Tilting at Bureaucrats

Mar. 3 - Molli turned eight months old on Thursday—a milestone we're very excited about.

I'm not iconoclastic enough to dismiss chronological milestones out of hand—even though I'd like to downplay my forthcoming fortieth—but in Molli's case they're often anti-climactic. It isn't so much the fact of her having been with us for eight lunar cycles that gets us pumped, but the developmental strides she's been making. In particular, she's suddenly coming up with human-sounding babble.

It's a new behavior that emerged our second or third day in the states. Early that morning she'd begun responding to her five-year-old American cousin's coughs with fake little coughs of her own. It was weirdly charming and therefore elicited fake coughs from the entire family. We sounded like a TB ward. Molli coughed gleefully back whenever coughed at until one point later in the day, when she suddenly tired of the coughing and clammed up. From that point on she responded to phony coughs just as you or I would (assuming you're not a psychiatrist, physician, or hypochondriac)—with simple indifference or a withering arch of her eyebrows.

Then, out of nowhere, she suddenly began exclaiming "ba!"

Everyone said "ba" back to her, and she replied with still more ba's. She became a kind of acoustic machine-gun, peppering the world with her exciting new syllable.

That night Trine and I awoke to the sound of our daughter talking to herself in her crib. "Ba ba ba," she was saying. "Ba ba ba ba ba." We were mesmerised. Our daughter was composing her own Philip Glass aria!

It was a watershed moment—and not merely because of the accompanying increase in drool. Over the course of her week in America she developed more and more consonant sounds and experimented liberally with them. I was afraid it might have been an American habit that she'd drop once we got back to Denmark, like turning right on red, but the behavior has persisted and continues to evolve.

Her vocabulary is limited. She mostly says "ba-ba" and "da-da" and "va-va," sometimes in staccato bursts and other times in lengthy rhetorical flourishes. Once in a while she'll knit together a complex sentence like "ba va va da, da ba bvvvvv." We've also heard the occassional "ma," "la," or "ka," and in a few cases she's even opted for vowel sounds other than "ah," such as "ee" and "uh." For the most part, however, it's ba-ba, da-da, and ka-ka. I'm a big partisan of the da-da sound, for obvious reasons, and make a point of overreacting whenever she utters it in my presence. But I think I may be doing more harm than good.

"Da-da," she says.

"Dada!" I repeat with wild enthusiasm. She stares at me, slack-jawed and drooling. I thump my chest or pat my head. "Dada," I continue, "That's me! I'm dada! Dada, dada, dada!"

Eventually she overcomes her shock and resumes speaking.

"Ba ba la ma, va va va bvvvv. Ba va va! Da ba ba da da," she says.

"Dada!" I exclaim again, completely disregarding the context. And so it goes. And what I'm teaching her, I suppose, is that if she stretches out her random babbles long enough, eventually the big guy that's always hanging around will jump around and make an ass of himself. Which, now that I think of it, may not be the harmful sort of misinstruction I feared it might be when I set out to describe it. Odds are, this girl's father is going to jump around and make an ass out of himself regardless of what she says, or whether she says anything at all, for the rest of her life—and the sooner she learns that, the sooner her mother can teach her how to deal with it.

Anyway, this is exciting stuff. The window to her soul is opening, and I can't wait to see what's inside.

(I know, I know: the eyes are supposed to be the window to the soul, but that's always struck me as ridiculous. That would mean that only highly-trained eye specialists with unerring diagnostic abilities would ever get to know anyone.)

* * *

I thought I'd have a lot of clever, funny, or at least vaguely interesting observations to make about our trip to the states. It was my second trip back since we moved here two years ago, was my first experience in the states with my own child, and was the first time a lot of my family and friends had ever seen my daughter in the flesh.

But I wasn't very observant on this trip. I was too busy taking pictures. Here, for example, is just one of many photographs I took of Molli on the flight over:

And yet, now that I think about it, even that picture has a sort-of story associated with it, so I'll riff on that for the time being—and maybe the next few almanacs will consist of pictures and their stories.

* * *

When we made our reservations last November, Scandinavian Airlines (SAS) had assured us we'd have bassinet seats on our outbound and return flights. Those are the seats facing the cabin bulkhead on which the airline mounts bassinets for infants, meaning they (the infants) don't have to sit in your lap the whole flight. We called to confirm our seats a few days before departure and were told we actually did not have a bassinet seat on either flight. In fact, we had a couple of lousy middle-of-the-plane seats and would have to keep Molli on our laps for the entire eight-and-a-half-hour flight.

"But we specifically requested the bassinet seats when we made our reservations in November," Trine observed, "and we were told we could count on having them."

"Yes," the SAS rep told her, "But there are only a few on each plane, and they're assigned on a first-come, first-served basis, so everyone else must have reserved their seats before you."

"Is it really possible that three other passengers with infants reserved this specific flight more than three-and-a-half months in advance?"

"Oh, yes, quite possible."

"Then why couldn't they have told us that when we bought the tickets? The only reason we didn't take Iceland Air is because they don't have bassinet seats and we were told we'd get them by the SAS agent I talked to."

"No, you were told you'd probably get them. We can't guarantee them."

"But surely someone could have told us how many people were ahead of us on the waiting list?"

"No, because there are often cancellations and you may very well have ended up with a seat."

A lot of growling and sputtering ensued, but you get the point. We'd hit the brick wall of bureaucratic self-justification.

We expressed our dissatisfaction frequently and emotionally to every SAS employee with whom we came in contact between Copenhagen and Newark. At one point during the flight itself, Trine and I observed the comfortably-seated parents in the bassinet seats as we walked Molli around the cabin. The bastards! We flirted with several felonious ideas. In the end we had to satisfy ourselves by observing that if Molli had had a bassinet, at least she wouldn't cry and scream like those wailing brats. The feelings of superiority this aroused were comforting, but nowhere near as helpful as the wine and cognac we allowed ourselves.

(The picture above is of Molli in one of our seats—not her own.)

As we made our weary way to customs at Newark, we found ourselves walking alongside one of the families who'd had one of the bassinet seats. Trine engaged them in conversation and eventually managed to ask them when they'd made their reservations.

"Just around Christmas," Daddy Bassinet replied. (Hopefully he thought it was the mention of Christmas that turned us red and green, but it was actually our anger and jealousy.)

Our righteous indignation gave us plenty to talk about with friends and family during the course of our stay. Friends, family, and relative strangers of every political, economic, and religious persuasion agreed that SAS had screwed us over and that our indignation deserved to be felt.

A few days before our return flight, Trine launched a telephone campaign to the powers-that-be at SAS. (I'd call it a charm offensive if I hadn't overheard so much of it.) She explained everything more or less as I've explained it to you, several times, to several different people, ultimately requesting that SAS be kind enough to tell us on what dates the other bassinet-seekers had ordered their tickets, in order that we might have a better idea in the future of how long in advance to book a ticket if we want a bassinet. That question seemed to be the kicker. We never got an answer.

But we did get a bassinet on the flight back.

* * *

Bureaucrats just don't seem to pay attention to the traumas their little decisions are inflicting on our lives until it's pointed out to them in calm, sympathetic, and vaguely litigious language. Then they'll destroy someone else's life just to shut you up. There were other families with infants on our flight back to Denmark, and I couldn't help wondering which of them had received the terrible call from SAS: "Sorry, we misinformed you, apparently you won't be having a bassinet seat on this flight..." Whoever it was, my heart goes out to them. Because surely we only lost our own bassinet seats on the flight out due to some other family having risen up in fury against the faceless power of the SAS bureaucracy.

Yes, if you want anything from a bureaucracy you have to fight like a son-of-a-bitch every step of the way. You must demand everything, yield nothing, and be willing to stoop to abysmal depths. Fine manners and amiability will get you nothing—not even the gratitude of whatever bureaucrat you're dealing with. They'll merely think, "Oh, good, a softy, they probably won't kick up a fuss when I tell them we have to dump them in the worst seats on the plane..." Emily Post can't help you deal with bureaucracy. Machiavelli can.

* * *

Which reminds me... I don't think I ever posted a follow-up to the chariot-versus-pram turf war. I might have mentioned something on MoronAbroad, but I don't recall. In any case, things have evolved even further.

As you may or may not recall, I'd been reduced to a preschool level of territoriality by a neighbor having occupied the basement "parking space" I'd been using for our pram with his or her baby chariot.

Our first afternoon back from the states I went down to fetch the pram with a sinking feeling in my stomach. Would our faceless adversary have taken a sledgehammer to our pram, or what?

To my surprise, I found our pram intact. It wasn't in our preferred parking space, but that hardly mattered: it was in a perfectly decent, readily-accessible spot. The basement that had been a dangerous labyrinth of tangled bicycles, strollers, prams, scooters, and motorbikes was suddenly an orderly arrangement of same. I couldn't understand where all the extra space had come from—until I encountered one corner of the basement in which dozens—literally dozens—of ancient, rusty bikes and carriages had been heaped from floor to ceiling. On my way out of the cellar, I observed a notice stapled to the door:

"Attention. Any bicycle or carriage that has been tagged with 'To be removed' will be removed in the month of May." The bikes and carriages in the pile were all so tagged.

Another victory—and another example of The Bureaucracy responding to the petty bickering of a couple of its members by imposing draconian measures on the full body of its membership.

* * *

More on our trip to the states in the days ahead. . . but not necessarily every day, since I've still got a hell of a lot of catching up to do on the rest of my life.

The Crazy Mixed-Up Revolution

Russia's 1917 February Revolution began on March 7, which was then the middle of February, in the city of St. Petersburg, which was then Petrograd, in what was then Russia, but would soon be the Soviet Union.

Tsar (or Czar) Nicholas II of the Romanov (or Romanoff) line had been away from St. Petersburg (or Petrograd) most of the winter, leading his army against the German Empire's Eastern Front (or Russia's Western Front).

Russia's peasants and workers had become exhausted by the war and its attendant famine and were exasperated by the Tsarina's indifference to their suffering. They were furious with the government, which had become two governments and therefore twice as bad. And they were tired of all this nonsense about March being February, St. Petersburg being Petrograd, the Czar being Tsar, and all those crazy, mixed-up fronts.

And so these poor bastards began a series of riots and strikes that eventually led to what is now known as the February Revolution.

With her usual delicate touch, the Tsarina tried to assuage the rioters by having them shot, but her soldiers refused to fire on the crowds. She therefore ordered the soldiers to shoot themselves and was disobeyed again.

It was a bleak moment for the House of Romanov, which like most monarchies had endured through the centuries largely as a result of its soldiers' willingness to shoot people.

On March 11 the Russian Cabinet finally became indignant and tried to dissolve the Duma, but the Duma refused to dissolve. The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies also refused to dissolve, even though the Cabinet had not asked them to. (The Cabinet could not ask them to, because the Cabinet had determined that The Petrograd Soviet of Workers' and Peasants' Deputies did not exist.)

On March 13, the imperial guard, acting on the orders of the dissolved Duma, which had not been dissolved, took the Tsarina and her children (who had measles) into custody. A day later, England and France acknowledged the Executive Committee of the Duma as the official government of Russia.

Meanwhile, Nicholas II had taken a train to Pskov. He knew the revolutionaries would be unlikely to pursue him somewhere so difficult to pronounce.

That evening in St. Petersburg, the Executive Committee of the Duma met with the Petrograd Soviet and agreed that the Russian Cabinet should be dissolved, and also the Tsar.

They established a joint government, with Prince Grigori Lvov at its head, nicely countering the Czar's difficult pronunciation ploy. They put the Russian Cabinet in prison, next to the Russian Credenza.

At two o'clock in the morning on March 15, the Tsar sent word to Petrograd that he was awfully sorry about the war and starvation and everything, but that he had some really good ideas about what they could do now, was looking forward to working with them, believed that healthy debate was a symptom of good government, and so on.

The new government told him to blow it out his ass.

And so at three o'clock in the afternoon, Nicholas abdicated in favor of his son (who had measles).

The new government told him and his son to blow it out their asses.

At 11:15 pm, Nicholas signed a proclamation that both he and his son (who had measles) would abdicate in favor of his brother, the Grand Duke Mikhail.

The next day, the new government told Nicholas, his son (who had measles), and the Grand Duke Mikhail to blow it out their asses.

On March 21, Nicholas II and his family were arrested. It was a confused and confusing period, and the situation would only continue to deteriorate until the October Revolution in November.

The eventual triumph of the proletariat, as everyone knows, finally put an end to all the suffering and oppression in Russia.

On March 7, 1918 the Bolsheviks changed their name to the Russian Communist Party. Bolsheviks is Russian for majority, as opposed to Mensheviks, which means minority. The Mensheviks, however, were in fact the majority party in 1918, and the Bolsheviks the minority, so the name change helped ease the work of journalists, who had become so confused they'd begun writing stories about children and ducks.

Ivan Lendl turns 44 today. He shares his birthday with Franco Harris (1950), Tammy Faye Bakker (1942), Willard Scott (1934), Maurice Ravel (1875), Piet Mondriaan (1872), and Luther Burbank (1849).

Happy Monday!

2005, The Moron's Almanac™

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