Sunday, December 30, 2007


I saw this minivan the other day in Rockville:

And all I could think was, "No. Really? Someone named their energy bar 'Smack'??? And got an NFL player to endorse it?"

It's true. I'm sure I'm way behind the curve on this and other people have wondered at the wisdom of naming anything they want you to crave "Smack" but, jeezus. Maybe it's a "hip" name. Am I just so old that heroin has a new, improved nickname these days?

I'd love to know what marketing genius decided that was a good name. I wonder if it actually sells.

Who knows? Maybe it is an act of marketing genius.

Perhaps I've missed the boat. Maybe I should be selling my mom's oatmeal chocolate chip cookies at Metro entrances under the name "Choco-Crack." I can wear a t-shirt reading "Crack is whack!" with a big happy cookie image on the back.

But then again, I don't have a spiffy minivan. (Or an NFL contract.)

I would love to know what agency copywriter crafted the text for the Smack website. Pleeeease give it a read. Seriously, it'll make you slightly crazy. Someone got paid to write that (I assume.) And yet I couldn't get a gig writing commercial stuff... Go figure.

Hmm... do you think "Meth" would be a good name for a snack cracker? Quick! Somebody get me the number for Nabisco!!

Friday, December 28, 2007

Thanks for the advice

Just wanted to say thank you to the folks who left comments on my last post. I think, in the end, I will just run my wee laptop into the ground while I save up for a new one. Hopefully, at least part of the screen will hold out until I can get a new (or new to me) guy to tote around.

Like I said before, it could be worse. And maybe writing longhand and keeping eyeballs off the screen in the coffee shop will be good for me -- I'll think of it as some sort of Zen therapy.

Hope you are all having a fine and restful holiday time. I'm resting a bit too much, honestly. Need to get motivated and focused again. I'm drinking a big cup of jet fuel coffee to inspire me to do some writing today. We shall see if the spirit moves me or if my muse is still lying in a gutter somewhere, cradling an empty bottle of Boone's Farm wine...

Wednesday, December 26, 2007


Okay, as if it wasn't bad enough that I tripped over my vacuum cleaner last night and slammed the handle right into my mouth - saw stars, heard the buzzing bees that always herald me fainting, and my mouth blew up like a pufferfish - but today brings a new and distressing element to My Craptacular Life: the LCD screen on my long-suffering Gateway laptop decided to die. Admittedly, by laptop standards, Old Paint is just that - old. I bought it in 2000 and it has been my constant companion at the coffee shop. This has been my tool for pounding out radio commentaries, blog entries, resumes, and just about everything else.

I've found some place in Texas that will ship a replacement screen for $300 + $22 shipping, but I'm just not sure. First, it would be months before I could have $300 saved up to buy it, but more than that -- is it worth it to invest $300+ on a new screen for a laptop this old, or does it make more sense to just run this into the ground (as long as possible and I have any screen I can see/use) and save up money very slowly to get a new laptop altogether?

I'm torn. And, frankly, buying new sneakers and underwear is a higher priority right now. (That was probably more information than you needed. Sorry.) It just means that, if the screen goes totally black, there's no more typing from the coffee shop until I can procure a new one.


Seriously, any realistic advice or recommendations will be gratefully accepted.

And, hey - honestly, there are much worse challenges to have in this life. All things considered, this is minor. It's a "first world problem" I should count myself lucky to have.

I can see through the big black spiderweb for now. It's as if my laptop is experiencing it's own vision crisis, mimicking my adventure in partial blindness.

Strangely, it makes me love the computer a little more.

Monday, December 24, 2007

Christmas Lights

It's a quiet Christmas Eve here. Very quiet. Blissfully, Angry Indian Doctor and his woman aren't making the beast with two backs upstairs - a first for a major holiday this year - so I'm doing my Depeche Mode impression and enjoying the silence.

Truth is, it's a little lonely, but I have a tiny cold I'm still trying to beat into submission with a combination of brothy soups, diet ginger ale and OJ. So, it's all the better I'm on my own tonight. Tomorrow is Jewish Christmas with the Artist Formerly Known as the Atomic Editor and Mrs. Former Atomic Editor. They are taking yours truly, lapsed Catholic, for Brazilian BBQ and a movie. (If you've never had the Brazilian BBQ experience, it's basically an opportunity to eat grilled meat until you explode.)

If I weren't a solo act tonight, I'd go up to see the Christmas lights in Seneca Creek State Park. Sure, they're a little cheesy, but aren't some of the best holiday traditions a little cheesy and steeped in a warm bowl of mental carbohydrates? If I were back in Illinois (and the weather wasn't vile like it currently is in the Midwest) I'd probably be out on the Clark Griswold tour of hideous holiday home lighting with one of my sisters. There are people in my hometown who, year after year, decorate their homes like some nativity whorehouse cum casino. It's terrifying and yet, in some white trash way, so... beautiful.

Then again, y'all know I'm a total sucker for neon, so a ludicrous number of twinkle lights is okay in my book, too.

I'm sure most of you have seen the video of the house that was decked out in lights, choreographed to "Wizards in Winter" by the Trans Siberian Orchestra back in 2004. In case you are one of the three people left on the planet who missed it, here it is:

That dude got a deal with a beer company that used his light show in a TV ad the next year. Of course, now, every geek with an engineering degree (and yes, that dude was an engineer) or access to one of those Light-O-Rama control sets is turning his house into a musical holiday extravaganza, complete with over the top screaming guiiiitars and lots of drums. It starts reminding me of a Spinal Tap concert after I've watched one or two on YouTube.

Somewhere, right now, some guy is in his basement, trying to figure out how he can light up his house next year, all choreographed to Rush music. And somewhere, his wife is spiking her eggnog and praying they'll have to move shortly thereafter.

Of coure, it's not just the guys in the basement of the science building giving everyone holiday seizures. Not be outdone, a town in Texas has choreographed a whole city block of lights to the Carol of the Bells:

But it's the homegrown, "done it myself, Hoss" gee-whiz kids that warm my heart. Aaaand, because this here's Amur'ca, y'all, land of the residential and recreational trailer, I invite you to view the Wizards in Winter Airstream trailer winter light display, complete with pink flamingos:

Every time a trailer lights up for Christmas, an angel gets his wings.

Or one of the Spears girls gets knocked up...

(I get confused sometimes.)

But really, folks, it's all one grandly ridiculous electric cheese log of silliness, but it's fun, too. As long as you're not living next door. Or paying the electric bill. =)

Merry Christmas, friends. May you be blessed with good health, prosperity, and love.

God bless us, everyone, y'all!

Saturday, December 22, 2007


The shortest day, the longest night.

I'm not sure we're actually going to see much of the sun at all today, as drizzly rain heads our way to wash away what little color there will be before early night sets in.

The air was already heavy this morning when I got up at 6:00 to go to physical therapy. I headed out the door with my coat over my arm, hobbling to the car as fast as I could in the dark chill. Cake was playing on the radio as I drove the four miles or so to my appointment. I turned the volume and the bass up and cruised on the silent suburban streets over to northbound 270.

It was a wonderful counterpoint to last night's drive home, when all the roads to my neighborhood were choked with holiday shoppers and travelers headed out of town. I left work at 4:45, but didn't get home - 16 miles away - until 7 o'clock.


When I hit the area around our local cathedral of conspicuous consumption, Mazza Gallerie, the streets were overflowing with cars and pedestrians throwing caution to the wind, skittering through backed-up traffic like mindless rodents. (Albeit rodents toting backs from Needless Markup and other pricey stores.) Usually, the bright lights of the store windows put me in a holiday mood, but not when the traffic is bumper to bumper and drivers are behaving badly. I just wanted to grab a bowl of soup from the Chinese carry-out up the road and hie myself home to the comfort and safety of my sofa. With no funds to participate in the annual festival of overextended credit, I find myself mostly an observer in the material aspects of American Christmas.

I'm just not in a holiday frame of mind. Not yet, at least. I'm trying, though.

Before getting caught in the snarl of traffic on Wisconsin yesterday, I took a slow open-windowed drive down M Street from my office over on 16th down into Georgetown. The air was cold and still, so the uniquely urban smell of the season hung heavy and unmoving around me -- the distinctive, clinging, slightly nauseating odor of spent Sterno from a hundred office party buffets.

But a quick turn down 23rd Street brought me the intoxicating smell of wood fire from cozy, overpriced, brick homes, decked in Victorian evergreen and tiny, tasteful white lights. I breathed deep and filled my lungs and my head with the scent memory of a dozen Christmases at my parents' house in Illinois, wrapped up in a warm blanket by our fireplace, with a dog at my feet (or a cat smothering my head with affection), waiting for The Little Drummer Boy to come on TV. Do they even show it any more? I have a feeling it's too dark for our current PC "protect the kiddies from everything/increasingly nanny state" culture. I always loved the sound of Greer Garson's voice as the narrator. The voice of another generation.

It's almost 11 now, and the sun is up, but barely creeping through the blinds in my living room. I'm listening to Pink Martini's CD "Hang On Little Tomato." It's good music for a day like today - jazzy, a little exotic, but also a little wistful. It feels a million miles away from where I am right now. I have a big cup of coffee, a couple of old movies to watch, and the glow of old school, very American, red and green twinkle lights on my balcony.

Maybe I'll pull my little fake tree out of the basement.

Maybe the spirit will find me.

For right now, it's just a short, gray day here. But the evening brings a gathering at a home of a friend - a lovely friend I met through blogging here in DC. Proof that the Internet can be a Good Thing.

And then, after the curtailed light of this solstice, the days grow longer again.

Tomorrow, I get to see one of my best friends for the first time in several years. I adore her. She is a gem. We've known each other since we were kids, creative geeks, living a couple of blocks away from each other in Illinois. Her daughter must be getting ready to graduate from high school soon, which astounds me. When did everyone around me become real grown-ups, with kids and mortgages and honest responsibilities?

Will I ever be one?

Jury's still out.

Happy Solstice to my pagan friends from the resident lapsed Catholic girl. May this day find you blessed!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Merujo's Kitchen has been resurrected!

Many moons ago, I started a cooking/baking/recipe spot/domestic rambling blog, Merujo's Kitchen. I had it here on Blogspot, but through some problems during a transfer to Wordpress as a back-up, my merujoskitchen ID here was sucked up by some scummy blogsquatting spam monster.

The old entries still reside over in Wordpress, so I've decided to re-open the kitchen. I've already sent out a couple of invitations for people to participate in posting, but my memory is like Swiss cheese lately. If you were a member of the Kitchen previously and you'd like to be able to post again, please drop me a line or leave a comment!

We can make it a fun place for storytellers who happen to have good recipes to share and amusing domestic stories to tell. And I promise not to suddenly shut it down again.

Again, the URL is

Looking forward to seeing you there!


As a subscriber to Writer's Digest, I get the occasional e-mail from them with writing tips, information on events, and announcements about contests. This morning, they sent out an announcement and link to holiday writing contests on a website called You'll notice I didn't offer a link with that site name.

I went to see what the holiday story and poetry contests were about. Under the holiday poetry heading there were only two posts from "premier author" members of the site. Let me share one of the two posts:

"hmmm..I don't know if mine could be included for this style?? My poem is about of a gift for the holidays..But it's not saying about the X'mas celebrations..and it's an adult type it means a bared it all But it's for holiday's!! I promised!! hmmm..I really wanted to share it to all of you!! But I don't want to be disqualified if I post it without asking if I could??"

Oh my. Now, being an openminded girl, I really don't care if someone writes a holiday poem about a dick in a box. After all, Justin Timberlake did really well with that last year. (And it still makes me smile inappropriately.) It's just that... well... if this is an example of the mad writin' skillz of the "premier" participants on this site, I think I'd rather shoot myself that become a member of this community.

Yeah, you can think of me as a snob, but, c'mon. If you can't proofread your post about your desire to enter porn in a holiday poetry contest, it's just sad. Aspire to be the quality pornster!

Methinks I'll pass on this fabulous contest opportunity, but gosh, thanks, Writer's Digest for introducing me to yet another forum I don't want to visit again!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007


...the scent of smoke from the fire at the Old Executive Office Building that has wafted up the street to my office smells like a tray of burnt fish sticks. In the cold air, it's hanging and unpleasant. Nauseatingly fishy. Very ichthy.

I'm glad no one was injured. Considering the proximity of the fire to Dick Cheney's ceremonial office, there are so many punchlines about Hell at the back of my mind.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Singing of a satellite

I'm smiling this morning. See Point #2 here to see why. :)

The lovely song in question can be seen below - start around the four minute mark to see/hear it, but I highly, highly recommend listening to the whole performance, which is all available in four parts on YouTube and also broken into segments as QT movies on Thomas Dolby's blog here.

For my friends who understand Russian, our fearless non-Russian-speaking duet heroes do pretty darn well, don't you think? There is a consonant that vexed one of them in the bridge, and a vowel or two that needed to be shorter or longer, but I'm really proud of them! It's hard enough to sing in Russian when you actually understand the language, but when you're doing this from someone's e-mailed phonetic transliteration with almost no rehearsal time, well, that's really damn impressive! Good going, Thomas and Bruce!!

For the handful of you who govorit' po-russki, here are my original lyrics - read them out loud like an overblown, crazy-haired, 50s avant garde Soviet poet, and they sound pretty freakin' cool:

О! звезда улетела
Наша родина пела
Шар серебра!
Мечта наша!

Мы слышали ваш сигнал
Музыку ангел играл
Великий дар!
Небесный царь!

Ученые нашей страны нашли ответ
Наша гордость горела как радостный свет

О! звезда улетела
Наша родина пела
Шар серебра!
Мечта наша!

Мечта наша!

I think my mother would be delighted to know that I'm still using my college education for a good purpose. Most Russian I've used in three years.

If anyone out here knows a venue/event that would be interested in a performance of the Sputnik and Beyond concert, Thomas is pondering the possibility of a university/art circuit/museum tour. You can leave suggestions/recommendations/contacts on his blog!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Final Auld Lang Syne

Dan Fogelberg died. I had no idea that he'd been battling prostate cancer. This morning, he lost that battle.

Fogelberg was among the first singer-songwriter storytellers whose music moved me. I think I discovered his music around the same time I discovered Joni Mitchell by going through my sisters' vinyl. I know some of my friends will roll their eyes at my affection for Fogelberg's music, but there was a sweet sadness to so much of it - a gentleness to the stories and a romanticism lacking in my real world.

I'm sorry to hear he's gone. 56 is far too young to leave this world. I visited his website, where he had posted a letter to his fans before he died, urging all the guys to get annual DRE (Digital Rectal Exam) and PSA (Prostate Specific Antigen) tests. And so, guys, I'll urge you, too. Get yourself tested. I think it's well worth a moment of discomfort.

Goodbye, Dan. Thanks for all the lovely songs.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Waking up the dead

Oh man.

I just woke up at 1:42 in the morning, not quite sure where/when/how I was.

I'm that tired.

I submitted The Proposal That Ate My Brain yesterday afternoon. I've been working on this project since August and the last few weeks have been killing me. On Wednesday night, I went home so stressed about it (and a personal creative matter I hope to have resolved soon) that I couldn't sleep until 4:30 Thursday morning. I was a disaster yesterday after only two hours of sleep. And I was a bitch on wheels - very focused and very direct with folks who still owed me stuff for the submission.

But the monster is done. Finito. A very, very, very nice bottle of merlot was broken out to celebrate, which was very, very, very kind and much appreciated. And after two glasses of merlot and a sudden realization of just how exhausted I was, I came home and curled up on the sofa. Last thing I remember, it was 8:08 p.m. And now, it's 2:03 a.m. Friday. And, for one brief, shining moment, I am a free woman.

A free woman who has to be back up at 6:30 for an appointment with the back doctor.

So, back to bed with me, but I'll be back to write later today. The coffee shop calls!

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Booty Call

I had to call Walmart (yes, the evil Germantown Walmart) to do a favor for a friend. I asked for the "Health and Beauty" department and waited. And waited. And waited.

I was on hold for TWENTY-ONE minutes. Yes, twenty-one minutes. To be honest, I didn't really notice because I was working on The Proposal That Ate My Brain, so it didn't bother me. Plus they had weirdly fascinating ska Xmas music on hold. I don't think "O Holy Night" was really meant to be a skanking dance number. Then again, your mileage may vary.

When one of the associates finally returned to the phone, she said, obviously not really thinking straight, "You still holdin' for health and booty?" I burst out laughing.

She started giggling and said, "Looooord, we ALL waitin' for that!"

Amen, my friends. Amen to that.

May the season bring you all health and booty.

Lots and lots of health and booty.

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Sorry, guys!

I have a huge, brain-eating proposal that's due next Thursday. Until this baby is submitted, I'm mentally single-tracking, and unable to really write much out here.

Unless you want to talk about how much it costs to rent a herd of wildebeest for a film production, I'll be lousy company up to about 5 p.m. on the 13th.

After that, I will sleep one whole day and return to normal.

Well, as close as I will ever come to normal.

(Which ain't that close.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Hooray for The Linguists!

A film featuring the amazing work of my friend David Harrison and his colleague Greg Anderson - linguists studying dying languages across the planet - has been chosen for the Sundance Festival in 2008! The film, called (unsurprisingly) "The Linguists" follows David and Greg as they travel to extremely remote areas of the world, documenting languages facing extinction. Currently, there 7,000 languages on our planet. However, we lose a language approximately every two weeks, and, within a hundred years, half of the world's languages will have died. As the last speakers, elderly and isolated, pass away, their languages - and so many elements of their knowledge systems - will simply cease to exist. David, Greg, and other concerned linguists are working hard to document these tongues before they vanish. It's fascinating and tragic and, in our shrinking world, probably inevitable.

If you will be at Sundance, I encourage you to try to get a ticket! It will be shown four times during the festival, and David and Greg will be there for Q&A.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Turkey 1, Merujo 0

...or, "When Oven Doors Attack!"

400 degrees of power, power, power!
There was a lot of swearing. A lot.

Eh, I'll live. Flip side of getting the burn is that the turkey was good, and I conveniently had an appointment with a dermatologist this morning anyway. He gave me some samples of stuff to slather on the oven door whoopsie and also gave me instructions for dealing with my flaky face.

For some reason, my right eyebrow (yeah, only the right one) and an area of my face where eyeglasses meet the right temple both get flaky and weird on and off. When I get one of these episodes, I start looking like some cheap Star Trek alien with brown patches on the side of my head. It was a quick diagnosis by the doc, and get this -- the cure? Use a diluted Rx dandruff shampoo as a facial cleanser! I swear to god. I feel like Jo Jo, the Dog-Faced Boy or Cousin It. I have to wash my face with shampoo. Go figure.

I have a little of the shampoo in question left over from a business trip to Canada a few years ago. Hopefully, it's still good. If I wake up with a luxurious pelt on my face, I'll let you know.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Happy, happy hand turkey!!

I know tomorrow most of my friends will be: 1)stuck in an airport security line, getting some "bad touch" from the freaks at TSA; 2) trapped in an ungodly jam on I-95, I-80, or I-shoulda-stayed-home; or 3) fighting with some angry suburbanite over the last good Butterball at Safeway. So, I figured I'd send out Thanksgiving wishes to you all now, before you head over the river and through the woods.

And who can say it better than Tom Hand Turkey, sharing the thoughts of so many of his brethren this holiday week:

Yeah, I'm a classy girl. And what fine work I can do with MS Paint, huh? The Sasquatch commented on his deformed feet. I just like to think of him as a very special digitally-rendered hand turkey in need of orthopedic shoes. No wonder he's so cranky. (The turkey, that is. Not the Sasquatch.) By the way -- that's a free-drawn hand. No actual human hand was traced for that turkey. I mean, yeah, I'm certainly no delicate flower, but I swear I don't have mutant "man hands" that look like this bird. I just have really shaky mouse skills.


Jerry: She had man hands!
Elaine: Man hands?
Jerry: The hands of a man!

But, seriously, I hope each and every one of you has a lovely Thanksgiving, no matter where you are! I am thankful for your friendship, your readership, and your continued support through my very strange life. May your holiday be peaceful, joyful, and filled with tryptophan and tasty carbs!

With every good wish for Turkey Day,


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Freecycle can bite me

I've been a member of our local Freecycle group here for a while. A few times I've picked up interesting things, a few times I've been able to give things away.

Sometimes, because I'm in one of the wealthiest counties in the United States (a statistic to which I do not, I can guarantee you, contribute) you see pretty outrageous things posted in the "wanted" category, like:

- Anyone have a baby car seat for a Porsche Boxster? I'm a daddy now, but I don't want to give up my real baby! So, if you have a spare of the one specifically made for the Boxster, let me know! (Hey, Daddy Porsche -- if you can afford to drive your baby around in a Boxster, you can afford to go pay for the Boxster baby seat!)

- My maid is going to have a baby. I'd like to give her a bonus of a crib. Does anyone have one available? (OMFG, don't be such a cheap-ass rich tightwad - pay for your maid's bonus yourself! Get her a damn crib!)


A while back, some a-hole on the list actually listed one of his female friends as being available and not a bad choice. Har har har. Oh, the jocularity! Giving away a middle-aged single woman! (Were I his friend, I would have been pretty pissed to know he'd decided I was worthy of giving away on the "going to the dump, but still has some life left in it" list.)

Today, someone posted that she wanted a bookshelf for her daughter's room. Aha! Well, I have three really old IKEA-style bookshelves (Target, circa 1992) down in the storage room. I wrote to her - twice - and her Freecycle-registered e-mail address failed. So, I posted a message to Freecycle, simply saying, "Re: Bookshelf Wanted - your e-mail address isn't working - zap me a message, and these shelves are yours!"

Plain, simple, straight to the point. Someone needed something, I had something, her addy didn't work, I did what I could to get my message across.

Believe it or not, the moderator for the group sent me a snippy message telling me this was "not a discussion list", that my post would be deleted, and I should get in touch with this person directly.

Uh... okay, bubba... tried that.

I wrote back and said, "You're kidding, right? Did you even read the message? I only posted this because her address didn't work." I'm just tryin' to help a sistah out here, people.

Moderator wrote back that he'd read my message and that's how he knew it wasn't "appropriate" for his list. Appropriate? It's not as if I wrote, "I'M SITTING IN FRONT OF MY COMPUTER NAKED, SHAKING MY MASSIVE GAZONGAS AT THE SCREEN AS I WRITE THAT I HAVE 15-YEAR-OLD CRAPPY BOOKSHELVES AVAILABLE FOR THE WOMAN WITH THE BAD E-MAIL!! WHOOOOOOO-WEEEE! SHAKE 'EM!!!" Apparently, if I'd just written "Available: bookshelves" and not said, "Hey, chick with the bad e-mail, I'd love to give you these for you kid!" that would have been fine.

Whatever. Frankly, nobody trying to do something nice deserves to meet Mr. Snippy Moderator.

Look, I run a mailing list, too. And I know when someone breaks the rules egregiously, you need to use a measure of discipline. But I also know you don't smack someone around for trying to do something good or appropriate, especially when it's a first offense.

But you know what? Life is way too short to deal with snippy people. Fuck 'em. Most of the people on this particular Freecycle list can afford their own stuff. I unsubscribed. Salvation Army can have all my old stuff, thanks. And the tightwads of Potomac can buy themselves Boxster car seats and cribs for their maids.

No good deed goes unpunished, kids!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Let's all come together

For those not living in or around this nation's capital, lemme tell you - DC is troubled. We've got crime by the buckets, plus corruption, foolish jaywalkers, angry bike couriers, those people living in the White House, classical music critics taking e-mail swipes at poor, defenseless Mayor for Life Marion Barry, and, sadly, one of the highest HIV/AIDS infection rates in the whole country.


To try to combat the spread of HIV, the District government has been passing out free condoms. It's a nice gesture, but the Chinese-manufactured, paper-wrapped rubbers haven't been getting a thumbs-up (or, uh, anything up, for that matter) from potential users. People are concerned about the easily ripped paper packets rendering the goods useless. You really want to rely on a prophylactic that came out of a crappy, torn paper package? No, thanks! (I'd put more trust in those crazy Polish monster finger puppet rubbers I found in a kiosk in Moscow once.) I'd love to know who the brainchild was on this paper wrapping job -- being environmentally friendly is one thing, but this is pretty dumb. Foil is your friend.

According to this article on, more than 100,000 of the freebie condoms have been returned for a variety of reasons - the paper wrapper, the hard-to-read expiration date, and the fact that these guys aren't exactly locally manufactured. Let's face it, this year in particular I'd pass on Chinese-made condoms. I mean, if they've got factories coating toys with the date-rape drug, can you imagine what could serving as lube on these guys? Yeesh.

But my favorite reason for people being suspicious of the free willy warmers? The tacky design work and slogan!

Yes, it may be that some people are returning free condoms because the graphic design work is cheesy and the slogan is... well... you make the call:

It is Our Nation's Capital.
If you're going to come together, might as well be here...

I understand the importance of the District's efforts to curb the growth of new HIV infections. It's a serious crisis for an already troubled city. But I have to appreciate that some people, no matter how desperately poor - or how desperately horny - are willing to say no to free love gloves because they have a better sense of visual style and marketing language than the dorks who came up with the packaging.

Free Condoms: Zero
Good Taste: One

Monday, November 12, 2007

Mocking Apple Products

I love to torture the Sasquatch, who is a Mac user, by calling Macs not computers, but "Apple Products." Now, keep in mind that, in another world with lots of cash, I would likely be an Apple person, too. But, for now, I just enjoy tweaking and annoying my friend.

Recently, I saw this fairly pretentious iPhone commercial that gave viewers the impression that the workings of commercial aviation could be altered by a cockpit crew member checking the weather function on his damn phone. My friend and fellow blogger Chuck, the man Beyond the Cheddar Curtain, works in the aviation industry, and he wrote an entry recently about just that commercial. The entry has a link to an amusing (and profane) parody of the commercial, which made me laugh inappropriately. "It rained for six hours that night."

Always Tidy Your Bathroom

When I got home tonight, my Spidey Sense started to tingle. Things were not quite as I had left them this morning. For starters, the light switch at the door had been flipped up, something I never do. When I moved in more than a decade ago, I got into the habit of not touching that puppy because it controlled my answering machine. The answering machine has long since been moved, but the habit of never flipping that switch remains.

Yet, tonight, that baby was in the up position. Not good. The light in my entryway blew a couple of weeks ago, and since I'm not yet friends again with step stools (not until the back is much better, thanks) I crept along the hall in darkness to see if anything else was out of sorts. Almost immediately I tripped over a box of packing peanuts destined for the storage room -- another thing I figured I would just carry downstairs when the back was less cranky. This morning, the box had been in the kitchen, out of the way of Ms. Bad Balance.

And then, in the darkness, on my bookshelf, I saw it.

That little yellow slip of paper that tells you someone has been in the apartment to do maintenance.


I fumbled for the first working light and read the long message from Darryl, the plumber. He'd come to make sure the new kitchen faucet was working. Okay, that's fine. (The old faucet had suddenly sprung several leaks last week, flooding the kitchen and turning the sink into a lovely fountain.) But, dear god, he'd had to replace the tub handles.

Dear. God.

See, when the back is cranky, the laundry piles up. Since the washer and dryer are in the basement, it takes a little more energy (and some arthritis rub) to get me up and down the stairs with a couple of loads of clothes.

And, this weekend, with the spine screaming at me, I'd gotten as far as turning the laundry into whites, light colors, and darks... all over the bathroom floor. And, I am ashamed to say, I hadn't emptied the bathroom trash on Sunday, either. Poor, poor, poor Darryl had to get up close and personal with my unwashed laundry, which hovered, unclean, in three piles like some textile Cerberus, right at the edge of the tub, surely terrorizing the poor guy.

I am so embarrassed. I really meant to tidy up yesterday, but time got away from me. And heat packs and ibuprofen were my best buds.

I should bake Darryl a cake -- except now, he probably wouldn't take anything I'd prepared by hand. He probably thinks I'm a total bottom dweller. I forgot the kitchen sink had pots soaking in it and I'd burned microwave popcorn yesterday, so the whole place had this awful acrid odor to it.

Christ, he probably thought I was trying to kill him with some modern day, apartment dweller version of mustard gas. Maybe I should just get him a gift card as an apology.

Guess who's doing laundry tonight?

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Thanksgiving in a Box

For the record, I'm not lazy. No sir, not one bit. But I don't see a need to go through a massive amount of solo drudgery to produce a Turkey Day meal for one person. Just like virtually every meat-eating, red-blooded American, I love the smell of turkey cooking - oh hell, yes! But I just don't see the point in messing up the whole kitchen for just me. Also, since my back is still pretty painful, standing in the kitchen all day is not particularly attractive (especially since I no longer have Percocet.) Plus, if you add up the costs of putting together a traditional meal... well, jeez, louise, it's damn expensive.

If fuel wasn't now as expensive as a gallon of milk, I would drive up to New Jersey and harass members of my family. Or I could join very kind friends in Virginia. Sure, I love the camaraderie of sharing the holiday with others, but this year, I actually want some splendid isolation. I am taking the week of Thanksgiving off (it's use or lose vacation time, and I have no $$ to travel anywhere) to write. I want solo time. I need solo time. And since a trip to the Arctic (with access to Marlon Brando and superpowered glass shards) isn't in the cards, my overcrowded living room shall be my Fortress of Solitude. This will be another Just Merujo holiday. And that's very, very cool this year. I can stay in jammies all day, slap rice-filled heat packs on my back, and write to my heart's content.

Even more cool? I'm getting Thanksgiving in a Box from the local Shopper's Food Warehouse. A little lazy? Eh, maybe. But let me tell you -- the lovely 12-pound Butterball bird they gave me two years back was fan-freaking-tastic, and it both fed me leftovers for ages and made a great base for homemade turkey stock. (Reminder: must get cheap freezer containers at the dollar store.)

Here's the deal, fellow DC-area solo travelers (and those bereft of cooking skills): you get a full family meal for $39.99 (you can get a "deluxe" version for $5 more that nabs you classier taters, green bean casserole and an extra pie), and all you have to do is pick it up at the store (you name the pick-up date/time) and reheat stuff at your leisure. You get the following:

10-12 lb. Butterball® Turkey
1 lb. Turkey Giblet Gravy
2 lb. Seasoned Mashed Potatoes
2 lb. Cornbread Dressing
12 oz. Cranberry Relish
12 pk. Butter & Egg Dinner Rolls
8” Pie (Apple or Pumpkin)

The bird (totally tender if my last order is a good example) takes two hours to reheat, filling your home with the super smell of crisping tryptophan without the need to check/recheck/baste/recheck... You get the drill.

I'll have Thanksgiving for days and days and days. It's really quite the bargain (says Sofa Penny Diving Girl.) And no sink full of dishes.

You can order online, arrange your pick-up time, and, voila, you're set.

I'm just hoping the morons upstairs won't be offering me any, uh, "soundtrack" to dine by this year.

If they do, I guess it'll give me an excellent excuse for opening a cheap bottle of Australian red and putting my headphones on...

Gobble, gobble!

Friday, November 09, 2007

The Zen of a Hot Shower

Foot massages, steamy sex, a pile of money... yeah, sure, that all sounds fabulous, but all I crave tonight is something I cannot have.*

A hot shower.

Seriously, for my money (little though that be) there are days when a hot shower cannot be beaten on the list of Great Sensual Experiences. When you are tired and aching, when the world has done you wrong, maaaan, a good steaming shower - with some bad-ass water pressure - is the best thang evah.

And, dear lord, I want a shower like nobody's business right now. Today has been damp, drizzly, wet-cold, blah, and it's kicking my messed up back like a junk yard dog. I can't begin to tell you how many times I reheated my rice packs and my Ohio clay, NASA spin-off heat wrap and layered them on my body to find a little comfort. The Aaaaah Factor would last for an hour at a time before I did the hunched over Yoda shuffle back to the microwave to start the heating ritual over again.

All afternoon, I kept thinking, "Hot shower and jammies... hot shower and jammies..." I was also thinking about doing a quick load of laundry and some dishes, too, having a need for Vitally Important Clean Stuff (aka "undies") for tomorrow and something to cook dinner in tonight. I was without a sink or dish washer for a few days, thanks to a sudden spouting of water from the kitchen faucet and the ensuing flood of said kitchen's floor, leading to a sudden lack of clean utensils/bowls/you name it. Yeesh.

Apparently, the old faucet had to be hacksawed off the sink by building maintenance, so rusted were the bolts holding it on. I wish I'd been home to witness that particular maneuver. The maintenance guy was so amazed by how much effort it took him to fix this, he left me a magnum opus written on the door hangtag that usually just reads "Maintenance has been in your unit." HA. He wrote so much about the hacksaw extravaganza, he actually had to flip it over to the other side to continue. I guess I owe him some cookies.

So, there I was tonight, ready for the good old Shower Massage to work its magic on my cracked back. Driving the last few blocks home, that was all I could think of.

And then, I saw the light.

Well, lights, actually. Lots of them. And safety cones. And backhoes.

And I realized that there was a really big pipe break just at the corner of my block.


Water was rushing everywhere, and WSSC guys milled in the rapidly chilling, dark, rainy evening. When I limped up to the door of my building, I could see a pile of notices from management on the message board. I went through the day's sequence to see what had happened:

1. A pipe is broken. WSSC has had to shut off the cold water to your street.


2. Actually, TWO pipes have broken. WSSC has shut off all water to your street.

And finally...

3. There has been a serious break of two pipes. WSSC has shut down water to the entire property until the repairs are completed.

And, who the hell knows when that will be? Guess I go buy some more bottled water in the ayem. For now, I'm just really, really glad I have a bottle of water for the brushing o' the teeth tonight.

So, in advance, I would like to offer apologies to anyone with whom I have to interact tomorrow. If I look a little disheveled, you can thank the crappy pipes down the street.


*For the record, steamy sex and a pile of money are ALSO things I cannot have tonight. The foot massage, I could do with the nifty Sharper Image back massager from hell that some friends gave me, but now that my mind is wrapped around a hot shower, the foot massage won't do it...

Thursday, November 08, 2007

I understand spiders are supposed to be good luck

An IM conversation I just had with a friend:

merujo: I bought a bag of peanuts downstairs.
merujo: I opened the bag of peanuts at my desk.
merujo: I wondered, huh, why do these peanuts seem to be stuck together?
merujo: And then I saw the big spider web.
merujo: And then I saw the big fucking spider.
merujo: That was alive in the bag.
friendperson: ew
merujo: Before it freaked out and jumped onto me.
friendperson: ack
friendperson: did you bring it back?
merujo: Well, that would require me picking up everything that flew out of my hands onto the floor when I screamed.

Saturday, November 03, 2007


To the folks visiting the Church of the Big Sky from the Washington Post Sunday Source link - thanks for dropping by!

If you want a feel for what this blog is really like, might I suggest visiting some of the "Oldies But Goodies" entries linked on the right side of this page? Feel free to poke around and be sure to leave a comment!

Friday, November 02, 2007

Wings of Glass

I am surrounded by friends who give me inspiration. The Sasquatch has returned to graduate school - online and after work (consuming most of his time) - to get an MFA in Graphic Design. The Atomic Editor has taken on a new role at a dream institution where he can edit some awfully fine writing and put together one of the nation's coolest magazines. And Javi, of course, is overseeing the move of his comicbook creation to the small screen. (I have to wonder if Javi has to strike against himself, being a Writers Guild guy... hmm...)

Now, my fabulously talented friend, glass artist extraordinaire Lunesse, has a new page on, highlighting her beautiful beads and jewelry. Take a gander at the gorgeous pieces she has on her portfolio page there. Pretty rockin' stuff, eh? The girl's got talent, and now she's balancing her glass craft with watching her new kiddo, just arrived in August. I'm impressed. As most of you know, I have trouble finding matching socks in the morning. By the way, if you get a hankering to buy something that Lunesse has created, you can click on her store link, her Etsy link, or - if you dig making your stuff - her JustBeads link for, well, just beads. (If I had any skills at all in making my own jewelry, I'd buy some of her funky beads, but since I'm less than adept at such things, I'll just keep saving my pennies to buy a piece of her fab jewelry!)

Lunesse, along with being a gifted artist, is a tremendous writer and a damn fine web designer, too. She left a successful tech career in the IT mecca of the San Francisco Bay area to become a glass artist. I can't begin to tell you how much I admire her for that! It's an amazing life change - and one that requires bravery and strength of character along with real talent and tenacity.

There are days when I would love to chuck the office life and just pursue writing, but I have always been just a little too afraid to do it. Lunesse did it. She leapt off that cliff and found she had wings. Wings of beautiful glass.

I hope I am willing to take that creative leap of faith someday, too. In the meantime, though, I'll just be delighted to see what new things she and the rest of my friends make.

It's a wonderful thing to have creatively inspired friends. They encourage me to want to do better, to aspire to more.

I'm damn lucky to have such people around me, and I know it.

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Today I am The Answer

As Douglas Adams or Deep Thought could tell you you,
THE answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything is...

So, today, and for a year, I am The Answer.
(Lucky me.)

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Farewell, Lancelot

Robert Goulet died today. He was 73 years old and waiting for a lung transplant when he died at the place where stars go for their final curtain, Cedars-Sinai. He had a rare condition and his death came only a month after his diagnosis. What a shame.

I'm not sure if the first time I heard Goulet's voice was on our LP of the Broadway soundtrack to "Camelot" or on one of our myriad holiday records, like those Firestone Christmas LPs we collected each year. What a velvety voice! And Goulet seemed to have a really good sense of humor, judging by some of the roles he took on.

If you check his IMDB page, it's quite amazing what a career he had. And even if you're too young to really remember the finest of his Broadway singing days or his zillions of TV appearances, you'll remember him from the fabulous possessed dinner party in "Beetlejuice" and his very silly participation in the Emerald Nuts Super Bowl ad:

I wonder if Goulet really thought he might really die. This diagnosis was sudden, and I think it says so much that he told the docs "just watch my vocal cords" as they put in a breathing tube. The man was planning to sing again. I don't think he'd expected to leave for points unknown. Not just yet.

It makes me sad to see the icons I grew up with pass away. They were, frankly, a much classier lot than the majority of what we have now. (Or, at the very least, their personal foibles and flaws weren't paraded across my living room on a glowing screen every night.) Amy Winehouse has a set of pipes on her, for sure, but I wouldn't want to even shake hands with her without a bucket of Purell (or a hazmat suit). Goulet, though? I'd have made him dinner and listened to his stories for hours on end. I bet he had some great ones. I would take a hundred Goulets over just about anyone we see splashed on Any day of the week, kids. Any day of the week.

Goodnight, Lancelot. Avalon awaits.

Monday, October 29, 2007

One weekend in Paris, Part III

So, there I was, trapped in a Parisian apartment while my "host" was off doing... well, whatever he was doing. I had no keys to the place, and I didn't even know where the closest Metro station was. By 8 that night, I was scrounging through his mostly empty refrigerator, looking for something edible. I found a couple of unopened yogurt containers and had a modest dinner in front of his tiny black and white TV. Parisian TV? Not so great. I found something that appeared to be the French equivalent of "Saved By the Bell" and pretty much gave up. I turned on the radio and listened to bad Europop punctuated with English-language oddities like Stan Ridgway singing some weird ballad of a dead Marine named "Camouflage." I looked out the window on a silent street, knowing that just a short distance away, the City of Lights was, well, lit up.

I found some paper and wrote up a list of the places I wanted to see and made the most of a very quiet night. I figured my best bet would be to find a hotel the next morning and just write off P. and his insanity. It was my first week off work after ending my contract in Moscow, and I suddenly was very, very tired. I crashed out and overslept horribly. I woke up when I heard a key in the door, and P. came in, dressed in yesterday's clothes, stinking of smoke. He was laughing and singing and manic beyond belief.

I, on the other hand, was angry. I let him have it both barrels. But I did it very coldly.

"So, where's the pizza?" I asked.

He laughed and fell onto me on the futon, trying to wrap me in some creepy hug.

"Oh!" He giggled. "Well, I had some pizza last night, hahahahahaha!"

I pushed him off me and got up, grabbing my things. "I'm hungry, I'm furious, and I want you to just drop me off at a decent hotel. I'm done with you treating me like shit. You're just as insane as you were in Moscow. Worse, actually. I'm done."

P. just lay there on the futon, watching me aggressively repack. Slowly, the truth hit him, and the smile vanished from his face. He reminded me of one of those dinosaurs with the brain in the tail, the impulses slowly reaching that primitive mind. "You just don't treat people this way, P. You just don't. I don't know what's really wrong with you, but you are sick and pathetic. Why the hell did you invite me here and beg me to come if you didn't want me to come? Kак вам стыдно!" How shameful of you! It's one of those things that is worse -and means worse - in Russian. And sick or not, P. needed to feel shame over how he had just treated me - like garbage.

P. looked down and said nothing. I locked myself into the tiny bathroom and threw on fresh clothes. When I came out, P. was on the phone, this time speaking in Russian. This I understood. He was making arrangements to return to his office in Moscow the next day. When he hung up, he said to me, "I am so sorry. I don't know why I did it. I just don't. I just do these things, okay? I have this life here, you know?" Honestly, I didn't know what life this was. Just clubbing and staying out all night, doing God knows what or God knows who. I sometimes wonder if he's ever picked up HIV or AIDS in his careless (I'm sure he'd think of it as "carefree") lifestyle.

He dug through a small dish on the windowsill and came up with a key. "Look, here is the spare key. You can just stay here. Stay for a week, if you want. I will not be here. The apartment is yours." He looked down again. "Je suis désolé." The same empty words he'd offered in Moscow after locking me out of my apartment all night. "Je suis désolé."

It meant nothing, really.

P. actually spent the rest of that day with me, mostly silent, very sober. He took me on the Metro to a Moroccan restaurant by the Stalingrad station. The restaurant was run by a couple he knew, friendly, but wary. When P. excused himself briefly, they asked me if he was being a horrible host. When I said yes, they apologized. Clearly, they had seen this before. After lunch, we picked up P.'s car and he drove me along the Champs d'Elysee and we stopped for an astoundingly overpriced coffee somewhere en route. I let him pay for everything. I really didn't care if I abused his hospitality for this one day. I made him stop at a bank and a little shop for me to get French currency, some food for the fridge, and a map of the city. As we went along, we barely spoke.

When we reached his place, P. quickly gathered some things and left. There was no real goodbye. He simply told me to leave the key in his mailbox when I departed. Where he planned to spend the night before his Moscow flight, I didn't know, and frankly, I didn't care. I felt nothing for him. No pity, no sympathy, not even any anger by then. He tried to do a little double-cheek kiss with me, but I pulled away. I just said, "Appreciate the use of the apartment."And P. left. As I heard the sound of his shoes echoing down the hall, I finally felt something.


I laundered the futon sheets in his tiny washer. I put on some rubber gloves I found under the sink and scrubbed down the kitchenette and the bath. I took a long, hot shower, put on jammies, ate some ham and a croissant with a big glass of milk, and then slept like a baby.

For the next few days, I was a free woman in Paris. I walked for miles and miles. I took the Metro everywhere, drank coffee at little outdoor cafes. Went to Versailles on a bus with a group of Brits who thought I didn't understand English and made snide comments about me until I told them to fuck off. (That was fun.) Enjoyed the pleasant gloom of Notre Dame and the breathtaking view from the Tour Eiffel. Saw Mona Lisa's smile and the limbless glory of Winged Victory and the Venus de Milo (and got hopelessly lost in the galleries of the Louvre). Drank more coffee. Ate more fresh pastry than any human should. Bought cheerful yellow cafe au lait bowls from the clearance rack in the basement of Galeries Lafayette.

It was lovely.

I just broke the last of those cafe au lait bowls this week. Maybe that's why I finally decided to write about P. and the trip to Paris. Exorcising old demons.

I've heard from P. twice since then. Once, when he showed up in DC with this guy named Brian, an African-American clothing designer living in Paris. He'd grown up in DC and wanted to show P. the city. Brian could have been a character on "Absolutely Fabulous." He was flamboyant and silly, and when I asked him what he designed as we sat in some overpriced raw bar on the edge of Georgetown, he responded "viscose men's shirts - it's the only fabric worth working with, dahling." Really, I'd just expected him to say "menswear, ladies, eveningwear..." To this day, I smirk when I read the word "viscose." P. wouldn't cop to Brian being his lover or partner. He was still working on some pointless illusion, and I let it go.

They'd invited me out for dinner as apology for the fiasco in Paris. I'd never eaten at a raw bar, and, with apologies to my sushi-loving friends, I prefer my food cooked. I nursed a glass or two of champagne while they packed away a couple hundred dollars worth of oysters and caviar. Brian was unimpressed with my plain lumpiness, and P. wanted to party in Dupont. I left, emotionless, not expecting to ever hear from him again.

But I did. It must have been 1999 or 2000. I was in Tbilisi, Georgia, managing logistics for a conference. I was staying in a very posh hotel in the middle of a people's strike -- Georgia had been without electricity after dark for ages by then, and the citizenry, finally fed up with the situation, had started to protest in the streets, burning tires. Black smoke crept into every opening of every building in the heart of the city, and I developed pneumonia after a couple of days of breathing cold, acrid air in the autumn chill of the Caucasus Mountains. The phones didn't work for the most part, but, for some reason, the Internet still functioned in the business center. Unable to sleep one night (and sick as a dog), I went to check my Hotmail in the middle of the night. And there in my in-box was a message from P. He had friends opening a restaurant in New York. They wanted him to manage it, but he couldn't get a work visa. Would I be interested in a marriage of convenience? He and his friends would pay me for my trouble.

I remember starting to laugh - I laughed so hard, I had a coughing fit, waking up the old guy snoozing at the front desk. I wrote several responses:

"You've got to be fucking joking."

"Go to hell."

"Good luck with that, asshole."

But, in the end, I didn't send any of them. I just deleted his e-mail, and I've never heard from him since.

I don't know where P. is these days. I have no idea if he's alive or dead. I'm still irritated with myself, years after the fact, that I was taken for a fool by him.

I feel sadness for him now, just because he was sick and pathetic and surely deeply wounded and twisted by abuse at the hands of his own family. And I hope, if he is still alive, that he's gotten the help he needed so badly. It would be nice if he could be out and stable.

And I also hope I never hear from him again.

Like that last broken cafe au lait bowl, I've swept P. away into the past.

But, really, Paris was nice.

One weekend in Paris, Part II

So... where were we?

Ah yes, my last few days in Moscow...

My apartment was empty and my belongings en route to a warehouse in Germany (where they would be rifled through by thieves and vandals) for eventual dumping at my mom's house. I was wrapping things up at work and ready to spend a few days with my brother in Frankfurt before heading back to the United States.

P. was back in Moscow right before I left. He had returned from Paris and called, asking if he could deliver me to the airport for my last flight out of Russia. Having encountered a messed up, addictive personality or two in my past, I didn't want to discount his efforts at rehabilitation, and I agreed to accept his ride.

I also agreed to visit Paris for a long weekend. Just a quick trip to see the city before I headed home to the 'States. Man, that was a stupid, stupid decision.

Très, très stupide.

Travel Hint: if you agree to be the houseguest of someone with serious issues - especially in a country where you don't speak the language - make sure you arrive with local currency already in hand, the contact information for your country's embassy, and the phone number & address of a decent hotel. You'll thank me for this, trust me.

I flew to Paris from the safety and comfort of my brother's apartment in Frankfurt via Lufthansa, my brother's then-employer. Because I was flying on a heavily discounted family member ticket and could end up in first or business class, I had to dress the part. However, this was 1993, and I'd been in Moscow since the 80s. Let's just say that the dress-up fashion of the 80s really didn't age well. Picture, if you will, a rotund woman in a hot pink and black power suit (top - hot pink with a big black button at the top of the shoulder-padded jacket, bottom - a black, knee length skirt) with, God help me, hot pink slingback pumps. Yeah, hot pink pumps. Jeezus Christmas, what an awful thing!

Despite horrifying my fellow passengers with my own form of fashion terrorism, I made it to France in one piece. But, upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle, my host was nowhere in sight. This was well before we all had cell phones genetically attached to us, mind you, so I was left wandering around a really awful, confusing - and frankly, dirty - terminal for more than an hour. I wasn't even out of the airport yet, and I had a bad feeling about this trip.

Finally, P. appeared and when I asked him what had happened, he just laughed - very nervously - and blew off my query. We got into an elevator to take us up to the parking garage, and one of my pink slingback heels lodged itself into the overly wide space between the elevator and the closing doors.

The elevator won. My pink heel was ripped off my shoe, leaving me hopping around in an already ridiculous-for-the-90s ensemble in Paris, of all places. No worries, P. told me. We'd go to his flat, I could change, and then, we'd see the city.

But we never got to P.'s apartment that morning. Twice, he stopped to make phone calls, leaving me in the car and never explaining what was going on. I saw the edge of the city come into view, and then fade away as we turned into the suburbs. "We're going to see my parents," P. announced. This, I had not planned on.

I had met P.'s mother once before in Moscow. A Jew from Algeria, Mama P. did not speak any English, and my French was limited to a few phrases, although I could understand a good bit of what was spoken to me. P. had dumped his mother with me one day in Moscow, and I had to take her souvenir shopping on the Arbat, a quaint street lined with gift shops and cafes. We had trudged the length of the street in near silence, except for me using Sesame Street-level French to answer her queries of "combien?" whenever she found a trinket she wanted. We finally bonded - as much as we could, under the circumstances - when Lady Marmelade started to pour out a speaker on the street. At least we could sing the chorus together! Me, the Algerian Jew, and Patti Labelle, belting it out a few blocks from the Kremlin:

Voulez vous coucher avec moi, se soir?
Voulez vous coucher avec moi?

(Moscow, was, kids, one really weird place.)

At least I knew I would have a warm welcome from P.'s maman. As for P.'s papa? I couldn't guess. I'd heard a lot of strange things about him. P.'s father, I understood, constantly had flashbacks to Vietnam. He had been a paratrooper with the French military back in the 50s, dropping in twice on Dien Bien Phu, where some bad shit had happened to him, and he was, I had been told, never quite the same.

We arrived at the parents' place unannounced. I had guessed - incorrectly - that one of P.'s many calls along the way had been to his 'rents to let them know we were coming. No such luck. Mom P. was dressed in a slip, had curlers in her hair and toilet paper stuffed between her freshly painted toes. Dad P. was just in his jockey shorts and socks. Both had cigarettes burning away in their nicotine-stained hands. But, to their credit, they welcomed me warmly.

And, as soon as we arrived, me in my hot pink mess and broken shoe, P. vanished with the car - and my luggage. He was gone for two hours, during which Mom P. railed at one of her older children over the phone and Dad P. sat silently with me in front of the TV, where we watched The Simpsons and a Jacques Cousteau special. Our entire interaction was:

Dad P.: Jacques Cousteau? (grunt)
Me: Jacques Cousteau! Oui! (offering a big thumbs up)
Dad P.: Oui, Jacques Cousteau.

Let's hear it for international understanding!

Eventually, P. showed up again with no explanation of his disappearance. He immediately insisted that his parents get dressed and we all go for lunch. We packed ourselves into P.'s tiny car (mind you, I'm still in the shitty suit and broken shoe) and went to a Vietnamese restaurant. A Vietnamese restaurant in an Arab suburb of Paris with a guy who has Vietnam flashbacks.

P.'s father immediately got into a heated half-French, half-Vietnamese argument with one of the women working at the joint, P.'s mother went out to the payphone in the lobby to continue screaming at one of her kids, and P. himself quickly ordered our food and then vanished again, leaving me at the table alone.

I'll say this, the food was good. The company was... sitcom-like.

P. resurfaced after a while, paid the bill, and whisked me away, without a moment to say goodbye to his parents, whom he simply left at the restaurant.

I wasn't sure what was up, but P. was acting more bizarrely than I'd ever seen him in Moscow. Drugs? Turning tricks? I pondered all the unsavory possibilities and, quietly, calmly, I asked him what the hell was going on. He just laughed everything off and said all was well. It wasn't even a good lie. I realized this was a trip where I would have to try to make the most of a challenging situation. I asked to stop at a bank to change money, but he told me not to worry about it yet. He'd pay for everything this trip! Being an awfully independent sort, that didn't make me very happy.

He drove me through the heart of the city, at last, and it was, I have to admit, very lovely. P. wanted to stop for coffee, but I'd had enough of limping around in the broken shoe, and I insisted we go to his flat so I could change.

He lived in a tiny efficiency in a quiet neighborhood. I couldn't tell you where it was to save my life now, but it was pleasant and tidy, and I felt safe. P.'s actual apartment was a sea of chaos with laundry and bedding tossed every which way. There were no chairs. You either sat on the edge of his futon or you stood. Living like that would have made me crazy in fairly short order. I determined I wouldn't spent much time in the apartment. I only had four full days in town, anyway.

In short order, P. made a few phone calls in rapid fire Arabic. Raised a Catholic by an Armenian father and a Jewish mother from North Africa, P. walked a fine cultural line in France. He fit in many places without really fitting in anywhere. He spoke French, Arabic, Russian, English, and Armenian - he was an intelligent man, but a troubled, and sometimes downright stupid man. And he also knew I didn't understand a word of Arabic. Once off the phone, P. told me he was running out to grab pizza for our dinner. That was at 6 p.m.

He didn't come back until 11 the next morning...

Saturday, October 27, 2007

One weekend in Paris, Part I

Well, I've decided to tell stories about all the place I mentioned in an earlier post, and I've determined Paris would be a place to good start. It's not one of my favorite memories, but it's good for the telling.

I've been to France twice - once for an hour or so stop in Nancy on a car trip with my brother, mother, and brother's spouse, and again to Paris for a long weekend. A very, very, very long weekend.

I should explain a little about the circumstances that led up to my long weekend in Paris. It came at the end of my time in Russia. I'd been in Moscow almost four years, and, despite the possibility of private sector jobs to keep me there, I wanted to return home. Moscow had changed rather dramatically during my years there. When the Soviet Union fell, there were quiet waves of violence that ushered in the Wild West gold rush days of ugly oligarchy that still govern Russia's capital city. I use the term "quiet waves of violence" because I don't think much was heard about it in the West. But there was a dramatic increase in murders, abductions of foreigners, mafia hits, sexual assaults, and weird attempts at bribery by underpaid police through threats of beatings or bogus blood tests with rusty old needles carried in sweaty wool uniform pockets.

The little kiosks by my apartment building had started stocking and selling handguns along with their usual fare of Snickers bars, champagne, and condoms. I heard gunfire at night on the street, and I was - although too cool to admit it - terrified of walking down the ill-lit hallway of my apartment building because getting to my door meant walking past the garbage chute alcove, which had open access to the dark emergency stairs. I sometimes heard people scuttling around those stairs late at night, and I had visions of being mugged or worse (much, much worse) leaving or coming home. I actually developed a bit of an OCD during those last months there, returning to my door to make sure it was really locked almost every morning. To this day, at times of great stress, I will do the same. It's my Moscow OCD that I keep sublimated, for the most part.

During that last year, a friend of mine - a French-Armenian businessman - asked if he could stay in my apartment while his was under renovation. This was to be just for two or three weeks. I could handle that. I had known him for years at that point and enjoyed his fun company. Two or three weeks was no big deal.

It became a matter of months, though. The "two or three weeks" I would find out was just another one of his constant stream of unstoppable lies. His apartment wasn't being renovated. He had lost the lease.

I used to be a fairly naive person, but exposure to people like P., the businessman from Paris, turned me into a much more wary - and much more savvy - person. But it wasn't a pleasant process. Over time, I would find that he had some serious problems - clinical depression, bulimia, a sex addiction that was probably a result of childhood trauma from his older brothers peddling him to pedophilic men in the rough Paris Arab suburb where they lived, and an addiction to prescription sleep and pain pills. Back in Paris, he ran with a fast, rich, and pretty set of people - movie directors, models, trendy restauranteurs - but in Moscow, he clung to me, probably for safety. I didn't learn about his problems - and his rampant lying - until the last week he was under my roof. He was making my life hellish at home, and when he left his journal sitting on my coffee table, almost begging me to read it, I did. I know it was wrong, but his increasingly bizarre behavior was just killing me.

I don't speak French, but after four years of being around French speakers in Moscow (and having some modest ability with languages) I could read it with a fair degree of understanding. In the handful of pages I read, he spilled out how he just couldn't help lying to me. When he was back in Paris, he would sneak away from his Chanel-clad friends out to the suburbs to turn tricks like he had been forced to do as a child. He told his family he was straight, but was, in fact, gay. Usually my gaydar is pretty good, but sometimes, there is a fine line between gay and a Parisian fashion hound who carries a man bag. Go figure. Why he felt he could not tell me he was gay, I don't know. I'm pretty comfortable around people, gay, straight, whatever. I assumed he knew I had no issues with anyone's orientation. But I think he was so caught up in his own game of lies and subterfuge, he couldn't even be honest on that point.

When I was away on trips outside of Moscow with friends, he was bringing strangers home to my apartment for anonymous sex. I suddenly realized why my bedroom was often strewn with roses when I'd come home. What might have been seen as a lovely sentiment was really just to cover the smell from person or persons unknown he was banging in my bed while I was away. My disgust was beyond belief.

When he came home that night, I fessed up. I had read his journal. He gave this sarcastic laugh - he'd left it out on purpose, hoping I would read it. "I knew you were smart enough to read French," he hissed. He wanted someone to know what a dark person he really was. I told him he needed help, and he needed to move the hell out of my apartment immediately.

That night was the birthday of a mutual friend - the friend who had, in fact, introduced me to P. She had no idea he was messed up. She also didn't know he was gay. Nor did her family. She had a conservative Armenian upbringing in France, and, in truth, her parents thought he might be a good candidate to marry their lovely daughter. P. had been engaged once, but his fiancee broke it off. He would not ever say why. After reading his journal, I can only imagine she came home to find him bonking some guy in their bed. Maybe even for money. Who could say? All I know is that his ex and my friend both dodged a bullet coated in toxic waste.

So, on that birthday evening, P. declined to go out with us, knowing that I knew his unpleasant secrets - and that I wanted him gone by the morning. My friend and I returned to my place after a nice dinner out only to discover that P. had put the chain on the door inside and then taken a sleeping pill. Pounding on the door, throwing rocks at the window, phone calls... nothing woke him. My agile friend even climbed over to my kitchen balcony (a dizzying feat fifteen stories in the air) and screamed at him in her most aggressive Armenian. That still did not wake him. She and I spent a cold night huddled at my door, smoking cheap cigarettes to stay warm. Keep in mind, I don't smoke. At all. But this was what all the old Soviet cops did to stay warm as they stood post outside our building. It worked, although it was one of the worst nights of my life. Moscow was not a place where you could just run off and find a hotel room. (Still isn't -- Moscow is now the world's most expensive city. A mediocre hotel room will run you in the high hundreds.) And I simply could not go knock on a friend's door and tell them what had happened. It was too embarrassing. "Hi, I've been duped into housing a troubled lying part-time male hooker who's locked me out of my apartment. Can I come in?"

I felt bad for P. that he had such tremendous problems with addictions, an eating disorder, and abuse at the hands of his family. But that he had used my home as his personal brothel and constantly lied to me? I didn't feel bad for him on that count. I was just pissed off, beyond belief.

The next morning, all P. had to say when he finally opened the door was "Je suis désolé" and, I swear to god, he tried to stuff fifty bucks in my hand. What an ass. I told him to get out of my home, and he promised he would be gone by the time I got home from work. For once, he kept his promise. There was no sign of him left (except for the hair he constantly shed on my bathroom floor - shudder, shudder) in my home. I breathed a sigh of relief, and he left Moscow for an extended stay in Paris. He sent letters and made phone calls saying he was seeing a therapist and he was getting his life back on track. He would make it up to me some day. I should come to Paris and he would show me his city and apologize.

This episode with P. had stuck the big fork in me. I was done, kids. I realized it was time to leave town. My contract was ending, and I wanted to shake the shadows trailing me. P. called one last time, sounding very sober and calm for the first time in ages, saying he was sincerely sorry for all the grief and the lies. Would I consider coming to Paris for a weekend on my way out of Russia? He would be my tour guide to all the City of Lights had to offer. He even laughed that he would see his therapist twice on the day that I arrived and would make sure to be on his very best behavior for me.

But that, my friends, was just another lie. And I would have to kick myself all over again for my continued naivete...

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Blowing the Interview

I sat in on a job interview today, and it got me thinking about some of my classic interview experiences. There were good ones that led nowhere, bad ones that resulted in job offers I wouldn't touch with a ten foot pole, and then, there have been a handful of ugly ones. Those ugly interviews I handled poorly at first, but, by the time of my last ugly interview, I had figured out the perfect response.

My first bad interview was the summer after my sophomore year in college. This was when my father was dying, my mother was sick, and I wanted a job that would provide a few hours pay at the mall just down the street from my parents' house. A new discount shoe store was opening, and the manager, a little guy with his hair high and tight and his face almost always suffused with blood, jaw clenched, eyes bugging out. He had a cast on his arm the day I went to "interview" for the job of stocking the new store with boxes of crappy, low-end fashion shoes. Mr. Anger Management looked me over, sneered, and said, "Yeah, you can start. Right now."

The staff of the store that first day was a motley assemblage of recent high school grads and returning college kids like me. Many of the girls working the store had graduated high school with me, but were of the popular ilk that did not give me the time of day at good ol' MHS. But here we were, playing field leveled, piling box upon box of shoes on empty shelves. At the end of that first day, Anger Management assembled us to give us his version of a pep talk. He told us that whole day had been our job interview, and he was watching us work. This was, it would appear, his attempt to be clever and figure a way to get 20 kids to work for free for a day. Jerk.

He raised up his broken arm and announced, "This here I got when a nigger mugged me and shot me in Chicago. Don't like 'em. That's why you won't see no niggers here in my store. That's it. Be here at 8:30 tomorrow, and I'll decide if I want ya." He dropped that bomb and then turned to walk away. I think my jaw was scraping the floor when he spun around and said, "And no faggots, too. Got it?"

When I got home - before I even told my mom about this - the phone rang. It was Anger Management. "Yeah, you don't need to come back tomorrow. I got all the girls I need. We need cute girls to sell shoes, ya know? Maybe you should be working down at that big gal's shop." He was a filthy bigot, there was no doubt. The older me would have brought his behavior to the attention of a whole pile of people and agencies. But the 20-year-old me just hung up, realizing, as far as work went, I'd just dodged a massive bullet. And, in the end, I did work at the "big gal's shop" a few doors down, until it was time for me to leave for England. I still think about that guy, though, and I wonder if he died of a heart attack or if his stinking mouth got him killed. He was a sad cartoon of a man. Pathetic.

But I was pretty seasoned by the time the next ugly interview situation came around. This had to be nine or ten years ago now. I was invited up to New York to interview for the position of Assistant Director at NYU's Center for War, Peace, and the News Media. Nice gig. Crappy pay for New York, but that was to be expected. I took the train to New York, early in the morning. As we rolled through Pennsylvania and New Jersey, I fell asleep, lulled by the click of the train on the tracks. I woke up somewhere near Newark to find a woman had fallen asleep on my shoulder, where I had been cradling my head with my own hands.

She had wet hair dye on her head. Wet freaking hair dye. Red. And my hands were stained. She woke up, I yelled at her, and without a word, she got off the train in Newark. Idiot. I frantically called a high school friend who was working tech backstage at "All My Children." Good toolbelt-wearin' flannel-clad tech chick diva she was, she had a bar of Lava soap with my name on it. Thank god. 30 minutes before my interview at NYU, I'm scrubbing my hands in a utility sink at ABC's studios on West 66th Street, trying to not make noise while they prepared for some surely dramatic scene a few feet away.

I made it to NYU right on time and spent three hours shuttling between the offices of administrators and professors, really shooting the breeze more than talking about things of substance (or my experience.) At the end, the HR person asked me to wait in the hall while they deliberated. An hour passed and she came out, announcing that I was their top candidate. Could I come back in a week for an all-day interview? Holy crap, yeah! Of course I could!

She told me she would call me with the date and they'd buy my train ticket back up. And, they'd reimburse me for this trip. A nice bonus after the hair dye extravaganza of that morning. I went back to DC feeling pretty good about the world.

But then, the call never came. I called. And I called. Aaaaand I called. I was shuttled between different people's voicemail boxes. After a month of this bull, I left messages for all the people with whom I'd been dumped on the phone, telling them that, frankly speaking, they lacked class. And at this point, if they offered me the job, I'd just tell them where to stick it. Finally, one person called me back. "Oh, nobody told you? Yeah, we hired from within. Thanks."

Etiquette is not just something left to the job applicant. NYU can stick it where the sun don't shine.

Then, there was the awesomely ugly interview for the position representing an Eastern European university here in the United States. When I showed up for the interview, just down the street from my office, no one had even looked at my resume except for the admin assistant who had been tasked with identifying candidates. It was an interview by conference call for the most part. There were two elderly men in the room with me and three more on the phone. They spent the first ten minutes of my interview discussing their board of directors activities, and only then seemed to remember they were there to interview me. As none of them had read my resume, they were at a loss as to what to ask me.

Finally, after some uncomfortable shuffling of paper, I said, "Do you have any questions? Perhaps about my experience in fundraising and public speaking?" One of the men said, "Well, we do need money. What do you know about getting money?" I started to them about my years working with grants and writing proposals, but I was cut off. "We don't like traditional fundraising. It doesn't work for us." I was curious why it hadn't worked, so I asked what fundraising paths they wanted to try and how much money they needed. "Well, we don't know! No one is interested in giving us money!" One man on the phone yelled. "We're hoping someone who comes in for an interview will be able to give us ideas. I haven't looked at our budget in a while now. You'd have to bring in the money for us to afford hiring you."


"You gentlemen aren't really prepared to do this interview, are you?" There was silence.

"I think we're done," I said as I got up to leave. "I'm afraid I'm not the right match for you. Goodbye." The admin assistant followed me to the door and whispered, "I'm so sorry." I think she working in her own little Hell. I felt horrible for her.

But the creme de la creme of crappy interviews was one I had with a small foundation in Iowa, just a half hour or so from where I grew up. The foundation is internationally focused, and I thought it would be a great match - a Midwesterner with lots of overseas and DC experience, coming back to the fold to work on focused global programs. Nice! They wanted to fly me out and back on the same day, but I kindly offered to stay in the area over the weekend (the interview was on a Friday) to save them money. Selfishly, it allowed me two days with my mom, but I really didn't see the point in them paying for an outrageously expensive ticket. I'm a bargain girl - I'll save money for other people, too.

But what I did not know when they flew me out for an all-day interview was that the director already had picked her candidate -- a former student of hers at a local university. I spent EIGHT HOURS having to smile through pointless meetings where I was interviewed at the same time as the chosen golden boy, making nice despite the fact that he had been promised the job. As the hours wore on, and the director fawned over her soon-to-be new hire, I just wanted to get the hell out of there. The only thing keeping me there, really, was a complete lack of public transportation or a cell phone to call one of my sisters to come get me. My final meeting of the day was my only one-on-one interview of the whole damn nightmare, and it was with the director. Before she took me to chat, she made sure she announced loudly to her departing favorite son that she couldn't wait for him to come on board! She acted like a schoolgirl with a huge crush. Except she was in her late 50s and he was about 25. It was a little creepy.

Alone at last, face to face with the director, whose features hardened as soon as the dude of the day left, I realized I didn't even stand a snowball's chance in Hell. She turned to a pad of paper and her scribbled questions. "So," she said, not even looking up at me, "What is that really inspires about about international travel?"

This was my moment. I could wax rhapsodic about the joy of meeting new people and the adventure of experiencing new cultures, but, why waste all that on someone who didn't want to hire me anyway?

So, I answered:

"I guess if you tied me down to one thing, it's the hotel rooms. Yeah, I really love staying in hotel rooms. You can be a complete slob, throw your stuff everywhere, and yet, when you come home each night, there it is, all clean again. I love the free HBO and room service and ice machines. I love that I can be a rock star and pretty much thrash the room before I leave. Yeah, I guess I just love all those hotel rooms. Don't you?"

She looked like I'd pissed in her Cheerios. And I smiled. A big Cheshire Cat kind of smile. An evil grin.

She knew the game was up. "You know, the board insisted that we bring a candidate from Washington, DC, just to make sure I'd made the right choice." Very nice.

I just smiled and said, "Well, I'd like to thank you and the board for the free trip home to see my family. Can the driver take me to my mother's house now?"

I didn't even bother sending thank you notes after that one. Does anyone make nice grey linen notecards with the words "Go fuck yourself" embossed on them? I think that would have been the appropriate response.

But I did get a free trip home.

And, seriously? I do love a good hotel room. And some places I've traveled, it has been the highlight of the trip.