Silence Is Easy, It Just Becomes Me

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

No, We Can’t Dance Together

Mr. Breszny, eternal optimist, advises Aquarians:

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

Saturday morning, my phone rang.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Carry A Dog On Her Back

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

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

1. Book that changed my life.

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

2. Books I have read more than once.

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

3. Book I would want on a desert island.

The Oxford English Dictionary.

4. Book that made me laugh.

Everything by Douglass Adams.

5. Book that made me cry.

Mark Twain’s Personal Recollections of Joan of Arc.

6. Book I wish I had written.

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

7. Book I wish had never been written.

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

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

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

10. Tag five other people.

I’ll try!

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

Moving Under Ice

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

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

Until tonight, then –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All Sparks Will Burn Out In the End

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

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

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

Everybody Had Matching Towels

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

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

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

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

Daria stared, thunderstruck.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her Daisy Head Is Conscience-Laden

Daria is thrilled to hear I feel awful.

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

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

Tata: Where’s your mother-in-law?

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

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

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

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

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

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

But the Sea Does Not Change

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

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

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

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

He’s gesturing right.

Tata: Left?
Man: Left. Go up there –

He’s gesturing down.

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

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

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

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

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

When She Says, "Let’s Go."

She’s got a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

No More Promises Of Love

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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