Getting in a Fight with Stephen, Somewhere in Kansas in Front of a Kentucky Fried Chicken, While on a Cross-Country Road Trip

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me and stephen 64

I had been married to my X for almost twenty years and NEVER took him on a road trip.

Never.

The idea of bringing a man on a road trip seemed absolutely ridiculous to me.

My road trips were private matters.

I wanted to be completely alone.

If I wanted to listen to music… I did.

If I wanted it completely silent in the car for hours on end… it was.

This was my NO MAN’s land.

My best story ideas, song ideas, and big thoughts on life and spiritual matters came to me on my road trips.

Highway 10 from Long Beach to Santa Fe New Mexico… alone… silent… could solve a host of problems that couldn’t be solved by thinking about them at home.

And so… it was with great reluctance that I allowed Stephen to join me.

Stephen… summer of 2007… one year into our friendship.

And how… you must be wondering… did I allow myself to cave?

Well…he said, “I’ve never been on a road trip before.”

“Never?” I said. “Not even with your guy friends?”

“Nope,” and then his shoulders slumped and he made a little sad face. “Never.”

And since I cared for Stephen… and knew the value of a good road trip in a person’s life… my heart felt for him and so I invited  him to come along.

Of course, once I invited him… I immediately started saying things to get him to back out. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to let someone in… be close… give up my private experience.

“You know…” I told him. “I do what I want on the road. I don’t set a destination. I don’t go to any specific location. I drive as long as I want… I sleep in small motels in off beat towns. And I’ve NEVER taken a man with me before,” I paused here for emphasis. “Do you understand what I’m saying?”

He nodded his head… excited to be invited on a road trip and I knew this would be a turning point in our friendship… we would either survive this road trip together and be bonded for life, or we would burn out somewhere close to Albuquerque with Stephen shouting at me to “STOP THE CAR” before kicking the door shut, flipping me off, and hitching a ride to the closest airport where he would fly home, never to be seen again… Maybe even silently “wishing me the best” (the ultimate fuck you really) before boarding a plane and drinking as many cocktails allowed on the two and a half hour flight home to Los Angeles while praying that I would die in a fiery car crash somewhere outside of Nashville.

I sighed.

Weeks went by and Stephen excitedly planned for his big adventure. I saw him programming a GPS and I actually started to sweat. I NEVER used a GPS… that was cheating… I felt anxious… but I sucked it up each time I saw him pore over a map… his reading glasses high on his face… his eyes looming large… magnified through the glass as he fantasized about all of his future destinations and scribbled furiously… little notes and words in his mini notebook.

“What’s that?” I asked one day.

“I’m preparing,” he said with pure glee.

I looked at him as if he were a bad student in my class. “Don’t,” I said sternly, my face stone. “Just stop.”

He looked at me as if I was speaking some foreign language it almost seemed he was ignoring me…. before he went back to poring over his maps and scribbling furiously.

This is a mistake I thought. We’re going to be in a fight before we even get out of L.A. county.

But I held my tongue, shocking I know, but I did and when the day arrived for us to leave, Stephen was prepared.

It looked like I had the ultimate Boy Scout ready to set off with me… wait, strike that, let’s make him an Eagle Scout.

I have never seen anyone so organized for a trip. He even had his passport in case we decided to cross a border.

Jesus.

We left Long Beach at 4 am, stopped at a drive-thru Starbucks for coffee and were on the road and on our way to Maine.

California to Maine…. one of the best drives ever…

There is nothing like watching the sun come up from the highway. It is one of my all time favorite moments in life.

Me.

The car.

The road.

Complete silence as the skyline goes from jet black to a purple opaque with a hint of orange, before the sun bursts into bright yellow streaks and illuminates the blue sky.

Only… that’s not what happened.

What happened was TOOL was blasting from the speakers as Stephen bobbed his head to the music, tapped his foot against the dash, drank his coffee with gusto and I sat in silence, big headed baby, pouting… as I drove the car.

I was miffed. Distraught. But Stephen was so pleased to be on a road trip… I kept quiet.

I headed for highway 70… it is a beautiful path… not stark beauty like the 10… which is actually quite a lonely road… the 70 is America in all of it’s patch work glory.

Coming over the pass into Colorado… the river running along side it… boxed in by mountains… until you rise again and see the Great Plains laid out before you… it is a drive that makes the traveler a hopeless romantic.

And Stephen said, “I thought you were taking the 10?”

I tried not to make a face.

“I’ve programmed my GPS for the 10,” he said in a pitiful whine of a voice.

“Well,” I said. “Unprogram.”

I could see that he was bent.

Perturbed.

Annoyed.

And I thought… don’t you dare… don’t you dare…. who are you to be any of those things on my road trip?

We drove all the way to Vegas without a word… Stephen heavy metal thumping while I looked out the window and prayed for the audio system to fail.

By the time we hit the plateau above Grand Valley, Colorado… I wasn’t sure if we would make it through the next two weeks but then the road opened up, the view down was amazing, and Stephen turned off the music which left Colorado ahead of us, and a quiet car to take in the beauty.

The rest of the day was really uneventful… as was the next…. we discovered a common love of SIRIUS’s stand up comedy channel and laughed all the way to Kansas where things then took a turn for the worse.

We were tired from driving… hours and hours of travel… when we finally started looking for a hotel room around 10 o’clock at night.

This is when we heard two words that I never imagined could be so dreaded:

State Fair.

“What?” I asked.

Then there were three dreaded words:

Kansas State Fair.

Shit.

Every hotel within 100 miles of the Kansas State Fair was booked solid and Stephen and I were beyond exhausted.

It was the first time ever I felt myself falling asleep at the wheel. In fact, Stephen had already flopped over into the back seat and passed out. I was glad that he was quiet and resting but still totally annoyed that he was at that moment… no help.

I prayed that I would make it to a hotel before I nodded off and lost control of the car and thankfully, around mile 83, there was one room left available at a Best Western.

We pulled in, checked in, and passed out in a matter of minutes.

The next morning, I was “hungover” from such a long day of driving the day before, that I didn’t want to get up… but… Stephen wanted to get moving.

“Get up,” he said. “Come on get up.”

I was tired, angry that he was bossing me about, and pouting because I knew that if HE hadn’t been in the car with me… I would have found a hotel easily, I wouldn’t be getting up early right now, I would be following my OWN time frame and completely ALONE. I climbed out of the bed in a big baby fit threw on my clothes and shoes and reached to grab the keys and stomp to the car when Stephen reached out and grabbed them.

“I’m driving,” he said.

I gave him a look…. ready to kill him, but he just turned and walked out of the room and headed to the car… unwilling to give me my way.

I climbed into the passenger seat, slammed the door and sulked. We weren’t even out of the parking lot when I said, “Go through the KFC so at least we can get something to eat.”

Stephen rounded the corner for the drive-thru and thought for some reason that the lane he was in was not for the drive-up window.

“It is!” I shouted. “Trust me. Just go right there!” I pointed towards a loud speaker and watched as Stephen ignored me, passed the window and made a loop around the front of the KFC.

“No,” he said calmly. “I’m sure that was the wrong lane.”

I felt anger seething out of every pore… I set my jaw so firmly that it must have looked like it was wired shut and believe me… in just a matter of minutes… I was going to wish it had been wired shut…

Just as Stephen was making the turn to go back through the lane I originally told him to, a large white bus full of black Baptists rolled in front of us and I watched as the Minister ordered 15 buckets of chicken, obviously for his entire congregation, who I could see through the large rectangular glass bus windows… smiling and happy, seriously spiritually enlightened people, radiating  God’s joy as they waited patiently for their chicken and I actually went insane.

I don’t even remember what I said to Stephen, but it was every angry thing you say to someone when you “kick the cat”….

Why did I bring you?

What were you thinking?

Why couldn’t you listen to me?

Who the HELL do you think you are?

LOOK AT ALL OF THOSE GOD DAMN BAPTISTS EATING MY CHICKEN!

By the time we got to the window… I was spent… which often happens with us passionate HOT HEADS leaving our quiet introverted family, friends, and lovers, totally stunned by our outbursts and often feeling

MORTALLY wounded while we HOT HEADS just move on to the next big thing to be passionate and upset about…

Stephen however had, had enough.

He pulled up to the window to pay the KFC kid and wait for our chicken while I, now calm… said, “Could you please open the trunk so I can get something out of my bag?”

“Just wait,” he said… his tone one of intense loathing…

“Wait for what?” I snapped and popped out of the car and headed to the back of the trunk.

Stephen, by now, so TOTALLY pissed off at me took one look in the rear view mirror and floored the car. The wheels screeched as he took off and then laid a big skid and stopped about twenty feet from the window.

My mouth dropped open as I watched my door fly shut as he burned out… but the funniest moment was when I looked back at the drive-thru window and saw that the KFC kid had hung the food bag out for Stephen to grab right as he pulled away… so the teenager’s arm was just dangling out the window with a big bag of KFC floating in mid-air waiting for no one to take it.

I paused a moment… I really wanted to laugh but I was still just too angry.

I walked over and grabbed the bag from the kid, walked up to the car, opened the door and climbed inside where I threw the bag of chicken on the floor and shouted, “I’m not even hungry any more.”

Stephen could have given a shit. He burnt out and hit the Interstate at an alarming pace. Probably anxious to find the nearest airport and fulfill my earlier prophecy.

We both stewed in silent obstinance across the entire great state of Kansas before we finally just busted up laughing hysterically… barely able to breath… tears streaming down our faces, as we crossed the border into Ohio where I then picked up the bag, pulled a cold, hard biscuit from it, and handed it to Stephen as a peace offering.

It was the only fight we got in during the entire two weeks on the trip and I believe that it really was necessary for our bonding experience and that the event brought us closer together.

After that, we went on to see thousands of wild geese land on a secluded lake somewhere in Ohio, scare ourselves to death sleeping in Lizzie Borden’s house in Fall Rivers Massachusetts, nap on Nathaniel Hawthorne’s lawn in Salem, and drive through the Bad Lands of South Dakota on our return trip, a place Stephen had never been, and was so thankful to see… the desert at dusk, the look of the sand and the cliffs, so alien and mystical… really something everyone should experience in a lifetime.

I will never regret that fight at the KFC… or letting someone in, and sharing my road trip.

What I find as I grow older, is that staying and building relationships, even when at times you want to run away… desert all… find security and safety in yourself… believing that it will be easier… somehow protect you from hurt… or build a wall so that people can’t get in…

Only makes you the person who is UNWILLING to take the road trip… to see what lays before you… what discoveries are out there to find… what common interests, ideas, spiritual moments you can share, even if it is only a ridiculously stupid fight behind a bus load of black Baptists somewhere in Kansas….

The beauty.. is in the shared story… our shared story…

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

Robbie Tells Reno What For

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

Sometimes we love each other.

Sometimes we hate each other.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And it was.

A LONG DRIVE.

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

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

His vehement lecture was close to legendary.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Corey and I looked at each other but said nothing.

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

I prayed that nothing would go wrong.

I prayed that we could order quickly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

CBGB’s with Brian May from Queen Resulting in the Worst Hangover of my Life

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You can ask just about anybody.

I don’t drink.

Well, I don’t drink very often.

Maybe once, twice a year.

Seriously.

I believe that years of partying with the “Bad Boys” of the 80’s might have something to do with my lack of interest in drinking today and…

After spending most of my time around recovering alcoholic-addicts, I have a lifetime full of cautionary tales… so I don’t.

But I have to admit… that maybe this night in New York City, with Brian May from Queen, might have had something to do with my decision to give up the “big party” for good.

We were both in town for CMJ: the huge music/publishing festival that takes place annually in New York.

I flew in with my band, Brian was there solo.

But we were both on Hollywood Records and so the president of the record company wanted to take us both out to a schmooz dinner, after we played CBGB’s that night.

Our job was to impress publishers, journalists, radio station owners in hopes that they would find us “down to earth” yet “intelligent and witty” and therefore, want to buy our music or play our music because not only were we talented but heck… we were just damn good people.

Now… I have always been good at schmoozing… it’s just something you have to do when you are playing in “The Show” but deep down inside…. it always made me extremely nervous and super sick to my stomach.

So, when it came time to leave for the big dinner party, my band thought it would be great if I drank a few margaritas and tequila shots with them… just to relax me before the special event.

Well, anyone that has been drinking in New York, knows that the bartenders of the Big Apple really like to make their cocktails strong and so… next thing I knew… I was in a limo, heading to a dinner party… empty stomach… well… now full of booze… and pretty much already bordering on inebriated.

My A&R person was trying to get me to pay attention as she did the run down on who would be there and why it was important to impress them but… I was in a bit of a stupor, looking out the passenger side window, enjoying the street lights, and basically spun out in my own little world.

“D.D.,” she snapped. “This is serious.”

So I gathered myself together and tried to sober myself long enough to at least LOOK interested in what she was saying.

We arrived at the restaurant: Upscale Mexican. Tequila and Margaritas strewn across the table.

This was going to be bad.

My thoughts of getting a coke or a cup of coffee to get myself back on track dissipated.

The record company president handed me a shot and pressed me to down it.

Brian May stood up, towering above me, gave me a giant hug, placed a margarita in my hand and that is basically all I remember.

I have a faint recollection of trying to pull a girl’s ear off her head, believing that she had something stuck in her hair.

And I guess I did actually get up and cross the restaurant to smell Robin Leech, from Lifestyle’s of the Rich and Famous fame because Brian May dared me to do it.

Other than that… my next memory is me on a street corner, outside of CBGB’s talking to a middle aged Italian man in a wife beater, who had a 1980’s Cadillac with a back seat full of hand guns and kept telling me not to worry about anything.

He would take care of me.

“Johnny” would take care of me.

At this time, I knew I was in trouble.

I picked up the pay telephone and called my brother Jack and started to cry.

He could hear  “Johnny” rambling on in his heavy Bronx accent in the background, people outside the club screaming and fighting, and me… having my first breakdown on the road… and he wasn’t sure what to do.

“Where’s your A&R person?” He asked.

“I don’t know,” I sobbed.

“Go back to CBGB’s and get a cab back to your hotel now. Call me when you get there.”

I hung up the phone, told “Johnny” my brother said I had to go now, and so he saluted me with his heavily-clad-in-chunk-gold, pudgy Italian hand, and wished me well on my way.

I did grab a cab.

I did make it back to the hotel.

And when I woke up in the morning, naked in a bathtub full of rusty water in one of the old rooms at the Algonquin… my all time favorite New York hotel… home of the Algonquin Round Table… host to many of my favorite writers and editors: Dorothy Parker, George Kaufman, Harold Ross… I felt like I was going to vomit.

Not only because I was in the beginnings of the WORST hangover of my life but, because I had acted a fool and ended up a physical wreck in my literary place of worship.

I felt like Bukowski was the only writer that might actually applaud me at the moment, raise his glass to me in celebration of last night’s debauchery.

It was horrible.

And when I suddenly came completely to and remembered what I had done… I actually slapped my hand to my forehead and shook my head in disgust… hoping that I might somehow be able to forget the idiot I had been.

Had I actually tried to pull an ear off of a girl’s head?

Had I actually walked over and smelled Robin Leech?

I leaned out of the bathtub, grabbed the edge of the toilet, and vomited.

Ten minutes later the phone rang.

I dragged myself, naked, across the floor, and picked it up to hear Jack, my brother, and Joe, my husband, both screaming at me for scaring the shit out of them.

I guess I never called the house back to tell my brother I had made it safely to the hotel and they had no idea where I was staying until they were able to get hold of one of the record company reps in the morning.

I made my pathetic apologies and hung up.

The phone rang again.

This time it was my A&R rep.

I was ten minutes late for the record signing and press junket for my first album.

“Get your ass in a cab and get down to the Kimmel Center now!”

I had no idea where I was supposed to go but I rushed to get dressed, did everything I could to try and look like I wasn’t a drunken mess the night before, and made it to the Kimmel Center just in time to take some publicity photos with Brian.

Seeing him standing on the red carpet, his arms outstretched ready to pull me in close, a big smile on his face, soft-hearted giant, I felt like I had just been granted an “idiot” reprieve.

I rushed towards him and snuggled close, as he held me tight, and leaned down to whisper in my ear, “I loved that you actually went over and smelled Robin Leech. It was just so great.” and that was the moment that they snapped our photo.

Light bulbs popped off around us, people screamed out our names, questions were fired from all angles, and though I was a bit dazed… overwhelmed from the attention, and sick as a dog from my hell of a night. I made it through.

“Welcome to my world,” Brian said as he squeezed my hand and then sat down next to me at the autograph table where we spent the remainder of the morning visiting with fans, signing our names on cds and posters, and joking about Robin Leech until we both caught the late afternoon flights home out of JFK… me back to Los Angeles and my small home in the suburbs of Long Beach… Brian back to England… to his mansion estate… but both of us forever connected through our mutual love of music, drinking, and Robin Leech.

Mr. Stroosma Sets the Classroom on Fire

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

I don’t.

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

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

Beautiful.

Nice kids.

Good snacks.

Easy day.

No problems.

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

Stroosma is definitely one of the “beloved.”

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

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

He’s good looking…

Witty…

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

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

Girls have crushes on him… (and boys too)

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

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

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

You need a “show” man…

You need A HEADLINER…

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

And that’s Stroosma.

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

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

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

Stroosma smiled his little Stroosma smile…

Winked his little Stroosma wink…

And gave me the thumbs up.

“No problem,” he said.

And like a FOOL… I believed him.

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

Ahhhhh.

The view… serene…

The icy river… crystal crisp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I called immediately.

No answer.

I started to panic and  dialed again.

No answer. 

Jesus…

I dialed again.

No answer.

My mind was racing…

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

I was a bad teacher.

I had abandoned my flock.

I dialed again.

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

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

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

Silence.

Stroosma was silent as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fucking Stroosma.

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

“You having fun?” He asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was Ray Charles for Christ’s sake.

Look at the photo of Ray that I posted above.

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

I don’t think so.

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

Okay… so yeah… he was dead.

I know that.

I’m not being disrespectful here.

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

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

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

“I thought you did,” Lexi said.

“No, that was B.B. King.”

“Really?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

I ran to the bathroom and freshened up.

I wanted to look my best for Ray.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You’re out of your mind.”

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

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

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

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

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

Then… the phone rang.

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

It was horrible.

Ray.

Forever kept from me by my own child.

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

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

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

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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