Saturday, December 26, 2009

Housecleaning for a Good Cause

Do you live in Northern California and feel like doing some good and also getting some room in the house for all the new stuff? Solano County Animal Rescue just took in a hundred dogs and puppies, and they are in desperate need of everything. Newspapers, rags, dog stuff, Simple Green. Check out the link and help if you can.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Shepherds Quake at the Sight

You have family due in six hours and they just called from the airport to let you know Cousin Margaret is now bringing her Shih Tzu and your nephew’s wife will need vegan options at the dinner table.

Shhh, let it out.

All your daughter wants is that stupid hamster that is so popular even NPR did a story on it, and you swore to get it even though another mom told you it was made of enriched uranium and the meninges of Chinese prisoners. You have been covertly texting a teenager who works at a nearby toy store, offering him up to five times face value for an object you suspect will be adored by its owner for nearly seven hours.

I know, I know.

It’s been twelve days since the first day of Chanukah and your entire house still smells of potato pancakes and you just found a holiday gelt in the dryer with the towels?

You don’t remember seeing the cat eat tinsel but the litter-box now looks like an unspeakable fireworks display?

You just remembered you have godchildren in Java who will be expecting something thoughtful from you in forty-eight hours?

Scrooge had Christmases Past, Present and Future to put things in perspective. You have Christmas Quinn. Grab a glass of strongly-spiked something and come to my house.

First, come to the living room. That lump on the couch, under the quilts? That’s my daughter. She’s celebrating the holiday season by having a stomach virus. It arrived Monday night, halfway through a fancy holiday dinner at a restaurant with my mother. Nothing says holiday quite like a child informing you that if you don’t move the chocolate soufflé she’s going to hurl all over the remnants of the Yorkshire pudding. In the last thirty-six hours, she’s eaten three garbanzo beans, six water-crackers and a chip. We’ve spent the time we ordinarily spend watching her eat listening to her chart the exact parameters of her nausea. It’s a mild bug, but it’s a chatty one.

Next to the quilted lump talking about vomiting, there’s a Christmas tree. It’s a very nice Christmas tree. Next to the Christmas tree, there is a water-bottle. There is a water-bottle there because we have four month-old foster-kittens, Anne and Diana, Thing One and Thing Two, the Merry Mistresses of Mayhem. If you’ve had a Christmas tree and kittens, I need say no more. If you haven’t, I’ll try to explain it from their perspective. Imagine a thing you have always wanted, covered in things which tease and call out to your very soul. For me this would be thin thighs adorned with Vanity Fair magazines and salted caramels. Now, imagine that every time you got near it, someone large shouted “NO!” and your head suddenly got very wet. This is Christmas with a kitten. We have two.

What we don’t have is an adult cat, because two weeks ago, Lupac took off for her usual day of hunting and sneering and has yet to return. She’s left before for a week, but never two. She’s microchipped and she has a collar, and if any cat could leave for six months and then come home with a tattoo and an enigmatic expression, it’s my Lupac, but part of this holiday is me looking miserable and standing at the back door shouting about soy turkey. Christmas 2009 will include the visual of me looking moody and holding a bag of dry-food specifically for cats with chronic bladder conditions. Lupac’s absence is part of the reason I’m keeping the kittens over the holidays. The kid and I need a small, weird mammal or two around, and the dog isn’t weird enough. Consort, in his saintly way, quietly upped his Benadryl.

In the dining room, there is the gingerbread house. Please don’t touch that. The only thing holding it together is gumdrops and several cans of kidney beans on the inside. During construction, a load-bearing wall cracked and the entire north side has been bulging ominously for days. Thanks to everyone who wrote in and said “Quinn, gingerbread houses don’t need to be nearly as hard as you’re making them.” Because of you, next year the kid and I will create a house which won’t remind people of the Seventh Ward after Katrina hit.

Here’s the kitchen, and here’s the pumpkin bread. And here. And also here. It’s the one thing I make every year. It’s the only thing I make every year. One loaf is left for the house. I sliced into one. Unbeknownst to me, Consort sliced into another one. At some point before the many discussions about vomiting began, the kid sliced into one. There are now three to give away and three for us. I’m encouraging Consort to make sandwiches with it. I’m using one sliced loaf as creative gift-wrapping. I’m flinging bits of it at the kittens when they head for the tree. I’m very tired of pumpkin bread.

Next to one loaf, there are Christmas cards, unsigned and unsent. We’re not getting Christmas cards out this year. We had exactly one day in which to get the picture of the kid for the card, because she was going to be dressed up anyway, hair done, and we’d be at a place with a pretty background and lovely light. The day ended up giving us twenty minutes to get the picture during which Consort got exactly three pictures of her; in each picture, she’s doing something weird with her eyelid. By the time I realized we weren’t getting another chance to get a picture, it was the twentieth; the next day, she took to the couch. I’m toying with starting a new trend for President’s Day cards.

And here’s the garage, and here’s the storage space within the garage and here, here is where Christmas presents dwell. Before she took to her couch for nausea and dialogue, my daughter snooped. We keep all Christmas presents in here not just because the storage space has a lock, because I believe my daughter would learn lock-picking if she could determine whether she’s getting fashionable leg-warmers this year. We keep the Christmas presents in here because once when she accompanied her dad to the storage space to get the wheelbarrow, she saw a spider and she’s never been back since. Her love for all living creatures doesn’t extend to spiders; she’s the only child I know who cheers at the end of “Charlotte’s Web.” I’d try to raise her awareness of the wonderful usefulness of spiders, but since they are acting as my bouncers, I see no need to make them less alarming to her.

See, doesn’t my life put things into perspective? I had a book published this year. Naively, I expected a published author would have a more attractive Christmas; Dan Brown might own a water-bottle, but I doubt he’s decorating around it. But it’s the end of 2009 and while I’m in bookstores, I’m still me. I’m still delighted by my kid, amused by my pets, horrified by my house and devoted to my partner. And readers, I’m so very grateful to you. Your comments give me laughs and thoughts and windows into worlds I don’t even have to put on shoes to enter. Writing my blog fulfills me, but hearing from you makes me buoyant. Have a peaceful and prosperous 2010.

And take a slice of pumpkin bread with you for the road.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Helps to Make the Season Bright

I'm baking today and just did battle with a gingerbread house. Next year when the kid talks me into making a gingerbread house, someone please beat me with a bag of gingerbread house icing. Being as the icing feels like a boudin, weighs more than El Salvador and adheres to exactly nothing, that should remind me.

I've got a blog in me, but it comes after the baking. And then the drinking to forget the baking. See you in a couple of days.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Come to the Water

Saturday night I attended something I’m still hard-pressed to explain. It was kind of a party and kind of a group book-signing and kind of a poetry-reading and it took place in a beauty salon which is also an art gallery located in Burbank, a city best known for Jay Leno and a small airport helpfully located near a Krispy Kreme.

I was invited by a friend of a friend. The invitation gave me the sneaking suspicion I’d be the least-cool person there -- a feeling I’ve had once or twice before. I attempted to compensate for my goofiness by fixating on how much I hate my hair and creating the perfect outfit. Which is to say, I spent Saturday afternoon recreating myself at fourteen, pouting and flinging clothes on to the bed. It took longer than I’m prepared to admit, but by the time I left, I felt as close to confident as I ever feel. I had on a pair of light-yellow corduroy pants, my favorite black and white thin-striped sweater and a pair of quirky caramel-colored leather heels. Trust me, it worked. Yes, I know this is almost exactly what I wear every day, but this was different; there were heels. And in a moment of inspiration, I grabbed a patterned scarf and tied it around my neck. The gods of fashion smiled on me; the striped sweater and the patterned scarf shouted “European,” not “Insane.” My hair almost didn’t make me want to cry. I felt good, I felt social, I felt like finding out what an art gallery where you can also get your legs waxed would be like. I kissed my family goodbye and drove towards the Krispy Kreme city.

I’ve explained what happens when I feel confident about my parenting. It appears that equation has now expanded to include evenings out.

I arrived punctually at 5:00, like the fashionable people do, and watched the bartender set up, and the tables of books get arranged. It appeared I was the only writer there that evening who wasn’t recovering from a really passionate but dead-end relationship with a) Self-mutilation, b) heroin, c) a bassist from a Swedish death-metal band or d) some combination of the above, with a pet ferret. I’m usually middle-of-the-road’s odd friend; here, I was what a GPS system would use to locate suburbia. But at least I looked okay.

Twenty minutes after I arrived, the first other participants drifted in, getting a drink from the bar. Five minutes after the first guest had arrived, she grabbed her drink and spun quickly around, not realizing I was standing directly behind her waiting for my drink. Her glass of red wine spilled down the entire right-hand side of my body, down the black and white thin-striped sweater, down the light-yellow corduroy pants, puddling on the caramel shoes. What followed was two minutes of gasping and apologizing and offering to clean clothes on her part, smiling thinly and saying weakly, “No, accidents happen, don’t give it another thought” on mine. Mollified, she went off, possibly to compare piercings with another guest, and I snuck into one of the waxing rooms to check the damage in a mirror. I didn’t look too bad, if your standard of bad was defined by an abattoir employee. I blotted what I could off the sweater and pants and rearranged the scarf to cover what I could.

I spent the next half-hour or so smiling, chatting subtly encouraging people to check out my book, which was on a table nestled next to “The Dysfunctional Family Workbook.” I kept trying to separate them. After a while, I decided I had done enough selling and was allowed to roam freely for a few minutes, to see what the other writers were like and to see if walking would create enough airflow to dry my wine-splattered hair. I chatted with another writer who was getting himself a glass of water from a container. A minute later, my brain said “Your right leg and foot are wet.” I snapped inwardly, “Yes, I know, red wine. I was there.”

“No,” my brain said tiredly, “new wetness.”

I looked down. The water-tap hadn’t closed fully and was now spraying down my leg. What was astonishing about this was how the water wasn’t going downwards in the usual trajectory for things affected by gravity. Rather, it was banking sharply to the right, avoiding the nearest person and saturating me. A more credulous person would say the water was looking for me. On the plus side, it was diluting the red-wine stain on the pants. Fifteen minutes later, standing in a completely different section of the room, someone tripped and spilled their soda on my right sleeve and calf. Twenty minutes later, an ice-cube hit me in the back of my right knee. This was impressive, considering my back was to the wall at the time.

Now, I became chatty with the other guests. Sure you, hipster guest, might have a tattoo of your great-uncle Guiseppe on your neck and a thriving bondage-accessory business, but I was being stalked by liquid. Your oddness was, to some degree, a choice. My right foot squelched every time I stepped down and half my bra smelled like Chianti, but I was born this way. Other guests came to admire the all the water-patterns on the right side of me; I had become an art installation.

At nine, the event ended. I was free to leave. Someone offered me a soda for the road, which dripped cooler-water on to my right shoe. I waved a goodbye to the guests some of whom, charmed by my dousing abilities, had suggested I go with them to places hipper and weirder. But, any event after this one could start involving my drawing fluids of the bodily kind towards me. We conceptual artists know when it’s time to pack up our act. I squished back to my car and made my way towards home, but not before grabbing two donuts at Krispy Kreme.

“Do you want anything to drink with those donuts?”

“Thanks, but no.”

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Doctor, Doctor Gimme the News

Some days, you find the adventure. Some days, the adventure finds you. One day, I'm watching my daughter power down mochiae for breakfast and another day I'm staring at a cat's armpit.

Actually, I was staring at a cat's armpit at night, which was part of the problem. I've mentioned before that Consort is a night owl, but I don't think I've impressed upon you exactly how much of a day-person I am. It's not as if I insist that the hours before dawn are the most productive hours of my day-- at least partially because I'm not certain I have productive hours of the day-- but I do function best in the daytime. In fact, an ex nicknamed me Parakeet, because he swore if you threw a black cloth over my head I'd think it was nighttime and I'd go to sleep. And that was back in my twenties, before a child and general physical decay made me very tired. Here in my no-longer-twenties, I can't do Sudoku after five p.m., I can't use an iPhone after seven p.m. and I can't properly use stain-fighter stick after nine p.m. By eleven, I'm furniture with whining capabilities. So at ten o'clock, I was sitting at the kitchen table, girding my loins for the epic trek to the bedroom, when I finally heard Lupac pounding against the back door; three hours later than usual, my liege was home. I stumbled to the back door and let her in. She raced past me to her bowl of kitty-stars on the washing-machine. A second after she ran past, my brain offered up the word "Pink." I waited to see if this meant something and, sighing at its workload, my brain snapped "Pink. On the cat." Being as she's black, the last employee working in my brain for the night had wanted me to know this was anomalous. I sludged to the cat and listlessly looked her over. There, in what would have been her armpit had she arms, was a pink wound about the size of a quarter.

I triaged to the best of my ability. It was open, but it wasn't bleeding. If her relationship with her kitty-stars was any indication, her appetite was fine. Touching around it kind of grossed me out, but didn't seem to bother her at all. I whined for Consort; we both stared at it for a while. Did she need to go to the pet ER tonight or could we wait until morning and see her proper vet? Consort deferred to me because I'm the one who has had pets her entire life. But my brain had been replaced by the usual night-visitor, a toothbrush, and this was entirely too much to ask of me. I called the head of our rescue group and gave her the details. Kindly, she didn't yell at me for calling her but instead reminded me how quickly a cat-bite, if it was that, can go septic. By morning, she could be dying from an infection. Right, off to the vet. Now I just had to remember how to tie shoes. Consort offered to go for me, but my toothbrush-brain rallied and made a compelling argument for this being my responsibility and not his.I stunned Consort into acquiescence, mostly because this was the most coherent thing I've said after nightfall in years. Gingerly, we wedged Lupac into a carrier and I headed off to the pet ER.

The pet ER was empty, and I was glad. First of all, because it meant that we'd be seen before I lost the power of speech, and also because a pet emergency room is a Godawful place, worse even than a human emergency room. Having spent too much time in both, I can assure you that sometimes in a human ER, you get a patient in labor, which makes everyone kind of excited and happy and sometimes you get an especially entertaining unmedicated psych patient. Whereas in the pet Emergency Room is just despair. You aren't sitting there in the middle of the night with your beloved pet rat because he was looking peaked. Usually someone is covered in pet-blood, another person is sobbing helplessly and a third person is shouting into a cell-phone "Just get down here if you want to say goodbye to Mr. Whiskers!" An empty room was good. I filled out paperwork. I got to the part about preexisting conditions and confidently wrote down that she'd had a steroid shot two weeks before because she has granuloma. I handed in the paperwork and the cat. The woman took both and came back out again.

"Granuloma?" The woman asked. "The doctor wants to know if you mean Eosinophilic Granuloma?"

Sure, that one. I was pleased I remembered granuloma and how to touch my thumb and forefinger. She seemed unimpressed. A few minutes passed. My toothbrush-brain stirred slightly.

"Did I write down that she has chronic bladder infections?"

We checked the record; I had not. I scribbled it in. I picked up Details magazine. A few more minutes passed. The toothbrush tossed up another fact.

"Do you need to know she has a heart murmur?"

Again, the paperwork came out. I smiled in a friendly way at the receptionist. Perhaps it was a trick of the light, but she appeared to sneer. I scribbled it in. I looked at a TV Guide crossword puzzle: "Television Host ______ Seacrest." I struggled over that one. Suddenly, I remember something.

"Do you need to know that she had a bullet in her pelvis?"

"Being as she's being x-rayed, yes."

Night owls are snotty.

At 1:45, I handed over my credit card to cover the down-payment for the fixing of the wound. I could come back and get her in the morning, but no later than 7:30, because that's when they closed. Being as I was home a few minutes later, I'm guessing I drove, but I can't account for it. If I went into the bedroom I'd probably wake up Consort, being as he is one of those freakish night-people and had only gone to sleep about twenty minutes before. I lay down on the couch and pulled a blanket over me, just enjoying the darkness and the quiet and the absence of sneering, My inner parakeet was pleased. Then, the foster-kittens ran in. They are now not quite four months old and are just about the most darling wonderful girls on earth during the day. At night, however, they are Thing One and Thing Two, the Merry Mistresses of Mayhem. My being on the couch was, it seemed, Christmas come early for them. I was used as feline Pilates equipment for the entire night.

It turns out that I only like early mornings when I haven't seen the entire previous night. Seven o'clock attacked me like a feral wolverine. I crawled to the kitchen where I made myself the tea version of a double-espresso; the green tea was so thick in there it looked like the golf course at Pebble Beach. I drove carefully over to the ER and paid more money to spring her. The doctor showed me the wound, now neatly sewn shut. The bottle of antibiotics to be given for the next ten days thrilled neither of us. They had shaved the bottom half of her front leg to insert an IV and then, for unknown reasons, shaved the other front leg as well. With her nearly globular shape, threatening expression and shaved skinny ankles, she resembled the would-be gangsters I sometimes saw in east LA, with the huge manpris and the incongruously tiny calves covered in white socks. As with the gangsters, I kept my amusement to myself.

We got in the car. I put her in the back seat and glanced back at her. She rewarded me with an epic yawn. I'm guessing she didn't have the night she had planned either. I scritched her head through the grating and said, "Lu, let's get home and take a nap."

And so we did.