11 September 2006

my friend the undertaker

i took a picnic out to the promenade on labor day, with my grandfather's copy of rilke:
already the ripening barberries are red,
and the old asters hardly breathe in their beds.
the man who is not rich now as summer goes
will wait and wait and never be himself.
nothing like some german existentialism to prepare one for fall.

the long stretch of benches looking out over the harbor were full with holiday revelers. an old man pulled in next to me and we struck up a conversation as i prepared my pastrami on rye. his eyes glowed with the arc of history as we talked of mayors, freeways, wars and love lost. as i gathered my things to head to work, i asked if we could exchange numbers. yeah, i got those digits.

and today we went out to lunch. i met 80 year old joe boyle at his office, the funeral home on my block. his cousin used to own the business years ago, and although he's retired, he still helps out around the place. we walked through the neighborhood, him pointing out a piece of quality iron work here, a new fountain there.

over burgers at an old diner, we exchanged stories, as he explained the art of embalming, explained that he owned 15 black suits, and told of another brooklyn, when everything was fine and the irish and the poles lived together, but then "the others" came and ruined this fair city.

guess i'll have to sit through a bit of old fashioned racism if want to be friends with the undertaker.

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