In Love With the Words That Scream We Are So Stupid, We All Dream

Joel Spolsky:

Everybody loves Sweet Home, Alabama. It’s impossible to sing or hum (the refrain requires harmony), the melody is awkward, and the lyrics defend Alabama’s racist and segregationalist governor George Wallace, but who cares?

I care.

Go get him, Tigers. Coretta Scott King died this morning. I asked Joel if he’d like to beat the rush and spit on her grave now.

Like the Moon, And the Stars, And the Sun

This morning, my horoscope advised against humor. Apparently, no matter what I do or say, it’s not funny enough on a day when the cosmos lines up glum. There’s no accounting for taste, however. Yesterday, I accidentally stepped twice on the tail of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. It was dark, and the little black cat was also, you know, dark. This morning before the sun came up, I went to pick up my weights and stepped on cat poop. Because it was right next to my weights, where I’d be sure to find it. In the dark.

He’s a genius. I am not. After my shower, I slathered my hide with Oil of Olay and some of it ended up in my eyes. I forgot to apply makeup so my co-workers are not at all walking past me, silent and wide-eyed. Not at all. Yesterday, Dom and I went shopping for fresh vegetables and took a stroll through Home Depot, thus all my swiss chard and spackle needs were met. I feel great. I look awful. I’m thinking the funny thoughts. This should be more amusing: walking by a window I saw what looked like smoking rising from the ground and a planter. After staring at this with the same comprehension dogs have of ceiling fans, I marched over to John’s desk.

Tata: I require science help. Come with me.

He doesn’t bother to object. I’ve already turned around anyway. He follows me to the window. He sees the fumes, much to my surprise. That’s the kind of thing I’d see and when I point it out to one of the other humans, that human usually says, “I do not see what you’re talking about. Perhaps you’re tetched.”

John: Mulch is decomposing.
Tata: In January? Why does it look like smoke?
John: Maybe it’s new mulch. Those are fumes. The ground is not on fire.
Tata: If I see something on TV resembling what I see here it is footage of where a forest fire has been.
John: And yet, this will bring us geraniums.

I hate geraniums. It’s like they substitute for real flowers. In a somewhat related story because in a way we’re still talking about smoking things and dead plants, when Paulie bought his giant, paintless pickup truck it came with a potted tree in the bed. It was green the first time I saw it.

The poor thing didn’t stand a chance.

Paulie developed a habit of tossing garbage and empties through the cab window and waiting for the crash. You’d think the truck would leave a trail like it’s snowing McDonald’s wrappers, but the truck harnesses the Power of Paulie to retain trash. It’s like solar but with tattoos and designer boxer shorts.

That’s one badass gear shift.

My favorite thing about the truck is that it’s archaeologically enhanced. Paulie hates pocket change so much he tosses it all over the seat. Paulie’s plan is rid the world of the terrible scourge of pocket change by waiting for the old truck to die, then taking the rusting hulk, change and all, to the crusher – I surmise.

Somewhere an enterprising kid with a crowbar is getting an idea.

And Your City Lies In Dust

Night before last, I was doing my nearly nightly blog-to-blog thing when I landed on gttim’s Better Inhale Deeply and ran into an issue I probably should’ve noticed a week ago. Generally, I’m both up on the news and out of the loop, so I conferred with my esteemed colleague DBK, who is a grown up and doesn’t have imaginary friends. At all. DBK did not recall seeing anyone else blog this story. Then I got angry all over again and stomped my tiny foot. Gttim:

From Newsweek, an article on who should pay for healthcare for returning injured vets:
With record numbers of soldiers surviving injuries that would have killed them in earlier wars, veterans’ organizations are questioning whether the federal government is able–or is willing–to cope with the demand for health-care benefits, rehabilitation services and ongoing treatment. And if Washington can’t do it, then who should?

Who should fucking pay? Which idiot is truly asking that question?

My grandfather, my uncle, cousin, brother-in-law and son-in-law are either veterans or members of the military. I pay attention. Besides gttim, who else saw this? Where’s the full-scale outrage? Here’s a concept: if we can’t take care of our war wounded WE CAN’T MAKE ANY MORE. Yes, I’m going to get a grip now.

We’re – nationally – having a problem with stupid premises. We don’t have Newsweek’s “boy problem” – we have a stupid assumption problem. Contrary to what people seem to think, boys are not supposed to do better than girls. Our president did not tell us the truth about why we’re at war. The media is not going to protect us from ravenous corporations. The French are not our enemies. Unchecked government power does not enhance personal freedom. When veterans’ organizations wonder if Washington is WILLING to care for veterans we have an enormous problem. And we should actively prevent our kids from enlisting until that problem is fixed.

Who pays for veterans’ care should never, never come up for debate. We pay for it. Our nation pays for it. Our veterans’ administration pays for it. Figure it into the war budget, and if we can’t afford the aftercare WE CAN’T AFFORD THE WAR. Damn it, we might have to try fucking diplomacy. Use your words, kids, not your fists.

I’m not the Voice of Reason; I’m the Voice of No Reason Whatsoever. I can’t get through dinner without chasing something shiny across the dining room, but this is has my attention and it should have yours:

“I don’t think anybody in the world expected the numbers of wounded coming back [from Afghanistan and Iraq],” says Bill White, the Intrepid Fund’s president. “In Vietnam, they would have died. And it’s wonderful that they’re alive, but they’ve survived catastrophic injuries that require them to get special help to rehabilitate.”

White, bless his philanthropic heart, tiptoes around the administration’s creepy hope that vets needing medical attention drop dead in a timely manner. Nobody expected them to survive? Where’ve we heard that before?

Nobody expected the levees to break.
Nobody expected our troops to meet with insurgency.
Nobody expected bin Laden to actually do it.

This refrain is like that new Nickelback song that makes you want to stab your eardrums with knitting needles.

Anybody who’s ever asked a slumber party of ten year old boys who put the remote control in the microwave knows nobody expected it won’t cut the mustard with the cable company’s customer service department. You’re going to pay for that. The United States of America will pay for the rest of our and our veterans’ lives for the Bush administration’s inexpicable inability to foresee probable events and reasonable outcomes but that’s not the worst of it. What could be worse?

Let’s imagine January 2009.

You: Hooray! We’re free of the loathsome and larcenous Bush team! I feel better than I have in YEARS! The sun’s come out and my Congressperson’s holding hands with Bruce Springsteen and Larry David’s wife! My life has meaning again! Let’s get Thai food and sing along with the Munchkins, Ding dong, the witch is dead!”

Not so fast, my darling. No matter how the 2008 election turns out, we must be realistic about what we face. The Treasury’s empty. Our armed forces are depleted. Our natural resources are being plundered at an unprecedented rate. Peak oil is behind us and competition for what remains may mean the difference between life and death for whole nations. The housing market crashed, banks foreclosed when the noteholders on the US economy – the Chinese – collected their chips. Millions of formerly middle class Americans were thrown into the streets. The Depression now looks like a picnic when even soup kitchens close. This is a completely possible future.

Someone not named George W. Bush takes office. The bill’s on the table, and nobody reaches for a wallet because wallets are all empty. The President of the United States says, “We partied, we spent, we lived high on someone else’s hog. Now we’re broke, and we’re going to be broke until we’re paid up. Our civilization’s in ashes. We have What’s His Face and his corrupt cronies to thank for it but blame doesn’t help us now. Stick with me. We can work it out together.” That worked in 1930. In 2009, it will never fly. Our stupid premise is we’re rich and always will be, no matter how much money we don’t have. All we can do is offer that messenger a blindfold before the firing squad.

If you can see a problem coming you have a chance of avoiding it. This one’s parked in your lane, and baby, I hope there’s time to stomp that brake pedal.

Friday Cat Blogging: Watch the Birdy Edition

It’s not easy being an indoor predator on a warm afternoon. Outside to the left, squirrels shinny up and down two large trees in the wink of an eye. Off to the right, little gray birds twitch in a holly tree. Just below the open window, two bare forsythia bushes swish in a breeze. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, sits on the radiator and follows the metallic reflections off rush hour traffic on Route 18 across the river.

Still a few crates to unpack – as soon as I find places to put their contents. The drapes were Edith’s. Some photographs lie about color or shine; the drapes are a deeper, lively, metallic green. A few months back, I opened two Rubbermaid tubs and found Edith’s drapes, which she gave me about twenty years ago. In this apartment, which seemed a little cold, the heavy drapes would keep out drafts so I took them to the drycleaner. I wouldn’t have given thirty year old drapes good odds of surviving chemical treatment. I dragged the tubs into the cleaners, necessitating a conference with a whole drycleaning family.

Dad: How old?
Tata: Thirty years. Maybe more.
Mom: How many panels?
Son: One…two…three…
Tata: This one’s a different size, I think.
Second Son: Can I go to Kyle’s?
Mom: Homework?
Second Son: Done.
Dad: Hold this panel.
Second Son: Dad!
Tata: Here are two more.

Dad regards each panel with the critical eye of an artist gauging new materials. He turns his gaze to me, gauging my mettle. He stares at the drapes. I dare not breathe. I know I’m worthy, but what if he doubts?

Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: Hmm.
Tata: Hmm?
Dad: There is a risk.
Tata: I know.
Dad: Sometimes chemicals alter the color.
Tata: It’s better to know if they’re garbage now than to keep them another ten years and find out I kept them for no reason.
Dad: We’ll try.
Mom: Pick-up Saturday.
Son: Can I put these down now?

Drycleaning wasn’t cheap and I was on pins and needles until I saw five panels I could barely lift on hangers. Hanging them was no picnic, but every cent and ounce of effort was worth it. When I look at the crisp, fluid curtains, I feel as if my grandmother sent me a gift across time – a gift that thanks to a master of his craft keeps us warm and handsomely frames a preoccupied pussycat.

Too Pretty In the Daylight

Johnny’s gunning the engine.

Driving in this state is like riding in a miniature Day of the Dead parade. The highways, even my little country road, are littered with votivos, little crosses, usually white plastic, with gaily colored plastic flowers, commemorating the death in an automobile accident of this person or that person, usually Spanish-surnamed persons. Every onramp. Every offramp. Every mile. And you can’t look away, because you have to keep an eye out for dogs and coyotes and roadrunners, and animals you may die if you hit, like elk and cows. Driving as fast as I do requires a grim determination in the face of certain death, albeit someone else’s. I always found that a beer in the beverage holder helped steady my nerves. An alcohol-free beer isn’t quite the same, although it does have a certain totemic power. And I have less to worry about if I get pulled over for speeding. I hope, anyway. My worst case scenario is that a cop bags me for speeding while drinking a near beer and figures out what I’m doing, that it’s a replacement for the real beer I’ve been drinking all the times he didn’t pull me over, and makes an executive decision to punish me retroactively by blowing into the breathalyzer himself, which will probably render a pretty high reading. These are real concerns. It’s, uh, sobering.

I had to read that a few times because like most Americans born after 1949, when I read the words “coyotes and roadrunners” my brain says, “Meep! Meep!”

I mean this, thank you for putting my rants in your blog, it’s the treat of my day, I really enjoy reading them up on the screen like they’re real writing. I read in Slate or the Smoking Gun about that fool and his million pieces. Not having teevee I missed the whole controversy, but is anyone talking about the fact that the guy is a simply awful writer? This seems to have been skipped over, I assume on the assumption that you Americans wouldn’t know the difference. I’m surprised only because I’ve read some of those Oprah choices and they’re not bad, although they’re of course no Amateur Hour.* She should have known better, even though she’s black.

He’s teasing me, so don’t you go crazy. For one thing, though Johnny’s lived in Europe he’s from Boston, which has been an American city for a couple of centuries. I used to visit him. We were a two-person riot when he lived in the Fenway. He said we were the only two straight men in the whole neighborhood, which was mirth-inducing since from Johnny’s apartment I used to literally follow the trail of sausage and peppers to my car.

For another, he mentions Oprah’s complexion because it leads to a little ritual between us:

Tata: I love you! Shut up!
Johnny: For a polock, you’re only mildly stupid.
Tata: Zip it, Nancy.
Johnny: Hey dago, got any soap?
Tata: Hush, fool!
Johnny: What, are you going to call a dumb mick flatfoot?
Tata: Hear that? It’s the sound of your knuckles dragging.
Johnny: Okay, Princess.

When I first moved away from the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm), I was completely lost. Miss Sasha stayed where she was and went to the same schools, which was simply our best option. I didn’t know how to function as a single person. Many nights, I sat up with Johnny in Boston without any idea what we were doing or talking about. One night, I saw rage in his eyes.

Johnny: What’re you looking at?
Tata: I…don’t know.
Johnny: The answer is, “Nothing,” and you look away.
Tata: What do you mean? Why are you angry?
Johnny: When someone says, “What are you looking at?” the answer is “Nothing,” and you look away slowly.

This lesson, which I long resisted learning, has served me well for the most part. I had never had to fight my own battles before and I was lousy at it. It took me a long time to learn the difference between the words and what was being said. For instance, despite the thunk-on-the-noggin transparency of the above conversation, the feeling I walked away with was that Johnny was having mood swings – not that I was a little soft for real life.

At Shakespeare’s Sister, Toast posted Your Media: Objectively Pro-GOP and I agree with most of what Toast posted. Except there’s a problem with the basic assumption that the media works for the people and not corporate masters. The vast majority of journalists work for the interests of the people who pay them. Do not expect objectivity and certainly don’t assume it exists. No one should be surprised that we have a Fox News problem when we have a profit motive, Rupert Murdoch and a desire on the part of any mob to take up pitchforks and storm a castle.

It is important to watch the news – though not Fox News – and to listen carefully to what is not being said. Even more important: listen to what is moving in the background. Feel the presence and movement of money. Though I am a terrible judge of whom I should date, I have never believed a word George W. Bush said. If you can’t feel the presence and movement of money as a backdrop for everything he says you’re listening to the words.

Stop listening to his words, and stop expecting people who are paid to tell you your opinion to help you think for yourself. Toast:

I feel like the dude in They Live who puts on the specially-treated sunglasses and suddenly sees that aliens are walking among us. Creepy, malign, right-wing aliens, bereft of humanity and intent on world-wide domination. Any day now, I expect the Post to reveal their new masthead complete with the GOP elephant, the Times to disclose that it was acquired in 2001 by the American Enterprise Institute, and Chris Matthews to show up on the air doing shots of Dubya juice through which he will gargle the notes of “Hail To The Chief”.

I’d feel like Roddy Piper every day, except I hate plaid and I’m allergic to wool.

Get over your desire to have the media on your side. Unless you write the checks, you don’t own the message. And the media has every right to lie to you, distort facts and try to convince you to act against your own best interest. You have every right to dismiss reporters as charlatans, liars and idiots. Call them on their factual errors but don’t expect them to take your side, as Katie Couric’s flawed interview with Howard Dean this morning demonstrated. Separate the words from what is being said. Do not absorb the language your enemy has chosen to manipulate you.

Let’s try it again: What are you looking at?

*Johnny’s novel; in progress. I’m reading it, too.

Along the Injured Coast

Blogger warns that today there’ll be a scheduled outage at 4 p.m. PST. Because I’m sitting in New Brunswick, New Jersey and seethe with resentment half the time, I read that notice as “scheduled outrage” and wondered who took breaks in between.

After I organized his kitchen Monday while he blathered on and on about how nice someone else was, Aaron explained last night why I was wrong to put dishes near the dishwasher. I explained to him that it wasn’t my kitchen, and I didn’t care where he put the dishes but if he put the spices at the other end of a kitchen he had no intention of cooking in anyway he was going to make Paulie’s life miserable. This did not stop him from criticizing me; neither did it stop me from wishing I could call on a vengeful goddess of the hearth for some balled lightning and a fireproof jai alai basket. I didn’t even tell him to fuck off.

Maybe I’m coming down with something.

Early yesterday, Siobhan expressed shock that I was going back last night.

Tata: By the way, I left a lot out of the blog story I might throw in if I have a “Listen, old man -” conversation with him.
Siobhan: Those are the exact words I used when I told my trainer Jerry what I would have said. My hypothetical declaration began, “Listen, old man,” and went on to describe that now was the time to start having some actual consideration for someone else, already.
Tata: He didn’t bother feeding his children. It’s too late for consideration. I should poison his Maalox.
Siobhan: Now we should speak in code, to avoid potential prosecution.
Tata: Isn’t it already too late for that, too?
Siobhan: Not for your co-defendants.
Tata: The monkey has been discovered.
Siobhan: What?
Tata: I glued a rubber monkey to John’s barcode gun and the monkey has been discovered.
Siobhan: So your code is to tell the truth?

In that case: WINK WINK nothing is happening here. WINK! Everyone’s FINE. Nobody’s being harmed in the ridiculous Hollywood production that is this move. WINK! I need eyedrops. I’m taking tonight off. Aaron expects his daughter to clean the apartment in an hour tomorrow, so he says. I told him in no uncertain terms that apartment would be spotless and in good condition when the keys were handed over because my name is on the lease. He tried telling me it’s not that important.

And then I said, “Listen, old man -“

I feel so MATURE.

Jokers To the Right

I get into more trouble over the phone than any other way. When it rings, I should climb under my desk and cower.

Paulie: I need a favor.

When your ex says, “I need a favor,” maybe you change the locks. I’m all ears and nerves. Most of my exes are very good to me. Paulie often drops everything to help. If I have to say no, I’m going to feel low, so low.

Tata: What can I do for you?
Paulie: I’m at the airport. My Uncle Tony was here over the weekend, helping us move. Today, he didn’t show. Can you call the phone company and get the phone service moved?
Tata: Sure. No sweat. What else?
Paulie: I’m going to Dallas for the week. Can you make sure Dad gets everything out of the apartment?

Inwardly, my inner brat wants nothing to do with this particular unselfish unselfishness – you know, deep inside. No! No! No! Nonononononono!

Tata: I’ll call him and find out what he needs. Don’t worry about it.
Paulie: Oh, thank you.
Tata: Please, get some rest and I’ll try to get things set up so you don’t have to kill him.

WHAT is with my MOUTH? I get on the phone and my mouth talks like I’m a nice person. What the hell?

Paulie: Thank you. Thank you!

Damn it! Three phone calls later, phone service was on its way to the new house Paulie Gonzalez shares with his recently widowed father Aaron. Aaron and I didn’t meet until well after Paulie and I broke up. Paulie doesn’t say Aaron doesn’t like me; Paulie says Aaron doesn’t like anybody. When I arrive, Aaron doesn’t answer right away. I keep knocking. Finally, he lets me in. He needs my help but he doesn’t want me there. Aaron offers a tour but never gets to the here-and-now.

Aaron: Sheila was the nicest person I ever met. Her children gave her coffee mugs. Oh, we had coffee mugs. Her kids gave her mugs about how much they loved her. “World’s Greatest Grandmom” like that one. See?
Tata: Mmm.
Aaron: That rug in the hallway was her favorite. We had it everywhere. I’m not sure where to put it. Paulie and I are going to fight about what we put up for display. Everything I have was picked by a woman and Paulie hates every bit of it.
Tata: He’s a Sinatra man through and through. He likes clean lines and interesting color combinations.
Aaron: He likes the sixties styles and I’ve got a a tan corduroy sectional sofa and rose accents.
Tata: Mmm hmm!

The house is a disaster and Aaron is a roadblock in my path. The living room is large but I can already tell it’s Home Decor Dodge City. Aaron’s set up the giant screen television, intent on making the whole room into a home theater. Paulie hates TV. We turn left into a room that must’ve been added on by a homeowner who didn’t know when to stop building: there are built-in book shelves and cabinets over paneling. The effect would make Bob Villa beg for a crowbar. The bedrooms are spacious and thank your favorite deity there are three of them and two bathrooms. The kitchen is sticky. Everything about the kitchen is sticky except for cardboard boxes and packing paper, which are strewn about everywhere, in every room. One thing that cannot be overstated is that previous owners had hideous taste in – well – everything and were generous enough to leave samples. Disgusting taste. Vomitrocious taste.

Tata: Are those your window treatments?
Aaron: No.
Tata: Have them burned. Let no swatch remain. It must be as if they never existed.
Aaron: We might keep them.
Tata: For what? As a sacrifice to appease the Miami Vice gods?

He walks in circles, complaining, describing his efforts. I survey the disaster. The giant moving boxes are in my way. Boxes empty of everything but packing paper I gather in the living room. He wants to talk about crystal and formal glassware and his wife. He says the same thing over and over.

Aaron: She was the nicest person I ever met. You never met her, but she was great. She was slim and beautiful and had wonderful taste in everything.

He holds up a goblet I wouldn’t throw at a burglar, no matter what its employee discount price was.

Aaron: Did you ever see pictures of her?

I’m here to work. As much as I hate to see anyone hurt, I’m so selfish and petty I’m going to finish the job I agreed to do.

Tata: These lovely pieces, all this stemware and all that, and those over there, and this all over the counter are in the way of setting up a kitchen you can use every day. Let’s move this into the room with the shelves and put all this there for safekeeping.
Aaron: I want to display them. They’re all so beautiful. Did you ever see pictures of her?
Tata: Aaron, you can’t display them if they’re broken. Let’s move them to where they’ll be safe.
Aaron: Okay.

When he agrees, I’m home free. It takes about half an hour to move glassware, crystal and tchotchkes into the room I’m sure Paulie never sets foot in again until he sells the house. After I’ve started cleaning the kitchen, Aaron takes control of the situation.

Aaron: You do that, and I’ll open this box.

I hang up pans, put away casserole dishes, find places for teas. Every cabinet I open offers a new, sticky surprise. The shelf paper is filthy. I don’t even ask before tearing it out and scrubbing the shelves. Aaron bursts into tears and tells me he’s going to his room. This may sound like a terrible, shallow, beastly thing to say (but why stop now?): once he leaves the room, it’s like dark clouds depart and I wish he’d lose interest in helping. Two hours after I knocked on the door, I give him no-nonsense instructions and tell him I’ll call tomorrow. I know at once I’m in Nice Person trouble again.

Tata: Now, about tomorrow…

Damn it! It might not be the phone!