taking the passive out of passive-aggressive

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

Today at the grocery store, I bent over to get something out of the bottom of the cart and the one butcher says something quietly to the other one and they both laughed. It's not that my skirt was too short, I'm sure of that, and it couldn't be the size of my butt, since I barely have one. I was wearing knee-high boots, but then again, I did have my daughter with me. Were they laughing at me? Had the one guy made some perverse comment about me to the other? When I got my ground sirloin, the one butcher grinned at me with that cat-ate-the-canary look.

This is only the latest in a long line of incidents with butchers. The one at the Safeway I used to go to, he always touched my hand when he gave me the meat and winked. At the store I go to now, there have been a long line of "friendly" butchers. One of them used to always say things like "Mmmm, you're lookin' mighty fine today. Oh yeah," before I could even place my order. It got so I stopped buying chicken breasts altogether, because I was too embarassed to ask for them.

What is it with butchers? Is it their constant exposure to meat, that makes women look like pieces of steak? The store I go to now, my mom used to take me there when I was little, and the butchers hit on her back then too. Only back then they had a sign on the counter: "Where the meat is fresh, and the butchers are fresher!" They should've kept that sign up. It wasn't a joke--it was a warning.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Shock and awe indeed! I walk that fine line between being impressed at our firepower and utterly dismayed that we'd use it.

General Tommy Franks is not a very telegenic guy. I think he's a real military geek, likes to talk about specific technical accomplishments with precision bombs and JDAMs, which is not very interesting but at least distracts us from the fact that we're bombing the shit out of a major urban area filled with civilians.

Tuesday, March 18, 2003

It's the night before the war begins. My last call from my sister was on Friday; I suspect she called because it was her last chance before she was cut off. We don't even know if she's at Doha any more, or even in Kuwait. The sandstorms continue, she told me.

In 1991, when we went into the Gulf the first time, Nick and I drank beers at a bar in Federal Hill and watched the TV and held hands. I was seventeen, he was twenty-one; I remember thinking I hope they don't reinstate the draft, because he would've had to go. That night it seemed like the world might end--partly because we were so, so young and have never seen a war before. Vietnam ended the year I was born, and Grenada and Panama were not even blips. But Iraq looked like it might last a while. Of course, in hindsight, we should have known it would be no contest. Though what we left undone, we're paying for now.

This is my sister's first deployment in twenty-five years in the Army. I suppose we should consider that lucky, but this war looks bad from start to finish. I hope it's quick. I hope it's painless. But I'm not stupid enough to be able to sustain that delusion for long. I know people will die. As long as it's not her, I'm okay with that. I can't pretend to some kind of honor here: she has to get back okay, and that's all I care about at this point.

Sunday, March 16, 2003

Six men, five trucks, two weeks, eighty bucks, and ten hours later, I've got cable!

Since this neighborhood's never been wired for cable (hence the enormous effort that went into the whole thing) they had to run a whole dedicated cable line right from the node into my PC. That means it's super-amazingly-enticingly-perfectly fast, and mine all mine. I wish for something and it comes up on my screen. I've never had a faster connection in my life.

Unfortunately for the men who had to make this happen, the nearest hub was at the bottom of a thirty-foot cliff, with a ravine in between. No truck, no cherry-picker, nothing could fix this problem; they had to physically haul the line up the thirty-foot cliff, digging a little trench for it all the way. Halfway up the hill, they discovered a telephone pole, and wondered how it got there. How do you put a huge telephone pole in the middle of a ravine on a thirty-foot cliff? You can't haul the thing up there by hand. A mystery.

Saturday, March 15, 2003

Tonight, I was entertained by two sets of people. The first set, parents of my daughter's friend, live in a band-new, gigantic house in the suburbs; we went there for an early dinner. Their yard is still sod, and their bed looks incredibly small in their gigantic bedroom. The mother fed us dinner while the children ran around, and of course this is the way it's supposed to be. You're supposed to, you know, go to people's houses and aspire to something that they have. "Honey, where's OUR master bedroom suite, hmmm?"

The second set of people are my lovely friends Bob and Teresa, recently married, who live atop a great cliff in a tiny house where everything in it looks as if it grew there. It was Teresa's birthday, so they had a party. Their slotcars hadn't been reinstalled, but they'd acquired lots of new art and had hung some cast-iron pots up, installed an ancient fan above the door. The whole house could have been decorated by a grandmother.

I'm left with uncomfortable ambiguity. On the one hand, I like the suburban people in spite of their decadent house, in spite of my frothing rage against American status-climbing and incessant, childlike hopefulness. This particular couple, they're very nice. Their children are very nice. I'm happy for them with their new house and at times, I wish I had a nice big new house. But on the other hand, at Bob and Teresa's, I'm completely comfortable. They collect atrifacts without irony, and their lives aren't dictated by status and comfort.

It's so easy to disdain the bourgeoius--our tastes are so middling. In moments of complete honesty, I have to admit I'm one of them; although I've never been in with those people, really. So which is the charade--my pretensions to the upper-middle class, or my pretensions that it's otherwise?

Faced with true abundance, I'm baffled. What should I do when people I actually like are leading lives I find morally repugnant? Suburban sprawl, SUV, the whole nine yards? Mitigate my political beliefs to accommodate them? I've done worse, after all; I live a dual life every single day, propagating a capitalist system I ultimately find empty and destructive. But like everyone else, I still want stuff, massive amounts of stuff.

This paradox keeps me up at night. I grew up in big houses and nice cars; and I've spent my twenties repudiating all of it with one hand, while building it back up with the other. I hate the materialism of my childhood, feel actual shame about it. At the same time, I want the best of both worlds: the money along with the aesthetics, the money and the life I used to lead.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Well, the cable guy never came, they billed me anyway, and I wasted an entire, beautiful Sunday waiting. It could be worse--my sister tells me that the dust storms in Kuwait leave her breathless and asthmatic, and yet the fanatical W. seems no closer to going to war.

I went to the gym tonight because I was half out of my head with inactivity, and watched TV on the treadmill. On commercial breaks of "Walker, Texas Ranger" (one of the most underrated shows of all time--such drama!) I watched CNN, where they told me that surprisingly, unexpectedly, George had decided not to force anyone's hand. He was suddenly lulled into inaction. Was it these past few days on the phone, bargaining with pantywaist diplomats? Everyone wants American dollars. Countries like Cameroon are "weighing their options", excited that finally someone cares what they think, and is willing to pay for it. On the phone with these third-world leaders, George is like a bad one-night stand: "I really care about you, can't you see that? No really. Listen, don't be difficult about this, okay?" When finally they ask for money, he must be relieved: he knew, all along, what they really wanted.

But maybe the whole exercise wore him down. Maybe his ear got all hot and tired, maybe Rummy was irritating with his constant coaching, Condi sitting in an armchair. The generals are calling on the other line, demanding somethiing, anything: "We have 250,000 people over here, Shrub, and I have to tellya, they're ready to shoot. And when are we gonna get our email back?"

Someone said, "This is a game of chicken, but Bush doesn't know he's gonna blink first." I think he blinked. I think he turned the car away at the last minute. He's not ready, this president of ours, but the troops are. So they sit over there and wait in the dust and think good thoughts, guns ready.

Wednesday, March 05, 2003

I just signed up for the Comcast Ultimate Cable Package. This includes high speed internet access, digital cable, 10 HBO channels, and a visit from a Cable Guy. I have never had cable TV in my adult life, much less high speed internet. I think this is going to be great.

The lady I talked to at first sounded kind of foreign, and then I realized she just had this weird Baltimore accent she was trying to cover up by sounding professional. She was very nice but really not customer service material. I asked her if the internet thing came with web hosting, and she literally didn't know what I meant. So I said, "If I wanted to have a web site, could I have a web site?" and she said, "What's that?" I pictured this room full of people that Comcast had bred under rocks specifically so they could be customer service reps. Anyway, she was kind enough to pass me along to the young and energetic Damon, who was very friendly and could answer all my questions. He told me all about Comcast's happy acquistion of ATT Broadband. And he wanted me to overcome my ambivalence before committing to this whole cable thing: "Tell you straight," he said, "I didn't have cable til I was twenty years old, so I understand.Maybe you should just go with this here internet connection."

But no, I laid down the money and I went for the whole goddamn package. Damon seemed pleased for me. I was pleased for me, since spending money on things like this is like pulling teeth. I'm more than happy to blow $250 on drinks and food in a week or two, but to spend $80 a month for the long haul... it's just such a comittment.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Everyone in this house is coughing except me. Other people coughing, people telling you about their dreams--they're the same kind of annoying. They're both personal problems made public. Besides, illness is so confining. (And secretly I think that if you can't get over being sick in a few days, you've done something wrong. Blame the victim, I always say!)

Anyway, here's what I did this weekend:

Friday: Took Amanda to Ikea. They've redone the place and created a kid-care area called "SmalLand." There is an umlaut over the A, of course. SmalLand is run by White Marsh teenagers, and it seems to mostly involve watching a video while sitting on kid-sized Ikea furniture. Later, we went to the neighbors' for pot roast. It was good pot roast even though the husband made it. Nick went home, what with his cough and everything, and the neighbors and I stayed up late with a fire in the fireplace and Miller Lites. We had a good time til they started to snipe at each other in that marital kind of way ("Shut up, I'm telling a story!" "But you're telling it WRONG" "Oh, please, like you never tell a story wrong.")

Saturday: We went to dinner at the kabob place, which is in this strip mall in Cockeysville. For some reason, this strip mall was bumpin'. I don't know why, since all it contains is a couple restaurants, a store that sells madras pants, a dollar store, and a weird geeky comic store, but the place was packed with teenagers, most of whom were Asian, for some reason. Nick coughed throughout most of dinner, but at least he covered his mouth. Afterwards, I went over to my friend Tim's house where he and his friend are editing a movie in the basement. What the fuck with men and basements? Couldn't he just as easily edit this movie in the living room? Later, I came home and hung the windowshades I got from Ikea. You can tell they're cheap, but it's better than staring into the neighbor's bedroom while I blog.

Sunday: Ran eight miles and took Amanda to my mother's for dinner. When I left, Nick was coughing, and when I came back, Amanda was coughing too. My mother made pot roast. That makes two pot roasts in two days.