Move While You Still See Me

Weeks ago, Anya’s and Corinne’s mother opened a box at the store and couldn’t believe her eyes.

Nan: Look at these things! What’re they even for, anyway?
Tata: I…I don’t know. How many are there?
Nan: Two cases of these god-forsaken chickens!
Tata: Feathers? Sharp feet? What’s this wire do?
Nan: I don’t know. They look drunk.
Tata: I’ll take one home and present it to Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul.
Nan: My what?
Tata: If he likes it, we tell people the God-Forsaken Chickens are cat toys!

They’re not cat toys. Larry claimed the God-Forsaken Chicken, then sat with his back to this stupid thing. Within a day, he’d lost interest in it completely. I reported my findings to the committee.

Nan: My what?
Anya: Crap.
Tata: Let’s throw them away.

That was over a month ago. They’re collecting dust somewhere, but that’s not what I wanted to write about, no sirree, Bob! in recent years, I’ve noticed something women with credit cards do. It is bad, bad, bad for women, bad for the economy and bad for living rooms everywhere. Watch for these symptoms:

Brittany: Ashley! Look at this! Isn’t this cute?
Ashley: It’s cute!
Brittany: I don’t need it but I have to have it!
Ashley: I don’t know what it is but I have to have it!
Clerk: That’ll be $39.95.

Beware friction burns! Further, turn the cute object over and it invariably has a sticker that says it was made In China, Mexico, or Taiwan by the tiny hands of slave children. The cute object, in a home setting will elicit squeals from other Brittanys and Ashleys, but also Tiffanys and Madisons, so this blight afflicts a whole generation of women, not to mention crippling their financial lives. The cute object will do nothing but collect dust until the day its owner slaps her forehead, mutters, “What was I thinking?” and has a garage sale.

If you find yourself exhibiting these symptoms – if YOU pick up something and yodel, “It’s cute” in tones only dogs, Flipper and Ashleys can hear – put down the offending cute object and WALK AWAY. You don’t need that thing. No one needs that thing. Don’t buy that!

Now, I hate cute down to the soles of my combat boots. You may not realize this because I am completely adorable and tell you frequently you should adore me properly, but that has nothing to do with cute. I am not cute because cute is frivolous and without substance. Thus, you will be shocked – shocked! that this morning, Siobhan and I went positively spastic over this:

Wuzzah wuzzah boo boo boo.

In my own defense, I was able to form words shortly after I saw the second picture of the bottle-fed baby bunny, in which the tiny, tiny baby bunny looks slightly disgruntled. Perhaps he is armed. We don’t know. I liked the disgruntled bunny better – as an individual!

When we were growing up, we often brought home injured birds. Mom taught us how to nurse them and care for them and feed them with an eye dropper. If there was an injured or orphaned animal, my mother was mushing milk into bread. It wasn’t cute when the injured birdies healed up, flew off and Mom got all teary. Thinking of Mom as Snow White with birdies landing on her fingertips is cute but not cute – not like those God-Forsaken Chickens.

You’ll Be So, So Lost

About two weeks ago, Anya, Corinne and Dan stayed up most of one night and reworked the front windows of both stores. The next morning, they stared at the coffee pot like it was the Hope Diamond. I am not exaggerating when I say that after dark, people come rushing into the store, telling the same story.

Enthusiast: I was driving by and I saw your window so I turned around and came back.
Tata: Do you live in town?
Enthusiast: Never been here before! What are those things in the window?
Tata: Ah, the starlights…

The window is breathtaking, as the parade of gasping enthusiasts attests. Anya is not convinced. When someone praises the window of the family store, Anya rushes off to do something else. This frustrates me.

Tata: See? The window is beautiful.
Anya: It’s okay but I wanted a rhapsody in white and blue and I hate those angels.
Tata: But the window is beautiful. Take the compliment! Take it!
Anya: Eh! Phooey!
Tata: Shut up! It’s beautiful!
Anya: Shut up! Is not!

She’s getting coal in those socks! Geez Louise!

It was a dirty trick but I pushed my digital camera at her, said, “Take pictures of the front window from across the street,” and ran away. Wooosh! I went lurking somewhere in the store. I might’ve hidden in the bathroom, but don’t quote me. Anya snapped these pictures. The store names have been cropped so you don’t come around for an invigorating game of Point & Laugh.

Please obey all local traffic laws. And don’t argue with me!

The Bones, The Bo – Bo – Body

A few years ago, the family, consisting of Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, Anya, Corinne, Miss and Mr. Sasha, myself, our various spouses and the growing herd of children, gave up trying to buy each other individual gifts for the occasion we call Christmas, but who cares? The kids still make out like whole gangs of bandits. The adults have gone to a system: Tom picks names and tells us who we’re shopping for, and we pretend we can keep a secret. We used to give Tom lists of things we wanted, mindful of a $50 limit. This year, we somehow skipped the list-making. Yesterday, I was forced to resort to trickery. Stop laughing!

Tata: Anya, what do you want for Kwanzikkah?
Anya: Why? Do you have me?
Tata: No!

Yes. I’m a rotten liar so I’m lit up like a jack-o-lantern.

Anya: Then why do you want to know?
Tata: No reason!
Anya: What?
Tata: I’m spying! What do you want?

Anya’s inscrutible like the Little Prince and doesn’t answer questions, but she can’t stay in character and eventually gives up when I ask the same question the third or fourth time.

Anya: I want socks and new pillows and a good bookstore in town and socks – did I mention I love socks? And a comforter for my bed and a gift card for Barnes & Noble and socks.
Tata: Awesome.

I hatched a plan I didn’t like. When I woke up this morning, I skipped my usual round of How Many Fingers Am I Holding Up? and went to KMart. Eschewing coffee was a mistake. I shuffled around the store seeing double but eventually, the cart was full of small things I needed and presents. A friend of mine needs pizza pans. He will have pizza pans! Anya wants new pillows. Anya will have pillows! Anya wants socks. Anya will have Betty Boop slipper socks! I’m thinking of wrapping these pillows and socks up in the shape of a fat reindeer and leaving it in my mother’s living room until Thursday, when we celebrate Christmas, but who cares? by eating a great deal and making heartfelt sacrifices to the cruel, cruel wrapping paper gods. Anyway, the cashier told me at checkout it was 9:30 a.m., which was why checkout alone didn’t take two hours.

Meanwhile, the family, consisting of Dad, Darla, Dara, Auntie InExcelsisDeo, Uncle Frank, Monday, Barry, Sandy and her boyfriend, cousin Tony and his girlfriend whose name escapes me, Miss and Mr. Sasha, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and his fiancee Karen, Mom, Tom, Daria, Todd, plus spouses, children, friends and neighbors, cannot have our customary Italian Christmas Eve because half of us will be elsewhere. The rest of us will have to muddle through extra helpings of amaretto mousse, chicken and polenta, homemade manicotti, savory salads and fragrant roast meats. I may openly weep! A week later, the rest of us will show up and fight for the drumsticks. Dad called this morning and asked the question very stressed people keep calling me and shouting.

Tata: People tell me when they’re serving dinner and I tell them I’ll be there.
Dad: Oh. Okay.
Tata: Yep. Did I mention I’m fattening up oddly?
Dad: I’m fat, too!
Tata: Yeah, it’s like my metabolism’s working in reverse.
Dad: I’m impressed your cat’s still alive.
Tata: He’s too cranky to die, thanks!
Dad: There’s a guy near me trying to market sustainable beef.
Tata: Beef, while delicious, is not in itself sustainable.
Dad: He means his farm is sustainable. Yeah, so he’s stupid.
Tata: I wish him luck. And fondue.

I’m not saying my family is too big. When Daria, Todd and I were kids, we had a huge family. We had cousins all up and down the eastern seaboard. As family members of my grandparents’ generation died off, our cousins melted into distant cousins, the kind one never sees. For about ten years, our family seemed very small indeed and holidays felt forced. Then we had children, and we forgave grudges, and my Exes remained welcome at the table, and Daria’s, and Todd’s. For whatever reason, we have this enormous and constantly blending family. God forbid you should pin more than a tennis sock over the fireplace. But this is not what I’ve been thinking about, nope! Ever since TBogg posted the YouTube original version of I Wanna Be Like You I’ve been walking around singing, “Hudle ott de le doo doo” and “Zee ba da ha ba dah!” Perhaps my memory of this is faulty, but at some point, gas stations offered a compilation record of Disney songs. Burl Ives sang Lavender Blue from a movie I don’t remember, and the White Rabbit’s I’m Late, I’m Late. We played records and danced around the living room. This song was one of my favorites. It wasn’t until a few years ago that I recognized Louie Prima’s voice; anyway, it’s all pretty strange that I still love it 35 years later. The gas station five blocks from my house sells soul food. I don’t think that’s going to leave the same kind of mark.

Friday Cat Blogging: Black Nemesis Edition

The alarm clock will protect me! I see how you jump at its every squawk!

You remember Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul. He remembers you. He has feline leukemia, which has been relatively easy to control with obsessive feeding, observation and acquiescence to his many demands. When he first lived with me he’d prise chicken carcasses from the garbage and gnaw on the bones. Oh, how Paulie Gonzalez and I laughed at his kitty insecurity. After all: we were holding the pussycat hostage and any affection he showed us humans could be chalked up to Stockholm Syndrome.

For a few years, I’ve chased Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, around various one bedroom apartments, trying to convince him to eat. This is key to keeping the afflicted feline from succumbing to infections and moral sloth. It’s become clear to me the apartment is his. He’s the guy who’s in it all the time, and I just visit to feed, entertain and rub his fur the wrong way. As the person with the opposable thumb, I should put his name on the mailbox. It’s only fair.

Sometimes, Monsieur smells like a rough night in a canning plant. I could bathe him five times a day but not even the neighbors nonplussed by almost constant Route 18 construction noise bouncing off the river would enjoy the amusing ruckus. I’m still moisturizing scratches and welts from the last time. The reason for the unusual fragrance is oral infections and, as Siobhan says, “Cats aren’t clean. They’re covered in cat spit.” So though Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, is supposed to get a dropperful of kiddie steroids every day, sometimes he’s also supposed to get this utterly vile antibiotic twice daily, too. Last week, this led to holes in my neck and him finding a new hiding place – that scared me silly. I looked everywhere! How many times have you opened a 350 degree oven to find out if you accidentally baked your pet? Well, of course, I hadn’t, but even thinking about it skeeved me completely. An hour later, I discovered he’d made a Batcave out of my bedspread and blankets, which I took as a rebuke of both my cat care technique and slovenly housekeeping. He thinks I’m a total loser and tries to protect me from myself. This morning, he tried to convince me the shower was too dangerous for an idiot like me. There’s water in there, dude!

But just wait. The disease has progressed. The pussycat now drools. We’ve reached the point where Larry, the little black cat bent on stealing your soul, must be medicated with the vile elixir one week on, one week off, then on again, off again, every month. I am not enthusiastic about this regimen, and anticipate a similar reaction from Don Gato.

First, I’ll cut his nails.

Everyone Fights, And the Fire Flies

Tata: Anya, Anya! I’ve got a story you’re really going to love!
Anya: You have a story I’ll love…[ten minutes of running through the store.] What?
Tata: Anya, I’ve got a story. It’s Corinne-approved!
Corinne: It’s a good one!
Anya: What…?
Tata: Okay okay okay, so last night I was tired. I didn’t spend all night in a bar. I didn’t even have so much as a glass of wine. I went to bed at about 11:45 and watched Mr. Colbert speak the funny words. Now, my bed is directly above the electric meters for my complex and that tends to make people crazy.
Anya: What, can you hear the hum?
Tata: Nah, power lines give people hallucinations!
Anya: That might explain a few things, actually…
Tata: Okay, I was nervous and didn’t sleep and felt like someone was watching me all night. I was a wreck! Corinne found that part especially hilarious. Check if she’s breathing, willya?
Anya: She’s up off the floor at least…
Tata: So this morning I got dressed in the dark for no reason because I live alone. I put on khaki pants and a black sweater, then I walked to work in slow daylight. I took pictures of trees. I spent an hour walking around outdoors after sunrise. Then I came to work, talked to my co-workers, made coffee, sat down to read my email. I don’t know how long I sat there before I looked down and realized I was wearing green pants and they’re covered with paint!
Anya: What? What do you mean?
Tata: I was wearing my around-the-house pants!
Anya: NO!
Tata: Yah-hunh! Wait, it’s better! But really, is Corinne okay?
Anya: She’s returning to a normal hue.
Tata: Awesome. So around 9 this morning, Lupe says, “Hey! Your sweater shows off your tattoo!” and because I’m stupid I think absolutely nothing of it. “My tattoo? I love my tattoo!” Not until an hour and a half later, standing in the ladies room, do I look at myself. My sweater was on backward.
Anya: [cough cough]
Tata: I couldn’t shut up! I had to tell people: “See these pants? These aren’t the pants I thought I put on this morning! And my sweater’s on backward! I’m lucky these are my clothes!”

It’s Fallen From Their Hands

A year ago on Thanksgiving, my sister Daria and her husband Tyler gave me a car. It is an okay car to which we didn’t glue macaroni in that I step on the gas and it goes VROOM! I don’t think much about it. When I went to my cousin Monday’s wedding in Maryland, the catsitter changed the time on the dashboard. I still don’t know how to change it back but other than that, it’s a car. Since I started walking everywhere in July, I think, I’ve filled the tank three times. Five or six weeks ago, a tire went flat. My mechanic fixed it and didn’t charge me. Then came yesterday, and the utterly boring magic words I long not to hear.

Time got away from me yesterday morning, so I drove to work. The handling felt funny and grating so I shut off the jarring morning radio for a good listen. I knew. That tire was flat again. So I fwappity-fwappity-fwapped to work, and at lunchtime, drove it over to the mechanic again.

Yes. I know. He lectured me, so you don’t have to: don’t drive on a flat. The pump I carry around with me wouldn’t inflate the tire, and calling AAA is a big waste of time unless you have lots of time to waste. So. Let’s just all get over it. I drove to the mechanic without inhaling. And he lectured me. So you don’t have to. Then he and the boys at the garage fixed the tire and made jokes about me using that wheel like blind pedestrians use canes: to feel the curb. I didn’t argue. I laughed. The mechanic is very good to me. Then, to cover bases, he and I went over use of the mechanical pump, and he used it exactly as I had. Finally, he said the magic words.

Mechanic: There’s nothing wrong with your tire, again. Not to scare you or anything, but is someone vindictive really mad at you?

Crap. What a bore. Not to scare you or anything, but please don’t worry. This is merely annoying. Back at my desk, there are questions.

Siobhan: Do you think this is happening at work or at home?
Tata: I’ve been walking. I seldom drive.
Siobhan: Someone where you live hates you enough to flatten your tire in a public place. That is exciting.

What we do not say is that this happened in 1995 and 1996, when I replaced five tires in the space of one winter because one of my ex-boyfriends went tequila-soaked supernova. He was positively diabolical, as engineers suffering psychotic breaks tend to be. Once, I found my passenger door unlocked. The only thing missing from the car was my insurance card, which would have been a knee-slapping good prank with expensive consequences if I’d gotten stopped by the police. And speaking of, the local police played Perpetrator Twenty Questions with me.

Them: So, you don’t want to tell us his name?
Tata: I can’t prove anything I’m saying.
Them: What block do you live on?
Tata: Fourth, between X and Y.
Them: Where does he live?
Tata: First, between Z and A.
Them: Is he… smaller than a breadbox?
Tata: He’s breadbox-size.
Them: Is it…Tommy G.?
Tata: No! Go fish!
Them: What? Is it…Benny R.?
Tata: Are you saying that in a town so small I could spit from one end to the other you have a handful of men you know are stalking women?
Them: We might, rabbit, we might.

Oh, Jesus Christ. Years ago, a celebrity friend and I were driving with two friends to Allen Ginsberg’s funeral.

He: The stalker made life really difficult. She showed up anywhere I went.
Tata: I had one of those. He made it hard for me to show up anywhere I wanted to go.
Friend: I feel left out! I’m stalkable! I am!

She was, too. A boyfriend shot himself when she left him, proving that obsession, perfect hair and firearms don’t mix. As for my old nemesis, he doesn’t scare me. That guy quit bothering me when he and my former housemate and firmly former friend got married. Either those two divorced and he’s got time on his hands or someone else has decided I’m a little too happy. But we should keep in mind the mechanic was speculating.

You Think The Joker Laughs At You

I am completely, madly, joyously shocked. Georg’s recipe for ricotta in comments inspired me. These may be some of the happiest words I have ever written: I MADE CHEESE. On purpose!

Because I jerky, I forgot Georg knows me and would tell me (“Perhaps with adult supervision, Princess”) if a recipe was well beyond my abilities, so I approached this recipe with trepidation. I mean, it’s cheese. They sell it in boutiques so Grandmas must have made it in tenement kitchens for centuries. For some reason, this thought did not console me. Why? Stage fright. I read directions backward, remember steps out of order, and I do not trust me! I should not be trusted! I winnowed Georg’s direction down to tiny, idiot-proof steps – probably:

1. Heat milk to 160 degrees
2. Pour in white vinegar.
3. Dump curdled goo into cheesecloth-lined collander to drain.
4. Dump remaining goo into bowl.
5. Add baking soda.
6. Stir.
7 Refrigerate for 24 hours.

Holy Moses, it’s not just easy, it’s stooooopid easy! Your dumb cousin can do it! No – the other one! I heated up the milk and zip-zip-zip! Cheese!

Thank you, Georg, you are a genius!

Maria Carry A Rifle

I am always confused by requests for mercy and compassion from people who offered none.

FLORENCE, Colorado (AP) — Olympic bomber Eric Rudolph laments in a series of letters to a newspaper that the maximum-security federal prison where he is spending the rest of his life is designed to drive him insane.

“It is a closed-off world designed to isolate inmates from social and environmental stimuli, with the ultimate purpose of causing mental illness and chronic physical conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and arthritis,” he wrote in one letter to The Gazette of Colorado Springs. Rudolph wrote that he spends 23 hours a day in his 7-by-12-foot cell, his only exercise confined to an enclosed area he described as a “large empty swimming pool” divided into “dog-kennel style cages.”

“Using solitary confinement, Supermax is designed to inflict as much misery and pain as is constitutionally permissible,” he wrote in a letter.

My memory is not great. I remember video footage of people in a park, then BLAMMO. The wrong guy was accused and his life was wrecked. I don’t remember much more.

Rudolph, an anti-government extremist, pleaded guilty in April 2005 to setting the bomb that killed one person and wounded more than 100 at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, and three other bombings, including a fatal explosion at a Birmingham [women’s] clinic.

Oh, that fucker.

The blast killed off-duty police officer Robert Sanderson, 35, who was working as a security guard at the clinic, and maimed a nurse, Emily Lyons, then 41. Rudolph, 38, avoided the death penalty by pleading guilty in April to the Birmingham bombing and three other attacks in the South between 1996 and 1998, including the blast at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Georgia. In all, two people were killed and more than 100 injured.

In an extensive statement before his sentencing, Rudolph said the bombings were part of a guerrilla campaign against abortion, “the homosexual agenda” and the U.S. government.

I don’t know about the arthritis, but he started out one Jell-O mold short of a church picnic. It’s tempting to abandon my Hey, hey! With the violence! Quit it! philosophy and say This guy deserves to blow up, blow up real good. He is a pitiless, soulless bastard who will never walk the streets again. That’s fine. I hope The Gazette of Colorado Springs quits publishing his screeds and we all forget his name. That would be a real punishment for him. And speaking of justice, let’s revisit a fine moment in Poor Impulse Control:

Project: Princess & the Pea(tm)

Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) is a most exciting sustained undertaking to improve the quality of life for – well – Me, because isn’t that what’s really important? That I am happy? Of course it is. Let’s review some of our terms, objectives, procedures and projections so you can join Project Princess & the Pea(tm) and add to the project’s success and My happiness.

1. Hereafter, I will refer to myself as “Me” and “I” with concommitant use of related possessive pronouns. The reader should expect to see such references as “I don’t see how this relates to Me” and “What about My needs?”

2. Hereafter, the reader will accept his or her responsibility for adding to My happiness or accept the consequences. Such consequences may include but are not limited to public ridicule, private ridicule and brief, embarrassing marriages in the Bahamas. Responsibilities vary from reader to reader, but lavish gifts and extravagant praise for Me are good places for anyone to start.

3. The persons occupying the house directly below My bedroom, bathroom and living room windows are in fact known to Me for many years. It’s an interesting coincidence that they purchased this property. I actually like them very much. They’re part of the local polyamory crowd. Hereafter, I will refer to them as “Those Fuckers Next Door” (TFND). I couldn’t mean that more fondly.

4. Hereafter, the term “happiness” will always relate to Me, My or Mine; as in “Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine! Mine!”

Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) seeks to improve My quality of life through simple, limited forms of revenge against TFND. The need for revenge stems from a 2004 incident in which TFND chopped down a very large, very old tree directly below My windows. I really liked this tree. When a purple lounge chair blew off the top of My apartment building, landed atop the tree and remained forty feet from My bathroom window for months, I was amused, and being amused measurably improved My quality of life. The tree also concealed – as I discovered when it was gone – two barrio-grade backyards I now see every time I gaze out the window. This view has a deleterious effect on My happiness.

I must avenge the death of this tree; preferably in a way that polishes up My karma. My intentions are the very best!

1. I open the living room window screen and lean way out.
2. I fling seeds as far across the row of backyards as the winds of revenge will carry them.
3. I wait.

Note 1. Timing is critical. Procedures 1-3 should be undertaken under the cover of darkness and when the threat of rain is imminent. Without rain, seeds are bird food. While that may amuse birdwatchers and their arch enemies the lovers of stray cats, dry and blowing seeds do not further the aims of Project: Princess & the Pea(tm).

Note 2: Choice of seed types is crucial to sustained amusement during the long waiting periods. After the dear tree came down, I was horrified to discover that the barrio-grade backyards contained layers of garbage, auto parts and discarded construction materials. Fortunately, this was keeping the mud in place during rainstorms so New Brunswick was in no danger from erosion. There’s also a homemade doghouse for a large pet that no longer inhabits it. I say it’s a doghouse because someone painted on a name:


It’s a nice touch. With the dog gone, I worried TFND and their Neighbors, and *their* Neighbors might be lonely. Loneliness anywhere diminishes My happiness. The first time I threw seeds out the window, they were fast-growing and fast-spreading plants. The seeds were for fragrant, instantly recognizable plants everyone loves. Yes, everyone loves them, and I thought with the stray animal population TFND might find new friends. Yes, I gave them mint and catnip. My quality of life improved at the very thought of it.

Later, I thought, ‘Why limit the bounty? What about some color?’ Though I enjoyed the concept and the exercise, I admit the watermelons have been a disappointment. They require more care than the unsuspecting Neighbors devote to their curious foliage.

More recently, I threw out leek and carrot seeds in the hope that this would attract vegetarians. They too have their place on the food chain.

The future of My amusement is bright, a stated objective of Project: Princess & the Pea(tm). Suggestions and donations of interesting seeds are welcomed by the management.

You may find Project: Princess & the Pea(tm) has a practical application in your own neighborhood. It is important to remember that no harm must come to animals or their dumb humans as this would violate the objective of bringing Me happiness. And mint.

Thank you for your interest in Project: Princess & the Pea(tm)!

I slay me! Fortunately, I also slay my intrepid ex Paulie Gonzalez.

Paulie: Hey! I went to after hours one night at the house of those fuckers next door.
Tata: Really? They’re school teachers. That’s a little too much like detention, but with booze.
Paulie: Yeah yeah, so the wife is talking to me and she’s saying, “We cut down that tree.” I said, “It was right outside my bathroom window.” She says, “Then we kept getting these weird flowers. We’d cut ’em back and new ones would grow. We didn’t understand it – or the stray cats.”
Tata: Did you tell her?
Paulie: Hell, no. I said, “That’s very interesting. Do I smell mint?”

I’ve Had It In the Ear Before

This morning, I called Auntie InExcelsisDeo.

Auntie I.: How are you?
Tata: I am swell!
Auntie I: Swell?
Tata: Yes, and I thought you should know.
Auntie I: Okay, then. You’re swell. Talk to you later!
Tata: Awesome!
Auntie I: Okay, whaddya really want?
Tata: I’ve made crepes.
Auntie I: For dessert? What?
Tata: For the manicotti. They’re in my freezer, which is now –
Auntie I: Full of crepe!
Tata: Yes, and I thought you should know.

Salvation A La Mode And A Cup Of Tea

This afternoon, I watched the Women’s World Gymnastics Championship Team Competition, which was really exciting. The event happened months ago in Denmark but I found it on CN8 today. China won by – if I understood the scoring – .67, as in less than 1 point. The commentators stuttered a bit in the back-and-forth about how the US women should have/could have, but that didn’t matter. What they saw was a failure on the part of the American team. What I saw was a nail-biter of a gym meet where every twist, every balance check, every fall and every toe point mattered, and even after the last brilliant routine, nobody knew who won.

This is Zhang Nan. We in the West saw her win the bronze medal in the All-Around at the 2004 Athens Olympics, but even this is considered a mixed blessing. She fell and did not win the gold on the balance beam. I remember feeling crushed for her. Here is the routine I saw today. She’s twenty now, and where Zhang seemed like a frightened child in Athens she now appears confident in the spotlight.

When I arrived at the family store just before 3, my brother-in-law Dan had the crazy eyes and couldn’t finish a sentence. I was in a really good mood after having watched some truly exciting gymnastics but I frowned for about twenty minutes while piecing the squawks and odd sounds into a story. Here is a sample.

Dan: Cluck! Cluck! So busy! KA-POW!
Tata: Daniel, what the hell happened to you? Snorting light bulb fumes again?
Dan: Caw! Caw! Caw! Credit card-wielding Valkyries! Eck!
Tata: Were you – maybe – really busy today?
Dan: Thursday busiest day in cartoon history! Before lunch!
Tata: Daniel, I brought cranberry bread and clementines. When was the last time you ate something?

Dan paced in circles and bumped into a wall. There was a long-ish silence.

Dan: Nine this morning?
Tata: Right. Stop that, um, whatever it is you’re doing.
Dan: What am I doing?
Tata: You’re going to get a knife and a plate.
Dan: I will?
Tata: Yep. Just like the ones you’re holding. See them?
Dan: Hey!
Tata: Now, while I help the customers, you’re going to sit down and eat.
Dan: I am?
Tata: It’s an exciting new fad. Dabbling won’t make you a poser.

Despite my insistence that he sit down, Dan ate bread and oranges running up and down the stairs and bumping into boxes. Until the sun went down, we were busy but not hysterically so. There were boxes around my feet behind the counter. Boxes full of gift boxes lay everywhere and at improbable angles, evidence of an earlier avalanche. Dan assembled gift boxes in a speedy, compulsive manner that made me nervous. Now and then, I would get snippets of what’d happened before I got there but I absolutely didn’t get it until he pointed at a pile of paper.

Dan: Not a single transaction has gone into the computer today.

I picked up the mess of papers, smoothed them into a cohesive pile and was shocked by its size. I held it up. I wiggled it. Each piece of paper represented a transaction. Suddenly, I understood.

Tata: Bok bok bok bok bcka!
Dan: Nnnnnbbbbbbboooooo!

I started entering the transactions into the computer system that is slow and crappy. By 4:30, it was mostly dark out, and while we still had customers and sales, the fire was out. Dan was still on his feet, though I have no idea how. I worked on the receipts while Dan ran hither and yon. Being pushy and controlling had worked before so I started applying pressure preemptively.

Tata: Dan, what’s for dinner?
Dan: What’s dinner?
Tata: That food-thing other people have when it gets dark out. And when are you leaving?
Dan: No provision has been made for me leaving.
Tata: Ever?
Dan: I got fired yesterday.
Tata: I’d say “Get out…!” but you might.
Dan: There was a…then big confusion…then my boss said…”Things aren’t gelling”…portfolio…
Tata: Jesus Christ! The people who sought you out tossed you out? That is positively monstrous!
Dan: Bok bok bok bcka!
Tata: You got that right, sister.

Shortly after this, Anya arrived in a similar state of ambulatory shock. Anya doesn’t respond as well to pushy old Me so I switched to nagging.

Tata: What’s for dinner?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: What’s for dinner?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: You two need vegetables and some protein stat! Greek food?
Anya: I had that last night but I could have it again.
Tata: What do you want to eat?
Anya: [Ten minutes of running around doing stuff and chattering.] What were we talking about?
Tata: What’s for dinner?

We settled on Thai and I was relieved to watch them both at least avoid eating their Thai salads. Then Dan picked up a fork and ate. I tried not to move too quickly or mention it, lest he dash off and do something else. Then he went to go pick up the kids at their grandmother’s house. I never actually saw Anya take a bite. By closing time, after six hours of plugging away at it between episodes of fitful gift-wrapping, I had entered all but four receipts into the system. Anya and I laughed the whole time because, let’s face it, we’re not just funny looking. On the other hand, I could see she was determined to deal with Dan’s sudden and frightening unemployment, which is worse than it sounds because Corinne’s separated from her husband and everyone depends on Dan, by focusing her already tight focus on the family business. I looked at this and thought, ‘I’ve got to be at least 57% funnier and more engaging with the customers.’ And yes, today was the busiest day in the business’s business history in five businessy hours before I got there.

Zhang Nan, again. Zhang was raised in a home that was 10 square meters, her biography says. I thought we called those prison cells. The image at left comes at an instant about one-third of the way through a back handspring. Her body is stretched as long as it can, which makes her fluid and beautiful in motion. She appears to float. That is an illusion. Every day for years, Zhang has stretched and bent and run and lifted weights and fallen on her head and thrown herself into the air and eaten carefully and denied herself ordinary things for instants like this that pass so quickly they cannot actually be seen but only remembered.

Collect them like jewels.