THE CULLING OF THE CRAP |
July 17, 2009
At the tail end of every deployment, one of the rituals that the deployed soldier, sailor, airman, and Marine must perform is the “culling of the crap".
For some reason, we seem to amass a collection of assorted health and comfort items during our stay on foreign shores: Posters that livened the otherwise naked walls of our CHUs, letters, knick knacks that were iconic of the support we received over the course of the mission, and the well-loved debris of a time spent far from hearth and home.
Most of it is theater specific, and is boxed up to be passed on to the folks who relieve us, or left out in a public area to be scavenged by our fellow inmates -- all done under the auspices of the original sender, who approved the idea of succoring the poor schmucks who have to stay in residence in this armpit after we have kicked the dust from our boots and departed this blighted land on silver (or grey, or green) wings.
But there are things with which we would not part, and these are packed up in various containers, and either stowed in the CONUS-bound CONEX boxes with the Company’s gear, or delivered into the hands of the United States Postal Service for transport back to the World.
Yesterday, I delivered one such container to the Main Post Office here on JBB.
Entering the building, I first filled out the Customs Declaration Form, and then made my way to the sign that said:
WAIT HERE TO BE CALLED BY THE NEXT POSTAL INSPECTOR.
And then I heard a surly “Next!”
The woman who called was obviously having a bad day. Her face bore the expression of somebody who did not enjoy her job, was prepared to lambaste the miscreant who dared to flaunt the Rules and Regulations of the United States Postal Service, and had obviously been dealing with the worst that the United States Army had to offer.
“Put the box on the table,” she ordered.
“Good morning!” I exclaimed as I lifted the black footlocker onto the waiting tabletop. (Devious soul that I am, I learned that a person who is determined to have a bad day is absolutely infuriated when they are forced to deal with a perky and cheerful fellow like yours truly. “Killing with kindness” – not just for breakfast anymore!)
She grunted, and then ordered me to turn the box around so that it might be emptied of all of its contents for inspection. (I pity the poor soul who tries to send his assortment of whips, leather tutus, and ball gags back home!!!)
She continued to be terse as we emptied the various items out of the box: CDs, little stuffed animals, extra uniforms, a few coffee cups, my GPS unit, until we reached the bottom of the box, and she saw a layer of red flannel, trimmed with white fur, with little golden bells, contained in a protective garment bag.
She lifted the garment out of the bottom of the box, and recognized it for what it was, and I saw the realization of both the garment, her own conduct, and the implications.
She was being a sourpuss to Santa Claus. Himself (incognito, of course!)
Santa and two Bonecrushers: Christmas in Balad, 2008.
The flash of Yuletide Red caught the eye of one of her fellow inspectors, a younger man with a more amicable personality, who watched the proceeding with interest. He made eye contact with me, cocking an eyebrow to see what would happen next.
I couldn’t resist the opportunity.
My inspector had to make sure that I wasn’t trying to smuggle anything out of the country in my Santa Suit (like a T-72 tank or a .50 caliber machine gun), so she had to actually pat the suit down, and with each palpitation, the bells on the coat tinkled merrily. I thought I saw the beginnings of a carefully restrained smile, and I even think that she gave the coat an extra shake, just to hear the tinkle of Christmas again.
“Did you buy it?” she asked, her demeanor rising through 32 degrees Fahrenheit, and ascending. “How much did it cost?”
“No.” I said, lowering my voice just an eensy bit. “It was made specifically for me. The cost is paid when I put it on.”
She looked at me. “I have a certain reputation to uphold…” I explained.
The other Inspector sat back in his chair and began to grin.
My inspector looked me in the eyes, not sure to believe what she was hearing, but, boy, did she need something to brighten her day, even just a teeny bit. (My mother actually crafted the suit, as a functional garment, to last for years, and her workmanship is of the highest caliber. But I am sure that, knowing Mom, she was channeling the essence of Santa’s elven tailors when she put this rig together.)
“My tailors have been doing this for a very long time,” I said, allowing just the hint of the deep base tones I use when I portray the Jolly Old Elf, and holding my finger to the side of my nose, causing the other Inspector to almost roll out of his chair in silent laughter.
“Uh-huh,” she said, and continued to inspect the suit, (tinkling the golden bells a few more times than she really had to).
We loaded the box back up and she sealed it, affixed the required documentation and stickers to the outside, and then gestured, with a wave of the hand that was far less surly than her original demeanor, where I should take the box for payment and shipping. Her whole attitude was warmer.
I thanked her and moved off to the counter, where I handed the box, suit and all, to the clerk behind the counter and paid the postage.
On my way out, I veered past the woman who had inspected my box. “Merry Christmas,” I said, in a low voice, and I meant it. I didn’t think she heard me, and I kept walking.
But just before I got beyond earshot, almost at the exit, I heard a very quiet voice:
You know, every time a bell rings, that’s the sound of an angel earning its wings, right?
Merry Christmas to all, and to all, a Good Night…