Archive for September 2010
I have it up to here with my mother-in-law. She can never find anything nice to say about me or my work. She constantly tries to interfere with the way I raise the children, and tries to turn my husband against me. I’ve made many efforts to reach out to her and to get my husband to intercede, but to no avail. She’s as critical of me as ever, if not more so. What can I do?
At Wit’s End in Indianapolis
Dear Wit’s End,
What exactly do you expect me to tell you? That there’s some magic spell to get rid of jerks? If there, were, the world wouldn’t be nearly as interesting. We would never have developed the colorful vocabulary to react to people who change lanes in front of us without signaling. A large number of New York Yankees fans would not exist, which would seriously impact the tax revenues of the nation’s economic center. So wishing your mother-in-law away will not work.
What can work, however, is actively getting rid of her. There are many ways to do this, most of them not even illegal in some states. I suggest starting with training the children to treat her like the scum she is, and work up from there.
Let me know how it goes.
SOMEWHERE WITHIN A FEW HUNDRED MILES OF IZMIR, YET SOMEHOW LIGHT YEARS AWAY – At the international headquarters of the Mightier Than the Pen, the navel gazing has never been more intense. As MTTP releases its one hundredth post, its personnel have been coerced by upper management into answering all sorts of questions aimed at eliciting reflective thoughts.
Yet somehow, the carefully crafted employee survey has managed to elicit only a handful of non-facetious responses, and even among those few, management remains uncertain as to their level of sincerity.
“We’re seeing an unanticipated level of snark from our staff,” said Richard Liss, Vice President of Employee Exploitation. “We had been given to understand initially that MTTP’s employees scored very high on various employee satisfaction surveys, but the results of this most recent project call the earlier results into question. We shall have to reevaluate all the data.”
Liss declined to give specifics, or to comment on rumors that his own secretary, Mark E. DeSade, had massaged the data from earlier questionnaires. Employees, however, expressed little doubt.
“Dick Liss has been walking around for months with his head in the sand, and probably willfully so,” charged Justin Cayce, who has worked at the company since its founding this past April. “I’ve been trying to get him to sign on various insurance policies for various contingencies, and he’s more interested in his blog than in trying to close our vulnerability gap. It’s no wonder everyone who works here is unsure of their futures. And that secretary of his knowingly falsifies data, completely emasculating his boss.”
DeSade was unavailable for comment. Fulla Vitt, a company spokesperson, said that DeSade was away, attending to personal business.
The survey included such questions as, “What historical accomplishments come to mind when you consider MTTP’s reaching one hundred posts?” The responses included:
- “Columbus identifying his landing site as India.”
- “The shooting of the last passenger pigeon.”
- “That fateful moment when Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon and stepped in horse droppings.”
- “When Captain Chesley B. Sullenberger piloted that passenger jet to a safe landing in the Hudson River, there was this one guy who kept saying he wished the whole thing would just go down in flames, because it would be so much cooler that way.”
Liss remained optimistic that MTTP could swiftly develop and implement policies to improve the reliability of employee data. He pointed to a series of steps he has already ordered, including tightening the hand screws of Thag, the chief writer, and cutting Thag’s vacation time. “Heretofore, Thag has averaged about a post and a half per day, but we need to increase productivity. We’re considering taking on another writer and making both writers’ pay contingent on their synergy. The new company slogan, which we hope will have a far-reaching impact, will be, ‘I’ve upped my productivity; up yours.’”
If you ever get the urge to try to function as normal when you have a bad head cold, smack yourself repeatedly about the head with a tire iron. If it doesn’t dissuade you, at least you’ll be prepared for how following through on the urge will make you feel.
Fortunately for me (and unfortunately for you – why the hell did you subscribe to this again? It certainly wasn’t the blackmail; those photos with the various animals weren’t even you), blogging requires so little concentration that even thus impaired I can compose a post (I can compost, if you will, quite an apt term here) with no adverse effectlkjs. You probably can’t telll the differencess. Eye noh EYE Kant.
So while this condition makes life difficult, it does not make me completely non-functional. The problem becomes capitalizing on the infirmity aspect so as to minimize work and childcare, but not overplaying my hand so that my wife suspects something is up (to anyone reading this who happens to be my wife, this is all meant in jest. Really. I feel just horrible. Awful. Very bad. Wouldn’t it be just terrible to add guilt to the mix?).
The kids, thank goodness, have shown remarkable adaptability, making sure only to complain to their mother about every little thing. Wait, I take that back: first they mete out their idea of vengeance upon the offending sibling(s), then complain to their mother that the target of the vengeance reacted in kind. If only they’d do that everyday. Oh, wait.
The good news, if there is any, is that the grandparents decided to take three of the kids off our hands for a little while, leaving us only with the one whose idea of a good time is to empty the most accessible kitchen drawers, hit accessible keyboards as Animal hits drums, and drop random items down the steps to see what happens (they fall). Of course that means we won’t be able to go to the parade scheduled for today, but gee, I’m sure you can sense my disappointment from there. If you can’t, I suggest using a tire iron.
Lesson number one from today: if you have a choice between the free buses and walking, hoof it.
You get what you pay for. Sort of. I mean, our municipal taxes definitely paid for the city-sponsored busing we “enjoyed” today, but it only appeared free because no one asked for tickets. Since thousands of people descended on the city, whose ancient parts attract oodles of visitors this time of year, the city wisely closed the central areas to private cars and arranged for free shuttles to and from several major parking areas around town. We would have avoided the central areas altogether, but (a) we live in the center and (b) we had a birthday party to attend smack in the middle of this tourist Mecca.
So far so good. Except that someone miscalculated the number of buses needed for each route; there seemed to be a glut of them for some outlying areas, but we waited a good half hour before one showed up to take the growing and increasingly agitated crowd to the destination nearest our home.
When it did show up, we and our children had to joust our way onto the bus. Now, you Westernized Protestants out there have no idea what it’s like among the barbarians of the Orient. This society views anyone who would wait patiently in line as a sucker. If you don’t know how to employ your elbows, shoulders, hips and feet to force your way through the competition, you will find yourself left behind. Age, sex, level of infirmity and encumbrance matter not a whit. Of course, once you do attain the prize of boarding, feel free to reserve any number of seats for the rest of your party; you’ve earned it. They just have to be good enough to find their way through the frenzied mob, as well.
I admit I am out of practice at this sort of thing. We got our car about eight-and-a-half years ago, so regular use of public transportation has faded into memory. The crowd-penetrating skills I honed for years before that began to atrophy, or so I thought. Fortunately, like riding a bike, they returned in an instant, even accounting for the folded stroller in one arm and the tired preschooler in the other. Somehow, my elbows knew exactly how to adjust to these new factors, and to position themselves so as to deny the persons adjacent any advantage in the forward campaign (I am even more impressed by my wife’s success, as she managed to navigate the scrum with a baby strapped to her back and a six-year-old in tow, while also keeping her eye on the nine-year-old, and not once did she have to pull rank by barking at those behind her to watch out for the poor baby on her back they were crushing).
The bus, of course, decided to break down after we’d proceeded about a hundred feet.
So we clambered our way off the bus and onto another directly behind, one originally slated for a different destination – and thus we managed to overhear an earful from the disgruntled passengers forced to disembark in our favor – passengers whose destination seemed amply served: I counted four buses for that route before we got our one, defective bus. Fortunately, the fellow in charge had no problem asserting his authority and telling them to file a complaint, though not in such polite terms.
Then came the traffic.
Lesson number two: If you plan to make pizza at home, make sure you have all the ingredients available BEFORE starting.
The aforementioned six-year-old attained that age today, so we went from one birthday party to another, albeit with the busing adventure in between (ABC Tours: we put the “busing” in “abusing”). Since no one anticipated a half-hour trip turning into a two-hour saga, we didn’t have time to go out to get the mozzarella before the guests started arriving. They were quite understanding of the situation, and remained patient even through two failed attempts to find the stuff at local stores. Finally, I trekked (on foot, of course) a bit farther and secured the cheese, and dinner was wonderful.
You might ask why we insisted on mozzarella, when other, less expensive and more readily available varieties of cheese can be obtained almost anywhere. You thus reveal yourself to lack any sense of taste. The local mozzarella may lack flavor – “may” as in the way Iran “may” be suspected of hostility toward, say, Israel – but as a pizza topping it still beats any of the other cheeses available here by a wide margin. They sell many different varieties of cheese, all called “yellow” cheese (as opposed to “white” cheese, which comes in a tub and might be confused with cream cheese if one’s idea of cream cheese is runny and bland), and which are standard fare in the pizza joints. The culinary hopelessness that such places embody makes that whole Iran-Israel thing seem rosy by comparison.
Lesson number three from today: keep your blog posts from getting too long.
Deliberation is good. Considering many angles to a situation or decision is good. Taking one’s time to arrive at a course of action is important. You’d think that more processing = greater focus. You’d be wronger than a tutu on a Hell’s Angel.
One of my children walks slowly. We must always allow twice as much time to get anywhere than our own walking speed would indicate. This child tends to eat slowly, walk slowly, get dressed slowly, you name it. We can see in this one’s behavior a unique deliberateness, one that might prompt an observer to think that such a child would pay careful attention to the surroundings, to take extra care before proceeding. Such a child, you would reason, would never step in dog poop, because, well, so much attention is taken before each step forward.
Only it turns out that the attention is directed not toward the path in front of the child, but to everything but: conversations between random strangers; cats meandering through nearby yards; colorful decals on nearby vehicles; air molecules passing overhead. This need to take everything in, rather than affording extra awareness, actually diminishes attention to the task at hand: getting to the destination with minimal hassle. Thus the poop-covered sandal.
The kid gets it from somewhere, obviously. Yours truly has had his moments of absent-mindedness, notably the entire period between second and fifth grades (“Homework? What homework? We had homework today? I don’t remember any homework. Look, Mom, my memo pad doesn’t have anything written in it, so I couldn’t have any homework.”). Yours truly has also been known to walk into poles and slip off curbs, but yours truly prefers to attribute those incidents to fate and/or willful risk-taking.
But I am free to lapse into being judgmental when it comes to my offspring, of course. It’s also hard to square this one’s head-in-the-clouds approach to life with that of our oldest, whose ignorance of the environment is almost invariably and transparently contrived; the smarter they get, it appears, the stupider they pretend to be, hoping that might get them off the hook for engaging in verboten activities, such as continuing to pull on the handles of parked cars we walk past, then acting all surprised when one of the doors pops open. Gee, no one expected that. Imagine that! Pulling open a car door can cause the car door to open! Wow! Hey Mom! Look what I discovered! I’ll make sure to phrase it all nervously, though, because I don’t want it to seem intentional or anything. But wow, am I surprised! Really! I have my eyes open wide and my eyebrows raised to prove it!
And hey, how could they possibly foresee a sibling getting upset by the same thing that got the same sibling upset just a few hours ago? Really, I should refine my expectations of these poor souls. Only the super-intelligent could be expected to reason their way out of that paper bag.
The contrast also lies in the demeanor: the oldest, from a very young age, was always bounding ahead as far as possible, puppy-like, turning around occasionally to make sure he was still going the right way. The deliberate one wouldn’t be caught dead all the way in front; that might cause something important not to be noticed, such as that woman hanging out some laundry on her porch. Look, you can still see her from this angle if you just step right this -
It turns out my brother is NOT stuck in Korea.
If this blog had a wider audience (you need to put on some weight, people), that statement would indeed seem to come out of nowhere. However, since most of the seven or so regular readers of this…thing…are related to me, the background is old news, so the rest of you will have to feign enough shock to account for everyone.
Not to minimize my brother’s erstwhile plight, but I could think of a number of places more unpleasant in which to be stuck: Dresden in February 1945; quicksand; my kids’ bathroom. I wish to emphasize that we should all be thankful not to be stuck in my kids’ bathroom.
It started out as a nice bathroom, and that niceness is probably still hiding somewhere underneath the grime, afraid to risk itself again. We put in two sinks, only one of which gets any use as such, a large mirror over the vanity, and a couple of towel hooks on the back of the door. Our intention was that the mirror function as a mirror, but we short-sighted grown-ups made the mistake of only seeing things as they are, not their potential: our children use the mirror mainly as a way to refine rude facial expressions and as a way to protect the wall behind it from dangerous toothpaste spittle.
The hooks on the back of the door decided they didn’t like it there anymore, so they detached themselves and jumped to their deaths. Every time I walk in there, I understand those door hooks more and more. The door doesn’t close, ever since the door frame got warped from all the water that mysteriously found its way out of the bathtub and onto the floor (obviously my children are innocent, because they claim not to know a thing about it). The little nudists running around don’t care very much yet (it’s just SO endearing, you know), but they will begin to care eventually (please? PLEASE?), at which point the non-functional door will pose a more serious problem.
And then there’s the stench of old urine. Where does it hide? Though I’ve wiped that place down like nobody’s, well, business, the stink lingers (“Stink Lingers” would be a fabulous name for a Dutch rock band). Or it disappears for a VERY short time and resurfaces later the same day. Perhaps the junior brigade feels so at home amidst the urea (doesn’t that phrase have almost an epic, poetic quality to it? You can thank me for not repeating it) that in its absence they feel ill at ease, and must replenish the olfactory deposits. This would make sense, considering the number of nights we failed to take a certain junior member of the household to the bathroom in the middle of the night early enough, with predictable results. Thus their bedroom has a distinct aura that must offer a certain familiar comfort. Distinct.
And we shall give only brief mention to various artistic streaks on the porcelain.
I do not envy my brother his travel travails. But I, too, would journey home via St. Petersburg if it meant that much more time away from that bathroom.
Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Gene Weingarten of the Washington Post coined the term “googlenope” to refer to a phrase for which Google’s search engine finds no results. The art of the googlenope calls for a phrase, in quotes, that makes grammatical and logical sense, but whose absence from the online world illuminates something about society. A web site or two sprang up to promote this idea, and a foray or two into the abyss of googlenope searching turned up a surprising result: some really, really, wacky sentences or phrases are out there already, and some shockingly plain ones are not.
I present to you, then, a short quiz. Your mission, Jim, should you choose to accept it, is to identify the one selection from each group that is not a googlenope, and you may not conduct a search. You must go with your gut, or your reasoning ability, the existence of which remains open to question, considering how you’re spending these moments. This message wishes it could self destruct in thirty seconds.
a) Beyond stupid: Kissing.
b) My pants are not a cause for alarm.
c) A paean to dirty underwear.
d) A bassinet full of hairless cats.
a) Eventually, I ordered the offal.
b) I could kill for a Marmite sandwich.
c) Excuse me, do you have an extra diaper?
d) Elvis was a yid.
a) I smoke just to piss you people off.
b) Has anyone seen my pet virus?
c) That root canal hurt a lot.
d) I have a fatal eye spasm.
a) I wonder whether E. Coli ever…
b) My elephant can’t sneeze.
c) My petunias like water.
d) If I had a hammer, with a side of fries.
a) Forgetting the right word is like…
b) I am a professional heckler.
c) No onions for you today!
d) Unripe bananas make you poop less.
a) I’d rather be vivisecting.
b) I voted for Bush all five times.
c) Elvis would have been a poopreporter.
d) Sundays are for random sentences.
a) My poo turned orange.
b) The priest’s sermon contained garlic.
c) This menu doesn’t have enough pages.
d) Poodles taste better than retrievers.
a) The winning candidate claimed election fraud.
b) I much prefer tooth decay.
c) This suicide note practically writes itself.
d) Take this job and shave it.
Ready? Record your answers in the comments, please. Given enough time, Googlebot will catalog this page, as well, rendering all the answers incorrect, but as of September 20, 2010, they were right. Let’s see how you do, and no peeking. I’ll follow up with the “correct” answers in a later post. If I feel like it. I have a job to shave.
My brain must be showing its age. First, my three-year-old demonstrates how much more she knows than I do, and now the nine-year-old gets in on the act.
We’re very proud of our oldest, who prepares his own lunch and snack for school every morning. Lately, his selection from our vast menu (bread with peanut butter; bread without peanut butter; bread with hummus; bread without hummus; etc.) has included whole wheat crackers with peanut butter, which of course he spreads by himself. With peanut butter, it’s hard to avoid getting it somewhere other than on the target surface, so we expect a bit of mess. We did have to inform him, however, that he should use a plate or something, and not wind up with the spread in streaks and globs all over the counter.
All well and good. He seems to have taken to heart the part about not placing the food directly on the counter. What he did instead was use the table. I’d have thought the statement, “Use a plate,” unequivocal, but once again, my children have taught me that when it comes to unequivocation (it’s a word NOW), I have much to learn. And much to clean up.
My wife had a brilliant idea today.
[Our marriage counselor, if we had one, would at this point insist I include a disclaimer to the effect that all of her ideas are brilliant, not merely the one she had today, lest the reader wrongly infer from the above that only today's idea exuded such brilliance. Our marriage counselor, if we had one, would summarily be dismissed, as such a dynamic remains entirely absent from this marriage; any and all slights are assumed de facto to exist, whether or not they were intended. It keeps things simple.]
So as I was saying, my wife had a brilliant idea today. We have, at any given time, several pregnant friends; this is the nature of our stage of life.
[Our replacement marriage counselor, if we had one, would at this point caution me to include a disclaimer to the effect that I in no way mean to imply by the above that I wish my wife were pregnant, lest the above give the impression that I mention all these friends in order to exert subtle peer pressure on her. Our replacement marriage counselor, if we had one, would now be looking for new clients, as well. You know, it could well be that some successful marriage counselors achieve their success by getting the couple to work together against the perceived ill intent of the therapist. This demonstrates how much I know about marital counseling; it could also be that the Atlantic Ocean is really just a galactic spittoon.]
So yeah, we have a bunch of pregnant friends. Naturally, these friends know how far along they are in their pregnancies; that’s part of the job description. We, however, have quite a time keeping track of who is due when, and whether or not any given woman has had the baby yet. So her idea: a spreadsheet to keep track of the who, when and whether.
[Now that we have dismissed our fantastical counselor, you may feel free to draw the inference that my wife enjoys keeping track of things in Excel. It certainly beats keeping track of them in Minesweeper, as I've been trying to do, which is why my wife keeps admonishing me not to waste my time trying so much. Or so often.]
I realize that the idea may give some readers pause; if we can’t remember when so-and-so is due, can we really call ourselves her friend? Of course we can, you nincompoop. I don’t remember my kids’ social security numbers offhand, but does that mean I don’t love them enough?
[Your lawyer, if you had one, would counsel against answering that question.]
In any case, I do like the idea, but I think we both know it won’t happen. Too much work updating it all the time ["Hi, sorry to bother you, Anne; I just called to ask whether you're still pregnant."]. And our spreadsheets have a tendency to snowball. Give it just a few weeks and we’d start adding tabs to keep track of who looks pregnant, and did we ever get confirmation of that suspicion? If so, did we cut and paste her name to the other sheet? You probably don’t need a marriage counselor to tell you that’s not a productive field of gossip in which to engage, unless you happen to be a soap opera character.
In which case you’re probably having an affair with your marriage counselor, whether or not you have one, and said counselor is actually the father of your unborn child [insert sex-change operation here if relevant], which of course comes as quite a shock to you, because you didn’t even know you were pregnant. But if you had this spreadsheet, you wouldn’t have that problem.
In my last year of high school I sat in on a history class at the college I eventually attended. It hooked me. Not the subject, mind you; I didn’t settle on History as my major until a bit later. It was the professor: he was brash, sharp and quirky, resembling a longer-haired Larry of the Three Stooges, but with half-moon glasses and a nasal voice that called to mind a very fast immersion blender.
I spent a year and a half abroad before returning to that campus, to find out that the professor had undergone surgery to remove a brain tumor, and the ordeal had changed him: he was brasher, crankier, more unkempt, and much more bitter. He proved so entertaining as a result that not only did I decide to major in History, I registered for every class I possibly could with him. My junior year he took a sabbatical, and I was crushed. Somehow, I muddled through the mild disillusionment, even succumbing to it briefly enough to declare a Business minor as well. I remember about eight things from that set of courses, among them: Present Value, Amortization, that there’s something meaningless called Total Quality Management, and that some people actually need to be taught to use Microsoft Word. People are morons.
People Are Morons, as a weltanschauung, came to illuminate a good bit of other subjects, including History, as well as prepare me for life in the much-touted Real World that was supposed to begin once I was graduated. In fact I’m still waiting for it to begin, thirteen years later, but People Are Morons nevertheless serves to explain much of current events, bureaucracy and pop culture.
I don’t have the chutzpah to adopt People Are Morons as a business strategy, P.T. Barnum style, because really, the way we treat our inferiors – in material, emotional or mental terms – provides the true measure of our character. The mantra functions mainly in an explanatory capacity, when nothing else quite accounts for the mind-blowing stupidity all around us: Lady Gaga; the popularity of Hummers; Glenn Beck as a torch bearer for Martin Luther King, Jr.; Scientology; reality TV; the 9/11 “truth” movement; and why desserts exist that do not contain chocolate.
But back to college (I would if I could – more on that some other time). The day I sat in on that history class, some of my colleagues audited a session in public speaking, a course I ended up taking – under the same professor who was in that speech classroom a couple of years before. I’m pretty sure it was the same room, in fact. There I was, a quiet, somewhat bookish eighteen-year-old, assigned to give his first informative speech, and I had to perform under the critical eye of – as far as we could tell – a seasoned, cynical observer of human expression, who dropped names (sometimes just for dramatic effect, I am convinced) and intimidated us little nerds. He could tell we were intimidated. Or at least it looked that way.
I chose, as my topic, the Protestant-Catholic violence in Northern Ireland, mostly because I liked Tom Clancy’s novel Patriot Games. Except that it took me a looong time to dredge up enough material to satisfy the structural and annotative material the professor demanded. When I finally stood at the lectern, my voice and gestures brimming with confidence and apparent mastery of the material, he just sat there, dumbfounded. Here was this little pipsqueak, proving the know-it-all judge of personality all wrong. When he got over his initial shock, we warmed to each other (and his critiques of my subsequent presentations were not as kind, even the one about chocolate, and even though I brought in the “visual” aids of Toblerone and its ilk and distributed them freely).
During my senior year he directed the dramatics society in a dynamite production of Inherit the Wind, and I can’t thank him enough for the experience. I was the Reverend Jeremiah Brown; the role called for one fabulous, fire-and-brimstone prayer meeting as my big scene. The director had us rehearsing it over and over one evening, and one element of the production had me slapping my kid for objecting to my calling down “Hellfire on the man who has sinned against the Word.” The actor playing the part was supposed to move with my hand such that the sound would resonate, but the pain would be minimal. Except that the last time we did the scene that evening, I didn’t hear the director’s instruction to skip the slap that time. So my interlocutor was unprepared for the blow. Ouch.
I have other fond memories of that period, not least because it’s when I met my wife (well, that’s what she is now; stop getting all picky with my language – that’s MY job). The campus convenience store was open to students of the affiliated high school during certain evening hours, and my eventual brother-in-law taught there at the time. During some banter with a couple of high schoolers, one said to the other, “You know who he reminds me of? Mr. ______.” “Yeah!” said the other. I observed how funny that was, considering that I was dating his sister. They simply didn’t believe me. People are morons.