Saturday, March 11, 2006

Turn the Beat Around

Wednesday morning, my hair was unbearably frizzy and the formerly blond parts were Big Bird-yellow. Unfortunately, everywhere I go I bring my head, so I walking around my office with my head when my co-worker Emily asked if I knew Matt had been in the hospital for two weeks. I said, "I didn't know that...huh...I gotta go use my head to make some calls."

New Brunswick and the surrounding towns are actually one big small town. If we were all celebrities, Emily would be our Hedda Hopper. Emily knows all, remembers everything and everybody. When I think about it, the local paper should have a Batphone to her house and a signal light beaming her unusual hairstyle against the clouds, and four out of five articles should have accurate histories with the citation "according to Emily". If it did I might even read that rag again, which I seldom read when it wrote about me weekly and not even on the Police Blotter. So it was confusing that Emily was weeks behind on events and not because I was keeping secrets.

Half an hour later, all the usual information sources compared notes. Matt works in the mail room and is a prog rock show promoter. I've known his wife Jan since she was in kindergarten with my brother Todd. Jan is a dedicated and skillful poet. Jan and Matt have a very young son. Our lives have intersected in many ways and places and times. Her friends are my friends and few people knew much of anything. I'd marched over to the mail room where a gentleman who used to work with my mother told me he didn't know much of anything and I should call Mary. Mary, it turned out, was chasing Matt and Jan with the fireman's net. It also turned out Matt had had a cut, it got infected, then the infection went to his lungs a week ago and he almost died. Matt was in Intensive Care, Jan was completely freaked and Mary was the only thing between Jan, the little boy and total disaster.

Mary explained everything to me several times and each time the story changed because so much had happened so rapidly that she simply hadn't absorbed it all. I said, "Look, I don't know how you've handled all this." Fortunately, Mary and I see the funny in everything.

Tata: Break it down for me, Hot Mama.
Mary: Matt's doctors are shocked he lived. I'm babysitting tomorrow night. The mailroom guys are going at lunchtime, the door guy is going after work. Matt wasn't up to visitors but you could go see him now.
Tata: Why doesn't anybody know anything?
Mary: Jan was so overwhelmed by how fast the situation escalated she didn't even call the mailroom for three days. So I called and told them what I knew, which was nothing. Nobody knew anything.
Tata: So...the art chicks are in the dark, is that it?
Mary: Yup, far as I know.
Tata: Damn it!

That means a casserole. You know the rules! Tragedy strikes, but everyone's gotta eat, so you cook something. You can't cheat and buy a lasagna at Costco because everyone's got dietary restrictions now and goddess forbid there's peanut oil in anything because people drop dead. You're not comforting anyone in anaphalactic shock, I'll tell you that! You might as well bake cupcakes for the paramedics. So the first thing I did was email Julienne in California for advice.

Tata: She's a vegetarian with lactose issues. He's a little boy who eats everything. What do I make?

Nobody tell my relatives I asked a friend for a recipe because there'll be weeping and rending of garments! Usually in questions food related I go to Dad and seldom to anyone else, but in this case I just wanted to chat with my friend, whom I assumed was sitting very still. Julienne's so completely pregnant she could give birth answering the phone. I'm embarrassed to ask her to open her note files and take shallow breaths long enough to concoct a plan but of course I'm selfish.

Julienne: ... ... ...

[Two pages later.]

Julienne: ... ... ... You can do it! I'm off to the vegan sushi place! A bientot!
Tata: Thanks! What?

Julienne was gracious enough to bring her considerable knowledge to bear on my small problem and nothing else after lunch, and first thing the next morning. By Thursday afternoon, I was saying to strangers, "I'm going to make a casserole," in a minor panic. My hair was getting taller with terror and humidity. By Thursday afternoon, I had given up any hope of conversation or frizz control. I went home, napped briefly and had scary dreams.

Miss Sasha: Guess what guess what! Mom, I am sosososososo happy! My friend and I are having the best day EVER and we got grants and rented a store front and it's got great foot traffic and we're opening a business.
Tata: Obviously, I'm having a terrible dream. Sweetheart, watch out for the giant squid.
Miss Sasha: Mommy! Wake up! This is real!

It was like my three-tone curly hair had become sentient and decided my face was Captain Nemo. I wrestled my hair into hairband and set up brown rice to cook with bay leaves and cloves. Brown rice takes 45 minutes if you read the directions but that's an awful lot like reading a manual so if I hadn't memorized that in the seventies I'd never know. I still wasn't sure I'd be able to cook for Jan so I sliced root vegetables: carrots, turnip, parsnip. Then onions, celery and Chinese eggplant. I marinated tofu in soy sauce and garlic. Soon, the timer for the rice buzzed and I faced the moment of truth.

I cook just fine for myself. As soon as there's a group involved I have stage fright. Something burns. Something's undercooked. My stir-fries resemble sautes and somewhere in the vast and growing history of Poor Impulse Control is a story about how when stress and grief enter the picture, you'd rather I point a gun at you than wield a pudding. I can't find that story now. You're just going to have to trust me on that one. So my rice is done, my vegetables sit in careful groupings and it's now or never. I pull down a giant frying pan, jack up the gas and pour in some olive and sesame oils. Minced garlic. Sliced carrots. Turnip. Parsnip. Give them a minute. Onion. Eggplant. Give them a minute. Fresh ginger. Tofu. Soy sauce. More garlic. When I turn off the gas, I'm a little shocked.

The rice pours into a foil tray. I pour the stir fry on top and cover it with foil. There's nothing to do but drag the tray and some homemade pickles to the car and drive over to Jan's and Matt's, where Mary's babysitting. So...I do it. Mary knows in person and alone I might ring the doorbell, perch the tray on the porch and climb back in my car. Before My fingertip leaves the doorbell, Mary's pulled open the solid inner door and handed me the coordless phone.

Tata: What...?
Mary: That's Matt.

I'm shocked speechless and the signal keeps cutting out.

Tata: Matt?
Matt: Hey.
Tata: How are you?
Matt: I'm lucky to be talking to you.
Tata: Are you...Matt, how are you?
Matt: I'm feeling a lot better.

If you can stand it, I have nothing to say! Nothing! This is Matt's second brush with death in the last year. Moreover, I can barely hear Matt talk and I hate missing a syllable. I jump up and down in the kitchen to hear him better. I tell him to forget everything but healing up and hand the phone back to Mary.

In the living room, Jan's and Matt's son and Mary's daughter run around shouting like healthy kids. I watch them, happy. My stage fright has not just dissipated it's evaporated. I'm elated. I'm small and nothing here, humbled by my own fear and how unimportant it is. Mary and I do half an hour of morale-boosting team comedy before I bug out and drive home.

Today, Rosana slew the monster and dyed my hair back to fabulous black cherry red.


Blogger Nordette Adams said...

Enjoyed the write, Tata! Hope you'll pop in on my carnival post. You were one of the questions. See, now you have to go see. LOL

10:23 AM  
Blogger Tata said...

Nordette's being modest. Her Carnival post is a thing of genius.

8:32 AM  

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