Again I went home for Christmas to see my crazy family, eat too much food and feel like an alien on planet Earth.
The Vast Wasteland.
While I stayed with my brother, I was put up in the kid’s bedroom, in which there was a TV. We didn’t have television sets in our bedrooms when we were children! Let alone with cable. And we walked uphill to school, in the snow, both ways. … Now, even as an adult, I own one small, old-timey (still works perfectly with a digital converter) TV set that I keep in a closet. I do not have cable or that combination of 900 channels of cable, HDTV, On Demand, Netflix and Pay-Per-View which perplexingly remains so bereft of quality programming that you end up watching Jerseylicious because it will do the least amount of damage to your karma. At home, I receive a mere 37 channels. But I can watch them without that sinking feeling that I’m a character in some dystopian morality tale or without prompting my brain cells to commit mass suicide. In fact, at home, the more ridiculous the programming, the more likely it is to be in a foreign language, so it is educational. Also, it is free.
So there I sat in horror, flipping through 900 channels late into the night. Scary smiling people with the acting skills of zombies trying to sell me revolutionary bras and rakes. Jerseylicious. Every crime against food you can imagine and some you cannot. Bimbos making out and then complaining and then making out again. Then … people dancing ballet in strange costumes to what sounded vaguely of Tchaikovsky. (Why do we put a T there?) After the freakshow I’d just witnessed on the previous 899 channels, I first took the man flipping around in a naked fat suit to be another attempt to shock a terminally bored American populace into looking at the screens in front of their faces. But unlike the previous 899 channels, I simply could not flip. I was mesmerized. It turned out to be the Casse Noisette Circus performed by Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo. AMAZING. I highly recommend it if you love ballet, or if you don’t like ballet but do like Cirque du Soleil and the theater, or do not like ballet but do like the Nutcracker but have been there and done that and are back to not liking ballet.
Speaking of ballet, I am planning to see the film, The Black Swan this weekend. Unlike everyone else who sees it, I do not like Natalie Portman. At all, actually. But I do love the ballet and Darren Aronofsky. And I would like to see Portman do something interesting for the first time in her career. Anyway, the only reason I mention it is because I found these posters for the movie and think they may be of some interest to people who come here expecting a post about Russia an just finding my annual Christmas complaints:
Gorgeous! So … what the hell is this called? Art Deco? Constructivist? Russian Avant Garde? The second one is very Erte… God, those people selling me rakes killed the brain cells that used to be able to identify early 20th Century Russian art movements! Fuck. Anyway, I want these.
p.s. In last year’s Christmas rant, I mentioned that my step-parents had like 3 universal remote controls for one TV. They now require just one! Progress!
In Which I Fail To Remember The True Meaning Of Christmas.
Also, I believe I devoted a shocking amount of space in last year’s rant to the Christmas presents I received and their general lameness. It’s beyond unseemly. So little class. I was raised better! I truthfully don’t even care when I get since I will probably hate it anyway. I am one of those people who say that shopping for other people’s gifts is the best part, and are telling the truth. Because despite making it abundantly clear what I want, and having a pretty unique but I think identifiable personal style, I remain absolutely impossible to shop for. And I am such a snob that I think gift certificates are second rate. Anyone in the position of ever having to buy me presents must end up resenting my very existence at some point. Also, I am a terrible liar. That doesn’t mean I won’t try to lie! My mouth will say, “Thank you for a the wonderful gift!” But it comes out all drenched in resentment and hollowness and I feel like I’ll start hyperventilating. So I try to make things easy by stating exactly what I want. Not my fault if people don’t buy it. For example, every year I ask for this perfume I wear and go through buckets of. Every year. It’s available online and in all cities with a mall. For like 10 years I have asked for it. Never got it.
UNTIL NOW. Thank you Candi and Tom!!!! You have just progressed to the next level in the game of “Try to give T– what she wants and save the princess from the monster.” W00T!
Another well-received present came from my brother, who gave me the GN’R Appetite for Destruction CD to replace the cassette tape version he stole from me in middle school. “I even upgraded it to a CD.” A true Christmas miracle!
Also, my brother’s girlfriend, in addition to be an overall outstanding person with no shortage of life skills and generosity, can shop for me. She makes it look downright easy. Spa products and this thing you put nice smelling wax into and makes your whole home smell like baked goods. She told me it was “reindeer themed,” and I pouted as I carried a ceramic reindeer I’d never display in public all the way home. But it turned out to be rather classy compared to what I was expecting. I am even displaying it. Now my apartment smells like cookies.
Everyone else got me gift certificates, chocolate and socks. Do you know what you get people you forgot to buy presents? I am infinitely appreciative, though. Truly. I am not just saying that as a CYA. Even for the weird, ginormous box of Russian chocolates that are not actually Russian but made in Latvia and taste like soap. Why are Latvians producing crap chocolates and slapping photos of Peterhoff on the boxes? I hope the fine people of Russia are getting a cut of the profits you are making off whoring their historical sites to peddle your disgusting confections! BTW, is it just me, or do Russians make the best semi-sweet chocolate in the world? I know Belgium and Switzerland are famous for that cloyingly sweet milky stuff I wont touch with a 10 ft. pole, and France is great with dark chocolate ganachey type things, and these days it is really best to buy chocolate fair trade from small Venezuelan farmers (small farms, not small Venezuelans). But seriously, the Russians can do semisweet! What is that about? Oh, my coworker also brought in real Russian (from Russia, not Latvia) chocolates called “bird’s milk.” Bird’s milk? Really? Russia is forever bitching that no one in the West takes them seriously, everyone is irrationally suspicious of them, and then they do things like give candy a name that evokes the horrors of Chernobyl. Like, great, just when we think we understand you mysterious people, your birds produce milk. I give up. (It’s from some skazka, I know. But lactating birds is still upsetting.) They were delicious.
On the topic of sweets, both my brother and my cousin Sally made buckeyes, which are chocolate candies meant to resemble a kind of nut. My mother used to make them, and now they fall into the category of things that can never ever be replaced since she is dead. My mother would force us to roll them into little nut-shaped balls until our hands cramped. All night. Our tiny child-slave palms would smell like peanut butter for a week. My brother’s buckeyes got the hard, glossy dark chocolate outer shell just right. And Sally got the middle flavor and texture just right. Both failed on the density. My mother’s buckeyes never crumbled. They were packed so densely, you could drop them on the floor and they would not fall apart. In fact, for many years I did not believe they were food and was secretly afraid to eat them.
America, or, In Which I Remember The True Meaning Of Christmas.
I feel like it gets uglier every year. Like physically, aesthetically uglier. Russia uglier. Which is not to say there is nothing beautiful about it. Just that there are random piles of junk in muddy fields, and businesses are too concerned with trying to afford the electric bill to care about a new paint job. There are empty business parks and stores where you go to buy your furniture, eggs, prescriptions and socks all in one overlit, characterless, impersonal giant shed. You know what I am talking about. Grimy. Dated. Bleak. I used to watch 70′s films set in NYC and romanticize grimy, dated and bleak. I still do. But when suburbs become grimy, dated and bleak, I worry. People in America buy food at the Dollar Store now. Employed people. People forgo art and hang TVs purchased on credit cards on their walls instead. I’m noticing a lack of seating. People are hanging out in kitchens – Soviet like, or in front of their TVs. Hunkering down, prioritizing. Repeatedly I heard Democrats and Republicans and unengaged alike complaining about the homeless. The homeless! I am not even sure there are homeless in their neighborhoods. Or why they are not complaining about the bankers getting bonuses. I even interrupted a weird group rant about the poor to say -and I am the non-Christian in the room!- “Hey, it’s Christmas, a time to appreciate what we have, and keep those not as fortunate in our hearts.” Everyone looked at me like I was an alien! Awkward silence followed. I’m not better then they are, and they are not bad or selfish people. I just think it is the insecurity. It’s pervasive. No one is even pretending things are alright anymore. Which is a relief, in a way.
Somehow it all seems easier to handle in the big city. Here no one thinks I am a failure if I don’t have 900 TV channels and a car and a baby. And if they do, it’s impersonal. People fail, a fact of life, nothing to see here, move along. The American dream will not come crashing to its death because I stopped believing in it. Cities seem to reserve judgement. We don’t look at an unwashed crack junkie under a bridge and blame them, “You failed! Look at what you are doing to the nation! Shame!” We feel sad and a bit helpless and blame our selves. “We failed. Look at what we’re doing to our people. Shame on us…” Some people would say this is socialist thinking devoid of personal responsibility. “Personal responsibility” is American shorthand for “Every man for himself.” What about our personal responsibility to each other? What the fuck is our “nation” if not each other? Yeah, I just don’t get it… Why are we mad at the homeless? They should go out and get a job? People with advanced degrees can’t even find work. (And uhm, if working at McDonald’s won’t support the person with an advanced degree, how do we presume it will support the poor? Without government assistance?) Middle class families are being tossed out of their homes. Which homeless poor do we hate exactly? The nuclear family in the suburbs or the black man in the city?
What I wanted to say was that I always feel a bit humbled and overwhelmed and frankly deprived when I go home to 4 bedroom homes with vaulted ceilings and outdoor hot tubs and $150 bottles of wine and new additions to the house and TVs the size of picture windows in all rooms and cars and endless conversations about how it was all paid for. I feel insecure about my tiny apartment and tiny TV and cat that is not a baby I take to soccer practice and the dirty bus I ride to get places. But by the end of my stay, I decide my bed is more comfortable than most (why are people buying TVs before comfortable mattresses?!), I actually like what is on my tiny olden TV, I can’t be found guilty of using more space than I need or of having a large carbon footprint. I never, ever have to look for parking or pay for gas. I like animals a hundred times more than babies. I don’t even like babies. I pretty much don’t want to see another child under 10 for the next 360 days. Cigarettes are 3 times more expensive here, but that just means I smoke 3 times less. And this overeating culture is out of control. I’m perfectly content with a slice of carry out pizza and glass of cheap wine. (To put things into perspective and illustrate I’ve not become delusional with humility: the tastiest thing on the gourmet Christmas feast menu was potatoes made with truffle oil. I am thinking, “Oof, truffles, in a recession! So Petit-bourgeois…” Then I remembered the truffle oil was a gift from me to the chef. … See, I do give good gifts.) Anyway. What is my point? I love my family. I am mildly terrified of the America lying dormant outside major metropolitan areas.
Speaking of Carbon Footprints…
What else can I complain about? ZooLights. Apparently this is done all over the world now, so I hope you know what I am talking about. Christmas lights all over the zoo. It looks magical, but on my way home last night I was wondering if the animals appreciate it. Maybe they love it. But maybe if they are light-sensitive or creatures of routine, it stresses them out. I don’t know. I hate zoos anyway. Won’t go in them. Too depressing. Maybe it would be less depressing if they kept the holiday lights up all year.
Hot tubs. My step-parents have an outdoor hot tub and we got in it in the snow. That was fun! Except it was not a time machine.
Lastly, when did we collectively cease to be able to function in the snow? What is that about? You can walk in it, blow it away, shovel it, melt it, go home and play in it and drink hot chocolate. I specifically remember there being snow and airplanes when I was little. Hell, I imagine the only way you can even get to Antarctica is by plane. Think about that… And how ironic is it that while we are flipping about about body screeners and the size of a shampoo bottle, it is not evil Muslims but a season that arrives every year pretty much like clockwork that cripples our air traffic and bring large swaths of human civilization to a standstill. But climate change is a fairytale. Terrorists who hate our crappy TV/culture of self blame/Dollar General food shopping way of life want to kills us, and that’s worth sacrificing our children’s lives for…
I feel better already! Thanks for letting me get all that off my chest so that I may enter the new year with a clear mind and a light heart.
Ok, who am I kidding, I’ve never known a a clear mind and a light heart.
Uhm, anyone have NY resolutions? I have to read some Borges. That’s it.