Symbols and Dirty Little Secrets
Copyrighted by Lorna Tedder. Originally published in Third Degree Tilt.
Some things change. Some stay the same.
I get a blast from the past while sitting on an inter- view panel.Â Â Â While waiting for our interviewee Â to show up, one of our other panelistsâ€”whom Â I donâ€™t know very wellâ€”tells me that Iâ€™ve helped her in untold ways in her new Â job.Â Apparently, she Â has Â some Â material Â of Â mine from 16 Â½ years ago.
I can hardly believe it. I havenâ€™t thought about that project in years and I certainly didnâ€™t think it was around after all this time.
â€œOh, yes,â€ the other panelist tells me. â€œI use it almost every day and Iâ€™m very, very careful with it because Iâ€™m so afraid that it will disintegrate under my touch. It is so old and so well worn.â€
Sheâ€™s talking about a project I did in the 30 days be- fore Rhiannon was born.Â Â A handbook for other people in my career field, one that I did on my own time, on my home computer. One that was converted into a 600-plus slide presentation and taught over 3 daysâ€™ time by technical experts.
The handbook had been a little bit controversial at the time because Â I Â had Â included my Â own Â personal Â helpful hintsâ€”and those hints and the way I had structured Â the project were, according to the panelist, still tremendously useful after all these years.
I get that warm feeling remembering Â the work I did and its outcome, Â and knowingÂ that itâ€™s still being used, however discreetly.Â Â â€œI canâ€™t believe that all that material is still relevant,â€ I tell her.
She shrugs. â€œA lot has changed, yes, especially some of the references. Â Â Â Â But why you do certain things and the best way Â to Â do them? Â Â Â Â Â Â Thatâ€™s Â all stillÂ relevant.â€ Â She pauses. â€œOh,â€ she says laughing, â€œand the office symbols. I believe we were officially Â the Munitions Â Systems Â Division at that time, MSD.â€
I nod. Â Yes, I remember weâ€™ve changed office symbols many, many times. Itâ€™s been a joke of mine for several years that I refuse to have business cards because as soon as I have business cards made at my own expense, some- one will change the command name or the office name or even the street name. It changes way too often, which dredges up the oddest memory.
I was in the office the panelist refers toâ€”which I believe was MSD/PMR or perhaps PKR or perhaps MSD/ PKRLâ€¦they all changed quite a few times within a few months. Â One of my co-workers had a really bad reputation. Â In fact, I think heâ€™s probably the guy that coined the phrase, â€œWhat goes TDY, stays TDYâ€ about government business trips or â€œTemporary DutY.â€
I was at an office promotion Â party where there were spicy fajitas, Margaritas, chips and very hot salsa. Â We got into a Â conversation Â that somehow Â hopped all over the place until it ended up with things that we both really regretted. Â I guess I didnâ€™t regret mine that much because I have forgotten it now, but in a moment of raw honesty, he told me he could top mine.
â€œYeah,â€ he said, â€œyou know those office symbols that we have? Â How youâ€™re MSD/PMR? Â My branch symbol is MSD/WYAK1.â€
I nodded, wondering what to regret about that. Â He had Â already Â confessed Â to Â meâ€”with Â absolutely Â no Â regretsâ€”that he secretly cheated on his wife and had a girl in every port, so to speak. He arranged his time so that he worked on four different Â contracts. One was Â local and that was the time that he spent at home with his wife. The Â other three were in different parts of the country. Poor oversexed guy that he was, he spent one week every month with each of the four women in his life. Â None of them knew of the others.
â€œThe symbols,â€ he said. â€œThatâ€™s how I keep it a secret. But I feel Â kind Â of Â bad Â about Â it now, Â about Â what Â Iâ€™ve done.â€
â€œYou Â feel Â bad Â about Â cheating Â on Â your Â wife?â€ Â I thought Â I Â had Â understood Â him Â correctly, Â but Â I Â wasnâ€™t sure.
He shrugged it off. Â â€œNo, not really. I mean, she doesnâ€™t really understand me.â€
At that point, neither did I.
â€œBut I donâ€™t want to break up my marriage and these other women, well, theyâ€™re just for fun and they write me long wonderful love letters Â and Iâ€™ve got a whole collection of really hot letters that theyâ€™ve sent to my office. Â Of course, they donâ€™t know my real name and thatâ€™s sort of what I feel bad about.â€
â€œYou mean,â€ Â IÂ said, Â â€œthat Â youâ€™ve Â had Â relationships with these three other women for several years now and not one of them knows Â your real name? I donâ€™t get it. How did you pull that off? What if they find out who you are and tell your wife?â€
â€œThey wonâ€™t.â€ He winked at me. â€œThatâ€™s why I use my office Â symbol. Â They Â all know Â me only by my first name and I explained to them my dirty little secret, which is that I work in a top secret office for the US Government and that I Â canâ€™t really tell them who I am or why Iâ€™m in their town on business without causing them danger.â€
I laughed. â€œAnd they buy that?â€
He nodded. â€œThey buy it 100 percent. Â As proof, I let them write to me at my office and Iâ€™ve told them that our office symbol is my secret code name. All I had to do was turn around and send them a letter back postmarked and addressed from my office with my secret code nameâ€”my office symbolsâ€”on it and they bought it.â€
â€œHow long do you thinkÂ youâ€™re going to carry this on?â€ I asked, appalled.
He grinned at me. â€œFor as long as I can. But I told them that if they ever wrote me and the letter came back marked â€˜Return to Sender,â€™ Â then my last mission wasnâ€™t successful but thatâ€”â€ he winked at me againâ€”â€I really loved them and Iâ€™m sorry I couldnâ€™t put them in a dangerous position by knowing the truth about me.â€
I remember sitting there and staring at him wide-eyedÂ and open-mouthed. Â â€œBut you regret this,â€ I said. â€œThis is the thing in Â your life that you regret mostâ€”that youâ€™ve been deceiving all these women?â€
â€œWell, yeah.Â Â I do feel a little bit bad about that, but the worst thing is when we change office symbols again, my letters will be returned to the sender and Iâ€™ll have to start all over.â€