Secrets Out To Flunkeys And Castrato Walkers

Tata: Look, it’s wrong to deputize waitresses and make them the cigarette police.
Daria: They’re already deputized to cut off drunks.
Tata: By the time you cut off a drunk, he sees two of you and you’re sober. Even with a gun, he’s not much of a threat to you. A smoker with a gun gets pissed off and homicidal while he can still aim. That’s how that bouncer in the city bought the farm.
Tom: I loved going to bars in California and not smelling like smoke.
Tata: Look, I have nothing against smoke-free restaurants. Bars are a different story. Absolutely nobody is going to a bar to improve their health.
Daria: They’re the same story. What do you care, anyway? You quit smoking. It’s not your problem.
Tata: I like my bar dark and smoky. Anybody who doesn’t doesn’t have to go.
Daria: What about the people who work there?
Tata: They’re not serving drinks when they’re outside smoking to protect them from their secondhand smoke.
Daria: Now I’m not uncomfortable in bars with my asthma.
Tata: Now you’re never in bars, either, so what do you care?

Mom, Lois, Dara, Anya and Corinne sit still as church mice while Daria and I shout at each other. Everyone knows if Daria and I are rolling around on the floor punching one another that before anyone can say, “Nice uppercut, sweetie!” Daria and I will be off in a corner whispering, “You didn’t hear this from me, but…” So nobody says, “Keep it down, willya?” as we’re shouting the four feet across the dining room table and as suddenly as it started the squall blows over. It helps that Mom’s holding a bottle of wine and asking who wants refills. Tyler and Dan have taken a powder for the evening. The only male personage left in the room is Tom. Everyone else, including the infants, is female. After Lois, Dara and I clear the table and load the dishwasher, Lois takes out a new knitting kit Mom’s given her. Corinne has a book of incomprehensible puzzles and looks up from penciling in squares to explain how simple the puzzles are. Daria looks over Corinne’s shoulder and frowns.

Daria: I don’t have time for puzzles that don’t involve my phone bill.
Tata: From here, it looks like needlepoint patterns. Lois, do you know how to ball yarn?
Lois: No.
Tata: Your great-grandmother taught me. Here, I have a skein, watch. Take the end from the inside.
Lois: Why that one?
Tata: The outside end has cooties.
Lois: Did she teach you that too?
Tata: No. Grammy didn’t lie to children, even the naughty ones. You hold the very end between your fingertips and stretch your fingers far apart.
Lois: That looks awkward.
Tata: Yeah, pretend your in Mime School or something. Then wind the yarn around your outstretched fingers loose enough that it doesn’t cut off circulation but tight enough that after about twenty or thirty spins you take your fingers out, wrap them around what you’ve spun and turn the loop 90 degrees in any direction. Then you do this over and over until you have a ball. When you run into tangles, your impulse will be to pull tightly. Don’t – keep your hands loose and find the snarl gently. After the second or third skein of yarn you will find making a ball as natural as blinking an eye.

I do this all very fast and we move on to the skein for Lois’ project. She tries it out, slowly and uncertainly. It’s not complicated but it takes practice. In the meantime, around the table we talk about the year Mom lost the connection between eating and everything else and was too thin: 1967-1968. She’d been excited enough about Robert Kennedy to work in his campaign and then he was assassinated. Mom was devastated. The world seemed like it was on fire. In July, 1968 we moved to the house Mom lives in now. We are very much aware of teenage girls at the table as we talk about food issues.

Mom: You don’t remember all that, do you?
Tata: Sure, I do. Let’s go back in time, shall we? “Hey, Mom! Eat a sandwich!”
Daria: Shut up, Miss Anorexia.
Dara: What?
Tata: Oh, it was very glamorous when I was in high school to puke up your lunch. But then Mom caught me so I stopped eating. Our Grandma put a stop to that. She was a genius.
Dara: What did she do?
Tata: She sat across the table from me with a bowl of her amaretto mousse, eating small spoonfuls. “Domenica, this is so delicious – ” Nibble, nibble. “It’s too bad you’re not having some – ” Nibble. “This is so good I shouldn’t be eating this all myself but – ” Nibble. “I have really outdone myself this time, it’s so delicious – ” Finally, I caved and ate. Man, she was shrewd.

Dara was born the day before our Grandma died in 1991; to Dara, Edith is nothing but pictures and stories, as someday we will all be. Anya notices that it’s after 1 and, startled, we jump up, run to our beds and sleep at high speed. I’m the only one at the table certain I won’t be supervising small children in a few hours. My bedroom seems cavernous, my bed feels a mile wide; I am utterly certain I won’t sleep and then it’s morning.

Out Of the Window With Confetti In My Hair

Your family is your family, in whatever sense you live it or compose it. Some people are related to apparently nobody but this is only a problem of perception and logistics since at this moment in the history of mad scientists no human being can be a blood relation of nobody; all of us must be related to other people. Eventually, it will be discovered that all people are related to one another and when we take this recognition to heart, Thanksgiving dinner will be Hell on Earth, amen.

Daria: Don’t just stand there. Hand me the asparagus and sit down.
Tata: I’m gonna wedge myself in there? I’m lefthanded.

Everyone who is not talking stares at Dara, sitting next to Mom at one end of the table. Nobody stares at Daria, at the other end of the table because Miss Fifi sits in baby furniture on the floor at Daria’s feet. Dara, who lives in Virginia with Dad and may never have had dinner with this group, demonstrates that she is nonetheless a part of it.

Dara: Okay. I’ll eat yours, then.
Tata: Lois, just so you know: when I stab you with cutlery it’s because stabbing Dara would require an impolite boarding house reach.
Lois: Fine, but use your own knife. That one’s mine.
Tata: A thousand pardons, darling. Please pass the salad.
Lois: We’re out of salad.
Daria: What?
Anya: What?
Mom: (Running to the kitchen) Nooooooooo!
Anya: I see you eyeing the pesto.
Tata: You only think there’s some for you.
Anya: That pesto spoon didn’t touch the chicken, did it?
Dara: No, but –
Tata: If I lick the spoon the pesto’s mine mine mine!
Anya: If you lick that spoon you will never sauce again!

For most of my teens and all of my twenties I was more or less estranged from my family but things have changed. I am pleased to be part of any group in which sauce is used simultaneously as a verb and a threat. In fact, if I lick that spoon, Daria’s husband Tyler will clutch his chest and keel over. He is a little germphobic. How he survives in a household with three little germ factories and an actual, you know, woman is beyond me – moreover, he’s sitting at my right hand. At some point I don’t notice, he’s not there anymore and the little boys all go to bed. What I do notice is everyone stops shouting, “Don’t run in the house!” for the first time since I arrived at the inn. Anya’s husband Dan also fades into the darkness of the evening and the house without my noticing. My stepfather Tom, one of the most patient human beings who has ever walked the earth, earlier proposed we smother the little boys and absolutely nobody said in a loud chorus, “OK!” because that would be so, so wrong. Mom runs back from the kitchen with a full bowl of salad while we are all still there and all is right with the world. A brief period of contented chewing occurs.

A Chance On A Brand New Dance

Week 4 Friday Morning Report

Goal 1
Since last week, I lost 2 lbs.

Goal 3
No time for yoga but this also meant I was inpspired to stretch a little more every day. So some good came of being pressed for time.

Last Monday, I had a talk with myself.

Tata: You have a goal you really want to achieve and yet you cling to behaviors and structures that do not serve your desires.
Tata: Lady, what the hell are you talking about?
Tata: Our fat ass.
Tata: Yep. Still there!
Tata: Exactly. You’re eating a lot of fresh foods and minimizing white flours, which is great.
Tata: Pat me on the back. I can’t…quite…reach –
Tata: It’s not enough. Our weight’s held steady for weeks, despite the fanatical and fun efforts to exercise, even in crushing heat.
Tata: Are we almost done? My epaulets are wilting.
Tata: For the time being, why not take one step further? You want to lose weight. Why not eliminate a source of calories you hadn’t even considered?
Tata: Which one?
Tata: Wine.
Tata: I can’t give up drinking wine! Might as well tell me to breathe every other hour!
Tata: Wine slows down your metabolism.
Tata: What metabolism?
Tata: Right.
Tata: No, really. What metabolism? If it can’t get any slower why not pad the blow?
Tata: In other words, you don’t actually care if we lose weight?
Tata: I do. As long as I don’t have to actually work at it. Or give up anything. Or pay attention, really. And six weeks from now – POOF! We’re a size 2.
Tata: We’ll be a size 2 a year after we’re pushing up daisies, sweetheart.
Tata: Can’t we just skip to the “Tata – After” photo?
Tata: No. So whaddya say we quit sipping pino grigio after dinner on school nights?
Tata: Will I be rewarded with a sleek, athletic build?
Tata: How about healthy, and with all the curves of a mountain road under the wheels of a gassed-up Lotus?
Tata: What? No wonder nobody understands a word we say.

Common sense prevailed. I know! I can’t believe it, either. I mentioned this to Siobhan.

Tata: I’m not having a sip of wine until I next weigh myself. Don’t tell anyone. What would people say?
Siobhan: “She quit drinking BOOZE? It was as if a million vineyards cried out as one and then were silent.”
Tata: I could cause panic by changing one aspect of my life?
Siobhan: Remember your red vinyl mini-skirt and that little people band?
Tata: And look who we’ve got our Hanes on now. Point taken.

Nobody panic! Each body is different and wants different things to achieve results. Mine wants a month-long vegetarian art and yoga boot camp where there are no electronic devices to cloud the mind. Barring that – as it remains undelivered by the Wild Fantasy Fairy and how would the ashram fit under my pillow? – this aspect of my July project is complete. I’ll keep at it. Though the path is pretty clear, I can still find the poison ivy.

To A World That Others Might Have Missed


Our little boy-pack digging holes in sand at the edge of Lake Arcadia.


Anya paddling the two three-year-old boys, Ezekiel and Sandro. What you can’t see is Daria standing on the dock, freaking out. She is very protective, and they were too far out on the water to meet Daria’s immediate protection needs.


Anya and Corinne taking the boys on a grand adventure. We should have dressed the boys up like pirates or Revolutionary War soldiers.


This only looks like a picture of scenery. Actually, Anya, Corinne and the boys have paddled around to the channel behind the island and this is a picture of them being invisible.


These are my freedom-loving toes, overjoyed to be free in the cool sand. My toes and I agree: shoes are not our friends!

Reap the Wild Wind

Standing in the kitchen, clutching a glass of wine for dear life, I’m watching a whole lot of things happen all at once. Daria runs through the kitchen, never missing a beat in the conversation she and I are having while keeping tabs on her son and humoring Miss Fifi, who I’m sure is grafted to Daria’s hip. Mom is supervising as she and Dara boil water for angel hair pasta. Each family group bought out a Costco: on every surface in the giant kitchen someone has shoved things aside and made piles of cookies, breads, crackers, pasta. There is a whole counter covered with hot dog and hamburger rolls and Portuguese muffins. The four little boys run from room to room in spite of the chorus of voices shouting, “Don’t run! Go outside!” Dan quietly feeds Miss Gigi in the dining room. Anya and Corinne pour wine and sort out disputes between the little boys and the teenage girls. Lois and Dara have a room at the end of the hall upstairs, next to mine. The little boys aren’t used to being separated from Lois at least and don’t understand why Corinne tells them to stay out of the girls’ room. Tippecanoe in particular seems crestfallen that he can’t play in his sister’s room. I give my sisters credit. It’s so loud I can’t think, and I can’t figure out why Dara is tossing butter with a giant mound of angel hair while Daria says, “Mantequilla aqui!” and I say, “Use the Italian cognate,” and Mom puts the whole thing on a back burner. Later, it will require four people to portion out the room temperature pasta for Tippecanoe, Tyler Too, Sandro and Ezekiel.

I can’t explain any of this. I look like the statue in the middle of a traffic circle while cars buzz by – a very glamorous statue with vibrant red hair. My discomfort with all the noise is not a secret.

Tata: Too many people talking –
Daria: Shut up! Are not! What a wuss!
Anya: Ezekiel, sit down at the table –
Corinne: Tippecanoe, did you wash your hands?
Mom: If I say beurre, is that more helpful?
Daria: It’s a romance language! She should be able to pick it up.
Lois: What kind of vegetable are we having?
Mom: Domenica, we have broccoli and asparagus. Tyler will grill or we can microwave.
Tata: Let’s microwave the asparagus, if no one minds.
Daria: Have you seen the chicken?
Tata: …No…
Daria: Dara and I made it by accident and it was GREAT!
Tata: I’m sure it is…what is it?
Daria: Two nights ago, Dara and I sauteed some chicken breasts, then threw on some red peppers, tossed on some mozzarella and painted up the whole thing with pesto. We didn’t even make it to the table. I was like, “Sorry I can’t stop shoveling this delicious chicken in my mouth long enough to make conversation but -” and she was like, “That’s okay, I can’t stop shoveling either.”
Tata: That sounds very delicious. Or like hypnosis –
Mom: I believed her. Note the large number of trays ready to go into the broiler.
Daria: And the pesto any one of us would drink through a straw.
Tata: Yep, and ever since I gave up Hollandaise a la mode –
Dara: What?
Tata: It went better over ice cream than in Italian dessert sodas.
Dara: What?
Tata: Mine is a different concept of dessert. Not for me the tooth-rotting sweetness, no! I want the salty and unbelievably fattening gravies and sauces. Preferably in a nice glass with a soup spoon.
Mom: I believe you, too.
Daria: Will you shut up, already?
Tata: What? Mom believes me!
Daria: She’s lying, Mom!
Anya: Does everybody have a bowl of buttery pasta and a little boy to feed?
Tata: Mom, I am so glad I only had one child and she’s old enough to cut her own angel hair –
Daria: Oh, good, Miss Mouth. You can cut Sandro’s.

One of these days, I am going to learn when to express gratitude and when to shut my trap. I cut up buttery angel hair wondering if our plan to subdue the four little boys is to starve their brains of protein until they just think they’re running around the house – and why am I cutting angel hair? Isn’t it small enough that the whole noodle can easily fit through the tiny nose of the average laughing little boy?

I Don’t Feel Tardy

Week 4 Tuesday Report

Goal 2
I have not been home enough to make any progress on the apartment this week. In fact, the vacuum is lying on the living room floor where I left it Sunday morning before I went to work at the family store.

To compensate (the point is to make progress, not punish myself) I’ll report again next Tuesday on precisely how humiliating it can be when the vacuum is still there.

Track A Ghost Through A Fog

Johnny sent me a copy of one of our favorite old Fleetwood Mac CDs, which was exciting. I truly enjoy driving around with the windows open, singing the trumpet parts. DA! DA! DA! TUSK! This came in very handy when Friday, the family migrated north and west to a bed & breakfast on Lake Arcadia. Several people have asked me what town I drove to. I don’t know. Mom sent me directions I didn’t understand and I was loudly not understanding the directions as I walked across my office to John’s desk. At work, John is one of my designated translators and as usual, when I am swearing, John grins ear-to-ear.

Tata: Mom sent me…!
John: Oooh, this is awful. “Go slow or you’ll lose an oil pan. Hey, it happens”? This says there’s another way. Where is it?
Tata: I don’t know.
John: What’s the name of the town?
Tata: I don’t know.
John: The name of the inn?
Tata: I don’t know that either.
John: Are you just going to get on 287 and keep going?
Tata: That’s my plan, yep. Until I stop.
John: Down at the bottom, she hints at the name.
Tata: What?
John: Here, it’s on Google. With directions!
Tata: What?
John: I’ll format and print it for you.
Tata: Get out!
John: I’ll do it in Wingdings so you can’t read it. You’ll feel right at home.
Tata: We are such dorks that font funnies may be the highlight of this vignette.

In a torrential downpour, I packed the car. Then the rain stopped. I took a nap. As soon as I got into the car, the clouds burst, and I drove the length of Easton Avenue in a blinding rainstorm at a crawl as other drivers with sonar passed me. Whatever. I’ve lived along the Raritan long enough to where speeding landed careless persons in the Canal, which is very, very stinky.

An hour later, I’m driving up and down and in and out on steep mountain roads in dewy twilight when I see the sign for the inn. I turn into the driveway and for the next two miles, roll the car slowly over gravel, large rocks and holes. When I finally get to the inn, one of my brothers-in-law helps with the luggage and the wine; I carry everything else. My stepfather Tom greets us at the door.

For five years, my mother has lived in my hometown and Tom has lived during the week at this bed & breakfast, returning to the hometown house on Fridays for the weekend. This has been better for him than driving over an hour, twice a day. We trundle indoors and drop my groceries in the giant kitchen. The voices of my four sisters, their children, two of their husbands, my mother and Tom echo through the cavernous rooms in a huge wooden house that was built on Lake Arcadia four generations ago and is still owned by the same family, which is not our family. Tom has acted as caretaker here during the long winters. Even the windows themselves are odd and oversized, which I notice after I see through them the huge lake in what might otherwise be a backyard the size of half a town. With canoes.

We drop my stuff in a room directly overlooking the lake, which Tom says is his when the inn is unoccupied. I can see why he likes it: the old wood walls, the deep closets, the view that spreads out for miles. Later, he tells me from these windows, he watched the cloud of destruction on September 11th. Tom shows me all the rooms and explains who is sleeping where. The rooms are so big I wish I remembered how to square dance.

Downstairs in the kitchen, everyone’s talking at once. Let me introduce you.

Mom: Lucy is my mother, Daria’s and my brother Todd’s. Todd is not here.
Tom: Father of Anya and Corinne, Mom’s second husband since sometime in the seventies but nobody really knows when because Mom and Tom are way cagey. Tom is a biologist, a Christian and a rational thinker. His dinnertable mantra when we were growing up was, “Cite your source!”

Daria: After me, the oldest of the kids. Followed by a drifting cloud of Jersey Chick hair. Funniest when deeply depressed. She is married to –
Tyler: Former Marine, financial planner, Ann Coulter fan surrounded by tree-huggers. Daria and Tyler have three children –
Tyler Too: Six, and just learning how to mouth off.
Sandro: Three. Smiles as he does exactly what you told him not to.
Fifi: Fifteen months and cute as a button. A happy baby.

Anya: She who has excellent taste in decorative stuff; fights a lot with Daria. Piercing blue eyes. Married to –
Dan: Landscape architect with a marked tendency to snore as soon as his butt his a chair, with good reason. Anya and Dan have two children –
Ezekiel: Three and talks constantly. Sweet like nobody’s business.
Gigi: Eight months, an astute observer, a startlingly pretty thing.

Corinne: Corinne was two when we met her. She does not remember life before she had stepsisters brushing her hair. Often speaks in tongues. Very funny. Separated from the husband I used to call “Goober.” Corinne has two children –
Lois: Resembles Scarlett Johanson. Smart, funny, smiles mysteriously through family dinners. I think she’s collecting blackmail material. She is thirteen.
Tippecanoe: Just turned seven and walks backward toward aunties who wants to kiss him. Energetic. Sweet. Thrilled to see all his cousins.

Dara: Daria’s and my half-sister from Dad’s second marriage. Dara turns fifteen this week. When I saw her in a bikini I was glad my daughter’s married. Dara looks like adorable trouble and she is. Daria, Todd, Anya, Corinne and I have been brother and sisters for over thirty years, so no one bothers with technicalities. Dara is just one of the kids; Dara and Lois are weirdly inseparable, despite living five states apart.

When I walk into the kitchen someone hands me a glass of wine, and it’s a good thing. I spend the vast majority of my time alone. For all this togetherness, it turns out I am over-sober.