January 25: Kuwaiti Matters

This email’s about a week overdue, but I’ve been busy. As you may have noticed, a relatively absurd number of things had gone wrong with this trip to Kuwait, and none of them were my fault. This meant one thing: my turn was due. One thing that my superstitious worldview is entirely clear on is that the more I complain about other people’s errors, the more massive my own is is going to be. I wasn’t sure what I’d screwed up yet, but with everything that had been bungled so far, I knew it was going to be big.

I didn’t discover my mistake until after I was dropped off at the Frankfurt airport on Friday and attempted to get my boarding pass. I once again didn’t seem to be in the system, and when I showed the lady my eTicket, the reason why soon became clear: although I had booked travel for the eighteenth, I had neglected to make it for the eighteenth of January. Due to a clever failure in reading comprehension on my part, I’d been scheduled to fly out of Frankfurt on the eighteenth of February. As I had to be in Georgia on the nineteenth of January, this wasn’t really going to work for me, so I paid the Fool Fee and got my ticket switched.

I wasn’t about to be let go with a simple monetary fine, though. My tickets were only booked through to Newark, where I was left on standby for a day and a half before finally getting a flight out. I nearly ended up there even longer, as I discovered that when the airlines say that times are subject to change, they mean backwards as well as forwards. My flight to Georgia was, when I checked in the afternoon, delayed until 9:00 PM. When I rechecked the site at 6:40, I discovered that they had undelayed it to 7:15. They redelayed it to 7:30 on my way to the airport, or I’d never have made it. I had some choice words for the airlines, none of which their representatives had to hear as I was out of breath from running when I boarded the plane at 7:14. Still, I thought the epithets hard enough for them to get the gist, I think.

Oddly enough, arriving a day late for training caused no problems whatsoever. By the end of Sunday, I was caught back up with everything that had gone on on Saturday, and over the course of the week, was pleasantly surprised to discover that I hadn’t screwed anything else up. All of the shots I was supposed to get, all of the paperwork I was meant to do—it was all correct, or didn’t matter. Quite a lot of it fell into this second category, actually. In fact, I’d go so far as to say that all of it could have. Everything that we were told was mandatory to have done before we arrived turned out not to have been. It all had to be done before we left, but we had the time and the resources to get it all done here.

I’m glad that I decided not to push my luck on most of it, though, especially as I spent the week bluffing my way through with unsigned orders. For a contractor to get access to various parts of an army base, you have to have invitational travel orders, which list various things such as the contract number, your company’s name, your point of contact, and so on. It’s about three pages worth of stuff, printed on official letterhead and signed at the end, and you need about a dozen copies to get through the training. Mine were typed in Microsoft Word, printed on regular paper with no identifying marks, and unsigned, but no one called me out on it, so I suppose it worked.

I currently have a red stamp on my hand reading “COMPLETED.” I’ve taken a picture, but I’m on a public computer right now, and can’t upload it. In 45 minutes, I’ll be heading to the airfield to get screened for the flight. Another hour or so after that, and I should be on an airplane. There’s some question as to the route it will take and how long it will actually take to reach Kuwait, but it’s definitely in the cards at this point. There’s only so much else that can go wrong.

Please note that I have included that last sentence fully aware of how I am tempting fate! I do this for you, because I know how much you enjoy hearing of my misadventures. They seem to be nearly at an end, I’m afraid. At most, there should be only another day or so in which things can go wrong with the trip. After that, they’ll have to go wrong in Kuwait itself, but daily mishaps don’t have the same flavor as the frustertainment of travel woes.

January 15: Kuwait Kuwait, Don’t Tell Me

I know all of you NPR geeks have been waiting for this title. Indeed, I’ve actually gotten more than one request for it. I try to make sure that the titles are at least somewhat related to the subject matter of the email, though, so I’ve been holding off on it—but as it’s rapidly becoming apparent that lack of information is one of the themes of this trip, I think its time has come.

Months ago, I asked about a certain type of Army online account that I thought I might need, and was told I would not need it. Monday afternoon, I received the new information that I did in fact need it, and by today if at all possible. The rental car we were meant to have over here in Germany does not seem to exist. No one has mentioned why, and I suspect that this is because no one knows. I have yet to receive reliable information on when I’ll be leaving Georgia, and whether it will be by military or commercial air, which affects what sort of bags I can bring. Once I reach Georgia for training, I will be receiving an unknown number of items weighing an unknown amount and occupying an unknown amount of space. These items may or may not be accompanied by a bag to put them in. The woman I’ll be working with in Kuwait asked me today if my company had completed the paperwork necessary for me to get on base there, so I can do my job. I do not know the answer to this. I asked if she meant the travel orders, but apparently she did not—which is just as well, as I don’t have those yet either, despite the theoretical requirement to have them upon hotel check-in here in Germany.

My training thus far has taken place largely on a computer which does not have the systems we’ll be using installed, on a desk without a phone. A common exchange goes like this: I read a trouble ticket and say, “So if I had the console, I would pull up the user information and computer name, right? Then, if I had a phone, I would call them and get more details about the problem. After ascertaining that it is what they reported, I’d remote into their computer, if I had VPN software.” The whole process appears to be straight out of a Dilbert comic.


There’s a Mitch Hedberg joke that goes, “I think Pringles’s initial intention was to make tennis balls. But on the day that the rubber was supposed to show up, a big truckload of potatoes arrived. But Pringles was a laid-back company; they said ‘Hey! Cut ‘em up.’”

See, I’m with Pringles. As it turns out, I can likely get the online account before I really need it. I don’t particularly need a car here in Germany, and I’ve actually been enjoying the opportunity to walk around the city. I’ll leave Georgia when I leave, I’ll take what I can take, and I’ll ship the rest, or mail it home. If I get to Kuwait and don’t have access to my job, I’ll lounge around my apartment and see the sights—and if I don’t have an apartment, I’ll hit up CouchSurfing and lounge around someone else’s. I really don’t see anything to get worked up about.

I’m fairly convinced that I’ve discovered one more thing no one’s told me, though, one which dwarfs all of the rest of these. Although I won’t be entirely positive until I actually get to Kuwait, I am almost certain that the job I agreed to do in Kuwait, the job which had a five-page description entitled “LAN/WAN Administrator,” is not in fact the job which I will be doing.

I’ve had a growing suspicion about this since I arrived in Germany, and began training with the help desk technicians. The job contract requested half a decade of experience in running a multi-domain wide area network. This includes everything from managing the user accounts to ordering the pieces needed to actual physical construction of the network. It asked me to have expert knowledge of three different programming languages, to have two different network certifications, and to be able to communicate well in order to not embarrass myself during the monthly reports to various important folks and during the weekly meetings I would be leading. It discussed the various other administrators and techies I would be in charge of. It was, in short, quite explicit about the new managerial duties I would have to take on, in addition to the flood of new skills I’d have to hone.

What I’ve come to realize, however, is that there is in fact no managerial responsibility associated with this position at all. All of the network administrators are located in Germany. My job in Kuwait is to be the guy on the ground, basically. I’ll get to go out and fix stuff, to pick up the computers and shake the sand out to make them work again, to tear them apart and hopefully rebuild them. I’ll get to muck about with all of the network utilities and settings, to keep everything running smoothly, but I won’t have to make the command decisions on when and what to upgrade.

I admit that it’s mildly disappointing to learn that I won’t actually have anyone working for me—but in all honesty, I wasn’t really looking forward to that. I like being responsible for my own work. I can’t see myself getting the same sort of enjoyment out of breathing down someone’s neck. Basically, what I’m realizing here is that I’ll get to do all of the things I was looking forward to and learn all the skills I was excited about picking up, without being the guy who’s got his neck on the line if everything goes wrong. So really, I’m sort of okay with this.

I do find it somewhat astonishing that I have been flat-out lied to regarding what I’m going to be doing with a year of my life—in written form, on signed documents, no less. I’m curious what they would do if this were the sort of thing that upset me. The document I signed was, after all, a job offer. If they were to choose to pay me a different salary then they’d promised, I’d be able to use that document to insist that they stick to what was agreed on. It seems logical, therefore, that I could do the same thing with the rest of the contract. They offered me this job, and theoretically, I could demand that they provide it. Of course, the contract also stipulates that either side can bail at any time for any reason, so I suppose that technically they would only have to agree that they would be providing the job if they weren’t terminating my services, so I’m probably better off not trying that. Besides which, like I mentioned, they’ve basically said, “Okay, we’ll give you the higher salary, but we’re not going to let you do the tedious parts of your new job—only the fun ones. This is not open to discussion!” Much as I’d like to play Br’er Rabbit here, I believe I’ll end up just going along with their demands.

January 7: Kuwait and Switch

Guten morgen!

That’s how we say “good morning” here in far-off Washington DC. You might have thought that I’d be in Germany, what with it being the seventh and all. I laugh at your foolish optimism! Allow me to tell you what really happened.

Yesterday morning, I headed over to my parents’ house to drop off my car and catch a ride to the airport. My mother asked if I’d called to request a vegetarian meal on the plane; I had not, since I thought that all planes were strictly pay-for-meals these days. Turns out that international flights are not, so although it was sort of late in the game, I decided to call the airline and see if I could wrangle a meal out of them.

“Please say your confirmation number,” the automated system told me. “As some letters are hard to distinguish, like M and N, please use common first names, like ‘M as in Mary.’” I put aside my dislike for the recent trend of including letters in so-called confirmation numbers, and read off my code.

“F as in Frank, M as in Mary, Q”—here I thought about adding “as in Quentin,” but I decided that that was going to cause more trouble than it was worth—“M as in Mary, T as in Ted.”

There was a pause. “I’m sorry,” the system said. “We could not find confirmation number SMQMT.” Ah, yes. I can see the issue; I have a number of good friends named Srank. I tried again a couple of times, but after discovering that the programmers also apparently hung out with Sred and Srancine, I decided that I didn’t need the meal that badly and hung up.

This turned out to be just as well, since when I got to the airport, I found that my flight was leaving over two hours late on account of fog in Chicago. This meant that I would not be catching my connection, which was really only of academic interest, as it was soon revealed that I did not, in fact, have a ticket at all. I had a reservation on this flight, such that a ticket could have been purchased for me—but somehow that final step had not actually taken place.

I attempted to simply buy the ticket myself, planning to have my company reimburse me later, but due to the fact that the flight was not actually going to make its connection to Germany, the airline was unable to sell me a ticket. Other people were being rerouted through different cities, but they couldn’t do that for me, because I didn’t have a ticket. The best they could offer me was a business class seat on a flight out of Dulles the next day, but at a price of $7,300, we were all clear that that wasn’t really an option. I called my company to inform them of the issue, and suggested the new ticket to my co-worker who’d set it up, just to hear what a heart attack sounded like over the phone.

He called the travel agency who’d set this ticket up, but couldn’t get them to pick up as they were apparently not open on Sundays, and had no emergency contact number. Evidently we should have gone with a fly-by-weekend operation over a fly-by-night one. Either way, that’s my company’s issue now, not mine.

I found another ticket online that was leaving the next day out of DC, and as it was only a hundred dollars more, I bought it. Continental took my credit card number, issued my seat assignments, and sent me an email congratulating me on my purchase and assuring me that my eTicket would be along in less than three hours. If it was not, I should contact them.

You may note that I have mentioned this airline by name. This means that I wish for you to recall information about them specifically, and that I was therefore likely either quite impressed or quite offended. Given the general tone of my emails, I suspect you can intuit where this is going, but read on anyway; it’s quite a story.

Five hours after purchasing the ticket, I logged on to discover that I still had no eTicket receipt. Now, I did have the email with the reservation assuring me that I had bought these seats, but as I try to only fall for the same trick once per day, I thought I’d do well to email their customer service. When another hour and a half had passed and Continental had not bothered to respond to my email, I got on the phone to talk to them.

Next followed some periods of hold music and being transferred between operators. At one point, I was asked to please hold for a second and patched through to a broken part of the system, which apologized for being nonfunctional and hung up on me. A mere forty minutes later, I was speaking to Ursula, who told me that the reason I hadn’t received an eTicket was that despite their assertions to the contrary, Continental had not actually sold me a ticket.

I asked Ursula, in what I’m afraid was an unnecessarily rude tone, if this wasn’t the sort of thing that Continental should perhaps have informed me of at the time of purchase. With a touch of asperity in her own voice, she agreed that it seemed the sort of thing they might have liked to do. More hold music ensued, and eventually I reached Dori at the web help desk. Dori explained to me that the reason my purchase had not gone through was that that was not actually a valid ticket for them to have sold me. I pointed out that I had received specific seat assignments, and she clarified that it was not that the seats were not available, but rather that the price was not valid for a next-day booking. To get that price, I would have had to have bought the ticket at least two weeks in advance. The best she could do for me for this one was seven hundred dollars more.

“So what you’re telling me,” I said quite calmly, which I think was more than reasonable of me, “is that I was offered a ticket price. I then purchased this ticket, and received a confirmation of my purchase. However, you did not actually have this ticket to sell me, and waited until I called in to try to sell me one almost twice as expensive?”

“I tried to get the computer to accept the class code, and it automatically rejected it,” Dori said. “There’s nothing I can do about it.”

“So essentially, your entire website is a bait and switch?” I asked, still calmly. Perhaps Dori predicted my next line, which was going to be, “Are you aware of how illegal that is?”, because she asked me to hold while she tried to find someone who could make it accept the code. Less than a minute later, she was back telling me the good news that it had accepted my price.

“We lucked out this time,” she smiled. Although I wasn’t quite sure that the process I’d gone through amounted to luck, I thanked her and hung up. Before going to bed, I checked their website and found that I was now the proud owner of a ticket. They still hadn’t bothered to email me the confirmation, but I really hadn’t expected that from them at this point.

My father remarked that he didn’t think this process could get any more glitches. I say he’s playing the long odds. Anyone feel like taking him up on that bet?

December 28: Gaining Kuwait over the Holidays

I’d apologize for the email’s title, but for two things: it’s fairly accurate, and I’m not sorry. I have actual plane tickets! Or virtual plane tickets, anyway, which are just as good and I also can’t lose them. Not that the attempt hasn’t already been made, mind you. The confirmation was sent to the wrong email address and I didn’t know to look for it, so it almost passed under the radar.

I’m leaving for Germany on the sixth of January. I’ll hang out there for a week and a half, then go straight from Germany to Georgia—the state, not the country. From there, I’ll be hopping a plane straight for Kuwait. This is, of course, in direct contradiction to the repeated assurances that I would not be taking military transport, and thus would not need to worry about their rules for baggage. So I’ll be taking everything I need for Kuwait with me to Germany, not that these two sets necessarily have much in common. I will then schlep all of that stuff back into the country and down to Georgia, whereupon I am quite sure I’ll be told that I can’t take those suitcases on a military transport, and will need to simply mail them home. Despite the incredible clarity of my prognostication, I expect to be quite irritated by this.

It may seem as if the wiser course of action is simply to mail my things to Kuwait. This is complicated by the fact that I do not actually have an address at which I’ll be staying, and although I’ve been assured that it will be easy to mail things there and have someone else hold on to them for me until I arrive, these assurances come from the same people who’ve been lying to me every step of the way so far, so I believe I can be pardoned for not putting overmuch faith in their claims. On the other hand, I’m not sure what choice I have at this point. Better to mail things and find that I could have carried them, than to carry them and find out that they have to be mailed.

Some might question the wisdom of preparing to travel to a country where the only guarantee of clothing or shelter comes from the mouths of known liars. However, I don’t believe that the liars are being malicious, so I expect it will work out in the end. Besides which, I am able to give up both food and sleep when necessary, surviving on nothing but water and complaining. I derive energy from the sympathy and pained looks on my listeners’ faces, and can last indefinitely on this diet. It’s not entirely pleasant, especially for other people, but it’s sustenance.

The next email may be from Kuwait!

Another short email! Thus, another contemporaneous LiveJournal entry. Gotta hit that word count.

A while back, I read a short story by Melville called
The Paradise of Bachelors and the Tartarus of Maids. It was a decent story, not a patch on Bartleby the Scrivener, which is far and away his best work, but a fine tale all the same. I’m bringing this story up now because it makes the point that something which produces so much comfort and convenience can, at the same time, suck the life out of people.

All of this is to say that I had the pleasure of dealing with modern transportation conveniences yesterday. After consulting the schedule to find out when the buses would be running, I stood around outside, only to find that the bus driver had no intention of going where the schedule claimed she would. I’d checked another schedule while I was out there, which disagreed with the one online—not that it mattered, as the bus driver didn’t agree with either of them, and she was in charge at this juncture. She dropped me off at a slightly different outside location, where I consulted a third schedule which gave me yet another answer.

Despite this, I made it to my plane on time. I had received a miniature Leatherman as a gift, and rather than allow airport security to steal it on the grounds that I might really annoy someone with the half-inch knife blade, I elected to check my bag. I’d been using the bag as a carry-on, but it looked sturdy enough to survive the baggage handlers.

The flight left a bit late, but was relatively uneventful, which is largely what I look for in an airplane ride. It took only an hour and twenty minutes to travel the six hundred miles home, which never fails to impress me. Upon arrival, I paid for my parking at the AutoExpress kiosk, then went to get my bag.

Ten minutes later, I’d watched no fewer than three harried-looking employees disappear through a door near the conveyor belt. None had returned, so I assumed that there was some sort of a monster outside consuming them. Selfishly, I hoped the monster had not gotten the bags. When the belt finally started up, I discovered that while it had clearly not eaten all of the bags, it had quite possibly found mine, as I certainly could not.

I went to fill out a lost luggage form, only to find that the person on duty was unable to work the computer. Fortunately, they had hard-copy forms, so this was only a minor hiccough. She told me as I was writing that the bag would probably be on its way to my house tonight, and if not, I would assuredly hear from the airline before noon the next day.

I left and attempted to catch a shuttle to my car. The first was not going where I wanted and although the driver offered to take me, given that it was crammed so full that people were attempting to stack baby carriages with babies still inside, I elected to wait for the next bus. It came by not two minutes later, but was headed for the same place as the first one, and this driver was not willing to take me to my lot. Eventually, one arrived that was going where I wanted to go. It had now been just over an hour since I exited the plane.

Upon attempting to leave the parking lot, I found that because I had used the AutoExpress payment system and then failed to leave the airport within a half an hour, I was expected to pay an extra dollar. I pointed out that the sign said it was a maximum of six dollars a day; I had paid that, and I was quite frankly willing to block up the only exit to the parking lot and argue about a single dollar for as long as the gentleman in the booth would care to. I admit that this was ridiculous, but I had no intention of paying more for the privilege of having been subjected to the aforementioned irritations. After a short conversation with his supervisor, the employee on duty elected to void the dollar and let me pass.

On reflection, I figure I still came out ahead. Certainly, it took me over an hour to travel less than a mile of the way home, but that averages out with the six hundred miles I traveled in the previous hour-and-a-third to come out to something well over two hundred miles an hour—and I didn’t even have to risk a speeding ticket. Good thing, too, as I passed a cop on my way home, and at that speed, I doubt I’d’ve been able to explain that I was just trying to make things balance.

December 12: Can’t Hardly Kuwait

Let me preface this by saying that I know better than to send out this letter. And yet, in a burst of unalloyed optimism, I am passing along unsubstantiated oral information as if it were fact. Perhaps I can make it so through sheer force of belief.

Dates have been announced. It is claimed that I’ll be heading to Germany for training on January four4th, in the glorious upcoming future year. It is further claimed that I’ll be doing my anti-terrorist training on the nineteenth of that same month, following which I will head to Kuwait to begin my new life as a pseudo-expatriate and LAN administrator.

Note my near-total lack of sarcasm! I am buoyed by the giddy feeling that this may be true, unbased in reality though it may be. If anyone needs me, I’ll be over here clapping my hands. I do believe in fairies! I do!

As this was an exceptionally short email, I’ve decided to also include my LiveJournal entry for that day, so that you’ve got something slightly more substantial to read this week. Only slightly, though.

Transmission follows:

In my ongoing quest to unnecessarily quantify my life, I have defined a new measure for entertainment. It’s based off of a unit that I suspect many people use: the movie. Movies are fairly solid sources of entertainment, especially in the theater. Before I lay down my $9, I have to be fairly sure that I’ll be entertained by the movie, or by the company I’m going with, at least.

On a side note, I’d like to complain about the fact that it’s now $7 to see a matinée. Back in college, we used to go see matinées for $2.50! Admittedly, this was with the student discount, and we had to drive for forty minutes to get there, but that was okay because gas was cheaper then, too. Also, these kids weren’t on my lawn all the time. Where are my teeth?

Anyway, back to the point at hand: going to see a movie in the evening costs slightly less than $10, generally lasts for a bit under 2 hours, and is in my mind a fairly good exchange of money for entertainment. Through the magic of rounding, I have therefore concluded that if I spend $5 on something, it should bring me one hour of entertainment—or, breaking it down further, I’m willing to spend $1 for 12 minutes of entertainment.

This is not actually particularly useful for determining what I should do ahead of time—except in the case of things like Lazer Tag, which costs about a dollar a minute and which I should therefore clearly avoid, and which equally clearly I will not, but I will complain afterwards about how much it costs. I’d have to complain for quite a long time to really make it balance, but at least I can recoup some of the expense that way, as I do love to complain.

Mainly, what this system is good for is determining in retrospect whether I got my entertainment money’s worth. For example, last night I played poker for two hours and spent $4, plus I got a free beer and an invitation to Ultimate Frisbee on Sunday. This was clearly a good investment, coming in at a 5:2 on what I was willing to spend versus what I spent. The positive ratio helps make up for the $5.03 I spent on a shower curtain the other day, which is almost certain not to provide an hour’s worth of entertainment.

Similarly, this system lets me know that in order to achieve parity on the racquetball equipment I bought the other day, I’ll need to enjoy it for seven hours and twenty minutes. I don’t think I’ll have any problem with this. I’ve already played several hours of racquetball, plus I’ve harassed my dog with the racket a bit and I’ve spent at least half an hour laughing about the fact that not only is the racket named “Wrath,” but the protective eyewear is called “Vendetta.” I think someone got a little carried away in the marketing department.

The way I see it, I’m awake and therefore requiring entertainment for about 6,200 hours a year. Clearly, then, my goal should be to drop my expenditures to $31,025, or $5 an hour. If I could manage to spend that amount or less, then I’d be getting entertainment value out of every single dollar I spent. That, I think, is definitely a mark of a life well-lived.

December 9: Kuwaiting for Godot

As you may have noticed, it’s now the ninth—the date by which I would be leaving, unless I didn’t. Looks like we’ve opted for the latter of those two choices, I’m afraid. In fairness, there are still over fourteen hours left today, so I suppose a call isn’t out of the question, but I’m not holding my breath. This is, I think, for the best. Were I to hold my breath for fourteen hours, I probably wouldn’t be going much of anywhere afterwards, no matter what they told me.

My bosses still maintain that I’m likely to make it to the training places before the end of the year, but I find this highly unlikely. I need a week of training in one location, and two in another. Since I probably won’t be starting tomorrow, that means that the earliest I’d be able to start would be the seventeenth of December. I’m guessing that none of their instructors want to work through Christmas, but it could still get scheduled in a way to put a crimp in my vacation plans—so everything remains tentative. It’s very annoying.

It’s not entirely true to say that I haven’t learned anything about the trip. I’ve learned a number of exciting things! It’s just that none of them have to do with when I might be leaving. One of the more interesting things I’ve discovered is that my coworker who was put in charge of organizing this whole thing is, as far as I can tell, actively attempting to sabotage it. Given that I quite like the guy, I assume that this is part of my anti-terrorism training. I’m being taught to trust no one, no matter how well I think I know them.

My co-worker had assured me on multiple occasions that all of the medical tests I needed would be done through the Army, and that not only did I not need to go get anything done, but that the Army would not accept anything from outside sources, and would simply redo it. In a recent conversation with our mutual boss, however, it seems that my co-worker was not entirely correct in this. Rather than not having to get anything checked, he meant to say that I needed to get everything checked. This includes a full physical, a complete dental checkup with X-ray and signed forms, HIV testing, TB testing, a DNA sample—in case they need to clone me, I suppose—and over a dozen immunizations, including the flu, tetanus, measles, polio, typhoid, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis, anthrax and smallpox. A minor thing, really. I can see how he’d forget to mention it.

Meanwhile, other parts of this procedure have started to resemble excerpts from Catch-22. No one seems to know what anything means, or what it’s for. Our security officer stuck his head in my door yesterday to tell me that he’d just gotten a call from some of the Army folks wanting to know why I didn’t have a polka secret clearance. I swear that’s what he said, although as I’m sure it’s an acronym, it’s possibly not how it’s actually spelled. Seems my secret clearance was stamped with another acronym, and the polka folks didn’t like it. After the better part of an hour on the phone, our security officer discovered that this was the acronym for the agency that runs the polka office—meaning that I did have the correct clearance, but the people whose job is to check the clearances don’t know the name of their department. We had to inform them, as I suppose checking their paystubs would have been too much work.

There’s a better one, though. After much travail, I was finally approved to go get a piece of identification that I needed before I could begin my training—but when we called to set up an appointment to get this ID, we were told that they couldn’t issue that ID to anyone without a training completion certificate. Clever, yes? Can’t get the training without the ID, can’t get the ID without the training. I believe that the current plan involves getting a sheet of psychic paper and bluffing my way in. I’ll keep you all posted on how that works out.

So, as before, I’ve used quite a lot of words to keep you up to date on exactly how much information I do not have. Like me, you still know nothing, but you know it in such great detail! If you squint your eyes just right, it’s almost like being informed.

November 28: The State of Kuwait

All right, here’s the deal.

Many of you are doubtless curious as to when I’m actually planning on leaving for Kuwait. Some are probably wondering if I’m keeping the date secret, for some reason. Some of you likely don’t care one way or the other. This is a known problem with mass emails. A few of you are probably going, “Wait, he’s going to Kuwait?” This last is because I am a Bad Person who does not tell people Things. I have capitalized “Bad Person” there to make it appear more that this is some sort of proper-nouned group to which I belong, and not simply an apt descriptor. I have capitalized “Things” to make “Bad Person” feel less alone.

I’ve been intending to send out this email, or one very like it, for some time now. Every time I’m about to type it up, though, I get presented with one more tantalizing promise that an answer will be had soon, oh so soon! It’s now been four weeks since I was told that I would be whisked out of the country as soon as was humanly possible. I was at first appreciative of the extra time to make all of the various arrangements, like renting my house and selling my dog for parts, but have since gotten bored with the interminable wait.

This morning, I came into the office to be told that things were moving ahead! Within the hour, I would finally have the access necessary to fill out the paperwork required to receive a badge needed to get a certificate enabling me to go to training allowing me to attend different training preparatory to moving to Kuwait! I was thrilled, and once again postponed writing this email. This hour has, however, been somewhat longer than I am accustomed to—over seven times the length, in fact; perhaps it is a dog hour?—and so here I am, writing this after all.

The official word from my company at the moment is that I will be leaving on the ninth of December, unless I am not. I have barely even paraphrased this! These are very nearly verbatim the words used to inform me. What it means is that before the ninth, I have to expect to cancel any plans I make. After the ninth, I merely have to be prepared to cancel them. Essentially, I still know nothing. You were as informed as I was before you started reading this email, but you were unaware of this fact. Now, you know that I, too, am clueless.

It’s a good thing that I haven’t turned on my office lights in years. I’ve grown quite used to working in the dark.

X-Patriated (That’s a Roman Numeral Joke)

A little over ten years ago, I was working as a programmer for a defense contractor. One day at work, the systems administrator popped his head into my office.

“Hey, how would you feel about relocating for work?” he asked.

“It would depend on where to, I suppose,” I told him.

He paused. “How about…Kuwait?”

It was at this point that I realized that he wasn’t just making idle conversation. My company had picked up a contract in Kuwait, and wanted to give me right of first refusal. I thought about it, and realized that although I’d spent plenty of time traveling, I’d only ever lived in an area contained in a sixty-mile radius. This seemed like an excellent opportunity to change that.

After getting my company to sign papers promising that they would not attempt to leave me in Kuwait for longer than a one-year period, and that they would offer me a job upon my return, I called up my girlfriend, who at the time was living several states away.

“So, we’re in a long-distance relationship,” I began. “So it doesn’t really much matter how long the distance is, right?”

I’m not certain she fully agreed with me on that. Regardless, she wasn’t inclined to stop me from going on an adventure, so I packed up my life and prepared to go live in the Middle East for a year.

In the interest of keeping people update on what I was up to while I was gone, I decided to send out periodic emails. I don’t know what I planned to put in these emails initially, but what they ended up being was almost entirely a catalogue of what could go wrong with navigating a bureaucracy.

June third marks ten years since my return from Kuwait, so I’ve decided to start republishing these emails to celebrate the anniversary. I’ll post one each Sunday starting on February eleventh, so that the final one comes out on June third. I have edited them slightly to fix typos and change the overuse of semicolons. Also, I’ve changed most of the proper nouns to be people and places from The Neverending Story, for no good reason really.

Come, travel with me to a far-off country! Marvel at its beautiful vistas—just barely visible through the tangle of red tape.

“Making Friends” Begins Today!

Good news!  Dan Everton is back for the next segment of The Experiment, titled Making Friends.  Just like before, it’ll be posted in serial format, with a new section going up every Friday at 8 AM.  The first portion is up now, so head on over to https://experimentserial.wordpress.com/ to check it out!

In other exciting news: the first story of The Experiment, now titled The Reluctant Superhero, has been collected as an ebook.  If you enjoyed reading it, go check it out on Amazon and leave me a good review!  If you haven’t had a chance to read it, you can pick up the ebook for just 99 cents, or you can still read it in serial format at the blog.



[This one is from last year, and was just an idea I had on the way to work.  Fortunately, it seems to be totally wrong.  So far.  –M]

Before you read this: don’t think of an elephant. Do not proceed until there are no elephants in your mind.

At first, no one was particularly worried. Stay away from infected areas, they said. Take basic precautions when going out; wear jackets and long pants. Avoid anyone acting oddly. Call the police immediately if you see a victim on the move. Do not engage, do not antagonize. The news broadcasts were full of these warnings and more. They blasted us with infographics: Containing the Zombie Plague. Avoiding the Undead. Don’t Be a Victim.

This was all excellent advice, and it all worked. When a zombie popped up, whether it was found chasing shoppers in a mall or strapped into its seat on an intercontinental flight, it was quickly put down with minimal loss of life. And the plague didn’t seem to be as bad as all of the fiction had predicted. The graveyards remained quiet. It didn’t spread to animals. And not even all of those who were bitten turned, although quite a few were killed by their neighbors or even families out of an abundance of caution, so possibly some of those would have become zombies in their turn.

And yet somehow, it kept happening. Case after case occurred in wildly disparate locales. Usually, it was in a large city, but not the same large city; people all over the world just kept contracting the zombie virus, people with no clear link to each other. Males were more likely to succumb than females, but not by an overwhelmingly large margin. Young people caught it more often than old, and the affluent more than the poor. There was no difference by race or nationality, religion or region. Day after day, the number of cases kept growing, and although each zombie was stopped almost as soon as it rose, with rarely time enough to claim more than one or two victims, the news broadcasts began to take on a tone of hysteria. The Undead Menace. Baffling Virus Claims Another. Can Anything Stop the Spread?

The answer to that last, it seemed, was no. Instead, the rate of infection began to increase. People began to contract the virus with frightening regularity. With the vector still unknown, and the symptoms prior to death uncertain, every cough and sneeze became a thing of terror. Facemasks and disposable gloves became commonplace, while handshakes and fist bumps died away. Hugging someone demonstrated absolute trust. Kissing an acquaintance, even on the cheek, became totally unthinkable. And still the virus spread, its pace accelerating even in the face of these safety measures. The news was full of pictures of zombies still in their protective gear, and the headlines grew even more shrill. Tainted Facemasks! Contaminated Water Supplies! Scientists Clueless, Governments Helpless!

People fled to the countryside to escape the population density of the cities, and the virus followed them. Women began to fall ill at a greater rate than men, now, and the elderly caught up to the youth in infection rate as well. Nearly every bite victim not killed on the spot succumbed now, and yet this was still not the primary source of the disease. Countless zombies were still found barricaded inside fortified houses, trapped in cars in traffic jams, holed up in remote areas with no sign of bite, cut or injury — and yet it spread.

In the labs, scientists worked feverishly to discover the cause, in hopes that from there a cure might be created. All attempts to pass the disease on to animals failed, though. Injection, topical application, consumption; even allowing a zombie to directly bite the animal had no success. It steadfastly refused to cross any species barrier whatsoever.

Finally, one young doctor was able to infect a rhesus monkey. He did it not with cell cultures or internal infection, but with a constant stream of zombie footage, taken directly from the news networks. He exposed the monkey to countless images of zombies chasing the living and hours of video of attacks. He immersed the monkey in the horror of it all for weeks on end, and did his best to make sure that his subject understood what he was seeing as well as he could. And with this relentless barrage, the scientist finally succeeded: he came to work one morning to find the monkey dead and animate, tearing at its cage with a terrible hunger.

The vector was at last understood. The virus’s information was not genetic, but memetic. It propagated through the minds of its victims, bypassing all standard forms of transmission and piggybacking on pure information. The more you thought about zombies, the more fully the virus took control, until you were another zombie yourself.

All of our attempts to quell the virus had only hastened its spread. Every PSA, every well-meaning shot at educating the public had only started more minds thinking, giving it new, fertile ground in which to grow. And of course, the worse the problem grew, the more people worried about it.

One last blast of information went out. If you see a zombie, tell no one. Call this number, then leave the area. Read a book. Watch a show. Whatever you do, do not think about it.

Of course, this announcement brought with it another wave of zombies. In order to tell people not to think of something, you must tell them what it is that they cannot think about, and many were unable to compartmentalize this information, even at the cost of their lives. But those who could filled their thoughts with other things, meaningful events and useless trivia, and starved the memetic virus out. The news broadcasts came back, resolutely ignoring the epidemic and its attendant effects, and talked instead of politics, celebrities and the weather. And slowly, we forgot, and we rebuilt.

But we cannot afford to forget entirely. We must have the information saved, in case it occurs again. A billion lives could be saved by correct action the next time around, and so this story must be passed on to those who can learn it, and not think about it.

Don’t think about the elephant.