In Honor of the Pope: Nana Rents a Porno

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stock-footage-overweight-woman-eating-cake-and-watching-vintage-tv

Being the caregiver to an 87-year-old woman is never easy. I won’t go into specifics but, I will say, that waking up to find used Poise pads for women who have bladder control issues filling the trashcans, soiled, silky grandma panties piled up by the washer waiting to be washed, and a slew of semi-empty cat food cans strategically placed in every corner of the house just in case “kitty gets hungry during the night” should round the image nicely.

I love her. Don’t get me wrong. She is my mother, a pain in my ass, but an all-around good time when it comes to story material.

She’s in love with Charlie Sheen, a man she considers perfect. She will circle, with red pen, in her very important TV guide, exactly when Two and a Half Men will be on the television, and how many re-runs she can chalk up each day—to having a laugh with Charlie—while I’m off teaching high school English to the youth of America.

On special days, she will repeatedly dial me at work, unrelenting until I pick up, whether I’m teaching a class or not, long past the days of caring about anyone else’s schedule or needs. Queen of the blue Lazy Boy recliner, Empress of All to tell me, You’re never going to believe what Charlie did today, as if he were actually in the room with her—her bosom buddy—her best friend.

“It said in People magazine that he was dating one of those porno girls.” She told me. “Really…” (Here she actually paused for emphasis) “I don’t know what he sees in those porno girls.”

“I think everyone knows what he sees in those porno girls, Mom,” I mumbled.

“Well, I don’t think you’re very funny,” she snapped and turned up the television to block me out to suffer the theme song of Two and a Half Men—blasting through the house—my temporal punishment until willing to make reparation for my sin of mocking her beloved.

Fuck, I whispered and went about my business trying to find where I had just set my noise canceling headphones to get in a few precious quiet moments of writing time.

My mother’s love for Charlie was palpable and everyone knew it. Which is why I am sure that you can imagine her misery when after twelve years of having Charlie, exactly where she wanted him, I accidentally kept her from her love by switching our media service from Charter to FIOS and introducing her to a new remote control.

Now, any one who has dealt with an “Old” knows that Olds don’t do well with any type of new system and especially new remote controls. Olds push every button. Olds push just the blue buttons. Olds turn off the TV and sit and pout in the dark until you come in and manage the controller. And Olds expect you to drop everything and fucking figure it out now or you will be berated for weeks on end for keeping The Olds from what they love: a sense of continued control provided by familiarity.

Suddenly, she couldn’t find Charlie and she hated me for it and let me tell you: Hell hath no fury like a Nana scorned.

I spent several weeks trying to be patient. Trying to teach Nana the new remote. Trying to explain that Charlie was still there on channel 5.

“But how do I get to him?” she would lament in obvious pain.

“Just press five, Mom.”

She would then hold up the remote in a grand gesture, hold her finger down for an eternity on the number 5 and we would both watch as it registered 555555555 on the television screen and took us to some strange FIOS advertisement channel.

‘You see?” she would cry, her eyes big and sad like one of those horrible 70’s paintings that still hangs on the wall in our den.

“He’s not there!”

I would show her once again how to lift her finger quickly when pressing the 5, and suddenly, Charlie would appear. Her eyes would widen, her toes would flutter, and all would be right in the world for a moment but of course… it never lasted.

I had my students create giant charts that we taped all around her television set, letting Nana know when her favorite show was on and exactly how to find it but to no avail. I would still come home to find her pushing buttons repeatedly, creating channels I’ve never heard of, as if she was trying to cosmically call someone to make the damn thing work.

Each of my brothers took his shot, spending lengthy phone conversations hoping to walk her through the steps yet, she still couldn’t get the remote to work and I would return home from a long day of teaching to hear her cry, “Why did you have to change things? Why are you trying to ruin my life?”

So one day I just gave up. I left and went around the corner to my significant other’s house. Where we sat, blissfully TV free, Stephen reading some fascinating article in MOPAR magazine about neutral safety switches and me, rapt in Mira Bartok’s, The Memory Palace, envying Mira’s bleak situation, when she actually had to change her name, move away, to find solace from her mentally ill mother.

“I could move away,” I said casually to Stephen. “Change my name.”

“We’d miss you,” he said without even looking up from his read: as always, impossible to get a rise from the calmest man in the world.

We went back to our silent ways before I noticed a text pop up quietly on my phone screen. It was from my son’s girlfriend, Penny. My favorite Nor Cal person now transplanted to my home in Long Beach. Heavily tattooed, Vegan, dark-haired Latina beauty, quiet like Stephen, but unwilling to take any shit from anyone, including “The Nana.”

The note read: Nana accidentally rented a porno. It will be on your next bill. Just thought you should know.

I could only imagine what had just happened. My mother: Trying to find Charlie. The repeated pressing of the buttons, the skip to On Demand, how she got down to the Adult movie folder would always be a mystery and one I really didn’t want to solve.

I didn’t even move.

I just texted back, always the writer, What was the title of it?

There was a long pause, ellipses of text flickering in anticipation before the response…

Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.

There’s no need to tell you that the FIOS agent could not suppress laughter when I called to have the charge for Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy removed from the next bill.

Or that Dylan, my twenty-something son was mortified when he was the one to find her shouting, “Get it off! Get it off! Dylan you’re not going to believe what they are doing on my TV. Please get it off!”

He later told me that it was the most horrific moment of his life: accidentally watching porn with his Nana. “There are just some things you don’t want to do with your Nana, Mom… and watching porno is one of them.”

He said it was comical, the way she was waving the remote at the screen, in a large sweeping circle, as if it was some magical Harry Potter wand that would somehow make the debauchery; the big butts bouncing and banging go away. That said the joy of that visual was not worth what he had to witness on her TV screen.

I’d like to say that I felt sorry for her that I felt the need to comfort my mother but by the time I returned home, she was happily watching Two and a Half Men and seemed to now be unfazed by the incident, eating a pint of strawberry Haagen-Dazs, numerous miniature Chihuahuas parked upon her portly lap waiting for their bites, and Charlie on the TV saying, “Everybody’s got a little baggage … I drink and try to mouth kiss hookers.” My mom giggling like a fool.

“I heard you and Charlie have something in common,” I teased her during the commercial break.

“What’s that?” She asked.

“Ummm, that you both want Lots of Big Butts for Every Guy.”

She took a bite of ice cream, her look full of disdain before pointing her spoon at me as if to banish me from her kingdom.

No come back.

She knew she must concede and admit that she and Charlie were now forever connected… to porno girls.

 

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Nana falls on her tailbone and decides it will be fine if someone puts a finger up there to “adjust” it.

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old-lady-squat

Living with OLDS isn’t easy.

I basically wake up each morning in a state of panic until I’m sure that everyone… including the OLD dog is still breathing.

And once I’ve made the rounds of the geriatric crowd… sure in my belief that we all can make it through one more day… I let my guard down and ready for other battles.

But not the morning of the broken ass incident… I don’t know if I will ever let my guard down again after that particularly disturbing event.

It was about 6 am when I heard a loud startling CRACK from the living room.

I knew immediately that my mom had taken a fall: It wasn’t the first time she had landed hard.

Eighty-five but still absolutely obstinate that she was not ready for a walker… that a cane would do her just fine… but the truth?

The cane was unstable.

Add our slick hardwood floors and it was literally a recipe for disaster and so… on this morning… it was.

I jumped from the bed and ran down the hallway to find my mom; legs splayed out in front of her, back pressed against the leg of a chair that had luckily inched back and pinned itself on the brick wall somewhat breaking her fall. Her cane flat on the floor next to her… a large angry scratch on the floor betraying the truth: that she had leaned on the cane for help but it had buckled and let her down.

I wanted to pick it up and throw it through the plate glass window and scream at her for not using the walker but, I held my temper and waited for Dylan as I knew he would soon be rushing down the stairs, to help me lift her into the chair and assess the damage.

“Something’s wrong with my butt,” she said. “It feels like something’s stuck up inside of it.”

Dylan, my son, looked at me and though he didn’t want to laugh at his Nana, especially if she was truly hurt, had to fight back amusement in regards to the cadence of my mother’s voice: Her comic timing, without realizing it, was impeccable.

I couldn’t stop myself.

I laughed loudly.

“Oh you think it’s so funny to have something up your ass?” She snapped.

At this time, Dylan completely lost it.

My mom frowned at both of us.

“Wait until it happens to you,” she said.

“You mean wait until I have something stuck up my ass or wait until I refuse to use a walker and fall on my ass?” my sarcasm beyond blatant.

“Oh you think you’re so funny,” she said as she grabbed hold of my arm and Dylan’s, righting herself, as she made Dylan hand her the cane.

“But Nana,” Dylan said sweetly. “What if…”

“I’ll be fine,” she barked at him. “It’s just a swore ass.”

She hobbled off to the TV room where moments later I heard Regis and Kelly blasting from the set and so I assumed… “it was only a flesh wound” and that she had already gotten over it.

I told Dylan to go back upstairs but to keep an eye and an ear out for Nana once I left for school.

He kissed Nana on the head and walked away… a bit of a giggle escaping unexpectedly somewhere around the 10th stair-step.

I got dressed, left for work, believing everything was okay until later that day my mother fell again.

This time, she just slipped right out of her recliner and fell butt first on the floor.

Luckily, my good friend Darryl was doing some work on the house, and heard her calling for help over the sound of his power tools.

When I saw his number pop up on my phone at school, I told the students that it might be an emergency and I’d have to take the call.

They all leaned forward in their desks, wondering what “Ms. Wood escapades” they would be privy to this morning.

“Hey D.D.” Darryl said. “Your mom fell out of her chair and hurt her butt.”

“Is she okay?” I asked.

“Yeah,” he said. “I was able to get her back up into her chair but…” he paused. “She says she has something stuck up her butt and I can’t really do anything about that.”

“She actually told you that?” I asked. “She actually told you she had something stuck up her butt?”

I couldn’t believe it. My mom was totally out of control.

At that moment… I was reminded how much like my mother I was… when I turned to see 35 young and highly interested faces wonder:

Who was on the phone?

Who had something stuck up their butt?

And thank God Ms. Wood was so absent-minded she would repeat the up-the-butt scenario in front of her entire class.

I saw Tyler Ericksen in the back of the room turn to A.J. Santos and mouth the words “Up her butt” before they both just fell out laughing.

I turned my best glare at them and they immediately silenced themselves.

“Does she want me to come home?” I said to Darryl.

“No,” Darryl said. “She’s okay. She said she could wait to get up when you get home and… I’m here.”

“Fine,” I said and hung up the phone.

“Who’s got something up their butt?” Tyler asked as he tried not to smirk or giggle.

“You’re gonna have something up your butt Tyler if you don’t crack that book and get back to work.”

A.J. put his face down on his desk. His shoulders heaving with laughter.

“A.J.?” I asked.

He looked up, tears streaming down his face and whispered, “You said crack.”

“OH JESUS!” I screeched. “It’s my mom. She took a fall. She hit her ass. Now she thinks somethings stuck up there!”

The entire room went silent.

“My brother stuck a small mallet up his butt once,” Kylie said. “Maybe your mom landed on something and it…”

“My mother does not have a small mallet up her ass!” I screamed.

Kylie looked around the room as if she was only trying to help.

Everyone else just seemed dumbfounded that 11th grade American History had turned into Local Current Affairs in under a minute.

“Let’s just go back to work,” I said calmly now. “My mom will be fine. I’m sure she just bruised her tailbone.”

And so… my class went back to silently working and I counted the minutes until I could get home and check on my mother.

By 3 pm I realized my mother was not fine.

Darryl was long gone, smart man, and mom was bent over the kitchen sink.

She had her arms folded in front of her and her ass up in the air.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Taking the pressure off.”

I watched her shift her weight from one orthopedic sandal to the other her short cotton blend roomy capris moving with her.

“I think I need to go to the doctor,” she said.

I waited… listening… watching her in action.

“Yep,” she said. “I’m sure of it.”

Here she turned to look at me head on.

“You know when it just feels like you need someone to stick a finger up there and set it right. That’s what I need. A finger adjustment.”

I cannot describe my face at the moment these words registered in my brain.

In fact, I’m not sure if Hemingway could have described it.

Or even Palahniuk or Leonard.

“Did you really just say that?” I asked.

“What? That I need a finger up my ass. Yes Dede. That is what I said. I need a finger up my ass.”

I couldn’t take anymore. “Jesus Christ Old Woman!” I screamed. “Do you hear the shit that comes out of your mouth?”

I stomped from the kitchen and down the hall, where I slammed the door behind me and called my oldest daughter, who was in nursing school, to help me out with this situation.

Lexi answered the phone on the first ring.

“I hear Nana needs a finger up her ass,” she said followed by her hysterical laughter. “Don’t worry Mom,” she said. “I’m already on the way.”

I stayed in the back of the house unwilling to watch the full-blown fiasco of Dylan and Lex trying to get Nana out the door, and into the car, to go to the doctor’s to get her much needed “finger adjustment.”

I actually laid on the bed the entire time they were gone and tried to envision Dr. Yeske’s face when my mom repeated to him in her perfect comic tone. “I just feel like I need you to put your finger up my ass and adjust it.”

I couldn’t help but smile.

When they returned, Nana was upright with a frosty chocolate shake in her hand as if all was right in the world.

“You okay,” I asked though I was terribly afraid of the answer.

“Yes,” she said as she took a giant slurp off her shake. “I have a small fracture in my tailbone. I don’t need a finger adjustment. It’s just going to take a bit of time to heal.”

“Oh that’s wonderful,” I said as the kids put a pillow in the seat of her recliner and helped her to sit back.

“Yes,” she said as she took another slurp of shake. “Will you put a movie on for me?’

“Sure,” I said. Happy in the knowledge that we were moving past butt talk. “What do you want to watch?”

“Get me Bad Santa,” she said. “I just love that movie and all this ass talk reminded me of that great scene when he…”

“Don’t!” I screamed. “Don’t say it.”

She took another slurp off her shake and smiled. And though she didn’t say a word… I swear I could hear her say, That’s right, Sweetheart. I’m not out of the sarcasm game yet.

Part Two: The Olds go out for Dinner and Come Back Hungry

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old lady driving

It started out as a simple plan.

The Olds, tired of Jack-in-the-Box salads and McDonald’s apple turnovers decided they would make a night of it.

Yes… they would go to Olive Garden for the unlimited soup/salad/breadstick special and God knows what else.

The only problem?

My 85 year-old mother and her 85 year-old friend, Ernie, are in my opinion, unfit to drive.

In fact, barely a month ago, my mom hit the gas, instead of the brakes, in the fast food drive-thru line and shocked the shit out of a guy trying to grab hold of his Big Mac, while being rammed from behind by an old woman. To add insult to injury, she refused to offer him her information and instead, tried to hand him 50 bucks to cover the damage, before climbing back into her car, and leaving the scene of the crime.

And Ernie… was no better. He had just rented a car at his daughter’s house in Phoenix, drove home without our knowledge, missed the turn-off to the 91 freeway that would have brought him straight to our house and confused… had driven two more hours out of his way, ending up in Santa Monica where finally, road-weary and frustrated, he exited the off-ramp and slammed into a car that had a small child in the back seat.

No… I wasn’t really into either of them driving but unfortunately… I had no idea of their “big” plan until after they both blew the coop.

“Where’s Nana?” I asked Dylan, my son, when I saw that the blue recliner in the living room was empty, and the house was blissfully silent without Two and a Half Men, her all-time favorite show, blasting from the television.

“Her and Ernie went to Olive Garden,” he said.

I made a face… not really sure what to say…. if they were heading to Olive Garden, they were going all the way to Cerritos. Not a big jog for us… but for the Olds… that was like taking a trip to China.

I must have really grimaced, or Dylan must have sensed my discomfort with the entire situation, because he quickly added, “Yeah, they’ve been gone like a really long time. Like almost three hours. I’m getting pretty worried.”

I was a bit concerned when I heard this but not overly so.

I know how my mom eats.

She really likes to take her time and make it a full-on event and not in a fun way.

It’s painful going out to dinner or lunch with her these days.

She’s grown quite defiant in her eating: she knows you’re waiting on her and she likes it.

She can swirl a small piece of steak around on her plate a good four or five minutes and reposition it like ten times before actually even lifting it towards her mouth and don’t even get me started on the chewing.

Yeah… If they had gone to Olive Garden… and they were drinking wine and partying with the unlimited bread basket, who knew when they would be home.

I smiled at Dylan, told him not to worry, and went back to my writing until just a few minutes later, I heard a loud commotion in the kitchen.

I thought it was the kids messing around until Dylan came back into my office with his eyes big and round.

“There’s been an incident,” he said in a hushed voice.

“Is everyone okay?” I asked. “What kind of incident?”

Dylan went on to explain that apparently his “Nana” and Ernie had gotten lost on the way to Olive Garden and instead of coming home, drove around for over two-and-a-half hours looking for it.

“Yeah,” Dylan said. “And I guess Nana had to go to the bathroom the entire time and Ernie yelled at her, and now they are fighting in the kitchen.”

Oh God, I thought to myself, Please don’t make me go out there and for once… he seemed to answer my prayers because that’s when Stephen rolled through the front door.

Stephen.

My dude and all around good guy.

Everyone loves Stephen.

He is the anchor… the cool one…. he always brings the action down and thank God, that was when he walked in.

He corralled Ernie and put him out on the front swing, where I heard them speaking in hushed voices.

I took the opportunity to act casual, and head out to the kitchen for a glass of water so that I could check on my mom.

She was stomping about near the bathroom, her cane thump reminiscent of Poe’s Tell-Tale Heart and for a moment, I almost turned and ran away to leave Stephen and Dylan to deal with the mess but I waited and played dumb.

“Hey mom,” I said calmly as I pretended to rinse off a plate in the sink. “How was Olive Garden?”

She thumped closer.

“We didn’t make it there,” she said. “We couldn’t find it.”

I heard silence from the front porch and saw Ernie and Stephen nestled together… listening to her response through the kitchen window, fearful of another angry tangent.

“Well, let’s just get you some food here,” I said.

“No,” she snapped. “I want to go to Hof’s Hut.”

I looked at the clock.

It was almost 9 pm.

“It’s a bit late,” I said. “How about…”

“Well that doesn’t mean I’m not hungry!” she yelled.

I heard Ernie and Stephen scurry away from the window, and their voices dropped to excited hushed whispers again.

Jesus.

I turned around to face my mom and smiled sweetly, “Well that’s why I was going to make you some…”

“NO!” she said firmly. “We’re going to Hof’s Hut.”

I was about to concede, figuring Hof’s was close, an easy drive for my mom from our house, and that if I just gave in… we could all go to bed at a decent time, when she said, “Where is Hof’s Hut? I can’t remember? Can you tell me how to get there?”

This is the moment I realized that my mom might be actually losing it and so I asked her to hang on a minute as I opened the front door and walked out to see Ernie and Stephen.

Ernie, a tall thin man with large eyes, looked like one of those sad-eyed Mexican children in those black velvet 70’s paintings I still loved. He was leaning into Stephen’s crook, as if he was seeking protection.

“She wouldn’t let me get her home,” he said sadly. “I finally had to yell at her.”

I thought he was going to cry.

He put his hands together and continued, “She won’t turn right I tell you. She wouldn’t turn right. Maybe I should just buy my plane ticket back to New Zealand now and go home.”

He put his head down and looked at his feet. I watched as he wiggled his toes as if acting “natural” about the whole thing would make it go away.

I felt a profound sadness in the moment.

I didn’t want Ernie to go home.

The Olds were a pain in the ass.

The Olds really knew how to fuck up a good time.

The Olds were 99% of each day out of their God damn minds.

But they were my Olds… and this might be the last time I would ever see Ernie.

He had already spent most of his trip telling everyone, “I just came to say goodbye before I head back to New Zealand to die.” and that…. was a bit too much for me.

I looked at Stephen and sighed.

Stephen patted Ernie’s shoulder, assured him that everything would be fine, as I walked back into the house to get this thing figured out.

“I do love that woman,” I heard Ernie say as I shut the front door.

And I knew it was true.

My mom and Ernie had been friends for many years, since my father’s death, and I knew that what seemed like a “dinner incident” to us was much more to them in the grand scheme of their relationship.

I knew what I was going to have to do and I had to do it quickly and panic set in at the idea of it…

If I couldn’t negotiate a deal with Dylan to drive the Olds to dinner and act as a mediator throughout the entire event… I was going to have to do it myself.

Oh God, I prayed, I’ll give him anything… anything… if he just takes them.

I grabbed the cell and called Dylan who was upstairs.

“Yeah?” he said, obviously preoccupied with something.

“I need you to take the Olds to Hof’s Hut.”

“NOOOOOOOOOO!” He whined.

“You’re the baby,” I said. “They love you. You have to take them.”

“Make them eat here,” he said defiantly.

“They won’t,” I said. “You have to take them. You have to save their relationship.”

There was a long pause before Dylan quietly gave in and said, “Okay.”

Just a few minutes later, Dylan was acting as mediator to the Olds… escorting Nana to the car, her arm linked to his… Ernie… a few steps behind… fearful… but like a scared animal… trusting in Dylan’s calm presence.

I watched as they made it into the car, pulled out of the drive, and headed off to the restaurant.

Stephen stood next to me and said, “I can’t end up like that…” he turned and looked at me, “I just can’t do it.”

This statement I’m sure has been said by many caretakers but coming from someone always so sound and calm was disturbing.

I gave Stephen a big hug before he headed home to walk the dogs.

Fifteen minutes later, I was back to writing when a text message came through from Dylan: This… is getting pretty intense.

I could only imagine the scene:

Dylan, my big curly haired, bearded bear… smiling between the two Olds as Mom tried to bash Ernie’s brains in with her cane and Ernie, tired of her bullshit, holding a plate full of Snicker’s cheesecake, her favorite, in his hand…refusing to give it to her… laughing and brandishing his fork with glee each time he gulped down another big bite at the distress to my mother while he shouted, “Are you gonna turn right next time Old Woman? Are you gonna turn right?”

Of course, the true dinner scene was nothing of the sort… Dylan told me later it was eaten in almost total silence as he made small talk and wiggled uncomfortably.

I gave him a big hug, when he returned and held him tight.

“Will you take me and Stephen out when we are Old?” I asked… referring to the fact that both of us preferred a date with death in Oregon, where it was legal, over a painful meal at Hof’s Hut.

“As long as we don’t have to go to Hof’s Hut,” he said, oblivious to my dark humor.

I paused for a minute and beamed at him.

“What?” He asked a small quizzical smile on his face.

“Nothing,” I said. “Doesn’t matter.”

And then I went back to my writing, Dylan went back upstairs, and I spent the last few minutes before bed listening to the soothing bickering of the Olds in the living room…. everyone back on task.

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.

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…

Losing Matilda

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Chicken Love

Matilda died.

Just a bit before midnight.

And I knew immediately.

As those that have suffered great loss always do.

Something woke me from my sleep.

The house a bit stiller.

Something a bit off.

I got up quickly from the bed and tip-toed to the bathroom, praying… just as I once did on Christmas mornings… that I would get my wish and find the thing I wanted most… but she was gone.

Still elegant in her death.

Her long rusty red and white tipped neck draped gently over her towel laden bed, as if she had only fallen asleep, and in the morning, would be mine to love once again.

She sits now, next to me, wrapped in her burial blanket, waiting to be laid in the ground, and I think of how only a few hours ago she was staring me down in a way that only chickens can, accusing me of being selfish.

And I was.

I had tried to care for her on my own, but feeling that I had done it all wrong, and worried that I had waited too long, I took her in to the vet, hoping he could save her but fearing the worst.

He walked in and smiled at her… reached out and brushed her soft feathers.

He said she was the sweetest bird he had ever met and then… that she was the thinnest chicken he had ever seen.

And though he meant it without judgement, I felt a failure in the way of a parent, that I had let my child down… so sure in my ego that I could give her better care at home… and now feeling as if I was a Judas who betrayed her trust…  had brought her to be put down in the company of strangers.

I made all the promises then that we all make when we lose those we love:

I’ll do anything to save her.

I”ll do it all differently this time.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

And so the doctor left the room to get her fluids, and food, and the medicine she would need.

He made no promises but said that we would give it our best shot.

“Our best shot,” I whispered to Matilda after he left so pleased that we even had a shot.

But she sat there with her eyes closed… ignoring my words, pretending not to hear me. Obviously wiser than I would ever be so I pushed it and whispered again, really more of a plea:

“Please don’t die, everyone else is an asshole.”

She opened her eyes immediately, glared at me, a tight knit scowl that seemed to say, “Jesus Christ, lady. That’s a lot of responsibility to put on a chicken.”

And I laughed.

It was always so with Matilda.

There was always something that was more human than chicken about her.

The way she first found me that night in the park. Popping out to say hello, sure that I would take her home before the coyotes got to her.

The way she would hear my mini-van pull up and run wildly pell-mell to the fence, so excited to see me.

The way she would hunker down, preparing for me to pick her up… as if she had positioned herself for freeze tag… before I would scoop her into my arms and hold her close while she cooed and cooed, eyes closed… sure in my love for her.

Stephen tried to comfort me when she was gone, “Don’t you see how you have done right by this animal? Don’t you know that you saved her?”

But do you ever see the things that you’ve done right when you are in the middle of a loss?

I don’t think that you do.

I think that you cry… you beg… you ask for a take back… and you say.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

I’ll be good.

Hoping that you can somehow stop death in its tracks… and find a way to hold tight to those that you love.

The Day the Substitute Custodian got an Eyeful: Or also known as… Ms. Wood’s Accidental Full Monty

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caught

Boobs are something most female high school teachers try to hide.

Having large boobs in fact, is a detriment in this particular profession.

You have to constantly check that they do not bounce, jiggle, shake, or incite ANY type of movement that may provoke an inappropriate remark.

And, you might be surprised what topics will cause an inappropriate remark.

Take the time I was talking about getting an EKG, thinking I was making students aware of screening and good health when I look down from my perch, on top of an empty student desk, and see my 11th grade student, Zach Smith, staring up at me lovingly, mouth agape, breathlessly imagining me topless and connected to electrodes, on an examining table, before he breathes in a whispy whisper, “God I love when you talk about your doctor’s visit, Ms. Wood.” (student=1, ms. wood=zero)

Or just recently, when I bought a t-shirt from Old Navy. Not realizing when I put it on in the morning that it was completely see-through and that my nude underwire bra made me look like I had the best pair of perky breasts since the days of the Playboy Vargas girl drawings. Student commentary? Uh, no comment. (students=2, ms. wood=still zero)

Yes, we work hard to protect our reputations as stand-up teachers but sometimes our bodies just get in the way. And though at times high school boys and yes… sometimes girls make an inappropriate remark regarding my mammary glands… these incidents are of course, few and far between in my twenty years of teaching, but have made enough of an impact on me to still fill me with complete despair when they return to my memory.

But in my WORST nightmares… I never imagined that my breasts would make a public appearance on a school day but OH let me tell you… they did.

It was the substitute custodian, actually who enjoyed the full monty of my breasts.

He was a slow man (think Portagee Joe in John Steinbeck’s, Tortilla Flats) who shall ever remain nameless due to this “incident.”

Mr. Marshall, my regular custodian, was out on sick leave and so the district added “PJ” temporarily to our night time crew.

Now, “PJ” loved to take his break in my room.

He would sit at the desks and read my plethora of books.

He would eat his snacks and watch my classroom videos on the dvd.

He would saunter about and flop on my couch.

The only thing the man WOULDN’T do was clean.

I tried time and time again to tell him that I appreciated his love for my room but that it was filthy and he needed to clean it properly.

He would nod his head seeming to understand, a big sweet smile on his face, his hands wringing his dust rag in anticipation of the great job he would do for me and then… I would leave and find the next morning… my room still a dirt pit from the day before… his leftover snack crumbs trailed from the couch, across the floor, to his attempted deposit in the trashcan. Filthy, filthy, filthy.

My bungalow buddy, Dr. Hawkins was sure that he had something wrong with him. “There’s nothing going on up there,” she said one day as we were conspiratorially whispering during our nutrition break. “Brain like a bag of rocks” she added as she tapped her temple repeatedly… and I knew… that if Satinder Hawkins, a woman who can communicate with anyone and teaches advanced psychology couldn’t get this guy to pick up on our message and clean the fucking rooms… then no one could.

Days passed.

Mr. Marshall did not return.

PJ was our sub and there was nothing we could do about it.

All of the teachers on his run tried to reason with him but no matter how we cajoled and pleaded: the empty stare, the large smile, the wringing of the hands, the nodding head, the filthy rooms remained.

We gave up and assigned students to take over the cleaning until Mr. Marshall returned from GOD KNOWS WHERE but man… did we want him back.

For weeks nothing changed… until a Wednesday.

A non-descript Wednesday.

I’d stayed late that day… a group of alumni water polo players, our current coach and I had decided we would all get in the pool after regular practice and rip it up “after hours” with an alumni scrimmage. It was great fun… alone in the pool… a small crew… playing hard and laughing each time someone made a goal… until it began to grow dark and worn… we decided to get out and call it a night.

The girls all wrapped in towels headed off to the parking lot to get in their cars and shower at home but since the locker room was still open, I decided to stay and have a quiet shower alone… a bit afraid of my old high school locker room but… feeling grown-up and responsible and silly for giving into childhood fears.

I walked in and noted the half lights… the quiet calm… the emptiness without the sounds of a hundred girls shouting or giggling or blow drying their hair and headed to the first stall. I left my towel on the bench and stripped out of my suit in the shower. It felt good to be alone. I finished my rinse and then reached for my towel. I did a quick pat down and then wrapped it around my hips before I bent over and wrung out my hair. My head was down… my breasts were bare and dangling… when I did an extra large hair flip and bounced up to feel my long wet hair slap the middle of my back.

It was then that I heard a loud gasp and looked straight into the large stunned eyes of my substitute custodian.

I tell you the moment seemed to last forever.

The eye contact.

The amount of force I used to throw back my head must have showcased my breasts in stunning jiggling glory.

I imagine the uplift alone must have startled him silly as I watched his eyes roll back in his head and his breathing become ragged.

I yelped and rushed to hide in the shower stall.

There were no words spoken.

He scurried off… ashamed that he had entered the lady’s locker room without first shouting out. His little bowlegs painfully working to gallop away… his back hunched as if he had just received an actual physical blow… as I peeked at him from the top of the shower wall and waited for his shadow to disappear before pulling my suit back on over my hips…. Running for my pool bag… towel pressed to my chest as if it’s terry cloth fabric could erase the scar from my bosom. I hoofed it to my car, rushing to the warmth of the private interior, where I laid my head upon my steering wheel and moaned, “Oh God…” at the realization that I would have to see this man actually SEE this man on a daily basis until Mr. Marshall’s return.

I wanted to call in sick until further notice.

The next day, I headed to my classroom late…. terrified that he had left me a note about my improper impromptu show as he “innocently” tried to clean the lady’s locker room. But as I turned the key and flipped on the light… I found nothing… absolutely nothing but…

A SPOTLESSLY CLEAN ROOM.

My mouth dropped open and my face flushed.

‘God damn it,” I whispered.

I felt like I had a scarlet letter burned across my chest.

My own breasts used against me!

My dirty room now spotless not because of my voice and my brain but because of my abundant naked boobs.

When I finally got up the nerve to tell Dr. Hawkins several days later why my room was now each day…  “sparkling clean” she laughed a deep throaty laugh that made me feel connected and comfortable as a woman. “If that’s what it takes,” she roared.

It was two weeks before Mr. Marshall returned, and I refused to stay late after the ‘incident” and thankfully… I never had to make eye contact with the substitute custodian again. But now… as I grow older…. and my breasts give way to gravity (as they all do) I like to imagine the moment… and even have a bit of a giggle… knowing that somewhere in the LB Unified School District… I am legendary and considered “Custodian Porn.”