Another, Another, Another Way

Springtime, when a young woman’s mind turns to Rachmaninoff! It’s time for another Philomusica concert, where I will attempt to be helpful to the choir. Mom roped me into working one of the concerts but hey, with working comes the beautiful, beautiful singing. Facts:

Russian and Hungarian Sacred Music – With Wind Ensemble plus S-A-T-B solos

Rachmaninoff, Sergei – Ave Maria
Russian liturgical music
Stravinsky, Igor – Ave Maria, Pater Noster, and Mass
Kodaly, Zoltan – Missa Brevis

SATURDAY, MAY 20, 2006 at 8 PM
SUNDAY, MAY 21, at 4 PM

Our Lady of Peace Church, North Brunswick, NJ
Click Here for Map and Directions

Ticket prices at the door are $18 regular, $16 students/seniors, $9 children under 13.

This morning, I was applying makeup to my preternaturally beautiful face (thanks, Mom and Dad!) when I heard a persistent clicking noise somewhere in the apartment. When I stopped staring at my great beauty, I followed the sound to the kitchen, where water dripped from a patched spot in the ceiling. Oh joy. As an Aquarius, I always have containers but I was out of time. I stuck a big basin under the leak and went to work, where I called the super for help.

No doubt there’ll be phone calls this morning about the glass ornaments dangling from the ceiling, mere inches from watery disaster.

Yesterday, the Chronicle of Higher Education published an article that annoyed me. The Chronicle is subscription-only, so my friend lifted it for me to read (thanks, person with three advanced degrees!) These paragraphs are supposed to tease you to read more:

A glance at the current issue of American Politics Research: How The Daily Show influences young voters
The fake-news program The Daily Show With Jon Stewart may be just a comedy show – as its producers insist – but, according to a study by researchers at East Carolina University, it negatively influences how college-age viewers see political candidates. It also makes them more cynical of the news media and of the electoral process at large.

The researchers – Jody Baumgartner and Jonathan S. Morris, both assistant professors of political science – wanted to determine how “soft news” programs, such as The Daily Show, influence young voters. They focused on Mr. Stewart’s program because it is watched by nearly half of all 18- to 24-year-olds. Additionally, the show’s audience is typically less likely to get news from traditional sources, and more prone than older Americans to make use of such “soft” sources.

I said several naughty words out loud in a room where people – if you can believe it – have never heard me swear. I know! I can’t explain that but listen: nowhere, never have I seen an explication of how to know neutral or weighted language when one sees or hears it and though I am supremely unqualified to write such a primer, these two paragraphs need the E.B. White Cattle Prod Treatment and I’m tending a bonfire.

A bazillion years ago, I was trying to get Miss Sasha to think critically about the world around her. This is not easy to teach a child, especially after years of uttering sweet nothings like The police are your friends and Just say no to drugs, sweetheart, you can’t afford the really good ones. We sat down to watch Edward Scissorhands one afternoon, and I asked her question after question she couldn’t answer. Then the credits quit. Miss Sasha showed me!

Miss Sasha: That is one bored housewife!
Tata: How do you know?
Miss Sasha: Parallel vacuum marks in the carpet.
Tata: See? OCD does come in handy! Good job, you!

The Chronicle is usually pretty good but the article is full of sloppy word choices, odd sentence construction and half-baked ideas. It reads like an tenth grade book report.

You: Princess, you break grammar and usage rules. What do you have to say for yourself?
Tata: I know the rules. When I break the rules I do so for effect. Or I wasn’t wearing my glasses during editing and I’ll fix errors when I find them, thank you very much. You either trust the writer you’re reading or you don’t. If you don’t, I’m sure there’s a toothpaste label somewhere you could read with every ounce of my wit, verve and preternatural beauty. Scoot!

Let’s review what we can see, shall we?

* “…according to a study by researchers at East Carolina University, it negatively influences how college-age viewers see political candidates.” It should be obvious by now that much of politics is image-management and the rest is white-collar crime. We hope there are a few humans involved with possession of their souls but odds are not good. If the Daily Show offers an unfiltered gaze at political candidates and that creates a negative impression, we should insist on more – not less – unfiltered gazing. Sorry the marketing failed! Let real life and daylight in, motherfuckers.

* “It also makes them more cynical of the news media and of the electoral process at large.” …than what? More cynical than when they were kept in the dark and fed bullshit? No more prancing winged ponies for you, undergrads! And while we’re at it, get that has-a-problem-with-prepositions writer a proofreader.

* “…the show’s audience is typically less likely to get news from traditional sources, and more prone than older Americans to make use of such “soft” sources.” See? We have more than fixed but now we have less than trouble. This sentence is also chock full of assumptions, like the ones everyone should be making about veracity and quality control. Do our test subjects mention which version or versions of reality have a greater probability of approaching real reality? Because that might be the question on everyone’s mind.

All of this would be nitpicking if not for the article’s last lines, which are one short step and a long, screamy fall:

* “At the same time, though, watching The Daily Show made viewers ‘more confident about their own ability to understand politics.’ The authors attribute this to how the show simplifies complex issues through humor.”

Simplifies? The Daily Show is one of the few shows on television that talks to me like an adult with an IQ above trainable. I wish more television news functioned with the same premise. It doesn’t seem like too much to ask, frankly. The Daily Show makes it easier to, yes, identify the corrupt scumbags, because they’re horrible and funny and…horrible…and for that ability, we have Jon Stewart to thank. But the single most important function the Daily Show serves is to mirror back to the failing press corps what isn’t being said in the public sphere. No wonder the Chronicle’s a little pissy.

Fuck, who wouldn’t be?

Come Groovin’ Up Slowly

Walking around Highland Park, I see and hear things I certainly wouldn’t if I stayed home and vacuumed, which I should do at least some of the time. Because there is so much to see, sometimes it takes a couple of passes down a street between the time I see something and the time I know what it is or was. On a main avenue on the south side, I saw what looked like a stockpile of landscaping materials. Later, it resembled the results of a treasure hunt at Home Depot. Finally, one sunny afternoon, I stood close and finally realized what it was: the homeowner had assembled about two dozen solar lawn lamps into the shape of a peace sign on her lawn.

I was so impressed with this I decided then and there I have too much free time. Enough of me! Time to take another number at the Deli Counter of Love.

You Ain’t A Beauty But Hey You’re All Right

Governor Jon Corzine
Office of the Governor
PO Box 001
Trenton, NJ 08625

Dear Governor Corzine,

I am writing to you after reading that last year’s search for a state slogan was less successful than Dick Cheney’s for a new hunting buddy. This is so sad!

The state has jettisoned “Come See For Yourself,” its second attempt at a tagline in less than a year. It was the product of a statewide contest set up by then-acting Gov. Richard J. Codey last fall, after he rejected a consultant’s offering: “We’ll Win You Over.”

State tourism officials said legal issues led them to scrap the latest slogan, explaining that West Virginia and other states previously used “Come See For Yourself.”

Ours is a state full of proud people, each one a special, special snowflake, unique in his or her own right. When the former Acting Governor asked for slogan suggestions long lists appeared everywhere on the internet. Current and former residents showed no shortage of wit and verve. I myself came up with a few hot ones:

New Jersey: We’re Well Armed!

New Jersey: Are You Gonna Vacation Here Or What?

New Jersey: Smell the Decomp!

And my personal favorite:

New Jersey: Let’s Get A Slice!

I don’t mean to be crude, Governor Corzine, but as slogans go Come See For Yourself and We’ll Win You Over are the kind of pasteurized dreck only a marketer could love, and the kind who went to community college. Not that there’s anything wrong with that!

As a former comedienne and a lifelong big mouth, I’m offended that bland platitudes were chosen to represent the many and various spicy peoples of New Jersey when we could have done and could do so much better. I love New Jersey! I get homesick on the Turnpike! Hey, there’s another slogan: New Jersey: Pay Us To Leave.

Seriously, I love it here, east of where America Begins – or so says Pennsylvania. Those lightweights. They’d never make it in a mosh pit full of high hair Jersey Girls. Can’t we have an equally gritty state slogan?

Let me know if I can help you. I’m civic-minded.

Kiss kiss,
Princess Tata

Oooh It’s A Killing Machine

She and I wore pink ballet slippers to shreds in different classes in the studio behind the Hungarian-American Club in the seventies, danced in musicals in high school and made performance art in the nineties. She teaches yoga, works as a massage therapist and polishes the shiny imaginations of happy children as a faerie. Her faerie name is Willow. Until recently, I didn’t know people had faerie names but I used to go camping in clown costumes with Medieval recreationists. So. Live and learn.

She’s gorgeous.

Apparently, people with faerie names and faerie costumes get together and do faerie things at faerie festivals. I had no idea! Event photographs are beeee-yootiful and children look very pleased with their filmy wings, tutus and crowns. Some have feathery masks and costumed pets. It looks like lovely, colorful fun with the possibility of walking on stilts. Except – believe it or not – the recent festival drew protesters.

Willow says, “Yes, I had grown men and women screaming things like ‘Faeries aren’t real!’ ‘There is no mother earth, turn to Jesus Christ!'”

Delicately put: these church douchebags need a better hobby, perhaps one that produces something and helps people. How about whittling? I’m sure lots of de-funded school music programs could use handmade wooden flutes.

And speaking of flute-handling, bigots have festivals too, though one has to wonder how fairies go over at an Ex Gay soiree. Ex Gay – if you haven’t heard – is the term for persons who came to heterosexuality (so to speak) after a brief encounter with the Word of the Lord. To me, they sound tragically fearful of blow jobs but to each his own. So long as he says he doesn’t.

I can only pity the Ex Gay crowd. They make me look well-adjusted.

Only Love Can Conquer Hate

If you’re feeling a bit depressed, skip to the next entry. This one’s serious.

I. Twenty-one years ago, I was a young single parent living with my grandmother and my baby. Ronald Reagan was president, and I remember distinctly listening to him. I remember hearing between words a great deal ot be frightened of, and for months, I had terrifying dreams in which whole landscapes, cities and peoples were on fire. The suffering was terrible in these dreams. I was breathless, night after night, with the pain and fear of these dreams. It turned out several years later that during this period there were several really close calls in cold war nuclear relations, some of which were accidental nuclear cues that someone in a silo somewhere refused to acknowledge, saving all our lives. I don’t have to believe in ESP to accept that allusions to events were available and I picked them up. Reagan’s recklessness was perfectly visible to me. His utter contempt for the poor was headline news every week. His feelings about communists were a matter of public record. It didn’t take a genius to see that dropping bombs on the Soviet Union was a distinct possibility, even by accident, and it almost happened several times. Two + two. Four.

II. More than ten years ago, I was sitting in the old Doll’s Place in New Brunswick with a man I’d met at a party on someone’s porch. We’d actually met twenty years before, once, when my mother picked up a friend and his son while they were hitchhiking on Route 18. It was odd that we’d only met that once because we were both kids at the same commune for a few years, but I was older. That night in the bar, he told me he was molested at the commune, and by whom. He asked me if I knew where the house was. I told him I did. He asked me to take him there, and I did. Before we left the bar, I went upstairs to the ladies’ room. I was looking at my face in the mirror when I heard in my head lyrics to a flaky Adam Ant song: It makes me proud, so proud of you, I see the innocence shining through. Sometimes the subconscious chooses strange ways to communicate; even so, we must listen.

III. Last night, I had a dream in which a partner and I were making repairs on the needle of the Empire State Building. I remember dropping lengths of thick wire onto 34th Street, where crews were waiting for it from safe positions. I can’t think of a reason I’d know the Empire State Building stood on or near 34th Street except in the way that its location is simply ambient. Everything that happens in the City hangs in the air here. My partner was climbing down easily. We had done this before. I was sliding down with my arms and legs wrapped around the needle. I could see my worn blue jeans and beige workboots. Suddenly I knew I was about to be in trouble. I was swinging around the needle in the wind. I called out to my partner but he couldn’t hear me. My palms were wet, which I knew meant I wouldn’t be able to grab a secure handlehold. My feet couldn’t find the ladder. I was starting to lose my grip altogether when I opened my eyes. I described this dream to Siobhan this morning. She said, “So either you do something that might kill you or you do something that will. What’s it going to be?”

Okay, then.

Never in my life did I imagine I would turn on my television for weeks on end and see American citizens in an American city starving and drowning while government officials stood around with their thumbs up their asses. That nine months later there is no comprehensive plan to either rebuild or officially abandon the Gulf Coast to the elements disturbs me. It has meaning. I have a sense of what it could mean, though no way to confirm or refute that sense. The one thing we can say without fear of contradiction is that the human elements of how the hurricane’s aftermath was addressed may have had mishaps but the outcome is evident, and that offers insight into how our government is functioning, if the whys remain mysterious.

Yesterday at Shakespeare’s Sister, Thesaurus Rex wrote an emotionally fraught post reviewing a USAToday article called Pandemic flu plan: Don’t count on federal rescue. Perhaps you missed this story.

WASHINGTON (AP) – A flu pandemic would cause massive disruptions lasting for months, and cities, states and businesses must make plans now to keep functioning – and not count on a federal rescue, the Bush administration said Wednesday.

Please read that article. I’m not a scientist. What was said is troubling enough but what was not said was worse: this report, issued by the government agencies that could not get around its own regulations and run trains out of New Orleans before Sean Penn could commandeer a leaky motor boat and rescue people, says, “You’re on your own. That’ll be $7.1 billion. Don’t forget to tip your waiter.”

I sincerely dislike admitting I’m afraid. I think it limits me as a human being to confine myself to this one emotion. I much prefer skipping straight to the plot twist in which by some unforeseen stroke of luck I figure out what to do and do it. In this case, I’m stymied and I’m frightened. In no way can I go McGyver and work out a plan that compensates for the completely foreseeable failures of the Bush administration given its history of domestic disaster failure. Simply: if the flu goes global a lot of us are going to die.

Is that acceptable? No. It is not acceptable that we’re not developing, as a nation, in concert, a plan where we feed, nurse and care for one another.

It is not acceptable that our government has now said to us: it’s not our problem. Best of luck! The article goes on:

“No less important will be the actions of individual citizens, whose participation is necessary to the success of these efforts,” Bush added.

A flu pandemic would roll through the country, likely causing six to eight weeks of active infection per community.

“Local communities will have to address the medical and non-medical impacts of the pandemic with available resources,” the report warns, because the federal government won’t be able to offer the kind of aid expected after hurricanes or other one-time, one-location natural disasters.

Huh! Let’s skip for a second towns and cities nowhere near hospitals. I’m no epidemiologist. The most scientific thing I ever did was throw preserved frogs out the window of my biology lab to see how fast they fell on top of the school buses. Maybe where there are no hospitals infection would spread more slowly, what do I know? Let’s skip all that.

“They say that every society is only three meals away from revolution. Deprive a culture of food for three meals, and you’ll have an anarchy. And it’s true, isn’t it? You haven’t eaten for a couple of days, and you’ve turned into a barbarian.”

Larry Niven

I never, never want to hear another word out of the administration that claims it keeps us safe, because safety is impossible and starvation and mob violence are a distinct possibility – everywhere. A gun will not protect you. Storing up food will not protect you. A safe room in your house and shopping by mail order will not protect you. Pandemic is a crapshoot. Your life at least to some extent depends on the luck of the draw.

I feel stupid saying all this and I hate feeling stupid and afraid. If I don’t say it, you might not know. Instinct tells me I have to talk and keep talking because the administration has already proven its willingness to thin the herd of its detractors and the poor via neglect. I’m cringing but Siobhan was right. Either we do something that might kill us or we do something that will. What’s it going to be?

Update for NJ Carnival 5.12.06: In response to Oddjob’s sensible comments about preventive hygiene – which are invisible to you – I wrote:

Oddjob my darling, you’re absolutely right, and hand sanitizer – which seems like a crucially stupid idea most of the time unless you work in an abbatoir or a whorehouse or both – might actually work. I’m not afraid of the flu. I’ve had flu. I feel feverish and drink soup and puke a lot. Then I watch daytime TV, nap a lot and get better. Even the worst flu probably isn’t going to kill me. I’m not afraid I’m going to die of the flu. I’m not even really afraid for myself, which I probably should have said in the post.

I’m afraid of martial law, of an administration that does not have our best interests at heart, of the grief we will all suffer as weaker family members and friends needlessly die, of the black mark on our souls as tragedy unfolds and we did not prevent it.

It’s not the flu that scares me. It’s the stupid humans.
Tata | Homepage | 05.06.06 – 9:49 am | #

That I am not afraid for myself seemed an important point, and I wouldn’t even have written it down without his prompting. Thanks, Oddjob!

Do The Things We Never Have

Seriously, I baked two cakes last Friday night and laid out phyllo dough all Saturday morning until my kitchen was sticky and I was miserable. Naturally, the next thing to do was shower, apply makeup and drive down Route 27 singing with the windows wide open, because there’s no way to feel cool on the way to a bridal shower so you might as well howl along with Toto on a testosterone-fueled classic rock station.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo’s house used to stand in the woods and backed up to a cemetary. The cemetary’s gone, and developers are carving out hunks of wooded area on every side of the house. Heavy equipment sits quiet half a mile behind the house, clearly visible between what’s left of the trees but it is soon obscured by an ingenious mass parking job that is visible from space. The family has so many parties they bought a tent, which is pitched, decorated and filled with an embarrassment of small food riches, gifts and party furniture. It is also teeming with people I couldn’t pick out of a lineup and every chair is taken. Sandy, daughter of Auntie, sister of Monday the bride, maid of honor at my daughter Miss Sasha’s wedding, grabs my hands and kisses my cheek.

Sandy: I’m so glad you’re here! I know you hate these things!

Yes, I hate women in packs. Inside the house, I find strangers barking food-related orders. I frown. I loiter. I frown. I sit down in another room. I frown. I wonder what I’m doing here. Auntie InExcelsisDeo emerges from Hair And Makeup Hell. She has prepared herself to be Mother of the Bride.

Auntie I.: Domenica! This is my niece Domenica. This is my former neighbor Effie.
Tata: It’s Tata.
Effie: Domenica, nice to meet you.
Tata: It’s Effing nice to meet you, too.
Auntie I.: Who do we know who drives a Jaguar? Ooh! It’s Marguerite! Ta, go out there and make sure she has company.

Once upon a time, two Sicilian brothers married two Sicilian sisters and produced a whole bunch of Sicilian double-first-cousins in Highland Park, New Jersey who looked more alike than most siblings. The resemblance between my grandmother Edith, her cousin Marguerite and Marguerite’s sister Mary Nancy was startling. I totter across the lawn in stupid shoes and tell Marguerite I’m her keeper, and let’s go in the house. Auntie I., Mom, Marguerite and I buzz around the kitchen, listing off critical life-shaping events of the last year so after five minutes we can talk instead of announcing. Everyone blabbers about Marguerite’s blond hair, courtesy of a hairdresser in Napoli who didn’t speak English, and Marguerite’s dialect was from the wrong neighborhood. Strangely, Marguerite’s accidental blondness looks fantastic. If my hair were that creamy beige I’d look like Death; Marguerite’s deep olive skin looks polished and healthy. After I turn 70, I’m moving into the tanning salon so I finally enjoy a family resemblance.

Auntie I. declares Monday and her fiance are on their way and nearby. It’s Monday’s birthday and she’s expecting a barbecue. Uncle Frank, Father of the Bride and Tender of the Grill, is a giant of a man who can’t hold still; he builds things, takes them down and builds other things. About half a dozen tall, lanky friends of Monday’s younger brother Tony are tossing horseshoes on a brand new pitch. This becomes very exciting when Daria, her two young sons, husband Tyler and baby Miss Fifi walk across the lawn to the tent – and the little boys wrench hands free to go investigate what the big boys are doing. Tyler sprints after them. Two hours pass before I see him again.

Marguerite and I commandeer a small end table, steal pink napkins and set up a centerpiece because otherwise we’re two ladies without a table and nowhere to set our lemonades. Mom brings a chair. Now we are three ladies sitting under a tent where three tables of people are staring at us and we have few ideas who they are. Time passes. More time passes. Daria and Miss Fifi sit down and thank Kali, because now we have someone to look at instead of the tiny, crustless sandwiches we can’t eat until…we don’t know when. Finally, Monday and her fiance Cary park and walk across the lawn.

Tata: I can almost smell a tiny sandwich.
Daria: Yeah, I can’t believe you’re here. You hate these things.
Marguerite: Oh God. I hate these things, too.

Monday has to kiss 400 people between the driveway and the tent and during that time, we have a brutally honest discussion of Marguerite’s dating status.

Mom: How long have you been with this man?
Marguerite: Two years.
Mom: You went to Spain with him?
Marguerite: No, that was the last one.
Mom: The married guy?
Tata: What?
Marguerite: I don’t know what you mean.
Mom: The “shared” one.

Suddenly, I’m not the only one who’s made a career of petting strays and sending them home to their wives. What the hell? The other Bad Girl drives a Jag!

Tata: MOM!
Marguerite: I waited a long time for this man. He’s a prince. Goofy, but a prince. He wears a watch he spent $7.95 for. We were walking around Boca and the band broke. He said he would just step into Tiffany and get the band fixed. I said, “Get out of here, they’re going to laugh you out the door.” So he went inside and said this family heirloom broke and he’d like to get a new watchband. The man behind the counter said, “Pardon me, sir, but I think you’ll find what you’re looking for at WalMart.”
Daria: You were standing in the doorway, laughing your head off. Weren’t you?
Marguerite: I was. So he went next door and the woman at the counter had the eagle eye and the accent of a New York Jew. She said, “Your wife has a Rolex and you’re wearing that?” He said, “I wear that because my wife wears a Rolex.” She said, “Maybe next time you spring for the classy $10 version, huh?”

Monday kisses her way through the tent and says, “Ta, you’re here! You hate these things!”

Tata: Your mother promised to hunt me down and kill me if I didn’t come.
Monday: Mom, you’re the best!
Auntie I.: Love you, too, sweetheart!

Sandy patrols the tent, handing out bridal shower bingo cards. Mom takes one and cheats by writing everything Daria, Mom and I got together to buy.

Sandy: Do you want one?
Marguerite: Oh God, no!
Tata: I’d rather have a rash.

In her wake, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his new fiancee join us in the tent. Marguerite looks momentarily aghast. I jump up, “I have the BEST ex-husband!”

Tata: EEEEEEEEEEE! Congratulations!
FE-H: Hi! Thank you!
Tata: Do you remember Marguerite?

Seeing happiness and not ducking throwing knives, Marguerite is happy, too. She kisses the Fabulous Ex-Husband. I kiss Karen, his fiance. Mom kisses Karen, Daria kisses Karen. Miss Fifi kisses Karen. Marguerite is pleased to meet Karen. In the midst of all this kissing, I bleat, “Show us the ring! The ring!” but I can’t reach her hand and Karen doesn’t hear me. Mom catches hold of her hand.

Tata: Sasha picked it out. Let’s see the ring!

Karen holds out her hand. The ring is beautiful. Four women, two of whom have the kind of jewelry expertise that comes of carefully examining the contents of blue boxes, oooh and ahhh. Miss Sasha has lovely taste and the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) has the good sense to finance it. Karen takes a chair at one of the tables, where she is the belle of the ball. The Fabulous Ex-Husband joins the menfolk on the lawn, who are plainly having a much better time sunning themselves and drinking beer than I am until at some cue I don’t hear, women get up and fill flowery paper plates with small food. Marguerite, brooking no nonsense, says aloud, “Can we eat yet?”

Auntie I.: Yes! Let’s eat!

After the stampede and back at the tables, Marguerite asks about the phyllo pouch I made.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers…

Daria sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers…

Mom sits down and asks about the phyllo pouch.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers…

I wish I’d brought White Castle sliders. For the next half hour, shower guests ask this question over and over.

Tata: Potato, peppers, onions, cheese, cream, fresh herbs, artichoke, capers, Jimmy Hoffa.

Surprisingly, my mother does not swat the back of my head, perhaps distracted by the gifts Monday’s opening. Monday registered at Bed, Bath & Beyond and Crate & Barrel, leaving us with the impression that Monday, kindergarten teacher, has developed perilously expensive tastes. When Monday opens a Saturn-shaped cheese board, Mom smiles but I hear a sigh. One gift is too enthusiastically wrapped. Someone says, “Does anyone have a knife?” Mom, Marguerite, Daria and I each produce a knife. I wonder if the baby’s still unarmed. Horrified, Monday says, “If I use a knife I’ll have babies.”

I’m sitting between two women over sixty. They don’t need much of a shove.

Tata: Marguerite, did you hear that?
Marguerite: What did she say?
Daria: If Monday uses a knife she’ll have babies.
Marguerite: Is that what she thinks? It’s time InExcelsisDeo has a frank discussion with Monday.
Auntie I.: What what?
Marguerite: She thinks babies come from using knives.
Sandy: No wonder she’s so dull.
Auntie I.: Nobody gave her cutlery, right?
Marguerite: Why do those people keep shouting, “BINGO”? Wasn’t it bad enough the first time?
Mom: Monday, open that package so I can win, too.
Monday: You’re cheating.
Mom: Of course, Monday, that’s how it’s done.
Monday: Cutlery!
Mom: Bingo!
Marguerite: Doesn’t Monday look like Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She does!
Monday: Who’s Sophia Coppola?
Tata: She made The Virgin Suicides and Lost In Translation.
Marguerite: Francis Ford Coppola’s daughter.
Tata: I think she’s tall, like you, Monday.
Marguerite: Except she’s short like us.
Tata: In any case, we’re all from the same island.
Monday: Oh.
Sandy: Who do I look like?
Tata: Daria, Todd, your brother, Daria’s sons. You all look like our cousin Freddie. He’s dead and no longer resembling much of anything, which is why you don’t remember. And I look like the mailman brought me.
Daria: You look just like Mom.
Maguerite: You look like your grandmother.
Tata: I what?
Marguerite: Boy, she had a way of making your day. If you were feeling pretty good she could fix that for you in a flash.
Daria: “Nice shoes.”
Tata: She would say sharp things to you, for sure, but she would tell everyone else how much she liked you. I heard that almost constantly.
Marguerite: It’s wrong to speak ill of the dead but boy!
Tata: She had only one way of saying hello to us –
Daria: She would grab a handful of your hair and say –
Auntie I.: Would someone please pour me a glass of wine?

Auntie InExcelsisDeo seldom drinks and when she does, it’s usually a sip of something and a face. This version of Auntie stands in sharp contrast to the one that taught me to keep vodka in the freezer and ran around with bikers. People do change.

Monday: Can I have a picture with my bridesmaids?

The girls assemble. They are all tall. It looks strange to me.

Monday: Now with my sister and my cousins!

Daria and I stare at each other. We put down our desserts and go stand next to Monday, who is easily 6′ tall. Sandy is pretty close. Daria is close to Sandy’s height. Then there are two blond cousins from Monday’s father’s side. I smile for the cameras. I feel very short, fat and middle-aged.

Tata: I’m going to get you for this, Monday.

Some people change, just not Me. The wedding’s about a month away – ample time to plot revenge. For instance, what if the priest’s suddenly indisposed, and the only officiant available is a mime? Who wouldn’t buy the DVD of a wedding that turned into a game of charades between Pennsylvania farmers and Jersey Italians? The happy couple could start out life together as a big hit on EBay, and a lucrative investment for Me. So plotting my revenge is practically a public service…

Wrong End Of the Looking Glass

Johnny writes:

I got a bonus two-disk version on of Tusk. The funny thing is that the supposedly freaky stuff on the second disk doesn’t sound any more out there than the first. I’ll copy it for you, if you listen to those particular boys and girls any more.

Is there a period of your life you look back on and think, ‘If only I’d had better drugs and mean friends’? I think that every time I remember I have seven or eight Fleetwood Mac albums on vinyl. Tusk was a two-record set. About a quarter of the album sounds like the players were too bored for a second take. Is it possible the band reissued the album so it could be, you know, good?

I’m suspicious. The last thing Johnny sent me was Through the Barracades by Spandau Ballet. Lest anyone think we’re stealing and profiting here I have to say I’d pay someone to guarantee I never hear it again. Further:

Freak out in a moon age daydream.

I just wanted to say that.


Girl Fight Tonight

Sunday morning, I was up before 8:30, in part because I’d flopped onto my bed at midnight the night before, which I haven’t done except under the influence of influenza in nearly twenty years, but also due to the presence of Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He lodged an urgent request that I refill his water bowl first thing, and he did so by standing on my chest with toenails I’m still trying to cut when I can catch him. So I got up.

After some coffee – a lot of coffee – and a little breakfast, I laced up my old trainers and marched out my door. I walked all over Highland Park, saw an old friend of the family, saw all kinds of beautiful trees, interesting animals and exciting flowers in maddening colors. Birds sang. People smiled. I remembered the words of a man I once loved, “The woods are my church and my religion.” He was a selfish bastard but he treated his dogs well. In the park, I walked along the glistening Raritan, past morning softball players and pensive children half-heartedly dribbling basketballs. Up on the avenues again, I observed the details of homes and yards carefully maintained and fitfully neglected. A house I lived in years ago has an overgrown patch where I grew tomatoes, cilantro and basil. The family store was locked up and dark, which surprised me. I walked a random path back toward my apartment when my path intersected with Anya’s family’s. It was almost miraculous. Anya didn’t even say hello.

Anya: Did you know that 400,000 people have been killed in the Sudan? I have got to watch the news more!
Tata: Since the beginning of the conflict in Darfur? You’re not going to find it on the news.
Anya: When the pastor said that I felt like I’d been punched in the stomach. Our church and the temple you got married in are sponsoring a joint action. We’re adopting refugees. Would you spend a dollar a month to take care of a child?
Tata: I would! That’s great, I’m glad you’re doing this. But because I’m totally stupid, I’d give you $12 for a whole year, okay? So you’re just coming back from…?
Anya: Church. And you’re coming back from…?
Tata: The park. Same deal. Hey! I went to Monday’s bridal shower.
Anya: Omigod, you hate those!
Tata: Am I still twitching? By the way, do you know why I can’t find recycled paper products at the grocery store in our progressive town?
Anya: Aren’t Marcal products recycled? Isn’t that their thing?
Tata: Thanks! That sounds vaguely familiar. I’ll check.

Before Anya got married, had children and opened a business, she was an energetic single woman who ran around with Irish artists and Australian communists and swore up and down she’d never have children. Of all my siblings, she was the best-informed and most politically astute. Her moral outrage was as good as a grenade at family dinners. Also: even when I painted my toenails black I was wearing ostentacious color by comparison. Baby, those days are over. We’re all too tired for a food fight and we care about the china.

I kiss my little nephew and niece on their foreheads and march back to my place, where I scour my bathroom within an inch of its tiled life. Then I turn my attention to the kitchen. Before the bridal shower, I’d baked for two days and my kitchen is both sticky and greasy. It’s as if I redecorated with PAM, and the new tacky texture clashes with the curtains. While I’m at the store Monday morning looking for a natural and non-toxic degreaser, I stand in the paper aisle for twenty minutes and read labels. I don’t find any recycled paper towels or facial tissues but the Marcal toilet paper does indeed have the “paper from paper, not from trees” logo. I stand in line for a few minutes at customer service to ask why there aren’t more recycled paper products and green cleaning solutions but then the woman in front of me in line says, “There’s no one behind the counter!” I say, “I’ll…come back when this puzzle has a sailboat.”

Well then, I’ve developed a new brand loyalty. At least until I try it.

Monday evening, I discover yet another thing I actually know, which is making me feel like a poor student at the head of the class: going for a walk after dinner is great stuff. I walk hither. I walk yon. I knock on Anya’s door. Children are running everywhere. Dinner and store-related chatter are wrapping up. I hand Anya $12.

Tata: I promised!
Anya: You remembered! You’re out and about a lot lately.
Tata: I made the mistake of stepping on a scale and saw a new number. I don’t mean I’d never been near that number. No, I mean I’d never seen that number on a scale before. I jumped off and shouted, “LIAR!”
Anya: Ooh, I hate when that happens.
Corinne: Did you smash it with something and throw it away?
Anya: Did you decide it was obviously broken and forget to replace it?
Tata: So many options!
Corinne: What did you eat to console yourself?
Tata: A fistful of Nutella. However did you guess?
Corinne: Just lucky.
Anya: Our Sudanese boy’s name is Lucien. Do you want to see his picture?
Tata: No, thank you. Ahead, Irony Factor 6. Engage!

I used to lose weight and keep myself thin through the magical combination of poverty, vigorous exercise and a convenient eating disorder. Those days are also over. I’m trying out a new plan in which I eat reasonable portions, exercise vigorously and keep walking when I see boro residents I used to date. And their dogs.

Calling Mr. Cairo

The other day, my department was just sitting down for a meeting.

Lupe: …and did we ever figure out who did that song Limelight? I don’t think we did.
Ricardo: No, we were talking about other things.
Tata: Got a few words?
Lupe: (warbling in falsetto) “Living in the limelight…”
Tata: That’s Rush.
Lupe: I can’t believe you knew that!
Ricardo: Yeah, especially for a – you know – that’s not, like, your thing.

Just about any English-speaking person of my age, beige or lighter, with an FM radio in New Jersey would have known Rush did that song, but really, let’s not limit ourselves to what we think may be common knowledge. Ricardo thinks of me as a person who likes bands nobody’s ever heard of, which is fine by me but that’s not the end of it. I actually like bands several people have heard of.

Johnny reports that even detective fiction has its one-trick ponies:

The way I understand it, Raymond Chandler and Dash Hammett tried to lift detective fiction out of the swamps of pulp sold on newsstands and into the tasteful glow of literature. The people in that camp were appalled by Mickey Spillane, who they saw as dragging it back down. Ross Macdonald was seen as a welcome step back toward giving private dick fiction a little class. Well, I’m here to tell you, the guy’s a stooge. I just finished The Barbarous Coast, and I’m angry that he was allowed to call this a book. It’s my own fault, I go looking for these things at the library, anything with a pistol and a half-naked chick on the cover, I greedily snap up, and I start them and I can see right away that they’re trash, but without the lurid…ity? …luridosity? lurid quality that makes honest pulp enjoyable, yet I keep on with grim and joyless determination to the last wretched paragraph, like I’m going to learn something about writing, when I fucking already know already, wait until you have enough stuff to make a book before you say you’ve written a goddamn book. Don’t write ten percent book then go back and put in ninety percent filler and give it to your publisher and tell them you’re done. I feel for these bastards like Ross Macdonald and Robert Parker. They must have found themselves living the lavish life their first few books bought them, but slowly running out of ideas for more books, having to give something they knew was tripe to publishers desperate for something with that magic name on it, eking out an existence just like the paid-by-the-word pulp hacks they were told they were so superior to when they started. I can see Ross Macdonald sitting out on the terrace of his home by the beach in some tony California town, cigarette in his mouth, in a wife-beater, boxers, and a pair of black socks, tapping out this turkey on a battered old Underwood typewriter left over from the days when he was young and they told him he had talent, pouring scotch into his coffee to give himself the strength to just keep going, keep tapping, until he had enough pages to give to Bantam Books and be done with it already, for crissakes.

A contract’s a contract, and a deal with the Devil will someday come due. Ask Dick Cheney! And, by the way, Stephen Colbert is a god.