The True Story of Nico’s Beaver

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Before Barbara Kramer was a famous Rock and Roll star touring the world with her band, Avi Buffalo, she was my student.

If you were to ask any of my former students what they remembered most about my class, their first answer would not be, “Studying Catcher in the Rye” or “Learning about John Adams” but would have something to do with the stories I tell them about my life.

They all loved my stories and over the years, I got into a habit of always starting off my class lesson with a “Story of the Day.”

Today, I was reminded of one of those stories by my friends: Rodney Zaccardo and Steve Hendrix.

No, they are not former students, but Rodney almost became a former friend, when he posted a photo on my Facebook page of a bar of soap titled, “Filthy Beaver” with my name tagged to the beaver.

Steve, smart man that he is, commented with, “I don’t know where to begin…” and I honestly didn’t know how to respond myself.

What the hell was Rodney thinking?

Did he really just call my beaver filthy on Facebook?

Luckily, my friend Margie, who was sitting across the table from me working, looked up from her computer and said, “He’s talking about your beaver. You know.. the one that has it’s own Facebook page. That beaver that travels around the world with the band.”  She then looked back down at her computer again before I heard her laugh and whisper, “Dork.”

I felt like an idiot for not getting the joke.

One phone call and two text messages from Rodney later… I realized he was worried I hadn’t gotten the joke either.

But don’t worry Rodney.

You’re not in trouble.

I get the joke.

The whole thing with the beaver started because of my chihuahua, Nico.

Nico loves to carry around little toys. He has a buzzy bee, two brightly colored wiener dogs, a piece of a stuffed tiger, just one leg, that he refuses to give up, and… a beaver.

These toys are usually scattered all around the house. And Nico, likes to pick one up and then drop it down to pick up another, changing them randomly, as he shows them off to house guests and moves then about, unwilling of course, to share them with any of the other dogs.

Yes… he is a stuffed animal hoarder.

One day when I was getting ready to go teach school, I heard a loud “SLAM”  from the living room and then silence.

I ran out of the hall and looked around but saw nothing but Nico’s beaver on the floor and Nico, standing close to Nana’s lounge chair wagging his tail as he seemed to look off into the backyard.

Now, it was rare to walk into the living room and not find my 84-year-old mother sitting in her blue lounge chair watching TV but, it was even stranger to walk into the living room and find the chair empty AND the room in complete silence:

No Two and a Half Men blasting from Nana’s TV cabinet.

No dogs barking for Nana’s McDonald’s breakfast meal.

Just a beaver lying in the middle of the room and a small chihuahua looking actually, quite suspicious.

Something inside of me told me to call out for my mom and so… I did.

“Mom?”

Immediately I saw my mother’s pudgy little grandma arm waving at me from behind the blue lounge chair.

“I’m over here!” She shouted as I watched her hand flap back and forth more like a windshield wiper than an actual signal of salutation.

“What the hell are you doing over there?” I asked as I hurried towards her and worked to pull her back up.

“Oh,” she said as I righted her and sat her back in her recliner, “I tripped over that damn beaver.”

I looked at the stuffed beaver lying on the floor.

I looked at Nico still wagging his tail, pretending to be the perfect dog in every way.

My mom looked at me as if I was stupid because I hadn’t responded quick enough to what she just said, so she rolled her eyes and snapped, “That thing!” as she pointed at the stuffed lump on the floor. “Nico’s beaver!”

For a moment, my mind went to one of those weird places… a place where it associates words with a specific period of time, a place where random images collide with random events… a place where you really don’t want your mind to go and suddenly… I pictured my mom tripping over a giant 70’s porno bush: Nico’s beaver.

I could see it vividly.

The giant vagina somehow detached and misplaced in our living room…

My mom, shaking her head in exasperation as if she knew it had been there all along hiding in the tri-colored shag carpet…

And somehow… she had just forgotten about it while worrying about other 70’s calamities such as my dad’s polyester pants or Dr. John’s latest hit: Right Place Wrong Time.

I couldn’t stop laughing.

I was trying to shake this horrific image out of my mind.

You never EVER want to put “Mom” and “porno” in the same thought box or even in the same paragraph for that matter, and the thought of the ridiculousness of what I was invisioning only made the whole situation worse.

Finally, my mother became totally annoyed with me and said, “I’m fine now. Just go to school. It’s not that funny you know.” Which made me laugh all the harder as I left the house and drove over to my classroom.

When I told the kids my “Story of the Day” of course I had to share Nico’s Beaver.

Everyone was in hysterics except for Barbara Kramer who seemed to be skeptical. Her eyes narrowed as she ran her tongue over her braces, before saying, “Is there really a Nico’s beaver?” with a smack of her lips.

The entire class paused.

They had never even considered the idea that I might be lying, that I might actually just make all of this shit up like a comedy routine I was trying out on unsuspecting English classes.

They all turned to me, begging for confirmation that I was telling the truth, and so, I gave Babs my best, “I’m so disgusted with your question face” before I said, “Yes Barbara, of course Nico has a beaver. Why would I make that up?”

She continued to look at me as if I was a fraud but by then, the rest of the class was convinced I was definitely telling stories in the genre of “non-fiction” and so we moved on for the day.

Weeks later, Barbara came to my house to play with my son Dylan. They were both in a band called “Return to Radio” and  practice would take place regularly at our house.

Babs walked inside and met my mom.

“Hi Nana,” she said as she waved to her.

“Oh, hi honey!” My mom waved back.

And then Nico ran up to Babs: growling and wagging, fussing and barking.

She stared at him, as if he somehow had the answer to her question regarding my authenticity as a story teller.

Was I a true raconteur? Or… was I a cheap side-show sham?

I knew what I had to do.

“Nico,” I said. “Go get your beaver! Go get your beaver!”

Nico shot off across the living room floor as if he was in a dog show and knew he was about to win first place for performing this trick.

We watched as he rooted about in his little doggy bed of toys and then plucked his favorite worn brown and beaten beaver out of the batch and rushed back to show it proudly to Babs.

Her face radiated bemusement. She couldn’t contain her glee.

She looked at me as if I was the Holy Grail of Honest Teachers before reaching down and taking the beaver from Nico’s mouth.

“Nico’s beaver,” Babs whispered and the rest, is history.

Babs joined Avi Buffalo. She began to tour the world, and she took Nico’s beaver with her… photos of him appeared with Ben Stein and on ampitheater stages in Canada, Europe, and everywhere in between.

He became legendary, that beaver, and I think Babs loved him. I think that beaver kept her grounded as she learned the world of music first hand… on stage…. and that beaver… always represented love, truth, family, and home.

Dylan Refuses Me a Bun

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I don’t ask for much as a parent.

Well, at least I don’t think I ask for much as a parent.

Dylan and Lexi may choose to disagree with this statement and it’s fine if they do because I AM THE PARENT and I don’t care.

Every once in awhile I ask for a minor thing to be done:

Pick up the dog poop.

Change the Sparklett’s water bottle for Nana.

Take out the trash.

Don’t forget to move the car for street sweeping and…

For God’s sake give me a bun when I ask for one.

It was Dylan who refused me the bun.

Dylan.

All I wanted was one bun for my chicken.

One bun.

It was Matilda’s first night at our house.

She was a guest.

I had no chicken feed and thought how nice it would be to give her a lovely fresh bun.

Dylan actually snatched the bun bag from my hands.

“You can’t have a bun,” he said and I looked at his face and saw that he was totally serious. “I have exactly eight buns and exactly eight hot dogs. Do you understand?”

Oh, I understood.

Mr. Obsessive-Compulsive was refusing to give me a bun.

Me!

His mother.

I couldn’t believe it.

He was lucky to be alive.

If I hadn’t grown him in my magical uterus he wouldn’t even be standing here with a bag of buns in his grubby little hands… the little shit.

I almost got in a knock-down-drag-out with him right then and there but we had company… not just Matilda… but a whole house load of guests. So, I had to let it go and I honestly planned to let it go forever until I found the bun bag in the trash can exactly one week later.

The whole bun bag.

All eight buns… moldy and in the trash can.

I looked at those buns and I felt like they were mocking me.

Dylan would pay for this injustice.

I waited until he was making his way through the house, walking with one of his little band friends, when I stopped him, pulled the bag from the trash can, and in my best motherly voice said, “What is this?”

Dylan looked at the bag as if he was unable to fathom the alien object in my hand.

“What?” he said but I could tell from his tone he knew he was busted.

“I asked you for one bun. One bun! And look,” I thrust the bag towards his face. “You didn’t even eat one. Not one! Here they sit, molding in the trash.”

“I’m gonna feed them to the ducks,” Dylan said.

This sent me over the edge.

“The ducks? The ducks!” I shouted. “You wouldn’t even give me one for my chicken!”

“Well, you fed your friends my spaghetti sauce!” He snapped, throwing out this minor counter point as if he could win an argument against me with such a weak comeback.

“How much is your rent?” I asked.

He was silent before mumbling, “It was just a bun.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Just a bun.”

We stood quietly for a moment pondering that thought before Dylan said, “We’re going out to the garage to practice now.”

I watched as he walked away wondering what he might refuse me next:

A rascal?

An adult diaper?

My pills and ice cream when I’m 102 and unwilling to eat anything else?

I could see now that I would have to keep my eye on this little man.

It starts with a bun and ends up with a trip to the convalescent hospital for a nice long vacation.

Oh… but he had underestimated his opponent.

My wrath would be legendary.

I would be the old woman who would pee as I walked down the supermarket aisle each time my son took me to the store.

I would be the old woman who would sit in the back seat of his mini-van and flip people off in other cars for no apparent reason.

I would be the old woman who would feed his children candy and play Grand Theft Auto with them when they turned 4.

Refuse me a bun.

We’ll just see about that.

Anthony Kiedis Asks Me to Brush and Braid His Hair Resulting in a Shouting Match and Mark Johnson as a Naughty Go-Between

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Before the Red Hot Chili Peppers became Rock and Roll namesakes they were just a bunch of goofy guys, playing music and hoping to reach the big brass ring of Super Stardom like everyone else in our music scene.

In the mid-1980’s they were touring with T.S.O.L. and Fishbone and since I was dating the lead singer of T.S.O.L., the man that later became my husband, I was at the show.

I have never been that smitten or taken with rock stars… growing up around “band boys” you are privy to a decent amount of information that takes away the glitter and the glamour of the stage and brings the “fantasy” down to earth…. trust me…. when you watch many of your family members and good friends throwing their talent away on drug and alcohol addiction… the fun goes right out the window.

But at this time, we were all still young and beautiful, still having fun in our world of music and mayhem, and not really concerned much with the future. Most of the players in our group were “interchangeable” which is a really nice way of saying there was a lot of inner circle incestuous dating going on… and because of this… people often kept an “eye” on their significant others for fear that they might pop off with someone much more interesting in a different band at a moment’s notice.

I’ve often actually thought… that these guys weren’t even really that concerned about the person they were “with” … as much as they were worried that the person would leave them for a guy in a band that they considered “better” or “more popular” because there is a a fair amount of EGO dominating this rock world.

I had just walked into the club that evening, and watched as Anthony made a b-line towards me, hair brush in his hand, rubber band around his wrist.
“D.D.?” he asked in his little boy voice, “Would you please brush and braid my hair for the show tonight?”
Now, Anthony is actually three years older than me but I swear he looked like he was about fifteen at the time and tended to act about the same age.

I rolled my eyes, grabbed the hairbrush and the rubber band, and sat down at the bar table to brush his hair.

“You really can’t do this yourself Anthony?” I asked.

He turned his back towards me, stepped backwards until my legs were straddled around him, placed his hands on my knees and said, “No, you brush it.”

Once again I felt my eyes roll as I began to brush his hair. I already had Lex, my youngest child by this time, and so I brushed his hair as if I was brushing my daughter’s hair on a day she was really frustrating me.

“Ow,” he said in a baby voice. “Too hard.”

I fought the urge to hit him on the top of his head with the hairbrush… but I didn’t… I just continued on with my task.

Now there is something soothing, often mesmerizing about brushing long hair and soon we were both quiet as I worked gently separating his strands into three individual groups of hair before twisting them into a long neat braid. I put my hand over the braid and ran my fingers down it from top to bottom, the last touch in the process, making sure that it was smooth and hung straight.

“There,” I said. “All done.”

Anthony turned around, his hands resting gently on my hips as we now looked at each other face-to-face, his body still straddled between my legs, smiling his goofy smile and about to get all flirty with me when my X walked into the club.

It was one of those horrible moments that you can’t explain.

Seriously.

How do you explain how Anthony Kiedis got between your legs?

How do you explain your arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding the braid hanging down his back?

How do you explain Anthony staring at you like you’re a giant ice cream cone and he just wants a taste of it?

You don’t I tell you.

What you do is you push Anthony Kiedis away as roughly as you possibly can before you stand up from the bar stool, and pull your teeny tiny mini skirt down to cover your legs hoping that the five extra inches of black spandex will somehow make you look “virginal,” and watch as your current man storms towards you, hate in his eyes, and you pray that Anthony doesn’t die before set time.

“What the FUCK Anthony?” my X screamed at him.

My X is a big, burly handsome man…. often confused with the Devil… gold eyes, jet black hair, skull tattoos and Anthony backed away with his hands up.

“Hey —,” he said to my X trying to calm the situation down by playing the cool friendship card, “I didn’t know D.D. was your girl.”

And once again I felt my eyes rolling in my head. Everyone knew I was with X… Anthony’s lame excuse was not going to save him from a massacre.

My X was pressing the issue, leaned over, pounding his finger against Anthony’s chest. Every imaginable cuss word being used in the most creative way as it spewed forth from his mouth at an astonishing rate.

I was looking around for ANYONE to come to my rescue, stop them both before they were a bloody mess, and that’s when Mark Johnson appeared on the scene.

Mark Johnson… one of the sweetest, kindest guys you could ever want to know and today, if I had been a smart woman… I would have spent more time hanging out with him but I was too often seduced by the dramatic dysfunction of the scene.

Mark got in between them, calmed my X down, and lead Anthony away upstairs where he was going to hang out in the Green Room until set time.

I spent the next 30 minutes trying to explain to my X that what had just happened was totally innocent but… no luck… he ended up storming off to the bar for a big shot of Ten High as I sat back down at the table… the now “infamous” table where I had illicitly brushed and braided Anthony’s hair, put my hands over my eyes and just shook my head back and forth for a minute, disgusted with the total comedy of errors that had just transpired before me.

I felt like I was wearing a LARGE SCARLET LETTER and I couldn’t help but think to myself that maybe I should just go home now and call it a night. I had a feeling that the fight might ratchet back up after hours if me, Anthony and X were all in the same room and both of the boys were stoned or drunk.

Just then, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and almost afraid to look up, I raised my gaze and was relieved to be looking into the smiling face of Mark Johnson.

“Anthony asked me to give you this,” he said.

I opened the small folded white piece of notebook paper that he had held out to me and read the word, “Hi” with a child-like smiley face drawn next to it.

I looked up at Mark, and then looked back at the note.

“Are you serious?” I asked before rising from the table and grabbing my purse and walking away.

“What do you want me to tell him?” Mark shouted after me.

“That I’m going home,” I said.

“Home?” Mark Johnson said, his voice full of amusement and surprise that I was turning the “little man” down.

“Home,” I said and headed for the door.

I strutted past the bar where I saw my X happily settled in; surrounded by friends and fans, smoke in one hand, bottle of Ten High in the other, and gave one last look back at Mark who waved sweetly before he headed off to the Green Room to disappoint Anthony with my response.

I almost broke into a jog, dying to climb into my old 63′ Buick and race for the safety of home.

“You back already?” My mom said as I came into the house.

I watched as Lexi climbed off her Nana’s lap and rushed towards me.

“Boy drama,” I said to my mom as I grabbed Lex and scooped her up into my arms.

“Oh those boys,” Nana said, “Just like your father was in high school. Pachucos on parade.”

I tried not to smile but I couldn’t help it… she was so right… Pachucos on parade.

I carried Lex into her bedroom, kicked off my heels, climbed up onto the bed with her to read “Pat the Bunny” and left the Pachucos behind me.

Mr. Stroosma Sets the Classroom on Fire

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I don’t ask for much from my substitute teacher.

I don’t.

You can ask any of my students: Stroosma’s job is cake.

Silent Reading for 30 to 40 minutes… followed by a nice “book to movie” dvd and his day is done.

Beautiful.

Nice kids.

Good snacks.

Easy day.

No problems.

So when I left for four weeks in the early spring of 2008 for a Writer’s fellowship in Vermont, I assumed, stupidly, that I could somehow trust that my classroom would run smoothly for the entire time I was gone… as long as I had Stroosma at the helm of the ship.

Stroosma is definitely one of the “beloved.”

A small group of teachers, substitutes, and staff members at Millikan High School that students actually really do enjoy being with…

The kids would be super stoked to have him as their substitute teacher for four weeks.

He’s good looking…

Witty…

A very talented musician (former fantabulous bass player for the Sea Monsters) and…

My Facebook husband; which earns him TOTAL cool points in my book.

Girls have crushes on him… (and boys too)

Boys want to be like him… (and girls too)

He is “Thee” substitute and the kids know, when walking into the classroom, that “YES! STROOSMA’S HERE TODAY!” and that they are going to have a lovely day of respite from their regularly scheduled teacher.

Perfect.

Now, I’m sure you have already duly noted that I did not mention academics in the above description and this is why…

Don’t get me wrong… academics are important and Stroosma can teach…

But when you’re going to be 1,500 miles away from your students for four weeks… academics runs a FAR distant second to CLASS CONTROL.

You don’t want the Principal rolling around to your classroom every day, amped up because your substitute teacher can’t keep 180 high school students entertained for a 90 minute period… SERIOUSLY… you just don’t.

You need a “show” man…

You need A HEADLINER…

You need a man with a plan that can handle your clan.

And that’s Stroosma.

Sinatra would have wanted him in the “Rat Pack” every day of the week.

So… I spoke to him WAY in advance… because a substitute like Stroosma is always in high demand… and said:

“I’m going to be gone four weeks, and I need you to take my class. All I ask… (and I paused here for emphasis)  is that you and the kids don’t burn the room down while I’m gone. Okay?”

Stroosma smiled his little Stroosma smile…

Winked his little Stroosma wink…

And gave me the thumbs up.

“No problem,” he said.

And like a FOOL… I believed him.

Two weeks later I was in Vermont… sitting in a beautiful Victorian house, content in my warm room, looking out the large bay window at the snow falling gently all around me, as I typed out the first full draft of my novel.

Ahhhhh.

The view… serene…

The icy river… crystal crisp.

The rolling snowy hills… the water wheel of the old red mill.

I couldn’t ask for more of a picture postcard moment if I had planned it with God himself when suddenly… it was like a text bomb went off on my phone.

There must have been 30 alerts within 10 seconds and I am not exaggerating.

My students were bombarding me with messages all of which read: STROOSMA JUST ALMOST BURNED OUR ROOM DOWN. COME BACK.

Oh funny… I thought… look how much they miss me… I smiled to myself… they just love to tease me… such a funny game… Aren’t they silly children…. like I can just magically get back to Long Beach in a blink of an eye…. aren’t they just so cute…

I was sure Stroosma must have put them up to this and I’m telling you, I thought that right up until message number 31 which was from Stroosma himself and that’s when my little warm and fuzzy moment fled my little writer’s room and my brain almost exploded from my head:

HEY D, THE ROOM WAS ON FIRE BUT EVERYTHING IS OKAY.

Now… “WTF” was not even being used in text vocabulary at this time… but if I had been in my right mind at that moment… I would have made it up on the spot and typed it to him.

I called immediately.

No answer.

I started to panic and  dialed again.

No answer. 

Jesus…

I dialed again.

No answer.

My mind was racing…

I could imagine my students, scared to death after their classroom burned down, all lined up  next to the chain link fence… out on the field in a School Wide Fire Drill all because I had left to go to the Writer’s Colony in Vermont.

I was a bad teacher.

I had abandoned my flock.

I dialed again.

Stroosma picked up the phone and I heard all of my students shouting and frolicking in the background… their voices not full of terror and pain but ringing with complete and total joy and ecstasy that they had just had a memorable “event” in their English classroom…

“What the hell?” I shouted at Stroosma. “It was the one thing… the ONE thing I told you not to let happen! Shit… Stroosma!”

My students were suddenly silent… my voice can cut through a classroom even when I’m on a cell phone across the Great Divide and though they couldn’t hear the words… they most definitely heard the tone… and like the well-trained students they are… they knew that when Ms. Wood was going “insane” you better shut the fuck up.

Silence.

Stroosma was silent as well.

“Well?” I snapped. “What the hell happened?”

“We put a pad thai box in the microwave and then forgot about it.”

I waited… unwilling to give him one inch without more description.

“It caught on fire and the smoke started to billow throughout the classroom,” he tried not to stumble on his words.

“IT WAS TURNING AND BURNING” I heard a wise-heimer shout with glee somewhere in the background, followed by a long barrage of slap sounds and shhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhs… vigilantly justice being handed down by the “citizens” while the Sheriff was out of town.

“Nothing happened,” Stroosma said. “Not even the fire alarm.”

I let out a huge sigh of relief knowing that my students were safe, my room was still standing, and my Principal would not be signing my pink slip out of Millikan when I returned to Long Beach.

“Miriam was the one who told me,” Stroosma said.

Miriam… my German foreign exchange student… who could barely hold a basic conversation in English had raised her sweet little hand, pointed her militant little German finger at the microwave, and in heavily accented broken English said… Summ theeeeng ES burn ING!”

Fucking Stroosma.

I could have had a God damn international incident on my hands because of him.

“You having fun?” He asked.

“Oh yeah…” I said sarcastically. “Great time… getting a lot of good writing done.”

“Okay then,” he said. “Talk to you later.”

I hung up the phone and spent about another 45 minutes retrieving text messages from students who wanted me to know that they loved me, missed me, and thought everything that had just happened was super funny…

I sat back in my chair and watched the clock…  as I pictured my classroom back home… sad that I was minutes away from the actual Vermont Ben and Jerry’s factory… and I had none of the children I loved with me….or Stroosma… to go eat some ice cream with and enjoy a good laugh over the day’s event.

An Awkward Moment with Axl Rose

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When my X and I were dating, he was in the middle of a meteoric rise to what I considered at 21 to be “fame” in a former punk band turned heavy metal riot rock band.

Tours went from playing with local Orange County and Los Angeles punk favorites to playing with Guns and Roses in venues that held well over a thousand spectators as GNR was about to reach their peak in the late 80’s … early 90’s.

When I tell my students the stories of these days, they look on with a sort of adoration mixed with total disbelief. They can’t imagine me in THAT setting.  It’s not exactly that they can’t believe that I ever had a life… I’m pretty open, as a teacher, about sharing stories on living that I believe may help to educate or inspire “better choices than I made” decisions in my students.

But… they picture me now: no make-up on, hair pulled back in a pony tail, conservative clothing, a picture of maternal warmth, and find it hard to believe there was ever a: nightclub make-up, big haired vixen, scantily dressed, sex kitten hidden somewhere inside of THAT teacher’s body… and you know what?

That’s really a good thing.

You don’t NEED high school students thinking of you that way. You need high school students to see you as Mrs. Stay-Puff Marshmallow and keep the lines drawn firmly in the sand, wait strike that… CEMENT… as you grade their essays with a bright red marker and give them demerits for chewing gum or sleeping in class.

SUCH a meany!

I do however, like to shock them with my past every now and then… and watch as they cock their little heads to the side, their confusion just so palpable and adorable as they try to make meaning from the oxymoron they are actually looking at: The Cool Rocker Stay-Puff Marshmallow Teacher  known as…Ms. Wood.

You can hear their little brains ticking…

It doesn’t fit…

She’s lying…

That just doesn’t make sense…

I smile just to think of it.

I was in my early 20’s when my X’s band was moving it’s way through the Los Angeles Rock Scene… my X was very handsome… in an animalistic sort of way… dark, beautiful gold eyes, growling voice, women loved him or should I say, fantasized about him, and although I was very street smart at the time, I was very naive when it came to love… I honestly believed that I would be the only woman he would have eyes for as he rose to stardom.

He tried… don’t get me wrong… X did love me.

But if you know anything about Guns and Roses in the late 80’s early 90’s then you know that women… at the shows and on the road… were abundant and that ANY band touring with them would be sharing in that “abundance.”

I’d like to tell you that I enjoyed this “behind the scenes” rock and roll period of time in my life, but really… I didn’t much.

And I still have a hard time reconciling myself to that past today.

On this particular occasion though… it was not X’s women or X’s drug addiction getting under my skin… it was Axl Rose.

Yes… Mr. Axl Rose.

Mr. Slithery snake dancer, bandana wearing, ginger haired, 80’s bad boy.

What… a piece of work.

I was in college at the time and had gotten in the habit of bringing my books with me to shows.

That way… when X was in the middle of sound check, I could sit in the auditorium seats, study for my classes, and not get behind in my work.

I was alone that day, sitting in the theater watching Guns and Roses sound check when Axl took the stage.

Now, the guys in Guns and Roses had already shown some interest in my looks. Probably because I was a baby, barely of age, had jet black hair, white skin, dark purple lipstick lips, and tried to never speak in their presence… what a perfect 80’s girl: attractive and mute.

They would often walk by and smile or wave at me and I always waved back, but other than that… I had given them little attention, having grown up in a world of music where most of my friends and family were already Punk Rock Legends or just “notrious.”

I was mid-way through a textbook chapter on God knows what subject… when I realized that Axl was saying some really dirty words from the stage. At first, I thought it was just some part of a song he was singing… but a few seconds later… when I heard, “And she sits in the auditorium in front of me, reading her books, as I imagine myself naked on top of…”

I looked up and watched as he slithered his way back and forth across the stage, microphone stand in his hand, his mouth seductively moaning out sexual innuendoes to his “chosen” and supposedly so “adoring” audience and I thought… Jesus… fuck… Where the hell is X?”

I closed my books, gathered my things, and exited my way out the side entrance as Axl stopped mid sex-rap and looked at me just as my students look at me today…. head cocked to one side… a bit of disbelief… his confusion palpable and adorable as he watched the oxymoron that was once sitting in front of him exit the building: An 80’s rock chick that didn’t want to have ANY thing to do with Axl Rose.

And there goes Axl’s little brain ticking:

This isn’t happening.

She’s just pretending…

She has to like me…

Amazing…

I wandered off to find X who was eating some tacos with the guys in the band around the corner from the venue.

Of course, when I told him what Axl had done… he wanted to go beat him… this was nothing new (see story about the time I brushed Anthony Kiedis’s hair for confirmation if needed)

But X calmed down and we went on with our evening and enjoyed the show.

I was still out front after the performance, thanking some friends and family who had come to the event before heading back stage to be with X when, I said my goodbyes, flashed my backstage pass, and headed down the narrow hallway to the Green room.

Unfortunately, as I rounded the first corner, I came face to face with not only Axl Rose but David Lee Roth.

My first thought was one of shock.

David Lee Roth always looked so sexy in his videos but I had never seen Van Halen perform live… never seen David live.

He was shorter than I had imagined… a bit chubby at the time… and his hair, though still long, was thinning on the top giving the appearance of a balding mullet.

I wasn’t sure how to react.

Here were two internationally known sex symbols standing in the hallway of this venue, and I felt like I was in the Ozarks about to hear the theme song of, Deliverance, begin to rise in the background as I was begged to play the “little piggy” game with both of them.

It was horrible.

Axl was leaning into the corner of the turn… sweaty from his set and smirking at the fact that I was going to have to make my way past both of them by squeezing through the middle of their conversation.

I knew that either way I turned… I was in trouble…

If I was face to face with Axl as I passed by… he would just say a bunch of dirty things and try to get me to want him… and if I was face to face with David Lee Roth… Axl would grab my ass while I had to think of something nice to say to David about my admiration for his talent… while trying to ignore the thin, balding mullet and Axl’s creepy little hands on my butt.

It was definitely a rock and roll gauntlet.

I thought about just turning around and going out the way I came in but if I didn’t find X… he would probably come to the conclusion that I was with Axl and then there really WOULD be a brawl… and David Lee Roth would lose ALL of his hair… and it would be ALL MY FAULT when he had to accept his place in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame TOTALLY bald.

Shit.

I was trapped.

I decided it was best to face Axl head on and leave my butt for David Lee Roth.

I strided forward with purpose before wiggling my way through the two of them.

Axl locked eyes with me as if he thought that he could somehow “voodoo spell” me into wanting him.

“Like the show?” he whispered in his most seductive voice.

I rolled my eyes as I felt David Lee Roth put his hands on either side of my hips and say in his “comic” goofy stage voice, “Excuse me..”

Jesus.

I almost ran down the last third of the hallway turning back only once to see them both admiring the jiggle and the shake.

I felt flushed with embarassment as I turned the last corner and ran right into X who was talking to Slash.

My face must have registered shock at being confronted with yet another “Gun,” since I was barely recovered from my brush with Axl, and Slash looked amused by my entrance.

“This is D.D.,” X said.

“Hey,” I said as I reached out my hand to shake his, still a bit breathless from the incident. “It’s nice to meet you.”

“Oh man,” Slash said. “We all thought you were Russian.”

“Russian?” I said.

“Yeah, the way you look and all.”

Suddenly… it clicked.

I bet Axl thought I couldn’t understand a word he was saying at sound check.

“Ty che blyad?”

Jerk.

X of course was just pleased that GNR thought that he was dating the hot foreign chick and I wondered if I might be able to keep the farce going by practicing a thick Russian accent and learning a good selection of Russian vocabulary. That way, I could basically make my way through the Rock World without talking to any of the key players if I didn’t want to… the thought of it was quite enticing…

“Ready to go?” X asked as he wrapped his arm around my waist.

“Nice to meet you,” I said to Slash as X grabbed his guitar case.

He lead me back down the small hallway and I watched as both Axl and David stepped aside for him.

“Good show,” X said as we walked by.

David shook his hand, Axl gave him a nod… and I just kept stepping… no turning around…. no looking back….

Dasvidania.

Begging Lexi to Bring Ray Charles to the House for a Visit

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You would  have thought I had asked to have dinner with the President of the United States.

You would have thought that I had asked to be the first woman to go on the Mission to Mars.

I don’t really understand why Lexi seemed so bent… my daughter who once burned past my house, a dead body in the back of the hearse and Ozzie Osbourne blasting from the speakers.

It was Ray Charles for Christ’s sake.

Look at the photo of Ray that I posted above.

Does he seem like a man that would have a problem coming over to our house and having a little visit and photo-op with mom?

I don’t think so.

From what I know about Ray Charles he was quite the ladies man… I’m sure Lexi with her playboy body and quick wit could entice him to come to the house.

Okay… so yeah… he was dead.

I know that.

I’m not being disrespectful here.

I just wanted to pay homage to Ray and Lexi was about to be his driver.

“I don’t know if I’m going to be taking him to his final resting place mom,” she whispered into the phone. “I think I’m the one… but I don’t know for sure yet.”

“Well, you have to get Ray,” I demanded. “He’s one of my all time favorites and I never got a chance to meet him.”

“I thought you did,” Lexi said.

“No, that was B.B. King.”

“Really?”

At this point I became annoyed. “It doesn’t matter who I’ve met bring Ray by the house.”

“Jesus,” Lexi said. “It’s not like I can just swing by with Ray and open up the casket so you can take a photo with him.”

“Why not?” I asked. “Ray won’t mind and if you put on his glasses, it will look like we were just having a lovely little chat while he was still alive.”

“You’re out of your mind,” she said, her tone full of disbelief.

“Bring Ray to me,” I shouted. “You bring Ray Charles to our house or you don’t come home.”

She mumbled under her breath… something that sounded like “Totally out of your fucking mind…” before she hung up on me.

I ran to the bathroom and freshened up.

I wanted to look my best for Ray.

I brushed my hair and put on my favorite dress before sitting out on the porch steps with my camera and imagining my time with Ray.

I wondered if Lexi would let me prop him up on the piano bench.

I could put a lit cigarette in the ashtray and a highball glass next to it.

I could stand behind the piano… leaning over it casually… sharing a private moment with Ray… a bit of a giggle really as he played me one last song.

“What are you doing?” Dylan asked as he looked out the door and saw me daydreaming.

“Waiting for Ray Charles to drop by,” I said.

“Didn’t he just die today?” Dylan asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “Lexi’s going to bring him over… just for a short visit.”

“You’re out of your mind.”

“That’s what Lexi just said,” I told him.

“You know they’re making a movie about his life,” he said. “Why don’t you just go watch that when it comes out.”

“That’s not the same as having Ray over,” I fussed. “I mean really Dylan. You know that.”

At this point… Dylan rolled his eyes and walked away.

Every time I heard an engine come close to our house I sat up straight, excited that I was about to be with Ray and each time it wasn’t him… my hope would fade.

Then… the phone rang.

“Listen,” Lexi said. “I know how much you wanted to meet him… but you can’t meet Ray. I’m sorry,” she said. “But he won’t be coming over.”

It was horrible.

Ray.

Forever kept from me by my own child.

“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone in a huff.

I sat there for a moment… my hopes crushed… my heart…broken.

I pictured Ray in heaven, stopping mid-song, disappointed that our visit never happened. I mean really… why wouldn’t Ray want to meet me?

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.

Thanks to Everyone for Reading: New Stories Post EVERY Wednesday and Saturday…

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The Day Tim Grobaty was Screwing Around and Almost Took Off My Legs

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To this day, Tim Grobaty tells his daughter, Hannah (Who happens to be one of my favorite students and so… as my little educational minion… has no problem spilling all of her father’s secrets to me) that… Mr. Grobaty, columnist of the Long Beach Press Telegram, refuses to admit, yes actually DENIES, that he ever tried to break both of my legs after hanging out with me on the porch, one summer evening, many moons ago… while dicking around behind the wheel of his car.

But I am here to tell you… that he did.

Of course… If I were Tim Grobaty… I wouldn’t admit that I almost tore Ms. Wood’s legs off in a freak accident either.

Ms. Wood, Beloved High School English Teacher maimed by Beloved Long Beach Newspaper Columnist… it would just be bad all the way around… worse for Tim because he may have a shit load of readers following him but I have a veritable Dumbledore’s Army at my command…. 20 years of teaching… averaging over 1,000 interactions a year, with young adults who have pledged their loyalty to their favorite teacher until DEATH (mine obviously) and you can see why Tim would be in trouble.

Serious Trouble.

If Grobaty HAD actually taken both my legs off… and left me as a little bitter stump of a woman… I would still be able to roll around… (much like Johnny Eck in the 1932 film Freaks)

barking commands…

bossing people about…

controlling my young adult army

and basically making sure that the rest of Tim Grobaty”s life was h*ll.

Lucky for Tim… my legs are still intact.

So…

Back to my story…

Tim and I had become fast friends after meeting accidentally during a bar show at the Blue Cafe.

I still remember when I first opened my mouth to sing… Tim turning around slowly on his bar stool and watching me quietly. I think I was the only member of my family he had not seen perform or written about…

We didn’t talk that night… but the next day in the newspaper… I opened the entertainment section and saw that he had written a full page article titled I’m in LOVE with D.D. Wood…

Thankfully, Jane… his wife, better half, and definitely the most reasonable person in the relationship, was not bothered that Tim titled his article this… OR that he decided to post this on the date of his actual wedding anniversary…

Jane, as always… takes these things in stride and I love her for it… I really don’t know how she does it.

If my husband had written an article about Jane on our wedding anniversary… I probably would have crumpled the piece up with fury… tried to stuff it down his gullet, before walking outside and beating his favorite 59 Ford Fairlane with a bat…

You could say… that I’m a bit of a hothead.

My mother of course showed the article to everyone and I figured… it would probably be a good idea to get to know a man who was supposedly “in love” with me… and so Tim and Jane, me and my husband started getting together for dinner, or a visit on my front porch swing, on a regular basis.

These were lovely times….

Great music…

Great company…

We spent summer evenings laughing together… our children all very small… Hannah actually just a baby then… Dylan and Ray still little enough to be into toy guys and camouflage… until one night Tim and I were alone on the front porch playing guitars…

My husband must have had a show… because he was absent from this scene… and I’m sure Jane was already in bed… all cozy and comfy reading a good book… all of our children fast asleep…

While Tim and I were jamming away until our 10 o’clock curfew came around… and it was time for me to go inside and for Tim to go home.

Neighborhood rules.

Tim and I packed up our guitars before I walked him out to where he had parked his Jeep…directly behind my car…

and for some reason…

I decided that I needed to grab something out of my trunk. Now, to this day… I can’t imagine what I obviously felt I HAD TO HAVE out of the trunk of my car at 10 o’clock at night but, that isn’t important.. what is important… is THIS is when all of the trouble began…

(Although some would argue that the trouble began when Tim Grobaty wrote that he loved me in a local publication.)

I walked between the space of the two cars as Tim waved goodbye and climbed into his Jeep.

We shared a quick smile as he pretended that he was going to put his car into gear and run me over.

I laughed the “ha ha ha you’re so funny” obligatory laugh, then turned back to pop the trunk when I heard Tim’s car lurch forward and felt a sudden hard hit to the back of my legs…

My spine pitched towards the trunk, my knees buckled and pinned beneath the rear bumper of my car, and if I had been just an inch or so taller, Tim would have snapped both of my legs right then and there… and this story wouldn’t be quite as funny as it now is…

My hands slammed onto the hood of the trunk as if a police officer had just knocked me down and told me to “spread em”… the pain was intense.

I looked back at Tim in utter horror.

His face was one of shock… and I could see him fumbling to shift the gear stick and free me from my misery when we both had a moment…

A “cosmic” connect I guess you would call it…

A moment where Tim suddenly knew exactly what I was thinking….

Me: Please God don’t let Tim shift it into another forward gear and break my legs.

and I knew exactly what Tim was thinking…

Tim: Oh my God, what if I shift it into a forward gear by mistake and break her legs?

I freaked out.

“Tim!” I shouted. “Jesus Christ, what are you doing?”

Now… this probably didn’t help the situation but I have to admit that I was under duress and not thinking clearly…

Tim shifted the gear into reverse and backed up about four feet as I felt my legs release. I took a moment before letting go of the trunk and trying to stand full weight on my legs afraid of what I was left with and wondering if they would even work.

I looked down… no blood… no protruding bones… I was fine… a bit agitated… but fine.

I hobbled over to the driver’s side window and leaned in… “Are you insane?”

Tim was already laughing…. laughing as he ignored me and turned the wheel tight before peeling out for home….

I watched as he screeched past me… his tail lights heading into the night…. and I thought about getting into my car and chasing him down to make him acknowledge his part in this fiasco and demand an apology but… I didn’t …

10 o’clock curfew had come and gone….

My husband would be home soon…

Jane would be waiting on Tim…

and our confrontation would just have to wait until another late night jam session on the porch… or maybe on stage, in the middle of a set, the audience witness to our brawl.

I’m sure Tim will post a rebuttal to my tale… maybe an I HATE D.D. WOOD article will appear in the paper some time in the next few weeks but I doubt it… we share a love of writing and music… and that is a bond that can withstand anything.

Eddie Avalos Part Deux: The Blue Dart

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After Eddie Avalos mortified me with the “hand farting incident” I spent the next several days thinking about what I had witnessed in my front yard:

He fell down on the grass, put his legs up in the air, grabbed a lighter from his pocket, and I watched in utter amazement, as he cut a huge fart, flicked the lighter and suddenly shot a huge blue flame out of his ass. Then he laughed like a maniac and got up and ran away. It took me a moment to register what had happened. I was laughing so hard I could barely breathe.

I really couldn’t stop thinking about the whole scientific dynamic of the situation and wondered… how many people knew about this and how many people actually participated in it?

I knew I was REALLY behind the times with the “blue dart” when my friend Christy, who would never be as crude as me even on her worst day, said to me, “Lighting farts on fire? Oh yeah… people were doing that all the time at the YMCA camp when I worked there.”

I wondered what it felt like.

A blue dart.

I wanted to explore it but… the only person I could ask how to do it was Eddie and I didn’t want him to find out what I was up to… as we have already confirmed… it was SO unGIRL-like and Eddie was just waiting to bait me again…

“You know when you lit your butt on fire the other day?” I asked as we lay on the bed one afternoon… doing the usual… watching cartoons.

“Yeah,” Eddie said, not really paying attention enthralled with something on the TV that was much more interesting then our conversation.

“Does it hurt?”

He looked at me suspiciously.

“Why?” he asked.

I pretended to pick my fingernail and act bored.

“It just looked like it did,” I mumbled.

“You have to wear Levi’s,” he said as he wiggled his little sock covered toes and patted his jeans. “Otherwise you’ll burn all the hair off your ass.”

I made a face.

I didn’t have a hairy ass… I hadn’t even considered the whole hairy ass thing but that really added another dimension to the story in my imagination… and of course I couldn’t tell him we were talking about my ass…

“Eeeeew” I said as I slapped him and went back to watching TV.

A few days later, my friend Margie and her daughter Lily were over at the house.

I told them both about the whole fart incident and then I said, “I want to try a blue dart.”

Margie seemed pleased.

“Do it,” she said and then giggled.

I was wearing jean overalls that day and so I figured that would be okay.

I dug around in a drawer and found a book of matches.

“You think it will work with matches?” I asked.

Margie and Lily both shrugged their shoulders… they were blue dart virgins just like me… we didn’t know what the hell to do.

I climbed up on the bed and tried to put my legs up like Eddie.

I stayed in position for what seemed like forever but I couldn’t make anything happen.

I felt sweaty and confused.

The pressure to perform was getting to me.

Lily was watching me like I was the Finale at the BEST circus sideshow in the world… and Margie was looking on with quite anticipation mixed with skepticism … not sure if I had the skill to pull this off.

Finally, I felt something going on and I tried to light a match and put it next to my jeans but as soon as my hand got close… I shook the match out and put my legs down.

“Do it!” Margie shouted… it was like I had my own personal blue dart cheerleader and I knew I couldn’t let her down.

I mustered my courage and threw my legs back up in the air.

“Go!” She squealed.

I lit a match, pushed hard and a GIANT fart shot out of my ass.

I put the match directly onto the gas blast and watched as a HUGE blue flame exploded skyward and seemed to brighten the room.

I was amazed by the sheer magnitude of the size of it.

Margie and Lily’s eyes grew into large saucer shaped circles… their mouths tiny ooooooh’s of disbelief and excitement.

I was just about to start laughing when I felt my butt get really hot… scary hot… my face changed from one of total amusement to complete horror.

I FREAKED.

I was so afraid that I was going to catch on fire or explode from the inside, that I actually panicked and pee’d all over myself believing I was putting out the flame.

I rolled off the bed and ran to the bathroom, a large wet circle showing prominently on my crotch, crying as Lily and Margie laughed hysterically at my idiocy.

I slammed the bathroom door and sat on the toilet, my hands covering my face… laughing… as I listened to Lily and Margie giggling and going over the play by plays on the stellar entertainment I had just provided for them… quite pleased with the show.

I don’t think I ever told Eddie about this incident… but of course if he’s reading this… which I’m sure he is… he now knows.

I have never tried a blue dart since… I doubt I ever will again… but the sheer joy of doing something so taboo… breaking the “girl code” this time, by choice… left me feeling giddy with my accomplishment.