Anna Quindlen

Stories by Anna Quindlen

  • Uncle Sam Wants You?

    Some news events have a way of concentrating the mind. There's reading about three sisters serving in Iraq, about the death of one and the agony of the surviving two, who must decide whether to return home for good. There's seeing photographs of flag-draped coffins loaded onto military transport planes, images the administration wanted to keep from public view. And there's talking about the draft, which may eventually make manifest the fact that support for military action is a mile wide and an inch deep.Sen. Chuck Hagel, a member of the Foreign Relations Committee, raised the conscription issue most recently, discussing how strapped the regular Army is. Though Hagel stopped short of calling for a reinstitution of the draft, he did talk about the inequities of the current system, in which so many of America's soldiers are poor kids trying to move up a rung on the ladder of employment. Or, as a group called the Radical Teen Cheerleaders, political Bettys who combine splits and social...
  • THE GREAT OBLIGATION

    In 1981 I interviewed a couple named Stanley and Julie Patz. Perhaps the last name rings a bell. Twenty-five years ago, their 6-year-old son, Etan, left his family's lower Manhattan loft for the schoolbus stop two blocks away and vanished. This was before pictures on milk cartons, or Amber Alerts, or even the National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, which Etan's disappearance helped create. Stan Patz is a photographer, and a picture he had taken of his son, bright eyes, long bangs, became iconic overnight. Etan Patz: the most famous missing child since the Lindbergh baby."We're not interested in publicity anymore," Stan Patz said when I called.He didn't remember the story I had done; I've never forgotten it. The couple's loss, their need, their grief, made me feel that I had to lift the level of my game to meet the level of their bereavement. This was impossible, but I was moved to try.I have often thought about the effect the Patzes had on me as some reporters have...
  • THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM

    Sometimes the big jets fly so low over the Hudson that you'd swear if you squinted hard you could see the profiles of the passengers sitting in the window seats. I'm not the only one who follows their path across the sky, who turns at the sound of fire engines, who sniffs when smoke is in the air.Some memories get written deep into your DNA, so that responding to them is an inescapable physical act. The plane flies on without the sound of an explosion. The fire engines are only going to a car fire on Eleventh Avenue. The smoke is only from the engine burning. It is a spring day in 2004, not September 11, 2001.But the mind does not forget.Except, of course, in our nation's capital, where the aftermath of that time--the united purpose, the patriotism, the thirst for solace and for truth--evaporated quicker than you can say "two-party system." For two days last week in Washington, the nation revisited the terrorist attacks, and for a short time, within one hearing room, the smoke of...
  • HOWARD DEAN: THE UNNADER?

    Thank you, Howard Dean. You were the right guy at the right time running for the wrong office. It wasn't just those ill-conceived comments that did you in, or even the parade-of-states scream in Iowa, that overplayed sound bite of a man who clearly had been running on adrenaline for far too long. It was more that there was about you the aura of a man who had wandered onstage at a play without knowing his part. The least surprising postmortem comment I read about your candidacy was in a Washington Post story. You were quoted as telling a colleague early on, "The problem is, I'm now afraid I might win."As befits a physician, you brought this race to life. You galvanized the most disengaged group of voters in the country. Since 1972, when the voting age was lowered to 18, the rate of participation among the young has dropped steadily. The interesting thing is that this is the same generation that has so surpassed its elders in volunteer work. Only four in 10 bothered to vote in 2000, a...
  • THE GHOSTS OF ELECTIONS PAST

    On New Year's Eve we have long played a parlor game called Desert Island: Which book would you take if you could take only one? Which movie, which CD? In a self-serving move--because you never know what al dente idea will stick to the wall of columnizing--I asked our guests this year which Democratic presidential candidate they would take with them. I won't be specific about the outcome, but I can say the response to the current field was so unenthusiastic that two people plumped for a Clinton draft--one Hillary, one Bill.These were not apathetic voters; we were on the West Side of Manhattan, where people look at politics the way a python looks at mice. And many were members of a hard-core group I think of as the ABBAs; their mantra is "anyone but Bush again." But even they were finding the race so far dispiriting, a diffuse collection of possibles who were not quite coming into focus as definites, or even probables.The good news, for those currently so dissatisfied, is that this is...
  • FLOWN AWAY, LEFT BEHIND

    I was something of an accidental mother. I don't mean that in the old traditional whoops! way; it's just that while I barreled through my 20s convinced that having a baby would be like carrying a really large and inconvenient tote bag that I could never put down, I awoke one day at 30 and, in what now seems an astonishingly glib leap of faith, decided I wanted that tote bag in the very worst way. It was as though my ovaries had taken possession of my brain. Less than a year later an infant had taken possession of everything else. My brain no longer worked terribly well, especially when I added to that baby another less than two years later, and a third fairly soon after that.That was 20 years ago. You do the math. The first one went to China to polish his Mandarin. The second left for college in the fall. I still have a chick in the nest, and what a chick she is, but increasingly it feels like an aerie too large for its occupants. Recently I told her we were going to be doing...
  • Do As I Say, Not As I Do

    One of the more harrowing moments in the movie version of "Angels in America" comes when an ill Roy Cohn is disputing his doctor's diagnosis. Cohn was a right-wing Republican wheeler-dealer, former Joe McCarthy henchman and, in Tony Kushner's Pulitzer Prize-winning play, so damned for his part in the anti-communist excesses of half a century ago that he is haunted by the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg. He was also a closeted gay man who died of AIDS.But when his doctor tells him that's what's making him sick, he refutes him with a soliloquy about the nature of influence. AIDS, he says, is an illness of homosexuals, and homosexuals are powerless. He, on the other hand, can get the president on the phone whenever he wants. Ipso facto, he does not have AIDS. With a maniacal glint in his eyes he concludes, "I have liver cancer!"Shading or trading the true facts of your life in exchange for power and influence is a recurring leitmotif in the relentless self-invention of America. It even has...
  • Peace On Earth Good Will.Com

    One of the biggest growth industries in America appears to be the storage facility. We've all seen them sprawling along the overpass or tucked into the back of an industrial park, long, low buildings divided within into locked cubicles. Hollywood suggests that these are being used by serial killers to store their homicidal trophies away from prying eyes, but in real life they are just places to put stuff. Stuff that's gone out of style, stuff that's outgrown the garage, stuff you don't want anymore but that your kids might want later. Instead of the catchy hyphenated names that most of these places have, they should all have a single phrase over the entrance: TOO MUCH STUFF.Or, as a so-called clutter consultant once said, "Our homes have become landfills."I've become a bit of a crank about the hyperconsumerism of the American holiday season, and I get into high gear as soon as December looms. (In late November I am hopelessly focused on the belief that any nation that builds its...
  • A New Kind Of Poverty

    Winter flits in and out of New York City in the late fall, hitching a ride on the wind that whips the Hudson River. One cold morning not long ago, just as day was breaking, six men began to shift beneath their blankets under a stone arch up a rise from the water. In the shadow of the newest castle-in-the-air skyscraper midwifed by the Baron Trump, they gathered their possessions. An hour later they had vanished, an urban mirage.There's a new kind of homelessness in the city, and a new kind of hunger, and a new kind of need and humiliation, but it has managed to stay as invisible as those sleepers were by sunup. "What we're seeing are many more working families on the brink of eviction," says Mary Brosnahan, who runs the Coalition for the Homeless. "They fall behind on the rent, and that's it, they're on the street." Adds Julia Erickson, the executive director of City Harvest, which distributes food to soup kitchens and food pantries, "Look at the Rescue Mission on Lafayette Street....
  • Not A Womb In The House

    Sometimes the pictures do tell the story. There was a raft of wire-service photographs of invited guests saluting the president as he signed a bill banning a late-abortion procedure. Scarcely a working uterus in sight, not a person who could become pregnant and be tortured and overwhelmed by the future. Orrin, Rick, Jerry, Tommy, John: the functional equivalent of signing a bill affecting black Americans amid self-congratulatory white guys. Did no one notice the essential disconnect of having a bunch of gray-haired men passing judgment on the bodily functions of a nation's young women? Or was it just too tough to get female leaders to show up for the celebration?I am so tired of abortion. Discussions of it are the most meretricious in modern public policy. Even as the president was vowing to sign a bill that would outlaw a procedure that accounts for a handful of the terminations in America, he was opining that the country was not yet ready to make abortion illegal. He was using one...
  • Don't Touch That Remote

    I wouldn't say I watch a lot of television. I watch "Law & Order," natch, and "Law & Order: SVU" and "Law & Order: Criminal Intent," and "Law & Order: Trading Spaces" and "Law & Order With Brian Williams" and "Law & Order With Regis and Kelly." I watched "The Osbournes" until I realized that everyone else had stopped watching it, and why--if I want to see a dog have an accident, I can do it here at home, and with better-looking dogs--and I watched "Newlyweds" with Jessica (Mensa) Simpson until I realized that it was causing that really bad taste I had in my mouth each morning.But even I couldn't help noticing that some of the television running during the playoffs and the World Series was about as bad as television can be.I channel-surfed only when my husband went to the kitchen for snack foods or when Alfonso Soriano was at bat and we knew nothing was going to happen. But soon I didn't even bother. I watched insurance-company advertisements and really...
  • Still Needing The F Word

    Let's use the f word here. People say it's inappropriate, offensive, that it puts people off. But it seems to me it's the best way to begin, when it's simultaneously devalued and invaluable.Feminist. Feminist, feminist, feminist.Conventional wisdom has it that we've moved on to a postfeminist era, which is meant to suggest that the issues have been settled, the inequities addressed, and all is right with the world. And then suddenly from out of the South like Hurricane Everywoman, a level '03 storm, comes something like the new study on the status of women at Duke University, and the notion that we're post-anything seems absurd. Time to use the F word again, no matter how uncomfortable people may find it.Fem-i-nism n. 1. Belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes.That wasn't so hard, was it? Certainly not as hard as being a female undergraduate at Duke, where apparently the operative ruling principle is something described as "effortless perfection," in which...
  • Free Pass For The President

    The most underplayed story of the past month was the one about the events of September 11 and Saddam Hussein. There is no direct link between the two. This despite the fact that George W. Bush and the members of his administration have labored tirelessly to suggest one ever since they decided to invade Iraq. This despite the fact that they've been spectacularly successful at convincing American citizens of this fiction: more than two out of three believe the Iraqi leader was personally responsible for the terrorist attacks. "No evidence," the president finally was forced to admit publicly, that this was so.The Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune ran this extraordinary exercise in backpedaling on page one, where it belonged, but most other major papers buried it inside. The New York Times gave the story barely 300 words on page A22. The New York Post didn't mention it at all, perhaps because it happened soon after it turned out the link between Jennifer Lopez and Ben Affleck...
  • We Are Here For Andrea

    A motley collection of items have wound up on the bulletin board in the past year. There was a list of phone numbers for one kid's college, and now there is a list of phone numbers for another's. There are slips of paper with quotes from Margaret Mead and Hugo Black. There is the requisite fortune-cookie fortune: your words will have a hypnotic effect on others. There's a picture of the three kids together at Christmas and a postcard of a bulldog and an invitation to a book party I already attended and the instructions to the automatic outdoor light on the terrace and some business cards of people I will probably never call.And then there's Andrea Haberman. When I was a kid the nuns used to give us holy cards for special accomplishments, Saint Therese with her beauty-queen bunch of roses, Saint Andrew with his X-shaped cross. Andrea Haberman is my holy card now. Her face stares out into my office every day, a small laminated photograph that looks as if it was taken in a park, with...
  • The Object Of The Outrage

    In the ways that seem to matter to her, the world is remarkably unchanged since Kathy Boudin essentially left it in 1970. There is still a chasm between rich and poor, white and black. Environmental concerns have a habit of giving way to the profit motive. The state of California is in thrall to an actor of marginal talents, and a Republican administration in Washington is devoted to self-perpetuation. There is even a nasty little quagmire of a war, one that many believe was ill conceived from the very beginning. Once again the government of the United States is determined to destroy the village in order to save it, whether the villagers like it or not. Cue the echo chamber.But the world into which Boudin will emerge, after a decade underground and two more in prison, is changed in one important way, at least as far as her crimes are concerned. In the years she has been away the American people have been treated, over and over again, to political frustration expressed through...
  • A Shock To The System

    Whenever you run into a bear out here in the country, someone will invariably ask if it was big. I never really know how to answer. All bears appear large to me, even the cubs. Something about the slope of the forehead, the glint of the eyes, the teeth and the claws. I don't take the time to assess relative size because I am so agog at the sheer bearness of the thing. Unlike Harrison Ford, a bear is not a creature you peer at in passing, thinking, 'Is that really ... ?' It has a certain unmistakability.The bears have become yet another species on the list of inconvenient animals in this part of America, right up there with the trash-picker possums and, of course, those loathsome shrubbery eaters, the deer. My favorite bear anecdote was the animal accused of getting physical after a man had proffered a bagel to get the bear to stick around for a photograph. The bear wanted more. What I want is an answer to this question: who gives a 250-pound wild animal baked goods?The way in which...
  • Outside The Bright Lines

    The most dispiriting moment in Jenny Boylan's book is when she realizes that talking like a girl means sounding uncertain about your own name, like this: "Hello? I'm Jenny Boylan?"The funniest moment is when her doctor tells her that gay men and lesbians don't really have much in common with transsexuals. "Yeah," Boylan replies, "except for the fact that we get beaten up by the same people."And one of the most telling moments in the book is when she goes to the credit union to have the name on her account changed from James Finney Boylan to Jennifer Finney Boylan. "You were named James?" the manager asks."I used to be a boy. Now I'm female. I had my name changed," Boylan tells the manager."Huh," she replies. "Okay, well this is simple enough. We'll just change your name in the data field here."Boylan's new book, "She's Not There," is a very funny memoir of growing up confused and a very smart consideration of what it means to be a woman. (Yeah, hormones make a difference.) It's also...
  • Why Even Try The Imitation?

    I'm inclined to like rich people who give their money away, who endow the wings of hospitals, keep museums afloat and make it possible for philharmonics to play on. So Anita and Sheldon Drobny are my kind of folks. They've written hefty checks to support programs for children, the arts and Jewish philanthropies. And they've also announced that they would provide a whopping $10 million for something else: an attempt to develop programming to counter the rightward tilt of talk radio.Mr. and Mrs. Drobny, I salute you, you're wonderful, save your money. And I say that from the bottom of my liberal little heart.In the internecine warfare between the poles of politics, poles that the vast majority of Americans eschew, the question of whether the media are dominated by left or right has become the reigning parlor game. The Drobnys, along with a lot of other well-connected liberals, have been appalled by the tsunami of high-profile conservative commentators out there. The obvious answer was...
  • Justice Rip Van Winkle

    Bless the federal judiciary. Sure, its members are not perfect--way too many white guys to be truly representative, for one thing--but in this system we call checks and balances, appointed judges with life tenure seem to be all that stands between American citizens and sycophantic leadership. Sandwiched between the legislative, poised for the next election cycle and watching the voters the way a cat watches a mouse hole, and the executive, poised for the next election cycle and watching the voters the way a spider watches an ant, the members of the judicial branch have emerged as the last group watching the Constitution. Frequently right, often thoughtful, even apolitical.With some notable exceptions.As its last hurrah of this latest term, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down a decision that was hugely revolutionary when it ought to have been largely unremarkable. The majority of justices decided that private sexual conduct between consenting adults is not the business of the...
  • The Bottom Line: Bogus

    Public libraries have become the new poster children for governmental impecunity. Pick a town, any town, and the library, that great nexus of egalitarian self-improvement, is currently in trouble. Oakland, Calif. Swanson, Neb. York, Maine. Richland, Pa. Closings. Layoffs. Shortened hours. Canceled programs. Matters had gotten so bad in the outposts of borrowed books that the reference librarian in Franklin, Mass., which a sign identifies as home of the first public library, asked a reporter, perhaps only half kidding, how much the sign might fetch on eBay.Yet at a meeting of the American Library Association, members were shown a letter from Laura Bush, a former librarian herself, assuring them that her husband's budget would include a substantial increase for library funds. What the First Lady didn't say was that the increase was yet another aspect of a kind of Washington legerdemain that can be summed up in a single word: bogus.Bogus is the name of the game, and not just in...
  • Say Goodbye To The Virago

    Hillary. Now that I have your attention, here's the inside scoop on the book, from someone who hasn't read it yet but knows the subject: she worked hard, she did well, she had doubts, she made mistakes, she didn't know, she found out, she freaked out, she went on, she worked hard, she did well.Yep, it's the story of Everywoman. And once again the former First Lady, the junior senator from New York, the uber-author, the lightning rod, will be held to account for Everywoman's compromises, changing roles and inevitable shortcomings. Not to mention Everyone Else's discomfort with all of the above.In the process the unremarkable will be made astonishing. The wife of a womanizer who didn't know and then forgave! The brilliant helpmate with her own ambitions! The public servant who wanted to make some big bucks from a book! Be still, my heart! Television pundits suggested that this is designed to abet Senator Clinton's push toward the presidency, as though writing a memoir was a nefarious...
  • A Correction: Not A Crisis

    How many civilians can ask the same question about your business before you start to pay attention? In the strange and horrible case of Jayson Blair and The New York Times, the query is ubiquitous. "Isn't everyone overreacting to this a little bit?" one woman said with a puzzled frown at a charity lunch while those around her nodded.The answer is yes.There's no need to recap the story of the reporter and his heinous print rip-offs. The guy was brought along too quickly at the greatest newspaper in the country. He was black and he was a suck-up and, depending on whom you listen to, one or the other or a combination of the two led higher-ups to elevate him way beyond his experience, his ability and his work ethic. He had more corrections on his work at the Times in three years than many reporters have in a lifetime.Depending on whom you listen to, he was either too lazy, too broke or too coked-up to go out on assignment, so he stayed home and piped, as we say in the trade. Nonexistent...
  • Say Farewell To Pin Curls

    This balmy stretch from Easter until the end of school in June always reminds me of my mother messing around with my hair. Too often the kitchen smelled like the wallpaper was being chemically removed because of the fumes from Tonette, the home permanent for little girls. Afterward my head looked perpetually surprised. The thick straight bangs belied the ebullient frizz on either side, so that my face was a window with a flat shade and ruffled cafe curtains. We all had bangs then, so that our hair would not be in our faces, a habitual complaint by the mothers and the nuns. When my hair was in my face my mother referred to me as Veronica Lake.Easter, May procession, class pictures, graduation. Pin curls, braids, ribbons, rollers. There exists not a single photo of significance from my childhood that shows my head as it was in nature. Occasionally the day was warm or wet enough to cause the phony curl to release before the end of the afternoon. This is why I look more or less normal...
  • Tort Reform At Gunpoint

    Under cover of darkness--or a relentless media focus on the Iraqi war, which amounted to the same thing--the House of Representatives recently passed a bill that made a single industry largely immune from lawsuits.That industry is the one that makes and sells guns.If a hospital leaves a sponge in your midsection, you can sue. If a car dealer sells you a clunker it hadn't properly inspected, you can sue. Of course, it may be that your suit will get nowhere. Witness the jurist who threw out the action by parents who argued that fast food made their kids fat, and who did it faster than you can say, "Do you want fries with that?"But judges and juries and responsible litigants will be out of the loop and out of luck if what the National Rifle Association likes to call the "Reckless Lawsuit Pre-emption Legislation" passes the Senate. The people whose loved ones were allegedly shot by the D.C. snipers can forget about holding responsible the gun shop that was the chief enabler. Even though...
  • The Sounds Of Silence

    Last month a United Way chapter in Florida disinvited the actress Susan Sarandon from a fund-raising luncheon at which she'd agreed to speak. This was scarcely surprising. Many charities are happy to use celebrities to attract donors to their events, but they like them to be as decorative and inoffensive as the flower centerpieces. And with war looming, the Oscar-winning actress, who has been outspokenly liberal on a variety of social issues and consistently critical of the invasion of Iraq, must have suddenly seemed akin to a cactus.It was an early salvo in the difficult and painful war here at home. The rules of engagement were clear. If you had early doubts about the use of American power in Iraq, you should sit down and shut up because you might imperil the eventual result. If you continued to have doubts about our foreign policy while the war was ongoing, you should sit down and shut up because you were giving aid and comfort to the enemy.And, trust me, if you still have doubts...
  • Not So Safe Back Home

    When the news broke that the rape of female cadets had become nearly as commonplace at the Air Force Academy as midterms or maneuvers, it came as a shock to most Americans accustomed to thinking of the service colleges as bastions of the very best.But for those familiar with sexual assault in the military, and the role of women in the armed forces, the horrifying stories had an inevitable tinge of same-old same-old. And the administration reaction, of distress and the determination to make things right, had the scent of both hyperbole and hypocrisy.There are surely those who think that this moment, with soldiers in the Iraqi desert and an internationally unpopular war being waged by the United States, may not be the best time to talk about the institutionalized prejudice in the nation's fighting forces.But it is exactly the right time.In times of peace the powers that be may conveniently forget how many women there now are on the battlefield, how hard they work and how well they...
  • Some Strange Spring Break

    Weirder than anything you've seen on "Cops," scarier than the Sci Fi Channel, more changes of plans than "Trading Spaces," more Francophobe comments than "National Lampoon's European Vacation": welcome to Spring Break '03!Or: how Kissimmee, Fla., suddenly seemed more attractive to those intent on travel than Tuscany.Below, a more or less accurate representation of some of the dialogue on the telephone, in e-mail exchanges, at airports and in family rooms on the subject of the much-beloved midsemester vacation for schoolkids, college students and their parents, this year at a time of particular national peril and tension.(In the event of actual war most or all of what follows is subject to change, as well as subject to hysterical italicized communication among family members.)"As soon as you get to the hostel, find out where the American Consulate is and mark it on your map. Just in case.""Does anyone know how Holland voted on the war resolution in the United Nations?""What about...
  • Waiting, One Hand Behind

    I am waiting for something. I'm not sure exactly what it is until my father calls. He is equal parts exasperated and anguished, a man who reads history voraciously and yet is now flabbergasted by current events. "We don't attack first," he says. "That's a given. A professor of mine once said, 'Democracy fights its battles with one hand tied behind its back.' The nature of a true democracy is that it is never the aggressor."My father's politics are more moderate than my own, although the poles are closer than they were 30 years ago, during Vietnam and Watergate. "You were right about Nixon," he says sometimes to describe the scales falling from his eyes. He is a veteran of the Korean War, a former master sergeant who suffered a skull fracture in a car accident en route to Fort Dix. When he is alarmed by American foreign policy it is worth paying attention, especially because I suspect he is part of a great uneasy silent majority, to use a Nixonian turn of phrase, on the subject of...
  • 'Are You Hot?' Is It Nuclear?

    The morning after the Michael Jackson interview aired in the United States, the Feds raised the terror-alert level to high. The connection is apparent. Only people living in a panic caldron set to simmer could sit through two hours of the faded pop star's insisting on the normalcy of his own weird existence behind a surgically altered mask more stylized and impenetrable than those he makes his children wear in public.What a long strange trip it's been, these past 18 months. After America's sense of security was blown up in its two most important cities, its people became their best selves, or tried to be. Worshipers who had fallen away returned to churches. Comfort foods were back in vogue, potpies and macaroni and cheese. Flag sales tripled at Wal-Mart. Everywhere people vowed to hug harder, call more often, keep in touch, stay home. It was a time when the term "hero" got a workout, and for good reason. And then, almost effortlessly, the nation segued from heroes to bachelors. If...