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Friday, December 25, 2015

Iron Suicide, Cow Migration, Death Notices

What I had initially thought was a dramatic attempt on the part of my iron to attract my long -absent attention turned out to be its final fatal gesture of defiance. It committed suicide by jumping off the top of my washing machine onto the tile laundry room floor. I heard a crash, and discovered it lying on the ground. I did not, however, determine the extent of its injuries until this evening, when I picked it up from the ironing board preparatory to doing several years' worth of postponed pressing, and found that it had split in two. I'm glad I discovered this before plugging it in or attempting to fill it with water, as either or both actions might have yielded disastrous if not deadly results.  I hate ironing. I think this unfortunate appliance sensed my distaste and decided it could no longer bear the situation.

 I drove down to Dublin and back today to fetch Grandmommy up for Christmas. I had originally been slated to drive downyesterday afternoon, but thank God I procrastinated a bit, because an horrific  thunderstorm broke an hour after my schedule departure time, and I would've found myself driving in darkness and downpour. This morning and early afternoon we experienced a blessed--if temporary--respite from the rain, and though there were puddles everywhere (and all the cows in all the fields I passed on my outbound trip were clustered in demoralized clumps in the sodden pastures), I didn't have to turn on my car windshield wipers, though I did have to turn on the air-conditioning! On the way back, just north of Bartow, Grandmommy's and my northward travel was briefly delayed by a large herd of milk cows migrating from one fenced field to another. Four and five abreast, more than a hundred sashayed across the asphalt without being forcably directed – two men on foot wearing knee-high rubber boots stopped auto traffic while the cows deliberately strolled out of one gate and over the road and through another to a field where their midday meal waited in large bins. Grandmommy was seriously impressed--she said she'd never seen such well-behaved cows. None attempted to break away from the herd, but all proceeded in a neat marching column, much like rows of trench-weary soldiers in films from World War I. The road was coated with mud kicked up by hundreds of cloven hooves. Only one cow stayed by itself in the old field – apparently it was feeling antisocial, and did not choose to join the general exodus.

 Speaking of following the herd, a peculiar trend in vehicular stickers has blossomed hereabouts in recent years: the mobile memorial. In large white letters on the tinted rear windows of minivans, SUVs, and trucks, there will be a phrase like "In memory of" or "In memoriam" followed by the name of a beloved person and their birth and death dates. My mother always makes sardonic comments every time she sees these, and remarks that it makes it look as if the person died in the car in question. I don't know if this is a fad throughout the United States or just in the American South. It does not seem to be limited to a particular ethnicity. For years there have been makeshift memorials, fitfully maintained, erected at spots on roads and highways where deadly car accidents took place. And I know a lot of people get tattoos to remember the departed. This automobile embellishment just seems to be a peculiar combination of the two practices, with unintentionally hilarious results, as Mums' deliberate misinterpretation shows.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nasty With A Cold

3 AM. Clinging white knuckled to breath, I curled further and further up on my pillow, as if the final nautilus shape would allow me to inhale and exhale clearly, without the suffocating bands of elastic mucus winding from my sinuses through my esophagus and squeezing my sore throat closed, as they constantly threatened. I hate colds. My eyes are all gummy, with salty crusts drying in my crow's feet. I'm caught between fruitlessly snorting into wads of toilet tissue and swallowing indefinite phlegm. And with each swallow, my throat aches. Thursday, following my mother's advice (read: repeated nagging) I gargled with warm salty water until ready to vomit, so my tonsils don't hurt sharply like they did, but they aren't mended yet.

I'm not sick enough to avoid work (I have a new tutoring student starting this evening), but I can't welcome contact--at my job interview I offered a cordial elbow to the committee instead of a handshake--and when skulking around furniture shops Friday afternoon, closed-mouthed and sniffing, I was appalled at young parents exposing defenseless newborns to such silent lepers as myself.

I'm rather fond of my liver, and so I am trying not to max out on NyQuil, though waking up miserable in the wee hours isn't pleasant. I'm exhausted, but not sleepy. Meantime, I've had the dubious pleasure of catching up on the year's top music videos--if the sounding off of the ultimate Trump weren't sign of apocalypse enough, Justin Bieber at #1 certainly is--as I am too twitchy to read and too tired to get up and create. Or clean. Grandmommy's to come for Christmas and stay in my room (I'll decamp upstairs for the duration), and preparations necessarily entail the moving of mountains of (clean) laundry, vacuuming and other sprucing-up. I don't know what she'll think of the large female nude painting opposite my bed! Maybe I should put it up, as she'll already have to deal with the stained glass window of the bathing lady that is installed over the tub.

Friday, December 18, 2015

At Last!

I have a job. I HAVE A JOB! Gosh, I have been waiting two years to be able to type that. I'm more than a little unsure of the reality, not just because I am still dizzy from a continuing head cold, but also because being called in to interview came right out of the blue, last Thursday. This morning, during the interview itself, I felt befuddled, and the casual, "we like you, you're hired" at the end seemed so inconsequential a conclusion to the blood, toil, tears, and sweat of the preceding 24 months that I still feel like I'm flapping featherless arms on the edge of a precipice. I really am happy, I am just off-kilter.

The work starts January 4, whereupon I will be in training and on probation for about a month before being considered a regular part of the team. Of the many who have wished me well and sent me congratulations via social media, most have asked what I will be doing. I will be working as an editor for an academic publisher in Columbia, SC. I plan to commute from Augusta for the time being, as there may be some opportunities for telework once I am indoctrinated to the routine, and it doesn't make sense to pull up stakes and move unless and until I am assured that the company and I are mutually suited. Even when I did live in Columbia as a grad student, I still would come back here on the weekends, and while I don't relish two hours' daily drive, there are worse treks for employment.

My sweet estate sale boss was one of the first I called to share the bad good news that I wouldn't be returning to DC for the foreseeable future. And Jenny, who found herself a purposeful part of the providential plan that led me to the job opportunity, I messaged immediately--if she hadn't invited me, crutches and all, to the USC campaign banquet, or encouraged me to follow up so quickly on the contacts I made there, this would never have happened. I'm grateful to God, and I certainly pray that I will do a good job.

Social networks are peculiar things, both in how coincidentally close we find ourselves to those who inspire or help us, and how frustratingly far from those individuals we are removed by that tenuous connection. For example, this last weekend, I discovered that my boss's husband had known Martin Luther King, Jr! They both worked on their doctorates at Boston University in the early 1950s under the same professorial advisor. And this same sweet man who has regularly fed me shepherds pies from Wagshal's also spent time in India working with Mother Teresa in her famous hospice, and told me how that short fierce nun impressed him. Sheesh. I had no idea. Though these twentieth century luminaries "be dead and yet speak", they aren't exactly networkable (even the latter's rapid advancement toward Roman sainthood doesn't mean as a miracle worker she can be a reference on a resume), and while one doesn't want to think of--nor ever treat--one's friends as business assets, it does make me wonder how many extant connections with living mortal movers and shakers of the temporal world I have unwittingly overlooked?

Thursday, December 17, 2015

Spoiled

The good news is that neither my mother nor I are displaying signs of senility (at least, not more than usual). The bad news is that no human being had re-set my refrigerator's temperature to 73 in the frozen section and 64 in the cool section--it had done this on its own. Toasty.

I got in at 2:45 AM Wednesday morning from my latest trip to DC, and the house smelled fine when I shuffled inside. Not until I opened the refrigerator to curdled milk, warm vegetables, leaking ice cream cartons and assorted other delectables that I realized all was not right. The mechanism was still humming, but clearly not doing its job. I had to throw away almost everything. The contents weren't rotten to the point of stinking--it'd clearly not been failed for the duration of my absence--but they were rapidly progressing in that direction, all being warmer than room temperature.

Thank God, my mother had bought an extended warranty on the fridge when she moved into the house a little less than five years ago, and it was still good (under the wire with three months to spare). I itemized the things that had died and was told by Lowes that I'd be refunded for the same. The repairman came out this afternoon and was able to find the right part, so my icebox is back online. Not that I've made it as far as the kitchen more than a handful of times since my return--I'm not just tired, I'm sick with a sore throat, and too dizzy to be far from bed.

I posted my experience on Facebook; "You know you're ill when you catch yourself rinsing your hair brush under the tap prior to brushing your teeth with it. Though I suppose if I were more under the weather, I wouldn't have noticed until I'd put toothpaste on the bristles and couldn't get it shoved into my mouth." Somehow, before being confined to my room for the duration, I managed to port all the perished goods over to my mother's garbage bin (I produce so little waste, I don't have home trash service), visit all the consignment shops where I have items, get checks from each, and put up and decorate my newly-acquired artificial Christmas tree. I put off proofing a friend's school application essay until this evening, however, as I knew I wasn't that coherent.

If the United States were a Christmas tree, right now it would be overwhelmed with ribbons of red and white lights. Traffic during the "holiday season" is absolutely horrible. I only managed to crawl 50 miles in the first two hours I was on the road home the other day. Coming down with a cold made the slow trek worse, but not to the point where I was lambasting other drivers like my Serbian coworker, who, as we made our way up to Bowie, MD, on the Beltway this past week, ranted at her fellow immigrants: "You haven't gotten off your goddamn donkey, and here you are getting in a car and becoming a weapon. This is a melting pot of fools!"

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Forty-One

My birthdays are close to outnumbering the American Presidents. 

The big achievement of the day was the safe delivery of the gargantuan mahogany table (the Duncan Phyfe-style behemoth that had been sitting in my garage for a year) to the consignment shop where I have my booth. They have 30 days to sell it – after that point I shall donate it, as I can't bear to have the thing returned to me.  It was not one of my more intelligent garage sale purchases.  I think I'm getting much better in determining what is salable and what is not; that was certainly a "what not to do" learning experience, as it required a large capital outlay and proved awkward to transport. People are far more apt to spring for a piece of jewelry or a wall mirror than for an item that requires a room of its own and a moving van to get it thence. Nowadays I'm not likely to spend six dollars without carefully considering whether the item can be quickly flipped into a profit--a year ago, I was willing and able to spend more on chancy investments. 

My mom bought me a new cordless drill for my birthday. It's the gift that keeps on giving, as all the drilling I've been doing is over at her and John's house, where I've installed a shelf in the laundry room and blinds on every window except in the garage. I considered asking for a grinder, too, but decided I'd wait until the garage is considerably less full of clutter. There are three heavy punching bags, a giant heavy bag hanging stand, two (or three) air compressors, three filing cabinets, a tent, two folding tables, seven folding chairs, multiple ladders, and what I was told are kayak racks in there, not to mention all my lamp parts, two rolling tool chests, and assorted small sundries. Some of it is mine, some Mums', some my brother Bob's. Thank God that table is gone, but there are mountains to be moved before anyone can dream of parking a car in there. Not that that will ever happen--I like having a workshop.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Think Like A Fly

I was not dead yet, but I'd definitely heard the buzzing. That stupid fly had invaded my house just prior the the Polish pottery sale I had on Saturday, and  bedeviled my Sunday afternoon nap on the couch, whizzing past my face and disappearing into thin air when I tried to swat it.

There was only one thing to do: go hunting.

Sweaty from my first trip to the gym since mangling my ankle, I stalked the perimeter of my living room, swinging my yellow and black Bug-a-salt shotgun in one hand, muttering, "If I were a fly where would I be? Think like a fly, Think like a fly...".

Then the obvious dawned: Let the fly come to me. I peanut buttered two bananas and settled with them and a glass of milk on the kitchen floor, my salt gun primed, the safety off, next my hand. After a few minutes, having been lured by the aroma of my supper, the fly settled on my left sock, below my ankle brace. I carefully reached over and grasped my weapon. The first volley failed to incapacitate my prey,  so I quickly racked another load of NaCl into the chamber, thumbed off the safety and fired. The six legged beast was brought down. I scooped the little body up in a paper towel and tossed it. Twenty four hours of insect irritation was at an end.

 Monday morning, my Atlanta brother nearly electrocuted himself, after waking up from a dream that he had done exactly that. For some reason, I became fixated on the image that, had he succeeded, his brain would have curdled like a boiled egg inside inside the shell of his skull. Not that it's not half-baked in most of us already! In response to his social media  announcement of his near-death experience, I wrote something brief about his hair already having body enough, needing no more. Nate's current hairstyle reminds me of a windswept monolith in Monument Valley, set high over a set of piercing blue eyes that crinkle around the corners like hard candy in twists of cellophane.

 For some reason--perhaps the approaching holidays--I've been thinking a lot about my father and grandfather lately, and missing them. Another factor in my sentimental reflection may be that my brother Bob had left a pile of discarded dress shirts and trousers in the corner of my guest bedroom. I had asked him what he wanted me to do with them, and he said I could consign them or donate them, depending on my preference. I don't know that any were ever owned by my father – I a imagine not – but I recalled the cleanout we did after his funeral, when I took salable shirts and such up to DC. My brothers look a lot like my father in his prime – both are good looking Greek-Irish men with beautiful bone structure and enviable musculature. My girlfriends are always bowled over when they meet them in person, exclaiming in whispers how gorgeous they are, as if I hadn't forewarned them. They should trust my assessments of male pulchritude, even that found in my immediate family.

 Sleep is dragging me inexorably into my pillows!

Friday, November 20, 2015

Security Versus Charity?

American official security—past and present—is at best inconsistent and at worst incompetent.

My individual experience: I flew out of Boston’s Logan Airport five days before September 11, 2001. As I arrived an hour and a half early for my flight, I was put through the nth degree of security checking—even my tape recorder (yes, those were the days!) was taken out of my bag and turned on to see if it worked as it should.  Less than a week later, the same protective organization (if not the same people) unquestioningly let through a squad of sour-faced men carrying box cutters, who drove the planes they hijacked into the Twin Towers.  
 
During World War II, there were numerous plots among fascist-sympathizing German-Americans to aid the Nazis, but I know of not one single instance of a Japanese-American abetting the Empire of the Rising Sun, and as we know (in one of those uncomfortable ironies with which history is replete), it was the ethnic Japanese whom our federal government preemptively interned, while permitting ethnic Germans to continue ordinary life unimpeded. So, origin and ethnicity is not the central determining factor in choosing anti-American extremism.

However, contrary to almost all of my liberal friends, I DO think there is a credible threat of terrorist plants being imported along with the Syrian refugees, simply because doing so would be intelligent strategy on the part of Daesh. One sweet liberal girl I know recently ridiculed this notion as improbable because of the superior financial resources of the terrorist organization. But non-state actors (despite the generally-used IS acronym, the organization isn’t much of an established state, nominal caliph or no) tend to use unconventional means, and over the last twenty or so years, unconventional means have proven the least expected and oftentimes most effective against developed countries. We Americans may have lasers that can immobilize satellites, but we are mostly defenseless against suicide bombers. Why should our enemies bother with high-tech when low tech is so damn easy and goal-oriented? Particularly when you have human vehicles who are willing to self-destruct, “smart weapons” of the American 21st-century computer sort are a superfluous investment. So, is there a possibility of one or more among hundreds of refugees being a would-be bomber? Yes. Though the majority of the men involved in last week’s Paris attacks were born in Europe, at least one of the Paris attackers was disguised as a refugee.

Therefore, it is natural that my conservative friends should be doubtful when assured by our national government—with its habit of straining out gnats and swallowing camels—that protocols are in place to remove risk, and it is also reasonable that they should choose to declare their distrust through the only agency they have, which is to urge their legislators to deny wholesale entry to people of whom a fraction are potentially dangerous. However, I contend that, as evidenced by the Paris example and by the largest terrorist attack on American soil prior to September 11, the greater threat tends to be home-grown, rather than imported. I still see the reasoning behind wanting to illuminate one source of problems, but in this case it meshes uncomfortably with historical American fears of “the other” among immigrants (an attitude, I should point out, which is not unique to Americans, but seems hypocritical given our published pride in being a nation of immigrants). And one should not turn a blind eye to need.

There have been numerous Facebook posts about “aiding the 50,000 homeless American veterans” instead of the Syrian refugees. I am curious as to whence these veterans suddenly sprung, having not heard much of their painful plight before. I don’t say they don’t exist, but I’d like to know how that number was arrived at, and for how long the problem has persisted—just because someone begging on a street corner holds a ragged cardboard sign declaring veteran status does not convince one way or the other. Still, if such are abundant, and because of comparisons to the refugee situation theirs has also come to the fore, are we so incapable nationally that we cannot address both issues simultaneously?
Many of my liberal friends have taken pains to point out the apparent hypocrisy of conservatives, who are publically denying shelter to Middle Eastern displaced persons—just in time for the Christmas season. But in this criticism, they are themselves inconsistent, as they regularly have ridiculed and penalized American Christians for practicing the everyday tenets of faith (from public prayer to positions on social issues), and now scold them for apparent reluctance to pull out all the stops to welcome the poor, tired and hungry. Just on a human level, this expects a level of psychological contortion worthy of the Cirque de Soliel. This social gospel cherry-picking—wanting all the social benefits of Christian self-sacrifice but ignoring the morality incumbent in the message--reminds me of a fete that was held for Mother Teresa back in the (Bill) Clinton administration, during which that little old nun was publically celebrated for her charitable work among the poor but her words about not aborting children were cheerfully ignored by the progressive crowd. Trampling repeatedly on someone’s beliefs and then expecting them to show up cheerfully in full strength with help when you need it is hypocrisy at its finest.

On the other hand, on whom are American Christians really relying for security? On the government, with its abysmal track record, or on God? Are we as guilty, by default, as atheists of thinking that our physical well-being depends on other humans? And since when did Jesus promise that our lives in a lost world would be safe and comfortable?

My conclusion, thus, is this: Christians ought vocally to welcome the refugees, but explicitly as Christians. Not as “nice Americans”, not because of any ideals Emma Lazarus hopefully inscribed on the Statue of Liberty, but as warty with imperfections and cloudy spiritual purity as we are.  We should present the whole package, the rigorous Gospel, none of this watered-down socially-acceptable “seen and not heard” version of modern religious practice. Extreme devotion to a perverted religious idea got these poor folks into this mess, it’s time that profound love for a perfect Savior, who gave his life for both wimps and terrorists, got them (and our countrymen) out of it.

Monday, November 16, 2015

I Accessorize With Crutches

As I limped out the door at the head of a procession of some 340 multimillionaire donors, a crisply uniformed contingent of the University of South Carolina band struck up an enthusiastic march--it was rather (I told the golf-cart driver who was giving me a lift to the alumni center) like being the President and having my entrance greeted with "Hail to the Chief".

The well-heeled who could walk comfortably passed between the brass players and ascended the front stairs, but I was trucked around back to the handicapped entrance, where I could hobble through on level ground.

My former roommate Jenny, a major donor to USC, had invited me to be her escort for this past Friday's festive black-tie conclusion to our graduate alma mater's multi-year billion-dollar fundraising campaign. Thanks to my estate sale shopping, I had a fabulous dress already, which just so happened to coordinate well with the brushed silver crutches on which I had to rely.

You haven't suffered for modern developed-world fashion until you have balanced 132lbs on one high, opened-toed satin heel for the duration of a cocktail party. At least I got loads of compliments on my dress--a vintage beaded and sequined black lace piece sewn in the British Royal Crown Colony of Hong Kong, it was trimmed at the bottom with white ermine. At least seven women came up to me to exclaim over it, but as I told Jenny, some portion of this attention was due to my crutches.

I rest assured no one in the room paid as little for their attire as I did. I know I'd seen some versions of those dresses either online in the couture section of Neiman Marcus or at the Academy Awards. Jenny herself was stunning in a garnet and black gown that elegantly reflected the school colors.

Curiously, I happened to be assigned to sit at dinner right next to a fellow whose name I recognized--it turns out that he was an art collector with whom I had worked sixteen years ago when I was a museum intern! Small world. But then the first course consisted of sliced beets sprinkled with green leafy things, a combination almost worse than mile-long spaghetti drowning in sauce as far as food  impossible to eat politely. And then garlic bread!  It is difficult to be charming when one has green leaves stuck between one's teeth and furthermore when one is breathing garlicky hellfire at one's  conversation partner.  I ran out of clever things to say before the dessert course, and silently stuffed in my salted chocolate mousse cream brûlée before staggering erect to toast the school and its patrons and spilling my ice water all over the linen tablecloth. Can't take me anywhere, I swear.

Muscle and ligament tears don't show up on x-rays, and I believe that that is causing my increased pain level in my ankle--it hurts worse now than a week ago. Another source of discomfort is the crossbar of the crutches--the pressure on my palms of supporting 60 kilos of KYP for a week has been considerable, and both are profoundly sore.

Thank God Jenny was able to strongarm a staff member into ordering another golf cart to take us back to her car midway through Saturday's USC-Florida game (which the Gators won by a 14 point margin)--I don't believe that I would have been able to make the distance independently. Truly, crutch-using opens your eyes to how difficult it is to navigate supposedly accessible spaces--formerly small distances stretch out to eternities, and obstacles like stairs and challenges like carrying a cup of tea seem insurmountable. And the USC athletics program employees were mostly completely oblivious and/or downright unhelpful when it came to responding to my sample mobility issues. I'm sure out of the 70+ thousand people packing the stands, I was not the only one in need of assistance (then or previously), yet you would think I'd dropped from the moon for all the relevant preparedness the stadium staff displayed.

I had heard about the first attack in Paris on my drive to Columbia. Then I was preoccupied by dressing, makeup and chat for several hours, until I slipped my phone out of my purse after the cocktail party to find the horrific magnitude of the terrorism. Most of the guests were blissfully unaware of the unfolding nightmare until they sat at dinner, when the campus minister asking the general blessing called for a moment of silence to remember the victims.

It is true that the western media largely ignored similar events in Beirut a day or so earlier, acting as if such things are to be expected as a matter of course in Lebanon, but not near the Champs Elysees. Which, sadly, is often the case these days, but no less devastating to the people involved. IS (Islamic State) has since vowed to bring similar mayhem to North America, which in turn has prompted an apparently hysterical rejection of all Syrian refugees by many state governors and Republican presidential candidates. I must say from a strategic point of view, it would be foolish of IS not to try to infiltrate potential terrorists into the West using the vehicle of the chaotic flight of citizens from that embattled territory. But from a Christian point of view, I find it unconscionable that we would reject thousands of the needy because of this fear of a few. On the other hand, I do not see our national government making intelligent decisions about how to distinguish friend from foe, so the process of admitting desperate migrants is likely to be problematic. Still, I don't think Americans should delude themselves into thinking that the IS threat can be repelled by excluding refugees--like other countries, we manage to produce our own homegrown wannabe jihadists. Now can be a great opportunity for outreach and evangelism if the church (international) addresses this situation boldly, but it can also be an opportunity for calamity if national leaders (and potential national leaders) react unwisely.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

It's A Long Way To Richmond

...whichever way you're headed on 95. Flying to Europe takes less time than my drive to and from Washington, DC, though last night I only made one stop, realizing that with crutches more pauses really weren't feasible. It rained the entire trip. I love Interstate driving at night, but in the rain? Not so much. And at times it was really coming down--so heavily around Columbia, SC, that other motorists had on their hazard flashers and I wondered how long it would be until the rivers were over the bridges again.

I am a lazybones in general, but the forced inactivity of having to elevate my left leg due to a chipped   anklebone (and much swollen tissue around it) makes me stir-crazy! The bruise has spread out over the top and sides of my foot, making it purple and puffy under the laced and velcroed black miniboot, but the injury really doesn't hurt that much. The perverse thing about this general lack of discomfort is that I am often tempted to put weight on that side instead of relying on the crutches--and that just exacerbates the swelling.

Tonight, I made my first run of branded gisaeng pendants. I designed and ordered a branding iron of this motif from my brother's company so I could create K-drama themed jewelry. The moment of truth arrived--the tool plugged into the wall and resting on a hot plate, my first earring blank taped to a cardboard-covered work surface next to it. Despite several practice brands on scrap, I still managed to mess up probably 30 wood focals as the iron temperature fluctuated and my hands shook at the last second of application. Still, I came out with six workable prints, got out my oil paints and set to work carefully coloring in the lines of the hanboks and hats. I think they came out fairly well for prototypes. After the paint dries, I plan to sign, date and varnish them, then put them on silver chains. I'm not throwing away the ones I messed up – I plan to decoupage another drama-related designs over the deficient gisaengs. I plan to sell these online, and at least recoup the material costs of my creativity!

Saturday, November 07, 2015

It Had Been A While…

… Several weeks! ... Since my last major injury, and so to make up for lost time, I fell down the stairs this evening. As I landed, my left ankle emitted a nasty snap, then quickly swelled up like a small balloon. Right now I'm lying in bed with it elevated on two pillows and an ice pack wrapped in a towel balanced on it. I hope I haven't broken anything. But, I wouldn't put it past the accident-prone nature I inherited from my father to find out that I have.

A really nice policewoman stayed near my estate sale jewelry counter all day today--my sweet boss had hired security for this weekend's sale because there was more than $100,000 in jewelry on display, and she didn't want to take any chances. The girl in the black bulletproof vest, heavy with extra pistol magazines and other law-enforcement accoutrements, was extremely pleasant to talk to, and we had no problems with the light-fingered in our area thanks to her presence. Not to say that people didn't nick other things elsewhere--half a dozen CDs were found gone from their cases at the end of the day, and a couple broke a glass in the kitchen and didn't own up to it--but by and large it was quiet.

Saturday morning update: my ankle is swollen and purple, but my boss is sweetly found a stool for me to sit on, so I'm going to work. It's raining, so we don't expect a huge crowd.

Monday, October 26, 2015

Weekend Events

I had not seen my first grade teacher in more than 30 years, and yet she looks exactly the same now as I remember her when she taught me to read at age seven. Saturday morning a reception in her honor was held at the private school I attended from first until fourth grade, a commemoration of Mrs. M's role as a founding member of the faculty. Claire, one of my primary classmates, shared the role of hostess and organizer with a girl who was a year ahead of us, who is now a physician.

The current headmaster of the school, a politically savvy shiny-smiling administrator, made repeated mention of the fact that many of Mrs. M's former students had become doctors, lawyers, and other secular successes, counting achievement in an entirely worldly context, which seemed perverse for a leader of a Christian educational institution. Not that these professions aren't worthwhile when practiced with integrity, that the number of Ivy League graduates isn't fun to calculate (one board member I chatted up spoke glowingly of so-and-so being at Harvard, and I recalled him being practically beside himself with joy when my brother was admitted to its Connecticut counterpart), but it is character and faith underpinning any intellectual achievement that counts in the end. I was quietly glad that Mrs. M pointed out that he'd omitted listing alumni who were ministers. She was most proud of the fact that all of her children had been able to recite a lengthy Scripture passage at the end of their academic tenure.

Both organizers, like the woman they were honoring, had changed little in the interim three decades, the only differences being greater height and a slight accumulation of gentle facial creases. They were sweet and kind then, and continue to be so to this day. I found that, like me, Claire returned to our hometown recently after years in the big city, and is a lifelong single. She is one of several people I had wished to know better when we were children; now there is opportunity to do so.

The estate sale this weekend was apparently a great success. However, I was not there to see it, as I left Bethesda just after noon on Friday--my dear boss and I worked until almost 2 AM Thursday night putting the finishing touches on the setup, and I had resolved to get a good night's sleep before I left for Georgia. After a brief stop at my friend DesertRose's house in Fairfax, where I had the pleasure of chatting with two of her three little boys, I continued on southward at a most inopportune time--the height of workweek-end rush hour, which left me crawling at 10 mph down I-95 in one of three lanes of bumper-to-bumper commuter traffic. After an hour and half of this, I decided to use my phone to search for the nearest franchise of my gym, and happily found it within ten minutes of my location. So I exited the interstate and worked out for an hour, which did wonders for my frame of mind and allowed some of the volume on the roads to dissipate--when I resumed my journey, the average speed had jumped to a comparatively brisk 30 mph, which after another thirty minutes or so actually edged up to the posted limit of 70. But then I was 2AM getting home. And when I got home I became preoccupied with opening the mail and packages that had arrived during my absence. And suddenly it was 7:30 AM, I hadn't slept, and the Mrs. M reception was to start at 10. Mums bailed me out, agreeing to drive me to the event, though she threatened to tell everyone I'd been too hungover to be behind the wheel.

Sunday afternoon my friend Shelly and I returned to church early to meet the members of a Belorussian choir that was singing our evening service. Our Russian was rusty, but we soldiered on, and the ladies with whom we conversed were patient and generous with our broken sentences, irregular conjugations and patchy vocabulary. It was so good getting to practice, though! The music was tremendous--beautiful in delivery and profound in lyric. The Russian style of singing thrills the listener to the core. Not only is the heart moved, the other organs vibrate like glassware in an earthquake. It made me want to run off to Eastern Europe at the earliest opportunity.

Another American, a ginger-haired kilted guy (a "one-man orchestra" as one of the Belorussians described him after hearing him play the penny whistle and take a turn on a borrowed balalaika, then reel off a chapter of other instruments he could handle), was at the practice, the pre-concert meal, in a front pew at the service, then lingering about afterwards as the singers were distributed to their host families. I see him every Sunday I'm in town, yet tonight as always couldn't bring myself to talk to him, no matter how tempted, nor actually to even meet his eyes. He possesses five damning characteristics which intimidate me to silence: he's handsome (very), tall (gack), single (oy), younger than me (probably early thirties), and, as aforementioned, absurdly musically talented (I can carry a tune...in a bucket). So although I love the kilt (and the way he looks in it!), and would like to know his story, I suppose the whole shall forever remain mysterious. Crumbs.

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Fat Lip

My dear boss joked that she'd thought about telling the Urgent Care people that she'd punched me, but my cut and swollen lip has only a metal clothes rack to blame. I'm once again thoroughly grateful that I have a permanent retainer behind my front teeth, or otherwise I might be missing a few! I wasn't trying to put the rack together – it was already assembled– but I was pushing it out of the way, and it popped apart and walloped me in the mouth. Bled dramatically. If the injury had been to any other part of my anatomy, I wouldn't have insisted on seeing someone, but I don't want a scar on my face and getting a lip wound sealed is almost mandatory for healing.

We just started to work this morning at a house in Maryland. It's huge (8000 square feet), with a movie theater in the basement and crystal chandeliers in two bedrooms. There's a floral fresco on the ceiling of the breakfast area, and a deck with loggia looking out over a pasture and woods. There's only one thing in the whole house I really really want: an "Autumn Leaves" mirror by Hudson River Inlay. I've wanted that mirror ever since I worked at the Augusta jewelry store 15 years ago – we sold several of HRI's designs, and to me this is the loveliest. I don't doubt, however, that I won't be able to afford it even at an estate sale price!

Saturday I substituted for Anita at an annual art fair, which had been postponed from the previous weekend because of the weather. She was already committed to another this weekend, and though extraordinarily accomplished, she has yet to perfect the skill of being in two places at once. The autumn weather was perfect. But for the first six hours, despite the thousands of people walking through the fair, I had barely enough sales to cover my coffee shop donut bill. Then a lady came along and bought Anita's most expensive piece, so that made up for the wait somewhat.

Trader Joe's is temporarily out of meringues! Some supplier issue. The cashier told me I was the first adult who'd ever asked him about them. He said they were very easy to make at home, but I pointed out that that would require me to cook (really, to bake, but I don't own a mixer to whip the egg whites, so it would be impossible either way). I'd be tempted to eat a whole panful if I made them myself. 

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Maps, Men (Furry & Foreign) & Dependable Underwear

This blog is now eleven years and five days old!

I drove through Columbia, SC, at 2 PM Saturday, and some twelve hours later the interstate bridge I took was closed because the river was over the road. Not only that, but the news media showed video taken near (within a few minutes' walk) where I used to live when I attended grad school at USC, and the whole neighborhood was submerged. I thought 6 inches rain in Georgia was bad – poor Mount Pleasant got 24! What I found bothersome prior to my departure was that there was no overall map to be had online of areas underwater (or highly likely to be)--there are maps of roads, maps of weather, but no maps I could find of precipitation or statewide (only county-wide) maps of road closures. The foul-weather traveler is entirely dependent upon memory of low-lying locations and odd snippets of data derived from Facebook and similar social media sources. I'm a big fan of terrain maps, because a flat representation of a route doesn't describe what's really going on, why it takes the twists and turns it does, and where you might run into trouble. Looking at a normal map of North Korea, for example, a layman couldn't anticipate how the South Korean, American and allied forces could have become so vulnerable to lateral attack during the push up the peninsula in 1950; not until the character of the terrain becomes apparent do the weaknesses in their strategy begin to show.
 
Speaking of Korean geography...I had thought that the exquisitely beautiful Lee Su-hyeok looked familiar when I recently saw him in two dramas (he's not the best--nor, to be fair, entirely the worst--actor in the world, but he sure is pretty to look at!), and it wasn't until I arrived at my friend Leah's in Alexandria late Sunday evening that I realized why. LSH is the human incarnation of Clyde, Leah's handsome five year old tuxedo cat. I wonder if LSH also has a taste for electrical wires.
 
Whereas cats have 9 lives (and K-drama stars probably that many also, given their excellent plastic surgery industry and the endurance of electronic media), my friend Aaron's surgery of yesterday (he tore up his knee on the soccer field a week ago Sunday) reminded me that the rest of us aren't aging as gracefully. One of the few things that I am not dreading about my old age is wearing adult diapers. I'm certainly not looking forward to their necessity, but the diapers themselves are so dang comfortable… I know this as when I was concerned about my own stomach I decided to acquire several, and unnecessarily wore a pair for a day. I've been out of baby diapers for decades (one would hope!), but if children's are like these, I can understand why some resist potty training – I can't, of course, understand the common toddler preference to sit in one's own poop and pee, but being able to move around wearing what amounts to a cushion for one's butt is certainly nice. And the adult variety are made so form-fitting nowadays that no one can tell whether you are wearing Vicky's and Spanx or ordinary Depends...  

Saturday, October 03, 2015

Rain, Go Away!

It's rained so much in the past two (or maybe three) weeks in Georgia that everything is green--including things that are not supposed to be green, such as buildings and people (we're mildewed behind the ears). Mushrooms are appearing everywhere, even in yards where they would never previously have reared their porous heads, displaying  unprecedented fungal chutzpah at a time when one cannot step on the lawn to pluck them lest one sink to one's ankles in mire.  This morning as I drove out of my neighborhood, I saw scattered remnants of a cluster of toadstools that had been furiously battered by the pointy tip of a golf umbrella (wielded from the safety of the sidewalk by the irate homeowner), but aside from these isolated incidents, most shrooms are flourishing unmolested.

This weekend we were supposed to get 6 inches of rain. Six inches. Six more inches! The ground was and is unable to absorb any more. Where is it all going to go? To me the term "flash flooding" is a misnomer hereabouts--what we have is incremental, inexorable flooding, not a sudden rush of water surging over quickly saturated soil, but puddles and rivers and drains that have been growing for a fortnight and can't but overflow.

All Saturday morning, a fine mist fell, and the sky was a flat pale gray. My mother urged me to check the road conditions before I left for North Carolina, and I found nothing amiss, so I departed Augusta about 1 pm. There wasn't torrential rain at any point, so the trip went smoothly. As I was leaving town, my brother Bob texted me to ask if he could spend the night at my house, as downtown Charleston appears to be submerged, and he couldn't return home for the time being. One of these days, I'll be in town when he comes to visit!

I plan to continue on to DC after church tomorrow. Monday I will be with a friend who is having surgery. We start work on another estate sale this Tuesday. Saturday, I am supposed to staff a booth at a craft fair for Anita – the fair was supposed to be this weekend, but was postponed due to weather, and she's already got another fair scheduled for next weekend! 

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Disappointments & Joys

The Japanese never emailed me, and it is certainly past the end of September in the land of the Rising Sun. I can only conclude that this means my application to teach English there was not sufficiently enticing for them to ask me to an interview.

Barring sudden employment, as my professional fallback strategy I had planned to enroll this coming January at the local branch of the University of Georgia for a Masters in Teaching (MAT) program (which is apparently the only means by which a person with my liberal arts education, no matter how extensive, can gain a teaching certificate in my home state--I had looked for other ways of obtaining certification and come up empty handed). So, a week and a half ago, I went online and began assembling the documentation I would need for my THIRD Masters degree application (Gack!). I tried to submit the paperwork online, but there was a glitch somewhere, and so I was forced to print out and hand write in the required information (very old-fashioned!). Given that the computer system had already proven unreliable, and knowing the importance of the personal touch even in this digital age, I decided to deliver the hard copy to the program's director of admissions myself – I already had a list of questions I wanted to ask him about specifics that didn't seem to be covered on the website.

At our brief meeting last Tuesday,  I gave the young man the application and several supporting documents, and he mentioned that I needed to take the GACE test in either English or history prior to enrollment in the program--online, this requirement wasn't clearly specified as needed before admission, and in fact seemed only possible once one had enrolled, but he said I must go ahead and take it. Registering for the GACE test was a multi-step process--apparently the Georgia Department of Education does not allow everyone to take it; without official permission, obtained by filling out a bureaucratic form on a state website, one cannot actually register to sit for the test. Which is a phenomenally stupid requirement. Anyone who wants to pay for and take an achievement test, no matter how specialized, ought to be able to do so without restriction. Who would be harmed by this? Be that as it may, after I obtained the official go-ahead to sit for the test, I went on the testing company website to register for it, and not until I was halfway through a 50 page PDF file giving a description of the registration and testing procedure (no wristwatches allowed, etc.) that I found that the test was not offered all year round (as one would expect), but was only administered during discrete windows at random times during the year. And the next window did not open until mid-November, almost 2 weeks after the application to the MAT program was due. I emailed the director of admissions, and asked him if it was possible to be provisionally accepted and take the test prior to matriculation. No, it was not. As I had already paid the nonrefundable $50 admission fee, plus $12 (?!) to the University of South Carolina to have a paper copy of my transcript from my first Masters program shipped to him, I was very glad when he agreed to change the prospective admission date on my application from January to summer of this coming year. But I felt like I had been kicked when I was down--here was even my backup plan derailed!

Since last Thursday, I've applied to three more jobs. One is with a local banking investment firm, and two are English teaching positions. The hiring manager at the investment firm seemed very enthusiastic about my candidacy, but I've been met with enthusiasm before, and the establishments in question ended up hiring someone else internally. I will be very surprised if I hear anymore from them.

I was pretty depressed--in fact, I'd become so stressed out that I was starting to have memory issues, losing common items around my house and forgetting basic information. I talked to my aunt on the phone and kind of vented my miseries – I've kept pretty good cheer in the 21 months I've been looking for work, but I felt like my emotional fabric was frayed down to my last nerve. Later, on Saturday night, I went to an event at the consignment store where I have a booth, and met a female Army veteran who shares my name and who is fluent in Russian And yet now in retail because she can't find work using her linguistic skills. It was kind of a relief – knowing that I was not the only one with some small accomplishment in international relations and communications who was stuck spinning her wheels. And church was phenomenally encouraging Sunday morning and evening; I am not alone, and this is not the end of ends.

It also occurred to me what a blessing it has been to be able to hang out with my almost 93-year old maternal grandmother during this time of underemployment. I've been able to take her to doctors' visits, help her with grocery store runs, pick scads of blueberries and scuppernongs out of her Edenic backyard, enjoy her delicious cooking, assist her with housecleaning, and perform other little tasks and revel in her delightful company, all of which I would have missed out on had I been so-called "gainfully employed". This is just a huge gift from God. And I do have random friends who call me and tell me they are praying for me. I think I am being prayed for more than many missionaries, a circumstance that is simultaneously heartening and horrifying!

So, in other words, my situation is not an enviable one in some respects, but in others it is highly desirable. My only issues are:  How am are  going to pay my credit card bill? And how am I going to pay the bills ( still staggering after insurance) for my recent medical checkups that declared  me "ridiculously healthy" as Grandmommy would say (and as her own cardiologist determined she is just this morning)?


Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Boobs

Just as one shouldn't choose the hairdresser with the best coiffure to do your hair, one shouldn't get a mammogram from a technician who claims that as a subject she's never been negatively affected by the (mercifully short) procedure.

I had my first mammogram today, per protocol for women over 40. All the way to the scan I was mentally reviewing reports of those who compared (without any means of testing this assertion) the sensation to a man's having his nuts pinched in a vise, and I dismissed those ladies as wimps, the sort who holler when their legs are waxed and shriek at the sight of mice. Then, I got to the center, where women of all ages from 40 on were pulsing through as on an assembly line, and at my turn this well-upholstered technician led me back to the scanning room and mashed my tiny breasts, one after the other, between a metal plate and a hydraulic-powered piece of lucite. If she'd had testicles, I would cheerfully have kicked them. Maybe more than once.

Perhaps if a woman is more chesty than I am, her boobs just flatten out, like amoebas, and if she's got little in the way of muscle across her ribcage, there's no need to yank things about. But I do try to stay in shape, blast it. And I don't have udders like a Holstein. I am going to find out who did the technician's scan, and see if that person won't do mine next year--at any rate, to me it's better to have someone tell me something's going to hurt but will be over quickly than to inflict pain on you in the calm assurance that, given the impossibility of their scanning themselves, they are safe from their own heavy-footed (yes, the hydraulic lucite plate was foot-powered, like a dentist's drill!) ministrations.

Oh, and the even lovelier bit about this scan? The results won't be available for a fortnight, and given that this was my first, they may need a second mammogram to establish a normal baseline. Crap. I swear, if I am ever so unfortunate as to require a mastectomy, I'm having the little suckers cut off and not reconstructed. Much less bother.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

AC & MCG / ASU & GHSU / GRU / AU

What was our local public community college--known for almost 100 years by the normal and decent name of Augusta College--expanded and was upgraded to a university some two decades ago. It took the name Augusta State University. Nothing too weird. People got used to that without trouble, although "why bother?" was a common response.

The Medical College of GA, also local (for two centuries) and also a part of the statewide UGA system, grew even faster over the last 20 years, gobbling up property between the private for-profit University Hospital (it is my understanding that prior to the school's having its own hospital, there was a training affiliation, but that's long gone) and the downtown branch of the Veterans Administration hospital, creating a kilometer square campus. Then, some nameless administrator decided MCG ought to be renamed Georgia Health Sciences University, yielding an acronym that resembled a sneeze. This was highly irritating to many, not because of the "unprogressive" cultural environment of the surrounding area (as prejudiced non-Southerners might automatically assume) but because it really didn't do anything useful--it did cost a good deal of time and money to change all the signs, the stationery, and so forth, though! But again, most people just sighed in resignation and locals continued to refer to MCG as a shorthand for the metastasizing medical district.

Then GHSU's president, an ambitious import good at glad-handing multimillionaire research donors, but who cared little for local opinion, somehow persuaded the state Board of Regents, an anonymous Atlanta-centered cabal of good ol' boys (regardless of superficial race or gender identity) to not only fuse the medical school and the former community college into a single entity under one administration, with him at the head, but also to call this Frankenstein's monster after themselves! Thus, Georgia Regents University, GRU, was born.

Hilariously, the French-animated movie Despicable Me was released around that time, which prompted many jokes (one Halloween, all the hospital nurses dressed up as minions). Also, local wags noted that the acronym for the health sciences section should now appropriately be GRUSOM (Georgia Regents University School of Medicine). But mostly people were just pissed off – there had been no consultation of the alumni about the merger or the name change, and the fact that "Augusta" was entirely lost in transition led to a forest of yard signs reading "Save the A". There were plenty of volunteers to kick the ass of Dr. T, the wheeling and dealing administrator who had masterminded the whole fiasco that subsumed the former ASU administration beneath that of the medical mucketymucks (if you think academic organizations are generally byzantine, try adding healthcare bureaucracy!).

Several years after the GRU merger, much of the liberal arts curriculum that had been a staple of ASU was gone, and communication issues between civilians and scientists at GRU continued to flourish. There was even talk that Dr. T wanted to move the medical center to Athens, leaving Augusta wholly bereft. If his goal was to be universally loathed, he'd accomplished it. He spoke briefly at the community-wide Martin Luther King Memorial service in January, and was distinguished as the the dignitary who received only a smattering of perfunctory applause, falling far behind the enthusiasm for figures who (given their politics and paleness) might have been presumed to be much less popular with the mostly African-American audience.

Then, only a few months ago, Dr. T left. I don't remember if he simply retired or if he found another seat of power in another state that paid better, but the general consensus was, "Don't let the door hit you on the way out." And just yesterday, out of the blue, the Georgia Board of Regents announced that they were changing the name of GRU to Augusta University. I don't know if the membership of the board has changed, or if they got so much mail protesting their self-aggrandizement that they repented, but I think it is the right decision. However, it is unclear whether the medical school and the mostly undergraduate college will continue to operate together, or if they will again be independent institutions.. One way or another, it will take some time to sort out the mess that this one person promulgated. 

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Not Yum, Yuck!

I haven't eaten anything in 24 hours. And I won't get to eat anything for another 14 at least, given that I have to be on clear liquids until 9 AM, then without anything by mouth until after I come out of anesthesia around 4 PM. At which point, of course, I expect the only thing I'll want to do is go to bed. If this doesn't restore my youthful figure, nothing will! I just hope my insides get a clean bill of health after all this self-deprivation. A legacy of digestive issues is not a happy inheritance.

The CELTA certificates are finally on their way. A classmate of mine has been diligent in contacting the school, and they assured her that they were being mailed out yesterday. I think they made the paper and ink themselves, given the time it took for the documents to be issued. Gosh, I hope the school I applied to in Japan thinks it worthwhile to hire me. I am so tired of the ongoing job application process, which reminds me uncomfortably of dating (at which I have achieved even less success than in procuring employment). In both dating and hiring, I am at a disadvantage because of my age. Everybody wants unwrinkled young beauties, drat it. I would drown my sorrows in ice cream, but dairy is forbidden right now!








Saturday, September 05, 2015

Bad & Better Jewelry

I love jewelry. When I was a little girl, and there were still tangible newspapers stuffed with glossy paper advertising sections, I would cut out the rings and necklaces from the weekend jewelry circulars to use in pretend. I've always had a very good eye for quality (an eye which is gradually deteriorating as those so-called age-related changes that afflict one's vision around age 40 begin to take hold, but one which can still spot a tiny 925 or 14k on clasps and ear posts), and love learning about what and how pieces have been crafted since people began draping garlands around their necks and poking little holes in their earlobes to hang things from.

Being unemployed, and away from the estate sale jewelry counter has curtailed my collecting somewhat. I still enjoy scrolling through eBay to see what treasures are available, and occasionally find things priced less than melt--I just flipped one this evening, as a matter of fact. Aside from the aforementioned coups, I observe that, as it has for millennia, jewelry continues to reflect faith, superstition, values and ignorance. Here are a few designs I regularly encounter:

The figa. Meaning "fist" in Italian, this is an odd elbow to thumb representation of the forearm with the hand clenched and the thumb thrust between two of the fingers. Whereas in the United States this has the entirely innocent connotation of telling gullible children "got your nose", in several countries in Europe, including the one where it originated, this gesture is equivalent to giving someone "the bird". And yet this crude symbol has not been worn traditionally by tough men looking for trouble, but by little children whose parents hoped they would avoid it. Essentially, the figa served as a 24/7 "F-you" to ill fate. Often carved out of coral (a substance thought lucky), they are also found in gold, ivory, and ebony. They are a popular addition to refined ladies' charm bracelets; not mine.

The evil eye. I've always been amused by those little eyeballs, usually blue, that stare out at the world from beads, tiles and amulets, but for many living around the Mediterranean basin, these are thought serious wards against evil. In an area where looking at someone in an odd way can be interpreted as casting ill fortune on them, these token tiny eyes stare down what bad luck could come your way.  I don't know why they're usually made blue, since most people who wear them have dark eyes, but I find it tragic some think you must rely on such charms to ensure happiness. I do like eyeballs, however, so I found a brown one that reminded me of my late father's gaze and keep it for sentimental purposes.

The Mizpah. Ah, misquoted Scripture, how perversely amusing it can be! Usually made as a set of breakaway pendants (to be split so that one friend can wear one part of the quote and the other can wear the remainder), this is a short selection from the book of Genesis: "The Lord watch between thee and me when we are apart from one another." In context, this is a pact between estranged men Jacob and his father-in-law Laban, who had at least superficially reconciled after the former had fled with the latter's two daughters and grandchildren; in my opinion, it is not a double blessing to be shared between best friends. Essentially, the grandson of Abraham and his maternal uncle were stating that one should not plot against the other in secret, or abuse the other's people, that God would be watching each to ensure this. Mizpah sharing should really be between frenemies, not besties.

Angels. Everyone in North America probably recognizes that pair of particularly overdone-in-reproduction cherubs, chins on hands, gazing skyward. Again, from a biblical standpoint,  cherubim are terrifying creatures, not cutesy babies with bird wings – every time angels appeared in the Old and New Testaments, they had to preface their messages with commands not to fear, because to be freaked out beyond measure was the natural response of any who saw them. Be that as it may, Americans in particular--even people who do not consider themselves religious--are addicted to the notion of the cute angel, these being two of the cutest. What most of the people who wear an image of one of these little contemplatives don't realize is that the image comes from Raphael's 1512 Sistine Madonna (fat winged babies were the Internet cats of the Renaissance period, and their appeal lingers to this day). The painting now is in the collection of Dresden's Alte Meister museum, having been one of the many "trophy art" pieces carried off to Moscow by the Soviets in the concluding days of World War II. Since my masters thesis was on the subject of such expropriated art, I have an etched charm of the one-winged fellow on the bottom lefthand side of this masterpiece.

Much jewelry nowadays is not masterfully done. Sure, gold is expensive, but using metal as thin as paper to stamp out thousands of identical charms is just tacky, and most advertised as "diamond cut" ought to be run over by a steamroller. Just because something is in the vicinity of a diamond-dusted Dremel bit doesn't enhance its value--the slices actually serve to further decrease the metal content and increase the reflection abilities of cheap pieces of junk. And what's with all the hideously deformed cats? Why does almost every cat figure rendered in gold, even though accompanied by gemstones, look considerably more canine than feline? Truly, cats are not that challenging to model--they know how to pose. In sum, there are some truly terrible jewelry makers out there, at all points of the price spectrum. But then again, if some fool is willing to pay for something that took little time, few materials, and less skill to manufacture, what's to keep the makers from producing such schlock?

Finally, if trolling eBay's jewelry section teaches you anything, it is that the markup on precious metals and stones in the retail market is astounding, particularly for bulk-manufactured items. Most sellers online know that they have to list the weight of items, as this is certainly one of several factors that influences its ultimate selling price. Whereas most buyers are willing to pay 1.5 to 2 times the value of the components for something that doesn't bear a famous namethis is a considerable reduction from the prices charged in brick-and-mortar stores. Even those pieces embossed with marks of makers like Tiffany, John Hardy, David Yurman, and so forth often fetch far less than retail buyers might have led themselves to believe they would be able to realize in the second sale market. If you know your subject, know the prices of your components, and make sure (from looking at feedback and asking questions) that you are buying from a reputable source, you can slowly improve your jewelry collection at a fraction of retail cost.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Punctuality Punished

A spider has already begun building a web from the driver side rearview mirror of my car to a nearby tree. I'm waiting for my Serbian coworker to come unlock the house, whence I'm picking up a pile of personal documents and schlepping them to a shredder in Gaithersburg. She's one of those dastardly early-morning people, and told me she'd be here by 11. I decided to go against my usual proclivities and show up exactly on time. Which I did. And nobody was here. Ten minutes later I got a text from her saying that she wasn't yet there and she would call when she arrived. At 10 till noon, I texted her, and she swore she'd arrive by twelve. We shall see.

After the shredder, I intend to go by Harbor Freight for several jumbo packs of their blue painters tape--they have it for less than half the price of the local hardware store, and we use tons of it to price items in every sale. Then, the happiest part of my errand running: a visit to the bakery I love, where the apple turnovers are the size of romance novels, and where they may actually have pastries featuring sweet poppyseeds. I have been in severe withdrawal ever since coming back from the Czech Republic – why don't American grocery stores have decent bakery sections? A few stale donuts and a couple of limp baguettes does not an acceptable bakery make. And everything is so preserved; walking down the aisles is like walking down rows in an ossuary–all lined with colorful cremain boxes of artificial ingredient-rich instant meals. Ick.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Sweet & Loud

That which was not doused with champagne was drowned in chocolate. A friend of mine is leaving for a year in London (where she'll be ostensibly studying international accounting), and she and a third friend and I got together this afternoon at Co Co, a cocoa-centric restaurant near Chinatown in downtown DC. I had frozen chocolate for an aperitif, s'more French toast for an entrée, and chocolate powdered crème brûlée for dessert. And we shared a trio of tiny samples of bubbly, each twinned with appropriate chocolate, through the meal. It will be several days before I feel in the mood for an ice cream sandwich.

The weather here in DC has been decidedly unseasonable. It may be August, but it feels like fall, temperate and without excessive humidity. And the traffic, which usually ebbs at this time of year, has unfortunately continued to surge along at its usual level, with a startling number of major accidents and constipating roadwork slowing the general progress.

My boss, her husband, son, and dog  left for Maine on Friday morning. I was able to take Friday and Saturday off, which was needful considering that I'd been so tired on Thursday that I barely was able to function for a full six working hours. On Wednesday, an antique specialist and his wife and the owner of a local consignment shop--DC denizens for decades--had come over to offer their varied expertise and to share a bottle of Chardonnay. They didn't actually assemble at the house where we were working until 10 PM, and then we all sat around swapping stories of crazy customers until midnight. I learned that several internationally-known American politicians have some really weird relatives, as these friends of my boss shared their tales of houses full of heaps of phonebooks, dangling naked lightbulbs in dim corridors, mummified human heads, spectacular embezzlement and inebriated hair dyeing. Naturally, none of us got home until 1 AM.

Friday, I went out to lunch with a sometime coworker, an octogenarian from Iran who remembers "the good old days" before the 1979 revolution, when she had so many gold necklaces that she kept them on a rack in her closet. I wonder how many other people had such, and I'm inclined to think that because many didn't, they were predisposed to overthrowing the old regime. In the late 1950s or early 1960s, she and her father went to Western Europe on holiday and her father bought a Mercedes in Stuttgart. The two of them ended up road tripping through Tito's Yugoslavia and the breadth of Turkey back to Tehran, a ten-day journey that she remembers as safe and easy. She's a very postmodern Muslim, only nominally associated with that religion, essentially non-practicing, and totally confused and thunderstruck by the fervor of observance in her homeland and neighboring regions.

I had just enough time to brush my teeth once home from my nice lunch of sumac-sprinkled rice, lamb shish kebab and pumpkin soup before driving to Westminster, MD, in what proved to be beginning of the weekend rush hour (starting at 3:30 PM), to meet a man who'd had the dubious fortune of inheriting $100,000 worth of semi-precious gemstones. From films and books one might get the impression that such stones can be easily exchanged for currency; this is true when one is talking about diamonds of high quality and greater than average size, but when it comes to a pile of small peridots, a tray full of aquamarines, another of citrines, and packages of opals and zircons, the challenge becomes considerably greater. There simply isn't a market in normal life for this quantity of middling gems. Most jewelers either keep very few stones on hand, ordering only what their customers request from supply companies, or have trusted dealers with whom they have an ongoing relationship. They do not want to pay appraised values for common stones from strangers. And no one really needs the quantity of sparkly jewels that this poor man was given by his deceased neighbor (for the appraisal of which he had to pay a vast sum in order to satisfy the estate tax requirements).  A few years ago, I got some pieces from him--some to keep, some to consign--but it was not until earlier this year that I discovered that DC-area estate sale customers, particularly Asians, really liked buying loose stones. And since I'm here for another sale, I thought I would try contacting him to see if he had some left he wanted to unload. Tons, it turned out, but even with a discount I could oy relieve him of a handful. It was a long drive, but hopefully I will make my money back, plus some, in the next week. He told me he plans to donate the remainder to a local church. I asked him what he thought a church would do with them, and he said that maybe they'd have the patience he didn't to list them individually on eBay.

Saturday, I got a haircut, had lunch with Anita, picked up a bunch of good clothes for the estate sale, and met up with Leah and Aaron at Jones Point, underneath the roaring Wilson Bridge, for a slow walk and a long chat. We ran into a man I knew, which just goes to show the DC area has many characteristics of a small town.

One more week, and I'll be heading back south. I did get an acknowledgment from the education company in Japan to which I'd applied to teach, telling me that they'd received my submission. Being contacted with such a "yes, we see that you exist and are interested in working for us" email is so rare and precious a thing that it's pitiful the excitement it generated in my long-unemployed heart.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

Feet & Finances

I think I may have broken a bone in my foot. My Serbian colleague and I were moving a bookcase this morning, and somehow the corner of it ended up punching into the top of my left foot. The discomfort was extreme at first, and then it died down to a dull ache and I was able to work another eight hours before I started hobbling around in agony. There's a small but nasty bruise where the corner hit. I took two super extra strength pain pills when I got home, and checked my pedometer, which said I had clocked more than 5 miles walking since the morning (which may have played a role in my foot feeling less than happy). I plan to wait until Monday before seeking any medical attention – if it is still sensitive and swollen at that point I'll go to urgent care, although given the location of the possible break they wouldn't be able to do much besides confirm whether it is a fracture.

My friends and loved ones are about evenly divided on the question of accepting the Ukrainian school's offer. Today's damage to my foot may render all debate on the subject irrelevant.

Historically, in decisions apart from moral questions, I have followed the money. One of the ways that I decided where to attend graduate school was by finding out which was offering me sufficient financial aid to live on while I was taking classes. One of the reasons that I'm up here in DC now is that I am earning more in a couple of days than I do in a couple of weeks doing odd jobs in Georgia (and more in a week than I would earn in a month in Ukraine, given the contract that was sent me). If in fact I am supposed to go to Kiev, it would seem to me that the money should appear in generous quantity--not only enough to finance my plane trip there and back, but also my living expenses over and above my salary while I am there, and any additional travel costs, and additionally provide savings which I otherwise would have accumulated working here during the impecunious months I am there: specifically enough to cover tuition to the local state university for their Masters in teaching program and to pay my mother rent on the townhouse I am now occupying. In other words, if $60,000 comes freely into my hands in the next week (and no, I will NOT be launching a second GoFundMe campaign!) I will go to Ukraine with this particular program. However, if such an implausible event does not take place, I will continue to search for another way to remove the rust from my русский язык, teach English to speakers of other languages, and somehow make a living too.

Friday, August 14, 2015

Teaching In Kiev?

So… I got offered a job in Ukraine teaching English from 4 PM until 10 PM Monday through Thursday and from 11 AM to 8 PM on Sundays.  The gig would start September 2. The school has six locations throughout the country, but the position that they are trying to fill right now is at their campus in Kiev.

Well, I did some currency conversion, and pay for post is about $5.60 an hour with an average base salary of $500 a month. That may be more than the normal Ukrainian income, but it's not exactly an amount one can save on. I don't know what to do. I've prayed for wisdom, and for now, I'm stuck. It's penurious wage-wise, but they don't ask invasive personal questions and it would give me plenty of opportunity to practice teaching (which better-paying jobs require experience doing). It would also give me an opportunity to practice my Russian. Yet I would have to leave the country a month or so after getting there to take a letter of invitation to the  Ukrainian consulate in Warsaw or Krakow (Poland is the closest European country, so most people go there) in order to obtain a formal work visa – they don't send the invitation letter (Приглашения) to the US; you have to pick it up in person in Kiev then run across the border to apply for a more permanent work status. This is a little Byzantine, but not entirely crazy, given my knowledge and experience of bureaucracy in that part of the world.

Of course, paying for all this travel looks to be not inexpensive: the lowest price I could find on a plane ticket from the US to Kiev and thence to Warsaw and back totalled around $1800 via Polish Lot Airlines. And teachers have to pay for accommodation in Kiev out of their own pockets. Apparently accommodation (in an apartment shared with another teacher) doesn't run more than $150 a month, but that leaves only $350 a month for food, transportation and other necessities. On the other hand, the hours are very good (they run from four in the afternoon until 10 at night), and the ages of the students ideal (age 14 and up). Theoretically, I could work on my own language skills and writing projects during the day and teach in the evenings. There certainly wouldn't be much money for doing much else!

The school semesters last seven weeks and so every eighth week would be time to travel. I could see Pirogov in the flesh, and perhaps even delve into some of the archives that have material by and about him. However, I would be no closer to paying off my financial debt to my mother, nor would I have saved anything for retirement. I don't know whether it is shortsighted or farsighted to accept this contract or to  wait and hope that something better will come along. I know that after a year in Ukraine, my Russian language skills  should once again be at a level where I am confident enough to apply for jobs that require a level of fluency I don't feel I can honestly claim at this time. So should I go to Kiev in three weeks? The school needs to know ASAP.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Work & More (Possible) Work

I've been in DC for the last week, working an estate sale in Kalorama, the toniest bit of the capital and also the place where a horrific multiple murder occurred just days after I left town to prep for Prague in May [the death house was just two blocks away, and was gutted by arson subsequent to the family members' being mortally tortured by a former employee (now in prison, awaiting trial)].  I'm glad I missed this event--one of my coworkers knew the family and was beside herself with grief.

The house where we did the sale was huge, and filled with antiques and hugely expensive brand-name goods. I don't understand why, if you have buckets of money, you'd buy something that, for all its exclusivity, is basically mass-produced. Why not instead commission something to be made specifically for you--a true one-of-a-kind piece instead of a thing emblazoned (usually in a tacky proportion) with a famous name? As I've written before, many people are under the delusion that just because they paid a lot of money for something, it's worth bunches, and some are under the further misapprehension that its value may have even grown since they acquired it. Unless it's truly unique, probably not. The sale was well attended and stinkers were minimal, so the stress level wasn't unbearable, and we all survived without tearing our own or each other's hair out.

After we finished work last night, a colleague and I went for dinner at Cactus Cantina, a good Mexican restaurant basically across the street from the National Cathedral. I polished off a third of a pitcher of strawberry-line margarita (with an equivalent amount of water) and an enormous plate of chicken enchiladas--I'd had one cereal bar to eat all day, and according to my pedometer, I'd walked 4.5 miles indoors between 10 AM and 4 PM. I was so full I hurt. The dinner sure beat the bacon-topped glazed donut I'd inhaled for my Friday evening meal! Saturday, I developed a severe migraine and stumbled up to collapse in silent dark instead of eating anything (or going to my honorary niece Faith's fourth birthday party, to which I'd really been looking forward; Sunday was my sister's 38th). I think one contributor to the migraine was severe dehydration--although I'd finished off one bottle of water during the day, that wasn't enough to offset the 5.5 miles of indoor walking (and 38 flights of stair climbing) the sale required. Nausea extreme.

Today is my first day off in seven (thank God, Sunday a week ago was not only communion at church, I got to spend the afternoon with Jim and Candy, two old friends--otherwise I'd feel both spiritually and socially starved to an even greater degree), and so I lazed about in bed (too tired to go anywhere) and then got up to send off a third of a dozen job applications (to Ukraine, Russia, Japan and Slovakia--the last by way of a sweet Georgetown professor who came to our sale). In the meantime, my domestic stop-gap activities are accumulating, so I should be able to keep eating until something more permanent finally shows up (a lot of repping other folk's swell goods planned between here and December--my friend Anita and my brother Nate have both tentatively asked me to man the counters for them at a series of festivals and markets).

I hope (and plan) to see many more of my local friends before I return home to GA in a couple of weeks. Unless, of course, the Ukrainians hire me--their academic term starts in September, so I'd have to hie me home to pack ASAP.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Waiting Room Blues

Gosh, it is so annoying to hear the jibber jabber of the talking heads on the news channel playing incessantly on the flatscreen in the eye surgery center waiting room. The noise goes on, piercing through the 3/4" foam of the earplugs stuffed deep into my ears. The other family members of surgery patients are sitting numbly, staring at the chattering newsimps and the crawl of blurbage across the bottom of the ADD-tempo  pictures. And one of the fluorescent spotlights in the center of the seating area is flashing like a strobe, so if the TV weren't enough to send you screaming into the century-plus temperatures outside, the flickering bulb is. But we're all enduring, as we wonder how our loved ones  are currently doing under the knife.

I didn't know that they put in a prescription lens during cataract surgery--I'd always assumed it was just a clear one. But I suppose that when you've developed cataracts, your eyes have been pretty steady (in terms of corrective lenses) for a while. So Grandmommy will need new glasses after this is all over. My aunt and then my mother plan to come down in succession to relieve me--Grandmommy assures me that she'll be fine on her own, but I think we're all more concerned about her feeling too good than the reverse--feeling go great post-op that she pulls an Arnold Schwarzenegger and attempts far too much, affecting the positive outcome of the procedure and delaying her healing time.

I think I will head for DC tomorrow, given no complications here.

I spent last Friday night in Savannah with my friend Audrey--we had a good dinner downtown and then sat up until almost midnight discussing memories and plans. She's going to start an accounting class in the fall, preparatory for gradually assuming control her family's large farming business. She's not only learning number crunching, she's studying soil and fertilizer and seed and how heavy equipment has affected farmland and its ability to percolate. It's fascinating stuff, and a far cry from the physical education major she pursued as an undergraduate almost two decades ago. I told her if she ever needed an admin assistant to call me.

I need a nap. I slept well last night, I just needed ten to twelve hours instead of eight.


Saturday, July 25, 2015

A Merry Note?

Under duress, I have joined the Twittersphere. My first formal book review was accepted (yay!) and should be published in the next month or so, and for the bioblurb at the end of the article, the editors asked for my Twitter handle. Apparently it's "the thing" for writers these days, although I note that neither of two of my favorites (Laura Hillenbrand and Neal Stephenson) seem to participate.

It was a joke this summer in Prague that, will or no, I'd learn to cut my TTT (teacher talking time) to a minimum, and evidence of this would be a Twitter account, given its limit of 140 characters. So, one of the first people I followed was my final CELTA tutor (the one of whom I had been so terrified, convinced she loathed me, and who turned out to be thoroughly kind).

Grandmommy is having cataract surgery on Wednesday. I'm to return to Dublin for the third time in as many weeks on Tuesday to help her with last minute prep (she wants to get her hair done) and make sure she gets safely to and from the doctor's office. She's understandably nervous--the thought of having someone cutting one's eye is fundamentally terrifying--but at the pre-op visit Friday, she was most fixated on the fact that she'd be denied her traditional morning coffee prior to anesthesia. The nurse assured her it would be available in the recovery room. All I got was ice chips! But we were told in cataract surgery recovery, they even offer snacks. Plush.

The synthetic lens they plan to insert in her eye is shaped like the hurricane icon on digital weather maps. It's cool. I hope she hasn't any complications.

I'm so glad to report Grandmommy is again walking comfortably. She is someone who doesn't complain, and so when she mentioned last week that her toes were so painful they were keeping her up at night, I was ready to join my aunt in recommending surgery--it's too hot nowadays for anyone sane to exercise outdoors when the sun is up, but when the weather cools we want her to be able to return to her regular mile-plus walking routine. But (as my father always noted) foot surgery is a purely hit-or-miss operation, which oftentimes does little good, and in an elderly person can often handicap more than it heals, given the necessary length of recovery. Grandmommy decided to start applying some prescription cream to the affected digits, and praise God (as she frequently does), it's working!

We all had an awesome time with my niece and nephew this last Wednesday and Thursday. My brother-in-law drove them up from Orlando to visit their Great-Grandmommy, and my mother and I came down from Augusta to be with them (I got so confused trying to keep the terms Grandmommy and Great-Grandmommy straight!). The kids picked almost a gallon of blueberries, snacked on the few ripe(ish) scuppernongs and pulled some green pears. While Brad busied himself with other activities, Rita played two games of Scrabble with her old aunt, her Grandmommy and Great-Grandmommy.

Speaking of old aunts, while their father went back to the motel for an hour or two to work, my mother and I took the two children to an antique mall. My nephew looked around at the assorted knickknacks and, seizing my arm, announced that he had found a great antique: me. A wit, that one. I think my friend Amy would call this poetic justice.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Projects Incomplete

I've been working out like a fiend for more than three weeks now, doing brutal inclined sit-ups and high-intensity sessions on a variety of machines that leave my tshirt heavy with sweat and my feet feeling like my tennis shoes are lined with lead. And if anything, my belly is paler and more flabby than when I began. I'm so white I'd probably glow under a black light. And my abs, never a significant feature, still repose under the snowbank. Outside, it's hot as blue blazes--when having your house thermostat set at 80 gives you the impression of stepping in to a refrigerator when you go in your front door, you know it's warm in the great wide open. And parking lot asphalt magnifies this scorching effect--usually about this season is when the local paper runs a picture of people demonstrating that yes, you really can cook an egg on the sidewalk.

I spent Saturday and today in my garage, determined to finish some of the many projects that have accumulated there over the past year or more. I stained and varnished a table, stripped the finish off an antique organ stool, measured all my wood lamp bases, fixed three that were damaged, drilled a vase for a lamp, and cleared out some odds and ends, putting tags on them for consignment. And I made a bunch of magnets. And I restrung a friend's necklace. I know I was convicted of my habitual idleness, having been around Grandmommy for three days previous--she is always up and doing, though her feet have really started to pain her. My aunt is arranging for her to be assessed for surgery on the toes that are giving her fits--the discomfort (and Grandmommy is not one to mention discomfort) is sufficiently severe to prevent her from going on her daily walks and it keeps her awake at night.

The placement company for the Vietnamese schools sent me a contract. But, it is so general and vague that it's not signable. There is no definition of terms like teaching hours (an academic hour is an inconsistent beast, occupying 45 minutes in some parts of the globe and more than twice that elsewhere), and how teachers are evaluated and how they are housed and equipped isn't specified. I've had to handwash bluejeans before, boil water for a "bath" (sponging out of a bucket) and use outhouses abroad--I'd rather not be committing myself to two years of such. I want to know the size of the apartment, whether it has AC and a refrigerator, how much laundry will cost, how far it is on foot to the primary school and how far again to the secondary school. I've asked most of these and other questions to the recruiter, and haven't gotten answers. This is itself alarming. I don't want to fly halfway around the world to find myself in a hot hole without modern facilities, at least not without compelling reason, and I don't have one for Vietnam right now.

I have emailed other schools, and applied for several domestic gigs in the last week, but perhaps everyone is on vacation, because it's like bellowing into the vacuum of space.


Saturday, July 11, 2015

Books, Background Checks & Boneyards

Few things give a person a turn like when she's divested herself of glasses and clothes and is headed, exhausted and myopic, toward a well-deserved late-night shower and sees what appears to be a large medjool date skittering around her bathtub. 

I hate roaches. No matter how clean one's house, they still somehow rationalize invasion. After my delayed shower (having doused the bug with every toxic chemical I could pull from under my bathroom sink, then flushed the body down the toilet), I went to the garage to get the death-to-insects spray and reapplied it to every downstairs baseboard. 

Today the temperature climbed to almost 100F. I sent a note to an English speaking school in Mexico which is looking for a History and Civics teacher, and did some background prep for applying to an administrative assistant position up in the DC area. I'm supposed to do a short model lesson for a Vietnamese public schools recruiter Sunday afternoon. Two days ago I read through a series of personal complaints about teaching in South Korean hagwons that made me want to crawl into a hole and pull it in after me. Gosh, how does anyone find a good gig? I was interested in a spot in China, but following up on the lead indicated that if it wasn't actually a scam, it was a waste of time. 

I had sent a letter of complaint to the Atlanta FBI office, asking if there were any way to expedite a background check that needed to be apostilled, but they just sent me a form letter referring me to the national office in West Virginia (which does no good at all, as they were the folks who managed to return me the wrong paperwork in the first place). I had said I'd even appear in person if someone could help me get the right document quickly, but the candy and flowers-type offer didn't move them. Argh! How does anyone get the correct information?  A local law enforcement guy I know from high school told me I should go to my congressman and threaten to raise hell on Facebook if I didn't get satisfaction. Phooey.

My first official book review may be published soon--my friend Carolina had recommended me to a periodical in the DC area, and while I was in Prague, they sent me a doorstop-sized hardback, a biography of a Cold War-era Russian defector, to read and comment on. It probably doesn't bode well for my future publishing career that I would find this first text lacking in so many respects--scathing criticism of someone else's work is not the best way to join a community of writers. But for something that somehow occupied more than 600 narrative pages, the story was remarkably uninformative. Honestly, I didn't care about the subject before, and the book did nothing to revise my opinion--there weren't even many juicy or relatable details, and the style was rather bland. It was a pity--throughout, there were opportunities for deeper reflection on the person, the environment, and the time that the author totally overlooked, despite having had more than half a dozen acknowledged assistants in the compositional process. I guess I'm just spoiled by Laura Hillenbrand. She could write a history of mud and it would be fascinating (and comprehensively researched).

As to other memories of the dead, the last three days I spent in Prague I passed in the city graveyards. I needed rest and perspective. Seeing the stones grown over with ivy and paths shaded by the heavy leafy limbs of huge, ancient trees was sobering and yet relaxing. I passed hours strolling around acres of granite, marble and rusted ornate iron fences, snapping photos of this and that family plot, closeups of weathered calligraphy, armless angels and leaning crucifixes.  Most people who die in Czech (as local expats casually call it) nowadays are cremated--old mausoleums and headstones often have an urn or two incongruously added at a corner, where the ancestral skeletons have been joined by the descendants' ashes. I saw the grave of Franz Kafka (in the Jewish Cemetery) and that of Antonin Dvorak (in Vischyrad), besides thousands of others who are less well known abroad. There were two notable sections of Allied war dead: the Soviets all shared identical politically-themed monuments inscribed with their names and a victorious banner and gun (one was of a female military doctor--Pirogov would have been proud), but the Commonwealth area had group insignia, and Christians, Muslims  (a Cypriot detachment had been in the area) and Jews were laid democratically together, each man's faith, rank and origin recorded but not restricting him from the others' noble company. The Commonwealth soldiers were by and large a decade younger than the Soviets--testimony to the toll the war had taken on their respective populations.

I'm off to the Augusta market in just a few hours. Last week's sales were pitiful. What made this more galling was that my last customer, a septuagenarian visiting from Arizona, sidled up after I wrapped her purchase and said, "I'm not sure how to tell you this, but when you lean over, people can see all the way down to your waist." Humiliating on two accounts: that I'd been apparently putting on a near-topless show all day, and even worse, that it hadn't bettered my bottom line whatsoever!