Thursday, February 26, 2009

Words Can't Express What You Mean to Me

Even though it’s a weekday, Daughter is in my house. It’s an In-Service Day at school, which also can be pronounced “We’ve seen enough of your children, thank you.” She’s watching “Rocky and Bullwinkle,” which is exactly as you remember it, except MUCH LOUDER. I swear, I’ve gone in there and turned it down to the lowest volume setting and it’s still like living behind the amps at a Motley Crue concert in the office.

But that’s not what I’ve come to talk about. I have come to talk about self-denial. Last night, my neighbor Marina and I were chatting when, seemingly out of nowhere, she announced that she had given up sugar. I winced sympathetically, assuming this was some desire for self-improvement or self-abuse, but no. I had forgotten that yesterday was Lent and Marina has given up sugar for many, many days. Crud, Lent; I racked my brain for something to shun. It was nearly evening, so I had already eaten plenty of carbohydrates, sugar and caffeine.

[Yes, I went back to caffeine. Turns out the city frowns on people taking little naps at stoplights.]

I could have started late and given up one of those, but it seemed as if I would be cheating. And there was the part where if I don’t eat sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine, I might starve to death. Yes, I didn’t actually have to pick anything to give up, but yesterday I had used my slow-cooker and started pulling together tax paperwork. Giving up something for Lent seemed as if I would be pulling off the maturity hat-trick. I needed something I truly loved but, candidly, wasn’t half of my caloric intake. After a minute, I decided I was giving up doughnuts and caramel. The caramel would also mean no Dulce de Leche ice cream, no cajeta, no fleur de sel, nothing that gave me pleasure or can loosen a filling. The doughnut thing won’t bother me until I take Consort to the airport, because there’s a Krispy Kreme store right near the airport, but he’s been travelling a lot. Both seemed mildly uncomfortable, together forming a Lentian degree of denial.

Lulabelle -- Lupac as her rap fans know her-- has been living with another form of deprivation and unlike me she had no say in it. Thanks to her near-miss with dying in a blaze of glory, she’s now an indoor cat, and as far as she’s concerned this is like giving up caffeine, sugar and breathing. She stalks around the house, testing the integrity of windows and doors, resentment coming off her in waves. Mostly, she takes it out on the dog who, she’s irritated to notice, is always around. Pleased with her new omnipresence, the dog is constantly smiling at her, barking playfully at her, throwing his butt in the air and genially offering to play tag with her. Sure, slapping him brings a little light to her day, but not as much as getting outside, checking her trap lines and hanging with her homie.

As Puff Daddy had Biggie Smalls, Lupac has her second-in-command. A few months ago, I noticed that a tabby cat had taken to hanging around my front yard. Being as the tabby looked like Sydney Greenstreet in a fur jumpsuit, I knew that it belonged to someone so I didn’t automatically start trying to catch it and save it. This is good because this cat has spent every single day in my front yard for months and not only won’t let me get closer than eight feet, it sneers at me, which I didn’t think cat’s facial muscles could do. But, its upper lip curls a little bit, its eyes narrow in disgust; it can’t believe I’m still offending it by existing. Because it’s a constant presence in our lives, I decided to give it a name. Because we can’t get anywhere near it to determine things like gender, I’ve named it Victor/Victoria. As much as Victor/Victoria disdains me, Victor/Victoria and Lulabelle seem to truly like each other. The affection is feline, of course, which means it’s invisible to the naked eye. But when two cats cat sunbathe within a foot of each other and ignore one another for a whole afternoon, that’s friendship. Victor/Victoria would open for Lupac on tour and Lupac would produce Victor/Victoria’s debut CD.

And now Lupac is inside, and Victor/Victoria is sneering, but also whining. Even now, over the sound of Boris and Natasha plotting some dastardly deed, I can hear Victor/Victoria outside in the yard, complaining. I’ve thought about going out and indicating that some of us are living without caramel and doughnuts and don’t see us rolling around in the front yard shouting, but it’s only day one of Lent. By next week, Victor/Victoria and I will get over our West Coast/East Coast, Cat/Human rivalry and will be doing a duet of “I’ll Be Missing You” to our lost loves.

Friday, February 20, 2009


Two readers have written in, surprised and a little disappointed that I find certain blogs soothing. Consider this; in the original blog, I explained that I read these blogs after I've read the newspaper, listen to NPR and read political blogs. I don't read chick-lit, I don't watch "The Real Housewives of Your City of Choice," I don't even eat Peeps as often as I would like to. This, along with pictures of cats with pidgin-English captions, is my escape. If it's not yours, I sincerely hope that whatever your escape is gives you solace.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Always Duckie, never Blane.

In the middle of trying to think of magazine articles to pitch, I leap towards the soothing embrace of Southern Preppy Blogs. Only, I end up on a blog telling me that I'm not invited, that it's private, that I'm a loser. And it's eighth-grade all over again and I don't have in Izod Lacoste shirt.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

I'll Meet You Halfway, It's Better Than No Way

I have developed a wonderful new personality trait: if I think about doing something long enough, I start to think I actually did it . For example, I might need to return the call of someone who has very kindly checked in to see if I’m dead.

[I don’t like talking on the phone so I encourage people to email me, which I then don’t answer. People frequently think I’m dead and not just when I choose to wear lemon yellow.]

So in my mind, I think: "call Betsy-not-her-real-name and get caught up". Only, getting caught up takes a while and I usually only think of calling people when I have just dropped Daughter off at a class and I want company for the three trips around the block it will take to find a parking space. That’s not enough time to get caught up. In my mind, getting caught-up takes at least forty-five minutes and with each week that passes I have to add another extra five minutes to atone for being the kind of person who drops off the face of the earth. Each time I think of Betsy-not-her-real-name, I flinch for a second and then I say sternly to myself “YOU HAVE TO CALL HER.”

Weeks would pass like this. Until recently, my only hope was that we would run into one another in a public space where I could blubber my apologies for being an indifferent communicator and she could determine I was alive but rude. Within the last few weeks, I have had several conversations which went something like this:

(Quinn sees Jeanne-not-her-real-name in a public space. Quinn smiles broadly. Jeanne does not.)


JEANNE: (A trifle frostily) Hi.

(We stand together, enjoying the chill.)

QUINN: So…how’s…things?

JEANNE: Well, we’re okay. I’m glad to see that you’re fine.

QUINN: I left you a message last week, telling you I wasn’t dead.

(The ice thickens.)

QUINN: Didn’t I?

JEANNE: Did you?

QUINN: Oh, wait. I remember. I was just leaving you a voice-mail when a police car drove past and I wasn’t using my Bluetooth because I can’t hear a bloody thing on it and I thought the cop might pull me over for being on my cell phone, which is absurd because I was in the longest left-hand turn lane ever and my sitting and waiting skills certainly weren’t being compromised but, still, I still decided to hang up. So that hang-up you got last week, that was me. Telling you I’m fine.

Fine and -- it hardly needed to be said -- in need of some kind of guide-dog.

But this quirk is reasonable, in a “Humor the Feeble-minded” sort of way. My brain works kind of like Microsoft Outlook, minus the nasty mustard color as trim. On Outlook you can book in an appointment for 9:00 or 9:30, but not 9:15. If you are me, you write it in at 9:00 and then forget the appointment is actually for fifteen minutes later and show up a little early for your 9:00 haircut. Then everyone looks at your pityingly, because you’re one of those people who have nothing else to do so they just keep offering you tea.

In my brain, there are only two gears, “Undone” and “Done.” There is no place for “I put the ice-skates in the trunk but when I went to go to the owners’ house I realized I couldn’t make it back to Daughter’s school in time to pick her up.” In my mind, the skates have now shifted from “Undone” to “Done.” The skates showing up in my trunk continue to surprise me for weeks. Everyone involved looks at my pityingly. No one offers me tea.

I waver between assuming this is the start of senescence and grieving, and assuming it’s just a side-effect of a very complicated life right now. If it’s temporary, I need to stay positive. There are plenty of potential benefits here. Every morning I will make a to-do list. I will stare at it for an hour and then believe that everything is done -- who will have a smaller carbon footprint than me? When I’m feeling decadent I’ll tell myself I had salted caramels for breakfast. When I’m feeling guilty from the non-existent caramels, I’ll convince myself I’m eating ten servings of vegetables a day. Also, if anyone is planning on committing a crime, now might be the time to do it. With only an hour or so of prompting, I would provide an airtight alibi. And then after testifying I would get back in my car, humming tunelessly, using the sound of skates sliding around my trunk as my drum beat, thinking of nothing in particular as I beetle off to forget something else.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Me Against the World

First, I want to thank everyone who gave me brain-soothers from around the Internet. I especially want to thank the woman who suggested it’s also relaxing to, you know, actually step away from the computer and go outside for a walk. I was going to figure out how to post a page of calming-links and rotate them out every few days but having spent several days in the land of calming, I was due for a couple days of weird. For my more excitable readers who are about to start worrying remember, I didn’t say bad and I didn't say sad. I said weird.

A while back, someone who comments here had a blog about how unbearably disgusting he found cats; and more specifically, the cats of his roommates. Apparently, there was a certain laissez-faire attitude towards litter-box usage and only the litter-box and their food was everywhere. Even though I love cats, I certainly understood his revulsion, although I can make the argument that the cats weren’t the slobs here, it was the ones with the thumbs who owned them and didn’t clean enough. But part of me wanted to say, “Hey, blogger. Blame not the species; in fact, come to my house and see how clean, neat and low-key a properly-tended housecat can be.”

Then again, Lulabelle was peeing in the tub and shower, so maybe she wasn’t up to being the standard-bearer for her people. After two days of shouting at her and curling my lip in dismay, I noted the urine had some blood in it; she had a bladder infection. I suddenly recalled my mother telling me that the cat we had growing up would pee in the tub when she had a bladder infection. Whatever benefit tub-peeing provides the cat, it allows to human to note the problem, which might go unnoted in a regular litter box, eventually leading to serious problems. It’s weird, it’s not what you want to find first thing in the morning when you just want to take a shower without having to reach for the Chlorox, but no one can deny that it isn’t effective. I whisked her in to the vet and got her antibiotics. Ten days later, she was fine.

Three weeks later, I was scrubbing the tub again; another trip to the vet, another round of antibiotics. This time, the vet massaged her abdomen in a seriously intrusive way, to see if he could feel kidney stones. “No kidney stones, just a really bad bladder infection,” he declared. Having had bladder infections and wincing in empathy at what it must have felt like to have the doctor Rolf her torso, I silently thanked the cat for not killing him.

Two more months passed. Early this week, I found Lulabelle shimmering out of the bathroom, a place that by its very excess of water isn’t usually her favorite hangout. Sure enough, the Mad Urinator had struck again. Back to the vet we went, who was now puzzled. Cats can have a predisposition towards bladder infections, but it usually shows up in adolescence or as a consequence of old age. Lulabelle is in the prime of life. We decided to get her x-rayed to rule out a tiny yet vicious kidney stone. A few minute later, the tech brought her back in and set up a laptop computer with the x-ray image on it. I placed the cat back in her carrier and stared deeply at the x-ray. I always stare at test results in doctor’s offices, which is adorable because I have never understood a single thing I was looking at. But, darn it, it’s there and I’m going to participate. I proudly noted that I recognized vertebrae and a tail, which is two more things than I can usually find. Peering at the picture for a while, I was interested to note that there was something white and opaque in her upper abdomen, bone-like but nowhere near another bone. After all these years of peering fruitlessly at medical tests, I had every reason to believe I finally diagnosed something; I had found Lulabelle’s kidney stone.

The vet came in, and leaned over the laptop, looking at the x-ray. A minute passed and then another. I got a little impatient; couldn’t he see what I had come to think of as our kidney stone? I was about to say something I hoped would sound medical when he said thoughtfully, “Well, she doesn’t have kidney stones, but did you know she’s been shot?”


He pointed to my kidney stone and said, “That’s a bullet.”

I’ll summarize the next few minutes of my asking questions and spluttering for you. Lulabelle, at some point in the past, was shot with a very small-caliber weapon, probably from the back. It entered her backside and lodged in her pelvis, miraculously missing both her spine and her excretory organs. Oddly enough, her bladder infection was completely unrelated; had we not taken the x-ray, we’d never have known about this. Contrary to what I immediately assumed, my missing a gunshot wound on my cat didn’t make me the worst pet-owner in the world. The bullet was small enough so that the entry wound had been small and probably stopped bleeding very quickly. In the years we have owned her, she’s spent more than one night out exactly twice; it could have been during one of those times and by the time she got home she had stopped bleeding and her fur covered the scab. Or it could have been from before we owned her. If she knew, she wasn’t telling. The vet saw no reason for the moment to remove the bullet. He gave me a stronger antibiotic for the bladder infection and sent us home.

I drove home in silence for a few minutes and then called Consort to tell him the news. We both agreed that she was insanely lucky and that we were very grateful she was so very lucky and then I swung around to the thought which had been lurking at the back of my head for several minutes.

“Our cat who takes pride in her killing skills got shot and walked around with a bullet in her, possibly for years. Should we change her name to Biggie Smalls? Tupac?”

Consort offered, “Lupac?”

So, as with so many of her brothers-in-arms in the rap community, my cat now has her given name and her hood-name. May I present Lupac Shapurr.

Of course, Biggie and Tupac eventually got caught in another hail of bullets and their luck ran out. Lulabelle isn’t going to be given that chance. Even though her raison d’etre comes from being an indoor-outdoor cat, I had never been happy about that lifestyle. Now, she shall remain inside. It won’t be as interesting, but I’ll get new toys, she can slap the dog and, if she wants, I’ll build her a recording studio.

Monday, February 09, 2009

The South Shall Rise Again.

For those of us who like a calm orderly universe where the good get rewarded and the not-so-good get fungal infections, it’s been a bad winter. Over the last three months, no fewer than five people I know have lost their jobs. This wasn’t supposed to happen to people like them, people who abided by all of the rules we were told led to success in life. They studied hard in high school. They worked hard at Ivy-league colleges. They got degrees in the useful and the profitable. Abiding by the rules worked until 2008 when someone let loose a pack of Irish Setter puppies in the high-rise of cards that was our financial and banking system.

As Simon and Garfunkel wrote, “I don’t know a soul who’s not been battered/I don’t have a friend who feels at ease.” Everyone I know -- from small-business owners to (oh, delightful irony) a bankruptcy lawyer -- is fighting a rising sense of panic. People are making drastic choices. Families I know are considering moving out of state, someplace cheaper. Some families are thinking about moving back in with their elderly parents, a plan that doesn’t scream “Hi! Everything’s going SO VERY WELL!”

The weather is weird. Iceland is bankrupt. Banks can't explain where they left three hundred billion dollars. Paris Hilton is still insisting on herself. We’re all a little fragile right now. Fragile people need cheering up. I’m going to give you my happy place and then, if you feel so inclined, you will leave an email with a suggestion for how you’re getting through all this. The only rule: it’s got to be free. Maybe someone will be helped by what we offer.

Of course, what I offer is weird and embarrassing. Honestly, did you expect anything else from me? A year or so ago, someone with the snappy name of Monogram Momma wrote a comment on my blog. Because I will do anything rather than write, I decided I had to check out her blog. It was a lively, brightly colored place where people put needlepoint collars on their dogs, discussed the finer points of sweet tea and created holiday-themed crafts which didn’t look like something you’d find stuck to the bottom of a shoe. Her life, unlike mine, appeared attractive and probably smelled like cinnamon. Ever eager to not write, I read some of her comments and discovered this world previously unknown to me, that of the preppy Southern mom-blogger. Oh, even typing those words sends a shameful blast of serotonin to my brain.

Nearly all of the blogs have the words “Plaid” or “Magnolia” or “Monogram” in the title. They start worrying about Christmas card photos in March. They put up pictures of fearsomely-coordinated outfits they are going to wear. They belonged to sororities. They bleed college sports. They are members of the Junior League. Their weddings took only slightly less planning than the Hadron Collider. They are, in a phrase, not me. Except for the Junior League part.

[Yep, I was in the Junior League; didn’t see that coming, did you? It’s a long story. I’ll write about it another time.]

These women don’t appear to be going through the same financial crisis as the rest of the country. I don’t know why and, candidly, I don’t care. I don’t mind if they’ve actually been eating government cheese and living without heat for the last month. As long as they maintain the charade that they can afford all the Vera Bradley and Bonnano sandals they want, I’ll be a devoted fan.

In any given day I read the paper, I listen to the news in the car and, because I’m not quite stressed enough, I download NPR podcasts which might as well be titled “We’re All Doomed.” I flip through emails from people desperately trying to sell furniture or place pets they can no longer afford. That’s when the buzzing begins in my head and I race off for the soothing shores of Madras, to pretend for a while that these women are what’s real and the other stuff is just a very ugly dream.

Cute animals are good, too.

As far as the preppy women go, start here:

She has links to most of the other blogs, all of which link back to one another. It’s wondrously ingrown.

Now, it’s your turn. If cats who can’t spell and women wearing pink lipgloss and a headband to give birth don’t soothe your aching head, what does? We all need to know.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Weather Or Not.

Yesterday morning, the sun was shining, a few wisps of grayish cloud business over the mountains. The paper and swore we were in for it, rain-wise, by noon, but I’d been punked before. Many times, I had sent Daughter to school in enough raingear to protect the Lincoln Memorial because we were supposed to get some torrential downpour, only to pick her up in the afternoon, squinting against the bright sunlight, my child sullen and sweaty in rainboots and a hat. Clouds will do what they will, and even the most seasoned meteorologist can get it wrong. In order to dress Daughter correctly, I’d have to consult a higher authority.

I grabbed Lulabelle from her favorite morning activity of grinding her big kitty-butt into Consort’s pillow and took her to the back door:

QUINN: You want to go out?

Lulabelle arched and writhed in my arms.

LULABELLE: Woman, are you insane?

Using my forehead as a springboard, she raced back to her pillow. I shouted to Daughter, “Get the boots, it’s going to rain.” I’ve learned never to doubt the cat. Her weather-wisdom is mysterious, deep and unfailing. Then again, if something nearly killed me, I’d get pretty smart about it, too.

Almost exactly four years ago this week, the forecast was for serious rain, to last for days. Knowing how little she liked being damp, I encouraged our then-dog Polly to make one last bathroom trip late at night, before the rain came. The cat woke up, dashed from the couch to the back door and stared longingly into the dark.

“You don’t want to go out for the night, Lu,” I advised, “rain’s coming.”

Lulabelle sneered at me. “When I want your opinion,” she seemed to say, “I’ll tell you what your opinion is. I’m outta here.”

She darted off into the shadows, too excited about a night of mouse-eating and mayhem to even bother to slap the dog that was teetering back in. Within ninety minutes it started to rain. By morning, there were two foot-deep puddles on our street corner and a lap pool in the window box. What there wasn’t was a cat, nor was there a cat for the next seven days of nearly continuous rain. I worried, and then I worried a lot, and then I grieved. She might not have had any respect for us, but she liked us in a certain contemptuous way and our kitty-stars weren’t terrible; she’d have come home if she could. A house across the street was tenting for exterminating on the second day of the rain. It was all too easy to imagine that she’d crawled under the house for safety on the first night and had been gassed.

Two days after the rain stopped, I had taken Daughter to school and, walking out of the garage, saw Lulabelle on our doorstep. She had lost half her weight and wouldn’t put weight on one front paw, but she was home. The vet declared her remarkably healthy and the owner of a sprained paw. A couple of days of rest and boiled chicken to convince her to eat again, and she was very nearly her old self.

Except for rain.

Lulabelle no longer does rain. There is no mouse so luscious, no pug on a walk to be screamed at so tempting that it overrides her basic impulse to stay bone-dry. Lulabelle has determined that she has used up several lifetimes’ worth of luck, not to mention fur-moisture, and that prudence is the best path. For those of us who worried and cried for her when she was gone, that’s both understandable and laudable. The secondary benefit of always knowing when I need to carry an umbrella is just fun.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

That Thing You Do.

In my house, January equals catch-up. The first month of the year is when I set up annual doctor’s appointments. Of course, I don’t always get an appointment in January, which led to one magically inappropriate year where my gynecological check-up was on Valentine’s Day, but appointments get made. Then, barring coughing up blood or a protruding bone, I can avoid thinking about doctors for another year.

This makes me feel so smug and competent that I have added another layer to catch-up month, which is that I clean out the bathroom drawers and the medicine cabinet. God, that’s good. For the price of putting on a DVD of “Pushing Daisies” and bringing the contents of the bathroom into the living room, within an hour I can have the narcotic rush of throwing away so many things. This year’s clean-out was particularly nice, because on top of the usual unloved orphans many medications had expired. I was the Angel of Death, gleefully wielding my scythe.

Three linty Band-Aids, slightly opened? Gone.

The collection of packaged free toothbrushes given to us by the dentist, the extended collection of tiny soaps, shampoos, conditioners, body scrubs and gels Consort methodically took from hotels this year? Off to shelter for battered women.

Outdated nasal drops, probably covered in a decade’s worth of rhinovirus? Gone, held by edges of fingernails.

World’s most extensive collection of non-working sixty-nine cent nail clippers, which Consort kept swearing he would fix because that would certainly be a good use of his Master’s degree? Gone, quietly, so Consort doesn’t try to fish them out of the trash.

Small object that – wait, what is this?

I took it out of the drawer and peered at it. It was black matte plastic, about the size of the last joint of my pinky, shaped like a top hat with a hole in the middle. It had no distinguishing marks. I put “Pushing Daisies” on hold and went back into the bathroom, in search of something lacking a top hat-shaped thingy. It wasn’t missing from the electric toothbrushes, or the electric razor or my curling iron or my straightening iron. I came back out and toyed with throwing it away but the feeling wasn’t as straightforward as when I had junked the five containers of nearly-empty dental floss, because this thing whispered “Something needs me. I matter.”

I put it to the side and continued to sort, glancing nervously at the top hat every once in a while. When Consort got home, I brought him the top hat, knowing he’d know what it is, if for no other reason than over 98.65% of the matte-black plastic objects in this house are his. He held it up, he looked at it closely, he turned it around a few times.

“I have no idea what this is,” he finally pronounced.

I breathed a sigh of relief. Neither of us knew what it was, which meant that it couldn’t be critical and I could throw it away if not with gay abandon than it least with a certain confidence.

“Give it to me, I’ll throw it away,” I said, grabbing for it. His fist curled around it protectively.

“We have to keep it,” he countered, “because I think I’ve seen it before. It has something to do with the bathroom.”

Our bathroom not only lacks a “his-and-hers” sink, it barely has an “ours” sink. This is my way of saying that it’s not so spacious that there’s some whole level of objects I hadn’t already checked out for missing a top hat-shaped thingy. I was about to make this point but Consort was already back in the bathroom, precisely placing the thingy on the top of the cabinet. We admired it in silence. Finally, he said, “I’m sure we’ll notice where it’s supposed to be in the next day or so.”

I’ve been told by people who raise animals for food that the one thing you simply cannot do is name your food-source. You can spend a year fattening a pig and as long as you call it “Pig” butchering day will come and go without trauma. But the first time someone calls the pig Ernest because it reminds her of her PE coach in high school, the pig has taken on a new station in the family and won’t be a source of bacon, now or ever. Keep this in mind when I tell you that it’s been a month since we found this thing and it now has a name.

“Anyone seen the toothpaste?”

“Yeah, it’s behind Thingy.”

Not the thingy; Thingy. We’re a step away from including it in Christmas pictures. We’re no closer to determining where it belonged before, and no one wants to discuss throwing it away anymore because hey, it’s Thingy! Thingy wants to live!

Someday, we’ll move and I’ll have a box labeled “Toiletries, towels, Thingy” and I’ll be nervously wringing my hands and bleating at the movers, “Please be gentle with that box; Thingy hates change.”