Every morning I invite death into our house; or so says my husband. He has no love for the delightful, often unedited vignettes of recently departed:
Uncle Billy sure loved his Harley and I hope he gets to ride one up there in heaven.
Joe prefers the funnies. At age 55, he had an epiphany. He was going to die, Thereafter he wanted nothing to do with it, death, I mean, especially at the breakfast table.
Sadly, every now and then I see a name I recognize, someone I worked with long ago or an acquaintance I’ve lost touch with and I stop to remember them over tea and sighs of regret. One particular morning the name: Nelson G. Tigard, Junior rang bells in my head but there was no picture to help trigger my memory.
“Do you remember someone named Nelson G. Tigard, Junior?” I asked Joe. For some reason I was careful to add the “junior.” I knew it was a very important part of the name: Nelson G. Tigard, Junior.
Joe looked up from the comics and shrugged. “No.”
I read aloud: “Nelson G. Tigard Junior, dead at age 44 following a car accident. Nelson won many gold medals at the Olympics.”
“See, he was an Olympian,” Joe said, “That’s why the name sounds familiar.”
But that wasn’t it. The death of gold medal Olympian, age 44, should be on the front page, or at least have a picture with a full column. His obit would not be a small paragraph, with no picture, between Robert Nun and Inez Sanchez.
I read again. “Nelson won many gold medals at the Special Olympics” Special Olympics. I’d missed that word the first time through.
And then I remembered. Nelson G. Tigard Junior liked cats. I mean, he really liked cats.
You see many strange things on mass transportation, especially in a large urban setting like San Francisco: Young men playing gangster rap on boom boxes at full blast, daring the other riders to ask them to turn it down – fuck you; fuck cops; kill cops; kill whiteys; homeless people sleeping amidst garbage, taking as many seats as they want even during a heavy commute because no one wants to ask them to move. Every now and then a panhandler with a sorrowful tale or a self-described man of God will hold a whole car captive. So you learn to avoid eye contact and keep to yourself.
One morning on a crowded BART train I miraculously managed to find a seat. “Hello,” I heard upon sitting, “I’m Nelson G. Tigard, Junior and I’d like to be your friend. Will you be my friend?”
Those close enough to hear glanced over to see who was stuck in the headlights and then, grateful not to be the victim of unwanted solicitation, diverted their eyes.
“Sure.” I said. I could feel the man next to me fidgeting as though trying to think of what to say next. I turned in his direction. He was staring straight ahead.
“I have a cat. She’s my friend too. Do you have a cat?”
“Yes, I have two cats.”
“Oh really!” This was the best news ever, causing him to bounce up and down in his seat.”What are their names?”
“Rika and Whiskey.”
“Rika and Whiskey!” He repeated, “Rika and Whiskey! What kind of cats are they? My cat is a black cat, yes, she’s a black cat like midnight, black, black, black.”
“Well,” I replied, “one of my cats is a Siamese and the other is a yellow cat. I don’t know what kind it is.”
“Oh,” he mumbled, disappointed.
The sun was up and racing alongside the train. Only pockets of fog remained as the lazy city awoke. I took a good look at Nelson G. Tigard, Junior. He was wearing a sash covered with badges over a Boy Scout shirt. He had a square face and light blue eyes, a gap between his two front teeth. Our eyes locked briefly and then he looked down at his feet.
“Well,” I announced, as we approached the Rockridge station, “Here’s my stop.”
“Ok, then,” he said, “What’s your name?”
“Jan,” I replied.
“Ok then Jan. My name is Nelson G. Tigard Junior and you’re my friend.”
After I stood up to make my exit, he moved to a seat next to a businessman reading the Wall Street Journal. “Hello,” he said as the business man looked perplexed, “I’m Nelson G. Tigard Jr. and I want to be your friend.”
I saw Nelson several times after that on BART trains, happily introducing himself to world weary riders. Some people anxiously tried to get away, while others seemed to enjoy the experience. I even saw one woman pulling out pictures of her cats to show him.
I wonder how many friends of Nelson G. Tigard Junior are out there; people who would hear the name and think I know that name. The obit mentioned that there would be a service for him up in Sebastopol. Wouldn’t it be something if we all showed up?
Dear followers: Thanks for showing up for us throughout this crazy year. Best wishes for a holiday season filled with joy. Jan (speaking for the whole gang)