The Katella Deli Cornbread Incident: Or why you shouldn’t punk nice people in front of Ms. Wood


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I have never hid the fact that I like to brawl. You can ask anyone… even my students. I am not proud of my violent past… I made incredibly raw mistakes as a punk rock rebel of the early 1980s and I have felt very grateful on numerous occasions to still be alive. However… I have to admit, that I am also a bit distraught that I am no longer able to put myself in “compromising” situations due to the fact that teachers cannot be felons.

And when I say brawl… please don’t picture me walking around like any number of bullies in books or film who are just “looking” for a fight.  That was never my style. I’m more like the bully that likes to fuck with the bully. And now that I am approaching the age of  “menopause” I’m finding the temptation is returning with a passion and my only fear regarding the looming age of my retirement, is that I will no longer have teaching to keep me in “check.” And honestly… the idea of finishing my life in a prison cell where I can write every day, only to be disturbed during, exercise, eating, or shower time with a bit of one-on-one shank and fist-a-cuffs thrown in… sounds like a Pulitzer prize winning novel to me.

So I swear, on whatever oath you hold dearest to your heart, that I really tried not to brawl at the Katella Deli. I really didn’t want to get into it in front of a whole restaurant of really old people, their main clientele, but the cornbread incident was just too much for me.

He was a middle-aged, white man. Short, squat… one of those guys that overreacts at his kid’s soccer game… who wants to check the rule book before he agrees with the call. The guy that will phone the city if you are out of compliance in anyway then walks around, breaking the leash law, with a giant fluffy poodle shouting to everyone in ear shot, “She’s trained. She’s trained. She doesn’t need to be on a leash.”

Yeah… I know you’re already getting annoyed just reading this…

I glanced at him briefly. He was standing at the take-out counter. I noted his bald spot, his attempt at a comb-over, his cargo shorts and his strappy Drew Warren orthotic man sandals, while sitting on a bench waiting for my own take-out order. He couldn’t keep my attention for long. I’d been conversing with this lovely older African-American man who had not only won me over with his good looks and charm but had really gone in for the kill when he just happened to let it slip that he was a Ph.d of Literature at one of the local prestigious colleges. I was enamored and we were both well into a serious conversation when suddenly a ruckus broke out at the counter.

We both stopped and stared. The little Napoleonic take-out bastard was harassing the waitress pretty good. I felt my eyes begin to narrow and focus. My hearing honed in on his words.

“You will give me the cornbread. Do you understand? I don’t have to explain myself to a take-out waitress. Give me my cornbread, now.”

I waited… I was dying to jump in… but I knew I had to give this young girl a chance to stand up to a bully on her own.

“I’m sorry, Sir,” she said in her kindest voice. “Your order only comes with one piece of cornbread. If you want another piece, I will have to charge you extra.”

Here I watched as he stomped his little hairy-toed foot and threw his arms up in the air, his plastic take-out bag almost clocking the old man eating his matzo ball soup quietly at the counter, before slamming his hand down and making a loud smacking noise on the Formica.

“If you don’t give me another piece of cornbread right now…”

But he was unable to finish.

An older woman, who had been mid-order when the scene went down, turned towards him and said, “Excuse me, but I was ordering for me and my daughter. Could you please let me finish?”

I thought he was going to have a mental breakdown right then and there. His eyes grew large, he turned to the woman and began yelling, “This is none of your business. I was here first. Can’t you see this bag in my hand?” Here he threw the bag towards her and I watched as the young woman behind her flinched. She was small and meek, a girl of about sixteen and you could see immediately that she was special. Her sweet face now confused by social cues she did not understand. Her eyes looking up towards her mother, terrified by the incident, and that was it.

He had gone too far.

If he wanted to pick on someone, he was gonna get a mother fucking handful from Ms. Wood.

“All for a piece of cornbread?” I said.

The restaurant stopped.

I swear to God the restaurant stopped.

My voice, as most of you know, and as some of you current and former students have unfortunately heard in one of my wrathful moments know, that my voice can stop traffic on a busy day in Bangladesh. It is a force to be reckoned with… an entity of it’s own…. a weapon of mass-destruction able to bring the most stoic and unruly bully to tears. I barely raised the level a notch but everyone in that restaurant knew that hell was coming.

He turned to me. Not really sure if the pudgy, white middle-aged woman standing in front of him said it. Then he stepped forward, all bravado, to confront me head on.

“Excuse me?” he said.

I walked right up to his face, my eyes level with his, my chest inches from his chest and said, “You’re really going to behave this way over a piece of cornbread? You’re really going to berate a waitress, abuse an older woman, terrify a special child in front of ALL OF US over your need for one more FREE piece of fucking cornbread?”

Suddenly, he realized that the entire foyer was silent. That every person in the area was waiting for his response.

I was ready to grab somebody’s walker and bash this son-of-a-bitch but good. I was actually hoping for the opportunity.

He tried to hold his ground… he tried to steady his gaze… but he could see that there was something “challenging” in my eyes and he was rocked to the core. It took less than a second for his appearance to crumble and the true wimp to be exposed for all to see.

No balls.

All bite.

“That’s a rhetorical question,” I heard the Professor say from behind me. “I think you better just take your cornbread now, Son… and leave.”

There we were… the ebony and ivory super heroes of the literary world… able to vanquish villains with glossary terms and fine, proud speaking voices.

He stomped out of the restaurant and of course, didn’t say another word until he was within “running distance” of his car but by then, the Professor and I were already surrounded by a round of applause and everyone enjoying a moment of camaraderie as we recapped Mr. Cornbread’s idiocy.

“Thank you,” the older woman said to me. I smiled and then made eye contact with her daughter. “Hi,” I said. “I’m Ms. Wood. I’m a teacher.”

Her face just moments ago scared and sad, looked up towards her mother and said, “Teacher” then she reached out and touched my arm and I held her soft white hand for a moment before she came close to me and hugged me.”

“You’ve got a gift,” the Professor said. “Teaching’s a calling.”

“Teaching lessons to idiots?” I said as I continued to hug my new friend.

“If that’s what it takes,” he said.

We both said our goodbyes, wished each other luck, as we walked off with our take-out orders and on to our regular daily lives.

It wasn’t until I got home that I found a small box in my bag with a piece of free cornbread in it and a note written in blue ball-point pen, on the top of the box, that said, “Thank you, Ms. Wood.”

And it wasn’t until hours later that Mia, my former student, a waitress at Katella Deli, texted me and said, “It was you wasn’t it, Ms. Wood? I heard all about it! Text me!”

I did text Mia that day. She updated me on her progress in college, as she worked her way towards her teaching credential, and reminded me that I was one of the teachers who inspired her to become a teacher.

And isn’t that the great thing about life? That we can have a profound influence on any human being… at any given time… and teach lessons based on our own experiences and maybe by doing the right thing every once in awhile… even end up with a free piece of cornbread?

A Walk for Ms. Wood


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A Walk for Ms. Wood

I live in the forest now. It has been something I have wanted since I was a child spending most of my summers in the mountains around Big Bear and now, here I sit, in an old historic cabin in the middle of the woods. Yes, that’s right. Not in town: in the woods.

I don’t miss my hometown of Long Beach when I am here. I know, like anything or anyone that truly matters; that Long Beach is always there waiting for me. Like a good parent, she let’s me wander and return for comfort as needed. It feels good to feel her strength somewhere off in the distance; just a short drive to the city that holds the people that I love.

Today the wind is blowing through the mountains, what feels like a warm Santa Ana, a precursor to the coming Fall, and I listen as the trees bend and sway knowing that I am completely alone. There is a quiet to the woods, a shift in energy when people pack up and head down the hill, and I know that my cabin neighbors are not present today.

Opal, my baby pit bull, has just come up to me as I write this, tail wagging, whole body wagging really, ball in mouth, hoping I will open the cabin door so we will go outside and therefore I pause for a moment and we do.

Being in the National Forest is not like walking in our town’s Nature Center. Yes, when I am in the Center I may run into a coyote, spot a hawk or an owl, or on the rare occasion glimpse a fox but, I don’t walk the path worried for my mortal life.

Here, I know that once I take the path into the woods there are any number of predators that I may come across and though most people find me to be a person that they see as “fearless” there are twinges that creep in, especially when I am with Opal; who to me seems like a lure for anything wild. I always have the feeling that she is a city girl in the country and that the true beasts will show her just what wild is as she gallops down the path chasing yet another beautiful butterfly or rushing to find exactly where the ground squirrel or the chipmunk live, oblivious to what lurks in her new surroundings.

A few months back, Stephen and I were stopped from our bickering, over who was going to build what inside of the cabin, by a beautiful gray bobcat that crossed in front of our kitchen window. We have always marveled at this window. A ten-foot by five-foot giant pane of glass, brought up the mountain sometime in the 40s and installed so that it captures a large span of forest and lake and makes you feel that you are viewing a landscape painting of magnitude.

The cat came up to the left of the glass, from the base of the ravine, and entered the picture and at first, my mind could not fathom what it was, too big to be a house cat or a raccoon, but not the right shape for a large breed dog.

He was beautiful, the way he moved at a steady pace, sure in his stride, aware of his surroundings with almost a strut to his style. He stopped in front of our window, enjoying the warmth of the sun and preened himself for a moment before something in his nature knew, just as I knew when I was in the forest alone, he knew that someone was watching.

He turned his head quickly and stared us down. We had been sure he couldn’t see us through the reflection in the glass but he had and we were privy to a moment of connection to something truly wild. It was the strangest feeling. His intensity burned through the window. I felt like I had been caught naked: vulnerable and unsure. It was then that I was glad that Opal had not been outside bounding about when he appeared, and though many locals said he probably would have “gone to tree” if Opal was present, something in his steely glare seemed to negate their reassurance.

His ears pricked up as he watched us and I noticed the fine feathered tips that shot straight up from the tips of his ears as if he had his own permanent party favors or fireworks displayed for all to see.

Then, he left, as mysteriously as he came to us, over the ridge and into the next ravine and I prayed to whatever God the forest listens to that he would live a long beautiful life undisturbed in his habitat.

Yesterday, there was a mama black bear and her two cubs destroying bird feeders for their liquid sugar and frolicking and playing in the trees across from our cabin. Someone had taken a video from the safety of their window and once again I was glad that Opal and I had been inside, an instant image of her running forward, baby-to-babies, all cubs really wanting to play and mama, ready to protect.

People love to act as if black bears are “no big deal” when I tell them that we have bears in our area and though I never correct them, I do like to imagine each of these people, walking a path, as they are crossed by a 400-pound black bear with cubs. I tell you what they wouldn’t do in this situation, they would never say something as stupid as black bears are no big deal ever again.

A bear is a bear.

And though yes, a grizzly can be terrifying, and anyone who has seen the film, The Revenant, has now had that idea seriously hammered home, a black bear can be scary too. I’m not quite sure what I would do if I were crossed. I imagine making myself big: arms raised, legs wide, mouth loud, as I have done before when dealing with coyote incidents at the park at home, I doubt I would pull out bear spray as a means of trying to ward a mama bear off; especially if this was a mama bear protecting her cubs. I know how fierce I can be protecting my own children, I can’t even imagine how terrifying I would be if I had canines several inches long and claws that could rip open a gut with one swipe. I imagine that my posturing would most likely amuse her but that my bear spray may be what would set her off. Hopefully, I won’t ever have to find out.

I have seen numerous black bears but I have seen a grizzly only once in the Big Bear Wildlife Rehabilitation Center. I watched as he floated in a pool and swatted a telephone pole around and bear hugged it as if he was on a floatie in a pool in my own backyard. It was then, in real life, not in film, that I understood just how easy it would be to “end me.”

But, having said all that, I do believe that I rather come across a bear than a cougar. I have thought about that more than I probably should, imagining me grabbing the scruff of it’s neck after it had pinned Opal to the ground and I of course, being who I am, would not allow my pup to fight it alone, and yes, I might die beating it off, but this is not the Nature Center and this is what you sign up for when you decide to live in the woods.

I have a healthy respect and a great love and admiration for these animals and I understand that this is their home, their territory and they have invited me in as a guest of the forest. I don’t carry a gun, though I have thought about getting one lately to deal with people, not animals, but for now, my only weapon of defense is a big stick, very Teddy Roosevelt as I walk through the National Park and thank him in spirit for creating this for me, for all of us really.

And so, I will stop writing now, and I will put on my shoes and grab my pack, and take baby Opal where she longs to go, out in the wild, and though I’ve heard whispers of a cougar somewhere up by Camp Cedar Lake and that the bears are now rumored to be close to the mineral springs, we will walk that way and be part of this great vast wilderness because as Franklin Roosevelt, Teddy’s cousin once said, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself” and I was not born to stay cradled in a cocoon but to live life to its fullest and look for a story worth telling and so off we go, into the woods, Opal rushing ahead as I follow her lead.

Snowshoeing with Stephen



To say that I was fussy would be an understatement. Leaving Long Beach late, we hit bumper-to-bumper traffic all the way up the 605 and straight onto the 210.

Our trip to Big Bear would now take a solid three to four hours to get there instead of the usual two and after a long day of teaching, nothing to eat since breakfast, I was beating up Stephen pretty good. And as usual, he sat there and took it; his Buddha like demeanor in almost all situations infuriating.

“You’re like the guy in that Snickers’ commercial.” He said.

If looks could kill, Stephen would have been tossed out the door and rolling down the slow lane of the 605 at that very moment.

“No, no!” he said, correcting himself, “You’re like that guy from Network. You know… I’m mad as hell and I just can’t…

“I know the guy,” I said.

“Yeah but what was his name?” Stephen pushed our pup, Opal towards me as he made room to rummaged about in his pocket, obvious glee registering on his face, “Hang on, I can’t remember his name. I’m going to look him up.” He pulled his phone out and Googled: Mad as hell.

There was a blissful moment of silence before he pressed the phone towards my face and said, “I forgot my reading glasses at home could you read this for me and tell me…”

“Howard Beale! God damn it.” I shouted. “It was Howard Beale!” My knuckles tight and white on the steering wheel. “I’m driving!” I pushed Opal back onto Stephen’s lap and watched as he adjusted himself around her large, lanky puppy body.

“Yeah,” Stephen said. “That’s who you are.” He pointed his finger at me. “You’re that guy.”

We didn’t talk much after that.

Stephen, a keen observer of my road Tourette’s syndrome, chose to take a nap with Opal, so he didn’t have to deal with me, as I navigated the rest of the way up the mountain.

We hit Big Bear around 7, chained up the truck and grabbed take-out from Denny’s, which was a slow and painful mistake, and headed up the paved but pot-holed forestry road to our cabin that sat back in the woods.

Owning a cabin in a National Forest has many advantages: privacy for one, but unplowed dirt roads is not part of the package. I knew that even with the truck we might not get in but I went up to the high road behind our cabin and planned to hit the gas and hope that the chains would carry me up and over the first drift and we’d use gravity to drop us into the area where our cabin sat.

A parked Subaru Outback blocking the road foiled my plan.

I was furious that someone had blocked the community road but Stephen calmly hopped out and headed up to the cabin that sat just a few feet off in the distance.

I rolled down the cab window to listen to the soon to be exchange.

A nice looking older man with jet white hair came out on the porch, he was wearing a fair isle sweater and was a picture postcard representation of how I imagined Alpine skiers in the 1950’s to look. He shook Stephen’s hand and then in a thick Czech accent shouted down to me, “Hello, I am Merik. You can try to go up that road but I tell you, you won’t get in.”

Being a big believer in signs, jinxes, and fate, I was pretty sure that Merik had just fucked me from getting anywhere but my frustration and rage, combined with my super ego was pushing me to show him—show them both really.

He walked down from his cabin and moved his car out of my way and watched as I floored it up into the drive and slammed head first into an ice bank that almost stuck the truck.

I didn’t care.

I was so hell-bent that I backed it up, floored the truck again and slammed right back into the bank.

I watched as Merik put his hands up to his temples, comic really, and shook his head back and forth, Stephen standing next to him, his mouth agape.

When I went back for a third run, I backed up too far and the truck slid down the icy road and went sideways to the edge of the cliff.

This was the moment when Stephen ran over to the cab and whispered, “You’re being stubborn. You’re going to get hurt. Stop it. Let it go. We’ll hike in.”

Merik sensing my fury tried to calm the situation down by shouting to me, “Come on now. Come inside. Let’s have a drink on this.”

Goddamn Czechs. I thought: Always a reason to party.

I waved him off and drove up the road away from the men and went a good clip before finding a small turn around and heading back down towards them.

By the time I returned, Merik was back in his warm cabin and Stephen was waiting to jump back into the cab.

“Just park there,” he said, and pointed to the side of the road. “We’ll take Dora’s path straight up the mountain.”

We parked on the edge of the main road and looked up at our cabin that sat a good football field straight up a bouldered outcrop.

I don’t know what Stephen was thinking but I was thinking, How the hell did a woman in her 80s climb that path everyday for the years she lived there before us?

“Let me get the snowshoes” Stephen said.

I watched as he got out of the truck, the air sharp, beyond cold, and reached under the blue tarp of the truck bed for the shoes.

“Where’s the other pair?” I asked through the open door of the cab.

“I just got shoes for me.” He said.

I swear to God our dog, Opal turned around and looked at me as if to say, “Oh shit.” A serious frown on her baby pitbull face.

“Why didn’t you get me snow shoes?” I asked.

“Well you didn’t seem to think it would be a problem to get into the cabin and you seemed to think I was over-reacting so I bought a pair and thought we could get you a pair later.”

I looked back up at the ravine we would have to traverse to get up to the cabin. A solid six feet of snow at least, giant boulders and tree branches jutting out from each side and then back at Stephen, glaring with hatred.

“I was gonna get you shoes,” he said, “but you were making fun and…”

I cut Stephen off in a fury.

“I want you to put on your little snowshoes and leave.” I snapped. “I want you to climb your little pathway and leave me alone to eat my chicken sandwich. Do you understand me?”

Stephen reached down and strapped his snowshoes on, all the while mumbling, “You didn’t even want snowshoes. You made fun of me thinking we needed snowshoes.”

“What?” I said.

Stephen stood up and looked at me. “Do you want to go home?”

“I want to eat my chicken sandwich in peace.”

He sighed, and turned to head up the hill though I’m sure I heard him say something again about Ned Beale as he slammed the cab door.

I watched him struggling to get up the four feet of solid ice from the lip of the road before he stumbled and fell into the drifts of snow. He righted himself, fell again, righted himself, then stumbled, then suddenly caught his bearings and headed steadily up the hill.

I took the moment to put on my fingerless mittens, my beanie, pump up the old Dodge’s truck heater to high and sat eating my now cold chicken sandwich with Opal.

If she had been upset when Stephen exited the cab, she was now intent on staring at my sandwich, in hopes that I would understand how desirable it was to her.

I fed her small bites of chicken as I watched the hill and wondered where Stephen was.

After a bit, now semi sated, I realized that I was being ridiculous and that if an eighty-year-old woman could climb up that hill in the middle of winter well then Goddamn it, I could too.

I didn’t need any Goddamn snowshoes.

Dora never had any Goddamn snowshoes.

Who cares if I was wearing rubber Crocs and a long dress?

I could do this!

I brought my Oh, Pioneer! mindset to the table and stepped out of the cab with gusto—Opal close behind me on her leash. I reached under the blue tarp on the back of the truck and grabbed my bag of clothes and my pillow: that was all I needed to make it through the night and look at this problem fresh in the morning.

We carefully crossed the icy road. Opal jumping easily up the ice ledge and onto the fresh snow turning to look at me as she landed, as if to offer encouragement.

I steeled myself to the moment, and pushed ahead and my chubby middle-aged body dropped a good four feet down into the snow as I fell forward, face first, into the thick powder.

Opal tried to help, pulling me ahead, trying to get me out of the snow, but each time she tugged I ended up deeper in the drift.

My first irrational thought? Kill The Stephen.

I flipped over on my back and realized that the only way I was going to get back to the road was to actually roll there.

I threw my body weight towards a downhill direction and rolled up over the snow, up over the ice ledge, and down onto the icy street where Opal then dragged me down the road on my back, my rubber Crocs acting as a make-shift sled until my shouts of her to stop finally halted her about twenty feet from where we first tried to climb up the hill.

My second irrational thought? Fuck Dora.

I kept picturing her. Her reed thin tiny body, her long gray wild hair, her large blue eyes and that hard look on her face and I knew that if she would have been watching me at this moment she would have been laughing her ass off.

Pussy, I heard her say in my imaginary scenario.

“Fuck,” I said under my breath as I rolled onto my knees and worked to stand back up.

“You need help?” I heard Stephen shout from somewhere up the hill.

I refused to answer back but took the moment to look up and see that the lights were now lit in the cabin and it’s picturesque beauty was in direct juxtaposition to my situation here down below.

“Fuck,” I said again.

I went back to the truck with Opal to regroup. I turned the engine back on and warmed myself in the cab, my head reclining on the cushioned seat when after a moment; Stephen was at the passenger door.

“Hey,” he said. “Take my snowshoes and we will head up that small road.” He pointed to somewhere a bit further up the mountain. “It’s not too steep. You can wear the snowshoes and I can follow behind in your footsteps.”

I looked at The Stephen.

Still trying to please me.

Still trying to make things right, and I didn’t have the energy or the heart to tell him that in the last few minutes I had already been Googling hotels considering a warm bath and room service for the evening.

“I’ll take Opal,” he said and off they both went towards the new path.

I cut the engine, locked the truck, and stood on the edge of the road working to put on Stephen’s snowshoes.

He watched for a minute, afraid to step in, before seeing that I was once again becoming frustrated, and walked over to help me adjust them.

“Like this,” he said as he tightened my foot into the shoes and strapped my heels to the back. “See?” he said. “Pretty easy.”

He walked on and I followed him in silence, the metal cleats of the shoes striking loudly on the icy road.

I went up the bank first, and of course, fell forward again but this time, my snowshoes kept me towards the top of the surface.

I had a hard time righting myself with my clothes bag in one hand and a hefty bag holding my pillow in the other but I did and stepped forward again. And again, I fell face first in the snow as the fucks began to fly.

“Shhhhh,” Stephen said trying to calm me. “Baby steps. Just take baby…”

“Stephen!” I shouted. Fuck!”

He stood quietly behind me and waited.

I thought of Dora again, how she had lived in this cabin alone for over 20 years, no man, no dog, only her grit and her shotgun and I stood up and pushed myself forward again.

This time, I made it a good ten feet before I face planted.

“We need to make better time,” Stephen said quietly from behind me.

I lifted myself up onto my elbows and turned and glared at him.

He got the message.

“You know what,” he said. “I think I can make it on my own.” I’ll go ahead and you take your time.”

He stepped over me and walked ahead, dropping into drifts every now and then but then Opal pulled him forward and I watched them work as a team until they disappeared down the road.

I lay there a moment. Ready to give up, working to catch my breath before I pulled my phone from my bag and used the light from it to survey the area. I could see Merrick’s cabin far away from me now, the truck, down on the road and then, just a few feet away from me, a long stick, which I grabbed, and dragged towards me and sticking it deep in the snow used it to right myself and steady my balance.

It worked.

My pioneer spirit was back, and I moved forward with a vengeance, my phone light and my bags in one hand, my walking stick in the other. And after a few minutes, I had a steady solid rhythm and for a moment, realized that I really liked snowshoeing.

I paused again.

My eyes had adjusted to the night so I put my phone away and readied to follow the path to the cabin. And in that moment, everything changed for me.

The forest was bright all around me.

The snow reflecting the moon.

I was surprised by how light it all was and looked up to note the thousands of stars, the full round moon, the beauty of everything around me, so lovely, everything I had ever wanted, and then I looked toward my cabin.

The cabin I had wanted since I was a very little girl, the good man inside of it who would do anything for me, and I stood in that forest and cried with relief that I had been strong enough to make it up the hill and cried with joy for how blessed I was, and cried and laughed as I heard Stephen call from the cabin, “Do you want me to help you?” and laughing like a fool as I shouted back, my true self again, “No, I’ve got it. I’m almost there.”

Before walking on into my forest, towards my new life.

In Honor of the Pope: Nana Rents a Porno

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Being the caregiver to an 87-year-old woman is never easy. I won’t go into specifics but, I will say, that waking up to find used Poise pads for women who have bladder control issues filling the trashcans, soiled, silky grandma panties piled up by the washer waiting to be washed, and a slew of semi-empty cat food cans strategically placed in every corner of the house just in case “kitty gets hungry during the night” should round the image nicely.

I love her. Don’t get me wrong. She is my mother, a pain in my ass, but an all-around good time when it comes to story material.

She’s in love with Charlie Sheen, a man she considers perfect. She will circle, with red pen, in her very important TV guide, exactly when Two and a Half Men will be on the television, and how many re-runs she can chalk up each day—to having a laugh with Charlie—while I’m off teaching high school English to the youth of America.

On special days, she will repeatedly dial me at work, unrelenting until I pick up, whether I’m teaching a class or not, long past the days of caring about anyone else’s schedule or needs. Queen of the blue Lazy Boy recliner, Empress of All to tell me, You’re never going to believe what Charlie did today, as if he were actually in the room with her—her bosom buddy—her best friend.

“It said in People magazine that he was dating one of those porno girls.” She told me. “Really…” (Here she actually paused for emphasis) “I don’t know what he sees in those porno girls.”

“I think everyone knows what he sees in those porno girls, Mom,” I mumbled.

“Well, I don’t think you’re very funny,” she snapped and turned up the television to block me out to suffer the theme song of Two and a Half Men—blasting through the house—my temporal punishment until willing to make reparation for my sin of mocking her beloved.

Fuck, I whispered and went about my business trying to find where I had just set my noise canceling headphones to get in a few precious quiet moments of writing time.

My mother’s love for Charlie was palpable and everyone knew it. Which is why I am sure that you can imagine her misery when after twelve years of having Charlie, exactly where she wanted him, I accidentally kept her from her love by switching our media service from Charter to FIOS and introducing her to a new remote control.

Now, any one who has dealt with an “Old” knows that Olds don’t do well with any type of new system and especially new remote controls. Olds push every button. Olds push just the blue buttons. Olds turn off the TV and sit and pout in the dark until you come in and manage the controller. And Olds expect you to drop everything and fucking figure it out now or you will be berated for weeks on end for keeping The Olds from what they love: a sense of continued control provided by familiarity.

Suddenly, she couldn’t find Charlie and she hated me for it and let me tell you: Hell hath no fury like a Nana scorned.

I spent several weeks trying to be patient. Trying to teach Nana the new remote. Trying to explain that Charlie was still there on channel 5.

“But how do I get to him?” she would lament in obvious pain.

“Just press five, Mom.”

She would then hold up the remote in a grand gesture, hold her finger down for an eternity on the number 5 and we would both watch as it registered 555555555 on the television screen and took us to some strange FIOS advertisement channel.

‘You see?” she would cry, her eyes big and sad like one of those horrible 70’s paintings that still hangs on the wall in our den.

“He’s not there!”

I would show her once again how to lift her finger quickly when pressing the 5, and suddenly, Charlie would appear. Her eyes would widen, her toes would flutter, and all would be right in the world for a moment but of course… it never lasted.

I had my students create giant charts that we taped all around her television set, letting Nana know when her favorite show was on and exactly how to find it but to no avail. I would still come home to find her pushing buttons repeatedly, creating channels I’ve never heard of, as if she was trying to cosmically call someone to make the damn thing work.

Each of my brothers took his shot, spending lengthy phone conversations hoping to walk her through the steps yet, she still couldn’t get the remote to work and I would return home from a long day of teaching to hear her cry, “Why did you have to change things? Why are you trying to ruin my life?”

So one day I just gave up. I left and went around the corner to my significant other’s house. Where we sat, blissfully TV free, Stephen reading some fascinating article in MOPAR magazine about neutral safety switches and me, rapt in Mira Bartok’s, The Memory Palace, envying Mira’s bleak situation, when she actually had to change her name, move away, to find solace from her mentally ill mother.

“I could move away,” I said casually to Stephen. “Change my name.”

“We’d miss you,” he said without even looking up from his read: as always, impossible to get a rise from the calmest man in the world.

We went back to our silent ways before I noticed a text pop up quietly on my phone screen. It was from my son’s girlfriend, Penny. My favorite Nor Cal person now transplanted to my home in Long Beach. Heavily tattooed, Vegan, dark-haired Latina beauty, quiet like Stephen, but unwilling to take any shit from anyone, including “The Nana.”

The note read: Nana accidentally rented a porno. It will be on your next bill. Just thought you should know.

I could only imagine what had just happened. My mother: Trying to find Charlie. The repeated pressing of the buttons, the skip to On Demand, how she got down to the Adult movie folder would always be a mystery and one I really didn’t want to solve.

I didn’t even move.

I just texted back, always the writer, What was the title of it?

There was a long pause, ellipses of text flickering in anticipation before the response…

Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.

There’s no need to tell you that the FIOS agent could not suppress laughter when I called to have the charge for Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy removed from the next bill.

Or that Dylan, my twenty-something son was mortified when he was the one to find her shouting, “Get it off! Get it off! Dylan you’re not going to believe what they are doing on my TV. Please get it off!”

He later told me that it was the most horrific moment of his life: accidentally watching porn with his Nana. “There are just some things you don’t want to do with your Nana, Mom… and watching porno is one of them.”

He said it was comical, the way she was waving the remote at the screen, in a large sweeping circle, as if it was some magical Harry Potter wand that would somehow make the debauchery; the big butts bouncing and banging go away. That said the joy of that visual was not worth what he had to witness on her TV screen.

I’d like to say that I felt sorry for her that I felt the need to comfort my mother but by the time I returned home, she was happily watching Two and a Half Men and seemed to now be unfazed by the incident, eating a pint of strawberry Haagen-Dazs, numerous miniature Chihuahuas parked upon her portly lap waiting for their bites, and Charlie on the TV saying, “Everybody’s got a little baggage … I drink and try to mouth kiss hookers.” My mom giggling like a fool.

“I heard you and Charlie have something in common,” I teased her during the commercial break.

“What’s that?” She asked.

“Ummm, that you both want Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.”

She took a bite of ice cream, her look full of disdain before pointing her spoon at me as if to banish me from her kingdom.

No come back.

She knew she must concede and admit that she and Charlie were now forever connected… to porno girls.


Nana falls on her tailbone and decides it will be fine if someone puts a finger up there to “adjust” it.



Living with OLDS isn’t easy.

I basically wake up each morning in a state of panic until I’m sure that everyone… including the OLD dog is still breathing.

And once I’ve made the rounds of the geriatric crowd… sure in my belief that we all can make it through one more day… I let my guard down and ready for other battles.

But not the morning of the broken ass incident… I don’t know if I will ever let my guard down again after that particularly disturbing event.

It was about 6 am when I heard a loud startling CRACK from the living room.

I knew immediately that my mom had taken a fall: It wasn’t the first time she had landed hard.

Eighty-five but still absolutely obstinate that she was not ready for a walker… that a cane would do her just fine… but the truth?

The cane was unstable.

Add our slick hardwood floors and it was literally a recipe for disaster and so… on this morning… it was.

I jumped from the bed and ran down the hallway to find my mom; legs splayed out in front of her, back pressed against the leg of a chair that had luckily inched back and pinned itself on the brick wall somewhat breaking her fall. Her cane flat on the floor next to her… a large angry scratch on the floor betraying the truth: that she had leaned on the cane for help but it had buckled and let her down.

I wanted to pick it up and throw it through the plate glass window and scream at her for not using the walker but, I held my temper and waited for Dylan as I knew he would soon be rushing down the stairs, to help me lift her into the chair and assess the damage.

“Something’s wrong with my butt,” she said. “It feels like something’s stuck up inside of it.”

Dylan, my son, looked at me and though he didn’t want to laugh at his Nana, especially if she was truly hurt, had to fight back amusement in regards to the cadence of my mother’s voice: Her comic timing, without realizing it, was impeccable.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I laughed loudly.

“Oh you think it’s so funny to have something up your ass?” She snapped.

At this time, Dylan completely lost it.

My mom frowned at both of us.

“Wait until it happens to you,” she said.

“You mean wait until I have something stuck up my ass or wait until I refuse to use a walker and fall on my ass?” my sarcasm beyond blatant.

“Oh you think you’re so funny,” she said as she grabbed hold of my arm and Dylan’s, righting herself, as she made Dylan hand her the cane.

“But Nana,” Dylan said sweetly. “What if…”

“I’ll be fine,” she barked at him. “It’s just a swore ass.”

She hobbled off to the TV room where moments later I heard Regis and Kelly blasting from the set and so I assumed… “it was only a flesh wound” and that she had already gotten over it.

I told Dylan to go back upstairs but to keep an eye and an ear out for Nana once I left for school.

He kissed Nana on the head and walked away… a bit of a giggle escaping unexpectedly somewhere around the 10th stair-step.

I got dressed, left for work, believing everything was okay until later that day my mother fell again.

This time, she just slipped right out of her recliner and fell butt first on the floor.

Luckily, my good friend Darryl was doing some work on the house, and heard her calling for help over the sound of his power tools.

When I saw his number pop up on my phone at school, I told the students that it might be an emergency and I’d have to take the call.

They all leaned forward in their desks, wondering what “Ms. Wood escapades” they would be privy to this morning.

“Hey D.D.” Darryl said. “Your mom fell out of her chair and hurt her butt.”

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was able to get her back up into her chair but…” he paused. “She says she has something stuck up her butt and I can’t really do anything about that.”

“She actually told you that?” I asked. “She actually told you she had something stuck up her butt?”

I couldn’t believe it. My mom was totally out of control.

At that moment… I was reminded how much like my mother I was… when I turned to see 35 young and highly interested faces wonder:

Who was on the phone?

Who had something stuck up their butt?

And thank God Ms. Wood was so absent-minded she would repeat the up-the-butt scenario in front of her entire class.

I saw Tyler Ericksen in the back of the room turn to A.J. Santos and mouth the words “Up her butt” before they both just fell out laughing.

I turned my best glare at them and they immediately silenced themselves.

“Does she want me to come home?” I said to Darryl.

“No,” Darryl said. “She’s okay. She said she could wait to get up when you get home and… I’m here.”

“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone.

“Who’s got something up their butt?” Tyler asked as he tried not to smirk or giggle.

“You’re gonna have something up your butt Tyler if you don’t crack that book and get back to work.”

A.J. put his face down on his desk. His shoulders heaving with laughter.

“A.J.?” I asked.

He looked up, tears streaming down his face and whispered, “You said crack.”

“OH JESUS!” I screeched. “It’s my mom. She took a fall. She hit her ass. Now she thinks somethings stuck up there!”

The entire room went silent.

“My brother stuck a small mallet up his butt once,” Kylie said. “Maybe your mom landed on something and it…”

“My mother does not have a small mallet up her ass!” I screamed.

Kylie looked around the room as if she was only trying to help.

Everyone else just seemed dumbfounded that 11th grade American History had turned into Local Current Affairs in under a minute.

“Let’s just go back to work,” I said calmly now. “My mom will be fine. I’m sure she just bruised her tailbone.”

And so… my class went back to silently working and I counted the minutes until I could get home and check on my mother.

By 3 pm I realized my mother was not fine.

Darryl was long gone, smart man, and mom was bent over the kitchen sink.

She had her arms folded in front of her and her ass up in the air.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Taking the pressure off.”

I watched her shift her weight from one orthopedic sandal to the other her short cotton blend roomy capris moving with her.

“I think I need to go to the doctor,” she said.

I waited… listening… watching her in action.

“Yep,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”

Here she turned to look at me head on.

“You know when it just feels like you need someone to stick a finger up there and set it right. That’s what I need. A finger adjustment.”

I cannot describe my face at the moment these words registered in my brain.

In fact, I’m not sure if Hemingway could have described it.

Or even Palahniuk or Leonard.

“Did you really just say that?” I asked.

“What? That I need a finger up my ass. Yes Dede. That is what I said. I need a finger up my ass.”

I couldn’t take anymore. “Jesus Christ Old Woman!” I screamed. “Do you hear the shit that comes out of your mouth?”

I stomped from the kitchen and down the hall, where I slammed the door behind me and called my oldest daughter, who was in nursing school, to help me out with this situation.

Lexi answered the phone on the first ring.

“I hear Nana needs a finger up her ass,” she said followed by her hysterical laughter. “Don’t worry Mom,” she said. “I’m already on the way.”

I stayed in the back of the house unwilling to watch the full-blown fiasco of Dylan and Lex trying to get Nana out the door, and into the car, to go to the doctor’s to get her much needed “finger adjustment.”

I actually laid on the bed the entire time they were gone and tried to envision Dr. Yeske’s face when my mom repeated to him in her perfect comic tone. “I just feel like I need you to put your finger up my ass and adjust it.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

When they returned, Nana was upright with a frosty chocolate shake in her hand as if all was right in the world.

“You okay,” I asked though I was terribly afraid of the answer.

“Yes,” she said as she took a giant slurp off her shake. “I have a small fracture in my tailbone. I don’t need a finger adjustment. It’s just going to take a bit of time to heal.”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I said as the kids put a pillow in the seat of her recliner and helped her to sit back.

“Yes,” she said as she took another slurp of shake. “Will you put a movie on for me?’

“Sure,” I said. Happy in the knowledge that we were moving past butt talk. “What do you want to watch?”

“Get me Bad Santa,” she said. “I just love that movie and all this ass talk reminded me of that great scene when he…”

“Don’t!” I screamed. “Don’t say it.”

She took another slurp off her shake and smiled. And though she didn’t say a word… I swear I could hear her say, That’s right, Sweetheart. I’m not out of the sarcasm game yet.

Part Two: The Olds go out for Dinner and Come Back Hungry


old lady driving

It started out as a simple plan.

The Olds, tired of Jack-in-the-Box salads and McDonald’s apple turnovers decided they would make a night of it.

Yes… they would go to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup/salad/breadstick special and God knows what else.

The only problem?

My 85 year-old mother and her 85 year-old friend, Ernie, are in my opinion, unfit to drive.

In fact, barely a month ago, my mom hit the gas, instead of the brakes, in the fast food drive-thru line and shocked the shit out of a guy trying to grab hold of his Big Mac, while being rammed from behind by an old woman. To add insult to injury, she refused to offer him her information and instead, tried to hand him 50 bucks to cover the damage, before climbing back into her car, and leaving the scene of the crime.

And Ernie… was no better. He had just rented a car at his daughter’s house in Phoenix, drove home without our knowledge, missed the turn-off to the 91 freeway that would have brought him straight to our house and confused… had driven two more hours out of his way, ending up in Santa Monica where finally, road-weary and frustrated, he exited the off-ramp and slammed into a car that had a small child in the back seat.

No… I wasn’t really into either of them driving but unfortunately… I had no idea of their “big” plan until after they both blew the coop.

“Where’s Nana?” I asked Dylan, my son, when I saw that the blue recliner in the living room was empty, and the house was blissfully silent without Two and a Half Men, her all-time favorite show, blasting from the television.

“Her and Ernie went to Olive Garden,” he said.

I made a face… not really sure what to say…. if they were heading to Olive Garden, they were going all the way to Cerritos. Not a big jog for us… but for the Olds… that was like taking a trip to China.

I must have really grimaced, or Dylan must have sensed my discomfort with the entire situation, because he quickly added, “Yeah, they’ve been gone like a really long time. Like almost three hours. I’m getting pretty worried.”

I was a bit concerned when I heard this but not overly so.

I know how my mom eats.

She really likes to take her time and make it a full-on event and not in a fun way.

It’s painful going out to dinner or lunch with her these days.

She’s grown quite defiant in her eating: she knows you’re waiting on her and she likes it.

She can swirl a small piece of steak around on her plate a good four or five minutes and reposition it like ten times before actually even lifting it towards her mouth and don’t even get me started on the chewing.

Yeah… If they had gone to Olive Garden… and they were drinking wine and partying with the unlimited bread basket, who knew when they would be home.

I smiled at Dylan, told him not to worry, and went back to my writing until just a few minutes later, I heard a loud commotion in the kitchen.

I thought it was the kids messing around until Dylan came back into my office with his eyes big and round.

“There’s been an incident,” he said in a hushed voice.

“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “What kind of incident?”

Dylan went on to explain that apparently his “Nana” and Ernie had gotten lost on the way to Olive Garden and instead of coming home, drove around for over two-and-a-half hours looking for it.

“Yeah,” Dylan said. “And I guess Nana had to go to the bathroom the entire time and Ernie yelled at her, and now they are fighting in the kitchen.”

Oh God, I thought to myself, Please don’t make me go out there and for once… he seemed to answer my prayers because that’s when Stephen rolled through the front door.


My dude and all around good guy.

Everyone loves Stephen.

He is the anchor… the cool one…. he always brings the action down and thank God, that was when he walked in.

He corralled Ernie and put him out on the front swing, where I heard them speaking in hushed voices.

I took the opportunity to act casual, and head out to the kitchen for a glass of water so that I could check on my mom.

She was stomping about near the bathroom, her cane thump reminiscent of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and for a moment, I almost turned and ran away to leave Stephen and Dylan to deal with the mess but I waited and played dumb.

“Hey mom,” I said calmly as I pretended to rinse off a plate in the sink. “How was Olive Garden?”

She thumped closer.

“We didn’t make it there,” she said. “We couldn’t find it.”

I heard silence from the front porch and saw Ernie and Stephen nestled together… listening to her response through the kitchen window, fearful of another angry tangent.

“Well, let’s just get you some food here,” I said.

“No,” she snapped. “I want to go to Hof’s Hut.”

I looked at the clock.

It was almost 9 pm.

“It’s a bit late,” I said. “How about…”

“Well that doesn’t mean I’m not hungry!” she yelled.

I heard Ernie and Stephen scurry away from the window, and their voices dropped to excited hushed whispers again.


I turned around to face my mom and smiled sweetly, “Well that’s why I was going to make you some…”

“NO!” she said firmly. “We’re going to Hof’s Hut.”

I was about to concede, figuring Hof’s was close, an easy drive for my mom from our house, and that if I just gave in… we could all go to bed at a decent time, when she said, “Where is Hof’s Hut? I can’t remember? Can you tell me how to get there?”

This is the moment I realized that my mom might be actually losing it and so I asked her to hang on a minute as I opened the front door and walked out to see Ernie and Stephen.

Ernie, a tall thin man with large eyes, looked like one of those sad-eyed Mexican children in those black velvet 70’s paintings I still loved. He was leaning into Stephen’s crook, as if he was seeking protection.

“She wouldn’t let me get her home,” he said sadly. “I finally had to yell at her.”

I thought he was going to cry.

He put his hands together and continued, “She won’t turn right I tell you. She wouldn’t turn right. Maybe I should just buy my plane ticket back to New Zealand now and go home.”

He put his head down and looked at his feet. I watched as he wiggled his toes as if acting “natural” about the whole thing would make it go away.

I felt a profound sadness in the moment.

I didn’t want Ernie to go home.

The Olds were a pain in the ass.

The Olds really knew how to fuck up a good time.

The Olds were 99% of each day out of their God damn minds.

But they were my Olds… and this might be the last time I would ever see Ernie.

He had already spent most of his trip telling everyone, “I just came to say goodbye before I head back to New Zealand to die.” and that…. was a bit too much for me.

I looked at Stephen and sighed.

Stephen patted Ernie’s shoulder, assured him that everything would be fine, as I walked back into the house to get this thing figured out.

“I do love that woman,” I heard Ernie say as I shut the front door.

And I knew it was true.

My mom and Ernie had been friends for many years, since my father’s death, and I knew that what seemed like a “dinner incident” to us was much more to them in the grand scheme of their relationship.

I knew what I was going to have to do and I had to do it quickly and panic set in at the idea of it…

If I couldn’t negotiate a deal with Dylan to drive the Olds to dinner and act as a mediator throughout the entire event… I was going to have to do it myself.

Oh God, I prayed, I’ll give him anything… anything… if he just takes them.

I grabbed the cell and called Dylan who was upstairs.

“Yeah?” he said, obviously preoccupied with something.

“I need you to take the Olds to Hof’s Hut.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” He whined.

“You’re the baby,” I said. “They love you. You have to take them.”

“Make them eat here,” he said defiantly.

“They won’t,” I said. “You have to take them. You have to save their relationship.”

There was a long pause before Dylan quietly gave in and said, “Okay.”

Just a few minutes later, Dylan was acting as mediator to the Olds… escorting Nana to the car, her arm linked to his… Ernie… a few steps behind… fearful… but like a scared animal… trusting in Dylan’s calm presence.

I watched as they made it into the car, pulled out of the drive, and headed off to the restaurant.

Stephen stood next to me and said, “I can’t end up like that…” he turned and looked at me, “I just can’t do it.”

This statement I’m sure has been said by many caretakers but coming from someone always so sound and calm was disturbing.

I gave Stephen a big hug before he headed home to walk the dogs.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back to writing when a text message came through from Dylan: This… is getting pretty intense.

I could only imagine the scene:

Dylan, my big curly haired, bearded bear… smiling between the two Olds as Mom tried to bash Ernie’s brains in with her cane and Ernie, tired of her bullshit, holding a plate full of Snicker’s cheesecake, her favorite, in his hand…refusing to give it to her… laughing and brandishing his fork with glee each time he gulped down another big bite at the distress to my mother while he shouted, “Are you gonna turn right next time Old Woman? Are you gonna turn right?”

Of course, the true dinner scene was nothing of the sort… Dylan told me later it was eaten in almost total silence as he made small talk and wiggled uncomfortably.

I gave him a big hug, when he returned and held him tight.

“Will you take me and Stephen out when we are Old?” I asked… referring to the fact that both of us preferred a date with death in Oregon, where it was legal, over a painful meal at Hof’s Hut.

“As long as we don’t have to go to Hof’s Hut,” he said, oblivious to my dark humor.

I paused for a minute and beamed at him.

“What?” He asked a small quizzical smile on his face.

“Nothing,” I said. “Doesn’t matter.”

And then I went back to my writing, Dylan went back upstairs, and I spent the last few minutes before bed listening to the soothing bickering of the Olds in the living room…. everyone back on task.

Joe and Jack Watch the Baby


Many years ago when my youngest child was barely two, I left the baby to be watched by his favorite people: His father, Joe, and his uncle, Jack, and went off to my work day teaching the youth of America.

Now Joe and Jack, are both punk rock legends and therefore considered symbols of “wild, reckless abandon” and RARELY tagged as “responsible, mature adults.”


Because let’s face it: in the punk rock world, sex, drugs, violence and three chord repetitive anthems sell. The only thing the title of “responsible, mature adult” might sell in that world, would be Activia yogurt and Depends adult briefs and I don’t know any hardcore punks looking for those products right at the moment.

Now, one of these men, in my opinion, looks like the devil and… the other one… I believe… IS the devil. But… I well never tell you which one is which… feel free to debate the topic among your companions and friends.

And you may be thinking right now, What type of woman leaves a baby with Lucifer and El Diablo?  Why would she do that?

And my response would be: despite public belief and my personal quarrels with each… they both loved and very competently protected and cared for the baby until one day… things went terribly awry.

Dylan, aka, “the baby” was toddling around the house, as usual, in a diaper, pudgy little feet and hands naked and free, big over-sized baby belly protruding over his diaper, long silky locks of lovely curls bouncing upon his shoulders: cherubic little man.

He was known for getting into trouble but doing it in complete silence. Yes… the baby rarely talked.

He loved to terrify us by striping stark naked, hiding in the neighbor’s bush next door, and watching quietly from the shadows, as we would run up and down the street screaming for him, horrified that we may have actually lost him.

This daily routine left each of us distraught and shaken but, every time we thought he was truly gone, he would somehow magically appear out of nowhere and stand in the middle of the grass staring at us until we noticed him.

It actually took us over six months to find his hiding place: Bad baby.

On this day though, Dylan wasn’t trying to terrorize his parents or his uncle for that matter. He was just running about, playing with his toys when he approached Joe, his father, and said, “Ow.”

According to Joe, his expression was deadpan. He wasn’t crying. His face in no way conveyed pain.

He just kept taking his tiny little dough ball of a finger, touching it gently to the side of his nose, and repeating the word, “Ow.”

At this point in time, Dylan’s uncle, Jack, came into the room to see what was wrong.

For awhile, both Joe and Jack stared at the baby, unsure of what to do until one of them, or both of them, got the bright idea to look up the baby’s nose and that is when all hell broke loose.

The baby had a large yellow, glossy wet, massive orb stuck up inside of his nasal canal.

They didn’t stop to ask questions.

They freaked out and called me.

I was in the middle of my teaching day when the office rang through to my room and said, “D.D. your husband needs to talk with you. He says it’s an emergency.”

I waited for Joe to break through the line and before he had a chance to speak said, “Is everyone alive?”

“Yes,” he answered and was immediately overpowered by the booming voice of my brother in the background shouting, “I’m sure it’s his brain!”

I tried to remain calm as Joe explained the situation.

The baby.

The pointing finger.

The repeated use of the word “Ow.”

And the protruding, glossy-wet mass of whatever was stuck up my baby’s nose.

“I think Jack’s right,” Joe whispered, as if the baby could understand him and he didn’t want to cause him concern. “I think it’s his brain.”

“BRAIN!” Jack shouted from the background, our family legendary in our ability to intensify any given situation by a magnitude of a hundred.

“It’s not his brain,” I said. “Jesus. You two.”

Joe yelled to Jack, “She doesn’t think it’s his brain.”

And for a moment… there was a peaceful silence on the line.

“Put the baby on the phone,” I demanded.

“She wants to talk to the baby,” Joe whispered to Jack.

“She wants to talk to the baby?” Jack repeated.

“Put the fucking baby on the phone,” I said, annoyed at the Heckle and Jeckle shenanigans I was trying to deal with.

I heard Jack pick up the baby, bring him to the phone, where Dylan’s soft gurgly baby breathing, his tiny little coo sounds, let me know that he was present and listening.

“Dylan,” I said. “Tell mommy what’s wrong.”

“Ow,” the baby whispered. “Ow.”

And I could picture his little finger pointing to his tiny baby nose.

Jack carried Dylan away and I waited for Joe to come back on the line.

“It’s not his brain,” I said. “He’s obviously stuck something up his nose and you two are going to have to pull it out.”

“Pull it out?” Joe sounded as if I asked him to diaper an old man’s ass. “How do you want us to pull it out?”

“Get some tweezers,” I said. “Have Jack hold the baby down, while you pull whatever it is out of his nose.”

Joe laid down the phone and I heard a ruckus in the background as he spoke to Jack.

“She wants us to do what?”

“Pull it out,” Joe said.

“Are you sure it’s not his brain?”

“I don’t think so.” Joe said, trying to remain calm.

A few moments later I heard the baby being held down: whiny, squirmy protests… a few baby sobs… then…

“Oh my God! Look at it!” Jack said followed by…

“Dude it’s a grape. Look it’s a fucking grape.” from Joe before I heard the baby cry with annoyance struggling to be let go.

There was another brief silence before I heard Dylan’s fat little baby feet toddling quickly away from the scene.

Joe returned to the phone out of breath, “It was a grape.”

“I heard,” I said as I hung up the phone, apologized to my students for interrupting their class time and my inappropriate use of the “F” word, and then finished out my work day.

When I arrived home that evening the boys were very excited to show me the grape which, I realized immediately, was not a grape, but one of the yellow, golden raisins I had given Dylan two days ago which he had obviously stuck up his nose.

“That’s disgusting,” Jack said. “So that thing was up there for like two days just juicing up.”

Joe looked at me as if I had been the one to cause all of this trouble.

“What?” I said, before grabbing the baby up, kicking open the front door, and sitting down on the swing.

I listened as Jack and Joe squabbled over the size of the object they had pulled from the baby’s nose, while I gently pushed the swing back and forth with one foot… Dylan cuddled close to me… his little head nuzzled upon my shoulder.

I wondered if he would grow up to be like his Father or his Uncle Jack?

“Bad baby.” I whispered, “Very bad baby.” before I kissed him on his forehead and waited for him to fall off to sleep.