An Extract...

There was a whir and a click. The camera flashed just as Luc Delacroix’s sensual smile broke upon his stunning face. The swarm of journalists gathered around him firing off questions about his latest acquisition, all wanting to know how, at such a young age, he was able to achieve such success. The gorgeous Mr. Delacroix answered their questions with his disarming charm and intrinsic dynamism. Everyone was aware of how difficult the last three months had been and were in awe of his ability to take the tragedy in his stride and cope so magnificently with the change in his domestic life.

Luc had been extremely close to his sister, Antoinette, until six years ago when she married playboy horse breeder, Fernando, and moved to Argentina, his lavish home country with an equally lavish hacienda in the hills of Comodoro Rivadavia. Although they had tried to get together as often as possible, their demanding lifestyles meant there was little room for reunion. Her death had left a gaping void in his life and now, the presence of Eja, Antoinette’s five year old daughter was an unpleasant reminder. In the last three months since his sister’s death, Luc’s life had been filled with a whirlwind of activity. He had to leave his grief aside while he attended to the estate and affairs of Antoinette and Fernando and arrange custody for little Eja, and all this in the middle of acquiring the publishing house of Amtaro Books, which, at the time of Antoinette’s accident was in the middle of a crucial takeover bid. The will and estate were now in reasonable order, the deal with the publishing house had gone through and he could leave his perfectly capable staff to iron out the finer details. This left Eja.

Luc’s masculine eyebrows knitted together as he glanced at his watch. It was 3:30 and this left half an hour for him to get home and freshen up before the meeting with Eja’s new teacher. Saying his goodbyes, and walking towards his jade convertible Porsche, Luc reached deep inside his pockets, his long, slender, tanned fingers searching for his mobile phone. With a flick of the wrist, he put his dark sunglasses on. They eclipsed the long, dark lashes but flattered the chiselled slant of his cheekbones with flawless ease. He held the phone to the sensuous curve of his lips and spoke into the earpiece, “Vanessa”. His voice was deep and husky, undertoned with a charm and elegance that would make any woman’s knees wobble. The palm sized gadget began to flash as it called Luc’s supermodel girlfriend. He lifted the phone to his ear and waited for the reply. She was not going to be happy that he had to, yet again, cancel a date all for the benefit of Eja.



Alexandra Delaney knew perfectly well of the reputation that Mr. Delacroix had. Yes, he was a rising success, but from the interest he had shown in Eja, it was perfectly clear that he had no intention whatsoever of caring for this child in the slightest degree. It was only out of legal obligations that he was coming to this meeting in the first place. It was a good fifteen minutes since he was expected at Summerfield Kindergarten to discuss the future of his niece and his lateness did nothing to lessen the feelings that Alex had towards Luc. He was an arrogant, rich man not in the least bit worthy of any of the entourage he had collated in the past few years. He had no doubt had them twisted around his little finger. And now, Alex was certain that little Eja would be a hindrance rather than a help. Something he would simply refuse to pay any importance to until it was too late.

Alexandra looked up from her desk. What her emerald green eyes saw, and what they had expected to see where two different things. In the blue, glossy doorway of the small classroom stood a figure. Her mind registered the top three buttons of a pale blue shirt left undone, a deep V of tanned chest with a sprinkle of dark curls, rolled up shirt sleeves, muscular forearms, electric blue eyes that sent sizzling sensations up her spine. He was out of this world! And she must’ve been totally delusional if she hadn’t realised that when she had glimpsed him a couple of weeks ago at the takeover of her uncles publishing company. If she had remembered him being this good looking from the newspaper pictures, she might have reconsidered her irate feelings towards today’s meeting.

She suddenly shook he head in frustration. How could she think like this? It had only been five minutes ago that she had been cursing him for being late, and now, she had lapsed into adolescent dreamland. What was she thinking?! Yes, he was the most attractive man she had ever laid eyes on, but his arrogant air and selfish attitude did little to please her.

With the ease of some exotic wild animal, Luc straightened and began to walk across the room towards her.
“You must be Ms. Delaney. I’m Luc. Luc Delacroix.”
She gazed up into a pair of hypnotically blue eyes. Luc Delacroix. A beautiful name, like all French names, created to slide over the tongue like smooth, rich wine. She ran it over in her head. Luc Delacroix…She ran a hand through her light brown, shoulder length hair, bouncing back to reality.
"Yes.” She said in a clipped tone.
“Please. Be seated.”

PREGNANCY A PROBLEM

I joined the US Navy shortly after Sept. 11th and nearly every day, my immediate superiors, and occasionally the entire chain of command does stuff that makes me wonder if I am the only sane person here.

A big example...

The big thing now is that my squadron, VFA-41, an F/A 18F Super Hornet squadron is a few months from deploying on our regular 6 month cruise. For a guy, the only way to avoid this long period at sea is to seriously injure yourself. But for a female it can be as simple as getting pregnant. Pregnant women can't be deployed for several obvious reasons, not the least of which is the lack of proper medical care for someone in their position. That being said, in a squadron, we typically have about 350 people, so every worker counts. So, it would stand to reason that with the maning problems that result in such a small group, the Navy should do everything in its power to curb pregnancy in single females on a "deployable" status. BUT NOOOOO! In the past 3 months, 4 women in this squadron alone have gotten pregnant; only one of them married.

Now, I'd be the last person to bitch about unwedded pregnancy; my daughter was conceived out of wedlock, and I personally feel that marriage is a dumb idea. However, in an enclosed society like the Navy, and especially in a suqadron where we are reminded every day that every worker is important, safety is paramount, and that we could be deployed at any minute, steps should be taken to ensure that every person, male and female is ready and able to go to sea. I proposed the following ...

Single females in a sea duty status should be put on mandatory birth control unless their religious beliefs specifically state otherwise. Married females on a sea duty status should also be on mandatory birth control and only be allowed to conceive if their Commanding Officer allows it based on scheduling.

Now to some this may seem extreme, fascist, or even dictatorial, but keep in mind, these are females in the military. First off, from the beginning we are reminded that we are defending freedom, but have very little of our own. And second, it's a very difficult thing to defend freedom when you are 8 months pregnant. Logic would seem to prevail here.

The Navy's response?

"We apreciate your ideas regarding birth control in the military. Unfortunatly, due to cost and religious issues, this plan has never been concidered a viable idea."

So instead of saving millions by NOT having to provide childcare and medical attention to pregnant women and their children (possibly upwards of $2,000 a month), the Navy decides not to spend a mere $10 a month for Ortho Tri-Cycline for all sea duty females!

For your submission, your tax dollars at work! Congrats, you help the Military spend well over 50 million dollars a month to pregnant and new mothers, when you could only be paying 5 million for Birth Control.

It's Tuesday and I have a date. A first date, sort of, I met the girl at a frat party nearly a month ago and the fates have conspired to keep us apart. The first weekend after we met she was supposed to drink with me and some friends, but she had to go out of town. The second weekend we were going to meet for a party, but I had to run home (from Radford University) on family business. Today we've set up a lunch date in hopes of avoiding the weekend mishaps of the past. Dalton will be serving some very good food, lets hope that she likes alfredo. This could go well or bad.

Now I've got to decide if I'm going to walk across campus, pick her up, then walk to the cafeteria. Or if I'm going to let her come to my dorm, then take the (much shorter) walk to Dalton. That, or we could both meet at the cafeteria. Very complex.

I need to shower before then too, but that's not a source of stress. I've got an essay due in English today, but again, it's cake and done already. I'm suffering from some nasty bouts of insomnia and need a good node topic. I'm thinking of a Red vs Blue episode guide.

We have all felt the anxiety of trying to find a new job. We wonder how we will be treated, and we wonder whether the pay will make us feel that the day was worth it, and then we wonder how much vacation time we'll be allowed and whether the money we make will pay for Cancun or not. Then we think how differently it would all be run if we were the ones in charge.

This is the anxiety of the employed. Today I feel for the first time the anxiety of the employer. My husband and I incorporated, limitedly in the liability sort of way, and announced to the world and the State of New Jersey that we were henceforth a company involved in trucking and delivery. We did the whole thing online, and it cost 125 USD, and it was so easy. By the time it was done I wanted to do another one; it's so neat to watch the computer give you a number that starts with 20- that gives you the power to give a person a job, money in his pocket, a place to go during the working day, a purpose.

Yes, yes, a crappy purpose. My husband and I are willing to offer you the chance at 100 USD daily with free cardio and weight training thrown in, plus (this I haven't mentioned to The Pollito, but it seems like a good thing to do) a cake on your birthday and a gift basket come Christmas and Easter. You have to lift furniture, some of which you're going to think is ugly and not worth the money and not terribly appropriate to the room it's going into. You work right with my husband, who doesn't always hear what you're telling him and who, after working for 20 days, will have 20 of your pens. Is this what your mother dreamed you'd be when she nursed you in the wee smalls, gazing out into a lightening sky and imagining a future sky with a brilliant offspring striding purposefully under it?

No.

If, however, events turned and brought you to that spot and under this particular drizzly March sky, and you somehow agreed to take the position, then you must know that someone counted on you being there. He will get by without you, don't you worry. If you agreed to take the position, someone else will, too. This is where we are this morning. We've got a truckload of furniture, and only one skinny Costa Rican to put it where it belongs. All we wanted was another able-bodied guy.

I feel sorry that the guy didn't show. He has a wife and a son, and a life. The job would have given them enough to get by on. The wife works, too. Between what we're paying and what she brings in, they might have afforded every necessity and a few luxuries, and been able to send a little back home to family. Now, he's a guy without a job. I wish we could have done something for him.

Last month I watched TV, cherishing the new CSI run on New Zealand's TV3, when I suddenly got suspicious of a new ad they ran: There, a deep, male voice told me with an alarming undertone (accompanied by screenshots of computers and young, worried looking professionals) to update my virus software, install a firewall and always have the latest versions of my operating system on my computer. If I wanted to know anything more, I should check out www.protectmypc.co.nz.

The whole thing was designed like a public service announcement, i.e. like the brillant ACC set of commercials warning the public to protect themselves from household accidents, so, gullible person that I am, I got curious and checked out the site. Not that I was particularly surprised when I saw that I was being transferred to http://www.microsoft.com/nz/athome/security/default.mspx , but it made me angry that I wasted 30 seconds of my time on a deceiving little ad like that. You see, my house is completely Microsoft free and the only OS's that are running at home are OS X, OpenBSD and Ubuntu Linux, so I'm not really in their target audience. If the ad would have said: "If you're a Microsoft client, please listen carefully..", but no, they had scare everybody. So, they not only misled their audience by making them assume that everybody is in danger of having a horrible security breach, but they also tried to sell some new security tools to the hapless customer (like me).

So I did the only thing you can do: I complained to New Zealand's Advertising Standards Authority, a self governing body that makes sure their members adhere to their code of practice. That same code states that

"No advertisement should be misleading or deceptive or likely to mislead or deceive the consumer."

The decision will be due any day now.

Hold your breath, cats.


http://www.asa.co.nz
Wow- Today marks exactly 5 years since I joined E2. What a long, strange trip it's been. During the past half decade I've graduated from owning a glorified single-wide mobile home in a seedy community (heard it didn't survive the recent hurricane season) to owning a nice townhouse (June will mark 3 years here). Been through a few vehicles including 2 Lincoln Towncars and a Chevy Caprice. Attended a few Vietnam Veterans reunions and several "special needs" community events. Concieved, and subsequently gave birth to my second son. Officially began my quest for my husband's vindication- and am winning!!! Continued to stay clean & sober one day at a time, and recently launched the 12-Step Recovery Instant Messenger Cooperative. Basically, I've simply continued to "keep on keeping on" no matter what. Whether times have been good, bad, or indifferent, I have always strived to maintain an attitude of gratitude.

Does any of this make me somehow better than anyone else? Hardly. Have my experiences made me stronger emotionally, physically, and spiritually? I can answer with a fair amount of confidence: yes. Thank you, my fellow noders, for adding a truly unique spin to the internet. Hell- this isn't merely a milestone just for this goofy grrl... Y'all had a hefty part in it!!!

I've never bought anything at a thrift store.

I suggested to Noah that I needed some new pairs of khakis to even out the staggering majority of worn skateboarder jeans folded haphazardly into a little sliding drawer beneath my bed. It was an excuse to go downtown which he gamely seized upon. Then someone suggested a thrift store dive, an urban adventuring party was assembled, and Noah found himself roped in. I might as well tag along.

We took the 55 bus, a.k.a. rich college kids red-line delivery vehicle. The 55th drives you through the impovershed black neighborhood bordering the university campus to the el-line that heads downtown. Nearly every white face you see on it has gotten on at one stop, and nearly every white face will disappear at another. Today, however, we kept our buns unacustomedly planted in our seats and kept riding.

I watched the passing neighborhood, sometimes idylic, sometimes nightmarish, as I eavesdropped on the conversation around me. Two twelve year-old boys talked about twelve year-old boy matters of great importance, completely familiar save for the black dialect and the sudden, disturbing quip, "After he killed 'im, he shoulda jus dropped da gun and ran." Cute bravado. Less than cute subject matter.

Their mother was a calm, patient looking woman with glistening eyes that scanned the seats from side-to-side, like a passive radar sweeping for something to happen. Noah poked me and asked about the fares for a transfer, out of curiosity. This showed up as a blip on her mother monitor. She leaned forward and asked in smooth, standard English "Do either of you need a fare card? I have two spare ones here I don't need any more." A little startled, I paused, then stuttered that it wasn't necessary, but we were quite grateful for the offer. I wanted to better express my appreciation for this gesture that made us, for the briefest of moments, more than just strangers to each other, but she summarily shepherded her children off the bus a few stops later. I couldn't slip a word into the bustle.

Arriving at the thrift store shop, we wandered through a non-threatening working class neighborhood where the only English to be found was on the street signs. The thrift store itself was just a warehouse for redistributed goods, but I managed to snatch out three pairs of nicely fitting khakis. In addition, the used book section offered some tasty treats—Margaret Atwood's The Robber Bride, Kurt Vonnegut's Cat's Cradle, and Thomas Mann's Noble Prize-winning Buddenbrook (auf Deutsch!). I pilfered all this reading goodness for less than two bucks. Much as I enjoy a romp through my local Borders, I think I need to let thrift stores decide my next months' reading more often.

Following thrifting, the group of us chattered our way over to a Mexican restaurant intended for actual Mexicans and somewhat awkwardly took a seat. The waitress was nervous and stumbled over her English, but between pointing and verbal work-arounds, we managed to get ourselves some food possessive of supreme deliciousness. I discovered some crazy concoction called a horchata that tastes like liquified rice pudding, one of my favorite desserts. Extra refreshing.

After the Mexican eating experiment, we wandered back through the neighborhood, trying to decode the signs with our collective poor Spanish and generally feeling chipper. Natasha got rather excited about a mondo cheap bakery and burst inside to grab various confectionaries as I tagged along to load up on some bread to munch back in the dorm room. The cashier spoke no English at all, but the language of capitalism needs little translation. I got nervous as she read out the total (cinquenta y uno céntimos), because I wanted to reply 'thank you' in Spanish, but for some reason the similarity of the language's sound to the Japanese I'm currently studying made it oddly impossible for me to remember anything except doumo arigatou. And wouldn't I look like a dork if I said that. At the last moment, I managed to extract the very basic vocab item gracias and trundled myself out of the store.

Comfy pants and comfy memories. Occasionally, I trip over undeniable urban beauty, finding myself fallen in love with the city I love to hate.

Every where has its sun-sparkled secrets.

So yeah, recently, I've been having some trouble with the grayness of Ohio. And yes, for too long, it seemed that all I did was cry at everything. It got to the point where I had to be literally dragged out of bed in the morning because I didn't see the point of doing anything. I've never lived anywhere with so much grayness.

I was a child of the sun.

I don't mind the cold in Central Ohio, just the thick coating of clouds. If you have listened to me complain about this lately, thank you for listening. I needed it.

Chad hooked me up with some good herbal remedies and the outlook is much sunnier now. I'm not so weepy, and I'm able to realize that Spring is right around the corner. I would've argued that point viciously just a few weeks ago.

My kitchen table is currently populated with seed trays, full of little sprouting seedlings of broccoli, mesclun greens, basil, oregano, lavendar and rosemary.

Life is returning slowly.

Being at Al-Asad pretty much stayed wondrous for the duration of our time there. Our Charlie Company and Marines from 1/7 were also in Al-Asad preparing to turn over to the relieving units. It made our stay crowded, long lines for chow and computers and phones (I waited two hours to get on a phone to tell my mother 'Happy Birthday') and for the bus down to Mainside. But I got to see a lot of guys I went to School of Infantry with, some of whom I haven't seen since then. It was awesome to see old faces again, but sobering hearing about the ones that didn't make it.

News like that makes one reflective. I spent some time thinking how fortunate our company has been, taking only a few casualties, and no KIAs. It's hard to imagine what it would feel like to lose a comrade here.

Maybe it's a cliche, but the closest analog for our relationship is family; we are brothers. I can't really call most of these guys friends, I doubt I would have hung out with any of them had we met in the civilian world, but we have sweated and bled with each other, trained and fought together, been through so much in such close proximity that it would be impossible not to form a close kinship. This is stuff I've read about and seen on screens of various sizes all my life, but it's a different thing to live it, and I am grateful for the experience.

2nd LAR is falling in on our equipment here, just as we fell in on 1st LAR's when got here, but inexplicably, a single vehicle is being sent back. They pulled three crewmen and two scouts (including me) from the Remain Behind Element to road march the vehicle down to Kuwait, and we left the other night with an Army convoy.

I was apprehensive at first for several reasons:

  • The vehicle we are taking back has been hit five times, and is just about falling apart.
  • The convoy we've joined is mostly civilian trucks with civilian drivers, and had only two armed humvees as a security element until we joined up, making us the main effort should anything happen.
  • It's a huge convoy, which makes it a big target, and our vehicle is the highest value target by far.
  • This vehicle has been pretty much stripped of its stock field gear to spread-load among the vehicles that are staying, and we've turned all our night optics and ACOGs over to our relieving unit, which leaves me with iron sights that aren't even zeroed.

But most of that apprehension quickly faded. Since our senior Marine is a Corporal I've known since we were here the first time, the atmosphere is pretty relaxed. Working with an Army unit is worlds apart form working with Marines, and one of the Sergeants in the convoy told us they hardly ever get hit.

So we've treated this last foray out of the wire more as a road trip than as a combat op. We made a last PX run for some munchies, and the crewmen have rigged a CD player up to the intercom so they can listen to music in their com helmets on the way down, and we scouts have decided to close up all the hatches and sleep through the trip, in relative comfort, since we each have a side to ourselves.

I couldn't stop smiling as we left Al-Asad for the last time, waving goodbye to the gate guards, wondering if they even realized we were waving goodbye.

I woke up in Scania, an Army convoy support station I remember stopping at on our way up to our AO, when we first arrived in-country. I remember having a pretty bad heat rash there, on my back, and at once that seems like just yesterday and ancient history.

We ate delicious Army chow for breakfast and lunch there, and Mijo and I took a look around the Hajji Mart that's set up right outside one of the gates, a row of little booths all selling largely the same merchandise: bootleg DVDs, fake Rolexes, old and new Iraqi money, flags, and various other little trinkets.

I bought a few odds and ends, an Iraqi flag, some money, and I haggled with the merchants, not because I couldn't spare the money (I'm sure they were robbing me either way), but because it was fun, and it seemed appropriate.

Bizarrely, one of the merchants liked my watch and offered to buy it from me, so we traded for some stuff, and he immediately strapped the watch on, a $30 Timex, showing it off to some of the merchants and looking rather pleased with himself. I'm still not sure that wasn't a scam of some sort.

Most of the merchants spoke English, a few almost perfectly, and all of them seemed excited to see Marines, though I'm surprised they could tell the difference. I can only suppose this was because Marines are easier to fleece than soldiers.

In Scania we met a National Guardsman on post who used to be a Marine in my unit, and another who used to be a Marine in 2/7, who was in the same platoon as Cpl P_______, one of the IR Marines who came over here with us, and I marvelled at how small the Marine Corps really is.

Mijo and I took pictures with a camel, and we relaxed there in Scania until late afternoon.

We stopped at a couple more places, once to refuel, once to eat dinner, and deja vu hit me more than once, seeing all the places we saw six and a half months ago, and I can't believe we're on our way home already.

It's about 0400 (I'm not sure because I don't have a watch), and we're stopped for a few hours at a convoy support station right on the Kuwaiti border, our last stop before we hit our destination, a Naval base about two hours away. Everyone else is asleep, and it's peaceful, and I can see the freeway from where I sit, a good time and place to reflect.

Before we left, I spoke to some of the civilian drivers, who are very multi-cultural. Some are from Sri Lanka, other Pakistan, Egypt, Indonesia. They all spoke Arabic, so I shared with them my meager skills in the language, and we all had a laugh.

I mostly talked with one of the Sri Lankans because he could speak the most English. He's been here for three months and isn't sure how long he'll stay. He needs money, especially now after the tsunami.

We talked about mines and IEDs, and how he thinks it's getting more dangerous here, the explosives getting bigger.

I wished him luck, and he's stopped by at each of our stops to say 'hello'.

In Scania, we talked to one of the expats who is working here as a convoy commander. He's been here over a year already, and plans on staying indefinitely, until he's paid off the new house and truck his wife just bought. Women.

I wonder what it would be like over here as a civilian. It seems like it could be an option for the future, good money, and well-suited for my transient nature, my wanderlust, and a place to apply my skills as an infantryman, because God knows those skills are nigh useless in the civilian world.

But for now, I just want to get to where we're going, and eventually get home. I want to see my family and friends again, breathe American air and feel American soil under my feet. This place is strange, and hasn't gotten any less strange in the time I've been here. I think it's probably a good experience, one not many people get, but right now I long for the familiarities of home.

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