February 2010 Archives

David W. Long, RIP

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There is a popular mythology that holds that men and women can't be friends. I never believed this, and David Long was one of the reasons I felt justified in not believing it.

But I want to say something about language.

The first time I met David was over lunch in the summer of 1972. A friend named Dave Williams (with whom I've lost touch) and I had decided early in the summer session that we'd meet every day at the table just outside the cash registers in the Willard Straight Hall cafeteria at Cornell, because people we knew would see us there and join us. Early in the second week, someone I knew slightly (Mike Therow) sat down to join us, followed by someone who knew *him*. That was Barbara, and we liked her. So we invited her to join us every day, and she did. After about a month, she said she wanted us to meet her husband and she'd bring him the next day. We were pretty astonished that she was married because she was not much older than we were (we were prospective sophomores). And the next day, she introduced David. Who, if I remember correctly, sat through the entire meal without saying a word. He was painfully shy in those days, and Barbara often told me that their early relationship was marked by a lot of times when he would phone her and listen to her talk for a few hours. By my senior year, I had developed the habit of dropping by their Quarry Street apartment once every week or two around the time I knew Barbara would be getting home from work. I don't think she ever failed to invite me to stay for dinner; I don't remember him ever seeming displeased by the number of times he came home and found me there.

Only a little over a month ago, the day before I went back to London after the Christmas holidays, David and I went together to a singaround held by the Susquehanna Folk Music Society. I was, of course, in full exhibitionist mode, with three instruments and my best show-off manner on display. David said hello, and sat down, and, other than thanking me for the piece of venison sausage I brought him and explaining that he was just there to listen, hardly spoke for the next three hours while we played music. He told me later he'd enjoyed it, but my point is that even at nearly 60 David was self-effacing with unfamiliar people. He *did* have a fine line in sly, compact wit, which he displayed in person but even better in email. About 18 months ago, when his daughter, Alison, had visited me in London, I emailed him after she left and said, "What am I going to play with now?"

His reply:
I saw a story on the Today show this morning about extremely life-like dolls that a lot of women are collecting. No feeding, no changing, and they don't talk back.

We joked often about one of his least successful witticisms, which he delivered in about 1977, the morning I had to get up at 7am (in their Giles Street house in Ithaca) to get to Buffalo in time to perform a lunchtime concert: "You look like your eyes are sunk into your head."

You became David's friend by doing things with him: go on a bike ride, fix something, go along to his family reunion, go to a folk concert or the farm show, help raise his kids. I've never really been sure when I shifted from being Barbara's friend to being *their* friend, but I figure it was sometime around the late 1980s, after I'd moved overseas and came back to stay with them, sometimes for months at a time. I think it happened somewhere in the Marshall Street years between giving Owen early morning bottles and watching TV together.

We often teased David for being the only person on the planet who actually got annoyed when someone took over a chore he'd planned to do himself. Especially in recent years he was very insistent about washing the dishes; with my eyes open I can immediately call up an image of him carefully rubbing at a spot on a dish with an ungloved finger to get it perfectly clean. He got quite annoyed with me one time about five years ago when it was snowing heavily and, thinking to do him a favor, I shoveled the driveway and sidewalk before he came home from work. He had *plans* for that snow.

I've been reevaluating these incidents over the last couple of weeks as events have unfolded, and I now think it's wrong to think of them as purely a preference for routine (although it's true that the day I told him I'd had tuna fish for breakfast he looked at me as though I'd landed from Mars). I now think that part of his attachment to doing these tasks had to do with being a shy person for whom these formed the, or a, language by which he expressed his feelings for the people in his life. He cared for people by doing. He made fires when people were cold, got children breakfast, balanced checkbooks, filled bird feeders, moved furniture, grew vegetables, removed snow. Sometimes he fixed your car when you didn't want it fixed, or told you how to fix your computer when you felt you knew what you were doing. The angriest I think he ever got with me was when he was instructing me how to drive through Wheeling, West Virginia, a drive I'd made quite a few times and felt proficient about. But again, I think this might say something about what doing these tasks meant to him as a language of caring. I can't count the number of times he braved rush hour traffic to drive me to a distant airport, or got up at 3am to meet a train, always with good grace and humor. I hardly ever remember his missing a day of work and never remember him complaining about his job.

There are millions of stray adults in this world; there are very few people who are generous enough to allow one or two of those stray adults to graft themselves onto *their* families.

All that said, if he were here I'm sure we'd still tease him about doing the dishes. And for going to such extreme lengths to avoid being given the 60th birthday party he said he didn't want.

David W. Long, May 21 1950 - February 13 2010.

Marching bands
Mashed potatoes
Pumpkin chiffon pie
King's College Nine Lessons and Carols
Watching birds eat from the feeders
Weather news
Car Talk
Making German pancakes for the family on Christmas morning
A Prairie Home Companion
Football, baseball, hockey, basketball, tennis
Saturday Night Live

Looking for a job
WGAL's failure to transition correctly back to the Met broadcast
Baltimore Ravens (because they betrayed Cleveland)
Being teased about choosing too-small containers for leftovers
Squirrels ("rats with tails")


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