Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Tapped In

There's a guy at church who gave the children's story--his name is Wilf Wixwot.

I'm driving to the Walmart supercenter that's close as well as saving us about $20 to $30 a trip. Low prices and a big selection that spans stomach, body, and home make it a favorite and a throw back to college days even though other locals swear by Publix and Winn-Dixie. It's also impossible to switch markets once you have any clue how to get around one in particular. But Walmart also has Dora the Explorer mini frosted, sugar cookies by Lofthouse. They have Stacy's natural pita chips and classic hummus; both are wonderfully easy to find, end of chip aisle and by the deli respectively. They have big, flat freezers of lean turkey meat and barbecued chicken wings and vegetable potstickers. They have nectarines that haven't been bad yet ... I'm driving there, mouth weakly watering, stopped at a red light. There's a big, black lady with her cracked, bare foot, with chipped peach nail polish, propped up on the dash of her small, gray car. Cigarette smoke seems to have slightly, permanently clouded the window.

The light turns green. In a mile or so there's a billboard advertisement for a new sandwich at Church's chicken, a fast food chain in the south. It's for a chicken/biscuit sandwich. Like a KFC meal all in one.

At home I use nothing I just bought except two eggs to make lasagna for dinner and then some. Cary comes home, and I need a spatula to scoop out the cut portions. I pull open the drawer where that would be. I'm greeted by a huge cockroach balancing on the salad tongs. I scurry into Cary. We trap, pose, snap, and flush.

I spend the next night, after a fitful night of the crawlies, embarrassingly glued to the television for the 62nd Emmys and the second to last episode of True Blood, season three. The "Fresh Blood" epp (give Ken Tucker's great review a shot if you're a fan of the series) left me wanting more as usual, and disappointed and gushing in equal parts.

On September 12, a crappy two weeks away, the finale occurs,  and then I have to sink my fangs into the inferior but satiating WB Vampire Diaries sophomore and a half season. 30 Rock, Glee, and Dex, I need you now more than ever. Better keep some True Blood on tap just in case.

Source not known.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Never Never Land

As I learn how aircraft naming comes about... How the jet numbers (18, 22, 16, 14 et al) don't mean anything at all... How the boys and tomboys at Northrop Grumman and Honeywell throw words in there like "super" and "growler" with no real rhyme... How the armed forces and its supporters are the largest in life and everlast heroes, all the while lost boys and Wendy Darlings... I come to realize they all deserve it.

Combat may never happen. Bombs may never be dropped. And tragedy may never fall. But it's a Neverland community of dreams and jokes making light while making the ultimate sacrifice of living life--from the cooks to the crew chiefs, from the ass holes to the comedians and Prince Charmings, from the adrenaline junkies to the family men. They are gone and risking and working harder than most. Running an ultramarathon. Cut from a different cloth and separate. The service whopper for the good suits and bleeding hearts stateside.

Deep down, they're just brave little boys.

F-15 crew chief thoughts ... Courtesy of crewdog15 via YouTube via forwarded e-mail.

Have fun second star to the right and straight on 'til morning.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Magical Mystery Tour

We set out last weekend determined to have a good time, soft plans set for every night. I love that. It was a week since our pup lost the use of a front leg, and it was Cary's last two days before the quivering API segment of flight school. We needed some life.

In an orientation meeting the week prior, the instructor warned the married students that they're at a big disadvantage. Families are demanding. I tower to differ. Every spouse associated with that classroom had been separated from their loved one for months already, hanging in there, getting by, possessing strength. Add a child or two to the mix, and there are some understandable demands. But add some sweet and strong and levelheaded spouses who clean and cook and support, add them to the mix--even if I do under the fridge as a dustpan and send Cary to class with a bag of chips and jar of hummus--and those paired up student naval aviators, navigators, coast guardians, and marines getting ready for the sky are G2G.

So the good wife lets Cary show her a good time on his last weekend off for while. Miller's Pensacola Ale House is not far from our new home. We sit on the patio and watch the white and red lights pass on the highway below. Cary orders sliders. If they're on the menu, he'll probably get them. Why do you like them so much, I ask. They're just ... mini. Miniature cheeseburgers. It's cool.

We try and see what our friends are up to and decide not to wait around but just head to what seems to be the star that burns hottest in downtown Pensacola come Friday night. Seville. Officially Seville Quarter. Cary's been before and tries to describe how huge and unique and fun it is. But in real life, it's to-say-the-least impressive. There are seven rooms of varying size and decor that offer cafes, bars, bands, and entertainment. There's dancing, games, balmy patios, and a piano bar that frosts the cake. It's Dave and Buster's on crack. Minus the kids and multiplied by "heaping portions of Dixieland jazz and good times."

Cary shows me through the wood-paneled hallways lined with smudged windows and benches and a piano not in use. On which I have to play the intro to the only song I know by heart. We check out all the rooms. including Apple Annie's and Fast Eddie's, then head to the back garden and slump together on a cushioned bench nestled into a stone wall while we listen to a band's Bob Marley renditions on a stage set to look like a neighborhood garage. Everything might be sweeter right now due to the distance and heart growing fonder thing, but a little Marley from our Newbold days and bliss before the storm makes it all downright dessert.

We soon find ourselves in the piano bar--Rosie O'Grady's, the "good time emporium"--joined by another couple in the naval aviation program. You can request songs all night long and not stump the musicians. The pitchers of beer on tap are cheap. Pabst Blue Ribbon--referenced in I Know This Much is True by Wally Lamb so I have to try it--is a kind of sweet dry. The friendliness of the staff and patrons are the ganache.

We groove and grind and hop in Phinneas Phogg's to surprisingly good and recognizable dance music for once, like Rihanna and the Black Eyed Peas. We fall into bed that night exhausted. After making it to the nearby church and Waffle House the next morning (FYI, the biscuits and gravy is as to die for as the pancake thin waffles), our nap extends well into the evening, sounding out phone calls, texts, and the ceiling fan and backyard bugs and birds that try so hard to keep our brains waking.
Cary stifles his screams for once in the ultra freaky basement.

The Pensacola Lighthouse is haunted. We get tickets from a fellow couple who joins us on the once-a-month full moon (duh) tour that takes us on a hokey crawl through the small house and tall tower Saturday night. The tour guides could use both more common sense and storytelling skills, but we do our best to scare ourselves and make each other giggle. Giggling is possible for Cary, who is afraid of mice and PG-13 horror movies. The SyFy network show Ghost Hunters will be back, they say. And the lady who runs the gift shop supposedly had an encounter I didn't have the courage to ask her about with a straight face.

We climb the lighthouse tower steps and watch the beams do half circles across the city, gulf, and NAS to the east. We stare north to Alabama, straining to see lights. We talk about why some people feel the need to jump. It's weird. Is it? the other husband asks. Hmm. Maybe not. Do I want to jump? Hey, did I just see something?!

I keep trying to spot spooky shadows or quick movements or just something that make boredom impossible for the moment. I used to hate scary stuff when I was little. Yet I couldn't help trying to watch it or listen to a ghost story told by the neighbor girl. I wonder what changed? Do I secretly like it now to overcome it? My legs are shaky at the bottom of the steps. Only tired muscles, no nerves, not scared. Boo. I start scratching a new set of mosquito bites that will leave me with bumps looking like broken bones. Didn't grow out of that one.

The same couple kindly invited us to a comedy show Sunday night in Mobile. I thank them by calling the sweet wife by the wrong name. I'm starting to worry they'll think we're all about non-reality and not listening. Or at least me. Which is even worse--because who wants to be the disappointing wife of the great guy. Ha.

Yesterday was my first full day dedicated to my new career life of self-employment. Well, besides changing Butters' bandages and doing laundry, dishes, and Cary. Oops, I mean dinner for Cary. Being self-employed lacks bosses but not your own worst critic. Funny coworkers are replaced by people with fur (or diapers one day). And self-employed is not always an option on forms--so just know you're going to have to be writing that puppy in if you're heading in that ambiguous direction of freelance or consulting yourself.

I'm doing the whole profile perfection time-waster, building networks that may create pointless Webs or beacoup bucks, figuring out different tax methods and retirement plans (learned how to be an LLC  and the difference between a simple and roth IRA), applying to a couple steady income options that would be a godsend since the debits are creeping up past the credits and businesses don't care if you want to be a novelist. And once again trying to figure out the best way to describe what the fuck I do without sounding pretentious or more talented than I am. If Cary gets to say pilot, I get to say writer. Deal. Shit, he's not quite there yet. But we're probably doing more than you. Wink.

I go get the mail and find the gardner missed the mushrooms. Good. I would have too. I like. Maybe I really should mow the lawn and not outsource it. Cary says Navy wives do. Now he winks. Nawww, got a consulting job and great American novel to work on. Well, at least until I'd rather mow a mile than receive another rejection letter.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

My, Our, Dog

We have broken hearts this week. For some weeks to come it seems. Our 55-pound yellow lab with the demeanor of an angel of a little girl took a flying leap from the bed of our truck last weekend on the way to the river for canoeing with friends. We cannot stop blaming ourselves, creating different scenarios. Bargaining.

She barely wimpers on the way to an emergency clinic, a trooper we didn't realize until the waiting room.  Scrapes, bumps, and bruises. A broken leg? We would have been able to take that. Better. But the nerves in her front right shoulder are damaged. Possibly permanent radial nerve paralysis. Time will tell, they say, though we don't know if it's on our side.

At home, she sleeps, gets more coordinated. She leaves her pills in the food bowl. She creates fine new cracks in our hearts every time she hops over to get pet or musters the strength to jump into her favorite chair. We lose it a bit. We lean on each other more than we ever have. We call our parents, whose mere "hey" makes us lose it all over again. We look at our budget. We look at our future potential military life all over again, post-move. Three-legged dogs thrive on YouTube. We think, Butters is special. We imagine and re-imagine. We promise to share ideas as they come to us. Four to eight weeks. Come on, nerves. Connect. Heal. We feel sick and hurt and the need for rewind and fast-forward.

Cary started API (aviation preliminary indoctrination) today. Four weeks of academic hell--with doses of swimming screening, stroke training, and physicality tests--due to a mound of material that spans weather, aerodynamics, navigation, regulations, and more--and due to standards higher than ever because of supply and demand. The Marines just stopped accepting pilots. The Navy kept accepting and vowed to kick out those less than the cream, those with an average below 93%.

Tack on two more weeks of land and water survival, and he's done with API, hopefully in a color that flies, and we're into what they call C-pool, awaiting his primary training go ahead at Whiting Field, which lasts six months. For those of you who forgot what's after that, it's Advanced. Pick an aircraft, any aircraft they think you're good enough to fly and need a pilot for, and you're golden winged and on your way to that station. Wings of literal gold from Mexico and custom flight suits are more of a possibility than a pipe dream. Right now, it's strokes and air.

And apparently avoiding gun shots.

But both of our foci has a tint. No matter how great it is he didn't have to wait long to class up, or how much I clean and attempt to cook and set up interviews that may go nowhere, our minds wander back to Sunday afternoon, when she made impact and rolled onto the long grass on the side of the road, lying still for a moment. Our friends yell. We swerve around. She lifts her head, her ears looking happy and like she just wants to get back to the ride. I jump out and try to get her to stop running toward me as she drags her lame leg I thought was just broken.

My best friend for the last five months. Cary's best friend for the 12 before that. His shadow. Our pet. Our dog. Our child until a human life enters ours. Will we hurt our children? Neglect? Will we forget to take extra precaution? Will we be guilted by their pediatrician? So far from our former homes, we feel our family of four--including the green-eyed monster that is my cat who cuddles only at her whim--is our support system, is what makes home, home. True a laptop and TV and huge couch cushions help. But before all that came in the moving van, we were still complete, all four flopping on the air mattress. What ifs flood. What if it was a friend, or one of us? What if every lesson learned isn't enough?

We continue to talk options at the popular fast food chain Chick-fil-A. We run the McGuire's Irish Pub 5K. If you do it 10 times, you get a T-shirt. I love T-shirts. And 5Ks. And the bathroom at McGuire's because its doors are marked to try and confuse you. The sign on the mens bathroom door reads LADIES with an arrow pointing the the real ladies room, which has a sign that reads MEN with an arrow pointing to the real mens room. But every trip to the bathroom only gives me time to think.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Soak My Food

One thing about Pensacola is car washes might be a thing of the past. With sporadic, sudden thunderstorms mid-commute or mid-lunch carpet-style or in the middle of a 95 degree stint at the beach, car washes are provided by Mother Nature in a panhandle where the sea is south and Floribama the north. In between there are slow, winding roads, trees for miles, lightening flashes, and strange yet wonderful establishments like Waffle Houses and Kristy's Hair Design, at which Cary gets his oh so complicated buzz cut due to his tufts of Asian hair.

Inside the barber shop, there are two hairdressers, unique in their own right--and one, Kristy, who chats up both a washed up marine and seemingly more successful in work and home aviator without pause. I look at the walls of Polaroids and nicknacks, wrapped in a white terrycloth towel because the recent downpour managed to soak me in a single jaunt from parking spot to salon door. The shop is similar to the inside of car washes, the store part that sells things ranging from greeting cards and wood carvings to vanilla trees and Big Hunks. I pick up the Pensacola New Journal, free of car washes but not strangeland interiors it turns out.

That night we go to Tijuana Flats on Bayou Boulevard, a street less cool than it sounds, but I threw it in there because some places here feel straight out of the Pirates of the Caribbean or French Quarter. There are dives and houses and fields with bars and balconies and eerie, long-haired trees that take you straight to Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil, or a scene from Forrest Gump or True Blood. But we head to Mexico for food instead that night with Tijuana Flats, which is a walk up and order kind of place with great service to boot and the beloved patio with colored lights and then 15 kinds of salsa including "Smack My Ass and Call Me Sally" and "BooDreaux's Cajun Rocket Fuel." I fall in love and decide to spend my birthday there.

Another spot tested is The Jellyfish sushi place on Perdido Key, where military get 50% off on Tuesdays. Sucky sticky rice and sub par service, but 50% off is 50% off. Sad because I thought I liked the name. One of Cary's fellow student pilots, who's from Alaska, was also disappointed in the salmon selection being from the Atlantic. Tsk. I accidentally make my chopstick fling toward one of the wives, sending soy sauce and wasabi sprinkling.

There are also dueling fish houses at Pensacola Beach. Flounders versus Crabs. Flounders is on one side of the Gulf Breeze strip of land with a small beach and a pier that extends into a shallow bay. It has plenty of seating, and beach volleyball and Diesel Fuel, which is basically a Long Island amount of alcohol in a Big Gulp size mason jar. Cary and I try a Bushwacker--essentially a rum-laced milkshake--since the Bushwacker and Music Festival is going on, but I can't seem to hear any music besides the Bob Marley playing at the restaurant. Crabs is on the other side, with a bigger gulf beach, high chair seating under red umbrellas, hermit crab races that involve shells painted like soccer balls, basketballs, or with superhero symbols, and honeybuns--buns you dip in honey. We also try fried okra and crab and spinach dip.

And then we roll home and it rains.

Images courtesy of Flickr's StevenM_61 and Trip Advisor.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Moving in Sandals

There are packers, and there are movers. The packers come in and wrap up everything you own and place it all in boxes organized by room--there are even special boxes for pictures and mattresses--and then they leave the towers of cardboard stuffed, taped, and labeled in their respective room of the house.

The movers come in and load everything boxed and too big to be boxed into the moving truck double parked out front. And then you are left alone to take one last clean sweep and lock up the first home you ever owned, walls that know the first four years of your married life, soon to be occupied by a tenant you hope will pay rent and mow the lawn and love your place like you did. You and your first husband, who you are flying to reunite with in a matter of hours.

Suitcase. Car. Truck. Three places to put your belongings in order to get them to your new place of residence. I plan for days. Creating little piles of things I and my two fur covered children will need the first few weeks at this year's destination: Pensacola, Florida.

The first week is suitcase week. Clothes, toiletries, linens, pet supplies. The second week (the week the car comes--if the moron who couldn't figure out how to use a GPS to even pick the truck up in the first place; the 4Runner may be lying in a ditch somewhere by now) is business, cleaning, and entertainment week: router, printer, the associated chords I would not know how to re-plug-in if it wasn't for my beloved label maker, and a bucket of miracle workers including Fantastik shower cleaner and chemicals with names that end in X. Things that ensure sanity and cut back on hours spent at Starbucks and Fleet and Family Services for phone call and Web multitasking and of course blogging and dinking around on Facebook and Twitter.

Week three is overwhelm week, when the leaning towers of boxes and packing paper that will spill through the rooms and hallways will converge on Baywind Circle, after the movers unload the truck that transported the last parts of our life that don't have heartbeats across country.

Week four is panic week, when I can no longer stand rearranging furniture and shelf items and rainbow organizing my closet, and I need to earn and rip off the last of our to do list that will be a mile long every time we relocate as a military family. The goal is to become so-in-the-words-of-my-former-mapping-software-company effective, efficient, and innovative at relocation that it will make overwhelm weeks and panic weeks things of the past. I, we, will be a well oiled, unstoppable, unflappable machine. Mwoohaha.

But right now we're in week one of relocation one. A bit squeaky. But not as creaky as I thought it all might be. Not bad for first-timers. Not half bad for partners working a day at a time toward making a living flying and writing.

My first real job has ended. My first real home is empty. And our seconds are underway. Ground school is over. Flight school is around the corner. (There are confusing acronyms and start/end dates for ground and flight school, primary, API, blah, blah, blah, so I'll spare you the weight and stick to layman's terms, AKA the terms of the gods who think clear and breath easy.)

Choices and bases lay? lie? (if someone can give me a fucking rule of thumb for this, it would be very much appreciated--an English minor and obsession with writing have not served me well in this piece of grammar) on the horizon. We don't feel stuck. We feel it all beginning. It's hypnagogic (I didn't feel like using the cliche surreal). Our family of four. Back together. Wandering around an empty house with features new to us like a screened in porch and dutch china light covers, his and her sinks, and a bedroom so much bigger than our last one that we feel like true masters this time around. Dot the cat refuses to go for a walk, so we explore the neighborhood at night with Butters alone in tow, dripping but enjoying the chirping and different porches and front doors and lit window peaks inside. Cary does siz miles to my three. Yeah, there are no fireflies, Cary tells me, but there are alligators. That could be just as fun, but more exhilarating and scared-for-my-life than romantic and relaxed.

I plan every reunion in my head. Run and hug this time? Run and jump again? That was a bad idea on base where anything more than linked arms is frowned upon. Just smile big, walk, and embrace? My plans are interrupted by a lady who has undergone serious plastic surgery for a gig as an inflight instructional video narrator. Instead, I'm texting by baggage claim, and he catches me off guard with a hug. We're back to enjoying everything about each other, at peace just being around, from opening doors to greasy pizza. We enjoy a Waffle House the next morning (they're everywhere!), and I have the best waffles I've ever had, and it's not just the chocolate chips that create a thin melted layer of semisweet taste. We go to the river. We eat at the Perdido Key Hub Stacey's in the afternoon. The trees dip into the water. There's twinkle lights. It's exactly how he described. Except no vampires come out after sundown, even when I look really hard in pictures. And the mosquitos stay.

It is still weird that my husband can fly a plane solo. All the guys are talking flying at the barbecue Saturday with the fellow aviators and naval flight officers (NFOs, like Goose) and families going through exactly what we are. A wife teases her husband, who can also fly a plane that goes almost 200 miles per hour and climbs 700 feet per minute, about wearing flip-flops during their move. Who does that? I raise my hand. And then go get one of these homemade candy cookie lolli-pops one of those brilliant Navy wives brought.