Joe and Jack Watch the Baby

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

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

Why?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They didn’t stop to ask questions.

They freaked out and called me.

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

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

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

I tried to remain calm as Joe explained the situation.

The baby.

The pointing finger.

The repeated use of the word “Ow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Ow,” the baby whispered. “Ow.”

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

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

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

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

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

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

“She wants us to do what?”

“Pull it out,” Joe said.

“Are you sure it’s not his brain?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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no swimming

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

And thank you for your loyal following.

D.D. Wood

Why We Don’t Take Blue Xanax on a School Day

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Anyone who knows me knows… that I would never purposely set out to get a teacher high.

Seriously…. Not on a holiday.

Not on a weekend.

And definitely not on a school day.

I’m wild.

I’m outrageous.

I’m pretty unpredictable… but after a lifetime surrounded by addicts and recovering addicts… it would be the last thing I would ever do.

Trust me.

It was an accident.

I swear.

It was many years ago, before my current job at MHS, and three of my best friends, let’s just call them Mr. D, Mr. C, and Ms. E were all struggling with anxiety.

There has been a long running joke in education that Xanax is “teacher’s candy” and during hard times, many of us have dabbled in anti-anxiety medication, doctor prescribed of course, to make it through a particularly trying school year.

Well, this year must have been a doozy because EVERYONE was packing.

I, being somewhat of a Xanax “light weight” had been prescribed the white pills: 0.25 mg. basically… the lowest possible dose.

“You can take up to three a day,” my doctor said. “For anxiety.”

“Three?” I looked at the bottle suspiciously.

“D.D.” he said. “This is a very low dose.”

Now, I’m not sure what a “low” dose is to him, but after I returned to the safety of my home, I tried one and not twenty minutes later, my husband found me on the front porch, basically having some weird alter-ego karaoke session with me, myself, a guitar, and a blasting rendition of “Brick House.”

I vowed that I would never take one of these pills during a school day EVER.

The thought of what I might do during class time, while hopped up on Xanax, was enough to cause my anxiety to rocket through the roof.

What if I stole the little security golf cart and raced it around the campus?

What if I ran up to the rally stage, grabbed the microphone from ASB, and screamed out the lyrics to GOD SAVE THE QUEEN while the cheerleaders looked on in horror and the quad broke into a riot?

What if I crank called the Principal with one of those really HOKEY Popsicle stick jokes: “Hey Principal Smith… where do baby cows eat?… In the CALVE-A-TERIA” and laughed hysterically until Nurse Anderson had to come and take me away.

I could just see Tim Grobaty’s article in The Press Telegram looming in front of me: BELOVED HIGH SCHOOL TEACHER FOUND DOPED UP AND DROOLING ON THE FOOTBALL FIELD: P.S. NO THIS IS NOT THE D.D. WOOD I KNOW AND LOVE. I  HAVE NEVER ASSOCIATED WITH THIS WOMAN. LEAVE ME OUT OF THIS.

I shudder still at the thought of it.

So, I left my pills at home and learned to manage my school day without medication.

Six months later, Xanax at bedtime was a regular routine, I barely reacted to the dose, and my anxiety reduced significantly from several months of “good sleep.”

The school day suddenly seemed like a breeze to get through.

That was… until the phone call.

It was a Friday I believe when I received the call in my classroom from Ms. E.

“Room 525,” I said as I answered the school phone.

“D.D.” Ms. E said panic obvious in her voice. “You take Xanax right?” she asked.

I wasn’t sure if this was some type of trick question: Was this a PTA intervention? Had the militant helicopter parents found out I was a closet Xanax addict or was my friend really in need?

“Yeah,” I said as I tried not to sound hesitant.

“I need one,” she said, almost in tears now. “I can’t make it through the day. I feel like I’m going to have a panic attack. Please may I have one.”

“I don’t bring them to school,” I said. “I only take them at home.”

“Shit,” she barked in a harsh whisper. “Shit. Shit. Shit.”

I wasn’t sure how to respond at first but then the magic light switch flipped on in my brain.

“Mr. C packs,” I whispered. “Do you want me to ask him for one?”

“Yes,” she practically came through the phone her “yes” so emphatic.

“Hang on,” I said. “I have conference period in five minutes. I will grab one from Mr. C and bring it to you.”

“Okay,” she whispered before I heard her shout at her class, “Sit down! Sit down! You people have no understanding of what it means to be ME RIGHT NOW!”

Crap, I thought… I need a pill and fast.

The bell rang and I hustled the children out as quickly as possible before I bolted down to Mr. C’s room.

“Ms. E’s having a panic attack,” I blurted out. “She needs something.”

Mr. C, on conference period as well, gave me a knowing nod before he reached in his California Teacher’s Association satchel and pulled a small blue pill out of a plastic baggie.

“Can she handle a blue?” he asked.

“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “I know she takes Xanax on a regular basis so I guess so.”

I didn’t know what a blue Xanax was and though I am a teacher, me… the MORON in this scenario, didn’t bother to ask.

I squirreled away the little blue pill in my hand and palmed it all the way out to the far bungalows that sat practically on the baseball field.

“Here,” I handed it to her. “She popped it in her mouth without a thought, took a giant swig of water off of her bottle, and smiled as it seemed the “magic little pill” was already working.

“Okay everyone,” she said sweetly to her group of students. “Let’s learn about the Donner Party and why you should never eat anyone’s ass.”

I caught myself making a face… maybe this hadn’t been such a good idea but hell, I wasn’t exactly the cornerstone of Conservative teaching… maybe this was a typical day in Ms. E’s room.

“Whatcha doing?” Mr. D said as he walked up behind me.

Mr. D and I had been program friends for several years and had spent many an after school session at our local Al-Anon meeting ranting about our addiction to addicts and our need for control.

“Nothing,” I said, unsure if I should tell Mr. D that I had given Ms. E someone else’s drugs, afraid to just come clean. I mean, he was on “the Xanax” like everyone else… but then… the moment passed and I let the thought go.

“Drive with me up to Starbuck’s?” He asked.  “So I can get a coffee and have a smoke?”

“Sure,” I said and we both left campus to enjoy our conference period away from our busy school day.

We were gone I’d say 15 minutes; just long enough for Mr. D to get in a whole smoke while we sat waiting for coffee in the Starbuck’s drive-thru.

When we returned to our campus, we made a full circle of our school in the car, and then pulled up to park next to Ms. E’s bungalow.

We were shocked by our immediate view.

Ms. E was not in her classroom teaching.

Ms. E was hanging over the railing of the bungalow ramp, swinging her entire upper half of her body over the rail and trying to touch her toes with her pudgy little hands before she would rise up, throw her arms up into the air, and then swing them back down and try to touch her toes again.

“Wooooooo Eeeeeee!” She said each time she raised back up and saw me and Mr. D staring at her from the car. “HEY YOU TWO!” She shouted. “Wooooooooooo Eeeeeeeeee!”

Now, I am always the first to blame in these situations… known as the Punk Rock I Love Lucy… once told by a former boss that I ALWAYS LOOKED GUILTY OF SOMETHING and today was no exception.

Mr. D took one look at Ms. E, before turning to me and shouting, “WHAT THE HELL DID YOU GIVE HER?”

“Xanax,” I said trying not to sound like Curtis Mayfield’s Pusherman. “It was just Xanax.”

“What color was it?” He asked.

“Blue.”

“YOU GAVE HER A BLUE?” He shouted. “A fucking blue? That’s like eight times the size of the dose that we take you idiot!”

I’d like to say that I was stunned at that moment. Even… apologetic for my actions… but really, I was watching Ms. E and wondering how the hell she was still standing after such a massive dose of Xanax and wondering how Mr. C was able to pop blues on a daily basis while making it through, what appeared to me, a “sober” school day.

Mr. D was out of the car in two seconds.

He ran across the field and gathered Ms. E up, as if she was a ball of limp bread dough, while I stood at the curb and watched him carry her past me and hurriedly put her in the car.

“Cover her class,” he shouted.

Ms. E was already enjoying making fish faces at me through the car window: cheeks puffed out, hands pressed against the door glass, drool running down into the door channel, until Mr. D slammed the car into gear, blasted away from the school and they disappeared from view.

“Jesus,”  I whispered to myself as I locked the school gate and headed into her classroom to finish out the teaching day.

“Where’s Ms. E?” the students asked, each small group hard at work on their Donner Party Informational Chart: Why We Don’t Eat Asses.

“Ummmm,” I said, as I quickly walked around the room collecting the work, afraid that it might be used against us in a court of law, “She wasn’t feeling well so she went home for the day. Pass me your classwork. Ms. E told me to give everyone an “A” on this assignment and you get to have free time for the rest of the period.”

By their reactions you would have thought that I had declared school over for LIFE.

There were no complaints, no worries… cell phones popped out, ipods popped in, random conversations sparked up around the room.

Teachers crave Xanax…. and students “jones” for “free time”… for them… it’s the most addicting drug.

After a weekend of recovery for Ms. E, and an Al-Anon meeting where Mr. D “called me out” on my actions in front of my sponsor, we all returned to school and went back to business.

Nothing ever came from the incident, and blue Xanax was never again given… or asked for… at school.

Well… at least not between us teachers… I can’t speak for the administration.

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

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

It’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now… I love Amy.

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

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

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

I was pretty pleased with myself.

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

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

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

“Sure,” I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

Luckily, their terror kept then silent and still….

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

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“They can’t climb the stairs right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did.

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

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

I wish I had coined that phrase…

NOT “sausage fest…”

but “Dramatacus.”

I really do.

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

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

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

or sometimes… just because I’m bored.

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

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

Or…

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

Or…

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

See what I mean?

Drama.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s like you’re possessed…

You know you are acting like a total idiot…

That you are making the situation worse…

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

But you just keep going…

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

Sigh…

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

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

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

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

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

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

I paused……

“No,” I said quietly.

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

“No,” I said quietly again.

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

It stunned me…

He stunned me…

What a wordsmith.

I was impressed.

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

I was being totally ridiculous.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

D: Pat thanks for being here today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(laughing)

D: So no teen in the beginning?

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

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

Patrick: Yeah…

(pause)

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

(laughing)

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

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

Patrick: Thank you.

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

Patrick: Maybe…

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

Patrick: That was great.

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

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

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

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

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

Patrick: Thank you.

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

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

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

 Cake

By Patrick Tobin

First Appeared in Kenyon Review

Included in Dave Eggers Best American Nonrequired Reading 2008

*****

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

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

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

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

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

“I have a question,” I said.

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

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

“Yes. But—”

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

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

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

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

I started applauding.

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That, in a nutshell, is breakthrough pain.

*

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

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

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

Thank you morphine.

Thank you.

Thank.

You.

Morphine.

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #1:

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

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #2:

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

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

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

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

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

*

Drug Induced Hallucination #3:

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

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

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

“You’re probably wondering about the cake.”

“I didn’t want to be rude, but yes.”

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

“I always hated her drippy little exercises.”

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

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

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

“I had my reasons.”

“I know that now.”

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

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

“Nice touch.”

“I thought you’d like it.”

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

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

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

*

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

“No problem your highness,” she said.

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

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

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

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

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

I was stupid enough to believe him.

*

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

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

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

*

For the road trip:

1.     Vicodin.

2.     Oxycontin.

3.     Methadone.

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

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

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

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

8.     Orange juice.

9.     Chips.

10.  My sunglasses.

11.  A change of clothes. Just in case.

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

13.  A six pack of Coke.

*

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

“Could you do me a favor?” I asked.

“Yes, ask me what you need.”

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

“But what to call you?”

“How about Claire. That’s my name.”

“Okay Mrs. Claire,” she said.

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

*

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

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

My thoughts turned to Jason.

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

But now—I can see.

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

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

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

*

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

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

Blank stare.

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

“There’s nothing open now,” he said.

“Why? Is it a holiday?”

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

Now it was my turn for a blank stare.

*

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

“Gracias,” I said.

“Why?” she asked.

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

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

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

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

“Toilet’s broke, bitch.”

Her friends laughed.

“I don’t need to use the toilet.”

She sneered. “Then beat it.”

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

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

The sneer disappeared.

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

*

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

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

“Can I give you some unsolicited feedback?”

“Hell no.”

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

“Gross! I won’t do porn!”

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

“I hate Scarlett Johansson,” she said.

“If I had your body I would too.”

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

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

I asked if she had another joint.

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

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

*

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

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

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

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

“I make one tomorrow.”

“I want one the minute we get home.”

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

I realized I had no idea where Rosalva lived.

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

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

“I have not met them.”

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

“Why do birds…suddenly appear…”

Rosalva smiled. “This is very pretty song.”

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

*

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

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

“Shut up.”

“Want to make an easy hundred?”

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

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

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

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

“Am I what?”

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

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

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

“You’re mean enough.”

“You outweigh me by at least fifty pounds.”

“Fuck you.”

“Fine.”

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

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

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

“What?”

“You heard me.”

“That’s not fair.”

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

*

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

“Do you have baking powder?” Becky asked.

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

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

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

“Who doesn’t have baking powder?”

“People who order out, that’s who.”

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

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

“What about booze?” Becky asked.

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

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

“Paper or plastic?” the clerk nervously asked.

*

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

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

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

I called his office.

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

“Tell him he won.”

“Won what?” The assistant sounded nervous.

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

*

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

“Where’s the fucking booze?”

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

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

*

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

“What time is it?” I asked.

“Too many hours,” she said.

“Is the girl still here?”

“No. I think she stealed.”

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

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

“I call the police,” Rosalva said.

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

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

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

*

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

“And how are we doing Claire?”

“We’re doing great.”

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

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

“Uh, well, yes I have.”

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

“Goodness. A lawsuit?”

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

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

“That’s hardly possible.”

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

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

“Uh huh.”

“Now I’m not kidding.”

*

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

“I help you Mrs. Claire.”

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

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

Fuck it. I’ll just mumble something.

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

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

I take a deep breath.

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

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A Shit Load of Mormons

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A Shit Load of Mormons
By D.D.Wood

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