Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Kittens, Cats, Sacks, Wives

It's Grandpa's 93rd birthday. Mom's family is migrating to Cape Cod. Planning has been fraught with slim peril but abundant indecision. Though I recently started trusting my arthritic hands to hold a barbell and took up weightlifting again, I don't trust them enough to attempt the six-hour drive. Since I can't drive alone, I've looked at planes, trains and buses and they're all byzantine routes and prohibitively expensive. Daria offers me a seat in her Ford eighteen-wheeler with her husband driving, and her three children in car seats. I'll have to take a local bus from the Cape to Boston and Amtrak back to Metro Park but when it comes right down to it, I'm still sitting in a car for six hours with my sister.

Look forward to this scintillating exchange over the sobs of frightened children:
Daria: Sweetheart, Mommy didn't mean to make Auntie Tata sound like a $2 whore!
Tata: Honey, Auntie Tata doesn't really think your Mommy's a judgmental bitch!
Daria: Sweetheart, close your eyes and go to sleep. Auntie Tata's hairstyle won't turn to snakes!
Tata: Have sweet dreams, darling, and don't give Mommy's apparently forgotten past a second thought!

History and histrionics aside, Paulie Gonzalez is a scientist at heart. When he watches TV at all, it's usually the Discovery Channel's Mythbusters. Stuff blows up every seven minutes. This show may be the best thing that ever happened to crash test dummies and ping pong balls. It's science! And Paulie is a big thinker. One night last year, he posed an intriguing question.

Your picture goes all swirly and woo-woo.

Paulie: Plastic surgery seems like tricky stuff. I mean, if you have regular surgery and you go back to work, people give you flowers and whisper when they walk past your desk. People get you coffee. They're all very nice. But what if you get liposuction? Suppose you get your ass lipo'd on Friday. When you come to work on Monday, what? Don't people see you in the break room and say, "Treesa! Last week, you had a fat ass. What the hell? What happened to your fat ass?"

You get a grip and your picture regains horizontal hold. It's all about the love, no?

You: Ta, dahhhhhhling, your time-travel unnerves my pet hedgehog.
Tata: Lovey, I understand they enjoy a leisurely swim, but read the manual first.

Last week, Paulie was on a flight to Denver when the airline went all Julie, Your Cruise Director and organized a game: Guess The Plane's Weight.

I know: how rude!

Certain hints were offered, like the number of passengers and weight limit on bags. Paulie did that blasphemous math stuff the righteous are trying to remove from schools, then some educated guessing, wrote down an answer on his game piece, which is - yes - what all the kids are calling it now, and turned it in. Next thing he knew, he'd won by guessing within 500 lbs. of the crew's right answer, and the second-best guesser was protesting. His prize was two tickets to the Las Vegas production of Mama Mia. Travel produces exciting new varieties of bad behavior, as does ABBA.

Yesterday, I noticed strange and sneaky movements on the parts of my co-workers, the Nice Ladies. They're in their forties and fifties. When I caught a bunch of them tiptoeing past my cubicle I was suspicious. Five minutes later, they tiptoed in the other direction. I hate when someone beats me to a good prank, so I tiptoed after them. My student worker, whose name sounds like the sudden opening of a brilliant parasol, reflexively followed. They were whispering to each other. We were silent.

Tata: Whatcha doin'?

Turns out that when well-behaved people who work in libraries are startled while furtively holding water balloons they juggle like the Brothers Karamazov. Two balloons took brief sojourns above our heads. One Nice Lady stuffed a balloon down her bra. In the ensuing but arid chaos, it became clear that Chinese children may not fill balloons with water and fling them at one another, and I say this because my curious and delighted student worker, whose name sounds like the tinkle of bracelet charms, stared at the balloons as if they were the coolest things ever.

The Nice Ladies were intrigued and answered all questions. How does the water get inside? Where's the air? What do you do with these? Why do they feel so funny? Can you make them bigger? They gave her one to hold she soon discovered felt weirdly alive, as water balloons do. The Nice Ladies made a big production of taking the balloons to the restrooms to meet their fates, but they gave my student worker, whose name sounds like the taps of raised glasses, a fresh balloon she could take home and try filling herself. This, I thought, was a charming example of how travel broadens a person, and inflates.

This morning, my path to work was blocked by a hastily cobbled-together police roadblock. A truck driver forgot to play "How big? Sooooo big!" with his truck and plowed into the train trestle I see from my living room window. This meant Amtrak riders snickered across state lines about the trailer curiously right outside the train's window. For me, it meant a two-block detour and a thump on the forehead from the Cosmos: last week when Daria, Sandro and I looked at the new apartment, Daria drove through the parking deck next to the library. I've parked at least eight different cars and trucks in this deck on and off for nineteen years and never gave clearance a second thought. Last week, as Daria inched through the deck, I broke into a sweat and wasn't sure we'd make it. That's how big SUVs have become.

So there's hope we won't be able to slug each other across the DMZ of car seats and luggage. I mean, as long as there's no ABBA.


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