Sunday, July 29, 2007

One of us is imagining things

Mom: Are you in touch with Nina?
A.: Yeah. I know she's in town, I won't be able to make it up in time to see her this time around...
Mom: She's going to Argentina and Hong Kong, all paid for by work... she's proof that one should just go with the flow and do what she feels is right [and so on about how Nina's always done the right thing by defying convention and following her dreams]. Well, you've always done that too, except that Psychology degree was completely worthless. And we've always supported you in doing what you think is right.

I didn't argue. I just marveled at her ability to manipulate reality.

Mom: One more thing, I'd like you to put 911 on speed dial, as the first entry in your address book.
A.: So I can dial it by accident all the time?
Mom: You never know, it's so dangerous out there.
A.: It's three numbers; it's just as easy if not easier to dial them as it is to retrieve an entry from my phone book.
Mom: Well this way you wouldn't even have to think about it.
A.: I don't have to think about it anyway. I managed to dial 911 with one hand while the other was occupied with containing the bleeding flap protruding from my arm. If it's in my phone, it'll get dialed by accident, and it wouldn't save me any time.
Mom: Well, you never know.
A.: I'll know how to dial that number if I ever need to.
Mom: Okay, well, goodbye. Call often.
A.: Okay, goodbye.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

I found the answer!

As you well know if you've been paying attention, it's not easy to get my mom off the phone. Saying, for example, "this is a REALLY bad time, I'm going to be late, goodbye!" or "We can talk about this later, I have to go this minute" usually don't get me anywhere. I've doubted whether, "My house is on fire and I can't talk," would.

Imagine my surprise then at the following conversation last night:

Mom: Where have you been?
A.: Huh?
Mom: It's been two weeks since we've talked!
A.: I believe we spoke earlier this week.
Mom: We did? I don't think so.
Dad: Actually, we did.
A.: In any case, I can't talk now, I'm reading "Harry Potter." I'll call you tomorrow.
Mom: Oh, okay, I'll let you get back to that.

Now, this is not something I'll ever be able to use again, but still, I was impressed at her deference.

I am, by the way, available as a human being again case you were wondering. I stayed up late reading, woke up early to read, and finished shortly before noon. It was excellent.

It was a kind of funny scene- my roommate's daughter was here for the weekend and she was reading too. We'd stop every few chapters to compare where we were and what we thought. We were both completely enrapt.

A couple of people have told me they were surprised that I was a fan, which surprises me. I mean, it's a great book (they are great books). I highly recommend them.


After I finished reading, I headed out to the Sackler to see the "Encompassing the Globe" exhibit on the former Portuguese Empire. On my way to the metro, I called home, and, since no one answered, left a message saying (in Russian), "Hi, give me a call back, I may or may not be able to come to the phone until later this afternoon, though."

My parents called me back this evening.

Mom: What was the second part of your message?
A.: What?
Mom: I got the first part, but wasn't sure what you meant by the second part.
A.: Does it matter?
Mom: Sure it matters.
A.: Something about my being around or not when you call.
Mom: What exactly did you say?
A.: I don't remember.
Dad: Why does it matter?
Mom: I'm just curious about what you said.
Dad: How is everything?
A.: Fine, you?
Dad: Good, we just got back from Rhode Island.
Mom: How's work? Do you like it? Are you not exhausted by that long drive.
A.: [Shrug. Why don't you also remind me about how there are no good swimming holes in the D.C. area?] No, it's fine.
Mom: Just wondering.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

I love Alexandria...

...and I so disagree with the Libertarians.

Originally, I didn't want to move out of D.C., in spite of its inadequate social services that have in no way kept up with its cost of living. In this entry, I will not dwell on the other things I love about Alexandria, such as the shopping (for necessities and otherwise). It's all about the services.

Almost a year ago when I accidentally shoved my arm through a window, I heard sirens within a few minutes of calling '911.' It was indeed a very timely response. I'm not sure how much blood I'd have lost had I dialed the same number in the nation's capital.

I've always enjoyed my local library, although it's apparently nothing like the main Alexandria library. I have high standards for libraries, having grown up in Newton. Still, I was surprised when I got an e-mail last night letting me know that my copy of Harry Potter was there and would be available for pickup as soon as the library opened today. I know there were at least twenty people ahead of me on the list; I guess they got at least that many copies. The librarian said I could only have the book for two weeks. We both smiled, because few people need that long.

On my way to the library (which was really on the return leg of my bike ride), I needed to wash my hands, having had to replace the chain back to its proper place. Not one but two people actually stopped to help me deal with my bike issue, which has never happened to me before. I remember I was struggling with my seat once (the original had been stolen and the replacement wasn't staying in place; I didn't need outside help, but still), and the closest I got to an offer for help was someone riding by and saying, 'you're all set?' as he sped away. Anyway, I was grateful to the people who stopped to help me, but my hands were black with grease. Fortunately, along the Mt. Vernon trail are comfort stations with clean and functional facilities that rival those found in many airports.

In case you're wondering why I'm not reading Harry Potter, I have plans in an hour and don't want to start it only to have to put it down.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Addendum to earlier post

So, I'd mentioned how I'm learning to spend money on things I need, etc., just like I'm learning to not eat food that I don't need to eat, that I don't want to eat, but it's an uphill battle because I grew up observing money being spent according to bargain-value rather than need and being expected to justify acts of non-eating.

Gina and I have shopped together a few times and once I took her to Crate & Barrel Outlet, where she found mugs for $1.50 each. Apparently I'd said, "is that a good price?" and she laughed and thought I was nuts. But that's how messed up I am. See our IM below:

me: oh I almost blogged about you again but got too lazy
Gina: Really? What'd I do this time?
me: I blogged about the hiking book story and almost added how you think it's funny that I say, "oh, $3 for a mug, is that good?" or whatever it was
Gina: $1.50.
me: okay I'm so blogging that
Sent at 10:21 PM on Wednesday

stroll down mom-memory lane

This is not be the first time I'll have surprised myself and you in whom I've chosen to cite or paraphrase; Note the following quote from former Congressman Dick Armey: "[A]s in a dysfunctional marriage, every fight is really about something else."

That is so true for many fights my mother chooses to pick. I first became aware of this when I was home for the holidays a few years ago. Mom's bursts of fury are often sudden, disproportionate and otherwise uncalled for. One stands out: New Year's Eve three or four years ago, mom screamed at me for a while for being selfish (also not unusual) when I conveyed my plans for the day, which entailed joining my friends (some also in town from their respective grad schools) for an early afternoon walk around Boston. My mother screamed that meeting my friends at 1pm would leave her to clean the house all on her own. I started reasoning with her (I hadn't learned), explaining that we'd have plenty of time to clean the house together; at some point in my explanation, it occurred to me that she couldn't possibly think we wouldn't be able to clean the house; this was about control, and, to give her some credit, about her wanting to spend more time with me. How much more effective would she have been had she said, "I was really hoping we could spend more of the holiday together"? By screaming, she just made me want to get out of the house.

She often resents the time I spend with my friends and picks fights on proxy issues. The Northampton trip (see late May blogs) was a perfect example: I'd done something to offend her earlier on, so she was picking a fight over that trip. The most popular proxy for whatever's really bothering her is how much something cost: Once when I was in high school, she was going out of her way to rain on my parade of excitement about making homemade sushi (avocado); she saw the wasabi powder, asked how much it cost, and emitted an exasperated, angry sigh when I said, "three dollars."

It has occurred to me that the Flagstaff fight, which I consider-- no pun intended-- the mother of all fights, could also have been a proxy fight. Background point I: I have to take some responsibility and admit that I haven't always been as in-control of my finances as I should have been (see Mom crashing my IRA account, for example), and I didn't realize when I went to college that my mom would take her contributing to the tuition, on her own insistence, as a license to micromanage my life (although she would probably do that anyway). This got really bad (once, my dad apologized for opening a letter from the college addressed to me, by accident; mom argued that her paying for college gave her the right to open my mail). Every time I told her what classes I was taking, she would yell at me about how those would not help me get a job. From Geneva, I e-mailed her my list of classes. She e-mailed back saying she was "shocked, surprised and disappointmented." So I was determined to avoid a repeat of this situation and insisted that my parents not pay a cent of my graduate school tuition. But I let my guard down (subsidized loans covered about a third, and my family has an aversion to debt); when my mom insisted that taking out unsubsidized loans would be financially irresponsible, as she could get a better rate on her home equity line. I caved.

Background point II: Recall Nina, who is the closest thing I'll ever have to a sister; her mother, who is a wonderful person, notwithstanding her mission of professing the health benefits of urine; her father, at whom my mother yelled for bringing her a mask from Georgia that she didn't think matched her decor; and her brother, who came to my mother's birthday dinner drunk. The latter and his family live in Arizona; his parents visit him often and come back with great stories and beautiful pictures, inspiring my parents to visit Arizona. I joined them during spring break of my first year in grad school. One of my roommates then was from Arizona and told me that it was important, if I planned to do any hiking, which of course I did, to get a good book, because the best trails were not visible from the main roads and were intense enough that one needed a detailed map. I mentioned this to my parents before the trip.

I arrived in Phoenix a few hours before they did and shopped around for a good hiking book. I held off from buying one because I thought maybe I'd find a better deal elsewhere, and said as much to my parents when they arrived and asked if I'd found a book.

A few days later, we were in Flagstaff on a stopover to the Grand Canyon. At this point, I had assessed the hiking book situation and determined that they all pretty much cost the same so I decided to just get one. My mom had stopped into a jewelry store when I stopped into an outdoor gear store. I emerged with a hiking book.

Mom: How much did it cost?

A.: $17.

Mom: WHAT??

A.: $17.


A.: Could you please get a hold of yourself? Is it worth getting this upset over $17??


A.: I did charge that to my own credit card.


A.: You insisted on paying [a fraction of] my tuition.


A.: I do have a job...


Now, I meant by, "it's $17," "is it really worth engaging in a screaming fight in the middle of a family vacation over $17 or really even a somewhat larger sum?" But she interpreted it as a sign of my gross financial negligence. She also threw back at me the fact that I'd said a few days earlier that I'd been hoping for a better deal than $17-- if $17 was too much then, why wasn't it too much now?

Answer: I believe in shopping around, but I also believe in spending money proportionately to the experience it buys or enhances, and I believed that book would enhance our hiking experience beyond its $17 (it did). For my mother, this was an issue of control (to this day, she asks me the prices of things she knows I've bought, and often gives me crap about them). My mother's attitudes about money, together with attitudes about food and clothes, are ones I continue to fight against when they sneak back into my thinking. For my mother, this fight was about my making a minor purchase without her permission. Perhaps she felt I was insufficiently grateful for her financing of my education.

This was about her having no perspective or consideration. I was past the point of being embarrassed over her screaming in the middle of the street and of being moved by her threats that we "go our separate ways" and meet up at the end of the week; she's done that before and, being the order-loving person I am, that option scares me and she knows it, but again, I was past that. I was angry at what she was doing and wasn't going to let her get away with it, so I said fine. She tried to get dad on her side, but dad wasn't buying it.

Dad and I got dinner separately; she probably went back to the hotel and stayed there. By the morning she tried to pretend that nothing had happened. Close to the end of the trip, we ran out of "obvious" things to do-- we'd covered the major national parks, and that book saved us. It had some amazing hikes that we never would have known about, that offered beautiful views we wouldn't have otherwise seen. Afterward, my mother called and kind-of-apologized. I mean, she really apologized, but her apology was, "I didn't realize that those were the kind of trails in that book; I thought it would have just mapped out the trails in the national parks, for which we'd get free maps at the gate." The more meaningful apology would have been, "I should have trusted your judgment when you decided to buy that book. You're an adult, and I know how financially responsible you are. Also, no matter what, I shouldn't have started screaming and ruined everyone's evening like that." I choose to believe that that's what she really meant.

A few other things from this trip, which took place the week before the invasion of Iraq. My mother has pulled a Tom Friedman-- she was all pro-war beforehand, but listening to her now you'd think she knew it was a bad idea after all. As usual, despite my pleas of, "I am on vacation and I don't want to talk about it," she insisted in arguing with me about the war and using infantile and ad hominem arguments, at that.

Speaking of immature, the morning after the Flagstaff fight we drove to the Grand Canyon, planning on getting breakfast on the way. We were almost there and there were few options, but I saw a waffle house, and my mother saw a McDonald's across the street from it. I've refused to eat in McDonald's ever since I read Fast Food Nation, which has only increased my mother's determination to eat there whenever we're together. I suggested that we all go to the waffle place so we could eat together; out of spite, she went and got herself breakfast at McDonald's. I had a power bar. Actually, this happened again the day after my grad school graduation-- we were on U & 14th, and this place NEXT TO the McDonald's there offered Smoothies and other breakfast food. My mother proudly marched over to McDonald's. She realized pretty quickly her statement was lost on us, though, and joined dad and me in the other place.

While I'm at it, let me continue to clean out my closet of stories I've been carrying around for a while. Some may be repeats (the long Google entry has quite a few). You may think I have a problem letting go, but really it's that I have a very good memory, and I'm detail-oriented.

I'll start with my mother's going out of her way to make disparaging comments in front of my friends, and then move on to her trying to convince me that I'm inept. My mother has always been a great cook, and she feels threatened by my cooking. I recall making tirami su and her determining that I wasn't using enough coffee, so she came over, grabbed the entire operation out of my hands, and soaked the ladyfingers in the coffee (which makes them too soggy). I'd made bread once, leading one of her friends who'd stopped by to say she was impressed. Showcasing her insecurity, my mother declared that she, too, made bread (which I assess to be untrue, given that when I made bread for the first time in her house, she went to open the oven to see how it was coming along). Anyway, there were a few months when I'd moved back from Wales, found a job (which my mother would go out of her way to try to convince me not to take and later to quit), and struggled to find an apartment in the crazy Boston rental market of summer 2000 (perhaps because my mother had insisted on accompanying me to apartment interviews). In that time I lived with my parents. One day, a very close friend came over to make pizza. Mom kept walking by to say, "I don't think you're using enough garlic," etc. In her intended coup de grace, she walked in to the kitchen, looked haughtily upon our project, and walked over to the freezer, from which she removed a cheap frozen pizza and declared, "in my opinion, this is the only pizza you really need."

Bear with me, two stories branch out of the one above. The first is on a topic you know well and one referenced in the title of this blog-- my mom considers herself a more competent manager of my career than she considers me. You know about Google, you know a little bit about TI (I actually got a phone message from one of her friends begging me not to take that job), and then there was the time she happened to call me as I was on my way to an interview for an internship:

A.: I have to go, I'll call you later..
Mom: Where are you going?
A.: I have an interview for an internship.
Mom: Where?
A.: At an umbrella organization that comprised environmental groups working on preservation in Latin America...
Mom: WHAT? WHAT? Have you lost your mind?
A.: Mom, I have to GO.
Mom: Don't even think of taking that-- what are you thinking??
A.: I'm just going to the interview. I HAVE TO GO.
Mom: Don't even go to the interview!

... and so on.

Ah, the second branching story-- my mother insisted on accompanying me to apartment interviews. I tried to cut this practice when I saw it was hurting my chances in an already tight market, but it wasn't easy. One time, my mother INSISTED on coming with me, and when I said no, she asked me to give her the address where I was meeting the potential roommate, in case she'd need to give that information to the police should I not return. I succumbed, only to see her pull up in her minivan at the time and place of the meeting. I felt my face turn beet red and went up to her car, and said, "leave. now." At home that night, she pulled the not-talking thing, but I knew she knew she was wrong because she'd apparently lied to my father about the situation- she told him that she and I had agreed that she would show up. I said to her, "you can keep acting righteous, but you know you were wrong." It worked and she let it go. When I did finally find a house, she and my dad were both horrified that I hadn't consulted them before taking it (it, i.e. the house, turned out really well). Sure I was just a year out of college then, but my time abroad especially was replete with making independent decisions and plans, and doing so became natural to me. They didn't see that then; my dad by now has gotten it; my mom not so much.

Which leads me to another theme, my perceived ineptness. For so long, I thought it was me, but it turns out that other people also lose wallets, forget to do things sometimes, etc., but every time something like that happened to me, my mother treated it as evidence of my ineptitude. It also becomes a mom-fulfilling prophecy-- she stresses me out to the point that I mess up, it's like typing when someone's looking over your shoulder. In fact, she loses things too, but I feel no need to tie those incidents to her competence as a human.

Beyond the mom-fulfilling prophecy, she also makes it worse by filling a void that is not there (not to mention nagging me--do I realize I should be practicing to drive a stick/looking for a job/looking for an apartment/packing for my trip the same day or next morning, etc.). I think she must have genuinely believed that she had to remind me that my lease was running out (she didn't).

I can't believe this was ten years ago, but the spring before Geneva, I had to buy a ticket to Paris (location of the pre-Geneva orientation program). I was on it, but apparently not on it enough for my mother, who in addition to nagging me regularly, had a travel agent friend of hers look into tickets for me. I found one on British Airways for $400 and let her know I was about to buy it; she was surprised and said that her friend had found one for $400 on some crappy charter flight company and wanted her to get a commission for it; I caved. Fast forward the night I was supposed to depart (also the night Princess Diana was killed). We show up at the airport three hours early; flight is delayed three hours; we go home and return five hours later, at two in the morning; due to poor signage and airport employees who give us bad information (tell us that the correct terminal, where we were, was arrivals only), we miss the flight. I am upset (I have a friend meeting me in Paris upon arrival; I have a meeting in Paris the following morning). Crappy charter company offers to send me for free on their next flight, four days later. I have to buy another $400, from British Airways, that will get me there in the middle of the night. That's about two weeks of the very painful data entry work I spent the summer doing. I don't really blame my mother for the whole thing (and actually the full story is pretty good but not particularly relevant), but I can't help but thinking of the situation as an example where my mom could have just trusted me.

Anyway, enough reminiscing. It's time to move on.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

The world is not your babysitter

The dentists and their staff were late opening the office in the morning, and a number of people had gathered outside waiting, including a young boy and his father, who was letting him run wild. The boy was bugging everyone else who was waiting, and several times ran into the store next door (yes, my dentist's office is in a strip mall), while his father ignored him.

Finally, the dentists & co. arrived, opened the office, saw me, let me go. As I was leaving the office I heard the kid still bugging everyone in the waiting room. He asked me as I left whether they'd brushed my teeth. I said yes; What I should have done was turn to his father and say, "perhaps next time you could bring a coloring book or other distraction for your son, rather than making everyone else in the waiting room babysit him?"

Friday, July 6, 2007

Silly me, forgetting to carry a notepad

I have come to understand that my mother is not going to ask whether it's a good time to talk, but I do wish that she would ask whether I'm in a position to listen attentively to what she's saying and/or take notes before she starts describing the substance of her latest complaint in great detail. Instead, she launches into a complicated explanation the minute I say "hello" and fully expects that I process whatever she is saying into a letter.

On Friday afternoon she'd sent me a short paragraph complaining to her old phone company that their failure to turn off her phone service when she'd asked them to resulted in interference with her new phone service. I quickly re-wrote it for her and hit 'send.'

That evening, I headed out to meet my friend Marcela, who'd just returned from over a month in Ecuador. I had informed her of the self-imposed shopping-and-restaurant ban; she was supportive, but still invited me to drink water in her presence while she shopped and dined. It was about 8:30 PM [on a Friday night] when I was half-way to the metro and my mother called, and immediately launched into her phone service drama. She continued onto her dissatisfaction with my revision of her letter.

"What was that paragraph you sent? Was that about some other situation?"
"It was a revision of your letter."
"I didn't understand what you wrote-- what does it have to do with anything?"
"I wrote exactly what you wrote, only politely and in correct English."
"Well, it doesn't make sense to me..."

She goes on in detail about what happened, about how every time they called they told her to write and when she wrote they said the issue could only be resolved by phone. Legitimate complaints, and I'm not one to judge another person for going on about the mundane. Here's what I will say: does my mom not realize that I don't sit around with a notepad handy, waiting for her instructions? I am often on the go... it wouldn't hurt to ask me where I am or what I'm doing before expecting me to drop everything and take notes, if not out of considerateness, than out of pragmatism.

About five minutes into the phone service details, I get to the metro. A commuter train goes by and then there's an announcement.

"WHAT is that noise? Where ARE you?"
"At the metro?"
"Why are they talking?"
"They make announcements. About elevator outages and such."
"Anyway, so I was trying to explain to them that they were supposed to disconnect the phone line...WHY is it so noisy?"

Does she expect me to apologize for being at the metro, or perhaps for the metro for making announcements while she's talking to me?

"It's noisy because they're making announcements."
"Can you even hear me?"
"I can, but my train is here and I'll lose signal in a minute or so."
"Well, call me when you get home."
"I don't know what time I'll get home, and I'll most likely want to go to bed immediately."
"Well how are you going to know what to write?"
"Send me an e-mail with the details!"
"I DID send you an e-mail with the details!"

I was happy to have a distraction from the phone/letter issue. I called Marcela when I got to the mall, but she was in the middle of a transaction and said she'd call me back in a minute. In the meantime I kept walking, and she did call a minute later and ask where I was. I realized that I had been magnetically, instinctively drawn to Banana Republic. I thought about the beginning of a Lewis Black show-- perhaps Black on Broadway, when he's on his way up to the performance and someone asks, "how are you?" and he grumbles, "how the f* do you think I am?" Marcela's "where are you," an innocent and natural question, was almost met with, "where the f* do you think I am?" I'm in one of my natural habitats, the sale rack at Banana. Not because I was irritated at all... it just came into my head. I did just say, "Banana Republic."

Anyway, we walked around talked while she had dinner, it was a good night. I got home around 11pm and dutifully called my mother and asked if I needed to get letter-writing instructions that minute. She said she'd wait on the phone technicians tomorrow, but started getting into the whole story again. I interrupted with, "I know..." and regurgitated part of it so that she'd see that I actually heard her the first time. Her response, in a semi-accusatory tone: "Well, you were in such a hurry, I couldn't tell if you'd taken in anything that I said." Her tone is difficult to convey, but by my reading, it was one of, "well, you weren't exactly sitting by your phone with a notepad!" as if that's what she expects when she calls and proceeds to elaborate on the complaint-inspiring situation in great detail. We said goodnight; we were both satisfied to leave it at that.

Why did you send me that?

I was all fired up about this in the car today, although earlier when it happened I'd decided to let it go, on account of mom's being really sweet lately. She left me a message saying she loved me (and not asking where I could possibly be at whatever non-exotic hour); she asked me to do something for her at my convenience rather than the usual drop-everything; and she said she'd let me go, even before I insisted that I had to go, on the 4th, when I said I was at a friend's house (literally, "as a guest" or even more literally "among guests," for those of you who care; transliterally, "v gostakh.")

She did, a week or so ago, go on about how she couldn't believe there were no lakes around here to swim in the summer and how awful and isn't Massachusetts just so much better, etc., but I had let it go. In fact I almost let it go again, because I was feeling particularly ADD and between blogs opted to go online shoe shopping, and between my retail-therapy-deprivation (no clothes until I lose weight) and Gina's being online and enabling me as I sent her links to the shoes-- it was almost like shopping together in person-- I went nuts on and it felt great... but I still want to blog...

...and not even because of what my mom did; it wasn't new or unusual. It was almost my fault for forgetting that that's what she does-- I shouldn't have provoked her. I saw a great deal for air & hotel in Hawaii and sent it to her, thinking she'd either look into it or delete it. Because that's what people do. Of course, what my mom does is call me and ask me why I sent it to her. Now the last time she did that, she was downright accusatory and mean, and she wasn't this time. She's certainly smart enough to figure out why I'd send her a travel deal she might be interested in; she just doesn't opt to apply those smarts to the issue at hand.

[Earlier tonight, when I thought of e-mailing my friend Pauletta about the shoe sale, I almost thought she might call me and say, "why did you send me that? don't you know I'm on vacation? I just went shopping for shoes (or I'm going shopping for shoes this weekend). Is there a reason you think I need shoes?" I quickly realized she would say none of those things; she would click on the link, or ignore it and move on with her life. Then, this train of thought led me to another epiphany... mom is insistent (recall the fights where she insists that I take things and does expect justification for my not doing so), so she expects me to be as well.]

Anyway, Mom asks these kinds of questions when she watches movies as well. For as long as I can remember, years before she ever saw "Zoolander" and asked why the miner was disappointed in his son for becoming a male model, she'd ask such questions throughout a movie, in the genre of "why this?" "why that?" "why did that person get upset when his wife left him?" "why did that object fall when it was dropped out the window?"

"Why did you send me that e-mail about the trip to Hawaii?"
"Because I thought you might like to go."
"Oh, I won't have time... we're going to spend a week on the Cape..."
"You don't have to explain it to me; just delete it."
"...and then another week perhaps in Maine. I thought you knew..."
"Mom, just delete the e-mail." I wasn't going to interrogate her about it.
"When I got that, I thought maybe you were going to Hawaii."
"What? No, I'm not."

True, I've gone to Hawaii a few times in the last year or so, and I've sent her my airline itinerary for her information. I've always told her first, though, and I've never disguised that itinerary as a travel deal. There was no way that e-mail was an indicator of an upcoming trip on my part.

So back to why I didn't let this go: as in the past when my mother asks me why I've sent her something, I try to follow her logic for doing so, and that leads me to, "maybe to her I'm not just sending an e-mail, maybe she thinks I expect follow-up... but wait, she sends me SO much crap ALL the time, she can't possibly think every e-mail about a travel sale or other sale requires a good reason..." and then I get stuck on, "she sends me so much crap..." and veer off on the crap she's sent most recently.

And that's when I got angry, in a way that I don't get so much angry about, say, stupid jokes (at those, I get annoyed and move on with my life), but it's the ignorant, hateful political stuff that really irks me, because it's an indicator of the base level of discourse that consuming this country. It's not that I disagree with the political opinions (although I usually do); it's that I resent the author of whatever forwarded piece of garbage for propagating ad hominem arguments and oversimplifying complex situations. I've occasionally replied, with "this is a bunch of crap and here's why," or "could you please stop sending me this bravo sierra," but my mother isn't one to respond to my pleas, even when there are practical considerations behind them (such as "I'm in Nicaragua, internet time is rare and the connection is slow, could you PLEASE stop clogging my inbox with large forwards.") With the political stuff, she thinks she's doing me a favor, or at least educating me. I can follow (I said 'follow,' not 'appreciate') the logic that far: she's going to change my mind with informative e-mails. Well if that's her goal, she needs to find pieces that are well-written, not sophomoric, not pulled out of the rear end of someone too uninformed and insecure to engage those that disagree rather than insult them.

On that note I leave you. Peace out.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Earth to...

A friend of mine lives in an apartment building about twenty minutes' walk from my house; he occasionally travels, and on those occasions asks me to feed his cat. Having done this a few times, I know the drill-- I request the building key from the concierge or ask him or her to buzz me in when I get to the right place (the concierge is in a separate building from the cat), check in on the cat, return the key, and move on with my life. The "drill" is usually uneventful.

Last week, the drill was rendered interesting (eventful would be a stretch) by a concierge that made me wonder whether he was stoned and revived my interest in playwriting.

"Hello. I'm here to feed a cat in ____. Could I have the keys, please?"
"What's your name?"
[Concierge looks through the the books, finds the page that lists me as an authorized guest.]

I spell my name. This is what some call learned helplessness-- especially in situations like these where it really doesn't matter, I don't bother insisting that my name be pronounced correctly. At the same time, it fascinates me that someone who has it in writing write in front of him, for some reason finds it easier to offer an approximation than to just read from the page. I won't go on about how I am not the president of any Central Asian state; my name is not difficult to pronounce, nor too long to sound out; I simply wish to report the concierge's unnecessary struggle with it.

"Do you know the key number?"

Okay, now why on EARTH would I know the [four- or five-digit] key number? Honestly.

"No. If it's easier you could just buzz me in."

"We don't allow dogs in the lobby."

I look around, genuinely thinking I may have unwittingly brought a dog with me. Then I wonder if he's referring to me. He sees the puzzled look on my face and says,

"If you have a key you can go in through the back."

I intensify my puzzled look.

"To bring the dog back in."

"I'm feeding a cat."

"Oh, okay."


I don't think I expect too much of people. I mean, sure, it was later in the evening, he's probably had a long day... but I didn't expect him to, say, remember my name or business in the building from having heard it earlier in the day. It just didn't occur to me that he would rather guess my name than read it, and make up a scenario for my requesting entry to the building. If I had time I'd write a play about this, make up a whole day of interactions.