Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Paint it Black.

To see our home right now, you could assume Consort and I had the following conversation:

QUINN: I’ve been feeling like it’s been too easy to find things in the house lately. I miss the cardboard boxes filled with random objects.

CONSORT: Funny you’d mention that. I was just thinking how nice all the furniture looks when it’s crammed into the middle of the room under a plastic tarp.

QUINN: That is nice. You know what else is nice? Climbing over dining room chairs in order to get to bed.

CONSORT: Everything we own covered in fine haze of spackle dust.

Quinn takes Consort’s hand.

QUINN: That kind of life isn’t just for other people, honey. We’re caring, educated, competent people. We know where Home Depot and Loewe’s are! We can make it happen!

What the conversation actually went like was:

CONSORT: The weather is hot and dry, and I’ve got some time. I should finally paint those rooms.

QUINN: Oh, can’t we just stay with the paint chips taped on the wall?

When Consort and I first discussed repainting, he went out and got no fewer than 750 paint-sample cards. I know I exaggerate on occasion for humor and interest, so you will have to take my word for this: it was 750 paint-sample cards. After close scrutiny (Or, rather, he scrutinized, and I tried to remember to say “Huh” once in a while), we settled on six possible colors. He then taped those colors to the wall, so we could see how the colors looked at different times of day.

As I have mentioned, Consort has high standards, and I am indifferent. High standards + Indifference = Entropy. Two years later, the cards were still up. We now had a sense of how the paint would fade when exposed to two years of sunlight, but we were no closer to deciding. And then, something magical happened, something so unexpected that it shook us from our usual torpor.

A house in our neighborhood sold for a new high. The closing price was so entirely ludicrous, in fact, that the entire neighborhood first shook our heads in collective wonder at the lunacy of someone paying what they did. We then all walked into our houses and thought (a) “That means our house is worth about…holy cow! I have to call relatives in the Midwest and gloat!” and (b) “No house worth that much should have a bag of peat moss keeping the back door from swinging open when I unlock the front door”.

Within a week of the “Sold” sign going up on the new High-Priced Spread, I saw the telltale signs of home improvements going on for blocks in both directions. The mini-dumpster filled with the old backyard landscaping (That is, weeds and bricks); the Ikea cardboard shipping boxes for cabinets leaning against the recycling bin; Consort and I standing shoulder-to-shoulder, frowning at faded paint cards. Daughter walked in as we took on off the wall to squint at it more closely.

“Why are you taking the painting off the wall?”

“It’s not a painting, sweetie. We’re going to finally decide on a color to paint the room.”

“But what will happen to the paint card?”

Oh, this is tragic. It’s been here so long Daughter has grown emotionally attached to it. In fact, they had left a mark underneath where the original paint hadn’t faded. I promised her she could have all of the paint cards to love and nurture in her room. Consort and I then went back to the game we had been playing; namely, the Green Advocate and Veto Girl:

CONSORT: How about this color for the dining room?

QUINN: It’s green. I can’t look at a green wall while I eat.

CONSORT: I like this one.

QUINN: Which one?

CONSORT: Verdant, the middle color.

QUINN: Honey, that’s still green.

CONSORT: This would look great with the wood.

QUINN: That’s…avocado. That’s beyond green, that’s like…green, cubed.

I wanted a sort of tobacco, which led to a lively Pointless Spousal Discussion which can be summarized as “It will make the room look small and dark/No, it will make the room intimate, and we have this marvelous thing called electricity, and why are you holding the green paint samples again?”

I think Consort preferred me indifferent.

After a protracted conversation, we settled on the major color in the living room, the color in the dining room, and the kitchen. Consort then got all excited about accent and trim colors, and I regressed to my usual indolence, which means things got settled quickly. And now, he paints. Or, rather, he cleans and spackles and sands and grumbles and makes unexpected trips to the paint store and wears “Painting clothes”, by which he means “Clothes you have been after me to get rid of for five years, and I managed to keep only by promising you that they were for just this occasion”. At odd moments, he paints.

My part is to help move furniture as required and to take Daughter out to adventures on painting days (I demanded low-VOC paint, but I am still not convinced a freshly painted room won’t eventually compromise her ability to drive a stick-shift). The other part of my job is to come in when a room has been painted and sincerely say “This is really lovely. Thanks to you, sweetheart, our house isn’t nearly as depressing and squalid as it used to be. You have spackle in your ear.”

I’m looking for the greeting card which expresses that sentiment.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

Daughter-The Musical

We were at one of the big chain bookstores, doing a little light browsing between one class and another, when Daughter tugged my hand firmly.

“Mommy, look!”

I looked up from the Cosmo quiz to see her pointing at a woman waiting for coffee.

“I think she looks like Eleanor Powell.”

I considered the woman. Short, light-brown bobbed hair and slender, athletic build.
“Yeah, I can see it.”

Thus happily in agreement, we went to back to our reading.

Who is Eleanor Powell, some might be asking? She was a dancer who worked in MGM musicals in the 1930’s. Why does my small daughter know her well enough to find similarities in a person waiting for a Frappucino? Why do I know her well enough to have an opinion?

When Daughter was born, I decreed she wouldn’t see television for a while. For one reason, the American Pediatric Association had just strongly recommended no TV until two. Being as I have an allergy to authority figures, I would have completely ignored this unless it went with what I had seen, which was my friends being tormented incessantly to purchase objects their small children had seen on TV. I knew Daughter was going to torture me – it’s part of her job -- but Elmo wasn’t going to be one of her weapons. Also, there was that time I saw my friend’s son, age fifteen months, sitting frozen in front of “Bob the Builder” with a completely glazed expression and a stalactite of drool issuing from his lips. He might have been happy, but he looked as if he had just risen from the grave to munch human flesh.

We made it two years with no TV.

It wasn’t that hard. I never got to use the TV to keep her occupied while I showered, but I didn’t miss it. Also, with her being an only child, I wasn’t constantly negotiating with an older sibling desperate to see what was on Nickelodeon or worse, MTV. Daughter’s second birthday passed, but the TV still didn’t go on. Somewhere around her third birthday, I had a powerful thought:

Mr. Rogers was a nice man. If Daughter doesn’t see TV, she will never know about him.

TV, though flawed, had a few assets. So, slowly, I incorporated PBS into her life: Mr. Rogers Neighborhood, Between the Lions, and the occasional Sesame Street. She once saw the beginning of another show and looked up at me, delighted.

“Mommy, who is that purple dinosaur?”

“No one, sweetheart,” I said firmly, as I switched off the TV and took her on a walk to distract her. A little PBS is one thing, but I am not martyring myself.

Flash forward to Christmas, 2004. While searching for ideas, I happened to notice a packaged DVD set of That’s Entertainment, Parts 1-4. This triggered a Proustian flood of memories. That’s Entertainment came out when I was nine, and my mother took me to the theater to see it. Hey, what nine year-old doesn’t enjoy Ann Miller? Of course, bucking conventional wisdom, I loved it. I made my mother take me back three times, in fact. I got the soundtrack and for two years I played it every morning while I dressed for school.

Yeah, I was hip.

Staring at this DVD package, I thought maybe Daughter will like it, and if she doesn’t, I’ll wait until both of them leave the house and sing along with “Old Man River”.

As it turned out, she liked it a great deal. During the school year, she is only allowed to watch TV on Saturday and Sunday mornings, and she gave up precious Angelina Ballerina episodes in order to watch That’s Entertainment again and again. As with any popular show, my daughter picks favorite characters and switches them as whim demands. Only, instead of first pretending to be Power Puff Blossom one week, and then seeing herself more as more of a Buttercup the next, she identifies with Esther Williams for a while, and then starts channeling Katherine Grayson (She usually comes back to Esther, though: it’s hard to compete with a woman who can dive through a ring of flames and then swim through and tube of bathing beauties, all while keeping her eyes open underwater and smiling). I’m a little grateful to Esther, as Daughter started attending swimming classes without grousing when she realized that each class put her one step closer to wearing a bathing suit covered in silver sequins while emerging from a lavender shell-shaped fountain.

A few weeks ago, she called me in and pointed disdainfully at the screen.

“I don’t like them,” she announced.

It was Nelson Eddy and Jeannette McDonald, standing so close that they were practically singing up each other’s noses. To my way of thinking, the music deserved no better treatment.

“I never liked them either” I admitted.

She beamed. I smiled. It wasn’t bonding in a way other people might recognize, but we both got what we needed.

After a few months of being enthralled with these DVDs, I rented one of the musicals from which the segments were taken. My thinking was she would like to see the musical numbers in context. You know, so they made some sense.

She watched the first one for a while, and then drifted into the office to watch me work. The movie continued unacknowledged in the other room.

“Don’t you want to watch the movie?”

“No, they’re talking.”

Turns out, she didn’t need context. She needs Joan Crawford shimmying with a marabou dress on, she needs Gene Kelly tap-dancing on roller skates, and she needs the increasingly ludicrous Andy Hardy routines (They’re staging this in a barn, people! Where did they get a three-story high rotating stage?).

Her devotion to these DVDs works for me. They keep her occupied without being completely mindless. There is no licensing tie-in, so I won’t be nagged for a “Singing in the Rain” lunchbox with pictures of Donald O’Connor in various attitudes. The women she is striving to emulate aren’t pneumatic, flimsy or wanton. They appear healthy and athletic.

And we’re working up a nice soft-shoe rendition of “For Me and My Gal”. Full harmony. Counterpoint footwork. The works.

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

I, The Jury

It’s not that I resent my upcoming jury duty as a waste of my valuable time. Anyone who spends an hour matching up the family socks clearly needs to be reminded of life’s precious brevity. Nor do I resent doing my civic duty. Ask me to help clean up the Los Angeles River and I’ll be out there in hip-waders, happily tugging out grocery carts, styrofoam coolers and body parts. Because, you see, cleaning the Los Angeles River accomplishes something positive, however temporary.

The jury process, on the other hand, is primarily abused by the guilty. The jury selection process is a winking acknowledgement of the overwhelming stupidity of most people and the irrelevancy of the procedure. The final decision is based on the strongest personality in the deliberation room and whatever random prejudices and facts the jurors have dragged in with them.

First, any person who chooses a jury trial over a trial by judge is, more than likely, guilty of the crime. Studies have shown this, and logic would bear it out. You can run the risk of trying your tired alibi in front of a judge who has heard everything including “I can’t have done it, because I had been abducted by aliens that morning” or you can try your luck with twelve people whose knowledge of the law is mostly based on the last half of “Law & Order” episodes (that Benjamin Bratt is soooo cute). So, tomorrow, it’s entirely possible I’ll be sitting there in an inadequately ventilated room, hearing the adult version of “the dog ate my homework”. With any luck, the perpetrator will dredge up some cousin to get up on the stand and say “Yeah! That dog eats homework all the time.” And for this, I get to ask my mother to sacrifice her day’s activities in order to tend my daughter.

Second, why does the lawyer even bother with voir dire? As long as you respond to any question, you’re in. Even that’s not mandatory. I swear the last time I served on a jury, one dead guy got impaneled. When the defense attorney asked if there was any reason why I shouldn’t be on a jury, I explained that a good friend of mine was an Assistant District Attorney and that I knew the “secret” about the guilty picking trial by jury. My first instinct, I explained clearly and honestly, was to assume anyone who got this far along in the system was entirely guilty, and not only of the crime in question but probably a half dozen others. It’s not a good prejudice, but it’s the one you get when your friend the lawyer starts telling you stories over margaritas.

They picked me.

And what I take away from that first experience? The lawyer noted I appeared to understand English and wasn’t flinging dung at him. What I actually said never even registered. So, tomorrow, when asked anything, I plan to blurt lines from “Jabberwocky”:

LAWYER: Ms. Cummings, is there anything about you which might prevent you from being an unbiased juror?

QUINN: Twas brillig and the slithy tove, did gyre and gimble in the wabe.

LAWYER: Do you think you could render an impartial verdict?

QUINN: Shun the frumious bandersnatch!

LAWYER: I have no objections to this juror.

Lastly, let me speak of my experience the last time I was on a jury:

The case involved alleged child abuse. From what we heard, it was a spanking which got out of hand. A neighbor heard a child screaming and called the cops. The neighbor testified with passion, but was clearly getting something beyond a concern for the welfare of a child out of this; I’m going to speculate there was long-standing distaste between these women. Nevertheless, there was a picture of bruising on the child from the police and the mother’s own admission that she sometimes hit her kid too hard. Neither the woman nor the child testified. We adjourned to the jury room.

Here are some of the well-reasoned legal statements I heard in there:

“Nothing wrong with spanking. My mother whaled the tar out of me when I was acting up, made me the man I am today. Used a belt, too. This mother just used her hands. Nothing wrong with that.”

“I didn’t like that neighbor. She’s just like my cousin, always getting in everybody’s business. Bet she made the whole thing up.”

“She probably comes from a country where people hit their kids all the time. Do we know where she was born?”

It took the foreperson an hour just to get people to stop talking about how there was an episode just like this on “Law & Order”, and also “Judge Judy”. One woman wanted to discuss how much she disliked her upstairs neighbor, who seemed to her like the kind of person who would do something like this.

Finally, one man, with the buzz cut and square shoulders of retired military said forcefully, “We’re going to read the definition of legal punishment, and then we’re going to vote.”

He then leaned forward and squinted meaningfully at the worst of the twitterers who, to a person, leaned back and dropped their eyes.

“If you have any meaningful concerns, voice them now. Otherwise, I have a long trip home, and I want to be out before rush hour.”

He stared around the room. The silence almost had a weight. The woman who wanted to talk about her neighbor cleared her throat, and his head snapped around, his eyes focused on her. She shook her head slightly: no problem here, sir.

The foreman handed out paper, and we voted. It was 12-0 in favor of conviction. We trooped out and did our jobs. The defendant’s face never changed expression. We were thanked for our time and hard work, and released.

I’ve thought about that situation ever since. She wasn’t convicted because twelve of her peers thought beyond a reasonable doubt that she was guilty. She was convicted because at least four of those peers were intimidated into voting the way which would allow one guy to be home before dinner.

The wheels of justice grind faster as rush hour approaches.

Monday, August 22, 2005


Sunday morning.

I woke up before anyone else in the house and was thinking virtuous Sunday morning-like thoughts such as I’ll tell Consort and Daughter that I am going to clean out the car before we leave. Then, I can sit in the garage and eat that glazed donut without having to share it.

I drifted past the computer and saw an email from one of my dearest friends, with the subject heading: “A request”. Thinking nothing in particular, I opened the email.

My friends’ six year-old nephew had just been diagnosed with Leukemia and is now facing two years of chemotherapy. The request in the title was that those of us who received this letter would pray for him in whatever way it is we pray. I got up from the office, slid quietly into Daughter’s room, and stroked her sleep-fluffy hair while she slept.

Every thing in my life which is causing me stress right now could clear up and it would be nothing if I was scheduling chemotherapy sessions for Daughter. My kid is healthy. Why am I not grateful for that on a more conscious level? Am I deluding myself into thinking good health is a given in my kid simply because I cannot fathom how I terrified I would be if it weren’t? Part of what allows me to show up for my life every day is the hallucination that I can fix whatever might happen to her. If I give that one up, and admit the truth -- which is that little kids get sick and hurt every day, and it can take a long time for them to get back to normal -- I’ll start trying to stuff her back into the womb.

This is not to say Daughter has never had an emergency situation; I’ve just developed more rigorous standards of what qualifies as an emergency. The first time Daughter choked on food as a baby I had to give her the Heimlich maneuver [Side note: There is something really satisfying about seeing the offending Cheerios fly out of her mouth and halfway across the room. Something akin to “…and STAY out!”]. I was shaking for a half-hour afterwards. The seventh time I had to perform the Heimlich, I was on the phone with Consort. I clamped the phone receiver into my shoulder, grabbed Daughter, did the magic squeeze, and never missed a beat in my anecdote. And no, I wasn’t feeding her radishes, whole hot dogs and hard candy. Daughter choked easily.

Since I had handled this problem before, it couldn’t have been an emergency. If correcting the situation required a skill I learned off of a laminated card at a restaurant, it couldn’t have been an emergency. Daughter was never really at risk, she will live to be 105 and never experience anything more unpleasant than fast-growing cuticles. That’s my delusion. You may borrow it, if you like.

Hell, you can keep it. It was always based on the flawed premise that the universe had agreed to my demand for eternal health and wholeness for my daughter. All the universe ever said was “You get to have a kid, and you will fall madly in love. Later, some stuff will happen; some good, some not so much. We suggest you find something enjoyable in every day you have with her.”

To participate in the world is to gamble and I have to make my peace with that. Here’s an example: Daughter loves gymnastics. She seems to have some ability and might have the physical build for it (genetically, my side of the family should either be gymnasts or work at Disneyland wearing Styrofoam mouse heads). I’m not saying you’ll see her wearing a red, white and blue tracksuit and waving to the crowds during the Opening Ceremonies, but I think it’s good for kids to have something to work for, to accomplish. Also, it makes her tired at bedtime, and I like that.

Anyway, a few months ago, Daughter was taking a class on one side of the gym while a few older girls were practicing floor exercises on the other. One of these older girls, an eleven-year old, fell wrong and broke her arm. I reached 911 first on my cell phone so I got to answer the dispatcher’s questions which, of course, meant crossing the gym and looking at the girl’s condition. The bone in her forearm was sticking out of her skin and she was screaming in terror and pain. She was unaware of the coach comforting her. The ambulance was there in minutes, and the gym slowly got back to something resembling normal. Daughter, along with her classmates, was being kept focused away from the medical drama by her gem of a teacher so I stepped outside, sat on the gymnasium steps and contemplated throwing up. My brain swam with words like fracture, concussion, paralysis.

My first instinct was well, that’s it for Daughter and gymnastics. After a few minutes, though, my nausea and terror abated and I realized my fear of an accident isn’t enough of a reason to cut her off from something she loves. Besides, statistically, the car is a far more dangerous place than a gym, and she has spent the better part of her waking hours in one of those. Twice a week, we walk into the gym, Daughter bounding ahead of me, eager to do something new, preferably airborne. I do my job as a parent, which is to pack my fear into a small locked box and let her find new places to be brave and strong.

But it’s one thing to look at the external world, see how many different ways it could harm your child and find a way to live with that. It’s another to have part of their own body be the enemy. Leukemia isn’t a car barreling towards your kid, where you can push him or her out of the way; it’s a bunch of white blood cells replicating madly and badly. The treatments have gotten a lot smarter and more effective, but the parents of a cancer patient still face an awfully hard ride. This isn’t driving your kid to gymnastics even though you wish she would take up scrapbooking. This is watching your kid get really sick in pursuit of getting better, living with the most basic fear a parent can feel, and still getting breakfast made and the Christmas cards out.

I am sending out a prayer to my friend’s nephew, his parents, his brother and sister. I am sending out a prayer to parents of sick children everywhere.

I am imagining a future where my friend’s nephew, now an adult, sits at the Thanksgiving table and says to his kid ‘You won’t believe this, but Daddy was very sick when he was your age…”, and his child refuses to believe that Daddy was ever anything but strong and perfect. And permanent.

Saturday, August 20, 2005

Wolves in Chic Clothing

I was standing in the dressing room at J. Crew and feeling a mild disappointment, which is my typical emotion in a dressing room. Illogically, I am still convinced there is a pair of pants somewhere that will make me appear 5’10” and of Swedish ancestry. There was a knock at the dressing room door.

“How are those pants working out?”

“Right size but the wrong color. Could you possibly get me these pants in the khaki?”

There was a puzzled silence.

“They don’t come in khaki.”

“I saw them on the same table, in khaki.”

“I’m sorry, but they don’t come in khaki. We have shorts in khaki, would you like to see those?”

“Just clarifying here. The front table, right as you walk in, has three pairs of pants.”


“One was grey, one was olive, and one was khaki. I am currently wearing the olive, and I would like the khaki, please.”

I could hear her frown unfurrowing through the door.

“Oh, those! Sure, I’ll get them. But those aren’t khaki, they’re birch.”

I feel so foolish.

I waited in the dressing room, refolding sweaters I had tried on and listening to the exchange in the outer waiting room. Someone in the next dressing room had tried something on, and was now modeling it for her friend.

GIRL 1: That’s so cute on you!

GIRL 2: You don’t think it’s too tight across the stomach?

GIRL 1: No!

GIRL 1: Doesn’t it seem to be bagging in the chest a…lot?

GIRL 2: No! And the pants are adorable!

GIRL 1: I think they might be a too tight. Look, they’re pulling across the hips and the butt, and I can’t really button them.

GIRL 2: Are you kidding? You look great!

I was hooked. Apparently, these two people were looking into different mirrors. I slid out of my dressing room, under the pretense of finding out whether my pants were heading back to me.

The woman trying on the clothes was nearly flat-chested, had a bit of a tummy and a rear end which was large without being shapely. The camisole top drooped lifelessly over her chest, but clung to her abdomen like a lovesick boa constrictor. The fitted pants weren’t just pulling across the hips and butt, they were pulling everywhere but the cuffs. In short, this woman was not well-served by this outfit, and this outfit was not well-served by her.

Her friend cooed “You know what would go great with that? A fitted jacket. And an ankle bracelet.”

This was such a preposterous statement that I took a careful look at her friend. Her friend was a marvel of female design, curvy and skinny, lush and toned. She was also wearing a camisole top and fitted pants, their perfect fit making a mockery of the outfit on the other woman. The woman in the dressing room plucked dubiously at the camisole straps.

“Maybe,” she said slowly, “if I got them shortened, it would fit better. And got the bra cups taken in. And had the bottom loosened a little bit.”

I couldn’t stop myself.

“Uh,” I began “camisole tops like that are cut on the bias. It might take more work and money to fix it than it’s worth.” Which allowed my mouth to move without letting out what I was really thinking, which was “You are a big, beautiful woman who needs to stick your fingers in your ears and hum when this woman tells you what to wear.”

They both glanced at me. My face went bright red. Mercifully, my khakis…I mean, my birches arrived, and I had a reason to slide back into the dressing room. Once I closed the door, there was a conspiratorial giggle in the next room.

Glad I could entertain them.

But, I thought as I frowned at myself in the new pants, this isn’t the first time I’ve seen this particular behavior, this giving of bad fashion advice to women who need all the help they can get. There are two possibilities as to why this happens:

1) The woman giving the advice is so in love with a particular look that she fails to notice how it doesn’t flatter her friend,

2) There is a percentage of the female population who, consciously or unconsciously, enjoys having a less-attractive friend, because they believe this makes them look better. Let’s call this “Ugly Bridesmaid Syndrome”.

Full disclosure-I have been guilty of the first one. In high school, I encouraged a friend to wear pink mascara (Of course, I was wearing it as well, and did it for another day or so, until a male friend told me I looked like a tropical fish). I am proud to say I have not dragged anyone into an awful look I wasn’t already sporting. It doesn’t say much, but at least if anyone was getting laughed at, there was a 50% chance it was me.

But the second group is out there, giving bad advice to the unconfident and the easily led: encouraging big girls to buy fake-fur chubbies; telling their short friends how an ankle-length skirt makes them look like Uma Thurman, when it actually makes them look as if they were shoved in a manhole; goosing the awkward into buying platform shoes. Having done their damage and permanently established their title of The Hot One in the Immediate Vicinity they swan off looking wonderful while their friends (hereafter known as Nice One or Great Sense of Humor) gaze after them in dismay.

It’s funny, Great Sense of Humor thinks, but shopping with her always make me feel so awful. She then bites in to one of the Krispy Kremes Pretty One brought for dessert but now doesn’t seem to want.

Thursday, August 18, 2005

Small Talk.

This entry is dedicated to my friends to whom I owe phone calls. Also, my friends who have invited me to dinner, and I have yet to set up a time. Mostly, though, this is dedicated to M-, who told me recently how much she liked reading these, as it was kind of like seeing me, which I think is a really polite way of saying “The Witness Protection Program couldn’t do any better a job of hiding you, Quinn”.

To all of these people I say, I am not angry at you. I am not lying on the couch with a sizeable glass of wine and the remote. I am just used up, conversationally.

This last weekend, my family bundled up nearly all of our earthly possessions into the back of the car, picked up my mother, and headed off for a three-day weekend at the beach. Mid day- 2, my mother and I were sitting by the pool at the hotel, reapplying sunblock and watching Daughter hop in and out of the water, nimble as a seal. A seal, that is, who had been talking to us non-stop since she woke up six hours before.

“….And then the princess would come into our house and-wait, Mommy, watch this. Did you see it; did you see me jump in? Now, Nana, watch me, I’m going to talk underwater…I was just talking underwater, but I wasn’t me, I was a cat. I was a Maine Coon cat. Did you know that Maine Coon cats can swim? Also, Turkish Vans. I’m going to buy a Turkish Van, and I’m going to name it Vanna. Are you two listening...?”

We both nodded. Our vocal chords might have atrophied, but our nodding muscles were getting a nice workout. Daughter started listing the breeds of cats she liked, in order of cuddliness. My mother leaned over to me. She started to talk, and a small squeak came out. She took a sip of water and began again.

“So, this goes on all the time?”

I whispered, “Pretty much.”

My mother and daughter spend every Sunday together, so it’s not as if she didn’t know how adept Daughter is at talking without breathing. But, I think my mother always assumed that Daughter’s verbosity had something to do with the excitement of seeing her Nana, and was a temporary situation. Until you see it in action, it’s hard to imagine someone could talk that long without their tongue staging some sort of strike.

Now, I can hear those people reading this who know Consort and me saying something sympathetic like “Quinn, you will be finishing a thought two weeks after you’re dead and Consort likes talking so much, he talks in his sleep. What made you think you were going to get a mime for a child?” Frankly, air space: we speculated that any child of ours would be reduced to using semaphore flags at the dinner table just to convey “Please pass the salt.” How could any small child possibly carve out a conversational corner between two people who were used to staging a domestic filibuster?

Not only did she carve out a corner, she took over the whole conversational house. I have gone from someone who could have a phone conversation with a friend until my ear went numb to someone who, every time the phone rings, says a quick silent “Oh, please be a wrong number.” When Daughter finally falls asleep, after reciting the names and identifying characteristics of each mammal she is going to own when she’s grown, singing me the Veggie Tales theme song, and verbally walking me through the castle she will own when she is made Princess of the World, I have to apply aloe vera lotion to my eardrums.

Asking her for some peace and quiet is not a solution, as Daughter just stomps out of the room, and then comes back in a few minutes later to discuss why asking her to be quiet was both unfair and possibly criminal. I have come to suspect Daughter believes she is billing by the hour.

Of course, the real challenge is not her, but me. I cannot tune her out. Certainly, I don’t want to miss important parts of her development, funny things she says, or statements like “Mommy, the kitchen is on fire”. But other people seem to be able to talk to other adults as their child stands right below them talking about nothing.

Consort, for example.

CONSORT: …the bottom line was that-
DAUGHTER: Daddy, I have to tell you-
CONSORT: …we’re going to have to redo the revenue projections-
DAUGHTER: …something. Today, Eamon didn’t get to sit-
CONSORT: …but it’s still good news. This means, though-
DAUGHTER: …at the good manners table and you know why? Because-
CONSORT: …that I’m going to be under the ice for a few days-
DAUGHTER: …he had pasta for lunch and he started putting it in his nose…
CONSORT: …writing this and getting it done before the next meeting up north-
DAUGHTER: …We all cracked up, and then he had to leave the good manners table and think about things for a while.
CONSORT: …so you’re going to be okay without any help from me?

I come away from this grumpy and confused as to why a five year-old who still plays with food is pitching in to rewrite a business model.

We’re working on conversational manners (frankly, around here, we’re all working on our conversational manners) and, as friends with older children keep reminding me, there will come a time when I’ll be lucky to get a grunt a day, usually while poking me in the region of my credit cards. And, really, what this conversational hurricane is predicated on is a person who is endlessly fascinated by what is going on in the world, someone who is inspired to show the people she loves what she’s thinking about. The informational avalanche will subside (uh, won’t it?), but I certainly hope the passion for participation in the world never does.

Now, I am going to hide in the garage and read brochures about solo bike treks through Vermont and Buddhist meditative retreats. No talking allowed.

Monday, August 15, 2005

Pick of the Litter.

When I bought this house, I imagined our Christmas tree in the living room picture window, its carefully selected ornaments and twinkling glow being appreciated not only by incredibly fun and cool neighbors who would always have fresh basil to lend me, but by our angelic child, dozing peacefully on the perfectly situated couch as a fire crackled in the fireplace and Nat King Cole wafted through the house. I imagined the smaller bedroom as a nursery, with Consort and I beaming down at our innocent, sleeping child (now that I think of it, all of my offspring-based fantasies involved her inactive). I even imagined where the backyard furniture would go, for maximum comfort and ease on Sunday mornings while doing crossword puzzles.

Oddly enough, I never looked at any part of my house and thought “You know what would really set off this room? A box of cedar shavings with a couple of cat shit logs for visual interest.”

The fact is, no room improves with the presence of a litter box, and most of them are seriously compromised.

When we first received Lulabelle, I walked around the house holding the litter box in front of me as if I was a cigarette girl in a nightclub, trying to find the least offensive place for it. The kitchen was out, as it was designed by someone who apparently was trying for the “Cramped and yet oddly empty” effect: there are no spaces on the floor not currently occupied by a door, a wall, or our feeble attempt at counter space, unless you count the Saharan expanse you must cross from the stove to the sink. I toyed with sticking the litter box in the middle of the room and declaring it sculpture, but continued in my travels.

A cat box in the living room seemed antisocial, somehow. A cat box in the dining room would have kept us all whippet-lean, but would have meant taking the funds currently earmarked for Daughter’s college and transferring them immediately into pre-paid analysis for her well into her thirties (Oh, who am I kidding, with us as her parents, the analysis is a given, and the litter box placement won’t take more than a year to resolve). Also, cat feces can have some pretty nasty bacteria. I made a decision: where there is food, there shall be no feces.

(It wasn’t “If the glove doesn’t fit, you must acquit”, but I wasn’t working for hundreds of dollars an hour. Also, my arms were getting numb from holding the cat box.)

I soldiered on.

I glanced at our bedroom, but moved on quickly. Consort has been magnificent about my need to mother the four-legged, but he would be well within his rights to throw a complete opera-diva tantrum if the litter box was in with us. Something about the sound of cat intestinal distress just as you are struggling for your glasses sets an ugly tone for the day.

Daughter’s room was a non-starter. I feared coming in two days later to find she had created a game where the My Little Pony herd suddenly had food poisoning.

This left the bathroom. The advantages were the built-in fan, a reasonably discreet corner, and that few people want to hang out in the bathroom. If one believes in such things, it wouldn’t make the feng shui in there any worse. With a sigh, I placed in the corner and moved on with my life.

Three days later, Consort found me, a pained squint on his face.

“Why did you put the litter box in the bathroom?”

I sensed this was rhetorical and that he had no interest in feng shui.

“What’s wrong?”

“I was in there, brushing my teeth,” he said, raking his fingers through his hair, “and unbeknownst to me, Lu came in and used the litter box. And I’m guessing you gave her cabbage and overripe cheese for dinner last night?”

“Oh. I’m sorry.”

“I’m going to have bad associations with spearmint Crest for a very long time.”

I picked up the litter box and began the placement pursuit again. This time, I settled on the laundry room. Not much in the way of floor space, what with the Eastern European Laundry Experience and the Monument to Lost Free Time (Roller blades, golf clubs, boxes of unlabeled pictures), but with just a little organization and tying the bike to the ceiling, I made room for the litter box.

This lasted two days, until I determined the cat was scared of the broom, and wouldn’t get anywhere near the litter box. Since this was the only free space on the floor, something had to give. Consort grumbled about moving the broom holders across the room, but quieted right down when I pointed out that the cat wasn’t scared of anything in the bathroom and it wouldn’t take me but a minute to move the litter box back in there.

So, now everything’s good. Well, except for the fact that the cat has taken a virulent dislike to the litter box, and howls at the back door when Nature calls.

But other than that, we’re good.

Friday, August 12, 2005

Dream a Little Dream.

I don’t want to alarm my readers, but the government is using me in a long-term experiment about what happens to the human body if it never gets a full REM sleep cycle.

Let me walk you through last night, as an example. I certainly couldn’t have slept you through last light.

9:30 PM: Exhausted, I decided to go to bed early. I lay down, went to shut off the light, and my eye settled upon the seventeen water glasses forming a precarious ziggurat on my side table. With a sigh, I got out of bed, and started walking them three at a time into the kitchen. On the final trip, I passed Consort, who was taking a ham-slice break from something complicated on the computer. His face reminded me.

“Oh,” I said, “that reminds me. I hate QuickBooks, and it’s evil. I want it to burn.”

He nodded neutrally. He’s heard it before.

“Is there a specific problem?”

“Yes, the program is stupid.”

“Show me what isn’t working, and maybe I can walk you through it,” he said, gently steering me to the office.

“NO!” I wailed, “Let’s do it tomorrow.”

“Let me just see the problem, I bet fixing it doesn’t take a minute.”

11:00 PM: I was finally released from the office, as Consort was ordering some back-up program for evil QuickBooks from some kindly woman in New Delhi. I staggered to bed. I thrash around for a few minutes berating myself for general misdemeanors of the day, but finally fall into a light sleep.

12:00 AM: Consort came to bed, carefully tiptoeing and making as little sound as possible. This, of course, woke me. I lay in bed and watched him pile his clothing soundlessly on the top of the hamper.

“Why are you doing that?” I inquired. He jumped.

“Go back to sleep, sweetheart,” he whispered.

“I will if you tell me why you put your dirty clothing on top of the hamper.”

“I didn’t want the sound of the hamper lid to wake you.”

He slid into bed. I waited a beat.

“That’s very sweet of you. But I appear to be awake now, and the sight of the pile of clothing in silhouette on the hamper lid is not conducive to getting back to sleep.”

He sighed deeply, got up, and moved the clothing into the hamper.

“Thank you.”

“You’re welcome. Go to sleep.”

I rolled over, briefly obsessed over whether I put enough cedar blocks in with the winter clothing when I stored them, and fell in to a light sleep.

2:00 AM: I am the President-Elect. My constituents appear to be Emperor Penguins. I am trying to explain my plans for the administration, with varying degrees of success, when-


That’s odd; I don’t think penguins make that sound. I began to explain about a series of ice floes throughout Los Angeles-


I woke suddenly and made my way to the back door. The dog waited patiently by the back door, only the smallest look of panic in her eyes. I disabled the alarm, and went to open the back door just as the dog vomited all over the pantry floor. That will teach me to try to finish my dream. I cleaned and deodorized the floor. The dog, meanwhile, had gone back to her bed. Once I started a pre-soak on the puke rags, I followed her lead and went to my bed. After a quick flurry of thoughts about why the dog is throwing up so much lately, I fell into a light sleep.

3:00 AM: So…very…warm. Sweating…kicking off blankets….why won’t they move?

I woke up fully to find that Consort had apparently decided to make a play for my side of the bed while I was in it. He had stretched across me, leaving only my head unmolested. That part was being claimed by the cat, which was curled on top of my head, trying to insert her tail up my nostril. I commenced a wild flurry of kicks and thrashes to free myself. Both Consort and cat grumbled but allowed me a quarter of an inch of personal space. I then spent twenty minutes calibrating the perfect ratio of exposed and covered skin which would bring my body temperature back down under a hundred degrees. I toyed with the idea of sleeping on the couch, but finally fell into a light sleep.

4:00 AM: Why am I in Daughter’s room, I wondered hazily. I stared down at her, she looked up at me, and then it clicked. She must have called for me, and I was in her room before I even woke up: it’s happened before (It’s kind of a neat trick, but it’s a little risky. If either bedroom door is closed, I risk a broken nose).

“What is it, babe?”

“I had a bad dream,” she whimpered.

I wasn’t surprised; we’ve been having these lots lately. I sat down and petted her back.

“Go back to sleep,” I crooned.

“Yes, but it was a dragon, and he wanted to eat me.”

“Shh, just shut your eyes and think about kittens.”


Well, I just added ten minutes to the wind-down. I dabbed away tears and rubbed her back simultaneously. She started to find composure. I tried to get up.


Oh, crud. Might as well embrace the inevitable.

I lay down next to her, trying to carve out a corner in which to sleep. Within minutes, her breathing was deep and regular, although her grip on my arm never released its terrier-like tenacity. I spent a few minutes fretting over whether I needed to buy her rain boots now, when there are plenty or wait until we needed them, but run the risk of them being out of her size. I then fell into a light sleep.

Now, in the defense of my family, I must admit that I was then allowed to sleep until 7:30, pretty much uninterrupted, unless you count the times Daughter probed my ears with her elbows and my abdomen with her knees.

At 7:30, Daughter got out of bed, but her job was ably taken over by the garbage truck and the leaf blower which apparently were sitting directly outside the bedroom window having some sort of noise-off. After ten minutes, I admitted defeat, got up and began another day without a REM cycle.

Considering the amount of time and energy my family is putting into this experiment, I am really hoping to see some kind of tax break. Seems only fair.

Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Baby, You Can't Drive My Car

It’s been a bad month for good behavior. First, I have to restrain myself from hitting someone, and now I’ve yelled at an old man.

You may call me Gandhi.

Getting a battery replaced at Sears should take no longer than twenty minutes, unless you are me. Then, you get the slowest moving mechanic in the free world and a new battery which refuses on principle to speak to the computer which has to sign off on it.

I read every battered Golf Digest in the waiting room. I then read the radial tire brochure. I then read the tag on the underside of my chair.

My mechanic finally lackadaisically motioned me outside. Since he wasn’t going to expend the energy to talk over the whine of an air hose, he motioned to me that it would take no more than five minutes. I stood next to the car, staring off into space, when I noticed an old man. He was standing next to his dusty sedan about ten feet from me, trying to get my attention. I walked over, thinking he needed some help.

“Do you need some help, sir?” (I’m not burnishing my reputation here, I actually said “sir”. In light of the following conversation, it’s important to mention that I was raised right, but it was a very long time ago).

“Is it my turn to get a battery? Was that man (pointing to my lethargic battery guy) waving at me?”

“No, sir. He was just telling me that my job would take another five minutes.”

The old man chuckled.

“I can’t see too well from a distance.”

I thought, ten feet shouldn’t be an insurmountable distance with the thickness of those glasses you’re wearing. But, I held my tongue.

He continued, “I’m heading down to San Diego today; want to make sure the car is in shape.”

At this moment, the mechanic indicated that my battery had at last chosen to acknowledge the computer and I was finally free to go.

“Well,” I said brightly “I guess you’re next.”

I watched him slowly teeter back to his car, walked to my own car, and drove off. It is a testimony to my desire to have this errand done and be on with my life that it took me a full block before I finally put it together:

This old man couldn’t see a car length in front of him and didn’t seem to have full use of his legs, and yet was getting ready to drive over a hundred miles on the freeway.

I spent one block convincing myself that this was none of my business. I spent another block telling myself he would get to his destination without incident, and that it was also none of my business. I spent another half block thinking about how dearly I had wanted to leave Sears, and how this was none of my business.

I then turned around and drove back to Sears.

I found the man leaning against a post next to his car. I hailed him, and noticed that he didn’t recognize me until I was about eight feet in front of him. Believe it or not, I dearly hate conflict, and tried starting this off as neutrally as possible.

“I happened to notice,” I began nervously “you had some difficulty seeing.”

“It’s bright out.”

“I agree,” I said, thrilled to have found common ground “it is bright out. But it’s going to be bright when you drive to San Diego. Perhaps there is some other way of getting there which wouldn’t be so…bright.” I trailed off, because I was now uncomfortably dwelling in None-of-My-Damn-Business Land, and the temperature there is pretty cold and the natives are unfriendly. Understandably, he waved me off.

“I’m due to take my driver’s test in September. I’m sure they’ll revoke my license, so why don’t you just (suggestion made which can only be achieved by certain Cirque de Soleil performers)”.

Readers, that’s when the yelling began. Not because of what he suggested I do, although it was odd to hear coming from a man who could have voted for Roosevelt (Franklin, not Teddy. He wasn’t that old). I yelled because what he had all but said was that he knew he could no longer drive, but was prepared to put himself and others at risk for another month until someone else told him that.

Let me sum up the next few minutes. Please imagine both sides being said at top volume:

MAN: I’ve been driving for fifty years.
QUINN: So had the guy who killed ten people at the Santa Monica Farmer’s Market.

MAN: I’m only driving to San Diego.
QUINN: I’m supposed to be relieved you’re not driving to San Antonio?

MAN: (Anatomically unlikely suggestion is repeated)
QUINN: I’d sooner do that than drive near you.

MAN: If you don’t like it, call the DMV.
QUINN: I’ll just do that.

So I took down his license plate, drove off, went home and called the DMV (I had some free time today, can you tell?). You’ll probably be unsurprised to know, the DMV could not care less about this information: there is no button to push to report a potentially unsafe driver. I finally hung up and said a silent prayer for anyone who might unknowingly drive near this man today.

I know it was none of my business. But this was a potentially deadly weapon in the hands of someone who admitted he shouldn’t be using it.

What would you have done?

Saturday, August 06, 2005

Stray Cat Strut.

We have a suitor hanging around the house these days. He’s not exactly my type, but he has an undeniable muscular charm and bad-boy appeal. While Consort and I are clearly not his reason for hanging around, he shows us a certain polite deference, and he is nearly courtly in his attention to his beloved. In fact, if it weren’t for the urinating and the vomiting, I’d say he was the perfect first boyfriend.

About three months ago, Consort came in from the back door looking a touch confused.

“Quinn, how many cats do we have again?”

“We have one.”

“She’s black, right?”

“Are you having a stroke?”

It turned out that when Consort opened the back door, a cat went flashing past him outside. Benumbed as he is to pets at this point, it only occurred to him after the fact that it was the wrong color. I was just grateful that it wasn’t a special cat, and started closing the cat door after dusk. About a week later, in the morning, Daughter went into the back room, and came flying back out announcing joyously “We have a new cat! She’s gray and she wants to sleep on my bed!”

I slipped quickly into the back room and there, eating my cat’s food, was a large, good-looking cat. It eyed me coolly.

“Hi.” I said tentatively, “This is a little awkward, but who are you?”

In answer, it jumped to the floor and he (for it was clearly a he) swaggered out of the house. It was only then I noticed Lu, who must have been sharing the food bowl with him. She shot me a filthy glance and followed him outside. Like it’s my fault she had invited him for dinner and had forgotten to mention she had roommates.

We got plenty of chances to get to know about Rhett, as I have come to call him (Besides being handsome and brimming with self-confidence, he has a darker patch of fur right above his lip that resembles a moustache and would seem remarkably natural in a white linen suit). He spends his mornings with us: actually, I usually find him sleeping on the newspaper when I go outside to pick it up, when he accepts a scratch on the head. He and Lu then spend the morning sleeping in total harmony in the back yard, flicking their tails in a synchronized manner. According to neighbors who are feeding him, he is one of the countless descendants of several feral cats in the neighborhood, most of whom are congenitally timid. Rhett, however, got the personality all of the others lack, which has led to multiple feeding stations, two cats beds put outside just for him, and the love of a good (cat) woman.

But no relationship is without its drama, and ours comes in the form of a skinny tabby I have been told is named Tiger. Tiger either adores Lu or despises Rhett, because at least twice a week he is in our yard, and he and Rhett stand about eight inches from one another and scream abuse at each other. One of the times this happened, the noise seemed louder and more horrible than usual. I walked towards the back room to shoo them out of the yard, only to find out that Rhett and Tiger had brought it in to the back room.

“Okay, THAT’S IT! Have you two even noticed she’s FIXED?” I shouted, shooing them out the door with my foot. Each time I would stop shooing, they would take their fighting positions and start trash-talking again. I got them outside and the screaming didn’t stop. I moved them to the back gate, and the screaming didn’t stop. I grabbed a broom and moved them through the gate and tried to get one to head one direction, and one the other direction, with very little success. I add all this in case any neighbor saw me yelling and appearing to sweep cats up the sidewalk. No, it’s not a new Canadian sport and no, my current dosage doesn’t need to be upped.

I came back in the house and found Lu sleeping on the couch.

“This is your fault, you know.” I said accusingly.

She flicked an ear indifferently.

It was at that point I decided to nip this problem in the bud, as it were. Rhett would be neutered. It was the appropriate thing to do, what with the world in general and my neighborhood in particular being overrun with unwanted cats. Also, post-surgery, he wouldn’t have to dominate every feline situation and might settle down with one of the nice older ladies who live near our house, instead of roaming a tri-county area. I found a low-cost spay/neuter program through the city, and made an appointment. I couldn’t keep him in the house overnight until his appointment, due to his cellular distaste for dogs, but this should be no problem, I thought, as he can be found every morning keeping the Los Angeles Times safe from dragons.

The morning of his clippage, Rhett was nowhere to be seen. I shook food in a hopeful and seductive manner outside, and got nothing but the dog standing next to me making expectant eyes. I called the vet’s office and cancelled my appointment.

The next morning, Rhett was back on the paper. I called the vet’s office and took the first available appointment, which was the following morning.

The following morning, no Rhett. Once again, I cancelled the appointment. This time he didn’t even bother to wait until the next day, but drifted by that evening to look at me through the open kitchen window. I considered him.

“You know, you’ll feel better afterwards. Tiger won’t irritate you as much.”

He eyed me enigmatically.

“If you roam less, you might actually live to see three.”

He commenced to washing his tail.

“We can tell everyone you were just in for a torn hamstring.”

He leapt down and walked away, the symbols of his probably brief and tumultuous life mocking me as he walked.

Later that night, I was talking to an old friend, getting caught up.

“Jeremy is making me crazy.” she sighed as I heard kids screaming in the background at her house “We’ve had three kids, which is all we ever wanted, and now he won’t get a vasectomy like he promised.”

“What does he say?”

“Oh, he doesn’t say anything. I just keep making appointments for him to see the urologist, and he claims he keeps ‘forgetting’ to go to them.”

Rhett, may I introduce you to Jeremy. You’re probably both hiding under the same house.

Thursday, August 04, 2005

Cavity Search

For the better part of three decades, my dental life was good. It was, you should pardon the expression, sweet. I would go in twice a year and get my teeth cleaned as the dentist crooned in delight over my teeth and gums.

“Clearly, you floss” he would say triumphantly, and I would gurgle some sort of agreement around a pointed tool.

Yeah, I flossed. Not very often, but what did it matter? I had perfect teeth and gums, and I would always have perfect teeth and gums. I didn’t view it as an outward manifestation of my inner perfection nor I didn’t see it as something that was mine by birthright, I was just lucky. And, considering where my body had let me down in other places (see: allergies, height), I just enjoyed my corner of lucky.

Then I gave birth.

I’m not saying that bringing a child into the world sent me into Dental Distress, although it could very well be one of the weird side effects. However, consider the following facts…

1) My dentist’s office is a forty-five minute drive from the house, with no other errands nearby to give it that “I just wasted the whole morning, but at least I got the vacuum bags!” feeling of satisfaction.

2) Our medical coverage either covers or does not cover dental, depending on which insurance gremlin I get on the phone.

3) I have spent many hours fully occupied preventing my Daughter from (as a toddler) eating cigarette butts she found at the playground or (as a little girl) chatting with the people who drop cigarette butts on the playground.

4) I am a completely responsible adult in nearly every other aspect of my life, which means I had to drop the ball somewhere.

Considering these and other stipulations, the truth is, I … (she mumbles slightly)…didn't get to the dentist for over two years.

OK. Let’s all say it together:


I hasten to say I did brush twice daily during that time, I just hadn’t heard anyone say “Now rinse, please” in a professional capacity. I finally realized that having a dentist on the west side of Los Angeles was no more convenient than having a dentist practicing on a giant ice floe in the Beaufort Sea, so I got a referral for a more proximal dentist. It was in this blameless dentist’s chair that I heard something I have never heard in a dentist’s office before -- eight horrible words that rocked me to my very core:

“Hmm. Quinn, do you have a little extra time today?”

I had a cavity. A CAVITY. Or, as I like to think of it, a two-story neon sign that blinked “Slattern” with a damning frequency. A metal-filled reminder of the consequences of two years of having avoided finding a parking space in Beverly Hills. I even squeezed out a tear or two over having recklessly let my pure mouth be sullied.

After the digging and the filling, I watched the hygienist show me proper flossing techniques. I took many samples of fluoride mouthwash. I put my hand on the Dental Journal and swore never to partake of dried fruit again.

For six months, I flossed and I brushed -- firmly, but not too firmly, because we love our gums. I drank green tea, even though I think it tastes like stewed lawn clippings, because there have been studies which indicate it destroys plaque-forming bacteria. In short, I was the reformed sinner you would dread being stuck next to on a plane.

So imagine my chagrin when I went in for my next cleaning, and heard:

“Huh. Quinn, do you have a little extra time today?”

NO! I did NOT just spend six months behaving like some sort of dental Mennonite just to get another cavity. But apparently, I did. The dentist dug. The dentist filled. The hygienist said sweetly “Do you want me to walk you through flossing again?”

Great, now I’m a remedial student. Or worse, a repeat offender.

And where I was once the Periodontal Pin-Up, I am now the Periodontal Paranoid. Several times over the last few months, I have dragged Consort into the bedroom, a purposeful look in my eye. The first few times I did this, the poor man looked hopeful, until he saw that I was handing him a flashlight and a magnifying glass. Unhinging my jaw like a large boa constrictor, I would point at a molar and garble “dat ‘ook ‘ike a cahity to u?”

After reminding me gently that neither his undergraduate nor graduate fields of study ever involved the word “incisor”, or that the only plaque he could identify with any certainty had an image of a golfer on it -- he would dutifully examine my teeth. How could you not love a man who does this for you without starting to talk about seeing other people?

This has, of course, affected Daughter’s life. Morning and night, while she is brushing her teeth I stand next to her, as festive and life-affirming as the Grim Reaper. “Remember,” I drone if I sense she isn’t putting her whole heart into brushing. “Mommy needed three shots of Novocain to not feel the drill. We’re a high-threshold people. That’s right, get the dental floss all the way down there.”

Now that I know my teeth can go awry, everything in my body seems that much more fragile. When I go to the pharmacy, I have to use their blood pressure device. Every time. I obsess over whether the anti-oxidant benefits of dark chocolate are negated by the sugar, which I am certain is carving the Olduvai Gorge in one of my molars. In short, I have come to understand that the entire human body is unexploded ordnance.

If it were just the teeth, that would be one thing. But I spend more time checking my and my loved one’s bodies than your average Bonobo monkey. If it’s not “…Let me see your arm, how long have you had that freckle?”, it’s “...I read something about how a fold in your earlobe can indicate a higher risk of heart attacks. Or something like that. Anyway, come here for a second…”

You want attention to detail? I had a conversation with someone tonight about how I would have handled the immunization schedule differently had I given birth to a boy. I have a system in place for a nonexistent family member. That’s like getting health coverage for an invisible friend.

I’m going to sign off now. I just realized I have never gotten the dog’s resting heart rate, and I might need to know it someday.