Monday, May 31, 2010

Ugly Rug, Sins of a Diarist, Shocking Shoes

An arms control specialist I know once told me, “If there were a nuclear war, the only things left alive would be cockroaches, Fidel Castro and Keith Richards.”

I inadvertently acquired the World’s Most Hideous Rug this week from an eBay seller for $49.99, shipping included. The pictures on the site did not do it justice. Instead of a friendly floral in muted shades of pink and pale spring green on a cream-colored background, it turned out to be a garish mélange of fuchsia, orange, avocado and camel. And it stank of chemicals, though it was guaranteed (the seller had perfect feedback) to be pure wool. Just ghastly.

I decided to add my rug (liberally treated with Febreeze, which can work miracles on odors, but sadly not on colors) as a “filler” item to the estate sale I am currently working. I should be able to get my money back--possibly make some, besides. Among the items I’ve discovered while clearing out bedroom furniture for the sale is a small spiral-bound notebook, a diary. The first lines from one entry are representative of the whole:

August 21, 1969. Woke up and talked to Angela. Ate breakfast and got dressed.

Fascinating stuff, no? The stuff of which Pulitzer Prize-winning prose is made. A vivid illustration of the incredible inanity of everyday life. Like the Facebook status updates that Gene Weingarten ranted about in a recent Washington Post column.

Let’s exegete the diarist’s multiple compositional sins, shall we? First, waking is understood; to declare that one attained normal consciousness is to begin the day effectively redundant. Why bother getting out of bed? Now, if there had been elaboration (e.g. awoke “unable to breathe”, “after only fifteen minutes of sleep”, “to the smell of smoke”) that might have made the mention worthwhile. Secondly, who was Angela? What was the content of the conversation? Did the writer even need to be conscious to interact with her? Thirdly, whereas proper nutrition cannot be overvalued, the mere act of feeding one’s face isn’t pertinent without context: did it consist of snails and puppy-dog tails? Did chewing and swallowing occupy exactly three minutes and twenty-seven seconds? And lastly, given that swanning around in one’s birthday suit is generally frowned upon by polite society, why bother saying that you dressed if you don’t describe how, or in what you were attired?

As to clothing nudity, while I was searching for my required bridesmaid silver heels, I discovered that they list a wide range of what I call “streetwalker shoes”: Lucite platforms that tower eight inches off the ground, thigh-high black PVC boots, red leather bondage sandals, kitten-heeled boudoir slippers festooned with dyed feathers. They really aren’t that expensive, either….

Friday, May 28, 2010

Still Ill

It is difficult to discern whether the severe shakiness I am currently experiencing is a resulting symptom of whatever nasty bug has had me in its pincers all week or the cumulative lack of calories consumed over the same period. In any case, I am not well, and am alternating between waking illness and the blessed relief of sleep.

I did go to work yesterday, though my arrival was somewhat delayed by beltway rubbernecking at a sand-colored tank over on the inner loop shoulder. I don't know whether it was in transit to or from Afghanistan, but it's relatively unusual to see such heavy-duty military hardware in the middle of civilian rush hour.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010


3:30 AM and I have woken up from nausea. Not fun. I've only been able to eat one meal since Monday evening--I'm just too queasy to think of food. Of course, it wasn't until a few minutes ago that I checked "how to get rid of nausea" on the web and figured out that what I was doing to settle my stomach was actually exacerbating the problem. Out with the acidic drink, in with diluted apple juice and ginger. No clue as to what prompted this episode, other than I've been battling a cold and perhaps the combination of zinc lozenges and post-nasal drip was somehow to blame. Happily, the cold is just about gone (the zinc did help), and if I can kick the queasiness, I'll be right as rain.

Great news on the "making ends meet" front: I was awarded a TAship for the fall! This includes tuition and a decent stipend. Even if the multiple jobs I've applied for don't pan out right away, I've got a Plan B. Thank God.

Last night, I dreamt that I was a six-foot-tall model-thin African American woman who owned half a shopping mall's worth of fashionable clothing boutiques and five-star restaurants. The story was very involved.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Shower and Sunburn

Got another nice “dear John” letter from a literary agent: my Grisha the kitten story is not sufficiently suspenseful in the opinion of this friend of a friend. And I was just talking about my creative writing aspirations with a fellow starving artist this morning at the market! I suppose if my furry hero had had his tail caught in a spinning machine instead of having been merely threatened with whole-body death by drowning, well, that might have made the difference between acceptance and rejection. It’s a good story, and I am glad my sister-in-law is illustrating it. Worst comes to worst, I’ll go to Kinko’s (is it still called Kinko’s?) and have fifty copies printed up for us to distribute to all our friends.

The market was great today. I do have a bad sunburn on my back, though, where I’d failed to apply sunscreen. I don’t usually wear spaghetti-strap sundresses, but I was in a by-golly-I-want-to-look-cute sort of mood this morning, and so there I was nicely turned out in an ankle-length dress and sandals, in a place where I am generally less than sartorially inspired. Anita approved—high compliment from her, because she always looks like an Anthropologie ad. And, she was shocked, shocked, to see me obviously flirting with a (VERY) good-looking VMI graduate, who was buying a graduation gift for his sister. I just couldn’t help myself—I’d just finished Boris Akunin’s Murder on the Leviathan (highly recommended--Akunin is a contemporary Russian mystery writer with great gift for storytelling), which featured (among a handful of memorable characters) a formerly-repressed spinster who realizes that she ought to be forthright about her feelings, as excellent opportunities to interact with younger, attractive members of the opposite sex come but once and must needs be seized. Anita told me that it was the first time in all our acquaintance that she’d seen me flirt—it must be the clothes’ influence, she decided. Maybe it was, but in any case I’m reaping some penitence in the fire on my skin. The guy has my business card—if he’s at all interested, he can figure out how to reach me.

The wedding shower proceeded beautifully. Susan is a rare treasure, and recognized by all as such. It was a pleasure being around so many godly women with nothing but sincere praise to heap on a worthy subject. The onion soup was good, too. And the chocolate fondue. We got up and danced around to a couple of ABBA songs at the end. Who says Presbyterians don’t know how to party? :-)

Friday, May 21, 2010

Squirrel Salad and Bridesmaidliness

Were squirrels created after the Fall of Man? Overnight, they denuded one of my tomato plants of its leaves, a crime I was ready to lay (unfairly) at the door of the two-year-old twin boys who live across the hall. I was set straight as to the identity of the culprits by Mr. B. I can understand why my Granddaddy, in his gardening days, waged a semi-genocidal campaign against the creatures, who were treating his carefully-tended trees and plants like their own personal salad bar.

I bought tomato cages (Mr. B. said they would also deter squirrels—like ANYTHING would deter the little buggers) today and special fertilizer, hopeful that I can nurse the injured party back to health and encourage it and its fellows to produce.

Georgetown’s graduation ceremonies were today—one of my dear friends officially walked for her PhD (she actually earned it almost a year ago, but missed the chance to get dolled up in her robes and gold-tassled tam, which she was determined not to miss). Happily, I ran into her when I was leaving campus and was able to holler “Congratulations!”

Susan’s wedding preparations continue—less than a month until the big day! She had her final dress fitting at David’s Bridal down in Springfield, VA, this afternoon. She looked like a goddess, all flowing chiffon and joy (I was the token bridesmaid there to assist—I needed to bring the shoes, which she’d forgotten in the rush to work this morning). The day was actually full of bridesmaidly doings—Ira and Sparkle and I have been planning tomorrow evening’s bridal shower for weeks, and gathering the various components for the meal and the obligatory games. Ira and I and her little boy went to Penzey’s Spices on Tuesday to get our collective gift for the bride and groom: an assortment of top-quality spices for their cooking. We ordered the containers separately (cheaper!), and this afternoon (before I booked it down to DB’s, but after I went shopping for the fondue ingredients and the flowers) we filled the jars and labeled them. The game for the shower will be “guess that spice,” with Trader Joe’s organic chocolate bars for the winner. I hope it comes off OK—I’m supposed to be at the market all day, and then I’ll be rushing home to get showered, changed, and grab a selection of vases (Ira doesn’t have any that’ll work). And I mustn’t forget to stop by Whole Foods to pick up a cake!

If I’m stressed about the shower, I can just imagine the level of subsumed anxiety that Susan is feeling about the wedding itself—she told me that (despite all the cost-cutting measures she and Stephen have taken, which are many), the event is costing about $10,000. A little over half of that is the cost of catering the reception. I’d love to have a huge blow-out with me in a lovely white dress, the groom in a tux, and all of our hundreds of guests dancing the night away to live music after a sumptuous repast and any amount of great drink, but at this point I think I’d be happy to get married in jeans at the local courthouse with secretaries as my witnesses. Just so long as I got at least a three-week honeymoon afterwards…

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Two Chapters by September 2

...what my dissertation director told me this afternoon that she expects of me, composition-wise. My former secretarial supervisor in the History Department also introduced me to the acting Administrative Officer of the Anthropology Department, who told me that they are hiring a full-time replacement. I’ve submitted my resume and cover letter directly to the head of the Department as well as through the Georgetown Careers website. Sooner or later something's got to click, employment-wise.

Tomorrow, if I am feeling OK (every sign at present indicates that I am coming down with the flu or a bad cold), I plan to spend the day in the LOC, then return on Friday to the NLM. If I’m too under the weather, I’ll rough-translate the material that’s already scanned into my computer. In any case, significant dissertation work will be done.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Weekly Update

So, I've been a little behindhand updating the blog, but at least I had sufficient legitimate excuses for each of the last week's worth of days. I worked more than forty hours, which for a person with two piddly part-time jobs is a decent amount: I helped set up an estate sale, and run it, I served as a saleslady at the Bethesda gallery, I babysat for two cats (one of whom required oral medication twice a day), and I also put in an appearance at the Arlington Courthouse Urban Market (Anita and I have a new booth space). I also re-wired a lamp (my brother Nate was right--it was extremely easy) and disassembled and re-assembled a table. I also signed the lease for my apartment and got the ancient electrical outlets therein placed with polarized ones. I helped my trivia team win Monday's game, applied for another job (or two--my brain's kind of fuzzy on how many other applications I finished after an eight-hour online session Friday), and set up a trio of friends to help me try for the grand prize ($2000) in the annual Washington Post Hunt (June 6). I also began gardening (in pots on the sidewalk): two bell pepper plants and four tomato plants. I don't like to eat the latter, but they are easy to grow, and I'll enjoy sharing them.

Helping out at the estate sale was an opportunity, as my boss put it, to see both the best and the worst of humanity. You'd have thought I was distributing passes into heaven, and that higher numbers meant time in hell, from the yelling and physical confrontation that went on when I rode down to the lobby 9:30 Thursday morning and began handing out entrance tickets. I thought some folks were actually going to strike me. The sale began at 10 AM, and some people had been there since 6 AM. The line in the hall outside the apartment didn't disappear until 2 PM that afternoon. It was a good sale: all sorts of nice linens, antiques, and (among other expensive items) a coffee table that had originally retailed for $17,000. But it wasn't like it was uber-cheap, either--the aforementioned table, for example, was still $2,500 (admittedly a huge savings over its previous price, but hardly bargain-basement). I was kept busy the whole sale running around keeping an eye on the ten or so people that we allowed in the door at a time, making sure nothing was filched, and helping people pile their shopping near the check-out table. I had planned to go to the gym after work, but I was too tired and was in bed by 8 PM.

Sunday afternoon (Susan and Steven missed church to run in a half marathon down in Fredericksburg) a girlfriend from my old Bible Study and I went over to the Wiggle's house, where his wife fixed a delicious lunch and I became an animated character in a kung-fu video game. Much geekiness was enjoyed--the history of Star Trek (both of the series and within the series) was discussed, among other subjects, including finance, international security, and fiction. Afterwards, I went on an eight-mile walk with Dex. The weather was perfect. He left for two weeks in Peru and Chile this afternoon, giving me the meantime custody of his Sprint wireless device, so I can actually access the Internet from home. He also left me a large jug of honey, a full bottle of laundry detergent, and a box of Russell Stover dark chocolates. Steven says Dex must have seen me recently wearing red and yellow (that thereby I'd reminded him of Winnie the Pooh, hence the candy and the honey). I've always considered myself more of an Eeyore sort--Tigger on a good day.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Newspapers, Scotch and Kit Kats

Today was one of my bosses' birthdays--and I found out that that guy she's marrying is 13 years her junior! Awesome. He's quite good-looking, smart and kind--a divinity student at Reformed Theological Seminary. He's 25, she's 38. In other words, I shouldn't give up hope!

We gallery girls sat around and swapped stories about odd people (including ourselves) while we ate birthday cake. Given the whole estate sales/consignment shop genre of our employment, which is focused on helping people get rid of nice, but unwanted material possessions, we ended up talking about hoarding fetishes, from newspapers to cars. The description of keeping reams of newspaper led my other boss to describe how this Palestinian guy she used to date in the 60s (he later turned out to be a liaison between Arafat and Sadat, amongst others--he was nominally employed at the Jordanian embassy, but that was essentially a cover) had nothing in his apartment but stacks of newspapers, bottles of Scotch and industrial-size boxes of Kit Kat bars. He'd bundle the newspapers and use them as chairs; guests sat on this ersatz furniture, munched on Kit Kats and washed them down with Scotch. When his finances (and no doubt with them, his political connections) improved, he bought a mansion with 18-foot ceilings on the ground floor (through the vast rooms which my boss and her then-husband cycled on their bikes--did I mention that I work with fellow free spirits?), but she reminisced that she liked the coziness of his old apartment better.

Sometime soon I'll have to write down her other Scotch-related story, involving two cases of Dewars White Label, a mink coat, an Irish wolfhound, a guitar, a weed-smoking relative, and a Pullman car on Christmas Eve. And I certainly shouldn't forget the tale of the rhyming quaalude trip to White Castle, either. You know, the "spirits" have not always been metaphorical amongst my externally-conventional colleagues, most of whom are now in their 60s and 70s and seem perfectly prosaic upper-middle-class women based on their dress and speech. But once you get to know them...they are a hoot.

Saturday, May 08, 2010

Great Day!

Best day at the market since Christmas! Though winds were gusting up to 60 MPH (!) --that's the weather service's, not my estimate), I stuck it out, and people bought. I was delighted--another few weekends like this, and I'll be able to pay my bills without trouble.

Must go to the gym--my wallet is not the only thing that's getting fat...

Sunday, May 02, 2010


My cell phone rang this afternoon as I was driving through DC, returning from almost four hours' work in an unairconditioned $5000 a month apartment, where we're arranging an estate sale. I didn't recognize the number, but I hit the speaker button and heard the voice of an elderly Frenchwoman, "Zis is Georgette," asking for me by name. I was thoroughly confused, and not only by heatstroke. Then it clicked. The only Georgette I've ever known I met in Poland in the summer of 1996. She was dyed blond, wore too much bright lipstick, and told great stories about being the only female in her night Engineering classes at the northeastern university where she'd studied after emigrating to the US with her GI husband after World War II. Her brother had been put in a concentration camp by the Nazis, and for the rest of his life he carried a knife with him, determined to kill the most sadistic of the guards if he ever encountered him again. "Georgette!" I yelped, and pulled over to the side of the road to talk. For some reason in the intervening 14 years since our acquaintance in Krakow (she was the person who recommended eating raw garlic to kill the cold I contracted on arrival--my consumption of which pungent herb nearly drove my pleasant German apartment-mates bananas--I just told Dex this story on Thursday!), she'd kept my phone number, though she had totally forgotten who I was, or what I looked like. And today, for some reason, she decided to call. She now lives in South Carolina, near her son, and loves the opera and ballroom dancing. I expect we'll stay in touch--you never know when people from your past are going to re-appear!