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Friday, December 30, 2011

Bored and Disgusted

For perhaps the first time in my life, I am totally bored with movies, and books, and feel like all of fiction and film ought to be tossed out the window and stomped to tears of paper and sherds of plastic discs, turned into mulch (of only something so useful could be made of it all) and used to manure a garden of marigolds. 

Mission Impossible 4 wasn't that bad, nor was the latest Sherlock Holmes flick, but how many explosions and perfectly-executed acts of specially effects enhanced daring-do can one stomach?  I find myself already bored to tears with my Amazon Prime membership a bare two weeks after starting it--the free offerings are mostly musty old Hollywood movies of the sing a song, do a dance, have standard love triangle and hijinx ensue sort, and the newer, screw this person, screw that person, have heart to heart with gay best friend, finally fall into bed with Mr. Right genre.  It's all thoroughly banal.

And then in print, I read into the early morning hours only to be betrayed by an author I've been broadcasting to friends and family as a new favorite: Boris Akunin, writes in Russian yet isn't depressing.  Yet his last mystery, Sister Pelagia and the Red Cockerel, has him trying to outmaster the Master and Margarita, with its sudden veer into the supernatural, the superstitious, the ahistorical, and the weirdly blasphemous (or is that giving him too much credit).  For volumes his "female Father Brown" has been carefully sleuthing, balancing faith and reason, finding rational explanations for seemingly irrational phenomena, leading us on a tour of 19th-century provincial Russia, presenting in a microcosm, like Miss Marple's equally removed St. Mary Mead, the types and archetypes, the villains and saints of that time and place in history, offering the author chances to examine the cultural and political developments since from the viewpoint and in the words of his bygone characters.  Now, in this last adventure he sends these characters scurrying off to St. Petersburg and the Holy Land, interacting with a neo-Sodom settlement of happy homosexuals financed by an American philanthropist and a proto-Israeli commune operating in strange accord with its Circassian warlord neighbors, following a Holy Fool who might be Jesus who's been transported to 19th-century rural Russia via a system of time-warping caves with the unwitting assistance of a red rooster.  Akunin's hitherto reasonable, if impetuous nun tracks this Emmanuel from peasant village to the Garden of Gethsemane,  all the while pursued by a rabid band of zealot assassins dispatched by a member of the Holy Synod who want to get rid of this "antiChrist" while at the same time murdering numbers of other people, mostly bystanders of mixed innocence and ignorance.  It's wacko, like Akunin must have gotten tired of the careful, beautiful research and writing that distinguished his previous work and just decided to throw everything into a huge overheated boiler and damn the torpedoes, whatever nonsense came out, just so long as everyone died or was miserable or unaccounted for at the end, and some pseudophilosophical blather was spouted, well, so be it.

Pah.  A lesson on me.  Every unhappy family or film or book is all alike, ultimately dehumanizing in some way, and to dwell on it further is useless. 

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Broken Grandmommy Ring/Finger

Grandmommy took a header over a couple of suitcases she'd packed and left next to her couch before departing on a multi-mile walk yesterday afternoon.  She caught herself and ended up with a bad scrape on one arm and a broken ring finger bone on her left--it was a clean break in the palm of her hand, so her left arm's swaddled up like the Baby Jesus and we're praying it knits quickly.  My aunt and uncle were actually just a few minutes away from the house when she tripped--they were on their way to pick her up so she could spend a few days with them in Macon, GA, before and after her eye injection Tuesday--so they were able to whisk her off to the emergency room promptly.  My brother and my mom and I were already scheduled to go down to visit tomorrow, but this adds an extra element of urgency to the trip.

I think it was the afternoon of my grandfather's funeral, or perhaps it was the evening of the viewing, Grandmommy gave me their wedding rings--"They are mine to give to who I want to, and I don't want arguments over them later" she said.  Granddaddy's (which I don't think I'd ever seen him wear) was bent into an odd trapezoidal shape (probably the reason he never wore it) from the battering his hands were always taking.  Grandmommy's wedding and engagement bands were soldered together--actually, I remember twenty-five or so years ago when the back of the bands had been worn through from age and friction, and she had the bands replaced and then attached to one another to keep further deterioration at bay.  As a result of this earlier band replacement and soldering, the diamond top of the wedding band was loosened, and fell off on a trip she and Granddaddy were taking, and was lost.  She got a replacement (not as pretty as the original--the diamonds weren't set the same) and then had the whole fused together again.  So, really, the only part of the set that is original is the top part of the engagement ring.  A few months after she gave the set to me (Granddaddy's battered ring went into my jewelry box, while hers immediately took up permanent residence on my right middle finger), I noticed that one of the tiny side diamonds was missing, and just this week (Granddaddy would have been 95 last Monday) I noticed that there's a crack in the gold of the engagement ring, running from the inside of the band to the bottom of the largest central diamond.  In other words, the ring has legitimately been worn out.  It survived 63 years of marriage, but it has come to the end of its useful life.

Of course, I have no intention of melting it down to sell the gold!  Instead, I would like to have the components remade into a ring that I can wear for my remaining years of life, and then pass down to my niece or some other of Grandmommy's and Granddaddy's deserving descendants.  I want to have the gold from both his and her wedding rings combined, and a short inscription carved on the inside of the new band to commemorate their faithfulness and mutual affection.  The trick will be coming up with a design that incorporates the stones and the metal without looking like a men's club ring from the 1980s.  And it's got to be comfortable, as I don't intend to take it off much, if at all.   I like the early 20th century look, with the combination of white and yellow gold, and the stones set into the band.  We'll see.  I've got to start sketching.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Christmas Chaos

Christmas chaos for me has been lasting for more than six weeks now.  I've had no time to blog, very little time to eat and less to exercise, as I juggle four jobs and the usual "special holiday" demands--parties, jewelry/craft sales, and so forth.  I wouldn't have been able to pull off my own annual Christmas party without my mother's flying up for a week and not only gamely coming along with me to work the estate sale (the last of 2011!) we were setting up in Potomac, MD, but also assembling the traditional baklava (Southern style, with pecans in addition to the almonds and walnuts) while I frantically straightened and cleaned the house.  I was debilitatingly low on my quota of sleep until this past weekend, when I had a rare night with no commitments and was able to retire early.  My maternal side of the family celebrated its Christmas today in Georgia, but I'm at work in Bethesda, and my teleportation skills are not up to par these days.  I hope to drive down at a leisurely pace tomorrow, having shrouded the computer at work with plastic, as we had a dramatic leak in the roof yesterday which set me dreaming all last night about falling ceiling plaster and damp insulation.

There is some benefit to being so busy--it leaves little time for worrying--but there is also considerable cost--I haven't communicated with many friends in months, because I simply haven't had a moment, or any available energy, to touch base.  And a few of my female acquaintances are directly in harm's way: a coworker had to fly to Teheran to be with a sick sibling, and another former classmate is in Cairo working as a democratic activist.  Other ladies are simply overcome by the stresses of work, or have encountered the sudden loss of employment over the last month.  I keep thinking that January is going to be an oasis of calm after all this manic activity and mental anxiety, but I may be deluding myself.

I was able to complete a few of the patchwork bags I've been piecing for what seems like forever, and of the six finished, one sold.  The only thing besides sleeping, reading and eating I plan to do over my Christmas break is sew.  I may leave Mums with another carpetful of threads to vacuum, but I'd like to begin 2012 with enough inventory to see me through the summer.  Anita's asked me to think about returning to the market, but I'd only do it semimonthly and with a display of bags instead of jewelry. 

Estate sale coworkers and I are chatting about creating a reality TV series based on our experiences.  One's daughter is a TV producer, so this isn't as far-fetched as it might seem.  Another is planning to collaborate with me on a novel manuscript--she's supplying the plot outline, I'm writing descriptions and we're both structuring the dialogue.  It's a murder mystery series. 

I'm still waiting to hear back from the news director of the largest local radio station (tagline: "Traffic and weather together on the eights") whom I encountered under unfortunate circumstances a couple of weeks ago: in the dark and rain, right across from the National Cathedral when my 13-year-old car's front bumper slid into the rear of his new Lexus.  The only damage (it was less than 5 mph) was that one of the screws holding on my license plate punched a small, screw-head-sized hole into his bumper.  But it's a Lexus.  He was gracious, not a jerk (thank God!), though you could tell he was not thrilled that I'd bumped him.  He took a photo with his phone and emailed it to me, and said he'd be in touch (he was on his way to dinner, and the police don't come for domestic violence on the street in Georgetown--why would they come for such a minor traffic incident?).  I wrote him a nice note back, but haven't heard anything.  The holidays being what they are, and his job being what it is, it may be weeks yet.  I hope the fix isn't expensive, and that the dealer doesn't try to convince him he needs a whole new bumper.  I did get a very generous bonus from one of my bosses, but I don't want it to vanish into some car dealer's pocket.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Screaming Fits & Novel Writing

This weekend's estate sale has gone beautifully thus far--none of the behavior and shoplifting problems that bedeviled the last one, though we did have two customers almost yelling at each other for five minutes yesterday over a $65 framed print, each claiming to have claimed it first.  Sheesh.  It's not like it's the Shroud of Turin.  And today we had a little girl (about 6 years old) go into shrieking hysterics at the mere sight of Charlie, my bosses dog, who was lying placidly underneath the checkout table.  She begged her grandmother to take her away, which the woman did, after a few minutes of agony for us and all the other customers.  At any rate, I bought myself a Makita drill, some candles (for my posh Christmas party) and some long-sleeved t-shirts.  I put offers in on a KitchenAid mixer (white, in the box) and a Singer sewing machine table (perfect for my projects room).  I was happy to provide lamps for the otherwise dimly-lit townhouse, and sold three at full price--tomorrow they'll all be discounted 25%. 

My perfume-sniper colleague and I do plan to write a novel together, but it's not going to happen until January, after the pre-Christmas obligations are done, notwithstanding November is NaNoWriMo.  Since I still don't have an Internet connection at home, that would interfere with our earlier collaboration anyway. 

This has been the most social weekend I've had in months!  I'm blogging over at friends' (the parents of Augustus Wiggle), and the NPV and Rachel just came in.  We're waiting for the guests of honor, but much good food and pleasant company is already assembled.  Yesterday, while I was at work, my friend Heidi called me to say she was taking me up on my standing invitation to come down from Pennsylvania to spend the weekend, and arrived within three hours.  It was a wonderful surprise, and Susan and she and I went out to an Irish pub for dinner, then home for chat, the decibel level in the pub being astronomical.  Then Heidi and I watched an episode of Psych.  I still can't always find the legendary pineapple in each episode, but refuse on moral grounds to cheat by looking it up online...

Friday, October 28, 2011

PMC, Age Woes, and Wickedness

I dreamed from childhood of being able to work with PMC, although it wouldn’t be invented for another twenty-five years.  Why couldn’t one make precious metals into a workable clay, that once dried and fired emerged from the kiln as a sculpted piece of pure silver or gold?  Thankfully, my daydreaming about the “what ifs” of jewelry creation was shared by scientists at the 3M companies, who finally developed a recipe for Precious Metal Clay, now available in all sorts of elastic permutations in silver, gold, copper and other elements.  I haven’t a kiln, so attempting to use PMC would be senseless right now, but I hope that one of these days, in my dream house (which will consist mostly of workshops and a large library), I’ll have one installed.

I did have PMC for the first time this last month, but it was PreMenstrual Cramping of the hot-irons-applied-to-the-lower-half-of-my-back kind, not of the gilded nature.  It was a sort of trial by fire, as it felt like my kidneys and assorted other organs were being slow-roasted.  I’d been blissfully pain-free for decades with regards to cyclical girly matters, and all of a sudden I was laid low, wrongly ascribing this severe discomfort to my wearing of a new pair of tennis shoes with air-filled pockets in the soles. But my second X chromosome, not Reebok, was to blame.  Sometimes I really hate being female.  Other times I love it, because I can swan around in funky embroidered wear and beaded slippers and be considered only mildly wacky, rather than downright nuts, which I would be if I were a guy sporting the same colorful outfits.

Work is good, but exhausting.  I am busy morning to night every day.  Every day is different, and often in a different location, which means that I average more than an hour in the car daily (a short and blissful period compared to most commutes in the greater DC area, made even happier by the fact that I always have a novel to read on my steering wheel when traffic’s at a standstill).  Everything involves some organizing, and then a variation of tagging or cataloging, usually with a mind to assess value, either for retail or auction, or for insurance purposes.   And then there is the clutter of my own home to be sorted, something I am loath to do when I return home after a long day up to my armpits in other people’s possessions.  I just want to curl up on whatever small piece of territory is left uncovered by stacks of fabric, pieces of lamps, and jewelry components, and nap.  Only a month until the annual Georgetown show, and I have nothing ready for it!  Exactly a month until my 37th birthday, and I am most certainly not ready for that, either.

My baby brother turned 29 Tuesday a week ago.  I called to twit him about being almost thirty, and he responded by pointing out that I, personally, was within spitting distance of 40.  Touche.  He sounded good for a guy who'd spent the better part of the morning dissecting a human leg and had come home to reemerse himself in a John Le Carre novel.  I am looking forward to seeing him at Thanksgiving.

Grandmommy said she'd had a great 89th birthday when I called her that same Tuesday night.  She'd gone on her usual multi-mile walk in the morning and had been fielding congratulatory phone calls much of the afternoon.  I was after dark calling myself, because I worked late at my new book-cataloging gig and then called her before I reported for another three hours of ticketing estate sale consignments.  I didn't get home until after midnight.  I had an even later night the previous weekend, also doubling on the work-commitments on Saturday, meaning I was drawing some wage for at least twelve hours.  Needless to say, I have darkened the door of the gym only once in the last two weeks--though part of that wussiness was due to the aforementioned worst backache I've endured since injuring myself doing a charity book sale half a decade ago. 

We'd bad theft at our estate sale last weekend--Friday an entire mink jacket disappeared, and we still can't figure out how (those things aren't exactly non-bulky)—and numerous smaller items went AWOL, including a wooden bowl I’d consigned.  Rampant price-switching was the new norm.  Many nasty, messy people trashed the place—CDs scattered all over the floor, linens tossed on the bed, clothing carelessly dumped in the bathroom, just unbelievable.  We don’t know exactly how to avoid this in the future, given that the house was a nice area (Potomac, MD—where the rich folks live) and shouldn’t necessarily have attracted lowlifes to begin with—we had next to no problems when we did a house in the ‘hood last year off Georgia Avenue in DC.  Or maybe we had problems precisely because the area was so nice, whereas thieves didn’t think to come to the house downtown because they thought there wouldn’t be anything worth taking.  Ironically, stealing from a house is a felony in Maryland, so these light-fingered creeps are risking serious legal trouble, not just a misdemeanor shoplifting charge.  If we could only catch them!  Short of having an off-duty cop in every room, I don’t see how we can, and it’s depressing to think that people would just come in and take what doesn’t belong to them.  And after we’ve worked so hard to organize it and present it in the best light!

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Late Night, Five Days Ago

It’s getting to that time of night when I start seeing alien faces leering at me from the curlicue patterns in the Persian silk rug draped over the end of my bed.   Of course, being temporarily bereft of Internet access at home means I can’t figure out what exact species of grasshopper nearly caused me to keel over from fright this afternoon, so I can only describe it as an unholy cross of a spider and cricket, all big and thin and creepy and stripy and crouched ready to spring in a flock of a score or so in the hollow within the folding table I was setting up in the basement of the house where we’re doing a sale.  I was so freaked out by the sight of these horror movie escapees that I almost vomited my heart (which I found had suddenly lodged itself in the vicinity of my vocal cords), while my skin had gone goosebumps in a fraction of a second.  Nasty, nasty creatures.  Not at all like the jolly fat brown crickets that occasionally turn up in my apartment—those I catch in my bare hands, toss in the toilet, and flush while cackling evilly.   I don’t even think a clutch of roaches, as awful as they are, would have made me as jittery.  Roaches--at least Yankee roaches such as we have here (quite unlike the poetically-named Palmetto bugs of South Carolina)—only run, they don’t jump.  And they can be stomped.  These things made me want to turn and run shrieking.  Instead, I slammed the table halves back together and ran the whole out into the back yard, where I flipped the thing open and over and released the ‘hoppers out into the wild.  But my skin continued to crawl for half an hour at the thought of them.   I may have to start carrying a brace of frogs in my pocket holsters in self-defense.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Seven Years In Blogspot

Yesterday was the seventh anniversary of this foray into blogdom.  I went to the Maryland Renaissance Fair with a girlfriend and a coworker of hers, Bree.  Bree just got back from a purely recreational trip to eastern Turkey, where she wandered far afield with hundreds of other Western hikers, exploring this land of cheese and honey, staying off mountains known to be infiltrated by Iranian kidnappers, yet venturing into other heavily-militarized zones to see ruinous castles and ancient churches.  I wish I weren't such a chicken and were brave enough to undertake such independent adventures, but I am an armchair explorer when alone, and usually hesitate to stray from the beaten path without company.  However, perhaps like the Victorian spinsters to whom I not infrequently compare myself, I will eventually become something of a corseted swashbuckler in my later years, dancing on Himalayan peaks and canoeing in Andean rivers, among visits to other less-civilized places.

The Renn Fair was set up neatly as usual (one of the reasons I enjoy going, besides all the arts and crafts and shows and opportunities for people-watching, is they've got it organized so well, from staff directing parking to staff managing the long lines at the privy stations, which are well stocked with hand cleanser and paper towels), but the weather was cold and dreary, and about 4:30 a chilly rain started falling, which sent us shivering under our anachronistic umbrellas.  We'd earlier combated the cold with that long-debunked standard remedy: alcohol.  My companions got glasses of mead, while I chose a cupful of hard cider.  We'd all have rather had warm mulled wine, but curiously (it's October--you'd think they'd expect some cooler weather, given that the fair lasts until the end of the month) that wasn't available.  But the drinks did make us feel less frozen for a while under our stockingless old-style garb, as did the spinach pie we had for lunch, and we watched a juggling and balancing act and then found our way to the jousting ring, which had been upgraded since last year.  Unfortunately, one of the "knights" was unhorsed in the first tilt and went helmet-first into a wood doorpost, so that cut short that particular event.  The man in question was able to remount after some worried flurry around his supine armored form by his squires, but he was out of the running as far as any immediate daring-do, and I expect was carefully checked for a concussion afterwards.

Before we left, we stopped to grab a final deep-fried treat--a trio of battered Oreos.  Only after we'd placed our order and were huddling with the other patrons under the dripping awning did we notice that, unlike the rest of the booths, the preparation area of the stand selling this cardiac-arresting confection looked positively medieval--there was a grimy five-foot wall separating the cooking area from the counter, and behind this buttress peered a skinny one-eyed man (he wore no patch--the sightless eye was milky) with unwashed grey hair wearing what I took at first glance for a camouflage baseball cap.  Then I realized that the Advanced Auto Parts logo crowned the area above the cap's bill and the whole thing had once been taupe--the camouflage pattern was suggested by the large spots of grease and smears of grime that covered it and the face of the man who wore it.  Around this frightening apparition rose roiling grease smoke, and every minute or so he'd turn around from whatever witches cauldron he was stirring and his filthy bare hands would cradle an order of fried chocolate-covered bacon, or fried Snickers, or some other delicacy in a little paper tray up over the lip of the partition.  Maybe one does not need to venture out of suburban Maryland to encounter the odd peril.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

A 200-LB, 4-FT Venus

My mother is now the proud owner of a 200-pound, 4-foot tall solid concrete facsimile of the Venus Italica of Canova.  This Venus, even in approximation, is most assuredly not to be confused with the Louvre’s Winged Victory or with the sylph-like Venus on the Half Shell, and certainly not with Canova’s own other Venus (Venus Victorious, a nude portrait of Napoleon’s sister).  She’s a remarkably retiring, modest goddess, a normal-looking curvaceous lady clasping a swag of drapery to her bosom, not some tarted-up escapee from some adolescent Playboy fantasy, as so many classical female statues have been reconceived in reproduction.  Mums had a very definite idea of what she wanted for her garden nook, and it was little short of a miracle that we found her, in a huge antique mall in Jacksonville, Florida.  She was mislabeled as Athena (as if SHE would ever gad about in the buff!), and priced at less than a third of the cost of the same image listed online (not including shipping, which would be considerable).  It took two men straining mightily to lift her inside Mums’ Toyota Highlander.  I recommended that Mums ply some of the young men from her kickboxing class with baked goods in order to get her out of the car and into the garden once we're back home tomorrow, because there’s no way she and I can do it alone.  I can’t think of too many guys who would turn down an opportunity to manhandle a nude female sculpture and show off their own great musculature in exchange for home-cooked sweets...

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Quirky Signs & Symbols and Abundant Wildlife

Mums and I had lunch with Grandmommy on Wednesday and continued on from Middle Georgia to Savannah, where we found lodging on the beach.  We weren’t hungry for any supper after the great midday meal, but was there amongst the salad greens in the pattern of our Tybee Island hotel bedspread some foliage of a munchies-inducing nature, or was this simply my imagination?



This morning we went for a long walk on the beach.  We found half a dozen large dead jellyfish washed ashore…

And a living starfish waving its arms in a tidepool…

And then I rescued a giant (platter-sized—I wish I’d photographed my foot beside it!) horseshoe crab in another pool, which a couple of jovial rednecks had left upside down with its legs waving after holding it up by its trailing spine—it was a good 2 feet long from front of “hoof” to spine tip)...

And they displayed a fish which quickly buried itself in the sand to its eyeballs after it was returned to the water.


I unfortunately didn’t get a picture of the five or so dolphins which swam offshore, but I did note that some humans ranked lower than animals on the TI pier.



While some semi-domestic animals had their own management agency…


And, among non-Muggles, there's got to be a Quidditch match going on forever under the sea, because their snitch is missing ... 

We’d first realized this was going to be a signal trip when we saw, emblazoned in large letters on the pumps at a gas station in Sandersville, GA, this proud claim, the “small print” to its banner announcement of “double-filtered” fuel: …SYSTEM CAN NOT BE BYPASSED….  I think they meant it “cannot be surpassed”.

At Tybee the sign outside the local diner read:


Now, “home-cooked” meals are legendarily tasty, but as Mums said, the dishes that are concocted in Home Ec classes tend to be infamous.

In the Soul Food category, we’ve encountered some deep thoughts on wayside church billboards, some more philosophically obscure than others, including "Those who remain in the valley will never go over the hill" and "God wants us to get in the game, not to keep score."

And then there is the lure of discount shopping:

These were antiques that didn’t quite make the retail grade at the factory, I guess.  [To be fair, I ended up buying three lamps there.]

We’re now on Amelia Island, in Florida, and aside from a few misplaced commas, as comfortable and content as could be.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Good News And Off To Warmer Climes

A couple in Maryland were so happy with the job I did on the books that we sold for them at an estate sale this summer that they hired me this week as an independent contractor to organize and catalogue the contents of their permanent home library.  The wife, like me, is an insatiable omnivorous reader, and there are thousands of books to sort and record.  I'm to work one day a week for them, at a quite nice hourly rate.  I start in October, after I return from GA.  So, now I have not four, but five part-time jobs!

Mums and I plan to leave on a long-awaited vacation to points in Florida on Wednesday.  I'm working up in Bethesda today, and intend to drive to GA tomorrow.  We haven't made any reservations at hotels and whatnot, as we intend this beach trip to be random and relaxed--we'll drive to where it suits us, find a place to stay for the night, and then continue on, or not, as our whimsy takes us.  We both hope the weather will cooperate!  Will post pictures!

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

Scotch and Water

Either the cocktail recipe book I have is a marvel of misdirection, or most mixed drinks are nasty.

I used to wonder if I might be able to make it as a bartender, though I am not male, jocular, nor do I know any clever tricks involving swirling colorful squirts of spirituous liquors into small expensive combinations.  I can flip a mean towel over my shoulder, though, and bellow, “what’ll ya have?” with the best of them. 

There was a bartending school on the back side of the second floor of a building one block from my old digs in Arlington; the front, ground floor was occupied by a framing shop and a Papa John’s Pizza delivery hub, and there was a discreet wrought-iron staircase at the back for the booze-mixing students.  I glimpsed a class once, the backs of the future barspiders to the window, some scribbling in notebooks as their instructor poured, stirred and shook.

I knew I didn’t have the looks or the leg-muscles for barkeeping, though—standing up for hours and hours, chatting up complete strangers and shepherding them from sobriety into garrulous inebriation—nor the stomach to put up with the loosening inhibitions.  But I did want to find out more about drinks, how they were made, of what curious ingredients they were constructed, what went into piquantly-named beverages like the Whiskey Sour and the urbane Metropolitan.  I do like margaritas, and there’s one sky-blue concoction I had once when out with some fellow graduate students years ago that I’ve always wanted to reproduce.

But though I may have champagne taste, my pocketbook these days runs more to affording soda water (forget even rotgut beer brews like PBR), and so how was I to go about experimenting mixology at home?  Estate sales.  Just as estate sales agents price everything from bedroom slippers to bathmats, Old Master paintings to Tinker Toys, they also occasionally sell booze, or the dregs of it.  Over the last five months or so, for less than $30 total, I’ve acquired a liquor cabinet that makes me look like I’ve pickled my brain for years—five kinds of whiskey, several rums, Cointreau, Kahlua, some odder liqueurs, all the bottles partially empty.  The recipe book I found in a stack of random publications that was being given away. 

And so, occasionally, when I’m feeling restless, as last night, I try out different combinations.  And they are almost all disgusting. Many taste medicinal, others don’t even ascend to that level of palatability.  The kitchen sink drainpipe gets cleaner after such experiments.  I don’t feel guilty about simply dumping such undrinkable swill, since it cost me so little.  I have also found that whiskey—even the high-end brands--is pretty vile, however you try to disguise it.  Kahlua is too sweet to my taste, and crème de menthe is a frightening molasses-slow sludge of deep, evil green.  Rum is decent (maybe I’m a pirate at heart), but only in small, slowly-sipped quantities, and gomme syrup is sugar-saturated water that tends to start crystalizing around the edges of its container almost immediately.

I still haven’t found the perfect margarita recipe, which is just as well, because unlike all the aforementioned nixed mixes, I know I like them, and that would be bad for my brain, my bank balance, and my bum (it would expand, and I would sit on it even more than I already do).
It's bucketting down today--the street outside is glittering like a lake in the lights from the parking garage opposite the Bethesda Gallery.  Business has been correspondingly slow.  We have weepy Alison Krause on the CD player, and I'm sorting through a year's worth of ragged "want" cards from customers with variously legible handwriting.  It's the sort of atmosphere that lends itself to critical introspection.

Why is it, when I am trying to galvanize someone I've known for years out of what I consider to be emotional lethargy, I come across like a whining shrew harpy rather than as robust and serious, a solemn force to be reckoned with? [BTW, shrew harpies are like the toy dogs of the harpy family—genuine, grown-up harpies can take the flesh off a man’s bones in a matter of seconds.  Shrew harpies are yappy and frequently stepped on.]  As anyone who’s been around me for any length of time can tell, I don’t do “cutting” very well (except maybe inadvertently) and here I was attempting to convey in a brutal manner that a (former?) male friend obviously didn’t care a whit about me, as he hadn’t telephoned or called or even emailed but a couple of times in the past year—and in my gut I imagined that maybe if I hurt his feelings, he’d realize what a schmuck he’d been, and (by some irrational logic) also what a catch I was, and actually get around to resuming our previous regular chitchat, walks, meals, etc.  So, at the end of our last, brief, telephone exchange I blurted, “I guess we’ll talk soon.  Or maybe we won’t, since you are lousy about keeping in touch.”  Which is true, but not a statement designed to make a middle-aged man’s heart go pitter-pat.  And I certainly sounded like a squeak pig.  And so my attempt at force majeure was flat, laughable, and entirely unproductive.  I loathe that too-glib phrase “he’s just not that into you,” but it’s applicable in this case.  At least I wasn’t emotionally abused or in any other way led down the garden path by the guy in question, so some progress is being made in terms of the quality of my fraught romantic relationships.  But I do hate to see such beautiful calf muscles disappear into the sunset; the guy has gorgeous gams.  A girl, even a strong-jawed, unglam sort like yours truly, needs exercise-enhanced male pulchritude in the vicinity to keep her spirits up.  Maybe I'll slog through the rain to the gym this evening.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Shaken, Then Stirred (Or) Cats, Quakes, Bags, Guys

Of course, I was standing behind a glass case, next to glass shelves filled to capacity with Waterford, Orrefors and other crystal when the earthquake hit Bethesda Tuesday afternoon. Exactly where you don't want to be when the walls, floors, ceiling and so forth are moving about unexpectedly.   I knew what was going on immediately (having been through two, less severe, earthquakes before), and my coworkers told me later I was quite calm (they were freaking out), standing at the counter, waiting for the world to stop jerking. My internal shaking didn't commence until sometime after the external vibration had ceased--I was on an adrenalin high for the next three hours, jazzed that we'd escaped without injury to shop or person (nothing in the whole store broke, despite the 5.8 tremors).

To round out the week, Hurricane Irene is supposed to brush us tomorrow night.

Brushing and clipping didn't do my sinuses any good, Bertram-wise.  I had to return him to the abuse of his big brother after only a week.  Why:

Semi-normal (tired) eye:


Eye briefly exposed to Bertram:

Note swelling.  It was still very hard to give him up.  He was a sweetie, and had made himself comfortable:



A handsome and winsome kitty.  Very genteel.  The fault was all mine--allergies unexpected and uncontrollable even with generous doses of Claritin.  His previous owners were actually quite happy to see him again (they know his big brother is the one that needs to be re-homed), and promised that I can come visit when I want.  Still, it was a huge emotional blow to be unable to keep him--I'd always thought that I'd settle down with a cat and a catalogue of personal peculiarities and grow old content.  And I wanted a fuzzy beast to cuddle when the miseries stalked me!

Instead, I am stuck with some 18 unfinished patchwork bags cluttering my common room area, and a couple of singularly annoying male relationships (or lack thereof).  I met one fellow last weekend who seemed promising, until a short exchange of emails ended with an insult to my Southern heritage and a comment that I had imbibed the "liberal cool-aid" (sic), which latter remark caused Susan to snort into her margarita this evening and blurt "You!?" in disbelief.  Meantime, a long-time male buddy remained obtuse to my real, financial needs keeping me from doctoral program-completion and instead cheerfully offered an alternative dissertation topic, as if that would magically solve my problems.  I thought murderous thoughts and euphemistically damned all and sundry who opt for the "be warmed and filled" or the Pollyanna "it's all jolly" mentality in lieu of even the "Gee, that sucks" commiseration or the practical "Here, let me help" attention that would be, you know, useful and welcome.

Friendship has been a great gift to me these last three, increasingly depressing weeks.  Susan and Stephen invited me out this evening to the Marine Barracks Evening Parade in honor of the Montford Point Marines, which was awesome.  Not anywhere near as well known as the Tuskeegee Airmen, the Montford Point Marines were the first African Americans in the Marine Corps, first recruited in 1942.  I was in tears watching these old fellows, who reminded me so much of Granddaddy, be honored by the current members of the service.  That generation was and is incredible to me--the huge challenges they faced from enemies abroad and opponents to freedom and equal opportunity at home, and how far we've come since then.  And how truly far there is to go, as each generation has to resolve to treat others as we would have them treat us.  Apart from the historical-social aspect, it was just fascinating to watch the precision drill teams in action, and listen to the drum and bugle corps--observing some 200 Marines in picture-perfect formation is an obsessive-compulsive's delight!

Temporary delights or no, it's been a hard month.  I am pretty down and lonely.  I've had some health issues, which never brighten the day.  Work has been spotty, more irregular than usual, and a transcription gig which I had thought might increase my income has had the opposite effect, occupying my time while not plumping my pocketbook.  I haven't been sleeping well, and find myself frequently on the edge of tears, wondering what I am useful for, and when I'll have any stability in income and identifiable accomplishments, when I'll have somebody who will just hold me close and pat me gently on the head.  My outlook is pretty grim for the short term, and I can only pray that something good, or more than one something good, will happen soon, because it's like every couple of days brings a new round of sinking sadness. 

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Opportunity Costs

Happily, Bertram has not cost me a dime thus far.  He came with a carrier, bag of cat litter, litter pan, litter scoop, food dish and bag of kibble.  He's up to date on his shots, his front claws have been removed, and he has been neutered.  He's very sweet and fluffy--one of the softest cats I've ever met--and has only generated a mild allergic reaction in yours truly, which is a good thing, considering he's a Maine Coon, and there is a lot of fur involved.  He won't sit still for the camera, and so the only clear photo I have of him thus far is of his fuzzy posterior and tummy.  He doesn't eat or excrete much, and hasn't yet displayed any bad habits, but then I've only had him since Sunday afternoon, so time will tell.

Bertram is a bright, purry spot on what has been a dismal and depressing fortnight.  I've even had one brief glimpse of the depths of serious, clinical depression which so bedeviled me for decades (same old themes of OCD thought reinvigorated by current headlines and hysteria), but hopefully that was a one-of moment.  There've been unexpected expenses on the auto front: a flat tire (cost $25 and two plugs to fix) and a plugged emissions-control pipe ($340 to root out and replace), and then there is the almost-inevitable resignation from my graduate school program.

The latter has been a source of much heartache.  I've wanted to get my Ph.D. for as long as I can remember--since I was three, at least.  But taking out a loan on a liberal arts advanced degree is ridiculous in ordinary times, and in a day and age when countries are crying havoc and loosing the dogs of Wall Street, it's downright stupid.  A Russian History Ph.D. in these post-Cold War days is no guarantee of employment--in fact, it's little more than a "vanity"--a considerable bolster to my intellect and psyche, perhaps, but without any direct financial recompense in the near or even distant future.  At least two liberal arts Ph.D.s I know are unable to find employment in their fields, and at a tiny college in Pennsylvania a single opening for a faculty position in the same attracted over 150 applicants--typical, from my observations at Georgetown.  Trying to explain this fact to well-meaning people with "practical" degrees (finance, medicine, computer science) gives me a headache--additionally that I already owe my mother money I don't have a hope of paying off in any reasonable time (she's assured me that she'll take it out of me in elder care, and, failing that, it'll be deducted from my share of her estate), and can't take on any more debt, no matter how glamorous it would be to have people call me "Dr. P."  As I've repeated a lot lately, "That and 5 bucks will give me a small cup of coffee at Starbucks."

Furthermore, I can't work at all and make any headway on my dissertation--I've tried part-time jobs (I currently have four to make ends meet) and these inevitably swell to full-time.  I suppose it's a personal credit that all my bosses want to monopolize as much of my time as possible, and that two of them have given me raises in the last six months because they are so pleased with my work, but I'm still barely making do and until this last Sunday evening I'd not touched my dissertation research for more than 6 weeks.  And I haven't been frittering my time away watching TV, either--I hadn't turned my set on in that time period.  There's been no spare time--I work late, get home late, eat late, hit the gym between ten and eleven, and come home to shower and go to bed. 

So, I did some number crunching, to see what it would take for me to start and finish (insofar as it depends on me) my dissertation writing in a year.  Particularly as so many people have acted like it's a moral failing for me to quit "When you're almost done!"  (Like writing 400+ pages of text on sources you've gathered but haven't had time yet to read is "almost done"...)  A dear pastor from my church even called last night to tell me he thought I should keep going.  Well, let's see if someone wants to give me the money to make this possible!  (It has to be a gift, not a loan, because as aforementioned, this doctorate is an intellectual enrichment exercise, not a financial coup de gras)...   I could do it in a year, so: My rent is $1345 per month, including utilities, excepting electricity, which averages $55 per month (more in summer, less in winter).  That's $16,800 for a year.  My other expenses, including gas (!), food, and photocopying (or book-buying), besides the mentally-and-physically-necessary gym membership, run about $800 a month.  That's another $9600.  Then there's Georgetown tuition and health insurance: $4750 (that's just for thesis-writing credit, one semester of tuition and a whole year of health insurance): so far, we're up to $31,150.  Assuming that my gas expenses go down because I'm not driving to work every day, and that I can stay with friends/acquaintances in Ukraine and Russia for the one trip to archives/museums I need to make to each country to satisfy a prospective dissertation committee, I think I can accomplish the whole for $32,000. 

This is what I emailed the pastor, at least.  But I also told him that I thought that in these "uncertain" economic times (Gosh, that's an irritating phrase!) the deacons probably had a better use for their charity fund than financing my frivolous education. 

It's really disappointing, though, to be almost (well, with the serious caveat of all that research and writing to be done) within sight of this terminal degree, and have to toss in the towel.  But, there it is, as Daddy liked to say.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Quick Update

Went down for a "short nap" yesterday at 5 PM and woke up this morning at 9 AM...guess I was a little fatigued. 

Saw "Captain America" this evening with a girl I met at a party on Friday (along with an Extremely Cute Russian guy from Moscow...he didn't seem to be impressed by my new Hermes perfume, which my scent-savvy coworker (the bestower of this fine elixir) told me was "catnip for men"...nor did the new haircut or the strapless dress garner much male attention...).

Working a lot--my AC bill was $95.95 for last month, and that's with being gone for a week!!--and still trying to straighten up my tornado-hit-it apartment in the evenings.

Dealing with deep-rooted bitterness, long-cherished and semi-suppressed, that's bubbling over in tears lately.  Pointed sermon on the subject this morning at church, which Mr. B (who spent last weekend in the hospital, recovering from a mild stroke) attended with me.

Nominated my friend and co-translator Irina for an independent scholar award for Slavic area studies research.

Talked with a recently-published author about the TMTF project and cajoled him into critiquing my agent query letter.  It took him six years to get his own work published, but it's rated top-50 young adult adventure fantasy on Amazon.

Made a couple more lamps, but the upcoming estate sale in Bethesda is stuffed full of goodies, so there is no need (or room) to bring any more in.

Still no Bertram (my furry potential roommate)--we were supposed to see if we'd hit it off over a two-week trial period, but his current mistress hasn't called me to set up a date.  And once September rolls around I plan to be gone several weeks, so she'd better contact me soon or wait until the beginning of October.  I really want someone to cuddle up to!

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Swift Return, Belated Post, Timely Dispatch

I was down in Georgia for only two days--I drove down last Tuesday morning (leaving DC about 5 AM), and drove back up here on Friday.  Wednesday, Mums and I traveled to Dublin in time for lunch, and stayed at Grandmommy's until after lunch Thursday.  Body and soul were fed well, and I was grateful to have had even this brief opportunity to spend with my two noble kinswomen, although I was unable to catch up with any friends in the area given the brevity of my stay.  I finished the Tamora Pierce "Protector of the Small" quartet and began a distopian trilogy in my audiobook reading-while-driving--twenty hours in the car allows a good bit of material to be heard.

Saturday was my last day at the Arlington Courthouse Market.  I finally carried through on my resolution to quit after a disappointing day so hot and dull that I fell asleep in my borrowed folding chair for an hour, having sold only one $15 pair of earrings.  Both the Bethesda shop and my estate sale boss want me to work on Saturdays, and why should I haul myself out of bed before dawn to suffer in all weathers outdoors for little or no return when I could be sleeping in and then indoors earning a regular wage?  Besides, the Bethesda store will be sold in September to a fellow jewelry artist, a serious businessperson who knows and likes me, and she plans to have a permanent jewelry display in the store--and has assured me that both Anita's and my work are welcome.  So, my creations will be for sale all week, whether I'm on site or not.  Too, although I'm certainly not giving up the personal jewelry selling entirely (I need to persuade some friends to host shows!), I'm more interested in making lamps and in sewing right now--there's the potential to have a better return on my investment of time and energy in these creative pursuits than in making jewelry right now.  I certainly use many of the skills I've learned from metalworking and beading in lampmaking and sewing, whether it be wiring, drilling, or embellishing.

All this week I've worked at the Bethesda gallery--I'm to be there Friday and Saturday as well, though I'm leaving early tomorrow because Leah and some other friends of hers and I plan to go to dinner and see Harry Potter together--and there've been people met and items encountered that make the experience at once delightful and frustrating.  First the sublime, then the ridiculous.

Yesterday, we had a new consignor, a girl who has just been hired as a professor at Georgetown.  April's lived the last decade abroad, getting her doctorate at Oxford and then teaching at Cambridge.  Her grandfather was one of two Japanese men not interned in California during World War II--his bilingual talents were considered to be of value by the OSS, and so he was spared from the camp confinement to which his wife and the rest of their family was sent.  He also claimed that his uncle would be a useful translator.  This uncle did not speak a word of English at the time, so in the evenings her grandfather would give the man intensive English lessons, which he, being a dedicated and bright individual, picked up quickly.  I asked April if she herself spoke Japanese, but she didn't--although her aunt (younger than her late father) is fluent, her father (having been born immediately after the war, when the political climate was unfavorable) was not taught the language by his parents, and so she had determined to study it in college.  But her father recommended that she take up Chinese, with which she fell in love, and she never made it to learning Japanese, instead concentrating on Mandarin.  She was over on the mainland during the Falun Gong "uprising" and was out on the corner of a park one morning, practicing her reading comprehension by puzzling out an anti-FG government poster.  A little old man came up to her and said, simply, "We will be back."  She nodded at him pleasantly, continuing to read the poster.  The fellow headed across the park.  A minute later, a van screeched to a halt, officials with guns burst out the back, picked up the man and threw him into the back of the van, slammed the doors and roared off.  April said that she just stood there, stunned--it had all happened in the blink of an eye, and though you always fantasize about doing something to respond to such an event, when it occurred she was helpless.  At that point, she decided that she couldn't handle living and teaching in China.

As delightful as it was to meet April and hear of her adventures abroad, it was a trial and a tribulation to deal with Donna, one of the "grand dames" of Georgetown, whom I first encountered some three weeks ago, when I was hard at work on the ginormous estate sale we were setting up in the District.  She contacted my boss to ask her if she might consign silver with us, which proposal we welcomed.  She also said that she had a Degas (of a ballet dancer, no less) that she wanted to sell, which of course prompted visions of greenbacks (if not of Sugarplum Fairies) to dance in our heads.  She wanted an inventory made of the silver before it left her house--an entirely reasonable request.  My boss asked me to come along to see the artwork and to type up the silver list. 

The first dramatic disappointment was the "Degas"--the only thing it had in common with the French Impressionist's work was that it was an oil painting, but there the similarities ended.  The picture wasn't worth more than $150, certainly not the millions of dollars of which we had dreamed.  And its framed siblings were more or less dreck, notwithstanding their alleged aristocratic pedigrees.  Our hopes in the art regard flatter than a pointe slipper toe, we repaired downstairs to paw through the boxful of plata

There was only one working light in the basement, and nowhere to sit.  I ended up on the floor with my computer, typing up silver descriptions for three full hours.  Donna had told my boss that the "du Ponts gave me this for my wedding", "the Vanderbilts" that, and so forth.  OK, OK, so you and your parents had monied/influential connections.  Donna stopped by for five minutes while we were sorting silver--she was all bleached blonde and wearing a suit worth more than a Third World family's annual income.  Smiling, charming, remembered my name from the first introduction.  Terrible problem: she'd locked her keys in her Mercedes when she'd gone to the manicurists, and she was due at X ambassador's house in an hour for dinner!  My longsuffering boss volunteered to drive her.  I spent another hour in the basement finishing the list, and then went home to email it.

Two days later, after we'd gotten all the silver, painstakingly weighed each piece, tagged it and priced it...Donna called us to say that she was picking it up, that her children wanted it.  Didn't offer to reimburse us a dime for the time and energy we'd put into the effort, no apology for violating the contract terms, nothing.  Simply swept in, swept up the silver, and swept out.  Not a word about any of the paintings, which she hadn't consigned after all.  Told us she wanted to put "some really nice antiques" into the sale instead, including a curio and a china cabinet.  My boss, distressed over the loss of the silver, was slightly molified--one of the reasons she'd welcomed this woman's attentions is that she's a "who's who" (I'd never heard of her, but every town has its own local power brokers, and Donna is the Washington variety), who could potentially make referrals to others of the rich and well-connected.  But we also needed a china cabinet for the sale's assorted small valuables, to keep those with sticky fingers from walking away with them. 

The two cabinets arrived, and we were appalled.  Filth like I haven't seen since the hoarder's house.  They were coated in grime, and stank with old mildew.  We put more than an hour into the china cabinet alone cleaning it with every chemical we had on hand.  It was considerably better, but not perfect, when we finally installed it in the dining room and filled it with do-dads.  The light mounted inside was a definite fire hazard, so I illuminated the contents with a floor lamp.  The curio cabinet, which was missing its glass shelves, we stuck way up in an attic bedroom, where it could cook out its noxious fumes in front of a sunny window without bringing down the tone of the rest of the sale.  We did end up selling both pieces, not for thousands (as their misguided mistress had claimed they were worth), but for hundreds. 

Although there was only one "leftover" from the Georgetown sale that Donna owned, she got the name of the Bethesda gallery from my boss and decided to send it with more of her dilapidated furniture there.  When I arrived on Monday, there were an odd number of beat-up chairs (a celebrity had apparently once rested her bum in one, and Donna thought that lent value to the dumpster-ready piece), a small dirty bed frame, and a two-part dining-room cabinet with one drawer akimbo sitting in our back room.  Unsaleable shit, in other words, not mincing about.  The chairs and bed could not be resurrected--they needed to go directly to donation, where some thrifty person might bare their bones and remake them beautiful.  The cabinet had pretty lines, but like its fellows it was so incredibly dirty that it was hard to tell the diamond from the dung.  Then we found, as the day progressed, that all of my coworkers and I had developed runny noses, scratchy throats, sneezing.  The cabinet was full of mold.  No one had the time or protective gear to clean it.  But what sealed its fate for me was its mechanical failure--the stuck drawer.  We told our boss she had to call Donna, tell her this was unbearable and send the crap away ASAP.

Donna is not someone used to being denied her whims.  Just as she'd let us know that she knew everyone worth knowing, and she'd mentioned that she had X and Y expensive/exclusive possessions and privileges, she rode Manolo-shod over my boss, browbeating her into being less than forceful about the need to clear the air at the store.  Donna has a gift of charisma, of making her listeners want to please, and this character trait is only enhanced by her possession, or appearance of possession, of temporal power, and with it the implicit threat that she could ruin a public-dependent small enterprise's reputation among her affluent and influential network of friends and acquaintances.  So when my boss told me yesterday morning that she didn't have a definitive "go ahead" from Donna for the donation (the pickup for which I'd already scheduled), I was not happy, and said as much.  "Why don't you call and talk to her?" suggested my boss, more than happy to give me the task of dealing with this peroxided powerbroker.

So I did.  Donna tried to get me to keep the stuff--she said each of my bosses--the estate sale woman and the store owner--had been understanding, that a little cleaning (Hah!) and sandpaper were all that was needed (where did she think I would do all this repair work?!), that they were worth a lot of money ("Horse puckey!" I thought)...  I stuck to my guns, told her I would consider working on the china cabinet, but that the other items must go immediately--they were health hazards.  That I was so sorry that her storage company had not treated her possessions properly, etc.  After I hung up, I looked over the cabinet again, and managed to get the drawer pushed in, after much effort.  And then I couldn't get it open again, and the nasty germs infesting the thing were making me sick.  So I decided it, too, must go into the tumbrel.  Due diligence had been satisfied. 

Within an hour after the donation people (a mental illness charity) had hauled out the offensive objects, our allergies subsided, another proof that we'd made the right decision.  But I have OCD, and worrying comes naturally and repetitively--what if this Donna person decided to make life miserable for me, or for either of my employers???   Prayed for relief from the fear of (wo)man--I'm already a pleaser by nature, and although there was certainly ample justification for my insistence on removing this woman's stuff from the floor, and I know from my non-stuffed nose to my toes that I did the right thing, my estate sale boss in particular communicated to me her discomfort at my making this woman to do something she didn't want.  But Donna is not God, and for that, I am grateful.  I am certainly no Daniel, either, just a pigheaded plebe who hates to be forced to breathe filth.

C'est ma vie, aujourdhui!

Monday, July 11, 2011

Still in Virginia

I'm too tired to drive to Georgia yet, but I hope I'll be sufficiently rested to make the whole trip tomorrow.  My father's elder brother is in the hospital with chest pain (he's had several heart attacks before) so we are all concerned and would appreciate prayer for his full recovery.  I don't want to have to face another family funeral. 

Sale Over

I told Dex in an email before I went to bed about five hours ago that not only do I feel like physical tortilla, I'm pretty much spiritual flatbread, too.  I missed church today to work almost nine hours at what probably will have been our largest estate sale of the year.  It was the fourteenth straight day I'd worked on this particular project, with hours spent in the evenings typing away on my computer on behalf of two other part-time jobs.  I will be able to pay my rent next month, but I'm in desperate need of decent rest--and I can't sleep!  This is the third time I've woken up since lying down in exhaustion, and I'm trying to make decent use of the minutes my brain is unsettled--particularly since I simply haven't had a spare moment to blog in almost three weeks! 

I am supposed to drive half-way to Georgia tomorrow (later today) after a surprise birthday party for a coworker in Bethesda at noon.  I need to be out of town both to escape employment demands on my "free" time (otherwise one of my multiple bosses calls to beg me to help them) and to spend some needed relational days with family.  I want to sit down and talk to Grandmommy about things that really matter, help her with any tasks that I might be better equipped than she to handle (such as ladder-climbing to change ceiling lightbulbs and such) and to be basically reminded about what is Real, rather than the amorphous "spirituality" cheerfully and enthusiastically embraced by a couple of my otherwise delightful new coworkers.

I went out to eat with said coworkers this evening.  We'd been talking about sharing a pitcher of margarita for a week, and at last, when the final customer had been served and shooed out of the house, the front door to the two-hundred-year-old house secured with an enormous and ancient brass key (it looked more like an ornamental paperweight than a real tool for locks) at six, and we'd sat down in the paneled drawing room for a brief post-sale chat with our wonderful, indefatigable boss, Nancy--the first proper sit-down any of us had had all day--we set to meet on Wisconsin Avenue at a good Mexican restaurant for dinner and our drink. 

One of the ladies, Emily, is a long-time estate-sale customer and former "perfume sniper" at a posh department store--she contacted Nancy after the cosmetics trade became tedious and asked if she needed any assistance--and the other, Mary, is a friend of Nancy's from her evening "prayer group" (a focused meditation class).  They both fit perfectly into our gynocracy, being neat and honest to an equally obsessive degree, good humored and energetic.  They also hit it off instantly, finding all sorts of commonalities, from favorite colors to places both had been (Holland in the early 1970s, for instance), over chips and salsa, they realized that they are both Catholics by upbringing, though Emily only goes to mass occasionally because she doesn't agree with her priest's insistence on Christianity's exclusive validity, and Mary is a professional mystic.  Her official title is "spiritual counselor"--I asked her what that means, and she explained that she teaches people how to incorporate the spiritual practices to which they feel most drawn into their lives in order to grow closer to the god (unspecified) of their choice--Allah, the divine love, whatever. Emily chimed in that she believes "there are many paths to the same goal." Well, so do I, but I think that the goals we have in mind are diametrically opposed to one another.

Had no clue to go about speaking to them in comprehensible ways about the many problems with their thinking. It's like socking a tar baby or squeezing one of those annoyingly unpoppable "stress balls"--the original thinking is so mushy that its unmanageable.  So, I kept trying to change the subject to "safe" topics like what they'd majored in in college, etc. They kept talking about how they'd known one another in past lives (the spiritual counselor thinks she may be the reincarnation of Isadora Duncan, the modernist dancer who was killed when her long flowing neck scarf got caught in the wheel of the convertible in which she was riding).  Electronic devices have turned on to give her peculiar messages over the years, from comforting phrases for a friend whose mother had just committed suicide to clues about her previous incarnations.  Oh, my.  She's also an ordained minister and can perform weddings in any of the fifty states.  I kept thinking about my late Grandmother.  A very dynamic and enthusiastic woman, full of vital energy and a sense of karmic mission.  How do you go about addressing the eternally consequential serious errors of such a sweetly, deliberately vague person?

I think the estate sale was a success.  I managed to move tons of furniture and household goods up and down three flights of stairs without injuring myself, the furniture, or anyone else (I was the "designated schlepper" for the sale).  We sold three-quarters of the mansion library, including a book by one of the American Founding Fathers (published during his lifetime) for $3000.  There were a few rotten apples among the more than a thousand customers who came into the house from the Thursday night invitation-only preview reception through the last hours of the discount day today; most people were cordial, simply happy to get a chance to tour the impressive mansion and three acres of meticulously maintained gardens.  I sold most of the items I was permitted to consign (lamps for the darker rooms, dishes to "plump" kitchens denuded after two days of locust-like visits by customers), which means that my own living room, for three weeks a frightenly hoarder-like area, is resuming its former neat aspect.  That is, the chairs and sofa are beginning to emerge from underneath the piles of paper, boxes, plates, and other materials which had hid them, though there are still numerous lamp parts stacked on the floor and coffee table and pieces of patchwork tote bags draped everywhere.  And, of course, the carpet in my jewelry-making room is still covered wall-to-wall with beads!  But must rest--the sun is peeking between the cracks in my window blinds and I have miles to go on little sleep.

Rare Books and Retail--An Unfinished Post

I've spent several of the last week's days in the library at the huge estate whose sale we're preparing in Georgetown.  Supposedly, a big auction house in New York had come and taken the cream of the collection, but I have found enough gleanings left that if we sell only a quarter of what's available, my own salary and that of all of my colleagues will be paid just from the company's 30% take.  For example, we've got a 1820 3rd edition of Washington Irving's tales, published in London under the pseudonym Geoffrey Crayon.  It's in lovely shape.  On ABE, the cheapest version of this book is $1750, plus shipping, and prices ascend steeply from that point.  So, I priced our copy at $1250, which I think is fair.  There are dozens of other nice editions--a 1796 reprint of the Wealth of Nations (originally issued in 1776, one of the few book-publication dates I know offhand), a compilation of Benjamin Franklin's writings, issued during his lifetime by one of his friends (I recognized the publisher, but his name escapes me at the moment).  The oldest book we've discovered is from 16-something.  It's been a crash course in re-familiarizing myself with Roman numerals, as many, if not most, books before about 1930 were dated that way, if they were dated at all.  And not only are the books themselves treasures, previous readers tucked odd items between their pages--an old (early 19th-century) door key, a telegram from a major New York paper asking the multi-millionaire former owner about another multi-millionaire's (duPont's) purchase of a castle in Europe, an 1890s newspaper clipping of a letter to the editor about China...

Everyone in retail has theories about how people behave--selling is not only about the merchandise's immutable qualities, but also about the environment in which it is presented, and, of course, in the times where you and your fellows stand around "bowling turkeys" (being bored out of your mind because customers are as rare as hen's teeth), the relationships you have within the sales force. I thought it was just the Arlington Marketers who blamed poor sales on every meteorological phenomenon (and its polar opposite), the time of day, the news, the calendar, and so forth. It turns out, talking to Lori, a woman with 30+ years experience in upper-tier store sales, including a decade or so on Fifth Avenue, that the brick front retailers have as many kooky notions about what causes people to buy or not to buy as us tent-top vendors. The problem is that people are predictably unpredictable in their shopping habits, when pouring rain can see shoppers forking over massive sums, and perfect sunny weather can keep people away from the cash registers in droves.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Strawberries, Horses, Rabbits and Vampires

Rita was so deeply engrossed in a chapter of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s On the Banks of Plum Creek that I don’t think she really registered that Mums and I were leaving.  Her mom had told her we were going home, to get up and tell us goodbye, which she did dutifully but automatically, with the distracted look in her eyes of a girl whose mind is elsewhere—in this case, on the American prairie—and in seconds after the hugs and kisses she was back on the couch, effectively deaf to the world.  Exactly as I was when I was only a bit older than she—she’s got a considerable start on her old aunt because she learned to read so early, and I didn’t get to that milestone until first grade.

We played knights and horse for hours several days running.  The first day I made the mistake of trotting on all fours on hardwood with both children (about 75 lbs total of wiggling gleefulness) on my back, and discovered to my chagrin that not only was I much stiffer than I recall being the last time I was the beast of burden for small fry (some twenty years ago), my knees couldn’t stand the punishment.  Bruised and wiser, I decided to take an adult stance and only give piggy-back style horse rides in the grassy backyard to one young relative at a time.  Brad referred to me as “horse” for much of that period, as he was a knight, complete with lance and sword (usually imaginary, sometimes simulated by sticks and other items), and we had to slay dragons and bad monsters and such.  Rita was also a knight, and the two of them almost came to blows over equine access until I instituted a strict 1-2 rotation of riders, with frequent breathers given the horse for water and rest.

We ate lots of pretend food, and bedded down on the picnic table, and played “drums” on the moss underneath the tree in the southern corner of the yard.  Brad and Rita both decided that their knightly pets (all knights have pets, I was told) lived in the tree.  “What sort of pets do you have?” I asked.  “Doggies and monsters!” responded Brad.  “Vampires and bunnies,” said Rita.  “Not vampire bunnies?” I wanted to know.  “No,” she said.  Anxious to expand her reading list, I started to describe the plot of Debra and James Howe’s Bunnicula: A Rabbit-Tale of Mystery.  Rita looked at me pityingly.  “Oh, I know that,” she said, with the assured air of someone who has already read the books in question.  It’s a bit humbling to be literarily outpaced by a six-year-old.

Later, three-year-old Brad wanted to show off his real pet, his “little rabbit” as he called Fahrenheit, who is really, truly a jumbo bunny.  This rescued herbivore’s been moved to a hutch outdoors (the space he formerly occupied indoors is now an aviary for a flock of 6 parakeets), and every day one of the adults fetches him out of this confinement and puts him into a movable playpen in the backyard, where he can munch clover to his furry heart’s content, eat what delicacies the children bring him, and lie in the shade of a plastic picnic table.  That bunny has it made.

Here’s a shot of the movable enclosure.  Rita is lying on one bench and Brad the other, while they harass Fahrenheit, who is resting under the table.


A boy and his “little” bunny on the swing.












Brad has the “poor little puppy” look down pat— those liquid milk chocolate spaniel eyes are hard to resist...






...and he knows it, the little stinker.





On Saturday, we went strawberry and pea-picking.  A good time was had by all. 

(We ate the fruits and vegetables of our labor that evening—delicious!  Fahrenheit got the leftover pea pods.)  

Rita with strawberry:

A little ham with his strawberry:


Thanks to the perpetually-tardy U.S. Airways, we made it back safely to Augusta this afternoon, more than two hours late.  I’ve loaded my car, and plan to drive all the way back to DC tomorrow.  But I don’t intend to set my alarm tonight—I need all the sleep I can get.  I’ve been exercising like a fiend these last two weeks; thus far I don’t see a difference in my poorly-stirred tapioca pudding thighs, but I am flat tired.  Must persevere!  I am consoled by my cute new haircut—the shortest and bounciest to date. 

Friday, June 17, 2011

Graduation

My niece and goddaughter Rita graduated from kindergarten this morning.  We were all proud.  The event was held at City Hall, and the class marched in to "Pomp and Circumstance" wearing cobalt-blue caps and gowns (these they had to return at the end of the ceremony for the use of next year's class, but they were allowed to keep their 2011 tassels).  They sang songs, danced, and did a dramatic reading of Maurice Sendak's Chicken Soup with Rice.  Then each student was given a rose and a diploma--the roses were for the moms--and we all watched a photo montage about the graduates and the year's activities.  Then we all went downstairs for cake--my nephew Brad was VERY disappointed that it wasn't cupcakes, but a teacher's aide and I assured him that it was just a difference of shape.  He still managed to spread icing from his chin to his knees and over the cloth seat of one of the City Hall chairs. 

I had given Rita a necklace before we left for the graduation, and after the ceremony her paternal grandmother gave her a teddybear wearing a cap and holding a diploma.  Rita's best friend in the class, a little boy named Minolo (who complimented her on her black-patent shoes), asked his parents, "How come Rita gets gifts at graduation and I don't?"  Ah, equity in loot.  They assured him that he had a gift waiting at home.

Sorry for the quality of the pictures--I'm not a good photographer!


Rita stands acknowledging her guests.


Fixed "picture grin" (I did the same when I was her age) firmly in place after cake and congratulations.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Providence

We met a host of extremely nice people, Mums and I yesterday, during what turned out to be an eventful trip up to my sister’s house in Rhode Island.  For one thing, we never actually made it to her house.  We finally washed up at the hotel where—thank God—we’d made reservations, some seven hours after originally scheduled, almost too tired to make the expected pleasant chit-chat with the night manager at the desk. 

We left home at 11 AM sharp.  A friend from Mums’ church had sweetly volunteered to drive us to the airport, and we encountered no traffic or delays at check-in or security, so we were ready and waiting to board a good hour before they called zones.  I worked on footnoting Prof. Stites’ last book—he’d managed to finish it before succumbing to cancer last year, but instead of using Word or a standard footnoting scheme, he had used some obscure word-processing program and put the notes in-text, at the end of the paragraphs to which they pertained, with a curious system of plus marks to tell readers what part of the narrative to which they referred.  So my current advisor, who is working on prepping the book for press, asked me (given that I was Stites’ last assistant, and aided him in tracking down sources) to fix the formatting.  It’s not a difficult job, just extremely time-consuming, and I’ve been snatching minutes here and there to work on it.
The first unexpectedness in our travel was quite minor—a bit of nausea while on the ground, of all places, in the turbo-prop aircraft while we waited for taxi-clearance to the gate in Charlotte, NC.  The early afternoon sun feathering through the whirling blades produced a rapidly-blinking light-dark pattern in the cabin, and with the vibration and lack of fresh air I felt decidedly uncomfortable. 

With only thirty minutes until our next flight was due to leave, and—by the sacred word of Murphy it HAD to be at the farthest end of a distant concourse from the one where we landed—so we hoofed it in record time, giving ourselves enough leeway so that we could use the restroom, but there was no way we could have scrounged lunch.  They were a few minutes late calling us onto the 737, and when we were all seated, and the flight crew had run through the whole litany of safety information, and we’d pulled back from the gate, the captain announced that a gauge was malfunctioning, and we’d have to get it replaced before proceeding to Providence.  Fifteen minutes, they said.  I fell into conversation with my seatmate, a bubbly young woman from Alabama who was going to Rhode Island at the invitation, and on the dime, of a national drugstore chain, who had seen her coupon-savings blog (over 200,000 visits last month alone) and asked her, and a handful of other bloggers, up to corporate headquarters for a tour and powwow.  I’m adding her site, couponingtodisney.com, to my blogroll.  So, I wasn’t fretful at the time spent fixing—or as we soon found out, vainly attempting to fix, the errant gauge. 
Eventually, our plane was returned to the gate, and the pilot announced that it would be a while, and anyone who wanted to de-plane might do so, just “stay in the boarding area so you can hear announcements.”  Mums and I got our carry-ons and got off.  It took more than three hours to fix the problem, but as we were not within hailing distance of a fast-food joint, and couldn’t go farther afield because of the risk of missing the plane—no one knew when it might be ready to go—we had to make do with the nutrition bars that Mums had prudently packed in her capacious purse.  Cuisine it was not.

We got to Providence late—it was just a few minutes before 8 when we completed the paperwork for the rental car and walked out to the lot.  Although it’s the airport for a state capital, T. F. Greene Airport is only just a little bigger than petite Augusta-Bush Field, and like it, pretty much closes up shop at 7 PM.  The lady at Avis was very nice, but I think we were her last customers for the evening, and she’d been awaiting our arrival for some time.
We pulled out of the parking garage, drove a quarter of a mile down a side street, and got on I-95.  And immediately the left rear tire went flat.  Not mildly flat, but catastrophically flat—the rim was bent 45 degrees.  God’s grace we made it to the shoulder safely.  Mums was completely freaked—we were both tired, we were hungry, we’d just declined the exorbitantly-priced catastrophic-event plans offered by Avis, and here we were, less than a mile from the airport, and hadn’t hit anything, and boom, we were stuck on the side of the road in the twilight, cars racing past.

A Rhode Island state trooper pulled up, ruby lights flashing, behind us ten minutes later, while Mums was still struggling to get through to the Avis people (they say local numbers are on their rental agreement, but there was no such thing, so she ended up talking to the national emergency hotline).  I got out, explained what had happened.  He was so nice, and offered to call AAA for me, saying that he could speed up the process.  Ten minutes after he'd roared off down the interstate, the AAA tow truck showed up.  Mums had emptied the trunk of the rental, and the AAA guy opened the hatch where the spare should have been.  There was no spare, just a pitiful patch kit—totally useless in this case.  And in its state, the car couldn't be simply towed.“I’m gonna call a flatbed,” he told us. 

The flatbed pulled up five minutes later—turns out the man who drives it lives at the exit where we’d gotten on.  Then, just minutes after that, a THIRD AAA truck showed up—I think he just stopped by to see what the fuss was about.  It was like the cavalry had arrived.  All three men were very jovial—it was kind of like being at a backyard barbeque rather than being stuck on the side of a highway with a disabled vehicle.  Finally, the Avis guy appeared—he’d been rousted from his coffee break by the local staff at the airport rental office saying “some woman had a flat and is having hysterics on the connector.” 

One of the AAA guys and the Avis fellow recognized each other as familiar and both went through their previous employment history to discover that they both used to work at the same place.  It was like old home week.  We left everything in the AAA trio’s capable hands, the Avis guy drove us back to the airport and we picked up another rental. 

Wanting a sit-down dinner (sometimes you just need a little pampering), we drove across the street to a tavern, where a small crowd of enthusiastic patrons were clustered around the bar watching the Bruins/Canucks Stanley Cup final game.  I asked our waiter who was winning.  He cheerfully responded “We’re ahead 2-0.”  No need to dispute the “we.”  My brother-in-law, who has a framed Bruins jersey signed by Bobby Orr, would have approved.  My mom texted my siblings to give them the update on our adventures and tell them where we were--my brother Bob responded that he, too, would be in a tavern under the circumstances, but he wouldn't be wasting time on solid food.  Believe me, if I hadn't been detailed to drive from the restaurant to the hotel (Mums was still pretty shaken up by the blowout), I would have indulged.

We got to our hotel and into bed just before midnight.  I don’t know when I’ve been as exhausted by a day of traveling, but at least in the short term it had a happy ending!