I’ve never had so many visitors in my life. Within hours of Ralph’s death, my friend Ann arrived from Idaho. My parents flew in from the East Coast, and in a few days the house was full: a brother from Minnesota and another from New Jersey, Ralph’s twin from San Diego and an ex sister-in-law from Seattle. More followed: people I hadn’t seen in years, friends of friends, former co-workers, links with the distant and not-so-distant past. Most had known Ralph when he could walk, move his fingers and toes, pick up a sandwich and take a bite, swing a hammer over his head, or expertly read a backcountry ski map. It was both wonderful and sad—consoling to see so many friends, disappointing not to have Ralph here to share in their visits.
Each houseguest brought his or her own agenda. Ann is on a special diet. She eats only raw foods and consumes them in specific, military-like sequences: fruit in the morning, nuts at noon, salads between 4 and 6 p.m. I took her to Café Gratitude on Shattuck Avenue and she ordered just dessert. “Don’t get much raw chocolate in Northern Idaho,” she said. I watched her down a fat slice of I Am Bliss chocolate cream pie and a thick wedge of I Am Rapture live layered cake, while I sipped my I Am Succulent grapefruit-apple-celery-fennel-and-mint elixir and waited for I Am Insightful live samosas.
My 80-plus-year-old parents came to clean and comfort. My mother scrubbed until her hands were raw, my father ran up and down the stairs so many times he had to take a nap. Mom fainted after a particularly vigorous encounter with the grout between the bathroom floor tiles. Dad fell asleep in front of the TV. We played several games of Scrabble but couldn’t agree on how to spell certain words. Dad swore that the dictionary I consulted was wrong.
My brother Dan from St. Paul came a week early by mistake, therefore missing Ralph’s memorial service and the arrival of my brother Bill. Bill flew in late on a Friday night and left early the following Sunday. There wasn’t much time to converse.
My parents departed after 24 days, 6 hours, 11 minutes and 5 seconds. A few hours later my friend Amy arrived from Manhattan. A former corporate lawyer, and now an Equal Justice Fellow at the Bronx Defenders, Amy subsists on a diet of gourmet coffee, dry martinis, and Kobe beef. I took her to Café Gratitude to relax, but it didn’t work out. One look at the menu and she freaked. “This,” Amy shouted, pointing at the list of entrées, “is why I cannot move to California.”
“I’m sorry,” I said. “I shouldn’t have—”
“And that’s another thing,” she said, slamming the menu shut. “This sorry shit has got to stop. Pull yourself together, get some decent clothes, and comb your hair differently. No more fleece and don’t wear that denim jacket with denim jeans. Your life has changed. You don’t need to wear so much blue.”
“I’m ordering an I Am A Bit Giving Kale-sea veggie salad,” I said, “and I’m not sorry about it.”
“That’s the spirit,” said Amy. She re-opened the menu and asked for an I Am Sassy virgin margarita edged with Himalayan crystal salt, and the I Am Magical stuffed mushrooms topped with Brazil nut parmesan.
“What you need to order is an I Am Accepting stir fry,” I said. “Accompanied by the I Am Aloha fresh coconut milk in anticipation that you will be aloha very soon.”
Just then the waitress came by. “Tell me more about the I Am Celebrating special,” I said.
“Yes,” said Amy, smiling at me over the top of her menu. “And bring me some of those I Am Surrendering fudge squares. They sound absolutely perfect.”
Café Gratitude: 1730 Shattuck Avenue, 10 a.m.—10 p.m., seven days a week, (415) 824-4652, ext. 3, www.cafegratitude.com.