The Big Box: A Cautionary Tale Regarding a Woman and her Period

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This is a cautionary tale about a woman, a period, and a big box.

Men will never truly understand the whole “period” thing… I’m sorry men… but you just won’t.

Women are basically cycling through an exciting array of hormones every 28 days, of every month, of every year, for most of our life time.

We are up and down and up and down (no pun intended) and you men never know when you are going to get your “calm little kitten” or your “crazed steroid driven psycho” that screams at you for doing just about anything, while fisting chocolate covered zingers into her mouth at an alarming rate.

It isn’t pretty.

We try to maintain.

I’m telling you gentleman… we do…

But it is impossible as this organic chemical concoction called “womanhood” surges through our body, driving us to mate… then hate you before our 28 day deadline for that month is over.

Any husband knows the horror of heading to the Albertson’s at ten o’clock at night and asking, “Umm, can you tell me where the BIG BOX of Tampax medium to heavy unscented pearl pack is? Oh… and can you direct me to the aisle where I can also purchase the BIG BOX of Nestle Ice Cream sandwiches and the FAMILY SIZE frozen chocolate chip cookie dough? Thank you so very much.”

Come home empty handed and you will be sorry.

I’m telling ya… I had a complete period break down just last month when I told Stephen that I was going to get a taco at Taco Bell.

“Well, I’ll drive with you,” he said.

But I didn’t want him to.

I was trying to sneak away.

I knew what I was going to do: go to the Taco Bell and binge. Pumped up on my monthly hormones and jonzing for sugar, salt and fat, I knew a taco wasn’t going to hold me over… but I didn’t want to admit it… when I’d been trying really hard to uphold the image of “breezy sexual vixen” to this man.

“Ummmm, well I was going to run a couple of errands,” I said, hoping to deter him from tagging along.

“That’s okay,” he said. “I’ll just ride with you.”

And I thought, Why do men always WANT to be with us when we don’t want them around? And then it’s just the opposite when we do?

“Fine,” I snapped at Stephen, as he climbed into the mini van, totally oblivious to my situation, and stared out the window waiting for me to drive.

I floored it.

“Whoa,” he said, and he sounded just like Spicoli in Fast Times at Ridgemont High. “Taking it a little fast today aren’t you?”

I felt my face go red and I fantasized about reaching over, opening the door, kicking him out to the curb, just so I could watch him roll around on the street in pain while I screeched donuts around him in my 96 Isuzu shouting, “A WOMAN GREW YOU IN HER WOMB YOU SMUG SON OF A BITCH! NOW YOU WILL FEEL OUR PAIN!”

But I controlled my period rage and rushed towards my salvation.

When we pulled into the drive-thru and I heard the familiarly soothing song of, “Welcome to Taco Bell” I thought I might be okay.

“Yes, could I have the BIG BOX MEAL please?”

Stephen turned and looked at me.

“I thought you were just getting a taco?”

Now, I’m sure Stephen asked this question in all innocence, but my eyes narrowed, my demeanor became sinister as I turned to him and asked, “What did you just say?”

And in that moment… Stephen suddenly realized the gravity of his situation…

Just in that moment… the man that had once been married to someone for over ten years… realized that he had willingly entered a car with a women who was cocked and fully loaded.

“Mmmmm, that sounds good,” he said, pretend joy plastered to his face as he rubbed his hands together, trying to appease me until he could run from the scene. “But I think I’ll just have a drink today.”

I kept my eyes fixed oh him… waiting for the smallest sign… the smallest gesture… of what could be perceived as “mock” but he kept his gaze steady until the sound of the speaker…”Anything else?” …distracted me from my prey.

“What are you getting then?” I asked him: my tone… complete annoyance.

“Ummmmm,” Stephen said as he leaned over and tried to get a better look at the drink menu.

I felt my fingers twitching on the steering wheel…

“Ummmmm,” he stalled again. “Uhhhh, I think I’ll have…”

“Jesus, Stephen!” I shouted. “What the fuck do you want to drink?”

Stephen’s eyes grew large, there was a bit of a shocked smile that crept over the surprised little “O” of his mouth.

“Ummm, a Strawberry Lemonade,” he said to the speaker.

I felt the proximity of his body next to mine and hissed, “Now back away,” as I rolled around to the drive-up window.

Stephen sat back in his seat and folded his hands on his lap, he waited quietly until the register girl handed our drinks out the window and then… the BIG BOX MEAL.

The girth of it was embarassing.

There it was: The BIG BOX.

I handed it to Stephen and drove away from the window.

Stephen didn’t say a word and in fact, it remained quiet in the car… until I realized that Stephen was silently reading the description on the side of the box.

“What does it say?” I asked.

“Nothing,” Stephen said.

Smart man.

He knew better than to engage in the car but I had him cornered.

“No what does it say?” I demanded as I stared him down and watched as he cautiously held the box up higher and read out loud in a slow steady voice, as if he were a student in one of my high school classes, worried that he would receive extreme punishment for any verbal error.

“It says…” he started… “The Taco Bell Big Box Meal. This value meal on steroids comes loaded with our latest masterpiece, the Volcano Taco, as well as the Burrito Supreme, the Crunchwrap Supreme, Cinnamon Churro Twists, and a Large Drink. All for only $4.99. Don’t even ask about our calorie count on this one. Let’s just say, minus the drink you’re talking 4 digits. 1300 calories in this bad boyNot for the faint of heart. Watching your waistline? No worries, carrying this sucker will be enough of a workout. A meal made for a man!”

We pulled up to his house as he finished the last sentence.

“Give me that!” I shouted as I snatched the BIG BOX from his hands and watched as one of my churros went flying up into the air and landed somewhere in the back seat.

Stephen calmly opened the door and climbed out of the car before he turned back around, reached over the passenger seat, and picked up the now dirty churro from the car floor.

“You sure you don’t want this one?” he asked, the safety provide by the middle of the street making him suddenly brave.

I didn’t even respond.

I hit the gas and watched as the door slammed, leaving Stephen, dirty churro still in hand, gawking from the middle of the street, as I railed the corner and headed for home.

“Meal made for men my ASS!” I shouted from the open car window.

I pulled up to my house, went inside, and ate my BIG BOX MEAL in the privacy of my home.

Happy in my hormonal dysfunction.

Period shame be damned.

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

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

Seriously…. Not on a holiday.

Not on a weekend.

And definitely not on a school day.

I’m wild.

I’m outrageous.

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

Trust me.

It was an accident.

I swear.

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

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

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

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

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

“Three?” I looked at the bottle suspiciously.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I shudder still at the thought of it.

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

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

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

That was… until the phone call.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Can she handle a blue?” he asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We were shocked by our immediate view.

Ms. E was not in her classroom teaching.

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

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

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

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

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

“What color was it?” He asked.

“Blue.”

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

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

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

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

“Cover her class,” he shouted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Threatening Dylan with Baby Farming

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When Dylan was in 6th grade, he could quite often be a little shit.

Not that he can’t be a little shit now at 22, but middle school always tends to bring the “beast” out in children.

I don’t even remember what he was doing the day that I finally snapped.

But whatever it was… it sent me over the edge.

He made just one too many snide remarks…

Or farted too close to where I was sitting, one too many times before he laughed and ran away…

Or begged and screeched to go to the internet cafe and play Counter Strike for like… ten hours straight… when he hadn’t even completed his English project but, whatever it was… I had HAD it.

I turned and looked at his pudgy little pre-adolescent face and said, “You know what? I should have Baby Farmed you.”

He stopped… confused… and then… immediate silence followed.

“Baby Farm?” he said. “What is a Baby Farm?”

“Baby farming,” I said knowingly. “Go look it up.” I gave him a  sinister glance as I walked quietly from the room and disappeared.

One of the best things about knowing random facts of obscure information is using it against others and yes… I am not above using information to mess with my own children.

In fact, I think it is imperative to give them something to think about… a way of humbling them if necessary and reminding them that education truly is power and that I can, and will break you with it if necessary.

Ten minutes later Dylan found me out in the front yard working on the garden.

I had totally forgotten our previous conversation by then, happy to be alone and away from my obstinate young son, soothed in my small task of arranging my numerous brightly colored gnomes strategically throughout my garden.

Dylan walked up to me and stood by my side. “That was the meanest thing you ever said to me,” he whispered.

I looked up from my work and said, “Huh?”

“Baby farming,” he said. His pudgy little face now crumpled into a sad frown. “I can’t believe you used that against me.”

“How long did it take you to find out what it was?” I asked.

“Five minutes on the computer.”

“Wow,” I smiled. “Impressive.”

He paused… pleased that I had admired his ability to glean information so quickly… but unable to forgive me yet… or give in.

“It was still the meanest thing you ever said to me,” he mumbled.

“Glad you didn’t end up in the Hudson circa 1887 right?”

He made a face, sure that he could not win this argument but unwilling to let it go, “I could swim when I was one you know,” he shouted before he stomped off, to God knows where, to create soda bottle bombs, Pokemon drawings, and ponder a world where Baby Farming was once a norm, leaving me to smile at the joy my offspring brought to me each time he chose to challenge his mother’s authority.

The True Story of Nico’s Beaver

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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.

“Mom?”

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.

Dylan Refuses Me a Bun

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I don’t ask for much as a parent.

Well, at least I don’t think I ask for much as a parent.

Dylan and Lexi may choose to disagree with this statement and it’s fine if they do because I AM THE PARENT and I don’t care.

Every once in awhile I ask for a minor thing to be done:

Pick up the dog poop.

Change the Sparklett’s water bottle for Nana.

Take out the trash.

Don’t forget to move the car for street sweeping and…

For God’s sake give me a bun when I ask for one.

It was Dylan who refused me the bun.

Dylan.

All I wanted was one bun for my chicken.

One bun.

It was Matilda’s first night at our house.

She was a guest.

I had no chicken feed and thought how nice it would be to give her a lovely fresh bun.

Dylan actually snatched the bun bag from my hands.

“You can’t have a bun,” he said and I looked at his face and saw that he was totally serious. “I have exactly eight buns and exactly eight hot dogs. Do you understand?”

Oh, I understood.

Mr. Obsessive-Compulsive was refusing to give me a bun.

Me!

His mother.

I couldn’t believe it.

He was lucky to be alive.

If I hadn’t grown him in my magical uterus he wouldn’t even be standing here with a bag of buns in his grubby little hands… the little shit.

I almost got in a knock-down-drag-out with him right then and there but we had company… not just Matilda… but a whole house load of guests. So, I had to let it go and I honestly planned to let it go forever until I found the bun bag in the trash can exactly one week later.

The whole bun bag.

All eight buns… moldy and in the trash can.

I looked at those buns and I felt like they were mocking me.

Dylan would pay for this injustice.

I waited until he was making his way through the house, walking with one of his little band friends, when I stopped him, pulled the bag from the trash can, and in my best motherly voice said, “What is this?”

Dylan looked at the bag as if he was unable to fathom the alien object in my hand.

“What?” he said but I could tell from his tone he knew he was busted.

“I asked you for one bun. One bun! And look,” I thrust the bag towards his face. “You didn’t even eat one. Not one! Here they sit, molding in the trash.”

“I’m gonna feed them to the ducks,” Dylan said.

This sent me over the edge.

“The ducks? The ducks!” I shouted. “You wouldn’t even give me one for my chicken!”

“Well, you fed your friends my spaghetti sauce!” He snapped, throwing out this minor counter point as if he could win an argument against me with such a weak comeback.

“How much is your rent?” I asked.

He was silent before mumbling, “It was just a bun.”

“You’re right,” I said. “Just a bun.”

We stood quietly for a moment pondering that thought before Dylan said, “We’re going out to the garage to practice now.”

I watched as he walked away wondering what he might refuse me next:

A rascal?

An adult diaper?

My pills and ice cream when I’m 102 and unwilling to eat anything else?

I could see now that I would have to keep my eye on this little man.

It starts with a bun and ends up with a trip to the convalescent hospital for a nice long vacation.

Oh… but he had underestimated his opponent.

My wrath would be legendary.

I would be the old woman who would pee as I walked down the supermarket aisle each time my son took me to the store.

I would be the old woman who would sit in the back seat of his mini-van and flip people off in other cars for no apparent reason.

I would be the old woman who would feed his children candy and play Grand Theft Auto with them when they turned 4.

Refuse me a bun.

We’ll just see about that.

Anthony Kiedis Asks Me to Brush and Braid His Hair Resulting in a Shouting Match and Mark Johnson as a Naughty Go-Between

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Before the Red Hot Chili Peppers became Rock and Roll namesakes they were just a bunch of goofy guys, playing music and hoping to reach the big brass ring of Super Stardom like everyone else in our music scene.

In the mid-1980’s they were touring with T.S.O.L. and Fishbone and since I was dating the lead singer of T.S.O.L., the man that later became my husband, I was at the show.

I have never been that smitten or taken with rock stars… growing up around “band boys” you are privy to a decent amount of information that takes away the glitter and the glamour of the stage and brings the “fantasy” down to earth…. trust me…. when you watch many of your family members and good friends throwing their talent away on drug and alcohol addiction… the fun goes right out the window.

But at this time, we were all still young and beautiful, still having fun in our world of music and mayhem, and not really concerned much with the future. Most of the players in our group were “interchangeable” which is a really nice way of saying there was a lot of inner circle incestuous dating going on… and because of this… people often kept an “eye” on their significant others for fear that they might pop off with someone much more interesting in a different band at a moment’s notice.

I’ve often actually thought… that these guys weren’t even really that concerned about the person they were “with” … as much as they were worried that the person would leave them for a guy in a band that they considered “better” or “more popular” because there is a a fair amount of EGO dominating this rock world.

I had just walked into the club that evening, and watched as Anthony made a b-line towards me, hair brush in his hand, rubber band around his wrist.
“D.D.?” he asked in his little boy voice, “Would you please brush and braid my hair for the show tonight?”
Now, Anthony is actually three years older than me but I swear he looked like he was about fifteen at the time and tended to act about the same age.

I rolled my eyes, grabbed the hairbrush and the rubber band, and sat down at the bar table to brush his hair.

“You really can’t do this yourself Anthony?” I asked.

He turned his back towards me, stepped backwards until my legs were straddled around him, placed his hands on my knees and said, “No, you brush it.”

Once again I felt my eyes roll as I began to brush his hair. I already had Lex, my youngest child by this time, and so I brushed his hair as if I was brushing my daughter’s hair on a day she was really frustrating me.

“Ow,” he said in a baby voice. “Too hard.”

I fought the urge to hit him on the top of his head with the hairbrush… but I didn’t… I just continued on with my task.

Now there is something soothing, often mesmerizing about brushing long hair and soon we were both quiet as I worked gently separating his strands into three individual groups of hair before twisting them into a long neat braid. I put my hand over the braid and ran my fingers down it from top to bottom, the last touch in the process, making sure that it was smooth and hung straight.

“There,” I said. “All done.”

Anthony turned around, his hands resting gently on my hips as we now looked at each other face-to-face, his body still straddled between my legs, smiling his goofy smile and about to get all flirty with me when my X walked into the club.

It was one of those horrible moments that you can’t explain.

Seriously.

How do you explain how Anthony Kiedis got between your legs?

How do you explain your arm wrapped around his shoulders, holding the braid hanging down his back?

How do you explain Anthony staring at you like you’re a giant ice cream cone and he just wants a taste of it?

You don’t I tell you.

What you do is you push Anthony Kiedis away as roughly as you possibly can before you stand up from the bar stool, and pull your teeny tiny mini skirt down to cover your legs hoping that the five extra inches of black spandex will somehow make you look “virginal,” and watch as your current man storms towards you, hate in his eyes, and you pray that Anthony doesn’t die before set time.

“What the FUCK Anthony?” my X screamed at him.

My X is a big, burly handsome man…. often confused with the Devil… gold eyes, jet black hair, skull tattoos and Anthony backed away with his hands up.

“Hey —,” he said to my X trying to calm the situation down by playing the cool friendship card, “I didn’t know D.D. was your girl.”

And once again I felt my eyes rolling in my head. Everyone knew I was with X… Anthony’s lame excuse was not going to save him from a massacre.

My X was pressing the issue, leaned over, pounding his finger against Anthony’s chest. Every imaginable cuss word being used in the most creative way as it spewed forth from his mouth at an astonishing rate.

I was looking around for ANYONE to come to my rescue, stop them both before they were a bloody mess, and that’s when Mark Johnson appeared on the scene.

Mark Johnson… one of the sweetest, kindest guys you could ever want to know and today, if I had been a smart woman… I would have spent more time hanging out with him but I was too often seduced by the dramatic dysfunction of the scene.

Mark got in between them, calmed my X down, and lead Anthony away upstairs where he was going to hang out in the Green Room until set time.

I spent the next 30 minutes trying to explain to my X that what had just happened was totally innocent but… no luck… he ended up storming off to the bar for a big shot of Ten High as I sat back down at the table… the now “infamous” table where I had illicitly brushed and braided Anthony’s hair, put my hands over my eyes and just shook my head back and forth for a minute, disgusted with the total comedy of errors that had just transpired before me.

I felt like I was wearing a LARGE SCARLET LETTER and I couldn’t help but think to myself that maybe I should just go home now and call it a night. I had a feeling that the fight might ratchet back up after hours if me, Anthony and X were all in the same room and both of the boys were stoned or drunk.

Just then, I felt a tap on my shoulder, and almost afraid to look up, I raised my gaze and was relieved to be looking into the smiling face of Mark Johnson.

“Anthony asked me to give you this,” he said.

I opened the small folded white piece of notebook paper that he had held out to me and read the word, “Hi” with a child-like smiley face drawn next to it.

I looked up at Mark, and then looked back at the note.

“Are you serious?” I asked before rising from the table and grabbing my purse and walking away.

“What do you want me to tell him?” Mark shouted after me.

“That I’m going home,” I said.

“Home?” Mark Johnson said, his voice full of amusement and surprise that I was turning the “little man” down.

“Home,” I said and headed for the door.

I strutted past the bar where I saw my X happily settled in; surrounded by friends and fans, smoke in one hand, bottle of Ten High in the other, and gave one last look back at Mark who waved sweetly before he headed off to the Green Room to disappoint Anthony with my response.

I almost broke into a jog, dying to climb into my old 63′ Buick and race for the safety of home.

“You back already?” My mom said as I came into the house.

I watched as Lexi climbed off her Nana’s lap and rushed towards me.

“Boy drama,” I said to my mom as I grabbed Lex and scooped her up into my arms.

“Oh those boys,” Nana said, “Just like your father was in high school. Pachucos on parade.”

I tried not to smile but I couldn’t help it… she was so right… Pachucos on parade.

I carried Lex into her bedroom, kicked off my heels, climbed up onto the bed with her to read “Pat the Bunny” and left the Pachucos behind me.

My Matilda or… the Story of How Ms. Wood Procures a Chicken

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This… is Matilda.

Matilda is a chicken.

A Rhode Island Red to be exact.

I didn’t go out and purchase Matilda.

I wasn’t given Matilda.

Matilda, like most of the animals in our home, including Jax, my pet squirrel, just appear to me, usually in dire need, and being who I am… I can’t seem to walk away.

Case in point: Matilda

It was Thursday night, 8pm, after hours at El Dorado park and my favorite time to walk there.

This night I was walking with my two adult friends, Frank and Abe and my 10-year-old friend Finn.

Finn, like me, seems to be some type of  “animal whisperer” and so I was a bit concerned when we jumped the rail of the flood control and ran down the embankment to enter the park after hours that we might run into an injured skunk, coyote, goose, hawk, or owl… but I had no worries that we might run into a chicken. For God’s sake…. a chicken?

We were barely past the LBPD shooting range when we saw a small reddish animal bopping about in the grassline…

“Is that a chicken?” Frank asked.

We all stopped to watch as she made her way closer to us.

“It is a chicken,” Abe said.

We didn’t know what to do… I voted to finish our walk and when we looped back, see if she was still around. With Frank, Abe, and Finn all hailing from Arizona…. I knew that this chicken wasn’t going anywhere unless it was going to Ms. Wood’s house and I was trying my hardest to make sure that didn’t happen. I mean the menagerie was really getting ridiculous: Jax (my squirrel) her babies, three chihuahuas, four cats, seven dogs and a partridge in a pear tree; I wasn’t looking to add a chicken to the mix.

I swear I didn’t want to leave her because I’m heartless… I just thought… Maybe if we give it some time… she’ll magically go back to where she came from and I will be saved from care-taking yet another pet… but the boys weren’t having it.

The Arizonians were looking at me with pitiful sad little faces.

The chicken was looking at me with her pitiful sad little face.

“Come on…” I said to the boys as I strided ahead with purpose trying to get away from the bird, only to turn and find the chicken running after us all as she made the saddest little cooing sounds that seemed to say, “If you leave me I will be eaten by a coyote and you will never be happy when you walk in your park at night again, because you will always remember that you left me to die.”

Fuck.

I couldn’t do it.

It was horrible.

They were pulling at every one of my heart strings and they obviously knew just how to work me.

So… I just gave in and turning on my heal, marched towards the exit, while shouting in my best authoritative tone, “Come on, Matilda. Let’s go home!” and watched as she hustled to catch up and walk beside me… as if I were her best friend and we had never been parted.

After a few feet of walking, we realized that it would take forever to get Matilda out of the park at this pace, so Frank picked her up and carried her with both hands, arms extended straight out in front, as if Matilda were a hood ornament on his human car.

It wasn’t five minutes later that the Park Ranger pulled up next to us, rolled down his window and said, “My God! Is that a chicken?”

Apparently he had never seen a chicken in the park either and now, Matilda startled by his big shiny car and flashing police lights was out of Frank’s hands, on top of the hood of his car and pecking at her own reflection in his windshield, like this was all good fun.

Obviously, the park was a wonderful place for Matilda as long as she had humans to protect her.

I asked him if he wouldn’t mind driving Frank to my van and was pleasantly surprised when he agreed.

I smiled as I watched Frank drive off with a Park Ranger and a chicken and I spent the rest of my walk back to the Wardlow Street bridge whistling to  myself and making up my own stupid little jokes about it:

So… a chicken and a Ranger walk into a bar……

Or…. Is that a chicken under your arm or are you just…

And…

How did the chicken cross the road? By getting a ride in the Park Ranger’s car.

Before hoping back over the rail and walking to the van.

Frank was in the back when I got there, Matilda running around on the floor, pleased that she was in some type of cage that seemed more comfortable then the cold park at night.

We took her home… gave her some water… and watched as she climbed to the top shelf of the squirrel cage and bedded down for the night. Already content in her new environment.

“Good night Matilda,” I said as I turned off the porch light for the evening…. trying not to be attached to a chicken… but knowing… I was already totally in love.

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

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

It’s true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Now… I love Amy.

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

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

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

I was pretty pleased with myself.

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

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

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

“Sure,” I nodded.

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

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

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

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

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

Shit.

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

Luckily, their terror kept then silent and still….

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

“Yes,” I whispered back.

“They can’t climb the stairs right?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It did.

Sissy Breaks My Leg

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If you look closely at the photo above… you will see one little shoe.

Just one.

That is because just outside of the frame… just outside of the observer’s view… is my little broken leg.

Full cast.

One-year-old.

Look at that baby.

The perfect Gerber Cupie Doll mix right?

How could anyone break the leg of such a nice, sweet, little baby girl?

Well… you’d have to ask my sister.

The practically perfect person pictured here:

Only, if you did go to ask my sister, she would probably throttle you. In fact… she would probably throttle me.

I used to tell the story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg”  in my classroom each year and when I got to the good part… I would call her on the cell phone, press “speaker,” and let her tell the whole class how she damaged me for life.

She hated it.

I don’t do it anymore.

Why?

Because she verbally throttled me.

She waited until she was at my house, vis-a-vis and shouted as she bordered on slapping me, “Why the hell do you have to call me and make me relive something I feel terrible about? Can’t you see you’re causing me pain?”

“I’m the baby,” I said smugly. “You broke my leg… I think you should have to pay for that the rest of my life.”

She gave me “theeeeee” big sister look… the I will kill you right now look… and I never, ever called her during class time again.

My students beg me to…

They do I swear…

But I stop them and shout, “Listen! She won’t let me… and you know how big sister’s are.”

Many of them nod their heads in silent solidarity. (Obviously, having been throttled by big sisters too.)

Sigh.

I don’t know what my sister was thinking that day back in 1966 when she broke my leg… She was seventeen… one of the most popular girl’s at Millikan High School. TOTALLY RESPONSIBLE IN EVERY WAY. Or so I thought… all of these years even AFTER the leg breaking incident but when I told my sister that I was writing this story she said, “Me? Practically perfect? Get real. I used to run around Millikan in my head cheerleader outfit, show all of the teachers the “forged” note from my mom and say, “I have to leave school immediately” before I’d flash them my all-American smile as I exited campus to ditch class with my friends.”

I was actually stunned for a moment when hearing this.

After years of taking the wrap as the “bad sister” the “bad seed” it was interesting to find out that the “good sister” the one who was always “so wonderful” was actually quite a bit of a naughty.

My sister has always been like a mother to me, so I don’t doubt that she had the best intentions when she hopped on her Schwinn Cruiser that day and propped me on the handle bars. I’m sure she thought I would giggle and squeal and love her all the more for it… but unfortunately the short ride went terribly wrong.

She lost her grip on my petite baby body and watched in horror as I slid off the front of the bike, where my small leg entered the turning spokes of the wheel, and snapped in several places before I landed helpless on the ground, caught as if a small animal in a snare, with my tiny leg twisted like delicate ribbon between the rough metal spokes of the rim.

My sister was beyond distraught and ran, frantic for help, to our neighbor: Mrs. O’Grady.

And though they both tried to free my leg, they actually had to remove the wheel from the bike, my leg still ensnared in it, and bundle “us” off to the hospital where the doctors could release me from it’s cruel grip.

The worst part, according to my sister, was not the break in my leg, but the break in her heart, as she held me in the backseat of the car, my little arms raised up to her, my hands opening and closing as I begged for understanding and a hug saying only three of the ten words I knew at the time:

“Sissy, Sissy sweet. Why? Why?”

“I would have preferred you to cry,” she said. “At least that would have been normal. But for you to lie there, like a little Buddha, not one tear on your face, as you asked me to explain in your tiny baby voice why this happened to you… was unbearable.”

The evil baby in me always smiles when she tells me this… I like that I was a master manipulator even at the age of one… assigning guilt and blame a talent passed down effortlessly in my genes.

My leg was “casted” from toe to hip, and my mother was enraged when she found out what my sister had done. It was weeks, no months, a constant barrage of angry words, that my sister had to endure from her parents for that “one” fatal mistake.

But oh… the story gets worse.

When the time came for the cast to finally be removed, I was beyond ecstatic.

They were taking me to see Santa that day for being such a brave girl through the months I had suffered my casted leg.

My sister said she was full of joy, so relieved that finally the day had come when she would no longer look at my cast as the “albatross” around her neck.

They took me from the hospital, straight to my grandmother’s, who was anxiously awaiting my arrival, just one of the many relatives who wanted to witness my full recovery and my visit with Santa.

I remember climbing from the car.

I remember skipping towards her house.

I remember tripping into a giant sprinkler hole and hearing a loud “SNAP” as my leg completely re-broke for the second time.

My sister said that I laid on my back, disbelief engulfing my pretty baby face, before I threw my arms outstretched over my head and WAILED, tossing my body from side to side screaming, “WHY? WHY!!!!!!!!”

Before my father picked me up, a writhing wild animal of a child, a snake ready to bite and hiss at anyone who tried to get close to me.

The next photo you see of me as a child is not a pretty one.

And if I could find it and post it here, I swear I would… but I have a feeling my sister has already burned it.

It’s me, a red corduroy jumpsuit, full leg cast, crooked bangs, a doll wedged tightly under my arm with no head, and a look in my eye that clearly shows that I have changed from a sweet little doll to a demon seed.

A look that seems to imply that I have already suffered the weight of the world and LORD HELP YOU if you try to cross me.

Today… I still limp when tired, the only reminder of that fateful ride… other than my yearly classroom story of how “Sissy Broke My Leg.”

Mr. Stroosma Sets the Classroom on Fire

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

I don’t.

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

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

Beautiful.

Nice kids.

Good snacks.

Easy day.

No problems.

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

Stroosma is definitely one of the “beloved.”

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

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

He’s good looking…

Witty…

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

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

Girls have crushes on him… (and boys too)

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

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

Perfect.

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

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

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

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

You need a “show” man…

You need A HEADLINER…

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

And that’s Stroosma.

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

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

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

Stroosma smiled his little Stroosma smile…

Winked his little Stroosma wink…

And gave me the thumbs up.

“No problem,” he said.

And like a FOOL… I believed him.

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

Ahhhhh.

The view… serene…

The icy river… crystal crisp.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I called immediately.

No answer.

I started to panic and  dialed again.

No answer. 

Jesus…

I dialed again.

No answer.

My mind was racing…

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

I was a bad teacher.

I had abandoned my flock.

I dialed again.

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

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

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

Silence.

Stroosma was silent as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fucking Stroosma.

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

“You having fun?” He asked.

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

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

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

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