Tuesday, August 11, 2009

David Fischer walking the long road

I can't believe I'm writing these words but my good friend, David Fischer, and Dave's best friend since eighth grade earth science, died last early Thursday morning.

David wasn't feeling well and went into the hospital on, I believe, July 23. He went on dialysis, and was diagnosed initially with Epstein Barr. About 10 days later he was diagnosed with a rare and virulent form of cancer associated with Epstein Barr, called NK leukemia -- the "NK" stands for "natural killer." Charming, huh? They gave him chemo but it was already too late. I may have some of those details wrong but you get the general idea. Dave spoke to him several times on the phone and then saw him the weekend before he died, two weekends ago. We sensed this was coming, especially once they identified the leukemia.

It's funny, I keep thinking of his laugh -- he loved to laugh, and he was really sharp, and witty, so he saw a lot of humor in things, but he didn't have a mean bone in his body so his jokes were never nasty. I know all things must pass away. I know this life is short, ephemeral, tenuous. (Now I really know it, like I really wanted a reminder, thank you very much.) I know David wasn't entirely healthy, physically, and while he was solidly built, he'd always seemed a little frail to me. But I never expected him to die, never ever, and not in a million years to die this way.

I met David when we both worked at LIFE magazine, and he will always hold an indescribably important place in my heart, because he introduced me to Dave, my dear husband. He fixed us up, just had an instinct we'd like each other. How did he know that? I'll never know.

David and I worked in different departments at LIFE but we'd talked on and off for a year or two, and he kept mentioning this friend, Dave. He showed me this magazine that his friend Dave had co-founded, 2600, the internationally famous hacker quarterly, with his friend Eric. I think Dave was gone by then but his name is still on the masthead some place and I remember being in David's office and him showing it to me. This magazine is pretty technical, and I didn't get the it at all, at first, so I kind of said, okay, cool, and moved on. I was also seeing someone else at the time, but as it was a woman and long-distance, I didn't talk about it at work.

Then I was single again, and again I found myself talking to David, and mentioning that I was doing a lot of canoeing that particular summer. He was delighted, saying, my friend Dave canoes, and he even owns a canoe! Excited, like a little kid. Er, that's nice, David. Good for him.

Then, after what I call my year of sleazy men (but that's another post), I finally decided that I wasn't interested in just any man, I wanted one who was kind, and funny, and smart -- and I wanted to like his mother. I didn't want him to have kids, and I kind of figured he'd be in the math or science field, since I had had luck in that area before. And if my man wasn't forthcoming, I was going to be just fine by myself.

So I got myself subscriptions to concerts and plays, and it must have been around Christmas that I asked David Fischer if he wanted to see Guys and Dolls, the wildly successful Nathan Lane-Faith Prince version that was playing that winter, 1993. Sure, he said, and he went back to his office and called me up. Okay, he said, I'm going to do this. I'm going to get us all together. Uh, okay David, not quite sure what he was talking about.

A few days later he called me back to say, the first Friday in February, let's you and me and my friend David go to a poetry slam at the Nuyorican Cafe. That's Friday, February 5th. It was ages and ages away.
Uh, okay, but what's a poetry slam?
It's a poetry competition. We'll go to Avenue A Sushi beforehand.
Uh, okay.

I still had no idea I was being set up. But there was enough time and eventually I clued in, and started getting nervous. That night leaving work, I met David and our friend and colleague Sandy at the elevator, and she looked at the two of us going out together and said, in her wonderful, enthusiastic way, oh, tonight is your date!
No, no, no, it's not a date! David cried, not wanting the situation to be too loaded.
I don't want to go, I said, suddenly scared. I'm tired, it's Friday night, I'm not wearing the right clothes, and all I want to do is go home and watch TV.
I think you're going to have a great time! Sandy said, in her inimitable way. I love your new haircut, you look East Village funky, and you're going to have a great time! Lucky me, she was the best possible person for me to see at that moment.
Okay, I said under my breath, as I walked through the doors, I'll go. But I'm just going to be myself. And if he doesn't like me, fuck him!

Needless to say . . . we had a great time, a great, great time. How could I not have a great time at a poetry slam with Dave and David Fischer? I could be myself with the two of them, and we laughed all night. Dave and I were on the same vibe right from the beginning: David and I were late, and Dave wasn't right outside. And instead of going into the restaurant to see if Dave was there already, as I suggested, we walked up a couple of blocks to see if he'd gone to a different restaurant. I guess David was nervous too.

We came back to the restaurant, stood around for awhile, and finally David said, okay, let's go in and see if he's there. Sure enough, there he was, waiting for us at a table, polishing off some sake. The first thing I noticed was that he had long, graceful fingers -- I don't think I even realized he had blue eyes until we'd been dating a few weeks and he mentioned them. This weekend he told me that he never usually went inside like that, without his dinner companion, but he was early and decided to do things differently that night.

We walked over to the slam, which was jammed, and raucous and fantastic, and as I say, we laughed all night. These things stand out:

-- the second-round poem by the guy who looked like a junkie wannabe that started out, "I opened the dog's jaws and pulled out my penis" (we all collapsed, of course);

-- the MC, who was the famous Bob Holman, a founder of the Nuyorican, whose running patter was hilarious and smart and perfect;

-- Dave mentioning he lived in his parents' home, and me being instantly and obviously turned off, and him quickly following with the information that he had his own apartment and his own door and didn't see them much, and me deciding, still a little ambivalent, okay (and I think David quickly changed the subject);

-- "Long Island is shaped like a fish." When I said I had never been to Long Island, these two Island boys said, of course you've been to Long Island, you live in Brooklyn, and proceeded to draw me a map of the island, featuring the North and South forks as the tail, and dotted with landmarks such as Billy Joel's childhood home, and Paul Simon's Montauk home, and the Amityville Horror location, and the town of "Matzo-Pizza," where Joey Buttafuoco met Amy Fisher for their afternoon trysts.

Needless to say, I still have this map, and needless to say, David was our guest of honor when Dave and I were married three years later. He was the first to speak at our Quaker-style wedding, and when he was preparing his speech I was able to pull out the map, at his request, to use as inspiration. I just kept marveling, how did he know? How did he know?

We saw David a lot over the next few years, especially before Lily was born, when we'd all go out to a show or a movie or to hear some music. Dave spoke to him weekly or more, and emailed, and they got together frequently, always for a show, with a meal together before or after. I was bummed when he was diagnosed as a celiac, because as much as he knew about culture he knew about food, and it had been really fun to explore restaurants with him.

When we moved to Massachusetts Dave saw him every time we went to Brooklyn or Long Island. I heard all about the shows he saw that I could never fit in, and I was subjected to many possible cartoon captions. He came to visit us last fall, I think it was, or maybe it was the fall before, and they went for a hike while Lily and I were at work and school; later we all went out to eat (he'd previously checked out all the local celiac-friendly restaurants).

I think David knew Dave and I were a good match because he was incredibly thoughtful and conscientious, to a fault, perhaps. He didn't know me that well, but he and Dave had known each other for most of their lives, and I think he just thought about us both, and somehow just knew. I want that kind of thoughtfullness. He could also be annoyingly neurotic, and at one point in my life I had little patience for him. But I made my amends, and lately I was enjoying him so much, and when we went to West Side Story in May I just wanted to spend all my time chatting with him. He didn't join us for lunch and I was disappointed, but we compared notes at intermission and talked and talked at the parking garage until Dave dragged me away and said we had to leave.

He never married or had children, but he had literally hundreds of friends, many of them ex-girl friends, from as far back as elementary school, high school, and college, and then New York City, and still more from all his many cyber communities. He was part of many; I think the internet was the perfect place for his many talents and erudition. The David Fischer Salon, as someone called it, was based on his blog about town blog. He was a part of the celiac community, kindertransport, the New Yorker anti-cartoon contest community, and many others. You can find those links on his blog site.

Listening to his friends about him, and reading their wonderful stories, what makes me sorriest now -- aside from the fact that my husband has lost his his right arm -- is that he was such a joy and a resource that in some ways I had not begun to tap. I would give anything right now to sit and talk about his funeral with him, for instance. Didn't you love Matt's speech, I'd say? Isn't it wonderful how kind he was to your mother, before even talking about you? Didn't you love his line about, who is this 60-year-old man sitting across from me? And Anne, also a wonderful eulogy. I loved hearing about you mooning the train, and how a group of you, single and culturally devoted, formed a kind of family, over the years, and when she quoted from her friend about your salon, that was a great line, huh? And wasn't the music lovely!

I really liked meeting all your friends! What wonderful people! I loved how they all knew that you could be, er, very particular about some things, and they loved you in spite and because of that. They showed me how to love you, David, and how to love more, in the future. I find myself wondering, what other hidden gems of friends have I not fully appreciated, and who haven't I recently said I love you to. I am so happy I got to give Stephen Mernoff's mom a ride home; aside from the company, she really illuminated some important things, things I've been struggling with for years, and gee, David, I sure would love to share them with you. I too love La Mer, David, thanks so much for the Charles Trenet CD you gave us many years ago. Was it Matt who said, there's so much more to speak about? David, it's too soon! There's so much more to say.

The Long Road

And I wished for so long, cannot stay...
All the precious moments, cannot stay...
It's not like wings have fallen, cannot stay...
But I feel something's missing, cannot say...

Holding hands are daughters and sons
And their faiths just falling down, down, down, down...
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

We all walk the long road. Cannot stay...
There's no need to say goodbye...
All the friends and family
All the memories going round, round, round, round
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today

And the wind keeps roaring
And the sky keeps turning gray
And the sun is set
The sun will rise another day...

We all walk the long road. Cannot stay...
There's no need to say goodbye...
All the friends and family
All the memories going round, round, round, round
I have wished for so long
How I wish for you today
How I've wished for so long
How I wish for you today

We all walk the long road
We all walk the long road
We all walk the long road

-- Eddie Vedder with Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan

RIP, dear David. I'll miss you. And by the way, thanks again for my life.


  1. See the next post for pictures of David.

  2. Sasha, thanks for this wonderful remembrance. (This is Ben, David's college roommate.) The schoolboy version of your husband (along with Sue S.) was already a minor legend to all of David's storytelling audience at UVa. And of course, my closest friend in my current city (Austin) was via an introduction from you-know-who - he'd met her in a Thomas Pynchon "usenet" group some years before. I'm especially grateful for your honesty in acknowledging the prickly times, because we've all been through them, and we honor him by painting an honest picture. I was already banking on the friendship upsurge when we'd finally lure him to Texas and try to impress him with culture *and* nature, high- *and* lowbrow. There were talks just last month: we were going to try to "David" David!

    Signing off, Ben Kim

  3. Sash, Just beautiful. A lovely portrait of a man I didn't know, but I got a little glimpse into a life well lived. And a bigger glimpse into the pain you feel. And a sad reliving of my own pain for good friends who left too soon. xoxo

  4. The song is from Dead Man Walking.


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