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.
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?
Daria: I LOST MY BABY AND SHE WAS SITTING NEXT TO ME.
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.