Sunday, December 27, 2015

JackJack & JuneBug

Mark your calendars for Tuesday, January 12, 2016.

 On that date, JackJack & JuneBug: A Love Song in Poems and Posts by Marilyn June Coffey and Jack Loscutoff, will be released for sale. 

This book depicts the story of a strong adult love relationship that's severed by death, but Marilyn doesn't wallow in gloom. On the contrary, a distinct element of humor runs through her posts about grief and through the steamy love poems she and Jack wrote to each other.

I can hardly wait to hold this fetching book, illustrated by Paula Wallace's charming watercolors. Already it has the backing of early readers. For instance:

A heart warming story.
-- George Lauby, Editor, The North Platte Bulletin newspaper.

You are too funny...and you've got guts girl!
-- Charlotte Endorf, Author and Professional Speaker

You're naughty! I love your short takes.
-- Ralph Stephenson, London

Very, very fun read!!!!!!!!!  Creativity HIGH into the millions!!!!! Wow!!!!!! and Double wow!!!!  
-- Bee Lanning

Purchase JackJack & JuneBug online at Amazon 
If you wish an autograph, ask Marilyn at one of her poetry readings.

Tuesday, January 12, 7 p.m., House of Loom,  1012 S 10th St., Omaha. At this reading, Omaha poets Marilyn June Coffey, Lorraine Duggin, David P. Hufford, and Deirdre Evans will share their work in order to celebrate JackJack & JuneBug's release.

One week later, Tuesday, January 19, 7 p.m., Mr Toad, 1002 Howard St., Omaha, Marilyn and Erik Campbell will read at the Imaginary Gardens Reading directed by poet Michael Skau.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Heartland Books

My newest book, THIEVES, RASCALS & SORE LOSERS, a cheeky history of Nebraska's power grabbers, is one of the top ten recommended books of the heartland for 2015. Writer Kirk Zebolsky of selected the top ten books.

Other winners include Kira Gale's controversial history, MERIWETHER LEWIS: The Assassination of an American Hero and the Silver Mines of Mexico, and Greg Kuzma's poetry, ONLY THE DEAD ARE FORGIVEN.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Lovers of Language

I kicked back in my recliner and picked up a copy of Jack Loscutoff's will. Tedious reading. Hereby, devise, bequeath. Who writes like that but lawyers? 

Startled, I learned that Jack had "bequeathed" to me the copyrights for all of his writings. 

I sighed. What good are Jack's copyrights when his writings sit under lock and password key in his computer? It waited, on my dining room table, to be stripped and sold. 

I called Mark Loscutoff. "Do you still have your father's old wooden index card box? The one marked 'Passwords.'"

Mark did. 

Several days later we pawed through the box, seeking the key to Jack's writings. No luck.

For the hell of it, I tried out a few possibles. All abortive. 

Mark's face lit up. "How about the name of one of his pets?" 

His pets! I groaned. Jack had been the loving owner of several poodles, dozens of cats and almost as many turtles. They all bore strange names, even the six aquatic turtles of his childhood.

"Let me." Mark sat down and typed. No go. "Maybe too short." 

"Or no uppercase. Or no number or symbol. This is futile."

"I have a hunch." Mark typed again. Nothing. "Maybe lower case." 

This time when he hit return, the computer screen lit up. I gasped as Jack's familiar blue and beige image of earth swung into view.

Taking my turn, I clicked "Documents."  An alphabetized list filled more than one screen with nary a folder in view. How in tarnation did Jack find a file?

I glanced down. His computer listed more than 2,000 documents. Mostly Jack's writings, no doubt. 

To be sure, during the next four or five days, I classified the files, placing them in thirteen folders, with labels like Bio, Childhood, Novels, Visuals.

I had been right. Most files contained Jack's writings. But what use were they to me?

My answer came quickly. Like most good ideas, it arrived in the morning as I woke.

My Omega Cottonwood Press would publish Jack's work. 

That would make Jack so gleeful! He had won two writing awards, published twenty poems and a sci-fi novel, and seen two short plays in production but his success never satisfied him. The higher my star rose, the oftener he groused. But no more. 

I would publish him just as I am putting out our FzzJack & JuneBug:  A Love Song in Poems & Posts. It features our poems and my posts about his death. Publication date: January 12, 2016.

WIthin a week I had selected and edited stories from Jack's Russian childhood in San Francisco. Listening to him read those tales had been such a treat! His Aunt Gussie's Socks and other family stories will be published on April 7, his birthday.

His last novel, Mr. Mosaic: A Saga Of An Academic Life, waits in the wings.

Now I am choosing which of his short stories to anthologize. I can't publish them all. That would create a book so big it would require two to read it, one to hold it down and the other to turn the pages. 

And me? How does my new job feel?

As I read and reread and cull Jack's work, I sense such closeness to him (both of us lovers of language). I often imagine him still alive as I reach out and caress his succulent words.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Jack's Legacy

About 2010, Jack decided to produce a will. He found a form on the Internet and went to it, his yellow #2 pencil inscribing the paper.

Jack peered at me. "What do you want me to leave you?"

At the price of his death? "Nothing!"

But the next day, I remembered how my furnishings became a jumble when Jack arrived. We put some of his stuff in my rooms, some of mine in his, and both in ours. What if he died and his kids showed up to abscond with "his" furniture. What if they took mine?

"Leave me the furnishings," I said, and he did.

During the next five years, Jack revamped his will several times, on the last occasion with a lawyer. Each time he reassured me that his furnishings would be mine. I felt content.

September 2015. Jack had been dead a few days. His son Mark and I stood in Jack's Crown Pointe studio. I felt immobile. Mark gestured around the room. "It's all yours, Marilyn." Mark--the executor of Jack's will--should know.

Then I remembered. The furniture. He willed me all his furnishings, his hospital bed, his drooping plants, his dirty socks in a cluster on the floor, his hundreds of books, his food rotting in the refrigerator. I laughed.

Late in October, Mark and I stood in my dining room, discussing Jack's hoard of cash.

"How long should I wait before I distribute it," Mark asked.

I had no idea. "I suppose you should sit tight at least a couple of months. Sometimes billing takes that long. Or maybe ask a banker."

He nodded. "Or a lawyer." He looked askance at me. "You do know that he left you everything."

"Everything?" I trembled, not so much at the size of Jack's nest egg as at his choice to entrust it to me. An unexpected expression of his love.

Mark grabbed my elbow.

"I'm okay, Mark. I'm delicate, but I'm also sturdy."

I waited until he left before I commenced to cavort and keen.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

The Last Drink

Thursday evening, October 23, 1986, I'd left my Brooklyn brownstone in such a rush to hit the road that I'd neglected to begin my habitual evening of drinking. (I never drank by daylight. That's how I knew I wasn't an alcoholic.) 

As the Palisades Parkway stretched out behind me, I regretted my impulsive abstinence. I had another fifty miles to go on I-87 before I arrived at my tiny trailer in Woodstock, NY.

I cringed. Then I remembered a bar along the way where I could buy a drink, if only I could make it there before closing. 

My accelerator dropped to the floor. As I barreled along I-87, a voice in the back of my brain whispered that I shouldn't be driving so fast, that a drink wasn't worth the risk. I pushed the voice aside: "What does she know?"

I slid into a packed bar minutes before closing, just in time to order a double. Boy, did that feel good! I slurped and looked at the reassuring lines of bottles glistening behind the bartender, at the clamorous crowd surrounding me. Their constant yakety-yak drowned the music except for intermittent crescendoes. I knew no one. Not one person even looked at me.

"What are you doing here? You don't belong here" whispered my brain. 

"Get lost!" I chugged the dregs of my drink. 

Ordering time had passed, so I shot out to my car.

The next afternoon, against my better judgement, I found myself walking up and down in front of a community building in the Catskills where Alcoholics Anonymous  (AA) met. Finally I swallowed hard and entered a big room with a square table surrounded by wooden folding chairs holding many people. I chose a spot far away from the group leader and sat down.

I flinched as person after person defined him or her self as an alcoholic. Surely they didn't expect me to say, "I'm Marilyn, and I'm an alcoholic."

Their introductions marched around the table, closer and closer to me. When my turn came, I said, "I'm Marilyn but I'm not an alcoholic. I just have a drinking problem."

The group leader asked, "What's your problem?"

"I can't stop drinking."

That brought down the house, and after the meeting, so many alcoholics dropped by to talk with me that I couldn't split the way I'd planned.

A short time later in a New York City AA meeting, I watched a man receive a medal for ten years sobriety. Ten years! I nearly fell off my chair. How had he done that? I, by contrast, practically lived in AA rooms just to keep me away from the bottle day by day. 

Now it's October 24, 2015, and I've been sober and drug free for twenty-nine years.

Don't bother with a medal. 

But next year, if I make it to thirty years, throw me a humongous  party.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015



Sometime last spring, Jack brought home a half-dozen plants and showed me the bedraggled little things. "Portulaca grandiflora," he said. They looked like moss roses to me. They were so ugly, I wondered why he'd bought them.

He scooped up one from its container. "From Brazil. Or maybe Argentina." 

I had to laugh. Jack never bought sensible American plants. He preferred tropical plants like crotons, bromeliads, or elephant ears. Many of his exotics died on him, so I expected these floppy little plants would, too.

Jack touched my arm and spoke softly. "Where do you want me to put them?" 

I sighed. "How about your office? The living room's jam packed."

"No, outdoors." He grinned at my surprised look.

"Outdoors?" I shrugged. "Oh, anywhere you want except my rose garden." My rose garden. I'd managed not to kill my 18 inherited roses for a decade. Irish luck. My former husband called me The Black Thumb, and he was right. The only plants I can grow are things like Aloe vera. Jade. Rickrack. They're all succulents. Indifferent to this distracted gardener.

I followed Jack out, watched him select a dirt rectangle near the front porch. An unlikely spot. Nothing ever grew there but weeds.

"That'll be too dry for them, Jack." I thrust my chest forward. "That overhang blocks the rain."

"It should be okay," he mumbled, dirt flying as he dug holes. "Nice and sunny."

I went inside.

Jack became a mad man. He could barely kneel, but every day I'd see him kneeling beside those portulacas, fussing, weeding, doing the things he did to plants, things I had no patience for. When I stood watching him, he reached over to pat my leg. "I just want to make sure they root, honey." 

Then just before Jack moved to Crown Pointe, he took my hand and led me to the front porch. We stood and looked down on his portulacas, sprawling in the sun. A few bloomed. "Will you take care of them for me?" He squeezed me.

Bummer. Just one more bloody chore! I wanted to say, "Take care of your own damn portulacas. I don't even know how. " But I said,  "Sure." 

Once or twice over the summer, Jack asked me how the portulacas were doing. "Have the roots set?"

And I, who never looked at them, replied, "They're fine,  Jack, just fine."

Once I even stepped out on the porch and took a gander, to see if I were lying. The funny little plants with their limp stems had burst into bloom: dozens of flowers in all colors, red, yellow, orange, pink, purple and white. Astonishing!
When I returned for the last time from Hospice House to my home, I glanced over at Jack's portulaca garden, suddenly remembering my promise to take care of it. 

Weeds choked his blooms: two crabgrass plants, their tall skinny spikes twirling in the breeze, a huge many layered dandelion rosette that would take some uprooting to kill, and pig weed. I think that's what it's called, dozens of those plants, their long lazy fingers flat against the ground, surrounding and penetrating Jack's portulacas. 

I wasted no time. For several days I carefully pulled weeds, not wanting to accidentally rip out the flowers. When the garden was empty of everything but blooms, I mulched the empty spaces. 

And just for the heck of it, I looked up Portulaca grandiflora. Hmph! Moss rose, just as I thought. 

To my surprise, moss roses are something even a black thumb like me could grow: they're succulents.

Friday, September 18, 2015

I'm So Chicken


How shall I mourn Jack? Some outward sign of my inward grief, I thought.

Wearing black? But when I looked at Internet images, they mirrored another era: long flowing skirts, veils over faces, no one in lanky black pants.

Then I saw that a bereaved person could make jewelry from the hair of her beloved, but I couldn't do that; Jack's hair had disappeared with Jack into the crematorium.

I almost didn't notice the third option: shave your head.

However, once the idea hit, it refused to leave. VIsions of shaving my head whirred in my mind, some negative, some positive. I mentioned my thoughts to no one.

Finally I turned to my calendar, found the first possible date I could visit a beauty salon. Then I told myself, "Okay, Marilyn, on that date you either go get your hair shaved off or you shut up about it."

The morning of my free day I went to my local Great Clips.

"Want a hair cut?" the stylist asked.

I moved my hands all over my head. "Off. All off."

She nodded. That was a relief. For all I knew, Great Clips might refuse to shave my head, send me to a special barber for such a task.

"Will I need a shampoo?"

She looked quizzically at me.

"You know, to wash all the hair off."

"Nah." She wrote me in. "There's a 40-minute wait."

I waited.

Then, in the chair, I told Melissa what I wanted, and why, and watched my white locks fly to the floor. She ran a big clipper over my head, but I could still see a residue of hair. Then she picked up a small trimmer.

"Do you want your hair entirely off?" she asked. "I could leave about this much" she pinched her fingers almost together "with this trimmer."

I knew I should say, "entirely off." I was, after all, shaving my head. Down to the skull. That's how it was done. The nerve, for even asking.

"Use the trimmer," I said, mortified. How could I be so spineless, so faint-hearted, so weak-kneed, so Chicken Hearted.

Melissa trimmed away. "Oh, see how different you look. Your eyes! You can really see them. They're beautiful."

Her tip flew upward.

I looked at my face. I didn't look as ugly as I thought I would. Familiar, even. With my new beautiful eyes.

The stylist put down her trimmer and whipped off the black robe. "You'll be wearing a wig?"

A wig? That wouldn't be an outward sign of my inward grief, but I mollified her. "Hats!" I said. "I have lots of hats."

I ran my hands over the fuzz on my skull. I felt lightheaded. I felt happy. I even knew what Jack would say if he saw me like this. He'd say, as usual, "You're gorgeous." And I, as usual, wouldn't contradict him.

Life at Home

I live here in Omaha at home with Paco Keopanya and Snickerdoodle, my short-haired tiger-striped cat. Paco is my business manager, my housemate, and a kindred spirit who can make me laugh faster than anyone I know. He's a Laotian raised in Nebraska and 40 years younger than me.

My therapist told me that mourning my beloved Jack would be like walking along the edge of the ocean. Most of the time, memories would wash over my feet and disappear but every once in a while, the water would rise up and douse me.

Last night I went to bed in my big basement bedroom as usual, about 1 AM, and slept until 3 or so when a memory drenched me. I woke, got up, moved around, then realized I'd never get back to sleep without dropping a tiny white pill on my tongue. The pill disintegrated, I turned on some classical music, and crawled back in bed, breathing slowly and deeply.

Then I heard something. Paco, I thought. He typically gets up about 4 to go to the gym and work out. It was only 3:45, but what else could it be?

The noise got louder. It sounded as though he were dragging something across the floor. Jeez, I thought. It's not like him to make so much noise. What the hell's he doing? I waited for him to open the garage door and get in his truck, but he didn't leave the house.

All of a sudden I feared that something was terribly wrong. I leapt out of bed, wobbly from the pill, lifted the edges of my nightgown so I could run up the stairs, and blasted the lights on. I ran all around the first floor. Paco's door was closed and no light shown under it, so he must still be sleeping. I peered out the window at the still-black night but saw nothing. I turned off the lights and went back down stairs, deeply puzzled. I knew I'd heard something, but what?

I walked around downstairs and saw the trash can in my basement kitchen lying on its side on the floor. What? Then I noticed that the big box that once held kitty litter but now holds Snicker's dry food was missing. I found it around the corner on the floor.

Goodness! She must have been intent on raiding her food box. I looked at her dish. Half full, as usual. So she couldn't have been hungry. Of course, the food in her box is fresher than the food in her bowl. Or then, knowing Snicker, maybe she was just bored.

I picked up after her, went back to bed and slept this morning until 10.

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

By Jack Loscutoff


I was born at an early age in San Francisco, California, of humble Russian peasant stock. If my grandparents had remained in the old country, I might be writing this in Russian instead of English. I prefer English because it's a much richer language than Russian. 

Though I have other personae (Greek for "masks") as we all do, I especially like  the creator mask. In me, it appears principally as wordsmith: poet, satirist, cartoonist, fool, teller of twelve-year-olds' bad jokes, minstrel, memoirist, essayist, comedian, playwright, short story writer, novelist, prophet, dreamer, teacher. But until my fifty-eighth birthday, I didn't create. Instead, I interpreted and evaluated the written words of others. 

San Francisco State College recognized my expertise as a literary critic by awarding me an MA in English and American literature. The most obvious employment for a person with that newly acquired skill was as a teacher of English composition, that is, essay writing at a community college. A semester of practice teaching at San Mateo Community College a few miles south of the big city convinced me it wasn't my cup of tea. The students (surprise, surprise) were no more prepared to write something interesting a month after graduating from high school than they were the month before.

Refusing to lower myself to teaching such dunderheads, I resolved to continue my own education and travel the road to a Ph. D. With that degree, I reasoned, I could work at a four-year college or university with serious, well-prepared students. By then, however, my G. I. benefits had run out. I applied for and obtained a student loan. But even with the loan, I needed to earn additional money. For, by then I had a wife and two small children. I thought that problem was solved when I was accepted as a graduate teaching assistant at Washington University in St. Louis. The graduate teaching assistantship was an arrangement by which a student could work toward the degree half-time and teach the other half in exchange for a small salary and free tuition. In practice it amounted to teaching three-fourths time and studying one-quarter time. I left Washington U. after two years. 

I found a job at South Dakota State University teaching the same kind of courses that I had sought to avoid at San Mateo Community College: English composition. The South Dakota students were no more prepared or serious than the California ones. They were certainly more culturally isolated. I got the axe after five years because the legislature ran out of money for teaching their young people how to write. Balancing the budget was more important.

Fifteen years later on my fifty-eighth birthday, I realized I'd always been a bridesmaid but never a bride. And so, instead of being paralyzed by my awe of gods like Shakespeare, Dante, Melville and Yeats, I made a decision. I would begin my climb up the Mount Olympus from which they looked down on me. So, starting in 1989 with help from books on the subject and attendance at writing critique groups, I've been teaching myself creative writing. I haven't reached the top of the mountain, but sometimes I see the gods smiling in approval. That's reward enough. 
jack loscutoff
sage in bloom
Semper Fidelis, a one-act play performed by Rough Magic Productions, Lincoln, Nebraska, 2006.
My Heart's in the Highlands, a one-act play, read on stage at the Great Plains Theatre Conference, Omaha, Nebraska, 2008.

Friday, September 4, 2015

Sudden Surprise

My heart leaped when I saw my beloved Jack this morning. He looked so much better than last night, his face clear, his eyes bright. He wasn't even breathing oxygen. So when he told me that the doctor would be here in an hour or so to discuss what next, I assumed he meant what further steps the doctor would take to make Jack well. Whatever the doctor had done so far certainly seemed to work.

At the appointed time, four doctors piled in, big guys and tall. They filled the room. They spoke carefully about Jack's options, not at all what I thought. "Hospice care" seemed to be the key word; they used it over and over. I only dimly knew what they meant, but eventually I understood: a place where Jack could live until he died, up to six months or so, they thought. A place where medical people would work to make him comfortable, not well. His body could no longer "do" well.

I'm a person who rarely cries, and certainly not in public, but when I finally understood, I couldn't contain my well of tears nor could I cry inconspicuously.  My shoulders shook with sobs. 

The sudden silence in the room didn't last long. A doctor in a black suit handed me the red box of white tissues, and I took one. The discussion continued, and I calmed myself, but I still shook inside when I left to go home.

from: a JoLt of CoFFeY 
 An Intermittent Newsletter
by Marilyn June Coffey

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Thursday, August 13, 2015

Tuna Special

Tuna Special

I'm pretty good at imagining forms of death for myself--homicidal, suicidal, natural--but today I read about an actual passing that had never occurred to me: being cooked to death in a commercial oven with six tons of tuna. 
Can you imagine what that would be like, surrounded by all that smelly tuna flesh, packed tight, in utter darkness, and the heat rising? 
Oh, let's not even go there.