Wednesday, January 31, 2007

We Are North American

Julienne's cat Smoochie sat on the scanner.

I felt you had to know this important thing, friend. That is a genuine cat butt.

All the Darkness In Our Lives

I almost swallowed my tongue when I read this, forwarded to me by Trout.
Nuns on the run after their Greek knitting business fails
Helena Smith in Athens
Tuesday January 30, 2007
The Guardian

A group of nuns were last night holed up behind the protective walls of the Xenia monastery in the central Greek town of Volos after fleeing their convent when their knitting business failed, leaving nearly half a millon pounds of debt.

Ignoring pleas and protests to return to the fold from Archbishop Christodoulos, the country's fiery spiritual leader, the order's mother superior signalled that the nuns would be staying put, despite mounting consternation from a number of banks.

Yesterday her stance sparked a mini-crisis for the Greek Orthodox church, which, after convening bishops and other top clerics, described the incident as "a first" for the church.

The order, whose 55 members have been described as a "feisty crowd", are believed to have run up the debt after splashing out on six industrial knitting machines to produce woollens that became highly popular with the local community around their convent, close to the Greek-Bulgarian border. They apparently sold products to some 25 chains around Greece. Store owners complained that the nuns had also run off with a substantial amount in pocketed deposits. Apparently they removed their equipment a few days before they disappeared.

Greece's authoritative Kathimerini newspaper reported that the knitting business began to unravel when the nuns accrued massive debts after attending foreign fashion shows in a bid to keep up with the latest designs in woollen garments. They are then believed to have mortgaged the monastery of Kyrikos and Ioulittis to the hilt to pay off the debt.

With the banks demanding the money back, Greece's holy synod says it is confronting one of its worst crises ever involving an order of nuns.

Last night there was little sign that the nuns would come out of hiding, even if Archbishop Christodoulos agreed to take them under his wing. Religious commentators said their convent would probably have to be liquidated to pay off the debt.

Hey! Don't fuck with knitting nuns!

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Ça Plane Pour Moi

It's 7:58 A.M. and Mom sounds awful.

Tata: What's the matter? Is Grandpa dead?
Mom: No. Is Grandpa dead?
Tata: What? Why are you crying?
Mom: I'm not crying. I have a cold.
Tata: You sound dreadful.
Mom: I've had an adventure and there's no one else to tell.
Tata: I'm on pins and needles. Tell!
Mom: I just made rice crispy treats.
Tata: Why, God, why?!
Mom: I heated marshmallows until they turned into - what is that stuff?
Tata: Fluff?
Mom: Yes. Fluff. A piping hot cauldron of Fluff. I poured in the rice crispies and tried folding them in with a spatula. Do you know what happens next?
Tata: You're overcome by the terror of the Abyss?
Mom: That stuff cools so quickly you can't believe it and forms spider webs. It also sticks to everything. It stuck to the spatula.
Tata: You have Anya's and Corinne's little boys today, don't you? I thought you were going to introduce them to the chemistry of baking?
Mom: Yes, but I thought they needed rice crispy treats to sustain them. Whew! Grandmotherin' is hard work!
Tata: I'm shocked! What happened next?
Mom: I used another spatula to get the treats off the first spatula but it didn't work and the spider webs were all over everything. I did the only thing I could do.
Tata: Cleaned your kitchen with a flame thrower?
Mom: I sprayed both my hands with canola oil, tested the temperature and stuck my hands in the crunchy marshmallow. Then I remembered you're supposed to press them flat with wax paper.
Tata: It's my belief that Kellogg's is a wholly owned subsidiary of Exxon/Mobil and rice crispy treats will turn out to be the fuel source of the future, not to mention that it probably floats. Oooh! Giant chunks of rice crispy treat may be the sticky, non-nutrititious life preserver we throw exhausted polar bears in Arctic waters. "Here, Mrs. Polar Bear! Have a nap, a nosh and by the time you swim to the next sticky buoy, most of the marshmallow will be unstuck from your fur!"
Mom: I used the cocoa crispies. I figured I could as easily add some chocolate to this affair as use the plain.
Tata: The polar bears will be pleased!
Mom: Grandmothering is not for the faint of heart!

This is the same person who corrected my grammar at the dinner table until I turned 18 and beat a path for Anywhere Else. She couldn't help it. Later, I realized that I still didn't know - excuse me - shit about good grammar and tried studying. I learned a few things. It's all been terribly awkward since I started forgetting the names of things, which left me with no idea how to demonstrate grammatical right and wrong and great curiosity about the structure and function of language. Yesterday, I watched with rapt attention as a professor of Italian literature lectured on sentence structure on popular television series Sportello Italiano. Let's be completely clear: I don't speak Italian. I understood most of what the professor was saying and that he was funny. Still, I couldn't believe I was watching gorgeous people diagram sentences on international television, so it should come as no surprise that Mom now calls to describe her antics.

Tata: I've got to get back to work now. Have some tea. Glad Grandpa's not dead!
Mom: Me, too. I've got two little boys in half an hour who expect to bake cookies.
Tata: Good luck with that. Wait, why are you filling these boys with sugar?
Mom: Rice crispy treats are part of their heritage and I'm here to help.
Tata: You're going to make it impossible for Anya and Corinne to leave grocery stores without ingredients, aren't you? Confess!
Mom: Do you know what's hard work? Because I could tell you...

Monday, January 29, 2007

Spirits In the Material World

I am not a materialistic woman, generally, but I love jewelry. Love it. Love earrings, love bracelets, love nose rings, love necklaces. Love sparkly bits and shiny objects. Love the fire, love the passion, love the permanence. Love the craftmanship, the intricacies of design. Love seeing something I've never seen before. Jewelry? I love it - until we talk about conflict diamonds. Then I'm happy to put through six little gold posts, string something pewter on a black silk cord, wrap ten black rubber bands around my wrist and wear a VCR gasket as a ring. For now, sometimes that's the best a gal can do, but not for long.
THE Gemological Institute of America has just become a girl's best friend. The venerable industry authority, best known for promulgating the four Cs of diamond judging - color, clarity, cut and carat - has ended its long-standing practice of grading only natural diamonds. This month, over the objections of the powerful diamond mining lobby, it began rating gemstones created in a lab.

Laboratory diamonds, even though they're labeled by the Carlsbad-based institute as synthetic, are not to be confused with cubic zirconia or other shopping-channel substitutes. That would be like comparing lentil loaf to chicken. Manufactured diamonds are molecularly identical to the ones extracted from the Earth.

Am I purring? I believe I may be.
The emergence of technology that can create diamonds sometimes superior to mined ones poses yet another challenge to an industry already combating an image problem. Heightened awareness about the role of diamonds in funding African civil wars in the late 1990s created a backlash, and the movie "Blood Diamond" brought more attention to the issue. The industry has been working overtime to reassure consumers averse to "conflict diamonds" that procedures have changed; now most diamonds are certified as "conflict free."

The industry's latest battle, over terminology, is being fought with the non-mined competition. The synthetic diamond industry wants to market its gems as "cultured diamonds," hoping to gain wider acceptance. The diamond establishment, mindful that cultured pearls destroyed the natural pearl industry, has filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission seeking to prohibit the use of the term. The FTC will post its decision on its website, though it has set no deadline.

The Gemological Institute, however, is not taking sides. One kind of diamond is a geological (and marketing) wonder, the other a triumph of human ingenuity. Either way, whether it's lab-grown, synthetic, natural or mined, the old saw still rings true: a piece of heated and pressurized carbon lasts forever.

Yes. Yes, it does. I look forward to feeling bejeweled and unconflicted.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

The World At Bay For Me

Yesterday, I called Siobhan and ascertained that her job had kept her busy a full 17 hours on Friday and she was too punch drunk to argue with me when I declared we were going out to dinner. Later, we had one of our festive social microbursts in the shoe section of Nordstrom, so you shouldn't worry Siobhan was defenseless. We agreed to storm the designer barracades at the Coach store in the Menlo Park Mall first because Siobhan, unlike any other woman in history, destroyed the will and seams of a Coach bag and Siobhan was ready to call Coach's We-Replace-It bluff. It hasn't been a good week for Siobhan. On Thursday morning, she emailed.

Siobhan: Dad just called, he melted the glass on the microwave, and while we were discussing his buying a new one, he alerted me to the fact that one of the deck chairs was on fire. What the hell? I'll be calling him back in a minute, I let him go so he could put it out. So he could put out the fire.

I was still barking at my monitor when she called thirty seconds later.

Siobhan: Get this: his Hot Pocket caught fire and destroyed the microwave so he put out his lunch, dropped it into a cardboard box and left it on a metal deck chair, which caught fire and he had to put out the furniture, too.
Tata: Your dad has teh crazy.
Siobhan: My dad has teh stupid. And now we have to buy a microwave.
Tata: Your misadventure ends in shopping, which you love! Yahtzee!

Unfortunately, shopping fails to eradicate the acrid smell of flaming lunches 100% of the time, which Siobhan is complaining about on our drive up Route 1 to the Menlo Park Mall which proceeds at a glacial pace. Suddenly, we discover why. In an intersection to our left, flashing lights we saw from way off turn into a raft of traffic-blocking police cars.

Siobhan: An entire can of Oust did nothing to freshen the air.
Tata: Look, crash-crash! Boom! Hey, more crashy-crashy!
Siobhan: Two accidents on either side of the same intersection? The odds against that must be astronomical.
Tata: Somebody wins the whole betting pool at the cop shop today! When you get home, use Febreez on all your fabrics - the drapes, the chairs, the couches, the carpet, everything. You may have to do it a couple of times.
Siobhan: Febreezing my couch isn't going to get smoke out of my house.
Tata: You're goddamn right it isn't. Only steam-cleaning and time do that, but at least you'll see progress. And be more careful! You just used 'Febreez' as a verb.

Chalk it up to exhaustion. We put on game faces and marched into the Coach store, ready for anything except what happened. In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that I despise shopping, dislike handbags and hate nearly all shoes. I am deaf to whatever siren song lures women to shoe sales and concommitant credit card debt, and though I have other problems, I go all squinty-eyed when women talk about pocketbooks because I simply don't get it. Thus, in the Coach store, where quality is never in dispute, I felt oddly certain good taste had taken a holiday - or a powder. Everything was overly ornate and decorated for decoration's sake and ugly. The salesgirl who appeared smoothly and quietly between us was shocked at the vehemence of my sincere loathing for products without price tags that sold for more than my rent. Siobhan eventually threw up her hands in frustration and we relocated to the Coach department at Nordstrom, which mysteriously had a better selection of murderously ugly Coach bags than the Coach store. Siobhan found something that didn't make me toss my waffles, but when she told me how much it cost I think I threw up a little.

I was right across the aisle, prowling the shoe displays and cackling madly. Each colorful island of carefully placed footwear was more ridiculous, more torturous and more stupefying than the next, all guaranteed to put me in the hospital and even more frustrating because Nordstrom was where I used to buy sharp Docs. Siobhan plunked down on a couch with her thrilling purchase, annoyed. I stared around wildly, clucking like a chicken.

Tata: Greedy orthopedists design these shoes, I'm sure of it. Look at this! I'm never wearing this crap.
Siobhan: That's what's in style.
Tata: I looked around for sturdy, flat shoes for athletic, capable women who aren't surrendering to femmy fashion. There's nothing like that here anymore. I can't believe it.
Siobhan: Docs are not fashionable anymore. There was a movement, and a lot of young women adopted it, and that movement is no more.
Tata: Just because something is in style doesn't mean it has style. I am not at all going to wear three- and four-inch stacked heels, and if you catch me in espadrills, throw me in a bathtub and have me deprogrammed. I will find flat shoes that don't disable me. Other people can follow stupid fashions, but I have actual style. If the mainstream zigs and I'm zigging, fine! But if I'm zagging, screw it.
Siobhan: We can get Docs online. For shoes with an edge, we're going to have to leave the state.
Tata: I don't need Docs, per se. I have to try shoes on.
Siobhan: We'll have to look in Philadelphia.
Tata: Okay, so we go shopping in zigging Philadelphia!

Ding! The bell rings and the fight's over. The salespeople relax visibly as we leave. We race to the car and to the restaurant.

Tata: I'm going to order yellow food!
Siobhan: Why yellow?
Tata: Because I now fear no tumeric!
Siobhan: OH. MY. GOD. I get it! I get why yesterday you were running around shouting, "I WANT MERLOT!" It's red! I thought you just wanted booze! But no, you wanted red! And we're going to have colorful food and - screw it. Let's skip dinner and go eat a whole blueberry pie!
Tata: Maybe later. There's chicken tikka masala in my future, which is more red than yellow. I'm working primary colors, here.
Siobhan: Blue! You need blue food!
Tata: You know what I can do after dinner without braces?
Siobhan: Pick up discriminating vagrants at the train station?
Tata: I can floss, baby, floss!

Friday, January 26, 2007

I Sometimes Run And Chase the View

Mom, who has never been less than three hours late to a family dinner my whole life, told me yesterday she'd pick me up at 9 this morning. When she called at 8:55, I thought it was to tell me she was just leaving her house. I wasn't ready! I blended my eyeshadow, slid into shoes, brushed my teeth a third time while she parked the car. Then I sprinted around the apartment for another five minutes and we were on our way to the orthodontist with a bag of cookies under one arm, while I explained where we were going and why even though I was too happy to finish sentences.

Tata: Okay okay okay I had a half a left over pill from the last procedure so black light posters should be a blast by lunchtime - hang a left here. I'm so excited! Whee! And they love me to pieces at this office because their patients are sullen teens who haven't gone all Death Metal and I baked them cookies - veer right, and turn right -
Mom: Like the song, To the right! Ever to the right! Never to the left! Forever to the right!
Tata: Yeah, except left here and park. I love melted cheese -

We jump out of her Jeepy thing and run through an inexplicable hedge.

Tata: I'm so happy! Watch out for the sudden -
Mom: Whoa!
Tata: That hedge right there made a move on me last month. I kicked and yelled, "Masher!" Do people swat dirty old men with handbags anymore? Hey, this building gives me fits. It's not square. See?

We charge up the stairs because it's good for the girlish figure, around the corner and spill into the office, which is unusually empty. One blond teenager in the waiting room demonstrates an exceptional ability to keep a straight face as Mom and I peel off enough winter clothing to reveal two small women and not at all the Michelin Man's female relations. Half-way disrobed, I place a festive bag of cookies on the counter and make an important announcement to the staff.

Tata: He's taking off the braces today. You've all been very kind to me. We must all do a Happy Dance!

I do a Happy Dance. Four professional women stop what they're doing.

Tata: Happy dance!

They each Happy Dance! I am thrilled. They are thrilled. I join Mom, who does not see the professional women dancing in their scrubs, in the waiting room, where I sit and make non sequiturs for two or three minutes for the teenager who is amused but won't crack a smile. As we walk through the office area, more professional women appear, asking the same question.

PW: You baked the cookies?
Tata: Yes, I did! Please enjoy them!

I am a celebrity. Anyone can accomplish this, really, and Mom has seen people treat me this way before, but enough about me - I'm pointing out windows to our right for Mom as we walk down the improbably long hallway.

Tata: See? See? Plainfield Avenue, parallel to this wall, parallel, parallel and we get to this office -
Mom: Wow! This is a big room! Three chairs! This is very nice.
Tata: Yes, but look out the window.

The assistant and I fiddle with the blinds. Route 1, which runs from Maine to the Florida Keys, is right outside the window at an oblique angle. We are in New Jersey and the following conversation, which might have taken minutes anywhere else, transpires in seconds:

Tata: The building is crooked! I've been trying to fix that by force of will for two years and eight months.
Mom: Interesting...
Tata: Isn't this exciting? Look! I brought my mom!
Lovely Assistant: I see the resemblance.
Tata: I look exactly like her, don't I?
Lovely Assistant: Well, except for the red hair, yeah.
Mom: Oh! Pardon me -
Dr.: Hello!
Mom: I almost stepped on your orthodontist!
Tata: You can't! He just had the foot surgery.
Dr.: The other foot.
Mom: I'm so sorry!
Dr.: No, it's okay, the other foot.
Tata: I'm so excited!
Lovely Assistant: Have a seat!

A little boy with a sweet, expressive face sits down in the chair to my right at some point I don't notice. He never says a word. In fact, he sits bolt upright, stares at me and watches me without moving a muscle. I smile at him often and hope my little travail isn't traumatizing him even as I'm sure it does. The orthodontist grabs few sleek tools and uses some thrilling force on the bottom wire. Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! resonates through my skull and the whole set of bottom braces peels off my teeth. I'm elated and laughing. Mom laughs. The assistant laughs. The orthodontist smiles. He's still saying, "Wouldn't you like to have braces for three more years?" He grabs ahold of the braces on the top and Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! Off comes the top line. It's uncomfortable but they're gone! Gone!

I have no idea how long it takes, but the orthodontist grinds the cement off my very, very sensitive teeth. I am mostly inches from screaming and a couple of times I push the tools and his hands away from my mouth, which could be dangerous, I suppose.

Tata: This is not as much fun as it appears.

Finally, he says, "Go rinse really a whole lot." Then it gets weird. Somewhere a bell goes off that I can't hear.

Mom is talking and laughing and I hear a man's voice and I'm spitting into a sink as I turn to see a strange man holding a digital camera five feet from me and Mom with a camera phone and the office adminstrator holding a Polaroid. Someone pins a ribbon around my neck and it turns out to be the ribbon that was around the bag of cookies but now it's got stickers of a tooth and a royal crown, and a safety pin. I wipe my mouth, pose for the cameras and laugh. Someone makes a joke about the paparazzi. I'm posed ridiculously when from all sides the top halves of people in scrubs appear. It's so exactly like a Drew Carey dance number I can only laugh. That poor little boy hasn't moved and doesn't move as the orthodontist fits me for utterly mortifying retainers that make me lisp like a Brady kid.

In the third chair sits a sullen teen, behind whom stands a fire-breathing mother. She watches me and is completely pissed. It is no wonder the staff wants me to stay. I have an appointment again in six weeks.

Mom took me home. I gave her a container of carrot-ginger soup I made with broth in which I boiled astralagus and hope it's good for staving off colds, which she'd like to do. After lunch, I went to work, where everyone had to see my teeth! Everyone had to hear all about it! Lupe brought bags of Mary Janes, licorice and bubble gum, which I put in a bowl for everyone to share. Later, I drove home someone whose plans for a ride fell through. At home now, I have a lovely beaujolais villages, which I have coveted for two years and eight months.

My good fortune is so good, I must share. L'chaim to you, too, love!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

You're Still A Liar

This was the AP image printed on the front page of the university's student newspaper yesterday. My female co-workers who noticed were outraged, though there was an equal amount of it figures indifference. The newspaper, which shall remain unnamed at the unnamed university, is filled daily with inaccuracies, basic spelling and grammatical errors and few thoughts independent of someone's press release, and is not worth reading or worrying about, in my opinion. Chuan took the picture, which we will deny under oath.

No One Can Breathe Under Water

At work, I listen to Altrok Radio. I know the proprietor of that there gin joint, and you may recognize a few familiar things about it, too. If you lived in Central New Jersey and hit the clubs between 1980 and 1999 or watched VH1, you'll recognize names and underground anthems, but mostly you'll be pleased to hear new music that'll make you tap your toes and wish for a girlie umbrella beverage, no matter how butch you may be. Anyway, Altrok is where I get most of the new songs stuck in my head and sprouting like an oversized potted palm. This one by the Thermals is teh awesome.

Bon appetit!

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

So Pure, So Here's Your Future

I've got to hand it to RAI International News: these guys can frame a shot like nobody's business. I'm watching a report about what looks like a car bomb in Beirut. Young men play street games with the still-flaming tires. Nobody looks distressed or surprised in any way. The reporter narrates. Finally we see him standing in front of a stately, up-lighted government building in healthy bronzes, cream and probably pink stone. Palm trees sway in the night breezes, as they have throughout the ages. The sky above and behind is a star-flecked midnight blue. The reporter could be talking about sewage backing up into an orphanage and I would still stare at my teevee and sigh. Sometimes, beauty blinds me. Sometimes, I am just blind.

The weekend left me in a shambles. Though I'm still Beautifying America One Room At A Time!(tm) out of sheer habit - and how could I not? - I look awful. My apartment was a wreck. Last night, I started putting things away and cleaning up a bit. Today, I started putting me back together. My mustache is Naired. A load of laundry hangs up to dry. I've called all kinds of people to thank them for their help and have half a dozen more calls to make. I'm noshing on celery, doing crunches, downward-facing dog.

This morning, I called the vet's office.

Tata: Hi, this is Ta. Yesterday, I brought home my cat.
Jeb: Hi.
Tata: You sent me home without any post-op care instructions. Should I be giving him antibiotics? Feeding him special food?
Jeb: He didn't have surgery.
Tata: He had teeth removed.
Jeb: Nope. No teeth removed.
Tata: What about the infection?
Jeb: No infection.
Tata: You cleaned his teeth and cut his nails - and that's it?
Jeb: Have a nice day.

At first, this seemed like a miracle and I was stupefied. Infections in feline leukemia patients don't just heal up. They kill the patients. I thought back and replayed events over and over in my head. I'd forgotten the substitute vet gave the cat an antibiotic shot Friday afternoon. That probably saved the weak patient, right there. I had not imagined that the kitty was regaining his strength as time passed. Once again, life is sweet if we simply sip.

Next: a joyous tweezing.

Monday, January 22, 2007

Move On Back To Squares

Larry the little black cat lives! He's having his teeth cleaned and problem teeth removed as we speak, and he'll have his nails cut while he's unconscious.

This morning, Paulie Gonzalez picked us up and drove us to the vet's office. This was key because I wasn't sure I wouldn't fold under pressure, which I didn't because he was there to keep me honest. Yesterday, Paulie's new girlfriend, who is a veterinarian herself, talked me down from teary hysteria, so the two of them were really helpful. I thought I'd be telling you now that Larry went to the Great Beyond. Instead, Larry is again bent on stealing your soul - or he will be, when he wakes up.

Thanks to everyone who's written and called. Thanks to you for caring about us.

Thank you, you wild things.

Update: My cat's drunk! It's not a lampshade, but he sure is wearing my blanket on his head. To paraphrase Jazz's favorite punchline: half a cat!

Surround Yourself With Yourself

Your medical decisions are between you and your doctor, period. Period.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

In the Distance That You'll Never Reach

A few months ago, I realized my vacuum cleaner was trying to die. As gift-giving December holidays approached, I refused its plaintive pleas for the Abyss or the Arthur Kill. No, no. Sometimes the money's spent and I have to save up, dust bunnies be damned. Thus, you haven't been to my apartment in a while. Your respiratory system is grateful.

Last week, I called Siobhan and told her to gird her loins for retail battle. Today, she picked me up before noon.

Siobhan: Christ on a cracker! What are you wearing?
Tata: Jeans, sneakers, a sweater and what is your freaking problem? Where is your coat?
Siobhan: I just came from the gym so I'm still hot.
Tata: You feed me straight lines like I'm crooked and hungry. What's with the makeup?
Siobhan: War paint.
Tata: Right. To the Oreck store away!

I don't have a brand loyalty problem but when I make larger purchases, I try to buy American-made. Sometimes, it's out of my reach to choose this way, which is what we find at the Oreck store, where an ordinary cannister vacuum cleaner costs more than my rent. I squinted at Siobhan. She squinted at me. In unpleasantly raw and windy weather, we drove to Sears. We jumped out of her Ford Excoriator into a gust that destroyed our hairdos.

Siobhan: Make a run for it! Save yourself!
Tata: It's too late! My look's done for!

We walked around in circles looking for the home appliances because we've walked in circles arund that store all our lives and each time someone rearranges, everyone within a five-mile radius feels a disturbance in the Force. We turn a corner, we walk and - a choir sings! - there are the vacuums. They range in size between the tiny five-pound stick vacs up to vacuums I could wear to a costume party. I scope the whole display quickly and turn back to find Siobhan talking with a salesperson, and Siobhan is kind of...twitching. The saleswoman turns around and it's all I can do to maintain eye contact. This exotic, very attractive woman has shaved off her eyebrows, applied makeup with a kitchen spatula and painted on eyebrows that are trying to join hands behind her head. Siobhan was twitching because we are out-war-painted. We're sure she's armed. We are.

Tata: I need a vacuum. I have a sick cat who sheds a great deal but I will always have pets. I am allergic to dust and need to be able to vacuum my drapes. What can you do for me?

That sounds capable and straight-forward, doesn't it? Now imagine you're trying with all your might not to shout, "DEAR GOD! WHAT THE HELL HAPPENED TO YOUR FACE?" I completely forgot that I wanted to buy American. In fact, I may be losing feeling in my extremities as I try with every fiber of my being not to grab a tissue and run for some paint thinner. She guided us to a European model I could easily lift above shoulder level with one hand and it's got a drapes attachment and it's on sale and it's so purple Siobhan keeps saying, "It looks fast!" I lose my mind.

Tata: I'll take it.

What? I didn't see that coming! What happened to my philosophy?

No Eyebrows Lady: Do you want the warranty?
Tata: Yes! Yes! Stop looking at me!

I don't actually say that. Back at my place, Siobhan reads me the assembly instructions in French because we can't stop laughing. The old vacuum and a heap of packaging have gone to the Broom Closet In the Sky or the Arthur Kill - along with my principles.

Friday, January 19, 2007

You're Not A Stranger To Me

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, has wedged himself into a spot in my hall closet I would not have imagined was cat-size. He disdains my company and I do not blame him. We have had quite a day, which neither of us would relive on a bet. Though I know him pretty well, I'd be hard pressed to say if the cat was a betting man, but I know I'm not. Today proved to be a test of my courage as a thinking person who endeavors to live an examined, humorous life. So let's start with this morning.

The recent ritual: I wake up, utilize the modern indoor plumbing, scratch the cat, medicate him, place him gently on the floor, and entice him into the kitchen, where I give him fresh water laced with arnica montana for pain, and prescription kitty kibble over which I pour tuna fish water. Then I undertake the tasks involved with caring for me. This morning, when I gently put down Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, his legs seemed unsteady. He took a few steps gingerly, then his legs appeared to give out. I placed him gently on the heating pad covered with a cushion and some crunchy paper. I brought him water, some soft food and his catnip mousie. Fifteen minutes later, when I went to work, he was still there.

At work, I was useless. I would start tasks and forget where I was. I did things, then undid them in self-defense. I called the vet's office and found a substitute veterinarian in office. We talked things over but the nice man couldn't infer anything, he said, "without seeing the animal." The last visit to the office was traumatic for everyone, so I was reluctant to drag out the cat of his home. I said I'd probably be calling back. The doctor mentioned the office would close at noon.

I stopped at home at 11:20 to assess the situation. If the cat were obviously healing up, I'd let the wheel spin. If not, I'd have to make a quick decision. I found the pussycat behind the couch and put him on his feet. Then I lay down to scratch him, to see how he behaved. I looked at him all over. His face was swollen on one side. My courage wavered. I hesitated. Then I called the vet's office, we quickly considered what would happen and I agreed to bring the cat in. I called my job and said I didn't know what was going to happen but I wasn't coming back right away.

It is at this point that, in retrospect, I become very funny. As I put the cat into the cat carrier, my face starts leaking. I'm not even aware of it as I drive across town but I'm dabbing tears on my coat sleeve. The staff at the vet's office is used to seeing all kinds of things and so no one says a word as my makeup runs down my cheeks while I'm talking in a level tone of voice. I cry like this in the waiting room, while we're weighing the cat, during the examination, while the substitute vet administers an antibiotic, and while we talk about the protuberance on the side of the feline face. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, needs his head xrayed while I need mine examined. The xray will have to wait until Monday morning. If the problem is infection, teeth and absess can be removed. If the problem is a tumor, we put him to sleep.

I have known for five years this was coming but it's painful. The trick now is to keep a lightness about this, to handle him gently. When my grandmother was dying, all sorts of strange ideas were in the air. I learned a lot about devotion the months I sat in her hospital room every day but one, and somewhere I got the idea that I would be as brave as I had to, she would die, then we would all go home. Our lives - including hers - would pick up where they'd left off when she got sick. When she did die, the family became confused and never really got its bearings again, not to mention I'd left my husband, found a comedy troupe and become Me.

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, has a toothache. He has had a happy life. There's no need to be sad for him; he may even pull through! It's selfish to be sad for myself; it would be arrogant not to be. That is what love of all kinds is: a promise, sorrow later, but it's worth it. Love of all kinds comes to us as a way to understand our lives. When that changes, our lives change, and how we visualize our lives also changes. The cat is now the last real tie to my old lives. It looks as if I will soon have a new life again. I am very sad, but in a Hindu sense he and I will both be free.

Wednesday, January 17, 2007

Right Behind You, I See the Millions

Once upon a time, the most scandalous things used to happen to Middle America on soap operas. I mean the most scandalous things like infidelity, rape and murder. Baby switching and getting trapped in mines happened weekly, like they were a big idea. And that may be our problem with my favorite soap All My Bianca.

This is Bianca, third child of reigning diva Miss Erica Kane and the only one who has known all her life who her parents were. A few years ago, the soap opera world went mad when Bianca came out as a lesbian. I thought, 'Delightful! It's past time we had beautiful damsels kissing without smearing their lipstick. Cosmetologists everywhere will dance in the streets!' Unfortunately, Bianca's love stories take place mostly off-camera (or - for most of the last year - off-continent), as American soap fans may not be ready for something as simple and natural as women in love.

This reticence did not stop the writers of All My Bianca from penning a transgender character in love with gentle Bianca, who this time came out swinging. One open-handed slap later, Bianca's just as irrational as every other character running from room to room without a single thought unmotivated by panic. Of course, I don't expect decent plot or character development on a soap, and I've stopped expecting anyone to think anything through without drawing the dumbest possible conclusion. A little over a year ago, the writers concocted a scenario where Bianca's baby was stolen by her best friend where the unspoken inference was that the best friend and her husband would be better for the baby than a single mother. I had a knot in my stomach for months but other soap fans hated this plotline with a surprising vehemence. Thus, I have been shocked this week to see outright mob violence on my soap.

This is actor Jeffrey Carlson, who plays Zarf/Zoe, the canvas on which the writers paint this study of a conflicted person with the wrong conflict in the wrong place and at the wrong time. Never in the decades I've watched soaps have I felt that squeeze in my chest, that bone-rattling fear of the mindless, angry mob. Characters I've enjoyed watching for years are making me utterly sick. No one thinks anything of grabbing Miss Zoe and literally manhandling her. No one mentions that a series of crimes has been perpetrated against this person for being a sexual suspect, not a murder suspect. No one even notices. No one questions the brutality and cruelty. There's one character who asks the mob to see Miss Zoe with their hearts, which makes me want to scream: Don't talk to a mob, princess: get on the horn with the fucking FBI.

The deeply disgusting thing about this is that in 2007 - two thousand goddamn seven - people still have their heads so far up their clutched sphincters that a transitioning person appears to represent some kind of threat to the thin-lipped hetero lifestyle. It doesn't. Nobody's marriage is a threat to anyone else's. Nobody's love story has to bother anyone else. And if people need to externalize internal identities, what is it to anyone else?

I brush up against some of this almost every day and I can't figure out why people can't just let it go. I'd like to stop being pissed when someone examines some aspect of Me, finds it unconventional and tries to correct it. I am not saying I encounter what others do, but I am saying hatred and prejudice and violence are everywhere, and we are utterly soaking in it. Which is nothing new. Which people blog about daily far better than I ever could. Which is making me so, so angry at All My Bianca I might have to stop watching it until the male characters quit beating Miss Zoe like an overstuffed pinata.

I miss Greenlee. She quoted Auntie Mame and spit out remarks that made me howl. She was bitchy and charming and had a fantastic athletic build unlike others on the soaps. I hated how the wardrobe department never put an entire outfit on her even in winter, but you can't have everything. Greenlee as a straight female character was more secure in her manhood than all the current characters with penises.

It'd be nice if that were going around.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007

We Will Lie Upon the Lawn

I get frustrated.

Tata: Where have you been? I thought you'd never come back!
Siobhan: After lunch, I had to finish telling the story about the night Hannah jumped out of the truck.
Tata: Omigod, that is one of our Number 1 Hits. Hey, does it end the same every time?
Siobhan: Yup. Hannah goes to the hospital, I take amusing pictures and you go to Ecuador!
Tata: That's a lot of outcomes for one story.
Siobhan: Yeah. I could use a Tab. Good thing I have pictures or nobody would ever believe it.
Tata: Before you forget that story you'd better write it down so we can argue about it in the old folks home.

Yes, we're aging, and I can't remember half the crap we've done. I've mentioned my memory loss before, haven't I?

Siobhan: ...and then this crazy thing happened, and so-and-so did this terrifying thing and then we -
Tata: We? I was there?
Siobhan: And we thought we were going to die and you did this! After that, we drove home on the Pulaski Skyway because we no longer feared death.

Lately, I'm less interested in what we did ten years ago than in what we'll do in the future, since in all probability, in twenty years we'll be crazy cat ladies, together.
For what experts say is probably the first time, more American women are living without a husband than with one, according to a New York Times analysis of census results.

In 2005, 51 percent of women said they were living without a spouse, up from 35 percent in 1950 and 49 percent in 2000. Coupled with the fact that in 2005 married couples became a minority of all American households for the first time, the trend could ultimately shape social and workplace policies, including the ways government and employers distribute benefits.

Several factors are driving the statistical shift. At one end of the age spectrum, women are marrying later or living with unmarried partners more often and for longer periods. At the other end, women are living longer as widows and, after a divorce, are more likely than men to delay remarriage, sometimes delighting in their newfound freedom.

Awesome. I hope I can get support hose to go with my combat boots. In point of fact, a few weeks ago, I went to the salon of one of my most gifted, very distant cousins and said, "Carmello, I'm turning myself in. I look awful. Fix me."

Carmello: What do you want, a haircut?

He looks doubtful.

Tata: I want to close my eyes for a while and when I open them, I want to look like you think I should look now. When do you have that kind of time?
Carmello: Can you take a day off work?
Tata: I adore you, so I'll say I can take off an afternoon.
Carmello: Wednesday the 17th.
Tata: I'll bring my Uranium-242 card.

I might take pictures.

Monday, January 15, 2007

The Detectives Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Shoot

I've been watching two hours of the Italian channel four or five days a week for - what? - two months now, maybe three? After not even trying to speak Italian since 1983, I have the nerve to be annoyed when I catch the words and can't figure out what's going on, even with the oh so hinty moving pictures. Why? Because I think I should understand Italian. Why? Because once upon a time I put some effort into it for a number of years. Why? Because I have always thought I should understand Italian. You're right. My logic is dizzying. I can report progress: the words are now clear enough to my ear that I know what to look up in the dictionary.

That should be a reason for optimism. I should be thrilled I remember anything, after twenty-three years. It's not rational, but I expect more from myself than this. I expect lightning bolts to shoot from my fingertips, too, so what I think of Me borders on the cartoony. It's this Should thing that gets me into trouble, tugging me this way and that. Should isn't real. Should is judgmental. Should sits on the porch and watches who comes and goes. I threw out Should years ago, but he came creeping back.

Friday night, at a dinner party, the war bubbled up through conversation. Sometimes, when you have eye contact, you forget who else is nearby. After an excited sentence or two, our host stopped speaking. She looked around the table anxiously and said words that shocked me.

Host: Are we safe here?

I nodded. Conversation continued. The woman at the end of the table escaped the war in Rwanda and struggled for four years to get her family out of refugee camps. They'd walked to Kenya. If she went back, as a former government worker, she'd be executed. It was as if the dam burst and water found its level. The person next to me remained silent but everyone else gushed and burbled. I said there was only one course of action: all the troops should be withdrawn, we should stop pissing off Iran because our military has recycled soldiers past the point of all reason and is failing in not one but two wars and cannot sustain a third effort, and the whole administration should be shipped steerage to the Hague for war crimes trials. I thought that might be a bit radical for the assembled but nobody stopped smiling. One person hooked a thumb in the direction of her husband.

Wife: That's what HE thinks!

Maybe I shouldn't have said that - but I did. Maybe the 70% of us who've been too polite to talk about our opposition to the war should set aside manners and be quiet no more.

Should. Should?

Sunday, January 14, 2007

Kinda Cool And Inspired Sorta Jazz When He Walks

Maybe four or five days ago, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, made a tent of my blankets and refused to come out. Unless I burrowed in after him, I didn't see him at all. I brought water and food to the doorway of this tent and occasionally I heard him drinking. A few times, I heard him rooting in the food bowl and scraping litter in his box. I wondered if events were coming to a head with the sick pussycat. Yesterday, on the advice of the town's enigmatic holistic medicine maven, I doubled the amount of arnica montana in his water bowl. Then I called the vet. My conversation with the doctor proved more encouraging than I thought it might be but I didn't and don't want to take Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, back to the office if it can be avoided. The last visit included a blood draw, which freaked the cat completely. He hasn't really regained his composure since then. The vet said to administer the yucky oral antibiotic.

This morning, I woke up to a rejuvenated kitty, and I became very optimistic when the pussycat stood on me and demanded vigorous scratching. For about an hour, he acted just like himself, then settled behind the couch, where he stayed for hours. Finally, I picked up the couch, then picked up the cat, then medicated the cat, who gave me very dirty looks before retiring to the bedroom, where he sits, perturbed, on a pillow placed next to the radiator.

It's a cozy spot. In a few minutes, I'll swoop him up and dose him again. Because I love him madly.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Go On When I Close My Eyes

Where exactly does a story begin?

Dad: This ain't gourmet, but it is palatable. And, as Jim says when we're on the radio, "I'm not looking for a Nobel prize; we're just trying to get to noon..."
1/2 cup Bisquick
2 eggs
2 tablespoons butter
3/4 cup milk
Blend above ingredients.
Stir in:
1 cup cooked ham, diced
3/4 cup shredded cheddar or Swiss cheese
Pour into pie pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 to 45 minutes until knife inserted in middle comes out clean.

Tata: This is more funnier - like - because there ain't no - how you say - broccoli in that ingredient list. So it's magic!

Dad: Yes, it is. And it's even more magic because your sister called me and said, "What can you do with leftover ham? Whatever it is, I have to have everything I need in my house already." I was expected to immediately give her 57 ideas - like Heinz's 57 varieties - so I did a google search "recipes for leftover ham with ingredients Daria already has." Google told me that "for" and "with" were unnecessary grammatical markers and "already has" has no ontological significance.

So, in addition to being clairvoyant about her cabinets and that garage space that will never see a car, there can be - I suspect you didn't know this - broccoli, by sheer force of will. It's a new culinary approach in keeping with not burning whales or killing rain forests for their blubber. You just will it into being, choosing organic of course, and - poof - there it is.

Or it could be punishment for making Google work for a nanosecond on food they don't like.

Ah! This is a trick question. Where does the story begin? In earliest childhood, where little girls believe daddies can see all and have magical powers: New Brunswick, NJ, 08901.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Then I Break Down And Say

Yesterday, I stood on the threshold of the orthodontist's inner office, determined to make my point.

Tata: Dr. Rivera, it's not you, it's me...
Dr.: Omigod, girl, you are the funniest person I've ever known!
Tata: You've known this day was coming. It's no secret I've been unhappy.
Dr.: I can't breathe!
Tata: Be brave: the braces have to come off.
Linda, his lovely pregnant assistant: Stop it! You're giving me cramps!

Fifteen minutes later.

Dr.: Wait, you're serious?
Tata: Off. They have to come off. Not next month. As close to this very moment as possible.
Dr.: But - serious?
Tata: As a sucking chest wound.
Dr.: You can't leave me - I mean us.
Tata: Darling, everyone wants me back. Because I have no attention span, almost everyone gets me back. You'll be rewiring my retainer in no time.
Dr.: Bite down on this disgusting glop. Come back on the 26th.
Tata: Kek kek kek kek kaaaaaaaa.
Dr.: You'll miss me - I mean us!

Well, I won't miss breathing through my nose while rubbery goo is ossifying into a timeless 3D portrait of my teeth - but hey, if a body turns up in a shallow grave, Dr. Rivera will recognize the tiny gap between those two teeth that just won't close. Even my teeth are spiteful! Even so, I'd heeded Linda's advice and scheduled a cleaning at my dentist's office for this afternoon which coincided unfortunately with a 24-hour knock-down drag out between me and my best friend that we managed to conduct between my appointments.

Siobhan: You insufferable bitch!
Tata: Pot to Black Kettle! Come in, bitchy Black Kettle!
Siobhan: If you never speak to me again, you still won't shut up!
Tata: Hold that thought. Orthodontist appointment.
Siobhan: Kick some ass, sweetie!

For the sake of the home audience: I was completely wrong in this fight, and the wronger I was, the meow meow funnier Siobhan became, but I forgot to ring the bell at the end of Round 1 yesterday and got very busy at work today before I went to the dentist. Then this afternoon, which is to say almost a whole day later:

Siobhan: FINE! I give. Do I need to apologize?
Tata: What? I was at the dentist. You don't owe me an apology for anything.
Siobhan: Did you tell the orthodontist that you were done? You were going to tell the orthodontist that you were done.
Tata: Yesterday, I informed the orthodontist that it was time to remove the braces. The fourth time I said it, the doctor and his assistant believed me. Have I mentioned how fucking sick I am of people not listening to me? I am fucking sick of it. Anyway, when they understood I was serious, they took impressions of my teeth for a retainer, which should arrive in the office on the 24th. I have an appointment on the 26th to have them removed.
Siobhan: Know what would make your life easier? If you could openly carry a gun. Take painkillers before you go on the 26th. Wait, there's more, isn't there?

Yup, because my dentist's office is precise in that when I have a 10 a.m. appointment, my dentist is there, tapping his watch at 10 a.m., so I am never late. This time, my dentist was walking around the office, avoiding eye contact. I should have realized this was my cue to leave, but I am a slow learner. The oral hygienist lumbered in ten minutes later. Anyone else with an ounce of sense would've run from the office, but I love my dentist and would only leave him at gunpoint.

So there I was, and I could see something was wrong with the dental hygienist as I sat down in the chair.

DH: So let me ask you something: what do you do think about a husband who says, "Unless you give in to my demands, our marriage is over." But then I found a note from his girlfriend.
Tata: I think you should divorce the controlling bastard. But without malice.
DH: He wants to introduce our two small children to this girlfriend, who is different from the one he left me for a year ago.
Tata: She's a plot device in someone's Lifetime special. Don't let it be yours.
DH: Okay, but what do you think about my custody thoughts -
Tata: I think I should know your name first. Breathe - two - three - four...
DH: Um, next time you come, you should take a painkiller first.

I'll be sure to do just that.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Waiting For You, Right Here On Earth

Tata: I forgot to tell you a thing. It is of vital importance.
Siobhan: What could it be?
Tata: Okay okay okay, so there was Italian Christmas Eve and Italian Christmas Eve 2: Electric Boogaloo. Or New Year's Eve, as the other humans called it.
Siobhan: Yep.
Tata: So Christmas Eve, I kept hearing people burst into fake operatic warbling followed by short bursts of laughter and I couldn't figure out why but it's no big deal because unlike most people in real life, I'm seldom startled when a song and dance number breaks out.
Siobhan: It's one of your more endearing traits, certainly.
Tata: Thank you. I think. Anyway, New Year's Eve, there's that warbling and laughing thing again. So I said, "What are you crazy people talking about?" Auntie InExcelsisDeo said, "Tony and Diana were having a fight and she said, 'Shut up!' He said, 'I don't like your tone' so she sang, 'Shut UP!'"
Siobhan: Oh good. An in-joke.
Tata: ...which won't be funny until you arpeggio your last boss. That bastard is still in your office, right?
Siobhan: I have a meeting in five and my document is ...just...about...done! I'm sick of this project, and I feel an aria coming on.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Three A.M. Eternal

Recently, I had a stern discussion with Me about our height. It is insufficient. For our weight, we should probably be closer to six feet tall, and height is way, way trickier to change. I've even considered weight loss by paring down my number personalities but we voted to strike if anyone was laid off. With the fatigue, the expenses and daft overeating, I feel I've drifted from what I want to do. I mean, besides eating. I have a positive gift for that.

In 2006, I:
1. replaced all my household paper products with recycled or cloth.
2. learned to bake bread. I am still a novice.
3. took up walking and now walk to and from work, weather permitting.

This represents progress. There were a few other projects, like knitting blankets for animal shelters and getting all my belongings out of moving boxes and installing cabinets. I liked the projects as an application of skills I already possessed but they didn't change me in any way except to give me more floor space. I love floor space. Then I fill it with some new project and my recycled toilet paper is put away, giving me new and different reasons to be cheerful. If you have children and you're not using the recycled, it's a lot like saying, "Fuck you, sweetheart, I'm too selfish to consider my contribution to the toxicity in which you'll muck about after I take the dirt nap." I have a grown daughter who wants to someday have children that don't set off Geiger counters. But whatever works for you.

I was concerned that if I instituted mondo life changes willy nilly I'd lose interest and change back, but so far, so good. Even so, I feel my progress is stalled. This led to a logical question - stop laughing! - progress toward what?

I don't know. A yoga studio is going up a bunny hop, skip and a jump from my humble abode, but planning to exercise in the future is not a direction and I want one. Let's hope inspiration arrives soon with a HELLO, I'M tag and the crappy handwriting says YOUR FUCKING PURPOSE ON EARTH.

Monday, January 08, 2007

Get Onboard, Join the Love Train

Some situations are too appalling for tiny old me to dignify with discussion, which might lend credence to morally indefensible actions or perspectives. In the last week, we've seen several disgusting revelations that should tell a whole dreadful story. Thus, this morning's A Word A Day vocabulary bon bon is a candy-coated morsel.
"That's a great deal to make one word mean," Alice said in a thoughtful tone.
"When I make a word do a lot of work like that," said Humpty Dumpty, "I always pay it extra."

Alice and Humpty Dumpty in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass might as well have been talking about this week's set of words. While these words do not have as many meanings as the word "set" (the Oxford English Dictionary devotes 26 pages to it), each of this week's hard-working words has many unrelated meanings. And they are not bland, like the word set.

With these words, one could say, we get our money's worth.

malkin (MO-kin, MAL-kin) noun

1. An untidy woman; a slattern.

2. A scarecrow or a grotesque effigy.

3. A mop made of a bundle or rags fastened to a stick.

4. A cat.

5. A hare.

[From Middle English Malkyn (little Molly), diminutive of
the name Maud or Molly/Mary.]

A related word is grimalkin, referring to an old female cat or an ill-tempered old woman.

-Anu Garg (garg

"And speaking o' cats, gray malkins hunt through the forest as well."
Cecilia Dart-Thornton; The Battle of Evernight; Aspect; 2003.
Writing the last page of the first draft is the most enjoyable moment in writing. It's one of the most enjoyable moments in life, period. -Nicholas Sparks, author (1965- )


Funny that even in a time when down is us and wrong is right the language is full of yummy surprises.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Looking Forward So I'm Bent Sideways

One of these days, I'm going to chase Daria around her house with a recording device because some things cannot be conveyed without tone, inflection and sheer volume. In Daria's case, add frenetic movement, a microscopic attention span and a cloud of naturally spiral-curled Jersey Chick hair like a pivoting microburst, none of which translates easily into print or sound. So let's practice seeing and hearing a person who is my sister but might be just like yours. First: you must know that no matter how uncomfortable the new shoes or unforgiving the jacket, Daria never takes apart an outfit she's wearing. Yeah, I don't get that either. It's New Year's Eve at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's and the house is packed. Daria and I are zinging around the kitchen so no one else has to. Watch this:

Daria: Yesterday, Fifi learned to say Daddy. I'm used to her all day long with the Mom! Mom! Mom! but he was shocked and nervous when he'd leave the room and she'd shout DADDY!
Tata: She went from summoning the help to issuing her own ransom demands?
Daria: I'm used to it but he thought she was furious.
Tata: I'd be furious too if my Chief Admirer found something tacky to do like, say, making a living. Tsk! Tsk!
Daria: She doesn't say much - but then it's DADDY!
Tata: Maybe if you quit shouting she'd learn an Indoor Voice less appropriate for the Kentucky Derby.

Don't worry. She's not actually listening and I'm not really heckling her parenting. I'd only do that from a safe distance - say, the width of the Atlantic. In the meantime, I've filled up the dishwasher, rinsed pans for the next load and set up a salad. Daria's set up the bain marie, lit the Sterno pots and arranged the buffet. Mom and Dad didn't so much raise children as a kitchen crew they could only fire a few times. As the dust cleared in the kitchen, Dad's wife Darla -

It's a freaking Italian family. Our ancestors rearranged the same half-dozen names over and over for centuries, even as families joined and joined with families from other traditions and so forth. When someone squawks a familiar, "Hey, Dar!" three people mutter, "What..?" The same thing happens when someone says, "Hey, Dom!" or "Yo, Tony!" If it's confusing, one of these days, I'll make you a seating chart and paper dolls. Moving on, then.

- offered a gift to Miss Fifi in the living room. Miss Fifi has attained the correct age to enjoy tearing wrapping paper to shreds Auntie I. will be vacuuming up for years to come. I am surprised when she opens the box and cares what's inside: a new outfit! Miss Fifi grabs the very frou-frou dress and matching sweater and runs for her mother, who steps out of the kitchen, sees the happy baby and shouts in an air traffic-disrupting voice heard for miles, "WHO'S PRETTY!"

If only I had it on film...

Thursday, January 04, 2007

Blown By the Wind, Trampled In Dust

Sometimes the grownups run around like toddlers: Lock the Library! Rowdy Students Are Taking Over
MAPLEWOOD, N.J., Jan. 1 — Every afternoon at Maplewood Middle School’s final bell, dozens of students pour across Baker Street to the public library. Some study quietly. The Baker Street library in Maplewood, N.J., near a middle school, will soon close from 2:45 to 5 p.m. Others, library officials say, fight, urinate on the bathroom floor, scrawl graffiti on the walls, talk back to librarians or refuse to leave when asked. One recently threatened to burn down the branch library. Librarians call the police, sometimes twice a day.

As a result, starting on Jan. 16, the Maplewood Memorial Library will be closing its two buildings on weekdays from 2:45 to 5 p.m., until further notice.

Oh bloody hell. There's more.
This comfortable Essex County suburb of 23,000 residents, still proud of its 2002 mention in Money magazine on a list of “Best Places to Live,” is no seedy outpost of urban violence. But its library officials, like many across the country, have grown frustrated by middle schoolers’ mix of pent-up energy, hormones and nascent independence.

Increasingly, librarians are asking: What part of “Shh!” don’t you understand?

About a year ago, the Wickliffe, Ohio, library banned children under 14 during after-school hours unless they were accompanied by adults. An Illinois library adopted a “three strikes, you’re out” rule, suspending library privileges for repeat offenders. And many libraries are adding security guards specifically for the after-school hours. In Euclid, Ohio, the library pumps classical music into its lobby, bathrooms and front entry to calm patrons, including those from the nearby high school. A backlash against such measures has also begun: A middle school in Jefferson Parish, La., that requires a daily permission slip for students to use the local public library after school was threatened with a lawsuit last month by the American Civil Liberties Union.

Fortunately, some adults have a clue.
Librarians and other experts say the growing conflicts are the result of an increase in the number of latchkey children, a decrease in civility among young people and a dearth of “third places” - neither home nor school - where kids can be kids.

“We don’t consider the world as safe a place as it used to be, and we don’t encourage children to run around, hang around and be free,” said Judy Nelson, president of the Young Adult Library Services Association, part of the American Library Association. “So you have parents telling their kids that the library is a good place to go.” Rowland Bennett, who served as the director of the Maplewood Memorial Library for 30 years and is now president of the local school board, said libraries had become "the child care center by necessity." Linda W. Braun, a librarian and professor who has written four books about teenagers’ use of libraries, said the students want only to be treated like everybody else.

"If there are little kids making noise, it's cute, and they can run around, it's O.K.," Ms. Braun said of standard library operating procedure. "Or if seniors with hearing difficulties are talking loudly, that's accepted. But a teen who might talk loudly for a minute or two gets in trouble." She added: "The parents don’t want them, the library doesn’t want them, so they act out."

Even more than women in ladies room packs, I dislike children running around libraries. I work in a library, mostly by concealing my presence from all but the Mole People in the building's basement. This hasn't always been the case. For ten years, I worked with the public; for eight of the ten, I ran a 24-hour study hall that resembled nothing more than Dodge City when I got the job. It took a couple of years, but I turned it into a clean, organized, useful facility, chaos and all. I know what these people are up against, and it isn't what it appears.

I am not a librarian. Between me and librarianship stand two degrees and an attitude problem. That will be important to class-minded douchebags who will decide to go count their untended IRAs. Further: I hate to be the Voice of Reason. I much prefer to be the Voice of No Fucking Reason, Thank You. I see things other people don't. I talk to squirrels. The blog is called Poor Impulse Control for a reason. My grasp on capital-R Reality is faint, but sometimes crazy people speak the truth. Moving on, then. The problem isn't the library, the staff or the children. It's the town.

Urban planners know that if you build a city without places for kids to go kids will find their own places. In this case, the kids in the library aren't even the bad kids. Nope - they're somewhere else, pursuing after school activities you don't want to think about, which is what kids do. Remember? Healthy kids sit in school all day while their bodies are telling them to get up and move around. When school's over, they should be up and moving. If they're too young for jobs, they're not too young to run laps around a track. Telling them to sit down and be quiet isn't going to cut it.

Now, this is not news. Kids need exercise. Gym class isn't enough. The walk to the library isn't enough. Since the article was published, the mayor asked the library not to close its doors during after school hours. That's actually counterproductive.

On at least a temporary basis, Maplewood should close the library. Why? Because parents of these kids aren't dealing or can't deal with their children's unsupervised time. Daycare is not the function of the library, which presence masks the problem. Close the library. Calling the cops on children is a dumb bandaid solution slapped on a fairly straightforward problem. If the schools don't have adequate after school supervision, and the library is closed, then the whole town has to come to consensus regarding productive activities for kids.

So. Let it. Let's see Maplewood take on the initial hysteria, even face lawsuits, and get moving. Give the library back to the people who want to use it. Get these kids out of the library and moving. Ignoring what everyone here truly needs will only make matters worse.

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Gotta Have Something If You Want To Be

Mr. Hitchens, you are having a little problem with expectations.
The disgusting video of Saddam Hussein's last moments on the planet is more than a reminder of the inescapable barbarity of capital punishment and of the intelligible and conventional reasons why it should always be opposed. The zoolike scenes in that dank, filthy shed (it seems that those attending were not even asked to turn off their cell phones or forbidden to use them to record souvenir film) were more like a lynching than an execution. At one point, one of the attending magistrates can be heard appealing for decency and calm, but otherwise the fact must be faced: In spite of his mad invective against "the Persians" and other traitors, the only character with a rag of dignity in the whole scene is the father of all hangmen, Saddam Hussein himself.

How could it have come to this?

I am happy to help.

Everyone has funny pictures in their brains. This is called imagination. It's good for us! Using our imaginations, we can think and plan and consider how other people feel. I'm using mine to imagine how a guy as smart as you used to be could confuse someone else's Oedipal complex for a feasible war plan. I mean, come now. You didn't actually imagine make-believe "democracy" could be imposed on a volatile MidEast country by an invading superpower ignorant of complex, delicate and centuries-old tribal relationships and rivalries, did you? That's just silly!

We are all subject to flights of fancy now and then. I pretend my rump will remain adorable with the passage of time but that's not going to happen, which is more or less predictable. Likewise, the utterly tasteless and pathetic execution of some ordinary bloody dictator convicted in court proceeding so surreal we should have expected duck noses, because we handed said dictator over to the really annoyed opposing tribe right before a big, touchy religious celebration of peace was as predictable as eventual sagging. 1 - 2 - 3. Here's why.

Sometimes people tell you the truth. It's very bad manners, but it does happen. When you hear the truth, it should change what you imagine because like facts the truth tends to interact significantly with reality. Here're some truth-based bad manners now, which you might remember.
In the week before [Karla Faye Tucker's] execution, Bush says, Bianca Jagger and a number of other protesters came to Austin to demand clemency for Tucker. "Did you meet with any of them?" I ask. Bush whips around and stares at me. "No, I didn't meet with any of them," he snaps, as though I've just asked the dumbest, most offensive question ever posed. "I didn't meet with Larry King either when he came down for it. I watched his interview with [Tucker], though. He asked her real difficult questions, like 'What would you say to Governor Bush?' "

"What was her answer?" I wonder.

"Please," Bush whimpers, his lips pursed in mock desperation, "don't kill me."

This 1999 interview can tell you a lot about our current administration if you let it. I certainly heard the message loud and clear. Give it a try. I'll wait.

Tappity tappity...I love the new OPI colors...feelings, nothing more than feelings...

Oh, hey. You're back. Love what you've done with the, um, thinking. I think we can see you're listing just a little bit to starboard, sailor:
The shabby, tawdry scene of Muqtada Sadr's riffraff taunting their defenseless former tyrant evokes exactly this quality of hysterical falsity and bravado. While Saddam Hussein was alive, they cringed. Now, they find their lost courage, and meanwhile take the drill and the razor blade and the blowtorch to their fellow Iraqis. To watch this abysmal spectacle as a neutral would be bad enough. To know that the U. S. government had even a silent, shamefaced part in it is to feel something well beyond embarrassment.

We're making progress. Sort of. You're using your imagination.

Now use it to imagine the part you played in making the last six disastrous years happen.

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

She'll Be Waiting In Istanbul

Network news is a snorefest, yet every so often, the teasers tempt me to watch. I made popcorn when I heard: Chicken Shop Owner Allegedly Sets Fire.
The Bronx food fight began when a Twin Donut shop started competing with a Kennedy Fried Chicken by adding legs, wings, breasts and thighs to its menu and selling plates of food for 50 cents cheaper, supervising fire marshal Robert Pinto said.

...needs salt. Wait - doughnuts and chicken parts?
The chicken place's owner, Kabeer Ahmad, whose business had taken a nosedive, used a hammer to punch a hole in the wall between the stores around 4 a.m. Monday, squirted gasoline into the doughnut shop and tossed in a lit match before driving off, Pinto said.

GET OUT! The same building? GET OUT!
"The chicken store guy eventually admitted he was suffering," Pinto said. "In a moment of weakness he punched a hole in the store wall and sprayed gasoline." Ahmad, who was charged with arson, a felony punishable by up to 25 years to life in prison, was in custody Monday night. He didn't have a lawyer and hadn't been visited by his family, and there was no telephone number listed for him at the home address provided by the FDNY. He was to be arraigned Tuesday.

The owner of the doughnut shop, Mike Chhor, said he didn't know why his neighbor set the fire and destroyed his business, which he bought three weeks ago.

"I don't know why he burned the store," Chhor said. "I had no problem with him."

Ah, the bitterness of recrimination and the sweet taste of kettle corn don't mix! You'd think our amateur arsonist would know this but - and I say this cautiously - people are really very fucking stupid.
The centre on Regent Street in London prides itself on being a one-stop shop for inquiries. But sometimes, the agency has admitted, the questions asked by travellers are simply unanswerable. For example, one visitor wanted to know: 'What is the entry fee for Brighton?' Another asked: 'Do you have any information on (former Page 3 girl) Samantha Fox?'

It is not known what mode of transport was envisaged by the person who wondered: 'Can I get to Jersey any other way apart from sea or air travel?'

Another clearly jet-lagged visitor asked: 'When is the changing of the guard at the White House?'

A person once called the library I work in and asked for a photograph of Jesus. I did not mention the fake in Turin.
Encounters could be just as strange in the help centres of VisitScotland, where questions from tourists included: 'What time does the midnight train leave?', 'Which bus do I get from the Orkney Islands to the Shetland Islands?', and 'Is Edinburgh in Glasgow?'.

Another tourist wanted to know: 'What time of night does the Loch Ness monster surface?'

Look, I'm no genius and I've never invented anything but if there's a God, I bet she wonders how this dud of a species got through R & D.
The Federal Aviation Administration acknowledged that a United supervisor had called the control tower at O'Hare, asking if anyone had spotted a spinning disc-shaped object. But the controllers didn't see anything, and a preliminary check of radar found nothing out of the ordinary, FAA spokeswoman Elizabeth Isham Cory said.

"Our theory on this is that it was a weather phenomenon," Cory said. "That night was a perfect atmospheric condition in terms of low (cloud) ceiling and a lot of airport lights. When the lights shine up into the clouds, sometimes you can see funny things."

The FAA is not investigating, Cory said.

I've put down the popcorn because I hear the banjo strains of dueling eyewitnesses.
At least one O'Hare controller, union official Craig Burzych, was amused by it all.

"To fly 7 million light years to O'Hare and then have to turn around and go home because your gate was occupied is simply unacceptable," he said.

That guy sounds pretty sane. Huh.
Some of the witnesses, interviewed by the Tribune, said they are upset that neither the government nor the airline is probing the incident.

Whatever the object was, it could have interfered with O'Hare's radar and other equipment, and even created a collision risk, they said.

That sounds kinda rational. Ruh roh!
"I tend to be scientific by nature, and I don't understand why aliens would hover over a busy airport," said a United mechanic who was in the cockpit of a Boeing 777 that he was taxiing to a maintenance hangar when he observed the metallic-looking object above Gate C17.

"But I know that what I saw and what a lot of other people saw stood out very clearly, and it definitely was not an [Earth] aircraft," the mechanic said.

If this story is still playing a real nutburger must warming up his glowing psychosis.
One United employee appeared emotionally shaken by the sighting and "experienced some religious issues" over it, one co-worker said.

Oh, Jesus Christ! I mean, really! If our Sky God can make whole universes including other populated planets, why can't the aliens make it through baggage check? Meanwhile, around full circle and back on earth, some people really need to skip the fryolator and upgrade to a microwave: Gas cooker blows up island. You read that right.

This was the staggering scene after a faulty gas cooker exploded in a timber-framed shack – and devastated a tiny Caribbean island. The blast caused an inferno that leapt from hut to hut, taking less than ten minutes to sweep across Soledad Miria. Many of the 1,014 inhabitants dived into the sea or took to fishing boats to escape. More than a third – 348 – were injured but, amazingly, no one died.

Mmmm. Chicken...

Monday, January 01, 2007

Times When All the World's Asleep

Note: for short people, objects in digital view finder may be closer than they appear.

Half-way through dinner at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's last night, I realized that not only had I left Monday's and Barry's present at home but I'd left my lunchbox next to it. This is significant because my lunchbox contains stuff, things, and my wallet. I was half an hour's drive from my apartment on New Year's Eve in a car with a tire pressure problem and without my documents. It was a miracle that I'd realized anything at all. The crowd and noise around the dinner table spilled out into the living room, down into the basement and out onto the street. I was amazed strangers driving the Turnpike didn't stop in for aperatifs but anyway: before 10:30 I got into my car and drove off. Daria, Todd and I gave Dad and his wife Darla the DVD collection of Father Ted, which Dad, as a disgruntled altar boy, will truly enjoy. We probably should've given him an oxygen tank. Darla and I share an ordinary revulsion for all things precious or baby pink or excessively girlie, so when she plunked down in front of me the Care Bear gift bag, I don't know who laughed harder. I could've gone home happy at that moment but miraculously the actual gift was even better.

Nobody appreciates my propensity for violence and desire to chffonade like Dad and Darla. We found these on a Sicilian website years ago but couldn't get them to accept credit cards. Maybe if we'd PayPalled a horse's head I would've had one of these gratis. Regardless, I have one now! Joy! I'm thinking of assembling it and putting it in my kitchen window. So after Miss Sasha's amaretto mousse, of which I have a small container in my fridge right this very minute, I kissed forty-odd people goodbye and drove home very, very cautiously. In doing so, I left behind presents, dishes and awesome leftovers. Yeah. What was I thinking?

The ball dropped, Anderson Cooper introduced the B-52's and suddenly there were flashing lights in the cul-du-sac. By 12:05, the tiny street was filled with peculiar twenty-somethings, five police cars and two amubulances. Soon, my neighbors were walking around outside like the fair had come to town. A little more than half an hour later, one of the ambulances took away a woman I didn't recognize supine on a stretcher and I have no idea what happened or what it meant. I was grateful however that I didn't drive documentless after midnight hoping to avoid police of six entire towns only to find them all in front of my house.

Today, lunchbox and forgotten gift in hand, I drove back down to Auntie's for lunch and leftovers. I possess pork roast and stewed chicken! I have gravy and poached figs! I have my pans and what passes for my purse. As you can see, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, examined the Care Bear bag for paper-crunching kitty amusement and pronounced it "merely diverting." We both need a nap.