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.

Never Too Soon or Too Late

The last ten months of natural disasters around the world compound the wartime sense and recession sense that there’s nothing to do but surrender and go cook something. I don’t blame you for your fatigue. Hurricanes, earthquakes, the tsunami. Survivors of all manners of horror seem to be everywhere and needy, and here come the holidays, damn it! Let’s ratchet down the anxiety a few pegs. It’s October, and there’s plenty of time to plan.

1. Your local food bank or soup kitchen will probably accept most donations of canned or sealed products but it’s a good idea to call them and ask what they need most.

When Miss Sasha was little, we worked on a project together: we took paper bags, stapled instructions on them and asked our family and friends to keep the paper bags in their kitchens. We asked that participants purchase one canned item per shopping trip, place it in the bag and call us to collect it when the bag was full. We took the bags to the soup kitchen or the food bank after about three months. You don’t have to coordinate a big project like that. You can contact your food bank, ask what they need or want and keep a bag in your own kitchen. You won’t even notice a can of whole tomatoes or a box of cereal in your grocery bill but it makes a big difference to a kid who otherwise wouldn’t have anything to eat or a family that finds its adults suddenly unemployed.

2. Last December, CN8 did a spot on the Hampshire Family Fund I happened to see. The idea impressed me very much. You and your gigantic family take $5 apiece maybe, pick a worthy cause and put that small hunk of money where it will do some good. It can be anywhere. You can all vote on where the money goes. A good reason to do this is the work you do as a group is greater than what you can do alone, and that’s a powerful feeling. The best reason to do this is your beloved children never look at you as a selfish bastard and put you in a hellish, roach-infested dungeon of a nursing home, because they’re not selfish bastards either.

Just to be clear, my darling, I’m not asking you to donate to the Hampshire Family Fund. Please endow your own good works fund. The [your fine name here] Fund.

3. A year ago, emails circulated asking people to send hospitalized soldiers phone cards. Sometimes needs change so I called Walter Reed Medical Center to fact check. The man who patiently answered my questions had a brand new list of things hospitalized veterans need:

phone cards
body wash
anti-perspirant for men/women
medium-sized sweat pants
medium-sized sweat tops
disposable cameras
medium and large breakaway pants
portable CD players
DVD movies
watches for the visually impaired

Mail to:

Walter Reed Medical Center
6900 Georgia Avenue
Heaton Pavillion
Third Floor, Room E05
Washington, D.C. 20307-5000

Attn: American Red Cross


I’m thinking lately about what I truly need and what is extra, and what effect does the extra stuff have on me. I feel it as weight I can’t get out from under unless I throw or give away that stuff. Not everyone feels that way, for sure. I bet you can walk through your living room and find five DVDs you’ve seen and have no further interest in. Please consider putting those in an envelope. I mean, unless they sucked. In that case, do everyone a favor and toss them in the trash.

4. I love you. You know that. Please stash an extra $10 in your savings account this week for a rainy day. I hate to think of you going hungry in your old age.

When you see someone on TV talking about “giving back” do you want to ralph? That statement translates to “Since I got my Hummer I can write a $5 check to the blood bank. They take checks, right?” It’s the difference between thinking of oneself as an accumulator of objects and material wealth, and imagining oneself as part of the fabric of problems and solutions.

So. Christmas is coming. No need to panic when you have an imagination like yours and all the heart a person needs to do some good in the world.

I’ve got coupons. Does that help?

All Things, And A Little Extra

A few years ago, the able dames at McCormick’s in New Brunswick used to team up in band-form or softball team-form. They were always showing up in bar team uniforms after something. One night, I was at one of their parties out on Route 130. They asked me to play basketball with them against some guys. I’m 5’2″ and have never made a basket, so I peeled off my shirt and played defense. Yes, I was wearing a bra. Since I can’t actually play basketball, I simply assaulted the other team’s players while my teammates scored baskets. We lost by 1 point. And because I’d spent one afternoon studying tai chi, I threw a grown man over a car. Twice! So the manager asked if I wanted to play softball. I bought a lefthanded fielder’s mitt and never played. For years, I’ve looked at that thing and thought ‘Why do I still have that?’

Turns out kids in little league can use your used mitts. New Brunswick is actually kind of desperate for sports equipment. You can send or drop off your extra things:

City of New Brunswick
Department of Recreation
411 Joyce Kilmer Avenue
New Brunswick, NJ 08901
732 745-5125

If you live in an area where sports for kids are well-funded you probably do not live too far from a town where the same is not true. Your house is full of stuff you no longer need or want, or your kids outgrew eons ago. Why not move the stuff in your way to a place where it is sorely needed?

No Rest for the Wicked

The baker’s rack has arrived. Let’s rephrase: I have it! The thing is mine! Mine, mine mine! I possess it! I do what anyone would: laugh like a mad scientist and slice open the box.

I lay out the pieces of the baker’s rack that once graced my daughter’s kitchen but was re-packaged by her husband; I am confident I can stare at the puzzle and see the pattern. Oh, don’t kid yourself. I know exactly what’s going on in that toothy steel-trap you call your mind.

You: Missy! Last week, you were outwitted by a potholder. When you do yoga, your cat is so underwhelmed he bites you – every day! Over the weekend, Jehovah’s Witnesses rang the doorbell and you answered it in a pair of pants and curlers.
Tata: You are indeed a douchebag! My cat loves me! He’s got a slight catnip problem. Do 12 steps move faster on four feet?

Logic dictates – stop laughing! – a baker’s rack should have a certain symmetry left-right but not top-bottom, so I open all the freezer bags and count hardware. Some small pieces are broken. I pick them up, turn them over in my hand and can’t believe my eyes. After Dad and Darla came to help me a few weeks ago, I found on the kitchen counter four pieces just like the ones in my hand, and I waited in vain for their purpose in life to be revealed when something missing those four pieces crashed to the floor from…somewhere…but nothing did. Now I see also three screws and a giant safety pin.

You know, if I were my son-in-law, I might toss in a few extra parts and laugh all the way to the Post Office. Fortunately, Mr. Sasha left out any instructions or I might be forced to read them. I pick a shelf, decide it’s the bottom and I rest this on a box of books. Siobhan has a theory.

Siobhan: I often add, like it’s fun or something. Numbers are always the same.
Tata; No…numbers are always different. They are standoffish, like Siamese cats. They stick like ungreased gears.
Siobhan: How many fingers am I holding up?
Tata: The fish! The fish!

The baker’s rack is a puzzle with a small enough number of elegant solutions, a larger number of inelegant solutions and at least one alarming way to fail completely. This is exciting for my brain. I assemble a thing that undoubtedly bears little resemblance to the baker’s rack that used to stand in Miss Sasha’s kitchen. It’s a bit crooked, despite the careful construction. It’s also standing in my kitchen and I can see most of my kitchen floor!

None of this is very important. No like the gift that keeps on giving: explosives. No. Not like that at all.

Four afternoons a week, I watch the last few minutes of General Hospital, listen to the first few minutes of Oprah,and fall unconscious in self-defense. One afternoon, I must’ve changed the channel in my sleep because when I woke up Martha Stewart was talking to Jessica Alba. Having seen and totally loved Sin City, I know the only way these two should meet is on a press junket to small claims court. Martha is a recent parolee. Jessica is a dirty, dirty girl. I sit up straight on the couch.

On Martha’s new show, there’s freaking Jessica Alba wearing an orchid cashmere sweater in Martha Stewart’s freaking TV studio kitchen. I know that innocent smile. I know that studied distance. Jessica’s telling Martha the story I read weeks ago about a genuinely interesting incident during the making of her most recent movie. She was doing a scene and out of the corner of her eye she saw a shark. With nothing else to do and nowhere to go and the camera rolling, she stuck out a hand, pushed the shark firmly and off it went. Jessica’s smiling and says something like, “Well, you can see.”

Film rolls. Superfit Jessica is fawning, underwater-esque, on some fella pinned under a something-or-other and then there’s a shark about the same size as our ingenue and a hand goes PUSH! and –

The audience applauds. We’re back with that orchid sweater and Martha’s talking about something made with spinach. This feels fake beyond belief and WASN’T THAT A SHARK? They cook something, more or less. For the life of me I can’t hear a single thing they’re talking about.

Somehow, these two incidents are related. I contend it’s the possibility of chopped spinach.