Tuesday, March 31, 2009

spice rack

Mom: So, I stopped by the store- I'd dropped Misha off at the airport-- and I saw one of those turnstile spice racks. It had something like twenty spices. Do you need one of those?
A.: No, I have a spice rack. When you were here you said you wanted one like it, so you keep that one.
Mom: Oh, I did?
A.: Yeah. Mine isn't turnstile, but it hangs, which is what I need it to do.
Mom: How much did you pay for yours?
A.: I don't know, mom.
Mom: Oh, okay.

not so fast

I'm not sure how to say what I'm about to say without sounding callous, and if I'm interested in not sounding callous, it's because I don't want the perception to detract from what I'm about to say. As I've said before, people have been hard hit by the recession, and people were hard hit by poverty before the recession. There are a lot of groups of people in this world I have little sympathy for (tourists that may end up with a bicycle tire track over their body), but I've never been and never will be one of those people who thinks poverty is a personal flaw to be overcome.

But I wanted to smack the woman in this article who says, 'this is why poor people need to watch out in this recession' or something like that. Who the hell has $100+ electrical bills? Sure, there's only one of me (for another week or so), but my electrical bill in this house hasn't surpassed $30. There were to of us in my old house, with two refrigerators and an electrical dryer that my roommate used to do laundry for the basketball team that he coached. Why do people feel entitled to cheap power? I'm sorry, but short of electric heating, which is such a bad idea anyway, how the f* do you end up with a $100+ electric bill?

So there

I'm not trying to gloat, but I do feel the need to establish, particularly in response to mom's implications, that I'm not stupid just because I bought I house last fall. The Post's 2009 Housing Review is out, and I'll direct your attention to what it has to say about Old Town: "In Alexandria, prices rose 5 percent in the already-pricey Zip code that includes Old Town." Nor am I, as it were, obsessing about housing prices when I should be getting ready for work; I am merely waiting around until it gets light enough to take on the Mt. Vernon trail. And while I'm at it, check out the latest in the debate on the environmental impact of animal agriculture, which is actually why I became a vegetarian in the first place. On other environmental matters, the man who brought us the idea that the only outrage over Abu Ghraib should be directed at those outraged, has something to say. Also, for those that cook, the Well Blog's sesame quinoa salad recipe is quite good.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I may be up for another parental visit

It's not that I expect my parents to keep track of my comings and goings (actually, I'm delighted that they do not). Besides, these days I have keeping track of my own comings and goings, and while I give you permission to shoot me if I EVER complain about travel, I'll admit that being away all the time has taken a toll on the cleanliness of my house (partly by taking a toll on my willingness to do anything about it when I am here). But I digress. The thing is, before their previous visit, we established many a time that I would be out of town in mid-April.

In spite of not only repeating several times a day that she would never come down here again, but also regularly threatening to drive back to Boston as soon as she could, mom now insists on coming back down to help me with the garden.

Mom: I was looking at tickets-- it looks like JetBlue is having a decent sale. What if I come down the 17th?
A.: I won't be here. I'll be back the 23rd. Actually, technically the 24th.
Dad: We can't make it the weekend of the 26th...
A.: And I'll hardly be up for visitors that weekend, having returned from my trip not two days prior.
Dad: You're going on a trip?
A.: We've discussed this.
Dad: That's right, we have. I forgot.
A.: I'm around the weekend of the 11th.
Mom: By then it will be too late to plant.
A.: How is it too late to plant on the 11th but not the 17th?
Mom: Well, it'll be too late to start on all the landscaping you need to do before you plant.
A.: I can get a start on weeding on my own.
Mom: I'll keep an eye out for fares.
A.: Okay.

The federal workforce and other animals

Is it lost on just about everyone else that the person nominated to head OPM (the federal government's Office of Personnel Management) currently manages the zoo? In his and the administration's defense, he's managed a number of other agencies and he's generally well-regarded-- this is not a heckova-job-brownie repeat-- but still-- one can't help but wonder what zoo-management qualifications would be transferable to what many people, my mother included, see as a whole different kind of zoo.

I'm going to stay DC-centric for this post, although that's not fair because most of the federal workforce is actually outside of DC, in spite of what all the those-people-in-DC-just-don't-get-it haters say-- it's just ad hominem way of undermining anyone that disagrees with them or threatens their entrenched interests. But back to DC.

Does anyone else think the cherry blossoms are overrated? I cycled by them today and kind of enjoyed them on the way to work, but I always really enjoy riding past the Jefferson Memorial and tidal basin--it's beautiful no matter what. Then I cycled by them on my way home and decided that whatever pepto-bismal touch they add to the area is not worth the masses and masses of people blocking my bike path.

My renter-to-be came by today with the lease. He remarked, in not so many words, that coming from the north, it's really a nice neighborhood. Which is really true. And really interesting from the perspective of perspective. Coming from the south, it's one block from the projects; coming from the north, it really is a nice neighborhood.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's starting, but we already knew that

A friend shared this story on Idiocracy in progress:
"They speak about, 'If everyone starts having eight children or 12 children, imagine in three generations what we'll be able to do,' " Joyce says. " 'We'll be able to take over both halls of Congress, we'll be able to reclaim sinful cities like San Francisco for the faithful, and we'll be able to wage very effective massive boycotts against companies that are going against God's will.'"

Also, Robin Givhan describes Idiocracy in the fashion consulting industry.

Very good week in the New Yorker, although the best stories are hard to reach through that non-innovation that is the digital reader. This Woody Allen piece, which is available to all, is pretty good, but Brooklynhenge by Ben McGrath is f*ing brilliant and as usual, David Sedaris's piece is f*ing HILARIOUS.

Another example of what is service

But first, I wanted to report that in the last two days, I've talked/e-mailed with two people who have had issues with Sears delivery/installation people.

Now, onto what is good service. I've decided to splurge on airport transfer service to and from the hotel for my next vacation. I mean, I could figure out and wait for the public transportation that would be available, but I won't. I just confirmed the airport taxi service, to which the hotel included in its reply, "Feel free to ask the taxi driver to stop at different locations on your way to the hotel, whether to stop for a cold drink or to take a photo."

On facts

Nicholas Kristof gives us a substantiated explanation for what Jon Stewart has been saying for years. Kristof's most recent column is worth a read, too.

Other stuff I saw today was kind of meh. This piece on the impact of traumatized immigrants on hospitals could have dug deeper, but as it is it's too general to be informative. Kind-of interesting piece on Spirit Airlines. As someone who rarely checks luggage (and will do so even less once the liquids ban is lifted), I'm not sure why I should subsidize the expensive infrastructure that I rarely use. But I do think that the airlines have an obligation beyond getting me safely from point A to point B: they have an obligation to get me safely from point A to point B on time, or-- even amid events beyond their control-- compensating me for time wasted and expenses incurred as a result of delays.

But back to facts. There was a great piece in the New Yorker a month or so ago, unfortunately only available now through its cumbersome digital reader, but it's quite worth it. Everything that goes out the door of my organization undergoes quite the fact-checking process, in which I was immersed for the last couple of months, so the article had special meaning to me, but it's a good read in general.

Pets-the safety hazard

Gracie has certainly done her best to try to send me flying down the stairs. She's managed to do some damage to my laptop, too, by knocking it off my bed (breaking the power input, $200). Recently-and that little rat knows she's not allowed in my room when I'm trying to sleep-she managed to break in and jump up on the bed right by my head, waking me up and scaring the crap out of me-- and knocking the laptop over. It didn't fall, but the power cord fell out, and I had some standby/hibernation issues after that, but I think they've been resolved. This morning, she was shrieking like a nazgul. It was that annoying, frequent and soul-sapping. Good thing she's cute.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Rambling observations of a business traveler

I like exactly two things about staying in hotels, both of which speak to how lazy I am: (1) it's so easy to go to the gym, get back, and clean up and (2) the iron and board is right there, i.e. where my clothes are. I don't have to bring them down and then up a flight of stairs.

My world view changed on Wednesday. Up to that point, I never thought a direct flight could be anything but preferable; that afternoon, however, my colleagues and I embarked on the longest three-hour flight we'd ever experienced. The aircraft was tiny. Nobody could approach an overhead bin without positioning one part of their body, or another, in the face of the passenger in the aisle seat below. We were relieved to have the return flight in two segments, and even more so when the second segment involved a fuller-sized plane. It was heavenly.

Have you ever changed planes--changed terminals, in particular--in Detroit? It's quite a chi-chi airport--fountains and everything--but to transfer, you go through this funky, psychedelic tunnel.

The airport has large windows, a feature I noticed in many buildings in Des Moines as well. It must be great for using daylight, but I hope that glass is very well insulated.

Iowa's State House is beautiful. I'm really glad I don't work there, though, because the vending machines, which carry ice cream, would really get to me. Thankfully, my workplace only has crappy vending machines.

One evening, we headed to the Des Moines Art Center, which generally has some amazing stuff, and until Sunday, in particular has Grant Wood's "American Gothic" on display in an exhibit called, “After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism & the Midwest.” It was surreal to see the original painting, but the entire exhibit was very cool. The exhibit juxtaposed-- maybe that's too strong a word, I don't want to imply too much contrast--Grant Wood, Jackson Pollock, Charles Sheeler, Philip Guston, and Thomas Hart Benton, for example. I didn't know they were contemporaries, but seeing it all together really put their individual art in context.

Gracie's crying outside my door and trying to break in, but she's not getting in-- I need my sleep. I had to yell at her today, too-- it's like she knows when I'm in a hurry and have no time for her whining, and she insists on being especially needy at those times.

I got in late last night, got to bed even later. I'm pretty impressed with myself for pulling off my part of the rose drop, not to mention (my part of) the shower. I'm ready for another vacation (emotionally; physically, I could be a lot more ready).

Oh, before I go: Gail Collins had a good column today.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Wednesday morning roundup

Unf*ingbelievable, inspirational, and very cute. Sadly but not surprisingly, whether your experience with unaccountable bureaucracy turns out to be 'unf*ingbelievable' or 'inspirational' comes down to class.

So sad.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

More odds and ends

Mom *kind of* has a point when she says I hold on to things, in her view, for too long, but only in the sense that I remember them. She has a shorter memory-- hence her inability to remember that she's already told me that I've put on weight or that I should get a convection oven/microwave combo--so in her mind, the fact that I remember things means that I dwell on them. I don't, really, and when I do, it's more in a 'that's interesting' or 'that explains it, fits a pattern' way.

So this afternoon on my way home, as I read an article on table salts in Express, I remembered the following conversation from this weekend:

Mom: I have a similar canister of sea salt, except I got mine at the dollar store. How much did you pay for yours?
A.: I don't remember.
Mom: Well, approximately.
A.: I don't remember at all. Little enough that it wasn't worth committing to memory.
Mom: Well, maybe you just don't pay attention to what things cost.
A.: I generally do, although less so with salt because I buy it so infrequently.
Mom: I'm sure you paid more for that salt than I did for mine.
A.: That's quite likely. If you care enough, you can check next time you're in Trader Joe's.

The more I do this roommate search thing-- which thankfully I'm ready to stop doing--the more I want to start my own business as a people-skills consultant, and those of you who know me appreciate just how scary that is. It is a f*ed up world when I have anything to teach anyone about people skills.

Lesson one: manners are not optional or situational. Yes, e-mail is an informal medium. Nonetheless, when you're talking to another human, you still need to be polite. I would never send someone I didn't know an e-mail without addressing them, even when I don't have a name (for example, when I rsvp for events). It's one thing when you're exchanging e-mails back and forth or making quick plans; it's another when you're introducing yourself to someone and requesting information. What makes those e-mails rude is the same thing that makes robocalls so obnoxious: they're not even willing to invest resources in annoying me and wasting my time, i.e. they are claiming my time while valuing their own. All I can say to that is that if you're unwilling to put some time into phrasing your question in a complete, grammatical sentence, I feel no social obligation to put any time into responding.

[Yawn]. I need a nap. I would have taken today and/or yesterday off if I didn't have a f*load of work to do. Hell, I would have taken a nap at work--it has been done, you just go to the health center and the nurses give you a bed--if I didn't have a f*load of work to do. The work from home thing is also a blessing and a curse. I'm glad to not be at the office but it was kind of eerie to be working from home this late in the evening. Anyway, enough whining, I'm sure you all need a nap, too. You know that throughout all my bitching, I don't actually believe I put up with any more BS than anyone else; I just have a blog, so I use it.

Trendy spending

The Post brings us a silly article that perpetuates a silly premise--one that helped get us into this mess in the first place: one's personal financial decisions reflect the nation's finances rather than one's own. Why are spending levels a trend? It's just... silly. The piece takes a handful of examples of people making large purchases and tries--and fails--to tie them into a trend piece. Oooh, someone just bought season tickets to the Caps, and someone else got a BMW. Maybe they can afford it, maybe they can't. Maybe it'll be a good investment, maybe it won't. There are so many factors that will determine the sagacity of those decisions, but more than anything else, they're personal choices. So why is the Post wasting our time with, 'here are a few people who are spending, even though it's a rough economy.' I mean, when it was a good economy, people should have spent primarily according to whether or not they had the money, and now that it's a rough economy, people should still spend primarily according to whether they have the money. I'm not saying that the rate of GDP growth, or the Dow or other indexes and the paper wealth they represent have nothing to do with perceived wealth or future finances, but who bases their personal decisions on what other people are doing, regardless of what they're ready for and what's going on in their life? Apparently, enough people do that the Post thinks doing otherwise is extraordinary.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

The search narrows

Oh, there was the roommate candidate that came by. I'd said I'd call him on Sunday after my parents took off, but they ended up staying into the evening, so I told him to just come by whenever.

Mom: Why do you want to live with a guy?
A.: I have no preferences either way.
Mom: So, overall, you'd rather live with a woman.
A.: It depends a lot more on the individual person.
Mom: So who all stopped by earlier in the week?
A.: A number of people...
Mom: I want to meet this guy, assess whether he'd be a good fit.
A.: Okay.

The guy comes by, sees the house, says hello to the parents.

Mom: I couldn't see what state his license plate was from. That worries me.
A.: Why?
Mom: It's sketchy. His license plate number was [______]. Write it down.
A.: What am I going to do with his license plate number??
Mom: Just in case.
A.: Just in case what? What would I do with a license plate number just in case?
Mom: You never know who's out there.
A.: Yes, and a license plate number helps me how?
Mom: Anyway, what did he say?
A.: He appeared interested in the room.
Mom: So did you make arrangements?
A.: No, I'm still showing it to one or two people during the week.
Mom: So what next?
A.: Next I show it to the other people, and then decide which I'd rather live with, and see if they're still interested.
Mom: How do you know?
A.: By meeting them, as well as asking them questions.

Later, the guy who came by called and said he was really interested in the room. I told him I had to leave it open until Tuesday, but he'd be the ideal roommate. Months ago, when I was trying to rent out the two rooms to someone for more, I was all about 'I want this person to feel like this is their home, too,' but now that I've been living here on my own for a few months, I'm over it. I do kind of want someone who's not going to be around a lot or have friends over. I don't expect that, but there is something appealing about someone who lives-lives a few hours away with his family but needs a place during the work week. Also, he was polite and not weird. So we'll see.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Survivor's guilt?

I don't actually know anyone that's been laid off recently, although one or two friends have said they're concerned about their jobs. Washington is no longer recession-proof, but it's less hard hit than many areas. I don't really have survivor's guilt--nor sanctimony. There's definitely genuine compassion for people who have been affected, as well as a big element of there-but-for-the-grace-of-god-go-I. At the same time, five to ten years ago, when many others were living it up in boom times, I made do on a non-profit and then a grad school salary, so I feel no guilt about living well now that I can. There were always people who were hurting; now it's just more widespread.

Two takes on channeling anger

Gail Collins and Charles Blow.

Friday, March 20, 2009

"Who ARE these people" has always been my reaction

Great post from Judith Warner.

Mom and Dad's first visit to the new house

Happy Friday
7:30 AM.

A.: Hello?
Mom: We're going to go through your books now.

I break down and give her my work number--I figure it's okay because I have caller ID--because I need to work while I talk to her, i.e. I need to talk to her through my headset so I can type.

We go through books-- I agreed it because I thought it would be quick, but I forgot to account for the fact that she doesn't read well in English, much less French or Spanish. So she sounds out a number of books and berates me for never having taken them with me, in spite of the fact that a number of them are there because I lent them to one or both of my parents.

Mom: John Irving.
A.: Which book?
Mom: A... what's that word... “A Widow for a Year.”
A.: I lent that to you because you'd seen the movie and wanted to read the book. You can keep it.
Mom: Behind... Behind the Disappearances
Dad: One of her grad school professors wrote that.
A.: Right. And dad wanted to read it, which is how it found itself in your house.
Mom: Microeconomics.
A.: By...
Mom: Oh, just give it away, who cares. You'll never read it and you can always get it out of the library.
Dad: Well, maybe...
Mom: No! She doesn't need it.
Dad: But...
Mom: No!
Mom: I don't have time for this, either.
A.: Then stop.
Dad: Wait, what's your address?
Mom: We'll just get it on the way.
Dad: No, we should get it now. I want to look it up in Google maps.
Mom: Fine. What's your address.
A.: One-thousand...
Mom: Wait, let me put you on speaker... okay
A.: One-thousand...
Mom: A.? A.?
A.: Yes. One-thousand...
Mom: A.? A.!
A.: Yes! Mom, I'm at work. I can't speak more loudly.
Mom: Okay, now I hear you.
A.: One-thousand...[etc.]
Dad: Zip code?
A.: 223... 14
Mom: 22... 30?
A.: 22314.

By the way, it's not like I never sent my parents my new address.

Dad: Alexandria?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Virginia?
A.: Yes?
Mom: *West*
A.: No!
Mom: Not West?
A.: No.
Mom: Just Virginia??
A.: Yes! Did you think I lived in West Virginia?
Mom: I don't know.
A.: I have to go.
Mom: Okay, I'll call you back.

She calls me back.

Mom: Voces de Hispanoamerica: Anthologia de Literatura. You don't want that, right?
A.: I do, actually-- please bring it.
Mom: Really?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Psychology of adolescence.
A.: You can give that away.
Mom: Yeah, I thought so.

Gotta get those jabs in at the field of psychology.

A.: I have to go.
Mom: Well, but...
A.: No, I have to go NOW.
Mom: Well, call me back.

10am. I call her back

A.: Mom, it's almost 10am. I really recommend that you leave soon.
Mom: You recommend? This is your fault because of all your books.
A.: Nonetheless, do get going. I have to get back to work.
Mom: Well, you should have thought about that before you left all these books here.
A.: Bye, mom.

We go through several more of those conversations.


A.: You guys haven't left yet?
Dad: No. The priority was getting all the literature sorted.
A.: I thought the priority was not hitting traffic, so as not to make the eight-hour drive even longer.
Dad: Well, it looks like we'll be able to leave within the next hour.
We're going to stop by Abram's.
A.: Why??
Dad: So he can show us how to work the GPS system.
A.: [Shrug]. Okay, give me a call when you've left.
Dad: Okay.


A.: Where are you guys?
Dad: In New Jersey.
A.: North or south?
Dad: South, almost in Delaware. Where are you?
A.: Still at work. I'm leaving soon. Have a safe rest of the trip.
Dad: Okay, bye.... wait, mom has something to say...
A.: Yes?
Dad: She says, call AT&T and tell them they gave us the wrong GPS system.
A.: Tell her I'll drop everything and do that right now.

Let's go over the facts you (and mom) already knew:

I was at work when mom called at 7:30am. I was still at work when I called her almost ten hours later.

Now for some new facts:

The first work related e-mail that I sent this morning was, "Am I going to Iowa next week?" It turns out, yes, I am. Who knew. I get back quite late on Friday, and I'm volunteering for the Smith rose drop on Saturday morning and co-hosting a baby shower on Saturday afternoon. Between Monday morning and the time I leave for Iowa on Wednesday night, I will effectively spend all my time working and going to the dentist. This weekend, I will effectively spend all my time entertaining my parents.

Does it sound like calling AT&T is a high priority for me?

How Friday got even longer
My house, situated one block from a major thoroughfare, is not hard to find. Nonetheless, it can be tricky at night, and online and other directions can make it harder than it needs to be, so when I checked in with my parents about twenty minutes prior to their expected arrival, I suggested that they call me when they got close rather than go along with what their GPS system had to say. My dad said, "nah, we'll use the GPS just out of curiosity." Fine. You can lead a horse to a quicker arrival time after an eight hour trip...

Like I said, the house isn't hard to find, so they arrived soon afterward. And then took about ten minutes to park in a space about one and a half times their car. Mom was conscious about how much space she would inevitably leave on one side or the other, but there was no way around it-- two cars weren't going to fit in that spot so it didn't matter.

Mom was cranky, which is understandable (a) always and (b) after a long drive. I was cranky (a) after a long day at work and (b) because mom brings out the cranky in me. I mentally prepared myself for this as I walked to the metro this morning, told myself, 'you can't change her, you can only control you,' etc. But as the authors of Nudge will tell you, it's one thing to plan ahead and another to overcome your instincts in the moment, especially when someone hits a nerve.

Dad: Maybe we could leave these books in the car for now?
Mom: No! We shouldn't leave anything in the car.

We brought in a load of stuff. Mom started poking around, poked her head into the utility room.

Mom: The washing machine came with the house?
A.: No, I bought it. I mean, one came with the house but it leaked.
Mom: Where's the dryer?
A.: Right here, on top of the washing machine.
Mom: How much did you pay for these?
A.: Does it matter?
Mom: Well, I just want to know.
A.: Just over $500 each [not including plumbing costs, which were almost as much].
Mom: You could have done better.
A.: I assure you that I couldn’t have.

I don't know when mom was last in the market for a washer-- she's had the same one since I still lived there, so that's fourteen years-- much less a stackable, high efficiency washer. She's never been in the market for a dryer. If she did ever ask or hear about my frustrations with the washer/dryer, she clearly didn't listen. It doesn't really matter, though, because even independently of all those factors, what she said just isn't the right thing to say.

Dad: I like this house.
Mom: It's okay, just a bit crowded.

I think she meant cluttered, which is amusing, because my house, in its own right, is about as cluttered as it is hard to find, but it's especially uncluttered compared to my parents' house.

Mom: Was the microwave there or did you buy it?
A.: I bought it.
Mom: Is it an oven/microwave combo?
A.: No.
Mom: It would be better if it were.

So went much of the evening: 'you should do this,' 'you should get that.' I didn't argue, just shrugged. I think once in a while I said, "there are many things that can be done with this house; that is not a priority."

Actually, as a refresher, let's review the things I've done or had help doing or had done since I moved in not six months ago: painted four rooms and one accent wall; tore up nasty carpet; replaced missing, broken or gross bathroom fixtures; replaced major appliances; had overhead lighting installed and wiring repaired; installed window treatments; installed (well, Allen installed) closet doors in three rooms; moved in, arranged furniture and hung art; etc. Pretty much everybody else who has stepped in this house, even back in January, has said, "it doesn't look like you've only been here a few months. Nonetheless, it doesn't surprise me at all that mom expects me to have made all of the repairs and improvement, including unnecessary ones, that she got to in over twenty plus years of being a homeowner.

Dad and I brought some more stuff from the car, including that dresser thing that I told her not to bring, which is really a small file cabinet.

Mom: You should have left that in the car, since you don't want it.
Dad: You said to bring everything in!
Mom: Well, no one's going to steal that!

Mom doesn't quite understand the leave-nothing-in-the-car concept.

A., noticing “The Lexus and the Olive Tree”: That book, I really didn't need.
A.: No, you're leaving Sunday.
Mom: Oh.

And that tirade was really the point where I no longer cared to accommodate her mood. So shortly thereafter, as she and dad were eating, I said something I really should have let go.

Dad: Do you have any bread?
A.: I have some in the freezer, will heat it up. Mom, do you want any?
Mom: No, thanks.

I defrosted and toasted the bread and put it on dad's plate.

Dad: It smells good.
Mom: Ooh, could I have a small piece?

Dad handed her a piece of bread, which mom took in her hand and broke over the floor.

A.: Could you do that over a plate, please??
Mom: What is the problem? This is why people should eat in the kitchen!

If she meant that as a dig, she failed to touch a nerve there; my kitchen, while to small for eating in, is no smaller than it needs to be as far as I'm concerned, and I personally like eating in the dining room, which is connected to the kitchen.

So while she probably aimed that at my sensitivities, it struck my sense of humor, because it was just such an absurd thing to say. That also didn't stop her from repeating it.

A.: No, I'm just saying-- you have a plate in front of you. Rather than getting crumbs on the floor, it would be just as easy to break that piece of bread over your plate.
Mom: When you have guests over, do you lecture them, too?
A.: My guests don't go out of their way to make a mess on the floor.
Mom: This is why people should only eat in the kitchen!

Sure, I could have, should have, just let it go. It was only a few crumbs, and even though I didn't feel like sweeping that night, I said it more to get at mom than to discourage bad behavior. Which was immature and small of me. At least I admit it, can work on that.

Saturday morning
I should cut dad some slack, especially since (a) he had to put up with mom' attitude all day yesterday; (b) he's being helpful; and (c) he actually said, "good work, I'm proud of you. I can tell how much work you've put into this house."

And I appreciate that. But I don't appreciate that in spite of my having reiterated to him, regularly over the last six and a half years, that the DC area is not a tropical paradise, this reality hasn't gotten through to him.

Dad: I'm checking out this heating system.
A.: The heating system, according to the inspector, is two years new and top of the line.
Dad: I guess it's fine for an area like this where it doesn't really get cold.
A.: It gets quite cold here. There were entire weeks this winter with temperatures in the teens.
Dad: The heating system works?
A.: It works very well-- it's just turned down now because it gets very warm upstairs at night. I'll turn it back up.
Dad: No, I'm fine. I just want to make sure it works.

Dad: I'm going to go check out the gate.
A.: Turn the alarm off before you open the door. [I explain how].

Five minutes later, the alarm goes off. Dad takes out his glasses, starts looking at the system. I go over there and turn it off.

Dad: I thought you meant to turn it off only if I go out the back door.
A.: Why?? No, it goes for both doors.

Mom: A.!!!
A.: Just a minute. [I go upstairs].
Mom: Could I have a towel?
A.: There's one in your room.
Mom: Oh. It's black.
A.: Yes? Would you like a towel in another color?
Mom: Well, no, but, did you buy it?
A.: Yes.
Mom: Why buy a black towel?
A.: Why not?
Mom: I don't know. Actually, yes, could I have another one?
A.: Sure.

Mom: There's not a lot of natural light in your bathroom.
A.: No, there isn't.

There is actually no natural light in my bathroom. It is on the side of the house that is attached. This really does not bother me.

Mom comes downstairs

Mom: In our house we have plenty of towels, as well as sheets. Why do you bother buying this stuff?
A.: I quite like my towels and sheets.
Mom: But why buy them at all? We have plenty.
A.: [Shrug]

A few minutes later

Mom: Why is so much of your furniture black?
A.: Is it?
Mom: It's very dark here.
A.: It really isn't.

My futon and one bookcase are black. Oh and two end tables.

Mom: I like the downstairs more than the upstairs.
A.: So do I.

Saturday March 21, 2009 10:27 AM
new age pop science abounds

Last night it was, "the microwave kills everything living in vegetables-- all the vitamins."

No, it doesn't.

This morning it's, "it's not healthy to be surrounded by dark colors. It's an atmosphere thing."

I like my living room, mom. Let it go.


We had a bit of time before we had to leave for the play, so I said Id run to the supermarket and asked mom if she wanted to join me. But we need to go now, I said. Sure, she said. And proceeded to take ten minutes to put on her shoes.

Mom, showing me a shoe: These are Italian.
A.: Show me later, mom. Put them on and let's go.
Mom: I bought them...
A.: Put your shoes on, mom!

We eventually made it out of the house. On the way out of the store, mom grabbed a real estate guide.

Mom: You should have bought this house: look, three levels.
A.: [Shrug]
Mom: It's okay, you have plenty of time ahead of you.
A.: I'm quite happy with my house, mom.

She said something similar again. I decided to be an adult and be upfront about what was bothering me. Big mistake.

A.: Look, I don't care that you don't like the house, but the constant negativity is draining.
Mom: Negativity? Me?
A.: Yes. From the minute you walked in the door, you've talked about how just about everything should be different.
Mom: Me? For example?
A.: The microwave, the dryer...
Mom: You're so sensitive! And I can't believe you keep this stuff in your head! You're the one with the problem. I tell you that I think it's a waste to have this massive microwave, and you can't take it-- and you remember it!
A.: I remember it because you said it three times. And that's part of the problem: I heard you the first time. I registered your opinion. I don't need to hear it every time you see the microwave.
Mom: I only said it once.
A.: I'm just saying, you've had nothing but negative comments from last night, and it's draining.
Mom: Whatever! I haven't been doing that! Why can't you handle hearing my opinion?
A.: That's not the issue.

It devolved into a screaming fight from there. For the first few rounds, I managed to keep my voice level. Eventually, when she wouldn't back off, I lost it. Which was basically letting her win.

Mom: Look, if you can't take a constructive comment...
Mom: Listen to yourself!
A.: I'll listen to myself if you listen to yourself-- that's all I'm saying.
Mom: To get angry over such petty things!
A.: It's the whole thing together-- I don't CARE about the microwave.

And so on.

Sunday 1:01 PM
Why do I even bother to hibernate my laptop

Mom: If you ask me, I liked your other neighborhood better.
A.: Homes in that neighborhood cost 2.5 to 3 times more.

Mom: I read that you shouldn't advertise your security system on your lawn, because if people know what kind it is, they'll know how to get around it. Not that anyone would break into here anyway-- it's clear from looking at it that there's nothing valuable in here.

Sunday, March 22, 2009
The search narrows

The roommate candidate came by. I'd said I'd call him on Sunday after my parents took off, but they ended up staying into the evening, so I told him to just come by whenever.

Mom: Why do you want to live with a guy?
A.: I have no preferences either way.
Mom: So, overall, you'd rather live with a woman.
A.: It depends a lot more on the individual person.
Mom: So who all stopped by earlier in the week?
A.: A number of people...
Mom: I want to meet this guy, assess whether he'd be a good fit.
A.: Okay.

The guy comes by, sees the house, says hello to the parents.

Mom: I couldn't see what state his license plate was from. That worries me.
A.: Why?
Mom: It's sketchy. His license plate number was [______]. Write it down.
A.: What am I going to do with his license plate number??
Mom: Just in case.
A.: Just in case what? What would I do with a license plate number just in case?
Mom: You never know who's out there.
A.: Yes, and a license plate number helps me how?
Mom: Anyway, what did he say?
A.: He appeared interested in the room.
Mom: So did you make arrangements?
A.: No, I'm still showing it to one or two people during the week.
Mom: So what next?
A.: Next I show it to the other people, and then decide which I'd rather live with, and see if they're still interested.
Mom: How do you know?
A.: By meeting them, as well as asking them questions.

9:59 PM 0
The weekend

I'm proud to announce that I got through the weekend without a single comment about my weight, although Mom did manage to get in some jabs at my hair:

Mom: You know who your hair reminds me of? Who's that character in Harry Potter that raises dragons? Do you know who I'm talking about? Your hairstyle is just like his, except that he has a beard. Other than that, you look just like him.

The overarching themes of the visit were constant lifestyle advice and house-bashing, until both evolved into constant discussion of how I was too sensitive for taking exception to the constant lifestyle advice and house-bashing. The thing is, if I could afford "help," I'd first hire a housekeeper, and then a personal trainer. What I would not opt for is a live-in lifestyle guru. It turns out I don't take well to someone commenting on my every move and advising me on how to do things differently.

Mom: Why do you keep your chocolate in the freezer?
A.: Because it's fresh and thus perishable.
Mom: What do you mean, fresh?
A.: I mean it's homemade.
Mom: Why make homemade chocolate? Trader Joe's has perfectly good chocolate for $6 per pound.

We had already established why I happen to have homemade chocolate (party leftovers), but that's not the point. The point is, why do I have to have an explanation, much less justification, for having homemade chocolate?

A.: I don't consume enough of it to make buying it worthwhile. That's why this chocolate is in the freezer rather than the fridge.
Mom: Why not? Chocolate is very good for you.
A.: Small amounts of chocolate are somewhat good for you.
Mom: I always have it with coffee. Don't you have it with coffee?
A.: No, but even if I did, I don't often drink coffee.
Mom: Coffee's very good for you! I read that you should drink coffee three times a day.

I didn't argue. I just braced myself for whatever lifestyle advice she would come out with next. I didn't have to wait long.

Mom: Do you not have a TV out of principle?
A.: No-- it just wasn't, isn't a priority.
Mom: You need a TV, even just a small one in the kitchen, so you can watch the news while you're doing something. That way you can stay informed and get the weather.

Staying informed is a huge problem for me. I have no f*ing idea about what's going on in the world.

A.: I don't watch the news or weather on TV.
Mom: You have to watch the weather!
A.: Or I can look the weather up online rather than listen to someone read it to me after they've read the weather for the rest of the country.
Mom: You'd be in the middle of something anyway.
A.: I'd still have to listen to other people's weather. Why, when I can just go online and look up local weather in minutes.
Mom: It takes more than minutes.
A.: If I want to watch TV while I'm cooking, I can bring my laptop in here.
Mom: That's not the same.
A.: Perhaps not, but I already own it.

Luckily, "Dog in the Manger" was very good, and my parents very much enjoyed it, as well as our walk across the Mall, through its various gardens, afterward. Things were calm for a while, which is not to say they were smooth.

Last night we decided to go to a hardware store, but I suggested we go first thing in the morning instead.

Mom: Sometimes they open late on weekends.
A.: This one doesn't.
Mom: It might.
A.: Mom, if there is one thing in this world I know, it is Lowe's' opening hours.

In the scheme of things this wasn't much, but when you're tired, the last thing you need is people arguing with you needlessly.

Mom, flipping through the real estate guide she picked up: Look, this house is beautiful and quite affordable for the size.
A., looking over: If you want to live in Reston.
Mom: Where's Reston?
A.: Where Elena used to live.
Mom: That's a lovely area.
A.: It's not bad.
Mom: So?
A.: So it's still Reston. It's at least an hour outside of the city in good traffic, it's a fake main-street town--whereas I currently live in a real, historic one--and it's just not my thing.

WHY do I need to keep going over this? I bought in Alexandria for a reason (many, actually); it's not because I didn't know that homes were more affordable in Reston. I could discuss my reasons for choosing to live here rather than [way the f* out] there, but that's not the point (it never is); the point is, it's draining to have someone constantly ask you to defend why you do things the way you do. It was the same thing on Friday: Could I have done better on a washer and dryer? Of course. There are less expensive washers and dryers out there. Are major appliances one of those things where you should pay a bit more to get what you want, because over the life of the purchase, the additional price is worth it? Of course. Do I feel like explaining that after a long day, or ever? No. And I don't appreciate being expected to do so, all the time.

Mom kept telling me that I shouldn't get aggravated over small things and that we're just not compatible if I can't handle her opinion. Take Misha--her best friend--for example.

Mom: Remember when he brought me that mask from George, and I chewed him out because I didn't like it? I felt bad afterward--you and dad made me feel bad--so I called him to apologize, and he said it was fine and he'd rather know. He can take hearing my opinion.
A.: Mom, it's not the opinion. It doesn't bother me that you don't like my color scheme. It's just grating that you don't miss an opportunity to slam the house.
Mom: That's not true! I'm just stating my opinion.
A.: You state your opinion non stop. Do you go to all your friends' houses and constantly talk about how much you dislike everything there?
Mom: I'm just saying, I really like having a convection oven and microwave in one. That's all I said.
A.: Well, you said it three times and I heard you the first time.
Mom: I said it once.
A.: I'm not arguing with you about this.
Mom: It's just so hurtful-- you can't understand it-- that I come down here and you snap at me. At the slightest provocation.
A.: Mom, I assure you that it is not at the slightest provocation that I snap. I snap after I can't take it any more, and that's usually after you've said the same thing many times.

For example, we were on our way to Lowe's (and we've established that I am familiar with Lowe's. I know my way to Lowe's, and you can deduce that I know how to maneuver Rte. 1 to get to Lowe's.

Mom: Just relax, don't rush.
A.: I'm going 25 mph, mom.
Mom: No, you're going closer to 30. Don't fret, don't hurry. And don't follow that car so closely! Just be calm and take your time. You know, I rear-ended someone once going 30 mph, it can happen. It's better to take your time. Just take a deep breath. Really, it's better to drive relaxed. Fretting might save you several seconds, which really doesn't matter in the long run. Really, just relax.
Mom: What is WRONG with you? I'm just telling you to relax.
A.: Well, you're not helping. Please be quiet and let me drive.
Mom: Unbelievable. [Turns to dad] Can you believe this?
Dad: How do you take it when someone backseat drives?
Mom: That's different. That's it, I'm never coming to visit you again!
Mom: You really need to learn to relax.

I am by no means trying to come off as blameless-- many a time, I could have, should have managed myself. Mom brought out the worst in my this weekend, which is still my worst, and I own it. If my mother and I are to maintain any sort of relationship, we both need to work on ourselves and take responsibility for our demons. So far, only one of us has taken that step.


Mom: I mean, if you can't take constructive comments...
A.: Mom, I am telling you that it is not the comments themselves. Could you listen to me? I have listened to you. Could you try to understand that I'm not talking about the microwave.
Mom: It's just not healthy to snap at the slightest criticism.
A.: You're not listening to me.
Mom: Speaking my mind is just the person that I am.

This conversation repeated itself a few times. It reminded me, actually, of a seminar I went to at work on how not to manage. It was based on a book--I don't remember the name--on the most annoying and counterproductive characteristics in a manager, or coworker for that matter, and one of them was the 'that's just the way I am' line. In an office setting, this can take the form of, 'Yeah, I don't do math, so someone else better do that.' Well, often nobody wants to do it, but everybody needs to get over the 'that's me' and do what they need to do to do their job. I wouldn't dream of saying anything like that at work. Could you imagine? 'I'm pretty ADD, so you'll need to get someone else to handle this very tedious part of the job.' I've seen it, experienced it in relationships, too-- there's a certain point, i.e. the point where you let other people into your life, that 'I'm just this way' doesn't cut it.

Just as the play and pleasant walk calmed us all down yesterday, gardening calmed us down today. Mom is at her best when she's gardening, and it does wonders for me, too. I mean, the core issue has not been resolved, i.e. she has not heard, or at least not acknowledged hearing, my perspective on her nitpicking and criticizing, but we were able to go the afternoon without bickering. Overall, it was good seeing them.

8:02 PM
State of the Blogger

As agreed, Mom left me a message to let me know they got in safely. It was something like, "[Yawn] We're [yawn] here. [Yawn]. Good night [Yawn]."

My [yawn] sentiments exactly.

I'm really, really tired. But I'm also emotionally drained. I'm not sure what my expectations were for the weekend, but it was more contentious than I thought it would be.

Irony is sometimes enjoyable unless it's sad. I can't help but find it kind of funny that mom explained to me that her issues with the color scheme in my house--which is hardly goth--weren't aesthetic, weren't about the colors themselves, but about how darker colors in her view translate into an effect on the soul. At the same time, I tried to explain to her that what translated into an effect on my soul was relentless, repetitive criticism, rather the content of any such criticism. If she's so concerned about the state of my soul, she might be able to stand back and assess its condition under her behavior. My expectations are reasonable; I've long given up on expecting mom to acknowledge that tastes are individual and subjective and that she's not doing anyone a favor, as she believes, by constantly airing her opinions. This is the woman who gave to a friend that runs a bakery a bread cookbook, because she (mom) didn't like her bread and wanted to help her. I pick my battles; I know the one about taste is a lost cause. Furthermore, I agree with her that color schemes affect the soul; I don't agree that mine is too dark to be healthy. Flipping through the 'homes' part of the latest, perhaps Easter-themed, pastel-colored Better Homes and Gardens made me want to gag. I can assure you that sitting on a black futon, surrounded by dark wood furniture and with a black bookcase against one wall, is not draining my soul. Having to listen to (a) advice, all day, about what else I should do, and what I should do differently, with the house; (b) how every home in the real estate guide is a better value and I should have bought it instead; and (c) how I need to relax, has an effect that I can assure you is not one of spiritual enlightenment.

Monday, March 23, 2009
Odds and ends

Mom apologized. Kind of. The only way she knows how, which is by apologizing for a lesser offense, while missing the point.

She called and said that upon thinking about it, the house actually is quite nice. There are parts of it that she really likes, although some parts not so much. But it is lovely to be able to see the birds out the back door, and listen to them in the backyard. And it's okay, anyway, because it's just my first house.

It's kind of like that time after our trip to Arizona that she acknowledged that that $17 hiking book really was a worthwhile purchase. Which was her way of apologizing for the fit she threw over my decision to spend $17 on a hiking book, which was the tip of the iceberg in my lack of judgment and financial irresponsibility. You'll note that there was no acknowledgment of immature or abusive behavior on her part, nor of the lack of trust in my judgment on her part that would lead her to throw a fit over a $17 purchase, but it wasn't the time to point out that judgment, trust, and behavior--and not the book or its purchase price--were the issues of the day. When mom quasi-apologizes, I take what I can get.

So today, when mom kind of apologized and did her best to say nice things about the house, I did not take the opportunity to point out that the issues of the day were negativity, nagging and lack of trust in my judgment (oldie but goodie-- a classic with real staying power), and not what she thinks of the house. So she still hasn't heard, registered, what I had to say, and she thinks that she hurt my feelings by criticizing my decor. So be it. At least she's acknowledged that her behavior wasn't perfectly inoffensive, and that's something, especially considering that yesterday her position was that we shouldn't be in one another's presence if I can't handle her straightforwardness. Good for mom for making an effort.

That can't be right

Some people, or corporations, need to learn when to quit.

It's actually not unlike this:
HARARE, Zimbabwe — On his first day as education minister in a government so broke that most schools were closed and millions of children idle, David Coltart said he got a startling invitation.

“Come and get your brand-new white Mercedes,” an official told Mr. Coltart, a veteran opposition politician...

Except the difference is that "Mr. Coltart said no thanks."

Happy No-Ruz!

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Of salons, elephants and roommates

Today I finally indulged in one of less appreciated perks of my workplace: its proximity to the Aveda Institute. My hair had been out of control for months-- I just hadn't had time to get it cut-- and it was starting to take a toll, i.e. further encourage the style slump I've fallen into since I bought the house. The other thing keeping me from making a hair appointment is that I can count on one hand my positive professional haircut experiences. Most hairstylists have trouble with at least one of the following sentences, if not all of the above:

(1) I have no skills with regard to my hair. Please do NOT leave me with a style whose maintenance requires skill of any sort.
(2) My hair has a lot of body and a lot of curl. Believe me, I, more than anyone, would LOVE one of those short, chic, face-framing cuts, but they do not work with my hair. They only make me look ridiculous because I am not going to put an entire bottle of product in my hair or blow-dry it for an hour.
(3) I need to be able to pull my hair back; please do not cut it beyond the length where I can do so.

Maybe once in my professional haircut experience have these rules not been broken. Yet, for $18 (plus tip), this student that cut my hair was wonderful. She (a) asked me what I wanted; (b) erred on the side of cutting longer than I was willing to go; (c) was very cognizant of the maintenance nightmares of curly hair; and (d) generally gave me a decent haircut that won't require maintenance. It was amazing.

To make matters better, if you book your next treatment at the time you pay for the one you just received, you get a 20 percent discount, so I'm getting a back treatment next week for $32. The institute is in a really cool building, too.

I've blogged before about another quirk, if not perk, of my workplace: it's quite close to the Verizon Center. Those of you in DC [that do not have your heads under a rock] couldn't have avoided reading or hearing about the controversial attraction at the Verizon Center this week-- the circus. Since the last thing this city needs is another blogger weighing in on the ethics of the circus, I'll leave that debate to everyone else and her grandmother. I will only say that walking from my office to the Aveda Institute, through the alley behind the Verizon Center, I could certainly smell the circus.

I'm once again looking for a roommate. I am so glad I don't need one, i.e. I can pay my mortgage and basic expenses without one; however, with a roommate, I could more quickly replenish my emergency fund, as well as my travel budget, so it's worth a try.

I find myself asking the same rhetorical questions about the potential roommates that have contacted me as I have about potential plumbers and electricians. First of all, can't anyone spell anymore? I'm serious: WTF?!? Do people not learn spelling, or for that matter, punctuation or grammar, in school anymore? Do people just not think that e-mail is a forum worthy of the niceties of spelling and grammar? I'm the first to concur that e-mail is an casual and convenient forum, one where certain niceties of more formal correspondence need not be observed. However, I don't believe that spelling and grammar are ever optional.

Second, I just want to take some of these people under my wing and help them out. But not live with them. I want to tell them what not to write in e-mails to potential roommates, like "Financial issues have forced me to leave school sponsored housing because it is just getting to expensive." and "I am looking to move into a place with my partner." The first one is self-explanatory in terms of why not to write it; as for the second, if I wanted to live with two other people, I would have advertised for two other people. There is no way I'm going to live with two other people, much less for the price of one.

So for the benefit of housing-seeking humanity, I would like to offer a few pointers. These would also not be without use in a job search:

-Check your f*ing spelling.
-Be polite.
-Subcategory of be polite: Don't be presumptuous; this means everything from not writing, "I'll come look at it today at 3pm" to "send me your phone number." I'll send you my phone number when I decide to send you my phone number.
-Pay attention; do not ask questions that are answered in the listing. Do not send an otherwise blank e-mail asking for more information-- if you want information, ask specific questions. Do not ask me three times in an e-mail string whether Friday would be good to look at the house, when I told you before you even asked that Friday would not work for me. I am not kidding:

I wrote (on Tuesday): Evenings this week, apart from Friday, are good for me in terms of showing the house.

She wrote back: Can I stop by on Friday? At what time? Also, how far is the house from the Metro station? [I had provided the distance from the metro in the listing].

I wrote back: Friday is not good for me. [and provided alternate days/times].

She wrote back: Are you available at all on Friday?

I did not make that up. And she's perfectly nice-- she ended up coming by last night. She's not weird. One guy who came by today was... not so much weird as desperate and very talkative, which does not inspire confidence. Hopefully, one of the grammatical, not desperate people will work out. Otherwise, I'm afraid I'll be out of the market for a roommate.

brilliant episode of the Daily Show

Watch here.

It's shaping up to be an interesting weekend

What I'm about to write will surprise few of you: Mom's not here yet, and she's already driving me nuts.

A. So, what time were you thinking of leaving Boston tomorrow?
Mom: V.!!
A.: Mom, please don't scream into the phone.
Mom: I was screaming for your father.
A.: I understand, but it's still my ear on the other end.
Mom: Well, remove your ear.
A.: I don't know when you're about to scream.
Mom: Anyway, do you want the small dresser/table that
's been in your old room?
A.: Possibly...
Mom: Oh, that's too bad. I kind of wanted to keep it.
A.: Then keep it. I don't need it. What I need is a night table or something that will function as one...
Mom: Well, this could function as one.
A.: Yes, but I don't need it. I'll find one eventually. Just keep yours.
Mom: I'll just bring it.
A.: No, just don't.
Mom: For vegetables, I'm bringing you zucchini, eggplant, pepper, broccoli...
A.: We won't need all that, mom... I have...
Mom: Yes we do. We eat vegetables with every meal.
A.: So do I. I have vegetables in my house.

Okay, so earlier in the week, mom asked what vegetables she could bring. I said whatever she had that might not keep through the weekend and listed some vegetables I commonly consume. I did not intend for her to vegetable shop for me. I'm now putting the puzzle pieces together: last time I was in Boston, I bought some vegetables to take to DC with me... because I'd be getting in on a Monday night and wouldn't have time to food-shop before the work week. It's not because I don't have access to grocery stores.

Mom: We'll bring that dresser, too.
A.: Please don't.
Mom: V.!!!
A.: Mom!
Mom: What?
A.: Could you not scream into the phone?
Mom: What else should we bring?
A.: Nothing. I mean, just the vacuum cleaner [that I bought when I was in Boston and couldn't fit in my luggage].
Mom: Okay. I also have some leeks, dried mushrooms-- do you need those?
A.: No, I still have some from the last time you gave me some.
Mom: I'll pack some anyway just in case. They're good for you.
A.: Mom, I don't need to make room for stuff I don't need.
Mom: I'm bringing your old books too. V.!!!
A.: Mom, please don't scream into the phone!
Mom: Well, I don't know where your father is. We'll call later.
A.: Okay. Bye, mom.

I-don't-know-what-day-it-is-but-it's-not-Friday Roundup

A number of commentators, including Jon Stewart on Tuesday night's show, have noted that illegal immigration has slipped some in terms of fodder for national outrage. The linked article is quite telling.

Nicholas Kristof warns us against getting too comfortable in our beliefs.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Latin America has seen better days

Oh, no. Not again. This is also what happens when your drug policy doesn't address demand. As for the Peruvian authorities, have you considered rule of law? I know it's a radical departure, but people swear by it.

And then there's this guy. And then there's the FMLN victory.

North of the border, our justice system is coming upon some challenges of modernity. It's funny that they're more concerned about the research than the twittering; I think the twittering is a really bad sign, whereas the outside research is a sign that our legal system counts on a jury of potted plants.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Mom Madness: brackets

Mom and Dad are driving up on Friday. Vote for what you expect to hear most:

1. The weight bracket
a. You've really put on weight! vs. You're stomach is enormous! I can't concentrate.
b. You have a double chin! vs. Hee hee-- you're fat.
c. You need to eat less-- put down the soup. vs. I was tiny at your age.
d. The way you walk is really not sexy. vs. Your clothes don't fit; try these.

2. The house bracket
a. Your house is so small! vs. How can you live without a basement?
b. Why do you need a dryer? vs. Why don't you have a TV.
c. It's obvious you have no sense of taste. vs. You paid too much for that table.
d. Why do you have to live in this neighborhood vs. I couldn't live here, nowhere
to go for a walk.

3. The work/friends bracket
a. Would your people get on the synchronization of traffic lights? vs. Have you alienated everyone at work yet?
b. You talk too much; that's why you don't have friends. vs. That doesn't mean they're you're friends; it just means they're being polite.
c. You're too sensitive; I'm just trying to help. vs. You're very harsh.

4. The relentless attempts at brainwashing bracket
a. You know the theory of evolution is wrong. vs. you must read about this psychic!
b. Let's watch Bill O'Reilly! vs. Let's watch Glenn Beck!


What a brilliant idea.

Monday, March 16, 2009

So f*ing wrong

More wrong than the chia pet.

Clingingtomysanity goes high-tech

I wanted to answer some questions about the trip, but first, I want to share a video that, according to Nate DAWG, "sums up our trip quite nicely."

I'll also embed some videos from the trip. If I may say so myself, some of them are hilarious. But first, the (infrequently) asked questions:

Q: Did you guys get along?
A.: Brilliantly. On the cruise, I shared a room with Nate and Richard, and Marcela shared with Jhon, but we were barely in the rooms. I was slightly apprehensive beforehand, considering that in China, I was ready to go nuts after a few nights of sharing a room with my mother, but with this crowd I hardly noticed the two other people in the room for four nights. They were all considerate-- the night of the party, I crashed at about 11:30 and the guys came in after 1am; I fell straight back to sleep, and it was fine. Whereas my mother would wake me up in the middle of the night because she felt like it or wanted attention, they were actually out doing something and it was inevitable. Who knows-- maybe I was the big pain in the butt and they couldn't wait to be rid of me; I'll never know because, as mom would say, they're very polite.

Q: Did you get sunburned?
A: No, my friends. After too many bad experiences, I have mastered the art of sunscreen. Unfortunately, I have also come to believe I am allergic to sunscreen, as I had rashes all over my arms toward the end of the trip (same thing happened last year in China when I was regularly sporting sunscreen).

In case you're wondering, Richard's generic CVS sunscreen smells better than my generic Target (Banana Boat knockoff) sunscreen. The sunscreens were communal among the five of us, and I left mine with Marcela, since any sunscreen costs a fortune over there. This allergy thing is good rationalization to splurge on nice-smelling, sensitive skin sunscreen (I love my Aveeno products).

Q: How hard was it to come back?
A: I would have loved to stay a bit longer, but it wasn't that hard. I still have that post-vacation glow/goofy smile, in spite of having faced a clusterf*--and I mean clusterf*--of spreadsheets at work today, but my head is not far enough up my @$$ to complain about any job in this economy, much less one that I generally enjoy. Besides, I have another vacation coming up shortly (and yes, I plan to look like less of a cow for that one...for real this time).

The videos, starting with nature...

...and onto some not-really-nature videos:

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday roundup

Kelly Marages on why recession chic is a bad joke.

I must say, Jon Favreau is hot.

Speaking of fluff pieces, are you disappointed with my selections? Would you prefer to read about water rights gone wrong in Chile, interrogation gone wrong in Gitmo, or assimilation gone wrong in schools? Here you are.

Thursday, March 12, 2009


The last week pretty much sucked. I kept asking Marcela why on earth she convinced me to go on the trip when I could have been, for example, on the phone with Sears. There was not a lot of fun being had or new things to be seen, starting with Quito, the historic center of which is a UNESCO-designated world heritage site. I don't know about you, but I spend every Friday morning exploring a colonial city dotted with cathedrals and basilicas and surrounded by mountains.

One thing that hardly occurred to me at all in preparing for the trip--perhaps because I did very little to prepare for the trip--was language. It was kind of an afterthought. Only when we set out for the historic center on Friday morning and Richard lamented having forgotten his phrasebook did it hit me that I speak Spanish. It helps that Ecuadorians speak slowly and clearly, unlike some of their neighbors on the other side of Colombia, but it also does just make things so much easier to be able to get around. Oddly enough, it was the small things that I didn't understand, like whatever was being chanted as we walked around the city that morning. It was Richard, who has just started to learn Spanish, that deciphered the chant to be 'El Diario!' Later, we heard the names of other newspapers being chanted.

That afternoon, I called the local American Airlines office to see if I could extend my trip through the following weekend (alas, return flights were booked through mid-April). Although I hit '2' for English, the person who answered did so in Spanish. It reminded me of Panama--where plenty of people speak English, but the tourism industry goes out of its way to hire those that don't--and a bit of Nicaragua, where the tourism office/info center is in the outgoing terminal of the airport. In any case, I got by, until I had to spell out my reservation number, for which I had to go back to English.

The party was a blast; Marcela was superwoman: hostess and crisis manager. Jhon still hadn't arrived in Quito; it turned out that three times was indeed a charm, and he was on his third plane of the trip that had mechanical problems. This one had been allowed to take off, but not land in Quito, which is especially tricky because of the altitude and less roomy runway. He was instead routed to Guayaquil, through which we would transit to go to Galapagos anyway. We were very happy to meet up with him there the next day.

As we were cleaning up after the party, I asked Richard, who'd spent the better part of the last few years doing aid work in Afghanistan, whether he'd ever run into Rory Stewart, his compatriot.

Richard: I don't know him well but we did play frisbee together once.
A., in awe: Really?
Marcela: Oh, I meant to bring this up while Tom was here: he's worked with Rory Stewart and says he's a fraud.
A.: But it was such a great book!
Marcela, Richard: It was.
Richard: Second one's not as good. What time do we have to be ready tomorrow.
Marcela: At 7:45. And that means meet downstairs at 7:45.
Richard: Could we just meet here, since it's just the three of us?

And so, too few hours later, we got up and finished packing for the trip. Richard asked whether I was sure he wouldn't need thermal underwear; I told him that the last I'd checked, it would be in the 80s during the day and dip to the mid-70s, maybe, at night. I'm not sure he was convinced, since he would be seen around the islands in a wool cap and scarf (and mocked relentlessly for it by the rest of us). To top it off, he didn't bring sunglasses. I lent him an extra pair of mine, but it was faux-diamond studded on the side. Looked great with the wool cap.

We headed to the airport and embarked on the multi-step clusterf* of getting all the documents and passes we needed for Galapagos (except the national park pass, for which we had to stand in line for ages once we got there). But it was all worth it, even that first afternoon, when we saw the first of many sea lions and marine iguanas waiting on the pier with us. This was very exciting at the time. I would say, at least for me, that the sea lions would continue to be exciting throughout the trip... and the marine iguanas, ugly as they are, do tend to pose in interesting ways. I have a photo of one that I've called "The Thinker." Later, we learned that for marine iguanas, sea lion poop is actually a "special dessert treat."

There aren't any seals on the Galapagos Islands-- they're all sea lions-- and they're all over the place. We saw a number of sea lion harems, and debated, in our very mature, sophisticated group, whether the nature guide had referred to the alpha male as the 'beach' or 'bitch' master of the colony. Jhon and Nate both said they aspired to be bitch master of the colony.

All joking aside, the guys had our backs. The next day, when we were snorkeling in deep waters and I got stung by a couple of small jellyfish, Jhon and Nate both promptly offered to pee on me. There was no shortage of R. Kelly jokes.

They were also quite helpful to the avian populations of the islands. For example, there was a frigate with his chest all inflated, calling to the females flying overhead, but none swooped down to join him.

Jhon: Keep trying, my friend. It's a numbers game.
Nate: They can't all say no. Stay strong.

Some among us also had encouraging words for a baby marine iguana--
Richard: My friend, you're going to grow up to be very ugly.
There was also reproach, drawn from observation of the fauna, for Marcela and me. If I recall, all the guys at one point another, upon observing the mating dance of the blue-footed boobies, in which the male picks up something from nearby and offers it to the female, expressed some variation on, 'that's so romantic! why wouldn't you be happy with a twig?'

That evening, we got ready for an evening of karaoke.

Marcela: Richard, do you have a hairbrush?
Richard: Do I look like I use a hairbrush?
Marcela: A.?
A.: Do I look like I use a hairbrush?

Suffice to say, we got "Me and Bobby McGee" in the karaoke. Nate actually knows how to sing and did really well. He and I had some diverging thoughts on what to close with, but I couldn't be happier when he suggested "A Little Respect." It was awesome. Nate, who was wooing the gift shop girl, sang "Smooth" (Santana) for her. After the karaoke-ing was over, Victor, the social secretary, if you will, of the cruise asked that we--Marcela's group, or the only ones still standing) perform in a little skit they'd do the next evening to mark the boat's crossing the equator (which is quite ceremonial, considering that the boat actually crosses the equator four times in the course of the cruise).

The crew was continually intrigued by the five or seven of us (five being Marcela and her friends, the other two being friends of a friend of Marcela's who was going to come but had to cancel; they joined us sometimes). Who were we? How did we know each other? Where were we from? How was it that we were from all over the place and still traveling together? I can see how it was odd to have (a) a Colombian living in Quito, (b) a Colombian living in New York, (c) a Wisconsonian living in Quito, (d) a Scot, (e) me, and occasionally (f and g) that tall Asian guy and his wife, all traveling as a group. We were definitely the most Spanish speaking, and most into the cruise's nightlife (we were pretty much the only ones interested in the cruise's nightlife after about half an hour-- the night after karaoke, there was a dance party that went into the wee hours of the morning; there was no wake up call the following morning, because Cindy at the front desk overslept after a long night of partying). But the 5-7 of us got along great with the crew. Nate, who's a captain in the Air Force, was quickly dubbed Capitan America. He reciprocated by calling Fabian, the second officer, Capitan Ecuador. Anyway, so it was that we were drawn into this equator crossing celebration. I hadn't had anything to drink, so I remembered as much the next morning after karaoke, when the wake up announcement did come through at 6:30am as scheduled:

Richard: Nate, I know you don't hear this much, but you were amazing last night.
Nate: You weren't bad yourself, little spoon.

Pause. Nate reviews the day's schedule.

Nate: Oh, cool-- there's going to be a party tonight because we're crossing the equator.
A.: Yes. We're in it.
Nate: That's what they were talking about last night?
A.: Yup. You're cast as King Neptune and Kristel [gift shop girl] is your queen.

It's a tough call, but some of the best snorkeling was on Tuesday afternoon, in the deep waters off North Seymour Island. The day before we'd snorkeled amid a huge population of sea turtles and quite a few sea lions. On Tuesday, there were colorful fish as usual, as well as sea lions, but we also saw a shark or two and some manta rays, neither of which, thankfully, were interested in us. I also saw some clownfish.

We couldn't have had a better time--there wasn't an hour that wasn't fun or fascinating. At the same time, none of us had any regrets about having chosen the five- rather than seven-day cruise. It was the perfect amount of time, and we were ready to go.

We returned to Quito on Thursday afternoon and had dinner with a view in the historic center. It was BEAUTIFUL. It was too rainy to eat on the terrace, but we could see the whole city from the restaurant's windows. An hour or so into dinner, I couldn't help but feel some raindrops. I looked up and around, asked if anyone else was feeling it.

Richard: I felt a drop or two, but it's not bad.
A.: No, it's not bad.
Marcela, from across the table: I don't feel anything.

Fifteen minutes later

A.: Um, this is not okay.

Marcela looks up and loses it. At this point, there is a steady stream of water dripping on my head. We moved the table forward.

After dinner, the rain had let up a bit and we went up to the terrace for a clearer view of the city, and later went across the city to a cafe with a different view. Again, it was beautiful. We got some mulled wine and a really bad chocolate cake.

Richard: Guys, this is a bit dry.
A.: And it tastes like garlic.
Richard: Now that you mention it, that too.
A.: We could salvage it by carrying it away and soaking it in rum.
Jhon: Or give it to the doorman.
A.: Ewww, no. It's too gross for that.

This resurfaced when we returned to Marcela's. It just comes down to what one of our guides in China last year referred to as a tenet of Confucionism-- if it's a matter of objective (lack of) quality rather than subjective taste, don't give it to someone else. Rum it was. I'll have to ask whether they ended up eating it or tossing it anyway.

On the way back to Marcela's, we passed Hunters.

Marcela: That used to be "Hooters" but it found no success here. All they had to do was buy one letter and knock the upper arc off one of the "o"s.
Jhon: It wasn't successful?
Marcela: Too conservative a society.
Jhon: I can't believe it.
Marcela: [Shrug].

We got back and crashed. The following morning... which turned into the following afternoon, we embarked on a road trip to the hot springs outside of Papallacta. The drive was beautiful, as were the hot springs themselves.
It was a good time. Marcela was concerned about the fog that makes dangerous driving in that area at night, but there wasn't much. There was some drag racing, however.

A pickup truck revved and passed us after a light.

Nate, driving: It's ON!
The rest of us: Nate, NO!!
Nate: Okay, it's off.

We made good time and met some friends of Marcela's for sushi that night. Jhon and Nate went out afterward; Marcela, Richard and I crashed. The next morning, they took me to the airport. I would have loved to stay the weekend with them, but I was also happy to head back. It was a perfect trip-- great sights, great people, great food, and so on. It was even a beautiful flight back, which brings me to the topic of my next soapbox:

Okay, people: You cannot have my window seat. You couldn't have my window seat on the flight from Calgary to Denver, nor can you have it from Quito to Miami.

Should I one day have to good fortune of flying from, say, Nepal to India--together with the good fortune of having secured a window seat for such a flight-- you still cannot have my window seat. I mean, are you serious? What else do you people want? My first-born child? Do you see me going around asking other people for their window seats when I was too late to get one for myself? Neither do I.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Greetings from Quito

Greetings from Marcela's fierce apartment, with tall windows and gorgeous views of the surrounding city streets, volcanos and mountains. Marcela's just gone to work, and Richard, my travel companion for our day of urban expedition, is still catching up on much-needed sleep, so I thought this would be a great opportunity to say hi.

After Marcela met me at the airport around 8pm last night, we dropped my stuff off at her apartment and had some mate. Another friend of hers was supposed to be on the same flight, but his flight to Miami was delayed--three times--out of mechanical errors (WTF) and when he finally got there, he missed the last flight to Quito by something like five minutes. We didn't know this at the time-- although I knew he wasn't on my flight because he texted me when I was in Miami-- and thought he might be on the next one. We headed out for a quick sushi dinner before going to meet him.

We stepped out and Marcela got to flagging down a cab. While we were waiting for one, she indicated the hot dog place across the street. I kid you not: a hot dog place. Hugely popular-- most popular one in town..."and they're nasty," she added. "See those people sitting in their SUVs, eating hot dogs? That's how popular this place is."

We went to a fun, trendy sushi place, at which Marcela discouraged me from ordering ceviche, which was at the beginning of the menu, because as she rightly pointed out, I could get ceviche anywhere in the city (and country). We sat at the bar and admired the chef's work, until it was time to run to the airport.

The airport was quite the scene. First of all, there's very limited room in the arrival hall so most people await their loved ones outside. Entire families, really cute babies, indigenous people in indigenous garb next to mestizos in all sorts of garb. Marcela finally called Jhon and learned about his travel troubles-- he'll arrive today.

Not much later, Richard did emerge from the exiting crowds. It was great to see him. He was a year ahead of us in grad school-- my first year, he and some other friends lived next door, and our respective sets of roommates would often hang out on the practically attached porches. I remember coming home once when they were having drinks on the porch; they invited me over, but I hesitated, to which my friend--Richard's roommmate--Melissa replied, "this is the best situation ever to have a drink-- if it's too much, you can roll home." Anyway, it was great to see him, and so much fun catching up.

It wasn't until I got to the airport that the trip fully registered. Even yesterday morning was crazy-- I did yoga (I've been slipping, but it's such a necessity before a day of travel), did another load of laundry, ran and emptied the dishwasher, made my bed, dropped off my real estate assessment appeal at city hall, got cash, called the City's juvenile department about a summons that had been taped to my door-- apparently for a relation of the previous owner, watered my plants and headed out. Once I got through security-- which actually took less time than getting through the baggage handling clusterf* that American Airlines has going on--I make a quick call into work. Sometimes I get restless before long bouts of travel, but it was so good just to be sitting down and to have my bag packed and checked. At that point, I really did feel like I was on vacation.

The flights were uneventful, relatively painless. Perhaps because a number of people missed the connection, there were a few empty seats, and I was blessed to have an empty middle seat next to me. I'm glad that my trip out was a few days after all the snow-related travel chaos. I read and slept through the movie but caught an episode of the Office and then 30 Rock, which I'd not seen before but found hilarious-- and not just because of the Janis Joplin references ;). Alex Baldwin had a great line, in the context of wondering if his newfound attraction could handle the removal of the crisis that sparked it. It went something like, "can two people really fall in love over a benign cyst in the gonads?"

The layover wasn't bad, either--it was pretty short and it was kind of cool to overhear people discuss their travel plans, which, in addition to just thinking of going and seeing these things, just fills me with wonder and aspiration like little else in the world. I've gotten quite caught up in house stuff, and I certainly do find myself thinking, "if I had that, things would be easier" or "that would look great in my dining room." And while I used the word "jealous" to express to Marcela my feelings about her walk-in closet, it's more a dismissive jealous. When I overheard someone at the airport describing her plans for the Macchu Picchu Trail, and when that evening, Marcela, Richard and I were discussing our own itineraries, thinking about those places and those adventures just feeds my soul. In the cab on the way back to Marcela's, it sort of hit all of us in a way that was more real than before: We're going to the Galapagos Islands. It's going to be awesome.

Back at Marcela's, we settled in... and got to making hummus for the soiree Marcela will be hosting this evening. While we cooked, Marcela offered us the contents of her fruit bowl. There was an interesting orange-like fruit that was consumed by slurping. I had half of one of those, as well as a pear. Marcela insisted that we wash the fruit really well. She said, "scrub it. With soap."

Marcela's been here for just over a year and for much of that time has been fighting a tropical sprue that's cost her ten percent of her weight. We're exactly the same height and used to try on clothing together regularly. Many years ago, at Benneton, I was debating getting a pair of pants, thinking I was at a lower-than-usual weight then and could grow out of them. I was at 107, she was at 115. We were both healthy. She's lost as much as I've gained, and neither of us is happy with the change.

A.: Is this sprue contagious?
Marcela: The sprue is mine and mine alone. You cannot have any of my sprue.

As other hazards go, Marcela warned us again of the depleted ozone over Ecuador. She said that as UV levels go, 0-7 is fine, 7-11 is be careful, and Ecuador is at 24.

Oh, another thing: even Marcela's shower is scenic-- glass doors and glass windows, so you get a view of the volcanos from the shower!