Saturday, February 20, 2016

Middle Age Has Arrived

Becoming middle-aged requires a great deal of money. First, there was the neck surgery three years ago, which brought me to the verge of bankruptcy. Today, it was bifocals. Bifocals. $560 bucks on little old lady spectacles. And that was with my discount (not one for senior citizens – don't go there, or I'll hit you with my cane!), and apart from the cost of the eye exam that recommended them.

Nowadays, they have "progressive lenses" (isn't that a positive spin on increasing visual debilitation?!), which don't have an obvious demarcation line (so the only clear lines around my eyes are on my skin), so it's just graying hair and shrinking stature that will testify to my advancing years. My mother says I'll find them easy to get used to. I suppose I'll have to, or start wearing two pairs of glasses suspended around my neck like my boss does.

Work continues interesting. I drink large cups of tea and tisane, eat dozens of wintergreen mints and am constantly rearranging my seating position and scribbling incoherent and illegible notes on my desk paper to try to keep myself moving in the right direction(s). It feels sometimes like I'm juggling flaming knives, and while thus far I have managed to avoid being stabbed, I have gotten singed repeatedly. My boss is not given to many words or to hovering, so I get a scattering of one-line messages through the day either acknowledging receipt of work, or assigning more, or (with voluble brevity) pointing out a major blunder I've made. Every couple of days he'll send me a note that says "good job," but these pronouncements are few and precious.

Thursday, a group of my colleagues and I went over at lunchtime to tour a 200-year-old house with elegant formal gardens and some residual issues related to an enormous bat colony that had established itself in the attic and behind the  old wooden window shutters. The bats were recently expelled, but keep attempting to return to their ancestral home, the owner told us.

On Friday, because I had worked extra the preceding four days, I was able to leave early to see my niece, nephew, their father and their cousin on their less-than-twelve-hour stop in Augusta on their road trip back from a cruise in Florida to Rhode Island. I was hoping that they would agree to sleep over, but my brother-in-law was understandably anxious to get a few more hours up the interstate before pausing for the night. The children played Star Wars outside for hours, my nephew astounded that the wintertime South has no snow. Both my brothers came to visit for the evening, too, and each was more cheerful than I have seen him in a long time. And complimentary! Bob told me he liked my haircut and that the upstairs of my house was really neat (he must not have looked in the back room!). And this was before he had had two apple ciders. It meant so much to my mom that they came, though I did get the impression that even though each is in an extremely muscular state, they found the children's energy level somewhat overwhelming.

I gave Rita my blog address. I wonder what she'll think of my stories from her youth?

Thursday, February 11, 2016


I could hear the chanting as I approached the unmarked metal door on the far side of the warehouse after sunset Tuesday night. There were old and battered trucks and cars parked on the sand and gravel outside, and mine fit in perfectly. I was a little surprised the door was unlocked when I hauled at the knob, but just inside I found hundreds of rickety-looking square folding tables loaded with assorted junk and an irregular crowd of about 25 people, all muffled in flannels and overcoats, hunch-shouldered and intent on a tired-eyed fortyish orange-tanned guy in short sleeves wearing a small headset who was singsonging numbers and swinging his arms from one bidder to another as small nods and hand gestures signaled higher offers.

I tapped one fellow lingering at the back of the group on the shoulder and asked him where to register. He pointed me across the warehouse to a glass window where a fat pale woman wearing another headset was rapidly typing on a computer. A black man leaning up against the door frame next to her, who looked like he was in charge, directed me around to another desk where an elderly clerk took my driver's license for a few seconds and then gave me a large index card with the number 420 scrawled on the unlined side in Sharpie. "There's 8% tax and a 10% premium on all winning bids," he said. I thanked him, and tucked my license back into my wallet.

It might not seem possible for a place where computers are well integrated to seem rustic, but the office had the feel of an old family-run car repair shop where there was working dirt under the staff's fingernails, and receipts and parts catalogs tucked in the corners. And then there were the signs--a yellowed typed sheet taped to the wall listing the rules for bidders--cash and checks only, no credit cards, no debit cards. A second name to whom checks could be written was crossed out on the sign--evidence of death, retirement or professional rift, I guessed. Various stickers with warnings about the laws against passing bad checks we pasted on the glass window, and humorous notices about the insanity and stress level of the staff, and pictures of children and pets were around the frame.

Meanwhile, the auctioneer continued through the tables, the crowd shifting down the row as lot after lot was sold. I noticed that he began at "10 for this lot," then went to "6 takes it" if there wasn't a response. Some items found no takers even after he dropped to a dollar and paused, looking around hopefully, and others bounced up to twenty or more within seconds. There were no long silences--he had a steady rhythm, calling out the winning bid and number of the winning bidder in a breath, and the woman at the office computer recorded it, and he was on to the next table.

My adrenaline pumping, I decided to quickly survey the upcoming tables and decide if I wanted to hazard anything, on what and how much. Every table was an eclectic assortment of household goods, dishes, electronics and other items. Of the fifty or so remaining, I saw maybe five that attracted my interest, and I quickly scribbled their numbers on the back of my index card. The first several tables that I thought had neat things went over my budgeted maximum. I noticed one guy sneaking glances at my notes, and mentally recorded that this crowd was a casual, relaxed, grizzled bunch of bottom feeders like myself, and in future I should keep my cards close to my chest. Literally.

But I got the two lots I really wanted – a set of three dusty pictures for $22.50, and then a table heaped with odds and ends, including a wooden jewelry box with brass corners, for $7.50.  Right after I won the pictures, the fellow who hadn't outbid me asked if he could buy one of the lot from me--it was the one picture I didn't want! So I told him, "Sure, let me pay first."

At the clerk's desk, a small queue had formed, including a six-foot-tall bass-voiced transvestite wearing grandpa jeans, a resurrected-from-the-1980s satin vest and large chandelier earrings. Her magenta-dyed long hair was combed over so the three-inch grey roots formed a neat line up from her forehead. The only people who seemed out of sorts there were one short snaggle-toothed white couple, who bickered over who should load the car.

With the tax and premium, everything cost me about $35. I sold the saddle picture to the old guy who wanted it for $10, so that brought my outlay down to $25. It took me three trips to take everything to my vehicle. I hadn't realized there was a bin full of things underneath the second table that was included in the lot. Some of it was trash, but there were some treasures--a nice leather bag, and a hatbox with two pretty vintage hats. I plan to flip everything once I have it cleaned and polished. Dirty doesn't sell. Or, rather, clean sells for more!

Saturday, February 06, 2016

Eschewing Surplussage

One to 2 nights a week, I've been enjoying the overnight hospitality of my cousins Mary and Camden in Irmo, SC, which has the effect of not only giving me a pleasant social outlet for an evening, but also shortening my commute to 25 minutes each way. They feed me wonderfully and proffer me a very comfortable bed in one of their several guest rooms (now that all their children are grown, every bedroom but the master is available for visitors). Mary has an MBA and is a computer whiz extraordinaire, and is helping me find a replacement for my suddenly defunct laptop. Camden owns his own business and is a fantastic cook – a week or so ago, he insisted on fixing me an omelette filled with mushrooms, spinach, cheese, and one or two other delicious fillings before I drove to work.

Our chats have been fascinating. One curious factoid I learned from Mary is that both of her grandfathers were born in the 19th century--she's only a few years older than me, and of course I knew that the Granddaddy we shared had been born in 1890, but her father's father was born in 1875! Her grandmother was his much younger second wife.  Of course, there was about 35 years' difference in age between our mutual grandparents as well. Which subject got me to thinking… I cannot see myself marrying someone who is 76! Or, conversely, waiting until I am in my mid-fifties to wed a twenty-year-old. Eww. But we owe our existence to such February-December marriages.

Camden and I were talking about American wastefulness (he's a recovering packrat like me), and he mentioned that he thinks we human beings are a lot like Oscar fish--whatever house we have, we grow to fill. If we only have a small space, we somehow manage to curb our possessions, but the bigger space we have, the more stuff we stuff into it. I agree with him–part of the appeal of the tiny house movement is the attraction of limiting yourself to only the necessities, of prioritizing people over things.

I'm responsible for assuring the accuracy and simplicity of the language in the biographical and critical entries in the reference books my employer produces. This has proven challenging in unexpected ways, as so many so-called reliable sources aren't properly footnoted, and many disagree with one another–perpetual frustrations for a historian! And academics love verbiage--I swear, if I had encountered the verb "foregrounded" again on Friday, I would have become apoplectic. I love learning more about so many writers, though.

One of the things I appreciate about my officemates is that they laugh at my jokes. And it's really nice to be around fellow Southern-accented people who are well-traveled and well-read and movie-savvy. Now if they wouldn't say "Oh, Jesus!" multiple times a day... It's more than a little ironic that this name is a chosen profanity for a Buddhist. But this is also the same young person who considers it inconceivable that Planned Parenthood would sell fetal organs, since that's somehow wrong. As if abortion were perfectly reasonable but profitably disposing of the medical waste that results were evil. I don't follow, but I have repeatedly observed this sort of "I knew you were a hard man, so I buried the talent" mental process in nonWayfollwers before. Useless to debate.

I had planned to start paying my mother rent as soon as I got my first paycheck – but, of course, then large unexpected expenses appeared! I got ANOTHER several hundred dollar bill associated with last year's colonoscopy, there were other household bills that came due (I've not been home, and I've been keeping the heat set in the 60' can my electric bill possibly be that much?!), and then my computer died. Thank God, I was able to get all the material copied onto an external hard drive (that itself wasn't cheap), and complete my second book review for TWIROB before my laptop absolutely refused to turn back on, but even with Mary's expert assistance I'm likely to spend some heavy coin replacing this essential equipment. Forking out an average of $10 per day for gasoline isn't particularly enjoyable, either, but the twice-a-week ESOL and history tutoring I've been engaged to do offsets that. Maybe my expenses are like Oscar fish, too...