Thursday, January 27, 2005

Steps For Advanced Dancers

I was thinking about the inauguration speech, and I realized finally what was bothering me. It was one oversized sestina, testosterone-bloated and pasteurized beyond recognition. Graduate students in literature remember the time they studied sestinas as "the semester I took up drinking." From the Princeton Encyclopedia of Poetry and Poetics, Enlarged Edition:

Sestina. The most complicated of the verse forms initiated by the troubadours. It is composed of 6 stanzas of 6 lines each, followed by an envoy of 3 lines, all of which are usually unrhymed. The function of the rhyme in the s[estina] is taken over by the recurrent pattern of end-words; the same 6 end-words occur in each stanza, but in a constantly shifting order which follows a fixed pattern.

If we let the letters A through F stand for the 6 end-words of a s[estina], we may schematize the recurrence patterns as follows:
envoy: ECA or ACE

Most commonly, the envoy or tornada, is further complicated by the fact that the remaining 3 end-words, BDF, must occur in the course of the lines, so that the 3-line envoy will contain all 6 recurrent words.


The definition goes on to explain who devised this form of torture so you know which of the troubadours it was you want to dig up, slap around and re-bury.

You can go look up a transcript of the inaugural speech or find it here:

...but before you do, imagine you're an overeducated and overstuffed fool with a jingoist bent, and you've had all the fun you think you can get away with reusing the same words into oblivion. You can't even hear yourself think for the way you've bent 'oppression' to mean 'freedom' and 'plutocracy' to mean 'democracy.' You're bored, bored, bored. What can you do to add a little spice to your life? I got it. Take six words, plunk them down on a piece of paper and doodle in between. How about these six words:


Now, you know that if you stick strictly to the sestina format, William Safire will be frowning at you before the second paragraph, so you add a few dull allusions and historically dumb patter. Maybe Safire'll be distracted by Jenna's inevitable and determined lipgloss application. Anyway, the thing's already written, he's retired and what's he gonna do about it, hmm? He's still sore about screwing up the inscription on the moon, anyhow. Let's move on.

You're a speechwriter determined to whack the pinata of Presidential speeches with the biggest stick you can find but you can't stop giggling. Shoot, nobody in your demographic's going to figure it out and those freaks in the Northeast are already slapping their foreheads everytime the Commander In Chief opens his mouth. Smoke 'em if you got 'em, boy...

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

The Collar of Your Trenchcoat

Let us don mustaches and assume new identities. Let us try out French accents and join the Resistance. Please stand in profile under the streetlight so the angles of your lovely face appear and disappear. We cannot be seen together. Not in a time of war.

Let us meet on a corner in Prague and pretend to discuss the weather. Let us whisper through clenched teeth a few facts about Spain. There is freedom in the moment I am anxious for your safety when all I have to give is worry.

Let us close the dark curtains and dim the lights. Let us sing quietly as footfalls echo in the hallway. We smile when we are frghtened. We are waiting for explosions we know will come. There is no comfort like your trembling hand on my cheek.

Let us play at peace. Let us imagine what we will do when we can leave the house someday.

Let us remember we were never lovers and we never will be. Let us depart the way we came into shadows and smoke rings. If not for my fear, I would be nothing but longing. Your secret is not safe. I am missing a button.

Friday, January 21, 2005

So, Blogger, Whatcha Gonna do?

This afternoon, I wrote an entry that evaporated - again - and the error message asked me what *I'd* done wrong. Had I done something exotic or different, I might buy that story.

As Mamie says, "Computers are trying to kill us."

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Meet My Mechanical Nemesis

If I didn't have constant automotive turmoil I'd have to find a new hobby. Monday night, I drove a modest five or six miles across the wilds of Piscataway in the bitter cold of a quiet early evening. Just about half way to my destination I noticed the temperature gauge was a little higher than I expected so I turned on the blower to vent some heat. That's what you do in summer, right? About a mile later, I discovered sitting at red lights aggravated the situation, and a few hundred yard later at another light, the gauge topped out. I shut off the car while waiting to turn left. Now here's the thing: as an old bat with memory loss in a suburban metropolis that can't tear up and rework roads fast enough to suit trafficmeisters, I was reasonably sure I was on the right road, heading in the right direction, but *not* sure where to turn or how I would explain to AAA on a federal holiday if the car overheated and met its ignominious end on a deserted road, and would they please send someone before I froze to death?

When the light turned green, I turned the key. The car started without explosions or death rattles so I turned onto a road I thought probably used to lead to my destination but wasn't so sure it still would. I knew that right or wrong, there was a gas station about half a mile ahead of me - or there used to be. Suddenly, the temperature gauge dropped all the way to the bottom and sort of floated back up to a normal temp for a freezing night and a car that was just warmed up. With that, I made straight for a parking space outside my friend's apartment, and if I could've slapped my car across the face, I would have.

My friend had an appointment with an eye doctor some distance away, so we jumped in his less spiteful vehicle and drove off in the darkness. Some hours later, we returned, and despite nervous attempts at common sense thinking, I started the TataMobile and headed home. Just about the same time I thought the gauge was laughing at me I wondered if "Stand back, officer! My car is about to commit vehicular suicide" would be a good thing to say or my ticket to a lengthy stay in Orange Jumpsuit Land. Could I claim the Dennis Hopper Defense with a Chevy convertible if I refused to stop until my engine melted?

For the mechanic, it's Day Two of the seige. He's used to peculiar explanations. Last time I left a note with one of his teenage pumpjockeys: "After the addition of oil and wiper fluid, my car makes a noise like a swarm of angry bees. I'm developing a phobia." When he called to tell me the car was fixed he said he was absolutely shocked when he started the car and moisture spraying a belt sounded EXACTLY like a swarm of angry bees, and the problem was fixed. This gives me hope that someday I may describe something to a medical professional and not feel I sound like Charlie Brown's mother.

So. Cabbing it around town sounds so urbane. In reality, depending on which cab company one may find oneself in some very punk rock situations. For instance, if the driver stops the car to pick up the boyfriend he met in Rahway State and wants to take you to a second location, hand the driver cabfare and leap from the vehicle. I use the happy-go-lucky cab company that sends out cars with all sorts of dashboard lights flashing. Will I get home? Will I get to work? It's more fun than betting the ponies.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

Proving the Rule

Mamie and I went big game hunting at the beauty supply store. My trophies are lined up on the floor. Eighteen little bottles of nail polish in exotic and not so exotic colors sit in a lovely row. Three shades of red, five shades of copper, black, two shades of blue usually found in tropical fish, and a light shade of jade green, not to mention bottles of base, top and strengthening coats with extras for repairs at work, comprise the list of my treasures. This is luxury, for me. Nail polish doesn't last forever; it gets thick with age, and useless. To bag a whole bunch of new colors and toss all the old ones - this is as decadent as I get.

Mine is an austere existence, and I don't regret this in the least. A cup of coffee after dinner on Friday evenings, a fragrant new shampoo, clean linens - these are the kinds of inexpensive luxuries I adore. I am a happy, happy gal. Simplicity *is* bliss.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

Silly Me

Outside, a spate of gunshots in the distance. Yes, they sound like fireworks but then again they don't. I didn't expect to hear that again for a few months. During the summer, it's like old Piney call-and-response songs:

Singer #1: Hey! It's freaking hot! Blam! Blam! Blam!
Singer #2: It's not the heat, it's the humidity, moron! Blam! Blam! Blam!
Singer #1: Oh yeah? Your sister's a whore! Blam! Blam! Blam!
Singer #2: No, you didn't! Blam! Blam! Blam!

Once in a while, the shots find their mark and someone pushes up daisies, but most of the time it's like the bullets fly straight into the stratosphere. I don't feel threatened by this in the way you might think. No, I wonder why people have guns that can't shoot straight. For another thing, it's not like New Brunswick is a cut-rate Beirut, and I have a friend living in Beirut, and until fairly recently I walked through the streets here at all hours while a serial rapist was on the loose. Essentially, I gave thugs in town fifteen years to shoot me, and bullets never whizzed past my head - not even the night I was sleeping next to the frequently touring guitarist boyfriend and I was awakened by someone crawling in my bedroom window. I shouted something stupid about the half a person crawling in through the window and the underwear-clad boyfriend woke up, shouted something equally stupid at the half a person as I ran off to call 911. It's not a proud moment. I should've whacked the half a person because that's just the kind of angry apartment-dweller I was then and the boyfriend was probably defenseless because he had zero violence in him, but it's a good thing I didn't because the prowler turned out to be a cop trying to get into the apartment below us, where the burglar alarm was blaring and we were sleeping through it because the neighbors were away and not fleeing to the safety of our little penthouse.

Christ, another 30 seconds and the cop would've been stepping over us to get to...well, the place was a maze with super-narrow Escher stairs, and if he found the downstairs apartment uninjured someone should've given him a piece of cheese.

It turned out later a gang of burglars lived one building over, and when the police finally caught them it was because our apartment had been broken into and the thief was standing in a small crowd across the street still holding my computer, which I never got back. Maybe it was the naked pictures on the hard drive.

I recommend renter's insurance and a can of mace. It's not much, but tonight the shots in the distance died out and I didn't hear any sirens so if no one's injured, maybe that's just another Saturday night.

Friday, January 14, 2005

The Rx Files

Johnny told me years ago talking about one's health problems is a tremendous bore, and when I developed problems, I realized he was right. Talking about the same annoying things over and over is a bore. Feeling crappy is a bore. Talking about feeling crappy is a bore. Finding the funny in life's boring, crappy, and painful keeps the brain busy. Johnny responds to Poor Impulse Control:

I'm pissing myself here, reading your hilarious blog. As always, I thought of myself, because I just came from the orthopedist, who I thought was going to fix my knees later this month with a few deft cuts. Instead he says what I have is extremely rare and inoperable. He shows me on the MRI where the end of my upper knee bone is connected to the - sorry, couldn't help it. Anyway, at some point, the blood supply to the bone was interrupted, an infarction, like a heart attack. He shows me where patches of bone are necrotic. That means dead and rotting, inside my body, sort of like my ideals. I have no idea when my knees went to meet their Maker and left the rest of me, kneeless, behind. I know I've got memory loss from drinking and antidepressants, but not that bad. He says I should vigorously exercise my legs with no-impact exercise like swimming. I'm too disgusted to mention that I live in New Hampshire, that the closest gym to New Ipswich is in Boston. I tell him to give it to me straight, doc. I've been waiting my whole life to do that. I ask him if I can realistically hope to bring my dead knees back to life, no matter how much I swim. He changes the subject and asks what I'm doing about pain control. I leave with a script for fifty extra-strength vicodins, with a refill. I took four in the car. They're not bad.

Shameless flatterer!

A couple of years ago, I started experiencing loud, ringing knee pain myself. This irked me because I'm athletic, and have never had a knee injury, so why the knees? If my ankles had given out, I would've understood because I wrecked those but good in gymnastics decades ago. Anyway, when I couldn't walk without help, I turned myself in and was sent off to the physical therapy gulag, where people with horrible injuries from fires, accidents and surgery worked out several days a week. I looked around and said, "Look, I don't know what I'm doing here. Give me a circuit and I'll beat your expectations every day I'm here." Because, you know, my knees hurt and I didn't know why, but the same old behavior pattern made me fierce and growlly next to a weight machine. Grrr. Grrr. Must benchpress that linebacker. Grrr.

Anyway, after a few months of this, my mobility improved and I discovered that knee trouble was part of being female in the passage of time. It also didn't help that I'd stopped lifting weights and dancing, and I'd put on twenty-five pounds I was failing to deal with. The physical therapist was adorably blunt:

Me: I still don't know why my knees hurt in the first place.
PT: Well, you know, you old birds - after a while, everything flaps in the wind.
Me: Baby, NOTHING about me flaps in the wind!

Between lots of parties this chat would've been insulting. This was educational banter. He was right that I was refusing to acknowledge my age with exercise, and I had to do something about it myself, every day, or I would be one of those little old ladies in a wheelchair in another ten years. Of course, I'd paint flames on the wheels and play the Reverend Horton Heat wherever I went. Vroooooom! So now I have the stepper contraption in my living room and every morning, I pull it out while I'm still half-asleep and before I can talk myself out of it, but this is way different from needing a pool. Other people I know need a pool and can't find one. What happened to every town having a YMCA, besides the Village People?

Thursday, January 13, 2005

Background Check

A charming co-worker once listened to me blurt, stared, then said slowly to a third person as we all sat there, "There's a context for everything she says. We just don't know what it is." This blogging thing takes practice.

The reason for yesterday's adventure which we can refer to as The Ceremonial Running of the Non-Sequiturs was that I don't sleep, and my co-worker asked why I haven't turned myself in to the proper sleep authorities. Given that I can't get through an eye exam without a psychiatric referral, I doubt one of those clinics where they wire you for sound is a great idea, mostly because I'd like to be on the other side of the glass, snickering, but also because I fail time and again to articulate my problems in such a way as to permit modern medicine to solve them. I guess. Either that or I'm just so droll doctors can't bear the idea of parting with my cameo appearances.

Don't get the idea I'm sick. I'm not - but someday I may go for a consultation armed with sock puppets.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Lapses and Collapses and Synapses

Mine is a very amusing and peculiar relationship with the medical community. I describe a complaint and practitioners say, "I've never heard that before." There are two possibilities, really:

1. I should never leave my house without my insurance card and a UN translator since I am speaking a strange language and that could prove dangerous;
2. I am unique in all of history, possibly a genetic freak or some mad scientist's experiment inexplicably switched with a normal child shortly after birth when I began exhibiting all the qualities of being unique in all the world, my parents swear. This would explain why clothing simply does not fit, why computers do not love me, why infants cannot avert their eyes, so let's go with this theory.

Last fall, a visit to the eye doctor went the way you'd think. Anyone blowing air into my eyes is going to get an earful, no matter the cause. He asked, "So what brings you here?"

His office is across the street from My Little Tenement, so it didn't take much. "I keep seeing these things - they're kind of on the surface of my eye - especially when I'm tired or dehydrated - they look like lint. What makes me see lint, Doc?"

He said, "I've never heard that one before."

I said, "You take checks, right?" Sometime later, I told my stepfather about this episode. He said, "It sounds like you're describing [such-and-such thing] I read about in Scientific American." I should've seen that coming. Years ago, I worked for a horrifying fast food chain and the stress of leaving my baby with a sitter for days on end and working 60 hours a week with a nasty commute for less than $17,000/year caused my brain to declare time-outs. I would find myself standing in the kitchen, unable to see my hand in front of my face, or hear someone talking. It was freaking me out, and it stopped the moment I walked out of the joint and put my car in drive, which freaked out everyone else. When I could see, I was forced to read lips. One night at the register, this conversation occurred:

Customer: mmmrphh mrhgnpuu muphhh panpppp mherrrnema.
Tata: I'm sorry, I can't hear you unless I can see your lips.
Tata: Yes.
Customer: Oops.

This came up in conversation with the stepfather, who said, "That's called 'figure ground.' I just read about that in Scientific American." Maybe I should confront Scientific American with my bizarre health issues, because when I arrive at the radiologists' office:

Receptionist: Please fill out this form.
Tata: I can't. I'm here to get my hands x-rayed. They don't work.
Receptionist: Didn't you bring anybody to do it?
Tata: I'm terribly sorry. I left my scribe at home.

(The second time it happened I promised next time I'd bring a helper monkey.)

My little problems never actually get solved, except for that temporary blindness thing which went away by itself but can be re-created a la the History Channel with internal application of an entire bottle of tequila. Anyway, maybe Scientific American has been experimenting with me for a few decades, and just before I blurt out my problems to non-medical science professionals, the mag prints hinty articles. It's like foreshadowing or the 19th of Twenty Questions: Why isn't Scientific American on my doctors' reading lists?

Is the answer "Because suspense is a real knee-slapper"?

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Coffee, Cigarettes, Getaway

Miss Sasha plans her wedding. I'm planning the nervous breakdown. Mine, I mean. She's got years of dealing with the family before she earns the right to An Unfortunate Incident At The Kentucky Fried Chicken, leading to A Period Of Resting Comfortably. Toss in some green Jell-O and you've got a story no one wants to tell the grandkids.

Last night, I started thinking of how to stage the Persephone piece in English and Italian for a bilingual panel discussion in February. Since I have virtually nothing to say that doesn't come through a character, I'm hoping nobody asks me any questions and I can sit there as Demeter, Goddess of the Harvest, controlling Mommy. When she says, "It's my way or the highway," we know which highway she's talking about. The script practically writes itself. What I can't picture is wearing her espadrilles. Me, I mean. Demeter never updates to leather, it's just not her style.

Audrey's interested, which is exciting. She's become a better writer than I am, which isn't a big ambition. I'm not really writing anymore, which I've mentioned in the blog. Audrey, however, will be a star. I'm lucky she talks to me, but then I've got a photograph of her posed as one of Charlie's Angels in a bar basement. Shoot, I'd be nice to me, too.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

Ill-Gotten Whole Grains

This morning, there was a small commotion at one end of the office, and someone asked for me. A man I'd seen but never talked to came around the corner, put down his briefcase and handed me a loaf of bread. He said, "My wife baked this for you, as I promised." Suddenly I remembered what had seemed like an idle promise over an obscure work matter from a co-worker up in Newark, and this was that man. He turned on his heel and disappeared.

I almost had to lie down to laugh hard enough. This is not the first time strange gentlemen have brought me comestibles. Once, I answered the phone at a late night job with the name of the office. A boy said, "Hey!"

"Hey!" I said.
"You're there! Are you there?"
"I'm there! Are you coming here?"
"I'm coming there! How late are you open?"
"I'll be right over."
"Bring pizza," I said and hung up. A little while later, a boy came to the door and said, "Hey!"
"Hey!" I said.
"I'm here!" he said.
"You are! Did you bring pizza?"
He slapped a giant Toblerone on the counter. We ate chocolate and we talked about Marilyn Monroe for an hour. That's it. Never saw him again.

Because I have a cold I stood in the middle of my office and shouted, "Who has clean hands and doesn't have a cold?" One reluctant co-worker, accustomed to my antics, mumbled, "Meeee." I made her get a bread board, cut up the bread and put out napkins. We all had pieces with butter or cream cheese. My co-workers labeled this episode "The Bribe." And not one of them was truly surprised.

Monday, January 03, 2005

Here and Now, There and Then

Johnny's feeling introspective:

I imagine sometimes that I'm young and I can see into the future through my rear view mirror. I imagine I'm a New Waver in college, my whole glamorous, fabulous life ahead of me, and I look through and see the me of today, a grizzled greaser with gray in his stubble and gin blossoms in his nose, and no matter what kind of day I'm having, I about piss myself laughing, thinking of the look of horror on his face. I half want to tell him somehow through the glass that it's not as bad as it looks, but really there's nothing I can say. For him, it is. Then I think of the me who first got into professional depression and into driving, great combination, the road ahead a ghastly tear-smeared blur, praying for God, for anyone, to please deliver me, clamping my fingers on the wheel to keep from swerving into oncoming traffic, one loud bang and then peace, staring into the mirror and seeing myself at forty-three, still alive, with a red sportscar and a hot wife and laughing at the world because I get paid to massage dogs, and I wish I could tell the poor bastard that it turns out all right. But he'd never believe it even if he saw it with his own eyes. Somehow he'll have to hang on until he does see it. And by then he knows.

I don't think I've ever felt as optimistic at the start of a new year. I feel like a greyhound who's just retired from the track and gotten placed with a yuppie couple in the suburbs. Yes. I've become my own dogs. And I was spared the embarrassment and odor of dying and being reincarnated.

Happy New Year, princess. I love you.

He calls me "princess." Wanna make something of it, geek?

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Putting One's Best Foot Backward

I went out for a pack of cigs dressed like I was at least 6'6" and 300lbs., and you should do this in this small urban area because something like the following *will* happen. As I parked the car across the street from the liquor store open on New Year's Day, the vehicle coming toward me on the side street was a police car. If you've never been to New Brunswick, I should tell you this important thing - don't try talking to the cops. They're more insecure than a bloated beauty queen clutching an empty box of Godivas. I have honestly had this conversation with an officer demanding I put my clothes back on one November.

Him: Are you over 18?

Wait, wait, while that made me laugh like Lucy and Ethel stuffing chocolates in their pockets, that wasn't the really funny part. Nope.

Me: Officer, you've caught me modeling naked for this photographer in this completely secluded location.
Him: We're the *New Brunswick* Police. We don't catch anybody doing *anything.* Some guy from the prosecutor's office sat in his car behind those bushes until he got bored and called it in.

In a city filled with rampaging art students, you'd think the police would be used to *that.* Anyway, so I'm standing on Senior Street today, waiting to cross to the liquor store, and the police car is driving very slowly - so slowly - toward me. My days of stopping traffic with pulchritude and a toothy smile are way, way over, so I don't think the nice policeman is entranced, and his speed not increasing. What do I do? I hula. I can hear the ukeleles in my head. Palm trees, ocean breezes, grass skirts; it's Hawaii in my brain, and I'm making a very hula hand gesture that anywhere else might mean, "After you, I insist." But I'm in New Brunswick, and he just about stops the car to stare at me. I look like a little old lady who quit painting her outhouse to go buy something flammable. And I can just hear him thinking, "Does this cruiser make me look fat?"

A Word On the Uncomfortable Present

...from the uncomfortable past.

Too often we enjoy the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought.
-John F. Kennedy, 35th US president (1917-1963)

This from Anu Garg and A.Word.A.Day. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, and I wish you a Happy New Year in which you feel wise and prosperous, and galvanized into creative action for the common good. I think he also wishes you boiled shrimp, but I could be projecting.