The dwindling light of a golden age

All my favorite authors are, one by one, shuffling off this mortal coil.

Shel Silverstein, Roald Dahl, Dr. Suess, Issac Asimov, Douglas Adams, Kurt Vonnegut… the list goes on and on…

and now, Arthur C. Clarke.

“I want to be remembered most as a writer.

If I have given you delight,
by aught that I have done,
let me lie quiet in that night,
which shall be yours anon:

And for the little, little, span
The dead are born in mind,
Seek not to question other than
The books I leave behind.”

-Arthur C. Clarke’s farewell message, recorded last year.

A great enlightened man, not just writing about the future, but helping to create it.

Ray Bradbury’s still alive, at 87… Ursula K Leguin is still knocking about at 78… but most of the other authors I grew up with seem to be dropping like flies of late.

On the plus side, the simple fact that they are authors means that a chunk of their wit and imagination will last forever, trapped in the amber of books.

He created universes

Gary Gygax just died. I never knew him, never met him, but he was one of the primary architects of my childhood.

He created Dungeons and Dragons, which in its various incarnations served as a hub, a jumping off point for wild imaginings and storytelling in the most classic and ancient meaning of the word.

Storytelling not by repeating a tale, but from weaving it, crafting it on the spot with input from any number of active listeners. Not passive listeners, but listeners who can help steer the tale. Listeners who will be mentally and emotionally invested in a tale if it is well-told – they will meet new friends there, look forward to cameos from old favorites, and fight monsters and villains.

I always enjoyed D&D, when I was running a game, I cared more about creating interesting characters, memorable moments, fun puzzles, than I did about the actual *rules* of the game. Sure, they were there, but I looked on them as a resource to be tapped when needed, not as the driving force.

I can’t count the number of times I played D&D late into the night with friends, only going to sleep when our bodies simply failed to function, then awoke to start right on playing.

I remember a time that D&D saved me. It was when I was going to Lotus Land School (later renamed Jordan Glen School) in Archer, Florida. I was probably around 10 years old. There were these two boys, I don’t even remember their names, but they would bully me all the time. On the tennis court they would hit balls at me as hard as they could, trying to peg me. Or they would knock me down, or throw my books. I remember one time, they were chasing me through the school, it must have been after hours, since the classrooms were empty. As I fled, I knocked chairs over behind me, causing them to trip and swear and try to catch me even more.

I realized I didn’t have a plan of escape. In one of the rooms, I stopped and turned to them. “Wait,” I said, “have you ever heard of D&D?” They stopped, puzzled, and I told them about it. They didn’t really get it, so I dispensed with all the rules, pared it down to its essentials, an interactive story.

So we started to play. I discovered the best way to keep them interested and enjoying the story were to add more ribald bits, so I made sure the barmaids were all buxom, and of course, in fantasy worlds there are no STDs…

But it was then that I realized the real power of intellect, of creativity. From that point on, I never knew anyone I considered an enemy*. Imagination, it turns out, is a pretty powerful thing.

So anyway, Gary, who I never knew, thank you for your worlds, and for showing me how to create my own.

*ok, there were two people since then that I have called “nemesis”. One I no longer have a problem with, and the other is hopefully long dead.

Dreams of Death

I died in my dream last night. And not a death at the end of the dream that snaps me awake, but a death at the beginning of the dream.

I was at Staples, and something happened. Not sure what, but I died. Scott found my body and was seriously freaked out by it. I was brought to the hospital, and was still sort of alive, but then I died, and was standing next to my body, a ghost.

I followed the doctor as she went out to tell Judy I was dead. She was upset, but I spoke to her, telling her I was still around. At first she couldn’t hear me, but eventually she could, and I was able to talk to her.

I knew that my body could be repaired, that I could come back to life, but that it was risky, because it would take a week to repair my body, and most spirits faded out after 3 or 4 days. I explained to Judy what needed to be done to my body to get it working again, and she agreed to take care of it.

Then I was on the beach, walking over the sand dunes with Snooj. He thought I should move on, that it was too risky to try to hold out for my body, that I should embrace the next plane. I nodded and pretended to agree with him, but I was still planning to try and last long enough to get back to my body.

I knew that if I failed, one of two things would happen, either I would dissapate completely, or I would lose my memories and become a haunt, thumping around between planes, bumping against reality like a moth against a windowpane, barely noticable but disturbing.

As time went on, I began to weaken. I watched over the proceedures done to my body. As I was about to fade away, I remembered something, some key truth that gave me power, and I re-formed, stronger than ever.

Finally my body was ready, repaired and in a temporary coma. I flowed back into it, feeling stiff but back on the material plane.

Then I woke up.

It left me feeling oddly refreshed, with an appreciation for life, and a carpe-deim sort of mood about me.

Strange Days

Yesterday morning, as I drove towards Newport I was listening to the BBC. Tony Blair had just stepped down, and at the moment, England was without leadership and in a temporary limbo. That’s kind of how I felt.

I met up with Debbie and Hamid at their hotel. The place was host to some kind of FBI trade show, and was crawling with security folks of all types. We headed out, and got to the cemetery with plenty of time to spare.

The service went well. There was a pretty good turnout, considering the short notice. It was very sunny out, but the road through the cemetery was lined with trees, so it was shady and cool where the service was held.

I was one of the pallbearers, the coffin was surprisingly light. There were only four pallbearers, probably because most of the people there were so frail, they could barely lift themselves. Hamid wove his way through the crowd in time to be a fifth pallbearer. The coffin was lowered into the grave, and the service proper began.

The Rabbi was a friend of Papa’s, he has a column in the paper, and Papa frequently posted articles in the letters to the editor section, and they built a mutual admiration. He pinned a black ribbon on Hamid, Debbie, and Farilyn. “In times past,” he said, “we would tear our clothes when we heard of the death of a loved one. Now, we symbolically tear our clothes by wearing this cut ribbon.” Then he walked by, cutting each ribbon. “Wear the ribbon for at least a week, and as long as 40 days. When you remove it is up to you.” The Rabbi spoke for a while, read the obituary, and a few prayers.

Hamid read something he had written the night before, and sang the lullaby “Little Boy Blue” that Papa used to sing to him, and that he now sings to his son.

Debbie read what she’d written, then Stanley Light came up. “I am here in two roles today,” he said, “as a representative of Veterans, and as Seymour’s last remaining first cousin. So I will read two things. The first comes from this Veteran’s Manual. The second comes from my heart.” He read the standard text, and then recited a nonsense poem that Papa would sing with Andrew.

Then there was some more prayer, then the Rabbi said “Now, the family can do one last thing for Seymour, each member of the family can shovel earth onto the coffin. We convert the shovel into a religious symbol by flipping it over, and carrying the first shovelful of earth on the back of the shovel.” We each shovelled some earth onto the coffin, which made a terrible hollow sound as each batch of earth hit it. The sound of finality.

Then the ceremony came to a close.

I’m trying to remember who all was there.

In Attendence:
Matthew’s kids
Sonny Friedman & wife his son
Jewish War Veterans representative
Rabbi (name?)
Joe Broker
Chris Moss
Jan Templeton (or maybe I’m confused, and some friend of Debbie’s was there… I think Jan stopped by briefly at Salas’ later)
Stanley Light & his wife and (daughter?)
Papa’s neighbors
And other people I forgot the names of…

Vito, Papa’s dog was there. The neighbors have taken him in, and brought him with them to the cemetery. He looked very happy, his fur was clean and he was outside – at Papa’s he was indoors, and his fur was matted and messy. Though he doesn’t get the gourmet select cuts of meat Papa fed him, he’s on normal dog food now.

After the ceremony, there was a reception at Salas’ Restaurant. Oddly, almost no one showed. There were three old ladies whose names I forget, Stanley Light and his (daughter? granddaughter?), Debbie, Hamid, and me. There was food for like 40 or 50 people, and only 8 of us. We talked and had our fill of sandwiches, then Debbie proposed we bring the rest of the food to the nurses on the 4th floor of Newport Hospital, the ones who took care of Papa. She called them up to see if was ok, and they said yes. We had the food wrapped up, and had the flowers picked up and brought there too.

We drove the food over to the hospital, Hamid got a cart and we loaded it up and took it up to the 4th floor nurses. It was nice to have a chance to thank them again, and do so in front of their supervisor.

We stopped by Ace hardware to make copies of the house key for the realtor, cleaners and me. Hamid was entranced by the selection and prices in Ace, which were pretty good deals, but apparently fantastic deals compared to Costa Rica. He was like a kid in a candy store.

Then we went to Papa’s house to look for the will, which Papa had mentioned misplacing. This is where the day took a bit of a darker turn. Apparently, while we were at the reception, other family members had been going through Papa’s house, taking collectibles and things. I’m not sure why, since the stuff was all going to be sold and the result divided up anyway. One of the things taken was the only thing Neil had wanted, a certain painting Nana had done. He even had Papa put his name on it so he would get it. That made me depressed, not to be able to send it to him.

I searched through the house for photos, I’m working on a family archive of photos, records, and family tree, so wanted to make sure no photos were accidentally thrown out. Many of the photo albums had been cleaned out and were just blank pages, I don’t know if that happened while we were at the reception, or just over the years. It’s too bad, because I’m trying to make a complete family record, for everyone to share.

Of course, all this really upset Hamid and Debbie, making the previous tiff into more of a rift.

After failing to find the will, we went to back to the hotel.

I helped look up info on a new laptop for Hamid, and we went over to Staples to get it. Oddly, the one they said was in stock wasn’t on display, and the one on display (the next model up?) was out of stock. But Hamid wanted one quick, so he bought the display model.

We then went to Anthony’s for dinner. It’s a seafood place with very fresh fish, I hear they have their own boats. The front part is actually a fish market. Pretty much everything is deep-fried, I got a Hot Stuffy (a stuffed clam with jalapeno in it, very tasty) and a Flounder and Chips, which is better than the Scrod places usually use for Fish & Chips.

The food was good, but not very healthy. As I looked around, I noted most of the patrons were quite large, and looked as if they had been poured into their booths.

We then went back to the hotel, I said goodbye to Debbie and Hamid, as on Friday they are flying back to Arizona and Costa Rica, respectively.

Then I started home. But moments later, I reconsidered. I didn’t really want to drive back to RI this weekend, so decided I’d go over to Papa’s house to look for more buried photos and newspaper clippings.

I spent a couple hours there, sifting through piles of junk to find the odd photo or box of slides. He was a packrat, so there were all sorts of things there, old cigarette marketing materials, unused greeting cards, clipped coupons, all sorts of things.

One thing I saw that choked me up was on the end table next to the couch, a letter from Neil with a newspaper clipping about his art show, and photos of his sculptures. It was on top, so it was probably the last thing Papa was looking at before he went to the hospital.

Being there alone at night felt odd. Not spooky, just terribly, terribly empty. I called Neil and talked to him for a while, to see how he was doing and fight off the deadness of the place.

After a while, I couldn’t take it anymore, and locked up and headed out. There were probably more records and things I could have salvaged from Papa’s desk (I know there were some army records and things somewhere), but I was feeling terribly tired.

I headed home. I was very sleepy, and nearly drifting off while driving, when a large grey coyote standing by the side of the road snapped me awake. I turned on the radio and kept myself awake the rest of the way home.

I got home, exhausted, and hopped into the shower (I’d gotten pretty grungy in Papa’s house). After the shower, I checked my emails, sent a couple, went to bed, and sank into a deep, deep sleep.

Farewell, Papa.

He was the captain of our family.

Here’s the obituary I drafted and Judy and Hamid completed:

Seymour Jack Kaber left this world, with courage and grace, on Monday morning, June 25th, 2007, at the age of 91. Seymour was born in Detroit, Michigan in 1916, to Hymen Kaber and Freda Friedman, immigrants from Doksycze Poland. After moving to Newport, Rhode Island, Seymour married Ida Aidinoff, the love of his life, in 1938. During World War II, he served in the United States Army and attained the rank of corporal. For forty-four years, he worked for S.Adelson Company on Thames Street, eventually becoming their General Manager. He also helped to develop and managed Adelson’s Catalog Showroom until he retired in 1976. Seymour was a good friend to many and known for his sense of humor, his ready smile, and his open heart. He was a man dedicated to his job, active in his community, and devoted his family. When his beloved Ida became ill with Alzheimer’s, Seymour cared for her unstintingly. They remained together until she passed away in 1998. Seymour enjoyed playing pool regularly at the Edward King House with his old buddies where they also shared meals and stories. A regular contributor to the Newport Daily News “Letter-to-the-Editor”, he wrote articles addressing social issues, memories of times past in Newport, and on the subject of Alzheimer’s – the latter of which generated floods of response from around the country. He also spoke about his experiences with Alzheimer’s at local community centers. Seymour is survived and celebrated by his four children: Farilyn, Hamid, Neil and Deborah, his seven grandchildren Michael, Matthew, Julie, Tevye, Moses, Jared, and Rachman and five great grandchildren Joshua, Trevor, Shifra, Gila and Rafi. Services will be held at Beth Olam Cemetary in Middletown RI on Wednesday, June 27 at 11am.

Papa and me

Death and Doom

I’ve been terribly depressed the past week.

My grandfather is dying, my father is sick, my uncle had pretty serious cancer, my aunt has a whole slew of maladies, my mother is talking about what to do if she becomes terminally ill, I’m a week behind with code at work, and my girlfriend’s work schedule conspires with my own to keep me alone.

Usually, I can deal with stress pretty well, but lately it’s been getting to me.

I need something good for a change.

The prognosis on my grandfather is that he won’t last the weekend. I was out there tonight, I’m going out again tomorrow to be with him.

My mood lately can be summed up with: *sigh*