Tom was having trouble with outgoing emails. Some would come back with
a message from the mail administrator about a server problem, a
message Tom didn't understand. He had no other problems with his computer that
day. And he couldnt tell from the message which server was at
faulthis or the server on the receiving end.
So he decided to send an email to Bill, an old friend whose
technological savvy was probably less than his. He wanted to see if Bill would
receive the message and send a reply, confirming that someone, anyone, was
getting his emails.
Its best to admit upfront that both Tom and Bill are less than
technologically astute. Perhaps thats because they're closer to eternity
than most. Computers came late into their lives. Both are now in the home
stretch, so to speak.
According to Tom, Bill is so old he wrote his first poem with cuneiform
when that was all the rage. And Bill tells their friends--those still above
ground--that Tom wrote his first poem with a quill. All this may or may not be
true with both men given to hyperbole in lighter moments, few as those moments
now may be.
Tom's memory isnt what it once was, either. Nevertheless, he had
high hopes of getting in touch with his old friend when he sent his email to
Bill but he received no response for days. Finally Bill's answer arrived.
Bill wrote, I got your email today when I checked my more than
100 messages awaiting my immediate response. I read two Larkin poems after
That was the sum total of Bill's email. Tom's old friend didnt
have anything else to say. It had been 60 years since the two men last worked
together putting out a print magazine, but Tom could tell from his message--the
first one he had received from Bill in a couple of years--that despite his
pacemaker and a couple of stents, he was doing okay.
Bill wasnt at all pleased when that cardiologist put foreign
objects in his chest to keep him alive but he got used to the idea. And from
his response, Tom could tell that life was still good for Bill. He was reading
poetry and probably still writing it. Maybe a short story now and then as well.
He was not a man to waste words. He always got right to the point if there was
It was obvious to Tom as well that Bill was still not in a rush about
anything. Backed up with 100 or so unanswered emails, Bill was instead
attending to more important stuffreading Philip Larkins poetry, for
example, after breakfast. Retirement has its rewards and Bill was savoring
every one of them.
But then, Bill had never been in a rush, Tom remembered, except when
the two of them were on deadline putting out a monthly magazine. They both were
in a rush then because they were the whole staff. They had no other help.
Bill moved pretty fast in those days. More importantly, perhaps, he had
skills. He could write, as could Tom, and he knew grammar and had a sense of
layout. The two of them served as their own art director. Budget constraints
made this possible.
Over the years Tom had learned a lot about layout from Bill, something
that helped a great deal in other editorial jobs later in life.
In his personal life, however, Bill did very little and did it very
slowly, reading good fiction and poetry and doing his best to write well
himself. His writings had been published in good places over the years so he
had succeeded to some degree but not to his own satisfaction.
After giving Bill's response considerable thought, Tom wrote back to
his old friend and said,
Great to hear from you again and happy to see the world has not
changed your lifestyle. I can almost hear your groan after you read that word
lifestyle in the previous sentence. But Ill bet lifestyle is
in the Oxford English Dictionary, assuming someone is still publishing it.
The OED is probably not in print anymore but its likely
online. Your old edition probably wouldnt have lifestyle in it but the
book itself might be worth quite a bit of money at a rare bookstore. I know you
would rather part with your left arm than your OED.
Bill, I promise not to bother you again until after Memorial Day
and then only to let you know Im still alive. I promise to put the
subject line in all caps so you will know its from me. I dont want
my email to die in cyberspace among all the others youve left unopened.
"God forbid anything should happen to you in the meantime but if it
does ask your sister to let me know.
"I gave my wife a stamped letter to mail to you should anything happen
to me. If she dies first, Ill guess youll never find out.
Until then keep reading Philip Larkin and maybe throw in a little
Wallace Stevens now and then as a chaser.
Tom sent the email to Bill but never received a response, and he may
not until he writes to him again after Memorial Day to confirm that one or both
of them is still alive. By then Bill might have as many as 300 unopened emails
and Toms may be added to that list.
At his age, Bill is not in a rush. And Tom admits hes slowing
down a bit himself. He still writes every day to stay awake and sends stuff out
to publishers. Some of it gets published, some of it not. Tom knows he and Bill
wont be around that much longer. But he hopes he has enough time left to
send another email to Bill after Memorial Dayand that Bill is there to
get it whether he opens it or not.