I weep at the sight of the casket. Friends and family pass by his body. Memories spoken. Words rip painfully into my chest. His bright smile, belly deep laugh, compassion for life. The glue of his family. A young life cut short by one last heroic feat. Six best friends, white gloved, gently lift the casket. I selfishly grieve as if it were my child, Admonishing myself. Another mother lost her child. Forever. Six young men buried their best friend. And then it occurs to me. My son lost a best friend. He would have been there, had he not taken a different direction.
Twenty years ago
The Sunday morning newspaper, late as usual, hits the driveway with a thud. The Shopwells are poised and ready for the shopping inserts. The Sunday eyeopener pot of coffee has been consumed and all heads are in peak caffeinated condition. Twelve cats lurk inside and outside the back door ready for the Sunday morning ritual.
Mr. Shopwell prepares to brew a fresh pot of coffee. He rinses the carafe, slowly pours 12 cups of filtered water into the tank, methodically unfolds a paper filter, and smooths it into the filter basket, opens the cupboard and chooses an appropriate blend, measures beans into the grinder, grinds for a count of seven, sniffs the aroma as he carefully pours the coffee into the filter, pauses for just a moment, and flips the switch. He stands guard over the pot, ready for the first and freshest cup.
Mrs. Shopwell gets up to scoop the poop and feed the cats. Her furry slippers scuffle over to the pooper scooper stand. Two of the cats follow her as she scoops all three litter boxes, and each takes a moment to deposit fresh tootsie roll shaped poops. Mrs. Shopwell makes one last pass through the litter boxes, nose turned up to avoid the fresh aroma. Six cats stand guard at the food barrel ready to pounce on fresh scooped kibble. Their noses twitch at the aroma.
Mrs. Shopwell’s sister Marty is visiting but she knows the ritual too. She makes an excuse to head for the bathroom muttering something about having too much coffee already. That leaves Artie, Marty’s girlfriend who just happens to visit enough to know the ritual, stuck with the job of stumbling over the remaining four cats to get to the bottom of the long, steep, narrow driveway to retrieve the coveted newspaper.
Yes, the newspaper is coveted. Not coveted enough to be the one passively elected to retrieve it. But, coveted enough that the arrival of the newspaper at the table creates a brief moment of havoc. All the cats retreat at the first rustle of the newspaper and watch from afar as eight hands scuffle and grasp at the colorful Sunday inserts. Not the news. Just the ads. It’s a retail therapy kind of day and everyone is ready for some retail inspiration.
As the paper rustling stops, the cats return to survey their battle ground. The table is covered with four categorically stacked paper piles. Computer ads have been separated into PC and Mac piles. Department store ads have been ripped apart into tools and lady’s underwear. The news, business and sports are strewn on the floor.
As the coffee cups are refilled the cats take their positions. After a few feeble attempts at coming between newspaper and noses, an exhaustible task on Sundays, they resort to languishing in the heedlessly tossed floor papers.
Mrs. Shopwell settles into the PC ads offering insinuating remarks about Macs while Marty peruses the Mac ads offering frequent rebuttals in defense of Macs. Artie says something about cutting precise round circles with a new super powered model jigsaw and Marty mutters, “all circles are round.” Mr. Shopwell is silent in words but loud in breath as he gazes at underwire, push-up, and figure enhancing bras in Victoria Secret ads.
Once known as Mr. & Mrs. Shopwell, the figments of imagination have aged into a caricature of Herman and Myrtle.
The twelve cats crossed that rainbow bridge long ago. These days Trumpette and Wanda rule over the litter box. Since the cat population is down by ten, Myrtle figures it’s Herman’s turn to scoop the poop. According to her calculations: 12 cats x 12 years x 365 days x 12 scoops per day = 630,720 scoops. If Herman scoops twice a day for 2 cats, he will have to scoop for 432 years to catch up.
Now about the coffee. Herman still does the morning ritual, but since he only must place a pod in the pot and push the brew button, Myrtle insists he bring her a fresh cup of joe before she gets out of bed.
As for the newspaper. The only day the official newspaper arrives is on Sunday and only because Sunday is digital detox day. Myrtle has decreed she will not turn on any electronic device on the sabbath (unless no one is looking). Herman has lost interest in the bra ads since he spends hours viewing ladies trying on underwear on YouTube but he does snip the grocery coupons. Myrtle sips her coffee, sends Herman off to the store, and prepares the weekly honey do list.
So, nothing has changed. Herman remains clueless.
NOW & THEN
Bringing in another post from the archives while waiting for the muse to wake up.
A few years back I was trying to train a new hairdresser. One day…
Hairdresser says: How about something a little different?
Note: This is the 2nd time she has cut my hair.
I say: OK whatever.
Wash…rinse…snip snip…gel…hairdryer…gook…teasing…hairspray…I look in the mirror.
Hairdresser: Do you like it?
HD: Well I’m not letting you out of the chair until you say you like it.
Me: Do you think you can tone it down a bit?
Note: Is Aquanet back in vogue?
A little tugging here and there…actually she pulls on one hair and they all move. She pats the sides of my head but the mass just springs back into form.
I look in mirror:
I know what comes next…
I’m twenty years older than my mother would ever be. Soon I’ll be as old as my mother’s mother. Say it isn’t so.
Memoirs should never be written under a pen name. At least that is what I have been told. I’ve also been told that we need to “own” our story – therefore, our name must appear as the writer. Otherwise it could be taken as frivolous fiction. But here’s the thing: I plan to publish my memoir Homeless Bound under the pen name M.Z. Bull. Obviously, it’s not for the sake of anonymity. Rather, it comes as a request from the grandson I happen to be raising who was shocked to see my name in large white letters on the proof copy. “You can’t do that,” he said.
“Why?” I asked.
“It’s embarrassing,” he said.
“What’s embarrassing?” I asked.
He pointed to the author’s name.
I have nothing to hide. If you turn the book over and are surprised to see a familiar face, you may already know I have lived in my northern California home for over fifty years. Marjorie Witt has appeared as herself in Story Circle Journal, Street Spirit (Justice News & Homeless Blues in the Bay Area), talkingsoup.com and here, in this blog. So where does M.Z. Bull come from? I think you might already know.
One of my most liked recent posts on social media was the before and after photos of the day I “KonMari’d” my closet. It elicited all sorts of comments like “amazing,” and “I’ve been meaning to do that.” But, the most prevalent comment was “I’m doing that too.” If they didn’t read the book, Netflix got their attention. How could anyone not know about it? Everyone is talking about it, or maybe I should say “wise cracking” about it. Like the this morning at Target. A slightly overweight lady holds up a bikini she might have been able to wear decades ago. Her friend asks, “does it bring you joy?” The wise woman giggles and puts the tiny triangles back on the rack.
Back to my closet. I broke a couple of rules. I didn’t run around the house and gather every article of clothing out of every closet, drawer, hamper, dryer, and floor. Instead I went through my drawers first, tossing the things that don’t bring me joy (mostly workout clothes from 20 years ago when I was still mountain climbing). The keepers were neatly folded the Marie Kondo way, except I folded my T-shirts with the graphics on the outside so I’d be sure not to wear my “I find myself to be exorbitantly superannuated for this feculence” shirt to work again.
The big job was the closet. Well, two closets actually. My full closet and the half of my husband’s closet that stored my off season clothes. And six suitcases of six decades of I-might-need-this-again-someday stuff. You know what I mean, the argyle sweater knitted in high school, running shirts, vacation shirts, Halloween costumes, and the wedding dress (yes, I put it back in the suitcase… you just never know). The three foot mountain covering the entire queen sized bed was daunting to me but a new playground for the felines.
Three hours later I hauled six cardboard boxes down to the curb for the re-use pickup and three garbage bags of unmentionables and threadbare rags for the big dump pickup. For once I’d get my money’s worth out of our garbage service.
My spring-summer wardrobe now hangs in eye-pleasing, color coordinated order, with easy accessibility. My husband is pleased to find he can now claim two thirds of his closet with my fall-winter wardrobe squeezed into the other third. Maybe if those suitcases in his closet stay empty, we can use them for what they’re meant for (just a hint that I’m ready to travel in case he’s reading this).
The stack of hangers left on my bed could support an entirely new wardrobe. What to do with those? Keeping extra hangers in my closet would be a danger I’m not willing to risk. So I get this brilliant idea – if I put them in JJ’s closet, he could hang up all his t-shirts, jeans and jackets that now carpet his bedroom. I leave a neat row of empty colorful plastic hangers on the rod. I don’t say a word when he comes home from school. I wait. Quietly. In my office. He opens his door. Slams it shut. I hear his backpack land on the floor. “WTF” echoes into his barren closet. He rushes into my office. “Grandma, someone stole all my shirts.”