Josh Muggins's Blah Blah Blah

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February 2, 2014

Dateline: Mortonville






Tonight

I’m alone in the one-story ranch house in which I grew up. Later I will sleep in the very first bed that I could ever call my own. Until yesterday I was relegated to a fold-out cot as the house was packed with Mugginses, some of whom planned to stay long enough to see me off tomorrow. But a blizzard was bearing down on northern Illinois, causing me to urge them to head out before driving became hazardous. The family had suffered our quota of loss for 2014, after all.

Like Hamlet, I have subsisted on leftover funeral meats (and beer) since the abandonment. I spent a long, quiet day toggling between watching the snow pile up and plowing through a backlog of day-job stuff. All I do nowadays is day-job stuff, in some vain effort to get my faculty colleagues to like me enough to leave me alone.

Tomorrow, expected to be a brisk, clear Super Bowl Sunday morning, a high school friend will pull over to the curb out front and pick me up, as he was wont to do so many times in the Seventies. Crubble-crubble-crubble his tires will go, as they find purchase atop the loose snow. It is a sound we never hear on the Pacific coast of Japan, where snow accumulation is rare, and thus a sound I associate with the little redneck town that I am about to pull out of once and for all, like Peter North pulling out of one last rectum in order to devote the remainder of his career to heterosexual porn.

By summer, this house will be stripped of all its furnishings and rendered unrecognizable. I’m told the real estate market hereabouts is booming thanks to a major new employer, so perhaps someone else will be sitting at this built-in counter by summer and typing his/her own drivel.


Two days ago

I stood in my all-purpose Tragedy Suit (the jet-black outfit obligatory in Japan for both funerals and weddings) next to the pine casket selected ten days earlier by Mrs. Muggins, my sister and me to contain the sparse remnants of Mom Muggins. I went through a series of jokey snapshots of her parenting stylings in the form of one-liners. As the jokes were tailored to the audience, the material had its intended effect. “Good thing we’re in a funeral home,” I observed mid-eulogy, “because I’m killin’ up here,” thereby adding one last infusion of fuel to my legendary status among the nephews.

That night, three generations of Mugginses and an even greater cohort of cousins, who had lost their own mother, the elder sister of ours, just two weeks earlier, swarmed around this very kitchen table in a drunken celebration of the ninety-something siblings that had brought forth this furry Caucasoid horde.


Two weeks ago

My mother had the loudest oxygen machine in the tri-state region. It was wheezing and coughing, wheezing and coughing, relentlessly forcing its sustaining gas on her via a face mask when Mrs. Muggins and I sauntered into the hospice room at the nursing home. We were followed soon after by the giant, tattoed home helper who had enabled Mom to keep living here, at her home of fifty-some years, through the end of last August, and then by her minister. Observing this unexpected sequence beginning with visitors from the Orient and culminating with a clergyman, she managed to croak out, “Wow, I must really be sick.” We charitably assumed she was deliberately making a funny, and, as it would surely be her last one, gave her the full Ed McMahon treatment.

Her TV, at the far end of the room, was tuned to afternoon soap operas, but was easily ignored with its volume so thoroughly drowned out by the damnable oxygen machine. During one desultory period, as the sun started slipping through the blinds, I turned and noticed two seemingly naked young men making out in bed. “Jesus, Mom, what are you watching?” I cried, and swiftly switched her to the Hallmark Channel just in time to hear the Waltons warble their tedious good-nights. Later, I would date the start of her final downhill slide to that time frame and think, Crap, maybe gay porn was all that was keeping her alive.

Communication did not come easy to her with that oxygen mask. Most of the day, it was the four of us: me, and these three incredibly essential women in my life: Mom, sister, wife. There was something oddly familiar about this four-way dialogue featuring one muffled speaker, but it was several hours before I made the connection to South Park.

The next day brought a sum total of two discernible utterances: “I love you,” and then, toward evening, “Can I go?” We took the latter hopefully, as it was, after all, the very purpose of our visit to see her “go” without further discomfort. But it turned out that she just wanted the staff to help her urinate.

By the third day, communication was limited to slack-jawed indications of “yes” or “no,” so that the pop-culture reference shifted from Kenny to Captain Christopher Pike—the TV version, with the charred head and shoulders stapled to an airport check-in kiosk. Not a bad trade-off, if you think about it. Whereas Kenny did little but suffer one excruciating demise after another, Captain Pike eventually went on, courtesy of the veiny-headed gods, to a new and able-bodied life in paradise.

On the fourth day, she was no longer responsive at all, and the staff advised us that often the terminally ill, rather than waiting for family to gather, in fact bide their time till loved ones leave so that they can get down to the whole tiresome dying business on their own terms. So Mrs. Muggins and I returned to Japan and sister drove back across the state line, and scarcely had we arrived back at our respective homes when the word came, causing us to plan our returns.

A great philosopher once said, “We all die alone.” Okay, it was George Clooney. But still.


Two Months Ago

“Mommy,” I said, “I don’t like my job anymore. The other teachers are mean to me.”

“Oh, dear, that’s too bad,” she said into the phone of her room at the nursing home, which she was, by then, thoroughly enjoying. (“I don’t have to do dishes!”) “I know you have friends over there, but you always have a home here, too,” she continued. “You can always come home to us.”

That remark was a little hard to soldier through, as I was the only party in this conversation who knew the following truths: That I don’t actually have friends here, for one thing. I have strategic alliances at the university, but no friends. Also, that there would be no home there in Mortonville—or really, anywhere else in the Great Satan—to come back to, because there soon would be no her. If the rapidly failing heart didn't see to that first, the sinister dark mass growing in her abdomen would gleefully do the honors.

The reader might find it unseemly that I, at age fifty-eight, should tax my ailing mother with petty gripes about the mean kids at school. But during those dark days last autumn it had occurred to me that a good mother is a terrific natural resource--one not as infinitely renewable as I had once let myself believe, but an abundantly giving resource all the same, and also a resource that, unique among natural resources, actually enjoys being exploited.


Eight Years Ago

I’m sitting around this same kitchen counter with Mom Muggins and her now equally dead older sister. My first memoir as Josh Muggins has come out but, as it details one unseemly sexual escapade after another, including extramarital ones, I was keeping that news to myself. That, after all, is one of the primary functions of a pseudonym.

“So, are you writing anything these days?”

No, I report, I have sort of given up on all that after my foray into journalism petered out. In reality, the book has climbed into Amazon’s top 10,000—big whoop, the reader might say, but a promising start for an unknown writer proffering a self-published memoir with practically no promotion.

“Really? You’re not ever going to take it up again?”

No, I insist with some irritation. I am quite content to be a mild-mannered university lecturer.

“What a pity," she sighs. "You’re such a good writer!”