Back when I was a still a smoker, my father would regularly regale me with a litany of death in hopes of convincing me to give up the filthy weed. He was a journalist in the bad old days, starting in the 1950s, when booze and cigarettes, cigarettes, cigarettes were almost as mandatory as was the wearing of a fedora hat in the brim of which a card labelled PRESS was inserted.
And so it was that, around the time he turned 50, he started paying attention to the obituary columns. Former colleagues started dropping like flies, and almost always from heart attack or cancer.
And now it's started happening to me. Or rather, I'm observing the same phenomenon.
Not that most of the people I used to hang with are or were journalists, but the vast majority of the were smokers(and too many still are). In the past year or two I've learned of the following deaths: a cousin a couple of years my junior; Nik Beat, a long-time denizen of the indie writers' scene in Toronto; and Lura (no, not Laura!), a one-time friend and briefly a girl-friend. All within five years of my age, all dead of heart attacks.
I'll tell ya, nothin' says mortality like death, even at a distance.
And yet, life goes on. And so does coincidence.
Another death happened last week. Maureen Cassidy, whom I had known as a teenager better than most teenagers get to know the mothers of their friends (she and her husband Mike took me and another friend to see Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger once upon a time, not to mention giving me shelter for several weeks, among many other kindnesses), was preparing to head out to help out at Paul Dewar's campaign head-quarters the night of the election when she collapsed. It was a stroke and she died on Wednesday.
I learned of it via Facebook and another friend, who had similar memories of Maureen, will be coming up to Ottawa tomorrow for the visitation. I also reconnected with one of her sons on Facebook (we've been "friends" there for some years, but haven't really communicated much; you know how that goes).
But that's not the coincidence.
See, we've been having some maintenance issues at our apartment. In particular, and now a priority, with winter breathing down our necks, is our front door. It's warped and doesn't keep a lot of the cold air out; our vestibule is not at all far off the temperature on the far side of the door.
Anyway, CCOC's Maintenance Department has its issues and this morning I stopped into the office to make further inquiries as to the State of Repair. I was told that my last email had been forwarded up the line for a decision, but that That Guy was sick and maybe I'd hear something tomorrow. I made some frustrated but not-yelly noises and departed. I have the CEOs name and number in reserve and decided I would use it by Friday if Action Did Not Occur by then.
The Dance of Lifey Death, by Eddie Campbell. Click here to buy and support Young Geoffrey at the same time.
I guess my frustration got noticed. Because a half hour or so later, just as I got home, I got an email from the woman I'd been dealing with telling me she'd issued a work order and that a contractor should be calling me "soon".
I was in the middle of sending Raven a text reporting on that apparent success when my phone rang and the contractor himself asked for me.
"Speaking," I said, and he started to laugh, very unprofessionally. "You have a faulty door?" he asked, still laughing, and I said yes. "Geoff," he said, "I knew it was you! It's Ben, Ben Cassidy! I'm you're contractor!"
I was nonplussed to say the least. But pretty soon was offering condolences and then he asked if I would be around later on in the afternoon. I had the day off work and so, of course, I said yet. He came over later and we spent a couple of hours catching up on the last 15 or 20 years, sharing news of parents and siblings and kids and exes and ... well, you know. He even remembered, when he left (with his mother's ashes in his car; he's had one fuck of a roller-coaster of a week), to measure our door-frame so as to order a replacement for our damaged beyond repair number.
And of course I'll see him at the visitation tomorrow (if I can get off work) or at the celebration of life on Sunday (if I can't). And I rather suspect we'll get together in fact, not just in intention for a beer or six, sometimes soonish after that.