Before Barbara Kramer was a famous Rock and Roll star touring the world with her band, Avi Buffalo, she was my student.
If you were to ask any of my former students what they remembered most about my class, their first answer would not be, “Studying Catcher in the Rye” or “Learning about John Adams” but would have something to do with the stories I tell them about my life.
They all loved my stories and over the years, I got into a habit of always starting off my class lesson with a “Story of the Day.”
Today, I was reminded of one of those stories by my friends: Rodney Zaccardo and Steve Hendrix.
No, they are not former students, but Rodney almost became a former friend, when he posted a photo on my Facebook page of a bar of soap titled, “Filthy Beaver” with my name tagged to the beaver.
Steve, smart man that he is, commented with, “I don’t know where to begin…” and I honestly didn’t know how to respond myself.
What the hell was Rodney thinking?
Did he really just call my beaver filthy on Facebook?
Luckily, my friend Margie, who was sitting across the table from me working, looked up from her computer and said, “He’s talking about your beaver. You know.. the one that has it’s own Facebook page. That beaver that travels around the world with the band.” She then looked back down at her computer again before I heard her laugh and whisper, “Dork.”
I felt like an idiot for not getting the joke.
One phone call and two text messages from Rodney later… I realized he was worried I hadn’t gotten the joke either.
But don’t worry Rodney.
You’re not in trouble.
I get the joke.
The whole thing with the beaver started because of my chihuahua, Nico.
Nico loves to carry around little toys. He has a buzzy bee, two brightly colored wiener dogs, a piece of a stuffed tiger, just one leg, that he refuses to give up, and… a beaver.
These toys are usually scattered all around the house. And Nico, likes to pick one up and then drop it down to pick up another, changing them randomly, as he shows them off to house guests and moves then about, unwilling of course, to share them with any of the other dogs.
Yes… he is a stuffed animal hoarder.
One day when I was getting ready to go teach school, I heard a loud “SLAM” from the living room and then silence.
I ran out of the hall and looked around but saw nothing but Nico’s beaver on the floor and Nico, standing close to Nana’s lounge chair wagging his tail as he seemed to look off into the backyard.
Now, it was rare to walk into the living room and not find my 84-year-old mother sitting in her blue lounge chair watching TV but, it was even stranger to walk into the living room and find the chair empty AND the room in complete silence:
No Two and a Half Men blasting from Nana’s TV cabinet.
No dogs barking for Nana’s McDonald’s breakfast meal.
Just a beaver lying in the middle of the room and a small chihuahua looking actually, quite suspicious.
Something inside of me told me to call out for my mom and so… I did.
Immediately I saw my mother’s pudgy little grandma arm waving at me from behind the blue lounge chair.
“I’m over here!” She shouted as I watched her hand flap back and forth more like a windshield wiper than an actual signal of salutation.
“What the hell are you doing over there?” I asked as I hurried towards her and worked to pull her back up.
“Oh,” she said as I righted her and sat her back in her recliner, “I tripped over that damn beaver.”
I looked at the stuffed beaver lying on the floor.
I looked at Nico still wagging his tail, pretending to be the perfect dog in every way.
My mom looked at me as if I was stupid because I hadn’t responded quick enough to what she just said, so she rolled her eyes and snapped, “That thing!” as she pointed at the stuffed lump on the floor. “Nico’s beaver!”
For a moment, my mind went to one of those weird places… a place where it associates words with a specific period of time, a place where random images collide with random events… a place where you really don’t want your mind to go and suddenly… I pictured my mom tripping over a giant 70’s porno bush: Nico’s beaver.
I could see it vividly.
The giant vagina somehow detached and misplaced in our living room…
My mom, shaking her head in exasperation as if she knew it had been there all along hiding in the tri-colored shag carpet…
And somehow… she had just forgotten about it while worrying about other 70’s calamities such as my dad’s polyester pants or Dr. John’s latest hit: Right Place Wrong Time.
I couldn’t stop laughing.
I was trying to shake this horrific image out of my mind.
You never EVER want to put “Mom” and “porno” in the same thought box or even in the same paragraph for that matter, and the thought of the ridiculousness of what I was invisioning only made the whole situation worse.
Finally, my mother became totally annoyed with me and said, “I’m fine now. Just go to school. It’s not that funny you know.” Which made me laugh all the harder as I left the house and drove over to my classroom.
When I told the kids my “Story of the Day” of course I had to share Nico’s Beaver.
Everyone was in hysterics except for Barbara Kramer who seemed to be skeptical. Her eyes narrowed as she ran her tongue over her braces, before saying, “Is there really a Nico’s beaver?” with a smack of her lips.
The entire class paused.
They had never even considered the idea that I might be lying, that I might actually just make all of this shit up like a comedy routine I was trying out on unsuspecting English classes.
They all turned to me, begging for confirmation that I was telling the truth, and so, I gave Babs my best, “I’m so disgusted with your question face” before I said, “Yes Barbara, of course Nico has a beaver. Why would I make that up?”
She continued to look at me as if I was a fraud but by then, the rest of the class was convinced I was definitely telling stories in the genre of “non-fiction” and so we moved on for the day.
Weeks later, Barbara came to my house to play with my son Dylan. They were both in a band called “Return to Radio” and practice would take place regularly at our house.
Babs walked inside and met my mom.
“Hi Nana,” she said as she waved to her.
“Oh, hi honey!” My mom waved back.
And then Nico ran up to Babs: growling and wagging, fussing and barking.
She stared at him, as if he somehow had the answer to her question regarding my authenticity as a story teller.
Was I a true raconteur? Or… was I a cheap side-show sham?
I knew what I had to do.
“Nico,” I said. “Go get your beaver! Go get your beaver!”
Nico shot off across the living room floor as if he was in a dog show and knew he was about to win first place for performing this trick.
We watched as he rooted about in his little doggy bed of toys and then plucked his favorite worn brown and beaten beaver out of the batch and rushed back to show it proudly to Babs.
Her face radiated bemusement. She couldn’t contain her glee.
She looked at me as if I was the Holy Grail of Honest Teachers before reaching down and taking the beaver from Nico’s mouth.
“Nico’s beaver,” Babs whispered and the rest, is history.
Babs joined Avi Buffalo. She began to tour the world, and she took Nico’s beaver with her… photos of him appeared with Ben Stein and on ampitheater stages in Canada, Europe, and everywhere in between.
He became legendary, that beaver, and I think Babs loved him. I think that beaver kept her grounded as she learned the world of music first hand… on stage…. and that beaver… always represented love, truth, family, and home.