Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Laundry, Russian Style

I took my faded lavender panties off the clothesline in the kitchen and sniffed: as I suspected, they smelled like last night’s fried cauliflower. (The rest of the cauliflower sat on the table ready to be served cold for breakfast). I was nearing the end of my semester in Moscow, and I had long since given up trying to dress like a Moscow girl—short skirts, bright synthetic fabrics, high heels (read: slutty)—but laundry was another story.

There was a small washing machine in our apartment on Donskoi Street, but I wasn’t allowed to use it. Truth be told, I never asked. I just assumed Elena Mikhailovna didn’t want me to use it, even though she probably bought it with a previous exchange student’s rent money. So I became adept at washing my clothes by hand: fill small plastic tub with water and detergent, insert clothes, and rub the fabric between your thumbs.

Most Russian apartments have enclosed balconies where people hang their laundry, but our building, being closer to the center of the city, was older and didn’t have balconies, so we had to hang our laundry to dry in the kitchen. Somewhere along the line, I decided it was easier to hang my sweaters in my bedroom, where they would be out of the way.

During my first few weeks in Moscow, Elena Mikhailovna and I would spend hours at the kitchen table chatting over tea with lemon about everything from politics to romance. She told me stories of her pre­-perestroika days as a geologist including the research trip where she spent months living in a tent in frozen Yakutsk. As time wore on, familiarity sunk in, and the conversations became less frequent. Elena Mikhailovna seemed irritated with me, greeting me in the mornings with a frosty “dobre utra, Liz,” and I asked myself, “What did I do?”

Things finally came to a head one Saturday in November. I had just returned to the apartment after spending a few hours at the Central House of Artists, Moscow’s museum of contemporary art. I went into the bathroom and found one of my sweaters hanging on a hook in the shower, which was not where I had left it: I had hung it on the doorknob in my room. A knot wrenched my gut. I was in for it now.

Elena Mikhailovna called me into the kitchen for dinner. Dinner was the same as always: soup, followed by sosiski or kotleti or whatever we were eating that week, and tea. We had tea with lemon and cookies like usual. She said nothing. I thought, for a moment, that she wasn’t going to say anything.

“I thought you were here for lunch,” she said, “and I opened the door to your room and saw where you hung your clothes. You know it costs $200 to redo the floors?” (Muscovites always quote prices in dollars). Shit. I was caught. I waited for her to go on, for the axe to fall.
“It struck me that that wasn’t the first time you did that.” It wasn’t. “Why did you do that?”

Now I had to try and defend myself: “Well…I’m just…used to doing things…that way…” In my head I was already counting down the days I had left until my flight home. Thirty-five.

When she excused me I went off to my room to cry.

It was only a misunderstanding, though I still think, since it was her house, she should have given me clear instructions about where to hang laundry from the beginning. Other students had much worse things happen with their host families: one friend of mine got drunk, and picked up what he thought was his fox fur hat to vomit into it. Only it wasn’t a hat, it was the cat, and his host mother looked at him with disgust and disbelief. He tried to make up for it by giving the cat a bath, but the cat got angry and scratched him.

Living in someone else’s house is hard. Doing it in another language doesn’t make it any easier. Misunderstandings are to be expected. So though I messed up when I hung my laundry to dry on the doorknob, at least I didn’t vomit on the family pet.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Nightmares About Math Class

Ever since graduating from college a year and a half ago, I've been having the same dream. The dream varies, but the bottom line is always the same: I'm in high school, graduation is near, and I haven't gone to my math class all semester. Panic ensues. I have to make up an entire semester's worth of work, IF the teacher will let me.

Then I wake up. I realize that I have to be at work in half an hour. And that I haven't paid my Verizon bill.

I'm not one for interpreting dreams, because I read in some text book that dreams don't really mean anything, that they are just random neurons firing. But if that's the case, why, in the dream, am I always in high school? And why is the class always math? As I write this it occurs to me that, in high school, math stressed the hell out of me.

Math was my worst subject. In 9th grade I got an A minus first semester in Algebra 1, but it was all downhill from there. In 12th grade I took one semester of Pre-calculus (which was taught by a rather inept student teacher, which didn't make it any easier) and barely got by. Since I already had all the semesters I needed to graduate, and had been accepted into my college of choice, I dropped it second semester and replaced it with something else.

But in the semesters leading up to it, math was a constant cause of worry. My father always got angry if I didn't get straight A's, and was especially upset if I didn't do well in math. (He wanted me to be a chemical engineer. Cough cough.) At midterms, my math grade sometimes hovered in the D range, and I sweated and scrambled to raise it to at least a C. I had to quit the debate team in 11th grade because my grade in trigonometry was suffering.

It's disorienting to be back in high school after having completed eight semesters in college, two of the in foreign countries. But I've come to realize that I have this dream because my brain associates the apex of stress with flunking out of math. College was rigorous, a ton of work, and illuminating, but I didn't have to take courses in things I wasn't good at or worry about my GPA. (I miss Sarah Lawrence...) My junior year of high school I took AP English, AP US History, Honors Chemistry, Russian level 4, was in the Wind Ensemble (the highest and hardest of our bands) and was on the debate team. I was overwhelmed, to say the least. And math was the bane of my existence. So now when money stresses me out, or when work makes me miserable, I find myself back in high school, scrambling for my Geometry book.

Sigh. Can't I just run naked through Grand Central at rush hour?

A Letter To Love

Dear Love,
First of all, I want you to know that I am only writing to you because I unwrapped a piece of Dove Chocolate, and the wrapper said "write a letter to Love," and since Chocolate, unlike you, has always served me well, I always try to do what it asks. After this you and I can go back to our previous arrangement of pretending the other doesn't exist.

I bet you were expecting some sort of letter of thanks. 'Love, you have enriched my life so much. Thank you'. Well, forget it. I'm no Florentino Ariza, and if I were, I would totally charge people to write their love letters for them. Seriously, he called himself an entrepreneur? I might just put up an ad on Craig's List right now...$10 bucks for a love letter, $15 for an original love poem, tailored to the specifics of your beloved, discretion guaranteed. Oh, I'm digressing. Sorry.
Yeah, um, Love, you suck. You suck balls. Llama balls. No wait, mammoth balls. Yeah. You like 'em hairy, don't you? Big and hairy.

You have never gotten me anywhere. Never. Remember when I was a freshman in college, and dating that buck-toothed asshole who cheated on me with that skinny bitch with cystic fibrosis? Remember how you convinced me that he was The One, even after he suggested having anal sex so that I wouldn't lose my virginity? Do you remember how he told me he loved me, then broke up with me five days later in an email? And remember how I could barely get out of bed for days after that? Do you?

And remember when I lost my virginity? How can you forget, it was in your hometown of Paris, France! Paris is your breeding ground, your glue trap, where you lead unsuspecting young men and women into dark, smoky, sultry, unforgettable affairs. And you really got me. You got me good...from the minute I laid eyes on that cute Algerian bartender I was in your clutches. I danced with him, kissed him, let him deflower me in a hotel bed, and fell hopelessly into you. And just wouldn't let me see straight at all. You know, that was the least you could've done for me. But you blindfolded me with rosy silk and I thought he felt the same way. Remember how I cried at Gare du Bercy, as I left Paris for Milan, and he kissed me goodbye? You followed me all through Italy. You could have left me in Paris but you just had to tag along. So I thought about you and him while I was in Milan. You and him in Venice. You and him in Rome. You and him in Florence. You and him in Naples. Then, on the way back to Milan from Naples, a creepy caterer groped me on the train and I while I was filing my police report I missed my train to Nice. So I went back to Paris, seeking the comfort of my beloved. But what happened when I got there? HE TOLD ME HE HAD A NEW GIRLFRIEND. After a week and a half! He had already discarded me. That was not funny. That was really mean. You did not have to set me up like that.

It was more than a year before you let me let go of him. And then I started seeing Pedro. Pedro worked in the cafeteria at my college, remember? And at the Senior dinner, I locked eyes with him and he grabbed my hand and pulled me next to him, as a girl I didn't really know snapped a picture of us. After that we started seeing each other. We laughed and talked and pretty soon I fell into you again. And he said he had you for me too; in fact he said it first. But what happened nearly a year later? He said he didn't love me and that he had said 'I love you' because it sounded better than 'I like you'. It was all a lie, and you let me believe it.
And now he's back. In July I visited a psychic who read my palm and said to me, "Don't you know that he loves you?" I don't know if he does, but at this point I don't really have any more of you for him anymore. I just fuck him, because the tension between us makes the sex hot. But I don't really know if you're in the picture and frankly I don't care.

I used to spend hours daydreaming about you...I daydreamed about falling into you with [young] Paul McCartney, or [young] George Harrison, or Derek Jeter (who actually isn't cute anymore but again I digress). I'd daydream about winning back someone who'd spurned me, how the Algerian would finally fall into you and realize that I was the one and send that French skank packing. Or I'd involve you in a revenge fantasy: the buck toothed asshole would confess that he was deeply into you with me and I would tell him to go fuck himself. I'd recast movies with myself as the romantic lead, opposite Leonardo DiCaprio. I'd rewrite history: George Harrison never married that chick who left him for Eric Clapton. I'd pine for hours over various crushes...Sam the saxophone player, Josh, the wrestler, Sam again...
Now I really don't think of you that much. When I need an escape I dream about hitting the lottery, or better yet, the perfect job. Writing for Saturday Night Live, or being a spy. Or, if no one else is around (I am superstitious; I feel like people can read my thoughts) I dream about sex. Sex in public. Sex in cars. Nasty, dirty, fuck-me-right-now-with-your-huge-cock sex. But not you. I am so done dreaming about you.

You can totally kiss my ass. You have messed with my head enough. I know it amuses you to play games with me, but really, it's enough already. So find someone else to be the source of your sadistic amusement. I'm going to spend time with some people who actually help me: Chocolate, and maybe later, Sex.

Someone who hates your fucking guts!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! You know who.

This Is Crush Cast

This is Crush sounds like a girly gossip page, a sixth grade field trip to the roller garden, a game of MASH written on the back of a Trapper-Keeper, a wreath of hearts drawn in pink pen around a yearbook picture...but it's not. It's a collection of creative non-fiction and the occasional rant, or whatever I feel like writing about. It's three parts on-line diary and one part Op-Ed. Or something. This is Crush in crushed basil. Crushed grapes. Crushed career aspirations. Fingers crushed in a car door. You get the idea. This is not a playground graffito, nor is it a libelous list of other peoples' secret crushes.

That's not to say I don't have a secret crush, but I'll never tell who it is. Or will I? I guess you'll just have to keep reading.