(A never-before-published short story by Jody Scott)
Naked we come into this world and handsomely outfitted in a new pinstripe from Big & Tall, complete with a foulard tie, we go out of it.
At any rate that’s what happened to Nettie Polotnik’s husband Phil who had been dead nine years to the very day when our story begins. Philip Hart Polotnik had never been neat while he was alive (Phil died at age fifty-six, his skull broken in a car crash); he drank like a fish, played poker all night long and smelled like the nasty brown cigars he smoked (and those cigars were what killed him, according to Nettie! If it hadn’t been that accident it would have been emphysema like the late Johnny Carson). Nettie herself was the neat one in the family. Their four children, Michael, Tim, Meredith and Polly, now grown-and-gone were about average on the neatness scale, with son Timmy (once a juvenile delinquent, today a world famous oncologist; can you believe such a turn of events?) being the sloppiest of the lot, Nettie was thinking as she hummed somewhat happily while cleaning out the fridge.
Funny how much junk gets collected when a person lives alone. Now why was there an open, moldy (covered with a crawling, green, slimy fuzz; ick! The smell of it—phew! Into the garbage it went)—can of tuna when the only person in this family who even liked tuna was daughter Meredith who lived in New Rochelle and had four children of her own? You’d think—but never mind what you’d think; Nettie didn’t want to dip into that old barrel of pain, regret and sorrow, why should she? She was alive, vibrant and happy, she liked living alone in peace and quiet and most of all you can’t change the past so why bother yourself with it?
“I don’t know about that,” Phil said. “Reality isn’t exactly what we always thought it was, honey.”
Her husband was sitting across the table in his new pinstripe suit, smoking a cigar and drinking coffee which was all wrong because he’d been dead for nearly a decade. . And yet—!
“I’m not going to argue with you so butt the hell out,” Nettie snapped. Feeling tired, she didn’t have time to argue the same foolish old arguments, she had a dental appointment in an hour and had to buy gas on the way (running out of gas was always so embarrassing) and then grocery-shop. But she felt strange, very strange indeed. And there certainly wasn’t any use in snapping at poor dead Phil about it because the poor guy wasn’t even alive for mercy sake!…
Something was happening to Nettie and she had no idea what, except that she was terribly dizzy and before you could say “Poof!” she was sprawled on the floor in her ratty old blue bathrobe that had come untied and was all rucked up under her. There wasn’t much pain, except for a clutching in the chest (it reminded her of Valentine’s Day in school when the kids all exchanged hearts, big shiny paper hearts that said “Be mine!” with a pretty lace banner across the front of them) but this was different, because--
Suddenly Nettie found herself up at the ceiling looking down at her body. She hadn’t realized how filthy it was up here—the entire ceiling could use a good scrubbing but most especially the overhead fixture; there were dead flies in the globe, quite disgusting but that wasn’t the worst of it.
The worst of it was: leaving that funny-looking hunk of clay all sprawled out, its butt showing, right in the middle of her scrubbed kitchen floor for someone else to find which was awful but she couldn’t do anything about it,
“What were you saying dear?” she asked Phil but Phil was long gone, so Nettie hurried so she wouldn’t be late—very sorry about the mess on the floor but wasn’t that the way life always ended?—so no use worrying about it. Sad, but true; and with a sigh, Nettie herself was out of there.
January, 1940. I had just graduated from high school. I wanted to go to Northwestern but didn’t know where it was or how to get there and, more importantly, we had no money and girls didn’t go to college. There was one freebie, Wright College, that I considered but didn’t know where it was or how to get there.
(Suggestion to the past: take a pocketful of nickels and a map and spend a day riding streetcars OR be rewarded with a talented, inspiring tutor. Not a Lutheran, not your typical 1940’s square. None available, it would seem.)
Hung around house writing short stories, all bad. Mom knew a salesman (a pig but she didn’t know that) at Kemper Insurance. Got a job there. Had no idea what to expect. There were eight floors to Kemper Insurance with a dumbwaiter running up through them and on each floor, crouched around the dumbwaiter and waiting for mail, was one boy and one girl. The girl was supposed to sort incoming mail, the boy to deliver it in a handcart but we switched around and had a fabulously FUN time sending shoes up and down the d’waiter and like that..
But on the day the job started: I walked in (in my HS clothes, plaid skirt, sweater, bobby sox, saddle shoes) and here was this handsome & fabulous creature, gorgeously dressed like a boy model of 18 years old, even the gold watch would knock your eyes out. This was Don, far too sophisticated to play the baby games the rest of us played, and we got to be good friends, long phone talks mostly about politics and my favorite subject “How can suicidal humanity be helped out of the pit it wallows in?”; in another couple of years we’d be running around with a Chicago Ultra Sophisticated Crowd, going to the ballet and like that—um, let’s see, one of them was Edward Gorey, and snobbish Joan Mitchell who stayed home and painted. And so on. Anyway, 1940 morphed into 1941 and September came and Dad died. I remember that night, the midnight phone call, the horror, the silence. (Frank would love it.)
Mom went insane. I have no other word for it. She played “Gloomy Sunday” night and day. It was awful. I had no skills to handle this at the time—then it was January, 1942, Don and I were hatching a scheme: we wanted to hitchhike on Route 66 all the way from Chi to L.A.! Wow! What an adventure, so we got ready to take off and Mom said, “You can’t do it unless you get married.”
Married? What the f—k for? But her mantra was, “What will the neighbors say?” This was all-important in my mother’s mind and she couldn’t be talked out of it so I figured, what the hay, if it makes her happy. So we went downtown to the Justice of the Peace’s office and paid $2 to “get married,” and Mom and the neighbors lived happily ever after, until they died. And later I got “divorced” and married fabulous but crazy O.T. Wood which is a whole other story which I can’t tell yet because it may hurt the innocent. (Suggestion to the past: forget about “married,” it’s nothing but Police State Suppression. Up the Revolution! Whatever that means.)
Next: to L.A. on Route 66 with hardly any money, ending in getting arrested in Texas. (Which is also another story. Stay tuned!)
During the late 40's Jody lived in Berkeley with George and Nancy Leite. They ran daliel's bookstore on Telegraph Ave. and published Circle Magazine. Both influential precursors to the birth of the Beat movement.
Jody and George co-authored as Thurston Scott the novel CURE IT WITH HONEY. Here is an entry in Jody's journal from Monday, Aug 30, 1948:
"Day as usual. G. in fine mood. All go to SF at 6 to De Angulo opening, then to A. Nin's, then to Italian restaurant, then to Mona's. Spend total of 1 fin. All somewhat sad. Bed late."
Get blog via email or reader: