esmaspäev, august 10, 2009

vähi pöörijoon

When my cousin flew from Las Vegas to New York last year, airport security was waiting for him at the arrival gate. He was stoned out of his mind and had been watching a boxing match on his personal TV on the airline JetBlue. So invigorated by the stunning camera work and liquid human motion was he, that my cousin began to box the seat in front of him with his fists, annoying his fellow passengers, and he was eventually escorted out of JFK by security and banned from JetBlue for life.

I thought about my cousin as our plane glided across the country this week. The two passengers seated beside me -- a man and a woman, both middle aged -- were following a New York Yankees - Boston Red Sox game with passion. As I tried to traverse one of Tropic of Cancer's thick interior chapters, they yelled at the miniature umpire on the screen or clapped their hands when someone scored. Yes, there was a loud little baseball game going on in row 6. The flight attendants were passing out concessions. The crowd smelled blood. As our plane approached our destination I wondered, if you can get banned from an airline for being a boxing enthusiast, can they also ban you for being a baseball fan?


It took a long time for our luggage to snake through the organs of the airport. I was hungry and thought of the mouthwatering cafeteria I passed upstairs before descending to the baggage claim. Here there were limited opportunities to find nourishment, unless sustenance meant donuts or candy bars. Up there one could eat passable Mediterranean or Asian food. When I approached the door to the escalators I met a security guard.

"Can I go back upstairs to the cafeteria? I am really hungry."

"What does the sign say?" she swallowed once, wrinkled her nose, and looked at her shoes.

"What sign?"

She pointed to a small red sign on the glass door. No Entry.

"Oh, I'm sorry, I didn't see it," I said.

She said nothing and looked away again. I felt so sorry to trouble her. Terribly sorry. If only I had seen that little red sign and not bothered her. Ashamed, I found relief at a nearby bookstore, tinkering with a new book on how childhood memories define who we are. According to some of the useful charts, older siblings are more responsible and ambitious, while younger siblings like me are more entertaining and carefree. For every Bill Clinton, there's a Roger Clinton, according to the author, or, for you Estonian readers, for every Rein Raud, there's a Mihkel Raud.

The night before started at a German restaurant called Suppenküche in San Francisco where I ate schnitzels and slammed beers with Mike and Inga, an Estonian-American couple. I was desperate to talk about the Second World War in a Teutonic joint like that, but somehow I felt like if you mentioned totaler krieg in such a boisterous establishment, you deserved a swift kick in the pants.

"Nobody ever changes," Inga opined after a few beers. "My son, he's 20 years old, but he's the same as he was when he was two." She sipped her beer again. "The girls at work think their boyfriends will change. They say, 'He'll mature.' But he's never going to mature, honey. He's always going to be that way because nobody ever changes."

Everybody dumps their personal problems on Inga. She says she's like a greasy goose, the water just slides right off her back. It's all just water, and Inga never gets wet. We got another round of beers and I raised my glass.

"Elagu eesti!" I proclaimed.

"You're more Estonian than you know," Inga said. "You're like half Estonian and your wife is half American."

I don't even know who or what I am anymore. Not an American. Not a European. Not a New Yorker nor a Tartlane. It's all just water. It rolls off my back. Later that night we are joined by some old college friends in North Beach. I haven't seen them since I left university. Now they work for the unions, though none of them are steel workers or carpenters. But they love unions. In fact, one of them is doing his master's on Brazilian steel worker unions. Lula is his God. He's from Missouri but now speaks Portuguese and has lived in São Paulo. I order cannollis and limoncellos, talking about a Noor Eesti poet.

"I can't help it, I love crazy writers," I explained my selection in mate. "In class, we were shown a photo of Marie Hedberg. I saw her face and I felt that I knew her. I thought, 'What is it about this woman? Why do I feel drawn to her?' Then the professor told us she had schizophrenia and died in a mental institution. And I said, 'Ah, now that explains everything!'"

I've been to this restaurant before. The manager's name is Giovanni. He sings along to Andrea Bocelli or Renato Carosone tunes. I am the only one at the table who knows "Tu Vuo' Fa' L'Americano." I am pleased because Giovanni's limoncello tastes only a little better than mine. I fantasize about becoming a limoncello magnate. I would use Estonian vodka, of course, because it's the best in the world. Typically, I use Saaremaa. It's accessible; not for snobs.

Inga's husband Mike is a chameleon. With a big bushy mustache and broad smile, he could be anything. If he told me he was a German, I could picture him in leiderhosen. A Frenchman? Just add a beret. A Mexican? Give him a sombrero and he's the boss at the hacienda. Japanese? Well, he does belong to a San Franciscan sake club. Mike's older. He knows things. He's been places.

"I saw Van Halen, before and after," he informs us.

"Before what?" I ask.

"I mean with David Lee Roth and with Sammy Hagar."

"What did you think?"

"They were both good," he meditates. "In their own ways."

David Lee versus Sammy. Estonia versus America. West Coast versus East Coast. From JFK, I traveled to Penn Station. With a half hour to kill I tried to find dinner. My trick in locating suitable food is to look at who is standing in line. The problem in Penn Station is that all the people are enormous. I spied a woolly mammoth in front of the hot dog stand, a pack of polar bears buying pizza. And then there were the blue whales with their buckets of Kentucky Fried Chicken. At last I saw a cafe that looked vaguely European: Au Bon Pain.

I picked out a chicken asiago salad wrap and cranberry juice. I handed it to the cashier who was talking to her friend. After a few moments I noticed that the cash register had a number on it: $9.83.

"So does my food cost $9.83?" I interrupted the cashier and her friend.

"What?" she looked at me.

"Does my food cost $9.83?"

"Oh, yeah," with an absent stare she checked the register.

I handed her my card, she swiped it, and handed me the receipt, all while continuing her conversation with her friend. They were talking about boys. I felt as if we had traded places, as if I somehow for a second had become the cashier at Au Bon Pain, informing myself how much my food cost. I could have stamped my own drink card. Thanked myself for shopping. Maybe if I had some useful relationship advice, I figured, I might have been a more attractive customer.

In Estonia, it's different. Paying at a cash register is a high-intensity affair. There's the frenetic ringing up of items, the question of whether or not you have a discount card, the queries on how much change you may or may not have in your wallet to make the transaction as efficient as possible, and, finally, the rabbit-quick deposits in and out of the clinical plastic dish, the pressure from the drunks behind you to hurry it up so that they can pay for their liquid breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

In New York, its best not to trouble the security guards or cashiers with your queries. Read the signs. Read the registers. Do it yourself.


"So I was like and she was like and we were like and like and like and like like like ..."

They were American girls on a train in Secaucus, New Jersey. The final leg of my journey was nearly over. I couldn't understand what they were talking about, but I knew it was infectious. If I stayed on that train with them, it could happen to me, and soon I would be like and they would be like, and we would all be like like like like.

On the train before, I had a riveting dialog with a Nigerian about music and weather and life and stuff. I felt like Femi was my African brother. We could talk all night about West Africa, about the Anglophone and Francophone countries, and, if things got more personal, broach the topic of religious strife. He's a Nigerian San Franciscan. It's always all cool. I wasn't worried about his laid back African attitude seeping into my soul. But the Jersey like girls? They were dangerous. I could enjoy Nigeria. I didn't want to become Secaucus. Have I become Estonia already? Is it in my Elagu eesti?

People ask me funny questions about Estonia. "I'm afraid of going to Eastern Europe," a colleague confessed in Silicon Valley. She's going to Tallinn for a conference next month. "I'm afraid of the crime."

"The only criminals you have to watch out for there in Tallinn are Brits attending stag parties," I told her.

"I resent that," said a third colleague from London.

"That's how it is," I tell him. Maybe he believes me. He said its hard to be English in America. Everyone either thinks you're a villain or gay, like Morrissey or Andy Bell or Boy George or George Michael or Neil Tennant or.

"Gay?" I believe him. Americans are a bit hung up on sexuality. They smolder about health care reform. They erupt over gay marriage. Everyone has to have a well-refined opinion on these topics. You must consume and consume information, then offer up some witty insight to the never-ending math equations of the day. One simply cannot avoid it. You must participate.

"Is Estonia developed?" asks another colleague. I tell him yes and no. The kids all have wireless. They can take digital photos with their eyes and upload them to Flickr telepathically. But vanaema and vanaisa are still out in the outhouse, partying like its 1939. I've become the bearer of the Two Estonias. I tell the people what Ivari Padar wants them to hear. I'm a sots.
I hate the street people and desperately want them to stop bugging me for change. They call government handouts entitlement, but aren't I entitled to not being stuck up for a quarter everytime I use public transportation? Mayor Bloomberg, I adopt the same tone with which Reagan told Gorbachev to tear down that wall, give these people some frigging quarters.

It's getting late as our train winds north. I let all the water roll off my back and shut up and eat my sandwich. Who am I? Just a writer. A greasy goose. It's just me, the night, my jetlag, and Tropic of Cancer. To me, it's the last book, the coup de grâce. It's colossally pretentious and yet I feel as if I wrote it. It shatters me.

39 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
LPR ütles ...

I enjoyed it. Nice.

Not such a greasy goose after all. That book really stuck on you.


Lingüista ütles ...

Not feeling like you belong anywhere after years abroad is a very well known feeling to me. As a Brazilian, I'm somehow expected (both by my fellow citizens at "home" and by those sufficiently enlightened in Brazilian ways abroad) to be a good ambassador for my country. But every time I go back to Brazil, it looks less and less like the country I grew up in -- and I didn't like it so much even then. Too many crazy people doing crazy things around.

Yes, Seneca would have understood. He started this whole genre.

Sharon B ütles ...

By the tone of that piece, you've either been reading too much or not sleeping enough. Or both. I understand entirely.

Jim Hass ütles ...

Tone? Tone? This is a good example of Justin at his quirky, humorous writerly best. Sounds like the whole trip was a bit overwhelming, though.

Even though you may feel a bit odd and out of place, you do not have to rewrite The Sun Also Rises for a post cold war generation-- unless you want to do so.

Doris ütles ...

I know. when you're there, you want to be here and when you're here, you want to be there. But it's those people that are closest to you that spell "home" - in your case your wife and kids :)

good luck and don't lose optimism :)

Kristopher ütles ...

Regarding fielding "are Estonians stoned" type questions at business meetings, I think this is one area where Facebook and Twitter will change things for the better. Everyone will ideally have one contact based in Estonia in their list, who will calmly send out updates, and people will come to realize it's a normal, happening place.

About the price and the cashier, you should try reading it from right to left -- is the price of my food $3.89? Tell her that they passed an equal opportunity law that makes it just as valid to read numbers right-to-left.

Kristopher ütles ...

"can they also ban you for being a baseball fan?"

Anyone who was rooting audibly for the Yankees should be banned. And for life, if they threw any objects at the opposing team's right fielder on the screen.

LPR ütles ...

In fact, you can monitor your estonianness yourself - pay anttention when you notice that peanut butter leaves you indifferent and baseball seems boring at the same time as you feel constant urge to grill and to watch Formula 1 racing on TV - then you've just moved toward ugric couple of notches.

Funny that you've noticed that American TV is too fast. They do not warn you of the commercial break and you have to figure it out - why is this guy guy happily eating Dominos pizza while Spiderman is trying to stop a runaway train? ... The day you find all this too confusing, you've become ... more estonian.

stockholm slender ütles ...

A lovely post - you should do more blogging when blind drunk! Well, seriously speaking nice writing, quirky and humorous. I don't really know what to say about Miller, he has powerful defenders but it's very hard to be enthusiastic about his approach. Maybe one should give him another go, haven't read him for ages...

stockholm slender ütles ...

I suppose this was a pastiche actually?

Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Martin-Éric ütles ...

I never felt like I belonged to where I came from and the Finns make it a point to remind foreigners that they don't belong here either. Result: I feel no sense of belonging, which also implies no loyalty towards any country.

Then you get the directors of both Supo and the Immigration publishing a joint statement in Helsingin Sanomat, warning about the impeding dangers of failed integration. Yes indeed and their own attitude is to blame. People don't feel an urge to learn the language or to integrate when they get constantly reminded that they don't belong here.

LPR ütles ...

Puu. The innuendo and harassment you are referring to are just voices in your head. Tell them to stay back.

LPR ütles ...

Puu. The innuendo and harassment you are referring to are just voices in your head. Tell them to stay back.

Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
LPR ütles ...

But why so much hostility when you know deep inside that you and I could make a perfect dysfunctional couple. Just like your parents.

Then again, it does not matter whether it is going to be me, a mere ghost on the internet, or some other guy, some day, some man will be very unhappy living with you. And you next to him.

It is your fait acompli.

P.S. I totally like when you are madlike that. I'd slap that padonka-donk of yours till it turns pink. Cue the 70s porn soundtrack and chill.

Anonüümne ütles ...
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Justin ütles ...

Puu and Inner Monologue need to get a room.

Anyway, I don't think a chain on the scale of Au Bon Pain would typically have a client card like in Estonia (does any prepared food place have one?). $9.83 isn't cheap by any means, but you're in the most expensive city in the country, in a place where you're a captive customer (train station). The prices in Tallinna Lennujaam are quite severe, and even worse when scaled to the average salary in each city.

Now let's see if your next blog post is comparing the "awful" customer service in America to the "glorious" customer service in Estonia.

Anonüümne ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
LPR ütles ...

Puu, shouldn't you be on the ledge somewhere?

david h jones ütles ...

I've got a feeling that America's hegemony in the world - especially cultural hegemony - is on the way down because the place is full of fatsos.

You just can't take a country and culture seriously, especially in terms of dance, music and drama, when half its population look like walruses!

The bigger America's waistline the less the rest of the world would want to follow it. Who wants to follow a fatso?

John Menzies ütles ...

Hah, Puu and IM should get a room. Then an Estonian from Türi who is working in the US could tutor Puu in English grammar and spelling, and Puu can enlighten IM about how enlightened people are in NY.

John Menzies ütles ...

And maybe the motel manager could come around and enlighten you both about how it's considered bad form to flame and spam when the blogmaster is away.

John Menzies ütles ...
Autor on selle kommentaari eemaldanud.
Lingüista ütles ...

I don't understand -- I didn't see any comment by Internal Monologue here that sounded like he wanted to rape anybody. I didn't get any sexual innuendo either. Am I misreading or missing something? Or is this about earlier posts somewhere else?

LPR ütles ...

Linguista, rewind back to the top and read the very first comment here. There's your innuendo. Rape and the rest is thrown in for good measure. You gotta make a case. Remember, it is the blog owner here whose address and name can be verified in a lawsuit. Girl's gotta prove that he's the one who is negligent and advocating rape and what not. So she might be whacked out of her mind, but her lawyers might be right on.

How do you like them apples, uh?

I dont blame her. One's gotta make a buck in this economy. She has no ex-husband to milk, so you pick your victims wherever you can.

If I was Giustino, I'd lawyer up right away.

Anonüümne ütles ...

He wanted said he would touch my genitals. Thats rape without permission. The fact, that Ernst, Justin etc, dont see that is in itself disturbing.

I understand where Inner Monologue is coming from though. Which is why it pisses me off. Sex in his universe is more about power than pleasure.The current Russia could be compared in some ways to imperial if you have seen the TV show rome... all the intrigue really isnt that different than what is going on in Russia ( and in some ways America) now. In imperial Rome for instance whoever got penetrated was subservient to the penetrator. Rather than try to maintain democracy inner monologue is interested in being a petty bureucrat in a new Rome, and he has the corresponding sexual behavior. I am smarter than inner monologue, as are most commentators on her,eso he cant win in a normal conversation about politics and thus he resorts to playing dirty and hitting below the belt.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Besides all the intrigue stuff, I think the bottom line is just that inner monologue is lonely. He is sexually inexperienced and his talk is just all bravodo. He doesn*t know how to meet women. He probably isnt very attractive or in anycase he is crippled by low self esteem. He believes that if women didn*t blog he would be king of his own castle. He will never have anyone because he sees women as objects and men as his enemies. This is a real problem. If he doesn*t deal with himself, he will end up like Sodini:

Anyway it is too bad.I feel sorry for him,but I shouldn*t have to deal with it.

Lingüista ütles ...

Hm, it seems to me there's a history here. OK, I see the sexual innuendo in IM's first post, but I frankly don't see (maybe because English isn't my native language?) a declaration of desire to touch anyone's genitals (the 'greasy goose' maybe? but that would be IM's own, no?)

If IM is really in this to piss you off, Puu, I think you do him a service by overreacting -- that would be his desired outcome, after all. And if he isn't, then maybe you're being unfair to him.

I certainly agree that sex shouldn't be about power; I believe it's about pleasure (even when it involves power, the point still is the pleasure it gives you and your partner(s)). I will certainly disagree with IM if he says so. But so far I don't see that he has, Puu.

I suppose you guys have argued before, and I see the anger in you guys' posts. I probably shouldn't interfere. I was just throwing in my 2c.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I appreciate your two cs, Linguista.

Here is the offending remark by inner monologue:
I totally like when you are madlike that. I'd slap that padonka-donk of yours till it turns pink. Cue the 70s porn soundtrack and chill

--- Unacceptable---

I am also totally not a prude, I like sex, but I am not on here for any of those reasons... I
don*t like inner monologue, everyone has boundaries, which I have asked him many times nicely not to cross, and if someone violates them you have a right to strike back.

I don*t have any anger or hatred against men in general, Guistino def doesnt need to worry about a lawyer. But I don*t like cowards who try to make themselves look bigger by picking on the outlier, which is what IM does.

LPR ütles ...

I am picking on you Puu, because you are the only one who does not see when she's being gadflied upon in a tongue-in-cheek way.

Maybe I should stop, because failure to understand humour is a sing of mental sickness, and one thing I do not do is to make fun of sick people and if that is the case with you, I apologize.

I do not want to pull Obama here and make light of special olympics or abused or otherwise broken or hadicapped people.

If this applies to you, I am sorry.

LPR ütles ...

And why did you bring your genitals into the discussion? That was not appropriate. Was it?

LPR ütles ...


Lingüista ütles ...

IM, I assume you are picking on Puu as a joke, you don't believe in the implications of the stuff you wrote, you just do a little of the asshole act in a tongue-and-cheek way. OK, I can understand that.

But one thing I've noticed in life is that the difference between a joke and an offense is minimal. In fact, I'd claim the only difference is the reaction of the target: if s/he reacts badly, this means the joke hurt, which wasn't the point if it was only meant to be a joke.

Why insist on a bad-guy-like behavior, even if tongue-in-cheek, when it obviously isn't serving its purpose, isn't getting the desired result? Isn't it better to try a different approach?

Again, just my 2c. :-)

LPR ütles ...

The beauty of it all is that I am not out to change you. I celebrate you the way you are. The Beatles but the best when describing the conflict like ours -

I leave you with that.

I say Goodbye.

LPR ütles ...

Oops. That was meant for Puu.

In response to you Linguista - a shrug. No argument, just a shrug.

Lingüista ütles ...

Shrug right back at ya :-).

It's hard, though, looking at what you wrote, to escape the feeling that you like pissing Puu off, which isn't what I'd call nice. It feels more like you want revenge, for some reason. But OK, you're a free agent.