Monday, October 31, 2005

I Do the Rock, Myself

If there's a motor vehicle without a coat of paint within 500 feet of me it belongs to Paulie Gonzalez and I am climbing into it. We're on our way to Mom's Diner for lunch. He starts the truck. He smiles, but it's an apologetic look of faint disappointment.

Paulie: Well, I'm sorry you missed out on the beating!

At the reception the night before, I sat down at table 5 between the husband of a New York cousin and the brother of Paulie's dad's second wife. She died a month ago. The kids used to take turns staying up late with their uncle so when he passed out on the couch someone put out his cigarette before he burned down the house. Everyone passes around photo albums. Paulie's dad sits next to Aunt Esmerelda, the wife of Paulie's dad's gangster half-brother, who was found in an unfortunate package years ago. The cousins are her daughters. Their husbands are odd looking fellows. Paulie reminds me his father's other half-brother was a superior court judge in a northeastern state. I say, "It's all cops and robbers with your family, isn't it?" He giggles. Everyone is excited! or angry! or exuberant! or anguished! I'm waiting for the centerpieces, at least four feet tall from table height, to fall over and set fire to our fruit cups.

All the usual wedding things happen: the bride dances with her father; they cry their eyes out. The groom dances with his mother; they cry their eyes out. The bride and the groom dance; they cry their eyes out. The groom dances with the mother of the bride; they cry their eyes out. All in all, this is a great event for Kleenex. Meanwhile, Aunt Esmerelda tells a story and ends up with melted butter all over the front of her blouse. This does not detract from her perky charm. When she's embarrassed I consider slathering myself with salad dressing in solidarity.

Paulie and I wander back and forth to the bar, sometimes outside when he wants a smoke; we're in the bar during the salad course and we never actually see pieces of wedding cake. We nibble gray-ish prime rib and laugh hysterically at the stories. All evening, the DJ's keep things moving at a vigorous clip. Just before our dinner plates disappear, I turn to Paulie.

Tata: Am I imagining things or is this a lull?

We take the opportunity to marinate ourselves in gin. After the reception ends, we and the cousins all pile into the bar, where one of Paulie's cousins winks at me for two hours. I express regret about his twitch. After 1 a.m., I decide it's time to begin peeling off layers of carefully calculated foundation garments and I make my excuses.

Eleven hours later, we're climbing into the giant pickup truck with a coat of matte black primer when the bride, groom and a biker chick shout and wave for us to come back upstairs with Paulie's tux. Nicole opens the door in sweats, hair flying all lover the place. Jimmy nibbles leftover fruit. As charming as these hoarse, hungover charmers are, me getting involved in post-wedding wreckage would interfere with my lunch plans. Diane the Biker Chick lets on that her boyfriend awoke in lockup this morning after Jimmy punched him during the wedding -

Wait. What was that?

The dam breaks. All three chatter at once. After the third time through, Paulie and I gasp for breath, we're laughing so hard. Getting an account of events in order never actually happens. Diane's boyfriend was skunk-drunk before the wedding, and during one of the spotlight dances, he collected one of the abuelas and steered her toward the dance floor. During dinner, the wedding party - minus Paulie - ended up in one of the suites upstairs in one giant brawl. In the most unbelievable turn of events outside of pro wrestling or Scientology, the groom took control of the situation:

Nicole: So she tells me Kevin was choking her and she'd just about passed out when she realized she didn't have to take this and she punched him.
Diane: I punched him!
Jimmy: I said, "Hey!"
Nicole: Diane and Kevin were fighting and they flipped over a coffee table.
Tata: You what?
Diane: We were fighting and we flipped over a coffee table. You know - like flipping over a coffee table!
Jimmy: Did you see her bruise?
Diane: I got a bruise. See?
Paulie: Whoa.
Diane: He's drunk so I'm telling him, "Go sleep it off, go sleep it off." Instead he chokes me!
Jimmy: So she punched him!
Nicole: So she tells me that Jimmy came running and to break it up between them and Kevin's like, "You don't tell me what to do." And Jimmy's like, "No, you don't tell me what to do!" And Kevin tries to head-butt him!
Jimmy: And kick me in the nuts. He missed.
Diane: He missed!
Nicole: So she tells me Jimmy's growling like an animal. He's like, "This is my wedding!" She tells me Jimmy grabs him by the throat and pushes him straight up the wall off the ground. I didn't believe it!
Diane: He was all gurgling blood and still kicking Jimmy.
Jimmy: I put him down.
Diane: Then the cops came and the DJ helped us fill out the police reports.
Tata: What?
Nicole: He's great. I'd hire him for anniversaries, too.
Tata: Paulie, I believe that explains the lull.
Paulie: Hey, that's full service! You can't get that just anywhere.
Nicole: The best man's family are all doctors and nurses and they made him change his shirt.
Diane: He was covered with blood. They're kind of sensitive about that stuff.
Paulie: I thought he was just a putz who couldn't keep his tux on!

Domestic violence is no joke. Just yesterday, I called the cops on a domestic situation outside my bedroom windows. Still, a good drunken brawl is mostly hilarious when no one really gets hurt and everyone gets cab fare home. In retrospect, the wedding amused us, and I would've been fine wearing the butter.

There Is No Excuse For This

Congress votes itself raises and refuses to raise minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.25. Pension systems are failing. Why not go the extra mile to ostentatiously fuck the poor, who in many cases are ordinary working people falling out of the bottom of the middle class? They don't need to eat, right?

What will happen to secure middle class lives, homes and property when the poor - especially those who used to be your neighbors - realize they don't actually have to tolerate this shit, and if they want to eat all they have to do is take what you have? Because in their growing numbers, they can. And the harder life gets the sooner they'll get the picture.

If you happen to favor fucking over the poor, cut to the chase and just go put bars over the picture windows of your McMansion. I hope the image of little children going to bed hungry eats at you as much as it eats at parents who for whatever reason find themselves unable to provide and have nowhere to turn.

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Her Face, At First Just Ghostly, Turned A Whiter Shade of Pale

When I accepted Paulie Gonzalez's invitation to his sister's wedding, my intention was to frump my brain, which has been stiff and bored. A friend told me years ago that when you do things you ordinarily do in a different way - stirring your coffee with the hand you don't usually use, for instance - you create new pathways in your brain. It could be complete bullshit for all I know but who cares? I'm sitting in a hotel meeting room with over one hundred empty chairs five minutes after the wedding's supposed to have started, and my brain is dancing like a pack of Rockettes on a bender.

As wedding guests file into the room - and fail to file into the room - strange, strange things are happening. First, from the right rear of the room, a giant speaker plays an endless, pasteurized, instrumental version of the passionate, aching Whiter Shade of Pale, the Procul Harem song taken from the Canterbury Tales. The lyrics sound like they're about faithless lovers. I could be wrong. Then something passionate, endless and instrumental played that I don't recognize. The groomsmen file in and stand in place. Wedding guests continue not to arrive in droves. The groomsmen break formation. Paulie finds the not-found-in-nature red glow of my hair in the sea of empty chairs and crosses the room to kiss my cheek before rejoining the parade. Guests slowly fill in the seats. The music changes to an instrumental version of Nights In White Satin. The groomsmen march in again. The pastor, who has been doing laps around the room, crosses the finish line and gasps for breath.

Two years pass. A number of videographers hover at the back of the room with a camera set up on wheels and easily seven feet tall. Finally, the back doors open and Nicole's giggling pre-teen daughter lopes down the aisle, followed by four or five women in matching rust-colored satin dresses and matching shoes. The guests giggle, too. The bridesmaids and groomsmen stand stiffly in place, smiling like they're pinching each other. The back doors close and mysteriously remain closed. Music plays for a long time. Suddenly, the wedding springs a leak. The guests surrender any pretense of attentive behavior.

When the doors are thrown open, nobody shuts up but everyone stands as Nicole tries to walk down the aisle with her regal mother and very nervous father. Mom is less than five feet tall and glowing on her daughter's special day. Dad is counting out loud: "Step and...hold and...step and...hold and..." When they finally reach the plastic trees with Chistmas lights, tulle and a flock of attendants, the giant video machine smoothly slides into the aisle and blocks any view of the bridal party. I can't actually see the ceremony because I am tiny by human standards but I hear the pastor, whose homily is about disappointment. His allegory is a pastrami sandwich incident. While he's going on and on about horseradish sauce at his favorite deli, the guests behind me debate the fine points of answering the question "Does anyone know of any reason these two cannot be joined in matrimony?" in the affirmative. Across the aisle, guests conduct Chinese fire drills without a motor vehicle. From now on, mine is an ear-witness account.
Talking, talking, talking. Let us pray to the Ramada gods. Blah blah blah. Pastrami sandwich. Horseradish sauce. Parkway. No sauce. Grateful for food. Will you, Jimmy, blah blah blah? Will you, Nicole, blah blah blah? Let us pray. Put your right foot in. Put your right foot out. Disappointment. Story about Nicole's long history with the pastor and the giggling pre-teen daughter. More disappointment. Isn't life wonderful to offer us such misery? Talking, talking, talking. I now pronounce you legally obligated to pay one another's debts.

At no point during this stirring ceremony does the gossiping, seat switching and speculating let up. When the bride and groom skip back up the aisle, everyone claps vigorously and looks around wildly to see what to do. A minute or two later, I climb out into the lobby. My eyes haven't even adjusted to the change in light when a member of the waitstaff guides me by the shoulders like Glinda the Good Witch around the corner. "Down the hall and to the right." I wonder if this direction is just for me or everyone else and my little dog, too. I find a bar, heaps of sliced fruit, pinhead-sized tables in a configuration I don't understand, and three women wearing the exact same pants I am. I can't deal with the fruit.

Suzette's got my number. I sit in an overstuffed chair and watch like a Smithsonian anthropologist with a folklore and customs grant. Finally, Paulie appears. We get on line for drinks, where I order a cautious chardonnay and a pack of long-lost Brooklyn cousins on his mobbed-up side leap at him, squealing, "Paaaaaaaaaaulieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!" Accustomed to flying women, Paulie spills not a drop of his martini. In rapid succession, Paulie introduces me to a tribe of half-Hondurans and another of charismatic New York Italian-Jewish women related to Paulie's father...somehow. When we each have a handful of napkins, sticks and empty glasses there's nowhere to put them and no one to ask. We pile the debris where no one is certain to find it.

I change my mind about this wedding business and switch to gin. Though I have no idea what to do or how to act, I decide to roll with it. And shrimp. My brain is not in control here and I'm along for the ride. Bring. It. On.

Anima, Vegetaba, Minera

On Wednesday, when I foolishly believed I'd drive myself, I called Daria and asked about the Holiday Inn I used to pass between Exit 8A and her house. Friday morning, Paulie said, "No, it's a Ramada, and I think it's Exit 8." Maybe you only hurt the ones you love, but often you'd like to maim a few passersby.

Mom had plenty of time to call Daria after I hung up the phone.

Mom: Are you ready to leave the house now?
Tata: Nope. I'm standing in my living room naked and hoping my tan dries.
Mom: The sooner we leave the better.
Tata: I really appreciate your help with this stupid errand! I'm sorry about your errands. I feel so guilty!
Mom: It's just your sister-in-law's birthday present. She'll understand!
Tata: I have to go kill myself now, but I'll be at your house in half an hour.

I threw the phone on the couch and tapped myself all over to see if the Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer was dry enough to slap fabric on. Yes? Yes. In a blur of arms, legs and lace, I glopped on foundation makeup and foundation garments and fragrance and powders. Forty-five minutes after I hung up the phone, Mom and I jump into her little truck thing. She hands me a map with directions from the Turnpike. The Turnpike is off to our left. She turns right. I'm paying attention to the road but, nervous and guilt-ridden, I'm just babbling.

Tata: So I ran in my room to get dressed, right? And I put on a black bra and my blouse and I take off my blouse because the plunging neckline plunges a little too far, even for me. And I put on a black sleeveless whatsis and put the blouse back on but I can't make my fingers button the buttons. So how big is my apartment? It's really big for a one-bedroom, but how many closets does it have? There are only two where clothes hang but I can't find my pants in the drycleaning bag, and I can't go without pants! I put on a pair of Daria's black slacks and zip up my boots but then I look in the coat closet and there they are so I'm bouncing down my hallway with one leg in each pair of pants and I'm thinking 'The humor of this will be lost on my mother if I break my neck and she still didn't get to the post office.'
Mom: You may have noticed we're not headed toward the Turnpike.
Tata: Yup. You may have noticed I'm getting a little hysterical.
Mom: Daria says Route 130 is our best bet during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.
Tata: She's sure? I thought after 130 intersected with the Turnpike there was a sign, "Here be monsters."

Mom and I had a tough few years in which we spoke to each other through clenched teeth when we spoke at all, but it was only the first thirty-eight of our lives together. So we're pretty good. We drive on Route 130 past the workhouse, car dealerships, strip malls and dirt mounds. The further down 130 we go the less there is to see. It seems to go on forever. We pass the intersection of Route 130 and the Turnpike, but the directions from Daria and Mapquest don't seem to match the map. We bet on the map. I turn the map upside down so our heading is right in front of us. Counter to the instructions, I say, "We're very near. Turn right." Mom panics for one second. She turns right. Ahead, we see a sign for the Ramada Inn to our right, mysteriously hidden from the main entry to the Turnpike. We pass through a tiny road and a wall of trees. The Ramada's parking lot opens up before us. Birds are singing. We stare at each other for a long minute, then Mom pulls up to the entry and puts the truck in park.

Neither of us believes it. We're supposed to be lost now. The ceremony is at 6; it is 5:39. I get out of the truck with my overnight bag, a book and and my formal cigar box purse Nicole gave me for Christmas a few years ago. In the lobby, I see no one I know. Spotting the bag, the concierge asks if I have a reservation. No, not exactly, but I leave the bag with him. Just inside the Ramada's main entrance I passed a room set up for a wedding, complete with giant plastic trees filled with Christmas lights and a tulle canopy. It is deserted. I wonder if I've come to the wrong hotel. The concierge says no.

For hours, I've been moving at Mach 2; I've come to a sudden stop and the noise catches up. I'm noticeable anywhere, but I'm conspicuous in the small lobby. I hate weddings. Nobody's in charge here. I walk into the dressed up room, pick a chair three from the back and three from the aisle and sit. I can't figure out why the people around me are acting as they are. Now I wonder what I'm doing here.

I don't know. I don't know what I'm doing here. For a few unpleasant minutes, I wish I weren't.

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Then the Circus Ran Away And Joined Me

More than sixty years ago, political disagreements in Honduras often ended at the cemetary. One day, the famous Dr. Gonzalez was playing cards in a hotel and there was a political discussion where the debate included eight bullets. Dr. Gonzalez did not win the argument. His widow, the improbable-in-the-1920s other Dr. Gonzalez, died of a broken heart. Two little girls - princesses, really - were sent into exile in convent school in Guatemala City. Through a series of almost inexplicably weird investment failures, murders and untimely deaths during the passage of those sixty-plus years, we join our princesses in formalwear at the equally inexplicable wedding of Paulie Gonzalez's sister Nicole to Jimmy, whose mother is from the Phillipines. And though no one speaks Spanish but the abuelas, all hell breaks loose every time someone says, "Tia! Tia!"

On Thursday, Paulie was working late when his cell phone rang.

Nicole: Are you here?
Paulie: Where?
Nicole: The rehearsal. You're supposed to be here at the rehearsal!
Paulie: I forgot! I'm sorry!
Nicole: What's that noise in the background? You're in a bar, aren't you?
Paulie: It's a going-away party! For work!
Nicole: I'm gonna tell!

Ooooh! He's gonna get it!

My Mechanical Nemesis has an unnerving new quirk. During the 1.2 mile drive to work last Tuesday, I shut off the radio to listen. A bell rang at a familiar interval. I knew I'd heard this sound before, but when? Why? As I parked my car, it dawned on me: that's the car-on-door-open-seatbelt-off noise, for no reason I could determine. It happened again the next morning, and the next. In a fit of startling stupidity, I didn't think to ask Paulie for a ride to the wedding. Nope. Yesterday, when I should have said, "I will ride with you and heckle the pre-wedding photos," I said, "That's okay, I'll drive myself." Then, when he called me every hour to report hilarious developments -
Paulie is dispatched to the rental place because Nicole is aggravated and the enormous groomsman from Pennsylvania is too gigantic for his vest. Behind the desk is an attractive young woman with impressive, undeniable cleavage. Paulie says, "I'm here to pick up a breast - VEST! I'm here to pick up a vest!"
- I didn't come to my senses and ask if he could pick me up. too. He was so frantic by mid-afternoon he wasn't really hearing a word I said, anyway.

Paulie: I'm trying to drive and put on my plastic shoes and talk to you.
Tata: Martini. Cigarettes. Scallops. Cravat.
Paulie: My tux has no collar!
Tata: If I get a ride down there, can you bring me back?
Paulie: What? Sure. These are the embarrassing tuxes they hide in the back and hope nobody finds.
Tata: So you're saying Jimmy had a map. I'm excited that you think he can read.

Almost the moment he was unavailable it finally became obvious - even to me - that I didn't have the greatest confidence My Mechanic Nemesis would complete the trip to Exit 8, so I did what any modern, mature woman would do: I called my mommy! This phone call was filled with the nervous laughter of the slighty hysterical.

Tata: I've called to ask an absurd question.
Mom: How absurd? Really absurd?
Tata: It's so absurd I'm not sure I can ask it.
Mom: This is getting more and more absurd!
Tata: So I drive to work and my car starts ringing and because I'm a genius three days later I figure out the seatbelt noise has nothing to do with the seatbelt and maybe it's the door-open noise but the door's not open while I'm driving and I know this because even though my seatbelt is fastened I'm still not driving around dangling over the road yodelling "whooooooaaaaaaaaaa!" all the way to work every morning. Do you think I should drive on the Turnpike?
Mom: It is utterly absurd to ask me automotive advice.
Tata: Yes, but if I don't I have to ask you to drive your car on the Turnpike.
Mom: What does Paulie say about this absurdity?
Tata: He's discovered that his absurd tux has no collar so he's not really listening when I talk.
Mom: I'll skip the post office, the chiropractor, the hardware store and bump my dinner plans. Can you drive as far as my house?
Tata: I can. And when I get there I'll be chanting, "Third Floor! Ladies' lingerie!"

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Heads, We're Dancing

Today is the birthday of the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm). I leave voicemail at work.

Tata: This is your delightful ex-wife speaking. Happy Birthday, dearest! I hope you're out doing something super-fab! Call me when you get a chance!

My co-workers have stopped shuffling papers - or for that matter, breathing. They've become accustomed to what happens when I leave messages.

Tata: This is Tina from Acme Organic Produce and Sex Shop. Your 12-volt seedless cuke's in and it's a whopper! Your balance is $57.99! Our awesome drive-thru's open 'til 10!
Co-Worker: [muffled] What are you doing?
Tata: Oops! Don't forget to ask for your Acme Organic Produce and Sex Shop Frequent Shopper bonus gift!

I sit in the middle of my office, where I can hear everyone and everyone hears me. The office is shaped like a lightning bolt so sometimes others play with their phones too, as when co-workers at opposite ends of the room intercom one another.

Man 1: Oh, Mr. X...?

Everyone giggles.

Man 2: Yes, Mr. Y?

Student workers look around to see if they're not supposed to laugh.

Man 1: Are you available for consultation?

I stop typing and hold my breath.

Man 2: Please leave a message after the...damn it...

You may have noticed - if I may be so bold - this week I've been rushed and written about as well as if I'd been dangling upside down behind my stove the whole time. I'm still living with piles of boxes, but my new life has begun. Hooray! Still, I feel as if I've become very rigid and yesterday couldn't make myself attend a meeting at work. It was in Camden. I know! I forgave myself that one almost before I got steamed about it! Well, it's time to try something I wouldn't do, something I wouldn't even consider. When Paulie Gonzalez called me up and invited me to act as a human shield at his sister's wedding, I of course said yes.

As you know, I hate weddings, hate wedding halls, hate rented clothing, hate plastic shoes, hate bridesmaid dresses, hate brides, hate gift registries, hate mass-produced and flavorless cakes. I hate barked orders, hate Lee Press On Manicures, hate matchy-matchy monogrammed napkins and God help the feckless maitre d' who offers me a Jordan almond! I hate weddings. I hate the Electric Slide. I hate all the waiting around. I hate slicing stations and rubbery mini-quiches. I can't wait to stuff myself into the most uncomfortable semi-formal outfit I can find and suck down gallons of gin and tonic!

Let's dance!

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Greater Sorrow Than Hearts Could Bear

Over at the Whiskey Bar.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Dry, Dry, Dry

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is not shy about expressing his desires. They are fairly simple. He is quite impatient when I seem distracted from my purpose in life: meeting demands he issues in a variety of cartoon voices. First thing every morning, his enthusiasm is positively Le Peu.

Larry: At last, we are together! You are awake, and I shall woo you! Come with me to the Casbah.
Tata: How about the food bowl?
Larry: You see? It is as if we are one!

Ten minutes later, it's a different story.

Larry: Morning, Sam.
Tata: Morning, Ralph.

At this point, I'm warming up on my yoga mat. It's dark out and I don't turn on any lights. I might wake up and realize I'm exercising and we can't have that. No, I have to work out before I can talk me out of it so I have to be half-asleep. Sometimes this means I suddenly stop balancing and dozing to fend off an irate pussycat yelping like baby Stewie from Family Guy.

Larry: Vexing trollop! You have two hands and neither is petting me!
Tata: If I don't fight impending menopause you're going to end up a Barbie rug!
Larry: Perhaps my laser rifle will convince you to obey me. Blast! No opposable thumb. Prepare to feel my wrath!
Tata: You bit me!
Larry: I bit you yesterday, too. Did you learn?
Tata: Furball! Your days are numbered!

While I'm in the shower, he's Dudley Dooright. As I get dressed, he's Sylvester. After I put my shoes on, he makes a big show of losing interest in me completely.

Tata: 'Bye, Larry.
Larry: 'Bye...whoever you are.

Over a week ago, I dropped my lone potholder behind the stove. It took a few days to realize that if I leaned over the back and hooked the loop on my umbrella handle the potholder could be washed and hung up again. So I did. I didn't feel especially smart but I did feel less stupid. In the meantime, Georg mailed two giant potholders she sewed herself. I opened the package and skipped around the new apartment.


The packages say not to eat them so I don't. With Georg, you never know. Georg's talents extend far beyond those of most mortals. During any visit to her house, I will find at least five things she does effortlessly that I couldn't master after a lengthy apprenticeship.

Tata: Whatcha doin'?
Georg: Making croquembuche in the shape of Frank Zappa.
Tata: I hope that's a pastry bag, young lady!
Georg: Later, I'll spin straw into gold for the International Ladies' Garment Workers Union.
Tata: Does that...come with dental?

Larry has been limping since the rain started. Georg's gimpy cat has a heating pad. Taking my cue, I moved a cat pillow over to the radiator last night and Larry adopted it right away. Maybe he'll be more Pepe and less of a pill.

Monday, October 24, 2005

Oh God! Maybe I AM A Genius!

In the Morning News, Matthew Baldwin rounds up Amazon reader reviews of Time magazine's One Hundred best novels. Amusingly, our fellow readers are not - shall we say - afflicted with smarts. This is serious literature! Stop laughing!
To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Author: Harper Lee

"I don't see why this book is so fabulous. I would give it a zero. I find no point in writing a book about segregation, there's no way of making it into an enjoyable book. And yes I am totally against segregation."

I almost swallowed my tongue!

Sunday, October 23, 2005

The Unlightable Being of Bearness

I've heated milk to boiling, removed it from its pan to a pyrex measuring bowl. The probe-end of the probe thermometer sits in the hot milk I stir almost constantly with a wooden spoon. Dad left me a yogurt maker and a set of extra cups. Last week, I replaced lunch and daytime gnawing with two cups of yogurt per day. A little extra calcium won't hurt, will it?

The temperature and light changes affect my mood, which is to say that in the days when I get to work before sun up I keep trying to hibernate. I'd like to pay rent until April and sleep until the sun peeps in. Maybe once a day I could get up, feed my cat, scratch and nibble a few berries. All spring and summer, I'd have to Nair a whole bunch more but it'd be well worth it.

No, really. I'm pretty sure I'd like to nap through winter. Since I can't have that, and I have to eat, I'm stirring hot milk until it cools to 118 degrees. This takes a whole lot longer than recklessly heating milk while washing the dishes. I'm stirring in the living room, while watching Sherlock Holmes Mysteries on Biography and discussing with Siobhan the life-changing prospect of switching to pink lipsticks.

Siobhan: I've got the new Benefit catalogue and they've got the shade for you.
Tata: I dunno. I'm afraid of looking like a nice person.
Siobhan: It's called But, Officer!
Tata: Sold! One new life, coming up!

A year ago, Paulie moved out and a friend asked the big question: what would I do if I didn't have to worry about money? I still have no answer to this question but i see progress. I have PIC, a new apartment, and I'm considering pink lipstick. Though I haven't mentioned it, on Tuesday afternoons, I visit my friend's college radio show. For half an hour or so every week, my goal is make him laugh so hard he creates radio silence. It's spiteful! It's fun! Our tagline is Smells Like Pine! It's not like I'm thinking of changing day jobs, but live radio is hot, sweaty work for my flabby brain, and that's a step in the right direction.

Once the milk cools to 118 degrees, I mix in a heaping teaspoon of yogurt with active cultures. This is not as easy as it sounds. Yogurt resists. It takes a minute or two of firm arguments with a wooden spoon to convince yogurt to quit resisting. I pour the quart of mixed milk and yogurt into five glass cups and cap them. I place the cups in the yogurt maker, which keeps the yogurt warm for ten hours. When I get up to exercise in the morning the goo should be 'gurt, and that's great.

Yesterday, I made more yogurt, did a load of laundry, put a few things in order, made myself a delicious dinner. Read a book. Time stretched out before me luxuriously. Never have I had so little responsibility to other people. It is a strange sensation to be able to do as I wish, so long as I get up five days a week and point my car at New Brunswick. Still, a person does not chassez ever forward without tripping over the stage hands.

Dad bought the yogurt maker in 1976, which I see from an original warranty card indicating the thing was bought - improbably - on 12.25.76. I didn't read the manual because I'm genetically incapable of doing anything more than skimming instructions. Nonetheless, I was amused to note their assurance that using the yogurt maker will cost no more than 1 cent. One cent of 1976 money. I'm not sure I have that in my savings, not to mention that the twenty-nine-year-old appliance has twenty-nine-year-old mass-produced wiring, and the first time I used my oven in this apartment I took the battery out of the smoke detector.

I dunno. Is health food going to kill me?

Friday, October 21, 2005

The Politics of Oooh Feeling Good

This week, both Suzette and Katy posted about how meeting-hugging and personal space violators can transform one's professional life into some gross game of Duck-Duck-Duck-Goose! and one's wardrobe into a fingerprint test kit. Personally, I dislike being touched by anyone without receipts for flowers and jewelry but don't mind touching other people myself, which might explain that storied multi-state dating spree. Know this: if I'm wearing lipstick, we're gonna air-kiss, buster! And if you squeeze my ribcage, I'm going to punch you, even if you're Grandma.

Still, it pays to be flexible and examine the stub: yesterday, I went to the salon for a haircut. Last week, I rescheduled an appointment for this week and wrote down the wrong time. When I arrive at the salon, the young woman with the appointment book is mystified.

Inez: Did you know your appointment was for 5?
Tata: Six.
Inez: Five. Rosanna left. Leona's here. Would you like her to trim your hair?

Uh oh. This way lies the path to heartache. I've upset my hairdresser! If I think my hairstyle is a wreck when I walk in and she's not there, wait until next time she is! I may look like a lawnmower backed over my head. Again. I'm desperate. Leona takes pity on me, but between the grovelling and the leaving in shame lies my nemesis: the sink.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo and my grandmother were hairdressers in the same shop. I spent dozens of my childhood Saturdays sweeping up and reading books under the old appointment desk that now sits in my bedroom. Anyway, Auntie I. would sometimes scrub my scalp and trim dead ends and I whined the whole time.

Tata: Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow...
Auntie I.: I was done ten minutes ago.
Tata: I'm practicing for next time.

It is hard to convey how very little I enjoyed the experience. Compounding my current situation, the spray nozzles at the salon tickle my scalp. This has nothing to do with the nice lady on the business end of the hose: getting my hair washed in a public place is three minutes of horror, discomfort and desperate giggling.

Nobody finds this funnier than Siobhan.

Tata: I keep trying to get further away from my head.
Siobhan: Does this involve yoga?
Tata: The shampoo girls have given up diplomacy and now yank me back to the sink when I slide down the chair like the Grinch.
Siobhan: I can't breathe! It's like you need nitrous!
Tata: Sixty seconds of funny noises and I smell like conditioner? If they have a drug policy I'll bring my own ReddiWhip and lurk in the bathroom like I'm smuggling cheesecake.

My haircut is not a disaster but it's not inspired, either. My hairdresser will have her revenge - sometime. Nobody's touching me for another six weeks. Not without receipts, anyhow.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Never Too Soon or Too Late

The last ten months of natural disasters around the world compound the wartime sense and recession sense that there's nothing to do but surrender and go cook something. I don't blame you for your fatigue. Hurricanes, earthquakes, the tsunami. Survivors of all manners of horror seem to be everywhere and needy, and here come the holidays, damn it! Let's ratchet down the anxiety a few pegs. It's October, and there's plenty of time to plan.

1. Your local food bank or soup kitchen will probably accept most donations of canned or sealed products but it's a good idea to call them and ask what they need most.

When Miss Sasha was little, we worked on a project together: we took paper bags, stapled instructions on them and asked our family and friends to keep the paper bags in their kitchens. We asked that participants purchase one canned item per shopping trip, place it in the bag and call us to collect it when the bag was full. We took the bags to the soup kitchen or the food bank after about three months. You don't have to coordinate a big project like that. You can contact your food bank, ask what they need or want and keep a bag in your own kitchen. You won't even notice a can of whole tomatoes or a box of cereal in your grocery bill but it makes a big difference to a kid who otherwise wouldn't have anything to eat or a family that finds its adults suddenly unemployed.

2. Last December, CN8 did a spot on the Hampshire Family Fund I happened to see. The idea impressed me very much. You and your gigantic family take $5 apiece maybe, pick a worthy cause and put that small hunk of money where it will do some good. It can be anywhere. You can all vote on where the money goes. A good reason to do this is the work you do as a group is greater than what you can do alone, and that's a powerful feeling. The best reason to do this is your beloved children never look at you as a selfish bastard and put you in a hellish, roach-infested dungeon of a nursing home, because they're not selfish bastards either.

Just to be clear, my darling, I'm not asking you to donate to the Hampshire Family Fund. Please endow your own good works fund. The [your fine name here] Fund.

3. A year ago, emails circulated asking people to send hospitalized soldiers phone cards. Sometimes needs change so I called Walter Reed Medical Center to fact check. The man who patiently answered my questions had a brand new list of things hospitalized veterans need:

phone cards
body wash
anti-perspirant for men/women
medium-sized sweat pants
medium-sized sweat tops
disposable cameras
medium and large breakaway pants
portable CD players
DVD movies
watches for the visually impaired

Mail to:

Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue
Heaton Pavillion
Third Floor, Room E05
Washington, D.C. 20307-5000

Attn: American Red Cross


I'm thinking lately about what I truly need and what is extra, and what effect does the extra stuff have on me. I feel it as weight I can't get out from under unless I throw or give away that stuff. Not everyone feels that way, for sure. I bet you can walk through your living room and find five DVDs you've seen and have no further interest in. Please consider putting those in an envelope. I mean, unless they sucked. In that case, do everyone a favor and toss them in the trash.

4. I love you. You know that. Please stash an extra $10 in your savings account this week for a rainy day. I hate to think of you going hungry in your old age.

When you see someone on TV talking about "giving back" do you want to ralph? That statement translates to "Since I got my Hummer I can write a $5 check to the blood bank. They take checks, right?" It's the difference between thinking of oneself as an accumulator of objects and material wealth, and imagining oneself as part of the fabric of problems and solutions.

So. Christmas is coming. No need to panic when you have an imagination like yours and all the heart a person needs to do some good in the world.

I've got coupons. Does that help?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

All Things, And A Little Extra

A few years ago, the able dames at McCormick's in New Brunswick used to team up in band-form or softball team-form. They were always showing up in bar team uniforms after something. One night, I was at one of their parties out on Route 130. They asked me to play basketball with them against some guys. I'm 5'2" and have never made a basket, so I peeled off my shirt and played defense. Yes, I was wearing a bra. Since I can't actually play basketball, I simply assaulted the other team's players while my teammates scored baskets. We lost by 1 point. And because I'd spent one afternoon studying tai chi, I threw a grown man over a car. Twice! So the manager asked if I wanted to play softball. I bought a lefthanded fielder's mitt and never played. For years, I've looked at that thing and thought 'Why do I still have that?'

Turns out kids in little league can use your used mitts. New Brunswick is actually kind of desperate for sports equipment. You can send or drop off your extra things:

City of New Brunswick
Department of Recreation
411 Joyce Kilmer Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
732 745-5125

If you live in an area where sports for kids are well-funded you probably do not live too far from a town where the same is not true. Your house is full of stuff you no longer need or want, or your kids outgrew eons ago. Why not move the stuff in your way to a place where it is sorely needed?

Monday, October 17, 2005

No Rest for the Wicked

The baker's rack has arrived. Let's rephrase: I have it! The thing is mine! Mine, mine mine! I possess it! I do what anyone would: laugh like a mad scientist and slice open the box.

I lay out the pieces of the baker's rack that once graced my daughter's kitchen but was re-packaged by her husband; I am confident I can stare at the puzzle and see the pattern. Oh, don't kid yourself. I know exactly what's going on in that toothy steel-trap you call your mind.

You: Missy! Last week, you were outwitted by a potholder. When you do yoga, your cat is so underwhelmed he bites you - every day! Over the weekend, Jehovah's Witnesses rang the doorbell and you answered it in a pair of pants and curlers.
Tata: You are indeed a douchebag! My cat loves me! He's got a slight catnip problem. Do 12 steps move faster on four feet?

Logic dictates - stop laughing! - a baker's rack should have a certain symmetry left-right but not top-bottom, so I open all the freezer bags and count hardware. Some small pieces are broken. I pick them up, turn them over in my hand and can't believe my eyes. After Dad and Darla came to help me a few weeks ago, I found on the kitchen counter four pieces just like the ones in my hand, and I waited in vain for their purpose in life to be revealed when something missing those four pieces crashed to the floor from...somewhere...but nothing did. Now I see also three screws and a giant safety pin.

You know, if I were my son-in-law, I might toss in a few extra parts and laugh all the way to the Post Office. Fortunately, Mr. Sasha left out any instructions or I might be forced to read them. I pick a shelf, decide it's the bottom and I rest this on a box of books. Siobhan has a theory.

Siobhan: I often add, like it's fun or something. Numbers are always the same.
Tata; No...numbers are always different. They are standoffish, like Siamese cats. They stick like ungreased gears.
Siobhan: How many fingers am I holding up?
Tata: The fish! The fish!

The baker's rack is a puzzle with a small enough number of elegant solutions, a larger number of inelegant solutions and at least one alarming way to fail completely. This is exciting for my brain. I assemble a thing that undoubtedly bears little resemblance to the baker's rack that used to stand in Miss Sasha's kitchen. It's a bit crooked, despite the careful construction. It's also standing in my kitchen and I can see most of my kitchen floor!

None of this is very important. No like the gift that keeps on giving: explosives. No. Not like that at all.

Four afternoons a week, I watch the last few minutes of General Hospital, listen to the first few minutes of Oprah,and fall unconscious in self-defense. One afternoon, I must've changed the channel in my sleep because when I woke up Martha Stewart was talking to Jessica Alba. Having seen and totally loved Sin City, I know the only way these two should meet is on a press junket to small claims court. Martha is a recent parolee. Jessica is a dirty, dirty girl. I sit up straight on the couch.

On Martha's new show, there's freaking Jessica Alba wearing an orchid cashmere sweater in Martha Stewart's freaking TV studio kitchen. I know that innocent smile. I know that studied distance. Jessica's telling Martha the story I read weeks ago about a genuinely interesting incident during the making of her most recent movie. She was doing a scene and out of the corner of her eye she saw a shark. With nothing else to do and nowhere to go and the camera rolling, she stuck out a hand, pushed the shark firmly and off it went. Jessica's smiling and says something like, "Well, you can see."

Film rolls. Superfit Jessica is fawning, underwater-esque, on some fella pinned under a something-or-other and then there's a shark about the same size as our ingenue and a hand goes PUSH! and -

The audience applauds. We're back with that orchid sweater and Martha's talking about something made with spinach. This feels fake beyond belief and WASN'T THAT A SHARK? They cook something, more or less. For the life of me I can't hear a single thing they're talking about.

Somehow, these two incidents are related. I contend it's the possibility of chopped spinach.

Humanize, Humanwise

Excellent use of existing resources. Unexpected positive outcomes.

Everyone wins.

Saturday, October 15, 2005

Don't Don't Don't Let's Start

It's Saturday. My superhot evening plan is to go grocery shopping. Not everyone gets cranked about trolling the frozen foods section but I do, and I wield coupons without mercy. Just before nine tonight I walked out of my apartment, put my car in gear and saw the nearly full moon. "Crap,' I thought, 'car accident. Please don't let me be the idiot.'

Last night, I was so exhausted I could barely keep my eyes open by 9:30. Through sheer determination and serial viewing of screwy Law & Order: Criminal Intent episodes, I managed to sit at only a slight angle until about 11:30, when I gave up and quit resisting gravity. That meant I quit resisting wakefulness at 5 this morning, which was way too soon, so I took a sleeping pill and resisted consciousness until noon. I toss a pot pie into the oven and brew some coffee. Sometimes living alone doesn't suck.

Today, I stared at the pieces of my IKEA computer desk for about an hour until I knew what to do and assembled it. An hour of staring. Ten minutes of assembly. I am a genius! Miss Sasha calls half an hour later.

Miss Sasha: He's a fool!
Tata: Well, everybody does smart things and stupid things. Not everyone understands this.
Miss Sasha: What?
Tata: I just put together my IKEA computer desk without instructions. Know what I'm doing now?
Miss Sasha: No...
Tata: I'm kneeling on my stove. Guess why! Guess!
Miss Sasha: Ow! Fishing for change?
Tata: I dropped my one and only potholder behind my oven.
Miss Sasha: D'Oh!
Tata: I've got red spots all over my face, Guess why! Guess!
Miss Sasha: Mom...
Tata: I made really delicious polenta and spashed it all over my face. I'm speckled!
Miss Sasha: Mother! Your kitchen is too dangerous. Brick it up immediately.
Tata: Being smart doesn't help you if you're arrogant about it. Humility is smarter than stupidly shouting about how much smarter you are than everyone else. Because you're not. He just doesn't understand that, which isn't brilliant.
Miss Sasha: Did you buy a microwave?
Tata: I wanted to wait and see what would fit the baker's rack.
Miss Sasha: What?
Tata: Friday, when I got home from work there was a perky little post-it on my door from UPS. I have to sign for it in person.
Miss Sasha: That's evil!
Tata: Yep! By the way, I cannot reach that potholder with kitchen utensils and the velcro on my Ace Bandages. Next, I'm gonna try the rusty industrial ice tongs. And it's a good thing I like being upside-down.

Sometimes I wish I still smoked. I did some of my best thinking while I was avoiding thinking about lung cancer. Perhaps if I were smoking and not-thinking while I was dangling upside-down behind the stove with rusty industrial ice tongs I might not have panicked when the call waiting I didn't know I had beeped.

Don't. Ask.

Last week, I dropped my mouse into a glass of iced tea. Today, it works again. Hooray! I feel lucky! I stare at the phone, wondering what this plastic gadget's new noise means. I push a button. Nothing happens. I push a button. Paulie Gonzalez glumly says he missed his flight and his dad is determined to buy a too-small house while Paulie's in Rome. Since I can't truthfully tell him his dad's going to come to his senses before the next open house, I mention I'm kneeling on the stove and Leo Sayer's Thunder In My Heart is stuck in my head. Disaster is all relative.

We talk for a while and the phone beeps again. I'm pretty sure I look like a cartoon x-ray of myself.

Miss Sasha: You put me on hold for like fifteen minutes!
Tata: I what? I thought we got disconnected!
Miss Sasha: You're retarded!
Tata: There can be no other explanation, can there?

Paulie's next flight leaves just after 10 p.m. I call him from the cleaning products aisle in the Pathmark on Route 1 to tell him I put the TV, my boom box and about a dozen framed pictures on the IKEA computer desk and boy, do I hope I put that together right. Also: that Just the Two of Us is playing over the loudspeaker and I further hope Bill Withers isn't waking up in a ditch somewhere.

Paulie: You wouldn't believe what you can get done in an airport.
Tata: You're at Newark Liberty? You might have to leave the airport for that.
Paulie: What I got shined was my shoes. No scuffs!
Tata: You sound fine. I gotta go. There's a creepy guy lurking near the depilatories and I'm almost out of Nair.

You can tell it's Saturday night and the inmates have taken over the asylum. I'm reading cans of clam chowder when about half of the overhead lights go out. It seems like they should go back on again but they don't. Maybe an hour later, I'm picking yogurts. I have coupons and inner conflict. There's a break in the overhead music.

Voice: Happy birthday, Kathy.

I cackle. A boy stocking shelves nearby hears me cackle and cackles himself. There's another break in the music.

Voice: Thank you.

Awesome. I live for stuff like this, and watching the register tape print as the coupons tick off the dollars. As I stuff the groceries in the car, I see the moon looks a little less full. I must be imagining that, I suppose. I'm driving down Route 27, keeping a good distance from the other cars; I'm watching in the distance for pedestrians. I'm slowing for the traffic light on Raritan Avenue at Fifth when it happens. The car behind me bumps me solidly. I look around. There aren't even any other cars nearby and I didn't see her there before. Where did she come from?

We pull over. I move my head. It feels fine. Am I hurt? I am not. I mouth in the mirror to the other driver, "Are you okay?" I get out and look at the back end of My Mechanical Nemesis. There isn't even a scratch in the paint. I walk toward the driver, who rolls down her window. I laugh. She is so young she doesn't ask me if I'm injured. She's just embarrassed and blunt.

Dummy: Nothing happened here, right?
Tata: Everyone does this once. Just don't ever do it again.

I get back in my car and realize Miss Sasha had a car accident on this very spot four years ago on graduation day. The other driver and her look-alike passenger both resemble Miss Sasha. It's a little eerie. White Wedding plays on the radio and when I get home to my uncomfortably tight parking lot I find a parking space across from my apartment.

It's like winning the lottery.

Friday, October 14, 2005

Friday Pet Blogging

Johnny, surly bastard, married a hot veterinarian and fell in love with animals. Their house is a petting zoo. A few months ago, someone brought a badly injured Chihuahua to the clinic. His leg was amputated and the hot veterinarian brought home the rehabilitating Captain Jack.

"The Captain has a new game where he grabs Giancarlo [editor's note: the giant polydactyl cat] by the scruff of the neck and drags him up and down the hall. Incredibly, Giancarlo permits this and even seems to enjoy it. Sometimes Jack misses with his teeth and ends up grabbing Giancarlo by the face, in which case he gets a clout on the snout. He then uses his other new game. He's learned that he can't box Giancarlo, because when he lifts up both front legs, he of course falls down. So he lies on his side, the side with the leg, and goes at it with both front legs that way. The sight of his stump wiggling in the air is either totally hysterical or slightly sickening. Or both."

This lends new meaning to "pick on someone your own size."

"This is Maxfield, the patriarch of the cats. A lot of the others, the youngers, have never been outside, but he used to be an outdoor/indoor cat back in Methuen, and, though he got hit by a car the last time we let him out, he often tries to escape. Sometimes he does. Every time we expect to see a coyote go by burping up orange fur, but he always makes it home in one piece, although his fur is always matted, at which point we call him 'Mats-field.'"

I try to keep up with my friends' pets, which are invariably interesting characters. I talk to them often via answering machines. Sharkey has a snake named Scout. He used to have another one named Boo, but Boo bit the dust. Siobhan has the smallest cat in the world. There is no smaller adult cat. My mother has a giant cat Paulie Gonzalez found as a kitten wandering around in a blizzard. The three of us gave the shivering furball two baths before all the motor oil came off. They stood outside the bathtub. Paulie pressed his back against Mom's less than sturdy bathroom door to prevent a jailbreak. I rolled up my sweats and climbed into the tub with the very upset kitty, who mewed piteously while I soaped him up and rinsed him off.

Mom: He's got webbed feet for swimming and catching fish.
Tata: Mom, you're thinking of bears.

Turns out Mom was right, and these giants do catch fish in the wild. Miss Sasha has three cats. My niece Lois has two cats, sister Anya has two cats, and Darla has about five. We used to have dogs, lots of dogs. Now we have purses full of Pet Me, Mommy! Trout has guinea pigs. Jazz and Georg's house is an animal sanctuary. Dom has wacky roommates he finds sleeping on the stairs.

Consider adopting a pet from your local shelter. If you do not have furry friends, I hope someone's licking your face.

Thursday, October 13, 2005

And It Rained And It Rained And It Rained And It Rained All Night

Fang's ashes have not returned from the crematorium after a week. The vet's office says sometimes it takes awhile. That's okay, though. What with the weather we can't exactly take a box of dusty pussycat out to my sister's backyard, dig a hole and ignore the mudslides. The delay, I think, works in our favor, Ned's and mine. We're certainly going to cry our eyes out at kitty graveside one of these afternoons. Might as well be a sunny day!

I may need a new black dress and Sunday-go-ta-meetin' shitkickers.

Last night, Siobhan and I set out in the torrential rain to size up yet another appliance store. This hunting and gathering process has convinced me every extended family needs at least one retired member to whom all power of comparison shopping is delegated. This ambassador to agrees to:

1. Scope the circulars as they are published;
2. Familiarize him- or herself with consumer outlets within a fifty-mile radius;
3. Listen carefully to the shopping needs of the family.
4. Conduct personalized research, including making excursions to small businesses and opening negotiations on behalf of the family and individual members;
5. Bargaining salespersons into submission.

It is a delicate and time-consuming business to negotiate with a retailer for my washing machine, Daria's deep freezer, Todd's My Little Convection Oven, Anya's stand mixer, Corinne's husband swatter, Dara's ground-penetrating radar, Auntie In Excelsis Deo's sheet metal quilter, Grandpa's GPS and Miss Sasha's in-ground mother-in-law minder. Mom seems very busy despite her curious lack of gainful employment and works on her own very peculiar conception of time, which does not really synchronize with any other human's. I want Tom to retire and become the family's ambassador to appliance-selling America. With extreme prejudice. Since he's selfishly continuing to teach high school and not thinking at all about what's truly important - my needs - Siobhan and I donned our wetsuits, jumped in her Ford Excoriator and shoved off.

Our first stop was closed for Yom Kippur. We decided there was little risk of Yom Kippur sales at the potentially Teutonic Kohl's so we sailed in and out of the jughandles of Route 18 and docked near an exit. We were searching for an inexpensive microwave but discovered Kohl's extensive collection of ridiculous kitchen appliances did not include what I needed. I mean, who really needs a S'Mores Maker? Can you say you need that? How about a quesadilla machine? Did you know your frying pan works just as well and you already have that?

As I whined to Siobhan, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, has taken to clawing the couch. It's not a lovely couch and it was already secondhand when Daria gave it to me. Still. It's a couch we sit on, and I object. Siobhan suggested we sail over to PetSmart, which we did. Thirty feet down the center aisle, I found a puppy. These words do not do justice to the heart-stopping happiness that is meeting puppies because puppies are the kings of enthusiasm and when you meet them they lick your face and jump and jump and jump and clicketty clicketty clicketty and bonk you on the chin and wag wag wag wag and you go "Ttttthhhhhhhwpppttt!" and you are very very very happy. Siobhan does not love dogs and disappeared around a corner while I squeezed my new four-legged best friend on a leash held by someone I'll never see again. Five minutes later, I made a new best friend on a leash held by a little girl who wanted her puppy to wear costumes. Then I met another enthusiastic puppy friend. By now, I'm lugging a 14-lb. tub of cat litter and a cardboard scratching whatsis for the other team and we're at the register surrounded by doggy happiness. A woman walks in with a miniature Yeti dangling passively over one arm.

Tata: Siobhan! What's that?
Siobhan: It's a dog.
Tata: Are you sure? Which end is up?
Siobhan: The one that's not wagging.

So apparently we'd wandered in on puppy training night. Now, if you have to leave a store in an epic downpour, you might be better off if your merchandise is not specifically designed to be absorbent. It's just a thought! Siobhan looks at the stuff I'm carrying, sighs and says, "I'll go get the truck."

A funny thing happens when I am happy and alone for a few minutes: I forget I am a middle-aged woman with credit cards and a day job. I forget I'm arthritic and prone to depression. I forget people can see me. When Siobhan pulls the truck around, I am half-way inside the waterproof doghouse sitting on the sidewalk. It is SO INTERESTING! It's clean and I think with a towel or something soft this could be nice for an outdoor dog -

Siobhan honks. I...oh, look at me. I get up, grab the tub of cat litter and wade out to the truck. You will not be surprised, I think, to hear that Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, shows no interest whatever in clawing the cardboard.

Larry: Thank you, no.
Tata: But! But! But! I'll pour fresh catnip on top!
Larry: Aghhh. You're my besssshhhhhht frien...
Tata: Yes, my dearest. I know.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Daft Punk Is Playing At My House, My House

Sharkey emails. He's bought me a ticket to a Supersuckers show on a Saturday night in December. This is his way of saying, "We're all going. You're going. And by the way, you're GOING!" I threaten to pay him back. He says I'm like a cat shivering in the rain and that makes him feel generous. I don't know whether to thank him or have myself blow-dried.

Last night, I suggested to a dear friend that he consider rehab. Surprisingly, he didn't tell me to go fuck myself. This morning, I woke up happy despite the rain. I love the rain and wish it didn't damage people so. On the news, North Jersey looks like the Gulf Coast minus the floating bodies. Miss Sasha and I called each other back and forth all afternoon on Saturday. The baker's rack went back to Pensacola but we finally know most of its mysterious epic. Skip this if you hate convoluted stories in which people triumph through dogged determination, judicious use of bad language and not knowing when to quit:

Long ago, which is to say two Wednesdays into the past, Mr. Sasha wrapped the baker's rack, addressed it and took it to a UPS store. Mr. Sasha, bless his heart, grafted together two of my addresses and improvised a third. Over a week later, a postcard from UPS arrives. All the significant numbers and information are somehow obscured by the postmark but I see clearly that UPS intends to send it back if they don't hear from me early and often by Monday morning. I don't even notice how completely off the address is. After all: the postcard arrived, did it not? At 8:32 a.m. last Monday, I discussed the package with a lovely woman who answered the phone and was just as mystified as I was. Illegible postcard. Odd, large package. Locked building. I recall telling her my address as part of the verifying process. She assured me the package would be delivered on Wednesday. Just after 11 a.m. the package was sent back to Pensacola, so it comes as no surprise that on Wednesday, the package did not arrive and on Thursday, it continued its naughty not-arriving.

Last Friday, Miss Sasha received notice of some sort that the package had returned. Then she and I spent Saturday afternoon trying to figure out how that postcard miraculously came to me when it was addressed to an imaginary street in a different town. Plus, the box was damaged in shipping. When Miss Sasha proposed that UPS send it back to me per the agreement I'd made with the phone representative the manager of the store sneered at her. Against all odds, she did not call him "you pigfucker". She called customer service, where another representative assured Miss Sasha the store manager would be happy to send me that package.

So. The repaired package is on its way to me. I will believe it when I see it. I can't give my heart to furniture when I've been burned before. The new thing that happened was that at no time did I have to call someone and - as Grandma taught all us girls - tell someone what they were going to do for me. I didn't have to because:

Tata: Okay, Mommy will handle this on Monday.
Miss Sasha: No, I will handle this now.
Tata: Wait, what just happened?

And why do I refer to myself in the wacky third person while talking to my adult daughter?

The good news is I went to Sears on Sunday, determined to boost the Gross National Product by one electric screwdriver, possibly a microwave and a small TV for the bedroom. Reading this, two of my exceedingly thrifty sisters are now deeply horrified that I skipped scouring the classifieds for used appliances and went straight for the gigundo retailer but they understand I'm just as short on patience for appliance failure as I am on money. Nobody fixes TVs anymore and repairing a microwave is asking for trouble. So: Sears. I stared. I stared. I wondered if I were dreaming the price tags. I wondered why I was still standing there, dumbfounded by consumer electronics. Then I bought the screwdriver.

Monday night, I installed the roman shade in my kitchen that will prevent me from being arrested if I decide to brew coffee topless. Suddenly, everything was a different kind of okay. I have the correct tool for the job. I can solve some of my problems without waiting for someone to help me. I want that baker's rack, and its precise measurements for the microwave I will buy. And I want all this today.

Tuesday, October 11, 2005

It's the Poverty, Stupid

A week or so ago, I made the terrible mistake of listening to NJ101.5 during afternoon drive time. Usually, I have about one minute, maybe two before I pull over and slap the SEEK button. Perhaps you're acquainted with the ham-fisted groupthink that passes for political logic on this talk radio show; if not, suffice it to say you're not going to listen in and get any smarter. My head nearly exploded when a caller said something like, "After the hurricane, Habitat for Humanity went and built all those people houses just because they were poor. I don't see anybody building me a house." So maybe I made it about thirty seconds. Hallelujah.

It's thinking like this that makes me wish I were capable of moving out into the woods alone and never had to talk to another selfish fucker or even risk coming in contact with another selfish fucker. At all. The eye that sees only competitors and not fellow travelers is bound to be envious, materialistic and unhappy. It's even worse than that. White people - not all white people - who see prosperous Black people think things like 'Why should they have what I don't have?' Oh, yes they do. The basic assumption there is that white people should have and Black people should wait until all whites are prosperous before expecting their own prosperity. Think I'm wrong? Let's refer back to our head-splitting caller. Her basic assumptions are many: the crisis is over, housing has been accomplished, nobody is homeless, Habitat for Humanity waved a magic joist and all the poor Black people of the Gulf Region were sittin' pretty in luxurious pre-fab digs and nobody expects to pick up a check. And our caller doesn't own a house, so why should those Black folks?

That is what she was saying: "I deserve more because I'm white." Listen, princess, nobody gives a shit what you expect or think you deserve in life. Tell it to your next Ladies' Auxilliary Klan Meeting, where I'm sure this will go over like Tiffany's rice crispy cakes and Annie's diaper-covering 2T white sheet set.

At least, a person might think this would be a more isolated cattle car on someone's train of thought but it's not. Plenty of people have opted out of donating to the Red Cross or Mercy Corps because they can't be sure "the right people" will be helped. I wish those fuckers would dream big, donate to the Humane Society and save some abandoned hounds but in this tiny-brain thinking, every living being is competition for money and stuff, and why should the tiny-brain give anything to anybody?

This argument is almost always followed by the words that make me want to lose my mind: "Nobody ever gave me anything." Smarter people than me could put forth carefully reasoned arguments about why this isn't true and detail the ways in which society contributes to your well-being. If you went to public school and can read and write you should shut your mouth before you say something even more stupid. But let's cut to the chase. I recently perused a list of remarks left with the staff of politicians and one struck me as perfect, stupid and a propos: "I don't want a welfare state. My Medicare is just fine!" Sadly, that misguided, selfish bastard is probably a registered voter. And he or she should fuck off.

You Said It, Mister!

Being a parent is a daily crushing blow to one's self-confidence, but having parents is a daily battle not to commit parricide. My blog partner GD Frogsdong on his weekend with Momma and Poppa Frog:

Last night I wrote a step-by-step instruction for my mother on how to work the TV remote. I even drew up a picture and labeled the buttons "1", "2", "3", etc., with arrows and stuff so she would be able to watch Regis and What's-her-name-don't-tell-me-her-name-I-don't-really-care.

I got a call at work at 8:55 this morning.

"Frog? I'm sorry to bother you but I followed your instructions and the TV doesn't work right."

"What did you do?"

"I did exactly what you said."

"What is on the screen?"

"It's blank."

"Is it blue?"


"Press '03', then press the button labeled 'Sat'. Make sure it lights up. It's the number 3 button on the diagram. Then press '245'."

"'s still blank."

"Press '03'. You have a picture back, right?"


"Press the botton labeled 'Sat'. Did it light up?"


Okay, not to make this any more tedious than it is, she couldn't quite get the concept of pressing the Satellite button until it lit up. Had to go through this entire routine three times before it lit up and she could watch Regis and Babette. Other than that, things are insane at my house. Crazy people are staying there. Is your mother a martyr? Mine is. "Mom, I'm cooking dinner." "You don't have to cook for me. I can have a cookie and that's all I need." "Mom, please eat something real." "No, I don't want you to have to wash a dish." "Mom, it's okay. We have plenty of dishes." "That's all right. I'll just sit here and look at you."

My father is the exact opposite. "You got any chocolate chip cookies?" "No." "Well, it's not raining too hard. And the store is close. You could walk to the store and be back with the cookies in fifteen minutes."

Suddenly, I'm reminded that I chided Miss Sasha for moving to Florida during hurricane season but it sounded a whole lot like, "It's so rude of you to set up house a thousand miles from where my son-in-law should be lugging my furniture from a truck to my living room."

Monday, October 10, 2005

In Which I Eat A Delicious Salad

For breakfast this morning, I had leftover Thai food from Trout's birthday dinner. Breakfast foods do not appeal to me much at any time, day or night. There's no way I could be one of those Lean Cuisine dames who stand outside a bakery and recount last night's disastrous dinners for the single and pathetic.

One: Last night, I licked clean my vegetable crisper.
Two: I ate Jell-O straight from the box.
Three: I drank mint mouthwash with a Manischewitz chaser.
Four: I ate a reasonably balanced pre-prepared meal that somehow makes me more trustworthy and better breeding stock.

Christ on a cracker, the last thing you want is to share a kitchen with these arrested adolescents who are waiting for some man to jumpstart their lives and culinary skills. Common sense tells you that the man who can cook is going to want something in return; I suspect a pastry chef. How's your choux?

I tell people I can't cook. Here's the secret: I'm not exactly lying. I'm sort of lying. I can't cook when I'm angry or sad, and never for crowds. For your own safety, do not eat anything I've cooked if we're not speaking. It's not that I'd poison you - much - but I somehow cannot combine ingredients properly and make delicious food when I'm standing in my kitchen alone, plotting your demise.

Tata: Oh, see how you are? I should have known you'd be such a bitch when I asked to borrow your toolbox and you said you were using each and every tool in your freaking beadloom project and I'm so gullible I forget all about your glass allergy and believe you when you explain about plastics! Was I born last night? No! Could you need a table saw to do beadwork? I don't think so!

And then rice pudding sets up in my fridge as a solid. I don't mean like a lovely custard that ripples when touched; I mean solid like sidewalk and just as tasty. I can't explain it but I'm sure it's related to the ex-boyfriend who lied and told me his mother had had a heart attack when she was actually in India visiting relatives. He was positively diabolical. All his friends thought I was the one breaking into their bedrooms and dismantling their vibrators until they caught him trying to set fire to the house they were all sleeping one off in and he actually had the nerve to blame the dog. I turned up one Sunday and the housemates were all outside, shuffling and nervous.

One: He told us you were crazy!
Two: Remember that night you were over using his computer? He kept calling me to find out when you left!
Three: Oh, his mom's fine and you should never offer to bring desserts to funerals unless you want to cause more.
Tata: So for two years you all thought I was a psychopath who was breaking into your rooms and stealing your stuff?
One: Pretty much, yeah.
Tata: Well, you've all been very nice for people who might've had me arrested.

By then, I was kind of picking up the clues that I shouldn't cook - or in fact, spend any time near cutlery - when I'm upset. Still, anyone, no matter how sanity-impaired, can make a salad, and I have one for lunch. I may defy convention and have another for dinner. I may be so bold as to have another tomorrow. Maybe. Maybe not. You can't be tempted lick clean a full vegetable crisper.

Saturday, October 08, 2005

It's Complicated

I talk to the Narrator. You can call that God, or Allah or Fred MacMurray for all I care. Guessing is guessing. My bet is the Narrator's busy. This does not mean I shut up. I'm walking through KMart.

Tata: Kurt Vonnegut is either about a million or in his eighties. Most of the people who survived the firebombing of Dresden are dead now of old, old age. The least you could do is wave some magic stick and make your characters remember the important stuff. Where are the large kitchen garbage cans?
Narrator: What? Try Housewares.
Tata: It's raining a lot since yesterday. I'm broke, I've had a headache for three weeks, and I'm trying to read Dad's coming-of-age novel, which can be a little weird. Still, I hesitate to complain about anything since I'm fortunate enough to have a job, a roof over my head and doggedly devoted friends.
Narrator: Yeah...consider getting your oil changed.
Tata: I' that. Thanks.
Narrator: Where is the stage manager? I could swear Martha Stewart's new line had colors with a pulse.
Tata: Shoot, you're barking up the wrong tree there. Last week, I bought red Martha sheets and when I washed them they turned a weird I File my Nails While You Lick Me Orange. Did you know orange could lack passion?
Narrator: Who told you you were smart? I'm going to smite them.
Tata: Let's change the subject, shall we? Does anyone know the lyrics to "Louie Louie"?
Narrator: Maybe...nope, that guy's dead. That other guy doesn't remember last Thursday.
Tata: Hey! If you're going to answer questions, why are the cruel, selfish bastards in charge?
Narrator: Who said I was answering your questions? CLEAN UP IN AISLE 9.
Tata: Oh, come on. What could you possibly be narrating? Who are you talking to?
Narrator: I love that John Cusack. Ever seen Better Off Dead?
Tata: Sure. It's one of my favorites. I absolutely hate these garbage cans.
Narrator: Everybody wants some! I want some too! Everybody wants some! Baby, how 'bout you?
Tata: Talking to you is like chatting up a stoned bowling team. What a nightmare!
Narrator: You'd know, Mata Hari!
Tata: I'm making cosmic similes and you're making like Don Rickles.
Narrator: I want my two dollars!
Tata: Okay, I need a shade for my kitchen window so I don't get arrested for making breakfast naked.
Narrator: Puddin', I could use some Snakpaks. Turn right.
Tata: Forget it. Turn left. One aisle up are the blinds and window shades. Bamboo would look all wrong. I hate the blinds. What do you think of the Roman shades?
Narrator: Whoops. Earthquake in Pakistan.
Tata: What? Are you kidding me?
Narrator: During the course of this shopping trip two whole galaxies self-destructed. What on earth - pardon the pun - made you think Pakistan was safe?
Tata: It's my planet and I'll cry if I want to! Hey! You are listening to me! Why can't you fix that starvation on earth thing?
Narrator: Aluminum blinds are for the birds, baby!
Tata: We agree! Look, I'm going to need an electric screwdriver to put this up. Are you coming with me to Sears tomorrow or what?
Narrator: Maybe. I've got a 10:30 with Chuck Schumer.
Tata: Face the Nation?
Narrator: Rock, paper, scissors.
Tata: Well, at least you didn't say Wesson Oil Twister. By the way, I love my new apartment but the wiring is totally inadequate for the modern go-getter's needs.
Narrator: White Cheddar Cheez-Its!
Tata: I'm thinking this explains the platypus.
Narrator: Doritos? Keen!

Friday, October 07, 2005

Nothing To See, Nothing To See...

My student worker, whose name sounds like those bells on your toes, was overwhelmed by her obligations and quit until Christmas break. Ned's cat Fang, a 18 pound force of nature I used to carry around on my hip like a baby, died this week after more than sixteen years of mousing, ruling the roost and smoking Ned's Marlboros when no one was looking. Miss Sasha sent me a baker's rack for my kitchen, where boxes and bags still form an impressive pile and where that baker's rack would have been put to good use if UPS hadn't dicked me over twice and probably sent it back. I say probably because I don't know. I was at home when the truck should have arrived and nothing happened. It's an interesting experience to know that something, somewhere is wrong because nothing is happening.

Earlier this week, I woke up in the middle of the night with that creepy feeling that someone was in my bedroom with me. No, not the queasy feeling you've been dating drummers again, I mean the one where you feel fear before you open your eyes. The air doesn't feel still. I opened my eyes, ready to spring up and move, if I had to but there was no one there. I lay down, closed my eyes and tried to sleep. Maybe fifteen minutes passed and it happened again. And again. And again. Figuring the bedroom was giving me the creeps I lay down on the couch and turned on the TV. An hour and a half later I had no idea what I was watching and fell asleep again, for a bit. I'm not one of those big thinkers with wacky certainty about who's who or what's what in the realm of the metaphysical. More than ten years ago, I opened my bathroom door one morning, stepped through a small blond woman and thought nothing of it until I realized later that my small, blond, female housemate was still asleep in her bed and in fact not really porous enough to walk through. Generally. Anyway, this week I:

1. opened a window and demanded he leave - the man I saw walk through the front door while I was painting - because it's my apartment and who signed the lease, huh?
2. looked in the basement and found directly below my bedroom is the wall of electric meters, which is a rational explanation for that lit-up-with-fear feeling.

So: bases covered. My apartment needs a white witch and an electrician. Let the smudging and insulating begin!

In the meantime, insomnia gives a gal plenty of time to survey the culture. Adding to my instability, here's an incomplete list of haunting-related shows.

1. Ghost Whisperer. Haven't seen it, but Jennifer Love Hewitt is just as cute as tiny buttons, isn't she?
2. Medium. Please. I'm begging. Make Patricia Arquette stop WHINING!
3. Dead Famous. These two people should have a look at their own show because they don't know bupkis. During an episode where they were searching for the ghost of Buddy Holly it played out like Richie Valens was standing around shouting, "Hey! You're looking for a ghost, right? Ghost here!" Atrocious. Don't encourage these wankers.
4. Ghost Hunters. Wow. They look rational, don't they? How on earth did these guys from Rhode Island get a TV show without screaming like little girls every week?
5. Most Haunted. I cannot get enough of this British TV show. Our plot:
a. Haunted location. Stories. Crew visits.
b. Crew member: "Would anyone here like to communicate with us?"
c. A noise. Something falls down. A table shakes.
d. Crew runs screaming.
e. Repeat for 1 hour.
f. Staff psychologist tells them they're all wankers.
What's not to love?

Many times, when cats move house they freak, hide, don't eat or drink for days on end. You will be pleased to know that Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, arrived at his new digs a week ago, skulked out of the cat carrier and straightened right up. He climbs in and out of bags and boxes like he's got his own National Geographic special and a camera crew. Last night, I turned a corner and found him staring at me at eye level from atop a sideboard, which was a little unnerving since Larry's not much of a climber. Larry is fat, happy and busy. I guess some things are happening.

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

Simple, Elegant, Truthful - Axiomatic Edition

If the government can legally prevent you from terminating your pregnancy then the government can legally prevent you from becoming pregnant.

GDF at Blanton's and Ashton's - What's the noble cause? tips us to a cogent review of the Indiana GOP's attempt to criminalize mommies. It's a doozy.

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Unusual, Even For Me

Tata: The weirdest thing just happened in my office.
Siobhan: Your office? The guy sitting next to me is named Mamadou.
Tata: That has a certain regional flare. No, really. This was strange.
Siobhan: [bored already] What happened?
Tata: A woman over 70 sat in my cubicle and asked me to call RSU and demand they go outside to interview "the naked Indian." Did I know what those words meant? No. I called anyway. The DJ was alone and most indignant. I let it go. Turns out there's a block party on Stone Street and something about a petition. It was all nonsensical. Anyway, she says one of our former co-workers is standing outside the student center in a thong.
Siobhan: [bored no more] Umm...Is it warm out?

Monday, October 03, 2005

Unmarking the Spot

Calls to the car insurance company start with one of those directory trees and devolve. Inevitably, there's an exchange like this:

Tata: Mr. Paulie Gonzalez does not live in the apartment.
Not-Listening Dickhead: You did not tell us that. It's not noted on your records.
Tata: I notified you in writing and kept a copy.
Not-Listening Dickhead: It's not in your records. Where does Mr. Gonzalez live?
Tata: He sleeps on the couch of a friend but he'll be moving into the apartment when I move out.
Not-Listening Dickhead: So he does live there!
Tata: He does not live there. I live there.
Not-Listening Dickhead: He has his own insurance so technically it doesn't matter if he does or doesn't.
Tata: Then...we might as well talk about our imaginary friends. I've outgrown mine but yours might need a paper trail.

There's always one question I cannot answer.

Phone Representative: What's your home phone number?
Tata: ...
PR: Ma'am?
Tata: ...
PR: Do you have a home phone number?
Tata: I think so. There's this plastic thing and sometimes it makes an odd jingling noise. God! I hate when that happens!
PR: Ma'am, is your minder nearby?

There's a lot on my mind. Unless my phone number spells something I'll never remember it. A few years ago, my phone number spelled AIR YOSA, which doesn't mean a thing but Siobhan used to call me and exclaim...

Siobhan: AIR YOSA!
Tata: AIR YOSA it is! I didn't need to pin my address on my coat when I left the house. My brand new phone number has no zeros in it but it does have a pile of ones. I'm doomed! Ones have no letters on the phone keypad. Seven and nine have extra letters. Couldn't one have a few of theirs? Anyway, I'm sick of New Jersey Cure and their fixation on my ex-boyfriends. It's time to take my excellent driving record to an insurance company that doesn't kick me while congratulating itself for great customer service. Sybaritic chipmunks! They'd use metal spatulas in my non-stick pans if I let 'em!

I spent most of Saturday afternoon and some of Sunday searching for my cell phone charger. As far as I can tell, it's gone straight to Heaven. This is because Mom helped me pack up on Friday. Daria was supposed to come but she woke up with strep and called in sick.

Daria: Ah feel ahhful.
Tata: You better stay home. I fear increased congestion.
Daria: Ah callt Bom. She'lb be dere ad den.
Tata: Hoorah! The cavalry!

Funny thing about two hands packing: at least one person doesn't know what things are packed together. After about five hours, we'd moved almost everything to our well-insured motor vehicles, up Route 27 and to my new digs. Mom seldom likes my apartments but that's because some of them have been real slums. When I turned the key and she saw for herself the new place was spacious and clean she was relieved.

Mom: I'm relieved.
Tata: It's a nice place, isn't it?
Mom: Yes. Let's go get your TV.
Tata: Mom, have you noticed we have - like - freakish upper body strength?
Mom: As compared to whom?
Tata: To the people who are not us.
Mom: Don't be silly. Here, hold this anvil.

Okay, I made up the anvil. The other day, Siobhan and I were moving a few small things. She lifts weights three times a week with a trainer. I handed her my barbell and she lurched sideways. There was actual lurching! So, I can't recall what ridiculous thing Mom handed me but it was pretty heavy. This is in stark contrast to yesterday when two of my brothers-in-law turned up to heave a dresser from a truck to my living room. They were both sure I couldn't lift one end of it. I shrugged and held the door open, thinking of my former mother-in-law. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) used to say she lifted the house to sweep underneath it.

Paulie has returned from Italy to an apartment that's mostly his. I don't know where anything is at my place. An hour later, I know where a few somethings are. An hour after that, I can't remember what I knew an hour before. Friday night, I slept in the new apartment for the first time. At 2:41 a.m., I awakened to the sharp, persistent squeals of a carbon monoxide detector running out of battery power. I pulled the batteries out and went back to bed. Yesterday, I turned on the oven and the smoke detector went off. To amuse myself, I bought the cheapest cordless phone I could find and doubt somehow I'll get my money's worth before I throw it in a dumpster. This apartment is filled with screaming plastic gadgets and batteries on the floor like the cat's taken up log rolling.

I have fallen hopelessly in love with my new apartment. This morning, it took twenty-five minutes to find my shoes.

Simple, Elegant, Truthful - Anti-Propaganda Edition

"I have to infer from that (statement) that you would be happier if Saddam Hussein were still in power." - Paul Wolfowitz

"My happiness was never going to be influenced by Saddam Hussein's career path. Instead, my happiness is affected by the well-being of Americans and Iraqis who have suffered needlessly as a result of your war."

R. J. Eskow at the Nightlight.