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I knew I was an excellent candidate, as they cheerfully say in medical circles, for sudden death. Most everyone on both sides of the generation before mine had suddenly dropped dead before the age of 60. Some had lingered due to repetitive strokes. Fortunately, I had passed the age threshold, but I wondered how much longer I could defy the odds.
It’s a typical Saturday night at the Java Jive. The bar is a Tacoma institution, a one-time home to two pet monkeys appropriately named Java and Jive. The monkeys are dead now, and so is your marriage. You’re singing karaoke because you’re trying to forget everything. You’re a lonely 41-year old single mom with two kids and a decaying house on the north end of town, and you know what it feels like to have your thrills vanish. So you’re singing your lungs out, and some guy bites your foot.
Senior year my mother did two months for larceny. That August she tried walking out with two carts full of groceries. I lived noir. I managed a story that became my first published in the school magazine. She was still in prison that October when my birthday rolled around. I woke up at three-thirty in the morning and read James Thompson’s Snow Angels until I left for the bus.
I have killed her in my head more times than I can count. I have attended her funeral. I have wept on her grave. I have cried alone in a room littered with pill bottles and years of filth because I wasn’t there to save her. Every unknown number from Connecticut is her final plea for forgiveness before she swallows the pills or slices the blade across pale blue-veined wrists. I am a bad son. I let her do this. It is all my fault.
For ten hours on a few Sundays I had the chance to sit and talk with Louis Tindle Dees. I normally found him enthralled in a thick book about Winston Churchill, watching the latest news, or working an intricate puzzle with pieces too numerous for me to even attempt at age 29. He had just turned 92 years old.
It used to be a very simple task to purchase a light bulb. Check the wattage on the dead bulb at home, go to the store and pick a similar one from the display shelf, take it home, remove the burned-out bulb from its socket, replace it with the new one, wrap the old bulb in some newspaper, and toss it in the trash.