Saturday, June 15, 2019

Planking Together

Living the coworking life.

Every single day, every single member gets a hug at the door of my coworking space. Doris is the hugger, her job to sit at the door and await you. She hugs the tantra way, her generous bosom flattening out against your chest as she tightens her embrace. Like the coworking experience itself, Doris’ hug is platonic, with no intention to sexually arouse.

After the hug, the member next puts on his slippers. They’re both colorful and made in Estonia, and your name has been lovingly embroidered on them by Doris.

I work in the quiet area. The tap, tap, tap of keyboards is all you hear, except for the occasional tubercular cough, since it’s often that season and there’s always one who should have stayed home. If you talk you get shushed. Your second offense may result in a written warning from any member you disturbed, and it’s sometimes signed by several. A third offense means you’re banned from the quiet area for a full month, relegated to do your work in the café area where the tables are sometimes sticky.

When the clock strikes noon we leave our desks to plank together, yet we remain quiet. The heavy breathing of the less fit is audible, of course, but this is acceptable when planking and is, again, not intended to sexually arouse.

Every Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m. we have an inspirational speaker. Someone usually brings homemade oatmeal cookies which we dip in milk and munch on while reclined on pillows needle pointed (by Doris) with misspelled inspirational sayings (Their is no I in TEAM). A recent speaker was 23-year-old Mari, an Estonian version of Marie Kondo. But Mari does not deal with possessions: she rather helps startupers get rid of old ideas. She asks us to hold each idea we have, see if there is love, and let it go if there is not. I have a lot fewer ideas now, thanks to Mari. For example, I’ve given up on investing in Stinkeroo, the app that allows users to inform someone anonymously that he or she has body odor.

Thursday evenings also feature speakers, but the topics are about interpersonal relationships. There was recently a class taught for Estonian women. Sometimes, and usually when traveling abroad, a man will hold the door open for a woman, and the woman may be confused about what to do or how to react. Though not officially an attendee of the class, I was invited to play the part of the door opener, which I found both informative and helpful in breaking down gender bias.

Friday evenings, sponsored by a local political party, are a light-hearted hate speech night. There are no blacks in the coworking space, so we make do with the darkest-skinned members we have: a Turk, a Spaniard, and one French Canadian. The three are herded to one side of the room and members shout “Go back where you came from!” and “Don’t pollute our culture!” The more artistic members draw swastikas on the white boards and we all stand around drinking craft beer until we adjourn one of one of Tallinn’s growing number of right-wing bars. While Doris assures that it was not the intention, some male members find hate speech night sexually arousing, and the coworking space’s management is considering its discontinuation.

Despite how collegial the coworking environment is, I’m still not sure what anyone actually does. Members tend to stand around in the kitchen talking about funding rounds, though it doesn’t seem anyone has actually been funded. It’s popular for older members (in their thirties) to offer sage advice acquired from the many startups they’ve had in the past. They will tell you how to be your own attorney, why to incorporate in Delaware, or explain why they rent a Nissan Leaf instead of owning a Tesla (because Elon Musk is an asshole and/or he has ignored the coworking space’s invitations to speak).

For most of these members, I wonder how long they can keep paying the almost 400 euros in dues per month including VAT. Directly across from me in the quiet area are two guys who seem to be playing out an Andres-and-Pearu conflict in an office setting. Andres left his Martin Lazarev-designed ID card reader too close to Pearu’s desk, and it disappeared. He retaliated by unplugging Pearu’s computer, whose cord had to run under Andres’ desk in order to reach the socket. Without fail, the two of them end up shouting at each other. Somehow no one dares to write up a complaint about them, so they haven’t been banished to the café area. What each does to earn his 400 euros rent I have no clue, though through a remark Pearu made one time I gathered they’re both somehow connected to EAS.

There is one guy named Alar who clearly has a real business. I’ve reached this conclusion because he frequently has to get up and go to another room to talk to his employees, while most everyone else just stares blankly into that screen and goes tap, tap, tap. I like Alar. He’s in his forties, never tries to hug me, and he’s one hell of a good ping-pong player, though I think his serve is probably illegal according to the year 2000 rule revisions concerning hiding the ball from your opponent’s view.

At the current prices I’m thinking that I might have to migrate back to the law reading room at the National Library. Since coworking spaces offer all the coffee you can drink, I do my breakeven analysis on this basis. Four hundred euros split over 20 working days is 20 euros per day. Twenty euros per day divided by €2.50, the average price of a cup of coffee in Tallinn, means I need to drink eight cups each day to feel I’m getting value for money. The National Library is free to use, of course, but their café’s coffee is known to be diabolically undrinkable.

The advertised reason to remain a member is that your startup could get noticed by the likes of Richard Branson. Doris says he’s a big fan of Estonia and is planning a visit one day soon. I’m sure he’ll see a future in my columns, worldwide syndication that will make us both even richer.

If he comes I’m going to plank with him. Resting on our elbows we’ll come face to face, perspire a bit. Others in our plank circle will pitch him on their startups, thirty-second elevator speeches designed to blow his business mind. And when they’re all finished, when the breathing is at its peak, I’ll whisper his name. I’ll remind him that planking is not designed to sexually arouse. Just a little disruption to get his attention before pitching him on my Next Big Idea.

This story originally published in Edasi
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Tuesday, November 27, 2018

The Very Last Time

In praise of older women.

This recently in Feministeerium:

"It's obviously difficult for women to find a male partner with whom she's not bored and whose values she shares -- after all, women are on average more educated and tolerant than men."

I’m told finding a man in Estonia isn’t easy, and it’s even more complicated if you’re over 50. A middle-aged female friend allowed me to look over her shoulder on Tinder, watching her swipe right at shirtless men with Auschwitz prisoner haircuts and small beer guts posed in front of bathroom mirrors. I can sympathize. I wouldn’t want those mouth-breathers, either. If I had a choice, that is.

But even sadder than the Tinder Neanderthals are the women who have simply given up. Those that are prepared to die as old maids, killing time watching Õnne 13, reading Pealinn, and waiting in line for free firewood.

It’s unfortunate that they’ve given up, because the fact is that there are good men out there. There’s the one your 50-something friend Piret has. He doesn’t cheat on her or beat her either one, and he even cooked dinner for her once back in 1995. Then there’s Tiina’s man, who finally married her after a decade of shacking up, and once took her to Sharm El Sheik in February. There are others out there, too. And, if you believe Roger Angell, it would be worth our time to find each other:

"I believe that everyone in the world wants to be with someone else tonight, together in the dark, with the sweet warmth of a hip or a foot or a bare expanse of shoulder within reach. Those of us who have lost that, whatever our age, never lose the longing: just look at our faces. If it returns, we seize upon it avidly, stunned and altered again."

You may have difficulties admitting it, ladies, but I suspect you need us as much as we need you.

But what can be done to bring us together? Perhaps the women are too critical? Might they lower their standards? Or maybe they value the wrong things in a man? Is it within the realm of possibility that that shirtless cad with his ex-girlfriend’s name tattooed in runny ink on his knuckles – I M B I – is capable of deep and lasting love? Consider this, ladies: Despite his minuses, could he want to hold you in his warm embrace through the lonely hours of the night? Could he be the most sensitive and thoughtful lover you’ve ever experienced, to whom your satisfaction is paramount?

True, the men might benefit from some minor improvements: Put on a shirt for your photo, preferably one that’s been ironed. When you finally meet her, ask a dozen questions about her before you tell her all about your motorcycle. And of course, as all the advice columnists tell us, never send dick pics without being asked.

The men should also be made aware of the virtues of middle-aged women and the joys of a lover over 50. I can say from experience that the fifty-something woman offers more depth than the twenty-something, who seems concerned mainly with whether Gwyneth Paltrow-brand eyeshadow is really any better than Kat Von D’s. You will also discover that the woman with crow’s feet is loads more fun than the thirty-something who spends her life at civil society events and then cheers vacuously on Facebook about how she’s changing the world.

Middle-aged women are often highly educated and excellent conversationalists. But if that holds no interest for you, know that they usually have practical knowledge about things of real consequence in your life. The healthy food she will teach you to eat may prolong your life. She knows that a few well-placed flowers will brighten any room. And she may show you that bleach poured in the toilet eliminates the need for the brush.

If the male reader is still not persuaded, then he might consider the middle-aged women’s enthusiasm for love making, as explained to me by a 65-year-old friend: “You young guys may think you’re fine swordsmen, but you haven’t really enjoyed sex until you’ve been with a woman my age. While making love, a single thought repeats inside her head: This could be my very last time. This could be my very last time...

And since male readers have been good enough to indulge me with a few DIY improvement tips, the ladies might also lend an ear. We men are not as caught up in your physical appearances as you might think. We are not put off by your caesarian scars; they are the patina of life, evidence of the fact that you have lived. And get over your wrinkles, your thinning hair, and the bags under your eyes in the morning. You were surely a great beauty once, but now you’ll be another sort, one not powered by pulchritude but by self-confidence.

It may be that for us to find and enjoy each other, we must both slightly revise our expectations and embrace the spirit of tolerance. I agree to put down the ring on the toilet, even though it is my own home. You keep your bra off the light fixture, even though the heat does help it dry. You accept my love of raw meat, and I agree not to eat your annoying little dog.

I would beg to differ with Feministeerium’s Aet Kuusik. It’s not men who lack tolerance, but rather the whole goddamned planet. And the first step to living with us men is to set aside what you think you know about us. Yes, we’re all those negative things. But, like you, we’re also so much more.

This article was originally published in the Estonian language in

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Auto Review: the Bentley Bentayga Fly Fishing by Mulliner

It's a long name for a car, and I don't quite see how they're going to fit all that text on the back without it looking tacky. But it's a Bentley, dammit, so I guess they're already halfway there.

I've never written an auto review, but after seeing and reading about this car I simply couldn't help myself. Autoblog says it's got a "tackle box with tools, cotton, hooks, and feathers to tie flies, and it includes four reel cases milled from solid aluminum." And don't forget a set of china tableware, which any self-respecting fly fisherman will have on hand -- and an electronic dehumidifier, because, really, what fly fisherman likes moisture?

It's definitely the kind of car that welcomes wet waders. Check it out:

So when I saw this I just knew I had to write a car review. So here goes. Well, at least the start of it:

ASSHOLE, the custom plate I wanted for my new Bentley Bentayga, was unfortunately already taken. A Porsche driver had it, said the DMV. Bummer. I had to go with PRICK, but only because DOUCHEBAG was too long to fit. As a cardiothoracic surgeon who’s also a fly fisherman, there was really no choice but to buy this car…

(Our fly fishing staff recommends: If you're a few dollars short of being able to afford a Bentley, check out's Ultimate Guide to Fly Fishing.)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Arguing with Women

A lonely dispatch from Estonia’s only feminist.

I never had a sister. I’m told this is why I don’t understand women.

A business group I’m a part of recently organized an event for their female membership: a fashion show. Had they asked me – they didn’t – I would have told them the event would do nothing to help women be taken seriously. I mean, why not have a quilting bee or a pole dancing class?

Given the fact that salaries for Estonian women are 30 percent lower on average than salaries for Estonian men, it seems to me that women ought to exert effort to be taken more seriously. I suggested an alternative event to the business group: Bring in a high-flying salary negotiator to teach Estonian women how to approach their bosses and demand more money. After all, the most-cited reason for women being paid less is the fact that they don’t ask for it. But the idea didn’t get much traction.

Passing through Viru Keskus the other day, I came upon a photo (below) of Estonian state prosecutor Kati Reitsak. It was part of an exhibition of the best press photos of 2015. The caption noted that despite Reitsak’s pleasant appearance, she was actually qualified for her job. In Canada, Justin Trudeau himself would lead the charge to tear down that poster. But in Estonia? Not so much.

A friend puts it this way: “I've given up on the argument for equal pay for women in the workplace in Estonia, as I find the people I end up arguing with are mostly women. I think their ideal workplace has women doing all the work except IT support, and a dumb, handsome male boss taking credit for their work, plus flirting with them. Perhaps it's a part of Estonian femininity that they insist on having a guy to defer to even if he's incompetent?"


Loe seda sama eesti keeles Feministeeriumis.
Tantra Man. Got yours?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Monday, January 6, 2014

First Draft: President Ilves’ New Year’s Speech

Good evening! This is pre-recorded. Right now I am standing near a small group of people, and just like you they’re all politely facing the television and listening. Me? I’ve got a whiskey in my hand and am enjoying the scene from the adjacent room. I might even tweet something about it.

As a child I did not really understand New Year’s Eve. I still don’t get it. A proper Estonian needs no excuse to get drunk and can do so any day of the year.

On New Year’s day, Christmas was over, and the colored pencils I got as a gift were already broken. Dad bought the cheap ones to teach us to live on less. Later on, at Columbia University, I benefited from this common sense or peasants’ wisdom. When other students needed multi-colored pens, I was able to get by with one color. I also completed mathematics exams with ink, I might add. Lesser students used pencil.

What was there to consecrate on New Year’s Eve? But the children inherited the grownups’ expectations of something new and better. Lots of philosophers had something to say about expectations. And among them Katniss Everdeen.

The year’s last minutes are a time of looking back. The moment when we take everything beautiful and good from the departing year. And we leave that behind, which was difficult, painful, or ugly. And that which concerns the city government, we turn to the advice of Pope John XXIII: “See everything; turn a blind eye to much; correct a little.”

In the departing year we found out that our Estonian children belong to the world’s most educated. Specifically those skills which best predict a successful future: reading, mathematics, and natural sciences. Estonian children shared first place with Finnish children in PISA test results in Europe. Despite deplorable teacher salaries, our kids really kicked ass. But what about our adults? Does every Estonian adult have a personal Vikipeedia entry? Let us not rest on our laurels; there is work to be done!

The fact that everyone in the world does not yet know Estonia is understandable – we should not think that a nation of one million should be well known. Relating to this negatively shows stupidity. And do we not fall into this trap ourselves too often? Without knowing about what we’re talking about, we put our nation down, thinking that it’s better elsewhere. But more and more we’re discovering that it’s not better elsewhere.

Despite the 20 percent of our citizens living in relative poverty with disposable incomes under 329 euros per month, Estonia is not the worst place to be poor. Imagine yourself poor in the United States, waiting hours in line for basic medical care? Or even middle class in the US, where you are always just one major disease from bankruptcy?

In addition to “discovering” our children’s talents, Estonia has created something unique, which other nations want. Our women. Foreigners are taking them away by the thousands. Is this right? More importantly, could we develop an app for it?

We have e-solutions which we consider normal and take for granted – like e-banking, e-school, e-taxes, e-voting. If only we could invent e-men, to improve situations in the home. I can say this freely, because only women remain in front of the TV, the men long ago having gone outside with copious amounts of fireworks, through which they attempt to demonstrate their sexual- and financial prowess.

We’ve been in the EU almost ten years. This is not insignificant. Not all nations who started at the same time with their independence have been able to keep pace. Such as Panem, where President Coriolanus Snow noted that “Brother turned on brother until nothing remained.”

Panem’s peace came hard fought, sorely won. A people rose up from the ashes and a new era was born. But freedom has a cost. Still, 22 years later others are torn between their choices. Many of have curtailed freedoms obtained in freedom in the ‘90s, both at the individual and state levels. But Estonia has known its own path.

We are now plagued with the worry of the general tendency to not listen to one another, the thinking that we ourselves are the smartest. All of us, from Abja-Paluoja to Toompea, could better take the others’ opinions into account. But this is only possible when we speak politely. As Katniss Everdeen said in Catching Fire, “I’ve never been very good at making friends.” I am told by some of our republic’s most esteemed professors that Katniss is of Estonian heritage.

Impoliteness. Take what happens on our highways. We should not rush against traffic, against the state, but there is still the guy who’s decided to break all regulations and endanger the lives of his fellow drivers. Like Justin Petrone, who was rightly not given an Estonian drivers license without fulfilling the requirements. I hope he is happy as a poseur in Brooklyn.

My dear Estonian people, the real Estonia is in every Estonian home and family, in every person. In classes and in teachers, whose accomplishments and knowledge we are so proud of. The real Estonia is in entrepreneurial people and free society, which creates a bigger, better Estonia. The real Estonia is what we create. Remember then what Katniss said: "What ever you do, it comes right back.”

My good countrymen, I will always remember New Year’s morning from my childhood. I awoke, wanted to do something, but everyone was sleeping in, fireworks’ smoldering embers and empty bottles surrounding them. With my brother, I awaited eagerly that the grownups would rise.

So then: Let us rise earlier and notice those that are beside us.

We are not many. Every individual is important. Every one of us is dear. Let us care for and protect one another. This is a challenge to every citizen, every politician. So tonight I remind of the words of Katniss, "May the odds be ever in your favor."

The New Year gives everyone of us a new beginning. Let us use that. Happy New Year, dear Estonia! We salute your courage and your sacrifice and we wish you Happy Hunger Games!


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Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Being Rein Lang’s Bitch

A lot of art is boring read the tshirt that I stumbled across in a secondhand shop. I immediately imagined wearing it to gallery openings. But it was size “S”, so small only a child could have worn it.

When Kendergate broke, I thought of that tshirt and realized I could have presented it to Kaur on his first day at work. It’s his mantra on a tshirt, if he really did say Culture is boring shit. But I realized that if the tshirt didn’t fit me, then it would have had no chance of fitting a muscled Kaur. But maybe he could have held it up for a photo in the manner of a star football player who has just signed with a new club?

When Kaur got the editor’s job, I felt some pangs of jealousy. Why hadn’t Rein Lang called me? I mean, I wouldn’t mind the job. I might have agreed to be Lang’s editorial bitch, his kukk, his petuh with a pen.

Because what writer would not mind a steady paycheck once in a while? You can feed me all the Freedom House reports you want, but having personally seen the thickness of the divide between the editorial and publishing sides, the so called separation of church and state, I am not disillusioned. My rose-colored glasses were long ago crushed under the heel of a jackboot.

Personally, I believe that culture doesn’t have to be boring shit, though I suspect anything funded by the government does have to be boring shit. At least it has to eventually become it. This is the law of dancing to the tune of the one who paid the band.

At my most skeptical I wonder what are the opportunities for a reader to find great stimulation in any of the dozen publications funded by SA Kultuurileht – Sirp, Akadeemia, Diplomaatia, Keel ja Kirjandus,, Looming, Loomingu Raamatukogu, Muusika, Teater.Muusika.Kino, Täheke, Vikerkaar, ja Õpetajate Leht.

If I’m to believe what I read in the newspaper then editors of some of these publications are crying out for strategic direction from the board, a board which is painted as a political tool. Even if everyone could work toward the same goal, or even just get along, I wonder if bureaucracy can possibly enable writing worth reading.

As Rein Lang’s bitch I would have expected a warm spot for a livable wage that would allow me to tinker with other projects (my “art,” let’s call it). Give me my little piece of the state’s 7.7 billion euro budget, seven hundred euros or so per month. Give me a ten-year old computer, free parking, all the drip coffee I can drink, and allow me to disappear to junkets and trainings as often as I can get them. And let me take off work anytime I have a runny nose, or when it’s the season to help grandma make apple juice. There is something to be said for that lifestyle.

At one point I had imagined a cartoon which might have run in a newspaper: Rein Lang bigger than life with a prison shiv in his hands. On the shiv’s blade is written “SA Kultuurileht.” Lang is protecting his turf, spinning and slashing at the encroaching editors of his twelve publications. The text in his speech bubble: You're all my bitches now!

But it didn’t work out that way. Literally everybody just said fuck it and walked away. (Dombrovskis, too, though he was unwilling, at least publicly, to connect it to Sirp.)

When Lang resigned, I worried about Kaur. Surgeons are prima donnas by nature, and I accepted that one would not begin carving up a publication without his own anesthesiologist by his side. But I figured, in Lang’s absence, that Kaur’s dream team would all get the axe as soon as there was an open competition for the editor-in-chief’s job. Those poor bastards, I thought, they gave up whatever warm place they had for what would likely turn out to be a four-month gig to be publicly dissected under the scratched loop of a hypersensitive intelligentsia.

Writing isn’t a great “job” in any sense, and many successful western writers I know openly advise their kids to grow up to be lawyers or accountants. And for Estonian writers who shun the taxpayer’s money, life in the private sector of such a small market is much less lucrative than in the west. In Estonia, your bestseller and two euros will get you a cup of coffee.

I stand in awe of Estonian editors who are able to fill magazines and newspapers with stories, since what they’re able to pay is attractive mostly to those who write for god and country, or to those who write because their mothers will cut the article out and put it on the fridge.

When editors can pay from zero to a couple of hundred euros (at best) for a story, the editor-writer relationship trades on an ugly currency: personal favors. It creates a world where a freelancer cannot earn a decent living, and writers make ends meet by running guns, cooking meth, or writing for advertising agencies.

Speaking purely as a reader, I was excited by Kaur’s appointment. I like the idea that such an unapologetic shit-stirrer would take the helm of a magazine. Any magazine.

The fact is that a good magazine editor doesn’t go looking to administrative bodies to find direction. He doesn’t build his content based on consensus. A good magazine is led by the editor. Kaur seemed to indicate the willingness to take that responsibility and the heaps of abuse that go with it.

(Yes, I’m aware some say it was all an elaborate prank, meant only to kick sand in the eyes of intellectual establishment. I have no way of knowing, but I can still like the idea of Kaur as editor.)

Did Kaur have the academic and literary credentials for Sirp? What should those credentials be? (Do I have them?) Estonians do seem obsessed with higher education, though I tend to think that if you can write you can write. But don’t misunderstand me: a diploma does have value to a writer. For one thing, he can wipe his ass with it if times get tough.

I was at the R-Kiosk in Viru Keskus at nine a.m. on the Friday when Kaur’s first Sirp came out. Alas, they were sold out, and so instead of reading Sirp I meandered upstairs to Rahva Raamat where I purchased Mihkel Mutt’s Kooparahvas Läheb Ajalukku.

I bought myself a morning whiskey and cracked Mutt’s book.

And I found Estonia’s entire cast of characters there in Mutt’s cave: the intelligentsia, artists, the businessmen, the politicians . . . and they were all mulling over my question.

“But aren't the Party and the government our sponsors?” asked a doubting voice.

“Are you crazy?! They fucking hate us.”

Over at the Rahva Raamat checkout, I noticed an Estonian cultural icon raising a fuss because they did not stock a coffee table book he wanted about the six breeds of hairless cats. I recognized him as one of the intellectuals who had taped his mouth shut and posed for Eesti Ekspress.

At that point, I would have liked to raise my glass to wish Kaur luck. But since there was no one left to drink to, I just drank.

And that’s of course what we readers are left with: to just go drink. That, and to grapple with the question raised by Mikk Salu in Postimees on November 29:

“Who'll answer the questions about what we want – more readability and higher circulation where we invest more in marketing. Or do we want quality and put the money into paying writers?"

Who’ll answer? We’ll answer. We the readers. And maybe this is Mikk’s real question: Is there any one of those twelve Kultuurileht publications that are so damned good you really look forward to its arrival in your mailbox? Any of them that you’re willing to wake up early for and rush to R-kiosk? Or would you prefer to just sleep in?


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