Anna Quindlen

Stories by Anna Quindlen

  • One Day, Now Broken In Two

    September 11 is my eldest child's birthday. When he drove cross-country this spring and got pulled over for pushing the pedal on a couple of stretches of monotonous highway, two cops in two different states said more or less the same thing as they looked down at his license: aw, man, you were really born on 9-11? Maybe it was coincidence, but in both cases he got a warning instead of a ticket.Who are we now? A people who manage to get by with the help of the everyday, the ordinary, the mundane, the old familiar life muting the terror of the new reality. The day approaching will always be bifurcated for me: part September 11, the anniversary of one of the happiest days of my life, and part 9-11, the day America's mind reeled, its spine stiffened and its heart broke.That is how the country is now, split in two. The American people used their own simple routines to muffle the horror they felt looking at that indelible loop of tape--the plane, the flames, the plane, the fire, the...
  • In Search Of A Grown-Up

    A good defense attorney uses what he's got, and what David Westerfield's attorney had was what is euphemistically called "lifestyle." Much of the evidence didn't look good for Westerfield as he stood trial in San Diego for the murder of a 7-year-old girl. Experts testified that little Danielle van Dam's fingerprints and hair were found in the RV he took into the desert the weekend she disappeared and that her blood was found on a jacket he brought to the dry cleaner first thing Monday morning.So Westerfield's lawyer tried to counter that forensics mess with another sort of mess, the messy lifestyle of Danielle's mom and dad. It was a little difficult to keep it all straight, but it seems as if Damon van Dam had had sex, in the presence of assorted spouses, with both of the women with whom his wife, Brenda, went out drinking on the night that their little girl went missing. That night the women had smoked marijuana in a garage fitted with a special lock intended to keep the kids from...
  • Danke Schoen, Mr. Las Vegas

    In their heart of hearts, most writers would welcome being plagiarized. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then wholesale theft is genuflection. Deep inside, I hoped someday someone would covet my work enough to steal it.I just never imagined it would be Wayne Newton.Actually, I'm going to refuse to use the P word here. I prefer to think of what happened as a tribute, although that's not how the Las Vegas Review-Journal put it when its editors were caught in one of those was-our-face-red moments. "Several paragraphs of concepts and identical phrasing." That's what the clarification regarding Wayne's column said.I know. You're thinking to yourself: Wow! Wayne is a writer, too? The man appearing nightly at the eponymous Wayne Newton Theater at the Stardust Hotel and Casino, the guy who put the head in headliner? Actually, no. But Wayne is a Samaritan, and when columnist Norm Clarke was on medical leave Wayne was one of the local celebrities who filled in on Norm's column,...
  • And Now For A Hot Flash

    Want to clear a crowded room? Try starting a discussion about menopause. I know; I did it several times before I got the message to sit down and shut up. Or, as one friend finally leaned in at lunch to say, sotto voce, "Just take the Premarin." Now the whole world knows that that mantra simply will not do. Since the news broke of a government study showing that hormone-replacement therapy does more harm than good, there's been discussion aplenty. Will those women who took hormones find other remedies? Will they stick with the combination of estrogen and progestin that the women in a federal test were urged to abandon? Will they sell their stock in Wyeth, the drug company whose shares tumbled on the news that its biggest-selling product might cause breast cancer, heart attack and strokes?But if the discussion merely concerns menopause and hormones, it will have been a huge missed opportunity. Instead this is the ideal time to confront the issue of one-size-fits-all health care, which...
  • Indivisible? Wanna Bet?

    Every year somebody or other finds a way to show that American kids are ignorant of history. The complaint isn't that they don't know the broad strokes, the rationale the South gave for keeping slaves, the ideas behind the New Deal. It's always dates and names, the game-show questions that ask what year the Civil War began and who ordered the bombing of Hiroshima, the stuff of the stand-up history bee. But if American adults want to give American kids a hard time about their dim knowledge of the past and how it's reflected in the present, they might first become reasonable role models on the subject. And the modeling could begin with the members of Congress, who with few exceptions went a little nuts when an appeals court in California ruled that the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance was unconstitutional.I don't really know whether that is an impermissible breach of the firewall between church and state. The proper boundaries 'twixt secular and sacred have been argued...
  • Staring Across A Great Divide

    In the 1970s the president of Haverford College became a totem for those who believed there was a schism between one America and another. John Coleman was a labor economist who took a sabbatical, not just to write a book but to live a life, or several of them. He dug ditches and picked up garbage, worked on a drilling rig and mined marble. When he later wound up in New York City running a foundation, he joined the auxiliary police force, worked as an emergency medical technician and one winter lived on the streets for 10 days to imagine, albeit briefly, the lives of the homeless.The Coleman experiment, in which one man tried, in his own words, "to walk in other people's shoes," resonates as the administration considers welfare reform. Emboldened by the success of the 1996 measure, which led to a sharp decline in the welfare rolls, Washington politicians want to act again, forcing states to further decrease the number of those entitled to benefits. They are emboldened, too, by the...
  • Doing Nothing Is Something

    Summer is coming soon. I can feel it in the softening of the air, but I can see it, too, in the textbooks on my children's desks. The number of uncut pages at the back grows smaller and smaller. The loose-leaf is ragged at the edges, the binder plastic ripped at the corners. An old remembered glee rises inside me. Summer is coming. Uniform skirts in mothballs. Pencils with their points left broken. Open windows. Day trips to the beach. Pickup games. Hanging out.How boring it was.Of course, it was the making of me, as a human being and a writer. Downtime is where we become ourselves, looking into the middle distance, kicking at the curb, lying on the grass or sitting on the stoop and staring at the tedious blue of the summer sky. I don't believe you can write poetry, or compose music, or become an actor without downtime, and plenty of it, a hiatus that passes for boredom but is really the quiet moving of the wheels inside that fuel creativity.And that, to me, is one of the saddest...
  • From Coffee Cup To Court

    Here is a story that tells you why DNA evidence is the greatest advance in crime and punishment since the invention of the jury: A teenage girl is raped in Harlem, and the police know they've got their guy. He'd just been released from jail for a sex crime in--get this--the same area in which the girl was raped. He'd been seen in the neighborhood just before the rape; just after, too, in different clothes. And he'd been picked out of a lineup."I think any number of people in my office could have gotten a conviction," says Linda Fairstein, who until recently ran the sex-crimes unit in the Manhattan district attorney's office. "A conviction for a crime he didn't commit."That's right; the right guy was the wrong guy. A comparison of his DNA with that taken from semen the rapist left behind showed that he hadn't done the crime. But the DNA did link that rape to another, and then to the unsolved rape-murders of three teenage girls in East Harlem. And when the cops became suspicious of a...
  • Horrors! Girls With Gavels!

    Not long ago I spoke at a meeting sponsored by a company's women's networking group. Like most other American corporations, this one had a lot of women in entry-level jobs, a fair number of women in middle management and a few women in the top ranks, in a pyramid configuration that has become commonplace.Commonplace, too, was the response of the majority males at the top to this particular evening event. It rankled, this meeting, closed to them in the same way the ranks of management had once been closed to their distaff counterparts. It rankled, even for one night. Apparently none of them saw it as a learning experience, the possibility of imagining for just a few hours what it had been like to be female for many, many years.This immediately called to mind Take Our Daughters to Work Day, which comes around again at the end of this month in what is its 10th anniversary. It's amazing how the event has become an institution in only a decade, with thousands of companies and millions of...
  • Patent Leather, Impure Thoughts

    In the middle of last month Cardinal Edward Egan, who leads the Archdiocese of New York, lamented that the Roman Catholic church was "under siege" and threatened with a situation that might put it "out of business."Each day brought new revelations of pedophile priests, each morning new stories of young Catholics victimized by the men they had been raised to call Father. But the cardinal was sounding the alarm about something altogether different. In the midst of the greatest scandal to engulf the church in his lifetime, he was irate about legislation that would require mandatory health-insurance coverage for contraceptives in New York state. His anger brought to mind the Gospel of the Sunday before, in which Jesus gave a blind man back his sight while one of the Pharisees criticized him because he had performed the miracle on the Sabbath.Missing the point has become the stock in trade of many of those who purport to lead the world's Catholics. And they are about to miss it again as...
  • THE AXIS OF RE-ELECTION

    When the president first used the phrase "axis of evil" in the State of the Union address, it smelled of the speechwriter. That's OK; many of the most memorable oratorical flourishes of the last century were crafted by writers but ascribed to their political masters. But as the weeks have passed, the repeated use of the term to describe Iran, Iraq and North Korea has begun to stink of spin. That's par for the course, too; political speeches usually have political aims. But this is the wrong time and this is the wrong issue on which to use fighting words for political gain.When George W. Bush first linked the three nations in the rhetorical red flag that was the centerpiece of his speech, he bewildered some of those within the foreign-policy community and threw a few of America's allies into an overnight swivet. The alarm bells rang so shrilly that at one juncture on his recent Asian trip the president was obliged to say that he had no intention of invading North Korea. Using the...
  • A Conspiracy Of Notebooks

    Linda Lay suffered from bad timing as well as bad judgment. Who thought it would be a good idea for the wife of the former chairman of Enron to poor-mouth before a national TV audience that probably included hundreds who had lost their savings in the company's spectacular crash-and-burn bankruptcy? Who thought it would be a good idea for her to talk about "fighting for liquidity" amid reports of her husband's decision to divest himself of millions of dollars in Enron stock while encouraging employees to hang in there as their retirement plans lost most of their value? In the annals of damaging damage control, Lay's performance ranks right up there with Richard Nixon's "I am not a crook." ...
  • In A Peaceful Frame Of Mind

    It was the part about reading that got to me. by the time Joan and Chester Nimitz Jr. had decided to die together, their laundry list of physical losses was nearly as long as their rich and fruitful lives. Chester Nimitz, 86, a retired admiral and CEO and the son of the Pacific fleet commander in World War II, was suffering from congestive heart failure, constant back pain and stomach problems so severe that he'd lost 30 pounds. His wife, 89, who had gone to dental school in her native England but stayed at home to raise their three daughters, kept breaking bones because of osteoporosis and needed round-the-clock care. Once she went blind, she could no longer read. ...
  • Lights, Camera, Justice For All

    In recent months cable television has carried the trials of two doctors from Massachusetts, both accused of killing their wives, both convicted. In the course of testimony it emerged that one spent his free time trolling the Internet looking for partners for group sex; the other was a cross-dresser who favored garish cocktail wear and a big-hair black wig that made him look like an unsuccessful country-Western singer. Had the cases not been televised by Court TV, they would surely have been snapped up by Ricki Lake.This may seem an odd way to begin an argument in favor of more widespread use of cameras in the courtroom. After all, cases like these two are exactly what opponents predicted: that rather than focus on the fine points of law, televised trials would mimic the worst sort of television. The old objections have fallen away, the ones about intrusive equipment and privacy protection defeated by new technology, those about intimidated witnesses and skewed outcomes negated by...
  • Weren't We All So Young Then?

    Nightfall is as dramatic as the city itself in the days surrounding the winter solstice. The gray comes down fast, pearl to iron to charcoal in a matter of minutes, muting the hard edges of the buildings until in the end they seem to disappear, to be replaced by floating rectangles of lantern yellow and silvered white. In the space of an hour the city turns from edge to glow, steel to light.Because of this effect it is possible, at least when the moon is on the wane, to stand on Greenwich north of Canal and imagine that in the darkness to the south stand the Twin Towers of the Trade Center. It is just that someone has forgotten to put the lights on, leaving the two giants to brood invisible in the night.In the daylight the illusion vanishes. At the familiar corner of Park Place and Greenwich it was the utter blankness, the blue sky and scudding clouds above acres of jagged, flattened debris, that stunned me as I stood for the first time amid the cops, the construction workers and...
  • The Terrorists Here At Home

    Letters filled with white powder and anthrax warnings in insistent capitals. Constant bomb scares and the ever-present sensation of something worse to come. And a single-minded cadre of men who believe that their religious convictions justify violence, destruction and the murder of those whose choices they abhor.That's what the people who work in family-planning clinics have been living with for years and years.What most citizens of this country felt this fall is what those who are involved in reproductive services, some of them at facilities that have never performed a single abortion, have lived with a long time. Last week the immediate enemy was a wacko named Clayton Lee Waagner, who was busted at a Kinko's in Ohio after doing time on the FBI's Most Wanted list for sending faux anthrax to hundreds of clinics. Waagner had allegedly told Neal Horsley, who runs an anti-abortion Web site, that he also had plans to kill 42 clinic workers. Horsley quotes him as saying, "If I kill 42...
  • In Memoriam: One Real Pip

    The auctioneers sold all of Maxine Smiley's things. The dry sink, the cherry chest of drawers, the round table with the Lazy Susan that sat on the porch: all of them belong to someone else now. At least the house went to a family, people with children who are going to build something bigger up the hill, where the stream starts. The oil painting of the swamp with that strange yellow electrical-storm light is now over the sideboard in our dining room. Someone else bid for me. I'll never enter that house again.One woman of 86, who said matter-of-factly last Christmas, her husband and her sisters and all her friends gone, "I'm ready." Buried on Sept. 10, on the last everyday morning of the rest of our lives. Terrorists marked the end of an era, but for me an era had already ended when I realized she would never again tell me she liked my hair better the other way. Why were the pews filled with middle-aged women, their faces crumpled and wet as the tissues in their fists? She seemed as...
  • Uncle Sam And Aunt Samantha

    One out of every five new recruits in the United States military is female. The Marines gave the Combat Action Ribbon for service in the Persian Gulf to 23 women. Two female soldiers were killed in the bombing of the USS Cole.The Selective Service registers for the draft all male citizens between the ages of 18 and 25.What's wrong with this picture?As Americans read and realize that the lives of most women in this country are as different from those of Afghan women as a Cunard cruise is from maximum-security lockdown, there has nonetheless been little attention paid to one persistent gender inequity in U.S. public policy. An astonishing anachronism, really: while women are represented today in virtually all fields, including the armed forces, only men are required to register for the military draft that would be used in the event of a national-security crisis.Since the nation is as close to such a crisis as it has been in more than 60 years, it's a good moment to consider how the...
  • The Harsh Nurse And Her Lessons

    In the midst of the Monica Lewinsky debacle I ran into a reporter I had known for many years, and greeted him with the usual pleasantries. What he offered in return was something of a cri de coeur. "Every time I write a story, I feel like I ought to take a shower afterwards," he said glumly.At the end of a catastrophically seamy decade for the press in America, a decade that began with Long Dong Silver, Gennifer Flowers and the pathetic posturing self-pity of O. J. Simpson and wound up with Gary Condit's obfuscatory interview with Connie Chung about his sex life, every radio, television, news-magazine and newspaper reporter in this country may well have been ready for a bar of soap. As for the viewers, listeners and readers: well, we all know what you thought of us.Then the pendulum swung back, literally overnight. Stories of Condit's extramarital activities, which had sadly superseded the search for a young woman named Chandra Levy, were left in the dust by the most monumental and...
  • Everything Is Under Control

    So I go over to the school to vote in the New York City primary, and I'm in the booth looking at all the names and the levers and the sign at the top that says information for voters, and it's deja vu all over again. This is where I stood, this is what I did, just after 8 on the morning of Sept. 11. And suddenly I think that if I just stand still, don't flip the levers, don't leave the booth, that time will move backward, the spool rewind. I will come out into the bright sunlight instead of the steady drizzle, and downtown those thousands of people will go about an uneventful day, those hundreds of firefighters get called to a few uneventful fires, those passengers have an uneventful plane trip, those buildings stand until the glitter of the sun on their surfaces turns to the reflection of the stars on their night-black glass.This is what is called a control fantasy.The country that once thought itself so different from the world, the city that once thought itself so different from...
  • Imagining The Hanson Family

    As the wind began to shift northward and the ominous perfume of acrid smoke drifted down to the streets at the other end of the island, as the casualty lists grew longer and the stories of the missing less lined with hope, as the end of the world as we know it entered its postlude, it was the Hansons I fastened on. No telling why, exactly, except perhaps for the way their names appeared on the flight list, with that single number:Peter Hanson, MassachusettsSusan Hanson, MassachusettsChristine Hanson, 2, MassachusettsI could see them clear as the lambent blue sky that seemed to mock the mangled streets of lower Manhattan. I could see them in my imagination, the part of my mind that veered away from the footage of the flames and the endlessly falling. Maybe Christine, 2, had her own backpack to make her feel important going on the airplane. Maybe her parents carried a car seat to keep her safe on takeoff and landing.It seems as though each one of us had something that made us tremble:...
  • Torture Based On Sex Alone

    Rodi Alvarado Pena cleans houses for a living, thinks about her two children in Guatemala and waits. For six years she has been in the United States seeking asylum, watching her case go back and forth in a flurry of dizzying inconsistency. One judge granted her the right to stay in this country; a panel of other judges reversed that decision. The U.S. attorney general herself vacated that ruling and said the case should be decided in light of soon-to-be-released regulations. But administrations changed, the new regulations have not appeared, and Rodi cleans and worries and waits some more.The question of immigration in America is like one of those ill-fated science experiments in school that blow up with a boom. It combines a passive element, the great unyielding bureaucracy of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, with an active one, the hot-button issue of allowing foreigners residency in a land that in theory is welcoming but in practice is hostile. The question of asylum...
  • Hello From The U.S. Of Type A

    George W. Bush and I have been on vacation at the same time, both of us in small towns shimmering in the heat, full of corn fields and, at least in my case, lumbering rodents with powerful suicidal impulses stiffening on the road shoulder. It's a working vacation, and if you don't believe that, just take a look at the bottom of the cellar stairs and that pile of dirty clothes that came home from camp in the duffel bags.The president's vacation is a working vacation, too. He bloodied his finger putting in an hour for Habitat for Humanity, went to New Mexico for the first day of school and gave a nationally televised speech on stem-cell research while the world's biggest flies divebombed the window behind him, distracting the American people. He also had a cheeseburger and onion rings at the Coffee Station, a place near his Texas ranch, with a group of preselected local corn growers. "I'm not sharing with any of you," he told them.This is what the president of the United States is...
  • A Good Girl, A Great Woman

    She seemed to have everything the times demanded, this woman of a certain age toying with her mineral water across a restaurant table. A partnership in a large law firm. An enduring marriage to her college beau. Grown children with promising careers. An apartment in the city, a house in the country, a sense of humor, a sharp mind. In the fashion of women trading recipes, she was asked how she did it, and she replied by way of food. "It was different for women of my generation," she said. "We did it like a cake, layer by layer."Those younger women to whom life has become more like a fruitcake, way too much going on in one big block, have learned to covertly admire the fortitude of women like that one, women who lived one sort of life under the old rules and then managed to re-create themselves and succeed under the new ones. There are examples of the breed in their law firms and college classrooms, among their mothers and their acquaintances. The grande dame of them all was Katharine...
  • In The Name Of The Father

    I grew up in a suburb in which neighborhood was defined by parish, in which the smell of fish sticks filled the air on Friday nights and there were more copies of the Baltimore Catechism than of Webster's dictionary. It was not until I was 8 years old that I discovered that not all the world was Roman Catholic. When John F. Kennedy ran for president, it became clear that many Americans outside of our homogeneous enclave considered our faith strange and suspicious and threatening. It turned out that we were a they.Perhaps this is why it seems so offensive to watch the Bush administration self-consciously pursuing and consulting what it calls "the Catholic vote." Most recently this has been applied to whether the White House will support stem-cell research, which could lead to a cure for any number of serious illnesses. One of the administration's house Catholics quipped not long ago, "In 1960 John Kennedy went from Washington down to Texas to assure Protestant preachers that he would...
  • Playing God On No Sleep

    So a woman walks into a pediatrician's office. She's tired, she's hot and she's been up all night throwing sheets into the washer because the smaller of her two boys has projectile vomiting so severe it looks like a special effect from "The Exorcist." Oh, and she's nauseated, too, because since she already has two kids under the age of 5 it made perfect sense to have another, and she's four months pregnant. In the doctor's waiting room, which sounds like a cross between an orchestra tuning loudly and a 747 taking off, there is a cross-stitched sampler on the wall. It says GOD COULD NOT BE EVERYWHERE SO HE MADE MOTHERS.This is not a joke, and that is not the punch line. Or maybe it is. The woman was me, the sampler real, and the sentiments it evoked were unforgettable: incredulity, disgust and that out-of-body feeling that is the corollary of sleep deprivation and adrenaline rush, with a soupcon of shoulder barf thrown in. I kept reliving this moment, and others like it, as I read...
  • School's Out For Summer

    When the Ad Council convened focus groups not long ago to help prepare a series of public-service announcements on child hunger, there was a fairly unanimous response from the participants about the subject. Not here. Not in America. If there were, we would know about it. We would read about it in the paper, we would see it on the news. And of course we would stop it. In America.Is it any wonder that the slogan the advertising people came up with was "The sooner you believe it, the sooner we can end it"?It's the beginning of summer in America's cement cities, in the deep, hidden valleys of the country and the loop-de-loop sidewalkless streets of the suburbs. For many adults who are really closet kids, this means that their blood hums with a hint of freedom, the old beloved promise of long, aimless days of dirt and sweat and sunshine, T shirts stained with Kool-Aid and flip-flops gray with street grit or backyard dust.But that sort of summer has given way to something more difficult,...
  • So Much For Civics Class

    When the good-old-days crowd get together over coffee in a diner, at the card table at home, one of the things they sometimes bemoan is the end of civics class in school. You remember civics: a kid with no more interest in the tripartite system of government than he has in couture clothes or chamber music gets to memorize the number of people on the Supreme Court, the two parts of Congress and the function of the Electoral College.People my age were probably the last to take civics as a free-standing course, and to learn the Pledge of Allegiance by heart, and this set some of us up for disappointment in later life. In learning about democracy vs. fascism, one-man-one-vote vs. oligarchy, we became idealistic. Unfortunately, civics gave way to politics, with its harsher lessons. And over time we realized that if our children were to study how government works, they would inevitably learn that ideals have become laughable, the people incidental, and democracy has become illusory. Those...
  • The Middle Is The Message

    Robert Pennoyer registered as a Republican in 1946. He is partial to quoting from a bronze medal given to his father to commemorate the centennial of the party, engraved with a quotation from Dwight D. Eisenhower, in whose administration the younger Pennoyer served for six years. "In all those things which deal with people, be liberal, be human," he reads aloud in his New York City law office. "In all those things which deal with the people's money or their economy or their form of government, be conservative." It seems a good way to sum up his political philosophy, and to explain why he just sent out the form that will change his party affiliation, at the age of 76, from Republican to Democrat. "I'm making a clean break," he says. ...
  • Duty? Maybe It's Really Self-Help.

    This courtroom has a disconcerting decorative duality, like a person dressed only from the waist down. The lower half of the cavernous room has glowing wood wainscoting, and the well is set off by a surround of ornamental spindles. But above, the walls are flat and characterless, as though the money ran out, or the interest. Above the bench is the ubiquitous legend in mustardy gilt: IN GOD WE TRUST. The font is slightly off in several of the letters, as though they wore out from sheer exhaustion and had to be imperfectly replaced. ...
  • Leg Waxing And Life Everlasting

    My mother did not exfoliate. In her medicine cabinet she had a big white jar of Pond's cold cream and a big blue jar of Noxzema. That's as much care and feeding as her face ever got. As for my grandmothers, the one with skin like tissue paper and the one with skin like saddle leather: I imagine soap and water did the job. ...