Thursday, October 31, 2019

Teaching Ruby to Purr

My orange tiger cat, Ruby, is a big cat, but she has such a little purr I can barely hear it. 

Not only that, but she hardly ever purrs, only when I slick the top of her head and not every time, even then.

"Ruby," I tell her, "it's not seemly for such a big cat to make such a little noise."

She rolls her eyes at me, but she says nothing.

The veterinarian says Ruby's purr is normal, and so does the humane society, but I disagree. What do they understand about social niceties? 

Obviously, it's up to me to teach Ruby how to purr louder.

First I trained myself how to make a low continuous vibratory purr, like a cat's but much louder. Then every time I stroked Ruby, I purred. Whenever she purred, I purred louder. 

This went on for weeks, but she didn't change an iota, except she laid her ears back.

Maybe cats don't learn from humans. Maybe I need another cat. I think I'll go to the humane society and pet kittens until I find one with an appropriate purr. Then I'll bring him home and shut him in a room with Ruby. Maybe that will work.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

OCTOBER 24, 1986 - 2019


no more booze or daily hits of Mary Jane
 
sober & clean for 33 years
 
you can do it; I did it

🎈🎈🎈
 
Marilyn June Coffey

Thursday, October 17, 2019

Hail Barney!


On a visit to my dentist, I turned up Omaha's 90th. Street work signs, tall and orange striped, kept me inching down my single lane. Men working prevented me from reading street signs, but I felt certain I had a ways to go to turn left on Maple Street.

After a while, I wondered if I'd missed my turn, a major street with traffic lights galore. Then I realized I had.

No problem. I'll just hang a left at the next major artery. 

Miles flew by before I found an artery and turned. The new street looked unlike a city street. Few buildings. Few cross streets. Even some yellow blossoms. Where am I? 

I drove and drove. Then I saw a sign: Fremont 20 miles. Oh my God, I'm halfway to Fremont, a town northwest of Omaha. 

Spooked, I whipped a left onto a deserted two-lane highway with a 55-per-mile speed limit. I drove south, I thought, but I wasn't sure. Miles passed before I saw a place to ask for help. 

I turned into a complex of high-end homes, the kind where many sport names. I pulled into a road and stopped to check my iPhone. 

Then someone pulled up beside me and stopped his shiny black truck. An older man rolled down his window. "You okay?"

I rolled down mine. "I'm lost."

The man smiled. "Where you going?"

I told him.   

"I'll take you there. Just follow me."

He turned around and I followed, thinking are you crazy in the middle of nowhere following a man you don't know? Even so, he seemed a better option than my iPhone which had never heard of 129th and Maple Streets. Just like her!

We drove and drove mostly along 168th Street. We crossed Military Avenue and Fort Street, familiar names. When the man pulled his truck off the road, I pulled in beside him.

He got out of the truck, taller and older than I'd thought. "Hi. I'm Barney."

He stuck out his hand and through my rolled down window we shook. 

"I think you can take it from here. Maple is the second stoplight. You take a left and—"

"Barney, thanks so much, you've really made my day."

In the Omaha World Herald, I've read about people like Barney, who do you a kindness without being asked. Usually they're folks who pick up your tab in a restaurant. I never thought I'd live to meet one. I'm so glad I did. 

Thursday, October 10, 2019

THE ART OF FALLING

The first time I fell down, no one could have been more surprised than me. One moment I walked in my neighborhood and the next instant I lay flat on my face on the sidewalk. I didn't seem hurt, so I got up and went home.

The second time echoed the first, only I noticed that I tripped on a crack in the sidewalk.

The third time I tripped on a crack as I walked to some Lincoln, Nebraska, event. I crashed face first to the cement, but got up and carried on. A friend with me observed, "Marilyn, you really ought to get a cane." So I visited Kubat's Pharmacy and chose a simple style: black to match my shoes and my belt.

The fourth time I fell as I walked in my garage. I held my cane in my right hand so I couldn't fall on my face. Instead, I fell on my left side, into a display of snow shovels. I fell hard. This time it hurt. I got up, all right, but I lived for a week with a magnificent bruise on my left thigh.

The fifth time I fell, I missed one step as I stepped down two indoor steps in a church. My cane lay in my car. I managed the first step down but when two friends moved forward to talk to me, I looked at them and forgot to look at my feet. One foot stepped completely over the second step into pure air. I pirouetted and slammed to the floor on my back. My head cracked  louder than thunder.

What to do. I didn't feel hurt, so I rolled over and pulled myself to my feet. The teacher brought me ice and a towel. I sat out most of the exercise class. By then I noticed a swelling as large as an egg on the back of my head, but I didn't feel dizzy and I had no head ache so I drove home. There I treated my disaster with more ice packs and with a huge bowl of ice cream.

I don't experience myself an expert in falling, since I've never fallen on my right side, but I'm getting ready. I use my cane everywhere I go, and I hold it with my left hand to prepare myself for that right-side descent. When it happens, then I can brag that I've mastered the four forms of falling: front, back, left and right sides.  

Thursday, October 3, 2019

ON LEARNING TO WALK Or what the physical therapist told me:

Don't slump. 
Stand straight, 
shoulders back, 
head up. 
That's right.

But don't shuffle, Marilyn. 
Lead with your heels, 
not your toes.

Stand up straight. 
That's it. 
Pull your shoulders back.
That's better. 

Keep your head high.
Don't look at your feet. 
Look ahead of you. 
Look at where you're going.

Now swing your arms; 
Let them hang loose
Don't bend them.

Coordinate your arms and legs: 
right arm, left leg. 
Left arm, right leg.
That's it.

Now speed up.
Good. 
You've got it.
Just relax.

Thursday, September 26, 2019

BANNED

September 22-28 is national Banned Books Week, an annual event that celebrates our freedom to read.

My novel Marcella is among the dozens, no hundreds, perhaps thousands of books censored by libraries or schools.

"Marcella" published in 1973.

Marcella was blocked for its sexual language, the usual reason for suppressing books. Well-known titles banned for sexual content include Fifty Shades of Grey by E. L. James; The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison; The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins; Brave New World by Aldous Huxley; The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger; The Color Purple by Alice Walker; and I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou.

Other reasons to ban books include offensive language (examples are To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee and Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck); racism (The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain); use of occult/Satanism (J. K. Rowling's Harry Potter series) and curiously enough, for its religious viewpoint, The Holy Bible.

Marcella's sexual crime was petting her pussy. That made my book the first novel written in English that chronicled female masturbation. 

Feminists lauded Marcella. Gloria Steinem called my book "an important part of the truth telling by and for women." Ms. magazine published my menstruation chapter as "Falling Off the Roof." Alix Kates Shulman praised Marcella in the New York Times: "Coffey skillfully weaves together the religious, sexual and musical themes that comprise the trinity of Marcella's obsession."

New York, London, Australia and Denmark produced my novel, making me an internationally published author. The New York Public Library displayed Marcella in the United Nations' International Women's Year, 1975.

People, Jet, and Newsweek cited Marcella. The Los Angeles Times, Publishers Weekly, Library Journal, Kirkus Reviews, and many other publications reviewed the book.  Most supported the novel. One wrote that my last chapter, a "masterpiece of frenzied writing," outstripped James Joyce's Ulysses!

However, the Orleans, Nebraska, library censored my naughty book.

"We did it to protect your family," Genevieve Dugan, a librarian, said. 

How unnecessary! 

My sister, Margaret, had already suppressed Marcella. After she'd pored over my book, she told our parents not to read it, and they did not.


Thursday, September 19, 2019

FLIES, A War of Attrition

Tempted by a door propped open
they enter – a half dozen of them.

I ignore them. It's autumn. They'll soon die.

They fan out around the house, 
sunbathe on my window panes, 
hover in the kitchen, my office.

But when they dive at my food
I swing whatever comes to hand:
the New Yorker, the utilities bill
I know that solid paper just creates
a wind to warn the fly away.
I don't believe in taking life.

The flies multiply. On day four, 
my tolerance snaps
I grasp my seldom-used fly swatter.
I'm awkward, create motion but no death.
Slowly my form returns:
teeth clenched, I stalk them
I whack flies on the window
flies on the counter
flies in flight flies anywhere
but being a pacifist
I notice what I do.

Days pass, I sweep bodies by the score 
into my dust pan but the number 
of flies seems constant
as if the dead reproduce themselves

Finally they're all dead but one. 
He hangs diligently in my office
walking the slant window of my computer
evading all attempts to kill him

He seems drawn by light to my screen
by warmth to my hand where he loves to sit
rubbing his fore legs together.
Shaking my hand fails to dislodge him
he clings like a sailor on a ship
until my hurricane breath blows him away 

Then one day he lands 
on my yellow file cabinet
in such a groggy state
that when I hit him with a poem
I don't know who is more amazed
that he dies: he or me.

I struggle 
to feel triumphant
but am unable to grasp
that I miss him.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

The Amazing Paco


Paco Keopanya, my house mate, is a little Asian guy. 

I'm pretty sure he's shorter than I am at five-feet-five-inches tall. Even though he works out at the gym, I think I could knock him down if I felt like it. Although in the summer when he wears short sleeves, I did notice his awesome arm muscles, about six times as big as they "should" be.

When I failed to interest Paco in yard work, I weeded by myself, day after day, filling my big garbage cans. I could drag a full 55-gallon can, but I couldn't lift it, so I asked Paco's help. He agreed. To my surprise, he carried two cans at a time, up the big hill to the pick-up spot.

Amazing.

I'd nearly finished my yard project except for a dozen "weed" trees (an eight-foot maple and some shorter ones) too thick to cut with my clippers.

Paco noticed my work. "How are you going to get rid of those trees?"

"I'll ask Chris at Forest Green to cut them down."

"I could just bring some guys from work and a chain saw," Paco put on his EGM cap, "and we could cut them down."

Several days later, Paco mused, "Maybe I'll just take an axe and cut them down myself."

He disappeared.

In a short time, he was back. "Well, I did it. Boy, am I sweating. Those guys at my job, they work like that for eight hours shifts. I don't see how they do it."

Paco took a shower.

I figured he just chopped down the maple tree, so I looked. He'd cut down all those trees, chopped them up, put them in garbage cans, and hauled them up the hill to the pick-up spot. Two at a time, no doubt.

I felt amazed.

When he came out of the shower, I praised him. 

He shrugged it off. "Want to go for ice cream?"

Thursday, September 5, 2019

My Scuzzy Cat


Ruby, my plump orange tabby, doesn't know how to clean herself.

Thinking she's bathing, she licks her coat, swallows her fur, and days later regurgitates a schlumpy hairball. 

Her method disgusted me so, I decided to teach her to take care of herself.

I filled the bathtub about halfway, water not too hot or too cold, and dropped her in it.

Goodness, I never knew a cat could fly!

Practice makes perfect, of course, so when I see her again, I'm going to plop her in the tub repeatedly, until she's immaculate. 

Or never speaking to me, whichever happens first.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

THE SCREEN DOOR


My mother had been an elementary school teacher before she married Dad, and she brought her training into my young life.

For instance, my Grandmother collected alley cats, tempting them with bowls of water and milk and sometimes pieces of chicken. They roamed around her back porch, awaiting opportunity.

One day Mom, pregnant with my little sister, spotted an expectant cat at Grandma's house, grabbed her and took her home as a lesson. The cat, a half-tamed creature from my Grandmother's colony, squirmed but my mother convinced her to come inside. Then she broke down the pregnant cat's resistance by feeding her chicken. The big black cat with odd white markings agreed to stay. She even allowed herself to be petted. 

Mom trained me, at five years old, and my older sister Margaret, almost 10, to be gentle with our new pet. We named her Wiggle, which is what she liked to do to get out from under our hands.

When kittens popped out of Wiggle, Mom called us to watch, which I did with attention. The kits, wrapped in skin when they popped out, hardly moved as their mother ate that skin off. It looked disgusting, but I said nothing; for all I knew Mom had eaten the skin off of me when I burst out.

The four kitties, one boy and three girls (Mom explained how she knew) took after their mother being mostly black with white patches. We named them One, Two, and Three. The fourth cat, mostly white, we called Petunia. My favorite, I played with her the most. 

A month later, the kittens had grown enough so I could chase them around the house. I chased Petunia into the kitchen when I heard Dad's car in the drive. She followed me into the screened-in porch. When I heard Dad whistle, I raced out the door to greet him.

I heard the screen door bang shut, but not quite. When I turned I saw Petunia's head caught in the white wooden frame. 

"Oh, Daddy!" I cried.

"Don't touch her," he said. He opened the door slowly. When he picked Petunia up, her head fell over.

"Broken neck," he said.

"Is she dead?" 

"Yes." 

We took Petunia to Grandma's house to the corner of the lot for burying  cats. Dad dug a big hole, laid my sweet pussycat down inside it, and let me toss in the dirt to cover her.

For months afterwards, every time I passed through that screen door I kicked it, wishing that Mom had taught me less.

Thursday, August 8, 2019

Enlightening Ruby

I sat in my living room, doing little or nothing, when my big orange tabby cat, Ruby, dashed across the floor in front of me. Her hind legs pumped like crazy and her front paws slapped as though she chased some little critter. Maybe a mouse. I couldn't tell.

A little while later she raced back, legs and paws flashing, but this time I saw clearly what she was chasing: nothing. Nothing at all.

I laughed. I'm willing to put money down that she learned that from me.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

The Tango

"Dance lessons in there?" I squinted out the car window as Mama stopped before an old Alma warehouse. She nodded.

I eased into the brilliant afternoon sunlight, ambled up well-worn steps and yanked the door open. The huge dark room looked empty. Slowly I saw other high-school girls, a big brown box of a record player, and the instructor, Mr. Romero. He'd come from the South to teach us. Once a week, for a month. That was the deal. 

I knew how to bop the polka at barn dances with skinny stone-faced mustached men, but dapper Mr. Romero specialized in ballroom dancing.

He put on Big Band music. "We'll start with the fox trot. It's a closed position." He grabbed me and held me close. I heard my girl friends giggling, then he let me go. 

We girls coupled and held each other tight."Now slow, quick, quick, slow, quick, quick, that's right." His foot tapped in time. 

The fox trot proved great fun. Who wouldn't like to scamper to the fast tempo? I'd sweat out my blouse's arm pits by the time we left.

Next week we learned the quick step, danced with wild swinging arms and side kicks. Mr. Romero taught us walks, runs, turns, and when we'd learned those, he showed us locks, hops and skips.

The third week, he taught us to waltz. "It was the scandal of English society in the 1800s," he said. 

We danced with each other. "1-2-3-, 1-2-3-" He barked out the time.

"Smooth," he cried. "Long flowing movements."  

We glided around the floor, trying not to bump into each other.

"One last lesson," he said as we streamed out of the warehouse. "Next week, the tango."

No one showed up for that last lesson but the teacher and me. Mr. Romero carried on as though everyone had come. He put on the music. He described the dance: a passionate, sensual form. 

"You pick up your feet when you tango, like the stalking action of a cat." He showed me. "You turn to the left, then to the right." 

We began, his fingers delicate on my back, my hand clasped his. He led with the slightest touch. 

Our bodies swept across the floor, turning and leaning, our feet in an odd backward walk that felt just right. 

We merged with the music, with each other. Time stood still.

Then the lesson finished. Mr. Romero packed up his big brown record player and shook my hand. 

I never saw him again, and I never again danced the Tango, but they remain a sensuous part of my life.

Oh the Tango, the Tango, the Tango, its bliss, its elation, its exuberant euphoric feeling, his fingertips on my back, our bodies moving so delicately together, touching but but not intersecting.

Years passed before I perceived that such ecstasy is not the norm but the exception.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

THE LOVE BITE


My cat Ruby, a plump orange tabby, loves to bite me.

"Cut it out," I cry.

"It's just a little love bite." She biffs my hand with her paw.

"It hurts! You've got fur to cover your skin, but I don't."

"Just a little nibble," she purrs.

I consider. "If you break skin, I'm going to holler."

She hates it when I holler. 

The last time I hollered, she hid under the bed.

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Drubbing DMV

A pink card in the mail started it. Time to renew my driver's license. The hair on the back of my neck stood up. 

Worse yet, it read: "More than 75 years old? You must appear at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) in person."

Dread appeared. I squinted at the address. 2910 N 108th St. Wouldn't you know it, way out of my territory. 

Map Quest gave me one option: I-80 to I-680, both highways too fast for me to drive. Jitters popped up. A panicky Internet search showed me how to cross town on Center, go up 90th to Blondo, west on Blondo, take a right on 108th St. 

Then left into the DMV office. Left. That made me edgy. I'm a right-turn lady whenever possible.

But why "in person"? To test me? Must I answer their clever computer questions and then drive in a car with an inflexible DMV man. My heart dropped to my feet. 

"Don't worry," a friend advised. "Find a DMV booklet and cram."

I called the library. The DMV no longer printed booklets. I sweated as I turned to the computer. My Internet isn't friendly, but I found the "booklet." A download of 150 questions and answers for only $16.95. I grabbed it.

Hour after hour I studied questions and their correct answers, knowing my short-term memory would never recall them. If only I could take the actual test! Miraculously, at the end of the 150th question came a free offer to try a DMV "cheat sheet." I clicked.

Bravo! The actual test! Well, a list of 24 actual tests. 

I took one after another. Some I passed, but others I failed. Each failure stirred butterflies in my stomach. I knew I couldn't guarantee that I'd pass. That would depend on the questions chosen. So I gave up.

In the meantime, each time I drove my car, I imagined an obstinate DMV driver beside me. In his car, not my little Echo. Probably not a truck, but surely as big, so big I could hardly keep it in the lane. 

I knew, from test questions, that the first thing to do when I got in his car was to fasten my seat belt. I could do that. But how could I, an easily distracted driver, concentrate with his radio blasting?

"Keep your eyes on the road, Marilyn," I counseled. "Practice. Don't plow through that yellow light. Never exceed the speed limit, even if cars pile up behind you or dash around you." 

Desperation filled my days, and part of my nights. 

Would the DMV renew my license? 

What if it didn't? 

At some point, I decided I would drive without a license and hope not to get caught.

DMV day came. I crossed town, up 90th, over Blondo, up 108th in the left lane. Of course I missed the turn. Then I missed the possibility of a U turn. Finally I wheeled around to the office. 

The man at the DMV window handed me a long form. I looked for an empty chair among the 46 folks sitting there, a motley crew of various ages, sexes, and races. I sat and filled out the form. Then I waited and waited and waited, as I knew I'd have to do. 

I hadn't brought a book, planning to be contemporary and fiddle with my iPhone. As usual, I couldn't convince it to do anything I wanted to do, so I listened to a nearby conversation, looked at individuals and imagined how to describe them in words. I felt edgy, of course, but not yet frantic, even when a rock-hard DMV man hauled a kid out for a test. Still, my feet were cold. I shivered.

Someone called my number. I went in the back room. Sign here. Stand here and look at the camera. Credit card here. A few papers to clutch. "Your license will arrive in a plain envelope within five to six days."

What a deliverance!

But only a reprieve. 

I know that sooner or later heebie-jeebies will arrive about some other foolish thing. They're my periodic awards for being bipolar.  

Thursday, July 11, 2019

HORROR TALES


When you are so fortunate to learn, as I did, that you have Parkinson's disease, then you'll get to hear (from your friends) horror tales about late-in-life-Parkinson's.

You hear about the gal whose hands shake so badly she can't get food to her mouth.

You hear about the chap who can no longer speak, not even a whisper.

About the lady whose esophagus closed so tightly she choked to death.

About the guy who drooled so constantly he kept a little waste-basket on his lap to catch it all.

About the babe who couldn't stop tapping her fingers.

About the dude so rigid he fell down at least once a week

About handwriting that gets smaller and smaller and smaller and smaller..

Even Wikipedia gets in on it, telling me my Parkinson's life expectancy is between 7 and 15 years. I'll die when I'm 88 to 96 years old. Look at that. And I planned all along to live to be 104. Oh, well.

Here I've added my own little horror story, about early-in-Parkinson's-life drooling. It goes like this:


Saliva

The thing
I hate most
about Parkinson's
is dro-o-o-o-ling
the way saliva balls
in a corner
of my mouth
POPS
thru my smile
skitters down
my chin 
Oh my God 
did anyone SEE?

Tuesday, July 2, 2019

CRACKING MY WRITER'S BLOCK

I hadn't written a poem since September 9, 2015, when my sweetheart, Jack Loscutoff, died. 

He and I used to compose erotic poetry, each hoping to top the other. Great fun. 

After Jack died, I published our erotica in JackJack & JuneBug: A Love Song in Poems & Posts. But I stopped writing poems. 

For three years I didn't even think about it. Then I attended Deirdre Evans and Jack Hubbell's monthly Poetry Salon where a spattering of Omaha poets take turns presenting their poetry.

I had plenty of old poems to read, 600 at last count, but performing my ancient poetry bored me. Reading someone else's work seemed evasive. Unfortunately, my current writing—books and blogs—ran much too long to be read aloud.

"What to do," I asked Deidre. "Maybe you have an idea."  

Her email came right to the point. "You are a writer, nu? Can condense blog to something shorter?" 

Her idea made no sense to me until I successfully abbreviated a blog, reducing its 365 words to 26 (see "The Flood," below).  

That cracked my writer's block. Now I'm composing poem after poem, each abridged from one of my longer blogs or books.  


The Flood

 

Oh lover mine
where have you
gone gone gone
leaving me forlorn
in my humongous
abandoned bed

my bare feet 
dangle wet
ankle-deep
in anguish