Archive for December, 2012

The hamster story

December 31, 2012

I don’t go out on New Year’s Eve. I’m afraid of drunk drivers.

I like to work a jigsaw puzzle and watch the Twilight Zone marathon.

One year my husband was in Los Angeles at a Grandaddy concert, and the kids and I were in the family room, on the third floor of our house, working a jigsaw and watching the Twilight Zone.

I heard a crash from the second floor.

My son had gotten three hamsters for Christmas, which, added to our cats and dogs, completed our personal food chain.

We found an upturned cage, and among the three of us were able to capture Brave Sir Robin and Sir Lancelot. This was no small feat. Those dudes can scurry.

An hour later we found the third. He was on the first floor at the bottom of the stairs in a dog’s mouth.

He was wet, and his front leg was broken, pointing the wrong way.

It was 8 p.m.

The nearest animal hospital that treats hamsters is an hour’s drive. I don’t see well in the dark, so I avoid driving at night, but I was trapped.

When we got there, the veterinarian Googled ‘hamsters broken bones,’ split a piece of McDonald’s straw lengthwise and fashioned a splint, and sent us to a drug store for baby Tylenol. I paid $60 for this assistance.

At 11 p.m. we were homeward bound. I was in a state of panic. I couldn’t focus on the traffic. I had my children in the car. I couldn’t shake the image of that leg jutting out an angle. I was on the freeway on New Year’s Eve.

During this time, King Arthur chewed the straw off.

We got home at 11:56 p.m. The leg was sticking out again. He wouldn’t take the Tylenol.

Within a week he was fine.

Knocking on sunshine

December 30, 2012

I’m not a fan of the knock-knock joke.

The first half is a pointless script. It’s a ritual. Don’t waste my time.

If there were some method by which you could say the third line and see if the other party could guess what you meant to add to it to make it funny, that would would be a better joke. I’m in.

But today on my morning radio program a guy called with one and cracked me right up.

Then I was driving home listening to old episodes of Barney Miller on my car’s back seat DVD player, and Nick spent the whole show trying to get someone to say ‘Who’s there?’, which I thought was funny, and which reminded me about the morning joke.

So I walked in the door and said to my husband, ‘Knock Knock.’

He said, as you know, because it’s the pointless ritual, ‘Who’s there?’

“Smell mop.”

He responded and I waited. He cracked up.

My son came in. I told it again. He called in my daughter. I told it again.

We were all cracking up in the kitchen.

In the middle of dinner I couldn’t stand it. I called Mom.

She said hello I said knock knock.

The family was laughing. She was laughing.

I had just spent two hours in the driving rain and stifled traffic, but there was sunshine in my home.

I love me a knock-knock joke.

Naming babies is dangerous

December 29, 2012

As you may remember, I was born with a terrible name that inspired comments from adults and teasing from the mean little people at my elementary school before I changed it.

No, I will not tell you what it was. It’s too heinous.

After yesterday’s post, I replied to Fred‘s comment asking what name he had planned if he had had a girl: Alice St. Eve. Beautiful.

And happily, it reminded me of a story.

One of my many aunts was set to deliver long enough into my childhood to be wary of names that fueled mean little elementary-school people. (Likely my troubles weren’t on her mind at all, but this is my blog and I can’t pass up the opportunity to make everything about me.)

She was having a girl. On arrival, my aunt announced she had found a name that was lovely and tease-free: Summer Eve.

Guess what product was introduced on store shelves a week later.

Naming the baby

December 28, 2012

My grampa and I were close. He did little things all the time to show me he loved me.

For instance, whenever he knew I would be stopping by the house, he went up to A&W and got me a vanilla shake. I only like chocolate shakes, but I so loved that he did this for me that I never told him.

He used to say all the time, “There’s nothing I wouldn’t do for you.”

My first baby was due on Dec. 20, and Grampa had brought my family to Colorado to be with me. They got there Dec. 13, just in case.

By the 23rd I was jumping in the snow, trying to hurry things along.

Grampa came out with a cup of coffee and sat down to watch me. “What will his middle name be?”

“It’ll be my husband’s name, unless he’s born on the 28th. If he’s born on your birthday, Grampa, I’ll believe fate wants him to have your name.”

Grampa made me stop jumping. “Hold that kid in five more days!”

My son was born the next day.

While I was in the bed, my husband filled out paperwork.

“I named him after Grampa anyway,” he announced. That baby-naming maverick.

But the truth was, I was happy he wanted to make Grampa happy.

I would do anything for him, too.

Lyrical confusion

December 27, 2012

When I was a teen-ager I used to stay at my grandparents’ a lot. One night Nana and I were in the kitchen, and I had one of my Beatles cassettes in her ghetto blaster.

I was singing along to Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds. “…A girl with kaleidoscope eyes. Aaaaahh.”

“Did they just say what I think they said?”

“Probably.”

“What strange lyrics,” Nana said. “People will write songs about anything.”

This was some 25 years ago. Recently we were listening to the song again and she said, “This is that strange song about the girl with colitis.”

Her memory is better than her hearing.

Boyfriends in bands

December 26, 2012

I already told you an ex-boyfriend of mine was a part of Green Day. This post is about a different boyfriend and a different band.

The first love of my life was a blond dreamboat named David Lowy. Everybody mispronounced his last name as Lowery.

He was working in the student store the summer I took biology, and I don’t remember a thing about that class except watching the clock, waiting for my flirt break.

The eye batting worked, and before you could say ‘osmosis’ I had my very first boyfriend. I caught him right before my 16th birthday, and would have kept him forever, I think, if he hadn’t been my first.

A couple months into my junior year I got greedy. I was wanting to sample more of the selections at the buffet. In fact, I thought if I didn’t kiss the boy who sat behind me in history class I would just burst.

Almost 10 years later I was living in Boulder watching Letterman, and he introduced a band from my hometown — where everybody knows everybody. I squinted at the set, which we had salvaged from an alley where someone was throwing it out.

The front man looked like David! I didn’t know he was a singer. Then again, he used to croon Sinatra with my mother in the kitchen while she was cooking.

When they finished, Letterman introduced the members, starting with the front man — David Lowy. Bonus bragging rights for me. I ran out and bought the Cracker cassette, Kerosene Hat.

Another 10 years went by and I was back in my hometown. Scotchie, who I just really want to be as cool as, was telling me one of his favorite bands is Cracker.

Rockin’ good. I did some name dropping and got major cool points with Scotchie. I e-mailed him a picture of David me in 1985. I asked him if he wanted my autograph.

About two years ago I got a birthday e-mail from David, who had found me on Classmates.com.

Know what? The Cracker guy is David Lowery.

Finding Christmas

December 25, 2012

A few Christmases ago I announced there would be no gift giving.

My children’s perspective on the holiday was awry.

They had become shallow and greedy. Christmas turned them into brats.

My son said, “But you’re taking away the best part.”

I raised a brow and he added, ” — the giving!”

Too bad. We were going to have a real holiday with a fire, caroling, charades and togetherness, and we were going to appreciate it with a good attitude, damn it.

This is when I discovered I truly am the boss. Everyone said OK.

I planned a Dec. 23 evening of caroling at hospitals, followed by egg nog and baked goods back at home. I invited the friends and neighbors of my parents, my kids and myself. It was glorious.

Christmas Eve I put on a turducken feast with the whole family — cousins, aunts, uncles, grandparents. There were hugs and games. Norman Rockwell had nothing on me.

Christmas morning brought the crowning glory of the whole year though, and it was a surprise to the boss.

We were lingering over the dregs of breakfast, and my mother was fussing with the remaining bacon. She was trying to give it away. Then she wanted to consolidate it to the potatoes plate. It was becoming disruptive.

I got irritated. I asked her to leave it lie.

Finally she said, “Heck with it.” She scooped all the bacon off and flipped over the platter. There was something taped to the bottom of it.

We looked at it and frowned. We looked at her. She just sat there. We looked at one another.

My grama reached out and took it. It had a line of hand-written music notes. There were shrugs and more looking around.

My mother just sat there. Nana passed it on.

Halfway around the table it got to my kids. They looked at it and read aloud by humming Deck the Halls in unison. Musicians and show-offs the both of them.

My mother finally spoke. “I thought you would go to the piano and play it.”

She was disappointed? We were all excited, what’s to complain?

We all ran to the hall. There were boughs of holly decked there. Tucked inside one was a slip of paper. It had a four-word crossword puzzle drawn on it.

Nana solved it. The four words led us out to the patio fountain. We found another clue there and a small basket of wrapped treasures. The hunt was afoot.

The six of us ran from clue to clue, puzzling them out as a team. Sometimes there were treasures too.

One of the clues was a rhyme about pressing against light. When we put the clue against a light bulb, invisible ink came to the fore and revealed the next destination.

Each was challenging and clever. Each played to a different family member’s strength.

It was more fun than opening gifts, which we returned to the next year, because doing Christmas right was too much work.

My son’s birth

December 24, 2012

When I was seven months pregnant with my son, people not only thought I was ready to deliver, but that I likely carried twins.

By the time I was in my ninth month my size was downright unreasonable.

My bottom left rib hurt. My back ached all the time. The baby kept getting hiccups. I was a  miserable pregnant lady.

More than once I thought raising the child had to be the easy part.

A week before I was due I heard “Silent Night” sung in harmony from  my porch. My parents and grandparents were standing in the snow, announcing their arrival from California.

The due date felt like it would never come. Then it passed right by.

On the morning of the 23rd I had my regular appointment with my CNM  (a midwife with medical training who works out of a hospital.) The hospital was in Denver, an hour away. After a nap at home, I woke up to an invitation to lunch at The Harvest.

Oh boy! A carob shake was in my future.

Ooh. Cramp.

Throughout my shake having, I had periodic pains. This is the last thing I wanted to say out loud in front of my mother, so I sneaked looks at my watch and kept track of how far apart they were. I watched the little airplane second hand fly around the map of Southern California on my Swatch.

After a time my dad said, in a ridiculously loud voice, “How far apart are they?”

Imp. Observant imp.

For dinner my mom and grama made albondigas. There’s good eatin’ when Mom and Grama come by.

Come dinner the pains hadn’t grown much larger or closer. But toward the bottom of my bowl I had one great big pain that didn’t stop.

I ran to the downstairs bathroom. There was something yucky and shake-like in my future.

Dad was there. I ran upstairs to the bathroom. Mom was there. Halfway down the stairs I couldn’t go up or down. I sat and screamed. Mom came out.

My husband got me into the bathroom and called the midwife. She said to draw a bath, light some candles and have some wine. It was time to relax. It would be a while.

I tried. Couldn’t. I was still with the big pain that didn’t stop.

Mom was all a-dither. We went to the hospital.

As we entered I started in with ‘I want an epidural,’ (I say ‘started in’ as if I hadn’t been saying it for nine months already.) I said it to the people in the lobby, the guy in the elevator and some nun handing out booties she’d knitted.

I was told it was too early. Hours of badness passed. I kept saying it.

I threw up my albondigas.

Finally I hit the magic number of dilatedness and my midwife came. I told her I wanted an epidural. She said it was too late.

Hours of hell passed. At some point I escaped everybody and locked myself in the bathroom. There was a lot of door pounding. I sat in the Jacuzzi and ignored them. I hated my nurses. I hoped their dogs died.

When I came out I was in trouble and didn’t care.

My midwife told me to push. There was no urge, but I pushed. I kept pushing. I got in trouble for pushing when I wasn’t having a contraction.

There was a break between my contractions? I had only felt one long pain since dinner.

At 6 in the morning, because it was either pass that baby or die, my body let that baby out. He was purple and limp. Me too.

I sound heartless, but I didn’t listen for the cries, or notice the glances of the staff looking at a seemingly dead baby. I couldn’t tell it was over. I was still with the pain.

As they worked to get him breathing, I began to feel some relief. I later learned my son broke both the hospital’s record for head crown size and my pelvis.

Now we’re both fine, but can you imagine my panic when I learned I was pregnant with my daughter?

The woot bew story

December 23, 2012

My cousin Sterling and his bride Alison arrived today.

He’s turning 32 next month, but I still see him as a 4-year-old who hums the theme to Star Wars and can’t say the R sound.

Our grampa used to tease him. One afternoon Sterl wanted a root beer.

Grampa waxed confused, “Woot bew?”

Sterl was patient, “Not woot bew, Grampa, woot bew.”

Everyone tried not to laugh.

“I’ve never heard of that. What’s woot bew?”

Sterl got impatient, “Not woot bew, woot bew!”

“Honey? Do we something called woot bew?”

Tonight I asked Sterl if he remembered this. He remembers hearing about it. He’s still a little sore.

My husband said, “One day you’re going to do it to your kids.”

“I know,” Sterl said. “And that’s why.”

Pay it forward, baby. Ya gotta get revenge somewhere.

Whoops

December 22, 2012

My daughter and I went to the grocery store, and there a was an advertisement on the cart with a woman’s picture on it.

The woman had on a tragic hat, her head was painfully cocked and her eyes were opened unnaturally wide.

I don’t know what the ad was for, but it was distracting in its bizarreness. We almost walked into a rack of fruit.

My daughter said, “Do you imagine that woman saw this photo and approved it? Like, she had a choice, and said, ‘This is the image of me I want people to see?'”

I was wondering the same thing, and was trying to think of how to answer as we approached the kiwis.

I looked up to select some. Guess who was behind us.

I gave my daughter a small kick and a frown, and indicated the lady with my eyes, as if to say ‘ixnay.’

It seems impossible to me, though, that this doesn’t happen to her every time she shops.

Hall passes

December 21, 2012

I’ve had a couple of e-mails from people who read my ‘About T’ page, wondering about the hall passes.

Some don’t understand them. Some wonder why halfway through the year I went from Jon Stewart to Jon Stewart and Matt Dillon.

‘The point of a hall pass is to have only one,’ they say.

I will clarify everything.

A hall pass is license to be unfaithful to your spouse if a specified celebrity of unnatural hotness knocks on your door and offers his body.

My cousin got married this summer. She declared Johnny Depp her hall pass. My mother has called dibbs on Hugh Laurie. Good choices all around.

While we were having this conversation, I considered my husband and his hall pass, Salma Hayek. It occurred to me that he doesn’t need a hall pass.

So I took his.

Does that clear everything up?

The Christmas pageant

December 20, 2012

This morning I saw a Christmas pageant written and performed by teens. It was not the traditional birth-of-Christ tale.

This one was a what-if story: What if Jesus had been born in 2009?

The play opened in the apartment of Mary and Josephine, a married lesbian couple struggling with unemployment.

God tells the angel Gabriel she’s (yes, God was a she) putting a baby in Mary that would be the savior. Gabriel shows up on TV, interrupting Survivor Egypt, to break the news. This was because God had specified texting the announcement was not in order.

Nine months later the expectant moms were turned away from two hospitals because they had no health care coverage, and were forced to deliver in their apartment on the couch.

Three wise men from Hollywood were following not a star, but the red dot of Gabriel’s laser pointer, to offer gifts to the baby Jesus: myrrh, frankincense and an iPod.

I later learned they had planned to dress in drag, and enter singing ‘We Three Queens,’ but the pastor got calls from the some of the parents. Killjoys.

There was great comedy throughout, timely topics and a chorus of Halleluja.

The Christmas season has begun.

Reincarnation

December 19, 2012

I’m agnostic about everything. I’m afraid to commit to believing, but I’m no skeptic.

I will not say that I believe in the supernatural: ghosts, reincarnations, psychic ability, television reception.

But I have witnessed things, and I won’t say they don’t exist.

As a child I had a recurring nightmare. Remember the lids from jars of Tree Top apple juice? There were red, green and yellow ones. One was for juice, one cider, one unsweetened. In my dream, people wore them on their heads. The colors meant something, but I didn’t know what. Mine was sometimes purple. Sometimes I didn’t know what mine was, because no one would tell me.

Parts of the dream were always the same. Men in uniform were checking lids. If you had a certain color, they took you and killed you.

I remember waiting with the others. We had been collected and amassed behind a large rock.  They would come and grab a few people, line them in front of the rock and shoot them. Then we waited while they scooted the bodies away and came for a few more.

I always woke up during the waiting.

It was the waiting.

The waiting was bad. It came with sounds: the boots coming to get more people, the occasional pleading, the gunfire. It came with praying I could die by surprise.

I was just a child, 6, I think, when the dreams started.

At 13, in school, I learned about the Holocaust. I thought of the dream, which I had had so many times it began to feel like a memory. I imagined the victims waiting. I thought of the fear and the sounds.

I remembered from my dream, the smell of the fear, mixed with the odor of discharged guns, blood and urine.

I have no idea if my picturing was accurate, but I thought I could picture it just.

Then in high school, with three years of French under my belt, I found the French classes were full. I was forced to start at the beginning and take German.

I loved it. The sentence structure felt natural. Conversation just fell out of my mouth. I thought, ‘Once you’ve learned one foreign language, it’s easy to learn another.’

After two weeks, my mom met my teacher at open house. She came home and said this, “Mrs. Krause said she could drop you in Germany today and you would be fine. She said it was like you spoke it in a past life, and it was just coming back to you.”

Click.

That was when I tucked these things I’ve written here into the same pocket.

Maybe I’m just good at languages. Maybe I was just a little girl who shouldn’t have seen the scene in Shogun where they asked a group to select one among themselves to be boiled.

I will not say I believe in reincarnation.

But I think I may have been somewhere I’ve never been.

A memory joke

December 18, 2012

As my longtime readers know, I’m tortured by my keen memory.

Yesterday I was at a luncheon, and a gentleman at my table was telling us he went to a workshop on improving memory. The speaker had solicited a list of 11 things and was able to remember each item and its number.

Hell, when I was subbing, I would call roll, then tell the kids to shuffle seats. Throughout the period, when a kid raised his hand, I would call on him by name. It was my running parlor trick.

The guy at the luncheon said he Googled memory jokes before the event, so he’d have a good one to tell when he introduced the speaker.

I wish he’d called me. I have a good one:

A man was bragging to his friend about some new pills he’d discovered that improved his memory.

“What are they called?” asked his buddy.

“I’ll tell you. You know that flower you give on Valentine’s Day? The red one?”

“A rose?”

“That’s it!” Leans back toward the doorway. “Rose? Honey, what’s the name of those pills I’m taking?”

I say skip the pills and workshops, and treasure the ability to forget.

The rugby reunion story

December 17, 2012

Today we got a Christmas card from the Rooney family. I must tell you what happened during our stay at their home.

When we made our Road Trip USA (one month, one mini-van, the whole country), we planned our route to include not only every major landmark in the country but every significant person in our lives.

Over the years I’ve tried to plan reunions of various kinds: family, high school friends, my bridal party. It never works. People are spread out hither and yon. It was either go to them individually or live on Christmas cards.

We went out a-visiting.

Among the stops were two of my husband’s college rugby foursome. One was in the Colorado mountains, and one — Rooney — was in Long Island, New York. I had never met and couldn’t find the third.

We drove to Long Island from my in-laws’ house in upstate New York and spent the night at the Rooneys’. It was great. Our children played together. We had barbecue and beer on the deck. In the morning we would linger over goodbyes and head for Uncle Jer’s in New Jersey.

The doorbell rang as we were getting coffee. It was the Sanchez family, just in from Colorado. Grampa had died, and they came for the funeral, figured to swing by and catch a visit with the Rooneys.

We pulled out two more coffee mugs and the doorbell rang again. It was the mysterious fourth family, down from Connecticut for a sister’s wedding, swinging by for a catch-up with the Rooneys.

All four of those rowdy boys were together by happenstance, eating bagels in the kitchen — seven children in the yard, four wives in the living room talking about births and hairstyles.

It had been 15 years since they’d all been together, and may be 15 over again. It may be never.

We’re back to living on Christmas cards, but now I believe in magic.

Translating

December 16, 2012

Whenever we see or hear something in another language, I can count on my husband’s leaning toward me and asking what it means.

Sometimes I know, sometimes I don’t. Either way, I make something up.

It goes something like this. “Robert says he has to go to Aliso Viejo tomorrow. What does Aliso Viejo mean?”

“That’s a man who has sex with goats.”

“Really?” Yeah.

This has been going on for 20 years. I have always suspected he didn’t believe me, and he has always suspected I’m full of nonsense, but I’m busted for sure now.

I have started answering too fast. I should have made it practice to stop and think.

The other day “Just Can’t Get Enough” came on the radio. My husband asked, “What does Depeche Mode mean?”

“That’s French for ‘Captain and Tennille.’ ”

“It is not either. You’re full of crap.”

Whoops. I went too far.

The doctor’s obituary

December 15, 2012

This may be my last editing-obituaries story.

I was reading an obit one night, and I noticed that “Mr.” Soandso had worked as a physician for 38 years. He held a medical degree from UCLA, and had done a pre-med program at Georgetown.

I called the widow to clarify.

“Mrs. Soandso, it’s our custom to refer to the deceased as ‘Dr. Soandso’ when he had an M.D. and practiced medicine, but the reporter — who knows this — didn’t use it. Were there circumstances I’m not seeing?”

“I’ll tell you the circumstances!” I had to hold the phone away. “That son of a bitch made every boyfriend our daughter brought home call him Doctor. Every one of my friends from work had to call him Doctor. Our damn grocer called him Mister once, and got a curt correction.

“He was a pompous son of a bitch. I spent 38 years embarrassed to death.

“Don’t you dare put ‘Dr. Soandso’ on his obituary. I’m having my revenge, and you’re not spoiling it.”

Mr. Son-of-a-Bitch it is.

The funeral story

December 14, 2012

It’s been pouring rain here. My kids are about to go on winter break, and it’s cold, windy and pouring.

One day My High School Best Friend and I were home from school on a day like this. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t break.

We were kneeling against of the back of the couch, watching the rain for boredom, when we saw black-clad people begin to file out of the church across the street.

What terrible weather for a funeral.

We started guessing who the people were. One of us grabbed the newspaper, and learned it was a 48-year-old man being mourned.

We went like this: That must be the wife. I’m thinking those are the parents, and that’s his sister, Lily. Everything we needed was in the obituary.

After about 15 minutes the funeralgoers made their way to their cars, where an attendant was putting neon ‘funeral’ stickers on windshields.

My Best Friend said, “Let’s go.”

OK.

We raced up to my room and changed into black dresses, then jumped in my car. We drove across the street and around the block so we could come in the back of the church lot. As we came toward the front, we got a neon sticker.

We inched our way to the cemetery toward the back of the procession. When we got there, we put on our somber faces and made our way to the gravesite, heels sinking in muddy ground and rain pelting our hair. It occurred to us we should have grabbed an umbrella.

By the time the service was over, we were both depressed. It felt like we knew the guy.

We joined in the post-burial mingling, offering condolences to the widow — called it — and her family. We hugged cousins, co-workers and the guy he played racquetball with.

Back at my house we changed out of our sopping clothes and cried.

We heated up some canned soup and tried to get over the loss of whats-his-name.

The Christmas tree story

December 13, 2012

Today we got our Christmas tree.

This is one of my favorite parts of the holiday. I always make a pot of spiced cider, (which turns into hot buttered rum for my husband and me), and put on my Cyndi Lauper Christmas CD. When she sings the Christmas Conga, we abandon our ornaments and conga around the house.

This one was my 24th tree. Which leads me to tell you about my first.

When I turned 18 I got an apartment in Riverside with two of my girlfriends. One of them was dating a paramedic named Chip.

We got a call. Chip was volunteering at a Christmas tree farm in Rancho Cucamonga for one night. If we went there, he would sneak us a free tree.

Sold.

We listened to the radio as we got all cute, which seemed important at the time. The radio told us to stay home.

“There are record-breaking winds blowing trees out of the ground and cars off the road. Unless you absolutely have to go somewhere, stay home.”

Unfortunately, we absolutely had to go steal a tree.

We climbed in Kelly’s Volkswagon Rabbit and held on tight as we made our way across the overpass. We were strugging to stay in our lane as we banked, high in the air. We had to shout to hear one another for the battering roar of the wind.

As people do, we picked out the biggest one we thought we could fit under our ceiling. Chip chopped it down and strapped it to the Rabbit’s roof.

We had an even harder time getting home. By then the winds had reached 90 mph, and we had the windows slightly open for the ropes that Chip had wrapped through. That one-day storm was whipping right through the back seat.

Through the power of our screaming, panicking and making unfullfillable promises to greater powers, we made it back to our apartment. We even managed to get that tree up the stairs and into the warmth, where we collapsed on the floor, all of us amazed to be alive.

The salad dressing decision

December 12, 2012

Last night we went to the annual Feastings events at my mom’s church. It’s a warm evening of dinner and choir performances that really puts us in the holiday spirit every year.

On and off again my mom is a part of the dinner making. She ran a catering business on the side for many years and is the go-to for many events around here still.

One of these years when she was involved, she was measuring out the walnut oil for the salad dressing when it occurred to her some attendees may have nut allergies. She stopped herself pouring it in and substituted canola oil.

That night, while eating his salad, a man had a stroke. His face pitched right into the radicchio and an ambulance was called. It wasn’t until after the event they learned what had happened to him.

I wasn’t there that year, but I got a call from my mom to hear about it. She was panting with relief.

“I was on the verge of changing my mind and going ahead with the walnut oil.” The road not traveled had gotten under her skin.

“I would have thought it was my fault. I would have thought I had made the wrong call.”

Whew. It would have made her nuts.

My daughter is paying attention

December 11, 2012

One evening when I was picking my daughter up from her piano lesson, the instructor gave her some kind of certificate. Across the top it said, “Reach for the moon, even if you miss, you’ll land among the stars.”

I’ve seen this phrase before. I’ve never found it particularly inspiring.

When we got in the car my daughter said, “What a dumb certificate.”

I looked over at her. She had it on her lap, and wasn’t wearing any expression on her face.

“You don’t like it?”

“The moon is much closer to us than the stars.”

Oh yeah.

The eyelash gluing story

December 10, 2012

My friend Linda sent me a with-and-without-makeup e-mail showing beautiful famous women looking like regular folk. I zoomed in to see what the trick was.

I found it: eyelashes.

In every after picture, the women had false lashes prettying them up.

I went straight to the Longs and bought a bunch.

Last night I went to a dressy deal, so I glued a pair on. I looked old. All I needed was a cheetah skin purse and some off-color foundation, and I could have passed for one of those 50-somethings in denial.

Still I’m glad I tried it, because I remembered the story about Aunt Frances.

Aunt Frances isn’t technically an aunt. She grew up with the sisters, and by the time I was born I couldn’t tell the difference. She has always been one of the aunts.

And she has always worn false lashes.

Now I got this tale third hand at least, and it seems unbelievable, but everybody says this is the way it happened — and by everybody, I mean Mom.

Aunt Frances one day grabbed the wrong tube off the counter and super-glued her lashes. Her lids sealed closed, and she couldn’t open them nohow.

She groped for the phone and rode in an ambulance to the hospital, where they had to use a razor blade to slit her lids apart.

We’re in Southern California. If I were that doctor, I would have done a no-earthquake dance, spun around and spit three times, just in case.

My cousin knows me too well

December 9, 2012

Today is my baby cousin’s birthday.

I call her my baby cousin, as if I have some kind of seniority. She’s prettier, thinnier, richer, smarter and a better athlete. She puts the word ‘doctor’ before her name because she earned it, and she commutes to work in Washington, D.C. from her home on the beach in California.

My only seniority is being six years older, which isn’t as exciting as it was when I was in my 20s.

Today is her birthday, but because I’m egocentric, I thought I’d talk about my birthday, and how she brightened it.

As you know, I turned 40 only just. I said in my head, I spent my young, firm-body years wishing I had the courage to get my belly button pierced. I’m fast becoming an old hag. I’m on the cusp of its being ridiculous. It’s now or never.

So I made an appointment with a plastic surgeon, who put me under to do it. This is how big a sissy I am.

The man couldn’t help but notice the toll five years of lactating took on the breasts he had to tie out of the way to do the piercing.

He urged me to get a boob job. I stood firm — you know, figuratively — and just got the piercing.

Here’s where my baby cousin comes in.

She sent me one of the two funniest birthday cards I’ve ever gotten, (Fred Bauman sent me the other.) It showed two blue-haired wrinkly old biddies playing poker.

One of them has a speech bubble that says, “I’m thinking of piercing my belly button.” The other says, “Really?”

On the inside she replies, “That way I can put a hook in it to hold up my bra.”

Nailed it.

click here for photo

Never do this

December 8, 2012

When I was editing obituaries, I used to have to sit with the original form submitted by the family, and make sure everything in the story matched what was written in pen by the bereaved.

It was an extra big deal to make sure obituaries were accurate. To this end, I had to call survivors, even on anything the family itself may have written wrong.

One night I was doing the math to make sure the birth and death dates made the lady 90, when I realized both dates were the same, but with different years. If she was 90, it was only for a few hours.

It would be an easy mistake for a grieving son to write the death date on both lines absent-mindedly.

The family said, “Yep. It was her 90th birthday.”

Oh no. “Were you with her?” It was OK for me to be nosy. At least, I always told myself that.

“Yes, she died at her birthday party.”

I scanned the form. She died of a heart attack.

Good Lord, they couldn’t be that stupid.

I had to ask. “Was it a surprise party?”

I’m of a firm mind it’s wrong to startle the tar out of old people.

He hung up on me, which was fortunate, because I was crass enough to fall into a fit of laughter.

Idiots.

The dinner party surprise

December 7, 2012

There was a guy who came to work at the Daily Camera when I was there. We hit it off right away.

After he was there a couple of weeks he came over to my desk.

“I’m not coming on to you.” For the record, this is never a good thing to say to me, because it makes me wonder why the hell not. “But I gotta tell you that you feel familiar to me. I feel like you’ve been my best friend for years. It’s weird.”

We became great friends. He got along with my husband. We shared a lot of laughter, and when he met the girl for him, I gave him advice behind the scenes.

One night they came over for a dinner evening. We thought it would be fun to make it a formal event.

I cleaned and decorated. I made a tremendous meal. I fixed up a beautiful table.

But when we were having wine and conversation in the library, my 4-year-old son came in and stood near the center of the visiting.

“I think I found a clue,” he announced.

He was looking down at the center of my Oriental rug.

There was a big dead mouse there that none of us had noticed. It had cat-teeth punctures in its side.

Scott made a face of considering. He nodded, “No, buddy, I think you’ve solved this one.”

That was it. The playing grown-up had cracked. We burst into laughter, and in my gown and rhinestones, I scooped up the mouse and burped.

My grandparents’ song

December 5, 2012

On the morning of my grama’s first anniversary after my grampa died, she walked into the kitchen and turned on the radio.

She was stunned to hear “If I Loved You” from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel. It was their song.

Who’s ever heard this song on the radio?

The last time she had heard it, Grampa was singing it to her on their 50th anniversary, seven years before to the day.

Today would have been their 69th.

Lying to the kids

December 4, 2012

My husband used to give the kids broccoli stems, and tell them they were albino carrots.

He only just came clean.

Death upon death

December 3, 2012

By request, I’m writing about a death.

In January I told you about the time My Best Friend and I happened upon her boyfriend’s dead body.

She fared poorly in the aftermath of that, and the gaggle of us girls donned our blacks and skipped school to support her through the funeral.

David’s friends were supporting one another, too, lined abreast in their pew, trying to look tough despite their suffering.

After the service, we girls went out to lunch. We laughed and hugged and ate.

I’m not sure what the boys did, but My Best Friend was feeling strong enough to join them in late afternoon.

At eveningtime she asked them to take her home. They were mourning by drinking, and she was emotionally exhausted.

From there they got on the freeway to cross town. There were four of those boys in the car. The windows were down and the music was blaring.

They took a tight curve on an offramp at 113 mph.

When the car flipped, Conrad went out the rear window, and the car crushed him as it rolled.

One group of friends saw two boys die within four days, not even a week into 1987.

My gaggle of girls made it to today, though, and when the time comes for me to grieve, I know they’ll put on their blacks and hold me up.

The piano in a paper bag story

December 2, 2012

When I visited my biological father in San Francisco, he was just moving into an outrageous penthouse home above Ghirardelli Square.

The building was old — in a good way. It was grand. It took my breath away.

From the penthouse terrace we could see the Golden Gate Bridge, the Palace of Fine Arts, and Alcatraz.

This whole building was vacant. My father had been hired to design and oversee a parking structure under it. The digs were provided at no charge.

On this day I arrived he had to go do a thing.

My job was to meet the piano delivery guys. Their job was to get the shiny full-grand piano up to the top floor.

They came in scratching their heads, sans instrument.

“We’re gonna have to bring it up the stairs.” Duh. Were they expecting a larger elevator?

I stared at them, waiting for the point. The staircase was plenty wide.

“We need more guys.” Ah.

“I’m sorry. I’m visiting. I don’t have any guys.”

They laughed at me. I guess they weren’t asking for guys. They said they’d come back tomorrow.

When my father came back he looked around and made a little between-the-brows squeeze.

I remembered my mom said that when they lived in that fourth-floor walkup at Harvard, he carried a piano up in pieces, using paper bags.

So I said to him, “They’re coming back tomorrow. They wanted to buy some paper bags to bring it up in.”

“Hey I did that once!” This is my favorite part of this story. He thought that comment was a coincidence.

His bride made a between-the-brow squeeze. Oh goody! I was going to hear the story first-hand. I’ve known this story about 15 years longer than I’ve known him.

We settled in around the table and heard it told.

My father had visited a shop around the corner from his Irving Street apartment, and gave the owner some amount for an old piano.

He had neither vehicle, nor dolly, nor money for a mover, but he had a screwdriver and a lunch bag.

He dissassembled the whole thing and walked back and forth to the fourth-floor walkup, first with the bag full of keys, then hammers, then strings. He carried the frame in parts too.

My mom opened the door to find pieces strewn all over the floor, and her husband standing over them with a squeeze between his brow, trying to figure out how to put it all together.

He did, replacing ripped pads and chipped pieces in the bargain.

He moved that whole piano all by himself, but the professionals? They needed more guys.

The Christmas shopping story

December 1, 2012

Back in the day, San Bernardino was the shopping destination for anyone in or near my town.

It was a 15-minute drive, depending on traffic, and there was a foul sewage smell that let me know when our offramp was near.

One year my mom and I had a disastrous trip to there.

It started out fine. We pulled into a great spot in the Toys R Us lot and spent an hour or more tossing goodies into the cart with wild abandon. I always say things should be tossed into carts this way. Sometimes I even do a little foot-lift thing.

We stopped at the automatic glass doors leading out. It was pouring rain.

There’s nothing worse than a Southern Californian in the rain, (unless it’s one behind the wheel of a car). (Bonus bad if that person is my mother.)

We leaned over the booty to effect a shelter and made a run for it.

We loaded the goods and jumped in, sopping despite our rush.

Click. Click. No juice. My mom had left the lights on.

After some dramatic exhaling we ran back into the store and borrowed their phone to call for a battery jump from Triple A.

It occurs to me that several of my stories would be non-stories if they had happened in the age of cell phones. This one is doubly obsolete, because now headlights turn off automatically.

Triple A took a long time. I was a kid, so however long it took, it was longer in kid years. It was, like, a hundredth of my life. Who knew there was a circumstance under which I wanted to not be in Toys R Us?

The dude came. Clip, turn, rev. We were all set.

Mom left the engine running for warmth and battery charging while she climbed in the tow’s cab to do the paperwork.

Naturally she locked our car, so no one could steal it or the presents.

Naturally we didn’t realize this was a bad idea until the guy had driven away.

Back in the store we went to call and wait all over again.

After another 100th of my life had passed, we were on the road.

I think we moved four blocks before we ran out of gas.

In the moment an hour later, when I walked dripping and hungry into my home, I had never been and would never be so surprised not to have gotten a flat tire.