Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Motion Sickness.

Today, Daughter's principal called; Daughter was running a fever and was lethargic, could I please come get her? I was shocked this happened.


Who could have foreseen, after Daughter and I spent an-hour-and-a-half on Friday at the pediatrician's office waiting for her check-up appointment during which time she was exposed to no fewer than six ill children sharing the same waiting room, that she was going to get sick?

Who could have possibly predicted she would come down with something after picking up a Highlights magazine I had seen being gummed by a baby who appeared to be covered in the mucus of at least three other children?

And weren't we all surprised at today's lack of overall health when we stop to recall how a little girl threw up on the floor in front of us in the waiting room?

Sure, I took the Highlights magazine away. I whisked her out into the hallway. I covered her in antibacterial goo. But I might as well have made a sacrifice to Baal for all the good it was going to do. The germs in a pediatrician's office have been there since the Nixon administration, mutating into some sort of Supercold (Now with X-Treme Vomiting® Capacity!).

The cold appears to be smiting her, but only lightly, which points to Daughter's resilience and how little she shares in common with her mother. As a child, I had the resistance to disease of the Boy in the Bubble. Put me in an enclosed space filled with other people and, within minutes, I was well on my way to something truly repellent.

Starting when I was fifteen, I traveled to New York City five times over two years in order to audition for plays and movies which were only seeing people in New York. Each time, I would get on the plane, the address of the women-only hotel clutched in one neatly-groomed little paw, a script (of deceptive simplicity which was going to require my full attention for the length of the trip just so I didn' t make a complete ass of myself at the audition) in the other. I would sit down. I would buckle my seat belt. I would listen attentively to the explanation of how to make my flotation device.

Unbeknownst to me, somewhere around lift-off, a germ, strong from generations of living in that cabin and cherry-picking the worst symptoms from other germs, would slither up my nostril. It would look at all of my white blood cells and purr, "Oh, we won't be needing those", at which point it would send my entire immune system into a state of suspended animation. By the time the movie ended, I would be sniffling. While we were circling Manhattan, I would be aware that someone had crammed a plump guinea pig up each of my nostrils and that breathing loudly through my mouth was really the best way to go.

By the time I was in a car going into Manhattan, my voice would have entered the special terrain I only visit while sick. For the first four hours that I am fighting off a cold, I sound exactly like Peppermint Patty from the Charlie Brown Christmas Special. This is adorable, unless you are the person with the voice and trying to communicate with another person who isn't Lucy or Schroeder:

OTHER PERSON: (picking up phone) Hello?

QUINN: (Squeaking and rasping) Hi, it's me. I mean, it's Quinn.

OTHER PERSON: Oh my God, you're sick! But you sound so cute!

QUINN: Thanks. Can we reschedule lunch?

OTHER PERSON: Of course.

QUINN: Thank you so much. I'll call you when I'm better.

(Silence. Then clicking.)

QUINN: You still there?

OTHER PERSON: Sorry, hold on. I was trying to put you on speakerphone so my assistant could hear your voice.

This is the voice I would be using to explain to the cab driver how I didn't see how getting on the Long Island Expressway was a shortcut into Manhattan. But it's hard to sound outraged when your voice makes people think of unloved Christmas trees and footballs getting pulled away.

As the next morning would roll around, I would be what is described in medical journals as a Big Mess. I would have a red nose and red eyes, which would play nicely against the grayish-white skin I get when sick. Nothing a ton of foundation, concealer and blush wouldn't cure, but then, in the right light, I could be mistaken for Joan Collins. The Peppermint Patty voice would be replaced by a voice where all the lower register was taken out; sadly, I have no upper register. This would have bothered me, had I been able to hear it, but the cold would plug up my ears, rendering me both deaf and incapable of walking in a straight line.

Needless to say, this would compromise my ability to give a Tony-worthy performance. Hell, it would compromise my ability to give a Tony Danza-worthy performance. By the time I arrived at the theater, I'd taken every legal drug available on the Eastern seaboard. This rendered not only my sinuses dry, but every other orifice in my head as well. I would stand on stage, staring into a darkened theater, blinking furiously so as to get enough liquid on to my eyeballs so that the lids wouldn't solder themselves open, and I would say my first line.
One time I can remember clearly the director saying, "Quinn, can you be a little louder?"

Now, there's a statement I had never heard before in my life. Can I be a little louder? I have a voice which was designed by nature to call back heedless Labrador Retrievers from across the moors. My most discreet whisper can be heard, without straining, across a can factory. But in that theater, I was blessed with a voice whicequivalentlike the vocal equivilant of fog. I cleared my throat and started again. The last bit of fluid in my entire head congealed in my throat, cutting off air and sending me into a frantic pantomime. I leapt catlike for my purse, found a Kleenex, and coughed up something the size and density of an exercise ball.

I could actually feel waves of disgust coming toward me from the dark theater.

But you know what's amazing? That isn't even my most embarrassing audition story in New York!

That would have been the time I went in to read for an Off-Broadway play. I had traveled to New York three days before, so the worst part of the rasping and hacking could be medicated into submission; while I still wasn't myself (due at least partly to a 72-hour diet of Ny-Quil and street pretzels), I thought I could feign a reasonable facsimile of Quinn. I came into a casting office in midtown Manhattan, smiled at the assorted melange of director, casting director, producer, various assistants and possibly the guy dropping off Thai food, and proceeded to give the worst reading of my life.

There's something about an especially bad audition. Some part of me was sitting there, giving a performance which made one envy the dead, and another part of me was sitting in the corner of the room, chanting "Just ask to start over. Just ask to start over", and yet another version of me was huddled under the casting director's table, rocking back and forth and moaning "There's no use, this is all I have to give at this time. And I flew three thousand miles to create this car wreck. Please, can't I just...faint or something?"while still another version of Quinn was back in the hotel room, coughing up Kermit the Frog into a washcloth.

Somehow, the reading ended. Everyone smiled in the way you do when Grandma is suddenly incontinent in the middle of the family reunion. I slithered from the room, and shut the door behind me. I stood in the empty hallway and then did something so stupid I still shake my head in wonder.

I leaned against the door and listened.

The director pronounced, "That was the worst reading I've ever heard in my life."

Turns out, his voice carried nearly as well as mine does on a normal day.

Even though all three Quinns in the room had been in total agreement with the director, it was still damning to hear. I held my composure as I walked through the outer office, down the public elevator and through the lobby. Once upon the street, I burst into tears. I then walked thirty blocks back to my hotel, a sobbing, streaming, hacking, hoarse sponge of a girl. Luckily, I was in Manhattan, where I was going to have to do something much more spectacular than liquifying on the street to get people's attention.

I finally admitted what any sane person would have noticed months before; flying made me sick. A sick Quinn rarely booked jobs (a healthy Quinn wasn’t having all that much luck, either). Going to Manhattan alone at 15 was glamourous the first time, but grew progressively scarier and more discouraging each subsequent trip. And knowing where every Duane Reade pharmacy was in the city didn't make me a Manhattanite. It just made me pathetic.

I've been back a few times since then, to attend a wedding or a birthday. I have noticed I haven't gotten sick on any of those trips. It cheers me to think this might be another thing which retired along with acting. But I still think I was on to something with my suggestion to the hotel manager about changing the complimentary bathroom kit. Which is more likely to bring you back to a hotel, a complimentary shower cap or your own travel container of Thera-flu with a Day-Quil chaser?


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The first year I worked at our city's hospital I was sick. Like your daughter I inhaled every germ known to mankind and then some. My kids were all sick their first year of school too--but on the bright side, think of all the immunities you are building up!One hint-if your doc is closed on a certain day, make your appt for the next day because usually the staff works the docs day off and they use that day to clean and disinfect the office :) (a little inside secret;)

8:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Quinn: PBS is running “Mystery of the Black Death” on Secrets of the Dead this week. Here is the link:

I know you freak on this stuff...and I must admit, I am totally getting into it. Thought you might like it.

5:35 PM  

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