My hotel in Northern Virginia was distinctly indistinct. The nightly price tag made it so, yet in a direct way it discouraged the online surfers who would otherwise be tempted by its entirely mediocre high points. The small pool was closed pending a government inspection (syphilis?). The restaurant was open for breakfast between 3am and 6am, and for dinner between 10pm and 2am. There was an exercise suite, closed for repair. Numerous two star reviews mentioned a suspicion of six-legged friends, if no proof. Yet this is where I stayed, and handed in my voucher.
My wakeup call was precise, if the knot of my tie was not, and I was soon tapping the airpot of the worst coffee ever tasted, the harbinger of last resort that the government was involved. At moments like these I remembered Turkey, blessed gateway to the east, the breakfasts, the fruit, the–. And yet, the cheap suit puts an end to that, doesn’t it?
“My name is Floyd R.,” he says in the conference room, though we all know he’d decided that just in the last ten. “I am here on behalf of a grateful government to, first of all, thank you for your service.”
A thousand percent of us acknowledge his kindness, and wonder silently about our back pay and pensions, especially those of us ‘tendered out for the good’. Huzzah, so say we all.
“Thank you,” he intones with feeling. “We’re going to go thorough some slides here with our guests shortly, but I just want to say, as one of you, as one who has surrendered operational knowledge for…”
And every one of us sells him. Because we do not surrender, and operational knowledge is something we cherish and hold dear, and fuck you.
So we watch the slides. And the young bucks get up and tell us what they think they know. And we nod as a group and realize that our operational knowledge has been surrendered to history, to time, to anxiety about our daughter suddenly being interested in a boy, where did that come from? And our country is someone else’s concern, and yet ours, and that’s what these meetings are all about, because is there something they’re missing?
And we resent it. Fuck you.
But we yearn for it.
Yearn to be in the game, and the top of our skills, using our dated language, warning to look out! That SigInt going dark means trouble. But there’s always that young version of Us, isn’t there? Looking at what we have to contribute with the same eye that an undergrad looks at the passion of an expert on U.S. Grant who finds himself inexplicably teaching history. And we say as a group “when did that happen?” and the answer comes back “as soon as you joined up.” And we cry a little, but not at the meeting. Later, in the vodka rocks.
Some of the younger members, still clinging to their first names plus last initials, venture completely plausible theories that make sense to all of us. Joe M. in particular delivers a devastating and succinct account of the failures thus far and pushes for a line of thought too intelligent to be true. Chloe E. concurs, and delivers the cultural background for why the current policy is flawed, to say the least. We nod, and murmur, and wonder about the cash stipend and when it will be paid out.
We hear at the end of the PowerPoint that there will be checks waiting in our suites. The fact that the locks did not impair delivery is an intended message, though three of the Old Hands snicker because they know their checks will need to be picked up at The Office. These three are the least likely to touch base with the press, or be listened to by anyone, and they, and we, know it.
Floyd thanks us with a stirring appeal to our patriotism. We adjourn to various bars not in the hotel. We talk about anything other than our passion for twenty years, or our families, which is to say, nothing at all.