Who is Deborah Schwartz?
The experiences of Deborah Schwartz
The persistance of Deborah Schwartz.
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Aches and Crafts

I've felt lousy for about a week now.
I keep playing the game "Who Got Me Sick?" I guess it doesn't really matter. I had a nice long weekend, but I spent the better part of it taking sweaty-headed naps.

We spent Thanksgiving at our friend Heather's Aunt Patsy's. It was fun, but I didn't have much of an appetite. This would normally be fine. Sometimes it's nice not to look like you're wolfing down your meal like you've never seen food before. But my loss of appetite made Thanksgiving almost painful. The food was very good, and I tried to eat a lot, but then got the kind of stomach cramps I think people in war-torn or drought-blighted areas get when they gorge themselves on airlifted food. I kept worrying that my stomach was going to explode.

Brian and I have been talking about getting a newspaper and magazine rack for about two years. Right now, our newspapers and magazines just sit in the corner on the floor, like they're being punished, until we haul them out for recycling.

Every now and then I would get inspired and google "newspaper and magazine rack," but everything looked so plain. I craved something different.

On Friday, I got an idea that the perfect newspaper and magazine rack would be covered in newspapers and magazines. I tried to find something like this for sale. I found a rack made from recycled magazines, but it looked kind of stripy and happy, and I wanted a rack that was more glib.

A wise and skinny man once said "Be the change you want to see in the world." So I schlepped my hot-cold-achy-tired self out to Pearl Paint on Canal Street and bought decoupage supplies.

Well, the crafts project was easier than I had feared, but took longer than I had hoped. Here is the finished product:

So, to jazzed up a cheap newspaper and magazine rack I covered it in newspapers and magazines. Is this irony, or the absence of irony? I can't decided. And I'm kind of a clod when it comes to arts and crafts projects. But I think it looks okay, no?

For my next project, I want to cover a wallet or change purse with dollar bills. Should I be keeping this idea on the down-low so no one will steal it? Do you think that no one would ever want to steal it because it's too dumb? I'm guessing it might be latter. We'll see.

In the old days, when I was right out of grad school and had just started submitting short stories for publication, I would have to wait months to get my rejection slips in the mail.

I've been out of the loop for some time now, but I am trying to get back into the submission routine. I finally have a few credits to my name. So when I submitted a story three weeks ago, I thought maybe something would have changed.

And it did! It only took the magazines three weeks or less to reject me, and one of my rejections came via email.

Wow. Well. I guess that's good. I mean, better to get the rejection over and done with quickly, than to have the process be long, drawn-out, and painful.

I submitted to the Iowa Review again. It was a long-shot, I know, but I thought, "Hey, the Kenyon Review published me. Why the hell shouldn't they?"

Hm. The answer turns out to be "... we are unable to use it..."

Let's compare the two rejections:

I think I like the wording on the new one, but the font size on the old one. I don't want to have to squint to read my rejection letter.

We saw Chekhov's The Seagull this weekend. It was fantastic. I forgot how much I love Trigorin's monologue.

It's been so cold here lately. I'm never without my wool socks now. Still, my feet are cold. I tried to hold off turning on our heat until January, but it got unbearable. Being cold makes me grouchy. This weekend, I mostly stayed in and swept. Still no sign of mouse droppings. And I haven't heard anything in our walls in days. I wonder what's going on.

Brian got them!
Last night, Brian pulled a CD out of his pocket and said, "Happy late-birthday." The CD was from the photographer who had taken those pictures for the New York Times Style section. The pictures that never made the paper.

Wow. Thanks, Brian! Here are a few of them:

Before Brian handed me the CD, he was still at work. I walked from my office to his and waited for him outside his building. While I was waiting, an indigent-looking fellow sauntered up, caught my eye, and said, "Good evening, ma'am."

I nodded, then looked away. I looked out towards the street, towards the Brooklyn Bridge, like I was looking for something but couldn't quite find it, like I was busy. I was pretty sure this fellow wanted money.

There was a long pause. The fellow leaned in like he wanted to ask me something. I continued trying to look busy, to look occupied, even though I wasn't. Finally, he spoke again. He said, "Can I ask you a question?"

I nodded slightly, hesitantly. He continued, "I have to ask ... Has anyone ever told you that you look just like Princess Margaret?"

Then he smiled wide, revealing a few notable vacancies among his set of permanent teeth.

Well. I don't know what I was expecting, but it certainly wasn't that. Frankly, I wasn't even sure who Princess Margaret was or what she looked like. But I said, "Well, no, but thank you."

He nodded, smiled again, and was on his way.

When I got home, I google-imaged "Princess Margaret."

I wondered if the indigent fellow was referring to a young, somewhat glamorous Princess Margaret, or an older, sufficiently decayed one. Was he complimenting me? Or insulting me? Did he even know who Princess Margaret was? Did he have a better grasp of the British aristocracy than I did? Did it matter? Should I even care what a homeless man thought about how I looked? After all, he had bits of food in his hair.

Still, I'm hoping he was referring to the glamorous one. Who doesn't want to be thought of as glamorous? If my Gowanus chic isn't glamorous enough for the New York Times, well, by gum! it should at least be glamorous enough for a quasi-toothed homeless man with food in his hair?

The new thing is poop.
I am told we will know we have mice by the droppings they leave behind. Small little black pellety things. "Like hamster poop?" I asked. "Yeah," a coworker said. "Like little, black grains of rice," our downstairs neighbor said.

Two nights this week I thought I heard something in the walls. Something quick. A sudden tumult of scratching. Five seconds' worth, at most. I would have otherwise assumed it was the dog upstairs or the dog downstairs, but I guess, now that I'm expecting it, I imagine the scratching coming from tiny little hands with pointy little nails. Like a hamster's. Like a mouse's.

Today, we ran into our downstairs neighbor, and she said she had caught seven of them. She said there was an infestation, that everyone on the block had been complaining. She said the mice had made a fine home for themselves in her oven. "They ruined it. Completely ruined it. They chewed up the wires. They pooped their little poops all over the inside. It was disgusting. We had to get rid of it."

She pointed to an oven that had been sitting, lonely and dejected, by the curb.

Could we have been living in an apartment full of mouse poop and not even know it? The thought was mortifying. "Maybe you're just that clean," she said. "No way," I said.

Brian and I entered the apartment with heavy hearts. There were newspapers on the floor and laundry on the couch. Could they... Could there be poop amongst the newspapers? Could there be poop sitting under our clean laundry?

A few days ago, I swept the floor. I did so like one might clean the cage of a pet hamster who had just died inside. I was seeing little black spots everywhere. I leaned down. Nicks in the wood. Seeds. Seeds? Why are there seeds on our floor? I looked up. Brian was watching TV and eating an apple. He was nibbling at the core. *sigh*. No mouse poop.

Today, Brian and I took a closer look. We found three possible suspects. They were in disparate places, one in the kitchen, one near the computer, and one on top of our non-working fireplace. Really? There?

How dare they! How dare those little rodents come into MY HOME and leave their little poops on MY FLOOR. I don't go to where THEY live and crap on THEIR floor. I wouldn't do that to ANYONE. Not even my WORST ENEMY. Have they no god?!?

Well. I guess not.

Brian and I stood over a tiny, shriveled black thing. Is it? Could it be?

So far, we still haven't met our uncouth, uninvited guests. Our downstairs neighbor said she got up in the middle of the night and turned on the light, only to see a pack of them scatter. So far, we've been lucky. Or maybe our eyesight is just that bad.

Our neighbors have mice!
It's true. Both above us and below us.

Several weeks ago, Brian ran into our downstairs neighbor. She asked him if we'd seen any mice in our apartment. When he looked puzzled, she said that her family recently discovered they had a mouse problem. Brian told me about this, but I just shrugged my shoulder and said, "Maybe because they [our downstairs neighbors] have basement access. Maybe there are mice in their basement. Don't mice like basements?"

This weekend, Brian ran into our upstairs neighbor. He too asked if we'd seen mice. He too said they had a mice issues upstairs. He said that it had gotten so bad, he and his wife pulled their stove and refrigerator away from the wall to try to find all possible mouse holes. He said that this past week alone they caught six mice.

SIX MICE! Jesus. I asked Brian what were the chances that both the third and first floors in a three-story building had mice infestations, but the second floor was free and clear. He said, "Er. None?"

I asked coworkers, "How would I know if I had mice?" They said, "You'd see them." I said, "But what if I hadn't seen any?" They said, "You'd see their droppings." I said, "I don't think I've seen any droppings... have I?" Then I worried that my home was rife with mouse droppings, but I hadn't even noticed. I'm messy, but I didn't think of myself as the kind of person who could live amongst the filth of mouse droppings and not even notice.

I am very troubled by the thought that I have been cohabiting with mice and haven't even known it. But I am also troubled by my secret, innermost "don't ask, don't tell" policy, in which I don't really care that I have been cohabiting with mice so long as they remain quiet and polite and keep to themselves.

What bothers me most, though, is the impending moment when we are forced to declare war on our mice. I want to tell you two stories. Neither of them are mine.

A former coworker once told me about when she first moved to the New York City. It was the early 70s. She was subletting. She showed up at the apartment to get the keys, and the girl who was living there said, "I have a little pest problem. I just set off a bomb."

My coworker said it looked like the walls were moving, vibrating, there were so many roaches crawling up and down. The first night, she slept on her older brother's couch. Her first day in her sublet she spent sweeping up dead roaches.

Several nights later, she woke up in the middle of the night to what sounded like crying. High pitched. It was coming from the oven. My former coworker looked inside and discovered a family of mice living there. But they had been caught on a glue trap. They cried and mewed. She tried to go back to bed, to deal with it in the morning, she covered her ears with her pillow, but the desperate mice sounds kept her awake for hours.

Finally, half-desperate and totally miserable, she armed herself with an oven mit and a spatula, using them to edge the glue trap out of the oven and into a brown paper bag. Once the mouse-laden glue trap was in the bag, she threw it out the window. "I'm so ashamed," my former coworker told me. "I know what I did was wrong, but I didn't know what else to do. I was young. For godssake, I was on the second floor."

Another friend told me that he and his girlfriend had found mice in their D.C. apartment. He laid a glue trap, and when he came home, there it was, a stuck mouse. He said it looked pitiful. In an attempt to escape, it had broken all four little legs. It appeared to be shivering with pain and fear.

"What did you do?" I said.

"What could I do? I covered it with a bag and hit it with a hammer to put it out of its misery."

I gasped.

"I'll never use glue traps again," he said. "The traps that kill them, they seem cruel, but it's either the trap that's killing them or you."

I DON'T WANT TO KILL ANY MICE!!! I'm a peaceful person. I'm a vegetarian.

Brian bought spring-loaded mouse traps on Sunday. I begged him not to put them out. Not yet. We still don't know for sure that we have them. For the last couple nights I've slept fitfully, half sleeping, half listing for the sounds of our new, unwelcome neighbors, waiting for the moment when I am forced to transform from animal lover to animal killer.

Last time we were in D.C., we spent some time with our old friend Kevin.
He had recently moved to D.C., and we discussed the city's nightlife, its mass transit system, and the unusual makeup of its population. We talked about the tension between the buttoned-up, mostly white, mostly male conservatives using the small city as home base from which to run our country, and how much they clashed with the rest of the local population.

We laughed to imagine the scene on election night if Barak Obama were to win. We predicted that hoards of unruly people would gather at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave, screaming, "Get out! You've been evicted!"

Well. We were awfully close.

Heck's Kitchen is full of pictures and stories, and links to DCist which has even more pictures and stories and videos. As soon as I saw this, I wrote Kevin. He wrote back last night. Here's an excerpt:

There was an eruption of emotions with every state's win for Barack. Peter was telling me that on 18th street, from our house, you could hear people shouting down the list of every state that converted to blueness like a roll call. Obviously, Virginia's win made us shake and holler. Oh the landslide! I was watching the coverage at a rooftop bar called Nellie's on 9 & U since 9 o'clock with so many virginia voters. I was there with CNN's coverage of fabulous touch screens and Anderson Cooper's hologram interviews. On a big screen! Did you see that star wars technology that they're using?

At the countdown to the closing of west-coast polls, and the minute after the win was official, every car in DC went to the honking. "Yes we can" was interpreted into a honk beat all night. Can we always honk like that? Any person, whether they honked the tempo, banged it out with a pot and ladle, or even shouted it made everyone stop and cheer. When i was standing outside of the bar and i experienced this for the first time, a couple big ladies shoved their bodies out of their sunroofs and yelled, "yes we DID!" Booyah! I was surprised to see how many people had sunroofs. The DCist's pictures took place on 14 & U, and the mob was so much larger than the scope of those cameras. I saw people jumping and dancing from V to T, and from 8th st to 18th street. people stopped their cars, jumped on top of them and danced. It was raining. There were fireworks. I was hugging strangers. It was sort of like cruising, depending on how you look at it.

I hung around U street and had another drink with some friends, and made it to the White House at 1am to see what it was like. People were marching in packs over there, and crowding Lafayette. I was standing on that little street between the park and the white house looking toward H street watching pack after pack marching in, yelling. Every angle of DC was on a mission. I thought the temperament was a little more intense -- a little pushy -- and definitely well covered, with international news crews bumping into each other with lights and microphones. It was kind of like a scene from a modern monster movie blockbuster: rain, mayhem, news crews, yelling. Silly. I had a blast though.

I knew it was going to be a hoot, but i didn't expect it to be that big everywhere.

The attitude is a lot more chill now. Although i hear people in the bars downstairs talking about what happened last night, just like me i guess. Then there are a few people screaming about rats running around.

Anyway, have a sigh of relief. He's a hero, and he's put himself in an exceptional position. The Barack.

I'm debating if I want to make the trip back for inauguration day. I bet it's going to be rowdy.

I've been smiling for almost 24 hours now, and occassionally crying.

Obama night.

Obama morning.


I am so tense.

I want to tell you a story. Have I told you my 2000 presidential election story yet? Well, I'll tell it again.

Brian and I were in Maryland at the time. I had voted absentee in Florida. We had a TV at home, but no cable and poor reception. We went to a local restaurant to watch the CNN coverage of the election. Maybe it was 8pm.

Around midnight we were being asked to lift up our feet so they could sweep under them. Then they kicked us out. We went back home and watched on our lousy TV.

It was late. I brushed my teeth, then ran back to the TV, asking, "Is it over yet?"

"No," Brian said.

I washed my face quickly, then ran back. "Is it over yet?"


When I was all brushed up and washed up, I sat down again and we continued to watch as the results came in, were debated.

I went to sleep around four. At six, Brian crawled into bed. I woke, my body already tense. "Is it over yet?"


At 7:30 I was up. I shuffled around the apartment. I put down a coffee mug and poured coffee on the counter. Ugh. My eyes felt like mole's eyes. My head hurt. My skin hurt. I felt like hell. And the election still wasn't over yet.

As I drove to campus, I remember thinking, Gosh, I look like a zombie. I am going to be the tiredest person at work today. I had a graduate assistanceship at the University of Maryland in the OIT. I parked my car. A zombie walk by. His eyes were hollow-looking, encircled by dark rings. He was sallow-faced, empty of all expression. He walked like a somnambulist. I walked (somnambulistly) across the parking lot. Another zombie. Then another. As I walked across the lawn, I saw zombies everywhere. Some were silent. Some droned the names of states, counties, counted off numbers.

In front of Francis Scott Key Hall was one of our office's sassiest staff members. She could often be found there smoking. She was tall, strong-featured, and liked to wear blood-red lipstick. But today her face was pale and drawn and without makeup. She was smoking, but I could see her hands were shaking. "I was up the whole f***ing night," she said, lifting the ciggy to trembling lips. "I was so f***ing tired, but I couldn't stop watching. It's still not over."

That was 2000. Then there was 2004. I don't think I could handle it again.

Please feel free to contact me.

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