Sunday, October 30, 2005

Caged Heat.

I really dislike Halloween.

I dislike feeding complete strangers who drive to our neighborhood from miles away because they heard the getting was good.

I dislike handing out candy to an invading army of sugar-addled delinquents who view their part of the interaction as grabbing candy from my hand and walking away in silence. In fairness, some of the children say “thank you” without prompting and some say “thank you” after gentle coaxing from their parent. But all too often, we have the following interaction:

Child grabs fistfuls of candy from my bowl. I gently remove all but the first eight. He starts to walk away.

QUINN: What do you say?

He and his mother stare at one another in confusion.

BOY: Um…Abracadabra?

I guess they got a magic word and the magic word confused.

This all makes me just a bit more worried about the future of society. Usually by the third hour of Trick-or-Treating, I am sitting on the couch, tensely waiting for the doorbell to ring and eating chocolate by the handful.

I dislike groups of fourteen year-olds walking around in dark hoodies and jeans, holding out a plastic grocery bag while mumbling “Tri’ or tree...” Kid, I know you’re too old for this. You know you’re too old for this. We both know I am merely bargaining to not have my house egged, but at least pretend this is something besides a holiday-themed shakedown.

But my dislike of Halloween is a mere pot-hole compared with the Grand Canyon of Loathing my cat feels for this dumb ritual. Of course she doesn’t know it, but Halloween is responsible for her having one completely miserable week each and every year.

Lulabelle is a black cat.

Wherever there are cruel people with time on their hands, animals can get hurt. As Halloween approaches, being a black cat increases the likelihood of mistreatment tenfold. This is so generally understood, most cat-rescue groups will allow someone to adopt a black cat in October, but they cannot take it home until after November 1st. Sad but true.

Last Friday, when Lulabelle came strolling home from whatever feline mayhem she had subject the neighborhood to, I explained in a firm yet sympathetic tone, “Did you enjoy yourself out there today, sweetie? I hope so, because it’s going to have to hold you until next Tuesday.”

She stared indifferently at me for a second then commenced to remove something from between her toes. The next morning, she demanded her breakfast as usual. Then, as usual, she did the feline equivalent of grabbing a travel-cup of coffee and attaché case, stood impatiently by the back door, caught my eye and meowed loudly.

Meanwhile, the dog had also walked to the back door and looked up at me anxiously. Our dog has, at most, seven brain cells, most of which are dedicated to waking up, eating, and relieving herself. Many would envy her regularity. But on this spectacular autumn morning the door remained closed. She whined softly.

I arrived at the back door and, in a single motion, grabbed the cat and tossed her towards the kitchen, opened the door and pushed the dog outside before the cat could scramble out. Lulabelle’s body, sprinting for freedom, made a solid “thunk” when it connected with the suddenly re-closed door.

Eighty-five seconds later (our dog is a Swiss watch of excretory predictability) there was a single familiar bark. This time, I grabbed, tossed, opened and pulled the dog back inside while Lulabelle made another sidelong break for freedom. Her irritation at missing her shot was assuaged -- but only slightly -- by sinking her claws into the dog’s passing buttock.

The week passed. Mostly, Lulabelle hovered at the back door as if it were the last helicopter out of Saigon. I discovered the dog goes out much more than I ever noticed -- I got to practice the grab–toss–open–push/pull–thunk maneuver at least fifteen times a day. The dog gets whomped-on regularly and no ankles are safe from ambush. Without the outside world to supervise, Lulabelle has turned into a soccer hooligan.

She doesn’t limit herself to physical violence. This warrior has many arrows in her quiver. When she determines none of us are likely to be going out the back door any time soon, she goes to the Bench of Many Clothing, locates the lightest-colored sweater, curls up and proceeds to weave her anthracite hair permanently into its yarn. Since I am reasonably vigilant about putting my clothes away, Consort is now the proud owner of several crew-neck domestic cats. The really neat trick is how this jet-black cat, when confronted with a navy-blue cashmere sport jacket, manages to shed white fur.

“You want me around 24/7?” she thinks as she randomly needlepoints one-third of her coat into a pair of khaki pants. “Fine. You can wear me into the next decade.”

Harboring the World’s Smallest Political Prisoner also means we now enter the house in an entirely new way. Whenever Lulabelle hears someone approaching any exterior door, she gets into position, an arrow poised to spring out the merest crack of light. Knowing this means we have to be prepared. Imagine someone walking with a mine-sweeper in front of them, scanning it back and forth with a floppy handle. Now, replace “mine-sweeper” with “foot”, and attempt to carry several grocery bags and steer Daughter through door while doing so. What you end up with is a strange hopping dance which resembles a traditional jig from a country of people who drink a lot and wear uncomfortable shoes.

Throughout this performance, I’m usually shouting for Daughter to “Get in, GET IN!” while simultaneously shouting at the cat, “Stop it, STOP IT!” Usually, the dog comes to see what’s going on, so I’m also shouting “Sit, SIT!”

Of course, what comes out is, “GET SIT! STOP…IN! SIT SET! GOP. STEP! GIT!...”

All three freeze in place for a second, if for no other reason than to observe what happens when an adult human has an aneurysm. My pet- and child-rearing DVD will be out at the end of January.

So far this week, Lulabelle has breached the perimeter twice, once with Consort and once with me. She dashed outside and, possibly dazzled by daylight, flopped down for a nap mere yards from the threshold. We each walked slowly towards her, crooning something like, “What a pretty cat. Come here, pretty girl, and let me pet you.” Both times, she allowed herself to be petted, only to wail in distress when we neatly scooped her up and brought her indoors:

LULABELLE: I can’t believe I fell for that!

QUINN: Just three more days, sweetie. You’re on parole in three more days.

LULABELLE: I feel so stupid.

QUINN: Look, wet food for the prisoner!


QUINN: I’m doing this for your safety, you know.

LULABELLE: Later tonight, I’m going to throw up in your shoe.

QUINN: It would feel wrong if you didn’t.

That night, I realized something mildly disheartening. During the past week I have had a variation of the same conversation with one daughter and two pets, all with varying degrees of success:

“I know you want to (do cartwheels on the couch)(eat a large rubber band)(live off the land and only come home for wet food) but it’s not safe and I can’t let you do it. That’s my job. I don’t enjoy the sound of a small mammal crying in pain nor do I enjoy the sound of myself crying in pain when I see the Emergency Room bill. You need to find something else to do. End of discussion.”

Mean mothers, unite.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

...Want Not.

Here’s my helpful hint for the day:

Should you need to rent a car, do not wait until mid-afternoon to get to the car rental place, as you will end up driving whatever is left on the lot. I am currently driving a bright-blue pickup truck. And I am annoyed.

Am I annoyed because my car is in the shop for the third time this year for a noise it categorically refuses to make in front of the repairman? No.

[Well, yes, that does annoy me but not in a way that applies to this subject.]

Am I annoyed because I don’t feel comfortable using the “compact only” spaces in a parking lot, which leaves me parking so far from the store’s entrance I might as well have parked at home?...No, this doesn’t annoy me.

[But I will point out that the drivers of the Ford Gargantua and the Humvee Hellbox III crammed into the bicycle rack right next to the handicapped spot don’t seem to have the same social squeamishness I do.]

Am I annoyed because I appear to be driving a three-ton glittery Easter egg with towing capacity?

[No, but I am self-conscious.]

What really annoys me about this is …It’s a waste of a truck!

I don’t know anyone who currently needs to move large boxes, bedroom furniture or a family of Borzois. I am bombing around town with sixty square feet of bare flatbed space going begging. My loathing for waste is so profound I am tempted to hang around Sears and befriend someone shopping for a refrigerator but I suspect my generous overture might be taken the wrong way.

I am completely lunatic on the subject of not wasting things, and I have no idea why. I wasn’t raised during a time of war or food rationing. My family never had to make a pound of government-issued cheese sustain six people for a month. But there is some diseased portion of my brain which views anything I throw away, let drain down the sink or can’t recycle as an example of Quinn Not Trying Hard Enough.

In case you’re thinking…”But not being wasteful is a good thing! Quinn is just trying to make everyone admire her while appearing to make fun of herself, the stinking hypocrite! We need to run her out of Blogville! Break out the pitchforks! Light the torches!”..., let me clarify what Fear of Waste means to me on a day-to-day level.

1. A few nights ago, I was tidying up the kitchen and happened to notice the remains of a roasted chicken Consort brought home for dinner. It had been picked as neatly clean to the bone as if we had a pet hyena -- except for a small hanging bit of something which might have been meat. I spent the next few minutes surgically excising the substance, about a tablespoon’s worth, and putting in a teeny little container that must have been part of a dollhouse Tupperware set. The next two days were spent trying to convince Consort that a thimbleful of rapidly-graying gristle made a nice snack. He thought I was collecting cuticle scrapings for a science project.

2. My Book Club met at a coffee shop. We discussed matters great and small but mostly we discussed how everyone but me loathed the book choice I made this month. As we disbanded, I carefully scooped all of our paper goods into a plastic bag and took them home to recycle. As I left, I spotted a woman camped out on the bus stop. She wore rags of varying filth covering nearly all the important bits of her body and was discussing Supreme Court appointments with a stuffed bird she had tucked in her cleavage. I noticed she and I were both carrying used plastic bags filled with dirty paper products. Mine was bigger.

3. If I am ever in a coma, and there is no reasonable hope for consciousness, I have one request: Please ask Consort to brush his teeth while running the tap. Not only will I snap to full wakefulness, I will do it shouting, “Will you never acknowledge that we live in a DESERT! Okay, fine. We live in chaparral! But the water issue remains the same. I think you do this just to hurt me…”

4. I have a pair of red athletic socks. I have no idea why I have a pair of red athletic socks. They are unbearably ugly and couldn’t draw any more attention to themselves if they caught fire. Nevertheless, I wear them to the gym at least once a week, because if I didn’t, that would be a waste of a perfectly adequate pair of socks. Four days - grayish-white socks; one day - John Philip Sousa accompanies my ankles. I have actually window-shopped for athletic socks and thought, “No! No new socks until I wear out those red ones, because that would be wasteful.” Right now, I fear I shall be buried in them, possibly holding a piece of chicken gristle in my clenched fist.

I try to look on the bright side. I don’t gamble. I don’t smoke. A glass of wine sends me into a stupor. I lead a mundane, if upright, existence. I’m on the PTA, for Heaven’s sake. So, if transporting trash home and carefully saving inedible fowl bits in Tupperware test tubes makes me feel as if I have accomplished something, who gets hurt?

Maybe tomorrow, we can put our stove in the back of the rent-a-truck and take it for a ride around the block.

I think it would like that.

Monday, October 24, 2005


[f you are just tuning in, this is the final installment of a four-part series. You might want to go back to Cave Canem Part I – The Bitch Is Back. to see how this all began.]

The next morning when I took Daughter to school I popped Ursula into the car with me. Our dog needed some quality time alone with Bed to repair their relationship, and it couldn’t be good for our cat Lulabelle's health to arch her back and scream for six hours straight.

I took Ursula for a hike in Griffith park, which she enjoyed immeasurably. I enjoyed it too. It was a refreshing change to have a canine hiking buddy who didn’t seek refuge under the first shady bush and refuse to take another step. I then ran some errands, keeping Ursula in the car as needed, taking her with me when I could. I thought, I could do this -- have a second dog that stays with me all day. She’s unbelievably sweet. I’ll exercise and socialize her, and our dog will have hours at home by herself where she can pretend Ursula is nothing more than a horrible dream. It would be nice if she’d stop licking my ear while I’m making right-hand turns in traffic, though.

We stopped at Whole Foods for groceries and I grabbed a take-out lunch which Ursula and I could share at an outside table. At the check-out, I happened to meet the mother of Emily, one of Daughter’s schoolmates. As we chatted, I mentioned my lunch date was Ursula and gave her the short version.

“I’d love a third dog,” she said enthusiastically. “My fourteen year-old son has been begging for a dog of his own.”

Hmm, this might work. They have dog experience. They have an energetic teenage boy wanting a dog. They have developed a tolerance to dog hair on their clothing. Hmmm. I went to the car and brought out Ursula. She lay down on the sidewalk next to Emily's mom and gazed up through her long black lashes with moist adoration. The woman fairly swooned.

I ate my lunch and she and I talked. I was most forthcoming about Ursula’s charms and peculiarities, but I’m not sure how much she heard being as Ursula was actively campaigning for the title of Most Precious Medium-Sized Dog West of The Mississippi. The love was fairly oozing in both directions.

Finally, she looked at her watch and said reluctantly, “I’ve got to do a couple more things before I pick up Emily. I’m going to think about this and talk to my husband. There’s no point in talking to my son, he’ll say it’s a great idea.”

“Okay,” I said, “see you at pick-up.”

“Do me a favor,” she said. “If Emily sees Ursula, don’t tell her I’m even thinking about this. She’s going to love this dog, and I need to make up my mind without that pressure.”

When it came time to pick up Daughter at school, I walked Ursula onto the outer playground. One child looked over and shrieked in delight, “DOG!”

Within thirty seconds, Ursula was swarmed by fifteen small, gleeful playmates. I’d have never done this without absolute confidence in Ursula’s good nature, but she was even better than I hoped. She lay down on the ground, accepted all petting with pleasure, and licked whatever child body parts were near her tongue. I noticed Emily was one of the first kids to cuddle Ursula and one of the last to be peeled off when it came time for us to leave.

That night, I was making dinner when the phone rang.

It was Emily’s mother.

“I can’t get Ursula out of my head,” she said. “And Emily came home raving about her without even knowing I was thinking about this. My husband thinks I’m insane, but Emily and I want the dog.”

I was delighted but cautious.

“Maybe we should have a playdate with Ursula and your dogs first?”

“No. We know we want her.”

“Okay, do you want to stop by this weekend...?”

“Actually, we were thinking tonight, so that my son could have her right away. Could we come by in about an hour?”

I was stunned. It was going to be that easy?

“Uh, okay. I mean, yeah. Great! I’ll have her stuff ready to go. We even have a crate for her, and we’ll see you in about an hour.”

I hung up the phone and saw Daughter standing in the doorway, frowning.

“Who’s coming over tonight?”

I said brightly, “Emily’s mom has decided that Ursula would be a great addition to their family, and they’re going to adopt her. Emily and her mom are coming over to pick her up tonight!”

It’s amazing how I thought presenting it in my best “Good News” voice would negate what I was actually telling her. Daughter’s face began to crumple.

“But…But, I wanted her to sleep on my bed.”

I swung quickly into “I know it’s hard to give up a sweet dog like Ursula, but every quadruped in the house hates her…Her new family goes for lots of walks and has another dog that is closer in age to Ursula…And she’ll be with someone we know again, so we can visit her… A lot!”

I might as well have acted out The Iliad with sock puppets for all the good it did Daughter. She flung herself into her room, sobbing, and slammed the door. I followed her to the threshold.

“Do you want me to come in?”

“No. I want to cry!”

Which is pretty much all she did for the next hour, when she wasn’t throwing things around her room or yelling “I wish Ursula was mean so no one else would like her!”

I tried saying supportive things through the door like, “I hear that you’re upset.” The parenting magazines suggest reflecting what the child is feeling back to them.

“JUST STOP TALKING!” she barked, between sobs.

The parenting magazines might want to rethink that suggestion.

As this point, all I could think was: if Daughter and I had been driving down that street just five minutes later, I might have a peaceful house right now. Then again, you never know. We’re an emotional people.

What fascinated me was that Ursula only lived with us for two days (when we first found her back in July, I had kept her in boarding), and still Daughter had grown this attached to her. This tells us something about the kindness of my kid’s heart…And the overwhelming cuteness of this dog.

Emily and her mother arrived at seven on the dot. I liberated Ursula from her crate and she ran joyfully to them. Daughter hid in the corner of the living room and sniffed. She didn’t want to be part of the goodbye, but she wasn’t going to miss seeing it. When Emily, her mother and Ursula left, Daughter collapsed again. She sat in my lap and cried and cried while I stroked her hair.

This may sound callous, but I was pleased this was to be her first real experience with loss. She found a dog, she loved a dog, and she had to let it go to a better situation than we could provide. She was learning that loving something means sometimes thinking of its best interest over yours. She was learning that doing the right thing doesn’t always feel good but you don’t do it because it feels good in the moment. You do it because it’s the right thing.

And she learned again that her Mom isn’t perfect, but will always hold her and pat her head until the sorrow fades.


The next morning, Daughter and I were on our way to her school, not far from where we had first spotted Ursula, when something on the sidewalk caught our attention.

“Mommy, I don’t…"

“Yeah, me neither...”

I pulled over slightly in front of the dog which was running down the sidewalk beside us. Similar size and breed mix to Ursula, but that was the only thing they had in common. This dog was in a wide-eyed panic, swerving to avoid walking anywhere near the people in his path.

“C’mere, sweetie,” I said softly, crouching down and making sure not to look him directly in the eye. “C’mere, good boy...”

His eyes flashed in terror, and he veered sharply to get away from my outstretched fingers. His fear of humans was such that he had now placed himself on the outer edge of the sidewalk, inches from speeding traffic. If I made another move towards him, he would run into the street to escape. His eyes glanced quickly up at me, terrified. He desperately wanted to be left alone.

I couldn’t help him.

“It’s okay, I’m just going to back up,” I said soothingly, so as not to send him spinning away from me as I moved back towards the car. He waited until I was about ten feet away, and then raced off down the sidewalk.

“Why didn’t you put him in the car?”

“He wouldn’t let me, bunny.”

“He’s probably just walking home," she said hopefully. "He knows we’re not his family so he wouldn’t get in our car. That’s what I think.”

“You might be right.”

Daughter and I sat for a minute parked by the curb. I don’t know what was going through Daughter's head, but I was sending a silent prayer of thanks that Ursula’s good nature had somehow been left intact. I sent another prayer of thanks to the family who adopted her, and a profound hope that things would work out for them.

I sent a prayer to every dog running alone down a sidewalk.

I started the car and drove away.


Saturday, October 22, 2005


[In case you are just tuning in, you might want to start with Cave Canem Part I – The Bitch Is Back. No pressure, just a suggestion.]

...So I brought home a damp and chastened houseguest.

After her March of Misery, crossing the threshold of our back door cheered Ursula up tremendously. For one, the sky wasn’t yelling at her anymore. For another, I hadn’t yelled at her since the sidewalk. But best of all, there -- in the corner of the dining room -- was another dog. Ursula loves other dogs. At the Inconsistent-But-Fun domecile she’d just left, she had a best friend in the adjacent yard -- a year-old golden retriever with whom she would spend hours on end alternately chasing, barking and chewing on each other’s legs.

This isn’t what I look for in a friendship but I’m sure Ursula doesn’t want to get a pedicure and speculate about the hidden flaws of famous people, so we’re even.

When Ursula spotted our dog, she saw something like a life jacket in a fur coat. So what if the humans seem to be trying to deprogram me from a cult, she thought. I’ve got a dog buddy here and it’ll be all chasing, barking, leg-chewing heaven from now on!

In a single leap, she crossed the room, landed next to our dog’s bed, stuck her butt in the air and barked excitedly. Our dog opened one eye and scowled. Some…thing had dared awaken her from one of her more critical naps of the afternoon?

Ursula waited a beat for our dog to take off from her bed and sprint around the room. When this didn’t happen, she barked louder.

Our dog curled one third of her upper lip and growled warningly.

Ursula dropped to the ground in a submissive pose and wagged her tail furiously while barking repeatedly.

Our dog took this as an invitation to flatten her ears against her head and growl more threateningly.

Since ours is a dog Consort has described (accurately) as “The farting doorstop”, I didn’t think they would be workout buddies, but I was hoping Ursula’s puppyish ways might endear her to my dog. What it actually resembled was as if Bea Arthur was forced to share a studio apartment with a Teletubbie.

[Oh, that’s good. I’m pitching that to the WB].

Ursula took all of this to be some strange game where an elderly dog pretends to despise her until that magical moment when they find themselves sharing the same dog bed, chewing on each other. In order to expedite the fun, Ursula put her paw on my dog’s bed.

Let me explain the relationship my dog has with her bed. First of all, she has a relationship with it, and it isn’t wholesome. Whenever the stink gets too bad and we wash it, she hovers next to the washer and hyperventilates. After it’s cleaned and put back in place, she carefully takes it in her teeth and mounts it for a few minutes. I can only hope that, on some level, the bed is consenting to this. The fact is, in order of affection, my dog loves: her bed; her bed; eating things that aren’t food; standing next to Consort before passing gas; and her bed. In a distant sixth position, she kind of likes us.

And this dog is currently staring at the paw of a hyperactive interloper defiling her precious bed.

She moved with a speed that belied her years and her arthritis. Chasing Ursula to a corner of the room, she leaned in to Ursula’s face and barked something along the lines of:


She then went back to her bed, mounted it a few times to reestablish equilibrium, and turned her back to the world to resume her nap.

Ursula, confused and intrigued by this game, bounced after her, nudged her out of the way, and sat on the bed. She then grinned broadly and stuck her butt in the air. At that point, I had decided to let them work it out, but stayed nearby in case my dog reached for a shiv hidden under her dish.

For a beat, my dog just goggled at this prancing idiot. Then she charged. Ursula obligingly bounded directly towards her, barking in glee. Neatly, my dog avoided the oncoming Ursula, slipped past her, and threw herself on the bed. She didn’t even take the time to mount the bed, but flattened herself against it while simultaneously biting at Ursula’s feet.

Ursula wasn’t frightened as much as pleased with the attention. It was obvious this could go on all night, or until my dog had a complete nervous collapse and ate her bed in an attempt to keep it away from Ursula. I called sweetly to Ursula, “Ursula, COME!”

She bounded up to me and attempted once again to jump on me. I commanded sharply, “SIT!” Ursula froze in her tracks. From the corner of my eye, I noticed something I had never before seen on my dog’s face – a wicked smirk.

I led Ursula into the laundry room where I had set up her crate. Mercifully, from the day we rescued her, she’s always been perfectly crate-friendly. She might go through two Ferragamos and a screen door in one afternoon, but she would withdraw into her crate at night without a peep. I led her into her crate and was about to secure the latch. It was at this exact moment that our cat, Lulabelle, sashayed in the back door. I don’t know what big issue she was pondering as she entered the room but she certainly wasn’t paying attention to her surroundings. Her first clue there was a new dog in the house was the brown torpedo heading directly for her, barking in ecstasy. Turns out, unlike many dogs, Ursula loves cats.

Adores them, in fact.

In a perfect feline spasm, Lulabelle leapt straight in the air and landed on the washing machine, resembling nothing so much as a mink blowfish. Ursula whined, pawed and barked up at her, hopping on her hind legs to get even closer to her new best friend.

That went over well. It also went on for quite a while because I had grasped Ursula’s collar so she couldn’t make Lulabelle a friendship bracelet or braid Lulabelle’s hair or something. This meant I couldn’t move the cat out of the room. The cat wasn’t going to move on her own because she still hadn’t sunk her claw into Ursula’s eye and that was the only thing which would make her feel better right now. I finally had to bellow for Consort who, for some unimaginable reason, had hidden himself in the garage.

Next: the Final Chapter -- Someone is seduced by Ursula’s charms. It’s not the cat.


Thursday, October 20, 2005


[If you are arriving for the first time, you might want go back to Cave Canem Part I – The Bitch Is Back to see how we got here.]

So, Monday afternoon, I told my friend to have Ursula in her Gentle Leader restraint when I came to pick her up. In case you think we have just crossed into stiletto boots and studded paddles territory, let me explain that the Gentle Leader is a harness which attaches over a dog’s snout instead of around the neck. It works especially well with dogs that resist leash commands without causing them unnecessary pain and I recommend it highly.

The door opened and Ursula, having seen me through the front window, went to leap in joyful greeting -- aiming straight for my collarbone. I took her leash quickly, snapped it sharply and barked “SIT!”

She blinked in confusion, went back on her hind legs and attempted to lead me in a waltz again.

SIT!” This time even sharper and meaner.

She froze. I pressed her backside down. She sat.

I sang out merrily, “Good sit!”

My voice had shifted from a sadistic Marine drill instructor to Glinda, the Good Witch of the North. Hearing a sweet tone, Ursula made for my shoulders again.


I pressed her backside down. She sat.

“Good sit!”

The rapid-fire toggle between my tone before the sit (Full Metal Jacket) and after the sit (Mister Roger’s Neighborhood) would have alarmed any reasonably alert psychologist. As it was, we hadn’t even left the front porch and this sweet overgrown puppy was already bewildered. We said a quick goodbye to her old family, and they shut the door. Ursula looked up at me with something approaching hope.

“Come, Ursula.”

She leapt like Pegasus towards the front gate. I grabbed her by the collar.


We composed ourselves.

“Come, Ur…SIT!”

I grabbed her by the muzzle, looked deeply into her eyes and growled sharply. I don’t suggest this was my Christmas card picture, but it worked. She sat stock still, whining softly in confusion. This was nowhere near as much fun as chewing shoes.

We started off again, Ursula walking meekly beside me. We made it all the way to their gate -- a distance of about five yards -- when it occurred to Ursula: “Why, if I could just take this unspeakable thing off my snout, I could run as I please and show the world what a broad-shouldered dog with bad manners can really do!”

She flung herself against the gate, attempting to work the muzzle off by rubbing her nose against the hinge. I grabbed her by the collar in an attempt to get her forelegs up.


Seen from the outside, I’m sure it appeared I was trying to lynch her.

The El Greco clouds, until then patchy and benign, thickened noiselessly overhead.

I finally got her back into sit and while she pouted, I plotted. A full “Heel” position (Dog’s right shoulder at your left hip, keeping pace with you while walking) might be more than she was capable of on her first walk. I decided to go for “Walk”, which would be dog at my left side, slightly behind me, on a loose leash. This was all theoretical, as “Heel” and “Walk” both imply going more than seven inches at a time.

“Ursula, WALK!”

We stepped out of the gate. Ursula leapt ahead of me, as expected. What I did must have entertained anyone who happened to look out of their window.

You can’t leash-train a dog by dragging on it because all you teach it is that the human has this weird love of randomly compressing its trachea. You have to either stop walking entirely until they happen to look up at you, to see if you died, and then start the walk again at your pace. Or, you can walk quickly in a circle, using their forward momentum to neatly place them behind you.

So, I walked in a circle. Ursula ended up at my left side, a couple of inches behind me.

“Ursula, WALK!”

I began to notice how my dog-encouraging voice sounds like Mary Poppins.

Ursula took two steps in the correct position. Then she saw a leaf and hurtled forward.


She was now officially miserable. Inconsistent-Yet-Fun Parents were long gone and she appeared to be left with Evil Psycho Stepmother. She lay down and sighed, nose between her paws. A fat drop of rain hit the ground. I tugged her back into a sitting position.

“Ursula, WALK!”

We almost made it to the next house this time before a raindrop on her back caused her to lose focus. We trudged in another tight circle and reestablished equilibrium.

We got another five feet before she decided to make a break for it, just for old time’s sake.


The good news was that she was sitting without my having to push her back down anymore. The bad news was that she wouldn’t put her butt all the way on the wet ground, so it was less “Sit”, more “Hover”.

“Ursula, WALK!”

Ursula leapt away from the wet ground in relief.


She sat, her whole body language radiating misery. I looked at her in sympathy. I have no idea what she went through before she met us, but the last three months of her life have been nothing but disruption, change, and pain. I may be the longest constant in her life, and here I am yelling at her like a gin-addled fishwife. It’s all in order to save her life, but she didn’t know that. It was raining steadily now and I leaned over and rubbed her ear.

She took this as a sign that this obeying silliness was over, and that we could be ballroom dancing partners again.


The very instant after I yelled, there was a rumble of thunder so deep and resonant I felt it in my sternum. The dog stayed in sit, but stared up at the sky in absolute terror. I was yelling at her and now God was yelling at her. This was by definition a bad dog day.

We squelched onwards. Either she was learning the basic rules of “Walk” or the by-now torrential rain sapped her of her fight. It was certainly draining away mine. I have new respect for anyone who trains dogs in Scotland.

She and I walked two whole blocks this way; it took an hour and a half. I popped her into my car, where we spent another twenty minutes confirming that I didn’t want her to drive, thank you. Then I brought her home…

Tomorrow: my dog and cat meet their houseguest. Virtually no one is pleased.

[PART III - Night Of The Jackal]

Wednesday, October 19, 2005


For those readers who do not live in Southern California, let me tell you about our weather on Monday. We didn’t just have thunder; we had thunder which rumbled for a minute at a time, powerfully enough to set off car alarms. We didn’t just have rain; we had rain which sporadically hit the ground hard enough to bounce back up two feet. And while we were having said rain, we would have patches of sunlight so blinding that you would need hip-waders and sunglasses at the same time. It was, in a word, dramatic.

Where was I during the heaviest of the downpours? I was outside, standing perfectly still while I felt the rain come over my boots and under my collar, attempting to leash-train a confused half-grown puppy.

Well, that’s not exactly true.

Sometimes, the dog and I walked in circles.

This all began back in July. I was driving Daughter to summer school, and was waiting for a light to turn green, when Daughter and I noticed a brown dog trotting down the sidewalk. The dog sociably nosed a woman walking past and attempted to play with her dog; they both ignored her. I glanced up and down the street and saw no one running out of their house looking for their missing dog. I noted the absence of a collar on the dog and checked her paws, which were filthy. The dog had a brief ear-scratch, and then turned to head towards a busy street. My stomach sank.

Daughter said “I don’t think that dog has a person.”

I said grimly, “I think you’re right,” pulled over sharply and got out quickly. Realistically, the dog was going to be panicked from being lost and wouldn’t let me get anywhere near it. It would probably bolt for the busy street and the outcome would be horrible.

I said softly, “Hey, sweetie, you lost?”

The dog spied me, grinned widely, got down on its elbows and crawled, soldier-style, over to me. She then rolled on her back and started licking my toes.

Ten minutes later, Daughter and I rolled up to school with a pungent-footed guest in the passenger seat licking my ear. Daughter went to get out of the car.

“I think we should call her Macy,” Daughter pronounced.

“I think we should call her Temporary,” I corrected. Our dog is, quite literally, a cranky old bitch who views all attempts to smell under her tail as a horrible invasion of privacy. We’re going to be staying a one-dog family.

I took her to our local animal hospital; she had no identifying chip. I checked the neighborhood where we found her; there were no signs. I kept her boarded for a week, and no one responded to my signs. This was not entirely surprising, as she is a mix of a couple of kind of dogs who are frequently bred for protection or fighting; if they don’t show promise, they are thrown out (Actually, my affectionate ward was lucky, as many of the non-aggressive ones are tortured to try to make them vicious or used for bait).

I would go to visit her at the boarding kennel, and Temp-Macy would run from the kennel to greet me with the kind of effusive adoration as if the last time we’d seen one another I had taken a grenade for her and had been left for dead. The kennel workers had grown so fond of her that she would be let out to sleep under their feet as they worked at the desk. Clearly, she was domesticated, and in crying need of a home. After a week passed, I decided to start finding her one.

It became obvious that no one was looking for her and the boarding bill was beginning to enter into “A Weekend Escape at the Ritz Carlton” territory. I have never written a personal ad, but I cannot imagine making any more effort to present myself in a better light. I used words like “Good listener” and “Attractive” and “Easy to please” and “Mellow”; I didn’t mention how she likes long walks on the beach, picnics in front of a roaring fire and intimate jazz clubs, nor did I take ten pounds off her weight, but I think I hit every other cliché of the genre.

I did say she was “Submissive” and “Easy to control”, which I suspect are clichés of another kind of personal ad.

Within a few days, I had the good fortune to find her a home with friends of ours. Their son was slightly timid of dogs, but they felt such a mellow dog would be a natural introduction. The parents had never had dogs, but she was so easygoing and mellow, how hard could it be?

I wasn’t promising them something just to get her off my hands. She was an eight month-old dog who seemed to need very little in the way of exercise beyond a walk a day, and who lived to sleep with her head on your feet. I didn’t quite understand how a dog with at least two breeds in her that are known for energy and endurance was such a couch potato, but who was I to question the Way of the Dog? They named her Ursula, I paid her boarding bill and considered the matter done with.
They had her three days when I got the first phone call.

“Quinn,” my friend began hesitantly, “Ursula ate a potato chip and now she’s coughing.”

I said reassuringly, “She might have scratched her throat, she’ll be better by tomorrow.”

Two days later: “She’s seems to be happy and very active, but she’s still coughing.”

I said, slightly less confidently, “She might have gotten Kennel Cough. If it doesn’t clear up by tomorrow, take her to see the vet.”

The next day she was drooling bile, coughing and unable to stand. They raced her to the vet to find out that she had something like pneumonia. For that family, the next weeks was a blur of multiple medications, cramming syringes down Ursula’s throat, cleaning up pools of bile from the floor and explaining to their son about how the dog might fall down and just not get back up.

Imagine “Lassie” meets “ER”. With a little “Exorcist” thrown in. And who was responsible for this blameless family going through this experience?

Oh, right...Me.

A week passed, and then two. Ursula got better. Slowly. My friend was finally able to throw away the syringes. Ursula improved. And then we discovered a new layer to Ursula: what we had taken for a mellow disposition was, in all probability, the symptoms of a life-threatening illness.

Healthy Ursula had enough energy to pull a Lincoln Town Car full of cinder blocks up Telegraph Hill.

Healthy Ursula thought the only proper way to greet people was to jump on them, knock them down, and stand on their sternum.

Healthy Ursula ate shoes. Also doors.

Healthy Ursula was a dog I never would have placed with a family looking for their first dog.

A month passed, and then another. I would hear stories from Ursula’s family, and they weren’t great. I would say to my friend, “How’s it going with Ursula and your son?”

She would say with a thin smile and a glint of terror in her eyes, “The fiftieth time Ursula jumped on him, he just yelled ‘Off!’ and dragged her outside. So, I guess he’s not scared of dogs anymore. That’s good, right…?”

They had neither the time nor experience to be consistent and firm owners, which is the only way you can train an exuberant and willful puppy. She was getting stronger while the family was weakening. Unless Ursula could start paying the mortgage, something had to give.

Saturday morning, I got a call. My friend was in tears.

“We just can’t do it,” she wailed. “She’s the sweetest girl in the world, but I’m down to one pair of work shoes and she just won’t stop and she won’t listen. Would you please take her back?”

I looked around at my sullen elderly dog, my aggressively dog-loathing cat, and my child who doesn’t like being licked or knocked over.


My job as her rescuer just got six times as difficult; without proper consistent training, she was going to end up being bounced from house to house. She could end up being turned in to a shelter. Twenty-four hours after an “owner turn-in” to an LA county shelter, a dog of her breed is destroyed. The only way I was going to save her sweet bouncy hide was by being the toughest Alpha Bitch on the block.

Luckily, this comes naturally to me.

Tomorrow, I will tell you about TRAINING DAY.


Saturday, October 15, 2005

Latin Doll.

Aemilia woman beautiful is. Syra not is woman beautiful, neither beautiful is nose hers, but ugly is. Syra, while good maid is, nose large and ugly have.

Ooh, Lingua Latina has taken a turn for the mean. Not that punching your sibling or threatening a servant with a cane is going to win you sainthood, but this seems an unnecessarily personal way to learn adjectives. Couldn’t we just talk about shoddy workmanship in plumbing and unfortunate sweater choices?

Julius is man Aemilia, woman beautiful. Julius Aemilia loves, because she beautiful and good woman is.

No, if my memory of upper-class Rome serves me, Julius didn’t see Aemilia until the day of the wedding. He loved Aemilia because her dowry included a vineyard outside of Ostia and a few dozen servants, possibly including the nasally endowed Syra. Also, Aemilia rarely complains when Julius wants to go to the Coliseum and watch Christians get eaten, and he appreciates that.

For the moment, we have stopped slandering Syra, and move on to a thorough, and I mean, thorough, description of the house:

In house are two doors, door big and door small. House two doors and many windows have. In Villa Julius big atrium is with pool.

Which is entirely different than being with child, until that last month, when even a pregnant Roman woman suspects she is carrying around a lap pool in each ankle.

What is in pool? In there is water.

Really, water? Because in my pool, we keep goat’s blood and Post-its.

Have peristylum large and beautiful in house is.

I can describe a peristylum but cannot find its English equivalent. It seems to translate as “Between pencils”.

Peristylum is vocabulary Greek.

Oh, of course. We’re not drowning deeply enough in Latin, the writer thought it would be funny to watch us flail in Greek at the same time. Was Syra’s sobbing over his cruel nose comment not enough for this guy?

In houses Greek and Roman large and beautiful peristylums are.

Yes, I bet all those Greek and Roman rich people go on peristylum tours of one another’s houses, oohing and aahing as they stroll between the pencils.

Is not pool in peristylum? Is not in peristylum, but in atrium is. In peristylum small garden is.

You couldn’t have a pool in the peristylum. It would get the giant pencils wet and moldy.

In house are many rooms. Quintus in room small sleep. Is not large room Marcus? It also small is.

But they each have their own DSL line.

Julius and Aemilia in room large sleep. Where sleeps servants? They also in rooms sleep. Do they not big go rooms?

Sorry about that last sentence. I kept to my vow and translated it exactly, as I am not clever enough yet to translate for tone. So it looks like something my cat types when she runs across the keyboard.

It not large is, and many servants in one cubicle sleep. Even maids many in one cubicle sleep, nor they large room have.

And don’t you just know that while Syra comes to bed, all the other maids stop talking suddenly? Like she doesn’t know they’re talking about her nose; as if she doesn’t know a Latin book would immortalize her nose to teach the words “Large” and “Ugly”.

Aemilia in peristylum is. Is not she alone? Aemilia alone not is: children with her in peristylum present.

The pencils look lovely this time of year.

Julius absent. Aemilia without man who is Julius in house is. Where is Julius?

Perhaps admiring the pencils of another?

In town Tusculo is without Aemilia, but with servants four.

(I frantically read ahead, to make sure Lingua Latina isn’t about to take me into NC-17 territory. Or the WB. But we’re safe; whatever Julius is doing, our writer is keeping us safely in the peristylum.)

Aemilia with Marcus, Quintus and Julia in peristylum is. Julia roses beautiful in garden live and away from Aemilia goes. Now she with Aemilia not is. Aemilia her not sees. Girl in garden is.

Daughter does this all the time. We’ll be walking through our house with the two doors and the many windows and, all of a sudden, she’ll hide in the peristylum. It irritates me so much that I want to marry her off to the next elderly Senator who passes by.

Aemilia commands: Marcus and Quintus! Julia call!

Marcus and Quintus Julia call: Julia! Come! But Julia neither them hears nor comes.

Julia sons call: Marcus and Quintus! Come! Here many roses are.

Quintus: Seize the roses, Julia!

He actually says “Carpe rosas”, like “Seize the day”, only with thorns. And baby’s breath, depending on from where you received the roses.

Julia roses plucks and with five roses leaves the garden.

Julia: Look, mother! Look, brothers! Look you at roses mine! Julia happy is, roses she likes.

Aemilia: This girl beautiful with roses beautiful!

I think we have all come to know this family well enough to know that happiness must not stand.

Marcus: Roses beautiful are: girl without roses beautiful not is! Words of Marcus Julia does not like!

Marcus, a word to the wise. You might resent the attention she gets now, being the only girl and the baby of the family. But later, when Julius and Aemilia are old and someone has to take the elderly parents into their house with two doors and many windows, you’re going to want to get Julia on your side so she will tend to them. Admire her roses now, and thirty years from now, she’ll be pulverizing their stewed eels for them and not you.

Aemilia (Irate): Quiet, improper boy! Julia girl beautiful is-with roses or without roses!

Julia: Listen, Marcus and Quintus!

Hey, what did Quintus do?

Marcus: Mother not see nose yours ugly!

Okay, what is with the nose fetish? Did these people have no other interests?

Marcus and Quintus laugh: Hahahahae!

(They laughed in a plural, present-tense, Latin way)

Julia: Listen, Momma: boys are me laugh!

(In a plural, present-tense, Latin way)

Julia cries and with one rose away she goes.

Aemilia: Quiet, improper boys! Nose Julia ugly not is.

And yet her eyelashes are sparse, and neither brother thought to mock her about that.

Aemilia: Leave outside the peristylum! Take you them roses and put them in water!

Boys take four roses and with them leave.

Nothing spoils an afternoon among the giant pencils quite like a fight among your children.
So, what have we learned today?

We have learned that Syra is ugly, and that it’s okay to talk about that.

We have learned that it’s good to have two doors in your house, as long as you have plenty of windows.

We have learned that this book is now going to start sliding Greek words in on occasion, to see if I will cry.

But mostly we have learned that when Julius and Aemilia are old and infirm, Julia will take them in to her home and treat them with all the love and respect they deserve.

And then she’ll convince them to write Marcus out of the will.

Wednesday, October 12, 2005

Time and Motion Study.

Let’s play a game. I will relate an anecdote from my life, and you will spot the moment of head-shaking stupidity.

Daughter and I flew in the door after school and gymnastics. Daughter had her lunchbox and homework; I had everything else: gym bag, library books, bag of groceries, my purse, a resoled pair of shoes and possibly a tame crow sitting on my head. In a word, I was laden. Upon passing through the front door, Daughter started the traditional Puccini aria Either Feed Me Dinner This Second or I Shall Die of Starvation, But Not Before Whining For Ten Minutes and Covertly Opening Yet Another Bag of Goldfish Crackers. The dog and cat flung themselves at my limbs in an attempt to get me to make them dinner or be their dinner.

I moved more quickly towards the kitchen, dropping bags in places which had some relation to where they should end up. The gym bag got flung towards the laundry room, the library books and shoes got pitched towards our bedroom and the purse went into the office. I was still holding my keys from opening the door, and in my haste I put them down someplace. Even at the time, I stared at the keys for a second and thought “Oh, there is no way I am going to remember putting my keys there”; even at my most frenetic, I knew this was a horrible choice.

But did I take an extra ten seconds to pick up the keys and place them in my purse? No, readers, I did not. I hurled myself into the kitchen and fed the dog, the cat and the child. Several times during the evening, I thought: You know, I really should find the keys now and put them in my purse, so I won’t have to root around for them tomorrow morning. But since that would have taken thirty valuable seconds, I chose to spend my time more fruitfully; that is, seeing if any new Hermes Birkin bags were for sale on EBay. At an average cost of $8,000, I won’t be purchasing one this evening, but it’s nice to know that if I woke up tomorrow morning and found $150,000.00 in the pocket of my khakis, I’d have prepared enough to think “Hooray! Bidding on the anthracite 35cm Birkin with the palladium hardware doesn’t close for two hours!”

That’s what I’m all about these days, planning ahead.

The next morning was somewhat stressful, what with me caroming around the house frantically trying to remember the strange place I had dropped my keys (as it turned out, between the stove and the wall, being courted by an amorous spider). I estimate that in saving myself, at most, forty-five seconds yesterday, I lost twenty minutes this morning. This is why if you ever get a flyer for my weekend seminar at the airport Marriott on time management, you can give it a miss.

It’s not merely that I refuse to do the simple thing now to avoid the complicated thing later; I get so stubborn about it. At least three times within the past month I have been rushing off to someplace new, have gotten two blocks from the house and only then realized that I’ve forgotten the directions:

REASONABLE QUINN: Shoot, I left the directions at home.

OTHER QUINN: We’re not going back, we’ve gone too far.

RQ: I can still see the house in the rear-voice mirror.


RQ: Uh, this isn’t a getaway car. We can just make a left here, then a quick left…see, there’s a hole in oncoming traffic and we could make the left now…

OQ: I don’t need directions; I remember where we’re going. It’s…Palm Street. 413 Palm…Court. Palmer Court.

RQ attempts to swing car around.

OQ: IF YOU GO BACK TO THE HOUSE, I WILL LET NEITHER ONE OF US OUT OF THIS CAR…Court Street? Yes, Court Street. 41 Court Street, in the city of Palms.

I missed that party. All of my personalities missed it with me.

You want another example of efficiency in action? How about when the restaurant hostess promises us a table in ten minutes, and fifteen minutes pass and there is no table available and the hostess is no longer catching our eye and I’m starting to sway from hunger but I won’t go to another restaurant because I have already committed fifteen minutes to this wait?

RQ: Consort doesn’t care where you two eat. You’re starting to sweat and kick people from famine. Daughter’s babysitter has pocketed an additional $2.50 while you two stand in a crowded hallway. Please just go across the street to the other place.

OQ: Oh no, sister. I didn’t just scarf down a packet of Equal and a pilfered cocktail onion so the couple behind us could skip ahead in line. There are three tables in there which should open up at any mo…I cannot believe it! The jerk at the window table just ordered Amaretto. He’s wearing shorts, who orders an after-dinner drink while wearing shorts? YOU SELFISH FREAK, GO BUY PANTS! THEN DRINK YOUR DESSERT!

RQ: If you won’t let us leave, then please eat that maraschino cherry then go read the fire inspection certificate again.

But if you really want to experience time slipping away from you in a fantastically unforgiving way, might I suggest Verizon? Three years ago, I got a perfectly good mobile phone. Two years ago, things started wearing out, so I would trudge in and get parts replaced, usually for free. One year ago, I went in to get something replaced and the salesman acted as if I had brought in a 1953 Studebaker and was insisting on having an electric-hybrid engine installed:

QUINN: Hi, I need a new battery, please.

Salesman looks dubiously at the blameless phone.

SALESMAN: Are you sure that’s ours?


SALESMAN: I’ve never seen one like that since I’ve been working here.

QUINN: How long has that been?

SALESMAN: A week on Saturday.

It’s never quick and it’s rarely fun, but I refuse to get rid of a perfectly good phone just because it makes a nineteen year-old salesman squirm to imagine a world before Blue Tooth. So I went to a Verizon store last week and saw that the service line was about seven people long. This is not surprising. If you were to break in to the Verizon store in the middle of the night, there would be seven people waiting on line. The question, of course, is always are these short-problem people or long-problem people?

The woman hopping from foot to foot, anxiously checking her watch repeatedly and sighing was clearly in a rush, which boded well. The man behind her was carrying a bag with what appeared to be the parts of several phones and a thick, battered manila file which read “Verizon 2002-5”, which boded unbelievably badly. I decided to do another errand and come back after the guy with the archive was gone.

But then I dithered. It’s not as if I would never find people on line; I was always going to be dealing with a group of people ahead of me with telephonic trauma. Maybe when I came back, the next group would have longer problems than this group. Maybe someone in the world has an older phone than I do.

Maybe this was as good as it gets.

This was simply too horrible a thought. As if shot from a cannon, I flung myself from the clutches of Verizon and raced home. If an asteroid was hurtling Earthward, I would hate to think I spent my last hour waiting for a fleshy man in a Members Only jacket to relive three years’ of his phone bills. Not me.

No, I decided to take the bull by the horns. With only a box of rubber bands, some duct tape, tinfoil, hot glue and my unlimited access to Consort’s well-appointed workshop, I fixed the phone myself. That’s right. The battery no longer flops off when I open the phone. Sure, it looks like something Daughter might have made in art class – assuming I’d let her attend art class with a high fever -- but the phone works, and I saved myself what might have been thirty minutes of standing on line.

And it only took me three nights.

Sunday, October 09, 2005

Fund A Mental

Hi, I just happened to be in your neighborhood. I noticed that your back door was ajar and decided to take a look in your kitchen cabinets (love the contact paper, by the way), and I couldn’t help but notice that you’re still storing your cereal in cereal boxes. You know, Tupperware does a fabulous Cereal Server™ with their first-in, first-out feature, which allows you to put the cereal in the bottom and pour out through the top, which will keep you from getting stale cereal, and who likes that? Also, I noticed that you don’t have a lot in the way of Christmas table accessories (whew, is your crawl space dusty!), and I immediately thought of the Tupperware Bell Ornament Place Card Holders™, which is fun for the Christmas season, and also a lovely housewarming present. And if you have a friend who celebrates other holidays, don’t fret, you can never go wrong with the Tupperware Sheerly Elegant Butterfly Server™ which comes in emerald and clear and can hold a variety of food items including fruit. Who doesn’t like fruit?

So, either you can buy a couple of Tupperware items from me that you need anyway, or we can talk about what I found in your medicine cabinet.

Yeah, Daughter’s school is having a fund-raiser, and I have a catalogue in my purse. I’d feel better about carrying around a live strep-throat culture; at least then I’d know it was an object to be kept away from people. Instead, though, I have to find friends and loved ones, shove the increasingly grubby catalogue into their hands like a used Kleenex and mumble “Fund-raising. Buy, please?” At which point my friends go through the catalogue, trying to decide whether they need Butter Huggers™ (“…Dispenses butter when rubbed across ear of corn. Includes area for salt...”) or Stuffables™ (“…Flexible seals that expand, so you can overstuff them with irregular or odd-shaped objects such as pork chops..”). I know they don’t need either. They know they don’t need either. I know they know they don’t need either. But the ones who are related to Daughter will buy something to support her, and my friends do it to support me and support their school.

That’s right, I said their school. Every close friend I have right now has a child under fifteen, and they all know that before December is done, they will be shoving their fund-raising catalogues into my ribs. After only two years of the kid-in-school circuit, I have developed distinct favorites. I like ducks best of all; I buy some rubber ducks, they float someplace in some sort of competition, and I never hear about them again. I will never win the weekend in Palm Springs(Grand Prize), the gift certificate for a luxurious massage (2nd Prize), or the not-quite-complete set of Calphalon pots (3rd Prize), but I don’t care.

Wrapping paper is useful, but problematic. First of all, the paper is hugely marked-up. I know this shouldn’t be about buying deeply-discounted expendables -- I usually buy a closet full of Christmas supplies on December 26th -- but when it’s three times as much as it would be in a store, it starts feeling too much like a shakedown (“…You want your kid to learn the last 13 letters of the alphabet, you’d better push the entire Country Cuties™ gift wrap package…”). Also, only about twenty percent of the inventory in a catalogue is actually wrapping paper -- the rest is a gallery of must-have collectibles, assuming you are the kind of person who must have a ceramic figurine of an angel-faced child of indeterminate gender, in pastel pajamas, huge eyes gazing heavenward, with the words “My Gramma Wuvs Me” carved in gilded script at his/her feet. I can only speak for my family, but if I brought that into her house, my mother would throw fireplace tools at my head.

These catalogues are an embarrassment of riches in objects which hold no appeal for me at all. Apparently, the good people who publish these catalogues have done copious research proving beyond any reasonable doubt that mothers of elementary-school children LOVE THE HOLIDAYS! Not only do we LOVE THE HOLIDAYS, we cannot get enough of any holiday, no matter how obscure! The target audience of every fund-raising catalogue has asked herself the question: “How am I going to decorate the hot-water heater to best commemorate Arbor Day?”

They have Halloween gnomes you can hang from lampshades, Easter-bunny pixies to hide in flower pots, Valentine cherubs to stick on your picture window, and St. Patrick’s Day leprechaun t-shirts to wear as you lie in a puddle of your own green beer-soaked vomit. I haven’t found the Memorial Day “Commemorate-Our-War-Dead and End-Of-Season-Shoe-Sale” doorknob hanger, but it’s out there. Since I have an aversion to bringing one more object into this house which is relevant for only one week a year, and since I must buy something from this kind woman who has already bought something from me, I get wrapping paper. I figure with my deeply discounted December 26th savings, my inventory costs pretty much even out. Better yet, I can say without fear of contradiction there is no holiday so obscure I don’t have a wrapping paper for it. An Armistice Day present for a six year-old boy who likes reptiles? Far left corner, behind the Ramadan ribbon.

But the worst, of course, are the candy catalogues. Nothing but second-rate chocolate, as far as the eye can see, usually in a tin decorated with holiday-themed teddy bears (I’m guessing research shows we mothers of the school-age really spin for teddy bears). I sit at Gymnastics, holding a catalogue and frowning.

A two-pound rectangle of milk chocolate with “2005” written on top? Nope. That only gives me two months to gift it.

A massive bag of chocolate-covered pretzels? Nope. I got them last time and had the suspicion that dipping them in chocolate-colored wax was how manufacturers got rid of pretzels too stale to sell in third-world vending machines.

Walnut fudge or pecan turtles, so I can pretend the nuts negate every other toxic ingredient? Nope. Non pariels, because no one in the house really likes them so they might actually last a week? Nope.

I will spend more than two hundred dollars this year on the fund-raisers of friends, all of whom will spend somewhere in that neighborhood on the fund-raisers of their friends. I know we’re doing this because not everyone can afford anything beyond what they are paying in tuition or school fees, which is why the fund-raising is voluntary (a word that takes on a new elasticity after you have been pulled aside by the fund-raising chair at your school).

But I’m going to suggest something here: couldn’t we just give this money directly to the schools? About sixty percent is going to the wrapping paper/chocolate Santa/personalized pen people, anyway. If we want to keep it in the fund-raising spirit, the fund-raiser can randomly grab a different parent each week and crow over the new soccer balls while the parent writes a check. The school gets to keep more money and the parent gets the same feeling of accomplishment without having to find a place to stash another two foot-high decorative tin of chocolate-covered packing material.

In the meanwhile, though, I have you down for the Saucy Silicone Spatula™ and the Thatsa Bowl ™ in Lacquer blue, right?

Wednesday, October 05, 2005

(I) Miss Manners

Recently, it occurred to me that a quick refresher course on manners and etiquette wouldn’t kill me. Even though we are a “Please” and “Thank You” people, a “May I Have” not a “Can I Have” people, even a “Thank-you Note” people, I am starting to see the machinery of manners starting to break down within me. Due to a constant need to refill Daughter’s water cup/get more food from the stove/remove cat from center of table, I have taken to eating dinner while standing and hovering over my food like a German shepherd with low-blood sugar. This cannot be modeling good behavior for the offspring.

Also, I began a conversation with a friend by sticking my leg out in front of her as if I was about to perform the can-can and asking “Am I getting cankles?”; while the disease of thick calves melding into shapeless ankles is not to be taken lightly, it is possible that I have forgotten how to make small talk. I picked up Emily Post’s book from the library. As I was checking it out, I noticed that it appeared especially dog-eared; surely there aren’t thousands of Southern Californians each year worrying about the phrasing of a condolence note? I checked the print edition-April, 1930.

I got in the car, turned to the first page, and found this:

People who ridicule etiquette as a mass of trivial and arbitrary conventions…seem to forget the long, slow progress of social intercourse in the upward climb of man from the primeval state

I stared off in wonder. Of course! First, we achieved fire. Then, we forged metal and created languages. But all three were merely elements that came together so we could invite people over to help us read the Weber instruction manual and grill some meat.

Etiquette led to the Food Channel! And we all love the Food Channel! Ergo, we love etiquette!

Perhaps I needed to open the car windows.

Emily Post, Lord love her, knows what the skeptical reader is thinking:

To some the very word etiquette…implies a great pother about trifles. To those who dislike the word, it suggests all that is finical and superfluous

Actually, what the skeptical reader is doing at this point is trying to remember if “Pother” is the same as “Bother” and if “Finical” is, in fact, a word.

I left the Introduction, the rest of which can be summed up by “Manners are important. Life without manners is nasty, brutish and involves white shoes at Christmastime”.

Let us visit the chapter on introductions, which should in no way be confused with the Introduction, which we just left, but only after saying goodbye to our hostess and thanking her for a lovely time.

The rules of Introductions go something like this:

1. Younger is always introduced to older or more distinguished. Always.
2. Unless, of course, the younger person is female and the older is male. Women are always introduced to men. Always.
3. Unless, of course, the man is the President of the United States or a royal personage. But only those two.
4. Or it’s a dignitary of the church; archbishop and monsignors are a definite “Woman first” situation. Miss Post says that it is “Not incorrect” to introduce a woman to a priest, but I sense some ambivalence. If confronted with this situation in my own life, I will avoid a faux pas by having a coughing attack and running from the room before having to introduce a priest and a woman.

But what if you don’t want to say “May I present”? What if you have a sibilant s and the word “Present” fills you with terror and shame? I am sure you will be as excited as I was to know that most of the work can be done with inflection:

In the briefer form of introduction commonly used, “Mrs. Worldly, Mrs. Norman,”…the more important name is said with a slightly rising inflection, the secondary as a mere statement of fact.”

A slightly rising inflection marks you for life? Well, doesn’t that just cork it. Some good woman can work hard to get into the best schools, marry some nice man from a good family, learn how to play a decent game of bridge (SPOILER ALERT: We’re going to spend a great deal of time talking about bridge etiquette in here), and with one flatly intoned “Mavis Bumbridge”, Mavis learns that she has less to offer than “Fern Lipizzaner?”. Just go home and close the curtains, Mavis, because you’re doomed. Doomed.

Would you like to know some other permissible forms of introduction? Of course you would. Would you like to know what happened to people who use impermissible forms of introduction? Well, you’re going to have to go a different kind of blog for that; I don’t show those kinds of pictures around here. This is a family blog.


“Mrs. Jones, you know Mrs. Robinson, don’t you?” (On no account say “Do you not?” Best Society always says “Don’t you?” Best Society also says “Can you Irish up this coffee for me?” and “It’s five o’clock somewhere!” They say that a lot)


“Mrs. Robinson, have you met Mrs. Jones?”


“Mrs. Jones, do you know my mother?”


“This is my daughter Ellen, Mrs. Jones”

I can only assume by this point that Mrs. Jones starts running and hiding when she sees the hostess dragging someone new over to meet her.

Here are some other introduction gambits that make Miss Post’s lips go all white and thin. You may not say “Mrs. Jones, I want to make you acquainted with…”; I agree with that, as it sounds affected and strange, and I save sounding affected and strange for intimate dinners with one friend and six umbrella drinks.

You also must not say, upon introducing two people, “Mrs. Smith, I want you to meet my friend Mrs. Jones”, as the only possible implication Mrs. Smith can take from that is “…and I am the person who routed your toilet?”

Miss Post says, and again I agree, that asking someone their name outright is rude. She suggests waiting until you have finished the conversation with the nameless person and then asking a third person “Who was that lady with the grey feather in her hat?”. Of course, due to both a certain sameness to most 21st-century women’s wardrobes and a Southern Californian inability to understand the meaning of the word “Discretion”, my query to the third party would go something like:

QUINN: Who is the woman in the jeans over there?

THIRD PERSON: Who, her? (Pointing)

QUINN: Not her, the other one.


QUINN: No, the one in the red shirt.

THIRD: Oh, her?

QUINN: No, short-sleeved.

THIRD: Which one?

QUINN: The one who has been sober for two years and used to get beaten up by her boyfriend.

THIRD: I’m going to need more than that.

QUINN: The one with the implants.

THIRD: Well, if you’re not even going to help

Something tells me Mrs. Jones would have loved to have met her.

Monday, October 03, 2005

I Got a Nikon Camera, I Love to Take a Photograph.

Here’s an embarrassing admission: if I were to be diagnosed with some horrible body-ravaging illness which promised to kill me in a week, my first thought would be for my daughter, my second thought would be for Consort, and my third thought would be for my file of unlabeled photographs. And by “File” I mean, of course, “Stained cardboard box brimming with envelopes of pictures and scraps of paper with the words ‘Family Pictures’ written in over the scratched-out word ‘Smirnoff’”.

As with many other supremely ugly things in my life, this began as a sweet idea. From the first day of pre-school, Daughter generated paperwork. She generated quite a bit of paperwork. In a given week, Belgium generates less paperwork than my kid. For the first few weeks, I was carefully putting new stuff on the fridge, rotating out the old stuff, sending the cutest stuff to the grandparents. But as her fine motor control developed, her paperwork increased, while our refrigerator remained the same size, and we didn’t find any new grandparents between the couch cushions. I toyed with wallpapering the living room in just the cat-centric pictures alone.

Clearly, some kind of pruning was in order. I started keeping only one especially fine sample of, say, a drawing of Pilgrims and happy Native Americans breaking bread, and jettisoning the other forty six evocations of the same image. But this meant that when I would go to throw it out in order to create room for “Cat Princess as Sugar Plum Fairy”, I would stare mournfully at the soon-to-be-recycled artwork; it was actually cute. This was what she was doing at a particular time in her life, and I just really wanted to keep a simple record of all she was learning and creating.

That was when the Bad Idea hit me. “Why,” I thought, “I’ll take one representative sample from each month or so and attach a picture of Daughter from that month to it and put them in an album together! It will be adorable! And easy! So very easy!”

To the best of my knowledge, having had five concussions between the ages of eighteen and thirty didn’t affect my judgment. But maybe it did.

Of course it wasn’t easy. This meant that I now had to keep every possible artwork Daughter created, in case it somehow tied in with some picture taken that month. This also meant that I— who could stand two miles away from someone and still manage to cut off their head in a picture — now had to view every event as a potential Photo Op.

I’m the parent at the petting zoo lying prone in a clump of urine-soaked hay in order to get The Shot of Daughter petting a pig which will tie in nicely with the Charlotte’s Web homework from last week. Of course, the camera has a delay, so I end up with three mildly blurry shots of a hand, possibly Daughter’s, reaching out to pet a pig that is now copiously pooping (the poop, of course, is in perfect focus). I’m the mother at someone else’s birthday party leaping over the heads of toddlers in order to get a shot of Daughter having face-paint applied because I thought the green they are using on her eyebrows would tie in nicely with a flower she had painted the week before. The paparazzi who follow the Hilton sisters around would understand this degree of devotion, but they get paid to be horrible. I’m doing this for the obsessive love of a well-organized photo album.

A well-organized photo album, that is, at some point in the future. Right now, as I mentioned, I have a box bulging with pictures only I can explain and pieces of paper only Daughter can read. Just for our collective amusement, I have dragged the “Family Smirnoff” box out and will grab a few pictures at random from it and describe them to you:

Picture #1 - Daughter is…sitting…in…something. A car, perhaps? No, wait…It’s an airplane. When we went to the kid’s museum this summer, they had a half of a real airplane in which the kids could frolic. But, of course, I didn’t think to frame the picture so you could actually see she was sitting in the pilot’s seat of a real airplane so she appears to be driving a mini-van. I must have felt this image really tied in with some drawing she did, as I took five virtually identical pictures. And what’s that in the corner of each one? Oh, yes, it’s my finger.

Picture #2 - Kid’s music event, where Daughter got up and danced. That’s a sweet shot. Or rather, it would be, if she were in the picture. There are twenty-five children in this picture, and I am not related to any of them. Refreshingly, I have not cut off any of their heads; in fact, I have left so much space above their heads it looks as if the kids should suddenly erupt into “We represent the Lollipop League, the Lollipop League…”.

Picture #3 - Daughter and two dear friends, looking at a wild bat. Sounds good, right? Let me clarify. Daughter is one-quarter of a head facing away from me on the bottom of the frame. The two boys are staring, in profile, at the hands of a bat expert, who is holding the apricot-sized bat in a cloth, to keep it safe from prying hands. This means the boys appear enthralled by a soiled dinner napkin. What I really got most clearly in this picture is a boy facing me in a white trucker hat and a white t-shirt which reads “Vote for Pedro”. I have no idea who this boy is. I have four more pictures of these same kids fixating on a dinner napkin from different angles, because I knew I had a winner here.

Picture #4 - Night time walking tour we took as a family. Here is the woman giving the lecture, pointing at something. Here is everyone looking at what she is pointing at. Here is me, at the back of the group, getting a picture of the back of everyone’s head. You know, I actually took this job on willingly; it only appears I became family photographer because I lost a bet. Or more accurately, the family lost a bet.

Actually, I know why I take the pictures. If Consort takes the pictures, Consort eventually takes a picture of me. Sometimes, Consort decides to take a candid snapshot of me when I am unaware of it. Then, I go to pick up the printed pictures and unexpectedly come face-to-face with how I actually look.

And none of us need that.