The girl with the gun

November 21, 2013

I was in the newsroom when this story came over the police scanner.

Four officers had opened fire on a teenager. She was dead.

These details are not disputed:

She was drunk and stoned. She was passed out in a locked car with music blaring inside. The car was running. Police could not rouse her by banging on the windows. She had a semiautomatic pistol in her lap.

These details are murkier:

She was frothing at the mouth. She snapped awake when officers broke a window. Her hand moved toward the gun.

As the story gained fame, so did the side picking. Everyone sat in judgment over somebody in this story.

I’m on the side of the officers, who fired 27 shots into the Nissan Sentra and hit that 19-year-old with 12 of them.

Here’s why. This kid drank booze, smoked pot and went to a public convenience store with a loaded gun.

Using the same roads my loved ones and I use with babies in the back seats, she drove a vehicle so under the influence that she passed out and was unwakeable.

She sat armed and mentally altered where I might have been stopping with my children.

I’m going to come right out and say it. When someone makes those choices and becomes that level of a danger to the community, the officers should fire. Her rights, I believe, ended when she tried to take away everyone else’s right to safety in public.

I call open season on drunk people at gas stations with guns.

Apparently I’m in the minority.

I was also in the newsroom when the wire announced the four officers lost their jobs.

The terrified cell-phone salesman story

November 19, 2013

In April of 2006 my husband took me downtown to replace my cell phone before I left for a road trip to Sacramento.

The 20-something ringing up my new Back in Black Razr looked anxious. I thought he had to pee.

He said to my husband, “You’re a teacher, you said? I need some advice.”

No one ever said this to me. Instead people say, “You’re an editor? I don’t ever want to talk around you or let you see something I wrote.”

But I’m not bitter. Try to stop me from giving advice.

The kid proceeded to tell us that a friend of a friend had cornered him in a bar the night before asking to buy 999 of the $10 pre-paid cell phones, cash. He asked for anonymity. The would-be customer was Middle Eastern.

I asked the kid if large transactions raised red flags, triggered investigations.

Yup, any sale $10,000 or more attracts attention.

The kid started sweating and shaking.

“What should I do? I think I need to call the FBI, but if he gets caught, he’ll know it was me.”

He was making me nervous.

“Have you talked about this with your mother?”

Yes, she told him he should do whatever he thought was right for him.

Thanks, cell-phone mommy who made it my problem. Next time remember I never want to be a knower of this kind of business.

I told him I thought it was his duty to report anything he thought was suspicious. I implored the child to imagine how responsible he would feel if something went down because he kept mum.

My husband said, “Yeah.”

We left.

At the post office, our next stop, I was playing with my new phone, which wasn’t working.

We went back.

The kid was pacing behind the counter, and his hair was pasted straight up with sweat.

“I did it. I called the police,” he said.

My eyes went wide. Good for him, but now I wanted to get lots of distance between us.

“I used a pay phone and didn’t give my name, but he’ll know.”

The guy looked positively rabid. I said something about not wanting to stand in front of the windows and earned an elbow jab in my side.

My husband was calm. He said, “The Razr won’t make calls.”

I gotta hand it to this kid. He was the AT&T Employee and Mr. Hyde.

“Let me see it.” He gave it his full attention – even chuckled when he realized he hadn’t put a SIM card in it.

I told him he was the bomb. No one thought I was funny.

I don’t know what became of the boy or the call, but when I got back from Sacramento, the business was gone.

The spider story

November 15, 2013

My son has always been a sensitive little thing.

When he was 5, he helped me paint his room before we moved into our first house in California.

We stood side by side on his desk while we readied the window up high. I reached into the corner with my brush and cleared out a spiderweb.

“Oh, Mama!” He pointed to a spider on the wall. “He just watched you destroy his home!”

So I picked up the newspaper, rolled it and smashed the homeless spider.

“There. Now he’s not sad anymore.”

Are you all glad I’m not your mother?

A peeve

November 1, 2013

Please forgive me a little whining.

There is a thing that bothers me. It shouldn’t. I am self-aware enough to know that in the grand scheme of things, it has no consequence.

It’s people’s saying “PIN number.”

I have lost my ATM card, and my son said tonight, “When you get your new one, can you get the same PIN number? I’ve memorized the other one.”

Oh, son.

“I think they give me a new personal identification number number with the new card,” I cheeked. “You’ll have to learn it before you use the automated teller machine machine.”

I’m embarrassed this gets under my skin. If I were a better person, this post would be about human trafficking or potable water waste.

Letters to my children

October 27, 2013

When I was starting out in the newsroom I edited obituaries.

It skewed my perspective on mortality. A good number more than you’d think are young people.

People my age died everyday. They died on the freeway, and they died of heart disease. One woman who went to high school with me died of AIDS. Another had an unexpected seizure. They left behind babies.

I was not yet 30.

It began to occur to me that my chances of survival on any given day could be good, could be bad.

I stopped taking the freeway to work.

I filled out my own obit form with my history and favorite charity. I wrote down the song I wanted played at my service.

Then I wrote letters to my children, just in case. They offered comfort, love and acceptance. They revealed what I saw in them that was good.

It wasn’t enough. I wrote more letters.

I wrote letters to be opened on their wedding days.

It wasn’t enough.

By the time I was through, there were stacks of letters for each child. They included graduation, first home purchase and first baby. Then I had to write letters for  in case one of them didn’t graduate, get married or have a baby. There were some to be opened in the event of unexpected pregnancy or in case they were gay.

I went completely round the bend thinking of circumstances I should lend a voice to.

I was writing to sophisticated people I didn’t even know. During this frenzy, my kids were 3 and 5.

Now they’re almost 15 and 17. I can throw most of the letters out. They know I would support whatever they decided to do about a pregnancy. They know I don’t care if they’re gay. They know I’m proud of the people they’ve become, and they have the strength and confidence to choose futures that make them happy.

They’ve had the benefit of witnessing my values as far as marriage, parenting, drinking and humor. I’ve taught them both how to cook, sew and play poker.

Thanks to this blog, they even have all the family stories.

I’m not ready to die, but tonight I’ve decided something close. I’m ready to relax.

My husband’s student’s death

October 22, 2013

My husband teaches in a high poverty, high crime high school in Southern California.

He’s told me stories about the kids’ not having toilet paper, hunting dinner out of dumpsters, raising siblings.

There’s also a lot of gang activity. One afternoon he called me upset, because one of his students — a 14-year-old boy — had been shot in both knees. The counselor had sent an e-mail to excuse tardiness. The child’s walking was slow.

Another day he was calling me on his cell phone, telling me it was slow getting off campus. “Oh here’s the problem, a child has been stabbed.”

I pictured him stepping over the body with his Razr to his ear and briefcase in hand, but it probably wasn’t like that.

I don’t think a year has gone by when his roll sheet hasn’t decreased because of a shooting.

But this story isn’t about a gang killing. This is about a teacher killing a kid.

A few years ago the basketball coach took her team for a hazing exercise. She tried to drop the girls in a bad neighborhood in the middle of night and have them find their way back to her house during a sleepover.

This would help them bond.

One player didn’t want to get out of the back of the van. She was afraid.

The teacher drove forward and back, slamming the brakes, until the child fell out. She landed on the back of her head on the street.

Coach waited an untoward while before calling for help.

This was the second time in my husband’s then 15-year teaching career he planned to go to one of his best students’ funerals.

He took this one hard, and needed to tell me all about it.

This would lead to some trouble for us.

He told me that this teacher would have lost her job the year before for violent behavior in class (I think she broke a clipboard in a rage or something), but her aunt was a member of the school board, and vouched for her.

The staff had been told not to talk to the media. I pictured them looking at him when they said this. They knew he was married to media. The administration was trying to control the story.

I was in a bad spot.

This is exactly the kind of news the public has a right to know. People send their children to school trusting there is some core concern for providing safe supervision.

Tattling on people abusing power is our job. Protecting the community is why many of us are in the business. I couldn’t not report this. I couldn’t be an accomplice.

I called it in. He felt betrayed.

The parents pulled the plug on the girl Sunday. The injury happened on Friday.

By then, it was a big story without my help. Likely the girl’s family had a thing or two to shout, school reputation be damned.

My husband gave a eulogy at the service, and was on the TV news saying what a promising future the girl had.

Our marriage survived the conflict of loyalties, and the coach was fired.

If anything like this has happened since, I wouldn’t know.

The comma argument

October 13, 2013

My family spent my mother’s birthday dinner in a heated argument about a comma.

I’m aghast that anyone would take a stand against me on this issue.

I am a linguist and an editor.

I may be so confused by science I believe there are little people inside my TV box, but it would be impossible to know more about punctuation than I.

The mark in question is the one often erroneously placed before the conjuction in a simple list: He picked his guitar, friends, and nose.

Today after school one of our closest family friends was attacked by my children. “What’s your opinion on the comma?”

“I don’t care.” Poor kid. He was wondering why he is our friend.

“You must.” I don’t know why they valued his support so strongly. This is a child who pronounces the ‘L’ in ‘talk.’

My daughter, by the way, is for the comma, as is my mother. My son and I are on the side of reason.

The children began to present their positions — simultaneously. My son called me in to define the rule. I used my voice of authority.

“You put a comma before the conjunction in a list only if the last item has a conjunction in it: Myles listens to Hannah Montana, The Jonas Brothers, and Donny and Marie. This rule is for clarity. It’s a favor to the reader.”

Myles gave me an ugly look.

My daughter insisted, contrarywise, that it’s using the comma indiscriminately that adds clarity. She began to expound, “If I ate macaroni and cheese first, then potatoes,” (big pause) “and steak….”

“Wait a minute!” I interrupted. “No vegetables? You won’t have to worry about commas. You’ll end up with a semi-colon.”

The children sent me back out of the room.

The lady in white story

October 11, 2013

This is another family legend. I expect I will get different versions as cousins and aunts read today’s post. I hope so.

When my grandmother’s mother was 5 she was orphaned. Her father had died in a silver-mining accident. Then her mother died giving birth to what would have been my grama’s aunt or uncle.

She lived in a small village in Chihuahua, Mexico.

At the end of her mother’s funeral, everybody followed the hearse carriage down the dusty road. It was too fast for her, and she was separated from the procession.

No one noticed that she was left behind.

She was lost in the mountains, and night fell.

Then a woman in white appeared and took her by the hand.  They walked together through the village to the child’s aunt’s door.

The woman in white never spoke.

She knocked on the door, but the aunt, who answered the knock, never saw her. When the girl turned around, she had vanished.

I think it’s assumed it was her mother, come to lead to her to safety before crossing into the light.

Either that or it was a hiking lab tech who didn’t know Spanish.

My mother and the blind guy

October 9, 2013

My mom once ditched a blind guy cuz he was scary.

When she was in college, she signed up to read books to him.

She didn’t know anything about him, save he had no sight, when she went to meet him in the university’s library.

He made a dramatic entrance.

He was large and tall, and he came in roaring and waving and banging his cane. He wore a big black cape and a spy hat. His arms were replaced by hooks at the elbow. His eyes were hollow sockets, but he had on one eyepatch. His facial skin had been mostly been blown apart.

I’ve always pictured one of those monsters Abbot and Costello met.

No way was she identifying herself, and how handy was this? She could just get up, and walk past him and out the door.

Naturally, she felt terrible. She had the back and forth of pity and justifications.

On one hand he didn’t have to dress and act that way. Surely he noticed the reactions, the women screaming.

But maybe he didn’t realize people don’t wear capes. And it was the ’60s. All the sighted people were expressing individuality. Didn’t he have the right to jump on the non-conformist bandwagon?

She made a new date, and saw it through.

It became a regular thing, and they became friends. She said he was interesting and smart.

He would tell her to highlight a sentence, then later when she was typing up his term paper, he would say, ‘In this spot insert the thing you underlined on page 43.” 

She learned that when he was 12 he was playing with a chemistry set and it exploded.

I respect that she gathered her courage to meet him again, prepared that go around for his frighteningness.

But I say as a rule, if you’re gonna make those kinds of choices in appearance, learn Braille.

Even in pain, I’m a smartass

September 24, 2013

I once broke my wrist.

I had been put under the day before, to have a cyst taken off my uterus. I was supposed to be spending the day in bed, but an old acquaintance from Boulder was in California for the week and insisted on visiting that day.

I was pissy. I had wanted to visit on Tuesday, but they decided to do Sea World Tuesday. I felt like these people were forcing themselves on me on Friday. It was Friday the 13th, even.

My husband had taken the day off to pamper me. Instead of ringing a bell for some peeled fruit, I was trying to keep two toddlers I’d never met from being bored.

I walked the children and their mother to the neighborhood park, smiling and struggling to keep up my end of the conversation. We had the dogs, which is always good for avoiding quiet moments.

When we got to the playground, the older girl, who was maybe 4, wanted to take my bigger dog’s leash. This is an Akita-husky mix. He’s smart and gentle, but large and strong. He’s used to children.

I told her that if she became uneasy at any point to just let the leash go.

She took this to mean, ‘Walk him all the way over to the lawn past the bridge and let the leash go.’

Fine.

I usually leave both dogs off leash anyway. They’re trained and good.

Then I espied a dog on a leash yonder where my dog was free. I understand enough about dog politics. This was not fair.

I kept my eye on Lamont (yes, we named him after Big Dummy) while I walked in his direction.

As I passed close by the water fountain I tripped on the concrete step at its base.

Instantly I was on my back with a bloody knee. One glance at my wrist was my last. I almost threw up from the sight. There was no alignment. If it weren’t encased in skin, my hand would have come clean off.

I calmly asked Katherine to call 911. Unfortunately , she fancied herself a medic of sorts, having 20 years ago had some minor job in an ambulance, and instead sent an onlooker to a nearby house for a towel and ice.

Oh, that would not do. I wanted a man in a uniform with a syringe full of morphine, please.

Meanwhile the boys track team from the high school showed up. I was immobile on my back, afraid to move and jostle my wrist, so they had to bend over me to show me their faces.

You know from my previous posts what a small town I live in. I knew all of these children. Several were graduates of my journalism program, two were brothers of my kids’ friends, and one was the son of my Jazzercise instructor.

The Jazzer-son was working toward Eagle Scoutdom. He took charge by asking me questions.

“Are you in pain?”

“Yes, but it’s not as bad as your mama’s morning class.”

“Are you beginning to feel chills?”

“Yes, they’re multiplying. And I’m losing control.” He didn’t get it.

At this point, I was unbearably cold. My body began an involuntary trembling, and I was desperately trying to keep my arm still. I was going into shock for sure.

The Boy Scout was getting nervous. “Are you shocking?!”

“Well, I was pregnant when I got married,” I said through my teeth, which at that point were violently chattering.

My husband showed up then, and called me an ambulance.

I don’t know who was more relieved to see him, me or the poor boy I wasn’t cooperating with.

click here for photo

The paging story

September 23, 2013

This is a story I could not tell you in person, because the memory of it sends me into fits of laughter. I’m sure it will not come across as as funny as it was to me at the time, so I’ve put off including it.

It’s time.

One night my husband had gone to the supermarket for something or other. We mostly didn’t shop at the supermarket. We went to the groovy bulk organic hippie store on the corner. But now and then we needed something like Tylenol or Oreos, and it was off to King Soopers.

So my husband was gone to get a thing and Jer and I were at home talking about how it’s been 20 years since we had Tang.

Suddenly we had to have some Tang.

This was before cell phones, and we were thinking it was tragic we didn’t have this thought 10 minutes earlier.

Then we thought, hey, they have phones at King Soopers. Let’s call him there. They can page him.

This struck us as both brilliant and hilarious. We imagined his face when we told him we paged him because we wanted Tang.

While we waited for him to respond to the page, it occurred to us that it would be even funnier if we said we just called to say hi.

So we scrapped the Tang request and went with our new plan.

He didn’t even laugh a little.

The magic trick story

September 3, 2013

I hate a magic show.

To me, it’s like someone coming up and saying, ‘I know something you don’t know, and I’m gonna make you want to know it, and then never tell you.’

The only tricks I’ve enjoyed are the ones my son did when he was a small boy. I liked those, because I knew how they worked.

But his magicianship came to an abrupt halt after one bad experience.

We had flown to Colorado for a friend’s wedding. The groom bought my son a $35 trick coin.

One side of the fifty-cent piece popped off, revealing a centavo.

The trick was to show the two pieces and make as if you were putting them both in someone’s hand, but really you snap them back together and give them the trick coin and a quarter, which was hidden underneath. When you ask them to close their eyes and hand you the centavo, they find there isn’t one. See a video here

My son improved on this by planting a real centavo on a dupe. This way he could add a little surprise at the end, pretending the coin jumped into the watcher’s pocket.

He practiced his routine in Colorado, and was ready to try it out on the airplane coming home.

It was perfect. The flight attendant leaned across him to give my daughter a ginger ale, and he slipped a centavo in her apron pocket.

He waited until she came by later to attempt the trick. She didn’t have time for it.

Several times he tried to get a moment with her, but she was too busy.

She started getting short with him. He realized he had become an irritation and abandoned the effort, but he wanted his centavo back.

I persuaded him to consider the coin a loss, and promised we’d round up another one when we got home.

That’s when he realized he had put the trick coin in the flight attendant’s apron.

At that point, though, she was aggressively avoiding him, and he had to hail the flight attendant in the front section for help.

She called to our lady while standing next to our row. Now our lady was downright snippy. “I told him I don’t have time!”

“He dropped a coin in your apron for a magic trick,” she hollered the length of the aisle.

So much for trying it on a passenger.

And so much for the $35 fifty-cent piece. He got it back, only to accidently spend it within a week.

And I say,

August 28, 2013

When I was 5 I had a plastic phonograph in my room. I would carry in my mom’s stack of albums, push the stubby black spindle through the Apple sticker on Magical Mystery Tour and sit back, eyes closed, to enjoy Baby, You’re a Rich Man and Fool on a Hill.

My mother, who attended a Beatles’ concert in the 1960s, also has a thick piano book called ‘The Compleat Beatles.’ Thanksgivings of my childhood meant Uncle Rob and Chauncey standing behind her with their guitars while her fingers scooted around the keyboard.

Uncles Monty and Hot Shot and all the wives would be gathered around singing. We would shout requests until 3 in the morning. Nobody made me to go to bed and miss all the fun.

I know Uncle Hot Shot’s favorite is Run for Your Life, Monty’s is Martha My Dear, and  Mom hates to play Maxwell’s Silver Hammer.

I know all the words in that thick book.

Someone always wants to sing Here Comes the Sun.

Now we’re getting to the point of this post.

This is a beautiful song.

But I can’t stand it.

I would never say the sun was coming up. I don’t say the sun rose or set or went behind the mountains.

The sun is holding still.

I always say we’re turning away from or toward the sun.

I try to sing along, but I sound silly singing “Our part of the Earth is turning toward the sun, little darling.”

It’s not all right.

The banjo story

August 27, 2013

I was at a seminar last night for a cover story I’m writing for the paper.

The speaker said, “You know what they say about Davy Crockett’s hatchet.” It’s that easy to make me feel dumb. Presume I know something I don’t know.

I’m a history nut, and fancy myself a Crockett knower. I stood in the Alamo. I didn’t know he had a hatchet.

What they say is, “At some point the next owner had to replace the handle, then he had to replace the blade. Is it still Davy Crockett’s hatchet?”

This seems like a useful reference. My biological father’s banjo came to mind.

When I last visited him, he told me this story.

He came across a banjo that had been built and owned by some bluegrass legend whose name I would have been impressed with, if I were a bluegrass knower.

The instrument was beautiful. It had great sound. He had to have it.

He put a deposit and saved and finally bought the banjo.

He also ordered some special wood for the rim. There’s a sunken boat at the bottom of one of the Great Lakes. The kind of wood and its 100 years of submersion have given it a magical quality when used as a rim in a banjo. If I understand correctly, banjo owners can commission a guy with a scuba tank to go get some. I doubt I understand correctly.

He also replaced the strings and knobs.

Now, you know what they say about getting new carpet (anybody feel dumb?) — you realize you need new curtains and paint.

Next came a new tension hoop, flange and head.

The end of his story was, “I don’t think it still has any of the parts I had originally saved so eagerly for.”

If the seminar guy had said, “You know what they say about Jan Threlkeld’s banjo,” I wouldn’t have felt dumb.

The carpet tack story

August 26, 2013

I’m terrified of carpet tack, which I once lost a fight with, and which is now exposed around the perimeter of my living room.

Our new house, which we’ve lived in a little more than a year, is tacky and gross. The elderly women who sold it to us probably considered it chic, but its day has passed.

The window dressings and wallpaper make the biggest early-’60s statement, but the carpet may be the oldest thing in the house.

For the first month we lived here my son said, “It smells like old people.”

Like teenage boys smell good.

In fall I brought a kitten home from the grocery store for my son. It peed in the living room. Fine, cut that corner of the carpet out.

In June my daughter chose a kitten from the pound for her birthday. By the beginning of August our living room carpet was half missing. Not half all together, mind — half cumulatively.

Before my birthday party I made the kids pull it up from the whole room. There’s a nice wood floor under there. And tack strip.

Here’s why I’m terrified of it.

I was running late for work at the ’50s restaurant shortly after I had flooded my parents’ house. Tack strip lined the threshold between the living room and the enclosed porch I had stashed my uniform in.

As I ran by, I sliced open the bottom of my right foot, long and clean.

My grandmother took me to the emergency room. There was a lot of waiting. We played Scrabble together, but then I was alone with my thoughts after they led me into the exam room.

This is when I began to consider what would happen when I finally saw a doctor. He was going to want to stitch me with a needle.

Oh nuh-uh.

I tried to leave.

First my grama, then the doctor caught me before I made it past the desk.

I argued. “I changed my mind. I’m fine. It’s so silly. I don’t know why I came. I’m sure I overreacted.”

They probably thought I was in shock. “As long as you’re here, let’s have a look.”

More arguing. I lost that fight too.

“I need to stitch this.” Knew it.

“No, thank you.”

“No, really. You’ve sliced it clean open. Everytime you step, even if you tiptoe, you’ll re-open it as it tries to heal.”

“That’s OK.” I grabbed my purse. “I have to go to work now. I won’t step on it.”

“What do you do?” I was a hula-hooping dancing waitress. I had to wear saddle shoes. He didn’t think much of my good sense.

In the end, I was 19, and he could not make me get stitches. I stayed off my foot as much as possible, and it healed fine and quickly.

It didn’t even scar me, unless you count my fear of tack strip.

The playland tubes story

August 25, 2013

I recently heard tell that the ball pits that were popular when my kids were babies have been removed from all fast-food playlands.

I once sneaked into one as an adult — they didn’t have stuff like that when I was a kid — and regretted it. I took a flying leap into the pit. The balls are hard. It hurt everywhere.

Being a California native in Boulder, Colo., I struggled with preschoolers and snowy days. I used to call my friend Katherine up, and we would drive to Broomfield for a field trip. There was a McDonald’s there with the biggest Play Place I ever heard of.

It was indoors, but the walls were all clear plastic, so you could see all five stories of colorful crawl paths from the freeway. I wouldn’t be surprised to hear the tubing structure had its own ZIP code.

I was such a rude costumer, I would feed the kids at home, and then just take them to play. I knew it was wrong, but it was 10 degrees below freezing and I felt wronged by the world. I spent winters feeling indignant.

The structure was intimidating, both in size and population. My son was pretty shy about it. He lingered around the little-people area, popping peek-a-boo through cut outs in padded plastic, or throwing the little balls that escaped the pit of pain.

One afternoon when I was almost nine-months pregnant with my daughter, he braved up and went into the maze of tubes.

For reasons passing understanding, he waited until he was in the center of the topmost tube path to decide he was frightened.

He called to me through the windows of his tube. I called back, “Crawl out!”

He could neither figure out how to turn around, back out the four miles he had traversed nor understand that going forward meant a short downhill path to freedom.

I had no choice. I crawled in to get him.

Picture an eight and a half-month pregnant woman in several layers of thermals and wool sweaters wriggling through a habitrail lined with dry, gummy ketchup.

The McEmployees were not pleased.

They scolded me, “The Play Place tube maze is for children only.” I supposed it was for customers only, too, but didn’t mention that.

Since then I’ve seen many things, such as the Internet, and learned that those playlands were said to be chock full o’ dirty diapers, vomit and used hypodermic needles. I read terrible tales of children getting trapped and killed in the depths of the ball pits.

The moral here is plain: never live where it gets cold.

A cell-phone beating

August 13, 2013

I ended my post the other day saying I wanted to beat Michael with my cell phone.

The trio on my talk radio station told a story about a kindergarten teacher who beat a child with her cell phone. Let me tell you, after my year of subbing, I am less sympathetic to this child than probably you are.

The talk jockeys invited people to come up with a punch line to the story for tickets to Universal Studios. All of the callers’ entries were dumb.

I couldn’t get through, but I tried.

My entry would have been: She totally misunderstood the function of the pound key.

A restaurant review

July 28, 2013

Every summer I gotta go to Big Bear. It’s a couple hours away from me, but I will get up and drive there to eat bacon-and-cheese waffles for breakfast at The Teddy Bear Restaurant, or to roam The Village for jewelry and boots.

I discovered this place when my husband had a three-day conference there on my birthday years ago. I tagged along, intending to stay in the hotel, as I always do when he has a conference. I spend his conferences in the tub with a book.

We stayed at the Northwoods Resort, which borders The Village. I wandered out looking for breakfast and found a row of small businesses that could have been planned for me as a birthday surprise.

First there was a bath shop. I bought bath oils, bath beads, soaps and lotions. These are my favorite things — right up there with chocolate and books.

Then I looked down the street and saw several coffeehouses and chocolatiers. There were three bookstores, too. I may have cried.

After a quick morning buying myself gifts, I climbed into my oiled bath with a novel and some tri-tip. An hour later I was by the fire with red wine and chocolate-dipped things like strawberries and pretzels. It was one of the best birthdays I’ve ever had.

My husband returned to find a wife with a totally balanced chi.

My husband had this conference every August for a few years, but last year there was nothing. It was gone, and it wasn’t coming back. We went up on our own twice. I just needed to smell the place.

Today I couldn’t stand it. I’ve been missing that town so much I can’t concentrate, so at 1 p.m. I put the kids in the car and went.

About 4 o’clock we walked past a small, tucked-back door that said “Pizzeria.” I was Book-and-Bean bound, and didn’t give a fig about the pizzeria, but I noted that I didn’t remember seeing it there before.

Then around 5 the kids got hungry. They said they had a craving for pizza. I was surprised by this, because we almost never eat it. More surprising, they were both in the mood for the same thing.

I’ve been experimenting with some new recipes. Last night we had pita, stuffed with vegetables, chicken and cantalope and topped with a tarragon mayonnaise. I guess I understand why they were in accord.

So I pointed them toward the doorway I’d noticed. It was Saucy Mama’s Pizza. We walked past some umbrellaed tables in the narrow space between two buildings, and entered the place, which was mostly behind an ice-cream and fudge parlor.

It had a great atmosphere. I love a pizzeria with red-checkered tablecloths. A guy was tossing a big circle of dough in the air. We chose the table with tall stools.

My daughter ordered a vegetable calzone, and my son and I split a Hawaiian Delight pizza, which had Canadian bacon, pineapple and regular bacon chunks on it.

I have rambled on all this time to get to this sentence: This was the best pizza I have ever eaten in my life.

We packed up half the calzone and two slices of pizza for Daddy. My son and I almost wept, denying ourselves those last two slices.

Back at home, we presented the food to my husband like begging dogs at his feet.

He shook his head at us, “I can’t believe it’s as good as you guys are saying. It’s just pizza. You three have built it up so much, there’s no food can live up to your description.”

He bent over his plate and took a bite. Then he looked up, met my eyes, and nodded.

“Oh my God.”

The kids and I started cheering and hugging. We were crazed with the greatness of this food.

Then the dam broke, and my husband would not shut up. “The crust is sublime. These people must be from New York. This sauce is fantastic….”

So there it is, my first post as an amateur food critic. Get on a plane, wherever you are, and fly here so you can eat at Saucy Mama’s Pizza.

If you want my family to sit at your feet and watch you take your first bite, we’ll be happy to make the drive up the mountain.

The bikini story

July 22, 2013

According to my friend’s car, it was 111 degrees here at 6 p.m. We’re having a hot spell.

Early today I took my to-do list out and crossed off everything I couldn’t carry out to the pool to accomplish.

Wearing clothing was asking too much. In fact, I’ve been in nothing but my bikini for three days.

Luckily, I have not needed to go to the post office.

I went into public in my bikini once 17 years ago. It did not go well.

When we lived in Boulder I cross-country skied almost every day. I would schedule my fall and spring classes with a gap between, so I could scoot up to Eldora between courses and run a couple of trails. I was totally isolated up there. It was glorious.

By March the trails were sunny. Even in winter I was warm when I skied, because I was working my arms and legs so much. With actual warmth, I was roasting.

One afternoon all my girlfriends were going to the park to study and tan. I hate to be out-tanned, but couldn’t not ski.

I had a great idea. I would ski in my bathing suit and get a pretty bronze tan on the mountain.

I was shy getting out of my car and trudging out to the track, shouldering my skis in nothing but a bikini and Nordic boots, but as always, there wasn’t another person anywhere.

After a short trek into the trees I forgot about being self conscious and enjoyed the cool on my skin. I was usually all sweaty.

Then things got ugly.

I was halfway down an expert slope — Gandy Dancer, I’ll never forget — and I fell. Skiing on snow in a bikini is a totally different thing from sitting on the snow in a bikini.

I couldn’t get up.

Everytime I tried to stand, my skis slid out from under me. Four times I ended up all the way on the side of the trail, and had to scoot backward into the middle to try again.

Wait. I left something out. As soon as I fell, lots of people started going by.

I have no idea where they came from. It was an endless stream of skiers, gliding down Gandy Dancer about five at a time. This throng of witnesses comprised people of all ages. That was the worst part, hearing children ask Daddy why that woman was sitting mid-hill in a bikini.

I got looks that said, ‘Well you’re bizarre.’

After a humiliating several minutes of failure, my butt was suffering. I tried to balance my cheeks on the skis because the snow was beginning to sting. I gave up, pressed my feet as close together as possible, sat on my heels and paddled myself right through two upright families to the foot of the slope.

Guess who was there, and on the rest of the trail. Nobody.

Mermaids bother me

July 19, 2013

I can’t figure out why mermaids have breasts.

Their reproductive half is not mammalian.

This means they lay eggs and swim away. The babies never know them. There is no nursing.

So what are the knockers for?

The three-little-words story

July 11, 2013

A month after I met my husband I flew out to spend Easter weekend with him in Colorado. I ended up calling my professors and declaring illness. I stayed a week, adding a day at a time.

The only one who seemed to care was a photographer assigned to an untimely story I hadn’t written yet.

Late one night we had put on Joni Mitchell’s Court and Spark, opened a bottle of wine and were slow dancing by candlelight. My boyfriend said something that I was 80 percent certain was “I’m in love with you.”

It was muffled by my hair.

Though we had said things like, “You’re the one;” “I’m done looking;” and “I’ve never felt like this before,” the word “love” was as yet unuttered.

I was in a fix. What if he had said something else, like, “I’ve an oven flue,” and I said, “I love you, too”?

I would sound dumb.

I didn’t want to sound dumb, so I said, “Huh?”

“I wanna live with you,” he repeated.

Ah! Good thing I asked.

“Yeah, no.”

Things need to be said in the right order.

(For anybody getting ready to disapprove, we did not live together before we were married in 1992.

. . . When I discovered I was pregnant.)

The trip to the emergency room story

June 29, 2013

My Oldest Friend’s baby took a random toddler spill and ended up in the E.R. with a broken nose and battered mug. Today there is also a gruesome black eye.

Mr. Oldest Friend is across the country on a business trip.

I feel for her, balancing an injured baby on one knee and keeping her preschooler from feeling ignored on the other; and for Mr., seeing ghastly photos of his little girl on the monitor — unable to be there offering strength, comfort and protection.

I’m an hour away from her, and I feel helpless, so I’ll bet he’s crazy with it.

Being a parent is much more painful than being a kid in pain, I say.

Here’s how I know.

One afternoon we bought a steam cleaner. That year we had adopted a puppy.

My 8-year-old son saw an opportunity in the empty box, which, as it happens, slid beautifully over the carpeted steps.

And which, he discovered with delight, he fit inside.

He went up to the landing halfway between the third floor and second, climbed into the box with his bed pillow and rode belly down and feet first to the bottom.

When the box hit the landing, the top swung over. The back of my son’s head hit the hardwood floor with a sound like when you drop a watermelon.

He lay there, noisily. 

I had been making chocolates when I heard the launch. I ran to him, but didn’t know what to do. He wouldn’t lift his head. I’m not good in a crisis, it turns out.

I called my husband, who was shooting pool in Uncle Mike’s garage.

I told him our son went down the stairs in the steam-cleaner box. My husband laughed. “That’s hilarious!” he said. I was in no emotional state for his not getting it. He proceeded to say the wrong thing: He told me to calm down.

Then he said something productive: Check his eyes to see if the pupils are the same size. They were.

“Let me talk to him.” I handed the phone to my son on the floor. He had calmed, and wanted to hear about Mike’s new pool table.

He’ll be fine, my husband said. He’s just stunned.

After lying there a while my boy got up and started moving around the house. He ate a few chocolates, but he wasn’t right.

At 6:30 p.m. he lay on the couch and said his vision was blurry.

That was it. We were off to the emergency room.

My husband met me in that little room where they check blood pressure, weight and temperature. My son got off the examining table, puked my chocolates into the sink, and lay back down. He went promptly to sleep. We couldn’t wake him.

A doctor was summoned. He said something about checking for bleeding on the brain and used the word ‘fatal.’ We were off to a CAT scan.

It was much ado about nothing. My husband was right. After about 15 hours of sleep the blurry vision was gone and so were the rest of the chocolates.

I wasn’t so quick to recover.

Thinking of my girlfriend sitting in the emergency room from 10 p.m. to 2 a.m. brings it all back.

So I write this in empathy for her, so she knows I know that sometimes, you just gotta hang your head and cry.

The palm tree story

June 25, 2013

My husband loves to torment me by saying a palm tree is not a tree.

I am a native Southern Californian. We’re sentimental about our palm trees.

He is a native New Yorker, and a biology teacher.

“They’re not trees. They have no cambium and no bark.” He calls them palms.

I say, “That’s the dumbest thing I’ve ever heard.”

This has gone on for years.

I roll my eyes at him vigorously, but I do respect the man and his knowledge. Secretly I used to figure he knew what he was talking about.

One night when I was a copy editor, I got a story that referred to a palm tree. It pained me, but I struck the word ‘tree.’

The editor next to me looked at my screen. “Why did you do that?”

“Palms aren’t trees. Morphologically, they’re more like grass,” I regurgitated.

“That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard,” he said. I didn’t know how I felt about that.

He pulled out an encyclopedia. Under ‘palm’ it said ‘tree.’

I went home ready to crack my husband’s ass the other way.

Because I considered him an authority, I embarrassed myself in front of my colleagues. (More accurately, I was angry at myself for not looking it up before changing the story.)

Tonight at dinner he started in again. Our new place has about 30 palm trees in the yard. We were eating under the wisteria arbor, and he pointed one out to say a thing. I forgot what.

Then he said, “Of course, it’s not a tree.”

This makes me crazy. I said mad things at him.

As I stormed into the house I heard him say, “Wind her up, and watch her go.”

Daddyisms

June 21, 2013

In honor of Fathers Day I offer you the benefit of my dad’s words:

  • It’s not cold; you’re cold.
  • Turn it down. (He now has a surround sound system I can hear at my house with my own TV on.) (I’m exaggerating.)
  • Speeding isn’t as big a deal as not being the fastest one on the freeway.
  • Don’t breathe when you swallow. (He offers this when people are choking. He’s helpful.)
  • and my favorite, You can’t order what I’m ordering. If we were all going to eat the same thing we could have stayed home, (because identical meals prepare themselves…).

These, of course, are in addition to the classics. I apparently spent my childhood trying to air condition the entire neighborhood.

And yes, I have heard each of these from my own mouth since I became a parent.

The kayak story

June 17, 2013

There’s a house in my neighborhood with a kayak on the front lawn. According to the sign, someone’s asking $400 for it.

This reminds me of a story that ends with me getting in a lot of trouble.

I moved in with my husband immediately after the wedding. It wasn’t great. He had refused to ask his friends who rented rooms in his house to move out.

One of the guys was particularly unaccommodating. He insisted I park around the corner so the guys could use the driveway. He told me I wasn’t welcome to use the grocery bags with the handles on them.

One day a kayak showed up on the front lawn. The place was disgraceful enough, what with the couch and broken stove on the porch. I took a stand against the kayak.

Unaccommodating Guy said he was keeping it for a friend, and there it would stay.

A couple of weeks later I was playing poker, and a guy I had never met commented that he really needed to win, because he was saving up for a kayak.

How fortuitous.

I shared that there was one for the stealing on my front lawn, and I implored him not to let this opportunity pass him by.

Two days later Unaccommodating Guy ran in the front door and dialed the police. This made me extremely uncomfortable. I hadn’t thought of that.

Then my husband ran in looking distressed. “Someone stole the kayak!”

It flashed through my mind to try to look surprised, but I’m no kind of skilled liar. I’m too afraid of getting caught. “I invited a guy to steal it.”

It got quiet. All eyes were on me.

I acted brave and sure, “It’s my house. No tenants have the right to use it to store other people’s things against my say so. Show me more respect next time.”

The police showed up and made a report. Our homeowners insurance replaced the guy’s kayak.

I’m a different woman now, and there’s a lot I would do differently if I could go back to that part of my life.

But not this.

How I ended up in journalism

June 14, 2013

I promised to tell you about how I threw over The Hot Guy for The Smart Guy. I have to get to it, because on July 26 I have a story about us, and you should have been introduced to him by then.

Let’s recap what we have so far of my post-high school adventures: I worked as a hula-hooping singer at a ’50s place until a former customer saw me in public and offered me a job at a college where a Hot Guy came in asking for paperwork for a semester in Mexico, which I had never heard of but said I was doing, too.

So there I was, living in Mexico based on the lie that I could speak Spanish. I lived with a family there. I was a student at the Universidad de Guanajuato.

Every morning we rode an open-air bus over the cobbled streets to the university. All of us Californians got picked up along the same route.

There was a panaderia next to the school, where several of us would buy bolillos fresh out of the oven. I remember standing in that bakery in the overcast of the mornings, breaking my bolillo in half so I could shove my face into the steam and aroma.

In Mexico, papaya juice is their orange juice. They use what’s labeled here as sweet butter — there’s no salt in it. And when you order cheese on something, you get a white, crumbly goat cheese. I didn’t like any of these things, but I liked bolillos.

From the panaderia we tackled the stairs to our classrooms. I counted them once, and wish I had written down the number. There were more than 100. First there were the wide steps to get into the building, which you can see a picture of in Photos O’ Mine. Then there was a series of short switchback stairs we took to the top tower, about six stories up.

It was on those switchbacks I lost my heart.

There was a guy with unruly hair and tragically matched clothing who went up ahead of me. I always made sure I was behind him, so I could smell his cologne. I go weak in the knees for Polo. The Hot Guy smelled like cigarettes.

By the time we were loaded on a bus for a weekend in Guadalajara, I had completely lost interest in The Hot Guy. I made a point of sitting by the guy from the stairs for the six-hour ride.

He was wearing green denim pants and a turquoise sweater vest.

He had a gentle voice and kind manners. He told me interesting things and laughed at my stories. When we ran out of conversation I read aloud to him from my Katherine Stone novel. We got so engrossed in the story, that when all the kids went out dancing that night, we stayed back to finish the book.

This smart guy had become much hotter than The Hot Guy.

I loved being around him. By the time we were back in Guanajuato we were together all the time. We knew each other’s favorite things.

He had been a writer for his school’s newspaper. “Me too!” I said, which was true insofar as two of my St. Patrick’s Day entries won the limerick contest and were published.

As the summer grew short, I got worried. He had been accepted to Stanford, and would be moving there from Laguna Niguel a month after we returned. That was far from me. I began to send him telepathic messages to ask me to go with him. Ultimately he learned my hope when we wrote entries in each other’s diaries. He asked.

Back in the States he showed me the newspapers he had been a part of. I was inspired. When I enrolled for the fall semester, I joined the staff.

This story picks back up with The Earthquake story. After that quake, The Smart Guy, along with many others, suffered from depression. He cut me loose out of guilt for bringing me down, which broke my heart.

Then in spring I was sent to Hawaii….

The Smart Guy is now running Yahoo!

Click here for photo

Words of wisdom

June 13, 2013

Tessa says, “A mother is only as happy as her saddest child.”

The yelling story

June 12, 2013

Happy happy birthday to my favorite girl in the world, my beautiful wonderful daughter.

This is my favorite story about her, because it shows how very cool she is and always has been.

We moved to California when she 2 and a half. My husband became a stay-at-home dad and I left to work two jobs.  

Something happened one night. I don’t know what. I wasn’t home.

My husband apparently lost his temper at The Baby. He said he just blew his top and yelled himself out at her. She had never been yelled at before.

She stood there unblinking, looking up at him throughout his tirade. 

When he stopped, she put her index finger against her lips and went, “Ssshhhh.”

She had him trained in no time.

The sign from God story

June 11, 2013

For many years I was on the board of a local art show.

At one meeting we were trying to figure out what to do about a troublesome artist. Our ombudsman was getting complaints from other artists that she was harrassing them. They said her gossip was unwelcome, and that she wouldn’t stop calling them to organize a mob of discontent.

As we discussed this artist, it came up that she was imposingly religious.

It’s touchy talking about someone who’s always making with the ‘Praise the Lord’ and ‘God’s blessings on you.’ We were trying to show respect for one another’s varying piety. We each gave a disclaimer before commenting on her ways.

We were beginning to conclude we would have to kick her out of the art festival, which we had no precedent for. We were all founding members, and hadn’t foreseen the need to oust an artist when we wrote the bylaws.

We wanted to protect her dignity and the complainers’ privacy. It was a delicate and uncomfortable night as we tried to sort it all out in our treasurer’s living room. The whole matter was just a mess.

Finally Terrie, who had disclaimed earlier that she’s not religious but has no problem with people who are, shook her hands heavenward and said, “God, help us. What do we do?”

We started to chuckle at her joke, but the lights immediately began to dim. In about four seconds they were off. Two seconds later they snapped back on, at full brightness.

Five of us grabbed our purses as someone called, “Meeting adjourned.” We abandoned our treasurer without looking back.

Our treasurer discovered it was some wiring misfire. Nonetheless, we never discussed religion at a meeting again.

The tornado story

June 10, 2013

Five tornados touched down in Colorado the other day. This reminds me of two months before we left Boulder, when a tornado was a block from my house.

I was home alone with the kids, who were 2 and 4.

There were siren horns in every neighborhood, and of late they had been testing them, in anticipation of the 100-year flood. In an actual flood, the sirens would sound continuously, alerting us to get as high as we could, (which in Boulder meant different things to different people.)

Suddenly the sky went dark. I was folding laundry in the living room, which had a whole wall of windows and had been awash in natural light. Within a moment I could see only the flickering of The Magic School Bus.

Then the sirens sounded — continuously. I called the newsroom to find out what was going on, and learned a funnel cloud looked about to touch down around 30th and Iris. That’s where my house was.

I was told to get under my house. Fine system they have, I thought, where the same siren either means to get on or under your house.

I called my husband and unfairly begged him to come home. He was in the middle of getting a sixth-grade science class into the hallway in the center of the school.

I sent my kids into the area that was too deep to call a crawlspace and too shallow to call a basement. They took the cordless phone and a flashlight while I scurried to gather supplies. I tried to pretend this was a fun adventure. I showed up in one minute with kid chairs, shoes, books, snacks and the potty.

I read to them by flashlight, but could barely contain my fear. It was so totally dark, and the sirens were so loud.

After a half an hour of books I shone the light around. I had never been under there before. There was a lot of space. We had dining chairs stacked that I had forgotten about, and some old baby furniture.

My son said, “Want to see where Daddy and I fixed the pipes for the bathtub?”

“I do,” I said as I offered him the flashlight.

“I don’t need that.” He walked past me and flipped the light switch.

For Pete’s sake, I should have put him in charge in the first place.


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