Tag Archives: publishing

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.


Kulinary Kuwait

I have a confession to make. It’s not pretty, and I hope you will find it in your hearts not to judge me too harshly.

I love hummus.

Wait, that’s not the confession. That’s just background.

I really do love hummus. I love it so much that I think everyone else on the planet should love it too. I’m practically evangelistic about it. Occasionally I’ll run across some provincial soul who actually still does not know what hummus is. I confess that I’m tempted to sneer at that person. I am. I’m sorry, but hummus is important. Also, if you’re trying to describe hummus to a friend? Don’t call it “Middle Eastern bean dip.” Have some respect, man.

Anyway, my confession: Yesterday I bought hummus in a can. With a pop-top lid. And today I ate it. It was, as you may have guessed, pretty awful. It smelled like Spam and tasted like—well, like bean dip. In my defense, I only did it because the supermarket deli stopped making the fresh stuff and by the time I found this out I’d been daydreaming about it all day until it was practically a medical emergency.

Let me state for the record that eating canned hummus felt like the culinary equivalent of a high-school dropout huffing canned air in the handicapped stall of the Wal-Mart bathroom. It was definitely a low point for me, and one I hope never to repeat.

Why would a supermarket deli stop making hummus? In the Middle East? Doesn’t that sound illegal or something? Well if it’s not, it should be.

You know what else should be illegal? The prepared foods this supermarket sells. The population of Kuwait has been bitten by the “American food” bug. Every corner of every street has a cluster of American restaurants sprouting from it like cholesterol-saturated fungi on a trans-fat log: Mcdonalds. Smashburger. Chili’s. Applebees. But they don’t do from-scratch American food very well here at all. Oh no. Not. At. All.

The prepared “American” foods in the Sultan Center look like the pictures from a 1975 edition of a Junior League cookbook. Stroganoffs with canned peas. Tuna salad in hollowed-out “tomah-toe” halves. Macaroni and pimientos swimming in runny white dressing. And something mysteriously called “Mayonnaise Salad” in which there is a single, identifiable ingredient: Corn. (There are other things in it, but I have no idea what they might be. I’m certainly not going to taste it and find out.)

Food is just different here. I’m not saying it’s bad, it’s just a new experience. I like new experiences as long as, you know, organ meats are not involved. In Kuwait you can buy an entire, raw goat (with or without the head) from a display in a shop window. I don’t know many Americans who would even know what to do with a whole goat. There are entire supermarket display cases full of different mammals’ milks. Black cheeses, gray cheeses. Camel-milk ice cream. Unpronounceable vegetables with tentacles. And don’t get me started on the lunch meats.

I ate a kebab in an Iranian restaurant here that was clearly A) not beef and B) not any other kind of meat I’ve ever eaten in my life. It felt like chewy Styrofoam packing peanuts in my mouth. No matter how much I chewed it, it just kept springing back to its original shape between my teeth. I finally gave up and spit it out. It’s not that I have a weak stomach. I just know when I’m beaten.

I mostly love ethnic food, but I’m not as brave as one woman I know who tells me she’s picked things out of curries in her travels that are unrecognizable. She just shrugs, licks off the sauce, and eats them anyway. I want to be that free-spirited, but there’s no denying that I’d enjoy the culinary adventure more if I were twenty years younger.

Kuwaitis eat camel meat at weddings. It’s very expensive, and I’m dying to try it. It probably tastes like chicken because… well, doesn’t everything?

Right now, though, I’d settle for a good tub of hummus.

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.

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.