I Heard It Through the Grapevine

Johnny’s new neighborhood has an old problem.

Drinking and driving is a huge sport here. You’re not considered racist if you mention that there are terrible alcoholism problems in the pueblos, because the white people are just as bad. Last couple of weeks we’ve been in the midst of the state’s SUPER BLITZ!!! U-DRINK, U-DRIVE, U-LOSE!!! I-25 on my way home is dotted with flashing blue and red lights, and the sheriff of Cochiti Lake is out every night rousting people on the Cochiti Highway. I call it Police Navidad.

You can get used to almost anything. I’m used to the snoring of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. Sometimes, he sounds congested but I think chasing him around with the Vick’s VapoRub might be a dealbreaker in the relationship. Maybe I’ll ask him later.

On Thursday, I did not leave my little apartment except to take out trash and recycling. Joy! I was in my house! I had In My House Joy! Tom called. He and Mom were making the rounds of their kids in Highland Park. Was I going to be at home? I thanked him for the warning, because even though my kitchen was clean, my fridge was not. If I died and my female relatives opened the refrigerator door, I’d have to resurrect myself so I could drop dead of shame.

I clean and tidy, though I’ve warned I’m cleaning and tidying and I’m therefore neither. Tom says they’ll be at my place at 3. At 3 on the button, they knock on my door. The hallway is small and a squeeze. Tom takes off his coat and looks for a clean spot. I surprise them.

Tata: I’ve got a coat closet.
Mom: You’ve got a –
Tom: Coat closet?
Tata: I do. Give me your coats.

Let’s be honest: they’re shocked. I hang up their coats. They don’t even pretend this has happened before.

There are still boxes in the living room and along a bedroom wall but Mom reminds me I promised her the Tour de Whirlpool. After I bought the washer and dryer, I called her up.

Tata: Hey! I bought a washer and dryer!
Mom: You did? That’s great!

So you wouldn’t think we’d have this conversation.

Mom: A little bird told me you bought a washer and dryer.
Tata: I’m pretty sure that was me, and I didn’t quit squawking for weeks.
Mom: Really?
Mom: That does sound familiar…

The last time Mom saw the kitchen I hadn’t applied paint to the walls. For that matter, I hadn’t applied it to the cabinets, ceilings or the street outside, either, so the orange wall, the mottled yellow surfaces, the pot rack, the baker’s rack, the washing machine, the glass balls dangling from the ceiling are a long series of surprises. Mom pronounces it “homey.” Tom ooohs and ahhhs. They’d both thought the washer would be miniscule and strain to scour a pair of jeans.

They stand in the hallway and ask what’s holding up my bookshelves.

Tata: The back has these two keyhole things, so I put two screws into the wall.
Mom: That sounds easy.
Tata: And it would be if the walls were flat. Like walls.
Mom: I recognize those bottles. And what is this rock? Are those cigarette holders?
Tata: Yep. Welcome to Ta’s House of Shiny Objects. I’ve told Anya she can come visit her merchandise and we can design a spring line – for me. You are too big for my hallway. Come look at my room.

Tom helped me tape and paint but he hasn’t seen the results. Mom asks the same question over and over.

Mom: Did you put that up?

Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Yes, I did. Dad put that up. Before they came over I emptied a giant Rubbermaid tomb for my rollerblades, helmet and pads into a cabinet in the kitchen I can’t really use. It’s up too high, narrow and inaccessible. When my grandchildren empty my apartment after my death, they’re going to open that cabinet and wonder what their little old Granny needed those for. Wait till they find the pipe wrench.

The dryer sits in my bedroom, essentially in a shrine to clean clothes. I put up black grids overhead and laid out shelves on which I can dry sweaters flat. This idea was a big victory for my tiny mind. Daria and I both reached for the phone the first time we saw a commercial for the dryer with flat drying racks and room to hang dry. Well, I created my own humble version. My sweaters are so happy.

In the living room, Mom rhapsodizes about the area rug Paulie Gonzalez brought over the day before.

Mom: Does he need another ex-girlfriend?
Tata: …Mom…
Mom: Strictly for gift-giving purposes. Paulie has excellent taste in gifts.
Tom: Speaking of gifts, why don’t you open yours?
Tata: It’s a retro red kitchen chair! In this flattened state, I didn’t suspect! Thank you!
Mom: As you can see, some assembly is required.
Tata: That’s my favorite part! I love puzzles! I mean, I’m still working out why we’re really in Iraq, but see the IKEA desk? It sat on the floor in pieces for a month, then I stared at it, stared at it, stared at it, and half an hour later, it was furniture with a TV sitting on it.
Tom: What’s that?
Tata: That? That’s the Sharper Image stepper I told you about.
Tom: It takes up very little space. How does it work?
Tata: You stand on it with both feet evenly.
Tom: Then you press down?
Tata: It’s the opposite. You lift your foot.
Mom: Can I try it?
Tata: Okay, stand evenly…now lift up your foot. Now the other. Feel that bump at the bottom? You don’t want that. The idea is to keep your feet moving upward. Where do you feel that?
Mom: My rump. Right where I want to exercise. I want a firmer rump!
Tata: This thing’s not even expensive and it’d fit in your already tight-fitting living room.
Mom: Ah!
Tom: Aha!

I’d be shocked if they didn’t leave my house and go shopping.

Isn’t It Funny I Never Get To One?

On 22 December, I’d had enough. My friend Sean Carolan who runs Altrok Radio had irritated me into action. I called his work number, which I dial about twice a week, so on that occasion, my co-workers heard me stand up so fast my ergonomically disastrous work chair flew backward and I punched a bunch of numbers on my phone. I got voicemail.

Tata: Sweetheart –

My father’s mother loved me a lot and showed her affection in small, controlled doses. You simply had to know she loved you more than life itself, and would in fact do absolutely anything for you. One time, I made a pot of pasta fasul’ and we ate about half of it before it became apparent to us both we had to get rid of it. After she went to work, I flushed the rest of it down the toilet. On her way home from her beauty shop, she ran into workmen she knew in our apartment complex. They were sweaty and working very hard at something in the basement below our two-bedroom.

Edith: Sam, how are you?
Sam: You wouldn’t believe it. It’s like someone shoved gallons of beans into the plumbing.
Edith: (Trying not to laugh) I’m sure I don’t know how that’d happen!
Sam: Anyway, don’t flush for a while. I’ll bang the pipes.

Many large family dinners included arguments. Edith would express her firm opinion once, then when anyone disagreed, she clenched her teeth and said, “Sweetheart…” I never heard anyone call anyone else “…sweetheart…” without formal cutlery. Often, Edith grabbed an empty bowl or serving tray and walked to the kitchen, where she washed this poor dish with extreme prejudice, warbling, “Ahhhh sweet mystery of life, at last I’ve found thee…” Edith called herself “the only Italian in the world who couldn’t sing.” When I call Sean, I’m hissing.

Tata: Sweetiheart, did you ever see Slapshot? If you’ve never seen Slapshot, you should definitely see it. There’s this moment where Paul Newman finally loses it. He’s had enough. He goes upstairs in the rink and slaps the organ player on the back of the head. Do you know what he says? He says, “Don’t EVER play Lady of Spain again!” Know that Oasis song in your current rotation? Don’t EVER play Lyla again!

Sean calls me back.

Sean: You hate it?
Tata: With my whole black heart. Please don’t make me kill you.
Sean: I might hate that more that you will.
Tata: I’m shallow. Do you realize prison would force me to be a brunette?

In my family, it’s a one-for-one exhange: someone is born, someone dies. My sister Dara was born the day before Edith died fourteen years ago. Eight years before that, I came home from work one night.

Edith: Your uncle called from prison.
Tata: Oh yeah? What’d he want?
Edith: He’s sharing a cell with Ellio of Ellio’s Pizza.
Tata: You’re kidding!
Edith: No. Apparently, Ellio needs a better accountant and a quarterly tax schedule.
Tata: Okay…
Edith: Your uncle said, “Ellio’s making bracciole in the hot pot. Can I eat that?” I said, “Yes, you can eat that.” So he’s happy.
Tata: He should be glad he’s bunking with someone who can cook.
Edith: I hope he’s using a fresh sauce!

A girl needs her standards.

Motel Money Murder Madness

Miss Sasha calls.

Miss Sasha: I did it, Mommy! It all worked out beautifully and I did it!
Tata: What? You sound happy. Are you under arrest?
Miss Sasha: No…
Tata: You’ve picked a second husband before you turn 23? You’re a prodigy!
Miss Sasha: Mom, I catered a wedding for a hundred people! There was hot food and a beautiful wedding cake with blue fondant and white snowflakes and everyone wanted my business card! It was a total success!
Tata: That’s fantastic! And you’re so happy!
Miss Sasha: I am! I am very, very happy!
Tata: Excellent! Let me know when I can quit my job and appear on the Food Network as your adorable and vivacious mother. Oh! And I’ll need a Mac lipstick allowance, and a trainer named Jurgen, and a plastic surgery Uranium 242 card…
Miss Sasha: Can I cater a second wedding first?
Tata: Well, okay. But throw in frequent flier miles at Harry Winston.

Last night, I picked up Siobhan and we drove out to Bridgewater to meet Trout and Lala at our favorite surreal sushi joint. Trout works for a Dutch company that gives its employees a small hunk of money to spend on food before New Year’s because a simple bonus is too complicated. We sit at a table for six. The restaurant is humming and busy and our gift bags and boxes block aisles on all four sides of our tables. Three lovely women turn up and ask us what we’d like to eat, whether they can warm our sake, open our wine bottles. We’ve brought enough wine for four people who don’t have to drive until Sunday.

Siobhan: I bet those kids are thirsty!
Trout: I bet their parents have lawyers!
Tata: Pesty!

Siobhan’s Jewish, Lala was raised Wiccan, Trout was brought up folky Catholic and Jewish. I was raised by secular humanists who loved and love shiny wrapping paper. Legally, I’m Jewish – blessed be! The packages on the floor are covered with blue, green, red, white, silver and black paper, with sparkly ribbons of another half-dozen hues. Nobody says, “Ladies, you demonstrate excessive good cheer.” Rather, they say, “Edamame? Coming right up!”

They mean it, but tonight, service is a complete failure. Our water shows up warm. Our sake is cool. Edamame could use a little salt. We intended to order handrolls, sashimi and more rolls as we thought of them but apparently the sushi chefs are overwhelmed. Twice, I get up and go look for our waitress. Our main course takes almost an hour to appear. Fortunately, we have a lot to talk about since Lala’s been away taking care of her sister, and miso soup.

Tata: Guess what! Guess what! Last night, I was just about to take a nap because I’m on vacation and people can bite me and Paulie Gonzalez called me up! He came over and brought me an ivy plant, and a jade plant and a giant rug for my peculiarly dancehall-size living room. I was so happy I made carpet angels.
Siobhan: My dad’s girlfriend – remember the Hideous Beast? – told me not to go to Nordstrom. She’d make sure Dad gave me the watch I wanted for Hanukkah. She asked me what kind it was. I said Skagen. She said, “Let me write that down.” They go to Nordstrom but she forgets the paper. They ask, “It starts with S. Where are the Swatches?” Nordstrom doesn’t sell Swatches. I get a call on my cell. It says “La Hideosa.” She says, “What was the name of that watch again?” I say it was Skagen. The next day, Dad says she’s lost the piece of paper again so I sent him the URL. That night, I found a note on the kitchen table: I BOUGHT A WATCH.
Tata: I told her to sniff it for spider venom.
Siobhan: That would be your father’s date.
Tata: If Darla wanted me dead, no one would ever suspect her. She’s brilliant, you know.
Siobhan: …whereas the Hideous Beast is truly stupid but see my watch?

It’s…a nice watch.

Lala: Emy’s feeling better. She had more surgery and the kids were upset every day. Over Christmas –

In secular society, no excuse to give gifts should be overlooked. Birthdays, Valentines’ Day, Arbor Day – no excuse! People need presents. If you don’t concern yourself with the curiously re-scheduled birth of a baby that may or may not have existed in the first place, December is still a fine time to give your friends and family members presents. Did your year suck? Concentrate on giving gifts to people who’ve been kind. Did your year completely fail to suck? Share the bounty! Other than Emy’s surgery, Lala’s year has been one of triumph. Our erstwhile teen bride completed grad school and gave her daughter an elegant wedding in one of New York City’s sumptuous botanical gardens, and her son was picked up by one of the big Formula One teams despite being too young to take his New Jersey driver license test.

Lala: – I’ve never mopped up more puke! Even my little purse dog was sick.
Tata: At least dogs usually lap up their own. What?
Trout: Remind me not to call you when I have diarrhea.
Tata: Eat white rice, drink a lot of water and forget it.
Siobhan: Straight to the solution, eh? No stop for the wallowing?
Tata: I wallow plenty. How much you want to think about the puke before you rejoice in the Pine Sol? So La was saying before I rudely interrupted –
Lala: Right. Then Terrance had his friends over and everyone watched movies, including the ex-husband. I think I put flat food on a plate for them. Either that or they really like my china.
Trout: Alan’s treatment is up, it’s down, it’s good, it’s bad. He’s sick all the time. We’re back and forth to Sloan-Kettering. I don’t have time to think twice.
Tata: One day I was over Trout’s house and I turned on the kitchen light. Nine-tenths of the stuff mountain in the kitchen was gone. At first, I thought she’d been robbed by the Salvation Army. Then I realized her cousin Cheryl must’ve taken one look and donned her rubber gloves.
Trout: Something like that, yeah.
Tata: If you called her once a month and said, “I’m lonely,” you’d be able to eat off the bathroom floor.

Finally, Lala’s got a date and the rest of us have stuff to do. We open presents one at a time. Soon, we are surrounded by shiny glass objects, shiny wooden objects, shiny metal objects, shiny fabric objects and one matte envelope of bath salts. I pile up a block and Sabatier knives, a chef’s knife and evening gloves. If ever I could dress formally for a killing spree, it’s now.

There’s also a matching sequinned bag.

Auntie Meme

Oh good grief! I’m running here and there, hither and yon, and Jazz tags me with the Meme of Fours. He knows I lack an attention span! He knows if I had an Evil Twin I’d have a spare. And yet he tags! He’ll get his! To paraphrase The Tick: I’ll bake a muffin – that will steal his car! To begin, then:

Four jobs you’ve had in your life: Waitress (don’t cross me), courier (yes, I drove the truck), medical school instructor (so hardcore), visiting artist (school administrators blow, blow, blow.) What jobs have I had that were not in my life?

Four movies you could watch over and over: Better Off Dead, The Blues Brothers, Jaws, Torch Song Trilogy. Generally speaking, I don’t watch a lot of movies – that attention span thing again. These movies I can watch any fifteen minutes of and feel like I saw a whole thing.

Four places you’ve lived: New Brunswick, NJ, Somerset, NJ, Highland Park, NJ, Hartford, CT. Yes, I have lived other places, some of which were not in New Jersey.

Four TV shows you love to watch: The Daily Show With Jon Stewart, Good Eats, Poirot/Midsomer Murders/Sherlock Holmes/Nero Wolfe/Inspector Morse Sunday afternoons/evenings on Biography, Most Haunted. Most Haunted is an hour of apparently accidental Brit hilarity. The second half of every episode:

Delicate Show Presenter: Is there any spirit person here who’d like to communicate with us?

Someone coughs, stirs dust, kicks a table leg. Everyone runs screaming! Repeat five times in thirty minutes. It’s no Father Ted, but I feel like I’m going to cough up a lung every time!

Four places you’ve been on vacation: Maui; Prince Edward Island, Canada; Quito, Ecuador; Italy.

Four websites you visit daily: I go all over the place and read as much as I can every day, but I do not read a lot of the big political sites. I tried reading a little dKos yesterday. The format gives me headaches. Atrios makes me feel like I have an aneurism. People fighting in comments make me want to stab someone, and I just can’t deal – and I don’t have to, especially if I avoid the conservatives who will make me wish I could scour out my cerebral cortex. No one gets closer to a better world that way. Also: if I stabbed strangers my loved ones would feel neglected. If I must choose:

Running Scared. Between Ron, Jazz and Georg, I learn something new every day, and if I don’t understand it, someone with an attention span explains.

Brilliant@Breakfast. How Jill maintains that white-hot fury is beyond me, but thank your favorite deity, she does!

TBogg. He says he doesn’t drink but if he did, I’d love to sip martinis and sit between him and Wolcott at the Telephone Bar in Manhattan. Just line up the drinks. The spit takes would be less embarrassing after the third round.

Bitch, Ph.D. Lately, I’m reading her daily. I think it’s because Katy Hipke’s on hiatus. There are a lot of people I pop in on daily – I mean dozens – and a lot of people I look at as source material for the radio show and the blog. Prime examples: Blanton’s and Ashton’s, the Big Brass Blog, Pam’s House Blend.

This is also why I can’t manage a blogroll: I am feeble and give my heart easily.

Four of your favorite foods: Four things? Last week, a tater tot in a bowling alley was – for a moment – my favorite thing I’d ever eaten. A steak marinated aggressively and grilled rare can make me dance in a restaurant aisle, but so can a spicy tuna roll. I’ve stood up at the table and declared my love for poached scallops, and Hollandaise might qualify as a gift from the gods. On the other hand, for sensual pleasure, what equals standing in one’s garden on an August afternoon, picking a tomato one grew oneself and taking a sun-warmed bite of firm flesh? Add a few grains of salt and the tableau turns nearly pornographic.

Four places you’d rather be: I love being in my apartment. I’m serious, I love it, love it, love it but if I must leave it : on the west coast of Maui; Venice, Italy (I would live there if I could); maybe Rome. I love Rome. There are lots of places I’d love to visit, but since I haven’t been yet, I can’t say I’d rather be there than here. Ask again in ten years!

Four albums you can’t live without: I…can’t. I can’t narrow it down to four. I couldn’t even narrow it to twenty. The more I thought about it, the more ridiculous it sounded to sacrifice A Night At the Opera to keep Nevermind the Bollocks… Are you kidding me? Hounds of Love or Live Through This? Prosolar Mechanics’ Turn On or Ramones Mania? Which of that long series of Elton John albums from the seventies my brother, sisters and I know every note of, and would never willingly live without? Talk Talk’s Laughingstock or the B-52s albums that still fill me with heart-stopping joy? Seal or Tori Amos’ Tales of a Librarian? The London stage version of Jesus Christ Superstar, The Weavers at Carnegie Hall, or Lene Lovich’s Stateless? Graceland or Rhythm of the Saints? I’m not even picking a favorite Devo, Elvis Costello, Dead Milkmen or English Beat.

These albums are old, worn, beloved. Most albums are composed of one, two or possibly three decent songs and the rest is filler, so my music collection is mix-heavy, with everything from the Singing Nun to the Scissor Sisters. I could pick about ten of those I couldn’t live without.

Hush, you! I’m no good with rules!

As for tagging: lots of bloggers are away from their virtual fiefdoms. Tagging’s a hit or miss proposition.

Sharon at Center of New Jersey Life. I want to be just like her when I grow up.

Nomad @ Mindsay, who is never less than fascinating.

MEWintle, who will be very surprised.

And for a lovely variety, a new friend of PIC: joated at Compass Points.

Golden Dreams Were Shiny Days

Heaven help us, Johnny was in the office alone on Friday!

It happens every time I put in the ABBA CD. I play it over and over and over again. For days. For weeks. I just can’t take it out of the player. It’s completely irresistible. I know it’s gay. I know it’s wrong. I know I’m the tough guy who offered whippets to the cop who busted us sucking them on the beach at night, and here I am listening to Dancing Queen to get my blood pumping on my morning drive, since there’s no Howard Stern here. But I can’t help it. I love ABBA. I mean, think of the evil genius behind a couplet like “I was sick and tired of everything, when I called you last night from Glasgow, all I do is sing then sleep then sing, wishing every show was the last show.” Like the Beatles came back to life as tacky Scandinavian chicks in glitter and platforms. While they were still alive. Well, except Paul.

Siobhan and I realized a few weeks ago neither of us owned even a single song by ABBA. And how is that? Between the two of us, we’ve re-glittered the gutters across three states. Heaven help us when CSIs inevitably discover our epithelial cells under some bloody wreck – though the scandal and glamorous mug shots would do wonders for our sterling reputations.

Is it me, or is there nothing a celebrity could do that would make me buy one of those magazines in the checkout counter? I admit I got a little interested when Tom Sizemore got in trouble stalking Heidi Fleiss after he left his wife and kids for her and she threw him over, because that’s pretty real. But Jennifer Aniston could rob a convenience store nude and I don’t think I’d buy PEOPLE to read about it. Well. Maybe look at the pictures.

Johnny, you’re positively rampaging! Can I toss this into Poor Impulse Control?

I’d be offended if you didn’t. And bear with me. I do this every christmas. I call my folks and ask for all my brothers’ addresses, because I can’t get it together to keep them up to date and in one place. And every time I want to read your blog, I find I can’t find it by searching on your name and “blog” and I have to email you and ask you for the link. I think I may have saved it the last time this happened, but I was at home, and today I’m a high-powered junior executive. Less high-powered the longer I spend here. They’ve worn me down. It’s lonely being the only one in a suit and tie and cufflinks. I have no tie on today and there’s a hole in my sock. I feel nude, but at least I’m wearing a silver bracelet made for me by a local Indian metalsmith, with a big wolf’s head in the middle and howling coyotes and other night animals around the sides. I told him how I had fallen in love with this place and what an impression it had made on me when we first came and the boys started howling along with the coyotes at night, and he did the rest. One of the agents gets all kinds of entertainment world magazines and gives me the ones with pretty girls on the cover. Very mature. I normally throw them away, but I do admit to reading an article with Val Kilmer talking a little about each of the movies he’s done. It inspired me to watch Wonderland, which was pretty good, though of course it made me crave drugs badly. My memory is so awful that [the wife] had to remind me, again, that Val Kilmer lives here in Santa Fe. Who knows, maybe in this business I’ll run into him. Him and what’s her face, Julia Roberts. How exciting that celebrities live in my town. I wonder if there are any magazines about them that I can read.

First, Johnny discovered he didn’t belong in the suburbs, then he discovered he wasn’t gay – kind of, then that he was a musician, then that being married – to a woman – could be soul-destroying, then that being divorced could turn you into a gun-toting junkie or worse. Later, he discovered that being married – to a woman – might be okay, and his keen fashion sense wasn’t sexually suspect, and he’s a fine-smelling unarmed heterosexual with his own dogpack and a slap bass – not that there’s anything wrong with that!

I think I understand now how women feel. Jack ate the beautiful pink polo shirt we got him. All he’ll wear is a tattered grimy basketball shirt-type onesie with a big number 1 on the back that’s, like all of us, lost half the glitter it came with. Boys!

Yeah, I know where the glitter went. Boys are funny. I’ll give you that. Boy, why are you playing dress up with your three-legged doggie?

Jack just begs to be dressed up like a little girl at Easter. He is secretly a drag queen. It’s not my idea. I’m sure he wants a tiny leather jacket, just like Fonzie. I know this.

It’s Christmas morning. Last night, we had the big, crazy Italian Christmas down at Auntie InExcelsisDeo’s house. Lupe had the evening free and drove down to join us. This is all a story for later. Right now, Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is sitting on my lap like a twelve pound furry behavior modification tool while I’m sort of watching Bravo: “Earth, Wind and Fire: Tribute on Ice.” I didn’t think I could be a queenier queen-in-a-woman’s body, but I have to concede this may rank right up there with dressing up one’s purse dog to match one’s Madonna A Day calendar.

Fortunately, my cat can dress himself.

Friday Cat Blogging: Thursday Night/Between Recipes Edition

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, menaces you from the new apartment’s living room floor. You are terrified! He commands it!

Daria’s funniest when she’s exhausted and depressed.

Tata: The funniest thing was when I came to visit you in Virginia and we and about a dozen of your drunkest friends went skinnydipping in the reservoir and then the police came to arrest us so we ran away but I’d lost my shoes and the reservoir was surrounded by spiny vines so one of your drunkest friends carried me down the side but he kept dropping me and falling down and the next day we asked Daddy if he would’ve bailed us out and he said, “No, I drink that water.”
Daria: No, the funniest thing was at the top of the hill, I asked you, “Where are your shoes?” and you said, “I lost them,” and at the bottom of the hill, I asked, “Where are your shoes?” and you said, “No, I really lost them.”
Tata: No, the funniest thing is we’re allergic to the same things, so I drove home and started itching and the next day I was covered with poison ivy and after that it got worse and became the worst case of poison ivy I’ve ever had and, like, my co-workers bought me Aveeno baths and it was the hottest summer in history and I lived in an unairconditioned house so every time I broke a sweat the rash spread. So I called you and I didn’t even say, “Hello!” because you were working in the industrial kitchen. I said, “How bad is it?”
Daria: No, the funniest thing happened about two years later, when a bunch of the same people went up to the reservoir again. There was one girl there who would say anything to anybody. So she’s hiding in some bushes with someone else and the police point flashlights at them. The police are like, “Hey! What are you doing?” so she says –

Here, Daria’s enunciation becomes consonant-heavy and specific.

Daria: – “We’re being still, and quiet, like bunnies.”
Tata: What happened? The cops give them carrots?
Daria: Nah, they said, “Get over here, crazy people, you’re under arrest.”

Step Away, Walk Away

Sandy calls me from the road.

Sandy: In an hour, I’ve gone three exits. I blame the transit strike.
Tata: Sweetie, you’re in Philadelphia. The transit strike is in New York.
Sandy: I’m stuck in sympathy traffic and I don’t think I’m going to be at your apartment in half an hour ago.
Tata: That’s okay. My batter’s rested and Grandma’s crepe pans are heated to an exact temperature that makes the palm of my hand – held three inches aloft – feel like Mama’s gonna show it to you.
Sandy: You’re out of you mind. You know that.
Tata: Yeah, but I’m making manicotti and no union-busting presidential hopeful and his never-went-without-a-meal mayor are going to stop me!
Sandy: You’re a doofus!
Tata: Am not! Am not…okay, I am…

It’s after 7, and the day has already been long. My day job starts at 7:30 a.m. I get up before six. Last week, the universe gave me a gift in the form of hunky Gilad Janklowitz. In the eighties, I used to get up early and jump up and down four times a week to Gilad’s Bodies In Motion. Last Monday, I found my morning yoga program had been replaced, and the replacement was Gilad’s new resistance training show Total Body Sculpt. I stared at the FitTV logo and murmured, “Um…I didn’t get you anything…”

When I got to the radio station, Bill was playing a song in the small studio. Last time in the small studio, we shared a mic, it was awkward, and the radio signal cut out for about nine minutes. I rearranged the chairs and the weights holding the door open. Bill pointed toward two microphones. He didn’t know which would work. We’re used to working with full and meaningful eye contact. Maybe that’s how other people do radio-give-and-take, maybe not. When the song ended, Bill mentioned the song’s name and I laughed.

Tata: Bill darling, tell them we’re in the small studio.
Bill: We’re usually facing each other but we can’t here.
Tata: So we’re going to play Radio Marco Polo.
Bill: Marco!
Tata: Polo!
Bill: Marco!
Tata: Polo!

We giggled like toddlers in footie pajamas. I do this blabbity-blabbing about forty-five minutes once a week, for brain-fun and for my friend. How professionals do this day in and day out is beyond me. When I go back to my office, my tongue is always tired and my mouth is dry. My co-workers are far too polite to mention my Tuesday carp impressions – either that, or fish mimicry has gained unexpected popularity in pop culture.

By the time Sandy calls, I’ve cracked eighteen eggs in six-egg dishes and added water, added salt to flour and mixed wet and dry ingredients. Then batter rests for half an hour. During this half hour, the cook’s mistakes in the form of little lumps of flour float to the surface. It is tempting to keep beating the lumps, but, like pigeon-toed younger brothers re-beating batters only makes them tougher. Still, I’m not opposed to tormenting my siblings, and after both crepe pans are hot enough, I magically transform from doofus into crepe making machine, and about two hours later, I’ve turned out dozens of crepes in four piles, cleaned up the dishes and tucked everything into the fridge. I am extremely pleased with myself. Miss Sasha calls.

Miss Sasha: I want to bake cakes.
Tata: I don’t suppose there are local laws against it…?
Miss Sasha: Funny! The other day, Gramma must’ve been very bored in Heaven.
Tata: What?
Miss Sasha: Suddenly, my fondant is smooth and my cakes are beautiful! Everything comes together!
Tata: Remember how I used to tell you you never know how what you study will come together? You study ice skating, piano and social sciences, and – BOOM! – one day you’re Secretary of State. I studied the Bible, gymnastics and the label on the scotch bottle, and look at my illustrious career! Stop laughing! Why can’t it make perfect sense that you should bake cakes when at four you complained if my socks clashed?
Miss Sasha: I want to bake wedding cakes.
Tata: Call Grandpa. He studied grammar and basketball with nuns.

Yes, I am beyond stupid. This morning, my hands have Crepe Cramps from gripping pan handles like I was born to it – but hadn’t in a few years. At work, I wear fingerless gloves to stave off the soreness. My department makes the mistake of demanding I attend a teleconference meeting and try talking with grownups. After an hour, everyone knows that I am struggling to remain conscious.

Tata: My horoscope said I would have trouble with words today.

This is followed by sounds of twelve people in three counties trying desperately to stifle themselves. Four fail and snort across county lines. Minutes later, an esoteric point on library vendors and databases gives me stabbing pain behind my eyes.

Tata: This conversation makes me…want to kill myself…

These breathing irregularities should be addressed by a physician. The next time I get confused and no one’s listening, I say, “Points are better communicated with sock puppets.” No one hears me. I slip off my shoe, pull my sock over my left and and squawk.

Tata’s Fist: So I sez to the guy – I sez, I sez –

My co-workers may need antibiotics. It’s an unbelievably long meeting. Half an hour later, the guy sitting next to me says something I object to. My right hand, gloved for warmth, pops up from the armrest.

Tata’s Right Hand: Bark! Bark! Bark bark bark!

My boss pretends to be upset.

Boss: Hey! Put that puppet away!
Tata’s Right Hand: (sulks) Poo!

Tonight: I make sauce.

Reach Out, Reach Out And Slap Someone

Tata: Mom, you’re too frazzled to talk to me. Go to the post office. You’re not making sense.
Mom: You obviously called for some reason.
Tata: I did. Call me when you get back.
Mom: What is it you want?
Tata: When you get back, can you please read me the recipe for the crepes in the manicotti?
Mom: Why?
Tata: What? I’m going to make manicotti.
Mom: For Christmas? You sure have a lot of free time.
Tata: What? Mom!
Mom: I don’t have time for this right now.
Tata: Bye! Good bye! I’m hanging up now!

I glare at the phone and curl my lip to hurt the feelings of a plastic appliance. If I let her, Mom will tell me for the next half hour how she doesn’t have time to talk to me. Because Mom can turn a half-hour trip to the post office into a three-day ordeal, if I ever want that recipe I’d better call Miss Sasha. And speaking of Miss Sasha, on Saturday afternoon, I told her I’d always resented the way she and Mom ordered from the L.L. Bean catalog together. When Miss Sasha has babies, they’re going to have black onesies with red anarchy logos and fishnets for pre-school, where they will be the coolest kids if it kills me.

Saturday night, Paulie Gonzalez picked me up in the giant 1968 Ranger that rattles my windows from half a mile away. I’m not kidding. The previous owner buffed all the paint off every nook and cranny so the truck is all black matte primer and sinew. It is as badass as badass trucks get. It is too badass for seat belts. The radio is mounted crooked where Paulie made it fit.

Tata: I LOVE the truck!
Paulie: Great. The gas tank’s right behind you.
Tata: Catching fire would put a serious crimp in our evening plans. Can we have a minimally crashy evening?
Paulie: Do you have change? We’re taking the Parkway.
Tata: How can you ask that? Your truck sounds like a tambourine! Nobody else has any change anywhere. Because you hate pocket change and throw it over the seat, little children stare at gumball machines with mounting despair.
Paulie: Good. It’s time they learned to steal.

It’s like there are two Paulie Gonzalezes. One jets around the world, preventing hackers from swiping money and information. The other should never be left with children whose parents do not want their darlings to learn how to properly grip a crowbar. You can’t look at him and judge which one you’re talking to. I’ve seen him change his oil wearing Bruno Maglis. We drive down to Asbury Park, which we both love, on the Parkway, which we both hate. The Parkway is for nice people. We are not nice people. When a Honda full of young women in pastels take too long to find seventy cents, Paulie beeps the horn. Because the truck is gigantic and the CD player is blasting – of all things – Randy Newman, we barely hear it. The young women in pastels spin in their seats and in horror to learn how the Queen Mary docked behind them in the exact change lanes.

Bars in New Brunswick serve a variety of odd purposes: art shows, rehearsal spaces, political hotbeds, live music, memorials and wakes often fill the drunken community centers of a town without other places for its people. Over the years, I have spent a lot of hours with the people in a couple of places in particular. At Asbury Lanes, Sharkey has engineered an excursion of people who’ve never seen one another in daylight, and some of us haven’t seen one another in ages. I am overjoyed when about twenty of us arrive just as the Supersuckers plug in their guitars. We can’t say “take the stage” because though there is one, it’s in lanes eight through eleven, and in lanes one, two and three, rockabilly freaks who look like they only take off their bowling shirts to get more tattoos are bowling. The women have black hair, bleach blond hair or red hair, so in that respect the room looks like an Italian funeral, but that’s where the resemblance ends. Tattoos. Tattoos everywhere. Everyone’s got ’em. I decide I need a new tattoo for Christmas, because according to Jewish law, it’s really tacky to get them for Hanukkah.

Everyone is decked out. Paulie and I make the mistake of trying to get a drink at the bar, where apparently nobody’s supposed to do that. We spend most of the Supersuckers set watching the bartenders serve about ten customers. One odd character stands behind the bar next to pre-poured pints of beer. She picks one up and extends her arm toward patrons who invariably shake their heads and make “What, are you kidding me?” faces. By the time we get beers and get out of the bar, the Supersuckers are closing their set with my favorite smutty, audience-participation-required anthem Born With A Tail. The bowling alley goes relatively quiet for a long while, then the Reverend Horton Heat plays for two hours.

Two. Hours.

I dance dance dance dance dance and halfway through that wish I could borrow someone else’s feet. Asbury Lanes sells buckets of tasty tater tots that are hot as lava. I wait five minutes after someone offers me a tot and still burn the roof of my mouth. I do not care, however, because the tater tot is delicious. The audience surrenders any pretext of good behavior. How people get drunk in a bar where getting a beer is a half-hour affair is beyond me, but some people are indeed tanked and stumbling. Paulie shrugs, “Two-beer drunks.” Ah! Women of all shapes, sizes and stocking styles climb up on the bowling alley tables and gyrate. In truth, these are my people, and I love this place. When the Reverend says goodnight, we feel seasick and relieved at that always strange moment between band music and house music. The brownie troop breaks up, but some of us have rooms at the Berkeley Carteret, which is just as well because it’s December and the police have taken up positions on every streetcorner in New Brunswick and Highland Park, to offer comfort to the communities and ticket people doing 26 m.p.h. on Easton and Raritan Avenues. Paulie knows this well. His truck sports a peeling red REJECTED sticker from the mobile inspection station the Highland Park Police erect because it’s Tuesday and my wife won’t blow me at a location guaranteed to tie up traffic for five towns. We stay at the Berkeley Carteret, which seems to be an odd wormhole between the guido-mob and hip hop-kid universes. The forced air is so dry I dream about the Sphinx. From my window, I watch people walk at the freezing edge of the Atlantic. With happy dogs.

Fortunately, Dad changed his mind and decided to organize Christmas Eve dinner. Everything I have to prepare will be done ahead so I can chase him around in my Oscar-nominated, familiar role: sous chef. I suppose I should mention this to Mom, who generally avoids being in the same room as her longtime ex-husband, and I probably will. If she calls me back.

Please sign the petition, because voting rights should be transparently clear.

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But Where Are My Manners?

Numbers and I are friends-of-friends. We wave when we pass on the street but it’s not like we talk on the phone all the time. Numbers and Daria are great friends. She balances the family checkbook to the penny and the chitter chatter about little stuff. I don’t get it, myself. Siobhan keeps trying to explain Poor Impulse Control’s statistics to me. I get all squinty and confused and then a pig flies by when I understand something, like that – if I understand the numbers – about two hundred visitors a day fluff their tutus here at PIC, though about seven or eight dance in the swan chorus – the comments, if we must. Don’t be so literal!

I keep baking cakes and the visitors keep coming. How about you introduce yourself? Did we date? Have we traipsed around the net together? Are we kissin’ cousins? Simply gorgeous strangers?

My bet is you’re here for an outrageous reason and I’m dying to know what it is. Quench my thirst for knowledge, you wild charmer. Who are you, and what’s on your shinysparkly mind?

Love, Rain On Me

When the American Family Association went to Ford demanding Ford quit advertising in the gay press I admit I thought Ford would cave. After the Microsoft debacle, I thought Ford would let itself be bullied. I mean, shoot. Who should be less fearful of what Intelligent Design believers boycott than scientists and engineers? Yet, Microsoft crumpled like a Dixie cup under Aunt Annie’s fanny before finding the gumption to defend itself. So I didn’t hold out much hope for Ford, and initially, they did not disappoint me. Ford caved, too.

Brilliant@Breakfast reminds us that John Aravosis and AmericaBlog are three for three this year against the bigots who want gays and lesbians to live in fear and shame, if gays and lesbians must live at all. Pam declares Ford – eventually – kicked the Donald Wildmon and AFA to the curb, and good for Ford, good for gays, and good for the rest of America. It’s about time we stopped catering to bullies and fascists.

Love is love is love. It’s not the body that matters; it’s the person in the body. Time to get over the idea that other people’s love affairs affect us in any way whatever, be it Daddy-Daddy matches or Nick and Jessica mismatches. If we have time to care about these things, we need a hobby.

How about restoring old Fords?

Please sign the petition, because voting rights should be right as rain.

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