Thursday, November 30, 2006

Desire for Burning

It's winter here -- and by 'here' I mean here inside my apartment. Outside, the weather could still be reasonably termed autumnal, but for some reason within my living room I'm on the verge of being able to see my breath. Getting out of the shower is like being flash frozen; standing in the kitchen making tea, I briefly contemplate putting my cold-stiffened hands to the burner. Every little muscle in my skin is pulled so tight, my arm hair is in constant fuzzy halo formation. People ask me all the time what it is I miss the most from America, and today I realized the answer: fireplaces. They do not have fireplaces in Japan, and I would like one. I want an open hearth with a roaring flame and all the treasures of Hestia contained therein. I want a mantle with stockings and a wreath, and a chimney, and a grate, and one of those giant metal hooks to poke the logs with so I can watch the sparks race up the flue under the pretense of tending the flame. And while I'm wishing, I'd also like two chairs (preferably with a classic design and nice lumbar support) positioned in front of the fireplace, facing each other, so that when I'm reading by the fire and start to feel too warm, I can simply move into the opposite seat and let the other side soak up the heat.

It's my dream. My longed for dream.

Realizing that one should never give up on a dream, I thought I might approach the GSO about it. I mean, rumor has it that he's installing a petdoor for someone; surely a fireplace wouldn't be so different. I caught him as we were walking to the shuttle. Turns out that the petdoor is an impossibility (our doors are made of metal), more so a fireplace. Okay, well, to be fair, I already sort of knew that. But it never hurts to ask. Thus my warm, shimmering dream died an ignominious death there on the steps of the compound.

In some sort of warped consolation, at work the building design has turned the 2nd floor into a dry sauna. The minute I walk in to sit at my desk, my eyes shrivel up like two umeboshi, and that particular brand of thickly viscous 'not-actually-exercising-just-sitting-here' sweat starts up beneath the layers of clothing I'd put on to survive the conditions in my apartment. If that weren't bad enough, the heaters (which we can't turn off) are emitting a smell not unlike a silent bout of flatulence in a small room full of close friends. Today, they kicked on while I was at the window interviewing two brazilian applicants. As the offensive odor wafted through the little tray beneath the glass, I could see their nostrils begin to twitch. They glanced at each other, shot me a knowing look, and moved ever so slightly back from the window. "No, no; it's the heater..." I started, but as they didn't speak English or Japanese, and as I don't know the Portuguese for "He who smelt it dealt it," I'm afraid they may have formed the impression that Americans eat a lot of cabbage. Luckily, just at that moment, an applicant two windows down reacted to her rejection by going into full 叩頭 [koutou] mode: kneeling on the floor, pressing her forehead to the ground, and crying out over and over "Please, I beg you!"* Her awkward moment having effectively eclipsed my own, I quickly issued the couple in front of me while the guards came and dragged the unfortunate woman away. My hope is the Brazilians left talking about that and not about the smell.

I think next week I'll bring in some candles. That's sort of like a fireplace. And maybe they'd help burn up the awful stench.

*note to applicants: this has never worked. Never. Not once.

Sunday, November 26, 2006

A Setting for Twelve

The best part of holidays is what they do to time: make it fold and collapse like an oriental fan. The past and future are brought closer to the present. One Christmas becomes every Christmas; this year's Thanksgiving touches on every other Thanksgiving... Dressing the turkey, setting the table, I'm conscious not only of how it raises memories from previous years, but also of how this day will resurface next year and the year after that. Feeling the continuous strand connecting that time, this time, and the next run through your hands is both soothing and sobering. It makes me quiet. In the kitchen, I linger too long over things that should be done quickly; I'm with other people, other times...

Two -- no, three years ago I was in Britain for Thanksgiving. There's a campaign in London to civilize the masses by displaying poetry in the Underground. Riding the Tube back from SOAS to make it home in time to start the turkey cooking in our tiny East End flat, I sat across from the following poem by W.S. Merwin:
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

I don't think I'd ever read anything so beautiful or so true to the moment; the dim lighting reflected in the windows and the slightly melancholic swaying of the passengers, just out of sync with the subway car, underscored the sentiment. Suddenly, that day became Thanksgiving for me. Maybe holidays wouldn't be as meaningful without absence.

This year, I volunteered almost on a whim to cook a full turkey dinner for my NIV unit. Over a month ago, before I went to the hospital, some of the FSNs and I had been talking about where to find Halloween pumpkins, and I mentioned that I'd once used jack-o-lantern pumpkins to make pumpkin pie from scratch -- for Thanksgiving in London. Oh? they turned to me with eager faces. The next question seemed to follow logically: Would you all like to join me for Thanksgiving this year? Why, yes they would. Sara and Heather acted as hostesses while I hung back in the kitchen fussing over mashed potatoes and stuffing. So many people all at once makes me shy, though I was glad that everyone had come. Sara seemed surprised that I'd rather stay and work in the kitchen than come out and interact with the guests; she doesn't understand that its hard for me to deal with the memories and the people all at once. Peering through the glass front of the oven while stirring greenbeans on the stove, the empty kitchen felt as crowded as the London subway car -- my sister and brother-in-law, my friend from A-100, my flatmates in Britain, my neighbors in Hawaii and all the other people I'd shared this event with in the past were there, too. The turkey took longer than it was supposed to, as usual, so I was able to hide in their company for an extra half an hour.

Rather than say a prayer before eating, I asked the guests to go around the table and tell what they were thankful for. Health and family figured prominently. I told them how grateful I was to be able to share this time with my colleagues (and it's true), but was thinking also of the memories still standing in the kitchen. Over dinner, one of the senior FSNs told me that in her 25 years at the consulate, no one had ever cooked a Thanksgiving meal for them. I'm glad I could rectify the situation. The food turned out wonderfully, better than I could have hoped for; some of them were trying turkey, sweet potatoes, stuffing, cranberries all for the first time. It's a high bar for next year. It's a good memory for next year.

Saturday, November 18, 2006


Following JPAC, the President is scheduled to have a luncheon at the hotel with newly-elected Prime Minister Abe, then a tri-lateral meeting with PM Abe and President Roh; my job here is supposed to be watching the japanese press, who must be kept isolated in a 'holding room' (i.e., hotel back office) so as not to risk contaminating the security screening they and their equipment have gone through. I had volunteered for this, despite the inconvenience of having to run there directly from the JPAC site. I'm hoping to see PM Abe (maybe after President Bush's wink, I can get Abe to blow me a kiss..?), and practice my Japanese with the reporters. However, there's a greater need to have someone assist with the korean press, so after about 10 minutes with the Japanese I'm pulled upstairs to the South Koreans' holding room instead.

Much like JPAC, this, too, quickly turns into crowd control, complicated by the fact that the Koreans are either unable or unwilling (I suspect the latter) to speak English. I use my few korean words -- 'now', 'here', 'NO' -- to varying effect. The word I really need is 'wait', but I can't for the life of me remember it. Leading them down to where the trilateral has just concluded, it's a veritable soccer stadium stampede. First we're told only still photographers, so they surge forward away from the angry cursing of the cameramen while I and the other TDYers throw out our arms and raise our voices in a vain attempt to stem the tide 'Not yet not yet not yet!'. Then the word comes that tv cameras are allowed afterall, cueing the return of the still-angry cameramen, and a whole new wave of bodies is added to the lot. The lead for the White House advance team gets the good idea of forming a sort of human funnel with the staffers, so that the press is channeled rather than led into the room with the three heads of state. "Gentle, gentle!" he's chiding, and I'm sure the press corps is heeding his advice and throwing their elbows and swinging their cameras at each other as gently as possible. Whose idea it was to put grouchy Japanese and Koreans holding heavy objects in the same room, I'm not sure... WWWF, take note. I can see one of the TDYers from Beijing, who's been swept into the room by the forward motion of the press. He's grinning in amused disbelief.

Back in the filing center for the overnight shift, I'm told that the JPAC clips are playing very well. I hope that the operations going on there get some attention back home. That would make it all worthwhile.

Xavier Roberts, Eat Your Heart Out

The President's arrival time for my event is 10:15am; I'm there at 8am. The military folks are fun to talk with, especially the forensic anthropologist. He's been all over the world recovering remains, even North Korea. I wish I had more time to chat, but I need to walk through the advance team's prearranged press plan: up the stairs, down through the back, stand on point A on the step, move to point B where I'll hold a stantion to show the tv crews their boundary, then back to point A for an orderly exit out the side. Lighting is arranged along these lines. I've made signs and arrows, just in case we need to provide more direction. Security has cordoned off the premises, even to the point of having an attack dog on hand. Down the street, the North Korean embassy has put a dead pigeon out on the sidewalk.

The White House advance team arrives; the plan's been changed so that the writers will be joining the cameras. I'm not sure how they're going to all fit on the tiny step, but we'll manage. Also, no need to go up and down the stairs -- everyone can come in through the front. Fewer moving parts is good; signs won't be necessary. The President will enter first, then the press. All I need to do is hold open the stantion and direct people to the step.

The time comes, and I'm ready, standing with rope in hand. The President enters. President Bush strolls rather than walks, slightly swinging his arms in a comfortable, confident way. Catching my eye, he winks. I smile back. It was actually quite nice -- at that moment, it didn't matter that our politics rarely align, or that I was supposed to be in awe of him. I certainly didn't feel in awe of him. He didn't have that sort of aura; he was just a guy. Condoleezza Rice walked in behind him, seeming hesitant. She had an almost girlish affect, though somewhat withdrawn. They were just people. I'm not sure why I was expecting otherwise; perhaps it shows what a great job PD does, making them look bigger than life on camera. I spend a few indulgent moments reflecting on the way television has changed politics...

Then the press comes in.

Right, forget points A, B, and every other step inbetween. It's an absolute rush to get up to the President, and I find myself actually pushing people back as they try to squeeze past me. The stantion is stretched taut, so that I'm having to work to hold it. If only it were a little longer, I could be using the tail end as a whip. This is far beyond herding cats -- it's like December 24th, 1983 and President Bush is the last Cabbage Patch doll left on the shelf. It occurs to me that there's a reason reporters are referred to as 'The Press'; it also occurs to me that I've been flown 2000 miles to be (un)glorified crowd control. Just doing my part for America... Glancing back, I see that the anthropologist is finishing up his part of the presentation. "Mr. President, do you have any questions?" "No, not really." I hope that the JPAC team feels their two months of preparation was well spent. A signal from the advance team, and we rush the press out so the President can take official photos with the Detachment members. No time for goodbyes.

Riding in the motorcade back to the hotel is interesting. I listen to the press dissect the event. Outside, the streets are nearly empty. No one is waving.

Friday, November 17, 2006

Wet Hair Okay

A frantic phone call pulls me out of my 8am shower -- I'd been at the filing center till 2am working out the kinks in the master schedule, and so had gotten a late start. No introductions, only "Katie, can you be out front in 15 minutes?" Uh, sure... I try to collect myself and not sound dripping wet and half asleep. "Jeans or suit?" I ask. "Suit." "Wet hair okay?" "That should be fine." I throw on one of Sara's suits* and rush out front.

It turns out they need me to ride to the airport with some of the White House press pool; Air Force One is landing soon, and they want to film the President's arrival. My own role in this is unclear to me. Precisely who these people are is unclear to me. I've been given a phone number I'm supposed to call about 10 minutes before we reach the airport. I do so. No one answers.

At the airport, everything is a fight. Having finally located the press entrance to the tarmac, the vietnamese security guard there says that the two press pool members aren't on his list. This is an open press event (i.e., any press member can attend without invitation or reservation), and these people have press credentials. He tells me they should have registered with security a day in advance, and he is absolutely unbending. One of the press pool starts chain smoking while I begin chain phone calling, first the number from before (still no answer), and then every other person I can possibly think of from the State side of things. My cell phone battery is starting to die, and I'm fairly certain the press guy is working on the beginnings of a malignant tumor. I'd like to do something malignant to the security guard (steroids, steroids...).

An hour later some contact at the vietnamese Ministry of Foreign Affairs is alerted to our plight, and it's ironed out -- just in time for the landing. Two minutes worth of footage was the end result of all the trouble and negotiation. A seven second clip of Bush waving from the jetway has taken up a good four hours of my morning. On the return drive to the hotel, all I can think about is coffee. Vietnamese coffee is lovely, but I'd have settled for some instant Nescafe out of a boot. I haven't eaten or had my pills; my hands are shaking, and I can't feel my upper back. The press pool tries to get me to tell him the President's schedule. This is where it pays to be an incurable mumbler. I say something unintelligible, then point out a man carrying a whole herd of swine tied (one presumes hog-tied?) to his motorbike. The pigs look to be very relaxed. And also very delicious.

The lull inbetween the return to the hotel and my filing center duties proves to be the most peaceful time I've yet had since APEC started. Everyone's inside or at the airport, rushing about; I sit out by the lake bordering the hotel, reading a book a friend sent me. The Hanoi cityscape across the way is visible through the slight pollution haze. It compliments the coffee well.

*Sara has, in fact, provided my entire wardrobe for this trip. Despite the steroid bloat, my own suits still make me look just a bit too much like David Byrne circa 1984's "Stop Making Sense" to be appropriate for such a high level event. I had planned to take care of this... eventually. Hopefully 'sartorial inadequacy' is not a checkbox on one's EER. We won't even talk about my shoes.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Making Repatriation Ready for Its Close-up

My new site assignment actually seems much more suited to me than USTR – I’m to be the site officer for the President and SecState’s visit to the JPAC Detachment here in Hanoi. 'JPAC' stands for 'Joint POW/MIA Accounting Command'. They're in charge of collecting and repatriating the remains of american soldiers lost during wartime, a rather large undertaking here in Vietnam. Anthropology and military: right up my alley. JPAC has been asked to make a presentation of its operations to the President and Secretary of State. The people stationed there tell me they've been planning and preparing for over two months.

My actual role is rather minimal -- the real people in charge are the White House advance team, a troupe of mainly volunteers who devote their time to making the paths straight for the President prior to his visits. They all seem very competent, despite being on the whole very young. At an introductory party the day of my arrival, I watched one of them wash down diet pills with a glass of red wine. Others of them are on caffeine pills. I'm not sure why they've chosen to volunteer for such a stressful job, but can only assume its because they are ‘true believers’. Topics of conversation to be avoided: mid-term elections, Nancy Pelosi, the Iraq war... pretty much everything, really. It's fairly obvious at the site visit that one in particular would rather I wasn't there. I'm lucky that my main contact in the team is friendly and good-natured -- and as I said, very experienced.

The advance team's main concern is how the President will look on camera; everything else is incidental. Lighting, etc. has to be arranged to the President's best advantage. Camera angles must be considered. A skull is removed from the forensic anthropology portion of the presentation for fear the President might pick it up, and the resulting photo be taken out of context. The military folks seem perplexed when the White House team insists on bringing out some artifacts and reclaimed guns from a back room to put in the presentation, positioned strategically for the cameras. For the soldiers, the end goal of their work is the repatriation -- identifying the remains, and bringing back the bodies. To them, old helmets and guns are unimportant. Not to mention the fact that they're being asked to change a presentation they've been working on for so long mere days before the event. The advance team is adamant, however. There's a lot of discussion about where the guns should go, how they can make them more obvious...

In a way, I'm perplexed as well. I want to tell them that I think the guns are a horrible idea. Why associate the visit with the weapons that put these people in the ground? Why make it about death, when it ought to be about hope? I would have brought out the recovered dog tags: symbols of identity. But I guess they wouldn't have shown up as well on camera. And anyways, it's not my job to advise them. Not unless they ask.

My job is to herd the press and keep them in place as best as possible. And yes, that's the extent of it. Like I said, I'm just support for the White House team, and this is what they would like me to do. Fair enough. Someone has to do it.

When I get back to the hotel, I call the filing center. They tell me they don't need any assistance. I wander out to find lunch: a bowl of bun cha on the economy.

Monday, November 13, 2006

The Best Laid Plans...

Watching the planning for APEC unfold has laid to waste any faith I ever had in government conspiracy theories. It's just not possible -- the level of organization such a thing would require is simply too high. Not that people here aren't organized and working hard, but there are so many moving parts. Hanoi's traffic patterns show less complexity.

The countdown meetings alone require gargantuan effort. When one takes into account the entire POTUS, FLOTUS, and SecState* crews, each of which include embassy, State, and White House teams, there are easily a thousand people involved in preparing for just under two days worth of events. More if you include the Secret Service, the Press, and the people who actually make a living working at the sites. Then there’s coordination with the other visiting governments and all of their entourage to take into account... it’s barely controlled chaos. And true to chaos theory, one small change or hitch in one event ripples out to effect every other aspect of the undertaking.

My own role has changed multiple times since my arrival. Originally I was assigned USTR and site back-up – or in other words, to be the coordinator for any press events US Trade Representative Amb. Susan Schwab might desire, and to act as the sort of backup press coordinator at two of the sites the President will visit. Seeing as my first reaction to this assignment was, “Uh, what’s USTR stand for?” it’s probably for the best that a foul-up at some level resulted in about 1/8 of the delegation’s accreditation applications being lost, mine included. No accreditation means no credentials, and no credentials means no security clearance. I couldn't even get into the hotel housing the control room phones and computer banks, much less get on sites the President plans to visit. I pointed out the problem and asked if perhaps someone else ought to take over my duties. They gave USTR to an officer from New Delhi who's extremely capable and proactive, and more experienced in PD work than I am. I'm sure he'll do a better, more thorough job than I would have. It’s more important that the work be done well than that I be the one to do it. Right? Right.

So since site work is out of the question, I was reassigned to keeping the master PD duty schedule updated and to helping organize the section of the filing center dedicated solely to the press traveling with the Secretary of State. This involves writing captions for pictures to go on the State website, making sure there are enough computer stations for the SecState’s press pool, organizing press clips… Could be interesting. But of course, less than half a day into these duties, my credentials came through. So as of now I’m re-reassigned to be site officer for one of the smaller venues the President and SecState plan to visit. I’ll continue to maintain the master schedule, but have to drop any pretense of being seriously involved in the SecState filing center. I’ll still be taking shifts there; it just has to be worked around my site officer schedule. Not that I can give a good account of what that schedule might be just yet. I suspect the nice woman charged with organizing the filing center as a whole is not very pleased that things keep changing, but – again! - the work is handed to a PD officer (this one from Rangoon) with more experience than me. Which can only be a good thing. Right? Right.

What a mess.

Meanwhile, my hands are shaky and weak. Shopping for omiyage inbetween the two meetings, I can't feel the texture of the silk fabrics everyone else is exclaiming over. There's no strength in my grip, and I'm afraid of dropping my coffee at lunch. I wish I didn't have to worry about this just now.

*'President of the United States', 'First Lady of the United States', and 'Secretary of State'. The shorthand 'POTUS' was first developed for telegraph operators in 1879. Fun facts to know and tell.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

First Impressions (sans Robin Williams references)

Vietnam is layered -- in some ways contradictory. The motion on the surface is constant, unceasing... but orderly. There seems to be a stronger core underneath, supporting things. The traffic in particular you notice right away, streaming steadily in and out of side streets, countless motorbikes and buses crossing paths with cars and pedestrians in inexplicably fluid, easy interchange. It shouldn't work, but it does. A self-regulating system. After some careful observation, I push off from the curb and the movement folds seamlessly around me.

The people here are beautiful, especially the older ones. You can see in their faces they have stories, that they're not afraid of work. I get the feeling that they don't forget things -- but maybe I've read one too many Graham Greene novels. I'm itching to take their pictures; however, the power imbalance inherent in the act makes it overly intrusive, almost colonial. I settle instead on photographing the buildings, which are strangely quiet; all the life here is outdoors, on the street. Parents hold their children over the curb to urinate in the gutter; families lounge on their front steps, cooking dinner on the sidewalk; haircuts and earcleanings take place wherever there's a tree on which to nail a mirror... Private acts are made matter-of-factly public. There's a certain truth to it that I can appreciate.

The colors, the lighting are different than in Japan -- the place has almost an island feel to it. They keep birds in wooden cages above their doorways; where I eat lunch, I'm joined by two kittens, who sit in the plastic chairs across from me, peeking over the tabletop. I watch a line of ants move across the peeling yellow plaster of the wall, skirting the Coca-Cola poster of the happy vietnamese family pouring each other soda. It's hardly distinguishable from the communist propaganda posters. Everyone else in the open air cafe is watching me.

Lunch costs 12,000 dong. This seems to be the going rate for any service offered a foreigner, and I'm sure I'm being overcharged. It's 16,000 dong to the dollar -- what moral right do I have to complain?

In the park, a young police officer keeps coming round to talk to me. Eventually he asks if I want to go to dinner. I wonder what his government would think of that? Two Americans were convicted here this morning of 'terrorism': broadcasting anti-communist rhetoric. The talk in the western press is how this will effect Vietnam's chance at a trade deal with the US. I question our priorities sometimes. Leaving the park, an older policeman trails me for a few blocks. I pause so that he has to walk ahead of me, then turn to look him full in the face when I catch back up. There are signs everywhere welcoming APEC delegates to Vietnam.

Friday, November 10, 2006


A TDY to Vietnam. This is totally awesome. This is what you imagine when you join the FS -- travel to new and exotic places, the opportunity to assist with something bigger than yourself... I'm absolutely thrilled. I'm going to Hanoi via Hong Kong. Hong Kong! How cool is that... Two communist countries in one go. Awesome awesome awesome.

The purpose of the TDY is to help provide press support during APEC. Due to the presence of a high level visitor (I can't tell you his name, but his initials are 'President Bush'*), I'm not permitted to know anything more specific than that before my arrival. Schedules in particular are apparently kept in strict security. They haven't told me what my duties will be; I imagine whatever the PD equivalent of carrying bags is. That's fine -- I'm more than happy to be the go-for... My real interest is in getting a sense of how everything works.

(In the Hong Kong airport, I ran into someone from the 127th, the A-100 class we sponsored. He's stationed with friends of mine in Moscow, but on his way to Vietnam for vacation. We recognized each other while waiting for the flight to Hanoi. Such odds...)

*Before I'm accused of leaking security secrets, let me point out that this is, in fact, open source...

Saturday, November 04, 2006

Careful with that Axe, Eugene

In preparation for her annual TexMex Margarita Party, I've been helping Sara here and there with CostCo trips and setup and the like. Yesterday, the day of the party, she asked if I'd mind chopping vegetables for the tacos. No problem.

I lined up the head of lettuce on the cutting board and picked up the knife with care. Shredding lettuce requires multiple thin cuts transversed by a few thicker ones. It's a fairly straight-forward procedure, and I turned to, moving very slowly and deliberately. After about 10 minutes, Sara commented, "That's the most artistic lettuce cutting I've ever seen."

"Ah," I didn't take my eyes off what I was doing. One head of lettuce down; one more to go. "Well..." (slice the head in half; remove the core...) "This is actually only the second time I've used a knife since my hands went numb." I paused and glanced up at her. "The first was this morning. I cut up an asian pear."

I could tell from the immediate look of reserved alarm on her face that she had not considered the implications of giving me a knife. A knife which I couldn't really feel. For some reason, yesterday was an especially bad one, and the insensate area of my hands had gained in ground and intensity. I'd been judging the appropriate cutting pressure to apply purely by sight; the hand holding the lettuce was doing its best to control things on its end, for the most part successfully. Some lettuce had slipped out of my hand off the cutting board, but nothing had fallen in the floor. Nothing on the floor, and no blood: these were the goals.

Sara turned back to the enchiladas. "Did you want to do something else?" she asked carefully. "I could do that."

"Oh, no..." I moved on to the limes. Trickier, as she needed them cut into eighths, requiring holding a slippery object on point. "Unless you mind me moving so slowly, I need the practice." The knife skidded down the side of the peel and cut into my thumb nail. I started over, with the same result. Got it on the third try.

"You okay there, Kate?"

"Yup." I miscalculated the amount of pressure needed, and a lime wedge slid across the cutting board; the knife twisted, smacking into my hand with a fleshy thump.

"Katie?" Her voice was different than before. I looked at her quzzically, concerned. She held my gaze, appearing slightly fearful. "You know I faint at the sight of blood." This is actually true; she's passed out more than a half a dozen times in her life. I had forgotten.

The cutting board was covered in juice. I was going so slowly, it bordered on the ridiculous; Sara had completed three separate tasks from start to finish in the time it was taking me to cut a single bag of limes into eighths. But I wanted so badly to finish cutting the limes into wedges. And there was just one left.

"I promise," I told her in the most assuring tone I could muster, "that I want to see my own blood even less than you do. I'll wash off the board so I'll have more traction. I'm almost finished; I can do this." I don't know why it mattered -- it was just a lime. But it did. It was imperative that I finish what I'd started.

After the party, a few of us sat around playing cards until 1am. And the only person wearing a bandaid was Sara -- a preemptive measure, in case her hangnail started to bleed.