Tuesday, May 29, 2007
We were continuing eastward toward the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier when a 21-gun salute began firing down the hill, white smoke rising through the trees in front of us. We paused, waiting in silence until the firing ceased. Three impossibly shiny field guns manned by a detachment of exquisitely pressed and impressively decorated Marines were in a copse below us, and all were quickly beseiged by tourists who were anxious to take pictures. We didn't get very near the Tomb--the Secret Service had closed off access as the President was laying his annual wreath.
I assured my father that if the President were traveling by motorcade, he would have to go out the front gate of the cemetery, across Memorial Bridge. Not fifteen minutes later, while we were taking a rest on one of the bridge's marble benches, the police cleared the roads, and only 5 minutes after that, the Presidental limosine sped past, accompanied by a phalanx of black SUVs, police cars, and an ambulance. The bullet-proof glass windows on the limosine were blue, they were so thick, and I could see two men seated in the back, but the car went by too quickly for me to ascertain which one was "W." It was neat, though--I've only ever seen the motorcade of the Prime Minister of the Russian Federation in such close proximity. His limosine had fringed curtains in the windows, like a hearse.
We went to the Korean War Memorial, and then to the Vietnam Memorial, both of which were thronged with people. Then we walked up to the World War II Memorial. Years ago, when it was still in the planning stages, my Granddaddy had sent in a donation to help pay for the thing. He has always said that his name was supposed to be somewhere on or around it, but I'd not previously had a chance to look. This time, my parents and I went over to the National Park Service kiosk next to the Memorial, and lo and behold, there were four banks of touch-screen computers, where you could enter the name of the person you knew, and when we put in Granddaddy's name, not only did a whole summary of his service record come up, but also a picture of him in his uniform. Daddy suggested we call him then and there.
Grandmommy answered the phone, and I told her where we were. She walked the phone down to Granddaddy, who was outside in his workshop, and I read him what was on the screen. He was just tickled. A good Memorial Day for him, 71 years after he first joined the Navy!
We were leaving the Memorial on the way around the Washington Monument when I saw a little old man with remarkably smooth, transluscent skin and a chestful of medals sitting on a nearby bench with an equally ancient woman beside him. I went up and asked him what branch of the service he had been in. It turned out he had been in the Army Signal Corps (before it was headquartered at Fort Gordon, GA, just a few miles from where my parents live), and had been in Washington when the National Mall was covered with "tempo" buildings, as he put it. He'd joined the Army in January, 1934, two years before my Grandfather went into the Navy without ever having seen the ocean. After twenty years in the Army, he'd gone directly into the Foreign Service, from which he'd retired after another twenty years of federal work. He'd been stationed all over Europe and in the Middle East--the only country in Europe he and his wife had not visited was Russia. "He's 93," his wife, who was more frail than he, said proudly. He was a charming old fellow--clasped my hand during our entire conversation, and told me at the end how pretty I was, asking, "Are there any more like you at home?" I love little old veterans!
Mums, Daddy and I took the Metro to the Zoo, with the idea of lunching in Adams Morgan, but nothing appealed. So we bought ice creams at the Zoo, and spent hours strolling, watching the panda, the elephants, the apes, and everything else, from Komodo dragons to jellyfish, that were variously munching, lounging, and cavorting in their enclosures. It was a beautiful day--the weather was perfect, and watching the thousands of ethnically diverse families of zoo-goers, most with small children, was as interesting as observing the animals. People from every tongue and tribe under heaven were pushing strollers and carrying toddlers. I have never seen such a human and animal menagerie in my life.
After the Zoo, all three of us were completely famished and footsore. We Metroed to China Town, but opted for Legal Seafood, where I ordered salmon. Until my mother brought it to my attention, I didn't realize that this was the third straight night I'd had salmon for dinner. It was, for the third straight night, delicious. Sometimes you just have a craving.
We were going to Metro home, but I suggested, since it was still early, that we walk back to the National Mall, if the others' feet could handle it. Just a few blocks away, we found the Navy Memorial. Then we went on down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House. Then we went back to the Mall, and by that time, we were so close to home--just about two miles--that we decided to walk the rest of the way.
We hadn't been walking very fast all day, but I estimate we covered between eight and ten miles in total. Maybe a bit more. We were whipped by the time we got to my parents' hotel, and then they had to take me back to my apartment, where I'd parked my car, and thence I had to drive to the cat-sitting condo, where housecleaning awaited me.
Needless to say, the cats could have danced the light fantastic on my stomach last night, and I wouldn't have noticed. Haven't slept that well in months.
Today the parents were on their own--I had to go to work--but we got together for dinner this evening. I had pasta. With spinach. Not salmon. They didn't have any on the menu.
Sunday, May 27, 2007
The waiter was so pleased that I remembered him that he told me, "So, it's your birthday," when my mother and I ordered a shared strawberry shortcake for dessert.
I looked at him blankly, and responded, "Actually, it's my roommate's birthday." Susan was turning 29, and her parents, too, had come over from Ohio for the weekend.
"This is where you say, 'It's my birthday!'" He prompted me.
Ah--the light finally went on. "It's my birthday," I recited, insincerely.
He brought out a magnificent strawberry shortcake--the cake still warm from the oven, the strawberries a cascade of scarlet under an avalanche of freshly whipped cream--and said, "It's on the house." Wasn't that sweet of him?
We walked back across the Key Bridge, my parents drove me to my apartment, and I returned to the condominium to tend to the pre-bedtime needs of Vinny and Nels. They have this odd pellet-shaped wood-based litter that crumbles to non-dusty powder after it gets wet. It's great stuff--landfill friendly, and good odor control, and you don't inhale a bunch of talc when you change it--but it has to be scooped for poop morning and evening, which is a hassle. Happily, it's right next to the toilet, and since the litter dissolves in water, the findings can be flushed.
I was exhausted by the time I had showered again and donned my nightgown, crawled into my nest on the couch (they'd changed the sheets on one roommate's bed so I could sleep there, but I found it like Mama Bear's--way too soft, and so reverted to the more rudimentary sleeping arrangements I am used to), and switched off the light. I turned on my alarm and welcomed sleep. At 2:45 AM, I was awoken by a repeated tap on my left arm. I stirred and glanced over, at the furry individual who was demanding my attention. Our eyes met, and Vinny immediately climbed onto the couch, settled his seventeen-pound bulk on my chest, his cold nose on my chin, and began to purr so that my insides vibrated. He wanted a back and tummy rub. Having massaged the cat for 15 minutes (a cat who gently patted my face with a clawless paw every time I showed an inclination to desist), he finally retired to the back of the couch, and I was able to doze off again, though not quite as deeply as before.
At 4 AM, I was a startled awake by the unmusical sounds of a cat fight. Close by. Vinny, who weighs a good 10 lbs more than Nels, and is large-boned to match his superior girth, had trapped her in the end table at the foot of the couch, and they were trading insults. I told them to shut up. Which they did, temporarily. But like all children, they resumed their hissing and growling the minute my back was turned. I blindly tossed a pillow in the general direction of the sounds, and the confrontation ended. I didn't sleep much the rest of the night, though.
And then my alarm went off an hour early, a time issue I didn't notice until I was in the car on my way to meet my parents, phoned to tell them so, and my mother noted I wasn't late at all. So I turned around, went back to the condo, and did some housekeeping that made me really late to meet them, and consequently all three of us miss the whole first hymn of the 9:15 service. The sermon (on suffering) and the Sunday school lesson (on Ephesians 5) were both great, but I was dead on my seat, and kept catching myself tipping over asleep. I eventually went out to the bathroom and splashed cold water on myself for a while to return to full consciousness. It worked.
Lunch we ate out with Susan and her parents, whom we sought out after the 11 o'clock service. Lebanese food, heaps of it, and delightful company. The parentals returned to their hotel for naps, and I went home with the same thought in mind, only to find my futon mattress covered with debris I'd tossed over to clear a place for the bookcase that they'd brought up from Paxifist's and Deacon Paul's. So I spent the afternoon attempting to clean up my room. Only partly successful.
The three of us met up again for a long-anticipated dinner with Leah (of Cathy Plus One), Aaron and Micah. It was delicious. We stuffed ourselves to bursting for the second time in the day. Daddy was enthralled by little Micah, who ate up the attention, proudly showing off his room and his toys. A thoroughly enjoyable evening.
Now, I'm back with Vinny and Nels, who seem to be in a congenial mood. The parentals are probably abed by now, if the dozens of motorcyclists also staying in their hotel haven't woken them up again (as they did at 3 AM this morning--I don't think my mother slept much better than I did). The Memorial Day bike rally in DC is a huge deal--thousands upon thousands of riders are roaring around the roads of northern VA, and on every overpass (but one) over I-66 this morning, there were little clusters of pedestrians standing, noses pressed to the chain-link fence, waving tiny American flags and welcoming the rolling thunder.
Friday, May 25, 2007
Wednesday, May 23, 2007
The hospitable NPV (only one letter and a scramble removed from MVP, I hasten to point out, in a prudent anteprandial fit of compliments to the chef) is one of a dwindling group of easy-on-the-eyes guys with whom I enjoy platonic relationships. As much as I would ideally love to be in love with a man (unspecified) who loves me in return, it is disturbing to think that the number of ordinary male friends (specified) I have seems to be dropping lately. Sometimes a girl just appreciates a little testosterone in her life, even if it’s not connected with any romantic element.
Paul is moving to
That my bike tires were properly inflated has come in handy this week, though. Yesterday, Susan and I went on an evening ride almost down to the Pentagon and back, a round trip of about seven miles. All down hill one way, so coming back was a haul. I was panting like an asthmatic on Everest went we crested the last rise. Need. To. Get. In. Shape. (Gasp. Wheeze.) And learn how to use my gears a bit more judiciously.
After the next time I go biking (with whomever), I want to be able to walk down stairs without my knees going rubbery. One should reserve knee-weakness for other occasions.
The two cats, Vinny (short for the formal name Sauvignon) and Nels, are, respectively, a large (17 lbs) orange and white boy with the body shape of the original ungainly Garfield cartoon and a tail two inches longer than standard, and a snow white longhaired girl with pale gray patches in front of her startlingly pink ears, a beautiful banner of a tail, and what used to be called a hairlip, which gives her a quizzical expression. Nels--who is fondly referred to as Nelson by her doting human parent, a female Air Force pilot--has woken me up precisely at 6:10 every morning, sitting by my bedside and emitting short meows. She wants the bathroom faucet turned on, so she can drink from the tap. Her brother is less insistent about tap-drinking (they both have a nice fountain waterbowl, which simulates the tap-flow, but they prefer to be waited on in person), but took umbrage at my shutting the shower door yesterday morning so he couldn't go in and wet his feet after I was finished. While I was toweling off, he looked over his shoulder at me, and slid the panel open with one paw, and walked in. I left him to it.
"They're good kids," said their mother, who emailed me three pages of practical steps for her kitties' comfort, from changing the litter in the pan to keeping their food dish well-stocked. She also showed me the chemicals she keeps to get the hair-ball-barf stains out of the rug. Vinny gets separation anxiety and vomits whenever he sees the suitcase emerge from the closet, no doubt hoping that his upset will cause his mother to postpone her travel plans. Thus, I found myself cleaning up the carpet in the master bedroom two nights ago. Yes, I am being well-paid for babysitting my furry charges, with whom I am staying every night.
Besides the salary, I am getting the run of the new two-bedroom condo the Air Force officer and her friend own (nobody can afford an $700,000 mortgage by themselves), which has a plush granite-countertopped kitchen. They changed the sheets in the roommate's bedroom so I could sleep there, but I am so used to just a mattress on the floor that I quickly reverted to bedding down on the couch, which I find more firm and comfortable. They also provided me with a Metro card for the duration of my stay, and a refrigerator stocked with six different kinds of Ben & Jerry's and Edy's ice cream, three gallons of skim milk, and a few other groceries. And a parking spot for my car in the residents' garage. And full use of their washer and dryer. I could get used to this!
The only issue I've had is that all my things are at my apartment--I can't bring jewelry components to the condo because the cats might eat them, and I am too tired at the end of the day to read anything for comps. Thus, the comps reading I have gotten done has been that completed at work between processing desk copy orders and answering the telephone. And I haven't been plumping my jewelry inventory the way I had hoped to do. I did get to go to the art studio yesterday morning, though--made three face tiles.
Tomorrow evening, the NPV has invited me and Susan over for dinner. What host gift does one bring in such cases?
Thursday, May 17, 2007
As my blog readers know, it took moving heaven and earth to get my taxes done, but they were finally completed (thanks to Cathy Plus One), and I mailed them off at the end of March, over two weeks prior to the deadline. I owed what was for me a substantial sum, and so made sure I had delivery confirmation on the envelope. The postal service reported its delivery on April 2. From that moment on, I kept a daily watch on my bank balance, to see when the check would clear. I waited. And waited. And waited.
Finally, I phoned yesterday afternoon. The GA Department of Revenue has the world's worst hold music. It seems designed to set the teeth on edge, and it goes on and on, interrupted every minute by the repetition of the same laconic "Your call is important to us" message, though without any indication of where you are in the hold queue, how long you'll be waiting, or whether everyone in the office is out to lunch. I was blessed, though, by eventually getting through, and to a nice young woman who told me that there was no record in the system of their having gotten either my tax form or the check for the balance.
You can imagine my immeasurable delight at this news.
What I should do, she said, is fax a copy of my tax return to a number in the processing department.
I went home and found not only the tax return copy, but the delivery confirmation sticker stub, and the post office cashier's receipt for the same, and the carbon copy of the check I'd written to the Department of Revenue. And I faxed these all off to the number I'd been given, including a cover letter with my cell phone number, for them to call when they received the seven pages of documents. My phone was silent, and stayed silent for hours, except for a wrong number.
At two, I decided to call the Revenue people again. I was on hold for over twenty minutes, listening to the same grating loop of noxious not-quite-jazz. The woman who answered the phone was a little less cheerful than the girl I talked to last night, but I poured on the charm, and she responded well. For one thing, when she said, "Hold on," she didn't put me back into the endless irritating noise loop, but just laid down the receiver. Then she disappeared for five minutes. When she came back on the line, she said that the woman who watches over the fax machine to which I'd sent my documents was "away from her desk" and that she hadn't scanned anything new into the system. She then gave me a different fax number, one that she said would go to the Processing Department.
I changed the number on my cover letter, and sent off the seven pages once more. Just as with the first one, the fax machine on this end claims everything went through without delay. But has my phone rung with the news that they've gotten this information? What do you think?
Tuesday, May 15, 2007
The bird flying back and forth in front of his inside office window had discombobulated at least one professor before I arrived in the department at 9:20. However, as someone seated in the lobby had said someone official had been called, I figured that the matter would be addressed.
No one, however, had done anything by 1:30, when a lone campus security officer, carrying a small net, met me on the stairs and asked me where the bird was. There was a pair of rubber boots in the net. I don't think he'd been well-informed about the scope of the issue. There was no way one person with a trout-fishing net was going to catch a single bird in an area containing several hundred thousand cubic feet of open air. Within 15 minutes, he gave up trying to even spot the bird (which was taking a rest from flying, and thus invisible), and left.
The bird took wing again. I briefly managed to corner it in a lobby next to the elevators, but the person who'd I'd assigned to block its exit from the area while I went after it with a paper towel was not terribly energetic, and the bird escaped. An hour or so later, Professor G-R came in and suggested that we put out some cheese for the thing--she managed to scrape some off an antedeluvian sandwich she found in the back of the department refrigerator, and I put some out in a little trail leading in to the private conference room which we share with the Government Department. The room is at the opposite end of the department from my desk, but has big plate-glass windows opening to the west-northwest, through which the afternoon sun was blazing. I figured if I propped open the door to this room and put sufficient enticement in the bird's way, it would fly in and we might be able to trap it.
One of the Government department guys, unaware of my plan, was nonetheless the person who successfully sprung the trap. He rushed excitedly to the front desk, and two of the Government staffers and I grabbed boxes, and a couple of garish Hawaiian shirts (why they had these on hand I don't know) and we three slipped into the conference room. It was truly a three-person job grabbing that bird. It ran under chairs, it flew above our heads, and it even attempted to insinuate itself into the ceiling light fixtures. But we finally threw a cardboard file box over it. It immediately tried to squeeze out the hand-slots. We stuffed the Hawaiian shirts in these, and slid the box top underneath to cut off all other means of escape. It attempted to claw its way out of the box the whole trip down the elevator to the outdoors. We released it in the Jesuit cemetery beside the ICC--it flew off in a hurry. Nothing like teamwork between male philosophers (the political scientists) and a female realist (this historian). I was relieved to have the bird gone--I don't think I would have been able to sleep tonight knowing that it was food and waterless, that I might arrive at work tomorrow to find its dehydrated little body decomposing in the foyer.
Sunday, May 13, 2007
Lunch at home afterwards, though, was delicious, and followed by a tasty “wedding cake” commissioned by my middle aunt, whose political leanings are so pronounced that she must have to wear weighted shoes to keep from tipping over. This woman is a suburban Boston lawyer, who among her notable distinctions has been an attempted peacemaker between the Israelis and Palestinians (she believes devoutly that if they can just be brought to talk to one another, all dissension will vanish), and volunteer legal counsel for one (or more) of the Guantanamo detainees.
Most of the company departed after eating cake, and then my grandfather had the unfortunate distinction of attempting to jump-start the postprandial conversation by introducing a politically sensitive topic. This precipitated a long-postponed confrontation between my brother Nate and the aforementioned liberal aunt. She said she would have all handguns outlawed, if she could. She was appalled by and uncomprehending of the fact that Nate “feels” (her word) he has to carry a gun for self-protection. And she really doesn’t like being told that she doesn’t know what the hell she’s doing, much less that she has never really experienced many of the conditions about which she claims to be so knowledgeable. For instance, she’s never had a drug-related gun-battle occur on the street outside her (very expensive) condominium, called 911, and waited over an hour for the police to show up—my brother has (he lives in the ghetto in downtown Atlanta). I am glad that I wasn’t there for their confrontation. Her condescending obtuseness would have disgusted me almost as much as it did my brother—though I daily have to endure listening (silently) to the equal haughty blindness of the vast majority of the people with whom I work. She, like almost every person in the History Department, is nice and wholly pleasant, just totally ignorant of the reality of evil human nature, and the fact that government (wherever it is, no matter how perfectly designed) is not a benign system, but composed of faulty beings who work well sometimes and exceedingly ill at others. I’m actually delighted that my brother, however imperfectly, confronted her. Although I am sure not a single word he said penetrated her consciousness.
But far more than reasonable political opinions, I wish she would really see and hear the godly example of her parents, to learn that there is truly no hope—for herself, for my brother, for any loved one—to reform opinions to align with truth, to be made perfect, apart from the acceptance that Jesus Christ was, is, and will be the only means to that end. Without an internal, spiritual change in each one of us, there will be no safety, none of the peace which she seeks with such ardent dedication. No peace for either the well-heeled liberal or the impecunious conservative.
Thursday, May 10, 2007
Tuesday, May 08, 2007
Well, not having to have driven to Atlanta this weekend was a boon on several counts--not the least, my brother in the end decided not to participate in the show, and those unlucky souls (including several nationally-known artists) who persevered in spite of his better judgement didn't enjoy much attendance, and had not a single sale. So I would have driven all that way, at great expense (gas now hovering around $3 a gallon for the "cheap" stuff), for nothing.
As I was in town, I went back to the Arlington Market for the first time in almost two months, and had a moderately successful day, which was cut short by rain, selling my jewelry.
Since Friday, too, I've been sick with what are most likely bad allergies, which condition has demanded rest I wouldn't have gotten had I been driving to and from GA.
Finally, this morning I went to open studio at the community center, and found several of the tiles that they did fire this weekend needed to be touched up with more glaze and re-fired before they'll be ready for grouting into a fireplace.
So, now we have an opportunity, Nate and I, to produce some things we'll be able to be really proud of--things we've had a chance to perfect, rather than designs we've hurried together.
Friday, May 04, 2007
Many countries boast exotic ingredients on the national menu (live octopi in parts of southeast Asia, fried grasshoppers in Africa, etc.), but it is Peruvian Frog Juice that was highlighted in the news this morning. "Juice" does not, in this case, mean the animals were milked, like ants milking aphids, but cuisinarted. Apparently this popular potion, which (besides blended frog) contains "three ladles of hot, white bean broth, two generous spoonfuls of honey, raw aloe vera plant and several tablespoons" of the Andean root maca, is supposed to impart (ahem) "vigor", earning it the nickname "Peruvian Viagra," although it's considered good for women, too.
When I reminded Paul about this interesting native beverage, he responded that when in Cuzco he had seen the amphibian ingredients swimming/semi-floating in a water-filled metal bucket; "I couldn't figure out what they were for, since they were bite-size and therefore too small for an entree. But now I know." Then he reminded me of the central ingredient in an entree we and Kimberly'd encountered on the menu at a nice restaurant in Odessa: bull's testicles. No, we didn't order it. I've heard of people "using every part of the pig but the squeal" but the prospect of eating that particular portion of the bull didn't make my mouth water. This might say something about the difference between the American and Russian cultures, or merely that I'm just not that much of a feminist after all.
Tuesday, May 01, 2007
Sunday evening Paul took three girls out to dinner at the Arizona Restaurant (me, Kimberly, and an administrator from the local MTW office) near the river port in Kiev. The decor was entirely Americana, including a disconcertingly large rebel flag in the pool hall. Afterwards, we stocked up on chocolates at the MegaMarket (much nicer than most American grocery stores, and right up Gorkogo Street from the apartment where we were staying), and packed our suitcases for mid-morning departure Monday. Our departure was smooth, the only rough spot being a rude American woman of the classic Yankee biddy mold who brassily informed us that we had really purchased business class tickets, we would know it, and then brushed ahead of us in line to claim hers. We rejoiced (in a truly unChristian fashion) in seeing get her comeupance in being seated in economy with the rest of us plebes when time came to board the plane.
The humanoids at the Arlington County Community Center didn't fire a single one of my lizard tiles, making my Atlanta trip this weekend unnecessary. I sat in my car in the parking lot tonight and sobbed for a full twenty minutes before my brother called and pointed out that we had other pieces for the show May 5, and that the so-called "big break" did but rarely come along. Obviously, this wasn't it. It was still really disappointing--to have worked so hard and not have anything (at least anything completed in a timely fashion) to show for it. I need somebody to go with me to Spiderman III this weekend, just to cheer me up. Any takers?