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Secrets of the Pentagon (woooOOOOooo!) (<-- Ghost Voice)

Jul 19, 2012

Since today is my final day working in the Pentagon, I thought I should share some secrets with you from my 4 1/2 years of working here. Don't expect me to tell you anything that's actually important, but if you are anything like me (a clueless, non-athletic girlie girl) and end up working in this giant building with hoards of intimidating, muscly (usually) men and super fit, awesome (always) women, you might find this post useful.

Hi! My name is Mary El and I'll be your Pentagon tour guide today.

Fun Facts: 
  • Construction on the Pentagon began on September 11, 1941 -- 60 years to the day that it was attacked by terrorists. Creepy, right?
  • If you chopped off the Empire State Building at its base (let's not) and laid it across the top of the Pentagon, it would not reach from end to end.
  • Roughly 23,000 people work in the Pentagon (make that 22,999 come next Monday), so it's set up like a little town. It has its own post office, dry cleaner, barbershop, nail salon, shoe repair (grumpy but does a great job), gym (try not to get distracted by all the hot, muscly men), clinic, CVS, florist, Best Buy, Adidas store and even a DMV (never a line), not to mention lots of dining options (including three Subways and two Starbucks).
  • The Pentagon was designed so you could get between any two points in seven minutes or less. The massive building -- supposedly the largest low-rise office building in the world -- has five floors above ground and two below, and it's around 17.5 miles if you walked every hallway.  
Really Fun Facts: 
  • You may hear of the "mythical" purple water fountain. It totally exists! Dazzle your coworkers by taking them there. It's in the 8th corridor, mezzanine level. When you walk out of the glass doors, you'll notice a wall painted purple with a water fountain mounted on it -- that's where the purple water fountain used to stand. Turn to the left and wind around the hallway to the right, and you'll come upon it. 
(I once got lost looking for it, and I asked a man to help me. I was too busy trying to impress my friend who was with me to notice the two stars on his flight suit. He happily obliged us and I felt like a complete idiot once I realized who I was talking to.)
  • The 9th corridor, 2nd floor houses the Pentagon correspondents from major news agencies. Their offices are narrow and long, and when it's time for them to go on camera they simply push back from their desk and turn on the camera mounted above their computer. The wall behind them is painted, so what you see on TV is actually what is in their office. I especially love running into CNN's Barbara Starr (power woman) and Chris Lawrence (soooo cute).
  • There is a bar in the Pentagon. Known by a couple of names, the "Bomber Bar" or "Fighter Mafia" is exclusively open to Air Force pilots, honored guests and hot girls (read: if you are a female and at least try, you are hot). It's somewhere on the mezzanine level around the 7th corridor, and it's open on Fridays after 5 p.m. (aka "1700"). Look for the palm tree, knock on the door across from it, and tell them Fish sent you. (I'm not promising you that will work, but it's worth a shot.) If it's your first time you will be required to take a shot of Jeremiah Weed, the preferred drink of fighter pilots. You'll probably get a migraine afterwards, but it's a small price to pay to say you've been there.
  • If you're giving a tour to someone, make sure to visit the Women's Exhibit on the 1st floor between corridors 6 and 7 on the E Ring. It showcases women's uniforms from the Revolutionary War to today, and some of them are really cute. I especially like the wool cape from the 1950s. 
Also, the Air Force has the best artwork -- go to the 5th floor, E Ring in corridors 9 and 10 to see it. 
  • There is one custodian who will freak you out, but he's harmless. He is Asian and will mumble scary sounding words to you if you engage with him. After your first encounter, you'll know who I'm talking about. You'll want to say "Good morning!" if you're a decent person, but trust me, just avoid any interaction and move on. The rest of the custodians are awesome, amazing, lovely people. Get to know them all by name.
  • Before you check out a guy, check out his left hand. The tour guides are especially cute, but under those white gloves are a slew of wedding rings.
  • If you have to cry (by all means DO NOT do it in front of anybody, especially someone superior to you), there's a room in a hallway in the 4th corridor, 1st floor, D Ring near the Pentagon chapel called the "Navy Reflection Room." It's a memorial to those who died on 9/11, and it's a perfect cover-up for you. People rarely go in there, and if someone does and sees you sitting there quietly crying, they'll leave you alone. I know that sounds horrible, but it can be a lifesaver.
  • Stock up on pens at conventions. The pens provided for your use, known by the brand "Skillcraft," are made by blind people. Thank you, U.S. Government, for employing blind people...but these pens are terrible. Every time I use one I think of this scene from "30 Rock":

  • When someone leaves your office for another job, take whatever good stuff you can find from their desk. Due to budgetary constraints, those pink Post-Its you want could be wait listed for months. If you work for the Army, blue folders are a hot commodity. Stash in a hiding place and reuse until they are literally falling apart. 
  • Get outside as often as possible. Most offices lack windows, and -- especially if you're a woman -- your body will miss the Vitamin D.
  • When in doubt, address anyone and everyone as "Sir" or "Ma'am." It made me feel like a kid at first, but it's a pretty great trick when you forget someone's name.
  • 8:30 a.m. (0830) is considered late. Mass Pentagon exodus begins at 3 p.m. (1500). 
  • Make friends with the police officers -- you might need a favor (or protection from a crazy person) one day.

  • If you're a peon, you are allowed to park on the premises (i.e. the parking lots waaaaaaaaay on the outskirts) five times a month. Metro is your best option. If you need to park, go to the parking office next to the Hall of Heroes and Pentagon Federal Credit Union (or "PenFedCredU," as I like to call it) and have your tag number handy. Get your pass the day before if possible. You will get booted if you don't. And I will never forget my correct tag number again.
  • The hamburgers in the center courtyard aren't half bad, and they have the best french fries in the building.
  • Facebook is a privilege. It will slow down your computer and crash your Internet Explorer, but be happy you have access to it. (Call your help desk and have them set you up with Firefox, it tends to handle outside websites better.)
 Lessons Learned:
  • Flirting with the tour guides is only fun as long as they don't ask you out. When they (he) do (did), of course you'll say yes because pickins are slim and they're (he's) hot, but later you may find out they (he) have (has) a girlfriend (let's hope she's not his wife) and you'll feel like a piece of poo. Besides that, a smile and hair flip here and there never hurt anyone (except that one time one of them got distracted and ran into a pole -- sorry!!!)
  • When you are in a heated conversation with a man, try your best to maintain the level of your voice. The higher pitched your voice gets, the less he will hear. Lord help you if you end up in one of these conversations with a woman.
  • Keep a black blazer at your desk. You never know when you'll get called into a meeting and need to spruce yourself up real quick.
  • High heels, good hair and a bright smile go a long way.
  • If you keep chocolate covered espresso beans on your desk, your coworkers will forgive just about any offense.
  • Make sure you can walk comfortably -- or at least be able to fake it -- in your shoes. A 7-minute walk is a long way in shoes that hurt your feet.
  • You will oft see girls in flip flops in the summertime and Uggs in the wintertime. You will be tempted to follow suit. Try to resist -- the servicemembers in uniform think you look ridiculous. (If you must wear either of these, change immediately when you get to your desk.)
  • Pay attention to the traffic laws when you do drive in. The cops will pounce on you if you even think about disobeying signs.
  • Don't burn bridges with anyone unless he or she is a criminally despicable person. It's all about who you know, and sometimes who your contacts know. Build up a tough skin fast, and try not to take things personally. It's just business.
  • Playing dirty only works if you're a non-criminally despicable person. These people will be on top often, and often you will feel incompetent standing next to them. Remember that you are not incompetent because -- guess what? -- you work in the Pentagon. Don't get caught up in the game. Instead, smile and say hello to these people every chance you get, and focus on being awesome at your job.
Although it can be an intense place, there are tons of perks that go along with working at the Pentagon. Some days you may find yourself chillin' in the cockpit of Air Force 2...

...or hangin' out with a Medal of Honor recipient...

...or briefing the top ranking general in the Army.

You may get invited to the White House, eat cupcakes shot out of an Abrams tank or gain hoards of new followers on your blog when you write about a non-committal humanitarian who looks really cute in his uniform.

Above all (no, that is not a jab at the epic Air Force #fail of 2008), your time spent at the Pentagon will be one of the greatest honors of your life. Even on your worst day, remember that your work is contributing to our nation's defense and the mightiest military on earth.

Style Me July: Week 2 (and a bunch of other stuff from the bestest week of 2012 so far!)

Jul 16, 2012

Has it only been a week since I became a faux fashion blogger? much has happened. Bear with me, because I have a lot to tell y'all.

Day 9: Gimme Your Purse

Tote: Cynthia Rowley, $100 at TJ Maxx
Blazer: Atelier at TJ Maxx (It's been with me since my very first job up here in DC! I can't fit into the suit pants that came with it anymore -- MUST. SHRINK. BUTT. -- but the jacket has held up really well. I think the whole suit was around $65.)
Skirt: Talbots
Note: My previous work bag was a really cute Coach Poppy messenger bag.

After a year of throwing it under Metro seats, it had gotten dirty beyond the point of being able to clean it. Actually, I asked a saleslady how to clean it when I bought it, and she told me "with a rag and warm water." Yeah. That didn't work. So I needed a sturdy yet stylish bag that could handle all my Metro rides. This one does the trick. It's not a statement piece like the Coach bag was, but this thing will last me for years.

Side Note: This was the day I tendered my resignation at my current job. Definitely a bittersweet moment, but I'm SUPER EXCITED!!!! about my new job. More to come on that soon.

Day 10: Retro Moment

Shirt: Target $18
Bracelet: Forever 21
Necklace: H&M
Note: In case you can't tell, I went 80s. I know most people think "60s" when talking about retro style, but technically (and by "technically" I mean according to Wikipedia), "Retro is a culturally outdated or aged style, trend, mode or fashion, from the overall postmodern past, that has since that time become functionally or superficially the norm once again," AND "It generally implies a vintage of at least 15 or 20 years." And according to all the enthusiastic comments I received about my jewelry, I think it's safe to say the 80s have become the norm, superficially (what does that even mean?) or otherwise...and in small doses. Let's not get too crazy.

Side Note: This was the day I brought in cupcakes for a coworker's birthday. It was a new recipe and they were soooooooooo good!

Day 11: Dots & Circles

Jacket with Belt: H&M
Earrings: New York & Company
Note: I'm loving trying out summer up-dos. This one was particularly easy, and the video was fun to watch.

Side Note: This was the day my coworker (a man) alerted me to Sprinkles being in the building! I've trained these guys well. It will be sad to leave them, but I do feel as if my work here is done. If you work in the Pentagon and missed Sprinkles, they'll be back in August from the 13th to the 17th and the 20th to the 24th, and again in September from the 10th to the 14th.

Day 12: Sunglasses

Sunglasses: H&M --> $5.99 <-- (Perfect for me because I break or scratch up every pair I own. These have weathered being thrown around in my bottomless tote all season.)
Seashell necklace: Forever 21
Jacket: New York & Company

Note: Work suddenly got busy and my photographer and I couldn't get outside the one day we should probably have been outside to take a photo. (Note the G.I. Joe action figure under the computer screen, proof that we have a sense of humor here in the Pentagon. Oh the stories I'd love to tell...)

Side Note: This was the day I was supposed to appear in Dinwiddie Traffic Court (say it out loud and real fast for fun: DIN-widdie) for a reckless driving ticket I got over Memorial Day. The cop actually told me I wasn't driving recklessly, but he was going to ticket me as such anyway, and he was going to ticket me for having a brake light out. Pay attention to this detail, Virginia drivers: If you are going over 80 MPH in Virginia -- regardless of the speed limit -- you will be ticketed for reckless driving, which is a criminal misdemeanor. That means you can go to jail. I was going 81 in a 70, just like err-body else. (That'll teach me to drive a red car.) Anyway, I hired a lawyer and he got everything dismissed. If you need a referral, let me know.

Day 13: Hair Accessories

Headband: Forever 21 (I know you can't really see it, but it has little pearls on it and is really pretty.)
Cardigan: Banana Republic
Cami: The Limited
Belt: H&M

Note: Yes I know this is SUPER cheesy, but it was my last Friday in the Pentagon. It had to be done.
Side Note: My last day of work (this Friday) will also be the last day for the 2-star general I've been working for, for the past two years. As a farewell to him, we are having an office-wide BBQ. There's going to be a really neat surprise for him, which I was enlisted to be a major part of, and all I can say is it will be a prime opportunity for me to either epically embarrass myself or become a YouTube sensation. Or both. I'll keep you posted.

I skipped the weekend again (Mixing Patterns and Inspired by A Friend) because I had a blind day-date and didn't want to experiment with patterns, and my Sunday outfit of sweatpants and a dirty t-shirt would have insulted any friend I could have claimed I was inspired by. So instead, I offer you a DC rainbow, a lovely way to end a lovely week:

If you want to follow or participate in the Style Me challenge on Instagram or Twitter (it's not too late to join in!), check for and/or use the hashtag #StyleMeJuly.

Style Me July: Week 1

Jul 9, 2012

As promised, here are last week's outfits. (I'm really excited about pretending to be a fashion blogger!)

Day 1: Rainbow Bright

Dress: Max Studio, $50 at TJ Maxx
Necklace: Forever 21, $10.50
Note: I could have been more creative but it was hot, so this was the best I could do. Maybe that doesn't sound like a good excuse, but if you're living through this DC heat wave then you know what I'm talking about.

Day 2: Belt It Up

Dress: Target, around $25
Belt: Forever 21, around $15
Blazer: Zara, $90
Necklace: Eastern Market, around $20 (I should have worn it the day before to bring in more of a rainbow of colors)
Note: My photographer, @samanthareho, clued me into taking diagonal photos so you can see more in Instagram, which makes you crop your photo into a square. Genius! (Or maybe I'm just dumb. It was hot. Leave me alone.)

Day 3: Keeping Cool Trick

Jacket: H&M, $50
Blouse: LOFT, $25 on sale
Skirt: LOFT
Trick: Take off your jacket
Note: This was a super embarrassing photo shoot, as lots of people were walking by and commenting. The photos turned out well, though, and all the comments went to my head and made me think I was a model, until...

Day 4: Patriotic

Top: H&M, $5
Gold Pendant Necklace: The Limited, around $12 with coupons
Red & Gold Bangles: From Ashmi's wedding (matched my sari)
Skinny Jeans: LOFT, $60
Belt: Gap, $25 on sale
Note: These were taken on my rooftop and were almost as embarrassing as the photo shoot the day before as the rooftop was packed with people. The wind was blowing and made my top outline my faux mother belly, but I was too nervous to retake any photos, so this is what I ended up with.

*That bottom left photo is of me holding a cake that took me all day to make. It was supposed to look like this:

...but instead looked like this:

It was hot. I tried.

Later in the night, when I was requested to sing a Broadway rendition of Katy Perry's "Firework," I was unaware that another photo shoot was going on:
At least they were laughing at me and not with me. Wait. That doesn't make sense.

What I learned: That shirt is NOT flattering. (Good thing I only paid $5 for it.) I am not a cake baker. I will stick to cupcakes from now on.

Day 5: A Bright Pucker

Dress: Target, around $18
Note: I lurv this dress. I have traveled in this dress twice now, and it is so comfortable, easy to wear and flattering yet provides plenty of coverage. LURV. IT. I was in Maine for Joanna's wedding, hence the hotel bathroom.

Day 6: Channeling Audrey

Note: I decided to channel Marilyn instead because I had already planned on wearing this dress for the wedding, but Audrey would have been really fun to do. I'll try to mix Audrey in with another outfit later this month. The pose is weird because I was trying to do the Marilyn wind-blown look, but there was no wind, so I just look like I need to go to the bathroom.
Dress: I think Max Studio, will double check, $50 at TJ Maxx
Shoes: Enzo Angiolini at Macy's, $89 (they sparkle!)
Earrings: Forever 21, $3
Seashell Purse: Vintage, inherited from my great aunt

Days 7 & 8: A Short(s) Story and Swish Your Skirt

Due to the heat wave, I spent both of these days lying on my couch watching HBO on Demand, which I had for the weekend. I was way excited about watching episodes 2 through 10 of "Girls" (HBO teased the first episode on YouTube), but I ended up sleeping for most of the day and was unable to gain consciousness until the sun went down.It was literally too hot to watch TV, much less put together an inspired outfit. I actually had some cute madras shorts with a neon yellow t-shirt I was going to wear on Day 7, but I was too heat-stroken to walk to my bedroom and change. My neighbors were lucky I even had pants on. So I dressed up Noli instead.

That's Chanel, and that, coupled with her adorable, panting face, makes up for me not getting dressed for two days.

If you want to follow or participate in the Style Me challenge on Instagram or Twitter, check for and/or use the hashtag #StyleMeJuly.

Mid-Year Fashion Check!

Jul 2, 2012

I don't know how I'm just now hearing about this, but the ex-roomie, Margels, just tuned me into Style Me, a monthly fashion challenge where every day gets an inspiration phrase, and you put your outfit together, snap a pic, upload it to Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, etc., and tag it with #StyleMeJuly (that's the tag for July, duh).

*Side Note* Funny how "Instagram" shows up as a misspelled word in Blogger, yet Facebook and Twitter don't. Maybe next year?

I've been feeling very summery-stylish lately, so this came a great time.

Before the cray cray DC storm last Friday (Noli and I survived), I was at a hotel rooftop pool pretending to be part of the DC elite (a pool is hard to come by in these parts, y'all). Thanks to everyone being tied to their Facebook and Twitter feeds, we found out around 9 p.m. that a storm was abrewin'. We didn't believe them because the sky was perfectly clear, and I didn't want to leave because A) it was free, B) I had finally convinced myself I look fabulous even though I gained two pounds in June, and C) I had dressed up because I thought it would be like the Capitol Skyline pool parties (it was not) and didn't want to look frumpy, hence I was wearing a retro black one piece and gold medallion necklace.

Yes I'm wearing jewelry at a pool. Wanna fight about it?

Notice the granny in the bikini with the little girl with flaoties? 
That's how you know you're not at Capitol Skyline. 

By 9:30 we had been badgered enough by reports of this storm, so we went home. Noli and I were cuddling on the couch watching Friday's "The Young & the Restless" when El Derecho hit. That's right, it has a name, look it up. I have never seen Noli scared of a storm in her life, but she leaped off the couch and hid in the bathroom. Being the terrible mother I am, I took her out on the balcony to face her fear ("It's just a little wind, silly!") and a gust just about took her out of my arms. This thing was for real.

The next day I went river tubing in West Virginia with some friends, so we saw a lot of the wreckage on our way out of town.

 I still can't believe this tree didn't hit that house.

*Serious Side Note* I found out that evening that the storm had made national news because of its severity, and several people even died. A friend of the friends I went tubing with was riding her motorcycle in our neighborhood when the storm hit, and tree fell on her and paralyzed her from the waist down. Check out the Facebook Group that is posting updates and info on how to donate for her recovery.

The storm not only failed to break the heat wave, it left a lot of people without power. Thankfully the power lines in my neighborhood are underground, so I wasn't affected.

That night at a rooftop party I left my hair down with pretty summer curls, and after three hours of standing outside after sundown, the bottom layer of my hair was sopping. I had to find a new summer do. Enter: the sock bun. All you do is cut the toe out of a sock and roll it up, put your hair in a ponytail high on your head, slip the toe-less sock over it, and start wrapping the ends of your hair down around the sock. No bobby pins necessary because your hair secures itself in the sock bun. Plus, it makes you look like you have a ton of hair, and the bun is perfection. 

In conclusion, I'm going to post my week's outfits at the end of each week in July with whatever little style tips I come up with or find along the way. Follow everyone participating on Twitter at #StyleMeJuly, and please let me know if you're playing along so I can look for your outfits!