Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Just Like That . . . .

Yesterday I was driving along in traffic, heading for the freeway out of Berkeley and on toward the "silences of the south." My cell phone rang and just to ascertain whether I should pull over and answer it, I glanced at the number calling, and didn't recognize it. I slipped the phone back into my jacket pocket and kept on driving, happy that the person in front of me was not driving like a zombie.

Traffic flowed nicely and I made it to the freeway without swearing at someone or wishing someone four flat tires. I was intent on getting home in time to get the Little Buccaneer to his swim team practice. Eventually I ran into the mild traffic jam on the interchange between 13 and 580 East. The phone rang again. Same number. I was stopped in the jam, so I decided I might as well find out who it was, thinking to disabuse them permanently of the thought that someone they wanted to speak with was at my number, which I don't give out much.

Lo and Behold! it was the sister of an old friend, whom I hadn't had much to do with for several yeras, but whom I saw around now and then, and now and then he would stop by the office. I knew the news was bad before she said it. I could feel it coming. Why else would she call me? I've never spoken to her or even met her. He suffered a ruptured brain aneurysm on Sunday night and died. Just as she said it, the traffic started to move and I had to hang up. I was stunned, and she was barely holding it together, but said I could call her back on that number. It was his old cell phone and she was calling everyone on the contact list to let them know.

I drove one feeling vaguely breathless with shock. I hadn't seen in him in several months. He was his usual self; tall, slender, a little grayer around the edges and still reminiscent of a large flightless bird. He had a long neck, prominent slightly hooked nose and large eyes. He was brilliant in many ways, and probably had made enough money in business computer applications consulting that he didn't really have to work anymore. He still lived, I think, in the same small apartment across the street from the campus that he lived in as an undergrad in the late Seventies.

Just like that, he winked out. One minute he's here, the next he's gone. I have no details except the cause. I don't know where he was, or who was with him. I called that number back when I got home and his voice was on, giving the greeting for his answering service. It was a strange feeling, and I didn't leave a message. One day I hope to get more information.

As I swam today I kept thinking of it, and telling myself to enjoy everything I have and to try to remember everyday is a great day to be alive. Natural reactions, I suppose. I also wondered what would happen if I suffered that same fate as a I swam. I have resolved as much as possible to keep on that positive tip and impart that to my children.

He was only 53 , I think. Too young to die. He had a lot to give and he gave it. He was a little weird and had a great sense of humor. Just my kind of guy. He could be a moralizing pest at times, but deep down he was a genuinely good and generous person. He cared about people. We need more of those people, not less. Now we have one less, and we can only hope that someone born on Sunday will take his place in that regard.

GPS, RIP 2012

Friday, April 06, 2012

Seals or . . . ?

Swimming practice for a parent can have some amusing moments. The Little Buccaneer is now on a swim team, and so I sit at poolside for an hour two or three times a week and read and occasionally watch as he swims with his young mates. (It's slightly shocking to consider that at the age of 8 he swims faster than I ever have. That's not saying much, but I ain't the slowest fish in the water either, even at just over half a century of age.) I actually love it because I get to read a considerable amount, which I never do at home.

Last night I was deep into "Lady in the Lake" by Raymond Chandler. It had me in that chortling mood anyway because Philip Marlowe is at his wisecracking best in that novel. I was sitting in my camp chair against a wall at one end of the pool, facing down the lanes to the other end. The 8 year olds were at the other side of the pool from me, and I was sitting near one end of the lanes occupied by the teenagers on the team.

I looked up at one moment, just to take a break and see what the kids were doing. As I raised my eyes, 12 swim-capped, begoggled heads slowly rose from the water and seemed to peer at me. It alarmed me slightly, then I just had to laugh. One or two of them scowled at me, as if to say, "What's funny here, you old fart?"

It was completely weird how they all emerged at the same moment, at the same speed. I had a brief vision of a gang of malevolent seals who had finally cornered me, and were preparing flop across the deck and rend me to bloody shreds. Then the humor of the scene kicked in, and I wished that I'd brought my camera. You'd see them here if I had.

It dawned on me that they were looking at the clock, which I then noticed had been placed over to my left facing right down the center lane of the pool. They were watching to see when they needed to launch again. As one, they suddenly submerged and kicked off the wall, coming up to begin their strokes about 4 or 5 yards down the course.

I went back to Marlowe and his encounter with Chris Lavery's landlady.