Thursday, April 20, 2006

“I Saw You Walking the Other Day…”

20 April 2006

Somewhat rudely, I stopped Barbara mid-sentence when she said that to me this morning in the chow hall. I felt obligated to interject, “Now that’s something you will NEVER, ever hear said to a manager around here!” “Only a nobody walks in L.A.” as the saying goes (“Walking in L.A.” Missing Persons, 1982) There are so many personal little fiefdoms or kingdoms going on here and with it, the sucking up to get a POV assigned to you which insures your domain. You’re either a sire or a serf around here. If you have a horse (vehicle), then you are a sire and you’ve found your holy grail. Otherwise, you’re a serf or peasant. You can have it; I’m goin’ home…32 days and a wake up.

On Sunday we had a hellacious rain and hail storm. The sky turned yellow for about an hour and I was waiting for the twisters to come take us, Dorothy and Toto to Oz. After having seen the Easter Sunday presentation of Ten Commandments on AFN, I was waiting for the hail after it fell to burst into flames. We must have had a good 1-1/2 inches of rain. All this late-season rain has made for a real bumper crop of mosquitoes. I’m sure that I haven’t seen mosquitoes in such numbers since the jungles of Guatemala in April of ’90. But that’s a tale in another blog. No…really!

Yesterday I ended up making a trip (by bus) up to the big PX and Bazaar at Liberty for a few odds and ends. My first trip up to Liberty was intended to go to the Bazaar to buy this chair with inlay that I saw two weeks ago. I saw a similar one in Kuwait and wanted it but didn’t know how I’d ship it, so put that thought out of my head. But when I saw it again two weeks ago, I decided that if it was there on Wednesday that it was mine. The wood is bent (which Raymond said is probably achieved from the wood being boiled and bent) and it folds with the slats of the seat interlocking giving this thing a real interesting look. The inlay covered by a high-gloss lacquer.

Since you can’t go into the PX with any boxes or bags from the Bazaar nor can you go into the Bazaar with any boxes or bags from the PX, I ended up catching the bus back to Victory which would require me making a second trip back from Victory to Liberty. Our little PX has no packing tape whatsoever. Sometimes even the simplest things are hard to get here. So my second trip of the day to Liberty, I decided to take my bike back up to make my PX purchases. They seem to think around here that EVERYONE has a vehicle that they can just leave their purchases in. Not this serf.

Later in the afternoon, I walked over to the Post Office with another small box to be mailed off to my sister. Although it was about a mile walk, the box was light enough that it wasn’t a terrible burden to walk there…even in the 100 degree heat. Not like the two trunks of 35 and 43 pounds that I sent home on Monday in preparation of leaving.

Even though we had rain on Monday, we are still choking on the dust as everything dries out. Last night when I showered to get all the accumulated dust off me, as the dirt was flowing off my body with the water I guess I got a bit more sun than I expected between my bike ride and walking all over the place here in the hot Iraqi sun.

KBR has come and placed the 12 foot blast barriers next to our trailer. They seemed to wait until the ground was more stable after that last one came crashing down into and through that one shower trailer a couple of months back. If you remember from my earlier descriptions, the concrete barrier that fell didn’t stop till it hit the steel beam on the floor of the trailer. I looked at the group of new barriers placed next to me (my room and bed for that matter, are on the outside wall) and the blast barrier on the end (which is placed next to where my head lies) and it is cocked ever so slightly inward to the trailer, making me worry that I will wake up one morning flat as a pancake. Since I’m a side-sleeper, I’m imagining them finding me with a flat-fish-face and talking through fish-lips as if I’ve squashed my face together with two hands. Kind of like Edvard Munch’s “The Scream” only flatter. You’ve got the picture.

Raymond has been playing off my fears and was teasing me even more on Monday night after all the rain we had. “You know, with all that rain, I wonder if the mud under that barrier hasn’t caused that thing to lean a bit more in toward the trailer. Make sure to leave the door open when you sleep at night so we can at least try to pull you out from under the barrier if it does fall.” Now that’s the kind of positive reinforcement of my inner-most fears that I need, right? As E.G. Marshall would say when he was announcing radio Mystery Theater, “Pleasant Dreams?!”

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Make Dave Cave

12 April 2006

The last week has passed too quickly to even catch in a blog. We had a visit from Five Rivers, the new sub of ITT for my work area. They came out to introduce themselves to us and to also work on persuading those of us who have chosen to part ways with our soon-to-be-former-employer ITT. Some of us are taking positions with other companies (although I can’t officially say that the one manager making a statement a couple of months ago to people that “If any of you are ready to submit resignations, I’m accepting resignations today,” had anything to do with any of our people jumping ship…although, the sensitivity of our management teams tend (too often) to run parallel with those sentiments!) Others of us are about ready to return home and be done with Iraq…at least until we start seeing it on the TV screens everyday at home.

As I said in my last, Allen has arrived and started to settle back in. He and Roland have taken it upon themselves to instigate a “Make Dave Cave” movement. It’s all in fun, actually. I had initially signed on to stay for another six months, but after a week of mulling it over (and a week of bad sleep because if it) I decided that it is in my best interest to go home. So they are trying to make me cave and sign on to stay again…but really stay this time. Yes, I’ll miss people here, our customer (the U.S. Army) and I’ll miss my job to some extent, but I’m not seeing this leading me in any better direction career-wise at this point. Plus, the job market back home is considerably better-appearing than when I left home back in 2004. How long can I tempt fate and keep hoping that the job market will hold up as it looks now?

The weather has been getting toasty again. I’m sure that we have hit about 95 or so a couple of times this week. But, as you might have guessed; as soon as I’d put the boots under the bed, it would rain cats and dogs again. We’ve had two good rains in the past couple of weeks which is kind of strange for this late in the season. I don’t remember it being this wet this late in Spring. The last two years have been dry by the end of March…but then last year we had Venice in Baghdad going on too. I’m so sick of mud I could vomit! Mud isn’t bad when it’s confined to the garden, but when you’re bathing in it most of your ¾ of mile walk to work and back, it gets old real fast.

We've also had a few incoming mortars nearby, but nothing that would raise your attention any more than a crack of thunder.

Now I want to give a very special thanks to those people at Amazon. I received probably my last order to this APO from Amazon. Got the second book of Christopher Paolini’s trilogy-in-the-making called Eldest which follows the first one, Eragon. So I haven’t lost too much time between books. Received another book I’m planning on giving to one of our LT’s who thinks on the same wavelength as me (no gasping please, it isn’t *that* scary!) It is called Moving Mountains by now-retired General Wm Pagonis who is currently working for Discover Card in Hoffman Estates. He was in charge of logistics during the first Gulf War and tells his story not only of his logistical nightmare, but how he changed logistics for the Army to make getting stuff to where it was needed, more efficiently. I wanted to present the LT with a copy for my going-away since I think he’d find it interesting. The best book in your personal library is the one that you just gave away or is constantly loaned out.

Spent today finishing the inventory of my second trunk I’m going to send home. Mostly filled with stuff that I don’t need anymore and a bunch of gifts for people back home. Got all the customs forms all filled out and went through the drawers once more for the loose things that can go. Now I just have to find someone to take me up to the post office. Since our truck was shot up sometime back our replacement truck was “reallocated” to another supervisor as punishment. So now we have to beg for a truck if one is even available to do the simplest of things. Most of the time the idiots in building 98 give us a bunch of crap and tell us there isn’t a truck available to use. Every other section has vehicles, but ours have all been taken from us and “reallocated” over the last year. Isn’t that just such a politically correct term? And now that we’re technically not ITT anymore and Five Rivers (more like Five Sewer Outfalls), if we weren’t treated as the buck-toothed-red-headed-step-children before, we certainly are now.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Let’s Give a Big Manson Family Welcome-Back To…

05 April 2006

I know it sounds a bit odd, but today was a homecoming of sorts for one of my former coworkers who is once again a current coworker here. Like so many others, Allen has chosen to come back to the “fold” so to speak. Ahh, yes, another member of the Manson Family come back home!

Allen was our Tech Control lead when I first got to Victory way, way back in Feb of ’04 and then he migrated to the RSC as it was known then. I migrated over to the RSC/NSC/NOSC/TNOSC (or whatever we’re to be called this week!) following his departure back in April of ’05. It is nice to see all the returnees again, but now I guess it is my turn to disappear but hopefully to not return. Y’know, we used to have a saying when I was a contractor in Antarctica…The first time you come down for the adventure, the second time for the money and the third time because you don’t fit in anywhere else! Are contractors all that strange of a breed? That was a rhetorical question so please don’t answer that, okay?

We had about an inch of rain three days ago. Seems to me a bit late in the season for so much rain. I don’t remember the past two springs being anywhere near as wet this late. But then again, this year we didn’t have any reoccurrence of our “Venice in Baghdad” with the living areas in 6 inches of water like last year. I’m still kind of flipped out at the mud. Working at home in the garden is one thing; you expect to be muddy working in the yard. But here you have no landscaping, no escape from the mud; you can’t go anywhere here without blinking and ending up in the middle of what you thought was dry ground. At least in Kuwait the ground has more sand.

I guess the good thing about the rains are that the date palms are now all loaded with their strings of baby dates. Dates used to be Iraq’s second largest export after oil And with the dates starting you get all those huge bumble bees (like the size of your thumb, huge) that hang around the date palms swarming. I haven’t heard of anyone getting stung by them, but I never was one to freak out too much about bees or wasps. They are larger than even the big yellow jackets back home and kind of interesting to watch. They are too busy to worry about you, so just walk past them and they are fine.

We have visitors here from the civilized world. They are here to introduce or reintroduce themselves to us (since you are unimportant anyway and they’ve forgotten your face and name from the last time they were here a month ago) and reassure the customer that things will continue to hum along like normal after XX% of the workforce changes over at contract end (because the contract offered the peasants was an insult to their intelligence.) Suffice to say that I’m not alone by any stretch of the imagination, in choosing to go home or in many cases to pursue other jobs with other companies over here at the end of contract.

Rest assured that even if offered less by the government for their services, corporate’s bottom line wasn’t even scratched (sorry, bad coincidental choice of words). But in the minds of said corporate cogs, this is now a civilized and unthreatening place to work, don’t-cha-know. After thorough corporate consideration, I am sure the determination was made that with fewer mortar attacks and only periodic “celebratory” weapons fire and bullets flying in the air, we’ve been reclassified these days only as a television impaired zone vice a “war zone”…mostly because we still don’t get live broadcasts of “Deal, No Deal”. Now tell me, shouldn’t that be enough to warrant some kind of deprivation pay?

With my imminent departure you can imagine that I’m feverously trying to finish my AAFES pog collection ( In case you’re not familiar with pogs, they take the place of our pocket change here. With the weight and security issues of transporting cash, it is much more efficient to use pogs instead of trying to import pocket change into a war zone. Thus, in trying to keep costs down AAFES uses pogs which they lovingly call AAFES “Gift Certificates.”

If you go up on the site, you’ll see that the pogs have all different kinds of pictures on them. Some of my favorites are the WWII ones and the early pics of our former presidents when they were military members. Then again, I also kind of like the ones dedicated to our working animals like the dolphin with the small camera on its flipper and several acknowledging the working dogs of the military.

Oddly enough, it seems that just as I get close to completing my collection of one printing, they introduce another set. Suppose I could go up on Ebay and buy what I need, but that takes the fun out of it. The 2006A’s (8th printing) are now out so we’ll see if I can finish finding the new set along with the five nickels I need from the 2005 (sixth printing) and the five dimes I still need from the 2004 (2nd printing) before I bug out of here. I’ve also been fortunate to make friends with some of the coffee shop guys and they have been trading me some of the Brit pogs as well. What can I say? I’m an old frustrated stamp collector who thought that the urge would pass when I sold off my stamp collection in desperation for cash back in ’87!

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