Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Give The Violet More Violence

I finally quit squealing long enough to call Siobhan.

Tata: I went out walking and I was gone a good long time and I ran further than before which is still not very far by the standards of humans above the age of this many and on my way back a brown bunny sort of crossed my path though that might be good luck for all I know and the bunny didn't like the look of me even though I was singing to him "It's okay, bunny" then I turned the corner and just at my steps the tiniest baby brown bunny that would fit in the palm of my hand sped a few feet into a patch of flowers where he stopped and nibbled on an itchy spot and he was about the size of a pool ball he was so tiny and I've got a diabetic coma, it was so cute. My couch smells like feet. Stop laughing!

She hasn't called back yet.

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Black of the Blackest Ocean

There is what is real and there is what we do to make it seem real. This distinction is especially important in matters of love and car repairs. I've made an appointment to replace one of my tires this weekend. Let's hope my long-time mechanic doesn't take one look at the car's first-aid-tape bumper repair job by its previous mechanic and hurt himself laughing.

Tata: Oh. My. God. Have you seen Stouffer's is selling sandwiches?
Daria: I have seen that commercial and had the same reaction you're having now: How lazy do you have to be not to slap meat on some bread yourself?

Today, I had a vacation day because I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I didn't get to be alone in my house for a few days but I went to the studio for that little radio show. From the first moment we were on the air, all hell broke loose in the studio. I know some women see the word HOMEWRECKER written across my forehead but I've never seen a gay man take one look at me and make like Greg Louganis for his lover's tonsils. And at no time have I seen men in their forties Greco-Roman wrestle over a doorbell, so when I think of the few things I remember blurting, I wouldn't be surprised if I hadn't strung together nouns and verbs in any conventional sense. I do remember saying the American Family Association was silly for supporting a Constitutional marriage amendment but other than that I might've sounded like Charlie Brown's mother.

This evening, I went out walking after dinner and as I walked down the road into the park, I saw Lupe from a distance, walking toward me.

Tata: You're going the wrong way!
Lupe: I could walk around again.
Tata: Then you're definitely going the wrong way.

We walked around the park and I pointed out birds and we walked up the road past Gianna's house and I pointed out trees, and we walked up a dirt path, up the avenues and down the streets, and I pointed out rosebuds. Lupe's divorce is still fresh, and she has a new love. All this feels very familiar to me. As we walk up and down the streets, I point here and there: here was the house my great-grandfather built, there is the house my psychotic ex-boyfriend tried to burn down one night while his housemates slept. This house is where I went when I left the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and where I lived with grad students so poorly versed in the ordinary business of home life that before I moved in they'd called Sears to fix a dryer that needed its lint tray emptied. In Lupe's apartment, she cuts up a pineapple while talking about her small children. I watch, unnerved by her claustrophobic kitchen, the sharp knife and the possibility that if she slices off her hand I might have to call 911 and say I don't know the address. I tell her I've recently seen Alton Brown cut fresh pineapples by slicing off the bottom, slicing off the top, then the sides. A person then slices the barrel-shaped innards in quarters and removes the central points and since this is all geometry, I suppose I could do it. Or it's the kind of thing where I'd call Dad, describe my injuries and he'd say, "You are surely adopted."

Such is love. I can't maintain tire pressure, either.

Monday, May 29, 2006

In This Time, Give It To Me Easy

Siobhan got a new phone recently that hates me.

Siobhan: Click click click barbecue at Hugh and fzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzth all fish pop pop pop with mango salsa.
Tata: Sounds ...great...
Siobhan: Ecky ecky ecky ptang ptang ptang.
Tata: Does anyone else tell you they can't hear a word on your goddam phone?
Siobhan: No. Just you.
Tata: What if you can't hear them?

After dinner tonight, I went out walking in a pair of threadbare brown boxers, black sneakers and socks, a giant The Tick t-shirt and a scarf around my head. I am Italian. It's humid. I fight frizz in vain. In any case, I looked so great I hoped it would suddenly get dark, or half the town would lose its eyesight for an hour. I don't ask for much.

It's hot but it's also - shall we say? - moist. People on the street moved slowly in the late afternoon sunlight. The birds hopped along the sidewalks, too lazy to fly off. Self-conscious about my What Not To Wear Before Look, I considered avoiding the park. Picnickers were everywhere, and from the street above I could see parking spaces were sparse. Off in the distance, beyond a construction barrier, the crowd tapered off. I walked that way and stepped around the CONSTRUCTION - DO NOT PASS sign. Little gray birds fidgeted in puddles. A woman walked toward me and around the barrier. I stepped on a construction plate, leaned in and ran a ways. I passed the giant earthmovers, thinking I'd come this far before, then I picked other objects at modest distances and ran to them, then a little further, then to another construction barrier much farther than I thought I could run. Then I walked around town for another hour. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, chose this moment to adore me. You know, where sweat drips off the body and cat fur clumps.

An hour and a half later, my face was still red. And speaking of red-faced, I surrender to circumstance. Weeks ago, Dad's wife Darla recommended I read the books of Christopher Moore so I did what every modern woman would: I Googled him and found reviews of Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal (Paperback)
From Publishers Weekly
A childhood pal of the savior is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing 30-year "gap" in the Gospels in Moore's latest, an over-the-top festival of sophomoric humor that stretches a very thin though entertaining conceit far past the breaking point. The action starts in modern America, specifically in a room at the Hyatt in St. Louis, where the angel who shepherds "Levi who is called Biff" has to put Christ's outrageous sidekick under de facto house arrest to get him to complete his task. Moore (Bloodsucking Fiends) gets style points for his wild imagination as Biff recalls his journey with Jesus dubbed Joshua here according to the Greek translation into and out of the clutches of Balthasar, then into a Buddhist monastery in China and finally off to India, where they dabble in the spiritual and erotic aspects of Hinduism. The author gets more serious in his climax, offering a relatively straightforward, heartfelt account of the Passion and Christ's final days that includes an intriguing spin on how the Resurrection might have happened. The Buddhist and Hindu subplots seem designed to point out the absurdity and excesses of religious customs, but none of the characters are especially memorable, and eventually both plot and characters give way to Biff's nightclub patter. As imaginative as some of this material is, the sacrilegious aspects are far less offensive than Moore's inability to rein in his relentless desire to titillate, and his penchant for ribald, frat-boy humor becomes more annoying as the book progresses. Moore has tapped into organized religion for laughs before, but this isn't one of his better efforts.

...So I looked at the pile of stuff I'm reading and said, "I'm swamped." Meanwhile, I was happily absorbed in a book called The Stupidest Angel that made me laugh so well and so often I was calling Siobhan, who handed it to me, shouting, "You will read this book and like it, young lady!" to stutter lines. I'd recommend any book with the line -

"You can't say nuh-uh to death. That's sloppy debating."

- and I turned the last page to find Christopher Moore wrote it. Color me embarrassed!

Sunday, May 28, 2006

You Shake Their Hands Off

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sister, let us blog:

I. In the street, I see many things and take pleasure in seeing them. A pair of shoes with the price tag still attached resting on a parking space divider. A long-abandoned house with its own garage and thicket. Police tape wound around a sagging phone pole. Manicured lawns and lots gone to seed. Broken sidewalk, fresh concrete. Fat gray squirrels accustomed to human company scamper up trees for the sheer excitement of leaping. This morning, I came to a corner where an elderly woman and her young nurse stared across the street at two bunnies chasing one another in circles.

II. Yesterday, I was lacing up my shoes when the clouds burst open. I was certain the little rainstorm would not last long so I climbed on a ladder and put up a lavendar rice paper lamp shade in my bedroom. It does not fit exactly. Then I put up a faintly orange lamp shade in the kitchen. It is the wrong color and fills me with joy. Hallelujah.

III. On this day of all days, we must hope for an afterlife in which all souls are greeted with kindness and compassion despite those souls' earthly deeds. There is no beauty in retribution and no hope in a world where we are motivated only by fear of eternal punishment. I can think of no greater justice than the archangels having a long talk with Hitler, insisting he spend eternity sharing a lunch table with Moses. What could be worse for history's great and petty villains than being forced to see the humanity of their enemies, every day, with french fries?

Let us hope that waiting for us all - if something does await, of which we cannot truly be assured - is the happiness of reconciliation with those loved and loathed, and a really good sandwich.

IV. In a large sauce pan, mix one cup sugar, one cup water and one cup white vinegar. Sprinkle in a bit of salt. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Peel and slice three to five medium cucumbers and place in a wide, flat bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the fragrant liquid over the cucumbers, pushing the slices down into it. Allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight or longer. You can add fresh herbs, small onion slices or even beet slices. The pickles are good on sandwiches with cream cheese, on crackers as refreshing snacks or as a cooling side dish with spicy foods. I make these every summer since one of my favorite former housemates taught the recipe to me. Also: raw cucumbers make me burp.

V. After the rain yesterday humidity hung in the air as the temperature rose. I walked around town, intent on stopping for a few things at the grocery store but first I walked to the family store and the new toy store. My sisters have a toy store. How awesome is that? Well, except it's not air conditioned and inside, holding my niece Sunny, my brother-in-law was wilting. My nephew is three and a half now, so he talks from the moment every morning when he opens his eyes until he grudgingly closes them every night.

Tata: Would you like to come to the grocery store with me?
Ezekiel: Yes, it's a supermarket. I'll bring my guy and I'll take a picture of you and me with the camera in his backpack and look this fires and goes woooooooooooosh! Can you pick that up for me? These are my shoes. They're blue and I like blocks are we going to the store -
Tata: Do you mind?
Steve: Mind what?
Tata: A sudden ability to hear yourself think?

Ezekiel and I walk next door to tell Anya our plan. As we walk in together - me and a three-year-old - my sister's eyes go wide.

Tata: We'd like to go to the grocery store -
Ezekiel: Supermarket!
Tata: - if you wouldn't mind.
Anya: Good luck! And you, don't give Auntie Ta a hard time!
Tata: He never gives me a hard time.
Ezekiel: I sometimes give my daddy a hard time.
Tata: How do you feel about fresh fruit?

For some reason, that line's a killer and everyone averts their eyes. Ezekiel is still young enough that he would let me hold his hand if his hands weren't full of a space-traveling fire fighter with a woooooosh-going weapon-thingy but crossing Route 27 can be a serious business. Ezekiel is not really interested. Suddenly I realize what my sister will do to me if I do something stupid and Ezekiel gets a splinter. We cross the street very quickly. Ezekiel is talking the whole time. He picks a carriage I wish I could fit into but I can't buckle the belt because apparently I was born before the safety hysteria cut off date. Fortunately for what's left of my dignity, the three-year-old doesn't correct me and do it himself.

We vrooooom! through the aisles, vrooooooom! this way and that. Anya and Ezekiel are vegetarians so we have a fantastic time in the fresh vegetable aisles when I find berries I can't identify and start blurting to strangers.

Tata: Have you seen these before? What are they?
Ezekiel: I threw my banana into the cart? I'm putting out fires in space?

I'm waiting for counterpoint and harmony.

Stranger: I've got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere -

When we get to the cash register it dawns on me I'm a beige middle-aged crazy person stuffing my groceries into a beach bag while a blond, blue-eyed and very fair little boy talks and talks in the carriage I plainly don't know how to operate and the cashier is looking at me, at him, at me and at him.

Tata: He's my nephew.
Cashier: He's adorable - and a handful?
Tata: He's my nephew.

I returned him to his parents with a banana. He loves bananas. Anya seemed surprised he didn't beg me for M&M's, which is just silly since he can't read.

VI. A man walks up behind me in the convenience store and reads the back of my Niblick Henbane t-shirt.

Man: Just say "OI!"

I laughed. He could be a perfectly nice man for all I know but reading me my t-shirt is not clever. I pack up my recycled paper towels and make a musical reference.

Tata: Arrivederci, Roma!

Weeks ago, I said when I finished other paper products, I'd switch to the recycled paper towels and report back, in case you have an attention span. I now do most of my light grocery shopping on foot so buying paper towels in bulk at the grocery store is difficult to transport. Tuesday morning, I'm intent on going to Costco to check out what they have but I don't hold out much hope of finding recycled paper products, so I'm prepared to make a fuss.

In the meantime, Anya pointed out that her impression of recycled paper towels is that she opens a pack and poof! it's empty, which could be frustrating. Still, for me, it's worth it, the pros and cons.

Can I get an amen?

Friday, May 26, 2006

Birds Fly In the Eye Of A Painter's Daughter

This week, I worked too much and too many hours and life was too eventful and I magically transformed from a generally happy person with a fulfilling life back into a Pie-Spinning, Lightning-Bolt-Throwing, Snake-Scaring Bitch. So it was just like old times. Last night, the only person who had the nerve to confront me about my bad behavior asked if I were done disrupting the power grid and would I please quit fogging up mirrors for five miles in every direction?

Let's not make too much of this: yesterday and the day before, my apartment complex was infested with chainsaw-wielding freaks on a mission. I blew a gasket. Today it rained a lot. This afternoon: no chainsaw-wielding freaks. Perhaps everyone took a long weekend. Perhaps the imminent local threat of floral devastation has passed. Let's hope so. I can't turn gawkers to stone forever!

I'm exhausted. Yesterday, Lupe and I got into it.

Lupe: Come to the meeting. It's ten to noon.
Tata: I'm not going! Two hours is too long.
Lupe: We need your input. You're an important judge of people.
Tata: I'm a terrible judge of character. I love my exes but are you kidding me? And two hours is too long.
Lupe: We talked about this. I need your help.
Tata: We talked about this and I'm not going! Two hours is too long!
Lupe: Well, be like that and don't go.
Tata: I'm not going!
Lupe: So you'll go?
Tata: I'm very unhappy!

By this time, we were standing face to face and snorting and I wish I had been a third person so I could play Point & Laugh because we don't argue like co-workers; no, we argue like we're slamming bedroom doors and stealing each other's clothes. Daria and I used to fight like professional wrestlers, complete with improbable stunts and unlikely props. As a young actress, I once went after her with a baseball bat but I hadn't yet learned to commit to a character and follow through with organic behaviors so I let her call Mom's best friend who told me in no uncertain terms over the phone that bashing holes in the walls with a bat was droll but bashing my siblings was not part of the curriculum at the High School of Performing Arts where she had gone and I longed to be because it was 1980, and I should quit it. Fame! So Lupe and I are having a teenage sister fight and the Referree appears.

Gianna: Lupe tells me you're not going to the meeting. You're very important. We need your help deciding...

It is not actually true anyone needs my help with anything. I serve as the Rorschach test for people who don't know me, and Gianna observes, and everyone benefits. For instance, once the CEO of a major North American book service vendor approached me with wet hands and said they were wet because he washed them in the men's room. I am the person for him to have said this to. Without introducing myself, I stuck out my hand, and we shook while I laughed maniacally. He did not flinch. He gave a speech and I wondered what we'd argue about in the shower because I sensed he'd spent his life developing a public personna even he might not see through. Gianna, however, sees none of this when she sits down in my cubicle. She moves papers off an extra chair. My defenses fold because there is never any need for defenses with my boss and the truth serves. Damn it!

Tata: When I talk people aren't listening and two hours is too long for me to sit still and haven't you noticed me limping around the office for months and I can't believe I have to say this out loud and -
Gianna: How about you sit as long as you can and then you don't?
Tata: Okay.

Damn it! If I had started out rational I might feel less stupid. I went to that meeting, disappeared for a while, returned later in different clothes because I do that.

Gianna: Glad you're still here.
Tata: I am?

This morning, I called Lupe's office on the other side of the river.

Tata: I'm sorry I expected you to be my Psychic Friend and when I said something I expected you to know I meant something else and that's not sane.
Lupe: Okay. See you after lunch.
Tata: What, you're not telling Mom?

I have got to calm down!

This afternoon, we had a meeting at which I articulated everything that's bothered me all week -

Tata: Hmina hmina hmina they brought their board but left at home the people we'd contact every day. Where's the balance? Who cares if they stand like Mount Rushmore and have some big old vision? Are they going to answer the phone and give me what I want?
Co-Workers: ...What?...Did she say?...Yeah!
Tata: Is it my nap time? That's the real question.

Happy Weekend, Poor Impulsives. I will now become One with my couch.

Kisses Sweeter Than Wine

Half an hour of much smarter than you'd think. Trust me.

The little extras are brill. I can't wait to have a bad hair day.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Found Out About You

Yesterday, I felt punk and stayed home. In the distance, I heard the persistent whirr of chainsaws. When I opened the door in the late afternoon, the air smelled of pine and chipping wood. I walked around a crew feeding giant branches of the huge old trees around the apartment complex, and in the case of the pine, the whole tree. I walked through the floral carnage with my mouth wide open and a feeling of rolling horror.

Today, when I came home from the library, the crew and the chipper blocked the end of the cul-de-sac so I parked some distance from my apartment. A man came over and asked me to move my car because he wanted to trim the branches of the pine I'd parked near, so I moved my car around the trailer. When I got out of my car and walked toward my door, I couldn't believe my eyes. I turned around and shouted at the crew. The man who spoke to me before came over. He and his crew had cut the two tall, beautiful holly trees framing the front door down to the root. The trees were gone and there was nothing left but three inch stumps. I screamed at him, "What is WRONG with you? These were healthy trees! You don't destroy healthy trees."

"The boss told us. We do what he say."

"Where is he?"

"He back tomorrow. We do what he say."

There was no point in shouting at him and there was no one there to shout at so I went inside and called the office. The super picked up. She seemed shocked that the trees weren't trimmed but destroyed. We commisserated at the butchery the tree service was committing because the landlord walked through the complex with the tree service guy and said, "Cut this. Trim that." She offered me the phone number of the landlord but I didn't see the point.

Fifteen minutes later, I couldn't tolerate my feelings anymore and that I wasn't doing anything about them. I called the super and asked for the landlord's phone number. Then I called the landlord's office, where I spoke to Dorothy, who was not properly appalled. The landlord was out of town until Tuesday, she said.

So, I wondered, who the hell is coming here tomorrow? And what's left for the crew to cut tomorrow?

Dorothy said only that she'd try to get in touch with him and that she'd only heard the crew was supposed to trim branches, not cut down trees. I don't hold out much hope that further destruction will be prevented.

Holly trees symbolize abundance and are supposed to be good luck. I'm not much for tears but this brought me awfully close. My upstairs neighbor's bird feeder is lying on the lawn.

Kick 'Em When They're Up

I was first alerted to an event when two of my co-workers stood in the middle of the room and burbled.

Gerda: B B B B B B B B B -
Samantha: D D D D D D D D -
Gerda: B B B B dirt B B B B -
Samantha: D D D D D alien dirt D D D D -
Tata: What are you talking about?
Gerda: B B B filing cabinet B B -
Samantha: D D D D microfilm D D -
Tata: Something's happening, isn't it?

Indeed, something was. Gerda, Samantha, Chuan and I walked sort of spastically through the reading room to where Gerda had made an astounding discovery. I take the example I set very seriously so I was giggling loudest and making pointed remarks about the library's patrons. We turned a corner at the very back of the room and Gerda pulled open an unmarked drawer. Chuan took a picture.

This photograph does absolutely no justice to the strange colors, textures and shiny bits, not to mention the discoloration that appeared to be rust and the little hunks that looked like pencil shavings. And yet, I love this photograph with my whole black heart. I was discouraged from touching the pans of dirt. The mature person in my office who determines these things called campus police, who followed Chuan back to the end of the room. Gerda, Samantha and I followed.

Cop 1: That's dirt, all right.
Cop 2: Call the fire department.
Chuan: The fire department?
Cop 2: Yeah. It's dirt.

Next, a guy in gym shorts with a sack full of test tubes arrived and took samples because this is New Jersey and the HazMat guys were busy. The police took a statement from Gerda because nobody's ever found dirt in the library before. And now we're all waiting to find out if some mad scientist lost it before his thesis project bore fruit in the form of accidental mushrooms.

Everybody Rolls With Their Fingers Crossed

Johnny takes us synchronized swimming in the lake of fire:
I love to listen to the religious programming on my way to work because every time I turn it on, without fail, I hear things I simply can't believe I'm hearing. The guy who was on this morning warned that America is being conditioned to accept and embrace the demons when they come spewing up out of the pit. He said it starts with ouija boards and rock and roll, and before you know it you have children playing with demons, except they're friendly, cuddly demons, like Smurfs and ET and, yes, the man actually said this, the characters on Sesame Street.

Bless my buttons, that fellow may have a point.

In other news, my copy of the Dixie Chicks' Taking the Long Way arrived yesterday, with the Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris opus All the Roadrunning. Also: a CD copy of So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I had this on tape and vinyl, neither of which I can play right now and I must hear Helpless. Rounding out my new acquisitions: ABBA Gold. How I managed to survive all these years without Take A Chance On Me I'll never know - and a feathered headdress, though that's another story.

Update: RealPlayer's blurbs are always a little skewed but for So Far RealPlayer says: "Helpless may be the greatest song ever written." According to Siobhan, the criteria for the perfect song is that it includes sex, death and booze, making The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia the perfect song. Or Mack the Knife. I'm sure Siobhan would agree Helpless is pretty great.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Like No One Else, And I Can't Help Myself

I have a new five-star, gold-medal least favorite commercial of my entire life: A man is standing in the shower and his pretty femme friend is primping at a mirror nearby. She asks, "If you were going to be with one of my friends which would it be? I'm not going to be upset." To avoid answering this question, he soaps up and pretends the soap's dripping in his ears. She prattles on, oblivious. So far, I have avoided pulling an Elvis on my TV - but I've come really close a few times.

There is so much wrong with this set up I barely know where to begin. So let's go around from the other side.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how I could engage with men in primary relationships. It's a perfectly valid question, and I am always interested in considering my assumptions where the other humans are concerned. I thought about it at great length and concluded I didn't see much difference between the shitty things men do and the shitty things women do, and both are capable of great things, great affection and wonderful surprises, if we open ourselves to them. My friend, I also felt, was not so much asking a question as declaring her feelings about men and asking for validation. I told her feelings were facts, and her antipathy toward men was perfectly fine, and nothing I could say would change that, which I accepted.

Men abuse power. Women abuse power. Men can be tremendous douchebags. Women can be tremendous douchebags. At the end of the day, I understand why some women say they can only feel safe and happy in lives insulated from contact with men. I wish them well. And I hope the women they come in contact with are nothing like our TV commercial average Jane HetGirl, who hates other women.

I've never read an entire issue of Cosmo and I feel sick when someone mentions Sex & the City. I don't have much in common with the Oprah people; I don't understand why women want babies and mortages. While I appreciate that Feminism is about making one's own decisions, I can't grasp why a whole lot of women choose the two-dimensional, no-thinking, hormonal siren song that is saying, "My children are my whole life." I can't find that in myself, despite the fabulousness of my darling Miss Sasha. My child could never be my whole life, but I see that other women do this, say this and mean it. Well, okay.

Last week on an NBC morning show: business cards for Mommies. That seemed interesting until it turned out the cards said, "Amy's Mom" and "Bobby's Mom." When the camera cut back to the anchors, the male anchor said he'd like that better if Mom's name was at the top and the toddler's name was below. That loss of my own identity as Miss Sasha's parent was the worst aspect of being a woman, and here, these women renounce theirs without a second thought.

Then we have our TV Jane HetGirl. She has these problems:
1. She hates other women, as above;
2. Jealousy, and she will never trust a man;
3. She is deeply dishonest about her own feelings

- to start, and she is everywhere. A whole lot of women set these traps for men and themselves based on the idea that jealousy is perfectly fine and not in fact repellant. The other day, I was walking down Harper Street in Highland Park. I was sweating and wearing three layers of athletic wear, making my round person even more spherical. I posed no threat to anyone. On a porch sat three people, one of whom is a man I see at work. I don't even know his name and he doesn't know mine.

Man: Hey! It's you!
Tata: Hey!
Woman: You know her?
Man: What?
Tata: Library. We work in the same building.
Woman: You always gotta watch, am I right?
Tata: Grrrrrrrr.

The answer is no. If you treat your spouse like property you shouldn't be surprised if he or she finds something less confining attractive. If a man or woman said to me, "Which of my friends do you want? I won't be upset" the next words out of my mouth would be, "Grow up. Get out and don't come back."

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Everything, To Make the World Peaceful

I don't know how to explain this so I'm just going to blurt.

For a little less than two months, I've been going outside for walks. Ivan, an actual rocket scientist and former member of the short-sleeve white shirt/brown tie/90-hour work week brigade, calls outdoors "the Big Blue Room." You know, with all the nature. When you go out in the Big Blue Room and see all the nature, like the Abyss, nature sees you back. From the first, I noticed squirrels and robins in New Brunswick and Highland Park. I see cats, too, prowling and unafraid. These animals look healthy, well-fed and sure of themselves. Three doors down from my apartment, I turned the corner and found a man standing on a sidewalk smoking a butt, surrounded by squirrels. I crossed the street and looked back to see if the squirrels smoked, too.

It's the robins that confuse me. They're everywhere. I don't remember ever paying much attention to them. I mean, they're small birds. They stop by for lunch, then they're off to Pismo Beach, right? I see them every day now. Each time I go out walking, a robin lands about ten feet in front of me, watches, flies another ten feet, watches, flies another ten feet and watches me. Another thing the robins do is land a few paces ahead of me and hop in rhythm. This is really strange. Sometimes, a bird will hop and fly a whole block with me. I talk to them now.

Tata: Listen, I see you!
Bird: ...

I don't speak that language. It's like watching a Japanese film with the subtitles cut off. If I open my curtains, robins are standing on the lawn. Each time I go outside, they cross my path. Their presence has meaning, even if it's just that we're experiencing an excellent worm season. I don't know what that meaning could be. It doesn't seem creepy.

It's as if the universe is ringing my doorbell and I can't find my bathrobe.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Everything Counts In Large Amounts

Sometimes, I can't tell if I'm rich or poor, broke or breaking even. I'm lousy with numbers but that's not the only issue; I also don't know what day it is. Unless I write everything down and cling to my date book with the kung fu grip, I could be in trouble pretty often. Fortunately, people want things and don't feel shy about issuing demands. These demands come in all sorts of forms. A few weeks ago, my neighborhood was turned upside down for the better part of a Friday night. On the next business day, the borough plastered every foyer in the apartment complex with nervous letters about "the animal incident." Residents who had contact with "the animal" were ordered to turn themselves in to the Health Department for rabies testing.

The number of things I don't know is not decreasing as time passes. No, letters like this force me to conclude that there are as time passes an even greater number of things I do not know, as more facts I would not have imagined are revealed. This seems counterintuitive. Recently, I figured out that with five lines of instructions I could program a 200 CD player but it was only possible because a teenager paraphrased the manual using very small words.

Two Sundays ago, I firmly believed I could not run and learned I was mistaken. I ran a few hundred - let's modestly suppose - feet further than I thought I'd ever run again. This had a profound effect on my psyche. I began to wonder what other assumptions were limiting me. Once, it was true that I could not run and it remained true for more than twenty years. In all probability I'll never run a marathon, but my limits have changed. Yesterday, I found a solitary stretch of road in the park and ran further than before by picking a marker of some kind and running to it, then picking another, and another, a few times. For other people, this distance would be nothing. I was thrilled. Half an hour later on the street above the park, I ran two short blocks toward home just because it felt so good to run.

I doubt I will ever balance a checkbook - I do wonder what appears certain but simply isn't impossible. Spring is an excellent time for wild ideas.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

A Dream That Don't Ask No Questions

For the last week or two, one storyline on General Hospital has been irritating me.
Sam and Jason discovered Alexis, once the hidden Russian love child of the Greek prince Mikos Cassadine, was forced to give up her illegitimate baby when she was sixteen, and Sam was that baby! Sam loves Jason the mobster and Jason and Sam hate Alexis, the selfish, insecure, controlling, not-listening to anyone, superior bitch lawyer.

...I know! That plotline has a z-axis. But wait! There's more!
Jason met Sam on a balcony and a shot meant for him penetrated her back and - it's a soap opera - she either can't or probably can't have babies. Oh, the humidity! Anyway, her blood won't clot and Dr. Rick Springfield's Son (Patrick) says Sam needs an operation Jason grants permission to do but Alexis shows up with a court order refusing permission because she's Sam's mother, damn it, and severing your parental rights means never having to say, "Well, she's an adult now and can make her own decisions." Alexis keeps talking about this and that but what she's really saying is: MINE! MINE! MINE! AND I'M NOT SHARING! The hospital staff is sympathetic to the mobster and his scrappy gal so they trick Alexis and do surgery but, post-op, Alexis spirits the unconscious Sam off to a "facility" because Sam who lives with Jason hasn't publicly and absolutely expressed her wishes to be with Jason -

...and I am going to lose my mind.

My relationship with my mother improved 100% after I moved out when I was 18 but 100% was not enough for the two of us to have a calm conversation for twenty years afterward. Miss Sasha wondered for years why the Grandma she adored and I were seldom in the same place; the simple explanation was I felt Miss Sasha should form her own relationships with her family members and be able to freely love the family members for whom I felt stabby-stabby murderous rage.

Wait! There's a plot twist!

Nobody else had the same problems with Mom so until people outside the family saw that Mom was different with me than anyone else everyone thought I was crazy. Sometimes I agreed. When Miss Sasha moved to Charleston with the then-pre-Mr. Sasha, it was as if the clouds parted and my mother became a ration human in my presence and my bitey-gnashy anger cooled. What I didn't realize was the moment my sisters and brother had children they found out that not only wasn't I out of my mind but they needed my help dealing with Mom's baby-related/time-mysterious control issues. No one - I mean no one - saw that coming!

And because Alexis does the same kind of "Because I said so" talking, based on reasoning with the tensile strength of used Kleenex that Mom presented every day when I was in high school - it is not rational to demand I ask to go to play practice every day for months on end, so I didn't ask, making everyone the tiniest bit tense - the emotions come flooding back. It's not especially fetching to say that when I see the character's face and she draws a breath to speak, I feel the same powerlessness, the same rage and the same desire to kill myself rather than listen to another illogical word. I'm thinking I need to shut off General Hospital for a week or two, which is a shame because Luke, Robert, Holly, Anna and Tracy on an island together with pop guns, stolen jewels, and some very healthy men carrying a litter was a hoot.

Still, real life has a way of twisting storylines that would soap writers blush.

Last night, I went to Our Lady of Peace in South Brunswick for Mom's and Tom's Philomusica concert to keep statistics; I arrived before the other volunteers and could answer no questions because I was full of no information whatever. The choir was warming up so I sat on the floor of the vestibule and read a book Siobhan loaned me called The Stupidest Angel. This book made me bark with laughter, and eventually I had to quit reading it when during the concert I read where the town's corrupt developer/traditional Santa says, "Eat me, you little vermin" and I couldn't stop choking for five minutes. So I put the book away and went to help the volunteers set up a rather lavish refreshments table. My help was not so much needed, which I figured I should tell Mom about before I left.

After the concert, the choir members joined the audience in the vestibule, where I found members of the extended family, in a friends-of-the-family-all-my-life sense. They also live three blocks from my apartment, and I see them outside gardening quite often. Mom finally joins us.

Tata: So, there's a thing I have to tell you before I leave.
Mom: What's that?
Tata: There's this lady who was in charge of setting up the refreshments table and I went to go help her. She was putting little cream puffs on a tray and she said, "I should have stacked them in a pyramid." I said, "That would require caramel." She stared at me, then she made a face.
Alan: Caramel?
Tata: You know, for the woot-woot-woot -

I am making the international gesture for spinning sticky sugar over a pyramid of cream puffs.

Diane, Mom, Alan: Oh!
Mom: Which lady?
Tata: Over there.
Mom: I don't know her!
Tata: Well, that's settled. I don't know what she thought I was talking about. She did not find me funny! I made a perfectly legitimate croque en buche joke -
Mom: Hahahahahaha!
Diane: Apparently, your mom's your target audience.
Tata: I did not see that coming...yet, the croque en buche jokes kill...Anyway, after that, she didn't really want me standing near the food so I sat in a corner and read porn.
Mom: Did you remind Father John that a year ago today Sasha got married here?
Tata: No. Should I? Isn't my presence tonight punishment enough?

It's true he seems surprised.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: Tell Me One More Time

Note the transfer of black cat fur onto the drapes in the shape of a drowsy pussycat. I had the drapes cleaned. They now hang on very sturdy hangers in my coat closet. I have reached a stage of maturity that includes having a coat closet and knowing what belongs in it. This comes right before, "Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn! I baked cookies, do you want oatmeal or peanut butter?"

Aging is fraught with peril. I'm working a lot of hours right now so keeping domestic details organized and in motion is tricky and crucially important. Last night, I packaged up lunch, an afternoon snack - designed to keep drive-thrus of any stripe from holding salty appeal - and the papers I'd need to harass the publishers in Maryland of whom Miss Manners would not approve. This morning, as I pulled into a parking space at work, I noticed I had lunch but I'd left my purse-replacing Dragonball Z lunchbox on the kitchen floor. I have to drive home to retrieve it and I've rehearsed my:

Tata: But officer, we little old ladies forget things, as God intended. Do you know what was written on the side of the Titanic?
Officer: "Titanic"?
Tata: Sure. It also said something like "Not even the hand of God could sink the Titanic." Boy, were they forgetful!
Officer: If you remember that, I bet you can remember to carry your driver license. Here's your ticket, and there's your court date.
Tata: ...I won't remember...
Officer: I'll help you for one of those cookies.

A bad dress rehearsal means a good opening night.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Anywhere Else Than Here Today

Before the invasion of Afghanistan, a large group of my friends debated the pros and cons of military action on a closed mailing list. The only one of us who supported invasion was so alienated he threatened us with legal action and has never spoken to the rest of us again. This was a painful break. At the time, it seemed unthinkable that we could be separated by - well - anything. The rest of us wondered if he were having other problems he didn't want to talk about but it was my first hint that after September 11th, some people were so deeply frightened that calming down was years off.

That was the first night of my lifetime that the stars didn't flash landing lights, and I still watch the planes. They seem to fly much lower now than they did before. Every so often, I discover that someone else I met somewhere was killed that day. Other than this, which is occasionally sad, September 11th does not figure into my life anymore.

The site will be rebuilt.
The dust settled into the lungs of the rescuers and will cause illnesses.
I have taken up blogging.

Life goes on.

From this particular place, there is no need to bomb villages, supplant dictators, tap phones, monitor phone records; no need to do anything but pursue one's own dreams and ambitions. I can't do anything for the dead. For the living, I say: listen, it's time to calm down and recognize that life is short. There is no guarantee of safety. The guy sitting next to you on the bus could have a bomb or a cake for his granny. Either way, worrying youself sick is pointless. Go buy your granny a cake and get on with your life.

Many things are foreseeable. There will always be wars prosecuted somewhere on earth because people are foolish, violent and greedy. What we should also foresee is what that does to the human beings making war, and the people in their bloody path. I did not have to be a genius to predict for my friends that war would turn young men and women into killers who lost control of their emotions and behavior. War turns quiet kids into murderers - not all of them, to be sure. But some. We have seen it, we have stopped talking about it because it seems hurtful to the trusting kids we sent off to war, and when soldiers return we regard them with a certain reserve. We are saying: I'm glad you're home but what have you done?

Yesterday, TBogg published a rational and terribly sad review of the Haditha incident and the radical right's Swiftboating - again - of Jack Murtha for talking about it: Now can we compare it to Viet Nam?
Too be honest, I've been been waiting for something like this to come to light because I feel like I'm watching the same war movie that I watched playing out in the late sixties when I was a teen. In this case, it's less surprising when one looks at what preceded it: the fake rationale for a war, too few troops and too many tours of duty, the frustration that comes with being unable to distinguish between the enemy and the people we are supposed to be saving, little hope of an exit in the very near future, and the same lack of leadership that gave us the aforementioned Abu Ghraib with no accountablity up the chain of command. What surprises me is the fact that it involves Marines and not a National Guard squad made up of soldiers who thought they were signing up for weekends in the boonies, not months in Iraq. In the meantime the Right, unsurprisingly, is taking after the true villain of this piece: John Murtha.
"It's much worse than was reported in Time magazine," Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine colonel and Vietnam war veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill. "There was no firefight. There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people," Murtha explained, adding there were "about twice as many" Iraqis killed than Time had reported.

Frankly, this is the actions[sic] of a traitor or a sellout. He deserves to be ridiculed, excoriated and frog-marched off Capitol Hill, then remanded to jail. No bail. Doesn't this idiot know the type of damage this inflicts on the Marines? Or is it that he's so intoxicated with the thought of becoming the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that he'll say anything?

Like TBogg, I've seen this movie, and I remember how it ends: massacres, trials and shame. Ruined lives. Suicides. Families torn apart. Children grow up without the parent who died before they were born or who ate a gun when the nightmares took a turn for the even-worse. I was a child during Viet Nam but I have clear recollections of friends' fathers and brothers returning damaged and distant. And here it is again, and the mystery is that anyone is surprised.

And for what? For nothing, that's what. Vanity and hubris. The panic we should address with tea and talk and never, never with the bright and brittle futures of young men and women.

This is our collective life now. Bring them home and let us begin to repair the endless damage done in our name: to ourselves, and to the world.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Of Your Life To Wander Free

It's a cloudy Graduation Day at the university. Today, New Brunswick is my idea of overdressed hell on earth with teary Moms and Dads, which is why I'm at home across the river. Earlier, I was making yogurt, talking to Siobhan and placating Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. When I hung up the phone, I dropped it - plunk! - into the sink. After fishing it out and toweling it off, I dialed Miss Sasha. I got voicemail.

Tata: Hello, darling! It's Mom! I dropped my phone into the sink and had to test it out so I called you. Aren't you lucky?

She called back.

Miss Sasha: Your phone works!
Tata: I hear that.
Miss Sasha: Grandma's mailing me wedding cake.
Tata: Yeah...I'm not so sure about this mailing-the-wedding-cake-thing. You're really going to eat that?
Miss Sasha: Yes..?
Tata: For your anniversary, I'll mail you Pepto Bismal.
Miss Sasha: Mr. Sasha has gotten thinner and needs new clothes so I'm buying him nice ones.
Tata: What? You can buy men's clothes?
Miss Sasha: Sure. Most women can.
Tata: Ah! Proof I might actually be a wildebeast.
Miss Sasha: I told him, "No more dressing like a fat kid."
Tata: Okay, less Pepto for him. And feed him some cheese.

If you missed the riotous months-long saga of Miss and Mr. Sasha's wedding, here's a link to the ancestral plastic fruit, a bridal shower where I tried climbing out a second story window, a purple Ming the Merciless blouse and an Italian family dancing the hora. Meet my archenemy, the Mother of the Groom!

And if you read along as events unfolded, Saturday's the wedding anniversary, and tomorrow it will be a year since the rehearsal. Feel free to relive the miracle that was our survival - in formalwear!

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

The Words of the Profits Were Written On the Studio Walls

Johnny says, "No fucking way."
My first thought was that there must be some mistake. The car dealership called to ask me when I could "come aboard." Evidently my speeding tickets and my crash don't disqualify me from driving civilians around. I didn't really envision that this day would come. Now the joke is on me and I don't know what the fuck to do.

Take the job, Andretti!
The radio says Kenny Loggins is playing at one of the casino ballrooms. I have tried, but I cannot escape the savagely humiliating recollection that when I stood trembling over the phone about thirty years ago, trying to screw up my courage to call and ask Jane Z. for a date, the first time I had ever done such a thing, I gave myself strength with the words to Kenny Loggins' staggeringly insipid song "This Is It."
Oh yes, this is it.
Make no mistake where you are.
Your back's to the corner.
Until it's over and done.
One way or the other.

God, what a towering dork. I deserve to be a car salesman.

What a liar! I worshipped him in high school after he stood up on a table in the lunchroom with a guitar and a pig nose amp and played Devo's Mongoloid - I think it was Mongoloid. The principal pulled up a chair, wrote up a detention slip and waited. Johnny screamed, "YOU WANT MY AUTOGRAPH?" The principal nodded and carted him off, trying to squelch his own laughter. That might've been November, 1978 and it was the bravest thing I'd seen another kid do. Now, of course, he'd be shipped off to kiddie jail for having a sense of humor. In any case, our little fashionplate was no coward.
I had so many dreams when I was young. In most of them I was naked in a crowded room. Now, mercifully, I am dreamless. I want nothing. I am content to be a no-hit wonder.

He's a little queeny today, so pretend not to notice. It'll just encourage him. About going to court two months ago:
I was wrong. There is one thing I don't like here. The juniper is blooming and half of Santa Fe is in allergy agony. Still worth it, though.

Due to bureaucratic incompetence, I had to back to court two more times. I was starting to run out of suits to wear. Some would consider a Nehru suit and two-tone shoes a little garish for court. Fuck them. I was waiting on one of my visits for some paperwork and I overheard a public defender telling a kid in a track suit that yes, the cops did have the right to search his vehicle if when he rolled down the window, pot smoke came pouring out, and if they could see a bag of weed on the passenger seat. He said it's hard enough to be a black man on the roads, in the future, smoke your weed, then get in the car, and put the bag of weed under the seat. Speaking of which, I've started listening to the Albuquerque hip-hop station, just for a change of pace. There are some great lyricists on there.

I'm in love with a stripper
She poppin', she rollin', she rollin'
She climbin' that pole, and
I'm in love with a stripper
She trickin', she playin', she playin'
I ain't goin' nowhere, girl, I'm stayin'

On a whiter note, this weekend I'm going to burn some Lyres music for you. I don't know if it will do anything for you, but after all this time I still listen to it and think how can people think of music this good. Damn, or, as they say on the radio, day-um.

The Lyres. I wracked my brain. Did one of us date, you know, the band, get tanked with the band or did we hear it on the radio?

This time, we heard it on the radio.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cross Bones Style

Yesterday, I walked all over town in an effort to stimulate what's left of my metabolism. When I got to the park, I looked everywhere but there were few other visitors. I got a screwy idea: maybe I could sort of kind of possibly try running a few feet. Since I retired from gymnastics twenty-six years ago, I've been able to run maybe three steps before I hear popping sounds in my ankles that sound like small caliber weapons fire, and I stop running. What the hell, I decided, it's an occasion.

So, I leaned forward and started running. I love the sensations: the freedom, the temporary and almost imperceptable escapes from gravity. After the first four or five steps I didn't hear the usual pop! pop! so I ran on the paved path past a dumpster, then past another, then past a garbage can, then toward the weeds. Then I stopped because I still felt good and I'd run about a hundred yards farther than I thought I ever would again. I was thrilled! I giggled like an idiot for the next half-hour. Then I saw a duck swimming around in a puddle on the road and turned back toward town because I had never seen a duck swimming in a puddle on the road.

I've got another screwy idea: maybe I could sort of kind of possibly try running again. Just a few feet. Not very far. Still - yesterday I didn't know I could run at all. As life lessons go, this one arrives right between the eyes.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

When the Flood Waters Pour From the Mouth

Paul Simon was the musical guest on Saturday Night Live last night. This reminded me of A Simple Desultory Phillipic, a song that is about 40 years old now and more timely than ever before.
I been norman mailered, maxwell taylored.
I been john o'hara'd, mcnamara'd.
I been rolling stoned and beatled till I'm blind.
I been ayn randed, nearly branded
Communist, 'cause I'm left-handed.
That's the hand I use, well, never mind!
I been phil spectored, resurrected.
I been lou adlered, barry sadlered.
Well, I paid all the dues I want to pay.
And I learned the truth from lenny bruce,
And all my wealth won't buy me health,
So I smoke a pint of tea a day.

I knew a man, his brain was so small,
He couldn't think of nothing at all.
He's not the same as you and me.
He doesn't dig poetry. he's so unhip that
When you say dylan, he thinks you're talking about dylan thomas,
Whoever he was.
The man ain't got no culture,
But it's alright, ma,
Everybody must get stoned.

I been mick jaggered, silver daggered.
Andy warhol, won't you please come home?
I been mothered, fathered, aunt and uncled,
Been roy haleed and art garfunkeled.
I just discovered somebody's tapped my phone.

It's becoming harder and harder to keep up with the daily revelations of the administration's abuses of power; with every revelation, I hear someone say, "That's impossible" or "I give up." The desire to sleep now and wake when this is over can be strong. Yesterday, Agitprop's Blogenfreude, wide awake, made a list of extremely naughty children and their crimes. It's so impressive I stopped yawning and rubbing my eyes like a six-year-old an hour after bedtime. Blogenfreude's iceberg picture is worth several thousand words.

One thing I haven't heard anyone say is whether or not the recording, selling and examining of phone records has stopped. I have a proposal: call your Congresspersons. Call your senators. Call your representatives. Call Nancy Pelosi and tell her that despite her reluctance to get her hands dirty -
Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) told her caucus members during their weekly closed meeting Wednesday "that impeachment is off the table; she is not interested in pursuing it," spokesman Brendan Daly said.

- the dirt must fly: we must have impeachment and removal. Call your mom and say, "Happy Mother's Day, and I've emailed you the phone numbers of your Congressional representatives, and be sure to call that harpy Nancy Pelosi. Love you!"

If our phone records are being examined for patterns, let's show 'em one.

Cross-posted at Running Scared and Blanton's and Ashton's.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Friday Goose Blogging: Unexpected Gosling Edition

Sharkey reports:
So this momma goose laid her eggs up on the roof of our office (a one story building). It's a flat roof with a short rim around the edge. We knew once the eggs hatched, there would be no way for the chicks to get down. They finally hatched today (four of them), so we had to do something about them since there would be nothing for them to eat up there, and, it turns out, geese don't feed their young like other birds.

You can't tell from this photograph but his eyes are a deep blue that causes complete strangers to blurt out, "Where did you buy those color contacts? That color is not found in nature, man."

Somehow, one of the chicks ended up on the ground, but we didn't know how it got down. As I was going out to my car, I heard some noise in one of the gutter downspouts. That's when I realized that's probably how the first one got down, and now a second one was in there, sitting in an elbow up near the roof. I ended up going up onto the roof and scooping the two remaining into a box and brought them down to the parents. Then I had to get up onto a ladder, take apart the the downspout, and bring the last one down.

Our hero and a wild gosling chase! I called him up because poking him with a rotisserie fork requires geographical proximity. For example.

Tata: I like the pictures of the goslings running toward you. It's like they're in formation or something!
Sharkey: You can really see where the term "goose stepping" came from.
Tata: And look at them run away! Eeeeeee! It's as if they're running laps!
Sharkey: They were! And when I got close, they ran behind an HVAC system so I had to hide in the roof hatch.
Tata: You are the Terror of the Geese!
Sharkey: Then I took the ones in the box across the street and put the box down facing away from the parents.
Tata: I see you were wearing gloves.
Sharkey: I didn't want to get human stink on them.
Tata: Good man.
Sharkey: Goslings are really soft.
Tata: Okay, now I'm worried.

I should knit him a flame-retardant Superman cape, in case he makes a hobby of protecting truth, justice and Canadian geese.

Friday Cat Blogging: Mama Says Edition

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, has begun to limp every day, whether or not I've tricked him into eating his kiddie steroids. This has two effects on our relationship: I watch him struggle and worry, and he spends more time sitting on my lap, warming up. My lap is the warmest spot in a fairly warm apartment. I'm thinking about buying a heating pad for when my lap is warm at work.

Yesterday, the cat objected to my downward-facing-dog ways and nipped my tricep. Who can blame him? I was stubbornly neglecting to sit cross-legged and scritch under his chin after selfishly sleeping nearly six consecutive hours. What about his needs? Plainly, his nose requires regular and devoted scritching.

As a little black cat bent on stealing your soul, Larry has little time or patience for nail clipping. Perhaps I haven't mentioned this fact: I am allergic to cats. After years of blowing my nose into tissues with cheery goldfish and raven-haired bad girls printed on them, I seldom notice except when the kitty stands on me like a pedestal and digs in his claws for extra traction. Then I come out in welts. This happens at least twice a day, and I don't care an iota. Not one! I love the pussycat madly. You will note the ancient and crumbling quilt I keep on the couch to shield my lap from the claws of the happy cat friend. That is the concession I make to allergies.

It's just about time to take him back to the vet so someone else can sniff kitty breath and decide if we must address another toothache. This is the way feline leukemia progresses. Fortunately, his appetite is excellent, his weight is up and he's very demanding about kibble. "Where is my tasty kibble?" he asks every morning. "And scritch me, while you're at it. Hop to!"

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Another, Another, Another Way

Springtime, when a young woman's mind turns to Rachmaninoff! It's time for another Philomusica concert, where I will attempt to be helpful to the choir. Mom roped me into working one of the concerts but hey, with working comes the beautiful, beautiful singing. Facts:
Russian and Hungarian Sacred Music - With Wind Ensemble plus S-A-T-B solos

Rachmaninoff, Sergei - Ave Maria
Russian liturgical music
Stravinsky, Igor - Ave Maria, Pater Noster, and Mass
Kodaly, Zoltan - Missa Brevis

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 2006 at 8 PM
SUNDAY, MAY 21, at 4 PM

Our Lady of Peace Church, North Brunswick, NJ
Click Here for Map and Directions

Ticket prices at the door are $18 regular, $16 students/seniors, $9 children under 13.

This morning, I was applying makeup to my preternaturally beautiful face (thanks, Mom and Dad!) when I heard a persistent clicking noise somewhere in the apartment. When I stopped staring at my great beauty, I followed the sound to the kitchen, where water dripped from a patched spot in the ceiling. Oh joy. As an Aquarius, I always have containers but I was out of time. I stuck a big basin under the leak and went to work, where I called the super for help.

No doubt there'll be phone calls this morning about the glass ornaments dangling from the ceiling, mere inches from watery disaster.

Yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that annoyed me. The Chronicle is subscription-only, so my friend lifted it for me to read (thanks, person with three advanced degrees!) These paragraphs are supposed to tease you to read more:
A glance at the current issue of American Politics Research: How The Daily Show influences young voters
The fake-news program The Daily Show With Jon Stewart may be just a comedy show - as its producers insist - but, according to a study by researchers at East Carolina University, it negatively influences how college-age viewers see political candidates. It also makes them more cynical of the news media and of the electoral process at large.

The researchers - Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, both assistant professors of political science - wanted to determine how "soft news" programs, such as The Daily Show, influence young voters. They focused on Mr. Stewart's program because it is watched by nearly half of all 18- to 24-year-olds. Additionally, the show's audience is typically less likely to get news from traditional sources, and more prone than older Americans to make use of such "soft" sources.

I said several naughty words out loud in a room where people - if you can believe it - have never heard me swear. I know! I can't explain that but listen: nowhere, never have I seen an explication of how to know neutral or weighted language when one sees or hears it and though I am supremely unqualified to write such a primer, these two paragraphs need the E.B. White Cattle Prod Treatment and I'm tending a bonfire.

A bazillion years ago, I was trying to get Miss Sasha to think critically about the world around her. This is not easy to teach a child, especially after years of uttering sweet nothings like The police are your friends and Just say no to drugs, sweetheart, you can't afford the really good ones. We sat down to watch Edward Scissorhands one afternoon, and I asked her question after question she couldn't answer. Then the credits quit. Miss Sasha showed me!

Miss Sasha: That is one bored housewife!
Tata: How do you know?
Miss Sasha: Parallel vacuum marks in the carpet.
Tata: See? OCD does come in handy! Good job, you!

The Chronicle is usually pretty good but the article is full of sloppy word choices, odd sentence construction and half-baked ideas. It reads like an tenth grade book report.

You: Princess, you break grammar and usage rules. What do you have to say for yourself?
Tata: I know the rules. When I break the rules I do so for effect. Or I wasn't wearing my glasses during editing and I'll fix errors when I find them, thank you very much. You either trust the writer you're reading or you don't. If you don't, I'm sure there's a toothpaste label somewhere you could read with every ounce of my wit, verve and preternatural beauty. Scoot!

Let's review what we can see, shall we?

* "...according to a study by researchers at East Carolina University, it negatively influences how college-age viewers see political candidates." It should be obvious by now that much of politics is image-management and the rest is white-collar crime. We hope there are a few humans involved with possession of their souls but odds are not good. If the Daily Show offers an unfiltered gaze at political candidates and that creates a negative impression, we should insist on more - not less - unfiltered gazing. Sorry the marketing failed! Let real life and daylight in, motherfuckers.

* "It also makes them more cynical of the news media and of the electoral process at large." ...than what? More cynical than when they were kept in the dark and fed bullshit? No more prancing winged ponies for you, undergrads! And while we're at it, get that has-a-problem-with-prepositions writer a proofreader.

* "...the show's audience is typically less likely to get news from traditional sources, and more prone than older Americans to make use of such "soft" sources." See? We have more than fixed but now we have less than trouble. This sentence is also chock full of assumptions, like the ones everyone should be making about veracity and quality control. Do our test subjects mention which version or versions of reality have a greater probability of approaching real reality? Because that might be the question on everyone's mind.

All of this would be nitpicking if not for the article's last lines, which are one short step and a long, screamy fall:

* "At the same time, though, watching The Daily Show made viewers 'more confident about their own ability to understand politics.' The authors attribute this to how the show simplifies complex issues through humor."

Simplifies? The Daily Show is one of the few shows on television that talks to me like an adult with an IQ above trainable. I wish more television news functioned with the same premise. It doesn't seem like too much to ask, frankly. The Daily Show makes it easier to, yes, identify the corrupt scumbags, because they're horrible and funny and...horrible...and for that ability, we have Jon Stewart to thank. But the single most important function the Daily Show serves is to mirror back to the failing press corps what isn't being said in the public sphere. No wonder the Chronicle's a little pissy.

Fuck, who wouldn't be?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Come Groovin' Up Slowly

Walking around Highland Park, I see and hear things I certainly wouldn't if I stayed home and vacuumed, which I should do at least some of the time. Because there is so much to see, sometimes it takes a couple of passes down a street between the time I see something and the time I know what it is or was. On a main avenue on the south side, I saw what looked like a stockpile of landscaping materials. Later, it resembled the results of a treasure hunt at Home Depot. Finally, one sunny afternoon, I stood close and finally realized what it was: the homeowner had assembled about two dozen solar lawn lamps into the shape of a peace sign on her lawn.

I was so impressed with this I decided then and there I have too much free time. Enough of me! Time to take another number at the Deli Counter of Love.

Monday, May 08, 2006

You Ain't A Beauty But Hey You're All Right

Governor Jon Corzine
Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Corzine,

I am writing to you after reading that last year's search for a state slogan was less successful than Dick Cheney's for a new hunting buddy. This is so sad!
The state has jettisoned "Come See For Yourself," its second attempt at a tagline in less than a year. It was the product of a statewide contest set up by then-acting Gov. Richard J. Codey last fall, after he rejected a consultant's offering: "We'll Win You Over."

State tourism officials said legal issues led them to scrap the latest slogan, explaining that West Virginia and other states previously used "Come See For Yourself."

Ours is a state full of proud people, each one a special, special snowflake, unique in his or her own right. When the former Acting Governor asked for slogan suggestions long lists appeared everywhere on the internet. Current and former residents showed no shortage of wit and verve. I myself came up with a few hot ones:
New Jersey: We're Well Armed!

New Jersey: Are You Gonna Vacation Here Or What?

New Jersey: Smell the Decomp!

And my personal favorite:
New Jersey: Let's Get A Slice!

I don't mean to be crude, Governor Corzine, but as slogans go Come See For Yourself and We'll Win You Over are the kind of pasteurized dreck only a marketer could love, and the kind who went to community college. Not that there's anything wrong with that!

As a former comedienne and a lifelong big mouth, I'm offended that bland platitudes were chosen to represent the many and various spicy peoples of New Jersey when we could have done and could do so much better. I love New Jersey! I get homesick on the Turnpike! Hey, there's another slogan: New Jersey: Pay Us To Leave.

Seriously, I love it here, east of where America Begins - or so says Pennsylvania. Those lightweights. They'd never make it in a mosh pit full of high hair Jersey Girls. Can't we have an equally gritty state slogan?

Let me know if I can help you. I'm civic-minded.

Kiss kiss,
Princess Tata

Oooh It's A Killing Machine

She and I wore pink ballet slippers to shreds in different classes in the studio behind the Hungarian-American Club in the seventies, danced in musicals in high school and made performance art in the nineties. She teaches yoga, works as a massage therapist and polishes the shiny imaginations of happy children as a faerie. Her faerie name is Willow. Until recently, I didn't know people had faerie names but I used to go camping in clown costumes with Medieval recreationists. So. Live and learn.

She's gorgeous.

Apparently, people with faerie names and faerie costumes get together and do faerie things at faerie festivals. I had no idea! Event photographs are beeee-yootiful and children look very pleased with their filmy wings, tutus and crowns. Some have feathery masks and costumed pets. It looks like lovely, colorful fun with the possibility of walking on stilts. Except - believe it or not - the recent festival drew protesters.

Willow says, "Yes, I had grown men and women screaming things like 'Faeries aren't real!' 'There is no mother earth, turn to Jesus Christ!'"

Delicately put: these church douchebags need a better hobby, perhaps one that produces something and helps people. How about whittling? I'm sure lots of de-funded school music programs could use handmade wooden flutes.

And speaking of flute-handling, bigots have festivals too, though one has to wonder how fairies go over at an Ex Gay soiree. Ex Gay - if you haven't heard - is the term for persons who came to heterosexuality (so to speak) after a brief encounter with the Word of the Lord. To me, they sound tragically fearful of blow jobs but to each his own. So long as he says he doesn't.

I can only pity the Ex Gay crowd. They make me look well-adjusted.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Only Love Can Conquer Hate

If you're feeling a bit depressed, skip to the next entry. This one's serious.

I. Twenty-one years ago, I was a young single parent living with my grandmother and my baby. Ronald Reagan was president, and I remember distinctly listening to him. I remember hearing between words a great deal ot be frightened of, and for months, I had terrifying dreams in which whole landscapes, cities and peoples were on fire. The suffering was terrible in these dreams. I was breathless, night after night, with the pain and fear of these dreams. It turned out several years later that during this period there were several really close calls in cold war nuclear relations, some of which were accidental nuclear cues that someone in a silo somewhere refused to acknowledge, saving all our lives. I don't have to believe in ESP to accept that allusions to events were available and I picked them up. Reagan's recklessness was perfectly visible to me. His utter contempt for the poor was headline news every week. His feelings about communists were a matter of public record. It didn't take a genius to see that dropping bombs on the Soviet Union was a distinct possibility, even by accident, and it almost happened several times. Two + two. Four.

II. More than ten years ago, I was sitting in the old Doll's Place in New Brunswick with a man I'd met at a party on someone's porch. We'd actually met twenty years before, once, when my mother picked up a friend and his son while they were hitchhiking on Route 18. It was odd that we'd only met that once because we were both kids at the same commune for a few years, but I was older. That night in the bar, he told me he was molested at the commune, and by whom. He asked me if I knew where the house was. I told him I did. He asked me to take him there, and I did. Before we left the bar, I went upstairs to the ladies' room. I was looking at my face in the mirror when I heard in my head lyrics to a flaky Adam Ant song: It makes me proud, so proud of you, I see the innocence shining through. Sometimes the subconscious chooses strange ways to communicate; even so, we must listen.

III. Last night, I had a dream in which a partner and I were making repairs on the needle of the Empire State Building. I remember dropping lengths of thick wire onto 34th Street, where crews were waiting for it from safe positions. I can't think of a reason I'd know the Empire State Building stood on or near 34th Street except in the way that its location is simply ambient. Everything that happens in the City hangs in the air here. My partner was climbing down easily. We had done this before. I was sliding down with my arms and legs wrapped around the needle. I could see my worn blue jeans and beige workboots. Suddenly I knew I was about to be in trouble. I was swinging around the needle in the wind. I called out to my partner but he couldn't hear me. My palms were wet, which I knew meant I wouldn't be able to grab a secure handlehold. My feet couldn't find the ladder. I was starting to lose my grip altogether when I opened my eyes. I described this dream to Siobhan this morning. She said, "So either you do something that might kill you or you do something that will. What's it going to be?"

Okay, then.

Never in my life did I imagine I would turn on my television for weeks on end and see American citizens in an American city starving and drowning while government officials stood around with their thumbs up their asses. That nine months later there is no comprehensive plan to either rebuild or officially abandon the Gulf Coast to the elements disturbs me. It has meaning. I have a sense of what it could mean, though no way to confirm or refute that sense. The one thing we can say without fear of contradiction is that the human elements of how the hurricane's aftermath was addressed may have had mishaps but the outcome is evident, and that offers insight into how our government is functioning, if the whys remain mysterious.

Yesterday at Shakespeare's Sister, Thesaurus Rex wrote an emotionally fraught post reviewing a USAToday article called Pandemic flu plan: Don't count on federal rescue. Perhaps you missed this story.
WASHINGTON (AP) - A flu pandemic would cause massive disruptions lasting for months, and cities, states and businesses must make plans now to keep functioning - and not count on a federal rescue, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Please read that article. I'm not a scientist. What was said is troubling enough but what was not said was worse: this report, issued by the government agencies that could not get around its own regulations and run trains out of New Orleans before Sean Penn could commandeer a leaky motor boat and rescue people, says, "You're on your own. That'll be $7.1 billion. Don't forget to tip your waiter."

I sincerely dislike admitting I'm afraid. I think it limits me as a human being to confine myself to this one emotion. I much prefer skipping straight to the plot twist in which by some unforeseen stroke of luck I figure out what to do and do it. In this case, I'm stymied and I'm frightened. In no way can I go McGyver and work out a plan that compensates for the completely foreseeable failures of the Bush administration given its history of domestic disaster failure. Simply: if the flu goes global a lot of us are going to die.

Is that acceptable? No. It is not acceptable that we're not developing, as a nation, in concert, a plan where we feed, nurse and care for one another.

It is not acceptable that our government has now said to us: it's not our problem. Best of luck! The article goes on:
"No less important will be the actions of individual citizens, whose participation is necessary to the success of these efforts," Bush added.

A flu pandemic would roll through the country, likely causing six to eight weeks of active infection per community.

"Local communities will have to address the medical and non-medical impacts of the pandemic with available resources," the report warns, because the federal government won't be able to offer the kind of aid expected after hurricanes or other one-time, one-location natural disasters.

Huh! Let's skip for a second towns and cities nowhere near hospitals. I'm no epidemiologist. The most scientific thing I ever did was throw preserved frogs out the window of my biology lab to see how fast they fell on top of the school buses. Maybe where there are no hospitals infection would spread more slowly, what do I know? Let's skip all that.
"They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you'll have an anarchy. And it's true, isn't it? You haven't eaten for a couple of days, and you've turned into a barbarian."

Larry Niven

I never, never want to hear another word out of the administration that claims it keeps us safe, because safety is impossible and starvation and mob violence are a distinct possibility - everywhere. A gun will not protect you. Storing up food will not protect you. A safe room in your house and shopping by mail order will not protect you. Pandemic is a crapshoot. Your life at least to some extent depends on the luck of the draw.

I feel stupid saying all this and I hate feeling stupid and afraid. If I don't say it, you might not know. Instinct tells me I have to talk and keep talking because the administration has already proven its willingness to thin the herd of its detractors and the poor via neglect. I'm cringing but Siobhan was right. Either we do something that might kill us or we do something that will. What's it going to be?

Update for NJ Carnival 5.12.06: In response to Oddjob's sensible comments about preventive hygiene - which are invisible to you - I wrote:
Oddjob my darling, you're absolutely right, and hand sanitizer - which seems like a crucially stupid idea most of the time unless you work in an abbatoir or a whorehouse or both - might actually work. I'm not afraid of the flu. I've had flu. I feel feverish and drink soup and puke a lot. Then I watch daytime TV, nap a lot and get better. Even the worst flu probably isn't going to kill me. I'm not afraid I'm going to die of the flu. I'm not even really afraid for myself, which I probably should have said in the post.

I'm afraid of martial law, of an administration that does not have our best interests at heart, of the grief we will all suffer as weaker family members and friends needlessly die, of the black mark on our souls as tragedy unfolds and we did not prevent it.

It's not the flu that scares me. It's the stupid humans.
Tata | Homepage | 05.06.06 - 9:49 am | #

That I am not afraid for myself seemed an important point, and I wouldn't even have written it down without his prompting. Thanks, Oddjob!

Do The Things We Never Have

Seriously, I baked two cakes last Friday night and laid out phyllo dough all Saturday morning until my kitchen was sticky and I was miserable. Naturally, the next thing to do was shower, apply makeup and drive down Route 27 singing with the windows wide open, because there's no way to feel cool on the way to a bridal shower so you might as well howl along with Toto on a testosterone-fueled classic rock station.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo's house used to stand in the woods and backed up to a cemetary. The cemetary's gone, and developers are carving out hunks of wooded area on every side of the house. Heavy equipment sits quiet half a mile behind the house, clearly visible between what's left of the trees but it is soon obscured by an ingenious mass parking job that is visible from space. The family has so many parties they bought a tent, which is pitched, decorated and filled with an embarrassment of small food riches, gifts and party furniture. It is also teeming with people I couldn't pick out of a lineup and every chair is taken. Sandy, daughter of Auntie, sister of Monday the bride, maid of honor at my daughter Miss Sasha's wedding, grabs my hands and kisses my cheek.

Sandy: I'm so glad you're here! I know you hate these things!

Yes, I hate women in packs. Inside the house, I find strangers barking food-related orders. I frown. I loiter. I frown. I sit down in another room. I frown. I wonder what I'm doing here. Auntie InExcelsisDeo emerges from Hair And Makeup Hell. She has prepared herself to be Mother of the Bride.

Auntie I.: Domenica! This is my niece Domenica. This is my former neighbor Effie.
Tata: It's Tata.
Effie: Domenica, nice to meet you.
Tata: It's Effing nice to meet you, too.
Auntie I.: Who do we know who drives a Jaguar? Ooh! It's Marguerite! Ta, go out there and make sure she has company.

Once upon a time, two Sicilian brothers married two Sicilian sisters and produced a whole bunch of Sicilian double-first-cousins in Highland Park, New Jersey who looked more alike than most siblings. The resemblance between my grandmother Edith, her cousin Marguerite and Marguerite's sister Mary Nancy was startling. I totter across the lawn in stupid shoes and tell Marguerite I'm her keeper, and let's go in the house. Auntie I., Mom, Marguerite and I buzz around the kitchen, listing off critical life-shaping events of the last year so after five minutes we can talk instead of announcing. Everyone blabbers about Marguerite's blond hair, courtesy of a hairdresser in Napoli who didn't speak English, and Marguerite's dialect was from the wrong neighborhood. Strangely, Marguerite's accidental blondness looks fantastic. If my hair were that creamy beige I'd look like Death; Marguerite's deep olive skin looks polished and healthy. After I turn 70, I'm moving into the tanning salon so I finally enjoy a family resemblance.

Auntie I. declares Monday and her fiance are on their way and nearby. It's Monday's birthday and she's expecting a barbecue. Uncle Frank, Father of the Bride and Tender of the Grill, is a giant of a man who can't hold still; he builds things, takes them down and builds other things. About half a dozen tall, lanky friends of Monday's younger brother Tony are tossing horseshoes on a brand new pitch. This becomes very exciting when Daria, her two young sons, husband Tyler and baby Miss Fifi walk across the lawn to the tent - and the little boys wrench hands free to go investigate what the big boys are doing. Tyler sprints after them. Two hours pass before I see him again.

Marguerite and I commandeer a small end table, steal pink napkins and set up a centerpiece because otherwise we're two ladies without a table and nowhere to set our lemonades. Mom brings a chair. Now we are three ladies sitting under a tent where three tables of people are staring at us and we have few ideas who they are. Time passes. More time passes. Daria and Miss Fifi sit down and thank Kali, because now we have someone to look at instead of the tiny, crustless sandwiches we can't eat until...we don't know when. Finally, Monday and her fiance Cary park and walk across the lawn.

Tata: I can almost smell a tiny sandwich.
Daria: Yeah, I can't believe you're here. You hate these things.
Marguerite: Oh God. I hate these things, too.

Monday has to kiss 400 people between the driveway and the tent and during that time, we have a brutally honest discussion of Marguerite's dating status.

Mom: How long have you been with this man?
Marguerite: Two years.
Mom: You went to Spain with him?
Marguerite: No, that was the last one.
Mom: The married guy?
Tata: What?
Marguerite: I don't know what you mean.
Mom: The "shared" one.

Suddenly, I'm not the only one who's made a career of petting strays and sending them home to their wives. What the hell? The other Bad Girl drives a Jag!

Tata: MOM!
Marguerite: I waited a long time for this man. He's a prince. Goofy, but a prince. He wears a watch he spent $7.95 for. We were walking around Boca and the band broke. He said he would just step into Tiffany and get the band fixed. I said, "Get out of here, they're going to laugh you out the door." So he went inside and said this family heirloom broke and he'd like to get a new watchband. The man behind the counter said, "Pardon me, sir, but I think you'll find what you're looking for at WalMart."
Daria: You were standing in the doorway, laughing your head off. Weren't you?
Marguerite: I was. So he went next door and the woman at the counter had the eagle eye and the accent of a New York Jew. She said, "Your wife has a Rolex and you're wearing that?" He said, "I wear that because my wife wears a Rolex." She said, "Maybe next time you spring for the classy $10 version, huh?"

Monday kisses her way through the tent and says, "Ta, you're here! You hate these things!"

Tata: Your mother promised to hunt me down and kill me if I didn't come.
Monday: Mom, you're the best!
Auntie I.: Love you, too, sweetheart!

Sandy patrols the tent, handing out bridal shower bingo cards. Mom takes one and cheats by writing everything Daria, Mom and I got together to buy.

Sandy: Do you want one?
Marguerite: Oh God, no!
Tata: I'd rather have a rash.

In her wake, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his new fiancee join us in the tent. Marguerite looks momentarily aghast. I jump up, "I have the BEST ex-husband!"

Tata: EEEEEEEEEEE! Congratulations!
FE-H: Hi! Thank you!
Tata: Do you remember Marguerite?

Seeing happiness and not ducking throwing knives, Marguerite is happy, too. She kisses the Fabulous Ex-Husband. I kiss Karen, his fiance. Mom kisses Karen, Daria kisses Karen. Miss Fifi kisses Karen. Marguerite is pleased to meet Karen. In the midst of all this kissing, I bleat, "Show us the ring! The ring!" but I can't reach her hand and Karen doesn't hear me. Mom catches hold of her hand.

Tata: Sasha picked it out. Let's see the ring!

Karen holds out her hand. The ring is beautiful. Four women, two of whom have the kind of jewelry expertise that comes of carefully examining the contents of blue boxes, oooh and ahhh. Miss Sasha has lovely taste and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) has the good sense to finance it. Karen takes a chair at one of the tables, where she is the belle of the ball. The Fabulous Ex-Husband joins the menfolk on the lawn, who are plainly having a much better time sunning themselves and drinking beer than I am until at some cue I don't hear, women get up and fill flowery paper plates with small food. Marguerite, brooking no nonsense, says aloud, "Can we eat yet?"

Auntie I.: Yes! Let's eat!

After the stampede and back at the tables, Marguerite asks about the phyllo pouch I made.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

Daria sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

Mom sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers...

I wish I'd brought White Castle sliders. For the next half hour, shower guests ask this question over and over.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers, Jimmy Hoffa.

Surprisingly, my mother does not swat the back of my head, perhaps distracted by the gifts Monday's opening. Monday registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel, leaving us with the impression that Monday, kindergarten teacher, has developed perilously expensive tastes. When Monday opens a Saturn-shaped cheese board, Mom smiles but I hear a sigh. One gift is too enthusiastically wrapped. Someone says, "Does anyone have a knife?" Mom, Marguerite, Daria and I each produce a knife. I wonder if the baby's still unarmed. Horrified, Monday says, "If I use a knife I'll have babies."

I'm sitting between two women over sixty. They don't need much of a shove.

Tata: Marguerite, did you hear that?
Marguerite: What did she say?
Daria: If Monday uses a knife she'll have babies.
Marguerite: Is that what she thinks? It's time InExcelsisDeo has a frank discussion with Monday.
Auntie I.: What what?
Marguerite: She thinks babies come from using knives.
Sandy: No wonder she's so dull.
Auntie I.: Nobody gave her cutlery, right?
Marguerite: Why do those people keep shouting, "BINGO"? Wasn't it bad enough the first time?
Mom: Monday, open that package so I can win, too.
Monday: You're cheating.
Mom: Of course, Monday, that's how it's done.
Monday: Cutlery!
Mom: Bingo!
Marguerite: Doesn't Monday look like Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She does!
Monday: Who's Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She made The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation.
Marguerite: Francis Ford Coppola's daughter.
Tata: I think she's tall, like you, Monday.
Marguerite: Except she's short like us.
Tata: In any case, we're all from the same island.
Monday: Oh.
Sandy: Who do I look like?
Tata: Daria, Todd, your brother, Daria's sons. You all look like our cousin Freddie. He's dead and no longer resembling much of anything, which is why you don't remember. And I look like the mailman brought me.
Daria: You look just like Mom.
Maguerite: You look like your grandmother.
Tata: I what?
Marguerite: Boy, she had a way of making your day. If you were feeling pretty good she could fix that for you in a flash.
Daria: "Nice shoes."
Tata: She would say sharp things to you, for sure, but she would tell everyone else how much she liked you. I heard that almost constantly.
Marguerite: It's wrong to speak ill of the dead but boy!
Tata: She had only one way of saying hello to us -
Daria: She would grab a handful of your hair and say -
Auntie I.: Would someone please pour me a glass of wine?

Auntie InExcelsisDeo seldom drinks and when she does, it's usually a sip of something and a face. This version of Auntie stands in sharp contrast to the one that taught me to keep vodka in the freezer and ran around with bikers. People do change.

Monday: Can I have a picture with my bridesmaids?

The girls assemble. They are all tall. It looks strange to me.

Monday: Now with my sister and my cousins!

Daria and I stare at each other. We put down our desserts and go stand next to Monday, who is easily 6' tall. Sandy is pretty close. Daria is close to Sandy's height. Then there are two blond cousins from Monday's father's side. I smile for the cameras. I feel very short, fat and middle-aged.

Tata: I'm going to get you for this, Monday.

Some people change, just not Me. The wedding's about a month away - ample time to plot revenge. For instance, what if the priest's suddenly indisposed, and the only officiant available is a mime? Who wouldn't buy the DVD of a wedding that turned into a game of charades between Pennsylvania farmers and Jersey Italians? The happy couple could start out life together as a big hit on EBay, and a lucrative investment for Me. So plotting my revenge is practically a public service...

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Wrong End Of the Looking Glass

Johnny writes:
I got a bonus two-disk version on of Tusk. The funny thing is that the supposedly freaky stuff on the second disk doesn't sound any more out there than the first. I'll copy it for you, if you listen to those particular boys and girls any more.

Is there a period of your life you look back on and think, 'If only I'd had better drugs and mean friends'? I think that every time I remember I have seven or eight Fleetwood Mac albums on vinyl. Tusk was a two-record set. About a quarter of the album sounds like the players were too bored for a second take. Is it possible the band reissued the album so it could be, you know, good?

I'm suspicious. The last thing Johnny sent me was Through the Barracades by Spandau Ballet. Lest anyone think we're stealing and profiting here I have to say I'd pay someone to guarantee I never hear it again. Further:
Freak out in a moon age daydream.

I just wanted to say that.


Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Girl Fight Tonight

Sunday morning, I was up before 8:30, in part because I'd flopped onto my bed at midnight the night before, which I haven't done except under the influence of influenza in nearly twenty years, but also due to the presence of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He lodged an urgent request that I refill his water bowl first thing, and he did so by standing on my chest with toenails I'm still trying to cut when I can catch him. So I got up.

After some coffee - a lot of coffee - and a little breakfast, I laced up my old trainers and marched out my door. I walked all over Highland Park, saw an old friend of the family, saw all kinds of beautiful trees, interesting animals and exciting flowers in maddening colors. Birds sang. People smiled. I remembered the words of a man I once loved, "The woods are my church and my religion." He was a selfish bastard but he treated his dogs well. In the park, I walked along the glistening Raritan, past morning softball players and pensive children half-heartedly dribbling basketballs. Up on the avenues again, I observed the details of homes and yards carefully maintained and fitfully neglected. A house I lived in years ago has an overgrown patch where I grew tomatoes, cilantro and basil. The family store was locked up and dark, which surprised me. I walked a random path back toward my apartment when my path intersected with Anya's family's. It was almost miraculous. Anya didn't even say hello.

Anya: Did you know that 400,000 people have been killed in the Sudan? I have got to watch the news more!
Tata: Since the beginning of the conflict in Darfur? You're not going to find it on the news.
Anya: When the pastor said that I felt like I'd been punched in the stomach. Our church and the temple you got married in are sponsoring a joint action. We're adopting refugees. Would you spend a dollar a month to take care of a child?
Tata: I would! That's great, I'm glad you're doing this. But because I'm totally stupid, I'd give you $12 for a whole year, okay? So you're just coming back from...?
Anya: Church. And you're coming back from...?
Tata: The park. Same deal. Hey! I went to Monday's bridal shower.
Anya: Omigod, you hate those!
Tata: Am I still twitching? By the way, do you know why I can't find recycled paper products at the grocery store in our progressive town?
Anya: Aren't Marcal products recycled? Isn't that their thing?
Tata: Thanks! That sounds vaguely familiar. I'll check.

Before Anya got married, had children and opened a business, she was an energetic single woman who ran around with Irish artists and Australian communists and swore up and down she'd never have children. Of all my siblings, she was the best-informed and most politically astute. Her moral outrage was as good as a grenade at family dinners. Also: even when I painted my toenails black I was wearing ostentacious color by comparison. Baby, those days are over. We're all too tired for a food fight and we care about the china.

I kiss my little nephew and niece on their foreheads and march back to my place, where I scour my bathroom within an inch of its tiled life. Then I turn my attention to the kitchen. Before the bridal shower, I'd baked for two days and my kitchen is both sticky and greasy. It's as if I redecorated with PAM, and the new tacky texture clashes with the curtains. While I'm at the store Monday morning looking for a natural and non-toxic degreaser, I stand in the paper aisle for twenty minutes and read labels. I don't find any recycled paper towels or facial tissues but the Marcal toilet paper does indeed have the "paper from paper, not from trees" logo. I stand in line for a few minutes at customer service to ask why there aren't more recycled paper products and green cleaning solutions but then the woman in front of me in line says, "There's no one behind the counter!" I say, "I'll...come back when this puzzle has a sailboat."

Well then, I've developed a new brand loyalty. At least until I try it.

Monday evening, I discover yet another thing I actually know, which is making me feel like a poor student at the head of the class: going for a walk after dinner is great stuff. I walk hither. I walk yon. I knock on Anya's door. Children are running everywhere. Dinner and store-related chatter are wrapping up. I hand Anya $12.

Tata: I promised!
Anya: You remembered! You're out and about a lot lately.
Tata: I made the mistake of stepping on a scale and saw a new number. I don't mean I'd never been near that number. No, I mean I'd never seen that number on a scale before. I jumped off and shouted, "LIAR!"
Anya: Ooh, I hate when that happens.
Corinne: Did you smash it with something and throw it away?
Anya: Did you decide it was obviously broken and forget to replace it?
Tata: So many options!
Corinne: What did you eat to console yourself?
Tata: A fistful of Nutella. However did you guess?
Corinne: Just lucky.
Anya: Our Sudanese boy's name is Lucien. Do you want to see his picture?
Tata: No, thank you. Ahead, Irony Factor 6. Engage!

I used to lose weight and keep myself thin through the magical combination of poverty, vigorous exercise and a convenient eating disorder. Those days are also over. I'm trying out a new plan in which I eat reasonable portions, exercise vigorously and keep walking when I see boro residents I used to date. And their dogs.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Calling Mr. Cairo

The other day, my department was just sitting down for a meeting.

Lupe: ...and did we ever figure out who did that song Limelight? I don't think we did.
Ricardo: No, we were talking about other things.
Tata: Got a few words?
Lupe: (warbling in falsetto) "Living in the limelight..."
Tata: That's Rush.
Lupe: I can't believe you knew that!
Ricardo: Yeah, especially for a - you know - that's not, like, your thing.

Just about any English-speaking person of my age, beige or lighter, with an FM radio in New Jersey would have known Rush did that song, but really, let's not limit ourselves to what we think may be common knowledge. Ricardo thinks of me as a person who likes bands nobody's ever heard of, which is fine by me but that's not the end of it. I actually like bands several people have heard of.

Johnny reports that even detective fiction has its one-trick ponies:
The way I understand it, Raymond Chandler and Dash Hammett tried to lift detective fiction out of the swamps of pulp sold on newsstands and into the tasteful glow of literature. The people in that camp were appalled by Mickey Spillane, who they saw as dragging it back down. Ross Macdonald was seen as a welcome step back toward giving private dick fiction a little class. Well, I'm here to tell you, the guy's a stooge. I just finished The Barbarous Coast, and I'm angry that he was allowed to call this a book. It's my own fault, I go looking for these things at the library, anything with a pistol and a half-naked chick on the cover, I greedily snap up, and I start them and I can see right away that they're trash, but without the lurid...ity? ...luridosity? lurid quality that makes honest pulp enjoyable, yet I keep on with grim and joyless determination to the last wretched paragraph, like I'm going to learn something about writing, when I fucking already know already, wait until you have enough stuff to make a book before you say you've written a goddamn book. Don't write ten percent book then go back and put in ninety percent filler and give it to your publisher and tell them you're done. I feel for these bastards like Ross Macdonald and Robert Parker. They must have found themselves living the lavish life their first few books bought them, but slowly running out of ideas for more books, having to give something they knew was tripe to publishers desperate for something with that magic name on it, eking out an existence just like the paid-by-the-word pulp hacks they were told they were so superior to when they started. I can see Ross Macdonald sitting out on the terrace of his home by the beach in some tony California town, cigarette in his mouth, in a wife-beater, boxers, and a pair of black socks, tapping out this turkey on a battered old Underwood typewriter left over from the days when he was young and they told him he had talent, pouring scotch into his coffee to give himself the strength to just keep going, keep tapping, until he had enough pages to give to Bantam Books and be done with it already, for crissakes.

A contract's a contract, and a deal with the Devil will someday come due. Ask Dick Cheney! And, by the way, Stephen Colbert is a god.