Monday, September 14, 2009
Balancing the karmic equation
Back in March of 2002, I was sitting in the airport that serves Austin, Texas figuring that I had made it through about the worst three weeks I had the misfortune to experience in a long time. Relaxing in at least a semi-comfortable chair at my departure gate reading that month’s Scientific American sipping on an ice cold Pepsi, I was saving my energies for the tasks that awaited me at home. Figuring nothing else could screw up anymore that what it already had I allowed myself to be lulled into a false sense of security.
Almost to the day three weeks before I had walked into work only to be told I was the latest causality in the busting of the telecommunications business bubble. After several good-natured slaps on the back along with the obligatory and meaningless “sorry to see this happen, and call me if you need anything” exit comments from my co-workers I went home to tell my wife and make plans on finding a new job. My job hunting was cut short less than a week later with me flying off to Texas with my National Guard platoon for our very ill timed, at least for me, annual two-week camp.
For my entire military career prior to this particular camp I had never had to suffer the tribulation of serving in the rear areas with all the staff weenies and assorted REMF’s (Rear Echelon Mother Fuc***’s). Their jobs were largely mysteries to me and after having to serve in other duties with them I thanked the Lord for the separation since I found many of them pretentious jerks and certified ass kissers. Unfortunately for me, to make my wife happy the year before I had transferred from my fun and dedicated National Guard unit in the upstate of South Carolina that spent most of its time in the field playing soldier to one close to home filled with staff weenies and REMF’s.
My career to that point had been all about training in the field getting ready for that day the Soviets pushed an armada of tanks across the Fulda Gap to extinguish the light of Western Civilization and glorious free market capitalism. This time though I found myself taking part in a computerized field training exercise that involved something that far too closely resembled the nerdy role-playing game Dudgeons and Dragons.
After arriving at the training site I soon saw far too many macho commissioned and non-commissioned officers huddled around a computer screen moving icons that represented various combat units in an effort to repel the “Orange” forces trying to overrun the Korean peninsula. A huge projection screen overhead relayed what the main computer screen was showing and serious cheers would go up every time an enemy icon was blown up. Being that I was approaching retirement and had long since burned out on the overly gung-ho crap, I just stood around with a stupid grin on my face trying to look like I enjoyed seeing the destruction of cyber-commies.
My job in all of this was to “supply” air defense to the combat unit I had been assigned. By my second night on the twelve-hour night shift I proved completely incompetent with anything involving the role playing cyber-warfare stuff resulting in my being progressively demoted downward to less critical jobs. I went from maintaining elaborate map overlays that updated the various stages of the conflict, to plotting numerous positions on a different set of maps, to running the brigade radio network that the various units participating in the exercise depended on. Now my previous years in the service had me doing all those things and I was damn good at them except in that particular setting I was updating about twenty overlays, plotting about the same number of map positions, and carrying on five of six conversations at one time on the radio. During all this, orders were being screamed by different people all at once. I found myself wishing to be back in the field dirty, sleep deprived, dealing with insects and snakes like a regular soldier. Most of the others in my platoon fell into the rhythm of the exercise but I quickly found out I had no concept of how to manage all that information at once and was about as useful as a submarine with a screen door.
The various senior staff weenies wisely figuring that I was doing more harm than good soon relegated me to various “gofer” tasks that left me much of the night to my own devises. Normally that would have been a good thing, being an experienced soldier under such circumstances like that I would have usually found the nearest place to hide and catch some sleep. Except the Texas National Guard base we were at had a rendering plant right across the fence from the place we had set up our brigade tactical operations center (TOC). The smell of the place was horrific to begin with and everyone shuddered, even the toughest troops, upon hearing for the first time that it cremated the remains of animals, some of them being dead pets. However when the wind-changed direction the smell was such that many dry puked when caught outside. Being that my platoon was one of the last groups to report in just about all the good, and out of the smell, hiding places were already occupied.
After my shift was over the group I was part of was driven across the post to the barracks we were assigned which took about an hour. Another hour to grab the most basic of breakfasts and then take a shower we then jumped into our sleeping bags to fall asleep to the sound of the icy Texas wind blowing outside the ramshackle building. Sometime around 5:00pm, the whole cycle would begin again with those with me on the night shift being trucked back out to the brigade TOC for another twelve hours.
My staff weenie incompetence made me a pariah to the others and as a result, I was largely shunned during the night except when doing my gopher duties. While my situation sucked, I at least understood that I was not overseas fighting in some god-forsaken country like many others. Never the less much weighed on my mind given that I had no civilian job and that my wife was dealing with several issues back home like a dishwasher that had decided to up and suddenly quit for no reason.
“Crap this really sucks.” I said to myself not figuring anyone was around.
“Sure it does dude, but it’s the karmic equation balancing itself out.” Some guy said in front of me that I did not see in the dark.
Focusing my eyes I was able to make out a dark form leaning up against one of the spare mobile generators kept on hand so the heroic cyber-warriors would not be defeated by the insidious Orange forces out to conquer the computerized Korean peninsula.
This guy came walking up to me turned out to be an army captain named Roland. After I snapped off a salute he returned so causally it seemed an annoyance we started talking about how much it sucked to be on this bullshit FTX.
Captain Roland was from Texas himself and shared my sentiments on all the computerized role-playing going on figuring it was all just big excuses to spend more money on expensive toys. As for our respective suffering he had a more laid back and new age attitude about it.
“See dude,” he said giving up the military mind-set and quickly bordering on 60’s hippy way of thinking, “we both needed our karmic equation balanced. We go out struggling in the dog-eat-dog world and it wears us down. We don’t appreciate our fellow humans and do everything we can to take advantage of them and after awhile the universe figures we need to be brought down a peg or two. Don't fear though, when all is said and done the universe does love you."
To be honest I understood where Captain Roland was coming from, my last couple of years had been more than good with me getting much of what I wanted in life while stepping on a few peoples toes along the way and not thinking much of it. While I had recently been laid off I had lasted longer than a couple of other guys at my former workplace who both had more seniority than me because my supervisor and his boss liked me. I had not directly taken advantage of the two other guys laid off before me but I sure as hell didn’t shed any tears over their departure since I still had my job.
Since Captain Roland had including himself in his hypothetical “karmic equation” I asked him what he had done that made his karma so out of balance.
He began by telling me he once held a cushy job in the Pentagon that allowed him a lot of time at night to visit the high-class clubs in DC. Turned out Captain Roland had met a gorgeous redhead at one of the Washington DC clubs with a fetish for having sex in public places who also turned out to be a senator’s daughter. Captain Roland explained things were all fine and dandy until the police caught them in a public park during lunchtime with word soon making it to the redhead’s father.
The good senator had it in for Captain Roland for deflowering his precious, innocent daughter but Roland chuckled when he told me he made things far worse for himself by telling the senator his daughter had been excessively deflowered way before he had ever met her. Captain Roland lost his cushy job at the Five Sided Funny Farm and was now continuously out in the most obscure and backwater boonies evaluating different National Guard units, something thought akin to hell by those who had gotten use to the cosmopolitan life of serving in Washington. I took Captain Roland’s advice to heart and made it through the long and boring nights figuring at some point my karmic equation would balance out. The day finally arrived for my platoon to head home and very early on a Sunday we took the long bus ride back to the Austin airport. With tickets in hand and luggage checked in my group, along with several others began waiting for our respective flights back home.
I have never actively sought company while waiting in airports. Most people, along with myself, find air travel far too akin to the cattle processing stations that eventual lead to Bessie and her bovine cohorts to becoming the hamburger meat. However while I was reading my magazine I could not help but notice a familiarly dressed lady enter my peripheral vision.
I glanced up to see a late thirtyish looking woman wearing “business travel casual” carrying an overnight bag with the business end of a tennis racket in some sort of zippered pocket attached to the side of the bag. The lady in clothing and even in hairstyle looked very much like my sister-in-law and had the same habit of never taking her cell phone away from her ear.
Now had I quickly looked away I probably could of avoided what came next but before I went back to my magazine like some nervous predator she quickly glanced up and we made eye contact. Being from the South one of our better traits is to smile whenever we make eye contact be it involving family, friends, or strangers. My Southern instincts working, as they should, along with the lady’s appearance and superficial habits being like that of my sister-in-law I gave the unknown woman a slight, harmless, friendly smile. It did not take any sort of supernatural empathy to see and feel the disgust and even rage that flashed across her face. Not thinking much of it, I went back to my reading and waiting for the boarding call for my flight. All the while it was strangely easy to hear that woman a few rows over continuously blathering on her cell phone talking both business and personal matters over the voices of the others waiting in the same gate area.
Once the call to board came I allowed most of the others to go first figuring that with my size I was bound to be uncomfortable and I might as well just wait to the last minute. After I did board I was shocked to see that I would be sitting right beside that same lady who has shot me such an evil look for daring to make eye contact with her.
Standing over her knowing full well she knew I was there I asked her very nicely to let me pass and take my seat. She was in the aisle seat, I had the window, and the plane was full so I had no place to go.
“Ma’am,” I asked again raising my voice, “could you please let me take my seat.” With that louder and edgy request she sort of hunched her legs to one side allowing me to slide by her but never looking me in the face. Despite the temptation to act just as difficult I held my tongue as I took my seat and waited for the plane to take off.
My flight from Austin, Texas was to take me to Atlanta, Georgia in a short time where I would then catch a flight to Columbia, South Carolina. The pilot informed us soon after takeoff that bad weather along the southeast had severely affected flight schedules and that our arrival in Atlanta would be very delayed. I could feel the nervous tension and bad vibes oozing from my seatmate and I stifled a laugh wondering how she would react if I said something to her about fate putting us together.
Still my humor was put to the test an hour later as I had to again demand she let me by so I could get to the restroom. Returning that time I read the last article in my magazine and then with nothing to do decided to take a nap hoping that our worse than shotgun relationship would soon end. However it didn’t, not only was I awaken to hear the pilot declare that we had been in a holding pattern over Atlanta for quite some time but that we were having to fly back and land in Alabama to refuel, then make our way back to Atlanta for another wait circling the airport. Now feeling about as miserable as any cow on the way to slaughter I tried to doze back off praying this crap would end at some point.
More sleep eluded me so I just closed my eyes and fantasized about far away tropical places. During that time I briefly glanced over at my seatmate, especially after she pulled down her bag with the butt end of the tennis racket poking me a couple of times, to see her working from some sort of notebook. Pages were filled with facts, figures, and I also caught a glimpse of her address book portion of that notebook with every entry space filled with elaborate contact data in the cleanest penmanship I had ever seen. Whatever the Hell this woman did for a living was clearly much higher up on the social food chain than me. However, by now my good humor and new karmic balancing, easygoing attitude was strained to the hilt. I was so irritated that had the plane suddenly depressurized causing the oxygen masked stored above to drop I would have yanked her mask out and smiled as she passed out from lack of oxygen. Luckily, nothing like that happened and at some point, which had long since taken on the feeling of eternity the plane landed, and we both got out without killing each other.
The feeling I had after getting off that plane had to be similar to what a man feels getting out of prison, so I strolled the concourse reveling in that freedom until I came to an airport bar open to all the people passing by. Looking like a nice place to get out from the flow of people I took a seat at a table on the far end, next the window overlooking all the activity outside on the tarmac. By chance I found a paperback book left on the seat of a neighboring table which I grabbed and would at least read until someone came for it. Minutes later a very nice waitress took my order and even sat with me for a few minutes after she brought me my drink. I was feeling pretty damn good all of a sudden and even started believing my karmic account might be back on the plus side, that is until my former seatmate showed up at the same bar.
She had taken a table right at the edge of the bar where it met the main portion of the concourse sitting her overnight bag between her and the concourse mere inches from the people walking by. I could tell that whatever insult I had done to her was still a hair stuck up her ass when she looked at me, sneered, and then arranged her seat so her back would be facing me. Screw her, I thought and I went back to reading the book, her loud voice soon filled the bar with her making appointments at her final destination.
The next thing I heard a few minutes later was some sort of shrill squeal that I know must have injured any dogs that happened to be nearby, I then saw my nemesis approaching my table.
“My bag is missing,” my former seatmate declared in an acidic manner looking at me like I was a roach, “and from where you are sitting you must have seen the person that took it.”
“Sorry, I didn’t see anything. It must have happened while I was reading.” I said, still slightly stunned that the damn woman had actually spoken to me. However, given my frustration at having to sit next such a person for far too many hours I could feel another smile cross my face, and this time it sure as Hell wasn’t the good-natured, friendly kind.
What happened next was what we in the South call a “hissy fit”, my former seatmate mentally and emotionally melted down in front of me and several more people that gathered around after she started loudly calling me every name in the book. She even in a sarcastic manner asked the others if they had seen the passerby that had snagged her very important bag as she talked on the phone.
Not long later, some sort of airport security came by, mainly from the scene she was causing, and began to escort her away so a report could be filed. As she turned away leaving with the airport security something bubbled up from the farthest portions of my strange mind. “Don’t worry ma’am,” I said causing her to turn back around, “ your karmic equation only needs to be balanced out. Remember when all is said and done the universe loves you.”
She started to say something but the airport security guy, with a firm grip on her arm, pulled her along away from the bar. I could tell my parting words had an effect because the look she gave me flashed from puzzlement to fear with her now seemly eager to rush away from me as fast as possible. Seeing her hurry away I got the impression she didn't care for Captain Roland's advice.