There Is No Excuse For This

Congress votes itself raises and refuses to raise minimum wage from $5.15 per hour to $6.25. Pension systems are failing. Why not go the extra mile to ostentatiously fuck the poor, who in many cases are ordinary working people falling out of the bottom of the middle class? They don’t need to eat, right?

What will happen to secure middle class lives, homes and property when the poor – especially those who used to be your neighbors – realize they don’t actually have to tolerate this shit, and if they want to eat all they have to do is take what you have? Because in their growing numbers, they can. And the harder life gets the sooner they’ll get the picture.

If you happen to favor fucking over the poor, cut to the chase and just go put bars over the picture windows of your McMansion. I hope the image of little children going to bed hungry eats at you as much as it eats at parents who for whatever reason find themselves unable to provide and have nowhere to turn.

Her Face, At First Just Ghostly, Turned A Whiter Shade of Pale

When I accepted Paulie Gonzalez’s invitation to his sister’s wedding, my intention was to frump my brain, which has been stiff and bored. A friend told me years ago that when you do things you ordinarily do in a different way – stirring your coffee with the hand you don’t usually use, for instance – you create new pathways in your brain. It could be complete bullshit for all I know but who cares? I’m sitting in a hotel meeting room with over one hundred empty chairs five minutes after the wedding’s supposed to have started, and my brain is dancing like a pack of Rockettes on a bender.

As wedding guests file into the room – and fail to file into the room – strange, strange things are happening. First, from the right rear of the room, a giant speaker plays an endless, pasteurized, instrumental version of the passionate, aching Whiter Shade of Pale, the Procul Harem song taken from the Canterbury Tales. The lyrics sound like they’re about faithless lovers. I could be wrong. Then something passionate, endless and instrumental played that I don’t recognize. The groomsmen file in and stand in place. Wedding guests continue not to arrive in droves. The groomsmen break formation. Paulie finds the not-found-in-nature red glow of my hair in the sea of empty chairs and crosses the room to kiss my cheek before rejoining the parade. Guests slowly fill in the seats. The music changes to an instrumental version of Nights In White Satin. The groomsmen march in again. The pastor, who has been doing laps around the room, crosses the finish line and gasps for breath.

Two years pass. A number of videographers hover at the back of the room with a camera set up on wheels and easily seven feet tall. Finally, the back doors open and Nicole’s giggling pre-teen daughter lopes down the aisle, followed by four or five women in matching rust-colored satin dresses and matching shoes. The guests giggle, too. The bridesmaids and groomsmen stand stiffly in place, smiling like they’re pinching each other. The back doors close and mysteriously remain closed. Music plays for a long time. Suddenly, the wedding springs a leak. The guests surrender any pretense of attentive behavior.

When the doors are thrown open, nobody shuts up but everyone stands as Nicole tries to walk down the aisle with her regal mother and very nervous father. Mom is less than five feet tall and glowing on her daughter’s special day. Dad is counting out loud: “Step and…hold and…step and…hold and…” When they finally reach the plastic trees with Chistmas lights, tulle and a flock of attendants, the giant video machine smoothly slides into the aisle and blocks any view of the bridal party. I can’t actually see the ceremony because I am tiny by human standards but I hear the pastor, whose homily is about disappointment. His allegory is a pastrami sandwich incident. While he’s going on and on about horseradish sauce at his favorite deli, the guests behind me debate the fine points of answering the question “Does anyone know of any reason these two cannot be joined in matrimony?” in the affirmative. Across the aisle, guests conduct Chinese fire drills without a motor vehicle. From now on, mine is an ear-witness account.

Talking, talking, talking. Let us pray to the Ramada gods. Blah blah blah. Pastrami sandwich. Horseradish sauce. Parkway. No sauce. Grateful for food. Will you, Jimmy, blah blah blah? Will you, Nicole, blah blah blah? Let us pray. Put your right foot in. Put your right foot out. Disappointment. Story about Nicole’s long history with the pastor and the giggling pre-teen daughter. More disappointment. Isn’t life wonderful to offer us such misery? Talking, talking, talking. I now pronounce you legally obligated to pay one another’s debts.

At no point during this stirring ceremony does the gossiping, seat switching and speculating let up. When the bride and groom skip back up the aisle, everyone claps vigorously and looks around wildly to see what to do. A minute or two later, I climb out into the lobby. My eyes haven’t even adjusted to the change in light when a member of the waitstaff guides me by the shoulders like Glinda the Good Witch around the corner. “Down the hall and to the right.” I wonder if this direction is just for me or everyone else and my little dog, too. I find a bar, heaps of sliced fruit, pinhead-sized tables in a configuration I don’t understand, and three women wearing the exact same pants I am. I can’t deal with the fruit.

Suzette’s got my number. I sit in an overstuffed chair and watch like a Smithsonian anthropologist with a folklore and customs grant. Finally, Paulie appears. We get on line for drinks, where I order a cautious chardonnay and a pack of long-lost Brooklyn cousins on his mobbed-up side leap at him, squealing, “Paaaaaaaaaaulieeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!” Accustomed to flying women, Paulie spills not a drop of his martini. In rapid succession, Paulie introduces me to a tribe of half-Hondurans and another of charismatic New York Italian-Jewish women related to Paulie’s father…somehow. When we each have a handful of napkins, sticks and empty glasses there’s nowhere to put them and no one to ask. We pile the debris where no one is certain to find it.

I change my mind about this wedding business and switch to gin. Though I have no idea what to do or how to act, I decide to roll with it. And shrimp. My brain is not in control here and I’m along for the ride. Bring. It. On.

Anima, Vegetaba, Minera

On Wednesday, when I foolishly believed I’d drive myself, I called Daria and asked about the Holiday Inn I used to pass between Exit 8A and her house. Friday morning, Paulie said, “No, it’s a Ramada, and I think it’s Exit 8.” Maybe you only hurt the ones you love, but often you’d like to maim a few passersby.

Mom had plenty of time to call Daria after I hung up the phone.

Mom: Are you ready to leave the house now?
Tata: Nope. I’m standing in my living room naked and hoping my tan dries.
Mom: The sooner we leave the better.
Tata: I really appreciate your help with this stupid errand! I’m sorry about your errands. I feel so guilty!
Mom: It’s just your sister-in-law’s birthday present. She’ll understand!
Tata: I have to go kill myself now, but I’ll be at your house in half an hour.

I threw the phone on the couch and tapped myself all over to see if the Jergens Natural Glow Daily Moisturizer was dry enough to slap fabric on. Yes? Yes. In a blur of arms, legs and lace, I glopped on foundation makeup and foundation garments and fragrance and powders. Forty-five minutes after I hung up the phone, Mom and I jump into her little truck thing. She hands me a map with directions from the Turnpike. The Turnpike is off to our left. She turns right. I’m paying attention to the road but, nervous and guilt-ridden, I’m just babbling.

Tata: So I ran in my room to get dressed, right? And I put on a black bra and my blouse and I take off my blouse because the plunging neckline plunges a little too far, even for me. And I put on a black sleeveless whatsis and put the blouse back on but I can’t make my fingers button the buttons. So how big is my apartment? It’s really big for a one-bedroom, but how many closets does it have? There are only two where clothes hang but I can’t find my pants in the drycleaning bag, and I can’t go without pants! I put on a pair of Daria’s black slacks and zip up my boots but then I look in the coat closet and there they are so I’m bouncing down my hallway with one leg in each pair of pants and I’m thinking ‘The humor of this will be lost on my mother if I break my neck and she still didn’t get to the post office.’
Mom: You may have noticed we’re not headed toward the Turnpike.
Tata: Yup. You may have noticed I’m getting a little hysterical.
Mom: Daria says Route 130 is our best bet during rush hour on a Friday afternoon.
Tata: She’s sure? I thought after 130 intersected with the Turnpike there was a sign, “Here be monsters.”

Mom and I had a tough few years in which we spoke to each other through clenched teeth when we spoke at all, but it was only the first thirty-eight of our lives together. So we’re pretty good. We drive on Route 130 past the workhouse, car dealerships, strip malls and dirt mounds. The further down 130 we go the less there is to see. It seems to go on forever. We pass the intersection of Route 130 and the Turnpike, but the directions from Daria and Mapquest don’t seem to match the map. We bet on the map. I turn the map upside down so our heading is right in front of us. Counter to the instructions, I say, “We’re very near. Turn right.” Mom panics for one second. She turns right. Ahead, we see a sign for the Ramada Inn to our right, mysteriously hidden from the main entry to the Turnpike. We pass through a tiny road and a wall of trees. The Ramada’s parking lot opens up before us. Birds are singing. We stare at each other for a long minute, then Mom pulls up to the entry and puts the truck in park.

Neither of us believes it. We’re supposed to be lost now. The ceremony is at 6; it is 5:39. I get out of the truck with my overnight bag, a book and and my formal cigar box purse Nicole gave me for Christmas a few years ago. In the lobby, I see no one I know. Spotting the bag, the concierge asks if I have a reservation. No, not exactly, but I leave the bag with him. Just inside the Ramada’s main entrance I passed a room set up for a wedding, complete with giant plastic trees filled with Christmas lights and a tulle canopy. It is deserted. I wonder if I’ve come to the wrong hotel. The concierge says no.

For hours, I’ve been moving at Mach 2; I’ve come to a sudden stop and the noise catches up. I’m noticeable anywhere, but I’m conspicuous in the small lobby. I hate weddings. Nobody’s in charge here. I walk into the dressed up room, pick a chair three from the back and three from the aisle and sit. I can’t figure out why the people around me are acting as they are. Now I wonder what I’m doing here.

I don’t know. I don’t know what I’m doing here. For a few unpleasant minutes, I wish I weren’t.

Then the Circus Ran Away And Joined Me

More than sixty years ago, political disagreements in Honduras often ended at the cemetary. One day, the famous Dr. Gonzalez was playing cards in a hotel and there was a political discussion where the debate included eight bullets. Dr. Gonzalez did not win the argument. His widow, the improbable-in-the-1920s other Dr. Gonzalez, died of a broken heart. Two little girls – princesses, really – were sent into exile in convent school in Guatemala City. Through a series of almost inexplicably weird investment failures, murders and untimely deaths during the passage of those sixty-plus years, we join our princesses in formalwear at the equally inexplicable wedding of Paulie Gonzalez’s sister Nicole to Jimmy, whose mother is from the Phillipines. And though no one speaks Spanish but the abuelas, all hell breaks loose every time someone says, “Tia! Tia!”

On Thursday, Paulie was working late when his cell phone rang.

Nicole: Are you here?
Paulie: Where?
Nicole: The rehearsal. You’re supposed to be here at the rehearsal!
Paulie: I forgot! I’m sorry!
Nicole: What’s that noise in the background? You’re in a bar, aren’t you?
Paulie: It’s a going-away party! For work!
Nicole: I’m gonna tell!

Ooooh! He’s gonna get it!

My Mechanical Nemesis has an unnerving new quirk. During the 1.2 mile drive to work last Tuesday, I shut off the radio to listen. A bell rang at a familiar interval. I knew I’d heard this sound before, but when? Why? As I parked my car, it dawned on me: that’s the car-on-door-open-seatbelt-off noise, for no reason I could determine. It happened again the next morning, and the next. In a fit of startling stupidity, I didn’t think to ask Paulie for a ride to the wedding. Nope. Yesterday, when I should have said, “I will ride with you and heckle the pre-wedding photos,” I said, “That’s okay, I’ll drive myself.” Then, when he called me every hour to report hilarious developments –

Paulie is dispatched to the rental place because Nicole is aggravated and the enormous groomsman from Pennsylvania is too gigantic for his vest. Behind the desk is an attractive young woman with impressive, undeniable cleavage. Paulie says, “I’m here to pick up a breast – VEST! I’m here to pick up a vest!”

– I didn’t come to my senses and ask if he could pick me up. too. He was so frantic by mid-afternoon he wasn’t really hearing a word I said, anyway.

Paulie: I’m trying to drive and put on my plastic shoes and talk to you.
Tata: Martini. Cigarettes. Scallops. Cravat.
Paulie: My tux has no collar!
Tata: If I get a ride down there, can you bring me back?
Paulie: What? Sure. These are the embarrassing tuxes they hide in the back and hope nobody finds.
Tata: So you’re saying Jimmy had a map. I’m excited that you think he can read.

Almost the moment he was unavailable it finally became obvious – even to me – that I didn’t have the greatest confidence My Mechanic Nemesis would complete the trip to Exit 8, so I did what any modern, mature woman would do: I called my mommy! This phone call was filled with the nervous laughter of the slighty hysterical.

Tata: I’ve called to ask an absurd question.
Mom: How absurd? Really absurd?
Tata: It’s so absurd I’m not sure I can ask it.
Mom: This is getting more and more absurd!
Tata: So I drive to work and my car starts ringing and because I’m a genius three days later I figure out the seatbelt noise has nothing to do with the seatbelt and maybe it’s the door-open noise but the door’s not open while I’m driving and I know this because even though my seatbelt is fastened I’m still not driving around dangling over the road yodelling “whooooooaaaaaaaaaa!” all the way to work every morning. Do you think I should drive on the Turnpike?
Mom: It is utterly absurd to ask me automotive advice.
Tata: Yes, but if I don’t I have to ask you to drive your car on the Turnpike.
Mom: What does Paulie say about this absurdity?
Tata: He’s discovered that his absurd tux has no collar so he’s not really listening when I talk.
Mom: I’ll skip the post office, the chiropractor, the hardware store and bump my dinner plans. Can you drive as far as my house?
Tata: I can. And when I get there I’ll be chanting, “Third Floor! Ladies’ lingerie!”

Heads, We’re Dancing

Today is the birthday of the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm). I leave voicemail at work.

Tata: This is your delightful ex-wife speaking. Happy Birthday, dearest! I hope you’re out doing something super-fab! Call me when you get a chance!

My co-workers have stopped shuffling papers – or for that matter, breathing. They’ve become accustomed to what happens when I leave messages.

Tata: This is Tina from Acme Organic Produce and Sex Shop. Your 12-volt seedless cuke’s in and it’s a whopper! Your balance is $57.99! Our awesome drive-thru’s open ’til 10!
Co-Worker: [muffled] What are you doing?
Tata: Oops! Don’t forget to ask for your Acme Organic Produce and Sex Shop Frequent Shopper bonus gift!

I sit in the middle of my office, where I can hear everyone and everyone hears me. The office is shaped like a lightning bolt so sometimes others play with their phones too, as when co-workers at opposite ends of the room intercom one another.

Man 1: Oh, Mr. X…?

Everyone giggles.

Man 2: Yes, Mr. Y?

Student workers look around to see if they’re not supposed to laugh.

Man 1: Are you available for consultation?

I stop typing and hold my breath.

Man 2: Please leave a message after the…damn it…

You may have noticed – if I may be so bold – this week I’ve been rushed and written about as well as if I’d been dangling upside down behind my stove the whole time. I’m still living with piles of boxes, but my new life has begun. Hooray! Still, I feel as if I’ve become very rigid and yesterday couldn’t make myself attend a meeting at work. It was in Camden. I know! I forgave myself that one almost before I got steamed about it! Well, it’s time to try something I wouldn’t do, something I wouldn’t even consider. When Paulie Gonzalez called me up and invited me to act as a human shield at his sister’s wedding, I of course said yes.

As you know, I hate weddings, hate wedding halls, hate rented clothing, hate plastic shoes, hate bridesmaid dresses, hate brides, hate gift registries, hate mass-produced and flavorless cakes. I hate barked orders, hate Lee Press On Manicures, hate matchy-matchy monogrammed napkins and God help the feckless maitre d’ who offers me a Jordan almond! I hate weddings. I hate the Electric Slide. I hate all the waiting around. I hate slicing stations and rubbery mini-quiches. I can’t wait to stuff myself into the most uncomfortable semi-formal outfit I can find and suck down gallons of gin and tonic!

Let’s dance!

Dry, Dry, Dry

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is not shy about expressing his desires. They are fairly simple. He is quite impatient when I seem distracted from my purpose in life: meeting demands he issues in a variety of cartoon voices. First thing every morning, his enthusiasm is positively Le Peu.

Larry: At last, we are together! You are awake, and I shall woo you! Come with me to the Casbah.
Tata: How about the food bowl?
Larry: You see? It is as if we are one!

Ten minutes later, it’s a different story.

Larry: Morning, Sam.
Tata: Morning, Ralph.

At this point, I’m warming up on my yoga mat. It’s dark out and I don’t turn on any lights. I might wake up and realize I’m exercising and we can’t have that. No, I have to work out before I can talk me out of it so I have to be half-asleep. Sometimes this means I suddenly stop balancing and dozing to fend off an irate pussycat yelping like baby Stewie from Family Guy.

Larry: Vexing trollop! You have two hands and neither is petting me!
Tata: If I don’t fight impending menopause you’re going to end up a Barbie rug!
Larry: Perhaps my laser rifle will convince you to obey me. Blast! No opposable thumb. Prepare to feel my wrath!
Tata: You bit me!
Larry: I bit you yesterday, too. Did you learn?
Tata: Furball! Your days are numbered!

While I’m in the shower, he’s Dudley Dooright. As I get dressed, he’s Sylvester. After I put my shoes on, he makes a big show of losing interest in me completely.

Tata: ‘Bye, Larry.
Larry: ‘Bye…whoever you are.

Over a week ago, I dropped my lone potholder behind the stove. It took a few days to realize that if I leaned over the back and hooked the loop on my umbrella handle the potholder could be washed and hung up again. So I did. I didn’t feel especially smart but I did feel less stupid. In the meantime, Georg mailed two giant potholders she sewed herself. I opened the package and skipped around the new apartment.


The packages say not to eat them so I don’t. With Georg, you never know. Georg’s talents extend far beyond those of most mortals. During any visit to her house, I will find at least five things she does effortlessly that I couldn’t master after a lengthy apprenticeship.

Tata: Whatcha doin’?
Georg: Making croquembuche in the shape of Frank Zappa.
Tata: I hope that’s a pastry bag, young lady!
Georg: Later, I’ll spin straw into gold for the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union.
Tata: Does that…come with dental?

Larry has been limping since the rain started. Georg’s gimpy cat has a heating pad. Taking my cue, I moved a cat pillow over to the radiator last night and Larry adopted it right away. Maybe he’ll be more Pepe and less of a pill.

Oh God! Maybe I AM A Genius!

In the Morning News, Matthew Baldwin rounds up Amazon reader reviews of Time magazine’s One Hundred best novels. Amusingly, our fellow readers are not – shall we say – afflicted with smarts. This is serious literature! Stop laughing!

To Kill a Mockingbird (1960)

Author: Harper Lee

“I don’t see why this book is so fabulous. I would give it a zero. I find no point in writing a book about segregation, there’s no way of making it into an enjoyable book. And yes I am totally against segregation.”

I almost swallowed my tongue!

The Unlightable Being of Bearness

I’ve heated milk to boiling, removed it from its pan to a pyrex measuring bowl. The probe-end of the probe thermometer sits in the hot milk I stir almost constantly with a wooden spoon. Dad left me a yogurt maker and a set of extra cups. Last week, I replaced lunch and daytime gnawing with two cups of yogurt per day. A little extra calcium won’t hurt, will it?

The temperature and light changes affect my mood, which is to say that in the days when I get to work before sun up I keep trying to hibernate. I’d like to pay rent until April and sleep until the sun peeps in. Maybe once a day I could get up, feed my cat, scratch and nibble a few berries. All spring and summer, I’d have to Nair a whole bunch more but it’d be well worth it.

No, really. I’m pretty sure I’d like to nap through winter. Since I can’t have that, and I have to eat, I’m stirring hot milk until it cools to 118 degrees. This takes a whole lot longer than recklessly heating milk while washing the dishes. I’m stirring in the living room, while watching Sherlock Holmes Mysteries on Biography and discussing with Siobhan the life-changing prospect of switching to pink lipsticks.

Siobhan: I’ve got the new Benefit catalogue and they’ve got the shade for you.
Tata: I dunno. I’m afraid of looking like a nice person.
Siobhan: It’s called But, Officer!
Tata: Sold! One new life, coming up!

A year ago, Paulie moved out and a friend asked the big question: what would I do if I didn’t have to worry about money? I still have no answer to this question but i see progress. I have PIC, a new apartment, and I’m considering pink lipstick. Though I haven’t mentioned it, on Tuesday afternoons, I visit my friend’s college radio show. For half an hour or so every week, my goal is make him laugh so hard he creates radio silence. It’s spiteful! It’s fun! Our tagline is Smells Like Pine! It’s not like I’m thinking of changing day jobs, but live radio is hot, sweaty work for my flabby brain, and that’s a step in the right direction.

Once the milk cools to 118 degrees, I mix in a heaping teaspoon of yogurt with active cultures. This is not as easy as it sounds. Yogurt resists. It takes a minute or two of firm arguments with a wooden spoon to convince yogurt to quit resisting. I pour the quart of mixed milk and yogurt into five glass cups and cap them. I place the cups in the yogurt maker, which keeps the yogurt warm for ten hours. When I get up to exercise in the morning the goo should be ‘gurt, and that’s great.

Yesterday, I made more yogurt, did a load of laundry, put a few things in order, made myself a delicious dinner. Read a book. Time stretched out before me luxuriously. Never have I had so little responsibility to other people. It is a strange sensation to be able to do as I wish, so long as I get up five days a week and point my car at New Brunswick. Still, a person does not chassez ever forward without tripping over the stage hands.

Dad bought the yogurt maker in 1976, which I see from an original warranty card indicating the thing was bought – improbably – on 12.25.76. I didn’t read the manual because I’m genetically incapable of doing anything more than skimming instructions. Nonetheless, I was amused to note their assurance that using the yogurt maker will cost no more than 1 cent. One cent of 1976 money. I’m not sure I have that in my savings, not to mention that the twenty-nine-year-old appliance has twenty-nine-year-old mass-produced wiring, and the first time I used my oven in this apartment I took the battery out of the smoke detector.

I dunno. Is health food going to kill me?

The Politics of Oooh Feeling Good

This week, both Suzette and Katy posted about how meeting-hugging and personal space violators can transform one’s professional life into some gross game of Duck-Duck-Duck-Goose! and one’s wardrobe into a fingerprint test kit. Personally, I dislike being touched by anyone without receipts for flowers and jewelry but don’t mind touching other people myself, which might explain that storied multi-state dating spree. Know this: if I’m wearing lipstick, we’re gonna air-kiss, buster! And if you squeeze my ribcage, I’m going to punch you, even if you’re Grandma.

Still, it pays to be flexible and examine the stub: yesterday, I went to the salon for a haircut. Last week, I rescheduled an appointment for this week and wrote down the wrong time. When I arrive at the salon, the young woman with the appointment book is mystified.

Inez: Did you know your appointment was for 5?
Tata: Six.
Inez: Five. Rosanna left. Leona’s here. Would you like her to trim your hair?

Uh oh. This way lies the path to heartache. I’ve upset my hairdresser! If I think my hairstyle is a wreck when I walk in and she’s not there, wait until next time she is! I may look like a lawnmower backed over my head. Again. I’m desperate. Leona takes pity on me, but between the grovelling and the leaving in shame lies my nemesis: the sink.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo and my grandmother were hairdressers in the same shop. I spent dozens of my childhood Saturdays sweeping up and reading books under the old appointment desk that now sits in my bedroom. Anyway, Auntie I. would sometimes scrub my scalp and trim dead ends and I whined the whole time.

Tata: Ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow ow…
Auntie I.: I was done ten minutes ago.
Tata: I’m practicing for next time.

It is hard to convey how very little I enjoyed the experience. Compounding my current situation, the spray nozzles at the salon tickle my scalp. This has nothing to do with the nice lady on the business end of the hose: getting my hair washed in a public place is three minutes of horror, discomfort and desperate giggling.

Nobody finds this funnier than Siobhan.

Tata: I keep trying to get further away from my head.
Siobhan: Does this involve yoga?
Tata: The shampoo girls have given up diplomacy and now yank me back to the sink when I slide down the chair like the Grinch.
Siobhan: I can’t breathe! It’s like you need nitrous!
Tata: Sixty seconds of funny noises and I smell like conditioner? If they have a drug policy I’ll bring my own ReddiWhip and lurk in the bathroom like I’m smuggling cheesecake.

My haircut is not a disaster but it’s not inspired, either. My hairdresser will have her revenge – sometime. Nobody’s touching me for another six weeks. Not without receipts, anyhow.