Monday, July 31, 2006

Wheeze, It's Hot!

Going from an air-conditioned building into the outdoors felt like running into a monstrous wad of rising bread dough--the pace suddenly slowed as the legs tried to move through the warm morass. Convection currents curled around the arms as the feet seemed to stick to the ground. Across the city, people seemed to shrink, as what had been swift and confident steps indoors slowed to a heavy tread on the street. The sound of sandals sank to a muffled “lat, lat, lat,” on the hot concrete. The few pedestrians wore strained faces, too hot to bead with sweat—it evaporated straight from the pores into the tough, cooking air. Every movement of the thick atmosphere buffeted the body: the air on the face was like a smothering down pillow, pressed over the nose and mouth by a giant, sadistic hand. Entering a building was like moving from the gravitational field of a hellish planet into the freeing weightlessness of outer space. Folks who had just been plodding outside, heads down and silent, seemed to fly in the fresh, cold air, the damp hair at their temples and at the nape of their necks bristling as goose bumps appeared on the shocked skin.

It’s hot in DC, and I do know from hot. The rest of the week promises to be scorching. I don’t know that I’ll walk to school as I did today, though there was a light, refreshing 80-degree breeze winging down the Potomac when I crossed the bridge at noon. But traversing the land-roads is the unromantic equivalent of fire-walking--the asphalt radiates, and passing cars fling grit in the face. Even the pleasure of the river breeze is not enough to compensate for the discomfort on the Rosslyn and DC roadways. And besides, my tennis-shoe soles might melt.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

Twelfth Night

I love Shakespeare! He's dead, you know. This evening I watched Twelfth Night, filmed in 1996. Helena Bonham Carter was Olivia, Malvolio was played by Nigel Hawthorne, and Imogen Stubbs (who voices Ophelia in my Arkangel recording of Hamlet) was Viola. Awesome, just awesome. Highly recommend.

Saturday, July 29, 2006

Suicidal Fourth-Graders

One of my regular customers came to browse at my booth today and ended up talking about her student-teaching experience in a Title I school in Carlsbad, CA. It was a regular fourth-grade class, and the kids were wild. Several students came up to her one afternoon as school was letting out and told her that one of their male classmates was planning to hang himself from his bunk bed. She reported this to the principal. He didn't care. The parents of these children were worse than uncaring--at least two of her students had been born to drug addicts, and another had been sexually abused by her father. Fourth graders. A generation ago, these were the sorts of problems that didn't used to show up until children were in high school.

Here in Northern VA, even affluent middle schools have similar problems these days. A member of my Bible Study recently reported that teachers had confiscated formal, printed invitations to a blow-job contest/party from among the sixth and seventh grade girls. Presumably the recipients of the joys of this competition were to be youthful classmates.

I swear, if I ever get married and have children, I'm going to either home-school them or insist they have bodyguard-chaperone-governesses with them at all times to keep them out of trouble! This world sucks. Er, I suppose I should use another word, given the aforementioned story. How about: It's going to hell in a kiddie-sized backpack.

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Moths on the Move!

I had been on the train for half an hour this morning when I began to feel a tickling on the outside of my left ear, which was covered by my silent headphones. I adjusted them slightly, and the tickling only increased—it was obviously not a wisp of hair. I took off the headphones gingerly, knowing deep down what I would find. A moth.

No, my head is not that empty.

This was a little souvenir from my stay in Rhode Island, which is a state beset by diminutive, taupe, die-in-the-light fixture sort of moths. Perhaps they are the state insect. I wouldn't be at all surprised.

I gently extracted it from the cup of the headphone, and then brutally obliterated it against the carpeted wall of the train, leaving a little patch of dust. I hope it was the only one of its kind...I know they’d find lots to munch on in my room!

Monday, July 24, 2006

In Praise of Mommies

My sister is out running with the jogging stroller, trying to lull a recalcitrant Rita into dropping into a long-overdue afternoon nap, and simultaneously attempting to regain a little bit of the sanity which that fifteen-month-old angelic-looking girl has been relentlessly destroying these past few days.

At five AM this morning, Rita awoke, and she screamed deafeningly for the next hour and a half. She was so loud, she jolted me from sleep in the room upstairs, and kept me and both her parents up for the duration. Her long-suffering father was forced to go into work with barely 5 hours’ sleep, having spent the entire weekend doing taxing manual labor, remodeling the downstairs apartment which my sister and he rent out. At breakfast, my sister was limp from exhaustion. Rita is apparently getting in her molars.

I do not know how mommies do it. I am in awe. It’s such a physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually demanding job. Readers of my blog know that I have a plethora of honorary nephews, who are the sons of friends from college and graduate school. Many of these ladies hold down full or part-time outside jobs, in addition to mommyhood. They are amazing. I don’t think I could survive on the tidbits of sleep they get, with the daily demands to protect and rear a small person who is bent on thoughtless self-destruction, to deal with the fits of temper and the resistance to napping. And then there are their paying jobs. Talk about stress.

Even cuteness only goes so far toward motivating a person to care for a baby; mommies definitely embody sacrificial love. May God bless all of them!

Friday, July 21, 2006

Hot Wheels

By a happy Providence (no pun intended), I am here in Rhode Island in time to enjoy watching the final stages of the Tour de France in company with my sister and brother-in-law, just as I did last year. My sister has been rooting for Floyd Landis since the first stage, and she was devastated by his meltdown Wednesday, convinced (as everybody but the man himself was) that an eight-minute deficit was impossible to overcome.

Thursday was awesome.

We adults were glued to the tube for three hours, watching Landis charge up the first mountain in what seemed an insanely early breakaway, then only extend his lead, leaving the peloton behind on one climb and descent after another. And then punch his fist into the air as he whirled across the finish line, dismounting his bike (essentially impossible to do by oneself, particularly after the punishing mountain stages) in an unassisted motion, and stalking through a throng of the reporters who'd written the "embarassing" end to his cycling career just twelve hours earlier. He looked furious. Apparently, his fury at the insults they'd heaped on his ability seemed to have stood him in good stead as fuel for his day's efforts.

The time trials tomorrow should be thrilling. Even though the cyclists will be sporting those wierd Death Star artillery officer helmets. The flourescent spandex is one thing--the bizarre spaceage headgear is quite another.

Thursday, July 20, 2006

North to Providence on the Train

We stopped in Baltimore, then Wilmington, DE, then Philadelphia. And after pausing underground in Newark, NJ, there was a beautiful view of New York City in the early afternoon, looking down on Manhattan as we glided over a towering trestle above the harbor. Into New England, where the wintertime fuel oil dealers had little battered clapboard storefronts next to the tracks. In the air conditioned comfort of the train, it was difficult to imagine the heat outside which would make such signs doubly ironic.

When I boarded in Washington at 10:30AM, I got a seat on a newish car, with larger, less-tinted windows and fresh blue upholstery, and (best of all) electrical outlets on each row. Before I lugged my paraphernalia down to the train, I was contemplating having to spend the trip in the snack car, hunched over a table, in order to use my laptop. Now, though, I was able to remain in coach-class comfort, nosh my snacks (Cathy Plus One sent apple crisp), work on the umpteenth revision of the second chapter of “Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands” and watch one of the movies I’d brought with me (I decided on the train-themed Silver Streak for the northward journey).

I bought a headset from Amazon last week, to deaden the ambient noise and discourage unwelcome wannabe conversationalists. I love to talk, but I didn't want to this trip. The over-the-ear 'phones gave me the option to avoid needless chat and simply enjoy the scenery. Well worth the twenty bucks.

Below New Haven, CT, we went over an aqua-painted iron bridge held together with hex nuts the size of dessert plates. A lot of the railroad infrastructure on this line dates from the nineteenth century—granite-lined tunnels, intricately-bricked station-houses. About every fifteen minutes the whole trip we’ve passed another train heading in the opposite direction. The rails are busy these days—standing in a long line for my tickets this morning, I got the distinct impression that I’m not the only one who’s foregoing driving or flying for riding the railway.

Above New Haven, although we were still in the suburbs, the trackside terrain started to look almost Russian. I guess we were at the right latitude. Birch trees, little marshes thronged with cattails and tall grass. I miss Russia. One of the guys in my reading group is over there right now, scoping out the regional archives where he plans to (eventually) do dissertation research.

Altogether a nice trip, and much cooler and less humid in Rhode Island than in DC!

Monday, July 17, 2006

Niece Pictures

It's time again for...Adorable Niece Pictures!

Cheerios boxes are the latest thing in fashionable headwear.

Trying on a pair of her mommy's running shoes.

Baby in a box!

Potentially Hazardous

The U.S. Post Office people have a litany of questions they have to afflict on every package-mailing customer these days. No matter if you walk up to the counter and annouce, "This is a book, and nothing but a book," they have to stare mournfully into your eyes and mumble, "Is there anything liquid, fragile, perishable or potentially hazardous?" lest they get written up by their supervisors. I've had more than one employee at my local post office complain to me about this--"They're suspending us!" And at least one has told me he hates his job because of all the pushing-of-merchandise they have to do. Yes, postal clerks tell me their problems.

It does seem strange to me that the USPS instituted asking these "security" questions after Sept. 11 and the anthrax attacks, when the airlines did away with the equivalent ticket-counter passenger interrogation, having determined that it did no good as a deterrent to those bent on evil.

Anyway, I was on my way to the post office this morning, and walked past one of the plentiful high-rise high-cost apartment construction sites that are transforming the Orange Line metro corridor. Two giant cranes were hoisting supplies over the concrete skeleton, and I felt a distinct (or de-stinked) urge to duck and head for cover when I saw what both of them were swinging: blue plastic Port-o-Johns. Talk about a potentially hazardous load!

Friday, July 14, 2006

Finding Our Imperfect Perfect Mate

This is one of the best articles I have ever read on the subject!


This has been an awful morning. I was reading an article about the rash of murders going on in DC, and below the story was a list of the victims, with a brief story on each. And I found someone I knew.

July 8: Chris Crowder
He had every reason to bemoan his fate. In 1990, he was paralyzed after being shot while walking through a playground in his Shaw neighborhood.

But Chris Crowder did not allow his disability to dampen his penchant for taking on politicians and embracing causes. In his motorized wheelchair, he rolled into community meetings across the city, voicing his many opinions.

More recently, Crowder, 44, aspired to run for mayor, not because he believed he'd win but to raise issues affecting the poor and disenfranchised that he believed other candidates would avoid.

He was shot to death early Saturday in a small community park around the corner from his apartment. A second victim in the shooting, a man whose identity the police have not revealed, is in critical condition.

All week, neighbors have paused before the shrine that Crowder's friends have put up to memorialize him, a few feet from where he died. "Just the other day, you walked with us, talked with us," two mourners wrote on a card. "Your parting has left an aching void this world could never fill." [By Paul Schwartzman]

You all may remember my post of March 31 of this year, entitled “Interestin’ Folks” which centered on an ex-Black Panther and sometime mayoral candidate whom I called “Brother Earnest.” His real name was Chris Crowder, or “Brother Chris.”

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

A Good Old-Fashioned Princess

What Kind of Princess are You? - Beautiful Artwork

The Traditional PrincessYou are generous, graceful, and practical with both feet planted firmly on the ground. You tend to be a little on the old-fashioned side. You value home, hearth, and family life and love to be of service to others.Role Models: Snow White, Maid MarianYou are most likely to: Discover a hidden talent for spinning straw into gold.
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Alas, I am not in Paxifist's league!

Bloody Fools Abroad

We have our share of idiots at home, but in three areas of the world the destructively insane have achieved exceptional visibility of late:

North Korea (prompting Japan to talk about preemptive military strikes for the first time since WWII--oh, joy!)

Ukraine (a new communist majority in Parliament has nominated Viktor Yanukovich, the uber-corrupt and possibly murderous foe of Orange Revolutionary President Viktor Yushchenko, to be the body's premier). A return to Russian bear a** kissing?

Lebanon (Hezbollah kidnapping 2 IDF soldiers from their home territory, bringing down the wrath of Israel on the corrupt regimes that shelter Hezbollah--Lebanon and Syria--and contributing to the general likelihood of WWIII's beginning)

Argh! Read Sandmonkey (see sidebar for link) for on-the-ground updates of the Middle East mess. And who the hell was responsible for the Indian train bombings yesterday? I'm glad I'm going to heaven in the end, 'cause this world is really screwed up.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006


There will be no blogging today as I am going down for a nap after work and before Bible Study. And besides, nothing much has been going on. All's well.

Sunday, July 09, 2006


My experience at the market yesterday was not improved by the decision of the market director to invite a banjo man to come to play and sing for two hours. He said we needed something to attract customers. I'm not convinced this guy produced quite the effect that the director and we vendors were seeking.

I like banjo music, and this fellow was pretty good at strumming. His singing, however, was another matter. When he launched into a flat and rhythmless rendition of "Folsom Prison," I wanted to incarcerate him. When he sang songs about leaving, I heartily wished he'd already left. And when he actually started to yodel during one set, I was reduced to hysterical laughter by the woman next to me, whose sarcasm about the tuneless butchery of one folk tune after the next reached a comedic crescendo at that point.

Between selections, the guy kept up an awkward patter towards the cringing vendors, who applauded prefunctorily when he picked out melodies, but were conspicuously silent when he attempted voice harmony. Gosh, it was dreadful. And so difficult to talk to customers when someone is brutally murdering "The Tennessee Stud" forty feet away and amplified.

Saturday, July 08, 2006

[Not So] Swell Day

Beautiful weather, though--nice temperature, just a light breeze, clouds and sunshine. One of my worst days ever at the market. Only four sales. The fact that the number of jewelry vendors has exploded in recent weeks didn't help matters much--and the market manager had clumped most of the newbies in with us regulars, so customers had "bright and shiny things" sensory overload.

One of my brother's cats was run over this morning. My brother is sad, but philosophical: at least poor Data didn't suffer.

Friday, July 07, 2006

Last Bus, Last Train

I wasted considerable time yesterday after work fooling around on the Internet looking for a new bike helmet--something that would protect my skull, having not previously deprived me of the proverbial arm and a leg. The fact that I have a rather large noggin (hold the jokes, please) meant that my options were still more limited. I eventually settled on a twenty-dollar model from Amazon, which I hope will arrive prior to my biking picnic with the CSCM.

Yes, we basically teased each other into another date.

“So, when are you going to ask me out again?” he grinned at me Wednesday afternoon, when we met in the department.

“I was going to ask you the very same thing,” I said, cheerfully.

“It seems we are at an impasse,” he remarked.

“It seems so,” I said.

Then he asked me out again.

I don’t know the details of our second outing yet, but I know that sometime during it, I must ask him his intentions and make my own clear. I really like him. I could very easily fall in love with him. So the brakes have to be applied before I make myself, and him, miserable over the understanding that for the reason of my relationship with God, and his absence from a similar relationship, our human-to-human relationship can’t progress beyond simple friendship. I can’t go on getting fonder and fonder of him (and yes, the smoking does bother me—I don’t want to be married to someone who’s courting lung cancer, who in thirty years will have to carry around an oxygen canister just to be able to breathe while performing ordinary tasks), and then say, “Well, you know this can’t go anywhere.” Still, it’s so tempting to put off the inevitable just one more time.

But, as my sister wisely pointed out, you don’t marry someone because of what you hope they will become; you marry them because of who they are at present. Everyone changes in marriage, but never in the way that their spouse expects. To a certain extent, this is true of a dating relationship. “If only he’d become a Christian,” I think, hopefully. “Now, if he’d just quit smoking,” I mutter. Nope, nope, nope. Stupid. If anything, this has been a really humbling experience for me—all of those “Oh, I’ll never do that” and “How could she have done that?!” mental resolutions and remarks made over the years have come back to haunt me—I’ve been needled about my prior presumptuous piety concerning: never dating a non-Christian, no “missionary” dating, being upfront about the centrality of the religious issue…the list goes on.

After I’d finished my online shopping last night, I returned to chapter 1 of “Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands,” which I’d blithely assumed was publication-worthy. It’s a disaster—I was still in my “I’m translating holy writ” phase of stilted word-for-word rendering when I’d put it aside to move on to chapter 2. The situation was not pretty. So, I began revising. I was at my desk until 11:30. When I started to get shaky, I knew it was time to go home.

Out at the university front gates there were no taxis (I’d decided that would be the best way to get home, even for the steep price of $10). None. And none at the taxi stand behind the hospital, a place which is always thronged with cabs during the day. One lone university bus was standing empty at the curb near the student center. The driver was walking up and down the sidewalk. “When does the next bus leave?” I asked him. “This one’s the last one,” he said. It’s a good thing I hadn’t gone off looking for a taxi on the dark streets of Georgetown, or I would have been stuck!

I took the bus to the metro station and waited another twenty minutes there to board the very last passenger train running south west on the orange line. It’s lonely, standing exhausted on a platform while empty trains blast through the station, hooting their horns, pulling clouds of grit behind them into the tunnels, on their way to storage for the night. Home was not welcoming, though...Byron’s lawyer-girlfriend was over, and they were in his room. I drank two pints of skim milk and went to bed. Hope to get home and to bed much earlier tonight!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

Little Helper, or My Glorious Vacation

I'm being assisted in today's blogging by little Noah, my honorary nephew... Check that. He just wandered over to the baby gate and attempted to open it using his face. Tears. Mommy picked him up and fed him a veggie puff. All is contentment.

Leah and Aaron insisted I stay for dinner and a movie, much to my cheer. We returned to DC this afternoon from Lexington, VA, site of our alma mater and of the comfortable mountain cabin where we, with Paxifist and Deacon Paul and their two little boys, spent the past long weekend. I got to be "Aunt CEP" for four days, cuddling the small fry, changing a few diapers, feeding, comforting the fussy and running after the freedom-loving.

Ah, little mister dimples just walked up, grinning with all eight teeth. A smooch on his fuzzy head, and he's back to mommy, who is reading him a book.

This was the first time I'd been back to the Shenandoah Valley in eight years--the others had visited more recently. The first evening, we had dinner with the university chaplain at his hilltop house, which overlooked a bucolic graveyard on one side and bustling Interstate 81 on the other. Still, enviably tranquil, with the beautiful Blue Ridge views real estate agents rhapsodize over. Our host told us what had changed since we'd graduated: new buildings on campus, old favorite hangouts vanished, professors retired, policies introduced. And applications up, percentage of acceptances correspondingly down. I don't know that I would have gotten in, had the competition and standards been as stiff and high as they are now. But I am delighted with the renovations and innovations on campus. It was lovely, visiting on Saturday though blastingly hot outdoors. The new Student Center (plush!) was welcomingly cool--I dream of having my books featured at the campus store, right next to those by my fellow alumni Tom Wolfe and Patrick Hinely. One of these days!