Anna Quindlen

Stories by Anna Quindlen

  • 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. ...
  • A New Look, An Old Battle

    Public personification has always been the struggle on both sides of the abortion battle lines. That is why the people outside clinics on Saturday mornings carry signs with photographs of infants rather than of zygotes, why they wear lapel pins fashioned in the image of tiny feet and shout, "Don't kill your baby," rather than, more accurately, "Don't destroy your embryo." Those who support the legal right to an abortion have always been somewhat at a loss in the face of all this. From time to time women have come forward to speak about their decision to have an abortion, but when they are prominent, it seems a bit like grandstanding, and when they are not, it seems a terrible invasion of privacy when privacy is the point in the first place. Easier to marshal the act of presumptive ventriloquism practiced by the opponents, pretending to speak for those unborn unknown to them by circumstance or story. ...
  • The Problem Of The Megaschool

    My high school graduating class had 175 students. Last year the same school had 420 seniors. This bit of biographical data comes to you by way of Charles Andrew Williams. He's the latest teenager to become a national bogeyman after being charged with killing classmates in the school corridors, supplanting for the moment the two boys who committed murder and then suicide at Columbine High. I am willing to wager there will be others. ...
  • Our Tired, Our Poor, Our Kids

    Six people live here, in a room the size of the master bedroom in a modest suburban house. Trundles, bunk beds, dressers side by side stacked with toys, clothes, boxes, in tidy claustrophobic clutter. One woman, five children. The baby was born in a shelter. The older kids can't wait to get out of this one. Everyone gets up at 6 a.m., the little ones to go to day care, the others to school. Their mother goes out to look for an apartment when she's not going to drug-treatment meetings. "For what they pay for me to stay in a shelter I could have lived in the Hamptons," Sharanda says. ...
  • Watching The World Go By

    Never watched "Survivor." never will. what's the point? I've eaten bugs inadvertently myself, dozing in the hammock by the pond on a muggy summer evening. And anyone who wants to watch two petty rival factions go at one another can just wander between the purchasing and accounting departments of any company. Add up the physical challenges and the head games, and the whole thing sounds like nothing more than gym class meets sophomore mixer, no scarier than high school. (Although in the last analysis, nothing is scarier than high school.) I don't scare easily. I've lived through a kitchen renovation in an old house with uneven floorboards, and Donald Trump is building a skyscraper at the end of my block. Here on Temptation Island, where multimillionaire divorce lawyers roam free, survivors are those who pass the co-op board.People named Kimmi and Colby and Amber (who chooses the participants, the writers for "One Life to Live"?) balancing on rafts, living on cow brains, turning brown...
  • Building Blocks For Every Kid

    When my children were newborns and I was spending most of my time watching television while nursing, I saw a program with pediatrician extraordinaire T. Berry Brazelton in which he repeatedly stuck out his tongue at an infant on camera. The point of the exercise was that the infant responded to the doctor in kind. My own children did the same. I stuck out my tongue, they stuck out their tongues. The conclusion was inescapable: babies are nowhere near as stupid as they look.Since then scientific research has compellingly reinforced this notion. Children, it turns out, begin learning at an astonishingly early age, even in those months when they appear to be doing little more than poking themselves in the eye. Toddlers are constantly seeking out new stimulus and information, their brains working away at a rate that is to an adult mind what a race car is to a lawn tractor. What kids learn between infancy and the time they begin kindergarten is, most scientists believe, the bedrock for...
  • SINGING PRAISE TO THE CRAZED

    To lead a national advocacy organization requires a robust constitution and a thick skin. Long hours, hate mail, public opprobrium: it all comes with the job. At best, your work is referred to as "narrow special interests." At worst, in the words of one TV huff-and-puff, you're "crazed militants." And just when the players in Washington have become known quantities, the minuet of democracy begins, and there are new faces and new agendas.This is the situation in which the advocates for a variety of social causes--women's rights, gun control, legal abortion, affirmative action, abolishing the death penalty and the like--find themselves today. The new president stands in opposition to many of the positions they hold dear. But they have been here before, and they know how to deal.Their victories over the past 25 years have been so incrementally successful that most Americans scarcely even notice unless they take the long view. Many of the ideals of equality that prompted the creation of...
  • Happy Leader, Happy Nation

    Beneath the military blue tent that the Big Apple Circus pitches each holiday season in New York City labors a man named Serge Percelly, who juggles tennis racquets. Like other feats that seem both hugely difficult and absolutely pointless--contortionism, for example, or Steven Seagal movies--the first response to this one is "why?" But skepticism withers in the face, not of Mr. Percelly's skill, which is considerable, but of his affect, which is incandescent and irresistible. Two racquets spin, three, four, five, and the curve of the paddle is echoed in the arc of his delighted grin. There is nothing so grand in all the world as watching a person who loves what he does do it.Which brings us to George W. Bush.Some transition, huh? Which is probably what the Republicans are saying right about now.But here's my theory: that the nation is happiest when its leader is obviously happy in his work. Oh, I know happiness has gone out of style, replaced by empowerment and self-esteem. But...
  • Election 2000: The Final Exam

    Well, kids, it's sure been a wild ride in the middle schools of America these last few weeks. One moment you're studying the Rough Riders or the Tories or the ways in which the cotton gin shaped the economy of the Southern states, and the next--bam!--you're drawing maps of the contested counties of Florida and trying to figure out which court gets to do what. It's all because this presidential election is what we adults like to call a "teachable moment," which means the stuff in the lesson plan is getting old and the faculty will glom onto any new material. (They tried to do it with the impeachment process, but there was the cigar, and the dress, and the phone sex, and you just knew that the parents who went to the school board about Harry Potter were not going to dig that one little bit!)I know, I know: it was bad enough during the campaign, having to watch the debates with your family and listen to your mom complain about how much bronzer some bozo had put on Al Gore while your...
  • The End Of The Janus Presidency

    As electoral events unfolded in Florida he may have felt like the most overlooked man on earth. And yet his essence is always with us. Why did the either/or of this suspended-animation contest feel oddly familiar? Perhaps because it came at the tail end of a presidency that has always been characterized by dueling dichotomies: the Janus presidency, two-faced like the ancient deity. The idealistic Clinton, and the calculating one. The Clinton who elevated women, and the one who pursued them. The Clinton who stood fast on abortion, and the one who caved on gays in the military. The Clinton who was eloquent, and the Clinton who was deceitful. William Jefferson Clinton, and just plain Bill. What a pair.Now the most careless, gifted, infuriating, empathetic, polarizing, political president in recent memory finds himself with one last chance to follow the better angels of his nature, since, for the first time in his adult life, he does not have to tailor his actions to suit the voters....
  • The Longest Election Day

    Early morning in the dining room of an elementary school, its tile walls hung with cardboard cutouts of pumpkins and Pilgrims, its air so inert that the faint suggestion of a thousand tuna sandwiches seems to float in the atmosphere like the ghosts of lunches past. The lines are long, the poll workers slow and the New York City Board of Elections, legendary for being a Bermuda Triangle into which all salient information disappears forever, does not disappoint: next to my name it says that there is no signature on file, that I must vote by affidavit. Not for me the majesty of the closed curtain and the metal lever; instead there is a flimsy piece of paper like a standardized test, with the printed warning that if I make a mark where it does not belong my franchise vanishes--poof!--my vote void, my claim to the democratic process nullified. Once filled in, the affidavit is added to an untidy pile gathering on the seat of a chair. I wonder if it will ever get to where it is supposed to...
  • The Best Of The Supremes

    Ruth Bader Ginsburg has not shared her cookie recipe with the readers of Good Housekeeping. Anthony Kennedy has yet to appear on the cover of People magazine. David Souter has not gone late night to trade laughs with Letterman.Maybe that is why, in this infotainment age, Americans seem to know so little about what is arguably the most powerful branch of government. Maybe it is why the most important issue of this presidential race is still in half shadow, second fiddle to prescription-drug plans and the future of Social Security.Actually, the Supreme Court is not a single issue in this campaign. It is every issue. Its nine members have passed judgment on affirmative action, gun control, abortion, tobacco marketing, environmental protection, school prayer and capital punishment. Its proudest history is a history of daring the unpopular to benefit the unrepresented. No politician demanded the integration of the nation's schools; the court did, in Brown v. Board of Education. No...
  • Welcome To 'Animal House

    The student occupation of buildings at Columbia University in 1968 remains the zenith or the nadir of all campus protests, depending on your politics. Richard Nixon (he was on the nadir side) warned in its wake that it was "the first major skirmish in a revolutionary struggle to seize the universities of the country."If Mr. Nixon were alive today, perhaps he would be surprised to learn that the revolutionary struggle is now in defense of beer, basketball and bad behavior.College students have settled in to campuses across America, with their backpacks, their laptops and their some-assembly- required bookshelves, and as certain as carbohydrates in the food-service menu, sooner or later there will be keening about how the poor kids are awash in a welter of political correctness. "Menstruation and Medea: Fear of the Female in the Classics," or "From the Slave Cabins to the Recording Studio: Black in a White Economy"--it's so easy to lampoon the lament that campus life is infused with...
  • The Right To Be Ordinary

    At last official count nearly 500 gay and lesbian couples had been united in civil unions this summer in Vermont. There were flowers, champagne, brides and brides, grooms and grooms. The sky did not fall. The earth did not split in two. Happy families and happy friends watched happy people pledge their love. Big deal. Ho-hum. Yawn.It's hard sometimes to put your finger on the tipping point of tolerance. It's not usually the Thurgood Marshalls and the Sally Rides, the big headlines and the major stories. It's in the small incremental ways the world stops seeing differences as threatening. It's in the woman at the next desk, the guy behind the counter at the deli. And it's finally happening for gay men and lesbians. They're becoming ordinary. It's not that Ellen DeGeneres and Anne Heche came out and came together; it's that when they broke up they were treated like Meg Ryan and Dennis Quaid.Sometimes the advances seem at first like setbacks. The Supreme Court decision that the Boy...
  • Nader And The Push For Purity

    When they were building that overexposed bridge to the 21st century, Al Gore and Bill Clinton left the liberals behind. The old guard was resurrected for one night at the Democratic convention, waving from the left bank. Teddy's hair has grown white and his waistline thick in the service of his country. Jesse's voice is more gravelly, his gestures less grandiose. And Mario, perhaps the greatest political orator of our lifetime, was reduced to opining for the benefit of the television audience at home. For unreconstructed liberal voters, they are like Cher: no last name necessary, but yesterday's news nonetheless.Out of the left-wing wilderness has emerged a presidential candidate who has long been one of its heroes. A modern monk who looks like Lincoln and lives like Gandhi, Ralph Nader has in his lifetime as a consumer activist helped change the face of America, his influence felt in everything from seat belts and air bags to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration and...
  • It's The Cult Of Personality

    Brokaw and Bush, two guys just standing around talking. Shirtsleeves. Sunshine. Fence posts. Cameras. You get the idea. The candidate was hunkered down at the ranch, going mano a mano for a couple of endless, empty minutes with the anchorman. The governor showed off his Yiddish--"kibitzing" was how he described what he was doing with his father, the former president--but the seminal moment was in fluent good-ole-boy. "I know you are a pretty good fisherman," Bush said to Brokaw, who was angling for the name of the as yet unknown vice-presidential nominee. "Yes, you are, and I ain't catching."Take a good look at that verb, fellow voters, and consider what the meaning of "ain't" ain't. It ain't good English, of course, and it ain't necessarily an entirely natural locution for a graduate of Andover and Yale, even by way of west Texas. What it is is a marker for the most important issue of this election. Relaxed, a little irreverent, down-home: that "ain't" is supposed to communicate a...
  • Smoke Gets In Your Eyes

    Imagine that millions of Americans are addicted to a lethal drug. Imagine that the Food and Drug Administration has repeatedly ducked its responsibility by refusing to regulate that drug. And imagine that when the FDA finally does its duty, an appeals court decides that it cannot do so, that the drug is so dangerous that if the FDA regulated it, it would have to be banned.Welcome to the topsy-turvy world of tobacco, where nothing much makes sense except the vast profits, where tobacco company executives slip-slide along the continuum from aggrieved innocence to heartfelt regret without breaking a sweat, and where the only people who seem to be able to shoot straight are the jurors who decide the ubiquitous lawsuits.The most recent panel to do the right thing handed down a judgment of $145 billion on behalf of sick smokers in the state of Florida, the largest jury damage award in history. Lawyers for the tobacco companies thundered that the award would bankrupt them, yet the stock...
  • Sexual Assault, Film At Eleven

    This time we got to see it. And seeing it was not pretty, at least unless you were as twisted as the men captured on the videotapes. They were on the hunt in Central Park, and their prey was women, women crying, women screaming, women with their arms crossed over their denuded chests so they would not be as exposed as they felt. They were the prey, but it was the men who behaved like animals.Exactly how many women were sexually abused by a mob in the wake of the annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in New York City is still unsure; at last count it was around 50. But some of the amateur videotapes examined by prosecutors show women groped and stripped and molested who have not yet come forward. Some of those who have been questioned have testified to "digital penetration," a clinical term that makes your skin crawl and your stomach roil. "Get them!" the men shouted as they chased their victims down the park pathways and surrounded them with a ring of inexorable hands. "Get the bitches!...
  • The Call From The Governor

    The miasma of sexual detritus that has swirled around Bill Clinton as though he were some grown-up variant of the "Peanuts" character Pig Pen began in earnest on the national stage in January 1992. That was when the supermarket tabloid Star introduced the electorate to Gennifer Flowers. Her tale of good loving gone bad eventually spawned a Penthouse pictorial, a lackluster career as a lounge singer, the first wave of tasteless Clinton jokes and a public discussion of what was known as the character issue.But at the same time that Ms. Flowers's story of a 12-year affair appeared at the checkout counter, next to the gum and the TicTacs, Mr. Clinton was failing a test of character infinitely more important and exacting. While everyone still remembers Gennifer with a "G," there is collective amnesia about Rickey Ray Rector, whose notoriety peaked at about the same time, but less spectacularly.Rickey Ray Rector killed a police officer, then literally blew his own brains out. The surgery...