Wednesday, December 31, 2008

I. Don't. Know.

Oh, mom called me on my cell when I was at work yesterday.

Mom: I'm in Walmart. I've found everything but I'm still not sure what computer to get. There's a Gateway and an HP with the same specs, except that the HP is 17" and $200 more and the Gateway is 15.4. Is it worth the extra money?
A.: I don't know, mom.

We've been over this. Her excuse for dragging me to BestBuy the other day was she needed my advice on TVs, etc. I told her I was the wrong person to ask. I know nothing about electronics. But she keeps asking me.

Mom: Is it worth the difference?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: What do you think?
A.: I don't think it is.
Mom: I think it might be.

She's still undecided.

Obstacle course

I'm sleepwalking through getting ready for work. Mom pulls a big, furry coat out of the closet.

A.: I'm just going to wear the winter coat I have.
Mom: It's going to be very, very cold.
A.: Okay, mom!
Mom: Watch your tone!

I know she's trying to be helpful, but yammering at me when I'm getting ready in the morning is anything but. The following exchange occurred when I first came downstairs:

Mom: Take this [indicating a subway map and several small bills]. What you'll do is walk to Downtown Crossing-- do you remember how to do that?
A.: What are you talking about?
Mom: I'm telling you.
A.: No, you're telling me how. I have no idea what you're talking about.
Mom: The weather is going to be very, very bad.
A.: You want me to take the bus to work?
Mom: No, take the bus back.
A.: I'm going to Jay's.
Mom: Oh, right. I forgot. I spent all this time finding the bus schedules.
A.: I'm sorry, but I told you.
Mom: I know.

Then, I start making my breakfast.

Mom: You should have some fish with your hard-boiled eggs.
A.: I don't want any fish right now...
Mom: I'll get some herring out.
A.: No, thanks, mom.

Dad leaves for work out the back door, which is closer to the driveway, but doesn't lock from the outside.

Mom: Lock the door behind him.
A., dealing with breakfast: Okay.
Mom: Do it right away.
A.: He hasn't walked out the door yet!

And then the winter coat thing. Like I said, I know she means well, but to me it's a barrage of offers that I have to fight off. It's like an obstacle course I have to get through to get to work.

Resolutions and responses

John Kelly on some resolutions for us all.

Also, I respond to your comments/e-mails:

On addiction: But then it's not an addiction, in the diagnostic (rather than pop-culture) sense of the word. Figuratively, I am definitely addicted to chocolate.

A few years ago, I told a friend—a recovering alcoholic—that I was really looking forward to a reception the following week because I needed a gin and tonic. Was that bad? Looking forward to a drink? I didn't keep the ingredients around couldn't be bothered to go into a bar to have one, but I couldn't wait for the one that would just be there. Her response was, anyone who can wait a week for a drink isn't an addict.


I wish I were a comedic genius. I do. But I couldn't make this stuff up, and actually, I'm not great at making stuff up, period.... which is probably a good thing in this day and age of false memoirs. I blame Rigoberta Menchu. Have I already harped on her? She made up a personal history and got away with it by pleading cultural relativity, and people bought it. No wonder copycat criminals prospered.


On Milgram/Zimbardo

The Milgram experiment can be considered flawed for multiple reasons, but I completely disagree with the one you cited, i.e. "because they are being ask to do something that they believe is "right and proper," they are told they are working with volunteers and there are many contexts that you may cause someone pain for good end -- like giving a kid a shot, even when he's crying and saying he doesn't want one."

Giving a kid a shot is different from inflicting punishment for the sake of inflicting punishment, but more importantly, the whole point is "being asked to do something that they believe is 'right and proper.'" Nazi prison guards, too, were doing something they were told was right and proper. Even without regard to abuse of authority—just following it—Milgram's results tell us plenty. There are a lot of atrocities in this world that result from blind obedience to authority.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008


Is the T a joke? Do people really commute on that thing? Did I once think it passed for a modern, urban transit system? I mean, the new glass-encasing at Charles/MGH is nice. The doubled fare, not so much. But it's so ratty. I mean, people complain about the metro in DC, as well they should sometimes, but perhaps their benchmark is Shanghai or Moscow.

Complaints aside, I love this city. I love walking around it, even in the cold. I have years and years of memories here. It's good to be in the city, working-- in spite of my Newyearsitis/senioritis, which makes it hard to focus-- because otherwise I'd just be following mom to Walmarts and AJ Wright's. I'm loving the freedom of spending time in the city and going whereever I want. Why don't I get out more all the time?

Jay has gotten obnoxious and must be stopped:

I think we may have to come up with a handicap system for those of us who are *ahem* blessed with abundant trivial knowledge (although everyone knows sports questions are my kryptonite) since I can get kinda rapacious with trivia pie pieces...

Tomorrow we'll see who gets the most trivia pie. Mmm, pie.

The news

My parents have Fox News on in the other room. They're talking about the 'sloppy journalism' of the mainstream media for "its" glowing-- no pun intended--coverage of the President Elect's pectorals. Apparently, sloppy journalism isn't a problem when the subject is governance.

Speaking of governance, there's a lot of good stuff here, but here are my favorite parts:
Foulke quickly acquired a reputation inside the Labor Department as a man who literally fell asleep on the job: Eyewitnesses said they saw him suddenly doze off at staff meetings, during teleconferences, in one-on-one briefings, at retreats involving senior deputies, on the dais at a conference in Europe, at an award ceremony for a corporation and during an interview with a candidate for deputy regional administrator.

"This is critical," Foulke said, "to the company." He paused briefly before clarifying, "to the country." Foulke resigned Nov. 9 and the next day began work at an Atlanta law firm that represents companies accused of workplace safety violations.

Also, check out Richard Cohen's column.

A ce soir

I'd like to respond to a handful of your comments, as well as comment on this work of genius, but I have to run to work for now and dinner afterward... but I'll respond tonight.

Odds and ends

Last night

Mom: Where did you end up going?
A.: Just Starbucks.
Mom: Apparently, they have terrible coffee-- just terrible. They had stores closing...
A.: I don't think the quality of the coffee was the driving factor, but I wouldn't know. I had tea.
Mom: [Giggle]
A.: What?
Mom: That blouse is too small on you. Your stomach is too big.

For the next half hour or so, mom would look at my stomach and giggle every few minutes. I don't know whether it was more or less annoying than commenting on how dumb a movie is at a similar frequency.

At Starbucks

Martha: I'm too busy being concerned about my electrical wiring to care whether or not I'm in a relationship.
A.: Yeah, I think I aspire to having so little house stuff to deal with that I actually care about relationships.

Much less fun would be this relationship-house double-whammy.


Tracy: Is there a reason she can't just be supportive?
A.: I think there are several, one being that she feels threatened that I managed to make a major life decision without her input or financial support. But it will go on-- she will continue to drive by every other Newton McMansion and ask whether my house is that size.
Martha: But your parents don't live in a Newton McMansion. That's the irony-- our parents wouldn't be able to buy here now.
A.: Right.

Monday, December 29, 2008

It was lovely to go to work today

Mom: It doesn't work. That blouse and jacket just don't go together.
A.: Enough, mom.
Mom: Can't I state my opinion?
A.: I got your opinion the first ten times.
Mom: I just said it.
A.: You said it this morning, too.
Mom: No, that was about the fit. Now I noticed that the colors don't go.

This morning

Mom: Why don't I find you something more presentable to wear?
A.: I'm wearing this, let it go.
Mom: My dear, I was thin once, too. As your grandmother would say, 'eto nye kotlyeti a lyeti.' [Translation: It's not the cutlets, it's the years.]

I did not say, "I was thin(ner) last week, and I'll be thin again in two." And even more so in ten. I have no intention of threatening the endangered species around which I will be snorkeling with the gravitational pull of my stomach, if that's her concern.

Mom: Oh, and your hair is like Hagrid's.

Off to work I go

Mom: Your hair looks unbrushed.
A.: [Shrug]

My hair never looks brushed. There is little I can do to my hair to give it the appearance of being brushed, and that little involves a lot of product. And all the product in my parents' house expired at least fifteen years ago.

Mom: That blazer is too small for you.
A.: It's fine, mom.

If it doesn't look three sizes too big, mom sees it as too small. The blazer is fine.

Can you imagine what it would be like if I took her to work with me?

Mom: That sentence doesn't work.
Mom: You did that wrong.
Mom: Why did you do that?
Mom: You shouldn't have done that.

On the bright side, we can both benefit from ten or so hours apart.

Milgram Revisited

There are certainly occasions--many of which involve air travel--in which I am willing to inflict pain, but I'd like to think I wouldn't zap someone just because someone else told me to.

Sunday, December 28, 2008


Mom: Where's Heather these days?
A.: Here...
Mom: She lives here?
A.: No, she lives in London. She's in town for the holidays. We have New Year's Eve plans...
Mom: Is she married?
A.: No.
Mom: Does she have a boyfriend?
A.: I believe so.
Mom: Oh, well as long as she has a boyfriend. What's she doing in London?
A.: Working...
Dad: Doing what?
A.: Fundraising.
Dad: What an odd thing to do as a profession.
A.: Is it? It's a really important profession to do well.
Dad: Who is she fundraising for?
A.: The Royal Ballet, I think.
Mom: Where are your New Year's Eve plans?
A.: At Jay's, I think.
Mom: I hope you don't expect me to pick you up from there?
A.: I'll ask if I can crash there.

After all, none of us want a repeat of last year's adventures in picking me up from Jay's on New Year's Day, as comic as it was. The urine had hit me over the head, according to mom, as some of you will recall.

Heather and Jay, I am not sure why mom is so concerned about your respective boyfriends. I think it's because she cares.

Dad's fundraising comment is curious because I used to work in fundraising--Development, we call it euphemistically so people don't think we're telemarketers. I say that glibly but it's a very important job and it takes a lot of skill and specialized knowledge. Heather and I worked in development together many years ago. We're both, separately, having dinner this week with our former boss from those days. Anyway--speaking of those days--my parents certainly didn't come close to acknowledging that fundraising was a career, and did everything in their power to show me the light as they saw it, i.e. that that job was a career dead end and that I was wasting my youth. They--well, mom--even had a friend leave me messages about how accepting that job would be tantamount to professional suicide. Don't listen to what they told you in the interview, mom said-- you will be telemarketing-- I know. That was over eight years ago, and they still don't see fundraising as a profession?

I'm an addict

When I read the paper, check my e-mail or blog, mom becomes concerned that I am addicted to the internet. Now, she is also concerned that I am addicted to TV.

Which is really funny, because I don't have a TV. I had one and did not take it with me when I moved because I didn't watch enough TV to justify the space it would take up.

It's not that I don't ever watch TV. In fact, I watch every episode of the Daily Show and Colbert Report that I can, and I make a point to catch How I Met Your Mother. I've heard good things about 30 Rock, and The Office, too. I also like to occasionally veg out and watch whatever is on. I know that addicts are the last to recognize their own signs of addiction, but I would hardly describe myself as a TV addict.

My parents, on the other hand, always have the TV on, if only as background noise. So for the last couple of days, I've changed the channel. Animal Planet gets old after a while. Yesterday, "Failure to Launch" was on. It wasn't bad; it was actually exactly the kind of thing you want to veg out with on a rainy Saturday night. Tonight, "Click" was on. It was a bit bad, but again, decent veg movie. Collectively, they inspired the following commentary from my mother:

-What just happened?
-Do you watch this much TV at home?
-Who's that?
-Why did he do that?
-In my opinion, this is a pretty dumb movie.
-What'd she say?
-This is still going on? It's not over yet?
-What just happened?
-Yes, I see why you shouldn't get a TV.
-This is still on?
-No, no I wouldn't rather watch something else. I just thought it was ending.
-Who's that?

And so on.

Not too different from her commentary on music:

-I don't like this song.
-This is entirely lacking in melody.
-You like this song?
-Oh, goodness. This song is awful.
-Do you never listen to classical music?

It's even funnier because she says something like that (a) every time a new song comes on the radio and (b) within the first five seconds. Actually, I'm really proud of myself for resisting and refraining from saying, "Mom, even Rick Warren likes Melissa Ethridge."


Although I like my job, a lot, my Sundays are not generally characterized by a feeling of excitement about going to work on Monday. Until now.

It's not the commentary (about the weight, the house, etc.). It's the time spent dilly-dallying and shopping. I hate shopping. And yet, before we were allowed to go for a walk, we had to go to Best Buy.

Mom: This is walking. We're walking across the parking lot.

The way to the mall was fun, too.

Mom: Is your house like that one?
A.: No. Smaller.
Mom: All the bedrooms are upstairs?
A.: Yes.
Mom: That's too bad.
A.: Why?
Mom: Otherwise you could convert one to an addition to the kitchen.
A.: My kitchen is plenty big enough.
Mom: No, it's not. You need room for pots and pans, for the food processor, for the sealer, dehydrator...
A.: I don't have any of that stuff. I don't need it.
Mom: Well, I guess not, not as long as you're still single.

I'm not sure what that has to do with it, but I wasn't about to waste my breath letting mom know that my smallish kitchen and singlehood bothered her more than they bothered me. If she enjoys taking digs at my house, that's something I'm more than willing to let her have.


Last night

Mom, matter-of-factly: Why is your stomach so big?
A.: [Shrug]

I could go on about food and my family. I've blogged about how mom likes to announce that she's not hungry and talk about how little she eats, but I want to return to food, not people's issues with food.

Mom rolls her eyes at dad's Sunday morning herring-and-potatoes ritual. I eat neither herring or (non-sweet) potatoes, unless tehy're deep fried, so I don't partake in it, but I see no harm in letting dad enjoy his tradition. I think it particularly annoys mom because it falls into the category of things dad learned as a child and can't seem to get over, like his dislike of oatmeal. She sees it as a continuation of his stubbornness and inflexibility, much like his resistance to online bill pay.

I'm not going to tell other people how to have their food, but I do ask that they let me have mine whichever way I like, which is often not how my parents think it should be. No, I do not want sour cream in my mushroom soup. I know that every other Russian has sour cream in their soup but I've never liked sour cream in mine so let it go. And when I'm cooking something, don't salt it for me, don't add anything, just let me do my thing.

So I set some peppers to heat in a skillet and went to read the paper. I reemerge to find them swimming in butter. I know he means well, but I have to ask WTF.

A.: WTF??
Dad: There was no butter.
A.: There was some-- it's a nonstick skillet and now my food is drowning.
Dad: You know, the vitamins in orange vegetables need fat for absorption.
A.: There's fat in cheese, which is also going to go in there, and there's fat in the eggs that I'm going to put in there too. I don't like my vegetables drowning.
Dad: There's fat in eggs?
A.: [Rolling my eyes]
Dad: It would have burned.
A.: No, it would not have burned.

And we've been over this. That's what frustrates me. Just leave my food alone.

Dad: What did you want the potato stock for?
Mom: For A.'s mushroom soup, and for our soup if there's any left over.
A.: You can take it all, I don't need the stock.
Mom: The soup will be like a porridge.
A.: I like thick soup.
Mom: Traditionmally, pertatro stock...
A.: MOM!
Mom: What?
A.: Chew first, then talk.
Mom: What, could you not understand me?
A.: Understanding is not the issue.
Mom: By the time I'd have finished chewing, there would have been nothing to say. Table conversation moves fast, you have to keep up.

Sunday morning roundup

Nicholas Kristof on change I'd really like to believe in, although let's also start harping on about the clusterf* humanitarian crisis in DRC.

Speaking of clusterf*s, have you read about WaMu?

Frank Rich and Timothy Egan keep it real. Both must-reads.

John Bemelmans Marciano's poignant, powerful op-ed contribution makes me want to read his book, of which I hadn't heard until now.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Good thing I'm working Monday

There's another thing, in addition to what day I'm getting in, that mom can't seem to keep track of.

On the phone with a friend:

Mom: How old? I'm not sure. V., how old is she? 33? [Pause] Oh, 31. She's 31.

As for dad, he's unable to distinguish celebrities that don't even look alike. He has always had this issue. If he saw any blond woman on TV, he'd say, "that's Britney Spears." Well, Failure to Launch is on TV, and Bradley Cooper's in it.

Dad: I almost didn't recognize Adam Sandler.
A.: That's because that's not Adam Sandler.
Dad: Yes, it is. It definitely is.
A.: No it isn't!

It's hard...

After a morning of dilly-dallying, we finally made our way outside for a walk and trip to the Russian food store. I even made it to the car... and waited for a few minutes before my parents arrived. Mom came up, in a leapard-print raincoat and felt hat with a floret. She started to say something about my appearance but I cut her off.

Mom: You look...
A.: You're dressed like a pimp.
Mom: A what?
A.: A pimp.
Mom: What's that?

I explained.

Dad: In Odessa, it's called a "Baldasha."


Mom, out of nowhere: You know, you've become somewhat arrogant?
A.: Have I?
Mom: Yes. Take note of that.

"Arrogant" is her new favorite word/measure of people. She was going on the other day about how someone or other wasn't arrogant at all. I guess I'd better be arrogant for the two of us.

On the topic of breakfast...

Mom: It's not healthy to get up at 4am.
A.: First of all, I usually get up at 5am, but I wanted to get a full work day in and not feel rushed before I left for the airport. But I think as long as you get enough sleep, the exact hours are less important.
Mom: You get up at 5am?

This shouldn't be news. After all, I've gone over this, at least in the context of why I don't like it when she calls me after 10pm.

A.: Usually, yes.
Mom: How long does it take you to get to work?
A.: About 35 minutes door-to-door.
Mom: So you get to work at 5:35?
A.: Well, no. I shower, dress, feed the cat, have breakfast, read the paper, do yoga sometimes...
Mom: Oh. Well, I don't usually have breakfast.
A.: I don't function if I haven't had breakfast.
Mom: Eating is overrated.


But first, breakfast yesterday

A.: Could you please not talk with your mouth full?
Mom: Why not?
A.: Because.
Mom: Seriously, why? Is it an aesthetic thing?
A.: Well, yes, I suppose. It is very unpleasant to watch.
Mom: Well, then, don't watch.

Then, this morning

A.: Mom, please don't talk with your mouth full.
Mom: I had something to say.
A.: Well, say it after you finish chewing.
Mom: You'll have moved on to a different subject.

The subject we were on was lactose intolerance. My parents think I'm full of shit because I told them that most of the earth's population doesn't digest lactose.

Dad: Tell that to the people in the country side around where we grew up.
A.: Those people are white. White people, by genetic mutation, are less prone to lactose intolerance than people of other races.
Mom: It sustains babies.
A.: They often grow out of it.
Dad: What does race have to do with it?
A.: Genetics. Biology.
Mom: What does biology have to do with it?

At that point, I got up to blog.

Over the last few days, I've been amazed at my parents' parallel grasp of things. And not just because they watch Fox News--I don't mean political things-- although FN did come out with a gem yesterday that I couldn't help but overhear in the next room.

Anchorwoman: In a major setback in the War on Terror, Pakistan is moving troops away from the border with Afghanistan...

A., to herself: Okay, shithead, I hate to break it to you, but if Pakistan and India go to (hot) war, we'll have bigger problems than the manufactured concept that is the war on terror.

But I digress.

Over the last few days, my parents and I have had conversations about a number of non-political things. Like bill pay. It took forever to convert my dad to online bill pay, and he insists on writing down confirmation numbers. Then, yesterday, the refi issue came up again.

Dad: Why are they sending an appraiser?
A.: I imagine because the value of the house impacts the level of risk. If it's worth less than the amount of the loan, that wouldn't be good for the bank.
Mom: What does risk have to do with interest rates?
A.: A lot.

I did not commit to memory the back and forth of the rest of this conversation, but it was painful.


Mom: I don't think they gave you a very good rate. They're giving out 3.5.
A.: There has never been a mortgage rate of 3.5 percent.
Mom: There's never been a mess like now.
A.: In a mess like now, banks are not going to make credit easier or less expensive. Would you underwrite, in this real estate market, a home loan of 3.5 percent? Would you invest in one?

And back to this morning

Mom: Your friends who live near you--is their house normal-sized?
A.: It's about the same... probably a bit bigger.
Mom: Really?
A.: It's a city, mom. The houses are not huge.
Mom: This is a city.
A.: I mean, there are huge houses in Alexandria; that is beyond dispute. But they are generally farther from the city center and farther from the metro.
Mom: Who needs to live near the metro?
A.: I guess among people who don't work, no one.
Mom: Well I guess if you're single it makes sense.
A.: I'm not sure what that has to do with it, but when I was house shopping, proximity to the metro was perhaps the single most important factor, and for what it's worth, many house-hunting couples I know were looking for that as well.

Besides, I don't *need* a bigger house. Unlike mom, I don't spend my free time acquiring crap that I then need to find room for. I like the fact that the relative lack of storage space in the house forces me to think carefully about what I acquire and keep. I've said as much. The message isn't going through.

Mom: Do you need a vacuum sealer?
A.: No.
Mom: How are you going to preserve frozen and marinated mushrooms?
A.: I guess I'm not.
Mom; Do you need...
A.: No. I don't need anything, apart from an oven rack. Oh, and a circuit tester. Thanks for reminding me.

I'm not sure why mom is having so much trouble understanding the state of the Washington area property market. To put things in perspective, a recent article in the Post referred to "homes in the "middle range" of prices, $500,000 to $700,000."

That's "middle range." Middle. Range. We are not in Kansas (no offense).

In case you were wondering, what constitutes middle range in the Washington area is not within my price range. Therefore my house is on the smaller side. If I say so myself, it's pretty impressive that I was able to buy it at all. So maybe mom could start thinking about it from that perspective, rather than harping about how small it is, which, since I have not made a second career of crap collection, is not an issue for me.

Bob Herbert sums it up nicely: "We need to start living within our means and get past the nauseating idea that the essence of our culture and the be-all and end-all of the American economy is the limitless consumption of trashy consumer goods."

Mom has the first half of that down... but living within our means doesn't mean buying limitless trashy consumer goods and cluttering your house with them just because they're cheap, and finding it hard to understand why anyone wouldn't need a basement.

Friday, December 26, 2008


Mom: I always like it when you're here. I hate making salad.

Mom: I don't like this song.

Mom: I don't like this song.

Mom: Do you seriously like this music?

As surprised as mom is, on a daily basis, that I've put on weight, she sure expects me to eat a lot.

A.: Is that whole thing for me? I can't eat that much.
Mom: Try.
A.: I don't want to.

As usual, mom offered up just about everything you can imagine.

Mom: We also have cauliflower.
A.: I think we have enough food, mom.
Mom: Should I put out the marinated mushrooms?
A.: No.

In the end, she did fry up some mushrooms and cauliflower for me (i.e. on a separate, meatless skillet). I was too full to have any, decided to save it for breakfast. My parents don't really do tupperware, so I transferred it to a plate, over a paper towel to soak up the substantial amount of grease.

Mom: What are you doing? You're going to remove all the moisture! You're so... orthodox in everything you do.
A.: How's that?
Mom: You just are.
A.: Shrug.

I've never really liked the taste or texture of excessive grease, but if she wants to search for a deep-seated personality trait behind that preference, I'm not going to stop her.

Shopping Day

I told mom I didn't want to waste the day shopping, and that we should go for a walk, but she had shopping in mind and tricked me, and by the time we were done, the clouds were out. But I digress.

Mom; Do you want those pots?
A.: No.
Mom: Why not?
A.: I have pots.
Mom: Yours aren't very good.
A.: How do you know?
Mom: I just figure.

A few minutes later

Mom: Do you want that coffeemaker?
A.: No. I don't drink coffee often enough to justify the counter space it would take up.
Mom: Coffee is healthy. Don't be so politically correct.

Then we went to Trader Joe's, where anyone with the a modicum of store smarts shops with a basket rather than a cart.

A.: We don't need a cart, mom.
Mom: I like having a cart.

The store wasn't even that crowded, but it doesn't have to be to make pushing a cart trouble.

Mom: Okay, you push the cart.

Then we were looking for a line, and mom saw what was then the shortest and ran toward it, cart and all. I stopped her because she was about to run over a pointsettia.

A.: Mom!
Mom: What? Now that woman beat us to the line.
A.: That wouldn't have happened had we just taken a basket.

She went and shopped for flowers. I transferred the contents of our cart into a basket.

On the way to Trader Joe's, a home appraiser called.

Mom: What rate did you get on your refi?
A.: I got 5.125% on the first trust and 6.5% on the second.
Mom: A.! I told you, I could get you 3-point-something off our equity!
A.: I'm fine with the rate I got.
Mom: Seven percent is a lot!
A.: No, it isn't. I don't want to deal with borrowing money through your home equity line.

We've been over this. Mom has offered to loan me money throughout the whole process and I should be grateful that she's supportive, but I want none of it. I can handle my mortgage. I can't handle the prospect of mom's involvement in my mortgage.

Whatever works

A creative counterinsurgency tool.

Cookie monster

Mom becomes very aggressive when someone disagrees with her, even about little things. I'm not sure she realizes it.

I'm not even talking about how rude and annoying she gets when someone disagrees with her about big things, like politics. I've often blogged about the circular logic, ad hominum attacks, etc. that make any serious discussion painful.

Recently, though, I've noticed a broader aggressive streak. I first observed it on mom's birthday.

Nina: That's a good idea. Alternatively, you could request gift cards to Amazon.
Mom: No! I know what works for me.

Leaving aside the issue of tackiness of asking for specific gifts, which I'll acknowledge is culturally relative, there was no need to snap at Nina.

Just now:

Mom: I should fast again. Now that I've started eating, the pain to my arm has returned.
A.: Well, it's also healthier to just not overeat, i.e. to eat in moderation.
Mom: No! Fasting is an entirely different thing.

Do you see why this conversational style doesn't exactly encourage... well, conversation?

I overeat when I'm at my parents house because there is food everywhere. I am not generally addicted to food, though. It's an out-of-sight, out-of-mind thing. I don't buy cookies or ice cream because I am incapable of moderation in their presence, but I don't crave them when I don't have them. That is why I am not three hundred pounds. But when they're there, I don't eat a single cookie; I eat a whole box. I don't have half a cup of ice cream; I have a pint's worth. When they're not there, I don't think about them. Really. I never sit there and think, a cookie would be great right now.

I don't blame my parents for keeping lots of food around, but I do blame them for raising me to ignore "full" signals. If I ever opted not to keep eating, I was expected to make excuses.

Dad: Have an apple.
A.: No thanks, I'm not hungry.
Dad: An apple's not food.

There are things I'm addicted to, i.e. things I crave without immediate temptation. Yesterday, mom had accidentally pilfered and hidden my New Yorker, the winter fiction issue. I was apoplectic. When I don't have a good book, I get withrawal symptoms. I'm addicted to books and crosswords. But I have a hard time ignoring food.

Mom just came up and offered me a very tacky brooch. It had a bunch of bells on it, and a bow on top.

Mom: This goes very well with business suits.
A.: No thanks, that's not really my style.
Mom: You are just like your father! Such orthodoxy!
A.: It's just not my style.
Mom: You took all the worst from both me and him.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

December Mom Madness

We're making dinner. I turn on the radio.

Mom: Use the TV-- we have a bunch of music channels.

I turn on the tv, flip around between Classic Rock and the 80s.

Mom: I don't like this song.

minutes later

Mom: I don't like this song.

minutes later

Mom: I don't like this song. Only for you I tolerate this music.
A.: I'm just going to turn it off.
Mom: No, no listen to whatever you want.
A.: I'd rather not. It's really not worth it if you're going to complain the whole time.
Mom: I am not complaining the whole time! You're too sensitive! Whatever!

We've hit my hair, my weight, amebas, and now my being overly sensitive. I wonder if it's time to set up a holiday edition of Mom Madness.

Actually, she missed an opportunity this morning. I asked about a family friend.

Mom: She's fine. She has a nanny now for her son.
A.: She has a son??
Mom: You didn't know?
A.: How am I supposed to know if you don't tell me?
Mom: Anyway, she's doing well.

We got to talking about her. Mom said that her mom exposed her to a lot of activities as a child, including ice skating. I braced myself for the usual "and we, too, tried to teach you just about everything and you sucked at all of it," but it didn't come.

So I don't have any predictions for what's next. We'll see.

During dinner

Mom: I thought you'd have moved on to classical by now.

For mom, taste is a linear thing-- there's good taste, and bad taste. And if I don't like what she likes, it's a matter of bad taste. It would be a stretch to figure that I like both classic rock and classical music; one represents bad taste, the other good. And good taste is something that will come, will evolve. If I don't like a painting that she does like, it's because I haven't gotten there yet. It'll come. That's the kind of evolution she does believe in.

About fourteen hours

I wondered how long it would take for my mother to "notice" that I've gained weight. That's another thing that intrigues me: over the last year and a half, she's surprised to "find" that I've gained weight. Now, if I'd actually gained weight cumulatively, I'd be a lot bigger than I am. Apparently, I haven't gained enough weight that she commits to memory the fact that I've gained weight. So, her remarks about my weight tend to point out that I'm not as thin as I was in my twenties.

She came up and put her arm around me.

Mom: It used to be that your ribs protruded. Now, you have... a layer there.

Ten minutes later

Mom: Your hair used to be parted differently. Did you change it?
A.: No.
Mom: Yes, you did. I can tell.

I don't change my hair. There are two parts to that: I don't know how to change my hair, and my hair is not amenable to deliberate change. It does what it does.

My hair--like that of many a Jewish woman-- is the subject of as much comment as my weight, perhaps because (no pun intended) my dad feels free to weigh in on it as well. I tend to ignore both of them. The comments are annoying, but I don't take them personally, and sometimes I don't disagree-- I mean, I just told you, my hair has a mind of its own.

What actually bothers me more is when people other than my parents comment about my hair, because they suggest I should lighten it, and while I'll admit that my hair is difficult with regard to texture, the color is just plain beautiful and there is no reason on earth to mess with it. Some people think, reflexively, that blond is better, and they are welcome to abuse their own hair with bleach as the weapon of choice. I'll stay with my beautiful, rich dark brown.

Writing through Christmas

Don't think it odd, when you read all this, that I blogged a lot on Christmas Day. After all, I don't celebrate Christmas, and to the extent that I celebrate proverbial Christmas, proverbial Christmas came early this year-- in early November to be exact-- although the bulk of the gift will remain unwrapped for another few weeks, a predicament that Jon Stewart captures brilliantly:

Speaking of the Daily Show, please watch this moving tribute:
But I digress, from why I write. I write because I'm a writer. Whether I'm a good writer is immaterial; I'm not saying I'm not-- after all, you're still here. I write because that's how I process the world. For that reason, I may as well write skillfully-- just like I may as well cook skillfully, since I like to eat.

I only kind of knew that this is what I was doing. I mean, I had to, because in many situations, I couldn't wait to write about what I'd just seen, done, experienced. Writing about Nicaragua kept me sane throughout my summer there; writing about Russia kept me objective; writing about my mom keeps me whole.

It really hit me, though, when I read it in someone else's, i.e. Wendy Wasserstein's, words. She was writing about a communist-era trip to Romania--she was chaperoning a school trip for her niece--during which her notebooks were confiscated, and she couldn't imagine living with the restrictions on the artists and writers who lived there. After all, writing is the way she processes the world.

I've also sensed this, in a different way, in writers who find themselves writing to process tragedy in their own lives, such as Joan Didion and Mariane Pearl, and just recently Roger Rosenblatt. I sense that they don't have a choice, even if they don't want to share. Writing is what they do.

So you write well, or as best you can. At work, I have to write well to minimize confusion, and work, for the reader. Not at work, I write as well as I know how, because it's how I process the world, so I'd hate to be misunderstood.

Are those my only choices?

Let's continue to consider mom's statements and actions through the lens of what should and shouldn't surprise. Almost everything both does and doesn't.

It doesn't surprise me that mom didn't know when I was getting in, because she's not attentive to detail, particularly detail that she has to read through a whole e-mail to find.

It does surprise me because mom is so nosy about my comings and goings. What did you do today, why aren't you home in this weather/at this hour, why are you home, when are you getting home, and so on. So you'd think she'd pay attention when I do share with her the details of where I'll be and when.

A few old themes are resurfacing.

Mom: Do you believe in a higher being, or that we evolved from an ameba?

Mom: Did you hear me?
A.: No. I'm reading.


Mom: How is Jay?
A.: He's good.
Mom: Does he have a boyfriend?

I don't know why, but for some reason I knew--yesterday, before I left, that she would ask me that. At least she didn't ask why. I honestly do not take it upon myself to wonder why anyone (myself included) is single. I do sometimes wonder how it's possible that certain other people are not single, because they're pretty f*ing annoying.

Mom: Almonds are good for you.
A.: Yes. I actually just bought a ton of almonds.
Mom: We have a lot of almonds!
A.: Yeah, but this way I don't have to transport them back.
Mom: Nothing wrong with the almonds we have.
A.: I don't mind buying my own almonds, mom.

Recipe for dysfunction

It's expected that some sort of fight will break out over breakfast. Mom's usually in a bad mood for some reason and looks around for fodder-- parsley left out on the counter, perhaps. The ingredients of this morning's argument were more complicated:

-Dad does like to describe things he doesn't like as 'cheap.'
-Mom likes to criticize dad's food hangups, and also likes to attribute tastes in food to deep-seated spiritual roots, rather than simple preferences. I have oft been annoyed at having to justify my dislike for a food, or even not being in the mood for it.

Mom: Was the portwine out?
Dad: It was, I'd stuck it back in the fridge.
Mom: I like it.
Dad: I don't. I think it's cheap.
A.: I generally like it.
Dad: Real cheeses aren't like that.
Mom: Of course! If he doesn't like something, it's cheap. Your dad acknowledges exactly three tastes...
Dad: Oh, please...
Mom: Let me finish!
Dad: You've already said this.
Mom: No! I haven't said this.
A.: Seriously, let's keep it down. No need to raise voices.
Mom: But he can raise his voice?

What am I, a kindergarten teacher?

A.: No, nobody should raise their voice. Over cheese.

Actually, the other day some friends and I were discussing the "cheap" issue, i.e. that there are some people out there who truly believe that you always get what you pay for and that if something is inexpensive, there must be something wrong with it. I recall reading a blog excerpt in the Express in which the writer was sharing his discovery of cabbage-- he'd always thought of it as 'poor people's food,' he wrote, but was surprised to discover how good it was.

That's one of the stupidest things I've ever heard (read). I'd never thought of food as 'poor people's' or otherwise, and I thought the whole arugula-as-a-symbol-of-the-elite was inane. I believe in food-- a la Michael Pollan-- but real food doesn't have to be expensive, and actually often isn't.

Anyway, my friends and I disagree with that whole premise. There are really crappy expensive things out there, and high-quality inexpensive things, and everything in between. Studies have been done on wine, on skin care products, etc.-- there's not that a lot of correlation between price and quality-- just a whole lot of paying for advertising.


Mom, indicating a piece of furniture: Did you want that?
A.: I love it... but I wouldn't have anywhere to put it.
Mom: Well, and you probably don't have any dinnerware worth displaying.
A.: Well, I do, but I already have furniture for it.

Now, mom's statement was matter-of-fact, not value-laden. I only find it blogworthy in context: over the last ten years, mom has regularly said, "you'll never need to buy anything-- we have everything you'll ever need. If/when you buy a house, we'll have furniture for you, plates, etc." And she had given me a lot of stuff, even before I bought the house, and some of it I really like. But I also have bought stuff, that I've chosen, and that works for me, and I've found her perspective that I should just decorate my house with stuff she opts to give me a bit annoying if not surprising. You'll recall a year and a half ago she was shocked when I didn't want a bunch of socks she'd bought for me. Her reaction was one of incredulity: "you have socks?? you mean, you went out and bought socks?" Why would I do that, when I must know that she has plenty of socks around the house.

Anyway, since she's actively discouraged me over the years from acquiring anything on my own, we shouldn't be surprised that she doesn't expect me to have any dinnerware 'worth displaying.' So I'm not surprised, but I'm... bemused? Because I love my dining room-- it's the most finished room in the house, and it's my oasis. After years of having a dining room that was no more than a thoroughfare-- it was just positioned that way-- I love eating at a dining room table and seeing beautiful things around.

What's my point? I guess it's that in spite of so much evidence to the contrary, I expect my mom to know me well, so when she comes out with things like that, it's like, 'wow, you don't know who I am.' It's always a bit jarring when people really think you're someone else-- especially people close to you-- but it happens all the time. With mom, the dinnerware thing is a lighter incarnation of the phenomenon; alleging, for example, that I left a job because I'd alienated all my coworkers was a more intense, and bewildering one.

Didn't take long

Mom: You're dressed 'stupidly.'

That's the first thing she said to me when I got into the car, at 11:30pm on Christmas Eve. It's actually a bit lost in translation-- "po durnomu" were her exact words, for those of you to whom that means anything.

I removed the waterproof jacket that I'd thrown on to block the fierce wind that greeted me when I stepped out onto the curb at the airport.

Mom: Actually, you're alright.

I should hope so. It wasn't the first, or fiftieth, time that mom disapproved of the way I dressed, but I was wearing the same winter coat and clothes I'd worn to work, so it wasn't like the times that she opts to tell me I look like crap when I'm in my gym clothes. Although you may want to check out or revisit the posts from last November, around Rachel's rehearsal dinner and wedding.

My flight had been delayed again once I got to the airport, which was fine. I managed to get some stuff done at home before leaving. But it was colder in Boston, so I didn't step outside until I thought mom and dad would be there soon. I know how long it takes to get from their house to the airport-- we've made it in twenty minutes in traffic-- so I knew, even though the roads were watery, when they weren't there over thirty minutes later, that mom decided to water all the plants in the house on the way out, or something. Turned out dad took some time to look for his phone (nothing like maybe looking for it ahead of time because they would have been expecting my call).

A.: So when did you think I'd be arriving?
Mom: The 26th? I remember, we had this conversation. I asked you why you couldn't come in time for the holiday and you said tickets were cheaper afterward.
A.: That's not possible because my ticket was always for the 24th.
Mom: No, I remember. I remember having this conversation.
A.: I remember we had this conversation in October around your birthday--you asked me why I was coming Sunday rather than earlier-- and even then I was getting in on Thursday.
Mom: No, I remember.
Dad: I'd seen the itinerary, but then I couldn't find it.
Mom: I don't pay much attention to those anyway because I know you'll call.
A.: From the airport. It's good for me to know that you'll actually be home when I arrive rather than, say, at a concert or something.
Dad: Would you turn her phone off and stick it in her pocket?
A.: Sure... well, the seatbelt is blocking the pocket.
Mom: Okay-- could you put it in your pocket, then? I don't want to forget it in the car.
A.: Sure.

Mom, to dad: Get your head out of the way! I can't see where I'm going!

Theirs is not an easy driveway to back into, but mom finds it especially challenging.


Mom, to dad, very emotionally: Where's my phone??? Please go find my phone!!
Dad: It's right there, on the dining room table.

That's all for last night. Stay tuned.

Christmas morning roundup

One feel bad piece and one feel better piece from Central Asia. Also, Nicholas Kristof tackles an important issue:
Yet there’s a broad recognition in much of the aid community that a major rethink is necessary, that groups would be more effective if they borrowed more tools from the business world, and that there is too much “gotcha” scrutiny on overhead rather than on what they actually accomplish.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008


Please understand that my holiday cards will be late this year. I take holiday cards very seriously-- to me, they are thank-you notes to people for being in my life. For that reason, I make sure that they're personal and I take time to write each one and think of each person individually. It's not just that I feel no need to run through what I've done in the last year-- that's why I have a blog-- or send a picture of me-- that's why I have a Picasa account. It has been an eventful year-- new job, new house... I'd almost say new continent, but I did take the ferry over to Asia last December when I was in Istanbul. What else? First root canal, first set of power tools... I could go on about things acquired, but I feel pretty liberated about having gotten rid of so much stuff to prepare for the move. Fascinating stuff.

So, you see, sending that kind of holiday card wouldn't make a whole lot of sense. I'll write soon, but in the mean time--and for those of you I don't know--I'd like to electronically thank you for being in my life.

Season's Greetings!


Here we go again

Mom: Hi.
A.: Hi. My flight has been delayed-- I won't be getting in until 10:15.
Mom: Hahaha! I didn't even know you were getting in tonight!
Mom, dad: [Laughing]
A.: I sent you my itinerary.
Mom: Yeah, I saw it. Dad saw it. Then we went to look at it but didn't find it again. What time did you say you were getting in?
A.: The current estimate is 10:15pm.
Mom: That's so funny. Well, I guess I'd better clean the guestroom a little bit.
A.: Sounds good.

holiday advice

Listen up, people. Here are some tips for travel and socializing.

That second article reminds me of an enduring holiday party gaffe. I think I blogged about it a few years ago when it happened, but it's worth revisiting. Some friends and I were talking to a friend of the host's, who was telling us about her husband's immigration ordeal. She was frustrated that they assigned him an official translator instead of letting her translate for him. There were other frustrations--they were obstructionist, impolite; I don't remember the details. What I do remember is her overarching complaint: that her husband didn't get special treatment at immigration on account of being white.

She didn't use those words. Which actually made it an even more stupid thing to say. She'd admitted that her husband spoke no English, so she couldn't make a case for special treatment based on the ability to communicate. Why the bureaucracy, why the rudeness? She said, "...but he doesn't look like an immigrant! It's not like he's Mexican, or..."

She looked at one friend, who was Asian, and thought better of saying "Asian." So she hesitated, and threw out "Eastern European."

Which was doubly hilarious, because clearly she'd skipped over Asian so as not to directly offend the people she was talking to, and ended up picking the ethnicity of another-- bringing us to what else made it funny: she couldn't tell that person was Eastern European, because I, in her words, "don't look like an immigrant."

Which still doesn't explain why she thought that not looking like an immigrant meant that the immigration people should cut one more slack. But I remember to this day that she did.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Happy happy

Happy Hanukah and happy (belated) Shab-e-yalda/winter solstice. I'm certainly happy that I have enough oil and that the days are going to get lighter from now on.

Not much new on the mom blog front. She did call last week from Target-- she couldn't find dad, and asked me to call him... but for the same reason she couldn't reach him, i.e. he was in a part of the store with no signal, I couldn't, either, but eventually they did find each other. Anyway, she called last night:

Mom: We're snowed in, haven't moved the car all weekend. I haven't been computer shopping, so you won't have a separate computer to work from.
A.: I don't need one-- I'll be going into the office.
Mom: Oh, you won't need one?
A.: No, I told you I'd be going in to the office.
Mom: Oh. Yes, you did. I thought you still needed a computer.
A.: I'm bringing one.

Anyway, pretty uneventful stuff as conversations with mom go. I have no doubt that I'll have more interesting material come Wednesday night. For now, I'll leave you with news of another sign our society is still awash in too much disposable income and bad taste.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

That's not cool

Kristof calls us out. Well, I made my donations last night. I thought it might be painful, given how much money is going into the house and house stuff, but it actually wasn't, because the reality is that they need it more than I do. I was in a good mood on Friday because I did pretty well at Lowes, but I was in a better mood last night--even though I broke one of the things I'd gotten at Lowes and have to go back this morning-- because I did as well as I could, right now, in donations.

On a similar topic, I really hate it when people with Obama stickers all over their cars drive like assholes. I see a lot more assholish driving among conservatives, but I'm just saying, there's room for narrowing the gap.

More on giving.

Friday, December 19, 2008


I just think hippos are adorable, and not just because my cat, from behind, resembles one.

We're both in a better place

I'll head to Boston on Wednesday night in a much better place than I was in when I went almost a month ago. My utilities are up and running and the house is in decent shape-- there's still much work to be done but I don't feel like I need to spend every waking moment on it. I was concerned about almost two weeks with my parents--that's what I get for chasing the lowest fares--but I'm going to work out of our Boston office for a few days, so I'll have an oasis. I'm still concerned about leaving Gracie alone for that long, but she'll get over it (yes, someone will come by to feed her).

Before I go on to why I'm going on about my holiday plans, I'm going to express remorse for whining as much as I have over the last couple of months. Yes, the homebuying and moving/repairing/furnishing process has been difficult and stressful-- and just when I thought it was winding down, I opted to prolong it by refinancing (it would be stupid not to)-- but I also have to say that more things went right that went wrong, and the things that went wrong have mostly been resolved, while the things that went right are still great. I knew I'd get to this point eventually-- although even two weeks ago I couldn't see it-- and I'm really happy to be here now.

I say this just before I embark on a morning of house-related shopping-- which I can bitch about non-stop. Someone said to me that I must not be superstitious, having closed on Halloween, to which I responded that Halloween is actually good luck. However, my penance for buying in the fall is having to do house shopping around the holidays, i.e. amid the triple threat of hordes, worse-than-usual traffic and horrendous Christmas music. But I digress.

Holiday plans. I think I've mentioned that I bought my tickets home before I knew I was buying a house, so spending an extra few days in Boston to save a few hundred dollars didn't seem too bad an idea. Also, my mom was in a nice streak at the time, so spending more time with her also didn't seem too bad an idea. The nice streak had weakened a bit the weekend of her birthday in October and went into hiding for Thanksgiving, but I have reason to believe it may reemerge.

I need to provide more background, and give mom more credit. The weekend of Thanksgiving, she showed two signs of drastic attitude adjustment with regard to my career. Remember that she never trusted me for a minute to make my own career decisions and never acknowledged that I knew anything about anything. If I made an informed opinion about a humanitarian organization, she'd ask me accusingly what made me an expert on humanitarian organizations. Also recall that it was my first or second day home for the holidays last year that I was offered my current job, to my unbounded joy and my parents nonplussed shrugs. Oh, and mom's suggestions that I had to leave my then-job because I'd alienated all my coworkers with my overbearing personality. Not to mention, 'doesn't matter, all government is idiots.'

Well, since then, mom has noticed that the work of my employer is oft-cited in the media, and has gone 180 degrees-- to something only slightly less annoying, but something that apparently other colleagues of mine get from time to time: "Your people should really look into this," at every turn.

Mom: These traffic lights aren't synchronized. Your people should really look into this.
A.: "My people" tend to look into national-level, macro...
Mom: Unsynchronized traffic lights are one of the most important issues facing our country.

And so on.

Also that weekend-- the weekend of the Mumbai tragedy-- mom asked me about India and Pakistan. And listened. We had an intelligent, adult conversation-- one that led me to recommend "Three Cups of Tea" and actually now that I think about it I need to remember to grab my copy of "A Fine Balance" for her.

Anyway, we stopped at the library later that weekend and I requested the book for her.

A week and a half ago, she called to say that she couldn't put it down. She was quasi-accusatory, as in "I'm not getting anything done because I can't put this book down!" Which in and of itself was a victory because I got her to spend some time feeding her soul rather than "cleaning the garage," as John Irving would put it.

She left me a message the other night, and when I called back, all she wanted to talk about was that book. She finished it, she loved it, it's really inspired her, she's getting dad to read it.

So remember that earlier post, where I wrote about how I resented Fox News that much more for exploiting fear to bring out the hateful, short-sighted part of people, sadly including my mom? Well, suck it, Fox News-- I've thwarted your hate agenda. This one book has undone the damage.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

When 'Kitch' is for Kitchen

Even though I preface every link to David Brooks with something like, "I'm not a fan of David Brooks, but," the man makes some valid points, and even though "Bobos in Paradise" is sociology-by-anecdote and stretches the truth a lot, it's a good read. When I read it many years ago, particularly close to home (and hilarious) was the chapter on REI and other outdoor outfitters, and the chapter on Bobos and their six-figure showers and kitchens was good, too. I think my manager at the time was in the middle of a $90,000 kitchen renovation.

One of the main themes of the book was that the art of displaying status symbols had evolved; ostentatious displays were considered crass, and those wanting to signal had to come up with more subtle messaging techniques and messages. It had become crass to spend thousands of dollars on things for show, so to still be able to show, Bobos distinguished themselves by investing in the practical. If it was practical, pour in as many thousands as your Bobo heart desires. Hence the excessive kitchens and showers.

This concept was taken up by "Sex and the City," in the oft-cited (at least among my friends) baby shower episode. Carrie gets lectured by a sanctimonious friend who would never think of spending hundreds of dollars on shoes. But she still spends excessively (key word: excessively-- I know baby stuff is expensive, but we're talking over-the-top and for-show) on stuff for her kids, and goes on as if it's somehow morally superior to spend hundreds of dollars on a pacifier.

Enough about babies; let's get back to pimped-out kitchens. One of my heroes, Mark Bittman, writes and blogs about how a small kitchen is good enough for him.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Friday, December 12, 2008

More idiocracy

Believe it:
“The problem was,” he told me, “the kid interviewing me could not pronounce the name of the country I was being interviewed for. It made for an awkward interview until he just started saying ‘the country we are considering you for.’”

On this topic, a small listing in the Post's Express, likely taken from the Post itself, referred to the Prague Spring as having happened in Poland.

More on the whackos out there



I'm posting a room announcement I received through the SC young alums listserv, because I think parts of it are f*ing hilarious (skim up to fourth paragraph, then read):

There's a room opening up in the group house I'm in and I thought I'd let you all in on it. It's $700 a month, utilities not included (average $75 a month). The house is extremely well located (about three houses down from the Adams Morgan bike shop, for those who know the area) - you can walk to Adams Morgan bars even in ridiculous heels. Don't believe me? Google map 1757 Euclid St NW. There's a farmers market less than a block a way, and walking to the Dupont
scene takes less than 15 minutes. Accessible to the 42, and S1,2,4 bus lines and red line (Woodley Park) and Columbia Heights metro (.7 mile walk to each). Walkable (10 minutes) to Rock Creek park and the Zoo for jogging and picnics.

The house itself is in great shape. It's a 3 floor, 6 bedroom/4.5 bath. It's got a pool table, huge TV w/ TiVo, central heat and air, a gas fireplace, nice tiled kitchen with granite countertops, gas stove, garbage disposal, dishwasher, weekly maid service, the works. Washer
and dryer of course. Wood floors everywhere except the stairs, which have been carpeted recently and are in great shape.

The room: not huge, but it's got a full closet, big window and can fit a full-sized bed. Carpeted. You'll share a bathroom with the DOJ (male) paralegal. Bathroom has full tub.

The other roommates - 2 men, 3 women (including me) - keep mostly to themselves, and if you don't watch TV you'll never see them. One female financial analyst (mid twenties), me, and her friend Kerry on the 3rd floor (haven't seen Kerry in literally a month - she basically
lives with her boyfriend). Second floor has the empty room, an early twenties male paralegal in the DOJ, and the IT geek/parttime grad student landlord in his thirties. The analyst and paralegal are really the only people I see much of, and they are funny and very chill.

There is a downside to every house, and I'll be upfront about the downside here. The landlord lives here, and while he is not anal about cleanliness, noise or anything like that, he is extremely socially awkward (I mean shit, he's in his late thirties and lives in a 6 bedroom house with roommates. Read between the lines). He has been known to inadvertently drive off tenants who can't handle his personality. He's not aggressive - more like infuriatingly passive
and kind of pathetic - but he likes to make awkward jokes, talk during my shows (gaaaaah) and hover. I haven't had a real problem with him because I can be extremely frigid when necessary - after a month of giving one word answers to his banalities, we have a nice, civil
understanding. If you are an extremely nice and accommodating person he will try to ingratiate himself into your life, so this living arrangement may not be for you. Honestly, he's not difficult to deal with, but i do feel that i need to warn prospective roomies.


P.S. there is on-street parking, but the man vacating this room is actually leaving because he's had his car broken into twice (he left his ipod and GPS system out. oy.), so i wouldn't recommend you use it.
P.P.S. Crime: adams morgan is a weird mix - if you've lived in dc for a while, you know it, but for those that don't....there is some low income housing around this house (though not on euclid street - its pretty yuppie/middle class) and the occassional theft/shooting in adams morgan. can't be helped. not the safest area in NW (though I feel much safer here than in Columbia Heights, were I last lived), and i've walked home shitfaced on many a night and been absolutely fine.

More on renting in DC.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

On books

I agree, but you're two or three French lit classes too late; I've had many more times more Mme. Bovary than I could handle.

On the topic of the young writing the elderly, I strongly recommend "Water for Elephants." It's an excellent read, but I couldn't tell you how well Sarah Gruen wrote an elderly man.

Ow, my balls!

TV imitates art.

Quote of the Day

Brought to you by Gail Collins:
"There are, after all, 100 senators, and we know from several centuries of experience that the nation can survive quite nicely even if a sizable minority are brain-dead bank robbers."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008


My mom is really funny.

You know how she's always worried about me, concerned about my safety?

Many years ago, there was a possibility that I would get a summer internship in Zambia (I didn't). My mother became very worried and spent much time trying to convince me that I shouldn't go to Africa. Then, she had a change of heart. She said, "on second thought, it might help you lose some weight."

Well, the other day, mom was asking me about my utilities. (By the way, she asked me again how much I paid for internet. It's the new "when are you arriving.") I listed off water, power, gas, alarm.

Mom: Alarm? What do you need an alarm system for?
A.: It's just better to have.
Mom: Isn't it expensive?
A.: About $35 per month.
Mom: Do you really have anything valuable?
A.: Well, yes, and it'd also a safety issue.

Then, today:

Mom: You don't have a TV yet?
A.: No.
Mom: When will you get one?
A.: I'm not sure I will. I'm not sure I'll want to pay for cable.
Mom: I think that's a mistake. I think cable's worth having.

The score:
Knock on wood, I've gone a whole day without having to have it out with utilities or banks. I've also won an important battle in my war on furniture. One assembled bookcase down, two futons and a dresser to fix.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008


Homeownership has brought out in me many people-I-never-thought-I-would-become. The latest and perhaps most worrisome is the one who complains that you can't get good help these days.

I took some friends' advice and complained about what did not get cleaned in the house. The cleaning service offered to come back and clean them. As agreed, I left a list of areas for cleaning on the dining room table. Those areas included ceiling fans (I listed both) and the tops of the kitchen cabinet. On the bright side, the ceiling fan in the kitchen got cleaned-- that I noticed right away because-- who knew-- the top of it was white rather than black. The one in my bedroom did not get cleaned, nor did the kitchen cabinets. This is not okay.

Apart from that, the house is slowly coming together. I have blinds in my bedroom (it only took me four hours) so I don't have to turn the lights off when I get dressed, and the kitchen is looking good. Lots remains to be done, but I'm getting there.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Quote of the Day

Frank Rich on "nobody’s perfect."

Timothy Egan on JTP:
The unlicensed pipe fitter known as Joe the Plumber is out with a book this month, just as the last seconds on his 15 minutes are slipping away. I have a question for Joe: Do you want me to fix your leaky toilet?

I didn’t think so. And I don’t want you writing books. Not when too many good novelists remain unpublished. Not when too many extraordinary histories remain unread. Not when too many riveting memoirs are kicked back at authors after 10 years of toil. Not when voices in Iran, North Korea or China struggle to get past a censor’s gate.
Most of the writers I know work every day, in obscurity and close to poverty, trying to say one thing well and true. Day in, day out, they labor to find their voice, to learn their trade, to understand nuance and pace. And then, facing a sea of rejections, they hear about something like Barbara Bush’s dog getting a book deal.

Writing is hard, even for the best wordsmiths. Ernest Hemingway said the most frightening thing he ever encountered was “a blank sheet of paper.” And Winston Churchill called the act of writing a book “a horrible, exhaustive struggle, like a long bout of painful illness.”

I disagree

Okay, this kind of logic is just f*ing absurd and dangerous:
In India’s city of gold, the distinction between public and private can be bewildering. For members of the working class, who often cannot afford housing, public sidewalks become living rooms. In the morning, commuters from gated communities in the suburbs pass children brushing their teeth at the edge of the street. Women are forced to relieve themselves on the railway tracks, usually in the dark, for the sake of modesty. The poor sometimes sleep on highway medians, and it is not unheard of for drunken drivers to mow them down.

Mumbai has been roiled by government neglect for years. Its commuter trains are so overcrowded that 4,000 riders die every year on average, some pushed from trains in the fierce competition to get on and off. Monsoons in 2005 killed more than 400 people in Mumbai in one day alone; so clogged were the city’s ancient drains, so crowded its river plains with unauthorized construction that water had nowhere to go.

Rahul Bose, an actor, suggested setting aside such problems for the moment. In a plea published last week in The Hindustan Times, he laid out the desperation of this glistening, corroding place. “We overlook for now your neglect of the city,” he wrote. “Its floods, its traffic, its filth, its pollution. Just deliver to us a world-standard antiterrorism plan.”

WTF? Thousands of people killed a year from overcrowding, but that's less important??

Saturday, December 6, 2008

No love for the Prime Rib of Propecia

On my way back to DC earlier this week, out of my window seat that no passive-aggressive family tried to wrest from me, I watched, on that beautiful, clear, day, as we flew over many of the city's landmarks as well as those-- such as Georgetown-- to which I had a personal connection. And it was odd to see them so perfectly square. It looked like a model. Which made me think, "What's this?? A school for ants??"

Which in turn made me think that the cable networks aren't broadcasting heroism equitably. I'd mentioned in a post last weekend that many worlds were being saved at the same time, including but not limited to Middle Earth and the Galaxy Far, Far Away. With all that going on, could they maybe spare some airtime for a different kind of superhero?

Friday, December 5, 2008

The nerve

Suck it, Gov. Rendell. See also Gail Collin's latest column.

Also, a very thoughtful piece by Bill Ayers.

Which utility is messing with me now?

Did I ever start that blog label-- horrendous customer service? I have a new category-- The Nightmares of Home Ownership: utilities edition.

Well, you know about Verizon. They did send a technician out to fix the problem, and then some nice Indian helped restore my internet service from there. I've really had my share of talking to the Indians over the last few weeks. The whole experience brings out the protectionist in me.

Not having internet was difficult, but it didn't truly suck. What did truly suck was having my water cut off.

You see, when the water people were supposed to transfer the account for this house to my name, they came by to read the meter. But the meter was piled over with the previous resident's trash, so they couldn't.

Now, if you were the water people, you would probably do something innovative, like call me. But no. They just left the account in the previous resident's name, and then, a few days ago, cut it off for non-payment. And they never address these issues the same day, apparently by policy. They said on Friday they would restore my water. So imagine my surprise when I came home on Friday, all excited to experience modern plumbing at home, to discover no water. I called. They told me the water had been turned on. I begged to differ. They sent out an emergency technician, who turned on the water (and agreed that the water had not been turned on). Great stuff, I tell you.

For a while, ADT was off my shit list, and technically my gripe is with their authorized dealer rather than ADT itself. You see, they couldn't activate my monitoring until my phone was fixed, so although I had arranged for a technician to come out Friday, I called on Wednesday to postpone that appointment. But on Thursday, they called to confirm. I told them to cancel. Yet Friday, early afternoon, they called to confirm. I told them to cancel. So on Friday, late afternoon, they called to say the technician would be there in 15 minutes. I told them that I had canceled twice. They acknowledged that those phone calls had taken place, plead confusion.

It gets better. They waived my activation fee, but asked me to write a voided check nonetheless to show proof of account. The technician asked me to void it across the back, so I did. So imagine my surprise when my bank account showed an overdraft fee, because those jackasses tried to deposit a voided check, and the jackasses at the bank processed the transaction. Stellar.

Adding to the joys of this week is the incorrigible dumbass that is my cat. I moved her on Monday. She wasn't happy, whined even more than usual. On Tuesday, a cleaning crew came through. Second one-- the first one did a very poor job. This second one came highly recommended. And yet, things are still dirty. Is it too much to ask, when people are charging you $230 for 1,400 square feet, to clean the tops of cabinets and ceiling fans? I didn't ask them to make my bed hotel-style or consolidate my strategically separated piles of paper. I asked for them to clean the parts of the house I would have a hard time cleaning.

But I digress. The day they came, Gracie was nowhere to be found. I was really worried, to the point where I was actually relieved when the little bitch woke me up with her whining at 4:30am the following morning. So I wasn't worried when I heard but didn't see her the following evening. I looked around, but she was nowhere. Eventually, I deduced that she had climbed into a hole in the wall and was hiding under the stairs. She wanted to come out, but not enough to show her face. Until the next morning, when she'd apparently had enough and stuck her head out so she could be rescued. I had to lean over the filthy heating system and scoop her out by the scruff of her neck. Keep in mind this was one of the mornings that I had no water.

Which, by the way, should really be cause for reflection on how most people in this world lack water on a daily basis. And I acknowledge that. But it still sucked to be without it for two days, even though I had access to water (and even showers) at work.

Things are starting to look up. After all, my internet and water are restored, and my cat is not stuck inside the wall. I'm slowly making headway with all these boxes, although there's still stuff everywhere. Still, it's starting to look more and more like a house.

The kitchen is coming together, as is the dining room. You wouldn't realize how little I drink or how much I hate people based on how much decorative drinkware I have.

Oh, and I actually fixed something today. It wasn't complex, but it did require a minimal amount of critical thinking.

It's good to be back.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Helicopter parents expand their ground

Interesting. When I studied abroad I learned to survive and thrive away from hen-pecking (although it took another decade or so for my parents to realize that). That was as much part of the experience as the actual academics. Yet, this generation takes the helicopter parents along in a way.

Yes, men writing women is tricky. I'm a bit distrubed by the glowing reviews for "The Widows of Eastwick;" I couldn't finish "The Witches of Eastwick" because Updike's writing women just didn't work for me. I also realzie that people have completely different takes on this issue. To me, Roddy Doyle's "The Woman Who Walked into Doors," in many ways a work of genius, is brilliant in his writing of Paula, but someone I knew was adamant that no book felt more like a man writing a woman. She preferred Wally Lamb, but when I read "She's Come Undone," I felt that few other books felt like a man writing a woman.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Saving the world, one channel at a time

The world was being saved on many channels in a row, or, more accurately, various worlds were being saved on various channels, in a row particularly if you don't count the one playing 'Elf,' or do count it if as far as you're concerned that too represents saving the world.

We decided to go with Lord of the Rings. What doesn't get old is that Viggo Mortensen is still hot.

The showing was billed as having fewer commercials, courtesy of Red Lobster, but no matter how few commercials--this will really surprise you-- I'm not good at sitting through them, so I flipped for a progress update on the saving of the other worlds.

A.: I've not seen the last X-Men. I heard it wasn't very good.
Mom: I don't think we've seen any X-Mens. Is that the one with the spider-man?
A.: No. That would be Spiderman.
Mom: No-- you know, the man that climbs the buildings.
A.: Spiderman.

On the way back down to LOTR, I hit Star Wars. It is worth noting that my parents have seen Star Wars. When I was in high school, I was once Yoda for Halloween.

Dad: Is that X-Men?
A.: No, that's Star Wars.

I forgot how annoying it could be to watch a movie with Mom.

Mom: That's not how it was in the book.
Mom: That's not how it was in the book.
Mom: That's not how it was in the book.
Mom: That's not how it was in the book.


Mom: That's not how it was in the book.

Mom: Why are they laughing?
Mom: Well, why are they laughing?
A.: If I had to guess, I'd say it's because their ordeal is over.

Mom: That's not how it was in the book.

I'll bring his picture to my next hair appointment

Mom: Your hair looks like... who's that character in Harry Potter?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: That guy, the one that bred dragons. Your hairstyle looks like his. What's his name?
Dad: Had... Hadr...
A.: Hagrid.
Mom: Yeah, same hair.

it still takes work

Thanks for the comment, Etc-- feel strongly about that, too (not that I would call myself an artist).

There are a lot of subissues going on here that are specific to my mother and my relationship with my mother. A recurring theme--especially every time that she asks me to write a complaint letter for her-- is, "writing comes so easily to you!" Well, no, not really, nor does it to many people who are actual writers.

Furthermore, the things she's heard about Pushkin and Bulgakov, even if they were true, hardly inform on the creative processes of every writer, ever.

But it's easy (as well as a cop-out) for mom to go there, because she doesn't write at all; it's convenient to generalize, to "other" those that do write, thereby removing any expectation that she should put some effort into writing herself.

There was another article worth mentioning, although I can't find it (maybe it was in the Times?), about how there are some people who don't believe they can learn. They think we're good at what we're good at and won't get better at the other stuff. I'm not one of those people, and those people drive me nuts (especially when I'm responsible for teaching them something). In various language classes that I've taken, I've been amazed to find people who think that they don't have to do the work, that it will just come to them. Yes, I am somewhat naturally predisposed to picking up languages, but it still takes a f*load of work. It's not absorbed by osmosis, unless you're little.

The creative process is interesting to me. I'm not great at it, and I have in the past dismissed it as something that's out of my reach, but as an avid consumer of its products, I'm fascinated by the mental mechanics of its producers and I've enjoyed the New Yorker and other articles that shed light on how it works. So it's that much more frustrating to hear mom basically dismiss the artist as a mere transcriber of a message that comes from outside. And it would be one thing if she said it but didn't spray it, i.e. lecture me about it for half an hour at a time without meaningfully considering what I have to say on the matter.

By the way, Jonathan Safran Foer is a really good writer, I really enjoyed his book (I've not read "Everything is Illuminated" but "Extremely Loud and Incredibly Up Close" was very good). I haven't read the book about Haiti, but, getting back to the New Yorker, last week's fiction piece, "Ghosts", is excellent.

Left brain, right brain

I came into the living room and rolled my eyes at the sight of Frodo on the television screen. Don't get me wrong-- I liked all the Lord of the Rings films the first ten or so times I saw them. Except for the time that mom subjected me to a line-by-line of the differences from how it was in the books.

A.: Can I change the channel or turn off the TV?
Mom: Sure, I'm not watching it. But you know, I have a theory about this: writers feel what's going on around them. Writers, they don't try-- it just comes to them. Tolkein's writing was allegorical, so was-- what's her name, the woman who wrote Harry Potter. It comes to them, and they have to put it in writing.
A.: You know, Malcolm Gladwell had a really interesting piece about that in the New Yorker a month or so ago...
Mom: Did he agree with me?
A.: Not quite...
Mom: Then he's wrong. I know.

Mom went on. About allegory, about left and right brains, about how everyone knows that (whatever that is), about how she doesn't care about what the New Yorker has to say-- they just write what they want.

Mom: Don't tell me there's no such thing as intuition.
A.: I don't recall saying that.
Mom: It's how three people knew that you were okay and one even knew you were on the train.

I didn't say, "you should have called a psychic last night to find out whether I was still at Cabot's."

Mom: People have intuition.
A.: I'm not disagreeing with you about that...
Mom: No! It's a left brain thing, everyone knows that.
A.: Mom, I'm leaving.
Mom: Wait, listen to me.
A.: I don't even know what we're talking about anymore.
Mom: Are you saying there is no such thing as intuition?

That's perhaps the most enjoyable part of trying to have an adult conversation with mom. If you disagree with her about something, she'll generalize that to everything remotely related to what you're talking about.

Mom: Logic alone can't fix everything. This reality will come to you. I think in part you already understand it. You've made a lot of good decisions-- except, of course, deciding to major in psychology. Maybe you needed to do that too to set yourself on the right path, although in that case it was an awfully expensive way to experiment.

More about left brains, right brains, Pushkin, Bulgakov. She was still going when I got up and left to blog.

Sunday morning roundup

Kristof is a must-read.

The Times also has a long piece on inside-the-beltway influence peddling, for those interested.

A fascinating piece on composure:
How much neuroticism anyone gets is determined largely by genetics. But it is also within our control. Psychiatrists and psychologists talk about emotional regulation — the ability to manage neuroticism so that even the most nervous of people can go through life appearing and feeling more in control than those genetically predisposed to calmness.

It hits home on several counts, not least of which is that mom and I are polar opposites in that respect. There's more, though. A friend and former colleague once started the following conversation:

G.: You're handling this very stressful situation very well.
A.: Losing composure is not going to help.
G.: Right, but now that I've gotten to know you, I realize you have excellent stress management abilities. When you were first chosen for this position, people warned me that you went off the deep end easily.
A.: Jerks. I know exactly whom you're talking about...
G.: Well, him too, but even people who like and respect you felt that they should let me know.
A.: Names, please.
G.: Sorry.
A.: That's just unfortunate, because none of those people have seen me operate under pressure. They have no f*ing idea. I have, for example, been stalked by a crack dealer on an island in Nicaragua. I don't melt down; that's just not how I operate.

And I have to partly credit mom for that. I've seen her operate that way, and I've seen that it gets her nowhere.

That's not to say that I shouldn't learn to project composure in addition to simply experiencing it. But I do wish people would just shut up and stop *warning* colleagues about me. Then again, maybe I should be greatful that they're setting low expectations; if all I need to do is not melt down, that makes my job easier. In any case, I work somewhere now where I don't see this happening, because people have plenty on their plate without minding other people's business.

On the future of books:
There’s reading and then there’s reading. There is the gleaning or browsing or cherry-picking of information, and then there is the deep immersion in constructed textual worlds: novels and biographies and the various forms of narrative nonfiction — genres that could not be born until someone invented the codex, the book as we know it, pages inscribed on both sides and bound together. These are the books that possess one and the books one wants to possess.

It's getting old

At breakfast, I caught Mom staring at me.

A.: What?
Mom: You've gained weight, huh?
A.: Not really.
Mom: Your face has gotten round.
A.: [Shrug.]


Mom: Are you always on the computer at home, too?
A.: I'm not sure what you mean by always. I do read the paper, yes.

I did not say, I'm probably online more here, since I have more to blog about.

Mom: No, you're constantly on the computer.
Dad: Last night when I was editing photos, I was *constantly* on the computer.
Mom: It's not the same.

Death by a thousand paper cuts... how a friend described the way I opted to move.

That way being, taking a carload of stuff over to the new house every time I went over there anyway, and maybe a few times deliberately, and a few more when friends with bigger cars were helping me out. It seemed like a good idea at the time.

All in all, the move itself wasn't painful, as moves go. It was the rest of the process. And since the rest of the process was such a clusterfoxtrot, moving was the icing on the shit cake.

Apparently, I'm still scarred, because I dreamt that I went back just to get Gracie and my laptop, and I kept finding more stuff that I needed to pack and move. It never ended.

On the agenda for Monday: retrieve Gracie and laptop; wait for the alarm people; troubleshoot the staple gun; saw apart four inches of gate without lacerating my arm; make another attempt at the closet door.

Then, Gracie and I are going to have a conversation. It will go like this

A.: Gracie, I know that this is a stressful time for you, too.
Gracie: Meow?
A.: And I know that you often choose to deal with stress by (1) non-stop whining and (2) strategic defecation.
Gracie: Meow.
A.: I'm telling you know, though, that if you poop outside your litter box in Mommy's new house, I will kick your furry little ass.
Gracie: Meow.
A.: You know how your uncle J. pretends to be your friend? He's suggested that to deal with this behavior of yours, I duct-tape your ass. At first I dismissed it, but I've been going through a lot, too, and I may just consider it.
Gracie: Meow?
A.: So your m-f litter box is over there. Learn it and use it, or else.
Gracie: Meow. Meow.