When I heard the bad news about Adam Schlesinger yesterday, I was nearly wrecked by it. I know there’ll be much more horror and loss to come, and I need to steel myself, but it still shook me. I wasn’t ready. He was, as you’ve probably read, 52 years old. I’d expected many more wonderful stories from him before he hung up his guitar. The appropriate reaction would be to listen to some Fountains Of Wayne, but I don’t think I can do it: it’s too soon. The virus seems to be picking on lyricists: Schlesinger, Scarface, Jackson Browne, and John Prine, whose condition is serious. I hope Randy Newman is in bubble wrap somewhere.
The sun came out yesterday, so we rallied and took a walk, checking first whether Hilary’s little green car would start. It did. She hadn’t turned the engine over in more than two weeks, and she worried she’d need a jump that wouldn’t be forthcoming. The car is parked right outside the bay window, and it’s been a comfort seeing it there; I haven’t minded at all that we haven’t moved it. But Jersey City needs to clean the streets. The gutters are messier than usual: rubber gloves, stray paper, lots of little liquor bottles. We’ve got to get the car to a Tuesday spot by Monday. Maybe we’ll take a short ride somewhere tomorrow; treat the weekend as if it’s still something meaningful.
Our walk took us to Lafayette. Many Downtown pedestrians were masked. The revised recommendations seem to have been taken seriously. A week ago, we were laboring under a widely publicized misapprehension (?) that masks wouldn’t do any good. Mixed messaging from authorities continues to be a major problem. Many of our current elected officials have made ignorance part of their brand: they’re just plain folks, like us, and therefore true representatives of a confused and non-scientific people. The global crisis may help expose populism for the intellectual dead end that it is, but we’ve got a long way to go. This morning, the governor of Georgia, an aw-shucks type of the worst kind, claimed that until yesterday, he didn’t know that asymptomatic people could be virus transmitters. In a sane society, a confession of incompetence like that would prompt an immediate resignation or recall. In America, which is not at all sane, I doubt his popularity will even take a hit.
New York friends have reported sirens everywhere. We didn’t hear that. There were quite a few ambulances on the street, and the scene outside the medical center on Grand was harried and hectic. We hope we won’t have to see the inside of that building any time soon. Yesterday we also learned that Sloan Kettering is prohibiting all visitors. Only patients are allowed to enter the hospitals. This is absolutely understandable, but still upsetting for us. Hilary and I were together for every chemotherapy and radiation treatment, and this was encouraged by doctors and hospital staff members who want cancer patients to be surrounded by support. An infusion — not chemotherapy, mind you — that she’d scheduled for April has been pushed back until late June. By then, will I be able to sit by her side, read to her, and give her a fig newton?
Last night I did something that I don’t ordinarily do: I prayed aloud. Usually I keep it to myself. Sometimes, in the waiting rooms at Sloan Kettering, I did nothing but pray silently, not just for Hilary, but for everybody else queued up for treatment, frightened and determined to make it through the day. I didn’t want to make anybody’s apprehensions worse than they already were. On my knees, I saw those women again: some young, some old, some drawn, some defiantly hale, all facing their mortalities with the sort of courage I wish I could locate in my own tremulous soul. I prayed for those who will have to endure the agony of treatment without the buffer of a partner or buddy by their side. I prayed I might find the bravery that Hilary deserves from me. I prayed for my cousin, who is still in the hospital. And I prayed for Adam Schlesinger, a marvelous and deeply human songwriter whose music has brought us great joy, and who is, like far too many already, gone too soon.