You Place the Flowers

The music that was playing in my dream is blasting from a car in the cul-de-sac, and that’s okay because death metal on a languid, sunny afternoon is funny. As I awaken from a luxurious afternoon nap, my curtains float on the breeze, my cat snoozes at my feet and I sip cool raspberry tea I was drinking before I fell asleep. At moments like this, it seems wildly unlikely that I’m awake. How could every bit of madness, every stupid decision and terrifying turn of events, every long, anguished night have led me to this lovely afternoon, where outside my pretty apartment, forsythia blooms and birds buzz in old, old trees?

Two hours later, I call Siobhan and 50% of my sisters. I leave identical messages because who the hell cares. This is no time for originality!

Tata: Hi! Hope you’re well. Right now the fire department, two police cars, animal control and a dozen of my neighbors are parked outside my apartment because a groundhog got its head stuck in a sewer grate. Call me later!

Anya calls back first, frightened.

Anya: Are you okay? Should we come get you?
Tata: I’m fine. I didn’t mean to scare you. My street’s completely blocked off. I’m so glad I live in a town where a trapped groundhog is the worst thing that happens on a Friday night.
Anya: You’re serious? The whole fire department?
Tata: Yup. If this happened where I lived across the river some fool would’ve gone outside and shot up the sewer system with a pistol. Is groundhog “a third white meat”?
Anya: Oops! I’m a vegetarian again. Right this minute.
Tata: Anyway, this is all quite hilarious, I am fine and you must be exhausted. Are the kids in bed?
Anya: We were all down at the store, setting up for tomorrow’s event. Will you be there?
Tata: What event?
Anya: I sent you postcards and email.
Tata: I remain ignorant. What event?
Anya: Art show after 5:30. Artists you know. It’ll be a blast.
Tata: Count me in. See you tomorrow.

Now, the thing you can’t tell about this easygoing conversation is that when the fire department has set up outside your living room walkie talkies a-crackle, and your neighbors have all thrown open their windows to find out why, and your TV’s on, and generators hum, the volume compares with any bar at closing time, so if anyone overhears me shout the words “COUNT ME IN SEE YOU TOMORROW” it might sound a little on the vehement side.

By this time, Jennifer Love Hewitt is doing no whispering. She is the Ghost Shouterer. I look in on Shakespeare’s Sister during a loud commercial. ShakesSis is on about a serious issue: bias in the media. I try to be a grownup – just my first mistake.

I was trying to compose a cogent response but now surrender. My town’s entire fire department is parked and staging right outside my apartment. It’s really loud out there, and then there’s the blinky lights.For an hour I didn’t know why three fire trucks, two police cars, a mobile ICU, the fire chief’s Suburban and animal Control, not to mention a dozen of my neighbors were gathered and are gathered around a sewer. I’ve just overheard the firemen saying a groundhog’s got his head stuck in the grate.

As for the event, I’m reporting in the groundhog’s favor.
Tata | Homepage | 03.31.06 – 6:14 pm |

Let’s face it. Hold up your hand. How many fingers do you see? I’m THAT MANY. I am completely used to walking around in the world and seeing things other people walk past. I mailed Johnny a package of shiny objects only he will recognize as art supplies and I’m playing Gift Roulette with Anya.

Here are the rules:
1. I specify an amount of money and tell Anya minimal details like birthday, woman, fascinated by interesting things. For [those December holidays] she gave me a maribou picture frame.
2. Anya wraps the present before I get to the store. I pay the bill.
3. The recipient opens the present and it’s a neat surprise for me, too! Wheeeeee!

As a possibly fantasy-prone personality, I have to say having half the town and some of the next turn out with all the passion and commitment we expect when a child falls down a well in Texas to rescue a trapped groundhog was not at all in the mental catalog. I am overjoyed by the new addition. At ShakeSis, conversation is stumbling forward like I whacked it one.

Tata, do you live in Punxsatawney, PA?
blogenfreude | Homepage | 03.31.06 – 6:24 pm |

I try. I really do.

No…I’m in New Jersey, and a giant tactical vehicle from two towns over has just arrived. Why no one thought to get a sedative from a vet and butter the groundhog I sure don’t know.

Hey, it works on toddlers. Still: pro-groundhog. Can’t think…
Tata | Homepage | 03.31.06 – 6:49 pm | #

Near as I can figure, that’s Chicago time, and it’s a good thing the Jennifer Love Hewitt Fashion Parade features angry shouting people who must by now be going hoarse.

I live within spitting distance of a cliff over the Raritan River. If I sit up straight on my couch, I can see Route 18 skirt along the other side. New Brunswick and Highland Park are littered with signs over grates:

FEEDS INTO WILDLIFE-SUPPORTING STREAM.
DO NOT DUMP SOLVENTS.

Are you kidding me? The Raritan is a tidal river that flows into and out of the ocean and in doing so irrigates one of the largest and most toxic garbage dumps on the planet. Everytime it rains, that crap dripping off of and out of our cars spills down those drains, and anything that didn’t thrive in motor oil-vinaigrette died off decades ago. I’m not saying I approve and can’t wait to don my swimmies. I’m saying let’s be honest about expecting the wildlife to spring up from the bottom in a bad mood when someone warbles, “MOTHRA!” So I never do.

And I wouldn’t dream of speaking against this sophisticated display of high-tech humanity, because animal suffering is every bit as real to me as human suffering. In fact, my biggest fear is the firefighters will give up and leave the animal to die, trapped in that sewer. But as we are reaching the three-hour mark of this rescue and they’re setting up giant lights, I keep thinking of Steve Martin in Roxanne. There’s a kitty trapped in a tree. The fire department arrives, buckles up their gear, sets up ladders. Steve Martin watches. Shakes his head. Opens a can of tuna. Snaps the can opener shut. Puts the tuna down on the sidewalk. Kitty leaps from the tree and has a nosh. I can’t tell you how many times I start for the door with a can of cat food and a bottle of Crisco – but you know, they’re professionals, and I am just Me.

At 9:36, there’s no sound, no signal but everything is different. The firefighters begin to disperse. From the body language, it’s clear to me they’ve obtained the outcome they wanted. The little old ladies hold the hands of uniformed volunteers in what can only be heart-felt gratitude. My upstairs neighbor skips outside and asks what’s what. He skips back.

Tata: Did they get him out?
Neighbor: They got him!

This place is more than I imagined.

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