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.