Saturday, August 22, 2009

I'd like to be one of Melville's Catskill eagles

From Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Chapter 96 - The Try-Works

Look not too long in the face of the fire, O man! Never dream with thy hand on the helm! Turn not thy back to the compass; accept the first hint of the hitching tiller; believe not the artificial fire, when its redness makes all things look ghastly. To-morrow, in the natural sun, the skies will be bright; those who glared like devils in the forking flames, the morn will show in far other, at least gentler, relief; the glorious, golden, glad sun, the only true lamp- all others but liars!

Nevertheless the sun hides not Virginia's Dismal Swamp, nor Rome's accursed Campagna, nor wide Sahara, nor all the millions of miles of deserts and of griefs beneath the moon. The sun hides not the ocean, which is the dark side of this earth, and which is two thirds of this earth. So, therefore, that mortal man who hath more of joy than sorrow in him, that mortal man cannot be true- not true, or undeveloped. With books the same. The truest of all men was the Man of Sorrows, and the truest of all books is Solomon's, and Ecclesiastes is the fine hammered steel of woe. "All is vanity." ALL. This wilful world hath not got hold of unchristian Solomon's wisdom yet. But he who dodges hospitals and jails, and walks fast crossing graveyards, and would rather talk of operas than hell; calls Cowper, Young, Pascal, Rousseau, poor devils all of sick men; and throughout a care-free lifetime swears by Rabelais as passing wise, and therefore jolly;- not that man is fitted to sit down on tomb-stones, and break the green damp mould with unfathomably wondrous Solomon.

But even Solomon, he says, "the man that wandereth out of the way of understanding shall remain" (i.e. even while living) "in the congregation of the dead." Give not thyself up, then, to fire, lest it invert thee, deaden thee; as for the time it did me. There is a wisdom that is woe; but there is a woe that is madness. And there is a Catskill eagle in some souls that can alike dive down into the blackest gorges, and soar out of them again and become invisible in the sunny spaces. And even if he for ever flies within the gorge, that gorge is in the mountains; so that even in his lowest swoop the mountain eagle is still higher than other birds upon the plain, even though they soar.

Off to family camp. Will report back in about a week. Be well.

Monday, August 17, 2009

"I'm not comfortable on the grass"

I'd heard vaguely about this pool and its very long waiting list. When I saw it advertised in the paper this summer I figured the economy meant fewer people were joining and I got the info but declined to sign up.

We finally got some heat last week and when my friend Sarah mentioned how great the Northampton Country Club was, I finally joined. Just the pool, not the golf. It's $450 for June-July-August, and Kim, the director, let us join for the last three weeks for $90. We have already gotten our money's worth! We've been there every day since Friday and it felt wonderful. We took our friend Mike and his kids, visiting from Brooklyn, over there for the last two days.

It's great. It's packed with kids, the lifeguards are really attentive, and the water is clean and not too chlorinated. The locker rooms are rundown but clean. They offer swim lessons. It's contained, and there's also ping pong, swings, and sand. There's lots of lounge chairs and you can always find a patch of shade if it's hot. They have a grill and a microwave and you can get a burger or a hot dog and chips and cans of soda. Or you can bring your own food.

Kim runs a tight ship, with a focus on being kid-friendly. (As Smith's swim coach he also runs Kids Night Out, an on-campus fundraiser for the Smith sports teams, which is basically three hours of Friday night babysitting for parents. It happens several times during the school year and Lily loves it.) No smoking, no drinking, no glass bottles, no eating on deck -- but it's okay on the grass -- the lifeguards have extra goggles and masks and other swim stuff. Swimmies and that sort of thing are okay. There's a lane for laps.

My friend Brad from Wondertime goes to the Holyoke Canoe Club, near his home. It sounds similar. We go local and as we are starting to know some folks, we've seen people we know every time we've gone. Everyone I've seen has introduced me to other people -- it's very friendly. Lily has seen kids she knows every time too and she begs to go now.

Here's a funny Brooklyn story: Mike's son Nicholas wouldn't walk on the grass. On Monday, his first day there, he climbed over the lounge chair to get to his towel. The next day, yesterday, he stood on the pavement near the pool and begged his father to come fix his face mask. He said, "I'm not comfortable on the grass."

Mike refused to go to him until he finally walked over and took Nick by the hand and walked him back to the lounge chair, where he fixed the mask. Nicky ran back to the safety of the pavement. Later when he refused again Mike brought him his sandals. And finally when Nicky was on the chair, he raced across the grass to get his hotdog and raced back, ate it, and raced to the water.

Sabrina, on the other hand, didn't like being on pavement in bare feet. So she walked to the hose to wash off her feet, put her sandals on, and then walked to the grill to order her lunch. You can't make this stuff up.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Pictures of David

One silly, at a Cyclones game, one serious, for a dating service, I'm told.

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.