Anaheim Tales (excerpt)

Seniors in high school are having a storytelling competition. Chapter 9 is the story told by the boy representing the music department. Chapter 10 is the students’ discussion of that story.

Chapter 9

The Music Boy’s Tale

One morning Carl Hinterbacher backed his car out of his driveway, and when he pressed his brakes, nothing happened. He pumped the brakes again and again, but to no avail. He ended up in the petunia patch of Edna across the streets’ yard.

Edna came out in her robe and hair curlers and yelled, “Carl Hindenburger I always knew you’d turn out to be a no-good!”

Carl had to try hard not to lose his temper with Edna, because he’d been mowing her lawn and cleaning her gutters for free for twenty years. And his teenage son Huey took care of her cats for free whenever she went to visit her sister in Minnesota.

Luckily Carl knew a thing or two about cars, so he took a look at the brakes. Much to his surprise, the brake lines had been cut. Who would want to harm him?

So Carl had the car towed to the shop and got himself a rental. He made it to work by noon and left at 2:30 as usual to pick Huey up from school.

Huey looked surprised when he saw his dad. He said, “What’s up with the car?”

Carl explained the situation to Huey, and Huey agreed that the whole thing was very strange.

When they got home, Huey said, “Hey Dad, we have to do an assignment for sociology class about bucket lists. Do you have a bucket list?”

“Not really,” Carl said. “Right now my goal is just to do a good job at home raising you and do a good job at work so we can pay the bills. Truth is, I’m pretty content with my life as it is, Son.”

“Don’t you ever kind of want to have some adventure?” Huey asked.

“Raising you is an adventure, Huey.”

But Huey didn’t look satisfied. “Well,” he said, “I thought of some things that I bet you’d want to try if you think about it. You only live once, you know, and I don’t want you to get too old to do some of these things and then have regrets.”

“Okay, I’ll humor you,” Carl said. “What are they?”

Huey ran and got the papers he’d printed out. “Skydiving? Or climbing Mount Everest? Running from the bulls?”

Carl couldn’t believe that Huey didn’t know him better. “Geez, Huey, are you trying to bump me off? What about writing a book or visiting the Grand Canyon? If I did have a bucket list, that’s more the kind of thing that would be on it. You should know that.”

“I just don’t want you to spend your life taking care of me and not get to do the things you want,” said Huey.

Touched, Carl said, “Huey, taking care of you is what I want. I’m so proud to be your dad.”

The next morning, Carl dropped Huey off at school and went to work. He always took the stairs to the second floor, and when he grabbed the rail, it gave way in his hand and pulled right out of the wall.

“Hmmm,” he thought. He reported the problem to maintenance and went about his day.

When he picked Huey up later, Huey looked surprised again, which was weird because he already knew about the rental car.

“Hey Dad, how was your day?”

“Oh, fine.”

“Anything unusual happen?”

“Not that I can think of.”

Huey was very quiet the rest of the way home.

When they got there, Huey printed out some more information off the computer.

“Look Dad,” he said. “Surfing lessons. Four-wheeling.”

Carl slapped the kitchen table. “Huey Heidelmacher, what is going on? You know I’m not a good swimmer, and I hate those four-wheelers. Accidents waiting to happen.”

Huey sighed. “I guess, Dad, it’s all those novels I’ve had to read in school. I’ve been feeling a little inadequate at solving my own problems, and in the books, the father figure always has to die before the kid can face his demons for himself.”

Carl’s mouth hung open. “Huey Hinglemeier, did you cut the brake lines on my car?”

Just then, the chandelier crashed down, landing inches from Carl’s foot. Carl went pale. He said, “I’m trying to remain calm, Huey. Now please tell me what in tarnation is going on.”

Huey hung his head. “I’m sorry, Dad.”

“The brakes, Huey?”

Huey nodded.

“And the chandelier?”

Huey nodded again and said, “And the handrail at your work.”

Carl walked over and looked out the kitchen window at the falling leaves. After a while, he said, “Look, Huey, I want to be here to help you as long as possible. Maybe even help your kids. And any time you want me to butt out, I will. It’s been a long time since I called Kirk’s dad to tell him Kirk was stealing your candy bars at lunch. And if you want me to stop bringing your clarinet to school when you forget it, I will.”

Kinda quietly, Huey said, “No, I like it when you bring my clarinet.”

“And make you dinner?”

“Yeah.”

“How about you just tell me when you want to do something without my help. Deal?”

“Thanks Dad. You’re the best.”

Chapter 10

Prologue to the Debate Boy’s Tale

“And that is why we shouldn’t be forced to read books,” Music Boy adds.

Everybody laughs. Have I mentioned that Foreign Language Girl has a musical laugh?

To purchase Anaheim Tales in paperback, go to my “books” page and follow the link!

 

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Bono the Basset Spaniel

In memory.

After 7 years of marriage, and when our daughter was about 3, my husband and I finally bought a townhouse. Besides the glorious benefit of not having to move because rent went up or a landlord wouldn’t fix the mold problem or a landlord wanted to move back in, this meant one thing to me. We could get a dog!

My husband and I had both grown up with dogs and loved them, but my husband worried about the cost of a dog. This was a legitimate worry, what with teachers’ salaries. Our cat Javert (bleh, I’m not a cat person, although Javert was a pretty cool one) hardly cost a thing besides a little food, and we didn’t have to worry about being gone all day, it’s true.

However, I knew that having a dog would be fun and easy and cheap. I just knew it!  I brought the subject up once in a while, and one day I came up with a brilliant new tactic for my U2-loving husband.

“What if we name him Bono?”

My husband cocked his head. “Hmmm.”

I started looking on Petfinder for a springer spaniel mix. I grew up with an awesome springer, but I love mutts. I like their uniqueness, and whether it’s true or not, I’ve always heard they have fewer health and temperament problems. We wanted a male puppy, and it only took about three weeks for the perfect litter to appear on the pet-finding site. Seven 12-week-old springer/basset puppies about three hours away. Four of the puppies were male. I knew I’d be a terrible dog trainer and would need to rely on breed attributes, and basset sounded like the last breed on earth to bite someone. I filled out an application immediately, and a few days later, my daughter and I were on the road.

We picked up my dad halfway. I wanted him to help me navigate. “But if you come,” I said, “you WILL come home with a puppy for yourself. They’re that cute.” My parents had gotten to the “no more dogs” stage.

When we got to the home of the breeder who was fostering the litter, the woman put the girl pups in her house and let my dad, my daughter, and me play with the four boys. 50 people had applied for the seven pups, who were named after the seven dwarfs. My dad fell in love with Dopey and told the woman that if the 50 applicants didn’t pan out, he’d take him. Doc was the pup I’d kind of liked from the Petfinder picture, but the breeder was thinking of keeping him for herself. She liked the personalities of this litter better than any of the litters of border collies she’d bred.

Sleepy was the smallest, and though the other three jumped on us and kissed us, he followed my daughter around the yard and sat down next to her whenever she stopped.

“We’ll take that one.”

The woman wondered if I wanted to take a little longer with them, but I knew. Sleepy, the only short-hair, was now Bono. And bonus, he was the one my husband had liked the picture of!

When my daughter and I led Bono up our walkway, my husband said, “Ohhh my gossshhhh.” Bono was that cute. Also, the foster mom called my dad the next day. She had liked him so much she bumped him up the list, and Dopey became Mosie.

Exactly like in Lady and the Tramp, Bono quickly went from my husband making him sleep on a pillow next to our bed to sleeping on the bed at my feet. He was the perfect dog except for taking over a year to be housebroken. Pro tip: Bassets have such a good sense of smell that no matter how much you scrub the carpet where they peed, they can still smell it and think it’s their bathroom. And Bono peed about six times an hour.

Aside from the few days when I wanted to give Bono back to the shelter while I was scrubbing the carpet (my husband forbid it, now every bit as attached as I was) we had a great time. Oh, and aside from the time I thought I could handle a three-year-old kid and an untrained dog by myself at the beach and our dog leash and sand toys were swept away by a rogue wave and Bono rolled in a dead seagull. And aside from the time Bono barked to go out and then when I opened the door he ran instead over to the couch where I’d set my dinner and had himself a big bite. And aside from the time his beloved Javert passed away and we got a new kitten that he did NOT approve of for weeks.

When we first got Bono, our daughter was still reluctant to sleep in her own room, but when we offered to have Bono sleep on her bed, she made the transition. Bono did not like changes in routine, but he took the new nighttime arrangement like a champ. Years later, when he woke her up too much at night, he didn’t want to switch back to our bed. He’d still go to her bed every night and I’d have to call him into my room.

Bono was hard to walk. Actually, he was easy to walk until he saw a cat. Once, I ended up flat on my face. And so, as every bush in our neighborhood seemed to hide a cat, Bono didn’t get taken out as much as I wished I could take him out. I had pictured myself as one of those people with a chill dog lying at her feet outside a cafe. Alas, Bono was not that dog. Another thing I found out about bassets too late is that no matter how well trained they are, if they see or smell a small animal, they forget their training. In fact, I think they even forget their owner. Owner? What owner?

But other than not getting out enough, Bono was well-spoiled. He didn’t like to be left outside, so he’d make me stand at the back door and watch him go potty (once he was finally trained). If I walked away, he’d bark to come back in without doing his business. My husband thought I was ridiculous, but I was the one who would just have to let Bono out again ten minutes later if I didn’t comply.

He was too delicate to sleep on our cheap carpet. He needed a spot on the couch. And when his long body tired of curling up on one end, he’d hop off and come stare at me at the other end. Then he’d look at his vacated end of the couch and back at me. “Move, please.” My husband also thought I was ridiculous for moving from one end to the other all evening. But I thought it was funny.

My parents moved closer to me, and what joy! Bono and Mosie took turns chasing each other around my parents’ back yard until we stopped them because their eyes were bloodshot. Then they’d drink in tandem, wag their tales in uncanny synchronization, and lie down panting, Mosie a bigger, harrier twin. My dad marveled at their identical habits and personalities.

Bono loved every person he met. I loved how he had a deep basset bark when someone knocked on the door, but secretly I wondered if he’d protect us from intruders or simply jump up and lick their faces with glee. “How wonderful that you’ve come over! Do you want to throw a toy?”

So many things I know I’ll remember forever. Strangers asking me what on earth breed he was; his hiding when I turned on the oven because one time turning the oven on led to the scary smoke detector beeping; camping in Oregon and the big, black, camp cat not fleeing like every cat before had fled, and Bono’s shock at getting a nice swat across the face…

And he was cheap, as dogs go. Other than a few ear infections, we lucked out. Bono just kept ticking. He made it well past the expected lifespan of a basset, and on the long side of the spaniel expectancy. One day when he was 13, he just didn’t want to eat. Climbing the stairs took him a long time. He took a breather half way up. I took him to the vet, hoping that it was just an infection where I’d let his nail grow too long and it had curled under. It wasn’t. It was just almost his time to go. Two days later, he didn’t even attempt the stairs. We stayed up until three in the morning watching T.V. downstairs because we didn’t want to leave him alone. His whole life, he was always happiest when the whole family was in the same room. My heart broke when we went upstairs and he didn’t follow. At five, he barked, but he wasn’t at the door to go potty, he was still lying on the floor. I brought my pillow and a blanket and slept on the ancient futon couch, which I would have done in the first place if it weren’t for what usually happens to my back when I fall asleep there.

When I woke a couple hours later, it was clear that we needed to take him in. I don’t want to make you cry if you’re not crying already, so I’ll spare you the details. Everyone who’s ever had a dog knows what it’s like to let go of having that dog run to the door when you come home, joyful whether you were at work all day or simply at the mailbox. Anyone who’s had a dog knows how much we’ll miss Bono. He was the first dog I ever chose for myself. I hope he’s running with Mosie again. He was a good dog.

The Last Time I Said I Was Happy

It was about twenty years ago. I’d recently been married, and I was home alone in our apartment. I don’t think I was happy about anything in particular, it was just one of those moods that come along through no act of our own or anyone else’s. Sometimes it’s just a gift. I think the gift of that mood is a little more rare for me than for many people.

“I’m happy!”

I said it aloud to myself. It felt strange. Maybe it was even the first time I’d done that. I don’t remember if I was cleaning or puttering around, if I’d just come home or if I’d been lounging.

At any rate, as soon as I’d said it, the phone rang. My grandpa had passed away.

This is where my ridiculous human brain works its magic. It’s crazy, but it’s not uncommon. I never said those words out loud again—not to myself, not to anyone else. I may have said “I’m so happy for you,” or “I’m so happy about [whatever]” but never a general statement about my whole self just feeling happy.

Year after year I told myself that the timing was, of course, mere coincidence. Grandpa was old and in poor health, and even if he hadn’t been, his death would have only been coincidence. Fate, God, Satan, Whoever, wasn’t waiting for me to say those words in order to smash my spirit.

I don’t think I’m a superstitious person. I have a black cat. My birthday is on a 13th, and it’s never been unlucky, even when it falls on a Friday. I sometimes open my umbrella in the house. I believe God is all powerful.* So what is this? What is this lingering suspicion?

Once, in the car, my teenage daughter was in a random good mood and said to me, “I’m happy.” It wasn’t very long ago—years after Grandpa’s death—but I thought of Grandpa nonetheless. “Me too,” I said. Even that felt a little dangerous. But I didn’t want my kid to have a parent who couldn’t say they were happy. I am used to pretending I’m happy when I’m not. In general, I don’t believe in having to hide your feelings, but I don’t want my kid to have to be around someone who seems unhappy all the time, so sometimes I fake it. But I never say those two particular words. With her proclamation of “I’m happy,” and my “Me too,” we continued on and had a perfectly fine day. Why was I half wondering if we wouldn’t?

The other day, I had a thought that I can’t believe I’d never had before. Maybe that phone call wasn’t mere coincidence but also wasn’t a purposeful crushing of my spirit. I don’t know what Grandpa’s religious beliefs were, but maybe my happiness was a reaction to his release from pain. Maybe my spirit knew something before I got that phone call.

Or maybe I just think too much. Wishing YOU the gift of happiness today.

*Some people consider belief in God a superstition. I looked up the etymology of the word superstition while I was writing this paragraph and was quite surprised.