Monday, January 28, 2008

Pirate ships would lower their flag when Puff roared out his name.

Today’s QC Report is brought to you by-


At least, that’s what the dog tells me.

He’s such a nice dog, our dog; genial to a fault, attractive without relying on it too much, produces slightly less than the usual amount of gas for his kind. He has only two foibles. For one, he’s still pretty certain that I not only will allow him on the couch, but actually secretly long for him to be on the couch, that my lips might say “No, no”, but there’s “Yes, yes” in my eyes. Since my lips are saying “OFF!” and saying it loudly and regularly, I am puzzled as to what mixed signals I am giving off; perhaps he takes running around the house looking for car keys as a coded signal that everything I have just said means nothing.

When I first mentioned this habit, a woman wrote in to say that his habit of jumping on the couch when I left the room for longer than thirty-five seconds was an indication of his respect for my being the alpha bitch in the household. I have no reason to disbelieve this, but if I get him a t-shirt which says “My mommy thinks I’m very important in my own special way”, can I please have a couch which doesn’t have a dog-sized divot cushioned in a nest of extra fur?

The smaller and yet more aggravating behavior is dragon patrol. I have had dogs nearly my entire life, and every one of them hated something outside our house with a pure fury that would nearly cause them to spontaneously grow thumbs, just so they could shoot a gun. One dog hated the sound of VW Beetles, viciously barking at the street long after the Beetle had entered another county. Another dog hated one dog that had the temerity to get walked past our house every day. All other dogs could pass, but not that one. The two dogs could meet on the sidewalk and be as agreeable as two acquaintances from the Ladies’ Auxiliary, but if my dog was inside, someone needed to die.

Still another dog despised skateboarding teenagers hanging out on the sidewalk using our driveway for trick-practicing. She viewed them working on new ways to fall as the blight shaped specifically by Satan solely to bother her. Coincidentally, this is also Consort’s reaction to skateboarding teenagers. When the boarders would start clustering, I would crate the dog, and go out to shoo them away. If they didn’t shoo, I would send Consort and the dog out to be so generally irritable that even hormone-saturated adolescent boys with untreated concussions would decide to leave.

But I knew what made each dog nuts. I’d live with it, I’d work around it; periodically, I would dole out Rescue Remedy, a homeopathic tranquilizer. This one is an enigma, wrapped in a puzzle, sporting a handsome collar. Once a day, he flies to the nearest window and gets very, very upset. His fur bristles, he bares his teeth, and he barks. Oh, does he bark, and he barks for about ten minutes. And while I love him very much, I cannot say that he has the most masculine bark in the world. I’m thrilled that he’s neutered, but did they have to do such a thorough job? It’s a ten minute ode to house-protectiveness as warbled by Tiny Tim.

And here’s the thing: there’s nothing outside. I mean it, not a single stinking thing which should be setting him off. Not a moving car, not a person, not a dog, not even a sheet of drywall leaning impudently. I know enough of the canine mind to look for the taunting squirrel or the neighborhood cat making rude gestures from a nearby branch, but neither exist. He can be in the back yard, or the front door, or any window in the house; the barking can happen first thing in the morning or nearly midnight. The only thing all the fits have in common is that there is nothing there. At first, I thought it was just that I didn’t move fast enough and had missed the thing which was driving him to tears, but then I noticed that he would see me and try to bring me in on it. We’d then have several fabulously unproductive minutes of my saying “What is it?” and him saying “BARK!”, until it would occur to me to get more information. I would then descend into reasoning with a dog, because that always goes well. Sooner or later, one of us would end up in the crate for a few minutes, waiting for our homeopathic canine tranquilizer to kick in.

Every day, for a few minutes, at a point which is as abundantly clear to him as it is maddeningly enigmatic to me, he has to lose his mind. Having consulted with dog-training manuals, I learned I was supposed to ignore him, which was easier when the mind-losing was in the back yard than when it was between me and the television. One night, a few weeks ago, the day’s bark came upon him when he was standing next to my bed. Being as I was sleeping at the time, I didn’t take this one with what might be called a Saint Francis of Assisi loving tolerance. I decided against ignoring and was about to drag him off to the crate when I caught a look at his eyes. Under his sumptuous lashes, he was terrified. My heart softened; he came to our house four months ago already fully-grown. He’s experienced things, and I’m guessing not all of them were pleasant. I scratched his head.

“Dragons again, dude?” I said. He thumped his tail. “Thanks for the warning,” I said.

He still has one fit a day. Out of habit, I still look outside, expecting to see something. Whatever he sees is warned off by his fierce falsetto and after a few minutes he lies down, having saved his family and home again.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Far more important than my usual blathering.

One of the side-effects of an increasingly fragile economy is that high-priced hobbies tend to go by the wayside. One of the more expensive pursuits is owning a horse. Just this Sunday, there was an article in the Los Angeles Times about how horses in Kentucky are being let loose, or allowed to starve to death, because the owners can no longer afford them. Some end up at feedlots, facing nearly certain death.

A rescue group in Northern California has taken on the Herculean task of trying to rescue as many as they can:

They've got 13 they are going to try to save tomorrow, Friday. I know it's January, I know the Christmas bills are just coming in; I don't know a single person who feels better about their economic condition than they did a year ago this time. But please help, if you can.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Inside Information

Consort and I, we are a modern couple. We each have jobs. We view each other as equal partners in the relationship. We are each comfortable admitting that Consort is the better cook of the two of us. And yet, with each passing year, we inch towards a kind of traditionalism that my grandparents might recognize even if they questioned my intermittent obscenities.

Consort has no idea what Daughter’s shoe size is. I suspected this was true, but decided to confirm this before I slandered him in my blog. I called him at work, expecting to get his voice-mail. I got him. This led to:

QUINN: Wow, I wasn’t expecting to actually talk to you.

CONSORT: Well, you got me. What’s up?

QUINN: You can call me back later, when you’re not busy.

CONSORT: If I were busy, I wouldn’t have picked up. I ask again, what’s up?

QUINN: It’s really stupid. We’ll talk tonight.

(Silence of Consort losing his mind.)

QUINN: Okay, okay. What is your daughter’s shoe size?

(Silence of Consort regaining his mind, but wondering about mine.)

CONSORT: I think she’s…a…does she need new shoes? Do I need to pick up shoes on the way home?

QUINN: No, she’s fine for shoes right now. I’m writing a blog.

(Silence of Consort trying to decide if the stress of finishing the book has made me take to daytime drinking.)

QUINN: So, do you know what size shoe she wears?

CONSORT: Um…a seven?

Readers, she does not wear a seven. Were he to buy a pair of shoes in a size seven, she could wear them as charms on a bracelet. But since he rarely gets her dressed in the morning, he hardly ever watches her cram her feet into shoes and then hobble around in pain, which would cause him to think “She’s grown out of her shoes, which are a certain size. Ergo, I must go to the store and get the next size up.”

Back on the phone, I clued him in to her shoe size. Enlivened by this new information, he said “Then, what size clothing does she wear?”

“Oh,” I said happily, “that’s a good question. Suffice to say, it depends on the brand, the season and the style. Are we talking about Gymboree elastic-waist shorts or are we talking a dress from Nordstroms or are we talking about narrow-leg pants from Boden? And don’t even get me started on Target…”

“Shoot, my 10:00 just walked in. I’ll see you tonight. “

His loss.

Somewhere along the way, I became the holder of the clothing information for Daughter, as well as her freshest food quirks, her vaccination schedule and the most up-to-date “Friends and Enemies” list from school. Consort knows we switched pediatricians but doesn’t remember why, nor does he exactly remember where the new pediatrician is located. In fact, his relationship with her ongoing care can be summed up by the phrase “I have no idea. Rather than screw something up, I’ll leave this in the hands of my significant other, who seems excited by this topic.”

This is exactly the same relationship I have with my car. For years we’d bring my old car in on a gurney, an IV drip of oil wheeling alongside, to Chris the esteemed mechanic. Anywhere from an hour to two days later he’d call me with the diagnoses:

CHRIS: So, the drive-shaft is hedging its defibrillator. I can flush it, but you’re still going to have ashes in the gecko.

QUINN: Uh huh…?

CHRIS: I’d suggest we throttle the chinchilla, which will save you money in the long run, and hold off on enameling the monitor.


CHRIS: Quinn? You there?

QUINN: Do the cheap one.

Later, Consort would ask me what Chris said. I would repeat what I remembered. Then he’d call Chris to find out exactly what he said. Somewhere in the last year Chris stopped calling me at all. Consort tells me what I need to know:

CONSORT: Chris called.


CONSORT: Pick it up tomorrow. And use your emergency brake every single time or I’m going to laugh at you.

And then there’s the roof. I have lived in this house for ten years; when I first bought the house, we were told the roof had been redone five years’ previously. This pleased me, and I hardly ever thought about the roof again. Like oxygen and my iPod, it’s enough for me to have it and to shudder at how uncomfortable I’d be without it.

Consort’s relationship is far more intimate. He likes the roof as much as the next family member, but hovering over our roof is a tree which sheds, in an average year, ten thousand pounds of spiky seed pods. I don’t know what sadist chose that particular tree to be anywhere near humans, but it’s a very large and pretty tree, and we love it very much, just so long as we don’t have to touch it in any way. But the seed pods drop on to the roof, and the spikes of one seed pod find another and mesh, thereby forming a larger seed pod. Do this a few thousand times, and eventually the roof is covered by one gigantic, throbbing, vengeful seed-pod. If it rains, they help to create a kind of demonic, roof-destroying swimming pool on the flat parts of the roof.

At least, this is what I am told. I have yet to get on the roof, but at least twice a year Consort gets out the big ladder and heads topside where he spends several hours flinging spiky, irregularly-shaped objects down into the green garbage bins. He knows the places where they tend to congregate, and he knows the shadowy places where the amateur wouldn’t think to look. My job is to walk out in the back yard every hour or so and ask him if he wants iced-tea.

For a while, our conventionality bothered me. Shouldn’t I, as a modern woman, not believe down deep that her car runs on mechanized hamsters and pixie dust? Shouldn’t Consort be able to identify his daughter’s pediatrician in a crowd of two? I mentioned this to Consort one night, as he made dinner. He shook his head firmly as he diced olives.

“It’s not about convention or eccentricity,” he said. “It’s about talent management. People who do things well, should do those things. I can explain to you how the car works...“

I sighed, “Oh, I really wish you wouldn’t.”

“Exactly my point,” he observed, gesturing with his chopping knife. “You don’t care about how the car works; you just want it to move. I like cars, and I like thinking about cars every once in a while. If I liked thinking about cars all the time, I’d be working for Chris. You like thinking about her wardrobe, so you keep an eye on that. If I had to think about her wardrobe, she’d have whatever she wanted, which would include those shiny heels she keeps showing me in catalogues.” I flinched. I knew those shoes. If ever a pair of shoes shouted “Mother has a long and tempestuous history with Children’s Protective Services”, it was them.

So I guess he was right. Other parents, looking at us, might think we had mindlessly settled into some parody of the Cleaver household, but we knew the truth. I had the shoes and the shots; he had the seeds and the sedan. I watched Consort spoon out three bowls of puttanesca.

“Add a few extra olives to her serving,” I said. “She’s goofy for greek olives these days.”

He spooned more olives onto her plate, and we smiled at one another.

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

It's nothing personal. It's just business.

Strictly between us, there is a group of mothers who scare the snot out of me. For want of a better phrase, let’s call them Executive Class. These women graduated from Yale in three years, graduated top of their class at Wharton Business School and made Senior V.P. of New Media before they turned 26. At 28, they married brilliantly. At 31, as they had planned since middle school, they had Child #1, followed exactly eighteen months later by Child #2. Having had the second child, they give up their nanny and choose to stay home with the children. They then take all this insane drive and business acumen and apply it to the lives of tiny, little children.

These women usually love me, because I am so rarely doing anything right. Frequently, one of them can be found standing next to me at the playground murmuring in my ear, “How brave of you to keep letting her eat string cheese. We took Thor vegan after reading about the rate of premature sexual development in cheese-eaters”. Executive Class moms want to hear about where you are applying to school, because they can then tell you about how they applied there as a safety for Milo or Athena, but have every hope of getting into a much better school because they are in a book club with Better School’s director of admissions.

EC mothers don’t sleep, because sleeping cuts into time they could be spending gathering data on the vaccination debate. The children of EC mothers are always advanced. A woman capable of delivering six straight profitable quarters to her corner of the Time-Warner empire is certainly capable of making sure her toddler can differentiate between an emu and an egret. If there is something in which her children are not advanced, the EC mother will find a coach. If there is no way of improving her child’s ability in a field, the EC mother will attempt to remove it. If you've ever been handed a petition to get Duck, Duck, Goose removed from your pre-school, because it is unfairly biased against the slow, know that an EC mother was wielding the clipboard.

For ten months of the year, the Executive Class mother is merely a peripheral voice chiding me about how I’m a lazy, inept parent; to which I say something like “Well, duh…”. But for two months each year, they go from being dress-extras in my life to featured players. A friend of mine has a little charity she runs. I’m not being coy, I’m not socializing with the head of the Red Cross or anything; it’s truly small, but it does some good work in the world of animal-welfare and I’m proud to call this woman my friend. Like most people running charitable endeavors virtually alone, she is exhausted most of the time so, in a moment of insanity, I offered to help her by supervising the youngest volunteers. My friend sees encouraging and training the next generation of volunteers as part of her mission and I think she should be beatified for this. As much of the training is about reminding them, over and over again, that texting their friends from a bean bag chair isn’t an act of charity, my job is to make sure that we have no more than three teenagers hanging around the shelter at any given time.

Most of the year, the volunteers come in of their own accord. From January to March, however, my phone calls triple because the EC mothers are either trying to pack their child’s high-school application full of volunteering work, or they suddenly realized the child hadn’t fulfilled her school-mandated volunteering hours, many of which mysteriously have to be completed by March 1st. These women call me, their phone tucked into their chins, preparing to type their volunteering hours into Outlook. What amazes me is that every single one of them starts the conversation the same way:

“My daughter Imogen needs to volunteer. She’ll be there from 2:00 to 4:00 on Saturday. Will there be someone there to sign the letter of recommendation I wrote for you?”

When I suggest that a) everyone wants Saturdays, b) Saturdays are booked until October, and c) I can give her Wednesdays, she gets outraged.

“But…Wednesdays are when Imogen has Behavioral Psychology and Art Appreciation after-school. I need Saturday afternoon. We have to get this done by the end of this week,” she whines. Then, after several minutes of carrying on about how important this is to Imogen’s future, I break down and offer her Saturday morning.

“No, we can’t do that. Imogen has Yoga for Pre-Teens and her test-taking tutor. No, we’re going to have to stay with Saturday afternoon.”

The same intractability and hard-headedness which worked so well negotiating multimillion-dollar contracts is now expended on getting their children notes from strangers which prove that they copied and filed for 120 minutes for a good cause. I don’t like bullies, even when they have much nicer handbags than I do. After a half-hour or so they usually hang up on me, having tasted that rarest of all flavors: thwarted.

And you already know this mother and child show up on Saturday afternoon, with the mother swearing that I was fine with it, right?

For years, I have felt guilty about edging away from these women if possible. Mothering is hard, and I should respect anyone who is trying to do it to the best of their ability. And then it occurred to me: I don’t have to like anyone who turns what should be a gratifying communal activity into a competitive sport. Since nearly everything the Executive Class mother does is based on the assumption that she and her kids are going to be the winners, what does that make the rest of us?

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Basic Instinct.

We around Casa Quinn are very much being ourselves these days. This is more attractive on some of us than others. Daughter, for example, is being purely herself and being herself fits her like a wee little couture Chanel suit which is also stain-proof and comes with its own matching soccer ball. I will go out on a limb and say no one in this house is better at being a small girl than she is. Were she not so busy being a small girl she could run weekend seminars in how to be the best small girl you could be; she’s just that good.

Consort is also being himself, with a few exciting developments. Because I am in the last uphill climb writing the first draft of the book, he has nobly offered to take Daughter to school every morning so that I can write during the time of day when I am least stupid. This is a noble offering because as I have mentioned before, like hamsters and the Aye-Aye of Madagascar, Consort is nocturnal. I arrange everything the night before -- including Daughter’s clothing and the coffee maker -- so in the morning he has to do nothing more than a controlled fall through the house and into the car. How he drives while still deep in a REM cycle is a conversation he can someday have with an employee of the California Highway Patrol. In sum, Consort is perfectly himself, only before 9 a.m., which makes him even more attractive than he was before.

Lulabelle the cat is very good at being herself and I have the body bags to prove it. When I read about how certain birds and soft-bodied mammals on the islands of Hawaii were completely exterminated by the introduction of the domestic cat, I think of Lulabelle. If I could keep her inside forever, I would. But that would involve none of the rest of the family ever opening a door, or a window, even for a second. Eventually, we must eat or sign for a package, and Lady Death slips out the door, as relentless as an agent of the Mossad. In truth, were we to never open the door, she would amuse herself by killing and eating us and then growing opposable thumbs so she could open the door and go out and kill other things. At least once a week, she leaves us something dead by the back door. Sometimes, the dead whole thing is inches from a dead half thing and some feathers from a totally different thing. If there are any birders reading this, I am so sorry. We belled her, but it doesn’t seem to slow her down one bit. All it means is that about three times a week, some little bird's last thought is a variation of “Say, what’s that rin..."

[She gets rats and mice, too. Piles of them. But I don't think anyone is too upset about those.]

The yard was one thing, but she’s stepped up her game. She’s bringing her take-out meals inside. The first one was under the bench in the bedroom, which answered that long-simmering question: “What is the thing I least want to see next to my balled-up sock first thing in the morning ?”

The next violation came to my attention because Daughter, doing something perfectly innocent and girlish in her room, suddenly called out for me. She said something unintelligible, but I caught from the tone that it wasn’t “I’m having a wonderful time and just wanted you to know it.”

“What is it?” I hollered from the kitchen, as I cleaned out the spice cabinet.

(I will do anything to avoid writing.)

“I said,” she explained patiently, sticking her head into the dining room, “Lu has a dead bird in my bedroom, behind my hamper.”

I stared down at the pre-lapsarian bottle of Juniper berries I was holding and sighed.

“Is it dead or just hurt?” I asked, stalling. Hard to decide which prospect was less appealing.

“It’s dead, I hope,” she said, carefully mashing a strippers’ shoe onto Barbie’s foot, “because Lu’s eating it”.

My soft-hearted, animal-centric daughter had somehow developed an attitude towards her bloodthirsty cat best described as Realpolitik. Lu ate things, many of which were cute before they were eaten, and Daughter would blithely hum “The Circle of Life”. Leaving feathers and wet bits behind the hamper, though, was abusing the privilege.

I did what any right-thinking person would do; I found Consort and handed him a plastic bag. The way I see it, I was in labor with Daughter for forty hours and therefore never have to scrape up small dead things. I did, however, sweep up feathers after the Coroner left. The cat, which had been moved from the room and the feast, was allowed back in after clean-up. The dog and I followed her in, me to check for any beaks and toes, him because the combination of my proximity and the cat’s proximity was too much to miss. Lulabelle ran to where she had left her bird and, upon finding it missing, turned around and slapped the dog. When anyone in my family is being themselves, they are assigning blame.

The dog has been himself, and we’re all puzzled. Each pet, as with each child, arrives with their own needs, and passions, and peculiarities. Unlike a child, a pet cannot tell you why certain things matter, or must be shunned at all cost. You, as the owner, can only say “That, dog, is a thing you do”. Or, you can find the thing they do so crazy-making that you spend months screaming at them, reading books, watching Cesar Milan’s show, trying every behavior-modification technique you can find. After all that, you finally say to them “That, dog, is a thing you do”.

Relative to my last dog, this dog is very easy. The last dog, Polly, ate a great many things which weren’t exactly food. They weren’t even food if you were stuck on a rescue boat for a very long time and had already eaten your Reeboks and slow-moving seagull. Polly ate FedEx envelopes, plastic bags, two twenty-dollars bills, packs of needlepoint needles and an infant-sock. I know she ate the sock because, while I didn’t see her eat it, I saw her pass it. It wouldn’t leave easily, and the sensation of it hanging halfway out frightened her so much that she ran in from the back yard and dashed in a panic around the house, an unspeakable banner flapping behind her.

The new dogs’ great calling in life is to move Daughter’s stuffed animals. He wakes up in the morning, has a quick bite and dashes off to work. Before my tea has even steeped, he has trotted into her room, gotten on his hind legs and gently removed a stuffed animal from her sleeping arms. Graceful as a pickpocket, he leaves Daughter sleeping and the rest of the animals unmolested. He then drops it on the ground and, unless restrained, goes back in for another one. I’ll grab three and be taking them back in and he’ll pass me in the hallway, bringing one out. Polly would take the occasional fluffy love-object of Daughter’s, but that was only in preparation of eviscerating it and following it up with an amuse-bouche of a plastic spoon. The new dog carries the stuffed animals with the tender attention of a mother, doing them no greater harm than an all-over moisture and what I’ve been told is a fairly stubborn smell of dog-breath. We have gotten the new dog his own stuffed animals, and he likes them very much, but his need to move her stuffed animals cannot be reasoned with or displaced on to other objects. His breed was shaped for generations to retrieve; somewhere, in the depths of his brain, this and this got confused.

And me, was I still being me? The more relevant question is, were I capable of being anyone but me, wouldn’t I just take the leap? But, sadly, psycho-pharmacology is in its infancy, and myself I must remain. Right before Christmas, my car developed a problem both puzzling and fundamentally uninteresting to anyone but Consort and me: it refused to go out of park without a struggle. While Chris, our esteemed mechanic/vehicular gerontologist, was on a well-deserved holiday, he took our urgent phone call and deemed it was a fairly mild problem, capable of being worked around until after the first of the year. As long as I never parked the car without activating the emergency brake first, I could be reasonably confident the car could be used as something more than a very large door-stop. The problem is that I have never, not in my entire vehicular life, viewed the emergency brake as a tool for daily use. I believe the word “Emergency” in the title would indicate that it should be sleeping in all but extreme cases. Now, I had to use it every time I parked. And not only that, I had to remember to activate it before I put the car into park; otherwise, its fairy-dust had no power over me. If I forgot to do this, I had to call Consort or find a willing stranger willing to gently push the back of the car with their bumper until the malevolent "parking pin" came free. Most people would describe such an interaction as a fender-bender. It is a rare breed of Good Samaritan who volunteers for a slow-speed rear-end collision. I had to remember to put on the parking brake.

The part has been fixed but Chris has decreed the emergency brake must be continued to be used in this unnatural manner. This has led to a new adjective for Quinn. As we have learned before, Quinn is intense, sweaty and incoherent. Now she chants to herself. Not in a “Hail Mary, full of grace” kind of way, but in an OCD “If I don’t touch the doorknob seventeen times, I can’t have my potatoes” kind of way. Half the time in the car I am chanting over and over again, “PARKINGBRAKEPARKINGBRAKEPARKING
BRAKEPARKINGBRAKE”, an aural Post-It note three stories high. I am not always alone when I am reciting my mantra. I long to go back to the halcyon days of “Don’t Pull Your Love Out on Me, Baby”.

And then I park. And I remember to pull the parking brake first. And I do the little fist of triumph. I have no pile of feathers or stuffed animals to mark my achievements, but I have a car which goes forward and a parking brake which goes up and a mind which can remember something if I repeat it to myself a thousand times.