For some reason I'm fascinated by address stamps and advertisements in old paperbacks and comic books. I could quit speculating and call or write to these businesses -- "please send me your catalogue, Al" -- but confirming their most likely long-dead status isn't the point. I like the shadow they leave, and the notion that maybe they're still doing commerce in some other dimension.
That shadow, it seems to me, is related to the one cast by the various entities that have written to my mom since she died. Being the one handling her estate, I feel her phantom in letters like the one her hospital sent -- where she went to the ER the week she died of breast cancer -- reminding her to schedule a mammogram. But maybe she too continues to exist in some other dimension where dead bookstores and mail-order toy retailers still thrive.
That anyway was the premise I started with when I wrote what is maybe a garbled sort of poem. If nothing else, the Fingerhut story is true.
by Charles Austin Muir
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, God took you through the gates of Heaven Sept. 4, 2015.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, the Sisters of Holiness Health System Business Office notes that you owe $2,390.41 for medical services provided in July and August.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, the Sisters of Holiness Health and Services informs you that you may wish to schedule a mammogram in 2016.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, the Department of Motor Vehicles will suspend your driving privileges if you do not show proof of liability insurance.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, we hope you will call to renew your subscription to Senior Health Ways Magazine.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, we would like to update your listing in Our Lady of Devotion Catholic School Alumni Magazine.
Because you matter, Mrs. Muir, your son Charles drank another bottle of wine last night.
Because you are a ghost, Mrs. Muir. You matter.
O.J.’s Books and Records in Milwaukie, Oregon, matters. Says so in purple ink on the flyleaf of my pocket-size edition of Samuel Beckett. Call for more information. (“This line has been disconnected.”) The Book Palace in Wenatchee, Washington, also matters. Says so in black ink on the title page. Send for full catalogue. (“Return to sender.”)
Jeff matters. He mattered to Bob, anyway, who hoped Jeff would enjoy this edition of Samuel Beckett, according to the inscription dated Christmas Day, 1975.
Then there are the Wilkinson’s. They ordered coiled elastic shoe laces from Fingerhut in 1995.
Seeing as my dad was Fingerhut’s number-one customer, I took the coupon, lodged in the crease between pages 139 and 140, and mailed it. I hope Fingerhut followed through. Imagine Fred Wilkinson’s surprise when he opens a package containing coiled elastic shoe laces. He forgot he had wanted coiled elastic shoe laces in 1995. Or maybe it was Emma Wilkinson who filled out the card and forgot to send it. Do Fred and Emma still share the same address? Or has one of them continued on elsewhere, like Mrs. Muir?
In the same dimension where Jeff is enjoying Samuel Beckett. Where Bob is purchasing Beckett from O.J.’s Books and Records in Milwaukie, Oregon, or The Book Palace in Wenatchee, Washington. Where Mrs. Muir is scheduling a mammogram and saving her driving privileges. Where Our Lady of Devotion Catholic School Alumni Magazine updates her listing and Senior Health Ways Magazine tells her how to keep her brain sharp.
Where everything that happened is still happening and everything that didn’t happen is happening and everything that hasn’t happened yet is happening.
Only Fingerhut is constant.
Fingerhut the god, the fountain that keeps on giving. Repository of hankering for coiled elastic shoe laces. The tidal pull that brings Fred Wilkinson and Charles Austin Muir together, or Emma Wilkinson and Charles Austin Muir together, one remembering Emma, one remembering Fred, one remembering Mrs. Muir, all of us in the now and/or some other now, not remembering Emma or Fred or Mrs. Muir but staying or visiting with them perhaps, yet still wanting something, still wanting something.