I packed a bag Wednesday night about midnight: a light one. Didn’t even have to do the zipper that expands its height like I do on normal weekend flights. Had coffee with friends; dropped off shirts at the cleaners; did some work a few hours; met 3 colleagues at Panera Bread for lunch. It was 12:30pm. My flight was to take off at 1:40pm. I looked down at my clean plate and empty cup. Then at my watch. Then at the 3 people who were eating with me.
Adam: So, you going or not? Shouldn’t you have left by now?
Me: Getting to the airport more than 30 minutes before take off is not how I roll, Adam.
I rose to my feet.
Me: Normally when I’m wrestling with a decision, I ask myself a question I heard in a church sermon a good 5+ years ago, and it goes like this: ‘Given my past experiences and future objectives, what is the wise thing to do here?’ Right now, I know the wise choice is for me to stay here. But you know what? Sometimes, I gotta say ‘fuck it’ and do what’s going to be more fun.
And then I hit the 400 at 85 miles per hour. I boarded with Zone 2 even though I’d been bumped to first class. I had 3 Woodford Reserves on ice.
When I landed, I shared a Honda Pilot (compliments of the company’s sponsoring the summit) with a girl named Kelly from Atlanta whom I’d never met and 3 guys from New York. One of the NY guys I recognized from Twitter. The driver said, “Are you Mike?” And I said, “To some people.” And then the driver said, “I was told a guy from Atlanta with dark hair and glasses would be coming soon and that I should try to follow you out tonight!” And all I could say was, “Then it must be so!”
Since my negligent, self-involved roommate forgot to tell the hotel I was coming, I couldn’t check in, so in lieu of same, I handed my bag to the desk clerk, found Kevin at the 3rd floor bar, and commenced reacquainting him (and me) with Mr Basil Hayden. Jon, remembering our ill-fated meandering through the backwoods of central Texas last year, joined in and even covered the tab! I met some folks I’d previously only known online and got to see other folks I hadn’t seen since August in NYC.
Some dudes cooked some stuff while Jim talked into a microphone, and then we got some food (which I needed after at least 8 glasses of bourbon) and headed to Spotlight Karaoke, which had originally been scheduled for Friday night, but my friend and kindred spirit in singing hits from the ’80s at blogging conferences, Amy, reserved it for Thursday to allow me to participate! And it was awesome. She’s posted a video compilation here.
The next day, I heard friends like Kevin and Jon read posts from their blogs that I had read but enjoyed hearing aloud. I missed some keynote speakers but heard they were good. I sat in on a panel comprised of several friends, including Faiqa, Jason, Andy, and Lamar. I didn’t think the topic they’d be covering would resonate with me, given that it had to do with cross cultures or something, but it’s the only panel I’ve seen at the 10 or so blogging conferences I’ve attended where every single participant, plus the moderator, were friends of mine. And, Faiqa threatened me when I said I might sit in on a different one.
I enjoyed the panel, and one of the questions Faiqa asked has been in my head ever since. It was this:
“What’s one component of your parenting that you think your children will continue with their children, and what’s one they won’t?”
The context was practices of parents of cultures who may not necessarily be American by birth (3 of the 4 participants’ families included at least one Asian), but I thought it an interesting point to ponder even for a multi-generational cracker like me. Maybe I’ll include my response in a future post.
After a quick DadCentric interview for the DadLabs show, I heard another keynote group get introduced and bolted. It was 4:15, and my flight was at 6pm (and it was Friday rush hour). I woke up Andy as I threw my stuff into my bag and headed off. I hardly slept that night when I got home.
At 0500, the alarm went off. I went to drill to face whatever awaited. I heard there was supposed to be a meeting at 1400 with the squadron commander, my senior NCO, and me. I thought it was about a relatively minor (I thought) issue that came up during the month involving some expired medications in our medical kits, and that my missing one day of the 3-day drill weekend could come up, but given my changing the flight to be there 2 of 3 days instead of missing all 3, I didn’t think there would be any really negative consequences, right?
When I sat down at 1400 in the conference room, my Sergeant was asked to leave, and instead more officers were brought in, and flashbacks of my last such conversation returned. Doors shut, and it began. Exaggerated accusations about the medication. A reference to my “blowing off” Friday’s training. Then he asked if I’d found a new gaining unit, since after I was promoted to O-5 while in an O-4 slot, my understanding was that I had a year to find a new unit with an O-5 slot. I replied that I hadn’t. After all, I had til October, right? And then the gut punch:
“Okay, then you’re going to out-process March drill and go into the IRR. You had six months. That ends next month.”
I was out. For the first time since I was 18 years old–more than half my life–I will be a civilian in a few weeks. No more prohibitions against extensive (i.e., more than a well-trimmed mustache) facial hair, long hair on my head, and narcotics. No more giving up the first weekend of every month. No more $1,000 a month salary and $200-for-the-entire-family health insurance.
But I held my tongue. I didn’t argue (or, as he calls it, “banter”) about what was or wasn’t done correctly or about how hard (and expensive) it was to fly home Friday night instead of staying for the whole conference like I desperately wanted to do. I didn’t pop off with my immediate thought of “Were you picked on a lot as a kid? Is publicly putting others down how you salve such?”
Instead I said, “I apologize,” stood up, and walked out. And for about seven hours, I was as depressed as I can ever recall being. I came home to Heirloom Market BBQ and chocolate chip cookies in the oven, but they provided little improvement.
And then it hit me: no matter what I did Friday or what had or hadn’t gone well or wrong with the drugs a few weeks ago, I could only stay in my Major slot as a Lieutenant Colonel for 6 months, and that 6 months would be over 1 April. My commanding officer’s need to try and make it appear to 3 other officers and me that I’d been “kicked out” was only to try and make him feel better for some sick reason. And suddenly, I felt sorry for the little bastard. I looked at his LinkedIn profile and saw a picture of him standing in uniform in front of a giant American flag with a 9mm on a holster at his side, even though he’s a salesman in the civilian world. Judging by this picture and his behavior, the bit of power he gets to exert for 2 days a month is all he has.
I’m proud of my >15 years of service and 3 deployments, but I don’t define myself by them. I’ve created a thriving business by helping less educated and less fortunate people who would otherwise get bent over and screwed by insurance companies. I fight for people who don’t know how to fight for themselves. People who give me hugs and wipe away tears when we meet for the last time–usually because I’m handing them a check that represents months of confrontation.
I take an active role in the raising of my children. I’m home for dinner almost every night; I bathe them and read to them while they climb all over me and other another before bed. I’m the first person they see each morning and the last person they see each evening.
I write stories on this silly website. I have genuine friendships with folks all over the world who enjoy the same activity.
I don’t need to put people down in order to feel good about myself.
Right before bed Saturday night, I texted my work wife, Chris. The two of us will be heading to our 4th Mardi Gras / legal conference on Thursday. It said this:
Appears I’m out of the military for a while. If planning to get weed in NOLA, get extra this year!
Maybe this break in service for a few months is just what I need.