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April 9, 1976

Someone will point out a failing, push my gyroscope six degrees to the left.

Phil Ochs and I share a birthday. Our moons are in different houses. Our horses are in different carriages. When he killed himself, I wasn't even two. I didn't stand on a car in Berkeley and sing while Mario Savio yelled about the hungry gears. Anyway, astrology is hokum. When handed the horoscope of a mass murderer and told "this is for your birthday," 90% of people surveyed said, "my God! That's me."

I had something stuck in my eye, and the phone rang. My mother told me that my grandfather wants me--he's finally going to die, his heart pumped by intravenous pipes, his mind soothed by morphine. He's prepared a speech for my Saturday afternoon. I began to cry, and thought "thank God, it'll get this thing out of my eye."

Mavis Gallant was born on my birthday. She writes distant, clinical short stories, nothing with the pathos of this coming farewell. He may keep on for a few more weeks, but this is the exit speech. The actor playing Fortinbras is waiting offstage, hoping the lines move more quickly so they can grab a beer and maybe see Godzilla.

I will laugh and smile and embrace him in the room, avoiding the wires that hug his arms. And then someone will say something cold, three months later. I will err at work. I will remember some opportunity lost. Someone will point out a failing, push my gyroscope six degrees to the left. That night I will sit curled on the floor, biting my tongue as tears press out like the spray of a needle. Then I'll laugh at how long that was in coming, and shake my head at myself.

Across the street, the Carroll Gardens Apartments, six stories of warehouse transformed. I can see the paintings in each apartment, abstract art. After that heat, thick as a pile of rope, thank God for this breeze. My windows are open. My mother says: "Your brother is coming, too. I need my sons."


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

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