Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Marvin, Inveterate Schlepper, Turns Helper

Marvin, an inveterate schlepper since birth, is a man who has never done anything he didn't have to do. One day, however, much to the delight of his wife, Miriam, he suddenly became remarkably useful around the house. 

Miriam noticed the difference and she couldn't believe his sudden burst of activity. But she was afraid to say anything since Marvin didn't suffer compliments gladly. Yet she felt she must say something to this new man in her marriage after all those decades of lethargic years.

After all, Marvin was now a whirlwind, morning and night, making wonderful meals, doing the dishes and laundry, vacuuming carpets, performing with grace and without complaint all the household tasks Miriam had done without help for more than 40 years. 

Marvin even walked Chelsea, her ancient Shih Tzu, three times a day. Chelsea used to dive under the bed when Marvin came home from work. Over time, the dog got used to him after he retired. In the parlor at night it was hard to tell which one was snoring.

One recent evening, after another sumptuous dinner and elegant desert that Julia Child would have loved, Miriam decided to compliment Marvin on his cooking while he was loading the dishwasher. He was putting the dishes in carefully, one at a time, so as not to break her best china.

"Marvin, I'm astounded at all that you are doing around the house. I'm so appreciative. I thank you from the bottom of my heart."

Marvin scratched his head and kept loading the dishwasher. Finally he cleared his throat and said,

"Miriam, my sudden energy is a temporary thingIf you hadn't had that car accident, I wouldn't be doing any of this. But somebody has to do it until you get your new legs. Once you're back on your feet, I'm going back to my recliner for the rest of my life. Except for bathroom breaks. And I don't want to be disturbed."

Miriam smiled. She was pleased to know that once her new prostheses had arrived she would get her old Marvin back, the same churl she had always loved beyond belief. She wanted to please him again.

"I'm sorry, Marvin, that my first set of legs had one shorter than the other," said Miriam, almost in tears. "I didn't mind limping but I could tell you were upset."

Marvin told her not to worry, still being careful with the dishes. 

"Your new legs should be here in time for the holidays. You can roast the turkey. Feel free to wake me when it's ready. I can't wait for things to get back to normal. All this commotion is nerve-wracking."

Now Miriam knew for certain her old Marvin had never left. He was just doing his best to be nice, something he hadn't done since they were courting after World War II. He even knelt down in the snow to propose, with her ring in his hand. It is a day Miriam will never forget and Marvin, quite likely, will never remember. 

Donal Mahoney

A Husband Goes to a Flower Show

A few years ago Herb Adams, a plumber by trade, went with his wife, Ellie, to her flower show where many ladies and a few men displayed their skill arranging flowers they had grown in their gardens during the summer. Usually Ellie wins prizes with her arrangements. It was the first time Herb had ever gone to one of the shows but that morning he could think of no plausible illness to feign. But as Herb likes to point out he spends a great deal of money buying the rare bulbs and seeds his wife plants so at least he is helpful in that respect. 

That year, however, Ellie finished second to another woman in the competition and she felt cheated. She said the other woman used different flowers but had stolen Ellie's design that was original with her for that show. Since this was a Creative Design competition, an innovative and original design was very important. 

To a novice like Herb, all the bouquets, as he likes to call them, didn't look that much different except for size and color. He had no idea what was going on and wished he had come down with a disabling attack of the croup before agreeing to attend the show.

After the judging, Ellie and the woman who had won first place had a very loud argument. Afterward, Ellie asked Herb to talk to her husband. 

“Talk to him about what?” Herb asked.

Herb figured the husband was a man like him, a horticultural doofus, there to please his wife, and didn't know diddly about posies or putting them together. But Ellie told him the man was a retired flower show judge and she thought Herb should have a word with him about his wife’s stealing her design. It was too late for Ellie to win first prize but something like cheating, she said, should never happen again. 

What’s a man to do in a case like that? If Herb wanted dinner for the rest of his life, he knew he could not be a shrinking violet.

Ellie pointed the husband out to Herb. He was older and smaller so Herb strolled over and told him about the controversy raging between their spouses. The man took great umbrage at Herb's suggesting his wife would cheat. He and Herb then had it out right there on the floor with the man shaking his cane at Herb. 

Herb doesn't have a cane yet so he pointed his cell phone at the man. The husband's spectacles were so thick Herb was hoping he might think the phone was a weapon of some kind. Herb didn't know what he was talking about but it was obvious to him the retired judge knew exactly the nuances his wife had used to beat Ellie in the competition. And it didn't sound like she had cheated.

That evening at the big dinner that followed the show, Ellie and the lady who won first place were chatting like alumnae from Vassar. They obviously had known each other for years. And they apparently liked each other under normal circumstances. 

Now, for the last three years, Herb has had to go with Ellie to every flower show in case there’s another problem. Happily there have been no other problems. But for the last three years neither the woman accused nor her husband have spoken to Herb. They ignore him. But they chat it up with Ellie just fine even though Ellie has won first place two out of the last three years. 

It seems no one but Herb is upset anymore.

Donal Mahoney

Thursday, January 21, 2016

Engine Trouble
Two brothers are picking up their father at the airport; in the lackadaisical heat and the mid-morning colors of inspiration, they coast down the highway, disconcerted, on edge, as they have not seen their father in years.  The man has relinquished any pleasure in the form of children, having lost that element.  The thrumming of the engine gives under the weight of abnormality.  For is this normal?  An elder son and his brother seeing their father for the first time in a decade?  They feel the tentative thought giving way, underneath their legs; and in this time they decide to take him out for a cup of coffee, having agreed—this is the first time in years and the very last time they are seeing him.
            Mother has died; and she is not coming back, and father is coming only to collect.
            Collect what?  They thoughts that have collected in a puddle around their mother’s ankles, like dirty dishwater and fibrousness.  The crystalline morning is lacking, in the way of identity.
The morning identifies with the people; but the people do not identify with each other.  It is for this reason the brothers are on edge, in a place in between comfort and the uncouth.  He’s always been liberal—liberally sprinkling salt on his food, liberally taking what he wants.
            They are looking forward to the goodbye—an impersonal separating of blood.  Some genuineness will trickle over, maybe.  It has to be a day at the amusement park; for if it is not, the day will crumble, like crackers in soup.
            He enters the car, says, “Hello.”  They shake hands, like men.  And the radio is on, quietly.  They wait for a word, but it never comes.  And at noon, they go for coffee, as they have agreed; and weighed down are the feet of the brothers; and lightly on edge does the father feel; and they sip hot coffee; and they wait.  They wait for the cue to leave, to get back in the car and descend to quasi-normality.
            It is in this stasis that a son says, “Welcome home.”
            “Home is in Kentucky,” says the father.
            “Indeed,” says the eldest son.
            They have coffee cups in the cup holders, angst is in the engine, folly is in their hearts; the sons realize that their father has died long before their mother.
Anders M. Svenning

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Maybe It Was Sleep Apnea

Zenobia Jackson told Officer Murphy that her husband, Rufus, was 73 years old and "a wonderful man when he was awake" but for the past year he had been jerking "something terrible" during his sleep and had kept waking her up. He'd swing his arms, she said, like those martial arts men he liked to watch so much on television. When the bouts were over, he'd give her a big kiss on the forehead and go to bed. 
"Oh, he was just a doll," she said, "when he was awake." 
In the last month, however, Rufus had fallen out of bed three times "fighting" in his dreams. In the morning he'd tell her he'd been dreaming that he was in a fight at work or back in high school many years ago. Sometimes he dreamt he was shooting at burglars breaking into their house in the old neighborhood. That's why they had to move to a different neighborhood and why he bought a gun, a little pistol he kept under his pillow just in case he heard someone in the house. You can't be too careful these days, he told her. He even taught her how to shoot the gun one night when no one else was on the tennis courts in Sherman Park. He said she was real good. Not many women, he said, can aim straight.
But last night, she said, he was dreaming again and swung his arms at least ten times, like he was chopping sugar cane back in Louisiana before they moved North. He caught her with an elbow to the eye and then another to the nose just as she was ducking. That's why she looks the way she does, she told Officer Murphy.
Long ago, she had stopped trying to wake him when he was thrashing about. It was because of the pistol under his pillow. He had reached for it one time right after she had shaken him. She had screamed and that woke him up and he wasn't too happy about it. He said he couldn't get back to sleep the rest of the night. And he wasn't lying because she was awake all night, too, listening to him grumble and curse.
Just a week ago, she had taken him to a sleep clinic where he had stayed overnight. The doctor said he suffered from sleep apnea but she had never heard of anyone with sleep apnea thrashing and kicking about like her Rufus. She had a lady friend in the choir at church whose husband had sleep apnea but all he did was "snore too loud," her friend said, no thrashing about.
"So that's how it happened," Zenobia told Officer Murphy, who was busy taking notes. Rufus had reached under the pillow for the pistol and she had to stop him. 
"Two in the head," she said, "and he be dead."

Donal Mahoney
Two Years to Love

I correspond by email with a man I once worked for. Haven’t seen him in 15 years but he hired me at a time in my life when I needed meaningful work. We both had come late in life to the role of professional beggar for a charity and we liked the work a great deal. 

He had spent most of his life as an executive in retail and had thrived professionally many years in that field living according to the motto “Stack ‘em high and watch ‘em fly.” He was an extrovert and retail can use all the extroverts it can get.

I had spent most of my life working as an editor for a magazine, a newspaper and even a defense contractor. I did that work because I enjoyed it and it was something someone would pay me to do. Not much else was in my quiver of skills. Besides, one doesn’t have to be an extrovert to do it.

My old boss and I had little in common except we both enjoyed trying to motivate people with money to part with some of it to help the poor. Too bad we are both retired now. Pope Francis’ declaration of a “Year of Mercy” would have given us a little more ammunition to raise funds. You’d be surprised how much ammunition you need to convince people with more than enough money to help those who have too little to live on.

In any event, my old boss sent me an email a few months back saying he had been told he has two years at most to live. He realizes he may not live all of those two years. But his spirits, at least from what I can tell from his emails, remain strong. 

A week or so later, he wrote again, this time about an incident that had happened one recent morning in his life. I’ll let him tell the story from here. I don’t think he’d mind as long as I do not disclose his name or his whereabouts. 

He began by saying something much different than I had ever heard him say before:

"There are no coincidences---God has a plan for every moment of your life."

As a believer, I understood what he was saying but had never really thought about God having a plan for every moment of my life. There are too many moments that I remember with remorse that I know He could not possibly have wanted anything to with. But I’ll let my old boss continue his story:

"This morning I went to the 8 o'clock Mass. As my wife cannot attend early weekday Masses, I purchased a pyx in which I can bring home the Eucharist for her to receive Communion.

“Returning from church, I was going to go to a 7-11 for a cup of coffee, but as I drove down the street it hit me that I really wasn’t comfortable taking the pyx into the store and so I moved to a left-hand lane and went to a Burger King drive-thru.

"Right before getting to the Burger King, I saw a man resting on his bicycle. It was piled high--back and front--with green garbage bags full of his belongings.

"I decided to bring him some breakfast from Burger King on my way back. As I got nearer to him, my memory kicked in. I realized I had seen this same man--a week or more before--resting in the same spot. I had purchased an extra breakfast for him then and went back to give it to him--but he had gone and I could not see him anywhere in the vicinity.

“Today, it was the same man. I decided this time I would give him cash to buy his own breakfast—plus I had a Walmart gift card I could give him to buy groceries or whatever he needed.

"So, I bought my coffee and hurried back to the access street and the man was still there—resting on the garbage bag on the front of his bicycle.  

"I stopped, rolled down my window and said, 'Sir, are you OK?'

"The man--I estimated him to be in his late 20’s--sleepily acknowledged my question and I handed him some cash for his breakfast and the Walmart gift card.

"His eyes lit up as he said, ‘Thanks.’ 

"I told him 'God loves You.'

"He replied ‘Yeah,' and that ended our encounter.

"I know that Christ was with me in the pyx. I know that He had nudged me to get in the left lane and go to Burger King rather than 7-11.

"My experience was far from a chance encounter. Now I will look for this young man as I return from my weekday Mass. 

"If he has moved on, that’s fine.

"At least I was given the opportunity to help someone in need."

My old boss may have two years or less left to live but he’s making good use of his time. 

Like me, he has never been poor. Like me he has begged for the poor and has been paid to do it. 

Unlike me, he has now been told he is dying and he is still looking for ways to help the poor. 

In this “Year of Mercy,” many of us, whether we are believers or not, should be happy for the life we have. And many of us should have greater motivation to reach out and help those who have a whole lot less or maybe nothing at all.

Donal Mahoney