Thursday, August 31, 2006

And Come Down, And Put Your Heart In This Fight

General Hospital is working my very last nerve - not in the way you'd think, either. (If you're not a soap fan, stick with me for a minute; you will be rewarded with yummy, candy-like logic.) I have two problems you could call wimmin trouble.

Alexis the District Attorney gave up a baby when she was 16 and discovered mere months ago that Port Charles' favorite gun moll Sam is her long-lost daughter, which required Alexis to decide fully grown Sam shouldn't form a new monogram with unbearably hot mobster Jason. If you flip past your ABC affiliate during the day, you can see these three characters reciting the day's dialogue sestina, the one constant being the list of words recycled five episodes a week: safe, protect, danger, daughter, and stay away. Granted, I have controlling-Mommy issues to beat the band, but Alexis' controlling-Mommy behavior was unbearable from the beginning. After Alexis developed cancer, her urge to order the lives of others makes me want to incite mob violence. There is just something creepy about the Mommy who cuts you off from the object of your desire, no matter what nonsense she's spouting. Soap opera mommies do it all the time but in this case, the added creep-factor is that tasty Jason agrees and acquiesces to Alexis' wishes. Eeeeeeeewwww.

Lulu's Pregnant
Luke and Laura's unwanted 18-year-old daughter turned up preggers, half the town knows and you can bet your boots everyone will shout the words options, baby, choices, adoption and abortion but no one gets an abortion on the soaps. Soap fans are generally a very conservative bunch, which you can tell like the time in Times Square because other than the 18-year-old, nobody says the word abortion without curling a lip. I was just about at the end of my rope with this bullshit when Lulu's older brother Lucky, hopped up on hillbilly heroin, grabbed a phone out of her hand and told her she wasn't getting an abortion. This paternalistic treatment of another adult character, sibling relationship or no, is so far beyond the bounds of decency I considered turning off GH for good.

This is not harmless. The only one who understands an abortion is a safe, legal, private medical procedure is the teenager, while the characters around Lulu spout crap about injunctions and forcing her to have a baby. Do you know what tolerating this leads to?

Douchebaggery, Of the Strictly Figurative Kind
...this guy, a complete stranger, deciding what medical care you can receive. Not you, you adult, you. Not your doctor, who presumably went to medical school for a long time and has an ethical obligation to help you. No. This friendly little article describes a man who will decide whether your medical needs should and will cause you shame. You don't have to be a woman to find this concept threatening. Go ahead. Give it a good think.

The reason this paternalistic crackpot gets to treat you this way in 2006 is that since 1980, our reproductive and privacy rights have been eroding steadily. The public discourse is euphemistic crap because nothing is more dangerous than saying the words I've had an abortion, and under the same circumstances I'd do it again. Women can't discuss abortion seriously in mainstream politics in the twenty-first century, which gives license to crackpots, who think their opinions about someone else somehow matter.

Most people have simple desires where pharmacists are concerned:
1. Must be able to count.
2. Must notice when chemicals will interact badly.
3. Must mind own business.

If you can't manage any one of those things, applicants to pharmacy school should consider a field where you can't fuck up the lives of people for miles around. I hear Home Depot is hiring.

All of this is important - especially my soap opera pet peeves - but pales by comparison with this. Please just read it, because if it stands, there is nothing left of America but dust and crumbs, and waiting for it to be your turn. I can't add anything to what either of them says. It can happen here. It is.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

With Eyes You've Not Used Yet

Telegiornale RAI is on in my living room. This is humbling fun for my brain, since I don't speak Italian. I can eavesdrop a little, which is what I'm doing with the news. The carabinieri are very busy all over the peninsula, some parents locked up children in Palermo, and the soccer players are unfailingly hot. I hear words I recognize but it takes me too long to remember what they mean. Those exciting moving pictures in the background offer exciting context clues, as in: Oh. The soccer players are unfailingly hot. Italy's endless supply of hot soccer players is one of its most endearing natural resources - that, and delightful places a girl can stow her boning knife.

Today, I found a copy of the eviction complaint - whatever you call it - taped to my front door. When this is all over, I'm going back to the yoga studio to work the venom out of my Chi before I bite someone. Not in a good way.

On Monday, Siobhan picked me up and we drove through the Lincoln Tunnel, around the park and down Park Avenue to the Neue Gallery. Because we live in New Jersey and cultivate very different personal space desires than people who take subways everywhere, we parked across the street and found ourselves mildly in conflict with the gallery's narrow hallways and people on line to get into the four-star cafe. Far fewer were interested in seeing art than being seen with biscotti, which struck us as a huge waste of time. We found the elevator and went to the second floor.

We'd come to see Gustav Klimt's Adele.

It's a popular exhibit, and we arrived on a Monday, when other galleries are closed. There were people standing around art out of habit, which is sad in a city full of bright ideas. I was particularly excited by inventive German flatware, though I can't remember from which school. I didn't have the presence of mind to pick up a pamphlet. Ah well. But there are still things to say, and two paintings of Adele, each of which is about the same size as me. One is mesmerizing and confusing and churns up the emotions. The other is made of gold, doesn't photograph well and stops your heart. In both cases, the paintings themselves could give you a headache from all the thoughts you're trying to think at once. In both cases, a whole separate study of how exhibit attendees behave seeing these paintings might be interesting. I expected people to get down on their knees. I swear I checked for drool. In the next room, Siobhan and I found benches and sat down back to back. Then we shifted in quarter turns. On one wall: sketches of Adele. Immediately adjacent: erotic sketches by another artist. On the far wall: sketches and paintings by Egon Schiele, whose madness and passion I love - though I'd never seen his work before. He was an abstraction before, a lesson, a rumor. I have begun to miss him.

Upstairs, we found rooms devoted to Bauhaus, German Expressionist and another school I can't remember, and I should. One small Kandinsky made me feel warm all over, and it seemed especially charming to find a portrait of Kandinsky two frames over. Siobhan's favorite room featured a few of Mies van der Rohe's spare, airy furniture designs. I liked that people had obviously lived with and used them. The thing about seeing them now is they've been endlessly imitated, and it takes effort to consider the designs in their times and places when I could force myself into any craptacular Route 22 furniture retailer and see fifth-generation bastard children of the originals.

After a few hours, climbing in the car and driving home was a great idea.

Update: I always feel like Robert Stack narrating Unsolved Mysteries when I type that. Perhaps I'm developing a trenchocoat fetish. Anyway: Siobhan informs me that I misjudged.

Siobhan: Just read PIC - you're wrong. My favorite room was the one with the disturbing nudes by Otto Dix. More to think about, there.
Tata: Yeah, like how many times you turn down a drink at Otto's house before he whacks you with something. Ooh! I forgot about that tiny photographic portrait gallery with the weird half-lighting. We thought someone left a closet unlocked, remember?
Siobhan: You thought all the artists were wearing ties until we saw Klimt in a dashiki he probably painted himself. It matched the gold Adele.
Tata: Adele kind of blended into the chair she was sitting on. Maybe we were looking at truly innovative reupholstery.
Siobhan: They were wearing throw pillows with sleeves?
Tata: You're absolutely panting for me to make a frisky design joke about Gropius, aren't you?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

I Wish You Were A Beer

In August every year, my job becomes very intense and stays that way until winter break, when I keel over and seethe with wassail-soaked hostility until just after New Year's, when I have about two weeks to do all the things I put aside for four months because they didn't concern money. Two weeks are not many. Then a new cycle of Find The Money starts in a fury that ends in early July.

This year, the work started a few weeks early. I expect to blog lightly for the next month. Please bear with me. My love is true! There's a lot to talk about; life is very eventful. The eviction hearing thing is next Wednesday and I'm just freaked out enough that I sleep even less than usual. So I'm going to sign off and polish my nails a shimmering jet black. I may be frantic, but my manicure will still be fabulous.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Some Place So High Above This Wall

Just under a year ago, a co-worker whose son has participated in Air Force rescue and recovery missions, asked my opinion of what was happening in New Orleans. At that moment, the levees had already broken, people were trapped and drowning. It was all quite unbelievable that our federal government, which until that time had a rather er reassuring manner of swooping in at times of crisis to minimize loss of life, did absolutely nothing. Didn't seem to notice disaster was happening. Didn't care. Did nothing.

My co-worker, also unable to believe what she was seeing on the news, was hoping for assurance from me - like I'm the Voice of Reason. It was the summer of 2005, when people were using the words treason and dissent interchangeably, and I don't like to discuss politics in the office. This time, I broke my little rule. I told her what we were seeing on television was not a massive rescue being slowly organized, and it would take time. No, we were seeing the administration's true colors: avarice, corruption, cowardice and a mind-blowing lack of human empathy.

The co-worker, whose life experience is greater than mine, spoke rather sharply about how rescues must be coordinated and they take time to mount and launch. I understood her problem. She believed in the willingness of soldiers, sailors, doctors and pilots to show up, face down the situation and save the endangered. If they weren't there, they must've been on their way. There must be a reason for the delay.

This charming faith in the heroic people who do these dangerous and dirty missions for us is precisely the thing blinding people who shout "Support the Troops!" like those words mean anything, and I say they're meaningless because nobody says boo when Bush cuts funding for the Veterans Administration. My co-worker turned on her heel and walked away, but as events unfolded calamitously, as attitudes were revealed in actions and inaction, she didn't raise the subject again.

It has often been the cold comfort of those out of political fashion that no one four-year or eight-year presidency can so change the bureaucracy that it cannot be changed back, and even so, the middle class would remain largely unaffected. My co-worker was struggling with the idea that life in America had truly changed, and that she could not trust the government to act as it always had. I felt bad for her, knowing the people were willing but our leaders were not.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

All the World Is, All I Am

All day, a delicate mist has fallen over the parched and browning greenery, reviving trees, lawns and late summer blooms. This morning, I could not tell from inside the apartment whether that mist would feel gentle on the skin, but I laced up my sneakers, strapped the beach bag across my back and went out. Within two blocks, I was thrilled to feel this mist on my face and arms. The cool scent of flora drinking in the moisture it has craved is a sweet thing, and my heart sang. Then I turned the corner of South Second and Benner, where the scent on the breeze changed.

Thursday, I woke to the sound of helicopters overhead, which has become a sign that something dreadful is happening. Months ago, a firefighter in my home town died on a day I awoke to the sound of helicopters, and just over a week ago, helicopters overhead signified a bar I used to frequent burned down, taking half a neighborhood with it. The other day, when I heard the helicopters again, my heart sank. The Conservative Temple in Highland Park was on fire. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and I got married there eighteen years ago. The temple is arguably the heart of this town, even as there are several other synagogues within walking distance.

Fires have different smells that tell the nose important things. A wood fire cannot conceal the scent of what kinds of wood are burning. An electrical fire has a powdery, metallic smell. A house fire combines the smells of burning wood and fabric with the acrid smells of melting plastics and metals. You know the smell of a house fire. I was in New York for a Supersuckers/Zeke show in late September, 2001. The cab driver took us as far south as the police barricades and said, "Now you get out and walk." We weren't near our destination. We said, "Walk?" He pointed: this way, that way, this way, over there, you'll be fine. Everything was covered in a fine dust, and there were bits of paper everywhere. The dust required no explanation but the paper lying everywhere and floating on the breeze was startling. The paper we shuffled through had been sitting on someone's desk, in someone's files, when the Towers came down. Then we turned a corner and the smell of September 11th hit my friends and me like a baseball bat across the face: the housefire smell, intense and one might say loud, with the horrible additions of burned chemicals and a certain excruciating smell one might with reticence recognize as flesh-like. Heaven help me, I stopped in my tracks and turned to face it. I inhaled everything on the wind. A breath. Tragic history in fragrant waves. When I exhaled, I said, "Go in peace, sad spirits." I said, "Goddamnit, I need a beer."

At the corner of South Third and Benner sits the temple. It runs the length of the block and caution tape dangles from every door handle and railing along South Third Avenue. The tape looks tired. Thursday evening, on my way to the family store, I saw police cars everywhere and people standing in the streets, just staring at the charred temple. On my way home, most of the people were gone but the Eyewitness News van had set up shop on South Third Avenue. Today, of course, everyone was gone.

On this block and for a block or two in each direction, the air smells like a house fire - sort of. There's also another strong smell. Ever handle an old roll of cheap masking tape? Something about it changes over time, and it begins to smell a bit like smoke, but a peculiar smoke with a slight hint of plastic and brown sugar cure. One step off the curb and the smell is gone. I turn around to see if I imagined it, but there it stands: the temple, tired caution tape, a sad figure in a small town.

Waiting For You At the Bottom of the Bottomless Blue

About an hour ago, I received an email from one of my international contacts for work. It was sent to me Thursday morning. All week, emails have bounced back to me days after I dashed them off. I wondered why everyone I knew was so quiet. So. If I seem out of touch, I'm not. For the time being, you might have to call me or talk in comments.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

That Doesn't Make You Jesus

Just for fun, consider the extent and limit of your ability to observe. Before you pronounce yourself the Sherlock Holmes of your social set, imagine what I can only imagine with great difficulty: that I am not the Center of the Universe. I know! It's a giant leap into space and back, but - just for this moment - imagine that something or someone else might be the Center of the Universe. Well, if there's room in your brain for that crazy idea, there's no end to your wild imagination. Let's don our leopard-print space suits and go! I'm your Dr. Watson.

My co-worker was born and raised outside Boston. She has two grown children and five grandchildren. Her brother is in an adult community. Emily has perfect posture, her health is good and her recall must be nearly perfect, because her special talent is to catalogue the life events of the people around her and organize the connections between them. Emily remembers hearing my grandmother talk in Edith's beauty shop about her little granddaughters doing ballet. Emily lives with a strict class hierarchy in her head and an almost magical ability to smile and say nothing overt. Her desk is never messy. Her clothing is this season's. Unless you look closely at her rapid, economical movements and the clipped way she keeps her hands close to her sides, you might not observe that Emily was a stewardess in the 1960s based in New York City and has flown all over the world. Recently, she said to me, "Baghdad was a beautiful city, but I didn't love Teheran." Her manners are proper New England. In ten years, I have never heard her raise her voice.

What might be the ironic bane of her existence?

I am wearing beige slacks, a spring green cardigan, green sandals, copper toenail polish, make up. My hair is a dark, healthy red. My raincoat is giant floral in cartoon colors, mostly pink and orange. The first person I meet at the door is Daria's peculiar mother-in-law, with whom I recently did not have an interstate conflagration. As I walk into Daria's house for Tyler's, Tyler Too's, Sandy's, Tony's and Sandro's birthday party, Dad is sitting on a chair near the buffet table, which is a surprise. Daria has hired a babysitter because twenty children are expected at this party. Dad hasn't been speaking to me since I accidentally spilled what the whole family knew and was keeping secret, though I didn't know I was supposed to keep my trap shut, when I asked my fifteen-year-old sister, "So, how's the whoring and the drinking working our for ya?" I was joking. It was a class trip and the kids snuck out in Paris and drank wine. Who wouldn't? More important: who hasn't?

Who spends an hour and a half sitting next to me in the living room?

The drive to Daria's house is over an hour from my apartment. I am listening to CSNY's Helpless and burst into tears. Because I am both uncommonly beautiful and uncommonly vain, I finally stifle myself and do not crash my car, though I do miss a turn and drive miles out of my way. Because I am also brilliant, I figure out where I am and improvise a route to Daria's house.

What is so tragic that after a year I still dab stray eyeliner?

Let's review.

The ironic bane of Emily's existence is that her children also love to travel, which means two of her grandchildren live in Alaska and three recently returned from a year in New Zealand. When the plane landed, I said, "Thank Vishnu, I can stop wondering how Emily's mother used to complain."

Despite the fact that we hate one another, Daria's mother-in-law sat next to me and tried to make conversation. I gave it a shot, then resorted to pretending she was an NFL mascot.

Must I choose one horrible, unnecessary tragedy?

Friday, August 25, 2006

Your Sky All Hung With Jewels

As Corinne moves toward me, I turn off the vacuum and rack my brain for verbs to describe the unusual motion of her approach. Is she hobbling? Slithering? Sashaying? Climbing the side of the building like TV Batman? As she steps through the store's back door, her weight rests on a foot and both hands on the doorknob. She shifts her hands to a railing that leads downstairs to the stockroom and pulls herself a step closer. Her hands shift to the jewelry counter and she takes another step. With each step, she also shifts which shoulder and which side of her face faces me. I've turned off the vacuum because I must know why my much-younger sister appears to be giving me a silent film version of The Eye. Then she says magic words.

Corinne: I've discovered frostbite hurts.

I swear to God she said this yesterday, when everywhere in New Jersey it was August. I'm all a-twitter.

Tata: Your theory intrigues me! How will you support it?
Corinne: I had a plantar's wart removed and the doctor freezes it off. The he digs out what he's frozen. I've been going for weeks. See?

She points to an ordinary BandAid on the bottom of her foot that does not at all make me think of polar bears and icebergs. This is disappointing.

Corinne: Usually, the doctor says, "This is going to pinch" and it does or I don't feel it. Sometimes he says, "This is going to hurt" and it does. But today, he didn't say anything. And I would've been fine except Tippecanoe was sitting there, asking, "Does it hurt a lot?"
Tata: Scientific curiosity. I like that boy!

He is sitting at the counter, playing video games and squealing, "Kill him! Kill him!" and "I stabbed him in the head, yay!" This is a moral dilemma for me. I appreciate a young man's introduction to knifeplay but think it should be done the old-fashioned way: in person. The disconnect created by the floral-scented store full of gorgeous things where Japanese flute music sets a peaceful tone and the gloating seven-year-old was too much for my tiny brain and required Hoover therapy.

Corinne: This time...anyway, I couldn't scream.
Tata: I don't see why not. He's busy stabbing things and they're not screaming properly. When the doctor stabbed you, you should've hollared at the tops of your lungs. For Science!
Corinne: I would never have thought of that in a million years.

Speaking of things I think about all the time, this is exactly the kind of public art project I loved doing and miss now.

In this time of finger-pointy-name-callingy-unfunny-y-repressive Eeeeeeeeevil, I see that I haven't been using my brain for Good to the full extent of its powers. I apologize. I thought blogging was the most I could do and maybe it has been - but it is my revolution, and why am I not dancing?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Having Trouble Understanding Jane

This morning, my co-workers can't say enough about how I look.

Beth: You look like candy!
Nina: Your toes are perfect! And that ankle bracelet! Where did you get it?
Tata: I think my friend's cousin made it for me.
Nina: You're so colorful!

Yep, I'm wearing an outfit that would cause Siobhan grave concern: cropped pants in a tawny print, apple-green sandals and a vivid-pink cardigan that this morning motivated men I've known for decades to murmur, "Pink is my favorite flavor." So, I join the parade of people enjoying the view. The top button's unbuttoned and I've spent the hours admiring my cleavage, which is way more portable than internet smut.

In fact, I'm so near Me, I break into a sweat every time I think of it. My charisma is inspiring. I am mesmerizing! I may need bodyguards to protect my many admirers from themselves, much as accountants could protect people from this thievin' polygamist:
They allege she went from from one spouse to the next before they realized she had cleaned out their bank accounts.

McConnell has already pleaded guilty to attempted forgery and intent to defraud for writing bad checks to her former husband, Richard McConnell. Those checks were drawn on an account belonging to Len Battaglia, who she married before McConnell.

I have never before felt such a need to slap nametags on people I'll never meet. Let's try this again, and speak slowly so I can read your lips!
"From our view, it's pretty straightforward," Macomb County assistant prosecuting attorney Michael Servitto told "She married Mr. McConnell and then married Mr. Rice without obtaining a divorce from Mr. McConnell beforehand."

But defense lawyer Robert McClellan is expected to argue that, because his client was already married to Len Battaglia when she married McConnell, her marriage to McConnell was invalid.

"Since the marriage to Richard McConnell wasn't a legal marriage, she wasn't guilty of polygamy when she later married Mr. Rice," McClellan told the Macomb Daily in 2006. "It's more correct to call her a serial monogamist."

So polygamy prevented her from being a polygamist? More interesting than anything else about the case is defense lawyer McClellan's logic. I am very excited to see this kind of silliness set legal precedent - and so is Joe Lieberman.
"We are happy to have cleared this hurdle, so we can focus on bringing people together in Connecticut for a new politics of unity and purpose," said Dan Gerstein, [Senator Joe] Lieberman's campaign spokesman.

Lieberman lost the August 8 primary to [Ned] Lamont, a Greenwich businessman who criticized Lieberman for supporting the Iraq war and for being too close to Republicans and President Bush.

See, the thing that everyone could agree on was there was a primary election, but after that, all bets were off. The people of Connecticut were divided on who should run for US Senator. Democrats talking about who should support whom sounded like a Viagra-soaked EST convention. In the days leading up to the primary everyone agreed was a more or less ordinary civics exercise of a factual nature, a number of people behaved badly in front of cameras and microphones, such that I - remember what's important, here, and nothing is more important than My Happiness - was bored and annoyed with Mr. Gerstein. In a factual sense, Mr. Lieberman lost and Mr. Lamont won but Mr. Lieberman will unite Connecticut by dividing his party in the November election. I am breathless with a desire to - as a bumper sticker I saw yesterday advised - Visualize Grilled Cheese.
The day after the primary, Lieberman submitted petitions to create his own political party and appear on the ballot.

A poll released last week showed Lamont gaining support in November's three-way Senate race,[sic]

But the Quinnipiac University poll showed that Lamont still has an uphill battle against Lieberman, the 2000 nominee for vice president.

Lieberman led Lamont among registered voters 49 percent to 38 percent. Republican Alan Schlesinger got support from 4 percent.

That's an improvement for Lamont, who trailed Lieberman 51 percent to 27 percent in a three-way race in a July 20 Quinnipiac poll. That survey of registered voters showed Schlesinger with 9 percent.

CNN routinely tests my patience with numbers from all sorts of sources that routinely contradict one another. It's almost as if CNN dares me to ignore them. In any case, the fact to be extracted from this pool of speculative - um - speculation is that the guy who won may still lose to the guy who lost.

Look me in the eye and tell me: who should be sweating?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Tapestries, Wishes of Man

The budget crisis in New Jersey is very serious, much more serious than people who say "Cut my taxes" acknowledge. I am waiting for a phone call from one of the university's vendors and I'm going to talk him out of $4000. I've got the facts on my side. I've got the desire to get him to agree, and he will. What I don't got is the patience to wait another hour for this phone call. I have an attention span too short to ride this Tilt-A-Whirl. An hour ago, I'd been waiting half an hour but I couldn't wait any longer to go - shall we say - powder my nose. I stood in the middle of the office and issued an order: I'm going to the bathroom. If my phone rings, answer it and sing Feelings until I get back.

While I wait for the court date to establish whether or not I'm evicted, which no one seems to believe I will be, while I wait for summer to end, for the students to return, for the month thousands of newcomers drive wrong ways on New Brunswick's one-way streets, for even skillful blogging to make sense in a world where people say about bombing civilians "That's just the way it is," I wonder what I'm really waiting for. Am I waiting for a companion soul? For the real estate bubble to burst? For a two-for-one frozen duck sale at Pathmark? - Because that will never happen, but I think that about many things people generally anticipate.

Life has returned to the way it was last spring, only with greater humidity and pointlessness. I need a new reason to live, if only to learn some patience.

Monday, August 21, 2006

Silence Is Easy, It Just Becomes Me

Blogger has thrown me out and trashed draft posts five times tonight. This afternoon, for hours, my work email was out. Blame it on sunspots, blame it on my special relationship with computers, blame it on the price of Skittles in Silicon Valley; the result is the same. I am not a trusting person. You and I can sit at this table and converse only so long as I can see both your hands. Don't try anything. I've got ketchup packets and I know how to use them.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

No, We Can't Dance Together

Mr. Breszny, eternal optimist, advises Aquarians:
It's time for you to fall in love, Aquarius - though not necessarily with a person. You could swoon with infatuation for a place where your heart feels free, for example. You could dive into new music that liberates you from your past, or give yourself with abandon to a fascinating task that brings out the best in you. You might lose your heart to a mind-expanding mentor, a mysterious animal, or a thrilling fight for justice. It really doesn't matter exactly how or what you fall in love with, Aquarius, as long as it incites you to break open the doors of perception.

Saturday morning, my phone rang.

Voice: It's the Frito Bandito!
Tata: Noooooooooooooooooo!
Voice: [Spanish Spanish Spanish] Do you know who this is?
Tata: I was just ironing my sombrero and handwashing my six-shooter. Of course, Peaches!

Scout is so butch I decided last month she needs a diner waitress name. No one has ever addressed her as fruit before.

Scout: What are you really doing?
Tata: Laundry. You don't think glitter applies itself, do you?
Scout: Copycat! There's a festival in Asbury Park, with some concentration on energy issues. Wanna go?
Tata: I'd love to but you'd have to carry me. I'm pooped!
Scout: You are? Okay, I have other errands. Would you be interested in going with me to Patel's Cash & Carry on Oak Tree Road?
Tata: What is it?
Scout: It's an Indian grocery store. Bring twenties.
Tata: I can be ready in half an hour.
Scout: Our first stop will be coffee so we remain conscious as we consider our purchases.

Half an hour later, Scout rings the doorbell that always sounds like a game show wrong answer. We get in her new car and drive back roads to a part of Oak Tree Road I don't recognize. We're in sprawling Edison, the giant town next to little Highland Park. Traffic in Edison is so bad I avoid it if possible and seldom drive there myself. Scout is not intimidated by things like traffic. On the way to Oak Tree Road, we stopped at the Quik Chek near her apartment for coffee. Sometimes, when you walk into a room you feel the temperature drop, and as we walked to the back of the store, I felt it. We poured ourselves coffee and a woman came around the service island, addressing Scout in very familiar terms. Scout was cordial but the woman was loud, with a little girl running around her feet. The woman went on and on about being fired from Quik Chek because she was pregnant. Scout finally said, "Look, I don't think we know each other." The woman talked on and on. Ordinarily, this would be my cue to say, "Darling, Grandma's waiting," or "Sweetheart, we've got to get to the party store before they run out of X-Rated balloons," but the vibe in the store was strange, so I tugged us toward the cash register and paid for coffee. As we were leaving, the woman was still talking. So when we parked at Patel's Cash & Carry, we hoped the Freak Magnet was set on OFF.

We walked around the store, looking at everything. Some items were familiar but many were not and this was very exciting. I can do this for hours. Scout found incense she wanted. I found bargains on tahini, chutneys and a garlic-ginger paste. Bags of golden raisins and shelled pistachios tempted us both but neither of us decided to buy. Then we turned a corner and found a glorious thing: ready-to-heat Indian vegetarian meals on sale for $.99.

I filled the handbasket with different flavors: paneer makhani, palak paneer, aloo mutter, dal tadka and channa masala. It would have been delightful to have an aquaintance with this brand (SWAD) before this moment, but I didn't. It was a risk of only a few dollars, if I didn't like the food. In another aisle, we found coconut oil, which is really good for dry hair. I used to go to botanicas in New Brunswick for coconut oil but forgot about it years ago. As we were walking to the car, Scout said, "Have you ever been to the Phoenician bakery?" I hadn't but had always wanted to, so we drove there. It's been a long time since I've had a playmate interested in just reading labels in grocery stores, which is a brilliant bit of fun now that I'm ancient and have enough patience to appreciate the elegance of refrigerating 32 ounces of anchovies. We read everything. I loved it and bought a few small things to satisfy my curiosity. I have to know what cream cheese spread in glass cups is! I may need dozens of grape leaves in brine!

As we approached the cash register and the four people behind it, standing shoulder to shoulder, I felt that temperature drop again. Everyone was loud and moving, then still and staring. Scout wanted me to try the triangular spinach pies, so I asked for a bag. Scout asked for four but the man at the counter said no. Two. We could clearly see other bags behind the counter. I was standing behind Scout when I heard her say without hesitation, "Two, then." As we were leaving, I saw the master sound man from the bar. I'd thought he lived out in Pennsylvania but seeing him at the Phoenician bakery in North Brunswick on a Saturday morning pretty much ruled that out.

At dinner time, I cooked some basmati rice - which you can buy in enormous quantities at Costco, and I have - and microwaved the paneer makhani. I applied one to the other. I'm not going to say this tastes like paneer makhani you get at your favorite restaurant, but it's pretty good. The portion is of a healthy size. For about $2, I had a meal I really enjoyed and I managed to stay out of a restaurant, where I could have spent $20 and would have been tempted to eat much too much. I am always thrilled when I find inexpensive ways to enjoy a much more espensive lifestyle and remain within my humble means. So far, this is a really luxurious and flavorful way to enhance my happiness. So maybe it is love.

Saturday, August 19, 2006

Maria Carry A Dog On Her Back

Barry of Enrevanche tagged me with a meme a few days ago, when I was crazy with the working-too-hard and am-I-three-weeks-from-homeless? hysterias. In fact, I have been so turned around for a couple of months it's been hard for me to read my favorite sites. I've got to know what Mr. Gato's doing!

A little background. I've mentioned this a few times but not lately. In 1997 - I think! - medication wiped my memory clean. Before this, I had books open on every surface wherever I lived. When I was 11, I answered a survey question that I was actively reading thirty-seven books. It was not an exaggeration. After the RotoRootering of my brain, I couldn't concentrate long enough to read a page, let alone a book. Recently, I've been able to start books and finish them, but only since the spring. My relationship with the written word is changing.

1. Book that changed my life.

The Diary of Anais Nin - I can't tolerate Nin since Incest, but I cannot deny that reading the Diary was a formative experience for the young Me.

2. Books I have read more than once.

Idries Shah's Nasrudin books; To Kill A Mockingbird, The Tanglewood Tales, Jaws, The Work of a Common Woman, Their Eyes Were Watching God, Auntie Mame, The Outermost House, a pile of Kurt Vonnegut's novels. Gloria Steinem's Marilyn. Tanakh: the Holy Scriptures.

3. Book I would want on a desert island.

The Oxford English Dictionary.

4. Book that made me laugh.

Everything by Douglass Adams.

5. Book that made me cry.

Mark Twain's Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

6. Book I wish I had written.

Mark Helprin's A Winter's Tale. He's a douchebag but I love that book.

7. Book I wish had never been written.

Barry mentioned The Turner Diaries. There's no limit to the list of books that've done that same kind of harm to the human psyche. In England once, eight people burned at the stake for owning and reading the Bible. I wish that'd never happened but it's not the books that harm people, it's misguided people who harm people. Thus, I hope Ann Coulter, Bill O'Reilly and Rush Limbaugh quit cluttering up bookstores with the means to misguide.

8. Book I am currently reading. & 9. Book I've been meaning to read.

I am not currently reading a book. My eyes are tired. There are tons of books I'd love to read and new ones published every day; there have always been piles of books to read.

10. Tag five other people.

I'll try!

Thank you, Barry, for the chance to consider the state of my Self. I am honored you chose me! One detail: my favorite magazine since I found it in the 1970s has always been slapdash International Gymnast. A lot of my books are about gymnastics, dance, art and photography. I have given away every book I do not love; the rest are my friends. It would break my heart to lose them.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Moving Under Ice

I have not abandoned you, my pets, and couldn't bear the thought you might doubt my love. If all goes well, later today I might have a story to tell that'll knock your socks off. Please dab your shins with Crazy Glue and check back after dinner.

Of course, if all doesn't go well, please consider showing up at my place with lawn darts and a court order.

Until tonight, then -

Yesterday, at the orthodontist's office, the assistant was thrilled to see me. The young orthodontist was thrilled to see me. The office ladies were thrilled to see me. I make amusing remarks and do things other people do not. These people are so happy to see a person who isn't complaining. The irony of this is their other patients are probably perfectly nice and terribly interesting the other 99.9999% of their lives, while I am a menacing bitch in kitten heels. This is how much I want straight teeth! So back up about ten minutes, to when I arrive at the door to the building. It is locked. I stare. I tug on the door again. The door is locked. Because I have a very vivid imagination, I try it again. That door is still locked. I look around. A man and a sullen girl come up behind me. He grabs the handle and nothing happens. No one is more surprised than I am. That door is actuallly locked! He doesn't get excited. He takes out his cell and dials the office number.

Man: I'm here with your patient Martha and the outside door is locked.
Phone: Squawkity screech screech squawk squawk!

He hangs up. A moment or two later, a tiny woman in pretty pink scrubs rushes to the door and opens it. She was just there, testing keys, she tells us. The man, Martha and I walk inside. Martha and I take the stairs. There is no avoiding this. She walks slowly, only two steps ahead. I can't get around her and we're alone in the stairwell. She can practically hear me wishing I had the kind of magical powers that included wiggling my nose and sending her to GetAGripistan. We arrive at the desk, where my turning up causes celebration inches short of confetti flying through the air and a marching band, but I mean inches. I should bring the office ladies a pinata.

Martha and I are escorted to through the dental emporium's narrow hallways to the orthodontic suite which overlooks the intersection of Route 1 and Plainfield Avenue at an angle that is not parallel to either one, so I get giggly and seasick. This office - tidy, sunny and filled with people who tell me every four to six weeks how happy they are to see me - does not meet my OCD needs, and I want this building moved. I want that!

Inez gestures to Martha: you sit there. Inez gestures to me: sit! There are two chairs.

Tata: Eeny or meeny?
Inez: Here!
Tata: Eeny!
Inez: I'm so happy to see you!
Tata: Still?

I sit. The doctor sits down next to me, snaps on gloves. He is poking a gloved finger around my teeth. At a point I do not notice, he stops poking my teeth and peels off his gloves.

Dr.: Ever renovated your house? Bite down. Living in renovations really blows.
Tata: There was that time my sister Daria threw a party and the plumbing stopped working...
Dr.: It's terrible! Now the back teeth.
Tata: I have a new and exciting problem. When I use the rubber bands at night, my front teeth meet - SQUEEK! - and wake me up.
Dr.: Ow.
Tata: Why are you renovating? Did you buy a house?
Dr.: It's my Mom's. We're tearing up everything. Carpets, everything. We're going to put it on the market.
Tata: I'm sure you're a good son and all but that's silly. The buyers are going to renovate from top to bottom anyway. It's like a racket for contractors.
Dr.: Some people won't even look at it unless it's all new stuff. Martha, bite down...
Inez: We're going to use the chain rubber bands.
Tata: Ooh! Purple this time! I like the purple ones!
Inez: Usually, people who get clear braces get clear rubber bands.
Tata: They are not working hard enough at being silly. Okay, so the other day, my friend picked me up at Metro Park and I'd been on buses and trains all day, so I asked if I could take him to lunch.
Inez: You're such a nice person!
Tata: Um...thanks! So we went to the new Thai place. Right over here. Have you seen the signs for it?
Inez: By ShopRite?
Tata: Exactly.
Inez: I love when people try new things. I don't do it myself, but I love when other people do. My boyfriend tries new things.
Tata: Ah...the world is full of interesting things to taste. But I was exhausted and only ate a little. The lady came out of the kitchen and said, "What's wrong with my food?"
Inez: NO! The purple looks good next to your green sweater.
Tata: Thank you! I was horrified that I'd accidentally insulted her by asking to have the leftovers wrapped so I could have pad Thai for breakfast.
Dr.: From now on, we're going to need to see you every three weeks.
Tata: You are? Then I need to know more about those renovations!

We have been laughing hysterically for ten minutes. Martha has not said a single word.

Monday, August 14, 2006

All Sparks Will Burn Out In the End

Last week was really tough on me physically and emotionally. The week before was tough on me physically and emotionally. The week ahead promises to be tough on me physically and emotionally. I am fucking exhausted. There's no rest for the wicked, and good is for sissies, so I don't expect a hand while I'm cranky enough to sharpen my canines on the hand that feeds me.

In the meantime, just so you know: my brother Todd and his wife Bette added a seven-pound character to Poor Impulse Control today in Los Angeles. This as yet unnamed character made his entrance on his older sister's second birthday. Everyone is healthy and complaining like they were born to it. An exhausted Todd called me and said, "Bbbbbbb bbb bbb, bbb bbbb bbb bb!"

So there it is: the vicious Circle of Life. Bon appetit!

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Everybody Had Matching Towels

It's Grandpa's 94th birthday, and as much as I adore him I despise the long drive to Cape Cod. Daria and I both hate crossing Connecticut with a fiery passion, like leaving Providence, and love crossing the Bourne Bridge. We have been making this drive all our lives and while traffic reports can mitigate stop-and-go suffering, technology now gives us Mom calling every hour to ask questions or chat. By the time we near New Bedford, I am only answering Daria's phone to tell Mom to chill gin and slice limes. Daria says to open a bottle of red and let it breathe. And she means it: for the last hour and a half of the drive, baby Fifi screamed bloody murder unless Daria held Fifi's hand, so Daria's right arm is asleep and I am in a near-panic every time the Ford Exsanguinator crosses white lines.

When we pull into the driveway of the house that was our Grandma's and is now our Mom's on Friday night, Daria crosses herself and I leap from the passenger seat to the gravel without a parachute. We ferry the kids into the house and upstairs to bed, drag in suitcases, pillows and presents, then we flop down in chairs around the dining room table. My stepfather brings me a generously ginny gin and tonic. Mom pours a glass of red wine for Daria. Miss Fifi decides she will remain wide awake and charming for over an hour. Then we all dash off to bed and wake up to party plans in full dither. It becomes my job to help Daria get to the VFW Hall by four on Saturday afternoon. We don't make it. I am not accustomed to the roaring demands of three children and Daria does not remember hearing herself think anymore. By the time we are stuffing children into the Ford Exacerbator and tying them down, I am all for smothering my godson Sandro. He is fresh, asks a million questions and doesn't listen to his mother so everything is up for debate. Essentially, he is four, and I want to kill him.

Friday, the first thing that happened when I got into the car:

Tyler Too: Auntie Ta, Sandro doesn't want you to be his godmother.
Tata: Too bad, bud. He's stuck with me.
Tyler Too: But he doesn't want it.
Daria: And that's because Auntie Ta sometimes scares Sandro.
Tata: Tyler, my darling, Auntie Tata has a heart of stone but if you were talking to someone else what you just said might really hurt their feelings.

Daria stared, thunderstruck.

Daria: Auntie Ta is right, sweetheart. We have to think before we speak because we could hurt someone's feelings.
Tyler Too: Why?
Tata: Got me! Just be careful.

Today, I hope Sandro hitchhikes to preschool. This does not endear me to my sister, though on our way to Grandpa's party, Daria pulls over to adjust Sandro's attitude with a stern talking-to; later, it's me.

Daria: Why are you such a raving bitch whenever we come to Cape Cod?
Tata: Because it's only when we're in a closed vehicle for hours on end that you listen to a goddamn word I say, and then you don't like it.

Needless to say, the little boys are breathless with this display of foul language in the front seat. This is very exciting!

Daria: Why are you acting like an angry shit?
Tata: Why are you such a smug, judgmental bitch?

We park and kiss our Grandpa with these mouths. It is only a matter of time before Tyler Too rats us out to Mom. I look forward to the day I can keep him quiet with promises of liquor and porn. Sandro, however, may do a lengthy stint in Time Out before this little old lady buys him a carton of bargaining smokes. Even so, I love these little boys madly for the surprises they spring on us, as on Friday night, somewhere in Connecticut.

Tyler Too: 'Ox' is the perfect word. It has an X!
Tata: One of my favorite words is 'vex.' It has a V and an X. I love them both!
Tyler Too: How do you spell 'vex'?
Tata: Let's sound it out.
Tyler Too: V - X - E -
Tata: Wait. Let's start over and listen to the sounds in order.
Tyler Too: vvveeeexxxx. V - E - X.
Tata: Very good! Very good!
Tyler Too: How do you spell 'vexing'?
Tata: At the risk of repeating myself, let's sound it out.
Tyler Too: '-ing' is I - N - G. And 'vex' is V - E - X.
Tata: So 'vexing' is...?
Tyler Too: V - E - X -
Sandro: I - N - G.

Daria and I stopped breathing for a second and turned in our seats to stare at the four-year-old and the newly seven-year-old. Then we shouted for five minutes.

Tata: Good boys! That was very good, both of you!
Daria: My smart boys! That was amazing! So smart!

Seeing as how the insomniac driver had taken her bleary E - Y - E - S off the road, it was a miracle this spelling bee didn't end in a D - I - T - C - H.

Her Daisy Head Is Conscience-Laden

Daria is thrilled to hear I feel awful.

Daria: You called out sick? That's great.
Tata: I'm glad you're happy. How many fingers am I holding up? Four! No, three!
Daria: When can you be ready to go?
Tata: Half an hour from any time now, but I'd rather leave after All My Erika.
Daria: What time?
Tata: Two.
Daria: Done!

At four on Friday, I buckle my seatbelt in her Ford Excoriator and ask a key question.

Tata: Where's your mother-in-law?

Daria growls like I waved honey in front of her grizzly cubs.

Daria: I'll tell you later.
Tata: Adult situation?
Daria: Grr. Grr. Grr. How're things with that guy?
Tata: Grr. Grr. Adult situation. Grr.
Daria: We'll talk about it in Rhode Island, when the kids are sleeping.

Somewhere in Connecticut, while we are listening to traffic reports every ten minutes and shushing the kids and she's setting up a DVD player and discussing directions with her husband in New Jersey and we are engaged in a valiant battle to remain hydrated, she spills a story so maddening I almost feel sorry for her. This is like taking pity on cannibals circling you with steak sauce; there is nothing defenseless about Daria.

Daria's husband Tyler's company had a convention this past week in Chicago. It was a reward for employees who worked their asses off, and Tyler did, and they planned this trip for a long time, including that Tyler's mother would come take charge of the kids for four days. The morning of their flight out, the mother-in-law, whose name I cannot commit to memory because it annoys her when I snap my fingers and say, "I'm sorry. What is your name again?" calls and asks what time they're bringing the kids to Long Island. Which was not the plan. There's no time to drive out to Long Island. Daria throws the phone across the room and bursts into tears. Tyler sifts a pile of shoes for the phone and his mother tells him she doesn't care what the plans were, she's not coming out to New Jersey. Tyler says some very abrupt things to his mommy and hangs up. Still sobbing, Daria calls Auntie InExcelsisDeo. Between Auntie, cousins Monday and Sandy, and Daria's usual babysitter, they improvise a plan. Tyler and Daria make their plane. The kids have a great time with their cousins, aunt and the babysitter. Then Scotland Yard arrests a pack of terrorists and return plans go straight into the crapper.

Daria: I'm not a good flier and I just couldn't get on a plane.
Tata: You what?
Daria: There were terrorists. I couldn't do it.
Tata: Daria, the terrorists were in the hooskow. Doesn't that mean yesterday was the safest day in history to fly?
Daria: No! And my girlfriends couldn't do it either so we rented two cars and drove back.
Tata: You...what?
Daria: We drove back from Chicago, got home at 4 this morning and I was too nervous to sleep.
Tata: So you're saying you were up all night and now you're driving the largest vehicle you can buy without a special license, your three children and me?
Daria: Yes, that's exactly what I'm saying.
Tata: Stop anywhere. I'm buying you a gallon of espresso and a syringe.

Later, she tells me the man in my adult situation will end up being my second husband. I tell her my second marriage and whatever she's avoiding in the center lane are scary hallucinations, and maybe I should drive for a while. When I sound like the Voice of Reason, we both laugh and laugh.

But the Sea Does Not Change

In Providence, I get off the Peter Pan Bonanza bus. The bus driver is busy accosting a college girl with a Valley accent and a sweater he's unraveling with his eyes. It's 8:15 Sunday morning, and the square around the bus station is swarming with freaks of all kinds. I feel right at home with my wheelie laptop case, a dollar store gift bag and no fucking idea where I'm going. Last year, the bus from Cape Cod left us inside a terminal; I followed fellow passengers like an ant trail from the bus up a long flight of stairs, outside, around a building, up another flight of stairs and into a circle of Hell where I'd be afraid to close my eyes. This year: it's different. Inside the bus station, the guy at the information booth is exceptionally helpful.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station?
Guy: Whaddya wanna go there for?
Tata: Amtrak, please?
Guy: You go out that door on the left, you bear right, then you turn right and you keep going about half a mile to the Westin Hotel. Do you know where the mall is?
Tata: No, I'm not from here.
Guy: Okay, it's behind the Westin.
Tata: Thank you.
Guy: Where you going?
Tata: Jersey.
Guy: I got a bus in an hour.
Tata: I've got a train ticket in two. Thanks.

I go out the door on the left, bear right, then turn right. What I should have realized before the bus stopped was that this part of Providence - and possibly all of it, I don't know - is under construction by architects and engineers not at all familiar with right angles. Once I cross the street to stay on a sidewalk, I've walked into the Land of Wild Guessing, and to compound my confusion, while it may be Saturday afternoon-rocking at the bus station, fifty feet away it's Sunday morning-dead. There's no one to ask about fine-tuning my directions that suddenly end with me at an intersection and without clues. The weather is sunny and a comfortable temperature, with a light breeze. I have a sandwich, credit cards and water. I have confidence in my ability to walk through a deserted city and refuse to hear the theme music unless Mark Knopfler is scoring my cinematic life. I pass half a dozen hotels at odd angles to one another before I spy the Westin's valet parking, which looks complicated. I cross the street and find a man and a woman, both in uniform. By now, I have no context, so I imagine I look like a middle-aged runaway. With knitting.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station?
Man: Go over there and turn left -

He's gesturing right.

Tata: Left?
Man: Left. Go up there -

He's gesturing down.

Tata: At that corner, turn left?
Man: And the train station is behind that building.
Tata: Behind that building?
Man: Yes, that one.
Tata: Thank you.

More than half a mile later in the Land of Wild Guessing, I finally see a sign that approximates a train meeting some crown moulding, and after I walk past a whole slew of what can only be yuppie lawyer bars and restaurants on a straight line to the State House, I see in the distance a gentleman setting up tables at an outdoor cafe. I walk up a long incline to him, pleased that I'm physically fit and that no one has tried mugging me.

Tata: Can you please direct me to the train station? Is it that round building?
Gentleman: I, um, I, um. My English is no so good -
Tata: That's okay. Point!
Gentleman: There!

He points. My destination is in sight. All in all, this would've been a nice walk if I hadn't been dragging dumb-looking luggage to a public building the front door of which resembled a dingy concrete loading dock. At the Amtrak counter, the information guy is very excited that I have photo ID, a reservation and I'm not swearing at him, so he points out the earlier train I might catch. I'm on it now. It's packed. It's 10:35 Sunday morning in business class on the Northeast Corridor. I should be watching tumbleweeds roll down the aisle and listening to Ennio Maricone in my head but no, I'm wondering if I'll have to spear passenger kebabs on my knitting needles to get off at Metro Park.

I want Americans to utilize public transportation. I want that. But damn it, I want my own seat where no one is blabbing about why the other shitty passengers won't let people traveling together sit together and whose son left the Jesuits and whether or not this video game is cool. I just spent 36 hours with my family, and I've had enough togetherness to hold me until fucking Christmas. If I can smell you, you are too close!

Friday, August 11, 2006

When She Says, "Let's Go."

She's got a problem.

Woman: How late are you open?
Tata: Until just before 8.
Woman: I bought an owl clock earlier and it's broken. When it reaches 4:20 it won't go any further.
Tata: Oh dear.
Woman: There's another on the wall. Can I exchange it?
Tata: Sure. I'll be here!

The identical clock doesn't have a battery. I toss the place and don't find one, but my counterpart at the toy store has one. She snaps it in place. We watch the clock tick. We spin the hands. Time flies. Across the street, a woman parks a car. "Here she comes," I tell my counterpart, Ellen.

The woman walks across the street. We're standing on the sidewalk.

Tata: Hello!
Woman: I'm here to exchange this clock. I bought it here. Do you think they'll give me a hard time?
Tata: They're pretty nice but nothing to write home about.
Woman: See? The clock is pretty but it doesn't work.

She takes the clock out of the box. It does not have a battery but the problem is no longer mysterious. Ellen sees it too. We both smile and speak slowly.

Tata: Here, have this one.
Ellen: We tested it. It went from 4:21 to 6:30 without a fight.
Woman: Did this one come from the wall?
Tata: It did! We put a battery in it and listen to it tick!
Ellen: We think you'll be happy with it.
Tata: Here, take it. Can I have that one?
Woman: Thank you.
Tata: Please come back soon!

She hesitates, then goes. We smile. We wave. We smile. We wave some more. Then I straighten the minute hand and put the owl back on the wall.

And speaking of stuff, everyone has too much of it except for people who don't have enough. Nobody needs a collection of Judith Krantz novels - nobody. Just like yesterday, all you need is a grocery bag to do Good and make the world a better place. Walk around your house and fill that bag with books you'll never read again. Everyone who has books has books he or she will never read again, don't kid yourself. Once the bag is filled, you have a decision to make.

Lots of places want books, depending on what kind. Hospitals always want novels and children's books. Nursing homes want books. Daycare centers want children's books. Adult correctional facilities often want books, but you should check with officials. The university I work for has a program that sends books to Africa. A walk through the phone book will offer you a lot of choices. The senior center may want books or your public library may want to have a fundraising book sale. Give your books to them. You get space for peace and quiet and the knowledge that you've used your magical powers for Good. While you're there, ask them what else they need. Maybe you have that lying around, too!

Thursday, August 10, 2006

No More Promises Of Love

Let's review:
*My sisters Anya and Corinne are away; I am taking care of their lonely cats;
*My sister Daria is in Chicago until tonight. Tomorrow, she, her mother-in-law, Daria's three children and I drive to Cape Cod;
*I'm taking the bus back about 24 hours later, so if you were thinking 'Cape Cod's not so bad, Ta,' please kiss my butt;
*Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is limping a lot; Paulie Gonzalez will fight the battle of the pussycat medication;
*Joe Lieberman is dumb and destructive;
*Bombs are still falling on the heads of human beings;
*My personal life, such as it is or was, has once again tanked with all the comedic repercussions we might associate with, say, the romance version of the Exxon Valdez. Pity the oil-soaked wildlife.

Frankly, if one more thing turns, I'm doing gainer somersaults off something tall. In the meantime, since I can't think, thinking about myself may cause spontaneous combustion and hibernation is out for three months, let's turn our attention to improving the state of the world, shall we? Yes, let's.

Along the right side of Poor Impulse Control is a long list of organizations dedicated to good works. I love them. If I ever become suddenly and startlingly wealthy, at least a few of them would be very shortly thereafter, but money isn't everything. It's a good start, but it isn't everything. We've talked about this before on PIC. Perhaps you've joined us mid-season. If you know everything I'm about to say, thank your Magic 8 Ball and feel free to go back and read something archived, where I was tirelessly surly and hilarious. December, 2005 seems to be a favorite of people pleased to have met me and poured a drink down my blouse; Miss Sasha's wedding is popular with readers shocked that I am the fire-breathing mother of lovely, married, happy twenty-three-year-old still on her first husband. Enjoy the stories. Return PIC with a full tank, willya? Good works:

1. Your local food bank or soup kitchen is most likely in need of help. Budgets are shrinking and needy populations are not. If you live in a wealthy town without a hungry population, perhaps the next town over isn't so lucky. When I was pregnant with Miss Sasha, I didn't have enough to eat, sometimes for days on end. Burger King commercials made me cry. So I am keenly aware that people can be in trouble and invisible. Millions of children go to bed hungry in America every night. You can do something simple and direct about it.

Place a grocery bag in an out of the way corner of your kitchen. Check the web for your town's food bank's needs. Most of them will list what they want. Then: each time you grocery shop, toss one or two non-perishable items into your cart. Put these things into the bag in your kitchen. When it's full, drop it off at the food bank. If you drop off a bag of food three or four times a year, you contribute to solving a problem in your community without breaking your budget.

2. Stuff. You have stuff in your house you don't want or need. A lot of people do not have these things. I know exactly what you're thinking because I am a genius and because everyone thinks the same damned thing: I don't have time for this. No, what you don't have time for is to call me up and listen to my mouthing off about all that crap lying around, sapping your desire to parade your fabulousness like a Pantene commercial, and that is quite fabulous. So. Get a grocery bag.

As you will soon realize, grocery bags are the key to doing good works.

Get a grocery bag, go to your closet, open the grocery bag and take off hangers, the floor or off shoe racks anything you will never wear again. Spend no more than five minutes doing this. If, after five minutes, you have found nothing you will never wear again, you are being possessive and should come back later, unless you are very thifty and do this regularly. Still, chances are very good that in five minutes you can fill this bag. Done! Walk away.

Later, on a different day: get a grocery bag. Fold and put in the bag anything you haven't worn in a year. You're not going to wear it again. Get rid of it! Five minutes, a few times - and please, stop shopping! Most Americans spend a ridiculous amount of money on clothing that doesn't fit and they don't wear. You can spend that money on fresh fruit that'll make you feel great, or tuck it into savings for a rainy day, because rainy days come and you won't feel any better in the latest acid-washed jeans.

Now, because you have grocery bags filled with things you don't need and other people do, don't obsess. Don't overthink. Don't re-examine. Put the bags in your trunk. Go to one of those boxes, to your church, synagogue or mosque, and give those clothes to people and agencies that deliver them to people in need.

Five minutes. A few times. Lighten your karmic load.

Tomorrow, we'll discuss those books you're carting around that you don't even love. The furniture you can't use, the household items you don't need, the toys your children never touch - all of these things can easily be put back into circulation where there is need.

Think of yourself as part of the fabric of problems and solutions. Karama Neal of So What Can I Do? offers us new ways to consider our actions. One of my recent favorites was an eminently practical suggestion that we use cloth napkins. I started yesterday. Tomorrow looks brighter already.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Whiskey From A Bottle Of Wine

It's late when the phone rings. I can't really tell who is talking to me at the other end of the line, where ambient noise volume must be turning the caller's brain to Wheatena. Someone in a very loud place is talking and talking at the tops of lungs I don't recognize.

Tata: Hello? Hello?
Voice: Blabbity blabbity blab blab!

Finally, I break in.

Tata: Who is this, please?
Voice: It's DARIA, YOU IDIOT. I'm at that convention in Chicago and the surprise entertainment is ELTON JOHN! He's playing Honky Cat! I've been deaf for three songs! Gotta go!


Monday, August 07, 2006

A Fine And Natural Sight

After I closed the family store yesterday, my flatware drawer came apart in my hand at home. After more than two weeks without a day off, with Siobhan away and my whole family out of town, I'd had enough - or I thought I had, until I looked into the cabinet to see what'd happened and why. This is the kind of thing I'd prefer to fix myself Not this time. So I called the super's office and left a message.

Tata: Hello, dahhhhlinks, it's Ta. My kitchen cabinets have seen better days. I can tell by the last repair job done with a wooden spoon and whitewash. Oh, and the runner holding my silverware drawer is a paint stirrer toenailed upside-down in a manner that suggests only a miracle let it support weight the eleven months I've lived here. Please send someone with power tools. Thank you!

It's been twenty-four hours without a return call. Think he hurt himself laughing?

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Setting Up Your Own Razor Wire Shrine

A couple browses in the card section of the store for some time. I'm reading TBogg, knitting and listening to Ani DiFranco until he approaches the counter. He stands about 6'5" and when she stands next to him, she's pretty close.

Man: Can you recommend a good restaurant in town?
Tata: The Thai restaurant is very good. It's two blocks to the right.
Man: I'm not much interested in Thai food. How about something neutral? Something -

He skips a beat.

Man: - American?

It is as if he slapped me. I do not react. Instead, I answer his question in a level voice and measured emphasis.

Tata: I believe you'll find your options somewhat limited in that respect. Heading north, you'll find a vegetarian sandwich place, the Seven Hills of Istanbul, Chinese and Japanese.
Woman: We could go to Charlie Brown's.
Man: What's that?
Woman: Steaks and burgers.

I'm such a local-business geek I forget that place is there.

Man: Is there anything else?
Tata: Heading south, there's Glatt kosher, Italian, kosher Chinese, kosher pizza, delis and ice cream. There's also a cafe that serves sandwiches.
Man: That sounds good. Where's that?
Tata: It's on this side of the street. I guess it's about a block and a half that way.

He thanks me. They leave without purchasing anything. I'm sure unique and lovely things don't interest him, either.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Belated Friday Cat Blogging: Here Comes the Sun Edition

Yesterday, those of us who are, in fact, me discovered the little reservoir into which we, which is to say I, pour our .jpgs was a little on the Closed For Business-side. I contacted Tami, the One True, who is the little reservoir's version of the Coast Guard, who contacted Jazz, who contacted Powerblogs. Today: voila! We skinny-dip again and pretend we don't drink this water.

This is Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul.

You remember Larry. He remembers you.

For over a month now, my mind has been boggled, which does no one any good, especially me. I've been working too hard and getting nowhere. When I saw a car repair bill for over $500 I nearly fainted, and when I observe how desperately my kitchen floor needs a patient scrubbing I have to shut off the light and leave the room. I would like to blame my inability to think clearly on something frou-frou like that Mercury went retrograde all last month, with extreme prejudice, which it did. But that's not it.

The war in Afghanistan is a fact of life I recognize I can do nothing about, and I see that we have lost it, though it's a matter of time before that fact comes home to us in all its harsh bookend beauty. In the end, we will have accomplished nothing there. I see the war in Iraq is a fact of life I can do little about, and the horror of what we thoughtlessly unleashed for no reason invades my dreams. The situation in Darfur is a fact of life I can do almost nothing about, which is painful, and I can't fix FEMA, Homeland Security, and whatever's wrong with the Justice Department and Congress that makes the conservative Supreme Court look like an Emma Goldman Dance-Off. I was just about at my Brutal Shit Tolerance Limit when Hezbollah and Israel decided to blow each other up - so long as that meant not actually Hezbollah and Israel and in fact meant killing the defenseless Lebanese. Frankly, my brain saw I'd reached my limit and cut me off. But that's not the end of it.

There are a lot of really well-informed people who understand the intricasies of human nature. Some of them are writing things we should read and consider very, very carefully. I do not know why the American people care more about Survivor than the people we're killing - and I say "we" because this killing in conducted by our military and, if not, then with our blessing - but I see that it is true, and I am afraid for us.

No matter how coolly or passionately someone describes attacking Iran, it is crucial to recall that our armed forces are stretched beyond their limits. Our Treasury is beyond empty. Our future is mortgaged to the Chinese. War has solved none of our problems but created many more. We stand at a pivotal moment in history.

Look, I am not a genius. I'm barely sane. We have no right as a nation to do what we are doing. We are committing war crimes, and we will be called to account for it - at which time, "Not me!" and "Go ask the cowboys!" isn't going to cut it. When the next 9/11 happens - and it will - we will not be able to say we are blameless. Our silence and our complicity will have caused the next disaster, and for what?

For nothing. World War III, coming to your doorstep, for no good reason.

Have you met my cat? He's really very handsome. I have to get outside, go walking and see some sunlight. I have to work again today. Get out to the mall, people, and do your part to increase the Gross National Product. Amber and Rob are counting on us.

Friday, August 04, 2006

For What You Are, Feel No Shame

Because I am out of my mind, Jeff Buckley's Sketches For My Sweetheart the Drunk is squawking on the CD player in the otherwise tranquil and sweet-smelling family store when the FedEx guy marches in. It is Friday. My sisters, those fools with excellent taste in household shiny objects, have been spending like sailors on leave in a Japanese housewares factory with a liquor license, and the boxes arrive in waves. Yesterday, I dragged half a dozen boxes half my size into the basement from the front of store because the FedEx guy won't even try threading his hand truck through the needle-narrow aisle of the very breakable store. Today: fifteen, some as big as I am. I called my sisters at their super-secret lakeside retreat to tell them: for those December holidays, whatever they give me better come in carats.

On the other hand: I am positively a vision, drenched in sweat. My beauty and charisma, overwhelming on a brisk autumn evening, are dangerous when augmented by summer swelter and exertion. Stand back! If you come any closer, your safety cannot be guaranteed!

Yesterday, Highland Park had an event on its main street between 4-8, so Daria drove in from Flemington to give me a hand. We ran around the store, laughing for four hours, though it's not all fun and games. A real estate agent comes to the counter and asks if we have postcards for the town-wide garage sale. Daria and I stare at one another. Then we stare at the woman, who in 100 degree heat is wearing too much makeup and not sweating. I smell Evil. Daria senses it too and runs around the counter to point at a pile of postcards inches from the strange woman, who says, "Make sure you talk that up and tell everyone who comes in about it." Daria and I smile and nod and smile and nod until she leaves. We wave through the glass door. Then we turn around.

Tata: Yeah yeah, the weather's having a profound effect on business. Raritan Avenue was deserted all day but the crazy people came in.

Daria's standing in an air conditioned store, fanning herself.

Daria: Ya think?
Tata: This morning, a normal-looking young woman comes in. I'd guess she's about 23. She wants a get well card for her boyfriend's boss, whose father has been hospitalized for a sudden illness.
Daria: The boyfriend's...boss'...father...that's four degrees of separation and there can only be six.
Tata: And since I'm telling you this, one of us must be Kevin Bacon. Anyway, the get well cards aren't what she wants. I help her pick out a blank card with a really striking image. I say soothing things because she's irritable.
Daria: You were nice to her?
Tata: Yeah, I was shocked, too. She pays for it and tells me she's left her cell phone at the post office across the street. I say, "Well, dahhhhhhlink, your day can only improve."
Daria: Are you done talking yet?
Tata: Are my lips still moving?
Daria: Yeah, I don't get it.
Tata: That's because a couple hours pass and the phone rings. It's that normal girl.
Daria: NO! What's she want?
Tata: She wants to know what to write in the card.
Daria: Did you shout, "GET SOME FRIENDS"?
Tata: Miraculously, I did not! For ten minutes, I stammered out creative versions of "You're in our thoughts at this difficult time". This did not impress her. Finally, I said, "You know, you can just write, 'With best wishes for your father's speedy recovery.'" And she hung up all happy.
Daria: Oh. My. God! I can't believe you didn't tell her to go straight to Hell!
Tata: Siobhan and I are thinking of making a cottage-industry line of cards that do just that. Hallmark has failed to meet our "Go Fuck Yourself" card needs.
Daria: Wow...that's like discovering there's a flavor of chocolate you'd never imagined...
Tata: And because we're, like, selfless about our selfishness, we skip printing them on paper.
Daria: What, e-cards?
Tata: No, I can just call people up, mention cute baby bunnies, and tell them you said they should go fuck themselves. In fact, after dinner I might do it for fun. Oh! You can pay me to call and pay me again to stop.
Daria: I'm impressed your plan includes repeat business. But I'll kill you if you try it.
Tata: Siobhan handles the subsidiary death threat customers.
Daria: Why?
Tata: I'm not entirely sure she hasn't killed anyone yet, and you go with your strengths.

I would like to work from home...

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Throwing Shadows On Our Eyes

Tuesday Report, Belated Punishment Edition.

In one corner of the untidy bedroom stands a box I should have measured but didn't. Suffice it to say this box is about 24" tall, maybe 12" wide and 8" deep. At the end of June, this box was stuffed full of spare skeins of yarn I've been dragging from apartment to apartment, some for more than twenty years. I couldn't bring myself to throw them away because there was nothing wrong with them, and some were expensive. Then, I was reading Georg's blog and found an interesting project. The box is now mostly empty. I've been knitting my heart out. I was knitting while Paulie Gonzalez was removing his hubcabs with a paper clip and when my family was arguing about smoky bars. I have been knitting while shouting at my sisters over the phone and between customers at the family store. I'm not a good knitter because I haven't the attention span for patterns and counting but in my living room sits a pile of little shelter animal blankets, ready to be finished with a crochet hook. Georg is threatening to mail me a box of yarn she's dragged around from place to place, which might defeat the housecleaning purpose of starting the project. Still, I can't see that offering comfort to a distressed animal in such a simple way could be a bad thing for my mood, either. More yarn, more blankets. Less thinking about myself.

So. The box is nearly dead. Long live the box. I am late reporting this - and concluding my July project - because I foolishly assumed I would learn how to operate my camera in a month. Well, that'll teach me to assume.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Enough, Is Forever Enough?

I'm interrupting my story because I can't stifle myself. I tried. Here, hold the duct tape. I just realized the hard way I forgot to Nair my mustache. Yesterday, I got a mass email from Chuck Schumer, thoughtfully addressed to me by name. Frankly, I liked it better when Chuck called me "Occupant".
Dear Domenica,

He's talking directly to my checkbook, which somehow avoids eye contact.
Dear Domenica,

At the beginning of this election cycle, few believed that Democrats had a shot to retake the Senate.

Now, with exactly 100 days left until the midterm elections, conventional wisdom has been turned on its head. We need a six-seat swing to achieve a Democratic majority in the Senate and our candidates are currently polling ahead or within single digit margins in races for seven seats currently held by Republicans.

Few what? Emus? Judging by the administration's desperate attempts to blow up the world, I'd guess the Republicans think Democrats stand an excellent chance of turning out voters mad as a nest of wet hornets - though winning the election may be another story.
As the arm of the Democratic Party solely dedicated to electing Democrats to the Senate, the DSCC is funding the vital tools necessary for victory. The donations you've made over the last few weeks will help us -

Whoa! Has my checkbook been cheatin' with Chuck? That hussy has betrayed me for the last time, because I - sure as shooting - didn't give the spineless weaselly centrist DSCC a dime, and commas are too good for 'em.
In the coming months, we'll need even more support from committed Democrats like you to fight these well-financed Republican incumbents. But today, I thank you, our online community for getting our 100 Days Out campaign off to a blistering start.

Don't thank me. Thank your proofreader, who overlooks a number of startling errors like that missing comma of direct address and that the DSCC hates the online community, which is surly and not terribly cohesive but enjoys a good joke. Like this one:
Click here to make a secure online contribution of $50, $75 or more -

I can't breathe! After the passage of that bankruptcy bill, I know I'll never have spare change again. Everything goes into savings because the alternative is finding myself enslaved by American Express, so appeals for cash from millionaires are better than knock-knock jokes, especially during a summer of record foreclosures. But it gets better.
Click here to make a secure online contribution of $50, $75 or more. If you donate before midnight tonight, a group of Democrats[sic] senators will match you 2 for 1, effectively tripling your donation.

I'd rather chew off my foot than send a donation that would imply I approve of the job the DSCC or the party or the Senate has been doing, but here's a tip:

Hey Chuck! Next time, attach raising the minimum wage to a Congressional pay raise and maybe the Republicans won't laugh in your face; even so, don't come crying to me after you fuck the American people over and over and over.