MYSTERY OF THE REFRIGERATOR LIGHT

Recently, I drove to Ramstein one weekend (again). Seems like I just can’t stay away from that beautiful area for very long. Plus it is so close to France, only 30 minutes from the border! Normally, when I drive there, I’ll take a trip to either Forbach (30 minutes away) or to Metz (an hour away) to do a little shopping. But this time, I opted to stay on base and just chill.

As is normal (or more abnormal considering my past unpredictable situations) whenever I travel, I always experience a wild, wacky episode or two. Always.

I can attest firsthand that God has a sense of humor. It seems as though He guides me onto paths that hold adventures, which provide me with the subjects of my stories. I consider my love of writing both a gift and curse.  A gift in that I can easily capture situations others might miss or ignore.  A curse in that I won’t rest until after I browbeat my trusted friends into reading my drafts before publishing.  For good measure, I warn them that I expect feedback or else they’ll have hell to pay. They always come through for me, so they’ve never had to pay any hell! My friends: I gotta love ‘em. So, bear with me on this one, because although it’s a true story, it’s still so stupid.

I checked into the Kaiserslautern Military Community Command’s new hotel on Ramstein Air Base. The KMCC, as it’s called, is a relatively new 10-story hotel near the base exchange mall, which also houses familiar stateside store chains and fast food joints.  All very convenient.

The rooms at the KMCC rival any four-star hotel.  I had booked one on the seventh floor with unobstructed  views of the flight line and the rolling hills of the countryside surrounding the air base. 

And I just loved the queen-sized bed, fresh linen, and fluffy pillows, all of which prove to be the perfect sleeping pill after a hot shower.  I remained pleased with the little thoughtful amenities which others might ignore: the shower, shampoo, soap, and toothpaste samples grouped together on the shiny gray marble counter in the bathroom.  And I can’t forget the roomy closet, which has two floor-to-ceiling sliding mirrored doors.

But back to the real point of this story:  the closet. 

Whenever I entered the room, I could turn on the light by the door by using the switch on the wall.  But I would have to go to the bathroom and use the switch on the wall in the bathroom to turn on that light, and I would have to go to the lamp on the nightstand next to my bed to turn that light on. 

Yet to save time and electricity, as the front desk people suggested, I should put my room card with the electronic chip in the slot next to the light switch by the door so that I could turn on all the lights in the entire room at the same time.  Not sure why they have this set up like this, but it’s the Air Force. They’ve always been the ‘different‘ military branch. 

So after using my room card to unlock my door, I dutifully put my card in the slot next to the switch on the wall and voila! I was able to turn on all the lights in my room at one time, including the bathroom. Will wonders never cease?

After unpacking, I took a shower (no chance of an overflowing bathtub this time which is another story).  I put on my jammies, turned off the lights and jumped into the bed to read by the light from the lamp on the nightstand.  All snuggled and comfy, I became distracted and rather annoyed when something drew my attention away from the gossip mags:  a glow from a light coming from the hallway.   

Irritated, I got up and saw that the door to the closet was ajar and that the light in the closet was still on.  I looked for a switch on the wall outside of the closet to turn off the closet’s light but didn’t see a switch.  I opened the sliding door wider and peeped inside the closet for a switch and found none.  Puzzled, I began to wonder what the hell I needed to do to turn that damn light off! 

Again, I looked inside the closet, but I still could not find any light switch.  Scratching my head, I thought to myself how the hell did this light get turned on in the first place?!  Then it dawned on me when a light bulb came on in my head.  This epiphany took me back to my childhood days.  It was a revelation bigger than the ego of the most narcissistic idiot on this planet.  It was the mystery of the refrigerator light!

Like me, no doubt you did this same thing when you were a kid. Initially, I couldn’t figure out if the light inside the refrigerator stayed on or not when I closed the refrigerator door.  Like me, you probably stood in front of the fridge repeatedly opening and closing that refrigerator door until your little brain discovered that when you shut the damn door, it pushed a button inside the refrigerator that turned the refrigerator light off!  I was blown away!

So remembering how excited I was back then when I solved the refrigerator light mystery, I simply closed the closet door and BAM!  The light went off! Just like that! I was tickled that the refrigerator door light technique had survived over the years and had figured into the construction of these lovely closets in this modern, military hotel. 

Also as a youngster, I was proud to have figured out the mystery of the refrigerator light all by myself. I kept quiet about my Ah-Ha moment, though, and never discussed my discovery with anyone else in my family.  I think if I had mentioned this to any adult in my family, especially to my two older brothers, I would have never heard the end of it.  Knowing those two knuckleheads, they would have suggested to my parents that they plant my little ass in front of a child psychologist for weekly sessions and treatment for my rampant curiosity, which never killed this cat! 

So now, as a full-grown, somewhat mature adult, I felt really stupid not knowing that the light in the closet would go off once I closed the damn doors!  Just like the refrigerator light did when I was a kid.  Seems like the simple stuff never gets old.

A SNOWY LESSON IN FUTILITY

IT WAS FRIDAY, 29 DECEMBER 2017

When I left the Post Exchange (PX) this evening, I saw that snow had blankedt the entire area outside. I didn't know that much snow had fallen while I was shopping. Anyway, I dusted off my car, took a few pictures to send to friends in warmer places, and headed home...slowly. Normally it takes me about 15 minutes to get home from the PX. That evening, it took me almost an hour and a half!
It was a beautiful drive that night of stop-and-go movement, but oh so slow! Too slow for my lead foot! During a few stops in the stau (traffic jam), I even took time to play a few games of Solitaire on my iPhone before the 'turtles' ahead of me started to move again.
After I got to my town and headed up the street to my turn off, I noticed that a big city bus was blocking my turn. Apparently, the driver tried to make a left turn to go up the hill, but the bus had other plans because it slid over to the sidewalk on the right side of the road! Well...I slowly drove around the bus on the opposite side of the road, looking at the helpless-looking driver as I passed his bus. He had a forlorn look on his face as if he was crying out for help. But I couldn't do anything for him except to pass his bus, which was blocking one side of the street. Thankfully, when I turned, no cars were coming on the opposite side of the road.

Then, I got to the street where I had to turn off onto the cul-de-sac where I live. When I got to my cul-de-sac and tried to go up the hill to my house, my car couldn't make it even halfway up even though it has snow tires! I tried backing up and trying to drive back up again five or six times, but my car kept slipping and sliding like a pig on ice skates. I became frustrated because my home was ever so close. Only a few hundred yards away.
Suddenly, I saw the lights of a car coming behind me. There was enough room on my left side so that the car could pass me and go up the cul-de-sac. I noticed that the car was actually a jeep, which belonged to one of my neighbors who lived on the corner at the entrance to the cul-de-sac. He parked his jeep and got out to come over to see if he could help me. I tried one more useless time to get up the hill but the snow wasn't having it. This was a snowy lesson learned in futility for me. As my neighbor approached my car, I rolled down my window. He told me that it would be better to park my car down on the street and walk up to my house.
SAVED BY SOMEONE WITH COMMON SENSE! LOL
So I backed up my car and parked on the corner at the entrance to the cul-de-sac. I sat for a minute. I had so much stuff from shopping to carry up the hill to my house that I was trying to decide what I needed. I got out the car and thought I'd carry whatever I could without slipping and injuring myself any further. My neighbor stood by and came over to me to ask me if he could help me bring some things to my house. "Yes, thank you." I beamed. I gave him one bag and he said, "I can carry something else if you'd like." I forgot that this strapping young man was much younger and stronger than I was. I remembered that he and his wife are hunters and have two beautiful hunting dogs. No doubt they're both in great shape. So I gave him my six pack of mineral water, took out one of my canes, and locked my car before we headed up the snowy street to my house. We chatted along the way. He shared with me that one of his dogs was pregnant and would deliver her pups soon. I was glad for him. The short walk up to my house didn't get me winded at all, which was pleasantly surprising considering that I had to walk with a cane.
I told my young neighbor that he was an angel for being in the right place at the right time. He just laughed and said he didn't have any wings. So, this has been my experience so many times. God prepares me for situations before I even get where I'm supposed to go! One thing I know for sure: God sends me angels when I need them and they're right on time!

IT WAS HALLOWEEN…

The horizon glowed as the slowing-setting sun created vivid mixtures of carrot orange and banana yellow, fitting colors to welcome the approaching night of witches and goblins and ghosts.

I drove to base to use the ATM to buy some more candy for the little trick or treat gremlins I expected that evening.  After parking and approaching the ATM, I noticed a fresh-faced young man of about 20 standing at the machine frantically punching buttons as if he were typing a letter for a newspaper deadline.  By his hair cut, I knew he was a soldier. 

The nervous shifting of his weight from one leg to the other revealed his agitation with the ATM’s inability to operate faster.  As the machine hummed to calculate his entry, he looked back at me and offered, “So how’s your Halloween been so far?” My first inclination was to look around and behind me to see who he was talking to, but I realized that I was the only one in line.  Amused, I smiled and politely returned his greeting with, “Oh, quiet, so far.” He smiled too, then turned around to continue his increasing frustrating fight with the machine. I grew tickled watching him while he punched more buttons and hovered like a vulture over the ATM as it spat out a receipt from the tiny slot. He grabbed his receipt, quickly scanned it and whooped, “Yesss, I got paid!”

After tapping more buttons, he turned around again towards me, “I got this train to catch in about twenty minutes.” Pointing towards the parking lot, he revealed, “My taxi’s waiting for me over there. Gotta get to my girl’s place so that we can go party.”I grinned and nodded, pleasantly baffled at his uninhibited comfort to share his plight with me. Pointing to his waist, he playfully chastised himself, “And look at this, no belt! I left it back at the barracks. I don’t usually dress like this, but I was in such a hurry. Don’t think I’ll have time to go back to get it, though.” I smiled at him again, at a loss for what else to do.

He turned his attention back to the ATM as it hummed to count his money out and prepared to release it through the slot. Once his cash appeared, he snatched it away as if the gray steel box would take it back. After counting his money, he stuffed it in his wallet, which he hastily jammed in his back pocket. Pausing to look at me before leaving, he said, “I just got back from Iraq and everything here is so haywire.

As he left, I shook my head and wondered to myself, “How was that possible?” But thank God he made it back alive.

As he left, he beamed, “Have a nice night, ma’am.” 

“You too, young man, you too.”

THE NEIGHBORHOOD CAT

 

An unwelcomed visitor…

When I moved into my home in this beautiful, quaint little town, I thought I had actually moved into heaven.  My house stood at the end of a cul-de-sac, which was inviting, very clean, and very quiet.  Vewy, vewy quiet and I liked that one aspect of living here.  No barking dogs; no whining babies; no kids at play screaming in the street; no drive-by shootings; and no cats that I could see.  Mind you, I am not a cat person.  Never have been. Never will be. I don’t hate cats. I just don’t like them. They flaunt too much attitude to exist in my environment.  I love dogs. Always have and always will.

My new nest suited me just fine.  I felt more relaxed and contented as I slowly settled in.  One day, I went out to my front porch and stood there, just marveling at the awesome scenery as lush green fir trees covered the mountains in the distance.  I took in deep breaths of fresh, rejuvenating alpine air.  At that very moment, all was right with the world with me, that is until the melodic Sound of Music lullaby playing in my head came to a screeching halt…EEERRRRRTT!!!   What caused this, you ask?  I spotted a lifelong nemesis of mine:  a cat.  A fat furry cat.  Mouth agape, I  froze in disbelief.  He spotted me eyeing him from across the street as I stood on my porch. I waited and watched him, wishing that it would go away.  But my repulsive vibe didn’t seem to ruffle this feline’s fur one bit.

We stared at each other for a challenging minute like two rival gunslingers getting ready to shoot it out at the OK Corral.  But for some reason, he got cold paws about his next move. He turned around and disappeared into some shrubbery next to a house across the street.  Wimp!  Naively, I thought the short standoff with this feline foe would be the end of my experience with it.  I dismissed ever having another encounter with it, even thinking that maybe it belonged to someone in the neighborhood who would hopefully keep it locked up for the entire time I would be living here.

A few days later, the bold cat popped in on my street again, wisely remaining at a safe distance from me. Since I saw no collar with ID tags or around its neck, I pegged it as a stray, which is even worse.  To me, that meant that it probably has had no shots, has no permanent home, and that it was free to roam the neighborhood at will to squat when and where ever it wanted to. A squatter cat! HA!  Mentally, I quickly made note of some plans for my strategy to keep it away from me and my area. Let me reiterate that I don’t hate cats, I just don’t like ’em no matter how cute and cuddly they may look.  This one was fat and looked healthy, so some bleeding heart residents must have fed it very well.

A few weeks later, the creepy cat appeared in my neighborhood again.  I saw it as it poked its head out from behind a parked car across the street to take a peek at me.  Seemingly sizing me up before it moved, it crept stealthily to my side of the street like a jungle predator stalking its prey.  Moving toward my driveway, it had nerve enough to scamper up my steps as if it lived here or I had invited it to approach me.  No chance of that happening! I stood still as it reached my porch. It stopped a foot away from me to stare at me for a split second, probably sniffing out what kind of vibe radiated from my death stare. Then it moved closer towards me,  gently brushed up against my legs and roamed around my feet. I glared at it, producing a ‘get the hell away from me’ expression, but it showed absolutely no fear at my contorted face.  I stood still as it continued its dance between my legs and around my feet. WTF?  I didn’t say anything to shoo it away.  I just watched it to see how much braver it would dare to be and what else was on its fucking furry agenda. Grimacing and clenching my fists, I screamed silently to the heavens, “NOOOOoooo,” rolling my eyes as I did so.  But I remained standing still as it made its way around my legs again.

Without being heartless, I would have given it a snack or something, but I don’t stock any cat food in my house.  I had some Chicklets in my pocket, but I didn’t think that the cat would appreciate the refreshing taste of peppermint gum.  Besides, I didn’t want to encourage it to come back for any future free meals from me.  I sensed that it felt that much about me.  In spite of my obvious disdain of felines, for some reason, this cat seemed purrfectly comfortable around me.  I waited until it finished its assessment of me and watched as it finally released itself from my legs and scampered down my steps and disappeared off into the neighborhood.  I yelled, “STAY AWAY FROM ME, YOU BRAZEN LITTLE FUR BALL.”  It didn’t even look back.

A Whiff of Pure Embarrassment

a-whiff-001

One Saturday afternoon, I took the 20-minute drive to Frankfurt with intentions of doing only some window shopping. Plus, I would get some much-needed exercise walking up and down the Zeil (Pronounced ZILE), which is a popular pedestrian thoroughfare and hangout area in the heart of downtown Frankfurt. The Zeil boasts a wide pedestrian walkway loaded with shoppers, curiosity seekers, street musicians, bustling coffee shops, sleek bistros, and vendors hawking their wares!  I had no plans of buying anything because I was kinda low on Euros.  After parking, I took the stairs from the underground parking lot up to the Zeil where there’s no shortage of high-end and reasonably priced clothing stores.  Rounding out the eclectic mix of shops was an array of upscale shoe and purse boutiques and ice cream parlors on both sides of the Zeil.  Some vendors selling hand-made items, such as long colorful scarves, woven hats, and beaded necklaces, had conveniently set up their tables in cramped alleyways between buildings housing popular department stores.  Naturally, the vendors provided easy access to their wares for curious shoppers eager to look over and possibly buy their items for sale.

As usual, the Zeil brimmed with a diverse mix of people from all around the world.  There was no shortage of street musicians and others who had unique talents to entertain the passersby.  Some performers were dressed in their native costumes. Musicians armed themselves with the likes of clarinets, hand-made wooden flutes, tambourines, antique accordions, cow bells, French horns, and other instruments common to their cultures.  Playing for mere pennies, the musicians welcomed the often paltry Euro change passersby threw in their collection baskets as they continued to enthusiastically play songs from their native countries.  Lines of hungry shoppers formed at each food stand, bakery, sandwich shop, and gyro bistro, all of which generated enticing aromas filling the air with bouquets of spicy meats, loaves of baked bread, and sugary treats few could resist.

After thoroughly enjoying the sunny weather and atmosphere with its colorful flair and excitement, I stepped into one of the big department stores, which werewas packed with shoppers.  To avoid some of the crowded areas, I wandered over to one of my favorite places to browse: the bath and beauty area. Hopefully, I would find some new products to sample.  Slowly scanning the shelves, I was in awe of just about everything.  Shiny, colorful containers tend to mesmerize me. But a pleasant, flowery scent grabbed me by the nose and led me over to a display shelf filled with beautiful tins of talcum powders, bottles of lotions, and containers of a new brand of bath soap.  Unfamiliar with this particular new brand, which came in a lovely bottle, I couldn’t resist testing it on my skin. Naturally, I wanted to smell the fragrance before shelling out any of my few Euros to buy it. The brazen shopper that I am and since there were no open tester samples, I took the liberty of opening one of the bottles on the shelf, held it under my nose and took a sniff. Unfortunately, I couldn’t smell anything, so I  gently squeezed the bottle to release a bit of its fragrance into the area just under my nose.  When that didn’t work, I thought that maybe if I pinched it a bit harder, the bottle would finally release its essence. No need to say that this was not a bright idea.  So, I squeezed the bottle under my nose like it was a rubber ball for arthritic sufferers like me.  Not only did I get to experience its fragrance, but a sizable portion of the creamy, smooth bubble bath went up into my nose, to my brain and oozed out my ears.  It was so thick that it felt like snot leaking from my nostrils. But it smelled damn good, though! Beyond embarrassed, I stood still to check my peripheral vision to see if anyone else was in the same aisle with me. Seeing no one, I quickly wiped the white stuff my nose with the back of my coat sleeve, just as I would do when I was a child. Curse or blessing, the kid in me never goes away.  I was glad that no one saw me make an ass of myself in the store. But I’m pretty damn sure the guys viewing the security cameras had a good laugh at my expense!

Tour of Duty: Army Equal Opportunity Advisor

Looking back on the world-wide internal personnel turmoil in 1997, I remember that the United States Army was slowly recovering from one of its toughest times in history.  Recent allegations and charges of sexual harassment, abuses of authority, and other unacceptable behaviors created shock waves throughout the ranks, cutting deeply into the moral fabric of the regimented military structure.  In immediate response to the perceived wide-spread misconduct, the Department of the Army (DA) took swift action to appropriately address and eliminate these types of behaviors.  For added measure, DA conducted a comprehensive review of the human relations climate and its Equal Opportunity Program.  As a result of that review, DA implemented a series of procedures to identify shortfalls in human relations and the Equal Opportunity Program and determine courses of action to improve their effectiveness.  DA also focused primarily on EO training, the complaint process, avenues of redress for complaints, and protection of complainants as well as the accused from retaliation and reprisals.

Army Regulation 600-20, Chapter 6, outlines the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program.  In accordance with this regulation, commanders at all levels are responsible for and held accountable for their Equal Opportunity programs.  Vital elements in each commander’s Equal Opportunity programs are Equal Opportunity Advisors (EOAs) and Equal Opportunity Leaders (EOLs).   Both require specialized training, and both have specific duties to assist commanders with their unit EO programs.  DA selects NCOs (SSG (P)(promotable) and above) to attend a 16-week course at the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute (DEOMI), Patrick Air Force Base, Florida.  DA may also select officers to attend either the 16-week EOA Course or a six-week EO Program Manager’s Course (EOPM).  After attendees successfully complete their DEOMI training, DA assigns them as EOAs or EOPMs at commands brigade level or higher.  Usually with advice from EOAs, commanders select noncommissioned officers (NCOs Staff Sergeant and above) and officers to attend a two-week Equal Opportunity Leader’s (EOL) course at 7th Army Training Command, Combined Arms Training Center, Vilseck, Germany.  After successfully completing this course, the NCOs and officers are assigned as EOLs at battalion level and below.  However, because of their extensive training, EOAs usually shoulder the bulk of the responsibilities for assisting commanders with implementing and maintaining unit EO programs.  Contrary to some perceptions, the jobs of Equal Opportunity Advisors and Leaders are extremely tough and often very frustrating, which to me was the equivalent of tumbling over Niagara Falls in a rickety rubber raft.  But as an Army Equal Opportunity Advisor, nothing was as tough for me as making that first impression and pitching my role as an EO Advisor to my new chain of command in Germany.

Knock,  Knock, Knock . . .
“Come in!” roared the thunderous voice.  Cautiously and slowly opening the door, I stepped into this enormous office.  Rising from the center of the plush carpet was a huge, highly polished desk the size of an old Army jeep.  Behind that desk loomed my nemesis, The Entity, beaming with military confidence in its high-back, leather swivel chair.  With muscular arms the size of tree trunks folded across its massive chest, The Entity stared at me through those charming, thick, black-rimmed Army-issued glasses.  Prominent canine incisors reinforced the corners of its rigid mouth.  Yet, it looked no less imposing with a high-and-tight haircut, which gave its large head the appearance of a crock-pot with Prince Charles ears.  I faked a weak cough to suppress a laugh, which started rising in my throat.  With its steely eyes still on me, The Entity remained motionless as I slowly inched towards its desk, stopping four feet from the edge as a safety precaution.   Nosy by nature, I took a quick glance to soak in the impressive surroundings, which attested to The Entity’s years of combat experience.   Hundreds of awards ranging from Viet Nam spoils of war to Desert Storm certificates blanketed three of The Entity’s walls.  On the wall behind The Entity was a menacing-looking silver saber, bearing several rust spots.  I figured that these ‘accoutrements’ had to be the dried blood of countless enemies who’d probably paid a hefty price for ticking The Entity off.  No small comfort to me was that this saber was well within The Entity’s reach.  Like invincible sentries, two empty .50-caliber shells stood at the front of each end of The Entity’s desk, which was somewhat of a welcome barrier between me and the figure looming behind it.  Unfortunately, I had yet to find out if this individual was friend or foe.

Sprouting from a camouflage-painted tin bucket in one corner of the desk was a healthy-looking Venus Flytrap plant.  I presumed, by its girth, that this little ‘pet’ had been trained in combat to munch on tidbits of human flesh left in the wake of The Entity’s past skirmishes.  In another corner was a four-inch-high troll doll with shocking pink hair and one big white tooth peeking through a permanently frozen sinister grin.  This little imp seemed to be laughing at me as if it doubted my ability to survive this initial EO briefing to The Entity.

After wrapping up that distressing assessment, I prepared to announce the purpose of my ‘intrusion.’  But before attempting to speak, I centered myself on The Entity, as is normal military procedure.   In return, The Entity leaned forward and plopped its beefy arms on the desk.  Increasing the tension was the swivel chair, which released an excruciating squeak as he leaned forward, giving me disturbing flashbacks of my first NCO E-5 board appearance.  Now thoroughly scared beyond description, I thought about doing a quick about-face and getting the hell outta there, but by regulation, I had to get this intro briefing over with.  Tapping his fingers on the desk, which signaled his impatience, The Entity waited for my next move.  With my mouth thoroughly dry, I squeezed out, “Good morning, I’m Sergeant First Class Metz.  I’m your new Equal Opportunity Advisor.”

Furrowing its thick, caterpillar-like eyebrows, The Entity snapped, “My what!”  Cringing, I made a mental note to get my hearing checked, for I had never experienced a human voice at that decibel in such a close confinement.  Clearly uncomfortable with my introduction, The Entity snarled, “I didn’t order any Equal Opportunity Advisor. Has the G1 gone mad?  Who sent you here, Sergeant?”
“My branch and the Department of the Army,” I murmured.  “I’ll be here for three years as the brigade’s EO Advisor.”

I felt pitiful as my inner sense of reasoning began to rationalize this situation.  I questioned my intelligence and thought process about what the hell prompted me to step into this EO job.  But now was not the time to start arguing with myself.  Weighing the odds of having to possibly deliver my EO pitch standing up, I silently prayed for The Entity to offer me a seat because my quivering legs needed a rest.  Sensing that I was ill at ease, The Entity snorted, “Take a seat, Sergeant Metz, you look kind of pale.”  Now, that asinine remark struck me funny.  I thought looking pale was impossible for a Black NCO like me, but now was not the time to discuss racial characteristics with this person.  As I sat down in a huge chair next to its desk, I began to sink into the cushion until my knees stopped just six inches short of my chin.  It was like sitting in a giant beanbag chair.  After a few minor adjustments, I steadied myself enough to look military enough to continue my briefing without disappearing in between the cushion or falling to the floor in a heap.

Instead of this EO trip easing up, my rickety rubber raft headed into more treacherous waters with the onset of a migraine headache.  This ‘unwelcome guest’ caused my eyes to water and my head to throb like someone beating on a tom-tom drum.  Though feeling like my head was about to explode, I knew that this was not the time to ask this brute for aspirin.  Seeking some relief, I opened my purse and pulled out a handkerchief to dab at my eyes and the sweat, which started to trickle down my face.

Just as I started my EO pitch, The Entity boasted, “This is an infantry brigade, Sergeant Metz.  We don’t have any EO problems.  We treat everybody the same—like soldiers.  We’re a mean, green fighting machine.  We all get along just fine.”

I thought that this EO stint would be a cushy job, but this caustic drama was turning into an Game-of-Thrones nightmare.  Maybe this is the real ‘hostile environment’ the DEOMI staff warned us new DEOMI graduates about.  Grabbing my second wind, I pressed on with, “That may be true, but there are many other aspects of the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program of which you may not be aware.”

“Like!” roared The Entity, registering about 7.2 on the Richter scale.  Recovering from the aftershocks, I steadied myself and continued, “Like climate surveys, assessments and sensing sessions–these are some tools to help commanders in gauging their unit climate to uncover and address any problems.  These EO mechanisms check the pulse of the unit to determine how soldiers perceive the unit leadership and chain of command.  But for any EO program to be successful, commanders must first be committed to the program and must assure their soldiers of that commitment.  Moreover, commanders should clearly state and post EO and sexual harassment policy letters as well as ways of the complaint process.  Also, it is extremely important for commanders, as well as supervisors, to address complaints promptly, thoroughly and fairly.  Additionally, commanders should guard against retaliation and reprisals directed towards complainants and make sure that complainants receive feedback on all issues. In order for any training to have a lasting impact, it must be effective.  Equal Opportunity training should be conducted in that same vein–with fervor and commitment–because equal opportunity is a leadership function of command.  EO-related training can consist of Army values, gender-related subjects, racism, and cultural diversity as well as other human relations topics, which are equally effective in increasing awareness and maintaining a healthy command climate.  Also, ethnic observances educate soldiers about cultural differences, contributions, and sacrifices of all Americans, giving soldiers a greater appreciation for the Army’s diverse make-up.

The Department of the Army’s EO Program encourages soldiers to attempt resolving complaints within the chain of command and/or at the lowest level.  However, other agencies are available should soldiers, for any reason, feel the necessity to seek assistance outside their chain of command.  Available are unit chaplains, EOAs, CID, the IG, JAG, personnel from medical and housing facilities, and Military Police. The goal is to create and maintain a climate in which all personnel are treated with dignity and respect.”

“Where did you get you training?” The Entity queried skeptically.
“At DEOMI.”
“What’s a DEOMI?” it probed.
“It’s the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute; DEOMI is the acronym.  The DEOMI staff comprises highly trained personnel from four military branches and experienced civilian personnel.  They teach the EO courses at Patrick Air Force Base.”
The Entity raised its eyebrows and remarked cynically, “Oh, Cocoa Beach, Florida, eh?”
Kicking aside the sarcasm, I boldly charged on with, “Yes, and it’s a very intense 16-week course covering the Army’s Equal Opportunity Program and several areas in human relations.”

The more I talked, the more interested The Entity became.  The more questions it fired at me, the more confident I grew.  I saw The Entity’s slight interest rise from a mere flicker to a roaring flame hungry for more information.  Feeling like a superwoman, I was finally on a roll, even managing to DX (discard) that pesky migraine headache.

Wrapping up my session with The Entity, I felt like this had been one of the longest, hardest 30-minute briefings in my entire military career.  From outward appearances, The Entity seemed thoroughly satisfied with my information.  And I was pleased at the change in The Entity’s demeanor.  The gruff exterior had given way to a normal, likable member of my new chain of command.  I knew then that I had met and exceeded my goal.  Flexing my newly acquired EO muscles, I felt ready for the long haul and challenges of this 3-year assignment.

“So, SFC Metz, you’re scheduled to see the brigade commander next.”   “Thank you, sergeant major.”  As I left, the The Entity’s troll winked at me, and I gave myself a mental HOOAHH!”

 

The Mother Lode of Lemons

It was Saturday, my day for another trip to the flea market in nearby Metz, France. Normally, I take such short jaunts with a few select friends. Not everyone I know can come with me because a few act so crazy and I’d be easily tempted to leave their asses in France. Ria, a friend and coworker, was spunky just like me. She jumped at the chance to tag along.

I met her in the parking lot of the Bad Kreuznach Post Exchange. Usually, I drive but didn’t have enough gas in my car to make the trip. So Ria offered to let me drive her car. She had just purchased this older model Mercedes-Benz from a shifty coworker who was leaving for the states (thank Goodness and good riddance)

I got out of my car and walked over to her Benz. In my gut, I had a bad feeling about this heap on wheels. But I didn’t say anything to Ria. Happy as a kid at a circus, she got in on the passenger side. I opened the driver’s side door, which creaked like a haunted mansion’s steel gate. “Just how old is this fucking car?” I wondered to myself. A strong, prominent musty smell savagely invaded my nose. “Whew! Where and how long has this lemon been sitting?” I mused. I thought I would need an oxygen mask to survive the two-hour trip to France, but to get fresh air, I could always do like dogs do and let my head hang out the window as I drove. Since that would look stupid on my part, I decided to keep my window cracked open. Before leaving, I went through a checklist of necessities for such a trip: passports, ID cards, Euros, miniature Snickers and a small plastic zip-lock bag full of fresh fruit.

Careful not to reveal my distasteful observations to Ria about her car, I forced a smile as I cautiously slid onto the thickly padded seat behind the steering wheel, which was much bigger than the one in my car. I felt like a scrawny, six-year-old kid behind the wheel of a Greyhound bus. Annoyed that I could see only over the top of the steering wheel down to the end of the long, wide hood, I ran back to my car to grab two pillows for a boost so that I could see the road. Returning, I readjusted the seat to fit me.

Before I could start the engine, Ria stopped me to rattle off some of the quirky “features” of her old ‘Betsy Benz.’

“The key’s permanently stuck in the ignition. Don’t take it out ‘cause it’ll mess up something in the electrical system. The parking brake is on the left side of the floor. You gotta pull the black handle really hard on the left side under the dashboard to engage it and release it.”

My grasp of these unusual features amounted to “What the fuck have I gotten myself into?” Suddenly taking my car made better sense, but filling up with gas now would cut into our shopping time. Later, I would regret this decision.

Appearance wise, the old Benz seemed to be in good shape, nice body, sturdy looking tires and not a scratch, but despite its inner warts that Ria described, this trip would validate its roadworthiness.

Finally, we took off. The ‘old girl’ sailed smoothly over bumps and potholes in the road. Just outside the city limits of Bad Kreuznach, Germany, I crested a hill, which allowed a panoramic view of a lush valley sprinkled with quaint villages. The morning’s light drizzle produced a beautiful misty rainbow, which hovered over a field. Excitable as a kid in a candy store, I shouted, “Quick, Ria, get the camera, take a picture!” I added, “The rainbow’s a good sign; for what, I don’t know, but it’s a good sign.

The camera, one of those small disposables, had taken cover somewhere underneath her seat. In my haste to park so that Ria could get a picture of the rainbow, I swung the big Benz sharply through an upcoming traffic circle and sped out. This Indy 500-maneuver caused the elusive camera to roll farther out of her reach. Ria scrambled to locate it, but before she could get it ready to take its first shot of the beautiful rainbow, my cell phone rang. I grabbed my earphone and tried to plug it in one ear, but the cord dropped into that black hole between the front seats. I kept one hand on the huge steering wheel and darted my eyes back and forth from the road to my cell phone while trying to punch those tiny buttons to connect with my caller. Yes, I know, safety was already out the window on this trip. But who would fault me for throwing caution to the wind when I was already sitting behind the wheel of this potential time bomb?

The call was from another friend, Tamikio, who regretted that she couldn’t make the trip. I told her we had just spotted a rainbow and she expressed excitement as well. I guess my friends and I are kindred spirits who still marvel at Mother Nature’s little wonders that others might ignore.

Realizing that talking on cell phones while driving is dangerous, not to mention illegal, I was looking for a rest stop to pull over and continue yakking with Tamikio and so that Ria could prepare the camera to get a good shot of the rainbow. Having difficulty advancing the film, Ria handed me the camera. Not a bright idea since I was still driving.

Anyway, I took the camera to advance the film and gave it back to Ria. In doing so, Ria accidentally pressed the “ready” button, which caused a sun-blinding flash to fill the car. Surprisingly, I kept the car steady as we roared laughing at her clumsiness, but at least, we knew that the camera worked. No picture of the rainbow yet, but I think we got a good shot of the dashboard and floor.

While wrapping it up with Tamikio, I parked to let Ria take her intended shot, but seconds later, she returned to the car frustrated, “It’s gone! The rainbow is gone. Poof, just like that.” I took this moment for some deep sage wisdom, “Oh well, that means that we’re going to have a great time.” I lied through my teeth to mask my growing apprehension.

Snacking on Snickers, we took off on the autobahn, which surprisingly had little traffic at that time of the morning. An annoying drizzle danced across the windshield, putting somewhat of a damper on the morning, but to me, the rainbow, which we never got a picture of, signaled otherwise. We decided not to succumb to the wiles of gloomy weather.

I usually like to drive with good music. Salsa is my preference. Since the car didn’t have the luxury of a CD player, I resigned myself to listen to any station that the ancient-looking radio could pull in. Ria grabbed a black knob and turned it a bit too much clockwise, releasing an ear-piercing static, which almost made me pee in my seat. Quickly she turned it off while I resorted yo humming a tune to myself to match the beat of the raindrops hitting the car. Boring at best!

Ria switched on the wiper because God knows I couldn’t have found it. This large, yard-long blade rose from its hiding place and creaked across the windshield, mopping up the raindrops with one swipe. It was hard to concentrate on my driving while I sat amazed at the amount of windshield area the blade could cover at one time. With this blade, the raindrops didn’t have a chance to settle as the blade broke up their party as they dropped.

Although the Benz handled easily on the autobahn, the ride itself was a bit rougher than my car, making me think that the good-looking tires were deceptive. Confidently, I slipped the car into fourth gear and gradually upped the speed to 180 kilometers and moved into the left lane. Suddenly I found myself behind a late-model BMW. As I approached it, the driver moved to the right lane to let me pass. After passing the BMW, the driver got behind me and flashed his high beams at me, which ticked me off. I hadn’t done anything offensive and didn’t understand this discourtesy. “What a moron!” I thought.

Feeling a bit hungry, we stopped up ahead for a breakfast at a McD’s. As we were returning to the car, I heard Ria gasp, “Oh my God, look!” I looked at Ria, “What?….what?” “Look at the car,” she continued, “One of my headlights is missing!”

I looked at the car and stifled a laugh. Sure enough, one headlight was missing and it looked like ‘old Betsy’ had a black eye. I turned to Ria and asked the most stupid question on this planet, “Did I hit something?” She looked at me as if I had just lost my mind. Rightfully so, she ignored my question. If I had hit anything, both of us would have known it. We ran over to the car to examine the gaping hole where the headlight had been. All that was left were a few tiny wires dangling in the slight breeze. “Hmmm….maybe that’s why the “moron” flashed his lights at me…to let me know that I had lost the damn headlight somewhere back on the autobahn.”

Let me go over this hoopty’s features again….key stuck in the ignition, parking brake on the floor, headlight missing….hmmmm…suddenly this Benz made me recall the infamous Russian Mir space station which made it back to earth on a broken wing and several hundred prayers.

Ria shrugged off the missing headlight and jumped back in. As for me, I thought, “we’re too far away from our destination to catch a bus or call a taxi, so I cautiously slid behind the wheel again, suspiciously eyeing the dashboard, thinking that if I touched anything else, something would disintegrate or explode. Ria strapped on her seatbelt; slowly I strapped on mine, all the while feeling like a reluctant crash test dummy.

Before starting out again, I grabbed more Snickers and went through a ‘pre-flight’ check: windshield wiper still attached: check; radio out of commission: check; headlights: one missing in action, but we wouldn’t need it anyway since it was still daylight. So we took off again, roaring with nervous laughter.

Actually, I felt bad inside for my friend Ria and angry at the jerk who sold her this first-classed lemon. But I wouldn’t let my anger dampen her enthusiasm for doing the Metz Flea Market drill for the first time.

Finally, we pulled into the packed parking lot. It was still raining, but we remained upbeat and anxious to roam through the cavernous halls that house an enormous eclectic mix of trash and treasures.

But before I got out of the car, something peculiar at the end of the hood caught my eye. The Benz hood ornament was bent at an odd angle. “Maybe I killed it by pushing the car to 180 Kilometers,” I surmised. I got out and tried to straighten the ornament back up, but it came off in my hand. I forced it back into its slot. It wobbled a bit but, fortunately, stayed steady and upright. Not wanting to risk losing anything else on the way back, I vowed to drive back to Germany at the same speed Morgan Freeman drove Miss Daisy. After browsing and making our deals, we headed back to the car, arms full of unique treasures. Actually, I even thought of trying to make a last-minute trade of Ria’s Benz for a sturdy little red wagon. Fortunately, for Ria, this wasn’t my car. Thankfully, we experienced no mishaps on the trip back. As I pulled into the lot and parked next to my car, I sensed that it, too, was as surprised as I was that we made it back safely without losing any more vital car parts. I ran over and hugged my hood, ignored Ria’s strange look, and promised never to forsake my “baby” for a lemon again.

The moral of this true story: Everything that looks good is not always good for you…except chocolate and red wine.