Know When Or Where To Go

I’m packing to go back to Virginia again. The catsitter’s coming tomorrow to adore Topaz and Drusy in my mournful absence. Tonight, I went to pick up snacks at the Extortion Mart across the street from the family store while Anya closed up. A six of San Pellegrino, carrot sticks and Sun Chips later, I found myself flummoxed in front of the toilet paper again when there wasn’t a single recycled paper product on the shelves I’d complained held too few. Ten minutes later, Anya met me at my car a little flustered.

Anya: Where’d you go?
Tata: I had to throw a giant hissyfit, and those take time.
Anya: What happened?
Tata: I can’t believe it! In that store, in March 2008, I didn’t find a single recycled paper product in that aisle – not a napkin, not a tissue, not a paper towel, not a single roll of toilet paper. In 2008, there’s no excuse for this.
Anya: You’re not the only one who has this talk with them.
Tata: I marched to the checkout line but two people were at the courtesy counter so I turned around, interrupted their conversation and described my umbrage. I was umbrageous!
Anya: Is that a word?
Tata: Of course not, so it’s not a cliche!
Anya: Did they say anything or did they hold still and hope you don’t bite?
Tata: The one guy said he was a new manager from Somerset where they have lots of recycled products. I corrected him by saying there’s a recycled product ghetto that was inadequate but better than nothing. Anyway, he looked really surprised so he went to look for himself. Fortunately the Express Line wasn’t moving so when he got back he said I was right but he had the decency to look confused.
Anya: Are you inhaling at all? Because I haven’t seen you breathe for a few minutes.
Tata: He said it’s a small store. I said that makes it worse because people walk to the store but then they have to drive two towns away for recycled paper and what’s that mean?
Anya: Dead dinosaurs weep!
Tata: He said corporate in Massachusetts made the decisions. I said they’d already heard from me, and I was fully prepared to have a conniption up and down the East Coast.
Anya: We buy our Marcal products at Costco.
Tata: Really? I’ve never found them there!
Anya: We buy them for the stores and our houses at Costco.
Tata: I’ll look again. Anyway, I couldn’t believe it. I just couldn’t believe it and I couldn’t even shut my mouth! Hey, did I drive by your house? I can’t tell when I’m nearly hysterical.
Anya: No, it’s actually two ahead.
Tata: Your block has nine houses. Yet I can’t pick out the one in the middle.

My campaign of letter-writing terror begins anew Monday.

When Kindness Falls Like Rain

This week, the temperature is supposed to be above 40 every day. This means I can walk to and from work again, which is grand news. I walked today and love what it does for my metabolism and morale. It makes all the difference between feeling confined indoors burning fossil fuels and getting out into springtime and new life. Today, I was sorry to read that Twisty’s father died last week. That anyone endures this now inspires a familiar ache for me. I want to say, “I don’t know how you feel because I am not you, but I know it gets better with time.”

This weekend, we have the final garage sale of Dad’s stuff. I expect we’ll cry all Saturday. But it gets better with time.

That Endless Skyway

Recently, Pete and I watched a documentary on PBS about Pete Seeger and the sloop Clearwater. I was stunned by the story because, like many children our age, my sister Daria, brother Todd and I participated in it. Daria reminded me that we and our neighbors rode on the Clearwater more than thirty years ago. This is where we learned about basic environmentalism and took to heart a love of green places. This, I remember now, is where I became a shameless treehugger, for which I will never have even a single moment of embarrassment.

Last night, my own Pete happened on another PBS fundraiser and we both stopped what we were doing. Channel 13 out of Newark – you know, where Sesame Street came from – was running The Power of Song. Once again, I was shocked speechless by what I remember of Pete Seeger’s life and what I had forgotten.

In 1952, I believe it was, Pete Seeger was blacklisted for being a communist and didn’t appear on radio or television – except for PBS – until the Smothers Brothers invited them on their show in 1967 and 1968. One of his biggest legal problems is that he would not sign a loyalty oath or swear that he was not a Communist. Funny thing: in February 2008, a math teacher at California State University at East Bay was fired from her new job for refusing to sign a loyalty oath that included promises of violence.

California State University East Bay has fired a math teacher after six weeks on the job because she inserted the word “nonviolently” in her state-required Oath of Allegiance form. Marianne Kearney-Brown, a Quaker and graduate student who began teaching remedial math to undergrads Jan. 7, lost her $700-a-month part-time job after refusing to sign an 87-word Oath of Allegiance to the Constitution that the state requires of elected officials and public employees.

“I don’t think it was fair at all,” said Kearney-Brown. “All they care about is my name on an unaltered loyalty oath. They don’t care if I meant it, and it didn’t seem connected to the spirit of the oath. Nothing else mattered. My teaching didn’t matter. Nothing.”

A veteran public school math teacher who specializes in helping struggling students, Kearney-Brown, 50, had signed the oath before – but had modified it each time. She signed the oath 15 years ago, when she taught eighth-grade math in Sonoma. And she signed it again when she began a 12-year stint in Vallejo high schools.
Each time, when asked to “swear (or affirm)” that she would “support and defend” the U.S. and state Constitutions “against all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Kearney-Brown inserted revisions: She wrote “nonviolently” in front of the word “support,” crossed out “swear,” and circled “affirm.” All were to conform with her Quaker beliefs, she said. The school districts always accepted her modifications, Kearney-Brown said. But Cal State East Bay wouldn’t, and she was fired on Thursday.

In what fucking bizarro universe does a math teacher need to defend the goddamn State of California? And – wait for it – California officials can’t agree on what the problem is.

Modifying the oath “is very clearly not permissible,” the university’s attorney, Eunice Chan, said, citing various laws. “It’s an unfortunate situation. If she’d just signed the oath, the campus would have been more than willing to continue her employment.”

Modifying oaths is open to different legal interpretations. Without commenting on the specific situation, a spokesman for state Attorney General Jerry Brown said that “as a general matter, oaths may be modified to conform with individual values.” For example, court oaths may be modified so that atheists don’t have to refer to a deity, said spokesman Gareth Lacy.

What the fuck is wrong with these people? The article goes on and on with the kind of bureaucratic back and forth anyone who’s every tried to work with a state structure recognizes. Then she’s fired, which raises the question: does anyone truly believe Medieval history and Comp Sci grad students are going to take up arms to defend anything? Of course not. That’s why THEY’RE IN FUCKING COLLEGE. So what’s that oath really intended to do?

Simple: to screen out people of real conscience.

“I feel that in my whole life I have never done anything of any conspiratorial nature and I resent very much and very deeply the implication of being called before this Committee that in some way because my opinions may be different from yours, that I am any less of an American than anyone else.

I am saying voluntarily that I have sung for almost every religious group in the country, from Jewish and Catholic, and Presbyterian and Holy Rollers and Revival Churches. I love my country very dearly, and I greatly resent the implication that some of the places that I have sung and some of the people that I have known, and some of my opinions, whether they are religious or philosophical, make me less of an American.”

Pete Seeger before the House Un-American Activities Committee on 15 August 1955.

We have been here before. We have seen this before and done this before. It was a tragic, terrible failure. And we can’t wait to do it again.

Every Purpose Under Heaven

It rained here for a day and a half, sometimes with impressive ferocity but it didn’t seem like anything special. It was raining. Then it stopped. As anyone who lives on a river knows, your weather matters but what matters more is the weather upstream. For two days, upstream, it was monsoon season. This morning, Pete and I drove two miles to Mr. DBK’s house on the other side of the river, and to cross we had to backtrack around a flood plain. The park glistened where the river broke its banks and settled, bringing hungry geese almost to the road’s edge. We decided then that later we’d go out and take pictures. Turns out taking pictures along the river just before sunset is a bitch.

The Raritan is a wide tidal river of variable depth. Pete and I both remember big boats on the river when we were children, their starling horns renting the air. Now, even the unnamed university’s boathouse is a ghost town and it’s possible the crew program’s been disbanded; in any case, the only little motor boats on the river seem to glow a little and commute back and forth to the Arthur Kill. That can be seen from space, you know.

Mighty Route 18, which skirts New Brunswick before zipping across the river and stopping in the middle of nowhere, has been under construction for three years. I can see construction from my living room window, and listening to it has been pretty awesome. It’s got a great beat, but absolutely nobody can dance to it. Years ago, I read the plans and saw something I didn’t understand: specs for a tunnel under Albany Street, which is to say the bridge I walk across into the city. There’s no place at the edge of the river where anyone needs a tunnel. I waited and waited, and one day I found the construction had hollowed out a section of previously stable Route 18 and Route 27 merge space, wrecked the road surface and put in a set of concrete stairs to …nothing. The sidewalk I walk on is cracking under the pressure. The tunnel itself is crushed and failing. Well, that’s not true. Along the edge of the river live the homeless, and these concrete steps take one to the spot where people have always lived out of doors. There’s trash everywhere. When Pete and I went down to look at the tunnel, we saw someone living in it.

The tunnel goes nowhere. We’ll go take more pictures – but not of the river people. They don’t need attention. Someone besides us should know of this wasteful bullshit, and the tunnel that serves no purpose but to destroy the bridge.

Note: Fucking Blogger won’t upload pictures tonight. I’ll add them to this post later.
Update: Images added Monday night. Blogger’s help board was full of messages about this since early Monday morning, and Blogger kept mum. I guess you get what you pay for there.

The Sound That I’m Hearing Is Only the Sound

Yesterday.

Tonight, I spent a couple of hours on a ladder at the family store, sanding and repainting walls so light a green the color is nearly indistinguishable from the gallery-white ceiling. For me, this was howling good fun. I love painting. I love the perfection of fresh, clean walls and wild possibilities, which is marvelous considering I’d locked myself out of my apartment while Bill Cosby was explaining Black people to Oprah. Note to self: flu leaves one too weak for ordinary activities like breaking and entering. Yes, I’m sure it was a little disconcerting for my neighbors when I was hanging halfway out my living room window and couldn’t pull myself up the rest of the way. That’ll never happen again. My feet will not again dangle!

Today

My office is shaped like a z, with my cubicle dead in the center. I hear everything. I was emptying an ancient kardex file with a new co-worker and we were talking about technology.

Her: My new phone comes with a stop watch. I can take splits.
Tata: You can be all like, “This conversation is going in circles. Let’s see how fast.”

Just then, my phone rang. I ran for it and whacked my arm really, really well.

Him: You named a vendor record “ABBY NORMAL”?
Tata: Yep.
Him: I’m putting on the Ritz!
Tata: Hot. I’m hanging up now.

…which I said because I could hear him laughing from less than 40 feet away. You would not believe the bruise,

The Weather Outside Is Frightful

Drusy demonstrates exceptional flatness.

Yesterday, I dragged my new maroon bicycle down a small flight of stairs, across what passes for a lawn and into the street. Then I rode to work at the family store, pretending I didn’t look or feel like Angela Lansbury in the opening credits of Murder, She Wrote. No, no! I am far more rugged and burly! I am fierce! I am also smaller than I at first appear, so dragging the bicycle down a twisting flight of stairs inside the family store exhausted me completely. Anya, laughing hysterically, said, “Plainly the workout is when you get off the bike.” No kidding. She would not have enjoyed watching me walk the bike through her store full of beautiful things after closing, which I will never ever describe to her and hope she never sees.

Man, I hope I got all the little pieces!

Yesterday.

Last night, it started snowing. This morning, I looked out my front window and said, “No way, I’m risking my life for the unnamed university. This cowgirl’s going back to bed.” When I woke up twenty years later, I shaved and looked outside again. Oh, those kids with their rock music and snow plows! There’s a path out of the cul-de-sac by the river and Pete reports the roads aren’t so bad. Still, my laundry’s washed. As it dries it humidifies my arid apartment.

Today.

I’m making a shopping list. Cat litter, coffee, unbleached filters, hand soap, special overpriced shampoo for my overpriced hair, body wash, NyQuil, eggs, vegetables. It’s raining outside, turning the slippery layer of pressed snow into slush. I hate this step in the thaw but let’s be realistic. Siobhan and I have a date with Suzette for martinis tonight, and I am loath to get my paws wet. Staying dry will require ingenuity. I’m considering building my own diving bell.

Two days ago, Daria returned from Virginia with another carload of stuff that used to be Dad’s. This time, more jars for jarring spring fruits and vegetables. In a few weeks, we’ll stage a final garage sale, then our stepmother Darla will pack up and go back to Canada with her cats. I regard these new items with some nervousness. A time is coming when Dad’s death and all events rippling through our lives for the last year will smooth out into the flatness of History. I am not sure how I feel about that and I can tell Daria isn’t either. In the meantime, my grandmother’s, then Dad’s convection oven has a new home with me.

I do not know how to use it but I will learn that, too.

Peter Pan, Frankenstein Or Superman

Pete’s a cyclist. He’s sitting on the living room floor now, greasing a chain, and I’m not even talking dirty. Months ago, he tried out a friend’s folding bike and for me it was like watching a fish get back into water. With the end of winter, he feels confined indoors, as do I. Some time ago, he decided that for my birthday we’d pick out a bicycle for me. We studied catalogs and the net. Today, we drove all over Central New Jersey, looked at a handful of bicycles and rode a few, too. I’d ride a bike, then he’d ride it. If it was comfortable for me it looked like a circus tricycle under him. Finally, we found one in Princeton for a price we liked and the bike lacked a mysteriously femmy paint job found on most of the women’s trail bikes. The bike guy at the bike shop liked Pete’s talk about cycling across Utah and when it turned out they’d had the same bikes growing up I declared them separated at birth.

The bike guy will build my bike and it’ll be ready tomorrow. I’m so thrilled to pieces with the promise of getting outdoors I let them talk me into a helmet.

Pete: Go pick out a helmet.
Tata: I cannot deny my high-hair heritage. I can’t wear a helmet!
Bike Guy: This one is less than $100 and won’t obscure the hair.
Tata: I feel glamorous. Note my extreeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeme beauty!
Bike Guy: It looks great.
Tata: I can’t wear that. It clashes with my maroon bike. Got anything in silver?
Bike Guy: Here you go!
Tata: Dude, that was eight feet off the ground. You should audition for Cirque du Soleil.
Bike Guy: That one’s got a visor. It comes off!
Tata: Pete, the silver helmet looks like it’s going FAST!
Pete: It’s going, all right.
Tata: See the thing that’s keeping brains inside my head?
Pete: Ah, yep.
Tata: It’s flattening my hair!
Pete: My dear, that’ll never happen.

The kickstand comes separately.

The Newsman Sang His Same Song

As I left the family store tonight, I stood on the sidewalk talking with Anya about a disk full of images for the website. I work on the store’s website. The toughest art is getting good images of merchandise from manufacturers because artists and artisans are suspicious, for which we can’t really blame them. This disk, then, would be a boon to me. It was in a bag in Corinne’s car at Anya’s house. I said I’d stop by and pick it up. Fifteen minutes later, I was sitting in my living room wearing pajamas when I remembered. Corinne is so used to this she wasn’t even surprised when I called and said I’d forgotten before I even crossed the street.

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!