A Soviet Best Buy

N and I just had a disturbing “Back in USSR” moment at the local Best Buy. We wanted to buy a refrigerator, a washer and a dryer, which – and correct me if I’m wrong – has always seemed like a fairly big, expensive purchase to me.

We selected our appliances and proceeded to pay for them. And that’s when problems started. The washer I selected was nowhere to be found. The warehouse and the other stores in the region didn’t have it.

“Just give me the one you have right here in the store, then,” I suggested.

“No, we can’t do this,” the manager said. “We can’t remove items from display.”

“Why not?” I persisted. “It’s right here, I want it, what’s the problem?”

But the idea of selling me the washer “from display” seemed to be too disturbing.

So we decided just to buy the refrigerator. For an hour we walked around the store while the manager struggled with the computer.

“I’m sorry, what seems to be the problem?” I finally asked.

“The system is down. I can’t get the purchase to go through.”

“Can we just pay and you will put the purchase into the computer later?”

“No!” the manager exclaimed. “We have a system and we have to follow the system.”

I always thought that “the system” was called capitalism and was quite simple: I give you money and you give me goods in return. Supply and demand, I demand, you supply. But no, it seems like bureaucracy has penetrated into the most sacred redoubts of the capitalist society. Now people who want to get rid of a significant amount of cash can’t do that until mountains of correct paperwork get filled out.

So we just left having purchased nothing.

“In the USSR we also couldn’t purchase any appliances,” N commented. “But there at least they didn’t torture us by showing us this enormous selection of goods and then refusing to sell them.”

The Greatest Problem of Aging

In developed countries, people in their sixties are enormously healthier than their peers from, say, 100 years ago (or from today’s Ukraine). They are active, energetic, engaged, they look and feel young. Good healthcare, good cosmetics, good hygiene, and good abundant food retard physical aging dramatically. I remember the feeling of complete shock when my mother and I traveled to her native village in Ukraine and met an ancient old lady who turned out to be my mother’s former classmate. The woman looked like she could easily be my mother’s grandmother.

The greatest problem of aging lies in the area where you can’t buy off disintegration with money or technological advances. A tendency towards intellectual rigidity sets in human beings at around the age of 35. If very specific efforts are not made to combat it, we see beautiful, physically agile and spry 60-year-olds who, sadly, are nowhere nearly as agile intellectually.

Intellectual labor doesn’t stave off this rigidity. All of those professors who keep teaching pretty much the same thing for decades, scholars who keep rewriting the same idea they had 30 years ago, and intellectuals who recycle the old instead of generating the new are all products of this affliction.

Intellectual rigidity makes people incapable of finding fresh solutions to problems, gets them bogged down in endless feuds that last forever and start because of something incredibly trivial, and makes them an intolerable burden on collagues and family members. Since these folks possess a lot of physical energy, they can create quite a lot of disruption.

It is very important to start battling intellectual rigidity as early as possible. Most people don’t even notice the moment when their reading list begins to slide more and more towards the Franzens, the Wolitzers, mystery, sci fi, fantasy, or YA. I know several academics who honestly believe they read a lot but who have not read more than 3 serious books last year. And this is just one area where rigidity sets in. What people watch, what they talk about, what they do in their free time – it is easy to get bogged down but it’s hard to get one’s intellect back to full-time work once it’s been idling for a while.

7 Years Together

Some people really love their husbands and prepare beautiful surprises for them to celebrate the anniversaries of their relationship.


Seven years is usually a critical time in a relationship. People who manage to withstand the crisis of 7 years stay together. Until 15 and 25, which are also considered dangerous to relationships. I’m not feeling the crisis yet but it’s only day 1 of the eighth year.

We are continuing the celebrations tonight with some really cool folks who are coming over to explore our town and its manifold culinary possibilities.