Thursday, December 12, 2019


I lugged the heavy book home from the library, hard-cover, 306 pages long. Like dozens of other novels I'd brought home, it promised a good read. I hoped. These days, if a book doesn't engage me by its first 50 pages, I'd just give up and return it to the library.


This new book had an odd title, 10 Minutes 38 Seconds in This Strange World. Sounded like science fiction, not my favorite. The author's name, Elif Shafak, looked odd, too.

I skimmed the back cover blurbs: "heartbreaking meditation," "haunting, moving, beautifully written," and Hanif Kureishi's claim: "Elif Shafak is one of the best writers in the world today."

Normal exaggerated blurbs, I thought.

Inside I noted that Elif Shafak, a British-Turkish novelist, is the most widely read female writer in Turkey. She's published oodles of novels, been translated into 50 languages, has a Ph.D. and has taught all over the place in Turkey, US and UK. And so on. Impressive.

I open the book. The main character, Tequila Leila, a whore, has just been murdered and left in a dumpster outside Istanbul. Her heart has stopped but her brain is still active—for 10 minutes 38 seconds. She remembers her life and the life of other outcasts like her.

Okay, I get it. I start to read. I soon discover that Shafak writes a mean description of  Istanbul. I always know where I am, indoors or out.  She writes equally fine characterizations. Her people step right off the page. I never have to stop and flip back to remember who a character is. They just stay alive for me.

I'm well past page 50 and reading avidly. The whole Turkish world of outcasts, of whores, of transvestites, of artists, of protesters, rises off the pages. I'm excited. I sense that Shafak had pulled me right into the story, that the novel reveals not just the dregs of society, it also discloses something about me.

My exhilaration rises as I read. Will this book join the short list of books I have read and will never forget, works such as Willa Cather's Death Comes for the Archbishop; James Joyce's Ulysses; D.H. Lawrence's Lady Chatterley's Lover; F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby; Henry Miller's Tropic of Cancer or Dorothy Richardson's Pilgrimage. 

By page 203, I understood that it would. Then I did something I'd never done when reading a book; I burst into tears. Happy tears. Excited tears.

Now I've finished the book. Both Hanif Kureishi and I say, "Elif Shafak is one of the best writers in the world today."

But a word of warning. What is a terrific book for me may be, for you, one of those books you give up and return after reading 50 pages.

Thursday, December 5, 2019

On Brushing Teeth

My dentist convinced me that he wouldn't have to fill my cavities so often if I would just brush my teeth after eating.

So I bought a toothbrush and Crest 3D White toothpaste which promised BRILLIANCE. I asked my dentist if such cleansers actually whitened teeth. "Yes," he said, "but the paste must be ground in." Not much fun. 

Since I eat on the main floor, I thought I'd put my new brush and paste in the main bathroom, next to Paco's bedroom, but when I looked, I burst out laughing.

I use this bathroom, of course, but I had only three things in it: a hand sanitizer plus soap in the soap dish and a hand towel for guests. Every other available space—on the sink, on the back of the toilet, and all over the four shelves of a cabinet—was cluttered with hairspray, hair gel and beard oil, shaving kit, extra razors, scissors, nail clippers, tweezers, deodorant, prescription medicine, toothbrushes, toothpaste, floss, mouthwash, hair brushes, combs, shampoo and conditioner, sunscreen and face lotion, wipes and q-tips, and other personal hygiene articles.

Where could I put my new items in this jam-packed bathroom? Nowhere. Instead, I placed them over the kitchen sink on the window sill.

Then one day, Paco asked, "Why don't you put your toothbrush in the bathroom?"

I laughed. "Because I'd never find it again."

The next time I entered the bathroom, Paco had transformed it. A handful of items remained on the sink and toilet back. The rest he had shoved into the cabinet shelves.

A few days later, Paco caught me still brushing at the sink.

"You didn't put your toothbrush in the bathroom."

"What's the matter, you don't like it if I spit in the sink?"

"No, no. It's not that."

I relented. "If I put my toothbrush in the bathroom, I have to recall to brush my teeth. But with it here at the sink, I remember as soon as I bring my dishes into the kitchen."

We never discussed the matter again, but I noticed that personal hygiene articles did not trek out of their tight new homes in the cabinet. Instead, my toothbrush had swept clean an orderly new world in the bathroom.

Thursday, November 14, 2019


Life offers multiple surprises. Take yesterday for instance.

In a hurry to buy a new Aveeno moisturizer, I stared at Walgreens Aveeno display of all shapes and sizes. But I couldn't see the Big One I wanted. Oh, hell, they all say "moisturizing." Any one must do. I grabbed a little boxed item. 

My first surprise came at the cash register when the cashier rang up $18 for that little box. $18!!! I bought it anyway.

That night I compared the $18 little box with the Big One I wanted to replace. Half the weight and twice the price.

I opened the little $18 box and pulled out a bottle. It looked nothing like my Big One; it even had a curved plastic beak.

Oh durn. Mistake. That's what I get for being in a hurry.

I put the bottles on my cosmetic shelf and went to sleep.

The next morning I decided to return the $18 Beaked Bottle and locate a clerk to help me find a Big One to buy.  I put my sample Big One in a bag, then grabbed the $18 Wonder and stuffed it in its box.

I couldn't close the lid, but I took it to Walgreens anyway.There on the big cosmetics counter, I unpacked everything.

The clerk, dressed like a gypsy in a flowing flowered gown, marched away with my sample Big One and returned with its twin. 

"Is this what you want?"

Surprise number two: Was it ever! Now where did she find it? Not on the Aveeno shelf.

Then the clerk picked up my $18 Wonder, now a little box full of a too-big bottle. 

"It doesn't even fit!" she cried.

I knew that, but the surprise was that she credited my card for $18 anyway.

Then she pulled the ill-fitting bottle out of its little box.

"Why look! It's not even the same brand."

I looked. She was right. The bottle label read Neutrogena, not Aveeno.

I signed papers and went home with my $18 credit, my twin Big Ones, both old and new.

That night, I couldn't sleep for wondering about this. I finally crawled out of bed, turned on the light, and looked for my half-used Neutrogena bottle. 

It was missing. I had packed it in the small box and taken it to Walgreens. In its place stood the new $18 Beaked Wonder that I'd paid nothing for.

An unexpected swop.


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 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.
You've got it.
Just relax.

Thursday, September 26, 2019


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.


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


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?" 


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


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.