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.