We Are North American

Julienne’s cat Smoochie sat on the scanner.

I felt you had to know this important thing, friend. That is a genuine cat butt.

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All the Darkness In Our Lives

I almost swallowed my tongue when I read this, forwarded to me by Trout.

Nuns on the run after their Greek knitting business fails
Helena Smith in Athens
Tuesday January 30, 2007
The Guardian

A group of nuns were last night holed up behind the protective walls of the Xenia monastery in the central Greek town of Volos after fleeing their convent when their knitting business failed, leaving nearly half a millon pounds of debt.

Ignoring pleas and protests to return to the fold from Archbishop Christodoulos, the country’s fiery spiritual leader, the order’s mother superior signalled that the nuns would be staying put, despite mounting consternation from a number of banks.

Yesterday her stance sparked a mini-crisis for the Greek Orthodox church, which, after convening bishops and other top clerics, described the incident as “a first” for the church.

The order, whose 55 members have been described as a “feisty crowd”, are believed to have run up the debt after splashing out on six industrial knitting machines to produce woollens that became highly popular with the local community around their convent, close to the Greek-Bulgarian border. They apparently sold products to some 25 chains around Greece. Store owners complained that the nuns had also run off with a substantial amount in pocketed deposits. Apparently they removed their equipment a few days before they disappeared.

Greece’s authoritative Kathimerini newspaper reported that the knitting business began to unravel when the nuns accrued massive debts after attending foreign fashion shows in a bid to keep up with the latest designs in woollen garments. They are then believed to have mortgaged the monastery of Kyrikos and Ioulittis to the hilt to pay off the debt.

With the banks demanding the money back, Greece’s holy synod says it is confronting one of its worst crises ever involving an order of nuns.

Last night there was little sign that the nuns would come out of hiding, even if Archbishop Christodoulos agreed to take them under his wing. Religious commentators said their convent would probably have to be liquidated to pay off the debt.

Hey! Don’t fuck with knitting nuns!

Ça Plane Pour Moi

It’s 7:58 A.M. and Mom sounds awful.

Tata: What’s the matter? Is Grandpa dead?
Mom: No. Is Grandpa dead?
Tata: What? Why are you crying?
Mom: I’m not crying. I have a cold.
Tata: You sound dreadful.
Mom: I’ve had an adventure and there’s no one else to tell.
Tata: I’m on pins and needles. Tell!
Mom: I just made rice crispy treats.
Tata: Why, God, why?!
Mom: I heated marshmallows until they turned into – what is that stuff?
Tata: Fluff?
Mom: Yes. Fluff. A piping hot cauldron of Fluff. I poured in the rice crispies and tried folding them in with a spatula. Do you know what happens next?
Tata: You’re overcome by the terror of the Abyss?
Mom: That stuff cools so quickly you can’t believe it and forms spider webs. It also sticks to everything. It stuck to the spatula.
Tata: You have Anya’s and Corinne’s little boys today, don’t you? I thought you were going to introduce them to the chemistry of baking?
Mom: Yes, but I thought they needed rice crispy treats to sustain them. Whew! Grandmotherin’ is hard work!
Tata: I’m shocked! What happened next?
Mom: I used another spatula to get the treats off the first spatula but it didn’t work and the spider webs were all over everything. I did the only thing I could do.
Tata: Cleaned your kitchen with a flame thrower?
Mom: I sprayed both my hands with canola oil, tested the temperature and stuck my hands in the crunchy marshmallow. Then I remembered you’re supposed to press them flat with wax paper.
Tata: It’s my belief that Kellogg’s is a wholly owned subsidiary of Exxon/Mobil and rice crispy treats will turn out to be the fuel source of the future, not to mention that it probably floats. Oooh! Giant chunks of rice crispy treat may be the sticky, non-nutrititious life preserver we throw exhausted polar bears in Arctic waters. “Here, Mrs. Polar Bear! Have a nap, a nosh and by the time you swim to the next sticky buoy, most of the marshmallow will be unstuck from your fur!”
Mom: I used the cocoa crispies. I figured I could as easily add some chocolate to this affair as use the plain.
Tata: The polar bears will be pleased!
Mom: Grandmothering is not for the faint of heart!

This is the same person who corrected my grammar at the dinner table until I turned 18 and beat a path for Anywhere Else. She couldn’t help it. Later, I realized that I still didn’t know – excuse me – shit about good grammar and tried studying. I learned a few things. It’s all been terribly awkward since I started forgetting the names of things, which left me with no idea how to demonstrate grammatical right and wrong and great curiosity about the structure and function of language. Yesterday, I watched with rapt attention as a professor of Italian literature lectured on sentence structure on popular television series Sportello Italiano. Let’s be completely clear: I don’t speak Italian. I understood most of what the professor was saying and that he was funny. Still, I couldn’t believe I was watching gorgeous people diagram sentences on international television, so it should come as no surprise that Mom now calls to describe her antics.

Tata: I’ve got to get back to work now. Have some tea. Glad Grandpa’s not dead!
Mom: Me, too. I’ve got two little boys in half an hour who expect to bake cookies.
Tata: Good luck with that. Wait, why are you filling these boys with sugar?
Mom: Rice crispy treats are part of their heritage and I’m here to help.
Tata: You’re going to make it impossible for Anya and Corinne to leave grocery stores without ingredients, aren’t you? Confess!
Mom: Do you know what’s hard work? Because I could tell you…

Spirits In the Material World

I am not a materialistic woman, generally, but I love jewelry. Love it. Love earrings, love bracelets, love nose rings, love necklaces. Love sparkly bits and shiny objects. Love the fire, love the passion, love the permanence. Love the craftmanship, the intricacies of design. Love seeing something I’ve never seen before. Jewelry? I love it – until we talk about conflict diamonds. Then I’m happy to put through six little gold posts, string something pewter on a black silk cord, wrap ten black rubber bands around my wrist and wear a VCR gasket as a ring. For now, sometimes that’s the best a gal can do, but not for long.

THE Gemological Institute of America has just become a girl’s best friend. The venerable industry authority, best known for promulgating the four Cs of diamond judging – color, clarity, cut and carat – has ended its long-standing practice of grading only natural diamonds. This month, over the objections of the powerful diamond mining lobby, it began rating gemstones created in a lab.

Laboratory diamonds, even though they’re labeled by the Carlsbad-based institute as synthetic, are not to be confused with cubic zirconia or other shopping-channel substitutes. That would be like comparing lentil loaf to chicken. Manufactured diamonds are molecularly identical to the ones extracted from the Earth.

Am I purring? I believe I may be.

The emergence of technology that can create diamonds sometimes superior to mined ones poses yet another challenge to an industry already combating an image problem. Heightened awareness about the role of diamonds in funding African civil wars in the late 1990s created a backlash, and the movie “Blood Diamond” brought more attention to the issue. The industry has been working overtime to reassure consumers averse to “conflict diamonds” that procedures have changed; now most diamonds are certified as “conflict free.”

The industry’s latest battle, over terminology, is being fought with the non-mined competition. The synthetic diamond industry wants to market its gems as “cultured diamonds,” hoping to gain wider acceptance. The diamond establishment, mindful that cultured pearls destroyed the natural pearl industry, has filed complaints with the Federal Trade Commission seeking to prohibit the use of the term. The FTC will post its decision on its website, though it has set no deadline.

The Gemological Institute, however, is not taking sides. One kind of diamond is a geological (and marketing) wonder, the other a triumph of human ingenuity. Either way, whether it’s lab-grown, synthetic, natural or mined, the old saw still rings true: a piece of heated and pressurized carbon lasts forever.

Yes. Yes, it does. I look forward to feeling bejeweled and unconflicted.

The World At Bay For Me

Yesterday, I called Siobhan and ascertained that her job had kept her busy a full 17 hours on Friday and she was too punch drunk to argue with me when I declared we were going out to dinner. Later, we had one of our festive social microbursts in the shoe section of Nordstrom, so you shouldn’t worry Siobhan was defenseless. We agreed to storm the designer barracades at the Coach store in the Menlo Park Mall first because Siobhan, unlike any other woman in history, destroyed the will and seams of a Coach bag and Siobhan was ready to call Coach’s We-Replace-It bluff. It hasn’t been a good week for Siobhan. On Thursday morning, she emailed.

Siobhan: Dad just called, he melted the glass on the microwave, and while we were discussing his buying a new one, he alerted me to the fact that one of the deck chairs was on fire. What the hell? I’ll be calling him back in a minute, I let him go so he could put it out. So he could put out the fire.

I was still barking at my monitor when she called thirty seconds later.

Siobhan: Get this: his Hot Pocket caught fire and destroyed the microwave so he put out his lunch, dropped it into a cardboard box and left it on a metal deck chair, which caught fire and he had to put out the furniture, too.
Tata: Your dad has teh crazy.
Siobhan: My dad has teh stupid. And now we have to buy a microwave.
Tata: Your misadventure ends in shopping, which you love! Yahtzee!

Unfortunately, shopping fails to eradicate the acrid smell of flaming lunches 100% of the time, which Siobhan is complaining about on our drive up Route 1 to the Menlo Park Mall which proceeds at a glacial pace. Suddenly, we discover why. In an intersection to our left, flashing lights we saw from way off turn into a raft of traffic-blocking police cars.

Siobhan: An entire can of Oust did nothing to freshen the air.
Tata: Look, crash-crash! Boom! Hey, more crashy-crashy!
Siobhan: Two accidents on either side of the same intersection? The odds against that must be astronomical.
Tata: Somebody wins the whole betting pool at the cop shop today! When you get home, use Febreez on all your fabrics – the drapes, the chairs, the couches, the carpet, everything. You may have to do it a couple of times.
Siobhan: Febreezing my couch isn’t going to get smoke out of my house.
Tata: You’re goddamn right it isn’t. Only steam-cleaning and time do that, but at least you’ll see progress. And be more careful! You just used ‘Febreez’ as a verb.

Chalk it up to exhaustion. We put on game faces and marched into the Coach store, ready for anything except what happened. In the interest of full disclosure, let me admit that I despise shopping, dislike handbags and hate nearly all shoes. I am deaf to whatever siren song lures women to shoe sales and concommitant credit card debt, and though I have other problems, I go all squinty-eyed when women talk about pocketbooks because I simply don’t get it. Thus, in the Coach store, where quality is never in dispute, I felt oddly certain good taste had taken a holiday – or a powder. Everything was overly ornate and decorated for decoration’s sake and ugly. The salesgirl who appeared smoothly and quietly between us was shocked at the vehemence of my sincere loathing for products without price tags that sold for more than my rent. Siobhan eventually threw up her hands in frustration and we relocated to the Coach department at Nordstrom, which mysteriously had a better selection of murderously ugly Coach bags than the Coach store. Siobhan found something that didn’t make me toss my waffles, but when she told me how much it cost I think I threw up a little.

I was right across the aisle, prowling the shoe displays and cackling madly. Each colorful island of carefully placed footwear was more ridiculous, more torturous and more stupefying than the next, all guaranteed to put me in the hospital and even more frustrating because Nordstrom was where I used to buy sharp Docs. Siobhan plunked down on a couch with her thrilling purchase, annoyed. I stared around wildly, clucking like a chicken.

Tata: Greedy orthopedists design these shoes, I’m sure of it. Look at this! I’m never wearing this crap.
Siobhan: That’s what’s in style.
Tata: I looked around for sturdy, flat shoes for athletic, capable women who aren’t surrendering to femmy fashion. There’s nothing like that here anymore. I can’t believe it.
Siobhan: Docs are not fashionable anymore. There was a movement, and a lot of young women adopted it, and that movement is no more.
Tata: Just because something is in style doesn’t mean it has style. I am not at all going to wear three- and four-inch stacked heels, and if you catch me in espadrills, throw me in a bathtub and have me deprogrammed. I will find flat shoes that don’t disable me. Other people can follow stupid fashions, but I have actual style. If the mainstream zigs and I’m zigging, fine! But if I’m zagging, screw it.
Siobhan: We can get Docs online. For shoes with an edge, we’re going to have to leave the state.
Tata: I don’t need Docs, per se. I have to try shoes on.
Siobhan: We’ll have to look in Philadelphia.
Tata: Okay, so we go shopping in zigging Philadelphia!

Ding! The bell rings and the fight’s over. The salespeople relax visibly as we leave. We race to the car and to the restaurant.

Tata: I’m going to order yellow food!
Siobhan: Why yellow?
Tata: Because I now fear no tumeric!
Siobhan: OH. MY. GOD. I get it! I get why yesterday you were running around shouting, “I WANT MERLOT!” It’s red! I thought you just wanted booze! But no, you wanted red! And we’re going to have colorful food and – screw it. Let’s skip dinner and go eat a whole blueberry pie!
Tata: Maybe later. There’s chicken tikka masala in my future, which is more red than yellow. I’m working primary colors, here.
Siobhan: Blue! You need blue food!
Tata: You know what I can do after dinner without braces?
Siobhan: Pick up discriminating vagrants at the train station?
Tata: I can floss, baby, floss!

I Sometimes Run And Chase the View

Mom, who has never been less than three hours late to a family dinner my whole life, told me yesterday she’d pick me up at 9 this morning. When she called at 8:55, I thought it was to tell me she was just leaving her house. I wasn’t ready! I blended my eyeshadow, slid into shoes, brushed my teeth a third time while she parked the car. Then I sprinted around the apartment for another five minutes and we were on our way to the orthodontist with a bag of cookies under one arm, while I explained where we were going and why even though I was too happy to finish sentences.

Tata: Okay okay okay I had a half a left over pill from the last procedure so black light posters should be a blast by lunchtime – hang a left here. I’m so excited! Whee! And they love me to pieces at this office because their patients are sullen teens who haven’t gone all Death Metal and I baked them cookies – veer right, and turn right –
Mom: Like the song, To the right! Ever to the right! Never to the left! Forever to the right!
Tata: Yeah, except left here and park. I love melted cheese –

We jump out of her Jeepy thing and run through an inexplicable hedge.

Tata: I’m so happy! Watch out for the sudden –
Mom: Whoa!
Tata: That hedge right there made a move on me last month. I kicked and yelled, “Masher!” Do people swat dirty old men with handbags anymore? Hey, this building gives me fits. It’s not square. See?

We charge up the stairs because it’s good for the girlish figure, around the corner and spill into the office, which is unusually empty. One blond teenager in the waiting room demonstrates an exceptional ability to keep a straight face as Mom and I peel off enough winter clothing to reveal two small women and not at all the Michelin Man’s female relations. Half-way disrobed, I place a festive bag of cookies on the counter and make an important announcement to the staff.

Tata: He’s taking off the braces today. You’ve all been very kind to me. We must all do a Happy Dance!

I do a Happy Dance. Four professional women stop what they’re doing.

Tata: Happy dance!

They each Happy Dance! I am thrilled. They are thrilled. I join Mom, who does not see the professional women dancing in their scrubs, in the waiting room, where I sit and make non sequiturs for two or three minutes for the teenager who is amused but won’t crack a smile. As we walk through the office area, more professional women appear, asking the same question.

PW: You baked the cookies?
Tata: Yes, I did! Please enjoy them!

I am a celebrity. Anyone can accomplish this, really, and Mom has seen people treat me this way before, but enough about me – I’m pointing out windows to our right for Mom as we walk down the improbably long hallway.

Tata: See? See? Plainfield Avenue, parallel to this wall, parallel, parallel and we get to this office –
Mom: Wow! This is a big room! Three chairs! This is very nice.
Tata: Yes, but look out the window.

The assistant and I fiddle with the blinds. Route 1, which runs from Maine to the Florida Keys, is right outside the window at an oblique angle. We are in New Jersey and the following conversation, which might have taken minutes anywhere else, transpires in seconds:

Tata: The building is crooked! I’ve been trying to fix that by force of will for two years and eight months.
Mom: Interesting…
Tata: Isn’t this exciting? Look! I brought my mom!
Lovely Assistant: I see the resemblance.
Tata: I look exactly like her, don’t I?
Lovely Assistant: Well, except for the red hair, yeah.
Mom: Oh! Pardon me –
Dr.: Hello!
Mom: I almost stepped on your orthodontist!
Tata: You can’t! He just had the foot surgery.
Dr.: The other foot.
Mom: I’m so sorry!
Dr.: No, it’s okay, the other foot.
Tata: I’m so excited!
Lovely Assistant: Have a seat!

A little boy with a sweet, expressive face sits down in the chair to my right at some point I don’t notice. He never says a word. In fact, he sits bolt upright, stares at me and watches me without moving a muscle. I smile at him often and hope my little travail isn’t traumatizing him even as I’m sure it does. The orthodontist grabs few sleek tools and uses some thrilling force on the bottom wire. Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! resonates through my skull and the whole set of bottom braces peels off my teeth. I’m elated and laughing. Mom laughs. The assistant laughs. The orthodontist smiles. He’s still saying, “Wouldn’t you like to have braces for three more years?” He grabs ahold of the braces on the top and Snap! Snap! Snap! Snap! Off comes the top line. It’s uncomfortable but they’re gone! Gone!

I have no idea how long it takes, but the orthodontist grinds the cement off my very, very sensitive teeth. I am mostly inches from screaming and a couple of times I push the tools and his hands away from my mouth, which could be dangerous, I suppose.

Tata: This is not as much fun as it appears.

Finally, he says, “Go rinse really a whole lot.” Then it gets weird. Somewhere a bell goes off that I can’t hear.

Mom is talking and laughing and I hear a man’s voice and I’m spitting into a sink as I turn to see a strange man holding a digital camera five feet from me and Mom with a camera phone and the office adminstrator holding a Polaroid. Someone pins a ribbon around my neck and it turns out to be the ribbon that was around the bag of cookies but now it’s got stickers of a tooth and a royal crown, and a safety pin. I wipe my mouth, pose for the cameras and laugh. Someone makes a joke about the paparazzi. I’m posed ridiculously when from all sides the top halves of people in scrubs appear. It’s so exactly like a Drew Carey dance number I can only laugh. That poor little boy hasn’t moved and doesn’t move as the orthodontist fits me for utterly mortifying retainers that make me lisp like a Brady kid.

In the third chair sits a sullen teen, behind whom stands a fire-breathing mother. She watches me and is completely pissed. It is no wonder the staff wants me to stay. I have an appointment again in six weeks.

Mom took me home. I gave her a container of carrot-ginger soup I made with broth in which I boiled astralagus and hope it’s good for staving off colds, which she’d like to do. After lunch, I went to work, where everyone had to see my teeth! Everyone had to hear all about it! Lupe brought bags of Mary Janes, licorice and bubble gum, which I put in a bowl for everyone to share. Later, I drove home someone whose plans for a ride fell through. At home now, I have a lovely beaujolais villages, which I have coveted for two years and eight months.

My good fortune is so good, I must share. L’chaim to you, too, love!

You’re Still A Liar

This was the AP image printed on the front page of the university’s student newspaper yesterday. My female co-workers who noticed were outraged, though there was an equal amount of it figures indifference. The newspaper, which shall remain unnamed at the unnamed university, is filled daily with inaccuracies, basic spelling and grammatical errors and few thoughts independent of someone’s press release, and is not worth reading or worrying about, in my opinion. Chuan took the picture, which we will deny under oath.