Wednesday, December 28, 2005


So, I’m back. Christmas went well, in an “Eat until the thought of food causes you physical pain and then have two more spiced pecans” sort of way. Presents are slowly wending their way into bedrooms, bathrooms and car stereo systems. Pictures taken from earlier this month remind me that the tree was once a vibrant symbol of the season, and not merely an eight foot-tall starter log. Daughter is lobbying to eat three meals a day in front of the television.

In short, we’re pretty much done with the magic here.

But, wait! One more holiday! New Year’s Eve, where adults participate in the ritual of saying the same thing every December 31st for decades at a time!

“I’m finally going to take off those twenty pounds. The All-Bacon Diet sounds promising.”

“Yoga, three times a week. No, six times a week. Wait, I’ll train to become a yoga teacher…”

“I’m going to call Iowa every Sunday. If Uncle Hal and Aunt Doris only want to talk about what time it is here and how clear the connection is, I will not feign a coughing attack to get off the phone.”

My resolution this year is slightly different than usual. Since I started off the school year battling a dead language and planning to battle a fairly tall mountain, I had used up my “Get Thin and Get Smart” goals, without actually achieving either. Yet.

So, here’s my New Year’s resolution: I am going to try to not be insane.

Okay, that’s too broad a topic to expect to fix in the three days, on average, that I actually devote to my First Quarter goals. So let me pick three places in which I hope to find some clarity:

1. I mustn’t use the paper-shredder as my own personal wood-chipper. Consort will tell you I have no conception how much one small and not terribly expensive paper-shredder can reasonably ingest at a time. He will be in the other room and hear an almost animal cry of anguish. Rushing in to the office, he will discover the sound is coming from the paper-shredder as I jam something thick into it.

CONSORT: What are you DOING?

QUINN: Well, duh. I’m shredding.

CONSORT: Did it occur to you that it might not be up to shredding a… what is that, a pair of scissors?

QUINN: You are so dramatic. It’s just six years of cancelled checks.

CONSORT: Uh...All at once?

QUINN: Saves time this way.

(Machine, with a great shuddering gasp, finally shreds the last bit of May, 1986)

QUINN: See, it’s fine.

CONSORT: No it’s not. It’s sobbing.

QUINN: It’s fine. See, it’s blinking at me. It wants more.

CONSORT: It just called Amnesty International.

So, this resolution might be: “I will respect the limitations of everything and everyone in my life, especially anything that has already been replaced twice because of my high expectations of it”.

2.I am what is known as a Day Person. In fact, an old friend’s nickname for me was “Parakeet” -- he swore if you threw a black cloth over my head, I’d think it was nighttime and immediately fall asleep. In my adult life, the only times I have been awake after one in the morning was when I had the stomach flu and my first night in labor. [By my second night of labor, I was asleep by eleven]. I know my waking clock is no more under my control than my eye color and yet I firmly believe that Consort is just trying to irk me by being a dyed-in-the-feathers night owl.

Never mind that he comes from a family who could (and, in fact, have) run nightclubs, after-hours clubs, and after-after-hours clubs.

Never mind that friends who have known him since high school speak of Consort’s notorious ability to work all night and sleep all day.

Never mind that I have never heard him say a single intelligible sentence before 10:30 am.

The diseased portion of my brain firmly believes he takes some sick pleasure in watching Law and Order and then, as I am finding the strength to shuffle toward the bedroom, says brightly “I’m going to do a little work, unless you want to watch a movie.”

I attempt a sneer of disbelief, but it only triggers a jaw-cracking yawn.

QUINN: Come to bed, it’s…DARK.

CONSORT: Be right in. Just let me talk to everyone in Tokyo, redefine the nature of global business strategy and locate that recording of Joe Cocker singing Aida.

And as the sun rises, and my brain starts to sing a plaintive cry for tea, I feel Consort come slipping into bed, sighing as he lies down, a good day’s work done. I roll over.

QUINN: You just stay awake to annoy me.

CONSORT: (taking a pen from the nightstand) Sshhh. Go back to sleep. I’m just gonna finish the crossword puzzle.

We shall call this resolution “We don’t have to be exactly alike in order to love each other dearly.” Besides, if I were to change Consort into a day person, I could no longer make him agree to things before he was coherent. This would mean, for example, that I would have to worm the dog.

3.I cannot wear decorative scarves and I resolve to stop trying. Other women drape them over their shoulders and the scarves provide a lovely frame for their face. I appear to be being attacked by a paisley boa constrictor. Good scarf women put it on and never think about it again. My arms are a blur of motion trying to keep my scarf from creating a loose spinnaker behind my head. My scarf always seems to be trying to slither away down my back towards a woman who can actually handle accessories, or crawling into my armpit to hide in shame from being mine. I think being worn by me is some sort of scarf karmic payback for previous scarfic misdeeds.

We shall call this resolution “What were you thinking, you’re not French, you don’t live in a cold climate and you don’t have much of a neck, so I don’t know why we had to clarify this for you anyway”.

There will be three magical days of single-paper shredding, live-and-let-live attitudes towards Consort’s sleeping habits and scarf-avoidance. The backsliding will begin on Morning #4.

Then, it’s only 362 days until I can work on resolving my inability to not wait until my toenail polish is completely dry before I jam on my shoes.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005

Merry, Merry, Quite Contrary

I thought I had one more blog in me before the holiday officially landed. However, unless I can write one using a flashlight pen while seated in a theater during Act Two of "The Nutcracker", I am going to have to let that delusion go.

To my readers (and that phrase still makes me giggle and expect someone to scream "You pretentious clod!"), I wish a happy December 25th.

May you be surrounded by people you love, who are also people you like.

May you have at least a moment of experiencing the transcendent mystery of it all.

May you get on a scale on December 26th and find that you have lost two pounds.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Steal This Movie.

If the last week has had a flavor, it has been Robitussin. If it has had a sound, it has been the sound of a small cardboard box of potential peril hitting my front door. Neither one plans on stopping any time soon.

Permit me to explain. Two weeks ago, Daughter got a cold which kept her home from school Monday and Tuesday. For some unknown reason [which might have had something to do with Daughter sneezing into my eye when I was giving her a glass of water], I had the cold Wednesday through Friday. Daughter was re-infected by my slightly mutated cold virus, and had it over the weekend. Because it was lonely not having a Kleenex next to my nose I took the cold back on Monday and kept it through Wednesday. Daughter claimed it again for a single day on Thursday, and I am currently in Day four of this siege, with no end in sight.

Here’s a nice visual that will tell you how low I’ve sunk. While driving away from school last week, I needed a Kleenex and grabbed one from my pocket. It felt a little rough and possibly used, but I wasn’t going to cavil. It was only after blowing my nose that I looked and determined that I had blown my nose into a tea bag.

The only question now is whether I have moved into a sinus infection. I get them so often you would think I’d be capable of diagnosing one from five miles away, and I usually am. But whatever this particular disease is, it’s coy.

At midnight, I feel as if someone has stuffed a wriggling hedgehog into each nostril and I think, “Definitely sinus infection. I’ll call the doctor in the morning.”

Morning comes, and the breathing is easy and I think, “I’m going to go to the Doctor’s office and he’s going to tell me that I have a cold. Then he’s going to look at me with pity in his eyes and assume I made a big deal out of this because I am some poor shut-in without friends.”

I decide not to call the doctor, and my sinuses cunningly wait until after business hours to start the hedgehog thing again.

None of this will come as a surprise to my mother, who can vividly recall how my cold would unfailingly ramp up into bronchitis at 5:45 on a Friday afternoon before a long weekend.

So, I’ve been sniffling and hacking and watching movies, which leads me to the other constant in my life right now. I am a member of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, the body of people who vote for the Academy Awards. Being as I am a Girl Scout about the darndest things, I take this honor and responsibility seriously. That is, before I write down my five nominees in the acting categories, I want to see every single performance that could be a contender, no matter how unlikely. *

About ten years ago the studios, wanting our votes, started sending out tapes of the movies in contention to watch in the comfort of our living rooms. I loved this, because not only was it easier to arrange to see every single film, no matter how unlikely (Have you seen more than one Jean-Claude Van Damme movie? I have.), but I could lend the films to certain friends. If I knew someone with a newborn, or someone who couldn’t comfortably sit in a theater for two hours, or someone whose financial situation prevented them from spending fifty dollars for two adults in a theater and one babysitter at home, I could lend them a tape. It wasn’t as if I was taking money out of the studio coffers, as these people weren’t getting to movie theaters in the first case.

At the end of the voting season, I would take the seventy-five or so tapes I had been tripping over for three months and happily give the lot of them to a shelter for battered women or to a hospice; it kind of pleased me to think about movies transporting people who desperately deserved it. It also really pleased me to remove the tapes from the house as, stacked up, they were taller than I am and were more apt to fall down and trip people than I am.

Within the last five years, most of the Academy members starting requesting DVD format, which is far easier to copy than a tape, and the studios started getting really nervous. I’d get a DVD, and wrapped around the jewel box would be a note on studio letterhead saying, in effect, “QUINN CUMMINGS, WE HAVE ETCHED YOUR NAME ON THIS DVD, WHICH WILL EMBED ITSELF IN ANY COPY MADE. IF IT EVER SHOWS UP ANYWHERE, EVER, WE’LL THROW STARVING LAWYERS AT YOUR ABDOMEN.”

I would pop in the film, and up would come something along the lines of “QUINN, THE FBI KNOWS WHERE YOU LIVE. FOR THE SAKE OF SECURITY, WATCH THIS MOVIE AND THEN EAT IT.”

I lent the films to only a few people, mostly relations, and people I knew not only weren’t movie-stealers, and didn’t know people who were movie-stealers, they didn’t know people who knew people who were movie-stealers. Okay, we’re not exciting. But I’ve never seen an FBI badge in person, either, and that’s okay by me.

And then, last year, one member of the Academy got into some big trouble. Somehow, several of his movies ended up with a friend of his several thousand miles away, being copied. Maybe it was an honest mistake; maybe he meant to send his friend some Mel Torme records, and accidentally sent the box with the DVDs, it doesn’t matter to me. What does matter is that this Academy member was fined in the mid six-figures for this little mistake, and I was forced to suddenly reexamine my relationship with the DVDs. Maybe no one I know copies DVDs, but whose to say my friend with my DVD doesn’t have a handyman, a great-nephew or a neighbor with a house key who has criminal habits?

So now I treat these DVD’s like unexploded ordinance. They show up on average of two a day, I sign for them and secrete them in a secure undisclosed location and cover them in a camouflage blanket. They don’t leave my house, and I watch them with the blinds drawn and sometimes wearing a disguise. After I finish watching the movie, I place it in a new safe place with all the DVDs from last year that I was too paranoid to give away. I will say, conservatively, that there are 200 of them in there, and we get another 100 or so a year.

According to actuarial tables, I have another 42 years of life. That means, upon my death, Daughter will inherit 4300 DVDs.

Note to self; put coded message in will, telling Daughter about spring-loaded poison darts protecting secure DVD location.

* As a member of the acting category, I only nominate Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Movie. When it comes time to vote on the best of the nominees, I vote on all the categories, including things like editing and special effects, two subjects about which I know virtually nothing. You nominate in your area of expertise (theoretically); you vote for a winner based on whether you had been in a good mood when you saw the movie. The next time you hear someone saying, “It’s an honor just to be nominated”, please remember that it’s probably more of an honor to be nominated, especially in the technical categories.

Friday, December 16, 2005

Man can live by (pumpkin) bread alone.

If anyone hasn't completely depleted their baking urge, I humbly offer the following recipe for pumpkin bread. It's darn tasty and very easy to make, but that isn't its most winning quality.

This recipe has forgiven me every time I have fooled with it.

I removed the corn syrup and replaced it with applesauce, and it got better.

I had half a cup of mixed dried fruit in a bag, and was desperate to get rid of it, so I doubled the amount of dried fruit in the original recipe, and it got better.

I have used every form of dried fruit known to the civilized world, and it took it all and gave me back tasty pumpkin bread.

I have baked it in all shapes and forms with no ill-effects.

I imagine that if you have someone who cannot eat nuts, you could eliminate those with no flavor-based consequences.

You forget to put it in the fridge? Ha! It's better if it sits, tightly sealed, at room temperature!

I have waited my entire life for something to be so understanding about my cooking limitations.


2/3 cup oil
2 eggs
1 cup sugar
1 cup solid-pack pumpkin
1/3 cup unsweetened applesauce
1 T. Vanilla extract
1 1/2 cups flour, plus extra for preparing pan
1 t. baking soda
2 1/2 t. cinnamon
1/2 allspice
1 t. salt
1 c. chopped walnuts
1/2 cup dried currants (or cranberries, raisins, or combination)
1/2 cup dried fruit of choice (a bit of dried ginger works well)

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Blend oil, eggs and sugar with electric mixer until thick, about one minute. Add pumpkin, applesauce, and vanilla and mix well.

Combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon, allspice, salt, walnuts and fruit in medium bowl. Add to pumpkin mixture and mix well.

Pour into buttered and floured 9 x 5 inch loaf pan (Note: I've done it in muffin tins, mini-muffin tins, and Pyrex tart plates. As long as you keep an eye on it for doneness, it works) until dark brown and toothpick inserted in center comes out clean, about an hour and ten minutes.

Cool in pan five minutes. Turn onto wire rack to cool completely.

NOTE; Seal it up and let it sit at room temperature for at least a day for optimal flavor.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

So Be Good, For Goodness Sake

Here’s what getting the Christmas cards out looks like in our family. All voices are mine.

“I’m set. I finally found the cards I bought the day after Christmas last year, I got the pictures printed, and I have the holiday-themed stamps. For once, I am captain of my destiny.”

(A day later)

“Need more stamps.”

(A day later)

“Immediate family should get the cards with the picture inserted in the front. I need more of those.”

(A day later)

“Why didn’t I order enough pictures?”

(A day later)

“And we’re…done.”

(Ten minutes later)

“What is this three-page list, in my handwriting, of addresses in the ornament box? Why does it say “People who sent us cards in 2004 who must get cards in 2005?”

(An hour later)

“Well, what is the rush fee for getting the extra picture prints by tomorrow…are you kidding me?”

(A day later)

“You can’t be out of holiday stamps! No, I can’t use the hearts, those are wedding stamps and everyone will think I didn’t plan!”

Next year, I am putting a large sketch of Daughter outside the front door with the words “Happy Holidays” emblazoned underneath. If you drive by and happen to see it, consider it your card.

But the project easily taking the title of Most Time-Consuming this year is our project which began with the best intentions. To begin this, I must travel back in time.

When Daughter was small, I waffled long and hard on the whole Santa thing. It’s terribly sweet to watch them put out cookies and write laborious letters, but the more you play it up, the more you have a slightly-older child thinking “No, really, how could he possibly get to every house in one night?” and “I never did get a good answer about how he got into houses without fireplaces.”. At some point, the child figures out that she was lied to, and even in a sweet and well-meaning way, I just couldn’t get comfortable with that. Enough people in this world are going to lie to her; I want her to know her parents are the place where she gets the truth. On the other hand, denying Santa from the get-go seemed churlish.

When Daughter was a little over a year old, I had a flash of inspiration. She had noticed Santa in a book for the first time, and asked after this bearded man in the strange track suit.

I began, “That is Santa Claus. It is said that he lives at the North Pole…”

Did you catch that? With a simple addition of three words, I could live with myself. Daughter had the entire story, and could choose to believe it or not. I was neither espousing nor denying the story. I was merely passing along some interesting information I had heard.

This held us for several years. Daughter would see Santa somewhere and I would say something neutral like, “Yes, that certainly looks like the one we’ve seen in books”, even when the Santa in question more closely resembled Keith Richards.

A toy or two arrived from Santa on Christmas morning but Daughter, in the heated glaze of object accrual, seemed less interested in the big guy than in figuring out how to put Barbie’s new outfit on to her stuffed unicorn.

I do regret my Santa-lite strategy during the first three weeks in every December, when my friends with kids have the incredibly powerful threat: “if you don’t behave, I’m calling Santa!” Luckily, I still have my Scary Mother Look.

So this year I thought Daughter was old enough to start helping kids less fortunate than herself. To me, being charitable works something like writing thank-you notes; it only becomes reflexive if you start it really early. Also, if I presented it in terms of “being Santa for other people”, I could start moving her out of the idea of Santa as a magical philanthropist who does her bidding as long as she behaves herself, and into the idea that Santa represents the kindness anyone can express to others, no matter what age or religion.

Not long after Thanksgiving, we were at our local bookstore. They had a tree set up with ornament-shaped pieces of paper, each with the name and age of a local child who wouldn’t be expecting much at Christmas, and would love a book. Daughter chose a girl her age, and another younger than herself and we went to the shelves to choose a book for each. Daughter happily chose a glittery princess book for the girl her age and a cat book for the younger girl. She held them tightly to her chest all the way to the register, where she grudgingly gave them up and I paid. I handed over the tags; the man attached them to the correct books, and put them behind him, in the area reserved for these books. Daughter looked crestfallen; she had forgotten why we were doing this. We had a quick conversation about not everyone having a mountain of princess and cat books in their room followed by a brief and spirited conversation about how we didn’t need to buy Daughter duplicates of what we had just gotten.

No one ever said the first attempts at charity were any more attractive than the first attempts at thank-you notes.

A week later, our church was sponsoring a gift fair. One of the options was to buy a Christmas present for a child in the foster care system. On impulse, I grabbed the cards of two little girls. They both requested art supplies, which I thought were wonderful and easy things to get, and didn’t involve the Bratz dolls in any way.

On the way home from church, Daughter and I stopped at Michael’s craft store. Why did it not occur to me that a Sunday afternoon, the first week of December, would be a hugely stupid time to go to Michael’s? We were hemmed in on all sides by women pushing carts precariously filled with gilded pinecones and fake poinsettias, fifteen scrapbook kits swaying dangerously on top. At one point, I nearly lost Daughter to an avalanche of Glitter Glue bottles. I wanted to leave, but we had very little time to get the presents back to the church for the kids. We got into a checkout line behind a woman who was buying enough unpainted birdhouses to build the avian Levittown. Daughter stared longingly at the candy, placed directly in a small child’s eye-line.

“I like Red Vines.”

“I know.”

“Those are Red Vines. Right there, next to the peppermints.”

“I see them.”

“So, may I have them?”

“No, sweetie.”

(Two minutes pass. I shoot mental rays at the woman, three people ahead of us, who appears to be trying to pay with Latvian food stamps.)

“How about half the Red Vines now, and half after dinner?”

“I’m not negotiating.”

(Time passes. Daughter strokes the Red Vines until I catch her at it, and shake my head fiercely. I’m not getting suckered into buying them just because she mauls them into the “Damaged” bin)

“Mommy, I have an idea. You can put the needlepoint kit back, and I’ll take the Red Vines instead.”

She forgot again the presents weren’t for her. A frank exchange of views followed.

We got the presents home, and I wrapped them and sent them off. Daughter had experienced her first charitable acts, and while it wasn’t flawless, I thought it boded well for next year.

Two days ago, an envelope came addressed to me. The sender was someone called Santa Knows Where You Are Sleeping, which struck me as somewhat threatening until I opened the package, and found a cover letter, and it all came hurtling back to me. Not long after Katrina, a charity was set up for people to become Secret Santas for children living in the afflicted region, children whose parents were spending every available dollar on survival. Back in September, I had signed up for this, thinking this would be a good way to introduce Daughter to the gift of giving. Being me, I had then totally forgotten doing it.

I now had an elementary school boy’s letter, telling Santa in spidery printing that he really liked Legos.

Daughter had given until it hurt, and I didn’t want her to think of charity as an unpleasant act. I would be in this one alone.

Santa got her car keys.

Santa went to Toys R Us in December.

I try to avoid Toys R Us as much as humanly possible. Each store combines the depressing qualities of a huge, soul-devouring warehouse outlet with the grimy, beaten-up ambiance of a poorly-run daycare center. I end up standing in the middle of the aisle holding up a toy in a dented box saying plaintively to some guy in a red vest, “Is it possible you have one in the back without pudding fingerprints?” I especially avoid it in December, because be it Hanukkah, Christmas or Kwanzaa, we’re all under the same hideous ticking clock, and not one of us is a better person for it.

But, my giftee wanted Bionicles, and I wanted the nearest store. I bought the winsome Toa Vakama Hordika, the fetching Toa Whenua Hordika and the captivating Toa Matau Hordika (all of the Shaker Heights Hordikas, I presume). I wrapped them in patented Quinn fashion, which is when you put a bow wherever the tape looks the lumpiest, stuck them in a box and mailed them off.

I’d really like to think this is the end of it. But if I could forget signing up for Santa Knows back in September, I might have forgotten signing up for several charities as well. It is possible that, even now, children are unknowingly stuck with the Amnesia Secret Santa. The reminder cards will arrive on December 23rd.

If you see me in a Rite-Aid on Christmas Eve, holding up a box of suppositories and ranting to no one in particular, “Kids like these, right?...Five to seven?” simply get me hydrated and wish me luck.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Movies for Children which Don't Make the Parent Want to Drink. Part One.

Daughter only sees television on the weekends, and then only for a couple of hours, so she gets pretty choosy. So when I say that a DVD has been watched for three weeks in a row, you know we're on to something. When I realized that I was still stopping in to watch a few minutes, I knew I had to tell the parents who read this.

The movie is "The Cat Returns", and it's an anime film, dubbed into English. How to describe it...

Girl saves cat from certain death. Cat turns out to be the Prince of Cats. The King of Cats, in gratitude, insists the girl marry his son, the cat. The girl goes off the find someone to help her get out of the marriage. Eventually, they all end up in the Kingdom of Cats.

I am being deliberately vague, because I want you to have the pleasure I had, and Daughter had, in seeing it for the first time (It had been recommended to me, but equally vaguely). Being anime, it's lovely to look at, but it's also very funny (the voice-over actors are terrific), completely clean (not always a given in anime) and not scary. I add this because I have a child who doesn't appreciate the Walt Disney entertainment dictum "Make the child cry in Act One, preferably by killing a parent." There is a bit of implied violence, but Daughter didn't seem to pick up on it.

Anyway, if you have Netflix, here is the link:

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Lord of the Ring.

Imagine the scene: Consort and I are sitting in the kitchen. I am talking about something meaningful to me, such as: “The more I use Quickbooks, the more I hate Quickbooks and henceforth I intend to balance the company’s books using restaurant napkins” or “I wish we had pie in the house right now, but not enough to go out and get one”. During this, Consort nods appreciatively while focusing most of his mental energy on Sudoku. Just then, we hear a faint yet persistent ringing from the phone base; a second later, somewhere in the house, there is an answering ring from the handset itself. I leap from the chair as if I have been attacked by a cattle prod. I have exactly three rings to locate the handset.

In this house, searching for lost objects takes up more of our waking hours than food preparation. Consort and I lose things and spend a great deal of time trying to find them. What makes my relationship with the phone slightly different than the usual “Where in the hell did I put…” is that I have twenty seconds to find the phone before it switches over to the answering machine. I hate picking up the phone after someone has started relating to the machine. No matter how many times I assure them I was diving through the clothes hamper looking for the receiver, I just know they think, “So. I guess I was good enough to make it through screening. Guess I was worthy of conversation this time...”

I know people believe this because I frequently get messages along the lines of “Hi, Quinn…you there? C’mon, pick up. I’ve got great gossip…pick up, pick up. Here’s a hint: a jar of marshmallow fluff in the glove compartment, a Polaroid in a briefcase, and you’ll-never-guess-who calling me for the name of a good divorce lawyer….Oh, fine! Call me when you feel like talking to me…”

So people think I have the social skills of the Unabomber, when in fact I just have this habit of leaving the cordless phone wherever I finish my phone call. And since I walk around the house doing things when I talk, the phone could end up anywhere. I mean anywhere.

I have found the phone in Daughter’s dress-up box, on her bookshelf and under her pillow.

I have found the phone in the shower caddy, behind the cat box and in the medicine cabinet.

I have found the phone inside the fish poacher, the spice rack and a freshly carved pumpkin.

I have found the phone on the lid of the blue recycling bin propping up a bag of grass seed and, in one heart-stopping episode, hiding in a pile of laundry I was about to dump into hot, bleach-infused water.

So even though our house is small, I cannot possibly check all potential phone-hiding spots in three rings. I try to locate the phone by echo-locating its electronic bleat, but the initial ring only tells you which side of the house is involved. With any luck, the second ring tells me what room to start your search. The third ring I hear as I am flying back to the phone’s base, hitting “Speakerphone” and bellowing “What…Hi! It’s me…Hi!” in what I can only hope is a friendly tone, in a meth-addicted troll-under-the-bridge sort of way.

“…?” I can hear the other person breathing in confusion, trying to figure out of this is some post-modern answering machine message.

“Hello? Is anyone there?” I yell helpfully at the phone base, not entirely clear where the microphone is.


“Yes. Hi!”

“Am I…interrupting something?”

“No…NO! I just had to crawl out from under the bed and run across the house. Let me catch my breath. So, how are you?”

“I’m…good. Uh, could you take me off speaker phone?”

“Oh, yeah…sorry, no.”

I have discussed the most personal subjects bellowing into a black plastic box, using a tone better suited for summoning bird dogs from across the field:


It’s really a miracle I have any friends at all.

I have toyed with the idea of sitting in one place while I talk on the phone, but I am not certain my mouth can move if my legs aren’t moving. I have considered taking the phone back to the base each and every time I finish a conversation, but burst into gales of laughter before I even finish the thought; if I’m going to hallucinate why don’t I just take it there on the back of my kindly winged horse? So, I have come to the only logical conclusion.

I will fix it so our phone will ring six times before it trips over to the service. Barring my flushing the receiver or somehow shipping it to Guam, that should do it.

Ask not for whom the phone rings. It rings for me.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

(Un)-Friendly Fire

I promised you I would do something stupid, and I would then write about it; I don’t make promises lightly. There are so few guarantees in my life, but at least once a day I find myself staring at something I created thinking, “That can’t be good”.

I am fairly inept at most of the 21st century skills; I have three phone numbers stored in my new cell phone; one is home and two are wrong numbers I accidentally entered and can’t seem to remove. I am operatically bad at 20th century skills. On more than one occasion I have stubbornly insisted to Consort that the TV isn’t working; only to find out I was using his old cell-phone as a remote control. But consumer electronics is a fairly late entry to the human experience, and my not being able to master such things might just be chalked up to my delicate little brain saving its new learning pathways for the names of Angelina Jolie’s children. In short, I have made peace with being a graceless member of this modern age.

What is really humbling is that I cannot make a fire in the fireplace.

You know fire; it’s the thing we’ve been creating and cultivating for tens of thousands of years. Fire-making is fairly basic Homo Habilus information. I have ancestors whose first response to seeing a paperback book would have been to eat it, but they could create fire. I can use “Chiaroscuro” in a sentence -- hey! I just did! -- but creating and maintaining a fire is completely beyond me. This is about as pathetic a confession as admitting I needed to take Remedial Sneezing.

The sad thing is that I like a fireplace in action. I like the sound. I like what little my allergy-damaged nose allows me to smell of it. I like how fireplace light makes my skin tone almost lifelike. You’d think something I liked this much would like me back, if only a little bit. But fire views me with the same disdain I, when young and single, viewed men who said things like, “You’re busy Saturday? Okay, how about Sunday brunch? No? How about lunch tomorrow? How about dinner? I’m free for dinner…”

Fire scorns me for wanting it so much.

Part of my problem with creating a fire in the fireplace is beyond my control. Let me introduce you to our charming fireplace, surrounded by thin, glazed California tiles painted and carved in the early part of the 20th century for no other reason than to be beautiful. Now, imagine gazing into the fireplace itself. You would note that the fire box is slightly shallower than the decorative tiles framing it. I’ve seen make-up compacts with greater depth. I don’t know what the architect thought this hole in the wall was going to be used for – maybe storing two or three frozen pizzas stacked on end -- but I am beginning to think he would be aghast to imagine a fire in there.

When you are trying to create a hearty blaze in a space the depth of a shoe, you have to be creative. The starter log must be pushed to the absolute back of the fireplace; fire anywhere near the middle of the fireplace will fail to create an updraft and the entire house will fill with a black choking smoke forcing us to camp in the tool shed with the spiders. But logs don’t want to stay crammed up against the back of the fireplace. Like all of us, they long for freedom and autonomy. So, the first half-hour of Fireplace Follies is spent with me sticking my head into the fireplace so as to wedge the starter log back into place. The log fights me, the smoke billows out, and again we all wonder how I still have eyelashes.

Frequently, the starter log -- a product guaranteed to burn merrily in the middle of a North Atlantic gale -- just goes out.

However, if the God of Fire chooses to hear my pleas and I do manage to create a sullen pile of smoldering embers, that’s when the fun starts. I add wood! Or, rather, I add wood, and then press it against the back of the fireplace with the iron thingamajig, and then prod the embers with the other iron thingamajig, and then goose the embers red with the accordion bellows and then wedge the wood against the wall again and then add newspaper underneath and then wash some of the soot off the walls in the kitchen and bathroom before it sticks! An hour later, I am sweating and hostile, Consort has rigged up a breathing apparatus for Daughter and the cat is coughing up little puffs of smoke. The least infernal place in the house is in the fireplace; you might even call it chilly. You could safely store milk products in there.

The rest of the evening is a montage of me battling my mental illness: Quinn, creating ever-taller piles of wood which don’t burn; Quinn, leaping to the fireplace frantically as the wood suddenly, violently catches fire and teeters forward pushing onto the grate, sending flames licking up the walls; Quinn, a second later, staring in confusion at a completely fire-free fireplace; Quinn shouting “I said, I can HANDLE IT!” as Consort suggests that he might take over before our insurance deductible is involved. It’s hard to recall at that point how, hours earlier, I was the one who said “It’s a nice night for a fire.”

Last night, I was in the kitchen, alternately setting up a fan in the window so as to pull some of the airborne ashes outside and getting up on a chair to turn off the smoke detector. Consort had taken Daughter out; we decided she could come back when the house no longer resembled a barbeque smoker with furniture. As I worked, the radio kept me company. A news report informed that, thanks to the heavy rains last winter and the low humidity and high winds right now, there was a greater than average chance of fires this winter.

I’m thinking of offering my help to the National Park Service. Water-dropping helicopters are nice, but if you really want to stop a fire you need me optimistically holding a grubby box of matches and a Duraflame log.

Friday, December 02, 2005

Dress for Sex-cess

Note: Owing to a certain density of life over the last few days, I am been remiss in my writing. So as not to completely leave my patient readers hanging, I am offering up an early blog entry which might have been overlooked. If you have already seen this one, I apologize and promise that I will do something stupid and write about it within 48 hours.

Let me describe three events, and see if you notice the common element:
Friday night, I took Daughter to a dance class, and was getting her ready when I saw a disco ball out of the corner of my eye. Turning, I saw that I had been confused; it wasn’t a disco ball, meant to turn endlessly to the throbbing beat of “It’s Raining Men”, it was a seven year-old girl with a full face of makeup and a bottle of glitter decanted on her hair. I overheard her mother tell another mother she had taken her daughter for a make-over at the mall, to which I can only say thank God -- that whole “Small girl” thing she had been working was so 2004.

Saturday, Daughter and I went to an event for children and while waiting for the lights to go down, I happened to look behind me and see a tiny prostitute. I looked again. Foolish me, it was just a small girl with metallic beads and glitter in her hair, a fake fur chubby and a layer of lip gloss so thick it needed a Zamboni to smooth it out.

Finally, we met friends for dinner and I noticed a girl of no more than eight tottering out of the restaurant. I say “tottering” not because she’d been slamming back Sex on the Beaches, but because she was wearing platform shoes, which went so nicely with the leotard top and flounced cheerleader mini-skirt. If I promise to go back to obsessing over my own foibles in the next installment, may I please have a word with these mothers? The mothers who think that six to ten year-old girls should look as if they are working their way through grade school on their knees? I know some of their arguments, so I am going to answer them in print, which is better than in person, because I don’t scream in print.

Argument #1- You just don’t know, Quinn, all the girls are dressing this way.Man, I wish you had been my mother. I tried that line of reasoning in the late seventies over high-heeled Candies, and got nowhere. For your information, very few girls are dressing like that. You may have a fairly skewed vision of the word, because girls in tight pants tend to congregate with girls in short skirts, so your daughter’s friends will tend to look just as trashy and common as she does. In reality, no more than 20% of the girl population is wearing those clothes; another 40% are driving their mothers to drink because they want a pink t-shirt with the word “Hot” picked out in rhinestones, just like your daughter wore last week. For future reference, the only girls in my sixth-grade class who actually got the high-heeled Candies both ended up in rehab by high school graduation. That’s probably a coincidence, though.

Argument #2-She has a cute little body; it’s not sexy, you’re just making it sexual.Ah, the “Eye of the Beholder” argument. I’d find more meat on that one if I didn’t understand something of evolutionary biology. Fashions flourish because they draw the eye to parts of the body that have to be healthy and bounteous for fertility, which adults subconsciously find appealing. For example, hip-hugging pants draw attention to the swell of the sexually mature female hip, an indication to a male that we are ready to breed. Lipstick and lip gloss mimic the flushed and swollen look of arousal. Cropped shirts again note the difference between the smaller waist and larger breasts and hips, again indicating fertility. Please explain to me how putting this clothing on your little kid isn’t creepy. Here is a hint; if they don’t have a secondary sexual characteristic, don’t put something on to flaunt it. Your daughters have their whole lives to decide how much skin to offer the parking attendants who make those weird hissing noises when they walk down the sidewalk.

Argument #3- Shut up. I didn’t ask your opinion.But you did. If you put a bumper sticker on your car that says Guns Don’t Kill People, But Really Sharp Bullets Do, that’s a statement. If you wear a t-shirt that says I Brake for Spotted Owls; I Also Date Them, that’s a statement. Your seven-year-old daughter has highlights in her hair, a standing mani-pedi appointment and a need for thong underwear? Statement.

And is it just me, or is there a pretty good chance the mother of Princess Slutina is wearing some variation of the same outfit? It sometimes seems the mother cannot understand they are not twenty-four year-old twin sisters, working as DJ’s and hoping to dance in a 50 Cent video. I speak to those mothers right now, using the only weapon that I have that they might hear. If you continue to not only let your small daughter dress this way, but encourage it, you are leaving her no choice in adolescent rebellion but to become a complete truck-stop crank whore. Or Amish. Either way, you know you aren’t going to want to trade clothes with her.