Just Like A Prayer, I’ll Take You There

Trout, who is just as guinea-wop-dago as I am, sent me a joke.


Vinny and Sal are out in the woods hunting when suddenly Sal grabs his chest and falls to the ground. He doesn’t seem to be breathing; his eyes are rolled back in his head. Vinny whips out his cell phone and calls 911. He gasps to the operator, “I think Sal is dead! What should I do?”

The operator, in a calm soothing voice says, “Just take it easy and follow my instructions. First, let’s make sure he’s dead.” There is a silence. And then a shot is heard.

Vinny’s voice comes back on the line, “Okay…now what?”

Let’s say it’s the cocktail hour and we’re erring on the side of thoroughness. Paulie’s drinking Bombay Sapphire, as is Mom and I’m not so sure about the six-year-old. I drink crappy white wine until dinner so I don’t wake up face-down in the warm crab dip. For an hour, we tromp outside in the sweltering afternoon air. Photographers bark out a list of names. We assemble. We are dismissed. We get a drink. We drink it. Someone taps us on our shoulders. We tromp outside. Photographers bark. We assemble. We are dismissed. We get a drink. Because the temperature difference between inside and outside is a triumph of modern technology, being outside makes everyone look damp and wilted. Finally, our side of the family is dismissed for the evening and we spend the next forty-five minutes body-to-body with dozens of strangers in two small rooms of an old house. With fruit sculptures. I can’t explain that. There really is a warm crab dip but since there’s no place to put down a plate, guests balance drinks, purses and plates. It’s only a matter of time before someone wears a raspberry camembert brooch. Fortunately, Paulie, Dad and Darla enjoy heckling the snackers. Miss Sasha, who traveled from Florida without Mr. Sasha but with their housemate Irena, has either missed me very much or is attempting to form a symbiotic relationship with me in the nature of ivy climbing an oak. I keep finding a person attached to me. Someone should check her for Velcro.

Finally, we are herded like well-dressed cattle to a dining room overlooking the patio where the wedding took place. Miss Sasha sits at my left, Paulie to my right. Mom and Tom sit across the table, making us six. Other tables are composed of eight. Within minutes, music and speeches start. I switch to gin.

For the next hour, this wedding could be any wedding not in a church basement. The food is abundant and bland. The servers are wearing black pants and white shirts. The DJ plays nothing but classic rock, and when the twenty-somethings dance to Taking Care of Business I give up. We can’t hear each other talk. Daria resorts to charades at the next table. Auntie InExcelsisDeo moves from table to table, supervising, doting on the guests. Uncle Frank is so overjoyed his sentences lose consonants. There’s no wedding cake because Monday and her friends decided it would be more interesting to bake cookies. They must’ve been at it for a week. The table covered with cookies could feed the population of a South Sea island. In other news, the vulgar garter catching and releasing ritual causes me to pretend I’m in My Happy Place, which is Anywhere Else, With Gin. The only time the guests got up and packed the dance floor was when the DJ went holy and sacrilegious with Madonna’s Like A Prayer, by which time I was desperate to hear anything with a pulse.

At 10, the Fabulous Ex-Husband, Karen, Miss Sasha and Irena kiss everyone good-bye and leave for Pennsylvania. We say a lot of filthy words about the my former sister-in-law, who is a dreadful human being. Because it will make her head explode, I tell them to give her my best. After they’re gone, Paulie and I get bored and notice the cameras on the tables. We recruit Todd and steal cameras. Paulie puts an arm around kid without pants and Todd takes pictures. The kid says, “Uh…what?”

As the reception winds down, we are all invited outside to hold sparklers while the bride and groom depart. It’s 11:40, sweltering hot and a light rain is falling. The shuttle back to the hotel is full. Paulie and I get separated and a minute later when I see him he’s lighting fireworks for small children, which is so, so endearing! And then, everything goes wrong. I turn back to the shuttle. I turn back to Paulie. I turn and see the shuttle close its doors and leave. I turn and see the bride and groom skipping down flagstone steps surrounded by sparkler-wielding well-wishers. Everyone stops. Everyone is staring. The shuttle has pulled out of the parking lot, and that little bus-whatsis was everyone’s transportation, including the Happy Couple’s.

We all march back inside. The bar’s closed. The dining room is getting an industrial-strength cleanup. Paulie and I look at each other without the faintest idea of what to do. One of the bridesmaids is a lawyer and she is on the phone with the shuttle company, which has no intention of sending that bus back. Finally, a complete stranger I don’t even recall seeing during the course of the evening offers us a ride to our hotel. Since he seems sober and isn’t related, I assume he can be trusted. He drops us off. We peel off sweat-sticky outfits and chant, “What the hell just happened?”

You will be pleased to know that on the ride home, Paulie and I sang along with Tom Jones’s Black Betty and Ministry’s Jesus Built My Hotrod at the tops of our hungover lungs. The bus did come back. And the Catsitter said, “What the hell happened to you?”

Now I’m Dancing

We interrupt this droll wedding story for photos from the event. The identities of the merely related have been protected from public scrutiny through Siobhan’s judicious photoshopping.

The ceiling of Paulie’s truck is steel, glue and bits of foam.

Tom, Mom, Marguerite, Arnold and a bus driver to be named later.

A dozen of my relatives picked up cameras and ran to get a better shot.

Monday and Barry, introduced as “For the first time anywhere, Monday and Barry So&So” three times.

Monday’s sister Sandy is not actually a blonde. That is a trick of the light.

Dad and Miss Sasha hug.

Daria spins Tyler, Two.

Cousin Tony (Monday’s giant baby brother) and my brother Todd yuk it up. The resemblance is scary. We tell them apart by accident.

The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his fiancee Karen sat next to Dad at the reception. I got custody of Mom.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo with Dad, her brother. I caught them eying dessert.

Monday and Barry. They’ll make out great in the Witness Protection Program, where matching six-foot newlyweds are quite common.

For fun sometime: attend a family event and demand your relatives turn around so you can photograph their backs. Though Auntie InExcelsisDeo can’t follow directions she doesn’t issue, not a single member of my family argued with me.

No End And No Beginning

Paulie and I put down our beers and walk outside as the shuttle bus arrives. My cousin Marguerite and her boyfriend Arnold – if we can call retirees “boyfriend” and “girlfriend” – coo, cackle and exclaim when they meet up in line with Mom and Tom. I walk up behind them and the cacophony begins anew. We are the bride’s only relatives on the bus, which becomes patently obvious when the other shuttle riders stand an average of six inches taller than Marguerite and me. I’ve never met Arnold and Paulie vaguely remembers Marguerite from some occasion years ago. At the bridal shower, Marguerite told us a story about Arnold’s amusing choice of timepieces.

Tata: Arnold, lemme see your watch.
Arnold: I wore the good one!
Marguerite: He wore the Casio!
Tata: Yeah, but it’s the formal Casio.
Arnold: We don’t go to a lot of weddings and we’re not living in sin, precisely.
Marguerite: We have our own houses.
Arnold: So, Tom and Lucy, where do you live?
Tata: In sin, precisely.
Marguerite: Domenica, you’re a card!
Tata: Thank you, dahhhhhhhhhhhling.
Arnold: Where are we anyhow?

This is an exceptionally good question because the shuttle has stopped after a sign that said MANSION. One thing strange to those of us from Jersey is that to get anywhere you have to drive ten miles on state highways. The roads have no names – just numbers. Though we know the site of the wedding has a name, for highway purposes we’re standing in the MANSION parking lot. Half of everyone I know is standing around, sweating. The Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his fiancee Karen can’t wait to tell me everything.

He: Guess what! Guess what!
She: We drove in and parked ten minutes ago!
He: And after dinner we’re driving back to Pennsylvania for our nephew’s bar mitzvah tomorrow!
She: I’ve never been to a bar mitzvah!
He: We got changed in the car!
Tata: That is …awesome!
Stranger: Walk this way, please.
He: This way?
Tata: C’mon, Igor! The kids’re gittin’ hitched!

I follow someone I’m probably related to through a door, where an employee asks, “Are you coming in for the bathrooms? The wedding’s outside.” I say, “No, dahhhhhhhling. We simply lack direction in life.” Back outside, we turn a corner and –

Look! Paulie and I meet Dad and Darla. My sister Daria, her husband Tyler, their three children. My brother Todd. I didn’t know Todd was coming from Los Angeles! Miss Sasha and her roommate Irena. Around us sit other people who have played significant roles in our family life and a bunch of guests I’ll never pick out of a lineup, even after the reception. Paulie and I sit down in the same row as Mom and Tom, where we box in Daria’s three-year-old son between Tom and me. Sandro’s got Matchbox trucks and pennies. Paulie and I look around and spin back to one another with the same observation.

Us: That kid’s not wearing any pants!

Indeed, in the row behind us a kid has chosen the unique fashion statement of seersucker blue and white Bermuda shorts, a white t-shirt and a blue dinner jacket.

Paulie: He looks like the kid from Caddyshack! Obviously, I’m trying too hard, wearing a shirt with buttons.

Somehow, the dearly beloved miss some significant cue. Some of us haven’t taken seats yet when a bridesmaid walks past with a young man in rented clothing. Dozens of people murmur, “Whoops!” and rush for chairs. For the first time, we notice we’re sitting in a little glen with a rectangular pond at its center, a platform at the far end and Doric columns. A pack of young men in odd suits appear from nowhere. Bridesmaids continue streaming past us. It happens so fast Arnold says out loud, “Hey, quit sprinting!” Auntie InExcelsisDeo walks down the aisle. My cousin Monday is escorted down the aisle by Uncle Frank. The ceremony is brief and quiet until Paulie and I hear the words we dread: “The bride and groom have written their own vows.”

Few moments in life offer a chance for one’s family and friends to see into the vast mediocrity of one’s soul like poorly written homemade wedding vows. You promise what? And, for cryin’ out loud, what else? Sweet hopping Christ, you’re going to regret that in divorce court. If you’re contemplating such a revealing maneuver, by all means DON’T. Take the standard vows and bug out for the open bar, kids. Fortunately for dozens of people, the sound system tanks, and nobody hears Monday’s and Barry’s vows. I tug on Marguerite’s sleeve.

Tata: Is this wedding subtitled?

Don’t get me wrong: we love and adore Monday, the bride. She is a good person and during expecially difficult times for our family, even when she was very young, Monday demonstrated a character we could all be proud of, without question. At the moment, it is above 80 degrees and the clouds have parted after a three-day rainstorm, we are wearing uncomfortable clothing and it’s not like we’ve ever shut our mouths for more than a minute. Daria gives a reading and bursts into tears. Auntie InExcelsisDeo is crying her eyes out. Uncle Frank is teary. Monday’s sister Sandy’s tears interrupt the ceremony several times. I keep looking at Paulie like ‘Wha…?’

We all miss another cue and the marriage is suddenly legal, which we know because the bride and groom reach for one another’s tonsils for all their worth but everyone plays along since Monday and Barry are, like, really nice looking and who could blame them? The recessional music causes us all to chatter out loud.

Tom: What is that?
Tata: That’s Superman, right?
Paulie: I thought it was Star Wars but Superman is funnier.
Tata: So which is it?
Tom: I think it’s Superman.
Paulie: It is! It’s Superman!

Yes. I squealed with glee. No one noticed, and no one was wearing tights and a cape – that we know of.

One cue we don’t miss: the cocktail hour starts now!

I’m Falling Out Of the Sky

A few weeks ago, I lay supine on my couch watching All My Children when I saw something I would never have imagined in a million years. Such is our training by the passage of time and the formation of assumptions that when I saw this truly small, truly strange detail in a show I’ve watched on and off since I was a teenager that at first I didn’t believe my eyes. Then I jumped up and ran to my television. It was true, I really had seen it. Maybe no one else noticed, and it certainly can’t be important in anyone’s scheme of things. The impossible thing was this: in a scene in the Pine Valley Hospital, Susan Lucci as Miss Erika Kane was talking to a villainous doctor when she reached into her handbag, pulled out a rubber band and tied her hair into a pony tail.

I almost swallowed my tongue. Paulie and I are standing in a hotel room in Frederick, Maryland at 5:40 in the evening. Let’s go back in time to 9 a.m., when the Catsitter calls.

Catsitter: Are you packed?
Tata: Nope.
Catsitter: I knew it!
Tata: I’ve got everything laid out systematically. My clothing is clean and rolled neatly. My cosmetics, goos and potions fill a grid system on the living room floor.
Catsitter: Why not jam everything into that tiny computer wheelie you drag around?
Tata: What, before I’ve played Concentration long enough to realize what I’ve already forgotten?
Catsitter: Rumor has it civilization has advanced and drugstores can be found in the wilds of Frederick County.
Tata: How would you know?
Catsitter: I’ve bailed out shoplifters. They have a newsletter. And I’m from there.
Tata: Oh God. Did you shoot your own leather jacket?

I can’t talk to the Catsitter. I’ve got important fretting, complaining and kvetching to do. Miss Sasha still has not called back with instructions. My apartment’s a wreck and I have errands to do. I pick up medicine for Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He has an oral infection that requires medicine twice daily on top of his usual kiddie steroids so I can’t leave him for 36 hours. The Catsitter will arrive on an evening train and brave the Wrath of the Feline. It was kind, thoughtful and amazingly stupid of him to volunteer for this dangerous mission. I buy him BandAids and a bottle of bacteriostatic honey to fight infection. You know. In case. Then I shop for fresh fruit and vegetables because when I get back I’m going to be full of cream sauces and puff pastry and strong measures must be taken to fight off that Weekend Wedding Weightgain. Oh, no. I’m not going back to my Fat-Fat Clothes. I’m staying in Merely-Fat Clothes, damn it. By now, Miss Sasha still hasn’t called but Paulie Gonzalez has. He’s been detained by work, where he is busy saving the world, I kid you not. This gives me time to harass Miss Sasha, who still does not answer the phone.

Google driving directions hinted that our route would take 3 hours, 47 minutes. I laughed and told Paulie we needed 5 hours if it weren’t raining up and down the Eastern Seaboard, and we were facing some lame deadline at 5:45 about which I had precious little information except that it would somehow provide me with an excellent opportunity to fail miserably where the whole family could see me. Paulie said he’d be over at 11:30, which became 12, then 12:30, when he pulled up in front of my apartment in a fabulous and disreputable 1965 GM pickup that was red, then Paulie sanded about half of it down to black primer and welded to fix rust. The windows were open. There were makeshift seatbelts. He had to lift the passenger side door to open it from the outside after tossing my suitcase into the bed. I was immediately overjoyed.

The mp3 player in the dash cranked out Paulie’s and my favorite songs and we howled the classics at the top of our lungs. We have a mutual love of good, grinding noise. Kill the Poor and Fly Me To the Moon, windows open to the breeze and squeezing shut against the rain; sweat ran down our backs and rain splattered everywhere. When the first drops fell, Paulie pulled over and dragged my suitcase into the cab and a good thing, since I’d forgotten it by then. We stopped for gas often because the previous owner installed the gas gauge upside down, and if the tank were full the truck wouldn’t start. We encountered accidents, rain blindness, stop-and-go traffic a good part of the distance from Turnpike Exit 9 until Exit 4. In Delaware, the signs stopped agreeing with Google’s directions so we stopped and found out we were accidentally on the right road, which was a 220-volt shocker.

My dear friend Georg weeks ago introduced the idea of making soft blankets for shelter animals. There’s nothing to do in a long car trip but whine. I had and have boxes of extra yarn and piles of knitting needles. I can’t tell you how many drivers in traffic looked at Paulie’s antique and rusting pickup doing 90, blasting the Supersuckers and the Dropkick Murphys, saw me knitting pink fuzzy yarn and decided to up their dosage.

I would’ve.

Despite our best attempts to defeat the laws of physics, we ran into traffic just outside Frederick that just wouldn’t quit. My stomach churned. My stitches tightened. Paulie’s lips compressed with tension and effort. The fire suddenly went out.

Tata: It’s okay.
Paulie: What?
Tata: If we miss the ceremony because it’s in this hellhole at rush hour and traffic’s at a standstill – I just don’t care.
Paulie: Nothing we can do about it.
Tata: Right, so let’s not worry and when we get to the hotel, we see if anyone knows anything. It’ll be fine.

Under other circumstances, if I say stuff like this I should be xrayed for concussions immediately, and if the xrays come back clean they’re lying. We feel relieved and slap-happy when we check into our hotel and get to our room at 5:40. Paulie showers. I shower. We finally get Miss Sasha on the phone and learn about the 6:30 shuttle, for which we are miraculously early. We get beer while we’re waiting and we hardly know what to say to one another. Then something happens we would never have imagined in a million years of Erika Kane putting her hair in pigtails.

Paulie: To goddamn weddings!
Tata: Gaaaaaaaaaaaah.
Paulie: Look who’s on time for the shuttle.
Tata: Is that MY MOTHER? This isn’t a miracle. It’s one long ACT OF GOD!
Paulie: Yeah, well. Looks like God gets the Oscar tonight.

It’s Like An Angel Sighing

Miss Sasha: Mommy! I’m driving around Pennsylvania and Monday gave me jobs to do!
Tata: I’m sorry I changed Monday’s damn diapers…
Miss Sasha: What?
Tata: Nothing!
Miss Sasha: Okay, so did you leave the house yet?

I hold the receiver away from my head for a moment. Just to stare.

Tata: Sweetheart, you called my house.
Miss Sasha: I did! I’m so confused! It’s my job to make all the family phone calls.
Tata: Are you driving on – you know – actual roads? In a car?
Miss Sasha: Yes, I’ve got an ear thing.
Tata: Aha. So…why did you call me?
Miss Sasha: The wedding’s at 7 and the shuttle leaves the Courtyard at 5:45.
Tata: I’m not staying at the Courtyard. Does the shuttle stop at my hotel?
Miss Sasha: I’ll call you back!

Ten minutes pass. An hour. Two hours. I go out walking and running. When I get back, there’s a message.

Miss Sasha: Call me back! I have the information.

Fantastic. One phone call and I can be totally informed and confident of my ability to embarrass my family in a timely manner. I get voicemail.

Tata: Sweetheart, if you don’t call me back I’ll stalk my hotel’s bartender for gin and a straw!

It’s just the kind of threat she understands. She knows I’ll use a disposable camera to chronicle Paulie Gonzalez’s and my disreputable public adventures. And we have a blog! Hands up – who’s nervous? Even so, I call her on Paulie’s cell, because I don’t have one. The first time.

Tata: Miss Sasha, this is your mother –
Voice: Hello?

And CLICK! The second.

Tata: Hello?
Voice: Sasha’s not here right now. Can I take a message?
Tata: This is her mother –

And CLICK! What the hell? The third.

Tata: Hello?
Miss Sasha: Mommy!
Tata: The last two times I called someone hung up on me. Just tell me what I need to know and we can get on with this inspiring debacle. We just arrived and don’t stand a chance in Hell of making that 5:45 shuttle.
Miss Sasha: Take the 6:30. Aunt Daria has a portable closet full of clothing for you.
Tata: Too late for that. I brought a ghastly outfit and I’ll suck it up and wear it.
Miss Sasha: You’ll…what?

As I hang up, Paulie looks shocked, too. Sure, I’m vain but we’re on a hard deadline and if I’m not careful I’ll cave and track down Daria’s closet, which will cause us to miss the ceremony. In a moment of panic, I turn to Paulie and gasp.

Tata: Next time I get the bright idea we should go to an out of state wedding, let’s rent a hotel room, a ska band and five gallons of matzoh ball soup.
Paulie: With sushi and a UN translator, we could rule the world.
Tata: I’ll settle for surviving the cocktail hour without a subpoena.

Damn it, I hate weddings!

Like A Dream, You Are Not What You Seem

I learned a lot from reading Jaws in my early teens. Daria, Todd and I went to visit Dad at his house in Toothless, Virginia where television reception was sketchy and programming was downright terrifying. In a way, it was a relief that Dad’s nearest neighbors were cattle because at that time the movies in the nearest town’s theater were three years old and kids got married at 14 for lack of anything else to do but each other. Dad told us not to leave the house when he went to work but there was little temptation to leave, no place to go and Dad’s Playboy and Penthouse collections to study. The summer I read Jaws we’d set up a long jumping pit in the driveway, a calisthenics circuit and an archery range. Though long jumping into gravel and the subsequent abrasions held great appeal, amateur icthyology was pretty keen, too. Mr. Benchley knew lots of things I, a landlocked teen reading “I never thought this would happen to me” letters, did not know. He’d read the Bible, for instance and introduced to me the idea that I could and might read it myself one day. He knew that if you’re switching wines you should use a different glass or rinse out the one you’re using or expect flatulence. He also mentioned that if you fuck your police chief friend’s wife you can’t expect a shark cage to keep out the Wrath of God. This seemed like an important point that summer, when I read Jaws 27 times. That is not hyperbole. And canst thou catch Leviathan on a hook?

Nope. When Auntie InExcelsisDeo said, “Save the date. Monday is getting married Friday, 23 June 2006 in Frederick, MD and you will be there,” I could see a giant set of teeth swimming toward me armed with crab puffs and squinty-eyed suspicion. When I said, “I love you dearly but I’m not going to any bridal showers,” Auntie laughed and issued as sincere and loving a death threat above 110 decibels as I have ever received. So I went. And as much as I tried to say, “I’m not rocketing the length of the Jersey Turnpike, blinking in Delaware and staring myself comatose across the unchanging asphalt and trees of Maryland so I can sweat in the most uncomfortable clothes I own and shove an envelope full of bills down the sticky back of my cousin’s wedding dress after she and her Twenty-Something friends inexplicably dance to Taking Care of Business” my refusal somehow didn’t stick, those teeth got perilously close and I called up my ex-boyfriend Paulie Gonzalez.

Tata: Dude, like, dude…!
Paulie: What’s the matter?
Tata: Monday’s getting married, death threats, formal wear.
Paulie: I’ve got new truck without a complete paint job. We’re going!
Tata: …awesome…

Even so, a Friday evening wedding is tricky business. Gifts must be sent in advance. Outfits must be assembled and packed with care. Maps must be obtained and studied. Family phone numbers must be carefully coordinated. Homes must be secured. Pets must be cared for. Children become a common responsibility. Monday’s wedding invitation gave us the name of one hotel, one set of directions and Auntie I. said, “I want my family around me.” In the weeks leading up to the wedding, when my resolve against crossing state lines crumbled, I found the appointed hotel full. Another hotel in the same complex was full but a third was not. Since the hotels’ front desks were less than five hundred yards apart, it didn’t make any difference where I threw my pajamas on the floor so long as the floor wasn’t a parking lot and the room around it wasn’t also a parking lot, Auntie I. would have to settle for a more generous family orbit.

That theme music is starting to sound a little…fishy…

Fly Through the Revolution

I don’t think much about loneliness until loneliness sits down next to me and orders drinks on my tab.

Grandpa: Domy!

Only Grandpa and Scout call me that. I will punch anyone else who tries it.

Grandpa: Thank you for the Father’s Day Card!
Tata: I love you! It’s the least I can do.
Grandpa: I won’t use it, though, until I pay off this other credit card.
Tata: It’s a gift card, Grandpa. You can get 35 pair of socks, if you want to!
Grandpa: What did you say, dear?
Tata: You can buy all of Sears’ sock department, Grandpa, it’s a gift card.
Grandpa: Yes, dear, but I don’t want to get in trouble with it. Just because I have it doesn’t mean I’ll use it.
Tata: Well…okay.

He hates when I buy him presents. I gave him basil plants and he made Mom take them. It was too extravagant a gift. Seems like a problem you’d solve with marinara sauce but my solutions may be simplistic.

Grandpa: Where’s your mother? Do you know where she went?
Tata: She’s gone to Maryland for my cousin Monday’s wedding.
Grandpa: What did you say, dear?
Tata: She’s gone to Maryland for a wedding.
Grandpa: What town? Do you know what town, in case the guys down at the Vets ask?
Tata: Frederick, Maryland. I’m going tomorrow.
Grandpa: Oh, thank you, Domy! And you’re going tomorrow! Ha ha!

When Grandpa’s done talking he’s done. If he’s already said goodbye and you say, “One more thing – ” expect the next sound to be a dial tone. He hangs up on Mom twice a day at least.

Tata: I love you, Grandpa!
Grandpa: Talk to you soon!
Tata: Talk –

Click. He’s a very old man who goes to the Veterans of Foreign Wars post, of which he is a founding member, every day at four for two beers. He is worshipped by the younger members, which I have seen with my own eyes. He has a lot of friends. People take him hither and yon, care for him and cook for him. Mom monitors his doings with an iron will from four states away. I don’t know if he’s lonely. When he cheerfully hangs up on me I sure am.