Wednesday, August 30, 2006

All Creatures Great and Small.

Quinn, how many animals do you have?

Wouldn’t you think that would be a simple question to answer? As long as I didn’t go for the cheap “You mean besides the two who walk upright and get mail at my house, har, har, har?” joke, it should be a quick numerical response. Instead, I get the cagy expression of someone being deposed and say something like “What do you mean by have?”

Well, how many do you own?

You’re going to have to be more specific than that. Do you mean how many animals are currently living in my house, or do you mean how many animals do I feed, or do you mean how many animals would I have to evacuate in the highly unlikely event of an inland hurricane on the West Coast? Each one of those definitions would have a different answer.

If you are asking how many animals currently dwell under my actual roof, then the answer is two --or three, depending on whether you count my non-attached garage as also being “Under my roof”. My tiny foster kittens have grown, have gone to adoptions fairs, and gone off to live with loving and wonderful families, many of whom soon will be considering reupholstering their couches. Charlotte, the mother, is a horse of a considerably more challenging color.

Where her offspring were all big eyes and wee little paws slipping through the cat cage bars, begging winningly for attention, Charlotte views an adoption fair as some torturous variation of speed-dating. She wants no part of it. She’s a healthy and pretty tabby cat, more than happy to socialize amiably with people who walk by our front yard when she’s outside having a sunbath. But take her to an adoption fair on Saturday morning and she sticks her head under a blanket and refuses to acknowledge anyone until I come to pick her up again on Sunday night. The entire time, instead of charming potential domestic partners, she exudes a palpable black cloud of resentment around her cage. Unless someone is in the market for a cat who reminds them of a fourteen year-old girl being forced to go to a family reunion, she’s not finding a new home anytime soon.

The remaining five days a week she does not live inside our house because she has terrorized our cat and dog -- or as I like to think of them, the “preexisting conditions”. Our dog is old. Like many older folk, she needs a bathroom arrangement based upon ease and convenience. By the time she manages to stand on all fours, hobble to the back door and bark, we all know she needs to get out there now. However, if I open the door and Charlotte happens to be anywhere in the back yard, the dog turns around and hobbles back to her bed:

DOG (Sadly): Oh, never mind. I’ll urinate another time.

QUINN: What are you doing, you have to go out!

(I grab the dog by the collar and try to drag her outdoors. The dog splays her legs and goes limp.)

DOG: Oh, I’m fine. Maybe you could put in a catheter or something?


CHARLOTTE: What? I’m just sitting here. Sharpening my nails.

(I tug the dog outdoors and grab for the cat. The cat nimbly avoids my oafish lunge and makes for the dog)


As far as our family cat goes, Charlotte appears to have taken stock of Lulabelle and decided she likes Lulabelle’s life very much, so much so, in fact, that she would like to live that life, if only Lulabelle weren’t selfishly insisting on living it herself. Unless closely monitored, Charlotte runs Lu off the property every day and then tries to slip inside the house and sleep in Lu’s favorite spots: it’s “Single White Furball”.

Every evening, I go outside and collect Charlotte with a seductive little shake of the dry cat-food container and a lilting refrain of “Kitty stars, who wants kitty stars?”

Once tucked under my arm, I take her into the garage, give her fresh water, and bid her a fond goodnight, closing the door behind me. I then spend the next hour or so cajoling Lu down from the roof, where she sits like a baleful and furry gargoyle, berating me for defiling her back yard with vile tabby terror.

OK. You have two animals and are fostering another one. You have three animals. Kind of.

Kind of, but not really—do you recall the rabbits in my neighborhood? Animal Control was called in to remedy the situation at the breeding house. They showed up several times and had removed the backyard rabbits, but by that point at least a few had permanently made a bunny break for freedom. Within a few weeks of the original infestation, I became aware of a black rabbit which appeared to be living in my front yard under an overgrown hedge. It was very skinny and it wouldn’t let me get anywhere near it. Being as the weather was over a hundred degrees every day that week, I started leaving a fresh bowl of water out for it each morning. My friend Amanda, hearing of my interloper, kindly offered me some rabbit food left over from a pet of hers who was MIA.

But, see, this isn’t pet ownership because I hadn’t actually bought the food, right?

And rabbit fur sends me into anaphylactic shock, so it’s not coming inside anytime soon. So it’s not my pet, right?

After a week or so, I was heartened to see the rabbit gaining some weight. Also, sometimes, it would hop towards me in an inquisitive way, which pleased me. I wasn’t going to touch the histamine-laden beast, you understand, but a friendlier animal struck me as a happier animal. It was kind of confusing, though. Sometimes, the rabbit would look plump. Sometimes it looked peaked. Sometimes it was quite happy to eat near me. Other times, it would regard me as if I were brandishing a recipe for Lapin a la Cocotte. I couldn’t figure out what was going on with this rabbit.

You’re smart. You’ve already deduced there was more than one rabbit. I didn’t get it until I came out one night to leave lettuce tops and saw four of them out there, all black.

I also saw a skunk waddling up to partake of the rabbit food (which I was by now buying in bulk), but under no circumstance am I counting it as one of my animals in any way, shape or form.

After long deliberation, I came to several conclusions:

1) The shelters are full to bursting with rabbits, many of which came from my very neighborhood. No one wants these guys, so

2) I will keep feeding them and giving them fresh water. I will make their lives as pleasant as possible without actually touching them, and

3) Since the odds of them all being the same gender were very small, and since I didn’t want a rippling black furry yard of dependants, I was going to have to get them spayed or neutered. Being as I live in a large city, it will be easy and painless to find a low-cost spaying and neutering program for rabbits. I suspected the greatest challenge of the whole “Getting them neutered” situation was going to be getting them in cages without actually touching them.

(Sounds of the gods who monitor my particular life hooting in raucous laughter right now)

As it turns out, there is no low-cost spaying and neutering program for rabbits in Los Angeles County.

As it turns out, it costs more to spay and neuter a five-pound rabbit than it does an eighty-pound dog because, as someone knowledgeable in the rescue community told me, “All their parts are small and weird”. Wouldn’t you think something as good at breeding as a rabbit would possess parts which were huge and easily comprehensible?

As it turns out, I spent the better part of my free time for a week making calls and writing emails in order to get this information. Does this make these four (at least) nameless creatures my animals, my responsibility or my inglorious new hobby?

Last night, I went into the front yard to give the rabbits their dinner. The friendly one was stretched out on the paving stones, its back legs kicked out behind it in a winning way, enjoying the last bit of absorbed warmth. Not three feet away was Charlotte, her body forming a striped “C” as she assiduously ignored the rabbit and pursued a nap. I freshened the rabbit water and noted how the nearest bush had several pairs of black feet huddled underneath, clearly waiting for Quinn the Unspeakable Predator to leave them their dinner. I served them their pellets, scooped up Charlotte, put her in the garage, coaxed in Lu and forced the dog to go outside and pee.

So, how many pets DO you have?

Oh, shut up.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Possible side effects.

I understand the normal length of a cold is six days. I also know most of the symptoms of a cold can be safely and effectively treated with liquids, rest, and over-the-counter medications.

Some day, I hope to have a cold.

What I get resembles a cold, but only for the first five hours. At hour five and three minutes, it becomes a sinus infection, which leaves me with two choices: I can either take it to visit the doctor and have antibiotics thrown at it or I can wait a week and observe what it becomes after its larval state. Last time I waited, it evolved into a hyper-mutant strain of bronchitis which attempted to drown me in my own juices. But still, life goes on. After two weeks of not sleeping while still functioning as mother and chauffeur, I nodded off like a junkie in the middle of a live production of “The Nutcracker Suite”. Waking up from a fever dream gagging on phlegm while candy dances in front of your eyes makes you want to get right with a deity very quickly.

So, the minute I sneeze more than twice in a row I should just call the doctor preemptively, whine and demand an appointment that very morning. I never do this, because this would make me an ass:

“…Hi, this is Quinn Cummings. I am feelingly mildly unwell. I know this will turn into a sinus infection by midday at the latest so I demand you see me before I officially become sick. Also, while I have you on the phone, could I book an anticipatory appointment for my menopause which I am expecting at some point in the next decade…”

I certainly wasn’t thinking ahead this Sunday when my throat felt as if I’d gargled with fiberglass. I didn’t think ahead Monday when I was sporting what appeared to be a lei made of used Kleenex. I certainly didn’t think ahead yesterday when I tried to take a nap leaning on the kitchen door waiting for the toast to pop up.

By this morning, I had entered the magical phase in my sinus infection where I whine and carry on to any adult who has the misfortune of being nearby (read: Consort) but when it is suggested I might want to see a doctor, I willfully insist “…It’s a cold, damn it. It’s just an incredibly bad cold which makes me want to lie down and weep and tell you about it constantly.”

Consort, knowing me well, didn’t bother with a direct assault against my denial. Instead, he used my own weakness against me.

“Fine, but if it is a sinus infection,” he mentioned, using his most matter-of-fact tone. “…And I’m not saying it is….But if it is…And you wait too long…You’re going to need…The shot.”

When I had the mutant bronchitis last winter (and slept through a large chunk of "The Nutcracker”), by the time I got to the Ears Nose & Throat doctor I needed an antibiotic shot before I could even begin the course of pills. The doctor prescribed the shot and promptly left the room, coward that he is. The nurse appeared, flicking at the syringe and said, “This shot goes into your buttock and, yeah, um, it is going to hurt, and it’s going to take a while, because it’s really thick, and it’s going to hurt for the entire time, and if you clench your buttock, it’s going to be worse. So don’t clench.”

If you give anyone this information up front, I seriously cannot imagine a mental state where a person isn’t clenching. An incarnation of Buddha wouldn’t be able to remain unclenched in the face of such knowledge. The mere fact the nurse used the word “hurt” instead of the medically more fashionable “discomfort” told me I was in for a world of it. Once I discovered exactly how bad this pain was, I began planning my entire life around never experiencing such pain again. Consort, knowing this, used those two words “the shot” as a pre-emptive salvo, knowing it would send me leaping for the phone.

Within minutes, I called the doctor’s office but learned he was out of town. August is not a good month to have anything medical go awry. He did, however, call me within an hour from his vacation which, while certainly kind and compassionate, also seems only fair. I believe my left sinus alone has paid for his family's two weeks in Aspen.

We quickly determined his holiday was going well, his younger daughter was learning to swim and that my usual medication would be called into my usual pharmacy within the hour.

I arrived at the pharmacy fifty-seven minutes later, girlish and giddy at the thought of my precious Levaquin. Levaquin is one of the few absolutely pleasant constants in my life: I get a sinus infection, the doctor prescribes Levaquin and within two doses I am so free of pain and congestion I want to take the entire R&D department at Pfizer out for umbrella drinks. Any time I start to romanticize living in an earlier time, I remind myself how a sinus infection like mine would have been treated not with Levaquin but with leeches. On the face. Also, I would have died in childbirth, but that’s another story.

On the way to the pharmacy, I starting singing “Edelweiss” with new words:

Levaquin, Levaquin, oh the magic you do.
You’re a pip, my nose won’t drip, I can’t live without you.

Daughter, having learned at the feet of Consort, ignored Mommy’s unwholesome love affair with her meds. The pharmacist handed me my pills and Daughter asked brightly, “Are those the pills that will stop you from making that honking noise?”

I smiled a dreamy adolescent smile. I had Justin Timberlake in a small plastic bottle.

“Yes,” I crooned; half to her, half to the bag, “These are Levaquin.”

The pharmacist looked confused.

“No, they’re not.”

I stopped my little happy dance.

“Yes, they are. I am Quinn Cummings and I'm here to pick up my Levaquin and I have a sinus infection and I take Levaquin and these are my Levaquin and I don’t want another antibiotic shot!”

The pharmacist must have seen the panic in my eyes. She checked the computer and shook her head.

“They called in for Omnicef.”



I’m taking a subsidiary of Verizon?

The pharmacist called the doctor’s office to confirm the prescription. Of course, it was lunchtime, and the nurse who called it in wasn’t at her desk.

The pharmacist explained to me what Omnicef is, which is an antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections, which would be the right thing to prescribe to a person with a sinus infection. I quickly scanned the warning sheet which seemed to indicate no greater risk of horrible sores, spontaneous combustion or shape-shifting than with Levaquin.

But I was still anxious. I take Levaquin. Levaquin is my medicine. Levaquin removes the sensation of a Bermese Mountain dog living in my nose. Levaquin keeps me from having the bad shot where I have to unclench.

Levaquin even almost has my name in it.

When it comes to me and pharmaceuticals, brand loyalty is one train stop short of religious conviction.


I took two Omnicefs this afternoon and I don’t appear to be spitting lizards or growing a new eyebrow. And I can almost breathe through my nose again, so I guess it’s an acceptable medicine, if not the almighty Lev. But each time I tap out this purple and blue pill, I feel as if the eyes of Levaquin are upon me, welling with tears.

“Forgive me, Levaquin,” I whisper, as I take the Omnicef with food.

“It means nothing.”

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Cursing the darkness.

I came into the bedroom, empty and ablaze with light. I walked through the bright vacant hallway, the incandescent unoccupied dining room and the dazzling deserted kitchen. I found Consort and Daughter in the back yard. I took each one by the hand and propelled them into the kitchen where I encouraged them to contemplate the wall.

“Do you two see anything?” I prompted.

They exchanged worried glances. Was Quinn seeing something? Had Mommy found the Virgin Mary is what was left of a spider web? Was someone professionally trained going to have to be called in to trap and sedate me?

After a second, Daughter hazarded a guess. “I see…a light switch?”

“Good, excellent,” I beamed. “A light switch is exactly what I hoped you would notice. Now, what do you do with a light switch?”

Daughter frowned, puzzled. Consort frowned in another way; he sensed what was behind this new interest in the Socratic Method.

Daughter spoke first. “You…turn on lights?”

“Yes, that’s one thing you can do with a light switch. Can you think of another?”

She thought. She thought some more. She leapt into the fray.

“You…could…turn the light…off?”

I smiled at my Most Improved Player. “Yes, you can switch off a light. As a matter of fact, you can both switch off a light when you leave a room. It doesn’t make the light sad to turn it off. In fact, I like to think it makes the light happy to rest and not grow hot lighting a room without a single living thing in it.”

But it was too late, I had lost them both. Consort and Daughter leave the lights burning in any room they visit -- a 60-watt update to Hansel and Gretel's breadcrumbs. I, on the other hand, gasped at the very first electricity bill I received as an independent adult and took a vow of darkness. I am still toying with the idea of jettisoning lights altogether and wearing a miner’s hat after dusk each day.

I’m not cheap. I’m not! I just hate spending money when it's avoidable, and my definition of “Avoidable Spending” is slightly wider than most folks'. Consort thinks the kitchen looks bright and hospitable if it's well lit. I wonder why anyone would feel drawn to a room which is shouting “Welcome!” at the top of its lungs. Of course, with all this illumination, the room is also shouting: “Having poor design choices made on it for over 75 years!” If I turn on all the historically accurate overhead fixtures we had installed, you’re going to notice how everything else is just historical (meaning: old) It is also weird, ill-advised, or downright sadistic. You might even ask a question like “Where are all of your drawer-pulls?” or “How many drawers do you have in here, anyway?”

On the other hand, if it’s dark, and you make your way through by touch, you probably won’t ask those questions. You’ll speak of me scornfully to friends and strangers, but you won’t be asking about the drawer-pulls.

In the aforementioned Dark Food Place, we have one element besides the light fixtures which actually would benefit from radiance and attention; we have a refurbished antique stove. The sweet stove, which with all its chrome and curves resembles a 1936 Buick, has a light fixture in the top which throws a glowing aura down on the burners. Consort likes to keep that lamp on so people notice the stove. I don’t always disagree; I like that light turned on for up to three hours after the stove has been cleaned. But within a day of normal use the stove is already coated in a fine film of cooking oil, dust, toast crumbs, salt, pasta and sauce. It’s less Buick, more Muppet.

At least once a day, I do some sort of perfunctory cleaning with either white vinegar or one of the cleaning supplies I get from Whole Foods which seem to be white vinegar with lavender oil added. Consort thinks this is adorable, if misguided and maddening. He thinks cleaning supplies should actually, you know, clean. And the healthy stuff doesn’t seem to remove the dirt as much as shuffle it around, takes it on little field trips throughout the stove. Consort likes to use the stuff which not only dissolves grease and dirt, but by virtue of being used in proximity to my child, guarantees my grandchild will have a tail.

Or, I could turn off the light and avoid the whole situation.

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Vegetative State

If you’re a fan of a structured blog I suggest looking elsewhere today. I know where I’m going, but we’re definitely taking the scenic route.

Back when I was in my twenties, young, heedless and had a metabolic rate worth noting, I rented a house with a friend. It was a reasonably spacious house in a decent neighborhood, which meant that within days we had extra people living there.

First came my housemate’s boyfriend, a charming man I was pleased to welcome.

Then came my housemate’s college friend in for a few weeks, followed by another college friend who arrived with his girlfriend. These last two proceeded to live out scenes from “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” on a regular basis. I’d be sitting on the couch watching television and the man would slouch in and sit next to me. Within a minute or two, his girlfriend would stomp in and sit on the other side of me. A tense silence would ensue.

“Quinn,” she would finally say in an artificially bright, loud voice. “If your boyfriend was smoking so much pot that he could no longer maintain an erection, but still demanded fidelity from you, wouldn’t you find that…odd?”

Separately, they were lovely people. Together, they had the same effect as mixing chlorine bleach with ammonia. They stayed with us for a very long time, which in this case meant “more than one evening”.

We had a parade of other guests from my housemate’s many orbits: people from his hometown, people he knew from college, people he had briefly taken a shine to at a nightclub. [After one especially excessive weekend, I created a new rule: “You can certainly choose to have sex with strangers, but you cannot bring them into our house -- there’s the possibility they might bludgeon us to death in the night and I cannot make small talk with a stranger waiting in line for my own bathroom.”]

At least twice a month and always on a Saturday, our landlord would drift by to look around. He always arrived at some insanely early hour like 11 a.m. Why was he there, you might ask? His answer would have been that we were the first people to rent his mother's house after she died and he was fairly certain we were depressing its resale value with each passing hour. My answer is that he was only marginally interested in our slovenly ways until the day he stopped by and spotted the girlfriend with the awkward rhetorical questions. She happens to be six feet tall, blonde, British and built like a showgirl. The landlord was not leading the sort of life where he'd meet women like this, and certainly not women like this who were forced to be pleasant to him while wandering around in skimpy cotton pajamas.

We saw quite a bit of our landlord while he tried to see quite a bit of her. He would arrive at the front door, and we would shuffle the current overflow of roommates out through the back door. It was a French farce with unshaven, undressed, hung-over people.

One Saturday, the landlord took me aside and informed me that we were piggish heathens. I'm sure he assumed we flung dung at each other for sport. I was about to defend myself by saying I cleaned up after myself but it’s hard to keep a household of eight tidy, when I remembered how he didn’t know we were a household of eight. He had rented to a household of two. I kept my pie hole shut. Another morning, when pajama girl was not around to distract him, he launched into a tirade about how we weren’t caring for this palace we had been offered at a reduced rate. He was clearly angling for a rent bump when something occurred to me.

“Yeah, speaking of the house,” I injected. “Where are those smoke detectors you promised to install every month since we moved it?”

A few slightly more polite versions of “Slob!” “Slumlord!” “Slattern!” “Legally liable slumlord!” passed back and forth, and with one final forlorn glimpse towards where Showgirl’s cleavage should have been, he was off. The next Saturday he didn’t arrive, but the housekeeper he hired did.

The first thing I noticed was how tiny she was. I’m 5’3”, so I rarely notice that about anybody, but this adult human female was no more than 4’6”. I smiled at her politely, asked her name, asked it again, pronounced it badly, pointed her towards the kitchen and went off in search of the appropriate supplies.

Having located a bucket of cleaning stuff and a stepladder (so she could clean above the countertops), I trotted out my horrifying Spanish to walk her through the basic assignment. After a few faltering phrases, I learned something surprising and significant: she didn’t speak a word of Spanish. She was born and raised in Mexico (had been living there the previous week, I’d wager) but was from a part of the country so remote they exclusively spoke an indigenous language which predated the Spanish conquistadors by at least a millennium. Her ancestors were using a viable calendar when mine viewed lichen as both a blanket and a main food group. But the wisdom of her ancestors notwithstanding, we shared no common language besides shortness.

I was reduced to pointing and smiling to indicate things which wanted cleaning, and pointing and frowning at things which didn’t. Six hours later the lower two-thirds of the house looked significantly better. I was excited to see the kitchen wallpaper actually had a pattern. I paid her and sent her on her wee-footed way.

Over the next few weeks, I came to grow fond of her, even though I stopped attempting to pronounce her name as it seemed to make her flinch. Actually, quite a few things about our house made her flinch.

As many times as I pointed to my housemate’s bedroom door and frowned darkly, one morning she opened that door and saw something which caused her to fly down the hall into the kitchen, open the fridge door like a shield and organize the beer bottles for an hour or so.

I tried to stay out of her way as much as possible. Being as it was mid-afternoon on a Saturday and everyone else was probably asleep there were no witnesses, so I can only imagine her expression the day she chose to dust the five-foot high stack of gay porn tapes next to the television. I tried once to explain how everything boy-on-boy belonged to other people in the house, but that’s a really complicated concept to convey with hand gestures and hopping.

It is a testimony to her work ethic that she continued to come to our filthy house of iniquity every Saturday, reaching up on tiptoes to ring the doorbell. I would offer her a warm smile and hot coffee as a reward for her continued efforts to Pine-Sol the Prince of Darkness’s flophouse

One week, I had gone to the grocery store to pick up basics (paper towels, beer, band-aids), when my eye saw the vegetable aisle and I thought, "VEGETABLES! I could cook a vegetable! I could cook and eat a vegetable! I could stop courting scurvy and eat a vegetable!"

I bought a butternut squash because I had a good soup recipe somewhere. I brought the squash home and placed it in the kitchen. I then ignored it for several days, except when I would come into the kitchen for a paper towel, a Band-Aid or a beer. Then I would think, “Well, look at me, being all mature and buying a vegetable!” If smugness prevents scurvy, I was in fine shape.

Saturday came, and my small friend arrived right on time. She headed toward the kitchen; I headed toward the den so I could remove the collection of Salty Seaman magazines I had seen strewn about the couch. I had just tossed them into my housemate’s bathroom when the cleaning lady came out of the kitchen, carrying the squash. She looked perplexed.

“You like…squash?”

I remember this moment clearly, and not because it was the only English I ever heard her speak. For years afterwards, at long stoplights, I would look back on that sentence and try to determine the deeper meaning. It was either:

1. “‘Squash’…is that the correct English word?”, or
2. “People who are going to hell like squash, too?”, or
3. “Even in my pueblo -- where in the dry season we eat grubs and crickets -- we turn up our noses at something which requires a hacksaw to open and offers four ounces of actual flesh.”

Which, shockingly, takes us to the point of my story:

About three months ago I signed up for a farm collective. Once a week, I get a box of mostly organic vegetables and fruit grown from local farms. The price is about the same as if you'd bought the goods in the grocery store but the money goes directly to the farmers, a group of people I feel honored to support. You don’t get any say in what you get from week to week, but I like the challenge of that. I have plenty of recipes for all the major and many minor vegetables, it allows me to pester Daughter into eating unfamiliar things. And an increase in vegetables in all of our diets cannot be anything but a Good Thing.

But there is this one little problem. Each week, I tear through the box smiling in delight at the still-warm cantaloupe, the brilliant spinach leaves, the last of the summer's aromatic basil, some luscious heirloom tomatoes. But there, in the bottom of the box filling an entire bag is…the squash. We’re in squash season, which I am starting to fear never ends. Summer squash. Patty pan squash. Crookneck squash. Zucchini, squash. Squash in every size, shape and color but blue, and every consistency but toothsome.

I have used every recipe I can find to make squash go away. I have attempted to hide it in other things (Hint: Zucchini bread, yes. Squash bread, no). I have eaten it for breakfast the day before the next farm shipment arrives, because I know there’s a new batch of the little darlings on their way to me.

And all I can hear is that little Aztec voice in my long-ago kitchen.

“You like…squash?”

Saturday, August 12, 2006

A fellowship of like-minded individuals.

You know what’s nice about the Internet? Being able to help all those Nigerian princes with cash flow problems. Also, knowing that typing the phrase “Former ‘Baywatch’ actress unclothed” will get you 5,710,000 pages (When checking this, I used a less obscure phrase, but if I write what I typed, I will become page 5,710,001). But I would have to say my favorite part of the Internet is how the definitions of “offbeat interest” or “unusual hobby” or “obscure, if harmless, fixation” have changed dramatically.

Ten years ago, certain people would retreat to the sanctity of their house and, having drawn the curtains, quietly approach their sleeping housecat. They would then place objects on top of their cat. The cat might awaken, and the rare feline might actually move, but any cat worth its union card would just lay there, glaring impotently at its owner.

“Oh, if only I had thumbs and wasn’t really comfortable, wouldn’t I just rip this tiny straw Minnie Pearl hat off my head and tear the Tickle Me Elmo doll sitting on my ass to shreds!”

The juxtaposition of random objects balanced on a tiny hostile predator would please the owner tremendously. But this was a hobby meant for one person to indulge in. Or two very good friends. Maybe three, but only if a bong was involved. And anyone pursuing this hobby knew it was something both private and weird.

Then came the Internet, and someone who refused to live a life of shame any longer created, and people discovered there was a community of other persons who dressed their cat in a babushka and encouraged them to dance to “Fiddler on the Roof”. They lifted their heads in pride, took pictures of their cat wearing a Queen Elizabeth II coronation teacup between its ears, and waited impatiently for the 2007 Stuff on My Cat calendar.

Repeat this about a hundred million times, and you have the world’s largest bazaar for small special-interest communities. Obviously, there are some extremely unsavory communities out there, but let’s stay on the sunny side of the street. If you like hubcaps, you have about 1.5 million pages to explore. If you like Ford hubcaps, you have about 444,000 pages. You want Ford Edsel hubcaps? There are over 15,000 pages right there -- and keep in mind, this was a car which was sold for two years, nearly fifty years ago.

I must admit, I have a soft spot for the web sites of the truly obsessed. It seems to me, the ultimate goal of modern intelligence is to know one snappy phrase about everything worth knowing, which changes every 72 hours. Some nights, it’s nice to visit a world where a group of people feel passionately about something like, oh, root beer.

Or pocket squares.

Lately, usually while actively avoiding writing, I have been held happily hostage to, a website run by a photographer in New York who takes pictures of notably-dressed people on the streets of all five boroughs. Not every outfit works, but it is fun to see people taking chances (I won’t be wearing Capri leggings under a sheer skirt while conscious, but I’m glad someone young, slim and gorgeous does. It’s one of the privileges of maturity, right?).

Most enjoyable are the comments from other visitors. A picture of a man in a blue suit, white shirt and dark tie can elicit twenty-five remarks hotly debating whether it’s a Jil Sander suit or a (virtually identical) Helmut Lang suit; why he chose a cap-toed dress shoe; the relative chic of a pointed versus a floppy pocket square. This is what GQ would read like if it were edited by OCD in-patients.

The proper width for a cuff on a jean, the relative style of matching your sweater to your socks versus the lining of your Dries Van Noten peacoat, the exact perfect length and width for shorts this summer -- nothing goes unexamined by this crowd. These people breathe style, they bleed style, and they take poor style choices personally (The flip-flop debates get ugly).

I love it. I love every fanatical keystroke. I love it as long as they aren’t gazing upon me. My wardrobe affinities these days are less Holly Golightly, more Peter Brady (I favor striped shirts, jeans, and Chuck Taylors; you explain how this doesn’t make me the fashion descendent of the middle Brady son). But unless the Sartorialist leaves Manhattan and takes a picture of me as a cautionary tale of how low not to sink, I should be safe.

Meanwhile, I shall drink the recommended root beer, follow the heated “Topsiders; retro hip or just horrible” debate, and bask in the glory of Internet intercourse. Later, I shall put both a pointed and a floppy pocket square on the cat, and see which one I prefer.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

M is for the million things she gave me.

Someone wrote in after the last blog and asked what it is my parents had said to me to install the good values I have. Seeing this stopped me for two seconds. The first second was spent thinking something along the lines of “I have good values?” In relation to the Gambino crime family, perhaps. And the next second was spent trying to recall moments where my parents spoke to me about how they wanted me to behave.

Here’s what I know my parents believed was important. Or rather, my mother -- between my father dying when I was nine and mothers taking a larger interest in the day-to-day affairs of children, I am far more a product of my mother’s belief system than my father’s belief system. Here is what my mother believed:

She believed in thank-you notes. She believed in thank-you notes to such an extent that I didn’t get to play with or wear the presents until the thank you note went out. If you are about to tell me what a mean mother I had, let me warn you that Daughter abides by the same rule.

She believed in the difference between “Can” and “May”; using them interchangeably led to conversations like:

“Can I have that last slice of pizza?”

“If you are asking me whether you are physically capable of grabbing it, I believe you are. If you are asking me whether you may have it, not until you eat some carrots…”

She believed that a child mouthing (or as she put it, “Lipping”) off to her parent might make for a wonderful Neil Simon comedy, it led to anarchy and car bombs in real life, and had to be squashed with surgical precision.

As far as world view goes, she is far more of a doer than a talker. She has volunteered my entire life, and she has usually volunteered at things which are essential and singularly unglamorous. Say there is a fund-raising ball being mounted. One person gets to taste all the catering companies, to pick just the right salmon en croute. Another person gets to call famous people and seduce them into coming. My mother would volunteer to do the bookkeeping. And the year she does that, the checks get accounted for, deposited, and the money gets out to those who need it, faster than ever before.

But are you asking me what sage advice I remember getting from my sainted mother? Oh, that’s easy. I was in the tenth grade, and I must have been staring at someone’s Vogue magazine at school during lunch, because I came home from school and informed my mother I had decided my career plan for adulthood was to marry for money. I don’t remember why I thought this sounded like such a good idea. Maybe I decided having a weekend place in Taos would never require me to use Geometry.

My mother, prepping dinner, never turned a hair, and answered me like a shot.

“Okay, but that would make you a whore.”

“Oh, right. Never mind.”

I must tell you, my mother hates this story. Hates it. She says, with some justification, “I gave you advice and counsel for eighteen years, and this is the one you remember?”

So, readers, let me be perfectly clear. My mother gave me tons of good advice throughout my childhood. I just can’t remember any of it. I remember this little interaction because even though it came from out of the clear blue, she answered it evenly and without ruffle. She didn’t say not to do it or that it was morally wrong, she just asked me to decide whether I was comfortable wearing that title. Many women have decided skiing in Gstaad takes the sting right out of the connotation. To her credit, my mother also had the grace not to point out that women who marry for money usually don’t resemble me.

So, readers, I have one for you. What is the most notable advice a parent, or parent figure, ever gave you? It can be notably good, notably bad or, in the case of my mother’s advice, just the perfect response to the unexpected question.

Tag, you’re it.

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Bolt from the blue.

I had one of those events today which happened too quickly to actually comprehend, so I’m going to try to write this in slow motion and see if it makes any more sense.

I was driving Daughter to a birthday party because, you know, it’s a Saturday. In a hilly suburban neighborhood, I came to a four-way stop behind an SUV. The SUV, having fully stopped, rolled forward through the intersection, at which point a grown man flew into the car from the cross street. And I do mean flew; he was about five feet off the ground, in something resembling a diving position. His head hit the side of the car, but since the car was still in motion the car pulled forward and the man finished his dive by slamming into the ground, head-first.

Within seconds, I screamed, the SUV stopped, and a bicycle rolled in from whence the man had flown. The man was crumpled on the ground, completely still.

Still in the street, I threw the car into park, hit the hazards, grabbed my purse and started fishing madly for my cell phone, cursing again the design genius who decided my particular cell phone had to be black, thereby capable of hiding for minutes at a time at the bottom of my purse. I glanced at Daughter who, mercifully, had been reading and hadn’t realized anything had happened until I screamed.

I said to her in my tone which brooks absolutely no negotiation, “I will be right back. Keep reading, don’t worry about what’s going on over there and do not get out of this car

Mercifully, after a couple of minutes, the injured man started to move around, which decreased the odds that he was dead. Unfortunately, he was adamant that he needed to move around, and he was the poster child for someone who should just stop moving until someone took a look at his neck and skull. The man whose car he hit leaned over him, trying to get him to lie back down, and I alternated between trying to count head lacerations for the 911 operator and shouting “DUDE! JUST LIE THE F**K DOWN!”

Because, when it comes right down to it, I am a native of Southern California, and when under stress, my colorful native idiom comes roaring to the surface.

The operator assured me help was on the way, including the police, with whom I would have to fill out a police report, being as I was the only witness. By that point, several neighbors had come out with towels, ice and water. One neighbor had taken the bike out of the street and placed it in his yard; he later gave his phone number to the EMT guys, so the victim could come get it when he was out of the hospital. In short, everyone behaved in the way you would hope strangers would behave if a loved one of yours was bleeding in the street.

Knowing now that I had at least a few minutes of waiting ahead of me, I finally moved my car into a parking space. Daughter still had her book in her lap, but clearly had given in to the normal human impulse to peek. She said quietly, “I don’t think I want to see this”

I said calmly, “I don’t want you to see this either, baby. But I have to stay for a few minutes. Keep your eyes on your book and before you know it, we’ll be on our way”

By the time I had parked the car and made sure Daughter was comfortable, we could hear the sirens. I walked back to the victim, who had a towel being pressed against the worst of the cuts by the man from the SUV. I noticed the victim was holding a cell phone, turning it over in his hand like a large worry bead.

I said loudly and slowly, “Sir, do you want me to call someone for you?”

After a second, he shook his head.

I said, more loudly and slowly, “You’ve had an accident. You’re going to the hospital. Is there someone on your cell phone I can call, so they don’t worry? Is someone expecting you?”

He shook his head again, but I wasn’t certain if he wasn’t just moving his head to the beat of some music only he could hear right then.

All the while, I’m staring at the blood-covered hand holding the blood-covered cell phone, thinking “Please don’t make me touch that phone. God, please don’t make me touch that phone. This individual does not look very clean or completely mentally stable even without the blood pouring down his head; Hepatitis C is a very real problem in the indigent population, and the cure rate isn’t great. So, please don’t make me touch that cell phone”

I mention that part because I didn’t want you to think I was looking too heroic here.

Once the EMT crew landed, the SUV guy and I had a second to look at one another. He was in his early twenties, ashen from shock. His shirt was speckled with blood.

“Thank you for everything you did” he said, his voice querulous.

I know that voice; it’s the one you get after the emergency has passed, and the adrenalin starts making you feel as if your limbs were being electrocuted. I shook his proffered hand.

I took the same no-argument tone I had used for Daughter right after this first happened, “You did nothing wrong. This accident wasn’t your fault. I witnessed the whole thing, and you are not responsible”

Apparently, a good maternal tone works outside one’s own family. He looked both relieved and puzzled.

He said, “I just…”, and stopped. He looked over at where it had happened, at the blood pool in the street.

“I just didn’t see it coming.”

The fire captain told me I could leave. When I protested that the 911 operator had told me to wait for the police to fill out a report, he looked at me as if to say “Oh, you innocent, verging on moronic, woman” and suggested that unless I wanted to wait several hours for a police car to happen to drift by, I might want to just give my information to the SUV guy. So I did that and got back into the car.

Daughter asked eagerly, “Will that person be alright?”

As I drove off, I noticed the SUV driver was using the last of the bottle of water a neighbor had given him to wash away the blood in the intersection.

I said with a certainty I didn’t feel, “Of course, sweetie. He’s got doctors working on him already. He’ll have a headache, but he’ll be fine”

Daughter, still at the magical brief age where I am capable of greatness, declared “You saved his life!”

“No, the doctors will save his life. I called 911”

“But you called the doctors who will save his life, which means you saved his life!”

Readers, I have a great many flaws, quite a few of which I have illustrated in this blog, but I don’t take credit where it isn’t due.

“Honey, if I hadn’t called, someone else would have. The man whose car he hit and who took care of him would have called. The neighbors who came out with towels, water and ice would have called. I just happened to be the first one with the phone. Everyone had a job”

Daughter said, “My job was to stay out of the way in the car and not look. Everyone did what they were supposed to do, and that’s good”

I said fondly, “You’re absolutely right”

Because what Daughter took away from this-besides a garishly vivid demonstration of the need for bike helmets- was confirmation of something I’ve droned on about to her for years; the need to be of service. No one has to do everything (I’m working on that lesson myself), but everyone has to do their part.

Don’t get me wrong. For the sake of the victim, not to mention the kid in the SUV, I dearly wish this hadn’t happened. But, I take my lessons where I get them.

(Postscript: While writing this, I got a call from the police. The victim has, among other injuries, a skull fracture, but is expected to survive)

Friday, August 04, 2006

Slack. Grr.

I promise all seven readers that I will pull myself together in a literary sense by Monday. It turns out, I needed a little time off.