Category Archives: Enough already

Love (of pens) bites

Not me, but it looked just like this cellulitis

Not me, but it looked just like this cellulitis

“Those are bites.”

I stared at the nurse practitioner. “From what?”

“Could be a bedbug.”

“I know what bedbug bites are like. This is something else. But I don’t have any bugs in my place.”

“Could be a spider.”

I had rushed to the doctor’s office fearful that the painful red, raised whorls were cellulitis, and they were bug bites from bugs I had never seen.

That pretty much encapsulates March — being preoccupied repeatedly with alarming symptoms that turned out to be minor.

And then April was the month of The Job. You probably know already how unhappy I am in my current job. An editorship opened up in another company that I felt qualified for. I have never been an editor, but this position was very specialized and required tasks I have done many times, and so I was emboldened to apply. In slow motion, I made the first bold overture, I was invited for a first interview and then, amazingly, a second, and then came the rejection letter saying that a candidate had been chosen and that my skills and experience were impressive.

Pilot bold G2

I wanted that job so intensely that my imagination ran amok, as in a romantic infatuation. I studied the writing of my erstwhile boss and watched interviews of him. I priced the stylebook I would need. I looked at transit schedules to see how long it would take to get to my after-work swims. And I spent a lot of time on jetpens.com.

Jetpens is a wonderful website, if you are the sort of person who fetishizes writing implements and office supplies. Back in the day, the inch-thick Staples catalog would mesmerize me for hours as if I were affianced and it Brides Magazine. So, yeah, I’m in the Jetpens target demographic.

I use a lot of different pens in my work for the many hats I wear in my current job. I suppose I could survive with one black stick pen, but I have found it very effective to communicate with pens trailing lines of various thicknesses and the four basic colors. So in the days after the second interview waiting to see what would happen, I hung out on jetpens.com and imagined what pens I would take to my new job.

Pen case unrolling

What particularly captivated me were the pen cases. There were no drawers on the desk that I wanted to be mine, so I would need one (of course). I looked at the pictures slowly and read the descriptions obsessively.

The cases that enthralled me were the fabric pen rolls, miniatures of the knife rolls that fine chefs use. Over and over I imagined myself arriving for work at the office I had been interviewed in, laying that beautiful case on my desk, and unrolling it slowly to see my pens laid out in perfect orderliness: Gel pens in sober blue and editor’s green; bright red and yellow in both felt tip and crayon; blue Sharpies in fine, extra fine, and ultra fine; a plain black Sharpie; and my favorite mechanical pencil. Never mind that I would do the vast majority of my work online; what’s an editor without writing implements? How wonderful a start to the day!

Even after the rejection letter arrived, my mind had seized on those pen rolls, like a child who has glimpsed the most wonderful toy in the world and had to leave it behind in the store. April became May, and I remained obsessed. I knew I didn’t want a pen roll at my current office, where I have an excellent drawer in which to organize my writing implements, but what about keeping one at home? I imagined reaching for it every time I need to send a card or letter. Wouldn’t you like one?

Sunsweet Ones

But it would be silly for me to buy one of those marvelous, marvelous pen rolls. At home, I keep my few pens in a transparent Sunsweet Ones prune cylinder. Undignified as that may be, I’m all set for pen containers. No need to spend on another.

Perhaps you have a set of favorite pens and pencils. What better than a special roll to keep them fresh and shiny, close at hand, separated from lesser implements and the slings and arrows of wayward scissor blades?

The fish and the hairdryer

SmokedRainbowTroutDo you like smoked fish? I do, a lot. Nom nom nom! It’s full of that famous new type of flavor, umami, which distinguishes simple salt and vinegar, sugar and bitter, from luscious savoriness. It’s fun to eat a generous helping of that stuff, but really, very little is needed to be satisfying. It tends to be expensive because of the labor that goes into making it and the small amount produced, what with the wood chopping and the long drying at low temperatures, but that doesn’t stop me from standing at the display at the corner store and feeling myself starting to drool at the vacuum-sealed package of peppered smoked trout.

There are many and varied editions of anecdotes from the lives of the Desert Fathers and Mothers, who were Christian monastics, mostly from Egypt of the very early middle ages, and some from the Russian steppes of the early modern period. (Wait, this is connected!)

51hM9lR63QL._SY344_PJlook-inside-v2,TopRight,1,0_SH20_BO1,204,203,200_One monk who lived out in the Egyptian countryside got a hankering for smoked fish. Smoked fish not exactly growing on trees in the desert, he had to walk to town to get some. He walked miles and miles with his mind preoccupied by the fabulous thought of a bite of smoked fish. (Being poor, he probably could afford no more than a bite.)

Finally, he got to the town, and suddenly realized that he had put an immense amount of time and labor toward acquiring nothing but a flavor that would be gone in minutes. “This is nucking futs,” he said to himself, or whatever early medieval Egyptian monks said to that effect. He repented of his gluttony. He turned around and walked all the way back to his home in the desert where, I imagine, in the typical monastic fashion he had bread, water, and probably nuts and dried fruits.

For over a decade, my doctor begged me to find some kind of exercise. (Wait, this is connected, too!) “Do what you enjoy doing,” he said. “Maybe you could try walking. Walk five minutes in any direction whatsoever, walk back home, and you’ve got ten minutes done.” I always replied, “No. What I enjoy doing is lying on the floor in front of my computer. A rolling chair like in the movie ‘Wall-E’ would be nice, too.” I am allergic to the term “exercise,” what with its connotations of “fitness” (what, so everyone else is unfit to live?), and sweatiness and heat.

But on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend, I found myself in a hotel pool paddling back and forth doing laps. I suddenly realized with dismay and logic that I had found the famous “form of physical activity I like,” something I was so prepared to do voluntarily that I had packed my swimsuit in anticipation. So after six weeks of trying to ignore this grim fact, I joined a gym with a pool. I had a suitable gym bag, an extra hair dryer, some slippers.

Andis RC-2 Ionic 1875W Ceramic Hair DryerSo the first thing I did after my pleasant first swim at the gym was to go on a shopping quest, to look for a new hair dryer. The vast array online offers so many desirable qualities! Quiet, lightweight, folding, powerful, with a retractile cord, professional sturdiness, and all the cascading bounty of “ions” a girl could ever want. So much nicer than the old ones I have. I spent an hour or so putting many models into my wishlist. Such a technological upgrade!

And then, like the monk who wanted smoked fish, I suddenly said, “This is nucking futs.” I have a perfectly good hairdryer I use at home, and I had bought it as a quieter replacement to the one I keep in my until now-unused gym bag. To spend an hour selecting a third when I have two that work fine? That’s nucking futs!

Evanescent. Scent.

120px-Guinea_Pig_closeupWhen the internet was much younger, I tried to participate in various forums and lists.

The only success I had was on the now-archived list alt.guinea.pig.conspiracy, which ran on the premise that guinea pigs are planning to take over the world. To grasp the belly-shaking humor, you have to have witnessed guinea pigs, as they often do, quietly going into a back corner, facing away from the room, and putting their heads together in a secret conclave inaccessible to stupid human beings.

Aglaonema_commutatum2In contrast, I was a thread killer on Aroid-L, which is about the family of plants that includes such familiar household inhabitants as the incorrectly so-called pothos and such rarities as the corpse plant. A conversation would go along fine until I posted something, and suddenly it would stop. Probably that was because the list is inhabited by scholars of botany and serious collectors of obscure species, whereas I was but a frankly ignorant enthusiast for aglaonema, a very common ornamental more easily, and also improperly, called Silver Queen (which is actually the name of only one variety). I imagine that I must have written things so simple-minded that there was nothing to be said in response.

However, I never provoked a crowd as I did on a forum about fragrances, Perfume of Life, which is inhabited by fanciers of scent both male and female. It was, I can say ruefully, my greatest success on the internet, as measured by the firestorm it set off.

Clive Christian No 1 for WomenThe thread isn’t on the revamped new site, so I must explain that my offense was to declare forthrightly that I live in a tiny SRO (where I still am today) with a shared bathroom and no kitchen, but that I was considering buying a bottle of “the most expensive perfume in the world,” Clive Christian No. 1 for Women, not because it was costly but because I sincerely liked the rather dark, large, dramatic scent a great deal. That amount of money (it was $740 then) was, and is, not nearly enough to raise my standard of living, but it seemed spendthrift to put so much into a bottle of ephemeral perfume when I had so little money to my name; yet where my accommodations are so spartan, it seemed a worthy pleasure. And so I asked what people thought.

The thread exploded with agitated perfume collectors approaching the topic from all imaginable angles. People got really upset at me. Probably they took it personally that I had unwittingly revealed to them how much money they themselves had spent on their own collections. Astonishingly, the thread rapidly surpassed 5,000 reader hits. Apparently not only fragrances but collectors thereof are volatile! The commotion so traumatized me that I fled all forums and lists to this day.

1001609_LFTEAROSEET4_A_400And so it is with great qualms (please don’t flame me) that I introduce to you something I have wanted for years but until quite recently mistakenly thought was out of production: The simply named Perfumers Workshop Tea Rose.

In the 1970s, my mother used to wear this summery, somewhat herbal, scent of tea roses, and it was really very pleasant on her, indeed far more consistently pleasant than she herself was. Also pleasantly, it was, and still is, inexpensive. You can get four ounces, an enormous amount, for less than the price of a pizza. It’s a simple pleasure of evidently enduring appeal. (Did I already ask you to please not beat me up for telling you about Tea Rose? Please don’t beat me up.)

However, I own many scents already — admittedly a fraction of what real collectors have — and before I found out that Tea Rose was still in production, my little herd of fragrances had come to include a bottle of a fabulous, tremendous rose poetically called La Fille de Berlin (Daughter of Berlin). It is the most recent release of the house of Serge Lutens,la-fille-de-berlin-main which is not a household name but is known for subtlety and artistry. It’s the kind of scent where, as perfume collectors are wont to say, when one tries it, one’s nose becomes glued to one’s wrist. You can buy a sample of it at Luckyscent.com.

I seriously doubt Tea Rose can stand up to La Fille de Berlin, although it would be fascinating to do a comparison. Really, I would be buying Tea Rose out of nostalgia and curiosity. And so, sadly, I conclude that it would be a waste of money and space to buy Tea Rose. It would make a fine present for a Secret Santa to give to a woman, so I encourage you to consider it, and it is inexpensive enough for you to try if you want the evocative scent of summer roses at the holidays. But I must show some self-discipline: I have no space for another rose.

If some is good…

Hawaii,_zeljkoWhen people imagine Hawaii, they don’t usually think of toilet paper hoarding.

However, in 1949, there was a 177-day shipping strike against Hawaii. Since so many of Hawaii’s consumer products are shipped there rather than manufactured there, a toilet paper shortage ensued.

People who lived in that Hawaii at that time are notorious for habitually hoarding toilet paper because, well, you just never know when another shipping strike will happen. My late mother, and many people of a certain age, hoarded toilet paper the rest of their lives, and my mother did it even when we lived on the East Coast. You buy an extra roll of toilet paper whenever you go to the store. What’s it cost, so little! It doesn’t spoil, and eventually you will use it!

This leads to a an unhealthy mental habit with all sorts of consumables, however: “If some is good, more must be better.”

114px-ToiletpaperwhitebgWhenever there is a sale of anything I use regularly, I am prone to buy more than I can use within a reasonable span of time. That is how I learned, for example, that liquid fabric softener eventually curdles to such a degree that it cannot be remixed.

Despite unpleasant discoveries of this sort, this kind of hoarding is hard to break, because you can exercise the excuse that you’re going to use it all up. The last time I got excited over a sale, I bought thirteen bottles of Mio Energy Black Cherry. I kid you not. At least it didn’t take up much space.

So when I read yesterday that the venerable house of Caswell-Massey (“America’s enlightened pharmacy since 1752”) had put its almond cold cream soap on sale marked down from $28 for three bars to $9.99, I had quite a struggle not rushing onto the website and buying more.

Almond_and_Aloe_Cold_Cream_Bath_SoapThe Eisenhowers used Caswell-Massey’s almond cold cream soap in the White House, so it has a certain cachet, and it almost never goes on deep sale. It’s one of Caswell-Massey’s most popular products, and there are reasons they’ve been making it for so long. It smells fabulous (I think, anyway), and unlike any other fancy soaps; it suds up a rich lather; and it wears down slowly.

This last point is important from a hoarding perspective, because one is prone to underestimate how long it will last.

I have enough to last more than a year, so I shouldn’t buy more. However, you should get some, especially at such a good price. And if you don’t like how it smells (inconceivable to me), it still makes a fantastic gift.

Go ahead, get some. It’s a lot more glamorous than toilet paper.

The ones I’ll read, and the ones I won’t

This particular flavor of avarice is embarrassing, though I’m far from the only person who has this particular form of shopaholism. And shopaholism it is: just glance at this post and see the number of links to separate items I have put in.

NIV Large-PrintI have a “thing” for bibles. I’m fascinated by the multiplicity of formats and sizes and colors that one book can come in. Unlike the good people at the Bible Design Blog, I am delighted not only by the finest that bookbinding can offer described in technical terms like “semi-yapp,” but also missionary bibles printed on what is very nearly newsprint, and fun format bibles like the many-hued “Chunky Bible” with striped pages and inspirational tear-out cards to give away. I spend a lot of time on ChristianBook.com looking at editions of the Bible.

NIV chunky bibleThis greediness is not a good thing insofar as it is vastly disproportionate to need. There are really only three bibles I feel fully comfortable wanting to own, the ones that have the expanded Apocrypha, not only the ones in the Catholic Bible but also the Orthodox books. (Bible translations are identified by acronyms): OSB, NRSV, and ESV. (Don’t scoff at the Apocrypha until you have read the Wisdom of Solomon, aka Wisdom, and the Wisdom of Sirach, aka Ecclesiasticus, as well as the bloody, brave IV Maccabees. Good stuff.) And three is 300% of what I need, strictly speaking.

Then, like most people who like bibles, I have many more, miscellaneous, ones: I keep around a single-column paragraphed KJV just because I like to have the version that shaped much of modern English; the large print NIV Archaeological Study Bible that at over six pounds is too big to read easily; the large print NKJV Life Application Bible that millions of people use (except for anybody I know), which I bought from curiosity; a Waterproof New Testament that I particularly like and earns its keep for the opacity of its plastic paper and the way it fits my hand; a beautiful old pocket edition NIV; and a handy Dover KJV paperback Psalter. Then I have a really excellent and useful spiral-bound monastic Psalter that sees use. And the odd Eastern/Greek Orthodox New Testament I haven’t opened yet. And, oh yes, I have one piece of true exotica: A Nestle-Aland parallel-text Latin and Greek New Testament that you can’t get anywhere now that I ought to sell to someone who can read both and treasure the book.

Regardless of this superfluous library, I still want to own several tiny bibles. I am filled with wonder at the idea of holding such magnificence in hand or purse ready to read, my own copies, not in a museum or library. I want, I want, I want:

KJV Pocket Reference BibleA “pocket” edition that is proportioned like an ordinary book, but smaller; my pocket edition NIV isn’t enough to fulfill the craving, I want another really fine one. Maybe with a dignified, exciting British accent that says “Oxford” or “Cambridge” on the spine. Prestige brand, you know.

NKJV checkbook bibleA “checkbook” bible, long and skinny, with a magnet or snap to close it. Maybe with a somewhat less assertive design and color than this particular example. Must be tasteful.

NIV Clutch bibleAnd the hardest wish for me to let go is for a zippered “clutch” bible with a wrist strap and a cover that conveniently doubles as a wallet. Put my bus pass in it with money for a candle, donation, and lunch, and I’m all set to go to church.

So fashionable.

I have no excuse at all for wanting these. I don’t even belong to a church where congregants normally bring their own personal copies rather than use the bibles in the pew. If I did, and if I delighted in a nice one to carry and use at Bible study, keeping a bigger one at home, that would be a justifiable purchase. I’ve even met people who seriously use their small-form bibles as their main bibles, all tattered and dog-eared and loved like the Velveteen Rabbit. They are using them the way they should.

But my own fascination with small form factor bibles is all wrong.

God is not a genie to be captured in a bottle, and bibles are not toys.

And who am I kidding, anyway – I don’t even really need the paper versions of my favored editions; I read the Bible mostly online at Bible Gateway, because my galloping presbyopia makes reading from a book tiring.

Nevertheless, if you know Christians who read the Bible, I am sure you could righteously delight them to give them a gift certificate to ChristianBook.com, particularly if they are past their youth and presbyopia has begun its insidious attack on their literacy to make the purchase of a large-print bible desirable. And while you’re at it, do what I’ve done and buy a few extra inexpensive large-print contemporary language New Testaments to give to people or leave with your cleric, because it is surprising how many people want to take up and read, but don’t have a bible at all, or can’t read small type or King James English.

Just don’t do like me and get sucked too far into the kaleidoscope of clever bible formats and impressive translations out there. Your money is needed elsewhere.

Billy Graham was once asked which translation of the Bible he thought was best. He replied: “The one you’ll read.”

War paint

“All work is honorable,” as Colin Powell has remarked. And yes, admittedly, I could use more humility.

That being said, remind me to wear lipstick the next time I’m doing laundry.

I got taken for a laundress again the other night. A young man came in with a full hamper. He said to me airily, “Is it all right if I leave my stuff here? I forgot my money. If it’s okay with you, I’ll be right back.”

I replied, “I don’t work here.”

His ears reddened as he stammered, “I thought I had seen you around the neighorhood and in here before.”

I exclaimed with incredulity at his effrontery and the weakness of his excuse, “You have seen me here! I do my laundry here! I live in your neighborhood!”

As I mentioned in an earlier post, clothes look terrible on me, so I dress somewhat more nicely than most people would ordinarily do for any given task. I was wearing Talbots casual and what I thought were fairly expensive shoes, at least for doing laundry. I spend twice what my coworkers do on their hair. I had turned the laundromat TV to Bloomberg, which I was sitting and watching with fairly close attention. In my pridefulness, I had imagined I had a prosperous sort of mien.

And still I was taken to be a laundry employee. The young man hadn’t even gone to the laundromat office to talk to the actual laundry lady; he saw me and immediately assumed I worked there.

former prime minister of the United Kingdom

former prime minister of the United Kingdom, wearing lipstick & blusher

This is far from the first time this has happened, nor the only laundromat.

There is no shame in being a laundress, if that is what you do for a living. But I am not a laundress, and it would be really nice not to be treated as what I am imagined to be.

I serve my bosses very well at work; and in the evening relaxing while the washing machine does the heavy work for me, I want to just sit and ogle Rishaad Salamat on Bloomberg TV without random passersby treating me like I should be at their service, too.

My humility only goes so far. I know that if I had been wearing short shorts, or if I had been tapping on my phone, I would not have been treated so peremptorily. I am asking for only that much respect.

But I know my mistake: I wasn’t wearing makeup. My clothes and hairdo just weren’t enough. I should have been wearing at least lipstick.

nominee to lead the Federal Reserve

nominee to lead the Federal Reserve, wearing lipstick and possibly blusher

There’s a reason makeup is nicknamed “war paint.” Some people claim they don’t like it when a woman wears makeup; what they actually don’t like is too much makeup. In particular, they don’t like eye makeup. People treat me better, much better, when I’m wearing lipstick and blusher.

Women in power know this. If you want to be treated with respect, it doesn’t matter what ought to be the case, or what is fair treatment of women compared to men; you need to wear at least lipstick.

All of this stupidity makes me want to run out and buy more makeup.

mac-russian-red_300For years, I have wanted to buy Mac lipstick in Russian Red and Nars blusher in Orgasm. These are two of the most famous shades of makeup currently on the market, possibly the most famous shades. I have wanted to satisfy my curiosity– are they really as good as people say? What is the reason for the buzz around these two top sellers in their lines?

Russian Red is supposed to look good on any woman and dress up any outfit. Orgasm is supposed to make a woman look like she has just had one, which apparently is appealing. It, too, is supposed to look good on any woman.

Maybe these two shades would keep people from treating me as if I should be serving them.

NarsOrgasmBut there is no sense in this. My everyday wardrobe has five blushers and fifteen lipsticks, all from the same brand, Mary Kay, to which I am loyal because of its dependable quality and reasonable price. That may seem like a lot of shades, but I use all of them, because I wear makeup to work every day and I enjoy my war paint. Every one of these colors has its own place in my wardrobe, just as every shirt does. But more would be overkill even for me. A lot is a good amount for me, and my ascesis is not to buy too much.

It is just insecurity that makes me want to give in to my years-long curiosity and buy Russian Red and Orgasm. It isn’t that my arsenal is inadequate; it is that I was unarmed that night in the laundromat.

Empress of the Universe

Ink is a touchy topic for me. I’m not an editor, but I spend a fair amount of time entering edits and making my own edits on manuscripts of academic journal articles.

I also spent most of a decade training my boss in stages: First, not to edit in pencil, but in pen. Then, not to edit in black pen, but in color pen. And finally, not to use blue or red or purple or brown or any other color but green.

Pilot G-2 green penHave you ever wondered why green pens are fairly widely available compared to novelty colors like pink and copper? It’s because professional editors use green pens. Green has the Goldilocks advantage of contrasting well against both black text and the white paper it is printed on.

Blue pens deserve more respect in the office than they get, though not for editing. Blue ink is accepted everywhere as serious, like black and unlike other colors; but much more importantly, documents filled in or signed in blue are readily distinguishable from photocopies, without the peering and holding up to the light and feeling the back of the paper that goes along with determining whether a  document is the original.

I got excited one day some months back and ordered about a dozen different green gel pens from JetPens.com. That is about three or four years’ worth at my rate of usage. I also threw in maybe a half dozen blue gel pens, maybe a year and a half or two years’ worth for me. I told myself that I wanted to try all those different brands to see what I liked best, and besides, JetPens ships free with a $25 order. But really it was my appetite for things, rampant and ravening, that placed the order.

Zebra Sarasa Port Red gel penI did not get red. I am not sure what the market is for ordinary bright red pens, other than teachers’ corrections. But I had to fight against the urge to get some dark red pens, also called port, burgundy, and black-red.

For editing purposes, dark red ink is approximately equal to blue, purple, brown, and forest green. They’re better than black, but inferior to plain old green. Still and all, burgundy ink is uniquely pleasurable.

Dark red ink is sensuous, lapidary, luxurious, and appetizing, the color of cherry juice (not “cherry red”) and the jus in “au jus,” and the hue of that extraordinarily delicious cabernet sauvignon of which I had a glass three years ago. It calls to mind the velvets and satins in old art. Dark red is the color of royalty and of power. (Tyrian purple was more like what we would call burgundy than what we think of as purple.)

PopeInnocentX Diego Velasquez 1650While writing in purple confusingly suggests both adolescence and USDA meat stamps, and brown connotes da Vinci’s intellect laboring over parchment, dark red signals the leisure to correspond. I want to write in burgundy and feel like the Empress of the Universe.

Jarringly, the shopper inside me adds cheerfully in a television-like blare, “Pens are cheap. Throw a few burgundy pens into your next order of blue pens, doodle with them, have some fun.” Then, quietly, the avaricious octopus that hides behind the cheerful shopper inside me whispers darkly, “And when you have them in your hands, they will make you feel like Empress of the Universe instead of a desk jockey.”

No! say I stoutly. What am I going to do with dark red pens? I have no need for them at the office; for personal paper correspondence I use blue; and for the holiday season I use green. I have too many pens in the pipeline already, and those are in colors I actually use. A dark red pen would be worth a few minutes of play, and then become junk in the chowder.

In an earnestly puritanical voice, I tell myself, correctly: It is with the accumulation of ounce after ounce of small items that I ended up with too much stuff. I must turn away from even these small cheap delights. I have enough pens. So I won’t get them.

But, my heart replies, no cries of “Sour grapes!” from me, these are sweet red grapes. I refuse to pretend that these pens are unappealing. No matter if I never own another dark red pen, I will never stop feeling that burgundy ink is specially luscious.

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