A reader requested that I post my piece on the NSA that appeared on my old blog. Here ’tis. Enjoy and thank you for following me.
“Ms. Brennan, do you know why you’re here?”
I was sitting in a windowless primer gray room, furnished with the bare minimum of a metal table and two chairs. A man, his glasses riding low on his nose while he skimmed a file, was sitting across from me. He smelled like White-Out and fluorescent lighting, definitely a government employee.
“No, I do not. Why don’t you tell me?”
“Okay, if that’s how you want to play it. You’re here because we suspect you of aiding and abetting the enemy, namely al-Qaeda. What do you have to say for yourself?”
“I’d say you’ve been sniffing the Elmer’s. That’s insane.”
“We have transcripts here from NSA, that’s right the National Security Agency, that have you purchasing weapons, making bombs, and going to Iraq and Pakistan. Now what you got to say, Missy?”
“I’d say you’re high. It is not possible that you have transcripts of any such conversation because it simply did not take place. You could pay me all the money in the world and it wouldn’t be enough to get me to Iraq. It’s never going to make my bucket list.”
“Well, it says right here. . .”
“Give me that.” I grabbed the papers and started reading. There were a lot of blanks, referenced by the word unintelligible.
“Dude, what kind of low-bid contractor did y’all use? Over half of the transcript is missing, the other part is misheard. You can not pull law-abiding citizens off the street based on this malarkey.”
“Ma’am, I assure you that we only use the most qualified technicians possible. You can trust this transcript.”
“Oh horseshit. I worked for the government and I know low-bid when I see it. Let me tell you what this conversation was really about and you decide just how qualified your technicians are.”
I turned to the page he’d highlighted as the smoking gun of my malfeasance. It read, “Rupees for AKs to Pakistan and al-Qaeda’s high turnover to Iraq from afar unintelligible.
Suicide bombers will be there. ”
Let’s just take this line by line, shall we? What I actually said when I called my great-aunt Ruby was, “Ruby, tell A.J. to pack his yam dish and alligator pie turnovers.”
“I wrecked my car so I can’t go to the picnic. Susie said she’d make her bombe dessert and be there.”
“Ms. Brennan, you could be saying anything right now to wiggle out of this. How am I supposed to believe you?”
“Well Mr. Hot Shot Investigator, if you’d looked up the phone number I called for this little chat, you’d see it was to my great aunt Ruby Fletcher, the best gardener alive in all of Scottsville, Virginia.”
“Ah ha! And how do we know that this Ruby Fletcher is not some Muslim front? How about that?”
“Well, you don’t because you obviously didn’t make any effort to find out. But I hardly think that some Muslim front would pose as the Presbyterian church organist for forty years just to support their back story. Do you? Let’s read some more of your fairy tales.”
“Bin-Laden and Afghanistan unintelligible.
Mullah training camp, passports unintelligible trained Akbar unintelligible shooting martyrs.”
The truth was, “I’ve been loading my afghan stand with so many new blankets, I’ll have to get another one to keep up with all my knitting.”
“Bubba took the train to camp, piss poor supervision there. He sprained his ankle and broke his glasses while shooting targets.”
“Now look here, Ms. Brennan, we’ve spent billions of dollars on this program and it is without peer anywhere in the world.”
“Oh I don’t doubt that. I certainly hope it’s without peer, because it is worthless. Just listen to this beauty you captured.”
“Shoot flak jacket Iraq. Unintelligible oil for Greece mosque fortune. ”
What I said was, “Shoot, I left my Falcons jacket in the car I wrecked. Hope the mechanic doesn’t get oil or grease on it. It costs a fortune.”
“So you see sir, your eavesdropping program is low-bid bunk. Now you take me right back home. Better yet, swing by the park. There’s a picnic that I don’t want to miss. You’re welcome to join us and sample some of A.J.’s alligator pie turnovers or Susie’s bombe. They’re so good, you’ll just die.”
There are three life phases of Christmas holiday observance. When you’re a child it’s all Elf on the Shelf. Santa’s demented NSA. The pixie version of a house arrest anklet. You’d better watch out, you’d better not pout. . . . I never liked a snitch, so the elf was thrown to the bird dogs as soon as I realized what its covert mission was. Shredded in seconds. Tell Santa about that, you tattle-tale weasel. The Elf never had a chance and would have known that if he’d bothered to talk to Barbie. So really, he wasn’t much of an intelligence-gatherer.
I had a history of violence towards select toys. As much as my mother wanted me to be a girlie girl, I despised Barbie. Mama tried, bless her heart. I was given several Barbie dolls, and every one of them suffered the exact same fate. Within a week, I would buzz cut their hair, tattoo them with a ballpoint pen, then snap their head off and use it as a ball and their body as a bat. You don’t even want to know about my kitchen match torture, where I wrapped hundreds of kitchen matches around Barbie’s waist with masking tape and then lit them. Barbie’s unnaturally large boobs melted like ice cream on a summer’s day.
Imagine my Mama’s joy when my little sister turned out to be a Malibu Barbie addict. Half her room was littered with Pepto-Bismol pink Barbie accoutrements. Beach houses, furniture, cars, dune buggies, clothing, Ken and Skipper, all strictly off limits to me per my mother. It’s like Barbie got a restraining order.
When I was in my twenties, there was no Elf on the Shelf. That phase of holiday revelry was more of a Whore in the Drawer. Finding my tribe of friends and celebrating heartily, boozily, excessively was all I wanted for the holidays. I had a blast. I learned how to drink without taking it to the point of becoming sloppy low-hanging fruit, although there were missteps along the way, mostly tequila-based.
I went through a serious phase of promiscuity and it wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Yeah, I put the ho in ho-ho-ho but dodged all real consequences of bad behavior, so yeah me. If I had not stumbled my way through that phase I would not have learned many an important life lesson. Like, good looks mean less than nothing if they’re attached to an ugly heart. I must avoid tequila because it makes me dangerously stupid. When someone says something despicable, they’re not kidding but are showing you who they really are. Believe them. Someone sporting designer clothes and a status car may just mean that they are in debt up to their rhinoplasty. Don’t look to another person for your happiness, that one is all on you. If you can’t stand to be alone, you’re not ready to be with someone else. Good lessons, all.
Now I’ve entered the last life phase of holiday revelry, the Grouch on the Couch phase. All I want for Christmas is a good meal, peace and quiet with no soundtrack save for the snoring of my pack, and a nice holiday nap. I hate that Christmas decorations are in stores before Halloween. I hate Muzak Christmas carols on an eternal loop for three months. I hate the screaming commercials for crap that is only trotted out during the holidays because people will desperately buy anything. I’m looking at you, Chia Pet. I would rather eat a bowl of dirt than leave my house on Black Friday. I am within a gnat’s eyelash of screaming “Humbug!” Too much, too much, too much!
The Danes have a word for what I want during the holidays: hygge (pronounced hYOOguh). It means cozy in both your surroundings and your emotions. It means all is right in your world even if briefly. It requires no more than a comfy chair, or a thick pair of socks, or cinnamon toast and tea. It really only requires a sense of gratitude. Isn’t that the truth of the season anyway? Simple kindness and gratitude?
I give you my very best wishes for a lovely holiday and a fabulous new year. Hygge, y’all.
Some say that being a writer requires a healthy ego. I say you better grow yourself a cast iron exoskeleton if you want to make it all the way to published. Editors, publishers, and agents are all lined up six deep to reject your writing. If you are a thin-skinned person, you are going to be wounded by the submission process. Take heart. I have advice and hope for you.
Point 1: It is not personal. In fact, repeat that phrase as your writer’s mantra. It is not personal. Your piece can be rejected for various reasons, none of which reflects poorly on you. Perhaps the editor just bought a story last week that is similar to yours. Maybe your piece wasn’t a smooth fit for that publication’s audience. Maybe your timing was off, submitting a Christmas story after the December issue was full. Maybe the slush pile reader is coming down with the flu and is hopped up on Dayquil and Kleenex dust.
Point 2: If someone takes the time to give you constructive criticism, they see potential in your writing. It’s a compliment. Thank them. Don’t lash out just because your rejection now has a name and an email address. If you are anything less than gracious to their guidance, you are telling someone that might pay you one day that you’re difficult and is that really your intended message? I hope not.
Point 3: Everyone in the publishing industry has the memory of an elephant when it comes to bad behavior. Be hateful to one editor, every editor within 500 miles will have heard the story. You may think you’re only telling off an intern at a tiny publication but at the next conference, they are regaling everyone with the tale of your temper tantrum. Editors share information good and bad, but more likely bad.
Point 4: If all else is equal, being nice matters. I don’t care how brilliant you are, people will balk at hiring you if you are miserable. If you are kind, you have an advantage. Case in point, I submitted a story to Blue Ridge Country magazine. This particular story was dear to me, as it was about a beloved family member. The story was rejected. The editor said that it was too similar to stories provided by their featured columnist. Though I was disappointed, I still wrote a thank-you note.
I submitted another story to Blue Ridge Country. This one was accepted. A couple of months later, the editor emailed me to say that his columnist was retiring after more than twenty years. He said that the first person he thought of to replace her was me. He asked if I’d like to become a featured columnist for the magazine. Would I? My first column (Mill Creek Stories) is in the January 2015 issue. I would not have been offered this job had I been grumpy when rejected. The lesson? Nice really does matter.
I do not often laugh out loud. I chuckle quietly. I smile. But I don’t laugh out loud, I mean hardly ever. The last time I remember laughing until I cried was at “This parrot is no more!” Maybe at George Carlin, bless his heart. Definitely at Kathleen Madigan. If you don’t know Kathleen, go to Youtube and find her. She’s brilliant. But that works out to me only laughing once every three years or so. Not a belly-laugh kind of girl. That actually makes me a little sad. I’d like to be an easy laugher, but it’s just not in my DNA.
So I had to post this pointer to silly pie charts. It made me laugh. Out loud. If I laughed, I’m betting you’ll laugh. Enjoy.