I think the time has come for me to part ways with the Hideous Carpet.
A couple of years ago, there was a gentleman from Uzbekistan, Dr. Safaev, who participated in one of the training programs I coordinated. He was a chemistry professor and a member of the Uzbek government. He was very sweet and very desperate to have his son do his graduate work in the United States. Every chance he got, he cornered me and very humbly asked for my help in finding a good chemistry PhD program for his kid - I think he just wanted his son out of Uzbekistan and out from under the thumb of the increasingly fascist government (of which he was a reluctant representative.)
This sort of thing happened to me a whole lot when I had this job. Lots of desperation. Lots of requests for money. Most of it out of genuine need - like the endocrinologist from Tajikistan who begged me to find a source of donations for insulin for her diabetic patients back in Dushanbe, many of whom had not had access to insulin for months or years. (That freaked me out massively. How terrifying.) She told me her patients simply suffered and died as their complications mounted from lack of available medication.
I sat in the ladies room at the hotel that day, crying over that one. I gave her all sorts of information for hooking up with nonprofits, government agencies, and pharmaceutical companies to ask for help. She was so grateful, you would have thought I'd handed her a case of insulin directly.
My Uzbek chemist - I sent him home with all sorts of information on grants and scholarships in chemistry. He was very happy and gave me a big hug before he got on the bus for the airport.
A year later, one of his colleagues came on another program. After the arrival evening "meet and greet", he cornered me and said, "Dr. Safaev sends his regards and these photos." How nice, I thought, looking at the pictures of the good doctor and me, standing on the front steps at National Institute of Standards and Technology. And, wow, could I have looked any worse that day? My hair was frizzy, my linen blouse was wrinkled and askew, I was wearing a big, ugly multi-colored beaded necklace (another intern gift) and I was a red-cheeked sweatball in DC summer heat. Ugh. The photos were not exactly keepers.
My new Uzbek intern continued: "Safaev has sent you gift. Please wait here." As I waited in the hotel breakfast room, I pondered what it might be. Probably a ceramic Uzbek person - that was an incredibly popular gift - a painted ceramic figure, about 4" high, usually an old man with a watermelon or a round of non, Uzbek bread. Sometimes the telecom guys would bring a novelty version, where the old Uzbek guy was holding a cell phone. Cute. They were easy to transport and cheap. I have a pile of them in my kitchen. When I put new batteries in my camera, I'll snap a picture.
The traveler returned to the coffee room with a large black plastic bag tucked under his arm. This was no little ceramic figure. He put the bag on the table and pulled out a large, rolled textile. Oh dear god, I thought. It's one of those carpets with the face of the local imam on it. This had become another gift item - a higher tag gift, but one with limited utility - a carpet featuring the portrait of a well-known religious leader. This was the result of Soviet culture meeting up with Central Asian carpetmaking traditions. Islam isn't keen on decorative art featuring living things. (Hence all that fabulous Middle Eastern geometric design. Love that stuff.)
"Oh gosh," I said, trying to sound excited.
But then, he unrolled the monstrosity. It wasn't the head of an imam. It wasn't a pretty geometric design.
It was my head.
My enormous, bulbous, fugly head.
Knotted into a great big carpet.
And the image of my enormous, bulbous, fugly head was taken from one of those horrid, sweaty, frizzy-haired photos.
The carpetmaker had woven the hair frizz into the pattern. The off-kilter beaded necklace was around my neck. And there was my double chin. And my sweaty red cheeks.
Holy mother of god, I'd been turned into a big woven monster.
The courier was so proud of this woolen evil, he just beamed. I didn't know what to say. I, Miss Bigmouth, was reduced to silence.
Finally, I dredged up the only words I politely and honestly could say under the circumstances: "Wow, eto prosto samyy unikal'niy podarok v mirye..." (Wow, that's simply the most unique gift in the world...)
And it was. It was also the goddamn ugliest gift, too. I drove it to the Sasquatch's apartment, so he could see it. I rolled it out from the back hatch of my car. I thought Mr. Squatch was going to pee himself he was laughing so hard. I wanted to be irritated by his amusement, but it was well-deserved. The thing was vile. Still is vile, as a matter of fact.
I ended up taking the creature to my office and throwing it on my office floor. Since management enjoyed walking all over me anyway, I figured it was appropriate. One of my sisters did kindly suggest that I could take it home and hide my face with a strategically placed coffee table - then people would only see the patterned edge. But I'd still know my face was there, leering at me like some puffy, collective farm bride of Frankenstein.
The carpet came home with me the day of The Incident, and it's been rolled up in the entry hall ever since. I don't want it, but it is one hell of a bizarre folk art conversation piece. As I am badly in need of money and don't want it around any longer, I've been considering putting it up on eBay. Either that or buying the domain "MyHideousCarpet.com" and selling it there. If I managed to raise enough interest in the creature to get someone to buy it, I'd even split the profits between me and the WASP Museum (in my mom's name.)
Now, I have to decide if it's all worth the humiliation of having a picture of that awful, awful thing out on the Internet.
Somewhere, there's probably a collector of Weird Crap who would love to give this a home...