Death

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/nytimes/obituary.aspx?n=JON-ANDERSON&pid=169155305 Journalist and nonfiction writer Jon Anderson, 1936-2014
 
Sometimes you gasp when you read about a death. It was one of those deaths, and we were in the car, L was driving, and I read an email on my phone that our friend Jon had died Jan. 15. It was the next day, I think, or the next. Last time we spoke was in November, and his wife called to cancel dinner plans, which we were going to do because I still had some bronchitis. (I just got it again this weekend, with persistent sore throat, and didn't go to the wake today because of it, and will miss the funeral.) He was in the hospital in November, and I talked to him, and he sounded chipper, the word that is always used in these cases, and only then and only in print, like moniker and solon, but I digress, he had pneumonia, he was getting over it, and we all figured we'd plan another dinner, for the six of u (there was another couple involved, the husband being a since-toddler friend of L). We didn't. We didn't call to see how he was doing or email him or her and we received a Christmas card from them. I never send Christmas cards because I'm Jewish, though I am aware that there are Jews who send holiday cards, which seems a nice thing to do, and so we are very unequal in the columns comparing holiday cards received and holiday cards sent. In fact, we are as imbalanced as you can be. I don't know if this irritates the few people who send us cards, or if they take our non-reciprocity as part of the standard washout rate, giving us special consideration because we are Jewish. (The Pope has forgiven the Jews, after all.)  There was news of a study in which a professor sent out Christmas cards to strangers, and most of them sent cards in return. He was in psychology, though I was thinking if his field were sociology, his experiment would show why there was a rash of sociology department closings a while back.

I met our friend in the 1980s because I had gone to the Writers' Workshop in fiction at the University of Iowa and he was thinking of going and got in touch with me because I was a friend of a friend and he wanted to know what it was like. He ended up studying in the nonfiction program down the hall from fiction and poetry, and when he returned he wrote columns for the Tribune, where he had worked before Iowa. I knew of him way before that because he had been married to the rich and headline-grabbing Abra Prentice, and a college friend had been Abra's summer girl--a domestic, seasonal au pair. (Groceries were delivered to their high rise! she told me. This was in the 70s, I think.) Prentice was known for sending a Christmas card to her friends that showed a picture of her and children, unclothed.

But now he was married to a Tribune writer turned filmmaker, and we got together, as I said, every  once in a while. He was a storyteller and was amused and interested in much. He delivered bons mots such as, Everyone's story is interesting as long as you know what to cut. We went to the premiere of his wife's film and to a reading his daughter had in town from a new novel that was a roman a clef, and they came to our house Labor Day weekend and maybe that was the last time I saw them. Could it have been? I have felt sad today because I feel deprived, that I will never be around him again. I wanted so much to go to the wake but it didn't seem right to likely infect the crowd, it seemed indulgent, because I was sure there would be Public Chicagoans telling stories about him, the way he used to tell stories about everything, though it would be sad because Roger Ebert his good friend wouldn't be there, and would drive home the point that Ebert was gone, and Siskel, and Mike Royko and Studs Terkel, and Carlos Cortez, David Hernandez and so many others who have made Chicago Chicago. I read After Visiting Friends by Michael Hainey, whom I once knew, and whose uncle Dick I knew, and besides tracking down the mystery of his father's death, Hainey the Younger brought back  the Old Days of Chicago Journalism, when (mostly) men smoked and drank harsh drinks on the rocks in the Billy Goat and other bars, and told stories and slapped backs and got drunk telling of escapades and then had more of each--drinks and escapades. I came of age as a college journalist just after Dick Hainey's Chicago Today died and he became a journalism professor at his alma mater, which became mine. What I remember most from being in his class was that the main headline should be about the topic that concerned the most of your readers (back when newspapers had readers), so that a severe snow storm would top the list. Later, when I taught there too, he told me about his lecture style. At the end, he would say to the students in the auditorium: And now, I will snap my fingers, you will open your eyes, and remember nothing.

So now about the only Real Chicagoan left who can talk about the Old Days in Rick Kogan, and I know I've listed males only. Surely there must be females: Lynn Sweet, Lois Wille, there must be tons tons more, and in my own history of daily journalism, in Miami, I remember a few nights in bars of comradely talk, and a quiet Italian restaurant that can't still be there, just north of the Herald building that was recently razed, where inside was dim and shabby and the waiters were professionals, and could they have been Cuban instead of Italian? I have not been to South Beach in about 20 years, and in my mind it is still filled with alumni of the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and security cameras to protect the fragile aging leftists from purse-snatchers and muggers, and from the real or perceived attacks by the Marielitos, prisoners from Castro's jail who had been liberated and allowed to start new lives or continue with their old ones 100 miles north and happened to settle in the near-tenements on South Beach. I remember a shabby youth hostel on South Beach with vegetarian food, and old old people sitting on the front porch of fading pastel-painted stucco hotel-apartments. Some in rocking chairs. Nostalgia deepens everything it touches because so often  all that it describes is gone. It is part of another time, and the inability to go backwards is what gives it poignancy. I keep thinking of Nora Ephron's essay/profile of Dorothy Parker, which included her admission that she always wanted to be Dorothy Parker, and ended with the realization that Dorothy Parker had not been terribly good at being Dorothy Parker, and the famed Algonquin Table wasn't the new Parnassus, as many of us writers and would-be writers imagined it was. (Ephron died of pneumonia, a complication resulting from acute myeloid leukemia, and my friend Jon died of complications from multiple myeloma, and I--yes, let's talk about me me me--have polycythemia vera  which can lead to what Ephron died of, and isn't so different from what my friend died of, our bone marrows overproduce, but I swallow a chemo drug for it every night, and my cancer hasn't come back, so I won't die I won't ever die.)

11 comments:

Unknown said...

speechless.

LaurieK said...

nice to have your voice back .....I love reading your blog.

Cancer Bitch said...

thanks. it's nice using my voice again. I've been stymied.

Lincoln Cohen said...

Lovely.

cancer bitch said...

Thanks. And to those of you out there worried about my polycythemia vera--I've had it for a number of years and it's considered chronic. I do not plan to keel over any time soon. And I thought of more people connected to the Old Days: Rich Cahan, Art Shay (whose photo of Nelson Algren) I bought from Rich).

Kristin Lems said...

Cancerbitch, it was wonderful to see - and sing - with you at the Old Town School singalong last Sunday. Please keep writing your wonderful wonderful prose!

Jennifer Clark said...

Thanks for sharing your experience. I am speechless after listening all this.

Cancer Bitch said...

kristen...just saw this. great to see you and hear you!

Susan said...

Me too. Very glad to have come here and discovered this post. Inimitably, S. Wisenberg. Back in January you were stymied. I wonder if you still are. Being stymied is the pits. But this voice is so strong.

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