Live Music


In a recent late night conversation about loss, aging, and the current state of global affairs, I said, “The only comfort is in knowing we don’t have to live forever.”

Such glibness can be explained.  On top of everything else in the world, I am attending two memorials within a few days.  But it isn’t just me making careless jokes.  On a quiet night in an Indian restaurant, our waitress asked if we’d been there before.  I recalled a recent dinner, different friend, same table.  The place had been packed.  The waitress’s graying bun hung from her head like a climber losing steam.  She gestured beyond the sitar and tabla players, out to the sidewalk.  “I know,” she said, “where is everybody tonight?  Did they all die?”

The three of us laughed and laughed again.  Even with collective fears of imminent disaster, we laughed at the thought of the end of the world, about sitting in a little place in the East Village on a sleepy Sunday night, about being the last five people left on earth, blithely eating Chicken Tandoori while listening to live music.

But laugh as we may, anything can happen.  A close friend of mine, along with five others, was killed in a small plane.  It was years ago, still fresh, a beautiful spring day, clear skies.  Yet the pilot scraped the roof of a building as he was coming in for a landing.  It turned out he suffered from back trouble and was flying on morphine.

As I sat crying my head off at the funeral, I noticed a brass memorial plate on the back of the bench before me.  It had the name Hattie on it, the dates of her birth and death, and a quote.  By then, thousands of other mourners had seen it, and it was my turn for Hattie’s take on life.  “Well,”  the plaque said, “that’s that.

Long Lost

For those of you who have read this before, I apologize.  I’m trying to get the text and the image to publish on the same page.  Wordpress can be unpredictable.


John Gibson arrived at my apartment for what we refer to as ‘salon.’  But before we were to commence our usual shenanigans, he needed to sit down and read prayers for a very sick friend.  I lowered the lights, and for several minutes, John read blessings off his computer.  He closed with the prayer that repeats a comforting concept when a person’s about to leave this earth: World without end.

Within the hour, John was belly down like a reptile looking for a diamond earring I had just dropped on the floor.  And I was right beside him.  We tried corralling it with a dust mop.  When that didn’t work, I got up and retrieved a flashlight that needed new batteries before we could use it.  Every dimmer in the apartment was turned to high.  All the while, I kept lamenting, “That’s what I get for showing them to you.  God, I feel like my sister, Gretchen.”

After my mother died, Richard, her long-lost-half-brother drove from Wichita to southern Missouri to treat my three siblings and I to lunch.  In a state of unspoken grief, we mostly stared out the window at a manmade lake and golf course with grass so smooth I assumed it was fake too.

Gretchen, the youngest, got up to go to the bathroom.  After an unusually long time, she returned looking as if she’d witnessed something worse than what we were repressing.  In a breathy hush, she said, “I took off my diamond ring to wash my hands and when I went to put it back on, it wasn’t there.  I think it went down the drain.”

I stood and followed her to the bathroom.  Our waiter and the hostess came in to see what all the fuss was about.  A uniformed member of the maintenance crew joined us with a big light and a plumber’s snake.  He eventually fetched more tools and went about the removal of the drain pipe. Her ring was not there.  At least thirty minutes into this fiasco, we returned to our uncle who looked as if he remembered the reason for his absence.

Still crawling around on the floor at the end of this tale, I said to John , “Gretchen found the ring by her kitchen sink, exactly where she’d left it.”

“Where’s the damn earring box?”  John commanded.

“I heard the diamond tinkle across the floor, John.”

“I don’t even know what we’re looking for.  I need to see the other one.”

Once again, I hoisted myself from a prone position, got the little white box and handed it to him.  Both diamonds were inside.  It was one of the screw backs that I’d heard scamper out of sight.

With John reciting prayers for his dying friend, and Gretchen’s birthday within a few days, yet thirteen years after her tragic death, there was plenty of grief in the air.  That is, if one had the courage to face it.  Instead, I pulled a Gretchen: false loss, big panic.  I don’t claim the technique to be particularly desirable, but in a so-called world without end, it’s comforting to recognize a glint of her in me.