'Not From Here,' stories by Nathan Deuel

In Istanbul, getting to Ikea and back

It’s not exactly a matter of life and death — procuring a high chair for my daughter from Ikea, in Istanbul — but that was the mission I found myself on last night.

I loaded up a leather satchel — keys, wallet, phone, a letter from a dear old friend in Riyadh — and headed down the hill. We live above “music street,” the winding cobble stone parade of shops selling drums, guitars, cymbals, horns, pianos, and the dreaded vuvuzela. A hilarious cacophony during the day, Galip Dede glows faintly and echoes with mewling cats at night.

Stepping around garbage, I found the alley of rough-cut stairs that leads to the water. Traffic was thin, and I dashed across slick streets to the Karakoy stop on one of the city’s main tram lines.

On the platform, affectionate couples nuzzled in the humidity and a ferry drew a long horn as it motored off into the Bosphorus chop. My wife was in Baghdad; encountering Joe Biden yesterday, she said the vice president’s teeth were blindingly white.

The tram trundled down the steel rails and I found a seat by a mute woman poking lazily into her smart phone. I took out the letter from my friend: Six hand-written sheets, sending sympathy for my dad, who died a few months ago. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Death, Istanbul, Turkey

Into the sea

We all find our own place.

We awoke at dawn — the whole family — and met at the beach. My uncle Jeff carried my dad’s ashes, and I had a pair of shears. Everyone else carried cut flowers, and we waded into the cool waters off St. Augustine.

The sun was only just breaking, and shades of red sat low on the horizon. Leaving the others behind, Jeff and I pushed deeper, the water up to our chests.

We gave each other a nod. I cut the sack, Jeff submerged the bag, and my dad swirled into the Atlantic Ocean.  I grabbed Jeff’s shoulder and pulled him back. A few paces behind, my mom called out. We all held hands.

Three gulls streaked low over the horizon. The sun burned higher in the morning sky, and we stood in the sea. Waves rolled in and the flowers we’d thrown sank into the deep.

Bye, dad.

At last, you — and all of us — have maybe come closer to being  free of all this.

Filed under: Cancer, Death, ,

Sweet grief

Tribeca 2008

I'd like to be a part of it. (Image by jenschapter3 via Flickr)

Last night, I encountered old friends who didn’t know and — recounting the story of my dad’s recent death — turned an otherwise lovely gathering into my own personal weep-fest. I managed to get out the door before it got really messy, but en route home, I found myself walking down the middle of a Tribeca street, sobbing, attempting to eat a cupcake. Crying while eating: It’s so right now!

* With thanks to Penelope Cray for the new title.

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Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family

A strange fellowship: Veterans of the cancer ward

Washington Monument, Washington D.C., United S...

Image via Wikipedia

I’m in our nation’s capital for a few days, reuniting with family, among them my Aunt Mary, with whom I shared many hard and final hours in the hospital with my dad. Seeing her again is like coming across a fellow soldier; we both have the same 1,000-yard stare, the same ease with tears, the same shaky need to talk.

This battle analogy is a bit much, I know. But I must admit: It is only in the last 24 hours or so that I have slowly gained the perspective to know how crazy I’ve been, how dark and short and unfocused and unhinged. To all the people I’ve been difficult for — especially my dear, patient, also-grieving wife — please accept my apologies. This is so damn hard. Who could possibly be good at this?

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Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family, , , ,

Thirteen days since my dad died

Miami Beach and Port of Miami Skyline

(Image by joiseyshowaa via Flickr.)

The Miami sun that’s been shining for two weeks has given way to rain. Friends and family have been mostly dispatched to airports. The house is quiet and slowly approaching clean and for the first time in days I’m not having beer for breakfast. It’s small, it’s tentative: A new, unfamiliar era is upon us, and I grant you that I am at once scared and ready and grateful and very tired. This is the way I live.

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Filed under: Cancer, Death, Family, , ,

Embedded at the Mayo Clinic

Mayo Clinic

The badge of honor. (Image via Wikipedia)

Your correspondent is no longer based in the Middle East. I am instead reporting from the ICU floor at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, where my dad is battling cancer.

This is my sixth day here and it’s been a constant state of siege. Basically, we’re battling to keep my dad stable enough in order to undergo the daily radiation that could prolong his life. Every hour, it seems, we confront a new and significant hurdle to that plan.

In our tiny room, my mom, sister, and I take shifts staying up all night, holding his hand, skipping meals, trying to cater to his every need. He can’t talk anymore, so we talk for him, charming the nurses into giving him his pain meds on time and to treat him like man, not meat. We listen carefully and take notes and ask tough questions, and when a doctor appears to discuss some new terror, we remain calm.

But it is impossible not to become emotional: A doctor reports that a scan of his brain is negative, and we soar. A surgeon tells us that replacing his trachea tube — an urgent operation — might kill him, and we slip into sobbing horror. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Cancer, Death, Health, Medicine, , , ,

If you read only one Salinger tribute

White Mountains National Forest, New Hampshire...

New Hampshire: It's really not at all like the Lower East Side. (Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr)

At least for this week or so, J.D. Salinger is as brilliantly alive to a world of readers as he has been any day for decades. Among the many moving tributes, one by The New Yorker’s Lillian Ross stands above the rest. A friend of Salinger’s for five decades, Ross writes a tribute with feeling and intimacy. Several moments stand out.

He loved children:

After watching his son, Matthew, playing one day, he said, “If your child likes—loves—you, the very love he bears you tears your heart out about once a day or once every other day.” He said, “I started writing and making up characters in the first place because nothing or not much away from the typewriter was reaching my heart at all.”

Salinger was generous with writers he admired:

When he read a story of mine about kids skipping around a Maypole in Central Park, he wrote to me, “The first and last thing you’ve done is to redeem everything, not just make everything bearable.”

He found simple pleasures:

He told me that one day he went out and bought an iron, and had his housekeeper iron his shirts. “How it cheered me up,” he said.

Interesting how a man — whose work is alreadly immortal — gains, in death, a strange flare-up of deeply human presence among a world of many who may have long taken his body for granted. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Books, Death, Entertainment, Journalism, Media, Writing, , , ,

Saudi FAIL: Not dead, I was nonetheless hit by a car today

Riyadh - Mecca Highway

Zoom zoom along the Riyadh-Mecca highway. (Image by Bakar_88 via Flickr)

The sun glinted off oil-smeared asphalt. Winter’s already over, and the heat was building in the last morning minutes before the call to prayer would ring out across this city of several million.

I stood at one of Riyadh’s busiest intersections, half-way across Olaya Street. With cars blasting by to my rear, I checked the light ruling the traffic I’d need to cross. Sweat began to bead. I felt like a bug: All flesh and limbs and fluid, ready to pop against the unforgiving weight of a metal cleat.

No one walks here. Sidewalks are built beyond human scale, with foot-high drop offs at the curb. Driving isn’t much better: Women are banished from the wheel, so their 12-year-old sons take up the slack, with predictably dire results. With not much else to do, these boys drag race and hot rod and have perfected the dark art of drifting. For so many locals, disposable income is high enough that one can actually imagine — after an accident — abandoned BMWs, Mercedes, and even Rolls Royces, of which I’ve seen three gathering dust. New cars are easier than fixing old. The accident fatality rate is reported to be the highest in the world.

Thinking all this, surrounded by the sonic and visual whirr of traffic blasting by, I readied myself for the light to change. That flash of red would stop oncoming traffic — in theory. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Death, Homesick, Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, Traffic, World, ,

Health debate simplified: Do you value life or money?

WASHINGTON - JANUARY 18:   Political commentat...

Mr. Brooks: A straight-shooter, even if he'd let your neighbor go without care if it'd mean a "vital" marketplace. (Image by Getty Images North America via Daylife)

The most clear-eyed distillation of the health care debate to date is in today’s column by David Brooks. The sides are ultimately drawn along what you value, he writes. Do you prize health for all, or vitality for all?

Reform would make us a more decent society, but also a less vibrant one. It would ease the anxiety of millions at the cost of future growth. It would heal a wound in the social fabric while piling another expensive and untouchable promise on top of the many such promises we’ve already made. America would be a less youthful, ragged and unforgiving nation, and a more middle-aged, civilized and sedate one.

We all have to decide what we want at this moment in history, vitality or security. We can debate this or that provision, but where we come down will depend on that moral preference. Don’t get stupefied by technical details. This debate is about values.

via Op-Ed Columnist – The Values Question – NYTimes.com.

As I’ve written before, I think the health of our individual citizens is the most important thing. I would never want a government program guaranteeing a flat-screen TV for all, or laundered shirts for all. But to me access to doctors for all is just as essential as roads, police, schools, and military. I don’t care how much a public plan costs — for me it is a fundamental public service. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Business, Death, Economy, Health, Healthcare reform, New York Times, , , , ,

Does sarcasm belong on the editorial page?

Dave Eggers at the 2007 Brooklyn Book Festival.

Dave Eggers cares about you and me and everyone else too. (Image via Wikipedia)

Many years ago, in a hot, crowded classroom in St. Petersburg, Russia, I had the chance to ask Dave Eggers a question. I was young, perilously close to being kinda nuts, and relatively fresh off the boat from a spell as a cub journalist in Cambodia.

As a result, I was more strident than I was informed. And The New Yorker had (finally, I thought, knowing nothing) run a story about Cambodia. But it was a feature about a chef! It was light and inconsequential and had nothing to say about genocide, the legless, land grabs, and corrupt generals — all stuff I was pretty passionate about and suspected that anyone who was not passionate thereabout must be corrected.

So with a chance to make an important correction, my blood boiled with excitement and urgency.

Standing up, clearing my throat, I said this: “Why can’t you do anything serious? Is being funny enough for you? You’re this voice of a generation and it’s all jokes — why not take up the good work of The New Yorker but do it even better?”

Eggers looked at me like I was an asshole. And I was, believe me.

This is what he said in response: “You know The New Yorker is a humor magazine, right?”

I didn’t — and I guess I’m still in denial.

So it was with a similar set of queasily held assumptions and principles that I read Colson Whitehead’s op-ed in The New York Times this morning. Read the rest of this entry »

Filed under: Death, Entertainment, Journalism, Media, New York Times, The New Yorker, Writing, , , , , , ,