Monday, February 27, 2006

Rat Sherpa.

As usual, I carried a cup of tea out to the car this morning for drinking while driving Daughter to school. Once in the car I expected, as usual, to spill it into my lap. Today, however, in the spirit of the Winter Olympics, I decided to ratchet up the degree of difficulty a bit so I held my trusted travel cup in the same hand which also carried a very small rat in a very large cage. The baby rat scuttled over and stuck his teeny nose through the bars and attempted to become a tea drinker. I entertained myself on the walk out to the car by trying to recall if there were any rat diseases which were both airborne and thrived in a lukewarm beverage.

As with nearly everything weird in my life, this is my fault. I have no one to blame for my verminous companion but myself. Last Friday, I went to the animal rescue place where Daughter and I volunteer. It is located in the back of a pet store exclusively staffed by kind, lethargic, typically tattooed young men not unfamiliar with the oeuvre of Led Zeppelin and the off-label uses of certain mushrooms. In passing chatter with one of these lads, I learned that a friend had given him three adult female rats and their fifteen babies to sell.

“They’re hooded rats,” he drawled, as he sketched a flier for his band. “They’re the best ones for pets, and they’re really cute, so I’ll try to find homes for some of them.”

“And if you don’t?” I enquired, dreading the answer.

He nodded lazily towards the cage of feeder rats for snakes. This young man has a marvelous equanimity when it comes to the food chain: some get to be the pet; some get to feed the pet. I understand snakes really don’t thrill to a rat made of tempeh but that didn’t mean I had to just stand back and let it happen.


Three minutes later, a small, squirming rat was in my hands. I would say I had picked it, but it was more like placing my hand into a writhing mass of whiskers and tails and grabbing the first thumb-sized torso I could snatch.

My tattooed friend went shuffling off to find me a cage and bedding while I stared at my new little charge. It was darling, if you like that sort of thing, about the size of a well-fed mouse, white with coffee-cream markings. It stared around wildly and pooped in my hand. It was only then that I, the Infanta of Impetuousness, noticed that I didn’t have a single clue as to where it was going to live.

I don’t mean cage-wise, I mean what address the rat would put on return envelopes. I couldn’t keep it. We have a cat; a cat which spends a great deal of her time getting praised for killing these very things. I couldn’t think of a single person in my rolodex who had mused aloud “Gee, it would be so much better around here if only I had a rat to poop in my hand”. People who want a rat -- and this isn’t a large demographic -- generally already have a rat. It’s different than a Prius that way. I wasn’t about to send him back to the fattening farm, but I was stumped.

And then I had a thought: Daughter’s class! The teacher had mentioned getting a rat for the classroom just that week! I could palm off…I mean, I could donate this rat to her class!

I smiled benevolently down on the rat, which apparently took this for bared teeth and peed in my palm.

An hour later, I swanned into school carrying the rat in a rather luxurious cage, several bags of bedding, many kinds of food, some vitamins, and a bag of blueberry yoghurt treats. This rat had its own trousseau. The children were incoherent with excitement. This caused the rat to remain cowering under its bedding, so their total relationship with it was me pointing at a lump of cedar filings and saying “It’s a rat…Really!”

The teacher was remarkably gracious, considering we went from “I could see getting a class rat” to “Look! Here’s your class rat!” with no warning. I apologized profusely for the lack of heads-up, and offered to help in any way she needed.

“Well, you’re going to have to take it this weekend,” she said.

It suddenly dawned on me:

1. It was Friday,
2. School pets don’t stay at school over the weekend,
3. I really might have wanted to think this one through for another minute or so back at the pet store.

I drove both Daughter and rat home that afternoon; Daughter planning little rat outfits and how they would grow old together, me saying things like “It’s a school rat” and “You know, other families will get to take it home, too” and “Rats DEFINITELY hate being taken out of their cage and put in little girl’s laps while their mothers drive, so you need to stop trying to do that when I’m not looking”

I recall reading that having pets reduces stress. I now believe that reading about having pets reduces stress.


Let me tell you about this weekend from my perspective: We kept a baby rat in a cage in our home office.

Let me tell you about this weekend from the cat’s perspective: The Big Pink Food Slaves brought a gorgeously tempting canapé into the house and then perversely treated it like a guest.

For the human members of the household, the entire weekend could be summed up by the phrase “Did you lock the office door? Did you check it? Did you check it recently?” When you have a cat on her hind legs, batting at a door handle, attempting to grow opposable thumbs in under an hour, you can never be too cautious.

The rat grew brave, the rat grew curious. Mostly, the rat grew, which is a fairly amazing thing to see happen in less than 48 hours. The rat grew in all sorts of ways; we now had definitive proof that it was a male. Daughter spent most of her time trying to convince herself whatever he was doing was the result of some mystical union she had with him:

DAUGHTER: Mommy, look! I thought ‘Go up the side of the cage and then fall backwards’, and then he did that!

[As long as she doesn’t start believing the people on the television hear her thoughts, I’m guessing we’re okay.]

In short, we muddled though, with only the tiniest whiff of damp cedar chips in the home office. Monday rolled around, and I packed the rat’s steamer trunk -- making sure his winter clothing was on top for easy access in case it got chilly. I then stared at the usual pile of morning stuff, plus the extra bits I had to move to the car because it was Monday. I then stared at my hooded friend in his cage at the front door.

It seemed illogical to put him all the way back in the office just to get the first run of stuff to the car.

It seemed murderous to leave him at the threshold with the cat and dog to keep him company.

I sighed deeply. I draped Daughter in her raincoat, her backpack and her lunchbox. I draped myself in my purse, my jacket and the rat cage. In one final sweeping movement, just to make sure I had achieved the necessary degree of difficulty, I grabbed my cup of tea with the thumb and pinky not currently holding the cage.

I got the living things situated in the car and came back in to get the rest of the domestic cargo. The cat lay curled on the dry-cleaning, scowling.

I knew what was required of me. I put down my hand. She grabbed it in her front paws, and bit me. It wasn’t hard enough to draw blood, but it was hard enough for me to understand I had been a naughty Big Pink Food Slave and this would be going on my permanent record. She then strode off, somewhat satiated.

I grabbed the laundry and headed out to the RatMobile.

Friday, February 24, 2006

Party Mix.

Standing in line at the book store, I was idly flipping through a parenting magazine or, as I like to think of it, The Place Where Dreams Still Live. Only in these magazines are you ten tips away from a child who shares without screaming, eats without whining and sleeps without bribes. It’s nice to pretend better parenting skills are just a multiple-choice quiz away. But the really dangerous aspects of these magazines are their ideas for birthday parties. Some of the parties are more elaborate than some weddings I have attended, but that’s what magazines are for, eye candy. Editors have an extensive staff of visually-minded people whose job is to spend an entire day creating a cake Hogwarts, complete with spun-sugar Whomping Willow and a Quidditch match created from Tootsie Pops.

I have always assumed most mothers knew these parties were a childless person’s hallucination, just like I assume most men don’t believe Miss April is going to show up at their office to change the toner in the copier. But having just recently seen a friend through an emotional breakdown over her kid’s party (“I’ve got the herbivore dinosaur cupcake molds coming in from Germany, and they’re stuck in Customs! Shooting pains in my left arm is a bad thing, right?”), it occurs to me that these magazines can do real harm. There are mothers who believe that unless they create a scale model of a NASCAR race in the backyard, they have failed. For those women, I humbly offer myself as an intermediary between the editors of parenting magazines and the parents. An ombudsman: a mombudsman, if you will.

SCENE: Large conference room. A chic Style Editor is fanning pictures in front of me for an upcoming article about a themed birthday party.

QUINN: Okay, so walk me through this party.

STYLE EDITOR: Ooh, I love this one. The theme is “Little Angels”.

QUINN: And this picture of tiny white cardboard wings, with the silver ink calligraphy is…?

STYLE EDITOR: The invitation, which is something the mother and child can do together. It’s really easy: it’s just white card stock, cut with an Exacto knife on a template of angels’ wings, scored lightly so they can be folded, hand-written in silver ink, sprinkled with silver glitter and white feathers. Since the folded wings don’t fit into a standard size envelope, we suggest sending them in specially created envelopes: the template for that is on the website.



QUINN: As an advocate for every mother who has ever failed in scraping glitter off the kitchen floor, or who has no interest in cleaning up feather-filled cat vomit, I cannot let this magazine promote these invitations.

STYLE EDITOR: How about plain wings, just the template and silver ink?

(I stare icily at the editor)

QUINN: The mother will send out pre-packaged invitations, which say “Someone’s turning five!”, If the child is, in fact, turning six, the mother is allowed to amend the card by scratching out “Five” and writing “Six” without fear of judgment.

STYLE EDITOR: But…the theme…

QUINN: Let’s go on to the next picture. Why are all the guests wearing white? Is this a cult?

STYLE EDITOR: No, the guests are told to wear white. You know, like angels.

QUINN: These would be the three to five year-old guests.

STYLE EDITOR: Exactly, don’t the kids look sweet in this picture, sitting there at the table, drinking Pixie Punch?

QUINN: Pixie…Punch?

STYLE EDITOR: It’s just cranberry cocktail with pink lemonade, but doesn’t it turn the prettiest color?

QUINN: Let me get this straight. You want mothers to put small children all in white, and then you want them to drink something with cranberry juice in it?


QUINN: No. You will suggest they wear whatever is comfortable.

STYLE EDITOR: But, the models won’t look as good.

QUINN: When they are in a home, they’re called children, and they will look fine. Or, you can use the shot of the kids dressed in white, drinking the punch, but I need a corresponding picture of a small child being held up to her waist in a wash tub of club soda as her mother tries to get the stain out before it sets.

(The Editor flags slightly. I pick up another picture.)

QUINN: (Studying photo) Wow.

The Editor perks up.

STYLE EDITOR: Isn’t that precious?

QUINN: You have two five year-old boys, in white shirts and short pants, playing croquet together.

STYLE EDITOR: Well, for this party, we’re calling croquet “Stairway to Heaven”.

QUINN: (Silence)

STYLE EDITOR: (Slightly miffed) Is there a problem?

QUINN: If two boys have mallets, two boys are going to have concussions. To suggest that any boy is going to whack a ball when he could whack a skull is deeply unrealistic and possibly actionable…as in lawsuit. This would become “Stairway to Hospital”.

STYLE EDITOR: And you suggest instead…?

QUINN: You may use the same boys, wearing their own clothes; one should be crying inconsolably because he can’t open the present he brought for the birthday child, and the other one should be kneading gum into the dog’s fur.

STYLE EDITOR: There was no dog at this shoot. The Maltese we hired just wasn’t white enough.

QUINN: You shall hire a mixed breed dog. You may indicate in the picture that the dog was supposed to stay in the bedroom for the party, but is let out by one of the children, runs into the yard, through the Slip N’ Slide, and knocks over the table of snacks for the kids, upsetting a bowl of ranch dressing on his back, and then knocks over several guests. It would be great if you could indicate that he wasn’t entirely clean to begin with and a little flatulent. Maybe wavy stink lines?

STYLE EDITOR: But, that’s not aspirational. We’re in the aspirational business.

QUINN: Aspirational isn’t a word. (I decisively grab a picture) Oh, you have got to be kidding.

STYLE EDITOR: What? It’s a birthday cake for this party.

QUINN: It’s a three-tiered cappuccino cake with spun-sugar clouds and marzipan Botticelli angels….

STYLE EDITOR: … See, it’s Heaven!

QUINN: Do small children in your life often ask for the taste of coffee in their dessert?

STYLE EDITOR (scornfully): Do you have any idea how hard I work? Do you think I have time to run around meeting children?

And that is when Quinn Cummings, Mombudsman, gets out the croquet mallet from the photo shoot and advances on the editor. Because protecting and serving moms can be a messy business.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Sound of Music.

I have a ton of things to talk about, but I am feeling too lazy this evening to do anything more than loll and listen to the right CD while staring off into space.

Therefore, I shall review the lolling CD before I go and partake.

You really can’t go wrong taking a listening hint from the finest cellist in the world. I was reading an article about Yo-Yo Ma, and he was asked what was in his CD changer at that moment. Mr. Ma went on to rave about the musicality and artistry of Rosa Passos, a Brazilian singer of some renown. In fact, he had found her singing so captivating that he arranged to play behind her on one song. I love his playing and was intrigued about anyone who could elicit that kind of response in Yo-Yo Ma, for heaven’s sake, so I checked out Amorosa, by Rosa Passos.

Oh, what a good call. I am not a music reviewer, so forgive me the following flight of fancy. Her voice is girlish and worldly; deeply intimate and slightly removed. Her music is a deceptively strong cocktail, drunk while sitting at a gorgeous bar in a slightly run-down hotel in a city you always meant to see. The song that includes Yo-Yo Ma, Chega de Saudade, begins with just the cello, slow and achingly lovely, and moves into a Bossa Nova at its optimistically melancholy best.

Her version of S’Wonderful is ridiculously lush, all strings and whispery notes; it might be the most delightfully girly thing to which I have ever listened. It’s also the only song in English, the rest being in Portuguese, which I find to be a plus (There is one song which is partially in French, Que reste-t-il de nos amours). I don’t speak a word of Portuguese, which means that my whole responsibility to this CD is to sit on the couch and contemplate painting my toenails. I don’t actually get around to it, though, because Ms. Passos quietly demands my full attention.

You know, adulthood isn’t all undone laundry and hovering insurance bills. Sometimes, being an adult means sitting on your couch after everyone else has gone to sleep, sipping a glass of really nice sherry and listening to a very gifted artist.

Saturday, February 18, 2006

Teeny Slings and Weeny Arrows.

Readers, I ask you; is it possible to die from small irritations and petty annoyances? If it is, I need to get my papers in order. I had a day of the psychic equivalent of hamsters gnawing on my cuticles. If you do not believe me, if you suspect this is some hormonal throe, I will give you three of the larger incidents; and then tell me if had this been your Friday, you wouldn’t be tapping your head against something unyielding.

Incident #1: I run this company called the Hiphugger. We are sold in some retail stores. Retail stores tend to run a little cash-poor, what with having to constantly buy stuff and all, so they tend to prioritize which vendors get paid in any given month. For some boutique owners, paying us is only slightly less important than paying back that five-spot the German exchange student lent them in ninth grade. So, I get to have many exciting conversations each month which go something like, “Hi, Quinn here. Pay me.”

We’ve had this store in a far distant city which has owed me money for many months. I have sent, and re-sent, their outstanding invoices. I have talked to their bookkeeper, I have talked to every single one of their bird-brained sales staff, who have dutifully taken down my messages for the owner and then, I firmly believe, eaten them. About a month or so ago, the calls got really maddening, because no one was picking up the phone. I mean, it would ring about twenty times, and then a recorded voice would say something polite like, “You feeb, they aren’t answering. Hang up and have a carbohydrate”.

Early Friday morning, the owner left a voice message on a matter completely unrelated to their outstanding bills. Of course, she didn’t leave her number. Using the number I had for them in our files, I got the usual unanswered phone. That’s IT, I though grimly. It’s email time. I located a general email address from their website and was writing a snarky letter about how here in America we like to pay our phone bill, not to mention our vendors, when I noticed a phone number listed on the home page. Just for kicks, and to prove that I had tried every possible way to reach her, I dialed it.

The owner picked up on the second ring.

We then proceeded to have the most exasperating conversation imaginable:

QUINN: Your phone doesn’t work.

OWNER: Yes it does, you just called me.

QUINN: Okay, it worked once, but I’ve been trying to call you for a month.

OWNER: You probably had the wrong number.

QUINN: No, I didn’t.

OWNER: You probably did.

QUINN: And why didn’t you return any of my earlier messages?

OWNER: I thought you said you couldn’t call me.

QUINN: I just got through for the first time in a month. Something is wrong with your phone.

OWNER: No one else has been complaining about this.

QUINN: Maybe, just maybe, they can’t get through to complain!...

It kind of went downhill from there. I got her credit card number, and hung up in a total huff. After a few minutes, though, as the adrenalin subsided, I started to think. Maybe I did have the wrong number on file. The website phone number seemed familiar, but it could have been off by one digit and I wouldn’t necessarily have noticed.

Perhaps I owed this woman an apology.

I hit redial.

The phone rang twenty times. A polite recorded voice told me to hang up now and find a new hobby.

INCIDENT #2: Our neighbors are the dearest little people. They are a tiny, elderly couple and their grown daughter. The parents are clearly frail, the daughter clearly disabled and not capable of living on her own. I have spoken to them, but not often, as they are terribly private and their daughter seems to find social interaction hard. I also know there is a grown son who checks in on them and seems to help them with some of the chores.

These are the most blameless folk in the world.

However, they have a dog. A small, highly strung dog.

I call him Yappy McBarkbark.

Our backyard is adjacent to theirs. If I take out the trash, Yappy McBarkbark does five minutes of “HALT! WHO GOES THERE? HALT! WHO GOES THERE? HALT! WHO GOES THERE? HALT! WHO GOES THERE? HALT! WHO GOES THERE?”…

When Consort pulls into the garage, Yappy McBarkbark performs “Sweeney Todd” in its entirety.

If the wind changes direction, there’s a 750-bark harangue on the subject.

It’s not as if being inside saves me from Yappy McBarkbark. The side of the house which faces their house gets a steady daytime barrage of small-dog outbursts. The newspaper being thrown onto the front steps will trigger the entire Lincoln-Douglas debates. We get the paper every morning. So, every morning, I lie in bed at six a.m. recalling how long we’ve lived here. Eight years? Nine? He was alive then. Shouldn’t he be…?

But I can’t say a word to them; and why? Because they are fragile old people with a grown daughter incapable of taking care of herself and Yappy McBarkbark is probably the joy of their lives (which makes the argument that they may actually be deaf). I have to let barking dogs bark.

But Friday was the day I brought in the trash cans. I also took the last of the Christmas boxes to the garage. The gardener came. The mailman made his rounds. People walked on the sidewalk. Cars drove by. And Yappy had some demented canine variation of PMS so the barking was ceaseless. I came in at one point and stared at our dog, sleeping on her beloved bed.

Our dog is famously hopeless, but at least she’s quiet.

INCIDENT #3: Running late to pick up Daughter and desperately in need of something both of us could eat, I grabbed a bag of dried fruit from a stand at the Farmer’s Market. The only clerk working there heroically managed to ignore my interpretive dance of “Woman running late”, and finished piling prunes on a display tray. After a couple of minutes, she looked up, and acknowledged my lunatic fruit-bag waving.

She ambled over and glanced at the price tag.

“Nine ninety-nine”, she said (It was a very large bag of dried fruit).

I handed her a ten.

She walked toward the cash register.

I tore open the bag like a feral dog and inhaled a dried apricot.

A second passed. Thirty seconds passed. I noticed she had started to help someone else on the other side of the stand. She was not holding my ten-dollar bill, nor was she interested in my presence. A heated debate began in my head.

QUINN: You’ve got the fruit, go.

QUINN: But she owes me change.

QUINN: She owes you a penny. Go now, please.

QUINN: But, it’s my penny.

QUINN: Do you need a penny?

QUINN: It’s my penny. I might have put it in the “Take a penny, leave a penny” plate, but that’s my choice.

QUINN: Here are the options: we walk around to the other side of the stand and completely embarrass ourselves by asking “Hey, where’s my penny?”; we stand here, knowing she is fully capable of ignoring us until nightfall; or we go pick up the kid.

QUINN: She probably does this all day, scamming change.

QUINN: Yes, a penny here, a penny there. She probably has a beach house where she sits on the deck swilling margaritas from a Baccarat goblet, laughing at all the people she’s ripped off.

QUINN: It’s the principle of the thing.

QUINN: Oh, God. You are going to wait until nightfall.

I didn’t, but I did wait there for about five minutes, until I did the math and decided five minutes of my time might be worth a penny, but ten minutes probably isn’t.

As I strode out of Farmer’s Market, I reflexively checked my To-do list. The next item had three stars scrawled next to it: “Call Blue Cross, re: claims mistake”.

I stopped in my tracks, took out a marker and, in bold black letters, printed one word carefully over the entire entry:


Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Hill Street Blues

As I have discussed here before, my friend Jill and I are going to climb Mount Whitney. I haven’t been mentioning it in the blog, not because I have given it up but because even someone as massively self-involved as me understands that “Walk up the hill…aaaaaaannnnnndddd…walk back down again” isn’t exactly compelling reading. In case you care, I have no fewer than three pairs of hiking shoes, nearly all of my day wear was bought on the basis of its ability to wick away sweat, and my feet are beginning to resemble hooves. But if I hadn’t terrified a stranger, I wouldn’t be mentioning any of this at all.

Having grown bored to tears of my nearby hikes, I took a little field trip to a hilly side of town. I had been promised a neighborhood described as “Heart Attack Hill”, and was excited to note that it appeared fully capable of felling the less-than-fit. Within four blocks, there were three breathtaking peaks at which point the street dead-ended at the longest uninterrupted flight of stairs in Los Angeles. I’m not going to use the word “Fun” in any traditional sense of the word to describe this walk, but our needs were going to be met.

I say “Our needs” because I had decided the dog would enjoy this exercise with me. She stumbled out of the car and, having determined we were neither at the vet or the groomer, perked up considerably. We headed up the hill at a brisk clip.

Hill #1 was daunting yet manageable and we headed down the other side.

[What did I tell you? Hiking Stories = We Went Up. We Went Down. Or, if you’re an iconoclast, Hiking Stories = We Went Down. We Went Up.]

The dog, being of a certain age and deeply lazy, was already starting to revert to a statelier pace. I exhorted her onwards; whether we like it or not, neither of us has the waistline we once did. We hit the bottom of Hill #2, where she promptly went #2. I used the bag I brought for just such a situation. We headed upwards.

Halfway up Hill #2, I noticed a woman weeding her front yard. I had plenty of chances to watch the quality of her weeding, as the dog promptly had another bowel movement there; there is something about someone showing pride in their home that gives my dog the runs. The home owner and I watched her in silence, while I waved my plastic bag in a subtle yet unmistakable “I’m a conscientious dog owner! See, I travel everywhere with plastic satchels filled with feces!” I know my dog; a long walk will need two bags. I cleaned up.

She took the poop-cleaning time to ask, “So, walking your dog?”

Not the most original statement, but I understood she was trying to reward me for de-fouling her succulents. I could explain the Mt. Whitney thing, but it was a long saga, and I had a limited time to climb steep hills and breathe smog-laden air. I smiled in what I hoped was a winning way.

“She loves to walk.”

The woman leaned over her fence and petted the dog, who fairly swooned.

“Isn’t she pretty? And so clever, too.” The woman crooned to the dog.

“Actually, she’s an idiot, but she’s very sweet.” I countered. I take a certain puckish joy in mentioning this to people; her breed has an unearned reputation for intelligence. The woman’s face darkened a touch. She addressed the dog.

“You’re a lovely, clever girl.”

Dog and woman both stared at me sadly.

We murmured good-byes. She went back to weeding. I went back to getting my heart rate up.

Dog and I took Hill #2, enjoyed a brief respite of flat land, and then started in on Hill #3. A woman was at her driveway, getting mail out of her mailbox. Dog, sensing a home owner, stopped to have yet another bowel movement. I panicked. I had forgotten about the one bowel movement the dog keeps in reserve, just to humiliate me. I smiled weakly and cringed, all the while frantically scanning nearby houses for the plastic bags with which they cover newspapers.


“You wouldn’t happen to have any plastic bags in your house, would you?”



She looked at me icily.

“I recycle.”

“I am so sorry; I know I have plastic bags back in my car. Let me go get one and I’ll be right back.”

She practically sneered at me. I had let my dog defile her border plants, and now was going to get into my (probably uninsured) car and drive to a nearby grade school, where I would let my dog eat someone’s child.

The dog and I trotted back towards Hill #2, as I kept yelping “I’ll be right back! RIGHT BACK” to the frowning home owner. The dog, having thoroughly evacuated her bowels and having walked two hills, was tired. She decided at the top of Hill #2 to find a new place to live. She chose a hedge, slithered under it, and sighed in relief. I stomped, I screamed, and I tugged on her leash.
With great effort, I dragged her out.

A few feet later, I spied a newspaper, crammed under the wheel of a car in a driveway. I got closer; it was a week old, dew-spotted and yellow with age. Either these people were out of town, or they hadn’t bothered to get the paper. Either way, it saved me a trip all the way down to the car. All I had to do was slither half-way under the car, tug the paper out from under the wheel, scream at the dog (who had taken this opportunity to lie back down under the shrub), get up and trot back down to the house with the poop memento.

The first lady I had met, the weeder, was standing about three feet from me, in her yard, looking puzzled.

“Can I help you?”

“Oh. I just…needed a plastic bag, because…see, my dog pooped down the street and I carried two bags, which is odd because I usually carry three, and…“

“But what are you doing with my paper?”

My brain decided now would be a perfect time to start a nervous involuntary giggle. I attempted to stop it, but my brain just amped up the volume.

(Giggle) “Oh, it’s yours?

I glanced around and realized, yes, she was in the yard I had seen her in before, which was right in front of a house and this was clearly the driveway attached to the house, so the odds were fairly good that this was her paper.

“I’m so sorry, I thought no one wanted it, but I needed the plastic bag, and I figured that DROP IT NOW!”

What was nice about that moment was how I had seen the dog eating something weird out of the corner of my eye, but never stopped looking the woman in the face, so she assumed I suddenly screamed at her. The dog dropped whatever she had in her mouth. The woman took about three steps back and held her rake in a protective manner.

“Sorry, not you!…(giggle, giggle). My dog eats things. Like money. I don’t think she was just eating money, though. It might have been cat poop. That’s not weird for dogs, though. Just gross (giggle, giggle)…”

What’s so sad about this is that some part of me truly believed I was once well-chosen sentence away from her forgetting about finding me rummaging under her car, giggling maniacally and then screaming at her. I decided to cut to the chase.

“May I have the plastic bag from the paper?”

Silently, she nodded. I looked down for a second to take the wrapper off the paper. When I looked up, she had moved about three feet further away from me. Also, the dog was attempting to nap again. Because it had become important that a complete stranger see that I had one redeeming quality, I sang musically at the dog “Walkies!”

The dog sighed deeply.

I tugged on the leash, moved smartly up the hill and said in a slightly less welcoming tone, “WALKIES…COME!...”

The dog got into a half-risen position, held up her front paw as if it was hurt and, crying piteously, slumped back down again. Rotten, lazy, faker.

I didn’t even have to see the woman’s face to know whom she was pulling for in this little battle.

I had two options. Option #1 was to pull the dog to her feet and drag her forward on my hike as she wailed miserably, leaving a skid mark of tail fur, while hoping it took the woman a few minutes to locate the emergency number for the ASPCA.

I went with Option #2. I leaned over the dog and, while appearing to pet her lovingly, hissed “I’m shipping you to a country where you’re food!” then sang out sweetly, “Let’s go home. Car trip!”

The dog, without a whimper, a limp, or a moment’s hesitation, sprinted back to the car. I ended up driving the one block back to the place where she pooped, to take care of it; environmentally irresponsible, sure, but more energy efficient than getting the dog to move when she didn’t want to.

I maintain what I said earlier; the dog has no more than seven brain cells doing all the work. She is an idiot.

But I’m the one driving her around town with several bags of her poop.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Picture This.

And so we continue our slide show of Quinn’s inadequacies.


This is a church. Note the carved wood. Appreciate the stained glass. Revel in the horrible face I am making while attempting to capture the attention of my child, who is many feet away from me, ignoring me, having made a fashion statement.

Daughter has always been a feminine and stylish dresser. Of late, however, she has thrown some adorably off-kilter notes into what had been a fairly straightforward style. For the most part, I am a neutral observer.

She pairs socks with sandals? Well, I’m not wearing it any time soon, but knock yourself out, honey.

She insists on wearing a heavy wool sweater to school on a day which is predicted to reach eighty degrees? Guess she won’t make that mistake twice.

She pairs an orange shirt with a pink skort, layered over pink and orange tights and finished off with red cowboy boots? I wouldn’t have put that outfit together sober, and it turned out to be absolutely fetching, drawing the approval of a friend who was raised in France, no less.

But my neutrality ends at her hairline. Daughter has created a hairdo, the main purpose of which seems to be to move all of her hair as far as humanly possible from their points of origin. The hairs in the front get slicked, enthusiastically if scruffily, to the back of her head and placed in several half-finished ponytails. The hairs on the back of her head are clipped in the front into what resemble the ears of a bobcat. The whole hair spectacle takes only a few minutes, at least seven ponytail holders, and no mirror whatsoever.

This hairdo drives me nuts.

It creates tangles, the ponytail holders become all but welded to her hair which leads to operatic screaming when I have to remove them and, not for nothing, it looks really odd. I had declared the look Public Hairdo Enemy #1 which meant, of course, Daughter couldn’t breathe until she had shown the world her interpretation of Princess Hair.

About halfway through our church service, the younger children go trooping off to a room somewhere to sing songs about how nice it is to be loved by God and to draw slightly sacrilegious pictures (“Here’s Jesus, on the monkey bars!”). After the sermon, they are marshaled back to join the congregation. So, last Sunday, I was sitting in church feeling the mild post-sermon radiance where I contemplate a world of compassion, a world of mercy and decency, when out came the group of children, being led by Daughter…

who had taken this time away from me to give herself the Weird Hairdo.

She must have secreted ponytail holders in her pockets before leaving the house. I could imagine, all too clearly, her sitting in that back room, humming along with “I’ve got the joy, joy, joy…” as she created random hair knobs all over her skull.

I was halfway back in the church, entirely too far away to do anything but seethe. She came back and sat next to me in perfect hair happiness, her contentment in no way compromised by having to swat away my hand which, almost of its own accord, kept inching up and trying to remove a topknot or two.


And here I am, talking on my cell phone while walking along what appears to be a freeway with my dog, a bag of groceries and some dry-cleaning.

Really, it started off as such a good idea.

The car had to go to the shop -- a statement I make all too often in life. Luckily, I have a trusted mechanic who not only has an aptitude with touchy elderly cars, he isn’t terribly far from my house. As I was about to leave the back door, I noticed the dog was looking at me in that hopeless yet hopeful way which says “It would be simply wonderful if you took me out for a walk before I, you know, die of boredom and utter despair”

It was then I had my very first bad idea of the day (Actually, being as it was mid-morning, I had probably had three bad ideas already, but none of them had any staying power). “Why,” I thought, “I’ll take the dog with me to the mechanic, leave the car and walk home! She’ll get some sorely needed exercise and I won’t have to rent a car!”

If this were a horror movie, this would be the scene where the jock says to the five other kids, “Let’s party at the old Adams place. So what if the gardener hacked five people to death up there and was never caught?...”

In other words, someone has to do something really stupid for the audience’s entertainment to begin.

I dropped off the car, and the dog and I headed home. The first leg of the trip home was through some fairly unattractive residential neighborhoods, and the air quality wasn’t exactly beneficial (we’ve had a big fire south of us this week; you could loofah with our atmosphere), but the dog seemed happy and I had turned two brainless tasks into one brainless multi-task. We entered the shopping district near the house and I saw the dry cleaner.

“Hey,” thought the genius, “I’ll pick up the dry-cleaning. Then, I will have done three errands at once! As a matter of fact, let me run into the grocery store and get some cans of cat food!”

As with any unfolding horror movie, you can start screaming “NO, YOU IDIOT, JUST GET HOME!” any time now.

I left the dog outside and got the dress shirts from the dry cleaner, hanging pressed and proud on their hangers. I dashed into the grocery store and got several cans of lesser cow and fish bits for the cat. Thus laden, I looped the dog’s leash over my wrist and headed for the last big street before I reached our neighborhood.

It’s a funny thing about perspective. What appears from the car, to be a normal, if somewhat busy commercial thoroughfare becomes, from the point of view of the pedestrian, some kind of Street Without Pity. There were, conservatively, eighteen lanes of traffic hurdling each way; they carved out the space for all these lanes by making the sidewalk the width of my thumb.

This is a street created by city planners who assumed that by this point we’d all be using jet packs to get around, our exhaust trails leaving not a blemish on their tiny, fragile sidewalks. I looked around and saw there was no way to get where I needed to go except along this particular road. I hitched up my dry-cleaning hangers, hitched up my pants, and hitched up the dog, who was cowering from the din of the semis roaring three inches from our shoulders.

Since we were facing traffic as we were walking, I got several seconds to look at each driver as he narrowly avoided hitting us. Each one of them glanced at me for a second, and quickly looked away. I’m guessing the only people ever seen actually walking along this street are shouting at Tom DeLay, who can hear them because he has implanted a microphone in their nostril. I could pretend that I wasn’t crazy, but really...

I was walking on what amounted to a freeway with a cringing dog, a bag of cat food, a battered purse and three dress shirts, hangar, no starch. That doesn’t shout “Sane!!!” in any language.

I was halfway across this road when I heard something over the rushing growl of the tractor-trailer next to me. Was that…my phone? Yes, yes it was my phone, ringing plaintively yet persistently in the bowels of my purse. I stopped walking and attempted to retrieve the phone, the dry-cleaning bag being blown into my face. I found the phone, and squinted at the number; it was Daughter’s school. Since no school ever calls you mid-morning just to let you know that everything is fine, I had to take that. I clicked open the phone, and bellowed, “HELLO?”

You know, if you ever are trying to take a phone call from your kid’s school, and you happen to be walking on a freeway, I suggest putting your head in your purse; it blocks out some of the ambient noise. Sure, I looked a little silly, but let’s not kid ourselves: THAT BOAT HAD SAILED.

After several minutes of “WHAT?” and “YOU NEED A GASKET? A CASKET? WHY DO YOU NEED A CASKET?”… it was ascertained that the school needed a signed permission slip for a field trip that day. I promised to do something about that once I reached the house. At the same time, I couldn’t imagine I would ever reach the house. I had begun to imagine the rest of my life as an endless walk down the widest, ugliest road in the world. At night, the dog and I would make camp on the sidewalk and share a can of Kitty Stars Fish Fix’ins. Some day I would die, and the local municipalities would argue over who had to actually stop on that street to pick up my corpse.

As with a horror movie, our hero made it out alive, but not unscathed (there is no way I have the same amount of brain cells I started out with before my pilgrimage down that river of diesel exhaust). Sadly, there is something else I have in common with the horror genre.

There is a sequel in the works.

Just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get any worse…


I see a video game tie-in.

Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Tanned, Rested and Ready.

Ah, it’s good to be back.

Those of you who are new to the blog, or who don’t know me very well, might be wondering “I wonder if Quinn did something inexplicable or stupid during the week she was gone?”

Those of you who know me are wondering “I wonder how many of the inexplicable or stupid things Quinn did last week will be in the first blog?”

Well, for your amusement and confusion, I have created a slide show of my misbehavior from the last week. Please turn off the lights and grab a Red Vine or two from the common bowl. Get comfortable; this is going to take more than one entry.


Oh, yeah, this one. Here I am in a suburban neighborhood, gathering twigs and putting them in my trunk. No, I’m not creating a giant nest in my backyard; I am attempting to appease the god of fire. I as I have mentioned before, my fireplace is a cranky and dyspeptic fireplace, capable of extinguishing the driest kindling or the most incendiary starter log without prejudice. However, through (much) trial and (endless) error, I have determined that the fireplace will create a reasonably attractive fire if it is fed endless small sticks (It also seems to like when I sing “The Cat’s in the Cradle”).

The problem is, commercial fireplace logs come in one size; logs. Apparently, other fireplaces like their meals of a reasonable size. The other problem is that I’m cheap. Two weeks ago, we had several days of high winds, which neatly denuded all the local trees of just the sort of small branches and twigs my fireplace likes. And they were free! The only cost was to my dignity!

When driving through quiet, tree-lined suburban neighborhoods, I have gotten into the habit of parking the car, getting armfuls of sticks and putting them in my trunk. Being as I am not entirely clear as to the total legal definition of trespassing, I try to keep my stick-foraging to the easement between the sidewalk and the street. But, if the sticks are choice, and the street seems deserted then, yes, I will head onto someone’s lawn and take twigs.

To that lady who might have been watching me from her picture window for several minutes as I scampered around her yard obsessively picking up miniature firewood, I am so sorry for any distress I might have caused you. However, once I spotted you staring at me, my weird guilty smile and my mouthing “May I have these for my house?” probably calmed your nerves right down. So, thank you for not calling the police; it would have been hard to explain.


Here’s me again, standing at my front door. Why I am making that strange expression is that I am shouting. What I’m shouting is the embarrassing part, not what I’m wearing [Although I would appreciate it if everyone forgets that I’m still wearing those pajama bottoms and haven’t relegated them to the rag bag].

I’ve had cats my entire life, and it is my considered opinion that they come in two variations; cats that would no more eat human food than they would eat human sunglasses, and cats who view an unattended plate as a chance to get a mouthful of Pad Thai. Lulabelle is unrepentantly in the “You gonna eat that?” category.

A while ago, Daughter determined that Lulabelle liked soy turkey. What made Daughter first test this hypothesis I will never know, but by the time Daughter shrieked “Mommy, come SEE this!” from the kitchen, she was leaning over with a small strip of beige dangling from her fingers, and the cat was on her hind legs, stretching precariously to get that precious gobbet of soy nectar.

Over the next few days, we determined that Lulabelle would walk on her hind legs for soy turkey, would dance for soy turkey, and would finish my taxes for soy turkey. I also noticed that when either Daughter or I said “Let’s get some soy turkey”, the cat would race to the fridge. I tried just saying “Soy” and I tried just saying “Turkey”; the cat regally ignored me and continued to groom her sphincter. It had to be the whole phrase, “Soy turkey”, preferably said in an excited “Whee! Isn’t someone the luckiest cat in the world!” tone.

To be specific, I would start the word “Soy” in the mid-range, gain an octave on the “O”, settle tenuously at the top of my singing range for the “Y”, skip upwards for a breathtaking second for “Tur-”, and come down again into the mezzo-soprano category for “-key!”

This way, the cat gets the double pleasure of a faux meat product and watching me look like an absolute lunatic.

We’ve had coyote sightings in the neighborhood at night lately, so Lulabelle gets to spend, at most, the morning outside; she then spends the afternoon inside, plotting escape routes. So, last night, when I went out the front door to check whether the sprinklers went on, she nimbly slithered under one leg, vaulted the next, and darted into the darkness. I shrieked and grabbed for her, but was rewarded with a single black hair stuck to my index finger, a mocking reminder of the Cat Who Would Not Be Caged.

I waited a few minutes by an open door, but she stayed hidden. I chirruped, which sometimes brings her running, but was rewarded with the sound of silence. Actually, double silence; the sprinklers didn’t go on either. Double silence created double exasperation. Something had to be remedied this evening, and it certainly wasn’t going to be the sprinklers.

I took a deep breath.


Still silence, but it felt more attentive somehow. She was under some plant, I could feel it.


Still nothing, although I was happy to note that my neighbors weren’t yelling for me to shut the hell up. Although it might have been fun if they had started yelling random food stuffs; maybe the couple next door could holler “Condensed milk!” followed by the elderly woman on the other side chiming in with “Canned Peas!”

And then everyone could come over to my house and ask why I’m stealing sticks from their lawn.

But where was the cat? Oh, wait. I needed ammunition. I walked to the kitchen, and got some of the goods (in case you have lived the kind of life which doesn’t involve soy turkey, and need a visual, think a thin circle of Silly Putty. I that also pretty accurately describes the taste). I walked back to the front door, and dangled temptation just inside the doorway.


Lulabelle moved so quickly that I felt the breeze of her passing me and the tug of the soy turkey being removed from my fingers before I actually registered her presence. She dragged the soy turkey to the corner and killed it in quiet triumph.

I sat down to count my fire sticks.

TOMORROW: A slide of Quinn walking on a major thoroughfare, and Quinn glaring in church. Both reflect badly on her.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

Big Rock Candy Mountain

I posted this on April 1st last year, and time has not diminished its relevance to my life.

I just did the math, and have determined I have written nearly 300 pages in the last year. I need a little time off. So, as of today, I am going to take off a week from writing anything, and that includes putting up re-runs.

Have a good week, everyone.

Every year, at Halloween, I entertain myself by picking the worst Halloween mendicant. Last year, it would have to have been the adult woman, easily seven months pregnant, dressed in regular clothing shoving a pillowcase under my nose while chortling “Trick or Treat!” (She had no child with her). I must have looked slightly surprised at her costume of a Woman who was too damn old to be doing this, because she patted her stomach and said cheerfully “For the baby!”

So I guess the Ny-Quil she was going to go home and drink was for her.

I respectfully submit that this is the kind of thing that happens when begging is socially sanctioned one night a year.In spite of the above story, I am not whatever the Halloween version of Scrooge would be, nor do I work for the American Dental Association. When Daughter and Consort came home from visiting the houses of friends in the neighborhood, I allowed her to unload her pile of swag on the kitchen table, gaze it at wonderingly and then eat a small bag of candy corn. After putting her to her bed that night, I set upon it to remove the unwanted elements:

1. The gum had to go. Because of an unfortunate incident in my childhood, Daughter doesn’t get to have gum until she is six (What incident, you might be thinking. Did someone get hurt? Did Quinn used to be one of twins? No, not at all. I was six, and standing on my head chewing gum, which I had been specifically enjoined not to do, when the gum fell out of my mouth and into my hair, near the roots. I decided it would be easier on everyone [read: me] if I just cut the section of my hair off. It never occurred to me that my hair would grow, and that an inch-wide piece of hair standing straight up above my forehead might be noticeable. My mother’s punishment was non-physical, creative, and frightening enough that I still cannot chew gum in her presence).

2. The licorice went into a bag for me, because Daughter doesn’t like it and I love it. Since there are relatively few licorice-lovers around, the bag looked scant, so I appropriated some jelly beans as well, because I was in labor with her for 40 hours.

3. I excised any hard candies and jaw-breakers, as Daughter is more confident in her ability to eat those than I am in my ability to perform the Heimlich. Or dental reconstruction.

This still left her with a shocking amount of candy, most of it chocolate-based. Daughter is terribly sensitive to caffeine: if she consumes any after three o’clock in the afternoon, she can’t go to sleep, and NONE OF US WANT THAT. I solved the doling-out-the-candy situation by picking her up from school with one piece of candy every day as a treat. This would have worked if Halloween had lasted one day, but the candy kept arriving.

Candy from an East Coast friend of Consort’s arrived two days later. Grandparents had an open tureen of candy at their house.

Every time I would take her with me into a retail establishment, some sweet sales person who was desperate to stop scarfing mini Milky Ways would shove two or three or seven into Daughter’s hand.

I would let her have one, and the rest would go into the candy drawer, which I was noticing to my horror was growing more densely packed. I started offering her two small pieces of candy on Gymnastics days. I developed a loathing of licensing, and jettisoned any candy that had a picture of Shrek or Donkey on it. That got rid of half of it.

By now it was already December 1st, and the holiday candy started to appear. Some days after school, Daughter got a slightly dented chocolate Jack O’Lantern and a grinning marshmallow snowman. Or a Hanukah chocolate doubloon and a jelly-bean skeleton. All holidays were ending up in the pantheistic candy combine which is my kid’s mouth. We’d visit friends and I’d spy Daughter slinking away from the kitchen chewing furtively. Her hands were never not sticky; she was a pre-school Post-it.

She had come to assume that since candy was a treat, it was also a reward, and began trying to use it as barter. My favorite: “If I do a really good job of brushing my teeth, may I have candy corn as a reward?” One day at the park, Daughter came bouncing up hand-in-hand with an unknown little girl. “May I go to her house? She has candy”.I asked astutely, “Do you know what her name is?” Daughter shrugged indifferently. As far as she was concerned, the kid’s name was Pez.

Her credo had become: All Candy, All the Time.She sprung through January on a sugar high. All the while I was frantically throwing away the most weathered and haggard Halloween candy, because we both knew what was coming; the double-header of sugary delights: Valentine’s Day and Easter.

The red tinfoil hearts were slithering in under doors and flying through open windows before we even reached February. It arrived through the mail in boxes she ripped open before I could secrete them away. The walls were sweating sugar, the ceiling was dripping caramel. It was The Amityville Horror as designed by the Mars Corporation. But this was as nothing compared to Easter, the pinnacle of childhood candy consumption. I tried -- I really did -- to keep it to a reasonable amount. I got her non-candy items for the Easter basket, with a few jelly beans thrown in as a sop to the hard-working candy industry.

The night before Easter, however, Consort arrived home with two grocery bags and that faintly guilty expression I’ve grown to recognize immediately. Inside those bags was every variant of tooth decay. I shrugged and I caved. Daughter will have plenty to discuss with her therapist as an adult, but at least she won’t get any mileage out of “Mommy was an Easter buzzkill”. She might have to cancel a few therapy appointments because of the root canals, but she can take that up with her toothless father.

So, here is the candy drawer now: a few random hangers-on from Halloween, which I have half a mind to give out again this year; some bedraggled Christmas candy with a sprinkle of Hanukah gelt thrown in to keep the conversation in there lively and ecumenical; assorted candy treats from birthday party gift bags (Gummy-bear rat, anyone?); chocolate kisses from Valentine’s Day that have melted together and now form a chocolate map of Michigan, along with some of those chalky, heart-shaped Necco wafers that are better read than eaten. And, topping it all is the Glory of Easter, Peep-ing and jelly-ing its way into every available space.And here is my prediction: the day after we finally clear out the drawer, Daughter will look at me balefully and say “Why do you never let me have any candy?”