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.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Handy Hints (more in the oh-so-valuable series)

Housecleaning hint: even though the cans may be the same color, Pledge and Lysol are not the same thing. Spraying your bathroom down with Pledge is not a good idea.

General hint: wear your friggin' glasses. Read labels.

Holy crap, does the apartment ever stink of Pledge. And it's not even the lemony fresh variety.


Sleeping in the living room tonight...

Sunday, October 21, 2007


My back is killing me right now, which is why you haven't seen squat from me lately. Give me a few days to feel better, and I'll be more in the mood to write. Meanwhile, I found a link on Fark to an article decrying the increasing skank level of Halloween costumes for young girls. Fortunately, the handful of young kiddos who show up at my door in recent years all tend to go the angel & fairy princess routes, so I haven't had to witness the skanktasm. And thus, I don't have to be depressed about the continuing decline of one of my favorite holidays.

However, this post really has nothing to do with that story itself. It's about the ad image that popped up, embedded in the article about scantily clad tweenie Halloweenies, next to a paragraph that opens with " Women's costumes are pervasively provocative..." In case the ad changes by the time you click the link, I'm posting it below:

The, uh, beaver screen shot...

I don't know if it's a coinkidink, but I chuckled an evil, evil chuckle over this. Shame on me.

Almost time for more pain killers. Whoo-hoo. Lemme just say this - if they continue to find new fractures in my spine, I'm gonna scream.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007


Orson Welles' only Oscar, for Citizen Kane, is going under the hammer.

I love Citizen Kane. I'm typing this right now under a fabulous UK quad poster for the film's re-release a few years ago.

I think Orson Welles was a genius, and I'm saddened that he declined into a joke in his later years. Tragic, really.

The guy was freaking brilliant.

Handy Hint

Advice from tonight's personal experience: don't leave your webcam on while you're singing along with "Get Down Tonight: the Disco Explosion." Friends *will* mock you.

And no, I'm not posting any photos. Dear god, no.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Something else from the Sasquatch

It's kinda Zen, very pretty, and very addictive. Meet Boomshine. You can turn off the funky new-age-y music and just listen to the bubbles pop, fyi. Either way, it's a very mellow massive time waster!

I blame you, Mr. Sasquatch.

You've Got a Friend

This morning, I heard a rerun of A Prairie Home Companion, performed up in Baltimore, with Carole King as a special musical guest. I mentioned this just now to the Sasquatch via IM, and had to follow it up by simply typing, "CAROLE! CAROLE KING!"

Now, this won't mean much to the youngins out here, but to those of us working on long teeth, it might get a snigger of recognition. The Sasquatch and I have been saying that back and forth to each other for a looong time now. And below, you will find the somewhat tasteless, but funny origin of that call, courtesy of the big, hairy, arboreal creature who found it on YouTube...

This is *so* wrong, and yet, still amuses me inappropriately decades later:

Was that Paul Shaffer's real hair?!?

Friday, October 12, 2007


Tonight is the first night I've felt cold so far this season. I'm about to brush my teeth, wrap up in warm fuzzy jammies and hit the sack. It's supposed to get down to the 40s tonight. Brrrrrrr!

More x-rays tomorrow morning. Oh, the excitement never ends! Had to get the new car inspected today, and while some brake work was being done, I hobbled to the office via the Metro. Just that short walk back and forth between the station and work killed me. Spasm central tonight (although no tears, I'm glad to say.) I'm swathed in a layer of Thera-gesic pain relieving creme and slightly numbed with a couple of pain pills. Here's hoping for good sleep in the chilly night air!

Hey -- on a totally different - and much more entertaining - topic, I've failed to offer up congratulations here to Javi for the fact that his funky cool comicbook series The Middleman has been picked up as a live-action TV pilot by ABC Family! How freaking fabulous is that, eh? Can't wait for the day when I can hunker down in front of my Sony Trinitron (I'll even dust it for the occasion) and see the Middleman and Wendy and Co., live on my screen!

Damn fine work, Javier! Looking forward to seeing this baby!! And that's not just the handful of Ultracet talking!

Thursday, October 11, 2007

If it quacks like a duck and walks like a duck...

Article Two of the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide defines genocide as carrying out acts intended "to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group."

"The Turks have embarked upon the total extermination of the Armenians in Transcaucasia...The aim of Turkish policy is, as I have reiterated, the taking of possession of Armenian districts and the extermination of the Armenians. Talaat's government wants to destroy all Armenians, not just in Turkey but also outside Turkey. On the basis of all the reports and news coming to me here in Tiflis (Tbilisi) there hardly can be any doubt that the Turks systematically are aiming at the extermination of the few hundred thousand Armenians whom they left alive until now..."

-- Major General Otto von Lossow
Acting military attaché and head
of the German Military Plenipotentiary
in the Ottoman Empire, 1918

Soldiers were coming. People screamed in the distance. Homes were being burned. There was no time to flee. No place to go. Mother and Father frantically hid the children under the bed and begged them to be silent. When the soldiers broke down the door, they tied Father down to a chair and bound Mother's hands and feet. They made Father watch as they raped Mother and she screamed and screamed. When they were done, they slashed Mother's throat. Then, they cut off Father's penis and shoved it down his throat. He bled uncontrollably as he choked to death on his own genitals.

Then, the soldiers left. They never noticed the children, who watched in silent horror from beneath the bed.

One of those children was the grandparent of a friend of mine. My friend is an Armenian from Paris. Her grandfather was an Armenian child in the Ottoman Empire. He eventually made his way to France, as did many other Armenians after this nightmare. And he never let his family forget what he witnessed when his parents were tortured and murdered.

This story runs through my head fairly often, honestly. I don't want to, but I can see it in my head. It makes me sick.

I am ashamed to say that the Armenian genocide was not part of my world history instruction at all in school. Not a word about it. And, to my embarrassment, I really didn't know about it until I moved to Moscow - after college - and found myself in a community of diasporan Armenians, each one with a family tragedy burned into their memories.

When my mother was a little child, her stepmother used to urge her and her brother to clean their dinner plates, reminding them "there are children starving in Armenia!" That was the early 1920s. When I was a small child, my mother used to say the same thing to me, but it didn't mean anything, just like her references to the refrigerator as the "icebox" or talking about "saving your Confederate money." Random turns of phrase from a different lifetime.

Then, I learned.

Sorry, Turkey. When you work very hard to remove all traces of a people from the face of the Earth, that's genocide. It made me sick to hear Bush (shaking in his boots, surely, over the thought of losing a key ally in the region) call it "mass killings" yesterday. That sanitizes genocide a bit, doesn't it?

I just heard that Turkey has recalled its ambassador to the U.S. because of the House resolution declaring the massacre of Armenians at Turkish hands nearly a century ago "genocide." Before Bush chastises Congress again for taking this symbolic action, he should sit down with a room full of survivors, witnesses, and their children. He should experience the nightmares they carry with them every day.

History is a social earthquake with aftershocks that ripple and spread for centuries, sometimes millenia, after the moment has passed. It is up to us to keep the truth of history, not sanitize it for our own needs.

The word is genocide.

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

What would you guys rather read?

The incredibly talented and mahvelously charming Javi tells me I'm a witty raconteur*, but I certainly haven't been living up to that title lately. So, let's fix that!

I'm in the mood to tell a story, but I'm not sure where I want to take you.

Where do *you* want to go?




Minnesota in January?

Some other place you may have heard me muttering about under my breath?

Leave me a comment and let me know. This would be a good time for the lurker-types to briefly delurk, eh?

*"Witty" and "raconteur" are words that really should always be used together. I remember Fran Leibowitz writing something to the effect that "madcap" was the only appropriate adjective to be used with the word "heiress" -- I feel the same way about "witty" and "raconteur."

Monday, October 08, 2007

On a less annoyed point about things vehicular...

I have a car again. Hooray!

Le Crapmobile est mort! Vive le Crapmobile!

The new guy is a Wedgewood-ish/periwinkle-y blue '99 Taurus sedan. It's a boat compared to the Crapmobile Mark I, but, as the Sasquatch would say, it puts more steel between me and the next cell phone idiot who might hit me. The Crapmobile Mark II comes pre-dinged and with a handful of scratches and a couple of "Union Guys for Kerry" stickers. One of the Kerry doodads will get covered over with my neighborhood's parking pass sticker and the other which will get covered over with a nice set of WASP wings, if I can find my remaining supply from the last reunion I went to with Mom. Either that, or a nice Fifi bumper sticker.

I have to go in for x-rays today. My lower back and neck are still killing me. Last night I finally got to sleep around midnight, but then woke up with stabbing pain around 2, and that was it. I was up, watching Adult Swim for two hours. In retrospect, I should have picked up a book, but I was being lazy.

I realize that, over time, my mind has become very lazy in my off-work hours. I need to start nourishing my starving brain. It's time to get a new library card. I want to read An Arsonist's Guide to Writers' Homes in New England. Sounds like a good way to spend an autumn weekend.

Of course, considering that it's hotter than Hell and steamier than a jungle in Cambodia right now, who would guess it's actually autumn here? I found myself muttering "global warming, global warming" yesterday as I sweat like a pig cleaning out the new Crapmobile. Note to self for future reference: always vacuum out the crushed pile of potato chips from the trunk of car before selling it. Yuck! (Although I did find Irish coins under the potato chips. Strange, but cool.)

At least I wasn't running the Chicago Marathon, eh? Not that I'm *ever* planning to run a marathon, but still. Holy crap! 88 degrees, humidity beyond belief, one runner dead, and 300+ hospitalized? WTF?

Somewhere, Al Gore is drinking a mint julep on a shaded porch, saying, "I told you so."

Sunday, October 07, 2007

To the stupid drunk girls...

...who stole a bag of ice from the 7-11 on Randolph Road in Rockville tonight:

It's not so much that you stole a four-dollar bag of ice, you dumbasses. It's just frozen water, and 7-11 takes bigger hits every single day, I'm sure.

It's the fact that you were drunk, driving around, slurping out of big plastic tumblers of something, after dumping your empty wine bottle in the convenience store trash can. I took a nice photo of it, by the way.

You both looked to be in your early twenties. I bet a crisp new DUI citation - and a conviction for misdemeanor theft - would be a lovely addition to a shelf of college trophies and your old prom pictures. There's a framing shop just up the block from the 7-11, fyi.

Oh - and, it's also the fact that you're too fucking stupid to recognize that you are risking many lives (including your potentially worthless own) by driving like idiots while downing glasses of booze in your car. Yeah, you thought stealing a bag of ice was cute and funny. Bet you didn't plan on the irritating middle-aged woman whose back was fucked up by another dumb-as-shit driver recently taking down your license plate number and giving your description to the Montgomery County police.

In a way, I guess we should all be glad you were brainless enough to engage in petty theft. That gave me the opportunity to help the police locate a drunk driver.

Hope you learn your lesson without anyone dying.


Also, I think you were listening to RATT or Poison. That's a crime right there.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Neither here nor there, but...

Watching NBC season opener reruns tonight, I had to smile when the hapless Nerd Herd'er guy-filled-with-secrets "Chuck" reveals one of the dark government secrets in his head to be how Oceanic Flight 815 went down. Of course, as the secrets are spilling out of his brain (and his mouth) he only gets to say, "Oceanic Flight 815 was shot down by..."

Heh. Good one.

I like the thought of totally unrelated TV shows being part of the same universe.

Oooh -- interesting tangential point: during the post-concert meet & greet in Annapolis, I heard Thomas tell a fan that his friend JJ Abrams had written a whole episode of "Alias" around the song "One of Our Submarines Is Missing." Guess it never was produced. Shame - that would have been very cool!

On the personal front...

Bad news: my back is still killing me today.

Good news: I may have found a new old car. Keep fingers, toes, and eyes crossed for me!

Friday, October 05, 2007

The Loathesome Hunt for a New (well, very used, actually) Car

Being without a car sucks. Hunting for a car sucks. Hunting for a car in the $3K range that is driveable, comfortable and isn't falling apart or covered in sticky nicotine stains and cigarette burn holes REALLY sucks.

The Sasquatch would like to see me in a car that wraps a little more steel around me than the Crapmobile did, wee thing that it was. After this accident (and the tremendous pain I'm experiencing), I agree with him. Back spasms that suddenly make you weep like a baby? They suck even more than hunting for a damn car.


Thursday, October 04, 2007


Fifty years ago today, the Soviet Union changed the world by launching Sputnik 1, the first man-made object to orbit the Earth. Thus began the Space Race and the rush to create agencies in the United States like NASA and DARPA. Dollars were poured into scientific research and education. Many things we take for granted now - like the Internet - eventually came out of the West's panicked reaction to Sputnik and the thought of Soviet superiority in space.

I am just old enough and young enough that Sputnik's shadow hovered over my childhood. I was born just a little more than a handful of years after that first metal satellite orbited our planet, and nearly a handful of years before man set foot on the moon. It was a point when the Cold War was growing warmer, and I developed an early fascination with All Things Soviet.

Without the mania and growth and competition and fear that came in Sputnik's wake, who knows if I would have grown up to become a Russian-speaking kinda-historian? I was a Cold War baby who wanted to see what was on the other side of the Iron Curtain. And, in time, I saw it, in spades.

That all seems like a lifetime ago.

Today, I rarely use my language skills, except at the local Russian grocery store or to talk back to the pseudo-intellectuals that yammer on the local Russian cable TV channel. But last month, a friend of mine gave me an opportunity I couldn't pass up. He asked if I could help him with a small element of a project he was preparing. Could I come up with Russian song lyrics for a melody he'd crafted for an upcoming concert in England to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the launch of Sputnik?

Who could say no to that?!?

It was a blast to help a friend and collaborate on something really creative. Writing lyrics that make sense and rhyme and match the rhythm of a melody is tough enough in your native language, but it was a good head-scratcher in Russian. I loved it. Made me think. I even ran the lyrics past my old Russian professor at Mac (who gave me a good drubbing for my single grammar mistake, which I fixed with the change of one verb, I'm happy to say.) I think my friend was pleased with the finished product - I made him an mp3 of me singing it (fortunately, right before I completely lost my voice to pneumonia!) where I went awfully sharp, but he was still able to add keyboards to it for me to get an idea of what the final song would sound like - ambient, ethereal, celestial. Just lovely.

The concert was last night, in a city where I once lived (and got many bad 80s haircuts!) I'm so sorry I couldn't be there. But, even had I been able to buy a ticket to London, I don't think my back, post-accident, would have tolerated the transatlantic flight.

And so, yesterday evening I missed my great three-minute or so debut as Thomas Dolby's Russian-language lyricist, but that's okay. It was simply a delight to help him out. And I hope the audience really dug the song, sung as a duet by Thomas and his friend, Bruce Woolley. Bruce plays the theremin, which is pretty damn cool. Bruce, with Trevor Horn & co., wrote a little ditty called "Video Killed the Radio Star" back in the day. How cool is that, mah fellow children of the real MTV era?

I sent Bruce a note via his MySpace page last week, and he sent back the nicest message as he was working to learn the phonetic Russian I'd provided. I've been humming the song to myself for weeks now. When I was working on the lyrics, I was concentrating so hard, I apparently sang it out loud as I pumped gas one afternoon. The guy across the pump from me just stared like I had a third eye. Considering the number of Soviet emigres in my 'hood, it's entirely possible he understood me and was just wondering what the F I was singing about.

Before he left for the UK, I gave Thomas two vintage Soviet lapel pins, celebrating the launch of Sputnik. They were cast in either 1957 or 1958. I can't quite remember. And I managed to maim Thomas with them when he put them in his pocket and one of those suckers stabbed him in the finger. Lovely. Stab the keyboardist's hand while he's on tour. Jeez, Merujo!

The dangerous pins in question.

When I find a review of the show online, I'll share it with you. Here's a little skinny from the venue, so you know what this was all about.

I might have been stuck on the sofa in Maryland with my heat pad and a fistful of painkillers last night, but I was in London in spirit, kids. Big time.