Saturday, February 24, 2007

What's wrong with just being polite?

My parents both like to remind me from time to time that I have failed at a lot of things. Regularly, although not often, one or both will wax nostalgic about how they had such high hopes and drove me around to so many different lessons, and yet nothing stuck. I say 'nostalgic' because the tone is less bitter, more investigative, slightly mocking, and quite lighthearted; it's a tone a parent would use to tell a child about his or her first attempts at standing up, walking, using language. Much like that kind of reveling in the past, it never gets old (to them).

They've probably been doing it all my life, but I noticed it for the first time several years ago, when I was feeling particularly sensitive and, call me a wuss, but for some reason it upset me. I did not emotionally benefit from hearing my parents laugh about how in spite of their best efforts, I entered adulthood talentless. I didn't say anything then, because saying these things to my parents, as you can tell in earlier blogs, is like saying them to a brick wall. Their behavior would not change, but perhaps I would have incurred a lecture on how I was too sensitive, and so, every once in a while, I tune out while one or both parents verbalizes their stroll down memory lane. It goes something like this:

"We tried to expose you to that; you know, we tried to expose you to everything... dance, skating, art-- oh, you brought home the most hideous sculpture from art class once-- what else?" ...and so on.

I don't remember what brought this on the other day. I had called her, because, having apparently caught on to the fact that I don't read most of her spam, she has taken to calling me to tell me to check my e-mail and to call her when I have. A friend of a friend of hers has discovered Google Video, so she'll forward videos of elephants giving birth and such. She leaves an incredulous 'where are you' message on my voice mail practically every Wednesday night, along with instructions to watch whatever video she has sent, as she still, however many Wednesday nights into my class, has not caught on the fact that I have class on Wednesdays. So I called her, and something I said triggered the 'we tried everything with you speech,' and it annoyed me.

Sometimes I think about retaliating, i.e. saying the same kind of thing to her and accusing her of being too sensitive when she complains. I really think the woman has no idea that there are things people don't bring up with her out of respect and sensitivity. She didn't seem to react well over the holidays when I gently reminded her that she had crashed my IRA account.

Case in point: My mother is convinced that she gives amazing gifts, and maybe she does. Most people say thank you, some write a thank you note, and in either case, profess the suitability of the gift. That's what people do. My mother does not do that, especially with close friends and family. A friend of hers brought her a gift from Georgia (the country) of what I thought was a beautiful wooden carving; she responded by screaming at him about how it doesn't match her decor at all and what was she supposed to do with it, as my dad and I sat back horrified. She brags about what a great gift-giver she is, perhaps because no one else is rude enough to give her a similar lecture. While she does have some concept that people sometimes say things out of politeness, she seems to think that that politeness is only addressed to others.

Almost a year ago, c. 2pm: Mom: What an ugly blazer!
A.: I really like it.

Hours later, Jason shows up.

Jason: I love that blazer!
A.: Did you hear that mom? Jason loves the blazer.
Mom: Jason must be a very polite person.

Over five years ago; I'd returned from a wedding in England. My parents had picked me up at the airport and brought me to their house. I was going through my suitcase to retrieve some gifts I had brought them, and took out the dress I'd worn to the wedding.

Mom: Ugh, TELL ME you did NOT wear that dress to the wedding! That is the ugliest dress ever made.

A.: Actually it went over quite well. Apparently it was even voted second-best dress.

Mom: Oh, people were just being polite.

About a year and a half ago at my parents' house, my mother asks me about a wedding I'd gone to a month before. I offer to show her the pictures, which the bride had posted online. I'm in one of the pictures.

Mom: WHAT is that you're wearing??
A.: A dress.
Mom: It's just awful!
A.: Other people seem to like it.
Mom: They're just being polite.

At this point, my question is, what's wrong with just being polite?

Monday, February 19, 2007


My mother needs to be the center of attention and in control of every situation at all times. That's why she starts yelling at me to get off the computer the second I'm on it, even though she had no need for it before I got to it; that's why she lectures me about watching TV; and that's why she talks to me when I do yoga.

Before I launch into any of those issues in detail, I have a correction to make. I used to say, when I still lived in Boston, that the decision to get my own apartment (shared, but not with my parents, which was unfathomable to them) was worth the $500/month just to not have to answer the "when are you coming home" question. And that's still something. It wasn't that I didn't want anyone to know when I'd be coming home; it was more that I didn't know when I was coming home and I wanted to reserve the right to window shop or do something else after work and I didn't like explaining myself to anyone. Today's version of this issue is my answering the phone and telling my mom it's a bad time and that I'll call her later, and her not letting me off the phone until I tell her when 'later' is. It just grates after a while.

Anyway, that freedom was one of many factors making the apartment (house, actually) worth its price. Another was the ability to get up and go, away from my parents' constant dilly-dallying. We were going to go for a walk yesterday morning; I was ready. But if it's not one thing it's another and it was mid-afternoon before my mom was ready to go for a walk, at which point I wasn't interested. I'm just that much of a morning person-- I get increasingly lazy as the day progresses.

The dilly-dallying has ALWAYS bothered me... days, mornings are not to be wasted. My parents agree with me on this in theory, but contrive so many things to do before they manage to leave the house-- whether it's to the beach or just for a local walk--that I have a lot of time to seethe. I enjoy spending time with them and going on walks with them, but I appreciate the power, at home, of getting up, getting a few things together, and being able to go on a bike ride, for example, first thing in the morning before the trail gets crowded or the streets busy or the air too hot and humid. If my parents lived with me and wanted to join me on my bike rides, I'd be in nap mode by the time they got ready to leave the house.

Which is one of the main reasons that I'm staying in a hotel tonight before my meeting tomorrow. I would anyway, but my mother started trying to talk me out of it, telling me to just stay here and she'd drive me in the morning. I want to be somewhere that in case of bad traffic I could just walk, but I want to be in control of the getting-ready process, too, and not waiting for her to water the plants at the last minute.


Anyway, back to the control/attention theme, although I'll digress with one more thing first:

Mom: HOW do you manage to always tear the linings in your coats.

A.: I don't know. [I don't contest the claim that I take less than good care of my clothing.]

Dad: It's not a very big coat... it wouldn't fit over a sweater.

A.: I wouldn't wear the coat over a sweater anyway.

Dad: And you're suprised that I think you don't know how to dress for cold weather!

[I let it go, wasn't about to try to explain what I'd meant.]


Yesterday, I was reading the paper online, as I often do. My mother was doing other things, on another floor, for most of the time I was reading the paper. I was waiting for her for something, and decided to read more of the paper in the mean time. Naturally, as soon as she came downstairs and saw me at the computer, she started to protest.

"Are you going to be at the computer all day?"

"Not at all."

Several minutes elapse, during which she does not indicate she actually needs the computer. She's busy doing other things.

"Okay, get off the computer!"

"One minute, please."


"Let me finish what I'm reading."

Now, I didn't actually much care about what I was reading, but out of principle I stayed put. I wanted to make it clear that nagging me, rather than letting me finish what I'm doing, will not get her to the computer any faster. I told her I'd be done in a minute, had two paragraphs left.

"I'm just going to turn off the computer."

"That's not going to get you onto the computer any faster."

She shuts off the computer.

Later, she says, "I'm thinking about which one of us is wrong in this situation. I think it's you."

"It's a little bit of both of us."

She does her thing on the computer and says I can have it.

"I don't actually need it. I was just finishing my article out of principle."

"I didn't need it either; I was kicking you off out of principle."

Dad smirks, says, "I'd never doubt you two were related."


The issue is, my mother has something to say about whatever activity I'm engaged in. As with over the holidays, this weekend it's television. My favorite comment is, "Have you stopped reading, with all the TV that you watch?" because if I were reading (which I have always done and still do quite a bit), I'd get, "enough reading!" She'd find some reason as to why reading were the wrong thing to be doing. She has said that, actually.

My insistence that I don't watch that much TV falls on deaf ears. There's nothing wrong with watching a lot of TV, or maybe there is, but my belief on the matter is that it's a medium like any other and there's good TV and there's bad TV. I regularly watch what I consider good TV (Daily Show, Colbert Report) and occasionally watch exceptionally trashy TV because it's fun and I need the brain candy. The amount of trashy TV that I watch, with the level of critical scrutiny I watch it with, is not going to turn me into someone who can name more American Idol contestants than U.S. presidents (I've never seen American Idol... okay, more Project Runway contestants than U.S. presidents). I still wear underwear and I've never spent $5,000 on a handbag. I tune in for the odd serving of celebrity news not in place of world news but because of it. Do excuse the forthcoming pun, but it is because actual train wrecks are so traumatizing to me that I like to distract myself from them by turning my attention to celebrity train wrecks.

I've never seen a lot of shows I hear to be excellent or at least good, like Lost, 24, etc. Some friends made me watch an episode of Desperate Housewives and I hated it. I'd never seen any of that OC, Felicity, Ally McBeal, etc. stuff. And I don't recognize any of the newer actors and actresses that became famous through those shows.

I try to explain this to my parents so that they'll stop asking me who they all are, but they seem convinced that I recognize every 15-minute celebrity out there. I
do watch the Fashion Police. This is what I had to put up with while it was showing:

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I think that's the woman who plays ugly betty.
Mom: Who's she?
A.: An actress.
Mom: Why is she there?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: Beyonce.
Dad: That's not Tyra?
A.: No.

Now before you get offended by the way my dad confounds black celebrities, keep in mind that he also thinks that every blond celebrity is Britney Spears. Equal opportunity confusion.


Yesterday morning I was doing a pilates video for the first time. My mother came downstairs in the middle of it.

"You're not using the ankle weights."

"I used them for the previous tape, already did that one."

"Your leg's not straight enough."
"You're not at the right angle."
"You're not doing it the way she's doing it."


"Don't be so sensitive, I'm just trying to help."

"My leg's not straight because I can't get my leg that straight. Let me concentrate on what they're doing, please."

At which point she stopped critiquing my positions but continued to talk to me.

This morning I did yoga. I didn't have the video with me because she'd copied it earlier to her DVR hard drive and because I've done it so many times that I don't need the video (but it helps). I was about a third through it when she came downstairs and asked me if I wanted the video, I said it wasn't necessary but if she had it handy please do find it. She kept talking through the process of finding on the DVR hard drive. I asked her to stop (very politely since she was trying to help). She found other ways to keep talking to me. By Tree Pose, which really requires a lot of concentration, I almost lost it and snapped. Instead, I said, "can you please not talk to me until I'm done? I really need to concentrate."
She tried, but it was hard. She has a very difficult time not having my undivided attention.

That's another reason that she doesn't actually like it when I read... I'm less at her beck and call.


Okay close call. I hit some button and Russian letters came up. I’m now typing this in Word and will paste it. She came by to try to see what I did and I had to switch windows fast.

Anyway, back to the issue of control…

A.: Do you have a waffle iron, by chance?
Mom: I believe I do. Do you need it?
A.: I don’t need it but I’m thinking of getting one.
Mom: I was going to give ours away.
A.: In that case, could I have it?
Mom: Sure. Are you going to make waffles?
A.: I’d like to have the option.
Mom: I have a crèpe maker.
A.: So do I.
Mom: Crèpes are better.
A.: I’d like to make waffles sometime.
Mom: You can roll anything into a crèpe.
A.: You can put anything over a waffle.
Mom: Not everything… you wouldn’t put fried cabbage on a waffle.
A.: No, I wouldn’t. It’s not a big deal if you don’t have it or don’t want to part with it.
Mom: Oh, no, I’ll find it… I just don’t understand why you’d want to make waffles.

Why does she need to understand why I’d make waffles???

Saturday, February 17, 2007


A.: I accidentally left Gracie out on the porch on Monday-- she likes to go out after her dinner and doesn't always want to come in before I have to leave for class; sometimes I have to catch her and bring her back in. I had just gotten home from work and had to leave almost immediately, and just forgot her out there. Luckily it wasn't a very cold night.

Dad: Well, with the weather you all have, it's not a big deal.

A.: Aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh!

Dad: What is your problem?

A.: How many times do we have to go over this? The weather we have is not all that different from the weather you have.

Dad: Well, it's not like you get temperatures in the teens...

A.: Yes, we do. We had temperatures in the teens almost every night this week, luckily except Monday.

Dad: Why are you so upset about this?

A.: Because we've one over this hundreds of times.

Dad: So what?

A.: So get it through your head that DC weather is not very different from Boston weather, please. Or stop making "DC is always warm" comments.

Dad: Can't you just let it go?

A.: No!


Dad: Why did you wash this suit??

[I'm actually in Boston for work; the person I'm meeting with is conveniently only available on Tuesdays, so the long weekend seemed to be a good time to go. I grabbed a wool suit that I had stupidly washed because I'd had no other choice, and now I was pleading for help in ironing it to its original form.]

A.: Because I didn't have time to take it to the dry cleaner's.

Mom: At Google, they'd dry-clean your suits for you.

To each her own path

Over breakfast, I begin populating my plate. I take some eggplant, some seaweed salad... haven't put down the seaweed salad when I hear, "what about the marinated apples, you used to like those?"

"I still do-- I can only serve myself one thing at a time."

I take a slice of apple.

"What about feta?"

"Mom! Can you please not micromanage my breakfast choices?"

No answer.

Apparently there's an unwritten rule in the house that the second my mother notices that I'm on the computer, I'm expected to yield it. Fair enough, it's her computer--but can I finish my sentence, or the article?

She came downstairs, saw me, and said:

"Are you going to be on that all day?"

"Can I read the paper, please?"

"The New York Times?"

I just didn't answer, didn't want a lecture on the liberal media. I also did not say, "I'd need the computer less if you could provide less fodder for the blog."

She asks me how many people came to my anti-Valentine's Day party this year; I said, twenty-five, not including the soon-to-be-born. She said, "I don't get it, don't people realize that if everyone were anti, no children would be born?" I said "not at all," but didn't care to elaborate. I just don't follow that logic-- how is aversion to a hallmark holiday a threat to human reproduction?

By the way, there was a baby in front of me on the plane last night. It was angelic, because its parents bothered to calm it down every time it piped up.

I've always been a bit sensitive to people's imposition of convoluted logic on things I hold dear... such as AV Day. AV Day has become such an institution that my friends don't allow me to not have it. I really haven't been feeling it for the last few years, but come January people start asking me when the party is and shudder in horror when I say I'm considering not having it. The truth is, in the seven years since I first hosted the party, I've gone from, "ugh, this is such a stupid holiday, I hate it, smug couples are annoying, I'm single and this holiday makes me feel bad about that" to, "I'm single and who cares? The smug couples are the first to either break up or annoy the crap out of each other; the holiday is still stupid but I've had so many anti-Valentine's Day parties that I now have a positive association with it... and I'm tired."

But I still get annoyed when people insult the institution that my anti-Valentine's day party has become. The party is anti-Valentine's Day, not anti-relationship/anti-family, what have you. Couples come to the party (as long as they agree to act indifferent toward one another). I'd have the party if I'd happen to be in a relationship any given February.

But I'm also at the point in my life when I'm done fighting with people because I don't feel the need to explain myself. I got through this early because everyone expects vegetarians to explain themselves. At first you feel the need to make sure everyone understands exactly why you made that decision, and then you just let it go.

An insult to AV Day partially prompted me to decide to not date someone I was considering dating. We were talking about food; fondue came up, I said I made chocolate fondue for my annual AVD party. He said, "how is that an AVD party? That's just a Valentine's Day party. Chocolate is a Valentine's Day staple." What could be more smug than co opting chocolate??? Chocolate is for everyone! That's the point of having it at the party-- I'm reclaiming chocolate for the single. I am quite the vigilante.

This person's inability to think outside the fondue pot came up again in the same conversation. We'd earlier discussed Sex and the City, and it came up again. I said that my friends and I overwhelmingly identified with Miranda, which absolutely surprised him-- he found her, among other things, "sad." One reason, according to him, was that no woman should have to propose to the father of her child over a $2 beer. That, to me, is completely missing the point: That's what worked for Miranda and Steve; for them, that was so much more special than what this guy would have considered an apt proposal. I fundamentally believe that everyone has their own path, and I don't have a lot of patience for the people who define love, romance and relationships for everybody else along prepackaged and often artificial guidelines.

I suppose that's why, when it comes down to it, I host an anti-Valentine's Day party every year.

Is stubborness the right word?

Okay, this is a dad blog. It's along the same theme as his continuing to believe that DC is a tropical paradise-- it's getting an idea in one's head in a way that nothing, nothing will budge it.

My mother will often say about my dad, "he decided as a young child that he didn't like carrots/oatmeal/motzaball soup, etc., and nothing, not a different way of preparation, etc. will inpsire him to try that thing sixty years later and see if maybe he might like it."

This doesn't only go for food. The weather thing is a perfect example: he was in DC for New Year's once many years ago (long before I'd ever been there), and it was a very warm year. Nothing since has managed to shake his conviction that it's always warm in DC.

It's the habits that really annoy us, and there are a few that we just can't shake. They annoy us because they're wasteful and my mom and I have an aversion to waste.

He ALWAYS fills up the entire water pot thing, even though half would be plenty for tea for three, including refills. This is not only wasteful, it also takes a lot longer. My mom and I have been over this numerous times (so maybe he keeps doing it out of protest, but I doubt it). This morning I poured in enough water for a couple of cups of tea and put it on, ready for tea in a few minutes. He came in, took it off, started to fill it completely. I called him on it, he said, "I didn't see any water in there!" and started to pour it out. I told him to leave it (it was about half-full) and came back later.

Bread is another issue. I harp on this more than my mom does. Why, why, why cut an entire loaf or even half of one at once? If the bread doesn't get eaten, it goes stale. You can always cut more later. Noooooooooo-- he always has to slice an entire loaf at once and we end up with half a loaf (my mom and I are not huge bread eaters) of stale bread slices.

The stale bread, the wasted electricity and longer boiling time, having to repeat, "I know what snow is,"-- those are just biproducts. What really grates on me is the stubbornness.

Friday, February 16, 2007

Another recurring theme

I feed Gracie twice a day, every twelve hours or so. She knows when it's breakfast time and she knows when it's dinner time, and she meows relentlessly. The meowing doesn't make the feeding process go any faster; if anything, I purposely stretch out whatever I'm doing so that she understands that I'll feed her when I'm ready.

She hasn't quite caught on to the system. In fact, the closer I am to actually feeding her, the more vocal she gets. Opening the can, scooping the dry food, putting the food in the bowl-- I mean, I'm feeding her! Why, why, why does she feel the need to keep reminding me to feed her?

Cats have small brains. I guess she can't really process the logic behind my last paragraph.

My mother, on the other hand, is very intelligent... but apparently some things are animal instincts, to which logic doesn't apply.

I had just knocked over some DVDs (my parents have a lot of clutter) when I hear her screaming my name from the other room.




"I'm coming!"


"I said I was coming!"



"You closed my window the wrong way!"

"I didn't close your window at all."

"It gave you the option to only close your tab, but you closed all of my tabs, too."

"None of your tabs were open. When I got to the computer, there were no windows open."

"Well, you closed it the wrong way because none of my tabs are up!"

"None of your tabs were up."

Realizing this conversation could go on endlessly and not caring to explain to my mother that I use the basic IE window rather than her preset ones, I leave the room.


I had knocked over some DVDs in search of the TV schedule. My dad had asked me what he was watching, so I went in search of the schedule that comes with the Sunday paper. I saw one on top of the TV and went for it, disturbing a delicate ecosystem and causing a small DVD landslide. I was cleaning it up when I started hearing the "A!!!!!"s.

Of course, as I reached for the TV schedule, my dad said, "all of those are old... we haven't gotten the paper in a couple of weeks."

"Then WHY don't you throw out the old TV schedules?"

For those of you who think I have too much clutter, too many papers, etc., please appreciate that this is the environment that I was raised in. You have no idea how far I've come.


I'd taken my suitcase upstairs (before all of the above occurred) and came back downstairs. My mother was watching something for which the accompanying sound was unintelligible and very loud and noisy. I asked her to turn it down. She didn't. I left the room. I came back a few minutes later, asked her again to please turn the sound down. She muted it. I told her she didn't have to turn the sound off, just down. I then turned my head toward the TV, which was showing an add for a micro hair trimmer. Just as I'd turned my attention to the TV to better assess what on earth was worth the terrible sound, I got an eyeful of a man sticking the micro hair trimmer up his nose.

Not near his nose; up his nose.

We all reacted with a mix of disgust and laughter. Micro hair trimmer ads: fun for the whole family.

Is listening very difficult?

Tonight's blog began in an airport and continued outside another, and then in the ride away from the latter.

I called to say my flight to Boston was delayed half an hour and that we would depart at 7:15pm rather than 6:45pm. My mother suggested that I call her once I boarded so that she could estimate arrival time and plan accordingly; I countered that it would be easier if I called her when I landed, as usual. Logan is not a car-friendly airport, and the ride from their house to Logan should not be much longer than the time it takes to deplane, etc. Mom protests that it will be cold; I say that I'll stay inside in that case and/or be fine.

My phone rings at 6:30pm.

The familiar "why haven't you called?"

"Well, for starters, we haven't boarded yet."

"You're delayed again?"

"No, the departure is still 7:15."

"You said it was 6:30!"

"I really didn't."

Okay, everyone gets times wrong. I'm bad with numbers-- if there's a numerical dyslexia, I have it. Fine, we misunderstood eachother, it was easy to take the "half-hour" in delay and take it for the time past the hour. But why turn this into an issue?


I arrive, call, dilly dally a little bit at a newseller's, go down to baggage claim, opt to go outside because a horrific alarm is going off by baggage claim.

I call my parents, tell them the terminal, and tell them that I'm all the way at the end of the US Airways area, that they have to go past most of the signs.

I'm fine for the first, oh, ten minutes I'm out there. Then I start to get cold. Then I start to get very cold. I can't keep calling because the signal is bad. After five more minutes or so, I see my dad, walking... the car's back a little bit.

"Where are you? We didn't see you?"


"We did!"



We get in the car. My dad says, "you're dressed for Washington weather!"

Have I been over this? My dad truly seems to believe that I live in a tropical paradise. Which would be fine but WE'VE BEEN OVER THIS A HUNDRED TIMES and to me this goes back to not listening.

"It's usually only five degrees warmer in DC than it is here."

"Five degrees is significant!"

Not only do I not want to keep having this conversation (I enjoy it as much as I do the one about coffee), I'm particularly annoyed by it, having braved the DC weather over the last few weeks. Sure it's no upstate New York; nor is it Miami.

I get a lecture about dressing warmly. Although I am dressed warmly, or else I wouldn't have made it the 15-20 minutes waiting for them as I did. I say something to that effect, to which my mom replies that they arrived really quickly... to which I say, no you didn't, you arrived forty minutes after the time my phone says I first called you. She says "your phone is wrong!"

Explanation for the decollage? My mother probably counts from when she got in the car. I wouldn't put it past her to have watered her plants on the way out the door, etc. But I'm being petty. Whatever, it's not about the time.

As we approach the house, my mother points out the piles of plowed snow as if it's this archeological relic to me. Normally I'd shrug it off but having spent an hour the other day trying to break the iced-over snow around the wheels of my car so I could get out, I'm just not amused, and tell her we have snow, too.

I don't know why I'm so sensitive about this-- but I think I do and I need to get over it. I have this aversion to other people's (because I don't see my own) preference for flawed assumptions, especially ones I've debunked a few times already. I don't care who thinks Washington is warm... I don't think I'm a better person for dealing with its weather. I'm not even all that sick of repeating myself; it's more that I'm frustrated that I HAVE TO repeat myself because nothing I say sticks.

I'll keep you posted throughout the weekend.

Thursday, February 8, 2007

What's wrong with listening?

My mother called me last night while I was in class (phone was silenced, she left a message). The gist of the message was, "where are you? I sent you an e-mail, check it as soon as you get home and call me as soon as you've seen it."

I called her when I left class (c. 10pm) to say, "I was in class..." which could have deduced because that's where I was when she called last Wednesday at the same time. Notice I said "could have deduced" rather than "should know," because my mother is not one to bother with things like taking note of which days and times I have class (or keeping my address on hand, etc.) Anyway, I told her I'd get home late, not check my e-mail, and call her the next day (today).

This morning I checked the urgent e-mail, a youtube-like clip of a cat repeatedly flushing a toilet for for minutes straight.

I was about to call her when she called me. This conversation ensued:

"Why didn't you call last night?"

"I told you last night I would call you today."

"I was worried! Well, did you watch the clip?"

"Yes, thank you for sending that."

"Why didn't you call? I was worried."

"You were worried because YOU DON'T LISTEN. I said last night, "I'll call you tomorrow."

"You didn't say that."

"Yes, I did. I very deliberately said it because I had no intention of checking my e-mail or calling you or doing anything other than brushing my teeth when I got home after class."

This is not the first time this has happened, if you'll recall the time many years ago she called a then-friend in France at 3am and nearly had the Belgian police looking for me, because she neglected to listen to the message I left her. I'd specifically called her-- I remember it being a particularly expensive call-- to say, "I'm leaving France tonight. I'll be making my way through Belgium and Germany to Denmark; I won't call for the next few days-- I'm telling you this so you won't be worried when you don't hear from me. I'll call you on [specific day of the week] when I get to Copenhagen." I called her on the specified day from Copenhagen-- three days after I'd left the message-- and was greeted with a screaming "WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN? WHY DIDN'T YOU CALL? I ALMOST HAD THE BELGIAN POLICE LOOKING FOR YOU. I ALMOST GOT A PSYCHIC TO FIND OUT WHERE YOU WERE!" All I could say was, did you not get my message? She claimed I'd said in my message that I'd call her every day. I claim has a way of hearing what she wants to hear.

So I really had no time for a mini-repeat eight years later. Nonetheless, I insisted I'd told her I'd call today.

"Well, it's today. Why haven't you called?"

"I was about to call you now. I'd had a really busy day..."

"What could be more important than calling me, when you know I'm here worrying about you?"

"I didn't know you were worrying about me. [In spite of experience,] since I told you I'd call today, I had no reason to think you'd worry about me because I didn't call yesterday." I didn't add, 'the cat video was cute, but I didn't think it merited a phone call at an absurd hour.

A couple of "okay, fine!"s later, we said goodbye and hung up. I need to come up with a strategy to overcome my mom's selective hearing habits.

Monday, February 5, 2007


I get to Union Station and have a few minutes before I need to start walking to where I'm going (twenty minutes, actually-- Metro's online trip planner, while wonderful, is very conservative). I wander into the main hall and sit down on a bench. When I look up, I see a giant, bouncy-castle-like plastic colon. Veins and everything.

I'm all for cancer awareness, and that thing sure does draw attention, but... it's a giant colon. Supercolon, actually, as indicated on the sign by the info-table next to it. This thing must have been twenty feet long and ten feet in diameter. I went up to the table to inquire about it, and was greeted with, "Hello! Would you like to walk through our colon?"

Not a question I'd ever imagined being asked. I said, "no, thank you, I'm just looking around." They gave me a pedometer and showed me to the other cancer displays, none of which featured enormous plastic replicas of organs through which one could amble.

I'll give them credit-- not only does that thing draw attention, but they'll be among the few people on this planet who can say they've said, "Would you like to walk through our colon?"

I expressed my confusion as to the utility of this visual aid to my friend Jason, who clarified why a supercolon in Union Station was actually a smart idea. See the conversation below:

A: I don't really understand the value of visually recognizing signs of colon cancer... for obvious reasons.

J: The ability to visually recognize the signs of colon cancer is only important if you have your head up your ass (a common affliction in DC).

He's right-- this is exactly what the cancer prevention people are counting on.

You can find pictures at

Sunday, February 4, 2007

A. waxes philosophical about busybodies and empty gestures

Reading "Talk to the Hand" is inspiring close readings of everyday interactions. One such close reading follows.

It was freezing this morning when I walked to the metro. I saw a train coming and ran for it, knowing that I probably wouldn't make it, when this guy said, "you're not going to make that train." Fair enough.

A few minutes later, I'm minding my own business, waiting for the next train, when he comes up to me, apparently to share a cautionary tale:

"You know, one woman, she ran for the train... she ran all the way up the escalator, but when she got to the top, she collapsed."


"They had to call 911 and everything."

Pause, as I refuse to engage in this completely useless conversation, but attempt to remain civil.

"Where are you going, anyway?"

Pause, to indicate that that's none of his business. Then, "Union Station."

"Oh, well then you just take the yellow line up to Gallery Place, and there you'll switch to the red..."

Nodding, puzzled glare, which apparently registered with him because he said, "well, you probably know where you're going," and stopped talking.

Okay, there are people who go to the metro and don't know where to transfer to get to their destination. For those people, there are handy maps. Should those people be unable to decipher said maps, those people can ask a metro employee or other passengers. In no way is there demand for someone to go around to people and tell them how to make the necessary connections.

It's less that the interaction bothered me and more that I find it intriguing. Perhaps he figured that I knew where I was going and was just trying to make conversation, but why make conversation that you know isn't going to go anywhere? I wonder how many other people would have pretended to find his information useful out of a need to be social or even polite? I felt no such obligation, which is not to imply that I'm above social obligations on the whole; rather, I first of all feel little social obligation to strangers who force conversation on me to pass the time, in spite of my clear lack of interest. That lack of social obligation is sanctioned by Miss Manners. Second, in my old age I find I have little energy to feign appreciation for empty gestures.

I thought my sense of social obligation was erring on the low side today at work, when I couldn't be bothered to laugh at a stupid joke someone had made. I've laughed at stupid jokes before, and I'm sure I will again, but I just wasn't feeling it. A lot of people, women especially, will feel that they have to talk, laugh; and a lot of people, men especially, come to expect that the other will welcome their overtures or at least feign welcoming their overtures. And sometimes we all do that. And the first time metro busybody spoke to me, I didn't tell him to eff-off. It was only after he continued to talk to me that I nonverbally signaled it, and to his credit and my relief, he accepted the signals before I had to verbalize my lack of interest.

Anyway, when I later thought about the encounter it reminded me of dealing with someone I sort-of-dated a long time ago, for a different reason (i.e., did he actually think I (or anyone on the metro) needed his guidance?). I was young and naive, and had yet to lose that detrimental tendency of giving people the benefit of the doubt... in other words, I was slow to catch on to the fact that this guy was quite selfish and inconsiderate. But he's a bizarre breed of selfish and inconsiderate-- and I don't use breed lightly, I mean he's a prototype that I and my friends have witnessed in different incarnations. He somehow thought that he could make up for his inconsiderateness with... you guessed it, empty gestures.

It was a sunny winter Sunday before finals during my first semester of grad school. I'd planned to go for a walk to get some fresh air and clear my head before I continued to study. He called, asked if I wanted to go to a book fair. It sounded interesting, so I told him I had an exam the next day and also wanted to go for a walk, to which he said, no problem, we'll just pop into the book fair and then go for a walk. He doesn't have a car; I drive us to the book fair. After about an hour, I suggest we get going. He says, fine, just fifteen more minutes. Fifteen minutes later, I repeat that I'd like to leave. He asks for a little bit more time. This pattern repeats itself for at least another hour, maybe an hour and a half, at which point I am livid and threaten to leave him there. He apologizes profusely, but those apologies are hollow since what I really want is my day back. As I pull out of the parking lot, I spot a grocery store, ask if he wouldn't mind if I popped in for a minute to grab a loaf of bread, save me a trip later in the day. "Oh, no problem at all. In fact, go ahead, do all your grocery shopping. I'll help you carry the groceries!"

Dude, I have a car and you don't. What are you going to do, help me carry them from the shopping cart to my trunk?

That is an empty gesture. Offering something I clearly don't need does not make up for taking away something that I care about (my time). In her book, Lynne Truss talks about reciprocal effort, of being met half-way. Someone holds the door for you, so say thank you, they say you're welcome, everyone moves on. Someone acknowledges your presence, you acknowledge their act, etc. Offering something I am very likely to need (help carrying groceries, metro directions) and expecting gratitude is neutral and slightly annoying in the latter case, and straight-up offensive when that something is ostensibly offered to make up for an act of discourtesy.

This isn't ego; it doesn't matter that I need no help carrying my groceries, that I usually walk to and from the supermarket, etc. It doesn't matter that I could transfer to the red line in my sleep-- in fact, I probably have. I transfer to the red line so often that I know exactly which yellow line train car to board so that I'll exit at just the right escalator when the train reaches Gallery Place. What does matter is that neither person had any reason to believe that I would in any way benefit from what they were offering.

So how is this different from Bonnie several postings back, about whom I wrote, "when someone gives you a gift, just say thank you"?

That's just it... I think I resent the implied solicitation of gratitude, since these people were both pretty much just wasting my time with empty gestures. If "thank you" means something, it means "thank you for doing something for me or making the effort to do something for me." I'm not going to expend appreciation on empty gestures, just like I'm not always going to laugh at stupid jokes. Someone else can do that.

Anyway, unlike the metro busybody, who backed off in time, book fair guy just kept annoying me. I stopped to get gas, he got out to wash my windshield. Okay, fine, that's at least useful, but it doesn't make up for the fact that he blatantly and disrespectfully disregarded my needs for hours. At some point he asked me why I was so stressed out, and I said, "I have an final tomorrow!" His, "Oh, why didn't you tell me, if I had known, I wouldn't have dallied..." made me even angrier-- I need to tell him WHY I didn't want to spend an entire afternoon at a book fair? Just saying "I'd like to leave now, I have things to do" wasn't enough? Besides, I had told him earlier that I had a final, but that's not the point. He also took away my time for a walk, and if there's anything I find hard to forgive, it's people who waste MY beautiful winter days. Like the woman who hit me with her car door two years ago when I was on my bike, taking away what would most likely be the last day for a while to go on a bike ride, this guy had taken away something irretrievable.

There's a concept in negotiations theory that I'm going to butcher here, but the key point as I understand it is that you don't offer to trade something mundane for something sacred. Trying to offer a flat screen TV to get someone to cede a place of worship is sure to aggravate the situation. Providing junk mail as compensation for an hour of wrongful imprisonment doesn't work. Offering to "carry my groceries" in exchange for wasting my time and my sunlight... you get the idea.

So why did metro busybody remind me of book fair guy? He'd caused no offense, his empty gesture wasn't in exchange for anything except the expectation of gratitude, in lieu of which I extended a nod and neutral look. I think that really is it: I wasn't about to act grateful for something I didn't ask for and in overwhelming likelihood didn't need in any way, and already being annoyed that this guy had taken it upon himself to lecture me about running to the metro, I wasn't about to validate his busybodiness nor his attempt to impose social obligation on me. Yet I'm willing to spend time writing a close reading of the interaction... what can I say, it's therapeutic.

One more thing: another part of this phenomenon has gotten press recently, this idea of "I'm going to assume you want something and provide it, and you're going to be grateful." There was an article recently in the New York Times, something like You May Kiss the Chef's Napkin Ring. It was more generally about customer service in restaurants, which has shifted away from the patron, and one element of this has been a trend toward telling people what they want. Not suggesting it politely, but taking on a tone and saying, "this appetizer goes best with the other entree," etc. I don't frequent posh, celebrity-chef restaurants, so the article was interesting but largely... voyeuristic, for lack of a better word, but haven't we all experienced that? I experienced it recently with my bank, when a mistake on their part caused me to overdraw my account; I called to resolve the issue, but the customer service associate tried to sell me overdraft protection services. The first sales attempt could be attributed to training or poor judgment, but he proceeded to insist several times that that service really was right for me. I've had this happen at the Body Shop. Salespeople, waitstaff, in my understanding are there to sell things, and there to help you figure out what you want. They only alienate customers when they cross the line into telling them what they want, convincing them of what they want.

I hope everyone's day is free of empty gestures.

Saturday, February 3, 2007

Ah, the metro... and the people who ride it

Just like everyone thinks everyone else is getting ruder, everyone has something to say about the metro, and everyone is right. Normally I wouldn't know where to start-- with the people who don't yield seats to the pregnant/elderly/disabled? those who stand directly in front of the doors rather than to the side, blocking your exit? those who try to rush in before you get out? There was even a screaming baby on one of my metro rides earlier in the week, but he or she is forgiven because the accompanying adult actually made an effort to quiet him or her.

Fury at the people who stand on the left on the escalators is not new to me, nor unique to me. It's really annoying. Sometimes it's benign cluelessness-- people don't know the rules... well, they also seem unable to put think about the situation and make the leap that they may be on vacation or on a day trip, but some people live and work in this city. Then there are the people who know the rule, but don't respect it: they don't see why people are in such a hurry, and think they're doing everyone a favor by forcing them to slow down (this has actually been expressed). That would be obnoxious enough in and of itself if it were only those ten or twenty (or much longer, depending on the metro station) seconds that it takes to walk up or down a metro escalator, but even five seconds is enough of a delay to cause one to miss her train (or bus, if one is leaving the metro). It's actually none of anyone's business why anyone else is pressed enough to walk rather than stand; it's just common courtesy to stand to the right; that's what the right is for.

You'll appreciate my annoyance then with tonight's escalator experience. At about 10:30pm, I'd stepped off the Kennedy Center shuttle and onto the metro escalator. At 10:30pm, trains run every 17-20 minutes. I saw people standing on the left, said, "excuse me" and passed as they stepped to the right. Until one woman copped an attitude, gave me a look. I told her it was metro etiquette to stand on the right, and she made some remark about how she knows that but she wasn't in such a hurry, in a tone implying, "who do you think you are, to be in such a hurry?" I rolled my eyes and walked passed her, vindicated as my train pulled up just as I got to the platform. I'd been reading Lynne Truss's "Talk to the Hand," had manners on my mind and at first felt a bit bad, but I really do believe I did nothing wrong. The woman's behavior had been presumptuous and doubly rude-- initially rude, made ruder by an attempt to excuse her rudeness with presumption. My assertiveness won me 17 minutes of not waiting on a metro platform, particularly in heals. I'd much rather spend those 17 minutes tucked into bed, writing this blog. Sure it's Saturday night, but I have somewhere to be tomorrow morning. Sure it's Saturday, but during the course of this Saturday I got an oil change, went to the gym, bought a baby shower gift (as well as three cases of cat food), got copies of our house keys, did two loads of laundry and two hours of homework, did yoga, and went to the opera. I have a lot to do tomorrow, and it's the one morning this week I'll get to sleep in (until 8:30 AM). But this isn't about me... there very well may be people on that escalator who just got off of a long shift at work, or have were just visiting someone in the hospital, etc. So I'm really happy for anyone who's not in a hurry to get to the platform as soon as possible-- enjoy those 17 minutes, who am I to stop you-- but please get out of the way so the rest of us can get home.

First official post of 'Head-up-the-ass parenting' label

I would like to begin this posting with an all-to-rare example of actual parenting.

A few months ago, I was sitting on the beach watching the sun set, when a small child, probably between two and three years old, ran by about fifteen feet away from me. I heard her father say to her, "you can run on the beach, but be careful not to kick sand up on anyone. You have to run a little farther away from other people."

I was SHOCKED. SHOCKED. In a good way, of course. I had witnessed parenting, whereas what I normally witness is abject dereliction of duty with regard to parenting.

I experienced the latter today at the gym (not an uncommon occurrence). I've often complained about parents who bring their small children into the sauna; those kids then jump around on the benches, jingle their keys, sing, and do a lot of things less than conducive to a positive, relaxing sauna experience. One mother actually brought in her child and propped the door open for her. I asked her to please close the door. The child complained that she was afraid she'd get locked in. I insisted, in the face of a dirty look from the mother. The sauna is not entertainment for one's children.

Today, I was in the sauna when a mother and child walked by. The child, curious, opened the door. And left it open. The mother not only failed to pick up on the teachable moment, but also neglected to close the door. How RUDE is that??

What can I say, the closest gym to my house is the Alexandria Y. I'll have to learn to coexist with the children who infest it. Still, can't the parents, for the children's sake, please engage in some parenting?