Voices Carry

As usual, Daria directs the toddlers, nurses the baby and writes a grocery list while she talks on the phone.

Tata: So I call up Miss Sasha and she answers the phone sounding kind of…disoriented and breathless. I ask her, “Darling, Mommy needs your social security number.” So she starts to tell me and about halfway through she sort of trails off, and then she remembers and then we hang up. I’m like, “Why did she pick up?” So she calls me back about an hour later.
Daria: I could’ve gone all day without that mental picture.
Tata: She goes, “Mommy, we were eating waffles and fell asleep.”
Daria: She’s a terrible liar.
Tata: She’s a terrible liar! I stood up in my cubicle and shouted, “IS THAT THE BEST YOU CAN DO?” Scared the hell out of my brand new student worker.
Daria: Unaccustomed to your outbursts, is she?
Tata: She’s new to New Jersey. I’m breaking her in by shouting profusely, mostly about manicures. So Miss Sasha calls back again.
Daria: She does? Why?
Tata: She says, “Mommy! I figured out why you were so confused I was in bed before.” I say, “You did? Why’s that?” She says, “Did you know we’re on Central Time?” I say I didn’t know Pensacola was on Central Time. She goes, “See? Now it makes sense.” I say, “Sweetheart, I called you after one in the afternoon.”
Daria: I’m dying! What’d she say?
Tata: “Well, yeah…”
Daria: I can’t breathe!
Tata: Not to give her marital advice or anything – because we all know I don’t know jackshit about staying married – but I say a Twister game and a bottle of olive oil will keep her out of divorce court.

Thank Your Favorite Deity, Miss and Mr. Sasha were unharmed by Hurricane Dennis and Tropical Depression Cindy, though I did tell them if they were killed by a sub-par thunderstorm with a stupid nickname I’d spend the rest of my life alternately weeping and smirking. The newlyweds spent the evacuation weekend in Montgomery, Alabama, where they discovered in a convenience store that complete strangers held exciting opinions about interracial couples, but talk is often cheap. In Milwaukee last week, Paulie Gonzalez discovered celebrity gossip is relative.

Guy In Wisconsin: You’re from New Jersey? My favorite musician, Barbecue Bob, is from New Jersey.
Paulie: Yeah yeah, I know Barbecue Bob from the bar.
Guy In Wisconsin: Barbecue Bob plays at bars and clubs?
Paulie: Barbecue Bob drinks in the bar.

The aforementioned student worker is a brilliant, lovely woman from Beijing with a mile-long resume and a perfect command of English. Her name sounds like the ringing bell on a beloved daughter’s two-wheeler. She could do my job with her left brain tied behind her back. Fortunately for our dignity and my retirement plans, it is my function in life to teach her filing and business letter writing. She helps me create order where now there is chaos and despair; I create blackness and cynicism in her soul. Yahtzee!

Student: Why do you have snacks?
Tata: Since I was a tiny school nerd with luxurious long hair, I’ve been fascinated with the Watts Towers. One crazy man with spare time, garbage and an unhealthy fixation built these unbelievably beautiful, amazing things. I’ve never seen them. Then lunchbox applesauces were on sale at A&P, so I built these things on my desk to confuse my co-workers. You wouldn’t believe how towers of applesauce upset people.
Student: They’re absolutely symmetrical, in the shape of an M. What are they for?
Tata: I eat them. They’re applesauce. They’re all different flavors, which is to say colors, so I can’t eat just one. I have to eat two.
Student: When I saw them I thought you were exceptionally…healthy

When she says “healthy” I hear “certifiable” and I lie down on my cubicle floor to laugh hard enough. My co-worker calls from a desk forty feet from mine. My standards are low. I reach up for the phone.

Tata: Ta speaking.
Co-Worker: What’s so funny? I must know!
Tata: Are you calling from your desk?
Co-Worker: I heard you laughing. University Libraries heard you laughing. Why are you laughing?
Tata: Well, our student worker has determined my applesauce towers are an alarming Rorschach test. I’m going home to watch a few minutes of one-dimensional people speaking sestina-like buzzword dialogue on General Hospital. And I called Systems, left a message in Pirate Speak without leaving my name and they called me, out of the libraries’ hundreds of employees. Apparently, if you say “Arrrrrrrr” and “Avast!” and threaten to mail them parrots people will give you what you want.
Co-Worker: Aha…!

Don’t kid yourself. He’s taking notes.


Uses of Me

Chances are extremely good I will live a long and annoying life – unless my beautiful daughter learns those three terrifying words: “power of attorney.” Yes, odds are overwhelmingly against my plane being hijacked, my train detonated or my body being buried in a shallow grave in the woods. It seems unlikely my brain would turn substantially soupier and my nursing home fall under siege. However, it is always possible I could somehow be unable to speak for myself and a will would not be enough. People who know me might lose their nerve and look for false hope. People who did not know me might attempt to exploit my situation. In the event I cannot speak for myself, I am asking you not to fall prey to anyone who misspeaks.

If I am murdered, no matter how few pieces of me are ever found, please feel no need for revenge. I have heard of many families of the murdered pursuing execution only to find that the murderer’s death did not solve their problems. Don’t waste years of your life chasing the illusion – unless…Unless it’s funny. If I am murdered by a rampaging dressmaker outraged by my womanly hips, and you happen to be in a life-threatening snit and holding pinking shears, by all means cut on the bias and don’t look back. But don’t blame me if the orange jumpsuit chafes and imparts dye on your light laundry.

Live your own life. If I am in an irreversible coma, cut the power. Let me go off into whatever comes next, even if that is nothingness. I am not afraid of not being. In fact, that is the dumbest argument against abortion: What if you had never been born? If I had never been born I wouldn’t be rolling my eyes at the complete and utter stupidity of what if you had never been born? No matter what belief system you adhere to you cannot possibly have the facts and no matter who you are what happens next is completely out of your control. It’s a crapshoot. Am I in a better place? We don’t know! But please don’t take my transformed state of being as a criticism of survivors, as Miss Manners would certainly not approve.

If I happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and I am tossed overboard in my wheelchair, if an airliner crashes into my office, if I find myself on the losing end of an international incident, don’t wrap me or my casket in a flag and tell people I would want 19-year-olds sent to pointless deaths in my name. For fucksake, folks: I appreciate my hilarious little life enough to insist nobody destroy the vulnerable psyches of teenaged weekend obstacle course veterans with combat in my memory. No. Absolutely not. Not even if it’s funny.

There is a difference between justice and revenge. Sure, arrest my killer or killers and make him, her or them wear the orange jumpsuit. You’ve got my blessing. But that’s it. In The World According to Garp, Ellen James is raped and her tongue cut out; in protest, young women have their tongues removed surgically “in solidarity” – much to Ellen James’ horror. And almost nobody seems to remember that Rodney King was equally horrified when his beating inspired a whole city to riot. “Why can’t we all just get along?” he moaned with all the helplessness of a man who couldn’t stop what people who co-opted his image and name set in motion. So let’s cut to the chase.

You can’t use me:
*for any proselytizing religious purpose. I mean it. None.
*to harm others
*to rally Mad Mothers. I hate those self-righteous bitches. Go the hell home!
*to deprive anyone other than the person or persons directly responsible for my death of their civil rights – and fuck that Patriot Act written in the name of 3,000 dead human beings
*to divide my family, my friends, my nation or my planet along racial, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, class or economic lines

You can use me to:
*feed the hungry (consider crabmeat stuffing)
*discuss forgiveness (yeah, I put the “er…and?” in “Peace, Love and Understanding”)
*put a face on the underrepresented ‘Riotously Enraged and Publicly Engaged’ population
*study the censorship implied by the funding of official art vs. the painful struggle of underground artists.

If I can’t speak for myself and some self-aggrandizing pigfucker like – but not limited to – Randall Terry shows up with a film crew pull the plug on that asshole’s media comeback and then pull it on me. I am not his or theirs to use, and I am not a cause. I am a person with very specific ideas about right, wrong and where to get a decent pizza. If debate erupts in the Senate and Presidents summon helicopters to turn me into a victimized symbol used against invisible people just like me, find yourself a film crew and play Point & Laugh all the way to the simple end: She’s dead. Get it? So let’s get a martini and I’ll tell you an outrageous Tata story.

I am saying this as clearly as I can. I also recommend you put your wishes where people can see them. I don’t want my messy and/or comically enhanced death to undo my life’s work of artmaking, rabble-rousing and taste-testing at the Buffet Table of Life. If someone tells you I was virtuous or would want you to give up your free speech because I went BOOM! take a deep breath and tell him to fuck off. Don’t mince words or stutter politely. Fuck off, you fucking publicity hound, you lying sack of karmic shit, you hypocritical soul-stealer. Practice. Those words will undoubtedly come in handy, and swearing makes you look smart to the other cool kids.

Now, it’s your turn. Blog it, baby. What is the meaning of your life? I’ll – uh – check in over the next day or two. In the meantime, I’ve got something scandalous to do, probably involving salsa, a cabana boy and a martini; later, a picnic and the punk rock memorial service for Instant Death’s Scotty Byrne. Odds are excellent I’ll laugh, I’ll cry, I’ll curse the day someone was born, even myself. Got it? Good.

Fifteen Minutes, Max

It is not a demon sent straight from Hell to torture me on earth, kill me and drag me – probably still complaining in the afterlife – to eternal torment in a lake of fire. No. It’s a Chrysler LeBaron and My Mechanical Nemesis. Two weeks ago, getting into the car became more difficult than it had been. Before, I’d stick the key in the driver’s side lock, turn it, yank the door open with all my “I’m 900 years old but exercise every day” might and shove from the other side to open the door wide enough to twist myself under the steering wheel and drop into the seat. The car whined metallically about the whole affair, but you know how unprincipled cars can be. Then one day yanking with all my might produced full-scale metal groaning. I could barely wedge my small person sideways through the doorway and despite years of dance and gymnastics training and decades of aerobics, weightlifting and yoga, I could not fluidly move from the car’s exterior to its interior without whacking my head on the door frame. Naturally, I did what any mature, independent woman, confident in her own accomplishments and self-worth, would do: I called the ex-boyfriend.

Tata: Dahhhhhhhhhhhling, would you have time to look at the car door, please?
Paulie Gonzalez: Absolutely.

Paulie changed out of a silk Tony Soprano shirt, into a synthetic blend Tony Soprano shirt, and came right over. Later, he stood in the kitchen and washed his hands with grease-removing goop called Goop.

Tata: How bad is it?
Paulie: The good news is I can fix it. The bad news is until I weld the pieces back together you should not use the door for a door.
Tata: What’s its new job?
Paulie: Being a statue of a door. But with a sometimes open window.

As I shut off the alarm this morning I knew the embarrassingly brief commute to work would be interesting. Clearly visible in the backyard two houses over three drunken men were trying to brawl. Fortunately, the drunks were so drunk they had trouble grabbing lawn chairs and each other. There’s an omen for you. I took it to mean I shouldn’t operate farm equipment, which is good because I don’t have any and I’d have to steal it first.

From the moment I step out of my building until I throw gear on my desk so little time elapses that I should be deeply ashamed of driving to work. Anywhere else, I’d probably bicycle to work but in New Brunswick the drivers are so reckless that the only people on bikes are pale, sensitive people who have just intuited the real trick to killing themselves is to get an uninsured driver to do it. Since I occasionally still have the will to live, I drive.

I unlock the passenger door, throw my stuff on the floor, sit crookedly in the seat and slam the door behind me. I fold myself in half, heave my butt over the console while trying to avoid the seat belt lock. I fold my legs, spin around and plant my feet on the floor. Yesterday I was not a moron and pushed the seat all the way back before I reversed this process to get out, so now my legs are not pinned against the steering wheel. Yes, I feel very, very smart.

Five traffic lights and two death-defying intersections later, I park in a deck. The drive is so quick clicking the face plate onto the car stereo takes longer than the first two lights. In the deck, it’s all concrete and quiet, except it takes me two tries to park. I can’t really see over the dashboard so I guess where the white lines might be, probably the way George Bush used to.

The interminable walk from my car to my desk takes me on a 50-foot Garbage Tour. Imagine the people who threw these now-flat things from car windows while driving through a college parking deck at a cautious 15 mph! The garbage changes a little each day. For instance: yesterday, I wondered about a pregnancy test and the Buddy Holly glasses. What kind of madcap denial and legal blindness did that imply? This morning, I was thinking about the broken concrete chunks from the ceiling when I looked up and a miniature street sweeper appeared before me, as if by Department of Public Works magic. I was immediately overjoyed, because I cherish few unrealized dreams as I cherish my hope that someday – someday! – I can steal one of these outdoor Zambonis and scour the Holland Tunnel. But, as the pedestrian in this story, I know my life is now in grave danger: whenever you see a streetcleaner, you will also find another driver who has stopped paying attention to what he’s doing and could run you over even if you don’t have a bicycle and a death wish. The second driver appeared right on cue behind the streetsweeper, staring at the apparition in front of him and didn’t see me at all.

I recognized the expression on the DPW worker’s face. Years ago, when drunk driving was still hilarious, my friends and I all worked New Year’s Eve, made merry and took a brief nap on recycled couches and diner furniture that should have been considered petri dishes for the next great vaccine, not to mention paternity tests for half the city’s young voters. An hour later, we drank some coffee and poured ourselves into a well-windowed customized van and drove off to the bar where all our other friends were converging with intent to spend New Year’s Day at an odd angle. Our drunkest friend was at the wheel. Our most sober friend was in charge of navigating and nagging. I sat in the back next to a window, completely responsible for trying not to scream as our driver rocketed through the nearly empty streets of New Brunswick. When the van took a corner on two wheels, I found myself less than a foot away – nearly face to face – with a guy in a streetsweeper. Our eyes were locked on each other. Our feelings for one another were perfectly clear.

I was screaming –

He was screaming –

I was screaming –

He was screaming – not that I could hear him, but there was no mistaking the fact that if I could’ve taken my eyes off his I could’ve seen clear to his uvula. In less than a second, we raced off. So I recognized the expression on the streetcleaner driver’s face when he thought he was caught between a pedestrian and a typical New Brunswick driver. Fortunately, I’m in good shape for a fat 900-year-old and have novel ideas about which end is up.

After that, I wanted a nap – or a good, stiff drink.

Staring Like Gary Sinise

When the doorbell rings, I’m dressed like my late grandfather on a lazy afternoon – by which I do mean before he died and in a guinea tee and boxer shorts. He liked his granddaughters in dresses. I wonder idly if he’d be proud of his middle-aged darling in a “My girlfriend is in Palomar” t-shirt. The bread lady waits in the hallway. It’s worth it to her but in this sweltering summer and in my endless quest to smell like an expensive dessert I’m afraid I’ve taken a left turn at the fragrant, meaty buffet.

Her name is Paula and she is very, very old. She always carries two shopping bags filled with what might be politely termed “day-old bread.” The bags smell sour. Paula smells like sweat and determination; she speaks halting English with a heavy German accent. About once a week, she hands me a loaf of bread I wouldn’t eat on a double-dog dare and I give her $3. We struck this deal years ago, though I can’t remember when or how she found me. On days when I don’t have $3 she lets me slide. My credit’s good, she says. I always come up with money within a few days.

She tells me about the blessings of the Lord. Since it seems to give her joy to tell me about my Lord being nailed to a support beam, I let her go on a bit. She offers to bring me a Bible. I hold open the door, “I’ve got three. But thank you, and please take good care of yourself.”

Before you get the idea I think I’m moral hot shit, don’t. Instead: get the idea that I am filled with gallons of Leave Me Alone. I am also filled with quarts of It’s Disgraceful You Have To Sell Mouldy Bread to Eat, a cup or two of Why Are Elderly People Defenseless and Uncared-For? and a few pinches of How Can This Be Happening? Paula doesn’t appear to have in her an ounce of self-pity and good for her. I’m so horrified by the ordinary awfulness that must have led her to my door in the first place that I close it behind her very, very gently as she goes.

Hard Place, Rock On…

Johnny’s pot of gold is infested with surly elves:

The wife is not satisfied with our life either. The thirteen hour days, the constant atmosphere of chaos and panic, the institutionalized workaholism, they add up to no kind of work/life balance. They’re bleeding us, working us like coolies. The breaking point was Friday night when she was supposed to get out at six but instead got out at nine and we missed opening night at the Opera. Sometimes you just have to say fuck it, and we say fuck it. We want our life back. Unfortunately she signed a contract, but, uh, fuck it.

The rest of the weekend, I have to say, has been great. The Wine Fest was fun, although judging by what we tasted, New Mexico’s wine industry is decidedly in its youth. We danced to some vaguely salsa music. I didn’t even know I could salsa. It was hot. Later we went to Cafe Paris and ate elegant food on the sidewalk, though not actually, you know, on the sidewalk, and were serenaded by an accordionist/singer and violinist playing Edith Piaf songs. It was hot. Today we went to the annual pancake breakfast on the Plaza in Santa Fe, and danced to vaguely tango music. I didn’t even know I could tango. It was hot. After two days I have a whole-summer-in-Massachusetts tan. Hot.

The sale of the house in New Hampshire house supposedly happens the twenty-ninth of this month. God, please let this happen. I’ll take back what I said about your son being a long-haired dress-wearing faggot.

I don’t have a son, so Johnny’s referring to that Jesus fellow we hear so much about. Isn’t that precious? Like Pearl S. Buck, I’ve always thought land was the only thing worth having.

On the Mental Jukebox, Joi de Vivre Edition

If the sun should stop shining on me
I’d watch the rain flow towards the sea
If I want to be a part of everything
I wouldn’t I wouldn’t
I wouldn’t say no.

If I should find I have no home
I’d gladly take the chance to roam
If I want to be a part of everything
I wouldn’t I wouldn’t
I wouldn’t say no.

I’m alive in happiness
I’m alive in suffering
I’m alive in the field of action
and life everlasting.

-The Barleycorns, I Wouldn’t Say No
from an old French song

Fingers, Toes, Children, Pets

It’s just after 8:30 on a Sunday morning and I’ve already had a full day. Mamie’s getting her hair done because there’s no age limit on brides’ ability to demand their sisters, cousins and friends don matching black and pink satin gowns and don’t ANYONE say “Good & Plenty.” I know that Mamie’s demanded the stylist create something architecturally unsound because yesterday, as usual, she called me from from her entirely sensible American-made bulldozer to report her whereabouts and activities. Earlier, she’d gone to the gym without her phone. I’d nearly had a conniption. If Mamie’s out of touch for more than an hour I’m printing up milk cartons and looking for cooperative cows. Let the coyote-like howling begin!

Mamie: I KNOW! I thought the phone was grafted to my body at the Cingular store.
Tata: I’ve got a stapler. Stop by!
Mamie: I went to check my messages and my phone wasn’t in the Coach bag, and it wasn’t on the floor or in my pockets and I hadn’t stuffed it up anyone’s ass, deserving or otherwise. I was almost sure of it. So it had to be on the table at home, charging.
Tata: I bet you had a heart attack when you realized how that inconvenienced Me.
Mamie: I did! I promise to never do it again until next time. Anyway, inspired by your daughters’ bridesmaids I decided to get my hair done at a stupid hour tomorrow morning. It’s got to be tall, lacquered like antique Japanese furniture and embarrassing six months from now so my cousin regrets making me cart around bales of silk flowers.
Tata: Lost cause. She’s over thirty yet she’s wearing pink platform sneakers. With glitter. There’s no shaming her! My twelve-year-old niece wouldn’t go near those without lighter fluid. I demand you call me from the wedding and narrate.
Mamie: What?
Tata: Stage whisper!
Mamie: (whispering at the top of her lungs) My cousin Hortense is wearing a lime and aubergine mumu that would confuse migrating birds.
Tata: In fact, I don’t know why we weren’t on the phone the whole time at Miss Sasha’s wedding.
Mamie: We were sitting five feet apart – OH MY GOD! I LOVE YOU!

Ah, she’s got the picture! I know what happens next. If you’ve just joined Poor Impulse Control in progress, you may not realize Mamie shouts this while she’s driving and laughing hysterically. Her voice goes up an octave. I jerk the phone away from my ear and wait for the inevitable crunching of metal, deploying of the bags and delivery of threats. Crunch. Woosh! Blah blah my lawyer and a crowbar blah blah blah. She goes through more bulldozers this way.

Disembodied Voice: Hi, this is OnStar. I’ve got a signal that your airbag has deployed.
Mamie: Hey, Sheila! I’ll have the usual. How’re the kids?
DV: Mamie, I’m up to my neck in strep but thanks for asking. One tow truck and hot nineteen-year-old driver, coming up!
Mamie: We needed a conference call.

Tata: Do you see the crooked bow?
Mamie: Do you see the crooked bow?
Daria: Does anyone see the crooked bow?
Mom: I believe I think I could be wrong put perhaps I may be right that I see what appears to be a crooked bow – not that there’s anything wrong with it inherently and she’s such a beautiful girl.
Dad: Take a connecting flight to the point! That bow is crooked!
Auntie InExcelsisDeo: If she’d been raised right, that bow wouldn’t be crooked now.
Trout: That bow is asymetrical. Just the way I like it!
Lala: That bow’s crookedness expresses the bride’s symbolic sacrifices.
Sharkey: How can you talk about the bow when my hair is perfect? I mean perfect!

Tata: In the movie version of Miss & Mr. Sasha’s wedding, we will all be on a giant party line. At least nobody has to listen to that ceremony a second time.
Mamie: And next time there’s a crooked bow, get up and fix it. You can do that. In fact, you’re the only person in the world who can get up in the middle of the ceremony and fix what’s wrong, so you’re in charge of that.
Tata: I am? I guess I owe everyone an apology.
Mamie: Gotta go. Raoul’s here with the flatbed. Don’t wait up!

Miss Sasha’s wedding is behind us. Lala’s daughter’s wedding is behind us. Mamie’s cousin’s wedding is today. We’re sick to death of these annoying interruptions in our summer regimen of basking, sipping, sunning. Still, it’s even money if Raoul gets to summer school Tuesday morning.