In The Mood
During November 2012, when we Americans were all heading off that fiscal cliff that presently looms before us, I was in detailed communications with my Very Dear Friend, online, in person, and, very occasionally, on the phone. She preferred to deal with this writer-friend either in writing or in person. For some reason, she did not like the sound of her own voice getting heard by someone else, especially me!
She emailed me about the personal, professional and all-over-the-place betrayals of General Petraeus. Through contract writing, I’d worked with this woman at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Sacramento District in the late 1990s and early 2000s. With insistence, she wanted to know what I thought of this guy. He’s a high-ranking general, after all!
With Four Stars!!!
I wrote back, “He’s probably got one mistress for each star.”
It was at times like that one that my Very Dear Friend informed me I had stumbled, literally, into a gold mine of a point of view.
The inamorata in question, in my womanly opinion, did not reveal the best of taste on the part of the general, but, hey, beauty’s in the eye of the beholder, or the holder. She was, furthermore, also the Primary Author of His Biography — published in early 2012!
It was the incestuousness of that Writer-Subject relationship that appalled me most of all! Personal foibles are one thing. Professional impurity is quite another! When the boardroom is the bedroom, things have gone a little too far.
My dear friend wanted to know how it is that I know about such things as an unfaithful general. I explained to her that a portion of my years in Washington, D.C. schooled me in my non-carnal knowledge of the cozy liaisons between the Pentagon and Military Intelligence (the grand-daddy of all oxymorons) during the post-Vietnam War era.
A young woman seeking to fulfill herself in a professional manner in her salaried life either steers herself into a technical field, or she runs the risk of being viewed as a pushover, even a patsy, as she is passed up the line of passing on orders. Someone else, a more attractive, or more submissive female, is always there, waiting to pounce on an opportunity to take the job of a gal who has likely taken the job of someone else in a similar manner.
The jungle of office work can be a very pestilent place. When stars-and-stripes enter the fray, it can be every woman for herself!
The bedmate vocation is typically the choice of a gal who wants power and attention, and not necessarily in that order. She opts for posing, in more ways than one, to create the image and those coveted optics of appearing proficient and well-versed in a field where’s she’s accomplished zilch; but she has the goods on enough people around her that she can power-play her way to the top of the ladder. And, then, once there, at the top, she sits, and gets paid quite well for it.
It’s done all the time, by men as well as by women. Exhibit Awful is the Queen of America, Nancy Pelosi. The vodka-soaked shrew will have to drop off in the non-prime of her life, before she will relinquish life and that gavel along with it. Why a narcissistic lush believes vodka and gin don’t reek is beyond me. The whiff of whiskey on her breath would be a breath of fresh air for even the sycophants around her.
The ego-pairings of those egotists in governance, Avaricious Female on the Hunt for Power and Alpha-Male On the Prowl, are marvelously matched! E-Harmony (e-harm) can’t even come close to the twinning of venal twits the way that it’s done in a moth-eaten officialdom. I suppose those “worldly” American fonctionnaires believe they are sooo sophisticated, replete with savoir-faire, in the voulez-vous French way, with their tacky two-timing. I firmly believe, however, that the French must find the American government love-nesting to be hideously primitive in terms of primal passion.
The egos of certain types of officers in the U.S. military are colossal, almost as big as the inevitable and predictable fiascos spawned by their inept and arrogant counterparts in the civilian command structure, otherwise known as The White House, Congress, and the reality-deprived Department of State. The officers who fall outside the category of the users and manipulators, the officers who are also gentleman, vastly outnumber the suck-up sick pups at the Pentagon. Those heroes must contend with cowards and traitors more than any of us, the civilians, would care to know.
My years of working, anywhere, but especially for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers in Sacramento, those ten-plus years were invested in acquiring and consolidating technical and technological skills. That road was not difficult for me to travel since I was never chosen for an administrative post. I’m too decisive to have been chosen for a position of authority to make decisions in the federal bureaucracy. I’m also strong-willed and opinionated, two qualities that beadledom, anywhere, cannot abide.
I was also well-known for my irrepressible ability to verbally summarize the situation facing me in the fewest words possible — to the greatest effect.
my flight from that infestation of the English language by frauds, an ongoing
duty assignment that endured more than two decades (and likely still persists),
I undertook a rescue mission of a rescuer. This courteous and caring man didn’t even know that the tables had
become turned on him, but that sleight-of-hand was part of my gift to him, and
his gift to me.
Jake was the chief, and the face, of PAO, the Public Affairs Office, at USACE-SPK. The “SP” stands for South Pacific Division, as in Pearl Harbor, and “Bali Ha’i”; the “K” denotes Sacramento District. Got it???
Jake had waited years to get that post, and, back in the 1980s, he was gonna build his own little fiefdom of PR pros, starting with me, the whiz-kid Word Processor who typed 75 wpm and edited her way across and down those pages of scribbled English snafus by engineers, hydrologists, geologists, economists, real estate appraisers, attorneys, and personnel specialists. Yes, my Tech-Writer Odyssey started out with my polite but desperate question:
“Do you mind if I correct this??”
Word then got around the building that if you want your horribly-written and nearly incomprehensible whatever to come out of the word-processor machine, looking like pristine English, go to the little blonde seated at the back of the room.
Jake wasn’t one of the sub-level writers. He was top-notch at what he did, writing press releases and composing public-meeting information, charts and maps for the inquisitions that he subjected himself to, on a routine basis.
He implored (asked) me many many many times, to leave the infra dig job of clerk-typist in the Word Processing Center, and to move, one floor up, to the plush office. with air-conditioning in the summer, and heating in the winter. There, I could be his assistant, in charge of the superb professional staff that he wished to create, along with a couple of my co-workers. Those technicians included the Phototypesetter and the main photographer in Graphic Arts.
I even knew the Chief of Graphic Arts, from my days of waitressing at Bassin’s in D.C. He’d moved West just a year or so before me, and when he walked into the large windowless room of the Word Processing Center, and saw me, we instantly recognized our shared experience.
“Veal cutlet with spaghetti on the side,” I half-laughed to him.
I was unaware, totally unaware, that my nearly six years in Mecca (The Nation’s Capital) was a ginormous source of envy amidst the ambitious there in the Sacramento District. In my mind, leaving the swamp, and the swamp rats, had been a life-saving act!
To return to Jake, whom I never left hanging on the line in terms of working for PAO.
He very cogently explained to me all of the reasons why I was being under-appreciated, under-paid, under-utilized and overworked, insulted and generally wasted in the Word Processing Center. He stopped just short of telling me what a “B” I was working for. He believed that I oughta be in that big office, right next to the Colonel, where the Big Guy made all the tough decisions, and had tons of toadies and press conferences and oversaw the implementation of so many hot-button and high-budget projects right there, in that spacious Colonel’s Conference Room.
How could I not jump at the opportunity to have a place at that huge table with the glass top? Why did I not want to be in that spotlight?
It was always difficult for me to convince this very kind and considerate man, a knight in a business suit, that, under most working circumstances, and in all personal ones, I flee the spotlight. Even my wedding photos had to be candid, not staged!
“You oughta be in pictures,” was Jake’s theme song to me.
“I want to be left alone,” was my monotone-reply.
He could not figure out why I chose obscurity in my creativity, instead of receiving the professional recognition I deserved. And so I told him, as fully as possible, without hurting his feelings.
“The colonel we have now is great. Absolutely wonderful. But he’s gonna rotate out of here in two years. And the next yahoo will come along, and I will have to work with him. I am not gonna be able to stifle my opinions about an idiot green-suiter, passing through to get his ticket punched. I’m not like you; I can’t be diplomatic. It’ll show all over my face. I’ll get you in big trouble.”
I suppressed my belief that this guy had had to kiss up to so many derrieres that his mouth was almost in permanent pucker. I did not state that he was the one being underpaid, and insulted, overworked, not appreciated. He was truly being harassed with his role in public meetings that was the equivalent of a ringmaster in a circus ring of untamed animals, aka taxpayers. Those decent but angry citizens did not appreciate the valiant every-day work of the Corps of Engineers; they knew only the times the Corps screwed up in a crisis that was largely of someone else’s making, and was due to the corruption of more people outside of USACE-SPK than in its River City domain.
With his good-natured admiration of me, Jake accepted my choices, and he watched me elevate myself to a technical writer job in the Engineering Division. And then, four years later, I left that underpaid post, to start the rest of my life. He looked forward to all of those tech-writer contracts that I was gonna get. But that phase of my writing career did not happen. I instead wrote my first novel NORTHSTAR. Its publication in 1994 was celebrated by Jake as a fait accompli. His joy in helping me to promote the book was matched only by his sadness when the publisher turned out to be a fraud and a crook.
I then progressed to researching the background for my war novel entitled NOTTINGHAM. And I kept in touch with this very dear man whose concern for my professional and creative worlds still touches me to this day. During one meeting in his office, in the mid-1990s, he opined that I was, once again, wasting my talents and time, doing all of that historical research while talentless women were swilling wine and churning out romance novels, raking in the dough.
He suggested I go the writing-by-recipe route to earn some fast cash. Once again, I had to explain that I do not write by recipe. I don’t even stick to the recipe in a cookbook. But I will consider penning a story about those horrid suburban harridans who were driving me to move out of the suburbs.
“I’ll call it Seedless.”
I did compose a poem with that title in the volume, Correspondences.
Just days before 9/11, I’d completed a tech-writing contract with Jake’s office. I’d written an article for nation-wide publication about a civil works project in Sacramento. That levee project instantly became high-security sensitive, a hot potato that got dropped and never picked up again. My public-relations friend had envisioned a series of articles for me to write for his office. Another set of dreams that he’d worked on for me to aspire to fulfill, came to an end, almost before they began.
I carry with me the memory of a very comical Christmas luncheon that I attended in downtown Sacramento in the mid-1990s. My research into the music of those World-War II years was being supplemented by many wondrous interactions with senior citizens who had had first-hand, and close-up, knowledge of those years. The 50th anniversary of various war events had been taking place, and I was all-eyes, all-pen in hand, and all-ears.
On that mid-December day, Jake had hired one of those party-music DJs to musicalize this official celebratory event. I was there, briefly, with my little tykes, before driving home with them, pre-rush hour, to our house in Roseville. We sat with Dear Daddy/Hubby at a table with a few geotechnical guys who were soon to exit the Corps for engineering work elsewhere.
The DJ began to play Glenn Miller. I automatically knew the song: In the Mood.
With an appalling sense of growing claustrophobia, I watched, walking toward my table, my smiling, quiet mentor, a gracious guy whose guidance for me had worked, supremely, due to my unyielding resistance and determined opposition to all of his advice. I was wearing a favorite red wool, modestly v-necked dress, and was perfectly attired for this occasion.
“It’s now or never,” he smiled. “This is the time.”
I literally gulped. “I’m not in the mood.”
We both laughed.
Somewhere, sometime, that dance found its place in fiction-time, in THE DAWN. By 2008, I was in the mood — for a moonlight serenade.