Tuesday, August 31, 2010

My Friend Clifford Schwartz

Why do so many horrible things have to happen? Things that are just plain wrong? This morning, Chip got a phone call. My incredible friend Cliff Schwartz was dead.

Cliff had been treated for pharyngeal cancer. (Who's ever heard of that? But I suppose you can have cancer of anything. Pick your body part, pick your poison.) Cliff's treatment was sheer torture. He was petrified. Who wouldn't be? The cancer grew, pressing on his optic nerve blinding him. He lost his sense of taste. His mouth was so full of sores, he could only down Pediasure.

After this chemotherapy torture, the doctors found that instead of getting smaller, the tumor actually grew. Cliff called me in tears. Sobbing. My poor sweetheart. His only hope was if the doctors would be able to zap it with radiation without hitting things that can't be zapped. Or I imagine, he would, God forbid, die. but that won't happen, right?

I sent Cliff two books that a friend sent to me when I got my first diagnosis: Haiku's for Jews: For You, a Little Wisdom and The Big Book of New American Humor. I loved them both. (The haikus kill.) When I sent them, I didn't realize Cliff was blind. But the haiku's were perfect. They could be read to him. He told me they were great (they are) and that he just loved them.

Cliff said it reminded him of a card he bought for me a long time ago. I knew exactly what he was talking about. On the front is a drawing of a woman you just know is Jewish. Jewish from another era- long, long ago. She looks like a young Yiddishe Mama. She has a smile on her face, and she looks like she's about to feed you something tasty. On the inside it read (Cliff and I never forgot what it said thirty years after he gave it to me):

Roses are red
Violets are bluish
Here's a valentine
From somebody Jewish

Don't you love it?

Taking pinpoint measurements, the docs found out they could give Cliff radiation treatments! The radiation quickly shrunk that damned tumor. Cliff was beginning to see again. He finally could taste the Pediasure the only thing for months and months that went down without incident or pain. He was shocked. He discovered that it was completely disgusting- sickeningly sweet. His sores were healing. When I last spoke to him, the radiation treatment was completed. He made it. And now he's dead.

He was so frightened by this disease. I hated hearing him cry. Cliff's not supposed to cry. Anyone who would hurt Cliff and make him cry? I'd kill them. That is something no one is allowed to do. Make me cry. That's okay. But never Cliff.

Oh, I didn't tell you. Cliff was brilliant. frighteningly smart. He learned fast that he was also an oddball, and oddballs often don't fit in corporate America. After a few attempts working at various companies, he gave up on it. Instead he created these silly little websites (Cliff did not have great design sense) that worked for his little clients, like a local eye doctor. He went back home to Monticello and helped his brother Steve run the music store he founded and
loves. www.stevesmusiccenter.com

Cliff put together Steve's site, and also worked in the store. He was happy.

I loved when Cliff introduced me to the AIA Guide, and we wandered all over Manhattan looking at all the cool stuff you never notice. On 14th street, just off 5th or 6th Avenue on the south side of the street, Cliff pointed out the old faded "Macy's" on the facade of a tall (for it's day) skinny building when 14th Street was a shopping Mecca. I think the "Macy's" has been so slathered with so much paint it's invisible today. Or who knows, maybe the building's been torn down. But Cliff showed it to me.

Cliff and his brother took me and Chip to the the Yasgur's farm of Woodstock fame. It is remarkable natural amphitheater, but it's so much smaller than you can imagine. And that pool of water where people washed? A nasty, polluted stream- nothing more. Cliff said it was vile then, and it's vile now. "Ugh!" he said.

And now Cliff is gone.

It's just not right.

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