Featured image: Well’s Fargo safe placed at Ground Zero of an above-ground nuclear blast effects experiment. Photo courtesy of Center for Land Use Interpretation
Some vets say that transition from military to civilian life is like stepping from one war zone to another. I don’t think that at all. It only bids me pray tell what kind of wars were y’all fighting out there? Struggling to make sure the generals shrimp platter was chilled to the proper 58 degrees Fahrenheit? I tremble at the very notion. Why I couldn’t possibly ever walk along the beach again.
My greatest struggle was a self-inflicted wound you see, as most certainly self-induced it was. “I can kick myself in the balls with the best of them” I prided, and kick away I did! My plight was such that I deemed life in a subcontract to the Department of Defense to be truly a peerless morass of self-loathing stupor, a quagmire of deceit, and a hater’s paradise as work atmospherics gage.
geo: “Frank, I could have submitted the quarterly report yesterday, but you said you would do it, but then you didn’t do it, and now it’s late and I’m in trouble.”
Frank: “Woah, woah, woah, sports fan; cool those jets a little, Scooter. Yesterday was the potluck lunch–remember? Duh?”
Frank: “Hey Al, better keep your eye on geo over there. He’s a real hot-head and not much of a team player.”
What then, could be the slogan of the workforce there on the Nevada Test Site? What would be the all-encompassing Battle Cry that could dovetail into this oddity of a workplace? I knew there had to be one out there somewhere, yet I could not even venture the content. I just knew that I would surely recognize if ever I heard it. Such a long jump of faith, and yet I embraced it.
And then it happened.
It was at the communications shop in the main ‘confinement’ area (I called it confinement area because that’s where most people like to confine themselves from having to go down range where the amenities were scarce, and the hee-bee jee-bees abundant) Mercurochrome in the year of our Lord 2014. It was late Thursday, the last work day of the week, as the work schedule on the site was four, ten-hour days, followed by three-day weekends.
Two workers were discussing a faulty cell tower in a forward area that was a 30-minute drive one-way:
“You know what, Bob… you’ve had a long week, I’ve had a long week, and that cell tower isn’t going anywhere. What say we just wait until Monday.?”
I remember suddenly laying on my back squinting at the fluorescent light on the ceiling; its balun hissing at me so. I had fallen over backward in my office rolling swivel chair. I applied a quick epilepsy maneuver with a safety-pin to recover my tongue, which I had promptly swallowed—I’m glad I paid attention in that class!
There, I had just witnessed the test site battle cry. Right there in the comm shop of all places, and I thought I would have to climb some really high mountain in deep snow at night before it could be revealed to me.
The last time I had such a revelation I was standing in the chow line: fell over, swallowed tongue, dumped lunch all over self. Thank God it was just a turkey sandwich on dry wheat bread.
How do you describe a train wreck to a blind man? How to you explain a train wreck to anyone who has not witnessed or experienced one. You can’t really; you just have to be there. Me, being just a man, I cannot possibly convey with accuracy to a high degree what it is like to work in such a subcontract-to-government environment. All I have are my stories. Those I humbly offer to you, subject my worth as a credible witness.
I feel compelled to first discredit myself with a brief account of my posture as warrior recently undocked from Spacecraft Delta: though I am ashamed, it was an important learning experience for me, one that shaped the conduct of my transition from the military, to the civilian workforce:
Among the training planning staff that I was working with to develop some breaching training for fire rescue personnel, was a retired fire chief from an Arizona precinct. I gestured to him, “Virgil, one of the things we need for the demonstration and practical application exercise are a couple of fire axes. You probably know some firefighters here in Las Vegas; perhaps you could borrow a couple?”
“Well yessiree! In fact, I do know a fire chief right here in Vegas. I’ll set up a lunch date with you and him!” he bubbled as he fumbled and dicked around with his phone.
“Lunch date?” I seethed, my self-loathing sociopathic me seethed. “Lunch date??” I felt the rage boil up inside me as it raised a bilious cocktail to the back of my throat. “LUNCH DATE??” I thundered as I mercilessly grabbed and tugged as his lapel.
“I DON’T WANT TO EAT LUNCH WITH THE SON-OF-A-BITCH; I JUST WANT TO BORROW A GODDAM AXE!!!”
The clock hummed on the wall. A lone roach profited by the hush, to dash across the expanse that separated the entrance from the break room; the staccato rush of its feet to floor ear-splitting.
Oh, how I changed from that day forward, understanding that gentle compassion was the new meaning of life, if one were to indeed live in this new world. The riot act, as it was presented, urged me to ‘mingle on occasion to engage in light banter with my peers’ a thing that I referred to as ‘working the floor.’
“Good morning, Beatrice; how was your weekend? How are the kids? Where are the girls going to lunch today? Sounds fab! Oh! there’s pie in the break room; be sure you get a piece.”
I did it; I engaged in light banter, but all the while my inner Dexter hoped Beatrice would shove a too-big bite of pie in her cake hole and choke on it, and I would add a glass slide stained with Beatrice’s blood to the little wooden box I stashed in my swamp cooler… dear, dear Beatrice.
Anybody: “Good morning geo; how was your weekend?”
Somebody else: “Gah–no! no… don’t ever ask geo how his weekend was if you value anything from your shoulder blades up; he has a nasty bit, that one.”
geo: “My weekend was… productive, Ms. Sharon; thank you for asking. Now I’m going to the bathroom to wash my mouth out with pumice soap.”
‘Productive’ was an adjective I produced on my own. It was for one thing always true of my weekends, and it was for another thing original, and above all true. I was learning, though I had to resort to teaching myself.
“Class is in session, geo, and it’s time to:
$hit or get off the pot
Sink or swim
$hit or wind your watch
$hit on your watch
Bring home the bacon
Applaud or throw spit balls; cheer or jeer
Gas it up and burn it down
Trip the light fantastic
Keep a stiff upper lip
Keep the powder dry
Pull down your pants, and slide on the ice…
But above all, if you get the chance to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.
“So that’s why, geo, that we think you would be a much better fit working out at the test site—nothing personal, mind you, just a business decision, a purely business decision.”
I was on the next thing smoking to the test site. They wore T-shirts and jeans there. How bad could that be? I would be crushed… nay, crestfallen to soon learn, that wear T-shirts and jeans was just about ALL those chuckleheads did. Don’t even get me started.
Test Site Job Description: must be able to don T-shirt and jeans daily, lift a 20-pound load on occasion, pin seat down with ass for as long as ten hours daily, transport self-unassisted, to a cafeteria… daily.
The ultimate solution
Here then is noteworthy story number two: I worked with a staff that executed radiation training for First Responders around the country, who gathered at the test site for a one-week course in radiation operations. It was there in our logistic warehouse where the posse and I were assembled one morning to load equipment we would need for training that afternoon:
Several of the staff slowly and solemnly appeared from the controlled lockup area:
“Everyone, we have some bad news, some really really bad news.” The room froze. “We found stashed way in the back, two 1950s-era radiation detectors that we have not reported to the DOE…………… and they still have check sources on them!” (heavy minor key chord sounds in a menacing manner). The room was silent and stunned; petrified more so.
(a check source is a tiny sealed and protected quantity of radioactive material of known activity, used to check the calibration of the instrument. When applying the instrument to its own check source, it should detect accurately the known activity, otherwise undergo adjustment)
To sum it: failure to report a quantity of radioactive material by the contractor to the DOE, was an extremely punishable offense, to the tune of the loss of one’s job, to even jail time—kid you not!
Faces regarded one another for the next few minutes. Heads hung like sagging Poinsettias two days after Christmas. Mouths formed words that were never actually spoken. Fingers scratched heads. Finally, it was said: “Well, if we are going to make lunch, we better leave now; we’ll report ourselves after lunch” and the exodus jammed itself into the exit doorway.
WTF did I just witness? No seriously… WTF did I just witness?? I saw a crowd of dunderheads firing on half their cylinders go from: ‘we’re gonna lose our jobs and go to jail’ to: ‘Oooo lunch time; Navy Bean soup is the soup du jour today-yummy!’ In my book, and thanks to the wisdom of Samuel Boothe Foster, I understood that tattling on others, and specifically on ONE’S SELF, is the most sincere form of self-loathing there is.
“Coming geo?” barked the founding member of the Chubby Ladies Lunch Club. “No, food gives me hives.” I sat there alone in the warehouse, gaze fixed on two yellow metal detectors that were over 60 years old, that would be responsible for my demise.
“I just phukn got here; what, am I just guilty by association?” That usual hateful bile started rising in my esophagus. “I hate these people,” I thought, “they are a spineless bunch of lemmings who even have to ask directions to find the cliff.” I stared at the two flaming-yellow detectors, thinking of the scene from the Steve Martin movie The Jerk, where the sniper is after him:
“These cans, he hates these cans… more cans; stay away from the cans!!” I hated those cans, and those cans can go phuq themselves because I’m not going to lose my suk-ass job over some cracker-ass gypsy scum who can’t defeat a couple of cans… and the yellow cans and I took a ride. Me, I was out to can the cans.
Off I raced in my truck-o-cans to a remote stretch of dirt road called the Bataan Death Road. Some eight miles long, it was blocked off on both ends where it touched the main highway at two points, eight miles apart.
It was a shortcut, for those who dared to take it, and as far as I knew only my Delta bro William Vincent “Suspect” S. and I had the nutsacks to use the road. You could go as fast as you wanted on the road because the county Sheriff was not allowed to set up on it.
I could get an average of 80 mph on that serpentine road if I wanted, but I throttled my speed back to around 70-ish, for fear of running into Bill coming the other way. Sometimes we would radio to find out where each other was, so we could open it up on the Bataan Road!
Brothers and Sisters of Sofrep, somewhere along that eight-mile stretch of road, there is a hole. It’s not a very big hole, but it is a very deep hole. At the bottom of that hole rest two yellow cans, cans that would not stand between me and my suk-ass job with these intestinal fortitude-missing booger-eaters.
When the booger-eaters came back from eating, there I sat at my same table. The cracker throng spread out and blinked at me. “Where are the National Response Radiac Meters??” piped up a piconet node.
“What National Response Radio Rick-Rack… whatever-the-phuk meters?” I returned.
And the blinkers blinked until they were all blinked out.
“Tattling on yourselves is the most sincere form of self-loathing there is, folks.”
And that was the last time I worked with that bunch, in the confined land of the T-shirts and the jeans.
Take note and solace, my bros and sis’ of the Rep, as there are no real dire straights to spin one’s self up over in our civilian lives, thanks in total to our bros and sis’ in arms. The crisis in the mundane are few and far, and rarely are they ever kept in true perspective, try as we may. Hold this lesson close for those days of true despair, when you feel your shrimp platter rise above 58 degrees (Fahrenheit).