shaken & stirred

welcome to my martini glass


letter from the editor

Stacey Richter's one of my favorite short story writers. In fact, I may do a little Stacey Richter linkapalooza later on. But searching to make sure I hadn't missed anything by her lately, I found a piece of ephemera from a website that published the "Open Letters Weekly," defunct since 2001. (They do have archives featuring letters by Rick Moody, Jonathan Lethem, and Sarah Vowell, to name a few.)

Here's the set up for Stacey Richter's Open Letter From the Editor:

San Francisco, California
September 22, 2000

Dear Readers,

Today's letter is by Stacey Richter, who lives in Tucson, Arizona. Emily White, Stacey's editor, says that she first thought of asking Stacey to send us an open letter "because of a story she wrote, which appeared in her short-story collection My Date With Satan (just out in paperback). The story was called 'Rats Eat Cats,' and its narrator is a young woman who aspires to be a cat lady. The story takes the form of a letter written to a grant committee. It's a charming story in the midst of an intensely charming book. By 'charming' I mean the kind of book that casts a spell."

Emily tracked Stacey down and asked her to write us something about current events in Tucson. Today's letter is what Stacey sent. When Emily forwarded it to me, she included this caveat: "Stacey said she loved reading the site, but started to feel like everyone was so nice, or likable, she wanted to come off as mean, or unlikable."

I'm not certain that Stacey succeeded in becoming unlikable. I find that I still like her. Her letter must have bathed me with her alpha scent, or something.

You be the judge. Here's what Richter sent for their site:

Tucson, Arizona
September 22, 2000

Dear Emily,

I went to my first funeral today. Aunt Beatrice (who is not really my aunt) kicked the bucket, some kind of cancer. She is what? My cousin? My dad's cousin? I went because my dad drove down from Phoenix and he said it would be "fun." It was kind of fun, in a Goth way. There were long velvet drapes, a mahogany casket, flies dying against the windows in the funeral parlor, etc. No one seemed particularly sad that Beatrice was dead. She was old, and it was a long illness. Rumor holds she wasn't pleasant. I only met her once. I don't remember a lot about the visit except that she was wearing a house dress, and her phone had giant numbers on the keypad, as though it were designed for someone with impaired vision, and I remember thinking: yes, but doesn't everyone know which numbers are where anyway? And that, my friend, was my sum impression of Beatrice.

Later, my dad and I went over to Beatrice's house to visit with his cousins, Leo and Rose, old people in town for the event from Ohio. Leo showed me a photo of the two of them after the war wherein Rose, the doughy cafeteria lady sitting across from me, appeared as an astonishingly beautiful young woman, in the manner of Gene Tierny. "A knock-out," said Leo. They were cleaning out Beatrice's things and offered me some assorted junk. Nothing valuable. I got a very old bottle of cheap wine with a greasy label and a marriage manual from the fifties called "How To Please Your Mate." It features an intriguing set of overlays that may be used to demonstrate an array of positions. I also found this quote: "I have often said to my husband, 'Even when I will lie at rest in my casket and you will come close to me, hard with desire, I will rise up for one last beautiful moment of bliss with you, my love, before I'm buried for good.'"

In contrast to this vision of sexual rapture after death, Beatrice's send-off was boring and without reward. I scooted to the bathroom with my purse at one point, hoping some of her drugs would still be in the medicine cabinet. I'm sure she had a painful death. Maybe there'd be some methadone, or a big bottle of Percocet. Alas, no such luck, just a ten-year-old bottle of Tylenol #3, which I appropriated, and a few sleeping pills. I suspect the really good drugs are in her bedside table, or in the trash already. I eyed the overflowing trash can as we drove away, thinking: if I were really depraved I'd come back later and dig through that.

When I got home, Carolyn and Amos, my houseguests, were standing in the kitchen heating up tortillas. They gave the last one to me. Amos apologized, gravely explaining that they'd thrown the butter away because they'd discovered mold on it. Amos and Carolyn are both vaguely reminiscent of the Artful Dodger, dressed in rags and waify. At times they seem a bit too innocent for this world, as though they don't know how to react to things in a considered or resourceful way. For example, there was no mold on my butter. There were breadcrumbs on my butter; I like to rub the stick directly on the toast rather than getting out a knife.

We didn't have any more food in the house so we went to Safeway, where Carolyn stole a package of De La Rosa Mexican candies. She sidled up to me in frozen foods and began to shove a few directly into my pocket before I stopped her. I seems that this is her method: unwrap and squirrel the goods. She's been shoplifting the entire visit and it bothers me. I mean, is it worth the risk for an 89-cent package of candy? I asked her why she persisted in her ways and she replied "for sport." Amos let her put a few in his pocket, apparently, because the next thing I knew the two of them were being marched away by a managerial type while Carolyn cried: "But I didn't leave the store! I didn't leave the store!" as she was hauled off by a guy in a Safeway polo shirt.

I stood by the ice cream section for a minute. What could I do? Post bail? Then some sort of protective feeling kicked in for my friends, those poor little bunnies, so out of step, so suspicious of my butter but so oblivious to grocery store personnel. I marched myself right up the stairs to the office in order to save them. I was, by the way, wearing my funeral outfit: dark skirt, pantyhose, little handbag; and though I am in no way any more reputable than they are, I managed to look like a "lady," whereas my friends looked like degenerates. The manager had them cornered. He was dialing the phone. His name tag said "Dave." Everything subsequent to this unfolded like a bad one-act play:

"Let them go," I said. "They are good kids. They won’t do it again."

"Do you know how much revenue we lose to shoplifters a year?" asked Dave. "Do you?" (Then he mentioned an absurd figure, i.e. 2 billion dollars.)

"They’ll pay for it. They won’t do it again. I can vouch for them," I said. "They’re good kids."

"We’re talking about real losses here. Real big losses."

"I can vouch for them," I repeated. "They don’t even live here. They won’t come back."

Dave lowered his head. I sensed that he was simultaneously attracted to me and intimidated by me. I must have been bathing him with my alpha scent. "Okay," he said, "but I don’t ever want to see them in here again."

We clomped back down the stairs into the store. I thought it was odd that Dave never asked who I was, or what I had to do with this. Something about my bearing and pantyhose must have convinced him that I meant business.

When we got outside to the parking lot, Carolyn was really mad at me for saving them. She said maybe they would have been fine without me, and she'll never know now how she would have handled it on her own. At first I thought that was ridiculous, but then I kind of saw her point. She and Amos are not little bunnies. They are petty criminals. I said I was sorry. I promised that the next time she was pinched for shoplifting I wouldn't do anything about it. Then we went home and ate ice cream.

Hugs and Kisses,


worm "The Ghost of Stephen Foster," Squirrel Nut Zippers

namecheck John "Tiara" Kessel


Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home