My moment with Allen Ginsberg resulting in a misunderstanding over the word “asshole.”

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Allen Ginsberg

I had grown up in the shadow of the 60’s.

Being born in 65, you could say that yes… I was a child of the era, but seeing that I would not be coming of age until well into the 80’s, what I picked up from that time period came directly from my older sister, Char, who was actually a senior in high school the year that I was born.

She spent my formative years raising me on the art, music, writing, pop culture of that time period and though I was so very small… it was not lost on me:

Being painted up with designs of psychedelic flowers and taken to the Griffith Park 1967 Summer of Love Love-in.

Studying the artwork in R. Crumb’s Big Yum Yum book; though my parents thought it was “inappropriate” for small children.

Going to the Glide church in San Francisco to get a hug from Reverend Cecil Williams and listen to the “Church of Rock n Roll.” And of course browsing in the City Lights bookstore (where on any given day) we could have a chance run-in with one of the numerous beat poets my sister taught me to emulate and admire.

It wasn’t really a normal childhood but… one that made me blessed with awareness of the greater world around me and the numerous possibilities that lay ahead.

And so… influenced by it all, I carried it with me over the years and hoped that someday… my path would cross with some of the greats of that time period.

So it was with profound joy, that in my early 20’s, just after finishing my first album with Hollywood Records, that I finally had my moment with Allen Ginsberg.

I couldn’t believe it.

I’d basically been waiting to meet the man since I was three and as luck would have it, he was signing books in Long Beach that week.

I couldn’t wait to see him.

I had no babysitter that day…

Joe, my husband was “on the road.”

I was broke and waiting for my advance to come in from just making my first record.

But I didn’t care… I grabbed my son, who was just a baby at the time, grabbed my vintage Ginsberg books, one of which was a rare photo diary of the Beat Poets in Tangiers only 2,000 copies ever made, and off I went.

When I walked inside, I found a decent, yet modest line, and I was surprised that he hadn’t drawn more of a crowd.

But I stood there in awe: watching every move he made until it was my turn to approach him.

And when I was finally next in line, he finished talking to the person he was with and turned to look at me.

I think now I must have seemed so young to him… standing there in cut off shorts, an old pair of chucks, an old worn wife beater, a baby with a baby slung up on my hip… some of his oldest books clasped tightly in my hand.

I looked at his large eyes… what was left of his graying hair… he seemed a bit removed… stone-like, a Founding Father of literature…. looking at me as if I were puzzling to him… without a smile on his face… and I was immediately intimidated by his presence.

In a small voice, I told him how much his writing had influenced my own, how I hoped that he would sign these books I had brought with me… and that as soon as my advance came in from my record, I would buy his new book, but barely had enough money today to pay for the gas to come and see him. And then, I pulled my cd from my pocket and asked him if he would accept it as a gift.

He took the books and the cd from my hands.

He paused as he looked over the two books I had brought, before looking up at me and saying, “These books are older than you are.”

I smiled as he flipped through the photos of him frolicking with Kerouac, Burroughs and the others down in Tangiers.

“And this?” he said as he looked at my cd. “Is this spoken word?”

“No,” I said.  Almost embarrassed that it wasn’t. But then I held my head up and bravely said,  “It’s music. These are my songs. I wrote them.”

He looked at the photo of me holding the baby on the cd cover and then back at me holding the baby in real life.

He didn’t speak again.

He opened both books… signed them… and handed them back to me.

I smiled… thanked him… and remained in a daze the entire ride home.

I didn’t need much.

I wasn’t necessarily “star struck” but I was silenced by the magnitude of his work and the influence it had had on so many.

When I got home I put Dylan down to play and sat on the swing to look at what he had written.

In each of the books he had signed his name… the date… and then had printed a large A and a large H inside of a circle.

I didn’t know what to think.

What did it mean?

Why A.H.?

What was with the circle?

I felt a bit uneasy suddenly about the whole exchange… I began to wonder if this was some secret code to distinguish me as one of the jerks that hadn’t bought his new book and then I realized what it meant.

“Asshole,” I whispered.

He totally got away with calling me an “ASSHOLE” for not buying his book. 

Suddenly my heart went cold.

I was embarrassed.

Furious.

Disappointed that he would do something so low.

I fumed about the insult all evening until my husband called me from the road.

“Did he really write the word asshole?” my husband asked.

“No,” I said. “But he put A. H. with a circle.”

“Yeah…” he said. “Sounds like code for asshole. Especially with that circle and all.”

I suddenly hated Allen Ginsberg.

How could he be so cruel?

Hadn’t he once been a young struggling artist?

I wanted to go find where he was staying in Long Beach and slap his old face.

But instead.. I sat down and wrote a vicious and scathing poem about him and then shoved it in a box, along with my bruised ego, and let the years brush the incident aside.

It wasn’t until Dylan, my baby boy, was in his early 20’s that the memory came back to me… when I found my son, in my writing room, looking at my signed copies of Ginsberg’s books, Dylan’s hands gingerly touching the pages, studying the faces of the Beat Poets in Tangiers.

“Did Allen Ginsberg really sign this for you mom?” he asked.

“Yeah,” I said. “But he was a jerk.”

“How so?” Dylan asked.

And so I sat down and told him the story of when we met Ginsberg.

Dylan, obviously not as idiotic as his parents, listened to my story before looking at me and saying, “Yeah but how do you know he was being a jerk? You just assumed he was being a jerk because you felt bad you couldn’t buy his book that day.” He closed the books and put them back on the shelf. “Now that we have internet have you ever gone on line and looked to see if he wrote that in anyone else’s book?”

I stared at him.

Of course I had never thought to do that.

After I had been so humbled by the incident I tried to never think about it again.

“Come on,” Dylan said. “Let’s look.”

I sat down on the computer, beyond trepidacious, with my son standing behind me, and my hands on the keyboard.

I typed the words: Allen Ginsberg A H in books.

And a moment later… this explanation appeared:

From the Holy Soul Jelly Roll liner notes Ginsberg explains how he came up with “Ah”, “…[I] got in the middle of the group who were going off to blockade a highway and started chanting “Ah” after asking them to chant with me. Everybody sat down, then we discussed strategy calmly rather than as a hysterical mob. “Om” closes out at the end but “Ah” leaves the mouth open, breath goes out [see Ginsberg’s Mind Breaths poem for more]. On the 4th of July you see the fireworks and say “Ah”, or you recognize something and say “Ah!” When Trungpa said “Why don’t you try ‘Ah’?” he joined an American sound with Himalayan wisdom, and I’ve used it ever since. “Ah” for recognition, appreciation, the intelligence of speech joining body and mind and for a measure of the breath.”

Suddenly, I felt sick.

All of these years… all of this time…

He had died with me angry at him.

“Wow,” Dylan said. “That’s really cool and super sad that you thought you were an asshole all of these years when really he was showing you recognition for being an artist.”

I wanted to cry.

I wanted to shout, “I AM AN ASSHOLE for thinking Ginsberg was the asshole.”

I wanted to go back in time and rush back into the store and hug him until it felt like his old bones would break.

But I couldn’t.

That’s not how life works.

We make our mistakes.

We misjudge those we love.

We allow skewed perspectives to lead to rash judgements which get in our way.

I would never have a chance to meet with Ginsberg again… and the sting of that… painful.

“It’s okay Mom,” Dylan said. “He didn’t know what you thought all of these years.” And then hugged me hard. “Think about it…” he continued. “He might have been listening to your music this whole time… and glad that he inspired you to write it.”

And I was proud of my son.

Proud of his voice.

Soothed by the comfort he offered me… when I was unable to forgive myself.

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Nana Tries to Get Me in the Shower

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I have lived with my mother for many years.

First, out of necessity and later by choice.

Most of the time, we get along just fine but every once in awhile, like every parent-child relationship, we “get into it.”

Maybe it’s when I’m trying to leave for work in the morning and she decides that it is absolutely imperative to stop me in my tracks and tell me a story about when she… “Stepped on a small animal once and didn’t like it.”

Or…it could be when she asks me for the millionth time to show her which button to push to turn on the cable, so that she can BLAST Two and a Half Men re-runs for the entire day.

Or… Maybe it’s when I’m just about to nod off to sleep and I hear her cane thumping down our entrance walkway, my hall door creak open quietly, as she screeches at the top of her lungs,  “Are you awake? I said Deidre… ARE YOU AWAKE?”

No… I want to shout back… I’m just lying here pretending to be dead.

It is in these moments, that I must admit, that I feel like Danny DeVito’s character “Owen” in Throw Momma from the Train, and the fantasies of knocking the old woman down and rolling her out the front door are actually palpable.

But… I love her… and so… I deal with her quirks and foibles as I’m sure she must deal with mine.

But the day she tried to get me into the shower with her naked… was the day I knew she had really gone too far.

It was after her second knee surgery.

She hadn’t bathed in over a week and ripe, as only an old person can be, I suggested that it might be a good idea to wash up a bit.

“Well,” she countered. “I have been using these wet wipes they gave me at the hospital.” I watched as she picked the pack up and waved them at me… as if I couldn’t possibly see them lying on the table next to her.

She then threw them back down, disgusted with my lack of hospital hygiene knowledge, and became engrossed in a quick newsflash related to Charlie Sheen’s latest antics.

“That Charlie,” she shook her head at the television and looked back at me. “I don’t know what he thinks he’s doing going at it with those girls.”

I tried not to roll my eyes but it felt like they went on automatic pilot and circled my head for a good minute.

I was sure that everyone in the world knew why Charlie Sheen was getting it on with porno girls.

“Mom,” I said trying to direct her attention back to bathing. “Mom…” I said again a bit louder.

She sighed, exasperated by my interruptions, held up the TV remote, pressed the mute button repeatedly… confused each time the sound turned on and off… on and off.

“I just don’t get this remote,” she said. “Something must be wrong with it,” she pressed the button with a flamboyant finger flare one too many times and I snatched it from her hand and showed her, with a very exaggerated face and a snide tone, “One time, Mom.” I paused for emphasis after pressing the button. “See?” I said again. “One time.”

She ignored my demonstration and fed one of the chihuahuas the left over bits of her Breakfast Jack.

“Don’t feed them that Mom,” I pleaded. “It’s not good for them.” She grabbed another piece of egg sandwich off her plate, stared me down, smirked, and gave the dog another bite of food.

I felt my eye actually twitch.

The thought of hurling the chihuahua across the room and knocking my mom’s old, worn, blue recliner chair out from under her while shouting, “Look Old Woman! How do you feel about feeding that damn dog now?” Crossed my mind but I refrained from acting on impulse.

“You have to take a shower,” I said calmly.

“Fine,” she snapped as she snatched the remote from my hand, dropped it on the TV table, and slowly got up from her chair to walk to her room and get her things together.

“Can you at least help me?” She asked.

“Sure mom,” I said. “Just call me when you’re ready.”

I went back into my office to type, and catch up on my writing, I didn’t hear my hall door open, or the cane thump down the wood floor towards the bathroom, or the shower water begin to run, until I heard, “READY!” from somewhere inside my bathroom.

I stopped.

Paused.

Not sure if I had heard her correctly.

I got up from my computer and opened the office door.

“Mom?” I said.

“YES I’m in the BATHROOM!” She shouted over the blast of the water.

“What are you doing in my bathroom?” I asked through the closed door.

“You said you’d help me,” she shouted. “It will just be easier if I’m in here.”

My shower had an eight inch step over ledge.

My shower had no elderly hand rails, or grip tape on the floor, only an old white porcelain soap dish attached to the wall that you could hang on to in case of emergency.

It would not be easier in my bathroom.

“But Mom!” I shouted. “It’s not safe and…”

“Just come in and help me!”

Suddenly the horrible realization of what she meant by helping her with her shower became quite clear.

She didn’t want me to hand her a towel, or give her a robe or clean clothing discreetly from my side of the door, she wanted me there with her the entire time.

Oh God… I thought to myself. I hadn’t prepared for this.

I opened the door slowly and found my mom naked… a full frontal assault…  standing there… waiting for me.

I tried to divert my eyes anywhere away from her naked flesh but dealing with my present…. and confronted with what would be, one day, my inevitable future… I felt like I had suddenly stumbled into a chapter of Burroughs’ Naked Lunch or a deleted scene from Lynch’s, Blue Velvet.

It was horrific.

I watched as she carefully climbed into the shower, and I steadied her by keeping my hand pressed gently to her back as she grabbed the soap dish on the wall and centered herself beneath the shower head.

“Oh that’s nice,” she said as she felt the warm water rinse over her and began to scrub up with the bar of soap.

I stood, my back pressed against the wall, listening to her wash and thought, Okay… it’s really not that bad. I think I can handle doing this every now and then if she needs me to.

I smiled to myself… feeling a bit altruistic actually, impressed with my ability to handle the situation so calmly.

And then…  I heard the bar of soap hit the tile floor.

“Deidre,” my mom said. “Can you come pick up this soap for me and wash my back?”

I felt like I was pinned to the wall.

Like some unknown force was holding me back and warning me not to go in there alone.

“Deidre” I heard my mom call again.

I steeled myself for the moment and like a good offensive player in football, who tries to recover the play after he fumbles the ball, I took a quick step, bent forward, grabbed the bar of soap from the floor, while trying to ignore my mother’s naked ass, and jumped up satisfied that I had completed my play and began scrubbing her back.

Everything was right in my world for exactly a second.

One second.

Then… I heard her say, “Oh this is ridiculous! Just take off your clothes and get in here with me. It will be so much easier if you just get naked and wash me down. I need help with my butt.”

I don’t really remember much after that, but I do know that I threw the soap towards the soap dish, threw my hands up into the air, and did some type of cha-cha back pedal out of the bathroom as I waved my hands back in forth in front of my ears, trying to erase the words I had just heard, while babbling something like, “LALALALALALALALALLA.”

It was horrible.

I was out of the bathroom door faster than ever before in my life and I slammed that door behind me.

“What the hell are you doing?” She shouted after me.

“That’s it!” I screamed. “Get your ass washed and get the fuck out of that shower now!”

My mom didn’t say a word. I heard her humming softly to herself and knew that she had won this battle.

The water soon stopped.

She dried herself with the towel I’d left hanging on the rod before asking me to go grab her robe that she had left hanging in her bedroom.

I walked across the house, mumbling angrily to myself, furious that I had been so stupid as to be the one to sign up to live with mom.

I stomped into the room that she had shared with my father for most of my life, and stopped… stared… at the many photographs and mementos she had placed about the room:

My baby teeth sitting in a small glass cup.

A photograph of me smiling, a tooth missing, red jump suit on, doll in one hand.

A card I had given her for Mother’s day last year… displayed prominently next to her bed.

A photograph of both of us together at my college graduation, her arm wrapped proudly around my shoulders and I felt overwhelmed by the passage of the years.

I grabbed her robe and quietly walked back down the hall.

“Mom?” I said suddenly humbled by my experience. “Are you okay?”

“Yes,” she said, “I’m clean now. Are you happy?”

I handed her the robe through the crack in the open door.

I wanted to tell her, “No actually. I’m not. I would prefer you to be young again. I would prefer you to live forever. I would prefer to never think of the day when you won’t be here to shout at me from inside of a shower to hurry up and get naked and get in there and help you.”

But… that’s not what I said… and that’s not the way the world works… so being the good daughter that I am… I said, “I can’t believe you wanted me to wash your ass.”

She smiled as she picked up her cane, thumped the floor, and hobbled out past me.

“Well,” she said. “I always washed yours you little shit.”

I smiled.

I knew this dance.

It was our, I love you, and it would always be this way.

My First Love: Hugo Man of a Thousand Faces

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hugo-thousand-faces

Just recently one of my good friends procured a doll that I had coveted since elementary school: Hugo, Man of a Thousand Faces.

You should of seen my expression when he told me about finding Hugo in almost mint condition… that most of his pieces were included (even his sideburns!)… and yes… he had received him in the original packaging.

I tell you… my face must have shown the pain and longing I felt for my first love… the shame and humiliation I had endured… knowing that I one day carelessly tossed him aside, left him to fend on his own, while I headed off to a joyous time at summer camp, not knowing that my mother would seize the opportunity of my absence, root through my room, and quickly hand Hugo and other misfit toys over to the Goodwill.

I looked at my friend’s new Hugo doll and suddenly, I felt an irrational anger. Just like a child unwilling to share, I wanted to snatch that Hugo box from out of his hands and make a mad dash to my car where I could sit and play with him free from interruption.

But just as I was about to throw a tantrum and exclaim that Hugo should really be mine, my friend said, his voice sweet as he held the box gingerly in his large manly hands and looked lovingly at the photos and description, “I always wanted a Hugo. But no one ever got him for me.”

And I felt my heart give… I wanted to steel myself to the moment but I couldn’t… my envy turned into understanding: I knew what it felt like to pray for Hugo and believe you weren’t going to get him.

I couldn’t begrudge him this gift. I smiled and expressed my happiness at his find, while my thoughts turned back to my own childhood.

It was Christmas, 1975. I was ten years old.

My world had consisted of a multitude of Barbies and G.I Joes.

I had every doll that you could imagine.

I had dream houses and Barbie jets.

G.I Joe tanks and an arsenal of weapons.

I had elaborate stories for each one of my dolls; most of them hinging on the fact that we were in the midst of the Vietnam war during 1975 and my Barbies were always waiting, hoping, praying that my G.I Joe dolls would return safely from war.

I had just come back inside after making my large and very scary clown doll, attack my entire Barbie village while the G.I Joes tried to contain the situation to a “20 mile radius,” when I heard an announcer’s voice from our old Zenith console TV shout: HUGO CAN BE ANYTHING AND HE’S A HAND PUPPET TOO!

Something about his voice seemed “urgent.”

As if I was about to miss out on the deal of a life time.

I ran to the living room and watched as a boy, about the same age as me, used Hugo’s numerous disguises to create “thousands of pretend fiends.”

I knew immediately: I had to have him.

I screamed for my mother who took one look at the TV and said, “That is the most hideously ugly doll I have every seen. I’m not buying you that” and headed back to the kitchen to finish making our tuna, toast and gravy for our Saturday dinner.

I was barely deterred.

I knew how to lobby for a toy.

I would make a campaign to win my Hugo.

I started by leaving my Richie Rich and Little Archie comic books laying around the house, because I found that they always had an ad for Hugo, on the back page.

Each time the commercial came on the TV I would mimic the announcer’s voice loudly and draw attention to the screen.

I wrote my Christmas list early and HUGO was the only item on it.

And when I was afraid that even that might fail, I prayed out loud each night that Jesus would not only protect me while I slept but also bring me Hugo… just Hugo… and with him… I could save the world!

By the time Christmas morning arrived I could barely contain myself.

I was up by 3am, begging at my parents’ bedside, to open presents early.

I’m surprised they didn’t get out of bed and spank me senseless with the orange Hot Wheel track… their weapon of choice… but they didn’t. They told me I could grab my Christmas stocking, open it in my room, and not to come back to wake them again until it was a more reasonable hour like 5am.

I sat on the floor of my room and looked at the pathetic offering in my stocking: a candy cane, an orange, a bag of jacks, a box of crayons and a coloring book.

Nothing was enough without Hugo.

The hours until 5am were some of the most painful of my young life… each second an eternity… as I lay on my stomach, ate my orange, and colored.

When my kitty cat clock finally hit the magic hour of FIVE OH OH… I ran down the stairs at a furious pace… rushed past the Christmas tree to scream for my brothers who slept in the downstairs rooms off the back hallway, and then did a quick reverse and ran back to our tree.

I looked at all of the unwrapped gifts Santa had brought to us: Schwinn banana seat bicycles, Malibu Barbie, the game of Sorry, but no Hugo in sight.

I tried to look happy.

I tried not to behave as a spoiled brat.

But I would have traded everything under that tree for my Hugo: EVERYTHING.

An hour passed by with each of us taking turns opening gifts while my mother and father sat in the recliner chairs, sipping their coffee, and trying to keep some semblance of order in the present opening rotation.

And soon… all of the presents were open…

All of the wrapping paper was being burned brilliantly, by my brothers, in our fireplace… while I sat in the corner by the stairs, pretending to play with my Malibu Barbie, my head down, big warm tears rolling down my cheeks.

I thought I was doing a pretty good job of being quiet and hiding my pain but I guess I should have known that I couldn’t hide my emotions from my parents.

My father came over and stood beside me, his COOL menthol cigarette in one hand, coffee cup in the other.

“What’s a matter with you?” he barked.

I shook my head… afraid to speak… afraid that I would sob and look like an idiot that didn’t appreciate what was given to me.

My mom shouted from the kitchen, “I think you have another present behind the tree.”

And for a brief moment… my hope returned.

I dropped Malibu Barbie and crawled across the floor, slid under the pine branches of our tree, and reached to the far back corner where I found a box that looked… unfortunately… like a shoebox.

I pressed my back against the wood paneling of our wall and sat… unwilling to come out and open yet another disappointment… a new pair of Ked’s or worse yet… Wallabees.

“Come out,” my dad said.

I crawled from behind the tree and sat with the box in my hands.

“Open it,” he told me.

I said a silent prayer… a final prayer for Hugo.

I reached up and slowly began to rip the Santa paper off the box.

Through a small hole in the top I saw a large “H” and suddenly the rest of the moment escapes me.

I think I actually lost my mind.

There he was!

MY HUGO!

MY MAN OF A THOUSAND FACES!

I squealed with delight and rushed up the stairs to open the box in private.

It was even better than I imagined.

I opened the instruction manual and began to count off the itemized list of disguises:

  • 1 wig
  • 1 goatee/hairpiece
  • 2 glue sticks
  • 2 sideburns
  • 1 mask
  • 4 eyebrows/mustaches
  • 2 noses
  • 2 glasses
  • 2 chins
  • 1 eye patch
  • 2 eye pieces
  • 1 bandage (with fake bloodstain!)
  • 4 scars A bunch of warts/moles
  • 1 set of fangs

It was fantastic.

I spent the entire morning making Hugo into numerous fiends while my brothers sat next to me, eating crispy bacon, mesmerized by my immediate “mastery” of disguises.

Hugo became the villain and the hero in each and everyone of my stories.

He sat proudly on my desk, his mysterious smile, holding all of my childhood secrets that I had quietly whispered to him in moments of play.

Yes… Hugo was my best friend and confidant until that fated day my mother got her hands on him and finally got rid of the “hideously ugly” doll I had begged for.

I often wondered why she got him for me to begin with if she felt so strongly about him?

Maybe she had once wished for a toy that she had never received.

Or maybe it was my father’s doing.

But either way… Hugo was the best Christmas present of my entire childhood.

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.

Lying to the Lake Patrol in Big Bear

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Charlotte was nine-years-old when I lied to the Lake Patrol.

Dylan and Lily weren’t much older… a few years… but still quite young.

It was our first summer, with all of us together in Big Bear, and I thought it would be fun to rent jet skis.

Everyone in the group had been swimming since they could walk and since I, unlike my brothers, preferred jet skis and water skiing to surfing… I thought it would be fun to show the kids what I could really do.

Was I showing off?

Yes.

Isn’t that what water sports are all about?

I can do things with a jet ski that moms aren’t supposed to do.

Moms apparently are supposed to ride safely.

Moms are supposed to stay close to the kids.

Moms are not to see how deep they can submerge the tail while they spin a tight 360 and then pop the jet ski out of the water with a child on the back of it.

Moms are not supposed to know how to reach under the cover and reset the switch so that the rental jet ski can now do exactly what it is supposed to do: HAUL ASS… but this mom… well, that’s a different story.

I knew that Lily really hated the lake water: she did not want to get wet.

She did however want to ride on the back of the jet ski with Dylan, who she adored at the time, and so poor Charlotte, having no idea yet how crazy I was after only being connected to our family for about six months, was stuck with me.

I putted out to the buoy, looking like the perfect PTA mom, waiting for the children, waving at the lifeguards, riding close to Dylan and Lily, pretending to enjoy the leisurely pace, until I had enough distance from the rental office to open it up.

Dylan was smiling… happy to have his own jet ski to ride. Lily was smiling, happy to be snuggled up to Dylan… and Charlotte had her little fingers wrapped in the belt of my vest… not really worried about anything.

I waited until Dylan pulled along side of me before turning and telling Charlotte to hold on. Now, Dylan didn’t hear me say “Hold on” but he saw my face when I turned back to crank the throttle and he knew (having lived with me since birth) he was in for it.

I gunned the jet ski and shot off across the glass with just one smug look back at Dylan who was trying his best to catch up. I waited until he and Lily were dead center in the lake before I spun a large circle around them and headed back towards them… ready to play chicken before I stopped about twenty feet from where they now were, cranked the handle hard, and watched as a good seven foot high wall of water flattened them.

They didn’t have a chance.

They were tipped over and in the lake in a matter of seconds.

I wasn’t really sure what Charlotte was up to. I could feel her hands now clawed into the armpits of my vest. I’m pretty sure she was screaming bloody murder as we roared up to Dylan and Lily, positive that we were going to kill them, but she hung on through it all and I was quite impressed that the child who once used to stare out the window at me, afraid that I would walk too far away from the house and strangers would somehow jump out of the bush and snatch her while I was somewhere near the garbage cans for five fucking seconds, was actually a bit ballsier than I had given her credit for.

I waited until Dylan and Lily got back on their ski before I took Charlotte for a few more passes at them, hitting them hard again and again with walls of water, before I raced off to freak Charlotte out with some 360’s.

This is when the Lake Patrol came on the scene.

I turned to Charlotte and said, “Whatever you do… don’t speak.”

I doubt she would have… by this time her lips were blue from the cold wind and the cold water, and her face was pale white, ghost like in the terror and realization that she really had picked the wrong jet ski to ride. I saw her glance back towards the dock. I’m sure she was thinking if she just jumped off now and made a swim for it, she wouldn’t go to the Big Bear Lake Patrol jail wherever the hell that was.

“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” The Lake Patrol officer asked.

“What?” I said, looking confused and humble with my little mom pony tail and my little mom bathing suit.

“We have rules on this lake missy and you just broke every single one of them.”

“I did?” I asked and I used this opportunity to practice my “totally innocent”‘ face which isn’t one that comes easily to me.

“Speed limit, reckless driving, those tricks aren’t allowed in California,” He stopped here and removed his aviator shades and leaned over the edge of the boat. “Did you know that?”

I actually did know that, but the good thing about being a mom, is that most people would believe, as I said earlier, that a mom would NEVER break the rules intentionally.

“Really?” I said. “Officer, I’m so sorry. This is the first time I’ve ever been on a jet ski. I just rented it over there.” I stopped and pointed to the far dock.

He made a face, “Those tricks you were doing were tricks only experienced riders can do.”

I looked at him and blushed. “Really?” I smiled, and pretended to act shocked at my “natural” ability. “I just watched a how-to video on TV about an hour ago and thought I would see if I could try it.”

This was the moment where he could have written me a ticket.

This is the moment where he could have taken me in.

This was the moment where he had to decide if I was a true mom: responsible, honest, mini-van driving, church on Sunday, bake sale cooking woman or…

a she devil… a harpy from the lake… a sea nymph waiting to lure him down.

He chose wrong.

“No more,” he said to me as he pointed his bony, weathered finger my way. “I’m going to be watching you.”

I smiled and nodded before I putted off towards the dock.

“You lied,” Charlotte whispered from the back of the jet ski. “And you’re a teacher,” she said as if God himself was about to come down and smite me.

So I lied again.

“You didn’t want to go to jail did you?” I asked. “You know, they take everyone on the jet ski… not just the driver.”

Charlotte was silent.

I could tell she didn’t know what was worse… hearing a mom and a teacher, a double pillar of the community, lie so blatantly to an Officer of the Law or… believe that she could go to jail at the age of nine.

Either way… in the end I left without a ticket, Dylan and Lily had a good story to tell, and Charlotte learned to never ride on a jet ski with me again.

Lexi Berates an Old Man for Looking at Her Boobs in the Hospital Recovery Room

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Lexi 4th

Lexi, my daughter, is quite the “Sassypants.”

She can trade barbs with the best of them.

She’s quick.

She’s smart.

And she can make you wish you’d never engaged.

This is not a surprise… it seems to be a family trait that has been passed down from sassy generation-to-generation.

We have been blessed with a gift.

Our family is always in search of the better moment… the better story… and love us or hate us… we do tend to liven up a room.

My father was legendary. Known for his inappropriate Polish jokes and ability to light his chest hair on fire after one too many 4th of July cocktails.

My brother: a punk rock sociopath. Actually started a riot in the middle of downtown Los Angeles during one of his sold-out punk shows… definitely in a league of his own.

My own son? A giant 6′ 1″ furry bear willing to wear short shorts all four years of high school while accepting mass amounts of public ridicule and humiliation because he believed that wearing short shorts was the “new true punk.”

And so, when it comes to dealing with my family, I am usually prepared for the unexpected at every turn.

However, when Lexi had her tonsils out, I had no idea that her brash manner would be enhanced by anesthesia and used to berate a poor little old man.

I have to admit, that even I felt pity for her unwitting victim.

He was just trying to do his job.

He was just trying to lend a helping hand.

a seventy-year-old frail, thin, rod of a man, who was passing out big stick popsicles, in the recovery room at Los Al Medical Center.

I had been waiting for the nurses to allow me to come in and visit Lex after her surgery, when one of them finally popped out and said, “Man, do you have a handful in that one. Could you come in please?”

I turned and looked at my boyfriend, Stephen, who looked at me as if I had no right to comment, being that in his opinion, I was quite a handful myself.

I pushed open the recovery room door and immediately saw from the look in Lexi’s eyes that she was completely belligerent.

I had heard about this happening to people after receiving large quantities of anesthesia but I had never witnessed it.

I had a feeling the next hour in the recovery room was going to be a long one.

Lexi was propped up in bed, her hospital gown untied and falling loosely around each of her large, bouncy, tan breasts.

She was working a big stick popsicle in a way that can only be described as… pornographic.

As her mother, I was speechless and at the same time, totally amused.

The nurses were keeping their distance. They circled her as if she were a wild animal ready to bite.

“Lexorcist,” I said as I walked towards her… “What the hell are you doing?”

Her glazed eyes settled on me and I understood why demonic possession seemed so terrifying.

She didn’t answer.

She went back to working her big stick and glaring at something in the far corner of the room.

I sat down in the chair next to her and turned to see what she was focusing on.

And that’s when I saw him.

The old man.

He was quietly trying to pass out popscicles to the other patients without disturbing “the beast.”

I could see it in his eyes.

He was hoping that she would somehow forget about him… be distracted from her prey… that her wrath would somehow fade… but like a cat who is focused on toying with a bird, Lexi barely blinked her eyes, obviously obsessed, as she burned him through with her steely stare.

I couldn’t imagine what he had done to entice her anger in such a way until she suddenly screamed out.

“Old Man!”

I jumped at the ferocity of her voice.

I had assumed the removal of her tonsils would silence her but I could see now that her voice box was very much intact.

“OLD MAN!” she shouted to him again from across the room.

I was now stunned… in full view of a train wreck that could not be stopped.

The nurses looked at me as if I had brought this plague down upon them.

I smiled and waved, pretending I could confidently handle the situation, but I knew the truth.

Stephen, unwilling to believe that there was nothing that we could do, went to the other side of the bed and tried to quiet Lexi down.

He placed his strong hand upon her forehead, prepared to brush the loose hair away from her face, when she wrenched away and actually snarled at him.

She broke eye contact with the old man just long enough to let Stephen know with an icy glare that if he stepped between her and the old man again she would kill him.

Stephen’s eyes grew large as he backed away slowly and stood quietly against the wall, finger itching to hit the emergency CALL THE DOCTOR switch.

“OLD MAN!” she screamed again and I watched as the old man cowered behind a hospital curtain afraid to make eye contact but afraid to look away.

He slowly cast his eyes up and upon her as she used her big stick to point at her breasts and say, “I know you were looking at these babies when I was out cold old man. Do you hear me? I know what you were looking at!”

The old man shook his head in terror.

She pointed the big stick out in front of her as if she were Babe Ruth calling her spot in the outfield, her arm out firm… pointing that big stick at his frightened little face… She squinted her eyes and glared… then she gave him a knowing nod… before pointing the big stick back at her boobs and saying, “That’s right old man. I know what you did.”

The other patients looked on in doped-up enjoyment.

They slurped on their popsicles, amused with their own live recovery room stage show as the old man hurried to finish passing out the pops before rushing from the room in total fear and humiliation.

She calmed then. She looked at me and winked. Her chin raised high with pride in her ability to terrorize him as she finished off her big stick, her eyes becoming heavy, before finally falling off to sleep.

The relief of those in charge was palpable.

The nurses shook their heads and rolled their eyes before quietly getting back to their discharge paperwork, most likely now moving Lexi’s file to the top of the stack.

I mean let’s face it… I would have.

An hour later, Lexi was quiet as we wheeled her through the hospital and out to the car.

She had made a complete mental recovery and was unaware of her hospital hi-jinx.

Stephen and I thought it best that we wait until a few days later to share the details of her hideous behavior.

We turned the corner to the elevator when suddenly, the old man she had been terrorizing rounded the corner and ran straight into Lexi and her wheelchair.

His face was priceless.

He gasped and stopped cold before scurrying to the far wall, his bony little hand clutching at the corner.

If he was wearing an adult brief at the time, I’m sure he took this opportunity to fill it.

“Oh sorry about that,” Lexi said unaware of the total humiliation she had just recently caused him in the recovery room. “I didn’t mean to scare you.”

I almost laughed.

I watched as his face turned furious with indignation.

How dare she blatantly pretend she had not terrorized him just minutes ago.

He glared at her before gathering his wits and stomping away.

“What the fuck was his problem?” she asked me and Stephen innocently.

Stephen looked at me as if he was having second thoughts about choosing to be part of my family.

“What?” I said with a snarky snap…. feeling that Lexi’s recent twisted behavior was somehow a reflection of how fucked up I was as the actual birth parent.

“It’s not my fault,” I said to Stephen.

“What’s not your fault?” Lexi said, now completely bewildered.

“Nothing,” I mumbled as I pushed the elevator button and waited for the doors to close.

“Could you stop and get me some popscicles on the way home?” Lex asked sweetly.

“No big sticks,” Stephen said. “I don’t ever want to see a big stick again.”

“Amen,” I said as the doors closed and the elevator moved towards the ground floor.

Peeing on Annika, Dylan and Stroosma While Riding the Matterhorn at Disneyland on Grad Night

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I don’t think people should be punished for having bladder issues.

But that is exactly what happened.

Annika, Dylan, Stroosma… all shaming me in the line of the Disneyland Matterhorn ride because I had to go pee super bad right before we were about to get in the bobsled.

“If you go now we’ll lose our place in line,” Dylan fussed.

“You’re tough,” Stroosma said. “You can hold it until the end.” Obviously… he was a teacher already exhausted from a long grad night… ready to hit this one last ride before cutting out, what was considered early, at 4 am.

“Ms. Wood,” Annika, my student, whined. “Come on! I don’t want to wait in line like two more hours again.”

“Alright,” I said… giving in… though my bladder was past the point of full… actually ready to balloon out as if I was hiding a boda bag of urine.

I stepped into the bobsled and sat in seat #4, considered the brake position in a real four-man sled, with Annika between my legs, Dylan, my son, in front of her, and Stroosma between his legs, in the first position as the “driver.”

“Don’t pee on me.” Annika laughed as she settled in, sure that her teacher would never do such a horribly nasty thing.

But she would live to regret those words.

I knew things were going to go terribly wrong when we hit the first stop in the track and I felt my whole body lurch forward and my bladder just about shake loose.

Oh my God… I thought to myself… I’m not going to be able to hold this pee. I’m seriously gonna lose it.

I felt my heart beat faster… and panic set in.

If I pee’d my pants and actually urinated on a student… I would NEVER be able to live the moment down.

I tried to wave to the ride operator, ready to beg for him to let me out of the sled, but it was too late.

We glided into the cavern of man-made rock and began our ascent up the track to the top of the Matterhorn and each click, click, click of the sled chugging up the rail… seemed like the sound of a time bomb ticking:

Go!… tick tick tick… Go! tick tick tick… Pee! tick tick tick…. Pee!… the track beckoning me to give in.

I worked to give myself a pep talk.

You can do it, I said. Just a few minutes and you can get off this ride and pee.

I even thought that this might be a good time to practice those Kegel exercises I’d been putting off for years, when suddenly, I came up with a brilliant master plan.

“QUICK Annika!” I shouted. “Let me put both my legs on one side of you.”

Annika turned around and looked at me as if I were a demented stranger. She couldn’t even imagine Ms. Wood EVER putting a child in peril during an amusement ride.

“Are you out of your mind?” She screeched. “Ms. Wood! You can’t do that in the middle of the ride. We could be hurt!  And you’re a teacher,” she snapped. “YOU should know bet…”

But she didn’t have a chance to finish her scolding and I didn’t have a chance to cross my legs and close them tight.

Stroosma and Dylan began to scream, Annika threw her arms up into the air and wailed wildly with joy, and I knew that in a matter of seconds I was going to decimate everyone in the entire bobsled with a long stream of urine.

I tried not to scream as we rocketed down the hill but as soon as the first abominable snowman popped out and scared me from his perch…I screamed bloody murder and the peeing began.

Annika was so engrossed in the moment that at first she had no idea that I was actually peeing all over her.

She screamed and squealed with glee until we hit a calm curve and catching her breath looked around before saying, “Wow. I really got wet.”

Stroosma grabbed the edges of the sled and turned back to look at me as if I were Judas. “You are NOT peeing on us are YOU?”

My face full of shame and betrayal… he knew immediately I was.

“It’s just water!” I lied. “I swear! Just water from the ride!”

“STOP IT!” He shouted. “STOP NOW!”

And then we hit the next big drop as we all screamed like mad.

My peeing escalated.

It was now a violent river rushing forward at an alarming rate.

“STOP PEEING MS. WOOD!” Annika shouted. “STOP!”

But I couldn’t.

We hit a drop and screamed again.

By this time… I was laughing so hard and screaming so loud… Stroosma’s yaking GUFFAW punctuating the moment as we barreled down the mountain… Dylan holding on for dear life screaming, “STOP MAMA! STOP!”  as my urine saturated my jeans, rushed out towards Annika, and flooded the bobsled floor.

I began to cry and curse my lot in life.

Why hadn’t I thought to wear an adult diaper?

Sure I was only 40-years-old but maybe the battle of old age was won by building reinforcements early.

I had a quiet epiphany:

If I had truly been smart… I could have been peeing and shitting myself comfortably right now in my adult diaper, while totally enjoying the ride.

“Noooooooooooooo!” Annika cried as we hit the last big turn… Stroosma still hysterical… Dylan disgusted by the entire episode.

And then the ride came to a stop.

“How could you do that?” Annika turned around and screamed at me. “How could you Ms. Wood!”

I sat in silence… my arms crossed… my brows knitted into an angry frown… pouting over the fact that they wouldn’t let me go to the bathroom…. furious at my idiocy for not thinking of wearing the adult diaper sooner… and distraught that I would have to walk the full mile to the exit with my pee-pee jeans rubbing and rashing my legs, while all of the grad students pointed and mocked me.

“Fuck you all,” I whispered. “If you would have just let me go to the bathroom, none of this would have ever happened.”

I climbed out of the sled, pulled my sweatshirt roughly over my head, wrapped it around my soaking butt, and stomped off towards Main Street: a dirty mess trapped in the Happiest Fucking Place on Earth.