Sunday, August 31, 2008

Soul mates

Thanks, Marisa, for bringing this to my attention:

A- Check out the Get Fuzzy comic. Your mom and Bucky the Katt are soulmates!

Thursday, August 28, 2008


I'm the first to admit that Russians, collectively, can be an obnoxious bunch, but we are certainly no worse than the Germans, also known throughout Europe as "queue-jumping swine." Who do those people think they are? See the second-to-last paragraph. Even better, read the whole thing-- it's pretty insightful. Back to the point, though: Europeans need to take a long look in the mirror or look at their own reflection in their glass houses.

If this weren't a little bit sad, it would be hilarious.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

For some topics it doesn't have to be a good time

I'm not even sure how to blog about this. At first, nothing unusual-- I turned my phone on in the morning to a message from mom and expected to hear how intrigued she was that I was, presumably, already in bed when she called, but when I called her back, she didn't say anything about that. She asked me if I wanted her to buy me a suitcase on wheels, because I always have so much stuff to take back with me whenever I visit. And oh by the way, was I thinking of visiting? It's really too bad I won't be coming up for Labor Day. They went to Horseneck Beach the other weekend and it was just perfect-- best beach trip ever. Soft waves, great weather, everything.

Mom even expressed genuine excitement about my job:

A.: I told you I'm going to Kansas City?
Mom: You said probably but you weren't sure. When are you leaving?
A.: Tuesday.
Mom: For how long?
A.: Returning Friday.
Mom: So why can't you come up for Labor Day?
A.: I have plans here and I need to get ready for the trip.
Mom: But it's only four days.
A.: I still need to get ready for it.
Mom: What kind of violations are you going to find??
A.: Um... we don't really know yet...
Mom: Oh, okay.

I was very happy that she was satisfied with that response.

Anyway, then she asked me if I had time for her to talk to me about something else. I said not really (I was at work) but go ahead. And she basically told me she thought my cousin might be suicidal.

This is not really the time to wonder about mom's way of doing things, but... she'll call me and start rattling off what I need to put into a complaint letter to Verizon without asking if it's a good time, but when family's in trouble, she does ask? Why is this not the first thing she told me?

I'm not particularly close to this cousin. He lives in Toronto. I've only met him a few times. But he's still my cousin, and I still care. But since I hardly know him, I have no idea what to do. I can't really call him out of the blue without his suspecting that my other cousin must have told my mom and my mom told me.

Mom: If he were here, there would be support groups or something...
A.: I'm sure there's no shortage of those in Toronto...
Mom: I don't know what to do.
A.: Me neither...
Mom: You'll think about it?
A.: Of course.

I thought, it may be that mom may feel prematurely frustrated because she's attempted to intervene to stop the self-destruction of another cousin (well, in her case, nephew) on my dad's side, but that wasn't this serious. Which is saying a lot because it was pretty f*ing serious. She, rightly, tried to convince him not to cosign on a loan for a (predatory) friend. He didn't listen, but he's fine now, albeit climbing out of six figures in debt and as always struggling with his cerebral palsy. So I was thinking about this, thought that cousin would be a good one to intervene, and called mom back just now.

A.: Does Dmitri know about this?
Mom: About what?
A.: About Sasha.
Mom: I don't know, I doubt it. We don't know for sure yet what's really going on.

[Two seconds later]

Mom: I gathered more mushrooms today. I couldn't help myself. You'll take some when you visit?
A.: Sure, I'll take some wine, too. Which means I may drive.
Mom: Drive? It's so expensive.
A.: Less than flying. And I wouldn't have to deal with the liquids ban.
Mom: There's a liquids ban?
A.: Where have you been??
Mom: Oh, yeah. But you can check luggage.
A.: Which also incurs a fee.
Mom: No it doesn't.
A.: Yes it does.
Mom: Sometimes, maybe.
A.: I'm not going to argue with you about this.
Mom: Well, you know Alia's coming. I keep trying to convince her that there's no need to see Washington.

I didn't say, except that she's an artist and DC has some of the best museums in the country, but I will next time we revisit that conversation, because I'm sure we will.

Stay tuned.

Monday, August 18, 2008

horse shit

The Mall, by which I mean the national Mall, not one of the malls that call themselves "the Mall," can be a lovely place, in spite of some of the flak it's gotten lately. I love riding through it in the morning, before it's infested with horse shit. By which I mean actual horse shit, as well as the kind where tourists chant, "in the name of Jesus I declare this ankle healed" in front of the Washington Monument. Although I'm not sure that either form of horse shit is more unpleasant than the sea of ill-fitting tube tops. But I digress. More puzzling to me than why anyone would take it upon herself to declare an ankle healed in the name of Jesus or squeeze herself into a crime of fashion is why these people sprawl the width of the pavement, which by the way is an official bike path, when bikes go by all day. And yet, they go on as if their eyes are closed. WTF??

Sunday, August 17, 2008

the chicken or the egg

Of the many insightful lyrics to Tracy Chapman's "All That You Have Is Your Soul," the one that sprang to mind the other day was on making babies--keep your mind out of the gutter, I'm talking about the outcome, not the process:
Thought I'd made something that could be mine forever
Found out the hard way one can't possess another

I'm not sure that my mom has found this out at all.

Last weekend- actually, it was the evening mom called and figured I was asleep-- a friend and I were talking about our moms. This friend's mom's antics include trying to micromanage from the opposite coast how much dog food my friend should bring when she takes her dog on day trip.

My friend asked about my mom's relationship with her mom. I recalled the lecture mom gave me in Shanghai, about how her mom never showed affection (mom's point being, why, given all the affection she's lavished on me, do I have a complex and feel the need to always be, in her words, "superior"). My friend pointed out that this was it-- mom needed the attention.

This explains a lot, and I'm not sure why it never occurred to me before. Perhaps because I don't need, don't really like, a lot of attention, and when we try to understand other people, we tend to project or consider projecting our own traits first.

One of the starkest signs that mom needs attention is that... well, she constantly demands it, even if it's going to be bad attention. She doesn't really distinguish between good and bad attention. Picking fights, waking people up in the middle of the night, interrupting someone's yoga, etc. can only lead to bad attention, but that's not important to someone who has to have attention at any moment.

Then again, maybe mom doesn't register bad attention as such (which is another way of not distinguishing good and bad attention-- not just in terms of quality, but in terms of essence). I wish I could find an article from the Times from more than six months but less than two years ago on how people process other people's behavior compared to their own. Research shows that we tend to view our own behavior as a (reasonable) response to someone else's actions, whereas we tend to view others' behavior as standing alone. So when I ask my mother to please not interrupt me when I'm doing yoga-- particularly when I ask her for the third time within one yoga session and my tone has gotten snippier-- mom doesn't connect the snippiness to the fact that she's interrupting me during yoga; she sees it as part of my impatient, ill-mannered, selfish personality. And if you can just do that, why bother thinking about it and risk discovering something that you wouldn't want to see?

I have to take partial responsibility for this imperfect feedback loop. I, too, have taken the lazy way out-- I've chosen to let mom do her thing, rather than communicating with her about why her actions are unacceptable to me. Of course, this is largely because when I've tried to have those conversations, she accuses me of having a complex or being overly sensitive. Which would be fine if the situation ended there, but I do learn from our interactions, i.e. I adjust my behavior accordingly. But she doesn't see my new behavior as adjusted to her behavior, and she starts to concoct theories about what's wrong with me. If I don't call during the week because I'm tired and busy, and who needs to be reminded that there are no lakes around, much less asked whether she has AC or ceiling fans for the twentieth time, when she's tired and busy, mom starts to think there's something wrong with our relationship (that can be fixed by trying to coerce me into calling more frequently).

It's kind of a vicious cycle: maybe mom asks me non-stop about things to which I've just told her I don't have an answer, because she's realized that I don't tell her about things. But she doesn't realize that I don't tell her about things because I don't want to be confronted with her non-stop questions. Maybe part of her cold reaction to my getting a new job was due to a sense of betrayal from my not having told her I was looking for a job... but why in the hell would I tell her that I was looking for a job, when she'd just a) tell me to apply to Google, b) try to talk me out of it because she just didn't get it, an c) ask me at least once a day whether I'd heard about the job, when that's exactly what you don't need to hear when you're waiting on an offer.

Of course I'm not going to be especially forthcoming when mom reacts to my hopes, accomplishments, and even setbacks with dismissal or derision. When I got turned down for a Fulbright many years ago, mom opened the envelope, read it to me over the phone, and said, "and I think we all agree that this is a good thing." And not in a tone meant to make me feel better.

Given that she reacted to news of my being offered the job I'd wanted and worked my butt off to get by asking what I'd done to piss off everyone at my then-current job, creating a situation where I had no choice but to leave, do you think I'm especially inspired to share my deepest thoughts, feelings and hopes with her? Neither do I, but mom doesn't understand it.

Given that she's greeted major events in my life with a startling lack of perspective, which in turn enabled outsized demands for attention and unmoderated hissy fits at times when we as a family should have been celebrating and being nice to one another, I dread, rather than look forward to, family events of most kinds. The woman has thrown fits at both of my graduations (not during the actual ceremonies, thankfully), once over a potential potential parking ticket.

I almost owe it to her to point out the connection between her antics and my lack of sharing. Part of me thinks she'd want to know. Even if she does, though, she sure doesn't want to listen.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

A nineteenth-century painting soaked in water for weeks

I'm a huge fan of Lewis Black's, but "Me of Little Faith" was an impulse loan. I was in the checkout line at the library with "On Bullshit" and "Absurdistan" in hand, behind an oblivious mom and her rude, swarming kids, and looked up toward the door to remind myself of the light at the end of the tunnel, when "Faith" caught my eye. Having already dispatched "On Bullshit," I now happen to be reading two books by two Russian Jews with St. Petersburg roots, the disrepair of the city lost on neither of them. Shteyngart has this to say:

The City of the Czars, the Venice of the North, Russia's cultural capital... forget all that. By the year 2001, our St. Leninsburg has taken on the appearance of a phantasmagoric third-world city, our neoclassical buildings sinking into the crap-choked canals, bizarre peasant huts fashioned out of corrugated metal and plywood colonizing the broad avenues with their capitalist iconography... and what is worst of all, our intelligent, depressive citizenry has been replaced by a new race of mutants dressed in studied imitation of the West, young women in tight Lycra, their scooped-up little breasts pointing at once to New York and Shanghai, with men in fake black Calvin Klein jeans hanging limply around their caved-in asses.

and Lewis Black, this:
As I wandered the streets of St. Petersburg, I felt not even one root. Actually, it was kind of a dump. An amazing dump, filled with some spectacular pieces of architecture, like the Hermitage, but everything looked in desperate need of repair and a paint job. It looked like it must have looked in a nineteenth-century painting that someone had soaked in water for weeks. I don't think it was a really smart move for the Russians to have driven out the Jews; they would have been a big help. They sure know their real estate.

You needn't be bestowed with the gifts for keen observation and trenchant description, as are the two men quoted above, to notice a disconnect between St. Petersburg's grand past and its current sad state. It cleaned up for its bicentennial in 2003, but you can't undo Soviet in few years. I do feel more than one root, but then again, I'm several generations fewer removed than Black. Sure it's decrepit, but it's my city, and when I go back it feels like home. It feels like I'm going back.

Someone I once dated balked at my sense of connection to St. Petersburg. We were talking to some people who just returned from there, and apparently he felt that my co-opting of the city as my own wasn't right. But people who have only grown up in one place often don't understand what it's like to juggle multiple facets of an identity and to feel more than one sense of belonging. Just look at the silly discussions about identity brought to surface in the presidential campaign media circus.

Someone else I dated had visited the city and read my travel notes. He found surprising my descriptions of poverty; he hadn't seen any when he was there. I thought that was one of the stupidest things I'd ever heard.

But this post isn't about why I don't date. I just wanted to bring to your attention some insider, descendant, quasi-insider and outsider perspectives on my city of birth. And I would wholeheartedly encourage you to see it for yourself.

The Most Trusted Man in America?

An article about the man who most helps me cling to my sanity.

Friday, August 15, 2008

I can only help she who helps herself

I've written much recently in these pages about how mom prefers to call me later than the time of evening that I feel like talking. It is perhaps my awareness of this preference that leads me to worry when she calls earlier. Or it's mom's tendency to take on a tone of urgency. Recall the conversation and series of messages that first inspired the mom blog, when I would return to my desk, retrieve my messages, and call her back hoping that in spite of her tone and plea to call her as soon as possible, no one was hurt. And thankfully, nobody was. She was just trying to set me up with someone she'd never met.

Today's 8am phone call, I'll admit, was not exactly frivolous. But it was still annoying.

A.: Hello?
Mom: Where are you?
A.: At work. Is everything okay?
Mom: Well... it's just that... you see... er...
A.: Yes??
Mom: There's this thing that keeps popping up on my computer.
A.: [sigh of relief, followed by a wave of annoyance]
A.: What thing?
Mom: Some antivirus thing.
A.: A pop-up? An error message?
Mom: It just keeps popping up.
A.: Is there no one nearby that can help you with this, because I have no idea what that is and there is not really anything I can do without seeing it.
Mom: Is there anyone you can ask?
A.: Send me the exact name of the program or whatever it is.

Over an hour later, we have the following exchange over e-mail:

Mom: AntiviresDoc What is it ?

A.: It's called "antivires" and not "antivirus"??

Mom: yes

We talked on the phone afterward and I reiterated that I would ask around but I didn't know what to tell her. I searched for it on AVG's website and nothing turned up. Then, I checked my e-mail, and more recently, she sent this:

AntivirusDoc and Antivirus Doc Removal Guide

Which made me a little livid. Less so, because in this situation, she is only hurting herself, but this is typical. When I send an e-mail, trying to help her, asking her to confirm that she had not made a typo, isn't double-checking that the least she can do? How am I supposed to help her when she sends me the wrong name? And yes, perhaps the reason I'm touchy about this is because her lack of attention to detail has been problematic for me in the past:

A few years ago:

A.: Mom, could you check the time of Julia's wedding? If it's earlier, I'll take the day off on Friday and come up then, but if it's later in the evening, I'll just come up on Saturday.
Mom: It's early, like noon or something.
A.: Okay.

It was at 8pm. I took the day off on Friday and spent the evening in our cousins' smoky apartment trying to tune out the blaring Russian channel. Because she couldn't be bothered to look.

With the virus thing, it's one thing to copy it down incorrectly in the first place, but to not check it-- I mean, the whole thing isn't ten letters-- when I've specifically written to ask about it-- is just, in mom's wording, outrageous.

I'm confused

What's being advertised here?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Monday, August 11, 2008

Time on the water

Mom and dad call a few minutes before nine... jn other words, a few minutes before the end of How I Met Your Mother. In case anyone cares, the last segment was silent, so nothing was lost.

No snide remarks about my bedtime this time around, although mom forgot that she admitted that she's passive aggressive about the lakes thing.

A.: Hello?
Mom: Hi. How are things?
A.: They're fine. How are you?
Mom: So, how are things?
A.: Fine. Are you done with the mushrooms?
Mom: Almost. They're coming along.
Dad: What did you do this weekend? Did you spend any time on the water?
A.: Et tu? You're going to ask me about water every time, too?
Mom: I don't ask you about water. I know perfectly well there's no water where you are.
Dad: Well, she could have gone somewhere.
Mom: Where is she going to go?


Mom: I wanted to tell you, Alia is thinking of coming.
A.: Yes, you told me.
Mom: And she wants to stop in Washington as well...
A.: Yes, you told me.
Mom: I did?
A.: Yes, over the weekend.
Mom: Is it okay that she stays with you?
A.: Of course.
Mom: She asked me if you were planning on getting married.


Mom: Are you very far from the Chinatown bus?
A.: No.
Mom: I told her that was the least expensive way to go.
A.: That it is. When is she coming?
Mom: Some time in October.
A.: Okay.
Mom: So what do you think, of the situation in Georgia?
A.: What do I think?

[I think it's an unmitigated disaster, but I don't really want to talk about it right now. Especially if my mom discovers her inner nationalist and is baiting me. She wasn't, but I still don't want to talk about it].

Mom: What do you think?
A.: I think it's a very bad situation for everyone involved, except maybe Russia.
Mom: I agree. Misha thinks it will blow over but I think it will escalate.

Mom: Anything else going on?

[It's 9pm on a Monday; we talked on Saturday night. No, there is nothing else going on. I'm not getting married, if that's what you're wondering. I'm not sure whether this is mom's passive-aggressive way of asking whether I'm dating. If I were, I wouldn't tell her.]

A.: No.
Mom: Okay, goodnight.
A.: Goodnight.
Dad: Goodnight.
A.: Goodnight.

No-talent ass clowns for peace

If all else fails......try something really stupid.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Be enraged

You cannot have a soul and be dismissive of the way this or this was handled.

I understand that both are imperfect situations, that mistakes will be made, etc. But the impunity and disregard for law exacerbates those mistakes and removes the onus for minimizing the impact on people. I mean, could the FBI had searched homes without tipping off local news stations and intimidating significant others? Don't even get me started on the stupidity reflected in the first article. I don't have anything to say about Guantanamo that hasn't already been said much more powerfully and eloquently.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Could it be?

I came home to the following voice mail message:

Mom: A., it couldn't be that you've already gone to bed, at 10:23pm on a Saturday, could it? I've been cleaning and marinating mushrooms all day, I just got a chance to sit down.

Mom: Hello?
A.: Hi.
Mom: Where were you when I called?
A.: In town.
Mom: Oh. I've been dealing with the mushrooms all day. I'm exhausted. I just wanted to complain.
A.: That sounds rough.
Mom: You know, you could take the Chinatown bus up here...
A.: I don't think so.
Mom: I took it last weekend to NYC, it wasn't bad.
A.: I've taken the Chinatown bus before. It's been good and bad. I'm not going to risk eight hours each way of the bad.
Mom: We can discuss it later.
A.: Okay.
Mom: Goodnight.
A.: Goodnight.

personal responsibility

Last week, Liz Pulliam Weston-- one of MSN's excellent personal finance writers-- published a column on stupid money behavior. This week, she responded to the hate mail that poured in from indignant readers who claimed that she was out of touch and didn't understand their situation.

After reiterating the distinction she had made in her original column between people who are "truly poor," which she defined as not having the resources to turn one's situation around, and people who are just broke, she took on some of her critics' arguments.

One woman criticized her for suggesting that people shop at Goodwill, accusing her of denying her readers any sense of dignity. What's undignified about living within one's means, Liz asked?

Now, I'm not above poor financial management. I've made my fair share of mistakes, the biggest of which was letting my mom manage (and crash) my IRA account. Another big one was not getting dental insurance last year, even though I had a history of needing pricy dental work. I take responsibility for my decisions, but I can also let go and move on: things happen, things cost money, it's really okay.

But you'd read some of the comments people post and have to wonder what planet they live on. I'm particularly amazed at the sense of entitlement... but even something more innocent than that-- a sort of misperception that they "shouldn't have to..." go without something or other. Yeah, maybe... but what you can afford is not a reflection of your character or value as a human being; it is a reflection of your income and other aspects of your net worth, and if your resources are limited, you have to make some choices. There are a lot of wonderful, intelligent, hard-working people out there who make jack-$hit, and there are a lot of people in the world whose choice is 'food or clothes?' rather than 'organic or conventional.'

I can go on and on. I used to work with someone who often wondered aloud whether she full under the poverty line, even though she was making three times that and wasn't the head of a household of four. Just a few days ago, I was chatting with an intern in my office, who was talking about where she wanted to live when she finished grad school in six months. "I'm too old to have to live with a roommate," she said.

You can have a preference for living alone, there's nothing wrong with that. I have a preference for flying first class on long flights, but I also realize that I can't afford to, or that doing so would come at the expense of a lot of other things.

A lot has been written, ever, but especially in the last year or so of economic meltdown, about how we're a nation that lives beyond our means, and much of that writing digs into the psychology of consumerism. Lots of people seem to think that they are what they wear, what they drive, what they spend. And I'll quote Robin Givhan-- dressing well is good manners. And I'll even agree that my Corolla reflects my personality: it gets me from point A to point B, efficiently, and without the need to convey status. But I don't think I'd be a better person if I only bought new clothes or drove a more expensive (or new) car. I'd be a better person if I gave more in donations.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Ya think?

Ya think? It took the Post this long to put something together on the sad state of DC signage.

In more sentimental news, the National Zoo plans to evict its hippo.

Also, more evidence that much of the medical profession has lost its f*cking mind.