Monday, September 21, 2009

Smoke On the Horizon

Previously on Poor Impulse Control: Dad died in 2007 and left us homework. In 1997, a healthy portion of my shiny-shiny brain was wiped clean and I had to re-learn basics like Who am I? and How many fingers am I holding up? For a decade, learning was both everything I did and too exhausting to contemplate, so when Dad explained nothing and left us professional kitchen equipment, I was not so sure my brain was going to refill up with fancy thoughts. Surprise! Even a terrible functional memory is not preventing my brain from frothing over and thank you very much, do you have a towel?

Yesterday, Pete and I bought a food sealer contraption on sale at Bed, Bath & Beyond. Oh ho, you say, Aquarius with Scorpio-Scorpio, you know better than to purchase appliances while Mercury is retrograde. Isn't your laptop kerflooey? Indeed, that laptop is a paperweight and I do know better but wait: dude, it was on sale, the box had been opened and the contents rifled, one easily replaceable part was missing and I had a coupon, so the contraption that was on sale for $139.99 - 20% for the coupon and 20% for the rifling = $83.99. But it's only a bargain if it works, so we restrained ourselves in the store and the parking lot and on Route 1 and across some back roads and while Pete fixed a plumbing emergency at Trout's house and through the grocery store and most of the way home. I may never have been so rational in my entire life. I don't know how you people do it.

See, the thing is I have this dehydrator. I don't know why Dad had it or what he used it for, but it sat in Pete's basement for two years before I said, Well, maybe I should sorta kinda probably attempt to figure out what that does, and brought it upstairs to try it. I've been drying fruit and herbs and vegetables and it's all been very interesting but about 1/4 of everything I dried turned blue and fuzzy. Blue and fuzzy in a sweater may be grand but in the pantry or the fridge it is alarming. Pete maintains that everything dried should sojourn in the freezer until employed. Well, crap. Potatoes went blue and fuzzy in Ziploc bags, tomatoes went blue and fuzzy in Ball jars. Up from the recesses of ancient memory bubbled some of Dad's advice: You need a vacuum food saver machine. Vacuum food saver machines are bitchin'. It was a very ancient memory.

When we finally got home, I set up the machine and discovered the easily replaceable part was actually inside the machine. I can set up things I've never seen before because I am mechanically inclined and members of my family are allergic to manuals. Most devices are pretty simple anyway as long as you remember they were designed by people who would rather be watching cartoons. So. I set up the machine, stuffed steamed chard into a bag and pressed the button. ZOOSH! The machine sucked the moisture right out of the bag and sealed the bag. It was all very loud, so Pete came in from outside and paraphrased an old Garrett Morris line: "I was driving by when I heard you using that appliance." Then I stuffed steamed beet greens into a bag and ZOOSH! Out went the liquid and the machine sealed the bag. The the Tray Full light went on and the machine would not seal, forcing me to read the manual. I am still recovering from this trauma, but I did figure out how to open the machine and empty the liquid from the tray, which is not very large. Note that beet juice looks great on hardwood floors.

Anyway, Mercury in retrograde is the time when people are supposed to backtrack and fix broken stuff or re-think plans that went awry. I spent the next hour sorting everything I'd dehydrated all summer, stuffing it into quart bags, using the machine, labeling everything and organizing the fridge. I was very pleased with myself and I discovered that apparently I have all the eggplant in Middlesex County, which is very exciting when one considers Pete won't touch eggplant. Guess what I'm eating all winter!

The machine is so loud I'm sure my neighbors were thrilled when I quit. This morning, Pete was still in bed when I took apples and beets out of the dehydrator. I'll deal with those later. In the meantime, it's worth considering what it means when you have gear that requires the purchase of further gear, which has its own accessory gear, and that I've alphabetized my fridge. I am learning a great deal at a crazy speed. Next week: I'm taking a class on cold frame gardening, another plunge for my brain. Hang onto your towel.

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Friday, September 11, 2009

And Hide Her Away From the Rest

This eruption is known as the first major explosive eruption of rhyolite magma in nearly a century, since the 1912 eruption of Novarupta.[7] Although there have been rhyolitic eruptions in the southern section of the Southern Volcanic Zone in the past, these are relatively scarce and there is no historic rhyolitic eruption of the magnitude of Chatén.

Dad died 1 April 2007 and gave his children homework. I took home the trays of his slides, carefully wrapped in plastic bags, and in plastic bags, the trays of slides quietly suffered the continuing ravages of time and mildew. I've half-heartedly shopped for a slide scanner, but left my credit cards in my wallet because a good scanner is pricey and I had my doubts about me. Some of these damaged slides should be restored by professionals, which is also going to be expensive. On Tuesday, my laptop fell into a soap opera-grade coma and the next day, I found myself confused by having time on my hands. I don't know what happened. I don't remember having an idea, but I must have. Next thing I knew, I was up in the attic, grabbing the slide sorting light and two trays of slides, and down in the living room, brushing away mildew and decades of dust. The slides now sit in labeled archival pages in three-ring binders in the same order they were in the trays, with nine or ten trays to go.

I forget, sometimes, the only thing in my way is me.


Tuesday, August 04, 2009

She Was Before the Years Flew By

My grandparents Edith and Andy in their restaurant the Towne Spa, South River, NJ.

The roadwork on Routes 18 and 27 was supposed to wrap up in April, then July, and now I have no idea. Despite the grave danger to my delicate person, I've been bicycling to and from the library this week. Cars career around corners and trucks rumble ominously, but I am brave, with my helmet and little bell. Out of my way, pedestrians! Plainly, I am important enough to wear sunglasses to hide my identity or prevent sunglare from causing me to pedal into a bus. Either way, I am so interesting! What could my interesting story be? Why is that grandma riding that bicycle at this stupid hour?

Dad in front of the restaurant, possibly modeling resentment; if not, trying resentment on for size. And jodhpurs.

Recently, we had a visiting Californian house guest, who was horrified by the excesses of New Jerseyians. For one thing, when you live in a desert it's hard to adjust to monsoon season just off the Turnpike. It's rained for about two months. Backyard butternut squashes died of root rot. Our guest was positively aghast when I accepted a plastic bag at the grocery store so I could clean the cat box, which was when I pictured cleaning the cat box with a kitchen spider and an open window. As your carbon nag, I truly enjoyed being lectured about quirky Al Gore, especially after our third glass of wine, when it's probable I will learn very little. My brain felt like it was full of soda and fuck all that noise was on the tip of my tongue, but I didn't say it. Instead, I found another pillow, poured another round and reminded myself that I can always live greener.

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Monday, July 27, 2009

You're Gonna Rise Up Singin'

Perhaps you've noticed I cope with insecurity through artmaking and prodigious swearing. Times are terribly uncertain. I'm armed with Dad's Ball Jars, one-sixth of Dad's remaining cookbook collection and a bad fucking attitude. About two weeks ago, I started pulling down cookbooks and reading them with what I was seeing in the farmers markets in mind. You will be surprised to hear I couldn't find a single goddamn recipe for canning sugarplums, but that turned out fine since I couldn't find sugarplums either. On Sunday, Pete and I jarred blueberries with a buttload of sugar and a spoonful of rum. As jarring processes go, this one was truly simple. Cleaning up afterward required dedication and produced bleach-pruned fingertips. Later, we played Edward Scissorhands with eggplant and jarred some zingy caponata. I love you and all, but touch my caponata and I will stab you repeatedly with a grapefruit spoon. Do not give me the boo-boo eyes. I am a hard woman!

Dad died two years ago, and this dehydrator sat in Pete's basement nearly the whole time. We have no idea if this thing will dry fruit or achieve low-earth orbit, so tonight we peeled, cored and sliced apples - for SCIENCE! Currently, the mothership emits a hot, moist apple vapor that is immediately swept outside by an overworked window fan. I haven't found much in the cookbooks about dehydrated foods, but as a preservation method dehydration is kind of interesting. I'm sure I'll have storage questions. The Ball Co. book says storage is no problem: sterilize jars, let 'em dry and store your dried whatsises in a cool, dark place, and I say whatsises because the book intimates an industrious yet insecure person like myself can dry just about anything. Whatever you do, do not picture clam jerky. Just imagine the pretty, pretty fucking jars.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Your Watch, Your Rings And All

Yesterday, friends and family of Isabella's husband gathered at the unnamed university's gardens, where Isabella's family had spent many afternoons over the years. He knew the Latin names of plants and thought nothing of it. He was gentle and erudite, and so funny. In the hospital, he spoke to us only in Spanish, though he never said why. So there we were in the gardens on a brilliantly sunny Sunday morning, The deacon talked, the cousins remembered their childhood together in a reasonably Irish suburb of Boston, Isabella said she'd had no idea how many people loved them. Neil's beautiful daughters gave up any pretense at composure and wiped their eyes on his sleeves. They're all flying back to Seattle today, leaving behind a quiet that surprised me. It's also the first rest day on the Tour de France, and to my chagrin, time passes.


Thursday, July 09, 2009

I Felt So Symbolic Yesterday

This morning, Neil called to tell me his father died last night, just before midnight. Neil's timing was perfect: I was getting ready to walk across the river to the hospital. Plans are in the works for a wake in an Irish bar and restaurant in our old hometown, and for a memorial on the grounds of the unnamed university's gardens. Isabella is going to scatter her husband's ashes in a public place where someone might attempt to discourage her. I volunteered to create the kind of diversion that might get me arrested while she does what she has to do. You know: because.


Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Good Is Going To Happen

Tonight, I didn't get home from the hospital until 9:45 and I hated leaving. I wanted to be at home, on my couch, cooing at my lovely cats and holding a glass of wine but without leaving Isabella, Neil and Matt. Trout had gone home before I arrived. The new room is wonderfully good: when I arrived, Isabella was taking a shower in the private bathroom without the terror of leaving her husband. When I called earlier, Isabella asked me, "Do you need a drinking partner?" I shifted gears.

Tata: Do you need anything? Are you out of illicit booze?
Isabella: No, come here and be funny.
Tata: As! You! Wish!*

So I showed up in my pajamas, with my laptop full of pictures of adorable Panky and one special thing. When Pete was on his way to pick me up, Isabella finally sat down next to me. Neil said, "Tata brought you something." I pulled a moist ziptop bag from my belongings. I held each leaf under her nose and let her inhale.

Isabella: What? What is it?
Tata: Ah! Here. I brought you some summer. Smell this!
Isabella: It''s...tomato?
Tata: It is! It's a tomato leaf from my garden. This -
Isabella: I don't recognize that.
Tata: It's an unusual lettuce. This -
Isabella: Ooh. What's that?
Tata: This is arugula. This -
Isabella: That's very pretty.
Tata: This is a different lettuce. My garden is full of it. You'll recognize this. It's -
Isabella: Ah, mint!
Tata: This is more lettuce, like before, and this -
Isabella: That's familiar. What is it?
Tata: Basil!
Isabella: I'd know that better if I -

Isabella tore off a leaf, took a deep whiff and popped the leaf into her mouth. Then she laughed.

Isabella: Basil!
Tata: I grow all kinds of crap in my miniscule backyard.

I put the leaves into a paper cup, added water from the bathroom sink and placed the little bouquet on the only surface I could find where cords, bags, medical debris and bedding would not knock over the bouquet. The doctors had just left. Isabella gave them permission to up the morphine dose.

I'm going to need more than basil.

*The Princess Bride quoted with immunity to iocaine powder and without a giant.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Someday You'll Have A Beautiful Life

Our kitchen window, just before sundown.

Tonight, the nurse asked if we would like to move to a private room. Isabella, Trout, Neil, Matt, Matt's wife, Matt's ebullient four-year-old daughter, Matt's mother-in-law Auntie Zee and I quit squawking and looked at each other for one long pregnant moment and started packing. Neil and Matt went down the hall to scout out what number of chairs, what pillows, what stuff we would move and what we'd leave. Neil returned with numbers. I'd already packed food, clothing linens and the bottle of booze we were hiding from the staff. When the cleaning of the new room seemed to take a long time, I scurried down the hall to see it myself. It's a quarantine room with an outer door and an inner glass wall. It will squelch sound. It will be fabulous. I skipped back and declared it our snow globe.


Monday, July 06, 2009

All I Know Is That To Me

On Friday morning, I brought fresh strawberries, sour cherries, blueberries and a loaf of garlicky spinach mozzarella bread to the hospital room. Sunday morning, it was grapes and Pepperidge Farm cookies. Last night, I smuggled in a bottle of Bailey's, paper cups and my laptop full of pictures. I have an adorable grandson, and I know how to use pictures of him. Anyway, when I broke out the bottle, Isabella cheered right up. She took a few drops of it and rubbed it on her husband's tongue, knowing that would be his wish. We then gave him a few drops of water on the sponge, which he drank even in his morphine drowse.

Isabella poured the Bailey's with a question not quite reaching her lips.

Tata: We [I pointed around the room at all of us] are the bad kids.
Isabella: Why do you say that?
Tata: I've known us a long time.
Isabella: Most people didn't know that about me where we worked together.
Tata: You held your cards close to your vest.
Isbella: And two aces in my bra and a bottle in the bottom drawer.

Isabella has been my friend for a very long time. Her daughter Trout and I met when she was 17, naked and unabashed; I was 14, terrified and trying to stuff myself into my gym locker. You know: to save time. Later, Trout's brother Neil was one of my best friends and dance partner in some high school musical. For four people attending a deathbed, we laugh a lot. It's a little jarring to the doctors when they walk in on us yapping about pictures of my red dining room or time trials on the first day of the Tour de France. Neil's daughters play soccer at a serious level, so they were thrilled that I'd had physical therapy in the same gym as the players of Sky Blue FC.

Tata: A Brazilian player on the next stationary bike laughed at my jokes, though she didn't speak English.
Neil: Which player? Rosana?
Tata: I think so. There was also one woman with fantastic tattoos.
Neil: That's Natasha Kai. She runs onto the field and fouls someone. BLAM! Hi, I'm here!
Tata: I totally wanted to talk with her about the tats but I was always doing something stupid and awkward when she walked by. I couldn't bring myself to pretend I was cool while ankle weights made me keel over sideways.

Isabella's youngest son is married to the daughter of the Head of Housekeeping in the hospital. This means special things, like a fan for the patient, which seems to have come from the Payroll Department surreptitiously. We wonder if the hospital's checks are going out sticky, but there's nothing to worry about. Auntie takes care of it.

For days now, I've been level and bright in the hospital room, and exhausted at home and at work. This morning, I arranged a place for the inevitable memorial, which I worked out with all the patience of a German shepherd gnawing a soup bone. Tonight, Isabella caressed her husband's arm and said to him, "It's okay. Go for a long walk into the woods." For the first time, I averted my eyes and lost my breath.


Sunday, July 05, 2009

Over This Land, All Over This

So here I am again, at the foot of the sickbed, watching the clock run down. Our families are marvels of construction on the fly; when the doctor asked on the first day who I was I said, "I'm the foster child." Isabella blurted out, "Yes, but not really," and the doctor smiled. By blood, the unconscious man struggling to breathe is no relation. He has called me "my other daughter" for a couple of decades, but I suppose I am really just a friend. On Thursday and Friday, there was still some hope he might survive the pneumonia, but no more. On Thursday morning, Isabella and I used tiny sponges on sticks to moisten his mouth with scant drops of water. It was a two-person job. I held the oxygen mask away from his face while Isabella sopped up a little liquid, placed the sponge in his mouth and hoped he would drink. Mostly, the morphine put him to sleep and our job was to watch and wait. I have been here before, and I am fine.


Sunday, June 28, 2009

It's A Competitive World

Lovely Topaz gives you the boo boo eyes. You are helpless before them!

Tonight, Mom reports that Grandpa's become very frail. He sleeps a lot, she says. That's good, I said. It means he's not distressed. She says he wasn't hungry for blueberry muffins a couple of days ago, but yesterday ate chowder with gusto. He's fading, she says. I've been down this road, I said, fairly recently. I know, she says. You should try not to worry, I said, often things are worse when we worry than when they actually happen. I've been worried a lot, she says. There's only one question left to ask, I said, did you open a bottle of wine yet? What, she asks. Red coping mechanism or white coping mechanism, I said. Actually, she says, I found a stray gin and tonic and gave it a good home. Call me tomorrow, I said.


Wednesday, February 25, 2009

With Every Mistake We Must Surely Be

This morning, my friend of 30 years walked toward me in the library and whispered in my ear, "Dad's dead." His relationship with his father was, as so many of ours are, not without its complexities. I listened to him talk for half an hour, complicating my relationship with my job. Then I quoted a poet of our mutual acquaintance: Alice B. Talkless. Once there were many black kings, I said. Once there were many red kings, I said. There were many black holes full of things that did not fit.

"That's me," he laughed. "That's me, that's me."


Sunday, February 01, 2009

Phone'll Jingle Door'll Knock

We're walking through the park at an impressive clip.

Tata: Okay okay okay, so the other day, I said, "Pete, I'd like a bread machine for my birthday and he said, "That's good. I just ordered you one."
Leilani: It's your birthday?
Tata: It's in a couple of weeks, but I'm like a crazy planner. Yesterday, it arrived, hooray!
Leilani: Hooray!
Tata: By midnight, we'd already had two disastrous doughs and this morning, I tore the one we baked into bird-size hunks. Of course, I left them at home. Sorry, geese!
Leilani: Why are we here?
Tata: Two years ago, my dad got sick and I went to Virginia for a month. I blogged about it the whole time and I know it was sometimes very hard for readers to deal with how awful it was, and how funny. I mean, picture saying to people, "Please read about my dad's hilarious death."
Leilani: Omigod, how did you know? Yesterday, we went to see the rabbi and everyone talked at the same time. I can't imagine what people walking by thought, with the sobbing and roaring laughter.
Tata: What did you do last night?
Leilani: My friend Ranit came over. We went to Charlie Brown's and it was really nice. Quiet there. She doesn't drink but I did. I laughed and laughed, then I wondered what people might think.
Tata: Listen, you won't know what's going to help you grieve until you stumble upon it, so be prepared to stumble. Fortunately, you can stumble home from that place.
Leilani: I haven't got anything to wear to the service tomorrow.
Tata: Anyone's judgment is misplaced. You can go in a bathrobe, if it's cozy.
Leilani: Thank you for talking to me like this.
Tata: Pfffft, when Daria, Todd, Dara and I were in Virginia, we started doing this chanting thing. I mean, who can explain that? One day, we were normal nutbags. Next thing we knew we were standing around the kitchen, warbling about who was getting the paper towels to clean up the garlic off the floor. I don't know what that means, but I do think you should start a blog immediately. Immortalize your antics.
Leilani: Really? I'll think about it.
Tata: Good. Later, Pete and I will do donuts around a parking lot while I fling handfuls of gummy failed bread into the air while birdies roil and scream.
Leilani: You're coming back to the park?
Tata: Absolutely. And I'll blog the duck ruckus, because should that be lost in the mists of time?


Friday, October 31, 2008

Friday Dolphin Blogging:

Do Birds Suddenly Appear Edition

Horoscopically speak, I'm not allowed to lie about anything, even the smallest thing, so I'm breaking down and telling you a few stupid truths. To advance the plot, you understand.

Perhaps you've noticed I've been a bit circumspect lately, more so than one might expect over filmy deposits left by my shampoo and dull, lifeless hair. Thing is: two members of my extended family are undergoing cancer treatment, which worked out less fabulously last time than we might have liked. Plus, there's not a lot I can do besides call up one household and leave amusing messages, which I try to do now two or three times a week, and Heaven help me when someone answers the phone.

Sick Relative: Hello?
Tata: Did you know lips do not exfoliate and you must help them?
Sick Relative: Domenica, it's always nice to hear you speak in tongues.

In that house, a whole lot of things snapped into fast-forward after the diagnosis, like that one of my cousins planned a wedding in eight weeks to land taffeta-side down minutes before Thanksgiving. Because. Because why? Because. We are going to gussy up, overeat, throw rice and take pictures, got that? You should immediately buy a case of Orville Redenbacher. This has positively awesome comic potential.

On the other side of the family, Pete's sister Maggie was diagnosed out in Arizona with a cancer similar to the one that killed her mother. Maggie has been friends with my sister Daria since before either of them could say the words "I'm telling!" and my mother is a cancer survivor, so this is no laughing matter. Well, it wasn't until Maggie started chemo and Pete and I mailed her whole family a variety of silly hats from the toy store for when, as her toddler said, "We all lose our hair."

It was going pretty well until Maggie's last chemo appointment this week. She was sitting in the waiting room, talking to other patients. One said he'd been getting chemo for two years, and she heard a few other things that didn't make sense. Maggie's a doctor of pharmacy. She calculated a few calculations and realized she'd been given the wrong dosages, so had other patients and who knows how many people are dead now. But instead of collapsing into a heap like a mere mortal, Maggie called one of her other best friends, a Manhattan malpractice attorney.

Perhaps, wherever you are, you hear a distant whooooooooshing sound coming from Arizona, as doctors and facilities rush to cover their asses. I wish them well. There's no hope for them.

Speaking of hope - you knew there were animals here someplace - NOAA continues to hope the dolphins in the Navesink River will winter glamorously at the Jersey Shore.
NOAA’s Fisheries Service today announced a monitoring plan for 12 bottlenose dolphins in the Shrewsbury and Navesink rivers. The agency also announced that there will be no effort to force the dolphins out of the area at this time.

Monitoring by NOAA dolphin researchers over the past week revealed no indications of stress, illness, or feeding problems. They identified 12 individuals moving easily from the Navesink to the Shrewsbury in two groups.

“These animals are in typical habitat, food is present, and we have no reason to believe they are stressed,” said Teri Rowles, director of NOAA’s National Marine Mammal Health and Stranding Program. “We’re not going to interfere in what appears to be a completely natural phenomenon, especially when doing so carries a high risk of harming healthy animals.”

NOAA consulted with a number of experts on the condition and behavior of these animals in this habitat and determined the conditions of the estuary are well within those tolerated by bottlenose dolphins.

There is also general agreement that efforts to move the animals from the area by luring, chasing, or catching them for relocation would be difficult, potentially dangerous for the animals and people, and not likely to succeed.

That sounds really rational, doesn't it? I read the article a few times and the most striking aspect of the language is the attempt throughout to shut down any avenue of discussion. If we were children talking about toys, that might make sense, but we're not. Dolphins have frozen in the Navesink before, and if you're in New Jersey, I don't have to tell you it's been freaking cold for the past few weeks. If you're not in New Jersey, it's been freaking cold for the past few weeks. It's just a matter of time now until the rivers clog with ice.

There's a website with beee-yootiful photographs of the dolphins, and helpful contact information.
If are not satisfied with the NOAA decision, share your thoughts via a respectful email or phone call. They seem very willing to discuss the matter with anyone who asks.

David.Gouveia: or (978) 281-9505
Teri Frady: or (508) 495-2239

Contact Governor Corzine with a respectful email and share your thoughts:

1. Just click here.

2. Choose “Natural Resources” from the drop down menu & click “continue”

3. On the next page choose “Fish, Game & Wildlife” from the drop down menu and fill out the form.

You can also contact Governor Corzine by writing to:

The Office of the Governor
P.O. Box 001
Trenton, New Jersey 08625-0001
PH: (609) 777-2500

It can't hurt to talk about it. Please give them a call.

Some speculate that construction on that big bridge at Highlands keeps the pod from migrating out to sea. Pete and I saw that site a few weeks back, and even on a Sunday it was loud and confusing. I hated seeing that, since twenty-five years ago, the foot of that bridge, then crumbling and untraveled, was where I went for peace and quiet. But that wasn't so important, it was just another strange dead end for me on the day Pete and I scattered the one-sixth of Dad's ashes in my possession into the thundering waves at Point Pleasant. Since Dad and I said everything to each other when he was still alive and he smirks in my dreams now and then wearing his usual European underwear, there wasn't much to say as the powder that used to be Dad fell into the churning spray and foam and flew on the wind. I had chosen Point Pleasant because his grandfather had had a giant house on the ocean, where many of Dad's favorite childhood memories were set, where I know currents cross the Atlantic and warm the northern coasts. So there was only one thing to say that was new at all.

Tata: 'Bye, Dad. Be free. Hey! Now you can summer in Europe!

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Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't Pretend That You Want

Paint fumes - can't quite flubbity bok bok - oooh! black light posters are awesome!

This always reminds me of Dad. He and the Muppeteers probably did the same drugs.

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Sunday, July 27, 2008

I've Come To Take You Home

Driving, windows open, radio playing.

Tata: There are a few things I'd like to do before I move. I'd like to bury Larry's ashes. It seems pretty stupid to carry them around with me.
Pete: At your mother's house, right?
Tata: Well, why not bury him where we live? Would you mind?
Pete: No, that'd be fine. You want to scatter your Dad's ashes, too, right?
Tata: Yeah.
Pete: Have you picked a place? You were talking about the Shore.
Tata: I think so. I think the place where his grandparents had a house. His ashes would join the Gulf Stream and he could go around the world. He loved Europe and Iceland, and Japan was really good for him.

At the first notes of a new song I burst into tears.

Pete: What's wrong?
Tata: Nothing. That's what we'll do. Do you believe in signs?
Pete: Sometimes.
Tata: I don't think you could get a clearer sign than this one.

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Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Yesterday, Today And Tomorrow


Everything happened at once on Sunday and Monday. I couldn't go to Virginia last weekend and the guilt was tremendous. Daria, Darla and Dara packed the up the house, though the packing never seemed to end, and on Sunday night, Daria had to leave to get her children to school Monday morning. Darla's ex-husband drove down from Canada with a truck they packed all night. At about dinnertime yesterday, they closed up the house and Darla went home to Canada. Today, Dara went back to high school. We have said goodbye to Dad's house, and to our life with Dad. For us, it is over. For Darla, a new life begins.


Miss Sasha, Mister Sasha and baby Panky - now nearly four months old - are leaving their house in California right now. Miss Sasha reports the house is clean, the boxes are stacked in another truck they'll drive to San Francisco today. They have a plan, places where they have to report to the Air Force, and sights to see on their journey to North Dakota. They leave behind a forwarding address for packages that did not arrive in time, which turns out to be important. The birthday presents I mailed a week ago did not arrive. Let's hope weary travelers are greeted at their new home by felicitous gifts.


I am washing and drying crisp pinstriped sheets and luxurious bath towels at home this afternoon. Yesterday I had some dental work done, so this morning, I called work and said my head wanted to stay flat for the foreseeable future. When you sit up and your skull says, "No, no, you had it right the first time," you go back to bed too, right? Even Blogger refused to publish until now in the face of all this. The windows are open wide and a breeze perfumes the apartment. Sunlight dances along the surface of the gold organza curtains. This day was always coming. I can only let it pass through me on its way to Long Ago.

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Thursday, April 03, 2008

The Din Of Our Rice Crispies

I. I am a genius!

We dismantled Dad's kitchen and I ended up with a bigass container of dried black beans; by bigass, I mean a 7-quart Sysco restaurant container, and by beans, I mean of indeterminate age and/or magical power. For many long months, I stared at this container and waited for inspiration, which means breath of the gods and there's just not enough Gas-Ex, thank you. One day, a plan came to me. Pete laughed out loud, uncertain I'd do it. Two nights ago, we filled a quart bag with beans and went for a walk. The plan:

1. On a rainy night, fling beans near chain link fences everywhere.
2. Wait.
3. Watch out for falling giants.

The possible results:
1. Planting.
2. Composting.
3. Feeding outdoor critters.

We enjoyed furtively peppering lawns, alleys, empty planters and scrubby gardens with prospective beanstalks, which process became more entertaining the closer we walked to the center of town and spectators. No one asked us what we were doing. No one said, "You've literally beaned me." No. People watched as Pete and I walked by and I exhorted our little legumes to grow toward the sun, be free, be free! This public art project memorializing my father is called the Beany Benediction.

No cows will be harmed in the making of it.

II. I am an idiot!

As we prepared dinner last night, Pete asked if there might be garlic in my kitchen. This request surprised me. "I'm fresh out of fresh but I've got chopped, freeze-dried and a metric buttload of granulated. When I acquire Garlic In A Tube, I shall rule the Alium World. Mwah hah hah!" I cackled.

Pete sniffed the chopped and made a face. Pete stared at enough granulated garlic to temper the effects of beach erosion. Pete grabbed a freeze-dried chip slice and tossed it into his mouth. Five. Four. Three. Two -

Tata: What's the matter with you?
Pete: That was disgusting! Omigod -

And even though I watched him scrape the insides of his mouth with his fingernails I popped a freeze-dried slice of garlic into my mouth.

Tata: I'm not certain but my teeth may be on fire.

I sat on a chair in my kitchen, evidently waiting for the return of either common sense or blood to my extremities, as garlic still in my mouth continued hydrating. At no time did it occur to me to lean three inches to my left and spit out the tiny flaming tidbits singeing my tastebuds. For the rest of the evening, Pete and I randomly burst out laughing and moved a few inches further from each other. This morning, I woke up and the first thing I smelled was my own rank breath.

At work, I handed out emergency Altoids and promised I'd never do it again.

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Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Time We're Gone And We Don't Know Where

Today, it's been a year since Dad died. In the month of his decline, we burst into tears, we burst into song and broke into the liquor cabinet. Yesterday, I wondered where Dad's Andres Segovia records went, though I suppose that doesn't matter anymore. We have video!

The man born on Mother's Day and dead on April Fool's would want you to raise a glass, read a good book, see or hear good art or eat a good meal in his honor, if you were so inclined, but he wouldn't permit false piety or that Above all, he loved his family shit. No, he was surprised when we found our asses with our own hands. During his last weeks, he showed us trays and trays of slides of his travels when he left most of us in 1973; he wanted his gaggle of unruly children to quietly see his life unfold in haunting gorgeous pictures. He growled most of he time, very angry at the universe that cut short his plans. There we were in a dark room, watching his travels through Brussels, Paris, Budapest, Iceland, Lichtenstein, Prague -

Tata: Hey! That's a Wankel engine!
Dad: It IS a Wankel engine!

In the dark, I could feel the white=hot glares of my sisters and brother, but Dad was an ounce less furious for a few seconds. He was not a patient man; he was very, very funny. I don't miss arguing with him.

Dad: (angry) You there! Complaints?
Tata: All your goddamn measuring cups are righthanded!
Dad: (laughing) I understand!

Maybe I miss it a little.

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Monday, March 17, 2008

The Earth It Moves Too Slow

Rock and rock and roll radio!

Pete and I unlocked the front door of Rancho Rococo just before 8 last night, so tired showering seemed both essential and overly ambitious. The drive back from Virginia, which can suck beyond belief if someone sneezes on Route 78, was evidently sneeze-free. We ate Sun Chips. We drank gallons of coffee. We surfed the airwaves and found songs we loved, liked and minded somewhat, but only once did we both reach for the radio in alarm. The words "Monday morning: The Billy and John Boy Drive Time Show - where Rednecks find a home" made us both blink, then shout about locking the doors on that home and issuing flea collars.

Previously on Poor Impulse Control: my dad died 1 April 2007 in a surprising flurry of admirers, ex-wives and current children. Last fall, we had a yard sale of his things and because he was a tremendous packrat we had another this past weekend. If you've joined this story in progress, I can sum this up in one little moment from the yard sale, then I have other things I have to do. I will catch up tomorrow, I think. Anyway, Saturday morning, on a lawn in Staunton, Virginia:

A man and woman walk around the yard, then circle the tables and casual ground-level displays of some small number of Dad's thousands of books. Half a dozen other people wander around quietly. Daria, Todd and I don't look like anyone else and we're wearing canvas money belts. My teenage sister Dara looks a little more local. My step-mother Darla is standing near me when we discover the woman is paying attention.

She: Are you a family giving this garage sale?
Darla: We are.
She: Whose books are those? Who is the gourmet, who is the naturalist, who is the writer?
Tata: Those books belonged to one person.
Darla: They were my husband's.

The woman turns to the only male personage in sight: my brother Todd.

She: Is that you?
Todd: No, I cook but I can't keep up.
Darla: He died last year. These are my husband's grown children. They came to help out.
She: He must have been an interesting person.
Tata: He was quite a character.
She: You must be interesting people.
Todd: It's possible.
Daria: What I wouldn't give for a grilled cheese...


Saturday, March 15, 2008

No One Nice Again

We're sitting at the kitchen table reading Dad's antique Playboys. All the male models resemble Tucker Carlson and fuel-injected luxury Volkswagon cost $3300. A person might acquire a very respectable vehicle to do zero-to-fifty - yes, fifty - in 8.6 seconds. Todd looks up and says, "You could jog faster." Our favorite ad so far declares, "Introducing the new home appliance that answers your phone!" For crying out loud, the page Daria's reading features six people in some advanced stage of plaid gangrene, and she's convinced the best-looking person is the dog. The 1974 Spring and Summer Fashion Forecast is truly something special. An orchestra seat for Pippin starring Ben Vereen will run the Broadway goer a big $12.

I'm scritching Miss Samantha, princess and adventurous scrapper in a house full of larger cats. Pete, who should not lift anything, stayed home and whipped up a fantastic dinner of corned beef, latkes and cabbage, while we got up in the dark and had a yard sale of Dad's stuff. By the time we arrived back at Dad's house, we were ravenous and ready to bite each other's arms. Fortunately: latkes! After we stuffed ourselves, we all fell down or cleaned up, and when I woke up later, three cows were walking around in the front yard. We don't own any cows.

You should see the shoes.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

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.

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Friday, February 22, 2008

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!


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.


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.

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Thursday, January 24, 2008

You Gotta Have Something

According to my brother Todd, this is the cooking show our Dad should have done: Cooking And Cursing With the Grandsons Of Italy. Dad, author of such remarks as, "The best thing about that dish was its temperature," and "Constipation wasn't as much fun as I remembered," might have been a bit subtle for these brusque fellows. Moreover, Dad was no Goombah. He was foul-mouthed, hot-tempered, a culinary control freak and brilliant in a pinch. Still, these guys are pretty funny, and they have a point: Olive Garden in NOT Italian food. Don't eat that!


Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Let Me Take You There

Pete and I prepared for Italian Christmas Eve for two days, not to mention the shopping and crepe-making that went on weeks ahead of time. It was a long series of firsts for us: Pete's first Christmas with us, our first without Dad and the first time Daria's husband Tyler bought sweaters in his own size in actual colors. I'll explain later. It all worked out fabulously, though at any moment it all might've gone straight to hell - but, you know, with a nice bolognese. If you're wondering: the manicotti was the best of my illustrious career and I'm still shaking my head. Yes, that's what's rattling. Hush!

Pete took dis beeyootiful piksha I thought yous might enjoy.

There's always a story to tell. At the moment, I can't tell it. I will, though.

I will.

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Sunday, December 23, 2007

So Try Another Flavor

Busy! busy! busy! today reworking and revising the menu for Italian Christmas Eve. Tomato sauce for the manicotti is cooling on a back burner. The crepes are thawing. Pete's dashed out for fresh herbs. We have a thousand things to do today, but they're all tasks I've looked forward to for weeks. I enjoy wrapping presents and rolling manicotti and fussing over details of grilled vegetables on a gorgeous platter. Plus, there's time for a much-needed nap. On Friday, when I was too tired to lift my arms, I called out for pizza. When the pizzeria got the order wrong, I nearly burst into tears, a ginormous hint that I was long past exhausted. Other than last winter, I'm not the teary type.

Bonus picture of fog hanging over the river and obscuring the city. I assure you that New Brunswick with its bland skyline sits there beyond the water. I can see parts of it from my living room window, perhaps because they're about a half mile to the left of this section of the Raritan and surrounded by the orange plastic fencing one sees during lengthy construction works. You can't miss the orange.

I've never planned the menu for Italian Christmas dinner before. and it will be our first without Dad. Daria and I are determined to get through it and New Year's Eve with a minimum of drama. My stomach flutters a bit. Outside, snow may be falling.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Do With Those Stars In Your Eyes

Part I.
Part II.
Part III.

Part IV.
When you're working as fast as you can at something you haven't done before you have little time for reflection. You skeedaddle in the moment and ponder later. Then again, sometimes you scamper and consider and hope your feet don't get tangled in a low-hanging thought, like driving like Jehu across four states and realizing you have to get up after 5 for an 8 AM garage sale.

Well, that sucks, huh?

After dinner, there was still organizing to do. Pete and I cleaned up and plunked down at the kitchen table, where we played The Price Is Right with Darla and Daria.

Daria: What do you think of this?
Pete: What is it?
Daria: A matching set of cheesy glass candleholders that weigh a ton.
Tata: $3!
Pete: Two for $5!
Daria: Sold!

The auctioneer peeled off pre-printed price tags and stuck them on things, over and over, until we were too bleary to continue.

Darla: This thing?
Tata: $1.
Darla: Why a dollar?
Tata: Maybe I don't have to look at it again?
Darla: Good point.

On Friday night, the oddness of putting prices on Dad's things did not really penetrate my travel exhaustion and white wine fog, which did not facilitate sleep. In my own bed, I'm not a good sleeper. For instance, this morning, I wandered into the kitchen, fed the kittens breakfast, thought about breakfast and fired up the laptop before noticing it was 2 AM. I went back to bed.

Pete: Whatcha doin'?
Tata: Evidently, I felt an overpowering subconscious need to spoon a quarter can of cat food into a bowl twice.

Next thing I knew the alarm blared and it was just after six, so I'm not just a bad sleeper, I make sleep mistakes. Likewise, the night before the garage sale, I tossed and turned. Then, because I'm thorough, I checked my work by tossing and turning again. Finally, around 5, I heard one of Darla's cats register a complaint from outside, so I went downstairs to let him in. When I came back up the stairs, Daria popped out of her bedroom door, fully wound.

Daria: You're up! Can I get up now? I can get up now that someone else is up!
Tata: It's still dark out.
Daria: I'm up! Is it time to get up yet?
Tata: Sure. Why don't you make us some coffee? Most of us will really need that.

Darla appeared at the other end of the hall like the sitcom wacky neighbor.

Darla: Where's everyone else? We have to be at Cleo's in half an hour.
Tata: It's still dark out.
Daria: Dara's teenage butt's still in bed.
Tata: I have to shower before other humans smell me.
Darla: Cleo reminded me that even though I advertised for an 8 AM start, I should expect crazy fuckers before 6.
Tata: Intriguing! I have to tell Pete we expect early bird crazy fuckers.

Minutes later, I discovered that Darla had vigorously cleaned the common bathroom, which would have been newsworthy anytime but was made even more so because I had to wash my entire person with Pantene-knockoff shampoo. I couldn't wait to tell Daria that Darla had emptied the once-packed bathroom of dozens of personal cleaning products and bathing came with full-body frizz control. Darla went on ahead to Cleo's house. Pete, Daria, Dara and I followed half an hour later as the sun rose and as we pulled up, crazy fuckers were already standing on Cleo's lawn.

It was at this instant I realized that ads in the Staunton News Leader, signs on poles and chatter on WSVA, where Dad was on the radio for 20 years, had brought all these people here for a piece of Dad. I had no illusion that he belonged to me or to us and that by keeping these objects I could keep him. Dara's been a local celebrity since before she was born because Dad was always a public person. He's gone. Still, I hesitated for just a moment. Then, I grabbed a box and lugged it past those people to a table in the yard.


Sunday, September 23, 2007

Groovin' Up Slowly

I interrupt this brief interlude to get back to the story.

Part I.
Part II.

I'm taking this out of order now, but what don't I? At some point during the yard sale, Darla looked around impatiently and said she wished she'd brought a camera so she could record the day. I allowed as how I'd brought a camera and could take pictures. Then I apologized in advance for the crappy pictures I was about to take. So here you see images of people in scenic Staunton, Virginia, doing what people in Staunton, Virginia do on a sunny Saturday: forage through other people's stuff.

This is one moment in all of history. I took these pictures in rapid succession because the moment itself was important, not the individual foragers and not even us, if you will, though we are not pictured. This is just time passing. This is just objects changing hands. Despite the price tags we put on each item, we sold most for a handful of change because the items themselves had become a burden on us and especially on Darla. The idea was to put these things into the hands of people who needed or wanted them, to put stuff back into circulation, without reservation. We did not turn down offers. People went away with some very nice things, and good for them. Good for us.

The important facts: a sunny day at the house of a friend, Dad's things in boxes and on tables, two of my sisters, both of my stepmothers, Pete, me and for one moment, you.

We arranged table after table, box after box, palate after palate of Dad's clothes, books, handtools and kitchen gadgets. We put out bookcases, lamps and recliners. We put out contraptions we could only explain because Darla is a genius. People took about half of everything.

We repacked everything that was left, hauled it back to Darla's house and dragged it to the sun porch. By 5:30 PM, we could barely lift our arms to pack everything left over into our cars and trucks. Darla intends to pay her bills for the next month in quarters.


Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Walking Where the Wildlife Goes

Part I

You can get so tangled up in the events of your life that you forget the rest of the world entirely. Tomorrow is International Talk Like A Pirate Day. Last week, I wrote a blog post in which my verbs were all over like snot on a toddler, and I see now I neglected to mention that the video came from Petulant via Melissa McEwan. This is not at all like me. I credit the pavement as I walk down the street, so who knows what was going on in my brain before we went to Virginia - all we know is what I am thinking when we arrive.

Tata: Pete, will you please do something tasty to these pork chops so I can eat them?

Time as you know it does not exist in the Casa Con Cows. During the month Dad was dying, we developed a syncopated rhythm, yes, but a steady beat - nope. Our days worked something like this:

1. Get up too early. Make tea and coffee. Crank up the laptop. Peek to see if Dad's awake, possibly sit and talk with Dad. Empty garbage. Address needs of the cat herd. Eat fantastic leftovers.
2. Answer email. Work on laundry and the family store's website while other members of the household work on Dad's papers, errands or shopping. We grocery shop almost every day.
3. In the afternoon, we consider dinner.
4. It's 10 p.m. Do you know where dinner is?

It doesn't sound busy but Daria, Darla and I were lucky to get showers every other day. To combat this, we started thinking about dinner around 10 a.m., but that was then and this is now, and I want to eat the yummy pork chops before breakfast. We know from experience we fall right back into this whirling vortex the moment we hit the driveway but hope our esteemed colleague has some fight in him.

Daria: Take the panko and go on without me!
Pete: eggs?
Tata: I'm standing next to the fridge. If only I could reach...
Pete: Flour?

Daria walks around the corner to the pantry and returns with a pail of flour that reaches halfway up her thigh. She smiles knowingly.

Pete: Oil?

Daria holds one finger up in the air and disappears back into the pantry. She returns lugging a bottle the size of a gas can. Since we can't lift the thing and most of us grew up during the gas crisis of the seventies, siphoning is no problem and the taste is more appetizing than Exxon Regular. The mass of spaghetti, mysteriously still growing in a back burner pot, is a handy canvas for the fresh sauce Daria concocts from the neighbors' tomatoes. Pete breads and fries the pork chops. We make plates for ourselves and sit, but some habits are hard to break.

Darla: Oh, minions?
Dara: Can I get you another pork chop?
Daria: Do you need salad?
Tata: I'll get you another glass of wine.
Darla: I was going to say it's good to have you back but the servitude is nice, too.


Monday, September 17, 2007

To the Will Of the Night

Against all odds, Pete and I packed the car and headed out Friday morning. As late as Thursday evening, I expected him to tell me he had to work Saturday night, but bad news never came. Traveling back and forth to Virginia exhausts me and I was afraid I might have to make the drive alone. Friday morning, I buzzed around my apartment, a whirlwind of dread and To Do lists. At some point, I began speaking in tongues.

Tata: Kmumu bikka bing?
Pete: Sure, but is that all the garbage?
Tata: Dibi coo mokmok soooooob?
Pete: I don't remember seeing the balsamic vinegar, no.
Tata: Rurrrrow mobby tek!
Pete: Sweetheart, you don't have a lemur.
Tata: True, but if I had one would it be in the trunk?

We were on Route 78 headed toward the Pennsylvania border before I stopped hyperventilating. This will prove ironic later but for now, I relaxed and let the radio, the man, the sunlight, and the fact of the journey under way work their magic on me. Windows wide and windblown, we talked for hours.

Pete: ...we can get methanol there.
Tata: Methanol? Doesn't that come from cows?
Pete: It's made of corn!
Tata: It's made of p0rn? I want the first p0rn-electric hybrid!

All things at our destination had not gone as planned. My sister Daria did not get a chance to shop for groceries, leaving us with Dad's gargantuan stash of pasta, the neighbors' fresh tomatoes and whatever we'd brought with us. This was also the first time Pete caught a glimpse of what happened when my sisters had both cell phones and price guns in hand. In preparation for Saturday's yard sale, Daria, Dara and our stepmother Darla were pricing and boxing Dad's possessions. While on Route 81, I focused on the important things.

Tata: What are you making me for dinner?
Daria: Three for a buck, like the books.
Tata: We're bringing pie!
Daria: Ply?
Tata: Pie!
Daria: Bly?
Tata: Pie! P-I-E! Pie!
Tata: Delicious pie! Two kinds of pie!
Tata: Maaaaaybe! What's for dinner?
Daria: Remember that time I called you while I was making spaghetti and kept making spaghetti and it grew and grew?
Tata: It was like the Little Rascals cake, only al dente!
Daria: Yeah, well, now you're gonna eat it.

Naturally, we stopped at a grocery store and bought pork chops.


Wednesday, August 01, 2007

A Little Bit Of Your Love To Me

I don't owe you an explanation, but here is one: art is life. Here is another: in life as in dreams, things may be what they represent, not what they are. Drusy is playing with a jar of cardamom seeds.

The boxes opened, the pans, jars and boxes neatly set up in rows resembled nothing so much as crooked houses on crooked streets leading to a villa. I rearranged a few things until I could see children ducking down alleys and a church parking lot, a pool and tenements. Maybe you see it; maybe not. We know I'm a crappy photographer and it wasn't a permanent installation. I've put away the pans. I have no idea what to do with a gallon of frijoles negros except it could take me all winter to eat that much rice & beans for breakfast.

When your father, a chef and food writer, dies and you get one-quarter of his spice cabinet, I recommend you too try miniature urban planning.

Some items pictured won't look familiar to the home cook. The reason for this is when Dad heard about interesting new products or additives, he wrote to their manufacturers for samples. I'm not kidding when I say he had a big bucket of Splenda left after a few years of road testing it all sorts of ways. So. I don't know what to do with agar-agar or xanthan gum, but I will find out. Let's hope they're not explosive.

Over the weekend, a conversation about peppermint stick ice cream at Harp & Sword went a little pear-shaped. It was not my intention to criticize, or imply I had credentials other than taste buds and - you know - experience with eating dessert - I adore Minstrel Boy, and my suggestions were offered with respect and affection. I don't claim to have Dad's encyclopedic knowledge of food or contribute as he did to one. Nope. My point, which I failed to articulate, was that if dinner was a big hit you only need a small sweet, just to finish the meal gently. Dessert is an embellishment. So. If Grandma's supernaturally fantastic peppermint stick ice cream is enough to send guests into paroxysms of joy, don't weigh them down with a catastrophically rich brownie unless it's a microscopic portion. It's all too much! In other words: you can be so generous with dinner guests that they puke. Sure, that'd be funny - yakking always is if you're not mopping it up - but is that the goal?

Oddjob, dear Oddjob dislikes almonds. In the boxes Daria packed, I found sliced almonds, marzipan and something called almond bark. I despise marzipan but recognize it as a better decorative medium than caulk, so I'll use it. Somehow. This almond bark thing, though, I don't know. It's greasy to the touch and tastes like white chocolate. The first ingredient on the list is palm oil, a big no-no for friends with heart and cholesterol problems. Unless you don't like your friends and want to duke it out chemically with your old nemesis Lipitor.

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Saturday, July 28, 2007

Lay Me Down In Sheets Of Linen

I've been avoiding this for a week.

Last Sunday, Pete and I drove out to Daria's house, where we dragged out to the car three heavy boxes Daria packed for me. Daria, Dara and Darla spent a week dismantling a big part of Dad's kitchen, and Daria brought these back from Virginia. I opened one and lost my nerve, which meant I left the other two in the car until just now.

Well, isn't this cozy?

The cake pans make me sigh. I'm not much of a baker, but I'd like to be more versatile. You're sworn to secrecy, you know. What, you don't remember promising you'd never tell anyone I can cook? You did, and you're going to keep that promise, even if it means resorting to hyperbole. Practice! Sweet Jesus, last time I ate at her place I spent a week in ICU. Or: Christ, put that down! You don't know where it's been! You can do it. Moving on, then.

The chef's coat was Dad's and a surprise from Daria. Dad had piles of them. Many of his favorites were denim. I suppose we could donate them to a cooking school if they have needy students shaped like a stretchy Bonaparte, but what are the odds?

This week was important to the family. On Monday, Darla's parents returned to Virginia from Canada. On Wednesday, Dara turned 16. Thursday was the 16th anniversary of our grandmother Edith's death, because it's always a one-for-one exhange with us. And today, we had an eighties-theme birthday party at Auntie InExcelsisDeo's house. As Mr. Blogenfreude says, "Blackmail-grade photos must follow." Oh, they sure will.

Tonight, I've opened the boxes. Blue eyeshadow is just another test of courage.


Saturday, June 02, 2007

We're So Alone And Life Is Brief

I debated not writing this. Some memories are bitter enough that we hope they disappear with someone else's death, but they don't. We reenact them in unnecessary present tenses. Even so, I might not have written this if Mr. DBK had not mentioned Carl's father died yesterday. Carl and I can't have a conversation that doesn't include unprintable terms of little endearment, but that doesn't mean I enjoy watching him suffer. I don't. If things were different, we might have a lot to talk about - starting with the crippling polite fiction that we either have simple, loving relationships with our fathers or we are irredeemably fucked-up losers.

Father's Day approaches. See if you can find a Hallmark Card for your particular dysfunction like, "Hey, glad you quit drinking" or "Thanks, Dad, for spending my college fund at AC" or "Because you're a liar, I'll never really trust a man." Our parents are human, with their own flaws and failures. We smile nervously though backyard barbecues every year and hope nobody tells a true story. Sure, some people have great fathers who read right from the Ward Cleaver script, but to deny our pasts and what we are is to guarantee ourselves more painful futures.

I don't know what a normal father-daughter relationship is, but I didn't have one with Dad. Daria didn't either; that's a story only she can tell. I can tell you that as little girls in the sixties and early seventies, we were not raised with Barbies, dreaming about our weddings, and our brother Todd was not treated differently because he was a boy. We were simply kids, which is by default loosely male. It was very unusual for the time, and it all came to a crushing halt when Dad left for Europe and didn't come back. It is not much of a leap from that moment to the one wherein I married the only man who would never have deserted me and I had to leave, because that's what people do. It was just a little, unconscious hop - just history repeating, that's all.

Before we arrived in Virginia last March, piles of things had been set out for Dad's family members on the sun porch. One day, I went out to look at mine and found this. Shit, I was hoping we could just forget all about this crap after the first teary night, when Dad and I said, "It's all over, and none of that stuff is important anymore." I don't remember specifics, except that I sobbed, "I am strong because you made me strong." What I did not say was that his neglect, his rage, his routine violation of my boundaries and his pencil-thin patience formed me into a person who desperately needed his love and approval but couldn't be near enough to have it. He loved me. He admired me - so he often said, and I do not doubt it. That night, he said, "You give me too much credit." No. No, I don't. I saw this card on the porch and put it away, where no one else would find it. Well, except you.

Because it's pink, Siobhan will wonder what the hell was wrong with me. The postmark says 24 January, 1991. Just six months later, my marriage would be over, Dara would be born and my grandmother would die. This is a trifold card, and the flower alone should tell you it delivers poison. Leading up to my writing it: some prolonged period of unbearable conflict with Dad over my writing - or something. His temper was too much for me, again. I couldn't stand it, again. From the time I was 19, he told me, "One day, you will have to tell me to go shit in my hat." I couldn't confront him and be crushed again, so I wrote. When one opens this card, one first sees this:
all the male poets write of orpheus
as if they look back & expect
to find me walking patiently
behind them. they claim I fell into hell.
Damn them, I say.
i stand in my own pain
& sing my own song.

- Alta
To assume the voice of Eurydice, I must have been in agony. Opening the other flap, one sees two distinct pages.
"A certain re-writing of another's writing can be dangerous and go beyond criticism."

- Anais Nin
Finally, the killer:
I am not a son.

I will not compete with you.

I have my own work to do.

You will have to understand.

Ah, you can't go wrong with the classics, because of course, I was raised to be a good son. He wrote, I write. He did radio, I have done a lot of radio. He traveled, I've traveled and will again. He smoked and drank and lived secret lives; don't even get me started. I've often said that he and I were a fascinating matched set, but that I was the dull one. Shortly after I sent this card, Dad told me he didn't need me anymore - he had baby Dara. While he meant that his turbulent relationship with his mother had left him with a need for uncritical female devotion I failed to provide, I was devastated by his words, so surgically precise and calculated to wound. No one in his lifetime cheered his successes louder and longer than I did, despite every brutal thing we said and did to one another. As I look at this card now, I think I should give it to Miss Sasha. I could offer her a shortcut to peace and quiet; say: "My darling, one day you will have to tell me to go shit in my hat."


Sunday, May 27, 2007

We Were So Close, There Was No Room

Previously on Poor Impulse Control: Dad got sick. Everyone dropped everything and went to Virginia. We laughed, we cried, we made ganache. Dad died on April Fool's Day and eventually we all saw the insides of our own houses again before we went back to Virginia for a memorial barbecue the day after what would have been Dad's 66th birthday. Believe it or not, I'm still writing this story, and as I do, I'll keep adding to this list. Only death is final. All else is editing.

Oh Jesus Christ, foreshadowing.

New Year's Eve

Sing out!


It's cancer.

Life expectancy.

Mop fu.

The year of no birthdays

home from the hospital, yay!


leaving tonight


hotel living, dying at home

the journey, the terror

Todd arrives, truths are told

praying with athiests

antics, remembered

Dad's mad magic

a prelude

be prepared!

the actual 'lude to what was pre

domestic pitcrew, gunfire

the outside world, in


chicken feet and Shut Up Time

that chanting thing

care and manicure

phones, running on phumes

t-shirts, felines, DMV

roadblocks, slaphappy

the only truth I know is you

Daria departs, grownups arrive

I'm pretty wide


Dad dies

Dad dies, I said

I come home

the undertaker


the outer world, again

poultry and legacy


we don't know what it means


that damn tree

Like this

questions and quiet

the premonition

the guitars, the poster

Love Has No Pride

a public person

Into the fray, out of the ditch

Artifacts and Anthems

Hopefully the fucking archives will be working sometime soon.

Updated 5.29.07: Siobhan and Sharkey fixed the archives. PIC still has linky problems but at least the archives are visible. And the villagers rejoiced!