Wednesday, March 11, 2009

You'll Be My Day And Night

Time and again, I come back to the fez.

A hat either fits or does not fit on one's head, suits or does not suit one's style. I happen to love the fez, though I have no cultural attachment to it and it doesn't amplify my already ample beauty. Which is ample. For a party years ago, I cut up my hat to make a pattern. I then wrote instructions for a friend in Wisconsin whose access to paper fezzes was spotty at best. Some sacrifices must be made!

You and Your Paper Fez

You’ll need:
• One (1) red stencil.
• One (1) buttload. Sturdy red posterboard. 24” x 36”.
• One (1) pencil.
• One (1) pair. Scissors.
• One (1) bottle. Elmer’s Glue.
• One (1) box. Straight pins.
• One (1) bag. Wussy rubber bands.
• One (1) roll. Scotch tape.
• Optional: first aid kit, helpful pets.

Run with scissors. Spill glue. Draw on walls. Perforate fingers. Pre-disastered, you are now ready to begin.

1. Lay stencil on one sheet of posterboard. Trace with pencil. Now turn pencil over and use sharp lead side. If you are terribly clever (or an ordinary woman) you can fit three tracings per posterboard.
2. Carefully, use scissors to cut out your paper fez. Keep first aid kit handy.
3. Fold Part A toward Part B, stopping when A and B are perpendicular to each other.
4. Fold individual tabs to form right angles from Part A.
5. Lay Part A on floor such that tabs stick up like dead spider legs.
6. Gently bend Part B until ends meet and B forms a conic section. When it looks like an upside-down fez, glue matched ends together.
7. Immediately, pin together wet, gluey ends. Nothing fancy. Just pin like you’re torturing a voodoo doll.
8. Secure wet, gluey, pinned Part B with rubber bands. Let dry for 12 hours.
9. Re-glue when helpful pets discover snapping rolling pin cushion toys.
10. Tape tabs to inside of Part B. Remove pins and rubber bands. Garnish and serve.

This is obviously meant to be silly, though the fez has a very serious history. If you think back, you will remember mention of it in The Little Prince.

Grownups, you will recall, may be completely fooled by the appearances of things. In the story, a scientist presents a theory to a conference in traditional Turkish attire, complete with fez. Because the grownups can't see past his appearance, the scientist is dismissed out of hand. Then traditional attire is outlawed in Turkey. The scientist presents his theory again in Western costume and his theory is accepted. It is a triumph of form and an accident of function.

During the reign hi[sic] the Sultan Mahmud Khan II (1808-39), a European code of dress gradually replaced the traditional robes worn by members of the Ottoman court. The change in costume was soon emulated by the public and senior civil servants, followed by the members of the ruling intelligentsia and the emancipated classes throughout the Ottoman Empire. While European style coats and trousers were gradually adopted, this change did not extend to headwear. Peaked or broad brimmed headdresses such as the top hat did not meet the Islamic requirement that men should press their heads to the ground when praying. Accordingly the Sultan issued a firman (royal decree) that the checheya headgear in a modified form would become part of the formal attire of the Turkish Empire irrespective of his subjects' religious sects or millets.

In post-Ottoman Turkey, the fez was discouraged & ultimately banned under the leadership of the revered Mustafa Kemal (Ataturk) through the Hat Law in 1925 & the Law Relating to Prohibited Garments in 1934.

This omits mention of the riots that ensued. It's just a hat, you see. Nothing serious until the shooting starts. I should tell you my co-worker has been out with a backache for a couple of weeks that was actually spinal meningitis, and two days ago her heart stopped. She is currently on life support and the doctors have advised her family they should pull the plug. I walked with her to our cars one Thursday afternoon, talking about our Thursday evening plans, and now we find ourselves bargaining with the snake. What do we see here, as children? As grownups? What is before our eyes?


Wednesday, September 03, 2008

There's A Man Hanging By His Pants Seat

In my office today, everyone was restless and no one could concentrate. My student worker, one of the few people all my life to get Defenestration of Prague humor, has taken a job as an archivist closer to his home in Parsippany, so today was his last day. As is our custom, we ate pizza and talked about matters that interested the person departing, and me, because I am a conversational tsunami headed for the tiny fishing village that is, you know, anyone else. And I wanted to talk about unicycles because I want one desperately, though I cannot juggle. Oh, how I've tried! But this did nothing to settle the mood of the office, and a short time later, Mathilde turned the corner and sulked in the doorway of my cubicle. English is her third or fourth language, so at some point this afternoon:

Mathilde: When someone annoys me I curse him in a language he doesn't speak!
Tata: From now on, no one should curse anyone in any Romance language, because I will laugh, and we will all be embarrassed. That includes Romanian!
Mathilde: I wouldn't curse you in French. You'd understand me.
Tata: Not only that, but I really would!

It should come as no surprise, then, that Mathilde's restlessness resulted in discussion of my wacky exhaustion and Mathilde's houseful of men suffering Rwandan war PTSD and DIY deficiency.

Tata: Then we painted the apartment and the next day I couldn't get off the couch.
Mathilde: I want to paint but I can't do it myself. No one will help me!
Tata: Okay okay okay - you paint what you want, then take a bath and lock the door.
Mathilde: I can't do that! I only have one bathroom.
Tata: I know. Calgon will get you a second.
Mathilde: What do you mean?
Tata: While you're in the tub, tell them to hold it.
Mathilde: I can't do that!
Tata: Sure you can! They're men. The world is their bathroom. Oooh! Build them an outhouse!
Donna: They can pee behind a rock.
Tata: It doesn't even have to be a very big rock!
Mathilde: The neighbors will call 911!
Tata: The neighbors will help build the outhouse!

Fortunately, a workday is only about twenty-six hours long.


Thursday, August 07, 2008

When I Was A Boy Everything Was Right

Jimmy Kimmel is a disgusting fuckpig - and yet, he's got a point.

Unnecessary Censorship Sesame Street Edition


Thursday, July 17, 2008

In Mortal Chains, Who In Power

Sometimes, I notice someone's speaking in code.

When the hair-twisting mommy says, "Like other vaccines, it's about prevention" I get out my 3-D glasses and decoder ring. Why? Leaving aside the hipster silliness of about, all vaccines prevent disease and infection. And people don't say things like "It's about prevention" unless people are talking about it being formulated to do something else. In Australia, fundamentalists say Gardasil kills girls but the data is full of holes. People can say anything, but it doesn't have to be true or useful. Could parents be confused by what something is and what someone says it does? Yep. Happens all the time. Words used and misused have great power, and words misused with ill intent are very, very dangerous.

Today on Shakesville, Mustang Bobby posted about amusing and awkward corporate double speak, and all was going swimmingly until a glib professional linguist turned up and commenters who ought to know better kissed her ass. If that's in any way an opaque description, I'll help. Ass-kissing can be defined as happens when a commentariat is cowed by cleverness or alleged credentials, rather than putting forth the suggestion that the clever, allegedly credentialled commenter is full of shit and probably disastrously bad at her job.

Frankly, the language should have turned a little Anglo-Saxon.

Look, I'm nobody. I didn't graduate from college and I won't stoop to listing off reasons you ought to kiss my ass - though I might lean over a little now and then. I'm still about to say something really important. No. Really. Ready?
Language is your first line of defense.

What people say, what words they use, how they use them - all these things are not neutral. You can learn a great deal about a speaker, broadcaster or conversationalist by weighing her words. For a simple example, my grandmother, who did the New York Times crossword in pen for fun, used to say, "Sweetheart, you made coffee," which sounds delightful unless you know my grandmother never said the word "sweetheart" without clenched teeth, and I make terrible coffee. There. Meaning has harmlessly, totally shifted, but Gram was allowed to shift these meanings because, of course, we were all grateful I hadn't made espresso and Gram, raised by Italian immigrants, spoke perfect English.

Here and now, words fly fast, furious and spurious. Honest people are genuinely perplexed by what they hear and dishonest people perplex par excellence. If you're listening, you can hear words shift in the public discourse. I recall distinctly feeling the solid ground shake under the word feminist and wondering why anyone was stupid enough to shimmy along, but people have been doing that same dance, unquestioning, for years. Words, once again, have great power: to raise up, to destroy, to inspire, to rend, but we have to listen, and we have to know what words mean when we use them. If we don't, we don't know when they're used to tear us apart from one another.

The NAACP has heard McCain's words before.

A word we hear and use and misuse is racism. Racism is a systemic power imbalance based on the dominant culture's perception of skin color, manifesting in but not limited to social, economic, educational and linguistic inequalities. It's racism when the average household worth of non-Hispanic white people is above $80,000, but for black people it's less than $6,000. It's racism when police and fire departments routinely hire white applicants in numbers disproportionate to the population. It's not at all racism when black people, speaking where white people can hear them, mention racism exists, and that it's wildly unpleasant to live with. What, then, about black people who do terrible things to white people? That's not racism. That can be prejudice, hatred, a violent dislike or a loss of composure, but in America, it doesn't have the weight and omnipresence of the system and the state. When we use the word racism to describe the actions or words of a black person, we are not only misusing this word, we are teaching people not to trust our words. And we have to know this, because people who understand the meanings of words are listening.

The issues are complex and the language is rich and supple, however loaded it might be with the tools of oppression and damage. In America, English is an oppressor language, wielded by the dominant culture against immigrants and natives alike; never mistake it for a weapon that won't be used against you. It is, every day, all the time, but it's also your weapon if you take it up and learn how to use it. People who think spelling and grammar are not important might as well be asking con artists to steal their savings accounts.

Back to the glib linguist: she remarked that it was surprising feminists resisted changes in language and all the hair on my arms stood up. I was at work, so I went and did something else, possibly involving knives. To me, that statement said everything I needed to know or will ever need to know about that person. Further, I know that if I need to con someone out of her nest egg, I know precisely who'll never see me coming.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Use Talking At All

If you have recently arrived at Poor Impulse Control, welcome. The first thing to know is my relationship with Blogger is tenuous at best and hostile on a normal day; the second thing is that I have all the patience of a charging rhino. Last night, Blogger whacked me a few times and I lost interest in fighting. Coincidentally, Pete arrived at home and I developed a great interest in asking how his day went. Yesterday's post is draft writing, a sketch. I'm going to leave it up as a warning to the other posts: See what happens when Blogger fucks with me? Underdeveloped comedy! Now bring me something stationary and herbaceous.

Speaking of cleaning, I am. My bathroom is now relatively, temporarily pawprint-free and I've lectured the cats on their filthy habits. Sheets and towels tumble n the dryer. The vacuum beckons, but between tasks, I notice that people on television are speaking someone's language, but it might not be mine. Here's an example:

What the hell's that about? What did that finger action mean? Am I stupefied by bleach fumes?

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Saturday, April 19, 2008

I Was Not Ready For the Wnter

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Poor Impulse Control as a blog Paulie Gonzalez set up in self-defense. Well, sort of.

Paulie: It's called blogging and you should do it.
Tata: I don't know. It's a new medium. I can't write anymore.
Paulie: You're going to write again because when you don't you go crazy.
Tata: It's that bad, huh?
Paulie: I priced a woodchipper.

Domestic violence is no joke but the mental picture of smiling Paulie returning rented equipment dripping with blood and a hearty, "I had to compost a wildebeest" is hilarious. I gave in and agreed to blog, but I had no idea what I was doing.
Ever get so sick of yourself you think 'If I don't start doing something new and different there's going to be an Unfortunate Incident at the Kentucky Fried Chicken, with film at 11'? Yeah, me too. If we pass one another on the way to making this terrible mess, let's double-park on Easton Avenue, exit our vehicles and incite onlookers to riot. But with music, so technically it's dancing.

Fortunately, the Kentucky Fried Chicken burned down and took two businesses with it, then I moved back across the river to the town that hugs Route 27 like a swollen prostate. Decorative pear trees line the main drag and today I'm soaking up sunshine at the family business as the pear trees snow white petals on traffic. It looks like a sunny blizzard out there. That guy driving the Lexis convertible looked a little perturbed.

I still don't know what I'm doing but check out the archives. I sure have done a lot of whatever it is.


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

A Good Babysitter Is Hard To Find

This is Frederick by Leo Lionni, the first book I picked for myself. I was in kindergarten, I believe, which would be either 1968 or 1969. Frederick has a specific lesson for children about how art is as important in life as bread, but there's a secondary consideration I took away: if we pool our talents our lives are immeasurably better. Curiously, this book is the story of my life, however one interprets those things. I expect Mickey Rooney to show up any time with a barn and a plan for a show, though my mom is not making costumes.

My sisters own a toy store with a fantastic selection of imaginative children's books. I try not to open them because I can't close them and put them back. My tantrums are setting a bad example for the kids. Anyway, I mention this because yesterday was Mr. Rogers' 40th anniversary. I appreciate the peaceful gentleman more as time passes, as I play with finger puppets in department meetings, as I eye hollow trees for Lady Elaine Fairchild infestations. Maybe Pete can build me trolley tracks!


Monday, February 18, 2008

And Dedicate Them All To Me

Re: Your Terrible Commercials

To Whom It Concerns:

We've had a long relationship, what with it being impossible anymore to watch TV via a signal that travels though the air. In that time, you've promised me the NASA Channel and BBC America, both of which you failed to deliver. Remember that? Ah, good times! Lately, every few minutes my picture goes all pixilated, which is mildly annoying, and every time I try to get the channel guide the screen goes to the iO logo because somehow the signal gets cut off for at least a few minutes every day, which is also annoying. But that's not why I'm writing. Nope: about half your commercials sound like they were written by drunken, 22-year-old county college communications majors, and not the smart ones.

See, the thing is these commercials were written by people who don't understand the phrases they're using. I know, I know. People misuse English all the time, but it takes special talent to get that blatant, craptastic phrasing through a room full of proofreaders and - curiously - grownups. This talent is usually reserved for really cute girls or that frat boy who by virtue of his size intimidates anyone who's ever cracked a dictionary. Fortunately for you, I don't scare easy.

Example Number 1: Last year's jarring mistake was the tagline "Who says the world isn't flat?" That one's easy. Sailors, pilots, astronauts, astronomers, meteorologists, geologists, and every mapmaker in the world know the world isn't flat. Little children know the world is not flat. It is an obloid spheroid. Your copywriter was making ham-fisted reference to Thomas L. Friedman's recent book, which in itself was a ham-fisted attempt to be clever.

When your narrator intones "Who says the world isn't flat?" smart people say, "Huh, maybe I'll go read Profiles In Courage."

Example Number 2: More recently, two commercials use the words "Here's something else too good to be true," and recommend your service. The problem is these words mean the exact opposite of what your commercial suggests. Here's the breakdown.

If something is too good to be true, that means it's a lie, it's a falsehood, it's a swindle.
If something is almost too good to be true, it's a dream, it's Heavenly, it's a great offer.

In other words, your commercial, as it's written, suggests your service is worthless.

Let's not even discuss the iO international commercial set on a beach with a throbbing beat and amateurish choreography. In its way, that ad must be effective because I recite the phone number in my sleep, but it is grating beyond endurance. I keep hoping that guy in the lobster suit goes all full-metal Godzilla on the beachgoers, but the commercial ends the same way every time. Alas!

There's no need for iO to transgress against the English language. Any experienced copyrighter should be able to untie the half-assed linguistic rigging, provided you let him or her push overboard the person or committee who committed these word crimes. If all this was the work of your brother-in-law, I'm sorry. It's time for him to pursue other career opportunities.



Monday, November 12, 2007

You Staring Back At Me

It's 10 A.M. and I haven't seen my gmail because I got tangled in this how-to tar pit.
How To Be Honest

Hang onto your garters, Martha. This one's got potential.
It's been said that honesty is the best policy. It sounds like the simplest thing in the world, but being truly honest, with others and with yourself, can be a real challenge. Political correctness, being sensitive of other people's feelings, and facing uncomfortable truths about yourself can take lots of thought and work. Steps:

1. Understand the workings of dishonesty. Most of us learned to be dishonest as children, when we realized that saying certain things (and not saying certain things) would garner approval and praise, or the opposite. Along the way, we can lose track of where to draw the line and how dishonesty can negatively affect our lives (see Warnings below). Dishonesty often becomes a tool used to:[1]

* pretend nothing is wrong
* shift the blame to others
* avoid embarrassment
* distract ourselves
* minimize conflict
* avoid responsibility or work

...And your reward is a fulfilling career in a shitty sevice industry - I mean, politics. Somewhere down the to-do list, it all comes undone.
5. Exercise tact. We all know that being literally honest can hurt feelings and turn friendships sour. It can also be misinterpreted as criticism or a lack of support. It's very tempting to tell a "white lie" when dealing with sensitive loved ones (especially children), but you can still be honest by being creative in how you express the truth.

* Emphasize the positive. Shift the focus away from what, in all honesty, you think is negative. Instead of saying "No, I don't think you look good in those pants" say "They're not as flattering as the black dress--that dress really looks amazing on you. Have you tried it on with those stockings you wore to my cousin's wedding last year?"
* Be vague. When asked a direct question (especially by children) and you know that your honest answer will make the situation worse, be as general as possible, and try to change the subject as soon as you can. If asked whether Santa Claus is real, for example, say "I've never met him myself, but just because we don't see something with our own eyes doesn't mean it can't be real. You don't see air, but you breathe it all the time, right?" Or, turn the question around: "Why do you ask?"
* You have the right to remain silent. If you're pushed into a corner and don't know how to respond, say "Can we talk about this another time?" or "I really don't feel comfortable talking about this. You should really address this with..." Don't say "I don't know" if you really do know--it can come back to bite you in the rear later on. The person might catch on and realize that you know something, and they might get pushy. Repeat yourself and leave the conversation as quickly as possible.
* When all else fails, be honest--but gently. Wrap the potentially hurtful truth in appreciation, praise, and, if applicable, affection.

So the high road to honesty is paved with sticky little white lies. Fortunately, in vino one can count on veritas, and thanks to new packaging methods, you too can be soaking in it.

Or macerating, as the case may be. My brother Todd, bartender to the stars, sent along this gem of an AOL recommendation without commenting on its retcherous coding, possibly because he was flabbergasted by the suggestion that a bottle of wine might outlast one commercial break in a house full of blood-related House fans. But I digress.

The Three Thieves site makes visitors promise they're over 21, so if you're not, this is an excellent place to practice for your career in honest lying. I mean, what? If you're under 21 you can't even read about wine? Now there's a steamer.

Being socially responsible, the Three Thieves have a section of their website devoted to pointing out that you should enjoy their products responsibly. This page is called Jug Support, and reminded me that one of my uncles got arrested years ago for walking while intoxicated. If only he'd had a dog, he could've said he was just following that short, furry guy, honest!


Saturday, July 14, 2007

You Get the Pesos, That Seems Fair

A few weeks ago, the woman who gardens for my complex left plants in pots next to the front step. I stared. To my right, a jade plant, which is nothing special, I suppose; to my left: basil, rosemary, oregano, parsley. I couldn't believe it. She garnished my building.

Terminology is everything.

A million years ago, when Bert Convey roamed the earth, an unnamed university had a conference in New Brunswick, and I emceed the performance night. What? Your serious academic conference doesn't have a show? Your subject specialty needs more fabulous degree seekers, who know people like me. On my way to this show, I stopped at my local, where one of the bartenders followed me into the kitchen and, while I bent over the cruddy meat slicer, zipped me into the loudest, tightest red sequined dress you have ever seen in your life. My hairstyle was architecturally unsound. My lipstick set off fire alarms all the way down George Street. I was freaking ready.

Maybe an hour or two later, the show was rocking. My patter was light and insinuating. I'd sung a few bars between performers. It was going well. The room was practically moist with audience approval. The night was a tremendous hit and ended on a fine note. The conference was a success. I didn't give it a second thought until a week later. A friend who'd organized the evening called to say people were very upset with me.

Tata: Which people? What for?
Friend: Ron was offended by remarks you made.
Tata: Listen, over the course of two hours, I said a lot of things. Can you be more specific?
Friend: He said you were very offensive to lesbians with hair issues.
Tata: (Long pause.) Ron is an idiot. If he'd actually listened to what I said he'd be writing me a damn fan letter. You were there. Did I say anything less than adoring?
Friend: You didn't. I don't know what he's talking about.
Tata: I do. Tell him I'm emceeing a show in two weeks. If he wants a public apology, he knows where to find me.

Two weeks later, I looked into the audience and found Ron standing against a back wall with his arms folded. This time, I was dressed in a wicked backless black number and combat boots, which was a hot combo. Between acts, when I knew Ron couldn't miss my meaning, I repeated what I'd said the first time. I'll paraphrase.

Tata: You're a great-looking audience. Did you know that?
Audience: I did! Thanks!
Tata: I Naired my mustache just for you.
Audience: Wha...?
Tata: I'm a fantasy babe, right?
Audience: Help me, mama...
Tata: To turn you on, I shaved my legs and my underarms, slathered on makeup with a trowel, spent weeks in a tanning salon, lifted weights for two hours a day since the second Kennedy assassination and dyed my hair this shade of red found only in tropical fish. I am so, so, hot, aren't I?
Audience: Against my will, I find you attractive.
Tata: I'm Sicilian, you know, which is exotic and threatening. In forty years, you'll see me walking every day along Route 18 in widow's weeds, with a thick mustache and a set of rosary beads.
Audience: I will?
Tata: You will. You'll wonder what happened to me. I used to be gorgeous. How did I let myself go?
Audience: You won't! You couldn't!
Tata: I might. I'm not even Catholic...

When I walked away from the mic, Ron uncrossed his arms, and apologized to me for reacting without listening.

I'm guessing that's what happened here. Need I explain the joke?


Friday, July 13, 2007

The Body Becomes A Constant Traitor

Johnny, our Southwest Correspondent, reports:

The college girl reading the news on the NPR station this morning said the Catholic Church is going to take some clergy who were killed during the Spanish Civil War and beautify them. Good thing. You wouldn't want ugly old dead Spanish people.

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