Evangelic-ed

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I heard them.
Outside my house.
Preparing to come up my walk.
Jehovahs.
Six women, different shapes and sizes, all dressed in thin polyester pastel summer blouses and floral calf length skirts.
Much like the Mormons that had been stalking our house for several years obviously, there was news that the devil was rumored to be living somewhere in our home. There must have been an all points religious bulletin sent out that said we would need several different brands of religious zealots to eradicate him from the house.
I was in the back writing when I heard Lola begin to bark, annoyed, I went to the bedroom and told her to be quiet and then I saw them out the window. I ducked, hoping that the thin bamboo blinds camouflaged my Spongebob pajama bottoms and my braless breasts bouncing past the screen.
They paused.
They had heard me scold Lola and now they were wondering why I had never answered the door. My mom still answers. She shuffles over, listens to them quietly with the door pressed tightly across her chest. Head nodding gently as she waits to pass them her $1.50 in change so that she can buy their newest edition of ‘The Watchtower’ before she can return to Regis and Kelly and highlights from Dancing with the Stars and American Idol.
I do not open the door. Today, I didn’t even hear them until Lola barked. Caught up in a new story idea related to Harvey Keitel’s penis, I was enthralled with pictures of H.K. in ‘The Piano’ and the ‘Bad Leuitant’, really, enough to make anyone deaf for a matter of minutes, not even realizing they had been at the front door.
Then, the herd of women moved away and all was quiet again. Lola stopped barking, mom went back to the blue chair, and I went back to Harvey’s penis.
5 minutes passed when Lola was at it again, this time, her bark was different, immediate, vicious, she was off the bed, out the dog door and tearing at the fence before I could even get to the window to see what was wrong.
Outside, I saw a police officer creeping passed my fence, tip toeing up to my neighbor’s back gate. Three cop cars were parked in strategic locations about the corner of my house. What the fuck had the Jehovah’s done now?
I snapped at Lola to come back in the house, she popped through the dog door, eyes up, ears back, as if protecting our house was a bad thing. I grabbed her collar and closed her in the bathroom.
I crept outside and now saw four different police officers tip toeing up to my neighbor Linda’s house. I ran back in the house, grabbed my cell phone and called her.
“Hello?” she said.
“Linda,” I said, “Are you in your house right now?”
“Why?” she asked, “What has Sophie done now?”
Linda is a big dog lover and I mean big as in BIG dogs. She has two Irish wolfhounds, Maggie and Sophie, and a greyhound named Joe, who are all taller than me when they stand with their paws on my shoulders. So I tell her what is going on.
“Can I talk with them?” she sounds concerned.
I run outside, “No, their guns are drawn.”
“What?”
“I’ll call you back.” I say as I snap the phone shut and run outside to check on the police.
The cops are ready to make their raid to the backyard. They are signaling me to be quiet but I ignore the signal.
“She has big dogs,” I shout, “Really big dogs. Don’t go in there!”
They stop.
I can see them peek through the front window to the backyard before they call off the raid and back up and over to my fence.
“Sorry,” I said, “but I knew it was just the dogs.”
Now there were four cop cars and I wondered how these cops ended up at Linda’s house. Did she have an alarm? I don’t remember one. I had been taking care of her house for the last few years while she was away on trips and she had never said anything about the alarm. So I asked.
“What made you guys come here? Did an alarm go off?”
The oldest cop said, “No the Jehovahs called us.”
Fucking Jehovahs. I should have known it had something to do with them.
I looked down the street and I could see them three houses away. Huddled up in a tight knit little group, hands securely tightened around their leather purses, ‘Watchtowers’ held tightly under each arm. They were looking at the commotion they had caused and I swear I wanted to step past the cops flip them the fucking bird and yell “I’m the DEVIL and I LIKE IT!”
The oldest cop continued, “They told us that they knocked on the door but no one answered. Then they heard a disturbance and knocked again but no one came to the door. So they called us.”
He ended this informative narrative with his hands on his leather gun belt, adjusting it in a manly manner and then shifting his weight from one hip to the other to add emphasis.
I thanked them for their time and then returned to the house. By this time the two younger cops were already ogling Lex. It isn’t often that you end up at a crime scene and find a six foot blonde with a body that can be seen in Playboy, wearing a t-shirt that reads “I’m six feet of heat”. I felt bad for them. I wished I could think of a reason for them to come in and search our house, get a closer look at Lex. Maybe they could look for the devil and report back to the Jehovah’s that all is well in the Grisham-Wood household.
By this time, Linda had called back on my cell and asked me to stop the cops and have them go into her house with me and just do a double check that there really isn’t anyone inside.
I pause for a moment, wondering if I should just have Lex take the two younger cops on an inside search of Linda’s home but then a bad porn movie comes to mind and I tell my daughter to go back inside as I approach the older officer in my Sponge bob’s and my braless t-shirted chest, with my arms crossed firmly over my cleavage and ask him if he will please come back with me and just do a quick check of the residence.
I can see after looking at me, no make-up, short boyish chopped black hair, chubby lump in my k-mart pajama combo that he is thinking of a bad porn movie as well but something more along the lines of “Big dykes bang cops” and is weighing the odds about going with me back into Linda’s home in case I have any ideas of taking him. I raise my eyebrow and cock my head and he sees that I am all business and not of the sexual kind.
We walk up the front steps and he gives me a demonstration of how an intruder could easily slit the screen and climb in the open front window. I nod slowly and seriously, trying to give off the effect that I understand the seriousness of this matter.
I open the door and step to the side. The two younger cops have followed behind us and when they see that Maggie, Sophie and Joe, look more like a herd of camels than a pack of dogs, the younger cop says, “Holy cow! Those are dogs?”
The dogs, wag lovingly hoping that the new group of people will stay and play until “mom” gets home but the cops start their search and I must leave the dogs to answer the cops questions.
“Has this window sill always been chipped up like this?
“No,” I reply, “Maggie ate that sill during the Winter of 07”
Maggie seems to smile from the back porch window.
“Has this mirror been broken like this?”
“No,” I reply again, “Maggie broke that when she rolled off the bed in Spring of 08.”
Sophie and Joe both seem to be looking at Maggie now, as if to say, “We would never do anything as bad as you do Maggie.”
I am not fooled.
The cops finish the search, I lock Linda’s house, and thank the officers once again for their time.
“Tell the Jehovah’s thanks for calling,” I say as I walk back to my gate.
In my mind I really want to tell the Jehovah’s that when they hear rustling going on inside of a house but no one comes to the door, to mind their own fucking business. It’s probably just people trying to hide from them and their stupid fucked up religion.
I mean, who would want to be a Jehovah? The chosen ones have already been giving a spot in heaven, the rest of the followers are fucked, and you can’t celebrate Christmas or your birthday any more.
If they think the draw of poorly made floral clothing, and copies of the ‘Watchtower’ are going to pull us in they are sadly mistaken.
I will write. I will live with the Devil. I will wear my Sponge bob pajamas and I will celebrate whatever heathen holiday comes to mind.
I will not however, ever stop Lola from barking at the Jehovah’s again. I will open the front door, let her run wildly to the fence, fierce pitbull teeth bared and blasting, and watch them all run, run down the street and off to a new location far from my world where Linda and my “hell hounds” are on their trail.

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Playing Quasimodo with Dylan Resulting in a Trip to the Emergency Room and an Awkward Moment with the Police and Child Protective Services

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Dylan believes that Joe and I bordered on the edge of abusive while raising him.

Not physically… but mentally.

He seems to think games like “Goat Man” and “Sanctuary” and “Mean Mommy” and “I’m Blind” were meant to torment him, but we try to explain that they were just good fun or in some cases… meant to protect and educate.

Dylan was prone to taking off his clothes and running away when he was a baby so Joe, my X, invented “Goat Man” basically, “The Boogie Man” so that whenever Dylan ran away he could shout, “Goat Man! Goat Man!” and Dylan would scurry to the safety of the house. You don’t want your child running around the neighborhood naked. It may have been good fun back in the day, but now…. that’s a big no.

We didn’t think about the lasting effects of “Goat Man” … a monster that would now live forever in our child’s imagination. We just thought “Goat Man” would live until Dylan was old enough to understand that we created G.M. just to protect him. No… we were wrong. Dylan is now 22 years old and if I stood outside in the dark and yelled “Goat Man! Goat Man! Goat Man!” Dylan would still scream and scurry for the safety of the house afraid that a little hoof footed evil man was about to nab him in a matter of seconds.

“Mean Mommy” was one of my games and it was my way of letting Dylan know what was in store for him if he should so happen to cross the line and break Mommy’s rules. Any time he would do something terribly naughty, I would make crazy eyes at him, switch my voice into a high pitched tone and say, “Mean mommy” and Dylan would freak out and beg me to stop afraid that I had gone crazy and might kill him.

I was 26 when I invented this game, not much more of a baby myself… but I would still invent it again right now if it meant Dylan would turn into the great person that I believe him to be today.

So…. the day I invented “Sanctuary” I never thought anything would go terribly wrong…. I just thought it would be fun to beat Dylan with a yellow plastic stick ball bat while shouting “Sanctuary!” dragging my right leg behind me as I pretended to be the Hunchback of Notre Dame while Dylan scurried along the floor screaming “No Quasimodo! NO!”

We were half way through the living room, then rounding the corner of the hallway with Dylan crawling on his hands and knees, while I smacked his butt with the yellow plastic bat as he squealed  and giggled with delight and tried to escape me.

At that time, we still had carpet in our home but it was old and worn and in some of the door frames, sharp carpet nails had become exposed due to the many years of heavy foot traffic.

Dylan rounded a corner to hide in a bedroom when the top of his fat, soft, pink baby Fred Flintstone foot, caught on one of the large sharp rusty nails which ripped his foot wide open.

He flipped over, covered his foot in shock and terror, little arms shaking in pain and anger before he looked up at me and screamed, “LOOK WHAT YOU’VE DONE TO ME!”

His face was that of ultimate betrayal.

I thought he was being overly dramatic until he removed his hand and I saw the damage: exposed meat and a fat gaping mouth of a wound.

Joe had come running when he heard the commotion and after seeing the injury, and then giving me a look that could have frozen hell, placed a clean towel over Dylan’s foot, carried him to the car and we rushed him to the emergency room.

They took us straight in and in a matter of minutes, Dylan was sitting on a hospital bed as they took our information and a nurse went to get the doctor.

When the doctor arrived, he asked that Joe and I take a seat in the chairs against the wall and wait while he spoke to Dylan privately. I did not know that this was normal practice, that doctors often speak to children alone to check for child abuse. A police officer from child protective services was also called in to listen. I’m not sure if they just hang out at the hospital waiting for these types of cases or if they called him in specially.

I could see Dylan’s little rounded back… he was still sniffling as children do after a hard cry and his shoulders would pulse up and down every few moments as he tried to catch his breath.

The doctor pulled up a chair and sat down facing Dylan. Because of our location, we could view the doctor’s face, the officer’s face… but nothing of Dylan’s expression.

The doctor said very calmly, “Dylan. Tell us exactly what happened.”

And Dylan replied in broken sobs, “My mom… was BEATING ME… with a Baaaaaattttt.”

You can’t even imagine the look on the doctor’s face… I don’t know if I can even describe it… he looked at me like I was the biggest moron in the world. I swear… it wasn’t a “You are obviously a child abuser” look it was a “How the hell did you come up with such a stupid game like Sanctuary Quasimodo you idiot?”

The child protective officer looked at Joe like he was the devil and I could feel shame radiate from Joe’s entire being before he looked at me and whispered, “We’re so going to jail.”

But we didn’t go to jail. We never went to jail for raising Dylan. They stitched up his foot and sent him home with the crazy woman and the devil after Dylan through broken sobs explained while having his foot stitched up that it was just a game… and that he loved his mom and dad very much.

Thank God.

I’m sure if Dylan is reading this now… he wishes he could go back in time and give us a taste of our own medicine. Maybe a game called, “Send Mommy and Daddy to Jail”

Sound good Dylan?

Breaking Into the Nature Center with Amy on a Whim and Meeting Up with Jason from Friday the 13th Resulting in a Broken Ankle

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It wasn’t like I planned to break the law.

I’m a Nationally Certified public educator for Christ’s sake but… sometimes, my inner “I Love Lucy” mixes with my former “Punk Rock Persona” and creates some type of alter-ego that I imagine has a name like, Frankie Smith, who sports wild red hair, drives a 1969 Fastback Chevelle, and has a tattoo of a large sacred heart branded across her chest with the slogan, “Jesus loves you but he’s still working on loving me.”

It was a school night, probably what is referred to as Indian Summer on the East Coast and “Santa Ana Wind” weather on the West. Amy and I were walking in the park after hours. This is something that people are allowed to do but, the Nature Center, a sort of wild life preserve within the park, home to coyotes, opossums, bunnies, snakes, and a slew of water turtles, is gated and locked and off limits after five pm every evening.

We were on the road that meanders next to it… the wind blowing warm… the street lights every hundred yards or so punctuating the silhouettes of the big beautiful trees as they swayed wildly in the wind.

Amy and I were prattling on about something when one of us… I’m not sure who but I would bet money Amy would say, “It was you dork.” Thought it would be a good idea to climb the six-foot chain link fence, break into the Nature Center, and walk the trails through the forested area at night, alone, believing that it would be lovely to have the paths all to ourselves.

Actually, now that I’m writing this… I can say with 100 percent surety that I was the one that came up with this idiotic plan.

Sorry Amy.

But we have been friends for many years and Amy knows how persuasive I can actually be…. and our antics do always end up as really great stories later, so… there’s my justification.

We wandered off the road and walked into the brush by the fence that borders the flood canal. We started to climb the chain link several times but stopped each time we heard a small group of bicyclists passing by us.

Maybe we were paranoid.

Maybe we were having second thoughts.

But by the fourth time of jumping down and squatting in a bush I finally shouted, “Fuck it,” and hustled my ass over the fence and landed cleanly on the other side.

Amy’s face registered a mix of admiration at my clean climb and complete despair when she realized we were actually really going through with this. I stood and waited for her to climb up and over all the while feeling a childlike sense of glee. I had ALWAYS wanted to break into the Nature Center since I was about thirteen-years-old. So many of my friends had already done it in junior high or high school. Some… to make out… some to get high… and some to actually fish the ponds. I felt as Stephen Chbosky once wrote “Infinite” not taking into consideration that I was NOT 13 and “Infinite” but 40 and “finite.”

As soon as Amy jumped safely to my side of the fence, we ran through the brush to the trail and giggled like idiots at our stealth sneakiness. We were criminals. We were law breakers. We were suburban commandos. Seriously? We were idiots. Who the hell does shit like this in their 40’s?

We walked the back path, the one that takes you by what we call “the lake” but actually is about the size of a large pond and watched as the sun began to set right before we came up to the area we called: the pine forest.

Now, the pine forest area is actually quite creepy even during the day time. There is something about it that is reminiscent of the 70’s slasher movies where young “stupids” are often ambushed while walking, or skipping, or chattering lamely through the brush.

Amy and I were no different than these characters. Actually, I think we even commented on how we “felt” like characters in Friday the 13th as we passed the lake and headed to the forest.

We were just turning the bend in the path, that would lead us right next to the woods, when we saw something that will forever stick in my memory as the moment when I thought I would actually die of a heart attack just from viewing something. A large man, dressed entirely in black with a ski mask on, stepped out of the woods, stood firmly on the path, and stared us down before… without a word… he took one step back into the treeline and disappeared.

I’m surprised Amy and I didn’t just simultaneously shit our pants and then pass out.

My mind instantly calculated how fast we could get to the front gate and the security phone and would we be fast enough to defeat our attacker.

I mean come on…. no one survives in the slasher movies. They believe all the way up until the bitter end, even gloat about it, which we all know is the kiss of death, that they got away and then next thing you know Kevin Bacon’s throat has an arrow sticking through it.

It took me barely a split second to look at Amy and scream, “RUN!”

We booked it down the service path, cut across by the bramble bush tunnel, ran past the meadow, over the two bridges to the front gate in what seemed like a moment. Our breathing was rough and raspy, our hearts pounding, unable to keep up with our bodies. Even when we arrived at the well lit, neatly trimmed area by the front office, we still couldn’t stop from turning around and watching our backs sure that we would look across the front pond and see… well… the iconic photo of Jason emerging out of the woods of course.

Now, we knew once we picked up the security phone, the rangers would be there in a matter of seconds, their office we could view across the street but… I didn’t want to call. I could just see the local newspaper headline the next day, “Popular high school teacher arrested for breaking into the Nature Center. Is this the type of Public Servant we want shaping the minds of our children?”

Shit.

I knocked a large metal trash can over and up-ended it. I shoved it next to the fence and told Amy to hold it while I climbed. Now, to this day, I’m not sure if Amy just didn’t “hear” me say, “Hold the trash can while I climb” or if Amy was feeling a bit passive-aggressive after I convinced her to break into the Nature Center, and then forced her to run from Jason, and now, I was making her wait to be the last person out, expecting her to hold the trash can for me when really… the heroic thing to do on my part was to let Amy climb first, but either way… as I threw my right leg over the fence, Amy did not hold the trash can and the weight of my body pushing up and over, knocked the large green can sideways and sent me tumbling down with it. I was fine until my right ankle, bashed against the rounded rim of the can and then rolled the rest of the way across it as my weight bared down upon it.

I knew immediately that it was broken. It wasn’t broken in the “your ankle is hanging off your foot,” or even “your bone is sticking out of your skin” type of way… but it was definitely inoperable.

I don’t remember if I yelled at Amy… but I probably did…. I was pissed. Mainly at myself but ready to take it out on anyone for that matter… In fact… if I could have walked then… I’m sure I would of picked up a LARGE stick and hobbled back to beat the holy hell out of that guy who scared the shit out of us in the first place.

I had a feeling it was most likely, one of my own high school students anyway, playing paint ball or smoking pot… or forest tag with his friends… and I imagine when he stepped out of the forest, trying to terrify what he assumed to be one of his own cronies and came face-to-face with MY GOD… Ms. Wood my Period Three English teacher… actually shit himself, passed out, and upon awakening ran to the back fence where due to his young age, was able to leap it clean without the help of a trashcan and was probably sitting in the 24-hour Jack in the Box, eating 99 cent tacos and bragging to all of his friends how he got away from “The Man.”

My imagination running wild was actually causing me to become infuriated.

I got up, no help from Amy, (who I shall note one time ALSO let me fall off one of the exercise apparatus at the park stating, “It was too funny not to. You looked just like one of the guys in the Matrix… falling all slow motion and shit”) and rolled the trash can to another gate which had a wide gap at the top and was used as a service truck entrance.

I knew if we could climb up the trash can to the gap, all we would have to do would be to slide through and then use the chain that connected the lock as a foothold on the other side to get down. It worked beautifully and soon we were back in the warmth of the mini-van.

I drove directly to Stephen’s house, my new man at that time, who looked at the state of our clothing, our worn faces, and my ankle which was now twice it’s normal size, completely black and blue and said, “What the hell were you thinking?”

How do you respond to a question like that?

Hey Stephen, well… I was thinking with my 13-year-old brain that breaking into the Nature Center was a GREAT idea!

Or… I was thinking I’m 40 if I don’t do it now… when will I ever do it?

Or maybe.. I was thinking, what a great way to fuck up my friend and my ankle all at once. Hooray for me!

Everything I thought about saying sounded absolutely stupid as I sat on the couch with even his dog looking at me like I was a complete moron before I finally mumbled, “I don’t know.”

Stephen went off to the kitchen to get me an ice bag and Amy started laughing uncontrollably, in that way you do when you know you aren’t supposed to laugh and so you try to hold it in but it just keeps coming out in silent bursts of nervous energy.

I had to go to the doctor the next day of course and yes… I did have a hairline fracture in my ankle which took over two months to heal and about a year and half before it even stopped hurting.

I’m now 46 and yes I still walk in the Nature Center almost daily… and once in awhile as I pass the forest I think of that night where I let myself be deviant and failed.

I can’t lie, it has become a good story… and I feel sorta “outlaw” when I think about it. And I’m glad that Amy was not injured due to my stupidity. But there is something in me that still wishes I hadn’t run… think if I had just convinced Amy to start acting completely insane, and we ran wildly through the forest, middle-aged “Ophelias” gone insane and Mr. Ski-mask could have been the one screaming and running… the idiot falling off the green trash can, in the bright light of the front gate.

Man…

It could have been brilliant.

Choking on Nuts While Watching Gandhi

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If you were to come to Long Beach, California. And… if you were to meet the many students I have taught… you would find that they have all been trained to remember two things:

1. That Ms. Wood wants to die in a way that is as entertaining as she lived and…

2. That they… my students… are to steal my body after my death, bring it to the top of the football bleachers (Which I have always been deathly afraid of falling down) and kick my body down the steps, roll it onto the football field, light it on fire, and shout “Valhalla!” dancing with glee, before they must run away… prior to the cops arrival at the scene. I have reiterated many times, that I prefer they wear political masks: George Bush, Bill Clinton, Margaret Thatcher… although Dick Cheney would be nice… but whatever they all agree on… is fine by me.

I swear that I am NOT exaggerating.

Go ahead.

Ask them.

Seriously.

They will say, my little educational minions, that, “Ms. Wood wants to be as entertaining when she dies as she lived and I’m to throw her down the football bleachers.” They may or may not say the word “Valhalla” correctly, but… someone from AP or Honor’s English will have written down the directions word-for-word in one of their highly organized little notebooks and saved it for years, just so the plan should go off, I imagine, without a hitch.

A+ for everyone!

Mortality is something I often like to remind them of… it’s  just my way of keeping life in perspective. Just a couple of nights ago in fact, at graduation, they were all talking about how much they were going to miss me after they left school. “No you won’t,” I said. “Oh you say that now, but you will all go off into the world, begin to live your lives, and I’m the one that’s left behind. And then one day… you’ll think to yourself, I wonder what happened to Ms. Wood? and you’ll Google my name and find out that I’m dead.

“Nooooooooooo!” They all cried in horror, their shock at my statement palpable as I laughed hard and made jokes about how by the time I was ready to die, the genetic engineers of the world would have created some type of scientific wonder that would just surgically transplant my brain into a new younger version of my body. They sighed and giggled and seemed relieved to believe that I would live forever… but that’s just not the way the system works. You may think I’m being cruel teasing them… but honestly… I want them to keep the idea of  “infinite” time in perspective.

So, it was no surprise that one day during Period Five, God decided to give me a taste of my own medicine.

We had been talking about civil rights beginning in the 1800’s with Thoreau… moving to the early 1900’s with Gandhi… and ending with MLK and Cesar Chavez’s civil rights work.

I had decided that it was imperative that they watched the film Gandhi and to my surprise, my students were actually into it.

They were all focused intently on the large movie screen… watching… silent… as I quietly sat in the back corner behind my desk enjoying an afternoon snack of salted almonds. I was mid-bite during a scene that showed Gandhi wasting away on one of his many well-known hunger strikes, when I choked and while sucking in a big breath of air to recover, actually lodged a salted almond in my windpipe. There was a moment of silent panic when I realized I really was choking and I was going to have to be Heimlich’d.

Now, something  you must know about young adult education: any and all words or thoughts that resemble anything close to bathroom humor are remembered forever. So though we all appreciate the idea of the “Heimlich” maneuver in high school… “the hind lick” is of course, it’s comic counterpart.

Now, add that to the fact that Ms. Wood is in the corner, choking to death on “nuts” and you can see how this situation is becoming comically tragic. Even in my desperate moment of complete panic, I felt the world stop. Suddenly… my mind imagined a gigantic Jesus, shining in all of his glory, looking down at me with a wry smile on his face saying, “You wanted to be as entertaining in your death as you were in your life remember? Well, how do you like this scenario now, Sinner?”

My panic intensified.

Damn it.

Jesus was right.

Now I was going to be remembered as the teacher who “choked on nuts because the hind lick didn’t work.”

Fuck.

I rose quietly and quickly from my seat, as to not disturb my class, and rushed through the back of the room and slipped silently out the classroom door.

My room, a bungalow with a ramp and a rail leading up to it, led me to believe that if I could just get to the railing, I could Heimlich myself without disturbing my class and everything would be fine.

I readied myself as I held my fist tightly against my abdomen and jabbed upward several times sharply while slamming myself full force against the railing. After several seriously painful blows, the almond flew out onto the asphalt and I vomited the rest of my snack while hanging over the rail, drool dripping in long strings as I spit and worked to catch my breath.

When I looked up, I saw that there was a student standing out on the ramp of the bungalow across from mine, totally calm, not even disturbed by what he had just witnessed, texting rapidly to, I have no idea who but, being forever the teacher, afraid that I had just scarred a pupil for life, composed myself as I wiped my mouth and said, “Sorry about that. Are you okay?”

His head didn’t even come up from his task, “I’ve seen worse he mumbled.”

I shrugged my shoulders to myself thinking, Yeah… me too as we both stood there in silence for several moments… me recovering my composure and the student, intent on his work.

After a bit, I righted myself and moved towards the door.

“Hey,” the student shouted out. “What did you choke on?”

Now, I know what you’re thinking. Yes,  I could have ignored him. I could have said any number of foods. But… I felt that I needed my suspicions confirmed and so… I answered honestly.

“Nuts,” I said.

He raised his head up from the text, trying to keep his amused expression from breaking before he laughed… which can only be described as a “Beavis and Butthead” guffaw, and said, “Nuts? I’m sorry Ms. Wood, but that’s fucking funny.”

I rolled my eyes and went back into my classroom where thankfully, Gandhi’s hunger strike was coming to an end, my students were totally engaged in the action on the big screen and still had no idea that I had exited the room, let alone almost just died, on the bungalow ramp.

And to be honest, if they had known, they would have been quite angry with me because I have made a deal with them. Yes… a deal. Basically, an amendment to the Ms. Wood Death Clause.

The amendment states: that if I die in the classroom, during class time, they are allowed to roll my dead body under the large table in the back of the room, hiding it, so that they can have a party “sans adults” until they have to report my death to the office at the end of the school day.

I think that’s fair.

I mean really… they should be allowed to unwind a bit if a teacher actually up-and-dies mid-class.

I walked back to my desk and thought… How beautifully ironic: Me, choking on nuts as Gandhi’s hunger strike comes to an end.

Could the story have been any better?

So at the end of the period, I broke down and knew that I had to share it. I told Period Five the truth and as I predicted they were totally in shock that all of this had happened during their class time and that they had missed it.

Of course… they also made me call Nurse Erlandson to make sure that I really was okay. She suggested that I might want to see the doctor after school to have my windpipe checked, which, I actually did.

And now, today, I wonder… is the moral of this story, “Be careful what you wish for?” or… “Stop eating so much, get a fucking clue, look at Gandhi?”or… “Be prepared… know the “Hind Lick?”

I’m not really sure… in the grand scheme of things maybe it really wasn’t a big deal: I’m just glad that today… I’m still here.

And what about the student who witnessed my near demise? Well, I spent the remainder of that year running into him in various odd locations of the campus; as if God was putting him in front of me purposely to remind me of my little prank.

Each time I would see him, he would wave, smile, as if we were the best of friends and then… just when he was whisper close he would say, “Nuts” and then giggle like an idiot as he shook his head and walked away.

I loved him for it: I truly did.

Little bastard.

Totally loved him.

A Conversation while watching Little Women during Period 4

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Students: “Why does Jo like Professor Bhaer? He’s way too old.”

Me: “Gabriel Byrne is hot. Watch the movie.”

Students: “Ick.”

Me: “Watch the movie. Look! The guy who plays Teddy is Batman!”

Students: “Oooooooooh!”

Me: Sigh.

Students: “God, Ms. Wood. Don’t get all butt hurt about it.”

Me: “Watch the movie.”

Students: “But he’s so old!”

Me: “Jesus.”

Students: Sigh.

A Shit Load of Mormons

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A Shit Load of Mormons
By D.D.Wood

It wasn’t like we decided in advance that our kids would be allowed to have religious freedom. Joe and I weren’t that kind of parents. There was no rational plan, no need to plot our children’s spiritual journeys. We were too busy trying to live on AA and Top-Raman to come up with a plan like that. We didn’t go to church; we went to meetings. We didn’t read the bible we read the Big Book. Our spiritual guides were old men with no teeth and good stories about driving with a bottle of Jack pressed tightly to their palm. We weren’t bad parents—just young and stupid—and so our kids, Lexi and Dylan, were left to plot spiritual journeys on their own.
Lexi chose conservative Christian.
2nd grade.
She came home from school and told us that she wanted to be an Awana.
“What’s an Awana?” we asked.
“A child soldier for Christ.”
Neither one of us was quite sure what a child soldier for Christ did but their group met every Wednesday night, and she would be carpooling with other small child soldiers of Christ, so we decided that the few precious hours of private time we would receive during her conservative Christian conversion would be worth it.
We let her go.
Months went by and soon years and Lexi was still going to her conservative Christian church. She went to all of the special functions: Car Wash for Christ, Ice Skate for Jesus, Field Trip for our Father. Anywhere they went she went. She had a special Awana’s shirt with little badges for achieving spiritual marks. Recite bible page 562: earn a small green bead for your Awana’s Soldier of Christ vest. Recruit another soldier: earn five small green beads for your Awana’s Soldier of Christ vest. During that time Joe and I earned two drug relapses, six unpaid pawn tickets on hocked musical instruments, and numerous arguments over who I suspected he fucked while touring with his band.
It wasn’t until Lexi was in high school that things changed. Joe’s sobriety remained intact. I learned to focus on myself after attending only four Al-Anon meetings a week for two years, and Lexi one day came home and said that she would no longer be attending her Christian fundamentalist church.
“Why?” I asked, rather stunned that after all of this time she was just quitting cold turkey.
“There’s nothing in it for me anymore,” she said.
“Did something happen?” I asked.
“Well,” she paused, “Pastor Fred said that all homosexuals would burn in hell and I thought that was a bunch of crap.” She shrugged her shoulders a bit, then turned and bounced back up the stairs to her bedroom whistling the Awana theme song, All Workmen Are Not Ashamed, and that was that. Lexi’s religious journey was over.
4th grade until 10th grade a soldier for Christ.
11th grade: Christ is crap if he isn’t for the homosexuals.
I wanted to give Lexi a bead to wear on her Awana’s vest that said, “Christ for homosexuals” and I wondered if she would be happy with a 30-day newcomer chip from AA.
By 12th grade graduation, Joe and I were divorced, Lexi was void of all religion, and Dylan was writing the serenity prayer on the back of his bedroom door. I knew what was coming next. He was two years behind Lexi on his quest to be a child soldier of God but I knew it was coming as soon as I read, “God grant me the serenity” on the back of the lacquer white bedroom door.
I knew.
Dylan chose to focus on Eastern philosophy. He became obsessed with Buddha. He asked Monica, the owner of Siren, a hip and trendy art store off of 4th street in Long Beach, if he could purchase one of the shrines she sold honoring the Buddha. She was so touched by the fact that an eleven-year-old boy wanted a Buddhist shrine that she gave him one for his 12th birthday. Dylan was beyond thrilled. He unrolled each little foiled incense pillar as if it was a Hershey’s kiss about to be popped in his chubby little mouth. He folded back the wooden doors so that Buddha could have a better view, and although he seemed to be a 6th grade boy in every other aspect of the stereotype: farting, burping, jiggling his penis inappropriately and staying up late to catch soft core porn on the cable channels, Buddha presided over it all, watching lovingly from his overpriced arty wooden shrine.
Buddha lasted until 8th grade. Dylan never attended church, bowed at a public shrine, or recited prayers at a temple. He never meditated or offered Buddha much more than a Pokemon card now and then or sometimes a small green rubber Martian that he nabbed from a quarter candy machine. Then one day, Buddha’s shrine was packed with Dylan’s special keepsakes, the little wooden doors were closed, and Dylan moved on to musical instruments, the pursuit of teenage girls, and South Park became his favorite show.
I thought he had finished his religious phase.
I thought we were done.
But I was wrong.
I should have known there was trouble when I saw the first two Mormons.
They arrived on a Saturday, all pedal tired from pumping their bikes across town in the warm summer sun, suits constricting their muscles and causing them to sweat. They were riding by they said, and God told them to stop when they saw Dylan outside working on the driveway by himself. Dylan was actually just putting his garage bedroom back together. Thirteen and obsessed with his material possessions looking neat and clean, cool and properly placed, was a big deal, and the Mormons were happy to help. Really, they said, more than happy to help.
When they finished the day’s work, they left Dylan with some literature and said they would be back in a week. Dylan came in after they left and said, “Mom, I’m considering the Mormon religion, do you know much about it?”
I told him the only thing I knew about the Mormon religion was that Brigham Young founded it and they thought Native Americans were dirty people.
“Come on mom,” he said, “tell the truth.”
I didn’t want to tell him that was the truth. That I had been on a Mormon historical tour once when I was driving through St. George Utah and the guide had actually said, “Early Mormons thought the Native Americans a dirty people.” So I lied and said, “I really don’t know much about it” and left him to run off with his new Mormon bible and figure it out on his own.
One week later the Mormons were back. The two must have decided that they really wanted Dylan because now there were four. I wasn’t quite sure what to think but they offered to help us clean the house so I allowed them to stay. They seemed a bit miffed when they finished their work and found out that Dylan had still not read their literature so they left again, planning to return the following week.
Several weeks went by and the Mormons did not relent. They came by again and again but by this time, Dylan had realized that there was nothing cool about their book or their religion and so he would hide in the garage until their knocking ceased and they went away. For weeks he continued his hiding until one day, he was caught. They trapped him by the driveway—four Mormons—and much like being attacked by a gang; he could do nothing but allow them to bully him with their testimonials as they tried to jump him in as a new recruit. I watched from the front garden, unwilling to get in between the Mormons and my son. He would have to learn to deal with spiritual zealots on his own.
I saw the Mormons roll out about ten minutes later and I figured that Dylan had final gotten up the nerve to tell them the truth: he would not be their newest recruit. But I was wrong. He had lied and said that he had a doctor’s appointment and that he would talk to them later, hoping I guess that if he continued hiding, sooner or later they would give up.
But he was wrong.
That night my friend from program, Don, was coming by to pick up a bass amp that he had left in my garage. Don had been clean and sober for years but he had not evolved into much more than a sober junky/carny character who came in and out of my life whenever he felt the need to start a new musical project. Once again he had tried to start one with me and it had ended in shambles when he realized that at 40-years-old, his dreams of being signed as the new Iggy Pop would most likely never be realized. He had decided that he would become a marathon runner instead and that he would pick up his amp and hock it to pay for new running gear, glucosamine and chondroitin supplements to help with his aging knees, and the entrance fee to the Las Vegas marathon. I had told Don to drop by whenever he wanted, Dylan would be home if I wasn’t, he would be in the garage, and Don would easily be able to retrieve his amp.
When I arrived home that evening, I knew something was terribly wrong. A large white Dodge van was parking in front of my house and so I paused at the stop sign across the street and watched as the lights turned off and the doors opened. Mormons began to exit from each of the doors. But the most disturbing moment was yet to come…when the driver exited. I watched the door open, and a strange electronic lift slid sideways from the door. Attached to the lift was a wheel chair and attached to the wheelchair was a small withered body with a large oddly shaped head. I watched as the lift slowly descended down to the street, and then the wheel chaired occupant turned and whizzed off towards our garage as one of the remaining Mormons waited for the lift to rise and return into the carrier van, then shut the door, and headed off in the same direction. I was still pondering how the wheel chair bound Mormon had manned the driving of the vehicle when I noticed Don Hafke across the street hiding behind his beat up pick up truck watching the garage door from a safe distance. I could see him lean out and peek over the hood every now and then, looking around as if he was worried someone or something would catch him. I sat in my car laughing until I finally caught my breath, opened my door, and headed across the street to Don. He jumped when he saw my silhouette, but then realizing it was me shouted, “Did you see that? Did you see that shit load of Mormons?” I wanted to explain but Don was just too interested in recapping his part in the story rather than listen to me.
“I was in the garage talking to your kid when they started pouring through the door.” he said. “First I thought it was like a joke but then I saw your kid’s face and I knew it must be something serious. I just grabbed my amp and bailed out the door.”
I could tell Don wasn’t proud that he had been a coward when faced with a shit load of Mormons but being that he was a recovering addict, I didn’t really expect much from him in the way of honorable behavior.
I gave Don a quick hug, said I’d talk to him later, and told him I needed to go find out what was going on with Dylan. He was relieved that he wouldn’t have to help and quickly and quietly placed his amp inside the passenger door—afraid any sound could bring the Mormons out to convert him—and then scurried around the back of the truck bed, gently pulling open his driver’s side door before revving his engine and screeching off down the street.
I walked slowly towards the garage and pressed my ear against the outer door. I could hear a video being played loudly on the TV and I decided that Dylan was most likely pinned in by Mormons but safe enough for now that I could wait until the Mormons left to speak to him.
I went to my bedroom, lay down on the bed, and watched out the front window, waiting patiently for the large white van to disappear. After a time, I forgot about my vigil and fell into reading until I heard the engine start. I peered out across the yard as the van drove away and wondered where they were off to next. Did they have a map of the unconverted in Long Beach? Were they on a time schedule? Did they have a nightly conversion quota to meet? My questions would remain unanswered because that would be the last time I ever saw the Mormons. Dylan came in shortly after to tell me that he was over the forced visitations.
“Well what were you watching in there with them?” I asked.
“A Mormon introduction video” he said and then left it at that.
I didn’t push for information. I knew that he was probably worn from the evening’s festivities and most likely pondering his next move in his plan to get rid of the Mormons.
A week later the Mormons made a fateful mistake. They came to the house while Dylan and I were both at school. Lexi, obviously still jaded from her Awana “Christ isn’t for homosexual days” had no problem lying to the Mormons.
“He moved,” she said, “to Texas with my mother and her new boyfriend. He isn’t coming back.”
And that was that.
The Mormons took Lexi’s lie at face value. Dylan was saved. And our life went back to normal: Heathen pagan babies and spiritually unsound parents.

Scoop the Shit Lex

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I like to drive in the mini van. Feel free to make fun. Feel free to laugh. But the mini van offers me satisfaction that no other car can offer…I don’t care if it is scratched. In fact, I relish in the idea. I still have the mark on the door panel where Dylan W. and Dylan J. fired tennis balls at me while I raced back and forth down the street throwing the ones that came in the window back out at them. I like to get in the mini van and turn on the air and drop people off and pick people up and ask people to come along and talk to people on the phone through the speaker so that everyone in the car can join in the conversation. I love the mini van. My punk friends, the ones that are now 40 years old and still refusing to drive a mini van laugh at me as I blast past their houses. The car full to the brim with the Millikan Water Polo team. Ramones, The Who—or even the soundtrack of Westside Story blasting out of the open windows. They don’t understand that the mini van is a mini universe on wheels and I…I am the Commander and Chief of the world. The President of the car. I decide who gets in, who gets out. Where we go, and what path we take to get there. I can speed up and scare the shit out of everyone or I can slow down and infuriate even the most patient passenger. Ahhh the power of it is lost to them…Stuck in the punk world of the 1980’s they have forgotten what punk means. I am now punk. I refuse to drive a hotrod, get a tattoo, or go with the group…I am now the punk rock mini van commander.

And so, you can imagine my chagrin when I am interrupted while running an errand in my mini van. It’s Lexi on the cell phone. Lex, my 21-year-old daughter. A disgusting girl. The kind of girl that I would love to hate if I could but because she is my daughter, I’m not allowed. Lexi is 6 feet tall. Honestly 6 feet. I still don’t understand how a child of such gargantuan proportions ever came out of my vaginal cavity but I’m too embarrassed to bring it up for fear that people will think that I have the largest expanding hooch in the world. Lexi. 10lbs. 8 ounces of joy! Bullshit. 10lbsd 8 ounces of here comes trouble for the rest of your life. Lexi. 6 feet tall about 145 pounds. She is a cross between Uma Thurman and Heidi Klum. An Amazon woman that Pigmy queen produced. She has perfect skin, perfect boobs, and a butt that can still wear size 4T Fruit of the Loom under-roos. She can sing, she can dance, she is smart, she is a smart ass, she can do anything and do it well. The only ugly thing on the child is her feet…her size 11 feet that she doesn’t seem to understand she needs to hold up her 6 foot Amazon frame. She hates her feet and so I am happy. Happy to know that there is actually one flaw on her whole 6 foot frame that I can make fun of on a regular basis.
I am of the belief that it is necessary to raise a child with some sort of self-esteem issue so that they never believe that they are the be all and end all of everyone’s existence. A way I guess of keeping Lexi in line with the rest of us flawed and fucked up human beings. So, when she waltzes into the living room in a polka dot string bikini (and I swear she does) and looks in the grand gold mirror and poses (no matter who is present) and says, “Look at me…I’m so fat…I’m so ugly” I can actually say…”No, you’re not fat…you’re not ugly…but you might want to do something about that weird giant toe on your left foot” the pleasure is immeasurable.
No beautiful people should be allowed to get away without a flaw.

So it’s Lexi. Lexi on the phone and she is in tears. Lexi is crying and whining and asking when I will be back home. Now on most days, I might instantly snap at Lex. She has a tendency to truly be a drama queen. Everything plays out to her like a soap opera. The storylines of the events of her life are so confusing and convoluted with incestuous twists and turns that to write about them would sound like fiction. Bad fiction. But it would be truth.
However, on this occasion, I wait before I snap. Lex and I have recently been to the doctor because the beautiful person is ill and unlike the flawed weird big toe, this is not something I can wish upon my girl. She is sick. Sick enough for serious evaluations by Dr. Gem our new woman internist. Dr. Gem whom we waited over two hours to see just because we heard that she was that good. Two hours…and when we finally get into a room, I make a comment to Lexi behind closed doors that I think Tom, her ex-boyfriend from Clinton Massachusetts, looks like he might smell of bad fish if you were a stranger and didn’t know him and hadn’t gotten a chance to smell him yet, and that is when Dr. Gem knocks and then appears in the doorway. She has an odd look on her face, one that leads me to automatically believe that she has overheard only a partial amount of this conversation and that she now believes that I have been making slanderous comments about her obvious Asian heritage by talking about “smelling of fish” from behind her examining room door. So I smile big and try to explain and realize she doesn’t know what the hell I am talking about and could care less what I am mumbling about Lexi’s ex-boyfriend.

Dr. Gem begins to examine Lex and as she does so, she begins to ask her questions. This is when I find out what my daughter has really been doing over the last six months. She has been throwing up, passing out and losing weight. She has been drinking nightly, smoking daily, weeding weekly, and eating crappy. I sit with my eyes locked on Lexi’s…ready to kick her ass and kill her and at the same time, hoping that the problem really is as simple as too much partying…too much “21”. Dr Gem doesn’t seem to think it is though. I can tell by her face that she is concerned. When she pulls a thermometer out and finds that Lex is running a low-grade fever, she decides that a full work up is necessary and so she writes it up and sends us to the lab.
We go to the lab where we then find out that Lexi must give blood from both arms, urinate in a plastic cup, and …special surprise for us…take three stool samples daily and scoop them into little plastic jars for the next three days.

So Lex…on the phone…crying and whining…gets out of being snapped at immediately today.
“Mom, when are you coming home?” She whines and desperation and moaning have now moved in. I ask her why she needs me home and I try to remain calm. I do this for two reasons. One, she is really sick and deserves my patience and compassion and two, I don’t want her to know that I am truly worried about such a disgustingly beautiful person. So she then says, “I can’t do this stool sample mom…it’s making me throw up…It’s making me sick…I need you to come home and do it for me.” And that is when I lose it…that is when I know, that Lex truly does deserve the S-N-A-P, because what you don’t know about Lex is that Lex, the beautiful one…Picks up dead bodies for a living. Yes, dead bodies.

She started almost two years ago. The bodies. I thought it wouldn’t last. I honestly thought that someone that looked like that would not last one hour picking up dead bodies from homes and hospitals and who knows where else she gets them but she did. Lexi with a job, recommended by a family friend, as a body snatcher. So here is my girl, my Victoria’s Secret Uma-Heidi Thurman-Klum girl, picking up dead bodies for a living…and this same girl is now calling me on the phone to tell me. That she honestly can’t scoop her own shit?

So I say to her…in my best mom voice…my best I’m the principal and listen to how disgusted I am with you voice, “You can pick up a dead body that is blue and so covered in mold that it looks like the guy is wearing a plaid robe but you can’t scoop a small bit of your own shit and put it in the sample bottle?” …She cries, “Yesssss” and then I hear her gag as if she is about to chuck. So I go off, a complete tirade, about how I am not coming home to scoop her crap. I refuse. I’ve already served my time. I scooped shit from birth to three and I’m done. Two asses; Hers and Dylan’s and now it’s time for them to take care of business on their own.
I make her scoop her shit while I talk her through it on the phone and all the while I am picturing everything that I have witnessed in the last year. Lexi burning rubber around the corner in a white hearse. Ozzie blasting from the open windows, coffin in the back. She stops by the side of the house; waves at me while I water the lawn and waits only long enough for my mouth to drop when I realize she has a body in the back. Then she gives me a huge rock, “WAAAAAaaaAAAAAAAAHHHHHHH” at the top of her lungs, flips the universal rock sign (now known as the sign of the devil made music by Christian Fundamentalists), and spins the wheels burning rubber again as she leaves. It isn’t until two days later that I realize my mom was smart enough to run out behind me and take a Polaroid snapshot of Lex throwing the sign as she sped away. The picture now hangs on the refrigerator door, proudly held up by a sticker from Spencer’s gift and gag shop that reads…I SEE DEAD PEOPLE…Scoop the shit Lex. Scoop the shit.

I think of the time that I come in from work to find a note on the bar that says, “Pick up Fernando Hernandez, flight 462, Delta, LAX, arrives 7pm.” The kitchen bar where all of our communication takes place. The bar, which usually holds notes about live people but today, my mom tells me, the note is for Lex. Fernando will be arriving from Mexico tonight but Fernando has no idea he’s flying and no idea that he’s dead in fact, and on his way back to L.A. Scoop the shit.

I think about the time that Lex caught me on my ride home from a business meeting to tell me that she was really upset because she was at the morgue and her bodies weren’t ready yet. Margie, my good friend sitting next to me in the car, looking at me as if to say, “Please don’t tell me that this is truly what motherhood entails.” Lily, her own daughter, still years away from this type of adolescent body snatching fun! Scoop the shit Lex. Scoop the shit.

And so this is how it goes…me in my mini van…Lex at home scooping her own shit until we get it done. Done and then, Lexi is finally calm. The shit has been scooped and labeled, and so I can once again go back to being Commander and Chief of my world. A world without beautiful people, dead bodies or little jars of labeled shit. A world where the Ramones shout “Gabba Gabba Hey!” from my speakers as I navigate the city streets of Long Beach—Looking for people to pick up—Looking for people to drop off—enjoying the air while running my daily mundane errands—pleased to know that my van carries only live passengers—no need to speak to Lex before climbing on board. Just a typical day in my suburban punk rock mini van as I command the world.