May 4: Kuwait Lifting

There’s not a lot to report since my last letter. Please note that this will not stop me from writing at great length! It only means that the actual content may be hard to spot. Please further note that although these two sentences certainly imply that there will be at least some content in this letter, they do not outright say it; this may be worth remembering when you reach the end and discover that you have learned nothing other than that I occasionally write to entertain myself.

This is no guarantee of quality, as earlier I was entertaining myself by bouncing a screwdriver off of a can of V8 in an effort to discover at exactly what height the falling screwdriver would puncture the can, likely covering everything on my desk in a fine spray of red mist. Sadly, I grew thirsty before learning the answer to this, and instead contented myself with poking the empty can with the screwdriver until it was full of holes, after which I used it to cast interesting light patterns on my desk. Now I have the lyrics to “Psycho Killer” stuck in my head. Je me lance, vers la gloire!

As you may have gathered, it’s not terribly busy around here this morning. Most of the folks working over here only get one day off, but those days are staggered across Friday, Saturday and Sunday. That means that all three of these days tend to be sort of quiet, and since everyone I’d be working with in Germany and the rest of Europe has Saturday and Sunday off, those two are especially low-key. This is made worse by the fact that I’ve contracted a serious case of Short Timers’ Syndrome, which manifests as the sure knowledge that no matter what I do, I will be neither praised nor punished in the little time remaining at this job. I’ve got twenty days left here. Counting what remains of today, that’s 142 hours of work left.

You may have spotted that today is the fourth of May, and that 5 + 20 does not yield 38, even counting Wednkends. June eighth is, of course, the day the contract was meant to end. After much hemming and hawing, it was eventually decided on as the date to which they intended to have us stay here. Unfortunately, the plans of mice and men all gang agly, as they say, when the aforementioned mice and men fail to read their own rules and regulations.

It turns out that even with an Exception to Policy, the longest the Army was willing to extend our access to the base was thirty days past the end of the original visa. Allowing people to work for 120 days on a visa which explicitly forbids working seems more than fair to me, honestly. Unfortunately, it stops us cold on May twenty-seventh, eleven days before the end of the contract. I’m fairly certain that this means I’ll be heading out on the twenty-eighth, although my company seems to believe—in the face of all evidence—that it will somehow be possible to get a work visa in less than a month. This is the same visa which, back in January, wasn’t going to be worth the time and expense of getting for a mere year-long contract. Now, for eleven days, we’re suddenly supposed to make it happen. I’ve broached the idea to Bastian, our contact with the Kuwaiti sponsor, and he’s been polite enough to wait until I hang up the phone to laugh out loud, but I can hear the chuckle in his voice.

Speaking of work-related absurdities, my company has, for some reason, chosen to mark Friday as my day off on my timesheet. I wouldn’t really care, except that this prevents me from writing in my hours worked on Fridays. Instead, what I’ve been doing is writing a 0 on Wednesdays, then going back and changing it to the hours I actually worked on Friday. This causes the timesheet to ask me why I made a correction, and I use this space to explain that if the accounting department could please update my timesheet, I’d be ever so grateful. I quickly realized that no one was actually reading this, though, and so my explanations went from professional and succinct to flowery and verbose, and have now moved on into utter ridiculousness. My entry for last week read:

The seasons pass by
My timesheet remains unchanged
I don’t work Wednesdays.

I then added “It’s a haiku!” at the end, in case this was unclear to the imaginary reader, although I imagine he’d gotten that. I suppose I should probably bring this problem up with an actual person, but I figure that as long as I’m including notes explaining the issue, I’m still making sure that the timesheet is correct to the best of my knowledge and ability. That’s all that the signature block asks of me, after all. And it’s really hardly worth making an issue of now, when I’ll likely just have to have it changed again in less than a month.

Interestingly, I don’t yet know what I’ll be doing for my company when I come back home, nor how much money I’ll be doing it for. You’d think that these might be the sort of things I’d like to know about, but honestly, I’m more concerned about finding a good deal on a pool table. It turns out that there’s quite a lot to consider. Pool tables are hideously expensive to ship, as full-sized ones weigh around a thousand pounds, and just as hideously expensive to have installed, due to all of the careful balancing and leveling that has to be done. Because of these and other hidden costs, any advertised price on a pool table is extremely suspect, and must be examined with great care.

My job, on the other hand, is a fairly straightforward deal. I’ve been working with these folks for six years now. No one’s out to gouge anyone on this. At some point, I’ll sit down with the bosses, and they’ll tell me that they’d like me to take over the outgoing system administrator’s job. I’ll ask them what they intend to pay me for this, and they’ll ask me what I think I’m worth. I’ll suggest that they pay me the same thing they were paying me in Kuwait, and they’ll explain how they can’t really do that, situations are different, no hazard pay, contracts expiring, everyone in the poorhouse, all wearing rags and working out of cardboard boxes while stealing wireless from a nearby Starbucks, so how about they pay me what I was earning before as a programmer?

I’ll counter with the fact that I’ve got a house and a dog to take care of, and with a new pool table on the way I just can’t accept that sort of salary cut, and so on. I’m thinking about just presenting them with a script of their side of the conversation before we begin. That way we can all focus more on the dramatic presentation of the lines and really make it a good performance. The end result will be that I’ll make less than I’m making now—unfortunate, but nowhere in the States is going to pay me what I was making here, even leaving out the free car, apartment, food and gas, not to mention the tax-free status—but more than I was making before I left in January. It’s predictable, but then again, I don’t really want M. Night Shyamalan writing my salary negotiations.

People have been asking me if I’m looking forward to being home again, and I don’t quite know what to say. It’s in my future, so in that sense, I’m clearly looking forward to it. I have plans that I intend to undertake upon arriving, so there’s that, as well. But I haven’t missed it, really. If I weren’t heading home in a month, I’d have plans here for the same time frame. I’m happy being where I am. When I go somewhere else, I’ll be happy being there, too. It’s just the way I operate. I suppose it’s easy to be contented when your situation is as consistently fantastic as mine is—but then again, perhaps it’s easy to have a consistently fantastic situation if you’re always contented.

I recognize that any truism created by reflecting the first half of the sentence to form the second is suspect, and that borrowing formulations from the Mad Tea Party is entertaining, but not necessarily useful. After all, “I like what I do” is not necessarily the same as “I do what I like.”

Although, like the Dormouse, it most certainly is the same for me!

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