…and sometimes I’m Fess Parker.
My father – author of such remarks as, “No, I would not have bailed out you and your sister for swimming in the reservoir. I drink that water,” and, “WASPS! Get my chainsaw and a Slurpee!” – once posed an intriguing question.
Daddy: What does it feel like to feel smart?
Tata: Like a monumentally high cloud ceiling. Like you can see for miles in every direction. Like you can connect the dots between lightning bugs.
Daddy: Have you been dating the Science Club?
It’s great when you feel smart. When you’ve done something smart you walk a little taller, feel a little cooler and think about your next smart move. You’re smart. Isn’t it great to be smart? If I feel a little taller, cooler and smoother, this is usually the time I trip over the ottoman and look around for Morey Amsterdam. As a human, I have been so consistently stupid and done so many stupid things it’s a freaking miracle I’ve sandwiched in a few sparse moments of reasonable smartness. It’s not the picture that lacks balance.
Tata: It is 7:30 a.m. and I’ve already had a full day of Stupid.
Mamie: Lay it on me like a lead XRay vest!
Tata: So I go to bed at midnight because I’m not the right kind of tired to sleep. After 2, I sleep in twenty minute fits and starts. And Larry –
Mamie: The little black cat bent on stealing my soul?
Tata: – the very one! The cat’s running laps like it’s Indianapolis. And just before 6, Larry claimed my yoga mat in the name of France and bit me when I wanted it for Spain!
Tata: He miraculously bit the bottom of my foot. Wasn’t I standing on that? My living room carpet looks like a crime scene.
Mamie: Your life sucks!
Tata: And I had to swat him! This conflicts with my recent desire to live a non-violent life.
Mamie: Are you a vegetarian again?
Tata: – Except for that. And Asian representative bodies. Man, I love a good knock-down, drag-out parliament!
At the library, ours is a society of women. My student worker, whose name sounds like the gentle yawning of new kittens, waits patiently as Daria calls and we sort out details of the family’s convergence on Cape Cod for Mom’s dad’s birthday. In a society of women, it is understood that you’re going to talk to your children, your parents, your sisters and business will have to wait; the trade off is there’s no money to be made. I feel rather middle-aged, there’s a message from Friday on my voicemail, and I tell my student worker, whose name sounds like a cash register readying itself to dispense change, “My parents are just crazy!”
Tata; So on Friday I left here and my mother left a message here, then one at my apartment and then a second one. ‘Ta, please call before your nap.’ So I called her, thinking something terrible had happened. She says, ‘I’ll be right over.’ Um…okay. She hands me a plant and some bread and that’s just great. I love plants! Bread is great! Then she does this crazy thing: she pulls out a brochure and asks about paint chips. There are all these lifeless colors and I think about white, off-white, gray, blue-gray, beige and impossibly-lifeless-green. How is this possible? I’m like, ‘Mom, how about you paint your house a real color?’ Oh please, wanna borrow my mom?
This is a rhetorical question I blurt in my office. Women with living mothers want to trade them for a player to be named later. Women whose mothers have gone to the PTA Meeting In the Sky narrow their eyes and hope my department store socks run before I wear them. You’d think I would have learned to shut up. No! My willowy student worker, whose name sounds like a delicate broken doorbell, looks into her hands and takes a breath.
Student Worker: Yes!
How could I be so stupid? She has been alone in the United States for three years. She wants her Mommy!
A wise and vexed woman in my office interjects: “Mother are all – ” She pauses, making big eye contact. The pause goes on so long my eyes water. “- different,” she says finally.
Dorothy Parker was an orphan. In a way, I could excuse my stupidity by saying I left home and found new mothers. Still, the strange thing is that at my age, some people may now look at me and choose me as theirs. It seems wildly unlikely, but it’s possible. As I used to tell Miss Sasha, “Nobody’s born with the mother they need.” Wait. That’s not right, either.
So that’s a raccoon on my head, huh?