Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Destroy Everything You Touch

Mitsuo does not find me funny. This development in my workplace vexes me to no end.

Tata: Nothing I do makes him laugh! What's his problem?
John: This really bothers you, doesn't it?
Tata: My new orthodontist is deeply insecure. He tightens my braces and I laugh. He says, "What do I do that's so funny?"
John: Did you tell him you crush souls like his before breakfast?
Tata: He's too young to toy with. Anyway, I explain for the tenth time laughing at other people is bad juju but one's own antics are fair game. They love me at the orthodontist's office.
John: Your teeth are ticklish? What's too young?
Tata: Sure. After a second divorce a man's known despair. That man worships me properly.
John: What about ex-wives? Don't they worry you?
Tata: Where's the threat?
John: They're competition.
Tata: No. They're simply other people. But that's not very important. Something's is wrong with Mitsuo!
John: What do you mean?
Tata: Testosterone weirdness is coming off him in waves. He thinks about chopping you into pieces and worse - he doesn't find me funny!
John: I'll...uh...hide anything sharp and quiz him with a rubber chicken. From a safe distance.

Every morning, I stumble into my office at the university, set up the coffee machine and do half an hour of stand up for my early morning co-workers. By the time I've said, "Thank you! Try the veal peccata!" the coffee's ready. My office fills by 9:30. By 9:35, the coffee pot's empty. Usually, someone gets a bright idea and makes another but sometimes, the slackers slack. I shoosh shoosh shoosh, Morticia Addams-like, into the middle of the office, pinkies up.

Tata: Whose turn is it to make Me coffee?
Gerda: Oh. My. God! Can I? Oh please?
Tata: You break My heart. Could I deny you this joy?
Chuan: I bought the coffee. Does that count?
Tata: Yes, dearest. I may openly weep!

Then the whole office has a fresh pot of coffee. My selfishness is really in everyone's best interest. We all want that.

Tata: Mitsuo, did you make Me coffee?
Mitsuo: I made coffee, You can have some.
Tata: Dahhhhhhhhhhling, I know My happiness is most important -
Mitsuo: To you.
Tata: Tut tut! You'll get the hang of making Me happy.

Perturbed, I consult Siobhan.

Tata: This may sound crazy but my co-worked is not, you know, thinking of My needs.
Siobhan: What? What's the matter with him?
Tata: He's like 23, right? She who is over 30 is irrelevant and over 40 is a burden. One day, Lupe asked him where he got his polo shirt and he said Brooks Brothers. I shouted at him, "Lie and say KMart!"
Siobhan: Sometimes people don't like us. We're not flavored to their taste.
Tata: I'm sure that's true. But we're talking about Me.

It's possible Mitsuo may be immune to Me. It's happened before...twice, I think. But that means it could happen again, in theory. I suppose. We'll know for certain if the chicken goes tits-up.

In Love With the Words That Scream We Are So Stupid, We All Dream

Joel Spolsky:
Everybody loves Sweet Home, Alabama. It's impossible to sing or hum (the refrain requires harmony), the melody is awkward, and the lyrics defend Alabama's racist and segregationalist governor George Wallace, but who cares?

I care.

Go get him, Tigers. Coretta Scott King died this morning. I asked Joel if he'd like to beat the rush and spit on her grave now.

Monday, January 30, 2006

Like the Moon, And the Stars, And the Sun

This morning, my horoscope advised against humor. Apparently, no matter what I do or say, it's not funny enough on a day when the cosmos lines up glum. There's no accounting for taste, however. Yesterday, I accidentally stepped twice on the tail of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. It was dark, and the little black cat was also, you know, dark. This morning before the sun came up, I went to pick up my weights and stepped on cat poop. Because it was right next to my weights, where I'd be sure to find it. In the dark.

He's a genius. I am not. After my shower, I slathered my hide with Oil of Olay and some of it ended up in my eyes. I forgot to apply makeup so my co-workers are not at all walking past me, silent and wide-eyed. Not at all. Yesterday, Dom and I went shopping for fresh vegetables and took a stroll through Home Depot, thus all my swiss chard and spackle needs were met. I feel great. I look awful. I'm thinking the funny thoughts. This should be more amusing: walking by a window I saw what looked like smoking rising from the ground and a planter. After staring at this with the same comprehension dogs have of ceiling fans, I marched over to John's desk.

Tata: I require science help. Come with me.

He doesn't bother to object. I've already turned around anyway. He follows me to the window. He sees the fumes, much to my surprise. That's the kind of thing I'd see and when I point it out to one of the other humans, that human usually says, "I do not see what you're talking about. Perhaps you're tetched."

John: Mulch is decomposing.
Tata: In January? Why does it look like smoke?
John: Maybe it's new mulch. Those are fumes. The ground is not on fire.
Tata: If I see something on TV resembling what I see here it is footage of where a forest fire has been.
John: And yet, this will bring us geraniums.

I hate geraniums. It's like they substitute for real flowers. In a somewhat related story because in a way we're still talking about smoking things and dead plants, when Paulie bought his giant, paintless pickup truck it came with a potted tree in the bed. It was green the first time I saw it.

The poor thing didn't stand a chance.

Paulie developed a habit of tossing garbage and empties through the cab window and waiting for the crash. You'd think the truck would leave a trail like it's snowing McDonald's wrappers, but the truck harnesses the Power of Paulie to retain trash. It's like solar but with tattoos and designer boxer shorts.

That's one badass gear shift.

My favorite thing about the truck is that it's archaeologically enhanced. Paulie hates pocket change so much he tosses it all over the seat. Paulie's plan is rid the world of the terrible scourge of pocket change by waiting for the old truck to die, then taking the rusting hulk, change and all, to the crusher - I surmise.

Somewhere an enterprising kid with a crowbar is getting an idea.

Saturday, January 28, 2006

And Your City Lies In Dust

Night before last, I was doing my nearly nightly blog-to-blog thing when I landed on gttim's Better Inhale Deeply and ran into an issue I probably should've noticed a week ago. Generally, I'm both up on the news and out of the loop, so I conferred with my esteemed colleague DBK, who is a grown up and doesn't have imaginary friends. At all. DBK did not recall seeing anyone else blog this story. Then I got angry all over again and stomped my tiny foot. Gttim:
From Newsweek, an article on who should pay for healthcare for returning injured vets:
With record numbers of soldiers surviving injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars, veterans' organizations are questioning whether the federal government is able--or is willing--to cope with the demand for health-care benefits, rehabilitation services and ongoing treatment. And if Washington can't do it, then who should?

Who should fucking pay? Which idiot is truly asking that question?

My grandfather, my uncle, cousin, brother-in-law and son-in-law are either veterans or members of the military. I pay attention. Besides gttim, who else saw this? Where's the full-scale outrage? Here's a concept: if we can't take care of our war wounded WE CAN'T MAKE ANY MORE. Yes, I'm going to get a grip now.

We're - nationally - having a problem with stupid premises. We don't have Newsweek's "boy problem" - we have a stupid assumption problem. Contrary to what people seem to think, boys are not supposed to do better than girls. Our president did not tell us the truth about why we're at war. The media is not going to protect us from ravenous corporations. The French are not our enemies. Unchecked government power does not enhance personal freedom. When veterans' organizations wonder if Washington is WILLING to care for veterans we have an enormous problem. And we should actively prevent our kids from enlisting until that problem is fixed.

Who pays for veterans' care should never, never come up for debate. We pay for it. Our nation pays for it. Our veterans' administration pays for it. Figure it into the war budget, and if we can't afford the aftercare WE CAN'T AFFORD THE WAR. Damn it, we might have to try fucking diplomacy. Use your words, kids, not your fists.

I'm not the Voice of Reason; I'm the Voice of No Reason Whatsoever. I can't get through dinner without chasing something shiny across the dining room, but this is has my attention and it should have yours:
"I don't think anybody in the world expected the numbers of wounded coming back [from Afghanistan and Iraq]," says Bill White, the Intrepid Fund's president. "In Vietnam, they would have died. And it's wonderful that they're alive, but they've survived catastrophic injuries that require them to get special help to rehabilitate."

White, bless his philanthropic heart, tiptoes around the administration's creepy hope that vets needing medical attention drop dead in a timely manner. Nobody expected them to survive? Where've we heard that before?

Nobody expected the levees to break.
Nobody expected our troops to meet with insurgency.
Nobody expected bin Laden to actually do it.

This refrain is like that new Nickelback song that makes you want to stab your eardrums with knitting needles.

Anybody who's ever asked a slumber party of ten year old boys who put the remote control in the microwave knows nobody expected it won't cut the mustard with the cable company's customer service department. You're going to pay for that. The United States of America will pay for the rest of our and our veterans' lives for the Bush administration's inexpicable inability to foresee probable events and reasonable outcomes but that's not the worst of it. What could be worse?

Let's imagine January 2009.

You: Hooray! We're free of the loathsome and larcenous Bush team! I feel better than I have in YEARS! The sun's come out and my Congressperson's holding hands with Bruce Springsteen and Larry David's wife! My life has meaning again! Let's get Thai food and sing along with the Munchkins, Ding dong, the witch is dead!"

Not so fast, my darling. No matter how the 2008 election turns out, we must be realistic about what we face. The Treasury's empty. Our armed forces are depleted. Our natural resources are being plundered at an unprecedented rate. Peak oil is behind us and competition for what remains may mean the difference between life and death for whole nations. The housing market crashed, banks foreclosed when the noteholders on the US economy - the Chinese - collected their chips. Millions of formerly middle class Americans were thrown into the streets. The Depression now looks like a picnic when even soup kitchens close. This is a completely possible future.

Someone not named George W. Bush takes office. The bill's on the table, and nobody reaches for a wallet because wallets are all empty. The President of the United States says, "We partied, we spent, we lived high on someone else's hog. Now we're broke, and we're going to be broke until we're paid up. Our civilization's in ashes. We have What's His Face and his corrupt cronies to thank for it but blame doesn't help us now. Stick with me. We can work it out together." That worked in 1930. In 2009, it will never fly. Our stupid premise is we're rich and always will be, no matter how much money we don't have. All we can do is offer that messenger a blindfold before the firing squad.

If you can see a problem coming you have a chance of avoiding it. This one's parked in your lane, and baby, I hope there's time to stomp that brake pedal.


Friday, January 27, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: Watch the Birdy Edition

It's not easy being an indoor predator on a warm afternoon. Outside to the left, squirrels shinny up and down two large trees in the wink of an eye. Off to the right, little gray birds twitch in a holly tree. Just below the open window, two bare forsythia bushes swish in a breeze. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, sits on the radiator and follows the metallic reflections off rush hour traffic on Route 18 across the river.

Still a few crates to unpack - as soon as I find places to put their contents. The drapes were Edith's. Some photographs lie about color or shine; the drapes are a deeper, lively, metallic green. A few months back, I opened two Rubbermaid tubs and found Edith's drapes, which she gave me about twenty years ago. In this apartment, which seemed a little cold, the heavy drapes would keep out drafts so I took them to the drycleaner. I wouldn't have given thirty year old drapes good odds of surviving chemical treatment. I dragged the tubs into the cleaners, necessitating a conference with a whole drycleaning family.

Dad: How old?
Tata: Thirty years. Maybe more.
Mom: How many panels?
Son: One...two...three...
Tata: This one's a different size, I think.
Second Son: Can I go to Kyle's?
Mom: Homework?
Second Son: Done.
Dad: Hold this panel.
Second Son: Dad!
Tata: Here are two more.

Dad regards each panel with the critical eye of an artist gauging new materials. He turns his gaze to me, gauging my mettle. He stares at the drapes. I dare not breathe. I know I'm worthy, but what if he doubts?

Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: There is a risk.
Tata: I know.
Dad: Sometimes chemicals alter the color.
Tata: It's better to know if they're garbage now than to keep them another ten years and find out I kept them for no reason.
Dad: We'll try.
Mom: Pick-up Saturday.
Son: Can I put these down now?

Drycleaning wasn't cheap and I was on pins and needles until I saw five panels I could barely lift on hangers. Hanging them was no picnic, but every cent and ounce of effort was worth it. When I look at the crisp, fluid curtains, I feel as if my grandmother sent me a gift across time - a gift that thanks to a master of his craft keeps us warm and handsomely frames a preoccupied pussycat.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Too Pretty In the Daylight

Johnny's gunning the engine.
Driving in this state is like riding in a miniature Day of the Dead parade. The highways, even my little country road, are littered with votivos, little crosses, usually white plastic, with gaily colored plastic flowers, commemorating the death in an automobile accident of this person or that person, usually Spanish-surnamed persons. Every onramp. Every offramp. Every mile. And you can't look away, because you have to keep an eye out for dogs and coyotes and roadrunners, and animals you may die if you hit, like elk and cows. Driving as fast as I do requires a grim determination in the face of certain death, albeit someone else's. I always found that a beer in the beverage holder helped steady my nerves. An alcohol-free beer isn't quite the same, although it does have a certain totemic power. And I have less to worry about if I get pulled over for speeding. I hope, anyway. My worst case scenario is that a cop bags me for speeding while drinking a near beer and figures out what I'm doing, that it's a replacement for the real beer I've been drinking all the times he didn't pull me over, and makes an executive decision to punish me retroactively by blowing into the breathalyzer himself, which will probably render a pretty high reading. These are real concerns. It's, uh, sobering.

I had to read that a few times because like most Americans born after 1949, when I read the words "coyotes and roadrunners" my brain says, "Meep! Meep!"
I mean this, thank you for putting my rants in your blog, it's the treat of my day, I really enjoy reading them up on the screen like they're real writing. I read in Slate or the Smoking Gun about that fool and his million pieces. Not having teevee I missed the whole controversy, but is anyone talking about the fact that the guy is a simply awful writer? This seems to have been skipped over, I assume on the assumption that you Americans wouldn't know the difference. I'm surprised only because I've read some of those Oprah choices and they're not bad, although they're of course no Amateur Hour.* She should have known better, even though she's black.

He's teasing me, so don't you go crazy. For one thing, though Johnny's lived in Europe he's from Boston, which has been an American city for a couple of centuries. I used to visit him. We were a two-person riot when he lived in the Fenway. He said we were the only two straight men in the whole neighborhood, which was mirth-inducing since from Johnny's apartment I used to literally follow the trail of sausage and peppers to my car.

For another, he mentions Oprah's complexion because it leads to a little ritual between us:

Tata: I love you! Shut up!
Johnny: For a polock, you're only mildly stupid.
Tata: Zip it, Nancy.
Johnny: Hey dago, got any soap?
Tata: Hush, fool!
Johnny: What, are you going to call a dumb mick flatfoot?
Tata: Hear that? It's the sound of your knuckles dragging.
Johnny: Okay, Princess.

When I first moved away from the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm), I was completely lost. Miss Sasha stayed where she was and went to the same schools, which was simply our best option. I didn't know how to function as a single person. Many nights, I sat up with Johnny in Boston without any idea what we were doing or talking about. One night, I saw rage in his eyes.

Johnny: What're you looking at?
Tata: I...don't know.
Johnny: The answer is, "Nothing," and you look away.
Tata: What do you mean? Why are you angry?
Johnny: When someone says, "What are you looking at?" the answer is "Nothing," and you look away slowly.

This lesson, which I long resisted learning, has served me well for the most part. I had never had to fight my own battles before and I was lousy at it. It took me a long time to learn the difference between the words and what was being said. For instance, despite the thunk-on-the-noggin transparency of the above conversation, the feeling I walked away with was that Johnny was having mood swings - not that I was a little soft for real life.

At Shakespeare's Sister, Toast posted Your Media: Objectively Pro-GOP and I agree with most of what Toast posted. Except there's a problem with the basic assumption that the media works for the people and not corporate masters. The vast majority of journalists work for the interests of the people who pay them. Do not expect objectivity and certainly don't assume it exists. No one should be surprised that we have a Fox News problem when we have a profit motive, Rupert Murdoch and a desire on the part of any mob to take up pitchforks and storm a castle.

It is important to watch the news - though not Fox News - and to listen carefully to what is not being said. Even more important: listen to what is moving in the background. Feel the presence and movement of money. Though I am a terrible judge of whom I should date, I have never believed a word George W. Bush said. If you can't feel the presence and movement of money as a backdrop for everything he says you're listening to the words.

Stop listening to his words, and stop expecting people who are paid to tell you your opinion to help you think for yourself. Toast:
I feel like the dude in They Live who puts on the specially-treated sunglasses and suddenly sees that aliens are walking among us. Creepy, malign, right-wing aliens, bereft of humanity and intent on world-wide domination. Any day now, I expect the Post to reveal their new masthead complete with the GOP elephant, the Times to disclose that it was acquired in 2001 by the American Enterprise Institute, and Chris Matthews to show up on the air doing shots of Dubya juice through which he will gargle the notes of "Hail To The Chief".

I'd feel like Roddy Piper every day, except I hate plaid and I'm allergic to wool.

Get over your desire to have the media on your side. Unless you write the checks, you don't own the message. And the media has every right to lie to you, distort facts and try to convince you to act against your own best interest. You have every right to dismiss reporters as charlatans, liars and idiots. Call them on their factual errors but don't expect them to take your side, as Katie Couric's flawed interview with Howard Dean this morning demonstrated. Separate the words from what is being said. Do not absorb the language your enemy has chosen to manipulate you.

Let's try it again: What are you looking at?

*Johnny's novel; in progress. I'm reading it, too.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Along the Injured Coast

Blogger warns that today there'll be a scheduled outage at 4 p.m. PST. Because I'm sitting in New Brunswick, New Jersey and seethe with resentment half the time, I read that notice as "scheduled outrage" and wondered who took breaks in between.

After I organized his kitchen Monday while he blathered on and on about how nice someone else was, Aaron explained last night why I was wrong to put dishes near the dishwasher. I explained to him that it wasn't my kitchen, and I didn't care where he put the dishes but if he put the spices at the other end of a kitchen he had no intention of cooking in anyway he was going to make Paulie's life miserable. This did not stop him from criticizing me; neither did it stop me from wishing I could call on a vengeful goddess of the hearth for some balled lightning and a fireproof jai alai basket. I didn't even tell him to fuck off.

Maybe I'm coming down with something.

Early yesterday, Siobhan expressed shock that I was going back last night.

Tata: By the way, I left a lot out of the blog story I might throw in if I have a "Listen, old man -" conversation with him.
Siobhan: Those are the exact words I used when I told my trainer Jerry what I would have said. My hypothetical declaration began, "Listen, old man," and went on to describe that now was the time to start having some actual consideration for someone else, already.
Tata: He didn't bother feeding his children. It's too late for consideration. I should poison his Maalox.
Siobhan: Now we should speak in code, to avoid potential prosecution.
Tata: Isn't it already too late for that, too?
Siobhan: Not for your co-defendants.
Tata: The monkey has been discovered.
Siobhan: What?
Tata: I glued a rubber monkey to John's barcode gun and the monkey has been discovered.
Siobhan: So your code is to tell the truth?

In that case: WINK WINK nothing is happening here. WINK! Everyone's FINE. Nobody's being harmed in the ridiculous Hollywood production that is this move. WINK! I need eyedrops. I'm taking tonight off. Aaron expects his daughter to clean the apartment in an hour tomorrow, so he says. I told him in no uncertain terms that apartment would be spotless and in good condition when the keys were handed over because my name is on the lease. He tried telling me it's not that important.

And then I said, "Listen, old man -"

I feel so MATURE.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Jokers To the Right

I get into more trouble over the phone than any other way. When it rings, I should climb under my desk and cower.

Paulie: I need a favor.

When your ex says, "I need a favor," maybe you change the locks. I'm all ears and nerves. Most of my exes are very good to me. Paulie often drops everything to help. If I have to say no, I'm going to feel low, so low.

Tata: What can I do for you?
Paulie: I'm at the airport. My Uncle Tony was here over the weekend, helping us move. Today, he didn't show. Can you call the phone company and get the phone service moved?
Tata: Sure. No sweat. What else?
Paulie: I'm going to Dallas for the week. Can you make sure Dad gets everything out of the apartment?

Inwardly, my inner brat wants nothing to do with this particular unselfish unselfishness - you know, deep inside. No! No! No! Nonononononono!

Tata: I'll call him and find out what he needs. Don't worry about it.
Paulie: Oh, thank you.
Tata: Please, get some rest and I'll try to get things set up so you don't have to kill him.

WHAT is with my MOUTH? I get on the phone and my mouth talks like I'm a nice person. What the hell?

Paulie: Thank you. Thank you!

Damn it! Three phone calls later, phone service was on its way to the new house Paulie Gonzalez shares with his recently widowed father Aaron. Aaron and I didn't meet until well after Paulie and I broke up. Paulie doesn't say Aaron doesn't like me; Paulie says Aaron doesn't like anybody. When I arrive, Aaron doesn't answer right away. I keep knocking. Finally, he lets me in. He needs my help but he doesn't want me there. Aaron offers a tour but never gets to the here-and-now.

Aaron: Sheila was the nicest person I ever met. Her children gave her coffee mugs. Oh, we had coffee mugs. Her kids gave her mugs about how much they loved her. "World's Greatest Grandmom" like that one. See?
Tata: Mmm.
Aaron: That rug in the hallway was her favorite. We had it everywhere. I'm not sure where to put it. Paulie and I are going to fight about what we put up for display. Everything I have was picked by a woman and Paulie hates every bit of it.
Tata: He's a Sinatra man through and through. He likes clean lines and interesting color combinations.
Aaron: He likes the sixties styles and I've got a a tan corduroy sectional sofa and rose accents.
Tata: Mmm hmm!

The house is a disaster and Aaron is a roadblock in my path. The living room is large but I can already tell it's Home Decor Dodge City. Aaron's set up the giant screen television, intent on making the whole room into a home theater. Paulie hates TV. We turn left into a room that must've been added on by a homeowner who didn't know when to stop building: there are built-in book shelves and cabinets over paneling. The effect would make Bob Villa beg for a crowbar. The bedrooms are spacious and thank your favorite deity there are three of them and two bathrooms. The kitchen is sticky. Everything about the kitchen is sticky except for cardboard boxes and packing paper, which are strewn about everywhere, in every room. One thing that cannot be overstated is that previous owners had hideous taste in - well - everything and were generous enough to leave samples. Disgusting taste. Vomitrocious taste.

Tata: Are those your window treatments?
Aaron: No.
Tata: Have them burned. Let no swatch remain. It must be as if they never existed.
Aaron: We might keep them.
Tata: For what? As a sacrifice to appease the Miami Vice gods?

He walks in circles, complaining, describing his efforts. I survey the disaster. The giant moving boxes are in my way. Boxes empty of everything but packing paper I gather in the living room. He wants to talk about crystal and formal glassware and his wife. He says the same thing over and over.

Aaron: She was the nicest person I ever met. You never met her, but she was great. She was slim and beautiful and had wonderful taste in everything.

He holds up a goblet I wouldn't throw at a burglar, no matter what its employee discount price was.

Aaron: Did you ever see pictures of her?

I'm here to work. As much as I hate to see anyone hurt, I'm so selfish and petty I'm going to finish the job I agreed to do.

Tata: These lovely pieces, all this stemware and all that, and those over there, and this all over the counter are in the way of setting up a kitchen you can use every day. Let's move this into the room with the shelves and put all this there for safekeeping.
Aaron: I want to display them. They're all so beautiful. Did you ever see pictures of her?
Tata: Aaron, you can't display them if they're broken. Let's move them to where they'll be safe.
Aaron: Okay.

When he agrees, I'm home free. It takes about half an hour to move glassware, crystal and tchotchkes into the room I'm sure Paulie never sets foot in again until he sells the house. After I've started cleaning the kitchen, Aaron takes control of the situation.

Aaron: You do that, and I'll open this box.

I hang up pans, put away casserole dishes, find places for teas. Every cabinet I open offers a new, sticky surprise. The shelf paper is filthy. I don't even ask before tearing it out and scrubbing the shelves. Aaron bursts into tears and tells me he's going to his room. This may sound like a terrible, shallow, beastly thing to say (but why stop now?): once he leaves the room, it's like dark clouds depart and I wish he'd lose interest in helping. Two hours after I knocked on the door, I give him no-nonsense instructions and tell him I'll call tomorrow. I know at once I'm in Nice Person trouble again.

Tata: Now, about tomorrow...

Damn it! It might not be the phone!

Sunday, January 22, 2006

We All Fear the Clown Nose

I am prowling my apartment, fixing things that bother me. Because the words I hear in my head are I am mighty! the theme music is from The Tick. Sing along with me: bah da dee bah da da dee DOW! Earlier, I talked to Miss Sasha, who was sick this week. When I got home from work three hours later than usual on Thursday, Miss Sasha had left a message.

Miss Sasha: Mommy! I've got a fever and an infection and I keep puking. Call me! I have to go to work tomorrow and I need ideas. I love you!

I can take direction.

Tata: Sweetie, whassamatta?
Miss Sasha: Monday morning, I woke up with projectile vomiting and Sunday night I ate the last of the chili Gramma gave me the recipe for New Year's and there was expired sour cream so when I puked Monday morning, and then a second time, so I drank some tea and that didn't stay either and some Pepto Bismal burned all the way down, and on the way to the doctor was great for the car behind me -

Miss Sasha has never been handy with cause and effect, nor events in sequence. I recommended Pedialyte, tea and applesauce. Yogurt. Broth. Unexpired foods in general. They're rumored to be nutritious and are seldom the cause of pink traffic impediments. So I called her this morning to find out how she's doing.

Miss Sasha: I started feeling a whole lot better yesterday, lots less pukey and pass-y out-y -
Tata: "Pass-y out-y"? That's brilliant!
Miss Sasha: Did you know people could feel that way?
Tata: I didn't, but now I've pictured it on a NyQuil label. While the idea of you flopping to the ground is mildly alarming, as problems go it's not like spontaneous combustion. I worry about those people.
Miss Sasha: Is that real?
Tata: Like food poisoning? You tell me.
Miss Sasha: I'll think that over. How are you?
Tata: Better everytime I don't have to wash my clothes in the common laundry room. It was like Lord of the Flies down there - only without outdoor charm and attention to etiquette.

This afternoon, I determined the track lighting Dad bought for me in September would have to be hard-wired into my bedroom ceiling and in an apartment setting, that's bad juju. I can change fixtures but unless I'm going to be here for the rest of my natural life I'd rather not sink mollies into poorly and repeatedly repaired plaster. I've got to think this over. Maybe the track lighting would be a glamorous addition to the bathroom. It might be dazzling way to highlight the disco ball.

Saturday, January 21, 2006

We Get To Carry Each Other

His name is Johnny and he's an alcoholic:
The scales have fallen from my eyes, princess. I feel so much better, so much more myself, the happy rock I was meant to be. The black cloud of anger that hovered over me is gone. I have energy untold. As a young man I had dreams, like anyone, none of which came true, and none of which will, but I can do something with what's left of my life if I remember that like a magnet that grabs all the coins around it, drinking will eat my focus, my will, my mood, my marriage. My life is a good one, and I don't need to rely on a substance to be okay. Granted, it's nerve-racking. Thank Christ I have a shitload of painkillers and tranquilizers and muscle relaxants.

When we were teenagers, Johnny's family seemed mysteriously functional. I didn't really know others like it: a mom, a dad, six boys. They smiled a lot and liked each other. They went to art shows in Manhattan and watched PBS. In our town, people didn't go to art shows in Manhattan. They went to the drive-in in East Brunswick, and nobody went to the mall. As well as I thought I knew Johnny, I didn't notice his anger for more than a decade, and didn't see it for myself until we were in our thirties, when he was messing around with smack and we both thought he was going to die. My relationship with his parents became a little complex when I told them if he wanted to kill himself I wouldn't stop him. Come to think of it, they should've murdered me.
I feel ridiculous in AA, surrounded by cholos covered with jailhouse tattoos, hulking with huge weight room muscles, telling stories of beating their wives and doing time, one of these monsters shared a story of killing a man. In my Italian suit and tassel loafers and a pink shirt with my initials embroidered on the pocket, I'm thinking maybe I should switch to the gay group that meets at seven.

Is it me, or does an image of gay ex-cons with jailhouse tattoos spring instantly to mind? I love Johnny madly, and I wonder if he's getting out of this one with his cufflinks.
One thing I really miss is the taste of beer. Alcohol-free beer tastes all right, but it doesn't have the bite of real beer, which I guess is the alcohol. I suppose pouring a shot of vodka into my alcohol-free beer would be cheating.

John (no relation) appears in my cubicle doorway.

John: What do you think about the fuss over A Million Little Pieces?
Tata: I don't. It's not important.
John: Fiction? Non-fiction?
Tata: Memoirs depend on the memory of the writer, not to mention his delusions. They're all fiction-y.
John: Oh.
Tata: The weird thing is the strange behavior of the Oprah People. What are they upset about?
John: They feel betrayed. He told them a story and they believed it.
Tata: Yeah, so? Have you read the book? How is that important?
John: I haven't read the book. I've read reviews and writings about it.
Tata: Are you going to read it?
John: I don't think so. The reviews all mention a superior attitude like, If I could get out of this level of shit you other addicts should get ahold of your whiney little problems.
Tata: And the Oprah People bought it?
John: Sounds like it.
Tata: That is a problem.

Any high horse we climb onto about addiction is going to throw us. It's too late in history to not know this, and yet Americans think same sex marriage is a greater danger to them than crystal meth. Let's hope we sober up soon.

Friday, January 20, 2006

The Innocence Shining Through

You may have noticed I have a little temper. It's not like it used to be. I've matured. I've grown. I haven't had a barfight in years. And I'm not gonna. For instance, my recently born-again cousin is getting remarried in late February. I have to decline the wedding invitation because if I have to listen to my beloved cousin give even one more condescending grace that ends with, "Go, Jesus, Go!" like if there was or is a Jesus He might need a pep talk before the Big Game, I'm going to grab my dear cousin by his gospels and punch him in his Pentecostal vision. Which I'm not gonna do. As I said, I've matured.

Even so, nothing makes my head pound like the hypocrite who takes advantage of an opportunity, then ensures no one else can have it. Clarence Thomas can shove his internalized racism and his loathing of the very programs that parked his rear on the Supreme Court up his ass. Women who make a career of telling other women to get back in the kitchen should expect that karma to come back and bite them with a full set of overbleached canines and incisors. The worst - the very worst - are anti-choice activists who get abortions, then punish other women for getting the same procedures.

I saw red when I found all that. How does a person of good will hang up her cleats and contemplate a life of non-violence in the face of that bullshit?

Count to ten. Then take action. Perhaps some good can come of all this bad, bad behavior - even mine.

Friday Cat Blogging - King of the Zebra Print Edition

My Little Predator has exciting taste in textiles.

This week, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, has refused all medicine-laced bribes of shimp, sliced honey ham, milk, chicken in broth and beefy catfood in beefy catfood gravy. If I thought for a minute he'd hold still and just take the disgusting medicine, I could quit trying to outwit my cat, and I'd like to because I'm failing, you know, to outwit a cat.

Anyway, he looks pretty sharp and passes the sniff test, which is one of those expectations you might have for someone you share a one-bedroom apartment with, be it man, beast or man-beast.

When he is not busy stealing souls, Larry schemes. Siobhan gave up wearing socks years ago after her cats purloined them all.

Tata: What are you talking about? You said you quit wearing socks because they curtailed the freedom of your individual toes.
Siobhan: I'd be reading a book on the couch and a cat would run by with a sock.
Tata: Did you give chase? How far could they go?
Siobhan: Apparently to Mars, because I have no socks.
Tata: You're helpless in the face of sock-thieving pussycats? What, you couldn't shut your dresser drawer? Close your bedroom door?
Siobhan: Not since 1998, no.
Tata: At least one of your cats is no larger than your shoe. She cannot possibly wrangle objects of that size.
Siobhan: She's my prime suspect in the disappearance of the socks, though according to Law & Order, testimony of her co-conspirator is not enough to convict.

There is no stealing at our house - I think. Behind my zebra print futon sits a bag of wrapping paper and bows. Wadded up paper accumulates now behind the futon. At least once a day, Larry, the little black cat bent on jungle adventure, climbs down off my lap, shoots me a look that says, "You there! Watch me! Watch me!" and slinks under the TV desk. From the general direction of behind the futon emanate strange sounds. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch. Crunch crunch. Crunch crunch crunch crunch. Crunch. I suspect there is prowling. Exhausted from his hair-raising romp, the King of Behind the Futon slinks out from under the desk, says, "Cool, huh? Huh?" and plunks down on something cushiony for a nap.

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Everyone Knows It's Windy

I set the microwave for 3:30 because my soup only has to be so hot and by 3:45, I could be dead already. Life is short. There's no need for me to burn the roof of my mouth unless the part of the food touching my tastebuds is going to make me wish I had two tongues.

This morning, I was ready to leave my house well before I had to but every nervous glance out the window made something inside my apartment unbearably attractive. I read the toothpaste label. I folded things that were already folded. I changed my socks twice. I caught me at this game and had a stern discussion with her.

Tata: Stop dicking around with that sponge. Scour the stovetop a fourth time later! Put your coat on and go to work! Do you know how fortunate you are? You have a job. Lots of people would love to have your job. And look at your apartment! It looks like a snowglobe exploded in a tinsel factory. And how about your cat, huh? Think you're going to get a NEA grant to cover that disgusting medicine? Go to work!
Tata: I don't want to go!
Tata: You're going!
Tata: Where've I heard that before?

Outside, it was raining fitfully and even with the wind the temperature was a lot higher than I expected. To cheer myself, I tossed another four grocery bags' worth of my old life into the dumpster. Joy! The road out of my complex was littered with small and not so small sticks. I crossed the Raritan River at the Albany Street Bridge and noticed hunks of stuff flying way above traffic in the stiff winds. On Johnson Drive, I recognized that flying stuff as construction materials when some landed behind me. At the intersection of Hamilton and George, where I turn, a university truck was making what looked like a labored K-turn. Then the driver parked. I shouted at him, then saw behind him one of the huge trees in front of Ballantine Hall broken into huge, woody florets, if you will, and blocking the road. Crews were just arriving with chainsaws. I later told Daria.

Tata: Suddenly there's this concrete demonstration of precisely how fortunate I am.
Daria: Good lookin' out with the stalling tactic.
Tata: Thanks! I was surprised my tantrum paid off. How will I know from now on whether I'm being bratty or having a danger-averting psychic vision?
Daria: Your dosage.
Tata: Yeah, so on Hamilton Street, one of those public garbage can lids - one of those big metal ones - was sitting in the middle of the street.
Daria: Get out! Like a dumpster?
Tata: No, no, like a public trash thing. They're on every city corner.
Daria: Yeah yeah, the middle of the street?
Tata: Yup, and on College Avenue, trash bags and plastic garbage cans were thrown all over the place. Where I parked my car, traffic department sawhorses were blown down and aluminum siding panels lay on the ground. The walk from my car to the front door seemed very, very long.
Daria: You were perfectly safe, what with flying monkeys.
Tata: If you see the bottom of a house: duck!

In point of fact, no one's dropping a house on my sister. Luz, the woman who sometimes babysits her kids is the mother of one of Daria's many ex-fiances. Between Daria and Anya, I bought four bridesmaid dresses I never wore to weddings. Anyway, Luz was really sick and needed to see a doctor and the doctor was on one of those corners in New Brunswick where you don't slow down even if the light's red. Daria and her three kids dropped Luz at the doctor's office and waited two and a half hours for Luz in the Ford Expostulator. If anyone else I knew did that, I'd put DYFS on speed dial.

Anyway, my soup's slurped, my lunchtime's over and my coffee's cold. Evidence of my good fortune is everywhere, when I look for it. My co-workers and I went to Piscataway for a meeting and got blown about some in the rain, but even so we were wildly lucky when a passerby stopped his Jeep to retrieve our crooked umbrella. My new assistant, who speaks five languages and could snap me like a twig intellectually, finds me leafing through a dictionary. "You know many words," she says, one hand on my shoulder. I am wearing a ruby-red velvet shirt. My Magic 8 Ball refuses requests.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Learn to Live With What You Can't Rise Above

Auntie InExcelsisDeo's got my number, and she calls, too.

Tata: My horoscope this morning can be paraphrased to read, "Call your aunt."
Auntie I.: It can? Well, here I am now. Did I mention you should save the 29th?
Tata: What? No...
Auntie I.: I'm telling you two weeks ago to save the 29th of next month for Monday's bridal shower.
Tata: I'll just tell you I'm not going to any bridal showers.
Auntie I.: You're going. I will hunt you down like a dog!
Tata: I know you will.
Auntie I.: Your uncle will put up the tent and our big lie is we're celebrating your birthday, so you have to be there. Besides, I threw your daughter's bridal shower so you have to come to my daughter's. And then my other daughter's. And maybe someday, my future daughter-in-law's. Then you're done.
Tata: Damn it! Okay, so...we'll drink! The 29th is not my birthday, and there's no way in the world Monday travels three states when she can call me up and tell me off on my special day. And wait - outside, under a tent on the last day of February, and did you know this isn't leap year?
Auntie I.: You can rest quietly under a table somewhere and -
Tata: - try not to yak on the gifts, got it.
Auntie I.: You're going! I will hunt you down like a dog!
Tata: Should I act surprised?

So it appears the wedding/hostage drama starts again. On Christmas Eve, which I will write about in all its sparkly, gory joy in the fullness of time, Monday was already showing signs of being our budding bridezilla, by which I mean Daria restrained me from clubbing Monday like a baby seal. Or maybe Dad threatened to send me to my room, technically located in the next county. I forget - anyway, I'm going to call Miss Sasha twice a day and tell her this is all her fault, and though I laugh as Auntie InExcelsisDeo threatens my life, I know she loves me enough to do it.

My only hope may lie in a lengthy prison sentence. I gotta think up some crimes.

Monday, January 16, 2006

No Way To Slow Down

Dom: What are you doing?
Tata: I'm going to open one of those dusty boxes.
Dom: You always say that.
Tata: This time I'm going to do it! I'm inspired!
Dom: Open a bottle of wine first. There's gotta be something in that box you can use as a funnel.
Tata: What, so when I find Morgan's handwriting I pour the whole bottle down my throat at once and forget to set fire to my papers?
Dom: I hear wine's not very flammable. You're never going to see your living room floor unless you get tanked on pinot grigio and decongestant and open the fucking box!
Tata: I'm going to do it!
Dom: What's to stop me from getting in my truck and coming to help you?
Tata; You hate winter and your truck hates driving. See you Friday, dahhhhhlink!

Dom's right, and I have a sippy cup full of white wine. In the box, I found folders full of 1997, as if my life stopped when I moved back into a house we all called the Heartbreak Hotel because to move in, you had to have a bad breakup of Biblical proportions. Everyone knew I had the credentials. Here they are, alphabetized, date stamped, carefully sorted. The most intense period of my life came to a screeching halt when I put files, folders and the metal rack into boxes and sealed them with stylish purple duct tape.

A good portion of the box I picked is folders labeled with names I don't recognize. I used to attend and hold writing workshops, and writers of all skill levels asked me to critique their work along the way because I see into the words. In daily life, this is not an asset. Try reading a computer manual when you feel through the words the writer knows her boyfriend is leaving her for the boy at the copy shop. I drop these folders into plastic grocery bags for the trash.

There's a photograph reader Mark Wintle gave me once of a copper sea and a copper yacht under a copper sun and blessed by a copper sky. Postcards from people I know and people I don't remember and a box of Picasso bath salts puzzle me; CMJ CDs, posters from poetry readings, handbills from events I remember and don't, stationery I still like tickle me. I stuff the bags with extra stuff I'll never recall and never miss. Then I fold up the cardboard box.

It's done. Hey, it's done! So I opened the second box. It started all over with folders of my own work I barely recognized, old event photos, publicity photos I laughed about now. People took pictures of me because they had crazy ideas of what I was. What did I think I was doing? What was I doing?

Two boxes are empty and folded in a doorway. I'm relieved but relief is tempered by the pile of papers, photos and artwork drafts I can't bear to look at; principly: the piece I was working on in 1997 when details of my life fell out of my brain like so many teardrops - there were so many tears. Winnie the Good Witch told me recently when she turned cards for me in 1996 after Morgan moved out, the cards were so bad she shuffled the deck and changed the subject. I wish it sounded familiar.

At issue: does the weight of what I was and did carry me forward or drag me to the bottom? Can I draw a mustache on that self-serious self-portrait or can I toss all that crap and design a new me? I started Poor Impulse Control to conjure a new life, but no spell will take hold until I take out the trash. My past proves the future doesn't wait. The new life I wanted arrives every day, whether or not I'm ready for it. I'm elated. I feel light. I still don't know what to do with myself.

Just a few more boxes to go.

Saturday, January 14, 2006

Water Flowing Underground

God damn it! I was having a good day, sort of. Last night, I didn't sleep much. I'd fall asleep, then wake up with that feeling like I'd stuck my finger in a socket. You can trust me on this. I got zapped in electrical school enough times to remember that feeling for decades to come - and by enough times I mean once. Anyway, while I did not enjoy lying on my couch waiting for the state-wide tornado warnings to pass, I did enjoy putting in a full day at the hair salon. In December, I told Rosana how much I despised January, the gray landscape, the dreariness.

Tata: I can't take it. I want to leave the salon looking like a tropical fish.
Rosana: Atlantic or Pacific?
Tata: Pacific. Please!

Just after noon, I was running late for my appointment and stopped at a pay phone - my cell has little cartoon x's over its eyes - on Livingston Avenue on my way up to the salon. The pharmacy was only open for two hours and I couldn't get there.

Tata: This is Ta. Is Paulie there?
Aaron: Paulie's sound asleep.
Tata: Would you ask him to go to the pharmacy and pick up medicine for Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul? It has to be around 1 this afternoon.
Aaron: At 1? Might as well get him up.
Tata: What?
Phone Thunk.

I'm standing on a corner in a raincoat that looks like nothing if not an especially festive flowered lawn chair pillow. I personally look like Cher's Avon lady, and because I know exactly where I am, I am trying to keep my eye on the foot traffic in 360 degrees of broad daylight while Aaron shuffles into the living room I used to nap in and gives his son Paulie Gonzalez a shove. I already feel guilty.

Paulie: Hello? Are you alright?
Tata: I'm fine but I mismanaged my time. Can you pick up the cat's medicine at the pharmacist?
Paulie: I was just on my way out. Sure.
Tata: What? Okay, thanks.

I sashay into the salon feeling pretty stupid. Rosana recalls clearly what we talked about right before that terrifying debacle that was the rapid series of non-stop holidays.

Rosana: Do you know what you'd like to do?
Tata: I'm interested in suggestions.
Rosana: Well! How about this base color and this pink highlight and black around the edges? And I have ideas about the cut.
Tata: Bring it!

I knew from the moment I walked into this salon and saw my former drinking buddy that eventually saying, "Darling, what do you think?" would produce big, and today it happened. It took four and a half hours, but it happened. Tonight, my cut is beautifully Thirties-retro, which I love, Around my my scalpline, there's a ring of black hair, and the rest is two tones of utterly unnatural red. My eyes look much greener. I look like a silent film murderess. So of course, I came home happy, turned on the laptop and the TV, where I heard that fucking commercial for KFC. I've written about this before under other names, at other times. Listen to me carefully:

There is no excuse for playing Lynyrd Skynyrd's Sweet Home Alabama in a public place. Stop it. Don't use it. And when someone else uses it, make it financially worth their while to stop it.

Let's look at the lyrics, shall we?

Big wheels keep on turning
Carry me home to see my kin
Singing songs about the Southland
I miss Alabamy once again
And I think its a sin, yes

Well I heard mister Young sing about her
Well, I heard ol' Neil put her down
Well, I hope Neil Young will remember
A Southern man don't need him around anyhow

Sweet home Alabama
Where the skies are so blue
Sweet Home Alabama
Lord, I'm coming home to you

In Birmingham they love the gov' nor
Now we all did what we could do
Now Watergate does not bother me
Does your conscience bother you?
Tell the truth

See, this song is so-thirty-years-ago that you sing along as it pops up in rotation on your rock station and you don't think about it anymore, if you ever did. It's lost all its context. Its meaning is lost on the radio-karaoke/cover-band mentality, and as anthropologists and ad men know: meaning is easily lost, replaced by a commercial message and made into kitsch.

What were our long-dead and strangely career-comatose friends from Florida talking about? Neil Young lyrics are hard to get verbatim on the web. After a few tries, I found lyrics transcribed by fans. Allowing for nuance, we get:

Southern man better keep your head
Don't forget what your good book said
Southern change gonna come at last
Now your crosses are burning fast
Southern man

I saw cotton and I saw black
Tall white mansions and little shacks.
Southern man when will you
pay them back?
I heard screamin' and bullwhips cracking
How long? How long?

The funny thing is when I hear Mr. Van Zant sing, I hear the words: "Well I heard Mr. Young sing about us". Maybe you hear it. Maybe you don't. I've never had any doubt. This is unbelievable arrogance. This is: What the fuck does that hippie Canadian have to say about us Good Old Boys lynchin' our niggers? And you're singing along, with our catchy song.

And to what governor does the song refer? George Wallace. Later in his career, after the song, Governor Wallace changed his mind about race issues, but not that much. One of the single most nauseating images I've ever seen was a photograph of Tammy Wynette singing Stand By Your Man to the wheelchair-bound Wallace. Also, my conscience may prick at me now and then, but in an age when my government is the greatest threat to my freedom and the people of the Lower Ninth Ward of New Orleans will be abandoned yet again when they're kicked out of their hotels soon, Watergate as an insult to us Northerners looks like the arrow on the "I'm with stupid" t-shirt is pointed straight up.

Jesus Christ! KFC: no matter who your demographic might be, stop using commercials with African-American actors, selling heart-cloggingly bad fucking fried chicken to African-Americans, using as your anthem a song that is basically a want ad for a lynch mob. And don't get me started about that Reese Witherspoon movie, because the whole premise was in such poor taste I couldn't believe my eyes when I saw the posters in a mall, and being in a mall didn't put me in a great mood to begin with.

There's no excuse for this. No words can make this right, and yet this campaign goes on and on. Every time I see and/or hear one of these commercials it wrecks my mood for a while. I can't believe someone hasn't cleaned KFC's clock over this.

Shit. I was having a pretty good day.

P.S. Via Professor Kim: We can't ignore it and say it's ancient history.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: Toss Off the Training Wheels Edition

Can you believe it? Siobhan, who picks up the trash around here, sometimes including me, is so busy having her own life she's not fixing up PIC photos. How rude!

For one of those December holidays, Daddy and Darla gave me a lamb pelt. Daria later stared at it and said, "It's a black sheep." For those of you in the cheap seats: that's symbolic.

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, loves this thing. It smells like an animal. It feels like wool. It's draped over the zebra-striped futon I seldom sit on. I kind of wait quietly until he prod-prod-prod-prod-prod-prods, circles and settles on the furry thing. Then I race over and take his picture with the disposable camera. I'm sure it'll look totally natural. Coming to a Poor Impulse Control post soon: photos of a black cat on a black lambskin on a black website. A challenge to common sense, if there ever was one.

I Can Say I Am What I Am

I get this a lot.

Tata: Hi, my name is Tata.
Person Not Me: Tata? What is that short for?
Tata: Domenica. Why do you ask?
Person Not Me: Domenica, I'd like you to meet...
Tata: Tata.
Person Not Me: Your name's Domenica.
Tata: When people tell you you're not a good listener they're not joking.
Person Not Me: Well, if you're going to be that way about it -
Tata: Please kiss my fabulous patootie, won't you?

I've stopped telling people my real name. It's not up to them to decide who I am. It's up to me. This idea threatens the fragile and vulnerable.

Tata: You don't really hear anything I say.
John: Of course I do. We're friends. I care what you think.
Tata: You introduced me to your girlfriend as Domenica.
John: I did not.
Tata: Ask her. You didn't even notice resorting to the conventional. Watch it or you'll quit sculpting and have a thirty-year mortgage in no time.

Wake up and smell the baby wipes! The dominant culture wants you to go to sleep and Macy's; it wants me to go quietly into pink-sneakered middle age, where I can grow old and invisible in a timely fashion, hopefully before I retire and cost Social Security the money I pay into it. It's the polite thing ladies should do.

I love lipstick. I love everything about it. I love the sensation of moisture a good lipstick leaves on the lips. I love the powdery feel of matte lipsticks. I love them bright and sexy and sultry and outrageous. I love lipstick that smolders and insinuates. I love lipstick that says, "I know exactly what to do with my lips to make you crazy, no matter who you are." I love lipstick that whispers in the ear of the beholder. I carry five or six shades of dark reds and wine-colored lipsticks. Acolytes to feminism may be tsk-tsking, but that's the first-year student balking. Judy Grahn wrote an essay years ago about symbolic pigmentation and the appearance of sin and desire. I took my cue from her and wore only red nail polish for years. Since then, I've broadened my horizons and color palettes, but nothing says bite me! like red lipstick on a woman over 35.

I answer to the name by which I introduce myself. And don't fuck with me. I'm wearing lipstick.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Everything, Everything Will Be All Right, All Right

A few weeks ago, I took Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, to the vet because to my nose the scent of his breath had changed. He's got the feline leukemia. The vet told me awhile ago: all bets are off; feed Senor whatever Senor will eat. When Senor's breath smells more cabbagy and less fishy, we go to the office. It's traumatic for us both but he gets clipped toenails.

Since I am the pussycat pedestal and jungle gym, that's really more for me, isn't it? Yeah.

Usually stuffing the cat into the cat carrier results in scratching, contusions and crying but I eventually get over it, too. In the car, truly pathetic mewing causes me to wheedle.

Tata: It's okay. We're almost there. And then...well, don't think about that part - but we're going home soon!
Cat carrier: Mew!
Tata: We're almost there, and then you can see the nice doctor. Okay, you hate the doctor but he likes you a bunch. Yes! Yes, he does!
Cat carrier: Mew!
Tata: Waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaah!

For his part, the cat's not happy either. Some people are good at crying; I look and feel like my face is having some sort of watery techtonic episode. The office is not like any other veterinarian I've been to: on the counter, cats sleep. There's a little dog standing guard on the files. A gerbil sits on a shelf. When I arrive at the desk, a cat sniffs me before the staff gets a chance to look up. You know these people and this doctor genuinely care about their patients. The woman at the desk is new and hasn't met us. Her hair is vibrant electric blue. She escorts us to an examination room and weighs Senor, who growls by force of habit.

The doctor holds the feline jaw firmly and exposes teeth. The feline expresses his displeasure verbally but does not actively resist. The doctor asks the blue-haired assistant to step in and assist him. They take turns fending off kitty self-defense efforts and clipping his nails - the cat's. An astounding thing happens. Something she does gently - something I don't see, though I can see both her hands - causes Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, to sit peacefully even after the vet and his assistant leave. I stare. I encourage him to climb back into the cat carrier. By "encourage" I mean "shove him inside with the flats of my hands." He is calm and utterly unimpressed.

Tata: What's the matter with you, huh?
Cat carrier: Mew!
Tata: That's...better?

I struggle for a week and a half to medicate the pussycat twice a day with antibiotics and his normal daily Pediapred, which smells like a disgusting cherry pastiche to real fruit and real medicine. He gets medicine in moist cat food gravy, on sliced ham, in the water keeping boiled shrimp wet. Twice a day, I anxiously put out a little bowl of something and coo at Senor.

Tata: It's a treat! A delicious treat! For you!
Kittyface: What, you were out of prime rib?
Tata: Cats don't eat cows! Cats like cows.
Kittyface: In gravy. I love 'em.

About a week ago, I saw a sign in the Highland Park Drug Fair advertising pediatric medicine flavors. I march right to the counter and asked the burning question.

Tata: Can you make concoctions taste like meat?
Pharmacist: Ask your vet.
Tata: Ask my vet what?
Pharmacist: To prescribe it.

I love my vet to the bottoms of his comfy shoes. I love him for his devotion to his patients and their people. I love him him for all the extra care he's given to my pet friends since Miss Sasha had mysteriously addled guinea pigs in the eighties. I love him. In this moment, I sincerely wanted to roll up some newspaper and bonk him on the nose. I've been tricking my cat into taking kiddie steroids for years and the vet knows this because he's prescribed them and he knows I've fretted over every dose I couldn't get into our sick friend and it never occurred to the doctor he might prescribe the steroids in yummy fish flavors?

Arrrrrrgh. The good news: maybe next week I won't have to hover over Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul while he turns up his nose at life-giving snacks of tasty joy. It's progress, no matter how long it took. Let's hope meaty medicine is the kind of yucky stuff cats love.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Repay - Do Not Forget

To make yogurt, you heat milk or cream or some combination thereof to a boil. You let it cool to between 120-115 degrees. All the time, you stir constantly. You add a certain amount of live bacteria to your liquid and put it someplace warm and clean overnight. There are a few details of proportion and storage but no mysteries involved in the making of yogurt. It's as natural as blinking an eye.

Many things are just as simple, though they may give the appearance of complexity on their faces. Over the past month, I put on a few pounds and can hardly bear to be near me. My clothing has become even more strangely ill-fitting than usual. The waistbands of two pair of pants in particular now fall across my stomach in a spot most women who've given birth will recognize as that spot I'd rather chew off my foot than think about. I find myself walking, leaning backward like Mr. Natural and trying to hold up my pants by sticking my stomach out. Keep on truckin'!

I fully expect to feel a breeze and find myself half-naked.

Currently, I feel fat because periodically I forget a basic truth of my Self: Exercise is always the answer. Am I restless and bored at work? Running a lap of the stairs will fix that. Am I not sleeping? More exercise, earlier in the day and mild stretching at night will make a dent in the problem. If I am stiff with arthritis, more exercise is the answer. If I have to wait for something and my mind is wandering, exercising is what I should be doing. Other than the occasional thing my internal organs do all on their own that tend to make all those gurgling, whoooshing and glug glug glugging sounds, I have the body I earn. It's really too bad we all grew up and can't resort to drugs with a straight face anymore. Personally, I can't think about diet supplements after 1990 without a mental image of that poor guy on a beach and Oh. My. God! He's got Anna Nicole Smith all over him! It's not rational.

It's not mysterious, either. I'm speaking for myself and no one else - because other people have problems we wouldn't trade ours for in a million years - when I say if I'm heavy, I earned it and if I'm thin I earned that. It's not as much fun as gulping Hollandaise out of a sippy cup, but it's as natural as blinking an eye. Sometimes, I forget. Well, now I've remembered.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

It's the Way That You Do It

I'm sick of the moving boxes, gift boxes, ornament boxes, financial papers, wrapping paper, tissue paper, paper wadding, gift tags, store tags, jade leaves, recycling, regular garbage and presents Miss Sasha sent for the whole family. A chicken is roasting in the oven. Clean laundry hangs from every door, knob and curtain rod. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, was disturbed from his cozy afternoon nap long enough for me to vacuum up dust bunnies and grit. The floor from the living room, through the hallway and into the kitchen no longer feels like a sandy stretch of boardwalk. Siobhan called me too early.

Siobhan: Did I wake you?
Tata: Yes. It's 9:40.
Siobhan: 9:50.
Tata: Buh-bye!

Left to my own devices, I sleep better after the sun comes up. On weekends, insomnia's less annoying if I manage little naps before 11. Ugh. I lie down on the couch and drift off a bit. Laundry. Laundry. Laundry. I'm running through a castle filled with small red and white pompoms or maybe they're Mini Baby Bell cheeses and I'm late for the fondue but the laundry is still dry and and I think three people were there with long dark hair and damn it, I'm mostly awake and those are the Supremes. You can't hurry love! No, you just have to wait! I get up and wheel the washing machine to the sink.

Last week, Grandpa called to thank me for sending him cookies, and to ask where I'd bought his calendar last year. I wasn't sure but promised to find him another. Wednesday, I shopped online, not paying the closest attention, and I bought a calendar refill, rather than the actual calendar. I realized my mistake immediately and wrote back to the vendor. Four hours later, customer service responded that the order had already gone out, and my only hope was to get the package refused. The prospect of getting someone at his apartment building to refuse a package sent to a nearly blind, nearly deaf, 93-year-old war veteran was...well, that ain't gonna happen.

Of course, yesterday I got an email that my order had shipped, so fuck them. I'll never do business with them again. Meanwhile, my grandpa still needs a calendar. In other shipping news, Miss Sasha and Mr. Sasha sent out two large packages filled with Christmas presents for the family. One large box came to me. The other took an exciting tour of warehouses in Edison before returning to Florida, where it was repackaged and...no one knows. Friday, I returned home to find a box so large I wasn't sure it'd fit through my door. After lots of Seuss-like shoving, pushing and pulling, the box ended up in the hallway, where it stayed until this morning, when I couldn't stand its hulking presence another minute. I hacked it open and found another box. When I hacked that open and pulled out the contents my apartment looked like it'd snowed packing paper and styrofoam bits and the poor little village was engulfed by the avalache, help, help, let loose those dogs with booze drums! And me, without my lederhosen!

After I could find the floor again and vacuumed it, I turned my attention to the ceiling and hung up more ornamental balls in the kitchen. Then I re-potted the plants Paulie gave me and played with mud. And cleaned up water. And made more mud. Nothing could be sillier than believing my housework might interest another human being, so I don't. Yet here we are. It's not the housework. I'm slowly making the modest, little apartment look like the whole magical world looks in my head. Sort of. Without livestock, I may resort to Chia Pets.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Feel No Shame For What You Are

I'm in the store again: Indigo Girls is playing. The memorial service for Anya's and Corinne's grandfather is in half an hour. My sisters have been red-eyed for days. My brother-in-law, leading candidate for this week's Most Valuable Player, called a little while ago to find out if I lay dead by the fused glass sculptures or if the store had burned to glowing cinders - but really tasteful ones you'd display proudly. In any case, I am not lying dead - I'm almost certain. If I were dead, would I be scanning my new exercise DVDs? If there's an afterlife in which I'm still short and round it's a vision that needs a little adjustment on the horizontal hold.

I'm just saying.

Other than Gilad, whom I love, I do better with virtual exercise instructors I despise for their fluffiness or inane comments. Denise Austin's video workouts used to make me spit with rage and taut like stretched rubber bands. This became very confusing when my perky young shrink reminded me of Denise Austin. If things were going well in therapy, I fattened up; when things went badly, my friends named my clearly visible abs for French philosophers: Jean Paul, Jean Claude... I was with the brain doctor so long discontinuing our business relationship was like a traumatic break up for both of us. Unfortunately, Denise Austin's Shrink Your Female Fat Zones uses a stability ball, which I learned to loathe in physical therapy, and I wonder if there's hidden meaning in her pink outfit.

Crunch Workout's Cardio Dance Blast! looks like fun. Instructor Marie Forleo annoys me with her faintly racist comments; the dance steps look simple enough that when I get up before 6 a.m. I might keep up before a first cup of coffee. The downside is the workout is 38 minutes. I'd have to pry myself out of bed ten minutes earlier than I already do. This seems like an afternoon regimen. Note: the support dancers are in several sizes and shapes. Unfortunately, the heavy girl is wearing ill-fitting low rise two-tone jeans, which means all of my pet peeves manifest in one pair of pants. I don't know how long I can keep from shouting about the wardrobe department. Upside: shouting is aerobic exercise.

The store has been very busy, by the way. Watching the 38 minute workout took three hours. Also: watching lovely young women in tight garments samba is hungry work. You would think I was underfed the way I am scarfing down the snacks. I just counted my fingers and yes, I still have ten.

My last recent acquisition is Crunch Workout's Cardio Salsa with Giselle Roque de Escobar. The program starts with pert Giselle shouting at - you know - you that you're going to have a great time and burn tons of calories with these salsa moves. We take a sudden turn toward the Telemundo when Giselle introduces the young, fit and strangely stoned-looking Latin drummer and the camera zooms at his delts. Zooms, I say! Zooms back! After that, the director gives you a moment to recover from your motion sickness before you start moving. I can't wait to try it. This is a 40 minute workout, so either I'd have to get up earlier or wait until I'm having one of those Carmen Miranda afternoons we don't discuss in front of the children.

What the hell, those are fun, too.

Note: dancers are once again wearing outfits that make no sense for their body types. There's a woman dancing directly behind Giselle in cropped low-rise jeans in a dingy blue-gray. Her belly is pale and though about three-quarters of the way through the workout it becomes apparent she's strong and toned, she's large and looks like a jiggly white backdrop. It's very distracting. I want to assault the person who insisted on the exercise pants with the droopy crotches. Please! If a group of women should look less dumpy and more caliente, this is that group.

It's been a busy afternoon but light for me. This is proof that I am merely fortunate. On a more serious note, Jazz and Georg lost gentle cat-friend Colin today. He was a sweet fellow with a patient nature, and his complex care would have been too much for lesser lights. Jazz and Georg gave him a good life, better than he would have had anywhere else, with anyone else.

I'm fine. Still, it seems like it was a tough day for the surviving.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Don't Bend. Don't Break.

Just outside my apartment there's another door. It is my favorite door in all the world, surpassing even that door the Pope opens every century so guilt-ridden people can spend a week trampling millions of their closest friends and saying, "Excuse me," in every language on earth. There's no vaginal symbolism gooping up that picture, no way. I enjoy that mental image but this door outside my door is better. It opens onto a bad sheetrocking job nobody bothered to tape and mud-up.

This is nothing short of a golden opportunity.

When Dad and Darla visited, I pointed them to this door and told them I had a plan involving larceny and one of those drugstore cardboard figures, preferably holding a beer. They liked that plan.

I had another, but it's kind of generation-specific. Swinging gals about my age - now the first group of grandmas to join the KISS ARMY - might recall a game foisted on us in 1970 by Hasbro: Mystery Date. I never played this game myself but I was emotionally scarred enough by the commercials to remember it. Anyway, girls and girly-guys try to figure out where the dreamboat's concealed behind a door. Plan B is a life-size cardboard cutout of a teenage boy in an ill-fitting suit. Dad and Darla felt that had too many comic limitations.

I had a third plan: Superman in 2-D. As in: Closet superhero. I would however settle for pretending I'd hung Aquaman out to dry. They liked the idea but felt not even epoxy would adhere a seven-foot cardboard Christopher Reeves in blue tights to bare sheetrock for longer than a few minutes once anyone under 50 opened that door. Plus, I couldn't find one on EBay. Dad had an economical plan.

Dad: That wall needs a map and a sign: "You are HERE."
Tata: Map of what?
Dad: Doesn't matter!

My co-workers are accustommed to my behavior. This morning, one stood at the edge of my cubicle and offered me a gift from that place of apparent safety. The present was even better than he knew: it's the book jacket from On Drink by Kingsley Amis. The cover photo is priceless. Amis is holding a glass of dark liquid at approximately Windsor knot-height. The expression on his face dares you to say, "No, sir, that's no beverage," so he can tell you you are indeed full of excrescence and this is certainly a beverage. I like this photograph and will hang it up on my cubicle wall. When I am introduced to strangers I will pretend he was my grandfather and that photograph of that other guy holding up a glass of dark liquid in my cubicle was his Evil Twin, Alessandro, also my grandfather. I like the blurb:
Kingsley Amis, one of literature's most versatile craftsmen, here shows another side of his talent, as portrayed on the front of this jacket - his mastery of the art of drinking. Calling on his many years of experience, and with an eye toward both economics and enjoyment, he presents this witty, informative handbook for the drinker, both amateur and professional.

From a brief dip into alcoholic literature, our bibulous guide moves to a selection of prime drink recipes - the fruit of untold diligent years of research into the field.

I had to share - though few jargon innovations irritate like the puke-inducing caring and sharing twist on interpersonal relationships of the mid-nineties. One night, a superhot bartender and I walked all over New Brunswick in search of a condom we never actually found. He said, "That's okay. We had a nice evening of caring and sharing." I laughed. I love him dearly but I thought, 'When you want to throw your clothes at the ceiling fan and play Ride 'Em, Cowgirl, a beer and a conversation about throwing your clothes at the ceiling fan and playing Ride 'Em, Cowgirl doesn't cut it.' So I'm sorry I shared, but it had to be done.

This morning, I printed a Google map of my street. It's small, which I will think of as understated. My co-workers paid no attention as I walked around the office, cackling and stealing Post-Its to compare contrasting colors to find which amused me most. I settled on orange. I wrote "You are HERE." I drew an arrow, in case the explorer who finds this map is as confused as predecessors like Stanley and Livingston, who couldn't get away from that damned six-sided lake. The Raritan River is about 200 yards to the left and straight down, like a giant, filthy hint. The fun lies in taping the thing to the sheetrock, closing the door and never looking back. Maybe. If I find a life-size cutout of John Ashcroft and the Venus de Milo all bets are off.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

Lest We Forget Who Lay

All kinds of people come into the store, stare at the beautiful merchandise and blurt something delightful.

Customer 1: What do I get a goth kid for Christmas?

Customer 2: I bought a pair of earrings here last week and lost one. Do you have a match?

Customer 3: Where can I find a shaman?

These are problems. I can solve them.

1: We have stained glass dragons. Your budding goth boy will want a matched set, possibly as many as five. For no reason. That I'll tell you.

2: If you get a third piercing you can wear all your shinyshiny unmatched earrings.

3: Phone book. Sheesh!

It's a warm night for January. People say the same thing: "I walk by here all he time. Tonight, I thought I'd come inside." Sun-60 is on the CD player because I felt like hearing Should Have Seen the Moon. An hour ago, I looked around for snacks I heard calling me ("Ta! Ta, darling! We're French fruit cookies!" "Ta, we're cheesy crackers you wouldn't buy on a dare - and you're bored!") so I put on lipstick and vacuumed the store in self-defense. On Tuesday, I picked out some beautiful sparkly ornaments on after-holiday special, boxed them up and promptly forgot what they were. In about an hour, I can go home, sip pinot grigio and watch the two-hour CSI. My terrible memory makes whatever's in the box a present and a surprise.

Some people say today is Joan of Arc's birthday. Happy Joan of Arc's birthday to me. When Joan of Arc was my age, she'd been dead for 22 years. I am still learning how to decorate.

Sometimes Siobhan and I go out to dinner. Historically, we'd pick different items off the menu, then I'd want whatever she'd order. I adapted to Entree Envy by ordering whatever she ordered, which proved unsatisfying as well, when there were other yummy flavors we could not then sample. Recently, I've taken a different tack.

Tata: Siobhan, what do I want for dinner?
Siobhan: You want the crabmeat-stuffed flounder and steamed broccoli.
Tata: I do! I want that!
Siobhan: I'll have the scallops...
Tata: Damn it!

Fortunately, my memory is like Gerald Ford's trick knee - for Chevy Chase. Most restaurants serve slowly enough that by the time my plate arrives my order is a surprise.

Tata: Crabmeat stuffing! I love broccoli!
Siobhan: Couple of scallops?
Tata: Scallops, too?! I could drop dead of happiness!
Siobhan: Your funeral will have a two-drink minimum, won't it?
Tata: And lox. I wish to be mourned with delicious canapes and a zydeco band.
Siobhan: We talk about your funeral a lot.
Tata: Can't leave everything to the last minute. Who'll hire the jugglers?

On second thought, maybe I should have eaten the cookies.

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Reap the Wild Wind

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is staring at me intently. He wants me to assume the Scratch Mr. Cat position, which I will - in a minute or two, or so. This week started out as the last few days of my vacation before preparations for the next semester. Two days ago, Daria called me mid-morning.

Daria: You know how you like to be needed in a drama?
Tata: I...what?
Daria: Anya's and Corinne's grandfather is dead. Their mom just found him. They need you at the store.
Tata: They need me and you're calling?
Daria: Shouldn't you hang up on me and go shower?

Daria trusts me to leave the house smelling like an expensive dessert, which I do. I tucked a few errands into the drive but made a bad beeline to the family store and spent the day fielding phone calls from family members so distressed they couldn't form sentences. In between, I shopped for home accessories.

Today, I went back to my day job at the university. Tomorrow, I'll sit at my desk, then go mind the family store. I expect to run hither and yon until after the memorial service Saturday, and Daria's planning food, baskets and condolence cards. I'll blog intermittently, since my new assistant is in training and my attention span's even briefer than usual - but don't despair. I'm not turning into a nice person or abandoning you or behaving myself. Nope.

I've just aimed my broomstick at the express lanes.

Monday, January 02, 2006

Simple, Elegant, Truthful - Undeniable Edition

How can it be - and yet it is.

And You, You're Traveling At the Speed of Light

When I sat down to write, I thought I'd tell a story about Christmas or New Year's or Hanukkah or Yule. This afternoon, my mother's side of the family exchanged gifts finally, and I'm so exhausted I can barely type. Tomorrow, I'm going to get up and go do the radio show, a few errands and hopefully spend the afternoon watching soap operas. After nearly two weeks with my family, I can't wait to watch the underfed and overexercised bitchslap each other.

Last night, Paulie Gonzalez and I had dinner with Paulie's recently widowed father, Aaron. Aaron lived for a couple of decades in Las Vegas, but before that he lived in one of those towns along Route 9 near Woodbridge, where he was involved in politics. Aaron has moved back from Vegas and become involved in the local politics of the town I grew up in, where developers cannot build disgraceful condo villages fast enough, and where yuppies and senior citizens just voted down athletic facilities in a township where there is no other after school activity for kids besides robbing your house.

Over dinner, when I listened to Aaron nonchalantly describe the workings of the town council and the planning board, the blood rushed to my head. After about half an hour of trying to figure out why anyone could talk casually about unsustainable overdevelopment and suburban sprawl, about stupid planning and putting the new high school out in the middle of nowhere, then building McMansions behind it and refusing to build basic athletic facilities, I lost it. I admit I spoke my mind in a small family restaurant in the harshest of language, which Aaron has never seen before. We've only known one another for a few months, really, and he didn't know I came from that town. On the other hand, I don't live there now, so what I think of those council fuckers selling out the town's future to the lowest possible bidder couldn't possibly matter less.

On Friday, I was driving on a road I've traveled for more than 40 years. A frightening chunk of woods was just...gone. Sky and bulldozers. Aaron may be more realistic about it than I am but his manner infuriated me. He and I did not disagree fundamentally on the moral bankruptcy required to put a ShopRite on a street few people travel because the farms around that street will be sold to developers or the town will take them. I felt my face burning and pressure mounting inside my head. Finally, I know this bullshit is unstoppable by me, anyway, and at least Aaron works to mitigate what looming disaster he can with experienced planning. He knows more about it than I do. I know the town and its disgraceful, naked desire to be white Princeton - just without the brains.

God. Words fail me. In the seventies, my town was one of the best integrated towns in the whole country. Watching this change is not unlike watching children play with daddy's loaded shotgun. Watching people who don't care about the place prostitute it is disgusting. I feel physically sick thinking about the next soulless townhouse cluster filled with people with good credit, hating the poor people they can't escape and can't wait to punish, resenting a town for making them talk to their neighbors.

The rush to destroy the woods and sell off the farms is stupid and short-sighted. Aaron mentioned a location where a development will be, no doubt about it. He talked about getting developers to build small connecting roads. I asked what purpose those roads serve. You know, to connect. I drew three lines and said, "There's nowhere for this traffic to go but 287, which is an astounding failure." Aaron said, "Yes, that's exactly where they'll go." I said, "They can't. Route 287 is a failure." Aaron said, "We build them their own exit."

I said, "You don't understand. In forty years, 287 has been rebuilt three times. The first builder took the money and went somewhere tropical. There is no time day or night when you can drive on 287 without encountering a pointless traffic jam because the road is so badly designed. There's no widening possible. There's no adding exits that will help. Route 287 is a failure. And you are saying it's this or Route 27, which we agree is a failure. And you're saying building in a town without a center and no proposal for public transportation is what will be. Evil is afoot and you are complicit in its designs."

Aaron said, "This is the United States now. It is morally bankrupt, as you say. If you took a poll and asked how many people would prefer killing the homeless to providing for them you'd be shocked by the results. Senior citizens in numbers will destroy school budgets. Nobody cares that kids have no place to go and nothing to do. In a town that has traditionally produced state level track champions, the new high school won't even have a track or a football stadium. These young couples are the first to turn down what planners call 'tot lots' then five years later complain their kids have no playgrounds. It happens everywhere. If the planning committees turn down too many developers' proposals the developers take the towns to court and get whatever they want. That's New Jersey."

It's not just Jersey. I accept that this is painful reality. The more I think about it, the more painful it becomes. I'm just one idiot with a love of one place and a microscopic attention span. Still, I can't help thinking that this gluttonous consumption of open space, woods and farm land is not the bankrupt inheritance we want to leave to our children.

You know, the ones whose education we don't want to finance, whose formative experiences we regulate so strictly they can't play in the backyard alone, and whose friends are only people we vet.

Look for them to punish us for this selfishness in the future when there's nothing left.