You Can Lose It, You Can Fall

Yesterday, I was boiling milk for yogurt, setting up the washing machine, scrubbing dishes and airing out my little throw rugs but felt like I wasn’t doing enough so I rung up Daria.

Tata: Whatcha doin’?
Daria: You called me because you thought I’d be at the wedding?
Tata: What wedding? Whose wedding?
Daria: Our cousin Browne. You remember Browne. Tall guy, same age as you, stands next to you in decades’ worth of family pictures…?
Tata: Right. Sent my regrets. Forgot all about it. Why are you at home, then?
Daria: My husband came home from Atlantic City with the stomach flu.
Tata: You’d think an insurance agent would pick out the healthy hookers.
Daria: I’ve finally stopped puking but I’ll make an exception for you. Can you hop on over?
Tata: Can’t. Gotta read up. Roe v. Wade is going to be overturned and we have to be ready.
Daria: Never happen.
Tata: What? Have you read about South Dakota?
Daria: It will never happen. Never happen.

Bless her heart, Daria is very bright, diligent, well-informed and every bit the feminist pinko I am, yet she’s married to an Ann Coulter fan. We love him dearly but the first rule of getting along with Tyler is never, ever discuss politics with him if you want to finish lunch. Or keep down lunch. Or refrain from throwing lunch at your beloved in-law. So Daria’s deeply invested in cognitive dissonance as a useful tool in day-to-day life. I get that. I don’t like it, but I get it. It is too much and too hard to imagine being the parent of three very young children in a time when one’s and one’s children’s reproductive rights are endangered, especially if a person feels there’s nothing to be done about it.

I work in a library. For years, I handed out reserve materials to undergrads. In that capacity, I met some astounding, gifted people but I also bumped into some of the most willfully stupid human beings it has ever been my nauseated displeasure to encounter.

Tata: Can I help you?
Dumbi!: My professor left something here.
Tata: Look up your professor’s name, write down what you want and I’ll be happy to find it for you.
Dumbi!: I don’t know my professor’s name.
Tata: What’s the class, then?
Dumbi!: I don’t know.
Tata: Okay, what’s the subject?
Dumbi!: I don’t know that, either.
Tata: Is your class in English?
Dumbi!: I think so.
Tata: Do you…talk about money?
Dumbi!: Sometimes.
Tata: (Retrieving a slim paperback from the stacks) Your professor wants you to read this.
Dumbi!: Thanks!

Sometimes Good and Evil look exactly alike, and may in fact be exactly the same, and if I’d never taken matters into my own hands there’s no way in Hell that idiot would’ve read The Communist Manifesto. I wasn’t trying to turn this mouthbreather into a bomb-thrower and I’m certain she failed her exam – or even to find her exam in, like, a classroom – but there was one chance, just one, to crack a window and get a breeze through that musty little mind, and I took it.

Bless him, Lance Mannion, that smart cookie, has a little problem with uncertainty about abortion, like when and who and why. Maybe not.

We know it isn’t during the first three months, which is why a sane country would allow an unrestricted right to abortion during the first trimester, but we don’t know what’s going on in the second trimester. Exactly when does the fetus start paying attention to its surroundings? When does it start to learn?

Some pro-choice people are content to think and act and argue as if it really is the very first day of the third trimester. Before that day, the fetus is a thing. A growth. And the woman who finds that thing growing inside her has every right to decide all on her own, without any interference from the thing’s male co-planter, the state, and certainly not anti-abortion zealots, to keep it and see what comes of it or have it excised, just as she is free to have a burst appendix or an impacted wisdom tooth or unsightly mole removed.

Maybe.

But besides this, the third trimester date is arbitrary. Babies outside the womb develop at different rates; so do fetuses within the womb. One fetus can become a baby a few days shy of entering its third trimester, another might need another week in. We don’t know.

On top of this it often can’t be said for sure when the third trimester begins. Some women know exactly what day they conceived. Others have to guess. A woman who think she’s in her second trimester may be a few days, even a couple of weeks, into her third. What if she has her abortion too late?

Alright, he has a problem.

But because I believe that most people advocating other restrictions are arguing in bad faith doesn’t mean that I can’t see the point in certain restrictions, including parental notification, waiting periods, and mandatory instructions on how to put an unwanted baby up for adoption and why it might be a good idea to consider.

And if the Supreme Court were to decide or Congress were to pass a law stating that except in cases where the mother’s health was at risk, abortions should be banned, or severely restricted, after the fourth month instead of the sixth, I wouldn’t be outraged.

The Court would still be guessing, Congress would be guessing, but as it is we’re all just guessing.

Lance, darling, you’re killing me. Well, not me. I can’t have children. Women who can get pregnant – you’re killing them. In fact, everyone participating in this debate, however well-intentioned, is killing women. I’m not saying this lightly. I’m completely serious, and I mean exactly what I’m saying: the time for debate about abortion was thirty years ago, and what is happening now in South Dakota and Africa is precisely the result of waffling and bad bargaining on the part of people of good faith.

Stop it. I mean it: stop debating abortion. This is democratic, free speech and lefty sacrilege, I know. I doubt this is going to make sense on the first go-round but I hope you’ll give what I’m saying a good think. You’re looking at a big picture. Take a giant step back and look at an even bigger one.

The time to say “I’m pro-choice but…” is so, so indescribably over I find it hard to discuss. Before the ink dried on Roe and Griswold v. Connecticut, their opponents were already strategizing about how to mitigate their effects and eventually overturn these decisions. Perhaps, like I was, you were young when these events took place. Perhaps you weren’t even born yet. The learning curve is steep, but you must, must, must learn the history and realize the opponents of reproductive freedom are organized, well-funded, and they have political clout. You know this, right? Then why are you acting like talking about the issue is going to change anyone’s mind? The religious right has controlled the tone and the language of the conversation for decades. You cannot change the situation without reworking the language to describe what’s happening. Nothing but experience changes opinions on abortion – though sometimes experiences that should change minds fail to let in a little fresh air.

Each time you say, “I’m pro-choice but…” you create room to be bargained out of some seemingly insignificant aspect of repro freedom that you personally won’t miss. Your opponents take advantage of this by accepting what doubts permit you to give away. Perhaps this bargaining gives you a brief respite from the constant arguing. You get tired. You say, “Well, you’re right, I’m pro-choice but I don’t want the federal government to pay for abortions…” Your opponent will help you not pay for the abortions poor women now can’t have. Then you agree this condition bothers you and that situation is troubling and thirty years pass, and you don’t even notice that your waffling and ethical considerations and general theatrics have given your opponent not just the game, but the board, the pieces, and you. This from the comments section is unbearable:

“Who in their right mind gleefully gets an abortion no matter how beneficial the procedure might be to their current situation? I doubt few people take it lightly.”

You know – I’m not sure about this. You automatically think it’s the rape victim, the incest victim – the horrible cases, that drag themselves to get an abortion – but, I bet there are plenty of women – while not going “gleefully” to the abortion clinic – they choose it because it’s there to choose…another problem out of the way.

There is no excuse for this airheaded viciousness. There is no excuse for believing your dime store tin foil conscience matters a whit when a woman 1500 miles or thirty feet away has an unplanned pregnancy and wants an abortion. It’s none of your business why unless she makes it so, and even then, it’s still not up to you to foist your judgments onto her. Having an opinion does not entitle you to fix her wagon for being sexually active, or whatever your ridiculous problem with her is. It’s not your body. When it’s your body you can waffle all you want.

You’re pro-choice. No buts. No arguments. No concessions. No cowardly “I don’t know.” Nobody knows – deal with it. If we wait until we know absolutely everything we will be sitting here not-knowing into willful ignorance, unbearable public policy and suffering on a scale you won’t believe you had a hand in creating, and by that I mean you will deny its existence rather than permit yourself to know it.

Isn’t that what you’re doing now?

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We’re Gone And We Don’t Know Where

As if on cue, a letter arrived yesterday from an academic poetry journal that published three of my pieces in 1992.

In the movie Top Secret, Val Kilmer’s character Nick Rivers arrives at a restaurant and finds a note from another character, Nick’s manager. We hear the manager’s voice read the note to us, strong and echoing. Then the manager steps into the frame, talking through a megaphone, and continues, “I’ve ordered your favorite ripple blanc…” At least, that’s how I remember it. And that’s the important thing, really.

This letter from the academic poetry journal says – well, read it yourself:

[Journal name] has been honored to publish your writing in the past. Now we are updating our web site for podcasting, so our readers can have the pleasure of actually hearing you read that work.

We would love to feature a podcast recording of you reading the poetry or fiction that you published in [journal name]. You can record your [journal initials] selection in its entirety or, if your work is long fiction, and you just want to record and excerpt, we also welcome that.

I read this letter over and over. I handed it to other people to read, just to find out if this could possibly be real. My stomach is in knots. Ladies and gentlemen, please note the delivery of an oil drum-size can o’ worms and an industrial can opener.

Boring back story:
I don’t write poetry anymore, but what I was was a Biblical Revisionary performance poet. This means my Jewish Bible has very dogeared pages and pieces of paper with little notes and dust on it from when I realized I wasn’t working anymore. This means I channeled poems out of the ether, edited and edited, memorized them, worked up very stylized choreography, and did these pieces in front of all kinds of audiences. Drunks, students, the Dodge Festival. I seldom stayed on the stage and almost always worked in the audience, in faces, touching their backs. It took years, but I ran out of Biblical characters I wanted to write into the twentieth century, and the stage fright – which was always bad – got worse. By the end of 1995, I couldn’t write poetry at all and had moved into a more prose-based form that worked differently on stage. A year later, I fell into that depression I come back to like a broken record and the comfortable understanding – this is what I am – became an uncomfortable memory – this is what I was. During the early nineties, I was also a member of Hub City Spoke Repair, a college radio comedy whatsis, where I learned to hate recording with a fiery passion. Every so often, I go down to Sean Carolan’s studio and record a thing here and there for Altrok Radio. I put in a cameo appearance on a radio show every Tuesday, and yes, that is a joke. The sound of my own voice gives me the heebie-jeebies.
End/Boring back story

The poem I would record is twelve tight pages long, with accents, screaming, a biker gang, murders, a North Jersey trucking company, and one delicate Jewish princess whose rape starts a war. I love this poem. I loved doing this poem in front of audiences but it’s physically exhausting and one little mistake can wreck the impact of a whole section. Recording this could take all day, wreck my voice, and produce nothing but garbage. The idea of recording this piece is not without its risks – one being that I feel like a one-hit wonder in a blue velour suit singing in a Holiday Inn lounge for losers. I loathe nostalgia. I’m starting to wonder if I should skip this whole exercise and simply hate myself for considering it. Another risk involves the rights to the piece. I can’t republish excerpts from my own writing without written permission, which to me feels like this journal owns me. If I – step one – record this piece I can’t publish anywhere else anyway and – step two – give it the recording, am I giving the journal all of me that’s left?

The idea of having a good sound recording of my best piece turn up on the net fourteen years after the poem was published appeals to me. It might be a good career move, if I still had an art career. Is this all vanity, then?

What would you do?

Friday Cat Blogging: Rubber Biscuit Edition

A pussycat’s job is to instruct the human in pussycat care, by which I mean that Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, occasionally kicks a superball to the middle of the living room floor and stares at me. I stare back at those luminous green eyes. One of my uncles told me the warden glared at him and said, “Green-eyed people are the most devious. I’ll be keeping my eye on you.” The cat, every muscle taut, makes a noise that indicates I am slow to catch on. I march over and kick the ball to him. He kicks it back. I kick it to him. He kicks it back. By now he is already bored. I am not the world’s best cat playmate, apparently. If he could have actual playmates I could unlock the front door without stage fright and feelings of failure.

This morning, the cat, every muscle in his tiny cat-person rippling, attempted to teach me another game. I think the object of this game was to get me to stay home with him. It’s hard to tell though because I put on my coat and left. Someone has to go out and earn the tuna.

Writing On the Wall Will Tell You

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, glances around, nervous. I gave up on trying to bribe him with fishes, treats, cold cuts, hunks of chicken, bowls of gravy, saucy cat food and went straight for a dirty. low down trick: I pounce on him while he’s sleeping and give him yucky medicine from the dropper. It hasn’t been a popular move but it has been effective. After a few more days, I’ll return to sweet-talking My Little Predator, when I feel sure he’s steadier and plotting my demise.

Sweet fancy Moses, someone left the cap off the glue at Casa Johnny:

I’ve been a Gillette man as long as I’ve been shaving. My cousin Bubba, who worked there, recommended whatever their new razor was, twenty years ago, to me. I tried it and, sure enough, it was a quantum leap forward in shaving technology. It had a futuristic name. Quantum or something. So when I saw their new five-blade battery-powered vibrating shaver at Target, I bought one immediately. I took it home and shaved with it and, sure enough, another quantum leap. It felt so smooth on my face, diaphanous, even, that I took off all my clothes and shaved myself all the way down to my feet. Even my most intimate areas, which you would think would be difficult to work with, never mind even reach, are now baby’s-bottom smooth. I feel like an anatomically correct, if not politically correct, mannequin.

Cough! Cough! Smooth! Dude, have you met my cat? He’s covered with fur.

Saved By Zero

From our Santa Fe newsdesk:

G. and C. from work came to pick me up at the drugstore after my wreck. Fortunately G. had her camera. I was so kited I couldn’t feel my head. Details follow.

I’d beg your pardon but neither of us has one. What?

Oh, right. The accident. So, the Village itself is essentially a retirement community, especially for the sheriff. Since there’s no crime, he just sits in his jeep next to the convenience store and waits for speeders, so of course everyone goes about twenty-five. I went through town and turned out onto the road, where you can speed up a little. I reached down to put my seat belt on. I guess it took a little longer than I anticipated, because I looked up and there were trees in front of me. I said to myself oh shit, great, now I crash my fucking car. It felt to me like I hit some greenery and got hung up on some bushes and the car came to a stop. I got out thinking I could push it free and get back on the road. I was surprised to find the windshield shattered and the front end stove in like a beer can. I called Mini roadside service to tow me. After a few minutes a bunch of cars started pulling over. I had crashed right at the entrance to Cochiti Pueblo, so the first responders were all Indians. I told them I was fine, but I looked a little shocky to them, so they had me sit down until the ambulance came. By then my neck hurt a little. The ambulance guys strapped me to a stretcher, wedged my head into some kind of brace, and took me to the hospital. The nurse gave me some pills, percs or something, hooked up an iv line for fluids, and they took me to x-ray. I told them I had been there about two weeks before for films of my neck, and they could compare today’s to those. They came back after a while. No new damage, they said, but man, your neck is really fucked up. They decided to send me home. The nurse pumped a needle full of dilaudid through my line. I felt the back of my neck go slack and warm, then all sensation disappeared from my head as I felt a burst of sweet familiar joy. They handed me a script for some kind of pills. I didn’t know what kind. I couldn’t focus my eyes on the script. I took a taxi to the drugstore, got my pills, ate about seven, and called work to update them. I don’t know how I must have sounded. They said sit still. A few minutes later C. and G. showed up and drove me home. I read the pill bottle again and thought it said oxycontin, so I crushed up a few pills and snorted them. I thought shit, that experience is overrated. The next day, when I could read, I discovered they were only oxycodone, generic for percocets. Good thing. I might have developed a drug problem.

No hillbilly heroin! Armani Johnny’s not buying any rope belts, so help me, Calvin.

So I’m lying in the ambulance with my head in the neck brace, able to talk only through clenched teeth, while the officer is giving me my citations, one for driver inattention and one for driving on a suspended license. I said what a minute, my license isn’t suspended. I discover a few days later that I ran a red light in January and the camera mounted above the traffic light caught me. You’re supposed to get notification in the mail that you’re bagged and tagged. I hadn’t gotten it. I paid the ticket on their automated phone line last week. So this morning I go to court with my license reinstated and ready to take my lumps in terms of fines or driver school or lashes or whatever they do. I’d looked when I got home from the hospital at the tickets, and I couldn’t focus my drug-soaked eyes very well, but I could make out MONTOYA. I got to the Montoya Building in Santa Fe this morning and couldn’t find traffic court. I looked at my citations. They said Montoya *Street* in Bernalillo. Out in Cochiti, we’re outside Santa Fe County. They lump us in with Albuquerque. I had driven half an hour into Santa Fe. I now had to drive that half hour back and an additional half hour back the other way to Bernalillo. I went a hundred the whole way and made it in about forty. I followed the signs to the Sandoval County Judicial Complex. I ran in and asked the security guard where traffic court was. He told me no, I was in the wrong building. I drove back, the way I had come, of course, to the other building and ran in there.

I burst into the courtroom just in time to catch the last few minutes in session. I said this your honor, that your honor, just like on teevee. That and my suit, though sweaty by then but worn out of respect for the court, seemed to work. She decided to let me off on the reckless driving charge. I just had to come back next week with proof that my license was reinstated, because on the DMV’s computer they have up on the podium, I’m still suspended. I was confused by all the legal rigamarole, which made me feel like I was a property at a slave auction, but I think I get out of this for about a hundred bucks. That and the hundred copay at the Emergency. And the thousand for my share of the ambulance. And the five hundred deductible for front end repairs and a new windshield on my car. And the hundred fifty for my share of the rental car. My neck still hurts, but shit, here I thought I was going to have to pay a bunch of money.

Thank Christ, you’re a bobblehead man with an inflatable sports car. Wait, what’s with your neck?

Oh, right, my neck. Yeah, the x-ray technicians who looked at me after the wreck were surprised I wasn’t paralyzed. Over the last, I don’t know, five to seven years, I’ve been rear-ended three or four times. X-rays, pills, neck braces, days in bed. It’s become routine. I once hurtled into a guy’s rear end myself, at speed, on the highway, and that was no laughing party either, I’m here to tell you, though just barely. This is much more involvement with plunging into rear ends than is moral or a wise idea. Of course that’s never stopped me before.

Nothing moral or wise ever stopped him before. He’s got me there. As for the rear ends – if you’re waiting for me to say He’s got me there, too you will keep waiting – apparently you can go just a little faster than the driver in front of you – briefly.

It sure can cost ya. Has a handsome man ever looked so Capote?

You See Your Gypsy

When I opened those boxes and crates in the living room I could only take so much before I had to quit. One of the objects that made me wish I could scour myself with a wire brush inside and out was a giant print of a photograph Damiana took of me after bar closing time one night. I’d worked that night and finally sat down to my first bottle of Bud, wrapped in a giant crimson wool jacket on a cold, cold night. Damiana had followed me downstairs into the bar’s basement with the camera, which I was avoiding. I was too tired to argue with her. She said, “I want to photograph you in your natural environment.”

“Fine,” I said. “I’ll bring a brilliant blue baby pool, hot pink Lolita glasses, my 1950s Barbie bathing suit and a tropical fruit beverage to your basement at night. We’ll fill the pool with water. We’ll dangle the uninflated swimmies over the edge of the pool and polish my toenails Hypoxia Blue. I have a perfect carnelian lipstick. We’ll use a couple of garage drop lights and leave the basement dark and threatening. It’s the image of a lifetime.”

“No,” she said. “This is your natural environment.”

I lay my head on the bar and waited for her to get bored. It was already obvious that she didn’t know me; I should have realized then the only original thing she would ever do was have unprotected sex with Morgan and get pregnant – which isn’t all that original, is it? She knew the only reason she and I were ever friends was that she’d had a fling with Morgan before she and I met, and it was over. I knew and know him well. He moved out for the third time almost ten years ago but I always know where he is. It’s a small town. She and I were friends in that she was about fifteen years younger than me, Italian and with Mommy problems; she played at being an artist but none of it mattered. It was apparent to me she was looking for someone to solve her problems and take care of her. Then one day Siobhan broke down and told me Damiana and Morgan had done something really stupid. Later there was talk of some quicky marriage that never took place. Damiana had an abortion, then suffered complications. It ended very badly for everyone. Essentially, this tore my social circle in half. For a long time, I had to be very clear with friends that if I saw her I wouldn’t be able to control my rage; we could not be in the same places. Since I never saw Morgan anyway rage wasn’t much of an issue between us. She left New Brunswick, later she came back but doesn’t work or live in town.

So here is this photograph. All the dark, blurred edges, the much-too-much booze, corrosive lies, the false friends and lost loves, the pain that is never far from mind, a small spotlight and a blind eye – these things, much as I wish these things drifted away with other lost memories, they do not. I walk by the pile of artifacts, catch a glimpse of the photograph, and wish it had all never happened. My breath catches again. These are my options then: throw away this picture and pretend I’ve forgotten or keep it and wonder if I’m glad I didn’t break every bone in her face.

I’m leaning toward keeping it as a sign that I have more control over anger than I think.

Into the Light of the Dark, Black Night

I keep staring at the blank page. It stays blank. Today, I went down to Daria’s relatively new house and helped her with laundry, setting up details in the baby’s room and weeding out clothes that no longer fit Miss Fifi but will fit Anya’s baby, Miss Sunny. These have got to be the best dressed infants I’ve ever seen. I’m not sure they wear outfits long enough to dribble on them.

Anyway, a number of things small and not very important have worn me down a little. I wish a few things were different but they’re not. It would be dumb of me to dwell. I’m going to get a glass of wine and rehabilitate my mood with ice dancing and ski jumping. How better to combat feeling a little low than with the possibility of flight?