Outside the new apartment, I see men at a distance. I point off to my left.
He walks toward me, asking in Spanish about the car parked next to mine. I worked in restaurants with people who were learning English but now I have to know when to get up and leave the corner taqueria in a hurry – which is handy, but I don’t speak the language. That would be vastly overstating the case.
Tata: Is this your car?
Man: Is that your car?
A metallic purple car that can only be owned by a young man or an old lady has parked me in, and I’ve figured out who to shout this at by sweeping the courtyard – 180 degrees – for one or the other. He’s talking to me because next to my car sits a supersweet restored grafted thing that nobody’s driven in so long there are napkins tucked under the wiper blades with notes from June. I’m guessing the guy walking toward me wants that car like burgers want Swiss.
Man: I’d like to buy that car!
Tata: That’s not my car. I don’t know whose it is.
Man: Oh, I’m sorry. I thought you were Latina.
Tata: Everyone does. Dahhhhhling, would you move your car, please?
He’s apologizing for speaking Spanish, in case that offended me. I…don’t get it, smile and can’t help him because I truly have no idea whose car that is.
Last night, I saw an episode of the truly, deeply cancelled Wonderfalls on LOGO. Wonderfalls was a great show about unintended consequences and how you can’t know what you’re doing, no matter how convinced you may be that you do. Fox cancelled it before showing all the episodes so I was overjoyed to see one I hadn’t seen before. Naturally, today I’m thinking about how – no matter what – nobody has all the facts. This seldom stops anyone from acting, does it? For instance, a few weeks ago, I paraphrased a line from The Dictionary of the Khazars when I should have quoted:
One of the sure paths to the real future (because there is also a false future) is to proceed in the direction of your fear.
Damn it, we are going to Home Depot, and we are going to pick paints! Mamie picks me up in her tank filled with equipment from last week’s conference. I climb in as she’s tossing bags of sugar-free gummy bears over her shoulder, into the invisible, packed back seat. They are clearly gone forever. Something is a little…different…about Mamie. For a minute, I can’t put my finger on it.
Tata: Do you have a TAN?
Mamie: I do!
Tata: I don’t even know you anymore!
Mamie: It was a terrible lapse of vanity and who saw THAT coming, I ask you?
I enjoy looking and feeling tanned and healthy; Mamie spends a disgraceful percentage of her annual income on department store wrinkle-preventing goo. She’s an indoor-and-air-conditioned kind of gal.
Tata: You saw daylight and didn’t burst into flames?
Mamie: You should talk, Mrs. Up All Night.
Tata: Too bad the cure for insomnia isn’t browning and basting.
My friends are a huggy, squeezy bunch of bunches of people, since they don’t all know one another. Half of them have spent the last fifteen years building antibodies to one another through friendly beer-goggling and/or scientific inquiry. Mamie, however, is not a touchy person unless there’s edible underwear and a pool boy on the divan. As I climb in the tank, we are thrilled to see one another.
Tata: You were gone forever! I thought you were never coming back!
Mamie: I thought of you every time the room spun!
Tata: Wow! You really missed me!
Mamie: As I stumbled to the bathroom, I said, “This is really Ta’s area of expertise…”
We’re thrilled! It’s great! We lean halfway toward one another, pause, make confused faces and securely fasten our seatbelts. The hunt is on. She growls.
Mamie: Let’s shop!
At Home Depot, Mamie is disappointed by minimal air conditioning in a retail outlet. We find an entire aisle of paints and paint chips. I have my heart set on painting the new bedroom. I’ve never painted my own bedroom. I helped Paulie Gonzalez paint his bedroom a designer version of Emergency Orange once and we had to move him out in self-defense. In my brain is a picture of my bedroom the color of cornflowers, which are roadside weeds a shade of blue-violet that reminds me simultaneously of tranquility and razor-sharp teeth. That has all the earmarks of buried childhood trauma, doesn’t it? Never mind, Home Depot has a wall of paint chips!
About a year of “No, that’s a boys’ bathroom in Catholic high school…no, that’s an Easter egg under the couch a month later…no, that’s baby’s bedroom for the rigidly homophobic…” later, Mamie finds one in her hand we don’t recognize. We both try to take a step back but Mamie’s hand is sort of a fixed distance from her head that hasn’t changed since puberty.
Mamie: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm?
Tata: Hmm. Hmm. Hmm?
I fold the other colors behind so we can see just one.
Tata: We’ve found our Gigi!
A passing employee tells us that to get paint we walk around this strange paint duck blind/turret thing and discuss our desires with the Experts on the other side, who by law must be college boys home for the summer. Our two Experts are over-groomed and under-interested. We’re the only people at the counter. Neither Expert makes eye contact or speaks to us. I have a long history of watching salespersons fail to sell because it’s funny so Mamie steps forward.
Mamie: We’d like to buy paint.
Tata: This color and this color.
Mamie: WE’D LIKE TO BUY PAINT. He looks familiar.
Salesguy 1: What’s with your hair?
Salesguy 2: They cut it like this for my last movie.
Tata: Apparently, he takes direction but not instructions.
Mamie: You! A quart of this! A gallon of that! Mush!
To our surprise, Salesguy 1 disappears with the paint chip. Customers stack up behind us as Salesguy 2 mixes the closet paint, which we chose for its peek-a-boo hilarity. I wanted to open my closet door and burst out laughing every time and by gum, we’ve chosen a color that in the can is the dark blue equivalent of Pepto Bismal Pink, which looks completely different from the chip, which looks more like the Pacific Ocean throwing a tantrum. I keep doubts to myself. I needn’t bother.
Mamie: That doesn’t even look close. Are you sure that’s Spectrum Blue?
Mamie: HEY! Where’d that other guy go?
And then Salesguy 2 turns around and goes after him! We do the only thing we can: we turn around and talk to the family behind us. They stare at the empty paint turret. We stare at them and at each other. When the salesguys come back it looks like waterballet with aprons. One paddles left, one spins in circles to the right. I expect sparklers and bathing caps. When finally the two cans of paint are mixed and labeled, Salesguy 2 whacks the lids shut.
Tata: My job doesn’t include a mallet!
Mamie: You could find use for a giant mallet in the library!
Tata: That’s so true! I’m creative that way!
We haven’t looked at the prices and we’re determined not to until checkout. I’m actually quite poor, despite what anyone thinks, including my employer. The other night at a big birthday dinner for a friend I made a preemptive announcement.
Tata: I love you all, but with the new apartment I’ll be broke. For Christmas, you’re each getting a bag of flour.
Sharkey: You’re not even going to bake us something?
Pete: What, you can’t add the sugar?
Tata: Sugar’s extra. It’s a bag of flour for you!
With two cans of paint, a pan-roller kit, painter’s tape and a drop cloth, I feel reasonably sure I can afford this but as we approach the self-checkout register, I break into a sweat. We have five things. Five. Ten minutes later, the machine has scolded us for moving things no fewer than five times. I’m so anxious to get away from this machine without an arrest record I shove my ATM card into the slot and press enter until it squeals. People stare at us suspiciously.
Tata: Take the money! TAKE IT!
Mamie: I’ll start the car!
I start painting. I tape off the closet and get a thorough education in painting crappily. Then I discover new and original ways to paint terribly. Then I learn how to do a better job. Then I brush the roller against the ceiling and paint that, too. Three and a half hours after I start it’s too dark out and inside the closet to tell how atrocious a job I’m doing so I pack it in for the night and leave for the old apartment.The next day, I spend an hour touching up my terrible paint job before Mamie shows up and we test-drive paint hilarity.
Tata: Go ahead. Open the closet door.
Tonight: I start work with the bedroom color – not that I know what I’m doing. We can be sure that I don’t. At least, I know a little more than when I started. Painting is both humbling and exciting. I can’t wait for work to be over. I can’t wait to paint.