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Saturday, July 24, 2010

Heavy Boots

My Uncle Jeff died a month ago today of Acute Myeloid Leukemia. The last time I saw him was at Starved Rock in October when I was home visiting for a wedding. We snapped this photo in the lodge. Mom didn’t use the flash, so it’s a little fuzzy. I’m really glad I didn’t delete it, because I thought about it.

I just reread Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close. Here’s what I came away with this time:

“'So do you have a card for my dad?’

‘Thomas Schell, right!’


He went to the S drawer and pulled it halfway out. His fingers ran through the cards like the fingers of someone much younger than 103.

‘Sorry, nothing!’

’Could you double check?’

His fingers ran through the cards again. He shook his head, ‘Sorry!’

‘Well, what if a card is filed in the wrong place?’

‘Then we’ve got a problem!’

‘Could it be?’

‘It happens occasionally! Marilyn Monroe was lost in the index for more than a decade! I kept checking under Norma Jean Baker, thinking I was smart, but completely forgetting she was born Norma Jean Mortenson!’

‘Who’s Norma Jean Mortenson?’

‘Marilyn Monroe!’

’Who’s Marilyn Monroe?’


‘Do you have a card for Mohammed Atta?’

‘Atta! That one rings a bell! Lemme see!’

He opened the A drawer. I told him, ‘Mohammed is the most common name on earth.’ He pulled out a card and said, ‘Bingo!’

Mohammed Atta: War

I sat down on the floor. He asked what was wrong.

’It’s just that why would you have one for him and not one for my dad?’

‘What do you mean!’

‘It isn’t fair.’

‘What isn’t fair!’

‘My dad was good. Mohammed Atta was evil.’


’So my dad deserves to be in there!’

‘What makes you think it’s good to be in here!’

’Because it means you’re biographically significant.’

‘And why is that good!’

‘I want to be significant.’

‘Nine out of ten significant people have to do with money or war!’

But still, it gave me heavy, heavy boots. Dad wasn’t a Great Man, not like Winston Churchill, whoever he was. Dad was just someone who ran a family jewelry business. Just an ordinary dad. But I wished so much, then, that he had been Great. I wished he’d been famous, famous like a movie star, which is what he deserved. I wished Mr. Black had written about him, and risked his life to tell the world about him, and had reminders of him around his apartment.

I started thinking: if Dad were boiled down to one word, what would it be? Jeweler? Atheist? Is copyeditor one word?”

My friend sent me this link while we were discussing the existential crisis that sprouted from recent events in my family’s and my life:

I’m putting it here because by doing so, I’ll be obligated to do something to help me make sense of this. It won’t just be a good idea that sits and festers in my head, like most of my good ideas. People will know about it and expect some follow through.

Of interest:,0,264439.story

In short:

I discovered today: I’m really, really homesick. For Michigan, not Illinois.

Current musical obsession: Broken Bells. James Mercer + DJ Danger Mouse = brilliant.

Looking forward to: All family, all August long.

My life, in a nutshell: Disappointing.

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