So.  Not.


You’re Brave New World!

by Aldous Huxley

With an uncanny ability for predicting the future, you are a true psychic. You can see how the world will change and illuminate the fears of future generations. In the world to come, you see the influence of the media, genetic science, drugs, and class warfare. And while all this might make you happy, you claim the right to be unhappy. While pregnancy might seem painful, test tube babies scare you most. You are obsessed with the word “pneumatic”.


Take the Book Quiz
at the Blue Pyramid.

 

At least I’ve read it.  Or rather listened to it.  Michael York did a recording that had me laughing every time he said “zippy cami-knicks.” 

Cally’s to blame.

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Junque

March 23, 2009

Der Mann and I have been watching The Avengers on netflix with Great Relish.  We just saw the one where Mrs Peel goes on a fox hunt with the aristocratic baddies, and either she or Steed repeats that jab about fox hunting: “The unspeakable in pursuit of the inedible.”  It sounded like Oscar Wilde or George Bernard Shaw to me; I looked it up: Wilde.  I had already been thinking about class, and hearing a good aphorism tends to get me thinking in aphorisms.  After a weekend spent in antique and junk stores, this one came to me:

The difference between the rich and the poor is that the rich aren’t ashamed of their ignorance.

You heard it first here.

Through a series of college jobs I had a lot of experience with very rich people–enough for several lifetimes–but not so much in antique stores.  The last time I went around to antique and junk stores on a regular basis was in my early teens with my grandmother.  Since then I’ve been mostly either too busy or too bitter to enjoy them the same way.  I loved getting a feel for what people thought was beautiful at different times–what sort of teapot they might have saved up to buy at the corner drugstore in 1939, what colors they liked in 1880.  I didn’t have the collector mentality and still don’t; anything well-designed made my little heart go pitterpat regardless of value.  Though I did learn a special weakness for the workmanlike: pegs, hand-sawn dovetails joints, little asymmetries, the expert quickness of a hand-painted line.  I fantasized about owning primitive chairs at an age when other girls fantasize about having a boyfriend.  I bought chipped Czech pottery instead of make-up.  The first summer I was made to work on my dad’s farm for more than a couple weeks (money made a horrible trade for freedom!), I spent my entire earnings on an antique English cherry wardrobe.  I was fourteen, I think.  At the time I just loved the wardrobe; now I suspect an unconscious element of protest.  Of course what I really wanted wasn’t just the wardrobe, but to be grown up and living far away from my parents, surrounded by my own things.

The wardrobe is sitting across the room from me.  I’m still very fond of it, thought it’s been kind of an albatross through all the moves.  I’ve never seen another like.

Wow, I should stop to be thankful for adulthood more often.  It’s great living far away from my parents, with my own stuff!

Now that I have the space to buy some non-throwaway furniture, I can’t find anything I want to buy.  Twenty years ago, as long as a person didn’t mind some serious patina (I don’t) or need things to match (no thank-you!), there were all kinds of pretty, sturdy, ideosyncratic late 19th and early 20th century furnishings to be had for not much money.  Now everything is a lot uglier and more broken-down.  Have certain types of antiques simply stopped circulating, enthroned for eternity in someone’s twee-ly restored “Craftsman” bungalow like grave goods in an Egyptian tomb?  Has anyone else noticed this?  It would make sense.  The middle class keeps growing, boomers are living longer, and there is a limited supply.  I’m positing a cut-off point of about 85 years ago, because waterfall veneer bedroom sets are just this side of the cut-off.  (If you like waterfall veneer, now’s the time to get it.  As soon as it’s all been left out in the rain and dumped because the veneer is peeling, it’s going to get wildly popular!)

Aside from being in bad shape, most of what I saw in Portland and Aurora (with the exception of one store in each, which had much higher prices) was very alike.  Dime-a-dozen Empire side-tables.  Wobbly walnut-stained chairs.  Pressback chairs.  Pine wash stands.  Imitation Queen Anne footstools.  Waterfall vanities and warped Deco wardrobes.

And that’s just the actual old stuff.  A lot of it wasn’t even old.  More than ever antique dealers are making up for the lack of merchandise by mixing it with country crap: new cupboards and stools from China and India made to look like old stuff from Somewhere Vaguely European, or The American Heartland.  Candles.  Silk Flowers.  Bath salts.  I guess people are buying it or they wouldn’t be selling it.  But why aren’t they just buying it at the mall?

The apogee of this trend is Shabby Shite I mean Chic.  Come on!  This is SO DONE now.  Or, I thought it was until I started looking on Craigslist for a cupboard.  Shabby Chic, for the blessedly uninitiated, is the process whereby dealers take perfectly functional (if pedestrian) 1920’s, 30’s, or 40’s cupboards, tables, dressers, chairs, and beds; slather them with pink, white or black latex paint; distress the edges (not too hard to do when you paint latex paint directly atop oil-based varnish, as the edges basically distress themselves as soon as you look at them); drape them with doilies and 1950’s hats; and violá!  Add $300 to the price tag.

Slathering paint on antiques used to be something people did at home.  I have no objection to painting antiques.  I just think it ought to be purposeful.  And done behind closed doors.  With a mask on so God can’t see your face.

Seriously, I don’t object to paint.

So, I was people-watching in the antique stores.  Like grocery stores, antique stores are levelers.  I wasn’t going to the high end ones, and the low and mid range and upper-mid range ones attract everyone.  There’s always the possibility of a hidden treasure in the junky places, and the really rich love getting a bargain as much as anyone else.  And as long as the atmosphere isn’t too intimidating, Normal Joe will go into stores where he couldn’t hope to afford anything, just to look around.  Someplace like Aurora, the expensive stores look just like the cheap ones from the outside.  There’s a strange dynamic, and the overheard conversations can be really interesting.  What one learns from these conversations is that nobody–rich or poor–knows Shabby Shite about the past.  And nobody really cares about it, except insofar as they don’t want to look stupid.  But Normal Josephine cares a little more, because she can remember how her mom really treasured her pyrex storage dishes when she finally got them.  And then Josephine will buy some herself for sentiment’s sake, even though she prefers plastic.

So, my aphorism could have been something about how rich people are less worried about whether or not they appear stupid than poor people are.  Which also makes sense.

 

Social Class Brain Twister

Social Class Brain Twister

Clean Clothes

March 13, 2009

My adrenals say I have some explaining to do after last month.  I picture them standing in a nipped-waist floral house dress, tapping their high-heeled foot.

I am almost too tired to write a post, but not quite.  The momentum will keep me going once I start.

One weird thing about this move is that it leaves me very uneasy in a way that goes beyond the boxes and the construction-zone-ness of the space.  Uneasy and guilty.  It’s as if I am waiting for the gods to send a lightning bolt.  The hubris of living in a house three times as big as our tiny apartment!  It’s weird, but consistent with my character.

Likewise, as I was shopping for a washer I felt I was doing something wrong.  Decadent.  (Roman aristocrats, not chocolate.)  As I searched for the ideal washing machine to coddle the products of my expensive, intellectual, upper-middle-class hobby,* I thought of the women all over the world who wash their clothes in rivers, on rocks.

Actually, my parents made us a gift of the washer, which was lovely.  But then I felt guilty for parents who could afford to make a present of a washing machine.  Isn’t it dumb of me to have combined the over-sensitive perceptions of an aesthete with Evangelical guilt?  It’s a recipe for discontent; the trappings of Pietism are too ugly to bear, but Epicureanism has no moral rigor.  Ah lack-a-day.

Nice things about the house:

  • small town
  • central heat (We had individually controlled electric wall heaters in the duplex, some of which didn’t work properly.)
  • the space (lots of it)
  • happier husband (eventually)
  • the yard (large enough to plant big plants and even select a tree or two–my most favorite game!)
  • no always-at-home creepy landlord stealing my shovel ‘n stuff

Not so nice things about the house:

  • small town (Der Mann’s very apt comment when we were walking around it after first seeing the house was, “R___  looks like it has a Hell Mouth.”
  • central heat (improperly installed, it sends all the heat upstairs to make the bedrooms sweltering, while the downstairs is cold)
  • the space (ugly and inconvenient new placement of walls and fixtures from a no-permits, down-to-the-studs remodel, ruined/lost woodwork)
  • the yard, which I’m trying not to think about.  Literal tons of mostly-gravel fill dirt which discourages plant life and causes drainage toward the scary basement, topped with egg-sized river rocks.
  • radon (not uncommon around here, but I sort of wish I hadn’t got the test since there is no way to reduce it when it is just barely within “acceptable” limits.)
  • costs more to live here
  • all the work we will have to do
  • long bus commute for Der Mann

Best things about the house:

  • troupe of half-grown wild kittens which provide constant entertainment when we look outside
  • my new washing machine

The washer guilt faded as I had my first gigantic laundry day.  Thank you, thank you, and thank you again for your comments!  They gave me good things to think about.  After we returned the first washer, I realized that I am a clothes-washing anomaly.  You could call me an “active launderer.”  Or maybe a laundry witch?  I own a laundry stick*, for heaven’s sake!  I like access and control at every stage of the process.  This is because learned my textile-care habits from my grandmother, who learned them in wringer-washer days from her grandmother.

Granny loves clothes and fabrics, and she taught me to wash them in a case-by-case intuitive way, like cooking.  She grew up in the depression, and has never had much money since, so she is very attuned to making things last. . .  Pre-treating with Fels Naptha and other strange preparations, checking the water temperature to see if it feels right and adjusting the taps, stopping the machine mid-cycle to check on things.  Repeating cycles.  Manual extra rinses.  Always machine drying on low heat and hovering over the dryer to snatch things out at just the right moment.  Drip drying.  Flat drying.  Blocking.  In fact, she still has her grandmother’s copper wash boiler, and I have seen her use it!  So, I ended up with a top loader.

Older, more primitive machines are better match for “active launderers.”  Their faults are just the same as modern washers–some of them are too harsh or too wimpy with everyday loads–but you can get more customized results with fewer settings.  It’s pretty clear what your machine is doing at any one time, and you can step in to alter the process without much trouble.

That’s what I wanted: a durable machine that would allow me to make my own combinations of temperature, agitation speed, spin speed, and cycle length; though I also liked the idea of useful pre-sets, like the alternating agitate-and-soak of a handwash cycle.

I would have liked a water and energy efficient machine, but it appears (unless you have a front loader) that these things are in direct conflict with having brilliantly clean clothes.  I took the Epicure’s route.

It turns out one U.S. company still makes old-style washers.  My Sad Washer with the “automatic temperature control” was a top-loading Maytag Centennial.  My Happy Washer is a Speed Queen.  It’s dreamy.  My only objection is that the higher of the two spin speeds, though it is more RPMs than a standard washer, seems to leave the clothes damper than I’m used to.  Unless that is in illusion propagated by the fact that they aren’t twisted around each other and plastered to the outside of the tub.  Perhaps the spin cycle is shorter?  Anyway, they dry quickly in the dryer I bought off Thistledown-who-was-kicked-out-of-the-duplex, and the fact that they come out less wrinkled means that when I get a clothes line I can line-dry a lot of things without having to iron.

I washed a handwoven gauze shawl (not my own weaving) in the handwash cycle, and it came out fine.

 

*Sorry for the stereotyping.  Most of us don’t totally fit, but I was thinking how weaving looks from the outside, and to my guilty conscience.

*Dyers probably already know this, but a laundry stick is a roughly 1″ x 1″ by 20″ piece of milled hardwood with the sharp edges sanded down.  In wash-boiler days you’d use it to lift the wash from the boiler.  Now it is useful when you want to open up the washer after agitation starts to stir in laundry spells I mean soap preparations and prod down things like wool shirts that have just enough water resistance to balloon or float partly out of the water instead of immersing.  Last time Grandpa made her a new one, Granny asked me if I wanted one too, and I said, “Yes!”  I’m afraid I lost it in the move though.  Maybe to the landlord’s lumber pile.

Egg Sauced

March 3, 2009

Sorry for the lack of pictures.  We are on dial-up internet at the moment.  I now look forward to catching up on your blogs very s-l-o-w-l-y, unless (until?) we should make our pact with the devil, i.e. Comcast, i.e. the only fast internet in our new town.

But we are moved in.  All our possessions are out of the rain.  We left the apartment far cleaner than than our raw vegan musician nudist landlord left it for us.  He remarked as much, in his white tunic, when we woke him up from an afternoon nap to come do the walk-through.  “Here’s my old room!” he said fondly, turning to me for the indulgent approval he is accustomed to receive from women.  I smiled fixedly at him in my wet, filthy floor-scrubbing clothes.  Then he found the lavender bundles in the closet and wanted to know if we were leaving them.  I said we put them there because the closets smelled of cigarette smoke so we figured we’d leave them.  He perked up.  “So, do you burn them?”  (He definitely moves in the sweetgrass set.)

“No, they just sit in there and make it smell nice,” I explained.  (Does that mean I move in the lavender-in-the-closet set?)

I think he’d got a sudden poetical vision of lighting smudges and chanting our meat-eating, milk-drinking, vegetable-scorching spirits out of the empty apartment when we were gone.

Over the years I have thought a lot about the fact that a quarter (an eighth?) of the renters in the world do all of the cleaning.  Every time we’ve moved, Der Mann and I have cleaned the place we were leaving, then had to turn around and scrape somebody else’s thick layer of gunge out of the new one.  We move into dirty rentals and leave them clean: I can only assume some lucky few have the luxurious experience of moving into clean rentals and leaving them dirty.  Virtue is not its own reward, so what motivated me to clean house for these people?

For one thing, money was so tight we were always terrified of not getting our deposit back.  Yet I know for a fact that most landlords will settle for what I call “symbolic cleaning.”  Over the years I’ve observed, again and again, a bizarre landlord-obsession with burner pans.  Replace the burner pans, dump a gallon of bleach in the toilet, knock the crumbs out of the kitchen drawers, and you’re golden: no need to worry about the blobs of jam or crock pot full of moldy leftovers in the fridge, the 9 burnt-out lightbulbs, The gravy smears on the woodwork, the wall you’ve been using for a dart-board, or the pools of shampoo in the bathroom cupboard–he’ll turn a blind eye to those.  If, on the other hand, he’s the kind of landlord who doesn’t return deposits, nothing you can do will to make him give it back.

It’s not that I’m a neatnik.  Well, okay, a little, but only selectively.  While I am depressed by dirt, I weigh the cost of displacing of it very carefully.  I don’t like to crunch around on gritty floors, I think it’s important not to let goop settle on work surfaces, and no human being ought to have to use a gross bathroom.  Also, I have a thing about keeping the kitchen counters cleared in reaction to my mother.  (Her hoarding and her clinical OCD and are a deadly combination.)  But I loathe scrubbing and mopping floors.  And dusting.  And vacuuming.

I end up vacuuming every week or two for the sake of my dust allergies.  In terms of surface area, 80 percent of the dust settles on the floor, right?  As for the other 20 percent, despite the fact that it is a health issue and I find it extremely unpleasant to touch–nails on chalkboard, really–I go months without dusting.  And floors, oh, dear.  Back when we lived in a farmhouse with real linoleum in a speckled brown pattern I once went more than a year without mopping.  But see, we don’t spill much!  And when we do spill something, we wipe it up with soap and and water!  And we don’t wear our outside shoes in the house!

Regular spot cleaning and a household with only two adults is the only thing that makes this kind of piggery bearable.

But I’m talking about our everyday dirt, in our everyday lives.  We would never bequeath it.  That would be wrong.  Like leaving our dirty underwear slung on the chandeliers.  I’ve never faced dirty underwear in a new rental, though I once found dirty sweat bands and sweat socks that had been slung on the closet shelf.

We are still technically renters.  My parents are buying the house as a retirement investment, Der Mann and I are fixing it up.  My parents are paying for materials, we are supplying the labor.  Our rent is about the same as it was in the duplex.  However, since we loaned my parents part of the purchase price, it is also an investment for Der Mann and me.  When my parents sell, we’ll get our money back with a portion of the profit from the sale.

In case you are curious, I managed to de-paper, patch, re-plaster, sand and paint the bedrooms before moving day.  All the dog-pee carpets are gone.  Believe how bad they were when I tell you the nailed, splintering, painted and paint-splattered wood floors underneath are a big improvement.  The rest of the house is (Euphemism?  Let’s see, now…) in process.  I’m only half done painting the dining room.  It’s the largest room, and my loom and all the stuff that was going to go in there is crammed in the living room until my paint store gets another shipment of the paint I was using.

Still no washing machine.  We went through the drama of buying one, hauling it home, squeezing it through tight doors, unpacking it, and hooking it up, only find that “automatic temperature control” refers to an internal, non-adjustable thermostat which prevents washing at any temperature other than the factory pre-sets for “cold,” “cool,” “warm,” and “hot.”  The “hot” setting is lukewarm.  Adjusting the laundry taps, which is how I’ve always fine-tuned my wash temperature, did nothing.  It was late at night and I’d been breathing paint fumes for weeks straight when I made this discovery; I was literally pounding on the walls with my fists and weeping.  I stopped short of swinging a hammer through the plaster, which was what I really wanted to do–I knew I was the one who would have to patch the hole!  My poor Mann.  He was the one who suggested we could try to return it.  He did the dirty work.