Thursday, April 13, 2017

either his brain was fried by solar flares or he's a mole from Microsoft

Let me preface this by saying I have always loved the geniuses at the Genius Bar at Apple stores. Not that I’ve been in there a zillion times – I’m one of those computer nerds who tries to figure out what’s wrong by myself and only takes something in when I’m stumped, which isn’t often. The geniuses I’ve met were genius – knowledgeable, efficient, and very nice. Until today.
My Thunderbolt display was on the Genius Bar bar, having been kindly placed there (from the giant box I had lugged into the store) by the nice helper guy at the check-in line. A different Genius had plugged it into an unseen outlet using one of the store’s power cords.
My Genius introduces himself and asks what the problem is. I tell him that all three USB ports on the back of the display have stopped working. That my wired extended Apple keyboard had been randomly working and then not working in one or more of the ports, as I swapped it around, trying to find out which port was the problem. That rebooting the computer used to work as a fix but no more. That this had gone on for months. That yesterday I realized my iPhone, that had been plugged into one of the USB’s to charge overnight, was at 50% in the morning and, when connected, wasn’t showing a green charging light on any one of the three ports. That I had already replaced the extended keyboard with a wireless keyboard (that I hate), but the no-charge thing made me realize I really had to get this fixed. That I had tested it with several different USB cables and peripherals with the same result. Said I had made the appointment not because I needed help but because I expected to drop the display off so they could replace whatever part wasn’t working.
Genius says, “Test and verify.” Gets an extended keyboard, plugs it in to USB Port #1. Plugs the display into a laptop computer he had, pulls up a blank page, starts typing on the keyboard – and letters show up on the page. Hmmm. Tries it in the other two ports; it works in all three. Gets a USB cable, plugs it in to Port #1, and I plug the other end into my iPhone. It’s green and charging. Hmmm.
So I say, “I promise you that it wasn’t working at home, that all the testing and random stuff I described actually happened.” (I’m kind of laughing because this is all so like those Woman at Car Repair Place stories.)
Genius: I’m sure. (He’s not only not laughing, he’s not even smiling. It’s pretty clear my Genius thinks he’s dealing with some daft grey-haired woman who wouldn’t know one end of a USB cable from another.)
Me: Well, I’m positive that if I take this home right now, my keyboard isn’t going to work in any of those ports, and I would appreciate it if I could leave it and have you guys check it and make sure all the pieces of it are working the way they should.
Genius: I hate to have you throw money at a problem that isn’t there.
Me: I appreciate that. Except that I know that it IS there. I’m perfectly OK with paying whatever the charge is for the diagnostic work and, when they figure out what it is, the fix.
Genius: Here, let me try this. (He goes and gets another cord and a different peripheral. Plugs it in and it works. Looks at me like “Doh.”)
Me: I see that. I saw it when what you plugged in the first time worked. I’m not disputing that it’s working right here now. I’m just telling you that it hasn’t been working correctly, not in any of those ports, for about four months.
Genius: Well, it could be a power issue.
Me: A power issue? What kind of a power issue?
Genius: That the display isn’t getting enough power.
Me: (I resist throwing a punch at the guy's throat.) Well, the display itself is on and has been working without a hitch. Doesn’t that mean it’s getting power?
Genius: Yes, but it might only be getting enough power to run itself, not to run the USB ports. (He says this as if it is the first thing one learns in Computer Repair 101. It is all he can do not to roll his eyes.)
Me: Okay. How do I find out if that’s the problem?
Genius: I’m not saying that’s the problem. I’m only saying it might be. It could also be something else.
Me: Like …
Genius: Like the keyboard or the cables or whatever you’re plugging into the USB ports.
Me: But I told you that I had tried several different things – keyboards, different cables, my phone – to try to eliminate those, and the result was the same.
Genius: But we’re not doing that here.
Me: Oh, okay. So because I didn’t bring in the cables that I tested and the keyboard that isn’t working, you can’t assume that any of them either work or don’t work because you’re not testing them yourself and you can’t take my word that I already did all that. Let’s just move past that for a minute.
It could be a power issue or any one of the peripherals or the cables. Anything else that it might be? I mean, since I have to go home and try to figure this out, I need to really have as complete a list as possible.
Genius: I mean, we can keep it and do some testing. I just wouldn’t want you to just throw money at …
Me: I know. Can you think of anything else it might be so I can be sure not to miss anything? And do you have any suggestions about how I would test whether it’s a power issue?
Genius: I didn’t say it was a power issue.
Me: I know. You said it could be. How might I determine that?
Genius: Let me ask my boss something.
Me: Okay.
(Genius disappears for about three minutes. I check email on my phone.)
Genius: It could be the power cord or the power strip, if it’s plugged into one, or the outlet in the wall, or the power in the house.
Me: I’m pretty sure it’s not the house juice or the outlet since everything else in my office is working fine, and the house is pretty new. But it could be the power strip, and I have extras, so I can swap that out.
Genius: It might not be a power issue.
Me: I know. It could be any or all those other things that I said I already tested and eliminated. Let’s just say, for right now, that it isn’t.
Genius: (Huffs.)
Me: Okay. I didn’t bring the power cord with me because you guys always say to leave all the cords at home when people come in here.
Genius: I didn’t tell you that.
Me: No, you didn’t. But it might be the power cord, and it’s not here for us to test it, right? So, just for starters, I think it would be a good idea to buy a new one so I can test that against the old one. Do you think that would be a good idea?
Genius: Yes, it probably would.
Me: Okay. Can I buy one?
Genius: Well, we don’t have those because they almost never go bad. Let me see. (Looks at his iPhone screen) We don’t have any in stock. You could buy one online.
Me: I'm sure I could.
Genius: They’re about $29.
Me: Fine. (I’m expecting him to ask if I want him to order one for me since he’s looking at the Apple parts website and every other Apple person I’ve ever encountered does this because it’s a standard bit of their customer service protocol that’s very nice. He doesn’t.)
Genius: You could probably get one on Amazon.
Me: Okay.
Genius: Or anywhere online, really. Like eBay, I’m sure they have them on eBay.
Me: (Momentarily speechless.)
Genius: eBay would probably be your best bet.
Me: Well, I think I have enough information, so I’ll just take it home now. (Unplugging all his stuff from the back of the display.) I have a box that I brought it in over here (I walk to the end of the tall Genius Bar bar). If you could just lift it down into the box, I can take it from there.
Genius: I wish I could, but I’m not allowed to lift anything heavier than ten pounds. I just had hernia surgery.
Me: (Unprepared for this visual) Ah, I see. Well, I can do it.
Genius: But I'll see if I can find someone to help you.
Me: Great. That would be terrific.
(Genius Bar helper guy materializes and puts the display in the box. Offers to carry it out to my car. I say, “That would be really nice. Thank you.”)
Genius doesn’t say anything. Not “Sorry I couldn’t help you” or “Thanks for coming in” or “My hernia repair was especially problematic.” I’m sorry I didn’t catch his name, and I wonder if I’ll get one of those “Please tell us about your experience” survey things from Apple after Genius closes this appointment as resolved. I wonder if the person who steamed, red-faced, past me when I was checking in at the Genius Bar had just dealt with the same guy. I drive home, incredibly glad Mr. Forte is at some guy-dinner thing and that I have an appointment for a massage tomorrow.

Friday, April 7, 2017

who rocked my boat? (or how I got my oar back)

Someone – if I could remember who, they’d be so damn sorry – mentioned the idea of downsizing. You know, selling your nice, comfortable house with its shaded patios and pretty gardens and moving into something … else. Mr. Forte and I began, calmly at first, to discuss this. We said things like “less maintenance” and “smaller” and “simpler.” Because I love change and a challenge, I was off and running and soon focused on a townhouse being built near Balboa Park (and Mr. Forte’s office downtown) with three swanky, modern floors, a light well, underground parking, and an elevator. Turns out my spouse was picturing something … else. We’ve been married almost forever and have learned, painfully, that each of us is a control freak who hates sharing. As a result, I take care of My Stuff and he His Stuff (which is Our Stuff divided up into who's best with it), and we don’t question decisions made by each other in those domains. Suggestions and “good ideas” are not welcome. One of us would have to really screw up royally for the other to insist on invading that space; it has happened only twice in thirty years. Mostly, we just bob along like two small boats on the same slow river. But there we were, contemplating a Major Life Change. It made sense to do it: we live thirty+ miles from the city; Mr. Forte still commutes to work, but he’s 86 and hates the drive; I can’t dig up acreage and climb ladders and haul things around like I used to, so we’re paying for labor; the days of putting on family parties for thirty or forty people are long gone since everyone has grown up and mostly moved away. Except for sharing the obsessive control trait, we couldn’t possibly be more different. Mr. Forte is a plodder who puts things off, mulls things over, changes his mind, thinks big-picture (like a good lawyer), and feels zero time pressure. If I were snarky, I’d add that he knows everything about lawyering and flying an airplane but almost nothing about anything else at all in the whole world. On the other hand, I dive into a problem, am a whiz at research, make lists, am a quick weigher of pros and cons, hate having undone, half-assed projects on my to-do list, and am notoriously impatient. See the problem yet? Complicating matters is another piece of real estate that we own, a rental that’s been squatted in by indulged family members for decades. Do we sell A and move into tiny, trashed B after spending vast sums of money to make it Cool Beachy B, then sell B and move … somewhere else? Fix B a little and rent it to strangers with money? Sell A and move to Swanky Condo where Mr. Forte can’t hide and never talk to neighbors? Sell A and move to nicely redone smallish house in Point Loma that costs half of what A would sell for but (as I found out) twice as much as Mr. Forte thinks we should spend for new digs? Drag our heels for months and let these possibilities bounce around in our heads like too many squeaky, rubbing-against-each-other, helium balloons in the back seat of a car? Wait, I know!! Let’s argue uselessly about this for weeks! Let’s think we’ve resolved it only to have someone (not saying who but it sure wasn't me) dredge it all up again so life became "Groundhog Day." Great! What a plan! Hide the knives first, OK? After exhausting every conceivable nit-picking detour of this tangled web – and ourselves – we finally decided to do the least expensive, most rational, least disruptive of all options: Kick lounger out of B, fix B, rent to responsible adult(s), stay happily in A, not pay vast sums to the tax man and stop fighting. True to form, once I knew home would still be home, I whipped into Get It Done gear and finished some projects here at the too-remote homestead that had been on hold while we were staring daggers at each other. Took down ugly framed mirrors in master bath, painted walls a lovely taupe-ish grey, put up right-sized frameless wall mirrors that float and expand the now-uncluttered space; ordered cheap, cute, coral Anthropologie curtains, simple (cheap) iron rods and hardware, and the best curious rabbit tiebacks; found a rustic red and beige vase and some snazzy colored boxes to hide Q-tips and vanity crap in; spent $30 to get next-day delivery on the window stuff. It will all be done by the weekend, took less than ten days, and now I officially love the bathroom. Apologies have been offered and accepted. Some wariness lingers, some appreciation too: of talent and wisdom and things that cannot, by their nature, change. Clocks don’t run backward, not for any of us. My next project is the sturdy wooden gate at the entrance to Casa de Swell’s front courtyard, the elm tree’s patio, the way inside. Its sun-damaged timbers need sanding and priming and a coat of protective paint to help it through the next few years, and I found just the color this afternoon: a blue-green-grey named Boxwood (that isn't the color of boxwood) that is perfect with the many garden greens, the adobe, the red roof tile. Colors that complement; balance restored.

Sunday, December 11, 2016

cilantro or bust

[This was last year, thank God]

It’s Christmas Eve and I have no cilantro. 

If there were any other ingredient I could leave out of the guacamole I need to make for the measly five family members showing up tomorrow night for tacos, I would totally not get in the car and drive to the Always Crowded grocery store, not on this afternoon which will be at least as bad, and maybe worse, than the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, but it’s cilantro and there is no substitute for it on this earth. I get my keys and limp my apathetic self down the hall to the garage.

Three miles and two stoplights later, I choose a one-way parking lot aisle after passing three others clogged with angry SUVs. Just as I turn in, a woman there on the left, in the space farthest from the store entrance, pops her trunk and starts loading bags of groceries. On goes my left-turn signal, and I step on the brake far enough away (barely) that she can back out without hitting me. Impatient people in cars pile up behind me, into the through lane. Trunk-loading woman is ploddingly slow, one bag at a time, placing each … bag … with great … care … before reaching into the cart for the next … one. I am determined not to moan or howl or say “Fuuuuuuuuuuuuck” very slowly inside my car with the windows up. No, no, no, Amy Winehouse, don’t go there. Just wait. Breathe and wait.

Something catches my eye:  a woman, way down at the far end of the aisle, only three or four spaces from the store, is waving. At me! Because I have looked up, she knows I can see her, and she gestures to an empty space (I hope – I can’t see it) just past her car. I accelerate (not zooming because it’s a parking lot and I’m not insane) down the aisle, past at least a dozen cars, toward her, giving her a thumbs-up and mouthing “thank you,” tapping my fist on my heart so she knows I love her. She and her friend/mother/other woman grin at me, and she curtsies. God, we will be friends forever, whatshername and I. As I struggle, two-footed, hip stiff, out of the driver’s seat, I’m yelling, “THANK YOU” into the parking lot air and people are turning to look. Not smiling, just trying to see who the crazy person is.

I try to snag a cart from a guy who proceeds to shove one into the cart corral across from my car even as I say, “I’ll take tha- …” He doesn’t respond – not in a nice or even a nasty way – just looks through me with his zombie eyes, turns and walks away. My Chino’s reusable bags and purse and tied-up bundle of recyclable newspaper bags get flung into the cart, and off I go into the Maw of Ralphs.

Inside, it is chaos like I have truly never seen. Every checkstand is open, and each one has at least ten baskets/people in its line, though “line” is only vaguely descriptive of them. After the first four baskets in a row, people are doubling up to stay out of the through-walking area at the ends of the shopping aisles (and failing), so it’s just a scrum of shopping carts and pissed-off people and shrieking kids and dead-eyed Ralphs’ employees. I try to maneuver between anyone’s cart and the aisle-cap so I can get into * some part of the store that isn’t the checkout area, but no one is playing this game. I say “Excuse me” to a man who won’t turn his head to acknowledge me and doesn’t move. There is a man on the other side of Playing Deaf Guy who is saying “Excuse me” too and trying to move toward me, and he’s not having any luck. It’s a tense standoff. I motion to Excuse Me Man, and we wait until Playing Deaf Guy gets to move forward, then I block the basket behind him so Excuse Me Man can come through, then put my shoulder down, inch through the line and make a hard left into Frozen Foods. I’m in.

I wasn’t planning on it, but I got some vanilla ice cream because it was right there, which convinced me that I really should make Alice Waters’s Chocolate Cake for a Party instead of serving that crappy store-bought excuse for an apple pie that I got yesterday. Oh-kay, on a roll here. I’ll get cilantro and a couple more avocados for insurance, some light brown sugar for other insurance. I added a half-gallon of milk because I was trapped in front of the milk display for three minutes and had to do something.

Every aisle had people and carts in it, lots of them. Either no one remembered the grocery shopping rules or they had decided it was Hunger Games today. People parked their carts on the right side of an aisle and then took up the space between the cart and the left side of the aisle with themselves and several family members, arguing about which jarred pasta sauce to get. One woman left her cart and her kids – one pouting and staring at the ground, the other jumping around the cart like a rabbit – way down the aisle from where she stood, hands on hips, looking up intently at something near the ceiling lights. I figured she was trying to keep from hitting someone or screaming, so I snuck quietly past her and the kids and everyone else in that same aisle. Zig-zagging was essential. I couldn’t get around the checkout end of any aisle, so I had to go down an aisle, get what I needed, turn around and retrace to the back of the store, then left or right to the next turn-down. It was like following the shape of a comb. The produce department was the worst. People were reciting lists of what they needed out loud, looking around as if they thought they were in, I don’t know, Bass World or Toys R Us, instead of stopped between bananas and grapefruit. The employees were filling depleted bins of potatoes and lettuces and were being set upon by shoppers without a shred of patience (or humanity) left. No one smiled. No one looked as if they had *ever smiled.

There were only four or five cilantro bundles left in this little heap next to the parsley. Was everyone having guacamole tomorrow like us instead of roast beast and Yorkshire pudding like normal people? I grabbed one that didn’t look too trampled and headed back to the maelstrom to pay. Steely resolve, that’s what I need, I told myself.

I went all the way around the back of the store (for the fourth time) so I could sidle up to the Express lanes – ha ha ha ha ha!  The line I chose was four baskets, then one woman with a hand basket, then a guy with a terrible flower arrangement, then me, these last three of us curling around to stay clear of the pumpkin pie impulse kiosk. A Vietnamese woman pushed her cart right up behind Hand Basket Woman, effectively challenging Terrible Flower Man who was having difficulty with defining his personal space. He did this pacing-sideways thing as if he were truly incapable of standing still but wouldn’t stay close enough to Hand Basket to claim his place in line. When Vietnamese Woman inched forward, though, he lurched at her which caused her to back up and collide with this Staring Guy behind her. He made a yelping noise, so I turned to look more carefully at them, curious. The Vietnamese woman had on shorts, or at least a pair of cotton pants that seemed to have a zipper in the front. They were only about six inches from waistband (I use that term because I don’t have another one) to leg hem. They were pulled down (or allowed to drop?) like teenage boys wear their droopy jeans, and she had a tight cropped t-shirt on that stopped at the bottom of her rib cage. There was a vast (even for a small, short woman) amount of exposed skin that I could see, looking at her from the side. She turned her back to me when Staring Guy honked or snorted, exposing the view from behind. There was a large, smooth, featureless area of skin between her shirt and shorts, the most remarkable feature of which being that she had no ass-crack. None. Those shorts were so low that on any normal person, several inches of divided bum would have been visible. I swear to you: it was completely, utterly smooth. No wonder Staring Guy was staring.

Vietnamese Woman tried again to get into the awkward space ahead of Terrible Flower Man, but he cut her off and pointed to the Express 2 lane and nudged the front of her cart with his hand. Touching Another’s Cart is a major violation, and I figured I was going to witness fisticuffs next, but Smooth as an Egg Bum Woman gave in and moved left, dragging Staring Guy behind her like a magnet.

My line began to move quickly, Hand Basket Woman and Terrible Flower Man transacting their payments without incident, then me. There was minimal basket shoving around the poor bagging kids, and I made a wobbly beeline for the exit. The parking lot was worse than before.

I made my way around cars clogging the entrance/exit through lane and clicked Unlock on my key to open my car. Halfway down the aisle I saw a maroon minivan driven by a middle-aged guy with a receding hairline and a look of despair. I waved at him and pointed at my car while I opened the trunk and flung the Chino’s bag inside. He brightened, gave me a big circle-thumb-finger OK, smiled and and mouthed “Thank you.”

 Another best friend, or at least a person who inspires a tiny bit of hope in this supposedly but not usually felicitous season. If you look carefully, you can find these people in the most unlikely of places, even on the most terrible of days.

Friday, October 7, 2016

in the dying light [originally published in October 2012]


       The finches are back. A flitting, chattering flock of tiny green birds appears in the elm outside my office windows at the ragged edge of every summer and stays as long as the camouflage does. As the ground cools and the leaves fade from Pippin Apple Green to Dirty Yellow, there are a few days of Finch Match. I still can’t fathom how bending light changes color or, for that matter, how light bends; I leave that to the finches. I do wonder where they go from here.

         Before I had any familiarity with death, I believed that good people died good deaths and that when someone would die was fairly predictable. The idea probably came from novels. A baby dying was a rare and terrible occurrence; most people who died were old and died of, well, old age. Young men died in wars, young women died of tuberculosis or heartbreak or during childbirth (I was big on the pathos genre). The patchwork of my early religious education, I think, reinforced the idea: if you strive to be a good (rule-following, god-fearing) person, you will be rewarded not only by going to heaven when your life is over, you’ll be more likely to pass through the vale of tears peacefully in your sleep, like getting to open one present on Christmas Eve before the big ta-da. I shucked off the robe of religion long ago but for decades I held onto the romantic illusion that death was visited, like reward points, on the deserving.

         When people I loved began to die, it was in the usual way: one grandparent, then another, then my dad, then my mother, at the ages, respectively, of 92, 88, 73, 76 and of ordinary, fatal diseases. I was almost 40 years old – recently married to Mr. Forte, my kid almost in college – when Old Carl the First left us, and I was very focused and busy with my work and new family.  I’d been a civil lawsuit court reporter for 15 years by then, listening to testimony about grisly injuries and wrongful deaths caused by someone’s negligence (on freeways, in hospitals, in plane crashes).  Working in that environment effectively (picture the poker face of a reporter or a judge in a courtroom) is possible only if you distance yourself emotionally from the human beings in the cases:  the graphic photographs and witness accounts become a scary movie that ends when the house lights come up. Those people who died sudden, spectacular, before-their-time deaths weren’t my people; their deaths were only abstractly terrible.

         I imagined that I’d (have to) deal with death when people my own age got old and began dying, and then maybe I’d talk about it (and not much else) like the old codgers that hang around donut shops (like Mr. Forte’s dad used to do) or like Marge and her gossipy ladybird pals at lunch (with wine). I’m 62 and the people I hang out with do yoga and play tennis and take Lipitor, so the Funeral Club at Yum Yum seemed decades away.

         Then my brother died four months ago, and I realized that death can slip under the healthy skins of the far-too-young, of the careful and smart and kind, of the rule-followers. Of my people. I learned that death’s timing follows no clock or calendar, sun or moon, that it can take you in its awful arms when you’re sick or well, miserable or joyous, when someone hates you or loves you more than life. Those people who died in planes crashing into houses in San Diego or mountains in Burma, who died drowning in backyard pools, by stepping off curbs in front of cars or running across train tracks, in labor rooms of hospitals, those people whose stories I had tap-tapped into my Stenograph and turned into words on paper, each of them was someone’s person, just like Craig was mine. I was reminded of this sober fact again recently.
         My son-in-law Chris has had a great friend since the beginning of high school, a woman named Emily, who was a freshman when he was a sophomore. Chris is 42, so that was 27 years ago. When Chris was just 18, still in high school in New York, and got word from Florida that the father he adored was dead, he hung up the phone and went straight to Emily’s house. She sat with Chris and his agony until the sun rose. Emily is calm and wise and good, wry and funny, as authentic as a human can be. She married John back when all the friends were getting married, close to when Amy married Chris. The four of them lived in San Francisco then. I remember talking to her beautiful self at the party after Amy and Chris’s temple wedding. She and Jonnie moved to a Boston suburb, had two daughters, who are now seven and four, and lived a grounded, joyous, wonderful life.

         A little over a year ago Emily’s father died. Her mother died unexpectedly mere months later while the family was together at a summer house on Flathead Lake in Montana. Though the loss of both her parents rocked Emily and her little family, winter and spring sped by back in Massachusetts, Jonnie working and training for triathlons, swimming at Walden every morning, Emily working, the girls in school. They camped with friends at Yellowstone the next summer, in August. A month ago, on Labor Day weekend, Emily’s stepfather fell down a mountain – (fell down a mountain??) – while hiking near Flathead, and he died. Three parents, like dominos, gone.  The whole gang – Emily, her sister, their husbands, children, aunts, uncles, cousins – gathered again in the lake house, this time for Jim’s memorial, and stayed on afterward before heading to their homes in California and Cambridge. The adults swam to a rock outcrop in the bay behind their house and the kids splashed in the shallows. Late Friday afternoon Jonnie was making one more lap to the rock while Emily herded wet children in towels inside for a bath.

         Jonnie was hit by a pleasure boat 300 feet from shore; its prop severed his leg. Although one passenger in the boat was a doctor and tried to tie a tourniquet, Jonnie died before they could get him to the beach.

         I imagine myself standing on a second-floor wooden deck, my hand on the top rail, watching the little waves slap slap the gravel, hear the leaves rustle in the trees about to let summer go by. I can hear little girls’ laughter echoing in a tiled bathroom, feel warm steam on my temples.

          I can’t see Emily’s face. Maybe it’s because she’s gone home with the girls who will not remember their dad except in stories attached to pictures of him, who are numb to having people disappear from their lives, who understand only that death stole their grandparents and then their father but left their mother and that no one can say why.

         I can’t see Emily’s face. It is because I see Chris’s face. Now I know that there is no reason at all why this happened to Jonnie and to Craig but not to Chris, this blinding glare of sunlight on a lake or a knobby knot of cancer cells. It could have been – could still be – Chris’s fate, the man who would be in my life if I had designed not a son-in-law but a son. Death, the short straw, an instant of bad luck, misplaced karma, they are all suddenly everywhere and very near. My hands on the deck rail begin to tremble, don’t they, because now I can’t see Emily or Jonnie or Chris, only Amy’s face, my heart, my heart.

         Its beats are seconds apart, slow and drumlike, while I hold this terrible possibility in my mouth and stand here, blinking and looking at the backs of my hands on the rail. Now I know that this is why I have been so afraid, why I can’t talk anymore about Craig, or yet about Craig, why I put his letters away, why I cry at even the idea of writing the rest of his sad, twisted story. It isn’t his face I see. It’s Chris’s or Amy’s or even Mack’s or – I can’t say it – Simone’s. It could be any one of them, alive and brilliant and funny and warm, these people I love, right here with me now, but maybe not in the next moment or not by tonight. And then not tomorrow, not for any tomorrow.

          And it offends this romantic belief I guarded that death is selective, that it doesn’t take good, rule-following people, that accidental, bloody deaths only happen to people who are stupid and take risks, who abuse themselves, who shoot guns while drunk, drive speeding cars, jump off mountains with flimsy manmade wings. I believed that until it got close to me, until I realized how silly it was to think Death cares a snap how good or careful or old someone is.

         The trite line here might be “Live every day as though it were your last,” but I’m smart enough to know that gets lost in the daily shuffle of work and phone calls and dogs, eating and sleeping, what’s new at the movies. I would like, frankly, right now to search out all remaining trite lines and set them on fire.

         I am an optimist trying to be a realist. I hope, as if it will matter, for the life of our beloved Siobhan, my superstar 47-year-old niece who is undergoing treatment for Stage 4 cancer. I touch Mack’s warm self with my lips or my hands whenever I can; I dance with him by the kitchen sink; we went to the beach last night and watched the sun set. I make plans to drive north to be with Amy and Chris and Simone, to breathe their air.  I watch the finches while they’re here, hopping in the elm, teasing me like flying Waldos.

         I close my eyes and see a house on a lake in Montana. Summer is over and the trees have turned; leaves are in drifts at the feet of the pines and in the vee of the boat dock. The water is an intense blue, clear as lead crystal and very cold; hard huffs of wind gust through the woods.  The summer people have gone, leaving the tough year-rounders.  A good young man died in a tragedy just out there on the water, and a good old woman died in the house, but that hasn’t changed anything here. In the soft October sunshine a house still stands between the trees, sturdy as true love, next to a lake, its waves washing clean the gravel on the shore.

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