Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Girls on Film (Two Minutes Later)

So much time has passed! And there’s so much to tell you!

Wait, no there isn’t. I mean, what I can tell you is dull and what is potentially interesting is more in the planning than in the offing so, yes, I’m standing here with a hopeful expression and very little to tell.

(Quinn stands around, looking hopeful.)

(Quinn stands around, looking hopeful and a trifle self-conscious.)

(Quinn’s eyes dart around the room, trying to find something to talk about.)

Wait, here’s something. Early in May, my glorious publisher Perigee is producing a promotional video for the book, which is incredibly gracious of them. Since I last had a book out, book videos have become a thing. The run the gamut from charming to creative to “Like watching someone else’s travel videos.”

[Of course I’m not going to give you an example of the last kind of book video. But trust me when I say it would take you no more than a minute to find many examples.]

I have hopes of being in the less ghastly/more better section, but really right now my focus is that I have to be interviewed, ON CAMERA. THE CAMERA WHICH HAS A LENS WHICH CAPTURES VISUAL LIKENESSES. For me, any time on camera is like your twentieth high-school reunion, only without the dim hope that someone else will be fatter and have less hair. If I’m on camera, I’m a class of one. And yes, I did some Q-Teas last year but guess what? We shot those in late afternoon light, one of the two most attractive lighting hours one can get. I might be self-deprecating, but my mother didn’t raise a fool. I produced those and I made darn certain they turned out so I could stomach them. I might not be competing for Loveliest Woman on Earth, but I'm pretty confident that was the best I could look. The book video is being produced by a highly qualified individual, but that person isn’t me and there’s been a worrying use of the phrase “Get to know the real Quinn,” a person I happen to find is mostly unsightly. I had no say over the genes I got, and I will have very limited say over which shots they use, so I’m focusing my increasing plangent control-issue inner-voice on the one thing I can control:

My diet.

I’ve convinced myself that a low-inflammatory, low-sugar, vaguely Dr. Perricone diet will cause me to drop ten years in two weeks. Notice I didn’t say weight; I don’t care about my weight. First of all, the book isn’t based on how I am over 40 and yet can still rock a bikini, so there won’t be any of those shots, thank you very much. Second, Catherine Deneuve got it right when she said that after 40, it’s your face or your butt. What profiteth a writer in a book video to fit into her skinny jeans if she resembles Skeletor? No, the diet I speak of leads to testimonials from people swearing they haven’t looked this rested, this well, in years.

I want to look rested.

I want to look well.

Therefore, I eat krill and brightly-colored vegetables.

Of course, these diets are apparently also great for combatting chronic conditions and lead to a better and longer overall life, but pish tosh to that. Some day, we can all contemplate why I can’t motivate myself to eat to avoid diabetes but can eat to possibly look as if I had a nap. Also, it can’t be a totally Perricone diet because I tried eating salmon on Sunday and it turns out that not only am I allergic to shellfish, it would appear I’m allergic to fish as well, and I’m pretty certain vomiting doesn’t make one appear rested.

Also, I’m scrubbing the walls so they film well, which I think is the domestic version of how I’m eating in that it’s a perfectly appropriate thing for adults to do but I can only be motivated to do it because cameras will be around. And then I’ll have the couches cleaned and the pets Simonized, buy a bouquet of flowers to have in a vase in the background, pop a krill-soaked walnut or two and act as if this how it always is around this house. Because the Real Quinn leaves something to be desired but with any luck the Real Rested Quinn will be a sight to behold.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

King of the Road (Part Four)

A REM cycle or two later, I hauled the two of us up the hill to work the afternoon shift, once again with the cats. Having had bronchial luck with this before, I requested to be allowed to walk a cat. The supervisor at the building said, “Oh, great! I took Princess out this morning but I think she’d love to get outside again. Let me get her ready.” I waited for her to grab a leash and harness and dress one of the dozen or so cats milling about aimlessly. Instead, she went to a chair, gently picked up a blanket and slowly walked it back to Daughter and me. Curled up inside the blanket was a tiny cat; she was full-grown, but couldn’t have weighed more than five pounds. Princess let out a tiny snore.

The supervisor smiled at her fondly and stroked the cat’s forehead with an index finger. “You don’t have to leash her, she doesn’t walk much. Her systems are failing, she’s not going to make it much longer. Princess likes being outside but I’ve got to get some work done. I’d appreciate it.”

Daughter and I walked Princess outside on her bed in a stately and ceremonial way. Princess looked around and let out a tiny peep of what I assume was approval. After much consideration, we found a perfect spot for her to sit on her blanket in the shade, because the supervisor told us the blanket was easier on her bones and full sun was too hard on her. Because while she was dying, she was still a cat, once we situated her blanket in the shade, she immediately stood up, tottered off the blanket, and sprawled in the sun.

We stayed out there for over an hour. Daughter and I idly chatted and dug holes in the sandy dirt. Princess turned her head this way and that, feeling the breeze on her face. Sometimes we petted her, which she didn’t seem to mind. I can think of hours I have spent getting more done, but I’m hard-pressed to think of an hour I’ve spent which mattered more. Princess, I came to learn, had been a feral cat when she arrived, five years before. For nearly her entire stay there, she had been alternately fearful and dismissive of the humans who cared for her. No one minded and they loved her for the prickly girl she was. In the final few weeks of her life, she had grown patient and seemingly pleased with the human’s attention. So for an hour, she got to enjoy a spring afternoon and a little bit of adoration. When the supervisor came back out to get her, we carefully lifted Princess back into her blanket and told her what a good girl she was. She looked at us, and then beyond us, out at the beautiful afternoon and at things only she could see.

When we finished out shift, I told the kid we had to make one more stop for the day. It’s on the Best Friends property, but is out beyond any of the animal enclosures. We bumped down a dirt road and then came to it; Angel’s Rest.

I’ve been to cemetaries before, some of great age and laden with history, but I don’t think I’ve ever been to one quite like this. These weren’t just animals who had lived, and died, at Best Friends. People had bought markers for beloved pets; there was even the occasional marker for a pet-loving human being. The ones who were here because they were loved made me sad. The ones who were here because they never got to go home made me sad. And yet, in the middle of that sadness, that wistfullness, there was serenity. The wind slithered through the chimes and moved the prayer flags around. The mountains were beautiful. When the chimes weren’t ringing, the silence was so deep it gave me the same swooping feeling I’d had staring at the Kanab night sky. Life was precious, and sad, and brief, and wonderful. Dying is hard, but dying also means sitting on the sand, feeling the sun on your face. These animals were gone but it certainly felt as if a whole bunch of spirits were around Angel’s Rest, around Best Friends, and they seemed like very contented spirits. Perhaps they had found their home after all.

The next morning was our final shift; we needed to end on a high note. Here’s what looks like a high note to me:

First, there was Puppy Socialization class, where they learn how not be inappropriate at things or people they don’t know. Puppy Cotillion, as it were. No, they didn’t learn how to fox-trot, but I suspect at least half of Daughter’s cotillion dance-partners would have been happier being allowed to bite a skateboard-wheel. Then we got to take slightly older puppies on walks. The puppy-walking path is less than three-quarters of a mile in total and each walk takes at least a half-hour because we’re learning our leash manners.

It should be acknowleged that Maverick will understand how to walk on a leash before I learn how to take footage while walking.

Again and again we walked, two tiny puppies at a time, watching these animals enjoy the pleasure of being outdoors, being safe.

Coming around the final time, before we handed in our dogs and headed home, I thought about our adventure. We weren’t critical to Best Friends; had we not been there, another of the hundreds or so volunteers there that day would have done what we did. But we had been useful and I could only speak for myself, but I was very happy. I turned to the kid, who was coaxing a puppy away from an eight-foot long branch he was trying to drag along.

“Did you have fun?”

She nodded vigorously and said, “Oh, yeah.”

“Are you sad we’re going home?”

She looked up for a second and went back to puppy-debranching. She thought and then shook her head.

“No. These are very nice animals, but they aren’t our animals. I need to get home and see ours.”

(To Sara and those people who assumed Averil would be coming home with us, that wasn’t going to happen for three reasons. One: our lives are insane. Two: there’s a miniscule possibility that I’ve actually learned something and won’t add more chaos to my life. Three, and most relevantly, she can’t go home with anyone under 12.)

We went back to the motel, said goodbye to Foo,

and pointed our car towards Vegas, where we grabbed an early dinner, which led to the last lesson:

LESSON NINE: Under no circumstance, if you have four hours of driving ahead of you in high desert, should you take half of your Vietnamese meal, no matter how delicious, to go.

Between the food and the dirty clothes, my car smelled like a tuna-fish sandwich buried in a shoe under a latrine. I’m not sure Daughter and I smelled much better but when we landed at home, Consort and the pets leapt upon us, each hugging us in their own way. I started the first of many loads of laundry, and went in to lie on the bed and enjoy the sensation of not-driving. Daughter was on my bed, flipping through a book, both cats in her lap. I lay next to her in companiable silence for a minute and then said, “We’ll go back soon.”

She glanced at me, kissed the cat, smiled and said “Definitely.”


Thursday, April 05, 2012

No More Words

I just said something I wager has never before been said in the history of the English language:

"Kiddo, for the car, do you want mosquitos or Jane Austen?"

And no, it doesn't actually get any better if I explain it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

I Know Every Engineer on Every Train (Part Three)

Once again the proud guardian of an asthma inhaler, Daughter and I set off for our morning’s shift at the cat center. After our training video, we were presented with the seemingly unanswerable question:

In which cat building do you want to spend your time? There are over a dozen buildings, most with a specific kind of cat. We could pet and coo older cats, or help care for cats who have a hard time getting around, or we could SPEND TWO HOURS INTERACTING WITH KITTENS!!! KITTENS, WITH THEIR PIPE-CLEANER TAILS AND THEIR DISPROPORTIONATE HEADS AND THEIR IRRATIONAL FEAR OF THAT THING NOBODY ELSE SEES IN THE CORNER!!!


Which was exactly why we didn’t go to kittens. Right before we left, Consort helped me pack the last of the suitcases in the car, stole a Girl Scout cookie from the Road Trip Snack cache, looked deeply into my eyes and said, “I don’t expect you to come home without another animal. But, please, try very hard not to come home with another animal. I spend enough time as it is thinking about quadruped shit.”

Being as the cats seem to take an almost sadistic pleasure in waiting until we sit down to dinner to commit an unspeakable act in the litterbox in the nearby laundry room, and being as my little road trip had made him King of Pet Excrement for the week, I couldn’t actually argue with him. He’s a saint, that Consort. Best to not be exposed to temptation. Daughter and I voted to work at the Casa de Calmar, a house for cats with feline leukemia. Cats with feline leukemia can live healthy lives and the disease can’t be transmitted to humans, but our cats at home don’t have it and I couldn’t in good conscience bring an infected cat into our house. I could fall in love many times over at Calmar and never once ask the question, “Say, is there an adoption application around here?” I still wasn’t certain, though, how much cat-fur my immune system could stand, even with medical back-up. I prayed there was something I could do where I wouldn’t go into respitory failure. Even though the buildings have both indoor areas and screened porches

 (catteries), that might be more than my lungs could take.

“Would you like to walk Moses?”

LESSON SEVEN: Walking is beneficial.

Prayers answered. Some of the cats like to snap on the old harness and leash and go out for a stroll. Mostly, I was told, they stand around outside, mark a bush or two, glare at the wild turkeys who have the audacity to stand mere yards away, gobbling rudely. Not my walking-buddy Mo. We spent the better part of an hour trudging, leaping, pouncing, skittering, cakewalking, and talking our way around the back of the property. This was one of the few moments we weren’t lunging off towards a new adventure:

When we finally took him back in, he was content to head off to a sunny spot in the cattery, and I was giddy; I had been of service and my breathing was still inaudible! What else could I do which was useful and fairly low in allergens?

Daughter went off to brush, pet and generally be an eleven year-old girl around the cats and I washed dishes. Not quite as strange and lovely as a walk in the Utah mountains with a cat, but still useful and the steam kept my bronchi open, which has its own peculiar beauty.

After lunch, we got to work with the dogs. By work, I mean walk. It was an efficient little machine; the kid would be handed a leashed dog, I would be handed a leashed dog, and we'd head towards the hike-path. We'd walk the path, take the dogs back to the building and be handed another two dogs. Best Friends has enough property so that each dog-building has their own hiking path, which means dogs who see each other on the walks know one another a bit and are less likely to act out. This means the dogs--healthy, young, ebullient dogs--know exactly where they are going, heading away from the building as if the path is paved in Snausages. I tried to get a movie of our walk but it's hard to get decent footage when someone about knee-height is concerned you've missed the INCREDIBLE CACTUS TEN FEET IN FRONT OF US PLEASE GET A MOVE ON.

Here's the path. Yes, this part of Utah looks remarkably like someone moved to Mars and did a bit of landscaping.

Daughter and I walked three dogs each, at which point it was time to pick our dog for the sleepover! There are bunnies, cats and dogs who are authorized to go on sleepovers, as long as the place you're staying is so inclined. I had picked our motel for just that reason. Our first pick was Avril, a gorgeous marshmallow of a dog who had been making seductive eyes at the kid all during our shift and came highly recommended by the employees in that building. The trainer for this building let us hang out with Avril while he pulled her paperwork for the sleepover. Avril was kind enough to me, allowing me to pet her and make a big deal about her spotted tummy, but her heart was clearly taken by Daughter. She inched closer and closer to the girl, finally putting her paw in Daughter's hand:

They stared at each other, delighted. The trainer came back, rubbing his head.

"How old are you?" he asked Daughter.

"Eleven," she said, furrowing her brow. No one ever seems to care about her age until they are going to deny her something.

"I'm sorry, but Avril is only authorized to have sleepovers with children over twelve."

Avril and the kid both stared at him, Avril inching further into her lap.

"It's just that she was taken from a really bad abuse case, which involved a child. She's obviously better, but she still hasn't been officially cleared for younger people."

I braced myself for the sulk we'd all now be enjoying. Instead, Daughter gently slid Avril off her lap, whispered something in her ear, got up and said calmly, "Then let's meet the dogs who can be around me."

We walked out of Averil's pen. I asked her what she had said to Averil.

"I told her I was sorry."

"Sorry for not being able to take her?"

"Yeah. Sorry for all of it."

"Me, too."

Avril stood in her outdoor run and watched us go.

LESSON EIGHT: You're never fully ready for houseguests.

We were placed with Poppy, a lively and bouncy young dog who was incandescently joyful that someone was snapping on her leash and grabbing her overnight bag. Very bouncy, in fact; owing to having had distemper as a puppy, she has neurological damage, which means she spends most of her life as if she's standing on couch-springs. A more polite houseguest I couldn't have asked for: she enjoyed the walk we took; she enjoyed sitting with us watching us eat on the Mexican restaurant patio; she enjoyed the car trip back to the motel.

Ten minutes after arriving at the hotel, she was this relaxed:

And a half-hour after this, she was this relaxed:

It's hard to get a picture of a black dog in shadows, but trust me, she was the embodiment of a curled up, relaxed dog. I had every reason to suspect we'd have a quiet night.
There are several points to Best Friend sleepovers. If you're thinking about getting a pet, you can see if you and the dog are the right fit. You can give an animal a night of undivided attention, which most animals revel in. Or you can give Best Friends valuable information about the animal you have sleeping over. For example, say you've been given a dog with a neurological condition that makes her bounce and the trainer from Best Friends tells you she doesn't do it while she sleeps. After a single night of sharing a bed with her, you could tell the trainer that, in fact, she does twitch while she sleeps. That, in fact, sleeping next to her is like sleeping next to someone with hiccups. Daughter proved that, as an adult, she will be able to rent apartments situated under The El by sleeping soundly the entire night, even with Poppy next to her. I, on the other side of Poppy, enjoyed up to four minutes of sleep at a time. In the morning, I dragged myself up to Best Friends, waved Poppy a numbed farewell, stopped by the main offices and told them we wouldn't be working that morning, headed back down to the room and slept until noon. Daughter told me afterwards that while I slept she watched Sponge Bob Square Pants for three solid hours, which I am going to declare a continuation of our animal adventure.
NEXT: More.

Monday, April 02, 2012

And Every Handout in Every Town (Part Two)

The first night we were in Kanab, I had to dash outside into the  freezing darkness to get something from the car. Sprinting back in, I noticed something and slowed down. Then, I stopped. And then, I ran in to get Daughter.

“Put on your shoes,” I ordered, “you’ve got to see this.”

“But,” she whined, “I’m warm and exhausted.”

I fixed her with a hard look.

“Put on shoes.”

I dragged her outside. She shivered and looked at me expectantly. I silently pointed upwards at the sky, at the stars. She looked up. When you’re from a big metropolitan area light-pollution emitting place such as Los Angeles, you could accurately describe the night sky as “The faded navy blue place with the moon.” If you’re observant, you might see a star or two a week. For the past month, we’ve had two planets up there and that was stylish. This sky mocked any attempt at counting; were there a thousand celestial sequins or were there a thousand in just that corner over there? It was light enough to read print. If living in Los Angeles means looking around at all the stuff you want and believing you’re just one contract away from being the most important person in the world, living in Kanab must mean occasionally looking up at all the stuff that is and realizing you’re not important at all. Looking at these stars was some version of freefalling. We reveled in it all. After a couple of minutes, Daughter said, “This is very cool, but I can’t feel my earlobes any more.”

Existential perspective gave way to warm earlobes. We went inside and turned in.

We drove on to the Best Friends sanctuary the next morning for our training and learned another lesson:

LESSON THREE: Best Friends isn’t playing.

If you have an appointment for the 9:00 tour, do not arrive at 9:06 and expect them to still be getting people on the bus. I’m usually pathologically punctual, but when we went to the front office at the motel to grab some breakfast, Daughter got trapped in the gravitational pull of Foo’s charm.

Our official training began at 11, so we spent the time walking around gazing at the rescued horses frolicking in the fields, the rescued pigs strutting around self-importantly, the rescued goats angling for my jacket as I leaned against the fence. As much as I liked them, they couldn’t have my jacket, as I needed it, as it was still wobbling around freezing. Daughter entertained herself by jumping on frozen grass on and listening to it crunch. The manager of our motel had told us the weather was expected to reach eighty degrees by the end of the week. “That’s springtime in Kanab for you,” she said, shrugging.

LESSON FOUR: Kanab isn’t playing, either.

At 11, we trained and got our schedule. Every morning, from 8:15- 11:30, we’d work in one area, then we’d have lunch, and then we’d work in another area from 1:15-4:00. Because the kid isn’t twelve yet, we were put in rabbits, cats and dogs. Some day, my daughter will throw a complete adolescent fit in public and I’ll cut her slack because of the fit she didn’t throw at Best Friends when she learned she couldn’t work with the horses. Trying to convince her that rabbits, our first stop, are very much like tiny horses did remarkably little to lighten her mood. Perhaps food would help.

Small note about the cafeteria; the food is fine. Vegetable things, pasta things, some fruit. If you go, you will not notice what you’re eating because this is the view:

Pasta salad really doesn’t stand up against a glimpse of The World Before Man.

And then, rabbits! And, of course, antihistamines, because while I’m a bit allergic to some dogs and somewhat allergic to most cats, I’m wildly allergic to rabbits and hay. My protocol for the trip was Benadryl at night, Claritin during the day, and an inhaler tucked deeply into my back pocket at all times. That the rabbits have runs which are half indoors and half outdoors—thereby providing me with precious gulps of air not woven with allergens—made it all the more tolerable. I was positively sanguine, watching Daughter brush and hand-feed specially selected rabbits, trudging up and down the hillside to the far rabbit yurts, doling out cilantro and lettuce to worthy rabbits. I saw wild turkeys strutting around. I basked in the silence, as exotic and infinite as the starry sky the night before. Daughter had forgiven the universe for the lack of horses and was angling to adopt at least six of her new friends. I had done the right thing, bringing us here.

Five minutes before the end of our shift, I reflexively tapped my inhaler-pocket. Then, I tapped it again, and followed that with tapping the other pocket. Several pocket-taps later, I finally admitted I had lost my inhaler. I retraced my steps from yurt to yurt, then in the yurts, to no avail. Somewhere in the cilantro-doling and lettuce-strewing, I had dropped my inhaler and it was nowhere to be found. This didn’t bode well for the week. We finished our shift and drove back to the motel in silence.

LESSON FIVE: Small towns can be challenging.

I made a quick call to my ENT doctor in LA from the room; I could have a local pharmacy call them and it could be replaced! Now, to find a pharmacy in a town with two stoplights. Surprisingly, there were two, but both were closed for the night and wouldn’t be open again until after we were supposed to be working the next day. I chose not to think about this for the moment and find us some dinner. Yelp and the motel manager both recommended a nearby Mexican restaurant. I like the manager and I don’t want to sound like a snobby LA person, so I’ll keep my comments positive. The salsa was pretty good. What else can I say that’s positive? Oh, here’s one. Until that night, I was almost positive you couldn’t screw up rice and beans. There are five restaurants in town and this was the most lauded; something told me we’d be here again. I stared moodily at my food and pined for my inhaler. The nearest town large enough to support a 24-hour pharmacy was an hour and a half away. This is what living in a small town means. Daughter alternately read her book and noted how little room a rabbit would take up in the car, were we to bring one back from Kanab.

We got back to the motel; the manager was at the front desk. Daughter fell upon Foo,

who seemed thrilled about this. She asked how our first day had been. I raved about the good stuff and mentioned my lack of inhaler. The manager clucked her tongue sympathetically, grabbed the phone and said “Let me call Clyde.”


“The pharmacist.”

“Don’t worry about it,” I protested, “Besides, the pharmacy closed at five.”

“I’m calling him at home. He lives right around the corner. He can go back and set you right up.”

LESSON SIX: Small towns can be wonderful.

Come to think of it, the salsa was actually great.