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Observations from my two-week vacation just concluded:

  • Squirrels like to be photographed; they will (within reason) stand still for a few seconds. Chipmunks, on the other hand, are very camera-shy.
  • In front of the main building of the Library of Congress stand two very tall flagpoles, rising from three-foot tall marble pedestals. On each of the three days that I went past them, they were bereft of flags.

    I went in the first day, having a subject to research that no regular library would be able to help me with. Before enjoying the privilege of using the facilities of our national library, a person must register. I stood in the anteroom for about five minutes before wimping out.
  • When taking the D.C. Metro subway, it is best to stand at the extreme end of the platform and get into the end car. Everyone else stands in the middle (near the escalator) and gets in the interior cars, but unlike many other systems, people are not allowed to move from one car to another once aboard the train.
  • In these days of supposedly higher consciousness regarding security, many people in the D.C. area wear an ID tag on a canvas necklace. They wear them even while jogging during lunchtime. The necklace is usually embroidered with the name of the agency they work for (e.g., FEMA or DOL Ofc of Insp Gen). One person I saw had USA on his; either he worked for the entire country, or just enjoyed wearing his ID card on a canvas necklace.
  • The last time I was in D.C., I noticed that the United States Postal Service has its own police force. This time, I saw that even the FBI has one.
  • The street closure in front of the White House (initiated by President Clinton) looks really stupid. It applies only to vehicular traffic; pedestrians can still walk the street, and it wouldn't be tremendously difficult to carry a rocket launcher up to the fence. I don't think the couple of Park Police (I think) standing there would prevent a determined attacker.
  • The Ellipse, a large lawn between the White House and the Washington Monument, is presumably elliptical, but from ground level appears circular.
  • Speaking of the Washington Monument, the new circle of concrete barriers outside the old circle of U.S. flags, also looks stupid and not totally effective.
  • Acorns make a tremendous racket when falling through the boughs and foliage of an oak tree, much more so than I would have thought. And a big ol' plunk if they land in water.
  • Edward has a beautiful telephone voice!
  • The DC Statehood Green Party wants people to vote yes on the question of statehood on the ballot next month. Of course, even if passed unanimously, it will have no effect, particularly not the effect of transforming Washington, D.C. into the 51st state. I presume the backers know this.
  • There are signs on traffic lights in Arlington, VA which caution drivers that there is a US$100 fine for not yielding to a pedestrian in the crosswalk. No mention is made of any manslaughter charge, though.
  • My brother and his wife recently adopted two children from an orphanage in Bolivia. Little did they know that there was a much closer one -- Bolivia, NC.
  • There is a driver on the Metro that pronounces "Potomac" with a short o. I've never heard that before. The station agent looked at me like I was crazy when I asked him how it's pronounced.
  • Watching the squirrels cavort on the lawn around the US Capitol building, I found myself wondering if they look down on their cousins the country squirrel, and even other city squirrels.
  • Charleston: When they say It's not the heat, it's the humidity, boy, they ain't kidding
  • The first building on the Mall as you leave the Capitol is the U.S. Botanic Garden. It recently re-opened after a four-year renovation. According to the tour guide that I passed, it is open 365 days a year (yes, even Christmas). But one day every four years, it is closed. That is the day of a Presidential inauguration. That day, it is used as the headquarters for the security (and sniper) contingent.
  • Same as my last visit, the National Archives was not open to the public. Perhaps the reason our country has forgotten about our Constitution is that we're not allowed to see it.
  • Nothing grows in the dirt around much of the perimeter of the headquarters of the Environmental Protection Agency.
  • Ten blocks up Pennsylvania Ave. from the Capitol, in what I believe is a predominantly black neighborhood, is a business advertising hair braiding. There were various styles to choose from, at prices ranging from US$200 to 300. This seemed very expensive. A few blocks away, I asked a woman if that's what people really pay. She said $50 was more reasonable.
  • The traffic lights in Charleston, SC have a very weird feature. When the red (stop) light is on, a thin, bright white, horizonal light right in the middle of it strobes about once a second. Epileptics beware.
  • When entering Dulles airport, one finds oneself in a building basically just holding ticket counters. Every few minutes, the same announcements are made over the public address system, in English and Spanish. To get to your plane, you need to take a bus to the actual terminal building. There, they play the same announcements, but only in English.
  • I noticed on three different occasions a high correlation between diplomatic license plates and very bad driving. This on the same day that Governor Gray Davis of California vetoed a bill to allow illegal aliens to get driver's licenses.
  • There are two simple rules in a soccer (sorry, rest of the world – football) league made of up 5- and 6-year olds:
    1. Kind words
    2. Have fun
  • Mitzi and husband TonyStark are very hospitable. In fact, she told me she was "jonesing for noders".
  • There is a sign at the George Washington Memorial Masonic Temple in Virginia prohibiting running, jogging, and exercising. This seemed odd and out of place. There is no such sign at the Washington Monument in Washington, D.C., and people do in fact run right through the monument grounds in their shorts and sweaty T-shirts. The disrespect is heavy in the air.

Today was an exercise in desperation. Today was also a mystery unfurled. Warning: Pseudo-God stuff below, in case you're not interested.

It all started two weeks ago, when my parents (whose car I am currently borrowing in lieu of my own, which is dead as a doornail) explicitly told me not to drive the Blazer. Their insurance was intransient at the time. Decent enough reason not to drive; after all, having a wreck in my parents' car would potentially be very bad, but doing so without proper insurance could be devastating to all involved. So I called my boss and left a voicemail, explaining the situation to him. I'd called 8 hours in advance of my shift- twice. I figured that my ass was covered and that he'd have plenty of time to cover my shift that night. No sweat.

I went to work the following day and was told, as soon as I walked through the door, that I couldn't work the rest of the weekend until I spoke with the general manager (my boss' boss). Apparently, the GM was under the impression that I'd skipped out of work without calling in. And, no, I couldn't speak to him until Monday because he was out of town. No, my direct supervisor (my boss) can't talk, either, because he's out of town too. Sorry. No work this weekend.

Well, shit. I get paid a measely $6/hour, which isn't a whole hell of a lot. Missing three consecutive days of work, after already having had two scheduled days off, would be a severe financial set-back.

I came in the following Monday and argued with my bosses for about an hour- kept my job, which is a sort of pyhrric victory.

A week later I got my paycheck and, not surprisingly, it was far less than necessary for survival until the next pay period (this coming Wednesday). Today, my day off, I woke up with $2 to my name. I have to work tomorrow. My parent's Blazer guzzles gas like there's no tomorrow. I have to eat. I have to put gas in the truck. These are my barest of necessities and I would not be able to afford them on $2 with my next paycheck 4 days away.

Thursday I got an email from a cousin's husband, Chad. A nice guy if ever there was one. He'd tried to get me a web design gig a few months ago (I got underbid by someone else who, much to the client's chagrin, ended up making a huge mess of their site- you get what you pay for). In his message he said that he wanted to set up his online portfolio using Flash, but he doesn't know how to use Flash very well. I do. He wants to hire me to help him out. We corresponded via email (because my phone is down) and made plans to meet up tonight and discuss the job in detail, to see if it would be a small project (worth my time) or a big project (not worth my time). You see, I'm trying to get out of the whole web design thing. I'm just sick and tired of it. Everyone wants a website that looks good; no one wants to pay for it.

So I went to the cafe today and was given a free cup of coffee (it helps being a regular customer sometimes) while I checked my email messages and whatnot. I stayed at the cafe until 8:30 PM. The meeting with Chad was scheduled for 9. On the way there I glanced at the gas gauge and saw that I have just enough to get me to and from work tomorrow, but that's it- I'll be stuck at home till Wednesday. I'd never lived through the gas crisis in the early 70's, but I remember seeing some of the propaganda from that period, a three-word government-funded ad campaign: "NO UNNECESSARY DRIVING." Those three words rang through my head like the Liberty Bell on crack.

When I came to a red light, I closed my eyes and whispered a small prayer. "God, once again I'm asking for Your help. I don't do this often, but I'm coming down to the brass tacks and, honestly, all I've got left right now is my faith. You and I both know, for damn sure, that it's just about the only thing I have left in this world. You know what I need. Forget what I want. Please help me with what I need. Thanks in advance."

The problem with relying on God for assistance with the things one needs is that what He knows you need and what you think you need are sometimes two entirely different things. If you end up getting something else altogether (or nothing at all, which is sometimes worse), then you have to sit back and wonder, "Is this one of those let's-build-some-character things or was I just talking to myself like a mindless sheep?" Some or many of you probably are too cynical to appreciate this, but that's what faith is, sometimes. Sometimes faith is holding out just the slightest grain of hope that you haven't been talking to yourself all these years.

I got to my cousin's place, which is just a few minutes' drive from my own home, and was welcomed inside. Chad and I talked for a few minutes about life, what it's like to have kids (he has one, I don't), the fact that I'm quitting this web design stuff and The Biz. He asked if I had heard of The 615, a group of Nashville graphic and web designers. I informed him that I actually used to be a member of the group, but couldn't maintain my level of activity in it anymore, so I quit it earlier this year.

We got down to business and he showed me some preliminary design concepts he had for his site. What he wanted to do with Flash looked pretty simple, all things considered. Nothing too complicated. A couple of MC's, ActionScripting, minor animations and general functionality issues. Ho-hum. He'd already begun working on a FLA and showed it to me. I showed him some beginning tips on how to create MC's in Flash and how to copy keyframes and swap images in the copied frames. Really simple, basic stuff that I guess I take for granted. He seemed in awe of these things, commenting that he'd taken a year-long college course on Flash and they never even touched on half the stuff I was talking about.

I agreed to help him out with the site for $15/hour. All told, it'll probably take roughly 6 hours on my part to get the site fully operational. He seemed rather pleased with that, knowing that what I was agreeing to do for him was actually worth about 4 times what I was charging. But, hey, he's family, right? What kind of schmuck would I have to be to charge a member of my family, distant though he may be, full price for simple work?

We shook hands and chatted a little more. I was about to leave when he whipped out his wallet and handed me $15. "In one hour you've saved me about three days of banging my head against the wall. Here."

I gracefully accepted the money because, let's face it, I'm not in a position to turn it down, and talked with my cousin for a few moments before leaving them to their quiet night. I started the day with $2 in my pocket. I'm ending it with $15 (I had to eat, okay?).

Now... was my prayer answered or was Chad just being an honorable businessman in his own home? I didn't ask to be paid for tonight's dealings. I had honestly shown him those tips and tricks without even thinking about being paid for it. I mean, I hadn't actually done anything but grab the mouse a couple of times to illustrate the techniques. And yet he paid me for my time, without being charged for it. He's a good man and deals honorably with others in his field. But what compelled him to pay me exactly, almost to the dollar, what is necessary for me to survive until Wednesday?

Providence will provide.

Welcome to another issue of Life in the Swedish Army, the bi-weekly dump of entries from my diary, being written as I go through national service in the armed forces of Sweden. See my wu in this node if this is the first of the LitSA rants you've seen. It contains some background info which will be expanded later when I get to writing a proper LitSA metanode.

It'll soon be time to go from learning about stuff in classrooms and closed-off practice areas to going out and doing it for real, in the field. Starting tomorrow, we will be learning how to drive the all-terrain vehicles we'll be using to haul our telesystems equipment around, and once that's done (in three weeks) we will go out into the field and will be expected to do all we've been practicing for the last couple weeks with no supervision or help what-so-ever. I am really looking forward to it, we did a small training session where we had to get the system up and running without help or ability to communicate with the other groups, and it went super. I think the officers are quite satisfied with our progress in telesystems training so far.

October 1, 2002 - 12:19
Feels like it's been ages since I wrote here last. Even my pen, which is usually the epitome of trustworthiness, seems willing to give up and it took me a while just now to get it to actually produce some ink. Maybe I'm subconciously saving pages in my notebook, which is a good thing if looking at the world from a purely economical point of view, I suppose. We're not approximately halfway through our telesystems training. All of the basics are far behind us, and we're starting to feel confident in our own abilities to get the system up and running. Well, at least that goes for most of us. There are a couple of rotten eggs who I'm hoping will not get in the way of we who know what we're doing.

There's a big event coming up thursday: A so-called "education control" where the skills we've acquired during the last few weeks will be tested. At least that's what I think will happen. At the moment, however, that's pure speculation because the schedule for the days in question is really quite unclear as to what exactly we'll be doing. As for right now, we're going to be learning how to set up so-called "high antennas", a smaller variety of our 25-metre masts. The high antennas work as extensions for our portable model 180 radios. Boring stuff! Fortunately, I might be able to excuse myself from part of that stuff because I'm going to have to get going to the hospital soon. Just as my toes were getting better, I got some kind of an allergical reaction and now I've got red dots all over myself. Weird, but they don't itch, so it's not very troublesome.

October 3, 2002 - 21:43
Finally done with today's activities. From 0715 hours to just a few minutes ago I've been on duty, though I spent the first seven hours of the day eating, resting, reading about FreeBSD and surfing the web on the library computers. So what has happened? Well, today the long-awaited education control was up, a kind of one-day field exercise where a group of soldiers has to solve various problems - they need to be able to do stuff like pinpoint their own location on a map, avoid getting killed by lurking enemies, carry a wounded friend to safety - stuff like that. I was looking forward to it, but no. Due to a new infection in my right big toe (which I've recently had surgery performed on) my CO said I wasn't allowed to take part for medical reasons. So I had to wait in my barrack room, time I spent resting and composing an article on the subject of digital music piracy (did I ever tell you I'm a journalist? Well, now you know).

Finally, at 1358 hours, the order came: I was to go get one red Volvo 240 GL, retrieve some food, and then help serve dinner to the soldiers who were out in the field on the education control. Of course, I wasn't expected to serve 150 people by myself; a few others who had been excused from the control for varying reasons were assigned to help me, but for some reason they seemed to be suffering from a lack of enthusiasm at the start. It took a bit of my leadership skills to get them working! Once the initial troubles were overwith, however, everything ran smoothly. After we finished serving dinner and were transporting the jars to the dishwashing room, I got the opportunity to talk to a visiting officer from Switzerland about S1. Gotta love international visitors (we don't get that many for obvious reasons). Right now, I'm back in my barrack room and am looking forward to a good night's sleep, likely to be interrupted around 2 AM when my (now orienteering) friends return home. Oh well.

October 10, 2002 - 10:39
Hand grenade training day. It's a short week; yesterday we came (and did nothing of substance), today we'll be training with real hand grenades (dangerous stuff!) and tomorrow we'll go home again. As for right now, half of us are waiting for lunch while the other half are 300 metres away (minimum safe distance) throwing grenades. About every two minutes, there is a big explosion, and you can almost feel the ground shaking. You can definitely feel the shock wave even at this distance. In a short while, it'll be our turn to throw. There's medical staff on call should something go wrong, but I'm hoping we won't have to make use of their services. I don't quite feel like getting blown up today.

(Notes): I didn't have the time to write anything after I threw my first real hand grenade, but it was an interesting experience to be sure. At 300 metres, you can hear the explosion pretty loud, and there's a faint, yet noticable, vibration in the air. At two or three metres, even with a concrete shield, you REALLY feel the shock wave, and the flying debris is pretty cool, too.

<-- day 85-98 | day 113-133 -->

...another lonely park another Sunday...

First, before the "real" daylog starts, I would like to say that, yes, I ate one of the mushrooms that people should stay away from. It was completely bug-free, and had the little ring around it that signifies death or some sort of brain damage if eaten. Never again will I eat a wild mushroom unless I am faced with no other choice.

So.

Today, my step-nephew Sebastian was baptized. He is adorable! During the service, Sebastian's brother Alex was being quite the show off. He was running in circles inside the church throughout the ceremony, and at one point even decided he was the priest, and climbed up on the chair. It was a sight. I don't think his father was too happy with him though.

Today, I sit in my room and edit my Econ paper, and maybe work on my Thevenin circuits assignment. I really don't like my circuits class. I just ordered 4 supplementary books, because the textbook "Introduction to Electric Circuits" by Dorf and Svoboda, is, quite frankly, a heap of shit.

DO NOT USE THIS TEXTBOOK.

Ahem.

At any rate, today I am alone, in my room, doing various schoolwork. I managed to get my Differential Equations homework done during the reception after the baptismal ceremony. I really do enjoy being alone - it is quiet, and I can usually think better. But, at times, I really enjoy good company.

The graphic on CNN reads:
SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER SNIPER

Four seasons past a dark september,
Armageddon awakened.

Shellshock rapidly approaching in five, four, three, two, one....PEOPLEAREGETTINGPISSED

For you poor future generations who don't have a six month recall to remember what shit i'm talking about, some guy (possibly two) with a high loaded rifle and a white van has been driving in and around the District of Columbia and shooting people in the face from hundreds of yards away and driving off. He's shot ten people in ten days, and the best bead the cops have on him is the fact that he's driving the white van and using a high powered rifle. Of course, he also left a note scribbled on a Tarot card where he claims to be God, if that helps you.

The murders in and of themselves aren't as frightening as the motivations behind them. The murders are completely random and take place for what may be the most henious of circumstances. In all honesty I think that the killers just hate people and got it in their heads to kill as many people as they could, having rejected society at large and the concept that people have value. Thats societies new low for you.

Describe a significant experience you have had, and its meaning to you.

Ah, college admissions essays. How can you express everything about a "significant experience" in less than 500 words- much less every particle of your being? Nevertheless I concocted the following with sweat and tears; then pared it down mournfully to a word count of 497. As Stephen King said: "Kill your darlings."

Any creative input would be greatly appreciated, I would be eternally grateful to be /msged with comments or criticisms (but none too harsh, I'm a tortured soul.)

College Admissions Essay: 10/13/02

My mother's lover was handsome: electric blue eyes, ridiculously white teeth, a disarming grin reminiscent of Michael Douglas. He was interesting: a world-renowned mechanical engineer, he had traveled to faraway lands that in my mind gleamed a fairy tale compared to my rural Texas upbringing. Most importantly, he was charming: cultured as an aristocrat, he spoke with a certain joie de vivre unparalleled by any of other suitor. But things aren't always what they seem.

I stopped that man from killing my mother.

In his whirlwind courtship of kisses and compliments, neither of us noticed the telltale signs of a disturbed mind. A libation here, a dirty word there- it was all explained away as "a lovers' spat", never "domestic abuse." Extravagant gourmet meals and red, red long-stemmed roses masked the hot tears that streamed down my mother's face; a bruise on my leg was attributed to my own klutziness, not his rash temper. Any errs pointed out by me in an uncommonly clear mood would be promptly dismissed- "You don't know what love really is."

One evening after a particularly violent fight, he took me for a drive in the country road. He usually drove like Satan's chauffeur, but that night he was placid, eyes fixed on the horizon as if looking for life's meaning. I punctuated the silence:

"What's wrong?"

"I'm going to kill her. I am GOING to KILL her." He enunciated each word slowly, as if speaking to a five year old.

I usually paid him no attention. If I had not seen the gun on the dashboard, if I had not noticed it was loaded, perhaps I would now be ping-ponged amongst foster parents instead of remaining in my loving home. I knew, immediately, what I had to do:

"Can you take me to Sofia's?" My best friend from childhood.

" Why the hell not."

The moment I got there I ran into the house and called the police. The next day my mother would tell me that I had cried uncontrollably when she found me later, although I have no recollection of that evening. Neither of us saw him again.

Society's idea of maternity is laughably inept- haus frau or M.D., mother is always right. Yet the lines often blur. Mothers can and do falter, children sometimes are called to shoulder the familial burden. It usually happens over the years, but for some of us it happens in a split second: a decision made on the unsteady precipice between life and death, a lifetime changed in the balance.

I could have held an eternal grudge against my mother, scribbling tidings of my hatred in a sad little black notebook. I could have become a perfect daughter, studying furiously while cleaning house. But I am neither. I can only be me, a person with faults and talents, myriad dreams and plaguing insecurities.

This I have learned during the sojourn of my life: Love unconditionally, but only if the love is truly returned.

October 13, 2002 The scenario is in an average New York elementary-school. The main character, Dave who does not like to get into trouble. There is Jim and Bill, who are in their own mock-gang. Bill is a big character with a bulldog-like face. Neither of them are very bright.

One day Jim did a prank and hung Dave on a tree. Now he wasn't a very smart kid, so instead of climbing back down, he decided he would get a bigger applause from the audience if he jumped down from the tree. So what happened was, he twisted his ankle and got a few wounds on his limbs.

When the teachers came, not only was Jim suspended, but it was in a hospital. He couldn't come back for a couple of days. Bill, not being very astute, thought that Dave caused Jim's immobolization.

So he approached him in the classroom, and said,
"EH! I heard you messed up my friend. Thats a bad thing, to mess up my friend."
"But he fell on his own! I didn't do anything."
"You know what I do to people who lie to me? You messed up my friend, now I mess YOU up. Fair, eh?"

So he took out a box cutter.

"You know what i'm gonna do to you? THIS is what imma do to you"

He prompty demonstrated what he was going to do: he took his box cutter with his right hand and jabbed it into his left arm, PULLING IT ALONG THE LENGTH OF HIS ARM.. The result was a bloody messed up arm and a classroom full of "catch-up."
Sunday evenings at work are almost totally an excuse to watch TV anymore... Not that I'm complaining, mind you. The fewer bodily-waste messes I need to clean up, the happier I am.

Anyhow, I watch Mutant X, Charmed, and Angel - all of which are airing new eps now. *whohoo*

While watching Angel this evening, it struck me how much I am like Fred in some ways. When she broke down after Gunn was killed and brought back, saying "I thought I'd be able to breath again... if I don't hold it all up, who is going to?" Gods, how often I feel like that! Between work (which I have to deal with), school (which I am determined to make it through), Dan (whom I love dearly), Kayte (whom I want to help so very much), Debi (whom I rarely get to see), RJ (whom I never get to see), and my mother (for whom it seems I am the only support), I often feel like "if I let go, it is all going to come crashing down around me, and then I'll have more work when I have to pick it all up."

But, I will make it through. I have people who love me, and whom I can turn to. My only problem is remembering to turn to them...

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