Confessions of a
White Tornado

Dear Exuberant and Mostly Adored Neighbor,

I realize that occasionally one encounters an astonishing sight while walking down an otherwise unremarkable street, and that at such times, one must, indeed, cry out. So then, when you saw me out front on a recent Saturday morning, I understood that you had no choice but to aim your pointiest finger and discharge your loudest laugh — heard, perhaps, on Thalassa, a moon of Neptune — and exclaim, “You look just like the White Tornado Lady! All dressed up while you sweep the driveway!”

Neighbor, I’m sure you intended to compliment me, implying that White Tornado Lady and I share the distinction of remaining vibrant, shrewd, and possibly even somewhat stylish while performing the most quotidian drudgery — right? Was it the confident athleticism of my grip on the broom handle? The fastidious intellect suggested by my prim three-quarter-sleeve cardigan and knee-length pencil skirt? The audacious femininity of my daytime lipstick? Good. I knew it had to be something like that.

Because otherwise, I’m left with my own memory of the all-knowing housewife on television commercials for floor detergent in the Seventies, when my tweeny friends and I, tear-streaked and giggle-bent, chanted her mantra, “Just smell the ammonia! Just smell the ammonia!” to immunize ourselves against ever resembling, in any way, the clever, winking, cheerfully animatronic domestic-detergent expert: she of the wry chuckle and wire-whisked hair; she of the petty, suffocating world we planned to escape; she who had not, like my troupe of sophisticated sixth-graders, truly lived.

She of whom we were secretly terrified.

We could not yet articulate what it meant to us that our mothers had bypassed careers in music or microbiology for the glory of immaculate floors. And yet, White Tornado Lady was a reminder of what we — without a diligent sneer toward all things kitchen mop — could become. Accordingly, we vowed never to emulate our mothers or even help around the house unbidden. We had never heard of The Problem With No Name, but we were well aware that dusting was a gateway chore that could prompt a permanent compulsion to remove corner grime. Meanwhile, we devoured our mothers’ homemade lasagna, walked barefoot on carpets free of cat vomit, and slept late between sheets that were somehow always crisp and fragrant.

Neighbor, I doubt you intended to hold my nose to the ammonia bottle and make my eyes sting. I doubt you intended to remind me of my seemingly heartless younger self and the mother who would die before the rough years could be transcended and a simple lunch for two might be survived. Nor were you attempting to return the pale, peripheral presence of White Tornado Lady to the glaring center of my falling-asleep thoughts, thereby inspiring a fresh terror that despite several decades of cultivating my woman-roar with a stimulating, satisfying, rewarding career, I’ve perhaps resembled her all along. Would my “self-employed” status now be revoked? When were my friends going to tell me? Would my husband, like that of White Tornado Lady, soon be cooing “Smart Girl!” to praise my excellence in stain management?

Mostly Adored Neighbor, you meant no harm. Perhaps, the sight of a woman scarved and skirted while sweeping up yard barf simply tickled your nostalgic mageezzawah. In that case, I hope my mother and The Tornado are laughing it up as well, over angel-food cake and freeze-dried coffee at that Great Kitchen Table in the Sky. I’d also like to think that they were happy for me when I stashed the broom and welcomed my clients to my home-office a few minutes later.

My Ugly Granddaughter

“I know she thinks about my good advice because every time I say it, she goes to the bathroom and locks the door for some time.”


“I’m a 24-year-old straight male and I’m unattractive, and I’m pregnant”


“My dear gynaecologist, / I’ve had better starts to the year. Ones that didn’t involve waking up every day convinced I was about to die.”