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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!

1 comment:

the seeker said...

I did not know that Kafka was buried in Prague.