08 March 2010

Four Deaths

Last week, in the issue dated today, and I wish they would just date the issue with the date it appears, but I digress, there was a little front-of-the-book piece in the New Yorker, about MoMA's acquisition of a bunch of Wiseman films.

"A startled secretary looks on."

Just that little sentence, and bang – I was thinking about the several people in my office building who’ve died since I started working here.

That secretary? I knew her. I’ve seen the Wiseman documentary, too, and I tell you, she wasn’t startled. Waiting to get a word in edgewise, and rolling her eyes, but not startled - she'd seen it all. She was a tiny little thing, warm and feisty, with outrageously decorated fingernails, and she’d been around forever, serving a revolving cast of Executive Directors – until she died of uterine cancer, caused by the Tamoxifen that successfully treated her breast cancer.

The elevator operator was one of the crustiest guys I’ve ever known. The story ‘round the building was that the happiest anyone had ever seen him was was when his union was on strike and he got to hang out in front of the building, picketing and kibbutzing and not running the elevator. He’d had a congenital heart defect, repaired once, and then again, and he used to show his open heart surgery scars to anyone who'd ask. One day the repair failed, and he lingered in the hospital for months – a young man – and crusty as he was, we all missed him when he was gone.

The security guard was a tall, elegant, graceful man – with a girlfriend here and a kid there and maybe another girlfriend somewhere else. He was soft spoken, and wore his well-cut black suit beautifully, and one day he didn’t show up. It turned out that he’d been murdered in Brooklyn. Murdered and stuffed into a black plastic garbage bag and left on a curb. Shocking, and sad, and perplexing too – what kind of a life was he leading outside of our security desk that he could have been murdered in cold blood like that? As far as I know, his murder was never solved.

And the hat man. He made hats the old fashioned way, by hand. His studio was lined with shelves and shelves of wooden hat blocks, and he listened to jazz all day long, shaping, sewing, blocking, inventing. But he smoked like a chimney, and even though he quit finally, it got him, lung cancer. He was in and out of the hospital for about a year, and, knowing that he was often alone, no immediate family, I’d go visit and bring him a slice of pizza – it’s what he always requested when I asked if I could get him anything – anything other than hospital food. Around the time that my daughter was born, he moved into hospice, and I never did get to see him again.

"A startled secretary looks on."
So few words, so many memories.


Kyla said...

I really enjoyed reading these little snapshots. I am always intrigued by the impressions left behind after someone passes through our lives.

Quadelle said...

I love your descriptions - so vivid and full of life, even though the people, sadly, no longer are.

bernthis said...

I agree with Quadelle. This is one of my favorite posts of yours. four little stories, all interesting and unfortunately, very sad