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Tuesday, Mar. 28, 2006
If there’s one defining thing about life in Swampville it would have to be the military.

I can get in my new work van with all the shiny toolboxes (I’m warming rapidly to this buggy, I truly am), drive 20 minutes in one direction or t’other and run into a major installation of one of the 4 branches of service. We got it all down here, Army and Marines. Air Force. Biggest Navy concentration in the world. Branches of clandestine military that have no name at all. Even the Coast Guard has a serious presence.

I’ve watched SEAL’s swim through the surf off the beach and come ashore, capturing dangerous oceanfront property without a shot. It’s a rare day that I don’t see fighter jets overhead. Aircraft carriers and submarines and warships are as common as used car lots around here, and if they aren’t building a new one somewhere in the area, they’re bound to be fixing up an old one.

Such a presence requires lots of stuff. Buildings, for one thing. Hangers and vast workshops and office buildings. Thousands of ‘em. And scattered throughout each and every one of those buildings is the stuff I do, the carpenter goo that keeps wizened geezers like myself in pocket change. Stuff done “On Base” or within a military facility is a pretty serious percentage of the construction revenue around here.

But when you get right down to the actual doings of it all, the part where a truck load of cabinets are ready to go and the boss hollers “Hey! Somebody go round up Outfoxed! We got to get these installed at the Base today!” is the part where I start groaning and whining and attempting to hide behind the fire barrel out back (ain’t easy to do with my girth, but I always take a stab at it). I’ve done a lot of military type work, been on ALL of these bases at one time or another, and have a peculiar phobia about all of them.

Because something always goes SNAFU on a base. 100% always.

“Oh there you are!” said the Tall Dog, after they’d dragged me from my hidey hole. “Got a nice easy install for ye up to the Army base. Looky, take a gander at these drawings, see? There’s only 8 rooms worth of stuff and it’s easy! And we got 8 days to do it in! Talk about your simple jobs . . .” and he was off and running with great enthusiasm, waxing eloquent about how much money the Federal Government was willing to spend on a truckload of cabinets and the skill to put them up correctly, how organized the project had been, how perfectly the paperwork had meshed to bring us to this holy moment, the moment of install.

“Now just skip on up to Fort Useless” (it’s an ancient funny homonym, it’s what the locals call it). “They’ll have a pass waiting for you at the Pass Office and you can just go on in there and do your thing, right?”

Oh, without doubt. Pass Office. Doing my thing. Fort Useless. Roger that.

I got there, and was mildly surprised to find that they did indeed have a pass, that it only took 30 minutes to get me squared away and back in the truck (30 minutes being but a nanosecond to those worthy servants in any Pass Office at any military base in the world) and on to the guardhouse at the gate. Where for no charge, the big guy with the .45 was pleased to open every toolbox, check my engine and even passed a mirror under the new van for me. I figured I’d be okay. I’d stopped at the 7-11 on the way in, stooped under the wheel well and told Ahmed to let loose of the tie-rods, take his curvy scimitar and his checkered do-rag and get the hell outta there.

“It’s a Veterinary Clinic, Outfoxed” the Tall Dog had told me. “They’re supposed to be shut down for the 8 days and the contractor is supposed to have one of his superintendents up there to keep an eye on things. We‘re supposed to take down the old cabinets and replace ‘em with our new shiny ones.”

I don’t know, maybe it’s just the way he said “Supposed to”, or the fact that it was a military base, or that I’ve been down this road way too many times, but that little warning bell was dinging away pretty hard in the back of my head.

Fort Useless is as big as your average township, maybe bigger, but I found the Vet Clinic tucked away on a shady lot and rolled the van around back, a superintendent bounding forth from his own truck before my motor was shut down. “You must be Outfoxed!”, he slobbered with a huge grin. “I’m Mikey! Good, good now we get to work!”

It was probably the whole Vet Clinic thing, but he reminded me quite a lot of your average St. Bernard on a three day bender. And what’s all this “We” stuff? Does that mean you want to help?

Oh God.

I eyed the parking lot. “Hmm. The Tall Dog said this place was gonna be shut down. Looks like a helluva lot of cars here for a shut down building, Mikey.”

He frowned. “Shut down? Oh no, they couldn’t do that. All they’re supposed to do is have all those old cabinets cleaned out and ready to demo. C’mon c’mon, let’s go see.”

I’ll admit that I’m a bit plodding in the way I walk, I prefer to think of it as deliberate, but Mikey was like an overlarge puppy. He pranced, he skipped, he literally ran around me three times before we got to the door. “We’re gonna do cabinets right? Gonna hang ‘em and clean ‘em and make the doors swing, right? And I’m here to help, you betcha!”

Oh God, Oh God.

I confirmed pretty quickly that the Clinic wasn’t shut down when I saw an ancient bulldog going under the knife within 30 seconds of walking in the door, and confirmed even quicker that the Army was in no way expecting company today at this place when the old cabinets turned out to be stuffed full of hypodermics, rubber gloves and doggy treats. And that every square foot of the place was stuffed full of old bird cages, cat carriers and every piece of apparatus you could think of for the care of your average Army pet.

Mikey was positively manic. “They’ll get it cleaned out, they’ll do it, you’ll see! And . . . and . . . I’ll help!” And he dashed off with squeaking feet for the nearest cabinet.

I did an admirable military-like about face, strolled out to the van and made myself comfortable. Got my truck driver on the horn. “Ye better stop for breakfast there, ‘Lil Bobby. Looks like we’re gonna need every bit of those 8 days they promised us.”

continued . . .

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