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.

Saturday, November 29, 2008


I came home around 10:30pm from an evening out at Cabot's with my friends. Cabot's is a Newton institution, one that I've frequented in one capacity or another since grade school. It's something like a five-minute walk from my parents' house...

...which would lead you to believe that there would be no discussion about getting to Cabot's.

Dad: Where exactly is it? Before or after the laundromat?
A.: Right next to it, I think.
Mom: Do you want a ride?
A.: No.
Mom: You can't walk. I'll worry.
A.: It's right there.
Dad: It's cold.
A.: Not really.

Impressively, but not surprisingly, we all poured in within a minute or so of one another, by 7:30pm. It was a nice change from the some of the slackers I occasionally get together with in DC. Nothing like going out of your way to be somewhere on time when half the people you're meeting are half an hour late. But I digress. At about 10:30pm:

Mom: You were out late! I didn't know you were going to stay out so late.

I see these friends so rarely, especially all together. Would it be a stretch of the imagination to anticipate that I might be out for a while? I realized that mom probably called, so I checked my messages:

Mom: Where are you? I'm getting worried.


Mom: It's getting late. Why is your phone off? I don't understand.

My phone was off because (1) I tend not to answer my phone when I'm interacting with people in person and (2) as my mother knows, I left my charger in DC so I'm preserving battery life by turning my phone off when I'm not using it.

I guess I don't blame her for being concerned, although I don't think the concern had much basis in reality. I'm at an age where staying out until 10:30pm on a Saturday night shouldn't raise eyebrows.

I'll be at parties for the next two Saturday nights. I won't be surprised to come home from either of them to "where could you possibly be" messages on my voice mail.


Mom: What did you get at Cabot's?
A.: Ice cream.
Mom: It took you that long to eat ice cream??

I can put away a large quantity of ice cream in seconds, actually; even the ginormous portions at Cabot's.

A.: No, it took that long for us to catch up.

I'm not sure why mom keeps asking me questions about the evening, and again, I can anticipate the content of some phone conversations over the next few weeks:

Mom: Where were you? I called you at 8pm on a Saturday!
A.: At a party, mom.
Mom: What kind of party?
A.: Just a party.
Mom: What kind of food did they have?
A.: Um... party food?

And so on. I'll let you know.

Apparently I have magical powers

Thanks, Allen, for bringing this to my attention. Thankfully, it only takes me about two glasses.

After [a quite large] dinner, mom was telling a story.

Mom: So, then he called and... wow, you really have gained weight!
A.: Just tell your story, mom.
Mom: No, it's just that I turned my head and couldn't help but be distracted by your protruding stomach.
A.: He called and...
Mom: Right, where was I?

It's fair to say that I don't generally have that effect on people. I have yet to experience, for example, a situation at work where a coworker loses his or her train of thought as a result of catching sight of my protruding stomach. Then again, mom would say they're just being polite.

Funny that this hasn't happened elsewhere. When I was at the airport, the TSA screeners didn't lose sight of the baggage because their gazes were drawn to the enormity of my protruding stomach. Nor did my stomach alter the gravitational pull at Home Depot last week. I went to a party the weekend before last; I wouldn't say that the size of my gut stopped and diverted all conversation when I showed up.

Perhaps I'll be more attuned to this phenomenon in the future.

Great timing

I don't expect mom to not talk to me while I'm doing yoga, even though she's spoken out on the key role of concentration to yoga. But she's also spoken out on the key role of sleep to one's health, and I know better to expect that she won't wake me up in the middle of the night to express herself.

So, that much I know, and I knew when I opted not to get out of bed early enough I chose to forfeit the opportunity to do yoga without commentary or distraction. I knew I would have to tune mom out.

And I can deal with that. She talks, I ignore her.

The trouble comes when she inevitably asks me to do something incompatible with whatever pose I am doing. Sometime last year, I was in the middle of tree pose when she decided to ask me to water the plants; she threw a fit when I refused.

This morning, I was in windblown treepose when mom asked for my opinion on a picture frame. We hadn't been sure the frame would match the picture well, but last night dad and I looked at it and decided it was fine.

Mom: Do you think that matte clashes with the picture?
A.: No.
Mom: Look at it!
A.: I am not going to look at it. I am doing yoga. And I looked at it yesterday, I know what you're talking about, and no I don't think it clashes.

To her credit, she didn't throw a fit.


Mom: You should try some exercises to tighten your chin. You're developing a double chin.

I ignored her.

I looked around for a paper bag for paper recycling, and my eyes caught an envelope on which she'd scrawled, in capital letters, "JDATE."

Meanwhile, Dad's war on taste and common sense with regard to food wages on.

Dad: I know what we can do to add flavor to the sweet potatoes: cover them in a layer of melted white cheese.
A.: Those flavors do not go together at all.
Dad: We can try it.
A.: I guess.

A rare display of self-awareness

I found, as I sorted through weeks of unread e-mails, a joke Mom had sent me, titled "Jewish mother." It [i.e. my translation of it] follows:

A Jewish mother sticks her head outside and screams to her son, playing in the yard, "Arkasha, come into the house!"

Arkasha looks up and yells back, "Am I cold?"

The mother replies, "No, you're hungry."

On Mumbai

A suggestion for moving forward:
But the best answer to the terrorists is to dream bigger, make even more money, and visit Mumbai more than ever. Dream of making a good home for all Mumbaikars, not just the denizens of $500-a-night hotel rooms. Dream not just of Bollywood stars like Aishwarya Rai or Shah Rukh Khan, but of clean running water, humane mass transit, better toilets, a responsive government. Make a killing not in God’s name but in the stock market, and then turn up the forbidden music and dance; work hard and party harder.

Friday, November 28, 2008


Glad you asked, Hans. I should have included that in my Frequently Asked Questions.

I do not blog from my phone, because I am not that technologically advanced (and either is my phone), but that's not a bad idea.

In situations where I don't have immediate internet access-- in China, in the car or anywhere outside the house for that matter, I do record the conversations for future transcriptions. Seriously-- I take notes. Usually I just jot down key words, but occasionally I have to capture her exact wording (or translation thereof).

One of the reasons I don't like it when mom calls just before I go to bed is that she often says something that infuriates me, and I feel compelled to blog about it.

You asked, "Are you arguing for your mother and then excuse yourself to go and use your laptop in the bathroom?"

It's even more farcical than that-- I walk over to her computer room, and blog from her computer. When I first started doing this I was very careful-- deleted the browser history every time, etc. Now if I'm feeling careful, I switch to a different tab when she walks into the room.

I would love to use my own laptop-- first of all, we I wouldn't have to share the computer or risk exposure-- and I once brought my laptop, but she doesn't have wireless or an extra cable hookup. So her computer it is.

I do feel slightly guilty, because the main reason she hasn't caught me is that she doesn't suspect anything, and you don't see things you're not looking for. But part of it is also mom's own impatience and lack of attention to detail: if she were to stumble on the blog, she wouldn't read far enough in to recognize that it's about her. Consider this: a few years ago, she was planning a trip to Buenos Aires. I sent her an Economist article on artistic and cultural goings-on in Buenos Aires. She didn't read it; she called me and asked me why I sent it to her. Variations of this kind of thing occur regularly.

Having said that, I've gotten entirely too complacent. I really should return to deleting the browsing history and taking other precautions. Thanks for the reminder.

Seriously- why is no one airing Zoolander??

A., having spent the last ten minutes flipping channels: I can't believe how much time I just wasted.
Mom: You're relaxing. Could you stop sulking and realize how much better off you are than the vast majority of the population of the world?
A.: That's not really ever been a problem for me.
Mom: Just relax. Find some dumb movie to watch.
A.: I don't find channel flipping relaxing. And there is no sufficiently dumb movie on right now.
Mom: You need to fall in love or something.
A.: I'm not capable of love.
Mom: That's impossible.
A.: Sure it's possible. I can't even love my cat.
Mom: I couldn't love your cat, either. But there is someone you could love, surely.
A.: Doubtful.

I wasn't enjoying this conversation. Sure, my head's been up my own ass over the last month or so, but having to contemplate my inability to feel human emotion wasn't helping get it out. So I got up to blog.

Am I asking too much?

Mom came back from her drive and pretended the hissy fit never happened.

Mom: Well, are we going?
A.: Sure.

When she'd left, I wondered whether she'd do that-- she often does-- and also wondered whether it was because deep down, she knows she's wrong. At heart, she's sane, and she has pretenses toward fairness, so when it comes down to it, i.e. when she calms down, she can't really convince herself that she was in the right. But she never opts to talk about it or apologize in any way, and she continues to partly blame the other person. Which is fair enough-- I'm not saying I'm blameless. Nonetheless, mom's lack of self-awareness is stunning.

Mom: By the way, you can get AT&T wireless for $70/month.
A.: AT&T wireless refers to cell phone service, not internet.
Mom: It was internet.
A.: Could we just drop it? Please?
Mom: Suit yourself.

Later, on our walk, after the fresh air had calmed us down, the lack of self-awareness kept coming.

Dad: You look upset.
A.: Why did I buy that house?? What was I thinking?
Mom: I thought it was a bad idea...

This, in and of itself, didn't bother me at all. Nothing I ever do strikes mom as the best idea. But she kept going.

Mom: ...I mean, you always had an attitude problem, and the house issues have just exacerbated it. You've become very 'rough.'
A.: You've been calling me 'rough' for years.
Mom: Well, it's worse.

She's not entirely wrong. As I've mentioned, I'm tired, I'm wounded and I'm generally overwhelmed. After a month of trying to get the house ready for habitation, there's much to be done. I'm too dumb to assemble even the easy furniture; I finished painting only to leave many a paint stain on the floors, in spite of using dropcloths and other precautions; I fumigated with foggers two days in a row, but there was still the odd roach in the house when I left; I was supposed to get the house cleaned while I was away, but left the keys in the wrong mailbox; and in my efforts to remove a broken closet door track, I overreached and fell off a step ladder-- breaking a bookshelf and impaling my thumb on one of its nails.

I wanted to become handy, I wanted to learn, but this stuff really doesn't come naturally to me. I don't speak the language of this foreign land-- I'll read directions-- for example, for the blinds I tried to install the other day-- but they don't make sense to me. Even with three seat cushions upholstered and ready to reattach, I can't figure out how to put them back on the chairs, even though I'd taken them off. As for the forth, my staple gun stopped shedding staples. It makes the noise, it doesn't appear to be jammed, but nothing comes out. Which I guess means another trip to Home Depot.

Ah, Home Depot. At least I'm doing my part to help the economy... of Home Depot; and Lowes; and Crate & Barrel Outlet. Quantities of money that I used to spend over the course of months now accrues to my credit card bill in a week or even days. I'm finally learning my way around those stores-- the first time I walked through one, I was a bewildered tourist. I had no idea where to start, I was lost. I can't quite say that I'm found. I want to go home, except it's too late, there's no turning back.

But I digress. Kind of. Given that this is my state of mind, would it be too much to ask for mom to be somewhat more *supportive*? I know it's a stretch. But rather than baiting me and stressing me out more-- deliberately or otherwise--could she maybe say something that would make me feel better or at least not make me feel worse? I think this calls for a poll.


Instead of taking a hard look at ourselves as a nation--asking why we consume so much-- some people go and trample a Walmart employee to death? Come on, people. That just makes me sick.

Something's not right with your face

As we speak, mom is throwing a fit. Over nothing. Well, technically, over sweet potatoes that were not put away to her satisfaction, but since it's mom, this has escalated into a melodrama. As usual, she turned on dad, when all he did was suggest that we put the sweet potatoes in yet another part of the fridge that wasn't quite right by her standards.

The sweet potatoes melodrama was directly proceded by a discussion-turned-fight over my lack of internet at home. I'm honestly too sick of it to transcribe it fully but it's worth a try.

Mom: So what's the issue?
A.: The previous owner never turned off her phone service, so when Verizon turned mine on, they connected it to the wrong jack.
Mom: Well, have them come and fix it.
A.: They said they'd charge at least $95 for that. But they also said I could do it myself.
Mom: What does the phone have to do with it?
A.: The DSL uses the phone line?
Mom: So you don't have cable?
A.: No, DSL.

We've discussed this many times, including last night when my parents tried to convince me that I was losing out by not getting cable.

Mom: Well, you can get DSL from any company. You don't have to deal with Verizon.
A.: Actually, I think I do. But the DSL isn't the problem. The phone line is the problem.
Mom: Well, she has to pay her phone bill if she hasn't turned it off.
A.: Right, that's not the issue.
Mom: They'll turn it off if she doesn't pay it.
A.: She'll pay it. The point is I can't connect my phone service until she disconnects hers.
Mom: Can't you go with someone else for internet? Get wireless?
A.: The wireless has to be based on a cable or DSL account.
Mom: No, you can just have wireless.
A.: No, I can't. Can we just stop talking about this? I'm on vacation from house stuff.
Mom: This isn't about the house. It's about DSL.
A.: Which right now is part of my house nightmare.
Mom: I don't understand why we can't talk about it.
A.: Because I don't want to.
Mom: You're so impatient. You will be patient and explain this to my satisfaction!
A.: Please don't tell me what to do.
Mom: Watch your language!

This went on. In circles. Several times. Then the sweet potato fight escalated, and now she's not talking to me. She muttered something about how I shouldn't bother coming for Christmas because we clearly don't get along. Then she spent a few minutes slamming doors and left the house.

A.: What's wrong with her? Who throws fits over sweet potatoes?
Dad: Emotional abuse as a child?
A.: [Shrug]. And last night-- do you think it's right to chew and talk at the same time?
Dad: No. Well, you know, the issue is that she's rude to just about everyone but can't take the slightest reproach directed her way. She's rude to Natasha regularly, but Natasha's used to her antics and just ignores them.
A.: I'm not that saintly.
Dad: Natasha's not saintly to her own family, either. That's just how it is.
A.: But it's not just the slightest reproach-- it's the slightest anything. She overreacts to anything that can be interpreted as criticism.
Dad: Yes, I know.

Earlier at breakfast

Mom: You should cut your hair.
A.: I don't want to.
Mom: Well, it's just that your face is round. Are you eating a lot-- is that why you've gained weight?
Dad: Her face is not round.
A.: I haven't gained weight.
Mom: Something's not right with your face.


Russians in general tend not to appreciate subtle flavors; if it's not in-your-face, it's bland. Mom and I once made a nice dish of scallops cooked in white wine, garlic and sun-dried tomatoes. Dad dealt with this by dipping the scallops in cocktail sauce.

Mom makes pumpkin bread in the fall. I've never been a fan. I love, love pumpkin bread-- when it's soft and you can taste the pumpkin. But mom likes to drown out any trace of pumpkin with a lot of spices. So this time I tried to convince her otherwise, and we met half-way. It turned out soft and flavorful. She thought it was bland.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is one of those holidays I actually like (Halloween is another; the rest don't come close). Speaking of holidays I don't care for, what the f* is up with not even waiting until after TG to start running xmas music on the radio? And they say my people control the media!

Anyway, TG is also one of those holidays I enjoy spending with my family, and overall, it was a lot of fun. Close friends came over, we had an enjoyable meal. Of course, it is my family, so the evening had its moments, starting before dinner, when mom went to put some seafood salad from the Russian food store out on the table.

A.: Why don't we put that in a dish?
Mom: Please! And have more dishes to wash?
A.: It will look so much better.
Mom: Hah! Please. These are close family friends.
A.: Even if it were just the three of us, I would take that out of its container. I mean, it's a holiday.

Mom kept going on as if using a dish were no more than showing off.

Mom: Our friends! There's just no point.
Dad: Really. Let's just put it in a dish.
Mom: Fine. Fine.

I often get the impression that mom has little patience for any conversation that isn't about her. Sometimes she actively changes the subject; sometimes she tries to make it about her--for example, if we're having a conversation about, say, underwater basket weaving, she'll feel the need to say, 'I once tried that,' or something. Tonight, she just didn't bother acknowledging that the conversation was happening.

A.: How are the grandchildren?
Natasha: They're great. Maria's birthday was just the other day...
Mom: Mmmmmm! This duck is really good.

The first time Mom spoke with her mouth full, I let it go. The second time I nudged her. She kept doing it. And I kept trying to subtly signal that I'd rather she didn't. Subtlety doesn't work on mom, though, and she makes subtle efforts worse by calling me out on them in front of everyone.

Mom: How dare you tell me what to do! I don't tell you what to do, and clearly, without my guidance you have completely let yourself go!
A.: However, I don't try to talk and chew at the same time.

As consumers-- and I mean, even as consumers of basic services-- we are constantly barraged by the upsell (see earlier post). The people trying to sell us stuff know that waring us down is half the battle, that eventually we'll get to the point where we'll buy whatever it is just to be able to get rid of them and move on with our lives. The busier we are, the more we have going on, the more we just want to move on, and as a new homeowner, I'm a pretty juicy target. Yet, I've managed to resist, for the most part... but I find myself caving, especially when it's mom doing the barraging:

Mom: You should really take that bed-- the one that was your bed when you were little. It has that drawer underneath...
A.: I don't need another bed, mom. As it is, I have my bed, two futons and a couch.
Mom: But this one has a drawer, you can use it for storage.
A.: I don't have room for it.

And then I catch myself. Why do I have to justify not wanting to fill my house with more stuff? It's not just the bed; several times a day, mom tries to foist stuff on me, and once I realize that I've been put on the defensive, i.e. in the position of having to justify not taking whatever it is, I get even warier. But you can't ask mom to stop because she overreacts (being able to take what she regularly dishes out is not her strong suit) and then it just turns into a bigger fight.

Recall the posts from Mom's birthday weekend, in which I blogged about how, according to dad, mom still loses no opportunity to talk about how my decision to major in psychology was a horrible career move. This actually doesn't surprise me, given that she still can't let go of the fact that I sucked at gymnastics and martial arts, and that was a decade before college. Anyway, for all her contempt for the field of psychology, she sure loves playing pop psychologist:

Mom: You know, it surprises me that Irina made that decision, because normally people as artistic as she is have very active right brains. With her, that's just not the case.

What followed was almost as amusing-- mom went on about how Irina should have persued her passions rather than worry about practical things like making money. Which is exactly the opposite of the career advice she generally sends my way. Still, she hasn't shared any such advice recently, and for that I am thankful.

At gymnastics, you were completely useless

Dad, for the fourth time: What are we waiting for? Let's go. It's nice out.
Mom: I'm waiting for you.

Then she continues to do other things for a few more minutes.

A.: Let's go!

Finally, we get in the car.

Mom: Small river or big river?
A.: Big river. We have time.
Mom: Which, the one farther out?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Are you sure?
A.: I don't care-- just go whereever you want.
Mom: Well, tell me where.
A.: I just did.
Mom: Big river or small river?
A.: Big river.

On the way home from the walk, we drove by one of my old stomping grounds, and mom decided to ensure, once again, that I would never forget that she tried to instill in me various abilities:

"This is where you took skating lessons. You also took swimming... what else? At gymnastics, you were completely useless. Martial arts-- I still remember, $500 right out the window."

Mad libs

Mom: Why don't you want [any object on earth, the more useless the more fitting].
A.: Mom, I just moved to a small house, with limited space. I don't need to fill it with things I won't use. Please stop offering me things and then making me explain why I don't want them.

Now multiply that conversation times at least five times a day.

I am roasting peppers. I go to compost a cap and surrounding seeds.

Mom: What are you doing? Seeds are the healthiest part!
A.: They're not, actually.
Mom: Well, save them.
A.: Fine.

Ten minutes later

Mom: Well, you roasted your peppers-- why have you left the caps and seeds on the cutting board?
A.: You wouldn't let me throw them out.
Dad: That's true. You wouldn't.
Mom: Oh.

TG roundup

'Stings' is the right word. It's one thing to read the paper and feel awful about things happening to other people; it's another when it hits home, because this is how my grandfather died.

On an only slightly lighter note-- just as f*ed up, but the point is, there are some real fighters out there--is today's Kristof column.

Let's end on a much lighter note with Ms. Collins.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Live the nightmare of home ownership

I'd bought my Thanksgiving ticket to Boston shortly before I knew I would be buying a house, so I had no choice but to take my exhausted, unhandy, bruised self out of home improvement land and 'home for the holidays.' I can't remember a time that I was so happy to get on a plane. I didn't even care that a baby was whine-crying throughout pretty much the whole flight.

I couldn't blog for the last week, partly because I devoted every waking moment to moving and home repair, and partly because the [expletive too crass even for these pages] at Verizon cut off my internet early. I did want to share a couple of articles, including one by David Brooks. Gail Collins amuses as always; and I had a lot to say about this piece on our national innumeracy in home ec but I've now forgotten most of it.

There were some memorable mom moments, including some from tonight. Mom was especially pensive on the way home from the airport, as she tends to be whenever I have a really good reason to want to just get somewhere. She pulled into the driveway.

Mom: I can never quite see the fence.
A.: You have plenty of room.
Mom: That's what you think!
A.: I can see that you have plenty of room.
Mom: Ha! I do not!

She parks. And dilly-dallies.

A.: Could you open the trunk please?
Mom: Just a minute!

We come up to the front porch. Mom starts talking about the dog across the street.

A.: Mom?
Mom: What!
A.: Could you open the door?
Mom: What is your problem? You know what, you should just stop coming here. That I could get used to, but your tone of voice is just too much to take!
A.: All I asked was for you to open the door.

This continued pretty much throughout the evening.

What's noteworthy is that she hasn't told me that I've put on weight. Yet. This may be because I've actually lost eight pounds since her birthday a couple of months ago. One of the perks of homeownership: you don't have time to eat.

What was actually awesome was when she called a week or so ago and lectured me on the importance of sleep (I admitted that I'd been waking up at 4am, which is actually only an hour earlier than I normally get up, but why miss an opportunity to lecture). She said, "everyone is saying it's important to sleep!" as if I needed convincing. I didn't point out that she only acknowledged the importance of sleep when she didn't feel like waking me up in the middle of the night to (a) call me an idiot, (b) ask me what time it was, even though there was a clock right there, or (c) just want to tell me something.

For the first time in ages, complaining about mom isn't all that therapeutic, because I'm so much more pissed off at just about everyone else: Verizon, Traveler's (renter's insurance), the woman who sold me her house and hid so many signs of disrepair and filth under carpets and behind furniture (and never turned off her phone service, so now I can't turn mine on without paying Verizon $95 to come out and transfer the wires to the right jacks, although they said I could do that myself... but everytime I try to do something myself, I end up sustaining an injury... but that can't be that hard, can it?). I'm also mad at myself-- I've made a lot of bad decisions; for you Dr. Seuss fans, I've been stuck in 'games you can't win 'cause you play against you' mode for much of this process. In addition to injuring myself, I've also, at times, created more work for myself. I've made progress, though.

I should also point out that while I am exhausted, I would be screwed as well if it weren't for the support and help of many friends, who have gone far beyond the call of duty to help me move and fix things.

On that note, goodnight.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

there she goes again

It’s one thing when my mother leaves me a bitchy message asking why I never call, within several days of our having spoken. It’s pointless and self-defeating, but it’s one thing.

It’s another, even more pointless thing, when she follows up such a message with an even bitchier message, an hour or so later (or any time frame in which it would have been unlikely that I could get back to her), expressing even greater annoyance that I haven’t returned the earlier message. How dare I be unavailable for a whole hour, on a Saturday night?

I called her back several hours later.

Mom: You haven’t called?
A.: Mom, I’ve been running around like crazy.
Mom: So? You could have called between running.
A.: Why? What’s the point? We spoke on Tuesday. I don’t have anything to say. If you have something to say, you can call me.
Mom: You’re not there when I call.
A.: But then I call you back. [And you devote the entire call to bitching about how I never call).
Mom: Why can’t you just call?

I reiterate what I’ve already said.

Mom: This conversation is over!
A.: Okay.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

A memo

Harold Meyerson on how Fox News' hauling of truckloads of troglodyte garbage to its flock has come back to bite its preferred party in the ass.

On a related note, Jonathan Freedland suggests that the Republican party look to the Tories' example and get with the program.

Gail Collins is hilarious and insightful as always.

On a creative source of internet rumors.

Meyerson's column is fitting in its own right but it's especially timely for me, as I've been thinking in the last week or so that I resent Fox News not only for its lowering the public discourse and basically peddling misinformation, but specifically for turning mom into a rabid, hateful, fear-based political thinker--or perhaps fanning the flames that were already there in that respect. But if they were there, they weren't overwhelming. She is not a hateful person. But as discussed in a previous post (and link to a entry), people, and those with influence over the public discourse or even the people around them, have a choice when managing their message during hard times: they can deliver sometimes hard truths, or they can blame others and sew divisions and fears. Fox chose the latter, mom chose Fox, and for her sake--for the sake of her soul--I have no choice to stray from my non-intervention policy of in-one-ear-out-the-other and do what I can to undo the damage.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The kids lose underwear??

Maureen Dowd:

It’s W., Cheney and Edward Liddy, the C.E.O. of A.I.G. — who can’t seem to stop the conga line of bailout beneficiaries from going on luxury retreats, even though taxpayers have to keep ponying up — who may have clinched the case that overprivileged white men are biologically or cognitively unsuited to hold higher office.
Calling Tina Fey. Here’s Palin defending herself on the contention that she got confused about Africa:

“My concern has been the atrocities there in Darfur and the relevance to me with that issue as we spoke about Africa and some of the countries there that were kind of the people succumbing to the dictators and the corruption of some collapsed governments on the continent, the relevance was Alaska’s investment in Darfur with some of our permanent fund dollars.”

And, she concluded, “never, ever did I talk about, well, gee, is it a country or a continent, I just don’t know about this issue.”

Palin’s father, Chuck Heath, told The Associated Press over the weekend that his daughter was “frantically” trying to sort out the clothes she got as Eliza Knowlittle so she could send them back.

“You know,” Heath said, “the kids lose underwear, and everything has to be accounted for.”

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Pick your battles, mom

Mom: So, I got this survey from JD Power and Associates, and it took me forever to fill it out, and then they asked me about my race and gender. I didn't fill that part out! But I feel like I have to respond. Can I just send it to them?
A.: Yes.
Mom: I also want to write to them and tell them that their surveys are too intrusive...

[A., to herself: ARE YOU F*ING KIDDING ME?]

A., out loud: Mom, they're not interested in you specifically. They have to ask about demographics.
Mom: I don't want to fill out any more of their surveys. I want to write to them [read: you need to write to them] and ask them not to send them anymore.
A.: You don't need to write to them. Just don't fill them out.
Mom: I don't want them to waste paper or postage.

[A., to herself: But you have no problem wasting my time?]

A.: Mom! Just send them what you already have and stop filling out their surveys!
Mom: But... the paper...
A.: Mom!
Mom: Fine.

Mom must be aware that I just bought a house.

It is natural, intuitive to infer that when one has just purchased a home, one is frantically busy with moving into that home and making it suitable for habitation.

Even if that were not natural and intuitive to infer, I told mom as much when she called yesterday.

So she called me tonight, at 9pm, at which point I was no longer technically frantically busy, but I was completely exhausted. And we've established that I don't appreciate being called at 9pm on weeknights anyway.

I can understand when it's something legitimate, like the Toyota situation (see earlier entry), but when it's about a survey??? ARE YOU F*ING KIDDING ME?

Monday, November 10, 2008

Reverse apologies

Henry Alford is on a mission:
"So the other day, when a stroller-pushing mother semi-vigorously bumped into me at Sixth Avenue and Eighth Street — this corner is apparently the Bermuda Triangle of manners — I expressed remorse, and added, “No one says I’m sorry anymore, so I do it for them.”


“My idea is that if I say I’m sorry, then at least the words have been released into the universe.”

She stared at me with equal parts irritation and faint horror, as if I had just asked her to attend a three-hour lecture on the history of the leotard.

I continued: “The apology gets said, even if it’s not by the right person. It makes me feel better. And maybe you’ll know what to say next time.”

“Wow,” she said. (The tickets for the leotard lecture were $200, or $500 at the door.)

And then, finally, came the words I have longed these many months to hear: “I’ll think about it.”"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

"America, apparently, is looking for a place to crash"

I'm here for you. Come on over.

Disclaimer: I've just painted the guestroom moss green. I think it's nice.
Another Disclaimer: Not a perfect paint job (I tried), but hey, it'll be dark so it's not like the imperfections will keep you up at night.

Sunday morning roundup

Frank Rich:
For eight years, we’ve been told by those in power that we are small, bigoted and stupid — easily divided and easily frightened.
And what about all those terrified Jews who reportedly abandoned their progressive heritage to buy into the smears libeling Obama as an Israel-hating terrorist? Obama drew a larger percentage of Jews nationally (78) than Kerry had (74) and — mazel tov, Sarah Silverman! — won Florida.

Let’s defend Hispanic-Americans, too, while we’re at it. In one of the more notorious observations of the campaign year, a Clinton pollster, Sergio Bendixen, told The New Yorker in January that “the Hispanic voter — and I want to say this very carefully — has not shown a lot of willingness or affinity to support black candidates.” Let us say very carefully that a black presidential candidate won Latinos — the fastest-growing demographic in the electorate — 67 percent to 31 (up from Kerry’s 53-to-44 edge and Gore’s 62-to-35).

Young voters also triumphed over the condescension of the experts. “Are they going to show up?” Cokie Roberts of ABC News asked in February. “Probably not. They never have before. By the time November comes, they’ll be tired.” In fact they turned up in larger numbers than in 2004, and their disproportionate Democratic margin made a serious difference, as did their hard work on the ground. They’re not the ones who need Geritol.
The actual real America is everywhere. It is the America that has been in shell shock since the aftermath of 9/11, when our government wielded a brutal attack by terrorists as a club to ratchet up our fears, betray our deepest constitutional values and turn Americans against one another in the name of “patriotism.” What we started to remember the morning after Election Day was what we had forgotten over the past eight years, as our abusive relationship with the Bush administration and its press enablers dragged on: That’s not who we are.

So even as we celebrated our first black president, we looked around and rediscovered the nation that had elected him. “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” Obama said in February, and indeed millions of such Americans were here all along, waiting for a leader. This was the week that they reclaimed their country.

Nicholas Kristof:
We can’t solve our educational challenges when, according to polls, Americans are approximately as likely to believe in flying saucers as in evolution, and when one-fifth of Americans believe that the sun orbits the Earth.

Almost half of young Americans said in a 2006 poll that it was not necessary to know the locations of countries where important news was made.
An intellectual is a person interested in ideas and comfortable with complexity. Intellectuals read the classics, even when no one is looking, because they appreciate the lessons of Sophocles and Shakespeare that the world abounds in uncertainties and contradictions, and... that leaders self-destruct when they become too rigid and too intoxicated with the fumes of moral clarity.

(Intellectuals are for real. In contrast, a pedant is a supercilious show-off who drops references to Sophocles and masks his shallowness by using words like “fulgent” and “supercilious.”)
"Maybe someday soon our leaders no longer will have to shuffle in shame when they’re caught with brains in their heads."

Not okay

What's wrong with these vignettes:
"Mr. Torres was comatose and connected to a ventilator. He was also a legal immigrant whose family lives and works in the purple alfalfa fields of this southwestern town. But he was uninsured. So the hospital disregarded the strenuous objections of his grief-stricken parents and sent Mr. Torres on a four-hour journey over the California border into Mexicali.

In the case of Elliott Bustamante, a hospital in Tucson moved speedily, and ultimately unsuccessfully, to transfer a sickly infant to Mexico, ignoring the mother’s opposition and the fact that Elliott was an American citizen born with Down syndrome and a heart problem at that very hospital."
Which comatose and infected patient, or baby with a heart condition, would Jesus deport?

Don't bother with the argument that hospitals can't just support everyone-- that's true, but that's not the point. This is a system failure.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Eventually I caught on

Mom called and talked for over ten minutes about poor customer service at the Toyota dealership. I eventually interrupted.

A.: Okay, so I see you're telling me this so I can write a complaint letter.
Mom: Yes, please.
A.: Two things: (1) Can it wait until tomorrow morning? I'm really busy now in general and this minute in particular, and (2) In the future, could you please begin these conversations with some foreshadowing that action will be expected on my part, so I can note the important things accordingly?
Mom: Yes, okay.

I was able to write the letter later that afternoon, between showing someone (i.e. a potential roommate) the house and heading to a friend's apartment for dinner.

I have yet to finish painting a single room. I've bought a bunch of stuff (baseboards, a medicine cabinet, various fixtures) but have neither the tools nor the handiness to make use of it. So I sent out a cry for help, but no volunteers yet. I may have to get over myself and hire people. Or I could get over myself and keep trying to figure it out for myself. We'll see.

Thursday, November 6, 2008


I worked ten-hour days this week in order to take tomorrow off (in order to get a head start on some home improvement projects calling my name). This precluded cycling to (well, from) work, or at least made it stupid, since most of my ride is basically in a forest (with a paved trail running through it), and I won't ride through that forest in the dark. So I've been experiencing the metro.

Now, I won't complain about the metro, but I'll say a few words about the stew of humanity that I encounter on the metro. I won't complain about that, either, though-- because it's less dangerous and frustrating than the stew of humanity I used to encounter on the roadway.

Today, the woman sitting in the next seat over (i.e. the inner seat) said, "this is my stop."

Not "excuse me." Just "this is my stop."

I didn't think quickly enough to say, "and?"


Gail Collins, Maureen Dowd, Nicholas Kristof, and Robinson. That last one is especially poignant.

On a "lighter" note:
[Carl] Cameron, the Fox beat reporter for the Republican presidential ticket, said he had been told by unnamed sources -- and on the condition he not report the details during the campaign -- that Palin could not name all of the countries that are part of the North American Free Trade Agreement.

He did not mention which one (or ones) she whiffed on, but there are only three: Canada, the U.S. and Mexico.

Nor, according to Cameron, was Palin aware that Africa is a continent.

Monday, November 3, 2008


One of my strongly held grammatical beliefs has official backing. I knew that, but I stumbled upon an online source.
A note about ending a sentence with a preposition. Some believe there's something wrong with that. It's a myth. One can find sentences ending with preps in the lines of some of the finest writers in history: Chaucer, Swift, Kipling, Shakespeare and so on. "We are such stuff as dreams are made on" -- Try rephrasing that line from The Tempest. See what inelegant glob results. This canard about no-prepositions-at-the-end belongs in the same dustbin as "Thou shalt not split an infinitive."

Yes, it is not quite 4am. Just because I've closed, doesn't mean I'm sleeping any better. Maybe after the election.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A little respect

"I'm here signing my life away, and they're chatting," said a friend of mine who had closed on a house earlier this year. We were talking about how the settlement process was much less formal than we had expected. I said I was shocked at the unprofessionalism of the seller's realtor and broker, who were chomping on the provided Halloween candy and noisily wriggling the wrappers. The other day at work, some friends and I were talking about how we don't actually bring our lunch to brown bag sessions, because who wants to eat (i.e. make eating noises) when people are talking. The eating thing is one of the issues here; another is perhaps more debatable in its propriety: shouldn't you be paying attention to your clients at all times-- and not just your clients-- the people you're with?

I've always thought it was rude (perhaps I am betraying my age) for people to get involved in cell phone conversations when they are in the company of others, unless those are quick, practical cell phone conversations. When my realtor called on two separate occasions when I was in Boston, and I was talking to friends each time, I apologized profusely (and genuinely). Had they been social calls, I wouldn't have taken them.

It's even worst when it's a client situation. Your dentist, even your checkout counter employee, should be focusing on you and on the procedure (even if that procedure is something like scanning groceries, which requires less focus than performing a root canal). Similarly, I was put off when, as my friend put it, I was signing my home purchase paperwork, and the others around the table were pretty much talking about the weather. A little respect, please. I was relieved that my friend had the same reaction when she was going through the same thing.

All in all, everything went very well. I got a great deal, I got a great house (okay, so it's going to need some work) and I've already gotten some great, fire-sale priced furniture (not to mention free furniture that I've dumpster dived or freecycled). Now for the move.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Saturday morning news

A riveting story to reinforce the fact that there is a lot of hard, dangerous and heroic work being done.

Someone at Fox has brains and other anatomy.

Don't ever doubt--not that you would--that some people are deluded beyond reason.

A smart editorial whose ideas, if suggested by a political candidate, would draw accusations of welfare.

Gail Collins is always awesome, and today she takes on undecided voters:
Obama’s target audience is the 10 percent of voters who told this week’s New York Times/CBS News poll that they did not feel as if they had received enough information to make an informed decision on the presidential race. I believe we have met them before. They are the men and women who get up at a town hall meeting after the candidate had just made a 20-minute opening speech about his/her plans for health care reform, and say: “What I want to know is, what are you going to do about medical costs?” My theory is that whenever they hear someone start to discuss the issues, they cover their ears and make humming noises, the way my husband does when I say it is time to take a look at our 401(k)s.

In The Times’s poll, the percentage of respondents who said that they weren’t totally sure who they were going to vote for was almost identical to the percentage who said that they think the economy is doing well. Are they the same people? If so, perhaps they are still undecided because they are waiting to get their marching orders from well-informed friends like Abraham Lincoln, St. Catherine of Siena or Seabiscuit.