17 December, 2007

Back at the USO

The scheduling at my job was variable and rarely gave me enough notice to coordinate with the USO. So, one of the few perks of being unemployed is that I'm back to regularly volunteering. It had been ten months since I'd walked through those doors, but it took only about 30 minutes of brushing up on procedures before the intellectual equivalent of muscle memory kicked it and it felt like I'd never left.

Familiar scenes played out all evening...

Next to the reception desk, two recently-returned Marines who had been strangers moments before were talking easily of their Iraq tours as they played pool. On the other side, two youngsters stretched out on the sofas, sleeping in awkward, pillow-less positions but looking perfectly relaxed and adorable in their casual disarray.

We were busier than usual, with a large number of nervous, newly-minted servicemembers assuming their first permanent duty stations, including a brand new corpsman reporting to the Marines with a nicked face because he'd shaved in a hurry after walking in just as the shuttle was scheduled to depart. He fretted aloud as he held tissue to his chin while running out the door--something about first impressions and dripping blood on his uniform (at least he was wearing winter blues!). From across the room a late-twenties Marine with a few deployments under his belt tossed off a hearty but affectionate, "Get used to it, Doc!"

And then there were the buddies who were reporting to a new duty station but wanted to spend a night on the town, first. Unfortunately, the only hotel room we could find for them had just one bed, so I asked their opinion. It's a rare Marine who gets to his late twenties (like those two) without a few Iraq tours under his belt, so as they leaned on the desk and glanced at each other before replying, pictures came to mind.

"I like to cuddle," said one in a teasing tone.

The second Marine paused for a moment before shrugging lightly. "Eh, I can live with that."

I burst out laughing, and they quickly joined the merriment. But my fellow volunteer seemed concerned by the prospect of two men sharing a bed, and anxiously suggested they could maybe request a cot when they got to the hotel. The second Marine assured her they'd be fine as he nearly rolled his eyes at his buddy. "Oh, he'll just turn those big puppy dog eyes and that smile on some poor woman and get us anything we need," he said in a voice heavy with faux suffering.

His buddy just flashed a self-satisfied grin, and the Snark Monster rose inside me. But but for once I behaved myself--I bit my lip so hard I think I bruised it. I mean, can't be stirring up trouble my very first day back...

Seriously, I had a wonderful time. I think that place feels more like home to me than anywhere else.