Black of the Blackest Ocean

There is what is real and there is what we do to make it seem real. This distinction is especially important in matters of love and car repairs. I’ve made an appointment to replace one of my tires this weekend. Let’s hope my long-time mechanic doesn’t take one look at the car’s first-aid-tape bumper repair job by its previous mechanic and hurt himself laughing.

Tata: Oh. My. God. Have you seen Stouffer’s is selling sandwiches?
Daria: I have seen that commercial and had the same reaction you’re having now: How lazy do you have to be not to slap meat on some bread yourself?

Today, I had a vacation day because I was going to have a nervous breakdown if I didn’t get to be alone in my house for a few days but I went to the studio for that little radio show. From the first moment we were on the air, all hell broke loose in the studio. I know some women see the word HOMEWRECKER written across my forehead but I’ve never seen a gay man take one look at me and make like Greg Louganis for his lover’s tonsils. And at no time have I seen men in their forties Greco-Roman wrestle over a doorbell, so when I think of the few things I remember blurting, I wouldn’t be surprised if I hadn’t strung together nouns and verbs in any conventional sense. I do remember saying the American Family Association was silly for supporting a Constitutional marriage amendment but other than that I might’ve sounded like Charlie Brown’s mother.

This evening, I went out walking after dinner and as I walked down the road into the park, I saw Lupe from a distance, walking toward me.

Tata: You’re going the wrong way!
Lupe: I could walk around again.
Tata: Then you’re definitely going the wrong way.

We walked around the park and I pointed out birds and we walked up the road past Gianna’s house and I pointed out trees, and we walked up a dirt path, up the avenues and down the streets, and I pointed out rosebuds. Lupe’s divorce is still fresh, and she has a new love. All this feels very familiar to me. As we walk up and down the streets, I point here and there: here was the house my great-grandfather built, there is the house my psychotic ex-boyfriend tried to burn down one night while his housemates slept. This house is where I went when I left the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and where I lived with grad students so poorly versed in the ordinary business of home life that before I moved in they’d called Sears to fix a dryer that needed its lint tray emptied. In Lupe’s apartment, she cuts up a pineapple while talking about her small children. I watch, unnerved by her claustrophobic kitchen, the sharp knife and the possibility that if she slices off her hand I might have to call 911 and say I don’t know the address. I tell her I’ve recently seen Alton Brown cut fresh pineapples by slicing off the bottom, slicing off the top, then the sides. A person then slices the barrel-shaped innards in quarters and removes the central points and since this is all geometry, I suppose I could do it. Or it’s the kind of thing where I’d call Dad, describe my injuries and he’d say, “You are surely adopted.”

Such is love. I can’t maintain tire pressure, either.

In This Time, Give It To Me Easy

Siobhan got a new phone recently that hates me.

Siobhan: Click click click barbecue at Hugh and fzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzth all fish pop pop pop with mango salsa.
Tata: Sounds …great…
Siobhan: Ecky ecky ecky ptang ptang ptang.
Tata: Does anyone else tell you they can’t hear a word on your goddam phone?
Siobhan: No. Just you.
Tata: What if you can’t hear them?

After dinner tonight, I went out walking in a pair of threadbare brown boxers, black sneakers and socks, a giant The Tick t-shirt and a scarf around my head. I am Italian. It’s humid. I fight frizz in vain. In any case, I looked so great I hoped it would suddenly get dark, or half the town would lose its eyesight for an hour. I don’t ask for much.

It’s hot but it’s also – shall we say? – moist. People on the street moved slowly in the late afternoon sunlight. The birds hopped along the sidewalks, too lazy to fly off. Self-conscious about my What Not To Wear Before Look, I considered avoiding the park. Picnickers were everywhere, and from the street above I could see parking spaces were sparse. Off in the distance, beyond a construction barrier, the crowd tapered off. I walked that way and stepped around the CONSTRUCTION – DO NOT PASS sign. Little gray birds fidgeted in puddles. A woman walked toward me and around the barrier. I stepped on a construction plate, leaned in and ran a ways. I passed the giant earthmovers, thinking I’d come this far before, then I picked other objects at modest distances and ran to them, then a little further, then to another construction barrier much farther than I thought I could run. Then I walked around town for another hour. Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, chose this moment to adore me. You know, where sweat drips off the body and cat fur clumps.

An hour and a half later, my face was still red. And speaking of red-faced, I surrender to circumstance. Weeks ago, Dad’s wife Darla recommended I read the books of Christopher Moore so I did what every modern woman would: I Googled him and found reviews of Lamb : The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal (Paperback)

From Publishers Weekly
A childhood pal of the savior is brought back from the dead to fill in the missing 30-year “gap” in the Gospels in Moore’s latest, an over-the-top festival of sophomoric humor that stretches a very thin though entertaining conceit far past the breaking point. The action starts in modern America, specifically in a room at the Hyatt in St. Louis, where the angel who shepherds “Levi who is called Biff” has to put Christ’s outrageous sidekick under de facto house arrest to get him to complete his task. Moore (Bloodsucking Fiends) gets style points for his wild imagination as Biff recalls his journey with Jesus dubbed Joshua here according to the Greek translation into and out of the clutches of Balthasar, then into a Buddhist monastery in China and finally off to India, where they dabble in the spiritual and erotic aspects of Hinduism. The author gets more serious in his climax, offering a relatively straightforward, heartfelt account of the Passion and Christ’s final days that includes an intriguing spin on how the Resurrection might have happened. The Buddhist and Hindu subplots seem designed to point out the absurdity and excesses of religious customs, but none of the characters are especially memorable, and eventually both plot and characters give way to Biff’s nightclub patter. As imaginative as some of this material is, the sacrilegious aspects are far less offensive than Moore’s inability to rein in his relentless desire to titillate, and his penchant for ribald, frat-boy humor becomes more annoying as the book progresses. Moore has tapped into organized religion for laughs before, but this isn’t one of his better efforts.

…So I looked at the pile of stuff I’m reading and said, “I’m swamped.” Meanwhile, I was happily absorbed in a book called The Stupidest Angel that made me laugh so well and so often I was calling Siobhan, who handed it to me, shouting, “You will read this book and like it, young lady!” to stutter lines. I’d recommend any book with the line –

“You can’t say nuh-uh to death. That’s sloppy debating.”

– and I turned the last page to find Christopher Moore wrote it. Color me embarrassed!

You Shake Their Hands Off

Ladies and gentlemen, brothers and sister, let us blog:

I. In the street, I see many things and take pleasure in seeing them. A pair of shoes with the price tag still attached resting on a parking space divider. A long-abandoned house with its own garage and thicket. Police tape wound around a sagging phone pole. Manicured lawns and lots gone to seed. Broken sidewalk, fresh concrete. Fat gray squirrels accustomed to human company scamper up trees for the sheer excitement of leaping. This morning, I came to a corner where an elderly woman and her young nurse stared across the street at two bunnies chasing one another in circles.

II. Yesterday, I was lacing up my shoes when the clouds burst open. I was certain the little rainstorm would not last long so I climbed on a ladder and put up a lavendar rice paper lamp shade in my bedroom. It does not fit exactly. Then I put up a faintly orange lamp shade in the kitchen. It is the wrong color and fills me with joy. Hallelujah.

III. On this day of all days, we must hope for an afterlife in which all souls are greeted with kindness and compassion despite those souls’ earthly deeds. There is no beauty in retribution and no hope in a world where we are motivated only by fear of eternal punishment. I can think of no greater justice than the archangels having a long talk with Hitler, insisting he spend eternity sharing a lunch table with Moses. What could be worse for history’s great and petty villains than being forced to see the humanity of their enemies, every day, with french fries?

Let us hope that waiting for us all – if something does await, of which we cannot truly be assured – is the happiness of reconciliation with those loved and loathed, and a really good sandwich.

IV. In a large sauce pan, mix one cup sugar, one cup water and one cup white vinegar. Sprinkle in a bit of salt. Bring to a boil and remove from heat. Peel and slice three to five medium cucumbers and place in a wide, flat bowl with a tight-fitting lid. Pour the fragrant liquid over the cucumbers, pushing the slices down into it. Allow to cool. Cover and refrigerate overnight or longer. You can add fresh herbs, small onion slices or even beet slices. The pickles are good on sandwiches with cream cheese, on crackers as refreshing snacks or as a cooling side dish with spicy foods. I make these every summer since one of my favorite former housemates taught the recipe to me. Also: raw cucumbers make me burp.

V. After the rain yesterday humidity hung in the air as the temperature rose. I walked around town, intent on stopping for a few things at the grocery store but first I walked to the family store and the new toy store. My sisters have a toy store. How awesome is that? Well, except it’s not air conditioned and inside, holding my niece Sunny, my brother-in-law was wilting. My nephew is three and a half now, so he talks from the moment every morning when he opens his eyes until he grudgingly closes them every night.

Tata: Would you like to come to the grocery store with me?
Ezekiel: Yes, it’s a supermarket. I’ll bring my guy and I’ll take a picture of you and me with the camera in his backpack and look this fires and goes woooooooooooosh! Can you pick that up for me? These are my shoes. They’re blue and I like blocks are we going to the store –
Tata: Do you mind?
Steve: Mind what?
Tata: A sudden ability to hear yourself think?

Ezekiel and I walk next door to tell Anya our plan. As we walk in together – me and a three-year-old – my sister’s eyes go wide.

Tata: We’d like to go to the grocery store –
Ezekiel: Supermarket!
Tata: – if you wouldn’t mind.
Anya: Good luck! And you, don’t give Auntie Ta a hard time!
Tata: He never gives me a hard time.
Ezekiel: I sometimes give my daddy a hard time.
Tata: How do you feel about fresh fruit?

For some reason, that line’s a killer and everyone averts their eyes. Ezekiel is still young enough that he would let me hold his hand if his hands weren’t full of a space-traveling fire fighter with a woooooosh-going weapon-thingy but crossing Route 27 can be a serious business. Ezekiel is not really interested. Suddenly I realize what my sister will do to me if I do something stupid and Ezekiel gets a splinter. We cross the street very quickly. Ezekiel is talking the whole time. He picks a carriage I wish I could fit into but I can’t buckle the belt because apparently I was born before the safety hysteria cut off date. Fortunately for what’s left of my dignity, the three-year-old doesn’t correct me and do it himself.

We vrooooom! through the aisles, vrooooooom! this way and that. Anya and Ezekiel are vegetarians so we have a fantastic time in the fresh vegetable aisles when I find berries I can’t identify and start blurting to strangers.

Tata: Have you seen these before? What are they?
Ezekiel: I threw my banana into the cart? I’m putting out fires in space?

I’m waiting for counterpoint and harmony.

Stranger: I’ve got a horse right here, his name is Paul Revere –

When we get to the cash register it dawns on me I’m a beige middle-aged crazy person stuffing my groceries into a beach bag while a blond, blue-eyed and very fair little boy talks and talks in the carriage I plainly don’t know how to operate and the cashier is looking at me, at him, at me and at him.

Tata: He’s my nephew.
Cashier: He’s adorable – and a handful?
Tata: He’s my nephew.

I returned him to his parents with a banana. He loves bananas. Anya seemed surprised he didn’t beg me for M&M’s, which is just silly since he can’t read.

VI. A man walks up behind me in the convenience store and reads the back of my Niblick Henbane t-shirt.

Man: Just say “OI!”

I laughed. He could be a perfectly nice man for all I know but reading me my t-shirt is not clever. I pack up my recycled paper towels and make a musical reference.

Tata: Arrivederci, Roma!

Weeks ago, I said when I finished other paper products, I’d switch to the recycled paper towels and report back, in case you have an attention span. I now do most of my light grocery shopping on foot so buying paper towels in bulk at the grocery store is difficult to transport. Tuesday morning, I’m intent on going to Costco to check out what they have but I don’t hold out much hope of finding recycled paper products, so I’m prepared to make a fuss.

In the meantime, Anya pointed out that her impression of recycled paper towels is that she opens a pack and poof! it’s empty, which could be frustrating. Still, for me, it’s worth it, the pros and cons.

Can I get an amen?

Birds Fly In the Eye Of A Painter’s Daughter

This week, I worked too much and too many hours and life was too eventful and I magically transformed from a generally happy person with a fulfilling life back into a Pie-Spinning, Lightning-Bolt-Throwing, Snake-Scaring Bitch. So it was just like old times. Last night, the only person who had the nerve to confront me about my bad behavior asked if I were done disrupting the power grid and would I please quit fogging up mirrors for five miles in every direction?

Let’s not make too much of this: yesterday and the day before, my apartment complex was infested with chainsaw-wielding freaks on a mission. I blew a gasket. Today it rained a lot. This afternoon: no chainsaw-wielding freaks. Perhaps everyone took a long weekend. Perhaps the imminent local threat of floral devastation has passed. Let’s hope so. I can’t turn gawkers to stone forever!

I’m exhausted. Yesterday, Lupe and I got into it.

Lupe: Come to the meeting. It’s ten to noon.
Tata: I’m not going! Two hours is too long.
Lupe: We need your input. You’re an important judge of people.
Tata: I’m a terrible judge of character. I love my exes but are you kidding me? And two hours is too long.
Lupe: We talked about this. I need your help.
Tata: We talked about this and I’m not going! Two hours is too long!
Lupe: Well, be like that and don’t go.
Tata: I’m not going!
Lupe: So you’ll go?
Tata: I’m very unhappy!

By this time, we were standing face to face and snorting and I wish I had been a third person so I could play Point & Laugh because we don’t argue like co-workers; no, we argue like we’re slamming bedroom doors and stealing each other’s clothes. Daria and I used to fight like professional wrestlers, complete with improbable stunts and unlikely props. As a young actress, I once went after her with a baseball bat but I hadn’t yet learned to commit to a character and follow through with organic behaviors so I let her call Mom’s best friend who told me in no uncertain terms over the phone that bashing holes in the walls with a bat was droll but bashing my siblings was not part of the curriculum at the High School of Performing Arts where she had gone and I longed to be because it was 1980, and I should quit it. Fame! So Lupe and I are having a teenage sister fight and the Referree appears.

Gianna: Lupe tells me you’re not going to the meeting. You’re very important. We need your help deciding…

It is not actually true anyone needs my help with anything. I serve as the Rorschach test for people who don’t know me, and Gianna observes, and everyone benefits. For instance, once the CEO of a major North American book service vendor approached me with wet hands and said they were wet because he washed them in the men’s room. I am the person for him to have said this to. Without introducing myself, I stuck out my hand, and we shook while I laughed maniacally. He did not flinch. He gave a speech and I wondered what we’d argue about in the shower because I sensed he’d spent his life developing a public personna even he might not see through. Gianna, however, sees none of this when she sits down in my cubicle. She moves papers off an extra chair. My defenses fold because there is never any need for defenses with my boss and the truth serves. Damn it!

Tata: When I talk people aren’t listening and two hours is too long for me to sit still and haven’t you noticed me limping around the office for months and I can’t believe I have to say this out loud and –
Gianna: How about you sit as long as you can and then you don’t?
Tata: Okay.

Damn it! If I had started out rational I might feel less stupid. I went to that meeting, disappeared for a while, returned later in different clothes because I do that.

Gianna: Glad you’re still here.
Tata: I am?

This morning, I called Lupe’s office on the other side of the river.

Tata: I’m sorry I expected you to be my Psychic Friend and when I said something I expected you to know I meant something else and that’s not sane.
Lupe: Okay. See you after lunch.
Tata: What, you’re not telling Mom?

I have got to calm down!

This afternoon, we had a meeting at which I articulated everything that’s bothered me all week –

Tata: Hmina hmina hmina they brought their board but left at home the people we’d contact every day. Where’s the balance? Who cares if they stand like Mount Rushmore and have some big old vision? Are they going to answer the phone and give me what I want?
Co-Workers: …What?…Did she say?…Yeah!
Tata: Is it my nap time? That’s the real question.

Happy Weekend, Poor Impulsives. I will now become One with my couch.

Found Out About You

Yesterday, I felt punk and stayed home. In the distance, I heard the persistent whirr of chainsaws. When I opened the door in the late afternoon, the air smelled of pine and chipping wood. I walked around a crew feeding giant branches of the huge old trees around the apartment complex, and in the case of the pine, the whole tree. I walked through the floral carnage with my mouth wide open and a feeling of rolling horror.

Today, when I came home from the library, the crew and the chipper blocked the end of the cul-de-sac so I parked some distance from my apartment. A man came over and asked me to move my car because he wanted to trim the branches of the pine I’d parked near, so I moved my car around the trailer. When I got out of my car and walked toward my door, I couldn’t believe my eyes. I turned around and shouted at the crew. The man who spoke to me before came over. He and his crew had cut the two tall, beautiful holly trees framing the front door down to the root. The trees were gone and there was nothing left but three inch stumps. I screamed at him, “What is WRONG with you? These were healthy trees! You don’t destroy healthy trees.”

“The boss told us. We do what he say.”

“Where is he?”

“He back tomorrow. We do what he say.”

There was no point in shouting at him and there was no one there to shout at so I went inside and called the office. The super picked up. She seemed shocked that the trees weren’t trimmed but destroyed. We commisserated at the butchery the tree service was committing because the landlord walked through the complex with the tree service guy and said, “Cut this. Trim that.” She offered me the phone number of the landlord but I didn’t see the point.

Fifteen minutes later, I couldn’t tolerate my feelings anymore and that I wasn’t doing anything about them. I called the super and asked for the landlord’s phone number. Then I called the landlord’s office, where I spoke to Dorothy, who was not properly appalled. The landlord was out of town until Tuesday, she said.

So, I wondered, who the hell is coming here tomorrow? And what’s left for the crew to cut tomorrow?

Dorothy said only that she’d try to get in touch with him and that she’d only heard the crew was supposed to trim branches, not cut down trees. I don’t hold out much hope that further destruction will be prevented.

Holly trees symbolize abundance and are supposed to be good luck. I’m not much for tears but this brought me awfully close. My upstairs neighbor’s bird feeder is lying on the lawn.

Kick ‘Em When They’re Up

I was first alerted to an event when two of my co-workers stood in the middle of the room and burbled.

Gerda: B B B B B B B B B –
Samantha: D D D D D D D D –
Gerda: B B B B dirt B B B B –
Samantha: D D D D D alien dirt D D D D –
Tata: What are you talking about?
Gerda: B B B filing cabinet B B –
Samantha: D D D D microfilm D D –
Tata: Something’s happening, isn’t it?

Indeed, something was. Gerda, Samantha, Chuan and I walked sort of spastically through the reading room to where Gerda had made an astounding discovery. I take the example I set very seriously so I was giggling loudest and making pointed remarks about the library’s patrons. We turned a corner at the very back of the room and Gerda pulled open an unmarked drawer. Chuan took a picture.

This photograph does absolutely no justice to the strange colors, textures and shiny bits, not to mention the discoloration that appeared to be rust and the little hunks that looked like pencil shavings. And yet, I love this photograph with my whole black heart. I was discouraged from touching the pans of dirt. The mature person in my office who determines these things called campus police, who followed Chuan back to the end of the room. Gerda, Samantha and I followed.

Cop 1: That’s dirt, all right.
Cop 2: Call the fire department.
Chuan: The fire department?
Cop 2: Yeah. It’s dirt.

Next, a guy in gym shorts with a sack full of test tubes arrived and took samples because this is New Jersey and the HazMat guys were busy. The police took a statement from Gerda because nobody’s ever found dirt in the library before. And now we’re all waiting to find out if some mad scientist lost it before his thesis project bore fruit in the form of accidental mushrooms.