Joe and Dave Light the Street on Fire: A Cautionary Tale

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Joe and Dave

When I first married Joe, he was the lead singer for a well-known punk rock band and Dave Mello, was his best pal and his new bass player.

They were always together making surf boards, surfing, working on cars, having their little “bromance” and as any good wife knows… it is a joy when your husband has a best friend.

Their “boy” project at the time was a 1959 Ford Fairlane that Joe was in the process of restoring.

He had just had the engine rebuilt at a shop, and he and Dave had the block back under the hood and were in the process of priming the carburetor when all hell broke loose.

I was minding my own business, upstairs in our small apartment across from what now is the Long Beach Towne Center.

I was keeping an eye on Dylan, who was barely 18 months old, as he rode on his favorite rocking horse, which sat sideways next to the large picture window, watching his Dad and “Uncle” Dave work on the car down in the street below.

“Da,” Dylan said which he used freely for both Dave and Dad and just about every other thought he had under the sun in that little baby brain of his.

“Yes,” I cooed. “Dad and Dave are working on the car.”

He rocked on his little horse excitedly repeating, “Da! Da! Da!” as he watched the boys work.

“Yes,” I repeated. “Da. Da. Da.”

I walked into the other room for just a moment, when I heard a sound that any parent knows is trouble: the sound of complete silence.

The rocking horse had stopped.

The baby made no noise.

I paused in my housework and listened before I heard the words “Uh oh” from Dylan’s baby mouth.

Now, I had never heard Dylan say anything but “Da” so that was shocking enough. But the word that followed just about floored me.

“Shit” I heard the baby say plain as day and then the springs creaked on the horse, his feet padded a few steps, and his little hands began to bang against the plate glass window as he shouted “Da! Da! Da!” at the boys below.

I dropped the laundry I had been folding, and rushed into the living room to find the baby now quiet, head leaning against the window, his eyes large and round, his hands pressed flat against the glass, his mouth in a tiny exclamation of an “Oooooooooh” and before I could even start to comprehend my two-year-old’s first full word being “shit,” I saw a large plume of smoke hanging above the hood of the car in the air, and Dave yelling at Joe, “Try it again! But no more gas!”

To this day, I don’t know if Joe actually really didn’t hear Dave say “No more gas” or if he was just being obstinate, but… he completely ignored Dave and poured a large stream of gas from the gas can in the carb before he raised his empty hand in a big “thumb’s up.”

Dave, oblivious to Joe’s actions, hidden behind the protection of the driving wheel and the opened hood, hit the ignition and I watched as a large fireball exploded out from under the hood of the car and blasted into the air.

“JESUS CHRIST!” Dave screamed as he jumped from the car and then stopped short as he watched Joe, gas can in hand, jump backwards flailing his arms wildly as the flame shot up through the carb, ignited the stream of gas coming from the can, and left a trail of fire that blazed steadily across the sky, lighting Joe up as if he were holding a giant Roman candle on the 4th of July and using it to make fiery decorative loops.

“Throw it Joe!” Dave screamed. “Throw the fucking can!”

Joe panicked.

Mouth open.

He looked back and forth from each hand. I could see from even where I was that his rock-and-roll 90’s hair-do, his giant bushy eyebrows and hipster goatee had been singed to a crisp.

If it wasn’t so terrifying… I would have laughed at the comic farce playing out in the arena below but, I knew enough about combustion to know that if Joe didn’t throw that can within the next few seconds he was toast.

“THROW THE GAS CAN JOE!” I screamed through the glass and though he couldn’t hear me… it seemed my urgent need for him to listen had somehow broken the spell and Joe flung the gas can as far as he could.

I saw both boys rush to outrun the explosion.

For a moment it felt as if I were back in time watching two small children play soldiers at war.

They made it to the curb before the can hit the ground and exploded into a fiery bomb that was quite astounding.

Joe did some weird Chuck Norris tuck-and-roll before he leaped to his feet, leaving Dave behind him face down on the grass, as he ran into the building next to ours.

I watched Dave raise his head.

His look… one of dismay.

Joe had left his man behind.

A cardinal sin when in the midst of the heated passion of a bromance.

We all heard a loud crashing of glass followed by Joe dashing back across the street with a fire extinguisher to put out the blaze as Dave smiled, now sure in his best friend’s love for him, as Joe raced throughout the street, trying to right his wrong, putting out large patches of flame, as Dave looked on in admiration.

“Ooooooooooooh!” Baby Dylan said as he watched from the window.  “Uh oh Mama?” he pointed towards the street and then looked up at me.

I picked him up and cuddled him in my arms, glad to know that he was becoming a virtual vocabulary savant from this apocalyptic event.

“Yes baby,” I said as I kissed his cheek. “Uh oh.”

“Shit,” he said again.

I turned to look at him.

“No, baby,” I said sternly. “No!”

I thought he might actually begin to cry for a minute, but then the fire truck rounded the corner, sirens blaring, lights spinning, and Dylan became mesmerized by their brilliance as I heard the boys’ cowboy boots pound up the stairs and then bound through the door where they pulled the curtains closed, dropped to their knees on the floor, and hid low from “the man.”

They watched quietly, afraid to make a sound, afraid they might be seen, as the fire department assessed the incident.

Black 59′ Fairlane: gas trail circling the motor.

Broken glass: fire extinguisher thrown empty to the ground.

Entire street: burnt and black as if some type of car bomb had just gone off in Beirut.

Neighbors peeking from the windows but unwilling to rat anyone out to the authority: the unwritten rule of all good neighbors.

“Shit!” Joe said.

“Shit,” parroted Baby Dylan.

“He said a word!” Joe exclaimed.

“No shit Joe!” I snapped without thinking.

“Shit,” Baby Dylan said again.

“Jesus!” I snapped. “Are you happy now?”

Dave, always the peacemaker, and afraid that I actually might be angry enough to turn them in myself, snatched the baby from my arms and said calmly, “No baby, no.”

I gave Joe a hard look and mouthed the words, “Great.”

Dylan lay his head on Dave’s shoulder and curled his tiny little fingers through Dave’s long hair and said, “Da. Da. Da.”

We watched hidden for the next thirty minutes until the fire department finally went away, sure that the flames were long since extinguished, as baby Dylan slept in the crook of Dave’s arms.

“D.D. did you see that shit?” Joe whispered, teasing me, as both boys started to giggle in silent fits of laughter and tried not to wake the baby.

“Oh I saw it alright,” I said before I rolled my eyes at both of them. “Not funny!”

They sat on the couch, pretending to be forlorn until I exited the room in a over-dramatic huff.

Like any good mother… I let them believe they were in serious trouble, due for a scolding, and a complete disappointment to me.

I went back to folding laundry in the other room when I heard Joe whisper, “Did you see that shit Dave?”

And Dave, pretending to have a coughing attack just so he could get away with laughing like a naughty little boy, giggled as he held my sleeping baby in his arms happy to be in cahoots with his best friend.

Getting Even with Dylan James Wood: The Three Day Slap

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Dylan James Wood is my son.

Those that know him know that he is like a giant bear: large and fuzzy, hands as big as grizzly paws.

He stands about six-foot-one and even on my BEST day I can no longer take him.

Well actually, I might get away with running him over in the mini-van but he’s quick for a big guy so I would have to catch him by surprise which… is exactly what I did the day I slapped the holy shit out of him.

Now, feel free to judge, I really don’t care.

If I want to slap the shit out of my 22-year-old, 250 pound bubba of a baby, who is completely out of line with his mother then I will damn well do it.

I don’t believe in the “no beating” policy.

To quote M. Night Shyamalan’s Signs: “Tell Graham to swing away.”

I like to live by the laws of nature: swift, painful, parental punishments.

And probably right now, someone out there is mumbling, “I hope one day he hits her back. Abusive old bitch.”

And I would say to you: he better start running after he takes a swing.

It would be a good show though and actually it was.

I don’t know what started the incident.

Who knows how he incited me into violence but he did.

We were in the middle of the kitchen, standing toe-to-toe.

I was screeching at him about something that I deemed incredibly important at the time, when he mouthed off and I went to slap him.

I watched as his giant paw of a hand reached out and grabbed my wrist.

My arm stopped mid-swing as my face registered shock.

I looked up at him, this furry Baby Huey of a man, and stared, stunned that he quit my vigilantly justice with one grasp.

I actually heard the sound track from Clint Eastwood’s, A Few Dollars More, reverberate inside of my head as I raised my other hand, furious in my inability to control him, and took another swing.

No way in hell was “Indio” gonna get the better of Clint aka “Monco” I was gonna wind this little jackass’s pocket watch and good.

I swung at him with all my might and watched as he easily bested my shot and now had both of my wrists pinned within the grip of just one of his giant hands.

I was beyond furious: I was enraged.

It was as if I lost my mind: I literally could not control myself. I bent towards him and tried to bite him repeatedly.

He laughed as he used his strength to manipulate me into various positions by changing the degree of bend on my trapped wrists.

I began to growl and snarl like a wild animal as I kicked at him, all the while, Dylan laughing at my idiocy and the fact that I no longer had any control over him.

I exhausted myself with the effort and like Santiago in the, Old Man and the Sea, crumpled to the floor, worn and beaten, yet still refusing to admit defeat.

“You promise not to hit me if I let you go?” Dylan said, lauding his youth and new found bravery and power over me.

I said nothing.

I glared at him.

A beast ready to snap.

I watched as he walked towards the backdoor, before I shouted, “You will pay for this!”

He chortled with glee as he kicked open the door, kicked it closed behind him, and strutted off to the garage, whistling a little tune of satisfaction that soon faded off into the distance.

That little shit. I thought to myself. I am going to make that mother fucker pay.

And as I sat on the dirty linoleum floor, I quieted my mind and came up with a plan.

A three day plan.

I would lead him to believe I had forgotten all about the upsetting incident.

I would act “as if” and bide my time until I could slap that little bastard but good.

I regained my footing and stood tall; I had lost the first battle but I was certain that I would win this war.

The next few days passed by just as I expected:

Dylan flinched each time I walked by him: sure that I was about to retaliate at any moment positive that I had not given up within the first 24 hours.

I ignored him… busied myself with the tasks at hand.

48 hours later, he was eying me pensively from the corner of the living room: trying to figure out if I had truly forgotten the incident or if this was some type of new defensive tactic.

I folded laundry and once again pretended I hadn’t even noticed him in the room.

He fell for the ploy.

By the third day, I was beyond excited. I couldn’t wait to get home from school and make my son pay.

My anticipation was rabid by the time I pulled up to the curb.

I could hardly contain myself as I ran up the porch and opened the front door.

There he was.

My baby Sasquatch.

My furry Yeti.

He was in the kitchen, large bowl of cereal cupped in one hand, spoon midway to his mouth, crumbs of a cheerio hanging tentatively off of his beard.

“Hey mom,” he said.

His sweetest voice.

His best cherubic face.

But I did not falter in my anger: revenge had gotten the better of me and my “higher spiritual self” had exited our home days ago.

I laid on like I have never laid on before.

My slap hit his chubby pink cheek so hard that his whole giant meat pie of a head sharply snapped at an angle before his eyes rolled back and his mouth fell open.

But still my blow barely made a dent of pain.

He centered his head, and looked at me: his bowl still set neatly in his hand, his spoon still resting mid-air, shocked but for a moment, before he laughed, this beautiful genuine boy of a laugh, and then said, “Good one” as he walked past me and climbed the stairs to his bedroom.

I stood in the kitchen and watched as his giant Fred Flintstone feet disappeared up the stairs.

The moment was bitter sweet.

I felt the relief, the joy of revenge washing over me, the sense that all was right in my world and then the horrible realization that my son was now completely immune to any physical punishment I would ever try to dispense in the future.

Suddenly, I felt old, truly old, until I heard from the top of the stairs, “Damn mom, that really hurt.”

And I smiled, knowing that my son was indeed a good man, I had raised him well.

I knew he wasn’t hurt at all, he was letting me “save face” unwilling to swing away at his mother’s pride.

Threatening Dylan with Baby Farming

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When Dylan was in 6th grade, he could quite often be a little shit.

Not that he can’t be a little shit now at 22, but middle school always tends to bring the “beast” out in children.

I don’t even remember what he was doing the day that I finally snapped.

But whatever it was… it sent me over the edge.

He made just one too many snide remarks…

Or farted too close to where I was sitting, one too many times before he laughed and ran away…

Or begged and screeched to go to the internet cafe and play Counter Strike for like… ten hours straight… when he hadn’t even completed his English project but, whatever it was… I had HAD it.

I turned and looked at his pudgy little pre-adolescent face and said, “You know what? I should have Baby Farmed you.”

He stopped… confused… and then… immediate silence followed.

“Baby Farm?” he said. “What is a Baby Farm?”

“Baby farming,” I said knowingly. “Go look it up.” I gave him a  sinister glance as I walked quietly from the room and disappeared.

One of the best things about knowing random facts of obscure information is using it against others and yes… I am not above using information to mess with my own children.

In fact, I think it is imperative to give them something to think about… a way of humbling them if necessary and reminding them that education truly is power and that I can, and will break you with it if necessary.

Ten minutes later Dylan found me out in the front yard working on the garden.

I had totally forgotten our previous conversation by then, happy to be alone and away from my obstinate young son, soothed in my small task of arranging my numerous brightly colored gnomes strategically throughout my garden.

Dylan walked up to me and stood by my side. “That was the meanest thing you ever said to me,” he whispered.

I looked up from my work and said, “Huh?”

“Baby farming,” he said. His pudgy little face now crumpled into a sad frown. “I can’t believe you used that against me.”

“How long did it take you to find out what it was?” I asked.

“Five minutes on the computer.”

“Wow,” I smiled. “Impressive.”

He paused… pleased that I had admired his ability to glean information so quickly… but unable to forgive me yet… or give in.

“It was still the meanest thing you ever said to me,” he mumbled.

“Glad you didn’t end up in the Hudson circa 1887 right?”

He made a face, sure that he could not win this argument but unwilling to let it go, “I could swim when I was one you know,” he shouted before he stomped off, to God knows where, to create soda bottle bombs, Pokemon drawings, and ponder a world where Baby Farming was once a norm, leaving me to smile at the joy my offspring brought to me each time he chose to challenge his mother’s authority.

Lexi Taunts Nana with Lesbianism to find out her True Views on Gay Relationships

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This is Lexi.

Lexi is my daughter.

She is not gay although she is gay friendly and often looks like this…

Which often causes quite a stir in both the straight and gay community.

Lexi is what they call “a triple threat:”

Super beautiful.

Super smart.

Super good at putting people in their place.

And I’m of course… super proud of her.

Now Nana, is Lexi’s grandmother.

Nana likes to sit in the blue chair each day, watch old Turner Classic Movies on TNT, and comment on “The Gays.”

Nana supposedly loves “The Gays.”

She supports gay marriage.

She supports gay entertainment.

She supports gays in the military.

She smiles when “The Gays” come to the house and dote on her, often offering her boxes of chocolate and homemade pies whipped up from Martha Stewart’s “secret recipe.”

Oh Nana and her gays.

Now, I had never really had any doubts about my mom and her love for the gays.

She owned The Birdcage and watched it regularly.

She thought Tom Hanks totally nailed it in Philadelphia.

She loved Montgomery Cliff in, A Place in the Sun, and she was always so loving and kind with all of my gay friends.

Once, at Christmas, I had given my gay friend, Ryan Daniels a blow-up male porno doll as a joke, and sat him at the dining room table next to me, as I pretended to feed him candy canes when Nana, came down the stairs, pointed her angry finger towards the blow-up doll and said, “Get him out of here now. I hate that guy. He is super creepy.”

Ryan and I, worried we had finally pushed my mom over the edge, hurried to remove the offending plastic doll from the area when my mom stopped us by shouting, “Not him!” and we watched as her finger pointed to the next chair at the table. The chair where my new blow-up, life-sized Sponge Bob doll was seated. “That guy,” she said sternly. “He’s the one. Get him out! Get that creepy guy out of here right now.”

Ryan could not stop crying with laughter all the way through Christmas breakfast and way into the eggnog portion of the morning.

“Your mom is just so great,” he whispered. “God, I wish my parents had been okay with me being so openly gay.”

Lexi however was not fooled by my mother’s overtures.

She had a sinking suspicion that Nana might be a closet “phobe”  and told me this one day in passing conversation, but I was sure that she was wrong.

“Are you?” Lexi demanded of me. “Are you really sure that Nana totally supports gays and lesbians?”

“Well yeah…” I said. “What about the blow-up doll at Christmas? Or how she loves The Birdcage?  And remember how crazy she was for Greg Louganis? I mean, you were only a year old and she wanted to sign you up for diving so that you could be just like him.”

Lexi looked at me like I had just had a big drink of the Jim Jones Kool-aid.

“You, are completely delusional,” she said. “Watch this.”

I watched as Lexi removed her jacket and readied for battle.

I could see Nana, sitting in the blue recliner, her little bare feet up on the foot rest of the chair, her little toes wiggling in time to Robert Preston singing “76 Trombones” from The Music Man and I thought, You’re gonna lose this one little girl. I should have bet money. No way is Nana anti-gay.

Lexi pulled up one of the old wooden chairs from the dining room table close to Nana’s seat, and said, “Nana, can I talk to you for a minute. It’s super important.”

Nana pushed the mute button on the remote and turned to look at her favorite grand baby.

“What is it sweety?” she asked.

“Well Nana,” Lexi said. “You know, I’ve been looking for the right person to date for a long time now, and I finally found someone I really love.”

“Oh that’s nice,” Nana said and I saw her little toes start to wiggle once again, as if all was right in Nana’s world.

“Yes,” Lexi said as she cast a sideways glance towards me, an evil glint in her eye, and then she went for the kill. “Yes Nana,” she said. “My new girl is really beautiful and super smart and I can’t wait for you to meet her.”

“What did you just say?” My mom asked. Her toes now stopped and completely rigid.

“I said I’m in love with a girl. Yes Nana, I’m a lesbian.”

“WHAT A CROCK OF SHIT!” My mom screamed at her. “YOU ARE NOT A LESBIAN!”

Lexi stood up, grabbed Nana and gave her a big hug and kissed her before she said, “Come on Nana. You know I’m just teasing you. I’m not a lesbian. You know I like penis too much to be a lesbian.”

“That’s right!” Nana said as if she was listening to a testimonial in church and couldn’t wait to shout out her big “AMEN!”

Lexi walked over to me, grabbed a handful of peanut M & M’s from Nana’s candy dish before she popped one in her mouth, got really close to my face and then said, “See? I told ya.”  Before she strutted out the back door with a loud obnoxious laugh that seemed to scream… “I got you so good” as she headed off to God knows where.

I can’t really tell you what I felt in that moment:

Shock that she had been right.

Amazement that my daughter actually said out loud to my mother that she liked penis too much and my mother “Amened” it with righteous glee.

Or that all this was taking place while I was listening to one of the gayiest of gay men, Robert Preston, sing songs from The Music Man, as it all went down under one roof.

I must admit… it was a little too much… even for me.

Just then my cell phone rang and I picked it up to hear Lexi cackling on the other end of the line.

“She’s gay friendly if it isn’t one of her own,” Lexi chortled. “It’s all fun and games until someone goes gay in the family.”

“Or brings home Spongebob,” I mumbled. “Don’t forget Spongebob.”

“Or Spongebob,” Lexi agreed.

I hung up the phone and went back to my room, to look at my Spongebob doll and ponder my mother’s tricky gay ways.

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.

My Matilda or… the Story of How Ms. Wood Procures a Chicken

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This… is Matilda.

Matilda is a chicken.

A Rhode Island Red to be exact.

I didn’t go out and purchase Matilda.

I wasn’t given Matilda.

Matilda, like most of the animals in our home, including Jax, my pet squirrel, just appear to me, usually in dire need, and being who I am… I can’t seem to walk away.

Case in point: Matilda

It was Thursday night, 8pm, after hours at El Dorado park and my favorite time to walk there.

This night I was walking with my two adult friends, Frank and Abe and my 10-year-old friend Finn.

Finn, like me, seems to be some type of  “animal whisperer” and so I was a bit concerned when we jumped the rail of the flood control and ran down the embankment to enter the park after hours that we might run into an injured skunk, coyote, goose, hawk, or owl… but I had no worries that we might run into a chicken. For God’s sake…. a chicken?

We were barely past the LBPD shooting range when we saw a small reddish animal bopping about in the grassline…

“Is that a chicken?” Frank asked.

We all stopped to watch as she made her way closer to us.

“It is a chicken,” Abe said.

We didn’t know what to do… I voted to finish our walk and when we looped back, see if she was still around. With Frank, Abe, and Finn all hailing from Arizona…. I knew that this chicken wasn’t going anywhere unless it was going to Ms. Wood’s house and I was trying my hardest to make sure that didn’t happen. I mean the menagerie was really getting ridiculous: Jax (my squirrel) her babies, three chihuahuas, four cats, seven dogs and a partridge in a pear tree; I wasn’t looking to add a chicken to the mix.

I swear I didn’t want to leave her because I’m heartless… I just thought… Maybe if we give it some time… she’ll magically go back to where she came from and I will be saved from care-taking yet another pet… but the boys weren’t having it.

The Arizonians were looking at me with pitiful sad little faces.

The chicken was looking at me with her pitiful sad little face.

“Come on…” I said to the boys as I strided ahead with purpose trying to get away from the bird, only to turn and find the chicken running after us all as she made the saddest little cooing sounds that seemed to say, “If you leave me I will be eaten by a coyote and you will never be happy when you walk in your park at night again, because you will always remember that you left me to die.”

Fuck.

I couldn’t do it.

It was horrible.

They were pulling at every one of my heart strings and they obviously knew just how to work me.

So… I just gave in and turning on my heal, marched towards the exit, while shouting in my best authoritative tone, “Come on, Matilda. Let’s go home!” and watched as she hustled to catch up and walk beside me… as if I were her best friend and we had never been parted.

After a few feet of walking, we realized that it would take forever to get Matilda out of the park at this pace, so Frank picked her up and carried her with both hands, arms extended straight out in front, as if Matilda were a hood ornament on his human car.

It wasn’t five minutes later that the Park Ranger pulled up next to us, rolled down his window and said, “My God! Is that a chicken?”

Apparently he had never seen a chicken in the park either and now, Matilda startled by his big shiny car and flashing police lights was out of Frank’s hands, on top of the hood of his car and pecking at her own reflection in his windshield, like this was all good fun.

Obviously, the park was a wonderful place for Matilda as long as she had humans to protect her.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind driving Frank to my van and was pleasantly surprised when he agreed.

I smiled as I watched Frank drive off with a Park Ranger and a chicken and I spent the rest of my walk back to the Wardlow Street bridge whistling to  myself and making up my own stupid little jokes about it:

So… a chicken and a Ranger walk into a bar……

Or…. Is that a chicken under your arm or are you just…

And…

How did the chicken cross the road? By getting a ride in the Park Ranger’s car.

Before hoping back over the rail and walking to the van.

Frank was in the back when I got there, Matilda running around on the floor, pleased that she was in some type of cage that seemed more comfortable then the cold park at night.

We took her home… gave her some water… and watched as she climbed to the top shelf of the squirrel cage and bedded down for the night. Already content in her new environment.

“Good night Matilda,” I said as I turned off the porch light for the evening…. trying not to be attached to a chicken… but knowing… I was already totally in love.

Sissy Breaks My Leg

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If you look closely at the photo above… you will see one little shoe.

Just one.

That is because just outside of the frame… just outside of the observer’s view… is my little broken leg.

Full cast.

One-year-old.

Look at that baby.

The perfect Gerber Cupie Doll mix right?

How could anyone break the leg of such a nice, sweet, little baby girl?

Well… you’d have to ask my sister.

The practically perfect person pictured here:

Only, if you did go to ask my sister, she would probably throttle you. In fact… she would probably throttle me.

I used to tell the story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg”  in my classroom each year and when I got to the good part… I would call her on the cell phone, press “speaker,” and let her tell the whole class how she damaged me for life.

She hated it.

I don’t do it anymore.

Why?

Because she verbally throttled me.

She waited until she was at my house, vis-a-vis and shouted as she bordered on slapping me, “Why the hell do you have to call me and make me relive something I feel terrible about? Can’t you see you’re causing me pain?”

“I’m the baby,” I said smugly. “You broke my leg… I think you should have to pay for that the rest of my life.”

She gave me “theeeeee” big sister look… the I will kill you right now look… and I never, ever called her during class time again.

My students beg me to…

They do I swear…

But I stop them and shout, “Listen! She won’t let me… and you know how big sister’s are.”

Many of them nod their heads in silent solidarity. (Obviously, having been throttled by big sisters too.)

Sigh.

I don’t know what my sister was thinking that day back in 1966 when she broke my leg… She was seventeen… one of the most popular girl’s at Millikan High School. TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE IN EVERY WAY. Or so I thought… all of these years even AFTER the leg breaking incident but when I told my sister that I was writing this story she said, “Me? Practically perfect? Get real. I used to run around Millikan in my head cheerleader outfit, show all of the teachers the “forged” note from my mom and say, “I have to leave school immediately” before I’d flash them my all-American smile as I exited campus to ditch class with my friends.”

I was actually stunned for a moment when hearing this.

After years of taking the wrap as the “bad sister” the “bad seed” it was interesting to find out that the “good sister” the one who was always “so wonderful” was actually quite a bit of a naughty.

My sister has always been like a mother to me, so I don’t doubt that she had the best intentions when she hopped on her Schwinn Cruiser that day and propped me on the handle bars. I’m sure she thought I would giggle and squeal and love her all the more for it… but unfortunately the short ride went terribly wrong.

She lost her grip on my petite baby body and watched in horror as I slid off the front of the bike, where my small leg entered the turning spokes of the wheel, and snapped in several places before I landed helpless on the ground, caught as if a small animal in a snare, with my tiny leg twisted like delicate ribbon between the rough metal spokes of the rim.

My sister was beyond distraught and ran, frantic for help, to our neighbor: Mrs. O’Grady.

And though they both tried to free my leg, they actually had to remove the wheel from the bike, my leg still ensnared in it, and bundle “us” off to the hospital where the doctors could release me from it’s cruel grip.

The worst part, according to my sister, was not the break in my leg, but the break in her heart, as she held me in the backseat of the car, my little arms raised up to her, my hands opening and closing as I begged for understanding and a hug saying only three of the ten words I knew at the time:

“Sissy, Sissy sweet. Why? Why?”

“I would have preferred you to cry,” she said. “At least that would have been normal. But for you to lie there, like a little Buddha, not one tear on your face, as you asked me to explain in your tiny baby voice why this happened to you… was unbearable.”

The evil baby in me always smiles when she tells me this… I like that I was a master manipulator even at the age of one… assigning guilt and blame a talent passed down effortlessly in my genes.

My leg was “casted” from toe to hip, and my mother was enraged when she found out what my sister had done. It was weeks, no months, a constant barrage of angry words, that my sister had to endure from her parents for that “one” fatal mistake.

But oh… the story gets worse.

When the time came for the cast to finally be removed, I was beyond ecstatic.

They were taking me to see Santa that day for being such a brave girl through the months I had suffered my casted leg.

My sister said she was full of joy, so relieved that finally the day had come when she would no longer look at my cast as the “albatross” around her neck.

They took me from the hospital, straight to my grandmother’s, who was anxiously awaiting my arrival, just one of the many relatives who wanted to witness my full recovery and my visit with Santa.

I remember climbing from the car.

I remember skipping towards her house.

I remember tripping into a giant sprinkler hole and hearing a loud “SNAP” as my leg completely re-broke for the second time.

My sister said that I laid on my back, disbelief engulfing my pretty baby face, before I threw my arms outstretched over my head and WAILED, tossing my body from side to side screaming, “WHY? WHY!!!!!!!!”

Before my father picked me up, a writhing wild animal of a child, a snake ready to bite and hiss at anyone who tried to get close to me.

The next photo you see of me as a child is not a pretty one.

And if I could find it and post it here, I swear I would… but I have a feeling my sister has already burned it.

It’s me, a red corduroy jumpsuit, full leg cast, crooked bangs, a doll wedged tightly under my arm with no head, and a look in my eye that clearly shows that I have changed from a sweet little doll to a demon seed.

A look that seems to imply that I have already suffered the weight of the world and LORD HELP YOU if you try to cross me.

Today… I still limp when tired, the only reminder of that fateful ride… other than my yearly classroom story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg.”

Tom and Lexi “Meet Cute” While Picking Up A Dead Body Together

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A good friend of our family, Bobby Sepulveda, worked as a Removal Driver for several years.

What is a Removal Driver you may ask?

Well… it’s a person who picks up dead bodies.

From homes.

From Nursing homes.

From the hospital.

From the beach.

From the store.

From parked cars at the football stadium.

Really… wherever you decide you want to punch your final ticket you’ve got someone to take you on that “last call” cab ride home: A Removal Driver.

Now… if you have a problem with dead people or removal drivers… please don’t read any farther.

Trust me.

You won’t like it because it’s about to get good… in a really, really bad way.

Bobby always had great stories about people he picked up.

He called me once from the morgue… and I said, “Where are you? The phone connection is really echoing.”

and Bobby said, “I’m with Donna Reed.”

“Donna Reed?” I asked… a bit confused… not “getting” the big picture…

“Yeah,” Bobby said. “She passed away today and I’m with her at the morgue.”

I felt my face drop.

I had always really liked Donna Reed… ever since she played Jimmy Stewart’s sweetheart in It’s a Wonderful Life, and I wasn’t really sure I wanted my last memory of Donna Reed to be “hanging out” with Bobby Sepulveda in the morgue.

If you knew Bobby Sepulveda… you would understand… I swear you would…. but since you don’t… just picture this…. one of the guys from Jackass in the morgue with Donna Reed.

See what I mean?

It doesn’t really seem right now does it?

Sorry Bobby… but you KNOW it’s true.

So… anyway…

Lexi, my daughter, was very interested in working in the medical profession when she graduated high school.

She wasn’t sure exactly what she wanted to do at that time… and so she decided to talk to Bobby about becoming a Removal Driver.

“Why the hell do you want to do that?” I snapped at her, my own fear of being a Removal Driver getting in the way of my child’s one true dream.

“Because I want to know if I can handle being around dead bodies,” Lex said.  “I don’t want to go all the way through medical school and find out I don’t have the stomach for that type of work.”

It was a good answer… A reasonable answer and so… I backed her choice.

Our friend Bobby was happy to get her a job… in fact, I’m sure he was amused… he probably thought an 18-year-old who looked like a Victoria’s Secret model and was often mistaken as a show girl when we went to VEGAS… probably wouldn’t last a day picking up dead bodies… but he was wrong.

Lexi got the job, and reported to her first day of duty wearing a nice tailored black suit.

She looked stunning… a TOTAL GLAMAZON on a mission to care for the dead.

I waved goodbye to her, proud as I watched my daughter drive off to her first job… so excited to meet her “Removal Driver Trainer.”

But later that afternoon… Lexi called me on the phone and sounded a bit emotionally distraught.

“Mommy?” she said.

“Yeahhhh?” I said a bit hesitantly.

“I want to come home and see you for a minute is that okay?” She asked.

“Yeah, sure,” I said even though inside I was really saying, “Oh Jesus God please don’t come home because you’re gonna smell like a dead body or something and I’m gonna freak out.”

But… when you are a parent… you have to make sacrifices and if that means you have to support your child by smelling dead bodies all over their clothing… then so be it.

She rolled in about 5 pm with a good looking young man named Tom, from Boston, and his accent killed me.

I  love that South Boston accent… I’m a PUSH OVER for a “Southie” I really am… a guy could be the biggest tattooed criminal from the East Coast and walk up and say something to me all flirty like “Ah Dee….  you’re wicked smaaaart.” And I would probably BEG him to marry me… and run off to be a little toonie… living with my townie… somewhere down around Charlestown or maybe Dorchester hiding assault rifles in my dresser drawer and wildly in LOVE. (East Coast Irish boys being my fatal weakness of course)

Tom and Lexi were just adorable together you could absolutely feel the “spark.”

Their conversation popped back and forth with witty banter that could’ve given Kate Hepburn and Spencer Tracy a run for their money back in the day… and I couldn’t help but pray that these two would end up together just so I could tell people how they met….

Tom, sweetheart that he is, had brought Lexi home to see me because unfortunately… the first dead body Lexi ever saw… was a pretty bad one.

Now… maybe you think all dead bodies are pretty bad… but I think I would prefer someone who was fresh and had died in their bed over what Lex had to witness.

She walked in to meet Tom, her trainer and soon to be “love” interest, and found him in the morgue with an old guy they had just brought in…who had been dead… for over a month.

He had died about 30 days prior, had been laying out in the backyard naked decomposing… until one of the neighbors peeked over the fence and got quite a bit of a shock… and so when Lexi got her first look at him she said that she actually thought he was wearing a plaid bath robe and then felt like she wanted to vomit.

“He was naked,” she said….

(and I wondered what the hell he was doing out in the backyard naked… but I didn’t ask)

“but his body was all red, blue, and green… with these weird patterns on him from where the blood pooled,” she cried before running over to me, begging for a hug.

I swear to GOD I almost pushed her away.

I wanted to run to my bedroom door and shout, “It was nice meeting you Tom… but Lex is ALL yours now! You two have fun with your dead bodies! Mama needs a nap and a valium!”

But I gave in… holding my breath the entire time… before she pulled back and smiled at Tom while I tried to get a good gulp of air… hoping that their little flirtation would keep my antics from being obvious…

And then watched as she batted her eyes at him and said, “Thanks for bringing me to see my mom.” And I loved it.

I knew right then and there… that Tom was a good man.

Later that night, Lexi returned home… excited and chattering on about how she couldn’t stop looking at Tom… how even over the dead guy’s body she couldn’t help but flirt with him…

and that after their shift was over, he had taken her upstairs to his apartment, which was of course, over the morgue, and they had shared their first kiss.

It was SO romantic.

The two of them… over the dead bodies and the refrigerated body drawers… having a moment while everyone lay there…. waiting… doing nothing really.

And I thought…Ahhhhhhhh…. young love… Nothing can distract it. Not even dead bodies.

Tom and Lex became quite the “serious item”  for awhile and I can only imagine how many fond memories they’ve shared retrieving dead bodies together…

But… young love is young love…. and often doesn’t last…

Tom is back on the East Coast now… running his own funeral parlor… while Lexi of course is still out here working on her medical training…

And though Lex claims they are both now “just good friends” I pray often that someday they will end up back together… working as a team… Lex helping people to live… Tom taking care of all the ones that got away…

And me…. sitting on the front porch swing… their children on my lap…. telling them the story of how their parents “Meet Cute.”

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

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