Saturday, January 19, 2013



Chapter 1 -- Introduction

My best friend and I had the same first name, spelled identically -- Stuart.  I knew he was near death in a hospice.  His cousin called me. "Stuart is near the end and he has some things he wants to say to you. Can you come up?"

I flew the 1,300 miles to the Newark Airport and went straightaway to the hospice.  As soon as I walked in, Stuart motioned for me to come close.   He whispered, "I left some things in my will for you.  One is my bracelet with my name.  On the back are six letters -- A code to special words.  If you get them right, you will receive magical powers.  You know enough about me to figure it out."  Then he nodded off to sleep, never to awaken.  He died that night.

After the funeral, his widow handed me, among other things, the bracelet.  Yes, Stuart was on the front.  On the back -- I love you.  MTYLTT. 

What did MTYLTT mean?  The answer to that question has become my obsession.

What do I know about Stuart's life?
  1. He and I have the same first name
  2. We both love jazz
  3. He's travelled extensively in southeast Asia, India and Great Britain
  4. He did several "drugs"
  5. He had a minimally successful business, importing trinkets from India
  6. We were roommates in our senior year of college.
  7. He was the brother I never had, and conversely, I was the brother he never had

Chapter 2 -- Overtaken by Obsession

The flight home was uneventful, except, of course, my mulling over and over about MTYLTT.  Karla picked me up at the airport, and after a quick peck on the cheek kiss drove home. 

"How was it?"

"For a funeral, it was kind of upbeat.  Lots of funny stories and he had a couple of things for me." I said. I showed Karla the items Stuart had for me and I continued, " His college ring and diploma, His Best Man Snake ring, and A bracelet with Stuart on the front and some code letters on the back."

"That's all he had for you?" Karla asked, adding, "your best friend of over half a century..." Her voice trailing off.  If you sense that Karla wasn't overly fond of Stuart, you would be correct.  Karla and Stuart never really "hit it off," as they say.  Karla and Robbie (Stuart's wife} never really "hit it off" either.  In fact, now that I think about it, only a few people hit it off with Karla.  On the other hand, I "hit it off" with both Stuart and Robbie.  Similarly, I never hit it off with any of Karla's friends.  It wasn't hostility or anything like that.  It was just, as my mother used to say, booooorrrrrrring!  Nothing in common.  Now that I think about it, acutally less than nothing; not the same foods, movies, types of friends, education.  Here is some insight:
  • Karla and her friends -- Hard-coded middle class -- people who would bring a Sara Lee cake when visiting someone.  High school oriented a la Grease. 1950's doo-wap.  Live with parents until wedding night.
  • Stuart and I -- Beatnik to Hippie -- Who would have taken Karla's cake, said nothing, and replaced it with "Alice B. Toklas brownies." Classical jazz a la Brubeck, Farmer, Silver.
  • Stuart -- North Joisey with lots of Manhattan expertise
  • Me -- Small town, semi-rural life in a culture of antiques and some basic survival skills

"K" my nickname for Karla, "What do you think the letters stand for?  Stuart said that we knew enough about him to figure it out."

"I don't know.  He was your friend." K shot back. "Maybe it means Much Time Yonder and Little Time Tested.  Or maybe Mulling This Yields Little True Testimony.  Or maybe they engraved it wrong and it should have been MANDMS -- Much Ado about Nothing, Don't mean shit!"

The message was clear!  Karla wasn't going to be much help in solving the puzzle and activating the magical powers.  It's clear I'll have to do this on my own.  I will take all the things I know about Stuart and follow them one by one until the magic magically appears

Chapter 3 -- He and I have the same first name

I knew and loved Stuart's parents.  They were nice people.  In fact, I knew not only his parents, but his aunts, uncles and cousins, as well.  I had actually helped in one of the uncles' business's and dated his daughter.  I fell head over heels in love with her. But it was not to be...

Stuart and I had the same first name. (A little side note here -- I never know what to say here.  It is had the same first name or have the same first name?  But I digress...) We first met during our freshman year at college.  It was very strange to meet another Stuart.   I did not know another Stuart until Stuart.  When the phone rang and the caller asked for Stuart, I would say, "You got 'em."

The caller would respond, "You're not Stuart!"

I would reply, "Yes, I am Stuart, but you want the other Stuart."

Anyhow, by our junior year, we decided to room together until graduation.  In our senior year, we rented a trailer -- a 70' Marlett.  Stuart had the main bedroom, I had the middle bedroom, and Mike, our third roommate had the sofa bed in the living room.

Since my college major was Russian, we decided to name the trailer, Milky Way, in Russian -- which is Млечный путь. Transliteration is mletchnee poot.  

Wait a minute!!   mletchnee poot!!!  Did I just see an M?  Yes!!!  Did I get the first letter?  Yes!!! Hmmm, Maybe not!  No magical thing happened! Bummer!

But wait another minute!!  It was about the Trailer.  Get it? T for trailer!  I got the first 2 letters.  Anything magical?  No!  Double bummer!!  I guess we soldier on...

Saturday, January 5, 2013


Words = 2,261
Guilt can kill.  Not initially, but over time, growing like gnarled fingers of a monster, slowly, deliberately, un-remorsefully, tightening its grip on your neck. Only then do you realize all the things that were, and all the things that could have been.
Finally, eternal sleep and ultimately, peace.  And so it was with Harvey…

Making A Difference
Harvey, his wife Sarah, my wife and I had been friends for at least 3 decades. We helped each other around the house and around our problems – Personal, financial, familial.  When his wife, Sarah, died, we all grieved.  Harvey looked to me for comfort.  I tried as best I could.  After a year, Harvey seemed to return to normal, if perhaps a bit quieter, a bit more introspective.  Maybe he felt a little odd being the third person.  I often asked him about that and he consistently denied it.   

“It might be true with others, but not with you.” he would always say.

As the first year following Sarah’s death drew to a close, I watched as Harvey’s introspection increased, becoming ever more quiet, ever more distant (or perhaps better stated – detached).  At one of our Sunday evening dinners, Harvey confessed.  “You know, since my Sarah died, it is kind of hard getting used to the house without her brightening up the mood.  I know you’ve been there for me, but I think I want to get away for a while, be in solitude, and collect all my thoughts.”

“Harvey, are you sure that being alone is the thing to do right now?” My wife and I asked skeptically.  The idea disturbed us about what Harvey could be thinking.

“I know exactly what you’re thinking. I’ll be fine.  This will be good for me.  In fact, I saw a classified ad in the paper about a place I can house-sit for a few months.  I thought about it and thought about it, then decided.  I am going to do it. Can you watch the house for me?”

“What ad?”

Harvey showed us an ad he had cut from the Sunday classified section.
Small house with bungalow in Colorado mountains for rent.  Very isolated.  Need someone to house-sit for a few months.  All facilities working.  Send email to  All emails will be answered.
Harvey continued, “I actually typed in a response. Then I waited.  I actually waited a whole day while I thought about it.  Then I said, ‘The H- with it!  I am doing it.’  Bang! I hit the Enter key.  And you know what?  One hour later – there it was – The response.  She gave me the number to call – I called it – the deal is done.  I am leaving next week.” 

“Wow. So fast. But what about bills and stuff?”

“Between Social Security and my pension, I’ll be OK!  And,” Harvey said with a wink, “I even learned to pay bills by phone.”

As promised, the next Saturday morning, bright and early, we stood outside and waved goodbye to Harvey as we watched his car turn on the road leading to the I-80 Interstate

Four months later, a knock on the door and there’s Harvey – A bit thinner, but nothing else.  We had a big “Welcome Back” dinner that night.  During dinner, however, we noticed a big difference.  He had an aura of sadness.  “Harvey, you seem down.  Is everything OK?

“Yes.  It’s just that it’s the end of a great time.”  He answered, totally unconvincingly.

A few months of denial was followed by a long confessional at one of our Sunday evening dinners.  It took a few glasses of wine to pry loose his tongue, but when it did, the story flowed like a gusher.
“When I got there, it was exactly what I had hoped for.  There was a stream with miles of dense forest-covered mountains with great hiking trails in the back, and a narrow paved road that wound down the mountain to a small town 12 miles downstream in front.  Inside – It was straight out of the movies – an upscale mountain cabin with all the amenities comfortable living with a rustic décor.  To the side – a bungalow, the ‘Little House.’ After the first week, some people moved into the Little House.”

“You didn’t expect them?”

“No. But I figured that they made a deal for the “Little House” just like I did for the ‘Big House.  After a few days, the people in the Little House came to introduce themselves.  ‘Well, what have we here’ I said.  ‘Their answer was quick, and definitely well-rehearsed.’” 

“Hi.  I am Annie and I am this many years old.” She said, holding up seven fingers.

“I am Bonnie and I am 10 and a half years old”

“I am Carol, and I am 12.”

The boy, clearly the oldest responded last, “I am Dennis and I am 14.  It’s easy to remember our names,” he continued.  “Our names are in alphabetical order. A B C D.  Annie, Bonne, Carol, Dennis.” 

Without thinking, I said, “Using that logic, I should be ‘Zavier.’  We all got a big laugh.  And, you know what – It was the first humorous thing I had said in over a year.  Then they asked me how long I would be staying.  I told them “I’ll be here until I leave.”  Two ‘funnies’ in 2 minutes – A record that would have even surprised my Sarah...” He said, his voice trailing off in reverence.  

A few days later, the kids and their mother came to the door and asked me to watch her kids overnight because she had to work.  I asked her how she knew I could be trusted with her kids.  What if I were some kind of pervert?  She mumbled something about having been married to one once and she knew right away that I wasn’t one.

Harvey continued to relate his experience.  He would feed the kids with the microware dinners, then plop on the sofa to watch TV, and finally fall asleep. In the morning, they’d scurry back to the Little House.
A routine settled in; Stay overnight, perhaps a drive to the ice cream store in town, and sleep on the sofa.   
“We also started talking about the old days in TV, Harvey explained.  He told the kids about George Burns and Gracie Allen, Jack Benny’s “Your money or your life” routine, Red Skelton’s “Gertrude and Heathcliff.” And the kids introduced Harvey to Seinfeld, “Two and a Half Men” and Reality TV. And every night after the reminiscences were done, we all went to that magic sofa, quoted Jimmie Durante’s Good Night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are, and slept like babies.

“You want to know something – They even started calling me Poppy-H.  It so reminded me of Sarah’s comforting words, “It’s OK, H.”

There were several auctions in the area – People selling anything and everything in this poor economy. Harve bought a few things, but the real fun was teaching those kids about things of value, and how to bid on them. Dennis, the oldest, bought a BB gun, and the girls got a set of 3 Alice in Wonderland dishes.

“In a sense, those kids became the kids that Sarah and I never had.  Perhaps if she hadn’t had the miscarriages, our kids would have grown up like these kids but…”  His voice trailed off.  “But ahhh, such is life.”  He said as his mood descended into sadness, signaled by the slump of his shoulders.

“What’s the problem? It sounds like you had a better time than you expected.”

“I did. The problem is that when it came time for me to leave the kids begged me to stay, and I told them I couldn’t stay.  I told them I had to leave.”

“That’s true.”

“Not really.  I could have stayed.  If I would have decided to stay, it would have been the best decision I could have made, ranking up there with my decision to ask Sarah to marry me.  I could have called and told you I am staying longer.  I could have done a lot of things.  What I did was the thing I didn’t have to do – Leave.  And now it seems there’s another hole has opened up in my life – Sarah’s death, and now the void of leaving the kids.  For the last couple of months I’ve been thinking more and more about them.  And here’s the funny thing, I haven’t been able to sleep in my bed.  What little sleep I do get is on the sofa.”

“Harvey, we’ve been friends for how long?  Over three decades.  Let me tell you!  This is not the end of the world.  Why don’t you just get on the phone and call them?”

“I can’t do that!  What will I say?  Even more frightening, what will they say?  Will they be angry with me for having left?  Will they remember ‘Poppy-H?’ What if the answer’s no?  And the saddest thing of all would be what if they did find someone else to call ‘Poppy-H’?  There’s just too many ‘what ifs’ here!”

After another few months, Harvey told me he had decided to take my idea and call.  He waited for another few days to build his courage, then he called.  He was on a high with anticipation.  But, his emotional high was dashed like a fragile china figurine thrown against the wall, when the mechanical voice on the phone said, “We’re sorry.  The number you have called is no longer in service.  Please check the number and try again.”  Harvey thought maybe he misdialed.  Over and over he dialed the number, each time ever more carefully, and each time, that 3-beep phone sound followed by the mechanical “we’re sorry…” message was heard. He tried emailing.  That too, failed.  The emails were undeliverable.

Worlds come together and for brief moment, a window of opportunity is opened.  Then the worlds spin off, ne’er to meet again.  The window closes.  No way to get back to those precious kids; No one sleeping on the sofa with him.

I think this was the turning point for Harvey.  After that, he became more down, more disconnected. It seemed there was no possibility for happiness. My wife and I did all we could do to cheer him up, but none of our tried and true efforts worked.  We watched him slowly descend into a ‘quicksand of depression.’
He started mumbling to himself about missing Sarah’s “It’s OK, H.” The Alphabet kids, sofas, and “Good night, Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.

I guess I knew something was seriously amiss when he came over to the one night and handed us an envelope.  “I have a huge favor to ask.  In here are the instructions on what to do with my possessions in case I die. Would you be my executor?  I’ll pay you.”

“What are you planning, Harvey?” I asked, sternly and very forcefully.

“Nothing.  We’re all going to die someday, and I drew this will up.  I know what you’re thinking, and no, I’m not thinking about taking my own life.”  Neither my wife nor I believed him. I just wish if there was something we could have said or done, “But ahhh, such is life.”

Two Years Later
Sunday afternoon, my wife and I are watching TV, when there’s a knock at the door.  Four young adults are there.  “Yes?  May I help you?”

“We hope so.  We’re looking for a Harvey, we called him ‘Poppy-H?’ Do you have any idea where we can find him?”

“Oh! Sweet Jesus!  It’s really you – The Alphabet kids from a few years ago!”  I blurted out.
“Yes. Do you know him?”

“Come in.  Honey,” I shouted to my wife, “Look who’s here.  The Alphabet kids Harvey always talked about.”

“He talked about us?”

“All the time.  Actually, there wasn’t a time he didn’t talk about you!”

“Where can we find him? Do you know where he is?”

“Sit down, kids.  I have same sad news for you, and a little something that Harvey hoped would help.  He tried to contact you, but failed.  I am sorry to tell you that he died about almost two years ago.  We all miss him.” 

Like I said initially about guilt, I would not burden these kids with guilt about the reasons for Harvey’s suicide.   The fact that he was guilt-ridden when he came back from his time with them would remain my secret.

 Two of the girls broke into tears, and Dennis fought to hold back his tears. 

“But I have something for you.  Can you come back tomorrow afternoon?”  This is vitally important to me, but even more so for Harvey.” 

“Yes! We’ll be back.”

Monday afternoon came, as did the knock on the door.  The kids came in, we chatted for a while, then I handed them an envelope.  Dennis took the envelope, carefully opened it and removed the contents.  His eyes fixed into a stare as he slumped into a chair.  He showed the contents to Annie, Bonnie and Carol.  They teared up.  It was cashier’s check for $450,250. 

“What this?”  Dennis asked when he was finally able to speak.

“Harvey told me that we should sell his house and possessions and put all the money in a trust.  If the Alphabet kids ever show up, give it all to them.”

Whatever pain Harvey had felt had at least partially transferred to me.  As I handed them the check, I experienced a feeling of overwhelming relief and a sense that Harvey was finally at rest.