Monday, January 30, 2006

Le Triumphe d'Amour

К сожалению, нет любви у меня, хотя я только что разговоривала с старшой парой в школе воскресенном о тем как мне очень нравиться кавалер, который думает о мне просто как друг, только как друг, не как любовница, или (может быть) будущая жена. Много я плакала, но это не важно. Наверно он нет человек с котором можно жить счастлив. Но что будет, то будет.

Enough of the confessional diary entry, on to the blog...In other news, I watched an English translation of the eighteen-century French play The Triumph of Love this evening. It was a fluffy, fun mix of the usual gender-bending mistaken-identity simultaneous deception sort of which Shakespeare was so fond. Still, though the costumes were spiffy, the sound on the DVD was iffy in spots and the unadulterated dialogue was no where near ol' Will's level. And what purpose was there in having a rear nudity moment at the beginning of the film (one reason for the PG-13 rating)? It had nothing to do with anything. And plus, in mine 'umble, strong arms are so much more attractive than some guy's tanned bare buns--what would possess a girl to embark on a hazardous adventure thanks to once glimpsing buns? Buns is buns--they all look about the same. Noses, now...there's a distinctive feature, and one that can be shown in public, too. A nice nose is worth pursuing, provided in fronts a good character. That and good calf muscles, that carry a worthy soul along. But enough of my pontificating on the qualities of masculine beauty.

I think China has biological weapons potential. It's a gut feeling that disagrees with the gut feeling of the fellow who came to speak to our Principles of Biodefense class today. He talked mainly about the Soviet BW program, their Plague Stations (which concentrated on defensive capabilities) and their experiments with souped-up smallpox and other evil things on Resurrection Island in the Aral Sea (now, thanks to the dessication of that sea through Soviet water resource mis-management, the island is the tip of a peninsula, and sandstorms mix the residual toxins into great clouds that have made the surrounding populations in Kazakhstan and its neighbors some of the most unhealthy on earth). I talked with him after class, and though he said the Chinese case is a "black box," like North Korea, he thinks they haven't bothered with this technology. I think that a country that has so many naturally occuring nasty viruses (SARS, various strains of bird flu, and so forth), a surplus of human talent and population, and aspirations for profound global influence would be silly not to explore this technology. Especially since they were the victims of it before and during WWII (the Japanese used BW in Manchuria). And it is only we Americans that have short historical memories. The speaker's reasoning was that the Chinese already had nuclear and chemical capability--what need had they for bioweapons? Well, what need had the Soviets? If it's one thing repressive regimes are good at concocting, it's innovative ways to kill people--and they generally borrow from and build on the history of their likeminded forebears. I would not be surprised if, as part of his emphasis on goodwill towards China, Putin did not agree to share with its Far Eastern comrade some of the older BW technologies that Russia still so zealously guards (to this day, it denies that it ever had an offensive weapons program, although for what peaceful purpose one would need to produce three hundred tons of anthrax a MONTH--enough to kill every inhabitant of the globe several times over--is beyond me). A little wannabe regime like Iran will concentrate on a single big weapon; China's a big country, with abundant can afford to diversify.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Deaccessioning Blogroll Entries

I've decided to cut out three entries from my blogroll: The Vulnerable Church, Girl of the South and "Allegria Joy." All are thoroughly nice blogs, and the ladies who keep them are sweet, but they are updated so rarely (sometimes not for months at a stretch), I am getting frustrated with them.

The beauties of the blog format are its size, its accessibility, and its easy updateability. I am no longer sending semi-weekly mass and massive emails to people who don't want them. I can express my thoughts in full here, and those who read them are those who so desire. And if one should want to re-read an older message, one needn't hunt. But maintaining currency is important. Something interesting happens every day, and although I may wait several before spotting a theme worth a post, only severe ennui or technical problems would prevent my writing at least once a week. I don't think my life is exceptional in its variety and inspirational qualities, either. So why don't these ladies write? I, for one, would love to hear more from them.

I will continue to check the affected blogs every few weeks, and will relist them if they change for the more regular.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Cinderella Moment?

Thank goodness I always hold on to the handrail when negotiating stairs. Otherwise, I would likely be typing this from a hospital bed, rather than from atop my own air mattress. I fell down the granite stairs in the metro today. Dramatically. Both shoes flew off, one falling on the commuter platform below, and the other coming to rest a good five steps down the flight. I immediately got up, helped by two nice girls who were gasping, "Are you OK?" as I muttered, "I've never done THAT before!" and my shoes were recovered in the same moment--a male commuter handed the left one up through the railing, and the right one was placed on my foot by a handsome young man who said, gallantly, "I never would have noticed!" "Sure" I said, and grinned at him. Five seconds or less for accident and recovery, and then we were all on our way. But I've been sore--just my leg (I was wearing a backpack, so my back wasn't affected)--and shaken up all day (if I fall once--and I attribute the event to my slippery high heels--I may well fall again), which was one reason I decided to stay in this evening rather than going to the Intervarsity dessert. That and most of my clothes were in the wash.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Only Thing We Have To Fear...

Day by day, as I attend lectures in the BTAEID program, one idea is becoming abundantly clear, whether it is the direct intention of the professors and guest speakers to illuminate it or not: Fear is one of the worst illnesses one can contract, the worst pandemic one can suffer, the worst attack one can sustain. It paralyzes people, incurs symptoms that mimic those of radiation poisoning, toxic exposure, and even actual bacteriological infection, and overwhelms health care providers and policy makers.

Yesterday we heard from a scientist and a journalist who co-authored a book on bioterrorism. One case, the most notorious in recent memory, on which they particularly focused (as although it was not itself an episode of bioterrorism, it involved a group which had also tried to use weaponized bacteria and viruses against civilian populations) was the 1995 Tokyo sarin attack by Aum Shinrikyo, a militant cult with a mafia-size bankroll and a staff of PhD technicians working to produce an apocalyptic scenario throughout Japan. Although the attack killed "only" twelve people and injured "only" a thousand, fully five times that number of people clogged emergency rooms within hours of the rush hour attack, terrified that they were dying.

Today, in our Radiological Safety class, the instructor reviewed the 1987 events in Goiania, Brazil, where people found a container on the grounds of an abandoned medical facility which contained a small glowing blue sphere of Cesium 137. Thinking this stuff was magic powder, the discoverers and their ignorant families (including a six-year-old girl) smeared the dazzling Cesium on their bodies, rejoicing in the sparkling effect. Eventually, 244 people were contaminated, and four died within weeks (including the little girl), making this the second-worst nuclear accident ever, ranking just below Chernobyl. But to me what was almost as bad as the casualties themselves was the outright panic of the community--over thirty thousand people, scared that they had somehow been affected by the Cesium, surged into the local soccer stadium and had to be tested and assured by medical authorities that they were not at risk.

Witness our own American paranoia after September 11, when the anthrax letters seemed to be everywhere--DC residents were frightened more than the average citizen, because the lethal letters began arriving in their town just a week or so after the plane hit the Pentagon, and then "the sniper" (still referred to as such, although now known to be two people working together) seemed to be picking off ordinary people doing ordinary things all over the area. Fear was rampant.

Fearlessness is a historically-noted God-following Christian trait. When you truly fear God, who can cast both body and soul into hell, you spend much less time fearing man, men's doings, and the germs that can kill the body but not the soul. "Fear not," is a divine command which reappears throughout the Bible. Unwarranted fear is a nasty, underhanded enemy. That was one of the worst aspects of my untreated OCD--constant, fervent fear. Satan and his servants love unfounded fear--the "what ifs" which leave us sleepless, rather than the "what is" for which we can be thankful. In biological, chemical and nuclear terrorism and accident prevention, we would do well to follow the example of the Israelites under Nehemiah--they refused to be intimidated, yet they were prepared, standing ready with weapons even as they repaired the breaches in their defensive capabilities. And God blessed their efforts.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

My Adorable Niece

My little niece was ten months old a week ago. I didn't have digital pictures until today, and, well, she is so adorable she has to be admired by all..

Fire Hazard

A student living in an off-campus house-apartment in DC died last night in a fire. My parents are very concerned about my situation, given the obvious hazards posed by Alissa continuing to live here--I peeked into her room this morning and saw that the blinds were charred from where she left her curling iron on, pressed against them. If anything, her room is even nastier than it was before Christmas. Too, I think she is gradually transferring her good possessions to the storage of friends--she left this morning with an armful of nice clothing on hangers--and intends to leave the house abruptly, without having reimbursed me or Kevin for her expenses; I suspect she is still far behind in her rent, too. I've called and emailed my landlord (as I have been doing periodically for months and months) to tell him the situation, but as he has no backbone or sense of property-preservation himself, I doubt anything will be done. I think I'm going to go out and buy another fire alarm today. Insofar as it is within my power, I don't intend to fall victim to smoke or flame. If I do, though, I hope my survivors sue his (and her) pants off, in addition to pressing criminal charges.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Spooks and Rats

A senior analyst from the Intelligence Technology Innovation Center at the CIA came to speak to our Principles of Biodefense class today. In an old-fashioned twist, his presentation was based on overhead transparencies, not PowerPoint. Must have something to do with security, who knows? Anyway, he was interesting (I ended up with eight typed pages of notes), and took us through the basic steps of analyzing threats based on requests by government clients (members of Congress, the military, the President). Nothing secret, of course--he spent most of his talk just pointing out the limitations of various types of intelligence [HUMINT (human intelligence--that is, spies), SIGINT (signals intelligence), IMINT (imagery intelligence), MASINT (measurement and signatures intelligence) and last but certainly not least, OSINT (open source intelligence)] and how they are cross-checked, one against the other, when time and resources permit. One of the bits of information he did mention which I think everybody in class memorized by heart was the salary of consultants, on which the CIA (as well as many other government agencies these days) heavily relies: between $250,000 and $300,000 for high-level. Holy cow! I went up to speak to him briefly afterwards and found him less than warm--he was far more interested in talking to the gorgeous blond California valley girl behind me, with whom he immediately struck up a conversation full of smiles. C'est la vie.

I walked home over the Key Bridge, and as is my habit looked down onto the stone-lined canal on the Georgetown side of the Potomac. This time last year it was frozen solid, but the warm weather and rain lately has assured it is both liquid and muddy. Seeing movement, at first I thought that it was a brown duck paddling upstream, making a v-shaped wake through the opaque water. Then I realized there was no duck head, and what duck would be trailing a thick piece of twine behind it? It was a giant warf rat. The huge rat was swimming strongly up the middle of the canal, a piece of what looked like orange peel in its mouth, a sharp contrast to its dark wet fur and snakey tail, which almost looked as if it was being used as a rudder. It swam another thirty feet or so and I watched it until it disappeared into a waterline crevasse in the canal wall, taking its orange rind with it. What monsters live in the sewers beneath us!

Oh, clarification of yesterday's post's reference to "rent": I didn't mean housing rent, I meant market-booth space rent, which varies depending on the weather, the season, and Bob Fleischmann's occasional susceptibility to weedling. If I had been making ten times my housing-cost each week, I would have considered it a sign that I needed to forget graduate school and go full time into the jewelry business!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

The Blahs

Ever been on a major spiritual "high" (i.e., read a great book full of Godly wisdom, had a great quiet time, been to a church service/Sunday school class which leaves you feeling that you have really "turned your eyes upon Jesus") and then totally crashed, bombed out, just snapped like a brittle twig? That's me, today. Yesterday and this morning, I had not one or two, but all those wonderful spiritual moments. And then I flipped this afternoon, just totally lost it, went into (if you'll forgive the word) Major Bitch mode.

It wasn't like everything had been going perfectly up to that point--I had one of my worst days at the market yesterday (made about triple the rent, when I usually make at least the rent ten times over), and Alissa has not paid me back for the November and December bills yet. And in the mail I got over a thousand dollars in medical bills from the Christmas vettings. Even though there were things to be thankful for--my insurance had cut the original doctor bills by two thirds (praise God!), I was in a warm and dry house with my own room (I don't have to share personal space with Alissa, another blessing) and I did make some money at the market (it wasn't like those several Saturdays at Eastern Market two years ago when I didn't even make rent)--I was still feeling whiny and unappreciated.

I'd gotten home from church this afternoon, was ready to head out the door to Georgetown (to write the questions I promised to do on the Napoleonic era for the Phi Alpha Theta annual quiz bowl), when Ernest called. About some group social event he wanted to doublecheck I wasn't going to be involved in (an evening ski trip on Thursday). Hadn't heard from the guy ever since Thursday, when I emailed an offer to drive him to church (because although he's a Christian, he's not attending anywhere, and claims it's because he doesn't have a ride, which I think is codswallop). It wasn't like I'd really asked him to respond to the email: I'd only said "Let me know" about interest. But it really, really pissed me off that he would call about a weekday trip (about which I had expressed no interest) and not bother with mentioning church. It irritated me even more because I have thought the world of him for about six months now (I met him over a year ago, but he didn't stand out at first), and have been hoping so much that he would think I was someone special, too.

This is the first time I've been interested in anybody for eight bloody years! It's not like I have a particular reason, though. Ernest's been perfectly kind to me, as he is to everybody in our little group of Georgetown Christians. I've never gotten the impression that I was singled out for any special favor. And, having learned hard lessons from nasty past experiences, I've been careful to be equally polite to him, not to display any untoward attention--the church ride invite was a result of serious soul-searching about its propriety. I never want to be "Good ol' CEP" to another eligible guy in my life. I can only be friends with ineligibles (nonChristians, marrieds), and even then I have to be careful.

Still, I guess I had fallen into the trap of "I've done everything right, I'm not being pushy, I'm appropriately demure, I've been praying about this for MONTHS, why the hell doesn't he notice me?!" thinking. And so I made a nasty remark about his not responding to my email about the ride to church as the call this afternoon was ending. And then I came to the history department and cried for 30 minutes. I feel really ashamed. So controlling, and so without control.

I'm chucking those romantic hopes. I am ashamed of myself, but I am also angry--don't give me this crap about not being able to go to church when you've gotten offers of rides, and are within walking distance of a metro system when will take you to any number of good congregations! Really, do I want to be in love with someone who hasn't made a major priority of finding and becoming subject to the accountability provided by a solid body of other believers? I know I get even more screwed up than usual when I don't have folks to confess to, who will ask how I'm doing--and yes, I'm going to tell my Bible Study about today. Also in that vein, I'd like to ask my Christian siblings out there to pray for me, particularly about the above. I've asked God to forgive me, but I know I need Him to give me the ability to have healthy relationships with people of the opposite sex. Cause this ain't it.

Thursday, January 19, 2006

Guns and Bombs

Radioactive safety went a bit better today. I felt less like I was being hit between the eyes by a barrage of quarks and other quirky subatomic particles and more like my own nucleus was in a state of stability. Tuesday, I was in sore need of Nuclear Physics for Dummies. Today, after three hours of pouring over Leah's loaner college Energy text, and accumulating a list of useful websites kindly provided by a man-friend henceforth to be known to blogdom as Ernest, I did know the difference between atomic mass and number, between alpha and beta radiation. Really, really basic stuff, but at least it's a start. Especially as you readers may be relying on me one of these days to deal with some dirty bomb attack in a Major Metropolitan Area. Shocking, no? I couldn't even remember the definition of Avogadro's number before I started my AM review. Well, it has been twelve years since I took Chemistry. The funny thing was, I took it at a community college during the summer, and transferred the credit in towards my undergraduate degree only by swearing to the head of the Washington and Lee Chemistry department that he would never see me again--I'd gotten an "A", and I think that he considered that proof positive that the course I'd taken wasn't up to his exalted standards, and that I would be a blot on his department if I ever enrolled during the year for further study. And just look at me now! Bwah-ha-ha!

Today was also the first class I've ever attended where one of my fellow students was obviously armed. Since DC has such appalling gun laws (only criminals and the feds are allowed to carry), and this guy was apparently not a criminal, he must be a fed. Plus, before class, he was talking on his cell to a colleague about a "dog and pony show" (his words, repeated several times) he's supposed to do out in Las Vegas for a bunch of state nuclear response team specialists, so I figure he's official. So, I'm moving in pretty darn exalted circles these days, even if I don't have a clue.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Meme in Four-Four Time

I’ve been tagged by Paxifist, so here goes:

Four jobs I've had:
Godiva Chocolate saleslady
Cement company customer service receptionist
Jewelry saleslady
Museum preparator’s assistant

Four Movies I (could/would) Watch Over and Over Again:
Sense and Sensibility
(1 and 2)
Ирония Судбы

Four Books I (could/would) Read Over and Over Again (besides the Bible):
Beauty (by Robin McKinley)
The Church Mice books (by Graham Oakley)
The Lord of the Rings trilogy
Anything by Agatha Christie

Four Places I've Lived:
Landsdown, PA
St. Petersburg, Russia
Winston-Salem, NC
Statesboro, GA

Four T.V. Shows I Watch (well, I don’t watch TV, but I have enjoyed DVDs of the following):
Firefly (can’t believe they cancelled it—it was really good!)
The Simpsons
Arrested Development
…and I can’t think of a fourth!

Four Places I've Been on Vacation:
St. Augustine, FL (if I can ever afford it, I’m going to own a house there!)
Pskov, Russia
Poznan, Poland
Taxco, Mexico

Four Websites I Visit Daily:
Dave Barry’s Blog
Georgetown University
Drudge Report
Most of my blogroll

Four Favorite Foods:
Anything slathered in garlic (yum!)
Grandmommy’s soup

Four Places I'd Like to Be Right Now:
Mebane, NC
Lexington, VA
With my family
In my own beautiful house that I’ve designed…

Four Bloggers I'm Tagging:
Ann Louise (The Vulnerable Church)
Josie (Girl of the South)
Allegria Joy
Virginia Shay (Hill of Beans)

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

I'm Ready to Die

...not that I'm planning on doing so any time soon. The readiness of which I speak is strictly bureaucratic, a paperwork matter: I got my will signed and notarized.

Spiritually, of course, I have been ready for a long time, but the disposing of worldly goods bit I had heretofore neglected. It's not that I have loads of money (quite the contrary) but I do have nice things that I would like parcelled out among relatives and friends, should I predecease them still being so materially blessed. So, two weeks back I concocted a will using one of those digital attorney programs, embellished it as time and brainstorming allowed, and today finally got around to finishing the job.

Don't get any bright ideas about knocking me off, though...

Monday, January 16, 2006

I Need Nerds!

I'm having a major Nerds craving. I love them--those little sugar crystals dipped in various fruit flavorings. A friend once gave me several boxes as part of my Christmas present when I was in college. I almost never buy them for myself. For one thing, Whole Foods is too hoity-toity to stock them. For another, my only grocery splurge (that is, non-practical edibles) is the occasional bottle of vino. I don't even go onto the candy or the chips aisles--there's a transfat slippery slope I don't want to start down. But I still want some Nerds...right now! After all, they don't have any fat (they are pure sugar). Maybe it's the Russian translation (yes, after a two months' hiatus, I am back on the job) I've been doing all afternoon that's giving me such a yen for sweets. I've nibbled some thin chocolate squares, but that didn't cap the craving. Drat, drat, drat.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Vacation Needed

I've been back in DC a week and already I need a vacation. Really, classes haven't been that brutal--they've only been meeting for three days! But, the preparation for classes on Monday and Tuesday, and the concern that my multi-thousand-dollar deposit won't arrive at the bank before the equally huge tuition check I wrote on the money Wednesday afternoon goes through have made me just the tweensiest bit stressed. It's only 7:30, and when 8:30 rolls around, I'm going to take my shower and go to bed. I've got to be at the market by 8 tomorrow anyway.

I learned neat trivia this week! When you eat a banana, your body turns the potassium therein into a radioactive isotope, Potassium-40. Our digestion does the same thing with brazil nuts. Yet 'nanners are good for you. I had two for breakfast this morning. Run the geiger counter over me!

We learned how to put on a Level C biochemical/biohazard suit today. In addition to up to three pairs of synthetic gloves, a battery-powered filtered respirator, puncture-proof rubber boots, a head-to-toe Tyvec overall and a Tyvec half-burka with a plastic view-window, it involves duct tape. Don't leave home without it! I'm sorry I don't have pictures (I didn't get to put on the full suit, since they only brought one--they cost up to $3000 each!), but I do have some extra N-95 masks. It seems I have a funny-shaped face--wee nose, high cheekbones and firm chin--and the masks don't fit me properly, yet they gave me a handful to take home. We were advised to keep them in our car glove boxes. Properly fitted, the N-95 will filter most aerosol contaminants--it's a glorified surgical mask (those only keep droplet matter from being exchanged). I, of course, will die, because there was no way, on two different models of N-95, that I could get a decent seal.

In my Emerging Infectious Diseases class, we're focusing on H5N1 avian flu, which is the nasty kind that has spread from the Far East to Turkey recently. That's the focus of our group projects, at least--in lectures the professor is covering all sorts of EIDs. Today's topic was Nipah virus, which appeared in Malaysia and Singapore in 1999. We haven't gotten to see any gory pictures yet, but those have been promised us by the two ladies who are teaching us Biological and Radiation Safety. I know Ebola in particular is not pretty.

I went out with some twenty other of my antiBioterrorism classmates last night for one's birthday. It was fun, fascinating, and at the same time, thoroughly depressing. Several were talking about how they'd cheated on their timesheets at their old jobs. I'm used to people with few moral scruples, but this was still an unpleasant revelation, being so patently unethical. Plus, there was universal dislike expressed towards a supposedly "Christian" guy taking a leave from the program (he'll be back next term) who goes around carrying a Bible with laminated tabs all through it, telling everybody they are going to hell, and stalking almost all the girls in the class (really!--following them onto the buses they are riding home, and not leaving them alone despite the most pointed signals). They advised me to ignore him and/or pretend to be a lesbian, and then I would be left alone as one of the damned. He sounds like an absolute freak. Plus, he apparently talks through all the classes, saying "yes, yes, yes" over and over during lectures. Several of the kinder people in the group volunteered they thought he had emotional issues. Yes, I can see that. You know, it's hard enough being a witness for Jesus in the world without some insensitive-religious maniac going around and prejudicing people against you and Him for all the wrong reasons.

And now, to bed!

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Torching Art

One of the little goals I'd set for the holidays was to get all my gold and silver scrap together and have it melted down, so that I could send it off to an assayer and perhaps recoup some of the value. After three years of jewelry-making, I had almost a pound of sterling silver in sawed-off spoon-bowls and bent necklace findings, and about two troy ounces of gold--bits of gold-filled wire, broken 14k rings and other less-than-half-is-really-gold metal--that is, probably about half an ounce of pure gold mixed with three times its weight in junk. Still, given the price of gold these days (over $500 per troy ounce), it would be worth melting and selling. But I didn't have a crucible, and was nervous about taking a torch to my scrap in any case. In my varied and adventuresome life, I've been on a summer camp field-trip to a granite quarry, and visited a furniture factory and other big industrial complexes where I watched, without a qualm, all sorts of giant machinery running and dangerous processes going on, but I've never been to a smelter, and wasn't keen on turning my bedroom into one without a little prior experience.

Christmas break was nearly over and I still hadn't figured out how to get this done, when my artistic Atlanta brother Nate came into town. It then occurred to me that I did know an local man who might just have the skills and equipment I needed, an artist from whom my father had recently taken a specialty welding course. I got the number of his studio and cold-called him, explaining my situation. He kindly said that I could come by that afternoon. My father volunteered to drive me over, and my brother and I climbed into his big diesel truck for this mini-safari into the boondocks.

I couldn't have gotten up the steep rain-rutted cow path that is the only entrance to the studio property without a four-wheel drive vehicle, I don't think. Mr. Jay is a nationally-recognized metal sculptor, but casual passerby on the secondary country road would never know it. It's only after your truck turns onto the gravel and mud track and bounds and rumbles to the top of the hill that there is any sign of civilization: a eight-foot almost lacy red metal sculpture bolted to a concrete plinth stands in front of a jungle of brush and scraggly pine trees. From there, the path becomes even more vague, and it is only by descrying a faint impression on the weeds to your left that you know which way to drive. You wind your way through logging scrub for a minute or two, and suddenly arrive at a complex of medium-sized warehouses surrounded by neat stacks of jumbled metal, some burnt brown with rust: huge steel beams, hole-pocked slabs of inch-thick aluminum, pieces of farm equipment and aircraft. Parking is around back.

Mr. Jay was up in a room tending a vat (actually a large insulated drinks container) of sulfuric acid when we arrived. He'd only just finished anodizing the eight precisely-machined feet for a table he was making out of an airplane nose cone and wing fins. He also showed us parts of a sundial he was assembling that included other airplane components: propellers bent in the shape of petals. His warehouse studio is crowded with racks of steel and all sorts of machinery and tools to shape and solder it.

The crucible he had waiting for me was homemade: a steel quart saucer lined with fireproof clay on a long pole secured to one of the welding benches. While we three visitors looked over the warning signs (“All metal is HOT!”), he opened the barn-sized doors at that end of the building, hauled out a huge oxyacetaline torch and fired it up. My silver went first, all the tendrils of wire and pieces of spoons coagulating into a red glowing mass. It was fascinating. The lump was still radiating heat when he scooped it out with a pair of old hospital surgery tongs and placed it on an anvil to cool. The gold took a while longer, because the zinc in the filling kept gassing green, and he waited too long a couple of times before trying to get it out of the crucible and had to re-heat it. Ignoring the warning signs, Daddy almost crisped his finger on the gold blob, touching it to see if it were cooled. After Jay dunked it in water, we got to hold it--so heavy for such a small thing!

I think my brother was impressed by the studio and by Jay’s work—here is a person making beautiful objects, using science and design to an artistic end. Maybe Nate can imagine himself doing something similar--I sure can't see him making a living as a plumber forever.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Return to the Metropolis

The thrice-married print vendor, layered against the cold, sat staring stoically ahead, determinedly deaf to the yelling, gyrating man on the corner thirty feet to his left, while a little cluster of other vendors, shifting their frozen feet, watched the day-long show from across the road, whispering among themselves about homeless shelters, alcoholism, and mental illness. All morning, the little Belgian woman next to me pessimistically opined about the virtues of the British welfare system and the shortcomings of the American, and muttered, “It’s so sad,” over and over again. The drama, and my neighbor’s laments, increased when the police showed up in the early afternoon, arresting a shoplifter who had come out of a nearby store and briefly handcuffing the obnoxious man, too. Sales, under such adverse conditions, were decidedly down.

The drunk, crazy fellow was merely bothersome. Even the police decided he wasn’t their concern, and quietly released him after running his face through the identification system. He didn’t use any bad language, he just went through spells of yelling, trying to interact vocally with people on the street, and then breaking into mini sermons, and calling out “MICH-ael JACK-son” and softshoeing (badly) to inaudible music. He wandered off, twice, to the considerable relief of all of us, then reappeared on the same corner, weaving and belligerent. One person tried to reason with him, to the usual result—an increase in volume and determination to prove his virtuous intentions: “I ain’t harmin’ nobody!” etc. One of the inevitabilities of big-city life.

I did not do too badly sales-wise, nonetheless. Better than everybody within my immediate vicinity, anyway. Had several returning customers who raved about the good reception their past purchases had gotten, and bought more. And I’ve got $50 of repairs and $40 of reserved purchases lined up for next Saturday, so that’s a good start for the year.

I do like living in the city, its dangers notwithstanding. I like talking with the wide variety of people who come to the market, being a small part of a big working system (the virtue goes out when the movement grinds to a standstill)—one of thousands of cars speeding along on the highway, gliding on and off dozens of complex exit-ramps; one of millions riding the clean, modern metro; one of hundreds shopping in a well-stocked grocery. I like being an anonymous observer of the fast-paced metropolitan bustle, then coming home to a quiet corner, where I can only barely hear the continuous roar of traffic that murmurs in the distance like the ocean at the seashore.

Nate moved back in tonight. His cousin Diane moved with a friend to a new apartment over Christmas. She was such a sweet girl—I wish she could have moved into Alissa’s room, if Ms. Awful would have just moved out! It’s nice to have Nate back, though—he will be a help with my anti-bioterrorism studies, since he’s a biologist/infectious disease researcher by education and trade.

Considering Alissa let her orchid (sent by one of her male admirers for her birthday) die from neglect, we needed something pretty for the middle of the dining room table (it’s not like we have any pictures on the walls or curtains in the windows—the house is almost wholly undecorated). I bought a rosebush today at Whole Foods. My own life needed color—green is so rare at this time of the year—and cut flowers are not only expensive, they die within a few days. The rosebush is a potted plant and it cost five bucks. It has vigorous green leaves and two-color miniature blossoms. I hope it thrives.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Major Quiz

Now that I've already majored in English (ended up getting a minor in it) and History (ditto) and Russian Studies as an undergraduate, Museum Management and International Studies and History and BioTerrorism/Pandemic Preparedness as a graduate student, here comes along a quiz (linked by Tulipgirl) to tell me what I really should have decided on for my major...

You scored as Journalism. You are an aspiring journalist, and you should major in journalism! Like me, you are passionate about writing and expressing yourself, and you want the world to understand your beliefs through writing.





























What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!<3)
created with

Baby, It's Cold Outside!

At 7:30 this evening, I saw the Washington Monument ahead as I sped past the massive stone bulk of the Pentagon. "It's good to be back," I thought. Fifteen minutes later, having unloaded my car, I opened the mail that was waiting for me on the dining room table, and almost revised my cheerful opinion. Alissa is responsible for our having a $416.08 gas bill. We are heating Arlington County. It shouldn't be cold outside, it should be downright tropical, given the amount of warmth she pumped into the atmosphere over Christmas. Unbelievable. FOUR HUNDRED SIXTEEN DOLLARS AND EIGHT CENTS!

Anyway, it is good to be back, where I have high-speed wireless accessible from my laptop (that was a major reason for my scanty blogging over break--everytime I felt inspired, somebody else was on the only Internet-connected desktop at my parents' house). I have a small backlog of stories to tell my eager readers--about the artist whose studio I toured on Tuesday, about hilariously unintelligible music, semi-intelligible cats and neglected pennies. Oh, and about how I plan to spend this next semester!

But for now, these tidings will have to wait. I've got to write out some price-tags and get to bed soon, as tomorrow, the Arlington Market beckons. I'm going to freeze my buns off.