Practical Boredom

Filed under: — lana @ 6:40 pm

Another entertaining day spent serving the country in the United States Armed Forces. These are the people protecting and defending the freedom of those around us, innocent children, disabled senior citizens, and fat domestic pets all alike.

This morning we cleaned and inventoried equipment while critiquing our lieutenant’s skills with women. We also shared stories about poor drinking decisions and resulting bodily functions. It was very educational.

This afternoon we debated the meaning of the word weft, for which I called my english major father (no idea) and my librarian mother (who looked it up: an old English term for the side-to-side weave in woven material, fitting since we found it in a Persian-Farsi dictionary and they sure do make a lot of rugs), then proceeded to go to our storage area and smash video cassettes with a large wooden mallet that we found somewhere. A few people attempted to break the tapes open by punching them, karate master style, but we had ice packs on hand for the resulting bruised knuckles. Stacking the tapes into large piles and seeing who could smash the most with the mallet was an entertaining, though not very safe, game, but surprisingly no one lost any eyes or appendeges to flying pieces of plastic. All in the name of Area Organization, of course. Anything for the country.

Sadly, the brigade commander did not pay us a visit, or we could have presented him with the remains of “Flexibility and Proper Stretching Success.” I could begin to list all of the injuries and sore muscles that we all know will result from the destruction of that tape… but I have to dig this piece of plastic out of my arm first. Ah well. Back to the defense of The Freedom to Tell Your Friends Stories You Would Never Tell Your Mother…

And this is only the beginning of the work week. Who can tell what fun lies in store for the remainder…


Motor Madness

Filed under: — lana @ 4:37 pm

The other day the Army dealt yet another fine blow to my sanity. This is cause for concern, as I believe that I am running out of marbles to donate to the cause.

I was placed in charge of a detail that involved moving a bunch of large, heavy objects from here to there. Here was over a mile from there, and by heavy I mean most of the objects needed anywhere from two to six people to lift them. I was given five people. Challenge number one.

Challenge number two, apparently, was vehicles. In case no one was aware, you cannot transport military objects that belong to the greater military establishment in a personal vehicle, so it was rapidly apparent that I was going to have to find a truck from somewhere. We had the problem that we had left all of our vehicles in Iraq, so it would be begging, borrowing, or reallocating (stealing being a bad word) to get what we needed.

So it was off to the motor pool of another unit to attempt to acquire the necessary vehicles to get said large, heavy objects from willy to nilly. It only took about an hour to secure a large cargo vehicle (the first truck didn’t work, and we were constantly told by the motor sergeant that he had no trucks out there but every time we went outside three trucks with his unit painted on them stared back at us), and a further hour (for which I left) to dispatch it because our one qualified driver discovered that his license for such vehicles had expired while we all milled around playing in the sand the previous year. In the meantime, we unloaded most of the cumbersome and never used large, heavy objects to a convenient loading area to wait for the truck.

Break for lunch. Salami is made of pig, but pastrami is made of cow, for anyone who cared. We don’t have much to do with our time.

As I sat waiting for the fun to begin anew, I noted that we would not have enough room on the large truck for everything, so I decided we would have to get a HMMWV to finish the remainder of the load if we wanted to make only one trip, which we did. Back to the motor pool, where we had seen several of the necessary trucks, so we were confident that we could get a truck and be back in half an hour since my license doesn’t expire until sometime in 2009.

Boy, were we wrong. The first truck, which had our unit designator printed on it, was not in the system of the parking lot it was in. We offered to just cut the lock and take it, but the motor pool sergeant disagreed that this was the best solution and denied us access to the bolt cutters or the truck (as I said we had bolt cutters back at the company). The second truck they had lost the key for and had no intention of replacing the lock because it wasn’t their problem, so we were told. The third truck was already dispatched to someone else. The fourth, fifth, and sixth trucks were not in the system. The seventh truck no one knew why it was even in this motor pool. Having now spent an hour attempting to find a single, drivable, practical truck for our purposes among the seven in the lot, we called back to the company to inform them of the delay.

The platoon sergeant, aware of the troubles we incurred in the morning as well, sighed, loaded the rest of the equipment onto his pickup, covered it with a tarp, and drove everything remaining from hither to thither.

Counting to ten, I find, does nothing for me anymore in an effort to stop me from having my joyous army cup overfloweth. I have to count to several hundred before I’m allowed to talk to people anymore…


Third Country America

Filed under: — lana @ 5:03 pm

I have finally figured it out: the postal system is our bridge to the third world.

Before any marauding postal workers live up to their stigma, please allow me to explain.

I went to the post office several weeks ago upon hearing that the postal rates were going to increase by 2 cents. I have a lot of 37 cent stamps. I wanted to buy a lot of 2 cent stamps. I did not think that this was about to become a voyage into the realms of uncharted territory within the postal system, particularly since there is usually a rate increase something like every full moon that falls on Tuesday, and sometimes just on every Tuesday.

I asked the nice lady behind the counter at my local post office for some 2 cent stamps. Lo and behold, they had run out. Luckily, there was another post office on my way back from the one in which I was currently milling about, because for some reason the post office that delivers mail to my house is way across town when there are about five post offices within a decent radius to where I live. I have yet to figure out this logic, I simply wave to the poor postman as he finally makes it over to my house sometime in the early evening hours. But (as usual) I digress.

So I stop at post office number two. Same problem: all out of the required denomination. This is a bit more strange, as one would think that given the increase, the postal system would have planned for and accomodated for the need to sell the extra postage. Assuming defeat, I gave up for the day, allowing The Man to win this battle.

A few days later, I went onto post to try the post office there, as some of my bills were looming close to the overdue mark as I couldn’t seem to afford- or really, to acquire- the postage. I wander in and they are out of the stamps, of course, but they had a handy dandy machine. I went to the machine. I think it was still selling stamps from about 1938 and most of them were flashing the Sold Out indicator. I put in my 80 cents in the hopes of acquiring a meager handful of 2 cent stamps. I push the button. It tells me that, as I should have assumed, it was sold out. I push the coin return button. I expected no fight, no resistence, simply my 80 cents so I could crawl back to my home with my tail between my legs and call my mom and ask her to mail me some 2 cent stamps from The Great North, where surely they must have stamps, because The South appears to be out.

Lo and behold, this was not to be. The machine refused to give me back my 80 cents. It insisted, in its arrogant LCD-flashing manner, that I make a purchase in order to receive change. These were the cheapest thing in the machine, and the only other option was outdated postcard stamps from sometime before carriages went horseless. They were another 35 cents, which I scrounged from the pocket of my jacket which luckily I never clean out. As I flung the little door open to get my stamps (violently, to teach the machine a lesson for its attitude problem), I could only think of the little third world island of Zanzibar in Africa where they also refused to give you any change unless you made a purchase, probably the most frustrating thing in the world when all you want is a few 1000 shilling bills and they will only sell you something for 5000 shillings, and realized that the postal system is merely a design to ensure people maintain a grasp of what a third world country is really like and to make everyone just as disgruntled as someone living in that environment (or working in the post office).

Then the little door flung back at me, bruising the back of my hand. So I did the American thing: I kicked the machine, cursed at it, and told it that it would get no more of my money until it could behave, or at least until I could hire a contractor at six times the rate to fix it for me.


The Food Line

Filed under: — lana @ 3:10 pm

Something disconcerting happened today as I went to the ol’ chow hall for a fine lunchtime dining experience. I checked the hot lunch line and most of it was unrecognizable, as per the usual and despite the signs labeling it as “stew,” so I went to the sandwich line.

While waiting, I noticed that today one of the sandwich options was pastrami. I questioned the infantry soldier standing next to me with a pop quiz of what exactly pastrami was, and what animal it comes from. He thought for a moment, admittedly a tough task for some of these soldiers particularly now that we are back in the mindless garrison environment, and then admitted that he had no idea. The questioning persued to two other fine soldiers in line. Two votes for pig. A friend, amused by my questioning, also participated saying that he wasn’t sure, but he thought it was not pig, though for all he knew it was cat. I said it wasn’t fatty enough for cat, and he said that my cats are the exception to the rule. But I digress.

The next logical step was to ask the young specialist attempting to make our sandwiches despite my intruding upon the normal peace and happiness in the sandwich line with my invasive questions about the contents of meat-type products. She eyeballed the pastrami and then answered that she had no idea, and that it looked like the scraps from everything else.

It bothered me somewhat that the food service person, the person serving me my sandwiches, had no idea what animal that little slice of meat comes from. I thought again about the stew at the other end of the chow hall.

I ordered a turkey sandwich, please.

As an afterword, by the by, and for all of those as perplexed as I was for my lunch hour, I looked it up. Pastrami is smoked corned beef. Cow is the correct response. We all learned something new today. Tomorrow I will inform the nice specialist and the sandwich line can once again be a place of joy and happiness and stew relief.


Army Medicine (Strikes Again)

Filed under: — lana @ 9:26 pm

So on the trip to Africa we learned that maybe it isn’t the greatest idea to go for a mountain climb when you have a bum leg. Apparently, there are infections to be found in that part of the world, and one seems to have settled in on my toe which was taking most of the weight off of my ankle, and the disease now seems to have made a little green home for itself where I once had a rather pinkish toenail.

While on the trip, I noted that it was oversized, unpleasant-looking, more-than-unpleasant feeling, and generally should probably be looked at by a medical professional. Upon returning home, I got up the nerve to examine it again and realized that it was turning… well… green. By green, I mean the color of a freshly manicured golf course in the springtime combined with that of your average pepper. Delightful though this color might be on lawns, apples, and possibly on living room walls, I figured that it was probably a bad color for a part of the body to be turning. I therefore took it upon myself to schedule an appointment with the lovely medical personnel in the Army.

And so I went to the appointment. I only waited to see someone for half an hour between getting my blood pressure read and the doctor actually showing up, which might be some kind of record, and when he asked the question of why I was there I promptly pointed to the toe, which was also lovely shades of purple to accompany the green and blue hues already present, and told him that it did not exactly feel what I would call “good.”

He gave me a perscription for Motrin and told me to make another appointment to have the nail removed so they could see if it was infected. He then sent me on my way with instructions that I probably shouldn’t run for a few weeks. He also mumbled something about how if that got much worse I would probably lose the toe, then hustled me out of the room.

Now, to me, green is usually a bad sign. One might think, perhaps, that the name gangrene came from somewhere, though admittedly the spelling is a little off. Also, despite the fact that I was now back in the land of regular running water, there was still an interesting and thankfully undescribable scent accompanying this little discoloration. Combined with losing feeling in the tip of the toe and the inability to bend the toe, I was a touch leery of the prognosis as I returned to my unit, but it was, after all, doctor orders.

There isn’t much to do at the company these days, so upon hearing of my trip to the doctor, a few of my stronger-stomached compatriots wanted to see the freakish toe. Upon the removal of my sock, a few changed their minds, and my lieutenant casually asked as he turned away why exactly I wasn’t getting that looked at. I told him of my adventure and he told me to hurry up and do something. I called for the procedure appointment and was told that the first opening for removal would be in a month. My command was quick to sign the sick call slip to go back to the doctor and find an alternative, before I grossed everyone out of the company. We did, however, get to play the interesting game of seeing which non-commissioned officer would throw up first.

And so, two days later, after the day in between where I had a dental appointment only to arrive and find that the dentist had quit and they had “tried to call some people and reschedule” but apparently I hadn’t made the cut, I wandered back to the hospital for another opinion.

This time, I received two strong perscription medications plus an antibiotic, as well as permission (though not recommendation) to wear my duck slippers to work if I felt I needed to. Actually, all he said was that he suggested I not wear fuzzy pink bunny slippers, and when I told him I had ducks and they were yellow, he just shrugged. I also found out that I might even get to keep the tip of my toe, now that I was actually on antibiotics. Apparently the “staving off further infection” part was not included in the previous exam.

So now I get to hobble around for the next month doped up on perscription painkillers waiting for time or the procedure clinic to remove my toenail and see what lies beneath and whether or not I get to keep my beloved big toe. Every day brings new photo opportunities for the crazies at my unit who are enjoying the progress of the infection, and I have decided that I am going to start charging if they begin parading me around the batallion as some sort of carnival sideshow. After all, just because I can regularly hear the circus theme music wafting in the background noise of my brain most moments that I spend in the Army does not mean it is a free show.


Home Again

Filed under: — lana @ 3:39 pm

After another fun adventure, it is nice to be back with my obese cats and the beautiful and ever present rains of North Carolina. I think the state is simply concerned about my having spent a year in a country where it rained about three times during my sojurn there, and so it is trying to make up for it by dumping gallons of water on my house, car, and on me when I go to take out the trash.

Zanzibar was an interesting part of the Africa journey. A small island in the famed Spice Islands on the Indian Ocean, there is only a limited amount to do and everyone is trying to make a dollar (no one knows what the Euro is yet) off of vacationing westerners. Harrassed for massages or henna tattoos, refusal to break a bill unless you are going to buy something, and everyone expecting to be tipped for everything, the relaxing beach vacation was almost as harrowing as being trundled down a mountain on a metal contraption.

We did get to go SCUBA diving, probably not the best decision for me with my foot just starting to regain some of its orginal coloration (discounting the toe, which I am starting to wonder if it is worth keeping), but still fun. The trade winds were in full effect as we piled onto a wooden boat which had to be bailed out from a compartment in the bottom by the Tanzanian boat workers, and the waves were high enough that we had to keep switching seats around to balance the boat to prevent overturning. The currents below were heavy and stirred some of the bottom, but the lionfish and the stonefish did not seem to mind. After two dives, my toe had drained into the Indian Ocean (for a few hours, until it built itself up again to the dismay of my fellow travelers but to great interest of anyone in the medical profession), and the equatorial sun was contentedly baking my shoulders as we attempted to get back to shore without flipping the boat.

An expensive trip to Stone Town, a former Arab stronghold in the area, and a local show with barbeque and hungry cats sitting under the tables waiting for a sucker like me to drop food on the ground, and then back to the hotel to relax for our last day in Africa. We sat drinking at a table on the beach for most of the day, watching the people pass by and betting on their nationalities by personality quirks. Americans were large, loud, fairly obnoxious in taking over whatever space they could, and usually wearing a tee-shirt with a horrible slogan on it. Italians and Greeks were large groups of varying generations who took over several tables at a time and yelled at each other even if they were sitting directly next to each other. Australians stood up so the entire beach could watch them put lotions and oils on, and the Germans stayed to themselves (probably to avoid a war) while the French snorted and cast disapproving looks at everyone equally. It was a most entertaining game, one which improved as we sampled the various drinks off the menu.

The game continued at the airport, where a large and loud American family played some game they had obviously made up to keep the kids occupied but still thoroughly annoyed the rest of the population of the small transportation station, and still continued on the planes home. Upon returning to the States, where it took over an hour to get through customs and get the car (which we had long since forgotten the parking designation), we found that we could still continue as a high-school aged group of three passed, cutting to the front of a line as though the world were made for them, one of them with his hat sideways and his pants halfway down his legs. Though he was caucasian, it did make me note that I had not seen this in two weeks, and it looked even sillier now than it had when I left. We also noted that such style is usually touted as being “Of the culture,” but that we had just been to Africa and had seen exactly zero Africans dressed in such a way. An interesting observation, if I do say so…

And so it is back to the land of the ego and the land of the rude, but also to the land of running water and consistent electrical power. A decent trade-off, I suppose, one that makes me listen to my washing machine while sitting with the lights on petting my fat cats and thankful that I am not outside in the pouring rain dealing with obnoxious people…

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