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Home: The Toast

N.B. I am perfectly aware that “Modern Love” articles are carefully calibrated to create outrage in people such as myself. Personally, I think I do an admirable job ignoring them, as a general rule. I am, however, MERELY A HUMAN WOMAN, and you can only ask so much restraint of me. 

When I checked the home answering machine after my ferry commute across San Francisco Bay, there was a proposal of marriage from my old friend John Basso, who was now living in Florida.

I listened in awe to his rambling message: “You are the love of my life, and I want you to be with me while I take care of my mom in Gainesville. She is now bedridden. She’s got half a million in stocks and bonds, a pension, two properties in Crystal River, the house in Gainesville, a fur coat, two diamond rings, antique furniture, rugs from Panama and Wedgwood china. I’ll send you a plane ticket, and you can help me take care of her.”

He didn’t sound drunk. He must have thought this would win me over. I hadn’t seen him in 10 years, but a few months earlier he had started mailing me letters, poems and artwork…

John would phone me from time to time, but years went by without our paths crossing until one lunch hour when I hiked from the financial district to the Caffe Trieste, and as I rounded a corner there he was in front of the Condor Club, North Beach’s first topless bar, shouting at passers-by like a sideshow barker: “Step right up and get a glimpse of these lovely ladies inside.”

Good grief, whatever was he doing in this low-down job? I was polite and said hi, but rushed off to get back to the office on time.

Ten years, three jobs, one house and one condo later, I got a call from John, who was back in Gainesville, Fla. Being a technophobe, he located me using directory assistance. His familiar voice and flattery brought me back to our early days and the gratifying feeling of being worshiped…

Josephine lived for a year after I arrived. She left us her trust fund, her home and three wooden trunks filled with crocheted hats, plus the items John had listed in his voice mail proposal.

Now we live on Amelia Island, Fla., and I have a nest egg of stocks and bonds, diamond rings on three fingers, fur coat in the closet, china, rugs, antiques and a poet/artist who greets me with, “Hey, gorgeous” no matter how rumpled, mismatched or disheveled I am.

1.”Josephine lived for a year after I arrived.” This woman is responsible for more than one murder. Plans for her next murder are already carefully itemized away in the lockbox of her heart. I suspect her of killing her former boss, Josephine, at least one drifter who knocked on the door of her Marin condo looking for an honest day’s work, and quite possibly her nameless child who disappears halfway through the article.

2. This is not a real poem written by a real human being. “John’s poem began: ‘There is just a tincture of me until I strangle the fissioning cougar that stalks my jungle night in a neon city of flashing, clicking streetlights.'”

COUGAR

3. Here is a list of the “feeling words” this woman uses to describe the man she marries:

  • lithe
    eager
    balding
    flattery
    revolted
    onslaught
    hyper
    THAT’S LITERALLY IT

Here is a list of other words chosen at random:

  • half a million in stocks and bonds
    pension
    two properties in Crystal River
    a fur coat
    two diamond rings
    antique furniture
    rugs from Panama
    Wedgwood china
    red MG
    a Victorian gingerbread with an outside third-story deck
    pristine condo
    dream kitchen
    chandeliers in every room
    hot tub
    terraced rock garden
    expensive Japanese maples
    savvy stock purchases
    trust fund
    nest egg
    diamond rings on three fingers

This article was 100% written by a cynical detective in a John Fante novel, not a living human woman. This is a misogynist’s idea of a femme fatale whose veins run with ink and interest, not blood. Right? This woman cannot exist. She must not exist. She is the most banal and simultaneously the most monstrous person to ever move to Florida; her heart is a gun and her brain is a ledger.

4. For reasons that are completely foreign to me, there is a casual, blithe admission of drunk driving in the middle of all this…whatever this is. I don’t know why this particular bonkers tidbit in a well-seasoned bonkers stew leaps out at me so, but why is it here? She doesn’t appear to have any narrative about her drinking that she wants to share. What purpose does it serve?

We went walking in the park’s rose garden, ate tapas in a Haight-Ashbury cafe, walked to Coit Tower for the panoramic view and ended up getting drunk at a dive on Broadway. It’s a miracle I drove across the Golden Gate Bridge and made it home to Marin after the bar closed.

5. Guys, she murdered her boss. She just did. Don’t ask me how I know. I can feel it.

My boss was a lawyer who relied on me to keep track of her vast collection of periodicals, articles and case notes that accumulated daily. She yearned to give up her practice and move to a small town to open an ice-cream parlor.

“Oh, Miriam? Why, you know it’s always been her dream to give up the law and move to a small town with no post office where she could run an ice cream parlor. I’ve told you about this many, many times, on her behalf.”

6. I met John when I was 17. He would pick me up from Miami Beach High School in his red MG and wait with an eager look for me to ask a favor.

“Take me to get a Whopper then let’s drive down Collins Avenue,” I might suggest, and he would happily comply.

John would phone me from time to time, but years went by without our paths crossing until one lunch hour when I hiked from the financial district to the Caffe Trieste, and as I rounded a corner there he was in front of the Condor Club, North Beach’s first topless bar, shouting at passers-by like a sideshow barker: “Step right up and get a glimpse of these lovely ladies inside.”

Good grief, whatever was he doing in this low-down job? I was polite and said hi, but rushed off to get back to the office on time.

Ten years, three jobs, one house and one condo later, I got a call from John, who was back in Gainesville, Fla. Being a technophobe, he located me using directory assistance. His familiar voice and flattery brought me back to our early days and the gratifying feeling of being worshiped.

Then the onslaught of mail began. Every day I would find at least one letter from him, sometimes two, waiting in my mailbox — rambling observations, snippets of poetry and references to my once-upon-a-time teenage beauty.

He also sent me collages and colored pencil drawings of dolphins, mountains and waterfalls, always 10 by 12 inches, sized for the mailbox.

[Old-timey gumshoe voice] It started with a cheeseburger. By the time she asked me to kill my mother for her, I was so used to running errands for her, it didn’t seem like much to ask.

Illustrator: Matt Lubchansky makes comics and occasionally leaves his apartment in New York. His work includes Please Listen to Me and New Amsterdam Mystery Company. He’s on Twitter, and doesn’t expect you to get his name right.

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