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Saturday, June 21, 2008

A Bit More Than Two Bits

I got my hair cut today. It was my first professional haircut ever.

When one makes a change, one ought to do it as well and definitively as possible. My friend Anita (who got engaged on Tuesday and is still on cloud nine) had been harassing me since Christmas about my need for a major makeover. She's very fashionable--and her being engaged only adds to her clout, sex-appeal-wise--and so I'm inclined to credit her judgment about such externalities. But she has very short hair, and I didn't know that her hairdresser would suit ol' hair-down-to-waist me. More recently, several other girlfriends had also mentioned that I should consider getting layers, to freshen my image, and one lady from church (whose longer coiffure I admired) told me that Tracie, a mutual acquaintance of ours who sings in the McLean choir, was her hairdresser at a posh salon in Tysons II (the DC equivalent of Atlanta's Phipps Plaza, with Saks, Neiman Marcus, Coach and the like expensive retailers all vying for the dollar of the highroller).

So I made up my mind to do it. I called Tracie and made an appointment.

Last week I just bought two pieces of real furniture--a room-size persian rug and an iron bedstead--and now I was getting a haircut. Civilization has arrived.

My appointment was at five this afternoon. The market beforehand was actually decent. I sold about seven pairs of earrings. The only discomfort of the day was being bitten by midges which arrived with the strawberries that a friend of mine bought for me at the Farmer's Market and delivered mid-morning as a surprise. Thereafter I was bitten by nasty little black bugs every ten to fifteen minutes, and I was in agony. I couldn't figure out where the darn things were coming from for a couple of hours. On Anita's advice, I finally tossed the strawberries (a quart of them) and the bug bites immediately subsided. I never knew that strawberries could harbor stinging insects.

Tracie did an excellent job. After my hair was luxuriously shampooed and conditioned with rose-scent, and my temples and scalp thoroughly massaged, she combed and clipped away neatly, with a crisp confidence that kept me from shaking nervously. My head felt so light afterwards--I probably lost a pound in hair-trimmings--and Susan (who came along with me for moral support) swore I looked five years younger. My hair's still not actually short (it hangs an inch or two below my shoulder blades), but it is attractively layered, with curves of tresses framing my face. I like it.

Susan then insisted we go for a manicure (her treat) and an eyebrow wax. Yet another immersion for me in the heretofore foreign world of women's cosmetic enhancement! I do appreciate being fussed over and pampered now occasionally, though. I am not sure I could stand it, however, on a frequent basis (either from a personal or from a financial standpoint--the haircut wasn't too far south of a c-note, and the hand and face treatment weren't cheep either; besides, it just seems kind of silly to spend all that time being beautified, when it'll fall to pieces in short order), but it was a pleasant diversion for an afternoon. And my nails look nice cropped neatly, buffed uniformly and lightly polished.

It's nice to look good for oneself (I do feel pretty), but it's even more pleasant to feel that a personal improvement makes someone else's life brighter, too. Susan appreciates this (likely merely temporary) improvement, at least [this is what friends (and good roommates!) are for!]. But now I need an admiring male audience... (The little Asian ladies at the nail place kept asking, "You mah'weed?" "You sea'gull?" as they fixed me up.) Let's be frank, good girl-feedback is pleasant, but simply a stop-gap measure. Besides, Susan's leaving for three weeks in Mexico (and a week after that in Honduras) in six days! I fear that in her absence and that of a particular male admirer I shall descend into a disgusting episode of narcissism. But pretty is as pretty does, and pride goeth before a really bad hair day.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Food Porn, Or Weighed by Greed

My undergraduate coworker told me today of the plot she and a friend have going against a greedy housemate. Rita loves to bake. Particularly desserts. She doesn't eat large quantities of them, but loves to prepare and share them.

Two weeks ago, the housemate in question, when offered a cordial brownie, consumed the whole panful single-handed over the course of the next day. Rita was ticked off by this--the housemate did not offer to compensate her for the cost of the ingredients, nor did she apologize for downing the lot, and besides, she'd already thrown her weight around (so to speak) in the housing arrangements--and resolved to hoist this greedy girl by her own petard.

Last week, Rita went out to the grocery store and bought the highest-calorie caramel-nut brownie mix she could find, and a pound of walnuts, and more than a pound of milk chocolate. At home, she sauteed the walnuts in a stick of butter, mixed them into the brownies, and then after they were done and the caramel drizzled over the top, she melted the chocolate and poured it over that. She then left this tempting panful in the kitchen, and, behold...the housemate, unbidden, polished off these, too, in just three days.

A day or so after that (this past Friday, I believe), Rita unexpectedly got a coupon for 50% off a cake from the Cheesecake Factory. She chuckled diabolically to herself (as I, too, did, when she was telling me this story) and went off to research which was the most deadly of these already deadly confections. Reading the nutrition label of the cheesecake she finally selected, she said, was like reading "food porn"--over 760 calories per slice, most of that from fat (almost 1.5 times the recommended daily intake for an adult male), a dangerously delicious combination of whole milk, eggs, sugar, cream, and chocolate. (She later brought me a piece, but solemnly cautioned me to eat it in small bits over a period of days, lest I immediately balloon several sizes.)

Her un-self-controlled housemate had difficulty (confirmed by pictures posted on her MySpace page) fitting into her debutante ballgown this past weekend--it had been tailored to fit her previously-petite figure. Amazing how fast one can pork out eating rich desserts for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

Of all the acts of revenge and retribution of which I have heard, this is certainly one of the more palatable.

Saturday, June 14, 2008

DC When It Sizzles

At about 1 PM this afternoon I decided that my prospective Prince Charming need not ride in on a white charger, but instead should walk up with a white styrofoam ice-chest filled to the brim with semi-frozen fruit juice and water. That would be a true mark of affection--bringing relief in the hottest part of the day, a sort of modernized Rachel at the well, only I would be the camel in need of watering (and I already have the jewelry)! Believe me, only true love would make a sensible man leave air-conditioned comfort to go on an errand of mercy such as I have described.

My sales were crummy. I had one. My friend Anita made over $500, but then again she spends far more money than I do on supplies--my components-bills run $3000-$4000 per year, whereas she's been known to spend that much in a month. But her stuff is gorgeous, and she really could make a living at it, whereas mine only occasionally dazzles, and provides (excepting today) a nice supplementary income only. As happy as I was for her (and I do love her work), I couldn't help but feel a bit shabby by comparison.

Good land, it was hot today. Given the aforementioned romantic fantasy, you'd expect as much. But the worst was not the heat--it was the visible haze of suffocating moisture in the air (like I said, it would have been a hardy Prince Charming to slog through such a swamp). Anita and I sat under our tent, stewed and drank cooling diuretics, which didn't improve our moods any, considering neither of us had gotten more than 4 hours' sleep the previous night. That I'm totally "Martha-ing" out lately ("upset and worried about many things") was not improved by Anita's discussing the case of an acquaintance of hers (with whom she is not pursuing contact, but by whom she was being repeatedly text-messaged) who is a bisexual anorexic cocaine addict who is on the verge of having her second abortion. Depressing. And I didn't feel much of a good witness for my faith today, given my attitude.

Yesterday was good, but exhausting--I cooked all day (pretty much--I'm just not that efficient when it comes to fixing food, though everything turned out deliciously, I am happy to say) for a friend's birthday party in the evening, which was a thoroughly pleasant get-together of our gang, talking about topics from pyromania to Shakespeare--and then after four of our guests left at 10, another girl arrived (she'd had another birthday party to attend earlier) and Susan and Firefly (a sweet girl from Pennsylvania who was Susan's roommate before she moved northward) and I sat around talking (and then praying for each other for about 1/2 hour) until well after midnight. Then I had to drive to Falls Church (I'm babysitting for my Air Force friend's cats--I am glad to be able to report that they have not yet barfed on anything. As they are both very furry, barfing is something to expect, and I have a series of curiously effective chemicals to apply to the (pale cream) carpets when such events occur), check my eBay listing (three hours of agony to get this first one up--if I ever try to sell anything else, I should have the process down, and part of that is making sure their servers are in fact up!) and email and take a shower before crawling into bed.

Dad gum, it's almost midnight! Muuuusssst reeesssst...

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No Longer AWOL (or) the Spanish Moss Chronicles

I'm back from my Southern experience. Among my adventures while in GA and FL were attending an outdoor concert on the lawn of the Applebee Library of "Georgia's Three Tenors," finishing the translation of Chapter 8 of "Two Motherlands, Two Fatherlands," making jewelry, getting to see a real "swimmin' hole" (the clear water overhung with trees draped in Spanish moss, a dog paddling around cheerfully with his splashing masters, and a silent fisherman in a panama hat casting a cane pole into the shallows around the cypress stumps), walking through a cave (in the dark, alone), hearing my great uncle's cat stories (more on these later), and beating my mother at Scrabble (just barely--she thrashed me by almost 50 points the first game).

I'd planned to start back Monday, but horrible insomnia Sunday night (up to 5 AM) kept me off the road, and I drove to Mebane, NC, Tuesday morning, in time to spend the afternoon and evening with Paxifist, Mary and assorted charming gentlemen ranging in age from 5 months to 40 years. One of the younger ones, who is in a literalist frame of mind, looked at me in horror when I told him I would turn into a lobster if I didn't put on sunscreen and a hat.

Yesterday, un-crustaceanized, I returned to DC, went straight to work (where I discovered that they'd underpaid me last month by a factor of 10), and came home to find Susan's sister, brother-in-law and 4-year-old nephew and 14-month-old niece visiting. We women took the pipsqueaks to the playground after supper. It was packed--I hadn't seen so many small fry in a bunch outside of school before. Dozens of children of all ethnicities were playing in the elaborate kid-friendly fountains and more were clambering over the jungle gyms, slides and other paraphernalia. I escorted the baby around, while her mother and aunt kept an eye on her exuberant big brother. It was a lot of fun, definitely the place to be if you had children under eight. Our Mormon neighbors were pushing their little boy on a swing, and we chatted briefly with them before returning home to sort out sleeping arrangements--the children in Susan's room, their parents out in the living room, and she and I in my room. It was snug, but I slept like a rock (eleven hours straight).

Spanish moss is one of those attractive arboreal parasites (like mistletoe) that embellishes the Southern landscape. It hangs like curly grey wool from trees wherever the air is heavy and warm, and it would be tempting to gather it up in soft bunches were it not infested with nasty biting tiny red bugs. It is lovely, though, and frequently pictured in tableaus of the semi-mythical "old South." The garden of Applebee library certainly encourages this romanticism. The building itself is Tara (in the Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer conception, not that of Mitchell herself) straight out of Gone With the Wind: white columns, large windows, a separate brick cook-house, a leftover plantation mansion from antebellum days. Stately oaks, bearded with moss, encircle a lawn where, on summer Tuesday evenings at 7, free concerts are given.

My friend Susanna and I arrived about fifteen minutes til, and there were already well over 100 people seated on folding chairs on the lawn. One group was finishing off the wine which had accompanied their dinner--they'd eaten a formal meal off a white linen cloth, making an evening of it, apparently. We set up our own mismatched chairs and watched a couple of hundred more folks--many elderly--stroll in from their parking spots on the quiet streets or in the lots by the neighboring synagogue and Methodist church (is it only in the South where these houses of worship are side-by-side in residential neighborhoods?). The tenors had other day jobs--they didn't hit their stride synchronization-wise in the classical music with which they started until a few selections in, and occasionally one would break down entirely. The audience was kind, however, and the wine that was being shared among smaller parties (not just the one at the table) tended to mellow the mood. Overhead, the sky turned dark blue and then pale as the trees became black.

It was in the middle of one of the Broadway show tunes (the tenors were taking individual turns at this point) that an odd thing happened. It is not yet deep summer, and though ants and mosquitoes were in evidence (though not, thankfully, in a voracious mood), these don't make much noise. There were no crickets singing (I associate this with the sultry evenings of late July and August) and no other noticeable insect noise. The audience was maintaining a respectful silence, and the tenor at the mic was belting his best, but it unfortunately wasn't exactly in tune. In fact, it had a sort of weird raspy quality. All of a sudden, from the trees around us, a giant chorus of cicadas rang out. It was the same effect as if a dog had begun to howl. They continued to cry rhythmically until the end of the song. When the man accepted the perfunctory applause, they fell silent and were not heard again that evening. I guess he had just spoken their language. The rest of the concert was pleasant. And I had a really interesting conversation afterwards with a self-identified redneck who is cooking his own biofuel out of used fryer grease from a local-area restaurant chain.

Sunday, June 01, 2008

Sultry Summer

Arrived safely in GA Friday evening and immediately put on a load of laundry and plugged in my credit card machine.

Saturday I was down at the Broad Street Market by 6:30 AM (thank God I get to sleep an hour later than that most Saturdays in Arlington!) and had a pretty good day. I covered the booth fee and the cost of gas to and from GA (it cost me over $50 to fill up my little Honda when I coasted into town on the fumes Friday--if we don't start drilling in Alaska, we're daft--what kind of energy policy do we have, anyway, that relies on the likes of the Saudis and Hugo Chavez for our daily supply?!), plus my high school history teacher (to whom I've sent postcards occasionally from exotic locales over the past fifteen years, and who is tickled pink that I'm working on my doctorate in his field...) and one of my former art tutors were also at the market, so it was like old home week. Infernally hot, though--I was horrified to think I might have gone soft living in northern climes. But given the sweating of the other vendors I don't think I was the only one uncomfortably affected.

The market closed at 1, and after lunch my mother and I went out to Goody Two Shoes (actual name of the business) which is run by this totally awesome lady with dyed scarlet and black hair. The store is the mecca for all women who love footwear--which is most women--and who are in search of amazing deals--[ditto]. I got a pair of white Cole Haan sandals (very chic) for $25 (male readers note: Cole Haans are, if not the Rolls Royces of the shoe world, on the level of the Mercedes Benz. This particular pair usually retails for well over $125). I also got a cute pair of lime green leather sandals with glass beads on the bridge, and a pair of pale lavender and wicker slip-ons. All within fifteen minutes (I hate shopping, but I can bear it if it is quick and successful) and we were checked out and on our way.

Similar deals in an only slightly longer period were had at the local TJ Maxx, and then it was home again for a shower, primping, and out to dinner with my father's fiftyish friend Ernie, a lifelong bachelor OB-GYN who is deaf as a post, which always makes conversations interesting, as my mother, my father and I all have to shout things at him. My father says that Ernie is deaf because of all the women he's heard yelling in the delivery room, and that he's a bachelor because he just knows too much about women, but the fact concerning the latter is that he's just set in his ways and takes such a long time to make up his mind that most women can't stand it. I believe (on my mother's testimony) that on more than one occasion in the past Ernie actually got around to considering that such and such a girl who he'd dated "a while back" would be a good mate and called to ask her out, only to discover that in the interim of his protracted consideration that she'd married someone else and had at least one child.

At any rate, it was a nice dinner--Ernie is always a fascinating storyteller (before he went completely deaf he learned Arabic and was a missionary doctor in one of the Persian Gulf states, before and after that he was a sort of itinerant OB/GYN, working as a locum in more than 15 states for periods ranging from weeks to months, and he's a total bike nut--he owns more than 10, and is constantly tinkering with this or that composite material or frame/gear configuration), and the Indian restaurant where the four of us ate is a home-cooking dream, with enormous portions and the owner/chef is a darling lady who comes out and talks to you while you stuff in the quantities of tandoori this and curry that. I practically waddled out the door with my leftovers.

This morning I went with my parents to their small storefront PCA church and thence home to a glorious repast of leftover Punjabi chicken. While my parents were down for their semi-sacrosanct Sunday afternoon nap I tried taking pictures of my jewelry to post on my and Anita's new website. I am a horrible photographer. Everything had ugly shadows in the bright daylight or the lighting indoors left the whole shot so dim you could barely see what was in it. Supposedly I would do better with a lightbox, but I haven't yet developed the wherewithal to Google the thing.

After I abandoned the jewelry-photographing I read P.D. James' Children of Men. Well-written, solidly constructed and serious-thought-provoking. I did not see the synonymous Clive Owen movie (I think it came out last year), but to me a book and the movie which it more or less inspires should be judged both comparatively (as to whether the latter truly represented the spirit and word of the former and could justly be said to be a legitimate adaptation) and independently (for instance, some people have complained of the liberties taken by this or that film-maker in turning a beloved book into a movie--this is a valid concern in some respects, but the question should also be raised as to whether each or one is a good work of art independently). But the motion picture, no matter how good, should never be considered a substitute for the book. Unless the book is worthless--and I have read/seen some of those cases ("literature" by Meg Cabot, anyone?). I commend James to you, however--she's enviably skilled at rendering the corruption and glorious curiosity that is humanity within the framework of our beautiful and decaying world.

I've gone on two five-mile walks with my mother thus far--yesterday, after we got home from the Indian restaurant, we put on reflective vests and hoofed it around the neighborhood in the dark, but this afternoon we were able to make the circuit in daylight. I think I'll go downstairs and have a little more apple cake with a nice glass of milk before I toddle off to bed.