Anna Quindlen

Stories by Anna Quindlen

  • A New Roof On An Old House

    A slate roof is a humbling thing. The one we're putting on the old farmhouse is Pennsylvania blue black, and it's meant to last at least a hundred years. Jeff the roof guy showed us the copper nails he's using to hang it; they're supposed to last just as long. So will the massive beams upon which the slates rest. "Solid as a cannonball," Jeff says. Looking up at the roof taking shape slate by enduring slate, it is difficult not to think about the fact that by the time it needs to be replaced, we will be long gone.In this fast-food, face-lift, no-fault-divorce world of ours, the slate roof feels like the closest we will come to eternity. It, and the three children for whom it is really being laid down.Another Mother's Day has come and gone as the roofers work away in the pale May sun and the gray May rain. It is a silly holiday, and not for all the reasons people mention most, not because it was socially engineered to benefit card shops, florists and those who slake the guilt of...
  • When Private Behavior Isn't

    When Rudy Giuliani was revving up his first successful mayoral run in 1992, his wife called. Not long before, I had trashed her husband's candidacy in print, but Donna Hanover hadn't called to carp. She arranged lunch for the three of us at a nondescript neighborhood Italian restaurant, and after we'd ordered it became apparent why. As husband and wife sat side by side, she would lean in, smiling, and prompt: "Rudy, maybe she would be interested in... tell her your idea for... I know she would like to know about..." It was obvious that she was trying to humanize the guy for public consumption.Last week, after he had announced plans for a legal separation without informing her first, Donna Hanover revealed her husband's human side on a larger scale and with less happy results. For years the couple had rarely appeared in tandem; most people thought they had merely drifted apart in the lackluster fashion of fading marriages. But Hanover stood outside their temporary home at Gracie...
  • The Delirium Of Democracy

    Tuesday is a neglected middle child of a day. The weekend is not in sight; the work week is neither here nor there. "Saturday night is the loneliest night of the week"; "Monday, Monday." There are no songs about Tuesday. Nothing much happens, except that Americans vote.If the body politic had a heart to go with its spleen, you might suspect Tuesday had been chosen for the same reason some of us choose the ugly puppy at the pound or the lopsided pumpkin from the patch. The least memorable, most nondescript, the day of the week that stands along the wall waiting in vain for someone to ask it to dance. There's a theory about why Tuesday was chosen as Election Day in 1845; it was a day when people were likely to take the buggy to town, when farmers came to sell their crops and traders to trade with the temporarily flush farmers.Bye-bye, buggies.In the same way that a school-year schedule organized around harvests and farm chores no longer makes much sense, elections built around farmer...
  • The Sins Of The Fathers

    One thing is certain: they would never have dared do this to a mother. The sad saga of Elian Gonazalez, a small boy turned into a political soap opera by people of dueling opinions who profess his best interests, has been full of double standards. But one of the most obvious is this: had it been the child's father who had taken him in a rickety boat across the broad swath of ocean between Cuba and Florida, had the child's sole surviving parent been a weeping woman after his father disappeared beneath the surface of the water as the boy floated in an inner tube in shark-infested seas, that woman would not have had to become a frustrated supplicant, pressed into begging for the right to her own son.But like most modern fathers Juan Miguel Gonazalez has been covertly considered a second-string parent. He maintained good relations with Elian's mother, even when they were not together; he provided a home for the boy at least as often as she did. Yet he was forced to wait and explain and...
  • The Drug That Pretends It Isn't

    Spring break in Jamaica, and the patios of the waterfront bars are so packed that it seems the crowds of students must go tumbling into the aquamarine sea, still clutching their glasses. Even at the airport one drunken young man with a peeling nose argues with a flight attendant about whether he can bring his Red Stripe, kept cold in an insulated sleeve, aboard the plane heading home.The giggle about Jamaica for American visitors has always been the availability of ganja; half the T shirts in the souvenir shops have slogans about smoking grass. But the students thronging the streets of Montego Bay seem more comfortable with their habitual drug of choice: alcohol.Whoops! Sorry! Not supposed to call alcohol a drug. Some of the people who lead anti-drug organizations don't like it because they fear it dilutes the message about the "real" drugs, heroin, cocaine and marijuana. Parents are offended by it; as they try to figure out which vodka bottle came from their party and which from...
  • The Reasonable Woman Standard

    This may sound strange coming from a life-long feminist, but I've had it with Women's History Month. It's hard for me to believe that Betty Friedan wrote "The Feminine Mystique," protesters trashed the Miss America Pageant and countless women hazarded class-action suits so that each March fourth graders could learn fun facts about Eleanor Roosevelt. Sometimes it seems to me the event is just a sad symbol of how little change we were willing to settle for. A month? We ought to get most of the year.Sure, I get the point: I made it through girlhood without ever hearing of Sojourner Truth or Marie Curie, and I am willing to acknowledge progress. Nearly half the medical students in the country are female. So is the secretary of state. Girls play ice hockey in the Olympics. No one blinks at the sight of a woman cop. Fewer parents believe that their sons should check out colleges and their daughters check out catering halls. Rapes are reported, even prosecuted. Everything has changed since...
  • The Problem Of The Color Line

    Here's a riddle: why was the internationally known Princeton professor stopped for driving too slowly on a street where the speed limit was 25 miles per hour? How come a Maryland state trooper demanded to search the car of a lawyer who graduated from Harvard? And why were an accomplished actor, a Columbia administrator, a graduate student and a merchandiser for Donna Karan arrested together in New York although none of them had done anything wrong?The answer is elementary: all of the men were black. In some twisted sense, they were the lucky ones. They were only humiliated. Not, like Rodney King, beaten bloody. Not, like Abner Louima, sodomized with a broken broomstick. Not, like Amadou Diallo, killed in a gray blizzard of bullets.The verdict is in. The jury has spoken. The death of Diallo, a hardworking African immigrant, was adjudged a terrible accident, not murder, not manslaughter. Louima's assailant is in jail. Two of the officers who beat King went to prison. There have been...
  • We're Off To See The Wizard

    The dilemma of the modern American voter is dramatized in the 1939 film in which a lion, a scarecrow, a tin man and Judy Garland follow a yellow brick road. They seek a wizard, great and powerful, who can provide courage, heart, mind and home to the wanderers. Only he can't, because he is just an ordinary man, with ordinary abilities and flaws, hiding behind larger-than-life pyrotechnics until the moment when a little dog reveals the trick and the wizard thunders, "Pay no attention to the man behind that curtain!"This year's winner of the Wizard of Oz sweepstakes is Sen. John McCain, who in the course of the last few months has managed to convince voters that he is many things that he is not: a moderate, a centrist, perhaps even a closet liberal, a maverick who is working outside the system for a new kind of American politics, a populist Emerald City.In fact the senator is a cookie-cutter conservative who has opposed abortion rights and gun control, affirmative-action legislation...
  • A Bit Of Advice: Don't Go There!

    Dear Hillary,Love the hair. Like the house. All the best. Think you're nuts. Not nuts to move to New York, of course, which I consider the center of the universe (although you overshot the epicenter, the corner of 57th and Fifth, where I've asked that my ashes be scattered someday). But to move to New York to run for the United States Senate? What can you be thinking, to think so small?Perhaps you're in a time warp, Hillary, like the furniture they unloaded at the new Chappaqua house that had been in storage for years while you lived in government housing. (Get thee behind me, Danish modern!) Sometimes it seems you've frozen in the aspic of your marriage, a.k.a. The Long Enchantment. You were pretty audacious pre-Bill, when you got up on that podium at your 1969 Wellesley commencement, the first student speaker in the history of the school, and ad-libbed the line "The challenge now is to practice politics as the art of making what appears to be impossible possible."Oh, I know. In...
  • Ignore Them Off The Field

    By the time you read this, John Rocker could well be volunteering at an AIDS hospice, or signing baseballs at a prison, or shaking hands with little kids at a shelter for battered women. Expiation through public relations: that's the ticket in the modern mediacentric world. Of course everyone will understand that the left-handed pitcher with the incredible slider, the volcanic temper and the foul mouth will be going through the motions; as Rhett once said to Scarlett in Atlanta, the city where Rocker plays, not sorry he did it, just sorry he got caught.The words that got him into this mess, the words he spoke to a Sports Illustrated reporter as he zoomed through traffic, stopping to hawk a lugie at a tollbooth and rail against the ineptitude of Asian women drivers, had the ring of truth that only spontaneity and bedrock bigotry have: complaining about riding the subway with "some queer with AIDS," saying that he doesn't like New York because of the foreigners. "How the hell did they...
  • No Privilege For Parents

    The Supreme Court was preparing to extend the evidentiary doctor-patient privilege to social workers practicing psychotherapy, and Justice Antonin Scalia was, as usual, dissenting. "Ask the average citizen: would your mental health be more significantly impaired by preventing you from seeing a psychotherapist, or by preventing you from getting advice from your mom," he wrote. "I have little doubt what the answer would be. Yet there is no mother-child privilege."And there, in that last sentence, lies a tale of public ignorance, judicial conservatism and legislative stalemate, a tale that would do well to end where we just began: in the halls of the country's highest court.The law, as Mr. Bumble so pithily observed in "Oliver Twist," is a ass. The absence of the N in that sentence is glaring, but not so glaring as the absence of the privilege Scalia mentioned in his opinion. While the United States counts as commonplace privilege between attorney and client, priest and penitent,...
  • Now It's Time For Generation Next

    History is most often written in terms of inventions and events, revolutions and revolutionary ideas. But it is always essentially the story of people. The New Deal. The new technology. Cubism. Communism. These are tales of individuals, of Roosevelt and Gates, Picasso and Castro. Biography is destiny, often for the entire world. Had Hitler been a better painter--ah, it is a conundrum for the ages.And so I can predict with what I believe is considerable accuracy this about the century to come. It will be remarkable because its history will be shaped, and written, too, by a group of what promises to be remarkable human beings. The millennials, demographers have named them, born between 1977 and 1994, 70 million strong, the biggest bump in our national line graph since their parents, the baby boomers. These are our children; for my money they are a great bunch. My three are simply better than I was at their age. They are more interesting, more confident, less hidebound and uptight,...
  • The Inalienable Right To Whine

    Call me a cockeyed optimist, but I think it's time to retire the chicken. You remember the chicken. It showed up most conspicuously in the 1992 presidential campaign, when a couple of Clinton guys in a bar decided to rent a chicken suit and trail George Bush the elder around, complaining that he was afraid to debate. Unfortunately, the elder actually engaged the chicken itself in heated colloquy while on the stump, and many fowl puns ensued in the press. The decision by his opponents to introduce a "pander bear" into the menagerie to harass Clinton didn't catch on in the same fashion.The chicken, however, has always been good for a sound bite, in New Hampshire and Ohio Senate races, in the contest for a Florida House seat. The chicken even crossed the pond. After John Major's supporters sent a chicken to heckle Tony Blair, the Blair camp sent some folks in fox costumes, and a rhinoceros turned up to complain, justly, that the level of debate had gone to the dogs.At home and abroad...
  • The C Word In The Hallways

    The saddest phrase I've read in a long time is this one: psychological autopsy. That's what the doctors call it when a kid kills himself and they go back over the plowed ground of his short life, and discover all the hidden markers that led to the rope, the blade, the gun.There's a plague on all our houses, and since it doesn't announce itself with lumps or spots or protest marches, it has gone unremarked in the quiet suburbs and busy cities where it has been laying waste. The number of suicides and homicides committed by teenagers, most often young men, has exploded in the last three decades, until it has become commonplace to have black-bordered photographs in yearbooks and murder suspects with acne problems. And everyone searches for reasons, and scapegoats, and solutions, most often punitive. Yet one solution continues to elude us, and that is ending the ignorance about mental health, and moving it from the margins of care and into the mainstream where it belongs. As surely as...
  • Journalism 101: Human Nature

    A funny thing happened to me on the way to this column. I endorsed a presidential candidate. For those of you who have spent months looking at the television screen over a slice of pizza and saying, "I don't care if Kevin Costner is the Reform Party candidate, I'm voting for George W.," this may not seem remarkable. But in the journalistic profession it is not at all the done thing, even among opinion columnists. Careful readers may see this as vainglorious. If a list of a dozen columnists were to be drawn up and a four-part grid laid out next to it, not unlike one of those "what do your color choices say about you?" quizzes in lifestyle magazines, many could effortlessly drop the pundit into the appropriate box: liberal, conservative, Republican, Democrat. Except for Dave Barry, who I suppose is the Jesse Ventura of columnists.But reporters and editors and even opinion columnists are expected, according to the mostly unwritten rules, to be on the outside looking in, to reflect...
  • The Widows And The Wounded

    In the beginning of this year a Gallup poll asked Americans about the three most important issues facing the country. As has happened so often in the past, guns were scarcely mentioned. But by the time the same question was asked in May, the halls of Columbine High School had become a shooting gallery, and suddenly the laundry list of national ills had changed dramatically. The availability of guns trumped race relations; school violence was mentioned twice as often as Social Security. War and peace abroad was barely a blip on the screen compared with gun control at home. And perhaps, in some small way, that poll marked a moment when the American people began to wake up and smell the cordite.Gun laws are an interesting issue in the never-ending civic debate that is this nation, because there is hardly any true debate about them at all. Polls have long shown that the majority of the American people--even the majority of gun owners--support government efforts to make sure guns are...
  • Sound And Fury, Signifying Zip

    The Brooklyn Museum is closed on Tuesdays. So said the guard at the door. No wonder there were no lines, no protesters, no one handing out airsickness bags and copies of the Hail Mary. Some rather conventional cannas in the forecourt waved in a faint breeze, but otherwise the front entrance was still. Standing on the sidewalk seemed oddly apt. Why sully strong opinions by actually seeing the art that evoked them?Oh, for pity's sake, here we go again. The trial of the director of the Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati (Mapplethorpe photographs) begat the imbroglio over performances of "Corpus Christi" (McNally play) begat the current Sturm und Drang about the work of the British artists that's being shown in Brooklyn, particularly the work of the artist of African descent who ornamented a black Virgin Mary with elephant dung. "Sensation," the show is called, but the overwhelming sensation is deja vu all over again. The same polemics, the same slogans by folks who proudly say that...