Turn the Beat Around

Wednesday morning, my hair was unbearably frizzy and the formerly blond parts were Big Bird-yellow. Unfortunately, everywhere I go I bring my head, so I walking around my office with my head when my co-worker Emily asked if I knew Matt had been in the hospital for two weeks. I said, “I didn’t know that…huh…I gotta go use my head to make some calls.”

New Brunswick and the surrounding towns are actually one big small town. If we were all celebrities, Emily would be our Hedda Hopper. Emily knows all, remembers everything and everybody. When I think about it, the local paper should have a Batphone to her house and a signal light beaming her unusual hairstyle against the clouds, and four out of five articles should have accurate histories with the citation “according to Emily”. If it did I might even read that rag again, which I seldom read when it wrote about me weekly and not even on the Police Blotter. So it was confusing that Emily was weeks behind on events and not because I was keeping secrets.

Half an hour later, all the usual information sources compared notes. Matt works in the mail room and is a prog rock show promoter. I’ve known his wife Jan since she was in kindergarten with my brother Todd. Jan is a dedicated and skillful poet. Jan and Matt have a very young son. Our lives have intersected in many ways and places and times. Her friends are my friends and few people knew much of anything. I’d marched over to the mail room where a gentleman who used to work with my mother told me he didn’t know much of anything and I should call Mary. Mary, it turned out, was chasing Matt and Jan with the fireman’s net. It also turned out Matt had had a cut, it got infected, then the infection went to his lungs a week ago and he almost died. Matt was in Intensive Care, Jan was completely freaked and Mary was the only thing between Jan, the little boy and total disaster.

Mary explained everything to me several times and each time the story changed because so much had happened so rapidly that she simply hadn’t absorbed it all. I said, “Look, I don’t know how you’ve handled all this.” Fortunately, Mary and I see the funny in everything.

Tata: Break it down for me, Hot Mama.
Mary: Matt’s doctors are shocked he lived. I’m babysitting tomorrow night. The mailroom guys are going at lunchtime, the door guy is going after work. Matt wasn’t up to visitors but you could go see him now.
Tata: Why doesn’t anybody know anything?
Mary: Jan was so overwhelmed by how fast the situation escalated she didn’t even call the mailroom for three days. So I called and told them what I knew, which was nothing. Nobody knew anything.
Tata: So…the art chicks are in the dark, is that it?
Mary: Yup, far as I know.
Tata: Damn it!

That means a casserole. You know the rules! Tragedy strikes, but everyone’s gotta eat, so you cook something. You can’t cheat and buy a lasagna at Costco because everyone’s got dietary restrictions now and goddess forbid there’s peanut oil in anything because people drop dead. You’re not comforting anyone in anaphalactic shock, I’ll tell you that! You might as well bake cupcakes for the paramedics. So the first thing I did was email Julienne in California for advice.

Tata: She’s a vegetarian with lactose issues. He’s a little boy who eats everything. What do I make?

Nobody tell my relatives I asked a friend for a recipe because there’ll be weeping and rending of garments! Usually in questions food related I go to Dad and seldom to anyone else, but in this case I just wanted to chat with my friend, whom I assumed was sitting very still. Julienne’s so completely pregnant she could give birth answering the phone. I’m embarrassed to ask her to open her note files and take shallow breaths long enough to concoct a plan but of course I’m selfish.

Julienne: … … …

[Two pages later.]

Julienne: … … … You can do it! I’m off to the vegan sushi place! A bientot!
Tata: Thanks! What?

Julienne was gracious enough to bring her considerable knowledge to bear on my small problem and nothing else after lunch, and first thing the next morning. By Thursday afternoon, I was saying to strangers, “I’m going to make a casserole,” in a minor panic. My hair was getting taller with terror and humidity. By Thursday afternoon, I had given up any hope of conversation or frizz control. I went home, napped briefly and had scary dreams.

Miss Sasha: Guess what guess what! Mom, I am sosososososo happy! My friend and I are having the best day EVER and we got grants and rented a store front and it’s got great foot traffic and we’re opening a business.
Tata: Obviously, I’m having a terrible dream. Sweetheart, watch out for the giant squid.
Miss Sasha: Mommy! Wake up! This is real!

It was like my three-tone curly hair had become sentient and decided my face was Captain Nemo. I wrestled my hair into hairband and set up brown rice to cook with bay leaves and cloves. Brown rice takes 45 minutes if you read the directions but that’s an awful lot like reading a manual so if I hadn’t memorized that in the seventies I’d never know. I still wasn’t sure I’d be able to cook for Jan so I sliced root vegetables: carrots, turnip, parsnip. Then onions, celery and Chinese eggplant. I marinated tofu in soy sauce and garlic. Soon, the timer for the rice buzzed and I faced the moment of truth.

I cook just fine for myself. As soon as there’s a group involved I have stage fright. Something burns. Something’s undercooked. My stir-fries resemble sautes and somewhere in the vast and growing history of Poor Impulse Control is a story about how when stress and grief enter the picture, you’d rather I point a gun at you than wield a pudding. I can’t find that story now. You’re just going to have to trust me on that one. So my rice is done, my vegetables sit in careful groupings and it’s now or never. I pull down a giant frying pan, jack up the gas and pour in some olive and sesame oils. Minced garlic. Sliced carrots. Turnip. Parsnip. Give them a minute. Onion. Eggplant. Give them a minute. Fresh ginger. Tofu. Soy sauce. More garlic. When I turn off the gas, I’m a little shocked.

The rice pours into a foil tray. I pour the stir fry on top and cover it with foil. There’s nothing to do but drag the tray and some homemade pickles to the car and drive over to Jan’s and Matt’s, where Mary’s babysitting. So…I do it. Mary knows in person and alone I might ring the doorbell, perch the tray on the porch and climb back in my car. Before My fingertip leaves the doorbell, Mary’s pulled open the solid inner door and handed me the coordless phone.

Tata: What…?
Mary: That’s Matt.

I’m shocked speechless and the signal keeps cutting out.

Tata: Matt?
Matt: Hey.
Tata: How are you?
Matt: I’m lucky to be talking to you.
Tata: Are you…Matt, how are you?
Matt: I’m feeling a lot better.

If you can stand it, I have nothing to say! Nothing! This is Matt’s second brush with death in the last year. Moreover, I can barely hear Matt talk and I hate missing a syllable. I jump up and down in the kitchen to hear him better. I tell him to forget everything but healing up and hand the phone back to Mary.

In the living room, Jan’s and Matt’s son and Mary’s daughter run around shouting like healthy kids. I watch them, happy. My stage fright has not just dissipated it’s evaporated. I’m elated. I’m small and nothing here, humbled by my own fear and how unimportant it is. Mary and I do half an hour of morale-boosting team comedy before I bug out and drive home.

Today, Rosana slew the monster and dyed my hair back to fabulous black cherry red.

Drifting, Falling, Floating Weightless

Dear Americans,

How are you? Feeling well? Good, good. How’s your Mom? Up to snuff? Glad to hear it. Nice. Nice.

We have a problem.

If you know me, dated, married or lived with me, you know that I cannot add and subtract. In my adorably coiffed head, numbers are shapes and colors and covered with papier mache and filled with helium. I compensate for not being able to do this crucial thing kindergarteners can by mentally fitting together shapes, colors, forms and gases. This is what it sounds like:

…turkey cutlets are right-triangle right-triangle and I have a coupon for minus right-triangle so that’s right-triangle…kitten chow with the coupon is right-triangle, together they are square: 5 dollars…

It’s not foolproof, what with tax and store discounts and my microscopic attention span, but fool that I am, I can sometimes see how things will add up and turn out.

Pretend we’re – millions of you and tiny, old me – walking through the produce aisle with $12.77 in our pockets. We think as clearly as we can about how shapes, colors, forms and gases come together. We can do it! Asparagus is one of my favorite vegetables but it is often expensive, though a grocery store bundle is usually about a pound, which I can stretch into several meals. That’s good and thrifty – if I can afford the blue right-triangle the asparagus will cost. Artichokes may be isoceles-triangle, and I’d get two, forming right-triangle, which would be two whole meals for me. So we – millions of you and tiny, old me – carefully pick from our dark, leafy greens, knotty root vegetables, firmest fruit and berries, fragrant herbs and fit together two squares – $10 – and approach the Express Checkout with ten nourishing items or fewer to sustain us for several days, in conjunction with staples we have at home. We even have a little change to drop in the Humane Society tin at the Courtesy Counter, because in real life, we are most prosperous when we live gently and passionately, and share.

Still, I can be a doofus, and sometimes I get distracted by some new confit or fleshy scallops. No one is sensible all the time! Certainly not I. However, we need to examine our current shopping bill, and I’m going to try helping you.

1. Our troops in Iraq are stretched thin and inadequately equipped. The engagement has not gone as expected by the Pentagon, and it threatens to go on indefinitely. Many soldiers have been retained in stop-loss programs and some branches of the service have relaxed recruitment criteria.

2. Medical care is better, so greater numbers of soldiers survive more serious injuries than ever before, leading to a greater number of disabled veterans. This has become so financially draining an aspect of the Iraq war that the Veterans Administration is cutting medical benefits to the surviving veterans, including counseling for sufferers of post-traumatic stress disorder.

3. Last summer, a major American city was virtually destroyed. Thousands of Americans cannot yet return home and thousands more will never be able to. The economic consequences of the hurricane to all Americans will take decades to tabulate.

4. Engaging foreign companies of any nation whatever to safeguard our ports is financially silly and the stuff nightmares are made of. You wouldn’t give the keys to your house to a stranger; say this with me slowly, “Why am I handing over the keys to my entire country?”

5. As jobs are outsourced to foreign shores, middle-aged and older workers are losing health insurance and having a harder and harder time finding jobs to make ends meet. We are now a nation of individual debtors, one health crisis from bankruptcy we can’t declare anymore, with an aging population whose pension funds are increasingly tanking.

6. Our federal budget deficit is gigantic, and growing at a pace that should alarm each and every one of us. The war has been financed by loans from China, among other nations holding the notes. Our debt to China alone should keep us awake at night, but that’s by no means the only one.

7. We are thirty years late on getting off that oil habit.

Now, I want you to fit these shapes, colors, forms and gases together. It’s not easy, I know. When I fit them together, I see a monster floating toward us aimlessly. It’s gigantic, colorful, rock-hard and we can see it from a distance. Still, we sit here and do nothing to prevent ourselves from being crushed by it.

Now, behind this thing is an even larger thing in the distance, hard to make out because its edges blur, and the sunlight seems to have gone a little gray. This larger thing is War with Iran. The first thing we need to observe is the cost to our military, the human beings who protect our nation every day of our lives. The military cannot double in size, cannot afford to draft and equip the force it would require to conduct war in Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran. It cannot be done.

The human toll on our nation would not be recoverable. We cannot destroy an entire generation of Americans, as this war would. Well, we could destroy it, but we would have to be suicidal to do so. Who do you think would fight? Not your children? Precisely your children. They’re teens now? Perfect! Pre-teens? Even better.

What is the purpose of War in Iran? To prevent the Iranians from obtaining a fully realized nuclear program? Maybe the Pentagon should have thought of that before American soldiers marched into Baghdad and blew our war budget for the next thirty years.

The consequences of the path we are walking diplomatically and economically will lead to large-scale ruin. Looking down the list of items on our list, the first thing that must be observed is that one thing is true for persons and nations: one must take care of oneself before caring for someone else.

It is time to take a dispassionate look at the way we are handling our and our nation’s finances. We spent money like drunken sailors while we had it and kept spending long after it was gone, and now we keep spending as if it is our divine right to do so. This has got to stop. We are approaching a time of unparallelled destruction and economic depression the likes of which haven’t been seen in our lifetime, because when our economy tanks, it will take most of the world with it.

The bill is coming due very soon. The United States you know and love: kiss it goodbye. We cannot afford to engage in war anymore.

I love you, and want only your happiness,

We’re Not the Fortunate Ones

Once upon a time in a hospital in Hartford, Connecticut, a doctor I couldn’t pick out of a lineup lifted a sheet, took a look at a watermelon-shaped thing I will never see and offered a pronouncement.

Dr. Who-ever: We’ll be here another hour.
Tata: Oh. No. We. Won’t.

Miss Sasha made her stunning debut eight minutes later. I’d had one epidural before the nurses lost Miss Sasha’s heart rate on some monitor and refused to give me anaesthesia for hours. When I tell you pain is bothering me I’m not comparing it to that time I spiral-fractured my hand and walked away laughing. I’m not comparing it to my arthritis, which has sometimes been so bad I couldn’t walk. No, those kinds of pain are relatively minor compared with the spine-splitting, bone-cracking, gut-bursting, blood-spattered agony that is pushing a human head down a birth canal, through the pelvic bones and out a fleshy little opening that often tears itself open in self-defense. She was three weeks late. When I tell you pain is bothering me I fucking mean it.

Maybe you’re one of the lucky ones with testicles who never gets mammograms. I don’t know how, but somehow this is your fault. If you work for an insurance company, this is definitely your fault.

Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Just because your doctor prescribes it doesn’t mean the test is approved.
Tata: A mammogram?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: That I’m supposed to get every year?
Phone Guy At My Insurance Company: Yes.
Tata: Do you realize how stupid that sounds?

I have no doubt that asshole has a brilliant career ahead of him, denying poor women health care – bilking the elderly will just be gravy for him! So if you have testicles, keep in mind that 1% of breast cancers are diagnosed in men and they’re particularly dangerous because if you can believe it apparently men don’t grope themselves enough to notice changes in their breasts and follow through with doctor appointments so – men! Get groping and make an appointment. And then you had better make sure if you work in a health insurance company that you freaking take vigorous steps to retrain that idiot phone guy.

For those of you without testicles, which is to say non-men, or “women” – your health issues are apparently so complex and icky that whole frigging states refuse to treat your bodies like they’re human. And yet, once you turn forty, you’re going to march yourself once a year to a clinic or hospital with a radiology department, where technicians with varying degrees of skill and emotional investment in their jobs may or may not actually make eye contact when they ask a list of perfunctory questions before walking up behind you, grabbing one of your breasts in a decidedly untingly, romantic manner and no matter how many times you’ve done this it doesn’t get any better when the clinical hand on your breast squeezes really hard, places the breast on a tray, lowers a shelf onto the breast and smashes it flat. Then the technician says, “Now hold still and don’t breathe.”

Some people who get mammograms, which is to say mostly women, dislike having their breasts mashed between a tray and a moving shelf multiple times and from various angles but it doesn’t actually hurt them. Before today, the last time I went to the radiology to have my breasts mashed the technician was utterly indifferent, her technique was poor, multiple re-takes were required and though I don’t cry I considered weeping but would have preferred to punch her in the face until she pretended to care. Or pressed charges. Because it would actually be funny to be arrested half-naked for performing the service to womankind that would be assaulting a crappy mammo tech until she got the idea that perhaps philately – say – held a certain charm. In Borneo. Please note I did not cry, punch anyone in the face, or get arrested for the Cause. No. I did what my grandmother Edith did many times through painful medical tests: made meaningful eye-contact, gritted my teeth and said, “Finish your job. Now.” I am not a wuss. That really hurt. In the course of someone else’s cancer treatment, it came up with the oncologist that MRIs do a better job of detecting lumps earlier. My insurance company wouldn’t spring for it, even when my doctor insisted.

Now if you have engineering prowess and some acquaintance with breasts, perhaps you’ve realized by now you could make a fortune by designing an inexpensive, pain-free technology. Perhaps, if you’re really smart, you could redesign MRIs so a person with or without testicles but certainly with breasts could step into it like a closet, get scanned – NNNRRRRRRRRRRRFFFFP! – and be pronounced sick or healthy with a great degree of accuracy; bonus points for making it sound better than an X-soaked drum circle. As insurance plans go, mine is pretty good, reasonably priced and a bigger pain in the ass each time I try to use it. I suppose I could have an MRI if I could pay for it, but if mammograms don’t work on me – witness the re-takes – why am I supposed to keep dicking around with them? And for how long? It is cost-effective for the insurance company to pat me on the head until I have full-blown cancer?

Am I pissed? Yes, I am pissed. I am royally pissed. It’s not women operating insurance companies, medical technology firms, board rooms, courts and legislatures. I am sick of shouting from the rooftops while the basement floods and drowning people declare there’s nothing to worry about. If I ever, ever have a pile of money, I’m creating women’s scholarships to M.I.T., with a heavy concentration in civic-minded Get Us the Hell Out Of This Mess.

As Ken Lay’s trial proceeds, Tom Delay won his primary yesterday. I would like to maintain a positive outlook (these things will take care of themselves) but I see them as symptoms of corruption, selfishness and greed in our society. FEMA trailers are sinking into mud in Arkansas rather than house Katrina survivors in Mississippi and Louisiana. These events are not happening in a vacuum, and I can’t look at current events and stay calm anymore. It’s time for a giant game of Connect the Dots, starting with painful, inappropriate medical tests for which I’m supposed to be grateful, and ending with bankrupt energy companies in California, with stops for complaints about pesky trees at the National Forest Service, port insecurity, 2000 missing people after six months, anti-gay bills in dozens of states, secret wiretapping programs and breathtaking defenses that violate our Constitution, a Congress that has all but abdicated its responsibilities, a stacked Supreme Court and anti-abortion bills that will set back the cause of women 32 years. These things are all part of a pattern of behavior. A pattern of fear and greed. To oppose one thing should be to oppose the pattern, the disease in all its symptomatic forms. And yet, what I hear at every turn is, “Yeah, but if we just wait a little longer…”

And that is how we are beaten. Separated and beaten.

Loose the Sandbags But the Balloon Wouldn’t Go Any Higher

I admit it: the news of the last week has me a little down. South Dakota has apparently decided incest really is a game the whole family can play. Pundits quibble over whether a civil war is-is, in fact, is-ing in Iraq. Last night, a Daily Show rerun articulated my frustration and fatigue with the administration with a pop quiz: (paraphrasing) When Scott Mclellan said, “I’m not going to comment on an ongoing investigation,” was he talking about –

And though the answer was “D. the Plame Affair” the list of possible investigations followed the hurricane pattern into greek letters. I laughed nervously and hoped this wouldn’t compound my already weird dreams. What, you don’t dream about the hilarity of dropping bombs on whole flooded regions of unemployed Kanye Wests who should have evacuated when you told them developers needed that land? Christ on a cracker, the news has been so bad I’m tempted to switch to Telemundo to calm down.

Yesterday, I opened my datebook and realized I had an appointment today I’d made three months ago because making appointments three months in advance leads to a higher degree of “I told you you’d forget.” Well, I’ve beat the curve. I’m going to hop a bus downtown, braving the brisk river winds and floating construction debris, and I’m getting a mammogram. Expect the worst. I do. What do you think happens when a woman named Tata shows up to have boobs mechanically mashed?

By this afternoon, we can both expect I’ll be willing to shout down chickenhawks and warmongerers of all stripes. I’ll be ready to cut to the chase. If I can face a mammogram, I can face anything. Later: phone calls to senators. No sweat.

Going to Get What You Deserve

My charming assistant, a dear polyglot from Athens – the original Athens, and please don’t ask, “Georgia?” – trained for weeks and out of the blue received both an offer from her previous employers in Stuttgart and another from the Athens Conservatory. Of course, it’s not really called “the Athens Conservatory” but I don’t really know what it’s called because I don’t speak Greek. Anyway, a bolt from the blue cannot be fought with petty jealousy – no, this requires industrial-strength jealousy, and I’m just the gal to barely conceal it.

Iona: I’m so sorry! We worked so hard on the purchase orders!
Tata: That’s okay, darling! Here, have some microwave popcorn and my best wishes.
Iona: I hate to leave you! You’ve been so good to me!
Tata: Darling, as much as I’d love to go to Athens with you – or frankly, without you – I understand why you have to go back to the Conservatory and take that last chance on a professional music career.
Iona: I can’t believe you’re so sweet about this!
Tata: Listen, you don’t have time to worry about me. The future is rushing up to meet you. Shoo! Shoo! Hurry!
Iona: I’ll never forget you!
Tata: That’s not a very interesting future. Forget me as soon as you leave the city limits. Happy life! Goodbye, sweetheart!
Iona: I just remembered I don’t have a microwave here or in Greece.
Tata: I trust your ability to drive up Route 1, break into a convenience store and microwave popcorn but you’ll need a getaway driver and at least one meat fork…
Iona: I’ll find a way!
Tata: Kiss kiss!

I’ve had shorter breakups. Half an hour later, John emails from twenty-five uninterrupted feet away.

John: What did you do this time? You train your student and just when she could be of assistance you frighten them off.
Tata: Dahhhhhhhhhlink, as with some things and all people, trying to hold them close after they’re determined to go only results in ill-feeling and restraining orders.
John: Oh yeah? What happened to “I’m evil, I get what I want, I made you up and if you don’t do my bidding I’ll imagine you back to eighth grade detention.”
Tata: Since you’re imaginary, it’ll be seventh grade health class. Bon appetit!

Yes, in real life, I stand up in the middle of staff meetings, point at John and yell at my co-workers, “Don’t answer him! He’s not a real person! You’re only encouraging that evil thing!” The first few times, people exhanged glances and mouthed words at each other. After that, they started ignoring him on command. If I can get the university to direct deposit his paychecks into my account I will feel I’ve accomplished something in life.

And speaking of Me, Ned phoned Me last week about the recording debate. Ned and I lived together for an unspecified number of years and a player to be named later.

Ned: So what did you decide to do?
Tata: I decided when Sean can throw his wife and two adorable daughters out for a few hours we’ll record. I haven’t seen anything about rights, so once it’s recorded we’ll take it from there.
Ned: Sounds cautious. I want you to remember something. That piece is really hard on you. I’ve seen what it takes out of you to do it. You think of it as your masterpiece –
Tata: My hit.
Ned: – but the real masterpiece is the life you constructed. Odds were against it. You should be very proud.
Tata: Thank you. That was right nice of you to say.
Ned: Repay me in cheeseburgers.

That is an excellent trade.

The Pompetus of Love

Busy, busy. I spent the afternoon in the store, where I had every intention of sitting in a folding chair, surfing the net and reading Johnny’s latest novella, but it was not to be. Alas, customers selfishly overlooked my needs and showed up in droves. My friends showed up in droves, though I hardly blame them. If I hadn’t seen me for more than a few minutes I might be traumatized, too! So deigning to talk to them is the very least I can do. Which I did.

An older gentleman who reminds me of my dad in twenty years asked me to an art show. If he reminded me of anyone else I might’ve accepted the invitation but the Dad association made it super-strange. I didn’t want to hurt his feelings. I told him I was meeting my new wife in Oswego next weekend, and I hope Oswego’s a place or I’ll have to get in one. And a wife.

This is going to sound crazy but I’m too tired to complain. My family was throwing a baptism. Siiobhan’s family threw a surprise party for a ninety-something-year-old great aunt. I’d like a look at that will. Last summer we threw a suprise party for my 93-year-old Grandpa, and when Mom wouldn’t listen to the idea that at his age he might appreciate fewer surprises I got the idea that she wanted his Tupperware collection.

I mean, who wouldn’t?

Bless my buttons, I’ve pictured Mom on America’s Most Wanted, effortlessly turning the perpetually irate John Walsh to melted butter but trying to help, “John, I think you were asking why every judge in Somerset County recused himself and sent me a bouquet but, begging your pardon, you seem to have lost your vowels.”

It’s A Safety Dance

Siobhan is so selfish!

Tata: When do you want to go shopping?
Siobhan: I don’t. Since 6:30 this morning, I’ve been to the gym, the bookstore, the manicurist, the tire place and picked up take-out Chinese. Now I’m going to the hair salon.
Tata: Since 9:30 this morning, I’ve cleaned the catbox, changed my sheets, done two loads of laundry, made yogurt, had a long talk with Mom and opened all my windows for a good breeze. Yes, I’ve done a lot for Me. But you haven’t. What are you doing for Me?
Siobhan: Hanging up before I kill myself from shame?

You can tell she really cares. This cleaning spree in my tiny apartment means I have vacuuming, sweeping, mopping, scouring and some folding left to do. Thus, the shopping so I can mop and scour with mopping and scouring tools and cleaning fluids. Cleaning is not my favorite thing to do but doing my favorite things to do in a clean apartment really is.

Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is not so sure. He fought me for the black and gold foil bedspread, while I complained, “Do not – do not bite Mama! Do not!” which I assure you I never said to the toothsome Miss Sasha. You just have to trust me on that. Later, a small glass bowl fell out of the dish drain and shattered on the floor in a foreseeable bit of dumb bad luck that’s really bad because the cat is always barefoot. Damn it. So then I spent half an hour on my hands and knees picking almost invisible pieces of shattered glass out of my kitchen rug and off the floor. My apartment is imperfectly clean, and usually that’s the best a person can do.

In comments for the previous post, where I – of course – brilliantly describe the situation in terms so effusive you’ve told your friends you can never adore Me with sufficient numbers of shinyshiny gifts, Mimus Pauly says something startling:

Haven’t sent anything yet. I will in the coming days, it’s just that I’m still floored by the stupidity of this whole thing. These lands belong to everyone, including those yet to be born — how disconnected from common decency, common sense, and simple, basic respect do you have to be to not see that?

And in my case, it doesn’t help that my two Senators and one Rep in D.C. are Republicans — all of whom usually toe the party line. But they’ll hear from me soon. I just have to figure out how to say what I want to say. This is harder for me than it appears…

If you’ve never visited Mimus Pauly’s totally worthy blog A Mockingbird’s Medley or read his posts on the uber-source Skippy the Bush Kangaroo, you might not know how startling it is to hear him say he’s at a loss for words. Mimus Pauly’s seldom at a loss for words. Hmm.

Okay, baby. Take a seat. Even the cat’s quit fighting. Mama’s gonna show it to you.

Perfection is not the issue. You can write a letter in crayon to your senator, if that’s all you have. You can call your town council and promise to stand on Main Street whistling Dixie until they pay attention. Your government in all its forms doesn’t have to listen to any one person’s protest, so what you say individually isn’t all that important. A letter to the National Forest Service doesn’t have to perfectly articulate your problem with the land sale because what matters is you the citizen, not that silly letter. For instance, get out your crayon, an envelope and a $.39 stamp. On construction paper, have your youngest child pen an opus:

Dear NFS,
Your land sale is full of poop. I’ll remember and run for president and you’ll remember me when I fire your sorry ass, too.
Aretha, age 7

Done, and done, my darling. Your child is on her way to a career of righteous activism and barely legal threats. That’s practically vocational training here in New Jersey. You are Parent of the Year!

Suppose your child already wrote letters because she’s not afflicted with your perfectionist tendencies. You don’t want to feel left out!

What she said!
Aretha’s Dad

My pet, your inadequacies don’t matter a whit in this case. To paraphrase a colorful storybook: Make a joyful noise unto the Forest Service. I mean, unless you can’t sing. Here’s the letter I wrote. You can pick and choose and steal freely from what you see:

To Whom It Concerns:

The list of parcels of land is impressive. I’ve gone over it half a dozen times, knowing there’s probably not much I can do to stop you from selling the land to developers. After all: America needs more condos and WalMarts. I don’t know how you will sleep at night.

This land does not belong to us. It is in trust for our children and grandchildren. We may have the legal right to fiddle while Rome burns but that doesn’t mean we have the moral luxury to applaud the arsonist: the ill-conceived plan to finance the rural schools program with the land sales will not pay for them. It’s not a secret. You can repeat this story as often as you wish, and it will still be a lie.

Yes, our children deserve a genuine commitment from the administration. Our forests are not a nuisance; they are a resource we should safeguard and treasure, possibly from the National Forest Service, if the newspapers have been quoting this guy correctly:

“Is selling off Bitterroot National Forest or the Sierra National Forest or Yellowstone National Park a good idea? No, not in general,” said Under Secretary Mark Rey. “But I challenge these people who are engaging in this flowery rhetoric … to take a hard look at these specific parcels and tell me they belong in national forest ownership.”

The answer is still: we don’t own them. We are their caretakers and their guardians. It is our duty to protect them from craven attempts to turn them into strip malls.

Go back to the drawing board. If schools need funding let’s restructure our budget so children’s needs are paid for, not the Pentagon’s.

Sincerely yours,

Princess Tata
Highland Park, NJ

…Only where it says “Princess Tata” I typed the name I vote with and you should too because if you vote with my name that’s a felony.

Lots of times, daily life piles – excuse me – crap on us up to our swan-like or rugged necks and we feel weighted down with the import of what we don’t do or don’t know or can’t figure out. This is simple. See? Our imaginary seven-year-old figured out how to avoid a harassment charge – you can figure out how to plagiarize my letter and email it to the NFS. You can do it. And when you’re done, call your senator. Who cares if he’s – as Mimus Pauly’s are – doing the Locomotion with Karl Rove? Sing along: call up. Call back. Yes, I think you’ve got the knack.

Now, I’ve got a second verse, same as the first, for later but now I’m going shopping.

Apathy, Thy Name Is the Blogosphere

Day 3 – 27 To Go.

A quick Google survey of citations related to the National Forest Service’s proposed sale of forest land reveals something really interesting: almost nobody’s talking about it. Sure, there are dozens of isolated newspaper articles, mostly on the west coast. A friend in Seattle says this story is the big time, while here in the east, most people yawn and move on.

This moment is what the Blogosphere is all about: millions of people, upset about the same thing, take action to fix it. Right now, the Eeeeeeeeeevil is so retcherously thick and omnipresent, you couldn’t be blamed for thinking, ‘It’s too much, screw it, I’m going back to the couch and reruns of Starting Over.‘ Sure, you can do that. In fact, go right ahead. Later today and tomorrow, you can pick up where we left off. I’ll wait.

Feelings…nothing more than feelings…trying to forget my…

Welcome back! Had a nice nap? Warm soup? Ready to rumble? Good. Let’s rumble!

Over at Blanton’s and Ashton’s, where I lie on the piano, nibble grapes and sing My Funny Valentine everytime Mr. Blackwell stares at Nicole Kidman and considers going straight, and at Running Scared, where I hope Georg will let me lick the bowl before Jazz and I close the bar, you may find a series of posts about the land sale. Cue the voiceover!

Previously on Tata’s mind: the Bush Administration tried funding its rural school program with logging money but the logging’s – begging your pardon – petered out so the National Forest Service is selling off 300,000 acres all over the country that belong to all of us to raise money for the rural schools. Funny thing: the sales will not pay for the schools program no matter how you slice it and we lose 300,000 acres of public forest land FOR ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. The kids deserve a real commitment to their schools from President No Child Left Behind, not this hollow, dangerous lie and our complicity in the theft of their natural resources.

…And we’re back in the present, where the public – that’s you – has 30 days from 28 February to comment on the tracts for sale and the sale itself. Yesterday, the above-mentioned friend in Seattle reminded me of a monstrous evil tucked inside this story. Yes, the National Forest Service has charted and mapped out parcels of forest land for you – the public – to give a good look-see, but the NFS has reserved the right to play bait-and-switch with this sale. In other words: suppose you look at the map and think, ‘This looks okay to me – a bit large, but okay. Perhaps Colorado could use twenty more WalMarts.’ Hey, it’s your brain. You’re entitled to think it. In this case, what it looks like doesn’t matter because the NFS may not be selling these particular lands at all – but other lands they haven’t told us about, possibly because we’d show up with court orders.

I’m not saying we can stop this sale. I’m not certain what’s actually possible, but we can’t sit here nursing our middle-aged spreads and telling our kids to clip coupons, avoid credit cards and save for retirement while our government sells off what truly belongs to our children and their children. Don’t have kids? It doesn’t matter. When was the last time you breathed? Did you just? Well, damn it, you can’t breathe without trees. Like it or not, you need that open space to remain open.

It would be easy to do nothing. Plenty of people are doing it right now. Once again, I’ll wait.

Michelle…ma belle…french french french french french french french french french…french french french french…

Tuesday, I connected the dots for you, here and here. Those posts are exactly the same, so one read will do. The key is this paragraph:

DATES: You should submit your comments by March 30, 2006 to be assured of consideration. Comments received after that date will be considered only to the extent practicable.
ADDRESSES: You may submit comments by e-mail to SRS_Land_Sales@fs.fed.us, by facsimile to (202) 205-1604, or by mail to USDA Forest Service, SRS Comments, Lands 4S, 1400 Independence Ave., SW., Mailstop 1124, Washington, DC 20250-0003. Electronic submission is preferred. If you submit your comments by e-mail or fax, you do not need to send a paper copy by mail.

Write the NSA. Call your congresscritters. We have 27 days.