Monday, December 31, 2007

Crazy pills

I could have sworn that Benazir Bhutto was assassinated last Thursday, but maybe it was just my imagination, because CNN just advertized a one-hour special on Britney Spears (something along the lines of, "What will she do in 2008?"

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Happy New Year

A family friend from Israel called to wish us a Happy New Year. After about ten minutes, my mother launched into the Verizon saga. Dad and I rolled our eyes.

A.: Martha's not feeling well, so instead of our going over to her apartment, Wendy will just come here. Is that alright?
Mom: Sure. Is she a vegetarian?
A.: No. She'll have dinner with her parents, though.
Mom: Why?
A.: Because she wants to.

An hour or so later

Mom: Is Wendy a vegetarian?
A.: No.
Dad: Ask one more time.
Mom: I just want to make sure.

Wag the Dog is on.

A.: This is a good movie. Watch.
Mom, every few minutes: Who's that? Why is he doing that? Who's that woman? What just happened? Why did she do that? Who's he?
A., in response: Just watch.

The next generation

We stopped by the house of family friends. Their cousin and his wife and infant were there.

Lydia, to me: You look great! You're so thin!

The conversation eventually came to travel plans. I said I was ready to take a break for a little while, said travel can be exhausting. Indicating the little one, I said, "you know, with those on the plane, it's not exactly a relaxing trip... not that that one's not a perfect angel."

Dad: You just need to relax and tune them out.
A.: They're not exactly relaxing.

There's a reason that when you see relaxation tapes, they come in "waterfall," "seashore," and "stream," and not "screaming baby" and "barking dog."

Lydia: We were on an El Al flight that had to be delayed because there were fifty strollers. We boarded, and it was like we walked into a chamber of screams.
Igor: That's our next generation-- they're keeping us alive as a people.
Mom: Anya said her flight had been especially painful because of screaming babies.

Mom, echoing a comment dad had made earlier: Your hair's not a good length. It needs to be either longer or shorter.
A.: I'm growing it out.
Dad: Is Maya (daughter of family friends discussed above) older or younger than you?
A.: Older.
Dad: Huh, I wonder why she's so much thinner.

A., putting away groceries: Where does the coffee go?
Mom, in another room: There.
A.: Where's there?
Mom, not pointing to anything: You know... there.

A missed opportunity

R, in an e-mail: Tell your mom that you were offered a job at Google to replace this person but you turned it down.


My mother and I agree on at least one thing.

A., to dad: Could you PLEASE groom your eyebrows? What you have going on there is a safety hazaard.
Dad: Shrug.


Mom, to dad: It's like a braid hanging over your eye.
Dad: It doesn't bother me.
A.: Please, for me, could you bring it under control?
Dad: It doesn't bother me.

My mother and I agree on few other things. Last night, just before I left for Wendy's:

Mom: What do you think of illegal immigration?
A.: I'm heading out...
Mom: Just answer the question.
A.: I refuse to engage in a discussion on those terms. I don't believe in reducing complex issues to black and white...
Mom: Are you pro- or anti- illegal immigration?
A.: What I'm saying is I do not agree with the way you are framing the question, and I'm heading out now.

This morning:

Mom: I like Hilary. She's smart.
A.: She is smart, but she's not my first choice.
Mom: I don't agree with Obama's position on immigration. He doesn't seem to think illegal immigration is a problem.
A.: It's an issue that needs to be managed. It should not be reduced to rhetoric, emotion or easy answers...
Mom: It's a huge problem...
A.: You do realize you are an immigrant?
Mom: Legal immigration is different.
A.: Illegal immigration is not going to go away with a border fence...

This escalates into a screaming fight. Several times I say, "I am not going to discuss this with you until you lower your voice." I also reiterate that she's wrong about certain things, that the data go against the rhetoric spewed by Lou Dobbs and his ilk. She keeps repeating the rhetoric of Lou Dobbs and his ilk.

A.: Get the facts and stop getting your "information" from Lou Dobbs and Fox News!
Mom: Ha! Stop getting your "information" from the New York Times!

A.: Sigh.

My frustration is not primarily over mom's position on illegal immigration; I'm disappointed with the level of discourse. I've said before that my issue with Fox News is not the positions taken, but rather that positions are taken at all, and that complicated issues are reduced to sound bites and yes or no stances. What I'm trying to say is, I fundamentally believe that being "tough" on something is distinct from being "smart" on that thing, a distinction is one that Fox News and such consistently ingore and erode, to the detriment of the country. Sigh.

Dad: If your mother weren't Jewish, she'd be an anti-semite.

Are you planning on coming home?

Wendy invited Martha and me to her house (well, her parents' house, where she is staying over the holidays) for tea.

Mom: You're having tea now, and you'll have tea again later?
A.: Well, yes.

I mean, it's not... alcohol, or even dinner. We all have tea, all the time.

As I was getting ready to leave the house:

Dad: Are you driving?
A.: No, I'll walk.
Mom: Let me drive you.
A.: No, thanks. I'll walk.
Mom: But...
A.: It's just Wendy's house.
Mom: Go for a walk during the day... it's dark out.
A.: I want to walk.
Mom: But there's snow on the ground, the sidewalks are covered.
A.: They're mostly fine, I walked from not far from there the other day.


Mom: You really have gained weight.

It's great to catch up with Martha and Wendy. Among other things, they don't need to regularly (or ever) point out that I've gained weight. Shortly after 10pm, Mom calls.

Mom: Are you planning on coming home?
A.: Well, yes.
Mom: When?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: About when?
A.: I don't know.
[More discussion about coming home].

Not sure why it's so shocking that I'm out-- within a mile or so of my parents' house-- shortly after 10pm on Saturday night, with friends I haven't seen in a while, or why we have to keep having this discussion, even though my mom asks me when I'm coming home all the time and "I don't know" is usually my answer.

It's easy to answer the phone and say "I don't know" a few times. I don't feel the need to change her.

Saturday, December 29, 2007


Relatively peaceful day; we were mostly still bitter over yesterday. Neither side has apologized but toward late morning we seem to have moved on. We went for an early afternoon walk, toward the end of which mom had stopped to look at something and Dad and I continued ahead. About half a mile ahead of her, we heard her screaming; turned, and saw her jumping up and down and yelling. We approached.

Mom, angrily: You missed it! The sun was just beautiful, and you missed it! You don't even look around when you walk!
Dad: Is this really worth yelling about? Everyone looks at different things.

Mom continued to throw a fit and express her disapproval of dad's and my walking preferences.

Over dinner, I had to justify opting not to have soup.

Mom: Why??
A.: It's just too much food.
Mom: It's good to have a little bit of everything.
A.: I don't want to eat that much.

Mom did choose to have a little bit of everything, and proceeded to complain while she was eating that it was too much and that she was stuffed.

Oh, earlier, she and dad each tried to blame the other genetically for my "situation."

Mom: I was stick-think at your age. You must take after your father.
Dad: My whole side of the family is quite thin.
Mom: Well, I was much thinner than that.

Friday, December 28, 2007

I know I'm not a people person, but really

Mom: I'm a water sign, which makes sense, I so love the water.
A.: I'm an animal sign.
Mom: You're a taurus: stubborn and difficult.

It's a beautiful day, especially for December in Massachusetts. Mom continues to dilly dally, can't find the ninth attachment to her Verizon letter; Anya, understandably, is getting restless. I convince her to leave it for tomorrow out of fairness to Anya. Mom decided she'd take Anya to Revere Beach. I suggested Castle Island, thought it would be closer and prettier. Mom said no and then kept explaining why Revere Beach was better, as if she were seeking my approval. I said, "I don't care, just go whereever you want!"

Mom: You have such a tone! This is why you don't get along with anyone at work?
A.: Who told you I don't get along with anyone at work?
Mom: You did!
A.: I never said such a thing.

I really don't know where she got this.

On the way, Nina came up. My mom has apparently taken to reinventing herself as supportive and open-minded; as such, she started telling Anya about how Nina epitomizes the idea that you should do what you love and everything else will fall in line. Which is great. I just wish she meant it.

On the way back from the beach, on a whim, I suggested we show Anya the Haymarket. Mom balked. Then, she turned off the highway toward it, only to get a bit lost and not find parking.

Mom: Why did you convince me to go to Haymarket?
A.: I didn't; I mentioned it.

A few minutes later:

Mom: Why did you muddle my head with the idea of going to the Haymarket?
A.: Shrug.

Various conversations

-Mom offers me a polyester tube top with a sequined star on top. She is amazed that I don't want it and proceeds to try to convince me to take it. At the same time, over the last day or so since I've gotten here, she keeps saying, "why do you have so many suits? you don't need that many suits!" As with my sense of getting enough sleep, the amount of suits I need is something of which I have a better sense than my mother does.
-Mom proceeds to talk at me as I continue to write her complaint. "Did you tell them they charged me $250 for two weeks of service?" she asked, after I'd told her several times that I did.
-I am doing the dishes with the radio on; Van Morrison's Moondance is playing. Mom, who felt no need to turn on the tv earlier, expresses frustration as she comes into the kitchen and turns on the tv over the radio, saying, "what annoying music! I don't understand how you can take it."
-Just now, the letters have been printed, we're ready to send the package and move on with our lives, when mom comes by and says, "add that while the telephone service didn't work, the television reception was excellent!"

Career advice

I mentioned my job-related stress to mom. She promptly blamed it on me (first last night when it came up, and again just now), suggesting that I have trouble getting along with people.

Mom: Here's what I have to say to you: don't be so demanding and idealistic and unforgivable.
A.: What?
Mom: You don't always have to say what you think at work.
A.: That is not the issue I'm having.
Mom: [Continues to lecture me on the management of office politics].

Can we move on?

I've mentioned in previous blogs my mother's warped sense of urgency. Related to that is her lack of appreciation for my desire to sleep. When I was high school, she would often come in to my room early in the morning on a weekend and say, "It is so stuffy in here! How could you possibly sleep with the window closed?" And I would think, "how can I sleep with you yammering at me?"

I ended up sleeping on the couch. It was comfortable, but I didn't sleep well for reasons that can be indirectly attributed to work-related stress. In the morning I got up and migrated to my mother's room. I was close to falling asleep.

Mom: Her face just fell when you said that about wanting to sleep in your own room.
A.: I didn't say anything about "wanting to sleep in my own room."

So, if what I said did upset her, my mother could have translated what I meant, instead of taking the opportunity to berate me. Can we move on now?

Mom: What I really want to convey to Verizon...
A.: Mom! Can we talk about this later??

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Great logic

Anya is leaving for Seattle tomorrow, where she will visit her uncle. I was charged with printing her boarding pass.

Mom: Do you have a good seat?
Anya: Yes.
A.: She has an exit row-- that's great.
Mom: Is it a window seat?
Anya: No.
Mom: That's too bad.
Anya: Actually I prefer it.
A.: I've learned to love window seats, too. Being able to get up regularly on a long flight really minimizes the back pain that often comes with a long flight.
Mom: I never had back pain when I was your age. It's because you're a vegetarian.
A.: What??
Mom: I never had back pain, and I'm not a vegetarian. Your back pain must be because you're a vegetarian.


Mom: You should eat nuts.
A.: What?
Mom: To strengthen your bones. So that you don't have back pain.
A.: Bones have nothing to do with it, and nuts are a regular part of my diet.
Mom: You said you had pain in your bones.
A.: It's not a bone strength issue. Can I write this letter, please?

If you want this letter written, let me CONCENTRATE

I’m editing the Verizon letter. Mom keeps interrupting me with other stuff. I ask her to let me concentrate.

Mom: Sleep later. You'll get enough sleep.

I don’t actually want to go to sleep right now. I want to finish the letter. I have to say, it is always annoying when people tell someone to “sleep later.” I know when I want to sleep. I know when I'll get enough sleep. I don't appreciate unsolicited advice, especially when it's over something that I have a better feeling for, by virtue of it being my getting enough sleep.

We argue over the conspiratorial language. She insists that Verizon had to know she returned the equipment. I tell her perhaps, but she shouldn't accuse them of it in the letter, nonetheless.

She keeps interrupting. I snap.

Mom: When you’re hungry or tired…
A.: I’m not hungry or tired! I want to write this $%^& letter without interruption.

Dad comes up to me, agrees that mom's obsession with letter-writing is more labor intenstive than constructive, talks about the issue with the bank (in which he promptly called and resolved the issue over the phone). As I've said, in the case of Verizon, I believe mom is in the right; I just wish she'd meet me half way-- or even a quarter-way, in the case of not talking at me while I'm trying to edit her letter.

I'm fat, continued

Mom: Oh, I keep meaning to call Emma. She had an operation.
A.: How did it go? [Turning to Anya]: I stayed with Emma in Australia.
Mom: I know you did. And you said she fed you well and persistently... but when you came back from Australia you weren't fat.
A.: Actually, according to you I was.
Mom: No you weren't. You never used to put on weight. What happened?
A.: Starost nye Radost.
[Translation: literally, 'Old age is not joy'; more figuratively, 'old age brings complications].

For those of you who, like my mother, wonder why I'm not as thin as I used to be, I offer the following hypotheses:

I'm not as young as I used to be
I no longer cycle to work
It's the holidays, and junkfood abounds

After dinner, I showed Greece and Turkey photos. My mother responded by one-upping at every other photo:
Dad: What a beautiful mosaic!
Mom: Remember the mosaics in southern Spain? Those were beautiful.

Anya: That's a gorgeous coastline.
Mom: I have memories of the coastline near Naples...

A.: [Narrating the pictures] That's the bazaar...
Mom: Thanks for not bringing us anything. I still don't know what to do with that thing [pointing to a gift I'd brought her from an earlier trip].

How could you say such a thing?

My parents currently have another houseguest, the daughter of a friend from St. Petersburg. Poor thing is already caught up in my family's dysfunction (for example, she witnessed the "you've gained weight" convo described in the previous post). Then there was this:

A.L Where am I sleeping?
Mom: In our room. Dad's sleeping on the couch in his study.
A.: Why don't I sleep there? That way he can sleep in his own bed.
Mom: Well, he goes to bed later...
A.: I'm just saying, I don't mind sleeping on the couch.
Mom: I don't understand what you want.
A.: I'm just trying to minimize disrusption. I want everyone to sleep in their own bed.


Mom: How could you say such a thing?
A.: What are you talking about?
Mom: That you want to sleep in your own bed.
A.: I didn't say that!
Mom: Now Anya feels awkard. She offered to sleep on the couch.
A.: I said I wouldn't mind sleeping on the couch.
Mom: Why are you getting defensive? Just admit it!
A.: Admit what?
Mom: That you said you wanted to sleep in your own bed.
A.: Because I didn't! I offered to sleep on the couch. In that context, it should have been clear that my comment about wanting people to sleep in their "own" beds did not apply to me, since that bed is not mine.
Mom: [Shaking her head].

I didn't add that if anya felt awkward, it's because Mom was being a bitch. The irony of this is that I can't be sure because I can't keep my parents' friends straight, but I think she's the daughter of the man who spent many, many hours on a train to visit my parents at their dacha only to leave the next morning because my mom had chewed him out for stepping on her flowerbed.

Later still, during the making of the matza ball soup:
Mom: The celery is chopped to coursely!
A.: Okay, I'll fix it.
Mom: You don't remember where the grain is, do you?
A.: No.
Mom: I didn't think so!

How difficult would it have been to say, "could you please chop the celery more finely, and by the way, the grain is in that container"?

Life immitates blog

Within five minutes of walking in the front door:

Mom: Look at you, you've really put on weight!
A.: I know.
Mom: Why have you put on weight?
A.: [Shrug]. Could you point me to the nearest pair of slippers, please?
Mom: Well, you have REALLY gained weight.
A.: Please desist, and show me to the slippers.
Mom: Look upstairs.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Complacent and Culturally Undistinguished

Read page 8 of this

And while you're reading things, see Paumgarten on commuting.

The commute is fifty-two miles. Though Kocis is normally a fitness freak, with a black belt in karate, in the past year he’d put on twenty pounds and developed nerve problems in his back.

Monday, December 24, 2007


This complaint letter experience has been relatively painless: I know my mother is in the right (Verizon has billed her for a piece of hardware that she has returned and is harassing her over it); and my mother took it upon herself to write at least the outline of the letter herself, rather than trying to convey a very complex situation.

Still, it's been ongoing for months and months, and while this is largely the fault of the offending corporation, my mother's penchant for complaint letters [that other people, usually I] have to write has only prolonged it.

This morning, I once again edited my mom's letter to Verizon. I found myself re-editing things that I had previously changed. I've tried to explain to my mother, in the case of this letter and many others before it, that sarcasm and conspiracy theories do not help her cause. I'm the first to admit that in some cases, wit is desirable when you can pull it off (see under armour correspondence). However, mom's accusations, which presuppose a certain amount of agency among Verizon customer service employees, don't meet those requirements:

"I can't believe that Verizon service dysfunctional to the such extend that they do not aware that the contract provision (No penalty if terminated during first month of service) and the reason for termination.
I do not believe that whoever concocted the bills did not have the information that the equipment was returned.
I suspect that the way the bills were written and the time they were posted and mailed has the purpose to confuse and deceive.
They invented the creative way to structure Bills that make it very difficult to follow and understand.
I strongly suspect that the last bill of November 5/07 that I was so stupid to pay $140.00 only encouraged them to step up the harassment. By paying the Bill I gave the impression that I found the charges correct, the case is settled and I had no reason to keep my receipts any longer.
There are too many mistakes to consider them coincidental.
The time spread between the contract termination and the last bill added to my suspicion that they believe that the documents that could proof that that I own them nothing would be lost or discarded
Now I see that paying &140.11 was a mistake. It may give them the impression that I stupid enough to let them squeeze anything from me if they are persist."

I don't doubt that Verizon's bill format aims to confuse and deceive. I don't doubt that it succeeds and thereby elicits payments from people who cannot or choose not to examine their bills in detail. I am not unsympathetic to my mother's situation: Verizon has wrongly referred a seventy-two year old woman to a debt collector because she refuses to pay for a router that she has returned (and has the receipts to prove it, and has faxed them to Verizon more than once). I am more than willing to get Verizon off my mother's back and hopefully punish them for their behavior. I therefore ask my mother to help me help her by a) dropping the conspiracy theory language in her letter to consumer protection bureaus; b) writing to the address on the bill specifically provided for billing disputes, as I did many years ago when Verizon tried to charge me for services it did not fulfill; and c) generally meeting me half-way when I write complaint letters for her by actually listening to me about things like a) and b). And asking me whether it's a good time for me to write these letters.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Only a few questions that have little to do with anything

Message from mom: They say it's strange weather in DC; they've closed the airport. So, why are you wandering around somewhere? Call back.


An hour or so later:

A.: Hi, mom. I was driving when you called.
Mom: Where?
A.: Friends of mine are in Prague, I'm feeding their cats...
Mom: Where do they live?
A.: Not far from me.
Mom: What are you doing?
A.: Feeding their cats.
Mom: How many cats do they have?
A.: Two.
Mom: What's their relationship to Prague?
A.: They're there, now.
Mom: Oh. What's going on with the weather?
A.: As far as I can tell, it's just foggy and windy.
Mom: The airport is closed. It will probably reopen by Thursday, but I'm just letting you know.
A.: It should clear up by then.
Mom: Your father's outside... can you wait a few minutes?
A.: Let's just reconnect in a few hours, I'm going to the gym.
Mom: Okay, bye.
A.: Bye.

To her credit, she didn't ask me what I was going to do at the gym and then proceed to tell me that I shouldn't do it.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Mom blog preview/prediction

A.: I'm already thinking of what I'll get to listen to next week. Mom will tell me that I'm fat, that she doesn't like my haircut, and that I should apply to Google.
Dianne: If you agree with her, will she stop?
A.: No. It will go like this:
Mom: Your hair looks bad.
A.: Okay.
Mom: No, your hair looks bad.
A.: I heard you.
Mom: I just don't like your hair like that.

It may even devolve into this:

A.: Could you please back off?
Mom: I don't like your tone of voice!!
A.: Well I don't like it when you harp on how bad I look.
Mom: Don't be so sensitive; I'm trying to help you.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Score one for Italy

At least there's one country that protects children


I called and said, "okay, tell me about Verizon."

Mom: Oh, you're too late. The letter has been written. Irina spent the entire week that we were away writing it...
A.: Then why did you ask me to write one yesterday?
Mom: Hers hasn't arrived yet. In case it doesn't, I need you to edit the one I've written. I spent hours and hours writing this when you were away!
A.: Okay. [Is she implying that I should not go on vacation, in case she needs me to write letters for her, or more likely, that it was selfish for me to go on vacation given that she had letters for me to write?]
Mom: I've lost sleep over this. They've sent a collection agency after me because they claim I haven't returned the router, but I returned the router... you know what, if you don't want to help me, fine, don't!
A.: I just said I would.
Mom: I'll send you the letter.
A.: Okay.
Mom: I don't like your tone of voice! You're superior and snooty. You're not... pleasant to talk to.
A.: Sigh.
Mom: Bye.
A.: Bye.

A war I can support


Monday, December 17, 2007

Call the $%^&*#! number on the bill

Mom has a knack for calling just before I'm about to go to bed. And there's no need for this, since there's the rest of the evening. Sure, 9pm is early, but I'm still jet-lagged and can't manage to sleep past 4am (even when I stay up), so why not go to bed earlier?

I had called earlier in the evening to check in after both our trips (they returned from Palm Springs late last night). Dad was cleaning off the car, so mom suggested we connect later.

She just called, and started talking:

Mom: So, I haven't been feeling well, but I just had to take this letter and look at the one Irina wrote... the thing with Verizon...
A.: Mom, can we do this tomorrow?

Tomorrow is going to be a long, busy day and I need to have a clear mind, i.e. a mind unpolluted with verizon drama, among other things.

Mom: Why don't you listen to what I have to say, and then you can do it tomorrow!

I wanted to say, "because I'm not going to concentrate right now" but opted not to.

A.: Fine.

Mom: So, Verizon sent me this bill... okay, fine, let's do this tomorrow. Bye.

All she would have to do is ask-- not in a, "itemize what's on your plate so that I can determine whether you're justified in asking for an extension" kind of way; how hard would it be to say, "I know you just got back from your trip and are catching up on things. Are you terribly busy this week?" And then I could say, "I have a lot going on right now, but later in the week I can help you out." That would be... constructive.

If you rent no other movie this or next year...

Just when I thought the tension headache induced by hearing Little Drummer Boy three hundred times (office hallway music, everywhere else), I recovered by (unexpectedly) laughing for an entire hour and a half.

Rent or netflix Idiocracy. This minute.

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Et tu, Robin Givhan?



By the way, in case it's not evident or at least derivable from the title, I (really) like Robin Givhan's column. I think that the haters need to get a grip and get some perspective. She write a fashion column, and a damn good one. She doesn't claim that a presidential candidate's cleavage is as important as her health care plan; she just recognizes that her purview is the former. It's not only okay to write about the fashion of politics, it's a public service. Appearance matters, and she makes sense of it for us.

Having said all that, I still don't like the holidays (except for the days off and the occasion to write holiday cards).

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Istanbul, Delphi, and the Athens airport

Dulles. The checkout counter guy was rude; the security checkpoint ID checker recoiled when she saw my passport photo (she apologized but I wasn’t bothered).

In the boarding area, I heard a few kids—and let me tell you, I’ve developed a sense for the ones that are going to be annoying. One already was: “look, daddy! Curtains!” I was relieved, as I boarded, to see her and her family far away in economy plus.

The flight over was not awful; I had a row to myself until someone jumped the seatbelt sign to usurp the other end of it before I could, but I shot him a dirty glare and occupied three of the five seats. The “breakfast” was a donut (230 cal, 110 g fat (!), 22 g sugar). And they wonder we have an obesity crisis.

The noiseblockers made a huge difference, on the way there and back. You still hear the kids, but their ability to gnaw at your soul is significantly curtailed. Ironically—and fortunately, since it makes you less dependent on a battery—they’re more effective for blocking non-ambient noise when switched off, perhaps because the ambient noise helps block out individual voices. That and they’re effective during takeoff and landing, when you have to turn off electronics. Whenever they announce that, I want to say, “could you ask those people to turn off their child for now, as well?”

Time for a public service announcement: DO NOT FLY LUFTHANSA. I had to wait in four different lines (directed to each by the one before) only to be told to go back to the gate to get my boarding pass, which for some reason I could not get when I checked in at Dulles). People were mostly rude, as well as useless, and the entire area was full of people annoyed that they were standing in the wrong line because airline personnel kept giving them the wrong information. The one thing I will say for Germans, or Europeans as a whole, is that they’re less likely to help themselves to part of your seat. That and they have the decency to serve alcohol for free, unlike United.

At the visa counter in Istanbul, the official handed back my passport as well as a fortune (I will be recognized and honored as a leader in my community). It was an auspicious welcome to a fabulous visit to an amazing city.

As soon as I got through immigration, Kate greeted me with a big hug and introduced me to her friend Ian. We then met the son of the family that runs Marmara Guesthouse, who drove us there along the Bosphorus Strait and the walls of the old city. Elif, his sister, checked us in and gave us lots of suggestions for exploring the city.

Istanbul is the only city in the world on two continents. I was under the impression that we’d be able to walk to Asia, but apparently they only open the Bosphorus bridge to pedestrians once a year, so a ferry would have to do. Even before we learned that the bridge was for motor vehicles only, Kate informed me that it was “quite a long walk to Asia.”

We settled in and went out for dinner and a walk. We learned quickly not to flush what I, after over a week with Kate, have come to call “bog roll.” Signs everywhere warn against it, including one in our hotel bathroom that adds, “Thank you for understanding the Turkish sewage system.”

The waiter in the restaurant we opted for (or were lured into— they have people standing outside to convince you to go in) was a bit odd. He—and he wasn’t the first— was confused by this arrangement Ian had going and was determined to figure out what was going on by asking if we’d had trouble finding a hotel and whether being married or not made a difference. He then said to Ian and Kate,

“I can’t understand you, perhaps because you’re American.”
“Actually, we’re English.”
“Why don’t you talk with British accents, then?”
“We do.”

He wasn’t the only one; it wasn’t long before I was asking them to repeat themselves and they were asking the same of me.

A.: I hear the hippodrome’s cool.
Ian: There’s a pajama school?

After dinner we went for a walk. It was Ian that the restaurant people approached (and approached constantly). The next day, carpet salesmen and, when it started to pour it down, umbrella salesmen joined their ranks. Some were witty (“how can I help you spend your money?” and, upon our return in the evening, “I’ve been waiting all day to sell you carpets!”); some were risqué (“which one is yours?” and “Oh, you have a harem! But you need six for a harem…”); all were persistent, but also cordial and not threatening. A lot of the time they made us laugh, and if nothing else, they inspired us to find alternate routes to and from the Guesthouse. It was almost like we were friends by the end of our visit—when we walked to the train station four days later, they said goodbye and wished us well.

Back at the hotel, I was caught taking notes and confessed that it was for the blog (well, travel notes, but they’ll go in the blog).

Kate, to Ian: Careful, or you’ll end up in the blog.
Ian: Will I be able to read it?
A.: The url’s clingingtomysanity…
Ian: The Euro is clinging to your sanity?

Kate said a few things that we deemed “too crass to blog,” which made it even funnier when we saw the Kras Airlines counter at Athens airport. Something had to be funny at Athens airport.

In preparation for the trip, I consciously chose clothing and shoes that would not scream “American.” Apparently, I did very well, because several locals asked me whether I was Turkish. One, handing out newspapers on the street, handed one to me (but not to Kate or Ian). It became a running joke.

I woke up the next morning at the call to prayer, but fell back asleep before I could decide whether or not it was time to get up. Thursday, our first (rainy) day, was great for all the touristy things: Topkapi Palace and its Harem; Hagia Sophia; Basilica Cistern; and the Blue Mosque. At Topkapi I found myself shopping for armor in the Armory; the maces looked like they could knock a screaming child right out.

On Friday we hit the Grand Bazaar and then the Spice Bazaar, where we tried samples of teas, lokum (Turkish Delight) and spices, and bought some to take home. Outside the bazaar buildings, street vendors sold similar wares. Dolce and Gabbana is apparently the knockoff of choice in Istanbul.

As we crossed the Galata Bridge over the Golden Horn, we made our way up to Beyoglu through what were apparently the fish bazaar; plumbing bazaar; satellite dish bazaar; and more). We enjoyed our walk across the bridge, in spite of the smell of fried fish. The bridge was always lined with fishermen.

Kate and I bought our tickets to Thessaloniki at the train station, once the terminal of the Orient Express. We walked around in that area and passed several restaurant lure-people, one of whom was particularly persistent but still friendly. We would walk by him several times over the next couple of days.

We explored Beyoglu and had a delicious, affordable dinner with a view. We walked back across the bridge and through the Sultanahmet neighborhood, local of Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque, as well as our hotel. We took pictures of them in the dark (mine came out not only dark, but with water spots), and I stepped aside to get a shot of HS without the cat that was sipping from the reflecting pool in the square in front of it. Kate said, “you could include the cat, then show it to Gracie and say, ‘this is what you could like if you lost weight.’” So I did. Feral cats abounded in both Istanbul and Greece, but for the most part they looked healthy and not emaciated.

On Saturday we took a cruise along the Bosphorus, stopping in Asia—in the village of Anadolu Kigali—for lunch and a hike to the castle ruins. From there we could see the Black Sea, and yet look back to downtown Istanbul in the other direction. We were very happy with our trip to Asia and with the ferry trip. We made it back to our hotel through the complete madness of Istanbul on a Saturday night, and had a wonderful dinner at Yeniyilda (“New Star”) in Sultanahmet.

We used the few words of Turkish we’d managed to learn. Everyone we ran into spoke English, but just lit up anyway when they heard “Tessekur Aderim” (sp?) for ‘thank you’ or other such words. Overall, people were incredibly friendly.

The next morning, after taking some pictures from the terrace of Marmara Guesthouse, we walked Ian to the tram he would take to the airport and said goodbye. Kate and I were curious whether we’d get a lot more unwanted attention without him; we didn’t.

We decided to just wander (our train was that evening), and wandered across the bridge and into Beyoglu, stopping for dessert along the way. We walked up and down Isteglal Caddessi and its side streets; bought some fruit and Borek Spinaca, i.e. Spanakopita for the road; explored a very cool used book bazaar; and had lunch in Cicek Pasaji (or Flower Arcade).

We crossed back to Eminonou on the bottom level of the bridge, passing a whole line of restaurant lure guys, each starting a conversation with us. Seeing that we were in a hurry, they didn’t press. The fourth or so that we passed, having seen us walk by the others, said, “I am the next one.” We couldn’t help but laugh.

We returned to Marmara Guesthouse to pick up our bags, said goodbye to Elif, and walked to the train station. We walked by the persistent restaurant lure guy, who wished us well, and realized we had an hour before we had to be at the train station, so we went back to his restaurant. He asked where we were going and offered to carry our bags, and was really surprised when we said, “here.” He took my bag, and said, “what is in here? I know! You killed your camel and stuffed it in your bag.” He chatted with us as we ordered, and, asked how he was, responded, “I am very sad, because you are leaving Istanbul.” Kate and I ordered lentil soup and a pizza to share. I dropped my lemon into my lentil soup, which splattered on my face and clothes. Kate lost it laughing; I got up and went to the washroom to clean up. One of the waiters asked her what happened and apparently also lost it laughing when she told him. He brought me a new lemon and made a flinching motion when I lifted it over my soup. From then on, when Kate and I directed the other to smile for a picture, the instruction was, “think lentil soup!”

We proceeded to the train station, settled into our couchette. As the train left Istanbul, we still saw the old wall of the city for quite a while. It was a very comfortable trip, apart from the (illicit) smoking in the corridor and the passport checks along the way. The customs guy asked us if we had anything to declare, looked skeptical when we sleepily shook our heads. “No? Nothing? Cigarettes? Whiskey? [pause] Drugs?”

We arrived in Thessaloniki only to learn that the next train to Athens was full. I’ll spare you the details, but we ended up getting bus tickets to Delphi (where we would have gone anyway but probably from Athens) and then spent the next few hours finding a tourist info center, and then booking it back to the train and bus stations to pick up our stuff and catch the bus. It was an interesting, pretty walk. The ride to Delphi was scenic, replete with hillside villages and the odd ruins. Even once it got dark, we could see orange trees and outlines of mountains.

The bus was practically empty, and mostly pleasant apart from the cigarette smoke. We had to change buses about half an hour beforehand, so I ran out and called a few hotels in Delphi, only to find out that they were closed for the winter. While I was at the phone booth, a local woman approached Kate with the name and phone number of Hotel Pan; I called, and they said they would expect us. The driver of the local bus enjoyed maneuvering the narrow streets and negotiating passage with the other cars. A cigarette in hand and Greek rap music blaring, he got us to Delphi.

Hotel Pan was beautiful—beautiful room, beautiful view. We went for a quick walk and quickly crashed. The only issue was that we were out of bog roll and the hotel manager had already gone to bed. He wasn’t particularly responsive the next morning, told us the cleaner would put some in the room. Luckily, she arrived early, and Kate could declare that we would no longer need to ration bog roll.

The next morning, we set out to find the oracle. I had the impression that if we just kept walking uphill we would get there, and Kate and I were both happy to just wander. This is how we ended up hiking on Mt. Parnassus.

A.: Keep your eye out for an oracle.
Kate: What might an oracle look like?
A.: Good question.

As we hiked, the rain got stronger and stronger. My waterproof shoes held out for a good hour, until they got wet from the inside. Kate and I couldn’t see where we were going because of the fog, but it was nice to be amid nature, having spent most of the previous day on a train and then bus. We kept asking the other if she wanted to turn around, but both decided to keep going. Then, the rain got really bad, and we approached some sort of natural stopping point, and turned around. Just as we did, the rain stopped, the sun started to come out, and the fog started to clear. A beautiful view opened up ahead of us, and we were completely surprised by it because we couldn’t see a thing on the way up. We had a lovely hike down and even dried off a bit.

We returned to the hotel to change clothes and camera batteries, and continued our search for the Sacred Precinct. When we found it, it was more amazing than we imagined. We visited the Temple of Apollo and surrounding ruins, and then crossed the street to see the Tholos. I thought that might be the oracle, as did Kate, since it’s the postcard image of Delphi. We asked it a question, at which point the cat sitting near it meowed, twice. We accepted the cat for the present-day incarnation of the oracle, even when we later read that the oracle was most likely up by the Temple of Apollo (the oracle referred to a being, rather than a set structure; the location referenced above is where the priestess conveyed the oracle’s pronouncements).

Delphi is SO beautiful. Even without the ruins it would be beautiful, but the ruins make it picture-perfect. We were very happy to be there, rain and all, in the off season, because it just wouldn’t be the same with hordes of people.

We headed back, ready for food, and debated whether we’d get a snack for lunch and big dinner, or the other way around.

A.: We can’t have spanakopita every day!
Kate: There’s no law that says you can’t.
A.: Okay, I can’t have spanakopita every day and wonder why I’m not as thin as I used to be.

We ended up getting—what else—spanakopita, which held us over to dinner. We set out for dinner and visited the few shops that were open in the off season. We chatted for a while with one shopkeeper, who said that over the weekends quite a few school groups and other visitors from Athens come, so it’s not as quiet, but that in the summer it gets crazy and very hot. She said that Canadians, who are often overweight, suffer when they come in the summer. Kate and I both figured she meant Americans but didn’t want to say it. She told us a little bit about the Greek language, and mentioned a common joke about how foreigners will say Calamari for “good morning” (which is “Kalimera”).

We weren’t quite ready for dinner so we stopped at an internet café. I discovered that Citi had absolutely gouged me with a foreign ATM withdrawal fee (the irony: my ING atm card had been in my wallet the whole time, but I canceled it before I found it).

We had a lovely dinner, although we had a feeling our waiter was a stoner. He had to ask Kate what her order had been, seconds after she placed it. I went to wash my hands, but the figures on the washroom doors were so androgynous that I couldn’t tell which was the ladies’ room. The one that had breasts also had a mustache. I guessed (and needless to say, nobody cared). We had a drink to toast our wonderful day. I remembered that before leaving the States, my friend May said to have an extra drink, for her, so I did.

We turned in and woke up the next morning in time to catch an earlyish bus to Athens. When we got to the bus station there, I watched our stuff while Kate went to find information about which bus to take into the city center.

Kate: Do you want the bad news, or the really bad news?
A.: [Blank stare]
Kate: The buses are on strike.

We went to get more info from the info desk. The woman there told us how to walk to the train station but couldn’t tell us whether it would be open, and told us the taxi drivers were gouging even more so than usual. We hoped to leave our bags there to explore Athens on foot. We stopped in the park across the street to eat our olives and to-mah-toes (as Kate calls them), as I couldn’t stomach anything else with phyllo dough (i.e. everything for sale at the bus station), and then lugged our stuff to the train station. My bag was awkward but waterproof, and not too bad carried as a backpack. Navigating Athens on foot was pretty scary, but we made it to the train station… only to find it closed. We opted to get a cab into the city center, but the cab drivers told us the city was cordoned off because of protests. We were about to walk, when he told us the metro would be open for another hour. We took it to Syndagma Square. On the way, a man on the metro gave Kate some basil, which made our journey fragrant if nothing else. We came out of the metro and saw for ourselves that the city was just not a good place to be at that time. We think the hill we saw from the square was the Acropolis, but didn’t wait too long to find out before we decided to cut our losses and head for the airport.

We took the metro as close to the airport as it would go, and then followed the locals out. We got some coffee and the only food available (the café was out of spanakopita, so we had to settle for cheese pie, i.e. spanakopita without the one healthy ingredient). It was quite good, but the phyllo dough diet was getting really old. The woman behind the counter told us to try to train, but it too had shut down. A guy on the street told us that all we could do was go across the street and hail a cab to the airport. He was very nice, and somewhat apologetic that our visit to Athens had come to this.

Kate: The people are really nice.
A.: Yes, the ones that don’t try to run us over are quite nice.
Kate: Well, yes… the ones we talk to.

We dallied on the highway for a while and took some pictures, and then tried to hail a cab along with a dozen other people. Eventually, a man who worked as a security guard at the airport hailed a cab and shared it with us, and we got there.

Kate and I had hoped to get earlier flights out of the city, but upon arrival we learned that all the flights for that day had been cancelled, because the air traffic controllers were on strike as well. So we made the most of what would be a very long night. I found myself at saying, “oh! Let’s explore the zeroth floor!” in a tone that should have been reserved for, “oh, look, it’s the Parthenon!”

Over dinner we had a slow-eating contest. Kate is one of the only people I’ve met who matches me in speed-eating (and actually in memory, too… we did a lot of reminiscing). Later, we had some wine, over which we played “car games.” She asked me to name all ten countries with four letters in the name (which Ian had asked her back at work); she and I together tried to name all the countries in Africa (surprisingly, we got all but three). We visited the really crappy but free internet terminals (which boot you off after ten minutes; have trouble sending e-mails—Kate drafted one to her husband about five times); and are difficult to type on) and did a few tours of lobby before settling into a perch on the second floor. Which was not carpeted. Tragi-ironically, it was the day of Kate’s (doctoral) graduation, but she’ll be able to formally graduate in the spring. Kate was able to sleep more than I did; I slept some, people watched more. In my few days in Greece, I noticed that people were very trendy, and skinny jeans abounded. Now, I respect Kate Moss as a fashion icon, but I also realize her iconic status is largely merited by the fact that she pulls off looks that few others can; most people have no business buying skinny jeans.

Morning came, and I was able to check in. I had to go through security, but Kate couldn’t get her boarding pass yet, so we had to say goodbye. Since we both arrived in Istanbul, it seemed so normal to be together again, as if nothing had changed since we met ten years ago or last saw one another five years ago. There were little reminders along the way that we would part ways, i.e. when she and Ian talked about what they would make with the spices they bought and I realized I wouldn’t be cooking with them. Nonetheless, it almost came as a surprise to me that we had to say goodbye, and I found myself choking back tears. I cried the whole way to the boarding area. I am capable of human emotion, who knew? Don’t tell anyone.

We both arrived home safely and much later, which is the important thing, but the rest of the trip was not fun. I was starving but hadn’t eaten in the airport because I was trying to acclimate myself to EST, and somehow the request for a veggie meal didn’t make it to Lufthansa (which is odd, because it’s automatically on my United profile, and it has in the past when I’ve flown partner airlines). It did not help that the flight attendant informed me that I had to order one in advance, and no I did not want a ham-covered tray anyway. What the cabin crew did do right was not support the asshole behind me who wouldn’t let me recline my seat even a little bit. I found a hand coming down on my head, and looked back, horrified. I reclined a little more. The asshole pressed the call button. I heard the flight attendant say, “you have enough room” and walk away. He continued to kick my seat out of revenge, but I managed to sleep anyway. Sadly, I was so preoccupied by the indignity of it all that I left my book—the one Kate gave me—in the seatback pouch. I realized it as soon as I went through immigration, i.e. as soon as it was too late to go back. I was crushed, both because of sentimental value and because I had gotten into it (I have since acquired another copy, although it's not as nice).

I won’t go into detail about why the next three hours in Frankfurt were not fun, except that Lufthansa not only doesn’t let you into the boarding areas if there’s a preceding flight there—so I had to continue to sit on hard floors—but also kept changing the gate. Lest you think I’m feeling sorry for myself, don’t; I read the NYT article about the state of children’s health in Afghanistan at the internet terminal in Athens airport, I know not to complain about air travel. I know even air travel can be a lot worse. Yet, I know it can also be a lot better.

The flight to Washington was full of screaming kids (the headphones REALLY do help) and other annoyances. A man got up to get something from the overhead bin and dropped a coke can on my hand; that hurts. The guy sitting next to me kept elbowing me. I don’t have a book, and unlike the way over, there’s one film screen for the whole cabin and I can’t see it (which is just as well because the films all suck). We arrive at Dulles and people take their sweet time getting off and making their way to the shuttle bus. Ironically (because I thought in Europe, I can’t wait until I’m somewhere where not everything smells of cigarette smoke), the shuttle bus smells of cigarette smoke. My point is, it was an unpleasant trip back.

It was SO worth it, though. It was a great trip.

Travel essentials

Priceless travel items:

Noise-blocking headphones (Panasonic)
Waterproof shoes that do not scream American, very comfortable (Totes)
Battery charger with adapter (and car charger for camping trips)
Hand sanitizer
Notepad (ironically provided by Google)
Altoids tin (for vitamins, gum)
Ballet flats
Waterproof duffle bag, below (it poured down rain in Istanbul and Greece, but my stuff stayed dry).

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

My absurd, authentic Athenian adventure

So, Athens is on transit strike-- metro, bus, air traffic control. am at airport waiting it out (wasn't going to contend with street protests and risk getting stuck).

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Because, that's why

I called from the airport.

Mom: You're there early... well, I suppose it is international. Do you have a book to tide you over.
A.: Of course.
Mom: How long is the flight?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: How do you not know?
A.: Well, it's a few hours from Frankfurt, and you've flown through Frankfurt.
Mom: That's long.
A.: Eh.
Mom: Do you have noiseblockers?
A.: I do.
Mom: Good ones?
A.: Yes.
Mom: How much did you pay?
A.: Does it matter?
Mom: Yes.
A.: Why?
Mom: Because I like to know everything that you do. How much?
A: I'm not telling you.
Mom: Why not?
A.: [Because you'll tell me it's not worth it and that i'm financially irreponsible]. I'm sorry but it's none of your business.
Mom: Fine! Have a good trip! Bye!
Dad: You should choose your words more carefully.
A.: Fine, call her back to the phone.
Mom: What?
A.: Dad said I shouldn't have said that.
Mom: Dad said? What about you?
A.: I'm not telling you what I paid for the headphones.
Mom: Bye.
A.: Have a good trip, too.

My blogging was just interrupted by a great quote:

Kate: A., I've got some bad news for you.
A.: What's that.
Kate: It's quite a long walk to Asia.

On that note, I have to go figure out what we're doing tomorrow. The fortune (i.e. fortune cookie fortune) I got with my sticker visa may provide inspiration.

More on why NOT to fly Lufthansa, why drugs for kids can be good, and, most importantly, how cool Istanbul is, later.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Blog for the road

Well, I made it home from work without falling asleep; finished packing; mailed the holiday cards; watered my plants; changed sheets from jersey to flannel; fixed the cheap (as in, cheaper than it costs) bed-bath-and-beyond makeshift clothing rack that collapsed in the room I've turned into a glorified walk-in closet; did yoga; and washed my hair.

I'm leaving for the airport in twenty-five minutes, which is plenty of time to share some thoughts as my hair dries.

I asked myself whether I was making things harder than they had to be-- should I have skipped the yoga, or the cards? Yoga's a wonderful thing, especially before a long flight. It's what keeps me sane and gives me focus when everything around is spinning. As for holiday cards, you may say, "but you don't even like the holidays!" And I'll say back, "holiday cards are the one thing I do like about the holidays." I don't always have time to do them, much less in time for the holidays, but I was determined this year. In this world of mass e-mails and blogs, holiday cards are a chance to pause and think about every person that made my year special. They're kind of a thank-you note for being in my life, and thinking about all the great people in my life makes me happy and gives me the perspective to get through all the craziness.

I won't check the blog, but I will probably check my e-mail, so if you have any requests from Turkey or Greece, let me know. Take care!

P.S. Happy Birthday, Martha!

Monday, December 3, 2007

NOT helpful

I did not want to do this, i.e. describe what the last three-four days have been like, but I have to now to set the scene for the mom blog that follows.

Friday: work, do yoga, see Edward II, meet friends for drinks, go to bed late.

Saturday: get up early, waste time with Delta and eventually manage to get a ticket home for the holidays, talk to Kate to tie up last-minute loose ends for the trip, do pilates, drop my car off for an oil change and alignment check, go to the gym while waiting for it, go to the mall because it's still not ready two hours later, go home and write holiday cards until late.

Sunday: get up early, do yoga, do two loads of laundry, vacuum, go feed my friend's cat, shop for clothes and shoes for the trip, blog about the annoying kids that made that last item particularly frustrating, discover that I can't find my ATM card, go into town for the Smith Club of Washington's holiday tea, go to my friend's house to see her before she moves to Ecuador for two years, go home, cancel ATM card, do another load of laundry, start packing, write holiday cards until late.

Monday: get up early, work, try to do pilates but discover that the dvd player on my laptop is broken, do some last-minute trip shopping, get home and try to figure out what's wrong with the dvd player on my laptop, even though I really should be packing (and writing holiday cards)...

...when I get a phone call from mom.

Mom: You're leaving tomorrow night?
A.: Yeah.
Mom: Well, I guess in that case you probably don't have time to write Verizon before you leave... you wouldn't believe the bill they sent me...
A.: No, no, I absolutely do not have time to write Verizon.
Mom: [Describes latest Verizon saga.]
Dad: Have you packed?
A.: Not completely.

We talk about other stuff. I say I should probably go but that I'd call tomorrow.

Mom: What time is your flight?
A.: At 10pm.
Mom: Oh, then you'll have time [to write the letter].
Mom, sweetly: You're coming on the 27th-- DO NOT USE THAT TONE OF VOICE WITH ME!--that's great (in a sweet voice).
A.: Yes, the 27th.
Mom: Why is it that you don't have time?
A.: Because I don't.
Mom: Say that again, politely.
A.: BECAUSE I DON'T. Goodbye, I'll call tomorrow.

This is SO mom. It's like asking me why I don't want to talk when I have a sore throat.

Now if you'll excuse me I have to pack and figure out whether my dvd player is under warranty.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Memo to parents

I already know that your kids make great nazguls; you do not need to convince me by bringing them shopping so that they can suck my will to live. I also know that strollers and such make for a great obstacle course, particularly in a busy store. You don't have to block passageways with yours to make your point. I don't really have time to shop (but I don't, or didn't, really have the right shoes for my trip, either). Please don't make it harder for me.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

(better) things come to those who ask

I don't like to ask for help. I don't like to ask for anything, really. But I'm learning to get over it.

I've been searching for a ticket to Boston for New Year's, so unsuccessfully that I was ready to compromise a lot on schedule and airport, until... to the rescue! I found an ideal set of flights for about $160 incl. taxes on Delta. And then I went to book it, and got a "system unavailable" message. Repeatedly. So I called and talked to India, and the first thing the woman in India told me was that she couldn't even see the flight that I was trying to book. She asked me if I was sure that was the time and flight number. Yes, I was accused of hallucinating. I directed her to, where she admitted that it did exist. She put me on hold for what seemed like hours, and by the time she got back the ticket was gone due to "schedule changes." She put me on hold again. To make a long story short, there was lots of holding, at the end of which I still could not by a ticket online; the outgoing flights I wanted had disappeared; and the flights remaining, some of them at twice the duration and a stopover in New York, had gone up in price by at least $50. I told India that this was unacceptable. I wanted back the wasted hour of my life, or at the least to not waste any more on looking for flights. So I asked to speak to a supervisor, and she gave me the line about how there were no supervisors, just coordinators. Bring it on! I got to talk to someone in Atlanta-- Thomas Friedman can say what he will, but let me tell you, there are advantages to talking to people in the country. I recounted my situation, and while she couldn't get me the evening flight that I'd originally wanted, she could get the only remaining one at the $160 rate (which I have to say, for the holidays, is really good). I'm glad I asked.

Of course, then I thought, this means I have to take all of Thursday off-- should I just take the week off so I can spend Christmas with my family, too? Suck it up, pay the extra $50-$100, maybe even fly through New York? And then I realized that I was Jewish and that anyway Christmas signified little more than rampant commercialism; that more time with my family, while a source of amusement for you, is often a source of insanity for me; that I didn't want to take that much time off; and that it was absurd to pay more to fly from DC to Boston through New York.

There was a great moment when I'd called Delta earlier over the pin issue. The recorded voice kept asking me whether I was calling for a new or existing reservation. I said "neither." The voice said "I'm sorry. I didn't understand you." I tried to press 0, to no avail. After a few iterations, I was annoyed, and answered in expletive. To which the voice responded, "I'm sorry. I didn't understand you."

Judith Warner's blog

I'm not even going to try the link. Google "Judith Warner" and "Helicopter Parenting Turns Deadly."