Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Key Lime Pie (or) Ear Cleaning, Pole Dancing, and 90 Miles to Havana

Miami is a whole lot taller that I thought it would be.  There are almost as many skyscrapers along the thumbtip of Florida as there are in Atlanta, and none are as good-looking.  How a city with so many short, gaily-colored buildings can have sprouted so many high, homely ones is a mystery.

I picked up Susan and Isabelle at the Fort Lauderdale airport in the early afternoon, and we drove into Miami for lunch. The back of the parking slip I printed from the meter-machine was a $5 coupon for pole-dancing lessons.  We selected an Italian deli just off Miami Beach, and ate our panini on a bench underneath the palm trees.  While waiting for our sandwiches, we'd looked over advertisements in a rack across from the counter--in addition to a card selling "Classes: For Men and Woman" (only one female per class?) in "pole fitness", "sexy chair" and "art of striptease" there was one for "The Home Grooming Services" which included "Ear Cleaning".  We were speculating on what old guy would order in-home ear-cleaning when we noticed that the next line read "anal gland cleaning" and we pulled out the card to find, to our collective relief, the picture of a wet dog.  Still, gross.

I wanted to avoid toll roads, having spent $8.50 crossing Florida on Monday, so we continued south down US1 in rush-hour traffic.  In one area (where I suspect German tourists had met their end back in the 80s) we passed a guy holding one of those large advertising signs for a local business: "Guns and Ammo: Largest Selection!"  There were several importunate panhandlers at stoplights, but this was not unfamiliar to DC residents.  Frankly, Miami seemed appallingly tame after all the news stories of cannibals and other crime, not to mention crazy drivers and other local peculiarities much favored by the town's resident writers.  But, again, it is possible that a denizen of our nation's capital is simply a jaundiced observer, being used to the insanity that passes for normalcy in and around the District.  There are fewer crabs in Virginia, though.

Once I finally got tired of encountering a red light every two minutes, I was prevailed upon to use the tollway.  Apparently the State of Florida is going to mail my poor mother a bill for $1.50 (plus administrative expenses) for the privelege. 

Soon we were back on US1, driving into the Keys.  I think crabs are the squirrels of South Florida.  They dash crazily into the road, and you have as good a chance of missing them as hitting them if you continue on your way unpreturbed as if you swerve.  They skitter this way and that, and for the most part avoid being crushed, but I am afraid that I heard two smash under my tires as I made my way down the two-lane track to Hemingwayland.  Sad, really--two dinner's worth of meat wasted. 

I did manage to spare the endangered Key Deer that were grazing along the road. 

It's a long way from Miami to Key West--well over two hours.  As the signs reminded us, the last island in the American chain is closer to Cuba than to the mainland.  We passed over a lot of Caribbean-blue expanses of seawater on our odyssey, and arrived here at the Sheraton Suites just as the sun was going down.  With our two other friends, Dani and Helen, who'd arrived early via direct flights into Key West International Airport (I guess a single engine flight from the Bahamas does make it "international", though I suspect all of customs and immigration is contained in a single employee), we went out for Cuban cuisine at this great little place on Truman Avenue (the former president had a "little White House" here).  We all shared a single, deliciously cold slice of the local famous dessert, then boxed our leftovers and continued on to Duval Street, where we parked and walked to a bar where there was (very good) live music outdoors.  I took one sip of my margarita and knocked the whole glass into my lap. This being summertime in Florida, I dried out pretty quickly, but I was sticky everywhere, from elbows to ankles.  Having already wasted enough money at the place, I was not interested in emulating the peculiar example of thousands of the establishments previous customers, who'd written notes on one-dollar bills and stapled them to the walls, ceilings, and decor of the bar.  The inside and out was literally papered in money.  All defaced, to one degree or another.  US currency, all singles, but an incredible accumulation.  I wondered what patrons from other countries thought when seeing this.  I could have paid several months' rent with the stuff.

When the band shut down at 11.30, we drove to the local AIDS memorial.  Key West has been a gay mecca for years (many establishments which previously catered exclusively to homosexual clientele are now more hetero-friendly, acording to the guidebooks).  Dani works in HIV-prevention, so she was interested in looking over the display.  It was appalling how many names were carved into the black granite, even given the thirty years since the recognized onset of this disease.  There was a quote from Khalil Gibran and Tennyson.  Nobody does sorrow quite like ol' Alfred.  Dozens of stars were visible overhead, but it is clearly a different sky here in the tropics than up north. 

I am still frustrated in my attempts to seize one of the innumerable small, but fiesty lizards that race around the steps and foliage by the hotel.  I suspect that the Hemingway (polydactal) cats hereabouts may enjoy better success.  Tomorrow we snorkel.  Susan plans to visit the Naval Base commissary so we can keep some provisioning costs to a minimum.  There is also a lovely pool here, and we are right across the street from the beach.  Bad weather is not anticipated until Friday, and I suspect even then we'll find plenty to amuse us.

Monday, June 25, 2012

June So Far

Lessee…highs and lows of the last three weeks. 

Three consecutive weekends of estate sales, with four days to set up each intervening week (given that each sale ran Friday through Sunday, we had to start at a sprint each Monday).  Somehow, we got it done.  We have an amazing team.  One week (when I spent two nights sleeping in the guest room of my bosses house with my Brazilian coworker—Bob texted me “Do you still live here?” after even the evidence of my passage through my apartment in the form of a daily empty glass in the sink failed to appear) I racked up 70 hours of paid time.  And I still managed to make it (with Bob) to a girlfriend’s house party one evening the weekend of the final sale.   But there was no other socializing, and no exercise, and spiritual comfort was minimal, as I rushed from the early service each Sunday to the location of that week’s sale, to manage the table of valuables (including a pair of $10,000 Chopard watches, which I regret to say did not sell, though a lot of other nice baubles did). 
My AC in my car quit working on Wednesday, the hottest, stuffiest day of the year so far in DC.  Of course that was the day that I was moving fourteen boxes of books from Potomac, MD, to an auction house in VA.
Blind exhaustion, or more properly, dizzy exhaustion, hit this Thursday, the day I was supposed to drive down to GA (stewing in my own juices, thanks to the kaput AC) to give myself time to do my laundry and still get to the site in Dallas, GA, where my cousin’s wedding rehearsal dinner was being held on Friday.  I simply couldn’t focus my eyes, and had difficulty walking around my apartment.  I knew I had no business operating a motor vehicle.  So I went back to bed.  And slept for almost 36 hours straight (except for a total of 45 minutes for rehydration after a couple of bathroom breaks).  I felt rather refreshed Friday at noon, but knew short of teleportation I couldn’t get to the rehearsal dinner that evening.  As it was, it took two hours to get twenty miles out of DC that afternoon—I didn’t get to my mother’s house until 3 AM. 
I pulled up to the old plantation house where the wedding and reception were being held an hour and a half before the Saturday evening event.  I’d sweated all the way there, and my t-shirt was soaked through in large sweat-patches.  I hadn’t even bothered to put on makeup, as I knew it would have just run off in the three and a half hours it took from Augusta to Dallas (before this wedding, I had no idea a Dallas, GA, even existed), and so I looked like some crazy bag lady as I hopped out of my car among the exquisitely-attired wedding guests and trudged inside to freshen up and change.  It’s wonderful what new linen, a layer of foundation and powder and a little lipstick will do.  

The wedding was in the apple orchard behind the house.  Though by 6.30 it had cooled down somewhat, it was still hot as Hades out there, and within minutes, everyone, beautiful clothes or not, was as sweaty and sticky as I had been before my quick-change earlier in the ladies’.  Occasionally, one of the hard little green apples would fall off onto one of the guests, to general amusement.  It was beautiful, though.  The bride was lovely, the groom handsome, the service short, and the photographer surreptitious.  There was some brief heat exhaustion among auxiliary members of the bridal party during the post-ceremony picture-taking, but fortunately the house was air-conditioned, and there was cold water and lemonade easy to hand.   Grandmommy, Mums and I sat together at the reception, but we left early (9?) because the music was loud, we were tired, and Grandmommy had forgotten the remote control for her hearing aid and so couldn’t adjust for the background noise.  And none of us are as young as we used to be!  I would have loved to have seen the send-off of the new couple, though—I was told everyone lit sparklers and waved them to the antique car in which they drove away into the dark.  I had had my own view of “sparklers” on the way back to the bed and breakfast where we groom’s family members were staying: hundreds of fireflies, whose little fluorescent flashes made the night woods look like they were twinkling magically.
I made arrangements to visit my other cousins in Colorado come September.  They promise they’ll try to have a batch of foster kittens for me to play with while I’m there.
Sunday, having absconded with Mum’s Toyota Highlander, I drove Grandmommy to my aunt’s house in Macon, while my long-suffering mother ferried my car back to Augusta for repair.  She said the AC worked fine for her the whole way back.  I told her it was a blessed (and temporary) respite.

Grandmommy and I went with my aunt and uncle to their church Sunday night.  Their music minister was giving a farewell concert, as he and his family have been called to a church in Alaska.  We all got to sing along with the choir and the band.  It was so loud my heartstrings vibrated.  I love to sing!  Just as I had thought of Granddaddy throughout the wedding festivities, I thought of Daddy throughout the church service—their absence was acutely felt, as Granddaddy was the primary father-figure for my cousin for much of his youth, and they were very close, and Daddy loved worship music, and would have had a ball at the service.  I spent most of the evening afterward talking to my aunt and uncle, which was refreshing--they are true encouragers.
This morning, after I’d accepted traveling-packages of my aunt’s blueberry muffins and Grandmommy’s tea cakes, I started for Florida.  What should have been a seven-hour trip took ten as tropical storms were moving across the state and I stopped twice to wait out torrential rain at antique malls (hardly onerous spots to stop).  I now have several more lamps and lamp parts for re-wiring and selling up in DC.

Tonight I’m staying with Susan’s aunt and uncle in Vero Beach, FL.  They are only a block from the Atlantic’s sandy shore, but I arrived too late for a stroll.  Perhaps tomorrow, before I drive to Fort Lauderdale to pick up Susan and another friend of ours, I will get the opportunity to see the sea.  And then it’s on to Key West, and the Hemingway cats…  Now, if I could just magically lose 20 lbs before I have to put on my bathing suit!

Saturday, June 09, 2012

Bob's First Fortnight

Bedeviled by network bureaucracy, forced to use the reeking portable latrines deposited at the end of the Reagan Airport runway (ripe targets for some accidental plane engine backdraft), carted by his sister to the rare and random social engagements that I can squeeze into my overstuffed and underfunded calendar, Bob’s first two weeks chez KYP have been eventful, if not enjoyable.  He arrived just as my colleagues and I were beginning the first of three successive one-week sprints to set up back to back to back estate sales in Maryland.  Usually we have two weeks to organize and price a house—for each of these sales (the second of which concludes tomorrow) we’ve had four days.  Our schedule just had to accommodate them, and I’ve been getting home around midnight, or past it, in consequence.  Thank God we’ve got a good team—we’ve all pulled together and put the sales together with our usual professionalism, and this weekend in particular has been lovely.  So lovely, in fact, that I decided this afternoon to take advantage of the homeowner’s offer that we might use the crystalline back yard pool.  I brought my purple bathing suit to work with me and after the last lingering customer had been shooed through the front door at 4:15, I whipped into the back bathroom and slipped it on.  I dove off the board.  And dog-paddled shivering to the shallow end, having decided that the water was just too cold for enjoyment.  I got the better part of the damp off with a handful of paper towels, and immediately returned to my regular wear.  The whole experiment had taken less than ten minutes, and it wasn’t until I walked barefoot into the foyer, wringing the water from my hair, that my boss, who had been tickled to learn I was planning to swim, realized that I had already finished the experiment.  Tomorrow we start work on House #3.  I hope it will be as low-stress and high quality as this one has been.  But sans the shoplifting problems—we had an Asian woman tuck a $265 ivory cameo, framed in tortoiseshell, into her bag, and we were only able to identify the culprit and recover the merchandise thanks to the good offices of another customer, who pointed her out.  And five cast-iron urns were nicked from the back garden by someone who broke the lock on the fence we’d placed to make sure customers could only enter and exit through the house.  Honestly.  Do people think that simply because it’s in an estate sale it’s automatically OK to steal?  Or do they do this everywhere?  Bob, the misanthrope, opines that aall humanity is depraved.  I believe in total depravity in the Calvinistic sense of our all being tainted by wickedness, but to such an extent, and manifested in such a light-fingered way?  It’s dreadful.