You Better Work

Johnny reports from our New Mexico news desk:

[The wife]’s boss breeds Abyssinian cats and wins Best In Show all the time. She just had to take an eye out of one, ending his show career, and she offered it around to the girls. [Ta’s note: the cat, not the eye.] The wife took him. He is a pistol, already in charge of the house. Jack is of course trying to teach him the dragging-by-the-head game, but Giancarlo was one of a kind in that respect. Kitty’s already-name, One-Eyed Jack, won’t work because two Jacks is too many, not to mention one. All we can come up with that fits at all is Bubbahotep. Pictures follow.

I finally realized my dream of owning a blue plaid suit just like Johnny Rotten used to wear. Pictures follow.

Reading your blog makes my day even when I’m not in it. That’s the highest compliment I know how to give. Pictures follow.

A three-legged dog named Jack. A one-eyed cat named Jack. I’m worried about the neighbors and Johnny’s hot, smiling veterinarian wife.

Later, he emailed this crisp communique:


Few hepcats in real estate offices can carry off this kind of badboy panache, but Johnny can. My new fear is random incidents of zoot-suiting and concommitant swing-dance riots. You know how this works, people. Admit it: you all saw Footloose.

I seldom tell anyone what TV shows I like. There’s a good reason for this caution: not once, not twice but about a dozen or so times, when I’ve mentioned online I really like, love or find useful a television show it’s yanked off the air within a matter of minutes. Thus, the last time I mentioned – in another place, under another name – my love of A&E’s Nero Wolfe, A&E couldn’t cancel it fast enough. I wrote them a touching bon mot and thanked them for lowering the bar. Bastards! That show was really well done!

Recently, I made the mistake of mentioning here my love of Gilad Janklowitz and his shows Bodies In Motion and Total Body Sculpt. It was stupid, I know. I should have realized nothing changes, and for this indiscretion there would be consequences. What I did not realize was that my love of one TV show can now kill entire channels: this morning, where FitTV was, there was a blue screen saying as of 31 March, I could kiss Cablevision’s butt instead of re-shaping mine. Thus, you will understand why from now on, I’ll be shouting from the rooftops how much I love the racist and nauseating Cops. It is a fearsome power I wield. This makes me wonder how often God slaps her forehead – if there is a God – and says, “No, no, we talked about this. Love thy neighbor, get it?”

Sir Arnold Bax said, “You should make a point of trying every experience once, excepting incest and folk dancing.” The mainstream media should try discussing immigration like rational adults, rather than scandalized tinytown gossips. This is what a rational adult sounds like and we haven’t heard many of those in a long time so don’t be surprised that you’re surprised:

14. Please remember that the least legal and least assimilable of American immigrants were…the English. And the only people who can claim to be true “Americans” are Native Americans.

15. Most Mexicans are Native Americans.

16. Shut up about this non-issue and get back to BEING JOURNALISTS, covering the REAL issues, like the illegal war in Iraq and the lies that got us there; the record-setting trade deficit; Bush’s bankrupting of America; NSA’s illegal wiretapping of American citizens; the fact that our public schools are MORE segregated than they were before Brown vs. the Board of Education; the fact that we as a nation have now slipped to having only the 27th freest press in the world; the Plame leak and the consequences of it being that Americans are much less safe than we were before Cheney and his friends played “revenge”; the disappearance of the American middle class and unions; the sorry state of the FAA; the rapid devaluation of the American dollar on the world market thanks to idiot leaders; the dismantling of the endangered species act by our administration; the rapid and unprecedented rise of a white underclass (the fastest rise in poor whites in American history has occurred under Bush); the enormous and growing gap between rich and poor in America.

Look, I’m sorry if you’ve been manipulated into believing this is a terrible problem about to tear us apart, but it’s not. It’s bold-faced racism and xenophobia. We don’t have time, as the article points out, to turn on each other. We have real problems we need to address like grownups, like why we as a nation can be so easily separated from common sense and constructive political discourse. And good TV.

Friday Cat Blogging: the Hang of Ideology Edition

Behold the mighty hunter, for he most assuredly beholds you.

Il gato nero, seen on the zebra stripe futon savannah, subduing his quarry, a defenseless sheet of gift wrap tissue, possibly the slowest and weakest of its herd. He is wily! He is Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He will wait here while you boil and peel shrimp, as is his due. He will watch you closely unless he is comfy and desires a nap. Admire his handsomeness!

You are his. You will know it is the truth when at 4 a.m. he wishes to play. With you. And you do it.

A Hard World To Get A Break In

Dad points us to mad charmer Notes From the Geek Show:

If the someone that ruthless critique makes you want to kill is yourself then you are not a writer and never will be. You are a delicate flower… to be snipped off and worn as a buttonhole by men of cruel wit and savage passions.

One of my favorite exes, whom Siobhan refers to as “that soul-stealing bastard”, once hissed, “You eat souls for breakfast.”

“Not without hollandaise,” I growled, which may have sounded at the time a whole lot more like, “Nuh-unh, you soul-stealing bastard!”

I like Mr. Duncan’s the-truth-hurts style, his wit and surgical precision with a phrase, but that’s because in educational matters, I don’t want to waste time having my ass kissed for no good reason. Subsequent to Tuesday’s assertion that Homeland Security’s tuna hoarding plan might be flawed, I Googled other folks’ ideas.

Siobhan: What are you doing?
Tata: I’m reading up on pandemic protocols, since I raised the subject.
Siobhan: Good. You’ll be my go-to gal if outbreak hits and I don’t die in the first wave. Because, sadly, the words “bird flu” are indeed funny enough to kill me.

Besides repeats of Cops, what do I use to innoculate against killer vocabulary? I could be Googling all day.

Flu Wiki’s Personal Pandemic Preparation offers thorough advice I won’t remember ten minutes after I get bored and surf over to see what’s up at Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. Hey, I warned you I don’t have an attention span and some grownup ought to be doing this. Anyway, just for you, highlights of Flu Wiki’s fully grown advice.

1. Don’t panic.
2. Get into the habit of washing your hands 20 seconds hot water with soap or ethanol hand sanitizer; carry antiseptic wipes
3. Get into the habit of coughing/sneezing into the crook of your arm/sleeve or better yet, use tissue, not your hands; hands are a major means of spreading germs; virus lasts up to 48 hours on steel and plastic; 12 hours on cloth and paper.
4. Get a flu shot and if over 50 a pneumovax
5. Consider preparations to isolate yourself for about 3-6 months
6. Stock up on potable water and food with long shelf-life, water, medicines, basic household necessities (toilet paper, paper towels, plastic bags, tissues, plain bleach, soaps and detergents, batteries etc) masks, latex gloves, sugar, salt, multivitamins, and other staples

Don’t panic…wash…sneeze into your sleeve…get shots…isolate for 3-6 months…stock up on staples…Wait. Three to six months? Forget food, I’m buying out the Tanqueray, and after an alcohol-soaked pandemic, my next stop is rehab. I’m just saying. There’s more.

7. Accumulate vacation time
8. Make contingency arrangements with your workplace to be able to work from home if possible
9. Be prepared for essential services to be interrupted: see AlphaGeek’s 5 part series on emergency preparedness and the Red Cross’s Disaster planning booklets from the Pandemic Preparedness Guides page.

Lots of employers hang onto the so-twentieth-century concept that supervisors have to see white- and pink-collar employees for them to be working. Now would be an excellent time to re-think that age-old chestnut – while it won’t cost lives and crippling insurance payouts. It’s a thought.

10. Learn how to treat water to make it potable (or at least usable for washing) in case of interruptions of water supply link
11. If possible, start a vegetable garden and/or orchard
12. Learn basic cooking if necessary

Yes, it’s necessary. What, you think you can have pizza delivered when people are dropping dead from contagious disease?

13. Get a clothesline and clothespins or folding drying rack
14. Put together a basic set of handyman tools and learn how to use them
15. Have a mobile phone and an email address; get high-speed computer access
16. Get a passport or other photo ID and credit card if you don’t already have them; use electronic transactions preferentially
17. Save money; have cash on hand
18. Consider getting a good bicycle
19. Consider learning self-defense and acquire pepper spray and/or stun device
20. Ensure car(s) are in good working order, have good spare tires, maps, and keep car filled with fuel. Get a good fuel can for extra fuel
21. Remember that your car is a generator; all you need is a DC/AC inverter and cable (do not idle car in closed area where CO poisoning may occur)
22. Exercise regularly in order to strengthen your heart and lungs; taking care of your health now will benefit you later
23. If you smoke, stop now.

Well, that seems pushy, but they’re your lungs, and if you want them to take a hit like a flu epidemic you’re going to have to cushion the blow. Besides, if you haven’t quit before an epidemic, the thought of jogging out to the 7-Eleven for smokes and praying no one coughs on you or YOU’LL DIE might help more than patches and pills.

Now, Flu Wiki’s Personal Pandemic Preparation goes on for pages about precautions, warnings and actions to take and avoid. A lot of it sounds familiar, if tedious: living in a one-bedroom apartment, there’s no way I can plant an orchard or plop down a 50-gallon water tank. If I filled my spacious living room floor to ceiling with canned goods I would still have to worry about serious vitamin deficiencies and people trying to procure said canned goods. So. Once, Trout and I and a friend of hers found stupid-cheap airfares and went off on a four-day jaunt to Ecuador. The Quito airport is located in the perilously steep Andes Mountains, and if you think you want to watch your pilot miss a landing and take a second try you are seriously mistaken. Ecuador is in many places a lovely country. I was very tall there, which should speak volumes about poverty and malnutrition. And in the cities, wrought-iron decorative touches around the homes of the middle- and upper-class came to very effective, spear-like points, intended to injure or kill potential intruders. The implications of these passive deterrents made a strong impression on me, since I’ve been lots of places and I’ve never seen anything like that.

If there’s one thing I have great faith in it is our government’s desire to see industries of all kinds continue functioning, and impediments to business removed. Our government, more so now than at any other time, probably regards the prospect of pandemic reaching our shores as an unacceptable development in international business relations more than a humanitarian crisis. For this reason alone, I suspect avian flu will not destroy us. Someone’s got to collect the garbage – but not if all the proletarians are pushing up daisies.

On the one hand, it wouldn’t hurt to have a few good flashlights, a case of chicken soup and a closet full of toilet paper and NyQuil. On the other, if I have to kill people to survive, I’m filling that water tank with martinis and sucking them out with a giant straw. Under these circumstances, we might all be “delicate flower[s]… to be snipped off and worn as a buttonhole by men of cruel wit and savage passions,” who should nonetheless watch for everyone’s hidden thorns.

And You Shake It All About

I don’t have a life like yours – unless I do – and I don’t think like you think – unless I do – and I certainly don’t have a home or family like yours – unless I do. Anything’s possible. For instance, it could turn out we’re exactly alike. I would love to do a project in which I make baseball cards of the humans born on the same date I was, in the same county, and I would like to do this because I wonder odd things like if they’re having an astrologically dictated wild ride like mine, and if they elude capture. Stats:

Spouse(s): 1 (ex)
Children: 1 (current)
Arrests: 0
Major Illnesses: Is my insurance company listening?
Hobbies: Moving and unpacking, dating New Jersey, reading anything with punctuation.
Personal statement: “Where am I?”

And I’d like to know in a more certain sense if it is my job in this lifetime to watch what other people are doing and do something else. If ten people were born in Bergen County, NJ on 15 February, 1963 and all of them have not-found-in-nature-red hair and bejeweled slippers, that might be an interesting fact, I think. Unfortunately, that’s not really the kind of information public servants are anxious to disseminate. This is, however:

In a remarkable speech over the weekend, Secretary of Health and Human Services Michael Leavitt recommended that Americans start storing canned tuna and powdered milk under their beds as the prospect of a deadly bird flu outbreak approaches the United States.

Under your bed. Got it? The Onion’s got our back:

A Perdue spokesman said the chicken will soon resume her duties pecking at grain and being oblivious to her future as a cordon bleu sandwich.

What a relief! The chicken’s not sick and we can stock up on tuna as a precaution.

Listen, I am not a genius. Yesterday, I locked myself out of my house. I can’t grocery shop without a first grader who can add and subtract. My brother-in-law tells me how to buy automotive coolant by color. Even so, every so often I have to stand up and be the Voice of Reason. Brace yourself.

The thing we’re worried about is bird flu. Even if tunas take to eating birds, chances are pretty good buying tuna might still be possible if we have a bird flu epidemic. Maybe. In any case, if there’s preemptive purchasing and stocking up to be done, shouldn’t we stock up on perfectly healthy birds? How about a case of chicken soup? Maybe you’d prefer turkey? One of each? Frozen turkey breast? Frozen duck? For our vegetarian brethren, veggie stock and legumes? If you’re worried that soon foul, you know, will be, lay some in now, some bottled water and don’t panic. The worst thing that happens if there’s no epidemic is you have delicious chicken soup.

If the epidemic comes here, that will be another story. I hope we can all behave in a patient and sensible manner, sharing our resources with the poor. It’s hard to plan ahead for famine or plague when you can’t feed your kids today. So maybe when you stock your own pantry you put by just a little extra for people who can’t, and you drop that at a food bank near you if the avian flu empties our grocery stores.

Now, I’m returning you to your regularly scheduled enjoyment of my antics. Got your nose!

Loneliness That’s the Killer

This morning, the sun was shining so though the news from the war was bleak and painful, I skipped to my car and drove to work, where I parked, pressed the button thingy to lock up and stared at the keys in my hand. After literally kicking myself, I walked the quarter mile to my building and announced to my earliest co-workers, “Listen, ye, to this tale of my astounding genius!”

Yesterday, Scout called me up, and we’re going to call her “Scout” because “Miss Jean Louise” was a stretch for the little girl in the book, too. You should read that book, if you haven’t, and afterward see the sobering and lyrical film. To Kill A Mockingbird was assigned in sophomore English but I’d already read and loved it so every night, I read the whole book. It’s just one of those quirky things about me, and so is Scout. Though we have drifted in and out of one another’s lives for more than twenty years, I still giggle like a teenager when she talks.

Scout: Hello, may I speak to Ta?
Tata: Scout! You’ve called my house.
Scout: Well, I don’t know what’s going on over there!
Tata: If anyone else answers and sounds like he’s after your soul, that is my cat. Otherwise, you’ve dialed the wrong number.
Scout: Would you care to go outside for a fast-paced walk around the boro?
Tata: I would! Come over!

Twenty minutes later, Scout stands at my door with a bottle of wine, which I manage to open without stabbing myself. The wine breathes. I keep forgetting. Scout admires the shelves in my kitchen, the surviving planters, the tiny sprouts. We sit and talk on my terrible couch, drinking half a glass of wine before we put on our coats and march out into the streets, which however familiar is enchanted viewed by streetlight. We walk everywhere. We look at everything. We see koi in a pond and odd fountains. In the park near my house, we see a car parked and avoid it. We walk past my boss’s house, which I told her today.

Tata: I walked past your house yesterday!
Gianna: You did? What was I doing?
Tata: I don’t know! It’s not like I pressed my nose against your kitchen window.
Gianna: No?
Tata: You have dogs.
Gianna: I…do!

You’d think that wouldn’t be a surprise. Anyway, Scout and I walked all over the south side of town and looked at everything, including the shapes of houses I didn’t remember seeing before. We chattered like magpies the whole time. It was so exciting! I pointed to a bench and sat on it to quit struggling with a point. Scout is on the path and understands what I am blathering – I mean, saying. We get up and walk the last mile back to my house and our glasses of wine. I unlock the door and toss my keys where I always toss them. I hang up Scout’s coats in my coat closet, still chattering. By 9, we are all chattered out, and Scout walks home. My co-workers know Scout. It’s a small town and Scout worked with us years ago. I regale my co-workers with this account of vigorous exercise and diverting conversation. Then I tell them the punch line: when we left the house, my keys were too heavy so I unclipped the house keys and when I came in, I forgot to clip them back on. When I left for work, I’d locked myself out of the house.

My co-workers, astounded by my astounding genius, howled and wiped tears from their cheeks.

Tata: Wanna drive getaway?
John: What?
Tata: I’m going to break into my apartment and my neighbors will somehow only see my legs sticking out of my window. Count on that!
John: Can you do that?
Tata: I lived in a house once that had remarkable architectural interest. One summer, it had no front door so we climbed through a window, which was nothing compared to the year our big old duplex house had no front porch. We learned to be flexible on notions such as “window” and “door”.
John: So why do you need a getaway driver?
Tata: Just for fun. Once I get inside, I’m only leaving in cuffs. Still, it’s a status thing. Do you have a getaway driver?
John: …No…
Tata: I should make you a shopping list.

John’s needs aside – because he’s imaginary, as I’ve told all my co-workers – I also put in a call to my landlady’s answering machine and called her the name of my last landlady. Since, you know, I needed her help staying out of the boro’s one jail cell this was excellent strategy. She called back and could not restrain her mirth.

Landlady: Domenica hahahahahahahahahahahaha I’ll meet you at 3:30 and hahahahahahaha let you in hahahahahahahahahahaha it’s okay during the day but hahahahahahaha don’t do it at night, that’s a pain in the ass.
Tata: I’ll…be there.
Landlady: Hahahahahahahaha see you then.

At 3:30, she loaned me the complex’s set of my keys and I clipped my own set back onto my car keys. Outside, the air was pleasantly warm and smoke from a brushfire in Edison clouded an otherwise blue sky. The birds and squirrels chattered and scampered exuberantly. Aside from chagrin caused by my astounding genius, it was just a really nice walk to return the keys.

The House of Hope

A day is 24 hours, which can be stretched or condensed in the mind of a person but not in fact. You can get up early and stay out late, creating a 36 hour day that ends at sunrise. That is a trick of the mind. It is not real, even if you stayed awake so long you thought the giant bowling pin on Route 22 was a pink dinosaur. No. The dinosaur may appear to lick its lips and regard you as a tasty morsel, which you may well be. This is not real and you need some sleep because days are 24 hours long, and you should be asleep during at least some of them.

Yesterday, I spent four or five hours opening moving crates and boxes in my living room. A woman in Italy asked me for a piece for an anthology of Italian-American women writers. About a year ago, we discussed a piece I performed once ten or eleven years ago and never again, though I loved it. As a performance piece it was kind of prop-intensive, and the space had to be very clean, and the audience had to be mannerly. I don’t know about your career as a performance poet, but mine was full of hard-fought victories for audience respect and attention and I liked it that way. So. Somewhere in my one-bedroom apartment the cue cards I need to turn this vague memory into glorious text sit in a pile of papers belonging to a previous Me – in fact, the unbearable previous Me – and though I threw away bags and bags of unbearable baggage, I did not find the cue cards.

In other news: I wish there were a museum to donate my reams and reams of posters to but nobody gives a shit about underground art in New Brunswick. The unbearable Me could be tax deductible, and somebody else could be responsible for minding the monster. Anyway, I was exhausted when I realized the cue cards weren’t in the living room, and I rearranged the hall closet so I had an away to put things, and put them away I did, and finally I showered vigorously to slough off the weight of that old raging ego.

Horoscopically speaking, yesterday and today are the two days, possibly in my lifetime, when I should polish my shoes, comb my hair and get out to where random folks can admire me. No, really. My True Love will find me, and you could not be blamed for reading that and hearing the Impressive Clergyman from The Princess Bride locute:

The Impressive Clergyman: Mawage. Mawage is wot bwings us togeder tooday. Mawage, that bwessed awangment, that dweam wifin a dweam…
[cut to Westley, Inigo, and Fezzik]
The Impressive Clergyman: And wuv, tru wuv, will fowow you foweva…
[cut to the trio again]
The Impressive Clergyman: So tweasure your wuv.
Prince Humperdinck: Skip to the end.
The Impressive Clergyman: Have you the wing?
[cut to the trio once more]
Prince Humperdinck: Man and wife. Say man and wife.
The Impressive Clergyman: Man an’ wife.

The last thing I need is admiration. It’s like tasty crack to the psyche in recovery from a Rock Star Ego Problem. Fortunately, I was only going to the drug store to buy a bottle of wine and the security camera angles are deeply unflattering. Still, I can’t even do this simple errand without incident.

Tata: Did you see that girl who was standing in front of me in line?
Cashier: Yes.
Tata: I was at the register in the front of the store but the line was very long, so I came here to the back. Most of the way through the store she was right behind me, and I mean – like – almost touching my back.

I demonstrate proximity by touching my back and laughing. The cashier fails Context Clues 101 and becomes alarmed.

Cashier: You must’ve been frightened!
Tata: What was she, 80 pounds? She didn’t scare me, no. But then I turned the corner right there –

I point to a spot eight feet away.

Tata: – and she ducked around me and stopped here in front of me. She did not turn around and say, “Excuse me,” or, “Terribly sorry but I’m having a fresh breath and false eyelash emergency.” No, she stood with her back to me and bit her nails.
Cashier: Kids!
Tata: That reminds me: I should call mine. She could be having a false eyelash emergency and I might not even know!

Thus, I was in little danger of being needlessly admired.

My day seemed endless. I was supposed to go see a reunion of one of Ned’s bands at the bar but I just didn’t have the strength. Earlier, during a moment of must-think-about-something-other-than-myself blogsurfing, this caught my attention: on Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, Mimus Pauly pointed to Scout Prime, who thanks someone else for finding this amazing video. It is a story I had not heard before, the kind of story that will make you proud and ashamed. These two men are the kind of people we all hope we could be under pressure. Few of us are. Their courage and resourcefulness on endlessly long days, day after day, are important in a coward-filled, violent world, and should be rewarded with positions of responsibility. These men are real heroes, deserving of real admiration. If I were Ray Nagin, I’d find these men, give them jobs and pay them double.

Ah, so maybe love found me after all.

In A World Full Of People Only Some Want To Fly

Every month or so, we hear of another design-inspired appearance of Jesus in a cheese sandwich or the Virgin Mary among bridge-and-tunnel girls. Most of the time, these images look to a tiny mind like mine like a Rorschach test. Sometimes I see the figure. Sometimes, it’s PeeWee Herman. Sometimes, I get the feeling cracked plaster needs patching, sanding and a vigorous paint job. Try the Rustoleum.

I understand the desire to find God in all things. That’s the basis of Stonehenge and the Bhagavad Gita. That’s one reason for the prohibition against graven images and a fine reason to buy kids telescopes. A river carves the Grand Canyon, and if we believe in God, we see the energy and determination and patience of a great being. If we don’t believe in God, we see pretty rocks and a tourist destination – or if we’re creative: both. With each report of a manifestation of a member of Christianity’s Holy Family in building supplies, some people would like to grab the earnest faithful by the shoulders and shake some sense into them. I’m roasting a duck.

It’s Friday evening, and I’ve had a marvelous day. With a nap, the resignation of Ben Domenech and the company of a cranky pussycat, I feel content. A few days ago, I had a little extra pocket money and I ordered Seal’s first CD. It arrived yesterday. I listened to it over and over today, soaking up the little nuances, the words, the waves of emotion, the big drums. This is my favorite album, and I’ve burned through four copies of it. At the worst moments of my life, I’d put it on and dance to it, and I’ve had a lot of really bad moments. I’ve danced a lot. This is when I feel closest to God or spirit or whatever you want to call it. It’s probably dehydration.

Before I left for work this morning, I knocked over one of my planters and poured dirt on my kitchen floor. This made me more impatient than usual with myself. The planter broke. I have to replace it, and I hate the waste of money and a trip to Home Depot. Even so, in other pots, corriander and lettuce have sprouted. The other day, I installed the grow light on the ceiling to light all the pots. My kitchen is a little cramped now, but the tender shoots bring me only joy.

Despite a rigorous cleanup, the cat, recipient of my most patient care, tracks dirt everywhere. He’s stretched out on the radiator, swishing his tail in response to reproaches and affectionate murmurings. There he is, a cat with feline leukemia, a symbol of my commitment, cranky arbiter of what is and what will be. I love him madly. There he is, God.

Freedom From Choice Is What You Want

I hadn’t heard from Daria for a couple, which is a highly unusual thought on any day not called Sunday, so I rang her up.

Tata: What am I, adopted?
Daria: I was just going to call you and shout, “What am I, adopted?”
Tata: What are you doing?
Daria: I have lost my mind! You know the benefit dinner/dance is this weekend, right?

Though we are as exactly alike as two completely different people can be, Daria has many talents I do not share, first and foremost of which is that she can organize and cater an event without any urge to poison her guests. Her older son is in first grade now, but he went to a school for pre-school and kindergarten where ordinary healthy children are intregrated into classrooms with deaf or disabled children. Daria loves this school and has organized its benefit dinners for several years, though her younger son is too little to start there.

Tata: No…what happened?
Daria: Friday, the principal was supposed to come pick up the money and he didn’t and he didn’t call. Monday, he said he was going to come pick up the money and he didn’t and he didn’t call again. Yesterday, he said he was going to come and he didn’t. Today I hadda tell with him: “Listen, Fred, four days in a row you said you were coming and didn’t and you didn’t call. Are you coming here or not?” He said something had come up. I said, “Listen, Fred, I don’t have a dog in this race. I’m doing it out of the goodness of my heart. Now get your ass out here and get the money!” And Mom asked if there was anything she could do to help so I told her to write place cards. Mom has that beautiful handwriting.
Tata: Mom has beautiful handwriting, yup…
Daria: She’s coming out here today to write them. And my girlfriend Andie is coming over to make centerpieces. We’re supposed to spraypaint them in the driveway. She’s got three-year-old twins. I think we’ll put them in the playroom.
Tata: That’s busy. I don’t know how you do it!
Daria: But listen, I haven’t told you what happened yet.
Tata: No?
Daria: You know how I have spots on every floor of the house for Fifi to play while I work in the room? Yesterday, I put her down next to the Fisher-Price Noah’s Ark. The phone rang, and I swear to you, I suddenly realized I did not know where I’d put her down. I ran from room to room, shouting her name. It was awful! I couldn’t find her! My heart was racing, I ran back upstairs and asked the boys if they’d seen the baby and they hadn’t so I threw the phone on the bed and went back to where I was when the phone rang.
Tata: And she was sitting there, asking herself if you’re responsible for her education, right?
Tata: Have you considered a leash? On you?
Daria: My skin crawls, thinking about it.
Tata: Man, I can’t wait until she can talk. “Mom! Mom! Over here. Ix-nay on the alpitating-pay.”

Now I’ve pictured an afternoon of Fifi in a high chair with Cheerios while Mom writes dozens of place cards as three three-year-olds, which may be the legal definition of a gang, turn the playroom upside-down, while Daria and Andie spraypaint centerpieces and themselves in a stiff breeze, and I thank Kali I’m twenty miles away doing my own stuff which can’t be all that productive. I’m writing and nibbling dry Grape Nuts and a sign of my brilliance: I keep dropping cereal down my bra at my desk, where I’m sure to co-workers I look like I’m engaged in a life and death struggle with my breasts and a crunchy snack.

Route 18 is under construction almost the entire length of its contact with New Brunswick, which was such a rotten idea the project was delayed 40 years. From my kitchen window on the other side of the river I can see the university boat club and the monolithic crane-like structure standing in the middle of the river. At all times of the day and night, I hear the bone-rattling crash of metal-on-metal but since 1997, I lived in three apartments between a trauma center helipad and a fire station, I can speak from personal experience: you can get used to noise you wouldn’t wish on deaf neighbors. What you can’t get used to is sudden and unexpected shifts in construction that result in unmoving traffic where an hour ago it was so quiet you could hear your own pulse.

I left my office to go to the orthodontist’s office, where I am popular and loved by all because my teeth are ticklish, I make everyone laugh and never complain about the braces, ever. My teeth are straightening out nicely, where pre-braces the pressure gave me constant headaches. Sharkey cannot resist comment.

Sharkey: How are your teeth?
Tata: It’s like the old joke:

Q: Does your face hurt you? No? Because it’s killing me!

Sharkey: Your face is killing me.
Tata: You love me. And you can’t stand it!
Sharkey: I’m totally immune to you, woman!
Tata: Sacrilege! The gods might hear you and send a plague.
Sharkey: You are a plague.
Tata: I am the Plague That Remembers Your Birthday. Here’s a gift-wrapped yo-yo.

There are two stretches of highway area natives avoid: Route 18 anywhere in New Brunswick and Route 1 between Sears and the Woodbridge Mall. Siobhan refers to it as “the permatraffic.” Even so, there’s no straight line between my job and orthodontia that does not involve Routes 1 and 18 unless one travels Route 27, which has stop lights every quarter mile through two towns. In other words, I get into my car and psychically picture which highways are going to frustrate me most. Then I go the other way. I was stupid. I picked Route 18. My fifteen minute drive turned into forty-five.

When one consults Mapquest or Google Maps, one gets driving directions and an estimated drive time. Often, Jersey directions come with a laughable estimate. Ten miles = twenty minutes. I don’t know about where you live. Where I live, if there’s a university ball game, stay out of your car. No good can come of getting mixed up in that nonsense, and on good days, if Mapquest says 20 minutes, you should at least double that. On bad days, triple it and keep adding. No errands for you! And all of this would be far more tolerable if there were mass transportation but there isn’t. You go, or don’t. Whaddya want?

I finally inched my way into the jughandle behind the empty Mac Trucks building, which will forever be called “Mac Trucks” by natives, as in:

Q: Where’d you go?
A: Pathmark by Mac Trucks. You know.

Yes, these are Jersey directions, distinguished by reports of progress and ethnic migration.

Ernie: The wife and I went to the flea market for tube socks and farmer cheese.
Bert: The Two Guys? Or out by Flemington?
Ernie: In Old Bridge, the Two Guys. The old quarry.
Bert: Swimming hole. By the dump.
Ernie: The Hungarians used to picnic out there. Good sausage.
Bert: What about the Italian guy with the ice cream truck?
Ernie: So while we were there we picked up the 1967 National Geographic to complete our collection.

I sat in that block-long jughandle, watching my appointment time pass, then ten more minutes, then I noticed things about the other drivers. The woman in the Honda behind me was planning a bloody coup. The woman driving the SUV in front was reading the newspaper. She was reading the freaking newspaper! I couldn’t do anything except punch the pre-sets left by Daria and Tyler when they gave me the car. When I finally got to the orthodontist’s office, a tech told me her twenty minute commute took two hours on Tuesday. Then I apologized for being late. Each person I apologized to said, “That’s nothing. Yesterday, Namdi’s commute took two hours!” So apparently, my tardiness was not so bad.

After ten minutes, I got back in my car.

With Me On A Magic Carpet Ride

Monday through Friday, I get up, velcro on wrist weights and exercise for half an hour with Gilad Janklowicz on FitTV. Then I peel off the weights, sit down in a bendy pose that would injure most Western adults, shuffle my tarot cards and ask two questions. Ordinarily you might think, “Am I beeeyoootiful?” and “Where’re Italian pumps on sale?” but not so fast. My two questions are, “What is my work today?” and “Who do I have to be to do it?” Then as answers, I hope for “win a million dollars” and “be a cute Belgian.”

Today, I drew the Five of Discs and Death, reversed. I’m working with the Motherpeace deck, which has round cards. Most decks have rectangular cards. All types of tarot decks work on the subconscious and what you already know, but different types have different degrees of positive and negative connotations. Some are outright wicked. I stick to the Motherpeace because it’s the only deck I have and the one I had before pretended not to know me when other people were around. So the Five of Discs means my job today is keeping my hands busy against worry, and to do it I have to be willing to let something large and serious go and go in peace. I think. Either that, or baking could be fatal. So I’m good.

Yesterday, I drew Two of Cups as my work and for being, two cards came up in my hand: Two of Swords/Temperance, both reversed. Fabulous. All three cards individually are about balance; two also are about union, two about patience. The three cards kind of overlap. I thought: great! No time like the present for upside-down-loving me.

As job #2, I go to a house, make up beds, do two loads of laundry and wash up some dishes The owners of the house are enduring a cancer incident, Essentially, they pay me for the laundry. I do the rest because they are good people, and completely helpless – for now. Someday, they’ll return to scandalizing the neighborhood and having parties where we all search for one another’s pants the next morning. In the meantime, I empty the dishwasher. Yesterday, between loads, I drove to the new Franklin Township Public Library, right next door to the old Franklin Township Public Library, where the food bank had a drop off barrel. Last time I went there the joint was closed. There was a sign about a grand opening. I decided then I didn’t want to get emotionally involved so I’d come back in a few weeks. So yesterday, I turned up and the new place was open.

As soon as I opened the trunk I knew I was in for it. Soup cans rolled everywhere. I gathered up one grocery bag and tied it securely. The second was harder. As the humans go, I’m small. I’d be large for a lemur, but for a human, I’m small and lack a fixed idea of which end is up. Dialogue from a time long past:

Ken: I see now. The reason legs are always photographed like this the long lines look longer upside-down.
Barbie: Of course. And you just like my legs up in the air.
Ken: Preferably around my neck, yes.

Even longer ago, back in the sepia-toned sixties, Mom used to look up from washing the dishes and find me walking across the top of the swingset or hanging by knees five feet off the ground. If you ask, she has no idea how many times she ran down the back steps, warbling, “Dooooomenicaaaaaaaaa, don’t moooove…!” In the library parking lot, I found my trunk was bigger than was sensible. I grabbed most of the stray cans and stuffed them into a grocery bag. Two cans of chicken noodle were just beyond the tips of my fingers. I leaned into the trunk, balancing on a point just below my hip bones and nudged one can to where I could grab it. I leaned a little further, balancing on my hips and one hand. Suddenly, I realized there’s a car in the library parking lot with little old lady legs flying around in sensible shoes. I grabbed the last soup can, tied up the second bag and marched into the library in front of an older man who looked more worried each time I burst out laughing.

Turns out the food bank doesn’t stop at the library anymore. Consequently, neither will I.