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Thursday, September 28, 2006

Zoo!

My friend Leah, her seventeen-month-old little boy, and a friend of ours and her three-year-old boy, all went to the Washington National Zoo today. I had had no idea that there is no admission fee (they do charge through the nose for parking, which affected us, since we didn't want to take the metro with the small fry)--and it's very nice. The last time I'd been was 29 years ago, so I didn't remember much.

The weather was perfect--a hint of autumn in the air, sunny. The animals were enjoying themselves. The adult pandas were munching away on bamboo, and their baby was sound asleep high up in the crook of a willow tree. The elephants and giraffe were lunching on hay in their enclosures, and the hippopotami (both full-size and pigmies) were swimming in their pools. There was an obstinate-looking capybara in one pen, and two lounging cheetahs in another, curled up in mirror-image in the shade.

The three-year-old was thrilled with everything. The flamingos, standing on one leg with their bills tucked into their back feathers, fascinated him, and he was delighted with the zebra, who brayed thunderously. And he got to touch a piece of hippo tooth, hacked from the mouth of the zoo's ironically-named Happy (who has to get his teeth pruned every so often, because they grow like a rabbit's, and on his captive diet, he doesn't wear them down fast enough).

We all had a great time. Leah (Cathy Plus One--see sidebar) should have pictures up on her blog soon.

Monday, September 25, 2006

Boycott Venezuela

While the Honorable Hamid Karzai, President of Afghanistan, was giving a speech this afternoon over on main campus, I was over at the Georgetown University Medical School in my Bioterrorism class. We were talking about motives for acts of terror, and as a collective exercise had to brainstorm stimuli for hatred that could be put into a plausible ideological framework. One girl in the gallery behind me suggested the incendiary remarks of legitimately-elected Venezuelan nutjob Hugo Chavez might be just such an event. That sent our instructor off on a tangent: did we know that the gasoline company Citgo is wholly owned by the Venezuelan government?

This set me to thinking. Every time you or I stop at a Citgo, we're putting cash in Chavez's pockets. May I suggest a very effective means of non-violent resistance to his rule: a boycott of Citgo? And too, this is hard evidence for the necessity of alternative fuel development if I ever heard it! Our national dependency on oil is similar to our national narcotics habit: the demand, and the money we give to those who can meet it, makes all sorts of nasty, exploitative regimes possible worldwide. Unless and until we can do without the product, they've got us, as it were, over a barrel.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Delightful Discover Card People

I’m going to give the Discover Card people some good publicity, for what it’s worth. In the thick of this late nastiness with the incompetent, overcharging Arlington Honda auto mechanics, my mom got a call down in GA from an “888”-prefixed number. As the young lady doing the phoning asked for me, but didn’t identify herself (a major pet peeve of my family), my mother told her “she doesn’t live here anymore” and ended the call. Later, the Mater got to thinking that it might not have been ye-olde-run-of-the-mill solicitation (they are on the “Do Not Call” list, after all), and emailed me the number so’s I could follow up, if I chose. Chagrined to learn I’d been disowned (I do, in fact, still claim GA as my permanent address), I decided to phone the toll-free-number people to see if I could straighten the caller out, legal domicile-wise.

It turned out to be the Discover Card people, just doing one of their periodic “checking to make sure our cardholders are happy” surveys. Was there anything they could do, they wanted to know, to make my cardholder experience a happier one? Now, I’ve been very pleased with my Discover; I’ve had it about ten years (until recently, it was my only credit card), I pay it off every month with a religious devotion, and I love the cash back, because (as I put everything on it, from groceries to gas to postage) that wee 1% really does add up. But in the middle of this past summer, I underpaid one of the monthly bills by about $400, and was dismayed to be stuck with a $75 finance charge—apparently, finance charges are based on the total amount owed for the month, not on the remainder one has left over after one has paid the majority. Gack. Having no prior experience with finance charges (thank God!), I didn’t know how this worked…and it had been a decade since I’d read the fine print in the cardholder agreement. Nothing I could do, though, except resolve never to get stuck thusly again.

Fast-forward to Thursday. I was still waiting to hear that my car was ready (for the second, and hopefully last, time), and so when the Discover Card people asked if there were anything they could do to make my life happier, my precarious financial situation prompted the bitter memory of that $75 fee to resurface. I (very politely) mentioned that “several months ago there had been this finance charge…” and the girl listened nicely, put me on hold (there was this song from Christian radio playing—it must have gone mainstream, but I found it very encouraging) and popped back five minutes later to say that she’d talked to her supervisor, and was going to transfer me to another department, which was going to “try to do something about that.”

I was totally slow: “About what?”

“About reimbursing you for that fee.”

Whoa. Wow. Yippee! “Mustn’t get too excited, yet,” I told myself. “It may not work out.”

Then, after a few minutes of wrangling with his computer, the nice young man in the other department not only reimbursed me the $75, he gave me an automatic $20 Cash Back Bonus award to be credited to my account the next time I used my card (which I knew was going to be in about 15 minutes, because I had a package to mail to Australia). I was thrilled, and told him as much.

He seemed pleased that I was pleased. I’ll bet credit card company employees don’t get to do nice things for people very often.

Isn’t that sweet?! I’d like to praise God for this unexpected blessing (maybe this whole painful car repair/slow market day issue does have a silver lining)! This is so awesome. And God bless the Discover Card people—He’s certainly used them to bless me!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Evil Car Mechanics

1:20 PM Wednesday. Intervarsity Bible Study started at 1PM, but I was in my TA-ship class until a quarter after and wanted to get the word on my car before I buried myself out of cellphone range in the basement of Copley dorm. I go up to the History Departmetn front desk to use the phone. The Arlington Honda Service department transfers me to the care of Jose, the service advisor handling my case.

“Well, ma’am,” he says, “We need to replace the wire harness.”

“You can't be serious," I think. “How much will that cost me?” I ask.

He quotes a price between $425 and $450.

“In addition to the $370 I already paid you yesterday?!” I am flabbergasted.

“Well, the fix didn’t work. We have to replace the part.”

I feel a surge of rebellion. “What would happen if I didn’t replace the part?”

Jose gives me this smooth-talk runaround that implies that death, disease, famine and ingrown toenails (even unto the third and fourth generations) would be almost guaranteed to the person so irresponsible as to ignore this problem on her car.

“Don’t I get any discount for the previous work?” This extraordinary request seems to catch him off guard.

“Um, yes-of-course-you-get-some-credit.”

“How much?” I am in no mood for vague promises.

“$325.”

This os more like it. But, still, I clarify: “$325 off the 450, or $325 total?”

“That would be total ma’am.”

“You mean, $375, in addition to what I’ve already paid?!” I get frustrated.

“Yes, ma’am.”

What the—“You mean I paid $370 yesterday and you still want to charge me $325 for fixing what I thought you’d already fixed? That’s still way too high. Can’t you do better?”

“Hold on a minute, ma’am.” An extended pause. Then, with the air of someone making a profound concession: “We can charge you just for the part—$275.”

But by this point, I get really upset, and though I manage to keep my voice even and my vocabulary under control, this is the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Even Southern girls get backed to a wall every now and then. “That’s ridiculous! I think you are treating me this way just because I’m a woman. If I were a man, you wouldn’t be trying to jerk me around like this, charge me more for something you said you’d already done…. I’m going to talk to my father and my local mechanic, to see how much they’d charge for this.”

The service advisor is unmoved.

“I may still do it, but I’ll call you back,” I decide.

“Well, ma’am, we need to know by three o’clock so that we can order the part.” He is so confident.

“I’ll call you back,” I repeat, and hang up. And burst into furious tears.

The History Department senior secretary and the graduate coordinator look at me in shock: “What’s wrong?”

“The car repair people are trying to rip me off,” I sob. “Oh!” I say furiously, clutching damp wads of mascara-daubed Kleenex to my eyes. “How I wish I were married to a man who carried a gun!”

That makes them both smile, and I steady myself and call my father, who kindly gives me the number to my local Honda dealership down in Augusta, GA, whose service department has always treated me fairly. The lady there is kind. “But all Honda dealers are independently owned and operated, so what we’d charge wouldn’t necessarily be the same, but I can give you the number for Honda North America’s Customer Service Helpline.”

“That would be nice.”

By the time I call Honda Central, I am bawling again. Thank God, I am able to find my Vehicle Identification Number (the first thing they ask for)—for some providential reason I had it in my purse on a card—then I talk to a wonderful lady about the issue with the evil Arlington Honda people, their lousy service and general unhelpfulness. She assures me that everything will be OK: “Don’t be upset, ma’am, it will be all right.” And she opens an investigation “ticket” which will take a day or two to process, she says.

Most of my energy has been spent, but I figure I have nothing to lose, and I don’t want to wait for resolution, so I make one last telephone call--back to the Arlington Honda service department, where my car is still sitting helplessly. I ask to speak to the manager. I can hardly believe my own daring—I don’t think I’ve ever asked to speak to a manager, anywhere, before.

I collect my shredded courage, and tell him, with tears, how upset I am, and that given my general graduate-student poverty, and the considerable sum I’ve already paid him and his cronies, I just can’t afford the gargantuan amount asked for the part-replacement, which I think is downright unfair of them to demand, anyway.

“Let me talk to Jose, and I’ll call you back in a few minutes,” he says.

Totally drained, I leave the History Department and start walking towards Copley to catch the last 5-10 minutes of IV (better a little than none, and a friend had asked me to relay a prayer request on her behalf, so I have to make some sort of appearance).

Just before I get to the front steps of the dorm, my cell phone rings. It is the service department manager calling me back.

“Hello?” I answer, quietly.

“Um, I’ve reviewed your case and this is what I’d like to do. We won’t charge you for labor, and we’ll only charge you for half the price of the part.”

“How much would that be?” I am heartily sick of non-specifics and great-deals-that-aren’t.

“$137.50. Plus tax.”

“Total?”

“Yes, ma’am.”

“All right. That will do. That will be OK.”

“I hope we haven’t caused you much trouble….” The fellow goes on.

I tear up again, and answer in what I’m sure sounds like an awfully theatrical tone, “Well, this has been so hard—.”

But, believe you me, not a single tear is manufactured for effect. All of that misery comes honestly. When I finally get to IV, all the others look at me with concern—all my makeup has come off, my skin is blotchy and my eyes are bloodshot. One friend later observes, “I thought somebody’d died.”

“Well, no,” I tell her. “But it’s the only other event that can reduce a grown woman to extravagant weeping in public: an encounter with evil car mechanics. They are the devil.”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Squirrel Terrorism Update*

Late last week, the "check engine" light on my dashboard came on. I checked my owner's booklet, which recommended taking it to a service center pronto. This did not bode well.

Monday, 10:15 AM. I deliver car to the Honda dealer/repairer nearest my house, and am informed that there will be a $92 diagnostic fee (as opposed to the $45 fee listed on the pre-printed form). Fine. Not pleasant, but acceptable.

Monday, 10:25 AM. Use feminine wiles to get Honda shuttle service driver to deliver me beyond the 1.5 mile limit. Learn about his recent trip to Russia with his wife. He talks about vodka distilling methods and mangles several Russian words.

Monday, 10:30 AM. Discover upon reading Georgetown that I've left my cell phone at home and thus am unreachable by the car people. Resigned to this, as I am stuck at school until 6:30 anyway and wouldn't be able to do anything about the car even could they contact me.

Monday, 6:30 PM. Three messages on my cell phone from Honda. What was originally thought to be an oxygen sensor issue is now diagnosed also as a "rodent chewed through wires to oxygen sensor and power steering" issue. "How much?" I want to know. The oxygen sensor alone: $365. The wiring repair: $370. I manage to keep from forcibly expelling my own viscera in shock.

Monday, 7 PM. Tell mother that the local squirrels are trying to do me in. She suggests driving more frequently, so as to improve my odds of "frying the little suckers."

Tuesday, 4 PM. Car is ready to be picked up. Four hours beyond the time when they said it would be ready, but they've repaired the wiring and think the old oxygen sensor's OK, so the total's "only" $370. Which is $351 beyond what I made at the market on Saturday, but hey, who's counting? Am forced to play the Southern Belle in Distress in order to get the courtesy shuttle to come pick me up near my house, rather than my walking.

Tuesday, 9:30 PM. On my way back from Bible Study. Amber glow from dashboard. Nooooooo... Yes. The "check engine" light is back on. Call Leah to tell her our much-anticipated trip to the zoo on Thursday with her small offspring is probably shot.

Wednesday, 10:15 AM. Back at the Honda dealer. Charm same grizzled ex-salesman into driving me to Georgetown in the shuttle. Tell him that as much as I enjoy his company, I hope we don't see one another again for a long, long time.

To be continued...

*Those Dave Barry fans out there will recognize a regular feature from his own blog, wherein he posts links to frequent news articles about the international squirrel conspiracy to disrupt and destroy human life on earth as we know it.

Monday, September 18, 2006

The E. coli Experiment

I just ate the equivalent of a huge bag of fresh spinach. Sometimes a girl’s just gotta have greens. The form in which this vegetable was consumed was a block of Whole Foods Spinach Pie, from the prepared food case. Hopefully it was well-cooked. I nuked it for a minute twenty-three seconds, then dug in. If I expire shortly thanks to a spinach-borne bacterial infection, at least I enjoyed my last meal.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

An Unreasonable Response (or) An Unneeded Apology

I had thought, upon reading Paxifist’s post on the subject, and the subsequent coverage of the unfolding uproar by the Drudge Report, that Middle Eastern Muslims were acting unreasonably in response to perceived-offensive remarks by Pope Benedict. Now that I have read the whole of His Holiness’ speech, I am not merely confirmed in this assessment, but also impressed by the extent to which his initial premise [the substance of a conversation between a Christian and a Muslim during the siege of Constantinople (1398-1402)] clearly delineates the difference between the Biblical and the Qu’ranic worldviews.

Benedict’s speech is fundamentally academic, addressed to an academic audience, and concerns the question of the interrelationship between faith and reason, particularly the role of God as outlined by Himself in Old and New Testament Scripture and the influence of Hellenic philosophy on the articulation of the same. Reformed Protestants will appreciate his brief exegesis of the notion of God as logos and how that informs the fundamentally “reasonable” nature of the Christian faith. They may not, as I did not, wholly agree with the pope’s idea that the Reformation was an effort at “dehellenisation” (one can hardly claim that Calvin, for example, was in favor of pre-Greek “primitive” theology). But his decidedly secondary remarks on the tenets of Islam—that Allah permits Himself to act “unreasonably,” in contradiction to His word (even to the extent of divinely demanding faithlessness of the faithful, if He so chooses)—are insightful, heavily footnoted (Benedict is clearly not reporting these ideas as hearsay, or as his own unsubstantiated opinion, but quoting historical accounts and respected scholars, to which and to whom he attributes their respective statements), and unequivocal.

The pope clearly has a great reverence for reason, and his argument is sequential and compelling—in fact, the focus of his speech is not Islam, but the origins of, and the university's gradual departure from, the Western intellectual tradition. There is nothing unwarranted or (as has been alleged) “medieval” about his introductory and concluding statements that reference Muslim theology—these are well-grounded, and, if defamatory, only so because they expose the darkness inherent in Islamic practice and substantiated by Islamic scripture. Too, if this were not an accurate portrayal of Muslim motivation, why has the response to the same been so exact: violent and unreasonable? And as such—even had not Benedict already gone out of his way to cite his exalted sources—why should he render an apology for articulating what is neither more nor less than the truth?

Sleepless in Arlington

I'm dead on my feet. I've had so little rest this past week, it's a wonder I'm still conscious. Or maybe I'm sleepblogging.

The market was wretched today. It rained. And I made less than $20 over rent. Plus I was horribly cold the whole time--had to borrow a wool jacket and a heavy knitted poncho from the vintage clothing sellers next to me. Everybody else was in shirtsleeves. And did I mention that the market director was being his usual abbrasive self and twitting me about my opposition to premarital sex? Good gosh!

My dreams tonight are probably going to be about film noir-star Dana Andrews battling brightly-painted Japanese fighting beetles. I watched a favorite mystery, Laura, on DVD Thursday, and last night at the first area graduate student IV dessert had a long insect-centered conversation with a fellow who's working on his entymology dissertation on the breathing apparatus of the mayfly (I kid you not.) Hence the anticipated wierd visions--it's not a bad drug trip, just a subconscious revisitation of recently-traveled intellectual territory. [And yes, businessmen in Japan have paid upwards of $90,000 for superior specimens of the four-inch fighting beetles, and presumably they (either businessmen or beetles) weren't under the influence of any chemical substances (other than maybe saki) at the time.]

Thursday, September 14, 2006

Books and Booze

We did half as well yesterday at the book sale as we had the first day. Well, considering the previous total was $1201, that wasn’t too shabby. I was absolutely waxed, hosed, exhausted beyond belief, whatever you want to call it, when we finished packing up the leftovers. Despite my previous post’s optimism about returning to sleep, I hadn’t been able to doze off until almost 5 AM, and then didn’t hit REM sleep until shortly before 6:40, when my alarm clock went off. So I really was staggering Wednesday morning, and I was reeling that evening, because I didn’t have dinner until I scarfed up the leftovers from the History Department reception, which also included a glass of white wine (quite bad stuff, really) which was pressed upon me by inebriated male friends, who were celebrating the one’s winning the annual graduate essay competition (cash award included). I wasn't permitted to attend the reception or award's ceremony because I was single-handedly manning the book sale tables outside at the time.

Shortly after my belated repast, I was roped into going to the Tombs (the watering hole for over-21 Georgetown students) for further libations, generously paid for by the aforementioned winning-essay-penning friend. The three guys, who’d all helped me with the post-book-sale packing, plus one’s wife, and me, spent the next hour or so deep in a decidedly unsepulchral environment (underground, sure, but decorated with rowing/crew memorabilia, and brightly lit), hunched around a pitcher of the house’s finest (of which I didn’t partake) and commiserating about comprehensive exams, teaching assistantships and undergraduate drinking games (one of the three was Japanese, so he shared a typical example of the same—and I found out that saying “your mom has an ‘outie’ bellybutton” in Japanese is a crude and horrible insult).

I took on a Bailey’s and a Black Russian (tasted like concentrated coffee—not a request I’ll make again), but given the weeny portions dispensed by barkeeps (plus the vast quantity of carbohydrates I'd consumed beforehand), could still deplore the elevated volume of my companions, enunciate clearly, and walk in a straight line unassisted, at the end of the evening. Not so with my fellows, one of whom was miserably contemplating the meaning of life (I cheerfully quoted the answer to the first Westminster Large Catechism question to him) halfway through his last chilled mugful of beer. The three men and one wife departed (or rather, vanished) in the time it took me to powder my nose, and I went back to the main campus library to check out a DVD of Der Krieger + die Kaiserin (literally, The Warrior and The Princess, but in its American publicist's order, The Princess and The Warrior), planning to ride the APO van home. I ended up taking a cab (the 10 PM APO shift never showed up, and there was no way, semi-inebriated or cold sober, I was going to walk home alone from Georgetown at that hour), struggling upstairs to warmly shower and retire to bed to watch the film, which was awesome. Rated “R” for certain front-loaded thematic elements, but those did not sink the quality of the whole. Franka Potente is a good actress—I had liked Run Lola Run (Lola rennt), and was not wholly pleased that her character was killed off in the second Bourne installment—but what on earth is she doing co-staring with Eric Bana, of all people, in the upcoming drama Romulus, My Father? It’s like Katherine Hepburn partnered with a cardboard cutout of Fabio. Except it is Franka’s hair that is unique—Bana’s never, ever changes.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

The Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate Cookies of Success

It's 4:30 AM, on the happier side of seven hours' desperately-needed sleep. I'm hoping to get a couple more before I have to make my way back to school for the second of two days of marathon book-selling. Yesterday I had had less than four hours' sleep before crawling out of bed at 6:45 AM, and then was on my feet for twelve hours straight, hawking books for the Alyosha fundraiser the entire time. It paid off, though I was as hoarse as a thirty-year smoker at the end of the day, not to mention totally wilted--the last of my adrenalin, on which I'd been functioning all day, ebbed completely away on the bus home. We collected $1201. Actually, it was $1200.25, but I didn't want to have to deal with the quarter, so I replaced it with a dollar. Pretty decent for one day. We started off with forty-three boxes of books, and sold between a quarter and a third of those, I think. We're supposed to have a few additional book donations this morning (from people who never quite got around to turning them in to me until they saw the sale in progress!), which should keep the selection lively.

We have a new vendor at the Saturday Flea Market, a cheerfully pushy woman who calls herself The Cookie Lady. I'd withstood her samples and sales pitch for weeks--I don't like to be pressed into buying anything, but this past Saturday, after having a good lot of sales myself, I finally acquiesed. Amazingly good--just the right plump, yielding crumbly texture. All her confident advertisement was true! Made from scratch, delightful combinations of fruits, chocolates and grains. I got the Oatmeal Cranberry White Chocolate variety, and ate the last of the three when I staggered home last night. Still perfect, not stale. The only less-than-perfect element was that I ran out of milk before I ran out of cookie. Must make sure this doesn't happen again.

All right...back to bed for now!

Monday, September 11, 2006

The Veil and The Fountain

On the bus to school the other day, my neighbor was an angular mantis wearing a long skirt, a long-sleeved shirt and an olive green headscarf that more than slightly resembled one of my father’s old 1970s Army handkerchiefs. She had the features and profile of a prim nineteenth-century Anglican spinster—her face was thin, pale, severe, with a small receding chin and a narrow roman nose perfect for perching pince-nez upon. We’d met before, she and I, when she, with a crowd of other hijab-wearing women much darker and shorter than herself, was searching for a place where they could wash their hands and feet before midday prayers. I was setting up a room for our Intervarsity meeting, and paused to direct her to the nearest functioning washroom. It’s still relatively strange to meet a female Caucasian American who is a Muslim. I wonder what her story is.

Before I’d gotten on the bus, I sat on a wall on a cement corner in downtown Rosslyn, while on the opposite corner bathers were splashing in a fountain underneath some trees, throwing water over their heads in a feathered frenzy of cheerful chirping. It looked delightful. And I again wondered, why should the birds be the only ones to enjoy the Washington fountains? But it’s so—the new World War II Memorial forbids fountain-wading, and the many friendly pools and waterfalls at every turn in the huge and pointless FDR memorial have hoity-toity little wooden Park Service signs next to them that ask visitors to “please respect the memorial” by abstention from frolicking in the water. And yet the designer obviously meant for people to wade in and around the water—there are little steps down into the pools, broad flat stones that cross from the bank to the bottom of the falls—all the physical invitation, in other words, that any parched or playful person needs to kick off her shoes and jump in. Oh, I realize that there is the potential for lawsuits, for injury, for all sorts of the human problems associated with enjoyment, but if they’d really wanted to keep people from temptation, they should have included those little barriers which subtly inform the public “this is for viewing only.” Meanwhile, all that fun water wasted!

Speaking of “do not touch,” the CSCM, who was technically “hands-off” anyway, has gone north for research this term. He leaves tomorrow, but said goodbye last week. Yet another lively person lost to my company. This year looks very grey to me, but that may just be the weather. I hope all will be sunny for the book sale tomorrow and Wednesday!

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Nirvana

My brother and I went to Nirvana this evening, and boy, was it good! This blissful location is a vegetarian Indian restaurant few blocks from the White House, which not only was reasonably priced, it was delicious. We went through seven steps of the eight-fold path of delectable consumption, and though we could not manage dessert, it may be said that the meal was completely heavenly. Yum!

The flags are up all over northern Virginia--giant tricolor starred and striped banners hang on the sides of many multi-story office buildings, and smaller ones are lashed to the chainlink fences on the highway overpasses. I had wondered, the first couple of flags I saw, what had prompted this sudden outpouring of patriotism (northern VA is not known for its red-blooded Americanism, but rather blue-blooded post-nationalism). Then I remembered the date.

I remember every moment of the morning of September 11, 2001. Where were you?

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Left Lonely

It's amazing how emotionally involved one can be with a friendly person that one really doesn't know that well. And when you lose them, either to death or departure (going back to the old country), how very sad that can make you feel. I am glad my brother's coming back into town tomorrow, so that I'll have some warm, funny male companionship to take the place of the missing link(s). I watched Bruce Lee's Enter the Dragon last night with my roommate Nate, but it just wasn't the same (though it was a pretty good movie, what with all the karate action). But I was constantly thinking, "Bruce Lee's dead, too." Not terribly cheering, that!

Monday, September 04, 2006

Bars: The Only Safe Place to Meet People

This may come as a stunning reversal to my devoted readers, but I am wondering whether bars, nightclubs, and assorted other seedy dives populated by the superficial and alcoholic aren’t preferable to the heretofore seemingly-safe environs of church and library.

To whit, I have been again wooed by a septuagenarian slimeball from some second-world country. Dib looks like Lex Luthor with bad teeth and age spots, and sounds like a cross between a B-movie Dracula and one of the mincing anti-men from Queer Eye for the Straight Guy (for you all who stick to internet and print media, that's a TV program where savant gay guys help clueless heterosexuals clean out and dude up, house and closet-speaking).

I came in late to Sunday School yesterday (result of being up until 4 AM fooling around on my computer) and took a seat on the row with Dib—we’d only said “hi” before, and I’d figured he was fairly harmless. Still, I kept a seat between us, upon which I perched my snacks and my Bible. It was the last class of summer term, and we were going through the final three questions from the Westminster Larger Catechism and looking up scripture references throughout the lesson. Noticing that he didn’t have a Bible, I offered that he could look on with me.

The worshipful looks that I had first suspected—if my thumbs weren’t pricking like the Shakespearian witch’s, it was only because the plentiful poppyseeds in the Sunday School snacks had given me a sense of benign euphoria—increased to blatantly obvious when I made this gesture, and I could feel his gaze on my right ear even when I was staring resolutely toward the teacher up front.

At the end of the lesson, Dan, a sweet mentally-disabled fellow with a horrific stutter, came up to get my phone number, so that I could put him in touch with a lady that had previously said she was interested in helping him with his project for Joni and Friends (a Christian disabled advocacy and care group). At the same time, Dib asked for my phone number. I was stuck. There was no diplomatic, or logistical, way I could think of to give one the number without giving it to the other, though I had decided that Dib was definitely not of the sort I’d like to have my contact information (maybe it was his attempted-galant suggestion, “Why don’t you go to Russia with me?” when he asked for my number that made that clear). The best stall I could think of was handing out my land-line, which I seldom answer, and whose messages I never (well, maybe once a month) check.

Dan called Sunday afternoon. He’s actually easier to understand on the phone than in person.

Dib rang today.

“Hello?”

“Hello, this is Dib, from church. See, you like to travel—you want to go to Russia with me?”

I giggled dismissively—I thought for sure in Sunday School he’d been making a poor joke in the awkward way that some men do when they are trying to talk to women. “That wouldn’t be proper.”

“Why not?” Plaintively.

“It just wouldn’t be proper.” More firmly.

He had an inspiration: “We could get married, would that be good with you?”

“Uh, no.”

“Or we could get two other people to go with us, make it four.”

When that “four” suggestion did not meet with any enthusiasm, he moved to another: “My mother has a four-bedroom house in McLean. I have a big house.”

“M-hm.” Where on earth was he going with this?

“You want to live there?”

Uh, no.

“I have another, seven-room house right next door.”

Fascinating. Why the effort to impress me with his real estate holdings?

“You don’t want to move into my house?”

“That wouldn’t be proper.” Gosh, what was wrong with this man? I had thought his remarks in the lesson were a little theologically off, but this was insane.

Perhaps sensing my drift, he said, “I not after sex. Why do people think such things. I believe is for marriage, for a relationship.”

How very gentlemanly.

When his wannabe landlord tactic went the way of the travel-plans, me getting more uncomfortable and evasive at every pass, he asked me to coffee at Barnes & Noble.

“Why don’t I tell you at church next Sunday?” I sought time.

“You go to church every week?” he was surprised.

“Yes.”

“Well, sometimes I go to different churches,” he said. “What denomination are you?”

The fact that we’d met at Presbyterian Sunday School was apparently not sufficient clue.

“Presbyterian.”

Then he started rhapsodizing over the sensuous delights offered by the new Barnes & Noble cafĂ© at the Tyson’s Corner store. “Soups, and sandwiches and cappuccino and—”

“Not to cut you off,” I said, firmly cutting him off, “But I have to get back to my work.”

When I hung up the receiver I got the shakes. It couldn’t be happening again, being harassed by an old goat. And from church, too—not a place I could avoid, like I could the area reading room at the Library of Congress.

After a few minutes, I had resolved what to do. I went downstairs and knocked on my roommate Kevin’s door.

“Kevin, I’m being stalked. Can I see your caller ID?” (His is the only phone in the house that has it.)

“Sure.”

I found the number and phoned immediately.

Dib answered on the sixth ring.

“I’ve been thinking the last ten minutes and though I’m sure your intentions are of the very best I’ve decided this all makes me very uncomfortable considering you are if not old enough to be my father then old enough to be between my father and my grandfather [I was getting flustered] and I think that we should just stick to saying ‘hi’ at church,” I said in a rush.

A short pause, then Dib asked, “How old are you?”

“What the—,” I thought. Then, responded, vague and curt at once: “I’m in my thirties.”

“Ah,” he said. “Well, I’m looking to get married soon, and I’ve decided that I won’t marry anyone over the age of twenty-eight.”

Hah. Who does he think he is, Hugh Hefner?

What a creep.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Crikey!

Steve Irwin, the irrepressible Crocodile Hunter, is dead, aged 44.

I was just watching his show yesterday--such fun (he was harassing wildlife in Mexico on the program). Really enjoyed seeing him interact with, and not get bitten by all sorts of dangerous creatures.

How awful! Freak stingray accident, stung through the chest, into the heart while snorkling off the Australian coast, doing a documentary. Survived by his wife and two young children.

I hope that he knew his Maker before he met Him.

Friday, September 01, 2006

My Letter to the Powers That Be at Georgetown

This afternoon, I sent the following letter to five members of the Georgetown administration, including the university president and the Protestant chaplain who signed the letter expelling Intervarsity from campus.

Dear {name of administrator}:

Not more than three weeks ago, beautiful azure banners appeared on Georgetown’s main campus, proclaiming the university’s aims in creating its unique learning environment. Two of these key goals, emblazoned with others on a giant canvas affixed to the Intercultural Center overlooking Red Square, and repeated individually on lamppost-posters along the heavily-traveled sidewalk between the ICC and the Leavey Center, are “Faith and Justice” and “Interreligious Understanding.” Imagine, then, how betrayed we graduate student members of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship felt when, just days after admiring these prettily-presented principles, we learned that our group was being summarily, and inexplicably, expelled from campus.

This sudden pronouncement—issued just days before the fair welcoming new students to on-campus extra-curricular activities—gave no concrete reason for the drastic change, nor did the interviews given subsequently by the administration to media outlets such as the Washington Post, and to students. In fact, scant information was relayed to students at all, either before or after this decision.

From the little I have been able to glean, the Protestant Chaplaincy has taken upon itself to organize, sui generis, an organization for all Protestant students, most of whom heretofore have been members of the six affiliated ministries so abruptly terminated. The avowed mission of the Chaplaincy is to promote cohesiveness among Georgetown Protestants. But in expelling the actual affiliated ministries in favor of a hypothetical single, university-guided group, the chaplains have in fact done the opposite of what they claim to intend.

“Protestants” is a catch-all term: the word encapsulates a belief community so diverse in membership and practice that attempting to develop a single system for assembly and worship is fruitless from its beginning. The very reason that every year hundreds of Georgetown students have chosen to participate in activities sponsored by the former affiliated ministries was that the six reflected the multifaceted doctrinal and practical interests we hold. Instead of promoting the “community in diversity” that Georgetown has chosen as another of its publicly-acknowledged ends, this new Protestant Chaplaincy plan appears to be the administrative imposition of an unwelcome, unsought, homogenous religious regime on a significant population of the university’s students. It is as if someone in the athletic department unilaterally declared that the preferred football, field hockey and basketball teams immediately disband so that everyone should take up bowling.

Georgetown should desire to assure quality religious guidance for all members of its student body. And for its Protestants, the university, however its programs are “restructured,” cannot physically provide the resources, nor display the flexibility, that the dynamic, student-oriented affiliated ministries were and are able to present. By welcoming them back to campus as soon as possible, the Chaplaincy can resume its progress towards fostering a truly catholic Protestant faith community on one of the premier Roman Catholic campuses in the United States.

Sincerely,

{CEP}