As A Pocket With Nothing To Lose

Pete and I got up early and made a beeline for Sears, where we ran a paint salesman ragged, though he was definitely in on the joke, and while we were in the neighborhood, we picked up a few morsels to grill for dinner. Then we hightailed it to Pete’s, where we worked our rumps off.

This picture’s glare spots are a trick of the light and not at all representative of the actual glare, which is quite festive. The red dining room still needs work here and there. That pipe in the corner needs paint. A radiator you can’t see will be sanded and painted outdoors while the walls behind it will be rolled red and the trim white. Eventually, we’ll clear the rooms, sand the floors and apply polyurethane, but that’s down the road, and we’ve already started driving toward the living room. Today, Pete and I took down huge mirrors around the fireplace original to the house. They looked ghastly. I wondered why no one took a sledgehammer to the things eighty years ago.

This staircase has driven me crazier, since it’s ancient, filthy and almost impossible to clean. I scoured the banister for hours, the spindles for hours more and the surfaces – Flying Spaghetti Monster, the surfaces are miniscule, uneven and reachable if one were eight feet tall and 90 pounds. I am neither. We stained the banister, added a second coat and polyed. The banister and the column at the foot of the stairs glowed, as if the house approved. We painted the spindles white, and we’ll get to the stairs and the hallway, but for now, we’ll finish the dining room, paint the little living room before we move up into the hallway.

That green in the distance: it is my enemy, and it taunts me! I must vanquish its tealy evil!

Cartwheels Turn To Car Wheels

Some Saturdays, I get home from the family store motivated to scour my bathroom, vacuum the drapes and refold Rhode Island. I roll up my sleeves and make the most of it, when I have that kind of energy. Vrrooooom! I love things clean and sweet-smelling! I love the few minutes three times a week when the bathroom floor is gritless and cat-litter free!

Today, however, I want a nap. It is my very good fortune that today, I can have one!

Got To Make The Best Of

The primary season long ago lost its tinny glamor. The vote’s behind us and I am aware that the Republican noise machine engineers dirty tricks, scandals and rumors into our political campaigns. Until and unless indictments are unsealed, I simply will not listen to rumor or innuendo. I won’t listen to the insinuating chatter of reporters who have nothing to say. I’m not going to listen to anyone calling for any Democrat to apologize, to cast off an ally, a secret religion, to consider someone else’s penis. No. I won’t hear another word on the subject of entitlement, and you shouldn’t either.

We are being manipulated. Indulge me just a teensy moment, please!

Perhaps you have a favorite candidate. Perhaps you’ve invested scads of time verbally excoriating his, her or its opponent. Perhaps you’ve gone so far as to instigate a comments thread where rash words were exchanged.

Hmmm. My darling, come sit next to me. Comfy? Can I get you a cup of tea? You’re cutting down. I see. Okay, then. How’s your blood pressure? Pounding in your ears? My sweet, it’s time to reconsider.

Recently, I’ve heard people threaten to vote Republican if their favorite candidate doesn’t win the Democratic nomination. These passionate, dedicated people have lost sight of what’s at stake. They’re not really Democrats, or liberals, or progressives, and they’re certainly not people interested in justice or changing the world. No, they’re handicappers, more concerned with betting the right pony than Civil Rights. They don’t care whether or not children have health insurance, if the wars go on forever, if the economy tanks, if the government spies on its citizens, if the CIA operates secret prisons and tortures. Nope. These fuckers care about stomping their widdle feet and getting their way. Fuck the poor. Screw the Constitution. They’ll show you!

That kind of unforgivable selfishness will get us nowhere. Let’s look at one thing we must surely always keep before our eyes.

Say you’re a human. Say you need medical treatment after January 2009. Say it’s something you want to get over with and put behind you. You want and need to address your medical problem with all haste and in the manner you choose without interference from anyone. You want that. And you want to be left alone.

Now, say that means that for whatever reason, and there are many in the wide world of human disasters, you need an abortion. Or your wife needs an abortion. Your daughter, your granddaughter, your niece, your ward, your sister or your mother needs an abortion.

If you vote Republican, the religious right will be appointing Supreme Court Justices for the next four years. That abortion becomes less probable with each appointment; out with the bath water goes birth control. The Supreme Court is one provincial Republican appointee from grave danger to Roe v. Wade and two away from overturning it and throwing a picnic on the mall.

One more time, my pet: another Republican administration, Roe v. Wade, overturned. And it’s not just safe, legal abortion. You know that. This is the tip of the Make Your Own Decisions, Occupational Safety, Environmental Progress, National Park Preserving, Equal Rights For Everyone, No Torturing, Rule Of Law, Privacy Respecting, Trade Balancing, Reasonable Search and Seizure, No Outsourcing Iceberg.

Let’s take a deep breath, then, shall we? The other day, one of my blogmates told me on a third person’s blog to go Cheney myself, presumably over the assertion that a woman president would be dandy. I did not respond to his vitriol because why should I lose my temper, my stomach lining or – Kali forbid! – develop a wrinkle because he’s lost the plot? I’m beautifying the world one room at a time, so leaving a rumpled karmic mess is absolutely O-U-T out!

Appearances may deceive, my love. Nader cannot save us. McCain is not a reasonable centrist. Clinton is not Satan. Obama is not a terrifying racial cipher. Politicians cannot ride to our rescue from global nightmares of our own making. If we know what is good for us and our general health, we will carefully purge the junta and go about the next five years putting our nation, our international credibility, our infrastructure, our scientific community, our economy and our ethos back together. A great deal of work lies ahead of us. Now is the time to rest. When the election comes, you’ll know what to do.

Well, I’m glad we’ve had this little chat. I hope you hear what I’m saying: disengage from the utterly irration media circus. Go for a delightful walk outdoors. This weekend, daffodils will bloom in New Jersey. Gazing at sunny yellow flowers is positively tonic.

Care for a crumpet?

Updated to correct amusing typos.

And Call Ourselves An Institute

On our last trip to Virginia, we divided up Dad’s tapes and CDs. I took some Leonard Cohen, a few Rickie Lee Jones tapes I’d made for him, a CD copy of Graceland, and a tape of a Greek singer whose name I can’t spell offhand. It’d been a long time since I listened to Graceland, and I’d forgotten I’d always had questions about that album. If I could, I’d call up Paul Simon for each and every low-down.

As a developing writer, you acquire an ear for words that feel out of place or put there as a signal. They feel like a bump in a smooth stretch of road. Let’s try out these words from That Was Your Mother:

Along come a young girl
She’s pretty as a prayerbook,
Sweet as an apple on Christmas Day.
I said, “Good gracious, can this be my luck?
If that’s my prayerbook,
Lord let us pray.”

If you’re half-listening, nothing happens here but accordians and a story of a young man meeting a young woman. Simon is a really sophisticated lyricist, and a closer listen teaches you a few things. He’s a New Yorker, for one thing. New Yorkers did not say “pretty as a prayerbook” at the end of the twentieth century, when this song was written. That’s an old-fashioned southernism, which he follows with the humble “sweet as an apple on Christmas Day.” So you have this explosion of color and sugar and light and fragrances, the mildest of which might be the apple, which also sets this story in a sepia-toned past. Then he makes one of those Paul Simon trademark turns of phrase that tells you he is not southern, not old-fashioned and won’t mind spending a little time on his knees. It’s brilliant, really, which is why when I get to this line I scratch my head:

Well, that was your mother
And that was your father
Before you was born dude
When life was great
You are the burden of my generation
I sure do love you
But let’s get that straight

I’m the what? Of course, he’s talking to his son and not me, but we have the layered pronoun problem: I’m the – wait, he’s the burden of your generation? I’d like ring up and ask what particular left field we zoomed into. On this album, there are a few. All Around the World or The Myth of Fingerprints:

Over the mountain
Down in the valley
Lives a former talk-show host
Everybody knows his name
He says, “There’s no doubt about it
It was the myth of fingerprints
I’ve seen them all and man
They’re all the same.”
Well, the sun gets weary
And the sun goes down
Ever since the watermelon
And the lights come up
On the black pit town
Somebody says, “What’s a better thing to do?
Well, it’s not just me
And it’s not just you
This is all around the world.”

I love this song. I love love love this song. Ever since the watermelon? What the fuck are we talking about? From beginning to end, I feel the loneliness but can’t find the story, which is really, really unusual in a Paul Simon song. Almost 10 years later, a bunch of somebodies made a movie called The Myth of Fingerprints. That year, I was very busy being Me, so I didn’t see it, but my Spideysense tingled. I don’t know what that means, either.

There’s another question I’d like to ask. Most of the time, Simon writes his own stories, but Under African Skies seems to have nothing to do with him, and then there’s the second verse.

In early memory
Mission music
Was ringing round my nursery door
I said, “Take this child, Lord
From Tucson, Arizona,
Give her the wings to fly through harmony
And she wont bother you no more.”

This seems to be Linda Ronstadt’s story, paralleling the story of the title. The swooping sound of her voice suggests flight, steady and graceful. As a diptych, it’s a lovely picture, but it’s like looking at photographs of people you know you must know. Why these two people? What is the connection?

Today, I’m mailing more of Dad’s books to Miss Sasha, who asks different questions. I still have no answers.

Don’t Fear My Darling the Lion

New York Times Online:

White House Offers Grim Outlook for Medicare

I’ll just tell you right now I can’t read this article because I will suffer an aneurysm. God damn it, I cannot think rationally about depriving Americans of access to what little health care they have –

Okay, I read it and only went a little cross-eyed. Here’s the howling mad part:

President Bush set forth his vision for Medicare in February, in a budget that proposed savings of more than $180 billion in the next five years. The House and the Senate rejected those proposals in budget blueprints adopted earlier this month.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the reports reflected policy decisions made by Mr. Bush early in his administration. The president inherited a budget surplus, but, rather than using it to shore up Social Security and Medicare, she said, he squandered much of it on “tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans.”

Senator Judd Gregg of New Hampshire, the senior Republican on the Budget Committee, said the reports showed that the looming crisis in entitlement programs “is not a phony issue, as some Democrats have stated, but a very real problem that is on our doorstep.”

The administration has lied to us so often it now sends someone out to say, “We’re not lying”? If you’re lying, and you say you’re not lying, YOU’RE STILL LYING. I believe this is another effort to turn the fiscal clock back to the heyday of the robber baron, and I’m quite sure about 67% of Americans agree. Don’t fuck with old people!

The lighting fixture that started our quest for color that honored Pete’s late mother’s taste in furniture.

In other Stuff You Won’t Believe, Stop & Shop corporate headquarters has not responded to my email this time to find out if I’m a real human and actually talk like this, but the local store’s manager called me at work. We talked about recycled stuff and healthier products and he tried to convince me that he was doing the best he could. Chitter chatter chitter chatter later, I asked him straight out, “Why did you call me? You’re not going to convince me to buy Bounty and shut up.” He actually tried telling me that all his product options were set at corporate and recycled products weren’t available. I said, “The Stop & Shop across the river has an entire recycled and healthy products ghetto, which is bullshit because when customers are in the paper products aisle they can’t see what their real options are.”

He said, “They have that?”

I said, “Maybe you’d better go look and compare notes. Your store is in trouble when I can tell you what you can order and you don’t know.”

DING! Thus ends Round 2. I may have taken that one but anyone could still lose.

The Boom-Boom Into My Heart

Pete often takes interesting pictures of this dull landscape. Tonight, as he chose his images, a sunset orange as pumpkin blossoms kissed the city goodnight. It was impossible to photograph and gone in an instant. On Monday nights, Discovery Home Channel runs a series of shows about painlessly greening up your life, which is great but miles from our thoughts as we skedaddled to Pete’s house, where we’ve been plotting, scheming and plotting some more, and now our eeeeeevil plan is in higglety-pigglety motion.

We’ve smooshed everything together into the center of Pete’s dining room, covered it in canvas and painted one hundred year old plaster walls an elegant and foreboding red. On the way to red, we first primed the walls with a dusty rose primer that gave me terrifying eighties flashbacks. Remember that Laura Ashley period in your life or the life of a misguided loved one? Brrrr. Red is the toughest color to work with because everything else bleeds through it. We painted and cut in and painted and cut in and painted and tried not to kill each other and pretended not to notice the way the old greenish-teal trim appeared to vibrate horribly in a red room. You see it there, lurking in the distance. Eradicating it in the dining room became my obsession. I can’t tell you how many times I said, “Five more minutes! Five more! I can quit priming any time!”

We were undecided before but tonight we decided the trim should be white-white. When I saw the deep, velvet red next to the fresh, bright white, all I could do was cackle with joy. Joy! Tomorrow: we paint all the trim. Later, the radiator and a pipe will be silver.

Me While You’re Looking Away


From the Times Online:

Far from heeding international calls for dialogue with the Dalai Lama, China has accused Tibet’s exiled god-king of colluding with Muslim terrorists to destabilise the country before the Olympic Games.

Ha haha ha hahahahahahaha hahaha…

Wait – the Dalai Lama’s a – hahahahahahahahaha haha haha Flying Spaghetti Monster, that’s a good one. I wish – ooh hoo! – I wish I’d written that one. Well, unfortunately there’s more, reminiscent of the comic stylings of Dick “Heart of Darkness” Cheney.

State-run newspapers have issued prominent leading articles that are part of a campaign to portray the Dalai Lama as the mastermind of the deadly riots that have rippled through Tibet and ethnic Tibetan communities.

In Lhasa, the Tibetan capital, yesterday local TV issued the No 7 list of those most wanted in connection with the riots on March 10 in which Chinese officials say 22 people were killed, including a baby boy burnt to death in a garage and one paramilitary police officer.

The latest list included six women and one monk and brought to 45 the number of people the security forces were seeking. The police sent out text messages to all mobile phone users in Lhasa urging those involved to surrender and exhorting others to turn in rioters in return for a reward.

The Dalai Lama’s government-in-exile in the Indian town of Dharamsala has put the death toll at 99, comprising 80 in Lhasa and 19 shot dead as the violence spilt over into neighbouring provinces with a large Tibetan population.

China’s Communist rulers have presented the violence as a plot supported by only a minority of Tibetans. The People’s Daily said that the Dalai Lama had never abandoned violence after fleeing China in 1959 after a failed revolt against Beijing. “The Dalai Lama is scheming to take the Beijing Olympics hostage to force the Chinese Government to make concessions to Tibetan independence.”

It also accused Tibet’s spiritual leader of planning attacks with the aid of violent Uighur separatist groups seeking an independent East Turkestan for their largely Muslim people in the northwestern Xinjiang region of China. It said: “The Dalai clique has also strengthened collusion with East Turkestan terror organisations and planned terror activities in Tibet.”

The Dalai Lama described the accusations by China as baseless.

Never in a kerjillion years would I have described the Dalai Lama as violent, which just goes to show you my vivid imagination is not the stuff of explosive political greatness. I’m almost speechless at the artistic license with the truth issuing those statements would require. Jon Lovitz would turn down this role.

Until tonight, I have opposed boycotting the Olympic Games. I love the Olympics. The 1980 and 1984 Olympic boycotts hurt thousands of athletes and proved that diplomacy’s failures make messes of absolutely everything. Tonight, I am not sure whether Beijing is urbane like Barcelona or doomed like Sarajevo, or if the Games will be peaceful like in Montreal or deadly like in Munich. I am now willing to consider the idea of a boycott. What do you think?


The family toy store sells all kinds of fascinating things I would never otherwise see. The other day I was looking at books for Panky and found Braille ABC Blocks With Sign Language. This find caused me to alert dogs within a square mile to my joy. Oh, the barking, but that’s not all. The town, tiny though it is, is a hotbed of multilingualism, so nearby sat Russian, Hebrew and Spanish letter blocks. I made an exotic joke about wishing for Egyptian hieroglyphic blocks.

You know what? Uncle Goose makes them.

The Bodegas And the Lights

Daria and I, no idea where, about 1965. Also: the last time either of us saw our natural colors.

For a few days, Poor Impulse Control was dead as a doornail, though I wonder if doornails animate. Regardless: it has come to my attention that I handle frustration poorly. Don’t try to dissuade me with your usual and completely justified mitigating praise. No, I may have a problem with poorly timed outbursts. Just this morning:

Siobhan: Jesus Christ, I bought a house!
Tata: You forgot to fix my fucking blog.
Siobhan: I’m so sorry!
Tata: Congratulations! When do we paint?

Two weeks ago, a man with the same name as my father’s mother’s father contacted me to ask if we were related. I read his list of family names and recognized none of them, but I asked about his name and told him to keep in touch. He said he believed he was named for my great-grandfather, and did I recognize this other list of names? It was my branch of the family. I was glad I was sitting down when I read it. We’ve chatted most days since then.

This morning, a woman found me by googling an eminent common relative, though she and I are not related. Mom was surprised and pleased but cagey with information. Siobhan, mysteriously still speaking to me, wondered what that meant.

Siobhan: Your mom is an only child who wants a bigger family but doesn’t want to invite them to dinner?
Tata: My mom wants relatives she can keep to herself on papers that burst into flames upon her demise.
Siobhan: But your mom is so nice!
Tata: Geez Louise, do I have to write my next bitchy line?

I might be a little TENSE.

Take Me To Another Place

Once again, Blogger will not upload pictures. This time, it offers a novel error message, which explains nothing and doesn’t help. I would actually prefer error messages that brought the problem into focus:

* Publish? Fuck that. Where’s our pizza?

* Pictures? Pffft! Send us boobies.

* Lost your blog? Like we care. We’re Blogger.

Obviously, if I ship Blogger techs Skittles and porn, I stand a better chance of being in business.