Under the Mountain

I called Grandpa. He couldn’t hear me. I called back. He couldn’t hear who I was but asked me to call back in ten minutes. Nine minutes later, Mom called.

Mom: Dad just called me. Were you trying to talk to him?
Tata: I was! He couldn’t hear me. I standing in my office, shouting, “It’s me, your granddaughter Domy” but he couldn’t hear.
Mom: Nobody calls you “Domy.”
Tata: He has, all my life.
Mom: What?
Tata: What?

Seconds tick by.

Tata: He said he was waiting for a phone call?
Mom: Yes. He needs a prescription refilled, I think. He calls the VA in Providence, and they call the pharmacy in Hyannis.
Tata: You’re kidding!
Mom: The VA system is hard for him. I don’t know how they think 90-year-old World War II veterans, who have communication issues, are supposed to communicate with them through phone trees.
Tata: What? WHAT?
Mom: It’s a disaster.
Tata: That’s…not funny.
Mom: No kidding.


Same Old Trip It Was Back Then

Once again, someone’s got to fuck with the kids.

Threats Force SC Library to Cancel Summer Program

Was it a program called – I dunno – Crank Calling for Selfish Bastards?

A South Carolina library system has closed down its summer programs for young adults after receiving threats and allegations that it was trying to promote “witchcraft” and “drug use.”

The Pickens County Library System’s half-hour summer programs for middle and high school students were supposed to take a light-hearted look at the topics “Secrets and Spies: How to Keep a Secret by Writing in Code or Making Invisible Ink” and “What’s Your Sign?” Another program was to examine astrology, palmistry, and numerology; and others were to feature tarot cards, tie-dying t-shirts, how to make a Zen garden, and yoga.

Now the programs are cancelled in the wake of phone and e-mail threats from the community, believed to emanate from a single local Baptist church. The astrology program was labeled as “witchcraft” by callers, while the Zen garden and yoga programs were objected to as “promoting other religions.” The t-shirts workshop? “Promotes the hippie culture and drug use,” callers said.

“If you have an anonymous call of a bomb, what do you do?” asks Library Director Marguerite Keenan, explaining her decision to cancel the YA programs. “You clear the building, you close the building for the protection of the children. And that’s hugely sad.”

I don’t feel sad. I’m pissed.

Keenan says that the stream of threatening 20 or 30 anonymous phone calls, plus e-mails, began two weeks ago. Callers spoke of “picketing” the county’s four libraries and made statements such as “We’re going to get you” and “How dare you?”

She says that a local reporter traced some of the signed e-mails to congregants of a Baptist church, whose pastor was interviewed about the threats.

Keenan adds that she made her decision because she also runs children’s programs and “I’m not going to have preschoolers walk between a gauntlet of pickets.

“It’s just sad that they didn’t feel comfortable enough to talk,” Keenan says of the church protest. “We do have a broad community here. And we are a public agency that needs to support all.”

I have only one question: who’s under arrest?

Make the Mountains Ring Or Make the Angels Cry

We’re both smiling a little stupidly. He’s wearing a turnout coat and gear. He must be sweltering. I’m warm in a guinea t and boxer shorts, holding a bottle of bright red nail polish.

Fireman: Smoke detector ringing?
Tata: Nope. You can hear it in the distance but not here.
Fireman: It’s going off in units 8 and 10.

I stare at him. We’re not in those.

Fireman: Well, call us if yours goes off.
Tata: I’ve absolutely got your number.

They Will Lean That Way Forever

This morning, my horoscope, which usually stops inches short of Run screaming, Ta! Flee! Flee! said something unusual. I don’t recall the exact words. Sort of The relationship will develop but not the way you think. I thought, ‘Huh. Perhaps Cablevision will declare glasnost.’ Every morning I walk to work, an older man with a beatific smile jogs past me at a good clip. This morning, he grabbed my hand and asked with a heavy accent, “We run?”

I thought he meant around the puddle in front of me, so I said, “Sure,” and started running. We ran across the Albany Street Bridge, through traffic and past the vile candy-scented construction latrine. My bookbag flapped heavily across my back. The temperature was already above 70. I was not sorry to jog past the portapotty. He had a solid grip on my wrist that didn’t feel threatening. I laughed because the sun was shining, because running feels so good, because it was utterly thrilling to let the antic unfold.

Tata: Why are we running?
Man: I don’t speak English.

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. Under the Route 18 overpass, he let go of my arm and we walked through a narrow space between traffic and a concrete barrier.

Tata: What is your language?
Man: I am from Russia. Everyone in America should study Russian. I tell everyone in Russia they should study English. What do you think of my English?
Tata: Sounds pretty good to me! I study Italian.

I stretched the truth. So sue me.

Man: At the university?
Tata: Years ago. I see you every day. Where are you –

A backhoe whirled out of a sidestreet about ten feet away. He grabbed my arm again and we ran up Albany Street. I was overjoyed. My heart raced. We stopped when he felt we are safely out of the construction zone. By then, his voice was positively operatic.

Tata: Where are you going?
Man: I lead minyon at synagogue. You know what is synagogue?
Tata: I do! And that’s a beautiful one. I have to go in the other direction.
Man: What is your name?
Tata: I’m Ta.
Man: My name is the same as the first craftsman of the United States.
Tata: Your name is Paul Revere?

He did the thing that will make me cheery all day.

Man: Arnold, like Schwarzenegger!

He flexed a bicep. He took my hand and kissed it. He turned left and ran to prayers.

I turned right and skipped across four lanes of traffic because I could.

Time Stands Still For Those Who Know

This story starts with a fire at Sharkey’s apartment complex on Tuesday afternoon and ends here, in this newly tidy corner of my BandAid Pink bathroom. Isn’t the tile ghastly? It is! However it looks on your monitor, it’s ten times worse in real life, where I gaze upon with my real eyes. Ew!

Sharkey: The apartment two doors down and up a floor caught fire yesterday.
Tata: Get out! What happened?
Sharkey: Well, the management turned off the gas so nothing else would blow up. Can I use your shower?
Tata: Of course, dahhhhlink. But…um…
Sharkey: Yes?
Tata: It’s strictly BYO Rubber Duckie.

About forty-five minutes later, Sharkey opens the bathroom door as the kittens, parked at threshold and mad with curiosity, do a double-take. They see me on the couch, so who’s that guy? They’re not the only ones with questions.

Sharkey: Woman! What the hell’s going on in your shower? Do you use all those things?
Tata: Damn right, I do. I’m middle-aged. I schedule Daily Slathering Time, without which I’d look like Tut’s mother.
Sharkey: Mercy!
Tata: If they don’t turn the gas back on tomorrow, pick up my keys at the store and shower again.
Sharkey: Danke schon.

Thursday, I was helping a customer at the family store when Sharkey appeared, borrowed my keys and went off to ablut. He returned just before closing time, smelling better, though Sharkey always smells pretty good. We have this in common: smelling good is our hobby and we take every opportunity to practice it. It’s practically a public service.

Sharkey: I knocked over all the bottles when I scared the cats.
Tata: That mental image has too many verbs.
Sharkey: Consider setting up a Hydration Buffet in your living room.
Tata: Know how folks hollow out Bibles to hide guns? My Bibles hide firming lotion.

Friday, Siobhan, whose father has been in the local ICU since Tuesday and whose sister is getting married in three weeks, emailed plaintively.

Siobhan: Help!
Tata: What’s in it for me?
Siobhan: I need help with an errand.

Previously on Poor Impulse Control, Siobhan almost died in February and since then can only walk a little way before things get dicey. I checked the tags in my underwear and remembered Siobhan carried that person through years of depression.

Tata: Reporting for duty! Where are we going?
Siobhan: Bed, Bath & Beyond.
Tata: Awesome. I have coupons and need stuff from there!
Siobhan: I’ll pick you up at 7:30, you selfish bitch.
Tata: Can’t wait, sweetie!

We go the supersecret back way and Siobhan parks close to the store.

Tata: How big do you want these storage boxes?
Siobhan: Ten of the biggest they have.
Tata: Show me how big.

Siobhan looks at me through her eyebrows. Then holds her hands almost as far apart as they go.

Tata: What shape? Square?
Siobhan: Oblong.
Tata: Rectangular?
Siobhan: Here’s a whole lot of cash. Get out of my truck.
Tata: If you leave without me I’m keeping the money.

I got a cart and marched merrily through the store’s narrow aisles to the back, where America stops to talk on its cell phone. Hyperventilating, I found a very young store employee and asked the $64,000 question: Got plastic stuff coffins? He led me to a display, where we found a number of giant plastic whatsises insufficient for Siobhan’s needs. Making do, we stacked two large thingamabobs in my cart, and he dragged eight flatter ones to – he said – Register 5. I thanked him and dashed off to find a Euro Style Shower Caddy with at least four more attractive descriptors. Then I doubled back for square glass canisters and found my youthful employee friend, who pointed me to a set that wouldn’t actually solve my problems but would be a good start on solving a few of them. I was quite happy and, after a few accident-enhanced attempts to navigate the tiny aisles, promised to injure myself less on the way out.

In fact, I was overjoyed. I despise shopping but love to leave a store with a project in mind, and it was at the peak of my I Know What To Do! Happiness that I discovered a man on a 12′ ladder and burst out laughing. The man on the ground directing him saw my face and immediately forgot about the man on the ladder. I hope nothing terrible happened to that fellow. The man formerly directing traffic 12′ up – or as Siobhan later read off his nametag “Paul” – directed me to Register 5 and led the way. My eight storage containers rested atop a 3′ x 4′ x 3′ laundry dolly and we dragged them to a register with a teenaged cashier. I liked this boy immediately. He was a little odd looking but cheerful. By now, everyone within the blast zone of my laughter and two-cart container parade was smiling.

Tata: This and these are for my girlfriend. She’s waiting in the car and cursing my ancestors. These and this are for me. I have coupons. Isn’t this exciting?
Harry: So…separate orders?
Tata: You’re adorable! Thank you so!

At this moment, I could swear “Paul” turned on his heel jealously, but said, “Don’t leave. I’ll be right back to help you take all this to your car.” I stared after him briefly but smiled at Harry and gave him my undivided attention. Perhaps I was the first person all day to look him in the eye and listen to every word, but absent-minded customers plainly missed out. With a wicked gleam in his eye, he grabbed his price gun and twisted himself over and under a counter and a display. I never took my eyes off him and don’t know how his bones didn’t shatter. I handed him Siobhan’s vast cash stores, and we moved on to my pile of problem-solving purchases. By now, even the other customers inconvenienced by the size of my stuff watched with amusement, especially when, not seeing “Paul”, I pushed two carts from Harry’s register without any of my own bags. As a traveling attractive nuisance, I could have waved debutante-style and thanked my director to amuse everyone within earshot. Harry chased me the ten feet, calling the name he’d read off my credit card. Several cashiers between us said, “I’ll help!” “Can I help with that?” before “Paul” reappeared and took the laundry cart behind me. By now, I was saying, “Just a person…just a person, leaving…” as I pushed the cart out the door and turned around to see “Paul” staring as he asked in slow motion, “Where’s your car?” I turned back to my cart, sailing off through mall traffic into the parking lot. I skipped off after it and caught it halfway to Siobhan’s truck. Somehow, the laughing and chasing didn’t catch her eye. Five feet from the rear bumper, I yodeled, “Siobhan, sweetie, would you please open the door?” The tone, an octive above my usual, alerted her to the presence of a stranger.

Siobhan: Hello…”Paul.”
Tata: Thank you so much for helping us!
“Paul”: There’s no room in your truck for the containers.
Siobhan: I was taking a call and expected the shopping to take longer.
Tata: Stand back, “Paul”. We’re professionals.

Siobhan grabbed a messy pile of shipping boxes from the back of her truck and tossed it on the ground. She and “Paul” negotiated the stacking of empty plastic hoositses in the back while I stuffed my bags into the passenger seat legroom because I easily fold in thirds. “Paul” took the laundry cart and headed back to the store. We smiled and waved as he walked the forty feet to the sliding door. I grabbed the pile of cardboard off the ground and a knife and we resorted to the PeeWee Herman voices.

Tata: Hey, Boxy! What would you like to do today?
Siobhan: (Tearing tape and folding) I’d like to lie down!

This morning, I assembled the shower caddy in only one Jonathan Richman Album Time Unit and thought of Georg as I used all my wits and freakish upper body strength to install it. Georg can do absolutely anything. I’ve seen that, and the travails of the week may have been just a bit too much. So when I found myself stymied by the geometry of getting a lengthy pressure rod past a dangling disco ball and a bank of cat boxes, I asked “What would Georg do?”

I hope Georg might do this, though I’m sure she would have replaced that tile.

Friday Music Blogging: We’ll Fall

This week, being female in the Blogosphere was hazardous to your sanity. That savage beating of dissenters at Pandagon over engagement rings spilled over the edge and dripped predictably onto I Blame the Patriarchy and – less predictably – Sadly, No! There were other residual brawls, all with the same problem: no one listened to anyone else. Nothing was learned. Not a single “Eureka!” in all that stinky mess.


Just…listen, and let this settle in:

A thousand years ago, when I was a young woman getting engaged, I too had political problems with the engagement ring and “bride price” baggage. An older woman who came from an agricultural society told me in her culture, like it or not, the husband’s ability to save up for an engagement ring was linked to the future security of the family. The ring was the family’s emergency investment. A wife was the guardian of the family’s security and kept it where she could see it at all times. When something catastrophic happened, off came the ring, and the family would survive.

So you can see the practical partnership, if you wish, or you can see the corrupting materialism the Furs reviled – until they adopted it themselves.

The Bus In Seconds Flat

Knowing as you do my naive charm and microscopic attention span, you’ll be shocked to learn that today I will attend a twenty-year service luncheon. Yes, I’ve worked for the unnamed university for almost twenty-one years now and no one tripped me as I strolled past the industrial lawn mowers. It’s kind of a miracle. Anyway, I’m not the luncheon type. What possessed me to RSVP in the affirmative? I don’t know but if I have to contain my exuberance and zip my lips through canned speeches someone had better serve beef. You know, for the symbolism.

Over the weekend, I was in the drugstore, staring at aisle after aisle of wine bottles because I wanted to make chicken livers and rapidly losing the will to live. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw a young man moving deliberately, and I sensed he was about to do something interesting. I watched him pick two items. I grabbed a bottle of red – forgivable mistake – and followed him to the checkout. As soon as he’d paid and the door swung shut behind him, I blurted to no one and everyone, “That guy bought a SuperSoaker and a bottle of wine. That’s a Saturday night, baby!”

For chicken livers, I’ll stick to a woodsy chardonnay next time.

As you may recall, about a year ago, I gave up home use of paper products with the exception of recycled toilet paper. This has been overall a good thing for me. I no longer have that distressing paper towel reflex reach. When I make a mess, I have to think about how I’m going to pick that up. Larry, the little black cat formerly bent on stealing your soul, seldom made messes until the last days of his life, so my house was clean and quiet. Thus, it went on until the arrival of Topaz and Drusy, my adorable, fur-covered mess-making machines.

Yes, I can clean almost as fast as they wreck my place. If I didn’t adore them, I might be resentful. Picture this: you and I, we’re talking, perhaps having a civilized glass of something fizzy. My apartment is tranquil, I look fairly well put together, all is right with the world and you blink. I’m still talking, but now the furniture’s upside down, something’s on fire, my hair stands on end and we’re both covered with soot. I have kittens. Twice recently, I wondered if I’d given up paper towels in haste. The first: Topaz, who has a very sore tummy sometimes, walked over to me and yakked at my feet on the living room rug. I…got a sponge. The second was a carefully planned campaign of kitty terror initiated the moment my wuzzah wuzzah wuzzah moo moo moo little darlings arrived and found I only offered one litterbox. Until I bought a second enclosed litterbox and placed it next to the first in the bathroom, I found a neat pile of kitten poop in the bathroom every day. As protests go, it was more sanitary than one march on Washington I attended in the eighties. Cleaning up those tidy piles of kitten poop, I wished for paper towels a few times. Yes, indeed. Thank Vishnu I finally wised up and gave the kittens anything they wanted.

Johnny and his Hot Veterinarian Wife are in town to visit the parents. This summer, it will be thirty years since I saw him painting something and fell madly in teenage love, though we became fast friends. His first wife hated me, which meant we couldn’t speak for a few painful years. I haven’t met this woman, but she has to like me. She just has to. It would be unbearable to lose him again. I’m thinking of bringing to his parents’ house a platter of ham, chicken, cheese and shrimp. You know, for the symbolism.