Sergeant Gargantuan & The Cherry

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Lucky for me, Sergeant Gargantuan had a particular talent for strong-arming crafty adolescent soldiers, stopping them from freely running circles around me.

Although, I’m pretty sure every once and awhile he would let one escape through the fence just for kicks.

The first – and most memorable – time I was duped by the cunning of a young subordinate was during a weekend field exercise while on a routine nightly security check. Sergeant Gargantuan and I happened upon a shirtless buck private who was slothfully relieving himself on the side of a tent. From behind the unsuspecting soldier, Sergeant Gargantuan barked, “Hey!” Without missing a beat, the young GI turned around with his pants still wrapped around his ankles, his pickle dangling in the wind, and started grasping at the air, as if he was trying to catch lightening bugs, all the while murmuring, “Where am I?”

Panicked that he was sleepwalking – a health issue I knew nothing about – I started screaming, “Medic!” Unsure what else to do, I proceeded to run around like a chicken with its head cut off, yelling at the top of my lungs. When I finally returned with the drowsy medic, Sergeant Gargantuan was standing over the soldier who was now doing pushups, his pants still wrapped around his ankles.

Words were unnecessary to convey what Sergeant Gargantuan was thinking about me at that moment. His glower said it all- fucking noob. Making me stew in my shame for several minutes as he hovered over his kill, Sergeant Gargantuan finally pointed down towards the pantless soldier dripping in sweat and stated the now obvious:

“Ma’am, he was faking it.”

The Tale of Lieutenant Cat Lady

How Many Cats Do You Have?

Its tough being a female in the Army, especially when your subordinates undermine you by calling you ‘Lieutenant Cat Lady’- and the name sticks.

Sergeant Gargantuan assured me, though, that the name was an endearing sign of respect, and I was quick to believe him.

I was issued the nickname after a lanky squad leader – who fell into the snarky misfit category – noticed that I wasn’t wearing any rank on my beret one morning when I walked up to the company’s building. He pointed it out to me politely, but with a smirk on his face.

I raised my hand to my beret and felt the smooth patch of cloth where my rank should have been. Remembering the sound of my cats batting around some metal object in the middle of the night, I suddenly realized what happened to the rank that was supposed to be pinned on the center of the flash.

Like a fool, I announced my findings out loud: “Oh, my cats must have pulled it off.”

The lanky squad leader saluted me and continued walking briskly on his way. The discussion seemed mundane at best, to me anyways. But apparently, I was wrong.

Before I even had the chance to sit down at my desk, Sergeant Gargantuan had already heard the rumor that was spreading like wildfire around the building- the new platoon leader owns nine cats.

In actuality, I owned two.

“It’s interesting how so many chicks want to dress up as ‘cat woman’ for Halloween, and yet no one seems to go to parties dressed up as ‘cat lady’,” Sergeant Gargantuan said as a greeting when I walked in the door. He raised two finger guns in the air, made a sputtering noise through pursed lips as he cocked his imaginary shotguns back, and screamed “Woo Wee!” when he fired them off. An idiosyncrasy that grew old after the first time, but after the 40th time Sergeant Gargantuan still found hilarious.

Shelter Cats Need Love Too

The nickname was further cemented into eternity when a couple of my soldiers caught me at 3 am playing with cats in the animal shelter on the military installation.

Every cage door was open.

Cats were running a muck.

And standing in the middle of the room, donned fully in police gear, was the culprit of the mess.

I tried my best to look as authoritative as possible while holding a kitten in each hand, but my soldiers fell to their knees in laughter as soon as they caught me.

Technically, I wasn’t breaking any rules. Checking the shelter during the middle was the night WAS one of my duties. Giving the cats some play time was just me going above and beyond the call of duty.

The shelter on base was one of law enforcement’s required nightly checks to make sure the building was secured and the animals were all in good shape. The requirement for the checks was put in place after the third incident in two months of a Pitbull killing another dog in its cage during the middle of the night. Truth be told, this was a result of novice police officers putting Pitbulls (a breed that’s not authorized on base) that they received calls about and had to pick up, in cages with other dogs (which is against shelter policy). So the checks were meant to clean up the mess that law enforcement created.

Despite the sad reasoning behind the inspection, I eagerly volunteered to conduct the check on every night shift I worked. Of course I would “check on” the animals in the shelter. Who wouldn’t? Only people with no souls who hate adorable, fluffy creatures.

I purposefully saved the shelter check until the witching hour when it was hardest to stay awake on shift.

The check was by far the best task I had ever been given in the Army, which was evident to my soldiers – a pudgy outcast and his brawny, plain-faced, eccentric female partner – who caught me gleefully playing with all the cats when they walked into the shelter.

Officer Pudgy and Officer Plain-face both played dumb when they walked through the door, saying they saw my patrol car parked outside and decided to do a courtesy stop to see if I “needed any backup.”

Cat Lady, Savior of Cats

It was only a couple of weeks after discovering me at the shelter that the same two soldiers showed up at my apartment on my day off.

When I answered the door, the first thing I saw was the patrol vehicle parked in the lot. The second thing was the snickering faces of Officer Pudgy and Officer Plain-face. They were on duty and unauthorized to be off post, yet there they were, standing at my door; and clawing up Officer Pudgy’s chest was a stray cat that looked like it just finished an alley fight with a grizzly bear.

Apparently believing that my home was a den for rescue felines, the soldiers pleaded with me to take the cat in because they had taken a liking to the furry guy during their shelter checks and were sure it would be put to sleep at the shelter.

It was the ugliest cat I had ever seen. And to this day I regret not taking that cat in.

First. Jobs. Are. Terrible

While I mopped up the trail of poop that ended in an explosion of sprayed excrement in the bathroom of an Annie Sez, I seriously reconsidered my future career options. It was only minutes prior that I witnessed the event unfold before my very eyes. I was tediously hanging up abandoned sweaters from the fitting room when I saw a little old lady wearing a plaid, calf-length skirt hastily shuffling towards the bathroom and something strange about the woman caught my eye. There seemed to be something dripping out of the woman’s skirt and I was completely puzzled by what it could be. Then it hit me- the small droplets were caca splashing on the floor with every step that the elderly woman took. I immediately ducked down behind a rack of sweaters, because I knew that I was the lowest ranking worker on the discount retailer’s totem pole, and undoubtedly, I would be the one tagged to clean up the mess (despite not having the word “janitor” anywhere in my title.)

Despite my best efforts to hide, I heard my boss yell out for me, in her thick Jamaican accent, from across the store.

Mac! Grab a mop out of the back room, darling. I’ve got a job for you.

My assistant manager, Jasmine, pointed to the line of defecation when she saw my head pop up from behind a rack of ugly beaded sweaters.

Mac, make sure you clean that up when that nice old lady comes out of the bathroom. Don’t give me any trouble now. Just imagine if that was your grandma. I mean, that’s disgusting, her family needs to put some Depends on their stinkin’ grandmother before they take her out, but… just clean it up.

Unable to defy any authority figure, likely due to years of being mentally broken down by strict, asexual Catholic school nuns, I reluctantly armed myself with thick yellow rubber gloves, bleach, and a roll of paper towels that I found in the back room. I followed the trail of small droppings from the cash register to the bathroom door. The little old woman opened the bathroom door with a sheepish smile and a hint of blushed cheeks that peaked through her translucent skin and I tried my best to alleviate the poor woman’s embarrassment by waiting to clean the mess until she left the store. But the woman moved at the pace of a three-legged turtle, so I began scrubbing when she fell out of view behind a shelf of pleated pants.

I pushed the door open slowly with one hand and was stunned by the crime scene that use to be our clean-ish restroom. How on earth did she manage to take a dump on every inch of this bathroom except the toilet? If anyone had been shown this bathroom and asked “who do you think caused it?”, no one would have guessed it was the work of an 80-year-old delicate flower. No, the extent of this mess suggested that it was caused by some frat boy who just won a hot dog eating contest and then got hammered and then tried to overdose on probiotics.

I accepted my fate, took a deep breathe, and dug in.

When I finally walked out of the bathroom, I delicately stripped off my rubber gloves as to not accidentally spray fecal matter on my new khaki skirt (the irony of how over-dressed I was to be cleaning toilets was not lost on me). I paused for a moment, thankful to be out of the small bathroom and out in the fresh air. I looked around the store- it was the usual crowd of four to five people meandering around the racks of clothing designed for women 40 and older. Suddenly, panic broke through the scratchy easy rock being played from the speakers above.

Jasmine! She’s stealing the jackets!

The scream echoed across the store. I looked over at the register where Jackie, a small female cashier with mousy blonde hair, stood straight up like a hunting dog pointing to the corner of the store. My eyes quickly traced the invisible line from her finger to the 40-something year old woman in the corner of the store who was stuffing suede jackets into a black duffle bag. The woman jumped up as soon as she realized that she was spotted and flung her bag into the air, scattering jackets across the floor. The woman sprinted to the door and managed to escape before Jasmine, who was sprinting like a linebacker to tackle the woman, could reach her. A man from the other side of the store suddenly threw his own bag of stolen goods from the other side of the store and ran out an emergency exit at the side of the building.

I watched Jasmine chase the woman out into the parking lot until she fell out of my view. Glancing around the room, I saw everyone frozen in place, still processing what just happened and unsure what to do. I broke out of my own trance and ran over to the phone at the cash register to call 911.

Just before I could dial the second “1”, Jasmine walked back into the store, out of breath and hair disheveled.

Hang up that phone, Mac. I want you here!

Jasmine pointed her finger to the floor, still panting.

Mac, I am very disappointed in you.

Confused, I looked at Jackie and the other three girls who worked at the store with me. Does she think I was involved in the robbery? I hung up the phone and walked over to where Jasmine was now squatting with her hands on her knees.

Why didn’t you run outside and chase down those criminals with me? Why did you let that man get away?

I raised one eyebrow and looked around at the four other sales representatives in the store, confused as to why I was singled out.

Don’t look at them. I’m talking to you. I expect more from you. I expect them to just stand there like sheep. But you, I expect you to fight. When I ran out that door I expected you to be behind me. I am so disappointed at you I can’t even look at you right now!

Stunned, I stuttered out a string of excuses.

Jasmine, what if that woman had a knife or a gun? I’m in a skirt! And didn’t that video you made me watch when I was first hired say not to take down thieves on your own?

Jasmine clenched her teeth.

Fuck that video, this is your store damn it. Take some pride in it. If you don’ protect it, who will?

Jasmine put up one hand impatiently and walked to the pile of jackets strewn across the floor.

I stood there, my heart an open, gaping wound. Was Jasmine right? Should I take this as a life lesson to have more pride in myself? In my job? To have the courage to literally fight for what was mine? 

Then reality hit me.

Fuck that. I’m paid minimum wage. I just cleaned up someone else’s shit. This woman is insane if she thinks I’m going to risk my life for $7.15 an hour and over-priced, poorly made jackets that were likely made by the small hands of Asian children.

Bright Bank

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Strolling into Bright Bank, her hair only slightly less wet than when she left the apartment, Jess passed a line of customers waiting in the open lobby and headed towards the teller stations at the back of the room.

“Well look at you, five minutes early and fifteen minutes before you usually arrive,” Sam, a gangly senior teller, said in a deadpan voice. He was counting out bills into a neat pile on his counter and looked past the customer in front of him to follow Jess with his eyes.

“Whatever, you’re not my boss,” Jess retorted, looking around the room to see if Tony, her actual boss, heard the snarky comment.

Tony was in fact within earshot, sitting behind his desk across the room, but he was distracted by something else.

Busy jamming his sausage index finger onto his phone’s dial pad, Tony fumbled with the buttons, clearly becoming more and more frustrated, vexed, and annoyed. This was Tony’s first week on the job as the bank’s new manager and he seemed to be having a rough go of it. Only a couple of years older than Jess and a recent college grad with no actual managerial experience to speak of, Tony appeared to be overwhelmed by, well, everything- talking to the staff, talking to customers, and now, apparently, trying to figure out how to work his voicemail.

The pressure Tony was under was clearly evident by the sweat that bled through the pin-striped suits he stuffed himself into. And by his debilitating stutter. Sam swore that Tony only had a minor speech impediment during his job interview – which Sam was allowed to sit in on as the most senior staff member – and speculated that it was a condition amplified by stress.

Jess, though, didn’t think of Tony’s stutter as a “condition”. She thought of it more as a superpower that could be wielded against the enemy: irate customers with unreasonable expectations. Thus far, Tony was an undefeated champion in the complaint department. Despite only being on the job for a week, Jess already watched Tony deal with two angry customers. During both confrontations, the tension caused Tony’s stutter to reach an unbearable peak, but he refused to let that stop him from fully addressing the customers’ concerns. During his painfully slow and clunky responses, the customers’ eyes glazed over and confusion set in over how to appropriately handle the interaction. Ultimately, in both scenarios, the customer gave up in defeat- anything to stop Tony from talking again.

Jess lamented that she could not handle customers in the same way. Tony’s stutter was a remarkable strategic advantage in the customer service field.

“Hey, did you hear that they want us to sweep the parking lot now when we leave? That’s absurd, I’m not doing that,” Jess said in a hushed voice, leaning towards Sam.

“Why not?” Sam inquired, still looking at Jess but maintaining his mental count. Pushing back his thick, black-framed glasses to the top of his nose, Sam turned back to his customer and continued piling more twenty-dollar bills onto the stack in front of him.

“Because it’s not in my job description. It’s not what I was hired to do. I’m sure our overlords at Bright Bank can manage to pay cleaners to do that sort of thing.”

Jess turned on her computer screen and began to count the money in her cash drawer, inputting each bill amount into the primitive DOS operating system.

“I’m not above sweeping,” Sam responded simply.

The response caught Jess off guard and made her pause her counting. She knew there was a life lesson in his response, but she couldn’t quite work out the meaning, so she let the idea float away.

Pretty & Darn Slow

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Crazy Cat Running Club was the name of the local running group; a group that Jess already tried to join when she and Lexi first moved to the city six months ago. But the club wasn’t a good fit for Jess. And visa versa.

After doing some research on the internet, Lexi peer-pressured Jess to check out the popular local running group she found online. Reluctantly, Jess arrived at the meeting point Lexi gave her only to find an entirely too enthusiastic crowd of spandex-wearing men and women in skorts.  

Standing off to the side, Jess stretched while skeptically watching the crowd. Bandanas. Water packs. Coffee-gel shots. These people were strapped. Ready to run the Bataan Death March based on their supplies, let alone run a flat three miles around downtown.

As soon as the coordinator for the run, who was standing on top of an empty crate, blew his air horn, the buzzing mob began to move.

Jess quickly hopped into the middle of the crowd, pressed in side by side with the other runners like a mouth full of bad teeth.  

It was baffling how many people tried to start a conversation with Jess despite the headphones in her ears. Even more baffling was how everyone looked like they were running, but were actually moving at a walking pace. No long strides. No heavy breathing. Jess was pressed into a crowd that didn’t seem to be going anywhere, just bouncing up and down like they were an audience at a rock concert.

This was not how Jess enjoyed working out.

At the end of the run route, spouses and children perched along the sides of the road cheered the runners on as they were funneled under a large white banner inscribed with the inspirational message: Off the couch and onto the street, we run for fun, but also for treats! Jess didn’t like that either. She furiously pressed the volume button on her phone to turn up her music, hoping to drown out the applause, but the volume was already at full blast.

About to peel off from the group and head home to avoid praise from strangers for a mediocre achievement, something just beyond the corny banner caught Jess’ eye. As she moved closer, food stacked up on folding tables came into view. It was the most glorious breakfast spread that Jess had ever seen- nothing but mounds of donuts and beer.

These people were alright.

Jess made her way to an empty table that had been scavenged through already, but at least she wouldn’t have to fight off waiting family members who hovered over the more desirable items like a swarm of gnats. Under a stray napkin, Jess found a hidden gem. One unmolested powdery donut. The sugar called to Jess as she reached her hand towards it, only to see a second hand suddenly drift towards her prize.  

“Would you like to join our table?”

Jess locked eyes with a perky, middle-aged woman who had cropped blonde hair and a hint of crazy in her eyes. Not crazy, crazy, but relentlessly cheerful type of crazy. Through her peripherals, Jess saw that written on the front of the woman’s pink tank top, in big bold letters, was the word “PRETTY”. Jess resisted the urge to roll her eyes while still making direct eye contact with the stranger. The question dangled in the air between them. Jess, however, was too distracted by the woman’s hand continuing to move ever so slightly below her own.

Without breaking eye contact, Jess thrusted her hand down past the woman’s and snagged the donut for herself. The woman’s wide smile was drawn into a pinched expression.

While scurrying back to her car, holding the donut to her chest, Jess glanced back to see the words “DARN SLOW” written on the back of the woman’s shirt. Jess let out an audible laugh as she opened the dented driver’s side door of the Buick LeSabre she inherited from her grandparents, realizing that she misjudged the woman.

The woman wasn’t pretentious, she was idiosyncratic.

And who am I to judge the offbeat? The quirky? The delightfully weird? Jess thought as she looked over at the built-in phone protruding from the center console of her car. A relic Jess affectionately referred to as her “conversation piece.”

“Are you still going to the party this weekend?” Lexi asked.

“That I wouldn’t miss,” Jess replied, tossing her lipstick in her purse and heading out the door.

Tattooed Heart

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Rolling down the sleeves of her white collared shirt, Jess paused to admire the fresh shine of a scribbled black heart covered in splashes of plum, lilac, and baby blue watercolors on her left forearm- her latest and favorite tattoo.

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SKIRTS & COMBAT BOOTS: What It’s Really Like Being A Female In Today’s Military

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A humorous and unapologetically honest look into the Army from the female perspective.

Even on my last day, as I waited to sign the form releasing me from the military constraints I put on as a wide-eyed, snot-nosed college graduate, I was asked the question that plagued my entire seven years of service as a Military Police Officer: “So, was it hard being a woman in the military?”

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The Roommate Wars

CHAPTER 1.2: W…W…W…Why don’t you love me?

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Jess almost jumped out of her skin when she bumped into Lexi in the kitchen; despite being the one that looked like a crazy person. Ruddy cheeks. Sweat-infused hair. She looked like a homeless cat lady on Adderall.

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Dollies For Sale

CHAPTER 1: W…W…W…Will You Love Me?

THE TRAIL JESS JOGGED ON EVERY MORNING was either beautiful or terrifying, depending on how you looked at it.

The only time Jess found herself centered and at peace, however, was when she jogged on that winding dirt path in the woods, the one that followed along a muddy creek, buzzing with life.

It was easy to lose herself in the simplistic beauty of it all, despite the unwelcoming scowls from grumpy snapping turtles from time to time.

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The Squeak

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The noise sounded like air slowly being released from a balloon– or at least that’s what Elle thought.

When she heard the sound, her whole body was bathing in the warmth of his radiant heat; her arms coiled around his barrel chest, fingers entwined in a thicket of chest hair, breasts flattening with every perfectly in sync inhale. She was in a complete state of ecstasy; high on his virile pheromones and the scent of his musky cologne.

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