[Insert Evil Laugh Here]

Suzette at first was the Yoda of My Home Improvement:

Buy Behr, do. Glidden glops.
There is no try, only paint!

Okay, maybe she only sounded like that in my head. Then she went all Bela Karolyi:

You are paint! You are champyon paint! I proudt!

I suppose I imagined Suzette’s instructive infomercial, now with bluing for extra whiteness:

You’re painting!

Are you wearing a triangluar head scarf like Lucy and Ethel?
Are you barefooted and stepping in drops of paint and then making faint dots where you walk?
Are you squinting and looking for signs of betrayal in your paint coverage?

Do you have a chemical burn on your face from close proximity to latex fumes?
Do you think that it might be a good idea to extend the hilarious blue to other areas of potential humor?
Do you long for an audience to applaud your results?

Have you discovered that if you leave the roller cover alone too long it gets hard and you can’t use it anymore?
Have you discovered how much water it take to rinse the roller cover clean?
Have you dicovered that if you use a supermarket plastic bag to cover the roller in place and another one on the paint pan that you don’t have to rinse out and start all over again between coats?

Will you get infected by the paint bug and start plotting aginst the kitchen?
Will you select two shades darkening pink to apply with balled up plastic bags to the bathroom walls?
Will you lie in your bed and realize that YOU CAN CONTROL YOUR ENVIRONMENT BY THE VERY ACT OF APPLYING COLOR?

Hmmm?

Tata: YEEEEEEEEEEESSSSSS!

Wait – Suzette really said all that and I really leapt from my couch, shouting.

I am plotting against the kitchen! I am scheming against the hall closets, too.The hall is too white. The living room was painted haphazardly and I’m so Monk I have to fix the messy edging. With paint!

Last month, I fell in love with a lamp. This month, I fell in love with painting. Is there any further I could fall?

Speaking of True Colors, Let’s Speak of True Colors

You’re you. You’re funny! Sometimes, you come across things that are not funny, and your response is:

I got nothing…

Every week, I spend hours daisy-chaining around the blogosphere. I read weeks of one blog, then swing like Tarzan through the trees to another blog in the blogroll. This way, I’m learning whom to read and to whom I never have to give another moment’s thought. Some of it is a blur. The blogosphere is a lot like clique-y, gossipy high school without the buggy cafeteria. Over the past month, I’ve noticed an undercurrent particularly among the men in the Left blogosphere, because I have no desire to cause myself an aneurism by reading the Right, and it’s making me nauseous.

If one studies Jewish history (which I did for years in college and out), one finds twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five years ago, the political Right had two interests in Israel:

1. Munitions testing. Somebody’s gotta try stuff out;
2. For Jesus to come back to Earth, there have to be Jews in every nation. It’s prophesy and that’s – like – a rule. Part two of that is that Muslims are a lot less likely to let Christians mess around in Jerusalem. The Dead Sea Scrolls debacle springs instantly to mind as an example of what Christians get to screw around doing until Jews put a stop to it. Anyway, if you’re crazy enough to want Jesus to visit and survey the damage like a metaphysical claims adjuster, you need Jews in Jerusalem.

Rumor has it this may not be the case anymore.

One thing I puzzle over in blogs on the Left – the Left in which I include Poor Impulse Control, by the way – is an assertion that concern for Israel as a state is primarily the realm of the neocons. This, I must tell you, is bullshit. The thing is: Jews value education. The thing gentiles find frustrating about Jews is their study of history, which demonstrates there’s no country on earth that can be trusted not to have an economic downturn before breakfast and resultant Jewish genocide after lunch. Thus, Jews – even Jews that have nothing against the Palestinians, their organizations or other Arab nations whose stated aim is to drive the Jews into the sea and truly wish everyone would see that living peacefully might be preferable to constant war – watch the news with one eye and keep one fixed on the Holy Land. In the words of my late former father-in-law: “We may not agree with what the Israelis do but we’re not the ones with the gun to our heads.” If you think that gun is not real, you don’t have a firm grasp on the Mideast situation.

The People’s Republic of Seabrook is a fast-paced bastion of Left humor, based in Texas, and honestly, I don’t know how that guy keeps his wrists closed. His work has made me laugh on many occasions. Last week, he published a link to something on Wonkette – I have no interest in her, she could be a genius for all I know – which I’d seen somewhere else anyhow. It was the Kitten Jihad meme. Jihad humor is not…humorous. People are dying. The first time I saw this tasteless thing I was nonplussed. The second time, bored. The third, annoyed. The fourth time I saw it Kitten Jihad was People’s Republic of Seabrook’s entry to that week’s Carnival of the Cats, by which time it was more than not breathtakingly original: it was outright offensive, which was not really his fault. I guess. I wrote into his comments that I thought he was a better writer than that – for one thing, because it wasn’t his. And instead of considering the possibility that a year of good work can be undone in one anti-Jewish post, he insulted me. That’s his right. I’m sorry to give up reading what was otherwise a consistently decent blog but historically swimmers don’t have to hear the theme music to feel the shark bite.

The People’s Republic was not the first place I’d noticed the wink-wink it’s okay because it’s anti-Jewish humor, or worse, it’s just those dirty Jews again patter. As I said earlier, in my travels, I found both quite a bit, as if we all came to an unspoken understanding at a meeting I missed, and I just wasn’t invested enough in the other writers to discuss it with them. i should have spoken up, that’s true, or written down where I saw what, which would have helped make my point a heap now. Well, it’s free speech and chaos out in the blogosphere, and good for us. People can say whatever they want. Writers should realize that readers may not necessarily disagree with their opinions because there’s something wrong with the readership. Sometimes the writer’s got a screw loose, and readers see it first.

My favorite weenie-boy argument – most often employed against women – is that the weenie writer’s offensive humor is in fact funny and the person who disagrees has no sense of humor. The translation from weenie to actual English should read: I, the “humorist,” fail to recognize that humor is in the recipient and not in the transmitter, i.e. like beauty, the Funny is in the eye of the beholder. If your audience says you’re not funny, you’re either talking zippers to the Amish or you’re not hilarious. Be honest. Is that a horse and buggy? Maybe – but maybe not.

Late last week, I was flipping through TBogg’s blogroll. I stumbled on a truly vicious anti-Jewish blog entry on Badtux the Snarky Penguin to which Skippy’s G. D. Frogsdong responded. Let’s overlook the obnoxious business of calling yourself snarky. Yep, stupid nicknames can be found almost…anywhere…Now, I love TBogg as I love – say – Tim Curry, and I respect G. D. Frogsdong as I respect anyone speaking slowly and making careful points in the face of weenie squealing lunacy. I have learned not to expect weenie squealing lunacy from the Men of the Left (and where’s my 2006 calendar, fellas?) so I was really surprised to read on Badtux the vicious wink-wink anti-Jewish entry and G. D.’s super-cautious dissenting response. Then Tami, the One True tried gently telling Pengy he didn’t know what he was talking about, but that didn’t make a dent either.

I admit: in the comments, I was frustrated and started with the end of the story. I should have started with the beginning. Since I don’t argue politics anymore, I’m out of practice. Enough about me, what do you think of my dress?

Our flightless waterfowl said a whole lot, reminding me of my sister Daria. As a child, Daria would skin her knee and burst into tears. Then she would cry a lot. Then she forgot why she was crying and was just crying. This cycle was best broken through judicious application of mass-produced pastries. And milk. I don’t know Badtux, but once he started howling in his original post, no force on earth was going to prevent him from airing the true ugliness of his hatred. In particular, his whole “bigots and racists like you are always quick to bring out the ‘race card’ believing that everybody is trying to destroy your race” would’ve been a real knee-slapper if he weren’t 100% serious – and talking about me! Well, his idea of an imaginary me. Maybe he needs a cookie. When he said “people of [my] ilk” I just about spit Pellegrino through my nose. See, when you hate groups of people you know nothing about that’s prejudice. He has no idea who my people are or if I dropped from space and am composed of gelatinous goo, but he sure does hate people just like me! Now, refresh my memory: doesn’t the Left embrace ideas of racial and religious equality and tolerance? Or is it okay to whip up a cocktail hour pogrom if we’re – wink-wink – talking about the Jews?

In his case, it’s just talk. After this post, I’ll never devote another moment’s thought to him, but bloggers like him should realize that if they show their true colors someone’s going to call them on it, not just me. During my zipping around the blogosphere, I should have made notes or said something when I came upon other examples of anti-Jewish rhetoric or anti-anything rhetoric, and from now on I will. Letting that go was my mistake. I won’t make that mistake again.

The Splatter Effect

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.

Mamie: Hmmm?
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.
Salesguy:
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?
Salesguy 2:
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.
Mamie: BWAH!

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.

Lies, Lies, Lies, Yeah.

I first noticed the family values patter in the mid-eighties, I think. Perhaps you were too young then to remember that in the beginning it seemed as if old men in suits and color-blind women were speaking in tongues on national television. There was a recession on. I had a small child, two minimum wage jobs and a boyfriend who kept a meat cleaver in his trunk. When I would occasionally run past a TV it was because the space shuttle blew up or because late-night Ben Casey made my harrowing existence a little less harrowing for an hour, so it took a little while for these throwbacks to cross my field of vision.

Lucky me.

The life I was busy having was no laughing matter – at the time. After my two jobs I was taking a basic wiring class at the Middlesex County VoTech with electricians’ apprentices from a couple of IBEW locals. When the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers local for my town held its annual “One of us…one of us…” drive, there were three openings. I aced their exam because back then my brain still went ZOT! on cue. It was an exciting time! Then came the interview. I expected the electricians to – as people did – marvel at my work ethic and stellar I.Q. Instead, the interview proved a shock – no pun intended. One of the interviewers said these actual words to me. I forget my phone number, but I remember this:

IBEW Brother: Why should we give you a job and take one away from a man supporting a family?
Tata: Because I’m the single parent of a family no man is supporting.

No, I didn’t get the job, so I moved to Perth Amboy and applied to a different IBEW, hoping they weren’t all filled with mouthbreathing yahoos. And I was so wrong! It was at this point I gave up hope of becoming an electrician and providing a decent life for myself and my daughter. I became the bad university secretary who would hang up on you. I still had no money but I was at home nights when the TV was on. Suddenly, Jerry Falwell played a huge part in my life because hating someone with every fiber of your being takes up mondo time and energy. And Reverend Donald Wildmon’s despicable antics occupied more of my waking thought than even my own.

See, nothing, nobody, no power on earth would or will convince me that gays were a threat, or feminists were evil, the homeless wanted to be homeless, starving children deserved to starve, Communists were the tool of Satan, or any of that other shit televangelists shoveled. Being born beige and middle class in modern America is nothing other than a cosmic accident, and from this position of tremendous fucking privilege it is my obligation to minimize suffering caused by my presence in the world by not acting like a soulless, selfish bastard who doesn’t care who she hurts to get her way. I am not a nice person and sometimes I’ve lived closer to this modest ideal than others; however, dating married men is not morally stinky on the same order of magnitude as goading your followers to blockade and firebomb women’s clinics, or failing to prevent it.

This is the gap between intention and action: the harm factor. In the eighties, our Catholic and evangelical leaders failed to observe or lament the suffering they caused and from there, it’s only gotten worse. It is as if, drunk with power, they forgot that laying down the law is not the same as shepherding the flock. It’s sad, really. One neglected idea at the very bottom of their common philosophy is not a bad one: it wouldn’t be such a bad thing if we could raise children to be secure, smart adults – possibly, they shouldn’t be selfish bastards, either.

But rhetoric took off and riot was incited and passions remain inflamed and all reason is lost. I can’t even look at their faces anymore without feeling as if I’ve been suckerpunched and forced to spend the last twenty years of my life defending the simple notion that free people should be free, and – I’m terribly sorry – the family is not the be-all and end-all these bigots make out as long as the family rejects some of its members for being gay, or poor, or HIV-positive, or independent women, or of a different belief-set. I am officially sick of hearing about the family, about family values and about my role in the family. I don’t want to hear another religious figure tell me our society is corrupting its youth. The reason I and others can say this?

According to the 1990 and 2000 Census and as reported by the Wall Street Journal, the nuclear family is no longer our most common living arrangement. The Journal’s take on this change in American life is pathetic and sentimental. Somehow, it suggests, we drifted away from the thing that offers strength and companionship. What the Journal fails to note is that living in nuclear family structures is often extremely uncomfortable. Family is the problem you’re stuck with until you construct your own family solution. In my case, I live alone or with a lover, whichever! My friends are my family in the absence of a more conventional household. The prospect of someday being unable to care for myself and relying on Miss Sasha – however scrumptious she may be – fills me with a desire to eat day-old sushi on a hot day. With mayo. My family may take offense and that’s their right, but feelings are facts, and the fact is I will never live in a male-dominated structure that includes children. I won’t miss it a bit.

So. About family movies, family meals, family values, family entertainment, family trips, family television, family anything else: stow it. The family unit turned on itself in the eighties and proved a fragile, unbending structure. It snapped, despite all the rhetoric and damage to individuals and stifling oppression. Now whose fault is that?

Hindsight Is 20/20 Hearing

Tata: Hey, I called you yesterday.
Paulie: You did?
Tata: You don’t remember?
Paulie: No…
Tata: Your pants answered.
Paulie: What?
Tata: I called and your pants answered the phone. You were at the hospital and I could hear your dad. You were arranging your stepmom in the hospital bed.
Paulie: I was? Wait – I was!
Tata: Then it got quiet and I couldn’t figure out what that rhythmic sound was. And it was you, walking!
Paulie: That’s funny!
Tata: And the whole time I was shouting into the phone, “PAULIE! PAULIE!”
Paulie: You were?
Tata: What, you don’t remember ten minutes of your pants shouting your name?