Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wanna see my house?

This is the link to the virtual tour for the Arizona property that's ruining my life. Prepare to be BLOWN AWAY.

(Or, totally cheesed out by the bucolic slow-mo and elevator music.)

On the bright side (the very bright side, actually), I got an unexpected promotion to a supervisory position. The pay's only marginally better (still, more than I'll ever make as an attorney) for the extra five pounds of crap I'll have to deal with every day. I have a good relationship with everyone I supervise, so I don't forsee any issues I can't handle. And it will look fantastic on my resume'.

Never a dull moment...I'm having a streak of great career luck, and I REALLY wish it would extend to the AZ house. Insha'allah.

Monday, February 11, 2008

File under Things That Make Me Want To Drink Gin Straight From The Cat Bowl: My lovely home state introduced a bill that would actually ban restaurants from "feeding the morbidly obese." That's right, it's all the restaurants' fault. In the fattest state in the US, and by extension, the world.

Don't read this next bit if you have food in one hand. It ain't polite.

Our chow hall has recently introduced these amazing burritos, pita wraps, and sandwiches. Most days for lunch, it's one of the three--grilled meat, wonderful chile cream sauce, bacon, and tortilla/pita/bun. They are the best thing here and most people go to lunch and get a second helping for dinner. People rarely label the tinfoil packages in the fridge, as each knows they have this little slice of heaven and will eat it as soon as it can reasonably be called suppertime.

So, my buddy Craig noticed that one burrito exceeded the normal 24-hour window for eating it for supper. He asked around because he wanted to eat it. No one claimed ownership. He ate it.

Its rightful owner was irate. Hours later, a human turd appeared in Craig's desk drawer. I swear I'm not making this up.

All the guys in the office, while somewhat grossed out, thought it was hilarious. The women were horrified. Is this a guy thing, taking a shit in someone's desk drawer? The perpetrator was an Army Officer, no less. And might I point out, this was not a proportionate response. It's like nuking the city of Chicago to get at a sniper.

I guess it's kind of funny now in a who the hell takes a shit in a drawer kind of way. While we laughed about it at chow the next day, I remembered The Incident.

I lived with an Infantry battalion in Saddam's old intelligence school for a couple of weeks when I was here as a soldier. It was a massive, six-story building, and the plumbing did not work--I'm pretty sure I blogged about it at the time. We had toilet and shower trailers outside...but it was six stories down. So if you were on the sixth floor and you were a young guy, you pretty much pissed into bottles. And yes, it is disgusting, especially since they tended to accumulate.

But that's not even the worst of it.

The building also had trash chutes and elevator shafts. All manner of ugliness piled up in the elevator shafts, but the trash chutes emptied into the Sergeant Major's office...and was therefore off-limits.

Ostensibly, anyway.

Every morning, at roughly 7am, someone would shit on a cardboard chow hall tray and send it down the chute. As it clattered into the Sergeant Major's office, all hell would instantly break loose, every soldier yanked from their rooms and out into the sunlight, threats issued while most people tried not to laugh.

This went on for about ten days, and the perp was never caught. That's taking passive aggression to a whole new level. And if you weren't one of those guys getting yanked out of bed and screamed at, or the Sergeant Major, it was funny in an oh my god who shits on a tray and sends it down a trash shoot to the Sergeant Major kind of way.

It's only on deployment that I've seen this behavior, the icky Poop Joke taken to its farthest extreme. But then, I never lived in a frat house.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

I'm awake at 2am, thinking about it...right now, I just can't commit myself to another year over here. It may be the best thing to just come on home in July and figure things out from there. I really need to get to/through law school now, not in a year. I'm wondering if my dad can help me out, if worse comes to worst. I hate that idea, but it's there.

I don't have to decide right away, and I'm trying something new with that damn house to get it to sell. I may be able to pull this thing off yet, get home this summer. Insh'Allah, God willing.

In the meantime, another sleepless night...

I Must Be Crazy...

...because I'm thinking about staying here another year, putting off law school *yet again.* Thing is, I got caught in the housing collapse--my property in Arizona has tanked completely, and my losses will add up to more than all three years of tuition combined. It scares the crap out of me to start school with it hanging over my head. Talk about a bad investment. Seemed like such a good idea at the time--no one could have predicted how badly Arizona would get hit with the housing crisis. I can't even rent it out for anything close to the mortgage payment, it's so bad.

If I jump into school now before recovering from what could be abject financial failure, I could end up in the kind of trouble I said I'd never get into again. It took seven years to pull my credit out of the gutter after the first round of student loans and bad decisions--I never want to live through that again. And the more I look at it, I'm headed down that road...that is, unless I stay here another year, tough it out, and recover from the six-digit hit I'm taking. I wish I were exaggerating. Between the house and my mutual funds, it's a serious bloodbath.

It keeps me awake for hours at night, worrying about it.

GOD I don't want to. I miss my family, my house, my town, my animals, all of it. I miss my life. And for the sake of all that's holy, I don't want to put off law school yet again. Plus, I'm excited about starting school, jumping into it and getting my hands dirty. I hope Ole Miss doesn't tell me to go get bent if I bail out one more time.

But not so excited about the recession and my hemorrhaging savings account. Nothing in the news leads me to believe the bottom of this ride is anywhere close. I made a bad decision buying that house, but at least I have the means to recover, where so many have lost everything.

But I also understand that I have a fantastic job here--it's infinitely fascinating, pays obscenely well, and I'm surrounded by competent, hard-working, fun people. Professionally, it does not get any better than this. It just doesn't.

I could be back in time to start the summer term in *gulp* 2009. Which would put me at 42 at graduation. I can graduate up to my neck in debt at 41, or with enough surplus to take time off, study for the Bar, and find a job I want--at 42.

Kind of seems like a no-brainer...but I'm having a hard time wrapping my head around another year away from home, another year to wait for school. I need to sleep on it a few nights, figure this whole thing out, then commit to that course of action.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008


Some sweet woman named Alise left me the following comment on an older post:

"Kristen. Dude. Reading your post is like having someone recite aloud the thoughts in your head without having actually imparted them to that person. Your blog is awesome! (Um, so I guess I'm awesome?) I think you should forgo law-school and write. Be a Kinky Friedman or a Calvin Trillin. If you're not familiar, get thee to a bookstore ASAP. Regards, your sister from another mother. Alise"

A total stranger just made my whole day.

I've wanted to be a writer since I was about ten. I guess I'm still looking around for the right story to tell. I have enough time here, I should give it a serious shot. But how does one even begin to actually write the type stuff I like to read--i.e., short stories, dense novels, meaty fiction? Because I wouldn't be satisfied with it if it weren't up to the standards I apply to what I read. And is there really still a living to be made from it in this day and age, or more importantly, a readership?

And again, where, how do you start?? An outline of a narrative? Do you just start writing without knowing where the plot's going, how it will end? How did Flannery O'Connor do it? Is this something that can be researched? Are good writers born that way, or do they train themselves for it?

When I lived in the same town (El Paso, TX) as Cormac McCarthy, I was on the lookout for him everywhere I went--the grocery store, gas stations, coffee shops, I scanned the streets and buildings, hoping to run into him. Because that's what I wanted to ask him, if I could manage it without stuttering and coming off all creepy and stalkerish--how do you start these amazing stories?

People who think they could be writers are a dime a dozen. I read somewhere that it's never surprising when a friend says they're working on a novel, it's only surprising when someone actually finishes one.

I suspect it's like anything else, after all is said and done: writers find their voice and method by doing. But I also suspect there's a degree of drudgery--you have to keep at it, plug away every day, requiring dedication and sacrifice.

Sunday, February 03, 2008

What We Deserve

"You know when they see hurricanes hitting your coasts, they think it's Allah's wrath." The Danish lawyer went on, "They see the traffic lights blown sideways and think you're getting what you deserve."

This was during a break in the poker game with the Brits. I was up by a*lot* and it was looking good for my winning the night's tournament. We gathered outside in the crisp air while they all smoked and I just took a breather. Some of the old guys, regular players, had been unhappy about losing hands, and a couple of them were right grumpy.

Davie, who is from Northern Ireland and whose friend dates my friend, joined us. He was pretty drunk already. I still don't drink here--it's a war zone. If something happens, you're what, drunk? I don't even have a weapon, so I'd really need my wits about me if something went wrong.

"I'm sure many people in the Middle East do believe that, but how do you counter that? It's not something that can be helped. Ignorant people will think ignorant things and you know how Arab media works--it's pure emotion and no one questions whether or not any of it is actually true. They just believe it. The function of media is different--they think we're silly for expecting impartiality." I mentioned Saddam's Information Minister, that nutjob who said American soldiers were committing suicide by the tens of thousands outside the gates of Baghdad. People actually believed it.

The Dane nodded. I was justabout to remark on the incident in his country with the Muhammad cartoon as case in point when Davie broke in.

"You Yanks need a war every fifteen years for your economy," he slurred.

I know I shot him a look. "What? Our economy was in the best shape it's ever been in before the Iraq war and now look at it. And we're fighting TWO wars."

"Yeah, that kind of tanks that one, doesn't it?" Jinns laughed.

"You're not really fighting the war in Afghanistan, WE are." We as in,the British Army.

I've already sat through his tirades about how far superior the British Army is to the American Army and have exercised admirable restraint in not arguing over it. What's the point? I like the Brits and I don't need to get into a pissing match and say shitty things about their military the way Davie has about ours. I'd gotten used to having to answer for America's actions in this crowd. It's an uncomfortable position to be in when you don't actually agree with so much of it. Usually, it's good-natured, like someone's just asking for my opinion. This time, it felt like a deliberate affront.

I'm sure the expression on my face said it all. Davie's not the sharpest knife in the drawer, he has no respect for Americans, and he was drunk. I really did not want to engage this jackass.

"We have more fighting troops over there than you do."

I laughed, which probably pissed him off. But come on! "What are you, high? Did you bump your head?"

"How many troops do you have there?" he asked, becoming louder and more belligerent.

It was quickly getting uncomfortable and I tried to ease my tone, keep my tone light so as not to make A Scene. "I don't know off the top of my head, over 20,000."

Actually, once the next round of Marines gets there, it'll be 28,600, give or take. The Brits have fewer than 4,000. I looked it up the next day.

"We have more than that. We're fighting your war. Your military's shit anyway, the British Army is ten times better."

I was starting to get pissed. I hadn't come there for a fight and all I could think about was how I would never behave this way towards them. It's just bad form."You're wrong. Look it up tomorrow when you're sober. I know for a fact we have more troops there." I tried to make it sound like I was done with the conversation, and turned back to Jinns to change the subject.

He was suddenly furious, having worked himself into a clannish frenzy. "You Yanks got what you deserved on 9/11. You can't take it when it's on your soil. I lived in Northern Ireland for fourteen years, I lived with it every day, and you get it once and you go starting world war over it."

I stared at him in disbelief. I couldn't even speak. And I could not believe that no one else standing there said anything. Had the tables been turned and it was a Brit in our compound, I would have shut any American down for this line of shit long before it reached this point. Silence is one step down from outright complicity.

He kept on in this line until I finally cracked and said something to the effect of you go fuck yourself, what kind of man are you to say something like that, what the hell's wrong with you, etc. I pushed past him, back inside.

He even sneered to my back, "Yeah, walk away, truth hurts doesn't it." He's lucky I didn't physically assault him, I was so upset.

Our two friends, the ones who are dating, were the first people I saw when I got inside. I was so angry, I was afraid I'd cry. Which would be nothing short of horrifying. J knew right away something had happened--her whole face changed when she saw me. "What's wrong?"

I pointed at Andy, Davie's longtime friend. "Your buddy's a fucking asshole." I told them what happened and Andy looked mortified. Davie still continued his rant outside. Kev, a really huge, sweet bald guy who'd been to my left at the poker table, filled my hand with M&M's, apologizing for Davie's behavior.

Why didn't anyone shut him up? I looked around at the people I'd spent the last month getting to know. They all suddenly looked very different. Do they agree with him? Is it a cultural thing, that no one would step in and tell someone they're out of line? What kind of people are you? I've always considered the Brits (and Aussies) as our brothers and sisters, our best allies, the ones we could count on for a good time and good company. And to be fair, I've never heard one of the English guys go on this way--it's always the Scots or Irish. They seem to be so clannish and proud, in this crowd it translates to outright xenophobia.

He tried to apologize later after some of his buddies told him what an asshole he was (little late for that), but I wouldn't talk to him--you can't unring that bell, sweetheart.

J told me later that she wouldn't have taken the bait, that she doesn't let things people say get to her. That's just not part of my package, and here's why: if you can't defend your convictions, especially about the BIG things, your homeland, your countrymen and women, your way of life, then you lack courage or conviction. Or both.

Or maybe it's laziness, too much trouble to speak up. People might not like it, I may offend someone. Know what offends me? Dead Americans, on our soil or someone else's, and any idiot who says or thinks it was anything less than an unspeakable act worthy of the world's wrath. I am extremely passionate about certain things, and I'm not sorry. My homeland is one of them--I would actually have a really hard time respecting any American who could stand there silent in the face of comments like that.

I don't walk around getting into fights--I'm usually very good at disagreeing without getting shrill. I'm respectful about it. But this was just beyond the pale. He knew I'd been an American soldier, so even absent the 9/11 comments, it was astonishingly, unacceptably rude.

I sat back down at the table, still very angry, still not convinced that the opinion wasn't shared to some degree by everyone present, but determined to just finish the game. I won over $400 and as soon as the last hand was done, I took my money and left without saying goodbye to anyone outside the poker game.

I'm never going back.