You Better Shop Around

The Grand Am to which I will one day glue gold-painted macaroni.

A conversation.

Tata: You’re good with babies. I believe in delegating. Wouldn’t you like to go meet my grandson for me? He’s still got that ‘new person’ smell.
minstrel: i loves me some babies. especially when i can spoil the living shit out of them and hand them over to their parents to calm down and do all the scut work.
Tata: I told Miss Sasha I’d take a special interest in the boy when he was old enough to drive his Grandma to the liquor store. My son-in-law is transferring to North Dakota by the second week of April, so I thought I’d visit during that week that is summer. Nobody listens anyhow. If you wave a cigarette around in the air, put on red lipstick and say “fuck” a lot, they’ll think you’re me. Wear a hat. It’ll be hilarious! I quit smoking years ago and no one believes it for a minute!

Another conversation.

Tata: I’m thinking about sending every person I know in California over to my daughter’s house one at a time to do a stirring impersonation of me evincing maternal interest. I’m not very motherly. I’m more the Let’s Take the Kids For Tattoos type. The other day, I explained to my eight-year-old nephew how to cause volcanic reactions with common ingredients and my sister told him to NEVER LISTEN TO ME AGAIN. I said, “Sweetheart, I’ll always have bail money.” Filming these visits might finally get us our own HBO special.
minstrel: i could wear bright red lipstick and certainly say fuck enough to fool anybody.
Tata: Awesome. Road-test dialog like, “Sweetheart, I hope you kicked that greengrocer’s bony ass,” “I love you to pieces. Now, get the hell off me and do your own damn laundry,” and “Mommy’s had enough bullshit. Who’s got the remote?” How do you feel about a red sequined dress with spaghetti straps before tea time? You could carry it off. I once arrived in the Milwaukee airport wearing it, fishnets and jump boots. They closed the schools.
minstrel: one notorious halloween party in vegas i had sadjian (a top drawer heterosexual female impersonator, dude was so good he held a female lead spot at the MGM’s “Hello Hollywood, Hello) fix me up with a black and scarlett tina turner minidress, wig, springaltor spikes. i shaved the chest, the legs, everything, and went out. our doo-wop line was black boys in drag from the show, all i had to do to bring the house to its knees was look to my right, and growl into the mic “sing it girls”. i can do red, in any shade.
Tata: Rock on, sister!

Paired socks stolen by the cats, found on the living room rug.

A third conversation.

Tata: I picture a parade of my friends arriving at Miss Sasha’s house, impersonating me. And the subsequent phone calls…
Sharkey: Count me in. I won’t even have to shave!
Tata: You’d look divine in red sequins.
Sharkey: I always have…
Tata: Sure, princess. And since Miss Sasha knows you, it won’t at all surprise her when you show up in my clothes, put your feet up and say, “Darling, bring Mommy the scotch.”

Drusy and Topaz chase a pen on a glass table.

Wanted: Pretend Me Nos. 3, 4, and 5. Applicants must be acquainted with my body of work, able to sit or stand for 30 minutes and smell suspiciously like fresh fruit. No experience being Me necessary. Strong English vocabulary a plus but fluency in any language is a bonus. Must live in California and have own transportation. Must wear red with aplomb and lack constricting personal dignity. Contact the management before happy hour to participate in this exciting project. And if you see Miss Sasha, zip it!

You Should’ve Left the Light On

Jeaneane Brennan
Clear Channel Communications

Dear Ms. Brennan,

Greetings to you from the glorious present day, where the sun always shines, people treat each other fairly and even goth kids are happy. It’s 2008! Hooray!

So why, in 2008, can I turn on Q104.3 and still hear crap like Under My Thumb? Why does Q104.3’s website, which is a shrine to testosterone-soaked hatred of women, have a whole section called Babes? I realize scores of young models make a living pretending to be simultaneously anorexic, well-endowed and thrilled about both, but here in the world where we live and work with men, this is a really stupid display of soft-core porn.

To quote George Carlin, “There are two knobs on the radio and television: one turns it off, the other changes the station.” Ordinarily, I’d chalk this crap up to the normal, day-in and day-out, anti-woman malarkey and dismiss it, but when I heard the intro to Under My Thumb I happened to be on my way to the drug store to buy a bottle of wine for Valentine’s Day and the backseat of my car was piled high with clothing for a women’s shelter that’s rebuilding after an arson fire. My patience with misogynist crap may be a little thin. So I shut off the radio and today I’m writing to you, because the program manager’s name isn’t on the contact page and because your email address is above the words –

It is the policy of Clear Channel Radio to provide equal employment opportunity to all qualified individuals without regard to their race, color, religion, national origin, sex, age, disability, sexual orientation or any other characteristic protected by law, in all personnel actions.

What an enlightened place to work Q104.3 must be. The faces on your gallery page are all white and mostly male, with the notable exception of a few women in some state of undress. There’s some mention of oysters. Way to be equal! Way to pander to that crucial blockhead demographic! And you helped.

Frankly, I’m surprised this shining tower – woohoo! – of dudely privilege hasn’t been sued into the ground in some hugely public and embarrassing employee action. Judging by the evidence at hand, I have little doubt at least karmic justice is on its way.


Yes, that is me, upper right. Did you think I was just stuffy?

This Tightrope’s Gotta Learn How To Bend

Pete drove me to work this morning so I could walk home in the snow storm we could feel coming. He has known me a little, he has known me all my life, so he expected a call and a change of heart that did not come. I walked home into strong flurries while cars churned in paralyzed traffic, my face wet and my mind free. I have been very concerned with conversations. What is said. What goes unspoken. What we leave hanging in the air. This one between Sadly, No! correspondent Mister Leonard Pierce and a stranger plays on my mind.

He’s sitting next to me in the lobby of the Omni Shoreham, typing furiously into a Sony laptop. He has a striped shirt with a popped collar and an ‘80s haircut he cribbed from Shadoe Stevens. For a long time, he says nothing; even when some steak-and-brandy fatass rumbles through the joint and disconnects the cable to his computer, he just eyefucks him and mutters to himself. But after a while, we strike up a conversation, borne of the boredom of waiting. His name is Tony, and he’s a stockbroker.

Why is Tony so mad?

“That fuck-stick Romney dropped out. That just leaves us with McCain.”

You don’t have any affinity for the Senator, then?

“He’s a weak sister. He won’t have the guts to invade Iran.”

Iran must be ripe for invasion. It seems like we’ve been waiting forever. But what of Iraq?

“Iraq is over. Iraq is somebody else’s problem now.”

The problem of the Iraqis, I would guess.

“Whatever. It doesn’t matter. Iran is the issue. Iran has the Islamic bomb.”

A bomb that follows a religious ideology is a terrifying concept indeed; but what about Pakistan?

“Pakistan is our ally. But even if they weren’t, Iran is the destination.”

Not according to my travel agent. But what makes you say that?

“Iran is where the money is.”

What money?

“Look, Iraq has been good to us. Everybody knows that. Construction, defense, telecoms, it’s a whole new market.”

It’s a real success story.

“You’re telling me. But compared to Iran, it’s nothing.”

A trying five years for nothing. But what do you mean?

“It’s a bigger country. It’s a richer country. It’s a country with a market class and a rich and developed economy. It wasn’t living under Stalinism like Iraq. Once we get our hands on those markets, we’re finally going to see a payoff for all the effort we’ve put into the wars.”


“Well, America.”

America put in the effort, but you’ll get the payoff.

“Not if that fucking McCain gets in.”

Well, we can only hope.

“That’s the problem with the conservative movement these days. Too much hope.”

I could not excerpt because every line offers me a new reason to wonder what the fuck is wrong with Tony that the words sovereign nation ring hollow, that people’s lives are utterly meaningless, that he stupidly believes he’ll always find himself on the sunny side of oppression. He won’t, and he won’t understand what he is and what he’s done until he’s forced to choose which of his children goes to the crematorium.

No one does.

The other day, I stood in the family store as a man with a heavy accent walked around in circles. He wanted a particular Buddha head statue, and when one of my sisters bargained him to a standstill, he spoke to me again about the town. He said, “It has such potential.” I froze.

“NO,” I said. “It’s a small town, and it’s going to stay that way. Some our families have been here for more than 100 years, there’s no more land, and we have no stupid ideas about expansion.”

“I just got here,” he apologized, confused by my refusal to consider soulless prefab sameness. Some people will always fold and leave, but most people here like the small town feel, and temptation isn’t tempting. If you want that crap, go where they already have that.

“My great-grandfather bought one of the first houses on South Fourth. I will never buy coffee from Starbucks or eat at Papa John’s. Quiznos just went bust on the Main Street. Why should anyone eat that crap when Mom and Pop restaurants serve real food and support real families?”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I didn’t think.”

“Thank you,” I said, “for supporting a local business.”

Tonight, I listen for the gentle whisper of snowflakes striking the ground.

It can feel like distant thunder.

Better Learn How To Kneel

Our Southwest Bureau correspondent Johnny should write children’s books.

Surgeon postpones my appointment last Friday. I am disappointed. Whether he’s going to be able to fuse my neck vertebrae and cure my headaches and make me a permanently forward-looking person or not, I can cope, I just need to know. I go to Pawn City to look for Indian bracelets to salve my soul. Murmuring cabinets quietly repeat the stories of people who came here, went native, bought the silver jewelry and the adobe houses and the pickup truck and their life looked like a photo shoot from the Sundance catalog, but the brown summers and the brown winters and the brown springs and falls wore them down and they hocked it all and went back to California and Houston and New York and Boston. That’s okay. More for the rest of us. There’s a bald eagle nesting in a bare tree over the spillway just past the dam, soaring around and picking off the unwary fish. I saw a crow the other day the size of a turkey, eating a sandwich. Meanwhile, there’s snow on the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. The Berkshires seem dreamlike on account of that frosting. At least they say so on the radio. I say good night, you moonlight ladies. Rockabye sweet baby John. Dope pills and booze is the diet I choose. Excuse me if I pass out on your lawn. And rockabye sweet baby John.

I can’t write like that, but I hope someday to write near it. And have a lawn.

That Bette Davis Ease

Life is confusing. For instance, we talk to each other like real people, though few of us have met. It is not our way! And we like surprises. You, I suspect, are surprised that I remember I proposed a lengthy project dignifying the City of New Brunswick photographically in a manner it perhaps no longer deserves. New Brunswick is a $2 whore in a $10 dress no matter your perspective, unless you sit on the edge of the river and ask, “Um…can someone explain to me where that tunnel under Route 27 is goes besides the other side of Route 27?”

Since I came back from vacation, I’ve had an exciting turn of vertigo. At first, I thought I could as they say still feel the boat motion on land. It’s a cheap souvenir maritime travelers enjoy for a day or two after travel’s end. One goes along all bipedal and suddenly – whoa! – the landlubber feels a stray swell in Dubuque. As the week at home wore on and vertigo did not wear off, I made an appointment to see my doctor, who has laughed at my medical problems for a couple of decades. As she should.

Today, in 11 degree weather, I marched across the river, taking four steps forward and one to the side and therefore forming my own silent conga line. Up on a hill slightly visible in the photograph above is my doctor’s office, where my doctor was surprised to see me this morning because I like playing to tough crowds, but the crowd in her office looks like it was searched for weapons and plague bacillus. Anyway, some time later, after exhilarating tests involving turning my head really fast and trying to make me throw up, my doctor pronounced me afflicted with yet another comic ailment: situational blahbitty blah vertigo, which will go away all on its own. In the meantime, I should enjoy all the festive directional merriment. Yahtzee! And no one should be surprised.

Caturday Night’s Alright, Alright, Alright

This morning, I awoke to the penetrating stare of Ceiling Cat. I considered renouncing Eeeeeeevil, but we all have our limits. I renounced Eeeeeeevil before witnesses at my nephew Sandro’s baptism and waited for lightning to strike; that didn’t go well. Today, I said, “Topaz, sweetheart, please come here and try not to smite anything on your way down.” It’s never unreasonable to fear locusts, frogs and murain. And speaking of plagues:

Today Show

To Whom It Concerns:

This morning, the show was introduced including Ann Coulter. I immediately turned off my television. If her form of hate speech is good for your ratings, I pity the audience you’re not pandering to; in any case, Coulter’s free speech is not at issue. I simply will not subject myself to her rabble-rousing vitriol.

Her fans are vocal. I’m sure you receive piles of misspelled thank-you notes whenever you include her in what passes now for political discourse. Know that I will turn off my television wherever I see her. Maybe I’m alone and maybe I’m not. Maybe reasonable people find more factual news sources when you book this irrational entertainer.

Thank you for your time and attention to this matter.

Drusy waits for us at the window.

Feel free to crib it, change a few words and get a B+ on your term paper. Being small and covered with fur, I sometimes get flustered and can’t find the words to say what I need to about a complex issue. This even occasionally keeps me from writing to my Congressmen, who by now ought to have me in their Five. I call and stutter if I have to, but I’m not going to shut up. Anyhoo, this was simple: if I see Ann Coulter’s face or hear her voice, I’m either changing the channel or shutting off the TV. The people who thought I’d find her bullshit exciting should know they shouldn’t expect my tacit approval for broadcasting it.

Next time Coulter turns up, I’ll smite a few advertisers.

Evil Is An Exact ScienceBeing Carefully Correctly Wrong

Click play, read on.

This week, the news out of Washington confirmed what we have long believed: we have become our worst nightmare, a totalitarian nation of the kind we once fought because we believed in our innate goodness and rightness; no more, and not again in our lifetimes.

WASHINGTON (CNN) – Waterboarding is necessary though probably not legal, CIA Director Michael Hayden told Congress Thursday as Attorney General Michael Mukasey said he would not open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s use of the technique.

Strapping a person to a surface, covering their face with cloth and pouring water on their face to imitate the sensation of drowning could be used if “an unlawful combatant is possessing information that would help us prevent catastrophic loss of life of Americans or their allies,” said Hayden.

“In my own view, the view of my lawyers and the Department of Justice, it is not certain that that technique would be considered lawful under current statute,” he told the House Intelligence Committee after publicly disclosing that the CIA had used waterboarding on three of the enemy combatants.

He explained that the method was used because of “mis-shaped and misformed” political discussion about waterboarding.

In the jungle of the senses
Tinkerbell and Jack the ripper
Love has no meaning not where they come from
But we know pleasure is not that simple
Very little fruit is forbidden
Sometimes we wobble sometimes we’re strong
But you know evil is an exact science
Being carefully correctly wrong

Priests and cannibals prehistoric animals
Everybody’s happy as the dead come home
Big black nemesis parthenogenesis
No one move a muscle as the dead come home

Hayden reiterated that the technique is not part of the interrogation program now and that the waterboarding techniques, when they were used in the 2002 and 2003, were limited to three top al Qaeda suspects

Also Thursday, Attorney General Michael Mukasey told lawmakers he will not open a criminal investigation into the CIA’s use of waterboarding on terror suspects.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers asked Mukasey bluntly whether he was starting a criminal investigation since Hayden confirmed the use of waterboarding.

“No, I am not, for this reason: Whatever was done as part of a CIA program at the time that it was done was the subject of a Department of Justice opinion through the Office of Legal Counsel and was found to be permissible under the law as it existed then,” he said.

Mukasey said opening an investigation would send a message that Justice Department opinions are subject to change.

We feel like Greeks we feel like Romans
Centaurs and monkeys just cluster round us
We drink elixirs that we refine
>From the juices of the dying
We are not monsters we’re moral people
And yet we have the strength to do this
This is the splendor of our achievment
Call in the airstrike with a poison kiss

Priests and cannibals prehistoric animals
Everybody’s happy as the dead come home
Big black nemesis parthenogenesis
No one move a muscle as the dead come home

“Essentially it would tell people, ‘You rely on a Justice Department opinion as part of a program, then you will be subject to criminal investigations … if the tenure of the person who wrote the opinion changes or indeed the political winds change,'” he said. “And that’s not something that I think would be appropriate and it’s not something I will do.”

Conyers, D-Michigan, and Mukasey argued over whether the Justice Department will provide documents on the waterboarding opinion to the committee.

Mukasey refused, saying the documents are highly classified and that he had already said he is not going to open an investigation.

Conyers and other House Democrats then called for the criminal investigation.

How bad it gets you can’t imagine
The burning wax the breath of reptiles
God is not mocked he knows his buisness
Karma could take us at any moment
Cover him up I think we’re finished
You know it’s never been so exotic
But I don’t know my dreams are visions
We could still end up with the great big fishes!

Priests and cannibals prehistoric animals
Everybody’s happy as the dead come home
Big black nemesis parthenogenesis
No one move a muscle as the dead come home.

Okay, let’s practice a little intelligent selfishness, just for black-humored kicks:

What do you think this means to our troops, taken prisoner?

And Murmur Vague Obscenities

Part I.
Part II. Electric Boogaloo

Part III. The Embarkening

The week before we took a cab to Newark Pointless Security Airport, Siobhan and I studied the regulations and packed. I borrowed half of Daria’s summer wardrobe because she wouldn’t need it here in winter. We bought tiny bottles of expensive products and became convinced that Halliburton quietly cornered the sample size shampoo market. There can be no other reason why Customs cares about 4 oz. tubes of curl defining pomade when that whole Formulate A Bomb On Board The Plane process was demonstrated to be impossible YEARS AGO. Later, I spent a week losing the battle with frizz.

Also that week: I was so tense my shoulders were glued to my ears. I didn’t want to go! I wanted to be on the boat but I didn’t want to travel there! Anyway, at about this same point of near hysteria, I had a fine talk with Me about ridiculous overeating.

Tata: Hey! HEY! WHAT are you DOING?
Tata: Uh…mmmmph mmmmumph mummph…nothing!
Tata: Put that down! You’re not even hungry.
Tata: I’m not what? Of course, I’m hungry.
Tata: No, you’re nervous.
Tata: Uh…mmmmph mmmmumph mummph…What are you talking about?
Tata: I mean it! Put that DOWN!
Tata: Okay! Okay! What is your problem?
Tata: I’ll tell you what my problem is: your inexplicable fat ass, that’s what!
Tata: Bite me. I have a fabulous ass!
Tata: Really?
Tata: Yep.
Tata: Let’s go look.
Tata: Now the healing can begin…

I put down the plate and went back to the exercise cycle. It can be tempting when traveling to forget one’s newfound resolution. On the day we traveled – Saturday – I discovered that I’m no better at flying than I have ever been, and once we got to the hotel in Miami, boat-related parties and events were planned. At a party, where most all I could do was marvel that I was standing outside in a t-shirt staring at palm trees, I also located the hotel’s gym. I hate gyms. But there it was, taunting me. The next morning, I sat my erstwhile fabulous ass on an exercise bicycle and pedalled for all I was worth. Since the bicycle was in the back of a room without the usual wall of horrifying mirrors and nobody paid the slightest attention to my presence, I actually enjoyed the whole thing. It was a revelation. That day – Sunday – we braced ourselves for the ordeal of going through Customs, since Newark had been an ordeal, but Port Miami wasn’t. Whooosh! Hundreds of our fellow passengers were through so fast I turned around, blinking. What?

Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, I used the various exercise cycle types on the boat. At first, I avoided the mirrors and eye contact with other people because I was afraid they were judging me. Later, I avoided the mirrors and eye contact with other people because I didn’t give a damn what they thought. That’s a giant step forward. See? A bad attitude can represent progress!

Also on Monday afternoon, Siobhan said something like, “Blah blah blah after I pushed the skinny twigs off the jogging track…” which I only half-heard because she’s always assaulting someone and after a while it’s all a blur.


After dinner Monday night, I took the elevator to the top of the boat and walked 15 1/10-mile laps. Then we saw that Vanity Project show that took the wind out of my sails. Tuesday, I woke up with a different plan in mind, but we went to Grand Cayman, then I cycled, we had dinner, then I walked. Wednesday, I had an idea that was both genius and appallingly stupid. Isn’t it funny how that happens?

I was eating fresh fruit and salads with every meal, avoiding the buffets when I could and skipping dessert entirely unless it was more fruit. For the first time in ages, I finished a book, started another and finished that. I was getting just enough sunlight to turn my skin a fetching golden brown. Then I declared that for the rest of the cruise I’d only wear shoes to the formal dining room and to the gym. It was genius! I hate shoes! So I walked 17 laps Wednesday morning, bicycled in the afternoon and walked barefoot on the jogging track that night.

During the day, the jogging track was a sunny, social place where people ran, walked, lay on deck chairs and read books. The warm sea air felt fresh on the skin, and only lightly breezy. At night, the feeling was totally different. Every night, the boat sailed at an impressive clip. Up at the top, the wind rushed over the higher surfaces with some force and I walked half of each lap with the wind and half against it. On the first night, the wind grabbed my left foot and I wondered for a half-second if I might go over the side. Rather than discouraging me, this made me mad.

Think you can scare me, do ya? Now, that right there is a sign of genius.

The next night, potheads lighting up where they wouldn’t be on camera gave me the Evil Eye each time around the track. That didn’t scare me either. Then Wednesday night, I walked barefoot, with the idea that – pffft! – screw it, I’m walking. About lap 16, I felt like there was dirt under my feet that didn’t come off. A lap later, I tried scraping it off. A lap after that, I had to quit. The jogging track had tiny metal bits embedded in the finish and they’d cut pinholes in the soles of my feet. Naturally, I had to find Siobhan immediately and declare my genius.

I don’t remember how, but I spent some part of Wednesday evening with my feet in the pool and a drink in my hand. Later, at karaoke again, I was so appalled by those California housewives’ rendition of Super Freak I curled up into one of those positions normal adults don’t assume in public. When Youlia our waitress appeared, I had one foot on the table, one leg hooked under my hips and, since it was Pajama Night, a hideous red sheer polyester robe falling everywhere in a cascade of terrifying ruffles. I apologized for being folded in thirds. Then switched to gin in pint glasses.

The next day: walking, cycling, walking. Feet in pool, drinks in hand, Siobhan and I saw a band called Great Big Sea that was loads of fun. I put my time on the boat to good use. I read, changed my diet, exercised more and got some sun. I napped every afternoon and disengaged from politics for a while. I came back feeling healthier and stronger than I have in ages.

First one making an ‘Odette to society’ joke gets a green manicure to the kisser.

On Tuesday, Siobhan and I returned to our cabin and found this terrifying creature on the edge of my bed. Note its proximity to our balcony door! We screamed!

Tata: Get back! It could be feral!
Siobhan: What do we feed it? Do you have any beer?
Tata: Beer will not protect us from this beast.
Siobhan: I’ll get my camera while you disable the thing.
Tata: Thanks, Marlon Perkins. I’ll just do that.

As we later discovered, that was only the first wave of the towel animal assault.

You Never Had A Sister That I Didn’t

Hello, Panky!

You will no doubt be pleased to hear that when I bought Pete a t-shirt on Grand Cayman I also picked up a souvenir of my vacation for Panky here, who will treasure it until after lunch, when the vomit, it shall fly! This souvenir wends its way across the United States at this moment in the loving care of the postal service. Because Miss Sasha sometimes reads this blog, I’m not giving away the plot. I will say however the souvenir in itself is utterly meaningless, I bought it mostly to keep up slovenly appearances and this thing is smaller than a breadbox – not that Miss Sasha has ever lived in a house with a breadbox. Have you?