It was a great weekend. It was my turn to have Friday off and work Saturday, so I spent Friday cleaning out the flowerbeds and cleaning the pool before mopping floors and rearranging furniture. No, it had nothing to do with the fact that my in-laws were coming over to dinner, why do you ask? I got my first sunburn of the year while pulling out weeds, and I'm surprised that it took until March. That's a telling sign of how cold this winter has been. There are a ton of weeds that infiltrate my flower box every year, and I can never pull them out, so I took the scissors to them this time -- inspired, actually, by my father-in-law, whom I used to watch trim the edges of the lawn with a pair of scissors. No, I'm serious. Anyway, it was great to get outside and get some fresh air, and I'm once again hoping to do something fun and colorful with the gardens once it gets warmer and I have a full weekend off. Maybe spring break.
After dinner, the husband and I sat down to watch Larry King's interview with the Dalai Lama, which was on earlier this week and which we recorded. That was kind of interesting, but really made me realize how different I am from most Americans. For Pete's sake, he asked the Dalai Lama how, "as a man of God.... a spiritual leader" he explained the terrible earthquake in Haiti. Dude, seriously? You called the Dalai Lama a man of God? That's like asking a rabbi how he likes his pork chops cooked. Or asking the pope which brand of condoms he prefers. How embarrassing. Doesn't he do any kind of research before he interviews people? The husband reminded me that a lot of people don't understand Buddhism, and I remembered one day when some Jehovah's Witnesses or Mormons or something came to the door. Well, you know me, I love to talk religion, so we started talking, and I grabbed this book
to look up a quotation. It fell open to a picture of the Dalai Lama and one of the missionaries said, "Oh, is that your God?" Well, there's no god in Buddhism, but after watching Tenzin Gyatso answer King's questions with humor and grace, I saw that he truly is a bodhisattva, providing an example of how I want to be and promoting, above all else, compassion in and for each human being. But I'll get back to that.
Saturday night, we went to the Meyerson Symphony Center downtown to watch Wynton Marsalis lead the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra. I love going downtown for evening events, because the city looks so beautiful all lit up. We got to see the new Winspear Opera House and it looked great in the brief glance I got (I love architecture though I don't know much about it; when we go to Seattle later this summer, one of the things I'm looking forward to is seeing the Seattle public library
.) The concert was wonderful. I love having an occasion to dress up, and I know a little bit about jazz, which I've absorbed from living with a man who loves it. Well, this was great. My favorite parts were a couple of the movements written by Ted Nash and inspired by works at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC. Seeing those world-class musicians performing such innovative works, and especially watching the composer leading the orchestra was a once-in-a-lifetime event, and for me it ranks up there with seeing Dave Brubeck in concert last year. I love living in the metroplex! There are so many opportunities here to experience the best and most inspiring output of human achievement, to get in touch with the best of what we can do, the most beautiful expressions of the best of the human experience. (Yes, that's a lot of "best"s, but I'm not cutting them out.)
And here's where I go back to the beginning -- that it was my turn to work Saturday and have Friday off. Yes, I know, it's been pointed out to me that I am the boss and I could make the schedule as I want it. I used to have weekends off because my assistant worked Saturdays. But that was when my assistants were single people. My newest assistant is married to a teacher, just like me. And during the interval while I was searching for a candidate, I worked what used to be my assistants' schedule: the closing shifts and Saturdays. And I never got to see my husband! I missed him! I knew it was going to be hard to find someone willing to put up with such a schedule, and for the right person, I was willing to compromise. Well, I found the right person, and I've worked out a schedule where I close two nights a week, she closes the other two, and we alternate Saturdays. It's not as convenient for me, no, but how can I truly practice compassion by doing anything else? As the Dalai Lama said, we are all the same person, and seeing my husband two nights a week is better than not seeing him at all. Luckily, my boss suggested training another employee to close, and even luckier, that associate is interested in a long-term career with my company, and so is willing to take on some extra responsibilities. Luckiest of all, he's a very capable employee and I'm happy to give him a set of keys. This will spread out the closing and Saturday duties and hopefully allow all three of us to have more complete lives.
Today we wandered around the mall a bit, had a late dinner, and the husband is putting up with me wanting to watch the Oscars. It's been such a wonderful, relaxing weekend, and I'm ready for the work week that starts tomorrow.
Finally, I've read something worth posting about. And I'm excited to write about it, too! Andre Dubus III has gotten critical acclaim, and wrote House of Sand and Fog
(an Oprah pick, by the way, if anyone still cares about that crap) which was made into a kind of strange movie. I never read that, but I just finished his most recent book, The Garden of Last Days
. All I could remember reading about it was that it was set in Florida, one of the characters was based on one of the 9/11 hijackers, and it was centered around press reports that at least one of the hijackers had gone to strip clubs just prior to the events. It's a post-9/11 novel, like Pete Hamill's Forever
, and Jonathan Safran Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close
. I've read both of those, incidentally, but that's another post.
Okay, so an interesting idea, by a well-praised, literary writer, and about this event that has irrevocably changed our lives as Americans. Both of the afore-mentioned books were written much earlier, much closer to that day, and I think even when I read them, it had been too soon. More than eight years later, we don't talk about 9/11 much anymore, and in some ways, the most stunning how-could-that-happen
stuff in the book revolves around the new airport security procedures we have. You can't just go to an airline counter and pay cash for a same-day flight without some scrutiny. I don't think about 9/11 much anymore in my everyday life, but I still couldn't help crying at the end of this book, feeling again that terrible what have they done to us?
feeling that I think a lot of Americans felt that day. [boy those italics phrases. I'm so eloquent, huh? anyway.]
I liked the book. It was interesting and well-executed (sorry). The author mentioned in interviews that he didn't set out to write a novel about the hijackers, just about a stripper, but it developed into what it is, and it really does read like he says it was written. I feel like he started with this character, put her in a situation, and saw what she'd do. Then he shifted the perspective to another character to uncover more of the story, and then another and another, and Dubus makes it fascinating to watch. There are so many things to think about in this book, and I like books that do that, that draw you in an create something for you that lasts past the last page of the book. I am eager to have someone else I know read it so we can talk about these things, like how each character's choices are punished or rewarded. One man in the story sincerely thinks he's doing something noble and good, but there are negative consequences. Then, of course, the hijacker-to-be knows he's going to be doing something terrible, with no misconception that it's "good" for anyone, and he is allowed to carry through his plan in the story, as he was in real life. Each of the choices made has consequences that are very plausible in real life, but nothing like any idea of justice seems to actually be carried out.
Another thing I am thinking about after reading this book is my typical preference for knowing very little about the ending before I start. Usually, I just want a rough idea of plot, enough to know if it might be intriguing. But while reading this, if you didn't know who the character of Bassam is based on, I'm not sure how early in the story you might pick up on it. Clearly, Dubus isn't trying to surprise us, because it was all over the advance press and reviews for the book that this was based on a 9/11 hijacker. But the plans are not discussed; the characters don't talk about what they're going to do precisely -- Bassam's passages are largely about how alien Western culture feels to him. For this book, I have decided, you need to know
who this guy is and what he is going to do in order to fully appreciate and absorb what you're reading. You need to know the ending, or at least, his part of the ending. Luckily, Dubus gave us all these other interesting characters to wonder about through the book: the stripper, her landlady, a bouncer at the club, another patron, that patron's wife, his mother, etc.
So what's it about? It's about a 9/11 hijacker. It's about a stripper. It's about sex, it's about loneliness and it's about the different ways we can all be lonely despite being surrounded by people. It's about love and hate. It's about choices and the laws of cause and effect. It's about what happens if you place your characters like billiard balls on a table and then watch what happens on the felt when the ricochets begin.
When I started going to yoga classes ten months ago, my intention was to develop a hobby outside the house, and one that would be just for me, not something we do as a couple. I also thought it might be nice to meet new people, but because the room is generally quiet except for the instructor and everyone is (supposed to be) focusing on their own practice, there's not a lot of chances to get to know someone. There's no place to hang out before or after classes, except the changing room,
[Hey! That's what the studio needs! That would kick ass! Maybe a sitting room with yoga reference materials... ooh, add in a juice bar or something, some great merchandising besides just those two racks of clothes... seriously, you could make a killing. Yeah, you'd need more capital, but it would really pay off. ...]
but nobody does that. There are two shower stalls and two toilet stalls in the room, and a wall of cubbies to put your stuff in. Most people change right there in front of the cubbies. Some are more shy and change in one of the bathroom stalls. Lots of people seem to just throw on some more clothes, grab their stuff, and go. I usually shower after class, especially if I'm at the studio near work, because it's a 20-minute drive home and I'm always sweaty. I'll stretch out my shower a couple minutes if it seems like someone else is almost ready to leave so I have the space to myself, but on the whole, I figure that it's not a really big deal.
Today, I heard the hair dryer going as I was about finished with my shower, and when I stepped out to get dressed, the dryer went off and a woman who's introduced herself to me before turned around and said, "Oh, I didn't see you in there it was so crowded!" I acknowledged that yes, there were a lot of people in class today, and as I looked over, I noticed that she was stark naked, holding her towel. But not holding it in front of her. Just standing there, full-frontal, talking to me. She asked me whether I had a dog or a cat, and after I replied, "both", she said by way of explanation that she'd noticed the tiny Petco tag on my keyring (I don't actually shop there anymore; I really should throw that thing away).
I had quickly looked away, because, I don't know, I just don't think it's appropriate to stare at someone naked if you don't know them very well. But she kept talking! She chatted about pets, and asked me questions, and was trying to have a conversation, all while standing there with no clothes on and walking toward me the whole time! I was making sure to look away while keeping my answers as short as possible and thinking, Creepy creepy! Freak me out! Dude, you're still naked! Naked! Why are you talking to me? I don't know you well enough for this!
So which one of us was reacting unusually? Am I a prude? Or was the naked woman overly familiar? Women, are you shy in the locker room or do you let it all hang out?
I got glasses in eighth grade, contacts before junior prom, and then went back to glasses I don't know how many years ago. Three pairs of glasses ago, so at least four years. But I'm snorkeling next week in Grand Cayman so I had to get contacts again. My vision is so terrible that one lens has to be custom-made. In the meantime, I have the correct prescription in the left eye and a sort-of-almost-but-not-really-good-enough lens in the right. (Side note: everybody I talk to who's gone on a cruise gushes about how much fun they are and how much I'm going to like it. My optometrist rushed my custom order when I told him why I needed them, and said I absolutely have to do the snorkeling with sting rays) I picked them up before yoga today and decided to try them out there.
Boy, it's a weird feeling having contacts in again. I haven't worn them in so long! I can feel the lenses in my eyes, so I'm going to have to wear them awhile just to get used to them again. It's really strange to look at myself in the bathroom mirror, because I usually can't see myself clearly enough without my glasses on. It was a totally new experience to be able to see during some of the yoga postures that I usually take my glasses off for. And seeing in the shower. I missed that! I noticed that, at one point, they must have moved the shampoo/conditioner/soap dispenser from one place to another because I can see the residue from the adhesive. It's been years since I could watch a stylist cut my hair -- have to leave those glasses off -- but I'm going to forgo that awhile in order to let it grow out a bit.
I can't believe how much I missed seeing my entire field of vision, without having frames interrupt the view. Of course, I also can't glare over my frames at people when I'm annoyed at them, and that's a definite downside. I quit wearing contacts after one allergy season when I had finally had enough of dealing with itchy eyes and getting stuff under my lenses, and there are definitely benefits to glasses: seeing immediately when you get out of bed instead of not until after putting in lenses, and taking a nap on the fly without having to wake up with your lenses stuck to your eyeballs. Is there a yuckier feeling than that?
Thrilling topic today, I know, but right now I'm reading the Series of Unfortunate Events books and there's not a lot I can say about them. (Children get sent to live with horrible guardian. Along comes Count Olaf and murders the guardian or otherwise destroy's the orphans' home. They escape a few crappy things because of Violet's inventions, Klaus' researching, or Sunny's teeth, but still end up having to be shunted off to somewhere else. Rinse and repeat.) I used to read them while at lunch when I worked at Barnes & Noble, but only got as far as book six. I started the series after picking up most of them for a buck or two at Half Price Books this summer, and when I wanted some brain-candy a few weeks ago, I went back for more. Now I'm trying to get the series finished before leaving on our cruise next week. That's not really what I want to be seen reading by the pool. I admit it -- I'm perhaps a little vain and I worry too much about what people think. Anyway, I only have a book and a half to go and then you'll have my lovely little mini-review.
What if you were suddenly and unexpectedly transported back in time to 1819? In Maryland? And you're a woman. A black woman.
That's the premise of Octavia E. Butler's book Kindred, which I have seen many, many times, but never picked up until I found it on clearance at Half-Price (I love that store). When I worked at Barnes & Noble, it was shelved in science-fiction. It has a picture of a black woman in a shift-type dress on the cover, and with the title and the photographic style of the cover, I was just never intrigued. But the copy I saw this week was a 25th anniversary edition, and they don't put out anniversary editions of crappy books, so I flipped through it. Lo and behold, a time-travel story. You can't keep me away from those!
Though it does deal with time travel, the method is never explained, so in a sense, it's not really science-fiction, more speculative fiction, but that's beside the point. Our narrator, Dana, lives in Los Angeles in 1976 and is suddenly transported back in time for a few minutes. She's transported back to her own time shortly, and only a few seconds have passed. Then it happens again, and she begins to see a connection; she's repeatedly drawn to a boy named Rufus who figures in her family genealogy.
There is a great deal of tension in the story, of all kinds, which made it seem much longer than the 245 pages it is. I started reading it in the car on the way to family's house for Thanksgiving dinner and finished it before I went to bed. I've never read any science-fiction with a black woman as a protagonist. Kindred has a science-fiction-esque framework but it's really a fictional slave narrative, according to the essay in the back by Robert Crossley. I think it goes farther than that, though. Slave narratives show us what that life was like from the perspective of people who lived in that time; we are not given guidance on contrasting that time with our own. With this premise, Butler gives us a narrator who not only has to think critically about differences in the life of a modern black woman and the life of a black slave woman in the early nineteenth century -- she has to live in that time, step into that life and all of the danger in it. And it's terrifying.
This is a great book that really makes you think about a lot of things, especially as a woman. The perspective of a white man just would not be the same. What if I were born in that time? That is horrible enough; no rights on my own, but only as defined by my husband, no identity of my own, practically. No birth control. No freedom of movement. (no Internet!) But what if I were born a black woman in that time? *shudder*
So many questions are explored here. How could anyone enslave another human being? How could anyone allow enslavement? Was it all they knew? What did it mean to aspire to be free? How could anyone live like that? How could one person make a difference? We know they did, though; Harriet Tubman, Frederick Douglass, Denmark Vesey. If just one person's life is different because of an action taken by one person, that action is worthwhile. Anyway, the situation itself -- the antebellum South -- produces all those questions, and Kindred can only address a few, but the answers presented are thought-provoking. I can't think of anyone I know that wouldn't be interested in this book.
We went out tonight to Pearl at Commerce to listen to the regular Tuesday night gig -- the Rebel Alliance Jazz Ensemble. The husband has been going there to see them for weeks. I can't believe I never knew the name of the band. Great name. They were pretty decent tonight, I thought, but the husband said they were "flat". It was a little devoid of energy, but I don't know how you get eight people to play to the crowd anyway. We were going to head over to another pub for a bite, but it was packed so we went home. This is how exciting it is to be us. Well, we were home in time to watch the Lakers game, so that's something. :)
We put in new kitchen flooring this weekend, finally. We've been talking about it for years. The old floor was vinyl, whitish with a subtle pattern of colored flecks in blue, gray and pink, but it was so old that any sort of stain resistance it might once have had was totally gone. It was a pain to keep clean, and it had this ugly seam right down the middle, which was yellowing for about four inches on either side of the seam. We wanted laminate, like we have in the living room and dining room, because it's cheaper than ceramic tile, doesn't break if you drop something on it, and doesn't develop scratches from long dog toenails the way a wood floor might. Plus, we could install it ourselves. We have a wood-grain pattern in the rest of the house, but for the kitchen we put in some IKEA flooring that's black with big white flecks. It looks great! So, now that I've put in two laminate floors, here are Andrea's tips for installing them with a spouse:
1) Don't buy the spacers/shims that you're supposed to put between the floor edge and the wall. They just fall down and you'll end up throwing them away. Don't bother using them, even if they come with your flooring. Remember, it's also called a "floating floor" and you can reposition it slightly when you need to. After a few rows, you won't need to.
2) No matter how you measure, you'll probably still end up with a little sliver of floor you'll have to cover by cutting a really skinny piece of planking. It's okay. Do the best you can and cover the gap with quarter-round in front of your baseboard.
3) Your walls are not straight. No, they're not. No, really, they're not. It's okay.
4) Have bandaids ready for the inevitable cuts you're going to make with either the saw, the razor blade you're using to cut the underlayment, or the tape measure. Yes, the tape measure -- that edge can slice you!
5) If you accidentally pound your finger, don't sweat it. You won't lose the nail unless it turns an awful purple color. Then, you'll lose it and it will be gross.
6) Use the tapping block and avoid a pull-bar as much as possible; it doesn't evenly distribute the force and can damage the edge of your plank. If it's a big floor, resign yourself to the possibility of purchasing a second tapping block.
7) Don't open all of the boxes of planking or unwrap all of the underlayment. If you over-bought, you can return unopened packages.
8) If you stop halfway through the project (maybe to sleep or something...), remember to lay the planking down on the floor. If you leave it standing on edge against the wall, it will warp overnight. Just leave it flat for a few hours and it will re-straighten.
9) Your clerk at Kroger will not bat an eye when you go to pick up 5 bottles of Gatorade and a six-pack of beer. I don't know, maybe they're trained for that. Anyway, avoid soda; too much sugar.
10) Under your fridge is really gross. No, I mean really, really gross. Don't blame yourself. You can't clean under there!
11) The people that lived in your house did stupid shit. Your "workarounds" will likely similarly amuse a future tenant.
12) The instruction sheets in each box are good for making paper templates for strangely shaped cuts around corners.
13) One of you has better spatial relations. That person should make measurements and templates for the next cut. One of you is better with power tools. That person should make the cuts. Don't try to impress each other. Treat putting in a floor as a metaphorical foundation of your marriage. Accept each other's flaws.
14) Sure, you can hire someone to do it. But when someone says, "Hey, that's a nice floor. Did you put that in yourself?" it's really great to be able to say "Yes!"
Ages ago, I wrote in my "To Read" list Gould's Book of Fish
, by Robert Flanagan. It must have been sometime after I read Matthew Kneale's English Passengers
, because they're both about Tasmania, or Van Dieman's Land, as it used to be called. I have been reading Flanagan's book this week and finished it last night. I really liked it, but I'm having trouble articulating just why.
It's about a convict in the Sarah Island penal colony named William Gould, who is tasked with painting fish species for scientific publication. The lead-in to the story is that Sid Hammett, who sells counterfeit antiques to American tourists, finds Gould's illustrated journal and becomes a little obsessed with it, though experts tell him it can't possibly be authentic. The rest of the book is the journal.
I think I liked it because it ended up to be about much more than the story, even though the story itself was very interesting and entertaining. Gould, the narrator, is a sympathetic character of course, and it's a little predictable in that the administrators of the penal colony are shown to be much more evil than the prisoners themselves, who have to endure terrible punishments and disgusting conditions. For me, it ended up being about love and identity, and I find myself drawn to stories about identity again and again. It's lovely prose and very literary, and won the 2002 Commonwealth Writer's Prize
for best book.
I put a down payment on season tickets to next year's Rangers games. It's been a dream of mine for the past few years, and I'm so excited! You know, it's really not that expensive, especially when I considered the number of games we went to this year. Tickets, parking and service fees add up, so why not spend it all at once and then have the option to go to every single game? The cheapest deal for nosebleed seats is about a thousand, or you could spend $34,000 for home-plate seats. That will probably never happen. But there are a lot of in-between deals. I got really jazzed today talking to our sales rep when he said we could come down to the Ballpark to see our seats ... and get a tour of the dugout! I know it may seem cheesy, or geeky, or stupid, but it's totally cool to me.
It's going to be a long winter. The husband will be watching every single Lakers game. Good thing he's not a Mavericks fan, because I don't think we could afford season tickets for both teams. I'm already wondering how it's going to work next year, with my job and yoga and family and everything else. It's only 82 games, though. They'll be at away games for week-long stretches. Most games start at 7:05, so that's plenty of time to get a full day of work in and go to the ballpark. Of course, that's going to be a lot of hot dogs unless I take advantage of the turkey-swiss croissant sandwiches.
Now I'm rambling. I'm just so excited!
My paternal grandmother died in January, and her death was the one I knew would hurt more than any other. She was 95, so I knew it was coming, but it was still hard. I loved her more than anyone else in the world. She was always there for me. I went to her house before and after school while I was growing up, and when I was 16, I moved in with her, and I lived there through college breaks until I got married. More than any other person, she represented stability and kindness to me. She gave her time, volunteering at the senior citizens center, and she gave her love to anyone who came through her door. When my mother was kicked out of her house at 16 (and pregnant), Gramma took her in. When my maternal grandmother moved back to town after living on the coast, she moved into Gramma's basement. That basement housed a lot of people over the years, including my sister for awhile after she got married, my Dad for awhile, after his second divorce, and my little brother, after my Dad's death. Gramma's home was open to anyone who needed it, and she was the hub of our entire family. She loved and cared about us all, and never had a favorite -- we all thought we were her favorite.
When she died, my uncle, her surviving son, began settling her estate. This week, my sister received a check from him, with no note in the envelope, for $190. When she asked for more information, he said that was her share of the estate. That didn't sound right. Gramma's will stipulated that half of her estate go to my uncle and the other half to my Dad's three kids. I know she had living expenses of around $5,000 a month since moving into an assisted living facility and later a nursing home, for the last 9 months of her life ($45,000). But her house was sold last year, for $134,000. Not including any other assets she had, what happened to the other $80,000, figuring in funeral and some medical costs? Apparently, it was in a savings account that was held jointly with my uncle. To pay her bills, he would transfer money from the jointly-held savings account into a checking account, which, when she died, amounted to the $1200 he split with us to provide my sister with that $190 check. My uncle said that, because it was a jointly-held account, and because he had rights of survivorship, that account is "not part of her estate." And by the way, although he could have, he did not deduct any of his expenses associated with hotels, travel, and lawyer's fees from the $1200 estate before splitting it. ( This is a little long, so here it is under the cutCollapse )
I hope he's enjoying his nice house in Puerto Vallarta. I hope living near the beach makes up for the self-knowledge of what kind of person he is.