The Traffic Circle of Life

The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) rings me up. His brother, with the assistance of a willing woman, had a baby girl yesterday. I’m a former auntie! While genealogists everywhere ponder the improbability of my taking the child for tattoos when she’s 18 and what relationship we’ll put on field trip emergency forms, births bring into sharp focus one’s relationship with time.

In theory, my life expectancy probably limits me to 30 more years on this rock if I quit shining my karma with abrasive polish. Mamie and I have a retirement plan: we buy a go-go bar, dye our hair Easter egg pinks and blues and spend our declining years fluffing our girls’ feather boas and drinking scotch with mobsters. Could I contribute more to world peace than hair color hilarity and facilitating thirdhand erections? I doubt it. With a plan like that, I can’t wait to be me.

In the here and now, I still cannot find an apartment. My high school dance partner had open heart surgery on Tuesday. In my little henhouse, one of the boyfriends is suddenly being treated at Sloan-Kettering for an extremely rare cancer. My life has come to a complete stop while I wait and wait for…what? I think an omen I understand.

A zillion years ago, I was sitting on a bench outside the library I purport to work in when a white-hot grad student sat down at the other end. Yes, I was young enough then that it wasn’t creepy. Anyway, we were sitting there, not talking, when the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile drove by. I said, “Should we just get a room?”

Omens that clear rarely float across one’s field of vision. Mostly, I listen to people talk and have no idea what they mean. I see things and think ‘That should mean something, but what?’ If there’s a God, he/she/it could talk riddles all day long and I might give that tune a 75 even though I can’t dance to it. Hinting, subtlety and silence never work and leave me staring like dogs stare at ceiling fans. Skip to clarity and bold truthtelling: life is short and time spent trying to figure out what something might mean is time wasted.

Let’s not waste time, you and me. Out with it! What are you doing, why are you doing it, and what’s on your mind?

Coffee, Vodka Chaser

I seldom sleep for more than a few hours at a time. When I do sleep I have dreams so vivid I frequently ask my friends if events and conversations really happened. For instance, recently I dreamed a handsome, charming man told me I was perfect and that we loved all the same music. It seemed so real. When I woke up, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, was standing on my ribcage and loudly demanding tuna. Our relationship is almost like being married except I understand what the cat wants.

The family plans a trek en masse to Hyannis in August for Grandpa’s birthday. He’s a dear, sweet, wonderful man who hangs up on Mom twice a day.

Mom: Take the cab when you go to the VFW Hall. The kids want you to and it’s a gift!
Grandpa: Pesty!

My mother clears her throat a lot and changes the subject when we ask what Grandpa wants for his birthday. She has been charged by him with making sure we kids and our kids don’t buy him presents; she would drop dead of shame if we showed up without them. This situation produces amusing failures. One year she told me he was growing tomatoes on his balcony so I sent him basil plants FTD. A month later, Mom walked around her dining room for half an hour holding something behind her back.

Mom: He said they were too expensive and gave them to me to take care of.
Tata: Isn’t a Basil Problem solved with melted cheese?

Okay, so I blew it. His birthday is a month and a half away and I’m engaging in Preemptive Gift Anxiety.

An aside: years ago, Mamie and I met a man who shouted “Joy!” a lot. Though we feared exuberance might lead him to sprain something, we started labelling our own reasons to be cheerful. When her control freak boss cancels a meeting we have Cancelled Meeting Joy! When extra vegetables show up with her order we have Grilled Zucchini Joy! We sure do sound organized and happy. It follows that we sometimes have Paid Bills Satisfaction, Sick Pet Sorrow and How Could He Grief. So. I have Preemptive Gift Anxiety, and back to the story we go. La:

Daria: You’re going to Cape Cod, right?

This is not a question. I am going, partly because I love Grandpa to pieces and partly because were I to not go, no one would ever find my body. Daria would see to it. That’s the way it is with us: love and death threats.

Tata: I hate going there, though. Can’t sleep in Grandma’s house.
Daria: Too many memories?
Tata: Bad, bad, bad dreams. Awful dreams. Hate that house.
Daria: Huh! [Pause.] We’ll drink!

My mother’s mother and I didn’t get along while she was alive. We argued a lot and made vicious remarks that failed to end in punchlines. Now that she’s dead, I’m convinced she wants my feet off her furniture from the afterlife or she knows I’m not contributing enough to my retirement fund. Last time I tried to stay overnight at Grandma’s house, I took two melatonin and drank two and a half bottles of red wine because someone else drank half the last bottle, and every time I closed my eyes I heard Grandma criticizing my choice of phone plans.

I didn’t sleep a wink. Maybe she was right and I couldn’t be trusted to make simple decisions like where to buy shoes, let alone know the difference between reality and dreams, a distinction philosophers have pondered for millennia.

Next time I see her, maybe I’ll ask.

Holding Forth On Holding Out

Last week, I turned on General Hospital in the middle and realized Emily and Sam were laughing and whispering about faking orgasms and I thought I’d have an aneurysm. I cannot believe that women still do this twenty years after Dr. Ruth and while Sue Johanson describes everything on Oxygen’s Talk Sex! Never in my life have I faked an orgasm. In fact, I didn’t realize it was a thing people did until I was in my thirties because as a product of the public schools I mostly learned about sex by stealing a stack of Dad’s Penthouses. In 1994, on CNBC’s internationally syndicated show Real Personal with that self-absorbed prick Bob WhatsHisFace I said I’d never faked it – and everyone in the studio went spastic. Faking doesn’t make sense because I am selfish enough to want the real thing and if I don’t tell the truth, I don’t get what I want, do I? Many marvelous sensations and emotions are available to the person willing to take a number at the – shall we say – Deli Counter of Physical Delights, and though orgasms aren’t the beginning and ending of the menu, they’re pretty good. Sometimes a gal has to say, “Baby, this is fiercely good fun but it’s not the way I build a sandwich.” I just don’t see the problem.

Let’s say for argument’s sake you’re a heterosexual woman – not that there’s anything wrong with that. For argument’s sake, let’s say you sleep with men. You’ve got a pair of roller skates. They’ve got keys. Everybody’s different and you don’t necessarily have dreamy woo-woo sex magic the first time.

Mamie: Ever had sex that went on and on and on and you wished it would just end?
Tata: If I remembered the 1990s, I’m sure I’d say yes.
Mamie: He’s waiting for you.
Tata: Not me. If he’s naked he already knows he’s donning scuba gear and diving for treasure.
Mamie: You might hurt his feelings.
Tata: In this hypothetical hook up, why would I knock boots with a man who doesn’t want to actually please me?

The poet Alan Michael Parker told me many times that staying married was work and there was one superhot way to go about it.

AMP: Couples should always fight naked. That way, they remember what’s really important.
Tata: Fine for you, with the beautiful wife, but for folks with ugly lovers that might be counterproductive.

In matters of sex, honesty really is the best policy. If you’re not interested in a second helping of the soup du jour, do what you want but don’t lie about anything except your name – if you must. Be “Xena, Warrior Princess” if you want. Nobody cares. But if you’re dating someone and savor his flavors, tell him where to find your rich, creamy center. For everyone’s sake, girls, uncross your ankles and go for it. You’ll make the world a better place. You’ll be in a better mood. You’ll like your man a whole lot more when you’re thinking about him curling your toes and maybe you’ll stop doing bitchy things like giving your sisters family recipes with an ingredient left out.

…So to answer your question, I’ll have the house salad with the raspberry vinaigrette dressing and please hold the onions.

Effect Follows Cause Until Cause Hears Its Mother Calling

Poor Brennan Hawkins. He’s the Utah boy who wandered away from a scout camping trip and went walkies for four days. Oh, he’s okay now. He was whisked from the Uinta Mountains, briefly hospitalized and sent home with the same problem he went started with: his stupid, paranoid parents. I’m not nominating myself for Parent of the Year where Miss Sasha might read up and recall a few things, but – like – the National Forestry Service ought to mail them a report card on their kids’ social skills training.

Mr. and Mrs. Hawkins,

You are SO GROUNDED! You ran up our credit cards for no good reason. Tell your children it’s a lousy idea to wander around alone at night but it’s perfectly okay to ASK FOR HELP. We expect an apology – and make sure your room is clean before dinner.

Don’t make me come up those stairs, you two,
Utah State Police


You’re about to say, “They were just trying to protect him from stranger-danger.” Don’t freaking bother. Stranger abductions are so few and far between we should tell our kids about them when we discuss how there’s no Tooth Fairy and in the same tones of voice. Try this:

You: Sweetie, don’t get in a car with strangers and don’t take candy from them, not even if they say I sent you. I’m glad you lost a tooth. Here’s five bucks to get started on your My Little Orthodontia Kit, huh?”

No, strangers are there to rescue kids from their parents, school administrators and six-fingered cousins. I’ve mentioned this before and it’ll come up again: we are in the grip of a mania called “Act Your Age While I Act Like a Big Baby.” Adults are visiting their fears on kids to such a degree Brennan Hawkins avoided rescuers and children are tasered in school and five-year-olds get cuffed to radiators.

For Christ’s sake, calm down. Your terrifying children beyond sense will not teach them to behave sensibly in an emergency. Get this picture soon. I don’t know how much longer I can be the Voice of Reason before the tranquilizer dart wears off.

The Dining Room. The Outhouse.

Week One

Mamie is the belle of this Tuesday night ball. We’ve moved to our natural habitat: Doll’s Place in New Brunswick, only Doll’s has moved from its well-worn home on one side of French Street to the other and just beyond a train trestle. We spent many scandalous nights in the old Doll’s. There are Polaroids. The new place is really…new. The dining room ceiling is too high. When Mamie and I arrive, a party of townies like us but in their fifties has pushed together a bunch of tables. They could not be less interested in anyone besides each other.

Eventually, Mamie and I sit across the table from Trout, Lala and Crease; Bob and Nita pull up a two-top. I can’t hear a blessed word my friends – no blushing flowers – are shouting. We resort to referree-like use of giant gestures, which helps less than you might think from one end of the table to the other and of course, Bob’s visually impaired and can’t see us walk like Egyptians. Everyone wants the same low-down.

Crease: So what’d you do? And whom?
Tata: That’s what I like about you: straight to bodily fluids.

Conversation at the other table is so loud this sounds like:

Crease: Aaaa, waaa ooo oo? Nnnn oo?
Tata: Ass wa I liii bou oo: straaaa oo oois.

I express my frustration in a series of unmistakable gestures. Another oppressive peal of laughter from the other table makes me stand to leave. Mamie claps a hand on my shoulder. I sit before she decides to shove me back into my chair. She bats her eyelashes at me.

Mamie: Why don’t you tell them about Wisconsin?

I shout so loudly the sound of my voice should ricochet off the ceiling and disrupt any conversation at the other tables. With the increased volume comes license to make stuff up. The trick is to avoid spitting on each other.


The other party breaks up.

Week Two

Another Tuesday night at Doll’s. We’re alone with twelve of our closest friends, some of whom we’ve just met. After our mutual friends leave, it’s Mamie, Crease, Lala, Trout, me and two very funny people who’ve never seen us outside of bars and galleries.

Tata: As outhouses go, it was relatively pleasant, but I was sure all along I’d have an XFiles moment there. I just knew. I waited for it. I was sure of it. And then it happened.
Mamie: WHAT are you TALKING about?
Tata: Remember the episode with the flukeman? He lived in the bilge tank on the freighter, then in the sewage treatment facility in Newark and the public outhouse.
Mamie: I don’t remember that episode. Possibly in self-defense.
Tata: So one day I open the outhouse door and I see an unexpected swarm of flies in the high-tech outhouse. I’m standing there, holding the door open long enough that my friend Nick walks up and says, “So…ya goin’ in?” And I say, “Nnnnnnnnnnnnnnooooo. No, I’m not.”
Mamie: Didn’t you have to go?
Tata: Evidently, not so much.

Primal, Animal, Portable

Margot’s summer, inside and out:

I haven’t been doing much work wise, but I did manage to rearrange my plants on the balcony where the napping pavillion was. It is complicated stuff and sometimes takes hours, because they like certain things…I repotted a sword fern, and rearranged everything so that it is private and cozy. Over the weekend I bought a 6×8 rug of astro turf for the front patio (no more splinters) the green color takes getting used to, but it’s loads better than chaos!

I cannot recall if I told you about the hilarious meeting of bambis and Smoochie. That deer family was feeding in the back again and Smooch was interestedly watching, and worked her way closer and closer to the grass. By the time she got to the shrubs by the grass the deer were about 25 feet away. It was delicately taking a dump in the ivy, with its tail obscured in the leaves. Right then it noticed Smooch and bounded excitedly over to her. It was the young male, his antlers just starting to make bumps on his head (like those implants that were briefly de rigeur) and he bounced over to check her out, curious as perhaps a cat might be. At one point, he got too close, maybe 3 feet away, and Smooch jerked back, and he jumped back a tiny bit at the same moment, each unsure. It was pure Disney, until the young female came over to check things out and Smooch sauntered off, not wanting to appear outnumbered. She sat under a shrub and watched them from there. For my part, I snuck off to call Paul before I burst into laughter and scared everybody away.

This morning, I had one of those recurring dreams that makes me want to check myself into a bakery for gateau therapy. Over the winter, I saw a Discovery Channel program about archaeology in the caves near the Dead Sea. Excavations at one site were very interesting but to my horror, workers had to crawl on their bellies through a long fissure in the rocks. The thought of the first desperate people through these fissures and the horror of unsuccessful searches for caves scared me silly. Since then, I have this dream over and over, with little variations here and there.

I am crawling through this tiny split to get to a place I have to go every day. The hole twists and bends and sometimes goes straight up and though I am tiny and barely fit, somehow people of all sizes and shapes greet me at the other end of my journey, in a wide-open space. This morning’s variation: one of my young co-workers carried me upward through the narrow caves. It is completely impossible. And now the path is so well-worn there are cheesy metal handles.

Margot sends me sun-drenched idylls and I am wedged into the cold and dark.

The Volcanic Night Sky

We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We. We.

All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out. All in. All out.

You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You. You.

Face me.

Ripples Across the Gene Pool

Daria calls from that Sherman tank she drives, on her second return trip from the pediatrician in two days. Her children are squawking. Though Daria’s voice cuts out often, the kids’ complaints sound like they’re beamed via satellite straight to my living room.

Daria: I now understand why there are songs about housewives taking drugs.
Tata: Boy, you are a slow learner!
Daria: The baby had an appointment for shots but Tyler had a fever and we were going to the pediatrician anyway. So the baby feels wretched and Tyler’s got Fifth Disease.
Tata: Fists’ Disease?
Daria: Fifth Disease. First. Second. Third. Fourth. Fifth.
Tata: You made that up!
Daria; So we’ve all been exposed to it and it’s harmful to fetuses. We couldn’t go to the reunion, which I’ve been looking forward to for months. And this morning, I found a spot on Sandro’s back and back to the doctor we went. He’s got Lyme Disease.
Tata: You’re in Hell!
Daria: Specifically, a McDonald’s drive-thru with my diseased children. It’s medicinal. Don’t say a word!

Far be it from me to advise. Since Miss Sasha was born a great deal seems to have changed in the sport of childrearing. For one thing, “parent” became a verb. Also: electricity was discovered and signals from the Law & Order planet are received on mysterious talking boxes in our living rooms. Miss Sasha and I became two separate monograms in Hartford, Connecticut – at that time, one of the three poorest cities in the country, where I lived with street kids, landscaping rent boys, and the very elderly during a recession nobody remembers anymore. The three days I was in Hartford Hospital were three days I had enough to eat. Until Miss Sasha was four and I got a state job, taking her to the pediatrician depended entirely on whether or not I had enough cash to pay the doctor. So when I’m standing in Daria’s kitchen and she spills another nutty edict issued by the pediatrician, I’m always shocked that she listens.

Daria: Babies cannot sleep on their bellies.
Tata: What?
Daria: The pediatrician said. There’s a special pillow. Babies have to sleep on their sides now.
Tata: You had to go shopping to comply with that rule, didn’t you?
Daria: I had a coupon.


Daria: No raw fish during pregnancy or breastfeeding.
Tata: What?
Daria: Mercury. No tuna, either.
Tata: Aren’t millions of pregnant Asian women eating that every day? If they’re lucky?


Tata: What…what are you doing?
Daria: I’m writing down everything the baby does.
Tata: At this age, they…don’t do much, Dar…
Daria: Every sip, when she sleeps, diaper changes.
Tata: What if you had a job outside your home?
Daria: I’d have to quit.
Tata: Don’t you have enough to do without obsessive record keeping?
Daria: The pediatrician said!


Daria: I wish I could have a glass of wine with you.
Tata: What? Why can’t you have a glass of wine?
Daria: I’m PREGNANT.
Tata: European women drink wine during pregancy.
Daria: There’s NO EXCUSE.

In my brain, the doctor looks like Russ Tamblyn in Twin Peaks. Too many rules! Half make life harder and the other half make life less sensible. I couldn’t be this kind of parent. For one thing, I didn’t have the attention span for a second pregnancy. For another, I’m more of a “Bring Mommy the scotch, darling,” kind of parent. In fact, when Miss Sasha turned 21, Mamie and I sent her out for booze and porn.

After the divorce from the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm), Miss Sasha spent Sundays with me and a then-internationally syndicated college radio comedy troupe. The comedians took an active interest in Miss Sasha. They quizzed her on geography. They taught her to roast a chicken. They explained vocabulary conundrums like what ‘blow job’ and ‘turning Japanese’ meant. She asked. They explained. I was grateful for the help. Their children should be grateful the comedians had an unspoiled little psyche to practice on.

Tata: So, what did you kids do while I was recording in the basement?
Mamie: I taught her to play cards for money and drink Zima.
Tata: That’s practically vocational training!

I may be an annoying Mommy, but I will make the best Grandma.

Fiercely, Madly, False Mustache-y

This weekend, most of my relatives pile into SUVs and head to Moscow, Pennsylvania for a reunion of my stepfather’s family. While I would love to compare Jell-O mold recipes with distant relations I usually only see at funerals, I’m staying put. Last night, I started throwing away stuff in anticipation of moving. That means I have to find a place to move to. This afternoon, I’ll see a studio apartment in Highland Park. If it works out, I can stop grinding my teeth and my friends – to a fine sheen. I like my friends smooth and attentive. And smooth. Yes.

Horoscopically speaking, I’ve been keeping secrets from myself. How that is possible for a mental blabbermouth I do not know, but I decided to sit myself down and demand the truth.

Me: What is it you’re not telling me?
Me: I can’t tell you.
Me: You sound like half my Exes after visits to the Lower East Side.
Me: After an unnamed event I can’t hint about that will change something you’re not aware of I won’t need to tell you anything and we can forget all about this non-moment.
Me: Will you tell me after it happens?
Me: Nope.
Me: Tell me!
Me: No!
Me: Tell me!
Me: No!
Me: So what is the purpose of telling me you won’t tell me?
Me: Are you worried now?
Me: Yessirree, Bob!
Me: Were you worried before?
Me: Not…that I recall.
Me: I give you focus. Now, sit up straight and fret like you mean it!

Right…so last night I started throwing things away. Who needs copies of CMJ from 1999 still in the mailing plastic? Who needs paystubs from 1996? Out they went! It got a little dicey when I found drafts of poems I didn’t remember writing because the 1990s have disappeared from my memory. A bunch of crumpled up napkins I guessed I could keep. All the rest: out!

Tonight: maybe I’ll get to the closet with my costumes and the old bottles of body paint. It’s not like I’m going to slather myself with bronze goo and stand on a pedestal again in public anytime soon.

Not until your check clears, anyhow.