taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Monday, February 24, 2003

Illness this weekend: the creepy fever kind that sneaks up on you. Unless you've had a high fever recently, you won't be able to remember the exact feeling, not in any real sensory way, not at the level of your cells. That bone-tired, wet-throat agony to get out of bed. Arms with thirty-pound weights attached.

Luckily we got a new mattress before the illness descended. This is a very fancy mattress, and it signals the final decline of our American empire. Yes, the SelectComfort Sleep Number bed! It took two grown men a half an hour to install this mattress (not drag up the stairs, not put on the bed frame--I said install). It comes with a remote control. It comes with machinery.

No, this is not like the VibraMatic motel bed (unfortunately). This is a Sleep System, designed to accomodate your every ache, your every pain. You can customize the firmness of the mattress with the touch of a button. Feeling achy? Try Sleep Number 40! Need support? Try Sleep Number 90! Just a click, and you're in heaven.

Jimmy Carter said today that he thought anti-Americanism was at its highest point in history. Well, the Select Comfort mattress is reason enough for the rest of the world to hate us. It's the pinnacle of decadence. Remember in the 80's, it was really hip to have a futon? Listen, the 80's were decadent, and everyone was clamoring to sleep on a rock-like mat. What does that say about an era where the Sleep Number Bed is our mattress of choice? We're clearly at the end of our cultural rope, people.

Still, I was glad to have it during the fever. Sleep number 45, here I come.

Friday, February 21, 2003

This article from the Atlantic shows mathematically how everyone of Western European descent is related to Charlemagne. More interesting, though, is that we all share a common ancestor no earlier than a couple thousand years ago.

Keep that in mind next time you're rude to the waitress... she's probably Richard the Lionheart's direct descendant, and she's probably your cousin--and not so distant a cousin as you thought.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

It's a cliche to say that popup ads are annoying, but as someone in the advertising biz, I loathe them especially. These popup cretins are taking up my targets' brain space! Here I am, trying to communicate legitimate messages (ok, sales messages, but legitimate nonetheless) and they're out there cheating, making all advertising look bad. Like a pyramid scheme, they'll eventually undermine all internet advertising.

First of all, despite my intense cynicism, I utterly and completely believe in the internet. I'm the idiot who clicks on banner ads just to get their clickthrough rates up, so the site content will remain free. (I'm not, however, the kind of person who clicks on ads hoping they're on a PPC model, laughing maniacally and saying "Ha! Forty bucks to you, my friend!" Yes, I've heard of that, though I'll never say where.) Anyway, we all agree to look at ads in exchange for content--TV is a good example--so it should work for the net too.

But the contract is different on the net. The users are reading, not watching passively, so they need more uninterrupted quiet time; and the load times are still terribly slow. So advertisers have to be careful how they treat the audience--large-loading ads and sneaky popups on continuous connections are at best distracting and at worst, rage-inducing. I myself went into an apopleptic fit this morning when, leaving my machine unattended at work over the Snowstorm Weekend, returned to find my machine crashed by three thousand popups. Isn't this why I gave up Internet porn? But all I'd been doing from work was innocently surfing weather.com. Turns out those sneaky advertising bastards have figured out a way to get into my machine through a security hole in Windows 2000. Save now! Orbitz.com!

Again, I don't have some big crusade against advertising--obviously. I try to make really good, interesting ads and websites. And when I can't, or don't--because believe me, I've come up with some big old losers in my time--I try at least not to invade on people's space with my crappy-ass marketing. Isn't it only fair to demand that we consumers are given good ads, at appropriate times? For god's sake, if you're gonna give me a popup, at least offer me 50% off of something. Anything!

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

It's snowing again. This is like some kind of weird dream. We gotta be up to 32 inches now, but who's counting after 2 feet? I think my husband and daughter are tired of me, so I may try and walk to the store. The house seems small and I'm the only one cleaning up. Uh-oh, I'm getting edgy.

Monday, February 17, 2003

When I woke up this morning, it was still snowing. I opened the front door and snow fell into the foyer. I let the dog out--What do I do? he implored with his big doggy eyes. The snow was thirty inches deep.

Last night we went to the neighbors. These neighbors have children, like us, and prodigious amounts of alcohol, unlike us. Naturally we'd been caught unprepared, and what's more important to have in a snowstorm--toilet paper or a case of beer? Well, the neighbors had vodka and congac and red and white wine and a case of beer and a fire, and the children ran around like maniacs while we drank ourselves silly and ate pot pie with a Bisquick crust. Snowstorms cause women to find their inner casserole. We didn't talk about much--the storm and the kids and the war, and we looked at some old photos. We though for sure it would be over by the morning.

The snow finally wound down around noon, and the neighborhood woke up. Tom, down the street, was shovelling for hours before anyone else got out there--he had the minivan completely clear and most of the driveway. When he saw me eyeing the Passat under two tons of snow, he spoke like a Zen master: "Stop looking at the big picture, Claire," he said sagely. "Just move some snow from one place to another." I took his advice and it actually helped.

Nick was out there too, digging furiously and, it seemed, throwing more snow into the air than into the yard. He and I sang songs to pass the time, and I realized I don't know all the words to Bitchin' Camaro. Our childless yuppie neighbors walked by without a care in the world--who needs to dig, after all, if you're not stuck in the house with children and need an excuse to get out?

The famous pianist was out there too, with his wife, digging out their Volvo, and Nick went to help. The famous pianist is easily seventy-five years old, and has already had career-stalling, widely-reported trouble with his hands, which I now think may be caused by repeatedly digging out the damn Volvo. Nick saved the day, though, and they gave us a six pack of Asahi for his troubles. And then Jen and Greg stopped by with two bottles of wine, just out of the goodness of their hearts. So we've finally got enough alcohol to get us through.

And I'm making a quiche, because I had pie crusts and eggs and little else, and so I think my inner casserole is coming out too. I bet they'll open the damn office tomorrow, that would be just like them--the whole place is staffed by people who, I suspect, don't like to face their families too often or for too long.

Thursday, February 13, 2003

My sister is leaving for The War on Sunday morning. At 4:30 a.m. (0430, to her) she will take herself and all her stuff--flak jacket, 9 millimeter, mystery novels, helmet, soap in little ziploc bags, gas mask, curling iron--and go to Fort Bening, Georgia. There, they plan to train her for War some more. It will take 7 days to prepare her, evidently, and the highlight of the trip will be when they gas her with riot gas. I guess they need to make sure that, all these years after Basic Training, she still knows how to barf.

From there she will fly to Kuwait and stay in a warehouse at Camp Doha for a little while. The official Army site of Camp Doha says that "Many people leave Kuwait in the best shape of their lives." Also, there is lots of free food. So Camp Doha is kind of like one of those weight-loss vacations, except actually it's nothing like that at all. Because, you know, you might get slimed with botulinum toxin or shot at, or something.

From Camp Doha, she doesn't know where she'll go--wherever she's needed. She gives shots so that all the soldiers can feel safe from evil Saddam and his weapons of mass destruction. So she might go to Afghanistan (I don't know if you remember, but we're actually still in a War there, to add to the other War) or Qatar, or even "in country" where they've got those Special Forces guys and the ship from Baltimore, the USS Comfort. She'll set up hospitals. She'll live in a tent. She's cutting off all her hair and leaving her boyfriend and two children behind.

Unless you know someone who's going to war, you don't really know what it's like. And unless you're going to war, I think you don't know what war is like at all.

She says the General is supposed to e-mail me. I guess he's going to tell me that my sister is doing a great thing, going to war. I'm very anxious for the General's e-mail. I'd love to know what he has to say.

Tuesday, February 11, 2003

I've spent my life fighting entropy, but I suspect it's getting the best of me. Despite my entropy-coping skills (obsessive housecleaning, organization, and exercise, plus a job that you have to have OCD to even qualify for) I'm starting to feel a long slide into laziness. I'm just really fucking tired.

This happens every February, I have to remind myself. I start to not care that the toys aren't organized into their appropriate baskets, that the bills are piling up, that the dog has a rash. But come spring I'm back to sleeping four hours a night and filling every minute with... well, minutiae.

My sister said to me the other day, "Entropy is my friend." It may have been the most shocking thing I've ever heard. Entropy is no one's friend! It is the inexorable slide towards death.

But then I keep thinking maybe I'm wasting my life, the small amount of time I have, on entropy-abation.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Every year we go to the beach in Rehoboth and every year, we rent a house from the very gay, very excellent Harold. During the off-season, we get updates on Harold's whereabouts through friendly postcards, all of which have a picture of Harold on the front, generally standing on a windswept dune--but Harold is about the least beachlike creature you can imagine. Though I've never met him in person (our transactions are entirely phone- and web-based), he appears to stand about 5'4", with glasses and a mustache and squint, and pale skin. Whereas many of Rehoboth's gay men are tanned, built, and smug, Harold is the kind of everyman that any guy would be proud to take home to Mom.

I have to say I would never give my beach real-estate business to any other agent. Harold has taste. He'll say, "Oh, I know you said $1200, but really, isn't your beach experience worth $1500 if it means you'll be comfortable and happy?" I know he's upselling, but it's irresistible--I couldn't disappoint Harold by staying in a place that he deemed unfit for human habitation (i.e., "that place is just not cute, but if that's what you want.....") or simply in a wrong, scary neighborhood ("Listen, you're not going to feel good on that street. It's very busy. Think about your kid.")

And Harold also is available through email, cell phone, and direct-dial, even when he's not in the office. What could be better? And I could never betray him by going to one of those bitchy women that staff the Jack Lingo's real estate place. Instead of making me feel like I'm a woman of taste and means, as Harold does, they make me feel kind of low-rent. Not so Harold. He helps me understand that my beach experience is beyond price. And after dropping $1500, that's all I ask for.

Sunday, February 09, 2003

My parents were big gossips, and I'll never forget overhearing my mother on the phone one night saying to a friend, "Oh, her! She's got a checkered past, doesn't she?!" Checkered past! I'd never heard anything more ridiculous and mom-like in my life. I asked her afterwards, "Mom, what's a checkered past?" I imagined it was like women's suits of the seventies, kind of houndstooth. She said, "It means she's done a lot of things she doesn't want anyone to know about."

Now I'm ridiculous and mom-like. And I, too, have a checkered past!

The lame thing about a checkered past is that it's very interesting, and you'd have a lot of good stories, if only you could tell them. But now that I'm a mom, and work in a real office, I can only hint at it, and the hints are never so interesting as the real stories. The only person who knows about my entire checkered past is my husband, and he'd never tell. So I guess my checkered past, like that of so many others, will die with me.

This from my one faithful reader Todd:

"Yep, it was real sad to see Michael. Lonely, isolated, developmentally arrested, billionaire Michael. It was bad enough to watch him on a Las Vegas shopping spree, then to see him frantically feed his shrouded infant son. It got worse when he was sitting a little too comfortably with Gavin. It completely self-immolated when he started talking about his philosophy about sharing one's bed with children. Oy Veh!

One could think he has no sexuality at all. But let's not forget these allegations from several years ago, thanks to The Smoking Gun."

You all really need to check out the Smoking Gun documents. Maybe Michael Jackson (why is he always referred to by his whole name?) is actually a molester. But one part strikes me wrong. The boy in question met Michael Jackson at a Rent-a-Wreck owned by his stepfather. Why in God's name was Michael Jackson at a Rent-a-Wreck? I mean, even if he was going to cheap out on a rental car, would he, himself, go rent it?

Anyway, the fact that every single person I know watched this documentary proves my point. We're probably going to be attacked by terrorists sometime soon, we've deployed almost our entire armed forces throughout the middle east, our economy is in the shitter, and we're busy thinking about Michael Jackson. For god's sakes, it's bad enough I've devoted two entries to this. I'm stopping now.

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Micahel Jackson is more bizarre than I even thought! And not because he's a freakish child molester, but because he's pathetically human. This is what happens to someone with millions of dollars, abusive parents, bad taste in home furnishings, and teenage acne.

Nothing new was revealed--no, it was really a tabloid rehash of the most shocking moments: the baby and the balcony, the father beating the Jackson 5 with a belt, the paid surrogate mothers, etc. We've heard it all before. That people (e.g., me) are willing to still tune in just shows how totally bereft we are of Wagnerian drama in our own lives.

The Brit documentarian was repulsive--the whole show was more revelatory of his sad voyeurism (and by extension, our own, I suppose) than it was of some insight into Michael Jackson. And Michael Jackson's inability to do anything but weep or look away meaningfully proved how shallow this whole exercise was.

I have this very clear memory of being in my grandmother's house with my cousin. We were both about eight or nine, and we taped pictures of Michael Jackson all over the walls. We did Michael Jackson dances while listening to Thriller, and pretended to kiss Michael Jackson by using pillows as stand-ins. Later on, like at age fifteen, I was really embarassed by this behavior and vowed never to think of it again. But now I think maybe that proves that Michael Jackson is actually childlike and unthreatening (not, of course, that I'd let my kid spend the night at Neverland). I mean, he grew up so publicly, I seriously doubt he has a fully developed, private adult self.

I think he really believes his behavior is okay. And with crazy people, you can't really convince them otherwise.

Anyway, there are dramas and there are dramas. I bet more people watched the Michael documentary than read the news about Iraq. Which is more pressing? I'm not sure. I think war is very far away, in space and time, and I think Michael is much closer. That's not a symptom of cultural degeneracy, but of mass empathy.

Then again, I tend to be credulous.

Monday, February 03, 2003

Correction: Todd didn't work at the UB cafe but at its sadder successor, the late-80's Cafe De Marie. The UB Cafe was a dive, but the Cafe De Marie was a dive with pretensions, and late-80's pretensions at that. Lately, I'm puzzled to note, that entire block has been taken over by the picayune, but still monopolistic, Jay's Restaurant empire, which serves the exact same food in three different venues and three different price points.

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Thanks for the contributions to flummox.info! Not that there were that many. So keep 'em coming in.

In any case, I have new content up there, and I redesigned the subpages so that the tables would stop making me insane. I think I can now update it with relative ease. Again, SEND ME YOUR WRITING. Don't you people write? For god's sake!

Check out Todd's real resume... you can find it off the homepage or in the Essays section. Who knew that he worked at the infamous UB cafe, where, when I walked in at age fifteen, they asked me "beer or mixed drink?"

The other mothers. Good lord, how they try my nerves, with their matronly short hair and seeming devotion to all things Kid—their large vehicles, their cookie-baking, their lost careers. I know plenty of good ones, but the others all prove that Freud was right: mothers are trouble.

I’m the weirdo mom—too young and my car is dirty as hell. At the parent parties, the husbands like talking to me, and the moms…not so much. I suspect they think that I’m the one who’s trouble, but the strange part is I’m not. I’m completely and utterly conventional. I’ve been faithfully and happily married for years, and I live in a nice suburban neighborhood, and I go to work every day, and my daughter is well-cared for (if occasionally eccentrically dressed). The other mothers lead lives of such comparative depravity—divorce, money trouble, abusive husbands, prescription-drug problems, non-normative dating situations—that I look like June Cleaver in comparison. No matter—my jeans are too tight, my husband’s dressed a little too “urban”, I smoke, and I use Christmas lights as a decorating technique.

Yes, plenty of them look down their noses. And the ones who don’t get lots of gold stars, I think. They’re a funny group, too, the moms that deign to hang out with me—most of them are leading far more normal, ordinary lives than the snotty ones. They’re not the strivers or the ones on the Parents’ Association. They’re not aching to mow someone down with the SUV. Maybe they’re just reasonably content. Or maybe they’re just as fucked-up as I am, and they don’t know it either.

I just started this lit crit class and let me tell you, I don't think I'm prepared for this much close reading. The professor is one of those endearing types who believes that all possible meaning is in the text, and every time you ascribe symbolic meaning insists that you anchor it to some word or another. All well and good, I suppose, if you care deeply about academic integrity--but if instead you really care about having strongly held, controversial, and mostly baseless opinions, it's not so fun. For instance, Wordsworth sucks. Do I really have to explain why? And James Joyce, though he doesn't suck, simply doesn't deserve the time it takes for a close reading--he's far too boring.

Really, it's the writer's job to entertain and enlighten me. Novels can go ahead and be deep and ambiguous if it works with the narrative, but it shouldn't be intolerable to read them. Sometimes novels are described as "difficult", which I think is a critical codeword for "important", but I have to tell you that after 50 pages of DeLillo's "Underworld", I felt only that I'd helped old Don jack off for a while. It was difficult in the same way that working in a massage parlor must be difficult--too much intimacy, too little reward.

When I first learned to read, novels were revelations, experiences. The good ones still are. It doesn't matter if they're important novels, because my experience of them is transcendant. I don't read for status any more--every time I try that, I sell a little more of my soul. Of course, I could change my mind about all this after three months of Barthes. We'll see how self-referential I get from sheer osmosis.