Why I Don’t Unfriend Facebook


This morning I opened Facebook to discover something remarkable, a message from the past that I welcomed with a smile.

Years ago—more than twelve years ago—when I worked at FCB’s offices on Herald Square in Manhattan, I would frequently go over to the dingy Post Office in the Empire State Building. One day after waiting in line for the usual interminable amount of time, I was greeted by the guy behind the counter who, noticing a paper shopping bag I was carrying, said, “Where’s Yellow House Books, it’s a bookstore I don’t know?” I think I said something like, Come again? not believing that this ordinary postal worker had asked me about a used and rare bookstore in Great Barrington, Massachusetts.

This began a many year at-the-counter friendship with a man who was no ordinary postal worker. He was a reader, a deep, avid, fascinating reader from Staten Island. We shared our favorite authors, favorite bookstores, offered suggestions, all the while ignoring the irritated customers standing behind in the inevitable line. He paid no attention to their growls of displeasure, and instead told me about his latest find.

In mid 2008 I moved to California and have never been back to that Post Office. I’m not sure it’s even there anymore. On many occasions I’ve thought about my postal worker reading buddy, but thought him lost among the many people we meet in life in one circumstance or another and never see again.

Until this morning. There in my Facebook Messenger inbox was a message from RK:

I don’t know if you remember me – I used to work at the Empire State Building Post Office- we used to talk about literature & recommend books to read … You turned me on to Murakami & I recommended Par Lagerkvist’s “The Dwarf” to you. Anyhow I just read Joyce Cary’s (an Anglo – Irish author) “The Horse’s Mouth” – never read anything quite like it – took me a while to get into it … but the language & writing is so unique, quirky & funny! It’s more than a bit politically incorrect for these times – so I wanted to share it with someone- but couldn’t think of anyone who could appreciate it – And then I thought of You! If my memory of you is correct – I think that this book will be right up your alley – well written , funny, quirky, odd

I literally burst with delight! Of course I remember! How but for Facebook could this reconnection have occurred. I know young people today scorn the platform, thinking it’s for old folks– like me. But what a joy to discover, or be discovered, by a long lost acquaintance. And to begin a conversation as though there had been no hiatus at all.

I’m not unfriending Facebook any time soon.

Time Passing

In a few days she’ll turn sixty-five. Before I used to joke she was a junior senior. Now she’s graduated. She can get a senior MUNI pass.

When she turned sixty I created a special birthday party for her, prepared elaborate food from scratch, invited all her friends, made it a birthday to remember. I wonder if she does. It was a lovely occasion, undertaken with love.

I wonder who will give her a sixty-fifth celebration, a moot question given the coronavirus and social distancing. What a convenient excuse.

She used to say she was a serially monogamous athlete, committed to one sport at a time: tai quan dao, technical climbing, cycling, swimming, running, rowing. Always looking for the next fix, not the pleasure of the activity. When I once asked whether she ever rowed out on the Bay for fun, she replied, “Why would I do that?”

These commitments last only for a while, then on to the next. Her approach to men is the same: serially monogamous. The relationships could never last; the end is ordained from the beginning. For a brief time the flame burns brightly, then she extinguishes it with ice water. It’s her history– as many pointed out after she ended our marriage. For her, commitments are not forever, whether sport or marriage(s).

On my own now, away from the toxicity of her false superiority, her I know more about the brain than you do judgments, her censure and quiet disapproval, I can relax my guard, be the man I am without trying to please someone for whom the mere act was displeasing. Let no man love a woman incapable of accepting it. Doomed failure, learned the hard way.

I hear from others how dramatically this lockdown is affecting them, how they hate it, feeling constrained, constricted, limited, panicked. I don’t feel this way. The entire circumstance of the virus is horrendous: people dying, ill, out of work, out of money. Then there is moronic Trump, as though the virus wasn’t bad enough. But sheltering in place, staying at home, is a kind of comfort. I like where I am, what I’m doing.

And I realize I would not be feeling this way if I were still with her, in her house.

I hope she, too, is happy on her own. I hope she has a happy sixty-fifth birthday.

I’m sorry she had to lie to me. I’m sorry she could not accept what I had given her, that her need to lie rather than to accept was all she could muster. That silence and distance became her defense. That fear undermined compassion. That she resorted to lawyers rather than conversation. That her name cannot be written. That she remains the woman she wound up being, stuck in those serially monogamous fixes. That like drugs pulsing through her veins, fix only momentarily before the next fix comes due.

After all that’s happened I do wish her a happy birthday. Aging is not comfortable for her, bringing with the passing of years new realities of her mortality. She used to tell me how should couldn’t imagine not being here, no longer being among the living, experiencing the world and its marvels. Can anyone imagine that? I think that’s the futile point of religion, to seed our imaginations with a possibility of something after. I was surprised when she wrote about a friend who died recently that she would be swimming with another now gone South End swimmer: where? In a heaven she doesn’t believe in? Has faith appeared at this late stage?

Reading a fictionalized diary of a real woman (The Lost Diary of M), I came across this passage, a rumination about a divorced husband:

Do I miss him? I don’t miss him. But I miss what he meant. Maybe that is what we miss when we miss people—we don’t miss their bodies so much as their meanings, the promise of a future now lying dead in the past. It is the meanings that linger and cause pain deep in my heart, deep at night.

I don’t miss the reality of her, her off-limits body, her everyday censuring self. I miss the meaning of what was lost, abandoned in self-interest. Undoubtedly new meanings will evolve out of old loss, and the future of possibility will be brighter, even in these dark times. Let it be so.

R.A.B./RIP- 04/10/2020

Yesterday I learned late in the afternoon that one of my closest friends had died the evening before, alone in his Pacific Heights apartment, in circumstances not fully known. He had been battling lung cancer since last summer, enduring months of chemotherapy followed by debilitating radiation; he recently learned that these treatments had not eradicated the murderous cells and that more treatments were necessary to continue living. He was scheduled for a full scan on Monday–tomorrow–with his doctors’ prognosis coming on Thursday. Earlier he had told me, and other friends, that if more radiation was recommended he would refuse treatment. He accepted his condition, was at peace with it, and didn’t want more months of misery.

What we know is that he had a call on Friday at 3:00pm with one of his doctors. I had spoken to him the day before, on Thursday, and we planned to speak again Friday. Earlier in the day on Friday he texted me to say that after two Zoom meetings and then the virtual call with his physician, he would likely be all talked out for the day–breathing was increasing difficult–and that we could talk on Saturday. Saturday never came.

Did he hear bad news from his doctor, news that convinced him to throw in the towel? We’re not exactly sure how the end came. The investigating policeman told the coroner natural causes/probable heart attack. Apparently, according to the person who found him dead in his apartment, all the police really wanted to confirm was that it wasn’t Covid-19. All that person is saying–he’s one of his longest time (fifty years) friends and is 85–is that he found him in the bathroom and “it was ghastly,” and “I won’t describe it.” He said his old friend’s apartment–he lived in the same Pacific Heights apartment with stupendous views of the Bay and out the Gate for the past thirty-six years–was completely organized, nothing out of place, not a dish in the sink, phone positioned in the center of his dining table, and a file with the cremation documentation on his desk.

What’s heartbreaking is the thought of my friend alone, and isolated, due to the coronavirus, from anyone who could possibly have come to aid him, making this fateful decision in loneliness and despair, without any hope, or human comfort. Perhaps it was a heart attack. I want to think so. There’s no way to know. He will be cremated on Monday.

He was the second friend I made after moving to San Francisco, in 2008, and over the years he (together with the first friend I made) have been two of my three closest friendships. On my first Thanksgiving in a new city where I knew no one, he invited me to accompany him to an annual Thanksgiving dinner at Serenity Knolls, a treatment center where my friend had got sober the year before. He valued his sobriety with near religious commitment, and his community of friends at our Cow Hollow men’s group a much loved fellowship: a very special, and lasting bond, for many of us.

Elegant with no pretension, learned with no academic gloss, unfailingly kind, he was a mentor, guide, patient listener, spiritual adviser who doubted the existence of God, sponsor to many, friend to all. I was honored to be included in his own pantheon of closest friends, the others of fifty years or more. He was the only friend to give my then fiancé and I an engagement party. He was steadfast at my side when five years later she ended the marriage. He accepted my anguish with compassion and grace, as all three of my closest friends did, supporting me through a very difficult period,  That they could all be together at my farewell dinner, hosted by my third friend and his wife, is a joy I will always hold close to my heart.

His loss is deeply felt by many.

Today, when going about my routines,  I found myself thinking often, “what would Ray do?” While not a man of great formality, he maintained standards of dress and table manners worth emulating.  I will be sure to always use a sterling napkin ring, and the “good” dishes every day. Why save them, for what? Today is the day I’m living, not some time in the future.


Much love.


Sense of smell

A hint of roasting chicken leaked into my apartment this afternoon and my immediate thought was Oh good, I still have my sense of smell, I must not have the coronavirus, loss of taste and smell being an early sign of infection. I’ve left my apartment only once since last Saturday, mouth and nose covered, gloves on. The classes I teach are now via Zoom. I speak with my sons daily, friends often. Though alone, I don’t feel disconnected. It’s a comfort being on my own, doing what I want. A few days ago one daughter-in-law wrote to say I must feel relieved not to have to share self-isolation with my former (unnamed) wife. Indeed that would be alone within aloneness. One plus one only ever equaled one plus one. Never two.

My rhythm is day to day. Though I have classes scheduled for both the summer and fall terms—fall projected to be back in-person—these seem data points not life movements. I’m grateful for them, and enjoy my students and colleagues. Yet I have visions of great leaps forward, new awareness, new ventures, new possibilities that didn’t exist before. I need to move into these.

I want to paint again, give expression to this new life, dive deeply into who I am, free to be and act and reveal through images the dreaming of my thoughts. Pick up the brushes; start; anything; everything.

Arranging my new place has been delicious. Sam says it looks like every other place where I’ve lived on my own. Two ordinary rooms turned into a sanctuary. I’m pleased with the result. The caution is complacency, falling into what W.E. calls tranquilized obviousness. Too warm. Too comfortable.


Though happily lacking any underlying conditions I’m in the danger age zone for dying from Covid-19. Is avoiding contagion, long term, even possible despite taking the ordinary precautions? Is every surface contaminated? Every package, every shelf in a store, every person on the street? I’m not obsessing over it, but the idea is there, every present—it’s become the always already there worry of our time.

Every morning, with a cup of freshly brewed coffee (preferring Six Depot’s Blue Velvet) I’ve been reading essays, W. G. Sebald, Guy Davenport, Bruce Chatwin…


I never did this in the north-west corner of Central Richmond. No censure would have been forthcoming, other than the ever-present atmosphere of not-measuring-up. I realize now that what I felt was the way she wound up being, being herself, outside of herself, not overtly or purposely but innately, as much a part of her as her delicate skin and fine-boned body, the body she could not give, but felt invaded not shared.

Walking along Constitution Beach at 4:00pm, the sky filling with dark clouds, the air mildly chilly, the only other person I saw was a woman exercising her dog, a Vizsla I think. He bounded near the water line, and once ran up to me and I wondered whether to pat him on his eager head or was he a carrier, a carrier of sickness and possible death. Wearing gloves, I gave his head a tap.


The early evening now is bright and Bennington Street is empty of cars and walkers. An empty Blue Line T train passes behind the opposite side of the street houses. I know no one in my neighborhood. Other than the upstairs neighbors she knows others on the street only as neighborhood acquaintances. She always said I too casually referred to people as friends.

Back then, in the days of that marriage (more than a year has passed since she told me she wanted to end it), I told myself that I was happy when happiness was fleeting—momentary times when the burden of being who she was fell away and the lovely person she could be was unfurled, slowly like the fronds of a fern opening in the morning dew. And like the morning dew, it was gone by midday.


She says these are figments of my imagination. If others hadn’t experienced the same behavior, the repeated leavings, the repeated don’t-get-too-close-to me protective armor, if others hadn’t also observed the way she never said a kind word to me, held my hand, I might have wondered myself. Validation is cold comfort.

Night in Orient Heights, quieter than usual. Boston now has a 9:00pm curfew, although I don’t know how that’s enforced and have no intention to test it. No cars on Bennington Street, a few lights in the windows across the street. Even the street is mostly dark. Alone in my apartment I’m OK. I don’t miss her, though I miss the idea of her, the idea of easy companionship. What’s happening now is no longer part of the narrative. Chapter closed; the past in the past.

There are enough lies circulating in the world, this new world of untruth, that to live one is a crime of against humanity. One moral failure need not beget another. Let hers rest in eternity.

I hear another Blue Line T heading westward toward central Boston, likely empty, waiting for safer days. We are all waiting for safer days.