Archive | October 2007

Salmons-flavored poetry

I found a very old notebook of mine (very old as in all of seven years). Some years are longer than others, as I often say, and those few have been nuts.

For example…seven years ago I was a college student at a private Christian University, full of ideals, ideas and a general sass. I was a communication major, having recently arrived from a junior college in Kentucky. I was actually exiting my poetic phase—having done the whole “teenage angst, set to prose” bit, and was about to begin the blackout years where I didn’t write much of anything.

So I was surprised when I noticed this raggedy, mashed thing. I figured, “Why not post a couple?”

I’ve included a couple about winter to mess with Uber peeps Adrian and Sarah. Haters. Hooray cold weather!

Ode to non-nature

I do not mix with nature
It does not take me in
I deplore its dusty trappings
And they gladly wash from me

At last, to autumn!

O autumn breeze, you are a wond’rous thing!
That men in hours long and hard
can find cool comfort in your arms.
And I, for one, enjoy the cold,
that your evening whispers hold.

Watching distant campus path lights

Small beads of light burn brightly there
They light the way and light the stair
They wink in turn when passers-by
walk from chapel’s steeple high

And one for winter

The lake holds its breath
in a crystal mirror of the land

The trees undress for winter
and drop notes for my attention

The wind reserves its sprints for brighter days
—warmer days

As now a mere whisper of the cold
draws out a curse

The branches sway in autumn
Are they ashamed? Standing naked?

Do they drift to sleep, their gowns released?
Free at last, to rest?

Ha! Funny stuff.

###

Beginning to stabilize

Ahhh, I’m finally starting to settle into a routine.

The apartment has been lived in for nearly two months. Morning rituals are set. I rise at nearly the same moment every day. Roommate Adrian’s cat does her “pounce on my feet” thing every morning once my radio sounds. Cute.

There’s a rhythm at work. Class in the morning, lunch, grading in the afternoon.

After arriving home in early evening, there’s the run/weight thing for an hour/hour thirty. Then more grading until 10-ish. Then the free time before bed.

For as hopelessly impulsive as I am, I find a lot of comfort in routine. Not that I’m a glutton for excessive work loads, but if there’s a general pattern of tasks and time, I grow at ease, knowing what to expect during the days. It’s how I got through Iraq with its seven-days-a-week schedule, and even how I got through Hood with the “we expect you here at night and weekends” approach. Getting a groove helps a lot.

When things like new mandatory PT hours at work come into play, I’m surprised at how frustrated I get, having been removed from my normal pattern. I never saw myself as one of those OCD types, but I might have more of that in my makeup than I’d originally thought.

I don’t sweat small, temporary changes, but I’m not a fan of larger mix-ups—things like moving, daylight savings time (make me run in the dark…thanks America), etc.

Also adding to my general serenity is my growing comfort with the paperwork side of work. I’m obviously not as quick as many of my coworkers, but I hope I’ll shave some time off of my evenings for the occasional weeknight out. I still haven’t experienced the full-bore blast of grading our “feature” assignments, where students turn in exceptionally long stories. I’m sure there will be some later nights, but I’ll get those times down too. Just practice, I’d imagine.

So maybe it’s the muscle relaxers talking (fyi, trying to “max” on a Nautilus machine just tears muscle), but I’m definitely feeling the calm, healing light of the universe and all that crap.

###

Prepared conversations

Do you ever have conversations in your head?

As a kid I used to make up scenes and play them out all of the time. Sometimes they’d be centered around school, with me as the guy not being teased, or some other empowering bit. Sometimes they’d be fantastical, sci-fi or some such. Maybe they’d play off of a movie—so that it would end in the way I wanted it.

The routines could get quite lengthy. I’d keep myself up at night, working through a climactic bit. I wasn’t always necessarily the hero of the story, but I was there. It was fun to invent stories. I’d get carried away an exaggerate a lot as a kid.

Later, when I was working in a Maryland public library at 15, I’d spend whole days not talking. To keep my mind occupied, I began to author whole worlds in my head. The idea was to develop them into full-fledged stories later on.

The unhealthy part of the whole practice is inventing everyday conversations that don’t happen. I could see myself doing this more and more back when I was in Texas and didn’t have many people to talk to. It was sort of scary, actually. I worked and worked, retreating home for an hour or two before sleep, just to begin again. The drive home would be quiet. The apartment would be quiet. Meals would be quiet. Weekends would be quiet. I’d stay quiet all the time. Work was work, full of stress and things to keep the commander happy with. I’d just sit. A couple of years went by.

But in my mind whole episodes would unfold—not any sort of self-aggrandizing fantasies, but just normalcy. Just friendly bits, jokes, some back-and-forth banter.

I still do it. At work, during lessons or whatnot, I still invent parallel conversations. I haven’t found a use for them, so they just spin off into the rest of the day not remembered.

So I’ve gotten quite good at prepared conversations. I have a few saved up. Unfortunately the timid, scared white kid still holds back during moments of execution. I don’t know why that is. I have wonderful five-seconds-after perception of what to say, which causes a bit of lag in action—seen as, well, inaction. Eventually I’ll get out of the NCO business and just be a normal guy. I don’t think it will matter as much then.

Random? Yeah, a bit. Just another aspect of a dude, I suppose.

###

Alone with Salmons

My computer is broken. Partly. The part that takes my nights away is broken.

I have the habit of spending time with games. After the grading is done, when there’s no Netflix to watch, when the scant few hours before bed persist, and the pang of “should be doings” hang in the evening, I click away at some animated mass of gunfire and pulsing music.

Which leaves me quite engaged, if rather creatively unproductive.

Thus God did smite my machine in the twilight of yesterday and left the superfluous video-gaming portion inoperable. And that, in turn, brought me to you.

Uber peeps Adrian and Sarah are out, living it up. I was chained to the dining room for most of the evening, but have time, at last, to do something. What? That’s the question. I’m alone with Salmons, and there’s naught to do but read and learn, think and grow, write and sigh.

There is that bank situation. There is an ongoing project for work that could use some attention. There are a dozen books ready to be poured through. Ah, and “the book” itself to begin writing.

Looking at the wall of apartments across from our balcony, most windows are lit. There’s a small snapshot of a hundred lives, arranged like a set of flowers, each a blossom of character. I wonder what they’re doing.

I might leave the computer broken for now. I just need to learn to do more, I think. There might be a future in being productive. You never know.

Alright. Money thing first, then some reading. Oh! There’s still some preparation for class tomorrow. I guess that takes priority.

Glad that’s settled.

###

Liberation!

At last! Colder weather.

Tonight I stood on my balcony, eager to taste the recompense of my long-suffered summer. There I beamed a smile into the brisk sizzle of the evening rain. The wash of cold air tumbled in through the open windows.

It was beautiful.

I felt like a farmer, welcoming a conquering army. I was liberated.

The thousand-mile front of winter air slowly plodded into our town as like a slow, irresistible juggernaut. Push on, dear troops! Take hold of this land and fortify yourself with frost and mist. Strip bare the leaves and crunch them underfoot. Mask the sun and draw the sunset ever earlier in the warmth’s reproach. I will gladly wear the thicker threads that you demand, stomp my feet and rub my hands for warmth, feigning protest at the brisker bite of air.

I have felt my share of suns, perspired ten thousand hours in the deserts far from my home, felt the persistent musk of summer as it clung to the Texas winter. It is time, at last, to chill.

Come rain, come snow, come long, dreary gray. I am ready.

Might even break out the turtleneck if trends continue.

There’s just something about the rain and cooler air that I love. I’m spoiled in that I have heat to warm myself, I realize. But there this comfort in sitting, comfortable in heat and clothes, looking out into the wilds of unfriendly climes. Whether its rain or snow, wind or cold, I feel at ease. Even when I’m out in the stuff, camping or sitting, shivering in a humvee before a mission, there’s still this promise of warmth and that same relaxing feeling.

Compared with summer, where I’m constantly uncomfortable, clammy and unable to strip (damn the military and its “regulations”!).

So, call me strange, but I’m going to enjoy the season. More importantly, I’m going to enjoy it NOT being 80 degrees in October any longer. Whether you are for or against Al Gore and his philosophy, warmer weather year round is a bitch. No thanks!

I’d much rather put on another layer than sit, stewing in ones I can’t discard. Call me crazy. Oh, I have to put on a jacket? Darn. You mean I won’t sweat all day? Drat.

###

All your privacy are belong to us

Adrian, Adrian Girlfriend Sarah and I went to Olive Garden for lunch Saturday.

I remembered an article from Wired Magazine a few years ago where a technology was pioneered that could trap sound within the confines of laser beams, creating a sort of sound tunnel. The idea was that a sound wave could be directed to a human ear and no one else would be able to hear it. So, the article explained, something like a vending machine could call out to specific passersby with a personalized message, without broadcasting the tailored message to unintended listeners.

Don’t ask me why I remembered it at that particular moment–stuff just pops up.

I started talking about how something like that would be an amazing marketing tool, and, just like in “Minority Report,” a store could use an automated system to welcome a patron with a specific greeting.

Sarah wasn’t enthused. “I hate when people try to sell me things,” she said. “I think there’d be a lot of people who’d resist it.”

I wasn’t so sure. I tried to argue that the beginnings of this sort of invasive approach were already here, with spam and bulk mailings, and that the evolution of this micro-macro approach to broadcasting–where messages tailored to the individual could be sent out by the millions to greater effect, would eventually follow.

“Yeah, but spam can be deleted easily. People aren’t going to like stores being pushy,” Adrian said.

“But merchants could tailor recommendations based on your likes and dislikes. They’d know what you might want,” I said.

“People like their personal space. I don’t think you’ll see that sort of thing happen any time soon.”

We went on for a bit. Personally, I agreed with them. I thought it was sort of scary how invasive businesses might become, given the right approaches and technology.

However, if this country is going to stick with this capitalism thing, ever-increasing invasions of privacy to reach patrons with merchandise is inevitable.

Already stores like Kroger and Safeway use individual cards that offer discounts. What people don’t realize is that these cards track what you buy, when you buy it, and match it with your personal information to create a consumer profile. When this information is entered into a large database, merchants can tweak their business to maximize profit, tweaking supply and demand based on regional preference.

It’s commonplace. But why stop with just a profile that tells bulk mailers what to send you in the mail?

Why not use technology like the new Visa swipe card? Instead of scanning in a debit or credit card when paying for merchandise, a user just passes the card over a sensor strip. Bing! Done.

Why not put chips into those cards that can be read by store scanners when they enter the building? Poof, the store knows you’re there. The store knows what you’ve purchased, and what you might be in the market for. A personalized message is played on a screen, telling you that we have some new khakis that will go with that sweater you bought last week.

I, as a businessman, no longer need to rely on unmotivated teens to push my product. Hell, I don’t even need the teens. Automatic check-out stations and a security guard will do away with snooty mall teen workers.

Moreover, I could create a sort of preference profile for each user. A customer could interact with my business on my web site. I could do something like assign a color to that user, based on his or her basic set of consumer preferences (likes tweed or certain colors, for example). Then, as that card enters my store, a series of LEDs light up, highlighting the product that I think that customer might like, based on his or her past purchases (or what I want the customer to like, but that gets in the true origin of “cool” doesn’t it?). Those highlights, coupled with my personalized greeting, allows me to intimately connect with my customer, providing a relationship where the customer gets recommendations to make him or her look better, in exchange for store loyalty.

Hell, I could run with it and make it a little like MySpace. I’d put the men and women’s clothes together so the “Aqua” guys and “Aqua” girls could chat about how they like that type of clothing. I’d even beam conversation openers to that young man’s ear when I see him notice that cute girl.

Creepy? You watch. I’ll make it happen.

As we were leaving the Olive Garden, Adrian got a voice-mail from Optimus Prime. It was a prerecorded message, tailored to Adrian, talking about how his friend “Todd” was in danger of joining the Decepticons. One of the ways he could help fight the war was to purchase a copy of the movie “Transformers” on DVD, out this Tuesday.

“Isn’t that cool?” Adrian said.

I’m telling ya, people are going to want this sort of privacy invasion. All I have to do is entertain them a little and have them fork over the cash.

###

Merchants of death, featuring hot chicks

Aaah! the AUSA Convention—the place where companies converge in Washington, D.C., to rub shoulders with the generals and policy makers of the Army. New gadgets are showcased, hands are shaken, and deals are made.

Looking out across the floor at the hundreds of booths is quite a sight. Some companies have simple, straightforward setups; some incorporate videos and mockups of their wares; and some have elaborate structures with multiple floors and spinning logos overhead. Attractive young women are peppered throughout, who illicit the attention of the mostly male passersby.

The carpeted, plush motif of the floor and the cordial nature of the business-suited corporate representatives are beguiling. The din and atmosphere could be of any convention, but the huge combat vehicles and weapons arrayed throughout the floor clues the wanderer in that the business conducted here is a bit more severe than peddling toothbrushes.

“Thank you for your service,” says a smiling man, holding out a business card. I’m told this practically at every booth I pass.

Active-duty patrons are to wear their uniforms at this convention. Several higher-ups wear their fancier threads. I and roommate Adrian are in our ACUs.

These merchants know our ranks, probably, only one or two ask if they can send information regarding their products to our unit. Most probably realize we’re just there to ogle at the fancy gadgets and pocket free pens and posters. We’re not the high-rollers, the movers, the flag officers. We won’t have the authority to allocate a few million in tax dollars to buy products. Still, we’re treated well. They know we’ll go back to our units and rave about the new armor or acoustical gunfire sensors.

“Thanks for what you do,” says another, standing by an M109 Paladin Self Propelled Howitzer. “We’d like to invite you to an appreciation dinner, following the convention. It’s across the street.”

And we’re bribed with food and giveaways. Several of these parties rage after hours. I assume they serve as a forum for more intimate face time for the specific corporate hosts of the parties and the higher ups themselves.

Amid the catered food, the wine and endless stream of familiar “Didn’t I serve with you at such-and-such?” faces of military retirees, now corporate representatives, there is a lot of business to discuss. As for me and Adrian, we just grab food, nod and make small talk with the businessmen.

“Do you have a top-secret clearance?” one guy asks me.

“No, sir, just secret,” I say.

“Bah! I have four vacancies that need to be filled now! I would have taken you today.” Turns out he was a retired general, now a general manager for a firm.

This is what’s so freaky to me. There is a blurring of business and government. There is cross breeding between industry and the military. One feeds the other in an endless loop of conflict, innovation, invention, production and purchase. From a few of my “Didn’t I serve with you at…” contacts, I get the same reaction:

“The money is great! You should get out.”

I bet it is and, yes, I was planning on it.

Don’t get me wrong, a lot of technological progress comes out of war. The individual gear we have now in the Army is much more holistic, protective, and compact than was the stuff we had 10 years ago—thanks to the constant fighting in this infinite War on Terror.

The high-tech bandages and other medical innovations are amazing! All of it is from the chit-chatting between parties at mechanisms like these conventions. It’s hard to poo-poo these sorts of meetings when enjoying the benefits of the innovations that result from them.

Still, I feel unease at the whole thing. War is dirty business. It’s so strange to see all the “toys” of armed conflict. It’s weird to watch all of the networking, casual demonstrations of lethal instruments and casual flirting between the attendees and attractive representatives.

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