The Trial And Error of My Masterplan

Some time ago, I used to get up Sunday mornings and stare at the TV until my vision came into focus after Saturday nights at the bar. If I were very, very lucky, I found Simon Schama’s History of Britain while I was playing “How Many Historians Am I Holding Up?” I like history but I’m no pushover. The History Channel never impressed me. Simon Schama, art professor and possessor of imperfect teeth, rocked my world with his stunning and muscular accounts of events I’d read about a thousand times. Holy crap, I loved his ability to shock me. I mean, it’s history. We know how it turned out. (Side note: movie about a big boat? Yeah? The boat sinks. Yes, I’m that kind of bitch.)

About a year ago, Schama came out with another series on BBC2: The Power of Art. On Sunday, Pete and I watched the last two episodes, which were FANTASTIC. Despite the torrential rush of television news, it can seem as if history has already happened and the day’s events are just drops in a great, meaningless bucket. I’m not saying that impression is good or apt, I’m saying it’s possible to feel that way, and it can be especially possible to believe that all the great art that will ever be already exists. It’s not? When was the last time you went to a gallery show of contemporary artists? (Mr. Rix: hush, you!) When was the last time you saw art at all?

“Art is the enemy of the routine, the mechanical and the humdrum. It stops us in our tracks with a high voltage jolt of disturbance; it reminds us of what humanity can do beyond the daily grind. It takes us places we had never dreamed of going; it makes us look again at what we had taken for granted.”
Simon Schama

It is possible to reduce the history of art into glossy dorm room prints chosen for pretty colors and matching decor, but such reductions are truly vulgar, as Schama points out. Case in point is Jacques-Louis David‘s Death of Marat. From the program guide: Painting became an important means of communication for David since his face was slashed during a sword fight and his speech became impeded by a benign tumour that developed from the wound, leading him to stammer. He was interested in painting in a new classical style that departed from the frivolity of the Rococo period and reflected the moral and austere climate before the French Revolution. David became closely aligned with the republican government and his work was increasingly used as propaganda with the Death of Marat proving his most controversial work. That sounds neutral. David was controversial. Actually, that painting was so loaded a statement his family wasn’t allowed to bring his body back into France after David’s death. Let Schama tell it. As stories go, it’s a doozy.

Joseph Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On) (1840) is just a painting, you might say.

You might also say there’s nothing on TV.

Young To Walk Him Around

Courtesy of the intrepid Suzette, we find that topaz and drusy are not just Topaz and Drusy, glamorkittens, they’re also jewelry.

Unfortunately, it’s a little hideous.

Yes, I remember when pothead baubles appealed to me. Well, sort of. That hazy recollection is part and parcel of a distant, THC-soaked epoch in which, like the Pleistocene, feathers rocked. I mean, it’s not as if we’re all busy rewriting our gloriously disastrous pasts, right? So that still-fragrant roachclip collection you’re concealing from your biographers – dude, bust it out. Meanwhile, at the eighties party for my teenaged sister, I happened to be wearing the ginchiest blue earring with a pink flamingo logo, and had this conversation several times.

Cousin It Girl: That is THE cutest thing! Where’s the other one?
Tata: There’s only one. We were all about asymmetry.
Cousin It Girl: Love that pink flamingo! What’s that blue pillowy thing?
Tata: It’s a condom.
Cousin It Girl: A condom? Why would you have a condom?
Tata: Sex was invented in 1994 so before that we had condoms for emergency water balloon fights.
Cousin It Girl: That is …quite… an accessory.
Tata: Sure, sweetie, and so much more hygienic than keeping it in your wallet.
Cousin It Girl: That’s older than my wallet.
Tata: Sweetie, you shouldn’t use condoms older than your wallet.
Auntie InExcelsisDeo: Or your children.

Recently, I have taken terrible pictures of the kitten princesses, mostly because they move with the speed of light but also because when they’re doing something adorable this adorable thing takes place on my lap. Yesterday, a kitty jumped into my lap and insisted on a vigorous scritching. This is not unusual but about a minute later I realized the pushy pussycat on my lap was not Drusy but Topaz. I can’t tell you how startled I was as Topaz, who detests leaving the ground except to fly through the air, preferably to break something, leapt about demanding a thorough ear scratching, meaty treats and car keys. Naturally, I googled.

I found a bunch of “treasures” someone will no doubt discover in Gramma’s jewelry stash and use as proof that she should no longer wield credit cards. Then: other jewelry designers combine topaz and drusy in more attractive ensembles. I don’t hate this bracelet, though I think I’m a few mumus away from my Mrs. Roper Years. On the other hand: I should talk. Pink flamingos. Sheesh.

Lay Me Down In Sheets Of Linen

I’ve been avoiding this for a week.

Last Sunday, Pete and I drove out to Daria’s house, where we dragged out to the car three heavy boxes Daria packed for me. Daria, Dara and Darla spent a week dismantling a big part of Dad’s kitchen, and Daria brought these back from Virginia. I opened one and lost my nerve, which meant I left the other two in the car until just now.

Well, isn’t this cozy?

The cake pans make me sigh. I’m not much of a baker, but I’d like to be more versatile. You’re sworn to secrecy, you know. What, you don’t remember promising you’d never tell anyone I can cook? You did, and you’re going to keep that promise, even if it means resorting to hyperbole. Practice! Sweet Jesus, last time I ate at her place I spent a week in ICU. Or: Christ, put that down! You don’t know where it’s been! You can do it. Moving on, then.

The chef’s coat was Dad’s and a surprise from Daria. Dad had piles of them. Many of his favorites were denim. I suppose we could donate them to a cooking school if they have needy students shaped like a stretchy Bonaparte, but what are the odds?

This week was important to the family. On Monday, Darla’s parents returned to Virginia from Canada. On Wednesday, Dara turned 16. Thursday was the 16th anniversary of our grandmother Edith’s death, because it’s always a one-for-one exhange with us. And today, we had an eighties-theme birthday party at Auntie InExcelsisDeo’s house. As Mr. Blogenfreude says, “Blackmail-grade photos must follow.” Oh, they sure will.

Tonight, I’ve opened the boxes. Blue eyeshadow is just another test of courage.

Friday Music Blogging: Jazz Edition

Todd emails from Los Angeles, scene of many a celebrity hijink. Yes, that is the seldom-seen singular form I just made up.

It must bore him JUST being a creative genius and a gazillionaire. “Hmmmmmmmmm, what should I do today? I know, I’ll count my money and then I’ll get my doctorate in something.”

The he to which we refer is Brian May, late of Queen and current defender of a legitimate thesis. Dig:

Guitarist and songwriter Brian May is completing his doctorate in astrophysics, more than 30 years after he dropped it to form the rock group Queen.

May was due to finish carrying out astronomical observations at an observatory on the island of La Palma, in Spain’s Canary Islands, today, the observatory said.

May said he planned to submit his thesis, Radial Velocities in the Zodiacal Dust Cloud, to supervisors at Imperial College London within the next two weeks.


May, 60, told the BBC that he had always wanted to complete his degree.

“It was unfinished business,” May said. “I didn’t want an honorary PhD I wanted the real thing that I worked for.”

Then he’ll get back to counting his money and becoming Dalai Lama.

Something We Could Die About

This morning, a friend who was undoubtedly the most Nordic bar mitzvah boy since – since – ever, pointed me to the blog of another young Jewish man advocating for the war. I’m not linking to him, forget it. Look, everyone’s entitled to his youthful indiscretions. Everyone’s entitled to make mistakes in judgment. I make ’em all the time, but I am a little old Jewish lady. One of these days, I’ll eat dinner at 4 and tuck butter pats into my oversize purse for a needy later that never really comes. And that fucking kid is an embarrassment to my adopted people.

If you are a young man or woman who supports the war: enlist. Period.

If you are a young Jewish man or woman who supports the war: good for you. Enlist and shut up. If you agitate for endless war you think you’re too good to fight you’re reinforcing stereotypes about Jews. Zip it, idiot. Let’s hope you grow out of this foolishness.

Oh Lieberman, Novak, Goldberg, Goldstein, Perle, Wolfowitz, Kagan, Kagan, Kagan and the absolute ghoulish worst Kristol… God damn it, stop what you doing.

Recent political discussion has included a lot of shoulder shrugging and blame shifting, the most notable of which has been the refrain “No one could have known…” applied to an appalling variety of disasters. The fact is a great many people did know, told you and you didn’t listen. Moreover, you’re not listening now, after you’ve been proven wrong over and over. I don’t know what could be in it for you to keep sputtering that more time, more money and more death will ultimately prove you right, because at this point, being proven right about any one thing you say will not be enough to counterbalance the damage you’ve done.

Finally, intention is nifty but outcomes are what count. It does not matter what you intended to do. What matters is what you’ve done.

Whose suffering did you mitigate? Whose life did you save?

What have you done?

Update: I wrote our young chickenhawk (correction: Yellow Elephant) that it wasn’t too late for him to enlist. He sent back an email with the subject Don’t waste your time, my time or our country’s time, including only a link to his FAQ titled Am I A Chickenhawk? My response: As a little old lady, I think it’s your duty to defend me. He’s blocked me from his site, so I can’t mentor this promising young man.
Non-enlisting chickenhawk (Yellow Elephant)

This is Josh Levy. He wants a bigger military he doesn’t want to join, but you or your children should. Stop by and encourage him to consider an alternate career path.

Update-update: Mr. Blogenfreude points out that our boy Josh is not a chickenhawk; he’s a Yellow Elephant. I’d do the fancy strike-through text but I can’t. Born before the cut off date and all. As you were!

I Was Defeated, You Won the War

I’m sitting in the aromatic family store again on a beautiful, sunlit afternoon as Putumayo’s Sahara Lounge plays. Coffee and taboule sit on the counter. Pedestrians, languid in the sunshine, window shop contentedly. Sometimes, I lie on the floor and consider how I can photograph a single object or group of objects for the store’s website. I think about it and think about it, then I do it, then my sun-drunk mediocrity soaks into the fabric of the web.

Two weeks ago, I popped into the family store and my sisters’ mother went full-metal hinty.

Joan: You used the bathroom before you came here?
Tata: For years. What?
Joan: You might not want to use ours. Did you know gas builds up in toilets? I didn’t know that. The toilet blew up yesterday. We found the lid on the floor. Imagine if one of the kids had been in there. Dan spent half the night with a wet vac.
Tata: Wait. Are you saying that the toilet blew up, sending the tank lid flying through the air and the pipes spewed raw sewage?
Joan: You should have smelled the basement.
Tata: And when did this happen?
Joan: Last night!
Tata: Just as soon as I quit puking I’m going to laugh all day.

Thus, spending the day at the store is a mixed blessing as we regard normally dependable indoor plumbing with suspicion. This is especially serious as I have the hair-trigger gag reflex, meaning that Daria calls me every time she changes a diaper because hearing me try not to hork is music to her ears. Yesterday, Mary came clean, so to speak.

Mary: Remember on Saturday, when you came running into the store?
Tata: You were shouting, “DAMN IT! DAMN IT! DAMN IT!” and my ears were burning, yup.
Mary: The toilet overflowed and I called my friend Mia. You saw her there.
Tata: She was there. Why did you call her?
Mary: To bring me the Target-red plunger. It had just happened. I was gonna tell you but I asked if you were working Sunday, remember?
Tata: I do remember! I was on my way to a dinner party and not working Sunday.
Mary: Yeah, if you’d been scheduled the next day, I thought I’d tell you why you might need two plungers. So I’m telling you now.
Tata: Are you saying I might need two plungers to use the bathroom? And why do I keep asking people what they’re saying?
Mary: Fear not, for I will translate.
Tata: Omigod, if you tell me the Charmin’s a plan I am going to yak on your shoes.

Supposedly, everything is working. Supposedly – but I doubt the bathroom! I fear it! A customer tells me I should open the Yellow Pages and find myself a bathroom therapist. I tell him they’re all bathroom therapists. He tells me I have a fear of bathrooms. I tell him no, just the one – just this bathroom. He laughs nervously and recommends an all-cheese diet.

Just now, the bathroom has forgotten about me. I have gained the element of surprise.

Pieces Of Me You’ve Never Seen

Yesterday, in a crowded room and the course of conversation, someone casually said, “Morgan’s getting married.” Nobody saw this, I know, not even Siobhan, as I held perfectly still and felt the universe skip a beat. Talk continued and the subject changed. This, I learned in childhood: when in doubt, freeze. No one has to see how you really feel, especially if you’re not sure.

When he left in September 1996, he took Me with him and I haven’t seen Me since. I loved him more than breath, though he didn’t love me. Still: eleven years. I genuinely want him to be happy, so this shouldn’t matter, but it burns like battery acid. I didn’t flinch. No one has to know.

The Rain By Complaining

My sisters have gone on their annual breathless retreat to Lake Champlain, leaving my friend Mary and me with the keys to our financial kingdom. If you recall, last week, I forgot I had those keys and marched to the library, noticed I was on vacation and therefore violating the laws of Vacation Physics by being at work, and marched home. This morning, I opened the store at 11. Ten minutes later, Daria called.

Daria: Did you walk to the right job? I had to know.
Tata: If I shut off the burglar alarm and sold silk scarves at the library, I believe someone might speak to me sharply. Or maybe I’d be gift-wrapping at Reference.
Daria: I gotta go. My children are in an uproar.
Tata: I could fix that too with double-sided tape.

See, I went to the DMV again today. Last year, I went four times, I think, and each time I heard a different story about what documents I needed to change my name. I’d get the new document, and again: nada. Nothing changes. This time, there’s a little pressure. My car’s up for inspection. My insurance card is correct. My registration has the old address, because no way, no how, can I even update my address if my name is still in limbo. I know how Prince felt when his name belonged to someone else and he switched to unpronounceable symbols; I know a few symbols I’d like to force on fucking Motor Vehicle Services. Notice that it got to change its name.

The agency is no longer in the business, no matter how inept it used to be, of licensing New Jersey drivers. I say this carefully, and I mean this: Motor Vehicle Services’ main function is steal what’s left of your will to live and make you move someplace less hostile, like Pennsylvania, where neighbors will merely shoot you. Mary, for instance, has lived within a five-mile radius her whole life, got married once eleven years ago and has one child. Seems pretty simple to prove who she is to MVS, right? Last year, she went with three different sets of documents before MVS would renew her driver license, and – eleven years and two license cycles later – they needed to see a better copy of her marriage certificate. Jesus Christ, what happens if your house burns down with all your documents in it? “Fuck you, New Jersey driver, you’re a little too flammable to tour the Turnpike”?

So now, I have to file papers to change my name legally. No, really.

Friday Cat Blogging: Loonies On the Path Edition

Last night, I presented myself for indentured servitude at the family store. My sisters buzzed about madly, my stepfather Tom erected tents, my co-workers set up games and prizes. Someone arranged cheese and champagne grapes for captive adults to nibble and toddlers to yak up onto the carpet. We had a big, public Harry Potter party. I wore a cape!

Anya: You don’t know anything about Harry Potter, do you?
Tata: Nope!
Anya: You’re going to be Madame Hooch. She teaches the kids to fly.

I turned to display a slightly prim heroic profile.

Tata: I am Hooch!

The capes reeked like fish food flakes. Corinne and I surveyed the store’s many fragrance options and decided on a lychee-lime potion. I sprayed her down like a buggy corn crop, then turned around so she could do the same to me. Later, I hosed Anya down with the same stuff because covering a fishy scent with sugar or flowers would be a mistake, but add something citrus and you may smell like an expensive entree. So I surmised.

During the course of the evening, I discussed with an eleven year old boy the downsides to putting lacquered rocks into his hydrangea bush; with my five year old nephew, the utterly adorable Dark Lord: whether or not blue is a flavor. Jim from the Smithereens was in a chatty mood. By the time I got home, I was an exhausted, squawking mess, too tired to photograph kittens. This morning, Drusy did what Drusy does every morning: try to catch the news crawl. So far: this goal eludes her, but I fear for NBC News when it does not.

Yes, that is a pile of pocket knives and a plaster Goddess of Willendorf.

Topaz plays with food. Every morning, after the kittens suck all gravy out of chunky victuals, we’re left with moist cubes of mystery meat that dry and turn into little rocks I will enjoy stepping on after Topaz kicks them all over the apartment. You cannot see in this picture of the adorable, scheming pussycat the meaty debris field behind her. Her facial expression here is typical: Topaz is working out what tasty thing I can deliver to her next and how she will play with it all day while I’m at work. And this is good because when Topaz is bored I spend a lot of time on the business end of a dustpan and broom.

Say It In Russian

Since I am a genius, I turned myself in immediately. I meant to tell you later won’t cut it.

Tata: Hey, guess what!
Daria: Squazibna?
Tata It is early, you’re right!
Daria: Cantabuloos.
Tata: So, this morning, I got up and walked to work. Isn’t that great?
Daria: Phingapingi.
Tata: My co-worker Hans said in a special Hans voice, “It seems we are aloooooone.” So I walked over to the calendar and discovered I was on vacation. I am a genius!
Daria: Get the fuck out!
Tata: That’s exactly what I did: turn around and walk home. I’m on College Avenue now. Hey! There’s a very old lady walking by Scott Hall in a housecoat and Keds.
Daria: Is she carrying a squid? Because that might prove something.
Tata: I thought she might be a ghost but film students just waved at her. You know, if I were smart, I’d hotfoot it to Motor Vehicles. The car needs inspecting.
Daria: What do you need to go to the office for?
Tata: My license and registration don’t match since the divorce and I probably can’t prove I’m me to their satisfaction. I might hafta change my name legally to get the car inspected.
Daria: You might…what?
Tata: Listen, I gotta go. I’m walking with an open Ringling Brothers sippy cup of coffee and what’s left of my dignity is smoldering.

When I got home, Pete was shimmying into a Jersey Shore Welding Festival t-shirt but, surprised, shoved two hands into one sleeve.

Tata: Hey, guess what!
Pete: Shark Week arrived early? Arrrrrrrrrrr.
Pete: Emeril’s recipes don’t work?
Tata: Remember when I got up and complained and took a shower and complained and got dressed and complained and walked to work?
Pete: Yeah?
Tata: I complained then too! Then I discovered I’d taken a vacation day to go work at the family store. Now I’m all happy!
Pete: Is it my turn to complain?
Tata: Well…sure.
Pete: Your kittens stole my camo pants.
Tata: Did they frisk ya, too?

Wednesday, my co-workers were very anxious to hear what drew me to our office on a day off, since my actual appearance and disappearance, apparition-like, will be hilarious until I do the next unexpected thing. Also: thanks to the magic of YouTube, I explained log rolling to Mathilde because lumberjack festivals haven’t hit it big in Rwanda. So I was a font of experiential wisdom and instructional video. Even so, today is my favorite day this week. Yesterday, I left a message for the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm).

Tata: Hello, it is I, your ex-wife, though I hope you’ve stopped stalling and set a date for that wedding. I’d like to be someone’s first wife, and we all know how important my happiness is! Step it up, bub! Anyway, the reason I called is Motor Vehicles has certain standards – stop laughing! – and I need to borrow either our marriage license or certificate or whatever you’ve got. I don’t even have a copy of the divorce decree, so unless you’d like to ride shotgun to your local office and swear publicly, “Jesus Christ, wasn’t that black hole of suffering and crushing despair enough for one man? Yes, we were married,” could you please lend me some documents? Call me back!

This morning, as my boss hinted I should go to Carvel, pick out an ice cream cake and get something written on it – mwah hah hah! – while my co-worker drives getaway, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) also hinted about an envelope I might have received. They’ve set a date for the wedding where, he said, the place will be crawling with people called Mrs. MarriedName. I’m thrilled! He also agreed to put into the mail a marriage license or certificate or something because he had it handy, since he recently had to prove he wasn’t a bigamist. I might get my way at Motor Vehicles yet.

And hey – ice cream!