Saturday, May 24, 2008

Water Falls

When I got up this morning, I immediately knocked over a poorly sealed water bottle, a glass half filled with juice left from the night before, and my full coffee cup, which split in two. Two clean halves. Such a sodden fumble and what a way to start the day.

Yesterday was horrible for me. I couldn’t stop crying. Another wet mess. It was one of those anniversary days we mark off in our head, and I cried over my disappointments in how my life had changed: the things I had desired… and what I never got in return. It was a very difficult day, and my foolishness left me with a splitting headache that I’m still carrying around.

The funny part of all of this, (if there can be a funny part,) is that last night while I was sobbing, I was still wrapping sold Amazon items and sending out emails to people and talking to friends online giving opinions on curtain fabric choices and being productive. “Sure I’m miserable, but go with #1.” Also, my manicurist had said in passing last week that she had been thinking about opening her own shop some day, but she didn’t know what it would entail and could I help her by finding some “building a business” information? I remembered last night, so all of that was printed out and ready for her today. Will it happen for her? I don’t know, but as I told her, “I would never dissuade anyone from their dreams or hopes for the future.”

I opted for a manicure color I would normally never wear, a layered thing of a pale gold covered by a silver, giving the whole thing a shimmery effect. Mermaid fingers. Everyone loved it. So I’m sitting there drying, spa is humming with activity, and the lady across from me cries out. Her pedicure bowl is overflowing and won’t shut off. The pedicure chairs are high end and called The Murano Chair (the bowl being Murano glass.) They sell for $12,000. They do everything but pay your bills. She just sat there, complaining, so I said, “You’re getting the full spa experience.” Everyone laughed.

I got up and joined a few of the manicurists who were throwing towels down on the floor. They had unplugged the chair, but the water kept coming out. The eldest manicurist (and most level headed), Cheryl, said, “There’s a manual switch under the chair that overrides this.” Two people got down trying to find it, but by now there was a deep pool of water all over the place. Without thinking, I hiked up my pants, got on my knees and started feeling under the chair, asking Cheryl what I should be feeling for. I finally found the lever and pulled it toward me, and the flow stopped. I went and got a glass and started bailing out the bowl while this fool woman continued to sit in the chair saying, “Where are my shoes? I don’t want to get my feet wet.” It's moments like this where you think, "You can't make this stuff up."
Once during a hurricane our old neighborhood flooded out. Everyone’s basement was ceiling high in water. My father went and got fire trucks and led a team to pump out house after house. He was the neighborhood hero. He then followed through by going back to those houses to work out sump pump issues to make sure it would never happen again. I never forgot that. His immediate "take action and fix it" behavior. But he was always doing things like that.

As I left I said to Cheryl, with a meaningful look, “Have a good work week,” and she laughed and shook her head. One pragmatic woman to another. When I was leaving the spa, the front desk people thanked me profusely. Manicure dinged, of course. All in a day’s work for bicycle repairman.

This afternoon I took a nap, trying to recover from these past few days, and when I got up and sat on the edge of my bed, the first thought that popped into my head was, “That was your father. What you did today was your father.” My father was one of those men who never hesitated to jump into the fray. He was one of those rare men who could build or fix anything: carpentry, plumbing, electricity, air conditioning, car motors. Dig a hole to build a swimming pool? Sure. Build a church camp? Sure. I’ve always thought that all of my own mechanical skills and comprehension and ease with machinery and technologies came from him, but my thinking “That was your father” comes with a price. A heavy, sad price. Things I won’t even go into here. Things that I carry around. Things I don’t think will ever go away. But yes, that was my father.

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Friday, May 23, 2008

Fried French

" Yo. Vous want frites wit dat?"

As many of you know, I sell books, CD's and DVD's on Amazon in my continued efforts to simplify my life. Today I sold a boxed DVD set of The Wire (Fourth Season) to someone in Paris, France (not Texas.) I usually write a personal note on the invoice slip, thanking the person for their purchase. I wrote in French, "....Merci, pour la commande...."but I was thinking of the buyer and how a French person would interpret inner city school life in West Baltimore. For example, when Prop Joe says, "I'm like a marriage counselor. Tell the man he oughta bring the bitch some flowers every once in a while. Tell the bitch she gotta suck some cock every once in a while. That sort of shit," it translates into "Je suis comme un mariage conseiller. Dites-il l'homme oughta mettre la chienne quelques fleurs de temps en temps. Dites la chienne, elle dois sucer certains queue tous les temps en temps. Ce genre de merde," but can you truly translate that? And in this country, would it really be flowers and chocolate ice cream anymore, or tears, tantrum and a new car?

And who gets to do the voice overs on these things? Standing in a black room in front of a white screen, asking the dub director, "Quelle est ma motivation ?

I must have been in a Frencified frame of mind, because I went over and dumped a comment in French on Les Playaz blog, as if I was reviewing Phil's video effects for Cahiers du Cinéma and taking him to task for not using a soundtrack of Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" and Buck Owens "Will There Be Big Rigs in Heaven,":

Ce n'est pas un véritable exemple de Cinéma vérité aussi connu sous le nom de "vérité vérité" car il n'est pas modulaire underlaying le thème musical de conduire l'action en avant en vérité. Vérité une vérité en quelque sorte. Où est "Bonnie Jean": La distance de femme par rapport à la perte de la télécommande, une utilisation obsédante de Steve Earle's "Copperhead Road" a thématique s'inscrivent dans les traditions des générations du Sud avec le jugement qui nous attend tous, comme envisage de Buck Owens "Sera-t-il Big Rigs dans le ciel?" On ne peut pas inscrire ce travail dans le même genre que "Tirez sur le pianiste" sans ces considérations. Truffaut de "La mariée était en noir" fait bon usage de cet effet qui pourrait bien être ajouté par une application judicieuse de "The Girl on the Billboard." Et où est Wayne? Un article récent paru dans Cahiers du Cinéma revendications scènes cruciales ont été laissées sur le plancher salle de coupe en raison de différends contractuels. On ne peut que s'étonner de voir ce travail dans sa globalité.

The day doesn't bode well. I had already cited John Wayne Gacy on another blog saying I couldn't see Ronald McDonald without thinking "serial killer clown." I think my day should end this way, and I just happen to have a bottle, chillin' in the fridgedaire. It ain't Mad Dog 20/20, but it'll do:

Ce qui un jour!

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Thursday, May 15, 2008

I Relish A Good Pickle*

I have had people in the past tell me, "Oh. You're one of those people who sits around and adds things to Wikipedia, aren't you?" Given the nature of my interests that I cover in my writing--my "digressions" as my friends kindly call them-- I can easily see how one would picture me wikiing away on a rainy Saturday afternoon. In truth, up until yesterday, I had never bothered, even though I had seen gaps that needed filling** when I was researching various things.

I had a jar of Ploughman's Pickle. I suppose that was the trigger. Proust had his madelines. I had Ploughman's Pickle. I was remembering the Ploughman's lunches I used to have when I spent time in London, and that led to my next mental jump which was "Gentleman's Relish." I first stumbled on this food in a novel, actually. Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, so I went to Wikipedia to see what they had to say about Gentleman's Relish . I noticed they didn't even cite Mitford so I decided to take that big Wikileap into being an online know-it-all.

"The Hons"***

Here you are going to have to do some Wiki yourself, because the Mitford clan was a fascinating family, and they cross a lot of boundaries from Country Squire Quirks to Bright Young Things to Neo-Fascism to a daughter named Unity in love with Hitler. One of them did an infamous exposure of the American funeral business called The American Way of Death, which also inspired Evelyn Waugh (a friend of Nancy Mitford's) to write The Loved One. Deborah...Debo...married a Duke, Unity shot herself, Tom died in the War, Diana and her husband were either in prison or being watched on the facism.

She should have poisoned his big saucy
bangers when she had the chance****

So this is how I learned about Gentleman's Relish. One autumnal day, reading Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, purchased from Hatchard's. The quote? Here it is, and for some reason, it has lodged in my memory:

Good on hot toast or polishing your boots, Gunga Din, Sahib*****

In Nancy Mitford's Love in a Cold Climate, the character of Linda Radlett asks her mother for Gentleman's Relish. Her mother Sadie offers her some hot toast at tea (to distract her over the loss of a pet,) and Linda pushes her advantage for sympathy, "Can I have Gentleman's Relish on it?" she said, quick to make capital of Sadie's mood, for Gentleman's Relish was kept strictly for Uncle Matthew and supposed not to be good for children."

What can I say? This is not Noel Coward or Oscar Wilde material.

You see all sorts of odd foods in Great Britain. I wrote, not too long ago, about Spotted Dick. Go into any market in England, and you'll stand in the aisles thinking, "I can't make this stuff up." They eat things like jellied eels (just what it sounds like) and baps . (Memo to self: Correct Wikipedia on baps.) I used to love going into the grocery stores in London where I would find all sorts of interesting things. Like:

(Insert Joke Here)


(Insert Joke Here)


(Insert Joke Here)

I think the very first time I recognized these oddities was a Sainsbury's in Notting Hill where I found a can of mushy peas. Mushy peas is a very popular food in Britain. I actually brought a can back with me with a far better 1930's graphic to use as a pencil holder, but this will establish it's existence as a food:

(Insert Joke Here)

(Insert Joke Here)

Man is the only real enemy we have. Remove Man from the scene, and the root cause of hunger and overwork is abolished for ever. Man is the only creature that consumes without producing. He does not give milk, he does not lay eggs, he is too weak to pull the plough, he cannot run fast enough to catch rabbits. Yet he is lord of all the animals. He sets them to work, he gives back to them the bare minimum that will prevent them from starving, and the rest he keeps for himself.~~George Orwell, Animal Farm


* My first bad joke

** My second bad joke

***Hons would take forever to explain in terms of Mitford slang. The children were all "Honorables" from their Lord father. As children, they formed a club called "Hons" and "Non-Hon's" and "Honorable Hons" (people they liked that weren't titled.) Jessica wrote a book using Hon in the title, and older sister Nancy was infamous for writing an essay on "U and Non-U" which covered the proper terminology for things in the English language and other habits of the upper and lower classes. Looking glass viz mirror. Notepaper viz stationery. Putting milk in your teacup before pouring. Snobs? Uh. Yeah.

****Next bad joke. Instead Unity shot herself when she had to return to England at the start of WWII, in despair over her love of Hitler. She survived the bullet in her brain, but it left her impaired, and she died in 1948. That's what they get for naming her "Unity Valkyrie."

*****I wanted to get Kipling in here somewhere! This is just the kind of thing Colonial India soldiers would eat in Mess, pining for Pinge. (Wiki-Memo To Self: Write about Pinge.)******

******My next bad joke.

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Monday, May 12, 2008

No T.V.? Sheeeeeit.

"You didn't vote for Syesha? Sheeeit."

I was reading Arjewtino’s blog this morning where he wrote about the peer shame of texting in a vote for American Idol, but more importantly, the idea of dating a girl who doesn’t have a television set. I have to say that for a few years in my late teens and early twenties, I didn’t have a television set, (or a telephone or a computer.) I had a mattress on the floor in a room I had painted sky blue and airbrushed in multi-toned clouds. Ultimately I broke down and bought a tiny television set, and I have to say it was heaven to curl on the mattress at night, watching t.v. sideways. Life was a lot simpler then--and cheaper.

Growing up, I always had television. There is the famous moment in my family's history when my brother and I got up early on a Saturday morning to crank up the cartoon shows, and the television started emitting blue smoke, a strong electrical smell followed by a groggy Dad yanking the chord. I remember how upset my mother was, because part of the t.v. melted onto her oriental carpet; a carpet I have in my bedroom to this day. The bare spot is hidden, but I think it gives the carpet “character.”

There was only one boy in my elementary school that didn’t have television. I remember his name (which I won’t repeat here,) and I remember his family moved into the neighborhood when we were all in about fifth grade. For some reason, memory tells me his father was a German rocket scientist. Space, German and Mathematics, definitely. The boy’s hair was cut military short, and he always wore a gray crewneck sweatshirt to class. When he announced to his classmates that he had no television, I remember asking him what he did at night. He answered that he “spent time with his family, and his father helped him with his math homework.”

Thinking back, it’s odd, how such an obviously intelligent boy could be so removed from his classmates and his culture. I do know this. He was quite proud of the fact that he didn't watch television. Children spend the next day discussing what happened on t.v. as much as their adult counterparts at work. I was telling a friend about the comment I had left on Arjewtino’s blog, and he said, “I always thought of television as my third parent.”

I can’t imagine any parent in this day and age that wouldn’t utilize a television set in some manner. Blues Clues and Baby Einstein at the least. I am sure many censor the viewing subjects and viewing times. Some do not. Those parents are the same ones who take their kids to see the tee bagging in Borat, passing a pint of Barcardi 151 over the kid’s head.

"Where the Honey Nut Cheerios?"

It’s all kulturny. Me? I'd have my child watching The Wire (Season One Boxed Set) and him telling me he didn't like oatmeal for breakfast, "Where the Count Chocula re-up? You feel me on this, Yo?"

"5-0 Coming Y'all. 5-0"...and I don't mean Hawaii 5-0*

* In HBO's The Wire (Season One) a lot of the story line centered on the drug trade in the low rises (poverty apartments.) The drug runners would yell out "5-0" to warn and scatter that the police were in the vicinity. There was one episode when three police go into the projects at 2 a.m. to roust, and the residents in the inner courtyard start throwing televisions down on their heads and their cruiser (which is later destroyed.) Cultural nirvana would be yelling 5-0 is coming, throwing your t.v. out the window while watching a re-run of Hawaii 5-0. At that moment in the world, every coconut would drop from every palm tree and split open to reveal a beatific Buddha Wo Fat. Steve Lord in his big wave hair would descend on a big wave swell of clouds, hanging ten and yelling "Book 'em Danno."

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Monday, May 05, 2008

A Morning At The Opera

Most mornings1, the first thing I do after making my coffee, is to go to my computer and check on what’s sold during the night. I've written about my selling on eBay before on this blog. At first it started out as a means to rid myself of things I had accumulated over time: books, CDs, DVDs, posters, knickknacks and gewgaws.

When I was enrolled for a series of courses at a local college last summer, one of my classmates starting talking about selling on Amazon (she has sold on many sites and she highly recommends Craig’s List2). She told me how it was better to use these other sources, dependent on what you were selling—and she was right. I added one Amazon account, then another, and I find that I sell more books, CDs and DVDs on Amazon than eBay. I also find it faster and cheaper to post things. eBay is still good as an auction source where you pray bidding wars erupt over the item. eBay has posting fees and you set the postage rates. Amazon has no listing fees and they pay your postage (though as a set rate it can fall short at times.) Things were exiting the house. I was being productive and making money.

One evening this winter I was online talking to my friend Laura, and she starting asking me about my profits. I had, at that time, only generalized ideas about profit. I knew I was making money selling these things, but I hadn’t really focused myself on exact amounts. My chief concern was getting rid of things.3 For whatever reason, my friend’s boredom, or my curiosity, she asked if she could make up some spreadsheets that night so we could see what was going on. “I’m Queen of the spreadsheet,” she said, and she wasn’t kidding. Those spreadsheet serpents sank their dollar sign fangs into my consciousness. I realized how well I was doing, or how much better I could be doing, so now the selling has turned into a much more consistent, day to day part of my life. Spreadsheet sales in the sunset.4

Awww...Yer Mudder Reads Woodrow Wilson's Love Lettahs

Yesterday morning, like most mornings, I was sitting here sipping my coffee, pollen blowing in from the open window, and me blowing my nose. I should explain that when I sell something online, I always send out email following a sale, letting the buyer know their stuff is on the way, but also with a request “if they desire to leave feedback for me, it would be appreciated. " I opened an email from someone who had purchased a DVD of the opera Aida, and I started giggling. Keep in mind, this is how your brain works when you have one eye partially open and your mind is on low flame:

Dear Cube:

The DVD of AIDA (La Scala 2006) arrived this morning. Thank you.

It is a present for a friend so it will be a while before I get feedback on the quality but I am pleased with the ease and speed of this purchase and receipt of the DVD. So, thank you.

Roman Pumblechook5 , M.STAT

I thought, “What the….??? MISTER!!!" I sold you a new, sealed DVD. You received a new, sealed DVD…and quickly. What do I have to do with the quality of the DVD? I didn’t manufacture it. I didn’t record it. I didn’t star in it. At this point, I took my crumpled tissue and held it to my chin and threw my arm out in declamation warbling, “Ayeeeeeeda….and I threw in a “I Pagliacci,” for the heck of it. I was laughing at the absurdity of it all.

Right when all of this was going on, my friend Drew6 signed on, and I started telling him the story. He said, “Perhaps they mean that they didn’t know what damage was inside….of course they could mean vocal damage.” Then he said, “Boy…those Three Stooges could SURE sing an opera!” I answered, “Who knew Larry was such a tenor?” Drew shot back, “Curly, sure, but Larry? I didn’t see it coming." Drew added, “You could invite opera singers over for cocktails and have them all sing to perfect pitch to shatter the DVD jewel case sealed in it’s plastic. Moe was known to do that with his falsetto. (translation: I ripped it, posted it on the internet, and now I want my money back.)”

I invariably get good feedback on my accounts. I ship very quickly (“faster even than Amazon,”) and I wrap carefully. I put a personalized note in thanking them for buying from me, and I’ve even had them comment on my penmanship. I was laughing when I replied to Drew, “I applaud her use of bubble wrap and brown wrapping paper. I also noted she uses high end shipping tape.” ….and if that don’t seal the deal, nyuk,nyuk, nyuk…7

~~Pennies from heaven~~

1Unfortunately, this goes on when I travel as well. I’ve shipped items to my vacation locale that I’m selling so that I can continue to mail them out as they sell. I’ve even gone to junk shops and yard sales when I travel and sold using my account. This past fall when I was on Cape Cod, one of my friends there said she had always wanted to learn eBay. She had some antique beaded handbags we used as learning tools on my account so I could show her how I photograph items and do my descriptive writing and layout. I know. What a way to spend vacation time.

2She was emptying out her house because she thought she would be moving (false alarm,) but a few weeks ago she told me she had done very well with her Craig’s List sales, but she stipulated to me, “When you use Craig’s List, make sure it is clear “cash only and no negotiations on the price.”’

3I’ve also followed the usual paths of disposing of items. Better items of clothing went to friends, some to consignment shops (although you never do very well with them as the profit percentage goes to the shop owner.) Boxes of books were shipped off to one friend who was then living in a small town in Western Massachusetts. She would speed read through them then donate the books to her local library. Greenfield Library should have a wing in my honor. Another friend received so many cookbooks she said “no more!” and meant it. There are times I want to cave and just hire a dumpster and do this the fast way, but the pragmatic me plugs along . I usually read library books now (and a lot of intralibrary loan,) and I’ve stuck to my rule of “If you do buy a book, one must leave.” There was a man in my neighborhood who was a known packrat. You could see things spilling out of his house. One day in the early evening I was driving somewhere and passed his house. There were police cars and dumpsters and people standing around on the sidewalk and into the street. The man stood there, (probably hyperventilating and feeling sick to his stomach, given his attachment to "stuff.") Some kindly neighbor had declared him a health hazard, and the authorities came in to empty his house. It took two days and seven dumpsters. Either that night, or the next, I drove by and saw that the man had put a ladder up against the side of one dumpster and was crawling down inside and hauling his things out again. I use him, (and others I’ve known like him,) as a cautionary reminder of that illness (and hoarding is an illness,) along with my own philosophy about materialism (which is: as each year passes: divest, divest, divest.) After that incident, the old man put up plastic siding on his side porch so no one could see in again. He died about two years ago, and his relatives did a hasty slapdash clean and repair to put the house on the market. It didn’t sell for the longest time and when it did, those owners didn’t stay long, then another set, then another set. I half wonder if the old man put his curse on the place.

4There’s a great You Tube recording of Al Bowlly singing “Red Sails in the Sunset,” and if you want to know more about Al Bowlly, well….there’s Wikipedia. I’m only a footnote, yanno?

5Not his real name, but close enough. The email and M STAT are his, so his name and title had me laughing, too.

6Drew has guest blogged on here before, including his infamous “boy lunch” with another friend Tony when they went to lunch and reported back from Hooters. I was talking to Drew while writing this, asking him what the sandwich is he always orders…Texas Steak or Pulled BBQ Pork. He said probably the BBQ, and I said, “You would order the pulled meat at Hooters.” He said, “Just like the restaurant, I don’t deserve my R Rating.” We did our homework. It was the Cuban sandwich.

7 While I was writing this, in my researches I learned that the first Stooge, Ted Healy, had been murdered in 1937, on the day his son was born.

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