If you come here for my pictures, you'll notice I took a trip to my local USO. That place was awesome. It is the oldest continually running USO in the WORLD. Not just on the East Coast, or the US, but on the entire planet. It was mostly a large lounge area, with multiple pool tables and oodles of leather furniture. Along the walls were shadowboxes of memorabilia from WWII. There was also a huge auditorium (complete with stage), meeting rooms, a kids play area, a library, a game/movie room, and a cafe. The coolest part? You can rent it out for really cheap if you're active duty military or a dependent. I loved seeing the tiny phone booths along the wall in the original part of the structure. When I asked Clayton if he could imagine calling me from them, he replied that he didn't have to imagine, because he'd done it before from other USO locations. The ladies there were really nice, and told me about the programs they offer.
On October 26, my coworker, Dee, and I went over to the Exceptional Family Member Program (EFMP) for their fall something-or-other festival. It's basically a Halloween info-fair, but due to the fact that the participating organizations are mostly funded by the Federal government, they can't refer to any actual holidays. Whatever. It was a costume party, plus bring your literature and candy to give to the kids and families. It was super fun seeing all the kids' costumes. EFMP had a cake walk, a chili contest (there were only 2 types of chili), hot dogs and chips and fruit for lunch, and a pumpkin carving station. We spent most of the day over there, dressed as Nerds with a Willy Wonka themed booth to represent the library. Oh, and we totally won the prize for best costumes and booth.
Speaking of Merlin, he discovered a new animal in our back yard. Or at least, it was new to him. Clayton went outside to take a call one night, and Merlin went out with him. Then Merlin started barking. Merlin hardly ever barks. So I went out into the yard to see what he was on about. He began pointing at the fence. I didn't see anything. Then I looked up. On top of the fence was a possum, frozen in place, apparently hoping that if he didn't move, Merlin would go away. Merlin ran around the yard for a while, always coming back to bark at me and point to the possum. Eventually the possum relaxed a bit and sat back on his haunches, his head moving back and forth as he watched Merlin scamper around. I grabbed my camera and got one decent picture of the possum before herding Merlin inside for the night. The next morning Merlin went to where he'd seen the possum, but it was long gone. Which is good, because I didn't mind seeing the possum at night, when he was just starting his day, but I would have been very worried to see him in full daylight.
The next day we met Eliot at his new favorite coffee house, Sweet, for open mic night. And to give him our key. Mostly to give him our key, since our ball was on November 2nd. If our ball had been in Jacksonville, we would have just come home when we got bored. However, it was in a hotel in Wilmington, which is about an hour away. So, knowing that Merlin was going to be fed and entertained by Eliot for the night, we took off for Wilmington, where I got my hair done and we secured a hotel room. We got dressed at the hotel upon checking in, and by then it was time to head over to the ball.
This ball was in a pretty nice place, and I was done up nicer than I've ever been before. The photographer was less professional (was drinking all night, and was smashed by the time we left), but he took better pictures (and they came with matting). The food was good, and the tables were set well. They weren't spectacular, but they were nice. Basically, everything the hotel was in charge of went down pretty well. Everything the Marines were in charge of went terribly. The venue wasn't nearly big enough for all of our people. The junior Marines were in a separate dining room, upstairs from the main ballroom. It had no DJ, no dancefloor, and they had to watch the ceremonies on a screen projecting CCTV from the ballroom. There was very little sound, so no one up there minded that their food was served to them while the speeches were going on, which would normally be very out of line. In fact, I doubt they had much reverence for any of the proceedings, considering that they were painfully aware of the fact that everyone seated upstairs was at a glorified kids table. There were a few token staff NCOs, and they were painfully aware that they were babysitters for the kids table.
Speaking of tables, the fuelers left most of their place cards at the shop, so one of Clayton's fellow sergeants was scrambling in the hotel office to print them up again. We helped him run around both floors, putting place cards on the fuelers' tables, which was very tricky considering we had no less than three seating arrangements to go off of, and the second floor ended up being a free for all anyway (the other companies put their people wherever they wanted, regardless of any of the seating arrangements). Because of this scrambling, I didn't get to take pictures of the cake or anything. Which is too bad, because this was the most elaborate cake I've seen at a ball yet. At least we got to go to the ball at all. A number of the barracks Marines had their bus canceled on them. Whether someone forgot to confirm it, no one signed up in the first place (foolishly assuming it would be there, whether they spoke up to say they needed it or not), or it was actively canceled, no one could say. Some of them managed to get rides with other Marines and showed up barely on time or late.
My biggest problem with this ball was mostly just the organization of the event itself. It was spread out over two floors, with a treacherous winding staircase and one or two elevators. Normally, this would be no problem for me, but I was in a floor length gown and heels, making the layout particularly absurd and, sometimes, dangerous. The dancefloor and bar were on the main floor, while the photographer was on the second floor. So there were legitimate reasons to be navigating both floors all night. We decided not to partake of the alcohol at the ball, since the lines were long, and the drinks were cheap beverages at worse-than-airport prices. An 8oz cup of ice with some Coke poured on top was $2. At work, we have a Coke vending machine that serves 20 oz drinks for $1. So just water for us that night. When our picture was finally ready, we went back to our hotel and changed into civvies. Then we walked into town, found a nice bar that served wine and craft beers, and we each had a nice beer. Then we walked back to our room for the night.
You're pretty well caught up now, but in order to be fully caught up, you'll have to check out my picture page, where I've attempted to illustrate these past adventures.