Blowdart That Charging Rhino. Now, the Other One.

The End Times, we are assured by ancient, miserably edited texts and modern miniseries alike, will not come upon us suddenly. No. There will be signs – not that these signs will do you any good because those misdemeanors on your juvie record are sealed by the state and not Heaven, and you are probably getting a sentence there you hadn’t counted on. You can read signs all you want but your underwear better be asbestos and your SPF about a million.

So say our evangelical friends. You know what? Have a look at anime. If you study Japanese cartoon art you can learn something worth considering: after Hiroshima and Nagasaki, some believe we have already lived through Armageddon. Everything blew up. The land was scoured by flames. Living creatures disappeared and their shadows were burned into walls. The Earth Game ended and we forgot to leave the stadium. It’s a damn careless theology that doesn’t take into account the notion that we may inflict the end of the world on others, rather than bring it on ourselves.

Miss Sasha, for instance, is getting married not this coming but next Friday afternoon. This means an entire wedding will be traveling five miles on Route 27 through New Brunswick during rush hour the day after Rutgers’ main graduation. If there is a crowbar in the vehicle in which I’m a passenger, I bet it gets some use before the cocktail hour. There you go. Whore of Babylon sighting!

An afternoon wedding has other peculiar consequences, like that bridesmaids have 8 a.m. appointments at the hair salon. Parents and grandparents will be photographed hours before noon. The bride may have a 6 a.m. with a makeup artist. Staring at the itinerary at my desk, bashing my head on my keyboard to imprint QWERTY backwards on that subtle plane above my eyebrows and hollaring, “For the LOVE OF GOD, will SOMEONE please brew a vat of espresso and THROW ME IN!” I think I’m losing my mind. Trout summarizes this morning’s jaunt through Penn Station:

Last week Elvis…this week cows! People dressed in cow suits handing out very small beverages. And 2 real, very young curled up sleeping calves.

Now I have seen cows on the streets of NYC.
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Demand a basic skills retest! Underemployed actors in cow costumes – complete with napping free-range veals – hand out miniature caffeinated drinks in Penn Station and it’s NOT a SIGN OF THE APOCALYPSE? I am the mother of the bride, gently reminding people through clenched teeth to honor their damn obligations to a family event. Surely, God must be impatient, tapping her feet like a Greenwich Village PTA waiting for improved reading scores.

%&$&!#&$)&%)@&#$)%&&@&)!&$&!)%()$%&*@)&!!!!
5.13.05 Update: Last night, Blogger ate the last three paragraphs of this entry. Mamie and I reconstructed it (Thank you, Mamie!) but it just doesn’t have the same ire I loved yesterday. It may take gifts and flowers to rouse me from this torpor…

Frying Bigger Fish

Life is short, and Johnny’s on a rampage:

Dear Editor:

I’m writing to inquire about submitting my original pulp/tough-guy/crime novel for your consideration. All the classic pulp elements are there. Mystery. Sex. Betrayal. Handgun violence. You name it. It’s about a dope-shooting pill-popping gun-waving long-haired private detective searching for a missing executive. People ask me if my character is based on me. I tell them no. I have short hair. Please let me know if you’d be interested in taking a look and, if so, what submission guidelines I should follow.

Thank you very much.

Johnny
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When we were in high school, our writing teacher told us told us all literature contained only three plots. Johnny retorted, “Kid is born, gets expensive gifts.” Damned if he didn’t knock down all our classmates within a five-seat blast radius.

While I can’t find an apartment in New Brunswick that doesn’t include some disastrous condition like a pre-existing roommate with a sex offense conviction, Johnny and his hot veterinarian wife packed up and moved to the southwest. It takes a tremendous pair to enact your dream of never shovelling snow again for the rest of your life. I’m almost jealous. There are, however, new perils for one’s pets:

We had a bad scare. Ernie wandered off Wednesday morning. As the days went by and we searched the desert for his collar or a crime scene or any sign, we gradually had to accept that he had wandered too far and that the coyotes had gotten him. We treat coyote maulings at the practice, where I’m working now in Client Services (i.e. receptionist) probably once a week. They’re not entertaining. I’ve been holding up, strong silent type that I am, although for some reason people always laugh when I point that out, but the wife has been in bits. Last night we get home from work at about eight, phone rings. Chick on her cell. She has Ernie, by the side of the road about a hundred yards from our house. He’s injured, but walking, she says. We burst into tears and get into the car and go get him and burst into tears and thank her and put him in the van and take him home and burst into tears.
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Holy crap! Is Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, better off without the threat of coyotes? I’m pretty sure I am:

Anyway, it turns out that all he has is a superficial gash on his side, probably from a wire fence, and a few nicks and dings here and there. Whether he was set upon by coyotes and cut himself running from them, we’ll never know. Once we got him into the house, it was clear he didn’t need the emergency room, just a shitload of water and food and love. He’s improving by the minute. We’re taking him into the office later to throw a few stitches in his wound and clean up the other little scratches. He’ll be good as new. Which, mind you, is not good. He’s unbelievably stubborn and willfully impossible. He routinely wakes us up at four to go out and make a tiny bit of pipi. He mostly always doesn’t want to come back from nighttime walks on the leash, so we have to drag him or pick him up and carry him. He’s a goddamn stubborn obnoxious silverbacked old man. But we’re overcome with relief and joy to have our most bestest of all possible boys back. I had forgiven the desert, I mean we’re the intruders here, but the desert and I are back to best friend status.
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So now I’m back to that question Mamie asked in October: if I didn’t have to worry about anything, what would I do?

Dude, Where’s My House?

Once again, I’m looking for a small apartment in a college town. This is roughly akin to searching for your own blackmailer. It’s very depressing. There should be an affordable place for me and Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, but where is it?

Sad! I am sad. Our needs are quite modest. Why is this so hard?

Tappity Tappity Tappity…

Sister #1 calls this morning. My hunt for Mother-Of-the-Bridewear is going poorly and #1 has coupons because, as Audrey says, “Retail is for suckers.” Sister #1 has a way with tone and inflection.

#1: ARE YOU AVOIDING ME?

It is 9:28 a.m. and I’ve been at work just under two hours. Half my co-workers are out sick with a sore throat, fever and cough; the other half mock me for rasping like Lauren Bacall. Yesterday, the now-you-see-it-now-you-don’t fever fogged my brain so completely I couldn’t figure out how to roll up my car’s power window. That’s okay, the day before I couldn’t remember where in a one-bedroom apartment I’d left my hammer.

Have you ever lost your hammer? I ask you, is this a problem people have?

#1: ‘CAUSE WHEN I CALL YOU YOU SHOULD CALL ME BACK!
Tata: I’ve been out sick and I’m finally returning messages.
#1: OH. (Pause) Sorry. The cleaning lady did the top half of my house yesterday. I’m writing some thank you letters. My husband has appointments at 5 and 6 tonight. I’m having contractions. What should I make for dinner?
Tata: Did you say…I thought I heard…I could swear you just said you were having contractions…
#1: Yeah. I’ve got a nail appointment for 11. Your nephews are with the sitter. Chicken or fish?
Tata: How about whatever they’re serving at St. Peter’s?

Sister #1, unlike Sisters 2,3 and myself, has only had induced-labor babies. She’s calm about contractions because this is her third child and by her reckoning, there’s no way a baby of hers is leaving a warm comfy spot of its own volition. Nope! Everything’s under control. Far be it from me to contradict her. Five years ago, her doctor tried inducing labor the first time and it didn’t take so well. Over 24 hours after she went into the hospital I was about half an hour into re-redding my bottle-red hair in My Little Tenement when I heard a voice in my head.

Voice in my head: Rinse out your hair and go to the hospital.
Tata: Now you’re just being dramatic.
Voice in my head: The shower’s that way. Scoot!

Well, I definitely heard the first part. Feeling a little silly, I rinsed out the dye and walked over to the hospital. Then I walked into through some doors and onto a secure ward. Nurses and other personnel greeted me as if I belonged there. I saw and heard them turn other people away. It was like a dream that smelled of bleach and made pinging noises. I pushed open a door and there was #1 hooked up to all kinds of devices and tubes and watching TV. Brother-In-Law #1 looked like death warmed over. He’d been up the whole time and needed some sleep and a stiff drink. As I later explained to our mother: I made unpopular statements for two hours. She pushed out that baby just to make me shut up.

Tata: Do you want me to meet you at the hospital?
#1: NO, THANKS! Uh, thank you, no, I’ll be fine. Mom and I have errands. I’m in no hurry. I’ll call you, okay?

Important note if you’re planning on being cannonized someday: when you perform or participate in some sort of miraculous event like barging into a locked hospital ward make sure the crowd response is more stirring than, “What’s with your hair?” And events will proceed more smoothly if you’ve organized a less schizophrenic answer than, “The voices in my head told me to go to the hospital.” Trust me on this one.

So I’ve gone about my day and I’m waiting. The phone has not sat idle.

Mamie: So Trout got off her train this morning at Penn Station and at the top of the escalator there were six fat guys in white jumpsuits and when she left work, the Elvis impersonators were still there and they were advertising that CBS Elvis show thing! She had her picture taken with six false Elvises!
Tata: Are we out of Wayne Newtons?

Nothing to do but wait and tap my fingers.

Meme Quiz, Dancin’ With the One What Broughtcha Edition

Jill over at Brilliant at Breakfast tagged me with the Meme Quiz. It’s traveled up, down and all around, and become a moody thing. I’m struck by how differently I might’ve responded on a crappier day or if I’d just gotten off the phone with the single-minded Miss Sasha.

If I could be a scientist: I’d be Nicolo Tesla, ball of lightning in his right hand and hellfire in his eyes. Power, he thought, belonged in the hands the people, not the corporations and robber barons.

If I could be a musician: I’d be Dinah Washington, the bad girl’s bad girl. You’d cross a dark city to see me, and my every note would be worth the journey. You bring to me what you do, and I come to you, breathy, sexual and sure, through smoke and booze and neon, and you’ll abandon reason and daylight, and wake up in an alley with a smile on your face and a melody on your lips.

If I could be a doctor: I would explain a few things to Bill Frist. Publicly. Not that most college kids with a pamphlet couldn’t make quick work of it.

If I could be a painter: I would paint numbers on the air so you see why I can’t rearrange them in forms so pedestrian as adding and subtracting. I would paint light in whorling, melodic shapes so you finally see music for yourself. I would paint you aromas and flavors, and scatter them on breezes so pineapples fall gently on Ethiopian plains and apples waft over Madagascar.

If I could be an innkeeper: I would make up your bed with crazy quilts and stars on your ceiling and feathers over the vanity. Your nightlight reminds you of a song. In your dreams, you laugh and laugh. For breakfast, you find blood orange juice and warm butter and brioche on a tray outside your door and the scent of clean linen in the hallway.

To pass on this Rorschach test, I’m tagging Rosebud at such stuff, ae at Arse Poetica, and Alice at Alice In the Altered States.

Why? Because lightning doesn’t just come in balls.

Beasts!

At 6:16 this morning, I climb on the stepper and start cranking. I think, ‘Ta, this is never difficult. You make it so in your mind.’ I make it and my rump less so for fewer than thirty seconds when I spot Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, digging near a closet door where no digging should be required. A tiny brown field mouse shoots across the floor, closely followed by Larry, now a predator bent on predation. About 1:30 into my workout, my blood pressure skyrockets as I try screaming but make noises only dogs hear.

Tata: EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!
Mouse: (muffled)
Larry: Hey! Professional at work, here…

Larry, for his part, catches and grips the hapless mousy in his mouth. The mousy is a big mouthful for a small cat. Larry walks a few steps with his plaything before the mousy makes a break for it. Larry stares fiercely at the fleeing thing as if to say, “Mrrrow, you are mine, mrrrow,” before slapping a paw down on the escapee. Larry picks up the mousy again in his mouth. The mousy runs; Larry pounces. The mousy runs under the stepper.

Tata: GET HIM!
Mousy: A little help, huh?
Larry: Perfection cannot be rushed!

At 6:22, I dial Mamie’s cellphone and go straight to voicemail. Angry and stage-whispering through clenched teeth, I leave a message.

Tata: It is TOO early to call SISTER #1 but I HAVE to tell SOMEBODY. THIS is the most TERRIFYING day of my LIFE. I am GOING to lose my MIND. LARRY is CHASING a mousy ALL OVER my ENTIRE HOUSE.

Mamie, that heartless bitch, declares this my “…funniest message without a threat to public safety.” Another reviewer raves, “Girlie! Hilarious! I’d pay to see this movie!” The critics however are ahead of me as my fifteen minutes on the stepper turns into twenty-five when I try levitating to avoid the life and death struggle on my living room and bedroom floors. I surrender the idea of pushups and crunches and start a shower while Larry corners the mousy in my bedroom.

I. Do Not. Want. A Mousy. IN MY BEDROOM!

In the shower, I berate myself for not prising the wounded and now-crooked mousy from the jaws of the giant and seemingly expanding cat, but that’s secondary to my new mantra which I loudly repeat to steady myself.

Tata: This is NOT HAPPENING…This is NOT HAPPENING…

I have GOT TO CALM DOWN! I respond to scents, so I wash my hair with Biolage Matrix Fortifying Shampoo, condition with Biolage Matrix Earth Tones Copper Color Refreshing Conditioner, and a second rinse with Biolage Matrix Fortifying Conditioner. I lather up with my favorite St. Ives Energizing Citrus Moisturizing Body Wash; slough with St. Ives Apricot Hand & Foot Scrub, and wash my face with Dove Daily Exfoliating Cleanser. You can bet your bottom dollar I bought every one of those items with a coupon except for the salon hair products for which I’d pay twice retail if I could because this is Jersey, and that is practically the law. Steeled by soothing aromas, I shut off the shower and toss aside the curtain.

A few weeks ago, I was talking on the phone while putting away my laundry when I discovered a giant dead bumble bee on my bedroom floor. I have become such an unbelievable pussy in my advanced old age that it took me almost a week to pick the thing up with a dustpan and broom and flush it to the Delaware & Raritan Canal.

A few years ago, when the rock star boyfriend was touring all the time, we had two cats who would sometimes kill fieldmousies. In fact, we humans counted on them killing the mousies. If the cats hadn’t killed the mousies we would have awakened daily – me, the sometime other human and the cats – to mousy mosh pits in what passed for our living room. In this scenario, the cats let us – or me, rubber gloves and paper towels – take their mousy prizes and toss them out the back door into the yard I never saw anyone in without a raised machete.

Now, Larry is lounging regally just outside the bathroom door. It is his custom to lurk nearby while I shower in case I need rescuing. I sometimes remember he’s a cat when I turn around in the shower and see him perched on the edge of the tub.

Larry: Dear God! Are you injured?

And I always remember he’s a cat when I’ve bumped the shower curtain and he decides I’m prey.

Larry: Take that! And that! When will you change your soapy ways?

I am relieved when my eyes meet Larry’s and then follow his to the tiny corpse near his front paws. Aha, the painful struggle of the mousy is at an end. I step out of the tub, towel dry and hang up the towel. When I turn back to look at the cat, his trophy has moved a few inches but it’s still tits-up with little x’s over its eyes. Larry looks at me. It’s immediately clear to me this is a significant gaze: he is telling me something. I have no idea what the message is until, eyes still locked with mine, Larry takes a bite.

My mind has been boggled now for just over forty-five minutes and there is no power on earth that could force me to step over Larry while he is gnawing on the still warm corpse of the interloper. I can’t even scream I’m so grossed out but it doesn’t matter because I take one horrified look and reach for my Dove Original Clean Solid Antiperspirant. The situation that couldn’t possibly get any worse gets a lot worse when the sound of Larry eating what he just caught becomes the sound of tiny crunching bones.

I dab under my eyes with Origins No Puffery, moisturize my face with Aveeno Positively Radiant Daily Moisturizer SPF15, brush my teeth with Maximum Strength Sensodyne Extra Whitening with Fluoride, apply Philosophy Kiss Me Clear Very Emollient Lip Balm before painting on Colgate Simply White Clear Whitening Gel. As the crunching continues, I slather my entire body with Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer, spritz on CK1 L’Eau du Toilette and apply an entire Bare Minerals light/fairly light tones kit with four components, add eye shadow I have lying around and a brown eyeliner. When the crunching stops I force myself to look at the cat. He licks his lips and gives me the kitty come-hither look.

Larry: How about some sugar?
Tata: Not on your life!

I leap over him and around the corner into the bedroom, where I throw on…something…In the hallway, I see there is nothing left of the mousy, not the tail or a foot or a scrap of internal organ. Nothing. I’m so upset I don’t want to go to work and there’s no way I can stay in the apartment. When I get to work, I’m still hyperventillating. My co-workers slap their desks and dab their tears discreetly.

Sister #1 calls because her Spidey sense is tingling. When I pick up the phone she skips past hello and says, “What happened?” This is not the first time I tell her Larry’s thrown a banquet and invited someone delicious, but it’s the first time a cat story makes her laugh so hard she nearly drives her SUV into a ditch.

Should I feel uneasy when Larry stares into that closet, searching the darkness for the reflective eyes of another snack?

In Order To Form a More Perfect Union

“We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”

– Preamble to the United States Constitution, which I can sing thanks to Schoolhouse Rock and Saturday morning cartoons.

Mamie and I drive around and around the mall parking lot. Macy’s is having a huge three-day sale which, we surmise from the congestion on Route 1, the ponderous mall entrance and the packed handicapped parking spaces, is especially cutthroat. We are in the right frame of mind for the hunt. Armed with coupons, credit cards and a precise shopping list, we are going to:

1. find a parking space if we have to assault nuns and grab either end of a Volkswagen to do it;
2. sneak up on our prey, grab it by its sale tag and swing it over our heads like a wet tshirt on a Daytona Beach bar during spring break.

Now that I’m old enough to be two girls gone wild, I often gather I grasp what’s what. Anything I don’t actually need is disappearing from my life faster than decent fiction from bestseller lists. However: proper foundation garments, styles and extenders aside, are eternal and comfortable; quality footwear is our gift from a loving God – and God alone will help anyone in our way. We pick up a dozen bras where bras are Buy Two, Get One Free and stuff ourselves into a dressing room. After four brands, four styles and three different sizes, it suddenly occurs to us at the same time: my weight has redistributed itself, and my bra size has significantly changed. Our worlds are rocked! Mamie says, “Your ribcage is broad for 5’2″ but you could use a size smaller and a cup larger. If that doesn’t fit I’ll eat my shoes!”

On the sales floor, it is a whole new expedition because nothing in the strange new size crossed our line of sight before, and finding something will be a Say-Hallelujah-Say-Amen-Miracle. We find five. A choir of angels sings as we approach the cash register line. Suddenly, over on the other side of the room, I see mannequins in a shape and style I’ve never seen before and the Miracle is o-v-e-r.

“Goddamn it, Mamie. Look at that!” I blurt at an unguarded volume. Twenty feet directly ahead stand mannequins modeling Calvin Klein and DKNY bras and panties. The brands aren’t the problem. The mannequins have normal size hips, unusually narrow ribcages and inhumanly narrow waists. Now that I’ve seen the waists, they’re all I can see, and I can’t shut up. “That is disturbing! Women aren’t shaped like those mannequins.”

“Everyone says that,” the cashier smiles.

“That is disturbing!” I am now shouting. “What is the matter with Macy’s that those unbelievable, inhuman clothes dolls are displaying underwear this idiotic retailer wants me to purchase with my exceptional credit?”

“Everyone says that, too,” the cashier smiles. “Everyone also says they’re a bad example for teens. Anorexia!”

“No,” Mamie says firmly, “Those mannequins depict bodies that’ve worn corsets all their lives. That’s binding. They don’t belong here.”

“They’re certainly hypocritical wearing padded bras without underwire,” I squawk. “Those mannequins should come with diagrams of misshapen and useless internal organs -” Nobody – no Soccer Mom, no overmanicured employee, no self-absorbed teen – bats an eye. Nobody looks up. Nobody cares. Mamie, concentrating on our next stop in her favorite department, pays for my bras on her Macy’s card. She knows I’m frustrated and getting louder and those mannequins are a-goner if she doesn’t do something drastic. Mamie grabs her card, the merchandise and the sales slip. She gestures with her chin and says slyly, “You know, that’s not just a special clown suit, I would swear it was custom made…”

“In the name of all that is holy, WHO PUT THAT WOMAN IN ORANGE? Has her religion outlawed mirrors? That collar went out with the sinking of the Spanish Armada! MAMIE! THAT POOR SICK GIRL HAS COME OUT IN PLAID!” I scream – not that anyone hears me. We’ve followed the clown suit a few yards, then taken the escalator to Cosmetics where for no earthly reason a DJ is spinning the greatest hits of 1978 at a volume sure to reduce our brains to Wheatina if the selections don’t. An artist is painting a living, breathing, almost humanly proportioned model to match a very chic pink, orange, green and blue handbag. So there it is.

In Intimate Apparel, the displayed female form speaks of distortion, suffering and binding; in Cosmetics, the female form is a decorative container, a kicky accessory. I stare at the customers who’ve never seen a person trade her personhood for their very momentary amusement and to pay this month’s cable bill. At least, you’d think they’d never seen it before and never done it themselves. At this moment, not one of these women thinks of herself as an economic whore, not one thinks of herself as diminished by what she sees. I do the only thing I can do in the face this monolithic denial, shame and self-hatred: follow Mamie into Ladies’ Shoes and shut up. Here, the lesson is reiterated in a new form: Mamie, who is tall and wears a proportionate size, tries on dress shoes and concludes that that amount of pain ought to be followed by a lucrative settlement. Since we’ve made the strategic error of setting foot in Macy’s without a legal team, we leave without dress shoes.

I get it. I do. The disconnect between body and middle-class person couldn’t be clearer. And yes, I do know exactly what I’m saying: no wonder so many women voted for Bush.