A Fate Worse Than Death

It is night in Greenport. I’m at LB’s at the desk in the front room, by the windows. I don’t feel well, but I am on deadline, so I’m working anyway. Suddenly I hear the sound of bicycle tires on the road, and a man and woman, arguing while they ride.

“I’m not going to stop at stop signs,” he says. This is behind closed blinds, so I can’t see them. They are somewhere between forty and fifty years old, I’d say, from the weight in their voices.

“You have to,” she says. She is annoyed. (So is he.) “You could be killed. Or worse: You could be maimed.”

I have just finished reading Atul Gawande’s piece in the current New Yorker, about end-of-life care. (Anything that man writes is worth reading.) This piece basically says, People can live longer and have better deaths if they choose hospice care rather than medical intervention when they have a terminal illness. Most people don’t know this. Killed might be better than maimed.

That’s all. And the fact that it’s nice to live in a place where you can hear the sound of bicycle tires as they pass in the night.

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Today I drove around Greenport with a real-estate agent named JoAnn, in her beat-up pint-sized Toyota pickup. People buy these houses out here, but they don’t use them, and then there they are, for people like me who don’t mind the quiet and the nothing to do. These houses, less expensive than a studio apartment in Brooklyn, have weathered gray shingles and professional stoves and heated floors and bathrooms so fancy that the showers don’t have stalls—there’s just a hand-held showerhead hooked on the wall and a drain in the middle of the bathroom. Both the places I saw today had rights to private beaches with white sand and smooth rocks that Scout could walk on, if he ever got to feeling better. Otherwise he could just stand by driftwood and smell the salted air.

My heart started pounding today while I was standing in the middle of one of these places, looking out of windows on three sides, all that faced trees and sky and huge, green lawns you could fit a horse on (though this is wine country, not horse). One place faced an inlet: It started to storm and you could see through the window the sudden, bright, jagged lightening crack the sky and run towards the water before disappearing, as if it never existed. The skylights overhead darkened, and the house shook.

This is what I’ve grown to think: That everything that seems too good to be true, is. If there’s not a sudden hitch, then God is going to come down, right when you’re happiest, and smite you. And I don’t even believe in God.

What a thing it would be to step out into the field of dreams unconcerned about what was going to happen next, and just be there, brave, for whatever came, even though, like the lightening, whatever came would soon be gone.

Deitch and Scout Go to the Country and Drink Wine at Night

Scoutie and I drove out to the end of Long Island today, to our friend L.B. Thompson’s house in Greenport, a small village on the choppy Sound where you get the ferry to Shelter Island. The town isn’t quite up and running for summer yet—the tiny movie theatre, closed for the winter, is still closed, and L.B. tells me there are only asparagus at the nearby stand where you pick out your vegetables and put your money in an unmanned box. But the clover is green in the grass, and the lady at Salamander’s, the local gourmet deli, is back from wherever she goes to get that tan and buy those baskets. She has good, hot coffee that you pump yourself.

It was such a beautiful spring day that I thought I’d do some computing at L.B.’s picnic table while Scout, on his second day of steroids, manically weaved from one end of the yard to the other (weaving seems to have taken the place of circling—I didn’t mention to you that the vet thinks he has a brain tumor), but, alas and of course, my laptop battery is pretty much dead. So I called a computer place over in the Hamptons that L.B. turned me onto, and they had just the thing for me.

Unfortunately, though, going to the Hamptons would mean driving for another hour, and that just wasn’t possible. Being A Person Out Here, though, the woman on the phone said she was coming this way after work, and would meet me, with the battery, in the parking lot of the Dunkin’ Donuts in the next town over.

I know they do this in other parts of the world—people go out of their way to be helpful and kind, and even meet you, sometimes, at the Agway, even though you could be a guy with a broken arm, a van, a couch, and a very sharp knife. Honestly, though, I’m not used to it, and I find it…amazing. It amazes me, and embarrasses me, and, really, simply, makes me happy. So thank you, Amy with the aviators and the two children, one of whom—the teenaged boy—smiled and waved at me when I pulled away with my new battery. If it works, tomorrow I’ll be out back with Scout, writing you from under a tree while he goes from blade of grass to blade of grass with his nose running.

Speaking of generous, my friend L.B gets that life is unpredictable and we have no control over anything. If that frightens her (and I’m sure it does), she doesn’t show it. What she shows is simple kindness. She’s invited me to come stay at her place whenever I want, while I figure out what to do with my brand-new life. She’s like that.

Here’s a poem she wrote, published in The New Yorker in 2003, that reflects a bit of this. L.B. never had a chance to meet Danny. I had a chance to meet them both, though, which is another amazing thing. (I hope you don’t mind, L.B.)