Archive for the ‘prepare to cringe’ Category

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.


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.’


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 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.

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 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 dog-in-the-street story

June 9, 2013

You cannot unread this story. Probably you should surf to another blog today, or read one of my better stories, like The Special Day Class or The Pregnant Teenager Story.

This will conclude my three-day series of stories non gratae.

We were about two blocks from home when my son looked out the window and saw a little dog running alongside our car. “He’s racing us.”

The dog’s legs were short, but he was fast. We thought it was funny.

We lived on a wide, busy street. As we pulled in front of our house, my husband said, “We oughta get that dog before he runs into traffic.”

My son ran to the sidewalk, crouched and patted his thighs. “C’mere b–”

We heard thu-thunk.

My son says the dog turned and looked at him just as a truck caught him. The truck drove off.

I held my son while he repeated, ‘Oh no.’ I hated that he saw that.

The kids and I went in the house while my husband went to see if the dog was alive.

When he hadn’t come back after an hour I called his cell phone. He was sedate, “Yeah?”

“Where are you?”

“In the garage.”

The dog had looked dead, but when my husband moved it to the sidewalk it started jerking.

Silence. Then, “I’m looking for something to kill it with, but I can’t do it. I don’t think I can do it. I’m just standing here. The dog’s on the sidewalk. It’s thrashing. It’s in too much pain.”

I was so worried about my son, it hadn’t occured to me to worry about my husband.

I called the animal hospital for advice. They told me to bring the dog in.

By then the dog was dead. Can I bring my husband in? He needs a shot of whatever you were gonna give that dog.

The highway accident

May 30, 2013

About a month ago I noticed all my stories were gross. Within about 10 days there was a fart, a booger, body odor, a dripping breast and an anal impalement. I could see the theme happening; I just couldn’t get away from it.

This week, I’m noticing a lot of stories about death. I initially put this post aside, but no. I’m giving in to it.

Wednesday I was on the freeway next to a huge cargo truck. We banked to the right and I felt like it was going to tip and crush me. It didn’t.

This is what went through my mind.

Tug, one of the ‘uncles’ we lived with in Boulder, moved in with us when he separated from his wife. He said, “I should have known the marriage was doomed. We were sent a sign.”

They married in Tug’s hometown in Idaho. Fun fact: Tug’s childhood buddy was Pekabo Street, and he lived right next to Ernest Hemingway’s digs.

Tug’s best friend stood up for him as best man. After the wedding, this kid got on the highway to drive back to college. A tire came off of a big truck next to him. I think it crashed through the windshield.

I remember only two details for sure: He was killed, and his mother was following him in her car.

This is one of the many stories I wish I could forget. But everytime I’m next to one of those big trucks, there it is in my mind.

I always imagine the view through the mother’s windshield.

The penis-on-the-front-page story

May 8, 2013

I volunteer guest-teaching journalism for various school newspaper programs. Today I gave my popular ethics presentation.

I show photos that may or not be ethical to run. They deal with issues like invasion of privacy, gore and the moment before death. I give them what-would-you-do scenarios.

And we talk about the difference between libel and ethics. I have lots of newsroom stories where my paper violated ethical standards, but not the law.

One ethical guideline that’s pretty much universal in newsrooms is avoiding photos of dead or nude people.

When I worked at the paper in Boulder, we would get the paper to bed about midnight and wait about an hour to proof the first copies off the press.

Each proofer took a job — page numbers, jumps, headlines, etc.

The longer the proofs took, the less thorough we were.

If they came to us after 2 a.m., we did was called a ‘f**k check’: We were to scan for the F word and approve the edition in its absence.

When we proofed with care, it seemed we never found anything that needed changing, but when we ran a f**k check, we ran a lot of corrections.

One such time got us into hot water.

The centerpiece photo on the front page went with a big feature we did on health care for the elderly. I remember glancing at it and thinking the photo felt washed in orange. I didn’t like the way it made the page look.

At a glance, it was an old man on a bed or gurney in a busy facility.

At a post-lawsuit-threat inspection, it was an old man inadequately covered by a thin sheet. His penis was exposed.

To add insult to infirmity, the man died during the night we were printing that paper.

The family’s grief was met first thing in the morning with this ignominious final photo.

With one feature, we proved both Murphy Law’s and Andy Warhol were right.

The end-of-a-crush story

April 27, 2013

Today I returned to that Spanish class at my old high school. After I picked up the key to the room, I stood where the line forms for the snack window and remembered something that happened on that site.

This is a story I’ve told many times, as an example of how quickly affection can end.

There was a boy at school I had a crush on. By sophomore year I had had it bad for about three years. He didn’t know.

By some happening, my best friend’s parents became friends with his parents, and they invited the family over for dinner and visiting. I practically lived at their house, so this had my best girlfriend and me trying every outfit in both our closets to find the perfect thing for me to wear.

Things were going great. The teens were sent outside to eat by the pool. It was my crush, my junior high best friend, both their brothers and me. There was laughter and not a little flirting.

After we ate we went swimming, and when it was dark out we got in the hot tub. I was making a fool of myself with the eyelash batting and shoulder tucking, until I saw my soon-to-be-ex-crush had a huge, slimy, green booger half out of a nostril.

I moved to nudge my girlfriend, and when I looked back, it wasn’t there. I could not get out of that water fast enough.

The next day I was in the snack line, because I needed an ice cream bar for English class. The ex-crush found me there. He invited me to the Homecoming dance.

I made an excuse and declined.

I wasn’t able to come up with something sensitive and convincing, though, because I was focused on how excited I would have been if he had asked yesterday.

The refrigerator story

April 17, 2013

My favorite uncle has a blog too. He e-mailed me the other day calling dibbs on the refrigerator story.

I respect dibbs as much as the next guy, so I ruefully considered the episode off limits.

Then I had three thoughts. 1) Unca Rob hasn’t written a post since before the Superbowl, and that one appears to have been deleted. 2) I have now given him seven days to use his dibbs, which everyone knows expire after three. And 3) He already got the haunted apartment story. Family lore should be fairly distributed.

So here it comes. Remember You hate to hear it? You have not yet begun to cringe.

My great-grandmother had a small refrigerator in the ’50s. It had one of those handles that attached in the center but continued up like a spire to the top of the door.

One afternoon during a family party, all of the children were playing hide and seek or tag or something. Unca Rob would know.

One of the cousins climbed on top of the fridge. He was a little boy.

At olly-olly-oxen-free he slid off. But he aimed poorly.

The handle went up through his anus. He hung there, legs adangle, until rescuers were able to slide him up and off.

He had to go to the hospital.

He’s fine now.

But I’ll bet you’re not.

The dirty water story

March 13, 2013

My husband will eat or drink anything not in someone’s hand. I have almost no complaints about this man, but I have this one.

Tonight my daughter had a cup of chocolate pudding. I don’t know where it came from, but she was excited to find it in the cabinet. We made a deal: She could have it if she made the sandwiches for tomorrow’s lunches.

She opened it, put a spoon in it and set it down to get to work. Then my husband walked by and picked it up to eat it.

Spoon in hand he denied my accusations. I was forced to remind him of the time he got what he deserved.

My babies were born at Christmas time, and winter in Boulder was brutal. Our house was always cold. Instead of baby wipes, I used to fill a plastic cup with warm water and dip a washcloth in it. I did not use a cup from the kitchen.

I had changed a chunky diaper and ended up with a sleeping infant in my arms, the dirty water stranded on the table.

You know what’s coming, don’t you?

In walked the reason I only ever got half a cup of coffee. He saw a cup with liquid in it and couldn’t resist. It had to be his. Fine.

I let him drink it.

He didn’t change. So much for learning through natural consequences.

And he didn’t get a kiss for a week.

My mom cracks me up

February 17, 2013

One afternoon my mom and I were shopping at a big mall out of town. I was doing the pee pee dance.
“I gotta pee in the worst way,” I said.
“Hanging upside down?”
Yeah, that’s what I needed — laughter.


January 14, 2013

Three years ago I was substitute teaching some for extra money, (my real job is as a copy editor.)

One day I was at my old junior high school taking over a friend’s English class on what I still think of as the archery field.

The children were fascinated to know PE class used to include a week of archery. I was fascinated that anyone would think this was a good thing. Archery terrifies me.

And as so often happens, I started explaining, and it started sounding ridiculous to me….

Every year in spring Mrs. Tilson marched us across the campus in our little white shorts and bright yellow — which they cooled up by calling ‘gold’ — striped T-shirts. We stood with our backs to the busy street, facing blocks of hay with targets on them, and heard about the dangers of the feathers.

That’s right, the feathers.

‘Don’t get your fingers in the way of the feathers,’ is how the speech began. ‘When they whiz by, they’re like razors. They will cut your fingers.’

And then came the worst part. Mrs. Tilson told about the kid who held the arrow too close to his face, and when he released it, a feather sliced his eyeball in half.

In preparation for writing this entry, I Googled ‘archery dangers,’ ‘feather dangers’ and ‘archery safety tips.’

Guess what. Mrs. Tilson is the only one who knows about the feathers.

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?


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.”


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.

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

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 tissue story

November 12, 2012

When I was in junior high I went to my Auntie Martha’s after school. She lived across the street from campus.

Auntie Martha was one of my grama’s older sisters.

I would snack on the Frosted Flakes she kept hidden in the bottom cabinet and watch General Hospital on her little black-and-white kitchen TV. After that I would push the chairs aside and jump on the Linoleum under Richard Simmons’ guidance.

Auntie Martha watched Guiding Light and then Phil Donohue in the den.

After my workout I went in where Auntie was. We would play gin or backgammon. She taught me to sew.

Then in the evening my dad would pick me up. Sometimes he would sit on the patio and have a beer with Uncle Phil before we left.

One afternoon I went in the living room and she was pulling wadded balls of pretty paper out of a new gym bag and ironing it.

The bag had come stuffed. My mom had just bought a bag like this. I was fascinated by the whole scene.

“This will make nice wrapping paper.” She was making a pile of the ironed. Each sheet was different.

I couldn’t get past that she was ironing wrapping paper.

My dad showed up just as she told me that she also irons her tissues and reuses them.

Dad was in a hurry.

This was too much. We went back and forth with ‘You really do?’ ‘I really do’ as he dragged me out.

I never knew Auntie Martha to be cheap, and that was disgusting. My incredulity was consuming.

The next afternoon it was the first thing I wanted to talk about.

“Auntie, I want to buy you clean tissues. I think it’s gross you iron and reuse them, all full of mocos.”

I wish I hadna said that.

I’m sure you’ve deduced she meant tissues for gift wrapping, not Kleenex. I’ve been teased it about it these past 28 years. This kind of embarrassment spreads fast through my family.

And 28 years later, I’m still using the wrapping paper I went home and pulled out of my mom’s new gym bag and ironed.

The Halloween party

October 31, 2012

When I was a little girl, we were invited to my mom’s coworker’s Halloween party. I got a witch’s hat to wear.

In the late afternoon, Mom got a call. The woman’s little son had stopped breathing and turned blue. I had never heard of this before. It sounded cool.

They were at the hospital. The party was off.

Sometime shortly after we were invited for the rescheduled event. We left the witch’s hats at home. I remember I wore a pretty white blouse under a red jumper.

We were the first ones there. The place was decorated elaborately, and there was a long table covered in food.

I had never been the first ones there before. I didn’t like it. We sat on the couch — 8-year-old me and four grownups — and tried to keep a conversation going.

The hostess complimented my ensemble. I said, “You know I’d never thought of putting these together before.” The grownups laughed, and I didn’t know why that was funny.

Like an hour later, we realized noone else was coming. I was just a little girl but I understood the pressure of that. We weren’t having a good time, but we couldn’t slip out.

It was a long, painful evening for me, blanketed in the disappointment that I didn’t get to see a blue kid.

The really big poop story

October 7, 2012

On the same vacation as The road trip fight story, we stayed in Rogue River, Oregon at the Weasku Inn.

My Unca Rob lives nearby, and kept calling it the Whydon’tyoucome Inn. Unca Rob is either getting old, or he’s still got it. Who can tell?

This place is a dream. Instead of motel rooms, you get an A-frame cabin with bedrooms and a living room. The soaps in the bathroom smell woodsy. We had a fireplace and a back porch over the river.

To eat, you walk across a lawn my son called the Frisbee park to the lodge. There was a big dining room, a billiard area and a community bathroom.

That’s where I saw it.

I spent the whole drive home from work today trying to think of adjectives to describe the size of this thing. It was just smaller than a loaf of bread.

I had gone in to pee. When I found it there my eyes went wide. I ran out and called in everybody to see it. Would you believe they came running?

Normally I would have worried they’d think I had made it, but not this time.

My husband said, “Someone feels really good right now.”

There was no flushing it. The diameter of the toilet’s hole was too small by half.

My husband went to alert an employee.

I spent the rest of our stay trying to figure out who it was, but none of the large men was walking funny.

Pets are nasty

September 13, 2012

My dogs got skunked this morning.

This is a boon for my cat Newsie, who for the first time is not the stinkiest animal in the house.

My son’s friend said her teacher’s dog got skunked and then climbed into the bed.

That reminds me of a story.

Before we were married, my husband and I shared a dog, Ozone.

My then boyfriend woke up one morning feeling something wet in the bed. He scooted from it at first, but later woke enough to realize it was probably bad.

It was. It was a gift from Ozone.

It was half a opossum.

I fought with a nurse

July 27, 2012

This weekend we went to a party to welcome my new baby niece. I love holding newborns, but my birthing stories would scare anyone off getting pregnant, me being at the top of the list.

I gave birth to my son throughout the night. He was stuck.

At 6 in the morning he finally made it out and I wanted to sleep.

‘Look at your new son!’ someone said.

I closed my lids. They were blackish purple all the way to my brows because my pushing had broken all the blood vessels in them. ‘Just plug him on my breast. I’ll see him later.’

They did and I went to sleep. I was sleeping blissfully when a new nurse came on duty.

She shook my arm roughly and yelled, ‘Wake up and pee!’


I didn’t open my eyes, but I murmured, ‘I don’t need to pee.’

‘Yes you do.’

She wouldn’t go away. She said, ‘You have to pee, and if you don’t, you’re going to wet the bed. Then you’ll have to go find someplace to sit while I change your urine sheets. Get up and pee.’

‘I don’t have to pee.’

My husband, who was sleeping next to me, said, ‘Just go. We could have been back to sleep by now.’

But I didn’t have to pee.

I threw back the sheets with a huff, gentled the baby closer to Daddy and stood up.

And peed all over the floor next to the bed.

My daughter’s birth

July 20, 2012

My daughter’s homework tonight is to ask me specific questions about her birth — how long was it, where was it, did I have medication, blah, blah, blah.

The final thing she asked was, “Do you have any anecdotes about my birth?”

Who are you talking to? Of course I have an anecdote.

She was a week overdue, and my certified nurse midwife said I had to come hook up to beeping things that make sure the baby is thriving. My husband and I made a date night of it.

Our birthing room in the hospital had a couch, a VCR, a stereo and a Jacuzzi. What with our having an almost-2-year-old at home, we were looking at this overnight as a belated honeymoon.

We sent out for Italian food and watched “Hook” on cable. I pulled the monitors off and we got in the Jacuzzi. Hey someone, put a do-not-disturb sign on the door.

At about 2:30 pains began to periodically wake me up, but after a few seconds they always stopped, so I kept going back to sleep.

I did not identify this as labor, because my son’s birth was just one long — and much worse — pain. You’ll read about that on Christmas Eve.

Then a contraction hit that made me make an inhuman noise. My midwife’s partner was happening by in the hall. She knew me fine, and slipped a glove on to check my cervix.

She looked lovely in a fuzzy angora sweater and red lipstick. She must have been out. “Call Kate,” she ordered. “She’s at 4 centimeters.”

I cried out to wake the dead and spider-walked up the headboard and wall behind me. I was trying to escape my body. It didn’t work.

Kate’s partner frowned, grabbed my feet and pulled me back down. She thrust her glove back in for another check and gave a holler into the hallway.

“Tell Kate to go back to bed. Mama’s jumped straight to 10 centimeters.” She directed her serious expression at me, “This baby’s coming out right now. Push.”

The head came out.

Here’s the anecdote part. The midwife said my water hadn’t broken, and that she would have to pop it. I have it in my head this was after the head came out, but that seems impossible to me. Maybe I’ve the order screwy.

She reached in with an awl or something, and my water shot around the baby’s head like a geyser, all over my poor, impromptu midwife’s beautiful, fuzzy angora sweater. I had tragically perfect aim.

One more push and the baby slid out.

The whole production took about 10 minutes, but I’ve spent 14 years being upset about that sweater.

The diner story

July 15, 2012

My high school best friend is in town for a visit. She’s leaving tomorrow, but really wants to eat at Kay’s, a breakfast diner that was downtown and legendary when we were growing up.

It has since moved to a nearby town. It’s around the corner from the medical center.

One afternoon I had taken my son to the medical center for hearing tests — he has to have his hearing monitored; there are issues because of the tumors. The tests were taking a long time and we were starving.

Finally, someone came into the waiting room and told us he failed the hearing test in one ear, and we had an appointment with a different doctor in 90 minutes.

We were out the door and Kay’s-bound before you could say blueberry pie.

Then we were so hungry we couldn’t decide what to order.

It went like this: I’ll have the chicken-fried steak and eggs, no wait, the cinnamon roll, except, oooh, maybe I want a waffle….

The waitress kept glancing toward the door, but we were intent on our menus.

Then she leaned in and whispered, “I need you order quickly, because the health department is shutting us down right now.”

We looked over to see a guy in a uniform putting a huge chain and padlock on the front door — dramatic, but unnecessary, I thought — and a sign saying the restaurant was indefinitely out of business by order of the government.

My son and I were so hungry, all we could think of was that we ought to order as much as possible before they closed the kitchen.

We took one of everything.

My son cracks me up again

July 10, 2012

I learned some yicky statistics about how many spiders the average person swallows annually while sleeping and such.

Among these fun facts was that Americans eat an average of 12 pubic hairs a year in fast food.

I shared this with my kids.

My son said, “Boy, I feel sorry for the guy who only eats fast food once a year.”

The circus death story

July 8, 2012

The big top has gone up in Southern California. When I was a girl, my grandparents took me to see the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, which had come to Anaheim.

To my little-girl mind, it truly was The Greatest Show on Earth. Cotton candy in hand, I saw tigers, clowns and a trapeze artist that dangled off a motorcycle on a high wire.

Grampa bought me a glittering light-up thing that whirred when you pulled the strings. I was happy all the way.

We had gone to the morning performance. I later learned that during that day’s afternoon show, the motorcycle driver — doing a handstand on the handlebars — went off the highwire and crushed his accompanying acrobat.

I wanted to link to the news story.

Will you believe I haven’t been able to find but one mention of a Ringling-and-company death online? Five years ago, a woman twirling from a scarf fell to her death. The show went on.

Curiously, none of the pieces about that 2004 fall mentions a history of circus mishaps, or, specifically, the Ringling Bros.’ fatality record. As news articles go, this is a glaring omission. They say only, “Brock said it was the first death of a circus performer during a show for the 134-year-old company in at least 10 years.”

The only other mention that anything has ever gone amiss at a circus was a story of the historic Hartford fire of 1944.

The supression of damning news, combined with tales and YouTube footage of animals’ being mistreated, is creeping me out.

I’m finding a new place to eat cotton candy.

My son’s second surgery

April 28, 2012

Today my husband had surgery to repair a muscle he ripped from a bone. Snowboarding is fun.

This surgery kicked his ass. The surgeon told me he would be in the recovery room an hour. It was three. It would have been longer, but they were closing.

Now my living room is a recovery zone. My aunt is going to lend me her nurse’s cape. It’s hard to give stool softeners without a cape. No one takes you seriously.

Anyway this calls to mind my son’s second surgery, which I had meant to tell you about way back when I told you about his tumors.

He had a terrible experience with the biopsy surgery. There was pain, vomiting and swelling. He hated the ICU. He didn’t think it was funny that I said the ICU was so named because of the gowns they make you wear.

So a year later he gave me a big No Way to a surgery to take the tumors out. He was 7.

I used all the tricks in my mama bag. We planned to go the Santa Monica Pier the day before. We made a list of the things he feared and worked to eliminate them.

The anesthesiologist said he could prevent nausea. The surgeon arranged a private room.

The nurses promised Tigger could go in with him. Being sealed in sterile plastic bags is what Tiggers love best.

No deal.

Then a month before the surgery, while he was at school, a producer from The Discovery Channel called me. She had wanted to film the surgery for a special on the surgeon, but when the surgeon described my son and his case to her, she got the green light to do a whole special on my son.

I interrupted his first-grade class to tell him about it. Sold. A producer bag has better tricks in it.

My son was brave and calm. Everyone made good on promises, and we didn’t have any of the problems he feared. Though he did add catheters and incision drains to his list.

Three months later my family went to the producer’s house for a preview screening. It was mostly interviews, but the middle segment was surgery footage.

It didn’t occur to me to be nervous about watching it.

But then, one side at a time, the surgeon peeled my son’s face back. One glance of this, and I turned toward the back of the room.

Then my husband said, ‘Honey, look!’ The surgeon slid the tumor off his pie server onto a ruler for the camera. It looked like a boneless, skinless chicken breast from the grocery store. The two he removed weighed a pound.

After the screening the producer told us it made her crazy to witness the operation.

The surgeon was  explaining what he was doing during the procedure. He kept looking at her while he was talking, but his hands kept operating. She wanted to shout, ‘Watch what you’re doing!’ She said it was like when her husband is driving and he looks at her instead of the road.

Finally he looked down, just as a bunch of gooey bloody stuff splattered up on his glasses. His assistant eased them off to clean them, and the surgeon kept working.

Now I have a list of my own.

You hate to hear it

April 5, 2012

I’m fixing to stuff plastic eggs with candy and other goodies for a hunt at my pad. The kids and their friends’ families are coming for a pre-Easter potluck.

Filling those plastic eggs reminds me of a tragic story I heard on the radio last year. It’s a you-hate-to-hear-it tale.

A family matriarch died shortly before Easter. The offspring canceled the celebration on account of the grief.

They set to emptying the home for sale. Among the belongings they sent to the Salvation Army were the plastic Easter eggs, baskets and decorations meant for the skipped holiday.

Months later the oldest daughter had calmed enough to read her mom’s diary. The final entry was the morning of her death.

It detailed her plan for Easter. She knew this would be her final one, and wanted to make it special for the kids and grandkids. She had said to herself, ‘Why wait until I die to give them their inheritance? I want to see them enjoy it.’

She liquidated her assets, withdrew her savings from the bank and filled the eggs with $1,000 bills. I don’t remember how much they said it was, but I remember calculating how many houses it would buy. It was a lot.

The family rushed to the retrieve it, but the donation was long gone.

There are many morals to this story.

And a dye pun in there somewhere, but you’d hate to hear that, too.

A little more information than you want

March 27, 2012

My husband is celebrating his birthday today, so I’m blogging about one of the reasons I love him so.

He expresses appreciation for everything.

Affection is not excluded.

For our whole marriage everytime we’ve been intimate, he’s said, “Thanks for putting out.”

Not to be out-appreciatived, I always reply, “Thanks for putting in.”