Joe and Jack Watch the Baby

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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.”

Why?

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.

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Saturday July 13th through Saturday July 27th: Ms Wood will be on SUMMER VACATION!

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no swimming

Enjoy one of your favorite posts from the past until I return to entertain you!

And thank you for your loyal following.

D.D. Wood

Joe Screams Like a Girl when Confronted with Aliens in the Gauntlet of our Hallway

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Fire In The Sky2

During the late 80’s early 90’s there was a huge resurgence of alien movies and Joe, my ex-husband, was obsessed with most of them.

But, Communion freaked him out so badly, that he actually became terrified of extraterrestrial beings.

When alone, at night in our house, and our house was a big dark house… he would often let his imagination get the better of him and believe that around each corner these guys were lurking:

comalien2-thumb

And that they would gang up on him and do this:

fire-in-the-sky

I can’t say that I did anything to reassure him otherwise.

Like the rest of the members of the Grisham family, I have quite a penchant for childish yet evil practical jokes and so… I often times would listen to Joe rant on, as he smoked a cigarette on the porch swing, his eyes sketchy, sure that he had just seen a little scary man eyeball him from behind one of the large neighborhood trees… before I would look over his shoulder and shout, “Joe! Watch out! He’s after you!” Taking great joy in watching him scream and squirm before running pell-mell into the house to hide.

I have to admit, there is something very pleasurable about watching a big, dangerous man that looks like the devil, scream in fear.

So much so…. that when Fire in the Sky came out on pay-per-view cable, and Joe wanted to stay up late night and watch it, I knew beyond a doubt that this would be the time to pull one of my best pranks ever.

I had already seen the movie, caught on a flight back from Nashville, and watching it on the airplane, mid-day, drunk on gin and tonics, made it seem almost comical more than terrifying.

But I could see that in the stillness of a great, dark house, how the mood and music of the film, could weigh heavy on your soul and lead you to believe that things were going bump in the night.

I told Joe I would be happy to stay up and watch it with him, even though I had already seen it, and so, we settled in, Joe in the blue recliner by the stairwell and me in the black recliner by the far wall.

I watched as Joe’s eyes grew large, his mouth turning into a small little terrified “O” shape.

The dark wood paneling of the room….. the large glass sliding doors reflecting images of pale white aliens all around us… the cold drafts of the old house blowing under the closed doors… the creaking of the beams… had Joe curled up tightly in his chair.

He was almost in the fetal position as he absorbed every moment of the film… his gaze barely lifting from the screen… only from time-to-time looking to me for some sort of maternal reassurance and still… he couldn’t stifle his weird “Oooooo! OOOOOOooooooos” a sound somewhat a combo of a siren and a guttural growl type of scream… each time a new and unique creepy little man appeared.

I tried not to giggle each time he reacted.

His dark hair spiked up wildly all about his head.

His heavily tattooed arms covered in skeletons, demons, and dragons.

A living oxymoron in my family room.

It was hard to keep a straight face.

I pretended to be just as terrified as him, by the idea of being captured by a small little man, saran wrapped and anally probed but it just somehow didn’t work for me.

I always wondered why Christopher Walken’s character in the film, didn’t just take a bat and “swing away” like Joaquin Phoenix in the film Signs.

They were little guys!

Christopher Walken, creepy in his own right, should have been able to take ’em!

We were about thirty minutes a way from the end of the film when I put my prank into play.

I yawned loudly several times before I got up from my chair, walked over to kiss Joe on the forehead, and told him that I was just too tired to finish the film.

He looked at me in total disgust.

“I know you’re gonna hide somewhere and scare me,” he said.

I smiled lovingly.

“Don’t be silly,” I kissed him on the head again and brushed back his hair. “I wouldn’t do that.”

He glared at me… he knew a fake when he saw one.

I walked away from the living room, and hid behind the kitchen bar, way back in the corner between two bar stools.

I knew that if I just stayed there, I would be able to trap him in the “gauntlet” of the small hallway and hopefully make it near impossible for him to open the hall door in time to get away.

I snickered to myself as I breathed quietly and waited.

“I KNOW YOU’RE  HIDING!” I heard Joe yell from the living room.

I stifled a giggle and held my breath.

A few minutes later I heard him again.

“D.D.” he shouted. “Knock it off! I know you’re over there.”

I didn’t move.

I didn’t breath.

I waited and sure enough, the grandfather clock soon struck 11:45 and fifteen minutes had passed, and Joe had forgotten all about me.

By midnight, the film was over, and I heard Joe rise to turn off the TV.

I realized at that moment, there was only one light left on in the house: the laundry room light on the far side of the kitchen.

Joe would have to pass me to turn it off before going to bed and if he looked in my direction, my prank would be ruined.

I pressed my body deep into the shadow of the corner and watched as he walked bravely past me, head held high, to turn off the laundry room light and walk the very short distance from the kitchen to the front hall, alone… in the dark.

He made his way into the small room and I took the opportunity to creep out of my corner quietly and hide against the wall by the front door.

Once he turned off the light, I would be completely hidden in the darkness and Joe, his eyes not yet adjusted to the night, would be completely defenseless.

The house went black.

I dropped quietly to my knees and waited for his footsteps to approach.

Once he passed by the front door, I waited for him to be trapped in the small closed cult-de-sac that the front wall of the house, the closed hall door, and the small half-wall separating the passage way from the living room created, and knew that he was screwed.

I made a horrific high pitched gurgling noise… and grabbed at Joe’s legs.

He rushed forward and ran face first into the closed hallway door: It was a loud and terrible crash of a sound.

I reached for him again, this time barely nipping at his heels as I gurgled some more.

He shrieked in misery… it was a banshee of a howl.

He kicked and clawed at the closed hall door, crying out as he tried to basically climb the wall and find solace from the monsters, somewhere up high in the corner of the ceiling.

It didn’t work.

He screamed again and threw himself backwards into the wall, smashing a framed antique photograph of a long deceased family member before dropping like a lump, into the corner of the small space, as the upstairs stairwell light suddenly flashed on and my mom screamed,  “YOU KIDS STOP THAT GOD DAMN RUCKUS DOWNSTAIRS!”

Now at this time, Joe and I were already way into our late 20’s but… the sound of my mother’s voice on the stairs stopped us COLD… as if we were two naughty little children.

For a moment, we stayed silent in our solidarity.

We waited.

She stood at the top of the stairs, assessing the situation, deciding if she would come down the steps and berate us.

A few moments passed, before we heard my mother’s bedroom door slam shut and I began to laugh like a maniac as I slid down the front entrance way wall.

“I hate you.” Joe said as he got up, turned the hall door knob, hit the light switch, and stomped off towards the bedroom in a huff. “I fucking hate you.” He repeated.

I looked down at the floor and saw that he had broken the frame of the antique painting.

“Oooooooh!” I taunted. “You are in so much trouble now!”

He turned one more time and flipped me off before he barricaded himself in the bathroom and to this day… I don’t know if it was protection from me…. or protection from the aliens that lived in all the corners of our old family home.

I got up and readied myself for bed, not sure if my husband would be joining me.

Finally, I tapped gently on the bathroom door.

“Joe?” I said.

No answer.

“Joe,” I repeated.

“What?” his response was sullen and somber.

“Are you coming to bed?” I asked sweetly.

“What about the broken frame?” he said. “What am I supposed to tell your mom about that?”

I tried not to giggle as I gave my response.

“Just tell her you were so afraid of aliens that you broke it in your mad rush to escape their carnage.”

“Fuck you!” he snapped.

I gurgled at him one more time and went off to bed.

Robbie Tells Reno What For

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Robbie and I have been in a band together for over twenty years.

Sometimes we love each other.

Sometimes we hate each other.

But as it is with most good marriages in life as in art: We can’t seem to live without each other.

Robbie loves to give me a bad time and in fact, just called me at school yesterday and began to verbally abuse me in a long stream of multi-syllabic words, and if I even tried to chime in… would stop and say, “Can you shut the fuck up for just one minute? I mean fuck… just listen to me for once? Just for once!” and then laugh and laugh as if his abuse were amusing… which in all honesty… even though it sometimes does infuriate me… it was.

Robbie, my lead guitar player and co-vocalist in Gypsy Trash, is someone I have always considered as my kindred spirit and so… I would prefer to have attention from him… even if it is totally negative and annoying… them no attention at all: He means that much to me.

And so, I booked a show in Reno and took the “kindred spirit” with me.

I was pretty excited about the trip. I had heard the show was going to be a big event and like the good little “mother hen” that I was… I prepared the mini-van with snacks… plotted our course… had music picked out to perk us up at the boring parts of Interstate 5… and was prepared for a day of fun with Robbie and Corey in the van, Craig, our drummer, following somewhere in his car close behind us with his girlfriend Nickie, and Reno, of course, it’s own entity before us… holding a fabulous string of shows.

There is nothing like being on the road with your band: The camaraderie is palpable.

I pulled up to Robbie’s house, big stupid smile on my face, optimistic about our time together when frumpty-grumpty rolled out of his house with his guitar case and said, “Get the fuck out of the driver’s seat. I’m driving.” Threw his case in the mini-van and said, “Where’s the coffee?”

“I thought we could stop along the way and…”

“Jesus, fuck, D.D!” Robbie interrupted. “You don’t already have the coffee?”

Corey, installed happily in the backseat, rarely the talker, always the introvert, always the peace-keeper mumbled, “I could do with some coffee and then lit up a Lucky Strike, preparing himself for the long drive ahead.”

And it was.

A LONG DRIVE.

Several hours of Corey and Robbie chain-smoking Lucky Strikes over numerous conversations and musical debates, cups of coffee, Robbie’s harassment, Corey’s mumbles, and my people-pleasing all of the way to Reno where… we found out… like most musicians find out at one time in their musical career or another… that the show was not a big festival of fun but a sadly thrown together affair at an old hotel that was currently fighting to regain their liquor and entertainment license.

I won’t even go into Robbie’s tirade here. Just note… that it began with “Jesus fuck” and ended with “God damn it D.D.”

His vehement lecture was close to legendary.

Lucky for me, we were in Reno which meant that gambling and booze were close at hand. So, we met up with Craig, our drummer, played our first afternoon gig to a skimpy audience of about twenty people, before we packed up and headed over to the strip to gamble, booze, and eat before our show the next day.

I didn’t see much of Robbie and Craig… somewhere ensconced in a game of poker… drunk on the free drinks in a matter of minutes… I left to sit at the other end of the casino with Corey, both of us totally sober, as he tried to teach me the finer points of Black Jack.

I wouldn’t say I was a complete and utter failure but, after I knocked my large glass of Coke into the dealer’s chips and cards, alienating myself from almost every seated player and resulting in me being cussed out by two super drunk, spray-tanned orange, bleach-blonde, Reno sluts, I decided to call it a day.

I waited almost two hours in an all-you-can-eat casino restaurant for the boys before I finally realized they were addicted to the cards, and walked back to the hotel where I waited for them to show up.

The next day’s show was not much better… in fact I would say the crowd of twenty had thinned and after a fight with the drummer of Hellbound Hayride, a no talent asshole that almost got his ass kicked by Corey and Robbie for mouthing off to me (one of the perks of being a girl in a band… hardcore violent back-up at your finger tips) Robbie shouted “Fuck this place.”

And we all left to head home to our next gig at the Orange County Tattoo Convention. Supposedly another “big gig” but after this fiasco we just weren’t buying it.

“Fuck that show,” Robbie snapped. “Fuck everything. I need some food. I’m hungry and right now… I fucking hate Reno.”

He flipped off the hotel both hands held high, middle fingers blasting, before we piled back in the mini van to stop for a quick bite at the Donner Pass restaurant before heading home.

“They seriously have a Donner Pass restaurant?” Robbie said as he looked at me and Corey with mock disbelief. “Do these fucking idiots know that the Donner party basically ate each other’s frozen dead asses until a rescue party found them in the spring? Jesus.”

He kicked open the glass entrance door with his boot, sat down at the first empty table and began chain smoking.

Corey and I looked at each other but said nothing.

We knew if this didn’t go well, things were going to turn ugly rather quickly… but when you are a member of band… your loyalty requires you to ride the train wreck to the very end and so… we sat down next to him.

I prayed that nothing would go wrong.

I prayed that we could order quickly.

I prayed that the food would appear in a matter of seconds and that we would be fed, content, and on our way but… that didn’t happen.

An hour later we still hadn’t been served and Robbie was irate.

“What do I have to do to get something to eat around here?” He shouted out to the entire restaurant. “Do I actually have to eat someone’s ass? Is that what you people want? Do you want a fucking show? Do you want some fucking Donner party action at this table?”

Corey lit up another Lucky Strike and calmly gazed around the room, almost challenging anyone to speak up.

I sipped my Coke, focused my eyes towards the ceiling, and pretended I hadn’t heard Robbie say anything really of any interest.

Our waitress grabbed someone’s food off of the hot rack, today I still don’t know if it was ours but at that point…I couldn’t give a flying fuck: I just wanted Robbie satiated and satisfied.

“That’s more like it,” Robbie said as she handed him his plate and he immediately attacked his steak.

“Jesus, I hate this fucking place,” he said through a mouth full of food. He pointed his fork at me as if he were teaching me a lesson, “Town of illiterate idiots, D.D. they don’t even have a fucking clue that the Donner’s ate ass.” And then he attacked his steak again.

Corey took a long drag off of his Lucky Strike and smirked as he looked out the window at the pass.

I was trying not to laugh by now, the embarrassment and the reality of the situation way too much for me.

It was a matter of minutes before we paid our bill, climbed back in the car, and drove to the actual historic location of the inevitable ass eating Donner party episode.

“Shall we go check out some history and see where all this shit went down?” Robbie said, excitement taking over, now that he was fed and away from the travesty that was named, Reno, he was full of historical gusto.

“Lead the way,” Corey said as he followed Robbie down the path into the woods.

I walked behind them, glad that it was modern times, spring, and happy in the knowledge that I would not be eating either of the asses walking in front of me.

Convincing Amy that Wild Boars cannot Climb Up Stairs and Attack Her While She Sleeps Outside with Me.

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Okay… so I haven’t always been “honorable” in my relationship with Amy.

It’s true.

I grew up in a family that enjoyed torturing you for entertainment. In fact, we still torture each other for entertainment. It’s good fun to trick someone you love… or just mess with them and watch them squirm.

Being a teacher is an added bonus… I can basically lie about anything and use my authoritative tone to have anyone believe it.

And so… I often put Amy into situations that may cause us both harm… and Amy… loving soul that she is… always gives me the benefit of the doubt.

And after over 16 years of friendship… I’m not really sure why.

This time, we were no where near the El Dorado Nature Center, but we were in an environment that looked quite similar: Catalina Island.

We had gone away for the weekend on a “spiritual” retreat, with a large group of program people: AA, Al-Anon, etc… where we were to stay at a Christian Camp, only accessible by boat.

Now, I love this area of the island because it is truly wild: Bison, mule deer, antelopes, fox, shrews, and my favorite… the feral pig. Aka…. wild boars.

As we were settling into our “woodsy” cabins, I had tried to warn the people sleeping near my bunk, that wild boars would come into the cabin and eat their candy bars, toothpaste, brown sugar bath and body lotion, chewing gum, and therefore, please keep that shit wrapped up tightly and a way from my sleeping area.

I felt bad taking chocolate away from people who needed it over alcohol or chewing gum over cigarettes but… I also knew that if they woke up with a 300 pound boar rifling through their bags that all hell would break loose in the cabin and I’d have 12 crazy mentally unstable people to deal with… myself included.

I did not tell them at this time that wild boars can be quite aggressive… meaning… they won’t just eat your toothpaste they’ll give you a nasty tumble and maybe even quite a nice bite on their way back out of the cabin… and I’m sure you are wondering right now… why I didn’t tell them this?

Well… because I wanted them to be cautious… not terrified for the entire retreat. I felt it wouldn’t really be productive for their experience, strength, and hope if they were worried about being chased down by a wild boar the entire time, unless someone wanted to walk away with this type of experience and find “growth” through strength as they ran away to “hope”fully escape.

I paused for a moment and smirked… I felt sly… If I really wanted to be evil I could use my family strategy of “torture to entertain” and make this a really fun weekend for me. But… I stopped…  I chose to take the higher moral path… to follow the principles in all of my affairs, and went back to unpacking my bag instead of fantasies of terrorizing my program buddies.

That night, after a day of meetings and meals we were all back in our cabin ready for our first night of tranquil island sleep.

I looked up at the ceiling, my top bunk dangerously close to a Black Widow spider, and thought, “To hell with this” as I grabbed my sleeping gear, jumped down to the floor, and headed out to sleep on a paddock by myself.

I watched as a dozen little Al-Anon faces peeked out from the cabin windows.

“What are you doing out there?” someone said.

I threw my gear down on the paddock and started arranging it.

“What about the wild boars?” someone else whispered… as if a boar might hear them and suddenly show up on the scene.

“I’m perfectly safe!” I shouted back. “Would I be sleeping out here on this paddock if I wasn’t?”

That’s when I saw Amy’s little head pop up. “Are you sure D.D.?” she asked with her big innocent, trusting eyes.

Now… I love Amy.

She has been one of my best friends forever… but I couldn’t tell her the truth… and you know why… because I wanted to get my way… like the spoiled Big Headed Baby that I am.

I wanted all of those little Al-Anons to come outside and stop being pussies and sleep with me under the stars.

“Amy,” I said with disgust. “Seriously, would I be sleeping out here if it was a problem?” I paused and pointed towards the steps of the paddock. “Do you really think wild boars can climb these stairs?” Then I rolled my eyes to add emphasis before going back to my work at hand and listening, as the Al-Anons took a hushed Group Conscience and then all scurried out to the platform to sleep with me.

I was pretty pleased with myself.

My ability to convince others to follow my direction, only shadowed by the power of my older brother’s persuasion, was pretty damn good.

I watched as they all placed their sleeping gear on the paddock, a little group of hens deep in the task of nesting.

“Like this D.D.?” They asked as they put their blanket inside of their sleeping bag.

“Sure,” I nodded.

“Is it okay to be close to the edge?” Another little Al-Anon asked.

“Oh of course… ” I said as I brushed a leaf off of the paddock. “No problem. Totally safe.”

Soon, they all settled down… trusting little souls… smiling at their own bravery of stepping out from the confines of the cabin into the big bold world… and now… they were sound asleep under the Catalina stars safe in the knowledge that their “Group leader” would never, EVER,  lead the flock astray.

I have to say… I was pretty pleased with myself… and actually continued to be pretty pleased with myself, until about 3am when I woke to a 400 pound male feral pig grazing next to the paddock as he scratched his back roughly against the hard wood shaking the entire structure.

I felt my eyes grow large in the dark as the enormous bulk… the actual size of such a beast, registered in my brain and the realization of the danger I had put my little group in flooded like fear across my body.

Shit.

I lay there watching him grunt and scratch and claw at the ground praying that my crew wouldn’t wake up… but of course they did… I could feel each body become rigid and alert, the way a parent knows when a child is truly asleep or just “faking it.”

Luckily, their terror kept then silent and still….

“D.D.” Amy whispered. “D.D.?” she said again.

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“They can’t climb the stairs right?”

Now… there is a moment in everyone’s life when they realize they should come clean in regards to a lie… but this moment was not one of them.

“Of course not,” I whispered loud enough for all the little Al-Anons to hear. “You guys are totally safe. Go back to sleep.”

And because my voice always radiates authority… they followed direction without question and nodded off at what I felt was quite an alarming pace considering the situation.

I stayed awake for well over an hour, watching as the giant boar made his way around the entire paddock… eating roots, acorns that had fallen from the tree, and watched as he climbed half way up the stair steps, sniffing at the bottom of Amy’s sleeping bag in hopes of finding something worth eating.

I prayed to God that he wouldn’t put his back legs on those steps…. I knew that if he climbed all of the way up… Amy was toast.

I don’t remember what I used to bargain with for God’s salvation at that time… but I’m sure I’m still paying for it.

Finally, the feral pig put his front legs back on the ground, and trotted off in the direction of the men’s cabin… hopefully, where someone had told them to remove their snacks and perfumed after shave from their space.

I waited a few moments… expecting to hear a ruckus, and then relieved that there wasn’t one, fell into a deep, exhausted sleep.

I was the last one to wake on the paddock that morning and when I opened my eyes I noted the change in my Al-Anons immediately…

My little group felt like they were the “bad asses” of the world for braving the wild and sleeping outside with the feral pig.

They were walking around the camp… shooing the wild Bison away… as if they were cowboys out on the open range.

I watched as Amy, over by the men’s cabin, clap her hands together three times and shoo a group of wild bison away from their cabin door… leaving the men in awe at her bravery and the power she obviously wielded over the wild beasts.

She turned, a pleased smile on her face, radiating confidence as she walked over to me shaking her head in disgust, “Fucking Al-Anon men,” she said and her swagger was fantastic.

I thought about coming clean… but who was I to take away their new found freedom and power?

And so… I chose not to tell the truth to my little party.

I did however, several years later, find enough strength to come clean with Amy while we were walking the Nature Center one day.

“Dick!” she said in total disbelief before walking on ahead of me, her stride fast and furious.

But I could still see her cheeks, curved up in a big smile as she turned the corner of the trail… and so… I listened for her laugh to ring out from the path ahead.. the sign that I was truly forgiven and of course…

It did.

Steve Soto coins the phrase “Dramatacus” which sparks a semi-serious conversation at 3am

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Let me start by saying Steve Soto swears he coined this phrase… and I’m okay with giving the sassypants credit but, if someone has a “beef” with it… take it up with Soto…  he’s somewhere in Europe right now hosting a “sausage fest” (his words…. not mine) as Punk Rock’s favorite nice guy in his band The Adolescents.

I wish I had coined that phrase…

NOT “sausage fest…”

but “Dramatacus.”

I really do.

Steve was brilliant to think of it and now… it is one of my favorite non-words, that HAS become a word, and I pray that someone will add it to Webster’s Dictionary next to GIANORMOUS… and SWAG.

Now… I’m sure we can agree, that we have all been guilty of being a “Dramatacus” at some time in our lives… yes that’s right people…. each and every one of us… don’t even try to deny it.

And…anyone that knows me… knows… that I can definitely be the BIGGEST “gladiator” of dramatic play when provoked…

or sometimes… just because I’m bored.

Being a high school teacher alone cranks the drama-meter off the chart on a daily basis:

“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… told so-and-so… that I was pregnant with so-and-so’s baby.”

Or…

“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… likes so-and-so… but I’m SO in love with so-and-so… I don’t know what to do.”

Or…

“Ms. Wood, so-and-so… told so-and-so… that I was the one that crapped on the floor in the locker room and now so-and-so won’t ask me to Prom.”

See what I mean?

Drama.

Now, add in a daughter that likes to pick up dead bodies for a living…

A son who is a cross between Phil Spector and Brian Eno…

An X who is working on years of recovery… (a Dramatacus in his own right) that’s at the house once a week playing music in the garage…

Throw in a couple of band projects, book projects, and a few sober bad boys in need of reform… and you’ve basically got yourself a “Circus Maximus” of Dramatacus fun.

Now at times… I really like being a Dramatcus… it amps up life…. and adds to the excitement…. but when you are in a relationship with someone… it’s really not a good thing.

You basically go from being their beautiful statue on a pedestal, their reason for living…. to a ROYAL PAIN IN THE ASS in a matter of minutes.

And the worst thing is… you just can’t stop yourself…

It’s like you’re possessed…

You know you are acting like a total idiot…

That you are making the situation worse…

That you are the engineer of your own train wreck….

But you just keep going…

People could be running from you… screaming in terror… looking back over their shoulder at you as if you are GODZILLA about to destroy them… and yet you will still chase them on and INSIST that you MUST EXPLAIN WHY YOU ARE BEING A DRAMATACUS… which only makes them run faster and further as they pray to God that he will “EXIT” you from their life FOREVER.

Sigh…

So it was while Steve and I were both dealing with major emotional upheavals in our worlds…. and trying VERY hard not to both go into Dramatacus mode at the same time… that we started having our  “late night” phone conversations.

Problem is… “late night” to me is around 9 pm, especially on a school night…

And “late night” to Steve Soto is somewhere around 3 am.

We fixed the problem by meeting somewhere in the middle with Steve texting around 11 pm with an “Are you up?” message and if I was… I would call and we would chat.

Now I have known Steve for years… and he has always been able to make me laugh… but one night when I was on the phone howling over someone who I felt had “wronged” me and reading him an email from this person that had caused me to be terribly upset… he stopped and asked,

“Wait… was their sex involved in this relationship?”

I paused……

“No,” I said quietly.

“You guys weren’t like going out right?”

“No,” I said quietly again.

“Well, that seems like a LOT of drama for a non-sexual relationship.” He paused for a moment and then said, “What a Dramatacus.”

It stunned me…

He stunned me…

What a wordsmith.

I was impressed.

I knew that he was speaking about the person in the email… that they were being a Dramatacus in writing… but it stopped me long enough to recognize how DRAMATIC I was being about the entire situation as well.

I was being totally ridiculous.

Someone expressed their feelings to me in writing… That’s it.

I didn’t need to get all bent about it.

Maybe I could for once just bring it down a notch… which I did… waited to respond… and the friendship survived the episode.

The next day I was out walking with my friend Margie when I told her about Steve’s word and the event that lead up to it.

The day after… I was a bit late arriving to her house for our daily walk…. and as I pulled up…. the text alert beeped on my phone and I saw “McLate-acus” flash across the screen.

I looked up to see Margie… giggling from her front porch.

Steve and Margie really know how to make a point when they want to… in the best artistic sense of the matter.

I hope they add McLate-acus to Webster’s as well.

An Interview with Pat Tobin: Award Winning Author of “Cake”

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Today’s guest writer is award winning Long Beach writer and USC film school graduate, Patrick Tobin.

D: Pat thanks for being here today.

Patrick: Thank you, I was hoping I would be on your blog.

D: It seems to be a pretty exciting place these days.

Patrick: If it’s anything like your household… I can imagine.

D: Funny….So Pat… I have admired you as a writer for years and of course, CAKE was the first story I read. I was just amazed with the idea of it and since I teach high school and write young adult literature, I was impressed with how such an adult story featured a teen so prominently. How did you come up with the idea for your story?

Patrick: Well, one of my Swedish friends was running an all woman’s support group and he was telling me how wonderful all of these women were and how supportive they were of each other and suddenly, this idea popped into my mind and I heard… “Yeah… but what if one of the women wasn’t?”  and I thought, “Oooooh this could be good.”

D: That would change the group dynamic now wouldn’t it…

Patrick: Ummm yeah… my lead character is a bit of a… well… bitch and it was really hard to find a way to keep her like-able to the reader.

D: I loved her….. she is hard… but when you find out the place she is coming from… you get it… we’ve all been in those places where we come off like we are being a total jerk and then someone finds out the back story and goes…. “Oh”

(laughing)

D: So no teen in the beginning?

Patrick: No, it was really weird… this is the first short story I ever wrote where I had no idea what was going to happen at the end. The part with the teenage girl and the bus ride came to me after many different adaptations.

D: Speaking of adaptations… how easy was it to adapt “CAKE” the short story to the new screen play that has been receiving RAVES across America… I mean… I think you’ve  been a finalist in six prestigious film festivals including the Beverly Hills Film Festival.

Patrick: Yeah…

(pause)

D: You aren’t going to make me spout off about all of your awards are you? Do you want me to start with the Pushcart?

(laughing)

Patrick: It wasn’t easy at all… to adapt a short story to a screen play you basically have to write a three act play. A short story is basically the “last act” of a three act, so I had to go back and write the first two acts and keep my character, as I said before, a bitch but STILL like-able.

D: Well you did a great job. I saw CAKE performed live during the New Short Fiction Series in Beverly Hills and it was really made for film.

Patrick: Thank you.

D: And you make a really great cake by the way. Do you think you might share your recipe with our readers sometime?

Patrick: Maybe…

D: Alright then, tell me how it felt to be selected by Dave Eggers for the Best Required NonFiction Reading 2008 anthology?

Patrick: That was great.

D: Did a lot of new opportunities come to you after you were featured?

Patrick: Yes. I had a great response from young adults, college students, and agents…

D: We’ll get back to agents later but first… how did it feel to have young adults and college students validate your work? You’ve always been an adult fiction writer and of course Dave Eggers uses a panel of young adults to help him select stories for BRNR. In my experience, young people tend to be really picky and very genuine about what they like… did you feel honored? And did it open you up to the possibility of writing for a larger audience?

Patrick: Yes I did feel honored and yes it actually did open up the possibility of writing for a larger audience. Suddenly I had a lot of young students writing to me and telling me how much they admired my work, asking for writing advice or critiques, and my story was then used as a teaching tool in colleges across America. The response was fantastic and I have thought of writing for the young adult audience now.

D: Well I thought your teen character was very realistic and quite complex. I’ve read the story to my students and they love the ending which I won’t share here since everyone is about to read it!

Patrick: Thank you.

D: Pat, you’ve been a serious professional writer now for almost 20 years… any advice you’d like to share with other writers?

Patrick: Ummmmm just write what YOU LOVE… not what you think will sell… I know everyone says it but it’s true…. and don’t give up….. you’re gonna have to live with a LOT of rejection and just know that you are a good writer and keep going… Oh… And get a lot of feed back from other writers….

D: What about agents? Any suggestions for finding a good one?
Patrick: Don’t take the first agent that wants you… shop around make sure you find an agent that fits. It’s so easy to be excited and think, “SOMEONE LOVES MY WORK” … but you don’t need a friend… you need someone to be diligent about selling your work and committed to your career.
D: Thank you Pat for taking the time to be here today.
Patrick: Thank you
D: And now everyone…. read on… and enjoy CAKE:

 Cake

By Patrick Tobin

First Appeared in Kenyon Review

Included in Dave Eggers Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008

*****

Annette the facilitator pretended to be Kate, a woman in our chronic pain support group who killed herself. We went around the circle, Annette in the middle, each of us given the opportunity to tell “Kate” what we were feeling.

Gail with fibromyaglia: “How could you give up?”

Stephanie with the botched spinal fusion: “You should have reached out for help!”

Liz with diabetes-related neuropathy: “What about your children?”

There were a lot of tears. A lot of hugging. Then it was my turn.

“I have a question,” I said.

“For Kate?” Annette asked. “Or for me, Annette.”

“Makes no difference,” I said. “Is it true she jumped off the San Pedro Bridge?”

“Yes. But—”

“Is it also true that she landed on a Maersk cargo ship headed out to sea?”

Annette shifted uncomfortably. “Claire, we should focus on our feelings—”

“And is it also true that Maersk sent back what was left of her body in a Rubbermaid cooler, that the cooler was stuck in customs for a week before Kate’s husband could take custody of it, that the cooler was stolen on the way to the funeral home because a homeless guy thought it contained a picnic?”

Annette looked around the circle at the horrified faces. When she looked back at me, she nodded.

I started applauding.

“Why are you clapping?” Annette asked, her big fat cow eyes filled with confusion.

“For a job well done. Personally, I hate it when suicides make it easy on the survivors.”

*

When I got home there were two messages. On the first one, Annette said the group had stayed late after I left, that it had been a difficult session for everyone and she didn’t want to minimize my feelings, but—

She and the others feel it’s in everyone’s best interest if I find another support group—perhaps one specifically to deal with my “anger issues.”

The second message was from my ex-husband Jason. He said he wanted to come by and pick up the last of his things. He asked me to call his assistant with a time when I won’t be home, because he feels it’s prudent that we don’t see each other right now.

I’m sure his mother told him exactly what to say on the message because he never used to say things like “prudent.” He always was a big mama’s boy.

With all the excitement it was no wonder I was experiencing breakthrough pain. Breakthrough pain is my worst nightmare because it means the meds aren’t working right.

Imagine the most excruciating thing you ever experienced. A migraine. A kidney stone. Giving birth. All of these I’ve experienced, by the way.

Now try to imagine that the nerves involved in that pain are being pulled out by a sadistic fuck, one by one. No matter what you scream to make the sadistic fuck stop, he won’t. The sadistic fuck just keeps laughing at you because he’s enjoying your agony.

That, in a nutshell, is breakthrough pain.

*

Guess who got a private room at Cedars with her very own morphine drip?

Morphine is like being wrapped up in warm towels fresh from the dryer. Morphine is like your mother rubbing your back when you have the flu. Morphine is like drinking cold water from a hose on the hottest day of the summer.

Who am I kidding? Morphine’s even better than all that.

Thank you morphine.

Thank you.

Thank.

You.

Morphine.

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #1:

There was a boa constrictor slithering under my sheets. The snake tried to convince me that As You Like It is Shakespeare’s most unjustly criticized play. I stared at the mound under my sheets and didn’t move a muscle for hours. I knew if I made any movement the snake was going to stop arguing literary theory and devour me.

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #2:

A group of young kids was standing outside my room, talking loudly. They didn’t go away. I got angrier and angrier.

I finally rang the nurse and told her to tell those fucking brats to move it somewhere else, if that wasn’t too much fucking trouble. Or was I interrupting her goddamned fucking break?

That’s when the kids started throwing a basketball against my door.

“Don’t you hear that?” I asked the nurse.

She pulled the drip out of my arm and started jabbing the needle in her eyes. “I can’t hear a thing.”

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #3:

Kate walked into my hospital room carrying a cake with a bunch of candles on it. I told her I liked her new look.

“Thanks,” she said. “I wish I could say the same about you.”

“The morphine makes it kind of hard to fix myself up.”

“You’re probably wondering about the cake.”

“I didn’t want to be rude, but yes.”

“Remember that time when Annette asked us what our dream would be if we didn’t have chronic pain?”

“I always hated her drippy little exercises.”

“You said your dream involved the Brazilian soccer team.” Kate crinkled her nose in disapproval.

“And you said you wished you could bake your kids a birthday cake.”

Kate lit the candles. “Everyone in the group cried after I said that. You didn’t though.”

“I had my reasons.”

“I know that now.”

“To be honest, I wasn’t that impressed with the whole Saint Kate thing.”

“Saints don’t jump off the San Pedro Bridge onto a Maersk cargo ship.”

“Nice touch.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

Kate brought the cake over to me. “Make a wish,” she said.

I closed my eyes and blew out the candles, even though I couldn’t think of anything to wish for. When I opened my eyes, Kate threw the cake out the window and jumped out after it. There was a sickening thud and someone started screaming from the street below. A nurse ran into my room.

It took me awhile before I realized that the person screaming was actually me.

*

The remote didn’t work so my TV had been stuck on the Discovery channel the whole time. No wonder I was having nightmares about fucking boa constrictors. I told the mousy Filipina nurse to change the channel manually.

“No problem your highness,” she said.

“Ooh,” I said, “somebody developed a spine while I was out of it.”

She left the TV on the History Channel after I told her to turn it to HBO. Touché, Imelda.

I watched a documentary about the demise of drive-in theaters in America. Apparently there aren’t any left in California except for one in Barstow.

Jason took me to a drive-in theater when we were dating, back when we were both in law school at UCLA. He’d been mortified when I found the Carpenters: Greatest Hits in his glove compartment. I teased him about it, until he cued the tape up to “Close To You.” He held me in his arms while we listened to the song—I’d never felt as safe as I did at that particular moment.

It was only the second time I’d ever gotten drunk. Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum and Coke, on top of a large carton of buttered popcorn. After I threw up his car smelled like sour cinnamon toast. He gently stroked my hair and told me everything would be okay.

I was stupid enough to believe him.

*

When I got home I made two phone calls. First I called Rosalva, my cleaning lady, and asked if she had a driver’s license. When I found out she did, I asked her if she wanted to make an extra couple hundred bucks.

Then I called Jason’s office. I told his assistant to tell him I was going to be out of town tomorrow, so he could come by the house then.

I told her to tell Mama’s Boy I’d changed all the locks, but I’d leave a key in the bottom of the deep end of the pool for him.

*

For the road trip:

1.     Vicodin.

2.     Oxycontin.

3.     Methadone.

4.     A nasal opiate from Glaxo that’s still in the trial phase.

5.     The phone number and Mapquest directions for a pharmacy in Barstow. Just in case.

6.     A fifty-dollar ergonomic travel pillow I bought at Sharper Image.

7.     A two hundred dollar lumbar support pillow I bought off the Internet.

8.     Orange juice.

9.     Chips.

10.  My sunglasses.

11.  A change of clothes. Just in case.

12.  A bottle of Captain Morgan’s Spiced Rum.

13.  A six pack of Coke.

*

The drive to Barstow should normally take two hours, not five. I had to get out every twenty minutes to stretch. I felt like my breaks were starting to get on Rosalva’s nerves.

“No, no, no, Mrs. Fine. Is okay,” she said.

I told her I was still freaked out by the crow we killed near San Bernardino, the way it dived head-on into our car like a kamikaze pilot.

Rosalva acted like she was about to cross herself. “No more please.”

“Sorry. We don’t have to talk about the crow.” I offered her some chips and a Coke and that seemed to improve her mood.

*

The pain got bad near Apple Valley. That annoyed me. It also annoyed me the way Rosalva looked at me when I took my pills.

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.

“Yes, ask me what you need.”

“Don’t call me Mrs. Fine,” I said. “I’m divorced now so I don’t want to be called Mrs. Fine.”

“But what to call you?”

“How about Claire. That’s my name.”

“Okay Mrs. Claire,” she said.

With a sweet smile. Oh fuck it. She’ll get it right one of these days.

*

Rosalva loved The Passion Of The Christ. I found it kind of weird to listen to all the torture through the small, tinny speaker. I started chipping off the polish on my toenails.

“You must be seeing this,” Rosalva said, her eyes filled with tears.

“I am seeing this,” I told her, as chunk number forty-five flew off Jesus’ body. “I’m also seeing we’re out of Coke.”

She seemed relieved when I offered to go to the concession stand so she could keep watching the movie. It’s okay, I get it: The Jews killed Jesus, so we should have to go to the concession stand during The Passion of The Christ.

*

The desert night sky is dreamy this time of year—a deep purplish blue and stars that look like Christmas lights. The cold air hurt my lungs, but in a good way.

I crawled under the low wire fence behind the concession stand and walked through shrubs and gravel down to the train tracks.

What would Jesus do? I think if he were in my shoes he would lie down and wait for the next Union Pacific freight train.

*

When you think you’re going to die imminently, you choose your final thoughts carefully. I tried to think of beautiful things, like Michelangelo’s David. A Bach cantata.

That got me thinking about the Nutcracker Suite. When I was a little girl I danced as a mouse two years in a row. It’s still one of my favorite pieces of music.

My thoughts turned to Jason.

I hated to admit it, but I did understand what he meant when he said I wasn’t the only one suffering—right before he handed me the divorce papers he’d personally drawn up. It was hard at the time to react graciously to what he said, because, after all, he’d walked away from the accident with only a sprained shoulder.

But now—I can see.

I can see that we were both the wrong kind of people to deal with this kind of situation. Problems that could be solved by money: that’s the most we could handle. Not the loss. Not the pain. Not all the thousands and thousands and thousands of pills.

Too bad Jason’s such a mama’s boy that he’d never take methadone, because it really does help take the edge off life.

I felt the low rumble of a train. Then I heard a voice, getting closer and closer.

“Mrs. Claire! Ay Dios mío! Mrs. Claire!”

I struggled to sit up and saw Rosalva scrambling towards the tracks. I tried to gauge how far the train was in relation to her distance from me.

“It’s okay, it’s okay,” I said, “I just got tired and needed a rest.”

*

During the drive back Rosalva kept looking at me like I was going to jump out of the car.

“Knock it off with the attitude already,” I said.

She scolded me in Spanish. I think she said something about how it was a good thing Jesus told her I went “loca.”

I was thinking of the most profane thing I could say when the car started making a grinding noise. Right before the “service engine” light went on.

*

The guy at the garage in Barstow said it was going to take at least three days to fix the car. He tried to explain the problem to me.

“I don’t need to understand what a head gasket is,” I said. “Just make the arrangements for a rental car.”

Blank stare.

“Okay,” I said, “maybe you don’t understand Triple A. I have the platinum coverage that gets me a free mid-size rental if repairs are going to take more than twenty-four hours.”

“There’s nothing open now,” he said.

“Why? Is it a holiday?”

“It’s nearly midnight. People have to sleep.”

Now it was my turn for a blank stare.

*

Inside a dark Greyhound bus, strung out on opiates, traveling through the high desert in the middle of the night, I started to feel like I was in a rocket flying through outer space. I stared at Rosalva while she slept next to me. She opened her eyes.

“Gracias,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

“For putting up with me,” I said. “I wish I knew how to say that in Spanish.”

“Sleep Mrs. Claire.” Rosalva closed her eyes again.

I heard muffled laughter from the back of the bus. I turned around and saw a group of teenagers passing around a joint. Everyone else on the bus was asleep. I waited a few minutes, the smell of pot becoming stronger.

I made my way to the back. The leader of the group, a girl with a bad tattoo of a python on her arm, glared at me.

“Toilet’s broke, bitch.”

Her friends laughed.

“I don’t need to use the toilet.”

She sneered. “Then beat it.”

Her friends were enjoying the show. I leaned down into her face.

“I used to be married to a federal prosecutor in LA. Even though I hate his guts, I have no problem getting on my cell phone and asking him to send a marshal to the bus station.”

The sneer disappeared.

I pointed to the joint in her hand. “Is that just pot or did you morons cut it with something else?”

*

I’d hoped the girl—Becky, a runaway from Idaho—wouldn’t want to talk, but once we started on the second joint she wouldn’t shut up.

“I want to be an actress,” Becky said.

“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”

“Hell no.”

“You’re going to end up doing porn. Or worse. That’s what happens to girls from Idaho like you.”

“Gross! I won’t do porn!”

“Right. Do any of these stars ever say in an interview, ‘I ran away from Idaho when I was sixteen and ended up doing Hollywood movies’? No. That’s what porn actresses say. Not Scarlett Johansson.”

“I hate Scarlett Johansson,” she said.

“If I had your body I would too.”

“At least I don’t look like you.” She pointed at my face and arms with a vicious little smile.

“Give it time honey. You’ll get your own scars some day.”

I asked if she had another joint.

“I hope you know these weren’t free,” she pouted.

I pulled out a hundred dollar bill. “Let’s skip the soul baring. It’s starting to get on my nerves.”

*

Becky finally passed out. The bus was absolutely quiet as we went down the Cajon pass. The sun was just coming up. The San Gabriel valley glowed from under an ozone shroud.

Rosalva woke up. She panicked when she didn’t find me next to her. I waved from my seat next to Becky.

“Who is this?” she asked, eyeing Becky’s tattoo.

“I’m starved. I want a yellow cake with lots of fudge frosting.”

“I make one tomorrow.”

“I want one the minute we get home.”

“Mrs. Claire, I must go to my home. Later I come to your home.”

I realized I had no idea where Rosalva lived.

“Downey,” she answered. “You do not know this place I am sure.”

“Isn’t that where the Carpenters were from?”

“I have not met them.”

When we sat down in our seats Rosalva pulled out a brush and started combing my hair. I began to sing.

“Why do birds…suddenly appear…”

Rosalva smiled. “This is very pretty song.”

“Every time…you are near? Just like me…they long to be…close to you.”

*

At the L.A. bus station I sent Rosalva to Downey in a cab. While I waited for my own cab I noticed Becky’s friends had deserted her. She walked up to me with a shy look on her face.

“What are your big plans?” I asked. “Oh that’s right, you’re going to be a star.”

“Shut up.”

“Want to make an easy hundred?”

She gave me a look of disgust. “I knew you were a dyke.”

“I don’t want to fuck you. I just want you to bake me a cake.”

“You’re a freak. You know that, right?”

“Can you follow directions on a package, or are you illiterate?”

“Am I what?”

“Jesus. Can you read? Do they still teach that in Idaho?”

A cab pulled up. I opened the door and waited for Becky. She studied my face, trying to decide if I was a good risk or not. I felt bad for her until my legs started killing me again.

I sighed. “Do I look like someone who could hurt you?”

“You’re mean enough.”

“You outweigh me by at least fifty pounds.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fine.”

I got inside and gave the cabbie my address. We were driving off when I heard Becky’s voice.

“Wait!” she yelled, running after the cab.

I didn’t look at her when she got in the car. “Offer’s fifty now.”

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“That’s not fair.”

“Life’s not fair. Any more lip and it goes down to twenty five.”

*

Becky decided to make the cake from scratch. We were at the grocery store right by my house, in the baking section. I’d become distracted by the Disney-themed birthday candles.

“Do you have baking powder?” Becky asked.

“I’m not sure.” I was starting to lose focus. “Is that the stuff you put in the fridge to keep it from smelling?”

Becky rolled her eyes. “That’s baking soda.”

“Then I don’t think I have baking powder.”

“Who doesn’t have baking powder?”

“People who order out, that’s who.”

“You’re pathetic,” Becky said while were standing in the checkout line.

“You’re only just now realizing that? God you are stupid.”

“What about booze?” Becky asked.

“Can you handle liquor? I don’t want green puke all over my carpet after you drink a whole bottle of Midori.”

“Why are you such a cunt?” she hissed.

“Paper or plastic?” the clerk nervously asked.

*

While Becky made the cake, I went through the house. The last of Jason’s clothes was gone. All the tools were missing—not that I’d ever use them. All his books were out of the den. With his collection gone it really exposed my intellectual laziness—Clive Cussler no longer propped up by The Collected Works of Shakespeare.

I found the picture on the desk, the framed photo of Jason and me and the twins. We’d hired an expensive photographer, a guy who does fashion spreads for Los Angeles magazine. The year before the accident, for our holiday greeting card.

I picked it up and studied our faces, until none of us was recognizable. I thought I’d made it clear to Jason he could keep the picture.

I called his office.

“Mr. Fine’s not in. Would you like to leave a message?” his assistant asked.

“Tell him he won.”

“Won what?” The assistant sounded nervous.

“He’ll know,” I said, before I hung up the phone.

*

I took so much methadone I just barely made it to my bed. Becky yelled from the kitchen.

“Where’s the fucking booze?”

“Be resourceful!” I yelled back. “You need to be resourceful!”

My last thought before I passed out was that maybe primitive cultures are right—I think the camera did steal my soul.

*

When I woke up, Rosalva was wiping my face with a cold washcloth.

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Too many hours,” she said.

“Is the girl still here?”

“No. I think she stealed.”

Rosalva helped me get up. We discovered that Becky had taken my purse, all of my jewelry, all of the liquor, and the entire stash of pain medication, including the methadone.

How did she find the methadone? I’d completely underestimated her.

“I call the police,” Rosalva said.

I stared at the frosted cake on the kitchen counter, covered in plastic wrap. “No.”

“She does wrong when you are sick! This is bad girl!”

I dabbed my finger on the top of the cake and tasted it. Homemade fudge frosting. A little on the sweet side, but definitely homemade.

*

It’s impossible in L.A. to find out where someone lives if they haven’t given you the information. The white pages are useless; 411 is a fucking joke. I needed to talk to a human being and not Verizon’s annoying computer, so I called Annette.

“And how are we doing Claire?”

“We’re doing great.”

“Well, that’s super. Did you find another support group?”

“Funny you should mention that. Ever hear of Gloria Allred?”

“Uh, well, yes I have.”

“Because I’ve decided to sue you for discrimination.”

“Goodness. A lawsuit?”

“Just kidding. I’m calling to get Kate’s address.”

“I don’t think I’m allowed to give out that information. Was there something I could help you with?”

“That’s hardly possible.”

“Well I’m certain I can’t give you that information. I’m sorry.”

“Remember when I said I was kidding about the lawsuit?”

“Uh huh.”

“Now I’m not kidding.”

*

The address was in Palos Verdes, for a house that looked like the bastard child of a mansion and a small hotel. Rosalva, bless her heart, drove me there in the mid-size rental. I told her to wait for me in the car.

“I help you Mrs. Claire.”

“Thanks, but I need to do this by myself.”

I wonder what Kate’s husband will say. I have to remember his name before I ring the doorbell. Ken? Ben?

Fuck it. I’ll just mumble something.

I hope he doesn’t freak out and think I’m a crazy person for bringing a cake with cheap Disney-themed candles. Will I actually tell him it was something Kate had wanted to do for the kids? Jesus, I hope he doesn’t start crying, or worse, ask me to come in to meet the family.

I stand outside the front door, my hand ready to press the bell. I hear children’s voices inside. Lots of children.

I take a deep breath.