Living Room Stories: Junk Mail

Clarissa Jones was a junk mail connoisseur. Over the years, the sixty-nine year old collected thousands of pieces of this abomination to society. And it wasn’t just any junk mail. It was only the mail that came to her address at 1703 Lincoln Street, the two-bedroom house where she resided for over forty-five years.

You see, Clarissa Jones was the shyest woman in the State. If ever there were a shyer person in the State, they had passed on and gone to the Great Beyond.

Knowing how shy his youngest daughter was, her father bequeathed her the house and a stipend for her upkeep. In all her years there, Clarissa came into contact with very few people: the delivery man from the grocery store, a maid who came in twice a week, the lawn man, an occasional workman to take care of this-that-or-the-other, and her nephew who managed her money.

Clarissa only left the house once a week. Each Sunday, a bus from the First Methodist Church picked her up along with ten others and delivered them to Sunday services. While the other members in the bus rattled their way along, Clarissa kept silent.

To occupy her time, Clarissa wrote letters. Writing letters in her exquisite cursive was a way for her to embrace the world without joining it. Letter writing had been her passion since she was ten years old. At that time, she took up writing pen letters to Michelle Bisset, a French girl who lived in Marseilles. Once a month for the rest of her life, she mailed off a letter to Michelle and received a letter from her friend.

During the Vietnam War, she penned letters to the G.I.s off in that faraway country. Even now, occasionally she received a letter from a vet. They told her how much her letters had meant to them.

After her father died, her two sisters moved away from the town. Her shyness kept her from making acquaintances or friends, and she found herself alone with only the house for a companion.

Then one day she received a brochure in the mail, advertising a new real estate company in town. The brochure sang the praises of the company with several full color pictures of home interiors and exteriors. She read the text several times, then spent the afternoon with a pot of tea. Around six in the evening, the idea hit her. It was such a lovely brochure it deserved a response.

The next morning she got up bright and early, had her breakfast, and then went to work on her first letter, responding to the brochure. In the five hand-written pages, she admired the French windows in one of the photographs. Then she chronicled her experience with the French windows at her father’s home. How she could sit hours at a time and observe through the windows all kinds of life in the back yard. She pointed out how that life changed from season to season. How the butterflies were some of her favorite creatures.

At the end of the day, she slipped her letter into an envelope, placed a stamp on it, then pegged it to her mailbox. She found a cardboard box in the basement. She labelled it “Homes”. She dated the brochure with the date she sent the letter and placed it in the box and put the box in her second bedroom.

Sitting alone in the dark that evening, she smiled her satisfaction with the experience. She decided she would do the same thing with the next brochure or advertisement she received in the mail. The folks that sent out the mailers never knew what kind of effect their work had on people. It must be truly frustrating for them. To let them know how much their work was appreciated became her mission.

Over the years that followed, she sent out thousands of letters. When she received a mailer advertising tea, she wrote paragraph after paragraph of the delights a range of teas gave her mouth. How her tastebuds rejoiced. How one tea was pleasurable with a scone. The scent of a second reminded her of certain pieces of music, such as “Tea for Two.” How a cup of tea could assuage her loneliness on a particularly lonely night. In one line of her prose, she wrote, “In one cup of tea, I found its taste a reflection of all the tea in China.”

For another tea ad, she wrote, “On a cold winter’s night, I am never alone if I sip a cup of tea. Tea is such a wonderful companion.”

And she was not prejudiced in her preferences. In another letter, she gave an equal prose on her enjoyment of a “good cup of joe,” concluding “coffee in the morning, tea in the evening.”

The travel advertisements brought out her best. Some of the letters were twenty pages long.

Eventually she had a revelation. She realized that the companies who advertised the products were not the ones who produced the brochures. It was the companies listed in the fine print. And those were the ones she sent her letters to. And she always sent them out with love. Over the years, she filled dozens and dozens of boxes.

Then, on a chilly Wednesday morning in February, the maid found her at her desk, signing a final letter. Only one niece from the family showed up for her funeral along with three other parishioners. There was a short obituary in the local paper.

At the reading of her will, the niece learned that most of her money and all her possessions were willed away to the Red Cross. “They do such good work,” her will said. There was some money left to the maid, the lawn man and her church. And that was that.

Or was it?

Seems one the advertising executives, Charles Morton, had read a number of Clarissa’s letters over the years. He had become curious about the author of the letters. Six months after Clarissa died, he had a trip to Florida planned. On his way to the Sunshine State, he took a detour to 1703 Lincoln Street.

He pulled up in front of the address and there was a For Sale sign on the front lawn. He found the realtor’s office and asked what happened to Clarissa Jones.

“Oh, she died,” the realtor answered.

“Can I see the house?”

When Charles toured the house, there was one box of the advertisements left.

“We just have this last box to get rid of,” the realtor said.

Curious, Charles Morton leaned down, opened the lid and pulled out a brochure. It was one his company had prepared for Marlboro Cigarettes. He remembered that Clarissa’s letter for this one had been passed around the office. In it, she wrote about her admiration for John Wayne and all those pioneers who settled the West.

“Were there more boxes of these?” he asked.


“What happened to them?”

“We’ve stored them in a warehouse with all the furniture. They’re waiting for the family to take charge of them. I’m not sure but I think they’re just going to sell them off. And trash the boxes.”

“Have you had any offers on the house?”


“Then I’ll buy it on one condition.”


“I want everything in that warehouse that went with the house. Including the boxes.”

Charles Morton didn’t make it to Florida. Seems he retired, then set up The Clarissa Jones Foundation. He turned the 1703 Morton Street house into a museum and an office for the foundation. Then he began collecting letters she sent out.

It took him ten years to accumulate most of the letters, then he published a seven volume set of the letters. At the beginning of each letter was the original advertisement. Once that was completed an abridgement called The Best of the Letters of Clarissa Jones. It became a bestseller, hitting number one on the New York Times Bestseller list for over a hundred weeks. This resulted in a national letter-writing fad. So many letters were mailed, the Post Office was having one heck of a time keeping up.

1703 Lincoln Street, now a museum, was put on the National Register of Historic Places recently and there is a rumor that the President will proclaim Clarissa’s birthday on March 20th as Clarissa Jones Day in honor of letter writers everywhere. To celebrate Americans will be urged to write a letter and mail it on March 20th.

Clarissa Jones only goes to show us that even the least of us can have an impact. We never know.

Living Room Story: What the camera didn’t see

This one came after I went through an book of old photographs.

That summer at the farm was a perfect summer for the Davises. The camera stood waiting for one last photograph before the family headed back to the city for their winter life.

The camera saw the mother. Hope stepped through the front screen door and onto the porch. She took her place in the large wicker chair. She smiled at the camera’s eye, radiating the look of someone who had found the secret of happiness.

The camera saw Marty step behind her, a tall, lanky kid soon to be in his senior year in high school. He placed his long, thin hands onto his mother’s shoulders. She reached up and squeezed one of them.

The camera saw Marty’ sister, Grace, slide up beside her brother, wearing her engagement ring, thinking of the wedding to come. Standing there in her soft summer dress, she gave the camera a wink.

The camera saw Richard, the oldest son, join the others behind their mother. In his lieutenant’s uniform, he had that all-American look of promise that said he could accomplish anything he set his mind to.

George, the father, walked out onto the porch and sat down on the porch steps beside his wife. He looked around at his family and the camera saw the pride on his face. He was on his way to becoming the Ted Turner of laundromats, having inherited one from his father and turning it into five.

But the camera didn’t see Hope’s breast cancer and her death two years later. The camera didn’t see the knife plunged into Marty’s gut as he tried to stop a convenience store robbery. The camera didn’t see Grace’s three divorces and then her suicide from an overdose of sleeping pills. The camera didn’t see the bullet chasing Richard in the jungles of Vietnam.

The camera didn’t see an older George in a run-down motel, sitting on the side of the bed. He was left with only with an empty wallet, a half bottle of scotch and a cough that won’t go away. His accountant had embezzled him into bankruptcy.

And the camera didn’t see that time in the future when the family gathers for another perfect summer.

Living Room Stories: Jack’s Cup

This one came from looking over and seeing that my coffee cup was empty. How it got that way I am not sure. But it was obvious to me there was a story to be found in the bottomless pit of my coffee cup.

Image by ChildishGiant from Pixabay

Of all the coffee cups on all the tables in all the seven worlds, this had never happened before. Jack’s Coffee Cup was empty.

Though Jack had traveled far and wide from Old Cathay to Timbuktu, his Cup had never been empty.

Though Jack had experienced adventures even Christopher Columbus would have envied, his Cup had never been empty.

Though Jack consumed more coffee than the student body of a university, his Cup had never been empty.

How had this come to be? Wasn’t the Universe aware of the Eleventh Commandment: “Thou shalt never ever let Jack’s Cup run dry.” What had led to this life-and-death dilemma? Why was it so important that the Cup never run dry?

It all began with a cow. Not just any cow. A cow named Bossie. One morning Jack went to the barn to milk Bossie. Bossie kicked Jack in the leg, not once but three times. Now this wasn’t like Bossie. Bossie had never liked Jack pulling on her teats for the liquid gold the cow produced morning after morning after morning. She especially hated his singing, “One teat. Two teat. Pull.” But she had not protested so vigorously before. We could blame it on age but Bossie was only two years old. In human years, that wasn’t even middle age. No, it must have been those little green men who had visited her the last three days.

“That’s the third time,” Jack’s Mom said. “We can’t have that in a cow. Pretty soon our insurance will refuse to reimburse us for the injury. Take that animal down to the cow auction and get a good price for her. And buy us a gentler sort of breed.”

Jack protested. He was just as masochistic as Christian Grey and he loved the pain. But Mom was insistent. Bossie had to go.

He loaded Bossie up on the bed of his red Ford truck and headed for the auction. Down at the intersection, he took the wrong turn and ended up in a dead-end.

“Oh, my gosh. I’ll be too late. Mom’s gonna kill me.”

From the side of his truck, Jack heard, “Are you Jack?”

Jack looked in his side mirror. A rather small man all outfitted in green with a top hat approached him.

“You are Jack?” the man said in the Irish-est accent you ever wanted to hear.

“The last time I checked my birth certificate I was Jack.”

Jack jumped out of the truck.

“My name is Seamus. Not the Ulster Seamuses but the Dublin branch.” The man reached out with his tiny hand and took Jack’s hand and they shook.

Jack was a friendly sort of fellow. Everybody in the Seven Counties said so. He gave the small fellow a smile and said, “Please to meet you.”

The little fellow continued, “That’s a fine cow you have there.”

“I’m taking her to auction.”

“I’d like to give you an offer for your cow you can’t refuse. Six beans.” He took six small beans out from his wallet and passed them over to Jack.

The beans felt warm in Jack’s hand and they had a rich brown texture to them. Of all the beans Jack had seen over the years–and he’d seen quite a few–these were the most beautiful.

“No can do.” Jack passed the beans back over to Seamus.”Bossie here is the best of cows and I can’t let her go for six beans.”

Seamus laughed. “That’s not what I hear. You keep things up with Bossie pretty soon you won’t have a leg to stand on.”

Well, Seamus had Jack on that. “These are magic beans. You do know that?”

“Magic beans?”

“And because you’re driving such a hard bargain, it’ll be five beans and not one bean less.”

“You said six beans.”

“That was before. This is the present. Five beans. Take them or leave them before I can change my mind.”

Jack hemmed and hawed for the next little while. Since Seamus had won the Zig-Ziglar-Salesman-of-the-Year Award six years in a row, it didn’t take long before Jack was back in his truck and on the road home.

Mom gave her one-and-only a big hug. “What did you get? What did you get?”

Jack puffed out his chest with pride. He was so proud of himself his pride had pride. “Five beans. Five beautiful beans.”

Mom knew she had a dolt of a son. But she never realized that he could be this doltish. “Five beans? You sold our cow for five beans? Just wait till your father gets home.” Now Jack’s father was long gone to the happy hunting ground in the sky.

But the woman’s subconscious always produced the words when Jack was being a bad boy. Like that time he fell down and broke his crown. She’d warned him about Jill. And her prophecy had come true. Jill stole Jack’s pail of water. Mom should have understood that Jack was going through puberty and he just couldn’t resist Jill’s charms. She was that kind of girl.

Mom took one look at the five beans and out the window they went. Then she went to her room, crying. There would be no supper for Jack tonight.

That night there was a huge noise behind the kitchen. It was like three flying saucers were landing. They weren’t. It was those beans, sprouting into a giant bean stalk.

The next morning, at five a.m., Jack put on his overalls and grabbed his pail and went out to the barn. No, Bossie. Where was she? Panicking, he ran back to the house and woke his mother up. “Somebody stole Bossie.”

Two slaps across the face brought Jack to his senses. “Oh, the beans.” He shook his head. “Bossie may have been a pain but she sure gave good milk.”

Jack looked out the kitchen window. He saw the bean stalk. “Oh, geez. Look, Mom.”

Mom gave the bean stalk a incredulous gander. “What the….”

“I’ll double that and raise you a What the f***”

Mom and Son stepped out onto the back porch. Their eyes were giant saucers. Finally Jack said, “Well, there’s nothing to do but climb.”

After a large bowl of porridge, Jack dressed in his lederhosen and his lederhosen hat and his lederhosen boots. He said his farewells to Mom. “Don’t wait up. I may be late.” Then he took his first steps up the bean stalk.

A half day later he was climbing.

A day later he was climbing.

A week later he was climbing.

He was tempted to look down. Knowing he had vertigo up the ying-yang, he did not look down.

Then, after taking a break for the Sabbath, he found his footing on land. He stepped out through the clouds and saw the most magnificent sight ever. This was Oz and Shangri La and Machu Picchu and Versailles and Buckingham Palace all rolled into one. Needless to say, it was a big WOW. And it left Jack breathless. He fell to the ground to keep from passing out from all the splendor.

After sitting on the ground for about a half of a millennium, he recovered and got to his feet. He stepped onto the brick road. It could have been the Yellow Brick Road. Only it was a rainbow of colors.

After a long time and the accumulation of several callouses on his feet, he reached a large wooden door. Just as he was about to knock, a cow approached him. “Don’t do that.”

Now Jack had seen the re-runs of “Mister Ed”. So he knew that horses could talk. But a cow. He slapped his face several times to make sure he wasn’t dreaming.

“You’ll be sorry if you knock on that door.” Cow gave Jack a huge cowish grin.

“You’re a cow. You can’t talk.”

“Now you tell me.” Cow gave Jack one of those I’m-going-to-have-to-be-patient-with-the-boy looks.

“Why shouldn’t I knock. It’s rude not to knock.”

“I’m telling you it’s not something you want to do.”

“Why not?”

“Oh, here’s the why-not. There’s always a why-not. Nobody ever listens to Cow. You think the Wicked Witch of the West and Ultron were bad asses you ain’t seen anything yet.”

“What do you mean?”

Cow finally had gotten Jack’s attention. “You-know-who resides inside and he don’t like visitors.”


“No, silly.” Then Cow leaned over and whispered, “Giant.”

From inside the building came a voice. A big big voice louder than a hundred loud speakers. “Fie fih foh fum. I smell the blood of an American.”

Another voice yelled at the big voice, “No, stupid. America hasn’t been discovered yet.”

“Oh. Fie fih foh fum. I smell the blood of a Frenchman.”

The voice again. “Come off it. We’re not in France.”

“Oh, right. Fie fih foh fum. I smell the blood of an Englishman.”

“Good boy.”

Cow passed over some cologne. “Spritz yourself with this. Quick.”

Jack shot each of his underarms and passed the bottle back over.

Cow motioned for Jack to hide in the bushes.

The wooden door opened, and out stepped Giant. He was so big he would have put Cyclops to shame.

“Well?” a cuckoo bird said from the Giant’s shoulder.

“It’s just Cow and that smell. That p.u. smell. I hate that smell.” Giant turned and went back inside.

Cow put one of his hooves inside to keep the door from completely closing. Then Jack heard some music.

“That stinkum-delight smell has got to go.” Cow spritzed Jack once more. “This one is the no-smell spritzer.” Then he pushed Jack inside.

“What should I do?”

Cow handed Jack a list. “Get these and your future will be made.”

“Why am I stealing a Forever Cup?”

“It’s what makes the other stuff work. And please make sure it has coffee in it. If it’s empty, everything goes kaput-sky. ”


“Yes, and you’ll have one heck of a run of bad luck. And I mean bad.

Jack tippy-toed inside the massive building. The hall was large. Big. Humongous. In fact, it put the huge in humongous. Giant-sized furniture was everywhere.

He fell dizzy on the floor from the awesomeness of it all. But he soon recovered, knowing that danger was only a giant away.

Jack checked Cow’s list. The items were written in an elegant cowish script. Then he went looking. He found the ice creamer maker in the kitchen along with the Forever Cup. He knew it was the Forever Cup because it had Forever Cup painted on it. And yes, it had coffee in it. The blackest, nastiest coffee you ever wanted to taste.

Finally it was the goose’s turn. You’ve heard the term, “cooked your goose,” before. When he picked it up, the goose woke from a sound snooze. Not knowing what was going on, it started crying out, “Thief. Thief.”

Cuckoo heard the goose and woke Giant.

Jack put Goose under his arm, the ice cream maker under the other arm and the Forever Cup into his backpack. He headed for the door as fast as his legs would carry him. Cow held the door open for him.

Once Jack was outside, Cow slammed the door shut. Knowing how sensitive Giant was to smell, he did a humongous poop-a-rama right there on the doorstep.

“Jump on my back,” Cow said.

As Cow and Jack galloped off into the sunset, Cow yelled, “And a hi-yo Silver.” And down the bean stalk the two went. Then touchdown, and Jack ran for the barn. Back with an axe, Jack went to work chopping the stalk down. Unfortunately he lost the barn. Giant crashed on it, turned over and took his last breath. Cuckoo surrendered.

For the next fifty years, Jack prospered. He made the best ice cream throughout the Seven Worlds. He paid for the ice cream materials with Goose’s golden eggs and Cow became a big Wall Street hedge fund manager, manager of all of Jack’s money.

Every thing went hunky-dory until Cuckoo escaped and went about the countryside causing mischief. And his greatest act of evil was draining the Forever Cup, leaving Jack with only one message.

Near 500 words: Living Room Stories: Combat

Writers are asked again and again, “Where do you get your ideas?” Many of mine begin from observations I have in my living room. This story was inspired by a wasp behind the curtains in my living room.

Tray had just sat down when he saw the wasp. He swallowed, leaving his mouth dry.

The wasp bounced behind a sheer, white curtain, unable to escape through the opening between the curtain and its partner. Then it dropped out of sight behind the red couch.

Tray’s eyes studied the spot where the wasp had made its retreat, a lone guerilla lost in the jungle that was Tray’s living room. If Tray had been a warrior, he would’ve jumped up out of his chair, picked up a broom and whacked that beastie out of the ball park. Tray was not a warrior. He was allergic to wasp stings.

The wasp rose from behind the couch in front of the curtains. It had managed to find its way through the curtain parting.

Tray sat, frozen to his chair. His eyes followed the wasp’s movement.

The insect lit on the top of the back of the couch, and it glared at Tray. It was ready for hand-to-hand combat.

Try held his breath and hoped. What he was hoping for, there was no telling. Maybe the wasp would fly into something so hard, it would fall and die.

An itch came upon Tray ever so slightly. And the itch wasn’t just any place. It was on his bottom. Over the next little while, it grew until it became intense. It was the kind of itch that makes each minute seem like an eternity.

The wasp rose into the air and flew back and forth across the room from couch to door to wall to door..

From the  left to the right, from the right to the left, Tray’s eyes followed the wasp, making its maneuvers.

A shot of adrenaline rushed through Tray’s body. Out of desperation, he willed his body to move. Ignoring his fear, ignoring his itch, he stood up and rushed to the front door.

The wasp was on his tail.

Tray grabbed the door knob and turned and jerked. The door gave. It opened.

Tray fell to the floor. He felt the wasp fly just above his body. His eyes watched as the wasp escaped its prison and fly to the freedom outside. A second wasp passed the insect through the door and over to the red couch.