The ranting waiter story

June 8, 2013

My husband hates this story. Everytime it comes up, he gets angry. 

I figured since I wrote the story my children hate, I’d make a trilogy. Tomorrow I will post the story I most hate. You will hate it too.

One afternoon I had a lunch date with my mom and Nana at an expensive restaurant in our quiet Main Street-style downtown. It went badly.

When we got there the place was barren.

For some reason we were neglected. Some people came, ordered, ate and left while we waited.

I said, “When this is over we will have paid about $35 each for a miserable afternoon.” That kind of ticket is a splurge for me. I can’t afford to spend that casually.

We left.

Our waiter found us two doors down at a fifties-style burger joint.

We had just ordered and were standing in the middle of the dining room looking for a place to sit when he burst in, insisting we go back. “This isn’t fair! I’ll have to pay for all your food.”

He didn’t apologize. He argued those that ate had gotten there first.

My grama looked like she was trying not to cry. “Let’s just go back. People are looking,” she kept saying.

Everyone was staring. They listened to the waiter yell at us in front of the jukebox until the Betty’s Burgers manager brought out our order and offered to find us a table.

When I related this to my husband he turned red. He said, “He treated you that way because you’re women. If I had been there, he never would have done that. Makes me so angry.”

I think it’s sweet that my husband gets so worked up. I tell this story a little more often than I need to.

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The mom translator

June 7, 2013

Saturday Night Live last week aired a commercial parody. “Moms are great,” the narrator says.

“They love you; they cook for you; they’re always there,” I’m paraphrasing.

“But they can’t remember celebrities’ names.”

Wow. Has he been to my house?

“Call now to order the Mom Celebrity Translator. Type in what Mom said, and the translator instantly shows you the celebrity she meant.”

I often say having a conversation with my grama is like being on a game show. She loves to talk about what she saw on TV, but she can’t remember a single star’s name.

I’m not making this up. We were visiting with my aunties and she said, “I watched that movie on TV last night with that one guy from the big romance movie, that blonde lady and the woman who’s married to that famous actor.”

I nodded, “I didn’t know that was on! I just got the karaoke version of the soundtrack.”

Everyone looked at me.

Chicago.”

I speak Nana.

Death

June 6, 2013

I had an emotional conversation with some of our friends this morning. They’re putting their dog down today.

Since we got our first dog I’ve imagined his death. I calculated how old my children would be if he lived an average lifespan. I pictured calling them home from college to say their goodbyes, all of us lying spoon-style on the dog bed, which would be wet with tears.

We had to put our family cat down when the kids were 3 and 5.

We stroked the cat and spoke soothingly, gathered around the cold, steel table in the veteranian’s office. We pretended not to see him tap tap the side of the syringe.

My son maybe shouldn’t have been in there. He was darting his eyes around and feeling helpless. His first word had been ‘cat.’

My daughter was unfazed. I suspected she didn’t understand.

The next day I discovered one of our rabbits, Hare-ica Jong, was dead on the bathroom floor. I think she had had a fight with Cyndi Lop Ear, because there was blood on her neck.

The day after that, I was calling around the house for my husband. I said to my daughter, “Have you seen Daddy? I can’t find him.”

She shrugged without looking up from her toys. “Maybe he’s dead.”

Suspicion confirmed.

The dance story

June 5, 2013

This is the anniversary of my daughter’s eighth-grade formal.
Her father had taken her shopping for a new dress. They found a breathtaking one. It must have stopped the music. She was a picture in it.

I have a memory from my first night dance.

My children hate this story.

When I was a kid I was sure I was the only girl in the whole junior high who had never kissed a boy. The prospect scared me. I was sure I would do it wrong. I would be taunted and hated.

Once a boy tried to put his arm around me and I jumped up with a transparent excuse. I didn’t want him to notice I was shaking. After that, he and the other boys sang Cheap Trick’s “She’s Tight” when I walked by.

The night before my dance, my father took me shopping for a new dress. I got a turquoise-and-white striped stretch top with matching mini skirt and braided headband to go across my forehead. I wore white tights and gold ballet flats. I thought I looked better than anyone ever had or would.

And I must have, because early in the evening Barry Sparks asked me to dance. Surely he could hear my heart thudding over the opening notes of “Heat of the Moment.”

This is the boy I was head over heels for. Still, I shook my head like a wet dog and said, “No way!”

I wanted to dance with him more than anything.

I was in pain over this for years.

My children hate this story because their hearts break for Barry.

I hate that their hearts don’t break for me.

The Star Trek story

June 4, 2013

I just ran into a friend at the ice cream parlor. We got to talking about Star Trek, which my family just dragged me to. Loved it.

Him too. He said he asked the dude in the ticket kiosk if he spoke Vulcan. I imagine they get a lot of that.

Let me tell you how I am three degrees from the languages of Star Trek.

My Linguistics 101 professor and his roommate were both working on their doctorates in the subject in the ’80s.

One night Dr. Rood was supposed to go on a blind date, but didn’t want to. He sent the roommate in his stead.

The date didn’t show, so the guy sat at the bar all night chatting with some nerd on the next stool.

The nerd was interested in the linguist. He asked if it would be possible to compose a real language from scratch.

Are you kidding? Does Dolly Parton sleep on her back? Inventing languages is what linguists do when they’re bored.

That night, Gene Roddenberry asked my professor’s roommate to create Klingon.

My professor was totally QeH.

A phrase of our own

June 3, 2013

I was reading in a journaling article that every family has inside vocabulary. The magazine recommended people record their terms and the stories behind them in their family history albums.

I rushed to record ours. For my reading audience, I’ve culled all but  my favorite.

When my daughter was a preschooler we had to remind her to chew with her mouth closed.

One night my tongue got tied, and I told her “Chew with your mouse clothed.”

Forevermore in this house people understand the warning, “No naked mice.”

Saw my old lover in a grocery store…

June 2, 2013

I spent 10 years wondering what happened to my high school boyfriend after he went to jail.

I had loved him in that deep, drowning way 17-year-olds do.

His family was poor and fractured, and his talent and intelligence went to waste as he was forced to do whatever he could to help keep his mother’s electricity from being turned off.

His father was living in the van he sold drugs out of in front of the laundromat.

I share this, because I will always argue that he was a good boy in a bad circumstance. He was just a sweet boy.

About a year after high school he was arrested for drug possession.

We wrote each other before he was moved to a drug rehab facility in Sacramento. He was not allowed contact with people from home. That’s when I lost him.

A couple of years later I did my semester in Mexico and found someone else. The next year I got a reporting assignment in Hawaii and met my husband. I fell into that deep, drowning love adults have.

Despite having moved on from my teen heartbreak, I wondered. I didn’t know where he ended up. I expected to hear he’d died.

About a year after we moved from Boulder back to my hometown, I saw him at the grocery store. I was on my way home from a workout, and looked sloppy in a baggy T-shirt and pony tail.

I squinted at him approaching in the aisle, thinking he looked familiar. Then I recognized his mother. If he had been alone, I might have walked by. He wasn’t a boy anymore, and I didn’t know him as a man.

I froze, right in front of the pasta. I whispered his name questioningly to myself — maybe it wasn’t even out loud. Then he passed by me and I was sure. I spun around and called it.

He turned around.

Then he crushed me. He said, “I thought that was you. I don’t have my glasses on –”

He wears glasses?

“– but when I heard your voice, I knew for sure. You were talking to that lady giving out cheese samples.”

That lady was in the entrance. He had known I was in the store the whole time, and wasn’t going to say anything.

His mom left us to finish shopping. I told him I was married with two kids and working in journalism. He told me he had recently spent six years in prison and had a child he wasn’t allowed to see. He said for a short time he had a nice truck. He might get a job at a furniture factory.

I was sad for his past, but excited for his job prospect. He seemed cautious. Did he think I would look down on him? This crushed me some more. I had always seen only the best in him.

I told him I had tried to find him. I tried for years. I told him I had thought of him often. I was genuinely thrilled to see him looking so strong and healthy. And alive, I thought but didn’t say.

He said he had to go, and he walked off. I never saw him again.

It was my very own Same Old Lang Syne.

The complaining bracelet

June 1, 2013

On Wednesdays I get together with a group of girls for a couple of hours. We talk about our children, our husbands, our mothers and, probably more than we should, other women.

We’ve been doing this for years. We call it our therapy group. We bag on one another with wild abandon, and laugh ourselves healthy.

One day Tessa was telling us about something she had seen on TV. She called it a complaining bracelet.

It’s one of those rubber wrist bands people wear to support cancer research or the military. The idea is to put it on your wrist and then go 21 days without complaining.

If you complain, you have to switch it to the other wrist and start again. According to the program, 21 days is how long it takes to create or break a habit.

Someone on the show said to the project’s founder, “I have a friend who should do this.” He told her that was a complaint, and she had to move her bracelet to the other wrist. This bracelet is strict.

Tessa said the people who made it to 21 reported being happier and healthier. She said we don’t realize how much we complain, or how unnecessary it is, until we do this. She, herself, had no interest in doing this.

I loved the idea. I stole my kid’s school football wristband and announced, ‘One.’

The first Wednesday I showed up wearing it I was mostly quiet. I felt like a guard at Buckingham Palace.

The girls asked me questions: Didn’t you go dress shopping with your daughter? How’s the remodel going? What did your husband do for your birthday? I just smiled and shrugged.

Then they broke me, “How was your trip to visit your mother-in-law?”

I sighed and took the bracelet off. No point in wearing it on Wednesdays.

The experiment was wonderful. I was aware. I was positive. I was getting extra affection from my husband.

I still moved it from wrist to wrist occasionally, but I was different. I felt happier and healthier.

Then I started substitute teaching.

I never made it past ‘Three.’

Call 911!

May 31, 2013

My daughter loved A.A. Milne poems. One evening while my son and husband were at Little League practice, she was reading When We Were Very Young — My Oldest Friend’s favorite book, which she gave as a welcome-baby gift.

The Baby was cheerfully reciting Rice Pudding.

She stopped abruptly. She was struck with an idea. “Can we make rice pudding?”

I called Mom, the knower of how to make everything. She came right over.

I opened the door to see red splatters across her T-shirt on her abdomen. She was urgent, ‘I’m bleeding! Call 911!’

I must introduce you to my mom here. My mother is not a practical jokester. She’s not even a laugher at practical jokesters. What she is is a worrier. For instance, she can’t watch when people on TV go up high. She begs me not to let my teenagers ride roller coasters. You get the picture.

I yelled, ‘Oh my God!’ and she smiled. Then she bent to pick up a dripping flat of strawberries.

Who was this woman?

I don’t know what made me remember this story, but it visited me early this morning.

Later I had to call Mom about something else. Before I hung up, I asked,  “Mom, do you remember that time you came over to make rice pudding–”

“No.”

“–and you had some strawberries–”

Laughter.

“You’re laughing?”

“That was a good one.” A good one? It was the only one.

She defended herself,  “I didn’t plan it. I noticed that juice looked just like blood. It was spontaneous.”

Spontaneity makes it OK to scare my intestines clean?

“You had such a look of horror on your face . . . ,” more laughing.

“Well, yeah. You scared me.”

‘”Yeah, that was a good one.”

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 hot tub story

May 29, 2013

I asked the family, “What story do I tell for Uncle Mike’s birthday?”

I got the most insulting look from all three. Then they said at once: The hot tub story. Duh.

It’s a family favorite.

One night Mike was out partying and he met a girl he really wanted to take home. He invited her to come over and get in the hot tub.

Mike didn’t have a hot tub.

When they got to his house, (and by ‘his house,’ I mean his parents’ house), he gave her a drink, put in a movie and went out to heat up the tub.

After wandering around the yard for a minute, he came back in and waited with her. Every half hour or so he went outside to check the temperature. He turned the garden hose on his hand and came back in shaking it dry. “It’s not warm yet. Let me get you another drink.”

Michael is a bad boy, and he was rewarded for it.

The haunted apartment

May 28, 2013

As long as I’m poaching Unca Rob’s blog posts, I might as well go all the way. I’m taking the big one.

This is my family’s classic ghost story.

You can read the account straight from the guy who saw the ghost, so really, you don’t need me. My version will be more condensed, and from my mom’s perspective. She remembers some of the details differently.

My mom had a boyfriend with an apartment in a nearby town. His room was on the second floor.

One night he told her he was awakened by the front door’s opening and closing. He thought it was his roommate.

He said he heard the usual vibration of the iron stair railing as someone ascended, but didn’t get an answer when he called his roommate’s name.

Then he saw a figure walk into his room, stand over the bed a moment, then disappear into the closet. Scared the heck out of him.

About a week afterward, my mom was in Auntie Martha’s living room with her brother (Unca Rob), her cousin (Uncle Chauncey), and Chauncey’s wife, Dena.

They were telling ghost stories, but nobody believed any of them.

Then Mom told what was happening in her boyfriend’s apartment.

Mom says Chauncey’s eyes got real wide. He asked for the address.

He said he lived in that building two years ago.

Uh huh. This is the same guy who told mom and Rob Frankenstein lived behind the university.

He described thinking his roommate had come in. He heard the iron railing vibrate. A figure came in the room. It disappeared into the closet.

Dena was nodding. She remembered it all. My mother wasn’t liking this.

Chauncey said, “It was Apartment 45, wasn’t it?”

According to Mom, “Everyone was freaked out.” A legend was born.

Vocabulary

May 27, 2013

In the English class I taught today, I made a list of big words and gave meaningless bonus points to students who could define them. It’s amazing how badly children want imaginary points.

I pulled from former ‘word-of-the-week’ terms at my house. I used to put a vocabulary word on the fridge every Sunday — ignominious, wan, penultimate. If my kids used the word 10 times that week, they got to choose something out of the prize drawer.

This was right up my daughter’s alley.

My daughter was loquacious right out of the womb.

Her first word was a sentence: Read-a-book.

By 18 months she was conversing clearly. People who heard her for the first time always whipped their heads toward me in surprise.

I confess I cheated. During her infancy I was finishing my linguistics degree, with a focus on language acquisition. She had better have spoken early.

When she went to the doctor for her 2-year check up, the nurse tested basic mental and motor skills. She asked her to point to the balloons on the wall. She asked her to hold up three fingers.

Then she gave my daughter a piece of paper and a pencil. “Can you draw circles?”

My daughter nodded, “Side by side or concentric?”

“Nevermind,” the nurse said. “I got what I needed.”

So did my daughter. I have it in her baby book, under first bonus points.

A high school prank

May 26, 2013

When I was in high school I hung around with a guy I enjoyed every minute of.

He messed with people, but he did it smart. He made me laugh all the time, and the best part was that he included me, like a conspirator.

He was also a brilliant tennis player.

One afternoon during our junior year, he, his best friend Kirk — who was boisterous and friends with everyone — and a quiet, smart boy named Kiwon were on the court. They took turns being the spectator sitting next to me.

When it was Brian’s turn off court, he picked up Kiwon’s wallet and slipped out a 10-dollar bill.

Then it was Kirk’s turn to sit out. As they passed, Brian handed him the money, “Oh hey, here’s that 10 bucks I owe you.”

At the end of the match, Brian looked distressed. He went over to Kiwon and said, “Kiwon, buddy, I can’t even believe what I think I saw, but if I’m right, while we were playing, Kirk took some money out of your wallet.”

Kirk heard this too. I wish I could show you the face he made. He was used to Brian, and loved him as much as I did, so I knew he wouldn’t be angry.

I was dying of laughter as Kiwon checked first his wallet, then Kirk’s, which was lying beside it. Kiwon showed us a side of himself we’d never imagined as he gave Kirk what for.

Last summer the three of us were together at our 20th high school reunion. It was the best moment of my year being with these guys again. I remembered that episode to them, and we all laughed as Kirk made his panicked face.

Brian ordered us a round of kamikaze shots and we toasted our memories.

He told the bartender his name was Kiwon, and to put them on his tab.

Memorial Day

May 25, 2013

Today is supposed to be in memory of people who died in service to our country.

I don’t know any.

But I know a lot of people who were willing to.

I know that my grandmother (on my mom’s side) married my grampa immediately before he was shipped to Europe to fight in World War II as a member of the Army Air Corps. There was no communication for three years. She didn’t know, during all that time, if he was alive.

And I know that Granny (on my dad’s side) spent every night of the Vietnam War watching fish swim around her tank. My dad was in Da Nang. He had enlisted in the Air Force, and she couldn’t do anything but watch the fish and try to keep breathing.

And I know Boom Boom lost her job when her husband was sent to Afghanistan. She was unable to work nights and be a single mother of four girls. Her employer couldn’t accommodate her shift request. That only added to the stresses of having a husband at war.

Whether being at war was a wise move or a mistake, supported or protested, right or wrong, they volunteered to do whatever was asked of them. They and their families sacrificed comfort and safety so people like me could enjoy the life of freedom, comfort and safety this country has to offer.

Arthur Anderson, Tony Aulbach, William Badgely, Bob Barton, Fred Bauman, Sandy Beach, John Berry, Bill Buchanan, Ramon Cesneros, Howard Chapman, Stephen Chapman, Newton Cole, Neal Derry, Summer Duval, Jason Frey, Bill Garcia, John Guerrero Sr., Harold Houser Sr., Skip Howard, Sam Irwin, Jay Johnson, Albert Landeros, Dan Landeros Sr., Danny Landeros Jr., Eddie Landeros, Raul Landeros, Lee LeBlanc, David Lowy, Joseph Lucero, Tom Martin, Bill and Marie Elaine McClintock, Aaron Mello, Chris Miller, Edwin “Bill” Momberger, Chris Nicholoff, Donald Park Sr., Joseph Park Sr., William Park, Carlos Puma, Tim Radsick, Phil “Sonny” Romero, Alex Salmon, Rick Sforza, Kyle Siegel, Elbert “Smitty” Smith, Monte Stuck, Charles Wheeler, Vickie Wilson, and their families.
Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

Not all of them are still with us, but they all came home.

To those on my list and those I neglected to mention, thank you for your service.

Widow’s Night

May 24, 2013

Until I was 21 I thought members of my family were immortal. But in a couple of days, one of my grandmother’s sisters is going to die.

She’s 96, and she’ll be singing ‘I Did It My Way’ until the curtain closes.

There were nine of them — six sisters and three brothers — and until a few years ago, eight of them were going strong. Suddenly we are about to be down to three. There is an update. Please see comments.

The youngest is 80, but you wouldn’t believe more than 60 if you saw his tanned, laughing self dismounting his motorcycle.

I’ve got great genes.

Starting in 1992 and within eight years, all the sisters’ husbands died. Just after, I was in the grocery store buying avocados, and an old lady struck up a conversation about guacamole mix.

“I buy this Holy Guacamole,” she said. “My husband died, and there’s no point cooking a meal for just one, so every night I heat up frozen taquitos and make this Holy Guacamole.”

She told me she eats in front of the TV while Wheel of Fortune is on. She followed me around the produce section talking about Pat Sajak. This was a lonely woman.

I imagined all my aunties eating microwave taquitos in front of Wheel of Fortune. I thought, ‘I fix a homecooked meal every night. It would be no big deal to double the recipe have the aunties join us.’

So I called them all up and invited them for dinner and games. We had a blast. We decided to do it the first Friday of every month. We called it Widow’s Night.

The news of our private parties spread quickly through the family, as my cousins tried to plan things with their moms. They got denied. Widow’s Night was sacred.

There was laughter, especially with my kids’ answers in Balderdash or clues in Taboo, or when the sisters criticized each other’s card dealing, but there were tears too.

They talked one night about how it felt to give away their husbands’ clothes.

Auntie Martha saw teenagers at the mall holding hands, and realized she would never walk around holding hands again. The others nodded. ‘We had the same moment.’

Auntie Roxie heard her husband’s voice one night telling her it was late, put the book down and turn off the damned light.

Sometimes Auntie MaryAnn would get on the piano and play songs from back when, and the others would dance around. They rarely left before midnight.

We did this for years. Then we started our kitchen remodel and had to put it on hold. During this time Auntie Martha died. Then my son started high school and football games got in the way. Then we moved to a house with no dining room.

Auntie Mags died last spring at 97. Auntie MaryAnn is Hospice care. We’ll be down to two widows.

I was wrong to let all the ‘and thens’ get in the way. Widow’s Night was supposed to be sacred.

Link to photos

Suicide

May 23, 2013

I run a dead pool, you know, and keep track of  celebrity death. On this date in 2009, I got up to check the latest, and there were a bunch, and every one of them was a suicide.

First, 54-year-old gay rights activist Rodger McFarlane ended his life, according his note, because of constant back pain.

Right after him, 28-year-old Spiderman 3 actress Lucy Gordon was found dead by suicide in her Paris apartment.

And rounding out the set, former South Korean president Roh Moo-hyun jumped to his death from a 100-foot cliff while on a hike. He was 62. Roh Moo-hyun was elected on an anti-corruption platform, but was presently exposed having accepted $6 million in bribes. The scandal was too much for him, according to the suicide missive he left on his home computer.

Statistics claim there are almost twice as many suicides as homicides.

I can’t get past wanting to organize these people.

A headline on CNN that very morning read, ‘Would-be suicide jumper pushed off.’

This is what I’m talking about.

Doesn’t it just make sense for the  homicidal to choose their victims from a pool of volunteers?

My prom story

May 22, 2013

Tonight my son’s friends are throwing a private prom at my place. They strung little white lights in the wisteria arbor overlooking the orchard. It empties onto the carriage house deck, which they made into a dance floor.

My son will put on a tux to stay home.

I hope it turns out better than my prom experience.

Here’s what happened. My boyfriend didn’t have the money to ask me to the dance, and my best friend was between beaus.

She and I grabbed a can of Pam cooking spray and beach chairs and went to Whitewater — a creek just outside of Palm Springs — for some after-school tanning.

Our friends Craig and Eddie showed up on Craig’s motorcycle and asked us to go, as friends, to that night’s prom.

Eddie and my best friend went back in my car, and I hopped on the back of the motorcycle.

The boys left us girls at my house, where we put on our leftover homecoming dresses.

They picked us up on time. Mom took pictures. We were off.

We drove to Rancho Mirage, parked and walked up to the door of the prom facility.

That’s when the boys admitted they hadn’t bought tickets.

We leaned across the open door to exchange waves with people inside, got back in Craig’s mom’s Camaro and went to Carl’s Jr. for dinner.

Then they took us home.

It was awful.

Though he won’t say it with regret, my son and I will both be able to say we spent prom night all dressed up with nowhere to go.

Mayor McWho?

May 21, 2013

I was on the Betty’s Attic Web site, and I found McDonald’s character action figures for sale. They have the Hamburglar, the Grimace and Mayor McCheese.

I’m incredulous.

About two months ago my son and I were in a McDonald’s, and I was remembering the character cookies I used to get when I was a little girl — little Fry Guys, Officer Big Mac, Captain Crook and such.

I asked the girl behind the counter if they still had them. She said, “What characters?”

“Have you never heard of the Grimace and the Hamburglar?”

“Never.”

Wow. I have Ronald and Hamburglar pillow dolls I got as part of a promotion when I was 3. The Hamburglar has a removable cape.

The Hamburglar is an icon. I was crestfallen.

So I did a little investigating. As far as I can surmise, McDonald’s was sued by Sid and Marty Krofft over an ad they made. This was the invention of McDonaldland. They weren’t credited. You can clearly see Mayor McCheese’s resemblance to H.R. Pufnstuff.

McDonald’s lost the lawsuit, and in 1987 scaled back to Ronald, Grimace, the Hamburglar and a new addition — a bird with aviator glasses.

Then, when child obesity became a hot topic, the restaurant promised not to aim advertising at children. McDonald’s abandoned all of its characters.

My parents’ generation all remember where they were when JFK was shot. As for me and mine, we have Mayor McCheese.

Some kind of funny guy

May 20, 2013

This weekend I was hired to deal a satellite game for the upcoming World Series of Poker. This is an annual tournament held at the house of one of the guys in my poker league — a former bureau editor I worked with.

The first year John held this, he was the winner. He represented our league at the WSOP, and got knocked out by Phil Ivey.

John’s house is decorated in signed posters and other memorabilia from old movies.

Years ago I was chatting with him in line for the bathroom — which has Bates Motel towels and a sillhouette of a stabber with a bun on the shower curtain.

I asked him how long he’d been married.

He said, “Eight years, four months and three weeks, and I haven’t regretted a day of it.”

How sweet.

“The day I didn’t regret was August 13, 1996.”

Funny, but the credit goes to Jack Lemmon, in “How to Murder Your Wife.”

I like old movies too.

The James Bond theme

May 19, 2013

My son and husband just rented Quantum of Solace. They’re doing their guy thing in the living room, while my daughter and I make baby clothes for my brand new niece.

We have Grey’s Anatomy on. It’s making us cry. We are not doing the guy thing.

I have never seen a James Bond movie. It’s my son’s first.

One Christmas I got the game Cranium. My son and I were a team, and I drew a name-that-tune card. It was the James Bond theme.

Shoot, I didn’t know the James Bond theme.

So I hummed the Mission Impossible theme.

My son yelled, “The James Bond theme!” and we won the game.

Yeah, we’re that good.

The shortest distance between my nerves

May 18, 2013

Whoever coined ‘The shortest distance between two points is a straight line’ did not take basic geometry.

I never use this expression.

For one thing, a line is straight by definition.

And worse, a line goes on forever. How can that be the shortest distance?

I say the shortest distance between points is a segment.

This is what’s in a name

May 17, 2013

I was born with an unusual name. It’s not an uncommon word, but it was spelled differently so teachers mispronounced it.

I hated the way kids and some adults felt they had to make a comment when they were introduced to me.

Often people would say, “That’s your name?” which was always followed by “Where are you from?” or “What nationality are you?”

I was from here, same as Jennifer and Suzy.

Once, in elementary school, I was getting a drink at the fountain and a boy I had a crush on said loudly, “See that girl? Her name is  (insert name here.)” The boys laughed and I cried.

I started trying to get people to call me different names at age 3. I was Rose, Mary, Linda and Dianne. At age 10 I found one that fit, and it’s my legal name today.

I had a normal name for 13 years, and then I married a man with a last name people giggle at. It was destiny, I guess.

My children are great sports.

Last week my daughter performed in a concert. There were thousands in the theater.

The woman to my left said, “Look at this kid’s name.”

Her son looked at her finger on the program and read my daughter’s name aloud. They tittered.

I imagined identifying myself, which made my ears hot and my heart pound. I am a great big chickenpants.

An hour later my daughter’s group took the stage.

The woman said, “Here comes that kid with the funny name.”

The boy said her name. This was my chance.

I turned to her and said, “That’s my daughter.” My heart was thudding and I was breathing funny. I’m not cut out for confrontation.

“Who?”

“The child you’re laughing at.” I faked calm.

“Chivus?”

What? “No,” I said my last name.

She effected a puzzled face. “We were talking about Chivus.”

She’s insulting me with denial now?

I didn’t respond. She turned toward her son, put an arm around him and kissed his hair.

I debated telling the children what happened, but I can’t have a story inside me and not tell it.

They took it well. They asked, “Where was she from?”

Here, obviously, but I wish I had asked her anyway. Meow.

Korean confusion

May 14, 2013

My sister is visiting from Hawaii. This is an enormous treat for me.

After work today I swung by her mom’s house. The girls were there, and there was great visiting going on. They were talking about family history, and interesting or funny stories. My favorite.

My grama was telling us about her stepdad. He was Korean.

He came to the United States because he was involved in some kind of covert political business.

Nana said when he got his driver license the DMV employee was among the many Southern Californians at the time who had never heard of Koreans.

In response to ‘What is your race?’ he thought he heard ‘Aquarian.’ That’s what’s on the license, which Nana says she still has.

My aunt Doreen said that during World War II he wore a button on his shirt that said, ‘I am Korean,’ so he wasn’t mistaken for Japanese. This was protection from being taken to a Japanese concentration camp.

A button? I’m astounded. Why didn’t the Japanese go get some of these buttons?

My sister wanted to know about Korean dishes that may have become family recipes.

“Oh, yes!” all the women said. They described Korean noodles, a soup with pork, cabbage, celery, soy sauce and thick noodles.

“How could I never have seen this in Hawaii?” my sister asked. “There are a lot of Koreans there.”

“Maybe you’re confused,” I said. “Maybe they’re all Aquarians.”

A proud moment

May 13, 2013

On Oprah, which I now tape and watch, thanks to my grama, they had an episode about children who commit suicide because of bullying.

It was heartbreaking.

But then there was one woman who shared a bright story, about a group of kids who saw a child being bullied and stood up in a circle around her. Their standing up for her, the psychologist said, gave her the confidence she needed to handle taunting in the future.

This reminded me of a phone call I got when my son was in second grade.

A man I didn’t know called and asked if I was my son’s mother.

Uh-oh.

He identified himself as Alyssa’s father. He wanted to know if I had heard what happened at lunch.

Uh-oh. “No, sir, I haven’t heard a thing.”

He was quiet a moment. Then when he started talking, I could tell he was trying not to cry.

Alyssa had gone home and told him some kids were calling her names like ‘gay,’ ‘nerd’ and ‘loser.’

Awwww. Alyssa was a sweet, tiny, timid thing who wore glasses.

He said Alyssa told him my son stood in front of her and yelled at the bullies. He told them to stop it. He said to be nice to her. He said Alyssa was his friend.

By that point the dad had given up trying not to let the tears come.

Me too.

The kindergarten craft story

May 10, 2013

On Mothers Day when my daughter was in kindergarten, I got a matchbox on a ribbon. It was a necklace.

My daughter had glued heart-shaped pasta to the outside and a photo of herself on the inside, locket style. The box and pasta were sprayed gold.

It made a perfect lanyard for my press ID. I wore it everyday.

One night a month later there was an evening school event. The kindergarten teacher threw her arms around me.

Unbeknownst to me, her husband had been getting a haircut when I took my son to the barber that afternoon. He saw the necklace dangling over my suit.

She explained to me that her staying up late spraypainting the projects gold irritated him. He suggested it was a waste of time .

My going to the barber earned her an apology.

Happy Mothers Day back atcha.

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 chandelier story

May 8, 2013

The only department store in my small Southern California town is going out of business.

Every day the teens on the corners with signs are showing a larger percentage discount. The store still looks full through the glass, but apparently ‘everything must go.’

It was a pricey store. If others are like me, they’re waiting for that percentage to get to 85 before biting.

This happened once before here.

We had a decoration-type place called ‘House to Home.’

My favorite Realtor had given us a gift certificate for sending her business.

My husband and I went to spend it — meaning he went to look at stuff he wished we could get, while I decided we would get throw pillows, a light-switch plate and a plant stand.

The living room of our craftsman home sported a gaudy dripping-crystal chandelier that we both thought was comical, so I wandered lustfully through the lighting section as I looked for my husband.

When I found him, I said, “I found the chandelier of my dreams. I can’t believe how much I love it.”

He said, “I’ll go check it out” — not ‘Which one is it?’ or ‘What does it look like?’

Then he returned to my side at the checkout. “I love it too, but it’s 500 bucks. You need to find Rhonda four more homebuyers and put those throw pillows back. Plus there’s tax.”

It was 500 bucks. It was the only one that was 500 bucks. Amazing.

Months later teens appeared on the corner with signs. The percentage off was 40.

Suddenly I was quick with math. “Honey, that chandelier now costs about 300 bucks.”

“Wait,” he said.

“But I love it really bad.”

“Wait,” he said.

Everyday I drove past those teens with the signs twice. Sometimes the percent on the sign was lower on my way to work than on the way home.

I kept doing math. My husband kept saying, ‘Wait.’

When the sign said 65 percent off I stopped to make sure they still had my chandelier. There was one left, in an unlabeled box. I took it to another department and hid it under some bed frames.

A friend of ours offered advice. He said, “If it’s worth $200 to you, then it’s worth $200. Go buy it.”

I waited.

Finally, it was down to $100. I went in and bought it.

We took down the crystal tear-drop monstrosity and put up my new lighting fixture of love.

I was positively giddy.

My immediate thought was that if I’d known how good it was going to look there, I would never have risked its being sold.

I would have paid the 500 bucks.

Click here for photo.

The blood-drive story

April 29, 2013

My son called me Friday at work, asking to forge my signature on a permission form for the blood drive, going on that minute. In the few weeks before I was kicked out of my law class, I learned that signing someone’s name with permission — and a witness to the permission giving — is not forgery. I gave him my grace by speaker phone and had done with it.

Naturally, I have a story about giving blood.

I’m afraid of needles, and have been delighted always to be ineligible to participate. You have to weigh at least 115 pounds and not be pregnant.

One evening I came home with a Band-Aid on my krelbow. Fun fact: The word ‘krelbow’ is the word in my house for the inner elbow. I came home to Boulder from a visit with my family in California showing off this new term. My husband, who taught anatomy at the time, laughed at me. ‘Where did you get that?’ I learned it playing Scrabble with  my aunties. ‘How much is the K worth?’ I was suckered, but my pride demands I continue using the word.

My husband pointed at the Band-Aid and raised his eyebrows.

“I gave blood today.” The blood bank used to hold drives every season in the conference room when I worked at the paper.

“Sure you did.”

I did. I lied about my weight, because I wanted the free booklight. Also the cookies were chocolate chip.

My husband shook his head chucklingly. “And how did it go?”

After some sadist with gel in his hair took the needle out, I stood up and swooned. They made me lie down for a half hour with cookies and my novel. I liked that part.

Imagine, after all I went through, my husband having the nerve to tell me the booklight was too bright.

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.