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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Hardware and Software

Do you know how hard it is to find single-bolt four-inch black rubber swivel casters in DC?! No, of course you don't, because you didn't spend Every Spare Moment (when not being terrorized by a muscular, aggressive squirrel--the Arnold Schwarzenegger of the fluffy-tailed rat family--near the Catholic Church in Georgetown) yesterday driving from hardware store (mom and pop) to hardware store (big orange box), beseeching the men at the front desk to help you find such things. I found one-inch castors in abundance, and four-inchers with plates (an intelligent design, distributing the stress among four screws rather than a single stem), but not the single-bolt variety I required. Very frustrating.

Why did I need to find this odd component? While Hiro was bringing down the second load of books to my car Sunday night, one of the casters on the handcart broke off. I hate cheap steel. It's a brand-new handcart. And one that's going to get a lot more exercise moving book boxes over the next month. The wheel must needs be replaced. And after making sure that the history department would reimburse me for the same, I set off.

Happily, this afternoon I just decided to Google the dang thing (now that I knew its proper name, thanks to my hardware store visits), and came up almost immediately with a virtual storefront devoted entirely to caster sales. So I ordered (using my boss's department credit card) four of the "will hold up to 250 pounds" variety--two for the new cart, two for the old (which only is out of commission because its own casters went kerflooee).

This afternoon, shortly before I was inspired to look online for the hardware, I got my new camera in the mail. A digital camera. My first. An all-weather Olympus Stylus 760, 7.1 megapixels, with a 2.5" LCD. I hope it works. It says "certified for Windows Vista" and there is no way I'm upgrading my computer software right now. I love Amazon--I shoved this item into my shopping cart and waited until the price went down, then pounced. This is for my jewelry business primarily (hello, tax deduction!), and Lord willing, I'll be able to get pictures of my more expensive pieces uploaded to the website this evening.

Yes, I am doing some comps studying.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Party Time! (or) Triplesticks Unveiled

Saturday occurred one of the best parties I’ve experienced in years, a small house-warming self-given by two girl friends of mine from Intervarsity. It was scheduled as a drop-in, from 4-8 PM, nothing fancy, just a few hors d’oeuvres and copious quantities of beer thoughtfully laid in by the two non-guzzling hostesses, a chance for the guests to christen their two-bedroom, two-bath flat with a clever appellation somehow charming, descriptive and silly.

April, my red-haired Lancaster County, PA, temporary roommate, who until recently was babysitting an adorable pit bull who is terrified of thunderstorms, and is staying over in Susan’s room until her own apartment subletter departs in a week, went with me. She’s great fun, a German Literature Ph.D. candidate former missionary with multiple tattoos, earrings in the up to ten holes that march from her lobes up the sides of each ear, a nose stud, and a gregarious good humor and gift for storytelling that would produce a chuckle in the most ossified old grump if it didn’t cause a stroke first. I like her. She’s a good sport, and doesn’t hesitate to call fellows out when they murmur what seems like a comfortable, weak conclusion in a Bible Study. A Christian feminist in the best sense of the term.

We were 4:30 arriving at the party, partly because I needed to cool off from the day’s marketing once I got home at 3:15. This was a period of emotional, as well as physical, chilling. It took time, and then I had to get showered and primped. No sense in frightening one’s friends with the ghastliness of the un-“done” CEP.

We were a very neat, preppy group, we guests, making polite small-talk in the living room while sipping Chrstian-party-appropriate water or wine (me water, April wine). I was just about bored out of my skull. Finger-foods are not enthralling, nor were the pleasantries that I was exchanging with other guests, no matter the deliberate attention which I was paying to each person, and the effort I was exerting coming up with questions that might draw forth heartfelt responses from the other. I considered sidling up to April and asking if she felt like we’d done our duty and could go home without offending anyone.

Happily, the atmosphere soon changed. Maybe it was the arrival of other guests—some of whom we knew and others with whom we immediately established a rapport. Maybe it was the wine, which most seemed to prefer over beer (meaning that the house might be warmed, but the refrigerator would continued to cool enormous numbers of bottles of untouched suds). The list of suggestions of names for the new pad grew longer, with entries drawn from nautical terminology and Lord of the Rings (several circular fixtures, and a Hobbit-hole window in the kitchen prompted these references) and mangled Russian (one of the hostesses, the red-headed Julie of bouquet-catching fame, is a fellow Russianist, and the guests were doing their best). And suddenly I realized that I, like almost everyone else (to judge from the smiles, and animated conversations that continually gained volume around me), was having a wonderful time.

First I talked with Carrie, a pretty girl with a problem roommate (I gave her the abbreviated Alissa story, and she shared her own). I wondered aloud if we hadn’t already met somewhere else, and she responded with the best heterosexual same-sex pickup line ever: “I don’t think we have, but you look like the sort of person I would be friends with.” How could your heart not melt? She knew Julie through a very circuitous route: her brother’s rabbi is the golfing buddy of one of Amy’s cousin’s cousin’s girlfriend’s father, a priest. She and Julie met at an anti-war march, in which neither was participating, but which involved the mutual relatives/acquaintances. She and I had a great chat, complete with understanding hugs, before she asked Lee, who’d come to the party separately, about Israeli military history, whereupon he gave her a synopsis. The man really ought to become a professor--he's well-informed, funny, and enthusiastic about his subject, all essentials to good teaching.

I talked with Sue, another extroverted red-head whom I knew from IV, and found out about her adventures going through Moscow to and from Belarus while she was a staff member with the Arkansas-based YWAM (Youth With a Mission), and her wretched experiences teaching English for two years in South Korea. I hadn’t any idea that she was so well-traveled, and I learned a good bit about the closed nature of even democratic South Korean society. They don’t do assimilation well. She’s studying international development, and given her previous experiences and the perseverance learned therefrom, I don’t doubt she’ll do well.

Later, I met a Russian Studies undergraduate, and she and I were deep in a discussion about the difficulties of translating the “Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands” manuscript (particularly the title, which in English makes it sound like there are four homelands involved, not two, as is meant by the original quote from which the phrase is drawn) when we overheard two girls speaking in Russian next to us. I introduced myself, and discovered that one was from Ukraine, the other from Russia. Shortly thereafter, the Read-Headed Julie came into the kitchen where we were talking and said that it was “’Ужасное жарко’ by the refrigerator and wouldn’t we rather be in the living room, where we could sit down and be more comfortable?”

So it was that I found myself hunched on the oversized red footstool by the arm of Olya’s chair, listening carefully to her stories about life in Ukraine. She was from Nikolayev, one of the formerly-closed military shipbuilding cities in southern Ukraine, near Kherson. Her grandmother, with whom she lived briefly as a child while her parents’ flat was being renovated, is a retired teacher, as are almost all the people in her apartment building. We Westerners shouldn’t be surprised at the concentration of similar talent in a single “Дом” like this, because the Soviet authorities would give the management of residential buildings over to individual professional trade unions, who were responsible for the apportionment of the flats among their members. Thus, at least in the old days, whole buildings would be occupied by people practicing the same profession. Now, in Olya’s grandmother’s case many of the inhabitants are retired widows, highly educated, and networked with one another and the outside world in surprising ways. The female grapevine that my sister refers to as the “Petticoat Mafia” is embodied in Ukraine by the irregular organization jokingly called (after the British news service) the BBC—бабушкина баба сказала (“Grandmother’s old lady friend said…”). These old women know everything, from who’s had an affair with whom to the name of the hottest Paris fashion label. They hear everything, they compare stories, they are a mine of historical and contemporary information. They also are reliable and reliably Communist voters. Olya, who is of Jewish extraction, told me a bit about the discrimination that is built into the framework of Russian and Ukrainian literature, where a Slavic man may be driven to drink by the nameless social forces who oppress him, but the “real” monster is the Jewish barkeep who profits from his natural self-destruction.

Then James arrived. We hadn’t met before, but I knew I was in a Presence. He was very tall, with extremely pale hair and pink skin, like a newborn lab rat, but his personality was anything but meek and diminutive: he was dramatic from the get-go, his every gesture a super-sized serving of emotion and emphasis. When he entered, he was wearing an orange t-shirt, which made me immediately think of him as an unscripted VeggieTales character, an animated carrot. Then he changed into a pink golf shirt with green horizontal stripes, which altered his vegetable ego a bit, but seemed merely to expand his theatricality. I immediately wanted to know whether he’d been a Drama major. Voice, it turned out. And what university had had honed the talents of this deliciously flamboyant character? I would never have guessed: Bob Jones.

For the few of you who may not recognize the name, Bob Jones University is a peculiar institution in Greenville, SC, the archetypal conservative Christian college, down to the rigid modest dress code, the required daily chapel services, and the other thousand written rules that make them the reviled poster child of legalistic religion. Throughout my childhood and adolescence, my church friends and I would share outlandish tales we’d heard about life at Bob Jones, from the septuagenarian-chaperoned courting parlor to the sex-segregated sidewalks, and we’d wonder why anyone would go there. James did, as it turns out, because he was itching to rebel. I imagine from the moment he enrolled, they hadn’t a clue how to deal with him.

A beer bottle in one hand, he began to act out for us some of the frustrations he’d experienced, from being placed on “spiritual probation” (and being put into counseling for his living contradiction of the Jonesian mantra “men are rational, women are emotional”) to the university president’s justification in chapel for the school’s continuing prohibition of interracial dating. This latter lecture, delivered by Bob Jones III (on whom James bestowed the irreverent nickname “TripleSticks”) used apocalyptic Bible passages to substantiate what James and others considered to be a ridiculous restriction on their already extremely limited social lives. Thus, when TripleSticks appeared on Larry King Live shortly after the George Bush speech debacle (in which the press got their hands on one of the student handbooks that were never, ever, supposed to leave campus—lest anyone outside find out what the ridiculous rules were, James said, who himself smuggled off a copy to a friend at the University of Michigan, where said friend used to amuse others at fraternity parties by reading selections—and found out about the interracial dating rule, and began berating Bush as a racist for having visited campus) and publically dismissed the rule as an obsolete holdover from the previous century, one the school had never gotten around to taking off the books, but which was no longer in force, James was incensed at the hypocrisy of it all. First to offer a ridiculous attempt at Biblical justification and then not two years later to shrug off the whole matter as an historical anomaly struck him as patently dishonest.

Then he went off into a hilarious rendition of the fashion disasters that were the women’s chorus outfits at Bob Jones, Barney purple balloons of bows, ribbons and flounces that seemed designed to destroy the figure. I was in stitches.

The evening ended on a high note. At midnight. I took Sue home while April hitched home with Lee, our erstwhile neighbor. And somehow I got to both church and Sunday school yesterday morning, before coming home to dive into my souvenir from the previous evening: a borrowed copy of the new Harry Potter book. Which I finished by midnight last night, despite a several-hour hiatus to have dinner with Hiro and Merlot at a Vietmanese noodle shop and laboriously move two loads more of boxed books into their apartment from Georgetown. What a great weekend!

Monday, July 23, 2007

Plans and Praises

Our women’s Bible study is winding down to dissolution after over a decade of weekly meetings, since we are far-flung geographically (necessitating much driving during rush hour) and what was a singles study has turned into a majority marrieds’ study, with more than half of our members (all lifelong spinsters in their late thirties or early forties) wedding in the past two years. Cris, the oldest member, and I, the youngest, feel a little at sea in all this bliss, since we and one other woman are the only singles left in the group. The other lady has already joined another study; Cris and I are staying through to the end. While most of our sisters will be joining couples’ studies with their husbands, and Cris is opting for a mixed marrieds/singles group, two of us think we may be led elsewhere. Angela and I have been discussing and praying about the possibility of co-leading a junior high/high school girls study. Angela is a former missionary with lots of ministry experience. I’ve never led a Bible Study before. No, that isn’t quite true. I was a Pioneer Girls counselor for the two years I lived in Augusta before moving to DC. But that was very basic, and involved only a few sweet elementary school girls, not young women who may well be shell-shocked by the tremendous changes and cultural shifts occurring in, among and around them. Junior high was hell for me. I would like to be able to give these adolescent girls a glimpse of heaven.

The weather in DC has certainly been heavenly the last couple of days, and for the most part I have felt similarly light. I had lots of praises to share at Bible Study this evening, for regrettably my spirit of thanksgiving is still heavily influenced by my mood, rather than by an absolute appreciation for the many blessings I receive daily.

Saturday was a great day at the market—brisk sales, bright sunshine, gentle breezes, and a visit from Virgil, a tall red-headed fellow who works at the community center studio where I do my clay work. Virgil, who is twenty-five, lanky and unhurried, looks like he was dipped into the Styx, hung dripping on a line, and sun-dried--stretched out at the joints and bleached. His eyebrows and eyelashes are almost white, and his skin is a translucent kaolin bisque peppered with tiny peach-colored freckles. I haven’t any idea why his parents gave him such an antiquated name. It took me weeks before I could get up the courage to address him by it, for fear that it was a joke. And every time I thought about his name, I immediately remembered the little guy in that John Wayne/Maureen O’Hara classic, The Quiet Man, who looked into the disheveled bridal chamber after the principles’ first night together and declaimed, “Homeric!” Which image wasn’t good for my equanimity either. Virgil had open-heart surgery five weeks ago at Johns Hopkins, to correct a congenital defect. I never got around to sending him a card. Judging from Saturday’s chat, he's obviously recovered well, though he hasn’t pinked up as I’d hoped he would. He still resembles a Lalique porcelain giraffe. Beautiful, but somehow fragile.

After the market, my friend Ellen invited me over to her house in Merrifield for tennis and a cookout. I hadn’t held a racquet in thirteen years, but didn’t acquit myself too badly—about a third of the balls I swung at actually went over the net, and about a quarter of those were at a less than 70% angle of trajectory. I’m rotten at tennis. Ellen’s husband Eduardo is pretty good, and his uncle and cousins have been playing since childhood. While the menfolk embarked on a doubles set, Ellen and I spent an hour on the nearby playground with her sixteen-month-old son, who bit me affectionately on the upper left arm. Gosh, that hurt, but the teethmarks didn’t last long. He’s a sweet little fellow, but for some reason he has decided to embody his animal namesake and express fondness by chomping down on his loved ones.

This morning, I got my new car keys made. The Georgetown facilities management connection came through. The fellow charged me $50 a key, which is dirt cheap compared to the rates charged by the dealers. Both keys work perfectly. Such a relief to have that task done. This is probably the only time in my life that networking has actually achieved a positive, substantive result.

People continue to donate books for the Phi Alpha Theta benefit sale. Eight boxes’ worth today alone. I have made the reservations for space in Red Square (the brick quadrangle in front of the ICC, so named because of its color, although an apt description of the political rallies held there too) during the first full week in September, and will shortly be calling for setup/takedown volunteers, at least twenty. I hope there’ll be considerable reason for my rejoicing after the recruitment effort, too.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Creatureliness

This is my last night cat-sitting, but I'm not meditating on the nature of felines. I have been thinking a lot the last week or two about human creatureliness, if that is a word. I struggle with direction, with the tension between needful action and necessary waiting, and Satan is constantly creeping up to my elbow and telling me how I can force this or that outcome, how I should react bitterly to disappointment, as he breathes on the sparks of resentment that shoot off the sharp edges of my soul when I run into rocky places. I think that through this God is teaching me two things, and neither of them are easy to absorb, and neither are particularly welcome lessons (no matter how much I intellectually grasp I need them, my spirit keeps kicking up a fuss). First, I need the gift of contentment, and it is simply not something that I can muster on my own. The second is that God is the Creator, and I am a creature. His creature, created for his glory. And I really don't know what path my life will follow to bring this about. But my joy will only be full when I am relying on him, and him alone, to accomplish his purposes in his time, and through his means. As a former pastor of mine used to say, "God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him." I'm not there yet.

Over Booked, But Not Booking It

I kept calling Leah every twenty minutes, to tell her that we'd be another thirty minutes later than I'd previously estimated. Over two hours it eventually took us to cross the District of Columbia from Silver Spring, Maryland, to Alexandria, Virginia. I could have jogged it faster. But then again, I couldn't have carried the twenty boxes and three grocery bags full of books that we were transporting. All in all, I would rather have fought the rush hour traffic around the beltway than stopped and started innumerable times on the pothole-riddled sidestreets of the capital. Especially as (except for a handful of chopped dates) I hadn't eaten anything for thirteen hours--since the cats woke me at 5 AM and I'd made myself a banana sandwich.

I had already finished two pick-up runs for books when I left work for Maryland a little before 1. There were three boxes to retrieve via hand-cart from a woman over in the Georgetown Medical School (it turned out she had visited Alyosha when he'd been in intensive care at the GU Hospital almost two years ago, so I was able to give her some update on his case), and three bagfuls to get from the front stoop of a rowhouse on Capitol Hill. This was in addition to the three boxfuls I'd picked up from a woman over on Massachusetts Avenue the previous night, just before the rain started falling in earnest. So I was really looking forward to having help with packing.

Weije and his wife Kimberly were half an hour late getting to the house, but this didn't delay the job at all. Instead, it gave me some time to get the tour from the real estate agent and to figure out exactly how we were going to move approximately 700 lbs. of loose books from various points in an overstuffed basement upstairs and outside, in the process both managing to pack them neatly into the boxes I'd brought and managing to avoid ruining our backs. Apparently, an old widow-woman had moved out of the house to Annapolis, and just left what she couldn't take with her. This included her late husband's tools, an entire pantry's worth of canned goods, luggage from the seventies, a used catbox (unscooped), and a whole collection of kitschy ceramic Jim Beam bottles. And books, which were scattered everywhere. The real estate agent told me we could take anything we wanted, with the exception of two items in the kitchen: a broken rifle and a silver tray.

When my helpers arrived, I took them around and outlined the game plan: they'd carry up all the books (not the encyclopedias--I wasn't going to fool with those) that weren't displaying active mold from the basement, and dump them in the middle of the living room, where I would be packing. Nobody packs as neatly as I do. It took two hours, with the three of us working as fast as we could. There were all sorts of good popular fiction from the 1940s, covered with dust: Zane Grey, Edgar Rice Burroughs, etc. And books on music, music theory, and conducting. And Navy rules and regulations. And Bibles. And porn--the literary, not the pictoral type. What kind of person owns a biography of Billy Graham and salacious sex novels?! Weije wryly suggested that the husband read Playboy while the wife read the Bible. It did make me wonder. Must have been awful for one or both of them.

We moved all sixteen boxes into Leah's basement, and the Chos left while I went indoors to eat the pizza I'd mistakenly had her order for them. I ate five pieces. I was hungry.

Then, another Asian grad student dude I know called, and I was off to Georgetown to move another thirty boxes of books with his help. Hiro and I packed my car with half the boxes, and I told him I planned to stack the stuff in my room so I could put my futon mattress on it and sleep on it, since Leah certainly had no more room in her condo, and I didn't have any other room to begin with in my apartment. He volunteered that since he was Japanese, he was used to living in small spaces, and we could put the stuff in his room and the common room in his apartment--his roommate wouldn't mind. So, on this assurance, I drove over to his place, and we managed to unload everything. And his roommate, a girl from Tibet, truly didn't mind. She's a dear, with a compound name that sounds vaguely like "merlot." She used to live in Seattle, and told me a funny story about helping another petite friend try to move a couch up into her second-floor apartment. A few book boxes were nothing by comparision.

So, with Merlot's help, we finished moving the second load around 10 PM. Then I went back to the kitty condo, cleaned out their litterbox and topped off their kibble, and collapsed.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

And Ye Shall Receive

...especially if you ask via campus-wide faculty/staff email through the Georgetown Provost's Office.

I've been planning a third History Honor Society booksale on Alyosha's behalf since the last one ended. We had a little over twenty boxfuls of books left over after the Leavey Center event, though another graduate-student girl and I went through discarding everything that was truly unsaleable (such as "Economic report of the Egyptian government, 1973-74", and "Learn Microsoft Excel 1992") as we were packing up. Since then, I have been up to my usual habits of collecting books from all over--any department that has a "free books" stack has had it raided regularly--including talking up the event with total strangers who just might be in the possession of overflowing libraries. Such are the prerogatives of a department secretary. Still, the few donations that I wasn't bringing in myself were arriving as single volumes, and I wanted to realized my personal goal of 50 boxfuls (12-reams-of-copy-paper box size) before the end of August--and I was only up to 46. And mind you, I pack snugly.

So last Friday I drafted a petition begging for donations and forwarded it to the provost, who alone holds the power to send emails to everyone on campus simultaneously. It was approved and sent out within hours. The response has exceeded my wildest expectations. My inbox has been swamped. Not just with "out of office" automatic replies, either.

The English department wrote me and said they had a load. Actually, two loads. A professor died last year, and they gave me the contents of the office. My long-suffering friend Anne, who came to work with me yesterday, helped me retrieve all of it. I'm up to my ears in poetry, Victorian novels, film studies journals, literature anthologies, and Gay & Lesbian criticism. Even with culling an entire trashcan's worth of magazines and MLA journals, there were eight new boxes along the walls of the History Department when I finished re-packing the lot. My boss is going to flip.

A real-estate agent from Maryland wrote to offer 400 hardbacks, which a client of hers doesn't want to move. I'm supposed to drive up with another graduate student some time on Thursday to get these. I hope we can get it all in one trip!

A Jesuit who is the executor of a local woman's estate told me he wants to donate at least part of her collection--thankfully, the house isn't more than fifteen minutes from campus, so I don't have to drive to the end of the earth for them.

A woman from the Medical Center whose mother used to own a bookstore said she'll be bringing in multiple boxes of books at the end of this month, a mixture of good fiction.

Four professors thus far have asked me to stop by to get dozens of volumes they're bagging for me.

And at least three people came in to the department yesterday afternoon with armfuls of books they handed to me with the words, "I heard you guys were having a book sale."

I nicked a paperback copy of Neuromancer to read at the market on Saturday, but boxed and stacked most everything else. Anne took a videotape of the Japanese version of the movie "Shall We Dance?" Small hire for all the work we did yesterday!

Good land.

Maybe I should revise my personal goal up to 100 boxfuls. And start advertising for help for the sale. Now. If all goes as well selling as it has collecting, we'll be able to pay off a huge chunk of Alyosha's medical bills this time. Whoo-hoo. I love books. They are good to read, good to share, and by golly, they are good for helping people, too. And the really bad ones are good for recycling. Which is where the contents of that aforementioned trashcan I filled are now headed.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Rats!

First the bad rats, then the good rats. The market was dreadful today. Not dreadful-dreadful, I hasten to add. I covered the table and had a bit left over after buying three bars of fancy handmade soap and two packs of cookies. But it was still pretty darn bad. Two sales. TWO! Three pairs of earrings all told, and two of those were commissioned pieces that one of my customers came to pick up. Anne, an old friend of mine from South Carolina, is in town visiting, and she was subjected to the whole dull day. Which for me began at 6:30 AM, because that's when the senior cat woke me up my gently tapping one of its clawless paws on my arm. It wanted its tummy rubbed.

My friend Paul came over this afternoon while I was still enjoying a desperately-needed nap (he talked to Anne for an hour before they decided to wake me up, as I'd requested, at 8 PM) to show me the jewelry design application he's been getting a computer programmer in Ukraine to write for him. Then he took me and Anne (his treat) to see Ratatouille. It was a sweet, clever story. I like Pixar pictures.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Magic, Mildew and Men

1:30 AM, Kitty-sitting Condo, East Falls Church, VA. Both cats are on the desk as I type. It had been eighteen hours since they last saw a human being, and both were obviously desperate for attention. I got here just half an hour ago, after going to see a late show of the latest Harry Potter movie with my friend Leah. We very much enjoyed the film. The previews (of which there were about 6) weren't so hot--quite a few seemed to be of the Rowling-ripoff genre, all about small children and their previously-unrecognized magical powers, with amazing special effects and little in the way of original plot or memorable dialogue.

As to mysterious forces, it boggles the mind how the male of the species, no matter how personally delightful and intellectually fastidious, can be content to live in conditions of squalor no self-respecting girl would tolerate for more than three days. Wednesday's events serve as my case in point.

Two friends of mine, A and B (even conventional pseudonyms will be eschewed in this post due to the subject-matter) share an apartment. I have visited several times, and was appalled when I went into their bathroom and saw the biohazardous condition of that most necessary and important room. A pristine bar of Ivory soap rested in the wall-mounted ceramic dish, atop a mound of soap scum that resembled (in size, form and coloration) a mineral deposit at Yellowstone. The floor of the ceramic tub was greenish-black. The walls and ceiling were liberally freckled with mildew. Or mold. And the tiles around the tub and on the floor were coated with deposits of a similar organic nature.

B's birthday was not long ago, and A decided that for a belated present, the bathroom should be cleaned, as even for them it was reaching a critical state of nastiness. So, cleaning services were called, and their fees for this project solicited over the phone. The first on the list wanted $180, and the last was bargained down to a rock-bottom $55. This was, of course, without their having seen the jobsite, which no doubt would have caused heart-failure in the most crusty cleaning-lady. The appointment was made for 3pm Wednesday, and I agreed to come over to let the service in, to make sure they did competent work, and to pay them (the money for this was hidden, cloak-and-dagger style, between the leaves of a casually-positioned book in the common room).

I arrived early for the rendezvous, at 2:45. Preparatory for the scouring I was sure would soon ensue, I took down the shower curtain and removed all the towels and the shampoo bottles. Then I worked on the computer, keeping a sharp ear out, and finally wandered over to the couch to wait for a knock on the door. By 6:45, no one had come. As I hadn't either their telephone number or A's, I was left with only one option, as I saw it: go out, buy cleaning supplies, and clean the bloody thing myself.

So I did. Some surprises awaited me among the squalor. When I crawled underneath the sink, I found that the formerly-liquified soap which had built up underneath the beautiful bar of Ivory in the dish above had trickled down the wall and formed a sort of stalagmite in the corner of the floor next to the tub. I chipped this away with the carving knife that I used to clean the tub. Yes, that's right, that black stuff on the floor of the tub was not a stain, it was a millimeter-thick layer of, well, matter shed by soap, shampoo, and man-skin. It had mass, and came off in crumpled shreds when I attacked it with the knife. Yes, I had had the foresight to buy myself a heavy-duty pair of kitchen gloves, and it was only when I inspected the tub with a cautious gloved hand that I realized that I needed a scraping tool, not just a scrubber-pad.

The process took two hours. But by golly by the end that room was clean. I missed a few spots on the ceiling--the sponge-mop, dipped in a bleach solution, wouldn't get in all the corners, and my arms were getting tired. I had just gotten the shower curtain back up and the towels replaced when A got home at 10 PM, horrified that I'd had to do everything myself. He did reimburse me for all the supplies, plus a bit for my time. I told him the rest was my own birthday present to B.

There was a real satisfaction when I staggered home, though, carrying the mop in the bucket with my cleaning supplies. The transformation was dramatic. I was tired out for a good cause. The ceramic fixtures were white. The mildew had been beaten back. And the Ivory soap was now resting on the bare ribs of the ceramic holder, as it should be. We'll see how long it stays that way. Men. How do they live without women?

Monday, July 09, 2007

Icky Sticky DC

To say something is "moist" generally implies that it is cool. The air here today is soggy without being refreshing. Steamy without being cleansing. The humidity is visible, a sand-colored cloud blanketing everything, and there is no breeze. It took me fifty minutes instead of my usual thirty-five to swim my way to school this morning, and I arrived wringing wet and thirsty. A huge change from last Monday, which was blissfully cool, dewy even.

The doctor from the Georgetown Student Health Center called me this morning to tell me the results of my bloodwork. I'm appallingly healthy. My blood sugar was exactly half the point-value where they begin to suspect diabetes, my iron was fine, my kidneys are chugging along, and everything else was perfect. The only value that was a little off was the factor that suggests anemia could be on the horizon if I don't increase my carnivorous ways. The good doctor prescribed a 16 oz. steak. I think I can swallow that medicine.

I was thinking this morning about how much God has done for me. We're going through the Westminster Shorter Catechism in Sunday School (this summer, we're reading the first section, on God Himself, as we did the section on "what duty God requires of man" last summer), and yesterday we focused on questions 3 and 4--the nature of God and the concept of the Trinity. I hope it doesn't sound redundant to say that the Trinity is an idea I find hard to grasp. Our teacher yesterday gave the clearest explanation I have yet heard, though--he used a sort of mathematical method, like a geometry proof, with five "givens". Very logical, and not overly simplistic--people have written huge, turgid volumes on each of the five points. Very Calvinistic, too, although without the floral acronym. Thinking about the nature of God led me to thinking about the nature of prayer, and then to the results of past prayer. Especially when I have moments of depression and directionlessness, it pays to remember that the Lord has been with me, "has hitherto helped me", sometimes providing for me in pretty spectacular ways. I also find it spiritually helpful to regularly remind myself that I am not God. Which may sound silly, too, but if I'm at all representative of humanity, we tend to go around thinking that we are God, in that we control our own destinies, if things aren't happening the way we'd hoped or planned, we haven't done something to make it so. Which is true to a certain extent--God set up certain systems to function only insofar as we act on them--but not in others. And neither worry nor superstition do a damn bit of good, though Jesus didn't use exactly those words when he said so.

Speaking of unexpected provision in a situation where concern was mounting, this afternoon the History Department received one of its usual daily visits from Harry, the Georgetown physical plant guy who is responsible for basic maintenance in our building. Harry's a big, gregarious guy, about sixty, African-American, a rabid Dallas Cowboys fan (on a recent vacation he went to Texas and took a tour of their stadium, showing us the pictures with play-by-play recall of where particular players had been on the field when they'd thrown/completed/intercepted this or that great pass), and an honorary adjunct member of our front-desk staff, since he comes around so often and frequently checks his email (or goes on Priceline and similar sites, planning his next trip) at our computers. I occasionally help him with little clerical issues, and have comiserated with him about overpriced services before. This morning, when not doing all those necessary things which fill a secretary's day, I looked on eBay for replacement keys for my Honda Accord. There's a computer chip in the key which has to be in any copy, which also must be programmed to start the car. Dealers charge upwards of $150 per key for this simple task. I was hoping to find a way to get a working replacement for considerably less.

Turns out, if I buy blanks on eBay, one of Harry's fellow physical plant workers, who is employed in the lockshop and moonlights as a locksmith after hours, will program the keys for me--2 for $75. If I can just get the hardware store up the street to cut them for me, I will have saved over $200, compared to the dealer cost for the same. It's still expensive, but I need to have an extra key or two just in case.

Sunday, July 08, 2007

Grinding Away

The scanner in the History Department is making an awful meat-grinding noise. I finally got around to loading my Russian OCR software, which I purchased last fall at great expense (but not got around to using, due to the confusion of that unexpected move and so forth), onto the computer here at work, and I'm relentlessly scanning a book on 19th-century Muscovite philanthropists, which (again) I'd photocopied long ago but hadn't gotten around to reading more than the introduction. I figured I'd go ahead and turn the whole thing into an MS Word document and rough-translate it, which will make quoting from it easier when I take my comprehensive exams, not to mention referencing it for my dissertation.

I'm planning to do the same with a book on the Russian Imperial bureaucracy (far more interesting than it sounds, trust me) and another on how the imperial self-image was constructed and perpetuated through the intelligentsia. Thank God for a scanner with a document-feeder.

Yes, folks, I'm finally getting around to studying for my comprehensive examinations. If you buy champagne to celebrate, make sure I get some. It's going to take some serious alcohol, or maybe just chocolate and ice cream, to get me through this process.

And of course, prayer.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Glorious Fourth Retrospective

On our way to see the fireworks Wednesday evening (we walked two miles to the Iwo Jima memorial in a sprinkle that turned into a drizzle and then into a torrent, which meant that we had to picnic under a pedestrian overpass with the few others who were brave or foolhardy enough to put their faith in the forecasters who said that the weather would blow over—which it surprisingly did within half an hour, leaving the air deliciously fresh and cool, and plenty of space on the grassy hill for us to play Scrabble under the gaze of the security squad in the Carillon, which was scanning the crowd through binoculars and the sights of a high-powered sniper rifle--boy, was that a long parentheses!), my friend Lee asked me how I’d liked my first major league baseball game, which I’d attended that afternoon. It was a lot like going to the Metropolitan Opera, I said. An interesting cultural experience, but overall disappointing. The performers were supposedly world-class, but they were on a “stage” so far away that one couldn’t really appreciate their expertise. Much of the cozy, fresh spontaneity that makes minor-league games (and small-company operas) so enjoyable was missing. Part of this was a function of the size of the building where the event took place, of course. Part was the lack of fervent enthusiasm in the crowd as a whole, despite the presence of Chicago Cubs fans, who are among the most ardent of their species. The music, the small children running around climbing on the bleachers, the corny tween-inning promotions sponsored by local business were all missing, replaced by a couple of drunks (one morose, the other verbose) in front of our group and a family behind us that kept reciting stultifying statistics throughout the game.

The Cubs were playing the Washington Nationals. Anything named “national” in America is by definition newish and quality-wise less than spectacular. The Washington National Cathedral, for example, is a nice building, completed only a couple of decades ago, theologically and architecturally bland but for the Frederick Hart frieze over the front doors. The National Orchestra is good, but not spectacular—not as good, say, as the Boston Pops or the Chicago Symphony. The National Gallery of Art is fine, but painfully small compared to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and many other countries’ collections. The Nationals baseball team is certainly no more than mediocre. They did beat the Cubs 6-0 Wednesday, but there being no riveting announcer to translate the activity on the field into meaningful white-knuckle narrative, and only snippets of canned organ music to encourage the largely indifferent almost capacity crowd to cheer, it was not a thrilling victory.

It was flat. I told my mother that I’d been to the same number of golf tournaments as I’d been to baseball games. “And did you decide that’s enough?” she asked.

I really couldn’t get interested in the game, notwithstanding there were two home runs (including a grand slam). I split an obligatory back of Cracker Jacks with one of my friends, and visited an ATM so I could afford a hot dog at one of the cheaper third-floor stands. This was after standing in line for half an hour with the rest of my group while we waited to pick up our complementary George Washington bobblehead dolls. What am I going to do with the thing? I'm really not into dust catchers.

Last night I went out with a girlfriend to see the new Die Hard movie. Unlike its R-rated predecessors, this one was only a PG-13, and I thought it was about as good clean fun as something with that much swearing, massive explosions and kill-count can be. It was great stuff really, cheesy in the best possible way. Best action flick I've seen in some time. And the bad guys were all bad. And then they were dead. A perfect girls' night out!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Fourth of July

My dear Granddaddy was featured on the front page of the Macon Telegraph this morning. A great patriotic story.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Small Pains

Yesterday I had three vials of blood drawn for testing for diabetes, thyroid issues, and the other basic physical complaints about which my anesthesiologist father always inquires prior to wheeling his patients into the operating room. The nurse was quietly efficient, punching straight into the vein without excessive fuss, and plugging in one little vial after another without jamming the needle further into my arm. This is an enviable skill. I've had less able blood-drawers over the years, including one incompetent woman who nicked the side of the vessel, sending blood geysering a yard away. I laughed. I knew I wasn't going to bleed to death, and she was so totally freaked out by this that I was more concerned about calming her down than worried about myself. It was rather spectacular. Like a fountain. I did have a really nasty bruise on my arm afterwards, though. Today, thanks to yesterday's professional draw, I only have a tiny red dot. That's not what hurts.

What hurts is pretty much everywhere else. My muscles are sore in places I didn't even know I had muscles. Do a few situps, run a few miles, and ouch. Man, I'm getting old.

One signpost on my way to old age is my changed optical prescription. My right eye has improved. I got my new glasses in the mail the other day, along with several boxes of contacts--huge, ridiculous expense--from my optometrist down in Augusta (between visiting him and my dentist, the success at the Broad Street Market Saturday before last didn't put me too far ahead finances-wise). The new frames make me look vaguely Harry Potterish. Or old maidenish, depending on the charity of the observer. Very light and comfortable, though.

Comfort can be found in curious places here in DC. One of the odder I've seen was on the way to Bible Study yesterday (we're reading John Stott's Why I am a Christian, which I highly recommend to all). It was towards the end of rush hour, seven o'clock. Rush hour in DC is a multi-hour, morning and evening gauntlet loathed by all who are so unfortunate to have to endure it. Tempers fray, accidents of more and less severity inevitably occur, and most people arrive at their destinations later and in worse shape than they'd hoped. One fellow may have found a solution to the stress, though. I was stuck in traffic on I-66 when I saw him, his motorcycle neatly parked on the verge. He was up the grass slope above the bike, sitting on the wide concrete base of a lamppost, comfortably propped up by the pole, engrossed in a book. What a great idea! When things slow down too much to make sitting still and swearing at the bumper of the car in front of you any fun, just pull over, walk up out of harm's way, and read. And it was definitely the weather for outdoor reading yesterday--cool (and it's July!), yet sunny.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Belated Post and Update Thence

Mebane, NC: Early morning, last Tuesday, June 26. Rumors of my death, as Mark Twain said, have been greatly exaggerated. Though my not responding to emails and telephone calls this last week might have indicated otherwise, I am alive, though I don’t feel very lively at the moment, due to having had only one hour of sleep last night. This deficiency in the rest category is due to a bird.

I’m not much fond of those the sentimental naïve call "our feathered friends". Maybe it was the bald eagle’s landing on my head in first grade, its talons missing my eye by an inch. Maybe it was the duck’s attacking me on a playground several years ago while I was babysitting, leaving me black and blue from bruises. Whatever the reason, although I can appreciate the beauty of their plumage and their song, and will even (as this blog has recently recorded) go to great lengths to preserve the life of an endangered individual twitterer, birds as a class and I are not friends.

I felt even less affection than usual for the avian species in the wee hours this morning. About 1 AM, as I lay awake on the futon in Paxifist’s and Deacon Paul’s playroom, trying to hypnotize myself into unconsciousness (despite my recent consumption of a large Diet Coke on the drive from Augusta to Mebane) I heard the beginnings of birdsong, loud and strong. I thought at first it was Paxifist’s kitchen clock, which reproduces such calls on the hour. But it was minutes early, and coming from the wrong direction. And it went on and on, in unclocklike fashion.

Twenty minutes into the concert, I realized that outside my window was the Jenny Lind of the bird world. It warmed up with a series of exercises, and caroled a few bars of various simple tunes, then burst into arias that would have done any world-class opera singer proud. It trilled and chirped and whistled, and warbled and twittered, not repeating the same phrase more than a couple of times. It was one of the most beautiful performances I have ever heard. It was also one of the least welcome to my ears. The music was inexorable, penetrating. I couldn’t block it out, and I certainly couldn’t sleep. What had possessed the blasted thing that it felt compelled to sing its lungs out in the middle of the night?!

I have never been in favor of abusing animals for doing what they instinctually do. When the father of an acquaintance of mine shot a woodpecker for drilling holes in the backyard trees, I was appalled. But boy, did I want to assassinate that musical bird.


Arlington, VA: Early evening, today, July 1. I’m still not dead, I just haven’t had much internet access since Wednesday, when I left Mebane. My roommate Susan took her laptop with her when she left last week (on her way to Ireland and France by way of Ohio), and this old machine doesn’t pick up the wireless access the way hers does. I remembered that I do have landline access (for which I pay $10 a month), so after a failed attempt at logging on over at the NPV’s (he and his roommate were gone, but they’d given me permission to use their high speed), I reverted to the tried-and-true. Anybody who wants to call me can reach me on my now-functioning cell.

I had plenty of sleep last night. I went to bed at 5:30 yesterday, and except for awaking at 2 AM for a PB&J and a couple of MASH episodes, I slept straight through to 8:30 this morning. As a consequence, I did miss seeing a friend who married last October, who was in town for the first time since this weekend, but I was exhausted. I’ve got a thyroid checkup scheduled early tomorrow at the Student Health Center. I have a feeling that may be responsible for my ongoing fatigue.

Realized I’d lost my keys (house, car, work) Monday morning as I was packing my car and spent hours ransacking the parental domicile in what ultimately proved a fruitless search. Forced to have copies made of the apartment and mailbox keys on return to DC, but am holding out for the time being on getting a new car key, since the replacement fees for those with computer chips embedded are so brutal. I already had an extra work key, thank God!

Had a terrific Saturday at the Arlington Market yesterday—best one almost since Christmas, omitting last week’s Augusta success. Have two commissions for next week, so that should bring in a little more cash, especially as my stock is pretty depleted from selling so much of my big inventory that it’s almost technically impossible for me to do well financially this coming Saturday. I’m really going to have to hustle to fill in the holes. I must say it’s a nice problem to have!