Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Learning Patience?

Was planning to change my residency, license, tags and so forth to Virginia today, but am still waiting for my new china cabinet to be delivered. "Sometime this afternoon," the mover said, which isn't terribly specific. I don't want to commit to the DMV, and sit, cell-phoneless, in the official waiting area for hours while my cabinet is on a truck somewhere; the mover doesn't usually come to my area (he's more of a DC/MD man), and so it was sheer grace that he happened to be making another Northern VA delivery and was going to be in the vicinity. The cabinet--which was built in Egypt, according to its original owner--has lots of glass and a marble top, so I knew that I couldn't hope to shift it myself, even with the help of friends, hence the waiting on a professional.

As to patience-building exercises, I may well have mentioned on the blog that a few months ago I got a tax delinquency notice from DC. They said I'd underpaid on my 2009 sales taxes, which was total baloney--they'd cashed the check for the full amount I owed back in January, days after they received it. So, I'd called and told them it was in error, and the woman at the office said they'd investigate and get back to me: No need for me to submit further documentation, "Don't call us, we'll call you," that sort of thing.

You can imagine my chagrin when last Monday I got a certified letter from the tax office saying that not only was I delinquent, I was delinquent in redressing this delinquency, and they were just about to put a lien on my property, publish my name on the Internet, and/or turn me over to collections: the financial equivalents of chopping off a hostage’s digits and mailing them to their loved ones in little packages. Only this time the digits were my own. And lest we forget, when it comes to disputes with tax offices, the taxpayer is considered guilty until proven innocent, not vice versa. Freak-out time.

First, I tried calling the number on the delinquency form. It rang, and rang. And rang. No answer. Repeated tries. No answer. Then I went on the Internet and looked up the general office number. I went through the usual "press 2 for x option" automated system, and kept getting the following response for my pains: "You have reached a non-working DC government number." Peachy. Finally, I just randomly pressed another number and got a human being in a completely different area of the office who gave me the contact information for a specific case investigative officer. Who, of course, was not picking up his phone. But at least he had an answering machine, which promised to get back to me in 24 hours. Left detailed message.

Twenty-four hours later, forty-eight hours later, still no response. Well, heck, I thought, I'm driving back up to DC on Friday, I'll go to the tax office in person on Monday. Asked my Sunday School class and texted a group of friends to pray. Monday morning, carefully gathered up all my documentation, including my sales order booklets and copies of the cancelled check and took the metro over to Union Station. The temperature hovered in the mid-90s, and I was wearing nice jeans, because I thought they might treat me better if I didn't look like a total slob. Walked the quarter mile to where the tax office was. Or where it used to be, but was no longer, I discovered. The doors to the building were locked, and there was a big redevelopment/office space available sign in front.

Called my mom, who started laughing when I told her what had happened. She looked up the new office address for me--it was two miles away, other side of Capitol Hill. All I could think was, "Thank God I put on sunscreen," and, later, "...and for public water fountains." Talk about cooking in ones own juices--sitting at the market on Saturday without any sales was bad enough, trekking across DC in the steamy height of summer, carrying a backpack full of tax documents made me feel like sin-burdened Christian in the Slough of Despond.

All the prayers for resolution were answered, though. When I finally walked into the deliciously air-conditioned new DC government building at 1101 Fourth Street SW, there was no line--I didn't even have to sit down in the waiting area before a little bell chimed and an electronic voice announced that my number was being served at Window 12. There, I didn't really have to explain anything, either--I just told the woman that I had been sent a delinquency notice for money I didn't owe, she pulled up my account on her computer, and three minutes of silent typing later she handed me a print-out that said my account was clear. I immediately felt 15 lbs lighter, and I don't think that was just the water-weight I sweated off walking!

I didn't notice until I got home that the printout was dated July 26, 2010, rather than July 19. Does this mean I'm still allegedly in arrears until my account is magically set to rights next Monday?

I'm just not going to worry about it.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Daddyisms and Granddaddy Visit

Some of the nicest men I have known in my life are inveterate and unrepentant punsters, prone to come up with witticisms in a heartbeat, and sometimes to create euphemisms that become part of their peculiar parlance, obscure to the uninitiated. Some samples from my father’s repertoire:

In the car on the way to visit my grandparents circa September 1998, we were listening to an NPR report on Arab-Israeli relations when he suddenly spouted:

“Peace process hot
Peace process cold
Peace process is a crock
Twenty years old.”

An overweight person gobbling away at a restaurant was “Committing suicide by fork.”

An already obese individual was “Suffering from advanced biscuit poisoning.”

On a vacation to the Pacific Northwest with my mom and youngest brother, every time they entered a stand of large trees, he exclaimed: “The forest prime-weevil.”

[My siblings will have to add examples in the comment section—these were just a few that sprang to my mind.]

I visited my grandparents today. Not only is it hard to see Daddy’s personal effects gone from the Augusta house—the little reminder note on the garage door that read “STOP! Do you have your beeper? Your pass key? [Etc.]” was one of the first to be discarded—seeing furniture and pictures missing from Grandmommy’s house (items that have been used to furnish Granddaddy’s new room at the Alzheimer’s care center) was even more upsetting.

When I was born, Daddy was in the Army, and so we’d moved some 14 times before I was a teenager, but Grandmommy and Granddaddy’s house was always a constant. Granddaddy’s desk was always in the corner of their bedroom, their certificate of marriage hanging in a silver frame over it. He’d always sit at the head of the table at mealtimes, Grandmommy on his left, and he’d ask the same simple blessing. Today, the desk was gone, and the wedding certificate in its frame was in the closet on the floor, and Grandmommy sat at the head of the table.

We went to visit Granddaddy after lunch. It’s a nice facility—clean, new, lots of light, with an inner courtyard for the residents to enjoy—very comfortable and un-hospitalish, with no unpleasant odors and friendly staff, but it was heartbreaking to see Granddaddy there, even in the lovely room which my aunt had worked so hard to make familiar for him, with a Grandmommy quilt on the bed, his desk below a wall of family pictures, and patriotic memorabilia from his World War II service. Granddaddy didn’t know me or my mother (his eldest daughter). He was convinced there was another resident with his same name somewhere close. He could barely walk, and his voice had sunk to almost a whisper, his once-bright blue eyes fading like ink in a sunburnt photograph. It was so bizarre to see him old. Granddaddy’s always been so capable, even this last Christmas he was hopping around, stealing my cousin’s Santa hat and teasing younger relatives, but it’s like he’s aged twenty years in the space of seven months; my mother says his condition has deteriorated markedly in just six weeks. Grandmommy, whom I have only seen close to tears once—a month ago, when Daddy died—was blinking them back when we left, but (as has been her lifelong habit) resolutely focusing on the blessings of their relationship: “We had sixty-three years together.”

I am a self-centered person in many ways, deplorably ignorant of and insensitive to the sufferings and pain of others, but I do pray that God will use what has happened in the last month to make me more sensitive, more aware, and considerably less narcissistic than I have been, to know when to speak and when to silently listen.

Back to DC tomorrow, hopefully to the Arlington Market Saturday and church Sunday.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

One Month

It's been a month since Daddy died, and I'm only starting to mourn. Mums is still sick (she's been struggling with severe nausea for over five weeks now), and though externally she looks great and super-fit, she's feeling water-weak. Granddaddy was admitted to a special Alzheimer's resident care facility late Sunday night. Grandmommy is so sad, though she knows it is necessary. And the DC tax office is threatening to turn me over to collections for taxes I don't owe (and never have!); of course, I can't get through to anyone there via telephone, and I won't be in DC until next week at the earliest. I want to curl up and be held and let cry and cry.

Friday, July 09, 2010

International Relations: Deplorable and Delicious

Last summer, in the international airport in Moscow, I made the acquaintance of Zhenya, an attractive, but shallow and materialistic young Russian woman, who was coming to the US to study English and live as the fiancée of a divorced Russian emigre almost twice her age. She asked me to sit next to her on the plane, and we talked (in a mixture of Russian and English) the whole ten-hour trip to Washington—about the superficial things with which she was obsessed (fashion, expensive cars, money), her family in Kazan and her studies in Environmental Engineering, and how I thought she shouldn’t live with this guy she barely knew. We exchanged contact information, and for a few months we got together every six weeks or so for coffee, and once (as previously blogged, last fall) to go to a museum with her obviously possessive fiancé and a more pleasant friend of his. I had her over to my apartment for tea one afternoon and showed her some of the jewelry I made. What was irritating was how she always wanted to know what this or that cost, how much the apartment rent was, was my diamond pendant real? And so forth.

In time, her “boyfriend” became abusive, and she temporarily moved out, to live with a friend from school. Around the same time, she also discovered that she was pregnant. She’d previously been begging me to find her a “nice American man,” and this entreaty intensified. I always put her off, told her I didn’t know any—well, I do know quite a few, but none that I’d be so cruel to as to have recommended him take a romantic interest in her (not because of the pregnancy, but because of her character)! She also kept pressing me to “help her find a job” etc., but aside from giving her advice, I left it up to her—after all, as a foreign student, most jobs were not legally available to her.

As to her pregnancy and housing issues, I told her about a local crisis pregnancy center and accompanied her to an appointment there, and told her about a good Russian Baptist church and took her to one of their services. In both cases, I was impressed by the people in each place and she was not interested in relying on their help; the director of the pregnancy center advised me against the trap of enablement, and told me to let her make her own decisions. So, after she moved back in with her fiancé, I quit any further communication. What was the point? I’m not a one-woman Salvation Army center, and she was clearly an energy leach, with no genuine reform of her lifestyle.

So, no communication for months, and then she emailed me the day before my father’s funeral, saying that she’d moved out permanently, and “could you find me a good man.” I didn’t respond—I thought, “Good for her” (for FINALLY moving out), but her renewed appeal for a “good man” when I’d just lost my own great Daddy simply reinforced my determination to avoid her. Life is not a Disney movie with handsome princes waiting in the wings to rescue damsels in distress—particularly clingy damsels of questionable morals and no backbone. Rescue-minded royalty is even in short supply for those of us with semi-solid morals and hard heads.

Yesterday, out of the blue, she texted me and then telephoned me (from an unfamiliar number, since identified as “Zhenya! Ignore!” in my address book—I hung up on her when I realized who it was: “Can’t talk now, I’m in a store.” ) to say that she was getting a restraining order against the father of her unborn child. Lovely. Not that he doesn’t richly deserve it, but even less reason for me to want any involvement whatsoever—domestic violence practitioners so often threaten also those they suspect of helping their “loved” ones.

I’d go to the ends of the earth for a real friend, someone I knew was in trouble, who genuinely wanted to get out of a bad situation, but I’d also expect that they’d take advantage of any other external aid available, not just come to me alone, expecting me to magically solve their problems without their having to lift a finger. This girl is bad news, making bad, bad choices, and I refuse to be pulled down with her. I do feel thoroughly sorry for her baby—what parents!

In happier news, I went with Leah and a Lebanese friend of hers to a Greek restaurant in Old Town Alexandria last night after her martial arts class. Hercules, a Greek instructor for the State Department, whom I know from his visits to my and Anita’s jewelry booth at the Arlington Market, was singing traditional music inside. We sat outdoors (as the weather had at last cooled down to the point where being in a garden outdoors didn’t mean being cooked in one’s own juices), listened to the songs and watched other diners dance around the tables inside. Leah’s friend had grown up in Australia, and she told us about her elopement with her husband and the parties on three continents that their relatives had insisted on throwing them in lieu of a wedding.

After the delicious meal, Hercules came outside to sit at our table, rolled his eyes dramatically at our compliments on his music, and burbled to us about his own daughter’s upcoming marriage in Greece to a Finnish guy she met in London. It will be a small wedding, by native standards—150 guests instead of the whole village of 700. If I ever have the opportunity to marry, I—who have actually heretofore wanted a church wedding—want only a minister and a couple of witnesses with me and my husband at the ceremony. It would have been worth it to have a formal wedding if my father were around to enjoy it, but now it’d be too fraught with bitter-sweet emotion. He would have loved the Greek restaurant, and I’ll bet he would have gotten up and danced with the others whose feet were tapping too fervently to keep still in their seats.

Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Catching Up

So, in the intervening weekends since my last post, I've attended two more weddings--one for a second cousin in Lexington, SC, and the other for my Bethesda gallery boss, in Annapolis, MD. I'm kind of "weddinged out." I realize that one is supposed to rejoice with those who rejoice, but I've lately been much more able to weep with others who are weeping. Still, all in all, both weddings were pleasant events, and I got through them with a cordial expression on my face and plenty of makeup. I did have to go outside and cry during the last one, as the bride is as Greek as I am, and her father danced with her to Greek music at the Annapolis Yacht Club, where the masts of moored sailboats surrounded us. Daddy would have loved it--sailboats AND Greek music?!--and I would have called him to tell him about it, too. Instead, I phoned my sister, who can be trusted to commiserate and not spout any sentimentalist clap-trap about how "he's watching over you" or "he's seeing you here." Bull hockey. God is watching me, but Daddy is otherwise involved in heaven.

I continue to be blessed with friends who help me--getting me out of the house and distracted, or providing muscle for my ongoing redecoration of my apartment, or sitting with me into the wee hours when I can't sleep for thinking about Daddy. Others have phoned and reminded me that they are praying for me and my family, and I continue to get a trickle of snail-mail sympathy cards. I need this more now, it seems, that the adrenalin and subconscious refusal to believe that this is all real are wearing thin.

My dear Granddaddy is not doing well--he didn't recognize who I was when I called to wish him and Grandmommy a Happy Fourth of July. Grandmommy sounded tired--and, for the first time, really old. She loved Daddy dearly, and he'd been giving her advice about Granddaddy's and her own health for years. We're all realizing how much we depended on him.

I'm back working at the Bethesda gallery and at the estate sales. Three weeks ago, my primary post for the week was going to be the story of the painting that I bought at a sale, owned for 24 hours, and then had to return.

Susan took almost all the wall-art in the apartment when she moved out, and I've been desperate to decorate. At one sale that I was working in Kensington, MD, I saw a lovely impressionist/pointillist garden scene, painted in oil, framed in gilded wood, about three feet high and two wide. The art dealer who advises my boss sneered delicately at it, said it was alright for a "ready made" picture, and told her to price it around $300.

I thought it was pretty, and would make a lovely centerpiece for my living room, so I went ahead, wrote a check for it, and took it home (shoving it over the front seats of my little Honda Accord, so it was balanced behind my head, threatening instant concussion in case of an accident) two days before the sale began. The next day, when I went in for work, my boss told me that she hated to do it, but she had to ask for me to return the painting. Turns out the artist, Lillian McKendrick, was a mid-twentieth-century painter of Russian parentage whose work is now considered fairly collectible. Her work hangs in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, among other exclusive places, and those pieces available to private collectors sell for about $15,000 a pop. Now, if I had bought the picture at the sale, I would have been able to keep it, and counted it as one of the "great buys" of my career thus far, but as I am an employee of the sale organizer and purchased it prior to the sale's official kick-off, ethically I was bound to return it. So I did. My boss returned my check and paid me $75 for my trouble, which helped to assuage my feelings somewhat. But it was kind of a bummer still--after all, I hadn't bought it because I thought it was a collector's item worth a bundle, I'd bought it because I liked it! But I comforted myself with the notion that not only had I been (briefly) the owner of a good oil painting, but that my taste in art was also demonstrably better than the so-called professional dealer's.

Snap taken of the picture before I returned it:

Pretty, yes?