Friday, April 29, 2016

Six Weeks

Well, my month and a half hiatus from blogging wasn't intentional. I have been too exhausted by my commute and too overwhelmed by other weekend and weeknight commitments (sleep, laundry, etc.) to pause to reflect in written form. I've seen one friend off to teach in South Korea after we held two consecutive yard sales to liquidate her possessions--one in Greer, SC, two Saturdays ago, and the other at my house this past Saturday. I've driven several thousand miles just going to and from work. I've paid my mother back some of the money I owe her. After thirteen years of carrying the same purse, I bought a replacement that arrived in the mail today. I've planted a garden in my back yard. My brother had a scene from a Nicholas Cage movie filmed in his driveway. My other brother bought his first house, and four sets of my friends also moved or arranged to move from townhouses or apartments into single family houses. I've enjoyed church, and actually gotten to reconnect with some people I used to hang out with when we were all in the young singles class fifteen years ago, before they married and reproduced. I've visited Grandmommy--I slept while Mums chatted and John drove. I had my best non-holiday month at my consignment booth. I've been getting to the gym regularly, though I haven't lost any weight. My house is a disaster inside, but the outside has been freshly painted. My roses have developed a mite-caused mutation called "witches broom" that has turned them hellishly thorny. I now have a banana tree! I learned how to make tissue paper flowers and created the table decorations for a friend's parents' golden wedding anniversary celebration. My garage is slightly less cluttered than it has been, but there's still plenty to be removed. Work has given me the opportunity to learn about an impressive variety of writers, from terminally depressed poets to ancient comedy playwrights to modern lesbian novelists. I continue to make occasional errors as I check that our entries present accurate information about them and their works.  Would that I had time to read them and not just skim what critics have had to say about them ... I sympathize both with librarians and with intelligence analysts in my daily labors. The former are tantalized by proximity to great literature they don't have a chance to enjoy, and the latter are expected to rapidly produce position papers based on data from dubiously reliable sources. As much as it would be fascinating (and probably better remunerated) to work as a national security position, I find myself grateful not to have life and death dependent on the accuracy of my work right now, however hard I try to get it right!

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mathematical Ignorance On Pi Day

In my previous post, I took courage from the example of Ann Radcliffe, whom I deduced had begun both her matrimonial and writing career in middle age. Today, I read through her biography again, and discovered that I had miscalculated, somehow subtracting six from eight and getting four. Not only was she just over half my age when she wed, she was only a quarter century when she was initially published. And she was socially well-connected, being the niece of Josiah Wedgwood's business partner. Phooey. Not that I have any intention of writing Gothic romance novels!

I've learned in the past week that two of my girl friends are moving abroad, both for educational reasons. One will be in Canada, and the other in South Korea. I shall simply be forced to go visit them.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Though Glasses, Confusedly

For two weeks now, I have felt as if I were gazing through a fishbowl. Going down the steep flight of stairs at work has been a daredevil exercise, as I discovered from the outset of wearing my new glasses that I could not actually see where I was placing my feet. Given that I am capable of tripping on a flat and uncluttered surface, this did not bode well. My lopsided ears were to blame. I went back to the optician today, and the fitting ladies pointed out that the frames were askew--and hence I was looking at the world through both near and far elements at the same time. They messed about with the orientation, and now I'm appreciating a clearer perspective. I'm still not used to craning my head around like an owl every time I want to focus on a new object, however. And short of bending double, I cannot focus on my toes! I told a friend that it would be nice to have a kind of checkerboard pattern of farsighted and nearsighted lenses, so you could see things clearly at every point of the compass, like a housefly.

My misery with my third severe cold in as many months kept me at home Friday week, so I teleworked for the first time, and got a lot done, despite having to get one of my coworkers to send individual files to me, as at the time my computer wasn't set up for remotely accessing the central database. This challenge has since been overcome. My new-to-me computer only has work stuff on it for now; all recovered files from my old machine are on a portable drive. Having a clean slate is a refreshing feeling. Before I start on my umpteenth book idea (the example of Ann Radcliffe gives me hope--she didn't marry until 43 or produce her first book until 45), I want to get my first desktop in twenty some odd years and several big monitors to attach side by side. I've really gotten spoilt with two monitors at work--being able to have two full working windows is so convenient! I met with my accountant this morning and immediately succumbed to intense monitor envy--he has five. Four are mounted in a floating square--I half expected to see a subset of the Brady Bunch pop up on the screens--and the largest sits alone off to the side, the lord of the files. I'm getting a tax refund from last year. He warned me that I shouldn't expect one for this year, since I will make money, provided I am not summarily sacked.

 I do like my work colleagues, though it's a bit like being back in grade school, not only because of the exposure to many germs: they talk about poop and sex what seems like all the time, so in some ways it echoes a junior high boys locker room...or a 1950s longshoremens union office, only without the smoking and high pay, and everyone's pale and soft around the middle. I have decided that given the informality of the atmosphere, I can be comfortable, and so I spend many hours either sitting on my stocking feet or with them propped on top of my desk as I lean back in my chair with my keyboard in my lap. so far no one's complained of the smell. All I need is a cigar, a large lead pencil behind one ear and a green eyeshade, and I'd look the classic editorial part. Instead, I have ordered a pair of kitty slippers from South Korea that I intend to wear at work. I started out being formal and proper and adult, and within two months my inner nerdslob has reasserted itself. Maybe if we left the light on in the office and my roommates were not constantly cursing their recalcitrant computers, I would be less prone to feel at home, but it's a collegial environment, and my boss only ventures upstairs biweekly to deliver our pay stubs in person.

 My cousins, God bless them, are still putting me up, and putting up with me, two nights a week. I'm tremendously blessed. They have a huge black Labrador that tries to climb into my lap when I park in the driveway, and an elderly red spaniel that barks mournfully to announce my arrival, warning the herds of deer and packs of coyotes that live in the woods around to keep their distance. The frogs which sang so lustily during the warm spells in January are quieter now, and the crickets and cicadas haven't reached full summer voice. It's lovely out in the country--you can look up between the trees and all the constellations are bright in the dark sky, and the river is gurgling down at the bottom of the hill, on the other side of a muddy cornfield, where last year's stalks are dry and broken. Two weeks ago, I hiked down to see the river at dusk, and my cousin told me about camping down there when he was a boy, using leaky discarded boats to cross to the uninhabited island with his friends. They eventually sank all the boats in the river during their adventures, emerging muddy but unscathed. Every kid should have such a Tom Sawyer childhood.

Friday, March 04, 2016

Colds, Addictions, Transvestites and Consorts

I had no idea whether the long-refrigerated liquid I was drinking out of the merlot bottle were still wine, or had already turned to vinegar. The green glass was cold in my hand, and the paper label rough against my fingers, and I could feel the liquid sloshing over my tongue, but there was no taste. It could have been nectar, it could have been lighter fluid--I wouldn't have known the difference.

The carpet around my bed looks like the aftermath of bridal shower where bridesmaids force one another to create "wedding gowns" out of toilet tissue--there are wads of the white stuff all over the rug, over the power cords and among the clean socks. It's like a bloodless trauma ward. Empty tea cups, grungy ear plugs, unread novels, odd pieces of jewelry. And a pair of brand new progressive lenses in fuchsia frames. I attempt to inhale, sneeze and cough phlegm into a wad of toilet paper, then toss it on the floor with a groan.

Colds suck.

 Of course, what I'd like to do is inhale without having to open my mouth like a fish, to breathe smoothly in through my nostrils. Hah! Cough, cough. Even harder to say than to do, since my voice has gone along with my senses of taste and smell on some long term excursion, leaving no forwarding address or prospective time of return. I am, faintly, pleased that my throat doesn't pain me the way that it did yesternight, but even the most advanced voice recognition technology that Apple has to offer cannot puzzle out my choked and scratchy whispers, so dictation, my favorite feature on my iPhone, is lost to me for the time being.

 On Monday, my skin felt young and clean and ticklish, the windy day gloriously sunny, the sort of day when you wish you could sprout butterfly wings from your shoulder blades and be whipped away into the air, spiraling free above the treetops in the fresh breeze. I could breathe through my nose. Those were happy times.

I have observed that it is never a good idea to ask how roundly one is being cursed, but sometimes you are irresistibly tempted to do so. You rarely hear yourself praised when you listen from behind doors and through keyholes....

We discuss food a lot in the office, from the deliciousness of kimchi and other spicy concoctions to the common appeal of the grilled cheese sandwich. The other day we were talking about duck, which I usually avoid because of the fat. "Oh, duck isn't greasy," returned my colleague. "Duck is unctuous." And she wriggled a bit in ecstasy at the thought.

Who was it that said, "'Write drunk. Edit sober'?" When you are loopy on cold medicine or whiskey or what have you, your lips burning from pouring alcohol over the chapped creases, maybe you are willing to let more spill on the page uninhibited that you are when properly attired, when politely seated with a clean, steaming cup of expensive coffee at your wrist. If I put any cup of liquid "at my elbow"--which seems to have been the received table arrangement for centuries--it would be knocked on the floor or all over my lap or my neighbor's before a pimp could thumb his way through his cash roll. 

Sometimes you just want to feel something. In fact, isn't that the motive behind most behaviors--that we want to feel something? It's only the happy giving behaviors of creating an opportunity for others to feel joy that we ourselves feel peace, however. We run around frantically seeking diversions, feeding the need for sex, for violence, for power, for control, for money, and they suck us dry, these diuretics of emotion. Instead of satisfying the need, they feed the cravings. Diminishing returns on each and every hard-sought win. Physical drugs, in what they do to the body, only offer a picture of what the emotional drugs--those acceptable, common obsessions that so many share--actually do to the heart.

Without Jesus, we are messed up. Man, are we messed up.

I found out more about the huge transvestite at the auction house. S/he is actually a Marine veteran of the first Gulf War, decorated several times, and while a young man participated in a football training camp alongside Dan Marino (which Ace Ventura fans will doubtless find amusing). After leaving the military s/he became homeless, and clawed up out of that situation by means of selling a bagful of blue jeans. Apparently s/he asked out a similarly large coworker of mine who is a divorced father of two and was not happy about being rebuffed.

Speaking of large men and larger men, my cousin, who is a good six feet tall, 235lbs, told me about a former employee of his this morning, who was "as strong as an ox." He was the size and had the intellect of an ox, too. He'd been arrested for multiple DUIs, yet somehow had a drivers license. The subject came up because the TV news was featuring two local government officials being arrested recently, in separate incidents, for driving while intoxicated. Camden told me that this fellow could rip out a tile bathroom in under three hours--he was a beast. "He broke three of my ribs!" Camden said. Camden had been stiff after work and casually mentioned to this fellow that he needed someone to crack his back, and before he knew it, this guy had picked him up behind the arms and was shaking him like a rag doll. My cousin had only enough breath left to squeeze out, "Man, what the hell you doing?!" And upon being dropped, "Hell, man, you broke my damn ribs!" Like Harry Houdini, he'd not had time to brace himself, and it was his undoing. That didn't lead to the guy being fired. The reason that Camden fired him was that one day they were working for a missionary who risked her life repeatedly to smuggle Bibles into a closed country. A really nice lady. And this guy needed a ride (it must have been one of those times when his license was temporarily revoked) and he agreed to meet someone who could give him a ride at a local strip club. And he asked the lady where the strip club was. That was the last straw, in Camden's book.

Last week, I'd sold a DVD collection on eBay and had to go to the post office during lunch to mail it, since those blame postal machines won't permit Media Mail packages. Outside rain was dripping off the Kennedy Center-style metal awnings (incongruous with the traditional Greek key-embossed bronze post-box doors inside). I had been standing in an unmoving queue for 20 minutes, chatting with the dumpy little white woman next to me, one place ahead. There was no new movement. The two clerks at the five possible windows were operating at a glacial speed, not only as if they were stuck in molasses, but as if a film of their movements had been slowed down for frame by frame analysis. The voluble round woman beside me told me she was from a tiny town, where the post office at just one employee and they knew you by sight--she never usually had to wait like this. Then she spotted a woman she knew further up in the line, caught her attention and started chitchatting about the church that either they had both worked for, or both volunteered at, or something, and the other woman mentioned that it was children's musical week. Immediately the woman standing next to me reminisced about being dressed up for one of the past musicals "as a Sodomite, or something," I don't think sodomite was what she meant.

Then SC governor Nikki Haley's husband showed up. I didn't know him from Adam, but the dumpling poked me in the ribs and indicated him: "That's the governor's husband--and that's his bodyguard with him!" I noted that the bodyguard was cleanshaven ethnic fellow who looked like he had little sense of humor. They quietly got in line behind the rest of us. And suddenly, postal employees materialized on several fronts anxious to help the customers. It was magic. The little old lady behind me clutching an envelope with tax returns in it was shocked. Within five minutes, everyone's business had been seen to. Miraculous.

There's a unspoken pecking order in the publishing house, too, I have found, and editors are at the top of this silent hierarchy. The senior male editors don't really speak with the lower staff members, or when they do, it's with an air (probably unintended) of descending into the realm of mortals from on high. I had wondered why everyone was treating me with such deference, asking my opinion about silly little details when they clearly knew more about what was preferable than I did, and suddenly, all is clear. However, I am glad to report that while they are in their little silent all-male enclave next door, I am in a majority female office where I can talk and be talked to (and ridiculed cheerfully, when the occasion arises). So the minute my feet start to leave the floor, I'll be pulled back to earth and slapped until I come to my senses.

Thursday, March 03, 2016

My First Sick Day

Unless some miracle happens in the next eight hours, I will be taking my first sick day at my new job tomorrow, although I have yet to be fully vested with leave, being still in the probationary period. I'm really bad off, though, and I have worked ahead to the extent that the process shouldn't be slowed by my absence for a day. And it may be possible for me to work from home, even in my infirm state. My throat hurts, my ears hurt, my voice sounds and feels like I am gargling an irritated hedgehog, and my nose keeps clogging up. I'm coughing and tired. And yes, I felt like this all day and still put in a solid length of work, but I am exhausted, and I know I need to rest.

I did screw up spectacularly today, sending my boss a project that was a shambles. I hope that the several I dispatched that were better managed to rescue my reputation from the dustbin, but I felt like an idiot after he called me out on some stupid mistakes I'd made. There were a couple of things wrong that I really hadn't been told how to identify and fix, but there were lots of points at which I could have done better and just didn't, being careless. I must make myself a list of items to check before I submit sections to the higher-up for inspection.

Gosh, I feel rotten. It's like I'm making up for several years' worth of germs in a several month span. You don't realize how convenient it is to breathe through your nose until you can't.

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!