A letter to the mouse that died in my kitchen last night

Dear Mouse,
You’ve probably been living in the basement your whole life, and today wasn’t even too cold. The cat, Schwartz, was feeling lively and caught you. I didn’t even know about you until I heard your peeps and squeaks by the back door.  Were you injured at that point, or just protesting?
Anyway, my first error was calling the dogs. It was an impulse. They found you with Schwartz and started the mad chase into the bathroom and around the toilet. That was me, the one screaming. Why I screamed I can’t say. I had pet rodents as a kid: mice, a hamster, a gerbil, a rat. I picked them up and carried them around. They were my pets. Sometimes they got loose and I had to catch them and put them back. I didn’t scream then. I must have been a better person then, somehow. Well, it wasn’t a little screaming. Sorry about the screaming.
Captain was the next one to pick you up and carry you around. He was the one who got you wet, I think. But when I shouted at him he dropped you and then Cherry snatched you up. She isn’t the quickest dog in the house, owing to her age, but tonight she was the deadliest.
You died quickly, mouse, and Cherry guarded you for a long time. She was very proud of what she’d done, and wouldn’t let anyone look at you or smell you or take you. She didn’t seem interested in eating you, which I would have let her do as the one who did the deed. Somehow, to my mind that seemed fair. Cherry appeared a little confused by the situation. Instinct ruled when she caught you and when she dispatched you, but after that she wasn’t sure. She growled at Schwartz, even, and she never growls at Schwartz.
There was no question of burying you since it’s nothing but ice outside right now. Maybe we could have left you out for the coyotes or the foxes, but where should one leave such an offering? Alas, you went into the trash.
You left a family behind, I’m sure. Schwartz is down there waiting for the next one of you. This is how it is with cats and mice. He keeps his cool, crouching quietly behind the boxes. He knows your habits, and makes a plan. Y’all don’t live very long, do you, mice? Between the hardships of weather and finding food, and then the cat or the foxes and hawks outside, life for you must be harsh and brief. I haven’t had it easy lately either, what with all the injustice in the world.  But I have a warm house, and food, and with any luck I shouldn’t have to watch predators capture and eat my children.

Did you leave behind hopes and dreams, unfulfilled? Will your family sigh over your promises unkept? Are they dividing your possessions as I write this, or do they not yet know? Will they be left wondering whatever happened to you? Maybe they heard the screams. I’m still sorry about the screams.

Vizsla, with mouse

Xmas List

Xmas 1963
1. You can get your tree at the last possible minute from that guy, freezing his ass off, with like four lopsided trees left in the lot. You can leave it up for weeks or take it down in just a few days. You can decorate it with heirloom ornaments or condoms or the little envelopes of spare buttons that come with new clothes or things you found in the recycling bin.  You can hang the lights but no ornaments because your kids won’t help. You can totally skip the tree part of the tree and just hang the tangled lights, half-dark, in a knot from the ceiling fixture. You can just not do the tree thing completely, but you’ll certainly regret not taking one of the aluminum trees when you and your brothers went through your mom’s stuff. 
2. You can make a comprehensive list and hand-made gifts for all the people in your life, including your old nanny who feels like family after all these years. You can also stop at 7-11 on the way over Xmas Eve and bring a six-pack. You can forget to get gifts for anyone this year because, you know what? there’s always next year.
3. You can send beautifully printed custom holiday cards with a professional photo of your family and your dog in matching seasonal sweaters. You can send a long, rambling letter to an old friend. You can do a cheery year-end letter with all your children’s fencing team triumphs and your promotion described in charming language.  You can send a cheap drug-store card that will shower microscopic particles of glitter on the recipient too late for Xmas but just in time for New Year’s. You can skip cards this year, because you don’t want to have to think about someone you lost, or can’t find the right way to describe how you struggled working for that asshole.
4. You can leave cookies and 7-Up for Santa on Xmas Eve, when you hang your stockings. You can decide that Uncle Lenin brings the gifts, or that Santa is a black man, or gay, or both. Maybe your gifts come from Rudolf, or Mrs. Claus. Maybe this year you decide to open them on Xmas Eve.
5. You can make the special lavish traditional meals that are expected of you every year, so that you don’t really get to enjoy Xmas day at all, what with the preparations and table-setting with the special dishes. You can go get Chinese food, too, or make chili because everyone likes chili.
6. You can wear your tacky holiday sweater vest that is so bad it’s not even humorous, or just stay in your pajamas all day.  You can opt not to wrap presents this year, extracting them at the appropriate moment from the shopping bags, pulling the tags off as you hand them over.  You can hand a fat wad of cash to the child who never got around to asking you for anything gift-wise.
7. You can hit every party you’re invited to, bringing a very decent bottle of Oregon pinot noir with a gorgeous red velvet bow around it. You can greet the host and hostess by the wrong names and then get drunk in the corner by the ham. You can lie to anyone you meet and claim to be a screenwriter and leave early because you’ve got to get home to your sick hedgehog because if he doesn’t get his meds every four hours he won’t make it to New Year’s.
8. You can refuse to watch sports on Xmas day. You can treat the day as a religious holiday and be really indignant about all the commercialism. You can be grateful for Jesus as a cool idea because even though you’re not sure you even believe in God or religion, you really like the part about forgiveness and loving others.
9. You can decide to give money to your favorite non-profit at year-end, realizing that without that public radio station, your commute would be even more lonely and soul-sucking.  You can stop feeling guilty about not donating to things you care about because even though you support Planned Parenthood, you might have actually had a tougher year than them financially.
10. You can re-gift without guilt, or even acquire white elephant gifts on purpose so there is a game to play on Xmas night, after everyone is full and feeling slightly agitated. A cube-shaped gift box makes a decent improvised die, and you can write “Take one,” “Steal,” “Take Two,” etc. on the various faces of it. You can even steer your sister-in-law towards the perfectly wrapped and beribboned box of dryer lint, not out of meanness but because you simply want to hear her really laugh.

11. You can spend the weeks before Xmas obsessing about your mother who was annoying and intimidating in her love of Xmas.  You can be grumpy about the whole season because you’ll never be as good at Xmas as she was, with her hundred rolls of different wrapping paper and ribbons in every color and tiny gift cards depicting animals in Victorian clothes. You can hate Xmas. Or you can take it or leave it.

A Letter to the Governor of New York

On a recent Saturday night, I wrote a bunch of letters to politicians in New York, starting with this one to New York Governor Andrew Cuomo.  I received a form letter reply from the governor’s office about two weeks later.

16 March 2013
The Honorable Andrew M. Cuomo
Governor of New York State
NYS State Capitol Building
Albany, NY 12224
Dear Governor Cuomo:
Though we moved to New York in July of 2011, I still consider myself to be a brand new New Yorker. I am proud of the leadership you showed getting marriage equality for New Yorkers, and admire your ability to get the budget passed with bi-partisan cooperation.  
I recently read the story of William Blake, a prisoner in administrative segregation at Elmira Correctional Facility who has been in solitary confinement for nearly 26 years.
I am terribly sad to learn that William Blake is but one of many prisoners in extreme isolation in New York State; a cruel and de-humanizing practice, extended periods of solitary confinement exacts physical and psychological harm on prisoners, prison staff and their families (according to investigations by the New York Civil Liberties Union).  I have also learned that prisoners are locked up for 23 hours a day and separated from meaningful human contact or mental stimulation for breaking minor prison rules.
I sincerely hope you join me in supporting reforms to end the common use of this inhumane practice. New York needs to establish strict criteria to ensure that inmates are separate only in limited and legitimate circumstances for the briefest period and under humane conditions and perform an audit of the current population in isolation.
Effective and fair criminal justice maintains public safety and honors our state’s commitment to basic human dignity. Please, help restore New York’s reputation as a progressive leader for the nation. Please, make me proud to be the brand new New Yorker. 
Form letter from Gov. Cuomo

Letter to a CEO #2

Ron Johnson, CEO
J.C. Penney
6501 Legacy Drive
Plano, TX 75024
Dear Mr. Johnson,

Congratulations! I understand you were brought on as CEO at J.C. Penney to provide the kind of leadership they need to achieve a transformation from being a drab also-ran in retail to a fun and stand-out shopping destination.

Like founder James Cash Penney, I believe in treating other people the way that I want to be treated.  I also believe in seeking out the most thoughtfully produced goods for my family: locally sourced and organic, made by workers paid a living wage and in safe conditions.

With this in mind, I want to stand up and applaud your company’s taking on Ellen DeGeneres as a spokeswoman. She is funny, appealing, accessible and warm, and she has worked hard to get where she is today. She has a unique sense of casual style that easily stands for J.C. Penney’s brand. Ellen demonstrates daily that she knows what’s going on with people both in her TV show’s audience and with those of us who follow her on Twitter.
The announcement was met with some anti-gay backlash from the very vocal hate-filled minority of Americans who believe that open homosexuality is something to be feared. I admire your commitment to retaining Ellen as your spokeswoman.  I wish you the best of luck in creating a store where someone like me might shop.

Sincerely,
Maggie Russell Berkes
P.O. Box XXX
North Salem NY 10560

A Letter to my Dad

17 August 2002

Ddddddddddddear Dad,
In the first dream, you were trying to call me on the phone,
No, in fact, you did call on the phone, and I answered.  But you didn‘t know you were dead.  So I talked to you for a while and you never got a clue.  I told you I was fine and you seemed glad.  I am fine, by the way.
The other night I dreamed about you again.  This time you were around, and you still didn’t know you were dead, even though you’ve been dead now for more than four years.  You were solid, three-dimensional and all, but starting to fade and become transparent.  You had on brown corduroy pleated slacks and a plaid shirt and a woven belt and loafers.  You might have been tan. 
Why do I dream that you don’t know you’re dead?  Did you fool yourself so well in life that it has spilled over into your afterlife?  Isn’t this the only afterlife you’re getting?
24 August 2002
Dear Dad,
You are still dead.  Today I got a lot of scratches on my arms from pulling scotch broom, wild roses and blackberries.  I used a tool that I think is like a pick axe and I nearly broke it.  The tool is old and the handle loose and now cracked.  I thought of you because I was using the tool incorrectly and you liked to yell at us for using tools incorrectly even though you really were not a handy guy. Now that you are dead, you don’t have to be handy.
2 September 2002
Dear Dad,
Andy wrote a poem the other day and mailed it to me.  He thinks you died not knowing my phone number and since we’re unlisted you’d have to call Mom to get it.  You’d have to promise her a check.  I also think that if you called her she would pretend she didn’t know you were dead.  Here is my poem:
Dear Dad,
If you call Mom for my number, she’ll pretend she doesn’t know you are dead.  She hopes that way she’ll see some money out of you, somehow.
And she doesn’t want to have to be the person who breaks the bad news to you. 
You might have to call Mom at work.  She has the same number as ever.  Do you  know it?
If you call me, what will the caller-id say?
Love, Mag
P.S. If you call Mom and John answers, he will know just what to do, because he’s the kind of guy who has dealt with stuff like that before.
When I walk down stairs and the house is quiet, I hear my joints popping and snapping like yours did. 

A Letter from my Dad, 6 May 1975

My dad was funny, and liked being funny. He sent me letters every time I went to camp. I looked forward to the letters so much they were typically the only reason I would stop crying about having to go away to camp. 
I sincerely apologize for his use of the term “gypsy,” or the implication that the Romani people eat cats. Also “Jap Patrol.” 
I do not think Dad meant to disparage any ethnic group in a specifically hateful way. Instead, I would say that he liked to make fun of everyone.
I do not know if he dictated the letters to his secretary, or if she typed them up from his written notes. He was not actually affiliated with the Clayton Fire Department, but did work for the Ralston Purina Company.