A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Saturday, January 27, 2007

The Ghost of Miss Beake

I wonder if adults, especially teachers and parents, realize the devastating effects that their careless and thoughtless criticisms can have on some kids.

I had a music teacher in junior high school who said to me one day, "You really can't hold a note." That was it for me. To this day, I still won't even sing "Happy Birthday" in a crowd.

I had a gym teacher who chided me roughly for not being able to touch my toes. I could fold myself up into a pretzel, which none of the other kids could do, and I suggested to her that maybe I was just built differently, but she brushed it off, reacting with similar impatience when I balked at jumping over the horse. It was thirty-five years before I set foot voluntarily into a gym.

I had a sewing teacher who began each class with a quick explanation of a technique, and then left us to our own devices. I was pokey, never ready to begin the stage she was describing, so each lesson would go over my head. I would look at my project--a lavender cotton A-line dress with white polka dots--and try to remember what Miss Beake had said ages back about whatever I needed to do next. Invariably, I'd have to get in line to ask a question. I spent most of the year in line. When I'd get a minute with her, she'd snap at me, annoyed with my befuddlement. Although I was a straight A student in my academic classes, I was a D student in gym, and I flunked sewing outright.

At the end of the term, I brought my dress home. I had cut out the pieces and sewed the darts. That was it. No seams, no facings, no zipper, no hem. My mother, an expert seamstress, ripped out my clumsy stitching and resewed the whole dress in an hour. The next day, I wore it to church. "Well, at least you cut it out neatly," she said. So much for my sewing career.

Making simple shirred drapery panels isn't exactly rocket science, but, given my history, it was a triumph for me to sew my own bedroom window treatments. I put them up recently and I'm very pleased with them. They lack a valance or pelmet, but that can wait. I wanted to block the intrusive light from the streetlamp, the morning sun, and the cold. These drapes, which are lined and which puddle in classy fashion on the floor, are performing beautifully.

Three windows down; thirty to go. I'm finally vanquishing the ghost of Miss Beake.

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Bar hostesses in Japan are a step down from geishas. They don't need to master the koto and shamisen, tea ceremony, flower arranging, or calligraphy. They do, however, provide Japanese businessmen with elements of female companionship which the men can't get, for societal reasons, from their own spouses.

Hostesses work in bars called nomiya (literally, "drinking place"), or, with charming illogic, sunakku (from the English word "snack"). Sunakku are presided over by mama-san who hire and fire at will. The mama-san may be a retired hostess who now owns her own bar.

Hostesses work long hours, because they are expected to start early in the day, telephoning their customers and trying to persuade them to drop by the bar. Or, even better, to take them out to dinner first. A firm dinner date ensures that the hostess can lure the customer to her own bar afterwards. She is only offering companionship, not sex....she must draw the evening out as long as possible by flirting in order to get the customer to run up a staggering bill. She must drink right along with him--the more she drinks, the bigger the bill--and either smoke or endure the profuse amounts of secondhand smoke in the bar.

Hostesses are tough cookies. They have to laugh at every joke, and perhaps tell a few of their own. They have to read up on the news or business or finance or whatever field their good customers are in so that they can make engaging conversation. They have to parry every groping advance from their drunken companions without seeming offended. Keeping an illusion of wide-eyed innocence night after night while sitting in a smoky dive wearing a dress slit up to here takes a certain amount of skill.

The uniform of the bar hostess is a tight silk dress or an equally tight suit. No kimonos here. Besides a sexy outfit and iron endurance, all a bar hostess needs is her seven-pack. Hostess Tomoko Kuroda elucidates:

But, you see, each hostess has her own standard equipment. Essentially the basics for any hostess are: lipstick, handkerchief, lighter, cigarettes, memo pad, pen, and mirror. The 'seven-pack' is what we call it.

A hostess might make two or three hundred dollars a night, plus whatever tips and freebies she can cajole from her customers. She might wheedle for makeup, clothes, or jewels--to make herself beautiful just for him, of course. Some girls come away from a stint as a hostess with cars, apartments, and such. Not a bad haul for the investment of one tight dress and a seven-pack.