Thursday, December 31, 2009

Board Games 101

Dad: So how many crosswords do you have lined up?
A.: I'm not sure we're doing crosswords. Looks like board games, which is just as fun.
Mom: [rolls her eyes]
A.: Look, you're always complaining about memory loss.
Mom: Oh, I know. I wish I had the disposition for that stuff. What board games?
A.: Don't know. Maybe she has Trivial Pursuit. Or Taboo. Taboo would be fun.
Mom: How do you play that?
A.: You play in teams. One person has a card with a word that the others on his or her team have to guess, as well as words they can't use to help the team figure it out. So if the word were... "cat," the taboo words might be "feline," "pet," "animal," "furry," etc.
Mom: So what would you say?
A.: That's the point. You'd figure out a way to say it. Maybe you'd say "meow."
Mom: Everyone would know "meow."
A.: Well, then that would probably be one of the taboo words.
Mom: So what would you say?
A.: That's the whole point. You'd figure out a way of describing it. I could say, "mine poops on carpets." Neither "poop" nor "carpet" will be on that card, for sure. Or I could say "mine is called Gracie." Or you could list breeds, or say they were revered in Ancient Egypt.
Mom: Oh, that would be interesting.
A.: Exactly. Actually, one or two of my favorite moments of 2009 came out of a game of Taboo, when we were in West Virginia. Allen got the word "poem" and swore in response, then continued to do so to make a poem, and said "...would be a really bad example of one."
Mom: I don't get it.
A.: So his word was "poem." Upon seeing that, he said [in Russian] "hell!" because it was a difficult clue. But then he said "hell hell hell hell hell... would be a really bad example of one." One being, a poem. You had to be there, but it was REALLY funny.
Mom; I don't get it. Why "hell"?
A.: That's just the best translation I can provide right now.

This had to be explained a few more times.

Mom: So what happens when the team guesses right? Points?
A.: Right.
Mom: So?
A.: So, what?
Mom: So then the other team gets points if they guess theirs right?
A.: Right.
Mom: That's it?
A.: Yeah.
Mom: So? What's the point?
A.: It's fun.
Mom: [Shrug]

Happy New Year, all!

Mom gets in some last digs of 2009

Mom: What time are you heading over?
A.: Around 8pm.
Mom: Will that give you enough time for crosswords?
A.: We may opt for boardgames instead.


Dad: What are you doing with all those tomatoes?? Why so many??
A.: [Sigh.]
Dad: Is that for the salad? Salads are supposed to be green.
A.: It is green.
Dad: Who can eat that much salad? Oh, yeah, I forgot, you're not having real food.
A.: Between the [mushroom barley] soup, and the salad, and the lentils, I'll have plenty of food. But if I didn't, I'd rather go hungry than eat basa.

Dad: We have no sour cream.
Mom: I suppose we could use regular cream. [Turning to me] Or is that unhealthy?
A.: The more relevant point is that it adds nothing to the soup.


And I admit I deserved this one.

A.: Good job, you parked inside the lines.
Mom: You're such a clisma.

Thursday afternoon

Somehow--and I don't really know how--I set up the wireless connection on Mom's new laptop. And it was after another hour and a half of some variation on this:

Mom: Try [this].
A.: That has nothing to do with it, mom.
Mom: Then try this.
A.: Mom, could you let me concentrate?
Mom: No.
A.: Mom!
Mom: What?!
A.: I need to think.
Mom: Well, think! And I don't like your tone!
A.: Do you want me to set this up or not?
Mom: It's more important that you control your temper!
A.: I'm controlling it. Now let me get back to this.

Setting up wireless

A.: So, do you have everything ready?
Mom: No.
A.: Ok, well let me know when you do.

An hour later

A.: Mom, this is a warranty, not instructions. Anyway, let's turn on the laptop.


Mom: It won't open.
A.: You're opening it backwards.
Mom: The writing is right-side up this way.
A.: Right. It opens in the other direction.

Mom: It won't turn on.
A.: Where's the power supply?
Mom: There should be plenty of battery.
A.: They deplete fast, especially stored in the cold.

Mom spends a good hour looking for the power supply.

Finally, we manage to turn on the computer.

A.: Huh.
Mom: What?
A.: It's asking for info other than the network key.
Mom: Do you have the printout I gave you?
A.: Yeah, it has the network key. Let me think for a second.
Mom: We have a mouse so you don't have to deal with the touchpad.
A.: The touchpad is not the problem.
Mom: Why don't you open the network thing?
A.: Mom, stop looking over my shoulder and let me think.
Mom: Fine, think!

But instead, mom keeps talking and making suggestions that don't make sense. That's where we are now.

Snowy update-drama level: low

Mom: That coat is too small for you!
A.: It actually fits me perfectly.
Mom: You need to lose weight if you want to wear it.


A.: I'm heading out, mom.
Mom: What? You said you were going to fix the router.
A.: I'll do it when I get back.
Mom: You always said that!
A.: I've been asking you to find the instructions since you've been asking me to fix it.
Mom: Where are you going?'
A.: To Wendy's.
Mom: When will you be back?
A.: I'm not sure. Noonish.

This isn't about the router. Mom gets possessive when I spend time with my friends.

Shortly thereafter

Martha: I think you need to make it clear on your blog that you're not actually overweight.
A.: [Shrug]
Wendy: I agree. It's an important point.

Wednesday dinner and Thursday breakfast

Dad: Maybe we should go... they're expecting us at 6pm.
Mom: No! Traffic is going to be awful.
Dad: Traffic is going to be awful anyway,


A.: Okay, I really think we should go.
Mom: Fine, but you'll see. There will be traffic.

In the car, past the worst part of the traffic

Mom: We should have turned on the radio! It's always smart, in traffic, to turn on the radio! But we're sitting here like idiots!
Dad: Well, you're right there--you could have turned on the radio.
Mom: A. could have turned on the radio!
Dad: Well, you didn't ask her to.
Mom: You should have asked her to!
Dad: I didn't know you needed the radio.
Mom: Agh! There you are, always coming to her defense.

Dad and I just laugh.

They call, ask if we're okay. Dad tells them about the traffic.

We arrive, say hello.

Nina, aside: How's your mom?
A.: She's calmer than usual, though a bit wound up from the traffic. Yours?
Nina: They're calm, too.


Natasha, to Nina: Have some eggplant.
Nina: Mom, you know I can't eat eggplant.
Natasha: I know now.
Nina: You ask me all the time, and I tell you all the time.
Natasha: Well, now I know.
A., to Nina: OMG, we have the what-no-sour-cream-in-your-soup conversation EVERY DAY.

Misha made lamb, Nina made Thai curry. If I remember correctly, that Betty and Jennifer article I posted the other day touched on the mainstreaming of ethnic food over the last generation. My parents, Nina's parents are a bit different, in the sense that they've always used fresh ingredients rather than jars, and that they've always taken nutrition very seriously, but some things still apply.

Misha: Nina made a Czech-Thai dish.
Nina: Very funny, dad.
Misha: What? You live in Prague and yet make Thai food.
A.: Very exciting.
Nina, to me: I'm worried--I used sesame oil and it might be overwhelming.
A.: I'm not worried. Did you use coconut milk? It probably would have covered over that flavor.
Nina: I did.

Nina talks about her work. Kira corrects her Russian, pretty haughtily. I roll my eyes.

Kira: Do you interact with any actual Czechs?
Nina: There are more Czechs at the barn than at work.
Misha: Those would be the horses.
Nina: Ha, ha, dad.

Misha, to me: How's the house coming?
A.: It's good, I've not had any major repairs done for months, apart from having a fence put up out back.
Misha: Is it hard to find good contractors in DC?
A.: It is, even now. When I was looking for fencing people many of the ones I contacted didn't even return my calls.
Kira, to Misha: She means, they didn't call her back.

I don't remember how this next conversation started.
Kira: I've heard that government people make [mid-high six figures].
Misha: That can't be right. A.?
A.: Very high level government people do. Most start at maybe a fourth of that, and the average--non-management--make a third.
Mom: How come you make slightly more?
A.: Mom!
Kira: I heard differently. I heard...
Misha: Those are just some well-known people.
A.: Right. The starting salaries, for someone with a master's degree, are mid...
Mom: How come you make more?
A.: Mom!!

I mean, could you be more tacky?

A.: This curry is excellent. I can't even taste the sesame oil.
Nina: Thank you.
Kira: What's in Thai curry?
Nina and I explain.
Misha, to me: What, you know about this, too?
A.: Of course.

There's no reason our parents should know about Thai curry. At the same time, there's no reason Nina and I wouldn't. It's become mainstream over a generation.

Mom, to Misha: Your lamb is good... but it's a bit overdone.
Dad, trying the curry: Hmmm... it needs salt.
A., to Nina: It has plenty of salt.
Nina: I know, can you believe how they oversalt everything?
A.: Dad doesn't usually even try things--he just oversalts them first.
Mom, to Misha: Your lamb is good... but it's a bit overdone.
Misha: I heard you the first time.
Mom: I thought you could handle my opinion!
Misha: In any case, I handled it the first time I heard it.

Nina, to me: I'm going to get my camera and shut them up with some photos.

Misha, to me: Would you like some of this rice?
A.: No thank you.
Mom: What, you don't eat rice any more?
A.: Mom, I've never liked rice. Except Persian rice and rice as stuffing for grape leaves...
Kira: Those are called "dolma."
A.: ...we just had this conversation two days ago.

Nina shows me some pictures on her camera, including one of a house she's fallen in love with.

Nina: We can't afford it and our rent, and we're not going to live two hours out.
A.: It's beautiful.
Mom: I fell in love with a house on a trout farm once, but it turned out the farm didn't come with the house.
Dad: Besides, you'd just be farming trout that A. wouldn't eat.
A.: I do too eat trout. Trout is one of the most sustainable fish out there.
Dad: Farmed trout?
A.: Yes, most farmed trout is fine.
Mom, to Misha: She's been dirtying our brains since she got here about sustainable aquaculture.
A.: You keep bringing it up!
Mom: This is what the Vietnamese do to their fish farms, these hormones, those antibiotics...
Nina: I agree with you, by the way.
Misha: We've had our fill of hormones and antibiotics are whole lives, and we're fine.
Mom: Exactly.
Misha: Although I'll admit that our kids turned out kind of f*ed up.
A., to Nina: So this house...
Nina: The other downside is it's right by a summer camp. That's kind of a dealbreaker.
Misha: You could always work there. Maybe they need horsebackriding people.
Nina: Ya nye pokupayu etot f*ing dom, dad! [Translation: "I'm not buying the f*ing house, dad." But it sounded funnier in Russian.]

Tea and dessert are served. We get talking about having tea in the evening.

Natasha: All but Turkish tea. That'll keep you up for days.
A.: I LOVE Turkish tea. I just ran out, need to go back to get more.
Nina: Let's go together, since we've both been to Istanbul and not beyond.
Misha: Did you go to Istanbul for work?
A.: No, for fun. A very good friend of mine whom I hadn't seen for years lives in England, and she was getting married, and suggested that instead of my spending time and money to travel to her wedding, we could both go somewhere together.
Misha: Did she bring her husband?
A.: No.
Mom; Another friend of hers had her wedding in St. Lucia. The pictures are amazing.
Natasha: I know someone who had her wedding in Las Vegas.


Kira: Is St. Lucia in the Mediterranean?
A.: No, it's in the Caribbean.
Kira: Then why is it called St. Lucia?
A.: [Shrug]

We've had tea. Everyone's happy. We get ready to go.

Nina: Stay sane!
A.: You, too!

This morning

Mom: After a certain age, you're just ready not to live with roommates. You're both past that age.
A.: Mom, can we just drop it? It's not about age, and in any case, it's over. Let it go.

Mom doesn't let it go.

Mom: I could tell right away he had a bubbly personality.
A.: That's not necessarily an indicator of not having a life and not understanding the concept of boundaries.
Mom: It's age.
A.: Would you like your oatmeal now?

New Year's Eve roundup

So, so true. Especially when I first moved to DC, it was through visitors that I really explored the city. But I've experienced that effect just about everywhere I've lived. Now that I think of it, Wendy and I had a list of things to do around Boston before we both moved away, and we maybe got to one of them.

Gail Collins on 2009.

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


Jay: Hello?
A.: Hey, I'm at Park St.
Jay: I don't see you...
A.: I'm just coming up the stairs. I'll never complain about the Metro again. At least not for two weeks.
Jay: I'm at Winter Street.
A.: I don't see you...
Jay: Oh, there you are. I was thrown, because I was expecting this huge person based on all the blogging. But you're not fat and you don't have Hagrid hair.
A.: Who knew, right?

Another well-practiced system my parents and I have is my taking the T to Harvard Square and their picking me up across Storrow Drive, a ten minute walk from the T stop and a slightly longer drive from their house. We've been doing this for years.

Mom: Hello?
A.: Hi. I'm just about to leave downtown...
Mom: Oh, are you done stuffing your face?

In her defense, the word she used isn't quite that crude, but it's close. I'd told her Jay and I were going to have lunch or get coffee, depending on the time.

A.: We ended up going for a walk instead. Anyway, is it alright if I T to Harvard Square rather than Newton Highlands? Since we've plans tonight, I'm afraid the green line would take too long.
Mom: No, not Harvard Square!
A.: Oh, okay.
Mom: I mean, across the bridge, where I always get you.
A.: Yes, that's what I meant when I said Harvard Square.
Mom: You know, across...
A.: Yes, I know. I'm leaving now.

This morning

Mom: Well?
A.: I'm ready when you are.
Mom: Where are my keys?

Mom: Okay, I've got my keys. Well?
A.: Are you ready?
Mom: Do I need bags?
A.: I don't think so.
Mom: Oh, my hat.

Mom: Well, am I going to keep waiting for you all morning?
A.: Are you ready?
Mom: I've been ready.
A.: Okay, I'm getting up.
Mom: Should I take this jacket or this coat?
A.: I don't know, mom.
Mom: Okay, I'm ready.

Women and books

Publisher's Weekly's best of 2009 list is light on women writers.

Wednesday morning


Mom, muttering: So many rags and quasi-used paper towels in the house, but no. You had to use a dish towel.


Mom: Do you use dish towels to wipe down the stove in your house?
A.: I do, actually.
Mom: You must go through a lot of towels.
A.: I just throw them in the wash once a week. That's what they're there for.
Mom: This was such a convenient dish towel.
A.: It'll wash off, mom.

Just now

Mom: You know, you've grown yourself quite a belly--do you know that?


Mom: It's from all that vegetarian food, you know.

Tuesday night and Wednesday morning

I really got mom going this morning, much like I did in Shanghai when I hand-washed some clothes. Mom threw a disproportionate fit and continued to mutter, "idiocy! idiocy!" for hours. Well, this morning, I cleaned her stovetop--she has one of those high-tech flat electric ones--with a dish towel. Now, it is her house, so how things are used and how things are cleaned are her call. But that doesn't mean things used and cleaned differently should drive so much passion and prolonged discussion.

Mom: Why is this dish towel wet?
A.: I used it to wipe down the stovetop.
Mom: This? This is a towel!
A.: And?
Mom: We have paper towels for that!
A.: They would have gotten stuck.
Mom: This won't come off!
A.: Sure it will--it'll wash right off.
Mom: That will waste water!
A.: You do wash your dish towels anyway, right?
Mom: We have paper towels for that! They're right here!
A.: Okay, mom. Sorry. I'll use a paper towel next time.
Mom: I mean, it's a dish towel! I use it to try dishes.
A.: I get it.
Mom: What made you think to use a dish towel??
A.: Are we going to talk about this for the next few hours?
Mom: Grrrr.

Mom: A.!!!!
A.: What?
Mom: See, they're going to start charging an annual fee! We have to deal with this.
A.: As I said when I first got here, give me the card and I'll deal with it.
Mom: You can't do it by phone... I tried.
A.: When you find the card for me I'll deal with it.
Mom: I don't know...
A.: Just give me the card.

Last night

Mom was washing the dinner dishes. I was cutting up papaya for dessert. Dad was engaging in his extremely annoying habit of grabbing cut papaya chunks out of the bowl.

A.: WTF? Can't you wait five minutes?
Dad: No.
Mom: No. Everything has to be on his timing. Tea has to be at a certain time. There has to be a certain amount of water...
Dad: Huh?
A.: What?
Dad: That's not the kind of timing she's talking about.
Mom: Always coming to her defense!
A.: Oh, mom told me today that you think I'm always right. Who knew.
Dad: What??
A.: I know.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Tuesday dinner


Now, every time I opt not to eat something, my mother says something like, "what, is it not sustainable enough?" It's pretty funny, actually, because she does it with foods she knows I've never liked (see: herring). I know: I'm expecting mature, respectful discourse from someone who says, in all seriousness, "you won't be able to find those kinds of deals once Obama destroys Walmart."

It's not that we haven't had the "why don't you want sour cream in your soup" conversation EVERY TIME we've had soup, for many years at least. It's that that same conversation has taken an even more annoying turn.

Mom: No sour cream in your soup?
A.: No, thanks.
Mom: What's wrong with sour cream? Not sustainable?
A.: Don't like it in my soup. Never have.

Mom: Mmmm, this basa is good. And very environmentally incorrect, apparently.


Mom: Right?
A.: Right.
Dad: I thought it was a wild fish?
A.: Farm-raised in Vietnam. Swims in human manure and pesticides. And other toxins. Is pumped full of antibiotics.
Mom: So? I think the way to handle toxins is to train your body to take what it needs and secrete the rest. Talk to your body, tell it to do that.
Dad: People in Vietnam probably have other things to worry about.
A.: First of all, it's not farmed for domestic consumption; it's farmed for export.
Dad: [Shrug]
A.: I'm just saying. I mean, you asked.

A.: Aren't these lentils good?
Dad: They are.
Mom: Blah, blah, blah.
A.: What?
Dad: No, they are good. And it's impressive: I can't believe that small amount of lentils you bought has lasted this long.
A.: Exactly--it's such a great convenience food: saute it in a bit of oil, add water and boil, at salt and pepper and a bit of cumin if you have it, and you have a side for a week.
Mom: You're not going to convince me to give up basa for lentils.
A.: I'm... not... trying to convince you. We're just talking about the lentils.

Mom: Did you not find the feta?
A.: I did, it's in there.
Mom: No olives?
A.: There are plenty of olives in the salad.
Mom: I see half of one.


Mom: Okay, I see more olives.


Mom: Actually, the salad is really good.
A.: Thank you.


Mom: Hmmm... it is really good. What did you season it with?
A.: Balsamic vinegar, garlic and black pepper. And some pine nuts. You didn't have any salad oil that wasn't rancid, so I didn't add any. I figured the feta would add enough moisture and salt.
Mom: It worked. I'll give you that.
A.: I didn't realize it was a test.
Mom: Good thing you don't have issues with feta.
A.: [Shrug]

lentil spat

Mom's assumption that everything--from the bunch of parsley on the counter to the mini-bottle of hand cream on the coffee table to the pot of lentils that I set to reheat--is has been there forever, and was left there and forgotten, is getting really annoying.

Mom: Don't forget that there's a pot of lentils on high on this back burner--I'm turning it off.
A.: I JUST set it there. Leave the lentils alone!
Mom: Watch your tone! Here, put it on low.
A.: Forget it. Turn it off. I don't care anymore.


A.: Do you not have any olive oil?
Mom: Grapeseed oil is the healthiest oil.
A., having smelled the grapeseed oil: No oil is healthy when it's rancid. This vinegar has seen better days, too. Why do you buy this stuff if you're going to leave it until it's gross?
Mom: It's fine.
A.: [Shrug]

Betty and Jennifer

I've only read two of the essays that David Brooks has recommended. The one about why fewer students are majoring in the humanities is interesting (but long). Mary Eberstadt's "Is Food the New Sex?" is fascinating and eerily accurate, up to a point, in its hypothetical examples:
To begin to see just how recent and dramatic this change is, let us imagine some broad features of the world seen through two different sets of eyes: a hypothetical 30-year-old housewife from 1958 named Betty, and her hypothetical granddaughter Jennifer, of the same age, today.

Begin with a tour of Betty’s kitchen. Much of what she makes comes from jars and cans. Much of it is also heavy on substances that people of our time are told to minimize — dairy products, red meat, refined sugars and flours — because of compelling research about nutrition that occurred after Betty’s time. Betty’s freezer is filled with meat every four months by a visiting company that specializes in volume, and on most nights she thaws a piece of this and accompanies it with food from one or two jars. If there is anything “fresh” on the plate, it is likely a potato. Interestingly, and rudimentary to our contemporary eyes though it may be, Betty’s food is served with what for us would appear to be high ceremony, i.e., at a set table with family members present.

As it happens, there is little that Betty herself, who is adventurous by the standards of her day, will not eat; the going slogan she learned as a child is about cleaning your plate, and not doing so is still considered bad form. Aside from that notion though, which is a holdover to scarcer times, Betty is much like any other American home cook in 1958. She likes making some things and not others, even as she prefers eating some things to others — and there, in personal aesthetics, does the matter end for her. It’s not that Betty lacks opinions about food. It’s just that the ones she has are limited to what she does and does not personally like to make and eat.

Now imagine one possible counterpart to Betty today, her 30-year-old granddaughter Jennifer. Jennifer has almost no cans or jars in her cupboard. She has no children or husband or live-in boyfriend either, which is why her kitchen table on most nights features a laptop and goes unset. Yet interestingly enough, despite the lack of ceremony at the table, Jennifer pays far more attention to food, and feels far more strongly in her convictions about it, than anyone she knows from Betty’s time.

Wavering in and out of vegetarianism, Jennifer is adamantly opposed to eating red meat or endangered fish. She is also opposed to industrialized breeding, genetically enhanced fruits and vegetables, and to pesticides and other artificial agents. She tries to minimize her dairy intake, and cooks tofu as much as possible. She also buys “organic” in the belief that it is better both for her and for the animals raised in that way, even though the products are markedly more expensive than those from the local grocery store. Her diet is heavy in all the ways that Betty’s was light: with fresh vegetables and fruits in particular. Jennifer has nothing but ice in her freezer, soymilk and various other items her grandmother wouldn’t have recognized in the refrigerator, and on the counter stands a vegetable juicer she feels she “ought” to use more.

Most important of all, however, is the difference in moral attitude separating Betty and Jennifer on the matter of food. Jennifer feels that there is a right and wrong about these options that transcends her exercise of choice as a consumer. She does not exactly condemn those who believe otherwise, but she doesn’t understand why they do, either. And she certainly thinks the world would be a better place if more people evaluated their food choices as she does. She even proselytizes on occasion when she can.
I, too, proselytize on occasion--in fact, I've found myself doing so to my mother. Just before posting this, I tried to get her to read this and this, based on what she bought in the store. I spent a good ten minutes on the way back ranting against basa, so I identify with the "Jennifer" prototype... until this:
She is pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage, indifferent to ethical questions about stem cell research and other technological manipulations of nature (as she is not, ironically, when it comes to food), and agnostic on the question of whether any particular parental arrangements seem best for children.
Pro-choice is not pro-abortion; and I'm not "indifferent to ethical questions about stem cell research"--I adamantly believe that the ethics of technological manipulations must be considered--but I don't think (potentially life-saving) technologies themselves should be dismissed out of hand. But this post isn't about stem cells. The point is, just as the "Betty" prototype--I can't help but think of Betty on Mad Men--is an oversimplification for the purpose of making a point, so is Jennifer. But I take issue with how Jennifer's sex-related ethics are reduced to one dimension, perhaps more so because the food stuff is so spot-on. Betty's food behaviors correspond to mom's:
Betty does care about nutrition and food, but it doesn’t occur to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment — i.e., to believe that other people ought to do as she does in the matter of food, and that they are wrong if they don’t. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way; it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done. Jennifer, similarly, does care to some limited degree about what other people do about sex; but it seldom occurs to her to extend her opinions to a moral judgment. In fact, she thinks such an extension would be wrong in a different way — because it would be impolite, needlessly judgmental, simply not done.
I told my mother I was reading an article "about us" (although her mores re: sexuality don't correspond to Betty's at all). She started talking about how she reuses her grocery bags, washes dishes efficiently, etc. She ranted about how it takes dad five minutes, water pouring down the drain the whole time, to wash a single wine glass. I stopped short of saying, "none of that matters as much as not buying crap--do you know how much water goes into manufacturing and transporting crap--and eating sustainably. Save all the tap water you want--you'd be better off weaning yourself off farmed salmon. And that matches the Betty prototype, too: she knows, she cares... but she won't do anything about it.

Tuesday morning conversations

Mom remains full of criticism, but she's demonstrated a shift in tone. She reinvoked one of her favorite anecdotes of my childhood--how while all the other kids in the playground propelled themselves on the swing, I just sat there and waited for mom to push me--but she used to bring this up to argue that I've been lazy from the day I was born; now, she says I've changed since I was a child, when I used to be lazy, and then breaks into the swing story.

Similarly, this morning, she came out with this:

Mom: I don't know whether you've necessarily gained weight, but you've definitely grown quite a butt.

Mom: Well?
A.: Well, what?
Mom: Am I going to stand here and wait for you?
A.: I'm ready when you are.
Mom: Where's your jacket?
A.: Right there.
Mom: Fine, I'll get mine.

Mom: Okay, are you ready?
A.: Yes. Are you?
Mom: Yes.

I get up, put my jacket on.

Mom: Wait, where are my gloves?

I sit back down, reopen my magazine.

Mom: Okay, I'm ready.

I get back up.

A.: Are the shopping bags in the car?
Mom: Oh, not in this car. I'll get some.

I sit back down. Mom comes in with the shopping bags. I get back up.

Mom: Now where did I put my keys?

I sit back down.

Mom: Well, where are my keys??
A.: I have no idea where your keys might be.
Mom: Well, get off your butt and help me find them!
A.: Mom--I don't know where to begin to look for your keys. If I were good at finding stuff amid your clutter, I'd have my hand cream by now.
Mom: It'll turn up eventually.
A.: I put it down for two seconds and it was gone.
Mom: Ah, here are my keys.

In the car

Mom: Dad always has to defend you. He thinks you're always right.
A.: He does not. He just forwarded me an e-mail this morning about how renewable energy is a passing fad.
Mom: Really?

That's the interesting thing: my mother actually cares about the environment and acts on it in her own selective way (making sure to always bring her own grocery bags; yelling at dad to use minimal water when he does the dishes). My dad is less convinced.

Mom: This is why I love living here: you can go shopping and then go for a walk by the river without moving your car. You don't have that.
A.: I can go shopping and go for a walk by the river without getting in my car.
Mom: You can?
A.: Yup.
Mom: Where's the river?
A.: A few blocks east of my house.
Mom: What, the Potomac?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Oh. Well, there's no forest there.
A.: Sure there is.
Mom: Oh, okay.

In the store

Mom: Should I get some persimmons?
A.: [Shrug] I don't need any.
Mom: What, are they grown the wrong way?
A.: Huh?
Mom: Are they "unsustainable"?
A.: I doubt it. I just don't need any given the variety of fruit we're already getting.

We shopped. Mom stopped by some apple pies past the checkout line.

Mom: Ooh, pie.
A.: You bought three pies the other day.
Mom: So?
A.: So, let's go.

We get in the car.

Mom: You're so... efficient. You exhude efficiency. No warmth whatsoever!
A.: So?
Mom: So it's not right!

It's true: crowded markets don't bring out the warm fuzzies in me; they do bring out the let's-get-what-we-need-and-get-the-f*-out instinct. It's not an instinct I'd want to do without.

This wasn't the first time mom's called me cold (well, she used to call me harsh). But 'I'm cold' was her reaction to the RM situation. So be it. Coldness, too, can be a survival instinct.


Mom: A.!!!!!!!
A., from another room: What???
Mom: Dr. Oz is talking about male erections!
A.: So?
Mom: A.!!!

I realize she's not going to stop calling my name until I come over.

Dr. Oz--here's a shocker--is talking about how important it is to maintain a healthy diet.

A.: I'll keep that in mind in case I'm one day reincarnated as a male, mom.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Collected conversations

Mom, looking at me: You've grown yourself quite a gut!
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: [Shakes her head, gives me a 'that's impressive' look]

In the course of our walk yesterday we happened upon a beautifully lit patch of river. I took a picture with my phone, showed my parents. Dad asked me to flip through the other pictures in the phone, one of which showed Gracie emerging from a tarp under which she'd crawled.

A.: Isn't she cute?
Dad: She is.
Mom: I love how you're trying to find positive things about her.
A.: What do you mean?
Mom: I mean, you're grasping at whatever basic qualities she might have.
A.: Um, she can be annoying, but she's a good cat.
Mom: I think she's dumb.
A.: [Shrug]

Last night, after dinner, I joined my parents in the living room, where the weather channel was showing in the background. I grabbed my New Yorker, which I'd had trouble getting into at home but into which I'd managed to make some headway when I was cleaning up mom's computer and waiting for things to load/open/happen. I flipped through various channels, none of which were showing anything worthwhile, and figured "Spiderman 3" was best suited for background. I left it on mute, even after my parents got off the phone with dad's cousin.

Mom: What's happening?
A.: I don't know, mom. I haven't seen this movie.
Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: Why did he do that?
A.: I don't know. Would you like me to put the sound on?
Dad: No, it's more fun this way.

I would occasionally look up. Mom would ask if I had any doubt whether good would conquer evil on TV. I explained that that wasn't why people watched action movies, much less played them in the background on mute.

I finished
Philip Gourvitch's article on efforts to preserve an ecosystem in Mozambique. And plotted an ecotourist trip in my head, with the travel budget of my dreams. And moved on to an essay on Chaucer's role in shaping English literature for centuries to come.

The movie ended; I flipped some, stopped on the familiar sight of the Archives metro stop in DC. I didn't recognize the movie, but I was intrigued. It turned out to be "National Treasure."

Mom: What's "dveedre"?
A.: What??
Mom: "Dveedre"?

She shows me the article she's reading.
A.: "Twitter."
Mom; That's what I said.
A.: I'll tell you when it goes to commercial.
Mom: Do you really care what happens?
A.: Well, I am quasi-watching the film.

Mom: Who's that?
A.: I don't know.
Mom: Have you seen this before?
A.: No.
Mom: You don't have a TV at all?
A.: No.
Mom: No wonder you become addicted when you're here.
A.: Um, I wouldn't say I'm addicted. I'd say I find this film, flawed as it is, more exciting than the weather channel.

Mom: Who are all those people?
A.: I don't know, mom.

This continued for the duration of the film, or another hour and a half. I read my magazine and looked up from time to time. Sometimes I even turned the sound on.

Mom: What are they doing now?
A.: Mom!

It wasn't just that I'd not seen the film before, or that I'd been watching it for as long as she had. It was that her questions were about as answerable as the one she asked at dinner the other night: what do you know, in a nutshell, about Russian history? Or the one she asked years ago at breakfast: do you really think we could have evolved from an ameoba? Actually, those questions are even more annoying, because the asker is being lazy and manipulative, and putting you in a position to work to get back to substance. But asking someone what's going on in a movie is still plenty annoying: even films of minimal plot can't be summed up easily. If you care about what's happening, watch the f*ing movie. If you don't, stop asking me.

Mom: Seems like a dumb movie. Where are they? What are they doing?
A.: [Shrug]

I finished the Chaucer piece, read a few more things, skimmed some others. I turned the sound on. The movie was coming to an end.

Mom: Seems like a pretty dumb movie. Don't you think it's a dumb movie?
A.: Yes, it's a pretty dumb movie.


Mom: Seems like a dumb movie.
A.: WE ALL KNOW IT'S A DUMB MOVIE, MOM. Enough, already! You don't need to note, every two minutes, that it's a dumb movie. I'm not looking to it to grow my mind. When you're channel flipping, on mute, on a Sunday night, you're not looking for a masterpiece.
Mom: I do not keep saying it! I only said it once!
A.: Well, no one is fighting you on the point. Now let it go.

I'm really hoping to find "Zoolander" playing on some channel or another over the next few days.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

No love for the crosswords

Mom and dad were on the phone with N., dad's second cousin in New York. I couldn't hear her, but I could infer what she said from what my parents repeated or answered. My inferences in brackets.

N.: [Is A. staying for New Year's?]
Mom: More or less. She's taking of New Year's Day.
N.: Close enough.
Mom: And she's going to a friend's house on New Year's Eve.
N.: [indecipherable]
Mom: Exactly.
A.: What, "exactly"?
Mom: She said, "why hang out with you two old people."
A.: Well, you don't do crosswords, do you?
Mom, to N.: You think they have wild parties? No, they sit around and do crosswords. A couple of years ago, they were here on New Year's Eve doing crosswords. Almost missed the ball dropping.
N.: What, like crossword puzzles?
Mom.: Yes, crossword puzzles. They do crossword puzzles.

Sunday dinner

Before dinner

Mom: Do you want some yogurt?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: What's your problem with yogurt?
A.: I have no problem with yogurt; I just don't need any before dinner.


A.: Cheers.
Mom: Cheers, boyari. Do you know what boyari are? In the days of Peter the Great...
A.: I do. You've told me this story a gazillion times.
Mom: What story?
A.: About how he ordered them to shave off their beards for the sake of modernity.
Mom: What do you know about Russian history?
A.: Enough that I don't want to talk about it over dinner.
Mom: Really: what do you know about Russian history?
Dad: Honestly, what kind of question is that?
Mom: Here we go, jumping to her defense... as soon as she can't answer a question...
Dad: It's an absurd question. I don't know how I'd answer that question.
Mom: I'd like a quick and inclusive response.
A.: What do you know about Russian history?
Mom: I'm not giving you the answer?
A.: The answer?
Mom: Right.

A.: Would anyone else ask some lentils?
Mom: Lentils should be eaten with butter. Of course, butter's probably not healthy enough for you.
A.: Butter has its place in my life, but the lentils are already moist enough without it. I sauteed them before adding water, so they already have buttery flavor.
Mom: You're so obsessive, always eating what's healthy.
A.: You're the one always lecturing me about nutrition, [often incorrectly].
Mom: You're right, these lentils are really good.

Screaming match



Dad: Don't wear that coat until you've fixed the lining.
A: Okay. I'll fix it right now.
Mom: I'll do it--I can do it faster.
A.: It's not a problem--I can do it.
Mom: No, I'll do it.

A little later

Dad: Mom says, pick a jacket out of the closet so we can go, because it's going to take forever to fix the lining on your coat.
A.: Okay.
Mom: Try this one.
A.: I can tell by looking at it that it's too big.
Mom: Just try it.

I just try it.

Mom: It looks fine.
A.: No, mom, it looks ridiculous.
Mom: Here, let me button it the rest of the way.
A.: It's too big, mom.
Mom: It's fine. Go look upstairs in the full-sized mirror.
A.: NO. I can tell right here that it's too big.
A.: No!
A.: It looks like a joke.

A., to dad, handing him my phone: Would you take a picture of me [so I can later post on my blog how ridiculous I look in this oversized coat]?
Dad: Sure.

Mom: It looks good! Go upstairs and look.
A.: No!
Mom: Fine! I won't fix your coat.
A.: Fine! I'm not asking you to fix my coat!
Mom: Two people are telling you that it looks good, but no, you know better. You know everything.
A.: Well, yes. I'll be wearing it. And I don't like it.
Mom: It looks much better than what you usually wear.
A.: That would be scary, but whatever.
Mom: I'm not fixing your coat.
A.: Fine. [I walk away]
Mom, walking after me: Just look upstairs.

Clutter museum

As my parents' friends were leaving last night, mom tried to stick them with a log of portwine cheese.

Mom: Here--take one!
Friend: No, thank you. We have so much cheese in the house.
Mom: You said you liked it...
Friend: It's delicious, but we really have so much cheese.
Mom: I've only found it at one store. It's hard to find.
Friend: We really. just. can't.
Mom: It goes fast.
Friend: No, thank you. Really.

Just now

Mom: Try these pants on.

I do.

Mom: They fit!
A.: I don't like the fit. They're too pleated for my tastes.
Mom: That might come back in style.
A.: It doesn't look good, mom.
Mom: They're warm.
A.: So?
Mom: You never know. You might go somewhere where they'll come in handy.
A.: I have warm pants. That actually fit me well.
Mom: Just take them!
A.: No!
Mom: They're warm!
A.: So what? I don't need another pair of (unflattering) pants.
Mom: You never know.

A.: Why does she have all these pressure cookers?
Dad: Half of them don't work.
A.: Then get rid of them.
Dad: That would be 'bad for the environment.'
A.: Buying crap all the time is 'bad for the environment.'
Dad: [Shrug]

It's not that my house is clutter free, or that I don't buy things I don't necessarily need. My clothes take up the closets of two of the bedrooms in my house. I too, frequent a local money pit. It's called Crate and Barrel Outlet. Thankfully, it's not so dirt cheap that I can buy $hit I don't need just because it's there, but I do buy $hit that I use so infrequently that I could certainly do without (and never know the difference). I've parted with many clothes that haven't fit me for two years ago, but others have too strong a hold on me and I haven't been able to let them go.

Which is probably why my mom's behavior is threatening to me rather than just annoying: it's like being slightly prone to alcoholism, and observing full-blown addiction--it scares the crap out of you because you're not completely immune. I needn't worry--I don't see myself buying compulsively, without bothering to figure out what I'm throwing into the shopping cart. But every time I think I've made peace with my mom's packratitude, I stumble upon something else completely unnecessary (or at least excessive when found by the dozen) and get riled up.

Crazy pills

Who are, were these people? First of all, taking emergency roadside assistance out of your insurance coverage is a false economy. I don't know about theirs, but mine is about $15 a year, and I lock myself out or get a flat from time to time. Similarly, there's nothing wrong with spending hundreds of dollars on vacations, as long as you can afford it. That's why these articles are so stupid--it's not about spending or saving; it's about planning wisely so you can use your money to do what you want.

The bigger point follows: I may marvel at my mother's vacuum, nutmeg, portwine cheese, and shampoo collections--buying crap you don't need just because it's cheap is also a false economy--but even if you add up all the money mom throws out on that $hit--which doesn't have the added time-waste cost of the gadgets she wastes money on and then spends days figuring out how to use and then returning--it still doesn't add up to the really pathetic personal finance habits that are emerging from these stories. This article is about "low- and moderate-income" people, and some of them are just starting to do their own laundry and ironing? Really? That's not even the much debated "latte tax." That's... unbelievable.

Sunday breakfast

Herring with boiled potatoes and steamed onions is my dad's Sunday morning ritual. You know how I feel about herring; I find boiled potatoes very boring, and I'm neutral on steamed onions. So I soft-boiled some eggs and awkwardly man-handled the first over the egg cup, which was too small to easily accomodate the supersized eggs that my parents buy.

Dad: You know the whole point is to place the egg in the egg cup.
A.: The egg cup's too small.


A.: There's a French expression: "you're teaching your grandmother to suck eggs."
Mom: Is that based on sexual innuendo?
A.: NO!!!
Dad: The Russian version might be, "the egg is teaching the chicken."
A.: Exactly.[
Mom: There's a joke... something like...
Dad: Let me tell it.
Mom: Yes, do.
Dad: A mother and her son were in the dining cart of a train. The son was about to take his silver spoon to the egg when his mother said, "eggs are corrosive to silver." A Georgian sitting nearby overheard, promptly moved his silver-encased cigarette lighter from his front pocket to a back pocket and said, "you learn something new every day." [Or the Russian version: "A century you live, a century you learn."]
Mom: Do you get it?
A.: Yes.
Mom: It's that kind of egg...
A.: I get it.

Mom: These potatoes are massive.
Dad: A. had wanted to get smaller ones.
A.: Right--they had organic potatoes for $1/lb, and dad said he was perfectly happy with conventional ones for $1.29/lb.
Dad: I did? I didn't see that they were $1/lb.
A.: I pointed them out to you twice and asked you whether you were sure you wanted the conventional ones. I'm not a big potato person, but I have to say, when we got CSA potatoes over the summer, they were amazing--both white and sweet potatoes. Do you know what CSA is? Or does that smack of socialism to you?
Mom: Oh, no, no--CSAs are wonderful. I'd join one if I could find one around here.
A.: You probably could. We were part of one in college my last year. Anyway, I couldn't go back to buying conventional sweet potatoes. I've been buying the organic ones at Trader Joe's--still not as good as the CSA's, but better than conventional ones by orders of magnitude.
Dad: I don't like sweet potatoes.
A.: Well, organic white potatoes taste better than conventional, too.
Dad: [Shrug]

Saturday Dinner

Maureen Dowd let her conservative brother write her column. He sounds a lot like my mother. Actually, both my parents were at it yesterday. I couldn't tell you whether it was improvisation or strategy, although I know, through dad's own admission, that he agrees with my mother's ideas but not her rabid discourse. The origin of what followed was probably something in between: not carefully planned, but an opportunity eagerly seized upon once it became possible.

They were talking about dad's second aunt, who was a teacher. She had taught both my parents separately, and later introduced them. She also convincingly recited Stalinist rhetoric. How could smart people buy into empty rhetoric, not see through to the totalitarianism behind it? Asked dad. This is why it's so important to study 20th century European history. Perhaps you can tell where this was going.

Onto Hitler, onto how I really should read "Rise and Fall of the Third Reich," which is understandable, not only because it's true but because my parents are close friends with the woman whose late husband wrote it. She's the one mom turns to to write her complaint letters when my efforts prove unsatisfactory. Of course, she also occasionally comes up with stuff like, 'did you know there's a cabal of Jews that sits around plotting world domination? I read it in this circular my friend in Moscow just sent me." But I digress. Dad was talking about Hitler, about how he, too, had Jewish friends, and he, too, realized that he needed to learn to speak well to rally the masses. Those are the most dangerous people, said my parents--those with no ideas but excellent oratory skills. This is why everyone should study 20th century European history. Perhaps at this point, you can tell where this was going, if you didn't before.

I sat silently until I couldn't take it anymore, because I knew nothing good would come of any response on my part. Lots of screaming ensued.

Mom: WHO PAID HIS HARVARD TUITION? I read it in the Investor's Business Daily-- some Saudi businessman! Who bought him his house? He sat and listened to that pastor for twenty years!
A.: So? I've sat and listened to you for twenty years.
Mom: Who paid his Harvard tuition?
A.: Who the f* CARES?
Mom: His friend, whose hero was Mao!
A.: That's not exactly...
Mom: WHO BOUGHT HIS HOUSE? And what about all those tsars??
A.: Actually, the Bush administration had even more "tsars."
Mom: I'm not talking about the Bush administration.
A.: Mom, I'm not having this screaming match with you. Watch less propaganda for a week, and then we can have an adult discussion, like humans.
Mom: Glenn Beck is a hero! He's a truth teller! He's the only one who exposes what the mainstream media won't touch!

Mom went to the computer to pay bills. She called me over because she couldn't figure out the answer to one of her security questions. I helped her get around it (by backing out to prompt a different question, to which even I knew the answer). Her electric bill caught my eye.

A.: Why is your electric bill so high?
Dad: All those vacuum cleaners.
Mom: They're battery powered!
A.: Yes, but you're constantly charging them.

Mom: Did your hair get darker?
A.: Probably.
Mom: I mean, it doesn't look bad.
A.: That's a relief.

Later in the evening, my parents' friends were in the neighborhood and stopped by for a late tea. One practically tripped over one of mom's vacuums on the way to his seat at the dining room table. At some point he started talking about an in-flight incident in Texas. I let him know that the story that hit the news was wrong, that the guy distorted it, as well as his own "heroic" role, in order to get on Fox News, but the latter never corrected its story.

Thankfully, the subject drifted to something lighter.

Mom: I just don't know how she lives somewhere without Ocean State Job Lot or Xmas Tree Shops.
A.: [Shrug]

After they left, we cleaned up.

Mom: Where did I set the vacuum?
Dad: Everywhere.

Saturday, December 26, 2009


Mom: Put the remote over there.
A.: Mom, I'm sitting over there!
Mom: You have plenty of room.
A.: I don't want to eat over a remote!
Mom: No wonder you couldn't get along with your roommate! Besides, he meant well.
A.: My cat means well when she walks on me when I'm typing, or sewing. That doesn't mean it's not annoying.
Mom: I'm not talking about your cat. Your cat is stupid.
A.: How do you know?
Mom: Just from observing her. Would you say your roommate is stupid?
A.: I'd say he lacks emotional intelligence, among other things. He's like those people on planes that won't stop talking to you even though it's clear that you're not interested.
Mom: You have had issues with previous roommates.
A.: Not really. I mean, living with people always entails compromise and minor annoyance, but up to this past year, I'd always gotten along well with my roommates. I'm still friends with most of them, and the others have just drifted apart.
Mom: No, I remember you had issues with Kevin.
A.: No, no I didn't. I mean, if I did, they were pretty minor. We got along well and we're still friends.
Mom: No, I remember. There were issues.
A.: Whatever you say.

Mom: I don't know how you do it without all these stores that we have at our fingertips. I mean, everything is right here. Mind you, the city is full of corrupt bureaucrats--six figures they pay those people. And the departing mayor! Why do people only elect idiots?

A.: Mom, it's hard for me to understand what you're saying when you chew and talk at the same time.

Mom: And so many Jews in this town, too. Jews always elect a$$holes. Why is that?

A.: Mom, you're spilling cabbage on yourself.

Mom: No, not on myself. It fell on the chair.

Mom meets RM


Mom: Are you going to get another roommate?
A.: No.
Mom: The one you had got in your way?
A.: You could say that. He was a bit to social for my roommate needs. In any case, my emergency fund has bounced back, and I'm going to do without.
Mom: What's an emergency fund?
A.: A cushion of savings you keep around in case of emergency.
Mom: You have us in case of emergency.
A.: I appreciate that. But I'd rather not have to have you in case of emergency.
Mom: He did seem very bubbly when I met him.
A.: That he was.
Mom: He seemed like a good guy.
A.: He is, in a way. I just don't need a friend/parent in the house.


Mom: I feel kind of bad for your roommate.
A.: Why?
Mom: He probably felt rejected.
A.: He could have handled himself in a way that would have saved him hurt feelings.
Mom: You're just very cold and harsh.
A.: I tried to be polite, at first. And again. That didn't work.
Mom: I'm sure he meant well.
A.: His intentions are irrelevant.


Mom: You've just become very cold and rational.
A.: [Shrug]

I tried to tell her some of the more egregious stories, including the waiting around in case I'd left without my key and then throwing that in my face as an example of his considerateness. Mom kept taking his side.

A.: Mom, I've had roommates for ten years, and I've never, ever had these problems before. I am under no obligation, as a roommate, to provide companionship, and it's not my fault that he was completely illiterate to social cues. Paying attention could have saved him some rejection and hurt feelings. I'm sorry I said anything. Now please drop it.


Mom: I just feel bad for your roommate.
A.: Mom! Let it go.

Response to comment:

I take your point, although that's one of many things going on. Some of the others:

-My parents, like RM, don't really get the concept of roommate cohabitation, i.e. polite coexistence, separate lives. To me, it makes perfect sense that when renting someone a room or splitting a rental is a financial arrangement; you're not inviting someone into your social or personal life. But some people struggle with that, apparently.

-I erred, in giving a little bit of information without wanting to talk about it. This is a common trap, with my mother especially. Now, why she can never take my word for it is another issue, but I know that that's the way it is and I should have known better than to say something and expect her not to push back. This is, after all, the woman who, upon hearing that I was changing jobs, jumped to the conclusion that it was because I couldn't get along with people and had alienated all of my former colleagues. So a reasonable person would give me the benefit of the doubt, understand that I dealt with RM quite fairly. But it's silly to expect reason from my mother.

Marcela captured the whole dynamic really well when she said I should stop feeling bad in any way--she could see how I might feel bad, because I'm human, and it's always upsetting when someone else's feelings are hurt, but that I had no reason to feel bad.

In any case, I completely agree re: women being expected to be pleasant all the time. I'm pretty good at not falling into that trap, i.e. at refusing to do what would be expected of a "nice" person. Which is really funny for another reason--I dated someone not long ago who somehow got the impression that I was overly eager to please and that that stemmed from insecurity, when basically, I was just being polite (but not in a way I thought was at all submissive). So women can't win-- you're either cold or oversolicitous.

I've actually thought about this from RM's perspective, too: I can't believe I'm the only one who's ever stood up to him. Part of that my be gender, part of it, I bet, is rank, and part of it is his manipulation of social norms to his advantage. People--especially women, but men, too, will move in to diffuse an uncomfortable situation. It's just instinct. It's kind of like how if you look like you belong, you can walk into a college dorm and steal a microwave out of a kitchenette (or, see the Salahis). There's a tacit assumption that people are doing what they're supposed to be doing, that when someone demands or takes something they have a right to it--whether it's something tangible, or one's attention--and so you're the one put on the spot to deny what the other person has claimed, rightly or wrongly.

I'm thinking of two RM situations--one where he decided that we would go out to dinner. And he didn't say, "would you like to go out to dinner?" He said, "let's go out to dinner tonight." And so the onus was on me to accept that as a reasonable thing to do--and when I didn't, he came back at me with that absurd theory about how I have an eating schedule. Just like when his rent was late and I had to remind him about it, he came back at me with, 'oh, I see, you need the money so I'll do you a big favor and write you a check.' But I digress.

The better example was that time, just days before the foot incident, and equally creepy, when he stood in my office door at around 10pm and stared at me as I typed. I looked up, thinking he might take the hint and go away, but I lost the staring contest, looked down. I was practicing social skills, diffusing an awkward situation. But he was still there, so I looked up again and consciously refused to lose again. I stared at him and gave him a stern "can I help you look" until he went away.

So yes, people and women especially are expected to make everything nice, and other people take advantage of that. RM, consciously or not, has been taking advantage of that for years, perhaps his whole life. I refused to play along and may very well have been the first person to stand up to him. And we know how well he handled that.

A mountain of nutmeg

Mom: What are you looking for?
A.: Cumin. Do you have any?
Mom: Probably. We have tons of spices.
A.: I've counted at least seven bottles of nutmeg. Why do you buy so much nutmeg?
Mom: Pumpkin bread. I buy it whenever I see it.
A.: It goes bad.
Mom: No it doesn't.
A.: None of these spice racks have cumin.
Mom: Never heard of it. Check the basement.

I go into the basement, past more shampoo and several packages of dried papaya. I go back to where most of the food is. My parents are truly prepared to be snowed in for weeks or months. But there's no cumin.

Mom: It must not be that important if it's not in any spice rack.
A.: I still don't understand why you stockpile nutmeg.

I open the fridge door, to eight logs of portwine cheese.

Mom: It was on sale.
A.: [Sigh]

And we're here

Mom: There's more to us than just our physical beings. Your spiritual side is suffering. I can tell.


Mom: So that coat downstairs doesn't fit? You didn't try it on.
A.: You had me try it on before. It's too big.
Mom: How do you know it's still too big? You've gained weight.

You can't make this $hit up

Mom: I don't know how you live in a place without Christmas Tree Shops or Ocean State Job Lots.
A.: And yet, somehow, I manage.
Mom: This vacuum cleaner is amazing. Does yours get under the sofa?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Is it heavy?
A.: If I answer that question for the sixth time, will it stop you from asking a seventh?
Mom: Huh. What brand is it?
A.: Electrolux.
Mom: You know, I looked everywhere for a gift for Irina--she wanted the same kind of radio/CD player I have--and I searched high and low [and mom took a good five minutes to tell this story] and eventually I found just the right thing at Walmart. That won't be possible anymore when Obama destroys Walmart--he and his mafia of unions--like he did the auto industry. And I don't blame companies for moving to China--who would want to deal with the union mafias?

Late breakfast

I got up around 7am, stretched some, and, suspecting that my parents were going to dilly dally for a few hours, ate some goat cheese and an apple. My suspicions proved correct--see below (and skip past this next section if you've had it with my food writing).

As active as I am about food--you can call it picky or, as my mother did yesterday, dogmatic--I'm not a food snob. In my cabinets you won't find truffle oil, but you will find what some (silly) people refer to as "poor people food," such as lentils and other dry pulses. Because I like them. They're tasty, they're affordable, and they're easy to prepare well. I have friends across the food snob scale--a trend chaser who does think that truffle oil actually adds anything, another who won't eat leftovers (I would eat crap if I were above cooking up, say, a pot of black beans and a pot of buckwheat, and eating portions of both throughout the week), one that eats primarily processed foods. I'm not evangelical about my food habits--I have better things to do than convert other people, even when they (see RM stories) ask me to. Which is why don't feel that I should have to defend my food choices. And yet, mom needs an explanation for everything I do or don't eat.

Here's the thing about food preferences in my family: as far as mom's concerned, you can't have too many flavors in one food or too many foods served at a time. The concept of competing (or overwhelming flavors) doesn't exist. As far as my dad's concerned, if he hated something as a child or at the mess hall, he'll hate it now. No point trying anything new. As for me, I like food that speaks for itself: you can enhance most flavors with a little salt or garlic or olive oil, etc., but if you have to drown something to make it palatable, it's not worth eating. And if you add salt, garlic, and olive oil to something, you don't also need to add, say, cheese and nuts and mint.

Oh, and here's a really important thing about me and food, which also pertains to the simpler-is-usually-better rule: I want to eat when I'm hungry, not two hours after I'm hungry. And if mom would embrace that concept, she wouldn't feel the need to eat everything in the house at once.

Mom, handing me a shampoo bottle: What do these instructions say?
A.: Same as regular shampoo.
Mom: It says "brunette": will it make me a brunette?
A.: Um, no. It will, supposedly, bring out any brunette color you already have.
Mom: Any shampoo will do that.
A.: Why did you buy it?
Mom: It was a dollar!
A.: [Sigh]

Mom studies the bottle.

A.: Mom, would you go shower so we can have breakfast?
Mom: I'm going.

She returns, and the absurdity of all of us making individual breakfasts is lost on none of us, particularly since we're using similar ingredients. Dad fries eggs for himself, and one for mom. I hard boil mom (sometimes I like fried eggs, but I'm not feeling it today). I make my oatmeal with milk (and cinnamon, lemon and ginger), mom makes hers with half and half and a whole bunch of crap. Dad won't touch oatmeal because he hated it as a child. When mom offered him a teaspoon of hers, he told us how his great aunt tried to trick him into eating it as a child by mixing it with rice, his favorite (and my least favorite) grain.

Mom: Sesame seeds are good for you. I read it in Edgar Casey's book.
A.: I think there's consensus among nutrition experts that sesame seeds are healthful. Nonetheless, I don't feel the need to eat them with everything, and I still don't want them in my oatmeal.

Five minutes later

Mom: Almonds are the healthiest nut.
A.: Many nuts are very healthy in various ways.
Mom: Edgar Casey was particularly into almonds.

Mom: I love cinnamon.
A.: That we can agree on.
Mom, to dad: Are you sure you don't want to try some?
Dad: I'm sure.
Mom: Of course. Didn't like it as a child, never mind that it was different oatmeal...
Dad: Just let it go.
Mom, to dad: Well, if you're not going to eat oatmeal, we'll need to find you a vehicle for cinnamon.
Dad: [Shrug]
Mom, to me: Are you sure you don't want to try some?
A.: I'm sure it's wonderful, but I've had enough to eat.
Mom: It's very good.
A.: I believe you.

Mom: I was going to make these beets with mayo and walnuts, but you don't like that any more.
A.: I didn't say that... I just had a plain one with lemon yesterday.
Mom: So you would eat the shredded ones with mayo.
A.: Yes.
Mom: But you like them better plain.
A.: They're different, I like both.
Mom: So should I make the shredded ones?
A.: If you want.

Food pushing aside, it's a surprisingly calm Saturday morning at the house. Mom hasn't thrown a fit. She did start to go off on the POTUS, but I ignored her and she lost her train of thought.

Now that we've talked about food, let's turn our attention to shampoo. There are myriad shampoo bottles in my parents' home, most of them, I'm sure, purchased for $1 and most likely purchased because they were $1.

Mom's clutter drives me up the wall, largely because crap everywhere isn't good for anyone's soul, but also because my mom's predilection toward acquiring crap threatens me because it's something I've had to overcome in myself. While my parents are far from wealthy, they're no longer poor. Unfortunately, their shopping habits haven't caught up with their socioeconomic progress. and, I would argue that even if they were poor, they'd be better off buying one, solid vacuum cleaner than four mediocre ones. And one bottle of shampoo at a time rather than one bottle of shampoo every time they see one for a dollar.

The kitchen table is a microcosm of the house as a whole.

Mom: Why did you move the remote control??
A.: So I could eat.
Mom: There's plenty of room for your plate next to the remote.
A.: I like my place setting sans remote, thank you. And sans vitamin bottles, but I pick my battles.

I can handle it here. It's her house. It's when she pushes the stuff on me, and tries to enlist me in shoppnig trips for more crap, that I get weary.

Boxing Day Roundup

Ross Douthat writes the column I was thinking of writing after yesterday's car ride rant. This excellent article further illuminates one of the situations Mr. Douthat discusses (not the one about how you'd have to be a moron to suspect that someone who takes advice from Larry Summers and Robert Gates is a closet Marxist-Leninist, and how Obama is somehow both that and a corporate pawn, but the one about how you can choose symbolism over results but that helps no one). And how anyone who was paying attention has no business being shocked.

Oh, Catholic Church--why don't you deal with your epic child molestation problem and then go telling people what's "morally unacceptable".

There has been a slew of articles about how everyone's toning down Christmas (decorations, gifts, etc.) and another slew just about gifts and how silly they are and then again they are good for something after all. I'm not going to search for them or post them because my parents' computer is brutally slow and you get the point.

Friday, December 25, 2009


As you may have figured, my family doesn't celebrate Christmas. This never stopped my mother for piling on a guilt trip whenever I made other Christmas plans, but that's another story. Dinner tonight was the usual dinner at my parents' house.

Mom: I'm not even hungry.


Mom: Do you like sour cabbage?
A.: Sometimes.

Five minutes later

Mom: Do you want some herring?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: What, does it swim in the wrong place?
A.: Actually, herring is one of the most sustainable (and healthy) fish out there, but as you well know, I've never liked it.


Mom: Do you like sour cabbage?
A.: You already asked me that.
Mom: Why aren't you having any?
A.: Because I already have plenty to eat.
Mom: I'm not hungry either. Do you like seaweed salad?
A.: I do.
Mom: Then why aren't you having any?
A.: I have enough to eat. Thank you.
Mom: You've become more dogmatic about food.
A.: Perhaps. As I recall, I've been pretty "dogmatic" about food for a while. [Hence my becoming a vegetarian at the age of 13.]
Mom: One shouldn't be dogmatic about anything.
A.: [In my head: except the Obama's administration's alleged march to socialism?] I grew up caring about the environment because you raised me to care about the environment. If you're going to eat seafood, you may as well do it with less impact on the oceans. As an added bonus, wild Gulf shrimp and wild Pacific salmon taste better.


Mom: What's with your hands?
A.: They're just cracked from the cold.
Mom: You should train them?
A.: What?
Mom: You can train your body to acclimate to any circumstances. I used to have a manager who walked barefoot, everywhere. He was a drunk, but a good guy. We were on business once in Uzbekistan...

at which point mom launches into an epic tale of a business trip to Uzbekistan, forgetting, at one point, why it had come up.

Mom:...oh, now I remember. Yes: he walked barefoot, on just about anything.

Dad: Would you like lemon in your tea?
A.: No, thank you.
Mom: See!
A.: Mom, I love lemon. I put lemon in just about everything. Is it such a big deal that I don't want lemon in my tea? Do we have to turn it into a philosophical issue?
Mom: [Shrug]

Never get involved in a land war in Asia

Westley: Truly, you have a dizzying intellect.
Vizzini: Wait til I get going!
-The Princess Bride

In the car, on the way to the river for a walk.

Mom: I have to stop at practically every light. Those local planners, they pay them six figures, and they can't even synchronize the lights. Third-world countries can synchronize their traffic lights. But those overpaid people in city hall... once you get government involved, everything is ineffective. It's not hard to synchronize traffic lights. Six-figure salaries, they pay those people--and for what?? I went to a workshop on this ages ago--when you involve government, the feedback loop is broken and nothing functions effectively. Government can't do anything right. And that's where your corrupt Obama is taking this country: to government ownership of everything. Pandering to unions--unions are just rotten, corrupt, despicable. And that ACORN! Who trained them? Community Organizers. So there!


Mom: Why are you so quiet?
A: I've got nothing.
Mom: Really?
A.: I have nothing to say at this level of discourse.
Mom: Ooooh, ooooh...
Dad: She has a point. You're not going to persuade anyone that way.
Mom; I'm not trying to persuade anyone...
Dad: You're just ranting, then. When 'despicable' is the word you use most often, it doesn't reflect well on the substance of your argument.
Mom: I am simply stating my opinion. And you agree with me! It's just when A.'s here, you have to defend her!
Dad: What does this have to do with A.? You had the same fight with Misha and I said the same thing.
Mom: Well, I was right then, too.
Dad: Then make your argument in a way that's persuasive.

We arrive, get out of the car. Mom continues to rant. Dad and I laugh.

Dad: She's 90 percent right, you know.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: Who trained ACORN? What do you think of that?
A.: Mom, it's beautiful here. Could we just focus on the scenery.
Mom: Fine. I've said everything I have to say.

The way home

Not for the first time, the holiday fun began before I arrived in Boston.

Mom: Hello?
A.: Hi, mom.
Mom: Where are you?
A.: At the airport in DC.
Mom: Okay. Well, call me when you land. And call me before you leave.
A.: I'm calling you before I leave now.
Mom: Are you already on the plane?
A.: No. We'll board shortly.
Mom: Well, call me once you're on the plane.
A.: No need. I'll call you once I land.

This is our system: because there's nothing worse, as far as my mother is concerned, than having to circle once she gets to the airport, she leaves the house to pick me up once I call her from the runway. This usually results in my waiting a good ten-fifteen minutes at the terminal, but I don't mind. I'm on my eighth year of coming home for the holidays, among other events, from DC, so it's a well-practiced system. But we'll get to that later.

A.: Mom, you know Xmas Tree shops is closed today.
Mom: Yes, your dad elucidated me this morning. I didn't even realize he had the day off.
A.: Just making sure you know. See you soon.
Mom: Call me when you land.
A.: Will do.

Mom: Hello?
A.: Hi, mom. I'm here.
Mom: Where?
A.: In Boston. Come get me, please.
Mom: Have you already deplaned?
A.: No. We just landed.
Mom: You're already here?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Have you already deplaned?
A.: No!
Mom: Okay, we'll be right there.

10:53 AM

A.: Hello?
Mom: What terminal?
A.: Not sure. Same as usual. Have dad call me once you're on the way and I'll tell you.
Mom: Have you already deplaned?
A.: No, mom. We can continue this discussion once you're on your way. Can you please get in the car and go?
Mom: I can't. I have to get dressed first. It'll be a few minutes.

WTF??? Was she not expecting me?

And if you're not ready, stop asking me questions and get ready. It's like years ago when I lived in Boston and got locked out, and called to ask if she would get me. I said, "Hi. I'm locked out, I'm at the Star Market on Morrissey Blvd. Could you come pick me up, please?" The best response to that is, "sure, we'll be right there," but I'd even take something like, 'we can't dig the car out that fast--hop on the T and we'll get you from closer to home.' What I don't want to hear is, 'what? how did you do that?' Never mind and just come get me.

We exchange hugs, greetings. I hop in the car.

Keep in mind that these conversations are all in Russian.

Dad: You were early!
A.: A little, yeah. The airport was pretty empty, so I imagine there wasn't a whole lot of traffic. These times always have...
Mom: There's no such word as "times!" This time...
A.: No, that's not what I'm trying to say...
Dad: This time of year?
A.: No.
Mom: This time...
A.: No...
Dad: The holidays?
A.: No! These... times?
Mom: Well, you have completely lost any ability you once had to speak Russian.
A.: Fair enough, but if you could let me think for five seconds I'll probably find a way to articulate what I'm trying to say.
Mom: Fine. Go.
Dad: This season?
A.: NO!

A.: These flight schedules always have extra time built in to account for routine-type delays.
Dad: Ohhhh! I see what you're saying.

We get to the tolls. There are three empty Fast Lane lanes, and one with a non-moving line of cars in it. Mom gets in the line.

A.: Mom, there are three open Fast Lanes.
Mom: The Fast Lanes are usually on the left side.
A.: Well, there are a few open ones on the right.
Mom: Fast Lane is over here.
A.: Suit yourself.

She puts the car in park to fully concentrate on yelling at me. Which is fine, because the line isn't moving.


Dad and I just laugh. Traffic lights are the bane of this woman's existence, and yet, here she is, waiting in line when she doesn't have to, because she's stubborn.

Mom yells a bit more, dad and I laugh a bit more, and then she decides to drive to the right, where there are, indeed, three completely open lanes.

Mom: The Fast Lanes are usually to the left.

Yes, and I am usually up at 6:30am on a Saturday morning. That doesn't mean that it was smart of my former roommate that time over the summer to assume that I necessarily would be, noting but dismissing evidence to the contrary (closed window shade, etc.), and coming in and bang around until he was finally convinced that I was still asleep.

Dad: Who's taking care of the cat?
A.: My friends who live nearby.
Mom: Right, the cat. Well, at least you have someone to talk to.

That's an interesting way of putting it. I can understand the people who say, 'at least you have some companionship,' even as I shrug of the condescension. But 'at least you have someone to talk to is a different matter.' A cat does, indeed, offer companionship. That single women have no monopoly on feline companionship is another matter, but cats, pets, are companions. But if I'm counting on Gracie for intellectual discourse, we're in trouble.

We arrive at the house.

Mom: Let's go have coffee. You interrupted our morning coffee.
A.: I'm sorry you weren't expecting me.

Mom: Would you like some salted salmon?
A.: No, thank you.
Dad: It came out lightly salted.
A.: No, thanks. I don't like salted salmon. That, and I've taken to only eating wild salmon.

Mom rolls her eyes. This is a tricky issue: being a guest in someone else's home--even one's parents--is not like being a patron in a restaurant. I believe in eating what one is served, without being picky. But it is my parents, and I'd like to convert them to the cause of wild salmon.

A.: It's cleaner and more sustainable.
Mom: Oh, please. Dirt's good for you. The sooner you come down with something, the sooner you can get over it. I was listening to Dr. Oz, and he was talking about the amount of dirt on an average countertop...
A.: By dirt, I mean hormones, chemicals and antibiotics.
Mom: Whatever. And you won't have chicken broth.
A.: No.
Dad: Chicken soup is an old Jewish cold remedy. It works wonders.
A.: I'm sure it does.
Mom: What's the problem there? The chickens?
A.: Right.
Mom: I see.

I have been a vegetarian for eighteen years, a pescetarian for eleven of them. It's not like I stopped eating chicken last year.

That's it for now. I hate to say it, but stay tuned.

Xmas morning roundup

New Englanders cling to their wood stoves and mistrust the government, while a West Virginia New Deal town remembers its history, which is also not without controversy over government social programs.

The MPAA doesn't think people should smoke pot and get away with it. And Starbucks has competition.

Excellent rehabilitation idea.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Christmas Eve roundup

I never found "Little Drummer Boy" to be among the most offensive crimes against taste this time of year (see Jingle Bells, and I don't mean the Bollywood rendition, which, if you ask me, is an improvement on the original). Nonetheless, I'm glad to know that holiday music is good for something.

Some bloggers are going to hell (see fourth to last paragraph--to quote such words here would be to disgrace this blog).

Marketing via menu psychology. If there's no actual grandma behind 'grandma's cookies,' does that undermine truth in advertising, though? I fit squarely in the "recipes" type of diner. The most fun menu I've ever seen was that of Evil Dave's Grill in Jasper--check out the sinful starters, evil entrees and wicked wines. The food was really good, too.

Who knew that braids were hot?

There's an incredibly beautiful photo of a dripping icicle against a light blue sky in the Metro section of the Post. It hasn't come online yet, but I'll post it when it does.

I love Close to Home

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Phone calls

Earlier tonight

A.: Mom, do you have wireless internet?
Mom: Technically, yes, but I haven't managed to make it work. Maybe you can help me with that.
A.: Well, I'd like to know beforehand whether or not to bring my laptop.
Mom: There's a problem with the network key--my laptop wouldn't take it. But it's something we can figure out together.
A.: I don't need to bring my laptop; I will if I'll be able to connect to the internet, but I won't if I can't.
Mom: We can always turn off the security settings.
A.: No, not worth it.
Mom: You can help me figure it out.
A.: Yes, but I need to know ahead of time whether or not to bring my computer.
Mom: It's not like you need to bring anything else, although you'll have plenty of stuff to take back. You're getting in late morning? We'll go straight to Xmas Tree Shops from the airport.
A.: Mom!
Mom: It's on the way!
A.: No, it isn't.
Mom: It's sort of on the way. They have these great vacuum cleaners.
A.: I have all the vacuum cleaners I need.
Mom: These are really good. Is yours heavy?
A.: No.
Mom: Well, I'd like you to see them.
A.: Thanks for warning me ahead of time.

Over the weekend

Dad: We went to see a simulcast of the Metropolitan Opera. It was great--it's too bad there won't be another while you're here. It's unfortunate that you don't live in a city with a lot of things like that.
A.: Um, there's plenty of opera in Washington.
Dad: But it's probably not the same.
A.: Um...
Dad: I mean, it may be more amateur. You don't get world-class visiting acts...
A.: Do you know who the director of the National Opera is?
Dad: No... Someone well known?
A.: Placido Domingo.
Mom: Yeah, but that's the director. We're talking about the performers.
A.: Okay, first of all, the director has plenty to do with attracting performers. Second, do you think Placido Domingo would associate himself with, much less manage, a substandard opera house?
Mom: In any case, it's just not the same.
A.: [Shrug]

This was not an argument I cared to fight to the end. I mean, it's hilarious that my parents have no concept of the prestige of the Kennedy Center/the National Opera and even more so that they thus assume that there's nothing going on here and kindly offer their sympathies. And clearly they'd rather not understand the concept, so I'm not going to argue with them.

The other thing is--the quality of performances at the Kennedy Center notwithstanding--you don't have to live in a major metropolitan area and have a prestigious art center to have access to great performances. Yes, the Met is amazing, as is the KC, but it's not like most of the rest of the country lives in a cultural wasteland (well, at least not geographically. Kidding! Kind of).

Bringing down the neighborhood less every day

I'd felt bad about the cheap-o, pre-fab gate that I'd bought since February, when it started to warp and fall down, not just because it looked bad, and exposed my yard to the alley, and wouldn't open and close (I could step through the opening but getting my car in and out wasn't an option), but because it was bringing down the neighborhood. For sure, it was better than nothing, and it sufficed until I'd come up with the money to have a more substantial fence put up.

I've seen more of both my next-door neighbors in the last week than I have in months, since we've all been out shoveling, and both have complimented me on the new fence. I responded wearily--I wasn't sure how much of that was a 'thanks for no longer bringing down the neighborhood as much'--but neither of them meant it passive-aggressively. They seem to sympathize, understand that this stuff takes time. It makes me really happy that my neighbors are nice and non-judgmental. I mean, I don't plan to take advantage of that by buying a bunch of totaled cards to store in my front yard, but I'm not going to turn into master landscaper overnight, and my front yard is not pretty right now. I operate in baby steps, and I'm elated that my neighbors are tolerant in that respect.

Mommy Queerest

Here's another one of those I'm-so-glad-I-got-off-my-partially-purple-@$$-and-saw-this-play posts: Mommy Queerest was excellent. I don't know if non-Jews would enjoy it as much, but I'd recommend it to anyone nonetheless, and to Jews especially. It definitely hit home--occasionally on specifics (wow, my mom has said that same exact thing!) but more often in concept (wow, my mom and other Jewish moms have a similar flair for just that kind of absurdity and non sequitur).

There was this great line, as quoted in the linked review: "We had two types of communication: screaming and not talking to each other." She also mentioned the well-established Jewish family tradition of never talking about anything substantive. But really, it was the theme of the play--the whole drive behind her desire to have her own show, which evolved from her wanting to jump into the tv as a child, because those families were so different from hers. So blond, straight, unfrizzy. And the act--which is more stand-up than play--takes us through how that desire for her own show has evolved since, to something more profound and real and confident.

More Tuesday roundup

Not having seen the movie, I'm not going to touch the racial aspect of the debate Milloy sums up, but I will take issue with something he mentions in passing: his preference for sci-fi movies that are pure mindless escapism. Is there such a thing, though? I love some good mindless escapism now and then (see "Dude, Where's My Car") but stoner flicks are are not sci-fi, and I wonder whether when heavily good-evil themed films like Star Wars and X-Men set the standard for your genre, you can get away with mindlessness.

Again, I side-step the key ethical issue and ask, why the f* would anyone pay to hear Michael Steele speak?

Regardless of the label, if you think chocolate or strawberry "flavor" is a "medical food", I don't know what to tell you.

One Senator quotes the bible right back at another.

Wednesday morning roundup

What? Do you think anyone goes around asking people not to criticize Hitler or Pol Pot on the anniversaries of their birthdays? Or suing radio stations for dishonoring them? Can a society like Russia isolate itself from Democracy forever?

Not far away, a Kyrgyz opposition journalist is assassinated by defenestration.

While we're on political violence and crimes against humanity: How does one go about living around people that tried to kill you? I've read about such experiences in South Africa, Rwanda, the Balkans, Latin America... and it doesn't get any easier to understand with more examples.


Yes, do something about that Taj Mahal high school. I managed to grow up in that "brainy and self-assured city" with a less than palatial high school and somehow did okay. Reading the Times' description of the city, it's funny to think it's the same one my parents live in. They so, so, so wouldn't be able to afford their house--gatehouse-sized by Newton standards--now.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Delayed reaction RM rant

Even when I had to deal with RM's BS, I appreciated the educational value of the experiences. As you would imagine, I strive to avoid my mother's lesser character traits--her pettiness, her consistent sweating of the small stuff, her berating people for little things, especially when they're trying to help. And as I've said before, RM challenged my resolve not to channel my mother in some of those ways.

RM helped out with a few house projects: there was that pot rack that so infuriated me just before he moved in, and there was the back door panel that I found to be rotting a few months ago. He volunteered to fix it; I asked him to show me how so I would know how to do it in the future. In any case, I bought the wood and set it out along with the caulk and the wood screws. He fixed it without me, but I didn't hold that against him: he offered to fix it just before the foot incident and ended up actually fixing it right after, when I had no desire to be in the same room with him, much less within speaking distance. I meant to ask him afterward where he put the rest of the wood screws, but never got around to it (I was quite good at avoiding him for the next three weeks, and then he moved out). I worried that I'd have to contact him to ask where the f* he put the wood screws, but decided to wait until I had to. Well, I just found them tonight, in a small box in the utility room cabinet that contains a wall art hanging kit.

Now, why would you do that? Why not just ask me where to put the m-f wood screws, or just leave them out, as he did the caulk, for me to put away? Why stash them where I'd never find them? It's not like it wasn't obvious that that box was not the home of the wood screws. It's not like it was even the path of least resistance: he had to actually select the box.

But this is small stuff; this is the kind of thing I'd probably notice but forgive in an otherwise inoffensive roommate, or a significant other. But once someone's on your $hit list, the little things really grate. And you just have to wonder, why? why? why? Why not JUST ASK?

Bad Smithie of the Year

So this very nice woman in the Smith Club of Washington sent out to the listserv an e-mail advertising her services as a financial adviser. And this total bitch--or else someone who's too incompetent not to reply all, but is a total bitch nonetheless--sent the following response to the entire listserv:
We recently started working with an Ameriprise financial planner (sorry, [name]) and have found her ability to organize our various financial files (income/expenses, insurance, retirement, investment, etc.) and help plan for the long-term to be immensely helpful.
How RUDE is that? If you have a competing financial planner, fine, fair enough, but don't advertise it on the Smith alum listserv in response to a fellow alum's personal ad! Even if you're just replying to her, just don't. No response needed. Some people.

Thought-provoking interview

A friend/colleague sent me this interview with Jonathan Safran Foer. Both he and the interviewer bring up a lot of very interesting points:
JF: ...endorsing the exception is to endorse the rule. People would see me as another person eating meat. You know, it's like what happened with farmed fish. Salmon farming was originally created to take pressure off of wild salmon populations, because it's been clear for a long time that they're going to run out. But what happened was, when more supply was created, there was more demand for wild salmon, because our eating habits are contagious. There was more salmon on the menu suddenly, and you see your friends eating salmon, and so you eat salmon - that has more power than does conscientious eating.

There's also the fact that the kind of farming you're talking about can't be scaled. There's enough humane chicken now raised in America to feed Staten Island, at the rate we're eating chicken. You can use child labor as an analogy. It's easily conceivable that there are many situations in which giving a six-year-old a job would improve that six-year-old's life and, on a case-by-case basis, would be a good thing. But we don't create systems for the exceptions, we create them for the rule.
This next one just pisses me off:
JG: Isn't it terribly boring to be a vegetarian? Go to this question of whether we are naturally omnivores, or is that just a cop-out?

JF: Well that's like asking, are women naturally subservient to men? If we look at history, one might have reason to think so. I mean, we certainly treated women as second-class citizens, almost always until quite recently. That doesn't mean it's right, that doesn't mean life is boring if we suddenly treat them as equals. Is a diet less rich without meat? Yes, it is. Is a diet less rich with chimpanzee? Yes, it is. I don't find it boring.
Does anyone (besides me) ask people who subsist on fast or frozen, pre-prepared food whether it's boring? You can make your vegetarian food so interesting. I just don't understand why anyone would think that way.

Great point about food behavior in general:
There are an awful lot of people who care about this stuff and for reasons good or bad, just can't envision becoming vegetarian. So what do we do with that? Do we throw our hands up in air and say that since I'm not going to be perfect about this I'm completely off the hook. They will say, `I was a vegetarian for six years and I found myself at an airport and I was shaking from hunger so I ate some McNuggets and that was the end of my vegetarianism. It's just such a bizarre way of thinking about it.

I care about the environment, I try to buy good appliances, I certainly turn the lights off when I leave rooms, and so on and so forth, and yet I also fly. So should my getting off the plane say 'Okay, I know that was bad, so I'm now bad, I'm going to leave lights on, I'm going to let my car idle.' It's nuts. I wish people would talk about food in a way that was more similar to how we talk about the environment. The question of 'Are you an environmentalist or not?' is nonsense. It just doesn't make any sense.
I love eggs, but trying to navigate the 'certified humane' maelstrom makes my head hurt. Is there really no such thing as a happy egg?
JF: You wouldn't want to be a turkey. Actually, analogous to the milk question, a free-range hen is the worst. If there's any farm animal you wouldn't want to be, that's what it is.

JG: What about cage-free, cruelty-free eggs?

JF: Well, cruelty-free means nothing. Free-range, when applied to hens, means zero. It is literally not defined and it is up to supplier testimonials whether or not to use it, so you should take as much comfort from 'free-range' as you should from 'starry and magical.' Cage-free does mean something: it means exactly what it sounds like it means, literally not in cages, which is not to say that much for the welfare of animals.

JG: That could mean a small building that has 3,000 of them crammed in.

JF: More like 30,000. You won't get buildings with 3,000 - it's 30,000, 50,000 or 60,000. That being said, there are people who actually quantify how much space cage-free hens have and I think it's something like 110 square inches as opposed to 67 for those in a cage, so that's a lot more space, but draw yourself a rectangle of 110 square inches - it's not what people have in mind when they spend more of their money to buy this product. Cage-free and free-range eggs are the fastest growing sector of the food industry right now, which says something so amazing about Americans.

JG: People want to feel good about the product they're buying.

JF: Yeah, they don't taste better, they're not better for us. People all across the country are spending more of this finite resource of money on something just because they think it's the right thing to do, and they are being taken advantage of, and that should make everybody very angry.
I agree that this is a completely inane argument:
JG: Let's talk about Michiko Kakutani's review of your book, which showed, I think, that she's ideologically opposed to raising this issue as a serious issue. How do you respond to someone who would say, 'Jonathan, you say that KFC has caused more pain in the world than any other company, but try telling that to the people, not the animals, but the people of Bhopal.' 'Jonathan, you live in New York City where you have HIV and homelessness and schools that don't work. How could you devote your life to worrying about a chicken over a child?' It's an argument that I'm sure you've heard in other places.

JF: I actually haven't heard it anywhere else, which is a strange thing.

JG: This is the first time that you've seen that argument?

JF: I couldn't believe it got through the editors. I mean it's such a profoundly flamboyantly silly thing. Obviously I care more about kids than I care about chickens but that's not to say that I have to choose. It's not a zero-sum game. People who care about animals tend to care about people. They don't care about animals to the exclusion of people. Caring is not a finite resource and, even more than that, it's like a muscle: the more you exercise it, the stronger it gets. This is what Tolstoy meant when he said famously that if there were no more slaughterhouses, there'd be no more battlefields. It's a silly statement in its own right, but it gestures at something that's true.

The Times review was sloppy high school thought, and it comes in lots of different forms. It comes in the form of, 'If we care about this, we're not caring about something else.' Another form it sometimes takes is, 'If we care about this, we're going to have to care about that. If we care about that, next thing you know we're going to be walking on grass barefoot because of the ants that you're going to be torturing.' It's ridiculous.

JG: What do you think motivates her dismissal? That everybody is going to become a Jain or something?

JF: The question is, if we don't say no to this, what do we say no to? If we don't say no to something that systematically abuses 50 billion animals, if we don't say no to the number-one cause of global warming, and not by a little bit, but by a lot, if we don't say no to what the UN has said is one of the top two or three causes of every significant environmental problem in the world, locally and globally, if we don't say no to something that is clearly - not clear to me, but clear to the World Health Organization - a prime factor in the generation of Avian and Swine flus, if we don't say no to something that's making our antibiotics less effective and ineffective, if we don't say no to something that causes 76 million of food-borne illness every year, just what do we say no to? This is not a case where we need to go to war with another country or spend a trillion dollars or elect a new government. We just need to say no to it.