I Put This Moment Here

You can sit back in your chairs for a moment. I’m writing this for a Me of six months from now, when I don’t live here anymore and it’s freaking cold.
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It is a lovely summer afternoon. The sun and the clouds cast shadows that skate over the city’s treetops. You can see steeples, watertowers, the gridbacks of billboards and coral rooves rising from the greenery and your view is dominated by the sky striated by six sets of railway wires. Your eyes itch. Your eyes have itched for weeks. Not-scratching is your summer hobby and you may finally be getting good at it until you fail completely a handful of times a day. You are sipping seltzer with lime because you’ll take any excuse to feel lime’s clean bite. It reminds you of handsome grownups when you were very small. The air over the city seems very white, as if the sunlight’s summer yellowness failed to fall all the way here. It is somewhere, but it’s not here.

Summer is wonderful. You wish it would never end. If you have one fantasy it is to live in a place where you can step out your back door all year round, inhale deeply the green, spiny plant smell and pick a ripe tomato, warm with the afternoon sun. More than anything else you can imagine, this is happiness. When you’re a shrivelled old bird in the strip club business with a cigarette in one hand and a glass of scotch in the other, you hope it’s in a zip code closer to the Equator, where the outlandish nights are balanced by tranquil sunny afternoons.

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Most people leave behind the books of their childhood. The first book I remember picking out for myself was collage artist Leo Lionni’s Frederick. All characters in the book are mice living a hardscrabble existence in a rock wall. Most of the mice gather nuts and seeds diligently for the winter. One mouse saves smells and sensations for darkest winter and gives this sustenance to his fellows when they need it most. It is probably the most important book of my life. And when I read unbearably cruel stories about the unimaginable savagery human beings unleash upon one another, I try to create for myself the hope that someday all people will matter in just societies, and everyone can pick his and her own ripe, luscious tomatoes.

Hoodwink, Nudge Nudge

Vice President Dick Cheney
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20500

Dear Dick,

I hope you don’t mind if I call you “Dick.” It sounds friendly. I feel I know you so well it seems strange we’ve never met. People probably say to you all the time, “You know, Dick, you are making friends around the world. Yep.”

Lately, I’ve been reading in the papers and on the internet about Karl Rove’s troubles. They are certainly important, and the American people sure do have a lot to say about good manners and talking with your mouth full, but it’d be rude to mention it face-to-face. Anyway, I don’t want you to think just because Karl Rove is the name on everyone’s lips that nobody thinks about you. I think about you a lot! You are just as popular with real Americans like me as you’ve ever been! I wouldn’t want you to feel insecure about that.

This week’s fuss about the energy bill worries me a little. Well, I admit that when I read about billions of new dollars going to Halliburton for new energy research it sounds to me like I nod off at the same part of the fairy tale Papa reads every night – but don’t worry, specifics have a soporific effect on lots of people. We think we’re dreaming and that’s got to be good for you! The one thing I should tell you is that a good artist wouldn’t re-use the same villains from book to book because Americans have a short attention span and like spanking hot justice. If you want to hand out money to your friends – and hey, who doesn’t? – you need a wider circle of friends.

For the purposes of – oh, I don’t know – interstate commerce, I’ll be your friend. Well, not really, but I’ll let you tell other people we’re friends. People really like me, and maybe a little of my popularity will rub off – but we’re not going out to dinner and we’ll never, never sleep together. For one thing, your wife could probably kick my ass; for another, well, it’s just not going to happen, Dick. I think we both know why. My sister once dated a duplicitous city councilman, and her relationship is as close as I’m getting to the body politic.

So listen, next time you need to hand out a billion here or there, I’ll be happy to take it off your hands. I’m not going to tell you how I’ll spend it. It’s not nice to talk about money, even between friends as close as we are! I’ll give you a hint, though: there sure are millions of desperate Americans without health insurance, and with a government-size purse I bet I could fix some of that. You know, like a wacky challenge. It’ll be a blast!

Ordinarily, I take gifts in check form. Sometimes it’s the best Mom can do when she’s not feeling well enough to shop for a birthday present! But a check for billions would raise a few eyebrows at the Highland Park, New Jersey Wachovia branch, and I suspect there might be tedious questions about propriety and whether or not the Enquirer bought the negatives we both know will never exist. I believe my accountant can set up a handy foundation for this purpose, so you can tell people I’m showing some faith-based initiative. Whatever, right? It’ll be my money and I can spend like a drunken sailor driven to build medical clinics and soup kitchens.

I hope we can enjoy a long, lucrative friendship, but you completely cannot borrow my blouses,

Princess Tata

Yes, I Am Drinking Wine Through A Bendy Straw

After a few minutes’ determined dabbing, re-dabbing and some dabbing after that with a cotton pad, my face is covered with a comically uneven layer of Milk of Magnesia, whitening as it dries. This is good for the pores. Two layers of Healthy Hoof Hoof Lacquer are drying on my fingernails because it’s the only base coat that keeps my nails from flaking off in layers like mica. My hair’s pulled back in a hairband and I live in fear of passing my reflection in a mirror and wailing, You are working for the weekend!

This morning, my student worker, whose name reminds us that movie angels start out on training wheels, asked a series of carefully considered questions in a language that is not her first.

She: When we see purchase orders like these, we close them?
Tata: If we wait a few weeks, the money will be real. If we close them now, not so much!
She: The money is not real now?
Tata: No. Not until it becomes real in a few weeks. It looks real, doesn’t it?
She: It does.
Tata: It’s not though. Excuse me.

I dial Sharkey’s work number. His voicemail picks up.

Tata: I LOOOOOOVE CAULIFLOWER!

I hang up.

Tata: So we might wait a few weeks and close the orders then.

From the other side of the cubicle wall comes the amused voice of my co-worker. He and I talk through this wall all day, everyday. We’ve considered cutting holes in the wall and installing a puppet theater.

Him: What is it that you love about cauliflower?
Tata: Sharkey listens to his messages on speakerphone. He hears my voice and sprints across his office to slap the OH NO, IT’S TA! button. I like to think I’m responsible for elevating his heart rate to an aerobically challenging level.
Him: That’s just like you! Always thinking of others!

On cue, the co-worker will tell people I’m brilliant and throw food, so I do not velcro his sneakers together. The office walls are decorated with pictures of Elvis, Richard Nixon and Chairman Mao standing next to xeroxed and taped-together him. Also: he spent a whole day not speaking any words containing the letter E. His pranks interest me. I make a genuine effort not to give him concussions.

My nails have now received two slender coats of cheap, startling electric blue polish. St. Ives Apricot Radiance Deep Cleaning Cream Cleanser did a nice job of unchalking my face. It’s important to exfoliate lips because they don’t shed cells the same way the rest of the epidermis does – or so I’ve read. It’s Wednesday; I’ve Naired my face. The first time Mamie turned a corner and found me doing what Grandma called “my Santa Claus impression” Mamie screamed like she’d caught Coco Chanel dead in a tube top.

Mamie: Oh my God! Is it rabies?
Tata: No, it’s cosmetology and you’ve read about it in Hairless Girl Weekly.
Mamie: What? Are you deriding my long, luxurious crimson tresses?
Tata: Never. I’m guessing we find your arm hair with Jimmy Hoffa.

It’s true. Mamie has no arm hair. She also shaves her legs once a month to spite me – because she doesn’t have to – and she cackles the whole time. It’s like millions of voices suddenly cry out in terror and are suddenly silenced. Then she moisturizes.

Gunning the engine on the milk truck of human kindness, Sharkey emails.

Sharkey: And you know where you can shove your cauliflower!
Tata: Of course, dahhhhhhhling. Call me and tell me how much you admire me!
Sharkey: I’ll call you and tell you to kiss my ass!
Tata: And you admire me! It makes you sound taller.

To paraphrase Gene Kelly: gotta tweeze! Then slather. There must be goo. And two layers of top coat forming a chitinous shell. Displays of softness are for cosmetic purposes only. Smoothness is the way to go.

You, Au Jus

This week, civil right erode as transit police in the NYC subway stop riders randomly and search them. Officials interviewed in the newspaper admit this deters no one from blowing you up but the officials are very concerned they appear to be doing something. I hate to mention the obvious but chances are very, very good that unless you’re a special human being with a fascinating story or were in the English class under the chem lab in Franklin High School when I poured hydrochloric acid down the pipes, you have probably never been blown up. Since you’ve never gone BOOM!, you, my friend, should get yourself a refreshing beverage, a lawn chair and a front row seat on the Minimally Air Conditioned Life.

Sure, I sleep with the air conditioner on, but I’m old now, thoroughly employed and you try getting up before six a.m. without at least a few hours’ uninterrupted sleep. In the summer of 1982, I was 19, living with the teen boyfriend in some rock and roll radio, blisteringly hot fantasy life – which of course crashes and burns in contact with any kind of reality – in an airless attic room without actual walls in a Manchester, Connecticut four-family house with a bunch of rent boys and landscapers. Some nights, it was so hot in the attic we could barely breathe but we were young, supple and crazy in love. To this day, breaking a sweat reminds me of flesh against flesh, and I sweat just a little more.

Time passes. I love and will miss the apartment when I move; I like my windows wide open. Blocks away, drums beat the sweltering air. One afternoon, Paulie Gonzalez and I have pretty spectacular sex, which if you’re a member of my family you should put right OUT of your mind, and if you’re Sharkey, who is completely immune to my overwhelming animal magentism, you should not hurt yourself guffawing. So afterwards, Paulie and I sprawl all over the bed, the floor, the wall, the printer shelf – which has kind of sharp corners and naked, sweaty you should in my opinion avoid finding yourself pressed up against it even briefly so you don’t later find the blurry words “Hewlett Packard” pressed into your ass – panting and sweating like marathon runners at the twenty-fifth mile and trying to catch our breath.

Paulie: This may sound stupid but do you hear music?
Tata: You’re busy saving the world from hackers yearround so you don’t know in the summer we’re infested with a high school marching band.

Today, my living room is festooned with a gorgeous bouquet of succulent green basil. New Brunswick sweats under a soporific haze and a carmine volcanic dust sunset, the result of Mount Saint Helens’ ash-producing events. Hearty smells of grilled meats, pungent sauces and afternoon heat waft over a city helpless to resist them. Yesterday, as I parked my car after the baptismal visit to church, a smooth, vibrant man with a generous head of curly black hair and without a shirt passed me with a huge lizard casually held over his head as one would carry a tray of creme brulee through a packed Manattan bistro. I thought, ‘Ta, that is a reason to live.’

I hope you’ll turn off the TV or computer and go outside into sun- or moonlight, even in a soaking rain. Jump in puddles; it’s great fun to squish mud between your toes. Now is no time to cower in your air conditioned nightmares. Work up a divine sweat. Go outside and fall in love with your life.

Collection and Collusion

Sharkey quits admiring his hair long enough to write me:

Two nights ago I had a dream I actually remembered (partially). You weren’t in the dream, but in the dream, I thought of you. I don’t remember what was happening in my dream at the time, but I remember reaching into my pocket and finding two large desiccant packets. As I was about to throw them out, I thought, “I should save these for Tata.” Then I thought, “Oh, screw that, I’m not going to carry these things around until I see her!” So I threw them away.

Actually, I’ve had the same thoughts awake. I come across the desiccant packets and think you’d want them, but then think, “Screw that, I have too much crap around here already. I don’t need those things piling up.”

Given the color, texture and ridiculous healthy sheen of his hair, I feel honored to have crossed his screwy mind at all.

I collect three things of varying usefulness:

1. Ex-lovers;
2. Interesting motherboards;
3. Desiccant packets.

Okay, I admit I have a few other collections.

4. Mardi Gras beads;
5. Pieces of broken windshield glass;
6. Watches that stopped on my wrist;
7. Antique accessories;
8. Rusty metal objects.

In my closets, I’m carefully preserving a completely useless array of Little Old Lady purses. Fifteen years ago, my friends’ grandmoms died off in what must’ve been a wave of Lower East Side rent-controlled chaos. It turned out that grandmoms were all my size and took excellent care of their garments. My friends, sensing an opportunity to saddle me with amusing stuff, gave me piles and piles of clothing. We never figured out how to wear some items but I wore lots of these things on stage. My favorite object was a black and white halter bathing suit my friends called “the cigars! cigarettes! dress.” If anyone remembered whose grandmom left us that treasure we might learn some spicy family history.

I dislike meaningless objects. When I don’t remember where something came from, what purpose it served or can’t think of a use for it in the future, I throw or give it away. I am thinking now of giving away things I no longer need and acquiring things I fill with my own meaning. This I have not really done before. Maybe. Maybe not. I’m an inadequate consumer by American standards. It is amusing that when I appear off-stage in a dream I turn up as my silliest, homemade self. I wonder if I came to say goodbye.