Dialogue, Categorically

At the liquor store in my neighborhood, the guys behind the counter display a polite interest in me as a regular customer. They see me for five minutes twice a month since 1998. They have apparently developed their own narrative for my life, which is excellent news.

Guy: Hey! Where’s your boyfriend Tony?

In retrospect, I’m Italian and never dated Italian men, but Daria did. She had a type. Daria and Todd met up in the Stone Pony one night so Todd could meet Daria’s latest tall, handsome, tanned, Italian, cologne-drenched, possessive bigot boy.

Todd: So…what’s Tony’s name?

The liquor store guy is really asking if I have a boyfriend, which is a funny thing to ask a middle-aged woman who isn’t wearing a wedding ring and whose hair was recently flaming sunset pink. He does not ask about my girlfriend Toni, but if he thought I had a girlfriend named Toni I bet I’d also have his phone number on a matchbook. You can learn a lot in ten words or less. I smile and don’t tell him anything.

Tata: Denver, I think.

I’d love to hear his version of my saga. On the one hand, I don’t want the kind of attention saying, “We broke up in October” invites. On the other, it’s hard not to sigh heavily and stare off into space.

Tata: You always have to stab people more than you think you will.

That might move things right along, or along to the Middlesex County Adult Correctional Facility, where I know the library’s marginal because I stock it myself. The antic might be worth it: Mamie left last week for a half-price shoe sale in Boston, where I wouldn’t want to be the fellow customer or unarmed salesperson when Mamie spots her fall season designer trophies. In any case, this hunting expedition occupies her full attention. I leave messages.

Tata: My mother brought me to the Falmouth Bus Station at 3:39 for a 3:40 bus and I ran into the depot to buy a ticket where I couldn’t think as the lady behind the counter said, “Round trip for two: $78” and I said, “No, one person, one way” and the ticket was $18.50 even though the bus company’s 800 number said $17.00 and I couldn’t argue because behind me Mom was working her weird verbal voodoo on the bus driver which made my brain go all swirly but I got the right ticket and dragged my two suitcases and my Dragonball Z lunchbox onto the bus and set up a cushion fort and growled everytime somebody came near but I’m on my way to get an Amtrak train back to MetroPark where Paulie will either pick me up in the World’s Largest Pick Up Truck(tm) or I’ll take a cab home for peace and quiet after two days of people talking constantly, and the voices in my head are squawking, “Mantequilla! Mantequilla!” can you tell?

Lala’s traveling the country with her glamorous car-racing son and her cantankerous ex-husband. Sharkey’s perfecting his golf swing in the Carolinas. Most of the family’s still up at the Cape or off at a trade show. Trout’s taking care of a sick friend. For Christ’s sake, I talk to cashiers for wicked banter.

Tata: Like, what?
Her: Like, like like?
Tata: Like, NO!
Her: Like, ya huh!

This dialogue takes place the same week Mom flashed her English degree at an unlikely moment.

Mom: You can really parse sentences. I never learned to parse sentences.
Tata: Did I just hallucinate a compliment? I must be dehydrated. How many fingers am I holding up? Four! No, three!
Mom: No, I never really learned until you did.
Tata: What? We’re even then because my mind’s a blank now.

While I stand around, muttering, “The fucking yellow ribbon magnets are Tony Orlando’s fault,” I worry about finding the fun, witty chatter that’s like crack for word junkies like me. But I can hush up and quit fretting. Suzette’s on the case and Mark’s got the funk.

Reservations. And Plans.

I have no patience for this hyperemotional response to September 11th by people who were never in any danger and now go around wearing t-shirts with pictures of burning buildings. If that’s you, just fuck off. Few things are more puke-inducing than watching an idiot wearing one of those It’s On Fire shirts run into a person whose wife, husband, lover, parent, son or daughter burned to death in Windows On the World. You should be ashamed of yourself. Throw away that t-shirt and promise you’ll never give another cent to the ghouls who made a tourist industry of disaster. And keep that promise, no matter how enticing the offer of morbid commemorative It’s On Fire coins, plates, baseball caps or potato peelers, for all I know.

There are ways to mourn and remember that offer catharsis and promote healing. Unfortunately for all of us, the Pentagon has eschewed good taste and planned a party. You can, if you’re feeling especially jingoistic, sign up for the march and the concommitant background check. Let me repeat that point: you can’t just go, should you feel a rather shocking lack of revulsion for this soiree. You have to pass a screening. I guess that will weed out anyone who’s actually thinking about what they’re doing.

The families of those lost on September 11th have ideas of their own. Many memorials are local and personal, which may not be accessible where you live. Fortunately, they also favor constructive recognition and remembrances of a more locationless variety. One of the best is One Day’s Pay, an organization that asks you to turn September 11th into a day devoted to service for others wherever you are, rather than horror and loss. Or you could contribute to the care of search and rescue dogs. That’s marvelous, really. Search and rescue dogs played a crucial role in survivors’ survival and giving victims’ loved ones the consolation of burials, and the only thing they ask is that we care for them, which is not too damn much.

The last thing anyone needs is useless, revolting souvenir crap – unless you wonder why nothing in your living room gathers dust in that saccharine way only September 11th memorabilia can. And Oh. My. God. Rumsfeld’s going to give me an aneurysm yet. What an ass! This vile trampling on and profiting from the dead is undignified and disgusting, and proponents need intensive de-programming or…a rolled-up newspaper to the snout.

I Me Mine I Me Mine I Me Mine

I return triumphant from the wilds of Cape Cod, where strip malls are replacing pine forests, beaches act as a beautiful bone of contention and tourists issue gunpoint demands of natives being displaced by the wealthy. It’s a lot like New Jersey, except with better manners and no room for garbage dumps. This trip was educational; I learned a few things.

1. I am an idiot, but I doubt the wisdom of throwing a surprise party for a 93-year-old. Your opinion may vary.

Grandpa is one of two surviving charter members of the Hyannis VFW, and though road construction and re-engineering is a fact of modern life, my nearly blind grandfather knows every street on the Upper Cape. He corrects cab drivers and scolds Mom for second-guessing his directions. He likes things just-so and Mom ruffles his feathers constantly with detours, luxurious time-wasting and gifts of stuff he swears he neither needs nor wants.

It’s his birthday. He thinks we’re going to a fish fry at the Moose Lodge.
It’s her father’s birthday. She’s conspired with his friends and they’ve all told him lies that will result in cake.

Oh dear. He won’t be pleased.

Though we’ve stalled and walked around in circles in a drug store, when Mom, Grandpa and I arrive at the VFW hall Daria’s family is still filing into the building. Mom parks and makes an MGM production of applying lipstick. Grandpa and I, cut from the same cloth, leap out, slam doors and wonder where she is before we realize she’s fluffing her hair.

Grandpa: Lucy! The kids are waiting!
Tata: Mom! Christmas is coming!

I’m anxious to get the inevitable shouting, back-slapping, and meeting of the paramedics out of the way. Mom hasn’t thought this plan through. Before we picked up Grandpa and went shopping, Mom and I stopped at the VFW and the celebrants were already bellied up to the bar and mildly over-happy. Two hours later, over-happiness spills out into huggy drunken I-Love-You-Ness, and there’s a vet with an electric organ. Damn it, we’re gonna hear old guy karaoke of White Cliffs of Dover. And then we do.

See, when this happens at my local bar, they’re my friends; I know what to expect and what to laugh off. My family doesn’t have to know that much about me until well after I’m dead. When Grandpa’s friends put balloons down their bras – yes, women served in the Great Wars – and play not-at-all-hard-to-get I stare at my mother and hope I’m hallucinating.

It does not occur to us until later that perhaps this part of his life is private, and we are intruding, but it’s too late because Mom’s joined the Ladies’ Auxilliary, Tyler joined the post as a Marine who served in Africa during the first Gulf War, and Tyler Two has figured out how to win at Keno between kindergarten and first grade just by coloring inside the lines.

2. Weirdness in the present invariably hints at a weirder past.

Mom: What’s your friend with the French last name?
Tata: Johnny.
Mom: Are you still in touch with him?
Tata: Nearly every day. He’s moved to Santa Fe and learned the tango.
Mom: Is he related to Marguerite of the same last name?
Tata: That’s his mother.
Mom: Really? That’s exciting! How long have you known each other?
Tata: Since the summer I was 14 and saw him painting a giant metal box green.
Mom: My goodness, that’s quite a while! Is he married? Children?
Tata: He’s got a hot veterinarian wife, a houseful of pets and a new tattoo.
Mom: Isn’t that interesting! I met her in radiation. Did you know she was in treatment?
Tata: After 28 years of living an eighth of a mile apart you meet her in a waiting room in the next town?

3. Around the family, peace of mind is gonna cost ya.

I don’t have small children but Daria has three, and three is the magic number at which the noise is too much for me. By lunchtime, I’ve had enough and sit outside with my cup of coffee. Each member of the family is spinning like a top inside the house in his or her own special way and talking the whole time, not necessarily to anyone else. There’s no time to do a whole yoga practice before we go kidnap Grandpa, though the exercise would calm my anxiety. This is the moment when my obsessive-compulsive nature miraculously works for me: the garden my late grandmother tended daily is inches from going to seed. I stand up. I fold in half. I weed in self-defense.

At first, I pull up weeds. As I relax into the stretch, my toes in the dirt feel strong. Upside down, I have always been fine and happy and wildly alive. I gather the weeds into a pile, tear them into shreds and pile them around the roots of larger shrubs against the house. Then I see hollow, woodier stems that once used to be favored plants or flowers and pull them up. Then I pull up grasses and shoots, tear them and place the shreds around the older shrubs. Time passes. The ground is clear and even. I give the house its due, the past its place, and muscles the bloom muscles want and love. You’d think this would quiet the mind. Nope.

Daria: What’s wrong with you? Where are your shoes?
Mom: I have gloves. You can use my gloves. Do you want gloves?
Tom: Can you stay for a week?
Tyler: Are you dressed for this? Should I get power tools? What will this do to property values?
Tyler Two: Mommy says you’re allowed to get dirty – just this once.

Daria, who was a barefoot commune kid with me, can’t stand to touch dirt. We grew vegetables. We spent summers touching the ground. Daria gets hysterical when her kids use their Tonka earthmovers to move earth. Personally, I don’t get it but I haven’t figured out why people care about Britney Spears either so the universe remains mysterious. And hey, what’s a brother-in-law for?

Tata: Tyler! You bastard! Do you know what song is stuck in my head?
Tyler: (Weary) No, Ta. What song is stuck in your head?
Tata: God damn it, it’s Sister Christian and it’s all your fault!
Tyler: (Perking right up) That’s a shame! “Motoring…”

I’m going to make him move my couch after I stick weights between the cushions. Yup, love stinks!

4. Luggage: on wheels, period.

Life is short. Run through the terminal and nap so you can see America from the bus or train. It’s wonderful, you know. There is so much of it and only so much of you.

Kittens, Cats, Sacks, Wives

It’s Grandpa’s 93rd birthday. Mom’s family is migrating to Cape Cod. Planning has been fraught with slim peril but abundant indecision. Though I recently started trusting my arthritic hands to hold a barbell and took up weightlifting again, I don’t trust them enough to attempt the six-hour drive. Since I can’t drive alone, I’ve looked at planes, trains and buses and they’re all byzantine routes and prohibitively expensive. Daria offers me a seat in her Ford eighteen-wheeler with her husband driving, and her three children in car seats. I’ll have to take a local bus from the Cape to Boston and Amtrak back to Metro Park but when it comes right down to it, I’m still sitting in a car for six hours with my sister.

Look forward to this scintillating exchange over the sobs of frightened children:
Daria: Sweetheart, Mommy didn’t mean to make Auntie Tata sound like a $2 whore!
Tata: Honey, Auntie Tata doesn’t really think your Mommy’s a judgmental bitch!
Daria: Sweetheart, close your eyes and go to sleep. Auntie Tata’s hairstyle won’t turn to snakes!
Tata: Have sweet dreams, darling, and don’t give Mommy’s apparently forgotten past a second thought!

History and histrionics aside, Paulie Gonzalez is a scientist at heart. When he watches TV at all, it’s usually the Discovery Channel’s Mythbusters. Stuff blows up every seven minutes. This show may be the best thing that ever happened to crash test dummies and ping pong balls. It’s science! And Paulie is a big thinker. One night last year, he posed an intriguing question.

Your picture goes all swirly and woo-woo.

Paulie: Plastic surgery seems like tricky stuff. I mean, if you have regular surgery and you go back to work, people give you flowers and whisper when they walk past your desk. People get you coffee. They’re all very nice. But what if you get liposuction? Suppose you get your ass lipo’d on Friday. When you come to work on Monday, what? Don’t people see you in the break room and say, “Treesa! Last week, you had a fat ass. What the hell? What happened to your fat ass?”

You get a grip and your picture regains horizontal hold. It’s all about the love, no?

You: Ta, dahhhhhhling, your time-travel unnerves my pet hedgehog.
Tata: Lovey, I understand they enjoy a leisurely swim, but read the manual first.

Last week, Paulie was on a flight to Denver when the airline went all Julie, Your Cruise Director and organized a game: Guess The Plane’s Weight.

I know: how rude!

Certain hints were offered, like the number of passengers and weight limit on bags. Paulie did that blasphemous math stuff the righteous are trying to remove from schools, then some educated guessing, wrote down an answer on his game piece, which is – yes – what all the kids are calling it now, and turned it in. Next thing he knew, he’d won by guessing within 500 lbs. of the crew’s right answer, and the second-best guesser was protesting. His prize was two tickets to the Las Vegas production of Mama Mia. Travel produces exciting new varieties of bad behavior, as does ABBA.

Yesterday, I noticed strange and sneaky movements on the parts of my co-workers, the Nice Ladies. They’re in their forties and fifties. When I caught a bunch of them tiptoeing past my cubicle I was suspicious. Five minutes later, they tiptoed in the other direction. I hate when someone beats me to a good prank, so I tiptoed after them. My student worker, whose name sounds like the sudden opening of a brilliant parasol, reflexively followed. They were whispering to each other. We were silent.

Tata: Whatcha doin’?

Turns out that when well-behaved people who work in libraries are startled while furtively holding water balloons they juggle like the Brothers Karamazov. Two balloons took brief sojourns above our heads. One Nice Lady stuffed a balloon down her bra. In the ensuing but arid chaos, it became clear that Chinese children may not fill balloons with water and fling them at one another, and I say this because my curious and delighted student worker, whose name sounds like the tinkle of bracelet charms, stared at the balloons as if they were the coolest things ever.

The Nice Ladies were intrigued and answered all questions. How does the water get inside? Where’s the air? What do you do with these? Why do they feel so funny? Can you make them bigger? They gave her one to hold she soon discovered felt weirdly alive, as water balloons do. The Nice Ladies made a big production of taking the balloons to the restrooms to meet their fates, but they gave my student worker, whose name sounds like the taps of raised glasses, a fresh balloon she could take home and try filling herself. This, I thought, was a charming example of how travel broadens a person, and inflates.

This morning, my path to work was blocked by a hastily cobbled-together police roadblock. A truck driver forgot to play “How big? Sooooo big!” with his truck and plowed into the train trestle I see from my living room window. This meant Amtrak riders snickered across state lines about the trailer curiously right outside the train’s window. For me, it meant a two-block detour and a thump on the forehead from the Cosmos: last week when Daria, Sandro and I looked at the new apartment, Daria drove through the parking deck next to the library. I’ve parked at least eight different cars and trucks in this deck on and off for nineteen years and never gave clearance a second thought. Last week, as Daria inched through the deck, I broke into a sweat and wasn’t sure we’d make it. That’s how big SUVs have become.

So there’s hope we won’t be able to slug each other across the DMZ of car seats and luggage. I mean, as long as there’s no ABBA.

Cindy Sheehan, In the Heart of Texas

Mostly, we are used to feeling but not seeing cowardly people skittering in the dark and manipulating our lives through fear and innuendo. Sometimes we see an evolved soul doing what needs to be done, regardless of the risk to herself. Our impulse is to look away and pretend nothing special is happening, because if that person can act, we might take ourselves to task for not doing the same.

Well, if you haven’t, please meet Cindy Sheehan. Many on the right will accuse her of – frankly – any vile thing that fits through a narrow mind, but don’t believe any of that, not a word of it. If you have children, believe in what you feel for them and ask youself as I do: shouldn’t we all be sitting on that dirt road in Texas?

Two Calls, Both Close

One. Mine.

Mamie: Oh, and if someone tells you you have to see The Island, tell them to STICK IT UP THEIR ASS!
Tata: That bad?
Mamie: By the end of the movie I was shouting your line. “This movie needs a fucking red pen!” When the movie got to two hours, I checked my pulse.
Tata: That’s too bad. I like Scarlet Johanson.
Mamie: And who doesn’t love Ewan McGregor? He was wearing a turtleneck! I think the perfect man would be wearing a turtleneck and no pants.
Tata: No, that’s a toddler running from bathtime.
Mamie: Huh! Remember that time at your birthday party in that restaurant where everything was served on fire? I hate to say it but I feel like your mom looked when Crease pulled a thong with tags on it his from his pocket and said to her, “Hey Lucy, you left this at my place.”

Two. Hers.

Mamie: I was accosted by Jehovah’s Witnesses in disguise this morning when I came out of Dunkin Donuts.
Tata: Fooled by their fake mustaches, were you?
Mamie: I said, “Are you seriously trying to talk to people in the morning?! The new Watchtower is a magazine called Awake! Zealot freaks.
Tata: Imagine thinking you wanted to remain conscious!
Mamie: I was REALLY unhappy when the older one said, “I used to know your mother when she was a substitute teacher, back before she died.”
Tata: That bitch! Did she know your mom after she died, too?
Mamie: I was stunned momentarily, long enough to hear the “we’re not even talking about religion” line and for them to get the stupid newsprint booklet into my hand. All the front said was the title and a headline, “Skin Cancer: how to protect yourself.” And yes, it was about religion. Not only did they waylay me on my way to work, but they lied.
Tata: Oh. My. God! You WERE fooled by their fake mustaches!

Crushing A Fly With a Volkswagen – Preaching to the Choir Edition

Ned, the rock star ex-boyfriend who probably played on albums you possess, responds to this with a bit of the old white-hot vitriol:

Yes, there absolutely is more to this story! The “more” is two sets of parents that have long avoided kicking the asses of their charming little offspring that desperately need it in fear of being the “bad guy” and after all they just don’t have time what with “the career” and the endless pursuit of big shiny expensive things that go “vroom vroom” and suck up more fossil fuel than Otis can guzzle in cheap moonshine on a Saturday night (insert a Harry Chapin tune here…covered by Cannibal Corpse!) The “more” is a judicial system that always seems to find time to twaddle around with bullshit like this while on the other side of town there’s gang wars and people being raped and stray bullets striking innocent children and drug dealers and hookers and things being stolen on a minute to minute basis. Need I remind you of a young man in a New Brunswick emergency room dripping blood on the floor from a hole in his forehead while a “man in blue” asked him (and I quote) “Well, what the fuck do ya want ME to do about it?” The answer IS: sheer unadulterated LAZINESS! The cops in Fresno would have rather risked getting scratched on the arm by an 11-year-old girl than risk getting shot in the face doing what they’re really supposed to be doing. Out in PA, there’s a big ta-doo over hiring more police. WHAT THE FUCK FOR?! All they’re gonna do is hang around the outskirts of town waiting for Joe Regularguy to forget to use his turn signal while chaos reigns supreme down in “the hood”. As John Belushi once said “^%^&$%^%*^@!” Oh there’s so much more to this story. Connect the dots between bullshit like this and things like “The Patriot Act” and (enter Robert Preston) “Wellllll, ya got trouble, my friends, right here in River City.”

Dude! You’re gonna pop a blood vessel!

A few years ago, Ned moonlighted as the doorman at a bar we all worked at, lived at and sometimes woke up in. One night, a local douchebag – as opposed to those elite-level douchebags we see on the news every night – didn’t feel up to showing his ID and pitched Ned head-first down a long flight of concrete stairs. I happened to be in the bar that night with Paulie Gonzalez, and though this is a fishbowl so small you can’t fit a fish in it, I didn’t hear about this somehow until later.

Since everyone knew who committed the assault, you’d think that guy would be padding around a cell now in prison-striped pajamas, wouldn’t you? Nope, the New Brunswick Police showed up. Did they arrest the alleged douchebag?

As for the short answer to the question on Loki, yes they HAD arrested him about THREE MONTHS after the incident, at which point they wanted to make me the fallguy for years of his bullying, while his “posse” circled around like knife-wielding vultures warning me of the consequences for my cooperating with the police. Subtle reminders like the business cards for Loki’s tattoo shop being left on my windshield wiper. But to make a long painful story short, there was supposed to be a trial over all of this, and I grudgingly agreed to it. After I moved to PA I never heard another word about it, even after repeated calls to the DA & the police department to ask “What the fuck?” So you see my anger in that lies in the fact that they wouldn’t deal with this as the criminal act that it was, they dealt with this as a “complaint”. I.E.: the easy way out.

Well, next thing ya know ol’ Ned’s a millionaire…

Note: For once, I didn’t change the guy’s name because the name of the Norse God of mischief plainly isn’t something Mom dreamed up, and everyone knew what happened, and the raw deal just never ended.

Ned is not, in fact, a millionaire, but he would have felt like a million if he could have accessorized with a little sympathetic handling by the cops. People who complain about the police are not always whiners and miscreants. Sometimes, they’re people with legitimate problems who turn to the police for help and instead get the shaft.

I’m not saying everyone who complains about the police has a point but some do. We can’t believe everything we hear, but we should give everyone a fair chance to speak. In Fresno, the police chief’s mom should grab his earlobe, twist and send him to bed without supper. In Guantanamo Bay, people are being held without charges, access to lawyers or hope of due process. And if we listen closely, our administration is quietly telling us it is planning invasion of yet another sovereign nation without a declaration of war.

Hmm.

I looked this up. If you can stand it, our President reminds me of a character I vaguely remember from a Star Trek episode called “The Squire Of Gothos.” Captain Kirk and his unnaturally attractive crew are confronted with a seemingly all-powerful being named Trelane who bats them around like cat toys. Just as Kirk’s about to sacrifice himself to save his crew, two voices scold Trelane and tell him, essentially, you can’t play with your things like that. Here’s a synopsis. Please have a look. It’s time for us to rein in our errant children and our errant President, and our errant police departments. We don’t have to be angry about the whole thing, just firm and patient. The administration has had every opportunity to demonstrate it can guide the nation, with the nation’s best interests at heart, and in a way that doesn’t harm the planet or hurt other peoples. Our children need a spanking – not a beating, a spanking. And our police departments need a new idea of who’s in charge, because we are, and locking up an 11-year-old for throwing a rock is childish and immature.

Patience. Firmness. Liberal use of the calmly spoken “No.” Discipline is required, and we must make our intentions clear. No. No. No.

Move In the Direction of Your Fear*

The painful, epic search for an apartment seems to be over. Yesterday, I went to the credit union and sweated copiously while a cashier withdrew more than $1200 from my account and turned it into one of those magical bank check/whatsises you get when people don’t actually trust you with your own money. Who could blame them? If I handed you a check for a thousand dollars you’d look for a hidden camera and a subcommittee – not that I have empirical proof of this assertion, mind you. When I write a check for $200, my hands shake. When the cashier made yesterday’s account-depleting withdrawl, I gasped for breath and tried not to yak.

This represents progress. When I used to cut straight to yelling for Buicks I…switched banks a lot.

Last week, I looked at an apartment and I loved it. It was more space than I believed possible, rent was reasonable, and the location nearly ideal. Unfortunately, when I saw a living room large enough that I could dance again I became knuckle-dragging stupid. Important details escaped my notice, like that it was a third-floor walk-up and I am an arthritic little old lady who shops in bulk. I pictured myself with a premature granny cart. I craved that apartment like some devotees crave chocolate but faced facts and called the manager, and I asked if a ground-floor one-bedroom was available. Not only didn’t she hang up on me but she made an appointment for me to see something right away.

Tata: Pick me up and help me look at the apartment.
Daria: Why? What’s your problem?
Tata: Faced with an unsigned lease, I can’t feel my hands and feet.

The family has a long and colorful history with phobia. For years, Mom didn’t drive over bridges or fly. It takes effort to keep an irrational fear from blossoming into a full-blown, debilitating phobia. I work at it with a rigorous regimen of laughing at my own stupidity and fearfulness. And just look at you with the helping!

The manager takes us to a door and buzzes. A young woman answers the door. Her hair is dyed black; she is a member of my tribe, Artists. I stand up straight. She takes us into a foyer too crowded for four women and Daria’s three-year-old Sandro, who refuses to touch the floor with any part of his tiny body. I walk into the living room and – right on cue – become very stupid.

See, this is a new phase of life and I’ve been thinking about things I’ve never done before. I want things I’ve never wanted before. I want to paint a living room in the colors of growing things. I want to sleep in a cornflower blue bedroom. When I walk into a sage green living room in an apartment that is otherwise white, I stare, dumbstruck. The manager and the tenant – I hear this distantly, as if miles away – talk about the costs of repainting the room to white. I’m still staring.

Tata: Leave it green. This is my apartment.
Daria: Did you bump your pointy head?
Tenant: I’m sorry it’s such a dark color.
Manager: My husband will paint it white and –
Tata: No. This color. I’ve been dreaming about this green.
Manager: Sold!
Tenant: I’ll leave you the rest of the can!
Daria: Are her pupils fixed and dilated?

Near my feet, a small black cat looks awfully familiar. The tenant says, “The cat was rescued by a woman in North Jersey. The cat probably will not come to you. It’s a kitten still, and skittish.” The kitten, whose face is identical to my cat’s, comes right to me and licks my fingers. In the bedroom, where I feel terribly self-conscious, Daria throws open the closet door and smiles. She does the same thing twice more in the foyer. I throw the light switch in the bathroom and we both gasp.

Fourteen years ago, our father’s mother died. She lived all our lives in one of these World War II garden apartment complexes in New Brunswick. The bathroom is the dead-giveaway: pink tiles, black and white tile floor. In a way, I have come home and I’m still speechless. Do I need pink towels?

Daria: Let’s look at the kitchen.
Tata: …kitchen…

It’s big. I can roll out dough. I can do a few other things, including the tango. The manager tells me the rent is slightly less than the dance studio of last week – but not much, really. The tenant looks me in the eye, which I love. I ask why she’s leaving. She explains that she’s chosen to get a teaching certificate in Ramapo and it’s a good program and it’s expensive to live up there and I listen to the sound of her voice for any quiver of duplicity. I hear none. I can tell Daria doesn’t hear one either. The young woman’s on her way up, and the vibe – if we can be so bold – is very positive.

We leave the apartment. Outside, we ask about facilities. Then we see the laundry room and Daria whispers.

Daria: If you ever walk down here I’m having you committed.
Tata: I’ll macrame the leather straps.

Change is terrifying. This, I know, is where I should go. I am very much afraid about money and time and loneliness but I’ve put down my security deposit. In a few weeks, I will move here, live here, write for you from here. It seems strange when I think about it: all this time I’ve been urging you to live bravely, I’ve never told you how hard I struggle against fear myself. It is brave to do the thing that frightens you, whether it is moving house or refusing to submit to the current climate of desperation, fanaticism and fear. Thing is: it’s totally worth it, especially when we are in it together.

*p.92 Milorad Pavic’s Dictionary of the Khazars
Terrible book. Read p.92 only.