Archive | December 2007

Chairs, paella and…eating babies???

A few days ago, it hit me–Christmas was almost here!

I remember waking up on the 20th or 21st, looking over at the pile of gifts for the family I’d picked up weeks before, and realized I had nearly missed the holiday.

Luckily, companies like UPS exist because of people like me.

Roommate Adrian and I went through our days in December with little holiday fuss. Work was work, the number attached to the days or the greenery around the lampposts and signs didn’t play much into our routine.

He did break down and drape a string of white lights around the bookshelf. It sat next to the windowed wall, thus showing a twinkle of spirit to the outside. It would suffice.

The remainder of the lights wrapped around an adjoining chair and, with the addition of one of Sarah’s bowed teddy bears and a smattering of presents, I arranged a very sharp-looking Christmas chair. Festive. Subtle. Perfect.

Uber peep Santino flew in on Christmas Eve to spend the holiday with me. Always good times with that guy. He had to bring some work with him, busy as he is, filming and editing a thousand projects; and fate saw fit to crash his computer’s hard drive upon arrival, which grounded any work efforts for the time being.

So came Christmas day, with Adrian up north at his brother’s and Sonny and I rousing in the morning-ish. I thought I’d make some paella–a Spanish dish I’d come to adore from a few holiday’s spent with Sonny’s family. It was a tradition with his crew and, I thought, would compliment our oddity of holiday.

The day after, we began our quest to repair his computer–finding a service center, tucked away in an office park, willing to rush and fix things within a day, as a late Christmas present to Sonny (as under warranty, mind you, so a generous spirit was encouraged).

In the evening, Sonny and I decided to head out to see the latest sure-fire classic “Alien verses Predator 2.” I’d looked up initial reviews of the thing–including a whopping 13% score at We both knew it would be pretty bad, but, as avid fans of the original movies (not necessarily the scores of sequels, since), we had an innate sense of duty to see it.

Well…yeah, pretty bad.

It reminded me of a 10-year old boy trying to tell a scary campfire story. All the subtlety of a rock concert and the flair of a club-footed moose. Whereas the old-school originals were terrorizing and creepy enough to be ensconced as pillars of the genre, the franchises both have been reduced to campy side-shows, with all the allure of C-list celebrity has-beens.

However, to ensure the movie lives on in water-cooler conversations and commentaries, the director saw fit to throw outright offensive scenes at the audience, including killing the token black guy (again?!), having a horrified young boy watch his father die before being dispatched himself, and the new habit of said Aliens to feed on the unborn babies of the mothers in a hospital maternity ward.

Wow. If you can’t be enthralling, just up the shock value, I suppose.

Regardless, I can see why some countries would prefer if American forms of entertainment stayed within our borders.

So, with that, Merry Christmas?


Could you repeat that?

Monday morning:

Student has some sort of eye infection. I notice it while “coaching” my students through an assignment.

In our current potion of the course, the day’s lesson is given in the morning and the students have the remainder of the day to complete the assigned task. We’re on design and layout, so they hear a little bit about what they’re doing and have at it. They come to me in the back, one by one. This guy came back and sat down.

“Wow, are you crying?” I asked. He had moisture around his eyes and some weird caked crap lining his eyelashes like clear brownish clumped mascara.

“No, I have an eye thing,” he said, obviously having endured about a thousand questions about his eyes thus far in the day.

“Ah, you get medicine?” I put forward.

“Yeah I have some, but I’m not going to medical. I can’t miss out on class.”

We put the students in a bit of a bind. We tell them they should go to the doctors if they’re ever sick, then we put so much material into the curriculum (as dictated by the actual services), that, if a student misses a day or two, it is terribly difficult to get them caught up before the next round of assignments. This particular student had already been “recycled”, that is, sent to the beginning of the course to start over. Now that he was just two weeks away from completing our three-month course, I didn’t blame him.

“Ah, well, take care of that stuff. Don’t want it to spread.”

Tuesday morning:

My eye itches.

More than the normal itch. It was the sickness.

“Crap,” I thought to myself and said out loud a few times. I didn’t dare rub it and send the oozing fluid to my hands. My eye was watering more than usual. Yeah, looks like I had the pink eye.

“I better get this checked out,” I said to one of my fellow instructors.

“Check what ou–Wow! Why’s your eye all red?” he said, having noticed.

“Uh, I think one of my students gave me pink eye.”

“Which one was it,” he asked, looking around the room. All of our students were in the same room that morning for a large lecture.

“That one,” and I pointed out the culprit.

“Got it. I’ll watch him,” my fellow instructor said. Good on him. Don’t let the carrier out of your sights.

Later that morning (as in five or ten minutes–the time it took me to get to my desk and look up the clinic’s appointment-making phone number), I called the local clinic to see if I could be seen.

Ring one, two, five, click click, ring one, click, ring one, ring three, pickup.

“Hello this is *Smermishmanmandsam* how may I help you?” the lady managed to sigh out with the enthusiasm of an invalid’s wave.

“Yes, I’m an instructor here at the Defense Information School and I think one of my students gave me pick eye. I need to be checked out,” I said. Rookie mistake when calling for military care: the person at the other end cares little for the circumstance. State your reason for calling and end the sentence. Revised statement: I need an appointment.

“Are you active duty?” she asked.

“Yes,” I replied, realizing all of those clicks during the ringing process probably had me talking with someone in Jersey.

“What is your social?”

I gave it.

“What is your address?”

That too.

“What is your date of birth?”

Yup, offered.

“Where are you stationed?”

“Fort Meade.”

“Fort Meade shows no appointments available. Would you like to schedule something at Walter Reed.”

Good God, no! Walter Reed was 20 miles and about seven hours away in the D.C. traffic.

“I’d rather not go to Walter Reed. You said there’s nothing at Kimborough?” I asked for verification, though I needed none. Kimborough, our local clinic, was famous for never having any available appointments. Either our fort had an inordinate amount of malingerers, or the clinic was understaffed. It was a source of constant ire, at least for those who occasionally needed medical care, which was looked down on by big Army (everybody at sick call was just trying to get out of work, after all), thus the low priority to get more staff, I suppose.

“The computer says there’s nothing at Kimborough. Would you like the phone number to call them yourself?” she asked, even more flatly than before.

“Yes, that would be great.”

She gave it to me and hung up. I called the number.

Ring one, ring five, ring seven.

“Hello this is *Smermishmanmandsam* how may I help you?” the lady asked. I sensed a pattern.

“Yes, I’d like to get an appointment,” there, lesson learned.

“Are you active duty,” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your social.”

Gave it.

“What’s your address?”


“What’s your date of birth?”

There you go.

“Where are you stationed?”

“Here on Fort Meade.”

“What’s the problem?”

“I think I have pink eye. I’d like to get some medicine so I don’t spread it,” I said. Zing! Punchline.

“Pink eye?” the lady said, well, exclaimed, actually, with a vigor I had not heard in some moments. The phone almost distorted the audio, I think.

“Yes ma’am, can I come down to get checked out.”

“Yes sir, please come down right away.”

So I did. I washed my hands a few times, hopped in my car, and drove the mile or two to the clinic. Parking, I strolled into my portion of the facility.

“Hello, welcome to *Smermishmanmandsam* how may I help you?” a lady called to me as I waited behind the “Please wait until called” sign. This wasn’t the person I talked to, but the other lady at the desk, the only other person in the room, was speaking to someone on the phone and did sound like my contact in the organization.

“Yes, I called about an appointment.”

“You called here?” she asked, looking over at her office companion, who was now watching a video on her screen, vacant stare, not paying attention to either me or her coworker.

“You called here?” she asked, again, in a slightly unbelieving tone.

“Um, yes, I called here,” I said again.

“Are you active duty?” she asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“What’s your social?”

Gave it.

“What’s your address?”

There we go.

“What’s your date of birth?”


“Are you stationed at Fort Meade?”


“What is the problem.”

“Pink eye. I think I have it.”

She eyed me for a moment, perhaps trying to discern which eye was infected–my clear one or my pink, irritated one.

“The nurse will be right with you, please take a seat.”

I did and, sure enough, about 15 minutes later, the nurse was right with me.

“What seems to be the problem?” she asked.

“I think I have pink eye,” I said.

“You’re active duty?”


“What’s your social.”


“What’s your date of birth?”


“You stationed at Fort Meade.”


She took my vitals and told me that I’d have to wait for a no-show on the appointment gig–that all available ones were filled. I asked if it was one of those “wait all day” deals or “wait for a couple of hours” situations. She said it wouldn’t take too, too long.

A few minutes later, a male nurse called my name.

“Here,” I said, and followed the direction where his voice came from. He was leading me to another section of the clinic.

“What’s wrong with you?” he asked.

“I think I might have Pink eye,” I said.

“Oooh, don’t touch anything, I don’t want that,” he said, laughing.

I was led to a doctor’s office, who was busy typing in some information on her last patient.

“Please have a seat, I’ll be right with you,” she said. I sat.

“What’s your social?” she asked.


“What’s your date of birth?”


“What’s your current address?”


“What seems to be the problem?”

The understaffed clinic seemed dreadfully overstaffed.

My civilian friends often ask me what it’s like being in the military. It’s like going to the DMV, every day.


On the way north

Weather said we’d have some snow. None showed, but the winds were here. The clouds and storm whisked their way north, pushing through the capital.

The clouds were low, very low. It was distracting while driving. They seemed to skim the tops of the trees, swirling.

They held just enough menace—just enough darkness that they leeched the light from the day. Above us were daubs of gray, haloed by whiter gray. The sun shone through in abrupt, small columns as the broken clouds swirled and mixed.

It seemed at any moment the sky would lay siege to our city and begin the snow. It never came. Only the winds.

In our apartment the winds buffet the tower with incredible force. Things billow so strongly, that our plate-glass windows bow and creak with each gust. At night, seeing the reflection compress and expand is very interesting. I’m waiting for one particularly strong iteration to just snap and shatter the thing. Hopefully I’m not typing on my computer as that happens. Shards of glass sailing through my face isn’t the most amazing and exciting thing, I’d imagine.


Tuesday Bible studies

Trippy, man.

There are two lunchtime get-togethers that the chaplain at my school holds for staff and students–Tuesdays and Thursdays.

Chaplains in the military, while clergy, serve more of a counselor role. While said Bible studies do revolve around, well, the Christian Bible, since there is a very diverse and varied crowd at the school (and in all of the military, for that matter), things aren’t so much out-and-out Christian as they are contemplative and spiritual.

Which is fine by me. I’m in an, lets say “interesting,” phase with regards to organized religion. I remember a study that Uber peep Santino used during the early days of Flannel, the film company I was with ages ago. The study was from The Barna Group, a very respected research group that focuses on a lot of religious statistical data. Anyway, the statement that became our rallying cry was:

By the year 2010, more than 100 million Americans will look elsewhere than church for spiritual direction.

Thus, Nooma was born as a way to reach those fleeing the church scene.

So, fast forward seven years, and here we are. Every Tuesday, the chaplain shows a Nooma to the attendees at a military school in Maryland. The things are everywhere, actually. I ran into them a bit in Iraq as well. Crazy, how things grow, eh?

Regardless, seeing them highlighted at the school definitely caught my attention. I had gone to the studies off and on before. There was always pizza and soda and the conversations were usually amicable and thought provoking. I liked ’em.

What’s trippy, though, is seeing people watch these movies and then talk about them afterwards.

I imagine authors go through the same experience when they hear other people discussing their books. “What the author meant during this passage was…” And I’m just experiencing the oddity by proxy, as the current Flannel staff actually has direct creative links to the products–I’m just observing.

People derive some strange conclusions about things! It’s usually all harmless critique and speculation. I sit and sip my soda most days. Every once in a while I clear up something–whether someone misunderstands the topic, Rob (the speaker), or was unclear why the filmmakers did such-n-such.

And who the heck am I to do that, even? How do I know exactly what was meant?

The whole things just weirds me out. Luckily, all the various interpretations–what is meant by certain facts, symbols, scenes, whatever–typically is spun in a kindly God way (just have faith, just love, etc.), but it makes me wonder…

…just how much would Paul and some of the believed authors of the Christian Letters think about some of the interpretations of Scripture? Especially as the political and cultural contexts of the texts are largely ignored.

And it takes me back to some of my training during Bible college. Do authors determine the meaning of a text (what did the person writing mean)? Do readers (what do people glean from it)? Or does the text itself become sanitized and, somehow, transcend human influence (general knowledge, a symbol, devoid of context)?

Regardless. Tuesday Bible studies. Trippy.


Snapshots of three days

Misspent youth. Misspent time. Misspent love.

There are no shortages of laments and confessions, half muttered to ourselves and to God, labeling a period of misspent time as such, on the hopes of somehow reclaiming it.

More video games? Are you serious?


Friday was briefing day. A chance for staff to get in required training. Like all military organization days, this event was to A) instill esprit de corps, and B) prime the sexual pumps.

You saw it in the suits, skirts, and sweaters. You smelled it in the cologne and perfume. Civilian clothes were authorized. Hair down. Hats off.

You and me, babe–how ’bout it?

I sported a huge, puffy turtleneck. I felt that the four-inch thick wool would add a hedge of protection against the ogling. No avail. I got three “Ooooh, muscles!” as the day progressed. The sweater had inadvertently added heft to my torso. Blast!

Go chew on some ice!


Friday night was the annual holiday party. Up at the Hilton–snazzy. Good food. Open bar. I went DD.

“Seriously?” one of the party organizers asked in an email, after putting out a message asking to know who wasn’t going to drink.

“Yes, I need a DD badge for the night.”

“No, wait–seriously?” she said, with three question marks. I was expected to perform, I gather.

“Yes, thanks,” I replied, with one period.

I went to a Christian college, full of rules. There were several prohibitive stipulations about alcohol. From those came this strange series of social pastimes involving some cats going to parties with alcohol on purpose, just to “watch the drunk people.” And laugh, they’d add. “Let’s go laugh at the drunk people!”

I never understood the attraction to that, particularly. At best, it’s slapstick. At worst, it’s derisive.

So, no, I didn’t DD for that. Roommate Adrian and Roommate Girlfriend Sarah wanted to tank out, and I, my years of ‘morning afters’ far in the past, was happy to oblige.

Through the evening, the air grew thick with drunk talk like accumulating smoke above a poker table. Drunk breath too, there was, and less of personal space as men leaned in to speak.

“Suit. Shoes. Where?”

“Sale.” “Internet.” “Mall.”

“I love you, man!”

“You’re the bestest eva!”

DDs got free soda after the open bar closed–a reward for practicing Utilitarianists. Mmmm, yes, I liked.

“Diet coke, please.” No flavor needed. I was numb from protocol. Caffeine was what I needed to nurse me through.

“That will be–” the bartender began to list a price, but stopped as I pulled up my sleeve to reveal the rainbow-colored bracelet that marked me as a DD. Not, however, to identify me as homosexual, as you might have originally guessed after the mention of rainbows. I know, such are the times.

“Oh, honey! That’s great,” the bartender said. “Here you go!”

My diet coke was delivered with a smile and a napkin. Unfortunately it was also delivered with only three fluid ounces. Paris, please tell your dad to let them give me more coke. (*hint* Hilton hotel, for those reading this post among office distractions)

Returning to my table, I took two sips of the briny artificially sugared chemical and set down the empty glass.

No Virginia, there was no Santa Claus. Only me, stone sober. Merry Christmas.


Shitake mushrooms have a lot of body. You chew through them like you do through beef. And they have a sort of acidic musk. Earthy, biting. Useful in small quantities, but a little domineering in larger amounts.

The recipe called for six of the jokers. I’m not a huge fungus fan. Anything that can grow on sh*t in the dark and drops “spores” is not high on my list of things to eat.

Still, Shitake is a taste not easily removed from a meal’s particular pantheon, so I bought ’em.

Yep, there was that smell. I wrenched the stems from the caps after soaking. It was on my fingers, in my nose, seeping into my brain.

The dish turned out fine, but I still can’t shake the lingering aroma of those blasted mushrooms. I had to give most of mine to Adrian. They were alright, but, again, very meaty. I’ll stick with meat for that.


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