Taozer’s Great Adventure

One day, my cat faced off against a raccoon

Taozer is an indoor cat, he has no front foot claws.
In battle must defend himself with nothing but his jaws.
His backfeet claws are also used to scrabble and to scrup
When Taozer and some other cat decide to mix it up.

Taozer is an indoor cat but likes to go outside,
So Sunday morning sat beside the kitchen door and cried,
For the sun was on the patio, the hummers at the blooms,
And inside it was cold and dark and musty in our rooms.
So, emanating cuteness from his station on the floor
He indeed induced some passing pal to open up the door.furst_jolenepotted20120920_0071-recovered_lr_
And so it was that later as I lay upon the floor
Doing exercises meant to make me flexible once more,
I heard a great commotion come from underneath the house
And knew my cat confronted something bigger than a mouse.
‘Twas then my heart was gripped with fear, and nearly did I swoon,
For our crawlspace has been residence to more than one raccoon.
And while Taozer can take tabbies on, it stands to reason that
A raccoon is a bit much for an indoor pussy cat.

Up did I jump, and crying out, I sounded the alarm:
“To me! To me! Brave family! Lest Taozer come to harm!”
We hit the decks a’runnin’ and assembled in the yard,
Myself, my wife, and my two sons, eyes bright and breathing hard.
My sons they circled to the east, while wife went to the west
And I stayed in the middle (which is what I do the best).
Sharp and alert, we circumambulated our abode
But we saw no sign of Taozer, and the silence did forebode.furst_elmejordelosgatosgradient_lr_

Then eldest son cried out to us, “I hear a growling sound!
They’re underneath the house!”, and to the trap door we did bound.
And back upon its hinges did we fling that opening.
We peered into the darkness, but we could not see a thing.
A dismal place is our crawlspace: a bug and worm utopia,
Two feet of gloom from floor to mud, a dour claustrophobia.
I stared into the silent dark, and then I had a hunch:
Some ‘coon was taking Taozer as a good excuse for lunch!
Just one thing stood between it and its culinary spree,
Only one thing stood between them and I thought that thing was me!furst_jolene20120916_0116-2_lr_Without thought for my own safety, without even camouflage,
Then I girded up for battle at the back of the garage.
I put on my safety glasses to protect my eyes from claws,
And I donned my heavy garden gloves for vexing vicious jaws.
Then I grabbed my trusty flashlight and down through the trap I ran
Landing prone upon my belly like Stallone in Viet Nam.
My beam pierced through the darkness until finally I did see
My favorite orange pussycat a-lookin’ back at me.
With all the noise we’d made upstairs the raccoon must have fled,
And far from being breakfast, Taozer held the ground instead.Cat graphic

Now I’ve seen Taozer tumble from an elevated perch
And I’ve seen him stalk and stumble with a most un-feline lurch
But although he’s been embarrassed by these failings of before
It was nothing like that episode beneath the kitchen floor
For when you’re king of the jungle and survey savannah grasses
You’re not meant to need be rescued by some fool in safety glasses.

It was later in the evening as I read at my repose
That Taozer stepped upon the book and graced it with his toes
He looked at me through half-closed eyes and didn’t say a word
But his attitude spoke gratitude. At least, that’s what I heard
So I scratched his head behind the ears and put him on my knee
For that is where an indoor cat had really ought to be


Dating Websites for Seniors

The last game of musical chairs

Recently, I told a friend that I wanted to find someone to go hear live music with, and he suggested that I look into dating websites. I was skeptical about this, at first, since I think of myself as too old for online dating. But I found many websites that do serve the older age brackets, and even some that specialize in that market. Here’s a look at what some of them have to offer, the kinds of people you meet, and some of the advanced techniques I’ve used to pick up chicks. Well, okay. Hens.

Senior Dating Websites

The Websites

Many websites specialize in helping people find one another in matches suitable for romance, travel, or friendship . They maintain a database of each subscriber’s descriptive profile, a mechanism for matching people, and some kind of chat system for interaction. There’s usually free access to a limited feature set, and you pay a subscription fee if you want the whole shebang.

I found that every site is the biggest site. All claim to dominate their market segment.  Every site is the world’s largest, is number one in my area, is the top local senior dating service, is the premiere site for tattooed, overweight graduates of Monroe High School. Size matters, because the more game, the more meat, so users have reason to flock to the dominant player. That’s where the average male is most likely to find a date.

Judging my attractiveness to be somewhat less than average, I decided to sign up for a half dozen sites to increase my odds.

The Features


The first step at each site was to fill out a profile, describing myself with a brief paragraph and by answering some questions. Most of the women’s profiles that I looked at overflowed with banality. Like to laugh. Love my family. Take walks on the beach. Kind and loving. I can only assume that the male profiles are similar but more boastful. Ghostwriters are available, and since women seeking men don’t see the profiles of other women, they have no idea that they’re all the same. Sweet racket. No one can read this stuff for long without going numb, anyway.

In contrast, I approached this autodepiction with great earnestness. How best to describe myself? Cougars and dirty old men might be tempted to lie about their age, but I am a man of honor and will stoop to no such subterfuge. Bent on cold honesty, I bluntly described my carnivorous personality, laying bare that I might be a bit of an acquired taste. Truth in advertising.

Next, there was usually a place to describe what you were looking for in a match. Every woman wanted a man who was honest and kind, and it surprised me how many specified “makes me laugh”. And “romantic”. Made me laugh. I left this part blank for fear of excluding anyone.

I had to use sushi
I had to use sushi

Then I uploaded some pictures of myself. People upload all sorts of pictures, images of their families, their dog, their last vacation, multiple copies of the same shot. One woman told me that some men pose with a large fish, damp emblem of their endowment. I wanted to do the same, but I couldn’t find a whole fish, so I had to settle for sushi.

Another woman’s pictures were all taken with a purple hat in front of a mirror. She wasn’t smiling in any of them, just scowling at the camera like she hated the hat. I figured I’d take it off her hands:

Dear TRFeldman
I wonder if you would consider selling your hat. The purple color and large flower on the side are quite fetching, especially in photo number 21 of 25. Your stern stare above the granny glasses reminds me of Ms Cole, the school librarian who once smacked my ass with a ruler. If you are willing to sell the hat let me know how much and if you have Paypal.

A week later she hadn’t answered, so I figured I’d try again:

If you won’t sell the hat, how about letting me take a better picture? They have these 3D printers now that let you make a real duplicate, and I can make myself a hat, too. Not sure how it works, actually, maybe you end up with a hat made of ink. It’d maybe run all over my hair, but hey, lots of old ladies have purple hair, why not an old guy? Better fey than grey.


The next step was to search through the profiles to find potential matches. You could do this yourself or let the site’s algorithm do it for you.  I searched the profile databases with criteria for age and for location. Some sites wouldn’t let me set the minimum age above 45. I guess they don’t realize there are age brackets for shuffleboard.

Then I played matching games that let you Like pictures of women from a series that they present you with. If my Like was reciprocated, I would be notified and invited to contact my reciprocal Likee. Sometimes there was a picture but the profile was blank. Meat market. Sometimes the pictures were not so recent. Buyer beware.

Most sites automate this, matching data sets by psychological profiling (or possibly astrology or random selection) to identify smaller sets of potential match-ups. A daily batch o’matches is then sent out. However the matches are made, marketing will trademark a name and sell it as artificial intelligence to their pining customers. For better or worse, Zoosk’s  Behavioral Matchmaking™ system (“powerful”), Match’s Synapse (“intelligent matching technology”), eHarmony’s 29 Dimensions of Compatibility (as observed by site founder Dr. Neil Clerk Warren), and EliteSingles’ Big 5 personality test now held the key to my future happiness.


Armed with my latest matches, I was ready to hit on some babes, or at least message some matrons. There were systems for sending email and chatrooms to let me accost these ready women. Transcripts of everything are saved, so I would be able to keep all my paramours sorted out. There are also various encouragements for the shy and reticent: suggested questions to ask; alerts telling when someone is online. Flirt or Fave buttons, for those too meek to type, send a message that basically says “why don’t you hit on me”.

The People You Meet

Reading the profiles is like people-watching on a screen. You sit around looking at pictures of women, and if you want, you can find out a little about them by reading the profile. You don’t even have to hit on them, it’s fun just doing that.

I wanted to concentrate on women who do some of the same things I do, like breathing and pining for sex, but sometimes I had trouble understanding what they had written. People described themselves as  ENTP and GGG and I didn’t know wtf. For seniors, in particular, the jargon may lead to misunderstandings. For example, many women specify “no hookups”, but when I met one I learned that didn’t refer to oxygen.


One woman wrote that she was obsessed with dining out. She knew about all the famous chefs and wanted to eat in their restaurants. If a new place opened she wanted to try it, check out the whole menu over several visits. This lady ate out all the time. Then I looked where you answer the questions and she had put that she really liked to cook. So I couldn’t figure that out. If you eat out all the time, when the hell do you cook?

I contacted her and we chatted a few times until finally, I realized what was going on. The woman really did like to cook, and she put a lot of effort into it. She’d start in the morning with marinades, mother sauces, clarified butters. The afternoon was spent dicing vegetables and baking cakes. But when the roast came out each evening and she sat down to it, she realized that, as good a cook as she was, she was no match for the professionals. And so she had to go out.

This was expensive, of course, what with all the food wasted, and that’s where the online dating came in. Every night a different guy would show up and ask where she wanted to go. No vegetarians, had to be guys who were seriously into food. I was honored when she asked if I wanted Mondays, but I still said no. Monday is my bowling night.


Many divorcees have had a bad experience with an unfaithful man. Their twelve-year-old photos often accompany text describing a desire for honesty and fidelity in a match.

dear fogmother
I noticed in your profile that you want a loyal man. Then I saw the picture of you cuddling your black and white Abyssinian pomapoo. Since dogs are so loyal, I thought you might want to meet a man who shares other traits with your pup.

• For large ears, look for Basque men. They have very long lobes.
• For a prominent nose, the obvious recommendations are Jews and Italians, but check out Indian men, too.
• Your chosen color scheme will be difficult to match, but right now if you head to Burning Man you can probably find a  white guy who is, like, really dirty and it’ll be almost the same.
• I can’t tell from the picture, is the dog’s tail long or short?

As for the long tongue, I’ll let you do your own research. Good luck!

The same woman came up again in my daily matches about two weeks later. So I wrote to her once more.

You have come up once again in the daily matches sent me by the artificial so-called intelligence that produces these pairings. Since you were chosen twice out of fifteen 10-person samples taken (with replacement) from a larger population of people our age, it’s possible to estimate the size of that parent population. I won’t depress you with the result of that calculation, since you might conclude from it that you are destined to run into me again. I know you would prefer a Basque.

Another woman described herself as a sapiosexual, which is someone who is aroused by a partner’s intellect. In other words, someone who wants to fuck your brains out. This lady got in touch with me because my profile had no spelling errors, which put me in the top two percent of subscribers. I immediately wrote back.

Dear Jan
When you got in touch, I was happy to meet a sapiosexual. Then, looking through your pictures, I noticed one of you in a lab coat and suddenly realized that you are a scientist and not likely to be asapient, either. This excited me, as I, too, am sapiosexual, and particularly attracted to women who look smart by wearing glasses (opticosapiosexual). Also, I like your smile (risiopticosapiosexual).
I must confess to a puerile fantasy of meeting you, sapiotropism leading to sapiosexuaggregation. At first, we enjoyed some good, old-fashioned socratisapiosexuconfabulation. Then, our sapiocredibility established, we engaged in reciprocal tonolingual salivary osculostimulation and sapiosexuophagy leading to the inevitable secretory sapiostasis.

How to Pick Up OWILFs

Compared to bars, I find the biggest advantage of websites is that, when I first approach a woman, I can get out more than just a sentence or two before she decides to ignore me. I usually try to write a few lines, cite part of her profile, and point out something we have in common, some way in which we could interact. It’s good to include questions. Here are some of the more successful come-ons that I’ve used.

Dear CoolJosie8
I understand you like camping. Me too.  I like being out in the wilderness because no one stares at me. I like campfires, and chopping wood with an axe, but the best part is setting up the tent when you pound on the little pegs with a mallet. Wham! Let’s meet somewhere and plan a backpacking trip. Wouldn’t it be fun to be alone in the woods together?
Dear tar sands
Hello. You have come up in my matches of the day. I looked at your profile but you didn’t fill in the section describing your desired match. From this I surmise that you’ll take pretty much anything. Since I’m routinely snubbed and occasionally reported by the women on this site who do have standards, I thought I’d take a run at you. Why not drop me a line and say hello?
Dear GoodCookGal11
Your profile says you’re very proficient in the kitchen. Please help me. I have been recently rendered a bachelor and am struggling to feed myself.
I bought a microwave because the girl at Safeway said it’s the easiest way to cook. I also have a frying pan but the kitchen’s a mess and I don’t think I can find the stove anymore. I had to set up the microwave on the chair, but I figure I can eat standing up. Can you tell me how to make chicken livers and pesto? I’m desperate.
Dear nbl1745
I see that you used to be a teacher. I wanted to tell you that I like kids and have some experience teaching, as well. Last year, I taught the kid next door how to use a slingshot and now he keeps the cats out of my backyard. We started out shooting 5 mm ball bearings. The cats would squeal and run like hell if you hit one. Now he wants to try an 8 mm ball, see if he can kill one. Kids nowadays, so precocious. Aren’t you glad you retired?

Cat Sitting

Roger has two rare polydactyl cats. He asked me to come over and take care of them while he went on vacation.

Hi Roger

I want you and Gillian to have a great vacation. So don’t worry about your house or the cats. I’ve got everything under control.

Eric came over last night and after dinner, he and I decided to sample some of your fine Scotches, as you had kindly offered. So I want to thank you for your hospitality. Scully didn’t much care for Scotch, but Mully had a few licks and didn’t seem to mind it. So I gave her a little more and she climbed in my lap while Eric and I kept sampling.

After a while we decided to have a little game of toss-the-cat. We were sitting in the living room only a couple of feet apart, and we got her going in a nice little back and forth rhythm. She seemed to be having a ball, thrashing about and turning somersaults in mid-air. Then Scully came over to see what all the noise was about and Eric got a great idea.

He picked Scully up and tossed him over to me, while at the same time I tossed Mully to him. The cats crossed in mid-air and they could wave to one another as they passed at apogee. To get our timing right, we had to stand further apart, at opposite ends of the room. Scully was a little less enthusiastic than Mully, but wtf, don’t spoil the game, cat.

After a while, the ceiling started getting in the way, and we decided to move the game outside. So we took the last bottle out to the backyard. We kept moving further and further apart to see how far we could toss. By now, both cats were squealing with delight. When we got out to fifteen feet, though, they collided in mid-air and fell to the ground between us. I was able to grab Mully, but Scully jumped over the fence and into the next yard. Luckily, the Doberman that lives there chased him right back and Eric managed to tackle him, so don’t worry, he’s not lost.

We got back into cat-throwing position, but unfortunately, on the next toss, I put a little too much into it and Mully went sailing over Eric’s head. She hit the big tree back there and slid down the trunk, then scrambled back up and out onto a branch. She’s a really good climber!

She was sitting out there on that branch, maybe twenty feet up, and we didn’t know what to do. We tried throwing rocks at her to make her come down, but I think we only managed to hit her once and it didn’t work. Then Eric got another idea.

He found a piece of wire in the shed that you use for a workshop back there, and by tying a weight to its end, he was able to throw it over the branch that the cat was sitting on, near the base. Then we each grabbed one end and pulled it back and forth, until finally we managed to saw through the branch.  When it fell, it hit the workshop roof, but I’m sure it won’t cost much to repair the window and gutter.

Mully came down on the roof, too. We were able to pick her up with no problem after she slid over the gutter and fell to the ground, though. She seemed a little dazed, but don’t worry, she’s fine now. The vet says it’s only a mild concussion and the cast should come off in three weeks.

I hope you guys are having a great time. And tell Gillian not to stress over the home front: I haven’t missed a feeding and the litter box is clean.

Your friend,


Battle of the Sexes

What if they held a war and no one came?

I met a woman once who told me there were men who tried to paw her on the very first date. While I understood their motivation (she was very attractive), I reflected that there could be some debate about whether such a primitive approach expresses a hirsute, masculine trait or simply reflects a lack of self-control.

In another man’s worldview, potential partners are peers, not conquests. One does not normally paw a peer. Or rather peer pawing, when it does occur, involves a mutual consent which is arrived at by subtle communications that some of us have never been very good at. In a number of my more paleolithic gender mates, this ineloquence leads to pawing behavior.

It is preferable to paw primarily those who also share other interests, so that the hours when one’s paws are tired can be spent doing things other than fighting. One therefore forms a more circumscribed set of potential pawing partners, a club so exclusive that there may be times when it contains no members at all. In some males this condition may augment the tendency for early-onset pawing.

The subtle communications to which I have alluded should begin with some exploration of areas of mutual interest. You may like the same music or sports. If you’re both into meditation, you can kill a lot of time right there. You can avoid future conflict by distinguishing those who want to wear diamonds in a box at the opera from those who are more into blowing weed and listening to the Stones. And it is appreciated when you show interest in something more than the size of a peer’s paws.

At some point these preliminary exchanges give way to outright pawing. This transition has traditionally been managed through two strategies, which we shall call the Forceful Y and the Artful X. The Forceful Y involves groping a lady’s breasts as soon as you can figure out where they are while you assume she’s only pretending to resist. The Artful X entails sitting close to a guy, letting him smell your breath, and seeing how long it takes before he stops pretending anything at all.

The men who make overtures to women in the manner described by my friend would probably find a more reserved approach to be timid. And there are surely women who prefer an assertive advance, and who shun those gentle souls who so undaringly respect them. On the other hand, the limited vocabulary that her erstwhile suitors had brought to those subtle communications had seemingly dissuaded my friend from seeing them again. I suppose she wanted a better linguist.


My first kitchen purchase as a new bachelor was a wok

I bought a wok today. It was an impulse buy while getting frozen dinners in a Chinese supermarket. It was a 10-inch teflon wok, with a handle, black with silver trim and dressed up in red cardboard packaging.  I had to have it.  Eleven dollars (plus tax).

When I got home, I decided to do a stir fry to break it in. I didn’t have any meat or fish, but I had onions. Every stir fry needs onions. I put the wok on the biggest burner I have and turned it on high, then went off to slice the vegetables. I did two onions the long way and minced a few cloves of garlic. Looked through the ‘frig to see if I had anything else, but nah. Onion stir fry it was going to be.

So back to the wok, which by now had turned an incandescent red and was radiating enough heat to make the straight lines between the tiles on the wall behind it appear wavy in the shimmering air. I figured it must be ready.  I put on two oven mitts, my French apron, and a welding mask, grabbed the wok handle in one hand and tossed in half a cup of oil with the other.

Bam! The oil splattered explosively, but I was ready for this (I’ve done it before). I quickly threw in the onions and garlic, and started trying to do that thing you see Emeril do, where he flips the pan with his wrist and everything turns over real nice. I always wanted to be able to do that, and I figured with this deep wok shape it ought to be easy. I did pretty well, too, lost just a couple of slices. It was only when I slipped on one of them and fell down that I spilled the rest.

How to Grieve

The bereavement fair is coming to a location near you

Grieving is a process. The psycho-babblers describe five stages of grief, which they label Denial, Anger, Famine, War, and Conquest. Or something like that. It really doesn’t matter, because after this generalization, they go on to say that the stages are totally different for everyone, which is a pretty effective disclaimer. When my wife died I was vaguely aware of all this, and I knew that I would go through a series of changing emotions lasting indeterminate amounts of time. What I failed to appreciate was the extent to which this process has been dissected, defined, addressed, and monetized by the medical establishment and its metastatic associates.

My foot got hurt a couple of weeks ago, so I made an appointment to go see Dr Oops1. It was the first time I had seen her since my wife’s passing, and she hugged me while collecting her co-pay. In the examining room she poked at the sole of my foot for a while and said “That’s weird”. Then she told me it should get better by itself and to see a podiatrist if it didn’t. On my way out, the nurse gave me a smile and two sheets of paper. One was a referral to a podiatrist in Pacifica. The other, in standard operating procedure format, was entitled “Grief (Actual/Anticipated): Home Care Instructions”.

The document began by undermining its own existence with a paragraph explaining that grief is natural and does not require medical treatment. I surmised that there must exist aberrant grief conditions that do, in fact, require some medical intervention because the document went on for a full page after that. Indeed, some of these situations were listed:

Contact your doctor if you have any of the following problems that last for 2 or more weeks:

  • You feel sad a lot or cry all the time.    I have to say I found the prescribed interval for chagrin to be a bit meager. I have been sad for far more than two weeks. I haven’t told the doctor, though, because it seems ridiculous to dwell on it. And I really don’t want any Prozac.
  • You have trouble sleeping.     Sleeping has not been a problem. Waking up is where it gets hard.
  • You find it hard to concentrate, make decisions, or remember things.     This, too, has been going on for more than 2 weeks. More like 20 or 30 years, actually. But Dr Oops knows about this already: she insisted on putting me through some kind of cognitive ability test one morning last summer, before I’d had coffee. She gets a remittance from Medicare.
  • You change how you normally eat.     My refrigerator’s content is now comprised of a half dozen eggs, a sixpack, four peaches and a supermarket roasted chicken. Also 12 bottles of mango protein shake.
  • You feel guilty about the death or loss you have suffered.    I’ve discussed this previously.
  • You are using alcohol or drugs to help you cope with your loss.     I use alcohol or drugs to cope with everything. That’s what they’re for. If I told my doctor, I’d just get hassled and given a prescription for some other drug, something made by Lilly and stepped on by CVS. Who needs it.
  • Be sure to contact your doctor if you think about killing yourself    It’s good to know she’ll be there for me. Suicidal urges must be managed on an appropriate schedule, however. If I call Dr Oops’s office between the hours of 12 and 2 on weekdays, I will be informed that the staff are at lunch. If I call on a weekend, I will hear recorded laughter.

Curious about where my small town doctor was sourcing her prose, I looked more closely at the paper I’d been handed. In the margin there was the web address of a company called athenahealth (“At athenahealth, we put people first”). Apparently, they are Oops’s chosen provider of electronic health records and home care instructions, including grieving protocols for those having recently lost a spouse, job, or pet.

It is in the nature of businesses to differentiate themselves by offering their customers more services, especially ones that can be culled from government databases and cost nothing. It is in the nature of entrepreneurs to fill niches, offering to those who grieve — and to those who know them — every conceivable solace. And so we have grief counselors, support groups, grief camps, sleeping pills, and home care instructions to go along with the cards and tissues.  And these are offered by companies and charitable institutions, and it is in their nature to hire management and staff and to protect their economic turf and thereby their salaries. And so, out of death, an industry is born.

At this point I received a phone call from Dr Mimi, wife’s failed oncologist. My nosey eldest son had contacted her and voiced concern about my mental state, my ability to cope with engrievement. What an asshole. Dr Mimi wanted to reach out to me, all according to best practices, and to offer me the resources of her formidable university. Normally I would have blown her off, but the word “resources”, unexpected in this context, somehow made me think of Australia, which is being exploited by the Chinese according to an article I had been reading while practicing grief unassisted. In private. This left me slightly confused, and I agreed to have her send these resources, whatever they might be.

They turned out to be links to some websites, online grief clearing houses. I felt compelled to explore.

The first was an outfit called Kara (“Our guiding value is empathy”), with the succinctly delineative web address kara-grief.org. Kara sends out volunteers to support dying patients and survivors in the Palo Alto area. I’m not sure what the volunteers do, actually, but it seems all to be based on something called the Shanti Project, so I think mantras must be involved.

I moved on to Pathways, a provider of home health and hospice care. Pathways publishes a quarterly newsletter, “Seasons Through Your Grief”, for those who want to be kept up to date (on grievous matters?). I learned that Pathways partners with eCondolence.com, “the premier resource for condolence, sympathy, and loss-related content and gifts”.

These outfits offer counseling, workshops, support groups, memorial events, and more. There was also a link for Hospice by the Bay, a UCSF affiliate which is currently advertising for graduate students to apply for bereavement internships. Send an email to Human Resources.

For myself, I have no use for most of these professional outlets. I’ll keep my distance from the ghouls, thank you. I’m not a social person, nor do I choose to grieve in the presence of others, to elicit rote responses, however sincere or adept. The thought of support groups is revolting. Why would I want to rub elbows with a bunch of other people who have just suffered a loss? Why would I listen to their stories? Fuck them.

The dynamics of the market affect everything in society, of course, and it’s interesting, if depressing, to see them play out here. Functions once considered religious have been deconsecrated and market segments are being contested by lay, medical interests. But why go to a doctor for something that is natural and does not require medical treatment? Why not apply the AirBNB model? Locally sourced solace. Through a central booking service, empathetic individuals could set up shop, offering a kind ear, platitudes from a list provided by the franchisor, and perhaps access to a room with yoga mats. All for $75 an hour billed to your insurer. Everyone makes out. Some would specialize in clients grieving for pets — a lucrative market segment, as the shorter lifespans offer potential for repeat business. Others might choose to concentrate on those in the less violent stages of grief, avoiding clients who might kick walls in anger and risk hurting their own feet.

1 The naming of Dr Oops is described here.


Lips Stuck Together

Adjusting to solitude

At first I had no idea how much it would affect me. I hadn’t thought ahead or even considered this possibility at all, although I should have. We could all see how sick she was. But at the time I simply couldn’t make my mind confront that scenario. And then I was numb. For a long time, I only thought I felt the pain, but I was in shock. So it wasn’t until weeks after she died that I began to realize what it meant to lose not just my wife, but the only person I’d ever really wanted to spend time with.

My life changed completely in those few weeks, as events faded into routine. It’s not just her death, there is this, too: I’m almost always alone, now. There is no one else. There’s no one to bring news to, to make laugh, to ask for an opinion. It’s  as though I was transported to another planet, and I must learn to live the life of an expat. This daily solitude was easier for me long ago, when it was voluntary, a circumstance somehow leading toward the life that lay before me. I actually enjoyed being alone back then. But now, all that lays before me is a few more years of the same. It has become more difficult.

There are many things that I can’t do on this new planet. Restaurants are impossible, there is nothing to do there except think. I see old couples sitting at other tables and jealousy wells up inside of me. How come she gets to live? Why are they allowed to be happy? I try to go early when places are empty, sit at the counter, have a quick burger, and leave. Fine restaurants, long meals, those things are out of my life. I can’t do them any more. Concerts, ballgames, any entertainment you would normally go to with a spouse or significant other — where I would have taken her — are off limits, as well. I can’t do them alone, and I don’t want to go with another couple, to be a third wheel. Charity is embarrassing, however well meant.

Even travel, once one of our great joys, would be a constant reminder of her absence. We were thrown together all the time overseas. But that kind of adventure — that once brought us so close — would now make this solitude even starker.

So I sit in the house alone, eating takeout and trying to work on my projects. Some art, a photograph, a piece of writing. It’s all completely pointless. No one is going to look at them, appreciate them, or even care that I’ve done them. Why do I bother? Just to pass the time? Waiting around to die.

Every once in a while the phone rings. One of the boys checking up on me, or some friend who has promised to “be there” for me. I have to lick my lips before I speak. They are stuck together from disuse. I’m glad to hear from people, of course, to break up the long day. But I can’t help feeling that I’m a burden. The guy who’s alone, with whom we should spend some time. Practically all of the friends I have were made through her. I was part of the bargain: you had a put up with the husband. Now that she’s gone and I’m the whole ball of wax, it has to be far less appealing. And the smell of death is on me. I am more than ever a pariah.

My life has become a sort of minimum security prison. I can come and go, but some places, some activities are off limits. And I’m definitely trapped, no way to get out. Life sentence with no parole. There are times when the realization that I can never speak with her again fills me with panic. Like claustrophobia, it makes me jump out of my chair. Pacing empty halls in the house where we once lived, I wish there were some way I could join her. But, how? I’m far too much of a coward for suicide. So for now I’m stuck here, like a refugee longing for distant shores that can only be imagined. Will I find her there?

There are times when anger overflows and I break down, swearing out loud in these empty rooms at the god that did this to us. This senseless thing. I call it a coward as it crouches in hiding, wanting to anger it, to make it strike me down, too. But it is too cruel to do that to me now. It’s going to make me wait.


Good bye to my best friend

Thanks to all of you for coming. Raye would’ve been so happy to see you all here, she so loved this community, and of course her family and friends who have come here to be with us today.

Raye loved the coast with its foggy weather, and she loved the people we met here. The friends that we made, some of whom have become like family. She felt that she belonged here, and that gave her happiness.

She gave back as much as she could, as a teacher, a volunteer, as a mother. To me she gave the most of all, as a wife of 45 years. I’ve lived with her all of my adult life. And I loved her, as many of you did, but in our own special way.

I took her for granted in a lot of ways, the qualities she brought to our relationship that made it so comfortable, so easy to live together. So lately, I’ve been trying to articulate what it was that made her so special. Maybe some of you saw the same things in her, and that’s why you have come here this morning.

We all knew her as a lively, funny, cheerful person who was fun to be with, of course. I loved those things about her, but they weren’t the real reason I felt the way I did. There was a lot more to her than that.

For one thing, she was creative. And tasteful. And enterprising. We remodeled our home once, knocking out a wall, and she designed our new space. Hired contractors. Painted walls and doors herself. Now I live in that environment, and she’s still there with me, wherever I look. But her creativity wasn’t the main reason I loved her.

And she was smart, too. Not with words or technology, but with people: she could understand and communicate like I never could, in ways that didn’t require words. On a trip to Japan once, we were in some store buying lacquerware. I’d been studying Japanese for a few years and I was trying to deal with the shopkeeper, who spoke no English. When I pulled out my credit card to pay he started asking me something very complicated. I had no idea what he was trying to say, but Raye figured it out right away: did I want to pay in installments. She didn’t need words. She understood gestures and attitudes, looked in people’s eyes to know what they were saying. I didn’t realize how smart she was, at first, because I’m not like that at all. But although I really came to appreciate that perceptiveness, it wasn’t really the main reason that I loved her, either.

You may not know this, but she was an adventurer. You have to have adventures in life, that was our credo, and Raye was game for anything. Right after we got married we wanted to travel, but we didn’t have much money. Still, we saved up what we could, quit our jobs, packed up our apartment, took backpacks and hitched around Europe for a year. Throughout our lives we managed to create opportunities to travel, Malaysia, Europe. month-long trips to Japan.  Everywhere she would meet people, interact and learn things even though she often didn’t speak the language. I often spoke the language but would just stand around and stare.

And she had the courage for adventure. She was brave enough to follow me into a post-doc’s uncertain career in the Midwest, and ultimately to our landing place out here, with two kids in tow. Raye was always positive, she faced any challenge or catastrophe with optimism and resilience. When we hitchhiked, she always knew a ride would come. And she believed she could beat the cancer that finally killed her. Even in the worst, painful moments of that fight, she carried herself with dignity and grace.

She was intrepid and I loved her for it. It made so many things possible, but even that was not the main reason I loved her.

Raye was above all a very loving person. She could look a you in the eye — not just me but many people — and say I love you and mean it. XOXOX. I could never do that. Her love kept looking for ways to express itself. Mine was usually hiding. And she loved so many people, her family, her friends, the children at Farallone View, the school itself. I could only manage a few. She looked for the good in people, in me, in you, in the bad boys in her 5th grade class, and she always seemed to find something to love.

In love she was generous. Give the waiter a nice tip he was one of my students. This cousin needs help with tuition. And she was always willing to give something up. She took pleasure in giving. If you needed something, she would just look to see if she had enough. I’d look to see what we’d have left afterwards, but she never worried about stuff like that: socking it away for her old age.  It just made her happy to give to the people she loved.

In love she was supportive, she wanted to help people achieve their goals. After all, she was a teacher, and a great one. An enabler. She supported me while I went through grad school, pushed me to go there in the first place. It made her happy to see me succeed and to have been part of it.

In love she was responsible, late night homework grading, meetings. Getting to class well before the kids to set up. You weren’t just going to school, you were going to Mrs Furst’s room, she was always there to let you in. Kids felt safe there. They trusted her. That gave her joy.

So, while I loved my wife for all the reasons I’ve mentioned: her creativity and adventurousness, her perceptiveness and humor, perhaps my greatest reason for loving her was that she was so full of love herself, of laughing, selfless love, that I just couldn’t help myself. She knew how to love, and I didn’t. But when she looked at me, she saw something good there, too. And she trusted me, completely, with no holding back. There was never any doubt in our relationship.

We were opposites in many ways. She was always cheerful, I was a grump. She was gregarious, I am a hermit. Her glass was half full, I had an empty paper cup. She held everything precious, I took it all for granted. She thought I was the greatest thing on earth, and I didn’t even realize what I had in her. But she knew how I felt about her, even before I knew it myself. That made her happy, too.

She understood me, and we fit together perfectly and resonated. Together we were more than the sum of our two parts. Often we would sit in separate rooms at home, each doing our own thing. We were alone but we were together. We were always together.

Now she’s gone and the parts can’t match up anymore. But she gave me something in our 45 years together.  She changed me. Where the pieces used to fit, my edges aren’t as rough as they used to be. So in a way I still carry her with me, and I always will. Maybe it’s the same for some of you. Maybe she changed you, too, in some way, and you’ll always have that.

Raye was very happy in this community, that’s where we can find consolation in her passing. She lived a good life here, really felt that this was home, the place where she belonged. That was important to her. Many of you have come this morning because she touched your lives in some way: as teacher, colleague, family or friend. You’re the reason she was happy here. You should feel good about that. She loved interacting with you and she felt your warmth and regard for her. You gave her joy, and I thank you.

And now, let’s raise these Mimosas in a toast and send her on her way with one last blast of love.

Raye Furst
Raye L. Furst   August 2nd, 1947 — April 2nd, 2016


Advance Directive

Do Not Resuscitate

160331_1533 As you walk past the nursing station you see them. The patient binders. They contain medical records, test results, insurance papers, the documents describing these failing bodies. And in each one a sheet of red paper, the advance directive. Instructions to follow in case of a critical event. The name of the party responsible for making these decisions if the patient is unable. Last week, that was you.

There are three questions on the page. Should the heart be forced to beat if it stops? Electric shock. Massive pressure. Should a breathing tube be inserted if the patient cannot breathe? Should a feeding tube be used?

You had discussed this in the past of course, the two of you, as you filled out these papers. An abstract exercise. There was agreement: no heroic measures. But a grey area, as well: if there is a chance of recovery, a normal life, maybe then…

Last week it became terribly real. She lay there babbling, unable to respond. 911. You followed the ambulance to the ER. They told you to send for your kids.

You already knew she had metastatic cancer. At first the chemotherapy had seemed to work, granting a brief reprieve. Then the tumors came roaring back, causing blood clots and a previous trip to the ER. She had just started treatment with a new class of drugs, only a few days before. No time to evaluate its efficacy. Now a tumor was blocking one kidney, causing infection and sepsis. A blood clot in her lung. Should a breathing tube be used?

The staff in the ER clearly didn’t think so. She has metastatic cancer, they repeated. But what did they know of these new drugs? They were not oncologists. In this era of medical specialization, they read the newspapers just like you to learn that immunotherapy had provided miraculous results, for certain cancers. No one knew if it would work for this one. But it was up to you to decide.

And you decided that she deserved a chance, one last opportunity to fight this thing after so many years of pain. To claim a few years of the retirement you both had planned on. So the breathing tube went in, and later the feeding line as well. And you watched as she suffered some more.

From the ER to the ICU. From the ICU to a regular hospital bed. From there to a skilled nursing facility, where the folders sit at the ready. Had it been days or weeks? There was no tracking the time. People came and went, friends, relatives, the kids. Confined to her bed, she tried to hide the pain from them. But you could always see it there, as you asked yourself if you’d done the right thing or if you’d simply been selfish, unwilling to lose her, unprepared for the enterprise of death.

She would never tell you if she thought you’d been wrong. Ever generous, even now she is careful not to burden you with guilt. She thanks you for being there, calls you her rock. But you wonder if, late at night when she is alone and hurting, she curses you for what you have done.