Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Welcome to Washington Mr. President

It snowed a little bit yesterday. Today it was a little icy. So of course, the school systems in Montgomery and Fairfax counties called off school for both days. I was watching the news this evening, and there was Barack, sitting at a table before a meeting, complaining about how his girls didn't have school today. He said something along the lines of, "We're from Chicago. We go to school when it snows." He said one of his daughters even reminded him that not only do they go to school on snowy days, they go outside to play at recess.

I could see the total look of bafflement on Barack's face as he tried to wrap his mind around this new concept of snow days and school.

I grew up in Connecticut and then lived in Manhattan for 10 years. When it snows there, you go to school and you go to work unless it's a blizzard and the drifts are above your waist. That's not official policy, I'm just saying how it seemed to me at the time.
Here (we used to joke about this when we still lived in Silver Spring) if there's an icy patch somewhere in Germantown, there's a snow day.

So, all I could think, watching Barack puzzle over this was, oh my friend, you have many, many more days of complete and utter bafflement ahead of you whenever there's even just a flake of snow in the sky.

Welcome to Washington . . .

Friday, January 23, 2009

Can we bring back tar and feathering?

I've got the perfect candidate -- John Thain, who used to run Bank of America and was fired yesterday for accelerating annual bonuses to his people so they'd get them before the auditors found out how much in the hole BOA was, AND, who spent lavishly redecorating his office while the company was going down the tubes. As someone in the financial world said to me yesterday, "You give people bonuses to keep them from being tempted to find a better job at a competing firm. But where is there to move to on Wall Street at this point? People are just hanging on to the jobs they have hoping they're not going to be laid off like everyone else."

Monday, January 19, 2009

From the Plantation to the Inauguration

I've done a lot of historical research on plantation life in the United States and the Caribbean during the colonial era and, consumerist culture aside, this T-shirt being sold on the Mall today says something true and deep (let's just get over the fact that Barack is not descended from slaves, because it's bigger than that). The trade in cotton, sugar, rice, and indigo -- which made so many white people in England, the Netherlands, and the American colonies rich -- would not have been possible without the gross inequities and horrors of plantation slave labor. After emancipation, the market for all of these commodities was unsustainable with paid labor. Our country was built on the backs of slave laborers. So -- respect.

The Potomac River is frozen

Taken from one of the scenic lookouts on the George Washington Parkway.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A McLean Mystery

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I have a love-hate relationship with McLean. I love all the conveniences: nice supermarkets, all kinds of shops within walking distance, our quiet street, and a nice half acre of property to garden on. In my old neighborhood, you had to go through a metal detector to get into the Giant, and we were so close to the Beltway you could hear the whoosh of the traffic even when you were inside the house with the windows closed at five in the morning.

What I don't like is the conformity and the lack of SES diversity and the in-your-face whiteness of the place. I'd never seen so many blondes in my life -- and I grew up in Fairfield county in Connecticut.

When we first moved here, my husband kept going on and on about how diverse the McLean public schools were, but what he was talking about was all the kids whose parents were diplomats from foreign countries. Which isn't diversity at all, it's like faux-versity.

Anyhow, McLean also has its share of eccentrics. There's a homeless guy -- McLean allows ONE homeless guy because he is very well mannered -- who wears a shiny silver puffer jacket (even in the summer) and a yellow hard hat and carries a backpack. Sometimes you'll see him hanging out downtown. Once we were at the Borders Books on Route 7 in Vienna and there he was, sitting in one of the chairs in the coffee shop and having a fabulous conversation with himself. We've seen him at the Starbucks in Chesterbrook too. He gets around.

And then there's the guy who lives behind us. Let's call him "Scotty" just for the purposes of this blog.

Scotty is an older man in his 60s. He's been living in his house, behind us on another street, for years and years. He's well-liked in the neighborhood. But Scotty is just a little bit on the odd side.

To be frank, he's a hoarder. Here's his backyard. This photo was taken from our backyard.

In his spare time, Scotty likes to drive around in his old station wagon pulling other people's crap out of the trash and then storing it in his car until it gets so full he has to put it somewhere else. Which is in his backyard. He's very partial to old nylon web lawn chairs and broken lawn mowers. Also old windows.

We noticed the pile beginning about 2 years ago. A year ago we called the county because as much as we like Scotty, the pile is a health hazard. County agents have been out at least half a dozen times, taking pictures, talking to Scotty, telling him he has to clean up, serving notices, etc. but the pile remains. And it keeps getting bigger.

I'm not the kind of person who thinks she has a right to tell other people what to do in their yards. If you want to recreate the Holy Land at the time of Jesus in your back yard, go ahead, in fact, please let me know because I'd like to help you. But piles of crap? You have to draw a line somewhere.

There's also a bit of guilt involved in the whole situation because if it weren't for Scotty, our house might have burned down a couple of 4th of July's ago, when my husband didn't think he had to douse the spent fireworks with water and threw them in the trash and at 1 o'clock in the morning, Scotty knocked on our door to tell us our trash can was in flames. This was before we knew he was a collector and we couldn't figure out how he could know what was going on in someone else's yard at 1 o'clock in the morning. Now we know he was probably driving around looking for crap and totally pi**ed that whatever was in your trash can that might be good was gone now.

So, we owe a debt to Scotty.

The other thing about Scotty is that he hitchhikes in the morning. You can see him most mornings on 123 hitchhiking towards the District. He wears a beat up old trench coat and he's kind of hunched over and he doesn't just stick his thumb out, he kind of flails his arm around with his thumb out. The first time my husband saw him, it was a really foggy morning, and there he was, this odd fellow in a trenchcoat, hitchhiking in the mist. He said it was like that episode on Twilight Zone with the hitchhiker who's really death. This guy.
If you put a ratty old trenchcoat on him, he'd be a ringer for Scotty.
I don't know who picks Scotty up. But someone must because he keeps going out there. We've heard he's retired from a federal job somewhere downtown, so we wonder -- where the hell is he going? To a desk in an office that's been long-forgotten and so no-one knows he's there? (Believe me, in the federal government, these kinds of things can happen. I was convinced when I was working in my old office waaaaaay at the end of the hall that if I died, it would be days before they found me).

It's a McLean mystery.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Is anybody else in love with Dylan Ratigan?

Dylan Ratigan hosts a show on CNBC called Fast Money. It's on every day at 5 o'clock when the stock market is in session. It's a show for stock traders. So the format basically is Dylan and four other traders screaming at each other about stuff that non-traders can only vaguely understand and making really dark jokes about the market and the state of the economy. For a full hour.
That wouldn't necessarily be great TV, except for the fact that Fast Money has also got more stuff happening on the screen than any other show on television. If you took mushrooms, and then you took some speed, and then watched some old episodes of Hollywood Squares, it would look like Fast Money. There are charts that keep popping up in the corners. There's a ribbon running on the bottom with stock prices. There are flashing green LED lights behind the traders and graphics that rotate and flip. It's probably a good idea to watch it with a drink in hand so you don't risk having a seizure.
My favorite part is when they play a little trumpet theme for "Chart of the Day," because it's the kind of trumpet theme they always use in cartoons to announce the arrival of a king.
And whichever way the chart is going, it's never good news.
Fast Money is like an amusement park of trading. It's also filmed at a studio on Times Square in Manhattan and there are windows onto the street so there are always tourists wandering by in the background, putting their faces up against the windows and waving to themselves. I saw someone once waving to herself, then pulling out her cellphone to call someone, and then waving to them.
One night, one of the special guests (who are experts in some particular part of the market and are usually boring as sh*t) was going on about how we were basically facing a financial meltdown/Armageddon and a guy in a Winnie the Pooh costume wandered by. Maybe he was taking a coffee break from the Disney Store down the block? The show is that surreal.
So I highly recommend Fast Money. Tivo or DVR it and you can fast forward through the commercials and replay the jokes when you don't get them the first time because they're usually based upon some obscure trading lingo. Or just to see Winnie the Pooh wander by again. I'm still waiting for Eyore.