I’ve been thinking about an old friend from Chicago again. When I moved away from there we stayed in touch sporadically, but eventually our correspondence got caught in the reeds as the currents of our own lives swept us along, and we lost contact.
When I knew Michael I was young and idealistic; he was the age that I am now. I was freshly graduated and chasing adventures in the UK and then embarking on a marriage; he was trying to make sense of his life in the aftermath of a divorce and a failed small business. He lived humbly, earning enough to live on in a bookseller’s post, and teaching Irish Gaelic. He held no further ambitions, neither for pursuing a professional career nor for tackling The Academy. He surrounded himself with friends, and books, and personal interests, and took each day one at a time.
One of our fellow booksellers once complained to me that Michael was in rut, that he was too old and too well-educated to be indulging in a lifestyle with so little status, that he should pull himself together and make something of himself. I didn’t agree; he seemed contented enough in his wry melancholy; chasing a big place in the world wasn’t what he was about.
A couple years ago I found myself reminded by Michael repeatedly, in a number of uncanny ways. Just the odd reflection, or thought of something he’d said, would drift into my consciousness. I wanted to talk to him, and find out how he was now; I wanted to tell him about all the things I’d learned since I’d known him in Chicago.
This happened enough times that I was compelled to follow it up and seek him out, but it had been so long and I had moved so many times by then that I’d lost his contact details. So I googled away and discovered this blog. He was extrememly ill, had moved to hospice care, and had fallen foul of the vicious system of profiteering that the US calls ‘health care.’
I sent a letter, and a contribution to the beoir, but… but I didn’t say everything in the letter that could be said, and in any case it was delayed by postal hiccups when he moved addresses… and in any case…
I’ve been thinking about Michael again the past few days. In particular, I’ve been thinking about the time we were standing around at the tills and the topic turned to the shoplifters and scammers who were our regular customers there in the Loop. I confessed to him what an easy target I must be, that I was one of the most gullible people around. He smiled sympathetically, paused, and then asked conversationally if I knew that the word ‘gullible’ had been omitted by accident from the latest edition of Webster’s. That’s weird, I said, they don’t normally leave words out of the dictionary. It’s true, he insisted, it was a printing error. Go and check if you don’t believe me. And you know, he was wrong about that: gullible is definitely there in the dictionary, somewhere between gulch and gulp.