Thursday, July 06, 2006

Breaching the Elephant Cage

Kirk spent most of his Air Force career in buildings with no windows. In Alaska in the wintertime that meant that once he was moved over to the day shift the sun would set for him on Sunday afternoon and not rise again until mid-morning on Saturday. Intel people are mole people, cockroach people, pale troglodytes.

We did get to see a little of where he worked. They always put on a great Halloween party, with trick-or-treating at several doors (I assume someone had to sanitize the rooms behind first), a fishing 'pond' where the kids could pull up glow-in-the-dark aliens or fake blood-stained plastic talons, and a place to take a picture with a stuffed scarecrow. They had an amazing haunted house as well, although the magic was usually lost on our kids because their dad would stop to chat with the zombies and the crazed chainsaw murderers as he went through.

Those parties let the kids show off their costumes, which is a big deal in Alaska. They went trick-or-treating in the neighborhood as well of course, but like all the other kids they had to wear winter coats over their outfit. You'd open the door to an identical set of be-hatted small-fry and say 'oh! Look at the....' (quick flash) 'two cowboys and a princess!' It was particularly hard on the princesses. It's tough to really feel the part princess-wise with a pair of gore-tex mittens and a woolly facewarmer extinguishing your pink taffeta. At the party they could be admired in full glory which was pretty heady stuff.

We did get to go into the building once on an ordinary work day. Kirk was getting an award, along with a couple of other people, but it wasn't a big enough deal to shut down an entire floor as they did for the parties. Instead when we were signed in at the front gate the guard pressed some sort of warning button. On every floor red and blue idiot lights went off - whirling around to remind everyone that un-cleared civilians were around. Kirk had to escort us everywhere, and if he needed to head to the bathroom or something someone else had to be recruited as minders to keep an eye on us. It probably meant that for the hour we were there no one could walk away from a computer, or leave out a scrap of paper or anything. I think that explains why the ceremony was conducted with such admirable brevity.

It was a strange sort of world - none of the hyper-cool set dressing you see in movies, no improbably coiffed agents wearing unprofessionally short skirts and wrinkling their brows intensely at 10 foot displays of computer generated data. Just about 300 of the most intelligent, committed young people I've ever met in my life. Even if they blinked in the light.

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