Saturday, January 31, 2009

More customer service tales

While my mother would argue that I always have to be right, I actually don't think anyone is always right. And I've certainly never bought into or expected 'the customer is always right' treatment. But there is, obviously, a certain amount of courtesy due a customer, and there is also a certain minimum below which the customer is not worth annoying.

Last Saturday morning, like the one before it, I started my weekend at the hardware store. I bought approximately $70 worth of stuff-- not the most I've spent at that place, but also not bad for one receipt. My purchase included two packages of fiberglass insulation at about $6 each. Since the plumber was coming around on Tuesday, I thought I would ask him whether it was worth wrapping around my water heater like they say... and he said that it wasn't, that water heaters-- even older ones-- have plenty of built-in insulation. So this morning, when I was back at Home Depot for more stuff, I returned the insulation. I encountered more scrutiny from the saleswoman at the counter than a cabinet nominee would in the course of a hearing.

Saleswoman: Is there something wrong with it?
A.: It turns out that I don't need it.
Saleswoman, looking at me skeptically: It is opened?

It is obviously not opened. The plastic around both packages is perfectly intact, apart from a tiny hole that she manages to find on one, that was most likely there when I bought it. She takes almost a minute to look over the packages. Finally she processes the return. Upon tossing the insulation into the right bins, she looks them over again, very carefully.

What is she going to do? Not process the return? Accuse me of using the insulation and then wrapping it back up?

It reminds me of the time, a few years ago, that I pointed out to a waitress that there was meat in my 'vegetarian' fried rice. Rather than apologizing and bringing me a new plate, she took on a skeptical look and proceeded to poke at the dish with my fork. What is WRONG with these people?

Ch-ch-ch-wtf?

People keep sending me links that make me fear for the future of humanity.

The balance of things intact

When things break, they often break all at once. In a way, that's a good thing, because you're not constantly fixing and replacing things; you can concentrate the frustration into discrete blocks of time.

Over the summer, in the course of a week of two-- just when I was getting my root canal-- I had two flat bike tires and the power valve thing on my laptop broke.

This time, it started with a flat tire, which turned out to be not a big deal, just needed a patch. Then the light went out in one of my headlights; also easily fixed. And just yesterday, I noticed a crack in my windshield. I know when it happened, too-- it was debris from those trucks that spew it behind them. I always try to stay far away for that reason, but sometimes you can't. So, anyway, it's one thing after another with the car (dare I hope that the windshield is it?).

Now for the laptop: left mouse button doesn't respond. Thankfully, this is manageable (good thing I know my keystrokes, although one of the "shift" keys is sticking, too). I can't wait for my external mouse to arrive, though. WTF, fedex?

And of course, the house. My (new) toaster oven died, and I've misplaced the receipt. And the laundry situation continues to be a nightmare, but I almost prefer having machines that don't work at all to a machine that leaks. But with the house I'm actually maintaining the balance of keeping things intact, even staying ahead. I do have a brand-new over the range microwave, installed as of last night, and most of my outlets now work. I may just have this place ready for prime time by anti-Valentine's Day.

Intervention, now!

Okay, forget the folks at Davos; I have apparently lost my mind. I just caught myself tearing up while looking at pictures that my friend just sent of her newborn baby. I should have known something was up when I found myself tearing up at (some) weddings, and now this. What is happening to me?

***
Let me tell you what does not fill me with warm fuzzies: my cat. I mean, good thing she's cute, because that thing is such a little rat. Here is my open letter to Gracie:

Okay, look, you little bi^&h: I am not kitty mommy in chief; I have a day job, and I can't pay attention to you every second of the day, so STOP WHINING. It's getting you nowhere. And just when I think you've redeemed yourself, you go and annoy me. Take yesterday: since you graciously allowed me to sleep in until 7am, I fed you first thing in the morning. Now, was it not the least you could do, then, to let me enjoy my breakfast without having to listen to your incessant, annoying whining? Besides-- what the f* do you have to whine about?? You sleep all f*ing day. Mommy, on the other hand, works. A lot. And then she has to come home and keep covered her nice, matching papasan cushion with an old, ugly one, so that the nice one doesn't come to resemble you in color and texture; she keeps her nice table runner packed away, because she can't trust you to stay off the table; and she lives with the fact that much of her furniture is going to get covered irreparably with cat hair no matter what. She also feeds you, scoops your poop (and occasionally cleans it off the carpets, when you feel you do not get enough attention) and takes you to the vet, but she signed on to all that. She did NOT sign on to hearing you bitch all day long, so shut the f* up!

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Snowdaygate, continued

Details from the USA Today and
local reactions from the Post, including some good points:
bknivens:
"The Chicagoland area dedicates massive resources to snow removal, road clearing and salting, on a scale that DC -- with its often more temperate winters -- cannot afford to duplicate..."
tands23:
"I come from the West and I am surprised how easily things shut down in this city due to snow! Part of the reason are the horrendous drivers of this region who know nothing about snow or ice on roads," a point with which many other out-of-towners agreed.

fmjk:
"We know how to pull over when the President's motorcade goes by. We endure the comings and goings of every Congress, without getting a vote in any of them. Perhaps Obama would like to help us with that..."


I agree: it was VERY icy yesterday and I walked very slowly to and from the metro. But why can't they salt the streets? That's all I'm saying.

Truth and reconciliation, the fight for progress, and aliens among us

Kristof's brilliant suggestion.

Collins on where we started and who fought to get us where we are.

Also, the Times offers a window on an alien planet, complete with obliviousness and crazy pills. Position yourself on that planet where four-figure rubbish bins make sense, and read about dating on that planet.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Complaints and Causes

The Telegraph anoints the world's best complaint letter (and the Economist agrees).

A friend suggested that I acquaint my readers with an opportunity for political activism they would certainly want to get involved in. If they're insane.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Sunday morning roundup

Frank Rich is as insightful as ever, and Maureen Dowd compares New York's and Illinois' governors. Also, a psychologist and anthropologist argue that people won't sell their values.

I can't decide whether or not I care for the Post's naval-gazing. I live here, too, but enough is enough. I'm not posting the "Is DC cool?" article because it's just dumb.

This, however, is fascinating, though not surprising:
The torrent of hateful words is part of what terrorism experts now believe is a deliberate, even desperate, propaganda campaign against a president who appears to have gotten under al-Qaeda's skin. The departure of George W. Bush deprived al-Qaeda of a polarizing American leader who reliably drove recruits and donations to the terrorist group.


Oh, and Dick Cavett's blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Oh, my

I needed a good laugh. Thank you, people of Britain, for your
this. A quote:
“People would stand in front of the sign, pull down their trousers and take pictures of each other’s naked buttocks.”

Money, anyone?

Houses are money pits; I knew that going in. They're also time pits, but that is not the topic of today's post. I am not here to complain about how I'm hemorrhaging money, although that is, as they say, a true statement, and to set the context for what I am here to say, I do need to establish that there is substantial migration--an exodus, if you will-- of money from my books to those of the home repair/improvement industry. It follows that, if you are a part of that industry, there is a substantial amount of money to be made from my home repair needs.

So you'd think, particularly in this day in age when money is especially hard to come by, that you would want to increase your chances of being on the receiving end of the exodus. You'd think that this would not be the time to exhibit atrocious customer service.

Well, you're wrong. You'd be AMAZED.

Now, there is amazing customer service out there, and I'm actually in homeowner heaven because I've found a polite, responsive, skilled and reasonable electrician, which is like winning the lottery, but in the search process, I ran into some real duds, and I've been able to compile some tips for positioning yourself to capture homeowner dollars:

-For f*'s sake, be able to provide some kind of estimate or range without seeing the house.
-Answer phone calls promptly.
-Do not f* with me.

That last one is a bit all-encompassing. Here's one example: don't try to rip me off.

Have you ever been in a situation where you'd be willing to pay a little bit more to just get something done or because the hassle of finding an alternative is just not worth it? But then the potential doer of whatever you need done overplays his or her hand and quotes you a price that is just obscene?

Don't do that.

For the example that defines "don't f* with me"-- and this should come as a shock to no one-- allow me to describe my experience with BestBuy.

Now, I've never liked BestBuy, but between a great sale they were having on over-the-range microwaves and the BestBuy giftcard in my possession, I decided to go for it. Although BestBuy was charging more than the price of the microwave for installation, I was so fed up with house stuff that I was ready to just by the rate of extortion and let it go. But BestBuy was obnoxious enough to make giving them even more of my money not an option.

First of all, when I called to arrange for the installation, they transferred me around three times and then finally hung up on me. Twice. So I went over there.

BB: So, what day would you be available?
A.: I could be available on Friday afternoon. What time slots do you have?
BB: They'll call you the day before and tell you the time.
A.: They'll tell me the time? I have no say in the time?
BB: No. You can pick the day. They'll call you the day before and give you the time.
A.: I just can't plan to be around at any time during the day.
BB: You can't pick the time.
A.: Well, then, someone else will have to install the microwave.

Are they f*ing kidding me? Is anyone able to sit around all day or prepared to be home at a given time of day as specified by BestBuy on a day's notice?

Un-f*ing-believable.

***
I can go on, I have other stories. I'm in a good place, though-- an electrician just put in a dedicated line for my (leaky, soon-to-be-replaced) washing machine and also installed overhead lighting in my office/guestroom for less than the cost of Gracie's annual checkup/weigh-in/rabies shot. And the electrician doesn't poop on my carpet but I digress into apples to oranges. Apples to apples, he charged one-third the estimate I got two weeks ago from another electrician. So he's coming back to do two more rooms and the wiring part of the microwave (which, by the way, still hasn't make it to the BestBuy store even though they told me it would be in yesterday), and maybe even these elusive outlets. Perhaps that other electrician didn't find working for what I consider to be a reasonable price to be worth his time; that's his choice-- if he can find people willing to pay that much, good for him. There's lots of homeowner money out there for the earning. Mine is going to the reasonable, polite, professional, responsive guy.

Interesting thought

There's definitely some cooped-up blogging to be done, but I've been swamped and I have to go back to work (from home, thankfully) once the electricians leave. In the meantime, here's some interesting reading to start your weekend:
"...no one political party, or ideological perspective, has a monopoly on wisdom. That recognition can be the difference between ambition -- which the Obama presidency must exhibit -- and hubris, which it can ill afford.

Being proven right too many times is dangerous. It breeds intellectual arrogance and complacency.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

WTF???

I don't necessarily agree with the prescription, but I am blown away by the objectivity and even-handedness of the argument, given the source.

Also, for all you people who won't end a sentence in a preposition:
Language pedants hew to an oral tradition of shibboleths that have no basis in logic or style, that have been defied by great writers for centuries, and that have been disavowed by every thoughtful usage manual. Nonetheless, they refuse to go away, perpetuated by the Gotcha! Gang and meekly obeyed by insecure writers.
Although the example Pinker chooses to work with is split infinitives.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

And it's not even my birthday

I have talked to my parents a few times since I returned to DC, even though I haven't had time to blog about it. Nothing glaring or hilarious--mom's actually being really nice. Oh, and Dad continues to express his delusion that DC is a tropical paradise.
Mom: What's the weather like?
A.: It's getting better. The other day it was 10 degrees when I left for work.
Dad: Celsius?
A.: No.
Dad: Right-- I mean it was 10 degrees Celsius.
A.: It was 10 degrees Fahrenheit.
Dad: Oh, that's cold.
A.: Yes, yes it is. But now it's up to 16.

***
Mom's nice streak started when she was able to give away her TV through Freecycle. She had bought a flatscreen over the holidays and just couldn't bear to throw out the perfectly good set she had before... so I checked the Boston group for her and that day, there was a wanted posting for a TV. The guy came and picked it up, was thrilled, sent her a nice thank-you e-mail, and she was over the moon. She can't stand to waste anything-- rightly so-- and this way it goes to someone who can use it, and she doesn't have to deal with the clutter. Freecycle has been wonderful to me, too, both in getting stuff and being able to get rid of it.

Then, last weekend, she called to ask me for my roasted pepper recipe. This may not sound like much, but my mother is fiercely catty about cooking, and goes out of her way, usually, to slam anything that I cook up, so for her to admit that she liked something I made is quite a step. She even said something like, "it turned out so well when you did it" and I think I recall her actually generalizing that, saying that I always do these things so well, or something.

So the other day I decided to return the love and tell her that I actually used something that she gave me and that it worked well. Again, not a big deal, but you will recall that I am on a mission to get mom to stop buying stuff for me and then making me find a home for it in my house. Years ago she gave me a Magic Bullet. It sat in storage. I used it for the first time on Sunday to puree roasted red peppers to add to red lentil soup, and it worked perfectly. So I got over myself and told mom, whose response was "oh, yes, of course, that thing is wonderful."

***
The anticipation of my first non-altruistic guests (i.e. people who visited for the sake of visiting, rather than for helping me with the house) lit a fire under my butt to get the house ready. So, in honor of that milestone--I hosted my first overnight guest (an inauguration visitor) and first lunch guest (a mutual friend who came down to spend the afternoon with us and introduce her new baby)--I hit another milestone: I unpacked the last box. My house is box-free.

Do you all remember that scene in Old School--when Will Farrell's friends ask him what he's doing that weekend, and he excitedly says that he'll be going to Home Depot, and maybe if there's time, Bed, Bath&Beyond? The prospect of becoming that person once filled me with dread... and now, guess where I was first thing Saturday morning? Lowes, Target, and Bed, Bath&Beyond.

There are still some major infrastructure and appliance issues (non-functioning outlets, leaky washing machine, over-the-range microwave installation drama), but it's been less than three months, and I'm getting there.

It's a f*ed up world

And many of the people doing something about it are still getting shot dead.

Also, have you all seen the letter from the Sri Lankan journalist shot dead? It's a must-read.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

All over the place

Welcome to Washington. It's more interesting than you think.

Women apparently tend to backstab in the office.

Last but not least, less than a month to anti-Valentine's Day. In other words, less than a month to get my house party-ready. I better get on that.

Just another word

In defense of sweatshops: what development specialists have actually been preaching for a decade.

Quote of the day from Gail Collins:
"We are about to enter a world in which our commander in chief speaks in full sentences, and I do not know what we’re going to do to divert ourselves on slow days."

Also, one of you in particular will appreciate this (also from Gail Collins):
"The man who gave us Operation Iraqi Freedom, the Freedom Agenda, the USA Freedom Corps and the President’s New Freedom Commission on Mental Health has so thoroughly debased one of the most profound concepts in our national vocabulary that it’s getting hard to hear it used without remembering Janis Joplin’s line about how freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose."

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Sunday morning roundup

Kristof offers news of progress and hope for more on an international tragedy and Rich and Dowd argue that sometimes just letting it go doesn't work.

Also, Bono embraces the present.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

When the New Yorker gives you nightmares

Sadly, "Kosher Takeout" by Patricia Marx, in last week's New Yorker, is only available online to subscribers. The first excerpt I will share is amusing:
Did I say Mr. Drain Opener? Yes, I did. The O.U. does not officially frown upon a Jewish housewife unclogging her sink with a product called, say, Senor Pig Knuckles or Mrs. Shrimp. Nevertheless, certain keepers of kosher kitchens, when cleaning a surface that might touch food, prefer to use something guaranteed to be pareve.


The next is just f*in' scary:
"The Chinese think we are the smartest people in the world, after the Chinese," he said. "They say, 'Very clever, very good at business.' It's an honor to be Jewish in China. They say they would like to imitate the Jews." Among the best-selling books in China this year were "The Jewish People's Bible for Business and Managing the World" and "The Jewish Way of Raising Children."

1. Holy shit, we do run the world!
2. Stop and process the implications of that last one. I hope you are sitting down. There are a lot of people in China, and many of them are seeking to emulate the Jewish Way of Raising Children. Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Those punks

We were just talking about those punks.

***
Do they offer remedial classes for full-grown (punk) cats?

Monday, January 5, 2009

Public Service Announcement

It is really unfortunate that Trader Joe's has stopped carrying spaghetti squash, because Giant's just doesn't have much flavor, and Harris Teeter's supply his hit-or-miss.

Apparently I'm overpaid

Mom was on the phone with dad when I overheard the following:

Mom: You have to admit, Natasha is as much of a klizma [enema, for those who have forgotten] as I am.

Mom had a lot to say on the way to the airport. The following statement is funnier to those who know where I work. Those that don't-- I can't tell you, and still keep my job, since I've made partisan political statements on this blog.

Mom: I'm going to let you in on a little secret: these government projects are SO WASTEFUL. Lydia was sick one week so she saw them repair the pavement outside her house. First of all, they didn't need the pavement to be repaired. Second, she watched them work, and it took forever. And they were union so I'm sure they were paid a lot. It took them a week! So wasteful-- can you imagine? That and the salaries of people like you, so exorbitant!
A.: You think I'm overpaid?
Mom: Well, let's see: how long have you been there? Two years?
A.: So you think pay should relate to tenure rather than performance?
Mom: [Shrug].

Three grapes

Mom: So?
A.: Everything's fine.
Mom: So what rate are you getting?
A.: The same rate I've told you I'd be getting every other time you've asked.

I grab three grapes on my way to the other room. My mother looks at my stomach and nods disapprovingly.

Mom: You need to eat less.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: Your figure has worsened.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: Alternatively, you need to start dressing in accordance with your newly worsened figure.
A.: [Shrug]

Breakfast

Mom: So, your kitchen is smaller than ours?
A.: Uh-huh.

Mom shook her head in amused disbelief-- same expression that she uses to appraise my time-stopping stomach.

Mom: How are you going to do anything?
A.: Well, I have about the same amount of counter space, and it's not an eat-in kitchen, so there's no table taking up space.
Mom: Does the dining room have windows?
A.: No. You've already asked me that several times.
Mom: That's not good. It's nice to eat and watch the birds out the window.
A.: [Shrug]

Mom: This would be so much tastier fried in bacon.
A.: Well, tomorrow you can make your own, fried in bacon.
Mom: Although I do feel bad for pigs, too. But can you imagine if they were just allowed to reproduce without predation?
A.: I'm pretty sure the bacon you eat comes from hogs raised in factory farms rather than wild ones.

Mom: You should hang up a small TV, so you can watch it in the morning while you're getting ready.
A.: The last thing I want to do in the morning while I'm getting ready is watch TV.
Mom: Well, that way you can get news, weather and traffic.
A.: I get the first two online, and I don't need traffic.
Mom: That takes too much time, and with TV you get local stations.
A.: I don't need local stations. I don't need to be distracted with cutesy morning BS. I need to get the information I want and then get ready for work without distraction.
Mom: Suit yourself.

They don't make 'em like that anymore

Crime in Mexico isn't getting any less shocking.
On a lighter note, lots of interesting stuff here. Here's what first caught my eye, after mom's insistence that one should always look nice, even at the gym:
In film school, I had a short, strange romance with a French guy, Guillaume, who wore silk shirts, had impeccable manners, and paid for everything. I don’t think I opened my purse in his presence once. Even though I didn’t love him, I was happy.

Until the night he stopped by my apartment at 11 o’clock and caught me in a pair of paint-stained sweat pants. He was appalled, refused to come in. He felt that since we were in a relationship, I should always look my best, as if I were a babe-on-call, ready at all hours to be seductive and kittenish. Yeah, I’ll get right on that. Adieu, Guillaume.

Next: a sentiment I've heard many a friend express, and years ago I felt the same way, not even so much in terms of practical abilities as the ability to have easy answers and hard and fast opinions, when everything from my perspective was so nuanced and complicated. It took a while to understand that these guys didn't have all the answers; rather, they had lower standards for sounding authoritative and considering themselves adequately informed. But really-- it was less than a month ago that a friend, parsing an ended relationship, said she was attracted to that kind of decisiveness. Anyway, here's what Ms. Karbo has to say about it:
Like many overeducated women, I’m unaccountably drawn to men who know how to throw up wallboard, build a rock wall and effortlessly avoid shooting themselves in the head with a nail gun.

This part is great, because jewelry commercials, while always annoying, never make me envious in the most obvious sense, i.e. I'm not envious that someone is being bought jewelry; I'm envious that there are women out there who aren't too jaded to aspire to be the women in the jewelry commercials. What is it like in that world?
I’d love to be the kind of woman you see in jewelry commercials around the holidays who sits before a fire, a cashmere throw over her knees. Suddenly, her beloved swoops in with a velvet-covered box, bearing some hideous pendant that nevertheless cost real money.

I envy this woman because she is so taken with her beloved’s generosity. She never says, “Honey, why did you buy me this piece of crap when you know I need a new crown on my back molar?”

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Good thing we didn't have asparagus

As is often the case with my parents' dinner parties, I don't know where to start. Perhaps more dinner preparation shennanigans?

A.: Mom, how much cauliflower do you want?
Mom: Whatever.
A.: Should I cut up the whole thing? There's about a fourth of the head left.
Mom: Sure.

Five minutes later

Mom: A.! A.! That's too much cauliflower! What am I going to do with all that cauliflower??

***
Latkes are such that the host is required to constantly run back and forth between the kitchen and dining room to fry and serve them. This conferred a hidden advantage: Mom was not regularly seated with us for the first half-hour or so of the meal. When she did join us, proceeded to talk with her mouth full. It was painful.

Mom ran back into the kitchen just as we were about to have a drink for Nina [with whose parents we were dining], to her continued success. From there, she said: "May she continue to ignore everything her father says, do what she wants." Dad replied, "When Sasha said the same to you about A., you told him to go to hell." At this, Mom went off on a rant in the kitchen. I'm not sure exactly what she said, but there was some reference to one or other of my career choices and how I should have listened to her.

The psychology thing kind of came up later. We were talking about another family friend--the daughter of my parents' friends, who is about my age-- who would genuinely benefit from therapy.

Mom: I found a psychologist for her-- one approved by [some new age healer that she pays attention to], but they wanted none of it.
Natasha: I know of a psychologist...
Mom: I took her [indicating me] to a psychologist. That went well.
N.: Huh?
Mom: They charged me $60-- can you believe that? And told me my daughter wouldn't mentally progress past the age of 4.

I'm not sure which upset her more.

Oh, there was a fit at some point. But I'll get to that in a minute.

We got to talking about honey.

N.: My granddaughter loves raspberry honey. She can eat an entire small jar.
A.: I really like lavender honey but it's hard to find here.
Mom: Irina had an entire hive, but it attracted bears and the neighbors complained.
Misha told a story about bears showing up at a campground.
A.: A few years ago I went camping in Shenandoah. We were just about to go to sleep when I needed something that was in my friend's backpack. She tossed me the backpack, and as I went through it, I found a bag of gorp. Can you believe that?? I said, "are you out of your mind?? are you trying to get us killed?" She said, "what if I get hungry at night?" I couldn't believe it.
Mom: Just like you to be rude to everyone.
A.: This spring we went camping on Assateague Island, with the wild horses. The first night was especially windy and I thought there might have been horses trying to break into our tent, but the noise was a combination of wind and drunk people who couldn't find their tent.
N.: Where are there horses?

I told her about Assateague, and how Nina has always wanted to go there. Dad suggested I show her pictures of the horses, so I did. As I scrolled through to the album, I went past the wound photo, but not before she saw it.

Do you know how with some people, you know that something will almost always come up in conversation? Maybe three words in, I knew where this was going.

N.: You know, I cut myself really badly once, and for some reason, we couldn't be admitted into the emergency room. Do you know how I healed myself?

Yes, I knew.

N.: With urine! And you wouldn't believe the result. There's no scar-- I can't even remember which had I'd cut. It's amazing. Had they admitted me, I'd have a scar, like you do. But I healed myself with urine, and I have no scar. It really does work!

***

Back to dinner (well, actually, tea and dessert). I'll spare you the Soviet horror stories.

Misha: You don't remember me at all from those days?
A.: No.
Mom: She doesn't remember anything from those days.
Misha: I remember she was running around while we were having that argument over the diamonds.
A.: What argument?
Mom: She has the ring now.
A.: No, I have the earrings. You have the ring.
Misha: It was too risky. I can't believe you did that.
A.: What happened?
Mom: I wasn't going to let them have my grandmother's ring!
A.: WHAT HAPPENED?
Misha: I'm trying to tell you. Anyway, we were all watched very closely in those days. As you know, I wasn't allowed to leave for nine years. The government made things difficult for everyone for the sake of making everything difficult for everyone. I remember when we did finally get to leave, they made everyone walk long distances-- to make everyone's elderly mothers walk long distances. Anyway, you weren't allowed to take valuables.
Mom: These diamonds were old! Carbon-dated! Nobody cared.
A.: Mom!
Mom: There was never any danger...
A.: I'm trying to listen to what actually happened, not whether or not...
Mom: DON'T YOU INTERRUPT ME! DON'T EVER INTERRUPT ME!
A.: You're the one that's interrupting!
Mom: You are SO rude! [More fit-throwing]
Misha: Anyway, your mother was determined to take them with her, but had they caught her, she-- and you all-- would have certainly gone to jail.
Mom: They couldn't have caught me.

Well, I'm glad we didn't end up in jail. And that Mom didn't accidentally throw out the jewelry that she'd risked jail smuggling out of the Soviet Union, like she thought she did (and accused me of that being my fault, since I was supposed to remind her that she'd put it in the fridge wrapped in a paper towel--i.e. when she couldn't find it, she remembered that she'd thrown out some rotten food wrapped in a paper towel, that must have actually been the jewerly... and she had told me to remind her that she'd wrapped it thus, but I didn't... because she never did. She later found the jewelry in a safe).

It was a fun night. Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go pee on my arm.

Why is she not all there?

Earlier

A.: Allen says Gracie's fine...
Mom: Yes, but what about your financing?
A.: I haven't heard anything. I mean, it's Sunday. I have no reason to believe it's not fine, but I'll contact my lender tomorrow.

Ten minutes ago. Friends are over for latkes.

Natasha: So, did you find a roommate?
A.: I did.
Natasha: So, who is it?
A.: She...
Natasha: She? I thought we agreed it would be a "he."
A.: We did?
N.: Yes, for security purposes.
A.: I have an alarm system, for security purposes.
N.: So, did you get a cat?
A.: I've had a cat...
Mom: She's 'nyearshebnaya.'
A.: Huh?
Mom: There's something not quite right with her. She's not all there.
A.: Oh, she's all there. There's plenty of her there.

I mean, Gracie can be a little rat sometimes, but nobody's perfect. I'm not exactly sure what Mom has against her.

Just now
Mom: A.! There's too much oil in these eggplants! Did you add oil?
A.: No, I just added garlic, as requested.
Mom: They are absolutely not tasty!
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: They're not tasty!

She made the m-f eggplant. All I did was add garlic.

Mark Bittman

Ever since a week or so ago, when I sung the praises of Mark Bittman in passing, I've meant to share a few of his columns/posts. Here they are, on food culture, meat consumption and the future of fish.

Consumer nation

I left Michelle Singletary's column up on the computer for mom to stumble upon. Instead, she (mom) started recounting the various stores she just has to shop at today, including AJ Wright, where yesterday she bought some gadget about which she said, "oh, this is what this is for! I thought it was something else." To which I said, "it would be good to start reading the specifications before buying things. But I digress.

Mom: If we go to AJ Wright, we could go for a walk.
A.: You could go for a walk anyway. We're going for a walk by the Publick Theatre (not far from mom's favorite shopping center), Wendy's coming to get me this afternoon.
Dad: Wendy's here?
A.: Yeah. Today is her mom's birthday.
Dad: Say hi for me.
A.: Will do.

Dad, to his credit, asks about my friends all the time. Mom does sometimes, often the same questions (where is Wendy, again? what is she doing there?). But maybe I'm not being fair. She does care... she's just distracted.

Dad: I remember New Year's last year-- it was hard to tear you two away from the crosswords.
A.: Yes, if it had been up to me this year, it would have been harder to tear me from the board games, but my lame friends wanted to watch that slimeball of a being that is Ryan Seacrest.
Mom: Which river? I'm afraid the path won't have been cleared.
A.: We actually walked there on New Year's Day and it was fine.
Mom: Where?
A.: Where I run.
Mom: On Soldier's Field Road?
A.: No, that's where we're going today.
Mom: Near the AJ Wright, or near the Stop & Shop?

This is the best we can do for designating walking paths??

A.: On New Year's Day, we walked near Stop & Shop.
Mom: When?
A.: Right before they dropped me off.
Mom: And that's where you're going today?
A.: No, today we're going near SFR.
Mom: Where you run?
A.: Mom!

Mom knows perfectly well where I run, because she walks there while I run. She'd just rather ask questions to which she won't remember the answers than stop to process the information that has been provided.

Mom: You shouldn't have bought pots. They have some great ones at AJ Wright.
A.: [Shrug]

Complacency

In following my mother around on her shopping trips, I found some comfort flooring and thought, 'that would be great for my utility room.' [Read: it's pretty ugly, but it will save me the trouble of tiling]. Then I thought, am I going to fit that in my carry on bag (no) and would it be worth paying the $15 for checked luggage (no), and then, oh, well, I guess I'll have to tile, then. And then I thought, 'who the f* cares? That's the room where my cat poops.' And then I realized that I'd made it into homeowner complacency land.

There are still things I'll need to do, in various stages (before my first guest arrives in less than two weeks, before the renter moves in a week after that, before the anti-Valentine's day/housewarming party three weeks after that). There's also a lot of stuff that I'm just letting go.

Harsh Sunday morning roundup

Frank Rich and Nicholas Kristof recount general and specific horrors of our times, respectively.

Michael Lewis and David Einhorn explain the financial crisis and how to fix it, in plain English.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Who? What?

What I want to know is, where can I get the baby clothes? I have a few friends who are expecting, and Che onesies would make quite a gift.

How cool would that be?

Dad: Please don't fix your outlets on your own.

That's the fourth time since I got here-- or since I asked him for a circuit tester--that dad has warned me against taking on this endeavor.

A.: But I have friends who have done it. They say it's not that hard.
Dad: You could get electrocuted.
A.: I'm going to turn the power off at the breaker.
Dad: There could be current coming in from other sources. A., I'm an electrical engineer. I work for a company that does electricity, that repaired the region's power grids after the storms two weeks ago. We get e-mails about professional electricians that get zapped from time to time.

That got me thinking.

How cool would it be if people got a mild (maybe even medium) electrical shock for doing something for which they have no expertise? Joe the Plumber wants to write a book? ZAP!!! Half the pundits on TV wouldn't be able to get through a sentence without getting zapped. Thomas P. Barnett would be a walking electrical wire. Foreign policy analysis would be the realm of people who knew what the f* they're talking about--and even then they'd get it wrong half the time, that's just the way it works-- but that would be preferable to the free-for-all unfounded opinionfest we have now.

Saturday afternoon

After a few more iterations of "you look ugly"/"I don't care", we made it to the gym. I interval trained on the elliptical; mom got a massage. On the way back, we stopped at Radio Shack, because my phone has been acting up and I need a new one. I was looking around, and a salesperson came over. He would provide information (such as, yes, you'll be able to use your sim card and plan even though it's a go-phone) and then mom would ask the same question. This happened several times. Then, we'd agreed on a phone. They couldn't access my account, since it wasn't local.

Mom: But when we talk, it's free.

Then, when they were testing my SIM card, she asked what it was. I explained. She asked them. I said I'd tell her later, because they couldn't explain and work at the same time, and I wanted out of there.

But that didn't happen for ages, and eventually I left without a phone, for some bizarre bureaucratic reason. Mom had gone next door to AJ Wright, came back half an hour later (they were still working on my phone).

Mom: A.! A.! I can't find my wallet, I left it at the gym.
A.: Did you try the car?
Mom: No, it wouldn't be there.

She called the gym. And then checked the car. It was there.

Then we went back to AJ Wright.

Mom: Get in line.
A.: What?
Mom: I want to look for something else. Stand in line.
A.: But there's no line. Just look for it and come back. I'll go with you.

Mom throws a fit.

Mom: I understand! I can't ask you for anything! You'll never do anything for me!
A.: What? What's going on?

On the way home we resolved whatever misunderstanding had happened and mom told me it was exacerbated because I was rude and harsh, and added that I never know when "it" matters, so I shouldn't go to the gym looking like a slob because I think it doesn't matter. I shrugged.

Oh, and before we left, she pulled out a sparkly v-neck as an alternative to the t-shirt I was wearing. I said 'no', she said I had no taste, there was back-and-forth and acrimony. Over a t-shirt. That I would wear to the gym.

Fashion police: gym edition

We're going to the gym. I ask mom if she has gym shorts or pants I could borrow. She pulls out a sweatsuit. The pants work well.

Mom: You're not taking the top?
A.: No, it doesn't fit me and I don't need it.
Mom: If you don't take the whole thing, you can't have any of it!
A.: What??
Mom: It goes together.
A.: Actually, it looks kind of dorky together. Besides, it's going to be hot, I'm going to be moving, and I don't need long sleeves.
Mom: Yes you do.
A.: Mom, look: it doesn't fit.
Mom: You're going in that?? [indicating the t-shirt I'm wearing]
A.: Yes.
Mom: It's ugly.
A.: So?
Mom: So why are you wearing it?
A.: We're going to the gym.
Mom: Put on the top that goes with the pants.
A.: No. Even if I wanted to, it doesn't fit me.
Mom: Yes it does.
A.: No, mom.
Mom: That t-shirt is ugly. You look ugly.
A.: Okay.

Mom slams the door.

Quiz

Brought to you by Gail Collins.

Pep talk

Mom's reading a self-help book. So, this morning, she wanted to talk. I think she was going for a pep talk, but caught herself mid-way.

Mom: I want to tell you that you're perfect. But the problem is, you don't think you're perfect--or you don't realize I think you're perfect-- and you want to be perfect. And you try too hard to be perfect. And also, you're very harsh. You get that from both dad and me. It doesn't matter for us, but it matters for you.

A.: [Shrug]

Friday, January 2, 2009

Couldn't have said it better myself

I resisted the urge to metablog about GOOP when the GFY girls took it on, but Liz Kelly's post--make that posts--are hilarious.

You're not going to get any thinner that way

I went online to see whether my mortgage payment went through. I've been trying to figure this out for days--Suntrust is pulling all sorts of shenanigans; there's always some reason that I can't fully access my account, this one being that they're doing some sort of end-of-year processing. Except that it's now the beginning of the year. Anyway, I went to check my account.

Mom, to dad: She's been on the computer all day. All day. [To me]: Of course you're not going to get any thinner that way.

Earlier, at dinner

Mom: Would you like some soup?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: It's very good for weight loss.

Mom's constant unfounded nutritional preaching is particularly ironic because she doesn't read nutritional labels.

This morning. For some reason, mom takes out the cocktail sauce.

A.: Mom, this has 15g of sugar. The first ingredient is high-fructose corn syrup.
Mom: So?
A.: So, it's sugar you don't need.
Mom: Well, maybe it's essential to the flavor. Besides, sugar is good for the brain.
A.: No, it really isn't. Actually, a new study just came out about that, but it's hardly the first.
Mom: I don't believe it.
A.: [Shrug]

Afternoon at the Museum

Mom: You're addicted to the computer.
A.: No, I'm reading a movie review. Are you ready to go?

What I am is ADD, and I have to do something while you dilly-dally.

***
We have a family friend who volunteers for the MFA. She started volunteering when she retired, which she didn't want to do, but her husband and kids talked her into it. She loved her job, and her employers loved her. But she listened to them and regrets it all the time. As far as I'm concerned, she's my poster child for not taking career advice from family (although actually, I'm just as much that poster child).

But I digress. We were on the way to her house to pick up tickets to the museum. Mom described her in her new favorite way to describe people she likes:

Mom: She's not the least bit arrogant.

Which is true. But it's also not worth pointing out.

Mom: Her grandchildren adore her. They say she's easier to talk to than their mother.
A.: That's not surprising.
Mom: Well, I suppose that's the case in many families. I think I'm very easy to talk to. You can certainly tell me anything.

We drove on, through a neighborhood of Newton McMansions, some of which were quite beautiful.

Mom: Of course, you have nothing like this where you live. It's very urban, no nature.
A.: Actually, you don't have to go far out of DC to find this kind of neighborhood.
Mom: I don't think so.
A.: [Shrug]

Mom wasn't finding their house. Nor did she know their address. She was going by memory. I decided to call. At first, Mom asked for directions, but she couldn't listen and drive at the same time, so I took the phone from her. She kept expressing her frustration.

A.: Mom! I can't hear the directions.

Mom kept talking. I kept asking her to keep it down so I could listen to the directions. Eventually, we get there. Ella offers us candy.

Mom: That reminds me, I need to stop and get truffles.
A.: We have plenty of candy in the house. No wonder she always tells me I've gained weight.
Mom: I've never said that! I do say that your clothes are too tight. If you dressed more appropriately, you'd look fine.

We thank them for the passes and set off for the museum. By way of the Ganges. When Ella sees mom heading the wrong way, she comes outside and tries to get her to turn around. Mom insists on going her way. Eventually, we get there (note that this is the second time in this post that I've used that phrase] and even park. Mom is amazed that she found meterless parking right on Huntington. I look around and see no restrictions, and mom's found such parking before so she's not overly concerned. But she is curious, and when we get out of the car, she starts walking away from the museum.

A.: Where are you going?
Mom: I'm intrigued about this free parking. I'd like to see what the deal is.
A.: Mom!
Mom: I'm curious!
A.: I'm going to the museum. Do whatever you want.

While it's a toasty 20 degrees, compared to yesterday's 16, it's still a good 20 degrees cooler than weather appropriate for f*ing around.

I know this is unhip of me, but I like impressionism, and I absolutely love the MFA's impressionist collection. I could have stayed there for hours.

Mom: You know, when you took lessons here-- do you remember that? we tried to teach you everything-- I always insisted on dragging you through these halls, hoping that something would stick. By the way, you always complained. You were hungry.

There we have it: that was the first sign that I wasn't a precocious artistic genius. When I was in grade school, and my mother tried to expose me to culture, I just wanted to eat. That's actually especially shocking since the art class immediately followed swim class-- it was always a mad rush to get over there. So, I would have come straight from swimming, spent a few hours in class, and didn't even want to look at the art because I was hungry. Clearly there was something wrong with me.

***
The Karsh exhibit was mind-blowing. It was unbelievable. You could see the subjects think. I'm as much of an art critic as I am an artist, so I'll spare you any attempt at a more detailed description, but it was f*ing amazing. I didn't want to look at anything else afterward; my brain was full.

I did consider stopping at the giftshop.

Mom: We have plenty of art books!
A.: But...
Mom: You can take one of those.
A.: But...

She wanted to go home, which was understandable. That's all she had to say. But it's interesting that the same attitude about things extends to art-- everything's interchangeable. Individual tastes don't figure into it.

***
If I didn't make this clear, if you're in or near Boston, go to the Karsh exhibit. It's worth it.

morning drama

Mom: Are you going to be on the computer all morning?

That was at 9:15. Since then she's been slamming things around to indicate her displeasure.

A.: I'm reading the paper.
Mom: Can't you read it later?
A.: What's the hurry?
Mom: We agreed we'd go early.
A.: We did?

Here's what I recall from earlier:

A.: What time are we going to the museum?
Mom: Let's go early in the day.
A.: Okay.

I didn't realize that "early" meant that I wouldn't have twenty minutes to read the paper.

I'm enjoying taking my time this morning. I worked the first three days of this week, which meant I woke up early and felt rushed, and then yesterday was up super late. I didn't think it would be a problem to sleep in and have a lazy morning, especially since mom woke me up in the middle of the night.

The middle of the night

Door opens, light goes on.

A.: WTF?
Mom: I need to get sheets.

She couldn't have done this earlier? For what seemed like ages, she opened drawers, pulled thing out, and dropped them on my bed, i.e. on me. I didn't time it, but it was a while. So I'm sorry if I slept in until about 8am. And wanted to read the paper in the morning. I anticipate an adventurous yoga session.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

This Thursday in Mom statements

It's official: Mom is obsessed with Jay's boyfriends (or lack thereof).

Mom: How do Heath and Jay know each other?
A.: They know each other through Jay's former...
Mom: Boyfriend?
A.: No. Many years ago, Heather was visiting Boston and staying with Jay's...
Mom: Boyfriend?
A.: No, roommate.
Mom: Oh.

***
Mom: It's interesting that you have a belly. I didn't start gaining weight until I turned 50.
A.: [Shrug]

***
Less than an hour later

A.: I found a roommate.
Mom: Really? Who... [looking down toward my stomach and shaking her head]
A.: What? Does my stomach amaze you?
Mom: Well, yes. Around Thanksgiving, you were thin.

That didn't stop her from telling me then that I'd gained weight.

Here's what I don't understand: why doesn't everyone else--or anyone else for that matter--lose their train of thought at the sight of my gut? I just spent almost twenty-four hours with my friends. At no point did my stomach distract them. Now I didn't ask this question aloud; I didn't need to--mom would have replied that they were just being polite. But really-- I generally do not have the experience, outside this house, that my stomach stops traffic. Really.

Happy New Year!

Maybe I should provide some context. Jen had done something-- I don't remember what-- a training program, perhaps-- and said that it almost made her want to get into government.

Jen: It makes me want to be the next president.
Heath: I'll be your secretary of state. Chad, what will you be?
Chad: Secretary of farming.
Jay: Secretary of the gays.
Jen: Secretary of gay farming.
Chad: What do would gay farmers farm?
Jay: Arugula, bitch!

***
Jason: Those are hot trousers.

later

Heather: That's a cute button-down.

A.: Can I quote you on my blog for evidence that my ability to dress myself is not as abysmal as my mom would have me believe? I'm not usually a positive feedback w&*re, but you understand my situation.
Heather: I appreciate your commitment to confirming your sources.
A.: I think it's because my job is getting to me.

***
It was a fun New Year's Eve. My camera batteries gave out early, so I did not capture, among other things, Jay's impressive Mick Jagger impression.

I'm going to go listen to some music to get "Dick in the Box" out of my head.

On that note, Happy New Year!

Quote of New Year's Eve, and there were many

This is so going to get lost out of context and out of tone, but it's too good not to document it for posterity:

Chad: What would gay farmers farm?
Jay: Arugula, bitch!

***
New Year's was a blast, but I am currently living through the longest fifteen minutes I can remember. And keep in mind that I worked today, on New Year's Eve, while a blizzard intensified in the Boston area.

Chad and Jen can't get a cab, so we're all napping until they can. Except I'm not, because Chad is snoring his head off. His alarm is going off at 3:15, at which point he'll try again for a cab. Until then, snore city, and no sleep for me.

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