Monday, November 27, 2006

Exciting New Developments

So, there I was, about two months into my army service, when I was called in to my commander’s office. “We’ve got a group for you at an air force base,” she said.

Now, you have to understand that the IAF is totally the favored child of the Israel Defense Forces. They have the best bases, the most perks, the coolest uniforms – everything is just better there. Scoring a group in an air force base was a major coup.

The catch? I had somehow managed to score another French group. And not just any group of French people. OLD French people. Who had been on the program multiple times and probably thought they knew more about it than I did.

But I was cool with it all. I could handle it.

This was the first time this base had worked with my unit, and they wanted to impress us with how cool the air force is, so they pulled out all the stops. Anything I asked for, I got. Civilian phone lines – hard to come by in most bases – were not a problem: they set me up in the PR office. Yes, that’s right. The base had a PR office. It was staffed with one officer – I think her name was Officer Bitchy – and her assistant, Ms. Sweetheart.

Now, another thing you have to understand about the Israeli army is that it is a very casual place. Officers and enlisted folks regularly hang out together, date each other, socialize, insult each other, whatever. If I were, like, the Chief of Staff, and you were, like, YOU, and you came to my office while I was in the bathroom and my phone rang, you would totally answer it. If we were really tight (and you know we are), you might answer it with “WG’s office,” but you’d probably feel fine just answering with a simple, “Allo.” And the person on the other end would INVARIABLY respond with, “Who’s this?”

So. I spent a lot of time in the PR office in order to coordinate my group’s tours, trips, and other activities. It was my home base. And Officer Bitchy spent a lot of her day… not in the office. So I answered the phone A LOT. I took messages and left them on her desk, and she invariably ignored them (and me) or tossed them casually onto the ever-growing pile of work on Ms. Sweetheart’s desk.

My first day in the base, I needed to get uniforms for my group. In most bases, this meant a trip to a dank, dark supply closet where a surly-faced soldier would begrudgingly hand over some ill-fitting fatigues. Not here! They had an incredible All-Supply Closet with an on-site tailor who could alter the uniforms ON THE SPOT. The soldiers who worked there were cheery. And one of them was named G, just like my other soldier friend!

So G2 – wait for it – had also JUST BEEN DUMPED. It was like the heavens LOVED me or something, surrounding me with these broken boys. We bonded.

Part of my job was to be cute and perky all the time so that the soldiers in the base would give my group stuff and be nice to them. So I always had bags of candy and a pretty smile, and I had this adorable thing I did with a baseball cap where I’d pull it all low and have to look WAAAAAAAAAY up at people – I was working it, people. I really was. And G2 was buying what I was selling, let me tell you that.

Every time he saw me, he’d start offering gifts – markers and posterboard and other goodies that are really hard to come by in the army but that make all the difference when you’re trying to teach classes and create manipulatives and stuff. And I would smile charmingly and bat my eyelashes and just generally lead him on.

I’m telling you people, good times.

And one afternoon, while I was back in the PR office “working,” the phone rang. I answered.

“PR Office.”

“Who’s this?”

“Who’s this? You called me.”

“No, I want to know who this is, and what you’re doing in my base.”

Hmmmm. Not the way these conversations usually go. And I was, after all, still relatively new in the army, and who knows? Maybe the PR office phone was a special one, only to be answered by authorized personnel.

“Uh, this is WG, and I’m in charge of the French women.”

This, apparently, was the right answer.

“Wait a second. You want to tell me that there are FRENCH WOMEN walking around here AND an American in the public relations office and NONE OF YOU have bothered to come visit my squadron?”

“Um, yeah, looks that way.”

“Well. You tell Officer Bitchy that G (YES!!! ANOTHER ONE!!!!) from [Classified] Squadron called. And come visit me!”

“Don’t hold your breath.”

When Ms. Sweetheart came back, I gave her the message. “This lunatic from that squadron called.”

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “He’s an officer, but he’s actually pretty nice.”

And that was that. Or was it?