Friday, April 28, 2006

Responsible Party.

The idea of the day: Just because there is a problem doesn’t mean it is my problem. I must stop taking responsibility for everything.

Some of you might be saying, “Quinn, caring isn’t a problem. Many of the social ills of the world can be attributed to caring too little”.

Some people with the same kind of twisted historical knowledge I have might recall Kitty Genovese, the poor Manhattan woman whose 1964 death was heard or witnessed by thirty eight people who did virtually nothing to stop the crime. The brutal significance of this atrocity and its aftermath led to what psychologists have dubbed “The Bystander Effect” -- if too many people see a crime, no one will do anything, because everyone thinks someone (meaning, someone else) will do something. And while I would nod and agree, I would like to add an addendum to that page of the Manual of Mental Disorders: the Cummings Effect.
The Cummings Effect describes a pathology whereby one individual thinks everyone else is well-meaning but disorganized, or is much busier than she is, or possibly feeble-minded, and that only she can prop up the charity, the neighborhood watch group, the species threatened with extinction or the struggling developing nation.

I am a handmaiden to the bitch goddess Responsibility, and her less attractive (but more vengeful) sister, Guilt. If I see a gap in the social system, I must offer to fill it, and I must continue to offer until I am accepted. If my offer to, say, drive across three counties to pick up incontinent toy poodles for rescue isn’t accepted, I must twist in guilt. And why am I twisting in guilt?

Because now those poor poodles will have to wear their doggie diapers in Kern County for three extra days until someone else picks them up.

Because I know, deep down, that I would have done a better job of driving them.

Because I know way deeper down, I really didn’t want to do it.

Yes, readers. That’s the worst of it. I offer to be helpful; I beg to be helpful; I look mournful until I am helpful. And once my offer of help has been accepted, I sulk. It’s only in my head, no one else knows about it, but it’s in there. For want of a better phrase, let us call it the Martyr’s Mantra:

Am I the only person who can see the trash at the rescue cat place needs to be taken out?

Couldn’t anyone else take the seven-to-nine a.m. shift at the fund-raising garage sale? It’s not as if I am some freak who likes dragging out popcorn poppers and twenty-five cheapo waste baskets while batting away early-birds who keep asking me how much I want for my shoes.

Oh, please let me be the one to arrange the decaf for the fundraising meeting. Sure, I don’t drink coffee. Sure, the decaf drinker never seems to be around when we’re chipping in for snacks. But far be it from me to compromise someone else’s sleep.

This impulse has actually put me in harm’s way on at least one occasion. About fifteen years ago, I pulled up to a notoriously long stop light, which gave me enough time to watch the drama unfolding at the bus stop. There was a woman and a man, fighting. I guessed this wasn’t a fight between strangers, nor was it the first fight they had ever had. It had the polished look of a much-beloved bedtime story. Suddenly, the man stood up, pushed her backwards with both hands and grabbed her hair.

Let me explain something about domestic violence situations. Cops hate them. Hate. They come in to save the injured party, and suddenly the injured party is attacking the police officer for arresting their beloved life partner. I remember reading somewhere that domestic violence situations got more cops injured than any other kind of arrest, and the injuries usually came from someone other than the person being arrested. Any sane person would stay out of one.

But this was a problem, so it was my problem. I pulled over quickly, leaned over to my passenger door, flung it open. The couple, not expecting company, stopped whatever degree of battery was going on and stared at me.

I said to the woman, “You want a lift?”

She shook her head mutely.

I pressed, “You sure?”

She nodded. I’m not sure how much English she understood, but in that moment, I noticed several things about my newfound problem:

1. Her partner was closer to my open car than she was,
2. He could easily jump in and explain to me why my help wasn’t required,
3. While not large, he was certainly larger than anyone I want explaining to me in an enclosed space why I was wrong to meddle in his family affairs and,
4. My door had swung so far open that closing it might require getting out of the car and coming around to close it. Perhaps I could ask the man to close it, but I couldn’t see that as being anything but socially awkward.

They stared while I shimmied across the passenger seat, simultaneously closing the door and feebly waving to the cars I was blocking behind me, all of whom knew this light stayed green for twenty-four seconds every two hours. Fifteen years ago, I had no cell phone, so there was no way of calling the cops. Besides, one of the vehicles behind me was the bus; I noted as I made a right-hand turn that they both got on. I drove for many minutes feeling the smug glow of responsibility met (“I stopped a spousal batterer…Briefly!”), the undertow of guilt (“Should have done more. Must always do more.”), and the toxic vines of resentment (“What? Was no one else on that whole block capable of doing what was needed? I’m 5’3”. It’s like they volunteered Kermit the Frog to break up a knife fight”).

Only hours later did it occur to me that a problem, which became my problem, could have been the lead in my obit.

Yesterday, I heard a story on the radio about American families who host kids from Chernobyl during the summer. These kids, all of whom are suffering health effects from the blast twenty years ago, get to have six weeks of bicycling, beach trips, and copious amounts of ice cream. The families talked about the struggle of finding room in their houses, but what a terribly wonderful and moving experience it has been for their whole families for up to ten years now.

I sat there in the car and writhed. I wasn’t hosting a Chernobyl child! Because of my unforgivable sin of not knowing this program even existed, some Russian child with a glow-in-the-dark thyroid had never tasted Chunky Monkey! Once again, the world’s utter lack of humanity fell squarely in my lap!

Let the record show, there was no mention in this story about how they needed more host families. There was not so much as a hint those sick children many thousands of miles from me were lacking in wholesome American fun. But, since I had heard about a situation, it automatically became a problem, which involuntarily became my problem.

Let it be understood that I’m not trying to puff up some saintly aspect of my character while claiming it as a flaw. Actually, it’s arrogance, plain and simple. Only I can see the depths of the problem, only with my hard-working nature and naturally sensitive temperament will the problem be solved. My goodness and decency is the only thing holding back entropy and anarchy, not to mention overflowing trash cans and understaffed garage sales.

The more awkward truth is that I can help in this world, but only as much as I can. Other people will help, as much as they can. Some solutions which are very good simply won’t make it, either because there wasn’t enough money or enough people or, more maddening to me, the timing was wrong.

But if I keep taking on everything, someday a wonderful solution will fail because one person can’t solve everything.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Money Talks

So, when we left Quinn, she was pondering her degree of consumption….

I didn’t want this to be about budgeting my money, because my problem wasn’t so much overspending at it was unconsciously consuming. I wanted to take control of when I spent, and why.

As luck would have it, just about the time I was excoriating myself for frittering away money, a book was published on just this topic. “Not Buying It: My Year Without Shopping”. The title isn’t entirely accurate; obviously, she did have to buy food and life-sustaining supplies. But she cut out everything which wasn’t absolutely necessary, and she made that rule pretty draconian; when was the last time you considered a box of Q-tips a luxury purchase?

I was fascinated. How clean! How rigid! How utterly unrealistic for me!

I must do this.

The smallest vestige of what should have been my reasoning abilities spoke up. A year where I would have to forgo afternoon pick-me-ups? I might be able to live through a year without a spontaneous carbohydrate and caffeine infusion, but I don’t think anyone who deals with me socially would want to see what that looks like. Not to mention Daughter’s ongoing needs. What if she outgrows her leotard in month seven? Am I prepared to watch her battle public wedgies for another five months? It was decided; I could not do a year.

How about a month? Maybe. But that would mean buying a month’s worth of food in advance, and since the house lacks anything resembling adequate shelf space, I’d have to either take over the garage or create stylish end tables from stacked cans of pinto beans. Also, I’m one of those modern gals who never learned how to properly plan meals in advance. I wouldn’t buy enough of some foods and too much of others. We’d all be eating hearts of palm for breakfast by week two.

A week, I could do. A week would show me what a life lived more lightly upon the earth might feel like without putting Daughter at risk of a vitamin deficiency. Also, in a week, I could conduct this little experiment without telling anyone. I already had a bad feeling I wasn’t going to be able to make it longer than forty-eight hours without exchanging money for goods and services, and I didn’t want to be asked “So, how’s that ‘Not buying stuff’ thing going?” as I was lurking in Krispy Kreme. Thus it was decided; I wouldn’t buy a single thing for a week.

There were two exceptions:

One. Daughter’s health is in peril? I buy whatever she needs. But, “Peril” could not be defined as “If she doesn’t stop whining about sparkly Barbie pencils, I’m not going to be responsible for my actions”. This had to be immediate antibiotics or something of equal magnitude.

Two. Anything to which I had previously committed, I spend the money. This rule was included because I tend to be lavish with promises to help everybody’s school fund-raiser. A month later, having completely forgotten about the conversation, I am being handed a catalogue of frog-themed ceramics.

Other than that, the wallet wasn’t to open for seven days. I chose to start on a Tuesday morning, because I had a lunch date with a friend on Monday and I couldn’t remember who owed whom the lunch. And while that technically would have fallen under “Previous commitment honored”, I didn’t want to start the experiment, only to spend money four hours later. I knew I was going to need at least one cold-turkey day. At the end of lunch, my friend said carelessly, “I think this one’s mine”, and I knew with terrible certainty that I wasn’t paying for lunch, which meant I could start the experiment…at that exact moment. I had gassed up the car that morning, the groceries were in place. My Life of Lack could begin.

I got home and grabbed the mail, and flipped through it as I listened to answering machine messages. Suddenly, my eye caught the vision of a preppy woman in a messy ponytail, smiling broadly at me. Aaaaaagh! The J. Crew catalogue! Against my will, I flipped through it hungrily. The pictures seared my eyes like cinders.

Flip-flops with animal embroidery!

Flat-front shorts! In three lengths! And eight colors!

Khaki pants like mine, only six years younger!

I was a little dizzy. It’s not as if I hadn’t seen this stuff before. J. Crew sends me a catalogue three times a week, and they’ve been teasing me with the simple joys of flip-flops with whales on the straps since January. And, let’s face it; any pair of pants which has been made without alteration for over a decade shouldn’t thrill the soul. But the mere fact I had cut myself off from the option of buying them this week made me twitchy.

I threw the catalogue in the recycling bin quickly. I threw away the Lands End catalogue the next day, and the new J. Crew catalogue the day after that. By day four, I was to be found pining over the Staples insert in the paper, crooning with childish glee, “Ooooo…Post-Its! In colors!”

Turns out, I was a little more addicted to purchasing stuff than I realized. Here are some things I learned during the week:

1. I can make tea at home and carry it around. I am perfectly capable of making a quesadilla at home and eating it for lunch. What I missed during that week was the pleasant, albeit brief and relatively expensive sensation of having someone else do stuff for me. I supervise teeth brushing and I monitor homework. I make lunches and drive field trips. In short, I am a mother, and I love this time of my life. But it isn’t a life flush with selfish hedonism and, darn it, every now and then I like asking someone (politely) to make something for me, having it made, and consuming it. Considering that my quality of life is better than, oh, 99.9999987% of the world’s human maternal population, I am also aware that feeling this way makes me a total jackass.

2. Nearly all socializing in my life involves consumption: “Come with me to Target”; “Meet me at Starbucks before the kids get out of school”; or “Let’s take the girls to see a movie”. I could certainly invite friends over to have a beverage of some kind at my house, but I don’t think to do that. This is partially because everyone I know is always on the go and partially because, with a dog and a cat living in the house, the pet hair forms a kind of smog.

3. I’ve been told fasting is awful for the first few days, and then incredibly liberating; you aren’t hungry at all. Likewise, there were some really freeing moments during Frugal Fest. Last month, Daughter started making noises about wanting to join a soccer team. I was torn; I don’t want to be a soccer mom, but team sports are good for girls, millions of Europeans can’t be wrong, blah blah blah. I wrote to the local AYSO chapter, and was on their mailing list to be contacted when the new teams were being set up. During the week, I got an email; come to a local school on Saturday, bring a check for eighty dollars, and Daughter would be mere months away from standing in wet grass on a weekday afternoon and quite a few Saturday mornings.

I waffled. This wasn’t a prior commitment exactly, because I hadn’t promised the AYSO I would put her in; I had just requested information. On the other hand, I didn’t want Daughter, years from now, wailing to a therapist about how a soul-destroying lack of team sports in her life. I found Daughter in her room, constructing what appeared to be a Polly Pockets Junior League meeting.

With something approaching a casual tone, I said, “Do you remember wanting to play soccer?”

Daughter looked up.


“Why do you want to play soccer?”

Daughter then launched into a rambling explanation; this can be summarized as “I’d get special shoes, I’d have a picture of me with the team and I saw a soccer ball once and I liked the black squares.”

I said, “You’d have to give up some other after-school activity. Which one do you want to give up?”

Daughter frowned.

“I don’t want to give up any of them. I just want the shoes.”

I walked out of her room clear in mind and purpose. Daughter might play soccer, possibly next year. No harm in continuing the experiment.

I made it to Monday morning. Technically, I should have made it to noon on Monday, but there were mitigating circumstances. Your Honor, I had to talk to Blue Cross.

As I dropped Daughter at school, I got right on the cell phone, attached my earpiece to my skull and spent a completely dispiriting forty minutes arguing the definition of the phrase “Elective surgery”. After talking to the third indifferent drone to whom I had been shunted, I stared out the windshield and saw…a bakery. There, in the front window, I saw them placing apple turnovers on a tray. I swore I could see wiggly waves of freshly-baked heat undulating off of them.

I caved.

I stumbled in, pointed to the turnovers and murmured, “One, please”. The bag was warm, the paper around the turnover translucent with jelly from the cooked apples. I bit in, and felt the crust disintegrate under my teeth. In that moment, voluntary consumption did exactly what it was supposed to do; I found the energy to continue life’s battle. I lived to fight Blue Cross another day.

The fact remains, though, that I did enjoy not buying things. Or, rather, I didn’t like the way I felt, but I didn’t like it in the same way that I don’t like doing lots of things which are better for me in the long run (Flax seeds, I’m looking at you). So, I am going to continue this exercise for a while. I haven’t decided yet whether it’s going to be No buying two days a week, or No buying every other day, but it’s going to be something.

And the next time I think to run my mouth about how other people should live, I really wish one of you would hit me.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Mad Money

I’ve had a wide-ranging blog entry to write for two weeks now. I don’t like writing posts which I know are going to sprint through several different topics before they reach their destination; writing them makes me tired. Even thinking about writing a wide-ranging blog entry makes me tired. So, you’ll be unsurprised to learn the copper bottoms of my pots and pans are spotless. Spotless. Even though I hate steel wool (my wonky nose thinks it smells like blood, and I always get bits of steel under my pathetic nail stubs), and scouring makes me feel middle-aged and used up, it’s still better than writing a wide-ranging blog entry.

The funny thing is, a wide-ranging blog shouldn’t bother me in the slightest, as it’s the only thing I ever write. I never get straight to the topic, or if I get there right away, I can’t stay on it. Say I’m writing a blog about how much I love cheese. I might think I’m keeping a laser-like focus on the subject of cheese, but the next thing I know, I’m writing about my favorite royal family.

[The Spanish branch of the Bourbons. All royal families married relatives, but these people elevated inbreeding to a whole new level. I think a couple of them married themselves. Goya painted a picture in 1800 of the extended royal family. Every single one of them, in-laws and all, have the same Bourbon weak chin, beaky nose and general appearance of a Shih-Tzu. Had King Charles a brain in his head, he would have had Goya executed for treason.]

But unless I write this particular blog, there is a very real possibility I might scour the copper entirely off the pots, so I’m diving in.

Wait, does someone hear the doorbell?

Or a sink dripping?

I should inventory which of Daughter’s socks still fit her…

Oh, all right.

Just let me make myself a cup of tea and some popcorn. And make sure each Tupperware container has a matching lid.

I could have avoided this whole mess had I not run my mouth -- a statement I hear myself making with disheartening frequency. Daughter takes several after-school classes with a friend, Amelia. Between one class and another, Amelia’s mother Amanda and I sit next to one another in hallways about five hours a week; typically on unmatched folding chairs in dim hallways. Amanda is sunny and smart with a waspish tongue, so of course I enjoy her company immensely.

Since we do spend this much time together, we cover pretty much every topic on the waterfront. For the last few months, however, the bulk of our conversation has been focused on the wedding of Amanda’s sister. Apparently, until her engagement, this sister was a pleasant woman to be around, fun company and capable of kindness. After the engagement, however, she became the FIRST WOMAN EVER TO GET MARRIED.

You know the type.

On a regular basis, Amanda would bring in the crisis of the moment, and I would revel in such classic melodramas as The Picking Of the Wedding Dress, or The Gap in The Cleavage Of the Wedding Dress That Only the Bride Saw [But Made the Dressmaker Fix Five Times], and my personal favorite: I’ve Picked My Bridesmaids But Now Have Decided I Really Can’t Stand One of Them. For weeks and weeks, Amanda was carried along her sister’s pre-nuptial avalanche while continuing to actually lead her own life. I understood Amanda was exhausted. Still, I must admit I was enjoying this wedding from my safe distance. As long as I’m not the one being forced to drive twenty-five miles with an anxious bride to confirm the chair bows are in fact sea-foam and not leaf green, I view it all as marvelous theater.

Anyway, a few weeks ago, Amanda was telling me about an upcoming wedding shower, and I frowned.

“Wait,” I said, holding up the hand which wasn’t picking a knot out of a wet shoelace. “Wasn’t the shower last weekend?”

Amanda shook her head.

“No, that was the lingerie shower. The shower next weekend is the kitchen shower. And we still have the bridesmaid spa weekend.”

“Don’t you find that a little…excessive?”

Amanda rolled her eyes. “You think?”

I clucked, “They could have eloped to Vegas and asked their friends send a ton of money in their names to help rebuild Louisiana and Mississippi. They could probably have had the library at Tulane named after them.”

Amanda nodded and we moved on to more pressing issues, probably how neither one of us had any idea what to feed our children that night. But almost immediately, I heard a squeaky, jeering voice in my head.

“Oh, yes, Saint Quinn, they could have sent money to help the less fortunate. Just like you did last week…oh, that’s right. You didn’t. Until you’re walking the walk, you might want to think about shutting your sanctimonious pie hole.”

I protested inwardly, “But…I help where I can.”

The squeaky inner voice countered, “You could easily help more. Do you have any idea how much money you piss away each week?”

Oh, that one again. I live a small and deeply un-bling life; my car was on the road during the first Clinton administration. Our house is what real estate agents might refer to as “Cozy”. My khakis were not worn down at the pockets and hem by J. Crew for preppy credibility. Nope, I wore them down myself. Last year, in fact. Before anyone starts a fund to replace my pants, they are soft and comfortable, and I don't wear them around people I need to impress.

In some ways, however, I am the casual spendthrift, and this bothers me more with each passing year. I buy hot tea constantly, even though it makes perfect sense to carry tea bags in the car, get hot water from a coffee place and just tip them for that. I eat entirely too many meals on the road; I’ll leave the house, which has all the ingredients for a bean-and-cheese burrito, only to buy one on the road a half-hour later. I buy fashion magazines even though whole trends come and go without their ever being remotely reflected in my closet (Apparently, gold shoes are back. I’ll be sitting this one out). I estimate that I waste at least thirty dollars a week.

Thirty dollars a week, times fifty two is…fifteen hundred and sixty dollars; over fifteen hundred dollars which could be spent improving something besides my caffeine withdrawal headache. Not to mention my Shout bills.

Also, it’s the principal of the consumption. It’s napkins and cups and lids and plates and bags and the extra gas to go the extra couple of blocks to get to the Mexican fast food place which has the kind of salsa I like. I started keeping a bag in the car to keep the recyclables, so I could take them home and put them in the recycling bin, which gave the car the ineffable aroma of stale onions, but the fact remained: I was wasting money and finite resources. Daughter will tell you that the thing which is guaranteed to get Mom yelling is waste.

In short, I was a stinking hypocrite, if a small one. Something had to be done.

Tomorrow, I’ll tell you what I did.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Fur goodness sake.

Here's a situation which has befallen a few of my friends and acquaintances; your beloved grandmother or great-aunt dies and leaves you, among other things, a mink stole. Your grandmother or great-aunt's husband worked long and hard to pay for such a luxury, and the donor of this object was terribly proud of it.

Sad to say, you feel differently. Since very few women under the age of eighty look at a stole and think "Wow! Must be my lucky day! It will go so well with my khakis!", you don't wear it. Maybe you're like me and the thought of wearing fur gives you the yips. No one in your life wants to buy it, and some charities won't even take them anymore (what with everybody's beloved grandmother or great-aunt bequeathing the same damn stoles). You don't want to just throw the thing away, because it must be worth something to somebody. So, unloved and unwanted, it sits in your closet, only drawing attention to itself every November when the box holding it falls on your head when you are getting out the Christmas lights.

But, wait! They are worth something to somebody! Or, rather, something. Wrap the stole, or the jacket, or the fur collar, or whatever sort of fur you are currently responsible for, and send it to the Humane Society. They will use that fur for helping to rescue and rehabilitate baby animals who should still be cuddling up to a soft, furry mom. And not only have you helped a small, innocent creature, you get a tax write-off.

Next November, when the box doesn't fall on your head, you can thank me.

Monday, April 17, 2006

A cat's entitled to expect/ these evidences of respect

Sorry for the delay in writing; the system was down.

And by “the system”, I mean “Quinn”.

And by “down”, I mean “eating her weight in Peeps”.

Hard to write after eating your weight in Peeps. For one thing, your fingers are sticky. For another, you’re shaking and sobbing and keening for French fries to cut the sugar. Also, you end up staying awake for three days solid, writing a 17,000 word manifesto on how much you hate mayonnaise. You then insist to your life partner that it would make a marvelous light opera.


So, what’s new with me? Well, we still have the Cat Family. At the end of the week, the kittens will move to a new foster home where there is a room dedicated solely to their ambulation. Right now, they still live in a pile in a large blanket-lined box within the larger cage. Last Wednesday, one of them figured out that pushing a smaller kitten off a nipple and appropriating it was highly effective. All but the smallest kitten quickly took the cue and began duking it out. By the end of the day, Mother Cat’s abdomen was a rippling wave of paws striking heads, head-butting and body slams – it was the Ultimate Nursing Challenge -- with one wee little kitten standing on Momma Cat’s head and wailing.

Not surprisingly, M. Cat has begun to look a bit trapped. Every time one of us would go in the garage to feed her, give her water or just get in the car and leave, she would lean against the cage door and stare at us. My Spanish is embarrassing, my French is laughable, but I speak Mother across the species divide:

“Please, I’m begging you. I need a few minutes where someone isn’t hanging from my nipple or trying to nurse from my ear.”

I sympathized. Hell, I even empathized, but I just couldn’t let her out, even in the confines of the garage.

I worried she would find some small hole in the garage wall and make a break for freedom.

I worried she would find anti-freeze on the ground, drink it and die, and then I would be responsible for bottle-feeding ten kittens with endless appetites and a predilection for kung fu.

I worried she would bring sawdust back into the cage, and the kittens would come down with the feline, wood-based equivalent of silicosis.

Mostly, I worried I was going to screw up fostering her if I let her out of the cage, and despite my willingness to air all screw-ups in blog form, I don’t actually like screwing up. So, I would scratch her head sympathetically and block her exit as I spooned more food into her saucer.

Consort, however, is made of kinder stuff. Not being able to account for him one evening, I went out to the garage. He was standing next to the cage admiring the vari-colored mass of thrashing fur which was the kittens. On the floor of the garage was M. Cat. I slammed the side door shut quickly, so she couldn’t fly past me.

QUINN: I thought we weren’t going to let her out.

CONSORT: I came out to feed her, and when I opened the door she basically jumped over my shoulder and down to the ground. She walked around for a few minutes.

QUINN: And then what?

Consort looked over at her.

CONSORT: She did that.

I looked at her. She was lying on the ground, looking around. She wasn’t eating anything toxic, she wasn’t trying to claw her way through the door; cats don’t have a wide range of expression, but this was something approaching perfect contentment. She was me on my first errand away from home when Daughter was six weeks old; my offspring is safe, I will go back to work as soon as I am really needed but right now, not doing anything feels like a week in Tahiti.

And she didn’t even have to worry about whether her pants were on wrong.

I sat on the garage floor, scratched M. Cat’s head and told her what a good mom she was. I offered to get her a margarita and a DVD of Four Weddings and a Funeral. I mean, if she’s going to have a real evening off from the kids…

That very day, the kittens learned you don’t need abuse your littermates for nipple allocation alone; it’s also highly pleasurable to use one’s newly-sprouted razor-sharp baby teeth to simply make another living thing cry. Throughout my stay in the garage, there had been a series of bleats and howls from the cage. M. Cat didn’t flick so much as an ear towards Consort and the cage This indicated both her trust in Consort’s baby-sitting abilities and a deeply-felt need to pretend she was still Carrie Bradshaw and not Ma Walton. The noise, however, began to increase in both volume and anxiety. Without having raised feline dectuplets myself, it was still easy to guess they were getting hungry again and low-blood sugar was causing them to gnaw each other with renewed vigor.

M. Cat emitted the tiniest sigh of feline resignation, got up slowly, stretched every muscle and ligament which probably hadn’t been moved since the night she met the handsome tabby who got her into all this trouble, and headed off for the cage. She brushed by Consort, who closed the cage door behind her, and delicately stepped into the box with her kittens who, upon sight of the Goddess of Nipples, created a noise not unlike ten tiny car alarms. She lay down and the kittens pounced, taking any opportunity to inflict harm on a sibling while getting settled in for a feast

Every day since, either Consort or I have pulled the car out of the garage, sealed every aperture shut, and let her walk around. Sometimes, I slide away from my own chores and sit on a folding chair reading a fashion magazine while she grooms herself and stares off into space. Before a half-hour has passed, either her children or my child is calling for a maternal intervention about something.

We bid polite adieus and promise to have another get-together as soon as our schedules permit.

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Our bodies, our selves.

This is outside my usual laser-like focus on my own inability to get through a day without screwing up, but here goes.

I was listening to a radio interview with Michael Schiavo, husband to Terri Schiavo, the woman who had been in a persistive vegetative state for fifteen years before Mr. Schiavo was granted the right to remove her feeding tube last year. No matter where you fall on the subject of her quality of life, her awareness of stimuli, or his right to do this, please consider this; if she had written out her wishes, this would have been settled much more easily and with less screaming and fewer broken hearts.

Any American even dimly aware of this last year probably thought at one point "That's it, I have got to write out a Living Will."; due to the usual distractions of living in the Modern Age, I am going to bet a lot of people never got around to it. So let me remind you to take a moment now and write down how you want to be treated. Go to this website and see what your state requires legally.

We are getting better and better at keeping bodies going, and if your goal is to stay here in any form, that's nothing but good news. But if you ever worry that you will be physically here long after your soul, or spirit, or whatever creates your own unique little pilot light has left, you want to do your loved ones a favor. Let them know how to take care of you lovingly and respectfully when you aren't in a position to tell them.

Monday, April 03, 2006

My Guy.

I spend a lot of time in this blog making fun of Consort. This is because I can. This is also because Consort has the style to think most of the snottier things I say about him are funny; he frequently directs his friends to the blogs which itemize his foibles in 12-count Arial typeface. Also, I fear the grand romantic gesture. I grew up in Los Angeles, a place where if people are loudly proclaiming their love for each other in public, the publicity release announcing their separation is about a week away.

But I am going to risk it and tell you two ways in which Consort, quite simply, has rocked this week.

Actually, three ways; first, he continues to live with me, and that’s not a small thing. Consort is an easy-going, gregarious man who enjoys the company of friends. I am a person who reads about executions and pandemics for pleasure and enjoys the company of other like-minded individuals, should I ever meet one.

My last blog was about people who volunteered information in public which was the antithesis of publicly suitable information. So that I am not a total hypocrite, I will warn you in advance to skip the following two paragraphs if you are squeamish, and just take my word that Consort is one of the good ones.

Last week, the stitches came out, and the dead skin on the very top of my head, the point of maximum impact from the accident, came off with the stitches. Underneath the skin there was…bone. I’m not talking “Gee, from the right angle, in bright light, that might be…“.

No, I have exposed bone on the top of my head. For some reason, my doctor didn’t do what I did on first examination, which is run around the room in circles flapping my arms and squealing. In fact, he deemed this “Good” and “Fully capable of healing correctly” and “Please stop squealing”. All I have to do is put Polysporin on it and gauze, do my by now practiced Hide-the-Hole-In-My-Head-Hairdo, and wait for the healing.


Except I can’t exactly see the bone bit without using two mirrors, and once I’m looking at something using two mirrors, I can’t get my hand holding the Polysporin to move in the right direction. I look in the mirror, and then the reflection in the smaller mirror, and see my hand waving tentatively, somewhere near bone. I think firmly to the hand, “Please move towards the bone”, and my hand drifts off towards the bathroom door. I think louder, “No! The other way!” and the hand wanders somewhere near the bone, but then jogs down abruptly and attempts to Polysporin my nose. My recovery is a two-person job; I need Consort to apply goo to a white bone hillock surrounding by what appears to be unnervingly fresh steak tartar. I also need Consort to periodically look at it and swear to me that he sees improvement in those hours where I imagine the rest of my life spent picking my winter look from the Eva Gabor wig catalogue. He does both without even a murmur of horror.

The final example of his basic goodness and decency began on Friday. Daughter and I went to the animal rescue place where we volunteer, to do the afternoon feed and litter-box cleaning. Since we are the only people who work Friday afternoon, you might imagine my surprise when I found two people back with the cats. Since the rescue organization shares space with a pet store, they had both walked in and took it upon themselves to get to know the cats. Worryingly, one of the women told me how the mother cat had let this woman hold her kittens, which she had done because “I just couldn’t not do it!” (I guess she thought if the mother cat really didn’t want her to hold the kittens, she’d have threatened the woman with a shotgun).

The kittens in question were, at that point, seven days old, and didn’t need to be held by anyone at all, and certainly not some nimrod with impulse-control issues. I shooed the women out as best I could, and called the head of the group. It was decided that the mother and her kittens needed to be someplace quiet and safe; someplace off-site.

Imagine you are at my house three minutes later. Imagine the phone is ringing. Consort picks it up.


QUINN: Hi, it’s me. Listen, I have a favor to ask. Can you create a space about, oh, four feet square on the workbench in the garage?




QUINN: Um, we’re going to have houseguests.


CONSORT: How many?

QUINN: Eleven.

At this point, Consort would have had many conversational options at his disposal. He could have gone with “For how long?” or “Why?” or “I’m moving someplace where things like this don’t happen and please forward my mail to Neve Campbell’s house”, but he didn’t -- even though he would be completely within his rights.

You see, this happens a lot; my mother’s nickname for me as a kid was Saint Francis. Consort, until the day he met me, had lived with a domesticated animal for a grand total of two weeks in his entire life. Quinn, the somewhat cute vegetarian of our first date is also Quinn, the woman who keeps an emergency leash in her glove compartment in case she sees a stray dog, and he has gracefully accepted all of it.

So, we now have a sweet mom-cat and ten kittens staying in our garage in a spacious crate. The mother specializes in eating and nursing. She also purrs a lot, possibly in gratitude for lack of strange hands mauling her babies, possibly in hopes of eliciting more food. The babies specialize in having tiny pansy faces, working at opening their eyes and trying to nurse off each other’s ears. Half the time, I check in on them; half the time, Consort does.

I have a head wound which is monitored, salved and gauzed. Half the time, I check in on it; half the time, Consort does.

We are all better for having Consort around.