Posts Tagged ‘2006’

The terrified cell-phone salesman story

November 19, 2013

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kid started sweating and shaking.

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

He was making me nervous.

“Have you talked about this with your mother?”

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

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

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

My husband said, “Yeah.”

We left.

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

We went back.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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 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.


I speak Nana.


March 12, 2013

During our big kitchen remodel my potpourri disappeared. The bowl was there, but all the little citrus slices and nuts and stuff were missing.

The mystery was solved when I swept behind the couch in the parlor. There were mice droppings and dried citrus rinds. About this time my daughter yelled from the powder room that she saw a huge mouse scurry into the game closet when she turned on the light.

We found a hole going to the driveway where the electrician had run new wires.

My husband wanted to get traps. The ones that cut the mouse in half made me sad. The ones that glue the mouse to a board until he starves made me sad. Poison made me nervous. I closed the game-closet door.

After about a week my husband and I were in the kitchen space. It was bare but for wood floors and wood counters, which we were leaning against.

A big rat sauntered in, brave as you please.

A screaminger, hoppinger woman you never saw. I tried to get up on the counter, but my husband was yelling at me to get out of the room. I think he just wanted a minute of quiet.

He told me the rat could climb up on the counter. But the rat was by the door. I was trapped, hopping from one foot to the other, going, ‘Ah ah ah. I don’t like it.”

The next day I asked the contractor to fix the hole, put out those traps that cut the rat in half, put out the gluey boards, and sprinkle poison everywhere.

And on my way home from my daughter’s school I went to the Humane Society to get a great big cat. I would come to regret my choice of companion.

She went straight to the cage that held a pair of black-and-white kittens.

Oh, no, we’re not.

Here’s where my fear of destiny screwed me. My daughter asked the bad lady who was telling her that little kittens’ scent would keep rats away what their names were.

I ended up taking those stinky, useless kittens home.

They were News and Paper.

link to photos

The Devil?

February 25, 2013

We’re a Texas-Hold-‘Em family. I’ve been playing with a group from my newsroom for years, and my children each started playing with us at about age 10.

When my daughter was 11 she and I participated in a charity tournament at my mom’s church.

There were 41 players, who were allowed to purchase more chips when they got knocked out.

Everytime she sat at a table she took all the chips there. She cleared out three tables before my league’s leader, Scotchie, labeled her The Devil.

By the time she was at the final table it was her official nickname.

She took first place. Scotchie took second. Another from our league, who had just played in the World Series of Poker, came in third.

Almost a year later Scotchie organized a heads-up tournament for our league. This means instead of sitting at a table of players, all games are one on one until only one is left standing.

I outlasted about half of the players before my daughter eliminated me. From there she sat down against Scotchie’s brother.

Scotchie came up behind her and teased, “Look out for this one, she’s The Devil.”

“I’m not afraid of her,” Scotchie’s brother was all smiles. These boys taught her everything she knows.

She rolled her eyes and dealt out three cards face up — 6, 6 and 6.

Scotchie’s brother’s smile dropped. “Maybe I’m a little afraid.”

He folded.

The lump in my breast

February 24, 2013

One of  my favorite girlfriends just told me she’s been diagnosed with breast cancer.

It’s Stage 0, which is good news, but I know good news like that isn’t as calming as logic would suggest. When you’re faced with losing a breast, it’s hard to see the cup as half full.

A few years ago I was in a hotel six hours from home when I found a lump. My husband was home. Both kids were on the hotel bed playing video games.

I had barely settled into the bathtub when I felt it. My mother had had breast cancer. I went from zero to panic with one touch.

We were in Sacramento for an academic competition, which means we were with a group from the school.

As calmly as I could, I hollered for the kids to run across the hall and get my girlfriend. To their credit, they didn’t say anything about the bizarreness of my asking them to bring my friend to join me while I had a bath.

By the time she came in I was wrapped in my robe, sitting on the toilet. I was hysterical and couldn’t get the words, “I found a lump in my breast” out.

One of the other girls in our gaggle had had breast cancer twice. We knew this danger was real.

I pulled my robe aside to expose my breast and put her hand on the spot. I was breathing like a machine gun and my eyes were beginning to swell.

She ran out of the room to get one of the other moms, who’s an OB/GYN.

My poor kids must have been crazy with speculation. ‘It’s nothing, kids, just a little bathroom party,’ I would have said, if I could have said. ‘Got any of those blowy horns?’

Our doctor friend was comforting. She said the soreness and the jumpiness of the mass ruled out cancer. She told me not to worry.

I worried. For Pete’s sake I could see it. And it felt hot, but maybe that’s because I wouldn’t stop rubbing it.

I didn’t sleep that night. I thought of all the things I want to do before I die. I thought of every person who might attend my funeral.

Even knowing my lump didn’t fit the cancer-lump profile, I was afraid. I was terrified of the small chance I would hear I had cancer.

I thought of our friend, who heard it twice. She was at the beach when she felt her lump, and must have felt like this. Worse, her fears were validated. I lay there realizing I hadn’t imagined her going through this frantic dizziness. Wow, my mother went through this. And worse.

Now another friend is going through it. And worse.

My doctor girlfriend was right. I had a biopsy that confirmed it was nothing but the flotsam of my breast — milk duct tissue or some such. I felt like a drama queen.

My girlfriend who was just diagnosed caught it early through a routine mammogram.

I’m helpless to ease her anxiety. The best I can do is be her bosom buddy.

The safe story

February 8, 2013

I’m writing in the middle of the night. I just got home from dealing a poker championship tournament in my other house.

A couple of years ago we did a major remodel there. The first step in that long process was to empty out the massive laundry room.

The laundry room in that house was ridiculous. It was so big we turned it into the family room. It had had a walk-in pantry, two large closets, three tub-style sinks and lots of empty space.

As roomy as it was, they still had an ironing board that tucked into the wall. We had a dining table in there, for Pete’s sake.

There was no logic. The kitchen was tiny. Both had ugly wall-to-wall carpeting.

While emptying the closets, my husband stood in one for the first time. He said, “Honey, the floor feels different in here.” He started pulling up the installed carpet.

“Oh my God, there’s a false floor.”

I perked up at this. Two owners ago, a police officer and his wife lived in that house. He was a repo man or narcotics officer, we can’t remember exactly. What we know for sure is he was killed on duty. The wife let it go into foreclosure. Maybe something was hidden there she didn’t know about.

Bingo. Under the false floor, there was a safe. It was shiny and blue.

The week we had to wait for an appointment with a safe cracker was agony. Finally he came on a Wednesday at 2 p.m. My husband had left work early. I was videotaping.

By 2:15 people were calling, but I had no news. They guy was struggling with it. He said he had never had such a hard time opening a safe. “Whoever bought this one really didn’t want anyone at his stuff.”

Good gory hurry up.

He cursed and drilled violently. I was panicking, “Don’t break my new jewelry!”

My husband said to brace myself. It could be drugs, cash, guns or graphic photos. It could be a small body.

My uncle suggested we sell it unopened on eBay. I thought this was brilliant, but I’m a slave to my curiosity.

At 3:30 p.m. we were still getting calls from family, friends, and the parents of our kids’ friends. Our kids, then in fifth and seventh grades, had announced our find. My husband was furious.

Finally, at 5, it opened. I had run out of videotape. My husband was angry with the kids. The safe cracker had hurt his finger. Everybody was crabby.

We found we were the owners of a souvenir program from “Gone With the Wind,” and an old newspaper announcing Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. It was a second run edition. According to the Internet, the whole booty was worth about $70.

The safe cracker cost $200.

link to photos

The Rose Parade story

January 2, 2013

Around when my grama rounded 80 years, I started thinking that she was getting old.

She gave the illusion otherwise.

I also started taking the comments she made about what she’s always wanted to do as some manner of bucket list.

Among those comments was the annual “I’ve always wanted to go watch the Rose Parade.”

I learned there was a trip planned through her church, wherein people spent the night in a church on the route, got a pancake breakfast and were sent into the morning for float watching. That sounded nice.

We knew all the families going. It was perfect. The kids were excited. I signed us up.

This was the year the parade was on Jan. 2.

We played Chronology, which was new to us, and Taboo, of which my daughter is the master. Woo hooo, great fun all around, and our octogenarian was a sport about sleeping on the floor while teens watched DVDs of Curb Your Enthusiasm a few feet away.

In the morning everything went to pot. It was cold, windy and raining. Nana was undaunted. She piled blankets in her arms and said Let’s go.

We were not in a church on the route. We started walking and it never ended. It was more than a mile. The rain was making our blankets heavy, and Nana can’t walk far, so it was slow traveling. Our hats, scarves and sweatshirts were useless in the wet. I wanted to throw the blankets down and leave them.

Finally we found our group on cold metal folding chairs in front of a bar, which was closed. Nana and I had to pee.

Someone pointed down the route. “Go about five blocks. There are port-a-potties.” Forget it. My pants were already wet, what harm a little more? At least it would be warm.

We sat to wait. There was no way to get warmth. The rain was coming down on us hard. Time dragged. Across Colorado Boulevard I saw RVs parked at a gas station. I fantasized about going over there and offering them a million dollars to share their accommodations.

After a while, my son said, “Is it going to be like this the whole time?”

I turned to Nana. “I’m not going to make it. Shall I go get the car and pick you up?”

Hell no. She wanted to see the parade. It’s shameful to be out-hardied by an 80-something.

My 13-year-old son and I left her and my 11-year-old daughter. On the walk back my son looked over his arms and feet and said, “I could not be wetter.”

“I could not be colder,” I said back.

At the church I called Nana’s cell to see if she’d reconsidered. The parade hadn’t started yet, but others had left, including my daughter.

When The Baby walked in she said, “I feel so sorry for the kids marching in bands today.” She and my son are both marchers. They started talking about how heavy and itchy the uniforms get when they’re wet, and what the water does to the instruments.

I tried Nana again. She was finally ready to cry Uncle. She had started walking.

I jumped in my car and headed routeward. When I got to the underpass, there were pylons blocking my way, and an officer pacing in the dry.

I got out and started moving the pylons. I was frenzied knowing Nana was walking — sopping, cold and carrying that leaden blanket. She is simply not as strong as she is stubborn.

The officer made to stop me. I shook my head. “My grama needs to be picked up. You wanna stop me, you’re gonna have to shoot me.”

In hindsight, that was more dramatic than was warranted.

He squinted against the rain and made out a white-haired figure struggling our way. I got a by-your-leave and went to her.

The next year, on Jan. 2, I went over for breakfast. She was there in her chair watching the Rose Parade on TV.

She didn’t complain, just like she never complained once on that rainy day.

I could not be regrettier.

click here for photo

Finding Christmas

December 25, 2012

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

My children’s perspective on the holiday was awry.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My mother just sat there. Nana passed it on.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The die story

November 26, 2012

A few Thanksgivings ago my baby cousin Sterling and his girlfriend came down from Washington. At dinner, they announced their engagement.

Wee hooo! I love a big announcement on a holiday.

After dinner, we pulled out the party games. We were going to play one of my favorites, Scattergories. Sterling’s affianced had never played before.

For this game, you have 12 categories, and a letter. You have to think of something in each category that starts with that letter.

Fun stuff. I always win.

I started passing out pencils and category lists, and we realized the die wasn’t in the box. I had left it in my bag of tricks for the Journalism Club I ran at the elementary school.

Alison said, “No worries. I have a die in my purse.”

We tried to stop her. “It’s not a regular die. It’s a many-sided die covered in letters.”

She kept walking toward her purse. Sterling’s fiancee doesn’t listen, I thought.

She came in rummaging through her little purse. Me, I carry a backpack. Between my canister of Wet Ones and my novel, I have no use for Louis Vitton.

“Here’s a die!” she said. I shook my head at her.

She pulled out a hand-carved wooden 26-sided die with letters on it.

My son yelled, “Welcome to the family! You pass.”

click for photo

I was touched

August 24, 2012

The last of the Beatles’ birthdays is today. It’s George, wiping up the rear. Like the rest of us, he’s turning 42.

I guess we all go around talking at people and don’t realize which moments they’ll remember forever.

George said something to my husband and me a few years ago that touched me deeply.

He said he looks to our relationship with our kids as his goal with his own son.

I was overwhelmed by how much that meant to me. I make a point of remembering it often, as a means of appreciating what I have.

As if being George’s friend didn’t make me feel lucky enough.

The Carnegie Hall story

June 16, 2012

Years ago I got a call from my daughter’s voice teacher. She was putting a group together to perform at various charity events in New York City. Most of the performers were high schoolers, and The Baby was a young-looking 11.

The last stop on the tour would be in Carnegie Hall, the director said.

My in-laws were visiting when we got the call, and my mother-in-law told me this story.

“I sang in Carnegie Hall,” she started.

“You did?” She doesn’t sing.

“Yes, when I was a child. My father and I went there to see a barbershop quartet. At the end of the concert the performers invited the audience to sing along. I opened my mouth and sang. Technically, I sang in Carnegie Hall.”

Well, she came closer than my daughter did. That part of her tour was canceled.

The eulogy story

April 23, 2012

Today would have been my Auntie Martha’s birthday. She was one of my grama’s many sisters.

When I was little she took care of me after school. She and her husband had raised five children and were the heart of the home for their grand- and great-grandchildren too.

When Martha was at the end, everyone went to the hospital. I was wearing mules — a hybrid between those things the dutch wear and boots. My daughter calls them ‘shoots.’ There is no back strap over the heel. As I stepped onto a grassy island in the parking lot, my heel came off the shoot sideways. Down I went, and I couldn’t get up.

My whole family was a few yards away, and all of them with their phones off — hospital rules. I sat there for 45 minutes. I was afraid I would miss my chance to say goodbye.

As it turns out, I had three more days.

Even though she died in her 90s, her babies and their babies were devastated by it. Consequently, her daughter asked me to write a speech for the service.

I had a lot to write, about the nurturing I felt in that home. Among the things they taught me was how to play poker. We gathered around the kitchen table one night with plastic chips after dinner when I was 12 and I got hooked.

On the day of the service I limped to the altar of the church.

In the middle of my eulogy I mentioned the poker and had to lower my eyes a moment. The podium was empty, I noticed, but for four plastic poker chips tucked under the shelf.

Auntie Martha calls.