2003 was a terrible year for me. It seems that everyone I knew, died.
In January I was drinking a malted milk at the Maple View Dairy and I
ran into my friend Lincoln. He was actually named after Lincoln, Nebraska, which was a source of confusion and excitement for him as well as everyone who met him. “Really?” They would ask, “Not Abe?”
Lincoln said: “Did you hear that Inch Worm died?”
I stopped drinking my malted. I stared out the window, the tears welling up in my eyes. “No, I did not.”
“Is that a delicious malted?” Lincoln asked.
“It is perhaps the best and most delicious malted I have ever, ever drunk.” I said, as though in a dream, a malted dream punctuated by dead inch worms, all gathered to mourn Inch Worm, my friend, my brother, my Sad Dead Person #1.
In March I flew a kite near the highway wearing pretty yellow pants with black polka dots that ballooned out in the intoxicating beauty of a spring day.
My friend Angelica saw me and waved from a distance.
“D–––– Y–––– N–––––Y––––L–––” Angelica said, the wind buffeting the words, like a symphony of nature near the highway filled with kites.
“What is it Angela? What are you saying?”
Angela approached me. “I said: ‘Do you know that you look like one of those French homosexual circus performers in the Fellini movies when you wear those baggy polka dot pants while you are flying a kite?’”
“Fellini was Italian.”
“I know. But he hated French homosexual circus performers.”
“No he didn’t. He celebrated them. But they were Italian.”
“They looked French.”
“That’s true. With a note of the Adriatic in their gait.”
“Hey,” Angelica said, which was a strange name for a man I think, “Hey,” he said, “did you hear that Jazzberry Jam died?”
“Jazzberry?” I cried.
“Jazzberry,” Angelica replied.
“Oh no, oh Jazzberry.”
“Well, it’s just Jazzberry.” Angelica said.
“Don’t say that. That is a terrible thing to say. Jazzberry didn’t deserve to die. Jazzberry was a good man. A very good man. Poor Jazzberry.”
Later that night, after reading a prayer to myself and lighting a candle I thought, well, actually, it was just Jazzberry. No big.
Dead Friend #2
In May, I attended the Kentucky Derby. How I loved the Derby! But then, who doesn’t? It’s true, only those who have never been to the Derby do not love the Derby.
I couldn’t help but think of Earl ‘Fatha’ Hines. I loved him so, but he didn’t love the Derby. And why not? The answer is obvious.
Anyway, I was certain that this was going to be a good year for me, just like ‘97 when I bet on Silver Charm and won, quite well in fact, or last year, ‘02, when War Emblem paid off for me and in a big way. As I walked the grounds at Churchill Downs, everything seemed to be oh-so-right. The weather was perfect, I had at least 20,000 British Sterling in my trousers, the horses were snorting vigorously and the grass smelled sweet as Mosel wine.
Funny Cide was certain to be a winner. My winner. Sometimes I think I should have just never gone to Law School and just followed my dream of, say, marrying a race horse. Still, life is never exactly what you expect it to be. Another perfect
Kentucky Derby day.
And it was another perfect Kentucky Derby day until I saw from friend Jacobean.
I never enjoyed my friend Jacobean, and tried to avoid him whenever possible, but where are you going to hide when you are in a place like the Kentucky Derby? I suppose that it is unfair to call Jacobean my friend: you should never call anyone your friend if you don’t like them at all and try your best never to talk to them. Still, Jacobean was my friend. You should always be friends with everyone, if you can. You never know what might happen if you do, and you know exactly what will happen if you don’t.
“Yoo Hoo!” Jacobean called out to me, “Yoo Hoo Hoo Hoo!”
“Hello Jacobean,” I replied, without enthusiasm.
“I am so glad I found you. Wonderful day, isn’t it?”
“It is at that.” I replied, exhausted.
“It’s hard to believe that on a beautiful day like this that Mango Tango is dead.”
“Mango Tango?” I cried, renewed, “Dead?”
”For sure dead. Mango Tango dead.”
“No, not my Mango Tango. Please. Tell me it’s not true.”
“Sorry old man. No more Tango, à la Mango.”
“Oh Mango. Oh Mango Tango.”
“I thought you hated Mango Tango.”
“No. Don’t say that.”
”What a fibber. You’re one of those big fibbers.”
”Oh God. Oh Mango.”
“Jesus! What’s your problem?.”
“My darling, sweet Mango.”
Seriously, I liked Mango.
Dead Friend #3
It wasn’t until December of that same dead year that I even thought about trying that Origami book. I waited that long because I was certain I would fail. It was too complicated, too intricate, and required too steady a hand to execute properly. Still, December is as good a time as any to try a new endeavor, and I was certain that if I could successfully fold the crane, just one, then I would truly be on my way.
I also knew that, according to legend, anyone who can successfully fold 1,000 cranes is assured of peace and contentment in their lives. And I thought that now, finally, alone, in the deepest heart of my solitude, with no Lincoln, no Angelica, no Jacobean, I could take the first step towards the happiness that seemed so often so elusive and intricate and complicated.
I would do it.
Nine hours later, I was surrounded by cranes! Perhaps a thousand. The problem was, they were all in a lot of trouble. But the sort of trouble that you don’t know about if this is all you know. Misshapen, broken, lost, terrible cranes without real wings or beaks but still very colorful and some interesting ways of pointing wings towards different places.
I held the last one in my hand. It was red, with crisply folded wings and looked like the best one of all. It was, really, almost perfect. It almost looked like it would come alive.
So I guess I wasn’t really surprised when it did.
“Capital day, isn’t it?” it asked.
“I don’t know. I haven’t been outside.”
“Sometimes you don’t have to go outside to know. You can just feel it, right here,” the crane said, pointing to the the spot where his small, broken wing met his lifeless body.
“I suppose,” I said, looking at all the dead cranes.
“Hey, speaking of feeling things: did you hear about Wild Blue Yonder?”
”Wait. How did you know Wild Blue Yonder?”
“You don’t mean? You don’t mean that Wild Blue...”
Red, almost perfect with crisply folded wings smiled softly in the deep December light.
“Oh no. Oh Wild Blue Yonder. Poor Wild Blue Yonder.”
“Oh come on. Stop it. It’s a beautiful day out there,” the crane said, without a face, not smiling, and without wings, not pointing to anything at all, fading.
Wild Blue Yonder. Dead Friend #4
#5- #1000, more or less, if you count the cranes.
4 weeks ago