Sunday, December 31, 2006

Bright Lights Dim And the Night Closes In

I'm too tired to gab. Time is short and there's no time to nap. Maybe. No. Yes. I'm baking sweet potatoes. The cranberries and dried fruit have already boiled and jelled. Later, I'll steam snap peas - very briefly. Dad and his amusing entourage have arrived in New Jersey to roast meats. It's Christmas - again. The second pan of manicotti I made a week ago is at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's house. I hope someone took it out of the freezer or those are going to be some mighty interesting popsicles. With sauce.

If you're alone or if you're not, if you're prosperous or if you're not, if you're happy or if you're not, I wish you a healthy, happy, prosperous and loving New Year. Take good care of yourself. To better days, friends!

Saturday, December 30, 2006

Acceptable, Respectable, Presentable, A Vegetable

Meanwhile, mysteries abound a Casa Ta: last night, my son-in-law Mr. Sasha finished putting up the storage cabinet in my bathroom. I am overjoyed! At last, I have an away to put my recycled TP. This cabinet serves also as a burglar alarm. It is mounted right next to the window, which location assures me that if unwelcome persons attempt to climb in in the night, I will hear the sudden collision of cabinet and floor and hastily summon armed locals - after I conk someone on the noggin with a rusty pipe wrench, because lockjaw is the gift that keeps on giving and I'm a generous gal.

This is a sensible arrangement and I like those. In general, I am pleased when things make sense to me. We all like that, don't we, to find that our world view squares with what we observe in everyday life? That is why I was completely flummoxed to find large bits of broken cracker on my bedroom windowsill that I didn't put there. My upstairs neighbor hasn't been home for some time, though I'm not sure how long. This absent neighbor differs from the other absent neighbors in that my immediate upstairs neighbor is the single gentleman I sometimes see wearing pants and the others are a couple who always wear pants. I am pleased that this distinction serves my common sense purpose: my upstairs neighbor has not thrown crackers out his window for the squirrels. Neither have his pants.

This is the view straight down from my window. Not even an exotic professional basketball player could stand there and place bits of cracker on my windowsill. I have observed that this stairwell is wide enough for two fully grown PSE&G employees to descend the steps side by side, pretend they couldn't open the door to the meter room and ascend to ground level without touching shoulders, no matter how manly.

We have established, then, that I did not place the puzzling cracker bits on the sill, that my upstairs neighbor did not drop them out his window, and that it would be very difficult for a person standing outside to place those cracker bits on my windowsill. Thus, we can only draw one conclusion: these cracker bits are a gift of the loving squirrel people, who sit in the apple tree and worship me from near and far. They adore me, do the squirrel people! Where they got these precious crackers, I cannot say. That they would leave me this offering is a sign that I am well and truly treasured by the squirrels. I am their god. I would rain favor and chunks of apple on them if my current lease did not include a proviso that I not throw things out my windows. No. Really.

Should you doubt the veracity of my story, you would offend me. To think that I would buy crackers prepared without whole grains is preposterous. I'm a Triscuit gal, or at the very least, stone-ground wheat. In the kitchen cabinet, I have some of those Norwegian crackers that taste and feel like stale cardboard, but even they are rye. I save them for days when I am displeased with myself and don't deserve a good snack; thus, those crackers haven't seen daylight in over a year. Take that as a sign that the squirrel people are not alone in their love of Me. Even so, sometimes an offering doesn't fit a god's common sense needs. Take this as a humble warning: I swept up the crackers and threw them away.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Greater Wealth Than Hughes Himself

Let's play a game. Here are some rules.

1. My arrest record must remain clean.
2. The lowest form of life is a snitch. Men know it. Women know it. Little children in their cribs know it. I'm no snitch. My lease says no cats. Chances are good all the leases in my complex say that. Every window has a pussycat.
3. No animals or their dumb humans may be harmed before the fat lady sings.

The game board is my building, where inside the fire walls nestle four apartments. Last week, one of the upstairs neighbors said his catsitting plans had fallen through and would I please look in on his cats on Christmas Eve (Sunday) and the day after Christmas (Tuesday)? I agreed to do this. He handed me a key and told me to leave it inside the apartment when I fed the cats the second time because he and his wife would be back on Wednesday, which is to say yesterday. Upstairs, I found two cats the size of Buicks, four giant bowls of water and five giant bowls of kitty kibble. On Tuesday, I noticed they had eaten very little. I filled the bowls and freshened the water. Then I left the key on the stove where cats the size of Buicks were less likely to kick it under furniture they liked to stand on.

Let's not even talk about the three litter boxes in the bathroom. They looked okay but my eyes watered.

Are we on the same page? We are. Let's play: the apartment upstairs is dark and it's Thursday night. My neighbors have not come home. Their phone numbers are upstairs in the apartment I locked. The cats almost certainly have enough water and food. What would you do?

If I call the super, I'm making the issue the safety of pets we're not supposed to have.
If I break into the apartment to get the phone numbers and I call them, what do I say? "Say, neighbors, I'm so trustworthy I've picked your locks. Are you coming home or am I still taking care of your stuff?"
If I do nothing, what happens if they're in trouble and I haven't acted?

Ready? Go.

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Privacy Attracts A Crowd

That goddamned tire was flat again today. I had just read Mr. Breszny's prediction for the Aquarian 2007:
There are still places in China where plagues of locusts periodically descend in Biblical proportions. A few years ago, farmers in the region of Xinjiang fought back, gathering an army of 10,000 chickens in anticipation of the invading hordes. The bird soldiers were trained for two months, and when the showdown came, they acquitted themselves admirably. This vignette is an apt metaphor for a challenge you'll face in 2007. While in general the year should bring an abundant amount of sweet luck and high adventures, there will be a locust visitation or two. I urge you to assemble your own personal equivalent of a chicken army. What might that mean, practically speaking? Here are some possibilities: (1) Be well-prepared for natural anomalies. (2) Ally yourself with the enemy of your adversary. (3) Get others to help you fight your battles.

Fuck! I might have to report this to the cops. Is there a quicker way to recruit a chicken army? Fortunately, my innards are a double helping of red hot Scorpio.
In 2007, you'll need to find the power to do the half-right thing when it's impossible to do the totally right thing. To help you do that, remember this advice from Abraham Lincoln: "The true rule, in determining to embrace or reject anything, is not whether it have any evil in it; but whether it have more of evil than of good. There are few things wholly evil, or wholly good. Almost every thing is an inseparable compound of the two; so that our best judgment of the preponderance between them is continually demanded."

Yeah yeah, Good. Evil. Good v. Evil. Good with a creamy nougat center of Evil. Evil with a hard, candy shell of Good. Reverse the recipe and rock on.

I don't have enemies and I don't want any. I want to skip madly along my own path and throw petals at the small-minded and selfish. Hopefully, somewhere along the line, another equally mad skipper sashays along side, but I can't do anything about that. What I have to do is find an artform for the next stage of my life, which has nothing to do with anyone else's problems with me, however real, imaginary or growling like a pirate. So if someone is flattening my tires, that person is seriously misguided. There's nothing to be gained by damaging my car.

In other news, I'm spending too much time alone and a florist moved in a few blocks from here. I'm thinking of hiring my own Munchkins and easing on down Route 27. Often.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

What To Do With My Strength Anyway

RAI Internationale burbles in Italian as I do little chores. The explosion in Lagos is no less horrible for the language gap. Cars and people are still on fire. Young men driving around Mogadishu in pickup trucks with machine guns is a recurring nightmare. Then there's this week's Italian government scandal. I might Nair my mustache in self-defense.

I could swear Atillio the Talking Testa said Dracula's castle was sold. Or maybe it was Winona Ryder. My Italian isn't so much rusty as rusted shut. But I have patience.

This morning, I was wide awake and nervous before 6. It was dark out and creepy in, so I laced up my sneakers and went walking in the pre-dawn fog. I could barely make out gray figures of other people and dogs walking and running in the park. Being outdoors in the dark holds no terror for me - it's peaceful and I am sure of myself - as opposed to shivering indoors, looking out at the night. The air was cool and damp and walking at a brisk pace was a little like breathing, drinking and marching uphill. Both ways. On my way back, I barged in on the cats upstairs who had a whole apartment to themselves but not quite enough food and water while their people were gone for a week. Their people left three litter boxes for two gatos and a box of homemade biscotti for me. We're all glad that wasn't reversed.

Mostly what I did today was rest. I ate a little. Cleaned a few things. Read the blogs. Napped. Scratched Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. Napped. Ate a little. Miss Sasha called me at least three times to discuss hand signals we can use during phone calls with Mom, which worked great when Mom called to invite me over for dinner. I was honest. I said I needed rest. Then I lied and said Miss Sasha was coming over my house and could she get a move on? I'd send me to my room...but I'd be there. And I'm clearly a bad influenza.

Monday, December 25, 2006

It Sure Beats Rikers

Somewhere, in my palatial one bedroom apartment, I have misplaced a present. I recall cheering when I found it on my welcome mat. I recall opening the mailing envelope. The insulating bubble wrap is sitting on my couch. And yet, I can't find that present. What the hell?

I'll find it. It's here. I asked the cat where one of us put it. He's been no help whatsoever.

Until yesterday, the plan was that right now, I'd be getting dressed for dinner at Mom's and swearing under my breath but - and I say this with exhausted glee - Mom's sick and I'm home alone with the cat. Wheee! My stepfather Tom came to the store yesterday and delivered the news that Mom wasn't feeling up to snuff.

Tom: Deine Mutter ist krank.

Okay, he didn't deliver his lines in German. I'm hamming it up. See, Anya ran over from the toy store ten minutes before with fantastic news -

Anya: Guess what! Guess what! Your mom's sick and our parents are thinking of postponing Christmas dinner!
Tata: Get out! I might get tomorrow off?
Anya: We can just eat on Thursday, anyhow. Why have dinner twice?
Tata: Speaking of which, I need a few things for Thursday. Where am I gonna get anchovies and a plastic deer head?
Anya: We have So-And-So again for the Not-So-Secret Santa. We had him last year and I don't know what to get him anymore.
Tata: How about 49 things from the dollar store and gum?

- So when Tom appeared, I attempted to look surprised.

Tom: Your mother's sick.
Tata: And you're thinking of postponing?

Damn! That was his line!

Tom: Well, we are aware that if we postpone some of us who may have committed to dinner may not have other places to go.
Tata: I personally would be overjoyed to have no place to go. I'm thawing a duck as we speak.
Tom: You're very talented.
Tata: Thank you. Thursday, then?
Tom: [ ... ]

Tom said something but no one knows what it was, and it is now lost in the sands of time. I recall not being sure if I was off the hook for today. Even so, we were in the store and the public had gift-giving needs and I'm not entirely certain I said goodbye when he left. That's a little anticlimactic for you. I apologize! Consider it a simple denoument and let's crank it up.

On Thursday, Mom, Tom, Daria, Anya, Corinne, Miss and Mr. Sasha, assorted spouses, seven children and I will stuff ourselves into one house, eat too much and exchange gifts. The truth is we dread this day every year because if dinner is supposed to be at 3 it will be at 9 and the kids go crazy and there's no room for everyone to sit down so it's a constant game of musical chairs. With eggnog and glitter. I can work my way around a shrimp ring while everyone else runs in circles but the parents of small children lose their tempers after three or four hours of cramped, festive togetherness. One of these years, we'll have a homicide.

On New Year's Eve, Dad, Darla arrive at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's from Canada, and we replay Italian Christmas Eve. The manicotti for this event now shivers in Auntie's freezer. Rejoice! Planning, effort and homemade crepes have come together in such a way that I now have days of peace and quiet. If I am tired, I can nap. I am tired. I've napped once this morning and may nap outrageously again later. It would be divine if I had a companion to play with but I don't and can't do anything about that. On the other hand, I'm 45 minutes away from crisp roasted duck.

By the way, I moved a few things and found the lost present.

Sunday, December 24, 2006

Crashers Getting Bombed

Anya, Mary and I ran our butts off in a tiny space at the family store for hours, including a raucous visit from The Fabulous Ex-Husband, his fiancee Karen, Miss Sasha and Mr. Sasha. Customers were thrilled when this was a felicitous turn of events not ending in bloodshed. No, it ended in gift wrapping. Everything ended in gift wrapping. I didn't get home until 10:30, so I was up until 1 assembling the manicotti. Now, I'm off to the store again.

Yesterday, a customer came toward me with a Yule card, asking, "What's this for?" Mary and I, seeking to avoid an Unfortunate Incident, smiled and spoke all at once.

Mary: Some people celebrate the Solstice -
Tata: It's kind of seasonal -
Mary: The changing of darkness to light -
Tata: It doesn't at all involve bonfires and nekkid dancing, no -
Mary: Get a load of you, sistah...
Tata: Oh. Was that my outside voice?
Customer: So it's not for Christmas?
Mary: Noooo.
Tata: Still, very festive...!

Back soon.

Saturday, December 23, 2006

Games People Play, Honor Bright

Someday, I will pen a lengthy and erudite treatise on the locus of identity. It will be unlike an other treatise in the history of treatises in that footnotes, while properly formatted, will look a lot like this.* In the meantime, Blogger can kiss my fabulous rump. I can choose my own identity because of who I happen to be, in this time and place, and I firmly believe I can't afford to give any ground on this. It is the natural state of society and other people to see us their own way, which is why Michelle Malkin can advocate concentration camps for brown Americans without irony. Ultimately, we are ourselves as long as we inhabit those selves and stand that ground.

I'll be popping in here every few hours to kvetch about whatever crossed my path or smudged my lipstick. Join me when you can. Or not. I've got solvent.

Whatever you're celebrating, give a thought to people who are struggling. They're everywhere, and you might not see them if you weren't looking. Go in peace, my pets!

*Motor Vehicle Services should put down the crack pipe if it thinks it determines who I fucking am.

Friday, December 22, 2006

Tell Each Other Fairy Tales

This morning, I woke up arguing with my sister Anya, and because I was arguing with one of my sisters in my sleep, I couldn't fall back to sleep. I was all riled up! Fortunately, I went to the orthdontist instead. At the office, I am universally loved because I laugh all the time and bring everyone cookies. It impresses people that I add vegetable oil and an egg to lumpy powder and apply heat. Yeah, I don't get it either. Anyway, he'd promised me all fall that my braces would come off before Christmas. Blah blah blah before Christmas blah...anyway, today he said no. I almost burst into tears. Since I'm not the bursting-into-tears type, I consoled myself by buying a frozen duck and nail polish, but not at the orthodontist's. They don't have those there.

In the big picture, I am one of the most fortunate people on the planet. I have a very nice apartment, a good job, a nose usually found on infants. My sick cat is relatively well. My car runs. I can walk to work because winter has been mild. I have good insurance and can afford to take care of myself. Yet in the smaller frame, aspects of this past year were difficult and painful and news that metal spikes will stab my tongue for another month at least sent me scurrying to the frozen foods section. I even looked at ice cream, which I never buy. The wind's out of my sails. I'm exhausted and needed some good news. I needed progress I could see. Instead, I got tater tots.

I do love tater tots.

My brain says So what? Something good will turn up. Maybe so. Suddenly, I am not so sure.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

In the Garden Where Nothing Grows

If you will just have patience with me for another 7 hours, I plan a return to this version of my self. In the meantime, perhaps you can play the home version of Poor Impulse Control. Blogger is screwing me over. I have to change my names again, and since I'm just not going to tell you the name my mother growls when I show up in fishnets, I require glorious new nomenclature. What should we christen me for the foreseeable future?

If you happen to know the name on my driver license, please don't enter it into comments. It won't help, anyhow. So. What's my new name, lover?

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Move While You Still See Me

Weeks ago, Anya's and Corinne's mother opened a box at the store and couldn't believe her eyes.

Nan: Look at these things! What're they even for, anyway?
Tata: I...I don't know. How many are there?
Nan: Two cases of these god-forsaken chickens!
Tata: Feathers? Sharp feet? What's this wire do?
Nan: I don't know. They look drunk.
Tata: I'll take one home and present it to Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul.
Nan: My what?
Tata: If he likes it, we tell people the God-Forsaken Chickens are cat toys!

They're not cat toys. Larry claimed the God-Forsaken Chicken, then sat with his back to this stupid thing. Within a day, he'd lost interest in it completely. I reported my findings to the committee.

Nan: My what?
Anya: Crap.
Tata: Let's throw them away.

That was over a month ago. They're collecting dust somewhere, but that's not what I wanted to write about, no sirree, Bob! in recent years, I've noticed something women with credit cards do. It is bad, bad, bad for women, bad for the economy and bad for living rooms everywhere. Watch for these symptoms:

Brittany: Ashley! Look at this! Isn't this cute?
Ashley: It's cute!
Brittany: I don't need it but I have to have it!
Ashley: I don't know what it is but I have to have it!
Clerk: That'll be $39.95.

Beware friction burns! Further, turn the cute object over and it invariably has a sticker that says it was made In China, Mexico, or Taiwan by the tiny hands of slave children. The cute object, in a home setting will elicit squeals from other Brittanys and Ashleys, but also Tiffanys and Madisons, so this blight afflicts a whole generation of women, not to mention crippling their financial lives. The cute object will do nothing but collect dust until the day its owner slaps her forehead, mutters, "What was I thinking?" and has a garage sale.

If you find yourself exhibiting these symptoms - if YOU pick up something and yodel, "It's cute" in tones only dogs, Flipper and Ashleys can hear - put down the offending cute object and WALK AWAY. You don't need that thing. No one needs that thing. Don't buy that!

Now, I hate cute down to the soles of my combat boots. You may not realize this because I am completely adorable and tell you frequently you should adore me properly, but that has nothing to do with cute. I am not cute because cute is frivolous and without substance. Thus, you will be shocked - shocked! that this morning, Siobhan and I went positively spastic over this:

Wuzzah wuzzah boo boo boo.

In my own defense, I was able to form words shortly after I saw the second picture of the bottle-fed baby bunny, in which the tiny, tiny baby bunny looks slightly disgruntled. Perhaps he is armed. We don't know. I liked the disgruntled bunny better - as an individual!

When we were growing up, we often brought home injured birds. Mom taught us how to nurse them and care for them and feed them with an eye dropper. If there was an injured or orphaned animal, my mother was mushing milk into bread. It wasn't cute when the injured birdies healed up, flew off and Mom got all teary. Thinking of Mom as Snow White with birdies landing on her fingertips is cute but not cute - not like those God-Forsaken Chickens.

Monday, December 18, 2006

You'll Be So, So Lost

About two weeks ago, Anya, Corinne and Dan stayed up most of one night and reworked the front windows of both stores. The next morning, they stared at the coffee pot like it was the Hope Diamond. I am not exaggerating when I say that after dark, people come rushing into the store, telling the same story.

Enthusiast: I was driving by and I saw your window so I turned around and came back.
Tata: Do you live in town?
Enthusiast: Never been here before! What are those things in the window?
Tata: Ah, the starlights...

The window is breathtaking, as the parade of gasping enthusiasts attests. Anya is not convinced. When someone praises the window of the family store, Anya rushes off to do something else. This frustrates me.

Tata: See? The window is beautiful.
Anya: It's okay but I wanted a rhapsody in white and blue and I hate those angels.
Tata: But the window is beautiful. Take the compliment! Take it!
Anya: Eh! Phooey!
Tata: Shut up! It's beautiful!
Anya: Shut up! Is not!

She's getting coal in those socks! Geez Louise!

It was a dirty trick but I pushed my digital camera at her, said, "Take pictures of the front window from across the street," and ran away. Wooosh! I went lurking somewhere in the store. I might've hidden in the bathroom, but don't quote me. Anya snapped these pictures. The store names have been cropped so you don't come around for an invigorating game of Point & Laugh.

Please obey all local traffic laws. And don't argue with me!

Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Bones, The Bo - Bo - Body

A few years ago, the family, consisting of Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, Anya, Corinne, Miss and Mr. Sasha, myself, our various spouses and the growing herd of children, gave up trying to buy each other individual gifts for the occasion we call Christmas, but who cares? The kids still make out like whole gangs of bandits. The adults have gone to a system: Tom picks names and tells us who we're shopping for, and we pretend we can keep a secret. We used to give Tom lists of things we wanted, mindful of a $50 limit. This year, we somehow skipped the list-making. Yesterday, I was forced to resort to trickery. Stop laughing!

Tata: Anya, what do you want for Kwanzikkah?
Anya: Why? Do you have me?
Tata: No!

Yes. I'm a rotten liar so I'm lit up like a jack-o-lantern.

Anya: Then why do you want to know?
Tata: No reason!
Anya: What?
Tata: I'm spying! What do you want?

Anya's inscrutible like the Little Prince and doesn't answer questions, but she can't stay in character and eventually gives up when I ask the same question the third or fourth time.

Anya: I want socks and new pillows and a good bookstore in town and socks - did I mention I love socks? And a comforter for my bed and a gift card for Barnes & Noble and socks.
Tata: Awesome.

I hatched a plan I didn't like. When I woke up this morning, I skipped my usual round of How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up? and went to KMart. Eschewing coffee was a mistake. I shuffled around the store seeing double but eventually, the cart was full of small things I needed and presents. A friend of mine needs pizza pans. He will have pizza pans! Anya wants new pillows. Anya will have pillows! Anya wants socks. Anya will have Betty Boop slipper socks! I'm thinking of wrapping these pillows and socks up in the shape of a fat reindeer and leaving it in my mother's living room until Thursday, when we celebrate Christmas, but who cares? by eating a great deal and making heartfelt sacrifices to the cruel, cruel wrapping paper gods. Anyway, the cashier told me at checkout it was 9:30 a.m., which was why checkout alone didn't take two hours.

Meanwhile, the family, consisting of Dad, Darla, Dara, Auntie InExcelsisDeo, Uncle Frank, Monday, Barry, Sandy and her boyfriend, cousin Tony and his girlfriend whose name escapes me, Miss and Mr. Sasha, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his fiancee Karen, Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, plus spouses, children, friends and neighbors, cannot have our customary Italian Christmas Eve because half of us will be elsewhere. The rest of us will have to muddle through extra helpings of amaretto mousse, chicken and polenta, homemade manicotti, savory salads and fragrant roast meats. I may openly weep! A week later, the rest of us will show up and fight for the drumsticks. Dad called this morning and asked the question very stressed people keep calling me and shouting.

Tata: People tell me when they're serving dinner and I tell them I'll be there.
Dad: Oh. Okay.
Tata: Yep. Did I mention I'm fattening up oddly?
Dad: I'm fat, too!
Tata: Yeah, it's like my metabolism's working in reverse.
Dad: I'm impressed your cat's still alive.
Tata: He's too cranky to die, thanks!
Dad: There's a guy near me trying to market sustainable beef.
Tata: Beef, while delicious, is not in itself sustainable.
Dad: He means his farm is sustainable. Yeah, so he's stupid.
Tata: I wish him luck. And fondue.

I'm not saying my family is too big. When Daria, Todd and I were kids, we had a huge family. We had cousins all up and down the eastern seaboard. As family members of my grandparents' generation died off, our cousins melted into distant cousins, the kind one never sees. For about ten years, our family seemed very small indeed and holidays felt forced. Then we had children, and we forgave grudges, and my Exes remained welcome at the table, and Daria's, and Todd's. For whatever reason, we have this enormous and constantly blending family. God forbid you should pin more than a tennis sock over the fireplace. But this is not what I've been thinking about, nope! Ever since TBogg posted the YouTube original version of I Wanna Be Like You I've been walking around singing, "Hudle ott de le doo doo" and "Zee ba da ha ba dah!" Perhaps my memory of this is faulty, but at some point, gas stations offered a compilation record of Disney songs. Burl Ives sang Lavender Blue from a movie I don't remember, and the White Rabbit's I'm Late, I'm Late. We played records and danced around the living room. This song was one of my favorites. It wasn't until a few years ago that I recognized Louie Prima's voice; anyway, it's all pretty strange that I still love it 35 years later. The gas station five blocks from my house sells soul food. I don't think that's going to leave the same kind of mark.

Friday, December 15, 2006

Friday Cat Blogging: Black Nemesis Edition

The alarm clock will protect me! I see how you jump at its every squawk!

You remember Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He remembers you. He has feline leukemia, which has been relatively easy to control with obsessive feeding, observation and acquiescence to his many demands. When he first lived with me he'd prise chicken carcasses from the garbage and gnaw on the bones. Oh, how Paulie Gonzalez and I laughed at his kitty insecurity. After all: we were holding the pussycat hostage and any affection he showed us humans could be chalked up to Stockholm Syndrome.

For a few years, I've chased Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, around various one bedroom apartments, trying to convince him to eat. This is key to keeping the afflicted feline from succumbing to infections and moral sloth. It's become clear to me the apartment is his. He's the guy who's in it all the time, and I just visit to feed, entertain and rub his fur the wrong way. As the person with the opposable thumb, I should put his name on the mailbox. It's only fair.

Sometimes, Monsieur smells like a rough night in a canning plant. I could bathe him five times a day but not even the neighbors nonplussed by almost constant Route 18 construction noise bouncing off the river would enjoy the amusing ruckus. I'm still moisturizing scratches and welts from the last time. The reason for the unusual fragrance is oral infections and, as Siobhan says, "Cats aren't clean. They're covered in cat spit." So though Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is supposed to get a dropperful of kiddie steroids every day, sometimes he's also supposed to get this utterly vile antibiotic twice daily, too. Last week, this led to holes in my neck and him finding a new hiding place - that scared me silly. I looked everywhere! How many times have you opened a 350 degree oven to find out if you accidentally baked your pet? Well, of course, I hadn't, but even thinking about it skeeved me completely. An hour later, I discovered he'd made a Batcave out of my bedspread and blankets, which I took as a rebuke of both my cat care technique and slovenly housekeeping. He thinks I'm a total loser and tries to protect me from myself. This morning, he tried to convince me the shower was too dangerous for an idiot like me. There's water in there, dude!

But just wait. The disease has progressed. The pussycat now drools. We've reached the point where Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, must be medicated with the vile elixir one week on, one week off, then on again, off again, every month. I am not enthusiastic about this regimen, and anticipate a similar reaction from Don Gato.

First, I'll cut his nails.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Everyone Fights, And the Fire Flies

Tata: Anya, Anya! I've got a story you're really going to love!
Anya: You have a story I'll love...[ten minutes of running through the store.] What?
Tata: Anya, I've got a story. It's Corinne-approved!
Corinne: It's a good one!
Anya: What...?
Tata: Okay okay okay, so last night I was tired. I didn't spend all night in a bar. I didn't even have so much as a glass of wine. I went to bed at about 11:45 and watched Mr. Colbert speak the funny words. Now, my bed is directly above the electric meters for my complex and that tends to make people crazy.
Anya: What, can you hear the hum?
Tata: Nah, power lines give people hallucinations!
Anya: That might explain a few things, actually...
Tata: Okay, I was nervous and didn't sleep and felt like someone was watching me all night. I was a wreck! Corinne found that part especially hilarious. Check if she's breathing, willya?
Anya: She's up off the floor at least...
Tata: So this morning I got dressed in the dark for no reason because I live alone. I put on khaki pants and a black sweater, then I walked to work in slow daylight. I took pictures of trees. I spent an hour walking around outdoors after sunrise. Then I came to work, talked to my co-workers, made coffee, sat down to read my email. I don't know how long I sat there before I looked down and realized I was wearing green pants and they're covered with paint!
Anya: What? What do you mean?
Tata: I was wearing my around-the-house pants!
Anya: NO!
Tata: Yah-hunh! Wait, it's better! But really, is Corinne okay?
Anya: She's returning to a normal hue.
Tata: Awesome. So around 9 this morning, Lupe says, "Hey! Your sweater shows off your tattoo!" and because I'm stupid I think absolutely nothing of it. "My tattoo? I love my tattoo!" Not until an hour and a half later, standing in the ladies room, do I look at myself. My sweater was on backward.
Anya: [cough cough]
Tata: I couldn't shut up! I had to tell people: "See these pants? These aren't the pants I thought I put on this morning! And my sweater's on backward! I'm lucky these are my clothes!"

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

It's Fallen From Their Hands

A year ago on Thanksgiving, my sister Daria and her husband Tyler gave me a car. It is an okay car to which we didn't glue macaroni in that I step on the gas and it goes VROOM! I don't think much about it. When I went to my cousin Monday's wedding in Maryland, the catsitter changed the time on the dashboard. I still don't know how to change it back but other than that, it's a car. Since I started walking everywhere in July, I think, I've filled the tank three times. Five or six weeks ago, a tire went flat. My mechanic fixed it and didn't charge me. Then came yesterday, and the utterly boring magic words I long not to hear.

Time got away from me yesterday morning, so I drove to work. The handling felt funny and grating so I shut off the jarring morning radio for a good listen. I knew. That tire was flat again. So I fwappity-fwappity-fwapped to work, and at lunchtime, drove it over to the mechanic again.

Yes. I know. He lectured me, so you don't have to: don't drive on a flat. The pump I carry around with me wouldn't inflate the tire, and calling AAA is a big waste of time unless you have lots of time to waste. So. Let's just all get over it. I drove to the mechanic without inhaling. And he lectured me. So you don't have to. Then he and the boys at the garage fixed the tire and made jokes about me using that wheel like blind pedestrians use canes: to feel the curb. I didn't argue. I laughed. The mechanic is very good to me. Then, to cover bases, he and I went over use of the mechanical pump, and he used it exactly as I had. Finally, he said the magic words.

Mechanic: There's nothing wrong with your tire, again. Not to scare you or anything, but is someone vindictive really mad at you?

Crap. What a bore. Not to scare you or anything, but please don't worry. This is merely annoying. Back at my desk, there are questions.

Siobhan: Do you think this is happening at work or at home?
Tata: I've been walking. I seldom drive.
Siobhan: Someone where you live hates you enough to flatten your tire in a public place. That is exciting.

What we do not say is that this happened in 1995 and 1996, when I replaced five tires in the space of one winter because one of my ex-boyfriends went tequila-soaked supernova. He was positively diabolical, as engineers suffering psychotic breaks tend to be. Once, I found my passenger door unlocked. The only thing missing from the car was my insurance card, which would have been a knee-slapping good prank with expensive consequences if I'd gotten stopped by the police. And speaking of, the local police played Perpetrator Twenty Questions with me.

Them: So, you don't want to tell us his name?
Tata: I can't prove anything I'm saying.
Them: What block do you live on?
Tata: Fourth, between X and Y.
Them: Where does he live?
Tata: First, between Z and A.
Them: Is he... smaller than a breadbox?
Tata: He's breadbox-size.
Them: Is it...Tommy G.?
Tata: No! Go fish!
Them: What? Is it...Benny R.?
Tata: Are you saying that in a town so small I could spit from one end to the other you have a handful of men you know are stalking women?
Them: We might, rabbit, we might.

Oh, Jesus Christ. Years ago, a celebrity friend and I were driving with two friends to Allen Ginsberg's funeral.

He: The stalker made life really difficult. She showed up anywhere I went.
Tata: I had one of those. He made it hard for me to show up anywhere I wanted to go.
Friend: I feel left out! I'm stalkable! I am!

She was, too. A boyfriend shot himself when she left him, proving that obsession, perfect hair and firearms don't mix. As for my old nemesis, he doesn't scare me. That guy quit bothering me when he and my former housemate and firmly former friend got married. Either those two divorced and he's got time on his hands or someone else has decided I'm a little too happy. But we should keep in mind the mechanic was speculating.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

You Think The Joker Laughs At You

I am completely, madly, joyously shocked. Georg's recipe for ricotta in comments inspired me. These may be some of the happiest words I have ever written: I MADE CHEESE. On purpose!

Because I jerky, I forgot Georg knows me and would tell me ("Perhaps with adult supervision, Princess") if a recipe was well beyond my abilities, so I approached this recipe with trepidation. I mean, it's cheese. They sell it in boutiques so Grandmas must have made it in tenement kitchens for centuries. For some reason, this thought did not console me. Why? Stage fright. I read directions backward, remember steps out of order, and I do not trust me! I should not be trusted! I winnowed Georg's direction down to tiny, idiot-proof steps - probably:

1. Heat milk to 160 degrees
2. Pour in white vinegar.
3. Dump curdled goo into cheesecloth-lined collander to drain.
4. Dump remaining goo into bowl.
5. Add baking soda.
6. Stir.
7 Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Holy Moses, it's not just easy, it's stooooopid easy! Your dumb cousin can do it! No - the other one! I heated up the milk and zip-zip-zip! Cheese!

Thank you, Georg, you are a genius!

Monday, December 11, 2006

Maria Carry A Rifle

I am always confused by requests for mercy and compassion from people who offered none.
FLORENCE, Colorado (AP) -- Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph laments in a series of letters to a newspaper that the maximum-security federal prison where he is spending the rest of his life is designed to drive him insane.

"It is a closed-off world designed to isolate inmates from social and environmental stimuli, with the ultimate purpose of causing mental illness and chronic physical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis," he wrote in one letter to The Gazette of Colorado Springs. Rudolph wrote that he spends 23 hours a day in his 7-by-12-foot cell, his only exercise confined to an enclosed area he described as a "large empty swimming pool" divided into "dog-kennel style cages."

"Using solitary confinement, Supermax is designed to inflict as much misery and pain as is constitutionally permissible," he wrote in a letter.

My memory is not great. I remember video footage of people in a park, then BLAMMO. The wrong guy was accused and his life was wrecked. I don't remember much more.
Rudolph, an anti-government extremist, pleaded guilty in April 2005 to setting the bomb that killed one person and wounded more than 100 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and three other bombings, including a fatal explosion at a Birmingham [women's] clinic.

Oh, that fucker.
The blast killed off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson, 35, who was working as a security guard at the clinic, and maimed a nurse, Emily Lyons, then 41. Rudolph, 38, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty in April to the Birmingham bombing and three other attacks in the South between 1996 and 1998, including the blast at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In all, two people were killed and more than 100 injured.

In an extensive statement before his sentencing, Rudolph said the bombings were part of a guerrilla campaign against abortion, "the homosexual agenda" and the U.S. government.

I don't know about the arthritis, but he started out one Jell-O mold short of a church picnic. It's tempting to abandon my Hey, hey! With the violence! Quit it! philosophy and say This guy deserves to blow up, blow up real good. He is a pitiless, soulless bastard who will never walk the streets again. That's fine. I hope The Gazette of Colorado Springs quits publishing his screeds and we all forget his name. That would be a real punishment for him. And speaking of justice, let's revisit a fine moment in Poor Impulse Control:
Project: Princess & the Pea(tm)

Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) is a most exciting sustained undertaking to improve the quality of life for - well - Me, because isn't that what's really important? That I am happy? Of course it is. Let's review some of our terms, objectives, procedures and projections so you can join Project Princess & the Pea(tm) and add to the project's success and My happiness.

1. Hereafter, I will refer to myself as "Me" and "I" with concommitant use of related possessive pronouns. The reader should expect to see such references as "I don't see how this relates to Me" and "What about My needs?"

2. Hereafter, the reader will accept his or her responsibility for adding to My happiness or accept the consequences. Such consequences may include but are not limited to public ridicule, private ridicule and brief, embarrassing marriages in the Bahamas. Responsibilities vary from reader to reader, but lavish gifts and extravagant praise for Me are good places for anyone to start.

3. The persons occupying the house directly below My bedroom, bathroom and living room windows are in fact known to Me for many years. It's an interesting coincidence that they purchased this property. I actually like them very much. They're part of the local polyamory crowd. Hereafter, I will refer to them as "Those Fuckers Next Door" (TFND). I couldn't mean that more fondly.

4. Hereafter, the term "happiness" will always relate to Me, My or Mine; as in "Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!"

Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) seeks to improve My quality of life through simple, limited forms of revenge against TFND. The need for revenge stems from a 2004 incident in which TFND chopped down a very large, very old tree directly below My windows. I really liked this tree. When a purple lounge chair blew off the top of My apartment building, landed atop the tree and remained forty feet from My bathroom window for months, I was amused, and being amused measurably improved My quality of life. The tree also concealed - as I discovered when it was gone - two barrio-grade backyards I now see every time I gaze out the window. This view has a deleterious effect on My happiness.

I must avenge the death of this tree; preferably in a way that polishes up My karma. My intentions are the very best!

1. I open the living room window screen and lean way out.
2. I fling seeds as far across the row of backyards as the winds of revenge will carry them.
3. I wait.

Note 1. Timing is critical. Procedures 1-3 should be undertaken under the cover of darkness and when the threat of rain is imminent. Without rain, seeds are bird food. While that may amuse birdwatchers and their arch enemies the lovers of stray cats, dry and blowing seeds do not further the aims of Project: Princess & the Pea(tm).

Note 2: Choice of seed types is crucial to sustained amusement during the long waiting periods. After the dear tree came down, I was horrified to discover that the barrio-grade backyards contained layers of garbage, auto parts and discarded construction materials. Fortunately, this was keeping the mud in place during rainstorms so New Brunswick was in no danger from erosion. There's also a homemade doghouse for a large pet that no longer inhabits it. I say it's a doghouse because someone painted on a name:


It's a nice touch. With the dog gone, I worried TFND and their Neighbors, and *their* Neighbors might be lonely. Loneliness anywhere diminishes My happiness. The first time I threw seeds out the window, they were fast-growing and fast-spreading plants. The seeds were for fragrant, instantly recognizable plants everyone loves. Yes, everyone loves them, and I thought with the stray animal population TFND might find new friends. Yes, I gave them mint and catnip. My quality of life improved at the very thought of it.

Later, I thought, 'Why limit the bounty? What about some color?' Though I enjoyed the concept and the exercise, I admit the watermelons have been a disappointment. They require more care than the unsuspecting Neighbors devote to their curious foliage.

More recently, I threw out leek and carrot seeds in the hope that this would attract vegetarians. They too have their place on the food chain.

The future of My amusement is bright, a stated objective of Project: Princess & the Pea(tm). Suggestions and donations of interesting seeds are welcomed by the management.

You may find Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) has a practical application in your own neighborhood. It is important to remember that no harm must come to animals or their dumb humans as this would violate the objective of bringing Me happiness. And mint.

Thank you for your interest in Project: Princess & the Pea(tm)!

I slay me! Fortunately, I also slay my intrepid ex Paulie Gonzalez.

Paulie: Hey! I went to after hours one night at the house of those fuckers next door.
Tata: Really? They're school teachers. That's a little too much like detention, but with booze.
Paulie: Yeah yeah, so the wife is talking to me and she's saying, "We cut down that tree." I said, "It was right outside my bathroom window." She says, "Then we kept getting these weird flowers. We'd cut 'em back and new ones would grow. We didn't understand it - or the stray cats."
Tata: Did you tell her?
Paulie: Hell, no. I said, "That's very interesting. Do I smell mint?"

Sunday, December 10, 2006

I've Had It In the Ear Before

This morning, I called Auntie InExcelsisDeo.

Auntie I.: How are you?
Tata: I am swell!
Auntie I: Swell?
Tata: Yes, and I thought you should know.
Auntie I: Okay, then. You're swell. Talk to you later!
Tata: Awesome!
Auntie I: Okay, whaddya really want?
Tata: I've made crepes.
Auntie I: For dessert? What?
Tata: For the manicotti. They're in my freezer, which is now -
Auntie I: Full of crepe!
Tata: Yes, and I thought you should know.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Salvation A La Mode And A Cup Of Tea

This afternoon, I watched the Women's World Gymnastics Championship Team Competition, which was really exciting. The event happened months ago in Denmark but I found it on CN8 today. China won by - if I understood the scoring - .67, as in less than 1 point. The commentators stuttered a bit in the back-and-forth about how the US women should have/could have, but that didn't matter. What they saw was a failure on the part of the American team. What I saw was a nail-biter of a gym meet where every twist, every balance check, every fall and every toe point mattered, and even after the last brilliant routine, nobody knew who won.

This is Zhang Nan. We in the West saw her win the bronze medal in the All-Around at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but even this is considered a mixed blessing. She fell and did not win the gold on the balance beam. I remember feeling crushed for her. Here is the routine I saw today. She's twenty now, and where Zhang seemed like a frightened child in Athens she now appears confident in the spotlight.

When I arrived at the family store just before 3, my brother-in-law Dan had the crazy eyes and couldn't finish a sentence. I was in a really good mood after having watched some truly exciting gymnastics but I frowned for about twenty minutes while piecing the squawks and odd sounds into a story. Here is a sample.

Dan: Cluck! Cluck! So busy! KA-POW!
Tata: Daniel, what the hell happened to you? Snorting light bulb fumes again?
Dan: Caw! Caw! Caw! Credit card-wielding Valkyries! Eck!
Tata: Were you - maybe - really busy today?
Dan: Thursday busiest day in cartoon history! Before lunch!
Tata: Daniel, I brought cranberry bread and clementines. When was the last time you ate something?

Dan paced in circles and bumped into a wall. There was a long-ish silence.

Dan: Nine this morning?
Tata: Right. Stop that, um, whatever it is you're doing.
Dan: What am I doing?
Tata: You're going to get a knife and a plate.
Dan: I will?
Tata: Yep. Just like the ones you're holding. See them?
Dan: Hey!
Tata: Now, while I help the customers, you're going to sit down and eat.
Dan: I am?
Tata: It's an exciting new fad. Dabbling won't make you a poser.

Despite my insistence that he sit down, Dan ate bread and oranges running up and down the stairs and bumping into boxes. Until the sun went down, we were busy but not hysterically so. There were boxes around my feet behind the counter. Boxes full of gift boxes lay everywhere and at improbable angles, evidence of an earlier avalanche. Dan assembled gift boxes in a speedy, compulsive manner that made me nervous. Now and then, I would get snippets of what'd happened before I got there but I absolutely didn't get it until he pointed at a pile of paper.

Dan: Not a single transaction has gone into the computer today.

I picked up the mess of papers, smoothed them into a cohesive pile and was shocked by its size. I held it up. I wiggled it. Each piece of paper represented a transaction. Suddenly, I understood.

Tata: Bok bok bok bok bcka!
Dan: Nnnnnbbbbbbboooooo!

I started entering the transactions into the computer system that is slow and crappy. By 4:30, it was mostly dark out, and while we still had customers and sales, the fire was out. Dan was still on his feet, though I have no idea how. I worked on the receipts while Dan ran hither and yon. Being pushy and controlling had worked before so I started applying pressure preemptively.

Tata: Dan, what's for dinner?
Dan: What's dinner?
Tata: That food-thing other people have when it gets dark out. And when are you leaving?
Dan: No provision has been made for me leaving.
Tata: Ever?
Dan: I got fired yesterday.
Tata: I'd say "Get out...!" but you might.
Dan: There was a...then big confusion...then my boss said..."Things aren't gelling"...portfolio...
Tata: Jesus Christ! The people who sought you out tossed you out? That is positively monstrous!
Dan: Bok bok bok bcka!
Tata: You got that right, sister.

Shortly after this, Anya arrived in a similar state of ambulatory shock. Anya doesn't respond as well to pushy old Me so I switched to nagging.

Tata: What's for dinner?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: What's for dinner?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: You two need vegetables and some protein stat! Greek food?
Anya: I had that last night but I could have it again.
Tata: What do you want to eat?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: What's for dinner?

We settled on Thai and I was relieved to watch them both at least avoid eating their Thai salads. Then Dan picked up a fork and ate. I tried not to move too quickly or mention it, lest he dash off and do something else. Then he went to go pick up the kids at their grandmother's house. I never actually saw Anya take a bite. By closing time, after six hours of plugging away at it between episodes of fitful gift-wrapping, I had entered all but four receipts into the system. Anya and I laughed the whole time because, let's face it, we're not just funny looking. On the other hand, I could see she was determined to deal with Dan's sudden and frightening unemployment, which is worse than it sounds because Corinne's separated from her husband and everyone depends on Dan, by focusing her already tight focus on the family business. I looked at this and thought, 'I've got to be at least 57% funnier and more engaging with the customers.' And yes, today was the busiest day in the business's business history in five businessy hours before I got there.

Zhang Nan, again. Zhang was raised in a home that was 10 square meters, her biography says. I thought we called those prison cells. The image at left comes at an instant about one-third of the way through a back handspring. Her body is stretched as long as it can, which makes her fluid and beautiful in motion. She appears to float. That is an illusion. Every day for years, Zhang has stretched and bent and run and lifted weights and fallen on her head and thrown herself into the air and eaten carefully and denied herself ordinary things for instants like this that pass so quickly they cannot actually be seen but only remembered.

Collect them like jewels.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Everything I Have In My Hands

Mom: This is your mother, returning your call.

Damn it! Missed her again! It's really my own fault I've been chasing Mom all over the countryside. I was trying to outwit my saucy future self by preemptively creping. Yes, I spelled that right. No, I can't pick a verb tense. This story is happening in the past, present and the future. Adjust!

Over a month ago, Anya and I worked out a schedule for the store that looked harsh for everyone involved. Last weekend, I looked at my datebook and came to the inescapable conclusion once again that if only for my sake, Mr. Jesus should have retired to the coast to plant bottlecaps for future seaside pensioners armed only with metal detectors. Wouldn't we all have been happier if Christmas came at the end of January anyhow and was celebrated with salt water taffy? I think so. Between now and the time I convince event planners to change that, the timing of Christmas will continue sucking. So I resolved - last week - to minimize the sucking by preparing for the inevitable last minute cooking request that will come my way - next week - when I will smile sweetly in the face of my family's adoring death threats. Isn't time travel wonderful?

Last year, Mom wheedled but eventually gave me the recipe for her mother-in-law's manicotti. I turned my apartment upside-down searching for the recipe but I can't find it. I wouldn't throw it away deliberately so I must have put it someplace safe, even from me, which is especially exciting since I live alone. Thus, I've been trying to get Mom to loosen her grip on the family recipe box a second time. This effort is doomed. Fortunately, I formulated a backup plan involving the cookbook I never mention in front of the Soup Lady, for whom I am simply mad. (Turn a blind eye, Soup Lady!)*

This morning, I woke up feeling like my lungs were on fire, which is terribly unpleasant because I need those. Last night, Anya and I ran our shapely derrieres off at the family store as Corinne and the partners ran theirs off among the toys. I did four hours of stand up comedy as half the town bought shiny objects for December gift-giving holidays. Thank you very much, please try the veal piccata. The mayor was not at all offended by my schtick on the proper uses of sons-in-law since she's meeting her son's girlfriend for the first time for Hanukkah. Yeah, the mayor's a woman. Mazel tov! This morning, I felt like I had either pneumonia or fur-lined bronchial tubes so I went back to bed, but as every woman running a household of any size knows, being at Death's Door doesn't mean there's time to knock. When I got up just before noon, I dragged that - again: shapely - derriere to Costco with a list of ingredients.

While I wasn't thrilled about departing from my grandmother's recipe, I sucked it up and made batter anyway. Flour, eggs, milk, water, salt. It's pretty close. This evening, batter blended and rested, I made about two dozen crepes. Another batter is resting in the fridge for tomorrow morning. In about ten days, I'll make a vat of fresh marinara. Then, assemble the whole thing. For Italian Christmas Eve, we will have homemade manicotti. And death threats. Because that's our tradition.

*It's the Joy of Cooking

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Not For Rent To Any God Or Government

Yesterday, Dad sent me a common sense joke that caused an uproar here in la biblioteca.
A guy walks into a Glasgow library and says to the prim librarian, "Excuse me Miss, day ye hiv ony books on suicide?"

To which she stops doing her tasks, looks at him over the top of her glasses, and says, "Fuck off, ye'll no bring it back!"

You see all kinds of things in libraries - and I mean it: all kinds. One time, I prevented a kid who'd gone off his scrip, painted himself Tempra red and cuffed himself to a briefcase from terrorizing equally unstable undergrads. Another time, my students found other students pretending to hear the call of Barry White behind the music room. And then there was the month I realized someone was crawling around inside the drop ceiling over the ladies' room. To this day, I still examine ceiling tiles for, you know, faces in unexpected contexts. Though my particular outpost was especially punk rock, everyone's got stories. A patron walked up to one of my co-workers and punched him in the face. We all thought this was very funny after, um, the charges were dropped. Still, it's the everyday crap that gets a person and the only response is direct action. This happened right before finals.

Future Gum-Chewing Receptionist: My professor left material here for us to read.
Tata: Go to those notebooks. Look up your professor's name. Write down what you want on the forms and -
FGCR: I don't know his name.
Tata: What's the class?
FGCR: I don't remember.
Tata: What's the subject?
FGCR: I don't know.
Tata: Do about money? TV? The French and Indian War?
FGCR: I'm not sure.

I picked a slim volume out of the economics section and handed it to her.

Tata: Your professor left The Communist Manifesto. It's a quick read and you'll be out of here before your hairspray moistens.

Sure, it was a dirty trick but who else was going to broaden her horizons with a jackhammer? Likewise, we have arrived at a fork in the road, where one path is sunny and oh, look at the poppies and aren't the butterflies beautiful? while the other path is the same dark highway to nowhere. The mile marker:
STOP THIS BILL! Mistake-riddled, LGBTI-phobic civil unions bill is moving forward!

Late Monday, after legislators and reporters left Trenton, Senate President Dick Codey introduced a discriminatory civil unions bill that's an abject horror for the LGBTI community. The bill not only fails to provide us marriage equality, it's also extremely weak for a civil unions bill as far as civil unions bills go.

Whereas the Vermont Civil Unions law at least calls gay couples "spouses," Codey's bill, now the one legislators want to pass, stays away from the term "spouse" and instead invents a new, ridiculous contraption of a phrase called "civil union partner." That's a cold, clinical, cynical term that doesn't acknowledge the love and commitment that same-sex couples share. It's also not a step up from "domestic partner" as the New Jersey Supreme Court intended. Now how constitutional is THAT?

I consider myself a pretty bright gal. My opinion of Me as a relatively smart human has been independently confirmed by testing services and annoyed administrators. And yet, I am completely, absolutely, 100% flummoxed where this seemingly simple state of - pardon me - affairs is concerned. I mean, what gives? What on earth is so terrifying about two people of whatever gender, color or ethnic extraction falling in googly-eyed love, picking jewelry and china patterns, and visiting each other in the hospital? As expectant grandparents, Dick and Lynne Cheney are about to demonstrate to the vile base, the answer is - wait for it! - nothing! - And some people are rewarded for their love with adorable babies whose toes will be tiny and heart-stoppingly cute. In Mr. Cheney's case, all that human affection might be more boo-scary! than auditors grabbing that second set of Halliburton's books.

The simple truth is love is love is love. Every human being wants to love and be loved without fear. There's just nothing complicated about it, if you let yourself see how equal rights for everyone means you, too, whoever you may be.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Right Round, Baby, Right Round

At some point, I'll spend an afternoon creating a blogroll. This seems so like making a list in French class of all the dreeeeamy boys I secretly think are supercute with way-awesome hair that I've avoided it the whole time I've blogged. Plus, my first love will always be Saturn, taskmaster, poet, dancer of the spheres. This is the picture of him on my desk. Saturn never gets my jokes.

NASA, winking courier between my love and me, explains:
With giant Saturn hanging in the blackness and sheltering Cassini from the sun's blinding glare, the spacecraft viewed the rings as never before, revealing previously unknown faint rings and even glimpsing its home world.

This marvelous panoramic view was created by combining a total of 165 images taken by the Cassini wide-angle camera over nearly three hours on Sept. 15, 2006. The full mosaic consists of three rows of nine wide-angle camera footprints; only a portion of the full mosaic is shown here. Color in the view was created by digitally compositing ultraviolet, infrared and clear filter images and was then adjusted to resemble natural color.

Saturn shelters the sun, creating a view that illuminates planet and its ringsThe mosaic images were acquired as the spacecraft drifted in the darkness of Saturn's shadow for about 12 hours, allowing a multitude of unique observations of the microscopic particles that compose Saturn's faint rings.

Ring structures containing these tiny particles brighten substantially at high phase angles: i.e., viewing angles where the sun is almost directly behind the objects being imaged.

During this period of observation Cassini detected two new faint rings: one coincident with the shared orbit of the moons Janus and Epimetheus, and another coincident with Pallene's orbit.

Yes, ours is a dark and difficult love I wouldn't trade for all the stars in the sky, however often I've wished Saturn weren't stubborn and uncompromising, and I weren't so flawed a human being. I disappoint Saturn so often, though I love him so.

I hope stormy Jupiter doesn't find out.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Much Better Than The

Recently, I gave in and sat for a photographer. He'd bugged me for years. Finally, I stopped bashing my head with this brick and sat for mildly interesting portraits. I don't trust him and didn't expect much from the sitting. Anyway, he sent me a print he liked and it's not the fright I thought it'd be. He's got a show opening on December 10th and this image, he says, will be in it. He wants me to go to the opening. I'd rather have a rash.

In better news, the resourceful Miss Sasha forwarded some exciting new ways to make the world a better place. If I hadn't made her myself, I'd go on and on about how she couldn't be more gorgeous under a dump truck full of tropical flowers. But modesty forbids. See:

Buy-Nothing Christmas
This Christmas we'll be swamped with offers, ads and invitations to buy more stuff. But now there's a way to say enough and join a movement dedicated to reviving the original meaning of Christmas giving. Buy Nothing Christmas is a national initiative started by Canadian Mennonites but open to everyone with a thirst for change and a desire for action.

Buy Nothing Christmas is a stress-reliever, and more people need to hear about it. You can change your world by simply putting up one of the posters (or make your own) in your church, place of worship, home or work. Be sneaky about it if you have to. The point is to get people thinking. It's an idea whose time has come, so get out there and make a difference!

Canadian Menonites want you to stop shopping! Come to think of it, we have so much in common! Mennonites bake stuff; I bake stuff! Canadians like snow; I like snow someone else is shoveling! Mennonites like horses. I...have met a horse. It's like we were separated at birth and I was raised by gourmet hippie opera-singing beauticians, and a monkey! What ideas should we consider? A few:
- Give fairly traded coffee, tea or chocolate, get beautiful items at garage sales or buy gifts from shops that support artisans in poorer countries.

- Make your own cards from recycled paper.

- Avoid commercial wrapping paper, ribbons, bows and tape, which are not recyclable, and opt for gift bags, tea towels or nice boxes, which are eco-friendly.

I can do that! I like the list of reader suggestions.
One year I made mini loaves of quick bread. I think it was pumpkin bread. One could make cranberry or whatever you like. I wrapped the loaves and placed them in small baskets that I picked up at yard sales over the summer months. I added packets of instant spiced cider, cocoa, or tea, and festive napkins. I then tied it up with a raffia bow along with a recipe card for the bread. Another year I made key chains out of beads that matched the color of each persons car. - Lisa Wilson

I can do that, too!

New American Dream has some good ideas but I think you probably have to ease your well-armed and gift-expecting family into a healthier and wholistic holiday season. I recommend you tell them one year how much you love llamas, the next year you tell them how much a llama means to a struggling family. If they don't have you arrested on an unpronounceable charge, you buy them a llama they'll never see. I personally have three and hope for a quartet. The neighbors are scandalized.

Operation Home Front is your ticket to a good deed even the Grinch wouldn't argue. Operation Home Front matches veterans and military families in need to people able and willing to help. Maybe you think you have nothing to offer. Maybe in your town, a military family needs help getting to the grocery store. You can drive! It's perfect! Maybe in your town, a sick veteran needs help mowing his lawn. Maybe you can mow! Mazel tov!

When you give of yourself, you really give an important gift. Notice that people I give Me to want more! Well, life is full of disappointments. But there are also llamas.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

Imagine All the People

Let us try an exercise I learned when I was a Biblical Revisionary poet. Let us choose one moment, hold it in our hands, turn it around and see what we can learn. Let's talk about this moment here.

I see a man photographing five women. I don't know specifics about the rules of dress and male-female associations, so I don't know if the man has to know these women or if he must be related to them. He could be a passerby. Maybe the women are related to one another but maybe not. I don't know if there are rules about friendship between women. He is taking their picture, so what I see is a special occasion. The women are standing under a structure but they are still outdoors.

The color contrasts interest me. He is wearing white. The women are wearing black. His outfit suggests that he has recently been to prayer. The women have purses and little odds and ends, so they are not at home. This is public attire. The people walking around in the background are dressed very casually. One detail I can't make out: if one of those two children is a girl, that would be interesting, too.

As a thoroughly Western woman looking at this picture, I had to struggle with my feelings about the burkas. I felt threatened by the idea of garments intended to conceal my female form, and I'm not going to get over that and everything that goes with it. In the context of the exercise, however, how fully-formed Me would feel if suddenly thrust into an all-veiled-all-the-time scenario is entirely useless. I had to put my feeling about Me aside. See? This is a lot like acting class, in that you have to consider the hopes and dreams of your character, the hurts and bumps along the way, the driving motivation, before you yell, "Stop thief!" The women in this image may or may not have grown up with these garments as part of their culture or they may have adopted the garments willingly. Some people do. Some women live in places where these garments have suddenly become necessary for survival. I can't surmise what their story might be culturally - unless that kid in the background is a girl. One important consideration: the person who took the photograph of the scene we see thought it was either interesting or unusual enough to snap.

Heavy fabric aside, I see five women who are shaped differently from one another. If they were photographed separately, I might not notice distinctions. The woman on the far right stands separate from the group. Her posture is mature. The way her bag rests on her arm is the way a woman who has spent much time holding infants carries something efficiently. She considers how she is seen. If this group is a family, I think this woman is Mom, and Mom orchestrates everything. I also believe that whatever relationship the man has to the women funnels through Mom, so he may be Dad.

I sense that the woman immediately to her left is her mother. Grandma was in charge but now stands eclipsed by the force of her daughter's personality. Even so, Grandma is no pushover. She doesn't speak often but when she does, her judgment is sharp and unforgiving.

Moving to the far left, this is the baby of the family. She feels pinched often but she believes that if she is a good girl everything will turn out fine. She is hopeful but not realistic.

The woman second from left is probably the second daughter, probably a bit of a bully and has a temper. She has a tender heart and loves children. She is not kind to strangers.

The woman in the center is the overly emotional oldest daughter. She is our princess or she may have health problems, possibly both. She is aware that she is pretty.

I can't verify any of this, of course, and I could be completely wrong. The thing that is most striking to the Western eye at first is the sameness of the figures: the women are wearing apparently identical, identity-concealing clothes. That is the joke element of this internet-circulated jpeg titled Pointless Family Photo of the Year. Go ahead, right click on the image and see that for yourself. That's how it came to me. What the joke overlooks is that these women are individuals; the act of photographing them at this occasion in this dress assumes that the viewer of the picture that man is taking will be able to tell them apart. Kind of reminds you of picking out your friends in high school marching band, oui? And not that far a cry from putting men in weirdly shaped business suits, either.

But I'm looking at a picture of a man taking a picture of women - unless my eyes deceive me. What do you see?

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Sealing Wax And Other Fancy Stuff

My apartment is a bit of a mess, but a glamorous, gleaming, incense-perfumed mess, and tomorrow I get a chance to clean it. This idea excites me. Being fabulous isn't all chinups and refusing to return phone calls. Sometimes, a diva's got to tidy up the cat box.

Horoscopically speaking, today I will not achieve my dreams as I will be tied down to domestic responsibilities. I am amused by the notion in my vast old age because where once I dreamed of being the first Poet Laureate to wear Pennzoil on her warmups, I now dream of paid bills and clean carpets. Sort of. This morning, I dreamed I was watching young girls do tumbling runs across a mat. That is not an unusual dream for me. Girl after tiny girl, round off, back handspring, some form of somersault. What was different was this time I was lying in rafters overhead, unsteady and sometimes slipping. The second time a girl made eye contact with me in mid-somersault I almost fell out of the rafters and dropped the TV camera. I was way up. Then I was the last girl in line, and the girl in front of me grabbed my shoulder, "We're not having any more of this shit." Round off, handspring, twisting somersault. Then it was my turn.

I woke up thinking How long would I have to warm up before I did that? Short answer: forever! A few years ago, a woman who managed a gym and still practiced told me age was no longer a barrier in gymnastics. I could join a group that did power tumbling, she said. I asked if they took people on the verge of needing walkers.

Sure, I miss the sensation of flying. I do not miss the sensation of landing on my head, which I felt was highly overrated. In contrast, my dreams of a clean kitchen floor and fresh bread I baked myself seem achievable and even plausible. If I will achieve them, that remains to be seen.

Friday, December 01, 2006

Dropping the Bomb On My Street

Mary discovers little children get the big idea.

Mary: Did I tell you about the Divine One and her answer to the teacher regarding what the president does?
Tata: I...don't know! But now I must! Tell me!
Mary: The class was going over leadership and for whatever reason her teacher opted to mention the current administration. When confronted with the question What does the president do? my little flower raised her hand and, using perfect enunciation, she said: "He bastardized our constitution." I could not be prouder. For this my dad will shower her with dollar bills!
Tata: Oh. My. God. That child needs her own ACLU card for Christmas.
Mary: I KNOW! With all the crap we refrain from saying around her, who knew she would pick up on something like that? It's better than her questioning the ladies at the door on Halloween regarding the ingredients of their treats! She is too much, man. Her friend has a peanut allergy so she tells people she does too. One lady actually took mints out of her purse and gave them to her instead of a Baby Ruth! It was that action at the door that made me ask, "What the hell was that about?" when she got to the bottom of the drive. My parents' revenge is upon me!
Tata: I think you can quit worrying about embarrassing her in front of the other kids. The Divine One has things well in hand.

I for one would like to welcome our prepubescent overlord.