Sunday, February 27, 2005

Company, Rickie Lee Jones-Style

Mamie and I have a new game. She emails me the song playing on her mental jukebox and waits. Sometimes, nothing happens.

Mamie: I'm listening to Mandy Moore sing [Insert Mandy Moore song].
Tata: Sorry to hear it.

I win; life goes on. Sometimes Mamie wins - or more to the point, sometimes I *lose.*

Mamie: This morning it's Bryan Adams' "One Night Love Affair."
Tata: DAMN IT!

The wandering mind is a bitch. It goes out into the wide world and comes back with fleas. This morning, I woke up next to Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, and thinking of a man I loved ten years ago. He moved in and moved out a handful of times; why he bothered I'll never know. I thought I'd die of the grief. In any case, it's really difficult to lament a still painful loss while a very, very happy cat plays hopscotch on your ribcage, purring like an outboard motor. If you haven't cut the cat's nails recently, you arrive very suddenly in the present. "Good morning, Larry. Ow! Ow! I - ow! - love you, too! Ow! Shall we - ow! hey! I use that! - go look at your food bowl?" I forgot about that man, though.

Sometimes I think I could go on collecting paychecks and perfecting my pedicure until my number's up. I feel like a ghost. Hey, at least I'm not Bryan Adams. I bet that's song's stuck in his head *all* the time.

Friday, February 25, 2005


When I look up he's standing in the doorway of my cubicle with his coat on. He says, "Let's go." I get my coat and we go upstairs to the front of the building but he doesn't turn the way I expect. He heads for a different door. I follow, uncertain. I ask, "Where are we going?"

"We're going to see art," he says.

"We are?"

"We said. We're going."

"So, we're just...having an es-cape?"

"Yes we are, Alice." My name's not Alice. He's referring to Arlo Guthrie, and how people his age have never heard "Alice's Restaurant" but he has. In the middle of one's day, life can be very predictable. Though your eyes are open, you may be asleep. Suddenly, I'm wide awake. Everything interests me. The campus bus we're sitting on is cavernous. The seats are improbably fuzzy and colorful. The other passengers are epic poems. The gray snow sky is velvety. The bare trees are skeletal and acquiescent. I tell him that when I was a teenager I traveled back and forth between my parents' homes on those interstate buses and Aqua Velva smells like bus toilets to me. He is a child of the late eighties and early nineties; the idea of parents buying a bus ticket for a teenager and saying, "Call me next month" is quickly followed the picture of that teenager on a milk carton in his mind. Yes, but Lassie and Timmy were always home for dinner.

The bus stops at Monument Square which isn't a square at all. It's a triangle. When you tell someone to meet you at this location you say, "Meet me at the triangle. You know, Monument Square. And don't play in the fountain. You'll get a disease." I skip off the bus. He walks behind me, lighting a cigarette. I quit smoking a few weeks ago but I like the smell of smoke. I turn around in the wind to let him catch up. He's having trouble with his lighter. I point. He futzes. It's taking forever. I point. "Don't play in the fountain," I say sternly, the Oracle of the Crossroads. Eventually the cigarette lights and we cross the triangle, then the street. A woman walks behind us shouting, "Excuse me!" We turn. She's not talking to us. We don't know who she's talking to. She shouts again and again. I say, "Watch - a thing is about to happen." Ahead of us, a security guard turns around. She asks directions as he walks back to her. Something interesting *is* about to happen, but we've made an es-cape, and we're on the clock.

The gallery has seven rooms consisting of one large main room as you enter, two rooms to the left and four rooms to the right. We have both been here many times but never at the same time. He went to school here. I visited school here, when the school was across the river and so not here at all.

We walk around the main room. I've seen most of these paintings before because I visited the studio of Lala (no relation) recently. There's one painting in particular I'm hoping to see. It's not in the main room, so I think she's chosen to leave that one out. Quickly, we walk through the rooms on the left. He asks me about a painting we both survey and feel it's unfinished. He asks why. I point to a corner, and swoosh across, and come to a stop where a line is too sharp, mumbling the whole time. He says, "I had the same reaction but in the exact opposite places." Still mumbling, I stand in the middle of the room on one foot, extend my arms and lean sideways. "Yes, yes," he says, and we both know the painting is off balance. We race to a room filled with plants and large plastic containers. Water is moving, motors race, pencils dance on unfamiliar surfaces. It's not as exciting as I'd hoped from the enticing noise. The videos in the next room also leave me cold but video work often does. In the next room, we find more of Lala's paintings, including the one I hoped to see. It's several different shades of green, with some other hints of color. We look at the last room's white vellum on white canvas works. There are also rocks piled and shaped. I can't tell if that's Lala's work because the wall labels aren't crystal clear.

We make a break for the door, and the street, and the bus stop. A bus comes. I am talking about the green painting. I am talking about an incident from Lala's childhood. I say this painting feels like the doorway into all the others. If someone had taken a picture of that incident, violent and horrific, and blown up the photograph beyond recognition, and if that someone noticed a microscopic corner of green grass or mossy riverbank became cool green pixels, and someone painted that, that's the painting, and that's the way into the story, and that's what's left for us to see of when the neighbor killed his little daughter and burned up her body.

Now, I say this on the bus. And we are almost immediately back at our building, and no one really noticed we were gone, and my lunch is still where I left it, half-eaten. And I am wide awake.

Thursday, February 24, 2005

Party Dresses, Partly Dressed

It's a morning for strawberry Jell-O with peaches. I admire the jewel-tone pinks and oranges and usher guests around the office. I connect a new employee with the dishevelled hero who fixes her disruptive computer problem. I tell an anxious co-worker to relax - if you can stand it - and let a colleague solve a big problem. He will. It takes two phone calls. My PC is playing Ramones Mania. My shirt is green silk. My coppery hair can be seen from space. I am sitting up straight and pretending to be the hostess this morning. I wonder if Suzanne Pleshette feels this way sometimes.

Sunday, February 20, 2005

The Painful Legacy of Carmen Miranda

My aunt called, a bit depressed. She's planning Miss Sasha's bridal shower. Neither of us has ever planned a bridal shower but we've planned parties. Who can't plan a party, right? You pick a place, provide stuff and stuff to do. Still, we never miss a reason to feel insecure, or lament a missing something we packed away in a cleaning frenzy.

Aunt: - And I was looking for my plastic grapes when -
Tata: You were? I've been whining about MY plastic fruit!
Aunt: I think I put mine into storage a few years ago when - you WHAT?
Tata: When I had long hair I used to pin the grapes around my ponytail to amuse myself so my friend borrowed the whole basket for a gigantic up-do. For the past few weeks I've been asking for it back. It's been almost ten years.
Aunt: Where did you get it?
Tata: It was Grandma's, remember? When she died, I got some ancestral plastic fruit. And a popcorn maker. I can't explain that.
Aunt: I got some grapes, too! And now I can't find them!
Tata: You'll find them! So about my whining: I asked for my fruit back and yesterday, I went over her house to feed her pets. She said my plastic fruit would be next to the guinea pigs. I fed the guinea pigs and then I heard myself say some really interesting words I had never heard before.
Aunt: What'd you say?
Tata: I said [change to Inspector Clousseau accent], 'That is not MY plastic fruit!'
Aunt: Of course you did! We know our plastic fruit!
Tata: Yeah, yeah. And I KNOW this because she tried to buy me off with low-quality plastic fruit. I can't wear that!
Aunt: So what are you gonna do?
Tata: Do? What do you think I'm gonna do? I'm gonna toss her house for my plastic fruit!

This exclamation had the intended effect on my aunt: she stopped being depressed and spent the rest of the day bursting into apparently inappropriate laughter and muttering, "Plastic fruit!" wherever she went. My work here is done!

Wednesday, February 16, 2005

Letters To Lose

Because I am untroubled by conventional ideas about hair color, mine is currently a hue most often found in two-for-one bins at the dollar store. You know the vivid orangy-pink I mean. Even polite people turn the corner and gasp, "OH MY GOD!" Two hours ago, I walked through a building where employees are unaccustomed to my mood hair. I couldn't wait to tell my boss.

"Nobody is looking at me," I whispered.

"You're dull," she said.

"No. I mean as I walk through the room they're averting their eyes!"

[I got distracted by my co-worker who rudely tried to reacqaint me with the terms of my gainful employment, and I forgot about the conversation stopper atop my head.]

"Perhaps they fear glare. Or contagion."

Back in the library, an older and eccentric woman with whom I share a birthday marched - click! click! click! - across the office in her platform/spike heel combo shoes, talking at least thirty seconds before crossing my field of vision, "Where are you? I have been told your hair is some piece of work -"

"Hello, Shirley."

"That's a nice color. It's really bright. How's it feel?" She grabs a lock of my hair to feel the texture. I grew up with beauticians and hippies so I'm used to people greeting me by grabbing my hair and asking in a hostile tone, "ARE YOU CONDITIONING?!" Shirley's amazed that a head of hair that went through three color lifting processes doesn't feel like straw. This conversation made me miss my grandmother; one time she shooed Sister #1 and me up the stairs and bleached our youthful mustaches. We felt pretty stupid but once the peroxide door had been opened, Sister #1 and I stepped through, thanked Grandma and never looked back. I haven't seen my natural color except by accident in more than two decades, and I don't miss it at all until I see gray roots. Thus, we have orangy-pink. Maybe: in the liquor store, the owner chatters on the phone in a language I don't speak as I pick out a bottle of wine. When I get to the counter, I find myself standing next to a very young looking man while the owner talk-talk-talks; then, "What color is that?" He's smiling and I realize the proprietor is indeed talking to me.

"Sunset orange. My Little Pony pink. I don't know," I laugh. The kid next to me says slyly, "Well...I wouldn't have known anything...if your eyebrows had matched..."

"That's my ethnic identity. Nobody touches the eyebrows! Because, you know, I got dignity," I said. The store owner is laughing so hard he can't count change.

One of the glorious aspects of being a little old lady is getting to combine the unlikely and improbable, and doing it any old way you wish. I'm practicing up. I'll need roller skates, no?

Sunday, February 13, 2005

I Would Tell You If I Could

This week, everyone's had trouble blogging, but that's not why I've been quiet. On Monday, I lost interest in smoking during General Hospital - which I can't explain - and simply didn't smoke another cigarette. Sister #1, who shall remain pregnant for the foreseeable future, calls every day to offer positive reinforcement but it's not necessary. On Tuesday nights, my girlfriends - some of whom lack a critical X chromasome - and Miss Sasha were a little shocked when I didn't want a cigarette after they ate dinner. I can't really explain this. All I can say is that it is so.

I *can* tell you how it feels. When I started gymnastics in the mid-seventies, girls didn't dare start in the sport without years of ballet first. I had seven years of ballet before I began learning the basics of tumbling, so I can tell you this with certainty: when a person first tries to kick into a handstand, the body is young and rubbery and does not respond well to being upside-down. Gradually, the patient student learns to feel his or her own palms, the shoulders, the middle back, the hips, the knees, ankles and toes. Gradually, the student learns through kicking up many times against walls and falling down, or kicking up toward a spotter and slapping a shoulder that strength and a new sense of upside-down-ness grow. Time passes. Sometimes a student takes the body's hints and moves forward. Sometimes not, and the student goes nowhere. Of the teenagers who take the hints of their bodies, some learn a secret - and it is a tremendous secret: the word 'handstand' is a misnomer. To stand upright, weight resting on one's heels, is nothing. It's ordinary, and there's not really anything much to say about it. A handstand, however, is a contradiction in terms. A person doesn't really stand on his or her hands so much as place the palms on the ground-most surface and push the whole body as straight and taut as the body can manage toward the toes, and if possible, past them an inch or so. It sounds crazy, but that's what it is, and it you watch a really good athlete on the high bar or uneven bars, and try to feel where they're putting their weight, you will see what I mean. It's called amplitude and it's only exotic if you've never studied gymnastics or wave function.

So there's a gangly body, And it tries to be upside-down, which is a foreign sense of itself. And it reaches toward impossibly straight walls. And it resists the hands of persons knowledgeable in this endeavor. One day, the body kicks into handstand, and all the weight feels like it is stretched away from earth into the pointed toes, and the spotter, surprised, feels his hands instinctively note where the other, upside-down body is centered and balanced. That balance is now separate from the spotter in this moment, and the spotter moves his hands a centimeter, then another. The spotter knows first and now removes his hands. The student knows second: balance has been achieved. The body accepts inversion. The line away from earth is straight and perfect.

So. I have not smoked another cigarette in just about a week. It is not something I accomplished, really; I was simply there, and the time was right, I haven't smoked a cigarette since last Monday, and I am stretched away from earth...

Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Home Is Where the Chinning Bar Is

So the other day I was playing with my nephew the five-year-old engineer and realized: Oh. My. God! My triceps are flabby. I cannot believe my arms could be such fatty space aliens.

You have no way of knowing I was one of the young Title IX athletes - let's say I was a few years behind the first girls - and that I vividly recall apologizing to boys for having muscular arms in the seventies when pretty girls had as much obvious musculature as rubber dolls. I lifted weights and did calisthenics while other girls studied Cosmo. At one point, I was doing about 250 military pushups a day in sets of 50. A chinning bar has always been installed in my bedroom doorways, and I used it. I opened my own pickle jars and expected to for the rest of my natural life.

Then I suffered an episode of Stupid and forgot to exercise for a few years while I was depressed and gained weight.

So after twenty years of twirling barbells and a few of "pass the marshmallows and kill me, please," I had a bright idea, "Mamacita, get on the floor and see how many pushups you can still do.' There was some stretching, some bending. I can stretch and bend. I got on my hands and feet (because girl pushups are for...girls...) and said, "One...and...a half..."

In the words of poet Boni Joi: "Humility helps."

This afternoon, a woman I berated into getting an I-Turned-Forty-A Few-Years-Ago Mammogram mentioned she hesitated to take calcium. I stared at her. I hyperventilated a little. I'd just told her the whole faux-sad story about my lifelong-and-lost upper body strength when it became obvious that a dramatic gesture was necessary. I dropped to the floor to illustrate: 'One...and...a half..." I got up. "We're not children, lovey. Will you ask your pharmacist about the freaking calcium?"

Monday, February 07, 2005


This morning, I went to the orthodontist to get my braces tightened. Currently, my teeth ache, but that's not the point. The orthodontist, who is either amused or extremely annoyed by anything I say or do, took one look at my braces and said, "What the hell have you been eating?"

I knew exactly what he meant. I'd been eating to build my blood count. "Beets," I said, but I had misgivings. "When I ate beets and blueberries on the same day, I decided I should never do that again."

"Jackpot," he said.

This evening, my teeth are sore. It was difficult to eat dinner, by which I mean biting down felt like part of my skull might break off and make eating an engineering nightmare, and the fare was peas. Yeah, there's just no way's not macho.

I haven't had a cigarette since before my nap this afternoon. I nap. What, you don't? Anyway, I could change my mind at any insomniac moment, but maybe not. I bought a bottle of wine because I wanted a bottle of gin, and if we have martinis we all want cigarettes and hookers - it's a style thing, yes? I seldom drink on school nights, but I was trying to write. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, was sleeping. The noise in my brain is turned up to a good rattling 11.

A new day might dawn, if only I weren't at the pie counter in this Appalachian diner with Ernest Hemingway and Betty Buckley, and my order seems to be up...

Friday, February 04, 2005

For the Next Sixty Seconds

This was a test post. You should not be alarmed. The test succeeded. The guys at the host company now call me by my first name, smile when I bat my eyelashes, pretend to understand what I'm talking about...Isn't that what we all want from people we pay to admire us?

A good thing about the Blogosphere: many things happen in the outside world and bloggers tell readers all about these events. A bad thing: you can spend your week reading about a crappy candidate for U.S. Attorney General and by Friday you know more about him than you do about your mom. A week of being barely able to write permitted me plenty of reading time, and my brain is now full of stuff I'd like to scrub out with a wire brush. And bleach. Alberto Gonzales is now the blueberry stain on my cerebellum, and Condoleezza Rice is tomato paste on my frontal lobe, and just look at the gritty mess.

Invitations to Miss Sasha's wedding went out this week. They're crisp and to the point, belying the complete lunacy of the last month's preparations. Someone under the mistaken impression that *anyone* will listen to me calls almost daily with an argument, or a grievance. Everyone wants to know what color I'll be wearing. After all, I am the Mommy. Apparently everyone will be looking at me. If I had a buck for everytime someone said, "You CAN'T go shopping without ME!" I could pick up a shiny new pair of Doc Martens.

Thursday, February 03, 2005

Power To the Pilaf

Yesterday, I read one of my essays on the tsunami relief efforts on the local college radio station that - depending on whom you believe - either *no one* listens to or *everyone* does. The stage fright was bad but not so bad I yakked in the booth. In fact, except for the part about people thinking I might mean what I say, doing radio sounds like a good idea, maybe. I think this now, from the security of the day job I seem to have been sentenced to but last night, holding my color-coded and numbered pages, I wondered if I were going to kick the bucket. My heart felt like it was going to burst through my sternum. I thought 'Sweet fancy Moses, don't let me become a Meatloaf song...'

Yeah. So that went well.

Wednesday, February 02, 2005

The Heart of the Matter. Or the Artichoke. Whichever.

Since Friday, I've struggled with a connectivity problem at home. At first, I thought it was Blogger, because Blogger can be spiteful. Then I thought it was an equipment problem. Then maybe the ISP had singled me out for this particular shower of blessings. As of this morning, I just don't know. I need a staff nerd.

It's temporary, as all trials are. Still, I wish this one would reach its verdict and penalty phase.