Monday, November 27, 2006

The Value of Education

While travelling to the Superior Aunt and Uncle's for Superior Turkey, I overheard a security guard administering a sobriety test:

Guard: Okay sir, why don't you recite the alphabet from D to T for me.

Man: Okay... um... EFGRLMN... wait, starting where?

Guard: D. D to T

Man: Right... D... EF... RSPQ... See, you're making me really tense here, I'm really nervous which is why I'm having trouble sir!

Guard: I understand, that's okay. Tell you what, why don't you count backwards for me, from thirty?

Man: Yes sir, no problem! 30, 29, 28, 27, 22, 23, 24, 25, 26....

Guard: I get a little mixed up in the twenties too, don't worry about it. Let's see, can you tell me what time it is without consulting a clock?

Man: Six? No, wait! Eight!!

Guard: Well, we've established that you don't know your alphabet, you can't count, and you have no idea what time it is. Can you tell me how much education you have?

Man: A lot! I have a college degree sir.

Guard: What in?

Man: Business.

Guard: Ah. Well, that explains it then!

And he let him on the plane.

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Happy Thanksgiving

Definitely taking a blog break for the holidays! Time for family and lots of it. Much love to all.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006


There was an Iraqi Kirk met on his first trip in - Kirk described him as a leader of some sort, but with the convoluted way of things over there that could have meant anything from a locally important guy to a man with three goats and an inflated sense of importance. Still, as always Kirk fell to talking.

He asked the man about his view of the American presence. The man admitted that he was fighting America, that he would continue to fight America. To what purpose, Kirk wanted to know. Do you want America to leave Iraq?

No, the man replied firmly. Oh no, if America leaves there are ten thousand Kurds to the north, and they will sweep down and they will kill us.

But you fight America.

Oh yes, the man said. We will fight, and we will lose, and then we will rebuild together.

You realize that's ridiculous, Kirk said.

Yes, he said serenely, it is stupid and many will be killed. But we are warriors. And we are stubborn bastards.

Monday, November 20, 2006


When Kirk left I moved to the couch. Not permanently or anything, just for the nights. I did the same thing when he went to Italy a couple of years before. It wasn't the best thing on the back, but our couch was friendly and squashy and not-too-large while our bed was king-sized and distinctly empty.

Actually, there was a more practical reason when he was in Italy. He would call when he got a free moment, and that free moment was often in the very-unsocial hours of the night. If I slept on the couch I could keep the cordless phone on the floor and answer it before I was even awake.

Kirk didn't call from Turkey. He emailed a lot, and used IM all the time, but he didn't really call except for the first 'I'm here, I'm fine' one.

Still, I moved onto the couch, and spent the quiet hours of the night almost, but not quite, awake and listening for the phone to ring.

Friday, November 17, 2006

I'm sorry. Just now, just at the moment, I can't write. I'm sure you understand.

Thursday, November 16, 2006


Kirk called from Germany. It was the first time he had been there since we left in the 90's. It was sort of a watershed place - the last time he could call on his cell phone. We had gone into the store a few days before he left to ask them if they covered Turkey. I think it probably livened up the afternoon for the twelve year old covering the floor. He did some 'research' (his word - he called his next higher-up) and discovered that the 'can you hear me now?' people apparently can't hear you from Istanbul. But Germany was covered, so from Frankfurt he called for a few minutes, and laughed about the baby on the plane that flirted with him over the back of the seat.

C met him at the Istanbul airport and took him to the company headquarters. Kirk had no apartment of course, so he would just sleep there - headquarters was a Turkish house - and look for a place to stay later on.

It's ridiculous that only now I find myself wondering where this place was, what it looked like, where Kirk spent his time. I only know one thing about it - the very pious dog.

Kirk loved dogs (see Sophie, story of, referenced earlier. If I weren't so lazy, I'd probably go and get a link. Luckily I was raised in a culture of righteous pressure - otherwise known as guilt - so I'll doubtless go fish it out soon*) and was always aware of things canine wherever we went. Actually that awareness has spread to the whole family, so any one of us will happily drop whatever we're doing to fawn over stray dogs that cross our path (we are discerning though - no little monsters in handbags thanks - remind me to tell you a funny Kirk story about that sometime. My kids were honestly offended several years ago when a toupee on wheels won the Krups cup over a clearly superior large breed of some sort). This dog didn't belong to the company, but lived in a house nearby. Kirk was charmed to find that twice a day, as the call to prayers went out over the city, the dog would dutifully lift its muzzle and chime in.

I love that image. I love the thought of Kirk sitting there, excited by the new place, the new challenge, but for the moment caught by the sound of a Turkish dog joining in the evening prayers.

*Never underestimate the power of guilt.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Day

By coincidence the day Kirk left was the first day of school. Our kids were going in two different directions by then - the oldest two went south to Half Moon Bay, Child 3 went north to Montara. California was in the middle of its financial woes at that point (one of those little ironies - massive amounts of tax money coming in, yet somehow the state was near bankruptcy. It's okay though, it led to one of the most amusing gubernatorial races I've ever seen) so we had no school buses. Last year we had made the habit of having me take the morning trip to Montara, while Kirk dropped off a full load of mid-school aged neighborhood teens in Half Moon Bay. This morning was no different.

Kirk loved dropping the kids off. It was like those fishing trips he took with just one or two kids. I never asked what they talked about, what they did. Sometimes they told a story or two, but mostly it was their time, and it was priceless. So that morning, just as though it were any other morning, he dropped the oldest two off at school.

Then we put his luggage in the car. He was going to buy whatever clothes he ended up needing in Turkey. It made more sense to get at least semi-local clothes when he was actually there. He only had a small suitcase and his passport.

On the way we dropped by Home Depot. Banal, isn't it? It was those darn outlets, the ones that didn't play well with American electronics. C had asked Kirk to bring a case of outlets with him when he came to Turkey, a last minute request.

These post 9-11 farewells don't have quite the romantic setting they used to. Ours was at the curb - Kirk drove up, we both got out and unloaded the luggage, then hugged, and kissed. He would call from Frankfurt, he said - the last place his cell phone would work.

Then we said good bye. And I drove away.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Last Day

It's absurd. I can't remember what we did that day. I think most likely we spent it doing errands and getting last little things done, but I have no clear memory of it. I can't even say positively that Kirk didn't go to work.

I'm not sure what that means. Maybe it's a deep refusal to think about him leaving. Maybe it shows that at the time I was very comfortable with his going, and so there was no strong emotion to firmly pin a memory to the time. I'm inclined to think the latter, because it's quite true that I was calm about it, that we were both confident in the decision. But as with so many things over the last three years, I find myself questioning and second guessing. Perhaps I just think I should be somehow refusing to remember that day.

Second guessing, and third guessing until there's no finding reality any more. It's a pointless exercise.

I do know what we did that evening. There were two choices to find a place to watch the ocean if you were leaving from our house. We could head west down our street and end up at the Fitzgerald Marine Reserve. When we wanted to go star watching (when it was clear enough) we would choose this way. But that night we went north, and walked carefully through the fields - dodging the dual hazards of gopher holes and dog poop - and chose one of the less precarious benches.

The cliffs are fairly high there, and the benches far enough back from the friable edge that you can't really see the waves crash into the rocks at the base. Instead, in the dark you can see the ghost light of white crests rolling in, and hear the roar as the water pounds into the hollows below.

And we talked, for over an hour. Comfortable talk, happy talk, warm and loving talk about the future, and our plans.

It was a good night.

Monday, November 13, 2006


We went out a couple of nights before Kirk left. The preparations had all been made. He had his tickets, he had signed a general power of attorney, gotten a last physical, made his arrangements. There is an Italian restaurant in El Granada, to the west of Highway 1, called Mezza Luna. It's not a terribly original name - half the restaurants in the area have something to do with half moon in their title. But it is a pretty good restaurant, and the head waiter always calls me 'bella donna,' so we liked it.

That day C had sent an email asking Kirk to do something for him. The company had been asked by the local military commanders if they had anything like a guard shack. They didn't, but C smelled an opportunity and he asked Kirk to design one.

So that evening we ate our fish and brain-stormed on the perfect design for a guard shack. It needed to be pretty simple to put up - a squad would have to be able to do it fairly quickly. There should be good armoring, and the openings needed to be sealable somehow. I argued for a panic button that would drop down shutters over doors and windows - gravity driven of course, simple was best. Kirk wanted gun slits, and thought about visibility and defense, and he penciled in an escape route so the guys wouldn't get trapped.

It was fun, dreaming up the perfect plan. I don't know how practical that first design was. The fact that it was sketched out on a few scraps of paper Kirk dug out of his pocket didn't help. There was the usual synergy there though - that energy that comes from spinning ideas with someone whose mind works with yours. Over the years we had done it about all sorts of things - crazy ideas in Germany, history projects in school, unnamed and vague things in the Air Force. It was part of the fun of being married to Kirk.

One more day.

Friday, November 10, 2006

Veteran's Day

I was talking to a friend of Kirk's once, one of the veterans of the first Gulf War. I asked what he had planned for Veteran's Day that year. I knew he and his family went to the nearest national cemetery on Memorial Day, and wondered if they did the same on Veteran's.

Memorial Day, he said, that's for the soldiers who never came back. So he takes his family every year to a place where they lie, and they walk the long rows and read the names incised on the marble markers.

But Veteran's Day, he said, that's ours. It belongs to the living vets, the ones who have served and returned. On that day he and his family spend time with other vets. They don't necessarily talk war - they just spend the day with other people who know something of what they know. They have a barbecue, the kids play ball and set up elaborate stepping-stone games with the hay bales, and a local band plays nothing newer than twenty years old.

It's a good distinction to keep in mind. For most of us, both days are marked more by picnics or sales events. I suppose that's okay. Because these aren't our days, they belong to someone else.

It's just... we might want to keep that in mind.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


Kirk and I worked together a lot. With the obvious exception of his military stuff of course - although he did talk through things with me, in a non-specific, carefully unclassified way - we did most things as a team. When Kirk took on the coaching of our son's soccer team, I refused the post of 'team mom,' but helped write drills, warmed up the boys, made the team sign (see crap, making of, as discussed earlier) etc. When he and C were talking about making a company, I designed the website and helped write articles.

So C was well aware that he was getting two for the price of one. Being a bright guy he decided to harness this rather than resent it. While Kirk was getting himself organized and ready, getting advice, doing his preparation, C set me a job.

You see, although this company had a sister unit that had successfully operated in Afghanistan, they were still getting a few kinks worked out. There was a part, it turns out, a small but rather vital piece, that hadn't been sourced properly. C asked me, as a favor, to find a good vendor for this item.

It seems that the buildings were doing just fine... until the people using them tried to plug anything in.

Somehow no one had realized European outlets are not compatible with US electronics.


Tuesday, November 07, 2006


Passport application. C was already buying plane tickets to Turkey so we had to hustle to get things done in time. Lucky San Francisco is big enough so Kirk could go in person.

Things get frozen into relics sometimes, things that aren't important or valuable in themselves, physical moments in time. After we moved I found a dark blue folder - the simple kind, matte, with pockets inside. There were a handful of Air Force documents - officer evaluations I think, and a copy of his discharge papers. Actually I think none of those are useful for the application. And there was a mapquest printout of the directions to the passport office. I didn't empty out that folder and it still sits in the file cabinet intact - a snapshot of that moment.

The only thing I don't have is the passport itself. That was never recovered. I wonder what the picture was like. I've seen the one for the ID that got him onto bases in Iraq, and it was horrible. He looked like a dazed, 20-years-too-old frat boy after a two week bender.

I didn't ask to see it at the time - too many other things to do, too many to think about. I just remember that he got it with only a day or two to spare. One more essential checked off before he left.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


I wonder if there are people who are naturally gifted shopping choosers. Not picking out products actually, but the far more delicate choices that go into a shopping experience. I was pondering this in Costco the other day (a place of much ponderance for me... and ponderous people as well, but that's not related to this).

There can be dozens of apparently identical carts lined up just begging a shopper to grab the handle and set off into over-sized consumerland. To make things interesting, just one of these carts will be one of Those carts - you know, the ones with the tendency to veer constantly to one side or another so you have to lean heavily on the handle and misalign your spine in order to avoid running down the ambling elderly in the aisles (oh, what lovely alliteration... I think I'll write a sonnet after this...). I have an uncanny attraction to those carts. I'll pick 'em out every single time. I even went to special effort at Costco, rejecting the ones with slimy substances on the surfaces (more alliteration, possibly this isn't skill but a symptom of something more sinister... good heavens, there it goes again), and those with wadded bits of paper or empty food containers.

The one I opted for looked just fine, but once I started shoving it around the concrete floor it was impossible to ignore the loud, rattling, irritating, whiny screech it made. No problem, I thought, I'm secure enough in myself to rise above a noisy cart. I'll hold my head high as I wheel my obnoxious way around the store. Maybe once I would have been bothered, but not now, not me, oh no.

I think the cart took this as a challenge, because the volume definitely increased as we went through the store, until it was clearly audible several aisles away. People were looking at me in concern, and making efforts to avoid me. But I was well past the point of no cart return. Sure, I could have gone to get a new cart and then transferred my things into it, but that would be admitting defeat. Besides, it was almost certain I'd pick one just as bad as this one.

I do think it was overdoing things though when the front right wheel jammed up, sending the cart and me into a frantic salsa around the chip aisle. I admit, it's just possible I kicked that cart quite hard, right in the wheels.

It's okay though, we had lots of time to make up in the checkout line. I can't choose those, either.

Friday, November 03, 2006


For Kirk it was like winning the lottery when C asked him to join the company. It was a chance to do something meaningful again, to do the sort of thing that had meant so much to him in the Air Force. Dorothy Sayers has a useful analogy - in one of her books she says after talking to a character about her life the heroine had the uncomfortable feeling she had seen a racehorse pulling a cart. That was Kirk. His experience and skills were almost unique, but he was doing a job thousands of people could have handled just as well, a job that (in the larger scale) meant nothing.

He had to choose quickly, and we both knew what he wanted to do, but we also knew it wasn't something to do lightly. I keep wanting to say that - we didn't choose this easily or simply. We didn't look at eachother and say 'This sounds like fun! Let's head off into a combat zone and wander around for a while!'

In particular, Kirk talked at length to his best friend in California - a co-worker at his company who was a Gulf War veteran, a former helicopter pilot. Our families were extremely close - his wife was one of my dear friends, we were the first babysitters his small daughter ever had. For the past several months they had been going through an incredible crisis (it's not my story - it's theirs. I won't tell it here) and we had done what little we could to help and support them. Now he and Kirk discussed this offer, and ultimately S said to go. In fact, they agreed that (if circumstances allowed) he would join Kirk there himself.

There was one last person Kirk wanted to talk to - his closest friend from the counter-terrorism days. He did call I know, but I think J was out of town. I don't believe he got the call before the decision was made, before Kirk had already left for Turkey. I don't know what he would have said.

Kirk was out of time - C needed him to make his choice quickly. So we decided.

He would go.

Thursday, November 02, 2006


C found chaos in Turkey. I don't know his entire work history, but he had spent some time in a Fortune 500 company, with all the bureaucracy that entails. He did do some stuff with a start-up in Nevada, but I would imagine that was a luxury of support and infrastructure compared with this.

This company had three American employees overseas. Three. C was one, Ryan Manelick was another, and the third was J, the guy who drove in and out of country negotiating contracts and delivering goods. When C showed up, delivery timelines, prices, everything was based on what J had figured out on the spot with whatever local military guy he could find. Contracts were signed on the fly; payments were in cash.

Kirk described J to me as a cowboy - almost a Hollywood type maverick who has the guts to drop into a combat zone and start making deals on a handshake and a scrap of paper. He was, Kirk said, the sort of guy who would make things happen, make a success of things, because he would be the first one there. The problem was, it was a few months into the war now; being the first one there wasn't enough anymore.

C found contracts that were signed with unreasonable delivery dates - and serious penalties for lateness. He found not broken processes, but a complete lack of process.

I can't avoid the cliche. They were flying by the seat of their pants. They were operating on adrenaline. It worked... barely. But the climate was changing. This sort of stuff wasn't going to work much longer, not if the company wanted to survive in the Haliburton environment.

C saw the challenge, he saw the potential. He needed help.

He called Kirk.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Hind sight is betraying me. I'm trying to remember what it was like in those weeks when we made the choice for Kirk to go to Iraq. I'm trying to put myself back in that mindset, but I can't do it. I know too much - it has been too hard. I can't dissociate enough to present this honestly. I can't give you what I want to give you - a real feeling for why we chose what we did.

Kirk wasn't happy. There is that - although it sounds so small and meaningless now. He had gained some weight, and for him that was a sign of something more. He was sleeping badly, his chronic stomach trouble had started up again, he was distracted and uneasy. It started with 9/11, but it was getting worse. Because of who he was it was unspoken, unexpressed. He played with the kids, coached the soccer team, went on nightly runs with me, and walked out to the ocean every night to talk and watch the surf. But the man who had always looked 10 years younger than he really was suddenly looked old, tired, beaten. So this was more than simple unhappiness, more fundamental, more important.

And then C went to Turkey. Kirk had been thinking of going to Kosovo, talking of making a major change, and then C got this incredible chance. And Kirk was envious. He was happy that C would be able to do this, but oh... he wanted to go as well. And I knew that.

I try and remember as well that this was the early days after the initial war. No contractors had yet been hurt or killed. Things had gone well, things seemed to be stable.

Keep all of that in mind when you read the rest of this story. It's important. It's important to remember the time, and important to remember who Kirk was.

That's what I'm trying to do.