Tuesday, September 27, 2011

The Lady of the Flake

When one donates blood at the Red Cross, they have the most wonderfully subtle and, I suspect, effective system for allowing people to recognize their own limitations. When you arrive, you fill out this paperwork and you say no, you haven't done anything which would compromise the integrity of your blood in the past ten years. No IV drugs, no unprotected sex with strangers, no buying packets of plasma from the guy in the alley behind the bodega and making them into smoothies. You're good.

Then, the nurse interviews you. You're sure you haven't had unprotected sex with prisoners or used IV drugs with a needle you found under a bus-stop bench or borrowed a kidney from an indigent sex-worker? It's okay, they won't judge you; they just want to know. And you insist to all and sundry that you're good. And then, finally, just as they are inserting the line to grab your fluids, you're given a small slip of paper to sign, wherein if there is any reason whatsoever this blood might be dodgy--some reason you are holding deep in your possibly-tainted heart-- you can just put a little check there. No one will ever ask you any questions, you'll never have to say anything out loud, they'll even take your blood so you don't feel shunned. They just won't use it. Of course, the entire blood-supply is tested anyway, but I just love that idea that the Red Cross has found a way for people to participate without doing harm.

Could we please create this system for people who are going through a flaky time in their lives? Note how I didn't say flaky people; I think while some people will be flaky from the first thermos they lose in pre-school to forgetting to attend their own funeral, the vast majority of flakes are going through a phase. It's a month, or a year, or the better part of the 20th century, but it's a time in their lives when they honestly will miss more than they hit. I've had these times, I suspect you've had these times. These people might be having fun doing whatever is distracting them, but they also spend a lot of time getting yelled at, or iced out, or losing out on future opportunities because they've irritated the people around them. Or, in the case of this morning, they promise to volunteer at a local shelter I work with, they confirm with me last night, and then they miss their shift this morning, leaving two people with a three-person job. One of those people was me, the one with the allergies and the asthma; it took two showers before my trachea was speaking to me again. And, of course, the terrible irony is that the very nature of flakiness renders the person in its thrall incapable of being able to predict that they're completely no good to anyone right now. You can be as flaky as a well-made pie crust and all ignorant outsiders see is a reasonably articulate person vowing to take you to the airport.

And then you miss your plane.

So, here's my suggestion. If you have missed more than 33% of your promised appointments in the previous two weeks, and the reason is not "My chemotherapy is really cutting into my day" but "Man, I just couldn't get going this morning," you are now in a flaky phase. We who monitor such things will put a ring on your finger, something impossible to take off so you won't be tempted to forget it someplace or wash it in hair-dye or throw it at a pigeon or something else kind of flaky. And then, whenever you promise someone you will be somewhere/do something/marry someone, people can look down at your hand, see the subtle yet unequivocal marker which says "That thing I just said will never happen." And the person can smile and thank you for your kindness-- for the part of your brain which is good and decent and longs to be sprung from the incoherent fog which is flakiness, without having any expectation of your assistance. When your attendance rate in life finally rises above 80%, we'll come by and pick up the ring again.

(We'd just ask you to mail the ring back to us, but you could relapse, and we want the ring.)

As with the Red Cross, this series of checks and balances won't completely eradicate the problem; flakes will slip through. Special dinners will sit uneaten. Laundry will remain in the washer until it's as green as Ireland. Younger brothers will still arrive to celebrate Christmas on the 28th. But I believe we need to begin letting the world know who cannot be expected to bring the yams to Thanksgiving. Or the turkey.


Monday, September 26, 2011

You're An Education in Yourself

Cross-posting from the new education blog. I'm referencing myself! This either makes me modern or lazy.


Saturday, September 24, 2011

No Pills Gonna Cure My Ill

So, dog goes in for his cortisone shot, because he's itchy. But we can't just have cortisone, because he hasn't had a check-up for over a year, he must also have a check-up. While there, the vet notes his teeth are disgusting, which isn't good for his health so we book in a teeth-cleaning, but because he's an older man, he has to have a blood-panel first. All on the blood panel looks well, except for some number which has to do with his gallbladder. He might have gallstones, which would explain the occasional vomiting. Or he might not, and he just vomits because he's a dog and if a dog isn't a little disgusting, they lose their union card. But the only way we can confirm this is...

that's right, more tests.
Thank St. Francis for pet insurance.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Dry Town

Quite a few birthdays ago, Consort asked me what I wanted. I trilled, “I know it’s expensive, but I’d really love a drying rack!”

And then Consort ran away and fell in love with someone who wasn’t the dullest person on the planet.

The end.

Please understand, I didn’t just want a drying rack, I longed for a drying rack. Clothes which don’t suffer the indignities of the dryer last longer and look better. I live in a region that has a rainy season which lasts less time than a pint of ice-cream in my freezer, so you can dry your clothing outside all year. The gas bill would be less. There was no downside to a drying rack except that every time I decided to splurge and buy myself one, I’d get into a self-doubting spiral where I started to question whether I was worthy of a drying rack. Shouldn’t I just drape clothing over lawn chairs like the pilgrims did? Was I just yet another mindless consumer of goods, rampantly buying things like new socks, dental floss, and drying racks?

And then Consort ran away and fell in love with someone who wasn’t the dullest ruminator on the planet.

The end.

No, instead, he bought me exactly the drying rack I wanted. He even got two-day shipping so it could be here in time for my birthday, despite my insistance that cheap shipping was good enough for me, that two-day shipping was more of a Jennifer Lopez thing. The box arrived, I opened it, saw the tops of birch dowels, squealed in delight, and pulled it out.




The drying rack was stuck. I yanked again, harder.

(Because in my world, the first rule of physics is “Any object responds well to mindless force.")

The drying rack sprung halfway from the box; from within the box was a horrible sound, a breaking sound. I tugged more gently. Now, how to explain this. The drying rack is created so that when you’re not drying, it folds flat, which means it’s basically a series of hinged wooden X's. When they had put my precious in the box, one of the hinges on one of the X's got stuck on something inside. What it got stuck on I’ll never know, because my brutal yanking could bring down bridges, but somewhere between my upper-body strength and the stuck thing inside, I created something akin to a spiral fracture in one of the structural elements. I stared in dismay. I had dreamt of a drying rack for nearly a decade and broke it before I owned it for ninety seconds. This is why I can’t have nice things.

Consort, as he frequently does, fixed the problem I created, forming a sort of steel plate around the spiral fracture. Now the drying rack didn’t open without incident, but it worked well enough, drying my family’s clothing in pervasive California sun. It took some extra wiggling to get it into position, but I took that as the cost of being me, with the jerking and the hubris of thinking I was worthy of a drying rack. Besides, I consoled myself, someday it would fall apart because of this initial indignity, and then maybe I’d get myself a new drying rack. This time, I’d let Consort open the box.

More than a decade has passed. I think I’m strongly recommending this product, because it’s still with us. It’s working, but I can’t say it’s exactly attractive while doing so. I refer to it as Our Invalid. Every week, I tiptoe it out and gently unfold it. The assorted dowels hit the ground like ripe fruit in a windstorm. I reassemble it, gritting my teeth as Side-A, freed of the dowels, gracefully wilts against me as I’m trying to stabilize Side-B.  Dr. Bunstein views this as the high point of his week, because dowels sometimes roll under the hedge and they are very delicious. If I don’t weigh the clothing equally around the rack, it collapses on my foot, leaving wet clothing on the grass. Each week for the drying rack is a race against gravity and chaos. I’d complain more, but the gravity and chaos is of my making and, frankly, every week is a race against gravity and chaos for me as well. So we age together, not always attractively, but I appreciate its endurance and its quiet acceptance of my flaws. When it falls on me, it seems like the mildest sort of payback.

Sometimes, though, late at night, I click open the new drying rack page on my browser and I gently touch the screen, noticing how stable their drying rack appears, how whole. I whisper, “Someday,” and then I go to make sure the cats aren’t batting a rogue dowel around the laundry room.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Marion the Librarian

If you're coming over from Good Housekeeping, filled with outrage about how mean I was to America's librarians, please hear me out.

The original story was over 1500 words.

Good Housekeeping edited it down to 500 words.

I did not edit it.

Good Housekeeping edited it.

What was originally a story about how I got into a silly power struggle with someone over something which didn't actually matter has become QUINN CUMMINGS IS MEAN TO LIBRARIANS.

If you care, here is the original story. I never said it was my favorite. I never said it was my best. But I also never said I wake each morning to torture librarians.

Actually, I think several librarians would speak of me rather fondly. So long, you know, as they don't read Good Housekeeping.

Yeah, I'm back! Look at my tan! I'm very rested, thanks for asking. I hope you like the fall motif around here. You didn't notice? Look again, it's very subtle. Hint: I used a mallard and elk fabric print to cover the cushions on the couch. I like to keep it seasonal around the ole QC Report. Wait until you see the singing Santa I'm going to plug in at Christmas.

I wish I could say "And so much has happened since I last wrote, I don't even know where to begin." Many things happen each day, the car never fully cools down, and yet there isn't a fun anecdote or six to point at to prove I'm busy. Daughter is, at this exact moment, not entirely hungry, and I can say that with pride because it's nearly a job unto itself. The pets are well. The house is quietly decaying. Yesterday, Consort spent seven hours fixing something blindingly complicated on his work computer. Eventually, it was fixed but nothing appears to be different or improved. I'm glad this pleases him; if I spent seven hours working hard I'd want something in return besides "I've staved off entropy."

Wait, there is one thing. I currently hold feelings of wild distaste for someone who barely matters to me at all.

It all began a few months ago when I noticed my wallet weighed slightly less than a frozen Cornish game hen. Ruthlessly pruning out expired museum membership cards and "Buy 9, get the 10th free" yogurt coupons was satisfying but my wallet still remained in cold poultry territory. Harder choices had to be made, the first being "no redundancies", which resulted in removing my library card and keeping only Daughter's card -- an arbitrary call. Eventually, I got my wallet down to a small bag of coffee, weight-wise, and we all moved on. I moved on slightly faster, what with having a lighter purse.

Months passed. I'd pick up books from the library and because this is the library we have used since Daughter was born, the desk clerks would scan the card and hand me my books. Then one day, a new clerk scanned my card, paused a moment, examined the card closely, peered coldly at my face and clucked.

"This isn't your name," she said gravely.

"No," I said smiling. "It's my daughter's name. And these are her books."

"Those are books for adults. I think these are your books" she clucked again.

And yes, some of them were from the adult section, but it wasn't as if they were titled things like "Rafe the Virile IT Guy Visits Helen in HR." As it so happens, both Daughter and I enjoy Roz Chast cartoons and books about rare fatal diseases. We would both read these books and so what if we didn't? I didn't like her tone. I quickly established she had no authority beyond clucking, twittering and peering. I grabbed my books and my -- I mean Daughter's -- card and sailed off with a "You have a nice day, now!" whispered over my shoulder to her.

For the new few weeks, no matter what time I went there or what day, there was the Clucker, glaring at me over her glasses. She'd check out my books and hiss something about how I was breaking the rules. I'd grab my books and prance out, occasionally chuckling about how people with no authority who get all rule-tweaked are a little sad. As it turns out, I was right; she had no authority. But she did have a boss. Three weeks ago, I came in to pick up some books and there was the Clucker who, upon spying me, ran into the back room and got her boss, the actual librarian.

I then endured a five-minute speech while Clucker stood right behind her, carefully dusting an empty desk and scrutinizing everything in the immediate vicinity but me. To her credit, the librarian looked embarrassed to be even mentioning this. I explained wallet was a frozen Cornish game hen. She nodded in sympathy. I noted that anything on my daughter's card, since she is a minor, is my responsibility anyway. She nodded in agreement. Eventually, we settled with "Quinn, it would be great if you could bring your own card. You know, just to make everything easy on...everyone."

And you know? Until that moment, I might have even done it, found the card in my desk drawer and changed over. I feel great affection for librarians, because they do important work and make our lives better in so many ways. But I just couldn't give the Clucker what she wanted because...it didn't matter! The very meaningless of this power battle meant I COULD NOT BACK DOWN. Because this person thought she could harangue me into doing something which didn't matter to me at all, I could no more give in to her wishes than I could fly. The Clucker was a wee little bully-queen, ruling over seven or eight electrons of the universe, the electrons which decreed whether I could use Daughter's library card and I couldn't give her the satisfaction. So I smiled at the librarian, thanked her for the hard work she does and watched her check out my books.

[Yes, they were mine. Daughter's not reading about the mosaics of Pompeii any time soon.]

I then grabbed my books, sneered at the Clucker and vowed to find a library with an automatic check-out. But I'd like the record to show I did show some restraint, some recognition that this situation wasn't so much inconsequential as infinitesimal.

At no point did I say "Cluck you."

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

A New Day

Lately, I've developed a bit of a case of bifurcation. One side of me is the Standard Quinn, the one who discovered this morning Diana the long-haired cat is getting kind of lax in grooming the old southerly regions and promptly rescheduled her day to include cat-bathing. And possibly cotillion for cats because, honestly, I shouldn't have to remind her of these things.

But the other side of me is Education-Wonk Quinn. Thanks to doing research for the book, I'm fairly bristling with facts about learning these days, and what comes after facts? Opinions.

Actually, I frequently have opinions before facts, but I'm working on that.

In any case, I'm eager to blog about education and related business, but I know that not everyone around here finds that topic as compelling as I do. So, I've...


Darn it, there was supposed to be confetti there.

Yes, I've added a blog about education. I wrote the very first blog this morning, before noticing the cat-southerly-region issues. I'll write about education there, I'll write about cat-washing here, and if I ever bake anything, I'll add a blog about cooking. Although anyone who knows me is resting pretty comfortably in the knowledge that will never happen.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

'Tis Something By Your Side to Stand

I'm re-running this one, because maybe I just attended this wedding again.

The names and some details have been changed to keep people from having to have uncomfortable moments.

The kid was at sports and my friend, Laurie, was shopping near the athletic field so a spontaneous tea-date happened. I arrived a few minutes late and found Laurie sitting next to a very large package with a fetching and expensive bow on top. She wore a decidedly glum expression. I pointed to the box and asked “Is it ‘Buy a friend farm equipment day’ again? Already?”

She patted it unaffectionately. “I can’t read German," she muttered. "It’s either an espresso maker or a trash can. This was the cheapest thing they registered for. I’d have paid another fifty dollars to feign my own death and avoid the whole thing.”

“Not too excited about the wedding, are we?” I asked. We were not. Here, in sum, are the details:
The groom, “Chad”, is her nephew, a man in his early twenties who has ADD or depression or Seasonal Affective Disorder or Creeping Malaise. His symptoms have included dropping out of high school, a disinclination to work and a deft hand with making a bong out of nearly anything. He lives with his parents who are now paying for classes for their son to become a sound engineer, the tenth or maybe eleventh career he has considered. Classes would be going better if he were to attend.

He has been dating the bride-to-be, “Brittany”, since high school. Laurie reports she is a sweet girl if you like talking about Taylor Lautner. The family owns restaurants. Brittany works up to eleven hours a week at one restaurant or another, usually until she breaks something. She also lives at home. Her purses and shoes are adorable. A year ago, the bride’s older sister got married with much spectacle and many parties. Within a month, Brittany was agitating Chad to make it official. No one expected anything to come of this, because the only long-term goal Chad had ever stated was moving to Amsterdam and becoming a pot reviewer, but for Brittany’s birthday, Chad got down on one knee and proposed, using a ring Brittany had bought for him. There are nine bridesmaids, eight groomsmen (two of whom work at Chad’s favorite pot dispensary) a meal of either salmon or steak and a long registry of things which are either espresso makers or trash cans. Chad’s mother estimates the wedding is costing Brittany’s parents somewhere in the neighborhood of thirty thousand dollars, even with restaurants at their disposal. Neither bride nor groom has five hundred dollars to their name.

After the honeymoon, they will move into Brittany’s room. We assume the espresso maker/trashcan will look nice in her parents' kitchen.

“Maybe I’m old-fashioned,” Laurie concluded, sipping her tea, “but isn’t the point of being married that you’re an adult? And doesn’t being an adult have something to do with going to work or to school or not paying your rent in hugs?” She glared at her croissant and finally said, “I blame reality television.”

Usually, she and I are on the same page about reality television being the source of our nation’s downfall, but this time I shook my head. “Sorry, not this time. Groom is a cute do-nothing pothead, bride is a pampered princess who wants to be the focus of attention for a year? I went to this wedding at least twice in my twenties, long before reality TV really hit. The marriage lasts until his hair falls out, which it always does. Two years later, she marries an orthodontist in Woodland Hills.”

Laurie looked thoughtful and said, “Yes, of course, that wedding. She’s bossy, he’s passive and they make each other nuts before the year is out.”

I continued, “The only people who benefit from those marriages are lawyers, Williams-Sonoma, cover bands and those people who make Jordan almonds. You know,” I said, warming to my subject and pointing with my scone, “we as a culture need to create a new ritual; a wedding to allow certain young women to be princesses for a day without creating a bond which will take many billable hours to undo. Think marriage-lite. Wait, I’ve got it!”

I gasped in delight, coughed out a bit of scone, then framed my fingers around my idea.
“Not a marriage, but a mirage. We, as a community, will spend many hours listening to the bride dither over flower colors and Empire waist versus dropped waist and we’ll care to the same degree we would have cared before, but now we won’t have a single moment of sorrow about how this marriage is probably a very bad idea. Because it won’t be a marriage, it’ll be a mirage! And if after the event, the groom suddenly grows up and stops thinking he’ll make his first million in hand-painted skateboards and, I don’t know, gets a job and the bride stops referring to her Kate Spade purses as “My retirement fund,” then after a few years, we’ll call it a marriage. If, as history has shown, no one changes and eventually they get tired of each other, there are no hurt feelings because it was a mirage!”

I leaned back and smiled. Laurie nodded slowly and said, “I like it. But what about wedding presents?”

I thought.

“I’m guessing for these women, the thrill is in creating the registry and opening the presents, not the owning of the stuff. How often do you use a bread-maker? If you participate in a mirage, you’d get to open the presents and then the Le Creuset pots and the flatware goes back to the mirage store. Cheaper for everyone. Very 2011.”

“What about babies? Once the novelty of the wedding wears off, you know these couples have kids.”

I stopped, stumped. I stared at the three women across the room, at their Bugaboos and Orbit strollers slung with Burberry diaper bags, at their small well-dressed accessories -- I mean, children -- cooing attractively. As if from the marketing God, it flashed to me.

“Not babies..." I announced. "...Maybies!" Temporary toddlers for holidays and mall trips. Pre-verbal, not teething, preselected for attractiveness and passivity.”
You heard it here first.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011


Question for the ages:

How can you love someone so much you cannot imagine your life--the good bits, the bad bits, the trips to the hardware store bits-- without them, and you know in all ways they are the better person but every once in a while during a discussion they can have a tone of voice which makes you want to score their larynx with a fish-fork?

Please understand me; Consort is magnificent. Better than I deserve. And considering I’m moody,asocial and uninterested in food, I’m acutely aware that “Trading up” from me can be translated as “A waitress who smiles at him while bringing his breakfast.” He wins, I lose. I get that. And considering that we spend more time together than some conjoined twins, I’m humbled by how little we squabble. This is, let the record show, entirely due to his good humor, because I’ve been known to work a sulk against the garlic press.

But oh, that tone. It’s a bit of “I know better about this subject,” a soupçon of “Let me enlighten you,” and a smattering of “Neener, neener.” And what’s most maddening of all?

He swears he’s not doing it.

He assures me he can’t hear it.

Had he not spent an hour today repairing a door handle (One of my more epic grudges is against the original builders of this house; what, was making something to code too Old Country for you, too Socialist?), I’d be going on about this longer. But he did fix the door, and he does edit my writing, and he’s a generally great egg.
However, for the sake of solidarity, please tell me your loved one has a tone which makes you want to throw yourself through a plate-glass window.