taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I'm just now recovering from the Summer Flu from Hell. It was a lovely little bug, lasting over two weeks (and not yet completely done with me, I suspect). I managed to miss only a total of about 8 or 9 hours from work, but in today's office culture, I'm sure I'm regarded as a complete slacker.

I think it used to be expected that people would get sick and need to stay home periodically, but these days you're not a Team Player if you don't show up, nose running and shivering at your desk, only to infect the whole office. There's so much pressure to put in all this time, to work more than forty or even fifty hours a week, to show up no matter what else is going on. Having a good work ethic, these days, means you shouldn't have much time for an outside life. But how can you have any sanity in your life at all, getting home at 7pm every night? How do you even cook dinner, much less do your laundry and hang out with your family? I am proof positive that going into work while you're sick only makes productivity worse--I couldn't focus while I was there, and I took about three times as long to get better.

But no, the making of the websites must go on! Without all of us working 60 hours a week, the world of corporate and institutional communications would grind to a shrieking halt and there the world would be, with no Flash menus or handy-dandy Web forms. And truthfully, my employers are far better than most. But the culture of work-at-all-costs, work-as-life has infected every corner of the American business culture, like a virus spread by a project manager with a hacking cough. (Excuse the tortured metaphors, I'm still a little unwell.)

Sunday, August 07, 2005

Accomplished this past weekend:

1. Conquered the mall! I hate the f*in' mall, but I made it through okay, despite shaking and foaming at the mouth. The children now own unbelievably expensive Stride-Rite shoes--the expense is justified by the little labels inside which say "Toddler Tech!" If it's TECHNOLOGY then hell, it's worth $50, right? I think the Stride-Rite woman just got to me at a moment of weakness, 'cause Bee was screaming so loud I'd have bought pretty much anything. Including striped socks. Which I did buy. How did that happen?
2. The Panda now has a haircut. While Panda sat nicely in her chair at the Cartoon Cuts, some poor little toddler boy was getting his hair cut and screaming the whole time. And I do mean nonstop, piercing screaming. Panda's hairstylist looked like she was about to march over and smack someone upside the head, and then proceeded to tell me how incompetent this other hairstylist was--"I mean for the love of God that child is only a year old and she needs to HURRY UP, what is WRONG with that woman, it's all snip-snip-snip, for god's sake take a buzzer to the child's head!" Regardless, after her haircut Panda felt beautiful--and subsequently found an admirer at camp. She claims this boy "only likes me for my looks" but I think it's more than that. (She also claims that the boy is somehow "in her social circle"--and that's a quote--but she won't explain how.)
3. The house is now clean. Well, it was. Now it's full of wet towels and other people's books. But it was clean, I swear! You can almost still smell the Method counter cleaner--almost.
4. Learned how to do 3-combo tricks in Tony Hawk Pro Skater, and annoyed the Panda greatly in 2-player mode. She still beat me--I'm working on the head smack. I'm beginning to believe I can actually skate. Luckily, though I beg Panda to bring her skateboard over here, she wisely refuses. "Mom, you can't skate," she says, in the same tone of voice she uses when she says "Mom, you know nothing about fashion." (Which I don't actually, even if I did used to be cool.)

And now onto next weekend. Next weekend, what delights do you hold? Patio powerwashing, some mac and cheese, a whole afternoon at the pool? The delights will be too much to bear!

Thursday, August 04, 2005

The children were restless this morning. The Bee spent most of her time trying to get into the fridge, hunting for Danimals and juicy boxes, while the Panda moaned miserably on the couch ("I'm too TIRED for camp!") I finally had to throw them both into the tub to quell the whining. The Bee figured out she could tickle her sister by squeezing her knee, but didn't know when to stop.

And I discovered I have ants on my kitchen floor, most likely due to the food that Bee stashes all around the house for later snackin'(I've seen her do it--open a cabinet door, pull out a Goldfish, and look at it with recognition and delight before popping it into her mouth. The look says "Aha! I remember putting that there last week, how BRILLIANT!")

This single-momhood thing is something else. While on the one hand, my destiny (and mess) are my own, at the same time everyone needs something. For the Panda, it's usually long deep conversations; for the Bee, it's mainly keeping her from killing herself. Between the children and my clients, I'm a regular dispensary of comfort, advice, reassurance, and cleanup. I've given up on thinking life should be perfect, which is a good thing. But I've also realized, fully and for real, that children are relentless. They need to be, it's their job. And it's my job to kiss them and listen and put band-aids on and keep them from playing with lighters and climbing up the bookshelf. I think I can handle it.

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Overheard in Hampden:

Two women are fighting, screaming loudly, on the street.

Woman #1 (visibly pregnant, attended by hapless fat friend): If I wasn't pregnant I'd rock your world!
Woman #2 (skinny and wearing winter clothes in 100 degree heat): You're just a fucking whore!
Woman #1: I'm twice the whore that you are! I made more money being a whore than you ever will!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

I'm going to admit this right now and just get it out of the way, okay?

I like TGI Friday's. I really, honestly do.

I know I'm not supposed to like chain restaurants, but it's just one of those things--like the fact that I hate Don DeLillo, eat white bread, and enjoy, without irony, the demolition derby. I think it's clear I've got some redneck blood in me, because one side of me wants to read literary criticism and write poetry, while the other wants to put a sofa out on the back patio and wear a Scrapple tank top. Which I did, also without irony, to the TGI Friday's last night. I guess it's pretty obvious which side is winning.

Anyway, the TGI Friday's was rather amusing, especially for the Bee, who ate nothing but faux-Spanish rice and lettuce. She also marched around the restaurant spying on people while I tried to eat a quesadilla with one hand. The key to the TGI Friday's is that you only order appetizers. And the beauty of the place is that when your child throws her milk on the floor and your other child glares at you sullenly from beneath her cute little blonde eyebrows, the waitress really doesn't seem to mind, other parents and grandparents smile at the cute lil ones, and I don't feel compelled to wipe up all the time. In fact, the perky waitress actually learns your children's names! Which earns her a 25% tip! Sure, by the end of the evening, everyone is covered in sour cream--but who really cares when you can drive home with the baby rockin' out and everyone full of cheese?

And so I proudly proclaim my fondness for the TGI Fridays. Lookit, I won't step foot into Ruby Tuesday's, and I do like me some literary fiction, so I'm not a complete heathen. But hell, when you're toting an insane little monkey and a darkly ironic, perpetually hungry little tween, you have to just give in sometimes.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

There ought to be separate highways for people who have all the time in the world, 'cause the rest of us have places to be and we want to get there soon. I'm serious--there seems to be a whole contingent of people out there who are in no fucking hurry to go anywhere at all, be it work or home or on vacation or wherever. I've been driving on major highways a lot lately, and there are these these people in the left lane, yammering on cell phones and doing 45mph, who won't move and consistently cause major traffic backups. They need to go away.

I've also noticed a remarkable consistency in the types of people who drive incredibly slowly and in inappropriate lanes, or who block traffic by driving the exact same speed as the person next to them, thereby creating a phalanx of slow-moving vehicles blocking everyone's way. As a public service announcement, I am publishing the types of cars you should stay far, far away from. (And, if you are the driver of one of these cars--or someone who finds themselves saying "Whaaaat! I'm GOING the SPEED LIMIT!"--please,please move to the right lane. That lane is for you. That is where you belong.)

1. Minivans. I dunno what it is about minivans that make their owners turn into thorazine-addled, inattentive, slow-ass drivers (maybe they're watching theiir DVD players?), but it's a fact. Minivans almost always merge slowly and hesitantly, drive slow in the fast lane, and meander down city streets like tourists-- "Madge, looka that!" (Todd, man, I'm sorry--I don't mean you, okay? It's the other minivan drivers, I swear.)
2. Cars with "Support the Troops" and breast cancer ribbons on the back. First of all, what is with the fucking ribbons? OK, troops good, breast cancer bad, WE GET IT. Now could you PLEASE speed up and get the fuck in the other lane?
3. Anyone with a "specialty" license plate, you know, one that declares their allegiance to some organization or another, be it a masonic lodge, an alumni association, or some pro-life group. Also, anyone with "cute" vanity plates. The other day on 97, I was behind a minivan with the plate "BEARS4U". It was so cute! So, so cute. And so, so slow.
3. Anyone with a sign on their car that says "CAUTION! SHOW DOGS ON BOARD!" 'Nuff said. (That was a minivan too, come to think of it.)
4. People in caravans. The very nature of a caravan, folks, is its slowness. Caravans need to get into the right lane. There's a reason that wagon trains moved so incredibly slowly--they're following each other! For the love of god.
5. People having long involved cell phone conversations. Look, I've done it too--I admit it. But I did it in the RIGHT LANE. When you're on the phone, you're not paying attention, let's face it. The drive doesn't seem as long and you drive twice as slowly.
6. Fat, smug men in giant SUVs. For some reason, a while back, these guys ditched their giant magnetic American flags (they replaced them with ribbons, BTW), but you can still tell them a mile off. They're more than likely off to a golf game or something and wearing a yellow polo shirt, and usually have maintained their proud Bush-Cheney stickers (or, in MD, Ehrlich stickers). They always drive slow in the left lane and I suspect they're thinking "Bitch, get off my ass, I know you want me." These are the guys who, thirty years ago, smashed beer cans against their heads and took advantage of drunk freshmen. Nowadays they drive slow just 'cause they can.

There are more, but I've pissed myself off so much thinking about it that I need to go have a cig. I think the bottom line is that people who overdecorate their cars, vote republican, purchase their car based more on its semiotic value than its utility, and overall believe that their interests trump everyone else's--those are the people that need their own highway. Perhaps Halliburton could take some time off from Iraq and build them one--at taxpayer expense, of course.

Friday, July 29, 2005

Some years ago my husband bought an ant farm for our daughter, who was a toddler. It was an odd choice of gift, I thought--at the time, we'd sold our house, thinking we'd be able to find something right away, and we couldn't. So we ended up in this apartment over by Wyman Park, living in a quarter of the space we'd had before. My father died right around this time, and I was working this incredibly demanding job, and we were totally displaced and had this two-year-old who was understandably upset by the moving and uncertainty. I used to come home every night, eat a bowl of pasta and read one of the John LeCarre novels that my father had left behind, drink some beers and pass out in my business suit, unable really to do much more than that. That, and cry. I was twenty-five years old and I didn't know what to do at all. I'd no idea that when people said "life is hard" they meant this--a father you missed, a child you didn't know what to do with, no home to call home, working fifteen hours a day--a whole set of devastating events that meant yes, I was an adult, and yes, I needed to pick myself back up and deal with it.

So anyway, one day the husband comes home with an ant farm that had arrived in the mail. A little green ant farm, just like I remembered from childhood, with a packet of sleeping ants (I can't remember now if they were drugged or there was some natural reason for them to sleep while going through the U.S. Postal Service). And a note that said, more or less (I can't quote it verbatim now) "It is illegal to ship queen ants through the mail. Therefore, all of the ants will eventually die. If you want to keep your ant farm alive, you will need to find a queen ant in your yard and put her in the ant farm."

Well, we didn't have a yard. And I was most certainly not going out into the courtyard digging for queen ants, and neither, it seemed, was my husband. So the ant farm became essentially an exercise in work and death: the drones built sand hills and carried their dead to the bottom of the farm, working little paths through the white hills beneath the fake green plastic barn. Over the course of a few months, in between giving my child baths in the rusty tub, weeping over spaghetti and George Smiley, I watched the ants die one by one, carried to their graves by their comrades, who worked without purpose in the flat, two-dimensional farm. I remember often thinking, "What will happen when the last one dies? Who will carry her to her grave?"

And it would have been a her--the helpful notes with the ant farm, besides extolling the virtues of ants ("Ants are the hardest workers on earth! They work all day and most of the night!") told me that all the worker ants were female. All of them. The only males in the bunch would appear, spontaneously, in the presence of a queen--yes, the female ants sprung wings from their backs and became males for half a day to fertilize the lolling queen, and then die--spent. But without a queen, they were doomed to work ceaselessly, never to sprout wings, never to do anything at all but carry the dead around.

I fed them their sugar water, they lived a while, and I don't remember now whether I got to see the last one carrying the second-to-last one onto the now-huge pile of dead. I did notice that they never ate their own, and the burial ritual seemed quite elaborate. And yes, they were hard workers; and indeed, they worked all together--the ant farm was like some Soviet propaganda for the collective. Their movements seemed somehow coordinated, and yet how could they communicate, these tiny insects with their tiny segmented bodies and tiny little brains? Was I missing something--some connection with my fellow humans, that I couldn't understand how it was possible?

I came back to life--slowly, it's true, and with great difficulty. And realized that we all live in the ant farm to some degree, but it's not the horrible thing I'd imagined back then. That we all affect each other--that our decisions matter far beyond their immediate consequence, that the walking back and forth and going here to there and the work that seems like drudgery has an underlying purpose--if it does. If you have a queen, it matters. And if you don't, it's work and death.