Quenby Moone, Nonfiction Editor of The Nervous Breakdown, has a piece on her father’s death in TNB Books’ new collection, The Beautiful Anthology.


What is your personal definition of beauty?

Growing up with artists, I learned to look at things critically all the time. Everything is up for review–clothing, landscapes, food. Our house has become one long meditation on beauty which evolves over time. Right now I seem to be obsessed with the beauty of tiny microenvironments, terrariums and aquariums.

QUENBY MOONE is a graphic designer and the author of a memoir, Living in Twilight, which does not concern vampires who dazzle like diamonds when sunlight plays upon their skin.  She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, a musical genius, and their son, whose genius needs no qualification.

She hangs out with rock stars, or used to.  She swears a lot.  In creative ways, dang-nabbit.  When she wants to find the latest in chic couture, she looks no further than MC Hammer.

Despite her ultimate privacy settings, we know the contents of her underwear drawer.

Her brandied cherries didn’t turn out well.  She sometimes takes jokes a bit too far.

She’s written beautifully and lovingly about her late father and his battle with cancer.  We learned about his love of books, and how he introduced his oft-tired teenage daughter to the miracle and wonder of coffee.  And we were there at the end, when she gave him his boarding pass to cross the River Styx.

Oh, and she found out the hard way that the first rule of first grade is, Don’t talk about Nazis.

This has been a bad month for earthquakes. The Pacific is working things out with its tectonic plates in a spectacularly violent fashion, affecting those near and dear to us in dramatic and terrifying ways. Our hearts, usually occupied by the few square miles around our own lives, become pained by the vision of devastation of those we love far away, and we struggle to make sense of the distances between us, our inability to run at a moment’s notice to the aid of the victims.

I have a love-hate relationship with images. I’ve written about them before, in a more personal context. But every massive quake or tsunami or hurricane in the era of the 24-hour news cycle becomes one more opportunity for me to dip into helpless depression, a feeling of impotence. The horror that we all experienced watching September 11 unfold internationally, I still remember with crystal clarity. I also remember the depressive episode afterward, culminating months later with me jumping in a car alone for a road trip, trying desperately to shake the grip of helplessness that had strangled me since September.

Our own Zara is in the middle of the most devastating event of her life, her world having been literally shaken to its foundation. I can only watch with grim respect as she answers her own need for understanding by writing it down and sending it to the rest of us via the wonder of internet connectivity. And in the face of this most recent earthquake, Japan’s northeastern shore being washed away by an unimaginably horrifying wave, I find myself torn in twain.

My son goes to a Japanese immersion school in Portland. Every day, he goes to school and interacts with his Japanese teachers, and a host of interns who, for one year, elect to uproot themselves from Japan to learn how to be teachers in the United States. The interns are woven into the fiber of our school: we have to do fund-raising, an impossible amount of it, every year to bring our interns here, and every year the community rises up to pull us through the financial gap. They live in our houses, they celebrate holidays with us, come to parties with us, share meals and laughs. They become family.

We’re saying good-bye to this year’s Japanese interns tonight at a party thrown for them. They will perform for us, we will give them awards, there will be Taiko drumming.

But I’m not sure it will be so celebratory.

As the first video of Japan was coming in last night, my husband and I watched the tsunami roll in over a tiny town. It was gripping and slow, the first wave having already flooded the area, the surges behind creeping up to continue the brutal work of the leader. The journalist in the helicopter above must have been dazed: every time he turned the camera to the sea, there was wave after wave, lined up like battalions, ready to smash into the already wracked earth below. On live television we watched as entire neighborhoods were washed up into the interior, cars, planes, houses. At that distance one can imagine that these are but toys, but we know with grim certainty that those cars and houses belong to people who are also being washed away.

I fight internally with myself. My need to be informed about these horrifying events, which touch people I know personally, rubs against my knowledge that if I look too deeply at the crisis, I can be thrown into another bout of useless debilitating depression. I’m not being useful if I just fall into the trap of watching the videos roll in with the same regularity as the tsunami surge to shore. I’m only creating that special fragility in my own psyche where the darkness can enter and take hold.

So my heart goes on being pained and open and broken on behalf of the victims, but I willfully turned off the video this morning when I could feel the chinks in my armor start to give way. The video is too visceral, too overt. And I wonder if we, those of us so far away, are actually experiencing shock–misplaced because the horror is not ours.

I understand the need for the images to get out. It makes our world small, and we reach with tiny hands across the breadth of the ocean. We rally our resources to aid strangers, we donate money and send rescue teams, we wish we could do more, but do whatever we can to bridge the space between. But I feel the media fatigue already. I’m turning off the video storm surge, and going to the party for our Japanese interns tonight instead, to ask them what they need, what we can do, maybe just listening to them talk.

I can do nothing else.

I got new glasses. Not just any glasses, either, but the ones which announce the onset of deterioration. The ones that say, “The eyes are tired now; next stop: doddering.” I’m sad about the glasses because I have nice peepers, although my husband says now I’ll just look like a Jewish librarian. Lucky for me, he thinks they’re hot.

When I was in the showroom, the plucky optician said, “You look very ‘Papa Don’t Preach’ today,” a reference to my Frenchie striped top and my cuffed jeans, looking much like Madonna’s outfit while she hopped around singing about the consequences of premarital nookie. I looked down, surprised. She was right! All I needed was my bleached coif from back in the day, and *boom*: high school.

The thing is, I’ve heard the Eighties are back. But I think I’ve been dressing this way since I was in the Eighties. Do jeans ever go out of style? Or am I just not paying attention? I don’t have an Eighties hairstyle, if only because I’m too lazy to do anything that might require “maintenance.” But I wear t-shirts which I suspect look exactly the same as the ones I doffed in high school. My guess is, if you looked through my wardrobe and then looked through many of my Eighties photos, you would see a striking resemblance between then and now.

Fortunately, some things have changed.

My dear friend, with whom I stumbled through the Eighties so long ago, just visited from Manhattan and we did a little post mortem on our fashion choices in high school. “They’re back, can you believe it?” She was referring to the resurgence of Hammer pants, attire neither of us can quite believe has resurfaced in the hallowed halls of fashion. “I tried on a pair for laughs a couple weeks ago, just to check, and it does not work anymore.” She giggled at the thought. “Now it’s all about my ass; they make me look like a blueberry or something.” I vividly understood: having worn them through my last two years of high school with a devotion bordering on zealotry, I remembered how they emphasized the booty into enormo-buns and diminished the lower legs into tiny little flippers. You might be mistaken for a blowfish if not careful.

And because teenagers are compelled to mimic but desperate for originality, we both obeyed the laws of Hammer pants but created signature flourishes to accompany them, our own personal touches that said, “Gosh darnit, I’m original, but not very!”

For me it was the men’s dress coat. I would comb every thrift store in the city looking for sports coats which dwarfed my small frame and gave me David Byrne shoulders, in nice burnt-orange plaids or blood-red shark skin. I would couple my Hammer pants with these old men’s cast-offs and dainty flats. Topped with a jaunty hat, I was one step away from joining a technicolor penguin circus.

I couldn’t understand it, but my best friend was not nearly so enamored of musty sport coats. Her signature Hammer styling was a creation of her own design: socklets.

Rather than wear something as practical as a sock, she revised the “leg warmer” and took socks to their illogical extreme: ankle warmers. How many pairs of socks met their premature demise at the end of her scissors? How many cuffs had she heartlessly rent from her perfectly serviceable socks? If socks bled it would be worthy of Vlad the Impaler.

She had two-inch sock-cuffs for every occasion, tiny little sweat bands mopping the brow of each ankle, each pair matching (or a daring counterpoint to) a different pair of Hammer pants. Because we were best friends I had to copy her, though I don’t think I ever carried it off with the same panache. And if laundry day was light because we were unburdened with whole socks, winters in Colorado with warm ankles but cold feet made them ones I recall as “the season of blue toes.”

“I had a pair of grey Hammer pants that looked exactly like elephant skin,” she recalled. “They were huge, baggy, wrinkled.” Who the hell wants to emulate an elephant in high school? For that matter, who wants to emulate a subway station, which I did with my Hammer pants that sported a whimsical print of subway bricks besmirched with graffiti. With old man coats over subway pants, I must have been a sight to behold. Just add the smell of a urinal puck and some Boone’s Farm and I would be a sensation. Me and my friend “the Elephant Girl,” with the merest hint of socks, an unholy “fashion-don’t” writ large.

Granted, we didn’t just wear Hammer pants, though both of us had at least three pairs. “Do you remember your skirts made out of pillow cases?” she queried. How could I forget? What invention! What inspired creativity! Bed linens? It’s a readymade! Slice open the top, hike it up with a wide leather belt, instant statement! Grandma’s floral prints were instantly repurposed into the newest trend in bed-linen skirt-wear. It bagged at the top where it folded over the belt while the rest was so tight I could hardly walk–but so what? I looked AWESOME! Why, if I paired it with one of my old men sport coats? Genius! The newest Coco Chanel-meets-Grey Gardens was well on her way to the Milan spring collection.

There were army fatigues which I wore with fishnet stockings, but because foot-covering was de trop in any ensemble, I cut them off and made them into fishnet leggings, held in place by rubber bracelets I forced over my feet. The bracelets almost cut off my circulation once I shoved them up my calf, but since we didn’t wear socks anyway, my feet would hardly be missed after their amputation.

“I made a skirt out of my bedroom curtains,” I reflected, a New Wave Scarlett O’Hara, though I didn’t have a Rhett Butler to impress. Plus, unlike Scarlett’s, whose masterful rejuvenation of window treatments almost fooled Rhett into believing she had retained her wealth, my skirt still looked like curtains when I was done: they even had the streaks of sun-bleaching from years in the window.

“I actually tripped over my own crotch,” my friend gasped, wiping tears of joyous disbelief from her eyes. “I was running across the street in my favorite Hammer pants and my foot got caught in the huge amount of fabric hanging down.” It must have been hilarious, but then this same friend caught me showing off in a moment of teenage hubris; I came skidding around a corner on a winter-wet floor whereby I ate shit: one minute I’m giggling through the window, the next I’m gone in a Tom-and-Jerry maneuver flat on my ass. What was I wearing? Hammer pants. Did they hasten my fall? Did my foot also get caught in the billowing clouds of crotch fabric? Who knows? It’s just another piece of our collective Hammer shame.

Ah, youth. I might have an anachronistic fashion sense of one who doesn’t pay much attention but I’m pretty sure that Hammer pants will look as stupid twenty years in the future as they did twenty years in the past. And I’m really glad that people will look that stupid in the present so they can laugh about it later.

In a different life my husband and I were in the dank center of a rock band who had hit it big.

Screwy and the Pin-ups* was at the height of its draw. And we, our friends and us, were all tied to it, either because of professional necessity or friendship, or, in my case, plain old-fashioned matrimony. In this, there were problems. I liked everyone in the band, including the support crew and their spousal so-and-so’s. I knew some better than others. But we were all stuck together by the devil’s pact, and it was a good thing that we liked each other: we were together a lot.

The problem lay in the Svengali who was, for all intents and purposes, running the show. Nominally a band of equals, Sven was the true fulcrum. Unfortunately, he was nuts. But all of us were beholden to Sven because the only way anyone was going to get paid was to stay in his good graces. He was fickle, two-faced, mercurial, paranoid. Dastardly in his willingness to demean his fellow bandmates and employees, sometimes overtly, sometimes not. His underlings were abused mercilessly.

Sven and I had an unusual relationship. He loved my husband with true, heartfelt affection, and my husband dodged the rain of wrath that fell on everyone else. He was often placed in the unenviable position of being the de facto defense attorney for hapless employees as it fell to him to keep the sword of Damocles from falling on heads which didn’t deserve it. He had the golden ticket: while everyone else suffered horribly at the hands of Sven, my husband had a ring-side seat to watch the blood flow onto the mat. He intervened when he could, but he wasn’t abused in the same way.

Sven did not like the wives. None of us womenfolk were particularly welcome, unless we embraced some part of the stereotype: dumb, stacked or young. Preferably all three. I was none of these, nor were most of the other wives. A remarkably savvy, smart, sassy collection of women were married to the male cavalry that filled the ranks of the band’s day-to-day operations, and almost none of them were impressed by Sven.

Sven had complete control over the Screwy operation, except for those dastardly women: he couldn’t control the lives of his cohorts beyond the studio door or band tours. Once everyone went home, they had the nerve to have relationships away from him, honest-to-god conversations, probably about him. They had lives. This was a problem, and Sven went out of his way to drive wedges between his bandmates, employees and their partners. Rumors about spousal untrustworthiness abounded; questioning the integrity of wives and girlfriends was raised to the level of high art. It was so insidious that one band member and his wife moved out of town to get away from Sven.

I was a thorn to Sven because Sven loved my husband. They had been friends for many years before he found himself famous, and Sven appreciated the longevity and consistency of this one relationship that straddled both worlds. But my husband left him no doubt that he would hit the door if Sven cast aspersions upon me. He didn’t need to spell it out for him; it was obvious. So Sven didn’t meddle in our lives the same way he did with everyone else, but it didn’t mean we were chummy.

The problems began when we met. Screwy had just hit the big time, and Sven and his wife took my husband and I out to dinner, to an extremely frufru place I’m pretty sure was choreographed to make us uneasy. He was successful. I felt like I was walking into a special club with potential hazing rituals; will he make me take off my pants, draw “W * W” on my ass, and then drive me by bull whip through the fountain downtown? But before long, one realizes that fame adds nothing new to the table other than weird stares from the table next to you. His wife put me at my ease. Conversation flowed casually after a certain point. Sven invited us to his house, recently purchased with the largesse of the Screwy enormo-hit which had flooded the airwaves.

“I love this rug. I just bought it for ten grand. Look at this piano. A baby grand! I picked it up for thirty. We had these curtains custom made; I don’t remember how much they cost.”

He was drunk with the fact that he had arrived, with his own success. He dragged out every stick of furniture they had bought to fill their new house in a tony neighborhood and attached a price tag. My husband and I took the tour increasingly dazed by Sven’s desire to impress. But in the end, it was just a house.

“It’s six thousand square feet,” Sven boasted.

“Really?” I asked, looking around their living room. “It just doesn’t seem that big.”

He flashed at me with incredulity tinged with outright hostility. He tucked the look away quickly, but we all felt the air pressure in the room drop.

This was the hallmark of our relationship: he bragged, I said whatever came to the top of my head, completely inadvertently offending him. He talked about his specialization in fields both basic and arcane, and in the spirit of debate I would question him about it, putting him on the spot and making him uncomfortable. It turns out, for instance, that he did not actually know much about literature or art. And had he not dragged out his empty closet for me to look in, I wouldn’t have looked. We, none of us, gave one tiny shake of a gnat’s penis if he was an intellectual superhuman masquerading as a pop star or just a normal person. But he was incapable of being at ease with the windfall he had stumbled upon; he needed everyone to be impressed with everything he did all the time.

Like a sore spot in his heel that rubbed wrong no matter what, I was one wife he couldn’t talk smack about without reaping costs too high to bear: the loss of his best friend. I drove him completely crazy.

I was strangely comfortable in that position.

And at some point, he was engaged anew, his marriage to wife #2 having fizzled in completely predictable ways, rife with infidelities and accusations and lies.

He decided to throw a party for his fiancee in Vegas for her 21st birthday.

Let me be clear: none of us were in our early twenties. Many of us had seen the back of our mid-thirties by this point. Sven had crossed the forty-yard line. But he wanted to throw a party for his child-bride, and he arranged to have the entire expense paid for with his impressive collection of air miles. Which is great, if there wasn’t such a forced, bizarre feeling to the whole thing. We liked his fiancee, but didn’t know her at all. And she was from, literally, a different generation. So stacking a hotel in Vegas with all his friends and cronies and calling it a celebration for her was a bit disingenuous. She had only one friend with her, another youngster who was as fresh-faced and bright-eyed as a fawn; we looked like wizened, grumpy ogres circling the sacrificial innocents.

We flew in on Friday night. The Master of Ceremonies and his fiancee went upstairs to change their clothes and left us in the Hard Rock casino to fend for ourselves. Half of us hit the bar, half of us hit the blackjack tables. The couple who moved out of state to avoid Sven hit the jackpot, won a couple hundred bucks on a slot machine and went to bed. Sven and his fiancee never surfaced, and while waiting for them we got drunk and eventually made our way to our rooms to pass out.

Sven liked to make people wait. If you asked me then what fame was about, I might have answered, “Making people wait,” because most of what my husband and everyone else in his operation did was wait for Sven. An entire eighteen-month period in our lives was spent waiting for Sven: to show up to record his album, to show up at the airport, to show up in the casino for a party ostensibly for his fiancee. If people weren’t waiting for Sven, they were rushing because they were late. It was just a little extra perk that came with being a part of “the inner circle.”

God only knows what happened Saturday afternoon. I have a photo of myself that speaks to the volume of my pounding head, so I’m pretty sure that I endured a hangover. But the plan for the evening was for everyone to meet at Nobu for sushi, and then catch one of the multiple Cirque du Soleil shows that have become entrenched in Vegas. Later, because my husband and I had been to Vegas multiple times to visit family, we were to be the tour guides to the seedier side of Vegas, or “True Vegas.”

We aren’t a Vegas Strip couple. The showy entertainment value of the Strip seems like marshmallow fluff covering the true heart of the matter: gambling and getting loaded. Why not just cut to the chase and get down to business? And we were thrilled to know which casino was arguably the worst casino in Vegas and our favorite place to wind up in all the glittering waste: The El Cortez.

So, after embarrassing ourselves by showing up in Nobu dressed the way we always dressed, which is poorly, and being wowed by Chinese contortionists in the Cirque, it was our time to shine. Much of Sven’s party opted to stay on the Strip, mostly to shake him. But a small band of intrepid explorers mounted up: two young girls dressed in miniskirts and halter tops in the chilly desert night, one Svengali dressed in a far-too expensive suit, our friend Uncle Nuthatch, who was one of Sven’s employees and had an even more complicated relationship with him than I did, my husband and myself. Six people in search of the divine seed of seediness.

We started outside The Plaza where things went south immediately. The girls were under-dressed and covered in goose bumps. Unlike the Strip, where women dress like hookers just for the fun of it as they hop from one insulated nightclub experience to the next, here the only people dressed like hookers were hookers and Sven’s two sweet doe-like companions. It was an uncomfortable juxtaposition: girls of radiant youth dressed like hookers walking down the street next to hookers desperately wearing the paint of radiant youth.

Sven wrapped his over-determined jacket around his fiancee’s shoulders; her friend was out of luck. The rest of us slobs didn’t have jackets to share. And the girls looked uneasy; this wasn’t exactly what they had bargained for. This was actually seedy. Downtown was actually full of people who looked like they had been gambling and smoking and drinking for their entire lives. This was not a movie full of quaint, slightly cheesy buffoons who whiled away the hours playing poker and patting the butts of cocktail waitresses, these were real people who had spent their lives in front of one-armed bandits hoping against their last quarter that they were finally, FINALLY going to hit it.

They were a little surprised. And Sven was offended.

The temperature Downtown was not nearly as chilly as the temperature rolling off of Sven. He was turning blue he was so arctic. It was as though we were personally shitting on him, what with all the grittiness and strippers and cigarette butts and stained walls and drunk middle-aged assholes and 99 cent shrimp & botulism cocktails. He seemed to blame us personally for placing this dingy reality there in front of him.

We were stumped. Do we continue this charade of a tour downtown when the tourists themselves were so obviously uninterested, even chagrined? How do we politely suggest that we decamp somewhere else? We needn’t have worried, because I was about to rise to my own personal best in offending Sven.

“Let’s go uptown to hang out with a better class of people,” Sven said, not a whiff of irony in the frigid air.

“They’re not better class, just better dressed,” I noted.

He glowered, “I’m sure the amount of gingivitis is much worse here.”

“Nice paternalistic attitude,” I shot.

“What are you talking about?” He was seething now.

“These people are exactly like the people on the Strip, just poorer.”

He growled, “We’re going back.”

My husband, charmingly and unrealistically trying to salvage the tone of the evening, asked Sven, “Are you sure you don’t want to go to the El Cortez?”

The two lovely girls and the grumpy paternalistic snob piled into the first taxi they could hail, leaving us three bums standing in the middle of downtown.

“Thank god,” said Uncle Nuthatch.

“Now what?” I wondered.

“Go to El Cortez, of course!”

The mighty hand of our oppressor had been lifted, and like children we ran headlong into the face of that which he hated.

We passed through meth dealers and pawn shops, bail bonds, and shady souvenir stands across the small downtown to its dingy entrance, the neon sign on the hotel tower reading “El ‘ortez,” the ‘C’ having blinked out months or years earlier. The smell preceded the casino by several feet, damp tarry smoke greeting us through the sliding doors on our way to partake in the sleaziest gambling options Vegas had to offer.

The El Cortez is the best place to gamble in all of Vegas for a number of reasons. It is where dealers get trained, first and foremost, so the tables are manned by charming novices who can hardly tie their shoes, much less run a poker table. And for this reason, it offers the cheapest buy-in of any casino in town. There are even penny-slot machines which sit on the perimeter of the casino and don’t bother to give you money if you hit. Instead they spit out a receipt which you take to the ancient money changer behind the metal cage and she’ll hand you your fifty-cent winnings while coughing up tubercular germs on your quarters. Which you’ll promptly go spend on the roulette wheel.

Ah, roulette! Nowhere in Vegas could you have such a luxurious night at the wheel for as little as you spent at the El Cortez. Ten dollars kept you in chips all night long if you sat at the dime roulette wheel, which we did, right next to the lifers who only gambled there because their pension checks wouldn’t allow for higher stakes. We loved it! Hit red or black, bet on both. Play ten different numbers at the same time, one dime chip on each. Lose big? You’re down a huge pile of chips but make up for it in the fact that you spent three whole dollars! You’re a high roller if you buy in more than once; tip your waitress a five, you are guaranteed the best service in all of Nevada.

Uncle Nuthatch was in heaven. He sprung for twenty bucks worth of chips and sat at the roulette wheel all night like a king. He didn’t know how to play, and who cares? Pick some numbers, slide some chips here or there, bet against yourself fifty-fifty. When the stakes are that low you can play until you lose or win, and you’ll probably do a lot of both.

He walked to the bar where he was sucking down Seven & Seven’s, set up beforehand by the bartender who had served him enough to anticipate him. They were dinky and watery but only a buck. “Are you playing tonight, sir?” the earnest bartender asked Uncle Nuthatch.

“I’m at the roulette wheel,” he said.

“Drinks are on the house then,” he told him.

Uncle Nuthatch came back to his seat, glowing with his extreme good fortune. “If I lose all this,” he waved his hands over his pile of ten-cent chips, “I’m still ahead!” He had the woozy look of one imbibing ambrosia from Eleusis. “It’s like they’re paying me to drink!”

Around Uncle Nuthatch’s seventeenth cocktail the waitress thought the bartender should consider cutting him off. The bartender sized him up. “No, I think he’s a pro,” he said. Victorious, Uncle Nuthatch ordered another Seven & Seven. Hell, another round for everyone! Have a TWO DOLLAR TIP! I’m feeling benevolent!

In such a heady atmosphere, despite the acrid smell of smoke and disinfectant and the baleful glares of committed but impoverished gamblers, weak cocktails and the dubious skills of the dealers, time slips by as though life is eternal and unchanging. We were pashas and queens in a magical, albeit marginal, palace, all our wants and desires anticipated and surpassed. When your expectations are low and the quality demanded sub-par, you can have the best night of your life with very little effort.

But eventually the dream dissolves. The oasis fades away into the desert heat and your headache begins in earnest. As the sun began to rise, and our devoted bartender got off shift and I lost half of my lung capacity from the smoke of six beautiful hours in the El Cortez, we called our yellow chariot to take us back to the Strip, land of a better class of people.

We lone uptown jerks stood patiently outside, save for one casino biddy, a tiny grizzled harpy who had spent her last nickel and needed a lift back from whence she came. She asked me if we had called a taxi. “Yes,” I told her. “The kiosk is inside,” and she scuttled sideways toward the lobby.

The sky was rosy when our taxi pulled up. We had wandered away from the curb and were just turning back to grab it when the biddy took one side-long glance at me and jumped in like a cat burglar.

“She’s stealing our taxi!” I shouted. I flung myself toward the door which was slowly closing around the crafty casino wench. “Hey, that’s our taxi!” I yelled at her.

She glared at me. “I got here first!” she croaked.

“I called them myself!” I barked as we squared off, toe to toe, one tiny crusty old lady and one woefully hungover tiny tourist ready to throw down over the only taxi on Fremont Street. Who of the two blisteringly loaded men intervened to prevent me from bodily pulling an ancient old woman out of our taxi at six a.m? I’m not sure, but in some divine compromise carved out of our perfect Vegas experience, we shared the cab with the mean wretch of a woman to her unbelievably depressing apartment complex set perfectly on the wrong side of the tracks.

We went back to our rooms in the Hard Rock, sun already bruising the side of the building. My husband fell into our shower to disinfect. I fell toward bed. The phone rang.

“Lookit,” Uncle Nuthatch slurred on the other end. “Lookit the sunrise. I swear, it’s fucking perfect,” he said. “This was the best night of my life.”

“Go to sleep,” I said.

“Okay,” he replied. “But lookit the sunrise, it’s fucking perfect.”

We curled up in our beds and slept like the dead.

Sven was never happy with the way things were, only the way they were supposed to be. Downtown Vegas didn’t meet his approval because it reminded him of the things he fled: himself, his normality, his humanity. No-one catered to Sven the Rock Star in true Vegas. Truthfully, no-one knew who he was, and therefore he found it wanting.

“I must have been a huge disappointment to him in many ways,” my husband said after I read this to him. It’s true. Sven wanted more than anything to elevate us, to make us a better class of people. He took us to restaurants not because he liked to eat there but because that’s where people like him ate. He bought his entire party of groomsmen custom Armani tuxes for his wedding to the child-bride. None of them wanted tuxes, everyone wanted Sven to save the money and just rent something. But he insisted. Six Armani tuxes still hang in closets, worn once after all these years.

“He didn’t realize that an asshole in a nice suit is still just an asshole,” I said. Sven surrounded himself with the kindest, most genuine people I’ve ever met; many of us are still great friends after all these years, including the now-ex-wife child-bride, no longer a child, and with a child of her own. And Sven knew he was lucky, but it wasn’t enough to make him appreciate it, or us.

He was smart enough to pick a great crew, but too stupid to follow them where they led, even if it was to the El Cortez.

*Obviously not their real name. Though it should be.

I’m sorry for the mass mailing. I’m a terrible correspondent, as I’ve explained in greater or lesser tones of contrition for most of my life. My parents always tried to encourage me to write thank you cards when I was a child, and I’d scribble some half-baked gratitude, something about how fabulous my new old lady briefs monogrammed with the days of the week were, and then forget to mail it. Or not bother to stamp it, which is even more pathetic, somehow. It’s like the hard part was done and I got hung up on the minutiae. A stroke of contrariness? I don’t know. Sue me.

I never call anyone because I’ve nurtured a hate-hate relationship with the phone my entire life; imagine the curse of the ubiquitous cell phone for someone like me? It’s possible that I was the only teenager in the universe who avoided the phone–actually screened my calls. Hated the phone as a teenager; skillfully navigate it now by ignoring its ubiquity.

Anyway, back to the reason for this letter. Since Facebook has made the sphere of private versus the public such a complicated place, and the internet makes it possible to find anyone anywhere unless you’ve doctored yourself a little alternate identity and travel documents, I thought that it might be time to address my own personal privacy settings. Imagine, if you will, a shield of preferences circling me like a force field of ultimate power.

You girls I knew in Junior High School make me a little nervous, to be perfectly honest. I wasn’t sure how to be your friends back then; I was convinced that well-put-together girls in pressed Levi’s and Polo shirts scorned the very earth I walked on. Sure, I won “Class Clown” two years running–but I remain convinced that it was because I was the spastic heartbroken girl who didn’t know how to be well-put-together so was funny instead. I look sad in both my yearbook pictures when I was photographed with my male clown counterparts, two Frowny Clown Portraits adorning the Thrift Stores of History.

So, junior high school girlfriends, you get a free pass but only as long as you don’t remind me that I’m still that spastic poorly manicured goombah who can’t be bothered to find clothes which fit. Pointing and laughing are strictly forbidden. Otherwise, I’ll drag you off into the purgatory of the HIDE button.

Junior High Boys on the other hand are welcome. You guys were awesome in your dorky ways; sure, you didn’t want to date me because I didn’t have boobs until, well, ever, but you were a fun crew who laughed at my jokes. And there wasn’t a mean bone in your body–not that you shared with me anyway–and I hear many of you are still friends after all these years! That’s reassuring, somehow. You guys are alright.

Late adolescence and early adulthood harbors a strange melange of friends. There are many of you who I miss, even though I don’t write and I never call. Be assured that you’re still on my list of Friends and not Acquaintances. Yeah, it’s true. I forget that we haven’t talked in almost twenty years. I assume, completely irrationally, that we’ll hook up for coffee soon and talk just like we did in the past. I was actually surprised when one of you wrote me to say that we hadn’t seen each other in forever and wow, things have changed. Have they really? I can’t tell from inside my force field. I thought things were exactly the same as they always were, at least between us. Shows you how subjective it is here behind my wall of impenetrability.

I haven’t avoided many of you–note the “lousy correspondent” disclaimer–but there are some of you I have. How can you tell from my silence, since my silence is all-encompassing, whether we’re still friends or whether I’ve dodged you like a virulent strain of flesh-eating streptococcus? That is a perfectly reasonable question. Check the history files. Did you A) betray my trust B) play Machiavellian mind games with me, making me question my very sanity or C) both? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, put yourself in the “Avoided Like Plague” pile. There aren’t many of you, but you’re out there.

The Ex-Boyfriend privacy settings are more complicated. They also run to the “Sure, look me up sometime,” to the “Jesus, seriously, dude. If you were the last man on earth I’d commit Seppuku.” Again, if you’re unsure of where you are on the spectrum, review the history. Were we A) relatively unharmed by our dalliances? B) Total goofballs but not really impacted by anything resembling “commitment” or “longevity?”  or C) Cheerfully involved until we kind of just weren’t any more and then stumbled into the next thing? If you answered “Yes” to any of these, the force field will welcome you through.

If, on the other hand, you find yourself keeping company with this series of identifying characteristics, you can place yourself in the “Last Man = Seppuku” pile. Were you A) Formed in Lucifer’s loins? B) A sociopath? C) Abusive, ranging from mental anguish to a broken collarbone? You guys not only get the booby prize but the award for Most Toxic Relationships. I have avoided Facebook in no small measure because of you gentlemen, and I hope you can tell from my specific tone of silence (and my force field) that I have a mile-thick wall around me that reads “FOOL ME ONCE.” Also, restraining orders and very large friends.

But the rest of you–sure. Look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like going to the zoo to stare at the animals. Interesting for a minute until you realize that the animals are just biding their time until they can turn on their master….wait. No, that’s a lousy analogy.

Let me start again:

Sure, look me up, I guess. I mean, it’s sort of like reading the gossip pages and relishing the dirt you pick up about familiar strangers…

Damn. That’s not right either.

Okay. I’m just trying to say that I love many of you even though we haven’t seen each other in a long time. Except for those of you I don’t love. And I wish you could tell the difference, but because of my self-imposed silence, I guess you can’t tell who’s who. So maybe this new-fangled Force Field of Ultimate Power will make it easier for everyone to sort out who goes in what column.

Thanks, and I’d say “We’ll talk soon,” except we both know that’s not true. But I love you.*

Cheers, Quenby

*Unless I don’t, of course.

Having graduated from Evergreen State College with plaudits from a wide range of teachers, I was exposed to all kinds of theory. Feminist theory, film theory, Marxist theory, cultural theory, sexual theory, Marxist feminist cultural film theory; theory wrapped in iceberg lettuce and swallowed with Ranch dressing. There is a lot of theory in an institution like Evergreen, and I read scads of it.

I wrote this back in August, 2009. At the time, Palin was making her big splash about death panels, and the health care debate was lost in the fracas. By December, Palin and her death panels won the Lie of the Year Award from PolitiFact, but the damage had been done: the sound and fury was too loud, even though it signified nothing.

We remain mired in health care debate. Though the smoke from the death panels has cleared, new ridiculous problems have arisen to take its place. The seed of the piece remains as true as it did when I wrote it, though the death panels have fallen to the level of satire.

Plus, my father really wanted me to post this. I have to make Dad happy once in a while.

This health care debate–I admit I haven’t been following it all that closely. I suppose that my reasoning is somewhat lazy, as is my response to it, but not my feeling about health care. That isn’t lazy at all.

I haven’t been following because as soon as there’s the kind of vitriol and spew in the media that has been involved in this so-called “debate” the issues are lost to us. There are no more examples of what would help, how it might work, who it would effect; instead it becomes about who is the most inflammatory, who can come up with the most hysterical argument, and how we can continue to be mired in the crap unchanged and unchallenged to think in new ways.

But this is about me and my life, and I would like someone to recognize that.

For example, since we are self-employed around these parts, we also have to pick up the tab on our health insurance. Do you know what it costs? Close to 600 bones a month. Do you know what our co-pay is? Thirty bucks every time we set foot in an office, no matter if it’s to take a temperature or get a splinter out. And forget our deductible: we actually had to make the choice between 2,500 dollars per year or 10,000. I think we could call this level of insurance “catastrophic.”

What about eye care? Non-existent. For us, that means that every year, though our 5-year-old son needs glasses for something considered “medical,” his glasses are not covered by our insurance. Do you know how many glasses a kid goes through? Hundreds of dollars a year spent on specs. And my husband and I who merely have age-deficient eyeballs cough up hundreds of dollars to keep the words from blurring on the page and the traffic signs in focus.

Dental: Non-existent. This despite all the studies that have shown that good dental care is one sure-fire way to keep health costs down because of all the attendant ailments that accompany crappy teeth and gums. But that aside, let’s just talk about dollars: two hundred+ bucks apiece to get our teeth cleaned and tuned up every six months. Why do we go that often? So we can avoid the much more painful thousands of dollars that result from crummy gummies. I had to pay close to two thousand dollars a few years ago for a root canal and all its attendant horrors; I would like to avoid that again if possible, so I go to the dentist.

Of course, we have other mouth woes that we both keep ignoring; my husband’s teeth have become so crunched together they’re wearing down and I’ve been missing a tooth in back since my twenties. As a result, my teeth are wearing unevenly and flopping over. But maybe we would have those things fixed if we weren’t hemorrhaging so much money down the other medical rat holes.

Back problems? Forget it; out of pocket. I have chiro coverage, but never once has my chiropractor been paid through my insurance plan because he’s not a member of their tribe or something. Mental health issues? Better to be healthy but crazy, I suppose.

And we’ve got good health. What happens if one of us gets really sick? God help us. Individual health plans are notoriously skint on their lifetime limit–we’ve got two million bucks of coverage and then–buh-bye. Talk about a “death panel.”  Seriously, what happens if they have to fix a liver or kidney, or my heart? Do we run up to the two million and then the insurance adjuster says, “I’m sorry–we were just about to plug in that heart of yours but you’ve reached your limit.”

We’re the lucky ones. Whether by fiat or hard work we’ve been fortunate to have enough money to buy our own health insurance. Many don’t. Many of our friends, who are completely and solidly middle class, cannot afford to spend the extra money each month on their own medical insurance.

The result? Treatment for the most severe form of cervical cancer in a free clinic in Los Angeles. Pre-diabetic health monitoring that is so spotty as to be pointless. Out of pocket expenses of many-multiple thousands for a CPAP machine to keep our friend breathing through the night. Amount paid for emergency oral surgery: ten thousand dollars in cash. Two hip replacements for our friend, a young woman in her twenties, which she couldn’t pay for, and then had to claim bankruptcy. Type 1 diabetes with no insurance–a horror my step-sister has navigated partly by ducking back into school to get insured again. Otherwise, her now “pre-existing condition” rules her out of almost all other plans. What happens when she graduates?

These are ailments affecting people in their twenties through their forties. This is not a discussion about how to care for the elderly. This is about people in the prime of their life who would, with proper preventive health care and better access to good medical teams, live a long time. These same people may have their lives dramatically shortened because they cannot afford insurance.

So these discussions are an obfuscation which offend me personally. I take umbrage with these cavalierly hurled arguments because they are playing with the lives of people I love, active members of American society, taxpayers and voters, who may die prematurely because the health care system won’t care for them.

And what about my Dad?* Where is he in the discussion? The death panels apparently have him and his Stage 4 cancer singled out, but I don’t think he feels tremendously threatened by these medical bureaucrats waving their mighty pens of death over his head.

In fact, he’s relieved that his whole medical team understands in black and white terms that he does not want his life prolonged unnecessarily. That he has the choice to say no to being hooked up to machines and medical devices which may hand him a few more days or weeks, but in a manner which would hardly be called “vital.” That he may choose between that and living out his days comfortably, without strident measures, without hysteria or intubation, without medicine that is as potentially toxic as it is prolonging.

Is that last inkling of life so truly desirable, if sculpted by equipment, money, interventions, and resources that give no comfort or solace? Is the mere fact of living enough, no matter what the condition of the life? Is it life for life’s sake, or life for living?

If you ask me, and nobody did, I think this “health debate” is about a country’s unwillingness to step up to care for its citizens in a responsible way. I think it is about companies and industries so mired in bureaucracies of their own making that they cannot envision another way. I think it is about people’s lives being less important than the evolution of the pay-to-play system, and nickel-and-diming by the insurance industry. I think it is about trying to unravel the Gordian knot woven during the horrid evolution of the PPO, where codes of symptoms and ailments became more important than a holistic view of any given patient.**

We are the ones who pay the price of their inflexibility with diseases and easily treated injuries winding up in the least efficient places on earth: the Emergency Room. Or unable to save money for our retirement because we’re too busy spending it on glasses and CPAP machines, claiming bankruptcy for medically imperative operations, and insurance that is so expensive we have little left at the end of the month. So this disingenuous legerdemain being perpetrated to take the issues out of the hands of patients makes me pretty damned angry.

You can call it a death panel if you want, but I’ll take it for what it is: life and living under our own terms.

*Painting by my father Charles Moone, called “Self Portrait,” painted in 1972. His headstone reads: “Where Will You Spend Eternity?”

**Sometimes there are even articles to back up my opinions! A nice article called the “Five Myths About Health Care Around the World” from the Washington Post, which I found on Metafilter after I wrote this. Call it synchronicity.

Ever since I’ve been allowed to hurl my musings at TNB, expanding my readership beyond my usual four, now that I have the potential for an audience of at least five, my brain has been taking it out on me.

I am not in my comfort zone. I have been skillfully and assiduously avoiding a public face on the internet since, oh, forever. I’ve written online extensively, but my name has not been attached. I have kept the innocent and the guilty alike hidden in my dedication to anonymity. I’m comfortable with that.

Perhaps it’s my name. If I didn’t have such a whacked-out name, I wouldn’t think about it so much. Search for “Angela Smith” on the intarwebs, you potentially face a long slog finding the “Angela” you’re interested in. But “Quenby Moone?” Yeah. There’s only one of those.

Megan DiLullo and I were discussing my future here on TNB, and she told me I should get on Facebook. It was a good way for people to contact me, make a face for myself. Really? Why in God’s name would I want to do that? So my psychotic ex-boyfriend can find me and ask me how my kid is?

But Megan is nothing if not clever, so I entertained that she might have a point. I’ve been pretty well-insulated until now, but if I had any hope of having a readership beyond my father, who has a genetic investment in my successes and failures, and my other three (possibly paid) devotees to my written brain queefs, I would probably have to go on Facebook and mingle.

I summoned no small part of bravery and signed up for an account. And I totally punked out, since I went by my white trash handle, Tawny Bouté. I poked Megan to show that I had the guts to be there, and then I poked my husband. I had two Facebook friends.

Not bad, really.

I don’t know how it happened. I don’t know how someone I haven’t spoken to in 22 years found me on there, buried under my white trash nom de plume, but there it was: a friend request from someone I hardly remember. And it wasn’t that I didn’t want to have him as my friend, I just didn’t know why he wanted to be mine. I panicked. I worried about it. I thought about “friending” him (a gerund which drives me nuts), and realized that it was the first step down a long road of friends I barely know all friending each other. It’s so weird, and nosey, and slightly voyeuristic.

But I know that it’s great, too. I know that people have discovered each other and re-kindled long dormant relationships to the benefit of all parties. And why am I so vain as to believe anyone would even care about finding me again? What makes me so special? Who, exactly, do I think I am? Miley Fucking Cyrus?

Then the self-flagellation set in.

So what if this was it? What if I had my two friends and died tomorrow, the pathetic woman with only her husband and her fellow TNB’er there to witness I was ever on Facebook at all? “I’d better go get some more friends,” I thought.

I found one hidden under a pseudonym and gave him a webby shout. Now I had three.

As a percentage, it was a marked improvement.

But what if one of my real-world friends discovered that I wasn’t their Facebook friend? Maybe they wouldn’t realize that I only had three Facebook friends, and would think I was actively shunning them. Would they de-friend me in real life? Maybe I should go and find everyone I ever knew and make them my friend. But what if they don’t want me as their friend? What if I discover I’m an undesirable on Facebook? What if I am actually a member of the lowest rung of the Facebook caste system: The Untouchable?

I couldn’t believe this was the inner monologue of someone who turned forty this year. Tawny deleted her account five days after she created it.

But the fact remains: Quenby Moone has never put a name upon her writing, and now she’s been graciously accepted into the cabal of “The Nervous Breakdown.” And my personal masochism is no longer about Facebook, but about what to publish here. “I’ll publish one about my boobs,” I’ll think. “Boobs are always a popular subject.” But then I’ll realize someone recently published one about her boobs, and it was probably ten times funnier than the one about my boobs.

“I’ll mix it up; I’ll send the one about the chickens.” But maybe I’m the only person who thinks a quixotic relationship with barnyard fowl is funny. “Maybe the one about my nervous breakdown? That would at least be name-appropriate. But maybe cliché. Maybe too cute and affected: ‘See what I did there? Huh? I wrote about a nervous breakdown on a site called “The Nervous Breakdown?” Clever, huh?'”

On and on it goes. So here we are. At the end of a piece about neither boobs nor chickens nor nervous breakdowns, but about my inability to decide what to publish on “The Nervous Breakdown.”

Think of it as an exercise in post-post-modernism.

The obligatory social functions one is committed to once you have a child are difficult for shut-in’s like myself. If I was childless, younger and spoke completely off the cuff, no problem: my outbursts might be confused for joie de vivre and risqué spiritedness. Instead, I often feel I’m on the verge of ostracizing myself from the parental community. But worse, since he’s somewhat defenseless and completely at the mercy of elementary school rites and rituals, I fear at any given kid-centric event I just might put the nail in the coffin of any future social prospects for my son.

And because I have a distinct flair for standing out, this comes with a high amount probability. It’s for this reason that I need social hazard insurance: in case of social calamity my son will be protected in the future.

If I had such a policy, it would have come in handy the other day.

We were at a birthday party in a gymnasium. The kids were thundering about, and the parents took refuge away from flying balls and the high velocity scooter-derby by huddling en masse by the coats, making chit-chat. Those honed in the art of chit-chat know the unwritten rules: be funny but not too bawdy; and leave no ammo for others to use against you later. For those of us who are not artful in following these simple rules, every social exchange becomes fraught with the potential for disaster.

As acquaintances known to each other only through hallway encounters while waiting to pick up our kids from school, we often reminisce about parental misadventures. At this particular birthday party, we swapped stories about our wicked, wicked tongues, cases of dropping F-bombs in front of the kids. I have a particularly keen awareness of this problem since “Fuck” was one of our son’s first words. Each parent shared a gem of parental folly. We laughed and commiserated. We bonded over our shared experience. All was right with the world.

•  •  •

When my son was about three, the depth of his obsession with transportation began to make itself clear. He taught himself to read, not because we helped him, not because we gave him reading aids, but because he loved trucks. Before he could read the logo, the “X” in FedEx was the first letter at his disposal. “X!” he would shout from the back seat as we drove through town. “Ecccccccckkkkkkkkkks!!!!” flinging his arms wildly to get our attention. “X! X! X!” in case we hadn’t seen it yet. When FedEx pulled up to our house, it was as though heaven reached down and blessed him, his eyes traveling over the logo with piety and beatitude.

And we’re indulgent of his passions, so even though my husband and I don’t know anything about vehicles other than how to drive them, we encouraged his interest.

It was his love of conveyances which inspired a little journey to the zoo. But this time, rather than drive we were going to take the MAX train, the special highlight of the trip. We would park the car and have a lovely day at the zoo after experiencing the wonders of train travel. A trip on the MAX? It was ideal. There was even an “X” in its name.

Armed with snacks, distractions and a stroller, we began our journey.

It became evident that I was unprepared for this trip as soon as we approached the stop. The train was already there, and I was pushing the empty stroller while encouraging our son to keep up. But he had spied a public fountain which was far more enchanting. The train came and went, our son transfixed by the jumping arcs of water near the homeless wanderers and early-morning winos.

It was just as well since I hadn’t figured out how to use the inscrutable ticket kiosk and the map of train stops. It would be a poor start to the day if we were to make our first stop in the wrong direction, and then get the boot for not having a ticket. Keeping a hairy eyeball on our son and our stuff, which I had to set down while struggling with the bills and change I needed, I finally conquered the kiosk and we were armed with correct fare.

And we waited.

The train we had missed was the last one for twenty more minutes. I had a bunch of crap, a stroller, and a curious son wandering back to the fountain surrounded by homeless men sleeping on the benches. I struggled desperately to make him less interested in the water, which he would soon be wearing, surrounded by the sleepers who he would soon be waking. If this was the set-up for anyone else, they might have taken the hint: Today is not the day.

But I do not take hints; I soldier forward. And eventually the train came, its sliding doors opening wide to ferry us to our destination, that mystical pixie land called “Zoo.”

It was a nice trip, I suppose. We probably saw some animals. But because this story has less to do with the destination than the journey itself, I remember none of it except the moment when I realized we needed to leave. Immediately. For my son has the same curse as myself: low blood sugar-insanity in extremis.

We all get a little tetchy now and then when we’re hungry, but my son and I turn into Class A certifiable nutjobs. And once the horse has left the stable, we’re in it deep. All my snacks and baubles and happy-MAX plans were now hanging in the balance at the tips of the extremely frayed nerved endings of a crotchety three-year-old. He was over it. He wanted to go home.

But we had to take the damned train back.

Now my plans revealed themselves for what they truly were: Beelzebub’s secret designs to make my life more interesting. I stuck this fire-brand of a tot back in the stroller and ran to the MAX stop, praying that no matter which train came first it was the one that would magically transport us back to our parking spot all the way across town. My shoulder bag was falling while I was inexpertly folding the stroller to load on the train which had just pulled into the station. It was crammed with passengers, and I was unable to work the stroller up the steps while holding my son. I was fumbling wildly, the pressure of hasty passengers around me, and practically threw the stroller under the train just to get rid of it while flinging the angry three-year-old Grumpasaurus up the steps. Feeling utterly inadequate to rise to my task, somehow I not only kept a hold of the stroller and my bag, but my son too. Somebody, perhaps recognizing the desperation in my face, gave us their seat.

I sat down, tried to pull the stroller close to my feet to leave enough room for the standing passengers, and hoped that the train trip alone was enough to soothe the savage in my lap until we reached our car, thirty minutes away across town. And it seemed to work. The train worked its mojo upon him, becalming this cross wild thing with the manifold pleasures of public transportation, which, through his eyes, I saw in a whole new light.

There was no shortage of things to poke or pull. The bell to request a stop beckoned him with its brightly colored tape. The bars overhead with their jolly handles enticed him to stand and jump for them, though they were tantalizingly out of reach. The passengers didn’t look at me with parental recognition and compassion, they glared at me as though I was a terrible mother who couldn’t keep control of her brat. Then they looked away to gaze impassively out the window.

The doors opened and closed, picking up more and more riders as we approached downtown Portland. The passengers became more interesting. The train car was filled, people pressed together hugger-mugger, all looking up and away from each other trying to maintain that polite symbolic distance we’re all fond of. I was struggling to give them more room, sitting on my bag, mashing up my stroller, grasping my son.

I was distracted momentarily by the stroller having been kicked into the aisle when I felt the eyes of all the passengers fall on me with a new intensity. I looked around to divine what they were looking at, but couldn’t find the source of their interest. I puzzled at them to find some clue to the mystery while a voice was speaking over the intercom. I couldn’t understand what was being said.

Do you need help, ma’am?” I whipped my head around looking for someone who needed aid. I gazed up at the operator, perched in a little glass enclosure above us. He was looking directly at me, scowling. “Do. You. Need. HELP, ma’am.”

My son had found the emergency button and was pressing it with delight. And why not? It was bright red, right above his sweet little face. It reached out and beckoned him like a siren’s song, “Come to me, little boy, come play among my bells and warnings, let’s play together and laugh…”

I bowed my head in humiliation. “No, sir, I’m sorry, sir.” I begged in my expression for everyone to forgive me my scandalous inattention to the basic tenets of public transportation, pleaded through my eyes that I was a novice, a rank amateur, lost in the jungle of rush hour traffic. There was little compassion staring back at me; the train had stopped for me alone during rush hour on a hot, packed afternoon.

Thankfully, a distraction offered itself once the train started moving again and the passengers went about their business of looking anywhere else but each other: a woman started babbling incoherently across the aisle from us. She was in her forties and wore her age in the rough lines etched into her face. She was edgy and twitchy, mumbling angrily to no-one in particular, which was fitting since everyone was doing their best to ignore her.

Everyone except my son.

Because he had not been educated in the Art of Public Transportation, he was unaware of the subtle rules and regulations of ridership and did not know the cardinal rule: Do Not Engage the Crazy Person. For him, she was by far the most interesting thing on the train. He stared at her with open-faced, earnest curiosity as she mumbled and sizzled, waves of crazy juice oozing from every pore. She was other-worldly to him, and it showed on every inch of his sweet innocent face.

She must have felt the beta-waves from Universe Number 10 beaming from my son, because she turned to face him…

•   •   •

I was recounting this tale to the parents at the gymnasium birthday party. We had reached the crescendo, the high point of the story.

“She must have felt him look at her,” I continued. “She was getting louder and louder as she looked for her audience. She turned around, looked him in the eye and said…”

I paused for effect, pointing into my tiny audience with a menacing finger, recapturing the moment with Oscar Award conviction.

“‘Yeah, I killed my whole fucking family, and I’d do it again, too!'”

But I was pointing directly at a newcomer who had just stepped into our group, and her expression was devolving precipitously from sincere interest as she approached to see what all the fuss was about, to sincere shock as I my final words trailed off and I lowered my finger from threatening her further.

A blanket of abstract embarrassment fell upon the faces of my parental audience, much like those of the people on the train who could no longer ignore the wacko menacing my three-year-old. Except now I was the wacko, verbally assaulting an acquaintance, a woman I already struggle to make polite conversation with because we have so little in common, a woman who is a leading member of the PTA and, of course, the gatekeeper to all social engagements with her son, who is my son’s friend.

“She was describing an encounter on the MAX,” someone explained after a long two seconds of silence began to oppress us all equally.

“Oh,” the woman said.

Someone else volunteered, “We were talking about dropping F-bombs…”

I looked sheepish. “I was talking about a crazy person who was yelling at my son,” I said. “I didn’t mean to point, um, at you.” I paused. “Or threaten anybody, of course.”


Conversation stuttered a bit, choking along while our group foundered about looking for the new thread of shared experience. Our latest member, who I had just terrified by threatening the murder of my whole family, gamely came up with some unsurprisingly tame story about her son using “damn” for the first time. Then, in some silent compact, we all agreed to move on to some other subject.

•   •   •

For people like us, those of us only comfortable in our own skins with the people who know us best, who guarantee a level of forgiveness that we just can’t expect from the greater society, these innocuous child-centered events fill us with terror. Birthday parties are always another opportunity for me to inadvertently threaten bodily harm to someone, or out myself as a complete social basket-case by saying exactly what I think to exactly the wrong person.

So when you meet “me” at your next school event or child’s birthday party, that person who is funny right up until the point when they raise the stakes just a little too high, have mercy on them and realize that they suffer far more greatly than you. You will laugh at their antics, and be embarrassed on their behalf, but they will go home and wonder when anyone will invite their kid to anything ever again.

And when they can invest heavily in social hazard insurance.


By TNB Editors

Editor-in-Chief: Joseph Grantham

Essays Editor: Marnie Goodfriend



Editor: Seth Fischer



Editors: Blake Stewart, Rich Ferguson, & Wendy Chin-Tanner


Founder & Editor Emeritus: Brad Listi

TNB Book Club Co-Curator: Jonathan Evison


We miss you, Cynthia Hawkins!



Alison Aucoin, Alexander Chee, Aaron Dietz, Art Edwards, Alexander Maksik, Amy Monticello, Amy Shearn, Angela Stubbs, Angela Tung, Ben Loory, Becky Palapala, Cris Mazza, Christopher Ryan, Darian Arky, Davis Schneiderman, Dika Lam, Don Mitchell, Darci Ratliff, D.R. Haney, David S. Wills, Elizabeth Collins, Emily Rapp, Greg Boose, Gloria Harrison, Greg Olear, G. Xavier Robillard, Henning Koch, Irene Zion, Jessica Anya Blau, Joe Daly, Justin Benton, James Bernard Frost, J.S. Breukelaar, James Irwin, Jennifer Duffield White, J.E. Fishman, Jamie Iredell, Jen Michalski, J.P. Smith, Jo Scott-Coe, Katie Arnoldi, Kris Saknussemm, Kip Tobin, Kimberly M. Wetherell, Kristin Iversen, Laura Bogart, Lenore Zion, Matthew Baldwin, Matthew Batt, Melissa Febos, M.J. Fievre, Quenby Moone, Richard Cox, Ronlyn Domingue, Ryan Day, Reno J. Romero, Rachel Pollon, Richard Thomas, Sean Beaudoin, Steve Almond, Summer Block, Sharon Harrigan, Sung J. Woo, Stefan Kiesbye, Simon Smithson, Steve Sparshott, Ted McCagg, Tyler Stoddard Smith, Victoria Patterson, Zoe Brock, Zara Potts, Zoe Zolbrod.

Cheryl Strayed and my husband Lars met when she wandered by the open window of our vacation rental in Sayulita, Mexico with her laptop open, looking desperately for a WiFi signal. She and Lars briefly bonded over their mutual and depressing need to be wired in paradise, and Lars pointed her toward a coconut palm that had the most reliable signal.

Why she needed connectivity in paradise was to communicate with her editors about the first draft of WILD, which she had delivered the day before her family left on this celebratory trip to Mexico.

We’re proud to announce the publication of The Beautiful Anthology, edited by Elizabeth Collins, now available in trade paperback from TNB Books, the official imprint of The Nervous Breakdown.

The Beautiful Anthology can be purchased at Amazon.  To order your copy, please click right here.  (Note:  in the coming days, TBA will be available via other retailers like Powell’s and BN.com.  Ebook editions are also forthcoming.)

Dear Adam Savage and Jamie Hyneman,

I want to give you an update about where things stand with our son, Milo, whose eighth birthday falls coincidentally close to your trip to Portland and whom we will be surprising with a trip to Keller Auditorium to see you speak.

When I wrote you before, we were faced with Milo’s first shopping list:

Cars to Blow Up

You didn’t reply, so I have to conclude you might have been a little busy blowing cars up with dynamite and thermite, and shooting Buster and his Merry Band of Human Analogues.

Or maybe you DID get my first letter and now you’re coming here to help Milo navigate the choppy waters of being a sweet, non-violent pacifist with a desire to detonate with DetCord. (I thought “Debt-Core” was a kind of music revolution raging against the injustice of the current monetary system. Turns out it’s the cable you run from TNT, just like in Road Runner cartoons.)

“I need to make some dry ice,” Milo said yesterday, as we were stumbling off to do some chore which included nothing so interesting as buying nose cones from scrapped jets, or Building a Better Buster to drop him into a reef full of sharks. “Do we have the ingredients?”

Appalled that I don’t know how dry ice is made, I told him that we didn’t have the necessary tools.

“We’ll need to pick some up,” he said, making a new shopping list in his head.

“For what?” I asked innocently, believing that maybe, just maybe, he wanted to make the bathroom sink into a steaming cauldron of wizard’s punch for fun, or learn about the scientific process called “sublimation.”

“So you take the dry ice,” he said, “and you put it in a 2 liter soda bottle.”

“Wait a minute,” dim sparks of the synaptic process chugging in my head at the speed of molasses, “is this a MythBusters thing?”

He paused. “Well…”

“‘Don’t Try This At Home’,” I admonished, repeating the words you recite before every episode like a prayer.

“But…” he said.

“‘We are what you call EXPERTS,'” I said.


“‘We prepare weeks, and sometimes months, to do the stunts on this show.’

He stared at me. I stared back.

For the holiday break, he wanted to brush up on his Mythmania, revisiting years’ worth of MythBusters episodes; now he’s got all sorts of ideas about new projects. He wants to join the Boy Scouts because he heard he might get to shoot things. He wants us to buy him a shop vac so he can make a hover craft. When I told him he needed to start with the small-scale experiments, he looked at me like I was crazy. “Go Big or Go Home,” his expression read, one of amused superiority.

Milo wants a Newton’s Cradle now–that clever desktop toy which sits on executives desks, clicking back and forth between its five balls, proving Newton’s law of “Every Action…etc.” But I suspect Milo’s motivation is to construct a Newton’s Cradle out of a Bocci set; the small one will provide the model, and you guys already built one out of cranes and wrecking balls, so he’s willing to split the difference.

“You’re looking at a vegetarian from California,” Kari Byron narrates in your MythBusters Top 25 Moments Special, which ran in our house over the holiday break the way The Grinch Who Stole Christmas ran in everyone elses. “I never expected that I would be a gun person.”

Cut to: Kari, cute little dress flittering in the desert breeze as she blows away a tree with a gatling gun.

And it looks so fun that I too want to climb up on the back of a military jeep with a Dillon Minigun (Minigun? What the hell is mini about a machine gun which fires 30-caliber shells at 3000 rounds a minute?) to mow down a dead tree in the middle of the desert, spent shells tinkling musically to the earth in a waterfall of destructive beauty. Where do I sign up?

How do we, a bunch of card-carrying Portlanders who have raised chickens, believe in bicycles as a form of rebellion, and want organic, holy-granola-roller seaweed cookies massaged with love and first press olive oil–how do we enroll for shooting classes? Is it even allowed?!

“What were you going to use the dry ice for, anyway?”

“A dry ice bomb.”

So we’ll see you in a few weeks, the fervent glow of rapt attention bouncing off the lenses of our young son’s glasses as he files away every single scrap of information you share that evening. You’ll know him by the look of devotion to the scientific method.

If it involves “Big Boom,” anyway.

Yours sincerely,

Quenby Moone


PS: Milo rolls the full name of TNT off his tongue like a weapons expert: Trinitrotoluene. I can barely read it, much less say it.

PPS: And speaking of the Grinch, my kid is scared of the Grinch. He is not scared of Trinitrotoluene or gatling guns or coffee creamer explosions, but the Grinch sends him around the twist with fear.


The Nervous Breakdown’s Literary Experience, recorded 30 January 2011 at The Hall of Records in Portland, Oregon. Featuring Quenby Moone, Meg Worden, and Art Edwards. Produced by Aaron M. Snyder, Megan DiLullo. Executive Producer, Brad Listi. Music by Goodbye Champion