Posts Tagged ‘2003’

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.


A cell-phone beating

August 13, 2013

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

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

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

I couldn’t get through, but I tried.

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

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.

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 hamster story

December 31, 2012

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

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

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

I heard a crash from the second floor.

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

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

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

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

It was 8 p.m.

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

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

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

During this time, King Arthur chewed the straw off.

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

Within a week he was fine.

The Ranchero

November 18, 2012

I have a 1958 Ford Ranchero. I’m not an old-car guy, and I’ve never driven it, but I love it, and I almost lost it.

The truck used to be my grampa’s. On Saturdays until I was about 6 he would take me with him to the dump, which is about the only time he used the truck.

He would open the driver door so I could crawl across the bench seat, and he would always say, “One of these days you’re going to get in through your own door.”

Occasionally he would use it for an errand. I heard him more than once come home and say, “I got another note on the windshield,” as he tacked a piece of paper to the kitchen bulletin board.

The notes all said the same basic thing: I want to buy your truck. Call me.

These put a hardness in the pit of my stomach. Forget that new car smell; I was sentimental about 25-year-old Ford cab smell. 

When I was a teen-ager, Nana said, “We’re re-doing our will. If there’s anything you want to be sure to get, speak up.”

I didn’t hesitate. Tap tap my truck.

Later my grandparents said, “It’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing. Why wait for us to die?”

I was married then. I can’t tell you how my skin crawls when my husband refers to it as his Ranchero.

A few years ago my Uncle Sonny started asking around, “Where’s Uncle Albert’s Ranchero?”

He wanted to fix it up. A bunch of old-car guys were fixing up cars together. 

My husband said he was planning on fixing it up in a father-son project. Then it would be what our son drives.

Yeah, my son’s going to get sticky, dirty stuff on his hands. Didn’t my husband read The Birthday Cake Story?

This never came to pass. So in 2003 I told Uncle Sonny he could take it, work on it, do the car show thing, but not have title.

Everybody was happy. I was about to get around to getting it over to his house.

Does the name Uncle Sonny ring a bell? His other mention was the story about how his house burned down.

If I hadn’t been so lazy, it would have been a carbecue.

For now it’s just sitting there. We don’t even use the thing.

But when we do, I’m going to breathe in deep as I crawl across the driver side.

The near suicide

November 8, 2012

I had a friend who called me one day. “My husband left me. I’m not OK.”

I went to get her, her baby and lots of her stuff, so they could stay with us for a few days.

She was a wreck.

After a few days, she returned home. Two days I didn’t hear from her.

Then she showed up one morning with a relaxed, but dazed face — like a zombie. “It’s all going to be fine now. I’ve got everything taken care of.”

Oh, big alarms here.

She handed me the baby. “This is the last thing. I just needed to bring you my baby.”

Frantically I searched my mental archive for dos and don’ts I’ve heard about. The pointer settled on this item: You can tell if a person is serious about suicide by asking about plans. The serious ones have thought out the details.

“Come in,” I said, taking the baby, “and tell me what you’ve planned.”

There were details. She not only had it all worked out how she was going to run her engine in a closed garage, she’d been up all night clearing out a spot for the car, getting important documents laid out on the kitchen table and packing the baby’s things.

She couldn’t tell me the last time she’d slept or eaten, but tried to ensure me she felt at peace since she found this solution.

I strained to hide my panic.

I felt like I might say exactly the wrong thing and crack the ice under her feet. Surely there are words that are exactly right. I didn’t know them.

I tried reason: What about your son?

She dismissed me: He’s got his dad and stepmom.

What about the baby?

That’s why I’m here. The main thing stopping me was the idea she’d end up as a foster child. I wanted to choose who raised her. I thought about taking her with me.

Well that upped my panic. I was getting dizzy and couldn’t think clearly anymore. I was going to screw this up.

I grabbed at one last idea, “Have you said goodbye to your father?”

She looked suprised. “No. I should.”

While she was on her cell phone, I was in the kitchen sneaking a call to my mom’s minister — not because either of us is spiritual, but because she did her thesis on suicides. She said to call the police.

I hadn’t mentioned my friend’s considering taking the baby with her. I was sure if the law got involved she would lose her baby. What a mess.

I went back into the living room. My friend was crying. That was a good sign. She was nodding, “OK, Daddy. OK.”

She flipped her phone closed and looked at me, all red and puffy. “He said no.”

No? The exactly right thing to say was no?

I kept the baby for a week while she got a room at a recovery center.

A few weeks later, her husband came back.


The wildfire story

September 1, 2012

From my house, I can see the flames in Oak Glen.

The fire started Sunday.

My husband called me from out. “I see smoke bad. It might be Forest Falls.”

I went out and looked toward the mountains. It was a familiar sight, a beautiful sky with a big brown plume of seemingly still, billowy smoke pushing up from one spot.

Yesterday when I drove the kids to school the smell was strong. It was sickening. There’s a smothering feeling to heavy fire air. It makes me a little panicky. It makes my son nauseated.

In the evening my husband and I drove home separately on the freeway. We spoke in unison as we got out of the cars in the drive: Did you freak out when you turned the corner toward town?

The orange was striking. It made me gasp.

This seems to happen every fall, but the first time was the worst: The Old Fire. On my way to work from the elementary school’s Fall Festival, there were flames on both sides of the freeway, almost the whole way. Two fires on my right were beginning to merge.

The newsroom TV was tuned to live coverage of people being evacuated, homes being destroyed. The numbers of people and homes rolled higher while we watched.

My friends and colleagues were outfitted in yellow suits and sent into harm’s way, taking the places of those coming back with full notebooks. They smelled so strong they had to go onto the roof to change out of their gear.

Then I got a terrible call. My Uncle Sonny’s house was gone. Not his neighbors’, just his. The fire followed an odd and narrow path that led to his back porch.

Oh man, he doesn’t even live in the mountains.

He was on his computer when he looked back and saw his awning was aflame. He grabbed his paper files and ran out.

He said there was a somber parade of people with armfuls of belongings walking down the street. Ultimately the fire hopscotched around the neighborhood, leaving piles of ash between unharmed houses, as it did with Sonny’s.

He lost the mementos of his life as a father — the art projects his three girls had made, photos, letters, abandoned instruments, his daughters’ ballet costumes.

My kids were 8 and 10.

After work we all drove over to Auntie Martha’s to give him a ‘there there’ and a ‘that sucks.’ 

En route home from Martha’s we could see the fire working its way over the mountains of Highland. It was coming down fast, and in the dark of night we could see the path growing longer, toward us.

My children were frightened. I drove them to the wash, a rocky swath of riverbed between us and Old, to reassure them.

You would have thought it was the 4th of July. Cars were parked all along the edge, and people had set up lawn chairs and brought sodas.

We looked down our nose at this, but went home and set up lawn chairs in the picture window on our second-floor landing. We had a great view.

Even as I explained to the children how safe we were, I put my wedding album, my  home videos and Grampa’s paintings in the back of the van.

My husband shook his head with an I’m-not-saying-anything look, but the evacuation line edged closer to town by the hour.

I made a videotape of each room, cabinets open, in case I had to list our possessions to an insurance company.

On the third day, it was like dusk all day long. The schools were closed, and it was difficult to breathe outdoors.

When I went to my car to go to work, I stood for a moment and thought it was snowing. Ashes were falling in graceful flakes, laying an even coat on my arms and hair.

Now it seems like we go through this every fall — the smell, the orange glow, the what-to-grab-first list — but I’m still shocked at first sight, whiff and breath.

Celebrity encounters

August 31, 2012

Last night at the wedding reception, we were talking about experiences with celebrities. I shared that my daughter went on Disneyland’s rapids ride with Orlando Bloom and learned that my cousin’s girlfriend was once given a ride to shore from Rosie O’Donnell on her Jet Ski, (and the incident was mentioned on Rosie’s show).

One of my close friends’ husbands works in movies. Julia Roberts threw her baby shower. Jim Carrey gave her a bathrobe. She’s been drinking with Brad Pitt. I mentioned I’m crazy about Jason Bateman. She said, “He’s just sweet all the way through.”

But wait till you hear how cool I am.

As you may remember, one of my cousins was in the band Grandaddy. He was also a serious skateboarder, like his buddy, professional skateboarder and movie star Jason Lee. Remember his stunts in Mumford? Real.

One night we went to the Henry Fonda Theater in Hollywood. Grandaddy was performing; Elliot Smith opened. Jason Lee had gone all by himself, so he hung with us.

By ‘hung with,’ I mean stood near and made like he came in with.

This was right before My Name is Earl, but after Chasing Amy, Almost Famous and Vanilla Sky. It was way after Mumford.

After the concert we went backstage, which was in the basement. My cousin the rock star came over for hugs and kudos, and said, ‘Guys, this is Jason; Jason, these are my parents, my brother, and my cousins.’

Here’s the extent of my relationship with the movie star: I said, “Hi, how are you?” He popped open a beer and nodded. Then I said, “It’s getting late, we’re heading on home.”

I’m cool.

I met Saddam’s capturer

July 9, 2012

The rumor that Michael Jackson was buried before his funeral, which was two years ago today, was widely reported on reputable news stations. They suggested that gold-plated casket was empty as it rolled from Forest Lawn Cemetery to the memorial service. No one seems to know where it is now.

What? People lie to the media?

That is so wrong. Journalists are generously serving the public’s right to know, and some people are using them to spread lies. I can’t stand it.

It’s bad enough our government does it. (Did I just shock you?) A guy at a bar told me this happens.

My husband and I were in line at B.B. King’s on Universal City Walk, where we were waiting to see The Chris Thayer Band.

The boy in front of us had a Navy SEALs jacket on. I thanked him for his service, and asked him if he’d been overseas or seen combat. He looked young — with blond hair and a baby face — but he also looked bad ass.

He told us he had been in Iraq until just now. This was his first day back in the States. In fact, he hadn’t been home yet, he said. He couldn’t wait to take his best girl out on the town.

We nodded at the girl. She nudged him with her elbow, “Tell them.”

He said his team was sent home as a reward for capturing Saddam Hussein. He, personally, was the guy to put his hands on the man and pull him out of the spider hole.

I pictured the sleeves of that SEAL jacket dipping into the styrofoam hideout. Probably my image wasn’t accurate.

We were dying for details, and started firing out questions. My last one was, ‘What went through your head the moment you realized what you had?’

The SEAL looked at his best girl, then at us. He shrugged. “It didn’t happen that way.

“Some other unit located Hussein. We got to be the ones to ‘find’ him, because the president owed my commander a favor. Hussein’s hole was guarded until we could get there and pull him out.”

I used to do this with my kids and Easter eggs.

It was that revelation that made me believe the guy. To that point, starstruck as I was, I had a niggling it might have been a tall tale. I have more fun when I ignore my nigglings, and was doing just that.

But the casket thing, no. I was a niggling-free believer.