Sunday, May 31, 2009

Sunday evening roundup

Richard Clarke writes a must-read column.

The Post asks why science, as a field, hasn't caught up in terms of opportunity for women, and whether Real Housewives DC will work.

Russian nesting dolls are an endangered industry.

If this guy and his adherents don't scare you, I don't know what to say.

Kathleen Parker exposes some of the hypocrisy of the anti-Sotomayor chatter, and Tom Toles draws an exceptionally phallic cartoon.

convo

RM realizes he has no food and heads out for dinner. He ended up going to Thai Royal and said it was good, to which I thought, it's unnecessary to have this many good Thai restaurants within walking distance; I wish I could share some with Wendy. But I digress.

RM: You'll have to go grocery shopping with me sometime. I just walk into the supermarket and have no idea what to get.
A.: Well, what do you want to cook?
RM: [Shrug]
A.: That's a good thing to figure out before you go grocery shopping. I'm happy to go with you [really; that I don't mind] but I can't be much help if you don't know what you want.

Pause

RM: I'm going to get my uniform ready.
A.: [Slight nod, return to crossword]

Pause

RM: I'm going to get my uniform ready.
A.: [Slight nod, bewildered 'I heard you the first time' look]

We may need to have a 'you don't need to report your comings and goings' conversation.

Am I supposed to feel bad?

As I struggled with the second tire, RM went for a run. I finished the second tire, replaced the wheels and brakes on my bike, and went for a leisurely test ride/shopping trip. I came home to find him locked out. This is the one time, he said, he didn't bring his keys or phone. He didn't realize you weren't going to be home.

He didn't *ask*. I was right there-- better to just ask than make an assumption that can leave you locked out, right?

At least he can be gracious

RM: Thank you for the lesson...
A.: [Looks up, quizzical expression]
RM: ...in dogged perseverance and self-sufficiency.
A.: I appreciate your wanting to help, but I had to do that on my own. I had to know that if I got a flat out on the road, I could put this kind of tire back on.
RM: You have a cell phone. You could call me, call 911...
A.: Call 911 for a flat bike tire??
RM: Why not?
A.: Or I can just deal with it on my own.

RM had come in half an hour or so earlier and immediately sat down and practically grabbed the tire out of my hands.

RM: Can I help?
A.: No, thanks. How was your trip?
RM: It was good.
A.: You metroed after all?
RM: I did-- it was so easy.

We'd discussed this on Thursday.

A.: So, you're flying out of National this time. Are you going to metro?
RM: I'm so lazy... I'll probably just drive and park there.
A.: That is lazy. It's actually *faster* to metro.

A., not out loud: Prick. Carbon emissions, plus an extra $10 per day for the taxpayer, because you won't walk for ten minutes.

Back to today

RM: I was actually hoping I'd see you on Friday so I could give you this umbrella. I didn't know if you had one.
A.: I do have an umbrella... I tend not to use it. But thank you.

Does he think I'm ten years old? Does he think that, when it rains, I won't manage to get from place to place without his guidance? Don't say, 'he's trying to be nice.' My point is, at the spoon-feeding level, trying to be nice is trying to be annoying.

RM: Here, let me help you.
A.: No-- I'd really rather do this myself.
RM: Come on! [Fake crying/expressing frustration]. You don't have to do everything yourself! It can be a team effort.
A.: It's not a two-person job, and it's something I need to do on my own.

He continued to look at me with frustration as I struggled with the tire--and it was a struggle-- but I got it. And now I know I know how to do it (especially after I did it again with the second one). And the sense of personal satisfaction at having completed something I'd been struggling with was priceless-- so much so that I felt no smugness at my roommate for doubting me.

RM: Can I mow the lawn?
A.: You could. I mowed it yesterday, but if you feel it could use additional mowing, feel free.
RM: Well, the front isn't done. [By front, he means not the entire front lawn--which was mowed--but the very front of the front lawn, which is practically vertical, and thus, difficult to mow. Besides, the respectable neighbors to the left don't mow that part of their lawn, and that was all the go-ahead I needed to ignore mine.]
A.: Right, I don't generally bother with the front.
RM: Can I do it?
A.: If you want.

If he wants to do yardwork, I'm not complaining.

Sunday morning roundup

Maybe one of the reasons California is such a mess is that its finance director is delusional:
“Government doesn’t provide services to rich people,” Mike Genest, the state’s finance director, said on a conference call with reporters on Friday. “It doesn’t even really provide services to the middle class.”
I guess rich and middle-class people in CA don't use roads or public schools. The last time I checked, though, there were plenty of wealthy celebrities using the prisons.

Here's another example of class issues being turned upside down:
And a recent U.C.L.A. study of 32 working families found that the subjects viewed cooking from scratch as a kind of rarefied hobby.
How does that work? Cooking for oneself and/or one's family is one of the most cost-effective "hobbies" out there. The article goes on to say how this happened and how silly it really is:
For most of the last century, Americans have been told repeatedly that cooking is a time-consuming drag. Companies like Kraft and General Foods promoted mix-and-eat macaroni and cheese, rice with mix-in flavor pouches and instant pudding. Pillsbury, the flour maker, became Pillsbury the biscuit, pie and cookie dough maker: baking just by turning on the oven. According to a 2008 NPD study, of all supper entrees “cooked” at home, just 58 percent were prepared with raw ingredients.

The twist, of course, is that convenience foods save neither money nor time. As Marion Nestle pointed out in her 2006 book “What to Eat,” prewashed romaine hearts cost at least $1.50 a pound more than romaine heads. And the 2006 U.C.L.A. study found that families saved little or no cooking time when they built their meals around frozen entrees and jarred pasta sauce.
Coincidentally, Frank Rich, too, invokes the pre-packaged food industry in his excellent column, albeit metaphorically, by way of the "trio of Pillsbury doughboys now leading the [Republican] party." Thankfully, however, he acknowledges that said doughboys and their cohorts do not have a lock on foolishness detrimental to the country, as inspired by political posturing:
Once again Cheney and his cohort were using lies and fear to try to gain political advantage — this time to rewrite history and escape accountability for the failed Bush presidency rather than to drum up a new war. Once again Democrats in Congress were cowed. And once again too much of the so-called liberal news media parroted the right’s scare tactics, putting America’s real security interests at risk by failing to challenge any Washington politician carrying a big stick.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

yes, it's another roommate post, and he's not even here

I've berated my mother--in person and on these pages--for her lack of graciousness in accepting gifts, not only because it's rude, but because I genuinely believe in valuing the thought behind any gift and accepting it as a token of someone's thinking of you. I've enjoyed, however, not only that sense of appreciation that my friends are thinking of me, but also the practical benefits of the gifts my friends have given me over the years, largely in the form of beautiful objects that fill my living room. One of these is a Bohemian crystal egg that Heather brought me back from Prague.

So let me belabor the point: this Bohemian crystal egg is both beautiful-- it's beautifully made, interesting, classy, etc.; and when I see it, I'm reminded of Heather, and of the fact that she thought of me while she was in Prague.

At this point, you may be putting two and two together, one of the twos being the title of this post. Where is this going?

Well, I came home the other night and saw a Bohemian-style egg on the hallway dresser at the top of the stairs, next to the vase on the same dresser. I don't know whether it was some sort of gift from my roommate, but that would be what creeps me out about this: I don't want my roommate to give me gifts; I want my roommate to understand that we are Not Friends. I'm not that concerned, though, because I don't think he bought it: it has the look of something you get for free at a conference (in terms of a cheesy corporate logo carved into the front of the egg). It is also not especially nice (it lacks the luster of real crystal, and has a big "made in China" sticker on the bottom). Which, I repeat, was a relief: I'm glad my roommate didn't go out and get me a nice Bohemian crystal. And I'd normally feel bad about, pardon the cliche, looking a gift horse in the mouth-- I guess had it been a friend that went to China and brought me a fake Bohemian crystal, I still would have valued it. But in a way, I'm kind of insulted that roommate, well-meaning as he is, would equate, or perhaps expect me to equate, a conference freebie with a genuine object of beauty. Which brings me to the next issue: I'm not sure how to handle this: do I ignore it? Does he expect a thank-you? Am I required to provide said thank-you? Am I expected to leave it there or otherwise incorporate it into my decor for as long as he's in the house? Is this what I get for berating my mother for berating Misha for giving her an actually beautiful wood-carved object from Georgia, which she felt did not match her decor? After all, her reasoning was that Misha was over all the time and would notice if she didn't hang it up on the wall, so may as well be clear right away that she didn't like it rather than leave him wondering.

I certainly don't plan on berating my roommate, nor lecturing him on the difference between an actual Bohemian crystal and a conference freebie or explaining why I'd rather not display an object with a corporate logo. It would not be onerous to leave it on the dresser-- it does kind of match the vase. I don't especially want to thank him for it, but that, too, would not be onerous, except that I want to discourage gifts.

I'm now going to ask you to put two and two more together. You've been listening to me kvetch about my roommate, and some of you have already asked whether I need a roommate. As I've said, I'm managing the situation, and I don't mind having kvetch fodder. I'm used to it. And it's absolutely worth it. Two months after-tax rent would fund a trip to Paris; three, a trip to Ljublyana. This is all academic, because it's more like two will fund my gate and fencing needs, but I still think in terms of travel, and as long as a couple months' rent is the equivalent of a trip, and roommate's quirks and antics remain blogworthy but not disruptive, it's a no-brainer.

I'll always want Paris

I was reading the Travel section of last week's Post, and I don't know what it was-- the featured article was on Lyubljana--to which I've never been, and where I'd absolutely love to go-- but looking at the pictures made me poignantly heartsick for Paris. It's not just because I love Paris; it's because I love the time in my life when Paris was always accessible, always just a few hours away... and that I can never have back. I loved the month that I lived in Paris. I loved knowing my way around.

A trip to Paris would, in absolute terms, be more affordable now than ever, and a good friend who lives there just had another child, whom I'd love to meet. Of course I'm not going to go, because in personal terms, I'm more broke than ever, and I'd rather spend the same amount of money on a trip to a new place. And because, in addition, I suppose, to visiting my friend, I'd be chasing after something that's no longer there.

Saturday morning roundup

I love it when pathetic attempts at censorship backfire: Michael Pollan couldn't have asked for better publicity, nor a more stark exposure of agribusiness' political power.

And you--or at least I--thought dating in America was fraught.

Since we're metablogging the mommy wars, allow me to use Gail Collin's column to reiterate one of the basic arguments on my side: having children (especially tons of children) does not make one God's gift to humanity.

Response to comment

Agreed: sharing the report would be dangerous (and besides, the release has been delayed); I can almost guarantee that he won't read it, so I *would* have to answer questions/talk about it for him. And I don't have the stomach for ratcheting it up to a game of, "what? you didn't see that addressed in the report?" However, I don't actually mind talking about work content-- it's the "what did you do after you turned on your computer" that I don't enjoy. But the dynamics have shifted, evolved to the point where because he's so aggressive in his talking, I don't want to talk to him about anything, ever. Drive-by conversation is all I'll put up with. But even that can go awry when you're trying too hard. Take yesterday morning:

RM: You look nice today-- did you do something different? Wash your hair?
A.: I did just wash it.

It would be one thing if he'd meant that as a back-handed compliment, but it wasn't even that: he was genuinely trying to be nice.

For the record, I wash my hair regularly. The phenomenon to which my roommate was referring was that in which, in its just-washed, not-dried state, my hair is relatively flat and under control. It can't be frizzy or pouffy, because it's still wet. Once it dries, it is its own animal. It would be possible to bring it under control, but that would take an hour, and I have better things to do with an hour.

Then,

RM: I was going to call you last night, let you know I’d be in late… but I figured you were reading or something and I didn’t want to disturb you.

Which, once again, could be taken as, 'how nice, he didn't want to disturb me,' but a quick phone call is not what I consider a disturbance. The issue is not that I don't have thirty seconds to be made aware of a current situation; the issue is that I don't care to be drawn into extended substantive conversations with non-friends during my downtime. Of course, the bigger issue here is that there is no need for my roommate to let me know that he'll be in late (especially if late is 9:30pm), because I don't care. I don’t keep track of his daily comings and goings. Sure, I would be concerned if he didn’t get back at all, but I’d figure he was working late or out with friends.

I had dinner with a friend last night--one whom I hadn't seen for months--and I summed up the roommate saga as, 'he's a great roommate in every way, except that he thinks we're friends and aggressively talks to me when I need my alone time. It's fine now-- I wouldn't say he gets it, but he's trying, and I'm working/reading in my office more-- but his social aggression is impressive.

My friend said, "well, sometimes you just need downtime. You don't want to talk to anyone-- you've had to be 'on' all day, and you just want to do your own thing."

Thank you. That's all I'm saying.

And most people have had the same reaction. Only a few have decided that I'm an anti-social monster.

***
While we're on the topic of roommate, let's talk about When Trying to Be Excessively Helpful Goes Wrong. A cautionary tale. Now, I have plenty of examples, and plenty of wariness, of this phenomenon, because my mother has turned it into an art form. The motivation is different--she thinks I'm incompetent-- but the results are just as (usually more) counterproductive, and well documented elsewhere on this blog.

Now, I'm not saying I never need help. Uber-competence is not an attribute I claim to myself. Sometimes I do need help; sometimes my roommate is in a position to help me. Take the pot rack. That was helpful, and I really appreciated it.

It's trying to help for the sake of trying to help that I have a problem with. You're better off, 99 percent of the time, not trying to help.

Background for the case in point: I have a front lawn, most of which is green. The Washington Post, as delivered, comes in a clear or white bag (an environmental disaster, I know). The Post, in its bag, is clearly visible against the green lawn. Furthermore, I am used to looking for the Post on the lawn.

Case in point: On Thursday morning, I saw no Post. I didn't have time to call about, and thought maybe I just missed it, but it was nowhere to be found when I got home. On Friday morning, I was in my room when I heard the Post land on the lawn, and looked out to see it on said lawn. Nonetheless, when I came downstairs to get it, there was no Post.

There could only be one explanation: RM is taking or moving the Post. So I e-mailed him about it, and he said he'd been moving it closer to the door so that it would be easier for me to retrieve.

So I got home yesterday to find Friday's Post (Thursday's is still unaccounted for) write below the step outside my front door. Which is white, i.e. the same color as the newspaper in its bag. It blends in quite well. Which would be less of an issue if I thought to look for it on the step, but I am used to looking for it on the lawn, so when I open the door in the morning, I look out on the lawn, not down. That RM has all of the sudden decided to move the paper to where I won't look for it, without telling me, is not exactly helpful.

After I found yesterday's paper, I found a note from RM saying that the paper was on the step, but he could see how it would be hard to miss. Yes, it is-- because I'm not looking there.

On a positive note, I do love it when he goes away for the weekend; I also love the check that he left on the table-- that is helpful.

My parents are in Russia, and RM is out of town--and I'm too lazy to blog about my dentist's office-- so it'll probably be mostly roundups this weekend. I'm taking this weekend to catch-up-on-life--mow the lawn, hem some clothes, figure out whom I'm voting for on Tuesday, change my bike tires, etc. I'll be back shortly with some reading.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Old-fashioned

There is something wrong here. Call me old-fashioned, but when you buy something expensive, there should be some kind of guarantee that it will work for a while. Right?

Thursday morning roundup

Talk about double standards: how many people can you see making this statement if it were the other way around:
“I think they ended up making a bad evidentiary record for themselves by not interviewing one male,” said a judge whose name came up early in the process.


China is still having trouble with the concept that there are some things you just can't fake.

I don't know-- I'm pretty easily disgusted or made queasy.

Yeah, maybe

In response to T.'s comment: it's a whoever-is-comically-annoying-me-at-the-moment blog, really. Mom (a) is busy getting ready for a trip to Russia and (b) has undertaken a strategy of being on her best behavior over the phone, only to revert to proper form in person... and I'm planning a trip to Boston for a while.

There are certainly parallels; the same elements are behind what makes their behavior amusing. They both ask questions to which they couldn't possibly care about/appreciate the answers, and then don't listen/don't pay attention:

Mom: What are you doing tonight?
A.: Going to a friend's house.
Mom: Where does your friend live?
A.: In Logan Circle, in DC.
Mom: Where's that?
A.: Not far from Dupont Circle and just north of downtown.
Mom: I don't know where that is.
A.: I know, but that's the best I can provide in terms of orientation.
Mom: What time will you be back?
A.: I have no idea.

So, you'd think that someone so concerned with what I'm doing, where and when, would actually read the itineraries I send her, rather than be caught completely off-guard when I call from the airport to update her on my arrival time the same day?

or

Mom: So, how are you?
A.: Good...
Mom: What's good?
A.: Things, in general, are good.
Mom: What, specifically, is good?
A.: I don't know, mom. Nothing new. The same things--work, house, etc.--are still good.
Mom: What's good about them?

Then there's RM. Take this morning.

RM: How are you?
A.: Good. How are you?
RM: Good.

RM: So, what kind of day do you have planned? A busy day? Slow day?
A.: [Shrug].

I really prefer not to think about what I'll do at work until I get there. Is that too much to ask? The bigger issue here is that I have never responded well to this line of questioning, and it's amusing to me that that appears to escape him entirely.

Also, he, too, is always asking for details about what I do, but doesn't really pay attention. You'll recall this convo:

RM: So, what exactly do you do once you get to work?
A.: Varies by the day.
RM: Turn on your computer?
A.: Yes, I do turn on my computer.
RM: Then what?
A.: [Sigh.]
RM: Get your coffee?

And so on.

So why then would he keep asking me, on any given morning, whether I was driving in, when I'd made it clear, each preceding time he asked, that I never, ever drive to work?

I've told a handful of people at the office about the detailed questioning about the course of the work day, and they're all amused/horrified. They appreciate that he doesn't really want to know, and the last thing we want to do is retell it.

Actually, our report will be publicly available starting tomorrow. I'm considering providing it to RM to teach him a lesson.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Interesting stuff

Check out the recent Collins-Brooks conversations.

More responding

Perhaps because more people come across sanctimommies than homeless vets? I agree-we'll never have the numbers on either. Lost in all this are all the genuinely smug-- investment bankers, etc. They've been smug for years. Anne Applebaum wrote the other day, in reference to the British MP expense scandal, about "[t]hat feeling, so palpable in London -- and in New York, and in Washington -- that "I'm clever, I work hard, so I deserve to be richer, even at someone else's expense"" and how it "helped bring down Lehman Brothers." My views on this, as I touched on in the Emergency Masters of Ceremony post, is that no one profession has a monopoly on service to society; there is no need to be smug, which I suppose is understood in the definition of smug and in the negative connotation of the word. And for the purposes of this post, we'll count motherhood as a profession (there's a debate that's needlessly full of smug).

Anyway, I agree there is a social sensitivity about most things military that blocks open debate. Consider some people's defense of Abu Ghraib, and even the controversy that Wesley Clark stepped into when he suggested that McCain's having been a POW hadn't necessarily prepared him to be Commander in Chief. Again, though, in my experience, it is not the people in the military who are perpetuating the "protective" shield. So, yes, there would be controversy and acrimony if a similar video were made about vets, and I wouldn't find said video funny, mostly because it wouldn't resonate. We don't know whether the proportion of bad apples among either mothers or vets justifies satire or lack thereof about either.

***
Martha observed that RM seemed sort of childlike -- a very polite child, but a needy one. What's crazy about that, for those of you familiar with military jargon, is that he's an 06. How much more insane is it, in the context of that information, that he's acting all hurt-child when I don't pay enough attention to him?

So, the laptop has moved upstairs, and I'm now operating from my office. It wasn't a calculated move, since he hadn't done anything to merit an escalation on my part; it sort of happened in the process of having visitors-- I was leaving less stuff around downstairs. I do like it better this way, and probably would even if he weren't there-- but I've noticed some additional pouting as a result, and what is going to upset me is having to have another "are you mad at me" conversation with RM. While I don't mind doing whatever additional home improvement/repair stuff the renter requires, I don't need the interpersonal aspect of the arrangement to be high maintenance. We'll see.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Oh what a musical evening

If you made the mistake of playing that last video and want to get that song out of your head (although I maintain that Martha's rendition is even more amusing, and that she needs to send me a soundbite that I can post), I'll offer an idea for a replacement song.

I just remembered-- on Friday night, Wendy and I were in the car, and one of my mix CDs was playing, when "Enjoy the Silence" came on. I thought (out loud), "I should serenade RM with this song." She found that fairly funny, although more because she doesn't really think it's his genre.

Who knew...

...when we sat out on the patio on Saturday night and turned on some after-dinner You-tube, that three nights later "Pregnant Women are Smug" would still be stuck on my blog and "Hamster on a Piano" would still be stuck in my head.

I stand by the video

I disagree with ETC's assessment as veterans or other military personnel as smug. I'd argue that most are quite modest, if anything, about their role in public service, and that it is other entities that use them as political or other fodder. Ironically, if you will permit me to share another roommate episode, the dickish comment I alluded to yesterday was exceptional to this concept:

He got in late on Wednesday, and the following awkward conversation ensued:

RM: So, Wendy, do you see how hard your military is working for you?
Wendy: Huh?
RM: Well, I just got in. I've been at work since the early morning. I only got to leave a half-hour ago-- I was briefing my boss.

Now, that was remarkably smug. Do you hear teachers saying, "do you see how hard your schools work for you?" Firefighters? Day care providers? Doctors? EMTs?

Also, I almost said, "do you know how hard everyone else in this country works to fund the military?" and "do you know how much work goes into trying to get the military to f* up less?" You won't look long for a mention of, for example, "stunning incompetence.

You can see, from what I just wrote, that I agree that there's an institutional smugness around the military, but it rarely comes from the very people it purports to honor, who, in my general experience, are not smug.

As for the video itself, I think we're both saying the same thing: the video is funny; it's funny enough that we posted it to our respective blogs. ETC took issue with the title of my post, "Truth." As I'll explain below, that wasn't meant to convey truth in an absolute sense; I meant that the video resonates, in the same way the SATC episode did: that episode is legendary because it struck a cord... because enough viewers know moms like that. Of course it's not a reflection on all pregnant women or all mothers. Gina and I have often talked about how manufactured the mommy wars are, since the vast majority of moms and women are happy to live and let live. However, as with the republicans, and many other large categories, the squeaky wheels, or squeaky sanctimommies, often define the larger category. I don't think anyone--or anyone reasonable--thinks all mothers are sanctimommies. ETC mentioned 'scared,' but there's also the issue of insecurity: the grass is always somewhat greener, especially in the early days of childrearing, which are heavy on the diapers and spit-up, and often light on the adult conversation. Insecurity breeds self-righteousness. For example, last week, an advice columnist at the Post (Carolyn Hax) printed a letter from someone who asked how to politely respond to people that inquired as to when she and her husband would have kids, when the answer was 'never: we're not interested.' She got a lot of hate mail along the lines of, "you're so selfish-- you'd rather enjoy your comfortable lifestyle than bring another person into the world." And I bet the bulk of those people, in addition to being self-righteous assholes, are seriously jealous of people they see as living the good life while they're going through the less rewarding stages of parenthood.

Nor do I see a valid analogy to other, hypothetical demographics, particularly the one ETC suggested, because racism is so much about power dynamics-- that's why that Stuff White People Like can be funny, even though it's not universally accurate. Is it women bashing women? I think bash is too strong, perhaps because I'm not, nor have I ever been, pregnant. I have not designated myself the arbiter of what is or isn't offensive to anybody else. I can say for myself that if, for example, observant Jews made a video making fun of "cultural Jews" I would probably find it unnecessary, but I don't think I'd be offended. On the same note, I'm not suggesting that the video is sensitive. Sensitivity is not a prerequisite for comedy or social commentary. Besides, pregant women are a temporary category, rather than a demographic. Which brings us to my next point: You'll wear Manolos again.

It's okay/possible/understandable, etc. to want a boy or a girl and still appreciate that the most important thing is the health of the child. I appreciate having a non-leaking roof over my head, but I still love having a wall-mounted pot rack. Please, no one take that analogy any further than it is meant to go: I'm not equating one's house, and its structural soundness, in importance to one's children and their health. The point I would like to make is that you can understand what's really important and still hold preferences for less crucial matters. The other point I would like to make is, regardless of what preferences you may have, it's impolite for other people, especially total strangers, to ask expectant parents potentially loaded personal questions.

I restate my case: the video is funny. It resonates, because enough mothers are sanctimommies. This is not to say that all mothers are sanctimommies, but if the song went 'some pregnant women are smug,' it wouldn't be funny.

One more thing for the roundup

Liz Pulliam Weston reflects on the years of excess.

Reverse anthropomorphism

I found myself feeling like kind of a jerk for being annoyed at RM for trying to be helpful, which made me think of the animal type personality compatibility theory. Have I ever told you about this? It came together--I'd like to say on a napkin in a bar, but I'm not that cool--over five years ago, from listening to someone talk about why his fiancee broke up with him. She told him that he was like a dog-- always loyal, devoted, there-- which was great sometimes, but it was just too much. And this is pretty much how my roommate has been recently. When I got home, I heard the smoke alarm beep-- it had started that morning and I know he must of heard it-- and let him know that I'd bought a replacement battery. Next thing I knew, he was up and ready to install it. I told him I'd gladly do it-- I was just letting him know--but he insisted, and instantly changed the battery. Which was nice. Gave me a head start on the laundry.

RM: Can I do anything to help?
A.: No, thank you.

Five minutes later

RM: Can I do anything to help?
A.: No.

Dude, you spent five hours driving back here and have stuff to do. I'm not going to accept your help with the laundry, because that would be like getting your help for cleaning up a big party that you weren't invited to. Besides, what are you going to do? It's a one person job.

Within the next hour, as I was taking out the trash

RM: Can I do anything to help?
A.: No, thank you.

This morning, as I was getting ready for work

RM: When are you heading out?
A.: In 20-30 minutes or so.
RM: I could wait, give you a ride to the metro.
A.: Oh, that's nice, but thanks-- I'm happy to walk.

I know I should be grateful, but it was just over the top. Sure, it was raining, but that's why the creator invented rain gear. It's just too much to offer to be late for work to give me a ride to the metro. It just is.

Anyway, back to the theory, now that we've established the puppy dog extreme of the spectrum.

Around the time that I heard this other person's breakup story, I had recently gotten out of a relationship at the other extreme, as I had come to understand that the guy's idea of an ideal relationship was modeled on his relationship with the Burmese python he kept around: requires very infrequent interaction, at his convenience. Now, we've established that I like to do my own thing, but taking it to that level doesn't really work with people (just as, as far as I'm concerned, the puppy end of the spectrum isn't healthy). By the way, my roommate has poodles at home.

And I have a cat, and coincidentally or not, I'm all about cat-like relationships, platonic and otherwise: independence is a virtue.

Tuesday evening roundup

Ruth Marcus offers a reality check with regard to Obama's security policy. In any case, Blake Hounshell is ready to move on. From the look of it, Richard Cohen would prefer that topic to some of the other ones we can't get away from.

If I get a comment out of any for ending that sentence with a preposition, I will ban your antiquated @$$ from my blog.

Back to Passport, which also brings us the humorous, the shameful, the out of touch and the just plain awesome.

Speaking of awesome, remember that must-read article from GQ I posted two Sundays ago? Compare and contrast.

Phone call

A.: How are you? Getting ready?
Dad: Yeah-- we have a lot to do before the trip.
Mom: I lost our paperwork.

By this she means, it's lost in other piles of paperwork, not lost forever. I hope.

Dad: I thought I saw it in one of those drawers.
Mom: Maybe.
Dad: How was your weekend?
A.: It was great...
Mom: You managed to fit everyone?
A.: Yeah, wasn't a problem.
Mom: Did people like the house.
A.: Uh... yeah.

Pause

I waited for a "they're just being polite," but none materialized. I'm pretty sure it's what she was thinking. And I have no doubt that if anybody didn't like the house, they wouldn't have said anything anyway, so my guess is as good as hers. At any rate, my visitors did not complain about the color scheme(s), bedding or towels, and appeared, to my untrained eye, to depart with their souls intact, unharmed by said color schemes.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Hey there

Hello everyone! This is going to be quick since I'm as burnt out and sleep-deprived as can be, albeit from a fun-filled weekend.

This will also be rambling... since I don't have the energy to put together a coherent post... so fasten your seatbelts.

-On kids: Wendy and I went to the zoo on Friday. Most of the kids were, indeed, annoying, especially the ones screaming "ROAR," in unison, repeatedly, at the lion. We were in the hippo area, admiring the booty-licious Happy the Hippo, when I heard a parent behind me say to his son, "let's wait our turn, and then we'll look." I immediately ceded my place to that hero and his son. Hooray for parenting!

-On homeownership: I loved having a full house, an I loved being able to accommodate a full house. It was a great time, and a great space for a great time. Also, not that you care, but my backyard is coming together, largely thanks to Wendy's help. While the mint's not as happy in its new container as it was in the ground. Still, I'm not taking any chances after reading that article about lead in urban gardens-- everything edible will get planted in containers.

-On roommate: He was pretty inoffensive while Wendy was here--largely because she and I were out all Tuesday night, and he got in late Wednesday night--although he managed to sneak in a few dickish comments of the 'trying too hard' sort. He was as inoffensive as possible for most of the rest of the weekend, by virtue of taking off Thursday morning not to be seen until about 5pm this afternoon, just when I was about to take Martha and Tracy to the airport. This glorious, every-other-weekend disappearing act is a large part of why I picked him in the first place. Anyway, I was glad Martha got a chance to meet him after all, and his behavior very much fit the narrative. I was upstairs when he came in. Apparently, there were introductions, and then something like the following:

RM: So, what did you do this weekend?
Martha: We did a lot... yesterday we went to the National Arboretum.
RM: And then what did you do?
Martha: We came back here and had pizza...
RM: How many of you were there?
Martha: Five in all...
RM: So, what else did you do?
Martha: Today we went to the National Gallery and saw some of the Memorial Day Parade.

Were there a few more "and then what"s? I'll let Martha fill in the blanks. I do know that when I came downstairs, I said hello to RM and suggested to Martha that we put her stuff in the car. We talked logistics for a minute or two. Meanwhile, RM just stood there. And kind of moped, apparently because he wasn't being invited into the conversation. It was weird. I'm not saying he was expected to go away, but he wasn't really doing anything-- he was just standing there, listening to us, to a conversation in which he couldn't possibly have a role. And looked mopey. He and I had a few "How was your w/e-it was good" exchanges.

I got back a few hours later-- what's a trip to Dulles without a stop at Banana Republic Petites on the way back, when you have a gift card expiring in a week (yes, Banana Republic sends me gift cards for my birthday) and if you go home, you'll have to talk to your roommate.

RM: How was your weekend?
A.: It was great. How was yours?
RM: It was good.

Five minutes later

RM: So, how was your weekend?


RM: Was it good having all your friends here?
A.: Yeah, I really enjoyed seeing everyone.

He's been more or less inoffensive and kept asking if I needed help with anything, so I can't complain.



On Gracie: She was on her best behavior--didn't bring out anyone's allergies, and didn't go around waking anyone up. She did jump on my pillow, the day after I washed my sheets. Little rat.

On TV: Thank heavens that the Daily Show is in repeats this week and that How I Met Your Mother is out for the season. I need a week to catch up on reading.

Okay, goodnight!

Responding to comments

(1) I had not seen the Gawker piece--thank you for pointing it out. I don't particularly agree with its assessment, i.e. that Andrews' message in the Times piece was that "the evil lenders held a gun to my head." He takes responsibility for errors in judgment, and discloses that his wife has issues with spending. It is still noteworthy that lenders gave him a loan, and that a mortgage broker encouraged him to hide his past and that of his wife's from said lenders. I do agree, nonetheless that since he was writing a personal finance piece and making a microcosm of his situation, it would have been appropriate to disclose her past bankruptcy.

(2) Of course not all pregnant women are smug. Not all children are annoying. Not all republicans are delusional. I haven't read your post yet, but based on the preview, I'll launch a pre-emptive comment: enough pregnant women are smug that the video's a youtube sensation. The sanctimommy concept is one well covered in the blogosphere-- you don't need my two cents.

I will give you this, if we are doing close readings: Nobody should be asking a pregnant woman whether she wants a boy or a girl. It's an inappropriate question that calls for a cliched, formula response. A number of my friends have been pregnant in recent years, and quite a few have complained about people touching their bellies, asking personal questions, and so on. I'll be the first to agree that you have to put up with a lot of BS. Nonetheless, spare me the 'material distractions no longer matter to me' crap. See Sex and the City episode where Carrie's Monolos get stolen at a baby shower.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday morning roundup

The dangers of childbirth in, for example, Tanzania. Also no fun is malnutrition.

In Somalia, Sufis are fighting back.

The Obama administration is called out for opting for continuity in rhetorical tricks and slowrolling on civil rights. Meanwhile, Philip Gourevitch--hardly a human rights neophyte--mounts a compelling argument against releasing abuse photos, and reminds us where the buck stops.

On a lighter note: why culinary purism makes no sense.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Eat it, Google

Feast on this.

Wednesday morning roundup

Another way gay people are destroying America: wanting to be at the side of their ailing loved ones.

This is so David Brooks: make a huge, unsupported leap out of otherwise interesting studies. While I agree that people who don't read novels can be boring, I think he misinterprets the results (first of all, how is he defining success?), and I think it's wonderfully rich of him to blame Obama for Detroit's having lost its competitive edge.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Tuesday night ramble

Was the Citibank associate being ironic when she said, "all you need to do is change your card information for the accounts where you have automatic billing"?

I just spent the last hour doing that. Because Citi had a data breach. So all I have to do is change my payment info.

Well, in revenge, I'm changing my f*ing automatic payment info to another credit card. However, if credit card companies do start charging annual fees and/or interest from the moment a transaction occurs, I'm going to have to move to a cash economy. That'll curtail my spending like nothing else.

Which is a good thing, because according what Suze Orman thinks my emergency fund should be, if I stop spending money on anything fun now, and avoid needing to tap into said emergency fund, I can get there in 2-3 years.

Speaking of LPW's piece on Suze, she (LPW) alluded to the same thing that NYT guy did: different rules apply to different people, unfair as that may be, and awareness of that can make one sloppy. So, in response to ETC's comment, I'm glad he admitted that he got caught in a "I'm educated enough to know better, so it won't happen to me trap" in terms of mortgages, but not in terms of love-conquers-all delusions with regard to managing money in a marriage. Did they really think they didn't have to talk about it, it being the something like the second highest cause of marital discord?

One great way not to overspend is to not fall into the status symbol trap, because nobody else cares

Also, in response to ETC's previous comment, as for how to deal with aggressive talkers: you don't owe them anything. It's your time, they have no right to appropriate it. Feeling bad about refusing to let them waste your time isn't fair to you. If they don't get it, it's perfectly okay to be firm. As Ian kept telling me and Kate when we were failing to haggle effectively in the bazaar in Istanbul, "you are the one in control," even though the other people are masters of making it seem like it's the other way around.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Monday evening roundup

Highly contrasting personal finance sagas from the Times and the Post. The Times piece is fascinating, the Post one annoying. There are definitely huge financial disadvantages to being poor (in addition to practical disadvantages), I do not dispute that, but the article doesn't seriously address those. And I'm sorry--I'm hardly a welfare-basher, but I do want to slap the woman who complains about how the state gives her canned tuna and mac and cheese. Like the non-poor have sirloin every day.

If only we'd planned the trip to China for this year, we could have visited this.

Rahm Emanuel continues to amuse:
Mr. Emanuel could not help mocking the interest in the lack of public fighting so far. “The New York Times is like a Jewish mother,” he said. “When it’s acrimonious, you guys whine. When it’s not acrimonious, you say how come it isn’t?”

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Cautionary tales

Sometimes it's best not to do it yourself.

Someone once told of removing a tree limb to save money, rather than calling a tree guy. He fell and broke his hip, which sucked enough in and of itself, but also ended up costing $40,000. I can see myself falling into the DIY trap, but some things call for professionals.

Sunday morning roundup

An unnerving comparison of American and Chinese banking.

Maureen Dowd defends Nancy Pelosi but more importantly, puts her role into perspective. It's a very good column.

Do you doubt that the Khmer Rouge operatives committing these atrocities also believed they were helping their country?

Frank Rich discusses and links to a GQ piece.

The Post asks about Catholics what Jews have been wondering about themselves for decades.

Response

(1) I like the designation 'aggressive talker,' and I've come to agree with the assessment that that's never going to change. He is never going to stop trying to talk to me. The situation is salvageable because (a) he's away, on average, every other weekend, and often working on papers and stuff when he is around, and (b) I'm managing it with headphones and by straight-out saying that I don't want to talk. The next level of escalation will be to go to my office, which is actually quite pleasant.

(2) I've thought a lot about whether there will be a next roommate when this guy's lease runs out in November. I'm not sure I *need* to live alone-- I've lived with a lot of roommates over the years, and none of them wanted to talk this much, including those that were already friends when we moved in together. At the same time, I'm not going to put myself through this process again. The irony here is that RM is a GREAT roommate apart from the talking: he and I have similar schedules, so I don't wake him up when my alarm goes off at 5am; he helps out around the house, doesn't generally make a mess, etc. The talking is almost a small price to pay. Odd as it sounds, I'm not sure I can do as well next time around. I think what I'll do is keep the option open--because it is really nice getting those checks at the beginning of the month--but not advertise as widely. Maybe just word of mouth, the Smith listserv, etc., rather than the world at large. 'Afford' is a funny word-- I'm not going to default on my mortgage if I don't get another roommate... but nor will I have enough spending money. So it's less a question of 'afford' and more an issue of 'is it worth putting up with a roommate to be able to continue the tradition of fabulous vacations every year.'

(3) I kind of admire the courage of the guy who called to ask me out, I guess. I'll give him that. I'll point out, however, that he was also a talker, even during the "interview," and as evident, I don't do well with those.

(4) In response to your post: yes--they are the same variety, i.e. those who talk to you in your office or in airplanes, etc. The issue is that you're clearly trying to do something else, you're obviously not interested in conversation at the moment, and they clearly don't notice or don't care. I also talk a lot (mom points this out to me all the time), but I am not an aggressive talker. I pause and let people escape if that's what they choose to do. It really is the lack of self-awareness that categorizes the aggressive talker. I, myself, don't see communication or conversation as a competitive game in which the goal is to bludgeon the colocuteur into submission. To me, communication implies interaction and actual listening.

That's why it's so odd to me that RM's feelings were hurt the other night when I cut him off (post-, not mid-sentence) and put my headphones on (it had come to that): it's like, why do you care, because you clearly don't? If you're going to take it personally, you need to be more mindful of what the other person wants in the first place.

Friday, May 15, 2009

OMFG who the f* are these people?

My autofill indicates I've used that heading before. I imagine it was for some sort of article. This time it's personal.

A.: Hello?
Caller: Hi, A. How are you?
A.: I'm sorry-- who is this?
Caller: This is Royal.

Pause

A.: Royal?
Royal: I stopped by, about a month ago? To look at a room.
A.: Oh, yes. The room has been let.
Royal: Oh, yeah. I found a place. I just wanted to check in, see how you were doing...

Why don't I screen my calls?

Royal: I was wondering, you know, if we could keep in touch, and you know, check in on one another every now and then. And maybe we could go out to eat.
A.: Er... that's nice of you but I'm not interested.

And so on. It takes another five minutes to get him off the phone. It could have been longer but a firm "well, I'm glad you found a place and you're doing well. Take care..." left little room for further conversation.

***
I was telling Martha--who understands my predicament--that I recently read that Tauruses don't do well with other people's blind persistence. That's why my mother's style never worked on me, and it's why my current roommate's efforts at friendship are counterproductive: when we (Tauruses) are charged, we shut off. I particularly resent being made to feel as if I'm in the wrong: where he got the idea that I would be a source of companionship is beyond me. It was not in the roommate ad or the lease. I'm also mystified as to why he's mystified: we had this conversation two weeks ago, in so many words; I said, "I am generally not interested in talking." There's a self-centeredness to his behavior: when he's not working on a paper, he'll feel free to bug me. Why doesn't it occur to him to assess whether or not I want to talk? Why does he assume that I do?

Thankfully, he's discovered King Street Blues, and has left me in peace.

I think this issue merits a poll.

Friday night roundup

First of all, last night's Daily Show was AWESOME.

The Times Magazine profiles Suze Orman; Liz Pulliam Weston clarifies her critique of her.

Kathleen Parker and Judith Warner fear for the state of our national discourse and colelctive lack of sense of humor.

Speaking of unhealthy obsessions with the President, as well as damaging plants with too much sun-- see previous post, while reading this, two why-is-this-news articles were recommended in the sidebar.

On a more serious note, the Post publishes a fascinating profile of the Secretary of Defense.

Speaking of the Post, I disagree with their conclusion, but I'm glad they're calling the ACLU on going to far.

Another reason you should stop eating processed foods, now.

In memory of a woman with a very cool job. She was ahead of her time: she warned about subjecting placenames to votes even before Colbert started hijacking placenaming contests.

Why do I EVER listen to my mother??

I thought I should at least listen to her about plants, since she knows plants.

But a month ago, my cactus was doing fine. She made me stick it outside. Now it's dead.

My orchid was doing fine, too. I stuck it outside. Two days later, the leaves were turning brown.

My palm was doing as well as it had its whole life. She made me move it to the glass door. It's now doing the same, but makes my living room look bad.

I like those plants. I feel responsible for them. What have I done?

Friday morning roundup

On the language of diplomas, but really on the value of education.

On advertising.

Happy Bike-to-Work day!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

We're there

He finally got it.

There have been several false alarms with regard to his getting it. I thought, for example, last night that he got it. And then, an hour or so ago, as I was getting ready to watch The Daily Show, this:

RM: So, what did you do today?
A.: Nothing worth talking about.
RM: Perhaps you'd be up for a guitar lesson?
A.: Errr....
RM: I brought it here just for you.

Yes, I've noticed that you placed it on the papasan and left it there. And I actually do like to sit on that thing.

A.: I don't know. I'll think about it.

I put my headphones on and proceeded to watch the show. Afterward, I took my headphones off.

RM: A., did I do something to upset you?

[Pause, while I think about how to answer that]

RM: I guess I'm just not sure when to talk to you... or whether to talk to you.

I'm not going to feel guilty about upsetting him, because, like I've said, my signals about when to talk or not talk to me have grown increasingly less subtle. I mean, how many times do I have to say some variation of, 'not much' in response to 'what did you do today' before it hits him that I will never answer that question more substantively? Also, it's not like I'm not talking to him so I can stare at the wall; he sees me sitting here surrounded by books, magazines and a laptop.

A.: I'm generally not interested in talking. Especially when I'm working on something, reading, or watching television. But no, it's not you.
RM: As long as it's not me.

Part of me feels a little bit guilty, but another part refuses to: I don't owe him anything apart from a room. I don't owe him social interaction. I don't owe him any of my time. I'll acknowledge that I could have made that more clear, but how the f* was I supposed to know that he was looking for a roommate-friend combination? I never said or did anything to indicate that that's what I wanted. Any pouting on his part just pisses me off more. I mean, grow up.

At least it's resolved.

Thursday evening roundup

Egan on why not to throw stones at Justice Souter.

I am in no way making light of these people's situations, but would it be presumptuous to suggest that this predicament would be that much worse for me than for many others?

Roommate update

He's gotten much better, or at least he's been too busy to bother me. No, we were both around on Monday night, and he didn't keep trying to talk to me while I was preparing for a tutoring session the next day. I was kind of hoping he would be around a little yesterday, so I could point out the crumb tray in the toaster oven and explain that if it remained covered in crumbs, it would come to draw cockroaches, but he was in his room all evening so I had to erase the evidence, for obvious reasons, and talk about it this morning amid a clean crumb tray, which is hardly as compelling.

Usually we're not downstairs at the same time, but this morning we were. Now, as you may have figured, I am a morning person, so whereas other people don't want to be spoken to in the morning because they're half asleep-- that's actually the way I tend to be in the evening-- I don't like to be spoken to in the morning because I'm getting ready for work. I also am not a fan of small talk-- I understand that sometimes it's a necessary social evil, but in that case it should be brief, drive-by. It should, under no circumstances, be prolonged.

As such, the first part of the interaction was fine:

RM: How are you?
A.: Good. How are you?
RM: Good.

We could have left it at that, i.e. with my eating my breakfast in peace.

RM: What do you have on your plate today?

No, no, no, no. (In case you were wondering, my response was, 'I don't know'). I feel the same hostility to this question as I do to 'how was your day,' which I take to imply 'how was your day at work,' since the day itself is not yet over. And that feeling is, 'who the f* cares, it's work? Why would I want to either talk about it beforehand or rehash it afterward? And you certainly don't care, so why are you wasting my time by requesting an answer? That question has as much utility as his asking Gracie, when he returned on Sunday night, how her weekend was. And not because she couldn't meaningfully answer, but because if she could, she would say, 'it was a weekend. I did the same thing I do every day. Who the f* cares?' Maybe one of these days he'll ask her about her daily routine. That would be a fascinating conversation indeed.

I know he's just trying to be nice. I just don't get the way his social mind works.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Tuesday evening roundup

More on what not to do on planes (in addition to abrogating one's parental responsibilities).

The cost-benefit analysis of mercury pollution in this article is unf*ingbelievable.

Walking cities

I've been thinking about this urban planning concept-- I love living in Old Town because I can walk everywhere, but in those rare instances where I need to drive, it's a nightmare.

Roommate went for a walk last night. He says I'm inspiring him to eat healthier-- he can't believe the fridge is so full of healthy food (I can't believe the fridge is so full of healthy food and I still can't fit into half my clothes). Anyway, he decided to go for a walk, but, in his own words, as not-a-city-person, he hesitated-- his first thought was, why not just drive?

Monday, May 11, 2009

Mother's day phone call

I called my mom to wish her a happy mother's day.

Mom: V.! A. is calling to wish us a happy mother's day!

Mom: So, how did the gathering go?
A.: It went well.
Mom: How did the dumplings turn out?
A.: Quite well.
Mom: You know, your father and I were talking about this. Mushrooms make for great filling for dumplings. So does spinach...
A.: Many things make for great dumpling filling. I'm partial to these, and they always go over well.
Mom: Would you consider serving some meat? You know, so people can feel somewhat sated?
A.: I've not conducted a formal survey, but I don't think anyone's ever left my house hungry.
Mom: My mother always said, you can't be truly full unless you have meat.
A.: [Shrug]

My sentiments EXACTLY

Print this and carry it with you when you travel, lest you be seated next to a child.

Logic

Guess what? Some people think it's anticapitalist to teach kids to think about the implications of consumption :
"In January, a school board in Missoula County, Mont., decided that screening the video treaded on academic freedom after a parent complained that its message was anticapitalist."
Heaven forbid more kids start to think before they buy, like this impressive little guy:
"[r]iding in the car one day with his parents in Tacoma, Wash., Rafael de la Torre Batker, 9, was worried about whether it would be bad for the planet if he got a new set of Legos.

“When driving by a big-box store, you could see he was struggling with it,” his father, David Batker, said. But then Rafael said, “It’s O.K. if I have Legos because I’m going to keep them for a very long time,” Mr. Batker recalled."

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Not the brightest bulb

Oh, Gracie. Oh, kitty of little brain. Don’t get me wrong: it’s not that I want you to bring me a bird or a mouse. I much prefer the nice, leafy twig you brought in, excitedly, from the yard, and that you come back to and paw at before you get bored. I can't pretend, however, that as your kitty mommy, I'm not concerned about your choice of prey. Good thing you're not trying to survive in the wild.

Sunday morning roundup: elements of civics

On journalism:

Rambling but thought-provoking defense of tabloids.

Frank Rich on the future of journalism; Maureen Dowd on the same, but don't waste your time reading it.


The bureaucratic clusterf* that is our country's social safety net. An excerpt:
"Workers who banked $2,000 in severance pay can get food stamps in South Carolina; their counterparts in North Carolina cannot. Oklahomans who earned $10,000 in six months can collect unemployment if they started work on the 15th of February, May, August or November — but not if they started two weeks later.

When the recession cost Erika Nieves of Bridgeport, Conn., her job with a wrestling promoter, she did get unemployment benefits. But that caused her to lose a welfare-to-work grant and her child care subsidy. Now Ms. Nieves is months behind on her rent and is job hunting with a 2-year-old."

I rarely have good things to say about non-profits whose mission is to promote Christianity, but this was some good work.

An excellent argument by Stephen Carter against the questioning of Supreme Court nominees.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Now that I'm up...

...and cranky...

...I'm going to ramble.

First of all, this needs to stop. It's not even funny anymore.

You know what is funny, though? This.

Anyway, moving on: I'm going to overanalyze the canvasser, or at least incorporate his intrusion onto my afternoon into my ongoing rant against roommate-- who has gotten better, so this is essentially academic.

Just like I didn't hold it against RM for trying to make conversation--but did wonder how someone at his age/stage of career could be so socially stupid--I don't hold it against canvasser for waking me up. Who naps in the afternoon, anyway? I was up late last night; I don't sleep past 6am; and I had a brunch to go to, okay? But I made it pretty plain that I wanted to return to my napping state and was in no mood to talk politics, so I have to wonder why he thought that, given my predisposition at that moment, I would be receptive to anything he said.

Am I giving people too much credit, or am I being too hard on them, or am I asking too much? I don't think so, but I have to wonder, especially after my fellow brunchgoers turned on me.

Here's what happened: Marisa and Beth invoked their crazy, stalkerish roommate, and I recalled Tasha and Marcela's crazy, litigous roommate, and I made a comment about whether after this lease runs out whether I should rethink this whole roommate concept. I was asked about the roommate, and I credit it to my even-handedness in the telling that all of the sudden people were taking his side. Comments ranged from 'he's probably lonely' to 'it's because you own the house and don't want to share.' My response to the first was unspoken: I don't care why he was doing it; to the second, I protested: "No, no, no, no. I've had a roommate for the last ten years. This isn't about sharing space."

It's not that I'm unwilling to question the reasonableness of my position; it's that, they're wrong. Really.

There was also some of that annoying unsolicited advice ("well, talk about it"). I'm dealing with the situation. I'm just telling you about it, since you asked.

Yes, I know that in the scheme of roommate offenses-- from stalking, suing, stealing, noise, filth, etc.--being unrelentlessly social is hardly something to complain about. In fact, you'll notice that I've (a) dealt with it; and (b) traded complaining about it for social-commenting on it. Nonetheless, I don't think it's fair to make me out to be the bitch in this situation for wanting some time to myself.

Perhaps I'm also undisposed to taking seriously housing advice from people who can afford their homes because they have a second income, as well as family support. If I were those people, I would shut the f* up. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go take out my compost.

go away

Well, if there was any possibility that I was going to vote for Terry McAuliffe before, it's gone now. I lied, Mr. Canvasser-- it's not okay that you woke me from my nap, and it's even less okay that you're still standing there talking to me.

Happy beautiful Saturday

While I’m not going to my Smith reunion next weekend, the last few days have been an MSFS reunion of sorts, with the memorial on Thursday, my birthday-inspired gathering last night, and a baby celebration this morning. Being back in the MSFS lounge on Thursday was like coming home, even though we were there to mourn the passing of a colleague. I didn’t know Paula well, as she was deployed for parts of the academic year, but her vibrant personality, intelligence and charm did shine through whenever she was around, and hearing her family, friends and colleagues share stories of her commitment, innovativeness and overall kindheartedness was poignant and inspiring. That, along with being back, reminded me how amazing those two years were and what awe-inspiring work people are doing.

***
I’m really enjoying the house and garden, as barebones as the latter is right now. I’m enjoying the yardwork, the transplanting. Right now, I’m enjoying sitting out back and listening to the birds, and watching Gracie lazily and haphazardly paw at a spider dangling down from the doorframe. The weather is perfect. Inside, earlier this morning, the dining looked perfect, with rosemary and lemons and roses on the table infusing color and aroma all over the house. Even the living room looks great, if only for now, because before the gathering I ensured that the coffee tables weren’t awash in magazines.

Saturday morning roundup

This Times piece on Somali piracy is less informative and insightful than what you'll find in other places, including elsewhere in the Times, but a few priceless turns of phrase make it worth the read. For those interested, Foreign Policy--the magazine as well as the blog-- has provided excellent coverage.

***
This guy's going to be on the Daily Show this Wednesday.

***
The ACLU is one of those bizarre phenomena that I feel like I disagree with 90 percent of the time it's in the news, even though in theory I'm glad it's there.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Phone call

Last night

Mom: V.!
A.: Mom, could you PLEASE not scream into the phone??
Mom: People have been calling me all day on your behalf. Well, on my behalf. Natasha came by yesterday, I gave her some flowers to transplant. It was challenging to dig them up-- perhaps they knew I was mad at her.
A.: Why were you mad at her?
Mom: Because of Obama.
A.: You're not mad at me?
Mom: You're different. You didn't live through what we lived through; she did. We know all too well how these well-spoken people turn around and destroy the country.
A.: I'm not following your logic: being articulate is not a predictor of country-destroying tendencies, although I'll grant you they have co-occurred. But look at Bush: he destroyed the country and could barely put two sentences together.
Mom: You'll see.
A.: No, you'll see.
Mom: So, you're celebrating tomorrow?
A.: Yeah, low-key. Pretty much an extension of the girls' night we used to do.
Mom: What are you making?

I tell her.

Mom: No, no, no. You should make mushrooms!
A.: I like to stick with finger food.
Mom: Well, you should at least...
A.: I'm not taking suggestions at this point, mom.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Roommate update/sociology

He is now less annoying by an order of magnitude, which leaves me more amused than annoyed. For example, had he talked through the entire episode of 'How I Met Your Mother' that ran on my laptop, it would have been annoying. What he did instead was just funny, in a 'who are you and where do you get this $hit' (rhetorical question) kind of way.

The episode, which, by the way, is worthwhile for some of the charts, is titled 'right place, right time,' because that's the theme. Particularly, how small events and circumstances lead you places and times that determine bigger events in your life. Bob Sagat narrated as much when roommate decided to enlighten me with, "That's Hinduism. It's philosophy."

It is a lot of things. It is hardly a novel concept, nor one left unexplored by the entertainment industry. What it is, in this instant, is an episode of 'How I Met Your Mother.' But I appreciate your attempt to turn it into a teachable moment.

***
Last night I mentioned that the behavior has changed for the better, but the paradigm has not: he still fails to either understand or respect that prolonged social interaction is the last thing I want when I'm unwinding after work, which can take the form of watching tv, reading, or doing a crossword, among other things. Very occasionally, I'm up for interacting with another human, in which case I will make arrangements with a friend, i.e. someone that I have let into my life upon determining that I like his or her company, rather than someone to whom I have let a room in my house because I deemed him capable of paying rent and otherwise suitable as a housemate. But most of the time, I prefer the company of my laptop (and the television that streams through it), my newspapers, and my magazines. Really. I am not just telling myself that to make myself feel better. And I haven't just told him that to depersonalize my lack of willingness to interact with him--he's an interesting person, and gradually, I'd like to hear about his life. But I'm less willing to do so if I don't think I can escape from the conversation.

But I digress. I was telling you that I am hardly starved for human interaction. Observing as much is not social rocket science. Then, from whence this:

RM: Do you have plans for the weekend?
A.: Well, I'm having that girls' night on Friday...
RM: Oh, that's good. At least you'll have some company for that one night.

He impresses me, again, with his obtuseness (but he does cease and desist from further conversation, which is what matters). Just like answering his questions with monotonous, one-word responses while keeping my reading material planted in front of my face does not communicate, 'please keep talking to me,' my lifestyle over the last few weeks doesn't exactly communicate either, 'I go crazy when I'm alone for an evening' or, 'finding companionship is a struggle.' I'm actually quite happy with the balance of people time and 'me' time in my life (particularly upon the restoration of that balance now that he has backed off). I think one reason that he fascinates me (although not enough for me to want to talk to him most of the time) is that he reminds me of my mother in many ways: the obliviousness to social cues, the delusion that you can overcome another person's hesitation (whether to engage in conversation, apply to google, etc.) by brute persistence, and now, the failure to overcome the perspective that everyone else shares your preferences and wishes. It's particularly stark since he's figured out that I'm an introvert... and he knows what that means, in his head. But that knowledge can't overcome his bias that, in spite of everything he's observed about me, I must feel the same way he does about company.

With that, I am quite happy to stop blogging about my roommate, who will take off tomorrow morning and return not until Sunday. I'll accept the lack of opportunity for personality analysis in exchange for the lack of company.

C'mon, people!

This is a no-brainer if there ever was one. Seriously.

BTW, Monday night's Daily Show's coverage of this issue was great-- good episode overall.

***
Speaking of no-brains...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

I've found heaven...

The two attention whores in residence are entertaining each other, i.e. leaving me alone. Who could ask for more?

Maybe I've become unfair. The truth is, when someone really gets to you early on, even the innocent things become circumspect. I'm sure Kevin asked me how my day was, all the time, and I'm sure I answered and asked about his day. Mind you, he didn't ask while I was watching TV, and it's not that Kevin and I never had substantive conversations-- we did, and they came about naturally. A lot of roommate conversations are-- as a former colleague once said about office conversations, in the context of one colleague not understanding the concept--"drive-by." Ya have a quick exchange of words and move on, especially if the other person doesn't stop what he or she is doing.

By the way, I was talking with my former project manager and assistant director the other day, and she was talking about how tedious a particular part of the process she worked on had been. In response, I said, "You won't believe it-- my roommate asked me for a detailed description of what I did at work!"

They both burst out laughing. Hysterically. Because they know that a detailed description of what we do at work is akin to an enhanced interrogation method. You bust that out on someone and next thing you know, some fourth grader will take you to task for betraying the Constitution.

But I digress. My whole point is, he's getting better. He's still in my face a little bit, but he's taking the hints a lot faster, which is progress.

Tuesday morning roundup

This is AWESOME:

Four months later, here is Mr. LaHood, smiling broadly in his sprawling office, sipping a “healthy” Frappuccino lunch (“healthy because it will keep me awake this afternoon”). Behind his desk hangs a photograph of Mr. Obama adjusting Mr. LaHood’s neckwear (inscribed: “This isn’t the House, straighten your tie”).

BTW, this profile of Peter Orszag from the New Yorker is well worth a read, and funny, too.

***
I don't agree with Douthat's assessment of Specter or the Senators from Maine, but since I've apparently started a series on the irrelevance of political labels, it would be only right to include the above piece.

I will not post, as I myself have grown tired of its fruits, the proliferating body of work on the demise of the Republican party, unless I see something original or particularly insightful.

***
How folk music has to keep on keepin' it real (pun kind of intended, then reconsidered when I saw that it didn't quite work, but then I kept it because it's time to go to work).

Tuesday morning rambles

I've been meaning to tell you for a while that I received more comments--online and in person-- on the post about crazy electrical bills than about anything else on this blog. Some of them ignored my disclaimer, which was something like, 'unless you have the poor judgment of having electrical heating in your home,' in which case it makes sense that your electrical bill would be exorbitant. I will concede that I did not know that in rural areas, it is often a case of lack of options, rather than poor options. I just remembered to address this, because I got my gas bill for April. It was $23.

***
No intervention as of yet. He's either seen the light, in a delayed reaction, or was too busy to bug me.

***
Gracie is officially the spawn of Satan. She's twice now broken my laptop. The first repair, about a year ago, cost me $200. This latest issue I may just choose to live with-- my laptop doesn't know when it's being put to nap and when it's being awoken. What happened was, the night I returned from Ecuador, I fell asleep with it on my bed (editing almost a thousand photos does that to me). That little rat broke into my room and decided, with that head on which she must have been dropped as a kitten (or, rather, baby rat) that it would be a good idea to jump up right next to my pillow. She scared the crap out of me and interrupted the first night of good sleep I was hoping to get after a week of partying, and, startled, I pushed my laptop such as the power cord fell out. The laptop itself may or may not have fallen; I think it did, a little, but I don't remember. It hasn't been the same ever since, and it's really annoying. You know, you rescue a cat, put up with her BS, and all she does is break expensive things and poop on your floor. Good practice for having kids, I guess.

***
Yes, I've had coffee this morning, and this is what happens when I drink coffee.

Monday, May 4, 2009

it's a small town after all

Contest: Check out this photo and write your own caption.

***
This guy, part of the Times' series of CEO interviews, so speaks to me:
Well, I get up very early and I get to work early. I get up at 4:30 every morning. I like the quiet time. It’s a time I can recharge my batteries a bit. I exercise and I clear my head and I catch up on the world. I read papers. I look at e-mail. I surf the Web. I watch a little TV, all at the same time. I call it my quiet time but I’m already multitasking. I love listening to music, so I’ll do that in the morning, too, when I’m exercising and watching the news.


And not only because my quiet time came under threat recently. It's gotten a little bit better: he gives up more easily, stops talking sooner, but I'm still doing too much work. I need him to start picking up cues faster, and also to stop pouting when I ignore him. So we're going to have another intervention this evening. I think I was too tactful (I know, I bet you didn't think that was possible) in emphasizing the whole it's-not-you-it's-me angle and talking about how I was often tired, because tired isn't always the issue: even when I'm not tired, I just need me time. So it's better that he's slightly less persistent, but I need a paradigm shift on his part, where the default isn't turning to me for conversation. And I need to stop being nice/doing the socially acceptable thing. It's a liability in these situations. Take last night:

RM: I was just thinking, as I typed this last paragraph, it would be great if I could have this conversation with A., this conversation that I just had with the computer.

Pause

RM: I was just thinking that. That it would be great to have this conversation with A.

Awkward silence.

A., resolved: [Sigh.] What conversation is that?

RM: Blah blah blah blah blah blah blah about some philosophical BS.

Five minutes or so into the 'blah, blah, blah' (more of a monologue than I conversation, I'd say):

RM: I'm talking too much.
A.: Yes.
RM: You're not really interested in this.
A.: No.

I'm interested in the intense and fascinating article by Philip Gourevitch about Rwanda after the Genocide. If you want me to care about what you're saying, meet me halfway and don't interrupt me in the middle of something to say it. Is that social rocket science?

I am, again, planning on doing this intervention right. I am not going to say, tempting as it is, "clearly, you didn't hear me last week when I said I cherished my personal time and wasn't much of a conversation partner in my downtime," etc. I'll let you know what happens.

***
You've heard me cite Elisabeth's apt turn of phrase about where one lives; it came about five years ago when I was about to start my first job out of grad school, which would be a non-negligible distance from DC, and mom and friends advised me to move closer to it. 'If you like DC so much,' they said, 'go there on weekends.' I relayed these words of non-wisdom to Elisabeth, who articulated my sentiments brilliantly: 'where you live isn't about where you go on weekends; it's about who you run into when you pick up your dry cleaning.' Now, I did not convey this directly to mom, who would have said something like, 'how often do you take things to be dry cleaned' and probably would have asked how much it cost.

Five years later, mom still hasn't come to recognize that I have a better idea of where I want to live than she does (see March visit, during which she questioned me about why I didn't buy in Huntley Meadows or Reston). Sometimes I lose sight of the issue, too, wondering why I pay so much to live where I do. Last night, I was feeling stir crazy and it had stopped raining, and it occured to me that I could go for a walk. It was like an epiphany: dumbass, you live in Old Town so you can get up and go for a walk without driving anywhere. You even have a choice of nature trail or city. So I walked down to the river, and the hazy sunset was beautiful. Even that eyesore of an Air Force Base across the river didn't mar the view. I could see the Capitol building glowing in the distance, too.

I walked by the river and turned to return home, when I thought I'd go to Trader Joe's for bananas. I need some to be soft by Friday, when I'll make banana cake with coconut frosting. As I approached the store, I ran into Kevin, my former roommate. It was great to see him, in the plainest sense, and also because it reminded me that I live in a small town, in a way, where I run into people as I proverbially drop off my dry cleaning.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Compare and Contrast on a lighter topic

I often find trend stories in the Post days or weeks after something similar has appeared in the Times. Occasionally, it's the other way around. Sometimes it even happens with more substantive topics, but both papers are usually on top of those, so I see it more with lighter pieces (the food bloggers of both papers discovered ramps within days of one another, but the Post trailed the Times for weeks with instructions on making one's own yogurt).

What's interesting about the two papers' commentaries on the Costume Institute at the Metropolitan Museum of Art's annual spring exhibition on fashion (I can't say reviews, since the exhibition opens this week) isn't the timing but the entirely different perspectives. The one in the Times is interesting, but it takes fashion at face value, while Robin Givhan, who is known for infusing fashion writing with social commentary, doesn't disappoint.

By the way, in case you're of the mind to make your own yogurt, or are asking yourself 'what the f* are ramps,' I won't leave you wondering.

The Post's yogurt instructions

The Times' yogurt instructions


Bitten loves ramps

A Mighty Appetite loves ramps

Friday, May 1, 2009

Live and let live

One of the things that worked well yesterday when I broke, as Martha puts it, the 'present but not available' concept to my roommate, is that I didn't try to fix him. Sure, it strikes me that at his age, point in his career, etc., it would behoove one to recognize unambiguous social cues, but I am not his wife or his boss (he has one of each), and his personality is not for me to critique. I never liked it when my boss tried to assess and advise on my personality, and I don't like it when my mother does it. I kept my comments behavior-, rather than personality-oriented. He's a good guy, and I wasn't being nice when I said everything else was going well: he cleans, he's considerate, and he helps out with other stuff around the house even though I've made it clear that I don't expect him to. Why am I so proud of mastering this basic principle of conflict resolution? Because growing up, I only observed the opposite approach. Actually, that's not true; my dad exhibited more constructive, if sarcastic, behavioral skills, but they were drowned out, really, by mom's example. And mom's example was, to some extent still is, taking any behavior and turning it into a personality lecture. Which, as I've mentioned, is counterproductive as well as aggressive. This is how my parents might have handled a hypothetical situation:

Mom: YOU LEFT A WET TOWEL ON YOUR BED! YOU ALWAYS TAKE SHORTCUTS! YOU ARE SUCH A SLOB!

Dad: Might there be a better place for that wet towel than on your bed?

Which approach do you think was more likely to achieve the desired result? Mind you, if I were a smarta$$, I could have said, 'nope, my bed makes a great wet towel repository,' but even if I had, I would have gotten the point. Nothing about mom's strategy would have changed my behavior, because I would have focused on the insult.

Coming full circle to the roommate, maybe he thinks I should be flattered that he's trying to analyze my personality by asking me a bunch of questions, while maybe based on my experience with my mother, I don't appreciate anyone's trying to tell me about my personality. It's just a very different way of interacting with people, his is, that strikes me as ineffective; I'm not uninterested in people, and I think Myers-Briggs, etc., have their place (maybe) in large-scale operations like staffing people together, but I don't see the point in trying to understand one person by pigeonholing them to a four-point identity for which most people are in the middle anyway. If you want to get to know someone, pry less and observe more. But this is advice I won't be shelling out, first of all because I'm not interested in getting better known, and second because who am I to try to change someone who's happy the way he is?

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