Saturday, November 28, 2015


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 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.