Thursday, November 29, 2012

Even Superwoman could use a foot rub once in a while



Like so many people across the world, I have been watching the David Petraeus "scandal" with interest. But my interests are of course, different from others. While most wonder "how could that have happened?" in regards to Petraeus's long-standing marriage and his biographer's marriage and all the other professional perspectives, I look at as "how did this happen?" as in, how did the four-star general put the moves on his biographer?

According to the most recent reports, Paula Broadwell was a Superwoman. An intelligence officer in the Army Reserves, a West Point grad, an doctoral student, a Harvard grad, a marathon runner, a career advisor, a wife, and a mother of two. And an author of the biography of one of our most famous living four-star generals. All this by the time she was 37 (correction, 42).

I'm 35, I don't consider myself that much of a slacker, but I haven't done half the things Paula Broadwell has done. And I am surely not going to catch up to her achievements in the next few years. If I consider myself a wee bit of an overachiever, Paula Broadwell is the definition of an insane overachiever.

But even the most motivated overachievers need a break. They need a moment or two to relax and let their uber-competitive guard down. And that's when I bet the general made his move.

(Setting: the general's private quarters, somewhere in Iraq or Afghanistan.)

General Petraeus sees a stressed out Paula Broadwell.

Here, have a glass of wine with me.

It's been a rough day. I see you are working hard. Why don't you take your shoes off?

Isn't that better?

Come here. Let me rub your shoulders.

You are so tense....

(Queue shoulder rub, which leads to the inevitable blah, blah, blah. You get the picture. This isn't a Fanfic site.)

The deed either went down like that or it went down like Tenacious D in the classic ditty "Double Team".

Or maybe, just maybe, it went down like Dark Helmet imagined it would:

Sunday, November 18, 2012

For Grandma Lortz

Unfortunately, once again I am compelled to write about someone I will sadly never see again. In June, I wrote a tribute to my mother’s mother, my Grandma Walicki, after her death in the last days of May. Now, less than half a year later, I am still in Afghanistan and writing a tribute to my other grandmother, my Grandma Lortz, who passed away November 5th.

Grandmothers come in all types. From as far back as I can remember, Grandma Lortz was the “fun” grandmother, the grandmother always took us places, let us run around, and get away with things we wouldn’t normally be allowed to do. As we saw her and my grandfather (who passed away in 1995) far less, there wasn’t the hands-on discipline and knowledge of our family rhythms that there was with my mother’s parents, who always lived much closer.

When I was young, my grandparents on my father’s side lived in Queens, in the same house where my father spent his teenage years. I don’t remember much about their house in Queens, except that it fit the stereotype of what a grandparents’ home was. There were things in the house from years before and it had a very “past” feel to it. Being that it was the early to mid-80s, this put most of their d├ęcor in the conservative appearance of the 1950s and 1960s. For lack of a better term, it was a typical grandparents’ house in Queens.

In 1985 or so, my Grandparents Lortz moved to upstate New York, to a little town called Olive Bridge, near Kingston, NY, about an hour and a half north of New York City, and in a completely different world from my normal urban comfort. There wasn’t much in Olive Bridge. Our visits there were my first experiences visiting a small town where the malls, shopping centers, and basically anything outside of human necessity was a long drive away. For a suburban kid such as myself, waking up to see deer and turkey roaming the back yard was an interesting experience. But even though it was nothing like I was used to, I always liked the quaintness of the house in Olive Bridge.

One of my fondest memories of visiting my Grandparents in Olive Bridge was in 1993 when my Grandmother took my brother and me to Cooperstown, NY, to the Baseball Hall of Fame. Although we didn’t have much time to sightsee as my Grandfather wasn’t well and couldn’t be left alone for long, we had a great time touring the Hall of Fame and checking out the sights of the baseball Mecca of the world.

That was one of the things I will remember the most about my Grandma Lortz, that she was a big baseball fan. Having grown up in Brooklyn, she was a raised on baseball, and when the Mets came into existence in 1962, her and my grandfather latched on to the new team and became lifelong fans. Visiting my grandparents always meant watching or listening to the Mets game and talking about Doc Gooden, Keith Hernandez, Gary Carter, Darryl Strawberry, and the rest of the Mets of the 80s and early 90s. I remember during the aforementioned ’93 trip to Olive Bridge sitting next to my grandfather as he listened to the Mets on his walkman and relayed that the Mets finally won a game for beleaguered pitcher Anthony Young, who had amassed the longest losing streak in Major League history.

A few years after she took me to Cooperstown, Grandma Lortz came to visit us in Florida and with my newly acquired driver's license, I took her across Florida to the Ted Williams Museum when it was in Hernando, Florida, before it moved to its current location in Tropicana Field. From what I remember, she enjoyed her time reliving the moments of baseball past. I don’t think I realized how cool it was at the time to have a baseball fan for a grandmother, but looking back, it was pretty awesome. And I guess it was because of her and my grandfather that my dad became a Mets fan and then passed a love of baseball on to me.

Sadly, those 20 year memories are among the last I have interacting with my Grandma Lortz. In the late 1990s, shortly after my grandfather passed away, my grandmother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. Before long, her mental capacity diminished to the point that she barely recognized her grandchildren and then eventually lost recognition of her own children. About this time, I had become an adult and my trips to New York were few and far between. But every time I visited, in 1999 and then in 2003 for weddings, my parents and other family members told me to say good-bye to my Grandmother, as it would probably be the last time I see her.

The last time I saw my Grandma Lortz was at my cousin Jan’s wedding in 2011. The care home she lived in arranged to bring her to the wedding so we could take a few pictures with the whole family. Although Grandma had her eyes open, there was no reaction to anything around her. She was there in person, but as far as we could tell, definitely not in mind.

Life is about moments. You, your family, and your loved ones only have so many together. Losing both of my grandmothers while away in Afghanistan has reaffirmed to me that I made a great decision a few weeks ago when I flew across the world for my cousin Jill’s wedding. The trip allowed me to not only see my family, but to share in moments and events that will last for lifetimes. Because you never know when those lifetimes will end.

Rest in peace, Lillian Lortz. You will be missed.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

2/3 done with my Afghanistan adventure



Greetings all,

It is time for another update. I am happy to say I am now 2/3 of the way through my adventure in Afghanistan. Unlike the last letters, in which time blended together in a Groundhog’s Day-like gumbo, the last few months have been eventful and full of interesting times, especially the latter half.

September to October more or less followed the routine of the months prior, as days were days were days. Typical of most of my time here, month seven disappeared under the normal routine of work, sleep, and food, with a consistent smattering of gym time mixed in, which I am actually quite proud of. I have been notoriously poor at maintaining a regular gym schedule over the last few years, so to have gone every Tuesday and Thursday through August and September is something I am hanging my hat on.

(Unfortunately, my co-workers typically didn’t share in my athletic accomplishment, as many were fitness buffs who attested to never miss gym days in years. To each his own, I guess.)

On a positive note, month seven also saw my account of my poor attempt at comedy get published on one of the most popular comedy blogs on the web. Once I get settled back in the states, I definitely want to get back into the comedy thing, so to have a post on Splitsider is a big deal. And as compensation, many of my friends or fellow Tampa funny people said they enjoyed the jokes I cited in the article.

Whereas the gym and getting published were the highlights of month seven, such accomplishments were small potatoes in month eight. Month eight was the most exciting, fun month I have had since I started this journey way back in March.

Two days after my eight month started I left on vacation for the states. My goal was to traverse the globe, going from Kabul to Dubai to Atlanta to Washington, DC for my cousin Jill’s wedding. And as an added bonus, I planned to surprise my parents and brother, who were also going to be at the wedding. Mid-way through my trip, however, I hit a slight snag, which despite my initial worry actually turned out to add excitement to the trip.

Due to a horrible 5.5 hour delay getting out of Kabul on a civilian airline, I missed my initial flight from Dubai to the US. Having to wait 24 hours before the next flight, I spent my wasted day sightseeing in Dubai. From what I saw, Dubai is an impressive city, part Las Vegas and part Miami with an Arabic flavor. Having missed my original flight, it was “en shallah” (God willing) that I would make the next flight out of the Middle East. Fortunately, the fates were on my side and I did.

(Check out my pictures of Dubai here.)

After a change over in Atlanta, I arrived in DC a few hours before my parents. I was told what hotel they were in, so of course I got a room in the same place. A few hours after my arrival, I went to the front desk to ask what room they were in. With the hotel clerk escorting me, I went to their room for the big surprise.

The surprise worked like a charm. They had absolutely no clue I was arriving. My brother let out a “holy shit, my brother is here” and my mother gave me a huge hug.

Following the surprise, the next few days were a whirlwind of wedding bacchanalia and shindiggery. The Monday following the wedding I flew to Orlando to spend the second week of my vacation in Florida. I surprised my little nephew (“What the heck? I thought you were gone!”) and spent a day with my grandfather. Then it was off to St. Pete Beach for a few days to see some friends, see a hip-hop concert, and stay in a relaxing beach resort before flying back to Afghanistan.

(My pics of St. Pete Beach.)

If you measure a vacation by its time, you will always come up short. But if you measure it by the goals of seeing people and doing things, then my only-13-day vacation was absolutely perfect. I did what I wanted and saw who I wanted. Of course, I would have loved to spend more time in the Tampa/St. Pete area and see everyone I know. But in order not to spread myself too thin and actually decompress, I had to cut corners in who I saw, which meant leaving a lot of good friends without seeing me. But March is right around the corner and I will be home before I know it and with that comes the ability to see everyone.

Just before I left Afghanistan, I was told another office on another base needed my services. Because I had planned my vacation months in advance, the military leadership told me to go and enjoy myself and worry about the new position when I got back. So when I returned to Afghanistan I didn’t even unpack. I packed my other belongings and within two days was whisked to another base where I will spend my final now four months in Afghanistan.

(Here are my pics of my old base.)

Having been here two weeks already, I’ve learned this base is far different than my previous home. This is a predominantly American base with US military personnel, whereas my other base was a majority international. In two weeks I have yet to say hello to anyone in any other language but English (I fear my Polish and Dari will get rusty soon!).

Working with the US military also means remembering rank and proper protocol. In the international environment, with the many foreign ranks and hierarchies, everyone called everyone by their first name. In a solely US-locale, rank becomes a much more important guidepost for social structure and interaction.

Although I’m going to miss working with my international colleagues, my current base is much larger and has much more amenities and things to do. So it is different – not better, not worse, just different. And its "home" to the second part of my Afghanistan adventure.

On a final and sad note, I learned my other grandmother passed away last week. I should have a tribute up to her soon as I did with my other grandmother who passed away in May. It's hard to believe I came out here with three living grandparents and will go home to one. But as I mentioned, I did see and spend time with my grandfather and that's what counts. Not the quantity of people left, but the quality of time you spend with them.

Now that we wind down the year, I know the days will go quickly. Thanksgiving is right around the corner, then Christmas, then New Year’s, and with any luck, I’ll be home on or around St. Patrick’s Day. Suddenly, that doesn’t seem so far away.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Nanowrimo 2012 from Afghanistan



As I did in 2011, I have entered the National Novel Writer's Month extravaganza. For those who might not be familiar, Nanowrimo is an online rallying of writers with the goal to each pen 50,000 words in a month and have a good start on a novel.

Of course, here in Afghanistan, I am not expecting to write 50,000 words. I didn't do it last year when I was unemployed and had all the time in the world, although I came sorta close. Here, I just don't have the time. I work 12 hours a day, six days a week and six hours on my "day off". I do like to occasionally do things like go to the gym, watch a little TV, read a book, or (gasp!) get some sleep. I want to more with my life than sit in front of computer at work and then in my room.

So with 50K words out of the realm of possibility, I am shooting to reach that total on a story that on November 1st was at 21,500. That's 29,000 new words. That's a little less than 1,000 words a night. Possible, I think.

(Yes, I know NaNoWriMo is supposed to be used to start new projects. I am making an exception for myself. I am using the site for the same purpose though - to push myself as a writer and keep track of the progress.)

It's gonna be tough. There will be no room for error, no room for lack of discipline, no room for wasting the night on social media, and no room for wasting words on other sites.

I will still have a few posts on this site. My 8 months in Afghanistan post should be up mid-month, for example. And I will probably have a post or two on the latest Bus Leagues Baseball book.

Anyway, 29,000 words in 30 days. In Afghanistan. While working 12 hours a day.

By the way, I think might be the only one in Afghanistan doing NaNoWriMo. I searched the site for anyone else here doing the intense writing exercise to no avail. I hope I am not the only one.