Thursday, January 18, 2007

A foolish consistency.

Daughter got to school on time, but just barely; the bell was ringing as we hit the front gate. We sprinted across the playground, hurdling still-bouncing soccer balls and forgotten lunchboxes. Daughter was placed at the end of the line of children entering her classroom and I spun on my heel to dart off to my next errand when I suddenly saw the science teacher talking to a parent. This reminded me of seeds.

Because wouldn’t two people talking remind you of seeds?

A week before, I had gotten a packet of seeds as a gift with purchase. I had no interest in sowing these particular seeds, because I use native plants, but I didn’t want to throw them out either. For a week, those seeds had sat in my car until I found someone upon whom I could foist them. The science teacher does lots of planting around the school. I dashed past them into the parking lot, coming back a few minutes later, panting and proffering a small paper packet.

“Here,” I gasped, holding out the seed container like a fencing foil, “seeds for the…garden. Borage…seeds. Blue…flowers.”

The teacher and the mother looked at me, clearly waiting to see if I ever started to make sense. I racked my brain for something which would indicate I was finished talking.

“Grown with tomatoes…improve…flavor.”

The teacher tentatively took the seeds and looked at them expectantly. Not surprising, as I had raced across the playground as if the seeds were about to break into song or create cold fusion. The other mother laughed and patted my heaving shoulder.

“Oh, Quinn,” she chortled, “you’re just so consistently…you.”

Let the record show, I like this woman. She’s straightforward and funny and doesn’t seem to have that demonic knack some women have of keeping a list of your misdemeanors which then get itemized for mutual friends. Having said that, what the heck am I supposed to make of this statement? This cannot be a compliment, as the personality traits I was exhibiting right then were:

a) Oddly intense,

b) Incoherent, and

c) Sweaty.

It didn’t exactly feel like an insult either, as she said it with some delight. It was almost as if my consistency provided her with a recognizable marker in a rapidly changing world. Skyscrapers are always tall. Caves are always underground. Quinn is always oddly intense, incoherent and sweaty.

That afternoon, I was talking to another woman I have known for several years and during a completely unrelated topic I suddenly blurted out the entire story. My friend, hearing the woman’s comment, laughed gleefully and said “She has no idea. Wait until she’s known you as long as I have!”

So apparently everyone knows.

When you get a comment like that, and you’re oddly intense (not to mention incoherent and sweaty), you obsess on it just a touch. For days, whenever I would do something, I would think “…Am I being consistent? Is this activity something which separates me from the rest of the population? If I am doing something which everyone else does, does that make me consistently Quinn or just consistently a carbon-based life form? Does anyone else think the word ‘consistent’ sounds really funny if you keep thinking about it?”

After a week, I have come up with an example of behavior which might be unique to me. Obviously, if I am to take others at their word and assume I am being consistently me all the time, there are probably hundreds of these moments every week, but here’s one which has a nice unsavory quality about it.

Tea and God.

This last Sunday I woke up running late. I hate running late; even if we all end up getting where we meant to go on time I’m foul-tempered for hours, thinking about how we could have been late.

Nearly every morning, I wake up at 7:30am without an alarm clock. This isn’t bragging but genetics; I wake up at 7:30am no matter what time I go to sleep. When I was young and stupid, I would sometimes wake up ninety minutes after I had gone to sleep, the bottle of beer on the bedside table not even fully decarbonated. But this Saturday night, Consort had a cough and the dog had to vomit frequently, so I slept no more than twenty minutes at a stretch. I awoke at 8:30, which is exactly fifteen minutes before the absolute latest we can leave for church. Consort, already fully dressed, was waking me up to say that he would take the kid to church, I could sleep in.

I leapt from bed using words I don’t think any of the major religions countenance, and then hollered, “Just give me a minute!”

By managing to shower and blow-dry my hair simultaneously, and putting on nylons while brushing my teeth, I was ready in nine minutes. Of course, I was the meanest, twitchiest person in a five-mile radius, but I was heading to church. And why was I heading to church, after Consort so kindly offered me an out?

Because Sunday morning service relaxes me and puts me in a good mood.

We arrived at church. I shuffled Daughter in just as the processional was lining up to go in and found us seats in the middle pew, on the aisle, towards the front of the church. This was a rare stroke of luck, as usually by the time we had arrived we would have had the special pew with the view of the column. I got Daughter seated, handed her entertainment material as the music swelled. We all stood up, and only then did I look down at my hand.

I was carrying a cup of tea.

A nearly full cup of tea, because the thing I had done while getting dressed was boil water, which meant the tea had been too hot to drink in the car. I had gotten so used to holding it that I was no longer aware of it, which is why it was now attending church with me. And while you would think the adrenalin blast of my morning would have been enough, that caffeine would have been de trop, you would have been mistaken. I needed my tea, and why?

Because my morning tea relaxes me and puts me in a good mood.

So, in the place where I was to find inner peace, I now had to find a place to put the cup of inner peace for the next hour. Oddly enough, the pews didn’t have cup-holders, which I think shows a certain lack of vision on the part of the diocese. Frantically, I considered my options. I could put the cup under the pew in front of us, but if I put it closer to us, it would be knocked over when we went to kneel, and if I put it further under the pew, the people in front of me would knock it over. If I put it under our pew, either Daughter or I would knock it over, and it would spill a million gallons of hot liquid across the aisle, burning the feet of the righteous and the non-righteous alike. If I put in on the pew next to me, I might as well pour it directly on my family and get it over with.

I compromised by putting it no fewer than fifteen places during the service. I understand the sermon was lovely, but I was too busy trying to wedge the cup into the hymnal rack to hear it.

To top it off, Daughter and I had to leave after the sermon, because of an appointment; we’d come back and pick up Consort later. The church was quiet as I collected the kid and her various small objects and we walked towards the back of the church, people glancing up for a second to see who was walking out. I tried my level best to indicate with my body language “…Very happy to be here! Very happy and feeling inner peace! Fully prepared to take Communion, if only Daughter didn’t have an appointment!”

We got outside and I gasped in horror. I had left the cup inside. Under the pew, where Consort wouldn’t see it and wouldn’t think to look for it because, really now, what kind of nut job brings a cup to tea to church? I had to go back for it.

I placed Daughter in the vestibule and walked back into church. The rector was speaking and the packed church was listening to him until the door squeaked open, at which point many heads turned to see who could possibly be coming in forty minutes into the service. I restrained myself from waving. I walked to our pew, which was now six or seven miles from the back door, folded myself in half and retrieved the cup from the corner where I had left it, all the while avoiding Consort’s look of polite horror. I covered as much of the coffee cup with my hand as I could and leaned over slightly to hide it further. This did nothing towards hiding the cup, but did leave anyone seeing me go with the impression that the cup I had inexplicably brought into church was attacking my abdomen.

All the way back to the car, I plotted. For the next few weeks, after services, I would talk to anyone I could find and somehow drop into conversation how I had accidentally taken tea with me into church. How I had actually been raised in a building with indoor plumbing and did know better. How I didn’t think I was the least-known Olsen twin, traveling the length and breadth of Los Angeles with a coffee cup welded to my hand.

Let us now leave this pathetic figure and count character traits. Oddly intense? Oh, I would say I was odd, intense, and oddly intense by that point. Incoherent? Practicing explanations you’re going to make to strangers about why you inadvertently brought green tea into the house of God doesn’t lead to great arcs of lucidity. Sweaty? Well, I was moist, but it was mostly room-temperature tea, splashed down the front of my shirt.

Maybe what the woman meant to say was “You’re so consistently…a cautionary tale”.

21 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

So..did you drink the tea? Cause you'd already carried it in and all. Might as well enjoy it!

11:28 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

If you substitute coffee for tea- I did the same thing. It was the end of June, a 4th grade moving up ceremony for which school uniforms were not required. All before 8:30 am daughter was arrayed in her party dress, her long hair curled, and she was delivered to her school 40 minutes away. I made my way to the chapel, where the ceremony was to take place, to save seats for family coming later. I sat down with a sigh and took a sip from my cup- then froze, realizing that I was sipping my coffee in a church. My agonized glance around indicated that yes, the assistant head of school had seen my transgression. I weakly smiled and exited the chapel. Horrors- A few months later at the next all school assembly in the chapel I took it personally when the head of school announced that food and drink were not permitted in the chapel.

7:42 AM  
Anonymous Paula said...

I felt your pain, in a deep way. I'm the "consistently you" person in many peoples' lives as well. Usually said with a chuckle and a shake of the head.

While it's nice to be a point of light in a comic-relief way, the tag is so full of judgment and pre-conceived notions that I've decided that it is meant to be offensive. I've stopped behaving in an apologetic way. Now, I put on a blank but innocent face, ask "What do you mean?" in a sincere way, and watch what happens. It's equally entertaining, believe me.

9:01 AM  
Anonymous skerrib said...

I think it's all a secret code for "Ohmigosh I'm so relieved that I'm not the only crazy one on this earth, and I'm a little jealous that you've come to terms with it and aren't completely horrified when it shows through."

That's what I tell myself, anyway, when people tell me the same thing.

9:53 AM  
Anonymous RH said...

Twenty years ago, to my knowledge, you neither drank tea nor went to church, so there are two inconsistencies right there. You were, however, brilliant, hilarious, loyal, and loved animals, so I think it is good to note that admirable qualities are as much part of your consistency as oddly intense, inarticulate, and sweaty.

10:51 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are so consistently... a facinating writer. I don't love the ego stroking but I re-read this story twice just to revel in the tale.

Blue flowers make tomatos taste better? I had no idea. My next lasagna is going to be chock full of violets.

11:46 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

In the interest of any reader's health, let me clarify. Borage, grown near tomato plants, improves the flavor of the tomato.

11:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Your story reminds me of the one my mom tells - she had been bustling around the kitchen that morning - getting a few stray dishes done, counters wiped etc. Dashed off to church - stood for the beginning of Mass - and noticed that she still had a dishtowel thrown over her shoulder!

3:38 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Really I thought that you were consistently thinking of others by going to great lengths to give the Science teacher seeds that she could use. You could have been like everyone else and thrown them away but you were consistently a giving person even when you were in a hurry!! It's a good thing. Take it as you're dependable.

4:29 PM  
Blogger Mel said...

"polite horror" . . . that is a perfect phrase.

11:05 PM  
Blogger OHN said...

It is almost like the dream where you go to school forgetting to put on your pants and you spend the day trying to hide.

5:13 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are we all known for our imperfections? I'm known as the candy junky who is always on time (even if my shirt is on insideout or only one eye has eyeliner) so I am known as that dependable candy junkie with the upsetting fashion sense.

9:15 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Completely wonderful post, Quinn! As always.

:)

Sarah

[p.s. I hope I do not offend when I point out that you've misspelled "consistency" in the title. :) ]

2:14 AM  
Blogger Quinn Cummings said...

Sweaty and intense? Yes.
Poor speller? Heavens, no.
Thanks, Sarah.

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

what kind of class,playdate or birthday
party goes on at 10 am on a Sunday morning? All 3 of my kids would like to
know, so they could get of church.

12:11 PM  
Anonymous lisa mcree said...

Dear Quinn,
We haven't seen each other since we took the kids to museum school 3 years (yikes!) ago...
Had no idea about the blog until my dear friend at NBC Nightly News told me it was the new blog she checks daily...
It's brilliant!
Hope you're well and we can get together soon!
xoxo
Lisa McRee
lmcree@kcet.org

7:46 PM  
Blogger Jan said...

I am so glad you are consistently you. Your intensity is always geared toward helping others and you pull it off in such a best-girlfriend kind of way that we can all relax a bit and even have a good laugh at our own quirky behaviors. I'm quite certain the comment was meant as high praise. Quite certain.

6:24 AM  
Anonymous Jeff said...

I second Jan's praise and response!

11:06 AM  
Anonymous John, Famous in Siberia said...

The only "normal" people are the ones we don't know very well. Without our quirks, the world would be a boring place.

2:02 PM  
Anonymous Drea said...

Hi Quinn. I was just referred to your blog by a friend, and I have been totally loving it. Thanks so much for sharing so eloquently the wonderful 'human-ness' that we all have. You are a fabulous writer, and I can easily visualize each situation you write about. (Heck, I have plenty of my own as well!) You sound like someone I'd love to have as a friend. Thanks for the smiles. :)

9:05 AM  
Blogger leahpeah said...

definitely it was a compliment. i hear it all the time, so i know. also, i had no idea about the tomato/borage connection. thanks.

5:20 PM  

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