Saturday, April 25, 2015

Falling & Filling

That plaster ceiling was closer to collapse than we'd presumed. On Tuesday, the contractors were planning to cut around the edge, to replace the main expanse with sheetrock while preserving the elaborate cast molding at the top of the walls. All furniture had been cleared from the room, the doors to the rest of the house shut and sealed with plastic, and a large window to the patio removed for ventillation. Drop cloths were down, and they carefully carried the antique crystal chandelier to the kitchen, then returned to climb on a ladder with a power saw to make the first cut. And suddenly, there was a distinctive popcorn/gravelly sound. All three men dove for safety, and in a tremendous 45-second crash, all 3000-plus pounds of plaster rained down. The aluminum ladder was mangled, and part of the molding precipitated with the ceiling, so it can't be saved. We were just grateful that no one was seriously injured or even killed. And happy that we'd made the right call about postponing the sale until the situation could be fixed.

We spent the week cobbling together a sale out of scraps, which is our least-favorite preparation method. The owners had signed a contract ages ago, but then left only a few 80s-era dregs in the house, much to my sweet boss's disgust. Formica over particle board and grungy upholstery in pale Pepto Bismol pink. And there were very few smalls. Everything was dirty or broken, and mostly both--I'd have been ashamed to run a yard sale with much of it. Definitely not up to our usual standards. We rearranged and accepted vast quantities of consignments, and after washing and fixing and vacuuming and supplementing, it looked to be decent. Again, not as dazzling as normal, but the homeowners will make considerably more on the few things they left because we'd staged it so well--had we not, customers would have simply walked in, shrugged in disgust, turned around and walked out. As it is, turnout has been modest and sales pitiful thus far, with only one more day left to run. Unless it's a blowout, this will have been a less-than-satisfactory experience, financially. I have written a lot in the lull times though, from reviews of the latest Kdramas to musings about the troubles of repatriation, so it wasn't a bust creatively.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Rejecting Virtual Life For Actual

A very real "First World" problem is the subtle trap of living only vicariously, mistaking knowledge about an individual or event for real familiarity--experience and personal relationship built on personal interaction. Oddly, I am not singling out Facebook for criticism, as that has been only a recent and comparably small part of my life, but the many other means by which I have been lulled, or have lulled myself, into thinking that I am engaged with the world around me, but instead have distanced myself from its people, its real problems, and its Creator.

In recent months, I've lamented how close family members can choose to miss out on delightful opportunities to interact with folks like Grandmommy--why they would deliberately avoid such moments of being well fed and better loved mystified me. And yesterday, the sermon at McLean Pres made me realize that I'd been doing the same, albeit on a grander, more awful scale. Isn't it far worse as humans to have the means to know the God of all the universe, and to ignore him? What real joys I have ignored! I feel like an idiot. Anyone can know tremendous amounts of trivia about a given well-known accomplished person, but actually knowing and being known by that one is wholly dissimilar. I am terrible at remembering my friends' birthdates, but I love them dearly--to think this can be demonstrated by not being in regular contact is silly. It's really easy to fritter away my time meaninglessly, not just sitting on the metaphorical winning ticket, but witlessly foregoing a lifetime of friendship with the only Genuine? I pray (really!) that this seeps deep into my marrow, that this burnt marshwiggle moment doesn't recede easily into my bottomless cache of lost memories.

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Macon Cleanout, Augusta Marketday, Music

My mother is the antithesis of packratiness--I've always said, "If it's not nailed down, she'll throw it away...and if it's nailed down, she'll pull up the nail and then throw it away." My late father was a packrat, and I (as his clone) am a packrat, and yet my stepdad, bless his heart, once made us look like amateurs (he has voluntarily cleaned out a huge quantity since marrying my mother--evidence of true love!), so I was amazed that he allowed my mother and me, without supervision, to go down to his parents' house in Macon last week to clean out the "Doghouse", an 1000-square foot brick structure where the contents of the main house were stored while the latter was being rented out these past several years. Perhaps John was tacitly expressing his confidence in me to limit my mother's cleaning-out zeal? I rescued as much as possible (tons of items we rough-cleaned and repacked), but there was a lot that proved irrecoverable, since the damp and heat had caused much of the sensitive organic material (paper, cloth)--some of which had been properly boxed--to molder. We were able to make it through only 3/5 of the Doghouse contents in 20 hours of hard work, so we plan to return in early May, after my latest trip to DC and before I pack for Prague.

At dusk Wednesday and Thursday my mother and I drove to Dublin, GA, for food and sleep--Grandmommy was delighted that we came; though the decision to stay the first night was really last minute, of course she managed a sumptuous repast. Thursday evening I was at the wheel on I-16 when I looked down to see the setting sun illumine my wrists, whereon there was a clear demarcation--a dirt line beginning where my work gloves had ended and extending up my arms to my dusty purple shirt and down to my grubby jeans, which had been fresh-washed only that morning. I was filthy top to toe. The minute I made it to Grandmommy's, I peeled off in the laundry room and streaked to the pink bathroom at the end of the hall to scrub every inch with hot soapy water--total body clean had to be established before I could take a bite of dinner, no matter how hungry I was! Mums and I'd bathed before supper two nights running--there's nothing like the memory of mildew and the vestiges of old cobwebs on your clothes to interfere with a good appetite.

Since I was still in Augusta on Saturday (the sale up in DC had been postponed because of the falling plaster in the main room that needed to be fixed before we allowed customers in), I returned to the Augusta Market with the Polish stoneware I'm selling. My new professional sign ("Pottery from Boleslawiec, Poland. Oven, Microwave & Dishwasher Safe") was rather unprofessionally suspended--with twist ties--from the frame of my tent, which dripped from the rain that was falling when we began our setup, but it dried off quickly. I had my first browser early, which was encouraging. Other vendors chatted among themselves and put the final brush up touches to their displays. Two were generously-proportioned white women, one with teal-tinted hair, the other with rose-magenta highlights, each patchily tattooed--never let it be said the South doesn't have visually peculiar characters! Technically, the market opened at 8, and the diehard exercise fanatics with their dogs left for their weekly eight-mile run ten minutes after that, but shoppers were few for the first hour except for the earlybird vegetable buyers, their arms full of empty cloth shopping bags, headed determinedly for their favorite farmer's tables. I'd had little sleep, for the second night running, as I woke up just after midnight and lay there for hours, counting down the minutes until my alarm. Praise God, I rolled out of bed right when it sounded and hustled for downtown, because otherwise I'd have been pushed to the sloping passage through the levee toward the river. A squirrelly market man gave me the last spot by the fountain, next to the largest tree, where I was delighted to discover a dry spot to unload my boxes. It being the final weekend of a certain PGA golf tournament, every vendor was determined to be present in hopes the out of town visitors would be stopping by to shop.

Tuesday, I'd gone with Bella to hear live music at a small subterranean watering hole near her downtown group house. We'd been advised to arrive early, which gave us time to grab a central table and order beverages without having to shout over the super-amplification (we both resorted to earplugs shortly into the concert, and could still hear loud and clear through the foam). It was a four-man ensemble: The bass player--who to prove witty currency was wearing a black t-shirt with the slogan "No Treble"--strummed an instrument that may have been produced by a NC mountain mandolin maker--smooth dark wood for the body of the instrument, almost-white ash pierced in the shape of a heart for the bridge, and shiny nickel fittings. Most of the time he plucked the strings, so the bow was slung in a handmade leather holster on the front, easy to hand. The pleasant tenor was sung by a slender septuagenarian in a spring green golf shirt, as was appropriate for his subject (mostly classic Irish folk) and for the Masters Week crowd, which had rented out every room of the bed and breakfast upstairs, and swelled the crowd as the evening wore on, so there was standing room only. The fiddler could have been the prototype for Johnny in "The Devil Came Down to GA"; that violin was practically smoking as the gut rasped over the strings and his fingers outdanced Michael Flatley's feet. His face bore the flush of one too many whiskeys, and a cluster of brown bottles accumulated beside his seat as song followed song, but if anything he played with ever more swift assurance, his face glowing intensely from alcohol and exertion. Tattoos curled up the neck and down the arms of the drummer, who tapped a small snare with a succession of wooden sticks and steel brushes, rocking along to the melody of the man at his right elbow. And the venue was perfect for an intimate musical evening, in the cleanest, driest red brick basement I've been to, lit with festoons of white Christmas lights, the host a fat man with a balding pate and white ponytail who glad-handed the guests, the hostess a bustling woman with flying grey hair and an attentive "Darlin', you doin' alright?" every time a glass level dropped, and a convivial crowd that sang along cheerfully to the music and knew all the hand gestures to several, like a well-schooled Rocky Horror Picture Show audience (I don't think I will ever forget the movements to accompany the lyrics to "Shearing Sheep in New South Wales", which I found myself humming for days afterwards). I had a lovely time. Bella didn't--she decided that she really doesn't like Irish music, despite being half Irish. Ah, well, to each her own.

Monday, March 30, 2015

Ick, Cracks & Need

My least-favorite bit of estate sale prep is the occasional encounters with live spider crickets and freshly dead mice. Dead spider crickets smell terrible, too, but they are not as juicy as mice.

Thank God for antihistamines!  I woke up at 3 AM last week with the back of both hands covered in a nasty itchy rash--likely due to the late-season dryness of my skin, but probably also to the extensive cleaning needful in the house we're prepping for a sale, where I spent more than five hours Tuesday sorting through the basement (I drove up to DC after my CELTA application interview). At least there is no mold--that was fully remediated in an intensive six-month treatment my boss required before we started--but it is dusty, and though I was wearing gloves most of the time, there was bound to be some skin irritation.  There is fabulous stuff in this estate--excellent ormolu inlaid French furniture, chinoiseries, a Black Forest schrunk and screen, a furs and vintage fashions, and eclectic jewelry.  If we can sell the light fixtures, I will be thrilled--there is a silver chandelier in the dining room of which the old Russian nobility would have approved, and superb Austrian crystal wall sconces in the living room and main hall. My favorites, though, are two bronze Japanese lanterns in the solarium.

Besides recently-deceased rodents, two of which I found in a tall hand-blown glass bottle that I was cleaning at the sink (that was a nasty surprise!), there is one major concern among us, as the house (which is within sight of the National Cathedral) features a great fissure in the ceiling of the formal living room, a crack in the plaster that we suspect dates from the earthquake that toppled the cathedral spires several years ago. In some places, the split is an inch wide, as the ceiling has descended towards the middle crystal chandelier, making it a full 6 inches lower in the center of the room than around the molding. What if, God forbid, the whole thing caves in during the sale, pummeling shoppers and employees with hunks of hundred-year-old plaster, wrecking the fine furniture that we've assembled in the room? Short of having the whole thing cut out and replaced with sheetrock, I can't imagine a method of remediation.

I have, somewhat presumptuously, created a GoFundMe page for me to attend that CELTA course in Prague. I've already gotten (indirectly) a nasty response from a friend of a friend, who opined via Facebook that she'd grown up poor and never received "handouts", and that such appeals were presumptuous and befitted only those truly destitute. Argh! I hadn't in mind to insult anyone, nor to badger those less fortunate than I, nor to harass friends or relatives, but if one does not ask, one does not receive. This is not a purely pleasurable trip (although I dearly hope it will be great fun--must one suffer meantime to make others' generosity worthwhile?), but focused on the month of 5-day weeks of 9 AM-6 PM classes training me to be a good teacher of English to speakers of other languages. I'm tired of borrowing money from my mother. I've eBayed and consigned items, sold books online, vended pottery at a street market and commuted up here to work in DC until I'm exhausted. Sure, I'm not starving, I have comfortable clothes to wear, and wonderful houses to live in (courtesy of my mother at home and my boss who lets me borrow her guest room up here), and thanks to a sweet girlfriend in Prague, I'll have a great place to stay there. But I cannot easily afford the transportation and course fees, and if someone with extra money were inclined to think my endeavor a worthwhile one, why shouldn't I make it possible for them to fund it?  I'd write them a lovely thank-you note! And they'll get to enjoy a new assortment of interesting blogposts...

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Ghosts, Politics & Oppressing The Poor

My brother came home from the rural hospital where he's shadowing a primary care physician and told me that everyone in the place matter-of-factly acknowledges that if a patient sees a little boy running around the halls, that patient is going to die (or, in Bob's words, "He's toast.") Apparently, the little boy is a ghost. The decidedly settled and unsuperstitious doctor Bob is following said that his ex-schoolteacher mother was there for her final days and taught the little guy several lessons. Even ghosts can't play hooky forever.

A subcommittee of legislators at the South Carolina statehouse scheduled a hearing earlier this week about allowing nurse practitioners to treat patients for certain conditions which have been limited to physicians (who pay very high rates of malpractice insurance--the nurses don't want to pay these). Bob went to this, as his temporary mentor was due to testify. The hearing was slated for noon, so they arrived at 11. It was then pushed back to 1:30, and didn't actually get underway until 3. The room was stiflingly hot, and many of the nurses had brought campaign placards--which they were forbidden to hold up--but these came in useful as fans. Everyone was limited to a few minutes for statements, and Bob said emotions were high, and yet no one had a coherent argument, but all basically repeated the same themes over and over again. The basic mantra was that whatever legislation passed, rural care would suffer. I said it sounded like a nineteenth-century Southern funeral--everyone dressed up and sweaty and passionately repeating themselves while listeners waved paper fans. Bob said that the smell of death did pervade the room. After a while, people (including committee members) began getting up and leaving, whether overcome by boredom or heat, or a combination thereof, he couldn't tell. He said it was a colossal waste of time, and one of the lady legislators rightly pointed out that this infighting amongst medical professionals was not only unsightly, it didn't do anyone any good, since whatever bill was passed based on their conflicting testimony would be unsatisfactory for all.

As to daily injustice often practiced in more physically comfortable municipal buildings, to crush the helpless, exploit the needy, and stifle the appeals of the unjustly accused are characteristics of a wicked system that cannot be permitted by God or moral people to continue in existence. The stories of economic and legal injustice emanating from places around Ferguson, MO, illuminate a situation where people have so routinely been criminalized for negligible offenses (staggering numbers of arrest warrants for traffic tickets?!) that life has become a misery for most. There is no excuse for this behavior, generally perpetrated by white Haves against black Have Nots, but ultimately preying on those without resources.

I've been reading so many verses in the Bible which talk about God's judgment against people who mistreat the poor. The blight of title pawns and lottery vendors throughout the poor communities--leeches sucking the last few drops of lifeblood from the desperate and the deluded, respectively. The one takes a man's cloak in pledge, the latter entices with dreams of wealth without work.  One prevents productivity by making it difficult for people to retain their necessary transportation, and the other discourages productivity in investment in meaningful enterprise.

Speaking of bureaucratic systems that are working properly, and a poor person's hoped-for financial increase, I got my GA sales and use tax ID number yesterday, thanks to a very helpful lady on the phone from Atlanta who walked me through the Revenue office's online system (not something I could figure out on my own). I plan to begin selling Polish pottery at the Augusta Market on Saturday. I'm not as prepared for this readventure into the world of street markets as I would like, except for plentiful inventory (courtesy of a DC-area Polish friend) and the tax ID--I sold my old tent two years ago; I've ordered another one, but it's not to arrive until next week. I guess I will bring a golf umbrella and hope for the best!

Saturday, March 07, 2015

Overdid It

People from Maine to Michigan, Cleveland to Charlotte, are thoroughly sick of winter. It has snowed, and snowed. And snowed. The Washington Post yesterday published a front page, above the fold article entitled "Four Letter Word Blankets Region"; throughout the article, the "s" word was dashed ("s--w") or replaced with descriptive phrases as euphemisms for the expletive it has become. And the Boston/Providence area has seen some of the worst of the East Coast weather--my brother in law sent us a photo of the drifts outside his house reaching to the second floor.  Meanwhile, in Georgia, my mother reported temperatures of 70 and 80, and that she was driving with the roof of her convertible down.

I overdid it on Thursday, and am now stuck with laryngitis.  My cold had mostly abated thanks to a full day's rest and liberal application of zinc spray, but then I worked for 13 hours straight, including two periods shoveling snow (I think the fall totalled over eight inches) and a midnight trudge up to Connecticut Avenue to put an estate sale sign in an ice bank--the atmosphere was still, quiet--the crystalline beauty of fresh-fallen snow over houses, bushes and tree branches, shadowed artfully by streetlights, is impossible to capture with an iPhone camera!  And I had a rough night sleeping on a couch at the house (the roads were too dangerous to go home, so we camped out), waking everybody up at 5 AM screaming (I was in a dream confrontation with a paint-wielding graffiti artist), which didn't do much to improve the collective outlook. I am glad I got in visits to many of my friends the last time I was here in DC, as I am way too germy to associate with any this trip.

Tuesday, March 03, 2015


Being ankle-deep in ice water doesn't do wonders for the immune system. I woke up with a sore throat in the wee hours Sunday night and Monday had to leave work after only three, as one of my coworkers pointed out I looked like death. I felt lousy, so I didn't protest. I've been using up a box of Kleenex and a bottle of cold medicine since, spritzing my mouth with mint-flavored zinc and generally keeping to my borrowed bed in the guest room of my boss's house. My hope is that 36 hours of rest and medication will see me hail and hearty tomorrow, so that I can resume work.

Sunday was extraordinarily well attended, given the awful weather. Ice covered everything, including the company signs, all of which were encased in clear frozen water, with icicles three to six inches in length on the bottoms.  I had to gather them after we closed, since my boss had fallen on the ice just before the sale started (she's been having hip pain since--she may have a hairline fracture), and her husband is in his late 80s.  I got chilled in the process, but can't blame that entirely, as the temperature transition from Florida to Maryland was certainly a dramatic one. It's snowed, iced, and sleeted since I got here Thursday (this was to be strictly a working trip, so I told only my boss that I was coming); I'm already sick of winter in less than a week, and can only imagine how miserable all the locals must be!  

Not a single one of the six lamps I put in the sale sold.  I hope those in my booths down south are doing better. I am looking forward to returning to warmer climes in a little more than a week. If gas prices remain reasonable, I'll hope to make one more extended work trip up here before (provided I am accepted into a particular CELTA program) jetting off to an exotic Central European spot for an intensive month-long TESOL course.  Still haven't heard a peep from potential employers in Ukraine, so I've got to take alternative steps.