Friday, February 23, 2007

United States: Day 10650 (Yeah, I did the math... lol)

I'm not going to bore you with a long narrative about our trip home, but I just wanted to thank everyone who kept us in their thoughts. As of today, I am back in the USA. It was a good trip, but I'm glad to be home.

I did make some really great new friends over there this time and solidified older friendships I had made before. Tara, it was great meeting  you guys and I can't wait to see you again! Take care of my guitar! (and email us pics with that fast VSAT connection of yours.. we'll post 'em on the blog.)

My sincerest thanks to Mohamed Torshi, Mustafa Maana, and Nadir, without which we would never ever ever get anything done in Tripoli!

I'll write again soon when I've had a few days to decompress and spend some time with my girl(s).

Love you all!


Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Africa: Day 20 (ana urid Beer, En-sha-allah!)

Looks like we're coming home guys! Tim and I made plans today. We're leaving Tripoli at 1600 hrs on Thursday afternoon and will be sleeping in JFK Thursday night while we wait for our Friday 6 AM Flight to RDU.

Just wanted to drop you a quick line to keep you informed. More posts and pics when I get to the states.  I don't have much time right now... I have to go home and get my socks and underwear out of the oven...

(And Wess thought that my pizza, on the coffee burner innovation was impressive! You should see my dryer! I'm not paying the electric bill.... that's all I gotta say about it. I'll take a pic to show you!)

Love you all!

PS: Thanks for the comment earlier, Kadeja!

Tommy: 2155 HRS GMT+2 022007

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Africa: Day 24 (Back to Civilization... sort of)

Let me begin by offering my sincerest apologies to those of you who refer to this blog often to see what I'm up to. On the small chance that you have nothing better to do than read about what I'm doing, then I have been very slack about keeping you inundated with new information. I can't take all the blame, however. With the arrival of my CEO in town, my recent trip to Sebha in the south Sahara desert, and meeting new friends, not to mention trying to spend my little amount of literary inspiration trying to write a novel, I have had little time for communication lately. I guess I should begin in by taking things in order... nah, that's too simple. I'll just fill you in as it comes to me.


My CEO arrived in town last week to check up on progress and to make some other arrangements of his own. Any of you that know Moe know he's always full of ideas, new things he wants to try, which means he's always tasking us with creating new approaches to modified American technologies that can be deployed in this country. Life with him here has been interesting to say the least, though we haven't actually seen him much except for the first night. My plans and travel have kept us fairly insulated from each other so far.

I was hoping to be back from Sebha before he arrived, having had time to compile all the necessary data to create the final deliverable document to the client. As usual in this country, relying on the locals for anything related to a timeline is worse than hopeless. Repeated delays due to lack of planning, general stupidity, and an inability to understand the concept of respect for another's plans make working in this country unbearable sometimes. Don't get me wrong, the people are great, but you just can't depend on them for anything "on time." Having spent seven months here now, I can tell you there's  reason this country is considered third world.

Imagine a society where no one congratulates you on hard work, rewards extra effort, or recognizes true initiative in a person. Now apply that moral characteristic to whole countries' labor force and you begin to see the ramifications it has on technology and innovation. No matter how hard you work here, no one is going to promote you to something else unless you're related to the boss. No amount of skill gets you a "good job Mohamed," or anything else like that. Living in that environment, these people have adopted a "I just show up and do what I'm told until I can't do that anymore, then I stand around twiddling my thumbs" attitude. Simply put, these people just don't give a damn.... about anything. They're not interested in furthering their own lives because they have no concept of the capitalist momentums that are ingrained in Americans by age 6.  In America, we all have small jobs as kids, earning money by mowing lawns, etc. We are reward oriented in the fact that parents give their children a treat for doing really well on a test in school, or something similar. That mentality carries over to our adult lives as well. When we join the work force, those of us with a drive to succeed will work harder to earn that possible Christmas bonus, or get a promotion, etc.

Here, none of that applies. In fact, last month a British friend of mine I've met, who runs the accounting division of an oil-related company paid a Libyan man here a small bonus for actually going the extra mile and surprising her with his efforts, coming in on his days off to get work completed, etc. The first thing she found out was that the other locals shunned him because he's working too much, doing more than they feel is necessary to get the job done. The second thing she was hit with was a line up of Libyans with their hands out, ALL expecting bonuses equal to his. There is no reward system here, so to them it means that they all get more money this week because Joe-blow got the job done faster. Even the concept of personal reward is alien to these people.

The reason I believe it will never change is due in large part to their religion. I can't tell you how many times I've heard the words "En Sha-allah." It means "if God wills it." Basically, they apply this to every single facet of their lives. We will get you on a plane sometime, Mr. Tommy En-sha-allah. Yeah, really? Friggin amazing. It took allah 6 days to get a ticket for me! You know it only took my Libyan employee Mustafa about fifteen minutes! So, I say "en-sha-Mustafa!"

Can you tell I'm having one of those days?

I absolutely LOVE the culture here, the people, the society itself, but when you're talking about working in it, it's ludicrous. The problem with this job currently is that we came here setup to be supplied and transported by the customer, which means at their whims. I haven't even gotten a ride to work but once in the 24 days I've been here because the Younis (who we've dubbed "Useless") is off playing with his camel somewhere.

I'm slowly working on becoming self-sustaining, procuring my own vehicle so I can drive, etc. Relying on these locals for transportation has cost us thousands of dollars, no.... tens of thousands of dollars in wasted payroll and per-diem because we have to sit around and wait for days and days and days to get things done. To date I've been in this country 24 days. I checked my journal today to see how many days I've actually NOT worked because we can't get anything done due to Libyan stupidity... ten days. That's ten days of lost work in three weeks because we have to wait on Libyans to quit scratching their ass long enough to sign for a driver, or whatever.


Ok.. next topic.

The British Invasion

Thankfully, I have had a few experiences lately which have renewed my flagging inspiration. Those of you who read the blog often have noticed that the banner (the big picture on the top of the blog) changes from time to time, as I programmed it to. Further, that image oft as not contains pictures of me in my travels. Well, you want to talk about coincidence: check this out.

While sitting in the Corinthia last week, I noticed an American woman sitting with a man at a table, two tables over from Tim and I. Apparently, hearing us chatting and seeing the laptops, she too recognized that we were Americans. However, at the time neither of us said anything.

Later that night, she was online at home in Tripoli and was playing around with Google's "blog search" feature, after talking to another friend who has a blog here in Libya. (To add to the level of coincidence, that friend also happens to be a friend of Aprils... six thousand miles away.)

While searching, she put in the keywords "Tripoli, Libya" just to see what would come up. Well, apparently I'm the first result for Tripoli, Libya in Google's blog search. As she clicked on the link, she was carried to this blog... which loaded my picture on the top like it usually does. Imagine her surprise when she just happened to accidentally click on the only American guy in Tripoli after just seeing him hours earlier in the restaurant.

So, thankfully she's a communicative person, and had decided to make some comments on the blog to introduce herself. Not knowing what else to do, I emailed her my local Tripoli number and told her I'd love to have lunch sometime and hear about her travels here in Tripoli. The next day, boom.. phone call.

So, long story short (not really) I got to meet Tara and her husband Kevin, who have been living in Tripoli for two years now. Tara, a native of New Mexico, married Kevin (who's last name I can't remember.. sorry Tara and Kevin). Kevin runs a company based out of Houston Texas, called PGS Enterprises. PGS (Petroleum Geo Services) is a company that located oil in the desert for oil companies to dig up and sell. Interesting job, I must admit. I'm intrigued by some of the stories I've heard from them thus far.

To digress for a moment, poor Kevin has his hands full. Tara, his wife, is COMPLETELY American. Arriving to meet me at the Corinthia for lunch, she steps out of a 1986 Jeep Laredo 4WD, wearing a white resistol, and cowboy boots.

After having lunch, we planned to do it again and to let me meet her husband and the crew. So, late Friday afternoon after work, I was picked up and off we went. We traveled to meet with Kadeja (another friend of April's here in Tripoli) and went to see Kevin's offices, where I was introduced to the crew. You have no idea how pleasurable it was to hear "bugger off" in that strong British brogue, as opposed to endless days of Arabic conversation. That was the first time EVER I had spent five minutes in a room with four English speaking people that weren't my own staff.

In her typical bulldozer manner, Tara invited Tim and I to join the crew for a barbeque that night at the yard, one of the company locations. You can imagine my delight to have a chance to have a beer (yeah, Chris.. the kind with alcohol in it), red wine, vodka, BBQ shrimp, lamb, and chicken... all cooked to American/British standards... LOL. It was a great break from the norm here.

I also got the chance to meet a few of the locals that work here; Kevin, Tomo, John(aka Trevor), Vivienne, and a few others I can't remember... and one loud German dude who didn't like me, but pfft... who cares.

All in all, it was a great experience and I hope I can repay the favor to them sometime while I'm here. Since they live in a completely self-sustaining compound here, they don't get out to travel much and don't know where a lot of the local shops are, so I've got some plans to take a few of them out to show them the town later this week.

Oh yeah.. I got a few pics while I was out there. I got one of Tara, so April can see who it is she's been chatting with on Gmail, and of the horses... yeah.. they had horses! I could seriously build a little shack and live on the Yard.


Anyway, before I forget, I'd like to take a moment and sincerely thank Tara and Kevin for their hospitality, and thank PGS for allowing us to hang out for a night... on behalf of all the Libyans I didn't have to kill that night!

Well, since I haven't been online in almost a week I think I'm going to end this here, without the benefit of an edit and pre-post-review, and go to Saraya to post this and check my email.

I'll try to write again soon. This post isn't up to my usual par, but I had to vent a little.

Write you all again soon!

Tommy: 1250HRS 021807

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

This just isn't working...

I'm trying to be a better person, a nicer person. Really, I am, but it's just when you intentionally try to do that that every idiot alive crosses your path. It's really inconvenient and extremely exasperating. Not only that, but I'm sure I'm experiencing something close to the effects of chinese water torture... only instead of water, its whistling. A really high pitched, never ending whistle. It's not even to an actual tune. Now, mix that in with the repugnant smell of what I imagine to be rotten scotch and cigar stinch. (eww!) You know the old Looney Tunes cartoons... now I know why Sylvester went after Tweety. Tweety probably never shut up and whistled all of the time. I wonder what would happen if Sylvester had actually gotten to Tweety... (I'm going to take a minute to enjoy that thought.) Okay, well, I finally get to leave here. I'm going to go home, get some sleep, and hope that I can be a nicer person tomorrow...

Friday, February 09, 2007

Africa: Day 15 (Curse You Tom)

It is with great resignation and few hours of sleep, even that interrupted by dreams, that I title this posting such. If there were a grand bell tolling the hour, it would just be finishing the last of its six clangs as I start this post to all of you. Trying in vain to go to sleep at 3 AM, I lie there and drifted off sometime before four, but I’m not sure how long before. At 5:15 I was again awoken from the midst of quite an interesting dream by an incessant toothache, of which I am oft plagued lately.

So good in fact was the dream that I lie there consciously attempting to re-enter to see how it would have concluded In my dream reality I was still myself, though encased in the physical characteristics of Marshall Flinkman, a character you will only recognize if you are a fan of the TV series Alias. I have no clue as to why I manifested in my dream as this guy, but it was my brain inside his body throughout which I enacted my REM saga. I was in Los Angeles, working as technical coordinator for a man whose name I can not remember now, the detail having faded as dreams often do upon waking. My counterpart in this dream was a lovely young blonde woman, bearing a tight-pulled executive ponytail and sharp, yet narrowly chiseled features. Her eyes were ocean blue; Caribbean ocean, not that of the Atlantic or pacific, with their darker overtones.

In my dream, we had only two days with which to prepare what must have been a press conference for the unnamed senator. The dream picked up in the office where we work, dark mahogany paneling suffacing every available panel and the scent of lemon air-freshener, reminiscent of a cheap laywer’s office, not that of a senator-to-be. I remember offering to help Lauren coordinate the events’ technical aspects over dinner. It’s funny now to remember. If you know the character of Marshall, you would understand, but basically you have to implant my attitude and flair for the dramatic into a man little over five feet in height and who is a complete and total techno-weenie in every sense of the term. Anyway, most of the dream has faded from me now, but I remember leaning across the desk and offering to take her to dinner to discuss the event, and then running all around LA in my Jeep (which ironically I still drove in my dream) trying to find a car wash that would do a quick laser-wash before I picked her up. I arrived at her apartment, walked in the door, and then I woke up. I’m not sure where the dream came from, why I was in Los Angeles, nor why I was working for a senator.

Quite frankly I blame it all on Tom, who has put me in this creative writing mood lately. Upon waking, I tried to lure myself back to sleep after taking a vigorous dose of darvocet, only to find myself trying to distract myself with thoughts of what I would write, if I were indeed to take on this challenge to try to write something worth publishing.

At first, I simply lie there trying to think of a way to start. Do I write a crime thriller, a police investigative story, a profiler serial killer novel? Deciding to further investigate alternative methods of originating at a plot, I started seeking other plot devices to help me solidify something in this that would allow me to gain a foothold.

Following that line of thought I left my main plot filed under the to-be-determined-later section of my brain and focused instead on the where’s and why’s that would provide the back story of my story. Do I write about places that I know and am familiar with or do I extend myself fictionally to upstate New York or California, about which I know little to nothing? While I few ideas appealed to me, this area of though left me just as undecided. I henceforth moved into character development. Every good novel needs a hero, supporting characters, and of course a villain or multiple villains.

Again… I say with the most deadpan voice I can summon… “Thanks Tom…”

At 5:30, now fevered even more by hunger than I had realized, I got up and made myself a six egg omelette while I allowed my brain to churn out whatever it would. Apparently all this mental straining was quite the work out, leaving me exceedingly hungry at a time when the house is mostly bare of stock with which to make a proper breakfast. Hence, the enormous omelette I concocted in the kitchen.

It is now almost 6:30 and I sit here to document what I have been able to come up with so far, and YOU (pointing out at you, Tom) had better be reading this, for you are now my chief editor. I hope you’re happy. I’m sorry to appoint you to such a post, but Tim isn’t exactly the bastion of literary embodiment I need as a sounding board. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen him read one book in the three years I’ve known him. I did try to use April for advice and ideology considering her love for similar literary works a boon to my newfound creativity, but when trying to explain my concerns about writing to her I was rewarded with, and I quote, “Just shut up and do it.”

So, what do I have you ask? Well, so far I have a main character with no definition. His name is one he hates, one he has had to grow up with, been teased about, and is now old enough to accept it with the dignity in which it was meant. Something like Maximus comes to mind, providing me with plenty of easy-to-imagine literary license for childhood horror stories. Is he FBI, DEA, Secret Service, police investigator, CIA, homicide detective, local pharmacist, rugby recruiter? I haven’t any idea. I only know that he’s at least 40 years old, and has only been in his job for a few years, after retiring from some government career that will leave him with a decent pension and good connections in the world in which he will be created.

I do have my supporting character imagined fairly well for someone starting out in this novel-creating concept. Angus Johnson is a mid forties black man of immense physical proportions, robust without being even slightly considered fat by any stretch of the imagination. Angus Johnson is a medical examiner currently, though that may change as time goes on. Coming from a small town in southern America, he was your atypical high-school jock, athletic but possessing a softer personality, making him friends with those from all walks of life. Possessing a natural skill for football, Angus played defensive end for his high school football team, moving on to play through college on a sports scholarship, but devoting all his spare time to his studies, eventually leading him to his desire to work in the medical profession. Having been lean throughout his younger days, Angus took his football seriously, working out in the gym religiously and at home when time allowed. Over two years his physique grew to match the proportions he thought God intended for a man who has to go through life towering over others at 6’5” tall. Seen through the guise of his helmet in his youth, the only visible aspect of his face was an exceptionally broad forehead, wrinkled with determination as he faced his opponents on the field. Coupled with the intense determination seen by his opposing teammates in his deep brown eyes, he somewhere gained the moniker “Black Angus”, a name that came to be feared by whoever was unlucky enough to sense the presence of the thundering mass of this bull of a man charging towards them on the field.

Suffering a devastating injury to his left shoulder and rotator cuff during his junior year left his dreams of professional football unrealized, and he then applied all his time to his studies, both in criminal law and medicine.

A grown man now, Angus works for the coroner’s office as a medical examiner. A fan of browns and tans, he is most often comfortable in thick tweed jackets, button-down collared shirts of various shades of yellow, green, or similar patterned material, and crisply pressed slacks that come to rest just precisely on his comfortable, yet stylish brown loafers, which he swears aren’t orthopedically resplendent, just trendy. And there we have what I have so far…. not much I know.

Lacking any further information, yet being unable to seek the solace of sleep, I shall now regale you with my tales of the past week while I let my imagination work quietly in the background. It seems lately that I have a guilt complex when I go too long without composing this journal. Often in the middle of the day, my fingers itch to be working at this keyboard, even when my mind has yet to render anything for them to type. It is those times that I find myself getting up to go search out something worth writing about.

This was originally continued but I chose to edit and end it here to begin the new post with a new topic.

Sorry for the discontinuity.

To Be Continued…

Tommy 0705HRS 020907

Monday, February 05, 2007

Africa: Day 11 (Citizen Cane)

I'll keep this post short. My temper and my pain threshold  are both suffering today. I sit here with my new accoutrement keeping me company... a shiny black 36" cane. I woke up at 5:30 this morning screaming in pain with tears rolling down my face, apparently having been crying for quite sometime considering the dampness of the pillow beneath my face.

I woke having absolutely no recollection as to why exactly I was crying, quite mystified by the fact. I have never in my life awakened in mid-cry with my nose stuffed up, my head mushy with sleep, and tears running down my face, so it took me a moment to discover what may have been the source of the episode.

Rolling over in the bed to stand up and get a cigarette, since I was quite obviously awake for the day, I started to stand only to fall screaming back into the bed as I attempted to put pressure on my right foot. Apparently, I hit my ankle in my sleep... I'm still not quite sure as to why I woke that way, but I can tell you definitively that I now know that I have indeed sprained my ankle.

Unfortunately, sprain or no, I have a trip planned for tomorrow which will have me doing quite a significant bit of traveling and walking. So, it was with grim determination that I surmounted the tasks of showering and putting my foot into a boot to go shopping... cane shopping. I feel quite foolish walking around town in a carhart jacket, leather cowboy hat, and cane, but the device seems to make the issue bearable for now. Hopefully, this week will end without further incident and I'll be able to relax a little this weekend and "put my feet up" without causing myself further pain.

I have to go for now... I have tasks that remain unaccomplished today which require my attention. I'll talk to you all soon.

PS: Thanks April, Mom, and Wess for the emails. Please write more if you get time. I'll try to respond to the ones I have today.

Love you all,

Tommy: 1538HRS 020507

Africa: Day 11 (Can't Sleep)

It is about an hour after I finished composing my last blog post that I sit here writing to you. When I finished earlier, Tim and I headed for the cab area outside and hailed the only waiting taxi, heading out once again towards our home, about two miles from the Corinthia.

As luck would have had it tonight, this was Tim’s turn to pay for the taxi, so I grabbed my bag as quickly as possible and headed through the rough concrete gate towards the door to the building, in a mad rush to escape what was quickly becoming a deluge. Not paying attention to my surroundings quickly taught me a lesson as I stepped up onto the slick marble entryway that precedes the foyer. As I hurried up the steep step, right foot first, my shouldered laptop bag shifted with my swaying stride to the right side, causing me to overbalance and fall crashing to the wet marble. Somewhere between the firing of my neural pathways that registered to my brain that I was in mid-fall my mind had the time to succinctly register the pain shooting up the outside of my right ankle and up my right leg, vanishing behind the knee only to reappear as a lightning bolt of painful energy somewhere near the top of my thigh. Even before I hit the ground fully I knew I was hurt. Not having ever actually sprained anything before, I am unfamiliar with the feeling, but I’m quite sure the tight steel bands that were only moments before sinuous ligaments are a sure sign that I have at the very least strained my ankle.

After limping upstairs in pain, grateful to Tim who ambled in his never hurrying pace to my side and shouldered my pack upstairs, I called my girlfriend to have someone to commiserate with momentarily while I ran a hot bath in the master bathroom. As the water heater gave forth its last vestiges of promised comfort, I pulled up a white dining room chair complete with plastic dust cover still intact, and sat beside the tub smoking a cigarette and drinking coke from an old fashioned glass bottle as soaked my right foot in the hot water.

I sit here now, with a Marlboro drifting its smoky tendrils up across my screen to my left, and relax in my room, seeking once again the appearance of words from blank page. Just as before, I have nothing prodigious to share with you, except for maybe the rantings of a would-be night owl who ought better to be in bed at this hour.

I sit her beside the opened door to my balcony, the smoke now choosing to shift its drift towards the more active breezes that dance outside my room. The lights of Libya lay before me, looking from this distance like the electrical pins on a social circuit board, winking on and off in no particular pattern as the city lives on beneath me.

I find it singularly strange how these people are affected by the rain. Indeed I am quite happy to be able to feel the clean taste of the air, now that nature has taken a moment to wash the scent of human influence from the air. The locals however have taken this as an unwelcome visitor to their social calendar, quietly going back to their homes to await the dry rebirth of another day. It is strange how completely silent the city has become. Were it not for the fact that I was just out on the streets a short while ago, I would believe some holocaust was imminent that that I was the only one who had not been told of its coming. Even our ride home was singularly strange; never passing one car either coming or going in either direction on the quiet wet city streets.

Considering the quite austere temperament of the rest of the city, maybe I too should tend to my dreaming and let this day pass from me as well. I have no work to do tomorrow, so I plan to do some prodigious shopping in old-city if the weather permits. So, until then my friends. May your dreams guard you well.

Tommy: 0235HRS 020507 GMT+2

Africa: Day 11 (Prose and Cons)

I sit here in the soft luminescent glow proffered by the dinner lighting in the Venizia, nearby the railing of the veranda overlooking the subterranean seafood restaurant here in the hotel Corinthia. I am awash in the sounds of dozens of languages flowing around me like wonderfully exotic fish in a zoo aquarium. The tumult of voices blends into a natural buzz of after-thought, no one conversation or language being able to be singled out of the mix.

I came here tonight to write. I have no subject and no particular inspiration at the moment, so I sit here in search of a divine message. I feel like Noah on the mountain, awaiting the words of god to come spilling forth for him to write. Again today I was told by a friend that I possess a literary talent that needs to be more thoroughly explored. I can certainly agree that I have the mental construction to be a writer. I am similar to authors in that I live for the praise of others, both in spoken and written word; one of my greatest failings I admit. Rarely am I sufficiently pleased in my accomplishments enough to sit quietly and be proud of them. My ego requires supplicative support from others from which to fuel itself.

I will admit to having a desire, for to call it a yearning would be to overstate the strength of the notion, to become a writer. Since I was young this desire has plagued me from time to time, waxing and waning like a benign cancer throughout the years. Sometimes it will go into remission for years only to experience a resurgence at the strangest of times. However, I have come to accept that this is a part of my personality that I have never been able to consciously harness to any effect. I can not simply sit at the keyboard and wait for words to appear in my head. I have even resorted to the old fashioned method of pen and paper, trying pencil when the ink failed to produce any result, as if I were a doctor trying to select the proper knife when any perform the task with equal succinct results.

In my younger life, back in high school, I lived for essays, dreading only the limitations on the length of the narrative I was being asked to deliver. I remember when, in my sophomore year in school, sitting in English class, I was tasked to write a short story. Actually the whole class was tasked with the same goal. I remember well the ensuing moans of displeasure that erupted from the classroom. I however was eager for the task. Possessing an electronic typewriter that accepted three and a half inch disks, I spent many nights banging away on that story, creating character outlines and filling entire notebooks with arcs of plot ideas, twists, and backstory. Having no idea how to truly be an author, I simply attacked the task the same way I do everything else; with a brute force mentality that simply would not accept defeat. Having no skill for the task at hand, I eventually found my own natural rhythm and began the first of many hours typing that story.

The assignment was for a five to ten page short story, though I can’t remember the other criteria. As time drew closer to turn in the paper I grew more and more frantic, spending more and more frustrated hours at the typewriter; not in fear of not being able to complete the narrative assignment, but in fear of not being able to finish the plot I had so painstakingly setup in my mind. The evening before it was due I was able to finally apply the finishing touches, prepare a proper binding and sleep the sleep of those who have accomplished what they set out to do. I should say now that I endured endless ribbing for weeks following the delivery of that paper to class. Rather than the five page short story, I dropped on my teacher’s desk with an audible thud, a one-hundred and forty page novella, complete with cast of characters and chapter headings.

I got an A.

This proclivity for writing went to hibernation for three more years, never again rearing its head in any real form until my sophomore year of college. There I began my required studies of world history pre-1500’s under the tutelage of professor Kenneth Wilburn. Fascinated by the subject of civilization as taught by a man who truly loved his subject matter, I took avid notes on the subject matter. As a matter of passing the course, all students were required to create a journal of our daily study material as well as an integrated journal of class lecture. As with the novella, I took to this task with delight. This time, however and never before or since, the enthusiasm stayed with me for the entire semester; so much so in fact that when the semester finally ended and we were required to turn in our journals I was the only student who didn’t get his returned to him. Fearing some reprisal, I was quite worried when I was invited, though it sounded much more like a demand, to the professors study after class. I entered the classroom and took the proffered seat judiciously, though really having no idea what the nature of this meeting entailed. Professor Wilburn had never before asked me to his office, so I wasn’t sure what to expect. On his desk in front me, sliced through with shades of sunlight from the louvered blinds was my journal. Having turned this in to our teacher’s assistant as required, in private, I was truly upset that the material I had worked so hard on might not meet par. Again, my ego would have been crushed at that instant if so many hundreds of hours of work were to be discarded as filth not worth grading.

I was quite surprised however when he patted me on the back and told me the reason for his requested meeting. He began by asking me if I had the soft copies of the material I had presented for grading, which I tenuously handed over to him, my hands probably shaking at the thought of failing his class. Only then, with the disks firmly in hand did break a smile and congratulate me on delivering what he considered the best journal he had ever seen. He patted the manuscript thoughtfully and informed me that he would prefer if I not show this to anyone else or sell the journal for profit. When I expressed confusion as to his insinuation, he slid the course book over beside the journal I had written. He laughed then and pointed to the two of them sitting there side by side. If I remember, the course material was around seven hundred and fifty pages long. My journal, bereft of pictures and wide margins was an astounding four hundred and fifty pages of single spaces, ten point text. He informed me that the material itself would provide an easy A to any student who wished to read it instead of actually paying attention in his class.

This was the first and only time a written material of mine has ever achieved the praise of an academic who was well versed in the subject on which I was writing. After taking a moment to remove my heart from my throat and place it firmly back in the middle of my chest where it belonged, I thanked him for his kindness and his generous words and promised never to duplicate the work for profit. I did cheat a little however. As soon as I left his office, I went back to my computer in the dorm room, copied the files to disk yet again and proceeded to the student computer lab where I printed the entire document one more time. I reverently bound the material and placed it in an orange journal cover and gave it an honored spot on the shelf in my dorm. Today it lies packed in a box in a storage shed, but I have never been able to part with the document. I still keep the computer disks in my office drawer, where they have been for over nine years now. I’m not sure why I keep them, only that I know they make me smile when I accidentally stumble across them while trying to find something in my desk.

So, there you have my thoughts for today; a narrative about two narratives, none of the three of which shall ever make a publisher’s shelves.

Yes, it is true. I would love to be a writer. To turn out plot twists with the panache of Koontz, , Gabaldon, Donaldson, Jordan, King, Hoag, Johansen, or any of today’s other bestselling authors would be a major accomplishment for me as well as fulfilling one of those many “what I want to be when I grow up” fantasies. However, even the basic idea for how to become a writer eludes me. Never having been one to study the process, I haven’t the slightest idea how to capture the attention of editors, publishers, marketing gurus, or others in the literary world.

Does one simply write a book first and then beat the publishers to death begging for audience and a chance to be given an editorial review? If so, this seems to me that there is somewhere a massive store of novels who share a lonely life together in the vast store rooms of literary warehouses somewhere in middle America. Maybe even worse would be the knowledge that those never-published works simply were discarded into trash cans in office cubicles, making their way down to the garbage chutes rather than the bookshelves, much as the dreams of their would-be authors follow the same path into the midden-heap of failure.

Supposing again that I did succeed? Would I begin to regret the tedium that became my life when I abandoned all other career pursuits in the hopes of becoming a famous author? Knowing myself and my egotistical limitations, I can’t see being happy being only a mediocre writer, never making it to eye level in the shelves of america’s bookstores. Well, maybe all this just deserves more thought. I suppose that being a 29 year old man means I have plenty of time with which to consider such an idea. I truly would love to feel a hardcover novel one day, written in my own words with an artist-airbrushed photo on the dust jacket.

All in all, I must say “Thanks Tom,” for now I have had a chance to at least explore the idea on paper as well as to create another blog topic. I’m sure most of you didn’t make it this far into this posting. To those who did, I raise my glass to you in sincerest thanks for taking the time from your life to share my thoughts.

Till next time…

Tommy 02/05/07 0124HRS GMT+2

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Superbowl XLI

For anyone that's interested, there's a SUPERBOWL party at my house tonight! Bring yourself, a friend or two, food (if you want), and whatever you want to drink....
Kickoff's at 6:25, so be here before that!! LOL
Can I just say I love my bigscreen!! Hahaha!!

Saturday, February 03, 2007

Ok, I'm gonna gripe...

It is after 7am and I am still at work and I've been at work since 4:50pm yesterday and I have to work tonight. IT really sucks! Sorry ladies, I probably won't be making lunch :( I'll probably be here until at least 8:30...

Africa: Day 8 (A Lazy Day In Libya)

Dark tufts of grey cloud matter dot the even darker blue-grey nighttime sky over the Sea, marching forward in their announcement of inclement weather to come. This is the scene that greeted me tonight as I left the apartment in search of something with which to occupy my time.

Nadir, my Lybian friend and ex-cab driver, piloted us west toward Gurgarash district as the rare sound of rain drops played musical games on the windshield of our car.  I looked out the window as I do each time I drive past the harbor, gazing at the odd looking sea-port, filled to bursting with giant ships and cruise liners, all lying placid in their berths, looking as if the harbor could come to life in an electronic bustle if only the switch were flipped to bring everything into motion. Evenly spaced lights dot the harbor shoreline, their incandescent points brilliantly illuminating the ships in silent rest in their berths beneath the glow. From the window of the Nissan, angling back away from the harbor toward the inner city, their precise positioning along the harbor make the street lights resemble a measuring tape made of light, marking off the points towards infinity.

This was my afternoon, or should I say more adequately, my night, for I slept the day away like some nocturnal beast, rising only with the setting of the sun to prowl around the city in search of mental distraction. I did however have a goal in mind, which is why I called Nadir in the first place. Serving many years here as a taxi driver, I could think of no one I know who would be more suited to helping me when I need to hunt down something. Today I needed a guitar. Okay. Need might be a strong word, so let's say I really wanted a guitar. I woke this evening from sleep with that thought foremost on my mind. Most of you already know I'm teaching myself to play.

April will tell you that I never ever play in front of people. I suffer from a severe malady known as vanity. I fear to do anything in front of others at which I do not excel, thus my guitar practices are snuck in secretly between visits from friends and when April is at work. It would seem that the guitar is my mistress, only coming out to see me when everyone else is gone. Having said that, I can see no better time to practice than when I am over here in Libya, six thousand miles removed from those who would accidentally sneak up on my practice sessions and henceforth have their ideas of music forever altered to the worse, in part solely to my horrible skill level with this beautiful instrument. For while I can occasionally make music worthy of a six year old who plays the guitar with his feet, I find that the usual cacophony drives even the cats to ground, hiding as far from me as felinely possible during those times I practice.

As I had hoped, Nadir knew exactly the right place to go. Somewhere on Gurgarash street, to the west of the side of Tripoli I live in, he carried me to a Yamaha store where I found every style of guitar, sitar, cello, bass, violin, and others that I can't even begin to name.  Having forgotten where I was, my initial reaction was to simply ask how much the item was and then to pay for it. Thankfully the reactionary part of my brain kicked in early enough to remind me that I can haggle in this country. Picking first the guitar I wanted, a beautiful Eko Italian acoustic guitar with steel strings, I started working him down from the $300.00 price tag, slowly adding merchandise to the list to sweeten the deal for both of us until in the end I left with the guitar, a new set of strings, a strap, and a case for less than the original guitar cost. Feeling quite happy with my purchases, I headed home to practice until my hands could take no more. Even now, four hours later, my fingertips are so sore they are about to bleed. I am quite content, however to deal with the minor sensitivity while I wait for calluses to build up again.

Following our trip guitar shopping, we returned once again to the apartment here by the shore. Nader had nothing to do so I invited him up for a drink and to spend some time hanging out with Tim and I. Somehow, during our confusing narratives, we got on the subject of American football. Apparently this is something that fascinates Libyans, for he isn't the first native to assume that all Americans play football in our spare time. Deciding to educate him the easy way, I took him downstairs where we quite literally "played in traffic" for about an hour.

I have never thought how hard it is to teach someone how to hold a football. Being an American, I take it to heart that everyone feels at home with a pigskin in his hand, our fingers naturally seeking that thread pattern that preempts the perfect throw. Having never been a football player, I have always loved the game, though not to the extent that some of my friends do. I own neither jersey, nor paraphernalia. My house is not cluttered with signed copies of any famous player's autographs. Neither do my TV favorites include a weekly dose of the game, however I've always loved the pastime in my own way. Having never played in school, the one thing I am graced with from birth is the ability to throw a long clean bomb and drop the ball just about anywhere I want to, never missing a target by more than a foot or two. Notwithstanding the desire not to be the most oft-hit player in the game, I think I would make a great quarterback in another life. This talent is one I enjoy but don't find particularly useful in my day to day life. However, it did prompt me to buy a new ball before I traveled to Libya back in July of last year, only to never use it until today.

After spending half an hour explaining the finer points of the "bomb" which he kept wanting to confuse with throwing a shot-put, he began to get the hang of it, though his aesthetics will assure he never gets on a team in America. He did at least cease throwing the ball as if in an olympic egg toss, which I am glad of. I did feel that I had done my job well though, when he dropped three perfect passes to me in a row from about thirty yards, only hitting a vehicle once in the entire process and only sending me into oncoming traffic twice to make a catch.

 As always happens after a good exercise, I found myself quite hungry. I also needed to get to the Saraya to logon to the Internet so I could download some more guitar music to practice. I've expanded my collection from country to include Counting Crows, Three Doors Down, and Train to name a few.

Nadir had by this time fallen completely in love with my hat, so I let him wear that to dinner. Suffering from the occasional bout of obnoxiousness, I decided to don a doo-rag to complete my outfit and we headed out with Tim in tow to have dinner and gather strange looks from the locals.

When I say "strange" looks, I mean exactly that. The natives here still aren't used to seeing Americans, so I've gotten used to being an oddity everywhere I go here. They are exceedingly polite, nonetheless there is always a round of shoulder tapping that accompanies our entrance to any establishments in town. Seeing as I was in one of those moods, I figured I might as well dress the part. (see photo above.. lol). I am naturally taller than most any individual I have met in this country, indeed taller than most in my country. The average Libyan is around 5'8" to 5'10" or so and usually weighs around 140 to 160 pounds. Being 6'3" and weighing in at over 200 without any of it being in the wrong places makes me stand quite apart from the locals. Add to the fact that we Americans consider 60 degree weather perfect weather for T-shirts and shorts, the lack of a warm jacket and collared sweater further increase my visibility in a local crowd. As expected, we drew quite a few looks from everyone we saw and I think I even scared one European lady. I believe she considered a doo-rag, sunglasses, and a black T-shirt to me more than she thought she would encounter in the course of her evening. Que sera sera... I like to make a presence... lol.

So, it is now 11:30 PM and my day is mostly over. In fact it is with great reluctance that I must admit my first week is over. From the work point of view we have had an amazing week. It is quite easier to coordinate the logistics for two team members than it is for our usual eight man deployment teams. In fact, had we worked a little harder, we might have possibly finished off all of our work in Tripoli this week. As it is however, we have only about two hours left to work in the Tripoli sites before being ready to head off to Benghazi, then to Sebha, and finally to Khoms before returning home to the USA.

Our first day here working resulted in the completion of all documentation at three sites; Stores Admin, Material Control, and Branch Control. The following day was spent at the Planning Department, followed by the Headquarters facility on Thursday. Now, we have only a few hours work remaining in the wiring closet of the data center and then we are ready to travel, pending of course the client has actually read any of the emails I've sent them and has made plans to put us on a plane.

My CEO drafted a letter earlier in the week, granting me full authoritative powers to make decisions on the project while I am here, so I'm assuming that he too has been stonewalled about setting up my travel plans. Rest assured however, that I will be in Benghazi sometime this coming week. I may have to offend a few locals to do so, but that's not exactly ever bothered me in the past, so I'm sure I'll be able to return to my bad-guy persona with ease if it becomes necessary. Maybe I'll wear a doo-rag and a wife-beater to the meeting... I am hoping, however, that a polite request to fly will be greeted with acceptance and that we will be wheels-up by Sunday or Monday at the latest.

During this last week, I have spent many countless hours behind this keyboard drafting the final documentation that I need to deliver to the customer to close out this phase of the project. This is why my writings have been sparse in the prior few days. One document has reached 50 pages and is almost half way complete. The other document is now over 800 pages and still has about two hundred or so remaining before completion, so you'll forgive me if my journalistic attempts suffer slightly in both frequency and eloquence during this trip. I'm quite tired of typing at the end of the day lately.

For now, I will call it a night I think. It has been too long since I have heard April's voice on the other end of a phone and she is going to call me this evening I think. To the rest of you, I bid adieu for now. I'll write more later.

Much love,

Tommy 0001HRS GMT+2 020207

PS: I have taken videos this time, however I will probably need to return to the USA to obtain adequate bandwidth to upload them to YouTube. I'll try when I have some free time. Remind me that you all need to see the one of Nadir dancing to Ludicris... THAT is funny!