EDIT: This post is an account of my experience in a specific role on a particular base. It is not intended to diminish the important work being done by servicemen and women, government contractors, and civilians around the world every day. Rather, my account underscores two of the greatest challenges faced by any military spouse: being un – or underemployed and feeling displaced.
Some of you unfollowed me as a result of this post. Conversely, more thoughtful readers asked me if I held anti-American or anti-Christian sentiments (I don’t) and we had GREAT conversations as a result. Fervent flag-waving and a boy-band-level of hysteria over Jesus and guns is de rigueur in the South, but it’s rather disconcerting to an avocado-toast-eating academic city gal from Boston. Neither is “better” so hopefully you can enjoy this post for what it is: a fish-out-of-water tale.
Hello, dear Reader. It has been far too long and the fault is entirely mine! I’ve been avoiding you again. Between the drudgery of moving and feeling overwhelmed by my remarkably underwhelming surroundings, I had little energy for writing. Thankfully, life is on an upswing. But what about all of the ick in the middle you missed? Let’s take a look:
The Daily Commute
Reveille trumpets the dawn of a new day as William and I begin getting ready for work. Since the moment we touched down on US soil, he’s been utterly consumed with command. I, on the other hand, have been sedately biding my time working for the base’s “marketing” department. I wave as Billy pulls out of the garage in our Toyota Corolla, Thelma Faye (she’s southern), and steel myself for another day of small town living.
I put in my headphones, grab my ceramic to-go coffee cup, and queue up a good song (because it only takes the length of a song to walk the one block to my office). I decide on some Kid Cudi and close the front door behind me. A wall of humidity smacks me in the face. Gross.
I pull an earbud out as our neighbor Lisa approaches on her bike. She points to my coffee cup and iPod ensemble.
“Pretending I’m back in Boston!” I yell over to her side of the road. Lisa lived in Boston once and understands my struggle.
“Is it working?” she shouts back.
“Not really!” I call after her cheerfully.
Three minutes later I enter the office – a small, squat brick building consisting of a half-dozen offices. Ms. Mandy, a woman in her mid-fifties, wanders into the hall to greet me.
“Good mornin’, Malia! How yooouuu? ” she drawls, her Running On Coffee & Jesus cup in hand. “Did you see the light show He put on for us last night?”
He? It takes a moment before my mind recognizes the implied, deferential, capital ‘H’. Ah. Of course. Ms. Mandy is referring to the almighty. Or maybe Jesus. We talk about Jesus a lot down south – it’s as if He’s about to stroll in the door at any moment. Yes, the lightning was spectacular last night, I confirm.
We then begin our daily conversation about my outfit because, as Ms. Mandy says, I wear “all the fashions.”
I like Ms. Mandy a lot. We have almost nothing in common – an invaluable trait to have in an acquaintance! An American by birth, “Southerner by the grace of God,” and mother to a menagerie of cats (sixteen to be exact), Ms. Mandy is my unofficial guide to the Deep South. She offers insight into the appeal of the Confederate Flag (heritage, not hate!), Donald Trump (no experience is better than bad experience!), and where to get a concealed carry purse (a lady never knows!).
Professional Hot Dog Hunter
What is my job anyway, you may be wondering, dear Reader. I’ve been hired as a Commercial Sponsorship Coordinator, the person responsible for securing donations and sponsorships for programming on base. The job entails cold-calling people, asking them for money, and convincing them of the importance of community programming – you know, the same community programming I habitually avoid like the plague. I hate everything about this.
But! Even an entry-level gig is better than sitting at home. At least, in theory.
I’m redesigning our packet of sponsorship offerings when Mr. Locke pops his head in. Mr. Locke sits across the hall. I’m not sure what he does but, from what I’ve sussed out, his hobbies include being right and telling people off on the phone. He’s a prickly pear but I have the good fortune of being his preferred office confidante. (Of course). I inquire about his weekend.
“Good! Ran into this guy I knew in high school. He was a real egghead back in the day. Thought he was special because he knew stuff and read books, ya know?”
I smile uneasily, my thoughts skipping to my diploma with its Summa Cum Laude distinction shoved in a closet somewhere.
“…Well, he’s divorced now! Loser! Just goes to show you don’t need to read books to be smart and get ahead,” Mr. Locke continues while tapping his temple.
Charming. While I appreciate Mr. Locke’s nonconformist spirit, I’ve never actually met an intelligent person who didn’t read. Alas, it’s a fight for another day – my desk phone is ringing.
“Hi, this is Malia,” I wave good bye to Mr. Locke.
On the other end of the line, my boss tells me the base needs help securing food donations for an upcoming event. I need to find 1,000 hot dogs. And sides. Huh?
“So… just to confirm…. You want me to call around and ask for… hot dogs? A thousand of them? ….For free?”
Choking On Humble Pie
I spend two hours calling local restaurants with not so much as a ketchup packet to show for it. Not only do I have the world’s shittiest job, I’m failing at the world’s shittiest job.
…I’m proud to be an American, where at least I know I’m freeee….
Meanwhile, it’s not enough that I live on the corner of Armed Forces Boulevard and Strike Eagle Drive, one of my coworkers is blaring tunes from – what I can only assume – is a station called ‘Murica Fuck Yeah! Radio.
I close my eyes, willing myself to relax.
My eyes fly open and I get to my feet. Mr. Hurley, my boss, is at the door. I greet him and eagerly present him with my revised sponsorship package, knowing it’s light years ahead of any marketing materials the department has used before. He flips the pages and I walk him through the streamlined messaging, enhanced images, and an infographic I’m particularly proud of (I’m no graphic designer but it looks awesome).
He nods and says finally, “You’re all dressed up today.”
An odd comment, I think.
“Um… Not really. These are just my clothes. My clothes I wear to work.” Why is everyone obsessed with my clothes?
“What did you do before this again?” he inquires. I explain (again) and he declares, “You don’t seem old enough for that kind of position.”
I tilt my head slightly. I have no response to that.
We chat about a few other action items (mostly my headlining Hot Dog Initiative) and Mr. Hurley makes his way to the door.
“One more thing… would you make an effort to wear your nametag?”
The nametag. Given to me on my first day, it served as tangible evidence of my professional humiliation – the demise of my career writ large in outdated font. The nametag was one indignity I would not suffer.
“I… can’t. I won’t. I’m not at a networking event and I don’t serve fast food. I cannot and will not wear a nametag.” My tone is level, though definitive.
Mr. Hurley sizes me up for a moment. “Alright,” he says and walks out.
…bye, bye Miss American Pie. Drove my Chevy to the levee…
Jesus Is My Friend (But I Need Some Space)
Hot dogs. Hot dogs. One thousand hotdogs. I drum my fingers on the desk and stare blankly into the hallway. I watch as Ms. Mandy files paperwork in her red, white, and blue file cabinet. The cabinet was not manufactured this way, someone purposefully spray-painted it in the colors of Old Glory. But who? And why?
Ms. Mandy talks to Mr. Dwayne, a heavy-set black gentleman who shares her office. Mr. Dwayne has a framed photo of the Obama family on his desk, a gesture I find both odd and endearing. The two converse easily despite their opposing political views. Or is that simply how it appears? I strain to hear what they’re saying but it’s no use…
…BORN in the U.S.A! I was, BORN in the U.S.A!….
Sigh. Reluctantly, I dial the next phone number on my list. I introduce myself and am immediately placed on hold. A contemporary Christian rock song plays – at least it’s a reprieve from the non-stop Americana.
I wait so long the contemporary Christian rock devolves into vintage Christian pop. Inauspicious. Do we think Christian hip hop is an option? I could manage that.
…Jesus is a friend of mine (Jesus is my friend!), Jesus is a friend of mine (I have a friend in Jesus!)….
I start nodding my head. Wow, this stuff is peppy!
Oh no. I’m succumbing! I slam the phone down and grab my purse.
I need to get out of here.
The day is far from over, but let’s pause here, dear Reader. You can pick up this story in Part II.