The Chalice

Last Saturday Jane and I took the Metro to the National Gallery of Art to attend a lecture by our friend and my colleague Eric Denker.  The Metro was fairly crowded, because it was the occasion of the March for Science and Earth Day.  That’s why we did not drive; too many street closures were in the offing, and even if we got in we would not be likely to get out easily.  We struck up a couple of conversations with grizzled marchers (one couple from Newton, MA), carrying their placard slogans, and wished them well as they debarked at Federal Triangle, launching into the drizzle for their walk to the Washington Monument.

Our own walk in the insistent wet was to the East Building Auditorium, where Eric spoke on the subject of Frédéric Bazille, a young, aspiring French painter, friend of the more famous Impressionists.  His more concrete style stood in contrast to the broken brushstrokes of Monet, and was somewhat more in the Manet camp.  He decided, with the thorough disapproval of all his family and friends, to enlist to fight in the Franco-Prussian war as a Zouave.  The bright, flashy uniform on his 6’2” frame must have made a good target, because he was killed on his first day of combat, less than 50 miles from Paris, just a few days before his 29th birthday.

Afterwards we completed our tour of the Bazille exhibit that we’d begun before the lecture, and stopped by to see a magnificent exhibit of Della Robbia ceramics from the Italian Renaissance.  We’d never appreciated the differing styles of the different family members, or the secret and exclusive success of the glazing formulas.  Our favorites included Luca’s “Holy Visitation,” Andrea’s “Virgin and Child,” Girolamo’s “François I,” and Giovanni’s “Resurrection of Christ.”  We traversed the length of the West Building indoors to stay out of the rain longer.  And then, before the wet walk back to the Smithsonian station, we stopped to visit The Chalice.

The National Gallery of Art is not noted for its pre-Renaissance holdings.  For medieval and ancient art in our neck of the woods one really needs to head up I-95 to Charm City and the Walters Art Gallery.  But our beloved National Gallery of Art has one piece that will stand up to just about any single piece in any European cathedral treasury . . . well, except for Aachen.  Ever since I discovered The Chalice in the 1970s, I have been drawn to it like a moth to flame, and more often than not we stop by the small, dark room of which it is the spotlighted centerpiece when we visit the museum.

Smithsonian chalice

The Chalice

The Chalice is a 12th-century work consisting of a sardonyx cup dating back to the 2nd or 1st centuries BCE, carved from a single piece of spectacularly marbled stone, in a heavily gilded silver setting with rubies, sapphires, pearls, glass, and white glass pearls.  The goldwork is heavily filigreed.  On the base are four discs; the one original shows the Byzantine Christus Pantokrator and the Western Alpha and Omega.  The other discs probably portrayed St. Denis and his two companions.  It was made for Suger, Abbot of St.-Denis, near Paris.   Suger, a powerful French churchman and statesman, caused his abbey church to be rebuilt in a new, light and lofty style.  It’s the earliest Gothic church there is.  Suger believed in the mystic spiritual power and symbolism of light.  The choir of his rebuilt church is illuminated by tall pointed stained glass windows all around.  In 1144 this renewed building was dedicated with many notables in attendance, including King Louis VII and his queen, Eleanor of Aquitaine.  (As one historian said, “much of [Louis VII’s] trouble” arose from this marriage to the headstrong Eleanor).  This chalice was presumably used in the dedication ceremony.

It’s not just the building in which The Chalice resided that’s remarkable.  St. Denis himself is a worthy personage.  He was the Bishop of Paris in the 3rd century, a time when the Christian Church was subject to persecution.  So effective were he and two colleagues that the Romans who then occupied the region perceived him as a threat to pagan practices.  Denis (whose name is a Frenchified version of the original “Dionysius”) was executed by decapitation shortly after 250 CE on Montmartre.  He then attained fame as “one of many cephalophores in hagiology” (thanks, Wikipedia) by picking up his head and walking 6 miles (10 km) to the place that now bears his name, preaching repentance all the way.  (An alternative narrative has his headless corpse being thrown into the Seine, and then recovered and buried by his followers the same night.  But where’s the fun in that?)  A small shrine was built there in the 5th century, and from the 10th century onward all French kings were buried in the church, until their remains were all desecrated by the French Revolution.  Today the community is a working-class suburb of Paris, with a stop on the Metro and the French national football stadium, the Stade de France, as well as the church in all its 900-year-old splendor.

With all this rich Christian and French tradition surrounding The Chalice, who wouldn’t stop and soak it all in whenever possible?  We went home in the rain happy.

Connections

For one week of every fifty-two, we like to go somewhere warm, sit by the pool or on the beach at a nice resort, and relax.  We’ve been to a variety of such destinations in the Western Hemisphere, and this year it was Baja California.  Making our travel plans months ago, we found routes to Cabo San Lucas from Dulles Airport through Denver, Chicago, and Houston.  Our travel window, late February through mid-March, made the choice simple: Houston would be the most reliable transfer point.  How could we have predicted that by March 1 Chicago would have recorded no snow on the ground all winter, a 136-year-old record?

Only thing about Houston was that the outbound connection was tight, at 55 minutes from arrival to takeoff.  Understand that it’s really only 45 minutes, since aircraft doors are scheduled to shut 10 minutes prior to takeoff time.  And that 45 minutes is really only 25 minutes if we want to arrive at the gate in time to board the plane with our preferred passenger boarding privilege, which allows us to get to our seats in time to be sure our carry-on luggage can be stowed overhead.  (Lots of folks use only carry-on for warm-climate vacations, since you only need beach gear and enough clothing to pass muster at the resort restaurants.)  In that 25 minutes the plane has to taxi to the gate (“arrival” means when the aircraft wheels touch the tarmac) and get attached to the jetway, we have to debark (leaving no personal items behind, of course), to determine what gate our connecting flight departs from, and walk/run to that gate, toting our carry-on luggage, in time to line up and board with our group.

The wild card is that we have no idea where in the airport the departure gate is relative to the arrival gate.  It could be five minutes away.  It could be fifteen minutes away.  Usually you can count on 5 to 8 minutes from touchdown to gate, 2 or 3 more minutes until deplaning commences, and 3 or 4 more minutes until the seats in front of you have cleared (if you’re located about halfway back in the Economy section).  So that’s 10 to 12 minutes from touchdown to being inside the terminal building, leaving 13 to 15 minutes for the walking/running part.  That’s sufficient time, IF nothing goes wrong.

Our flight, it seemed, would get to Houston on time.  It was slow leaving the gate after the doors were shut 5 minutes before the 8:15 a.m. takeoff time, and actually left the ground 15 minutes after that scheduled time.  But airlines build some slack into their schedules so that they can claim a higher “on time” statistic.  And so it was that our airplane touched down just about exactly on schedule.  The pilot bounced the landing slightly, though, which proved to be ominous.   Because he got to the gate, turned off the seatbelt sign, and allowed us to grab our stuff and line up in the aisle.  THEN he announced that he parked the plane incorrectly, so that the jetway couldn’t attach to the plane.  Seriously?  I thought those folks on the ground gesturing with sticks assured that the plane would be right on the painted markings that indicate correct alignment.  Geez, if I had half that much help parallel-parking my car I would nail it every time!

We had to sit down, buckle up again, wait for the pilot to re-park, and only then disembark.  Luckily the rest is anti-climactic, as we discovered our gate was “just around the corner.”  In airline terminals that means only a five-minute (quarter-mile) walk.

So we got to Cabo San Lucas and spent a week in San Jose del Cabo at the Royal Solaris, a very nice place.  We left at the perfect time, sort of wishing we had one more day, but also looking forward to getting home.  This would be the easy trip, because we had one hour and 50 minutes for the connection, double what it was on the way down.  Yes, we had to go through immigration and customs, and yes, we had to go through security again, but so what?  The layover was almost two hours, and doing the math we still had an hour and 25 minutes for all the in-terminal processing.  Piece of cake.

The shiny new International Terminal at Cabo San Lucas relaxed us; we waltzed into the aircraft on time; we settled in, buckled up, and taxied what seemed like 15 minutes to the end of the runway (I hate it when the window-seat passengers keep the shades down to “preserve coolness” and “avoid glare,” because I want to see exactly what the plane is doing and where it is on the tarmac).

Then came the announcement: the plane was overweight, unsafe to take off.  It was an unusual situation, we were told, but we’d have to go back to the gate.  What?  WHAT!?!  This was a Boeing 737, the domestic workhorse of the medium-range fleet.  It’s practically the jet equivalent of the DC-3: been around forever; solid, functional, durable basic design.  After all the years they’ve used this plane, United still doesn’t have a way to figure out ahead of time how to prevent this aircraft from getting overloaded?

United wanted four volunteers to stay an extra day in Los Cabos.  It got them in a hurry.  (Having done this ourselves once in the past, we were not anxious to volunteer.  The airlines make it so hard to collect and use the financial reward you’re given that it’s just not worth the hassle.)  A quick, rough math calculation suggests the issue here: let’s say each passenger plus luggage = 250 lbs.  If so, they needed to lose 1000 pounds.  There were about 230 people on the plane, most of them having just spent a week at an all-inclusive resort.  That means that each passenger was responsible for about 4 pounds of the overweight.  If only everyone had eaten more healthily!

By the time the volunteers and their luggage were deplaned, the aircraft re-prepared for departure, re-taxied to the end of the runway, and ready to roll, an hour and ten minutes had elapsed.  We were down to 40 minutes for our connection in Houston, including deplaning, immigration, customs, re-screening at security, getting to the gate, and doors closing before takeoff.  I knew from experience that one jerk at any point, like the idiot Customs Agent we ran into at Dulles one night, could burn up 15 or 20 minutes of that time all by him- or herself.  Spending the night in the Lone Star State seemed inevitable.

By the time we got to Houston, a couple of new factors emerged: our pilot had made up 10 minutes or so on the trip, and the connecting flight itself had arrived late in Houston, giving us another 15 minutes.  The flight attendant with whom we had discussed our dilemma told us that United was monitoring several flights feeding into the one back to Dulles, and suggested the departure time could be set back further.  He also said that the departure gate had been changed, but that news was not good.  The original gate was one gate from being the farthest from Immigration in the entire airport.  The new gate WAS that one farther gate!  But we deplaned figuring we’d just give it our best shot, and hope.

Immigrating into Houston is better than the Dulles experience.  They have the same new automated machines that read your passport and require you to take a selfie.  But when you go to the agent at the desk with the printout, they don’t go over all the information with you again the way they do at IAD.  They simply provide a human verification of the automated process, which is exactly what they should do.  Likewise, customs has sufficient agents to handle the crowds, another contrast to our home airport.

On our way through customs, the same flight attendant was right behind us.  He said “you are going to make it.”  That seemed less sure to us, but we embraced the assurance with a passion.  Then we hit security.  There was not TSA Pre-check, and the line was fairly long.  Suddenly we realized we’d need to be in the mode of toiletry bags out, belts and shoes off—all the intricate rituals of regular security.  The line was moving, though, until we got near to the screening point, and some ill-trained TSA person strode out to lecture us about his intention to deliberately slow the line down to “teach us” that he really meant it when he said we could have nothing in our pockets.  Nothing like being talked down to in such an urgent moment as if we were children by a guy who seemed to barely have made it through high school himself.  At such times it is a real effort to hold my tongue.

However, sanity prevailed.  I didn’t even have to go through the full body scan because I am over 75; only had to reassure the agent that I did not have a pacemaker or any metal in my body.  But coming out of TSA screening we realized that the route to our gate was the longest way, looping backwards, and that time was running out.  You won’t remember the old OJ Simpson commercials for Hertz that involve running through airports if you are (1) too young or (2) settling into senile dementia, but they come to mind in these moments of crisis.  Unfortunately, we are not in the kind of shape OJ was in his prime, nor do we have his innate athletic ability.  But we were doing our best OJ imitation.  There were several defibrillators in the corridors along the way, well-marked for emergency access.  I asked Jane to note their locations because I might well need one.  Finally, about six gates away, I told her to run ahead and try to get them to hold the plane, because I could not keep up the pace any longer.

A while later I looked up and saw the last gates in the far distance.  Jane was just disappearing into the crowd, the crowd of people waiting to board the flight at Gate C-31.  Our gate!  I chugged up, a sweaty, panting mess; got into what I thought was the end of the Group 2 line; was advised it was longer; relocated.  It didn’t matter.  We all were going to be on that flight, in our seats, with our baggage securely stowed and our seat belts fastened snugly across our laps, remembering that in case of emergency we would put on our own face masks before helping others.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2017

Herndon

This brief posting is just to document that yesterday, on a cool, clear, breezy day, I got to my old westbound turn-around point, downtown Herndon.  For years I looped off the W&OD on the way west to climb Hunter Station Road, which has a steep incline of about 14% for about a quarter mile.  I gave that up as a normal routine several years ago when my heart rhythm wouldn’t take it.  Instead I extended the ride to west Herndon, but here is my original spot, exactly 11 miles from home, making a nice 22 mile ride.  You’re looking at the scene from the north side of the trail, where I am sitting on a bench.  Note the old station, the baggage wagon, the semaphore signal, and the plaza to the left with the table and umbrella, a new twist.  You can perhaps make out that the station door on the right has some stained glass panes, 1890s style.  So nice to be there again!  I promise that henceforth I shall continue to progress in my recovery without marking every small step with a blog posting.

herndon station

Herndon Station on the W&OD, my westbound turn-around point

 

Comfort Zones

A couple of weeks ago I took to my bike again, following a long patch of rainy weather that necessitated my riding my indoor trainer, and a week away from home.  The later spring blossoms along the way included blackberry and wild rose, their natural copious abundance increased by cool weather and rainfall that assured they’d “pop” once we had a couple of days of seasonal sunshine.

Normally they crowd up to the edge of the W&OD Trail, leaving no doubt of their presence.  But this year the Regional Park Authority spent a lot of time in the early spring cutting back trailside brush to about 15’ to 30’ along both sides of the trail, except in places where it cuts through terrain in a way that results in steep inclines immediately off the pavement.  The result looked very “scorched earth” in March, but now it has mellowed a little bit, despite the herbicides used to dampen [even they could not “halt”] bamboo growth.

Still, for old berry pickers like me, foragers from the ‘70s era of Euell Gibbon’s Stalking the Wild Asparagus, comfortable access to blackberry bushes is a nice perk.  We’ve had a few trailside quarts here and there.  And this would have been a good year, given the 7.43” of rain recorded in Vienna this May.

Wild rose

Wild rose blossoms.

The bushes were still close enough for me to enjoy my late-May rides, because the seasonally humid, close air concentrated the fragrance of the roses.  I’d be riding along, and there would be a stretch of a couple of hundred feet where the air was richly laden with the deep, sweet aromas of the roses’ perfume.  As I wrote here some years ago, it’s easy to tell roses and blackberries apart if you know what you’re looking for.  Both have five white petals in each blossom, and both have clusters of blossoms in similar patterns.  But blackberry blossoms are more slender and ever so slightly greenish, while the broader rose blossoms are equally slightly pinkish.  Likewise, blackberry leaves are on the bluish side of the green spectrum, while rose leaves are inclined, again ever so slightly, to the yellowish side.

While smelling the roses literally, I have been smelling them figuratively as well.  A couple of days ago I took a quantum leap by increasing my riding range from 15 ½ to 21 ½ miles.  I hadn’t really planned to go that much farther, but it was a great day, cool, sunny, dry, and the place I had planned to turn around offered no place to rest.  So I just went on.  Luckily, the terrain between Wiehle Ave. and Van Buren St. is relatively flat, with only one dip and one overpass.  My new turnaround is only about a mile and a half from my old standard turnaround on the W&OD going in that direction, so it may not be too long before I am doing my whole “old normal” ride.

That said, I’m probably only about 75% of normal strength, but a lot of that is just building conditioning back.  I still am fatigued more quickly, and my overall pace is a couple of ticks slower.  But I’m already motivated to push the envelope of my new comfort zone.  And pretty much the whole summer lies ahead!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

The Blizzard of 2016

Last Monday I was taking a break from shoveling. Sitting on the front stoop, which was shoveled and sun-melted the day before, I could hear what passes for silence in a large metropolitan suburb. The Beltway traffic muttered from over the trees, hills, and sound barriers. I had not seen a car on our street all day, reduced as it was to one lane, now melted clear but still narrow. Meltwater dripped into gutters and gurgled out downspouts. High overhead a jet roared, invisible but audibly heading south. Perhaps a planeful of lucky people from Boston or Hartford were flying to the eternal warmth of the Caribbean.

Beginning.

Our house as the blizzard began.

We had a light, wet snow on Sunday, January 17. It was the first snowfall of what had been a mild and semi-dry winter. It was a mess, but not a big deal. Everything melted off of the roads. But by the next day the weather forecasters were promising a major storm at the end of the week.

It turned out to be one of the three or four biggest single snowfalls in the history of the region. All week the predictions were uniform and consistent. Apparently all the elements were firmly in place: cold enough to snow, certainty of the low pressure storm center that came ashore in the pacific Northwest about Sunday would in fact ride the Jet Stream down to the Carolinas, and would indeed transfer its energy to the coastal low which was in precisely the right place to form up well south of the Washington area.

As the storm approached I promised my family on the west coast that I would post on Facebook to record the development of the storm and demonstrate that we still had electricity. What follows are the transcripts of those postings, interspersed with a few amplifying remarks, and some illustrative photos.

Tuesday, January 19, 3:55 p.m.:

Note to DC friends: How many times does the Big Storm that’s predicted on Tuesday become Friday’s “scattered snow flurries”? Almost always. It’s the ones that sneak up on us that turn out to be actual blizzards.

The storm ended up being very actual. And it had a name: Winter Storm Jonas. What happened to WS Arn, WS Bernice, WS Chuckie, and so on? Never heard about them. Since when has the NWS been naming winter storms at all? The media has done so for some time. This one became Snowzilla, since we had already had Snowpocalypse, Snowmageddon, and other such vapors of the idle brains of those whose job it is to make every news event breathlessly urgent, intensely melodramatic, and vaguely unsettling.

DSCN8893

Our house during the blizzard.

Thursday, January 21, 9:22 a.m.:

“Blizzard” Update: After three days of describing the upcoming Friday-Saturday snowstorm as “historic” and “significant,” with snowfall totals well over one foot, the meteorologists this morning are taking the first steps to back away: “new models indicate that snowfall amounts may be less in some areas.” We’ll keep up with the changes over the next 36 hours. MEANWHILE, a “clipper” system that dropped one freakin’ inch of snow on cold, untreated roads during last night’s rush hour and was NOT IDENTIFIED AS SIGNIFICANT BY ANY METEOROLOGIST created pure havoc (7 hour commutes for some!) both last night and this morning. Area schools are closed for the day! Well, as I heard one radio forecaster say yesterday, “the details are in the devil.” ONLY in D.C.!!

I heard that forecaster on my way home from the grocery run. People had all week to stock up, and we were pretty well set. But we were a couple of ingredients short of a good recipe. At the Giant, people had carts full of stuff. Do people only have enough toilet paper on hand for a couple of days most of the time? Do they plan on subsisting on bread pudding during every storm? Why aren’t they buying fruit and vegetables and meat?

Friday, January 22, 2:29 p.m.:

snowcap

“The frolic architecture of the snow.”

Enjoy this poem today, before you lose power. I wonder if Emerson ever lost power. Oh, wait, . . . [I posted a link to Ralph Waldo Emerson’s poem “The Snow-Storm,” which ends with the wonderful line “The frolic architecture of the snow.”] http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175142

Friday, January 22, 11:25 p.m.:

cats

Cats during the storm, wondering as usual where their next meal is coming from.

Blizzard Watch: It is 11:21 p.m. We still have power. In fact there has been little wind and just moderate snow, but no “blizzard” conditions yet. So we were able to have a warm meal prepared by conventional means. There are about 6″ on the ground now. Incredibly, they are predicting that about 18″ will be on the ground by 10 A.M. That would seem incredible, but I remember a very similar storm in about 1978. And so to bed. I will post something by about 8 A.M. if we have power.

Saturday, January 23, 8:12 a.m.:

Blizzard Watch: Woke up to about 15″ of snow on the ground. AND to !!ELECTRICITY!! Supposed to be windy all day, but the snow is dry and the limbs not burdened, so there’s hope. Conditions not quite whiteout, but we are being advised to expect another 10″ to a foot. So this storm is the real deal, and is very much as forecast.

After the storm the total accumulation at National Airport was deemed suspiciously low. In a city highly attuned to fraud and deception, everything is questioned. In this case, the official airport reading put the storm into fourth place all-time. But wait! Turns out they did not do the readings correctly, and had not been doing so for some time past either. It seems that an official snowfall reading requires a “snow board.” (I just assumed that must be a CIA torture for Alaskan natives.) You place the snow board in the measuring area, let a few inches accumulate, measure them, clean the board off, let a few more inches accumulate, measure, clear, and repeat at regular intervals. This method counters the snow’s natural tendency to compress over time from the weight of new snow falling on top of it. By virtue of the NWS’s faulty procedure, Winter Storm Jonas was prevented from claiming its rightful place as the third worst storm ever. Every centimeter counts, as the phantom seven-time Tour de France winner might say.

Saturday, January 23, 3:22 p.m.:

after

Our house after the storm.

Blizzard Update: 3:00 Saturday and we still have power. About 6 to 8 hours left of snow and wind, apparently. This is a storm with a real kick in its tail. The center of the low pressure area is just about due east of us, it appears. But the huge mass of snow streaming downward on the west side of that low seems endless. For a while around noon we thought it was letting up, but as the wind is slowly backing around to northwest its velocity is increasing and the bands of precipitation are deepening, so that it’s now a real full-scale “whiteout” blizzard here. We each have ventured out, to shovel a path to the street, clear the front stoop, and clear the heat pump. Wouldn’t go out right now unless I absolutely had to. Truly, “it ain’t a fit night out for man or beast.” [I posted a link to a short YouTube video excerpt of W. C. Fields performing in Mack Sennett’s 1933 film short The Fatal Glass of Beer, a send-up of the genre of pioneer melodramas set in the Yukon in gold prospecting days.] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y7cvDB_0mMw

Sunday, January 24, 9:52 a.m.:

Jane shoveling

Jane shoveling amid the drifts and piles of snow.

Blizzard update: Sunday morning. Sun’s out. 23″ on the ground here. Never have I seen a storm quite like this. No church, just shoveling. Photos to follow.

And that was our storm. My note of anxiety about losing power is obvious; the forecasters did overestimate that risk, because the snow was drier and the winds less intense than they foresaw. I forgive them; being without power in sub-freezing weather is something I desire to avoid. Finally, there is special pleasure in the fact that an 83-year-old film comedy can still provide a rich belly laugh in our world of glossy, HD entertainment. Life passes; weather is eternal.

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016

Life’s Little Triumphs

plumbing cartridge

The Kohler cartridge that was removed.

This plumbing cartridge caused our house guests misery over a period of a couple of years, and almost cost us half a grand.  But this time fortune smiled and we feel great!

The cartridge was in the cold water handle of the shower in the guest bathroom.  It had gotten stuck after ten years of intermittent use.  For the last couple of years it was a struggle to get water of the right temperature to spray out of the shower head.  We thought we had it working well enough a couple of times, but users were still justly disgruntled.

Finally we called a plumber yet again to really fix it.  We have a plumbing contract with a local firm, so the response was swift.  Simple, right?  Any homeowner reading this knows that things that should be simple usually just aren’t.  The plumber took one look at it, consulted his tablet, and let us know that the model was out of stock.  He checked his truck and found he didn’t have any leftover parts for this particular model.  He left, and two days later called us to inform us that the two suppliers his company used didn’t have leftover stock of this model either.  Our only alternative, he said, was to buy a replacement shower set.

Problem is, there aren’t many options right now for our configuration, which is two handles and a separate faucet, as well as the shower head.  It would, furthermore, cost us about $550 to replace the set with one comparable to general appearance and quality to to the now-obsolete one.  And it still wouldn’t match the hardware of the double sinks in the bathroom.

Gloom and doom.  But my good wife persuaded my skeptical self to look online, and lo and behold, using the serial number of the receipt we had kept on file, we found the set on the Kohler website.  The set itself was marked “Discontinued,” but further clicking revealed that some of the component parts, including the very cartridge we needed, were still available!  So, double-checking the correct item–ceramic, cold water, quarter turn–we ordered the part for something like $23.50 plus a couple of bucks to ship.  Even if it turned out to be the wrong part after all, we’d be out very little for having made the effort.

The cartridge quickly arrived, and we called the company to see if we could get a plumber to install it.  Yes, they said, also apologizing that their personnel hadn’t been as persistent as we were, and they could come the next day.

That day was yesterday.  The guy came and tied to install the part.  Bad news: he couldn’t budge the old one.  It was stuck in place.  I even lent him my Liquid Wrench (the odor still lingers in that bathroom).  He went through the options, which sounded grim.  We could cap off the line, so that the water could be on in the house, and wait to weigh our hardware options, or we could order one from the company right then and there, a Moen, that would be the closest stylistically.  They could have it in a day or two.  But he might not be able to get the defective cartridge out without damaging some of the back plumbing.

Then an inspiration.  He removed the decorative ring to give himself a better grip with the wrench, and voila!  The old cartridge budged at last.  The new one did fit, too.  Twenty minutes later he was done.  Since labor is free under the terms of our contract, we now have a functional shower in the guest bathroom, whose hardware matches the rest of the room.  And it cost less that $26 out of pocket.  Now that’s an outcome worth waiting for!

©Arnold J.Bradford, 2016.

Happy New Year, Everybody

new year wish

Soaring into the New Year

While running errands a few days back, I noticed how warm, heartfelt, and sincere every clerk and fellow shopper was in wishing me and one another “Happy New Year.” I felt the same easy warmth in replying. On reflection, I think the feeling came from the basic sincerity, universality, and specificity of the sentiment.

These qualities set the wish apart from the carefully phrased and cautiously offered greetings of the previous six weeks. If I say “Happy Thanksgiving” am I unintentionally dissing Indigenous Peoples or supporting colonialist arrogance? If I say “Merry Christmas” am I offending non-Christians, even some I know who would be even more offended not to be in on the invitations to a Christmas party? If I say “Happy Holidays” am I diffusing my sentiments in a general way that does not acknowledge the special qualities that Hanukkah, Milad un Nabi, Winter Solstice, or Kwanzaa may have for the individual I am greeting? Am I relegating their holy days or their culture to the cumulative “other”? The Latin adjective barbarus, -a, -um, after all, is translated “foreign, strange, or odd.” The earlier Greek form “barbaroi” means literally “bearded ones,” referring primarily to the Greeks’ foreign enemy the Persians, who were fully bearded while Greeks were clean-shaven or had neatly trimmed beards. Essentially the term connoted “not like us,” and therefore “beneath us.” Or, even worse, am I denying my own culture and faith by not affirming that the reason that I am merry or happy (or tired or overscheduled or harassed) is that I am a Christian rejoicing in the nativity of my savior?

Why shouldn’t I be able to affirm that specific feeling, even to those who do not share my faith? Has America, a nation of people of different heritages, ethnicities, and cultures, become so socially Balkanized that each of us takes offense at any affirmation of a different set of traditions, at any joy based on something other than what makes us joyful? So often of late I sense that anger and resentment, rather than kindness and supportiveness, control our reactions to one another.

I hope we as a culture can turn that around in 2016. As we begin on common ground, let’s unite in truly, deeply wishing one another joy, elation, and contentment in a year that almost has to be better than 2015. Happy New Year, everybody!

©Arnold J. Bradford, 2016