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Thursday, September 29, 2005

Pearls and Turkey Sausages

Pretty exhausted last night. Less so today, due to a shorter workday and more comfortable shoes. No telephone calls, either. I did make sure that the receiver was resting properly on the base, but maybe this was just a day when nobody felt like phoning the History Department. So weird compared to my previous secretarial jobs--one at a customer service center for an international cement-manufacturing company, and the other for a state chapter of an architects' professional organization. I was constantly saying "Good morning/afternoon" to callers and answering their questions or redirecting them to others who could. This is much more laidback. I am going to get a new Russian-English dictionary and email the book chapters to myself, so I can be getting some translation done during the slow periods.

Several professors have been very nice to come by and tell me how glad they are that I am helping out at the front desk. I may actually get to know folks' names!

Finished a pearl necklace before bedtime yesterday--golden pearls with micro seed beads between each pair, with handmade sterling baubles and a sterling leaf-festoon as the centerpiece. This evening, I made a bronze pearl and Sleeping Beauty turquoise choker and matching earrings. Both of these should look lovely with someone's fall suit.

Found apple and turkey sausages at the grocery store and have enjoyed them this week. The combination sounds bizarre, but it's delicious. I love colorful juxtapositions that work!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

Another View of Georgetown

Being an employee of Georgetown gives one a different view of the physical plant and its uses. Yesterday, my second day as understudy to the secretary in the History Department (yes, they called me a day early--more about this later) I explored bits of the dark underbelly of the school, regions of campus where students rarely tread, in catacombs beneath the ordinary sunlit realms of classrooms and professors' offices.

The Human Resources Department, for example, is in the cellar of the Healy Building, the neo-Gothic granite mausoleum which dominates the front campus. To find it, look for the rust-pocked cannon barrels left over from the War of 1812. Duck around behind the loft of the formal stairs leading to the side-entrance and fumble down four dark anonymous stone steps and through double doors into a brick-arched corridor. When I entered for the first time, the atmosphere in the subterranean hall was a nigh-unbreathable combination of pungent mildew and warm kerosene.

As a department secretary, or the helpmeet thereof, one learns the codes for various devices, where keys are to be found, the addresses of unlisted faculty members, and the hidden susceptibilities of one's new colleagues: such-and-such "would have a fit if there weren't something sweet at the Thursday faculty meeting." It's a peculiar position of underpaid power.

This morning, I encountered a full professor standing helpless by the copy machine. It was out of paper. He was terrified of attempting to reload it. I, simply by virtue of manning the front desk, was assumed to privy to this Xerox mystery. I dispatched him to the graduate student copier in the back of the department so he wouldn't be underfoot, and then opened the drawer and inserted more paper. Not rocket science.

Oh, how I regreted wearing a dress and pumps today! Most of my six hours working was spent trotting up and down dozens (no lie!) of flights of stairs, delivering packages and running other errands. My feet ache. Tomorrow: tennis shoes.

My schedule for this allegedly "part time" job continues to fill. Greta, a graduate student who was working Monday/Wednesday/Friday from nine to noon quit this early shift effective this coming week. I was asked to pick up the slack in addition to filling in for the undergrad work-study who has a class conflict (Proletarians of the World Unite!) at another interval. End of ends is that I'll be working only a little less than 40 hours a week.

Meantime, I'm stepping up jewelry-production, since Clarendon Day is coming up October 15, and if we have good weather, an estimated 20-30 thousand people are expected to show up and walk past we vendors' booths. Gotta have a lot out on the table.

Oh, and I am now madly assembly info for the book translation grant-proposal. Huge job, that. But as a professor said to me today (he was mailing out his own grant-proposals to NY and DC foundations), the potential money is worth it.

And... I left a note for Alissa days ago saying that she owed $130 in household bills, and she not only tore down the note, she ignored what it said. She's driving me bonko. At least my father fixed my room door so that it locks.

And speaking of weird smells...today, the Georgetown Registrar's office smelled and felt like a fishmongers. Apparently processing grades involves gutting trout. And management of Human Resources must incorporate the consumption of popcorn: when I re-visited this afternooon, I practically had to dogpaddle down the corridor through a flood of kernels-saturated-in-fake-butter smell. Nauseating.

Perhaps this job will indeed be good for my bank account, but I have decided it most definitely will be good for my buns--so much exercise, and so many unappetizing odors...I'll be a lean, mean secretarial machine by the time November rolls around.

Friday, September 23, 2005

History News

The dear lady at The Upward Call recently posted an excellent entry on the value of appreciating history. I encourage my fans (that is, all seven of you...) to read it.

I tied with two other graduate students for Runner Up in the department's annual essay competition. We each got a check for $100. One of my fellow winners described this as a "token." Heck, in my world, this is largess--will definitely help me pay my bills this month!

The job fair today was exhausting--I ended up dressing conventionally in black pants and a white shirt, because the dress I was planning to wear really makes me look like an Eastern egg, and it is after Labor Day--but it seemed that folks in the national intelligence/security biz were on the lookout for folks with Russian History and International Studies backgrounds, so that was encouraging. I talked to a bunch of employer-representatives, and handed out copies of my resume, so maybe something will turn up. The salaries for the intel people are pretty darn good, but you have to get a Top Secret clearance, which can take up to two years to process. At least most of these places will pay for a inexperienced civilian potential employee like myself to get it--the thing costs upwards of $80,000 per person, and a lot of companies only hire folks who already have clearances left over from their military days, for example.

In the meantime, I'm making jewelry. Last Saturday was my best day ever--maybe tomorrow will supercede that!

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Happy Reversal of Fortune

Up from stress-induced misery, indigestion and severe jaw pain on Tuesday, my spirits have been lifted by events unexpected and welcome.

Yesterday, the LOC was actually getting books to the main reading room in an expeditious manner, and everybody (librarians, check-room people and security guards) were incredibly nice.

I got to the Phi Alpha Theta meeting on time, and was re-elected Graduate President. And the new inductees were actually enthusiastic about the prospective activities for the year. And my fellow club officers are delights.

The professor who sponsors the club was kind enough to drive me home on her way to PetsMart to get something for her dog, and on the way she told me that both the History Dept. secretaries were having severe health issues, and there might be an opening for a parttime assistant. She also agreed to write me a recommendation letter for my substitute teacher application to the Arlington Public Schools.

Early this morning, I emailed the graduate coordinator about the secretary-job opening, and in early afternoon she emailed me twice. The first was addressed to me and three other graduate students, requesting that we particularly attend the department party tomorrow. Apparently, there is an annual essay competition for the best paper, and we all placed. I had totally, completely forgotten that I'd submitted a paper for consideration. In fact, I still don't remember what paper it was. So, after the career fair tomorrow, I'll go directly to the party. At least I'll be nicely dressed. And there's a little money with each of the prizes, too. Then the coordinator emailed me to say she would be thrilled to have me as assistant secretary, working a couple of days a week. I was still on campus when I got the message (I'd finally gotten an appointment at the career center to have my resume evaluated), and so I stopped by the department to confirm my schedule. I start Tuesday. The graduate coordinator was wearing a gorgeous pair of earrings that I'd made. She says she's gotten scads of compliments on them.

So, I am much more relaxed about the job fair tomorrow. I won't be dressed like anyone else there--I don't own a suit, and so I am ditching drab and going colorful, in a bright "tapestry" dress complete with red shoes. My resume will be improved, and I will be looking forward to fattening hors d'oerves at the department party. Praise God for the encouragement wrought by good days!!

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

Chinese Food for Thought

While a potentially catastrophic storm churns out in the Gulf of Mexico, a military storm is gathering in the Far East. Mainland communist China has been making aggressive noises more often of late, sending its naval vessels into Japanese-claimed territorial waters, firing the occasional "training" missile in the direction of Formosa, and holding large-scale war games in conjunction with the Russian Federation. The signs seem clear--sooner or later, a major war will break out between elements of the Pacific rim, a war which will inevitably involve American allies and considerable U.S. economic interests. India, China, and the absolutely recalcitrant "rogue state" of North Korea are all acknowledged nuclear powers, as is Russia, whose huge, if usually-frozen coastline on the Pacific is frequently overlooked by western observers. There are well over two billion people, a third of the earth's population, crowded in that multinational area, and enough religio-ethnic civilizations confronting one another to give political theorist Samuel Huntington (author of the turgid academic bestseller of a few years ago, The Clash of Civilizations) fits.

I mentioned this impending clash between the U.S. and China to a friend this past weekend, a friend who is no slouch intellectually, being a former Fulbright scholar and present economist/consultant for a prominent DC firm. He glibly assured me that the U.S. would win any such armed contest handily. I'm not so sure.

I am currently reading Clear the Bridge by Richard H. O'Kane (a retired Rear Admiral of the US Navy) about the exploits of the World War II submarine U.S.S. Tang, which he captained from its launching until it was sunk by its own faulty torpedo, after having assembled an impressive record of successful attacks on Japanese shipping. Describing one of these offensive maneuvers where the Tang singlehandedly took on an entire convoy of enemy ships, boldly slipping among them one night, inside a net of wary patrol boats, O'Kane said: "The wake of the escort ahead boiled just off our bow; Tang was slicing through it, and again an inner patrol was blocking our path. Only in blind disdain would a captain think he could cross that bow undetected. I hated the enemy's guts, one has to if he's going to fight effectively, but I felt no contempt."

I recall about four years ago an American naval intelligence officer confidently telling me that the Chinese navy was in shambles, and that the U.S. could beat them without difficulty. This confident remark and the more recent comment of my economist friend are discouraging to me, rather than encouraging. They effectively ring of that lethal contempt (a practical attitude, not a passionate psychological position) for the enemy's innovation and fighting skill that O'Kane rightly avoided. It echoes the attitude the imperial Russians had towards another Far Eastern people almost exactly a century ago--"a small victorious war" was what the tsarist government expected against the Japanese. And then the Japanese sank almost all the ships of the Russian Baltic fleet (which had sailed halfway around the world to confront them) in a single day.

Historically, the U.S. does not have a sterling record in the prosecution of Asian conflicts. The Korean War, the Vietnam War--these were not exactly victories for the Allied cause. And those were much smaller countries, with exponentially smaller populations than communist China. I think it would be wise to access the risk for what it is, respect the acumen and creativity in supply, tools and tactics which this waking dragon will employ, and plan accordingly. I certainly hope our military, intelligence and statesmen are taking this new tack nowadays.

Monday, September 19, 2005

Harvey on a Harley?

I saw a biker on a rice rocket today, all decked out in motorcycle togs--special leggings, jacket, the works--serious business. The tiny fluffy pink-and-white bunny ears, one streaming back in the wind from either side of his helmet, though, were a bit incongruous.

Friday, September 16, 2005

In Transit

I love the Columbia (SC) airport! It's not just clean and light-filled, it also has wireless Internet access! I just found this out when I was sitting down at one of their free high-speed (plug-in) Internet access kiosks, and my computer indicated that the system was also wireless-enabled. Very cool.

I miss my little niece already :(.

Thursday, September 15, 2005

The Lot

An hour this morning was spent with my father, who was eager to show me the new lot he and Mums had bought across the river in South Carolina. For almost twenty years the two of them have been swearing "we'll never build another house." Yeah, right.

Prior to my father designing and building the house where they've been living now for about two decades, our family moved almost a dozen times, and in each place my father (who is a physician) would personally knock out walls, lay tile, rewire lighting, and generally remodel to such an extent that it was almost like building anew, except we were dealing with other peoples' prior mistakes as well as our own new ones. Well, he finally drew up plans of his ideal house, hired a builder, and spent about six months (when he wasn't on call down at the hospital) going over to the building site at 4 AM with a flashlight and crawling around the foundations, checking to make sure that the construction folks weren't making quality-killing shortcuts. He found a few instances of shoddy workmanship, and basically stood over them until they corrected the problem. We finally moved in. It was lovely. And both my parents were so thoroughly sick of all the effort they'd put in to achieve this, they were determined never to move again.

And now...in an absolute sense, the house remains beautiful, and given proper upkeep, it will last longer than most any other in the neighborhood. Yes, the wallpaper needs to be updated and the floors resurfaced. These are minor issues. The major one: it doesn't have any bedrooms on the ground floor, and my parents are increasingly concerned about their own frailty (considering my mother is a personal trainer and she and my father ride dozens of miles a week on their bikes, this is purely hypothetical frailty, but chronologically likely, nonetheless) and that of close relatives for whom they may end up caring. Stair-climbing is not something you want to hazard when you are old and brittle. Also, my mother is tired of having my father's boat and bicycle paraphernalia all over the garage, which is the only place he can really keep it, having no workshop. So, after much ado, they bought a 4-acre lot about ten miles away, and are perusing houseplans with groundfloor master bedrooms, basement workshops and spacious front porches (Mums has always wanted a "real" front porch).

It was a good thing I decided to wear a longsleeved shirt and jeans on today's paternal safari--Daddy's specific object (which I didn't know when I agreed to accompany him) was to get the lay of the (heavily wooded) land so he could better decide how and where he was going to clear room for the house. My job was to hold one end of a old-fashioned metal tape measure while Daddy went charging off with the other end into the underbrush like Teddy Roosevelt leading the charge up San Juan Hill. After Daddy had reeled off the length of the tape, he would shout "come on" and I would scramble towards him, trying to keep multi-foot loops of wire from catching on bushes and twigs. And then I'd stand with the end of the tapemeasure in the new spot in the middle of the woods while he went charging off again, commenting half to me, half to himself about gullies and hardwoods and backhoes and grading and such.

It ended up being kind of fun, thanks to the generosity of a couple of workers who were nearby fiddling with the subdivision's sprinkler system--they gave me four little plastic fuchsia flags on wire stems for marking boundaries. This was a whole lot better than attempting to improvise a visible marker in deep woodland with an arrangement of naturally-camoflaged sticks. The other fun thing was that, though it was a warm day, I didn't see any snakes. I would have hated to step on a snake. I'm going to check myself for ticks again before I go to bed, but hopefully I avoided those, too.

Back to DC tomorrow--I will miss my little niece so badly!!

Sunday, September 11, 2005

Tiger Trip

You haven’t really flown down South until you’ve been on a plane stuffed with two dozen more-than-semi-inebriated Clemson football fans. Saturday night’s Independence Air flight down to Columbia, SC, from Dulles, looked like Cinderella’s pumpkin coach had exploded inside the cabin—there was bright, jaundiced traffic-cone orange everywhere: on baseball caps, t-shirts, polo shirts, hand luggage, jackets, even the laces securing a fiftyish man’s white tennis shoes. This passle of good-ol’-boys was red-faced and cheerful—and their beer-swilling celebration of the day’s victory of their alma mater over the University of Maryland had first impaired any preexisting physical or auditory damper on their enthusiasm. And the happier they got, the louder and wider their vowels became—by the time they were hollering "Go Tigers!" in their seats, you could have built a Nascar track around the loops in the drawl.

They’d also become sentimental, in a beery sort of way. One particular fellow a row ahead turned around and peered at me through the gap between the seats. “You sho’ are purdy,” he announced gallantly, several times. I smiled, accepted the compliment, and then asked kindly how many beers he’d had. “Oh, two. Or three.”

“Or ten. Or twelve,” I thought. But it was kind of nice being hit on. Temporarily.

However, sloshed good ol’ boys let their reserve down in other respects, too—or, rather, this particular one did. The male flight attendant was gay, almost stereotypically so, and prior to takeoff this provoked an episode of limp-wristed handwaving and attempted-comic slang remarks from this previously-gallant, complimentary soul, before he was roundly “shushed” by his fellows and packed off to the back of the plane for weight-and-balance purposes (we were a bit light in more ways that one that trip). I was glad to be rid of him.

The rest were entertaining for the rest of the flight. They reminisced about the game, they ordered more beer (after swearing they wouldn’t buy more until they got back to South Carolina, where it was much cheaper), and they regularly invoked a mysterious deity known as “Wild Turkey,” whom they planned to worship that evening, before dragging themselves to church the next day—one fellow said he didn’t think he could make it, and the man next to me (he of the orange shoelaces) said he had to be there—and besides, “It makes my Mama happy.” I wondered idly if they were Baptists.

We were early getting into Columbia, and the grounds crew was not ready for us. We had to sit on the plane for a good ten minutes while they decided whether we’d get to use the jet bridge or would have to walk the fifty feet across the tarmac the old-fashioned way. This provoked more ribaldry from the sweaty Clemsonites, who groped for the correct terminology to express their feelings about the stuffiness of the cabin: “Clause-phobic,” one offered. Another man with a generous belly decided it was “close up.”

They invited me to go out to celebrate with them afterwards. I gracefully declined, and watched them bumble off through the terminal, still happy: “Did we win?! Tell me I’m not dreamin’!”

Invisible People

I was waiting for the next train in the subway Friday midmorning, on my way to “check in” on my study shelf at the Library of Congress. Passengers were collecting on the platform, in scattered clumps and isolated singles, like a marbles spilled on a pool table. A huge man came up and stood with his back to me, six or eight feet away. Even in the dimness, I could read his t-shirt: DOD. And underneath: Computer Crime Rapid Response Team.

It is often impossible to tell these days whether the person in the street or on the bus next to you who is talking loudly into the air is actually holding a conversation on a diminutive hands-free mobile phone device, or is responding to imaginary voices inside his own head. There were lots of people on the Metro platform that day who were gesticulating erratically and almost shouting at odd intervals. It was like being a ghost threading her way between inmates a lunatic asylum—none of the people paid any attention to me, although I walked through their apparent field of vision; all were engrossed in their separate worlds.

The giant in the official-looking t-shirt I initially took for one of these mobile disease sufferers. However, I kept tabs on him out of the corner of my eye, and failed to see a telephone. And then the breeze came up—the train was approaching. The scent of long-unwashed human assaulted me, and I discovered a new method of distinguishing the simply schizophrenic from the outright gizmo-mad. Most wireless communication geeks, no matter how socially awkward, do take regular baths.

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Change of Plans

I'm leaving DC. Oh, only for a week, if my plane tickets are adhered to, but it is an unexpected development nonetheless. Last night, I was looking at pictures of my excruciatingly cute niece, who is visiting my parents down in GA, and I decided I just had to see her again--she's almost five months old and I've only seen her twice, for three days each time. That's just not enough. She's going to be walking and talking before I know it, and then I'll be attending the high school graduation of a complete stranger who calls me "Aunt." It just won't do.

Happily, Mums was willing to finance this jaunt, since Independence Air is having one of its frequent sales, and so for $128 roundtrip, including all taxes and fees, I'm to fly out of DC Saturday evening and return the following Friday (that way, I won't miss any market days). This should also be good for my book translation-speed, since I will actually have fewer distractions in GA than here. Less immediacy of the roommate problems, for instance.

Remember those bills which Alissa supposedly paid last week, which was already two weeks late? Well, apparently she didn't really pay them, she just took them off the bulletin board. Kevin, in whose name two of the bills are listed, is not happy. But he unfortunately is not the sort of guy who confronts people well--he wanted ME to talk to her about the problem. I refuse to do his dirtywork for him--I already do all the vacuuming! I don't like abrasive, confrontational guys in the least, but I do appreciate men who display backbone when backbone is called for. He calls himself a political Independent (meaning a functional Democrat who can't take the heat), though, so what can one expect?

Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Grant-Searching

My Russian friend and I are looking for grants for our history book. The National Endowment for the Humanities has one for which we may qualify, but competition is horribly stiff--this admonition from the NEH staffer who emailed me today in response to some questions I had. They tend to look askance at works which fall in the general category of "family histories"--they don't want to fund something that is so parochial as to have no audience outside a small genetic group. But at least one part of the book is to be published in Russian in a St. Petersburg history magazine late this year or early next, so that may add to its legitimacy in the eyes of the grant grantors.

Today got my TB test (I may have to fall back on substitute teaching to pay the bills, and this is a prerequisite on the application), and went "all arty" dress-wise to the Georgetown IV meeting. And I ran into two people in my program at the Student Health Clinic--they both were quite pleasant, and remembered that I was taking a leave this term. TB test should be ready for reading Thursday afternoon. Right now it's a small red dot where they gave me a shallow subcutaneous injection--she put the needle straight through a small freckle. Poor little freckle--it will never be the same!

Monday, September 05, 2005

Purge

I've spent the better part of the day un-procrastinating. That is, I've finally buckled down on chapter five of the Russian book I'm translating. It's slow going, but at least I can see some progress. I'd been avoiding even opening the file for the previous week, and for the last couple of days I'd opened the document and just stared at it, in mute despondency. Today I at last took the plunge--into totally untouched material. Thank God for "find and replace"--you can't do that very often with Russian, but when you can, it's a big time-saver.

We've gotten through the first round of Stalin's purges, and are about to enter the war years.

I've also taken a few minutes and purged my eHarmony account of all the matches I've left hanging since I let my account lapse the first week of January 2005. Sometimes, a bit of housecleaning can do wonders for the attitude. I also scrubbed mold off the soap-holder in the bathroom with an old toothbrush. Mold, men and communists...that about sums up today!

Sunday, September 04, 2005

Booger Booger Booger

One of these days I'm going to call up my youngest brother (who almost never answers his cell phone), and leave a wierd 'n' wacky message. He is hereby forewarned.

Covetousness

Our Sunday School finished up the Ten Commandments this morning, with "Thou shalt not covet." We've been referring to the Shorter and Longer Westminster Catechisms and to the Heidelberg Catechism as supplementary materials to further clarify the implications of these seemingly-simple rules. Most of the preceding commandments deal with external actions: No lying (aka "bearing false witness"), no stealing, no adultery, do honor your father and mother, do keep the Sabbath holy, etc. The 10th Commandment addresses the internal attitude which spawns the previously-mentioned forbidden actions--wanting what others have. It's dissatisfaction with our own lot coupled with a resentful attitude towards our neighbor, an spiritual and intellectual rottenness that dishonors God and our fellow man, in contravention of the nine previous commandments, which demand that we love and serve God only and similarly respect his creatures. And it's a commandment that I violate multiple times a day.

The old King James Version of the Bible translates the whole of the commandment thus: "Thou shalt not covet. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbour's." (Exodus 20:17)

Translation: No coveting another's House, Spouse, Job/Employees, Computer, Car, and everything else.

I want a house, I want a spouse, I want a job...(I do have a nice computer and my car is holding up nicely, although it would be great to afford more gas!). It's OK to want good things, but the problem arises when I want them instead of, or ahead of, intimacy with God. Worse, I often want not "a" possession, but "that other person's" possession. Why can't I be dating/married to a guy like him? Why can't I afford a house like theirs? I'm well-educated, why don't I have a job like hers? And everything degenerates into a big pity-party for CEP.

More and more I am grateful for the assurance that "He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus." (Phillipians 1:6) I am constantly in need of Jesus' saving grace for forgiveness and contentment.

Thursday, September 01, 2005

Pray

For the hurricane-hit areas. Evil is almost unrestrained. People have sunk to the level of beasts--they are raping, murdering, and stealing. All are desperate, and help is slow in coming (logistically, it's a nightmare).