When I Last Saw You Laughing

Sunsets: puke-inducing kitsch when painted on a van, but flaming awesome when observed with one's own eyes on a balmy summer evening.

We got on a boat just past a sign that discouraged pirates from parking. Pete’s dad complained for whole minutes.

PDad: I don’t like my jacket. I’m not wearing it.

Tata: Put on your jacket, cranky!

I couldn’t decide if I were under-drunk or over-sober, but perhaps both. At no time did I hork over the side, no one whistled the Gilligan’s Island theme nor said anything about needing a bigger boat. Everyone in our party of eleven seemed off-balance, including the sleeping five-week-old. The boat putt-putted down a channel and out into a bay, where suddenly the sun seemed brighter and we all got better-looking as the whole venture turned fabulous. The boat zipped along parallel to a jetty then out toward a lighthouse. The minister’s wife sidled up to me. “It’s haunted,” she whispered confidentially. That seemed kind of personal. The captain turned the boat and we zipped off to another lighthouse, where the engines died and Pete’s dad married his longtime companion. The infant howled every moment the engines were silent. Just before the ceremony started, Pete handed me the camera and told me to go crazy. I put down my cane, slid all around the deck and took about seventy-five pictures, many of which we will regret, if we know what’s good for us. I held up the camera and took a picture of myself. Behind me, a voice asked, “You can take pictures of yourself?” I turned around and three cameras clicked pictures of persons holding them. This was before eight people drank four bottles of champagne. A pod of dolphins swam past us, on some vital errand, of course.

I am very funny. Perhaps you've heard.

You will be pleased to hear we stumbled off the boat and drove literally fifty feet to the restaurant, where a bar band launched into a lumpy, sour version of Nights In White Satin we heard from the parking lot.

PDad: What’s with the cane?

Tata: Sometimes I’m fine and sometimes I lurch a little.

PDad: Faker!

I grabbed a column and hung from it until I could breathe again.

PDad: The last person I said that to didn’t laugh.

Then I couldn’t breathe AT ALL.

Three hours later, after the band lost interest in horrifying us and wandered away, slices of wedding cake appeared at our places at the table. I took a few bites and sent up the white flag. Sober and over an hour away from my hotel room, I started barking orders since experience tells me that overtired drunks take growling for an invitation.

The bathrooms are full of country music, I said. Be careful!

Just package the cake in its original box, I said. Thank you!

The minister and his wife walked home. The rest of us piled into two cars. The bride and her daughter, also sober, drove us all home. We talked about Latin music and civil engineering. This was the first time in my life a wedding didn’t give me hives. I can’t say the same about the band.

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Twisting Round To Think

Prologue
Part One

Yesterday, Pete and I got a thank you note from my cousin Sandy and her hew husband. Let’s call him Jason, since he’s been Sandy’s Boyfriend until now. Sandy and Jason thanked us for our gift, mailed to their house in a town that starts with a U.

Thank you for the sewing kit and the 15 pound weight. I guess I know what we’re doing tonight!

We’ve done our part to keep America safe from these rabid heterosexuals.

Its Taste So Try Another

Part 1.

Daria: Are you going to the bridal shower?
Tata: No.
Daria: Oh, come on.
Tata: No, and getting no-er.

Maybe a day later.

Auntie InExcelsisDeo: Are you coming to the bridal shower?
Tata: No.
Auntie I.: Are you coming to the wedding?
Tata: I am. My invitation finally arrived with my name mispelled, and that guy who cooked your dinner last Italian Christmas Eve is labeled “And Guest.”
Auntie I.: Well, sure. We can spell “guest.”

For about ten years, Auntie’s husband Uncle – Frank, if you must know – has vexed oncologists with his magical ability to both have cancer and not have cancer. This leads to mesmerizing dinner table conversations.

Tata: So…how’s Frank?
Auntie I.: He’s dying. Pass the broccoli.
Tata: He’s what? What do his doctors say?
Auntie I.: “Keep the season tickets. His team has a good chance at the playoffs next year.”
Tata: Next year? He’s dying, just not now? What, Frank’s cancer isn’t clear on the death concept?
Auntie I.: Watch your mouth! It might hear you and learn.

We were all working with the idea, however painfully familiar, that Frank’s cancer was acting like a stupid, inoperable pet until September, when minor surgery revealed Frank’s pet had outgrown the lapdog stage. Suddenly, everything changed. The hospital sent him home. The hospital called him back in. He refused treatment. He accepted treatment. Auntie and Frank’s son Tony was sent to Iraq with the understanding that if things got bad, Tony would come home. Deserving Design had come and gone and after a few weeks, no one had time to put food into the fridge and dishes into the cabinets until my sister Daria did it. Somewhere in the haze of September, my cousin Sandy decided that since she and her boyfriend had already bought a house and were going to get married someday anyhow, now was the time to get hitched. And so a wedding was planned and executed in just about two months, which in New Jersey must constitute some sort of land speed record.

The Saturday of the bridal shower came and went without me. Daria tried to sound patient.

Tata: So how was it?
Daria: What do you fucking care?
Tata: I don’t.
Daria: The food was very nice. You would have appreciated the vegetable sushi. It was very artistic, and I made chicken liver pate, which you did not eat, though I am absolutely certain you wanted to.

In other words: I snoozed, I losed. Stay tuned for the next installment of this story, where we play the executive travel version of Stop Touching Me.

Your Honesty Shine, Shine, Shine

Tata: Do you think I can leave? It would be conspicuous.
Auntie InExcelsisDeo: It sure did matter that you arrived!
Sandy: Mom! Did you hear what Karen said?
Auntie: No. What?
Sandy: I was standing right behind Domenica when she said hello to Karen. Karen said to these other people, “This is my new husband’s ex-wife!” The people behind me were all like, “That is so cute! The groom’s ex-wife is here!”
Tata: Try as I might, I can’t avoid the paparazzi.

Yes, this afternoon, the Fabulous Ex-Husband(tm) and Karen finally got married. Years ago, I promised the man patient enough to marry and divorce me that I’d never write about him, but you should know that if I were to write about him, I would only have great things to say, like that when we met he was so painfully shy it was almost rude to stare into his poolwater-green eyes and say, “No, I can’t go do what you told me, boss, I can’t remember if I have feet.” Yes, I fell in love with him at first sight and three months later, I stood on his desk and told him he liked me, too, which came as a surprise to him – until it wasn’t. Anyway, we have a better divorce than we had a marriage, which was my fault, and he graciously forgave me. He never left the family holiday table; it took a bit of adjusting all around when he started bringing Karen, who was at first startled to receive Christmas presents from the family’s lone Jew, but l’chaim! Fast-forward a few years: here we are in an Asian restaurant on Route 1 – surely you’ve heard of Route 1 – and the Fabulous Ex-Brothers-In-Law Louis and Ronny are positively beaming.

Louis: How are you?
Tata: I’m overjoyed! Yay! I kept telling him it was time to get married already because I wanted to be somebody’s first wife.
Louis: You are his first wife.
Tata: No, sweetie, until he’s got a second, I’m just the ex.
Louis: Well, you’ve got 38 minutes, then!
Tata: EEEEEE! New nomenclature!

Thirty-six minutes later, during the brief and effective ceremony, which in a moment of inspiration was placed in the buffet line, Louis frantically cut price tags off the wedding rings. At the 39-minute mark, the officiant had finally coaxed Karen to blurt “in failure and in triumph” without barking laughter and pronounced “husband and wife.” Louis looked over at me and tapped his watch. I did the New Adjective Dance! but it was close because I almost shouted, “IT’S ABOUT TIME!”

Ronny’s second wife Jan is his high school best friend. When I met her, she and Ronny were watching a p0rn film and couldn’t figure out whose body parts were whose. She had a family emergency and missed today’s festivities, but Ronny’s two sons from his first marriage were running around with their cousins. Ronny’s first wife and I hated each other, so now Ronny never fails to mention the obvious.

Ronny: Riva’s sorry she missed you.
Tata: I can’t bear to hear her name. It’s almost as jarring as her voice.
Ronny: Make sure you rub up against your nephews. She’s sure to smell you on them.

Oh, he’s serious. Before I left, Ronny pointed to his older son:

Ronny: There he is.
Tata: Hold still, cute boy.

I rubbed my forearm all up and down his.

Tata: Share that with your brother! She’s gonna scrub you with Drano.

Louis, three feet away, stopped breathing. Louis’s wife, who has never approved of me, suddenly smiled. So, everyone triumphed.

It must be noted that Miss Sasha made the wedding cake and it was gorgeous. With any luck, we’ll see photos pretty soon. In fact, Miss Sasha was the talk of the party. Everyone wanted to talk about the baby. Baby this. Baby that. Baby some other thing. I was more interested in other things.

Tata: So. Who are your new siblings?
Miss Sasha: That’s my new brother. He is totally cute.
Tata: He is cute.
Miss Sasha: That one in the purple is my new sister. The girl in the cream halter top is her girlfriend.
Tata: Your new sister is a lesbian? I’m so jealous!
Miss Sasha: Ha ha!
Tata: Do the dogs and cats get along?
Miss Sasha: It’s like a petting zoo with a kitchen island.

There was sushi, too.

The Underline of the Word

Part One
Part Two

Part Three
This morning, I walked to work on a day where the weatherman promises 99 degrees. I wonder if my dinner plans include hospital food, but don’t let that worry you. Try this instead:

Pete: I thought we were just going for a walk.
Tata: We did. Then our clothes disappeared. Hooray!

Terrifying – but not nearly as terrifying as calculating how many of your parents’ weddings you’ve attended. Let’s see.

Mom & Dad: check!
Dad & Summer: check!
Dad & Darla: no!
Mom & Tom: no!
Mom & Tom, the sequel: no!
Mom & Tom, Electric Boogaloo: check!

…carry the two… I’ve been present in one form or another for 50% of my parents’ marriages to each other, though my average drops considerably when you add in Summer’s additional marriages, and Tom’s and Darla’s first, each. I’m barely holding on at 30%! It’s like I’m not even trying.

Inside the courtroom, we have no idea what to do, where to stand or how to act. The court clerk stares at us, then returns to a pile of folders, smiling. The court officer leans against a desk and makes a valiant attempt to keep a straight face. Daria arrived after Mom and Tom doled out jobs. Anya and I were assigned the task of signing documents as legal witnesses. Daria and Corinne were ring bearers. Daria was late in arriving and is so tense she’s spinning like a top and babbling constantly. I’m holding very still, hoping this counterbalances frenetic camera, makeup and phone message checking. Anya and Corinne comment on artwork lining the courtroom walls. Finally, we all stop talking for one tiny moment and the officer says, “Shall I get the judge?” He is so amused we can do nothing else but chatter amongst ourselves. He gets the judge anyway.

The judge is a Very Serious Person. His time is valuable! He stares at us over his glasses and says, “Who’s getting married?” Mom and Tom snap to! “Who are the witnesses?” Anya and I raise our hands. For no reason whatsoever, my sisters and I squaredance from places where we could see everything to four other places where we can see everything…and stop! The judge stares at us over his glasses, then lowers his head to contain a laugh. Daria then says magic words, “Can I take video?”

Now we would be a genuine security threat if Daria weren’t obviously going nowhere in five-inch heels. The judge stares at her, then says, “Stand over here.”

For the next two or three minutes, the judge talks about love, devotion and responsibility, jewelry is exchanged, Daria cries her eyes out, Mom’s voice wavers, Anya beams, Corinne hugs everybody and the officer lets Daria take pictures from all over the courtroom because in a post-9/11 world, nothing says security like not training your gun on six foot Jersey chick at her parents’ third wedding. The judge wishes everyone well and retires to his chambers, where I’m sure he hurt himself laughing.

When Daria sends out the digital pictures, some family members’ email accounts go belly-up, but that won’t happen for another six hours. As we tumble down the stairs and out to the street, where Daria takes more pictures, the city is unusually empty and quiet. It’s not unusual for Daria and me to be the loudest things on any blocks where road construction’s shut down for the day, but this is ridiculous. We have the city to ourselves, so we bug out.

To be continued.

Say the Mark Is Mine

Part One

Part Two
At the very end of this story, a large contingent of my family is running in circles around a parking lot. It’s like a Chinese fire drill with fewer fumes, but you wouldn’t know it from the silliness. I go home with Corinne. It’s almost a two-mile straight line from this street to my apartment, it’s getting dark and we’re babbling. Stopped at a traffic light halfway home, we’re chattering at each other when the driver in front of us shoves open his door, jumps out and dances between the yellow lines on Hamilton Street. Corinne and I point! We gasp! We make noises like our lung function is imperiled! The light turns green. He slides back into his car. We squeal with glee. He turns left onto George Street at the next light but our delight stays with us.

At home before 9:30 on a Friday night, I’m too exhausted to move and it’s too early to sleep. Then suddenly it’s very late. Then it’s possible I woke up happy Saturday morning.

Damn it!

Part Three

If I Make A Mark In Time

Part One
Siobhan’s sister is getting married tomorrow. Siobhan’s been spinning in decorative circles for months, which has been bugging the hell out of me. Tomorrow it’s all over and Siobhan can get back to what really matters: Me. And she’ll be glad to, because what could be more important than My happiness?

Speaking of selfish, Mom and Tom got remarried on Daria’s birthday.

Let’s review: on the day before my February birthday, Dad called to say he had cancer. Days after Anya’s March birthday, we learned the cancer was terminal. On Corinne’s birthday, the rest of us were in Virginia taking care of Dad. The day before Todd’s April birthday, Dad died. Last week, I figured, crap, this year no one gets a birthday besides Dara and Daria, but I was wrong. A few years ago, a giant fucking hurricane and the stupid humans charged with emergency response wiped out the civil records for the City of New Orleans, and with it, any official documentation of Mom’s and Tom’s secret-from-everyone-even-each-other hippy wedding.

Yesterday, as actual criminals deserted New Brunswick for the Jersey Shore, Anya, Corinne and I lay across benches in a nearly empty courthouse – because it was funny – waiting for our parents, who are typically two-three hours late for everything. On my way into the building, the cop at the door looked really bored until I couldn’t follow directions but what else is new?

Bored Guy: Where are you going?
Tata: Isn’t that what we’d all like to know?
Bored Guy: Today, in this building?
Tata: I’m going to – I think it’s –
Bored Guy: Family court?
Tata: Room 201?
Bored Guy: Family court? Judge SomeFella?
Tata: No. Judge SomeDude? Judge SomeOldMan?
Bored Guy: Judge SomeOldMan is right at the top of the stairs. Why are you here?
Tata: Wedding.
Bored Guy: I guess you’re here to meet them.

He points up the stairs at my – I assure you – very attractive stepsisters. I begin ascending.

Bored Guy: Elevator’s over there.
Tata: Thanks!
Much Less Bored Guy: I said – elevator’s over there!
Tata: The fat lady said thank you.

We sprawled across the benches. We hadn’t even had time to pass out before their father and my mother came up the stairs at 3:30, the time of our appointment with legal destiny and Judge SomeOldMan. Daria ran up the stairs dressed like one of Christina Aguilera’s back up singers just as the clerk was about to lose patience with our babbling. Anya and I had signed the paperwork as witnesses. Corinne was holding all the ceremonial jewelry until Daria arrived, and Todd was in Los Angeles, nursing a red-hot grudge.

See, in 1998, we heard a rumor. I don’t know why it happened this way, but it did. As the oldest child and the one therefore closest to death, I called home. It was a local call.

Tata: Are you two married?
Mom: What? I…I don’t know what you’re talking about.
Tata: I asked you a yes or no question. I’m not asking complicated questions like how or why.
Mom: I have to go bake something…
Tata: Are you two married? Your innumerable children want to know.
Mom: No. Nuh-unh. Yes. Yes!
Tata: Fine! Thank you! Stop hyperventilating, sheesh!
Mom: I’m sticking my head in the freezer. Rescue me before my hair cracks.

For people allergic to marriage, they’d apparently gotten married twice – at least. The story changes depending on who’s listening and their level of involvement with law enforcement. Mom and Tom met at the commune. Have I mentioned the commune? Yeah, I’ve milked a goat. Anyway, when Daria, Todd and I met Tom, we were the oddly small pre-teens in the alley beside the health food restaurant climbing up the sides of a big man. Subsequently, at a time nobody remembers but before I was released from the custody of primary school authorities, Mom stopped arguing about the getting-remarried thing. They got metaphysical in Martha’s Vineyard before the stars and the sea, more conventionally legal in New Orleans, and now dry and permanent before a judge in New Brunswick. I maintain they should have waited out the seventies for Cher’s dozen farewell tours and gotten married across America, Karen Finley-style, but it’s not like I was present and organizing. No, though I care about things like who’s wearing what metals, I was busy running away from home once a week at the time. So almost twenty years later in 1999, as Todd says to anyone who’ll listen in Los Angeles, “We slapped some rings on them for the whatever anniversary of whatever happened. Then we ate cake.”

Part Two