In which Citizen Jim arrives and points out to Chicken Sheets how selfish she is when she won’t use her power to get “supplies” for him.
On Monday morning I desperately needed to speak to someone at the Public Library, but I couldn’t call until they opened at 9 am. While I was waiting to make my life-or-death phone call, I decided to do a little typing on my new keyboard.
My fat fingers were making it difficult to hit the right keys every time, so I was back to looking at the keyboard as I typed, something I hadn’t had to do much in the last few years. Not looking at the keyboard had saved me a shit-ton of time, but now that time was being gobbled up by what felt like remedial typing practice.
I was obsessively watching the clock as the minutes seemed to crawl at slower than a snail’s pace toward 9:00. That’s when I got what I thought was a great idea—one that would allow me to continue practicing my typing and also allow me to do something of actual worth.
I dated the top of the document:
“29 November 20—”
Then I typed my salutation:
“Dear Kate Winslet,”
Then I started a new paragraph and continued:
“I am writing to let you know that—”
I didn’t even get to type my first sentence before I heard a terrible racket outside my front door. A series of curses volleyed back forth for a moment before one of the voices said, “Put that thing away!”
Then I heard a gunshot!
I ran to the door and yanked it open, terrified that I would find someone standing over a wounded someone else right outside my door. I did this even though I knew it was 8:59 am, and even though I knew I wouldn’t be able to call 911 and the public library at the same time when the clock struck nine.
“Damn you!” I shouted at Citizen Jim as soon as I saw that the commotion was coming from him and whoever he had with him. I shouted, “Give me that gun!”
“Huh? What’re you screaming about, now, woman?” Citizen Jim asked.
There was nobody with him, and he wasn’t holding a firearm of any kind.
Was I just hearing things? Had menopause taken over my aural command center in order to drive me even crazier than my hot flashes and mood swings did on a daily basis?
“I’m sorry! I thought I heard gunshots out here,” I said. “I guess I’m glad I was wrong.”
“Oh, you weren’t totally wrong,” said Citizen Jim. “You heard gunshots, but they were on this live feed I’ve been watching with my phone.”
“Where on Earth is the live feed coming from? Chicago?” I asked.
“Nope,” he said. “It’s from the Fairhope Municipal Pier. Apparently Woody Allen is making his latest film here in Fairhope, and I guess it’s some kind of heist movie or something.”
“God, who’s in it?” I asked, knowing it had to be a bunch of Hollywood D-listers who didn’t give a crap about their careers.
“I’m pretty sure it’s just Woody Allen with a bunch of fallen actors and comedians who can’t get work. Nobody good.”
“Why are they shooting the movie in Fairhope, of all places?” I asked.
“Oh, you know! On account of how much the Republicans hates the cancel culture,” Citizen Jim said. “They hates the East Coast elites, but they loves cheering for the bad guys.”
“Whatever. Fine,” I said, not really believing everything he’d just said—about the movie, that is. I knew everything else he said was absolutely correct.
“Aren’tcha gonna ask me to come in?” Citizen Jim said.
“I’m super-busy right now—I’ve got important phone calls to make, and important letters to write, and typing practice to keep up with and floor-scrubbing to do. Are you here about something that can wait until next summer?”
“No, it can’t wait!” he said. He turned me around and pushed me toward the door. “Get inside. I need to talk to you in private.”
This concerned me, so I closed the door as soon as Citizen Jim was inside my little Hobbit House. “What’s wrong, Precious Lamb?” I asked.
“Man, I can’t believe you still fall for some of my most obvious tricks,” he said. “I don’t have anything to tell you. I was just tired of standing out there in the freezing cold.”
I checked the temperature on my phone. “It’s 55 degrees,” I said. “That’s far from freezing cold.”
“Yeah, sure, that may not seem chilly to some hell-bound, cantankerous, hormonal whack-job like yourself but to normal, red-blooded Americans like me, that’s borderline-frosty,” he said.
“Such a delicate little flower,” I said, shaking my head.
Citizen Jim put his arms around himself and shivered for effect. “So what’s this nonsense about the public library? I thought you got banned from there back in the 90s because they kept finding you asleep on the toilet after hours?” he said.
I gave him what is called, in some circles, a look. He received the message I was trying to relay.
“Yeah, I guess they probably lifted that ban in 2014 when the statute of limitations ran out,” he said.
“I need to know when and how I can donate the six boxes of books I have in my car,” I said.
“Those people at the library do not need hundreds more Harlequin romance novels and all those copies of Cruel Shoes you’ve been hoarding over the years,” Citizen Jim said. “Just leave ’em on the side of the road and let suburban scavengers take care of them. Problem solved.”
I didn’t say anything in response, mainly because I didn’t want to admit that I could never part with any of the copies of Steve Martin’s masterpiece, Cruel Shoes, that I have on my shelves. Plus, I just wanted Citizen Jim to leave so I could get on with my day as soon as possible.
Unfortunately—and not surprisingly—he had other plans for me.
He sat down on my exercise bench and started doing curls with my barbells, straining and stretching his neck as he tried to manage four pounds in each hand. “Now tell me what kind of important letters you’re writing? I have a hard time imagining anything important happening through the US postal service,” he said. “It’s shriveled into something like a one-winged, one-eyed carrier pigeon these days.”
When I explained to him what I was trying to accomplish with my letter he scowled and threw one of the barbells at me, missing me but not by a mile.
“What on God’s Earth makes you think you can get Kate Winslet to send you her phone number by writing her a letter?” he asked. “Do you really think that’s how the world works these days? It’s not 1978 anymore, Stimpy. You can’t just send a letter to a celebrity like John Travolta or Ruth Buzzi and expect them to receive it.”
In order to prove how wrong he was, I opened an email with the GMail app on my phone. I read him the response I’d received regarding a survey comment to CVS pharmacy a week before. After all the thanks and happiness about my giving them a good score and writing nice things about them, the email said this:
I would like to personally invite you, at any time, to let me know how we are doing and share any specific ideas for us to continuously provide positive experiences to all of our customers. Please feel free to contact me at the number below or respond to this email.
“If you got an email like that, why are you wasting time? We need to jump through that window of opportunity with CVS right now, idiot! You can worry about Kate Winslet later!”
I shook my head. “No, I’d rather try and get Kate Winslet’s phone number as soon as possible,” I said. “I’ve been wanting it since 1994. Twenty-seven years is long enough to wait for anything!”
“Don’t you ever consider other people? Can’t you think about anyone besides yourself?” he asked me. “Did it ever occur to you that maybe I might need some steep discounts on hair tonics and hemorrhoid cream? Did you ever think that I could use a few extra knee braces and shoe inserts? Don’t you know that I need a walking cane?”
“You don’t need a walking cane! What would do you need a walking cane for?”
“I need a walking cane so I can turn it into a sword or a gun,” he said.
“What do you need a sword or a gun for?” I asked.
“To threaten my enemies when they get too close to the truth!” he said.
“The truth—” I started, but he interrupted me.
“Don’t you dare say, ‘The truth about what?'”
“Okay. The truth…” I said, then I paused dramatically. “The truth…is a lemon meringue!”
“Lemon meringue? What the hell are you talking about?” Citizen Jim asked.
It was a quote from a character in a series of children’s books by a British writer named Andy Stanton. The books were ostensibly about the eponymous character, Mr Gum, but the quote I used was said quite regularly by a peripheral character named Friday O’Leary. Whenever I read one of those books with Matthew, a child I once knew, I always saw my late father-figure, Roy Callow, as Friday O’Leary in the scenes featuring that character.
This made me miss Matthew and Roy so much that I was afraid my Menopause Brain would prise open the levee holding the tears behind my eyes. But I didn’t feel like getting into all that with Citizen Jim, and I definitely didn’t want to start crying in front of him.
“I don’t know, I guess I’m off my head again,” I said. “I think turning a walking cane into a sword or a gun is fine, especially if you put poison on the tip of the sword or use homemade bullets filled with glass and nails and screws.”
“Off your head? Hell, I think that’s the most brilliant thing you’ve said in years!” Citizen Jim said. “Who needs The Anarchist Cookbook when Chicken Sheets is around? I guess reading all those books about the IRA is really starting to pay off!”
What Citizen Jim knew about Ireland’s fight for freedom and a unified nation hovered between zero and some negative numbers. I wouldn’t have him disparaging heroes in my home.
“Time for you to go,” I said, snatching away the barbell he hadn’t thrown at me and holding it over my head in a threatening pose.
“But I have some more stuff I need for you to request at the drug store,” he said. “And also some questions for Kate Winslet if you ever get a chance to call her. Mostly about that awful movie Hideous Kinky. But a few questions about Titanic, too.”
“Write it all on a postcard and mail it to me when you get back to where you came from,” I said, pointing in the direction of the street.
“But I’m not through visiting!” he shouted as I pushed him down the sidewalk against his will.
“Yes you are!” I said.
“If you make me leave, now, I’ll just come back in the morning!” he yelled from the other side of the fence around my front yard. “I’ll beat on your door until your neighbors call the cops!”
“No you won’t,” I said and made a big production of securing a padlock on the gate of the fence.
“Fine!” he yelled. In a lower voice, he said, “Look! I still haven’t been rehired at the worm farm even though COVID is over and everyone else I know from the worm farm has been asked back. And I really do need some hemorrhoid cream, so a buy one/get one deal would really be a big help.”
Before I went back inside I said, “I’ll see what I can do!”
But I probably wouldn’t.