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Well, not yet, not soon, or probably not, I would console myself, and that welcome but then tediously repeated postponement felt in time less like a threat than like a family obligation—tea with Aunt Molly in Montclair, someday soon but not now. A weariness about death exists in me and in us all in another way, as well, though we scarcely notice it.Death, meanwhile, was constantly onstage or changing costume for his next engagement—as Bergman’s thick-faced chess player; as the medieval night-rider in a hoodie; as Woody Allen’s awkward visitor half-falling into the room as he enters through the window; as W. Fields’s man in the bright nightgown—and in my mind had gone from spectre to a waiting second-level celebrity on the Letterman show. Some people I knew seemed to have lost all fear when dying and awaited the end with a certain impatience. We have become tireless voyeurs of death: he is on the morning news and the evening news and on the breaking, middle-of–the-day news as well—not the celebrity death, I mean, but the everyone-else death. A dead family, removed from a ramshackle faraway building pocked and torn by bullets. The dead in floods and hurricanes and tsunamis, in numbers called “tolls.” The military dead, presented in silence on your home screen, looking youthful and well combed.
Now we could cry without reserve, weep together for Harry and Callie and ourselves. A few notes about age is my aim here, but a little more about loss is inevitable. You could look it up” was the way Casey Stengel put it. (This Angel recording may have been one of the first things Carol and I acquired just after our marriage, and I hear it playing on a sunny Saturday morning in our Ninety-fourth Street walkup.) Also the recalled faces and then the names of Jean Dixon or Roscoe Karns or Porter Hall or Brad Dourif in another Netflix rerun.
There’s Ted Smith, about to name-drop his Gloucester home town again. Here’s Esther Mae Counts, from fourth grade: hi, Esther Mae. Here I am in a conversation with some trusty friends—old friends but actually not all that old: they’re in their sixties—and we’re finishing the wine and in serious converse about global warming in Nyack or Virginia Woolf the cross-dresser. I didn’t expect to take over the chat but did await a word or two of response. (Women I know say that this began to happen to them when they passed fifty.) When I mention the phenomenon to anyone around my age, I get back nods and smiles. Honored, respected, even loved, but not quite worth listening to anymore. I’ve been asking myself why I don’t think about my approaching visitor, death.