Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Motion Sickness.

Today, Daughter's principal called; Daughter was running a fever and was lethargic, could I please come get her? I was shocked this happened.


Who could have foreseen, after Daughter and I spent an-hour-and-a-half on Friday at the pediatrician's office waiting for her check-up appointment during which time she was exposed to no fewer than six ill children sharing the same waiting room, that she was going to get sick?

Who could have possibly predicted she would come down with something after picking up a Highlights magazine I had seen being gummed by a baby who appeared to be covered in the mucus of at least three other children?

And weren't we all surprised at today's lack of overall health when we stop to recall how a little girl threw up on the floor in front of us in the waiting room?

Sure, I took the Highlights magazine away. I whisked her out into the hallway. I covered her in antibacterial goo. But I might as well have made a sacrifice to Baal for all the good it was going to do. The germs in a pediatrician's office have been there since the Nixon administration, mutating into some sort of Supercold (Now with X-Treme Vomiting® Capacity!).

The cold appears to be smiting her, but only lightly, which points to Daughter's resilience and how little she shares in common with her mother. As a child, I had the resistance to disease of the Boy in the Bubble. Put me in an enclosed space filled with other people and, within minutes, I was well on my way to something truly repellent.

Starting when I was fifteen, I traveled to New York City five times over two years in order to audition for plays and movies which were only seeing people in New York. Each time, I would get on the plane, the address of the women-only hotel clutched in one neatly-groomed little paw, a script (of deceptive simplicity which was going to require my full attention for the length of the trip just so I didn' t make a complete ass of myself at the audition) in the other. I would sit down. I would buckle my seat belt. I would listen attentively to the explanation of how to make my flotation device.

Unbeknownst to me, somewhere around lift-off, a germ, strong from generations of living in that cabin and cherry-picking the worst symptoms from other germs, would slither up my nostril. It would look at all of my white blood cells and purr, "Oh, we won't be needing those", at which point it would send my entire immune system into a state of suspended animation. By the time the movie ended, I would be sniffling. While we were circling Manhattan, I would be aware that someone had crammed a plump guinea pig up each of my nostrils and that breathing loudly through my mouth was really the best way to go.

By the time I was in a car going into Manhattan, my voice would have entered the special terrain I only visit while sick. For the first four hours that I am fighting off a cold, I sound exactly like Peppermint Patty from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. This is adorable, unless you are the person with the voice and trying to communicate with another person who isn't Lucy or Schroeder:

OTHER PERSON: (picking up phone) Hello?

QUINN: (Squeaking and rasping) Hi, it's me. I mean, it's Quinn.

OTHER PERSON: Oh my God, you're sick! But you sound so cute!

QUINN: Thanks. Can we reschedule lunch?

OTHER PERSON: Of course.

QUINN: Thank you so much. I'll call you when I'm better.

(Silence. Then clicking.)

QUINN: You still there?

OTHER PERSON: Sorry, hold on. I was trying to put you on speakerphone so my assistant could hear your voice.

This is the voice I would be using to explain to the cab driver how I didn't see how getting on the Long Island Expressway was a shortcut into Manhattan. But it's hard to sound outraged when your voice makes people think of unloved Christmas trees and footballs getting pulled away.

As the next morning would roll around, I would be what is described in medical journals as a Big Mess. I would have a red nose and red eyes, which would play nicely against the grayish-white skin I get when sick. Nothing a ton of foundation, concealer and blush wouldn't cure, but then, in the right light, I could be mistaken for Joan Collins. The Peppermint Patty voice would be replaced by a voice where all the lower register was taken out; sadly, I have no upper register. This would have bothered me, had I been able to hear it, but the cold would plug up my ears, rendering me both deaf and incapable of walking in a straight line.

Needless to say, this would compromise my ability to give a Tony-worthy performance. Hell, it would compromise my ability to give a Tony Danza-worthy performance. By the time I arrived at the theater, I'd taken every legal drug available on the Eastern seaboard. This rendered not only my sinuses dry, but every other orifice in my head as well. I would stand on stage, staring into a darkened theater, blinking furiously so as to get enough liquid on to my eyeballs so that the lids wouldn't solder themselves open, and I would say my first line.
One time I can remember clearly the director saying, "Quinn, can you be a little louder?"

Now, there's a statement I had never heard before in my life. Can I be a little louder? I have a voice which was designed by nature to call back heedless Labrador Retrievers from across the moors. My most discreet whisper can be heard, without straining, across a can factory. But in that theater, I was blessed with a voice whicequivalentlike the vocal equivilant of fog. I cleared my throat and started again. The last bit of fluid in my entire head congealed in my throat, cutting off air and sending me into a frantic pantomime. I leapt catlike for my purse, found a Kleenex, and coughed up something the size and density of an exercise ball.

I could actually feel waves of disgust coming toward me from the dark theater.

But you know what's amazing? That isn't even my most embarrassing audition story in New York!

That would have been the time I went in to read for an Off-Broadway play. I had traveled to New York three days before, so the worst part of the rasping and hacking could be medicated into submission; while I still wasn't myself (due at least partly to a 72-hour diet of Ny-Quil and street pretzels), I thought I could feign a reasonable facsimile of Quinn. I came into a casting office in midtown Manhattan, smiled at the assorted melange of director, casting director, producer, various assistants and possibly the guy dropping off Thai food, and proceeded to give the worst reading of my life.

There's something about an especially bad audition. Some part of me was sitting there, giving a performance which made one envy the dead, and another part of me was sitting in the corner of the room, chanting "Just ask to start over. Just ask to start over", and yet another version of me was huddled under the casting director's table, rocking back and forth and moaning "There's no use, this is all I have to give at this time. And I flew three thousand miles to create this car wreck. Please, can't I just...faint or something?"while still another version of Quinn was back in the hotel room, coughing up Kermit the Frog into a washcloth.

Somehow, the reading ended. Everyone smiled in the way you do when Grandma is suddenly incontinent in the middle of the family reunion. I slithered from the room, and shut the door behind me. I stood in the empty hallway and then did something so stupid I still shake my head in wonder.

I leaned against the door and listened.

The director pronounced, "That was the worst reading I've ever heard in my life."

Turns out, his voice carried nearly as well as mine does on a normal day.

Even though all three Quinns in the room had been in total agreement with the director, it was still damning to hear. I held my composure as I walked through the outer office, down the public elevator and through the lobby. Once upon the street, I burst into tears. I then walked thirty blocks back to my hotel, a sobbing, streaming, hacking, hoarse sponge of a girl. Luckily, I was in Manhattan, where I was going to have to do something much more spectacular than liquifying on the street to get people's attention.

I finally admitted what any sane person would have noticed months before; flying made me sick. A sick Quinn rarely booked jobs (a healthy Quinn wasn’t having all that much luck, either). Going to Manhattan alone at 15 was glamourous the first time, but grew progressively scarier and more discouraging each subsequent trip. And knowing where every Duane Reade pharmacy was in the city didn't make me a Manhattanite. It just made me pathetic.

I've been back a few times since then, to attend a wedding or a birthday. I have noticed I haven't gotten sick on any of those trips. It cheers me to think this might be another thing which retired along with acting. But I still think I was on to something with my suggestion to the hotel manager about changing the complimentary bathroom kit. Which is more likely to bring you back to a hotel, a complimentary shower cap or your own travel container of Thera-flu with a Day-Quil chaser?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

Great Ball of Fire.

Here is how it goes when Jill, my hiking partner, plans a hike for us:

I get an email with a link to our hike. The day of the hike, we arrive at the destination, and Jill gives me a copy of the page from the Hikes of Los Angeles book for my backpack, noting both length of hike and elevation gained. The hike is appropriate to our level of training and takes exactly as long as she has predicted.

Here is how it went this week when I planned a hike for us:

I sent her an email with a vague description as to the start point. The day of the hike, I forgot to make a copy of the hike webpage I had found…somewhere, possibly on No problem, I thought; it would be incredibly self-evident which one was the fourteen mile round-trip hike. Within a half-hour, we were on a fire road without shade, trudging like prisoners of war, with no indication this led anywhere but into the Valley of the Shadow of Death. Being as Jill is terribly kind, she had the grace to label this a “Conditioning hike”.

We were chatting and slogging, with occasional stops for liquid [Oh, yes. I had forgotton to get bottles of water for myself, so I was wearing Daughter’s backback filled with, among other things, ten juice boxes], when the first bee flew past us.

Another few steps, three bees.

Another step, five bees.

While we couldn’t see a hive, it was becoming evident to even the dullest-witted (Hint: she’s the one holding the Powerpuff Girl juice box) that the bees lived somewhere around here. I put up the hood on my hoodie, and we walked calmly around the corner where they seemed to be congregating, giving them as much berth as we could without actually sliding down the side of the mountain and crab-walking through the brush. As we came around the curve, the bees lightened up quickly, so it was pretty evident we were passing them. No harm, no foul, no swelling. We both discussed how we should probably hike with an Epi-pen, because we have had reasonably strong reactions to bee stings in the past. We both promised to call our doctors upon getting back to our cars.

Another half-mile or so, it was decided this fire road probably travels the length of the San Gabriel mountains without ever having a natural endpoint or an attractive view. We estimated we had done four miles, all uphill, in hot and not very pleasant weather, and that we could call it a day, not to mention calling it a poorly-planned hike. We got to a slightly wider part of the road, and I sank down to open the backpack, get another juice box, and sit for a minute. Jill, still in the middle of the road, looked over at me.

“You’re probably not going to want to sit there,” she observed, “there seem to be some bees around.”

I focused beyond getting the little straw in the hole and noticed she was right; there were about eight of them drifting hither and yon, never more than about three feet from me. I stood up and walked over to her, and then we heard it.

There are certain sounds your body hears even before your brain does. The rattle of a rattlesnake nearby. The sound of a pump-action shotgun being chambered. And, as I now know, about 10,000 bees humming in concert. If we had been in a Warner Brothers cartoon, we would have looked behind us and seen the bees grouping together to form a bow and arrow, pointing at us.

Jill has had enough trekking adventures to be able to start anecdotes with “The first time I had dysentary”, and has an well-earned big-picture outlook on whatever Nature chooses to pitch at her. Nothing fazes her.

Jill said, “Holy shit.”

We looked at each other, and Jill said, softly but intently, “Listen to me. Walk, do not run. And do not panic; they smell adreneline.”

Okay, I could walk, and I could feign the look of a woman walking through the mall, but since my body had replaced all the traditional fluids with some combination of fear and jet fuel, I was really going to have to take a pass on not panicking. Jill and I started to walk away, slowly. I reached up to close the hood over as much of my head and face as I could, when I realized the hoodie was bright red. I racked my brain: bees have an opinion on bright red, but what is it? Affection? Loathing? A sense that no one has truly worn it well since Nancy Reagan?

Somehow, we slid down the path. The humming went from filling every available cell to being an alarming background hum. I kept my hood up for the trip past the original hive, but that one seemed to be gone.

Julie said, “There must be a wandering ball of bees hanging around the hill.”

Makes one long for ticks.

But, we’re training, and I think we’re going to be ready for Mount Whitney. We’ve done up to fourteen miles in one day without any real exhaustion, and we’re going to get in some altitude climbs as soon as the snow comes off the local tall peaks. Since September of last year, I have taken no more than three days off between training sessions. Am I proud? Not yet; I’ll be proud when we’ve accomplished whatever we’re going to accomplish on Whitney.

What I am…is bored.

When I first thought about training for Whitney, some part of me marveled at the elegance of training to do something I already do. “Walking!” I thought smugly, “Why, I walk all the time. I’ve been walking for years! I can read while training. I can listen to music while training. I could do walking meditations while training. I could achieve enlightenment and thin thighs in the same year!”

I’ve read.

I’ve listened to music.

I meditated.


I hate that treadmill.

I walk towards it with all the buoyant joy of someone being led to the guillotine. There is no variation of walking which inspires anything more than low-level hostility. This is Satan’s idea of an arranged marriage.

“But,” you reasonably protest to me, “the thin thighs!”

You’d think so, wouldn’t you?

Last month, I pulled out the summer clothing box. The weather didn’t warrant it, this was purely for my own entertainment. The shallow part of me wanted to look at any clothing which wasn’t my workout gear (Note to self; day after hike, create workout clothing funeral pyre). The shallower part of me wanted to see how I looked in shorts. Because, I’d been working out endlessly, and if working out makes you look better, working out endlessly meant I was going to have the thighs of a teenage track star who works as a runway model in her spare time, right?

I put on shorts.

I looked into the mirror.

I moved to another room and looked in another mirror.

I toyed with going to another house to find a better mirror.

My thighs resembled Serrano hams.

Because working out by climbing up hills might add muscle tone, but it leaves you with legs which scream to the world “After the oxen up and died, well, I jes’ strapped on the yoke and we still finished plowin’ the field afore sundown!” These thighs look most appropriate sticking out of the kind of shorts which come in olive green, have a matching canteen and sell themselves on their sweat-wicking ability.

The most accurate praise someone can extend to me right now is “Wow! Don’t you look … healthy!”

You’ll be seeing me on next month’s cover of Harper’s Bazaar, the Healthy Gal issue.

“See,” you say now, a touch plaintively, “even you admit you’re healthier now.”

Yes, but it might not make any difference. While walking on the treadmill, I heard a perfectly maddening Nova podcast on the subject of centenarians, people who live to be at least 100. They don’t eat any better than the average population, they don’t exercise with any more vigor than average, their alchohol intake level depends on the gender and the culture, but doesn’t seem to affect their longevity. So, why are they here long enough to meet their own great-great-grandchildren, not to mention try to figure out “Lost”?

It appears that at least 80% of these people have high “good” cholesterol levels, and a particular gene which creates a large version of this cholesterol. This larger version protect the person against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, cognitive function loss and hypertension. It is, in short, a longevity gene. What’s the best way to live a long, healthy life? Pick the right ancestors.

I walked and pondered. I thought about my mother’s friend, who had been morbidly obese her entire adult life and still lived into her eighties. I thought of artist Patrick Nagel, who died at 38 while jogging. I thought about the tiny elderly people I see at delis loudly demanding schmaltz, which is seasoned rendered chicken fat and should kill them merely by sharing the same restaurant as them. I thought of William Burroughs, the writer whose entire adult life was spent in some variation of an opiate haze, who lived to be eighty-three. Finally, I thought about Keith Richards, who is not only defying expectations by being alive at sixty-two, but whose last trip to the hospital was for falling out of a tree.

I finished my workout, but it’s possible I went directly from the gym to get a doughnut.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Mother and Child Reunion.

This is the longest gap in my blog updates since I started it. Oddly enough, it isn’t because I have nothing to say. I have heaps of things happening in my personal life.

I just can’t tell you about them.

Over the last few days, I have had all sorts of touching, maddening and generally emotional moments. If these moments involved strangers or box turtles, I would be happily churning about 1000 words out of each. But, they involved Daughter and, therefore, are off limits.

I contemplated writing a blog for about a year before I actually started this one in January of 2005.

[Recently, someone sent me a link to a blog which decried how “…Quinn Cummings was now writing a blog”. The tone of the entry was “My God, is just everyone jumping on the bandwagon along with us elder statesmen?”. For my edification, I checked when he started his blog; it was a month after I did. But I digress.]

What kept me from writing for the year before I actually put fingers to keyboard was the dilemma of how to write about my life as a mother without putting Daughter in the blog spotlight (in my case, the blog spotlight being slightly dimmer than the light which goes on when you open your glove compartment). Just because I wanted to write didn’t mean she wanted to get written about. When the impulse to write became overwhelming, I bit the bullet and created a blog -- but only on the self-imposed condition that Daughter be no more than recurring cameo in the “Quinn is a Huge Screw-Up Variety Hour”. For the most part, I believe I have succeeded at this.

Then I have four or five days in a row where Daughter and I go through all sorts of things that seem both personal and universal, not to mention being chock-full of neat dialogue and (in the case of one conversation) a built-in tag line, and the writer in me suddenly wants to renegotiate the original contract.

“C’mon, it’s too good not to write. How about this, we write it in the third person. Or, we say it all happened to a friend. Please God, let me do something with this material.”

(When I start referring to our conversations as material, it’s a hint I might be scraping the bottom of the jar of integrity.)

I was still trying to find a way to pimp my maternity when I read Anne Lamott’s newest essay in Salon Magazine last night. First, let me say I have read all of Ms. Lamott’s books, and I think she’s a fine, fine writer. She comes up with turns of phrase that make me put down the book and stare off into space for twenty seconds. “Bird by Bird” inspired me to consider writing again. Also, before I say anything against her, let me point something out: one of us had made serious money from writing; and one of us is me. In a nutshell, she’s cool, I drool.

Her Salon essay is, as most of them are, about being a woman, a mother and a Christian, and how each part of her life acts upon and against each other. She begins this essay saying, in effect, “I take no pride in the following incident, but I hope that writing about it will help some other parent”; then relates how she and her sixteen year-old son have been at each other’s throats in the way only a single mother and her adolescent son can be. She admits there are times she hates him. One particular power struggle referred to in the essay finds Ms. Lamott slapping her son for the first time in his life. The essay ends with the two of them sitting on the couch together, not quite recovered, but better than they once were.

For me, it wasn’t her strongest work, probably because the incident was still so raw. It didn’t have the “emotions recalled in repose” quality that I like in my first-person narratives. I once knew a drama teacher who said an actor appearing to fight tears was more affecting than an actor sobbing his guts out. “If you cry,” he would warn, “the audience doesn’t have to.” Ms. Lamott was crying all over the screen on this one. However, considering the degree of pain inflicted, it’s understandable. Then I started paging through the letters from readers, and was sickened by the degree of rage. They might not have been crying, but they were screaming…

“I grew up with a parent much like Ms. Lamott--even down to the literary occupation--and at age seventeen I could barely look at my father, let alone talk to him. At the very least, my father kept his anecdotes about my "difficult" age to his close coterie of smug, hypocritical,new age, middle-aged hippie writer friends and out of the national press.”

“What purpose is being served in telling the world you slapped him?”

“Anne Lamott--a writer whose candor I used to admire--has made a habit of cannibalizing her son's life for profit.”

"If I were Anne Lamott's sullen son Sam, I'd be a sullen Sam too."

She had the odd defender, but mostly it was thirty-three pages of people either excoriating her for slapping her son or bemoaning the exploitation of her relationship with her son. One letter linked to an interview with her. In this interview, she actually brought Sam in, so he could tell his side. He said that he’s always been sort of resigned to being grist for her mill, being as it’s gone on for so long. At the time, Ms. Lamott said she had kept the more private aspects of his life off-limits, and he had cleared anything she had written about him since he was ten years old.

I thought about this as I locked up the house for the night. I believe Ms. Lamott would sooner stick her hand in a blender rather than hurt her son. I think that most of the people who wrote vicious screeds to Ms. Lamott in Salon not only have no children, but live in their parents’ basements and dream of making sweet, sweet love to Jean-Luc Picard of Star Trek: The Next Generation. And while I have never slapped anyone in my life, I can see where, on the wrong day, your contentious nearly-grown child could make you very emotional, very tired, and capable of doing something you could never imagine yourself doing.

And yet.

Maybe being the focus of an essay (or twenty, not to mention two best-selling books) before puberty isn’t automatically harmful. But even under the best of circumstances adolescence is a minefield. It marinates a person in a near-paralyzing sense of self-consciousness and fosters the conviction that you are the only true freak on earth. Now imagine that your mom was not only taking notes of all of your behavior, but of how your behavior affected her, how her behavior affected you, and turned thousands of emotional bubbles into public material.

Apparently Ms. Lamott would clear these essays with him. But she’s his mom; not only does he love and trust his mother, he has to have some awareness that these confessions pay for their nice house in Marin. Maybe he does veto Essay Idea #1, and #2, and maybe even #3; but at some point, the mesh on the filter has to give. Eventually, he’s got to read a paragraph and think “well, at least this isn’t as bad as the other one”. I cannot imagine an adolescent boy getting excited about being the subject of any public narrative, unless the title is “Local Youth has Sex with Many Sports Illustrated Models”.

The two of them have made a Faustian bargain. They will live well, but only as long as she sells their inner lives to readers who will noisily berate her for doing so.

I would like Ms. Lamott’s talent. I would like Ms. Lamott’s critical acclaim. I would like Ms. Lamott’s money. I would not like thirty-three pages of people telling me that my artistic narcissism and short-sightedness has hurt my child. I would not like Daughter to come home from school one day rubbed emotionally raw because something sweet and vulnerable she said to me last year came roaring back to her at the lunch table. As she gets older, I might have to edit more stringently than I already do. Which means there might be more breaks in my writing – time where I simply lead my life, rather than writing about it.

So be it.

If anyone is going to be embarrassed by how they appear in this blog, it’s going to be me.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Cat Woman.

For those people who have written in and asked, “Yes, Quinn, but when are you going to write about how you’ve taken responsibility for these drive-by rabbits?” let me assure you, it won’t be happening.

Please don’t snicker.

No, I really can’t take on rabbit rescue. I’m not saying I haven’t left out elderly, rubbery carrots for a particular phlegmatic black rabbit who has taken to dwelling under the roses. But neither that rabbit nor any other will be coming into my house. For one thing, I am wildly allergic to rabbits. A single finger tentatively petting soft rabbit fur touches my face at any point in the next six hours and, lo and behold, my head puffs up to seventy-five times its natural size. My head battling a histamine overdose was last seen bobbing in the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, right behind Rocky and Bullwinkle.

Another reason I will never be a rabbit owner: they chew electrical cords. We are the kind of desperate geeky people who start rocking and moaning if our online connection is severed. I don’t care how precious your l’il lop ears are; if you compromise my ability to get on, I’ll reconsider vegetarianism.

But the most important reason we will not be having any extra pets in this household any time soon is that, after six weeks, we still have eleven cats living in our garage. It’s hard to think about more houseguests when we have an entire feline Youth Hostel sharing towels and nipples in our garage. They are an opera of saucer eyes, darling fat tummies, fluffy pipe-clearer tails, and a degree of aggression towards their littermates that would make Cain wince. But the real hero in this is the mother who, had I been better organized, would have gotten her own blog on Mother’s day.

Did I ever tell you the cat’s name?



We called her Cat for the first week. Considering that any statement referencing her ran along the lines of “Put the food closer to Cat’s head; the babies won’t stop nursing long enough to let her stand up and get some food”, I doubted she was terribly insulted.

The following weekend, I was at the rescue place picking up more food when I was introduced to the volunteer who had brought her in. It seems the cat had been living behind a block of subsidized housing in an extremely chaotic part of LA when the rescue worker, an elementary-school teacher in her spare time, was alerted by one of her students that a highly pregnant cat was establishing a delivery room under a hedge near a bus stop. She swung by that afternoon, dropped Cat into a cardboard box, and brought her to the rescue group. I assured this sweet woman that “her” cat was doing well.

“Does she have a name?” I enquired while grabbing some cans of cat food. The woman’s pale skin sprouted a little blush.

“I didn’t pick her name. The neighbors who had been feeding her named her.”

I stopped choosing between Tuna Terrific and Turkey Treaties and looked at her.

“But she does have a name?”

The woman looked around, leaned in towards me and whispered, “La Juana”.

I stared off for a second and then composed myself.

“So, if you wanted to be completely accurate, you might say she’s La Juana, the struggling single mother of ten who lived in public housing?”

She nodded. We gazed at one another.

I asked tentatively, “You don’t suppose anyone would mind if we…?”

“Changed her name? I think that would be a…“

“…wonderful idea!” we chorused together.

Because I don’t need anyone thinking this is my achingly bad attempt at keeping it real.

Her name is Charlotte, after the spider, because she is a very good mother and a good soul. With ten children and eight nipples, you have to be a good mother, not to mention a world-class lactator. I got some sense of how deeply her maternal instincts ran after we had been keeping her for about two weeks. I was spending some time in the garage with her and the kittens, when our dog loped into the yard. The dog loves cats (and, no, not as an entrée). In fact, the sight of a cat makes her shimmy in pure joy but it’s the rare cat who feels likewise. Unbeknownst to me, the garage door to the yard wasn’t completely closed, and the dog used all four of her brain cells to lever open the door with her nose, so she might finally bask in the feline beauty she had been whiffing within for two weeks.

The dog stood in the doorway for a second. I stood to run over and shut the door, but Charlotte was faster than I was. The dog was a pathetic portrait of misguided hope, tail wagging, a warm pleased expression on her face. Charlotte leapt neatly onto that expression, sunk her claws into the dog’s head, and commenced to beating her with a neat brutality you might associate with a gang initiation. It took no more than a minute for the dog to run from the garage, and at least half of that time was the dog trying to disengage cat nails from her eyeballs. Her task accomplished, Charlotte sauntered back to the cage, checked on the kittens, and finished grooming her back leg.

As I learned more about Charlotte’s life as La Juana, my understanding and respect for her grew. According to the rescuer, who had talked to her students on scene, La Juana was about three years old. She had spent her entire life living under the hedge where she was found, having litter after litter. With each litter, she would lose at least half of them to neighborhood dogs. One night, the father of the student heard something outside the bedroom, and shone a flashlight outside; there was Charlotte/La Juana, standing between her kittens and two feral dogs, making the worst Godawful sound an eight-pound cat ever made. The dogs considered the delicious treat of kitten, weighed it against this maternal avenging angel, and decided it wasn’t worth it; they walked off. Another cat was found dead in the yard the next morning, but she saved her kittens for another day. I feel a certain sympathy for my dog, but Charlotte has earned to right to think any dog she meets deserves a good trepanning.

I won’t go into every story I heard; suffice to say, this is an exceptionally nice cat who has been the hero in her own life far too often. It is possible, however, her luck might finally have turned. On Friday, her kittens will be mature enough to go to their new homes. She has, I keep promising her, done her last heavy lifting; she purrs and kneads when I say that.

On this night after Mother’s Day, as her kittens are in a pile in their cage, snoring and chewing on one another as they sleep, she is recovering at a local pet hospital after a long-overdue spaying.

I have promised her we will find her a loving dog-free home and a long and uneventful life of sunny windowsills, choice fish bits, and a family to call her own.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Year of the Rabbit.

About a month ago, on a weekday afternoon, Daughter and I were walking around the neighborhood. Half-listening to her numbingly complete description of a moment of lunch-table drama, my eye caught movement under the bush next to the house we were passing.

Cat, I thought. Black cat, hopping under plant.

I took another step and tried to listen to the Daughter’s endless saga of who sits next to whom. My brain disobediently looped back to the animal.

Cats don’t hop.

I backed up a step and looked under the bush. Something stared back.

Cats also don’t have long floppy ears and chew sticks.

“Look,” I said intelligently to Daughter. “A rabbit!”.

She squealed in delight and flung herself on the ground so as to gaze adoringly at the rabbit. The rabbit, understandably, viewed sudden movement and a loud piercing squeal as something predators do, and took off across the driveway and through an open gate.

Daughter’s jutting lower lip told me that the three block-long monologue about how I had scared away the rabbit (who she was going to pet and adopt and call Bootsy) was going to be loud, heartfelt, and make me yearn for the seating-arrangement story. At that moment, the Fates smiled on me. Hopping through the open gate was another rabbit. This one was a wee little thing, white, with tall ears nearly as long as its body.

“Look,” I noted. “Another rabbit!”

[Linguistic style is saved for times when I’m not trying to keep my child from whining.]

Again, the squealing in delight. Again, the flinging. Again, the darting. This time, however, Daughter didn’t even have time to draw her eyebrows together before yet another rabbit (mid-size, black and white, one straight ear, one lop-ear) appeared from the house next door and headed towards the gate.

She cooed and stalked the third rabbit as I considered this situation. I’m not always the first person to pick up on trends, but seeing three rabbits in two minutes, all of whom seemed to have an awareness of this house and its open back gate, signalled something. I looked at the house. In a neighborhood where lots of people are doing lots of home-improvement, it was one of the few stubbornly clinging to its “Before” status. I walked past the car up on blocks in the driveway and approached the front door wallpapered in pizza delivery cards. I knocked. I rang what appeared to be a broken doorbell. I yodelled a few “Hellooooo?”s. Nothing.

Just as I was turning to leave, three boys slouched toward the house. They all sported the same teenage boy/Emo haircut which leaves, at most, part of your chin and a sliver of ear exposed; I smiled brightly at the hair mushroom nearest me who, being the one holding housekeys, appeared to be living there.

“Hi! Are these your rabbits?” I said, gesturing towards the rabbits, which were being lovingly stalked by Daughter. I noticed three more rabbits had joined the party.

The hair mushroom stood stock still. He was at the magic age where direct questions from adults, especially female adults, dry up the throat and create the inability to answer yes or no questions. I knew this, but he was the closest thing I had to a source of information. I repeated, slowly, gesturing like Vanna White, “ARE. THESE. (Swinging hand gesture to furry doorstops) YOUR. RABBITS.”

His head turned, and the hair split enough so one eye was briefly exposed. He squinted at the unaccustomed light and goggled at the rabbits. His friends stared at the ground. One hummed. A minute passed.

He finally got out, “Yeah.”

I was about to offer to help move them back into their cages when all of sudden, he got chatty.

“We breed rabbits. For pets. Or food. Whatever. Anyway. You can buy a rabbit. For a pet. Or, you know. Food. You want to buy a rabbit?”

I thought this degree of salesmanship was adorable if misguided, considering that four more rabbits had left through the back gate while he was doing his pitch.

“Thanks,” I said gently, trying to herd a couple who were heading down the block, “I’ll certainly think about it. But, in the meanwhile, you might want to…catch them and lock them up?”

The heads of hair looked at one another, to the degree something without eyes can be said to look. Clearly, the afternoon’s plans of sniffing paint and watching “Beverly Hillbillies” re-runs might be compromised by this assignment.


The hair mushroom said “Yeah.”

I had no idea what he just agreed to, or with. I’m not sure he did either, but it gave a certain anemic closure to the whole interaction. They went inside, I corralled Daughter and we continued on our walk.

Do I have to tell you how this is playing out?

Already, don’t you instinctively know no one in that house bothered to bring in the rabbits, which means we now have free-range rabbits for blocks around?

Need I explain that the newest nighttime driving hazard in the neighborhood is two rabbits in the middle of the street, frantically making more of themselves?

Would you like to know how the neighborhood dog owners have dislocated shoulders from their leashed dogs leaping like stallions after the rabbit which cunningly waits to bolt out from under a plant until the dog is just close enough to care?

Do you care that the city has told me that even if I were to catch some of them, they don’t have any more room for rabbits in the shelters?

On the plus side, the day before Easter, Daughter and I were going somewhere. Walking through the yard, she spotted something in the plants.


Yes, sweetheart. It’s also the other white meat.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Love means never...

Here’s what an apology for misbehavior used to look like:

I’m sorry.


Gosh, I’m terribly sorry.

Or even:

I’m so sorry, it won’t happen again.

Notice how the speaker is taking responsibility for the action which required the apology, and for any effect it might have created.

Here is what now stands in for an apology, but is not, in fact, an apology:

I’m sorry you feel that way.

That’s not an apology for misbehavior. That’s the speaker feeling a certain regret you are feeling a negative emotion which you have irrationally tied to something they did. If I drop a frying pan on my foot and start screaming at Consort for having caused that by merely being in the same house as I am, he would be well within his rights to say “I’m sorry you feel that way”.

[He would also be within his rights to say “Go live under a bridge, you insane troll, until this mood passes”, but he would never say that, because he’s kind.]

“I’m sorry you feel that way” sounds sincere without acknowledging any culpability in the misadventure. “I’m sorry you feel that way” makes me want to fill an athletic sock full of quarters and warm up my pitching arm.

Here’s another modern non-apology apology:

I’m sorry if that’s what you thought I said/meant


I’m sorry if that’s what you thought you heard

Isnt’t that one nice? The other person is gently forgiving you for misunderstanding them. So, when your cousin told you everyone dreaded your cooking and company and the case of strep throat which kept you away at Thanksgiving was a gift from God, you simply misunderstood! She meant that in the loving way! It has nothing to do with your being a terrible cook and all of your jokes sucking; it’s just that you’re incapable of understanding English!

What’s nice about that non-apology is that if you try rebutting with actual facts (“…But you said my pumpkin pie reminded you of a catcher’s mitt, only less appetizing…”), she will counter with “I’m sorry if you heard that, but that’s not what I said”. Which then means you’re either forgetful or insane and she’s sorry you’re either forgetful or insane.

Here’s another new way to apologize and take responsibility for nothing:

There was no way I could have predicted that. I didn’t see that one coming.

Perhaps, but there’s still the matter of, say, your MixMaster dropping two stories onto the hood of my car. Are you apologizing for your lack of pronosticatory skills or my car’s stubborn refusal to deflect a Kitchen Aid meteorite?

Oh, wait. You’re not apologizing for anything at all.

And there’s always my favorite:

I was joking. Don’t be so politically correct.

Is that the adult equivilant of “take-back”? Does this allow us to say any hamster-brained thing which occurs to us just so long as, if called to task, we utter the magic words: “Oh, lighten up”? And here’s a news flash for those people who proudly declare themselves Not Politically Correct -- what you really are is Colossally Rude. Every single person alive has beliefs which might hurt the feelings of those around them and, somehow, most of us manage to keep them to ourselves.

As usual, I have an example of this behavior from my own past. Unlike 99% of my previous examples, however, this time the jackass in the story isn’t me.

I think.

I’ll let you make the call.

About six years ago, at the height of the Dotcom frenzy, I took a job in San Francisco. After several weeks of dead ends, I left Los Angeles without a place to stayin San Francisco. I figured I’d get there, stay in a hotel for a few days, find a sublet, and move in. Sadly, it worked nothing like that. There was, quite literally, no housing to be had in the entire city.

I gave up quickly on finding a whole apartment, then on finding a room in a house, then a spare bedroom in an apartment. I was down to begging strangers to let me drop an air mattress in a hallway and contemplating the more picturesque dumpsters near South Park when a Los Angeles friend called with an offer. His cousin and her girlfriend were going to Europe and needed someone to watch their apartment and take care of their cat for two weeks.

Thank you, GOD!

The apartment was a sweet, run-down sort of place, covered in cat hair and directly behind San Francisco General Hospital, thus assuring me a constant wail of sirens. Then again, it wasn’t the back seat of my car and it bought me two more weeks to try to find a proper sublet. My responsibilities as temporary tenant were simple: bring in the mail; answer the phone as needed; give the cat her i.v. drip.

I’m sorry, what?

How to explain this…The couple had tried for several years to have a child. When it didn’t appear this was going to happen their cat became their beloved offspring. Unfortunately, the cat was now very elderly, and every major organ system was fading like a Hawaiian sunset. Her eyes were cloudy. Her hearing was shot. Her kidneys were failing by the minute so unless she was rehydrated and given twenty dollars worth of heart medication twice every day, she would die.

You know, like Nature intended.

I had a swooningly vivid demonstration of how to pick up the cat (which resembled something you pull out of a lint trap), pinch up the skin on her neck, and plunge in the needle. She let out a weak but truculent mew. I let out a half-choked whimper. I was next taught how to pulverize her heart pill, mix it with water, put it into a syringe and jam it down her throat.

For the next two weeks, I awoke at five every morning and, before I went to the gym, stumbled around the apartment trying to find Linty the cat. Sometimes, I would grab her under the bed only to find I had snatched up a dust bunny instead. Eventually I would always find her and she would emit this little moan which said plainly “Crap. Still alive”.

Every morning and every night, I would insert the i.v. line and wait for the bag of fluid to empty into her. Every morning and every night I would watch her minimal life force come back as the fluid rehydrated her. Every morning and every night I would remember that she hated her heart pills and that I should have given them to her first, when she was still walking toward the light. Every morning, I would leave for the gym with paper towels worn like blood-specked dropcloths around my arms, absorbing the reminders Linty gave me of exactly how much she hated heart pills.

It is a testimony to the housing situation in San Francisco that I still considered myself lucky.

During this time, I had found a longer-term temporary housing situation (the housemate of a high-school friend’s ex-girlfriend had been popped for shoplifting for the third time. He jumped bail. His room was free. Whee!) so when Linty’s parents returned, I had moved out that afternoon. As I was packing, one of Linty’s moms invited me back that night for her birthday party. I didn’t really know anyone in town besides the twelve year-olds with stock options with whom I was working, and I was still terribly thankful they had taken me in, so I gladly accepted.

When I arrived that night, the apartment was full of women. I smiled politely, slid through to the kitchen, got myself a drink. Coming back into the living room, the girlfriend of the birthday girl grabbed me by the wrist and tugged me toward the birthday girl, who was standing by the fireplace. Assuming she wanted me to wish her girlfriend a happy birthday, I went along with no hesitation.

Once I was standing between the hostesses, the birthday girl called out, “Excuse me?...Everyone?... Be quiet!”

The rest of the women in the room quieted down and stared expectantly at their hostesses, and at me in between them. My stomach sank.

“I’m sure you all remember ‘The Goodbye Girl’…”

No, I’m thinking frantically, she’s not going to do this.

“…the little know-it-all on ‘Family’, you remember that show?”

The women started conferring. Some remembered it, some needed their memories refreshed, some had no idea what the show was. All of them, however, were staring at us with great interest. My expression was probably similar to the time I stuck my foot in my rollerblade and found half a lizard Lulabelle had secreted in there to eat later.

“Anyway, here’s our friend, the little child star, Quinn Cummings!”

She hugged me, and then stepped back a bit, so that her friends could fully appreciate my former child star aura.

One woman brayed, “So, who did you work with who was lesbian? Is (the name of an actress I knew socially) a dyke?”

The women chorused “Yes! Who’s gay?”

I was near paralysis in horror and anger at this behavior, but I managed to come up with a nearly Victorian “I’m sure I wouldn’t know who is gay or lesbian. It wouldn’t occur to me to ask”.

[Lies, lies, lies. I know all sorts of things about all sorts of people, and many of them are deliciously scandalous. And, yes, some of these people aren’t “out”. But if you think I was about to deep-dish on someone for the satisfaction of these nattering harpies, you are painfully mistaken.]

Once everyone figured out that the former child star wasn’t going to do some adorable tricks, the interest faded in me a bit. I took this opportunity to slither out of the room and make a break for the front door. Sure, it was rude not to say goodbye to the hosts, but they started it.

I got to my new apartment and went back to unpacking when a horrible thought occurred to me. I checked the bags. I checked my car. I checked my bags again. Oh, hell, I had left my good winter coat at the Cat House. I had to go back for the coat, and if I saw these two women again, I was going to say something. I wouldn’t mean to. I wouldn’t want to. But once I saw their silly faces, something hot and sticky was going to come hurtling out of my mouth.

An hour later I was back in their house. Coat over my arm, I recited the little speech I had prepared while searching for a parking space in their neighborhood. And being as the entire city of San Franscisco has only two parking spaces available at any given time, and they are both where you are not, I had plenty of time to practice it.

“…It was very nice of you to invite me to your party and I think you were just introducing me to your friends, but when you brought me up in the front of the room like that, and introduced me as a former child star, I felt like the evening’s entertainment. Not to mention how that part of my life was nearly two decades ago, and when it’s the first thing someone finds worth mentioning about me, I start to feel as if I have done nothing else of any consequence in my life...”

The birthday girl protested, “But we’re interested in Hollywood…“

Her girlfriend lay a protective hand on her shoulder.

“Honey, let Quinn vent.”




Venting is something you do when traffic is really bad and you come home and yell for fifteen minutes at your spouse about how you want to live in a city with two thousand people where you walk to work.

is something you do at a bar after everyone has watched the Presidential debates.

Venting is something you do when the person venting is being slighly irrational and the person being vented at is blameless.

Her girlfriend all but had me tap out my age with my hoof for the entertainment of her friends, and I was VENTING?

Neither of these women, who between them had five Master’s Degrees, thought the situation merited “I’m sorry”. I didn’t even get “I’m sorry you feel that way.”

I gripped my coat and said icily “Guess my venting is done.” I spun on my heel and left.

By the front door was the dispirited balding lump of fur which was my former charge. I leaned over, scratched her head and said softly, “I’m sorry these people won’t let you die with dignity”.

She purred softly.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Share and Share Alike

My friend Jill has pinkeye, which reminded me of an embarrassing incident from my past; and since I've based my entire literary life on opening the kimono, as far as embarrassing incidents go I thought you should have this one.Almost exactly two years ago, the dog started fussing with her eye. She would claw at it and rub it against her beloved bed. Had she a compact mirror and opposable thumbs, she would have been flipping it open, pulling up the eyelid and staring at the eye obsessively.

After a few days of watching this behavior, I decided she had scratched her cornea doing something unfathomable and stupid, and I took her to the vet.

[You know what's nice? When every single assistant at the vet's office knows your dog by name, and the woman at the front desk sings out "Oh, what did she do now?" That always makes a person glad she didn't opt instead for the flop-eared rabbit that day so long ago at the animal shelter.]

The vet determined she had some sort of eye infection. I was given drops, told to them put them in her eye twice a day for a week, and bring her back if there were any complications. The dog, having had a satisfying eyeball scratch on the door, took her first eyedrop dose with something not entirely unlike grace.

About five days later, I woke up early one morning with the oddest feeling that something Sitting up in bed and attempting the previously unremarkable act of standing, I determined the odd feeling was a total lack of depth perception. Picking myself up off the floor, I went to the mirror and found one open, albeit morning-puffy, eye. The other eye was completely closed, unable to open, and appeared to be melting down my face.

"Well, that's new," I thought sagely.

I considered all of my options, and had two thoughts which never before in the history of human reasoning had been put together.

"I might have had a stroke. I should drive myself to the hospital."

In my defense, that side of my body still appeared to be working in all the usual ways. I didn't want to wake Consort; if I was dying of a stroke, I reasoned, he would have enough mornings of getting up early to get Daughter ready for school. If it really was a stroke, I'd have the hospital call him before all the speech I had left was a gargling sound and, on occasion, the word "GROUNDSKEEPER!".

So, at five in the morning and in the dark, my drooping eye and I drove to the hospital. On a weekday, at a small suburban hospital, you get seen quickly -- had I taken the same symptoms to County Hospital, I would still be in the waiting room. It was determined that I had an eye infection which, I was assured, would grow incredibly itchy by the middle of the morning. I was handed eyedrops, which I was to put in my eye twice a day for a week. My one non-drooping eye stared at the bottle; the name looked familiar.

I asked for the name of my eye infection.

The dog and I had the same eye infection.

The dog and I had the same medicine, at the same strength.

The dog's medicine cost half as much.

I asked the doctor if the eye infection was contagious. Only if I was using the same towels as an infected person, he said.The dog rarely uses towels -- unless vomiting on piles of clean laundry in a basket qualifies as "using towels" (though, frankly, I think that's more of a hobby for her). I conscientiously washed my hands every time I put the eye drops in, so that shouldn’t have been the point of contagion. She is exactly the type to be secretly licking my mascara wand late at night, but I may never never know exactly how we both got infected.

In time, we each got over our eye infection, although the dog never seemed interested in learning how to put in her own eye drops, and no one ever offered me an elderly carrot as a reward for not biting a finger during the eye drop procedure. No one else in the house got so much as a stray eyelash.So, in summary: The dog and I have both had eye infections. The dog and I have both had lipomas. The dog has horrendously foul breath and pernicious flatulence.

I have a very bad feeling about this.