Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving - The Aftermath

I'm still nursing a hangover as I write this, so bear with me. The tension of spending Thanksgiving with people who are essentially strangers got the best of me, I guess, and I drank more than I should have. Now I'm left feeling like there's cotton in my head and a hole in my heart.

Thanksgiving morning started out like most others I spent at home. I put the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade on the tube and watched the festivities while Mom and I got the bird in the oven and prepped the other dishes. I was beginning to get that warm and fuzzy feeling I used to have about the holidays when I was a kid. Then Mr. Huggins and his daughter came over.

I've gotten used to Mr. Huggins at this point. He's not such a bad guy. Not someone I would willingly go out to have a drink with, but decent enough in small doses. Since my mom has become quite serious about him, I've learned to accept him. His daughter Roxanne, whom I just met yesterday, is a different matter altogether. Even though she's only eight years younger than I, it felt like we were light years apart. She came all decked out in some trashy looking mini-dress and too much jewelry. In fact, it was too much everything: too much makeup, too much attitude, and too much chatter. Talkative people are not a problem if they have interesting things to say, but more often than not, the people who dominate conversations have the most banal things to talk about, and they go on about them in excruciating detail.

Roxanne should have her own reality TV show, because she is as shallow and insipid as any Kardashian girl and embodies everything that is wrong with our country, in my humble opinion. The Irish government is on the brink of economic collapse, but the U.S. news can't be bothered to cover that because they have to tell us that Jessica Simpson is engaged or Lindsey Lohan is in rehab again. Roxanne filled us in on all the gossip, along with what's in fashion this season and numerous other details I couldn't care less about. And she did it in that exasperating girly dialect where every sentence sounds like a question: "So I went to Sephora the other day? To see if they had the new fragrance by Jennifer Lopez?" I feel like I'm being quizzed on my telepathic ability. After 20 minutes of that crap, I made a tall shaker full of cranberry martinis and polished it off myself.

The meal itself turned out pretty well. Mom's had years of practice and I'm a capable sous chef, but of course we had to forgo Mom's legendary stuffing because Mr. Huggins wanted to bring his own. Okay, I suppose, but there was some strange sweet bit in there, like raisins or something. Not the same. After dessert, I excused myself and retreated to my room. I used my novel writing as an excuse, but I really wanted to escape.

It's obvious to me that the life I knew before the Navy is gone. I took for granted that everything at home would stay the same and that I could retreat to it whenever I was finished with my wanderlust. Now I know that that's not the case. Dad has moved on to the Great Beyond and Mom has moved on with another family. A family I do not want to be a part of. I have to move out of this house and get back to forging my own life, but I don't want to apartment shop just yet. Not with the potential for a new undercover assignment looming in the very near future. Our man Geoffrey has struck up a friendship with our target, and it looks like it's just about time for Geoffrey to find a girlfriend.

But that will have to wait. I have four more days to finish 50,000 words for NaNoWriMo and I'm a little over 40,000 right now. This weekend will be nothing but writing, writing, writing. Wish me luck.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Preparing for Thanksgiving

My novel has been the main priority this week, as I felt like I was falling behind with my word count. I spent most of the weekend holed up in my bedroom pounding away on my laptop. Then I wrote as much as I could at work and during the evenings this week. I'm now at over 30,000 words, but I'm still not sure if I can make it to 50K by the end of November.

Meanwhile, there's still no word about when or if I will be joining agent Geoffrey on his current assignment. He's currently based in Chestertown on Maryland's Eastern Shore, trying to work his way into the good graces of our target. I'm hoping he will choose to bring me in for back-up. It's no secret to anyone who's read this blog that I feel like I'm in office purgatory right now and want desperately to get back in the field. Of course, it would help if I didn't get called in to action until after November, so I can finish this NaNoWriMo activity.

And then there's Thanksgiving coming up. All my enthusiasm for the season is slowing waning as our first Thanksgiving dinner without my father approaches. Last year was the first time in many years that I was able to be with my family on Thanksgiving. During my five years in the Navy, I was always deployed somewhere else during the holidays, but I got used to that. It wasn't until we were all together again that I realized how much I missed being with my family and going through all the usual rituals. It gave me a sense of continuity with my past and was sort of comforting to know that, no matter how much my life had changed in other ways, family and tradition would always be there. Then Dad passed away and that sense of security went with  it.

I was hoping Mom and I could still continue those traditions, like eating toast and tea while watching the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade. Then there was all the cooking details: peeling potatoes, cleaning the string beans, and checking on the turkey in the oven. Mom would use the gizzards and other internal bits of the bird to make the most fantastic stuffing. Dad usually handled the turkey carving duties, but I figured I could do that this year. I'm pretty good with a knife.

I even thought we might try to lure some of our relatives from out of state, like Aunt Trudy and cousin Bill and his wife, to come to our home since it would just be Mom and I, but that went out the window when Mom declared that Mr. Huggins would be coming to dinner. It was probably inevitable, given how close my mother had become to my one-time high school principal, but somehow it felt like an invasion. The matter took a turn for the worst when Mom told me Mr. Huggins' daughter Roxanne was coming home from college to be with us. Now, instead of a cozy family gathering, it's going to be an awkward dinner party with me scrambling to conjure up lies about my occupation and Mom telling embarrassing stories about my childhood.

Just to add the final insult, Mom tells me yesterday that Mr. Huggins wants to make his own special stuffing. Apparently, this was his big contribution to their Thanksgiving feast every year, and he wants to hang onto this connection from the past. I guess they didn't realize that my eating Mom's fantastic stuffing was my connection with the past. Oh well, I survived Iraq, I can survive this. He just better not put raisins or something weird in there.

I'll let you know how everything went next week. In the meantime, have a terrific Turkey Day and while you're counting your blessings on Thanksgiving, don't forget the blessing of freedom.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Restless No More!

What a difference a few days makes! Last Sunday, I was flying high from watching the Baltimore Ravens beat the Miami Dolphins at M&T Bank Stadium. This morning, I'm bemoaning the last minute loss by the Ravens to the Atlanta Falcons. Football season is not for the faint of heart.

Actually, I'm enjoying this fall more than I have in previous years. My summer in Las Vegas was something like a fever dream, and I can see now that being pulled out of there was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. My mission in Vermont was an incredible, mind-bending experience which I am now chronicling in the novel I am writing (20K words so far), and living back home with Mom is giving me a chance to appreciate the way my life was before joining the Navy. After taking a good long gander at those greener grasses, it's easier for me to realize how nice my life was growing up, and it makes me wonder what I was fighting against as a teen.

Who am I kidding? I know exactly what I was fighting: my own eternal sense of restlessness. I get bored easily, and a life of routine quickly wears on my nerves. I got so bored last week that, before going to the Ravens game, I dyed purple highlights in my hair. It seemed like a good idea at the time, but as I was leaving the stadium, I realized my boss The Colonel would not approve.

Sitting in my cubicle on Monday, I waited for The Colonel to stroll by and catch a glimpse of me. As I expected, he gave me a long, judgmental stare, but did not say a word. My stomach sank. I was expecting to see a memo circulate regarding proper office attire and grooming. It never came though, and he made no further mention of it.

Later in the week, I discovered why. The Colonel called me into a meeting yesterday. The regular support staff were on holiday for Veterans Day, so the building was eerily quiet and most of the overhead lights were turned off to save on electricity. When I reached The Colonel's office, I was shocked to see him wearing a polo shirt and khaki slacks rather than his usual gray suit (is it the same suit or multiple, identical suits?). Butterflies were already in my stomach because one of the attendees listed on the appointment e-mail was Geoffrey, the handsome operative I'd seen walking in and out of the boss's office for the past couple weeks.

When he arrived, I was slightly disappointed to see that his hair had grown out to an unruly length. What little curl his hair had was pulled down by the weight of his locks and it looked slightly dirty. Even worse was the cheesy, Burt Reynolds mustache he was cultivating. Despite all that, his penetrating eyes and easy smile were still plainly evident and my heart tapped my stomach for an instant. I know it all sounds like silly, schoolgirl stuff, but trust me, he's that hot!

Anyway, the reason we were in this meeting, along with a couple of intelligence analysts, was to discuss a new operation we were laying out to get inside a homegrown terrorist cell on the Eastern Shore of Maryland. I can't reveal any details right now, but it involves some Caucasian, working-class people with extreme hatred for the U.S. government. Geoffrey was already making moves to get in with the group, hence his new, shabby appearance. I was being briefed because The Colonel believed that he may need a second undercover operative in place to support Geoffrey. Apparently, when he saw my purple-streaked hair, he thought I had just the right look for the part. Strange how these things work out.

I'm being held in reserve for the time being until Geoffrey can get a better lay of the land and a bigger sting operation can be worked out, but it looks like I'll soon be working closely with Geoffrey on a top priority assignment! With this news and the impending holidays, I'm really happy for the first time in quite a long while. The restlessness can be put in closet again.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Halloween Freak Out and a New Agent in Town

It turns out my little blog and twitter account have been nominated for Mobbie awards in the Baltimore Sun (yaah me!). If you like this blog and/or my tweets, please go to the following links and cast your vote:


Codename: Carla:

I'd really appreciate the support! You can vote everyday until the deadline on November 12 at 5 p.m.

Sadly, I haven't been tweeting very much lately because I've been focused on writing my novel for the NaNoWriMo event. Between writing during slow moments at work and staying up late in front of my laptop, I've managed to write a little over 10,000 words. I think that's a pretty good run for just four days, but I have to keep up the pace. I know the Thanksgiving holiday and the beginning of Christmas shopping will become a distraction down the home stretch. I feel a little guilty actually because I'm simply relating the incidents which occurred in Vermont last month. Technically not a novel, but written in a novel style, like what Truman Capote did for the Clutter family murders in the book In Cold Blood. I've altered a few things as well to make it flow more like a suspense thriller. Creative license is what writers call it. I call it smoothing out the rough edges.

The writing has actually helped me focus since I was beginning to feel like I was losing my mind from office work. It came to a head Halloween night. I had volunteered to hand out candy to the trick or treaters since my mother was going out with her boyfriend for dinner. Sitting on the front porch with a giant bowl of candy on my lap wasn't my idea of a great time, but I had nothing else to do. My legs were going numb from the brisk fall air and my mind started to drift from the monotony of children in costumes parading across the porch, droning out the phrase "Trick or Treat" as if they were just as bored with the routine as I was.

Then, hidden between a row of Iron Men and Shreks and Neytiris was this older kid in a completely unique costume. I say older because he stood just under 5 feet tall, and he wore a rather generic blue jumpsuit featuring insignia I was not familiar with. But it was the mask that turned my blood cold. It was made of lumpy orange latex and painted with  large brown spots. Shiny black plastic eyes the size of tennis balls were affixed to the mask by what I could only assume were some sort of spinning discs, causing them to move in random directions. The nose and mouth were also lumpy and grotesque like someone experiencing an allergic bee sting reaction. The costume looked exactly like the strange creatures I encountered in Las Vegas last August!

When the kid approached me, he raspily mumbled the requisite line through the latex. Before I dropped the Snickers bar into his pumpkin-shaped bucket, I said, "Nice costume. Where did you get it?"

He merely shrugged and extended his bucket closer.

"No really, I'd like to get one just like it. Where did your Mommy buy it for you?"

The kid didn't move. The longer I looked into that deformed face, the more intensely I felt the horror of that night in the desert heat. I started to quiver inside. I barked, "C'mon, I want to know where you got the mask? Who sent you here?"

The kid stepped back a few inches, but he still kept his bucket in front of me. I was no longer seeing a child. He appeared to me to be a true alien creature. Instinctively, I lunged for him, but his youthful reflexes were slightly quicker than mine, and he bolted down the porch steps. With children screaming and fleeing the scene, I was fixated on chasing down the bizarre figure. After a couple of blocks, I finally tackled him and spun his face around to meet mine.

"Who are you?" I yelled at him. "Who sent you here?"

He reached up and pulled off the mask. The ginger boy was beet red in the face and crying from fear. Suddenly, I regained some measure of sanity again. I released the boy, who scurried into the darkness. In the pale light of the street lamps, I could see children staring and a few adults approaching me with looks of anger and concern. Completely humiliated, I ran back to the house and locked myself in. Fortunately, no one followed or called the police. I'd still like to know where that child got that costume. Or perhaps it was all in my imagination and the costume was actually a fireman or a cowboy. I can't accept that idea because then I really would be going insane.

Work offered an unlikely sanctuary after that night. I've just kept my head low and attended to my business. Except a couple of times I looked up to notice a new field operative, codename Geoffrey. He's about six feet tall with a swarthy complexion and longish black hair. He's well muscled but not overly developed, and he has one of those compact little tushies that you just want to reach out and squeeze. I'm not sure what he's doing at the moment, but he seems to be meeting with The Colonel quite a bit. And the last time he dropped by the office, I believe I detected the beginnings of a mustache. Must be grooming himself for an undercover assignment. I'll have to find some way to introduce myself.