Wednesday, May 31, 2006

50/50 and $648 plus tax

Byron and I had to clean out the basement Memorial Day afternoon. We needed to find the source of that leak, and there was no way to do so without removing the contents of the hole, a pile of things not belonging to anyone living in the house. It was a dark festering swamp of mold, mildew, termite and mouse droppings, and half-biodegraded books, hangers, boxes, and ancient bedding rotten with age and damp. All waterlogged and filthy. I've been on inner-city cleanup projects that were more sanitary. The two of us hauled out wet, muddy rolls of old carpet and torn carpet-padding, a mattress and box springs, pieces of swollen particle board from who knows what long-broken pieces of furniture, boxes of sticky cassette and video tapes, discarded photographs and "Dear Jane" letters once owned by renters of a decade ago. Rusted lamps, two long-deceased computers (one had a 5" floppy drive), a sagging end table, musty cushions (so filthy the pattern on the cloth was unrecognizable). And other smaller pieces of junk too numerous to count. The job took us five hours. We were tired, disgusted and disgusting by the end of the work. And then we still couldn't find the source of the leak--the water could be seeping up through cracks in the foundation. But at least the basement is no longer quite the miasma-emitting pit it was. We are going to deduct $50 from each of our next-months' rent checks for a job well-done. Our landlord had better not try to dispute this--it had to be done, and had he hired someone to do this, it would have cost him at least three times as much.

One of the peculiar benefits of scooping flotsam is the occasional discovery of what could be treasure. Alissa's old British Tan Large Cabin Coach bag, for one. Or, rather, her newish one that she had partially destroyed and wholly abandoned. It's a $648 piece of luggage, really nice, and she'd not only ripped out part of the lining, she'd spilled some sweet-smelling perfume or lotion in it, and the bottom was as hard as a rock. Such a waste. So, yesterday (which, thank God, I'd already asked off for errand-running--I was pretty sore, too, from eyebrows to toenails, thanks to my Memorial un-holiDay efforts), I took the corpse to some leather specialists out in Falls Church, to see if it might be resurrected. The lady at the counter tapped the ointment-spots with a professional fingernail, looked at it mournfully, asked for a $7 diagnostic fee, and promised that the boss would be in touch. It would be a shame to have to toss the bag because of Alissa's ill treatment--most of the body is still beautiful.

Oh, Byron and I also found two of Alissa's leather jackets (not overly expensive ones, but still...), a designer wool-and-leather houndstooth skirt, and a woolly tea-length coat, all in a ripped plastic bag, ready to decay. If it's not too costly, I'll have these drycleaned and consign them. I'm going to sell the Coach bag, too, if it can be fixed. I may get that money she owed me for utility bills and for the vacuum cleaner she destroyed after all.

Monday, May 29, 2006

All The Responsibilities, None Of The Benefits

Our basement has flooded an inch deep three times in the past 24 hours. Our landlord, usually in Kentucky, must be out of town for Memorial Day, as he is not answering his home phone. I left a message on his cell phone with this happy news, but I am not holding my breath while waiting for him to respond. Usually, home-repair issues come down to me calling people to come over to fix the problem, waiting for them to show up, paying them, and then deducting the amount from my rent check for the next month. This basement problem is worse than the others because it is filled with junk, and in order to find the source of the problem, the junk must be moved. This stuff is just gross, already riddled with mildew and now soaking wet. And my new roommate wants to be paid (!) to clean it out. By his fellow roommates. Is this a California thing?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Tony and Tacky

I saw Tony Blair Friday morning. He was speaking at Georgetown, in gothic Gaston Hall, giving the third of a series of major foreign policy addresses (the first two had been in the UK and in Australia, respectively). I was seated on the fourth row, right behind the diplomatic guests, just fifteen feet from the man. It was an excellent speech. American State of the Union addresses (never mind which party) are frequently much more fluffy and much less articulate. The whole audience was riveted for 45 minutes--no uncomfortable shifting in the seats. And Blair even took a cell phone's going off toward the end with good humor and a quick wit. Then he took questions from the audience. Not canned, pre-vetted questions, but raise your hand, assistant called on you, you had your say, he responded questions. It was impressive, not least because I have never heard of a current world leader doing this (when I saw Gorbachev speak in 1995, he took questions from students, but then he wasn't really in possession of any great political power by that time). Judging by his off-the-cuff responses to the questions (which, all six, were good--and no, folks, I hadn't been able to think of anything to ask, so I didn't raise my hand), Blair had obviously contributed heavily to the high intellectual level and solid moral tone of his own speech--those open sessions in the House of Commons are fora only for the survival of the fittest. Now, if President DeGoia could just persuade him to join the Georgetown faculty after he leaves 10 Downing Street...

Georgetown students were not tacky, as I had half-feared they would be. The hall, which was full, gave the Prime Minister warm applause when he mounted the podium, and a standing ovation at the end of his remarks. And everyone I overheard when leaving was talking about what a good impression Blair left. There were very vocal anti-war protesters just off-campus, though. Shrieking chants and waving large banners.

Speaking of more personal matters, today was one of my worst days at the market. I had forgotten about the doldrums of Memorial Day weekend. Lots and lots of people strolling past the booth, only a handful of sales. It's been a bummer week, what with the grant ungranted, my favorite kitty's demise (Mebane, NC; result of cancer), and now this. But the end was nice: my friend Leah and I went out to see X-Men III (too many central characters were killed off for my taste without adequate tension buildup, but there it is) and then to dinner (steak salad--yum!). And now, as she is safely home, and I in my rabbit hole, I'm going to take my second shower of the day and go to bed. Next week promises interesting developments--not least, my date with the CSCM.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Thin Envelope

When one has applied for admission to a scholastic program, or for a grant from an agency, one dreads the arrival of a thin envelope from the review board. The thick envelope is stuffed with burgeoning possibility. The thin envelope is knife-edged, severing temporal hope.

I got a thin envelope from the National Endowment for the Humanities today.

There'll be no money from that source for my book translation.

Needless to say, I am in need of a hug.

But the best hugger I know is in Turkey right now.

I think I'm going to eat a lot of chocolate when I get home this evening!

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Demoted and I'm "F-in" Sick!

My last monthly VA tax return for my business apparently was so small (I remember the local tax I owed was something like $4.22) that the Commonwealth's Department of Revenue decided they didn't want to get anything from me for a while--they were tired of processing tiny sums. They sent me a formal letter changing my reporting frequency to quarterly. Which is nice.

In other news, I am so very sick of hearing the F-word everywhere. On the way to the post office this morning, I walked past a lovely blond woman who was telling colleagues about her professional travails with the US Secret Service: "Give me the fucking story!" she concluded. My roommates use it frequently, conversationally. It's like a linguistic particle, a meaningless interjection used to emphasize. But it's an obnoxious particle, an unproductive (or reproductive) one, and I want it to Go Away. Particularly from the conversation of pasty, suit-clad office drones. Do they think it makes them seem brawny, rough, soldierly? Sorry, you ought to use vocabulary to match your tie or pencil skirt--some language is fit only for the physical trenches. Or the gutter.

Monday, May 22, 2006

It's All Fun & Games Until Somebody Loses An Arm

My day was terrific. The only blot on the horizon was almost being pulverized by a thudding shot-put, which hit the brick sidewalk right in front of me while I was walking across front campus. A dozen stupid undergraduates were throwing the 16-pound balls from one side of the high-pedestrian-traffic area to the other. Besides this near-death-or-serious-injury moment, it was all good.

There were sticky moments: I got asked out to dinner by my friend the ChainSmoking Canadian Mormon (CSCM). Like, an actual date. He even referred to it as a date.

I turned beet red.

I can count on one hand the number of times I've blushed, ever--I just don't, even when I do very embarrassing things, which is pretty often. But when he asked me, I could feel my neck and face going hot, from my collarbone to my ears.

This was immediately after I had blurted, "Why?!" in response to his question. Which he found hilarious, and swore he was going to put in his journal. I'm always good for amusement value.

Actually, I'm thoroughly nervous about this whole thing. We're supposed to go to dinner (at a nice restaurant, he said) not this Friday, but next (talk about asking someone well in advance!). He's my friend, but he's not a Christian. He was very assuring about there being "no pressure," but--heck, I'm a girl...there's ALWAYS pressure. If not from the guy, then from myself.

I was mentally kicking myself for having agreed to go--not that he isn't sweet, he is (that's a major problem!)--and not uncute, either (another big uh-oh), but I can't back out. I'm telling myself, "It's not like it's a lifetime commitment." But I know how susceptible I am! Now if only that Christian guy had actually been interested in dating me...but NOOOO. What the hell (if you'll pardon the expression) is wrong with godly guys? Are they totally devoid of testosterone? Or do I attract only geezers and heathens?

Enough with the impotent fury. Like I said, today was great. Weather was lovely. Got long-postponed errands run. Managed to avoid having to listen to my landlord kvetch for 90 minutes as two of my roommates were forced to do. Ate well. Re-connected with a fun art friend. Got a lot of work done. Prayed some for others. Good attitude all day. Noticed the textural similarity of down-escalators to silver streams of molasses. Walked a couple of miles. Sold a book on Amazon. Talked with the post-kvetch roomies for hours around the kitchen table and a bottle of screw-top vino. Let me get a nice hot shower, have a good quiet time and a restful night's sleep, and the day will have been an entire success.

But a Mormon, dammit! Where are all the born-again male Jesus freaks, I want to know? Surely they are not all married or in the Middle East?

Saturday, May 20, 2006

My Engagement Ring

Now, now, don't get excited. I bought it on eBay. And I'm wearing it on the "birdie" finger of my right hand, as a counterpoint to the college class ring on the left. Just so nobody gets the wrong idea.

I've wanted to have a diamond ring for a long, long time. Lately, I've been admiring the sparklers on the hands of the widows in my Sunday school class (nothing like a huge rock to remember the old boy), and I decided to see what bidding far less than $100 could do on my favorite time-wasting site. (Heck with waiting for some mythical man to pop the question!) So I ended up winning a nice little white gold band, dating from probably the 1950s, with a pretty round white gem perched on a fluted pedestal in the middle. It arrived in the mail on Wednesday. The center diamond's about 10 points (a tenth of a carat), round, not visibly included (that is, without black junk floating around in it). It fits. I'm pleased. If I get tired of it, I'll take out the stone and melt down the metal as scrap. But in the meantime, I'm enjoying watching my ring twinkle at me in the sunlight.

My market day today was spectacular. What started off as an overcast and chilly morning turned into a gloriously warm, bright and breezy afternoon. I sold more than I ever had before at a regular market event. One-third of my sales were credit-cards. Repeat customers raved over the reception of my jewelry by friends they'd purchased it for. Everybody was friendly, and those who looked at length eventually bought (as any retail person can tell you, having someone look over everything and then walk away with nothing can be an extremely frustrating experience, frequently worse than having no customers at all). Again, I'm pleased.

Oh, and when I mentioned to one of my regular customers that I was planning to start selling my brother Nate's beautiful boxes, she was quite excited. I hope he'll develop a huge following up here.

My goal for this next week: develop a comprehensive exams reading list. I plan to take my comps this fall: Russian History major, American (Western Hemisphere Migration, actually) History minor. I'm announcing this to everybody so that you all will keep me on task--accountability is the watchword. The list has to be approved by my advisor before he leaves May 30 for his annual summer in Helsinki.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Southern "Girl" Becomes "Wingshock"ed

Girl of the South has changed her blog address/identity to Wingshock. Today, she's got a really good post on the Da Vinci Code. Check it out!

Monday, May 15, 2006

My Phenomenally Talented Brother

In the wee hours this morning, my Atlanta brother, Nate, finished this computer desk, made of mahogany and inlaid with ebony (and some light wood for which I don't have a name). I'm button-holing every member of my department so they can admire the pictures, which my readers should also enjoy. Isn't he a great artist?! [By the way, he does take commissions, of which this was one, so if you've got money to spend...]

Sunday, May 14, 2006

An Early-Spring Night's Dream

I dreamed about gas stations and murder last night. It probably had to do with reading the Washington Post (I started to type "Toast") before bedtime. Quite bothersome.

Our new roommate Byron promises to take good care of the house--he hasn't even moved in yet and has already spent six hours a day for the last week and a half sprucing up Alissa's old room. He's painstakingly stripped and re-finished the molding, washed, base-coated and painted the walls, and steam-cleaned the carpet. He's a perfectionist, but not a neatfreak, if that makes any sense. He also likes to talk. A vast improvement over his predecessor in all ways. He moved from California to be near his DC-area girlfriend, who has 2 school-age children from her previous husband (messy divorce). I think he's about my age--I'd guess late twenties/early thirties. Describes himself as "not religious," and his occasional language (talking about the reconstruction he's had to do on the room, mainly) backs that up. Seems pleasant otherwise, though.

My mother wanted to know why we hadn't gotten a girl roommate--after all, I'm now living with three guys! It was a matter of applicants, actually. Byron was the only one. Beggars can't be choosers, and we'd gone a month without a fourth renter and were quickly becoming penniless. At least guys don't hog the bathroom for makeup application--there's a benefit!

I went out with friends to eat on Capitol Hill Friday night, and then to a production of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream at an Episcopal Church behind the Library of Congress. The fairies were outfitted as 80s London Rockers. Puck had pink hair and red and black makeup. And was female. Oberon and his queen were "The Clash"-style bikers, with tattoos, leather and chains. It actually worked really well! That girl who played Robin Goodfellow was excellent. The only complaint I had was that Theseus was played by a blond mincer with a lisp. He's really not a comic character, nor should he have come across as gay. But his is a peripheral part, and the performance of the principles was well-worth the price of admission.

Though I was exhausted and bleary-eyed by the time I got home (just before midnight--the play lasted a good three hours, and I had arrived at the restaurant at 6 PM, after a full day at work), I stayed up until 4 AM Saturday doing necessary business housekeeping for the upcoming market day. Happily, the weather (in defiance of the meteorologists' rain and gloom prognostications) was good all morning, and sales were strong, (although not as spectacular as last Saturday)--more than 2/3 were to people who gave me plastic. A couple more solid Saturdays and that credit-card machine will have paid for itself.

I want to go dancing again. I have't swing-danced (swung?) in two months. I'm going to forget how!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Happy Anniversary!

Today is my maternal grandparents' 59th wedding anniversary. They were married on Mothers Day in 1947. My mom and her youngest sister went down for lunch--Grandmommy always puts on a sumptious repast, so they were in for the regular treat (always half a dozen dishes at least, so nothing special today). The four of them were companionably digesting when I called to say happy anniversary, and Granddaddy remarked that he didn't think he'd trade Grandmommy--she's too good a cook. :) They both sounded well and cheerful, and asked when I'd be coming to visit. It's a great blessing to have grandparents who have loved God and each other so dearly for so long! They are a wonderful example of what a joy a strong marriage can be to children and children's children. Would that we were all so affected.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Support Alaa Abdel Fatah

Alaa Abdel Fatah is an Egyptian blogger--one of those brave souls who supports freedoms of speech, press (and the other rights we Americans take for granted) in his own country. He, along with almost fifty like-minded individuals who were protesting in favor of an independent judiciary in Egypt, was hauled off by the secret police (who--take it from a person who knows--are just as vicious and nasty as the Soviet variety was ever alleged to be) and all are currently whereabouts unknown. Sandmonkey has rightly taken up his cause, and provides print and email links to relevant parties who--with enough public outcry--can get him and his companions released... Please, put in a word on their behalf to the Egyptian government and to the US State Department. It only takes a few minutes, and could well mean the difference between life and death for four dozen people. How often do you get to be a lifesaver from the comfort of your own computer terminal?

Tempest in a Thimble

Georgetown's faculty and a good portion of its graduate students are in an uproar over the hiring of Douglas Feith to a prominent School of Foreign Service position. I had never previously heard of Mr. Feith (not being a Beltway insider, or having any pretense thereto), who is alleged--in a letter composed by the distinguished professors of the History Department directed to the University administration--not only to be academically incompetent, but downright criminal.

Here is a paragraph from the aforementioned letter, which was forwarded to me by fellow graduate students all hot to construct a parallel document expressing their own hatred for Mr Feith:

In addition to issues of competence, Mr. Feith has been accused of ethical conflicts during his term in charge of Iraq reconstruction. More seriously, he has sought to diminish the importance of the Geneva Conventions and has defended the use of torture in a number of public writings and talks. He speaks regularly against the relevance of international law to conflicts in the Middle East and opposes diplomatic solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Perhaps most seriously, he was a central figure in the dissemination of false justifications for the illegal invasion of Iraq, behavior that many experts consider to constitute war crimes, and which the most sympathetic would have to think a highly dubious grounds for further employment.


He actually sounds pretty decent, if these "charges" are true--doesn't think the "peace process" (give me a break!) is real, thinks international law hasn't relevance to people who are dead-set on wiping out others simply because of their ethnicity, and was all for overturning Saddam Hussein...

Incidentally, I had thought silly conspiracy theories were the exclusive province of extreme right-wingers like the John Birch Society, but reading Rantings of a Sandmonkey and listening to professors in my department spread the rumor that George Bush was also going to be hired on as a Georgetown professor after his retirement from the presidency has cured me of my niavete. What is with these people?

Monday, May 08, 2006

Selling Success

Saturday was my first day accepting credit cards, and fully a third of my customers opted for that means of payment. And yes, sales were up--I was pleased. I hope this will be a banner month for my jewelry business, as the credit-card machine (GPS-enabled, swipe the card, prints out receipts for me and the customer) was quite expensive, and today I just plunked down an extraordinary amount of virtual cash on components. I hadn't bought anything since before Christmas, and was totally out of some of the basics--earwires, headpins, and so forth. Nasty shock calling in an order to one of my chief suppliers: I knew that gold was way up, but I had no idea that silver had almost doubled in value, and these people use market-based metal pricing, so my estimates of how much each item would cost were way off. Need to send in the silver I had melted down at Christmastime--it's an ugly-looking grey lump, but there's about 2 pounds of the stuff there, and they'll credit my account for 75% of the bullion value, which could come in handy.

Friday, May 05, 2006

All About, But Not Exactly Cricket

May I reassess my enthusiasm for Amtrak? I am exhausted from my return-trip to DC, but not so much by the journey itself as by the interpersonal interaction seemingly demanded of all passengers. Today I had set up my laptop right away in the snack car, preparatory to spending the seven hours tucking into translating the seventh chapter of Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands, when I was buttonholed by a five-foot-high Shropshire bloke with a black-paint-on-the-bowling-ball comb-over, magnificent nineteenth-century sidewhiskers and a voluble passion for cricket. Not merely the scorekeeper for the local outdoor league, he turned out to be the founder of his village's indoor cricket league, in fact, and an aficionado of trains and beer festivals, too. He talked wickets, fastbowling, bales and squarelegs, pubs, breweries, ghosts, Welshmen and trainlines for a solid five hours. He was delightful, but required a level of attentiveness that left me entirely unsuited for Russian-English work and even less happy with the neighboring African-American ex-fourth-grade-inner-city-DC male schoolteacher who wanted to talk about gambling, academic-related sex scandals and the evilness of the Bush administration when I stumbled back to my coach-class seat on the aisle next to him. I managed to weasel out of giving him my phone number--sometimes it is a blessing to be reachable virtually only by email (pun unintended)--as he was all for getting together sometime. I'd rather go on a semi-inebriated weave through the streets of Manchester with the gnome-like Scotsman, who promised to send me a book on his favorite sport once he got back to the old country. I asked him about the whiskers--they were in honor of an uncle of his who was thrown from his horse while following the hounds, he said, and drowned in the River Severn, having hit his head. A veddy British way to go, that. Even the recalcitrant Welsh might approve of such an outdoorsy end.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Amtrakin' or The Great Escape

Yesterday, there was no need for me, a la Steve McQueen, to pass long lonesome hours either literally or metaphorically throwing a baseball against a wall--I was making good my "great escape" from the hemmed-in environs of our nation's capital in company with more than ordinarily chatworthy folks.

Just two minutes before the scheduled departure-time of 10:55 AM, I boarded a train bound from Union Station in downtown DC to the tiny burg of Burlington, North Carolina (which doesn't even boast its own ticket office, although the beautifully-restored station does have a nicely glassed-in diorama of what a bustling railway yard the place encompassed during its glory days a century ago). As providence would have it, I ended up sitting next to a very pleasant woman who'd been in the car since Grand Central in New York, and we fell into conversation almost immediately.

Six hours, much lovely scenery and a handful of short stops later, she had told me much of her life's story, from her birth in coastal South America, to her immigration to the US with two young daughters, her abandonment by their abusive father, and the breakdown of the subsequent generation's marriages and substance-abuse difficulties. She apologized, needlessly, for so unburdening herself, but I assured her that I was happy to listen. I was doing the Nehemiah "arrow-prayer" thing during the day, as she had mentioned she was nominally Catholic, but seemed content only that her offspring should have some vague "spirituality" in their lives, without any coherent theology behind it. We exchanged emails--I shall be in touch.

Later, in the snack car, I fell into conversation with an ex-drug dealer/ex-con from Virginia, a young white man who became a Christian in prison back in 1999. He's now involved with his church's youth ministry, and the tattoo ministry of the same (why don't more churches have tattoo ministries??). He rolled up his sleeve to show me a constellation of inked stars running up his arm next to the injection-tracks at his elbow. He is now a computer programmer, but hopes to go back to school (he's got a 4-year degree and is paying off $80,000 in student loans) and get a Masters in Education. He wants to settle away from VA because so many of the dealers know him there and keep asking him to come back to make some quick cash. I got his email, too--figured he'd know some good counseling services that my new South American friend's family might use.

The last person I talked to at length was a 79-year-old volunteer Amtrak greeter, who got on the train at the North Carolina border. He had gone through the cars making sure people were "at home," and passing out paper "engineer" hats to the children and bookmarks to the reading adults, and was pausing in the snack car when we got to talking. He was a World War II Navy veteran and an ex-Burlington Industries executive. He told me all about his vasectomy, 44 years ago...well, he also told me about his recent case of pneumonia and his college-days' appendectomy, but the story of the vasectomy was an unexpected part of the series on physical ailments. Later, he told me all about how he met his wife of 54 years, and his 4 daughters, his old accounting business, and his love for the Masters. He was thrilled to learn I was from Augusta. He wants his ashes surrepticiously buried by the 15th green at Augusta National. Yes, I got his email address, too. People are chummy on trains.

Why was I riding the American rails for the first time in 27 years? The exorbitant gas prices had set me to investigating alternate means of getting out of town to see friends, and I found that the train schedules and prices were more reasonable than they had been the last time I'd checked...and with a student discount card (no age restrictions!) I could get 15% off the ticket. It seemed what would have taken me five hours to drive would only take 7 to roll, and that with the option of dozing on the way.

Well, it ended up taking 8 and 1/2 hours, since freight trains get priority on the lines Amtrak uses in the Southeast, and there were apparently a lot of wagons hauling coal down the seaboard yesterday [this apparently happens pretty often, the Amtrak greeter told me--he said there's a place near Raleigh they call the "black hole" because they are always losing time there]. Too, the cars of the train I rode looked like they had been gone into service with the first Amtrak--25 years and one day earlier. Burnt orange upholstery and ancient carpet. Tiny windows and dim lighting. But, still, it was awfully comfortable--the seats were big--even in coach--the air conditioning was at the right level, there was no smoking (some station stopovers were longer so that passengers could take cigarette breaks), and there was ample toilet paper and handsoap in the restrooms. And it was cheap--$87 round trip. And had I been a novelist, I would have had enought material for a pulpy bestseller at the end of the trip.

There were several other first-time train riders on board--they'd decided to try this means of travel for the same reasons I had, and reviews were similarly favorable. If gas stays high and Amtrak keeps its prices low, it may actually get enough customers to break even--us po' folk will be catching the train rather than driving or riding the bus.