Everybody Rolls With Their Fingers Crossed

Johnny takes us synchronized swimming in the lake of fire:

I love to listen to the religious programming on my way to work because every time I turn it on, without fail, I hear things I simply can’t believe I’m hearing. The guy who was on this morning warned that America is being conditioned to accept and embrace the demons when they come spewing up out of the pit. He said it starts with ouija boards and rock and roll, and before you know it you have children playing with demons, except they’re friendly, cuddly demons, like Smurfs and ET and, yes, the man actually said this, the characters on Sesame Street.

Bless my buttons, that fellow may have a point.

In other news, my copy of the Dixie Chicks’ Taking the Long Way arrived yesterday, with the Mark Knopfler and Emmylou Harris opus All the Roadrunning. Also: a CD copy of So Far by Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. I had this on tape and vinyl, neither of which I can play right now and I must hear Helpless. Rounding out my new acquisitions: ABBA Gold. How I managed to survive all these years without Take A Chance On Me I’ll never know – and a feathered headdress, though that’s another story.

Update: RealPlayer’s blurbs are always a little skewed but for So Far RealPlayer says: “Helpless may be the greatest song ever written.” According to Siobhan, the criteria for the perfect song is that it includes sex, death and booze, making The Night the Lights Went Out In Georgia the perfect song. Or Mack the Knife. I’m sure Siobhan would agree Helpless is pretty great.

Like No One Else, And I Can’t Help Myself

I have a new five-star, gold-medal least favorite commercial of my entire life: A man is standing in the shower and his pretty femme friend is primping at a mirror nearby. She asks, “If you were going to be with one of my friends which would it be? I’m not going to be upset.” To avoid answering this question, he soaps up and pretends the soap’s dripping in his ears. She prattles on, oblivious. So far, I have avoided pulling an Elvis on my TV – but I’ve come really close a few times.

There is so much wrong with this set up I barely know where to begin. So let’s go around from the other side.

A few weeks ago, a friend asked me how I could engage with men in primary relationships. It’s a perfectly valid question, and I am always interested in considering my assumptions where the other humans are concerned. I thought about it at great length and concluded I didn’t see much difference between the shitty things men do and the shitty things women do, and both are capable of great things, great affection and wonderful surprises, if we open ourselves to them. My friend, I also felt, was not so much asking a question as declaring her feelings about men and asking for validation. I told her feelings were facts, and her antipathy toward men was perfectly fine, and nothing I could say would change that, which I accepted.

Men abuse power. Women abuse power. Men can be tremendous douchebags. Women can be tremendous douchebags. At the end of the day, I understand why some women say they can only feel safe and happy in lives insulated from contact with men. I wish them well. And I hope the women they come in contact with are nothing like our TV commercial average Jane HetGirl, who hates other women.

I’ve never read an entire issue of Cosmo and I feel sick when someone mentions Sex & the City. I don’t have much in common with the Oprah people; I don’t understand why women want babies and mortages. While I appreciate that Feminism is about making one’s own decisions, I can’t grasp why a whole lot of women choose the two-dimensional, no-thinking, hormonal siren song that is saying, “My children are my whole life.” I can’t find that in myself, despite the fabulousness of my darling Miss Sasha. My child could never be my whole life, but I see that other women do this, say this and mean it. Well, okay.

Last week on an NBC morning show: business cards for Mommies. That seemed interesting until it turned out the cards said, “Amy’s Mom” and “Bobby’s Mom.” When the camera cut back to the anchors, the male anchor said he’d like that better if Mom’s name was at the top and the toddler’s name was below. That loss of my own identity as Miss Sasha’s parent was the worst aspect of being a woman, and here, these women renounce theirs without a second thought.

Then we have our TV Jane HetGirl. She has these problems:
1. She hates other women, as above;
2. Jealousy, and she will never trust a man;
3. She is deeply dishonest about her own feelings

– to start, and she is everywhere. A whole lot of women set these traps for men and themselves based on the idea that jealousy is perfectly fine and not in fact repellant. The other day, I was walking down Harper Street in Highland Park. I was sweating and wearing three layers of athletic wear, making my round person even more spherical. I posed no threat to anyone. On a porch sat three people, one of whom is a man I see at work. I don’t even know his name and he doesn’t know mine.

Man: Hey! It’s you!
Tata: Hey!
Woman: You know her?
Man: What?
Tata: Library. We work in the same building.
Woman: You always gotta watch, am I right?
Tata: Grrrrrrrr.

The answer is no. If you treat your spouse like property you shouldn’t be surprised if he or she finds something less confining attractive. If a man or woman said to me, “Which of my friends do you want? I won’t be upset” the next words out of my mouth would be, “Grow up. Get out and don’t come back.”

Everything, To Make the World Peaceful

I don’t know how to explain this so I’m just going to blurt.

For a little less than two months, I’ve been going outside for walks. Ivan, an actual rocket scientist and former member of the short-sleeve white shirt/brown tie/90-hour work week brigade, calls outdoors “the Big Blue Room.” You know, with all the nature. When you go out in the Big Blue Room and see all the nature, like the Abyss, nature sees you back. From the first, I noticed squirrels and robins in New Brunswick and Highland Park. I see cats, too, prowling and unafraid. These animals look healthy, well-fed and sure of themselves. Three doors down from my apartment, I turned the corner and found a man standing on a sidewalk smoking a butt, surrounded by squirrels. I crossed the street and looked back to see if the squirrels smoked, too.

It’s the robins that confuse me. They’re everywhere. I don’t remember ever paying much attention to them. I mean, they’re small birds. They stop by for lunch, then they’re off to Pismo Beach, right? I see them every day now. Each time I go out walking, a robin lands about ten feet in front of me, watches, flies another ten feet, watches, flies another ten feet and watches me. Another thing the robins do is land a few paces ahead of me and hop in rhythm. This is really strange. Sometimes, a bird will hop and fly a whole block with me. I talk to them now.

Tata: Listen, I see you!
Bird: …

I don’t speak that language. It’s like watching a Japanese film with the subtitles cut off. If I open my curtains, robins are standing on the lawn. Each time I go outside, they cross my path. Their presence has meaning, even if it’s just that we’re experiencing an excellent worm season. I don’t know what that meaning could be. It doesn’t seem creepy.

It’s as if the universe is ringing my doorbell and I can’t find my bathrobe.

Everything Counts In Large Amounts

Sometimes, I can’t tell if I’m rich or poor, broke or breaking even. I’m lousy with numbers but that’s not the only issue; I also don’t know what day it is. Unless I write everything down and cling to my date book with the kung fu grip, I could be in trouble pretty often. Fortunately, people want things and don’t feel shy about issuing demands. These demands come in all sorts of forms. A few weeks ago, my neighborhood was turned upside down for the better part of a Friday night. On the next business day, the borough plastered every foyer in the apartment complex with nervous letters about “the animal incident.” Residents who had contact with “the animal” were ordered to turn themselves in to the Health Department for rabies testing.

The number of things I don’t know is not decreasing as time passes. No, letters like this force me to conclude that there are as time passes an even greater number of things I do not know, as more facts I would not have imagined are revealed. This seems counterintuitive. Recently, I figured out that with five lines of instructions I could program a 200 CD player but it was only possible because a teenager paraphrased the manual using very small words.

Two Sundays ago, I firmly believed I could not run and learned I was mistaken. I ran a few hundred – let’s modestly suppose – feet further than I thought I’d ever run again. This had a profound effect on my psyche. I began to wonder what other assumptions were limiting me. Once, it was true that I could not run and it remained true for more than twenty years. In all probability I’ll never run a marathon, but my limits have changed. Yesterday, I found a solitary stretch of road in the park and ran further than before by picking a marker of some kind and running to it, then picking another, and another, a few times. For other people, this distance would be nothing. I was thrilled. Half an hour later on the street above the park, I ran two short blocks toward home just because it felt so good to run.

I doubt I will ever balance a checkbook – I do wonder what appears certain but simply isn’t impossible. Spring is an excellent time for wild ideas.

A Dream That Don’t Ask No Questions

For the last week or two, one storyline on General Hospital has been irritating me.

Sam and Jason discovered Alexis, once the hidden Russian love child of the Greek prince Mikos Cassadine, was forced to give up her illegitimate baby when she was sixteen, and Sam was that baby! Sam loves Jason the mobster and Jason and Sam hate Alexis, the selfish, insecure, controlling, not-listening to anyone, superior bitch lawyer.

…I know! That plotline has a z-axis. But wait! There’s more!

Jason met Sam on a balcony and a shot meant for him penetrated her back and – it’s a soap opera – she either can’t or probably can’t have babies. Oh, the humidity! Anyway, her blood won’t clot and Dr. Rick Springfield’s Son (Patrick) says Sam needs an operation Jason grants permission to do but Alexis shows up with a court order refusing permission because she’s Sam’s mother, damn it, and severing your parental rights means never having to say, “Well, she’s an adult now and can make her own decisions.” Alexis keeps talking about this and that but what she’s really saying is: MINE! MINE! MINE! AND I’M NOT SHARING! The hospital staff is sympathetic to the mobster and his scrappy gal so they trick Alexis and do surgery but, post-op, Alexis spirits the unconscious Sam off to a “facility” because Sam who lives with Jason hasn’t publicly and absolutely expressed her wishes to be with Jason –

…and I am going to lose my mind.

My relationship with my mother improved 100% after I moved out when I was 18 but 100% was not enough for the two of us to have a calm conversation for twenty years afterward. Miss Sasha wondered for years why the Grandma she adored and I were seldom in the same place; the simple explanation was I felt Miss Sasha should form her own relationships with her family members and be able to freely love the family members for whom I felt stabby-stabby murderous rage.

Wait! There’s a plot twist!

Nobody else had the same problems with Mom so until people outside the family saw that Mom was different with me than anyone else everyone thought I was crazy. Sometimes I agreed. When Miss Sasha moved to Charleston with the then-pre-Mr. Sasha, it was as if the clouds parted and my mother became a ration human in my presence and my bitey-gnashy anger cooled. What I didn’t realize was the moment my sisters and brother had children they found out that not only wasn’t I out of my mind but they needed my help dealing with Mom’s baby-related/time-mysterious control issues. No one – I mean no one – saw that coming!

And because Alexis does the same kind of “Because I said so” talking, based on reasoning with the tensile strength of used Kleenex that Mom presented every day when I was in high school – it is not rational to demand I ask to go to play practice every day for months on end, so I didn’t ask, making everyone the tiniest bit tense – the emotions come flooding back. It’s not especially fetching to say that when I see the character’s face and she draws a breath to speak, I feel the same powerlessness, the same rage and the same desire to kill myself rather than listen to another illogical word. I’m thinking I need to shut off General Hospital for a week or two, which is a shame because Luke, Robert, Holly, Anna and Tracy on an island together with pop guns, stolen jewels, and some very healthy men carrying a litter was a hoot.

Still, real life has a way of twisting storylines that would soap writers blush.

Last night, I went to Our Lady of Peace in South Brunswick for Mom’s and Tom’s Philomusica concert to keep statistics; I arrived before the other volunteers and could answer no questions because I was full of no information whatever. The choir was warming up so I sat on the floor of the vestibule and read a book Siobhan loaned me called The Stupidest Angel. This book made me bark with laughter, and eventually I had to quit reading it when during the concert I read where the town’s corrupt developer/traditional Santa says, “Eat me, you little vermin” and I couldn’t stop choking for five minutes. So I put the book away and went to help the volunteers set up a rather lavish refreshments table. My help was not so much needed, which I figured I should tell Mom about before I left.

After the concert, the choir members joined the audience in the vestibule, where I found members of the extended family, in a friends-of-the-family-all-my-life sense. They also live three blocks from my apartment, and I see them outside gardening quite often. Mom finally joins us.

Tata: So, there’s a thing I have to tell you before I leave.
Mom: What’s that?
Tata: There’s this lady who was in charge of setting up the refreshments table and I went to go help her. She was putting little cream puffs on a tray and she said, “I should have stacked them in a pyramid.” I said, “That would require caramel.” She stared at me, then she made a face.
Alan: Caramel?
Tata: You know, for the woot-woot-woot –

I am making the international gesture for spinning sticky sugar over a pyramid of cream puffs.

Diane, Mom, Alan: Oh!
Mom: Which lady?
Tata: Over there.
Mom: I don’t know her!
Tata: Well, that’s settled. I don’t know what she thought I was talking about. She did not find me funny! I made a perfectly legitimate croque en buche joke –
Mom: Hahahahahaha!
Diane: Apparently, your mom’s your target audience.
Tata: I did not see that coming…yet, the croque en buche jokes kill…Anyway, after that, she didn’t really want me standing near the food so I sat in a corner and read porn.
Mom: Did you remind Father John that a year ago today Sasha got married here?
Tata: No. Should I? Isn’t my presence tonight punishment enough?

It’s true he seems surprised.

Friday Cat Blogging: Tell Me One More Time

Note the transfer of black cat fur onto the drapes in the shape of a drowsy pussycat. I had the drapes cleaned. They now hang on very sturdy hangers in my coat closet. I have reached a stage of maturity that includes having a coat closet and knowing what belongs in it. This comes right before, “Hey, you kids! Get off my lawn! I baked cookies, do you want oatmeal or peanut butter?”

Aging is fraught with peril. I’m working a lot of hours right now so keeping domestic details organized and in motion is tricky and crucially important. Last night, I packaged up lunch, an afternoon snack – designed to keep drive-thrus of any stripe from holding salty appeal – and the papers I’d need to harass the publishers in Maryland of whom Miss Manners would not approve. This morning, as I pulled into a parking space at work, I noticed I had lunch but I’d left my purse-replacing Dragonball Z lunchbox on the kitchen floor. I have to drive home to retrieve it and I’ve rehearsed my:

Tata: But officer, we little old ladies forget things, as God intended. Do you know what was written on the side of the Titanic?
Officer: “Titanic”?
Tata: Sure. It also said something like “Not even the hand of God could sink the Titanic.” Boy, were they forgetful!
Officer: If you remember that, I bet you can remember to carry your driver license. Here’s your ticket, and there’s your court date.
Tata: …I won’t remember…
Officer: I’ll help you for one of those cookies.

A bad dress rehearsal means a good opening night.

Anywhere Else Than Here Today

Before the invasion of Afghanistan, a large group of my friends debated the pros and cons of military action on a closed mailing list. The only one of us who supported invasion was so alienated he threatened us with legal action and has never spoken to the rest of us again. This was a painful break. At the time, it seemed unthinkable that we could be separated by – well – anything. The rest of us wondered if he were having other problems he didn’t want to talk about but it was my first hint that after September 11th, some people were so deeply frightened that calming down was years off.

That was the first night of my lifetime that the stars didn’t flash landing lights, and I still watch the planes. They seem to fly much lower now than they did before. Every so often, I discover that someone else I met somewhere was killed that day. Other than this, which is occasionally sad, September 11th does not figure into my life anymore.

The site will be rebuilt.
The dust settled into the lungs of the rescuers and will cause illnesses.
I have taken up blogging.

Life goes on.

From this particular place, there is no need to bomb villages, supplant dictators, tap phones, monitor phone records; no need to do anything but pursue one’s own dreams and ambitions. I can’t do anything for the dead. For the living, I say: listen, it’s time to calm down and recognize that life is short. There is no guarantee of safety. The guy sitting next to you on the bus could have a bomb or a cake for his granny. Either way, worrying youself sick is pointless. Go buy your granny a cake and get on with your life.

Many things are foreseeable. There will always be wars prosecuted somewhere on earth because people are foolish, violent and greedy. What we should also foresee is what that does to the human beings making war, and the people in their bloody path. I did not have to be a genius to predict for my friends that war would turn young men and women into killers who lost control of their emotions and behavior. War turns quiet kids into murderers – not all of them, to be sure. But some. We have seen it, we have stopped talking about it because it seems hurtful to the trusting kids we sent off to war, and when soldiers return we regard them with a certain reserve. We are saying: I’m glad you’re home but what have you done?

Yesterday, TBogg published a rational and terribly sad review of the Haditha incident and the radical right’s Swiftboating – again – of Jack Murtha for talking about it: Now can we compare it to Viet Nam?

Too be honest, I’ve been been waiting for something like this to come to light because I feel like I’m watching the same war movie that I watched playing out in the late sixties when I was a teen. In this case, it’s less surprising when one looks at what preceded it: the fake rationale for a war, too few troops and too many tours of duty, the frustration that comes with being unable to distinguish between the enemy and the people we are supposed to be saving, little hope of an exit in the very near future, and the same lack of leadership that gave us the aforementioned Abu Ghraib with no accountablity up the chain of command. What surprises me is the fact that it involves Marines and not a National Guard squad made up of soldiers who thought they were signing up for weekends in the boonies, not months in Iraq. In the meantime the Right, unsurprisingly, is taking after the true villain of this piece: John Murtha.

“It’s much worse than was reported in Time magazine,” Murtha, a Democrat, former Marine colonel and Vietnam war veteran, told reporters on Capitol Hill. “There was no firefight. There was no [bomb] that killed those innocent people,” Murtha explained, adding there were “about twice as many” Iraqis killed than Time had reported.

Frankly, this is the actions[sic] of a traitor or a sellout. He deserves to be ridiculed, excoriated and frog-marched off Capitol Hill, then remanded to jail. No bail. Doesn’t this idiot know the type of damage this inflicts on the Marines? Or is it that he’s so intoxicated with the thought of becoming the next chairman of the House Armed Services Committee that he’ll say anything?

Like TBogg, I’ve seen this movie, and I remember how it ends: massacres, trials and shame. Ruined lives. Suicides. Families torn apart. Children grow up without the parent who died before they were born or who ate a gun when the nightmares took a turn for the even-worse. I was a child during Viet Nam but I have clear recollections of friends’ fathers and brothers returning damaged and distant. And here it is again, and the mystery is that anyone is surprised.

And for what? For nothing, that’s what. Vanity and hubris. The panic we should address with tea and talk and never, never with the bright and brittle futures of young men and women.

This is our collective life now. Bring them home and let us begin to repair the endless damage done in our name: to ourselves, and to the world.