Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Wait A Minute, Chester


Many years ago my mother used to sell life insurance at the old Lincoln Savings Bank in Bay Ridge.

The bank had order forms where people could leave their phone numbers so a salesperson--like my mother--could call them at a later time.

One day she told us how she picked up a card, dialed the number and asked to speak to Chester Drawers.

But this was a number for a furniture store and that's when my mom looked at the calendar, saw it was April 1, and realized she had been punked.

And then she and the woman at the end of the line burst out laughing.

I thought about this story the other day after I looked through a bureau drawer in my parents' bedroom.

I'll sleeping in that room now, in their bed, and I decided to clean out the bottom drawer to make room for some of my stuff.

But some drawers should stayed closed.

When I pulled it open, I saw that it was brimming with all my mother's summer blouses. I recognized all of them, I remember her wearing them, back when it was warm and the sun was shining and she was healthy, happy, and still with us.

I held some of her clothes in my lap and I began to cry. I was thinking of that wonderful woman who could laugh so easily at herself and I was missing her so badly.

My sister was in the house because Sunday is our clean-up day and I was actually hitting myself on the thigh to stop this crying right this instant.

Naturally, I cried even harder. My sister came into the room and gently suggested that we clean out that particular drawer another day.

"Good idea," I said as I put the clothing away.

My mother's been gone for over five years now and yet the sight of some of her clothing can still make me cry.

Is this normal? Should I be "over" my mother's death? I think part of me believes that if I ever do get over it, then I'll somehow forget my mother. That's insane, but the human mind is capable of some pretty bizarre stunts.

"I think you haven't accepted this yet," my sister said to me. And I suppose she's right.

She suggested I try a bereavement group at a church. She had done this shortly after my mother died and gotten some benefit from it.

I may try that after we fight our way clear of all the holiday madness. I work near Trinity Church and I'm very fond of the place--even though I was raised Catholic. (Sorry, your Eminence.)

I checked their web site, but I couldn't find anything like a bereavement group. I'll have to go old school on this one and call them on the telephone.

After I calmed down, we set about to cleaning the place up. A few weeks ago I found an envelope filled with stamps that must be at least 30 years old--or more. I saw some 6 cent stamps in the bunch--how long ago was that?

Several the stamps bore the image of the pope (was it Pope Paul? Jesus, some Catholic I turned out to be.)

I used to collect stamps when I was a kid. Our next door neighbor was into stamp collecting and he used to do business with an outfit called, I believe, William Deems.

They'd send you stamps and if you were late with the payment they'd send you a card with a cartoon figure of a guy being crushed in a giant vise.

"We're in a jam because you owe us money!" the card read...or something along those lines.

One time I didn't send them any money, even after the cartoon guy. So the next letter I got was image-free.

"Let's keep this between us," it started off, suggesting there would be legal hell to pay if I didn't get up the money.

I paid them off and, like a lot of things, I eventually lost interest in stamp collecting and moved on to other things.

So this envelope filled with old stamps had a nostalgic value in addition to whatever monetary worth they might carry. This was a time capsule of sorts, blessed by the Pope, no less.

I decided to put the envelope some place safe and then go online some time in the near future and determine how much they were worth.

Well, that place is so safe even I can't find it. I have no idea where I put that envelope. I thought I had put in one of the hardcover books in my bedroom, but I have to yet to find them and now I'm getting a little nervous.

I'm A Peaceful Man

Did I throw that envelope out? Did I toss away untold riches and commit a mortal sin to boot by trashing the pope's mug?

It's like David Mamet's play American Buffalo where a trio of lowlifes plan to steal rare coin. It's a great play with some awesome dialog.

Only my case is about stamps. And they haven't been stolen. And, the dialog is not quite some awesome. But other than that it's exactly the same.

What is about me and getting rich? Every time I think I have something of value, I manage to screw it up.

Years ago when I was living in Pennsylvania I bought a lottery ticket and promptly lost it. Then the state lottery office said no one had come forward to claim the humongous prize money.

I was visiting my family in Brooklyn at the time for Christmas and I got this sinking feeling. Could I be the mysterious hold out? The dummy who let millions of dollars slip right through his fingers?

I called the lottery office in Harrisburg to get some information and they told me the deadline was fast approaching, that the ticket's owner would lose this king's ransom if he didn't get his butt in gear and step forward to claim the dough.

Now I'm sure many people across the great state of Pennsylvania had lost their lottery tickets. And I'm sure they were kicking themselves like I was as they saw a fortune disappearing before their eyes.

And they have a lot of company. About $570 million in lottery prizes went unclaimed last year, according to a USA Today story.

That didn't make me feel any better, proving that misery doesn't always love company.

I never did find that ticket so I don't know if I should rightfully be in a palace on the Isle of Capri lighting Cuban cigars with 100 dollar bills.

I don't actually smoke Cuban cigars or anything else, but if I won that lottery money I would gladly start.

Years before this, we were vacationing in the Poconos--where I would later live--and we were playing some bingo game that was being sponsored by one of the local supermarkets.

You got a ticket with each purchase so we split up so we'd have more purchases and thus more tickets. We were from New York and we thought we were pretty sharp. We were going to put one over on these hayseeds.

I checked out my stuff and I left something behind--I forget what. Now my sister was right behind me in the line, but she wasn't my sister then.

Get it? We were total strangers. I had never seen that girl before in my life.

Anyway, I start to walk out and my sister--the total stranger--pipes up.

"Little boy," she said, "you forgot something."

Little boy? Who talks that way? Didn't she know were pulling a scam? We were being closely watched and we could do hard time if we got busted.

I retrieved whatever the hell I forgot and slunk out the door, and I'm not one to slunk lightly, I'll tell you that.

Later my sister thought we had come up with a winning combination that was worth $750, which was a lot more money back then.

"I think we won!" she cried.

And what does my mother shout at this moment, when she could possibly be a big winner? She doesn't yell "Thank you, God!" or "It's about time our luck changed!"

No, my dear mother jumps out of her seat and screams..."Oh, no!"

Yes, that's right. Faced with the chance of coming into a ton of money, my mother immediately refuses to accept delivery. And I'm afraid that's a family trait. It's a fear of financial success, even though financial success would make us a lot happier.

I was at a party recently being held by The Interdependence Project, a mediation and yoga facility in the East Village.

They were raffling off all sorts of good and services. I think I bought five tickets. And moments later, I had four.

The raffle was starting and I was one fry short of a Happy Meal. What if I won? What the hell would I say?

Call the Pennsylvania State Lottery Commission and they'll vouch for me. That didn't seem plausible.

The winning numbers turned out to be so far off from the ones I held in my hand that I wondered if I was in the right place.

I left a short time later, relieved that I didn't start screaming in a place that holds weekly mediation classes and discussions based on Buddhist philosophy.

I still have no clue where I put those stamps. As my dear mother would say when I lost something, "it'll turn up" and it--whatever it was--always did.

I hope that turns out to be the case with these stamps because I don't feel like pissing away another fortune. I'd rather be trampled by an American Buffalo.

I'll keep looking for that envelope. But I'm staying clearing of the bottom drawer.

That one's all yours, Chester.

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