Thursday, March 27, 2014

The Dead Letter Chair

The following is an article written by Jack Hicks that I found in a newspaper in 1992. I've been saving it with thoughts of writing a story based on what happened. The truth is, I can't make this stuff up ... well, maybe Stephen King could!  
"A living room chair. A vacuum cleaner. A yellowed letter, postmarked June 1, 1943.
Those are the elements of Jane Biondi’s baffling and peculiar mystery.
Mrs. Biondi bought the chair in November 1990 from Maas Brothers, a department store in St. Petersburg, Florida where she lives. As Mrs. Biondi moved it to vacuum recently, the letter dropped out. The chair is one of those big, overstuffed loungers and the letter apparently fell from the chair’s innards.
“I’d moved that chair probably every week since I bought it, and here it just fell out. This is so weird, so puzzling,” said Mrs. Biondi.
“A 50-year old letter in a brand new chair? I thought, I’ve got to get to the bottom of this.
But she may never, because no one seems to have a clue how the letter might have ended up in her chair.
The letter is from Sgt. James Warman, addressed to his mother, Mrs. Jack Warman, 409 W. Eighth St., Covington, Kentucky.
The letter was unsealed, so Mrs. Biondi peeked. What she read was from a soldier to his mother, mentioning family members, pay allotments and such. Her curiosity aroused, Mrs. Biondi called her local newspaper which gave her the name and phone number of The Kentucky Post. She called to ask if the Warmans might still be alive. And, she wondered, how in the world did the letter get in her chair?
Mrs. Warman died some years back after living into her 90’s. But her son is alive and well and living in Boca Raton, on the opposite coast of Florida from Mrs. Biondi. Relatives in Covington provided his phone number.
Warman was as amazed to hear Mrs. Biondi tell him about his lost letter. His wife, Marjorie, joked, “Your mother’s up there playing tricks on you!”
Warman and his five brothers were in the service during WW2. In June 1943, he was stationed on New Guinea in the South Pacific as a flight engineer on a C-47 in the 5th Air Force, Mrs. Warman wrote faithfully to all her sons, Warman recalled, acknowledging that he was sometimes lax in writing back.
After the war, the Warman brothers returned to Northern Kentucky. James managed several taverns and for 25 years, operated Suburban Chevrolet in Florence. After he retired, he moved to Florida.
He does not remember the specific letter but like Mrs. Biondi, he can’t imagine how her new chair became a dead letter office for his 1940’s mail.
Maas Brothers could give Mrs. Biondi no clues. The Stratford Co. of New Albany, Miss., manufactured the chair, called a StratoLounger. Tom Jones, an official for the company, found the story of the letter “intriguing” but said he is as puzzled as everyone else.  The company has plants in California and North Carolina, but Mrs. Biondi’s chair was probably constructed in Mississippi, James said.
The conclusion of everyone associated with the incident is that someone could have placed the letter in the chair at either the manufacturing plant of the store, or somewhere in between after Mrs. Biondi bought it.
But why? And how did that mysterious someone in Mississippi or Florida come to possess a letter mailed from the South Pacific to Kentucky?
The case even baffles the U.S. Postal Service, which has encountered plenty of long-lost letters. Ralph Stewart in the agency’s Philadelphia regional office said an entire bag of letters from WW2 surfaced awhile back.
As the story goes, a sailor collected letters from his shipmates when going home on leave, but then forgot to mail the correspondence. Somehow letters ended up forgotten in a relative’s attic and were only recently rediscovered.
The Postal Service attempted to deliver as many as possible or to locate the sender through the return address.
The Postal Service got a second chance with Warman’s letter, too. Mrs. Biondi sent the letter on to Warman in Boca Raton. This time, it got to him."

Monday, March 24, 2014

Twist and Gout

It’s our first date-night at the Senior Center and I am perched at a table the size of a Frisbee with my husband, Babe. If we can squeeze onto the microscopic dance floor we plan to boogie till we need to call 911.

When the band starts playing, “Sixty Minute Man,” Babe yanks me onto the dance floor before I can say hula-hoop or poodle skirts.

Delirious with Saturday Night Fever, he swings me around and right into a senior couple fresh from a ballroom dance class. She’s clutching a patent-leather pocketbook the size of a Barcalounger and so help me, she’s wearing Bobbie Sox and Saddle Oxfords.

Wearing a goofy expression on his face, Babe dances like nobody’s watching and then crashes into an elderly man whose partner looks to be a walking cane. The fellow wheels around, bares his teeth and growls, but Mister Saturday Night Fever ignores him. I pull him away from Cujo before he has to get a rabies shot.

“Get out of his way,” I shout, hoping he can hear me over the earsplitting music.

Zigzagging through a blaze of white hair, we return to our table and two frosty mugs of beer. I sip mine but Babe knocks his back while gazing at me as if wondering who I am and whether he’s about to get lucky.

“Babe, you need to be more careful out there. That old guy you plowed into was ready to whack you upside the head with his cane.”

Babe shrugs. “No freakin’ way.”

“Way! If you had been clobbered by a nutty old dude jitterbugging with a wooden stick, you'd never be able to live it down.”

Babe looks at the snarler. “He doesn’t scare me. I can put his lights.”

I look at the pint-sized man and then at my 200-pound-plus husband. “Ya think?”

Babe drains his beer, gets up and heads toward the old dude.

I grab his elbow. “What are you going to do?”

He looks at me like I’ve got popcorn for brains. “Get another beer. Want one?”

At that moment, the band starts up with the best song ever, Ocean Boulevard, and before I can say Myrtle Beach, Babe pulls me onto the jam-packed dance floor. This time we both dance like nobody’s watching.

We pay no attention to our over-crowded shared space because something magical is happening. We Saturday Night Seniors are thrown back to the summer of 1958 when girls wore crinolines and ponytails and guys wore varsity letters and no ponytails. When Little Richard was little, Fats Domino was not and Lady Ga Ga was just a gleam in her daddy’s eye.

Songs by The Drifters’ drifted into our lives and before we could say AARP, we drifted into tomorrow.

Long live rock and roll!



Sunday, March 9, 2014

Pulling Her Own Strings



“If a cat could speak, it would say things like, Hey, I don’t see the problem here.” — Roy Blount, Jr.
At three o’clock yesterday morning I was awakened by loud bumping and scraping in the family room. It like to scared me into the middle of next week.
“Babe!” I shook my husband awake. “There’s an intruder in the house! Get the baseball bat.”
“You’re dreaming.” He rolled over and muttered, “I was having a good one till you woke me up. Go back to sleep and don’t wake me up unless it’s for ham and eggs.”
I shook him again.
“Oh, for heaven’s sake. Did I stutter?” Grumbling, he slid out of bed and switched on the light, nearly blinding me. When the scraping started up again, he actually stopped bitching long enough to listen. Did I really want Babe to face down an intruder with a kid’s baseball bat while he was wearing polka dot boxers?
Oh hell. Any port in the storm. “Hurry,” I whispered a yell. “If it’s a would-be Charlie Manson, he may be planning to write stuff on the walls with our blood.”
“That’s some imagination you’ve got, girl.” He walked out of the bedroom and flicked on the den light. He began to search the area, but the only thing he saw was the rear end of our cat, Sophie Sorrowful, when she darted under the sofa. Assuming that the cat was somehow responsible for the noises, he reached under the sofa to pull her out.
When Babe’s hand began to feel around in her hiding place, Sophie Sorrowful darted out the other side and began a frenzied promenade around the room. Dragging and bouncing my grandson’s forgotten yo-yo over the tile floor, she unwittingly repeated the bumping and scraping sounds that woke me up and scared me silly. 
It was a wee little yo-yo, not much bigger than a fifty-cent piece that my grandson won it as a prize at Dave & Busters Arcade Casino in Jacksonville. It was such a precious prize that he didn’t bother to take it home with him, leaving it instead on the floor where Sophie Sorrowful found it.
Bump. Bump. Boiiiiinnnnnggg!
Cussing like a sailor Babe gave chase, finally grabbing the cat by the scruff of her neck. (He has always maintained that she loves it when he does this, that she likens it to her mother picking her up when she was a kitten. I am not convinced.) Holding her close to his sleep-encrusted eyes, Babe saw that she had swallowed all but about six inches of the yo-yo string.
His first thought was to cut off the wooden part of the yo-yo hanging out of her mouth which would allow Sophie Sorrowful to then swallow all of the string and eventually poop it back out. After only a nanosecond he had a second thought, thank goodness. After all, it was a long string and well, it could take days, maybe even weeks before the end of that string ever saw the underbelly of a litter box.
He began to gently tug on it until it was out.
“EEEEOOOOOWWWWWWOOOOOOOOOEEEEE!” shrieked Sophie Sorrowful.
Then holding her as firmly as he could hold a squirming, screaming, terrified cat with one hand, Babe yanked harder on the string.
Sophie Sorrowful let out another, “EEEOOOOWWWOOOOOEEEEE!” which set off the burglar alarm and sent me hopping out from under warm covers faster than a speeding bullet. I dashed into the den and there was Babe, clad in those silly polka dot boxers, standing stupidly in the middle of the floor. He was dangling a yukky looking yo-yo with two fingers while both he and Sophie Sorrowful took turns gagging.
Intuiting, as cats often do, that she had been delivered from a strange and eerie fate, Sophie Sorrowful, from that day to this, considers Babe her personal Don Quixote, her savior, her human hero. The Man. She follows every step he attempts to take, skillfully dodging his Size Eleven shoes.

The fate of the yo-yo? Much like Jonah after being swallowed by the proverbial big fish, that hard-won, impossible to digest yo-yo is history.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Sitting Shiva for Miss Fancy

The term Shiva is derived from the Hebrew word, seven, and 
refers to the seven-day period of mourning during which family members 
suspend all activities to mourn the deceased. 
This is called “sitting Shiva.”
“My husband thinks I should wrap up my head in cellophane and tie it with a red ribbon,” Shelby Jo told me. “He might be right.”
“Gee, I don’t know about that,” I said. “As a fashion accessory, I seriously doubt you will make the cover of ‘W’. So, other than hoping to lose an inch off your waistline, whazzup with the cellophane?”
She batted her eyes. “He says I’m a sucker for sick kittens, so I might as well make myself look like a lollipop.”
You can’t argue with that kind of logic. Shelby Jo transmits signals from her house to every stray cat within a ten-mile radius. I am told that some cats, like some children, instinctively know how to locate the best neighborhood hangout. Shelby Jo’s house is the CAThedral and Shelby Jo is the feline answer to Mother Teresa.
“Tell me about the lollipop thing again, Shelby Jo.”
“It’s a long, creepy story. Are you sure you want to hear it?”
“I can’t wait.”
“Well, some months back, a kitten with feline leukemia showed up at my back door. I knew the po’ lil’ thing wouldn’t live very long, but what else could I do but take it in and try to make her last days as pleasant as I could?”
(In order to have that kind of compassion, one needs to believe that a cat’s memory storage has the ability to roll over into the afterlife, but I didn’t mention it.)
“Did you give the po’ lil’ thing a name, Shelby Jo?”
“Yes, of course I did! She deserved at least that. I called her Miss Fancy. She wasn’t on earth for very long but she made quite a splash. Right away, Miss Fancy became the neighborhood starlet. She had permanent “eyeliner” around her larger than normal eyes and even a beauty mark on her nose.”
 Shelby Jo got teary-eyed at this point and had to stop and fish around in her pocketbook for a Kleenex.
 “A few weeks ago,” she sniffed, “the inevitable happened.” She blew her nose and wiped at her eyes. “Lil’ Miss Fancy went to cat heaven and she hadn’t been with us nearly long enough, so we buried her in the back yard. I planted some impatiens at the gravesite and it made me feel a little bit better.”
The following week Shelby Jo had to leave town on business. When she called home, she was told that her other cat, Bailey, along with the next door cat , Okay, were perched right on top of Miss Fancy’s gravesite and had been there for several hours. The two cats sat Shiva for Miss Fancy on and off for seven straight days. Shelby Jo’s son, a budding photographer, documented it on his iPhone in case he needed to prove that he was not high on something hallucinogenic.
Later, I discussed the phenomenon with Dr. Lisa, the cat vet. Curious if that kind of cat behavior was normal, I related the tale of the two cats sitting Shiva. Dr. Lisa said that she, too, had heard stories of cats visiting graves. She offered the medical explanation that felines continue releasing oxygen after they are dead. Research, she said, has determined that cats are so sensitive that they are often lured toward other sick, dying or dead animals. They may even be drawn to sick children.
With Halloween right around the corner, I couldn’t help but wonder if this type of graveyard behavior is why black cats are paired with broomstick witches, ghosts and goblins. Just saying.
While Shelby Jo was in mourning for Miss Fancy, another stray kitten showed up at her back door not long after Miss Fancy went to that litter box in the sky. Sick with an upper respiratory infection and way too thin, Shelby Jo named her Twiggy. It figures.
The kitten was so congested she could barely breathe. Because her sense of smell was blocked, she had little or no appetite, so Shelby Jo had to teach her how to eat. That, of course, was before Dr. Lisa waved her magic antibiotic wand.
Since then, Twiggy struts around sniffing, smelling and eating everything in sight. A whole new world has opened up for her, thanks to Shelby Jo and Dr. Lisa.
“I may have to rename her because she’s eating me into the poorhouse.” Shelby Jo told me with a big, fat grin on her face. She’s obviously in love with Miss Twiggy.
“What does the kitten look like,” I asked.
“She has black, mink-like hair, with some white on her face. Much like the other Twiggy, she’s quite the fashion plate. Get this: she wears white gloves on her paws with scallops around each pad. She also wears a white slip with a pilgrim collar.”
“If you ask me,” I said, “Twiggy’s basic wardrobe has a far better chance of making it into ‘W’ than you do wrapped in cellophane.”
“No doubt about it,” she replied. “But I never thought my fashionista tips would come from a cat.”
I looked at my friend who was dressed in stretched jeans and a faded tee shirt her husband had outgrown. Her hair was a mess, in bad need of a cut and color job. On her feet she wore old rubber flip-flops that no longer fit making her toes hang off the edge. 
“Shelby Jo? Let’s review those fashionista tips you learned. I think I must have missed something important.”