In Which I Fake It Really Hard

**there will be profanity. It’s been that kind of week. Sorry, Mom. **

I have a new job, and (confession) I’m really terrible at it. OK, maybe not really terrible. Maybe it just feels that way sometimes.


I love my job. I work with a lot of smart people, and I cannot even begin to tell you how great my Supervisors are. But as far as the actual job goes, I often feel like A Righteous Fraud. I’m half-convinced that any day now someone is going to out me to my Manager, and I will end up on the first plane back to Texas, sleeping under a bridge and hustling strangers at intersections for beer money. The upside is that I won’t have to worry any more about how terrible my hair always is, or whether I remembered to turn my shirt right side out when I got dressed in the morning. Also, I will not have to format any more documents, ever. So there’s that.


At the end of last year I was hired as a Quality Auditor for the Big Kahuna Contractor here in Kuwait. I had no experience, but they took a chance on me. I closed my eyes and made the career leap. Now I am a corporate rat with a clipboard (pink suede) and a hard hat (sassy white), which hangs on my office wall right next to my Mardi Gras beads.

I’ve never actually been to Mardi Gras.

I love my hard hat. I think I look cute in it, plus it covers my… well, do we really have to keep talking about my bad hair? Probably not. I also have an orange safety vest which nicely disguises my muffin top, and I get an embarrassing amount of mileage from tossing around the line “Orange is the new black!” People should not laugh as much as they do at that line. They should get out more. Maybe they’re just being polite.

 

Basically, my job involves slapping a checklist on my pink clipboard and crawling around shipping yards making sure people are doing their jobs. I audit the Transportation Department, which on a military base encompasses anything with an engine that moves things and people from Point A to Point B. Planes, trains, automobiles.

 

There. I just told you everything I know about the Transportation Department.

 

In a perfect world an Auditor studies hard for every audit. They read the Government’s requirements for the department. They memorize SOPs and Work Instructions, and Army Regs and Everydamnthing Ever Written on the Subject (Defense Transportation Regulations!#partyhat). They become a SME, short for Subject Matter Expert, which is pronounced “smee,” and which sounds ridiculous when you say it out loud. Go ahead; say it aloud, like you’re proud of it: “Hi! I’m the smee!” and see how you feel about yourself afterward. It reminds me of Peter Pan and it makes it hard for me to take seriously any conversation about the necessity of being a SME. I keep imagining myself in a striped shirt and granny glasses trying to talk Captain Hook down from his latest homicidal shenanigans. I mean, I understand the importance of being a SME (still trying not to get fired, here), but it is just such a silly-sounding acronym.

The Subject Matter Expert on Piracy.

 

Anyhoo. The one thing standing between me and SMEdom is the fact that approximately twelve minutes after I was hired the person in charge of the Documents department selfishly decided to have a baby. I told her to knock that shit off, but of course no one listens to me, I’m just the new girl. And guess who is doing her job now? (Ten points if you guessed me.) So as a neophyte I am doing the job of two whole people, and—let me be clear, because somewhere along the line someone is going to read this and report to my boss that I’m complaining—I am NOT complaining. Not here, for god’s sake. Not in cyberspace. I’m not a total idiot. But in Documents there is Big Stuff to report to the Government in a lot of really exact, never-the-same-twice formats, and it takes a lot of time, and I am not good at it. I am not detail-oriented; I’m much more of a slap-some-paint-on-it-and-let’s-all-go-have-coffee kind of person. Out of necessity I am learning to spot the details, which is both humbling (because I’m so bad at it) and tedious. My brain rebels. My brain is a lazy cow, and if I give it an inch it will take a mile. Spell check, you slacker!

 

The point is, thanks to Documents I don’t have any time to study for my audits right now. I just have to show up and fake it. But I have learned a few coping tricks that sometimes see me through. I will pass these on to you now, gratis:

 

  • Carry a clipboard everywhere. Everywhere. To the bathroom, dammit. It makes you look official. If you decide to go shoe shopping on your lunch hour, carry a clipboard. People will think you know what you’re doing. Mad props if you wear the orange safety vest at the same time. In the Taco Bell line! You got game, Girl. Orange is the new Black!
  • If you have to talk to people, perch on their desks and tap the clipboard distractedly against your thigh. They will understand that you are An Important Person with Places To Be and Things To Do. You will get a lot of mileage from this. “Mileage” is what makes people be nice to you when you utterly fuck up a document carrying their signature that the unforgiving United States Government is about to sign off on.
  • At meetings (there are a LOT of meetings) frown and nod knowledgeably. Take copious notes. Usually these are grocery lists: Toilet paper. Sharp cheddar. Ramen? So fattening. Hairspray!
  • If forced to sit through a Power Point presentation, at some time raise your hand and say “wait, can we go back a slide?” Ask the presenter to clarify. Try to use the word “metrics.” If that’s not appropriate, shuffle some papers (you did bring your clipboard, right?), make an impressed kind of face as though you just learned something new, jot down medium shrimp, shelled and distractedly motion the presenter onward.
  • Rock that hard hat.

 

 

Today I had to audit the Customs office. I finished plowing through an elbow-deep pile of government documents, hurtled out to Customs, and proceeded to make an unadulterated ass of myself. I was just completely unprepared. Stop having babies, goddammit!

 

There is nothing that makes you want to crawl under a rock and die like charging in, all “I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!” as the guy you’re auditing smirks at you and explains that you are completely wrong about everydamnthing that their office actually does. Then you happen to turn around and the guy behind you is smirking too, and you realize with that gut-sunk feeling that they’ve been exchanging smirks this whole time because you don’t know what the hell you’re talking about! You can’t even get mad because they’re right! What are you going to do, apologize for wasting their time because Yo, guys, I couldn’t study because there was this one document I was processing, that has nothing to do with you, but it had an assload of really bad formatting errors, in fact it looked like it was written by a crustacean, and the Army kept calling and telling me to hurry the hell up with it, but that’s not even your  business of course, even though it took me hours to fix, plus, guys, suddenly someone asked me to send them a Tracker on XX documents, and Jesus, what the actual hell IS  a Tracker anyway, and how was I supposed to know I needed one in the first place…

 

Anyhow. It was a disaster. And I still have to audit the Transportation Motor Pool (TMP) this afternoon. If you don’t know what a TMP is, that’s OK. Go have some Chardonnay and rejoice in your soccer mom life path. No judgement! If you do know what a TMP is you probably have PTSD in some form, or have taken college courses on the GI Bill.

 

For the next few hours I have to pretend that I know everything ever written about Forklifts and Hysters and pallet jack test loads.

 

There’s a grocery list in there somewhere.

 

I’m the Auditor! I’m here to Audit!



Go Away People, I’m Trying to Cry

A/N: I posted this several months ago, when I still worked for the Fire Department. One of those weak-chinned, weasel-eyed tattletales that every work place seems to have at least one of bullied me into taking it down again. I no longer work for the Fire Department, GloryHallelujahAmen, so I’m re-posting this, just because I can. Suck it, Chinless Dude.

John Green’s tragic teenage love story The Fault in Our Stars was released as a movie last year and I couldn’t wait to see it. I love to cry during movies. I cried during The Help, and Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood, and The Ultimate Gift. During The Hunger Games I sobbed aloud in the theater when Rue died. Every time I watch The Notebook I end up weeping and pounding on the arm of my chair, and howling “it’s so beautiful!” like a demented creature. Is it just me? Please say it isn’t just me.

I can’t explain why women like this kind of thing, but a lot of us do. All of the women (and a large percentage of the gay men) reading this are nodding and saying well of course, sister. The rest of you (straight men) are scratching your heads and wondering why anyone would ever choose to cry on purpose. Isn’t crying bad?, you ask. To which I answer, no. No it is not. Women want to cry over movies, my brothers. And the harder, the better. I wouldn’t lie to you; just roll with it.

Anyway, recently I finally got my hands on a copy of The Fault in Our Stars. Here, by the way, if you are one of the four people in North America who hasn’t heard of this movie, is the synopsis from Rotten Tomatoes:

Hazel and Gus are two extraordinary teenagers who share an acerbic wit, a disdain for the conventional, and a love that sweeps them – and us – on an unforgettable journey. Their relationship is all the more miraculous, given that they met and fell in love at a cancer support group. THE FAULT IN OUR STARS, based upon the number-one bestselling novel by John Green, explores the funny, thrilling and tragic business of being alive and in love.

I saved the movie for an afternoon when the office was empty and all my work was finished. I fired up my laptop and brought up the movie. I turned down the lights and leaned back in my chair with a jar of Nutella and a spoon. There was a box of Kleenex in easy reach. I was going to wallow in emotion and angst like a pig in slop. I’d thought of everything.

Music. Opening credits.

The first scene is a cancer survivors’ support group. There are some funny lines, some likable characters. Then the first of many heartstring tugs, a close-up shot of a line in Hazel’s favorite book that reads: that’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt. I have just opened my mouth to gasp at the profound beauty of this truth, when the phone rings. It’s a mundane question posed by one of those annoying-as-shit people who refuse to identify themselves, insisting you should recognize their voice. A game of “guess who this is” ensues, while I struggle to play along and not be rude. I finally hit on the right person by blurting out the name of the most irritating person I’ve met in the last year, and behold! I am right. I answer his question and hang up a little harder than necessary. Free once again, I hit Play and settle in to suffer with Hazel as she goes heroically about the business of dying.

Music. Scenery. Glimpses of a sunrise filmed through tall grass.

“Hey, sorry to disturb you! I need to get a burn permit.” The guy in the doorway doesn’t look sorry. Not sorry enough, anyway. He looks aggravatingly cheerful and very, very talkative. Turns out he’s both. While I wait for the right person to come in and sign the permit he talks relentlessly and loudly about the weather (hot), the desert (sandy), the selection of groceries available at the PX (deplorable) and the state of the economy (ditto). He is not contributing to the mood of bittersweet poignancy that I am trying to build here, and I am itchy with frustration by the time he finally leaves.

I settle back in. Play. Hazel meets a cute guy named Gus, also a cancer survivor. Gus charms her, gets right past her defenses, gosh darnit. My heart melts a little. How beautiful is that? The phone rings. “Hi, there’s a Dumpster on fire by the Taco Bell…”

I smash down hard on the Pause button and dispatch the Fire Department. An hour later I finish my report and the dozen phone calls that go with it, and I sit down to watch my movie again. Where was I? I don’t remember. Just restart the damned thing.

That’s the thing about pain; it demands to be felt. Still a stunning and powerful line, though I barely have time to wrap my head around it before a shadow falls across my doorway. It’s a firefighter. “Ma’am can I sign out the key to the Supply trailer?” I hand him the key and send him on his way. He is barely gone when another firefighter takes his place. “I need the key to the SCBA room…”

And so it goes.  I watch three minutes of the movie, I hand out keys. I watch another three minutes of the movie, I hand out more keys. Lather. Rinse. Repeat. For an hour and a half my life boils down to a hamster wheel of key distribution, and the Rewind button.

Eventually the fire guys run out of things to unlock, and I make it to the part of the movie where Gus falls in love with Hazel. She, in a fit of nobility (because she is tragically dying) insists they stay just friends. Oh Hazel, Hazel, you silly girl, can’t you see that this is Fate?

“Hey, you look like you could use some company!” It is Alarm Tech Dude, the world’s most talkative human being, and an expert in everydamnthing. I have never gotten him out of my office in under thirty minutes. Today, I am sure, will be no exception.

“Hi,” I say a little desperately. “I’m just trying to watch a movie here. You know, it’s a real tearjerker, and I’ve wanted to see it for a long time and…” My headphones slip out of my ears and dangle just beyond my reach. On screen the characters are soundlessly mouthing words at each other. Deep words, I feel sure. Words that would wrench at my heart and make me cry and cry, if only I could hear them.

Alarm Dude is oblivious to my pain. “I’ve been meaning to show you how to do blah blah blah with our fire alarm system. Now would be the perfect time! Here, pay attention, I’ll show you. This is going to take a while.” I stare at him in dismay, then peek at the clock. He has at least another hour before he leaves for the day. And he’s standing, oblivious, between me and the Pause button. Craning to see around his hip, I watch helplessly as the movie rolls on without me. Gus and Hazel have what appear to be several amazing, if soundless adventures together. Adventures I am not in on. Adventures building up to the Great Tragedy, no doubt; the Great Tragedy at which I have planned to sob theatrically until I run out of tears.

I’d better not miss the first kiss, I think bitterly.

“You see,” (Alarm Dude is in full lecture mode, and I am his captive audience) “an OS&Y valve—that stands for Outside Stem and Yoke valve—operates on a different premise than your basic butterfly valve…”

I cannot listen to this, not when True Love is happening just beyond my reach. In self-preservation, my mind drifts. What was the last movie I actually cried at? Was it The Notebook? Surely not. Surely it hasn’t been that long since I saw a really good, sad movie. Did I cry at Forrest Gump? I can’t remember…

On screen, Hazel appears to be in the hospital. What happened? I lean forward. What did I miss? Why is she in the hospital??

Alarm Guy is still going. “So, when your duct detectors get dirty, the alarm system mistakes the dust for smoke, and then you’ve got a problem…”

I always cry when I watch Dead Poet’s Society, I reflect, staring now over his left shoulder and nodding as though I am enthralled by his words. Probably more so now that Robin Williams is dead. I need to watch that again. On screen, I can’t tell what Gus and Hazel are saying, but it looks terribly romantic. Don’t kiss yet! I mentally screech. Wait for me!

“Of course then you have the issue of beam detectors in your fire alarm systems. Many people think they’re not necessary in open buildings like aircraft hangars, but my feeling has always been…”

I must have sinned in some past life. My mouth is fixed in a wide, false smile and I am nodding earnestly, desperate for him to leave so I can rewind the movie and have a do-over.

“You know, these fire alarms report in through actual phone lines and so blah blah blah,” he is relentless. I want to weep, but I am saving my tears for the movie.

I’ve never cried at Casablanca or It’s A Wonderful Life, I recall. In fact, I don’t even like those movies. I never like the classic movies that everyone else likes. Miracle on 34th Street? Blech. I did cry at Gran Torino. I wonder if other people did. Maybe I’m just wired wrong. Wait, why are Hazel and Gus getting on an airplane? What did I miss? Where are they going? What did I miss??

“Also,” (Like the Energizer Bunny, Alarm Guy is unstoppable) “one thing we’re finding as we reconfigure all these alarm panels on base, is that the original installation… drone drone drone…”

This continues until it’s time for him to clock out for the day. He stands up.

Oh dear lord Jesus, thank you that he’s leaving, I think. Hazel and Gus are standing in some kind of attic now. They lean in toward each other. They lean in… she lifts her face… DON’T KISS, DO NOT KISS, DON’T YOU DARE KISS WITHOUT ME!!! I shriek at them. Silently, because Alarm Dude is still here.

They kiss. Of course they do. Dammit.

“Well,” he says brightly, as though my entire heart has not just been rent in two, “it’s time for me to head out.” He turns to go and then pauses at the door and looks back. “I really like talking to you, Claire. You’re a good listener.”

Flowers for Algernon, I am thinking. Was that a movie, or just a book? I cried so hard at the book I still remember the headache I had afterward. I give him a distracted little smile and a wave, and pick up my headphones.

I press Rewind again.

 

Random Thoughts From My Random Head

Grouchy people are the worst. They’re responsible for a lot of the suckage in this world and I think they should be quarantined until they can learn to be awesome like the rest of us. We could rope off one of the lesser-used states and just send all the grouchy people there to live. I’m thinking North Dakota, maybe. I mean, are we really using North Dakota? We could rename it Get Over Yourselfville, or Get Off Of My Grasstown, and the grouchy residents could snarl and harrumph at each other to their hearts’ content, leaving the rest of us to the business of making the world a better place.

You know who else should be quarantined? Slow movers. People who amble leisurely across the road while traffic sits at a standstill waiting for them to make the far curb. People who take up the whole grocery aisle or the entire sidewalk and just inch along like glaciers, taking in all of the sights as though they’ve never seen anything as wondrous and all-engrossing as a box of prunes or a dress in a shop window. I’m not talking about the handicapped or the elderly; I have endless patience for them. I’m talking about people with too much time and too little purpose, and the whole aisle for Pete’s sake. Put a nickel in it, Toots. The rest of us have things to do.

Slow drivers make me borderline homicidal. I tend to think of speed limits as just polite suggestions anyway. I’m not an “enjoy the journey” kind of person. I hate to drive. I want to get in the car and just teleport to where I’m going. Could somebody please make this a thing? On my way home yesterday, while still on base, I got stuck behind an SUV that was creeping along at 5 KM an hour. The speed limit was 40, and this guy was doing 5. Five. What kind of passive-aggressive douchecanoe drives 5 in a 40? What was he afraid of? Tearing a hole in the space-time continuum? Falling off the edge of the planet? I was nearly weeping with frustration by the time I got to a place where I could pass him. I am not nearly Zen enough for this kind of crap. I want to get home.

Random thoughts:

I spend way too much time on Pinterest and Foodgawker. In case you don’t have time for such things, here are the latest food bandwagons, food I see everywhere online, but just don’t get:

Smoothies. Very trendy, and a complete mystery to me. I love to chew. I love to chew things that fill up the pizza-shaped cavern in my soul. And I don’t believe in drinking my calories unless there’s alcohol involved. I guess technically you could call a Bloody Mary a smoothie, in which case I take it all back and you can count me directly in on the smoothie craze.

Kale. Kale is the new black. It’s big in smoothies, and soups and salads and actually everywhere. You can’t escape kale. It’s in every nook and cranny of the internet, infiltrating recipes like a bitter, burlap-textured virus. Superfood. Superawesome. Woot. **jazzhands** So tired of the subject of kale. Handy Protip: kale is also a sandblaster for your colon. Just in case, yanno, you ever need that kind of information.

Paleo. The Paleo Diet is where you only eat what the cavemen ate (never mind that the cavemen went—hello—extinct). So you can eat, for instance, a mastodon and a bushel of crab apples, but you can’t eat any grains because those wacky cavehumans didn’t farm. People on the Paleo bandwagon expend enormous effort adapting recipes to comply with the Paleo guidelines. Paleo Chocolate Cherry Muffins. No idea how they make those without grains or eggs or sugar. Sorcery, probably. Paleo Blueberry-Cheesecake Ice Cream, surely a favorite of our cavecesters. Paleo Bacon-Wrapped Filet Mignon. Just like Australopithecus ate.

I also don’t get the craze for:

Salted caramel everything. Sure, it tastes divine, like the tears of angels or the innocence of small children, but you can’t turn a corner in the Internet these days without someone flinging caramel sauce and sea salt on you. Enough already.

Cupcakes. I don’t want a palm-sized piece of cake. Don’t fence me in like that, bro. I want the whole cake and a fork and the freedom to go at it until I hate myself.

Poached eggs on top of salads. What is that even about? Poached eggs go on toast, duh. With a small lake of butter. And hot sauce, if you’re from Texas.

Quinoa. Quinoa in everydamnthing. Go away, quinoa, I’m sick of reading about how wonderful you are. If you were in grade school you’d be the tattletale hall monitor and I would never speak to you, even if the school was on fire.

Here’s a fun drinking game you can play alone at home (or at work. I don’t judge): Sit down at the computer with the adult beverage of your choice and pull up www.foodgawker.com . Scroll through the food thumbnails. Every time you see one of the things I just listed, do a shot. Double shot if any of the foods are hailed as “vegan,” “dairy-free,” or “gluten-free.”

You’ll be trashed in fifteen minutes.

You probably shouldn’t really try that, just like you shouldn’t be grouchy, or take up the whole aisle, or drive like you died last Thursday. Be awesome. Don’t drink at work. Move like you’ve got a purpose.

That’s it, kids. That’s all I got.

My Higher Self Is a Drunken Waitress Named Shirley

Author’s Note: You haven’t walked a fine literary line until you try to write a blog post about spirituality that is comprehensible to both your evangelical, Jesus-y loved ones and your neo-pagan, shamanistic, barefoot friends. For one thing, it’s like trying to write in two different languages at once. In the same way that people with a New Age or an alternative spiritual bent don’t walk around saying “praise the Lord, brother!” Christians don’t generally use words like chakra or vibrational frequency or Kundalini. Also, you don’t want your Christian peeps to fear for your soul, so you can’t address things like tarot cards, trance channeling, or how you want to smoke DMT before you die. You also don’t want your more eclectic spiritual circle to think you’re a sellout. (I tried to think of a list of verboten topics here but I failed. There is literally nothing too weird to discuss with that crowd).

I’ve done my best here. Whether I succeed in making either group laugh is still up in the air.

I spent the first three decades of life immersed in traditional Christianity. First I was a Fundamentalist, but then I became an Evangelical because they had better music. And eventually I converted to a New Age philosophy because I really liked incense and wearing feathers in my hair. Actually, there was a lot more to it than that, quite a bit of which required therapy, but that’s a story for another day.

I’m not a very good New Ager. My Higher Self is a drunken waitress named Shirley. My animal totem is a very small rubber duck. I also suspect that my spirit guides are unemployable in the rest of the universe. At intergalactic cocktail parties, when asked what they do for a living, my spirit guides just shuffle their feet and mumble about volunteer work with the spiritually handicapped.

I’ve mentioned (read it here!) that my conscience is a Syrian cabdriver named Leo. Leo is only in charge of driving the guilt train though: making me feel terrible when I eat junk, or overdraw my bank account, or don’t call my mother. Shirley, on the other hand, has the unenviable task of helping me to spiritually ascend. And by “ascend” I mean she’d be happy if I’d just stop peeking at the clock when I meditate.

Shirley (who has a red beehive hairdo and smacks her gum while she pours my metaphysical coffee) is full of advice about my spiritual health. “You shuddeneat bacon,” she slurs, slopping coffee on my arm. “It’s a low-vibration food.”

“You tied one on again last night, didn’t you, Shirley?” I ask, crunching bacon with my mouth open, just to annoy her. “Some Higher Self you are. My friend Becky’s Higher Self is teaching her to access her Akashic Records: past life regression. But all I can get out of you is a lot of hungover nagging.”

She sways a little, and fixes a beady eye on me. “I know you’ve been throwing your plastic bottles in the trash and not recycling them. It’s like you’re from Texas or something.”

“I AM from Texas! How do you not even know that?”

She hiccups loudly. “I’m gonna tell your drum circle on you. Mother Earth killer.”

Shirley plays dirty pool. “Fine,” I say, pushing the bacon away. “I won’t eat bacon if you won’t tattle on me.”

She is not done with me. “Have you been smoking again? You’ve been smoking at work, haven’t you! Breath is spirit you know. Only low-frequency people smoke cigarettes.” She waves the coffeepot at me threateningly.

“I do not smoke!” I am outraged. “I stopped smoking ages ago. Quit being so judgmental.”

“Then why is your crown chakra so small?” she demands. “You have a crown chakra like a Pentecostal.”

We go around like this for a long time. I’m used to it. I know I’ve won when Shirley has to take an aspirin and go lie down on another plane somewhere. The silence of her absence is the perfect time to meditate.

I reach for the bacon.

HazMat and FEMA Death Camps (Cleaning Out the Work Fridge)

I’ve seen and done some pretty gross things in my life. As a mother I’ve changed thousands of diapers. I’ve picked toddlers’ boogers with my bare fingers. Once, the family guinea pig died and we buried him in the backyard. Four days later the dog dug it up and trotted it around the property like a grim trophy. I retrieved it and reburied it while my traumatized daughter watched and wailed from the kitchen window. In the course of my career I’ve viewed crime scene photos that made me skip lunch. I’ve listened to strangers on the phone describe their bodily fluids and diseased flesh in horrific detail (including one guy who had, I promise, maggots in his eye). I’ve seen some things in this war, dude.

None of it prepared me for cleaning the work refrigerator tonight.

Don’t ask me what insanity possessed me to do it. The point is, I did it. And now I have to live with the memory forever. Here is a partial list of what I found:

  • Fossilized chicken wings wadded in a ball of tin foil like a shameful, childhood secret
  • Three inches of clotted milk in a plastic bottle
  • Butter that had grown a carapace
  • Fourteen hardboiled eggs in various stages of decay
  • A tub of rice that had gained sentience
  • And countless colonies of single-celled organisms including, I am pretty sure, a SCOBY.

Scoby

Kombucha SCOBY wants to crawl on your face while you sleep. 

It was a full-blown HazMat incident, which we in the Fire Department take very seriously, and which I single-handedly and with great courage, mitigated. And me without my bunny suit. (Sorry you won’t get to see me in my HazMat bunny suit. It was black lace and low-cut, too.)

How many half-drunk bottles of green tea and Muscle Milk are too many in a fridge? How many cartons of pineapple yogurt do we amass before we say “enough already”? How many brown grapes and sodden oranges? And don’t get me started on the condiment packets.

OK, OK, if you insist.

If I was the boss of the world (hey, what a great idea!) I would have a Zero Tolerance policy toward just a few things. War, fundamentalism and oppression would top the list. And closer to the bottom would be the hoarding of condiment packets. Zero tolerance. No questions asked; firing squad offense.

Every workplace in the world has at least one Condiment Hoarder on staff. Condiment Hoarders are those loathsome people who squirrel away tubs of McDonalds dipping sauces, and take-out pouches of salad dressing; ketchup packets by the score (because they’re FREE!) and little paper packets of salt and pepper and sugar and powdered creamer. Soy sauce, duck sauce, lemon juice, honey. And god help us, the Holy Grail of all hoarded condiments, Taco Bell hot sauce packets.

In what world does anyone need to stockpile Taco Bell hot sauce? They shove it at you by the double handful every time you go through the drive-thru. Even Taco Bell doesn’t want the stuff lying around. If the staff doesn’t feel you have taken enough hot sauce they will run down the street behind you trying to chuck packets of it into your bag as you drive away. The world will literally never run out of Taco Bell hot sauce, not even if we try. Stop hoarding it; you need an intervention.

It’s as if Condiment Hoarders are afraid that the Antichrist is going to appear on the world stage at any minute and chuck us all into FEMA death camps, and the only thing between us and starvation will be whatever condiments we’ve managed to stuff into our cheek pouches beforehand. I’m no prophet but I’m going to go way out on a limb here and speculate that this is never going to happen. Nowhere in the Multiverse are you and your loved ones ever going to be reduced to crouching under a hut and sucking duck sauce and honey from plastic sleeves to meet your nutritional requirements. It’s not going to happen (though it might make good reality TV).

The fridge is clean and condiment-free now. I would like to recommend myself for a promotion and a raise and perhaps the Presidential Medal of Freedom as well.

I’ll settle for you jokers keeping it clean.

The Help-less Desk (in which I am eaten by bears)

OK, spoiler alert: I didn’t really get eaten by bears. What actually happened was that I spent thirty minutes on the phone with the Army’s Computer Help Desk which, as customer service experiences go, is less excruciating than being mauled by grizzlies in the Kodiak. But not by much. Given the opportunity again I’d take my chances with the bears. I swore a lot before it was all over.

I got to work tonight to find that I couldn’t log on to my company email. No one could. Apparently my supervisor had addressed the problem via email, explaining the issue and its Very Simple Solution. But of course no one could get into their email to read her email, so… well, you see the difficulty.

I called the Help Desk. After all, they’re there to help, right? The poster on the bulletin board says so! Would the Army lie? The very name “Help Desk” is reassuring, evoking images of a warm, grandmotherly type in an apron, perhaps offering you a freshly baked pie and a back rub; maybe help on your income taxes, or folksy wisdom on housebreaking your dog.

The Help Desk person who answered my phone call was not warm, nor was he grandmotherly, nor even (possibly) human. He certainly wasn’t helpful. Even over the phone lines I could sense his contempt, his utter disdain for me—this puerile half-wit who had called to disturb him with something as trivial as an entire department being locked out of their email.

For the sake of convenience I’ll give him a nickname. Let’s call him… oh, let’s just randomly call him… Dick. (I have a late uncle and a dear friend, both named Dick; lovely men. This guy was a Dick of a different stripe).

Here’s how our conversation went:

Dick answers the phone with something that sounds like “Rrmph gumph shizzle flockstrap.”

“Hi,” I chirp, “is this the Help Desk?”

“That’s what I said, isn’t it?” He doesn’t so much speak as bark, sounding truculent and supremely Type-A.

“I’m sorry, I didn’t hear what you said when you answered.” I am all sweetness. “I’m calling because no one in our department can get into our email accounts. Can you help?”

“Why can’t you get into your email?” he is accusatory, as though I am doing this on purpose to wreck his life.

I’m a little taken aback by his manner, but hey, my mother raised me to be polite. I answer in my Nice Voice. “I don’t know why we can’t get in. I was sort of hoping you could tell me.”

“What are you doing wrong? You must be doing something wrong. It’s usually the user’s fault.”

I am already wondering how many years of therapy his children are going to need after being raised by a man who “helps” like this. “It’s not just me,” I explain, “it’s the entire department.”

There is a long, disbelieving pause. “Yeah, right. The entire department. Are you entering through the OWA?”

“I’m sorry; I don’t know what the OWA is. I’m using Explorer and typing in the usual address.”

He repeats himself very loudly and very slowly, as though I am either deaf, or not very bright. “The O… W… A! Are. You. Entering. Through. It?”

I’m losing my grip on courtesy. “I have no idea what you’re talking about. What the heck is the OWA?”

There is a heavy sigh, the aggressive clatter of computer keys, and some dark muttering. I think I hear the words ignorant slut, but I can’t be sure. “Oh, well I see the problem right here. The server doesn’t recognize you.”

I wait, but it seems that’s all he’s going to offer. “Um, can you tell me how to fix it?”

Dick actually snickers, as though this is the funniest thing he’s heard all night. “Well, if the server’s not recognizing you, it’s not recognizing you. You won’t be able to get into your email.”

I say the first of many silent swear words. “Is there a solution?”

“Oh yes,” he says. “The solution is that you’d need the server to start recognizing you.”

At this point I actually hold the receiver out from my ear and stare at it. I cannot believe I am having this conversation, or that I am at the mercy of this passive-aggressive asshole.

“How,” I say very deliberately, “might one go about getting the server to recognize oneself? Or one’s partner? Or anyone else in this department who is currently locked out of their email?”

“Well,” he says, and I can practically hear him smirking, “that’s the question, isn’t it?”

I won’t pain you with more. We went around like this for quite some time and I’m afraid at one point I may have called him a “condescending jackhole.” Or maybe I didn’t actually say it out loud. But I might have. Finally my partner got tired of listening to my Rain-Man-like responses. He picked up his phone, punched in some numbers, and within fifteen seconds had the problem resolved.

I hung up on Dick and logged in to my email. Then for the rest of my night I fantasized about feeding him to the bears.

A/N: Special thanks to my soapmaking friend Kendra Cote, who posted this for me when the “gubbmint” computers at work would not let me access WordPress.

I Was a DoD Beauty Queen

 

A few weeks ago I went home to the US for leave. Months in the desert had left me looking pretty rough and I decided I needed some work. This was a mistake, folks. A terrible, terrible mistake. The Department of Defense doubtless does many things well, but beauty is not one of them.

There’s background, of course. There always is.

When I turned forty my older friend Kim took me out to lunch. Over oyster po’boys she leaned forward, cut her eyes around the restaurant like she was about to slip me an 8-ball of cocaine, and hissed “have you gotten the… you know… hair on your face problem yet?”

I was seriously freaked out. Because, I mean, hair on my face? What was she talking about? Was this what I had to look forward to in the second half of life? Why had no one ever warned me? Because believe me, I did not sign up for that, and if I suddenly started sprouting whiskers then someone at Universe Headquarters was going to get an earful until the problem was resolved.

In the three years since then I’ve definitely developed some peach fuzz on my cheeks. It’s not a lot, but I’m starting to look like a thirteen year-old boy. A thirteen year-old boy with crows’ feet. I decided to have my face waxed. You can’t be too careful: today’s peach fuzz is tomorrows’s mutton chops.

I’d been assigned to tiny Camp Buehring for a month before I flew home. I had no access to civilization during that time. There’s nothing around Camp Buehring but sand. Sand and camels as far as the eye can see. It looks like Mars only with camels.

Camp Buehring has a PX the size of a convenience store, a Taco Bell, a KFC and a Panda (because nothing says “Army Strong” like a diet of sodium, fat, and highly processed chemicals). There’s not much else on the base but there is, surprisingly, a spa. I made an appointment for a wax, a haircut, and a pedicure.

At the spa I was assigned a “personal attendant” who was going to take care of all my beauty needs. She was a Pacific Islander, and spoke almost no English. She was also over six feet tall and looked and talked a lot like Andre the Giant. In my mind I christened her “Igor.”

Image this person wants to rip burning wax from your soft flesh

Igor led me to a cubicle and pushed me onto a table for my facial wax. Igor liked to talk to herself. She began spreading hot wax all over my face while crooning to herself “HOT paste… HOT paste… HOTTTT paaaaaste…” She dripped some wax on my shirt, and she dripped some wax in my hair, and then she laid cloth strips over my face, yelled ”Cruciatus!” and ripped it all off. It hurt about as badly as you’d expect it to hurt when someone rips all your facial hair out by the roots.

Next, Igor led me to the hair portion of the salon. She didn’t wash my hair, which is understandable because this is the desert and water is at a premium. But she also didn’t comb my hair, which was windblown and tangled and now full of hardened facial wax.

What she did do was to plaster my bangs down with water, take a pair of scissors, and whack them all off in one swift movement, about an inch above my eyebrows.

I stared at myself in the mirror, transfixed with horror. “My bangs!”

Igor nodded, clearly pleased with herself. “I make purty.” And throughout the rest of the ordeal she crooned to herself “I make purty. I make purrrrty! I make PURRRTY!”

She shuffled around me, wheezing and making random scissors-stabs at my dry, tangled head. Halfway through it I threw up my figurative hands and started to laugh. I mean why not? You can’t make this stuff up. The damage was already done. And, as my sister pointed out to me later, a bad haircut lasts six weeks. A bad haircut story lasts forever.

When Igor was done hacking and sawing at my head she took a round brush and a blowdryer and did this with it:

Image the librarian glasses come free with every haircut

I’m not kidding, that is really how my hair looked when she was done. And when I looked in the mirror I saw that my face was reacting to the wax job by doing this:

Image I’m not really blond but if I were I’d look happier about it

I looked like Captain Kangaroo with cystic acne.

Igor walked me back to the lobby. And when I made my entrance every jaw in the place dropped. Silence descended. Magazines fell from hands. There were a few audible gasps. Someone muttered “dear God.” Proudly, Igor marched me to the pedicure station.

You know how a regular spa pedicure involves a massaging chair and calf-deep tubs of bubbling, scented water? Well, a desert pedicure is different. A desert pedicure is a folding chair, a broken Homemedics foot bath containing a liter of tepid water, and a bottle of Betadine solution.

Image in the desert we call this “beauty juice”

I can’t even talk about it. My toes were still stained brown when I got off the plane 3 days later. I’m just glad I didn’t opt for the Brazilian wax.

I’m back in the desert now, and nearly back to normal. I have peach fuzz on my cheeks and bangs in my eyes.

Feel free to share your own bad beauty sessions in the comment section. I’d like to know I’m not alone out here.