What? The sun's going out? Is it taking a little break? Is it the holiday season for life-giving, gaseous orbs?

Ponder this while I go "play cahhds" with the Massachusetts muldoons.

Friday, October 05, 2007

I was thrilled to see that Belle de Jour found my last entry, and asked if she might link my blog. I'm honored, and quickly consented (although her site has no email link), and then Googled her to see what popped up, what's being said.

There is only a rare mention of her material for its quality, only the more sordid aspects of the content. Mostly, the commentary is pure garbage, tabloidesque speculation on her identity, musings as to whether or not she even exists and was truly a callgirl, and pc-fueled speculations that the British TV series based on her blog and novels "glorify prostitution."

Baah! What crap! It's perfectly acceptable to glorify murder, violence of all stripes, and adultery in many of the movies and games for the kiddies to play, but horror of horrors, how DARE you portray prostitution as anything more than the default career for beaten-down crack whores. It's somehow outside the realm of plausibility that a high-end callgirl could love Jimmy Choos, have an advanced education, and still like men at the end of the day.

And as for her identity, if she was ever a callgirl? I couldn't care less. It's great writing, I enjoy reading it. What's the harm, and why spend so much time spinning up the sewing circle on the topic?

Which leads me to another point--it pisses me off when prostitution and pornography are described as "objectifying" and/or "victimizing" women. "Victim" suggests the women involved lack the maturity, wits, or intellectual capacity to know exactly what they're doing, and the risks involved.

I did a series of sculptures of prostitutes (back in The Day when I was a sculptor in New Orleans) called Hey Father Flannigan, featuring some sassy-ass mommas flashing their boobs at all the proper folk on the street. It didn't scare up the kind of controversy that Beauty Pageant did, and in a city like New Orleans, no one batted an eye.

Beauty Pageant, by the way, was my art school final show in Athens, Georgia. It was born one night in The Globe, a sweet little bar in Athens, when this bitch in a wheelchair swiped the skin off my achilles, didn't apologize or even look at me as I stood there in excruciating pain, and reacted with pure shock when I lit her ass on fire (verbally, of course). She screamed FUCK YOU and charged off through the crowd, injuring at least two others. The world, it seemed, clearly owed her something.

I was later informed that she was Miss Georgia Wheelchair.

I laughed my ass off, "Miss what? No way that exists."

But oh yes, it does. And as I stood there with my beer, I hooted and hollered, "What the hell is next, Miss Georgia Glass Eye? Miss Georgia Pegleg?? Miss Georgia Prosthetic Arm???"

And then it hit me. Series. Wall-hung sculptures. Miss Georgia Fill-in-the-Blank.

When I finished, they were all over one wall of the art school's gallery. Most people laughed...Miss Georgia Pegleg's talent portion was in full swing as she flung Miss Georgia Prosthetic Army around in a spirited foxtrot. They were doll-sized, with different animal features (rabbits and goats, mostly), all having a high old time.

A letter to the editor hit the stands the next day, slamming me for making fun of handicapped people. I responded, "You completely missed the point. I'm making fun of pageants, not handicaps. Had you actually seen the show and not just the review, you likely would have understood."

*Sigh* Sometimes I really miss that life. But then I remember the months when I had to call the landlord and tell the nice man that I would, once again, be late with the rent. Which was only $400 a month, so you can imagine what my finances looked like. I went into default on my student loans and had to scrounge through the sofa cushions to find enough change to get onto the streetcar when my truck broke down to get to my job waiting tables at one of Emeril's restaurants near downtown. The starter went out on the truck, and I ended up removing the old one myself, putting it into a backpack, riding to AutoZone for a new one, and putting it in myself. My credit was in the toilet and even when I showed and sold work, I was so far behind on all my bills, I could never buy new clothes or go out to a nice restaurant for dinner.

That shit, I don't miss.

It wasn't all bad. There was a little dive on Magazine called St. Joe's Bar and I don't know if it survived Katrina. That section of town didn't flood, but so many businesses became casualties, even if they didn't get water. It was our destination after spending 16 hour days on our feet at Delmonico. It was dark and the interior was voodoo red, but the best part was the courtyard out back. Lined with banana trees, beautiful lanterns and the sounds of frogs and crickets made this place a very special hangout. Pair all that with 15 cent oysters, the place was heaven.

But anyway, I digress. Now that all feels like someone else's life, and if someone had told me then that I'd go to law school with the intent of becoming a federal prosecutor, I would have laughed. But then I would have taken another slug of the Abita Purple Haze and thought about it. Federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice? Kick ass!!!

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Great Minds Think Alike

It's amazing, how the universe at large delivers the occasional message. This one reads loud and clear: everyone has the one little thing they think makes them freakish, and many women my age have it much worse than I do in the Marriage Pressure department. From the lovely Belle de Jour, the wicked British former-callgirl and current modern lit sensation:

My mother's a savvy woman, she gave up long ago straight-out asking when I was going to settle down and produce a family like L***** (perfection itself expressed miraculously in the form of my little sister). No, she's moved on to working that rich seam all mothers in our family since time immemorial have mined so well, the passive-aggressive guilt.

And in such matters, she is but the padawan learner to my grandmother's Supreme Master Yoda.

So it's late, and me, my mother and grandmother are sitting in the kitchen, eating chocolates - you know how it is. They manouevred themselves into the seats closest to the door, which in retrospect was my first mistake.

'It makes you think about things, doesn't it, this time of year,' Granny says, exmaining her stockpile of sweets. She's bagsied all the strawberry cremes since 1972. It's family law.

'Mmm. Yes, it certainly does.' My mother skips over the last dark chocolate caramel, favourite of both of us - she NEVER does that - and hands the chocs on to me. I pluck the caramel from the box triumphantly. Mistake number two.

'I always reassess at this time of year.'

Mum nods with considered thoughtfulness. 'You can't help but do.'

'I look back over my life an wonder about this or that little thing in the last year that made me angry or fretful.'

'Mmm.' (At this point, it starts to dawn on me that their purring exchange is not necessarily for the benefit of each other.)'But it's all put in perspective - you can see now the things that really matter.'

'Family,' my mother says in agreement - and the caramel sticks in my throat halfway down - she never says anything like that. My mother is not a Stepford Wife. She rode motorbikes and smoked hash in Morocco and flashed her tits at a university don. Her youthful misbehaviour drove her family to prayer and countless men to despair. She is a good person, but was most emphatically never a Good Girl.

My eyes dart round, panicked, wondering where the pod people got in.

'Yes, I could worry about what I might or might not have achieved in life. But when I look at my children -' glowing smile for Mum - 'and grandchildren, and now, great-grandchild, I know, that is really what this is all about.'

Now, for those familiar with my books, this would ordinarily be the point at which my father comes in and rescues me from this. But, my parents are now divorced. There will be no saviour. I'm on my own here.

'I think my mobile's going,' I say, pushing up from the chair.

'Oh, honey, it's the holidays,' my mother says, all eggy puddings and sweet wine. 'Whomever it is will understand if they have to ring you back. Here, have another caramel.'

I don't remember much more of our conversation that night, but recall that mentions of JDate were made. Also some nice fellow with a son my mother saw in town recently. Also the cost of freezing eggs. I think someone - probably me - uttered the words bride price. I don't know for certain.

All I know is, next time, I'm staying at a hotel.

posted by belle @
12:00 PM

I have to give my lovely family credit where it's due--they've never cornered me, pressured me, or insinuated I wasn't living up to anyone's expectations. Maybe it's because I'm the only one who made it out of my immediate family alive and fully functional, and that's better than what was likely expected, especially given the direction it looked like I would take early on. My mother, rest her soul, expressed pride to other family members that I had taken control of my life and found a career I enjoyed and in which I excelled. I never heard her or anyone else, even my once-ultraconservative father, express anything that remotely resembled disappointment. I honestly don't even recall being asked if there was anyone "special."

It's not family that's the issue. It's all the rest of the nosy world. And in all honesty, it's a dynamic that's much more prevalent in the Army than in the rest of the world. The Army pays you more if you're married and/or have children and put you in barracks like a college kid if you're not, age immaterial, so it's easy to understand how that message would get translated to the bias that drove me nuts and ultimately drove me to civilian life.

In the end, I'm glad I was so uncomfortable in the Army. I'd no doubt be here in Baghdad as a Captain on a 15-month rotation with the Infantry, feeling miserable, angry, and out of place.

I'm interested to see how (and if) that dynamic plays out once I'm completely divorced of the military.

I'll keep you posted.

All this having been said, have I mentioned that I would agree to an arranged marriage with Jon Stewart without ever having met him, and would even agree to pay him a sizable man-dowry?

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

October already, which means a mere six weeks until I get to go home. I’m thinking seriously of taking three weeks instead of two…I’m pretty burned out right now, and my investment accounts (where I’m dumping all my savings) are actually making a fair amount of money.

I broke it off with Jay, and I definitely could have handled it better. I did like him—he’s a very sweet, smart man, nothing at all wrong with him. But it just wasn’t there. And the way he was talking all about a big future together, the more I felt that if I let things progress, I’d just end up making it worse. On the other hand, I kept thinking that something would click and I’d suddenly be “on board” the way he was…I know myself better than that. I know within the first three minutes of talking to someone if it’s “there,” so I don’t know why I thought it would appear magically.

I wanted it to. I really did. He had all the makings of a great partner and the help with finances and, well, LIFE, was extremely appealing. But I can’t fake it. Some women can, many marry just because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do, and if you reach a certain age (which I’m now way past) without having married, there’s “something wrong with you.” Yeah, I guess there is something wrong with me—I won’t settle for halfway, I can cope on my own, and I’m not so worried about what other people think that I’ll take the easy way out and marry someone whose company I only kind of enjoy.

Don’t beat yourself up too much over your life’s position, or congratulate yourself, either. Most choices are about 85% chance anyway. I can’t remember who said that, but it rings true.

Maybe when I finish law school, I should gravitate to a mid-sized city either in the Northeast or Pacific Northwest, where it wouldn’t be considered so freakish. Or I’ll just marry some guy who looks good on paper, but bores me to tears.

Naah, I’ll stay on my current course. I don't want anything that I have to fake.