Tuesday, August 30, 2005

[Insert Evil Laugh Here]

Suzette at first was the Yoda of My Home Improvement:

Buy Behr, do. Glidden glops.
There is no try, only paint!

Okay, maybe she only sounded like that in my head. Then she went all Bela Karolyi:

You are paint! You are champyon paint! I proudt!

I suppose I imagined Suzette's instructive infomercial, now with bluing for extra whiteness:

You're painting!

Are you wearing a triangluar head scarf like Lucy and Ethel?
Are you barefooted and stepping in drops of paint and then making faint dots where you walk?
Are you squinting and looking for signs of betrayal in your paint coverage?

Do you have a chemical burn on your face from close proximity to latex fumes?
Do you think that it might be a good idea to extend the hilarious blue to other areas of potential humor?
Do you long for an audience to applaud your results?

Have you discovered that if you leave the roller cover alone too long it gets hard and you can't use it anymore?
Have you discovered how much water it take to rinse the roller cover clean?
Have you dicovered that if you use a supermarket plastic bag to cover the roller in place and another one on the paint pan that you don't have to rinse out and start all over again between coats?

Will you get infected by the paint bug and start plotting aginst the kitchen?
Will you select two shades darkening pink to apply with balled up plastic bags to the bathroom walls?



Wait - Suzette really said all that and I really leapt from my couch, shouting.

I am plotting against the kitchen! I am scheming against the hall closets, too.The hall is too white. The living room was painted haphazardly and I'm so Monk I have to fix the messy edging. With paint!

Last month, I fell in love with a lamp. This month, I fell in love with painting. Is there any further I could fall?

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Speaking of True Colors, Let's Speak of True Colors

You're you. You're funny! Sometimes, you come across things that are not funny, and your response is:




I got nothing...

Every week, I spend hours daisy-chaining around the blogosphere. I read weeks of one blog, then swing like Tarzan through the trees to another blog in the blogroll. This way, I'm learning whom to read and to whom I never have to give another moment's thought. Some of it is a blur. The blogosphere is a lot like clique-y, gossipy high school without the buggy cafeteria. Over the past month, I've noticed an undercurrent particularly among the men in the Left blogosphere, because I have no desire to cause myself an aneurism by reading the Right, and it's making me nauseous.

If one studies Jewish history (which I did for years in college and out), one finds twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five years ago, the political Right had two interests in Israel:

1. Munitions testing. Somebody's gotta try stuff out;
2. For Jesus to come back to Earth, there have to be Jews in every nation. It's prophesy and that's - like - a rule. Part two of that is that Muslims are a lot less likely to let Christians mess around in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls debacle springs instantly to mind as an example of what Christians get to screw around doing until Jews put a stop to it. Anyway, if you're crazy enough to want Jesus to visit and survey the damage like a metaphysical claims adjuster, you need Jews in Jerusalem.

Rumor has it this may not be the case anymore.

One thing I puzzle over in blogs on the Left - the Left in which I include Poor Impulse Control, by the way - is an assertion that concern for Israel as a state is primarily the realm of the neocons. This, I must tell you, is bullshit. The thing is: Jews value education. The thing gentiles find frustrating about Jews is their study of history, which demonstrates there's no country on earth that can be trusted not to have an economic downturn before breakfast and resultant Jewish genocide after lunch. Thus, Jews - even Jews that have nothing against the Palestinians, their organizations or other Arab nations whose stated aim is to drive the Jews into the sea and truly wish everyone would see that living peacefully might be preferable to constant war - watch the news with one eye and keep one fixed on the Holy Land. In the words of my late former father-in-law: "We may not agree with what the Israelis do but we're not the ones with the gun to our heads." If you think that gun is not real, you don't have a firm grasp on the Mideast situation.

The People's Republic of Seabrook is a fast-paced bastion of Left humor, based in Texas, and honestly, I don't know how that guy keeps his wrists closed. His work has made me laugh on many occasions. Last week, he published a link to something on Wonkette - I have no interest in her, she could be a genius for all I know - which I'd seen somewhere else anyhow. It was the Kitten Jihad meme. Jihad humor is not...humorous. People are dying. The first time I saw this tasteless thing I was nonplussed. The second time, bored. The third, annoyed. The fourth time I saw it Kitten Jihad was People's Republic of Seabrook's entry to that week's Carnival of the Cats, by which time it was more than not breathtakingly original: it was outright offensive, which was not really his fault. I guess. I wrote into his comments that I thought he was a better writer than that - for one thing, because it wasn't his. And instead of considering the possibility that a year of good work can be undone in one anti-Jewish post, he insulted me. That's his right. I'm sorry to give up reading what was otherwise a consistently decent blog but historically swimmers don't have to hear the theme music to feel the shark bite.

The People's Republic was not the first place I'd noticed the wink-wink it's okay because it's anti-Jewish humor, or worse, it's just those dirty Jews again patter. As I said earlier, in my travels, I found both quite a bit, as if we all came to an unspoken understanding at a meeting I missed, and I just wasn't invested enough in the other writers to discuss it with them. i should have spoken up, that's true, or written down where I saw what, which would have helped make my point a heap now. Well, it's free speech and chaos out in the blogosphere, and good for us. People can say whatever they want. Writers should realize that readers may not necessarily disagree with their opinions because there's something wrong with the readership. Sometimes the writer's got a screw loose, and readers see it first.

My favorite weenie-boy argument - most often employed against women - is that the weenie writer's offensive humor is in fact funny and the person who disagrees has no sense of humor. The translation from weenie to actual English should read: I, the "humorist," fail to recognize that humor is in the recipient and not in the transmitter, i.e. like beauty, the Funny is in the eye of the beholder. If your audience says you're not funny, you're either talking zippers to the Amish or you're not hilarious. Be honest. Is that a horse and buggy? Maybe - but maybe not.

Late last week, I was flipping through TBogg's blogroll. I stumbled on a truly vicious anti-Jewish blog entry on Badtux the Snarky Penguin to which Skippy's G. D. Frogsdong responded. Let's overlook the obnoxious business of calling yourself snarky. Yep, stupid nicknames can be found almost...anywhere...Now, I love TBogg as I love - say - Tim Curry, and I respect G. D. Frogsdong as I respect anyone speaking slowly and making careful points in the face of weenie squealing lunacy. I have learned not to expect weenie squealing lunacy from the Men of the Left (and where's my 2006 calendar, fellas?) so I was really surprised to read on Badtux the vicious wink-wink anti-Jewish entry and G. D.'s super-cautious dissenting response. Then Tami, the One True tried gently telling Pengy he didn't know what he was talking about, but that didn't make a dent either.

I admit: in the comments, I was frustrated and started with the end of the story. I should have started with the beginning. Since I don't argue politics anymore, I'm out of practice. Enough about me, what do you think of my dress?

Our flightless waterfowl said a whole lot, reminding me of my sister Daria. As a child, Daria would skin her knee and burst into tears. Then she would cry a lot. Then she forgot why she was crying and was just crying. This cycle was best broken through judicious application of mass-produced pastries. And milk. I don't know Badtux, but once he started howling in his original post, no force on earth was going to prevent him from airing the true ugliness of his hatred. In particular, his whole "bigots and racists like you are always quick to bring out the 'race card' believing that everybody is trying to destroy your race" would've been a real knee-slapper if he weren't 100% serious - and talking about me! Well, his idea of an imaginary me. Maybe he needs a cookie. When he said "people of [my] ilk" I just about spit Pellegrino through my nose. See, when you hate groups of people you know nothing about that's prejudice. He has no idea who my people are or if I dropped from space and am composed of gelatinous goo, but he sure does hate people just like me! Now, refresh my memory: doesn't the Left embrace ideas of racial and religious equality and tolerance? Or is it okay to whip up a cocktail hour pogrom if we're - wink-wink - talking about the Jews?

In his case, it's just talk. After this post, I'll never devote another moment's thought to him, but bloggers like him should realize that if they show their true colors someone's going to call them on it, not just me. During my zipping around the blogosphere, I should have made notes or said something when I came upon other examples of anti-Jewish rhetoric or anti-anything rhetoric, and from now on I will. Letting that go was my mistake. I won't make that mistake again.

Thursday, August 25, 2005

The Splatter Effect

Outside the new apartment, I see men at a distance. I point off to my left.

He walks toward me, asking in Spanish about the car parked next to mine. I worked in restaurants with people who were learning English but now I have to know when to get up and leave the corner taqueria in a hurry - which is handy, but I don't speak the language. That would be vastly overstating the case.

Tata: Is this your car?
Man: Is that your car?

A metallic purple car that can only be owned by a young man or an old lady has parked me in, and I've figured out who to shout this at by sweeping the courtyard - 180 degrees - for one or the other. He's talking to me because next to my car sits a supersweet restored grafted thing that nobody's driven in so long there are napkins tucked under the wiper blades with notes from June. I'm guessing the guy walking toward me wants that car like burgers want Swiss.

Man: I'd like to buy that car!
Tata: That's not my car. I don't know whose it is.
Man: Oh, I'm sorry. I thought you were Latina.
Tata: Everyone does. Dahhhhhling, would you move your car, please?

He's apologizing for speaking Spanish, in case that offended me. I...don't get it, smile and can't help him because I truly have no idea whose car that is.

Last night, I saw an episode of the truly, deeply cancelled Wonderfalls on LOGO. Wonderfalls was a great show about unintended consequences and how you can't know what you're doing, no matter how convinced you may be that you do. Fox cancelled it before showing all the episodes so I was overjoyed to see one I hadn't seen before. Naturally, today I'm thinking about how - no matter what - nobody has all the facts. This seldom stops anyone from acting, does it? For instance, a few weeks ago, I paraphrased a line from The Dictionary of the Khazars when I should have quoted:

One of the sure paths to the real future (because there is also a false future) is to proceed in the direction of your fear.

Damn it, we are going to Home Depot, and we are going to pick paints! Mamie picks me up in her tank filled with equipment from last week's conference. I climb in as she's tossing bags of sugar-free gummy bears over her shoulder, into the invisible, packed back seat. They are clearly gone forever. Something is a little...different...about Mamie. For a minute, I can't put my finger on it.

Tata: Do you have a TAN?
Mamie: I do!
Tata: I don't even know you anymore!
Mamie: It was a terrible lapse of vanity and who saw THAT coming, I ask you?

I enjoy looking and feeling tanned and healthy; Mamie spends a disgraceful percentage of her annual income on department store wrinkle-preventing goo. She's an indoor-and-air-conditioned kind of gal.

Tata: You saw daylight and didn't burst into flames?
Mamie: You should talk, Mrs. Up All Night.
Tata: Too bad the cure for insomnia isn't browning and basting.

My friends are a huggy, squeezy bunch of bunches of people, since they don't all know one another. Half of them have spent the last fifteen years building antibodies to one another through friendly beer-goggling and/or scientific inquiry. Mamie, however, is not a touchy person unless there's edible underwear and a pool boy on the divan. As I climb in the tank, we are thrilled to see one another.

Tata: You were gone forever! I thought you were never coming back!
Mamie: I thought of you every time the room spun!
Tata: Wow! You really missed me!
Mamie: As I stumbled to the bathroom, I said, "This is really Ta's area of expertise..."

We're thrilled! It's great! We lean halfway toward one another, pause, make confused faces and securely fasten our seatbelts. The hunt is on. She growls.

Mamie: Let's shop!

At Home Depot, Mamie is disappointed by minimal air conditioning in a retail outlet. We find an entire aisle of paints and paint chips. I have my heart set on painting the new bedroom. I've never painted my own bedroom. I helped Paulie Gonzalez paint his bedroom a designer version of Emergency Orange once and we had to move him out in self-defense. In my brain is a picture of my bedroom the color of cornflowers, which are roadside weeds a shade of blue-violet that reminds me simultaneously of tranquility and razor-sharp teeth. That has all the earmarks of buried childhood trauma, doesn't it? Never mind, Home Depot has a wall of paint chips!

About a year of "No, that's a boys' bathroom in Catholic high school...no, that's an Easter egg under the couch a month later...no, that's baby's bedroom for the rigidly homophobic..." later, Mamie finds one in her hand we don't recognize. We both try to take a step back but Mamie's hand is sort of a fixed distance from her head that hasn't changed since puberty.

Mamie: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm?
Tata: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm?

I fold the other colors behind so we can see just one.

Mamie: Hmmm?
Tata: We've found our Gigi!

A passing employee tells us that to get paint we walk around this strange paint duck blind/turret thing and discuss our desires with the Experts on the other side, who by law must be college boys home for the summer. Our two Experts are over-groomed and under-interested. We're the only people at the counter. Neither Expert makes eye contact or speaks to us. I have a long history of watching salespersons fail to sell because it's funny so Mamie steps forward.

Mamie: We'd like to buy paint.
Tata: This color and this color.
Mamie: WE'D LIKE TO BUY PAINT. He looks familiar.
Salesguy 1: What's with your hair?
Salesguy 2: They cut it like this for my last movie.
Tata: Apparently, he takes direction but not instructions.
Mamie: You! A quart of this! A gallon of that! Mush!

To our surprise, Salesguy 1 disappears with the paint chip. Customers stack up behind us as Salesguy 2 mixes the closet paint, which we chose for its peek-a-boo hilarity. I wanted to open my closet door and burst out laughing every time and by gum, we've chosen a color that in the can is the dark blue equivalent of Pepto Bismal Pink, which looks completely different from the chip, which looks more like the Pacific Ocean throwing a tantrum. I keep doubts to myself. I needn't bother.

Mamie: That doesn't even look close. Are you sure that's Spectrum Blue?
Salesguy 2:
Mamie: HEY! Where'd that other guy go?

And then Salesguy 2 turns around and goes after him! We do the only thing we can: we turn around and talk to the family behind us. They stare at the empty paint turret. We stare at them and at each other. When the salesguys come back it looks like waterballet with aprons. One paddles left, one spins in circles to the right. I expect sparklers and bathing caps. When finally the two cans of paint are mixed and labeled, Salesguy 2 whacks the lids shut.

Tata: My job doesn't include a mallet!
Mamie: You could find use for a giant mallet in the library!
Tata: That's so true! I'm creative that way!

We haven't looked at the prices and we're determined not to until checkout. I'm actually quite poor, despite what anyone thinks, including my employer. The other night at a big birthday dinner for a friend I made a preemptive announcement.

Tata: I love you all, but with the new apartment I'll be broke. For Christmas, you're each getting a bag of flour.
Sharkey: You're not even going to bake us something?
Pete: What, you can't add the sugar?
Tata: Sugar's extra. It's a bag of flour for you!

With two cans of paint, a pan-roller kit, painter's tape and a drop cloth, I feel reasonably sure I can afford this but as we approach the self-checkout register, I break into a sweat. We have five things. Five. Ten minutes later, the machine has scolded us for moving things no fewer than five times. I'm so anxious to get away from this machine without an arrest record I shove my ATM card into the slot and press enter until it squeals. People stare at us suspiciously.

Tata: Take the money! TAKE IT!
Mamie: I'll start the car!

I start painting. I tape off the closet and get a thorough education in painting crappily. Then I discover new and original ways to paint terribly. Then I learn how to do a better job. Then I brush the roller against the ceiling and paint that, too. Three and a half hours after I start it's too dark out and inside the closet to tell how atrocious a job I'm doing so I pack it in for the night and leave for the old apartment.The next day, I spend an hour touching up my terrible paint job before Mamie shows up and we test-drive paint hilarity.

Tata: Go ahead. Open the closet door.
Mamie: BWAH!

Tonight: I start work with the bedroom color - not that I know what I'm doing. We can be sure that I don't. At least, I know a little more than when I started. Painting is both humbling and exciting. I can't wait for work to be over. I can't wait to paint.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

On the Mental Jukebox, Pat Robertson Edition

You could be a holy man, start a religious war.
You could be a senator, sitting at Au Bar.
You could be Hitler, come to kill off all the Jews.
You could be Al Sharpton in that brand new Coup de Ville.
Everything you do is coming right back to you.

Bad Karma, Bad Karma

Tuesday, August 23, 2005

Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah.

I first noticed the family values patter in the mid-eighties, I think. Perhaps you were too young then to remember that in the beginning it seemed as if old men in suits and color-blind women were speaking in tongues on national television. There was a recession on. I had a small child, two minimum wage jobs and a boyfriend who kept a meat cleaver in his trunk. When I would occasionally run past a TV it was because the space shuttle blew up or because late-night Ben Casey made my harrowing existence a little less harrowing for an hour, so it took a little while for these throwbacks to cross my field of vision.

Lucky me.

The life I was busy having was no laughing matter - at the time. After my two jobs I was taking a basic wiring class at the Middlesex County VoTech with electricians' apprentices from a couple of IBEW locals. When the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local for my town held its annual "One of us...one of us..." drive, there were three openings. I aced their exam because back then my brain still went ZOT! on cue. It was an exciting time! Then came the interview. I expected the electricians to - as people did - marvel at my work ethic and stellar I.Q. Instead, the interview proved a shock - no pun intended. One of the interviewers said these actual words to me. I forget my phone number, but I remember this:

IBEW Brother: Why should we give you a job and take one away from a man supporting a family?
Tata: Because I'm the single parent of a family no man is supporting.

No, I didn't get the job, so I moved to Perth Amboy and applied to a different IBEW, hoping they weren't all filled with mouthbreathing yahoos. And I was so wrong! It was at this point I gave up hope of becoming an electrician and providing a decent life for myself and my daughter. I became the bad university secretary who would hang up on you. I still had no money but I was at home nights when the TV was on. Suddenly, Jerry Falwell played a huge part in my life because hating someone with every fiber of your being takes up mondo time and energy. And Reverend Donald Wildmon's despicable antics occupied more of my waking thought than even my own.

See, nothing, nobody, no power on earth would or will convince me that gays were a threat, or feminists were evil, the homeless wanted to be homeless, starving children deserved to starve, Communists were the tool of Satan, or any of that other shit televangelists shoveled. Being born beige and middle class in modern America is nothing other than a cosmic accident, and from this position of tremendous fucking privilege it is my obligation to minimize suffering caused by my presence in the world by not acting like a soulless, selfish bastard who doesn't care who she hurts to get her way. I am not a nice person and sometimes I've lived closer to this modest ideal than others; however, dating married men is not morally stinky on the same order of magnitude as goading your followers to blockade and firebomb women's clinics, or failing to prevent it.

This is the gap between intention and action: the harm factor. In the eighties, our Catholic and evangelical leaders failed to observe or lament the suffering they caused and from there, it's only gotten worse. It is as if, drunk with power, they forgot that laying down the law is not the same as shepherding the flock. It's sad, really. One neglected idea at the very bottom of their common philosophy is not a bad one: it wouldn't be such a bad thing if we could raise children to be secure, smart adults - possibly, they shouldn't be selfish bastards, either.

But rhetoric took off and riot was incited and passions remain inflamed and all reason is lost. I can't even look at their faces anymore without feeling as if I've been suckerpunched and forced to spend the last twenty years of my life defending the simple notion that free people should be free, and - I'm terribly sorry - the family is not the be-all and end-all these bigots make out as long as the family rejects some of its members for being gay, or poor, or HIV-positive, or independent women, or of a different belief-set. I am officially sick of hearing about the family, about family values and about my role in the family. I don't want to hear another religious figure tell me our society is corrupting its youth. The reason I and others can say this?

According to the 1990 and 2000 Census and as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the nuclear family is no longer our most common living arrangement. The Journal's take on this change in American life is pathetic and sentimental. Somehow, it suggests, we drifted away from the thing that offers strength and companionship. What the Journal fails to note is that living in nuclear family structures is often extremely uncomfortable. Family is the problem you're stuck with until you construct your own family solution. In my case, I live alone or with a lover, whichever! My friends are my family in the absence of a more conventional household. The prospect of someday being unable to care for myself and relying on Miss Sasha - however scrumptious she may be - fills me with a desire to eat day-old sushi on a hot day. With mayo. My family may take offense and that's their right, but feelings are facts, and the fact is I will never live in a male-dominated structure that includes children. I won't miss it a bit.

So. About family movies, family meals, family values, family entertainment, family trips, family television, family anything else: stow it. The family unit turned on itself in the eighties and proved a fragile, unbending structure. It snapped, despite all the rhetoric and damage to individuals and stifling oppression. Now whose fault is that?

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Hot Damn, I Love A Savage Truth-Teller

Rise up, rise up.

Hindsight Is 20/20 Hearing

Tata: Hey, I called you yesterday.
Paulie: You did?
Tata: You don't remember?
Paulie: No...
Tata: Your pants answered.
Paulie: What?
Tata: I called and your pants answered the phone. You were at the hospital and I could hear your dad. You were arranging your stepmom in the hospital bed.
Paulie: I was? Wait - I was!
Tata: Then it got quiet and I couldn't figure out what that rhythmic sound was. And it was you, walking!
Paulie: That's funny!
Tata: And the whole time I was shouting into the phone, "PAULIE! PAULIE!"
Paulie: You were?
Tata: What, you don't remember ten minutes of your pants shouting your name?

Friday, August 19, 2005

Better Than Decoupage

Everyone needs a hobby. Usually, mine is trying to remember why I should come to work. Recently, I learned how to code links into my posts which, if you were born after the cut-off date, you probably learned in pre-natal typing class. Good for you! Shut up.

Tata: My link doesn't work.
Mamie: It's broken. I'll fix it.
Tata: Grrr! Grrr! Arr. Grrr!
Mamie: While I'm at the conference -
Tata: The ten days I'll spend swearing you're grounded but in the end I'll just be glad you're back?
Mamie: - pester your friend Jazz. By the look of things, he's spending too much time with grownups.

Uh. Okay. So Jazz is the reason broken things at PIC are all glued together and pristinely duct-taped. Anyway, very cranky persons have complained the wedding stuff is all backwards and interspersed with specious musings. Good for them! Shut up. Here's Miss Sasha's wedding, in order. If you missed it the first time, be sure to picture me with a perfect manicure and a splitting headache, because weddings are not about the Mother of the Bride. Are they?

Leading up to and including the bridal shower.
Plastic fruit aplenty.
Speak no evil. Well, maybe a little.
Shopping and sharpshooting.
When 'rustic' attacks and when we fight back.

The altar and the alterego! Cheers!
Percussive and concussive.
Waiting up is hard to do.
Coffin or caffeine?
The best advice you'll hear all week.
Orchestras rehearsed on the Titanic, too.
I'm not listening! You can't make me!
Dressed and repressed.
Get a tissue. This is the good part - for you!
Laughter, horror and a tasty buffet.
After, and after that.
There can't be more. But there is!
Home from the honeymoon.

I still have no wedding pictures, but that's okay. I'm not desperate to see myself in a purple blouse tailored for Ming the Merciless - and it's not like you'll get a glimpse of that triumph of textile engineering. Ugh. Well, unless it's hilarious.

We'll find out, I guess.

I Said "Bearnaise."

You there! With the opposable thumb! It is I, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul! I grow weary of your wheedling and obfuscation! Since you cannot boil water without tutelage, I suggest you take this weighty tome and discover the joy of indulging my every whim.

Prepare the shrimp!

Thursday, August 18, 2005

La Pieta

In 1978, my father's parents took me on a four-week tour of Italy, Switzerland and Monaco. I was 14 and generally forgive myself for sleeping through Nice, though given a second change, I'd swill some coffee, prop my eyes open and beg Grandpa to swing around the block a few times.

We went to St. Peter's Basilica in Rome. It's not enough to say there's nothing like it but the point in important. It's vast and sumptuous and gilded and endless and candlelit and every few feet the tourist finds something he or she saw in an art book or heard about in a class somewhere. Everyone's seen reproductions because the originals have raw power and unmistakable voltage. Our tour group through the Vatican was small that afternoon. When we came to Michelangelo's Pieta, I didn't just stare. I felt that sculpture ripple through me, body and soul. I felt its agony and grief, its tenderness and devotion. Four hands grabbed my shoulders and lifted me off the ground. Without any conscious thought, I'd walked toward the Pieta, and the Swiss Guard moved to intercept me - with spears. When my feet left the ground, the spell broke. My grandfather shook me.

Tata: What? What's happening?
Grandparents talking at once: What are you doing? Did you see the guards? Are you okay? What's wrong with you?

I had no recollection of trying to touch the sculpture, but such is the power of the image that I was not standing and looking, I was moving to comfort the grieving mother. So they told me. All I remembered was a tidal wave of loss. What the hell, I was a kid, and trying to comfort a statue is the amusingly futile gesture of the century. Woo hoo! "Cheer up, Mom! He's touring the Holy Land as a headliner!" But I won't blush when I think about the empathy at the root of this moment. It is not weakness that permits us to consider the feelings of others but strength; it was not too long before our trip that Grandma had started talking to me about a daughter lost in infancy. The Pieta was no abstraction, and I was starting to understand there could be no greater pain than the loss of a child.

There's some adult carry-over from this moment, razor-sharp and subtly silly: I can't even watch Disney movies in which children are separated from their mothers. Dumbo and Bambi as a double feature could put me in the Carrier Clinic. Sophie's Choice made me toss my waffles. TV movies about Marilyn Monroe's childhood cause me to weep inconsolably. Everyone's got a soft spot, and this one's mine. So you know where I'm going with this: when I see Cindy Sheehan's face, and I think about her losing her son, and the depth to which her pain must fill in the hollow spaces and bring her to the surface we see, I know that in her position I might drown. I might never wish to see daylight again but she does. For this reason alone, when her detractors speak ill of her, they shame themselves. For this reason alone, Centrists and the Left must embrace her, comfort her, quit the equivocating and think less about our fears. When we are afraid to be seen as passionate seekers of justice we surrender to those who obstruct it, and we are seen for what we are: cowards unworthy of our fierce history of brave resistance.

Must we shame ourselves this way?

Wednesday, August 17, 2005

Dialogue, Categorically

At the liquor store in my neighborhood, the guys behind the counter display a polite interest in me as a regular customer. They see me for five minutes twice a month since 1998. They have apparently developed their own narrative for my life, which is excellent news.

Guy: Hey! Where's your boyfriend Tony?

In retrospect, I'm Italian and never dated Italian men, but Daria did. She had a type. Daria and Todd met up in the Stone Pony one night so Todd could meet Daria's latest tall, handsome, tanned, Italian, cologne-drenched, possessive bigot boy.

Todd: So...what's Tony's name?

The liquor store guy is really asking if I have a boyfriend, which is a funny thing to ask a middle-aged woman who isn't wearing a wedding ring and whose hair was recently flaming sunset pink. He does not ask about my girlfriend Toni, but if he thought I had a girlfriend named Toni I bet I'd also have his phone number on a matchbook. You can learn a lot in ten words or less. I smile and don't tell him anything.

Tata: Denver, I think.

I'd love to hear his version of my saga. On the one hand, I don't want the kind of attention saying, "We broke up in October" invites. On the other, it's hard not to sigh heavily and stare off into space.

Tata: You always have to stab people more than you think you will.

That might move things right along, or along to the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Facility, where I know the library's marginal because I stock it myself. The antic might be worth it: Mamie left last week for a half-price shoe sale in Boston, where I wouldn't want to be the fellow customer or unarmed salesperson when Mamie spots her fall season designer trophies. In any case, this hunting expedition occupies her full attention. I leave messages.

Tata: My mother brought me to the Falmouth Bus Station at 3:39 for a 3:40 bus and I ran into the depot to buy a ticket where I couldn't think as the lady behind the counter said, "Round trip for two: $78" and I said, "No, one person, one way" and the ticket was $18.50 even though the bus company's 800 number said $17.00 and I couldn't argue because behind me Mom was working her weird verbal voodoo on the bus driver which made my brain go all swirly but I got the right ticket and dragged my two suitcases and my Dragonball Z lunchbox onto the bus and set up a cushion fort and growled everytime somebody came near but I'm on my way to get an Amtrak train back to MetroPark where Paulie will either pick me up in the World's Largest Pick Up Truck(tm) or I'll take a cab home for peace and quiet after two days of people talking constantly, and the voices in my head are squawking, "Mantequilla! Mantequilla!" can you tell?

Lala's traveling the country with her glamorous car-racing son and her cantankerous ex-husband. Sharkey's perfecting his golf swing in the Carolinas. Most of the family's still up at the Cape or off at a trade show. Trout's taking care of a sick friend. For Christ's sake, I talk to cashiers for wicked banter.

Tata: Like, what?
Her: Like, like like?
Tata: Like, NO!
Her: Like, ya huh!

This dialogue takes place the same week Mom flashed her English degree at an unlikely moment.

Mom: You can really parse sentences. I never learned to parse sentences.
Tata: Did I just hallucinate a compliment? I must be dehydrated. How many fingers am I holding up? Four! No, three!
Mom: No, I never really learned until you did.
Tata: What? We're even then because my mind's a blank now.

While I stand around, muttering, "The fucking yellow ribbon magnets are Tony Orlando's fault," I worry about finding the fun, witty chatter that's like crack for word junkies like me. But I can hush up and quit fretting. Suzette's on the case and Mark's got the funk.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Reservations. And Plans.

I have no patience for this hyperemotional response to September 11th by people who were never in any danger and now go around wearing t-shirts with pictures of burning buildings. If that's you, just fuck off. Few things are more puke-inducing than watching an idiot wearing one of those It's On Fire shirts run into a person whose wife, husband, lover, parent, son or daughter burned to death in Windows On the World. You should be ashamed of yourself. Throw away that t-shirt and promise you'll never give another cent to the ghouls who made a tourist industry of disaster. And keep that promise, no matter how enticing the offer of morbid commemorative It's On Fire coins, plates, baseball caps or potato peelers, for all I know.

There are ways to mourn and remember that offer catharsis and promote healing. Unfortunately for all of us, the Pentagon has eschewed good taste and planned a party. You can, if you're feeling especially jingoistic, sign up for the march and the concommitant background check. Let me repeat that point: you can't just go, should you feel a rather shocking lack of revulsion for this soiree. You have to pass a screening. I guess that will weed out anyone who's actually thinking about what they're doing.

The families of those lost on September 11th have ideas of their own. Many memorials are local and personal, which may not be accessible where you live. Fortunately, they also favor constructive recognition and remembrances of a more locationless variety. One of the best is One Day's Pay, an organization that asks you to turn September 11th into a day devoted to service for others wherever you are, rather than horror and loss. Or you could contribute to the care of search and rescue dogs. That's marvelous, really. Search and rescue dogs played a crucial role in survivors' survival and giving victims' loved ones the consolation of burials, and the only thing they ask is that we care for them, which is not too damn much.

The last thing anyone needs is useless, revolting souvenir crap - unless you wonder why nothing in your living room gathers dust in that saccharine way only September 11th memorabilia can. And Oh. My. God. Rumsfeld's going to give me an aneurysm yet. What an ass! This vile trampling on and profiting from the dead is undignified and disgusting, and proponents need intensive de-programming or...a rolled-up newspaper to the snout.

Sunday, August 14, 2005

I Me Mine I Me Mine I Me Mine

I return triumphant from the wilds of Cape Cod, where strip malls are replacing pine forests, beaches act as a beautiful bone of contention and tourists issue gunpoint demands of natives being displaced by the wealthy. It's a lot like New Jersey, except with better manners and no room for garbage dumps. This trip was educational; I learned a few things.

1. I am an idiot, but I doubt the wisdom of throwing a surprise party for a 93-year-old. Your opinion may vary.

Grandpa is one of two surviving charter members of the Hyannis VFW, and though road construction and re-engineering is a fact of modern life, my nearly blind grandfather knows every street on the Upper Cape. He corrects cab drivers and scolds Mom for second-guessing his directions. He likes things just-so and Mom ruffles his feathers constantly with detours, luxurious time-wasting and gifts of stuff he swears he neither needs nor wants.

It's his birthday. He thinks we're going to a fish fry at the Moose Lodge.
It's her father's birthday. She's conspired with his friends and they've all told him lies that will result in cake.

Oh dear. He won't be pleased.

Though we've stalled and walked around in circles in a drug store, when Mom, Grandpa and I arrive at the VFW hall Daria's family is still filing into the building. Mom parks and makes an MGM production of applying lipstick. Grandpa and I, cut from the same cloth, leap out, slam doors and wonder where she is before we realize she's fluffing her hair.

Grandpa: Lucy! The kids are waiting!
Tata: Mom! Christmas is coming!

I'm anxious to get the inevitable shouting, back-slapping, and meeting of the paramedics out of the way. Mom hasn't thought this plan through. Before we picked up Grandpa and went shopping, Mom and I stopped at the VFW and the celebrants were already bellied up to the bar and mildly over-happy. Two hours later, over-happiness spills out into huggy drunken I-Love-You-Ness, and there's a vet with an electric organ. Damn it, we're gonna hear old guy karaoke of White Cliffs of Dover. And then we do.

See, when this happens at my local bar, they're my friends; I know what to expect and what to laugh off. My family doesn't have to know that much about me until well after I'm dead. When Grandpa's friends put balloons down their bras - yes, women served in the Great Wars - and play not-at-all-hard-to-get I stare at my mother and hope I'm hallucinating.

It does not occur to us until later that perhaps this part of his life is private, and we are intruding, but it's too late because Mom's joined the Ladies' Auxilliary, Tyler joined the post as a Marine who served in Africa during the first Gulf War, and Tyler Two has figured out how to win at Keno between kindergarten and first grade just by coloring inside the lines.

2. Weirdness in the present invariably hints at a weirder past.

Mom: What's your friend with the French last name?
Tata: Johnny.
Mom: Are you still in touch with him?
Tata: Nearly every day. He's moved to Santa Fe and learned the tango.
Mom: Is he related to Marguerite of the same last name?
Tata: That's his mother.
Mom: Really? That's exciting! How long have you known each other?
Tata: Since the summer I was 14 and saw him painting a giant metal box green.
Mom: My goodness, that's quite a while! Is he married? Children?
Tata: He's got a hot veterinarian wife, a houseful of pets and a new tattoo.
Mom: Isn't that interesting! I met her in radiation. Did you know she was in treatment?
Tata: After 28 years of living an eighth of a mile apart you meet her in a waiting room in the next town?

3. Around the family, peace of mind is gonna cost ya.

I don't have small children but Daria has three, and three is the magic number at which the noise is too much for me. By lunchtime, I've had enough and sit outside with my cup of coffee. Each member of the family is spinning like a top inside the house in his or her own special way and talking the whole time, not necessarily to anyone else. There's no time to do a whole yoga practice before we go kidnap Grandpa, though the exercise would calm my anxiety. This is the moment when my obsessive-compulsive nature miraculously works for me: the garden my late grandmother tended daily is inches from going to seed. I stand up. I fold in half. I weed in self-defense.

At first, I pull up weeds. As I relax into the stretch, my toes in the dirt feel strong. Upside down, I have always been fine and happy and wildly alive. I gather the weeds into a pile, tear them into shreds and pile them around the roots of larger shrubs against the house. Then I see hollow, woodier stems that once used to be favored plants or flowers and pull them up. Then I pull up grasses and shoots, tear them and place the shreds around the older shrubs. Time passes. The ground is clear and even. I give the house its due, the past its place, and muscles the bloom muscles want and love. You'd think this would quiet the mind. Nope.

Daria: What's wrong with you? Where are your shoes?
Mom: I have gloves. You can use my gloves. Do you want gloves?
Tom: Can you stay for a week?
Tyler: Are you dressed for this? Should I get power tools? What will this do to property values?
Tyler Two: Mommy says you're allowed to get dirty - just this once.

Daria, who was a barefoot commune kid with me, can't stand to touch dirt. We grew vegetables. We spent summers touching the ground. Daria gets hysterical when her kids use their Tonka earthmovers to move earth. Personally, I don't get it but I haven't figured out why people care about Britney Spears either so the universe remains mysterious. And hey, what's a brother-in-law for?

Tata: Tyler! You bastard! Do you know what song is stuck in my head?
Tyler: (Weary) No, Ta. What song is stuck in your head?
Tata: God damn it, it's Sister Christian and it's all your fault!
Tyler: (Perking right up) That's a shame! "Motoring..."

I'm going to make him move my couch after I stick weights between the cushions. Yup, love stinks!

4. Luggage: on wheels, period.

Life is short. Run through the terminal and nap so you can see America from the bus or train. It's wonderful, you know. There is so much of it and only so much of you.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

You Can't See Me!

I'm invisible! And on guard against my mortal enemy: the shower curtain! I save you time and time again but do I ask for thanks? I do not!

I stalk you! I'm stalking you!

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Kittens, Cats, Sacks, Wives

It's Grandpa's 93rd birthday. Mom's family is migrating to Cape Cod. Planning has been fraught with slim peril but abundant indecision. Though I recently started trusting my arthritic hands to hold a barbell and took up weightlifting again, I don't trust them enough to attempt the six-hour drive. Since I can't drive alone, I've looked at planes, trains and buses and they're all byzantine routes and prohibitively expensive. Daria offers me a seat in her Ford eighteen-wheeler with her husband driving, and her three children in car seats. I'll have to take a local bus from the Cape to Boston and Amtrak back to Metro Park but when it comes right down to it, I'm still sitting in a car for six hours with my sister.

Look forward to this scintillating exchange over the sobs of frightened children:
Daria: Sweetheart, Mommy didn't mean to make Auntie Tata sound like a $2 whore!
Tata: Honey, Auntie Tata doesn't really think your Mommy's a judgmental bitch!
Daria: Sweetheart, close your eyes and go to sleep. Auntie Tata's hairstyle won't turn to snakes!
Tata: Have sweet dreams, darling, and don't give Mommy's apparently forgotten past a second thought!

History and histrionics aside, Paulie Gonzalez is a scientist at heart. When he watches TV at all, it's usually the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters. Stuff blows up every seven minutes. This show may be the best thing that ever happened to crash test dummies and ping pong balls. It's science! And Paulie is a big thinker. One night last year, he posed an intriguing question.

Your picture goes all swirly and woo-woo.

Paulie: Plastic surgery seems like tricky stuff. I mean, if you have regular surgery and you go back to work, people give you flowers and whisper when they walk past your desk. People get you coffee. They're all very nice. But what if you get liposuction? Suppose you get your ass lipo'd on Friday. When you come to work on Monday, what? Don't people see you in the break room and say, "Treesa! Last week, you had a fat ass. What the hell? What happened to your fat ass?"

You get a grip and your picture regains horizontal hold. It's all about the love, no?

You: Ta, dahhhhhhling, your time-travel unnerves my pet hedgehog.
Tata: Lovey, I understand they enjoy a leisurely swim, but read the manual first.

Last week, Paulie was on a flight to Denver when the airline went all Julie, Your Cruise Director and organized a game: Guess The Plane's Weight.

I know: how rude!

Certain hints were offered, like the number of passengers and weight limit on bags. Paulie did that blasphemous math stuff the righteous are trying to remove from schools, then some educated guessing, wrote down an answer on his game piece, which is - yes - what all the kids are calling it now, and turned it in. Next thing he knew, he'd won by guessing within 500 lbs. of the crew's right answer, and the second-best guesser was protesting. His prize was two tickets to the Las Vegas production of Mama Mia. Travel produces exciting new varieties of bad behavior, as does ABBA.

Yesterday, I noticed strange and sneaky movements on the parts of my co-workers, the Nice Ladies. They're in their forties and fifties. When I caught a bunch of them tiptoeing past my cubicle I was suspicious. Five minutes later, they tiptoed in the other direction. I hate when someone beats me to a good prank, so I tiptoed after them. My student worker, whose name sounds like the sudden opening of a brilliant parasol, reflexively followed. They were whispering to each other. We were silent.

Tata: Whatcha doin'?

Turns out that when well-behaved people who work in libraries are startled while furtively holding water balloons they juggle like the Brothers Karamazov. Two balloons took brief sojourns above our heads. One Nice Lady stuffed a balloon down her bra. In the ensuing but arid chaos, it became clear that Chinese children may not fill balloons with water and fling them at one another, and I say this because my curious and delighted student worker, whose name sounds like the tinkle of bracelet charms, stared at the balloons as if they were the coolest things ever.

The Nice Ladies were intrigued and answered all questions. How does the water get inside? Where's the air? What do you do with these? Why do they feel so funny? Can you make them bigger? They gave her one to hold she soon discovered felt weirdly alive, as water balloons do. The Nice Ladies made a big production of taking the balloons to the restrooms to meet their fates, but they gave my student worker, whose name sounds like the taps of raised glasses, a fresh balloon she could take home and try filling herself. This, I thought, was a charming example of how travel broadens a person, and inflates.

This morning, my path to work was blocked by a hastily cobbled-together police roadblock. A truck driver forgot to play "How big? Sooooo big!" with his truck and plowed into the train trestle I see from my living room window. This meant Amtrak riders snickered across state lines about the trailer curiously right outside the train's window. For me, it meant a two-block detour and a thump on the forehead from the Cosmos: last week when Daria, Sandro and I looked at the new apartment, Daria drove through the parking deck next to the library. I've parked at least eight different cars and trucks in this deck on and off for nineteen years and never gave clearance a second thought. Last week, as Daria inched through the deck, I broke into a sweat and wasn't sure we'd make it. That's how big SUVs have become.

So there's hope we won't be able to slug each other across the DMZ of car seats and luggage. I mean, as long as there's no ABBA.

Monday, August 08, 2005

Cindy Sheehan, In the Heart of Texas

Mostly, we are used to feeling but not seeing cowardly people skittering in the dark and manipulating our lives through fear and innuendo. Sometimes we see an evolved soul doing what needs to be done, regardless of the risk to herself. Our impulse is to look away and pretend nothing special is happening, because if that person can act, we might take ourselves to task for not doing the same.

Well, if you haven't, please meet Cindy Sheehan. Many on the right will accuse her of - frankly - any vile thing that fits through a narrow mind, but don't believe any of that, not a word of it. If you have children, believe in what you feel for them and ask youself as I do: shouldn't we all be sitting on that dirt road in Texas?

Two Calls, Both Close

One. Mine.

Mamie: Oh, and if someone tells you you have to see The Island, tell them to STICK IT UP THEIR ASS!
Tata: That bad?
Mamie: By the end of the movie I was shouting your line. "This movie needs a fucking red pen!" When the movie got to two hours, I checked my pulse.
Tata: That's too bad. I like Scarlet Johanson.
Mamie: And who doesn't love Ewan McGregor? He was wearing a turtleneck! I think the perfect man would be wearing a turtleneck and no pants.
Tata: No, that's a toddler running from bathtime.
Mamie: Huh! Remember that time at your birthday party in that restaurant where everything was served on fire? I hate to say it but I feel like your mom looked when Crease pulled a thong with tags on it his from his pocket and said to her, "Hey Lucy, you left this at my place."

Two. Hers.

Mamie: I was accosted by Jehovah's Witnesses in disguise this morning when I came out of Dunkin Donuts.
Tata: Fooled by their fake mustaches, were you?
Mamie: I said, "Are you seriously trying to talk to people in the morning?! The new Watchtower is a magazine called Awake! Zealot freaks.
Tata: Imagine thinking you wanted to remain conscious!
Mamie: I was REALLY unhappy when the older one said, "I used to know your mother when she was a substitute teacher, back before she died."
Tata: That bitch! Did she know your mom after she died, too?
Mamie: I was stunned momentarily, long enough to hear the "we're not even talking about religion" line and for them to get the stupid newsprint booklet into my hand. All the front said was the title and a headline, "Skin Cancer: how to protect yourself." And yes, it was about religion. Not only did they waylay me on my way to work, but they lied.
Tata: Oh. My. God! You WERE fooled by their fake mustaches!

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Crushing A Fly With a Volkswagen - Preaching to the Choir Edition

Ned, the rock star ex-boyfriend who probably played on albums you possess, responds to this with a bit of the old white-hot vitriol:

Yes, there absolutely is more to this story! The "more" is two sets of parents that have long avoided kicking the asses of their charming little offspring that desperately need it in fear of being the "bad guy" and after all they just don't have time what with "the career" and the endless pursuit of big shiny expensive things that go "vroom vroom" and suck up more fossil fuel than Otis can guzzle in cheap moonshine on a Saturday night (insert a Harry Chapin tune here...covered by Cannibal Corpse!) The "more" is a judicial system that always seems to find time to twaddle around with bullshit like this while on the other side of town there's gang wars and people being raped and stray bullets striking innocent children and drug dealers and hookers and things being stolen on a minute to minute basis. Need I remind you of a young man in a New Brunswick emergency room dripping blood on the floor from a hole in his forehead while a "man in blue" asked him (and I quote) "Well, what the fuck do ya want ME to do about it?" The answer IS: sheer unadulterated LAZINESS! The cops in Fresno would have rather risked getting scratched on the arm by an 11-year-old girl than risk getting shot in the face doing what they're really supposed to be doing. Out in PA, there's a big ta-doo over hiring more police. WHAT THE FUCK FOR?! All they're gonna do is hang around the outskirts of town waiting for Joe Regularguy to forget to use his turn signal while chaos reigns supreme down in "the hood". As John Belushi once said "^%^&$%^%*^@!" Oh there's so much more to this story. Connect the dots between bullshit like this and things like "The Patriot Act" and (enter Robert Preston) "Wellllll, ya got trouble, my friends, right here in River City."

Dude! You're gonna pop a blood vessel!

A few years ago, Ned moonlighted as the doorman at a bar we all worked at, lived at and sometimes woke up in. One night, a local douchebag - as opposed to those elite-level douchebags we see on the news every night - didn't feel up to showing his ID and pitched Ned head-first down a long flight of concrete stairs. I happened to be in the bar that night with Paulie Gonzalez, and though this is a fishbowl so small you can't fit a fish in it, I didn't hear about this somehow until later.

Since everyone knew who committed the assault, you'd think that guy would be padding around a cell now in prison-striped pajamas, wouldn't you? Nope, the New Brunswick Police showed up. Did they arrest the alleged douchebag?

As for the short answer to the question on Loki, yes they HAD arrested him about THREE MONTHS after the incident, at which point they wanted to make me the fallguy for years of his bullying, while his "posse" circled around like knife-wielding vultures warning me of the consequences for my cooperating with the police. Subtle reminders like the business cards for Loki's tattoo shop being left on my windshield wiper. But to make a long painful story short, there was supposed to be a trial over all of this, and I grudgingly agreed to it. After I moved to PA I never heard another word about it, even after repeated calls to the DA & the police department to ask "What the fuck?" So you see my anger in that lies in the fact that they wouldn't deal with this as the criminal act that it was, they dealt with this as a "complaint". I.E.: the easy way out.

Well, next thing ya know ol' Ned's a millionaire...

Note: For once, I didn't change the guy's name because the name of the Norse God of mischief plainly isn't something Mom dreamed up, and everyone knew what happened, and the raw deal just never ended.

Ned is not, in fact, a millionaire, but he would have felt like a million if he could have accessorized with a little sympathetic handling by the cops. People who complain about the police are not always whiners and miscreants. Sometimes, they're people with legitimate problems who turn to the police for help and instead get the shaft.

I'm not saying everyone who complains about the police has a point but some do. We can't believe everything we hear, but we should give everyone a fair chance to speak. In Fresno, the police chief's mom should grab his earlobe, twist and send him to bed without supper. In Guantanamo Bay, people are being held without charges, access to lawyers or hope of due process. And if we listen closely, our administration is quietly telling us it is planning invasion of yet another sovereign nation without a declaration of war.


I looked this up. If you can stand it, our President reminds me of a character I vaguely remember from a Star Trek episode called "The Squire Of Gothos." Captain Kirk and his unnaturally attractive crew are confronted with a seemingly all-powerful being named Trelane who bats them around like cat toys. Just as Kirk's about to sacrifice himself to save his crew, two voices scold Trelane and tell him, essentially, you can't play with your things like that. Here's a synopsis. Please have a look. It's time for us to rein in our errant children and our errant President, and our errant police departments. We don't have to be angry about the whole thing, just firm and patient. The administration has had every opportunity to demonstrate it can guide the nation, with the nation's best interests at heart, and in a way that doesn't harm the planet or hurt other peoples. Our children need a spanking - not a beating, a spanking. And our police departments need a new idea of who's in charge, because we are, and locking up an 11-year-old for throwing a rock is childish and immature.

Patience. Firmness. Liberal use of the calmly spoken "No." Discipline is required, and we must make our intentions clear. No. No. No.

Friday, August 05, 2005

Move In the Direction of Your Fear*

The painful, epic search for an apartment seems to be over. Yesterday, I went to the credit union and sweated copiously while a cashier withdrew more than $1200 from my account and turned it into one of those magical bank check/whatsises you get when people don't actually trust you with your own money. Who could blame them? If I handed you a check for a thousand dollars you'd look for a hidden camera and a subcommittee - not that I have empirical proof of this assertion, mind you. When I write a check for $200, my hands shake. When the cashier made yesterday's account-depleting withdrawl, I gasped for breath and tried not to yak.

This represents progress. When I used to cut straight to yelling for Buicks I...switched banks a lot.

Last week, I looked at an apartment and I loved it. It was more space than I believed possible, rent was reasonable, and the location nearly ideal. Unfortunately, when I saw a living room large enough that I could dance again I became knuckle-dragging stupid. Important details escaped my notice, like that it was a third-floor walk-up and I am an arthritic little old lady who shops in bulk. I pictured myself with a premature granny cart. I craved that apartment like some devotees crave chocolate but faced facts and called the manager, and I asked if a ground-floor one-bedroom was available. Not only didn't she hang up on me but she made an appointment for me to see something right away.

Tata: Pick me up and help me look at the apartment.
Daria: Why? What's your problem?
Tata: Faced with an unsigned lease, I can't feel my hands and feet.

The family has a long and colorful history with phobia. For years, Mom didn't drive over bridges or fly. It takes effort to keep an irrational fear from blossoming into a full-blown, debilitating phobia. I work at it with a rigorous regimen of laughing at my own stupidity and fearfulness. And just look at you with the helping!

The manager takes us to a door and buzzes. A young woman answers the door. Her hair is dyed black; she is a member of my tribe, Artists. I stand up straight. She takes us into a foyer too crowded for four women and Daria's three-year-old Sandro, who refuses to touch the floor with any part of his tiny body. I walk into the living room and - right on cue - become very stupid.

See, this is a new phase of life and I've been thinking about things I've never done before. I want things I've never wanted before. I want to paint a living room in the colors of growing things. I want to sleep in a cornflower blue bedroom. When I walk into a sage green living room in an apartment that is otherwise white, I stare, dumbstruck. The manager and the tenant - I hear this distantly, as if miles away - talk about the costs of repainting the room to white. I'm still staring.

Tata: Leave it green. This is my apartment.
Daria: Did you bump your pointy head?
Tenant: I'm sorry it's such a dark color.
Manager: My husband will paint it white and -
Tata: No. This color. I've been dreaming about this green.
Manager: Sold!
Tenant: I'll leave you the rest of the can!
Daria: Are her pupils fixed and dilated?

Near my feet, a small black cat looks awfully familiar. The tenant says, "The cat was rescued by a woman in North Jersey. The cat probably will not come to you. It's a kitten still, and skittish." The kitten, whose face is identical to my cat's, comes right to me and licks my fingers. In the bedroom, where I feel terribly self-conscious, Daria throws open the closet door and smiles. She does the same thing twice more in the foyer. I throw the light switch in the bathroom and we both gasp.

Fourteen years ago, our father's mother died. She lived all our lives in one of these World War II garden apartment complexes in New Brunswick. The bathroom is the dead-giveaway: pink tiles, black and white tile floor. In a way, I have come home and I'm still speechless. Do I need pink towels?

Daria: Let's look at the kitchen.
Tata: ...kitchen...

It's big. I can roll out dough. I can do a few other things, including the tango. The manager tells me the rent is slightly less than the dance studio of last week - but not much, really. The tenant looks me in the eye, which I love. I ask why she's leaving. She explains that she's chosen to get a teaching certificate in Ramapo and it's a good program and it's expensive to live up there and I listen to the sound of her voice for any quiver of duplicity. I hear none. I can tell Daria doesn't hear one either. The young woman's on her way up, and the vibe - if we can be so bold - is very positive.

We leave the apartment. Outside, we ask about facilities. Then we see the laundry room and Daria whispers.

Daria: If you ever walk down here I'm having you committed.
Tata: I'll macrame the leather straps.

Change is terrifying. This, I know, is where I should go. I am very much afraid about money and time and loneliness but I've put down my security deposit. In a few weeks, I will move here, live here, write for you from here. It seems strange when I think about it: all this time I've been urging you to live bravely, I've never told you how hard I struggle against fear myself. It is brave to do the thing that frightens you, whether it is moving house or refusing to submit to the current climate of desperation, fanaticism and fear. Thing is: it's totally worth it, especially when we are in it together.

*p.92 Milorad Pavic's Dictionary of the Khazars
Terrible book. Read p.92 only.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Friday Pet Blogging

Meet Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul - perhaps, after this color-coordinated bath you will submit to his will.
picture of the little black cat who wants to steal your soul

Don't take your eyes off his handsome eeeeeeeevil!

Wednesday, August 03, 2005

Crushing A Fly With A Volkswagen

Yet another case of "You Act Your Age While I Act Like A Big Baby."

Maribel needs a spanking. Adults in Fresno need a reminder of dumb things they did as kids, which were probably smarter than what they're doing now.

There must be more to this story but what could it possibly be? I hope those puffed-up morons don't hear about the time I went after Daria with a baseball bat!

Tuesday, August 02, 2005

Around Corners We Cut

First thing this morning I turn the hot water faucet and the knob comes apart in my hand. I go back to bed. Hours later, Daria calls.

Daria: Are you sick or sick and tired?
Tata: I'm enjoying being flat on my pillowtop bed, which is seldom available at work.
Daria: I wanted to call and invite you because I didn't want you to feel left out. It's Sandro's birthday -

OH SNAP! My godson!

Daria: - and if you'd like you can join us at the Rainforest Cafe. We're going to -
Tata: No! No, thank you! Have a hot time without me!
Daria: It's like banging your head on a door: feels great when you stop. I love leaving there!
Tata: That's not saying much for the joint.
Daria: Oh sure, their acoustics suck but my kids make the noise.

My momentary panic subsides. I didn't forget to buy a gift. Every spring, I use my tax refund to buy my nieces, nephews and teenage sister one savings bond for Christmas and another for their birthdays. I don't know anything about economics and can barely spell it but I've read that buying savings bonds hurts the federal budget by creating debt. Personally, I think the federal government hurts the federal budget by creating debt, but then again I believe in crazy ideas like telling the truth, so what do I know? Anyway, Daria and her husband are in possession of a savings bond for my little nephew/godson and I can calm down, can't I? I can.

Just after noon, I decide to run errands. The day is perfect. I sit in my car and do all the little things one does before putting the car in reverse: fixing the seat, buckling the seatbelt, adjusting the rearview mirror, clicking the faceplate on the CD player. Then I think, 'What the hell,' and put the top down on my convertible. The CD player erupts with Iggy Pop's Lust For Life. I turn it WAY up and back out of my parking space.

Someday, when we are truly smart, we will find a way to live in the sun. For the first few minutes, traffic crawls toward French Street, then down toward Hamilton, where I turn left and deliberately slow down. Hamilton Street becomes Amwell Road and both are speed traps, serving as fundraisers for three towns. A lot of people pay no attention and fund municipal projects with their impatience. They pass me today and I smile sweetly, my heart suffused with joy. There's no room for rancor. I'm driving a fucking convertible on a sunny day.

Recently I've come across two interesting campaigns. One asks you to leave the truth of the matter lying around where other people can find it. The other asks you to insist the piper get paid. Things fall apart, people come together. There is simply no excuse for the brutality we are visiting upon one another and on peoples around the world. Just this once, I won't give that teenaged Speed Racer with the tricked-out used Saturn the finger. With the sun on my face, I remember that happiness can be as powerful a motivator for change as horror, and laughter fends off the authoritarian in any nature. I can let him go and hope his antics buy library books. 'Cause I'm peaceful. Like.

Monday, August 01, 2005

Sometimes I'm Dorothy Parker...

...and sometimes I'm Fess Parker.

My father - author of such remarks as, "No, I would not have bailed out you and your sister for swimming in the reservoir. I drink that water," and, "WASPS! Get my chainsaw and a Slurpee!" - once posed an intriguing question.

Daddy: What does it feel like to feel smart?
Tata: Like a monumentally high cloud ceiling. Like you can see for miles in every direction. Like you can connect the dots between lightning bugs.
Daddy: Have you been dating the Science Club?

It's great when you feel smart. When you've done something smart you walk a little taller, feel a little cooler and think about your next smart move. You're smart. Isn't it great to be smart? If I feel a little taller, cooler and smoother, this is usually the time I trip over the ottoman and look around for Morey Amsterdam. As a human, I have been so consistently stupid and done so many stupid things it's a freaking miracle I've sandwiched in a few sparse moments of reasonable smartness. It's not the picture that lacks balance.

Tata: It is 7:30 a.m. and I've already had a full day of Stupid.
Mamie: Lay it on me like a lead XRay vest!
Tata: So I go to bed at midnight because I'm not the right kind of tired to sleep. After 2, I sleep in twenty minute fits and starts. And Larry -
Mamie: The little black cat bent on stealing my soul?
Tata: - the very one! The cat's running laps like it's Indianapolis. And just before 6, Larry claimed my yoga mat in the name of France and bit me when I wanted it for Spain!
Mamie: What?
Tata: He miraculously bit the bottom of my foot. Wasn't I standing on that? My living room carpet looks like a crime scene.
Mamie: Your life sucks!
Tata: And I had to swat him! This conflicts with my recent desire to live a non-violent life.
Mamie: Are you a vegetarian again?
Tata: - Except for that. And Asian representative bodies. Man, I love a good knock-down, drag-out parliament!

At the library, ours is a society of women. My student worker, whose name sounds like the gentle yawning of new kittens, waits patiently as Daria calls and we sort out details of the family's convergence on Cape Cod for Mom's dad's birthday. In a society of women, it is understood that you're going to talk to your children, your parents, your sisters and business will have to wait; the trade off is there's no money to be made. I feel rather middle-aged, there's a message from Friday on my voicemail, and I tell my student worker, whose name sounds like a cash register readying itself to dispense change, "My parents are just crazy!"

Tata; So on Friday I left here and my mother left a message here, then one at my apartment and then a second one. 'Ta, please call before your nap.' So I called her, thinking something terrible had happened. She says, 'I'll be right over.' Um...okay. She hands me a plant and some bread and that's just great. I love plants! Bread is great! Then she does this crazy thing: she pulls out a brochure and asks about paint chips. There are all these lifeless colors and I think about white, off-white, gray, blue-gray, beige and impossibly-lifeless-green. How is this possible? I'm like, 'Mom, how about you paint your house a real color?' Oh please, wanna borrow my mom?

This is a rhetorical question I blurt in my office. Women with living mothers want to trade them for a player to be named later. Women whose mothers have gone to the PTA Meeting In the Sky narrow their eyes and hope my department store socks run before I wear them. You'd think I would have learned to shut up. No! My willowy student worker, whose name sounds like a delicate broken doorbell, looks into her hands and takes a breath.

Student Worker: Yes!

How could I be so stupid? She has been alone in the United States for three years. She wants her Mommy!

A wise and vexed woman in my office interjects: "Mother are all - " She pauses, making big eye contact. The pause goes on so long my eyes water. "- different," she says finally.

Dorothy Parker was an orphan. In a way, I could excuse my stupidity by saying I left home and found new mothers. Still, the strange thing is that at my age, some people may now look at me and choose me as theirs. It seems wildly unlikely, but it's possible. As I used to tell Miss Sasha, "Nobody's born with the mother they need." Wait. That's not right, either.

So that's a raccoon on my head, huh?