You are currently browsing the monthly archive for June 2009.

After many months, perhaps even years, of wanting to hire someone to clean our house (because, despite good intentions, we are either too busy, too lazy, or too sensitive to dust to be very effective at it ourselves) we hired Amelia (and her husband, it would appear) to help us out. She and her husband came for the first time yesterday and our house has never, in the five years we’ve lived here, been so clean. They worked extremely hard and with excellent results.

Are people who clean houses constantly judging their customers, wondering why they aren’t better at cleaning up after themselves? Do they resent what they’re doing, or are they glad for the opportunity to earn money, or just indifferent to the societal ramifications and just doing their job?

Do they inspect all your belongings and learn things about you that you wouldn’t want them to know? Do they see things you didn’t realize you left out that are inappropriately personal? Do they make inferences about your personality, your morality, your family life based on your stuff?

What is the difference between a short order cook and a chef? What does a chef have to know to be a chef? Why are so many chefs men when traditionally women do the cooking at home? How do cooks do everything so fast without injuring themselves? Or are they covered with burns? How do cooks feel about making food they don’t like? How do they know if it’s good if it’s something they wouldn’t eat themselves? How do cooks move up in the world of restaurants?

I am fascinated by other people’s jobs. One vocation I’d like to learn about is hairstyling.

I want to spend a day at beauty school, when they’re learning about hair color. How do they know what color highlights to give a customer? What if the customer wants something that the hairdresser knows will be hideous? Why do all the color potions look white when they’re in the bowl? Who created all those colors and gave them numbers? Are the numbers universal, so an American hairdresser could go to Turkey and know how to highlight hair with Turkish products?

What’s the difference between the hairstylists who work at Hair Cuttery and the ones who charge much more for a haircut? Is hairstyling a natural talent some people are born with? How do they know what to do when the customer has no idea what she wants?

On the flight to Long Beach last Friday evening, I sat between my dad, who mostly slept, and a woman who watched TV and asked me several questions about how the controls worked for the tv and satellite radio (I highly recommend jetblue if you have to fly somewhere). I read my book.

A few hours into the flight my neighbor asked me where we were from. That launched a lively conversation that lasted until we landed. The woman’s name is Margaret. She was headed to Burbank to visit cousins and take some time for herself after spending many many months helping both her parents through cancer treatments. Her mom died of breast cancer in April. Her dad is still alive.

Her parents’ story made me cry (although in truth many things make me cry lately). Her father was a POW in Germany for the final 10 days of World War II. He was on guard duty one night when a soldier approached him and asked for a cigarette. As he reached for his pack, the man took him prisoner. He told his daughter that the Germans treated him decently. Near the end of his time in the prison, just before Americans liberated the camp, the soldier who had captured Margaret’s father gave him a painting he had painted, which Margaret’s father still has. He is living at the Veterans Administration hospital, which apparently is tough to get a spot in but his POW status enabled him to move up the list.

Margaret’s mother (actually her stepmother but someone Margaret obviously felt close to and called mom) had fought breast cancer twice before. In the midst of Margaret’s father’s battle with skin cancer, the breast cancer returned. Margaret and her sister and everyone else pleaded with Mom to get treatment. She refused to seek or accept help for her own cancer until she had seen her husband’s treatment through.

One day when her mom was finally getting treatment and was being cared for at home by a nurse, and her dad was at the VA hospital, Margaret arranged some time for them to be together. Dad was transported home by ambulance, and wheeled in on a stretcher. Mom was in a hospital bed in the living room. The nurse wheeled Mom’s bed one way and Dad’s stretcher the opposite way so they could face each other and hold hands across the bed.

As Margaret’s Mom realized her life was coming to a close, Margaret called Mom’s friends and encouraged them to visit. When one close friend came over, Margaret’s mom said “Well, I was going to die yesterday, but I decided not to.”

For a while during our conversation I wondered if I should bring up my Aunt Judy, who I lost to breast cancer last fall. My dad was sitting right there with me and Aunt Judy was his sister. He was there when she was dying. I wondered if this was his story alone to tell. But I decided that Aunt Judy’s death had affected me too, a lot, and that I could claim ownership of the story too. So I told Margaret about what happened, and my dad seemed comfortable enough sharing his perspective as well. He told Margaret about how my Grandma, who is 93, has been attending a grief support group. He went with Grandma to a meeting when he was visiting, and was reminded that no matter how sad your story is, someone else’s is always sadder. One woman at the meeting described how her husband was on the phone notifying relatives of the death of his mother when he had a heart attack and died. She showed everyone the program from the funeral with both her husband’s and mother-in-law’s photos on the cover.

Esther Chillini celebrated her 70th birthday tonight at the Pink Martini concert at Wolf Trap. Pink Martini led the audience in “Happy Birthday” and they had a cake for her. During their encore pianist Thomas Lauderdale lit the candles on Esther’s cake and invited her up to the stage. Esther and an unnamed friend made their way to the stage and joined in on percussion during the last song. Esther blew out the candles and sat at the piano with Lauderdale. Esther’s friend was waving what appeared to be homemade fans with people’s faces on them. She pranced around the stage, interacting with every member of the band and clearly more comfortable with the spotlight than Esther. But I am sure Esther had a happy birthday.

I was wandering the campus of the University of California Irvine, home of the Anteaters, which say “Zot!” I was looking for a sign directing me back to the arena where commencement was taking place. I had followed the siren call of the campus bookstore after my brother-in-law’s walking tour of the lush and inviting grounds. I promised my sister I could find my way back.

I saw a man in academic robes feeding a parking meter and asked if he could point me in the direction of commencement. He offered to walk me there, which had been my hope. His robe was embroidered with dozens of colorful sea creatures. I cleverly deduced that he was a marine biologist. He said his mother had embroidered “every critter I’ve ever studied” and continues to add more periodically. He’s a professor at UC Irvine and his research specialty is sharks.

As we walked to the arena (a good 10-minute walk during which I was really glad he was escorting me) I discovered that he travels 60,000 miles a year to remote locations to hang out with sharks and other creatures. Usually his wife and 2 1/2 year old daughter come along. He said that his daughter had just learned to swim and that her first solo swimming encounter was in open water off a boat in Belize on a recent trip. She had been feeding anchovies to sharks off the boat and wanted to get in to wash off the anchovies. She asked her dad if the sharks would bite her. He assured her that they would only lick her. Wearing her life jacket, she jumped in and swam with the sharks. I guess he knew what he was doing.

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