Friday, March 31, 2006

You Better Work

Johnny reports from our New Mexico news desk:
[The wife]'s boss breeds Abyssinian cats and wins Best In Show all the time. She just had to take an eye out of one, ending his show career, and she offered it around to the girls. [Ta's note: the cat, not the eye.] The wife took him. He is a pistol, already in charge of the house. Jack is of course trying to teach him the dragging-by-the-head game, but Giancarlo was one of a kind in that respect. Kitty's already-name, One-Eyed Jack, won't work because two Jacks is too many, not to mention one. All we can come up with that fits at all is Bubbahotep. Pictures follow.

I finally realized my dream of owning a blue plaid suit just like Johnny Rotten used to wear. Pictures follow.

Reading your blog makes my day even when I'm not in it. That's the highest compliment I know how to give. Pictures follow.
A three-legged dog named Jack. A one-eyed cat named Jack. I'm worried about the neighbors and Johnny's hot, smiling veterinarian wife.

Later, he emailed this crisp communique:


Few hepcats in real estate offices can carry off this kind of badboy panache, but Johnny can. My new fear is random incidents of zoot-suiting and concommitant swing-dance riots. You know how this works, people. Admit it: you all saw Footloose.

I seldom tell anyone what TV shows I like. There's a good reason for this caution: not once, not twice but about a dozen or so times, when I've mentioned online I really like, love or find useful a television show it's yanked off the air within a matter of minutes. Thus, the last time I mentioned - in another place, under another name - my love of A&E's Nero Wolfe, A&E couldn't cancel it fast enough. I wrote them a touching bon mot and thanked them for lowering the bar. Bastards! That show was really well done!

Recently, I made the mistake of mentioning here my love of Gilad Janklowitz and his shows Bodies In Motion and Total Body Sculpt. It was stupid, I know. I should have realized nothing changes, and for this indiscretion there would be consequences. What I did not realize was that my love of one TV show can now kill entire channels: this morning, where FitTV was, there was a blue screen saying as of 31 March, I could kiss Cablevision's butt instead of re-shaping mine. Thus, you will understand why from now on, I'll be shouting from the rooftops how much I love the racist and nauseating Cops. It is a fearsome power I wield. This makes me wonder how often God slaps her forehead - if there is a God - and says, "No, no, we talked about this. Love thy neighbor, get it?"

Sir Arnold Bax said, "You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing." The mainstream media should try discussing immigration like rational adults, rather than scandalized tinytown gossips. This is what a rational adult sounds like and we haven't heard many of those in a long time so don't be surprised that you're surprised:
14. Please remember that the least legal and least assimilable of American immigrants were...the English. And the only people who can claim to be true "Americans" are Native Americans.

15. Most Mexicans are Native Americans.

16. Shut up about this non-issue and get back to BEING JOURNALISTS, covering the REAL issues, like the illegal war in Iraq and the lies that got us there; the record-setting trade deficit; Bush's bankrupting of America; NSA's illegal wiretapping of American citizens; the fact that our public schools are MORE segregated than they were before Brown vs. the Board of Education; the fact that we as a nation have now slipped to having only the 27th freest press in the world; the Plame leak and the consequences of it being that Americans are much less safe than we were before Cheney and his friends played "revenge"; the disappearance of the American middle class and unions; the sorry state of the FAA; the rapid devaluation of the American dollar on the world market thanks to idiot leaders; the dismantling of the endangered species act by our administration; the rapid and unprecedented rise of a white underclass (the fastest rise in poor whites in American history has occurred under Bush); the enormous and growing gap between rich and poor in America.

Look, I'm sorry if you've been manipulated into believing this is a terrible problem about to tear us apart, but it's not. It's bold-faced racism and xenophobia. We don't have time, as the article points out, to turn on each other. We have real problems we need to address like grownups, like why we as a nation can be so easily separated from common sense and constructive political discourse. And good TV.

Friday Cat Blogging: the Hang of Ideology Edition

Behold the mighty hunter, for he most assuredly beholds you.

Il gato nero, seen on the zebra stripe futon savannah, subduing his quarry, a defenseless sheet of gift wrap tissue, possibly the slowest and weakest of its herd. He is wily! He is Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He will wait here while you boil and peel shrimp, as is his due. He will watch you closely unless he is comfy and desires a nap. Admire his handsomeness!

You are his. You will know it is the truth when at 4 a.m. he wishes to play. With you. And you do it.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A Hard World To Get A Break In

Dad points us to mad charmer Notes From the Geek Show:
If the someone that ruthless critique makes you want to kill is yourself then you are not a writer and never will be. You are a delicate flower... to be snipped off and worn as a buttonhole by men of cruel wit and savage passions.

One of my favorite exes, whom Siobhan refers to as "that soul-stealing bastard", once hissed, "You eat souls for breakfast."

"Not without hollandaise," I growled, which may have sounded at the time a whole lot more like, "Nuh-unh, you soul-stealing bastard!"

I like Mr. Duncan's the-truth-hurts style, his wit and surgical precision with a phrase, but that's because in educational matters, I don't want to waste time having my ass kissed for no good reason. Subsequent to Tuesday's assertion that Homeland Security's tuna hoarding plan might be flawed, I Googled other folks' ideas.

Siobhan: What are you doing?
Tata: I'm reading up on pandemic protocols, since I raised the subject.
Siobhan: Good. You'll be my go-to gal if outbreak hits and I don't die in the first wave. Because, sadly, the words "bird flu" are indeed funny enough to kill me.

Besides repeats of Cops, what do I use to innoculate against killer vocabulary? I could be Googling all day.

Flu Wiki's Personal Pandemic Preparation offers thorough advice I won't remember ten minutes after I get bored and surf over to see what's up at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Hey, I warned you I don't have an attention span and some grownup ought to be doing this. Anyway, just for you, highlights of Flu Wiki's fully grown advice.
1. Don't panic.
2. Get into the habit of washing your hands 20 seconds hot water with soap or ethanol hand sanitizer; carry antiseptic wipes
3. Get into the habit of coughing/sneezing into the crook of your arm/sleeve or better yet, use tissue, not your hands; hands are a major means of spreading germs; virus lasts up to 48 hours on steel and plastic; 12 hours on cloth and paper.
4. Get a flu shot and if over 50 a pneumovax
5. Consider preparations to isolate yourself for about 3-6 months
6. Stock up on potable water and food with long shelf-life, water, medicines, basic household necessities (toilet paper, paper towels, plastic bags, tissues, plain bleach, soaps and detergents, batteries etc) masks, latex gloves, sugar, salt, multivitamins, and other staples

Don't panic...wash...sneeze into your sleeve...get shots...isolate for 3-6 months...stock up on staples...Wait. Three to six months? Forget food, I'm buying out the Tanqueray, and after an alcohol-soaked pandemic, my next stop is rehab. I'm just saying. There's more.
7. Accumulate vacation time
8. Make contingency arrangements with your workplace to be able to work from home if possible
9. Be prepared for essential services to be interrupted: see AlphaGeek's 5 part series on emergency preparedness and the Red Cross's Disaster planning booklets from the Pandemic Preparedness Guides page.

Lots of employers hang onto the so-twentieth-century concept that supervisors have to see white- and pink-collar employees for them to be working. Now would be an excellent time to re-think that age-old chestnut - while it won't cost lives and crippling insurance payouts. It's a thought.
10. Learn how to treat water to make it potable (or at least usable for washing) in case of interruptions of water supply link
11. If possible, start a vegetable garden and/or orchard
12. Learn basic cooking if necessary

Yes, it's necessary. What, you think you can have pizza delivered when people are dropping dead from contagious disease?
13. Get a clothesline and clothespins or folding drying rack
14. Put together a basic set of handyman tools and learn how to use them
15. Have a mobile phone and an email address; get high-speed computer access
16. Get a passport or other photo ID and credit card if you don't already have them; use electronic transactions preferentially
17. Save money; have cash on hand
18. Consider getting a good bicycle
19. Consider learning self-defense and acquire pepper spray and/or stun device
20. Ensure car(s) are in good working order, have good spare tires, maps, and keep car filled with fuel. Get a good fuel can for extra fuel
21. Remember that your car is a generator; all you need is a DC/AC inverter and cable (do not idle car in closed area where CO poisoning may occur)
22. Exercise regularly in order to strengthen your heart and lungs; taking care of your health now will benefit you later
23. If you smoke, stop now.

Well, that seems pushy, but they're your lungs, and if you want them to take a hit like a flu epidemic you're going to have to cushion the blow. Besides, if you haven't quit before an epidemic, the thought of jogging out to the 7-Eleven for smokes and praying no one coughs on you or YOU'LL DIE might help more than patches and pills.

Now, Flu Wiki's Personal Pandemic Preparation goes on for pages about precautions, warnings and actions to take and avoid. A lot of it sounds familiar, if tedious: living in a one-bedroom apartment, there's no way I can plant an orchard or plop down a 50-gallon water tank. If I filled my spacious living room floor to ceiling with canned goods I would still have to worry about serious vitamin deficiencies and people trying to procure said canned goods. So. Once, Trout and I and a friend of hers found stupid-cheap airfares and went off on a four-day jaunt to Ecuador. The Quito airport is located in the perilously steep Andes Mountains, and if you think you want to watch your pilot miss a landing and take a second try you are seriously mistaken. Ecuador is in many places a lovely country. I was very tall there, which should speak volumes about poverty and malnutrition. And in the cities, wrought-iron decorative touches around the homes of the middle- and upper-class came to very effective, spear-like points, intended to injure or kill potential intruders. The implications of these passive deterrents made a strong impression on me, since I've been lots of places and I've never seen anything like that.

If there's one thing I have great faith in it is our government's desire to see industries of all kinds continue functioning, and impediments to business removed. Our government, more so now than at any other time, probably regards the prospect of pandemic reaching our shores as an unacceptable development in international business relations more than a humanitarian crisis. For this reason alone, I suspect avian flu will not destroy us. Someone's got to collect the garbage - but not if all the proletarians are pushing up daisies.

On the one hand, it wouldn't hurt to have a few good flashlights, a case of chicken soup and a closet full of toilet paper and NyQuil. On the other, if I have to kill people to survive, I'm filling that water tank with martinis and sucking them out with a giant straw. Under these circumstances, we might all be "delicate flower[s]... to be snipped off and worn as a buttonhole by men of cruel wit and savage passions," who should nonetheless watch for everyone's hidden thorns.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

And You Shake It All About

I don't have a life like yours - unless I do - and I don't think like you think - unless I do - and I certainly don't have a home or family like yours - unless I do. Anything's possible. For instance, it could turn out we're exactly alike. I would love to do a project in which I make baseball cards of the humans born on the same date I was, in the same county, and I would like to do this because I wonder odd things like if they're having an astrologically dictated wild ride like mine, and if they elude capture. Stats:

Spouse(s): 1 (ex)
Children: 1 (current)
Arrests: 0
Major Illnesses: Is my insurance company listening?
Hobbies: Moving and unpacking, dating New Jersey, reading anything with punctuation.
Personal statement: "Where am I?"

And I'd like to know in a more certain sense if it is my job in this lifetime to watch what other people are doing and do something else. If ten people were born in Bergen County, NJ on 15 February, 1963 and all of them have not-found-in-nature-red hair and bejeweled slippers, that might be an interesting fact, I think. Unfortunately, that's not really the kind of information public servants are anxious to disseminate. This is, however:
In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.

Under your bed. Got it? The Onion's got our back:
A Perdue spokesman said the chicken will soon resume her duties pecking at grain and being oblivious to her future as a cordon bleu sandwich.

What a relief! The chicken's not sick and we can stock up on tuna as a precaution.

Listen, I am not a genius. Yesterday, I locked myself out of my house. I can't grocery shop without a first grader who can add and subtract. My brother-in-law tells me how to buy automotive coolant by color. Even so, every so often I have to stand up and be the Voice of Reason. Brace yourself.

The thing we're worried about is bird flu. Even if tunas take to eating birds, chances are pretty good buying tuna might still be possible if we have a bird flu epidemic. Maybe. In any case, if there's preemptive purchasing and stocking up to be done, shouldn't we stock up on perfectly healthy birds? How about a case of chicken soup? Maybe you'd prefer turkey? One of each? Frozen turkey breast? Frozen duck? For our vegetarian brethren, veggie stock and legumes? If you're worried that soon foul, you know, will be, lay some in now, some bottled water and don't panic. The worst thing that happens if there's no epidemic is you have delicious chicken soup.

If the epidemic comes here, that will be another story. I hope we can all behave in a patient and sensible manner, sharing our resources with the poor. It's hard to plan ahead for famine or plague when you can't feed your kids today. So maybe when you stock your own pantry you put by just a little extra for people who can't, and you drop that at a food bank near you if the avian flu empties our grocery stores.

Now, I'm returning you to your regularly scheduled enjoyment of my antics. Got your nose!

Loneliness That's the Killer

This morning, the sun was shining so though the news from the war was bleak and painful, I skipped to my car and drove to work, where I parked, pressed the button thingy to lock up and stared at the keys in my hand. After literally kicking myself, I walked the quarter mile to my building and announced to my earliest co-workers, "Listen, ye, to this tale of my astounding genius!"

Yesterday, Scout called me up, and we're going to call her "Scout" because "Miss Jean Louise" was a stretch for the little girl in the book, too. You should read that book, if you haven't, and afterward see the sobering and lyrical film. To Kill A Mockingbird was assigned in sophomore English but I'd already read and loved it so every night, I read the whole book. It's just one of those quirky things about me, and so is Scout. Though we have drifted in and out of one another's lives for more than twenty years, I still giggle like a teenager when she talks.

Scout: Hello, may I speak to Ta?
Tata: Scout! You've called my house.
Scout: Well, I don't know what's going on over there!
Tata: If anyone else answers and sounds like he's after your soul, that is my cat. Otherwise, you've dialed the wrong number.
Scout: Would you care to go outside for a fast-paced walk around the boro?
Tata: I would! Come over!

Twenty minutes later, Scout stands at my door with a bottle of wine, which I manage to open without stabbing myself. The wine breathes. I keep forgetting. Scout admires the shelves in my kitchen, the surviving planters, the tiny sprouts. We sit and talk on my terrible couch, drinking half a glass of wine before we put on our coats and march out into the streets, which however familiar is enchanted viewed by streetlight. We walk everywhere. We look at everything. We see koi in a pond and odd fountains. In the park near my house, we see a car parked and avoid it. We walk past my boss's house, which I told her today.

Tata: I walked past your house yesterday!
Gianna: You did? What was I doing?
Tata: I don't know! It's not like I pressed my nose against your kitchen window.
Gianna: No?
Tata: You have dogs.

You'd think that wouldn't be a surprise. Anyway, Scout and I walked all over the south side of town and looked at everything, including the shapes of houses I didn't remember seeing before. We chattered like magpies the whole time. It was so exciting! I pointed to a bench and sat on it to quit struggling with a point. Scout is on the path and understands what I am blathering - I mean, saying. We get up and walk the last mile back to my house and our glasses of wine. I unlock the door and toss my keys where I always toss them. I hang up Scout's coats in my coat closet, still chattering. By 9, we are all chattered out, and Scout walks home. My co-workers know Scout. It's a small town and Scout worked with us years ago. I regale my co-workers with this account of vigorous exercise and diverting conversation. Then I tell them the punch line: when we left the house, my keys were too heavy so I unclipped the house keys and when I came in, I forgot to clip them back on. When I left for work, I'd locked myself out of the house.

My co-workers, astounded by my astounding genius, howled and wiped tears from their cheeks.

Tata: Wanna drive getaway?
John: What?
Tata: I'm going to break into my apartment and my neighbors will somehow only see my legs sticking out of my window. Count on that!
John: Can you do that?
Tata: I lived in a house once that had remarkable architectural interest. One summer, it had no front door so we climbed through a window, which was nothing compared to the year our big old duplex house had no front porch. We learned to be flexible on notions such as "window" and "door".
John: So why do you need a getaway driver?
Tata: Just for fun. Once I get inside, I'm only leaving in cuffs. Still, it's a status thing. Do you have a getaway driver?
John: ...No...
Tata: I should make you a shopping list.

John's needs aside - because he's imaginary, as I've told all my co-workers - I also put in a call to my landlady's answering machine and called her the name of my last landlady. Since, you know, I needed her help staying out of the boro's one jail cell this was excellent strategy. She called back and could not restrain her mirth.

Landlady: Domenica hahahahahahahahahahahaha I'll meet you at 3:30 and hahahahahahaha let you in hahahahahahahahahahaha it's okay during the day but hahahahahahaha don't do it at night, that's a pain in the ass.
Tata: I' there.
Landlady: Hahahahahahahaha see you then.

At 3:30, she loaned me the complex's set of my keys and I clipped my own set back onto my car keys. Outside, the air was pleasantly warm and smoke from a brushfire in Edison clouded an otherwise blue sky. The birds and squirrels chattered and scampered exuberantly. Aside from chagrin caused by my astounding genius, it was just a really nice walk to return the keys.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

The House of Hope

A day is 24 hours, which can be stretched or condensed in the mind of a person but not in fact. You can get up early and stay out late, creating a 36 hour day that ends at sunrise. That is a trick of the mind. It is not real, even if you stayed awake so long you thought the giant bowling pin on Route 22 was a pink dinosaur. No. The dinosaur may appear to lick its lips and regard you as a tasty morsel, which you may well be. This is not real and you need some sleep because days are 24 hours long, and you should be asleep during at least some of them.

Yesterday, I spent four or five hours opening moving crates and boxes in my living room. A woman in Italy asked me for a piece for an anthology of Italian-American women writers. About a year ago, we discussed a piece I performed once ten or eleven years ago and never again, though I loved it. As a performance piece it was kind of prop-intensive, and the space had to be very clean, and the audience had to be mannerly. I don't know about your career as a performance poet, but mine was full of hard-fought victories for audience respect and attention and I liked it that way. So. Somewhere in my one-bedroom apartment the cue cards I need to turn this vague memory into glorious text sit in a pile of papers belonging to a previous Me - in fact, the unbearable previous Me - and though I threw away bags and bags of unbearable baggage, I did not find the cue cards.

In other news: I wish there were a museum to donate my reams and reams of posters to but nobody gives a shit about underground art in New Brunswick. The unbearable Me could be tax deductible, and somebody else could be responsible for minding the monster. Anyway, I was exhausted when I realized the cue cards weren't in the living room, and I rearranged the hall closet so I had an away to put things, and put them away I did, and finally I showered vigorously to slough off the weight of that old raging ego.

Horoscopically speaking, yesterday and today are the two days, possibly in my lifetime, when I should polish my shoes, comb my hair and get out to where random folks can admire me. No, really. My True Love will find me, and you could not be blamed for reading that and hearing the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride locute:
The Impressive Clergyman: Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam...
[cut to Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik]
The Impressive Clergyman: And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva...
[cut to the trio again]
The Impressive Clergyman: So tweasure your wuv.
Prince Humperdinck: Skip to the end.
The Impressive Clergyman: Have you the wing?
[cut to the trio once more]
Prince Humperdinck: Man and wife. Say man and wife.
The Impressive Clergyman: Man an' wife.

The last thing I need is admiration. It's like tasty crack to the psyche in recovery from a Rock Star Ego Problem. Fortunately, I was only going to the drug store to buy a bottle of wine and the security camera angles are deeply unflattering. Still, I can't even do this simple errand without incident.

Tata: Did you see that girl who was standing in front of me in line?
Cashier: Yes.
Tata: I was at the register in the front of the store but the line was very long, so I came here to the back. Most of the way through the store she was right behind me, and I mean - like - almost touching my back.

I demonstrate proximity by touching my back and laughing. The cashier fails Context Clues 101 and becomes alarmed.

Cashier: You must've been frightened!
Tata: What was she, 80 pounds? She didn't scare me, no. But then I turned the corner right there -

I point to a spot eight feet away.

Tata: - and she ducked around me and stopped here in front of me. She did not turn around and say, "Excuse me," or, "Terribly sorry but I'm having a fresh breath and false eyelash emergency." No, she stood with her back to me and bit her nails.
Cashier: Kids!
Tata: That reminds me: I should call mine. She could be having a false eyelash emergency and I might not even know!

Thus, I was in little danger of being needlessly admired.

My day seemed endless. I was supposed to go see a reunion of one of Ned's bands at the bar but I just didn't have the strength. Earlier, during a moment of must-think-about-something-other-than-myself blogsurfing, this caught my attention: on Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Mimus Pauly pointed to Scout Prime, who thanks someone else for finding this amazing video. It is a story I had not heard before, the kind of story that will make you proud and ashamed. These two men are the kind of people we all hope we could be under pressure. Few of us are. Their courage and resourcefulness on endlessly long days, day after day, are important in a coward-filled, violent world, and should be rewarded with positions of responsibility. These men are real heroes, deserving of real admiration. If I were Ray Nagin, I'd find these men, give them jobs and pay them double.

Ah, so maybe love found me after all.

Friday, March 24, 2006

In A World Full Of People Only Some Want To Fly

Every month or so, we hear of another design-inspired appearance of Jesus in a cheese sandwich or the Virgin Mary among bridge-and-tunnel girls. Most of the time, these images look to a tiny mind like mine like a Rorschach test. Sometimes I see the figure. Sometimes, it's PeeWee Herman. Sometimes, I get the feeling cracked plaster needs patching, sanding and a vigorous paint job. Try the Rustoleum.

I understand the desire to find God in all things. That's the basis of Stonehenge and the Bhagavad Gita. That's one reason for the prohibition against graven images and a fine reason to buy kids telescopes. A river carves the Grand Canyon, and if we believe in God, we see the energy and determination and patience of a great being. If we don't believe in God, we see pretty rocks and a tourist destination - or if we're creative: both. With each report of a manifestation of a member of Christianity's Holy Family in building supplies, some people would like to grab the earnest faithful by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. I'm roasting a duck.

It's Friday evening, and I've had a marvelous day. With a nap, the resignation of Ben Domenech and the company of a cranky pussycat, I feel content. A few days ago, I had a little extra pocket money and I ordered Seal's first CD. It arrived yesterday. I listened to it over and over today, soaking up the little nuances, the words, the waves of emotion, the big drums. This is my favorite album, and I've burned through four copies of it. At the worst moments of my life, I'd put it on and dance to it, and I've had a lot of really bad moments. I've danced a lot. This is when I feel closest to God or spirit or whatever you want to call it. It's probably dehydration.

Before I left for work this morning, I knocked over one of my planters and poured dirt on my kitchen floor. This made me more impatient than usual with myself. The planter broke. I have to replace it, and I hate the waste of money and a trip to Home Depot. Even so, in other pots, corriander and lettuce have sprouted. The other day, I installed the grow light on the ceiling to light all the pots. My kitchen is a little cramped now, but the tender shoots bring me only joy.

Despite a rigorous cleanup, the cat, recipient of my most patient care, tracks dirt everywhere. He's stretched out on the radiator, swishing his tail in response to reproaches and affectionate murmurings. There he is, a cat with feline leukemia, a symbol of my commitment, cranky arbiter of what is and what will be. I love him madly. There he is, God.

Thursday, March 23, 2006

Wake Up And Smell the Catfood

This rational man is telling you your worst fears are coming true. You must listen. There is only so much you can do to protect yourself. Do it now.

Not later. Not next week. Do it now. If you don't live in New Jersey, there must be an equivalent green energy provider. Find it now. Sign up.

Cross-posted to Running Scared and Blanton's & Ashton's.

Freedom From Choice Is What You Want

I hadn't heard from Daria for a couple, which is a highly unusual thought on any day not called Sunday, so I rang her up.

Tata: What am I, adopted?
Daria: I was just going to call you and shout, "What am I, adopted?"
Tata: What are you doing?
Daria: I have lost my mind! You know the benefit dinner/dance is this weekend, right?

Though we are as exactly alike as two completely different people can be, Daria has many talents I do not share, first and foremost of which is that she can organize and cater an event without any urge to poison her guests. Her older son is in first grade now, but he went to a school for pre-school and kindergarten where ordinary healthy children are intregrated into classrooms with deaf or disabled children. Daria loves this school and has organized its benefit dinners for several years, though her younger son is too little to start there.

Tata: No...what happened?
Daria: Friday, the principal was supposed to come pick up the money and he didn't and he didn't call. Monday, he said he was going to come pick up the money and he didn't and he didn't call again. Yesterday, he said he was going to come and he didn't. Today I hadda tell with him: "Listen, Fred, four days in a row you said you were coming and didn't and you didn't call. Are you coming here or not?" He said something had come up. I said, "Listen, Fred, I don't have a dog in this race. I'm doing it out of the goodness of my heart. Now get your ass out here and get the money!" And Mom asked if there was anything she could do to help so I told her to write place cards. Mom has that beautiful handwriting.
Tata: Mom has beautiful handwriting, yup...
Daria: She's coming out here today to write them. And my girlfriend Andie is coming over to make centerpieces. We're supposed to spraypaint them in the driveway. She's got three-year-old twins. I think we'll put them in the playroom.
Tata: That's busy. I don't know how you do it!
Daria: But listen, I haven't told you what happened yet.
Tata: No?
Daria: You know how I have spots on every floor of the house for Fifi to play while I work in the room? Yesterday, I put her down next to the Fisher-Price Noah's Ark. The phone rang, and I swear to you, I suddenly realized I did not know where I'd put her down. I ran from room to room, shouting her name. It was awful! I couldn't find her! My heart was racing, I ran back upstairs and asked the boys if they'd seen the baby and they hadn't so I threw the phone on the bed and went back to where I was when the phone rang.
Tata: And she was sitting there, asking herself if you're responsible for her education, right?
Tata: Have you considered a leash? On you?
Daria: My skin crawls, thinking about it.
Tata: Man, I can't wait until she can talk. "Mom! Mom! Over here. Ix-nay on the alpitating-pay."

Now I've pictured an afternoon of Fifi in a high chair with Cheerios while Mom writes dozens of place cards as three three-year-olds, which may be the legal definition of a gang, turn the playroom upside-down, while Daria and Andie spraypaint centerpieces and themselves in a stiff breeze, and I thank Kali I'm twenty miles away doing my own stuff which can't be all that productive. I'm writing and nibbling dry Grape Nuts and a sign of my brilliance: I keep dropping cereal down my bra at my desk, where I'm sure to co-workers I look like I'm engaged in a life and death struggle with my breasts and a crunchy snack.

Route 18 is under construction almost the entire length of its contact with New Brunswick, which was such a rotten idea the project was delayed 40 years. From my kitchen window on the other side of the river I can see the university boat club and the monolithic crane-like structure standing in the middle of the river. At all times of the day and night, I hear the bone-rattling crash of metal-on-metal but since 1997, I lived in three apartments between a trauma center helipad and a fire station, I can speak from personal experience: you can get used to noise you wouldn't wish on deaf neighbors. What you can't get used to is sudden and unexpected shifts in construction that result in unmoving traffic where an hour ago it was so quiet you could hear your own pulse.

I left my office to go to the orthodontist's office, where I am popular and loved by all because my teeth are ticklish, I make everyone laugh and never complain about the braces, ever. My teeth are straightening out nicely, where pre-braces the pressure gave me constant headaches. Sharkey cannot resist comment.

Sharkey: How are your teeth?
Tata: It's like the old joke:
Q: Does your face hurt you? No? Because it's killing me!

Sharkey: Your face is killing me.
Tata: You love me. And you can't stand it!
Sharkey: I'm totally immune to you, woman!
Tata: Sacrilege! The gods might hear you and send a plague.
Sharkey: You are a plague.
Tata: I am the Plague That Remembers Your Birthday. Here's a gift-wrapped yo-yo.

There are two stretches of highway area natives avoid: Route 18 anywhere in New Brunswick and Route 1 between Sears and the Woodbridge Mall. Siobhan refers to it as "the permatraffic." Even so, there's no straight line between my job and orthodontia that does not involve Routes 1 and 18 unless one travels Route 27, which has stop lights every quarter mile through two towns. In other words, I get into my car and psychically picture which highways are going to frustrate me most. Then I go the other way. I was stupid. I picked Route 18. My fifteen minute drive turned into forty-five.

When one consults Mapquest or Google Maps, one gets driving directions and an estimated drive time. Often, Jersey directions come with a laughable estimate. Ten miles = twenty minutes. I don't know about where you live. Where I live, if there's a university ball game, stay out of your car. No good can come of getting mixed up in that nonsense, and on good days, if Mapquest says 20 minutes, you should at least double that. On bad days, triple it and keep adding. No errands for you! And all of this would be far more tolerable if there were mass transportation but there isn't. You go, or don't. Whaddya want?

I finally inched my way into the jughandle behind the empty Mac Trucks building, which will forever be called "Mac Trucks" by natives, as in:
Q: Where'd you go?
A: Pathmark by Mac Trucks. You know.

Yes, these are Jersey directions, distinguished by reports of progress and ethnic migration.

Ernie: The wife and I went to the flea market for tube socks and farmer cheese.
Bert: The Two Guys? Or out by Flemington?
Ernie: In Old Bridge, the Two Guys. The old quarry.
Bert: Swimming hole. By the dump.
Ernie: The Hungarians used to picnic out there. Good sausage.
Bert: What about the Italian guy with the ice cream truck?
Ernie: So while we were there we picked up the 1967 National Geographic to complete our collection.

I sat in that block-long jughandle, watching my appointment time pass, then ten more minutes, then I noticed things about the other drivers. The woman in the Honda behind me was planning a bloody coup. The woman driving the SUV in front was reading the newspaper. She was reading the freaking newspaper! I couldn't do anything except punch the pre-sets left by Daria and Tyler when they gave me the car. When I finally got to the orthodontist's office, a tech told me her twenty minute commute took two hours on Tuesday. Then I apologized for being late. Each person I apologized to said, "That's nothing. Yesterday, Namdi's commute took two hours!" So apparently, my tardiness was not so bad.

After ten minutes, I got back in my car.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

With Me On A Magic Carpet Ride

Monday through Friday, I get up, velcro on wrist weights and exercise for half an hour with Gilad Janklowicz on FitTV. Then I peel off the weights, sit down in a bendy pose that would injure most Western adults, shuffle my tarot cards and ask two questions. Ordinarily you might think, "Am I beeeyoootiful?" and "Where're Italian pumps on sale?" but not so fast. My two questions are, "What is my work today?" and "Who do I have to be to do it?" Then as answers, I hope for "win a million dollars" and "be a cute Belgian."

Today, I drew the Five of Discs and Death, reversed. I'm working with the Motherpeace deck, which has round cards. Most decks have rectangular cards. All types of tarot decks work on the subconscious and what you already know, but different types have different degrees of positive and negative connotations. Some are outright wicked. I stick to the Motherpeace because it's the only deck I have and the one I had before pretended not to know me when other people were around. So the Five of Discs means my job today is keeping my hands busy against worry, and to do it I have to be willing to let something large and serious go and go in peace. I think. Either that, or baking could be fatal. So I'm good.

Yesterday, I drew Two of Cups as my work and for being, two cards came up in my hand: Two of Swords/Temperance, both reversed. Fabulous. All three cards individually are about balance; two also are about union, two about patience. The three cards kind of overlap. I thought: great! No time like the present for upside-down-loving me.

As job #2, I go to a house, make up beds, do two loads of laundry and wash up some dishes The owners of the house are enduring a cancer incident, Essentially, they pay me for the laundry. I do the rest because they are good people, and completely helpless - for now. Someday, they'll return to scandalizing the neighborhood and having parties where we all search for one another's pants the next morning. In the meantime, I empty the dishwasher. Yesterday, between loads, I drove to the new Franklin Township Public Library, right next door to the old Franklin Township Public Library, where the food bank had a drop off barrel. Last time I went there the joint was closed. There was a sign about a grand opening. I decided then I didn't want to get emotionally involved so I'd come back in a few weeks. So yesterday, I turned up and the new place was open.

As soon as I opened the trunk I knew I was in for it. Soup cans rolled everywhere. I gathered up one grocery bag and tied it securely. The second was harder. As the humans go, I'm small. I'd be large for a lemur, but for a human, I'm small and lack a fixed idea of which end is up. Dialogue from a time long past:

Ken: I see now. The reason legs are always photographed like this the long lines look longer upside-down.
Barbie: Of course. And you just like my legs up in the air.
Ken: Preferably around my neck, yes.

Even longer ago, back in the sepia-toned sixties, Mom used to look up from washing the dishes and find me walking across the top of the swingset or hanging by knees five feet off the ground. If you ask, she has no idea how many times she ran down the back steps, warbling, "Dooooomenicaaaaaaaaa, don't moooove...!" In the library parking lot, I found my trunk was bigger than was sensible. I grabbed most of the stray cans and stuffed them into a grocery bag. Two cans of chicken noodle were just beyond the tips of my fingers. I leaned into the trunk, balancing on a point just below my hip bones and nudged one can to where I could grab it. I leaned a little further, balancing on my hips and one hand. Suddenly, I realized there's a car in the library parking lot with little old lady legs flying around in sensible shoes. I grabbed the last soup can, tied up the second bag and marched into the library in front of an older man who looked more worried each time I burst out laughing.

Turns out the food bank doesn't stop at the library anymore. Consequently, neither will I.

Monday, March 20, 2006

A Circuit With Me

When I got home from Job #2 tonight, I didn't feel much like eating but - you know - you gotta, so I microwaved something and ate it with a spoon. I think it was pepper steak leftover from last night. Sense my enthusiasm.

This morning, I was trying to think of someone I could trick into doing stuff for me. I called Mom. Mom screens.

Tata: Most people are still in bed at this hour but I'm at my desk and pigs are flying so if you're there, pick up.
Mom: Good morning. Who's this?
Tata: I am your eldest child. We go waaaaay back.
Mom: You're right! What are you doing?
Tata: I'm at the library, cancelling journals and destroying the dreams of publishers everywhere. What are you doing?
Mom: I'm pouring myself a cup of coffee. Later, I will eat a banana. After that, I'll shower.
Tata: What do you want to do all that for?
Mom: The spirit of international cooperation? Then I'll spend my day doing choir business, then there's choir practice. That's my day.
Tata: I'd like you to abandon your stuff and do mine.
Mom: You would, would you? What is this "stuff" of which you speak?
Tata: Please stop whatever you're doing and put down the banana. Then please go to my bank for savings bond forms. I need dozens. It takes weeks to fill them out and my brother and sisters show few signs of resisting their spouses - at least those without restraining orders.
Mom: When do you need them by?
Tata: What? You're not going to the bank! I'm not really asking!
Mom: When do you need them by?
Tata: Christmas.
Mom: Domenica Penelope Josephine -
Tata: ...Um, those are Daria's middle names...
Mom: What's your middle name again?
Tata: Frances.
Mom: Really?
Tata: ...Yes...
Mom: After my grandmother.
Tata: Some names are better the first time around. You gave me used names.
Mom: It's traditional.
Tata: It's tired.
Mom: Well! Why do you need those forms now?
Tata: Because it's springtime and the sooner I buy the bonds the sooner they begin accruing interest.
Mom: Are these for Christmas? You mentioned that before.
Tata: Yes, and for the kids' birthdays next year.
Mom: For 2007? What happened to this years' birthday bonds?
Tata: The parents of these children have them.
Mom: Why do you buy them now?
Tata: Tax refund. Otherwise I can't afford December.
Mom: That's so practical!
Tata: I thought you'd like my system. You know, I tell you this every spring. But I have to go now.
Mom: You do? Why?
Tata: I'm thinking I might trick Anya into locking up the store, walking across the street and picking up my bond forms. I mean, shoot. What's she doing for Me, after all?
Mom: Did you buy her a birthday gift?
Tata: Gotta go. I have to trick Corinne into buying Anya a birthday gift.

I'm so considerate it scares me! However do I do it? I bet I could be even more considerate if I mastered hypnosis.

Sunday, March 19, 2006

Some Place So High Above This Wall

This afternoon, the sun is shining. It's cold and breezy. I took down my grandmother's heavy drapes in my living room and put up gently striped tawny sheers. Soft, golden sunlight fills my living room, now a place of optimism and possibility. Winter is so over at my house.

Well, except in my kitchen. I'm having trouble putting up shelves for my plant pots. Apparently, one-third of the time, I'm too stupid to drill holes at a proper distance and since I intended to install six shelves, that's too much stupid for my taste. I had to put this aside for a time when I feel smarter and I hope it's soon because I also couldn't unlatch my car's hood this morning. Granted, I've seen the mechanic struggle with the same latch but it's a latch. I'm supposed to struggle with the latch, and then open the hood and fix something but I did and didn't, so apparently outside isn't all that inspiring, either.

I've got bandaids. What do you think will happen when I medicate the cat?

Saturday, March 18, 2006

A Little Birdhouse In Your Soul

Last week, a librarian sashayed past me on her way elsewhere.

Librarian: Is your dad going to be in a movie?

I froze, then I started walking backward toward her.

Tata: Why do you ask that?
Librarian: I'm on his mailing list.
Tata: His what?
Librarian: He's very entertaining!
Tata: Once, he and I drove out to Morgantown, West Virginia for a writers conference. I tried stabbing him with a pink highlighter - I MEAN - I directions for illiterate paramedics! He's so bad! He's so bad!

When she stopped wiping tears from her eyes, our Librarian returned to the heroic business of Finding Stuff. It's harder than you think because government documents could be anywhere. Ask Fawn Hall!

Every three or four months, someone posts in's comments Chris Poppe's fantastic photographs from Poor Impulse Control's main site. Do you like those faces? I dreamed 'em up and Paulie Gonzalez and I found Chris in the bar one night.

Tata: Dude, I want to make this website and I need some pictures.
Chris: Oh yeah?
Tata: Let us buy you six beers and explain the concept. [Cue the harps] I saw it in a dweeeeeam...

Eighteen beers later -

Chris: Gaaaaaaaaaaah.
Tata: We'll take tha assss a yesshh.
Paulie: Bartendeler! Another round of Newark's finessht!

Listen, I can barely take pictures if I steal them but some folks have a gift. These photographs still make my heart flutter and skip beats. I want people to see them, and every few months thanks to Fark, a few thousand more people do. Hey Farkers! Thanks! A person can find anything on the net, and you found me. Congratulations. I think.

I love blogging and loudly encourage artists of all kinds to take it up. Thus, I found myself leaving a message at Nancy Pelosi's D.C. office just before noon. You may recall I broke up with the lovely Nancy - alas! - but I wasn't dialing up an ex for some afternoon delight, no. I hate that song. Madame Nancy's backing the wrong pony, where bloggers are concerned. I spoke up for free speech. Get the lowdown, then get on the phone. Be nice! Just because it didn't work out doesn't mean we can't be civil.

I wonder how Dad's audition went.

Friday, March 17, 2006

When the Wrong Word Goes In the Right Ear

I. The Bible in Recipes

Genesis: Arrange a salad of baby greens, chaos and tomatoes. Set aside and prepare a dressing of wine vinegar, dry mustard and struggle with a barren land. Kill whatever crosses your path or it will kill you. Marinate.

Exodus: On flatbread, assemble: yogurt, chives, sauteed ground lamb. Garnish with fresh, local herbs. Do not use beef.

Leviticus: Sweat onions, carrots, celery in a stock pot until soft; add sliced herbs, sliced meat, sliced vegetables. Whatever you do, don't argue where the soup can hear you.

Numbers: Make cocktails before guests arrive. History proves: everyone loves a good host.

Deuteronomy: Baking is too complicated for most of us but cake is delicious.

II. Sometimes Love Is Not Enough

If you'd paid any attention you'd know I know: I never mattered to you, and there was nothing wrong with me.

How many years have I sung your name?

Thursday, March 16, 2006

God Money Let's Go Dancing On the Backs Of the Bruised

Via Body And Soul: Bush's Fake Aid.
...the MCC [Millennium Challenge Corporation] was dominated by a pro-business orientation. In fact, buried in the MCC's own charter is a statement committing the program to "achieve market-driven economic growth." A review of the program's compacts reveals that the MCC has favored projects closely linked to the private sector - especially those that benefit commercial deals and investors. Rather than funding projects that directly aid the poor - building schools and hospitals, providing electricity and clean water to rural villages - the MCC takes a trickledown approach.

It gets worse.
Poor nations are being told, in effect, that projects won't be considered for funding unless they can generate a profit. "Every indication they get from the MCC is that this is about economic growth," says Asma Lateef, senior policy analyst for the aid organization Bread for the World. "You have to yield economic rates of return in three to five years." But for many impoverished nations, such profitability is simply impossible. "In such poor countries, you're not going to be able to guarantee things like economic growth," says Patrick Cronin, a former U.S. AID official who helped create the MCC. "You might lose money [on projects like health and education], but you'll help people. But if you're used to making investments, you may be biased toward that instead."

I hate being the Voice of Reason, but just this once I'll say this calmly, teeth gritted but I'm calm. Ready? Here goes.

If the poor could turn a profit they wouldn't be starving to death. Further: if helping the poor were a profitable endeavor everyone would do it. For profit.

Read the whole article. And no shortcuts. I've got a chandelier to swing from and you can bet your boots when I get back there'll be a quiz.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Things Are Gonna Get Brighter
Raskin: "Senator, when you took your oath of office, you placed your hand on the Bible and swore to uphold the Constitution. You did not place your hand on the Constitution and swear to uphold the Bible."

I'm too tired to explain why I love this and all white-hot truthtelling in the face of bullies and bigots. Maybe someone could explain to me why Lost is in repeats.

Tuesday, March 14, 2006

IV. I Will Show Another Me


I don't know why some people are so keen on having families and talking about families and how much they love their families and that they protect their families. What the hell. In the last five years, adults forgot how much they hated being inmates in their parents' penal colonies but can't wait to become brutal jailors themselves. Geez. You can tell Auntie InExcelsisDeo sent out elaborate invitations to that bridal shower I can't skip without risking my life, can't you? Though I have a couple of months to start drinking, at least now I don't have to show any imagination of knowledge of the bride-to-be now that shower gifts are strictly regulated by Bed, Bath & Beyond.

On Friday, the family celebrates Anya's and Corinne's birthdays in an Irish pub in Somerville. We're going to throw money at dancing children and sing songs we learned in the womb and suffer predictably when bagpipes play in small, enclosed places. Anya's and Corinne's birthdays are the holiday we celebrate with green beer and hearing loss. Here's the thing: today's Tuesday and I don't know what to get them yet. Besides earplugs.

So I dragged into the apartment bag after bag of vegetables, gardening supplies and problem-solving doohickeys and after four trips there was nothing to do but march myself back out to the car and try carrying the box. When I was able to slide the box out of the back seat, lean it against my thighs and walk it into the house I almost dropped it in surprise. But now that I'd carried the giant, heavy thing I didn't think I could there was - officially - nothing I couldn't do. I cut open the box and lay the pieces out on my living room floor. The directions were mostly pictures and on several pages, poorly descriptive. I was overjoyed. A good puzzle!

Hours later, the hardest assembly step was the one that should have been effortless: four screws, two hinges. After staring at the picture that made no sense I put the hinges on backwards, then slapped my forehead and took them apart. Currently, the door sits on my bathroom floor where I can't break the glass. Probably. I may not be done staring at it with joy and despair. Last night, I started pulling bath and shower stuff out of the hall closet and putting things away in the cabinet. I folded towels and put them into drawers. It dawned on me that although I need another cabinet, and will buy one down the road, I can take other steps to get my house in order.

They will certainly involve cat toys.

III. Watched By Empty Silhouettes


Today, we are roughly halfway through the public comments period for the National Forest Service's reckless and ill-conceived massive land sale, which I see as a star in the constellation that is our current administration's criminal activities. You can still write to the National Forest Service and tell them to find a thoughtful way to fund rural schools. Or you can hear what I do in the Blogosphere: ...crickets...crickets...

Tough room.

After I stuffed the vegetables into my car's trunk, I was out of my house already so I drove to Casa de Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm), where no one answered my knock at the door. I stuffed his Hanukkah presents between the inner and outer doors and drove off in the general direction of my place. Since vegetable shopping was such a rousing success, I pressed my luck and followed the farm roads to Home Depot for a sopping wet cart and indoor gardening supplies but I didn't find everything I needed. I drove 100 yards to Target, where environmentalists should've lined up to slap me, and found another dripping cart. That's three for three!

I shop to solve problems, and solve problems I did. I needed a casserole for the vegetables and fish I steam every morning, and I found a passable bit of Corningware. I needed wine glasses because I'd smashed the last one months ago and have been drinking out of jelly jars. Because I had some. I needed small shelves on which to sit my little kitchen garden pots because I haven't learned to levitate. I needed a free-standing cabinet for the bathroom because I'm sick of looking at that pile of boxes in the living room which I can't put away because the closet's full so there's no away to put things. Target had one. I've looked online all over the place and cabinets have been too big or expensive or beyond fugly. This one was simple, clean and less than $90. The cabinet would be sturdy once I built it, and I was sure of this because when I dropped it on my right hand I yelped and bled all over the place.

What? Nobody noticed. It's Target. People walk through Target with these marvelous blank looks on their faces. It's like a casting call for George Romero movies, minus the prop sausage. I picked up cat treats because why not?

In line at register 12, I was gleeful. My many problem-solving purchases formed a long line of optimistic ideas for my tiny home and carefully redesigned life. My cashier was a tall young man - right out of high school, I would've guessed. When he finished with the previous customer, I immediately began babbling.

Tata: Okay okay okay I get very nervous when I'm in the store because because I seldom spend money on myself, though you can see I spend piles on my cat. He's very interesting, my cat, but in any case, I don't do things like buy polka dotted soup bowls that later I'll run from room to room with and try different colors next to because they excite me but see, there's this one problem.
Target Guy: What's that?
Tata: I can't lift this thing here but I really really want it. I want it very much. I don't know how I'm getting it into the car because I - like - injured myself getting it off the shelf but it makes me really happy. I want it.

He brightened up. In fact, he went from distracted to interested.

Target Guy: We'll get someone to put it in the car for you.
Tata: You're my new best friend!
Target Guy: Go pull your car around and I'll put it in your car.

Yes. Only dogs and Flipper heard that.


II. I've Come To Take You Home


It's easy to forget we haven't been blogging all our lives and that we're working in a new medium. The limits for the medium have yet to be established and adventurers have created new forms of blogging right and left; one of my favorites is the artist blog. I read quite a few of them, and refer to my favorites all the time. It has been my great good fortune that their authors turn up in comments and I follow them back to - goddess help me - blogs so brilliant and fluid I should be ashamed to address their humans by their first names. Vanx's Verb-Ops is a sterling example of what is possible through blogging that would not have been in any other form before except performance art. There's an old joke.

Q: How many performance artists does it take to change a light bulb?
A: I don't know, I left.

I felt the same way about college. It was possibly short-sighted of me to think interdisciplinary degrees weren't just my cool idea but that other people would agree and let me learn what I needed to learn to make the kind of art I was already making successfully, and if I didn't love the program in my head I could go to grad school later. Ah, so it goes. In a classroom, I'm a wrecking ball, so it's probably just as well I dropped out. Twice. Anyway, what Vanx is doing with his blog is what grad school should be like. I want him to go teach little children they're already artists, and I know he can do it because - if you can believe it - I already have.

There's a program in New Jersey called Artists In Education. You apply. You are interviewed. You are seen not to be a public menace. I did all this, though I was in a very angry frame of mind at the time. Why they accepted me, I have no idea. I showed up for the interview with a 2 liter bottle of Diet Coke and with my underwear as outerwear; you would've thought they'd close the schools as I approached. No, the Arts Council sent me to I think four or five schools for four days apiece. I have a great deal to say about the evil that is the bad teacher and the marvel that is the good teacher, but that's not the point.

In one classroom in a grammar school I don't remember there was a little boy who did not speak. I was there with another artist to coach the third graders through writing poems. Most children don't really need all that much pushing and will readily join you in writing of any kind. I spent a little while with this little boy, Alex. His teacher warned me off, saying he wasn't going to write or talk, so I went back to him with crayons and encouraged him to draw a picture of something he liked. Then I moved on to some of the other kids. When I came back to Alex, I found this:
Alex's 3-1 November 1993

If a person was two go out on a boat and Ride on the shinng sea and ruf waves to go fishing for fish crabs and lobster. If I was to Ride a boat I would have to Ride the dark sea.

summer spring fall winter

I can't stress this enough: his teacher was shocked. A photocopy of this beautiful thing hangs in my cubicle in the library. I wonder where Alex is now but I am not sure I really want to know, since a person responsible for his care had so little faith in him.

We are emissaries from a possible future. We only seem to be here now.


Monday, March 13, 2006

I. My Heart's Goin' Boom Boom Boom

He drags tissue paper to the black sheepskin on the zebra print couch. When I hear mild crunching, I can't see the source but neither do I expect to. He's also dragged tissue behind the futon so when My Little Predator is on the crunchy prowl in the wee hours I'm not dialing 911 and searching my apartment with a big, big knife. So this evening, I noticed the rustle emanating from this new location and grabbed the disposable camera instead of the cleaver.

I'm making a concerted effort to take pictures of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. Time is passing not just for me but for others as well, which I often foolishly forget. Every day, I suppose Mom and Grandpa bicker, three of my sisters and my brother look into the eyes of their small children and see the past and future without seeing that instant; every day, Siobhan and I compare notes in person, over the phone or via email. Little things happen each day. We are intent on them or not. It is possible to regard each day as a chance to change the world. Suppose I plant basil in my kitchen and to my great joy my home is perfumed with the sweet earthiness of growing plants and the verdant sensuality of living basil. It is a small thing but the world is now different by the power of one person, basil and joy. So I went shopping.

I hate shopping.

The key to my hating less the shopping nightmare is to go when the other humans are distracted by something else, like sleep, work and hangovers. Since I don't sleep, work is many things but not on Sundays and I didn't happen to go hog-wild Saturday night, on Sunday morning, I hemmed. I hawed. If I had a watch, I'd have tapped it impatiently. Then showered and got into my car in pouring rain, which was still pouring when I got out and picked a soaking-wet carriage which remained soaking wet the whole time I was dropping vegetables into it, so it was like being in the shower with real raspberries and honeydews and bags I can't open. This place is usually a Lite-FM mosh pit and navigating the aisles with a small cart requires great tenacity. I think my strategy of showing up when other people clearly know better is a good one when I only have to apologize for bumping someone or something about a dozen times, and I get to the register and find no line! I mean no line at all. Cashier hoping to talk to me and everything. I looked around for Alan Funt.

When it wasn't an ambush, I handed the cashier money, buttoned my raincoat and swam to my car with my flotilla of fresh vegetables.


Saturday, March 11, 2006

Turn the Beat Around

Wednesday morning, my hair was unbearably frizzy and the formerly blond parts were Big Bird-yellow. Unfortunately, everywhere I go I bring my head, so I walking around my office with my head when my co-worker Emily asked if I knew Matt had been in the hospital for two weeks. I said, "I didn't know that...huh...I gotta go use my head to make some calls."

New Brunswick and the surrounding towns are actually one big small town. If we were all celebrities, Emily would be our Hedda Hopper. Emily knows all, remembers everything and everybody. When I think about it, the local paper should have a Batphone to her house and a signal light beaming her unusual hairstyle against the clouds, and four out of five articles should have accurate histories with the citation "according to Emily". If it did I might even read that rag again, which I seldom read when it wrote about me weekly and not even on the Police Blotter. So it was confusing that Emily was weeks behind on events and not because I was keeping secrets.

Half an hour later, all the usual information sources compared notes. Matt works in the mail room and is a prog rock show promoter. I've known his wife Jan since she was in kindergarten with my brother Todd. Jan is a dedicated and skillful poet. Jan and Matt have a very young son. Our lives have intersected in many ways and places and times. Her friends are my friends and few people knew much of anything. I'd marched over to the mail room where a gentleman who used to work with my mother told me he didn't know much of anything and I should call Mary. Mary, it turned out, was chasing Matt and Jan with the fireman's net. It also turned out Matt had had a cut, it got infected, then the infection went to his lungs a week ago and he almost died. Matt was in Intensive Care, Jan was completely freaked and Mary was the only thing between Jan, the little boy and total disaster.

Mary explained everything to me several times and each time the story changed because so much had happened so rapidly that she simply hadn't absorbed it all. I said, "Look, I don't know how you've handled all this." Fortunately, Mary and I see the funny in everything.

Tata: Break it down for me, Hot Mama.
Mary: Matt's doctors are shocked he lived. I'm babysitting tomorrow night. The mailroom guys are going at lunchtime, the door guy is going after work. Matt wasn't up to visitors but you could go see him now.
Tata: Why doesn't anybody know anything?
Mary: Jan was so overwhelmed by how fast the situation escalated she didn't even call the mailroom for three days. So I called and told them what I knew, which was nothing. Nobody knew anything.
Tata: So...the art chicks are in the dark, is that it?
Mary: Yup, far as I know.
Tata: Damn it!

That means a casserole. You know the rules! Tragedy strikes, but everyone's gotta eat, so you cook something. You can't cheat and buy a lasagna at Costco because everyone's got dietary restrictions now and goddess forbid there's peanut oil in anything because people drop dead. You're not comforting anyone in anaphalactic shock, I'll tell you that! You might as well bake cupcakes for the paramedics. So the first thing I did was email Julienne in California for advice.

Tata: She's a vegetarian with lactose issues. He's a little boy who eats everything. What do I make?

Nobody tell my relatives I asked a friend for a recipe because there'll be weeping and rending of garments! Usually in questions food related I go to Dad and seldom to anyone else, but in this case I just wanted to chat with my friend, whom I assumed was sitting very still. Julienne's so completely pregnant she could give birth answering the phone. I'm embarrassed to ask her to open her note files and take shallow breaths long enough to concoct a plan but of course I'm selfish.

Julienne: ... ... ...

[Two pages later.]

Julienne: ... ... ... You can do it! I'm off to the vegan sushi place! A bientot!
Tata: Thanks! What?

Julienne was gracious enough to bring her considerable knowledge to bear on my small problem and nothing else after lunch, and first thing the next morning. By Thursday afternoon, I was saying to strangers, "I'm going to make a casserole," in a minor panic. My hair was getting taller with terror and humidity. By Thursday afternoon, I had given up any hope of conversation or frizz control. I went home, napped briefly and had scary dreams.

Miss Sasha: Guess what guess what! Mom, I am sosososososo happy! My friend and I are having the best day EVER and we got grants and rented a store front and it's got great foot traffic and we're opening a business.
Tata: Obviously, I'm having a terrible dream. Sweetheart, watch out for the giant squid.
Miss Sasha: Mommy! Wake up! This is real!

It was like my three-tone curly hair had become sentient and decided my face was Captain Nemo. I wrestled my hair into hairband and set up brown rice to cook with bay leaves and cloves. Brown rice takes 45 minutes if you read the directions but that's an awful lot like reading a manual so if I hadn't memorized that in the seventies I'd never know. I still wasn't sure I'd be able to cook for Jan so I sliced root vegetables: carrots, turnip, parsnip. Then onions, celery and Chinese eggplant. I marinated tofu in soy sauce and garlic. Soon, the timer for the rice buzzed and I faced the moment of truth.

I cook just fine for myself. As soon as there's a group involved I have stage fright. Something burns. Something's undercooked. My stir-fries resemble sautes and somewhere in the vast and growing history of Poor Impulse Control is a story about how when stress and grief enter the picture, you'd rather I point a gun at you than wield a pudding. I can't find that story now. You're just going to have to trust me on that one. So my rice is done, my vegetables sit in careful groupings and it's now or never. I pull down a giant frying pan, jack up the gas and pour in some olive and sesame oils. Minced garlic. Sliced carrots. Turnip. Parsnip. Give them a minute. Onion. Eggplant. Give them a minute. Fresh ginger. Tofu. Soy sauce. More garlic. When I turn off the gas, I'm a little shocked.

The rice pours into a foil tray. I pour the stir fry on top and cover it with foil. There's nothing to do but drag the tray and some homemade pickles to the car and drive over to Jan's and Matt's, where Mary's babysitting. So...I do it. Mary knows in person and alone I might ring the doorbell, perch the tray on the porch and climb back in my car. Before My fingertip leaves the doorbell, Mary's pulled open the solid inner door and handed me the coordless phone.

Tata: What...?
Mary: That's Matt.

I'm shocked speechless and the signal keeps cutting out.

Tata: Matt?
Matt: Hey.
Tata: How are you?
Matt: I'm lucky to be talking to you.
Tata: Are you...Matt, how are you?
Matt: I'm feeling a lot better.

If you can stand it, I have nothing to say! Nothing! This is Matt's second brush with death in the last year. Moreover, I can barely hear Matt talk and I hate missing a syllable. I jump up and down in the kitchen to hear him better. I tell him to forget everything but healing up and hand the phone back to Mary.

In the living room, Jan's and Matt's son and Mary's daughter run around shouting like healthy kids. I watch them, happy. My stage fright has not just dissipated it's evaporated. I'm elated. I'm small and nothing here, humbled by my own fear and how unimportant it is. Mary and I do half an hour of morale-boosting team comedy before I bug out and drive home.

Today, Rosana slew the monster and dyed my hair back to fabulous black cherry red.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Parchesi? Charades? Spur-Of-the-Moment Scavenger Hunt?

Depth charge for the rational mind: the super-duper-adorable panda kindergarten.

My heart grew three sizes. I soaked it in hot water and tossed it in the dryer.

Thursday, March 09, 2006

Drifting, Falling, Floating Weightless

Dear Americans,

How are you? Feeling well? Good, good. How's your Mom? Up to snuff? Glad to hear it. Nice. Nice.

We have a problem.

If you know me, dated, married or lived with me, you know that I cannot add and subtract. In my adorably coiffed head, numbers are shapes and colors and covered with papier mache and filled with helium. I compensate for not being able to do this crucial thing kindergarteners can by mentally fitting together shapes, colors, forms and gases. This is what it sounds like:
...turkey cutlets are right-triangle right-triangle and I have a coupon for minus right-triangle so that's right-triangle...kitten chow with the coupon is right-triangle, together they are square: 5 dollars...
It's not foolproof, what with tax and store discounts and my microscopic attention span, but fool that I am, I can sometimes see how things will add up and turn out.

Pretend we're - millions of you and tiny, old me - walking through the produce aisle with $12.77 in our pockets. We think as clearly as we can about how shapes, colors, forms and gases come together. We can do it! Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables but it is often expensive, though a grocery store bundle is usually about a pound, which I can stretch into several meals. That's good and thrifty - if I can afford the blue right-triangle the asparagus will cost. Artichokes may be isoceles-triangle, and I'd get two, forming right-triangle, which would be two whole meals for me. So we - millions of you and tiny, old me - carefully pick from our dark, leafy greens, knotty root vegetables, firmest fruit and berries, fragrant herbs and fit together two squares - $10 - and approach the Express Checkout with ten nourishing items or fewer to sustain us for several days, in conjunction with staples we have at home. We even have a little change to drop in the Humane Society tin at the Courtesy Counter, because in real life, we are most prosperous when we live gently and passionately, and share.

Still, I can be a doofus, and sometimes I get distracted by some new confit or fleshy scallops. No one is sensible all the time! Certainly not I. However, we need to examine our current shopping bill, and I'm going to try helping you.

1. Our troops in Iraq are stretched thin and inadequately equipped. The engagement has not gone as expected by the Pentagon, and it threatens to go on indefinitely. Many soldiers have been retained in stop-loss programs and some branches of the service have relaxed recruitment criteria.

2. Medical care is better, so greater numbers of soldiers survive more serious injuries than ever before, leading to a greater number of disabled veterans. This has become so financially draining an aspect of the Iraq war that the Veterans Administration is cutting medical benefits to the surviving veterans, including counseling for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

3. Last summer, a major American city was virtually destroyed. Thousands of Americans cannot yet return home and thousands more will never be able to. The economic consequences of the hurricane to all Americans will take decades to tabulate.

4. Engaging foreign companies of any nation whatever to safeguard our ports is financially silly and the stuff nightmares are made of. You wouldn't give the keys to your house to a stranger; say this with me slowly, "Why am I handing over the keys to my entire country?"

5. As jobs are outsourced to foreign shores, middle-aged and older workers are losing health insurance and having a harder and harder time finding jobs to make ends meet. We are now a nation of individual debtors, one health crisis from bankruptcy we can't declare anymore, with an aging population whose pension funds are increasingly tanking.

6. Our federal budget deficit is gigantic, and growing at a pace that should alarm each and every one of us. The war has been financed by loans from China, among other nations holding the notes. Our debt to China alone should keep us awake at night, but that's by no means the only one.

7. We are thirty years late on getting off that oil habit.

Now, I want you to fit these shapes, colors, forms and gases together. It's not easy, I know. When I fit them together, I see a monster floating toward us aimlessly. It's gigantic, colorful, rock-hard and we can see it from a distance. Still, we sit here and do nothing to prevent ourselves from being crushed by it.

Now, behind this thing is an even larger thing in the distance, hard to make out because its edges blur, and the sunlight seems to have gone a little gray. This larger thing is War with Iran. The first thing we need to observe is the cost to our military, the human beings who protect our nation every day of our lives. The military cannot double in size, cannot afford to draft and equip the force it would require to conduct war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. It cannot be done.

The human toll on our nation would not be recoverable. We cannot destroy an entire generation of Americans, as this war would. Well, we could destroy it, but we would have to be suicidal to do so. Who do you think would fight? Not your children? Precisely your children. They're teens now? Perfect! Pre-teens? Even better.

What is the purpose of War in Iran? To prevent the Iranians from obtaining a fully realized nuclear program? Maybe the Pentagon should have thought of that before American soldiers marched into Baghdad and blew our war budget for the next thirty years.

The consequences of the path we are walking diplomatically and economically will lead to large-scale ruin. Looking down the list of items on our list, the first thing that must be observed is that one thing is true for persons and nations: one must take care of oneself before caring for someone else.

It is time to take a dispassionate look at the way we are handling our and our nation's finances. We spent money like drunken sailors while we had it and kept spending long after it was gone, and now we keep spending as if it is our divine right to do so. This has got to stop. We are approaching a time of unparallelled destruction and economic depression the likes of which haven't been seen in our lifetime, because when our economy tanks, it will take most of the world with it.

The bill is coming due very soon. The United States you know and love: kiss it goodbye. We cannot afford to engage in war anymore.

I love you, and want only your happiness,

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

We're Not the Fortunate Ones

Once upon a time in a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, a doctor I couldn't pick out of a lineup lifted a sheet, took a look at a watermelon-shaped thing I will never see and offered a pronouncement.

Dr. Who-ever: We'll be here another hour.
Tata: Oh. No. We. Won't.

Miss Sasha made her stunning debut eight minutes later. I'd had one epidural before the nurses lost Miss Sasha's heart rate on some monitor and refused to give me anaesthesia for hours. When I tell you pain is bothering me I'm not comparing it to that time I spiral-fractured my hand and walked away laughing. I'm not comparing it to my arthritis, which has sometimes been so bad I couldn't walk. No, those kinds of pain are relatively minor compared with the spine-splitting, bone-cracking, gut-bursting, blood-spattered agony that is pushing a human head down a birth canal, through the pelvic bones and out a fleshy little opening that often tears itself open in self-defense. She was three weeks late. When I tell you pain is bothering me I fucking mean it.

Maybe you're one of the lucky ones with testicles who never gets mammograms. I don't know how, but somehow this is your fault. If you work for an insurance company, this is definitely your fault.

Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Just because your doctor prescribes it doesn't mean the test is approved.
Tata: A mammogram?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: That I'm supposed to get every year?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: Do you realize how stupid that sounds?

I have no doubt that asshole has a brilliant career ahead of him, denying poor women health care - bilking the elderly will just be gravy for him! So if you have testicles, keep in mind that 1% of breast cancers are diagnosed in men and they're particularly dangerous because if you can believe it apparently men don't grope themselves enough to notice changes in their breasts and follow through with doctor appointments so - men! Get groping and make an appointment. And then you had better make sure if you work in a health insurance company that you freaking take vigorous steps to retrain that idiot phone guy.

For those of you without testicles, which is to say non-men, or "women" - your health issues are apparently so complex and icky that whole frigging states refuse to treat your bodies like they're human. And yet, once you turn forty, you're going to march yourself once a year to a clinic or hospital with a radiology department, where technicians with varying degrees of skill and emotional investment in their jobs may or may not actually make eye contact when they ask a list of perfunctory questions before walking up behind you, grabbing one of your breasts in a decidedly untingly, romantic manner and no matter how many times you've done this it doesn't get any better when the clinical hand on your breast squeezes really hard, places the breast on a tray, lowers a shelf onto the breast and smashes it flat. Then the technician says, "Now hold still and don't breathe."

Some people who get mammograms, which is to say mostly women, dislike having their breasts mashed between a tray and a moving shelf multiple times and from various angles but it doesn't actually hurt them. Before today, the last time I went to the radiology to have my breasts mashed the technician was utterly indifferent, her technique was poor, multiple re-takes were required and though I don't cry I considered weeping but would have preferred to punch her in the face until she pretended to care. Or pressed charges. Because it would actually be funny to be arrested half-naked for performing the service to womankind that would be assaulting a crappy mammo tech until she got the idea that perhaps philately - say - held a certain charm. In Borneo. Please note I did not cry, punch anyone in the face, or get arrested for the Cause. No. I did what my grandmother Edith did many times through painful medical tests: made meaningful eye-contact, gritted my teeth and said, "Finish your job. Now." I am not a wuss. That really hurt. In the course of someone else's cancer treatment, it came up with the oncologist that MRIs do a better job of detecting lumps earlier. My insurance company wouldn't spring for it, even when my doctor insisted.

Now if you have engineering prowess and some acquaintance with breasts, perhaps you've realized by now you could make a fortune by designing an inexpensive, pain-free technology. Perhaps, if you're really smart, you could redesign MRIs so a person with or without testicles but certainly with breasts could step into it like a closet, get scanned - NNNRRRRRRRRRRRFFFFP! - and be pronounced sick or healthy with a great degree of accuracy; bonus points for making it sound better than an X-soaked drum circle. As insurance plans go, mine is pretty good, reasonably priced and a bigger pain in the ass each time I try to use it. I suppose I could have an MRI if I could pay for it, but if mammograms don't work on me - witness the re-takes - why am I supposed to keep dicking around with them? And for how long? It is cost-effective for the insurance company to pat me on the head until I have full-blown cancer?

Am I pissed? Yes, I am pissed. I am royally pissed. It's not women operating insurance companies, medical technology firms, board rooms, courts and legislatures. I am sick of shouting from the rooftops while the basement floods and drowning people declare there's nothing to worry about. If I ever, ever have a pile of money, I'm creating women's scholarships to M.I.T., with a heavy concentration in civic-minded Get Us the Hell Out Of This Mess.

As Ken Lay's trial proceeds, Tom Delay won his primary yesterday. I would like to maintain a positive outlook (these things will take care of themselves) but I see them as symptoms of corruption, selfishness and greed in our society. FEMA trailers are sinking into mud in Arkansas rather than house Katrina survivors in Mississippi and Louisiana. These events are not happening in a vacuum, and I can't look at current events and stay calm anymore. It's time for a giant game of Connect the Dots, starting with painful, inappropriate medical tests for which I'm supposed to be grateful, and ending with bankrupt energy companies in California, with stops for complaints about pesky trees at the National Forest Service, port insecurity, 2000 missing people after six months, anti-gay bills in dozens of states, secret wiretapping programs and breathtaking defenses that violate our Constitution, a Congress that has all but abdicated its responsibilities, a stacked Supreme Court and anti-abortion bills that will set back the cause of women 32 years. These things are all part of a pattern of behavior. A pattern of fear and greed. To oppose one thing should be to oppose the pattern, the disease in all its symptomatic forms. And yet, what I hear at every turn is, "Yeah, but if we just wait a little longer..."

And that is how we are beaten. Separated and beaten.

Loose the Sandbags But the Balloon Wouldn't Go Any Higher

I admit it: the news of the last week has me a little down. South Dakota has apparently decided incest really is a game the whole family can play. Pundits quibble over whether a civil war is-is, in fact, is-ing in Iraq. Last night, a Daily Show rerun articulated my frustration and fatigue with the administration with a pop quiz: (paraphrasing) When Scott Mclellan said, "I'm not going to comment on an ongoing investigation," was he talking about -

And though the answer was "D. the Plame Affair" the list of possible investigations followed the hurricane pattern into greek letters. I laughed nervously and hoped this wouldn't compound my already weird dreams. What, you don't dream about the hilarity of dropping bombs on whole flooded regions of unemployed Kanye Wests who should have evacuated when you told them developers needed that land? Christ on a cracker, the news has been so bad I'm tempted to switch to Telemundo to calm down.

Yesterday, I opened my datebook and realized I had an appointment today I'd made three months ago because making appointments three months in advance leads to a higher degree of "I told you you'd forget." Well, I've beat the curve. I'm going to hop a bus downtown, braving the brisk river winds and floating construction debris, and I'm getting a mammogram. Expect the worst. I do. What do you think happens when a woman named Tata shows up to have boobs mechanically mashed?

By this afternoon, we can both expect I'll be willing to shout down chickenhawks and warmongerers of all stripes. I'll be ready to cut to the chase. If I can face a mammogram, I can face anything. Later: phone calls to senators. No sweat.

Monday, March 06, 2006

Going to Get What You Deserve

My charming assistant, a dear polyglot from Athens - the original Athens, and please don't ask, "Georgia?" - trained for weeks and out of the blue received both an offer from her previous employers in Stuttgart and another from the Athens Conservatory. Of course, it's not really called "the Athens Conservatory" but I don't really know what it's called because I don't speak Greek. Anyway, a bolt from the blue cannot be fought with petty jealousy - no, this requires industrial-strength jealousy, and I'm just the gal to barely conceal it.

Iona: I'm so sorry! We worked so hard on the purchase orders!
Tata: That's okay, darling! Here, have some microwave popcorn and my best wishes.
Iona: I hate to leave you! You've been so good to me!
Tata: Darling, as much as I'd love to go to Athens with you - or frankly, without you - I understand why you have to go back to the Conservatory and take that last chance on a professional music career.
Iona: I can't believe you're so sweet about this!
Tata: Listen, you don't have time to worry about me. The future is rushing up to meet you. Shoo! Shoo! Hurry!
Iona: I'll never forget you!
Tata: That's not a very interesting future. Forget me as soon as you leave the city limits. Happy life! Goodbye, sweetheart!
Iona: I just remembered I don't have a microwave here or in Greece.
Tata: I trust your ability to drive up Route 1, break into a convenience store and microwave popcorn but you'll need a getaway driver and at least one meat fork...
Iona: I'll find a way!
Tata: Kiss kiss!

I've had shorter breakups. Half an hour later, John emails from twenty-five uninterrupted feet away.

John: What did you do this time? You train your student and just when she could be of assistance you frighten them off.
Tata: Dahhhhhhhhhlink, as with some things and all people, trying to hold them close after they're determined to go only results in ill-feeling and restraining orders.
John: Oh yeah? What happened to "I'm evil, I get what I want, I made you up and if you don't do my bidding I'll imagine you back to eighth grade detention."
Tata: Since you're imaginary, it'll be seventh grade health class. Bon appetit!

Yes, in real life, I stand up in the middle of staff meetings, point at John and yell at my co-workers, "Don't answer him! He's not a real person! You're only encouraging that evil thing!" The first few times, people exhanged glances and mouthed words at each other. After that, they started ignoring him on command. If I can get the university to direct deposit his paychecks into my account I will feel I've accomplished something in life.

And speaking of Me, Ned phoned Me last week about the recording debate. Ned and I lived together for an unspecified number of years and a player to be named later.

Ned: So what did you decide to do?
Tata: I decided when Sean can throw his wife and two adorable daughters out for a few hours we'll record. I haven't seen anything about rights, so once it's recorded we'll take it from there.
Ned: Sounds cautious. I want you to remember something. That piece is really hard on you. I've seen what it takes out of you to do it. You think of it as your masterpiece -
Tata: My hit.
Ned: - but the real masterpiece is the life you constructed. Odds were against it. You should be very proud.
Tata: Thank you. That was right nice of you to say.
Ned: Repay me in cheeseburgers.

That is an excellent trade.

Sunday, March 05, 2006

The Pompetus of Love

Busy, busy. I spent the afternoon in the store, where I had every intention of sitting in a folding chair, surfing the net and reading Johnny's latest novella, but it was not to be. Alas, customers selfishly overlooked my needs and showed up in droves. My friends showed up in droves, though I hardly blame them. If I hadn't seen me for more than a few minutes I might be traumatized, too! So deigning to talk to them is the very least I can do. Which I did.

An older gentleman who reminds me of my dad in twenty years asked me to an art show. If he reminded me of anyone else I might've accepted the invitation but the Dad association made it super-strange. I didn't want to hurt his feelings. I told him I was meeting my new wife in Oswego next weekend, and I hope Oswego's a place or I'll have to get in one. And a wife.

This is going to sound crazy but I'm too tired to complain. My family was throwing a baptism. Siiobhan's family threw a surprise party for a ninety-something-year-old great aunt. I'd like a look at that will. Last summer we threw a suprise party for my 93-year-old Grandpa, and when Mom wouldn't listen to the idea that at his age he might appreciate fewer surprises I got the idea that she wanted his Tupperware collection.

I mean, who wouldn't?

Bless my buttons, I've pictured Mom on America's Most Wanted, effortlessly turning the perpetually irate John Walsh to melted butter but trying to help, "John, I think you were asking why every judge in Somerset County recused himself and sent me a bouquet but, begging your pardon, you seem to have lost your vowels."

As Perfect As the Fourth of July

I read this whole blog by Scout Prime, then I went to Habitat for Humanity online (see the sidebar) and gave them a donation. It was either that hop a plane, find Scout and carry her through the streets. Since I don't own a wheelbarrow.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

It's A Safety Dance

Siobhan is so selfish!

Tata: When do you want to go shopping?
Siobhan: I don't. Since 6:30 this morning, I've been to the gym, the bookstore, the manicurist, the tire place and picked up take-out Chinese. Now I'm going to the hair salon.
Tata: Since 9:30 this morning, I've cleaned the catbox, changed my sheets, done two loads of laundry, made yogurt, had a long talk with Mom and opened all my windows for a good breeze. Yes, I've done a lot for Me. But you haven't. What are you doing for Me?
Siobhan: Hanging up before I kill myself from shame?

You can tell she really cares. This cleaning spree in my tiny apartment means I have vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, scouring and some folding left to do. Thus, the shopping so I can mop and scour with mopping and scouring tools and cleaning fluids. Cleaning is not my favorite thing to do but doing my favorite things to do in a clean apartment really is.

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is not so sure. He fought me for the black and gold foil bedspread, while I complained, "Do not - do not bite Mama! Do not!" which I assure you I never said to the toothsome Miss Sasha. You just have to trust me on that. Later, a small glass bowl fell out of the dish drain and shattered on the floor in a foreseeable bit of dumb bad luck that's really bad because the cat is always barefoot. Damn it. So then I spent half an hour on my hands and knees picking almost invisible pieces of shattered glass out of my kitchen rug and off the floor. My apartment is imperfectly clean, and usually that's the best a person can do.

In comments for the previous post, where I - of course - brilliantly describe the situation in terms so effusive you've told your friends you can never adore Me with sufficient numbers of shinyshiny gifts, Mimus Pauly says something startling:
Haven't sent anything yet. I will in the coming days, it's just that I'm still floored by the stupidity of this whole thing. These lands belong to everyone, including those yet to be born -- how disconnected from common decency, common sense, and simple, basic respect do you have to be to not see that?

And in my case, it doesn't help that my two Senators and one Rep in D.C. are Republicans -- all of whom usually toe the party line. But they'll hear from me soon. I just have to figure out how to say what I want to say. This is harder for me than it appears...

If you've never visited Mimus Pauly's totally worthy blog A Mockingbird's Medley or read his posts on the uber-source Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, you might not know how startling it is to hear him say he's at a loss for words. Mimus Pauly's seldom at a loss for words. Hmm.

Okay, baby. Take a seat. Even the cat's quit fighting. Mama's gonna show it to you.

Perfection is not the issue. You can write a letter in crayon to your senator, if that's all you have. You can call your town council and promise to stand on Main Street whistling Dixie until they pay attention. Your government in all its forms doesn't have to listen to any one person's protest, so what you say individually isn't all that important. A letter to the National Forest Service doesn't have to perfectly articulate your problem with the land sale because what matters is you the citizen, not that silly letter. For instance, get out your crayon, an envelope and a $.39 stamp. On construction paper, have your youngest child pen an opus:
Dear NFS,
Your land sale is full of poop. I'll remember and run for president and you'll remember me when I fire your sorry ass, too.
Aretha, age 7

Done, and done, my darling. Your child is on her way to a career of righteous activism and barely legal threats. That's practically vocational training here in New Jersey. You are Parent of the Year!

Suppose your child already wrote letters because she's not afflicted with your perfectionist tendencies. You don't want to feel left out!
What she said!
Aretha's Dad

My pet, your inadequacies don't matter a whit in this case. To paraphrase a colorful storybook: Make a joyful noise unto the Forest Service. I mean, unless you can't sing. Here's the letter I wrote. You can pick and choose and steal freely from what you see:
To Whom It Concerns:

The list of parcels of land is impressive. I've gone over it half a dozen times, knowing there's probably not much I can do to stop you from selling the land to developers. After all: America needs more condos and WalMarts. I don't know how you will sleep at night.

This land does not belong to us. It is in trust for our children and grandchildren. We may have the legal right to fiddle while Rome burns but that doesn't mean we have the moral luxury to applaud the arsonist: the ill-conceived plan to finance the rural schools program with the land sales will not pay for them. It's not a secret. You can repeat this story as often as you wish, and it will still be a lie.

Yes, our children deserve a genuine commitment from the administration. Our forests are not a nuisance; they are a resource we should safeguard and treasure, possibly from the National Forest Service, if the newspapers have been quoting this guy correctly:

"Is selling off Bitterroot National Forest or the Sierra National Forest or Yellowstone National Park a good idea? No, not in general," said Under Secretary Mark Rey. "But I challenge these people who are engaging in this flowery rhetoric ... to take a hard look at these specific parcels and tell me they belong in national forest ownership."

The answer is still: we don't own them. We are their caretakers and their guardians. It is our duty to protect them from craven attempts to turn them into strip malls.

Go back to the drawing board. If schools need funding let's restructure our budget so children's needs are paid for, not the Pentagon's.

Sincerely yours,

Princess Tata
Highland Park, NJ

...Only where it says "Princess Tata" I typed the name I vote with and you should too because if you vote with my name that's a felony.

Lots of times, daily life piles - excuse me - crap on us up to our swan-like or rugged necks and we feel weighted down with the import of what we don't do or don't know or can't figure out. This is simple. See? Our imaginary seven-year-old figured out how to avoid a harassment charge - you can figure out how to plagiarize my letter and email it to the NFS. You can do it. And when you're done, call your senator. Who cares if he's - as Mimus Pauly's are - doing the Locomotion with Karl Rove? Sing along: call up. Call back. Yes, I think you've got the knack.

Now, I've got a second verse, same as the first, for later but now I'm going shopping.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Apathy, Thy Name Is the Blogosphere

Day 3 - 27 To Go.

A quick Google survey of citations related to the National Forest Service's proposed sale of forest land reveals something really interesting: almost nobody's talking about it. Sure, there are dozens of isolated newspaper articles, mostly on the west coast. A friend in Seattle says this story is the big time, while here in the east, most people yawn and move on.

This moment is what the Blogosphere is all about: millions of people, upset about the same thing, take action to fix it. Right now, the Eeeeeeeeeevil is so retcherously thick and omnipresent, you couldn't be blamed for thinking, 'It's too much, screw it, I'm going back to the couch and reruns of Starting Over.' Sure, you can do that. In fact, go right ahead. Later today and tomorrow, you can pick up where we left off. I'll wait.

Feelings...nothing more than feelings...trying to forget my...

Welcome back! Had a nice nap? Warm soup? Ready to rumble? Good. Let's rumble!

Over at Blanton's and Ashton's, where I lie on the piano, nibble grapes and sing My Funny Valentine everytime Mr. Blackwell stares at Nicole Kidman and considers going straight, and at Running Scared, where I hope Georg will let me lick the bowl before Jazz and I close the bar, you may find a series of posts about the land sale. Cue the voiceover!
Previously on Tata's mind: the Bush Administration tried funding its rural school program with logging money but the logging's - begging your pardon - petered out so the National Forest Service is selling off 300,000 acres all over the country that belong to all of us to raise money for the rural schools. Funny thing: the sales will not pay for the schools program no matter how you slice it and we lose 300,000 acres of public forest land FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The kids deserve a real commitment to their schools from President No Child Left Behind, not this hollow, dangerous lie and our complicity in the theft of their natural resources.

...And we're back in the present, where the public - that's you - has 30 days from 28 February to comment on the tracts for sale and the sale itself. Yesterday, the above-mentioned friend in Seattle reminded me of a monstrous evil tucked inside this story. Yes, the National Forest Service has charted and mapped out parcels of forest land for you - the public - to give a good look-see, but the NFS has reserved the right to play bait-and-switch with this sale. In other words: suppose you look at the map and think, 'This looks okay to me - a bit large, but okay. Perhaps Colorado could use twenty more WalMarts.' Hey, it's your brain. You're entitled to think it. In this case, what it looks like doesn't matter because the NFS may not be selling these particular lands at all - but other lands they haven't told us about, possibly because we'd show up with court orders.

I'm not saying we can stop this sale. I'm not certain what's actually possible, but we can't sit here nursing our middle-aged spreads and telling our kids to clip coupons, avoid credit cards and save for retirement while our government sells off what truly belongs to our children and their children. Don't have kids? It doesn't matter. When was the last time you breathed? Did you just? Well, damn it, you can't breathe without trees. Like it or not, you need that open space to remain open.

It would be easy to do nothing. Plenty of people are doing it right now. Once again, I'll wait. belle...french french french french french french french french french...french french french french...

Tuesday, I connected the dots for you, here and here. Those posts are exactly the same, so one read will do. The key is this paragraph:
DATES: You should submit your comments by March 30, 2006 to be assured of consideration. Comments received after that date will be considered only to the extent practicable.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by e-mail to, by facsimile to (202) 205-1604, or by mail to USDA Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Mailstop 1124, Washington, DC 20250-0003. Electronic submission is preferred. If you submit your comments by e-mail or fax, you do not need to send a paper copy by mail.

Write the NSA. Call your congresscritters. We have 27 days.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Every Branch Of Your Body Has Broken

Anya's delicate, bell-like voice has taken on a shocking jet-propelled baritone.

Anya: I'm in paperwork hell, not to mention the trade shows, and I haven't slept much and the result is I'm telling you now Sunny's baptism is this Sunday and -
Anya: I hate to bother you on short notice but -
Tata: Who's minding the store?
Anya: I haven't thought of anyone to call yet but -
Tata: I'll do it! What time?
Anya: The store's hours are noon to five but the ceremony is at 9:30 a.m. I know early on Sundays isn't your thing but -
Tata: I'll mind the store so you can have a lovely, relaxing ceremony where none of your sisters burst into flames! You'll take lots of pictures. It'll be wonderful. You'll be so happy and the store will be open and I'll gift-wrap all of downtown...
Anya: Could I ask you about one more date?
Tata: Sure. When? I'm getting my datebook...
Anya: Wednesday. Can you work Wednesday between five and seven?
Tata: Wednesday...that's...your birthday. Damn it!
Anya: My mother wants to take us out to dinner.
Tata: Absolutely. Wednesday, it is!
Anya: But you don't want to go to the baptism?
Tata: Start without me! You'll have a touching ceremony while increasing the Gross National Product!

Isn't that just like me - thinking of others? Of course it is, and I know you can barely refrain from tearing up. Fret not, my darling! I'm thinking of you, too, and by you I mean you with the contagious stomach virus everyone's got and goes to work with. Please, my pet. Stay the hell home!

If there's anything new in the air since the corporate revolution of the eighties it's the diabolical directive that employees should be at work no matter what, in sickness and in health, as long as employees shall live or until their jobs are outsourced, whichever. Before this, people went to work. I distinctly recall people going to work on their own power in the sixties and seventies so this diabolical directive meant something else: the yank on the chain of a well-behaved dog by a cruel, overbearing master. In the meantime, sick time has decreased, employees are castigated for having children with normal childhood maladies while public policy makes birth control options even less palatable, and more of us work in buildings where air recirculates until eternity. Forget bird flus: if we're going to suffer some sort of cataclysmic plague it will waft through corporate air ducts.

Sharkey was in the bar on Saturday night, at a basketball game Monday night and puked all day yesterday. While someone else's vomiting is inherently funny unless you're cleaning it up, I can't help but think someone wasn't feeling well, went out anyway and crossed his path. When Daria told me her husband Tyler came home from Atlantic City with the stomach flu I thought he might've gone there with it and waited to feel queasy myself. It never happened, but Daria's still weak and asking herself what day it is. The kids have ear infections. I hope they're not going to school and sharing their good fortune.

American companies could do themselves, their employees, society and productivity a good turn by offering Keep Your Damn Germs To Yourself days. We don't get enough rest and we nourish ourselves with pre-packaged food glop. In January and February, when you wake up green and gluey, stay home, drink juice and suck broth through a straw - regardless of whether or not you could, at Death's door, sit upright and stare at your jumbled quarterly report. Nobody wants to see you at your desk - at least nobody in his or her right mind. Let's call that a basic IQ test for management trainees: candidates who want you to report for work, *then* to quarantine, aren't mature enough to supervise real humans.

Since I seem to be well and unafflicted by bacteria and lightning strikes, I will continue hoping our corporate masters will see things my way. Until then, at least I have two dates with the basil- and verbena-scented store that works wonders on my morale.