Now and then I stop to visit Mrs. P (“P” for “Pissah”), my 80-something friend, who is always interesting to talk with. She grew up here and has lived in Gloucester most of her life, married a couple of times, raised a bunch of kids, and is the best person to talk to when I want to know the background of any given situation. Mrs. P is an avid reader and I usually find her in her lounge chair deep in a thriller. I love talking to her about books, she certainly has opinions about the state of literature today. She's reading the newest James Patterson right now but isn't impressed.
“He used to be good,” she told me, “but now he's famous so he can just get by on his name. This one isn't that great.”
I'm relieved to report that she likes my books. She's read all of them and is my first choice as reader whenever I finish a short story. She tells me exactly what she thinks, what I need to work on, and what I got right. Over the years I've given her other manuscripts to read by writers I am working with and, I'll be honest, she is the most reliable, don't-bullshit-me critic I've ever encountered. You can't bullshit Mrs. P.
While we were chatting today the phone rang. “Do you mind if I get this?” she asked. “I'm waiting to hear from my niece.” Since she had already removed her hearing aide my response was irrelevant. She listened a few minutes and then said, “Are you kidding? I'm 83 years old and living on Social Security. Do you know how much money people get from Social Security? You should be sending money to me.”
Oh, brother, I thought, someone looking for a donation is going to regret this call.
“I don't care,” she said after a pause, “if I had any extra money I'd buy something decent for supper. I get sick of eating macaroni and cheese every night.”
Now I happen to know she doesn't eat mac and cheese hardly at all but I'm not going to interfere. No, sir, I know better.
“Okay,” she said, “give me a call when you can do something for me.” She hung up.
Well, I said, I bet he's sorry he called.
She laughed. “At my age,” she told me, “you have to get your fun wherever you can. Have you ever gotten a call from those police people asking for money? Boy, do I like to talk to them.”
I can imagine.
“This one guy called and I asked him how much he wanted so he started telling me these categories --- $15, $35, $50. So I said, 'what about $10?' and he said they didn't have a $10 category. Can you believe that?”
“So, I asked him why they didn't have $10 category and he said that it cost them more money to collect $10 than it is worth. Can you believe that? So I said, 'wait a minute, you mean if I write out my check and put it in my envelope and put my stamp on it and mail it to you that's not worthwhile for you?' He said he didn't know. So I said to him, 'Look, here's your choice, you can have $10 or nothing, what's it going to be?' Well, he didn't know what to say to that so finally he said, 'okay, I'll send you a pledge card.'” She chuckled. “I never got one.”
Well, that's good, I said. Do you get a lot of calls like that?
She shrugged. “This one guy called, I forget what he wanted money for, and he said he was a Vietnam vet. I told him, so what? I'm a World War II vet.” This is true, she was in the service. “I asked him what made his cause so special and he said he was sorry he bothered me. I told him it was no bother, I was just sitting here anyway. He hasn't called back, either.”
I believe her. It occurred to me I could tell her about the National Do Not Call Registry but then thought better of it. At her age she needs to get her fun where she can.
Thanks for reading.