how the other half lives.

I had told Susan all about the wonders of estate sales, but then again I tell everyone that buying secondhand is the best thing ever. She loves antiques and furniture, and so estate sales should be right up her alley. Rich people die and then you can buy their nice stuff for less than you would pay for not-that-nice stuff at a store for regular middle class people. During her visit this past weekend, there was only one sale going on. As far as I could tell, it was not being run by an estate sale company, which made it a huge question mark. I worried it would be a few crappy pieces of overpriced mass-produced 80s furniture. Not every sale is a winner, and I worried she would not have a good first experience.

From the outside of the house, there didn't appear to be a sale at all, just a couple of guys repainting the siding. I asked one of them if the sale was inside before we walked in, so we didn't seem like a pair of particularly brazen burglars. The first thing I noticed upon entering was that part of the ceiling was covered with plastic. The second thing I noticed was that the floor was strewn with books. I would have to watch my footing so as not to step on anything.

Oh. It was one of those sales - run by the family of the deceased, completely unorganized, possibly overpriced. Not necessarily a bad thing. You can find good things at these sales if you're willing to put in the effort of looking, and there is less competition from resellers. We'd just have to see.

I made my first pass through the house. There were a lot of really old books in reasonably good condition; Josh could spend a good chunk of time here. There was some furniture, though most of it was dated and not particularly good quality. A bunch of moth-eaten Army uniforms were in a cardboard box. There were various craft supplies and plastic flowers in boxes and baskets. The items in the kitchen were still in the cabinets and drawers. The carport was full of more random boxes of stuff. It was the kind of place where you just have to roll up your shirt-sleeves and dig. There was a general air of neglect. Everything seemed to have a thick coating of something on it - not dirt necessarily, more like time itself.

The guy running the sale didn't seem comfortable with his job. He told me he had been recruited at the last minute and that he was trying to be fair about the pricing. He was just helping out, a family friend since the 70s. Every time I heard him talking to anyone, he mentioned that he'd known the family since the 70s, which also seemed to be the last time the house had been decorated. I admired a couple of vintage shirts, but decided they were probably too small. I found a big blank book with lined paper that I could use as a journal. I rejoined Susan in the living room, where she was looking through the books.

She told me what she had discovered about the deceased, just from looking around. There is a bit of a museum aspect to an estate sale. Strangers come in to tour and examine your home, like they do at the childhood home of Laura Ingalls Wilder, except you're not famous and they can buy your things. She showed me some old children's books that she had found and said that she used to have the same ones herself. We turned our attention to a chest in the corner. Since this was a digging sale, I figured we might as well look inside. We found it to be full of old photographs and albums. We looked for a few minutes, trying to pick out the people who were common to multiple pictures. Susan said she hoped that someone would want to keep them, though I know from experience that that's not always the case.

"I think the family wants to keep that stuff," said a voice from behind us. It belonged to a short man who was sporting a few days worth of beard growth.

"Oh, okay. We thought they might."

"My mother just died last week," he said. I had a hard time reading his tone and expression - maybe he was slightly disoriented? He made the statement so matter-of-factly that the normal sympathetic response seemed somehow inappropriate.

"Are you Eric?" Susan asked.

"Yeah. How did you know?" Again, I couldn't tell what he was feeling. Surprised, maybe the slightest bit panicked?

"I saw your name in a book," she answered, showing him one of the books she had picked out.

"Oh. Yeah, I guess that's me." He pointed at an old portrait on the wall of a little boy. He looked again at Susan's books and picked up the top one. "I might want to hang on to some of these."

At that point, the family friend (since the 70s) joined the conversation, and they started talking about what an old children's book might be worth. I felt certain that neither of them had any experience whatsoever in the rare book market, so it was mostly wild guesses said with authority. One of the reasons that family-run estate sales are often overpriced is because people think that anything that is old is an antique. Eric seemed so uninvolved and disinterested in everything that was going on, until someone picked something up, at which point he interpreted the buyer's interest as an indication that the item might be valuable. The friend gave the book back to Susan without coming to a conclusion on the price. Eric sat in a dusty armchair and stared straight ahead. He smelled like liquor. I reminded myself that his mother had just died. I'd hate to be judged based on my behavior in the midst of grief. At least, I hope it was grief.

When we were ready to go, I asked how much they were asking for the blank book, and the friend said, "Two dollars."

"How about one?" I said.

"Sure." I knew that he was just guessing on the prices, but as long as he was willing to negotiate, I couldn't fault him for not knowing how much random old crap was worth.

"What is it?" Eric said suddenly from his chair.

"Just an old blank book. It's empty." I began to feel very sorry for the friend. Maybe every time he said that he had been a family friend since the 70s, he was reminding himself why he was here in this closed and dirty house, trying to clear out the mess while baby-sitting the bereaved.

He counted up Susan's stack of books and said, "Ten dollars." She offered seven (good girl!), and he accepted. Then we emerged into the sunlight and breathed deeply. Most estate sales are the nice kind, with beautiful furniture and expensive rugs and eating utensils made for some specific and exotic use. Oh my, look how the other half lives, it sure must be nice! But then sometimes you end up seeing another kind of life altogether, and you leave feeling thankful that it's not yours.


the right to bear arms.

A while back, I had some houseguests from my hometown. I realized how different my life was in the big city when I noticed that they were the only Republicans and NASCAR fans that I knew. I just don't hang out with people like that here, not because I avoid them, but because I haven't met any. I'm sure they are out there, but I guess we're not running in the same circles. The husband was a former Marine, and both he and his wife have gun permits. In fact, he had brought his gun with him, because that's just what he does. They probably think it's weird that Josh takes his guitar everywhere. I was vaguely uncomfortable with the idea of him having a live weapon in the house, though not for any good reason. I wasn't worried about him doing anything, and I have no problem with responsible people like him owning firearms. But I was very aware of it the whole time: there is a gun in the house.

Later, Josh mentioned something about getting a gun, like a shotgun. I didn't really understand why. Shotguns are useful for some households. If we lived in the country, I would think one was almost necessary, because there are critters out there. But we live in the city. What were we going to need to shoot? He sort of shrugged his shoulders at that, the unspoken answer hanging between us. He thought we might someday have cause to shoot, or at least threaten to shoot, a person.

I guess the point is that guns make me uncomfortable.

My grandfather collected guns. After he died, his arsenal sat in a closet gathering dust. Then we moved my grandmother out of the farmhouse forever, and we had to do something with all those guns. I don't know enough about the subject to be able to tell you anything about any of them, except that one was a World War II Japanese pistol. I thought it was neat, because it had Japanese characters on the handle. It was the kind of thing that I would see at an estate sale and admire, but never even consider buying. But my parents ended up with Granddad's guns, because they did most of the work moving my grandmother and cleaning out the house. They asked if anyone in the family wanted them. Everyone agreed that they were important family heirlooms that should be kept, but no one had any desire for them. My Uncle Jack might have expressed some desire for the Japanese pistol, or maybe we assumed that he would want it because he lives in Japan.

Last year, I was visiting my parents, and the topic of my grandfather's guns came up. They had been moved from a dusty closet in rural Kansas to a dank basement in rural North Carolina. Nothing was being done with them, and I worried that they would become just more junk that would eventually get thrown out when someday someone had to move my parents out. So I did the tacky thing and asked for my heirlooms now, please. Josh had previously admired the Japanese gun, so I asked if I could have it. If Uncle Jack ever asked for it, I would give it up willingly, since I figured he had more right to it than I did.

From the dusty closet in Kansas to the dank basement in rural North Carolina to the underwear drawer in suburban North Carolina. I told Josh he could have it when we got married. What man could resist a dowry like that?

In the wee hours of Sunday morning, while Josh was somewhere in Manhattan, I woke up to the sound of pots and pans clattering in the kitchen. I was suddenly very awake and very tense. The kitchen is right below my bedroom, and so any movement that I made could be heard by an intruder. I waited very quietly, listening for the slightest noise, my eyes focused on the hallway outside to catch any glimpse of a flashlight. It could be nothing. I had washed some pots the previous evening, and maybe they had just fallen from their precarious stack in the drying rack. I knew that most burglars would rather rob houses where no one is at home, and I also knew that there was really no reason for someone to be rummaging around in the kitchen. Perhaps it was a desperate eBay reseller, going after my sweet vintage colander.

With those sensible thoughts in mind, what I most wanted to do was to go back to sleep. I wanted to decide that it was just gravity acting on the drying pots and return to peaceful slumber. It was the ostrich defense. I was angry at Josh for leaving me, a nearly six-foot-tall woman, all by myself. How tall is an ostrich? But here I was, alone. This was my house. When it came down to it, I was responsible for it. Usually that meant paying the mortgage, but maybe that meant defending it, too.

After waiting for a few minutes, I decided that I needed to be a man about it and go check out the first floor. Either there was no one there or the intruder was still waiting to see if anyone had heard all the ruckus. I pictured him in the kitchen, crouching silently, freaking out about all the tiny noises that happen in the dead of night, cursing himself for being such a klutz. Really, burgling is not for the clumsy.

I assessed my weaponry options and found them limited. We had a golf club, but it was downstairs, as was the fire poker. There was a lamp next to me, but that seemed cumbersome and I suspect that lamps only work as weapons in the movies. Finally, I settled on my grandfather's antique gun. I had decided to bluff my way through this, and if that didn't work, well, at least it was heavy enough that I could do some damage in hand-to-handgun combat. My only hope was that the burglar was as stupid as he was clumsy, because the gun did not in any way look like a "real" gun. I put on a robe, determining that being a woman alone in the house with a non-working gun was as vulnerable as I wanted to be; I was not going to man up wearing only panties.

I crept downstairs in a terry cloth robe with daffodils on it, an heirloom gun in my right hand, my cell phone in my left. I was scared, and I knew that I looked ridiculous. I knew full well that if there was someone in the house, then this was a pretty pathetic defense. If I had to inherit an antique weapon, why couldn't it have come with a bayonet? I also really had no idea how to go about checking for bad guys. Aside from my phone and my useless, though very collectible gun, I was armed with years of watching cop dramas. So that's how I did it. I approached slowly, entering rooms and turning on lights suddenly, my silly gun pointed at whatever might be there. Sometimes, when in the course of defending one's home, a person looks ridiculous.

But it was okay, because there was no one there to see me and no one there to call my bluff. I found a saucepan on the floor next to the sink and no signs of entry. My confidence and sense of security restored, I went ahead and checked every hidey-hole in the house. I knew where they were, because I had already considered which one I might use if it came to that. I was still just a woman alone in a house. Now I had a good story to tell, and I bet my granddad would have thought it was pretty funny.

I went back to bed, tossing the gun on the other side of the bed rather than returning it to my underwear drawer. I understood better why people kept guns. Even if you never use it, it's best to be prepared so you don't have to walk around your house at four o'clock in the morning with an antique pistol.

Still, I think I'd rather just get a dog.


i'm hans christian andersen!

Meet Me in St. Louis
Wikipedia refers to this movie as a masterpiece, and yet all I could manage was a yawn. It's about upper-class people in middle America and their various goings-on. It's set during 1904, right before the World's Fair in St. Louis, though it was released in 1944. While I was watching it, I kept asking myself, "Why was this movie made?" The only thing I can figure is that it was meant to inject a little wholesome loveliness into the country. People were tired of the war, and they wanted to remember the simpler times. Over and over, the characters kept saying, "And right here in our own back yard!" as they were constantly astonished at the wonders of St. Louis.

There was an extended Halloween scene which I found surprising. Apparently, in 1904, children dressed up in costumes and burned furniture in the middle of the street. Periodically, they would go to someone's house, ring the bell, and then throw flour in their face. Considering all the complaints about Halloween being a devil's holiday that we get every year, I can't help but think that it used to be a lot worse.

Songs and Dance: Not much dancing, though there were some songs that you might be familiar with, including "The Trolley Song," "Skip to My Lou," and this little number.

Okay, fine, that one song makes the whole movie worth it. Is there anything more wholesome and lovely than Judy Garland?

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Absolutely not. I don't even want to see it again.

My brother-in-law, who is a Revolutionary War buff, really hates this movie, due to the raging historical inaccuracies. I had a really lousy public school history education, so I thought it was awesome. Josh, who watched it with me, told me there was going to be some talk about slavery which would delay the signing of the declaration, and I accused him of giving away the ending.

Now that I've seen the movie and read the Wikipedia article, I consider myself to be quite an expert on the Revolution. I was surprised to learn how much singing there was in the Continental Congress. If only my teachers had mentioned that, I might have been more engaged.

I have made peace with the inaccuracies. There is a long scene where the Southern delegates argue to remove a passage in the draft of the Declaration about slavery. In actuality, the passage was not quite the abolitionist screed the movie made it out to be. So this whole scene, which includes a really dramatic song and reenactment of a slave market, is pretty much made up. I've decided that I'm okay with that, for a couple of reasons. One reason is simply that it was a great scene. It's absolutely riveting. This is a movie, so one of the goals is entertainment. Two, it shows that the slave trade was a lot more complicated than South=evil, North=good. The Senator from South Carolina points out that it's very easy to talk about how awful slavery is when you're far away, but if they took away the slaves, all those rich Northerners wouldn't be so rich anymore. Of course, we all really ought to find a way to get rich where no one has to be owned by anyone else, but that fight came later. For a historical movie, it is obviously very much a product of its own time. The various issues that were stressed were ones that were in the forefront of the minds of people in the late 1960s.

So yeah, the movie was inaccurate. That was just one example out of many. But the movie was interesting and I ended up reading more about the Continental Congress and its various members. You could argue that some of the artistic license was unnecessary, and I'd agree with you (for example, the whole part about Jefferson needing some sweet loving from his wife before he could get the Declaration written). But it wasn't meant to be a complete lesson so much as an introduction to get people to get interested in history.

Songs and Dance: For the most part, the songwriting was really excellent. The lyrics and the dialogue used a lot of actual quotes from the founding fathers, which is pretty smart, since everyone is basically in agreement that the country was started by some real smart guys. The scene I'm posting is a lovely little minuet that the senators performed, which basically indicates that they personally are happy with the status quo, so why rock the boat? In the meantime, the secretary reads a letter from General Washington, who periodically sent letters that usually said something like "Guys, it sucks out here. Can we get some shoes or guns or food? Are you even listening?"

"Traitors, Mr. Dickinson? To what? The British crown? Or the British half-crown?" Zing!

Will I Make Josh Watch It: He watched it with me. He liked it for the most part, though he said that some of the songs were boring.

Hans Christian Andersen
This movie started with a disclaimer - that it was a fairy tale which really had nothing to do with the actual life of everyone's favorite Danish children's author. Maybe fairy tale enthusiasts the world over hate this movie because of the inaccuracies. That's no reason to not like this movie. You should dislike it because it's just not very good.

Aside from the plot sort of wandering around for nearly two hours, the real problem with this movie is that it didn't give me any reason to root for its protagonist. Hans is a starry-eyed dreamer, who likes to make up stories to entertain children. That's great, except that I really sympathized with the schoolmaster who complained that none of the kids were going to school ever. Imagination is wonderful, but math is useful, too.

Then our hero goes off to wonderful, beautiful Copenhagen, where he falls in love with a ballet dancer. Half the movie is spent on this love affair that doesn't exist. She is happily married, but Hans thinks her husband is a brute. When he finally finds out what the audience knew all along (that the ballet dancer loved her husband, not the silly writer of tales), I didn't feel at all sorry for him. How am I supposed to sympathize with a character whose problems are all of his own making?

Songs and Dance: I did like the songs. The dancing was almost all ballet, which is one of those things that I realize is Serious Art, but don't particularly enjoy. I watched this with my mom, and we were debating whether to finish the movie or stop it to go take a nice mid-afternoon nap. Our compromise was to fast-forward through the ballet and then go take a nap. So the whole performance of "The Little Mermaid" by the Royal Danish Ballet was sped up. Honestly, I don't think I've ever enjoyed myself so much watching ballet. They should try this in real life, and I bet they would find more patrons.

My mom was familiar with a lot of the songs, without having seen this movie before. Apparently, it must have been popular enough that the songs found their way into the popular consciousness.

Here's Hans singing his own theme song, which is downright catchy. I've decided not to hold this movie against Danny Kaye, who was married to the same woman for a long time. That counts for something.

Will I Make Josh Watch It: Not a chance.


hey jealousy.

Jealousy 1
Out on the road, there are many girls. A lot of them would be willing to be intimate with my boyfriend. Some of them will make that known to him. A couple will be aggressive about it.

I think the thing that bothers me most is how easy it would be to get away with it. How would I ever know? It's impossible. At least with some local affair, he'd get caught at some point. He's a terrible secret-keeper.

This jealousy does me no credit. I am only slightly comforted by the fact that pretty much anyone in my situation would probably feel the same way. It only bothers me when I think about it, but I had to think about it to write that, so I'm bothered now. The cure is a phone call. When I hear him, I know that the voice belongs to a man who is faithful to me.

Jealousy 2
I never aspired to be a rock star. People ask if I go on tour with the band, and I say "No, I have a job." Which is mean and probably not the kind of thing that a supportive girlfriend would say, because this is a job of sorts. It's not one that pays very well, but the level of dedication is the same.

Every day after I get finished with that job that I have, I call him, and I am so excited to just be speaking to him. But then I have nothing to say, because I went to work, and then I came home. Someone at my office said something that was funny at the time. I had leftover falafel for lunch again.

How come rock stars get to have all the fun? Why not computer programmers?

He doesn't offer a whole lot of detail on his own; he's just not talkative like that. But I know he is out there doing crazy interesting things and meeting crazy interesting people. Months later, I will hear him tell a story from his travels to someone else, and I will feel hurt that I have not heard the story before. I am jealous that I am not out there living the stories, and I am jealous that he did not tell them to me at the time.

I am your girlfriend. You have to tell me everything immediately as it happens.

This jealousy is selective. It only thinks about the amazing parts, not the hours of driving in a smelly van, the days of greasy food, the sleeping on hard floors. It also does not bother pointing out that I could not handle the instability and uncertainty involved in living on the road.

Jealousy 3
It's not just that I'm missing out on all the experiences, it's that he is having them without me. Crucial and formative things are happening to him at this very moment. What things? I don't know - THINGS.

There is this whole aspect of his life that I can never be a part of. Even if he told me all the stories right away, I wasn't there. I suppose it works the other way around, too, but it doesn't seem like he's missing out on much.

This jealousy needs to work on its boundaries.

Embarrassment 1
I'm not usually so unreasonable.


the day after dale died.

This morning on NPR, there was an interview with Michael Waltrip, a NASCAR driver. This is the kind of story that provokes a lot of irate email to NPR about how they shouldn't waste time on such trivial matters, what with the situation in the Middle East. But I bet those same people would be thrilled to hear about Mongolian goat racing so they could bring it up at their next cocktail party. Redneck culture is still culture.

It's okay for me to tease both NPR listeners and rednecks, seeing as how I could easily fit in with either.

I for one was glad to hear the interview announced, because I like listening to southern accents. Waltrip's is a little twangy for my taste, but I'm sure some people like it. I'm a little sensitive to twang, mostly because that seems to be what comes out of my mouth after a few beers. Anyway, Waltrip was promoting his book, which deals mainly with the death of Dale Earnhardt. Basically, Waltrip had been racing for fifteen years, never winning a thing, until Dale asked him to be on his team. And then he won Daytona, the race that killed Dale. Bummer, dude.

I remember when Dale died. Not because I care about NASCAR. I don't. A couple of years ago, Josh and I challenged each other to name five NASCAR drivers, and we could not do it, at least not without counting several Petty family members. We both grew up in areas where you'd see t-shirts and bumper stickers for some driver or another all over the place, but neither of our families were fans, so it wasn't part of our inheritance. We sure do like college basketball, though.

But I remember finding out that he had died, because other people cared so much. Specifically, I remember the day after he died. I was sitting in biology class, and the school principal came over the loudspeaker to make some announcement about, I dunno, a pep rally or fire safety. My biology teacher said, "Man, he sounds depressed." She then explained that our principal had loved Dale. I thought that was really strange. Being eighteen, I didn't really think of our principal as a three-dimensional person. Like the rest of the staff, he didn't exist outside of the school day. Also, he didn't fit the description of a typical NASCAR fan. He was always wearing business casual, was soft-spoken and educated. And yet he apparently was a race fan, enough to feel real sorrow when a driver died. That blew my poor little eighteen-year-old mind just a little bit.

It might be that moment which sort of legitimized NASCAR to me. For all my sneering about Mongolian goat racing, I look down on racing, too. It's just a sport, and all of them are pretty much pointless. But they are fun, and competition is a good thing overall. Maybe I should write NPR an email, telling them not to listen to the snobs, because at least one of their listeners was glad to hear a friendly southern accent and remember the day after Dale Earnhardt died.



"Do you like your penguin?"

"Of course, honey." Sometime while he was on tour, Josh had told me over the phone that he had bought me a present. It's not unusual for him to come back from his travels with some little trinket. Then he told me he bought it at Office Max. Okay, that was a little more unusual. Turns out, it was a flash drive shaped like a penguin. To use it, you have to pop off the penguin's little rubber head.

"How could I not like a penguin flash drive?" I asked. I know that he worries sometimes about his gift-giving abilities. He seems to think that I am a difficult person to buy for. I've never had a problem finding things that I will like, so I'm not sure what his issue is.

"I dunno. I just wonder sometimes whether you feel appreciated."

"Is this something you worry about frequently or did it just occur to you?" Is this something that men worry about? Or is this one of those backward conversations that happen in a relationship where someone asks you if you feel a certain way, when really it's because they feel that way? Maybe I'm not doing a good job appreciating him?

"I dunno. I guess since you are so affectionate all the time, I wonder if I'm not holding up my end of it." Oh! It's because I am doing too good a job appreciating him. Well, he is right. I am terribly snuggly. Osmosis is a very effective form of love transfer.

"I guess not feeling appreciated is a common complaint in a long-term relationship."

I hated to break it to him, but all that snuggling is not just for his benefit. I wouldn't do it if I didn't enjoy it so much. Also, it's pretty much a two-person activity. If I was just holding on to him while he sat there like a log, I probably wouldn't do it very much. We feed off each other's affection.

Still, I thought it was sweet. Our relationship has ups and downs like everything, but we do alright. It's like he was looking for cracks, trying to head off problems before they get too big. He was actively looking for ways to be a better boyfriend. It made me want to snuggle him.



I've forgotten how to write. So here are some things about sweaters.

  1. This is an angora rabbit.

  2. Josh loves sweaters. He has a wool one that is sometimes gray and sometimes green. It got a hole in the sleeve, and he darned it himself with gray yarn that didn't match at all. He was so proud that I caught him looking at his handiwork at least seven times in one weekend.

  3. Cashmere makes one think better of goats.

  4. Sweaters do not work on lizards. So if you ever see a lizard wearing a sweater, he is just fashion-conscious.

  5. Do not wear a soft sweater if you do not enjoy being snuggled.

  6. I have a scarf that is lambswool and angora. It is like wearing a lamb and a bunny, but not as heavy.

  7. There is something called the "curse of the love sweater," where sometimes a knitter will make a sweater for a loved one, only to be dumped shortly thereafter. Fifteen percent of active knitters report having experienced this curse directly. To avoid the curse, some knitters require their significant other to sign a "pre-knitual agreement" before making the sweater.

  8. Once I passed a giant building that said "Rabbits shaved daily!" I assume it was for wool, but maybe it was a rabbit grooming facility.

  9. One more time, an angora rabbit.