Tag Archives: humor

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.


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.

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.

Hit Me Again, Ditchdoctor!

We do a lot of rotating shift work here in the desert and sometimes I get so exhausted that my judgment suffers. Recently, in a flash of insanity that I can only blame on serious sleep deprivation I conceived the idea of boosting my energy with a series of vitamin B12 shots.  

I’ve taken these injections before – they make you feel like a different person. And you can buy syringes, needles and a really high grade of B12 over the counter here, so what’s not to love?

The problem, of course, is that I’ve taken these shots. As in, someone else has given them to me. Usually while I’m curled in the fetal position, making whimpering noises to myself. Still, somehow I got it into my head that I was going to be able to plunge a needle deep into the musculature of my own thigh and nonchalantly give myself a shot. Or rather, a lot of shots since, in my enthusiasm, I ran out to the nearest pharmacy and bought a 3-month supply. Go big or go home, is my motto.

In the midst of this streak of zealous medical independence a small detail slipped my mind: I’m so queasy about needles, flesh, and bodily functions that I’ve dropped out of nursing school not once, not twice, but three times in the last fifteen years. I always start out with lofty intentions: I’m going be a nurse! I’m going to save lives and wear cute scrubs and make a lot of money! (Not in that order.) I’m going to hold out hope to the dying and comfort to the suffering and, Florence Nightingale-like, single handedly reform any corner of the medical world that still needs reforming!

Then I’ll see a picture in a textbook of a bedsore, or an excised tumor, or I’ll read the words “seeping exudate” on a chart somewhere and before you know it I’m back on the streets begging McDonalds to let me flip burgers for them. I remember watching a woman give birth once, in real life. I’d already had four babies myself, so I was well acquainted with the process. And as the mother pushed her tender infant into the world, as a roomful of medical professionals around me sighed in raptures over the miracle of burgeoning new life, all I could think was – holy cow, that’s one disgusting, slimy mess

So it’s no surprise that I got cold feet at the last minute. I decided to get a paramedic (I work with several) to show me the ropes the first time around. 

“Easy peasy,” said Ditchdoctor Dan, the Sadistic Paramedic From Hell. “Look for your muscle landmarks first.” 

Landmarks? I thought he was trying to give me a geography lesson. 

“After you find your landmarks (???) just make a triangle with your fingers and slip the needle in. You won’t even feel it. Don’t go off too far to the side though, or you’ll hit a nerve and it’ll hurt so bad you’ll want to die.” 

nerve?? I could feel myself getting lightheaded. “I don’t think I want to take that chance,” I managed. 

“You could do it on your arm,” he mused, “though there’s always the chance the needle will bottom out and hit bone.” 

The room spun. I started to make weird, burbling noises in the back of my throat. 

Ditchdoctor Dan broke the ampoule of B12 and inserted the needle into the liquid. “Glass ampoules, huh? Wow, I hope these are filter-tipped needles. Don’t want to shoot any little slivers of glass into your veins.” He chortled as though this was the funniest idea he’d heard all week.

 “Can that really happen?” My voice sounded like a buzz saw in my own ears. 

Chortle, chortle. “Well, anything can happen. It doesn’t usually kill you the first time around though. You need quite a buildup of glass in your veins before –” But I didn’t hear the rest. Also, the next couple of hours are all a strange blur. 

I’m still committed to taking my B12 shots. Each week when I’m ready I get on the radio and order the nearest ambulance to report to Dispatch. Once the unwitting paramedics are inside my office I corner them. I thrust my bare arm under their noses, begging them to hit me up. I need a fix, man! C’mon, I need it bad! 

Today, for some reason, the whole office got into the spirit of the thing. People were lining up for B12 shots while I, desperate to get rid of my stash, handed ampoules and syringes around like candy. Ditchdoctor Dan looked a bit stunned at this sudden onslaught of clientele. Especially when one woman (let’s just call her Tillie Tourette) dropped her pants and demanded her shot in the hip. Of course in the spirit of medical discretion that particular procedure happened behind a closed door. But we all heard it. I don’t call her Tillie Tourette for nothing. 

And now I’m all amped up on vitamin B12. And so is the rest of the office. If anyone’s caught napping at their desk this week it won’t be my fault. 

Only one month’s supply left in my desk drawer. I might need something stronger than B12 to get through it.

Of Toasters and Triangle Butt

A/N: I had some great animated gifs for this post, but then the 1992 internet connection kicked in and I figured it was time to hit CTRL+V and get out while the lights were still on. So to speak.

A toaster fell on my head today and I’m embarrassed at how happy it made me. I’m not normally a toast eater, but I’d just bought some great artisan bread at the Sultan Center and I was thinking that it would be delicious toasted, if only I owned a toaster. Then I reached into a cupboard to put something away and the toaster fell out on top of me. A more metaphysical person might suspect that this was the Universe sending a message.

I didn’t know I had a toaster. When I moved into my apartment it was already occupied by my roommate, Invisible Kate. (Her name isn’t really Invisible Kate. That’s just my fond nickname for her.) Invisible Kate spends 99% of her non-working time in her bedroom with the door closed. This leaves me free to sprawl out, fling my belongings around, and just generally hog all of the common areas. Invisible Kate ventures forth only rarely to ride the elevator to the roof and smoke a cigarette. I do not join her in this activity for two reasons:

  1. Smoking is a filthy habit and
  2. My mother reads this blog.

When I moved into the apartment everything was coated in a layer of dust and some kind of waxy substance that I do not care to speculate about. This was not Invisible Kate’s fault, as (I’ve noted) she was busy being in her room. I spent my first week scrubbing the place down and rearranging cupboards. After that I hired a maid service to do the cleaning.

I’ve been waiting over forty years to be able to say that. Can you hear the angels sing?

Anyway, obviously at some point in my cleaning I must have seen the toaster, but until it beaned me this morning, I forgot about it.

So now I can have toast, which makes me happy. Except that it’s just one more thing I’m going to have to fight in my battle against Triangle Butt.

It’s a real battle to get enough exercise in Kuwait. I sit in an office chair for twelve hours a day, six days a week. I can feel my backside flattening and spreading like butter on a hot griddle. I’m paranoid that I’m going to get that grandma thing where your butt slowly droops into an inverted triangle, and everyone knows it but you.

There’s a gym in my apartment building, but—this is purely speculation on my part—the equipment appears to have been assembled as part of a Rube Goldberg competition in a junior-high shop class.

The treadmill in my gym, like a Porsche Boxster, accelerates from zero to a hundred in 5.8 seconds. No lie. I tried to run on it one day. One minute I was moving in ludicrous slow-motion like the Chariots of Fire guy at the finish line, and the next I was doing Wile E Coyote runs off a cliff, legs spinning in a blur while I scrambled to stay upright and not lose every “cool point” I’ve ever amassed.

 I avoid the gym.

My only line of defense against Triangle Butt is to slip out of the office two or three times a day and walk a really fast mile each time. I’m a fast walker anyway, but during Butt Maintenance sessions I really haul… well, butt.

Naturally, every helpful soul that sees me race-walking thinks I must be late for an appointment, so they stop to offer me a ride (this is a small military base. It’s not creepy like it would be if I was walking around town). Then I have to stop walking and explain to them about Triangle Butt. It gets complicated. Their eyes get all shifty and they start shrinking back from me. Sometimes I just give up and let them bring me back to the office like a runaway puppy. A fire engine brought me back one day last week which was really cool, except I didn’t get any exercise that day.

So now I can have my toast, but I’m going to have to redouble my battle against Triangle Butt. Maybe I’ll just make toast once or twice, and then hide the toaster from myself again. In Invisible Kate’s room.

Day Off Adventures

I just stepped in something and I don’t know what it was. It’s my own fault for walking behind a Dumpster. My coworker George saw a man squatting to relieve himself behind a Dumpster the other day. Why would I put myself anywhere near one?

My poor shoes; the things they’ve stepped in in Kuwait would curl your hair. I should kill them with fire, but they’re my favorite shoes in the world. I just know that the second I get rid of them the company will stop manufacturing them forever. Here they are: my beloved Rocket Dogs:



Sorry about the fuzzy picture. I was still shaking from the trauma of stepping in that unspeakable… whatever it was I stepped in.

Today I went to the bazaar, where I bought an overpriced charging cord that the salesman swore on his mother’s grave would fit my router. Of course it didn’t fit my router. It probably doesn’t fit anyone’s router. It’s probably a charging cord for a portable iron or something. His mother’s probably not even dead.

I saw this advertisement at the bazaar:


It’s just wrong on so many levels that I don’t even know where to start.

Here is something else I saw there:

 They’re selling socks. There must be a hundred of these sock vendors in the bazaar. How many socks can one tiny nation need? Obviously someone buys them. It makes me suspect that perhaps all the Arab women are wearing Hello Kitty socks under their abayahs. The men may be wearing Spongebob Squarepants knee socks under their dishdashas. How would we know?


After the bazaar I went to the salon. I had to go because last week at the office I took a pair of dull scissors and whacked off all my bangs. They were in my eyes and I couldn’t take it another minute. My friend Rob says that this was an awesome and manic thing to do. I don’t know. It took a grim-faced stylist named Sana and 12 KD (about $42) to fix it. I am cheap about my hair (which is probably evident to anyone who has seen me). I have difficult hair. Ever had a bad hair day? I’m having a bad hair life. I figure why throw money at the problem? So 12 KD kind of hurt, but I guess she did a good job. Now I’m probably going to have to style it and everything.

While I was there I had my eyebrows threaded. The tiny lady in charge of that enterprise was named Kamari. She clucked and scolded and ordered Stop plucking your eyebrows! No more! You come back to me many more times and slowly, slowly I fix what you have done.

I don’t know why women think the salon is relaxing. I slunk away feeling like the worst kind of grooming failure. How have I dared to appear in public all these years?

I ate lunch at a tiny Iranian restaurant in Maboulah. It was amazing. They brought me chicken soup that made my heart sing. They brought me a salad full of herbs that I’d never seen or tasted before. They brought me enough food for four people and every bit of it was divine. Here is what I had for lunch (I had already eaten most of the soup and half of the salad).


Well, I’ve had about all the fun I can take for one day. Tomorrow it’s back to work for me. I should have bought some socks at the bazaar though. Nothing says “Middle Eastern contractor” like a pair of Smurf socks under your tactical cargo pants.




Leo, the Syrian Cabdriver

Politicians and televangelists excepted, most of us have a conscience in one degree or another. My conscience—that little voice inside my head that tells me right from wrong—is a Syrian cabdriver named Leo. He speaks with a pithy, folksy sort of wisdom, and has truly terrible teeth. Sometimes he sounds like my mother, and sometimes he sounds like my husband, and sometimes he sounds like my 6th grade teacher, Mrs Lorna Brewer. He doesn’t let me slide on much.

You need to eat more vegetables, Leo tells me, before you die of scurvy. There’s some nice organic spinach in the fridge.

Ew, I say. I don’t know what I was thinking when I bought that. It has little white worms in the stems. I rummage through my purse, looking for the Butterfingers bar that I’m sure I saw in there earlier.

That’s why it’s called organic spinach, you twit. Leo is patient with me. It’s grown without pesticides. Chop off the stems and wash it. Make yourself a nice salad. A few worms never hurt anyone.

The vegetables here taste weird, I tell him. I’ll just have chocolate instead.

You’re going to get fat and lose all your teeth, Leo warns. Then he twists the knife: What would Alexandra do?

 Alexandra is my self-disciplined vegan writer friend back home in Texas. She just decides to do things, and then does them. Like going vegan. One day she just decided to do it and she never ate animal products again. She almost talked me into it too, but I had an emergency that required me to eat half a pound of bacon and I backed out at the last minute.

Another day Alexandra read a really awful novel and thought, “I could write something better than that.” So now she writes novels. Just… writes them. All the way through. She never has writer’s block either. She also goes to the gym and picks up her dogs’ poop in the back yard every day, and never leaves dirty dishes in the sink. I love her, but Leo is always throwing her in my face. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra? I’m sure she wouldn’t approve if she knew he was taking her name in vain this way.

Leo grins at me with teeth that are mostly blackened stumps. Alexandra is probably eating a big bowl of spinach right now. She’s probably down to a size 8 too, and has finished writing her latest novel. Why can’t you be more like Alexandra?

I eat the spinach, but just to show Leo that he’s not the boss of me I also eat the Butterfingers afterward.

Leo is not done.

Your twin sister Carre, he hisses at me when I am lying in bed later, drifting off to sleep.

I know what’s coming.

What about her, I say through clenched teeth. I am wide awake now, defensive and belligerent and grinning horribly into the darkness. Probably I look like a clown with a rictus.

Your sister’s novel was just accepted by one of the biggest publishing houses in the world. They signed her to a 3-book contract. Leo pokes me in the side and I swat at him. He is such a sanctimonious jerk.

I’m very happy for her, I say. And I mean it.

Leo pokes me again and I throw a pillow at him. Probably it’s a good thing no one can see me swatting the air and throwing things in my room. You should be finishing your own novel. Leo breathes his terrible, hot breath into my face. You should be more like Alexandra and Carre. What are you doing, lying here in bed like a lump?

I have to get up for work in a few hours, I say, sounding as pathetic as I feel.

Your novel, he whispers, is not going to finish writing itself.

I’ll pick it up again tomorrow, I say.

Tomorrow never comes.

Leo’s a nag, but this time I’m afraid he’s right.

It’s time to dust off my manuscript. Today.