Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Go Together Like a Horse and Carriage

Here’s a marvelous source of inner Quinn-tension. I find people who are very unlike me fascinating and I want to know all about them. But I also don’t want to talk to anyone new nor do I want to travel. Really, I’d rather not leave the house at all. Luckily there are these things called books and for the price of a Los Angeles Public Library card, I can wallow in the lives of others to my voyeuristic heart's content. Sometimes this other life is so completely alien to the world I know that I get another book out, and then another still. Sometimes, Consort notices and picks up the seventh book in a row about a wife running away from her family and towards Stavros (the underage monosyllabic Greek fisherman). He waves the book at me and says, “Is there something I should know?” Which is, of course, absurd because he knows how I feel about planes. As long as I have the love of a good man and a library card, what need have I of Stavros?

This spring, I was all about God; the God of the late-adolescent Evangelical variety. First, I read “God’s Harvard” written by a political journalist who spent two years embedded at Patrick Henry College which fancies itself the Christian equivalent of the Ivy League. Having partaken of a world where a visible bra strap brings a warning email and drinking can get one expelled, I was fascinated and craved more. Luckily, there was “The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner's Semester at America's Holiest University,” written by a college student who took a semester off from Brown University to attend Liberty University, founded by Jerry Falwell. Like Patrick Henry, this is a place of modest clothing and more modest behavior. I was raised pretty conservatively in many ways but I also grew up in a city which, along with San Francisco and New York, stands in for Sodom and/or Gomorrah for many of the people I was now reading about. I know Christians. I know Evangelical Christians. But I don’t know these kinds of Evangelical Christians.

More, I demanded! Give me more!

Having no other books about the colleges, I delved into source material. I read websites about modest dress for women and stared in fascination at modest bathing suits. Consort glanced over my shoulder at the pictures of young women smiling into the camera, up to their knees in the surf, their hair in waist-length braids, their bathing suits covering everything but their forearms. He looked at the screen and then at me. “Is there something I should know?”

Which is, of course, absurd because he knows how I feel about the beach.

And then there’s dating. Dating. Evangelical teenagers of this particular stripe don’t date like their peers date. They don’t date like Gen-Xers dated. They don’t date like their grandparents dated. They date like characters in Jane Austen novels dated. They court. And they only do that when they are ready to find a marriage partner. There’s a book which is very influential among this group (I’d call it a Bible for them but, well, you know). It's called “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” Once I read about this book I simply had to have it, to finish my set as it were. I got it out of the library and snuck it into the house because I suspected this was going to be the tipping point into Consort’s suggesting I needed to go outside and see actual people.

For those of you who haven’t read "I Kissed Dating Goodbye", let me summarize: The young man who wrote the book, Joshua Harris, says that it’s best not to date because when you date without expectations of marriage, you will eventually hurt someone or get hurt, thus hardening your heart against the true love to come. Harris says dating is ultimately about premarital sex which, do we even need to say, is a huge “Oh, I don’t THINK so” for Evangelicals. He also says that dating in the modern sense -- of hanging-out with benefits -- gives a person very little sense of what being married to this other person would actually be like. So, unless you are prepared to consciously court this person with an eye towards marriage, don’t even start down the path.

I finished a chapter and set down the book. I had just reached my favorite phase of the delving into the utterly-unlike-me-person’s life, the moment of dim recognition. It’s safe to say Mr. Harris and I probably won’t be hosting a panel together anytime soon but he and I can agree on one thing: dating has very little to do with marriage. No wonder we’ve all had friends who spent the first two years of their marriage getting over the disappointment that life wasn’t turning out to be a Nora Ephron romantic comedy. In fact, the dating personality is stuffed in the back of the closet within a week of getting married. After five years of marriage, your spouse’s dating personality only comes out at dinner parties when he or she is sitting next to someone toned and younger than themself. You stare across the table at your mate, all sparkling and witty, and think, “I got five sentences out of you today. Three were about the septic tank.” And you are sad and justifiably angry, because this wasn’t what you were promised when you dated.

So, in the interest of building marriages to last, I have developed a program. It’s called the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon. Unlike Mr. Harris, I have no opinion on your dating life before you feel ready to settle down. But if you meet someone and think here might be the other parent to your future children, you begin the process. Don’t worry about their political leanings, their sense of humor, their hobbies and interests. We’re going to get all the information we need.

First, you two are going to take a two-day road trip. Each person will bring what they consider to be appropriate road food, good road-trip music and a reasonable amount of luggage. People have been known to pretend to prefer classical music and a locovore diet for a dinner or two, but the thought of four hundred miles in a car brings out the Slim Jims and the Lynyrd Skynyrd mix tape. You might find that charming. You might find that maddening. You might find it charmingly maddening, or maddeningly charming. You’re still getting in that car.

But not until you pack the trunk with your three suitcases and his plastic bag which contains a toothbrush, one change of underwear and a single sock. And if you complain about this being too hard, we’ll hand you a two year-old child who only likes Radio Disney and is coming down with an ear infection. Be grateful we’re just giving you a car which will make a possibly alarming noise only one of you can hear.

Now, drive. Drive and talk. Drive and don’t talk. Learn about each other. Does she share her dried fruit? Does he read signs out loud?

[Consort unconsciously does that. I love him very, very much, but I still kind of wish I had known that ahead of time.]

Does he fart and laugh? Does she fart and laugh?

[Consort pointedly wants my readers to know he doesn't do that.]

[Which means I now have to say I don't do it, either.]

Does he insist the fuel economy is improved by keeping the air conditioner off and the sun roof open? Does she talk during the more important drum solos? Again, none of these behaviors might be a dealbreaker but the average American lifespan is now in the high seventies. You need to know what you're in for.

After an hour or so, a cell-phone will ring. It will be the most high-maintenance relative this person has. As part of the exercise we will put this conversation on speakerphone and you will listen to an arms-length domestic problem for up to forty-five minutes. Maybe a younger-sister whining about her roommate or a cousin trying to raise money for a llama farm. It might be a father with a computer problem and a theory about the IRS he wants to discuss. While one person must deal with this relative, the "date" can think things like I will have to see this person at Thanksgiving, possibly for many decades and I wonder if this personality quirk is genetic.

After the family crisis is resolved, the other person’s exhausting family member will call. If it's the woman's turn, the call will be from her mother because men, you really need to know how that relationship goes. Once again, that’s not something which comes up in regular dating but the Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon aims to keep the divorce rate low, one pair of opened eyes at a time.

After the calls, both people in the car will have to agree where to eat lunch. The only options will be a dubious-looking roadside stand offering fish tacos hundreds of miles from the sea and a Howard Johnson. Within minutes, you will know all you need to know about the other person’s risk-taking tendencies; and possibly, intestinal fortitude. After lunch, we will hand one of you a map. Oh, and while you were out of the car, we took out the road-music and switched the station to talk-radio. You must get yourselves to a wine-tasting room whose address we have scrawled on a slip of paper. It’s either 212 Elms Lane or 712 Alms Lane. Neither is on your map, although there seems to be an Ulmsford Drive. The wine-tasting room closes in an hour. You must either talk about the directions or listen to talk-radio. In this way, you will learn how you each handle conflict.

Having arrived at Aspen Lane with four minutes to spare, you are allowed to taste the wines of your choosing for three minutes. Typical dating means carefully regulating how much the other person sees you drink in order to make the best impression and to not say or do something you will regret. This is not dating. If the other person tries to forget the last hour driving up and down endless rows of identical vines by drinking the fruits of every single one of these vines, remind yourself that this might be due to stress. Of course, one day you’ll be at Thanksgiving with this person and that idiot cousin will be going on about llama farming and stress will need to be relieved but you'll be the one staying sober so someone can drive your family home before the llama-farm brochures get handed out.

Again, I’m not saying it’s a dealbreaker, but it’s something you should know.

This is getting long so I'm going to let my hapless victims sober up before I finish them off. Next week " The Quinn Cummings Marriage Marathon" Part II.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Blog Book Tour: Nanny Goats in Panties

If the name of the website didn't grab you, the fact that I admit my true feelings about goats should.


Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Public Service Announcement

A brief digression today. I had lunch with my mother and we were talking about her volunteer work. She works with a group that places alarm systems into the houses and apartments of elderly people who want to be able to alert someone if they get hurt or sick. You know, “I’ve fallen and I can get up!” Only reputable. Anyway, she was telling me about her most recent client. And, as she often does, she was shuddering at the multiple piles of objects, thingies, whatsies and overall crap this person had all over their apartment.

“This woman was bedridden,” my mother said, grabbing a spear of asparagus, “If she hits the alarm, I don’t think an EMT stretcher could get around all her stuff and into her bedroom to get her.”

This wasn’t the first time I had heard a story like this from her. She swears that at the end of every shift, she comes home and gets rid of a couple of objects. Another year of this, she’ll be down to a fork and a flashlight. I skipped over discussing her potentially monastic life and asked the larger question.

“What percent of the people you see have this much stuff?”

She thought. She chewed. She swallowed.

“That bad? Maybe only ten percent. But I’d say seventy percent of the elderly people have too much stuff in their house.”

I gestured with a breadstick. “Define ‘Too much’.”

Too much is a loaded term. One person’s “Cozy” is another person’s “So…many…pillows. Can’t…breathe…”

“Too much is when you aren’t stable when you walk and there isn’t a single clear space on a tabletop where you could put your hand to balance if you had to. Too much is stacks of mail left next to the stove. Too much is having a vision problem and the floor strewn with small objects. These people maybe won’t die directly from too much stuff, but they’ll end up in the hospital from a run-in with their stuff.”

“Seventy percent?”


I felt contrary, so I played Devil’s Advocate. “Is it possible that the population needing alarm systems is already more fragile than the regular elderly population and therefore isn’t as on top of cleaning? That the average older person’s house isn’t quite so cluttered?”

My mom shrugged.

“Probably. But I’ll tell you that at least half of my friends could do with holding a really big garage sale.”

The population is aging. I know very few people who don’t have a relative over the age of seventy they aren’t helping in some way or another. Maybe you don’t get over to their place a lot, or maybe you do but you’ve developed a blind spot to the clutter. Maybe the clutter makes you nuts but who needs the drama of that conversation? I sympathize, but it has to be done. I asked my mother what I should tell my readers if I wrote about this and this is what she said:

Tell them to look around the older person’s house and try to imagine coming through with a stretcher. Tell them that when I volunteer in the ER, I help people fill out their forms when they arrive and that nearly every fall an elderly person takes in their house was avoidable. Tell them that the “Grandma, let’s pack away some of your stuff” conversation is less awkward than the “Grandma, your broken hip means we need to sell the house” conversation. Oh, and tell them to get those small area rugs off the floor. I can’t believe how many of those I see in old people’s houses.

Consider yourself told.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Turn and Face the Strain

Okay, you fans of Facebook, I shall put this in language you might recognize. My drag-queen name is I Hate Facebook. My top five favorite movies are I Hate Facebook. The last ten books I read were I Hate Facebook. The Brady child I would be is Marcia, HATING FACEBOOK.

I wanted to participate, I truly did. The twenty-first century wasn’t going to move on without me. I spent a few months dabbling in discovering that friends of friends of mine were eager for me to see their Equity-waiver plays and waiting for the plumber to arrive and I said something like “Eh.” And I thought I had closed the account, but it turns out that when you think you’re closing the account you’re only sending it into suspended animation.

So when a year later my editor and agent suggested Facebook for networking and helping to sell my book, I opened up Facebook and thought I’d start a new account but look! There is my old account, looking fresh and rested after a year of being ignored. And there are friends of friends, who are now waiting for electricians to arrive. I started again, and I got poked and tickled and I heard from people who like the blog and people with whom I went to grade school and every once in a while I got an e-mandala or a petition to sign. I didn’t quite see the point to most of this activity but I gave it the benefit of the doubt. Somehow, this would help me sell books by being available to readers.

Then, two months ago, something weird started happening. I’d get a friend request email and when I went to click on it, there wouldn’t be an actual friend request on the Facebook page. Sometimes it was people I knew; sometimes it was people who had figured out that Quinn Cummings was probably Quinn Cummings and just wanted to make contact with me. Friends, classmates, strangers; all were ghosts in the machine. I thought, “Ah! Facebook will be able to explain that!” because I was young and stupid.

This was when I learned that Facebook wants all of us to communicate with the whole wide world, but not them. There was no FAQ for this little problem. There is no contact number for Facebook problems. Facebook claims to be based in Palo Alto, yet when you call information, they are unlisted. In the meanwhile, I was getting plaintive friend requests like, “I’m sure you’re not interested in making friends with your readers, but your book made me so happy and I just wanted to let you know that. But I’m just bothering you, I guess.” No, reader, YOU aren’t bothering me. Facebook is bothering me very much. And Facebook couldn’t care less if I had sent them an e-cupcake.

I left a note on Facebook to the effect of “I hate Facebook very much because they are eating friends and business contacts.” Many people tried to help. Emails flew back and forth like this:

HELPER: Oh, you just need to click on the “Receive” button [It wasn’t receive, but it was something like that.]

QUINN: I don’t have a “Receive” button.

H: Sure you do. It’s under the “Decorate Cupcake” button and above the “Alphabetize Your Favorite Taylor Swift Songs” and “Create Timesucking Quiz” button.

Q: Got “Cupcake,” which is right on top of “Taylor Swift.” Between there’s nothing.

H: Oh. You might be screwed.

Yeah, that sounded about right. Time to kill me in Facebook land, if for no other reason than I needed to stop appearing to ignore people. I did some research and found out how to kill your page in Facebook. It’s crazy-hard, almost dissertation-in-Theology hard, and nearly as contingent on faith, but I did everything. I finally reached the last thing I had to click, which said something like “ARE YOU REALLY REALLY SURE YOU WANT TO LEAVE (LISTED EVERY SINGLE FRIEND THEY HAD DEIGNED TO LET ME HAVE)?” I smiled as I clicked “Yes.”

And then another page came up.

“Well, okay. As long as there is no activity on your page for two weeks, we’ll close your account. If there’s any activity, we’ll assume you want to keep your account open.”

I heard a sullen tone but I didn’t care. Facebook could go off and quiz itself over who was the hotter Darrin on “Bewitched,” and I could rest confident knowing in two weeks my nightmare would be over. I’d go back to unintentionally insulting people in my usual ways and leave Facebook out of it.

But oh, didn’t the book of faces have the last laugh. Because while I didn’t touch Facebook, people continued to try to friend me, and every time they tried to friend me, it reset the two-week clock. I will never be free of these fools. I can’t even get on my account and leave some message to be read by all comers about how it’s not them, it’s me and how much I hate Facebook and why not? Because my account information no longer works.

So if you’ve sent me a friend request and have been rewarded with silence, please know that silence is filled with pain and frustration and futility. And daytime drinking.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Blog Book Tour: Joyce Saenz Harris

But, wait! One more!

Monday, August 03, 2009

Cork Mountain Incident

...And then I’m back from the Quinn Cummings Seemingly Endless Yet Oddly Fun for Her Book Blog Tour 2009.

During one of those weeks, because I’m all about adding a degree of difficulty just to see what fear tastes like, my family visited four cities in seven days. First we spent two and a half days in DC. Then we spent two nights near Bryn Mawr outside of Philadelphia. Then we spent a night in Philadelphia. Then we spent a night in Wilmington, Delaware. Three of these locations were lovely and interesting and historic; one lacked any qualities whatsoever. I’ll let you decide which was which.

Before we left, I was at Marina’s house, in the yard watching our children argue over whose turn it was to use the big water-gun when I suddenly spied something in the corner. Even in the shadows, my brain knew what those were. I was suddenly flooded with endorphins. I was barely able to gasp, “Are those…Kork-Ease?”

“Oh, you remember those?” Marina giggled.

Do I remember those? My entire sixth-grade was spent trying to convince my mother that high-heeled Kork-Ease wouldn’t make me look trashy. My mother counter-offered with the low-heeled Kork-Ease. I sneered. It was to be the high-heeled Kork-Ease my friends Shannon and Autumn wore or it was to be nothing at all.

It was to be nothing at all. Shannon and Autumn both ended up in rehab before their junior year of high-school which my mother has always mystically attributed to those shoes. In time, I grew old enough to wear heels whenever I felt so inclined but by then Kork-Ease had grown out of fashion. By then I had also learned that whatever femininity heels bring to the table is offset by the sensation of driving your toes through the working end of a fountain pen. I hadn’t thought of Kork-Ease in years but I was certainly thinking of them now. Marina let me try hers on. I sashayed around the house, my inner sixth-grader shrieking in delight. Marina crooned, “They’re on sale at Zappos. Free shipping, too.”

Free shipping? I can be 5’7” with free shipping? Done. They arrived two days later. I sashayed around my house and decided they went with everything. Daughter offered to help me break them in by clomping around the house but I vetoed that in my strong voice. Abuse my black satin dress shoes if you must, daughter of mine, because the odds of my going to a formal event are small; but the Kork-Ease are going to go with everything and also somehow reverse time and not make me a weird loser in high school.

When I packed a few days later for the Trip of Many Hotel Rooms the Kork-Ease were on the top of the suitcase pile. We had some evening plans, some dinner plans with friends and work-type things; also, I had to visit a few bookstores and meet store managers and smile at them. I figured it would be easier to smile if I was very tall. And it was, truly. The Kork-Ease did everything I had hoped for including giving me a girlish sway to my walk which comes from trying very hard not to fall down. Consort went with us as far as Philly then peeled off a day early for the "Paris of the Mid-Atlantic states" which is Wilmington, Delaware. The kid and I spent a day by ourselves in Philly, cramming in the few remaining Revolutionary nuggets we hadn’t gotten to the day before. On Thurdsay, we checked out of our hotel and, grabbing our luggage, headed to the subway which would take us to the train station which would get us to Wilmington.

Wouldn’t you think a concierge, if asked whether the subway was to the right or the left of a hotel entrance, would send you in the right direction? Wouldn’t you, in fact, assume that’s the very least you can expect of a concierge? Daughter and I walked quite a few blocks, our rolling luggage bouncing over the cobblestoned streets, before I started to realize that the fact that we were heading deeper into the industrial district probably meant we were heading the wrong way. So we headed back. But because we were in the old part of Philadelphia, before people had discovered straight lines, going back where we came from delivered us to another area entirely.

[Someone just wrote in asking, Quinn, how did you get lost on a neighborhood built on a grid? Take my word for it, if there's one single alley which doesn't align with the rest of the state, I will find it and I will take and I will get lost.]

I stared at my map and declared us hopelessly lost. I wasn’t too worried, though, because we weren’t expected anyplace for hours and we were in a big city, chock-full of cabs happy to correct our little misadventure with only the liberal application of money.

Well, they would have, if only the cabs hadn’t been on strike that day. Dozens of them drove past us with signs in their windows indicating their displeasure over something. As a rule I’m inclined to side with David over Goliath, but I really wished they had suffered in silence for one more afternoon. Having perused the map and accosted anyone who looked like a local, I knew we had to walk in that direction for as long as we could. At some point, we’d reach the train station, get to a main road and get on a bus to the subway. Or we’d die from the heat and the humidity at which point they’d put mob-caps on us and declare us Colonial death-reenactors. My daughter and I trudged onward, pulling our suitcases behind us until we finally got to Rittenhouse Square, a place notable because we could pick up the subway from there. Our adventure was nearly over and I could rest assured that my kid had seen and smelled more of Philadelphia than most of its police officers. She and I stood for a second in the center of the park, basking in the shade of the first trees we had seen in about two miles when someone tapped my shoulder.

“Excuse me, ma’am,” the filthy homeless man said, “I think this is yours.”

He handed me a bright-pink sports bra. He pointed to my luggage, which had come unzipped, possibly from the clash of twentieth-century technology and eighteenth-century sidewalks. I gingerly took my bra, thanked him without actually looking at him and quickly dropped to my knees to examine the damage. My first concern was Consort’s GPS system, which he had been using in the rental car and had left with me to bring to Wilmington. It was small and it was expensive, just the sort of thing to go bouncing out but I quickly found it. My second fear was less financial and more bourgeois; had I functioned as some kind of Johnny Appleseed of underwear throughout the city? Johnny Lingerie? Well, I wasn’t going to pull everything out, but a rough headcount (as it were) led me to believe only the sports bra had made a break for it. I sighed in relief. I bought the kid a drink from a push-cart and we finally got on the subway and the train.

That night in Wilmington, I was telling Consort about my adventure, holding up the sports bra gingerly on the tip of my pinky when I noticed something in my luggage. I grabbed a Kork-Ease and then I flung everything else out of the luggage. There was no second Kork-Ease. Somewhere between Penn’s Landing and Rittenhouse Square, we had taken a casualty. A nearly unworn Kork-Ease shoe was now a citizen of the City of Brotherly Love.

We got back to Los Angeles and I started calling. The representative from Zappos, while sympathetic and frankly a little entertained, couldn’t sell me a single shoe. She suggested I try the Kork-Ease company. The representative from Kork-Ease, while sympathetic and frankly a little entertained, couldn’t sell me a single shoe. I have made my peace with the fact that if I’m to have a pair of Kork-Ease in my life, I’m going to have to buy another pair. I can’t say as I’m happy about it, but I’ll survive. But because I'm me, I can't throw away a perfectly good spinster sandal which committed no greater crime than not having made a break for it along with its partner.

Which is why there’s now a single sandal sitting, damning and mute, on the Bench of Random Objects, waiting for me to meet a single-legged woman who has the same unfinished business from her childhood.

Hey, I found fun things to do in Wilmington, Delaware. Anything can happen.

I Want to Thank You for Being My Foundation

As of tomorrow, a new blog goes up and the Quinn Cummings Seemingly Endless Blog Book Tour 2009 officially ends. I want to thank each and every person who wrote in with questions and linked. It's been just about as much fun as anyone could ever have on a publicity tour.

Now, back to work.