Amanda (A Tribute)

My friend Amanda and I had lunch in the park just about everyday. We talked about family, friends, and loves. Together, we formulated our early exit strategies from the corporate world.

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How many people talk about retiring early and don’t. Mostly, we fantasize about giving the man the finger and riding off into the sunset 10 years before our financial planner gives us the green light.

But shortly after turning 56, my friend Amanda and I left our corporate jobs and took our pensions without the customary annual cost of living adjustment provided with most government and public service retirements plans.

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Then Amanda casually told me that I was in her will. Wow. I was flattered, but didn’t give it much thought. Her death was not in the foreseeable future. We had easily another 30 years or more to live. It was a nice gesture though.

Six months later, Amanda died from an undetected brain aneurysm.

No Time for Goodbye

Amanda’s death came as a shock. There was no hand holding or warm embrace before she left. No final words, or golden prose that evoked something sentimental, heart felt, or mind-blowing. Nothing to give her life that well-deserved exclamation point.

She was physically fit. Her positive presence was an inspiration to those who knew her best. Amanda didn’t leave behind any notes, or letters, or poetry in longhand, or personal journal. No words escaped her last breath. Nothing, to ease her pain or mine.

I don’t mean to be so goddamn selfish, but the first thing that came to mind when my friend passed, was me. How would I survive without our lunches in the park? At least, I wanted her to know how much our daily talks helped me tamp down the rising bullshit of our workplace. Never mind that now, I told myself. The end had come for her, and everyone will follow in due time.

Dropping Out Before Dropping Dead

My friend is dead. Even God can’t undo that on this planet. Lest we also blame Her for the coming zombie apocalypse. Which is inevitable.

Amanda and I had so much in common – more than most casual lunch dates – retiring a decade early to pursue our separate “dreams denied.”

After “dropping out” of the corporate world, Amanda moved to her mountain cabin. Instead of waking up every morning being forced to deal with the onslaught of L.A. traffic and office politics, she breathed in pine scent and took short hikes from her doorstep with a dog she rescued named Griffin.

“Life on life’s terms,” she always said.

I followed her lead picking up where I left off 30 years ago with a pen in hand and big dreams of writing a best-selling novel and Academy award winning screenplay. Early retirement for me meant believing again in my talent and eating a steady diet of beans for lunch and a can of spinach and SpaghettiOs for supper. I also like to toss a fist-full of Cheez-It crackers into that delightful marriage of tomato soup and pasta Os. Tomato sauce, cheese, and salt are my favorite foods. I could eat Blaze Pizza everyday of the week. I, unfortunately, digress. Amanda got a kick out of my random thinking and unabashed lack of normal.

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The longer we wait to pull the plug on our career, the more money we will have with fewer days to enjoy it. For Amanda the decision to retire 9 years early at 56 was a no-brainer. I felt the same. Together, we already had one foot out the door.

And now I write about what my friend will never experience.

Loss.

I guess that’s where my selfishness lies. When I last saw her connected to life support, she was already gone. Holding her hand and demanding that she fight death would not bring her back.

I stayed until the decision was made to remove her from life support.

Goodbye Hello

Shortly after she passed, I sat down to write a letter from the blue-painted bench we shared in the park. I opened my laptop and felt the familiar breeze and her warming smile, and imagined she was sitting next to me with the crows in the pine trees sneaking down from the lower branches for our leftovers.

What would I tell her?

I realized later that my letter began as it ended with “hello.”

Hello Amanda,

 I feel your presence here in the park, you are sitting next to me on our bench. Thanks for coming.

I called you the other day but you didn’t answer and found myself smiling through my tears.

We escaped our cubicles six months ago. Together we kissed our corporate jobs goodbye with arms stretched high and middle fingers waving buh-bye!

You know me so well. Few friends ever get that close. I guess what I’m trying to say is this: there is comfort in knowing that a friendship like ours will endure. 

So long my friend, but only for today. When tomorrow comes, we’ll meet again someplace somewhere somehow and I’ll say “Hello Amanda, so glad you could join me today.”

Your forever friend,

Rick

I never knew what the word “forever” meant – not in human terms anyway – until that day in the park. Amanda’s last six months were the best days of her life. If she knew she had less than a year to live, she would have changed nothing.

A lesson for us all.

Amanda, I vow to honor your memory by living my life to the fullest as you would have. I’ll never forget our lunches in the park sharing our frustrations, hopes and dreams, plans for the day we both “dropped out before dropping dead,” and feeding the ants with bread crumbs and a pulled-off a piece of sandwich for the crow with a broken ankle we named Footloose.

Our Catcher Sucks!

Photo by Harry How/Getty Images

The pivotal third game of the 2018 National League Championship series at Dodger Stadium just ended with the Milwaukee Brewers beating the Los Angeles Dodgers 4-0.

After tonight’s loss, it is clear there is one man responsible if the Dodgers fail to make the Fall Classic. And the relentless booing from the fans is aimed at our catcher, Yasmani Grandal.

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Grandal was acquired in mid-season to help the Dodgers make the playoffs taking them all the way to the World Series. Tonight, a pitch squirted past him and a run scored. He also struck out three times, twice with a man on third base. If this were any other regular season game, the fans would Tweet “Keep your chin up. We’ll get ’em tomorrow.” Instead, the boos birds were out. They were fit to kill like a scene from Hitchcock’s The Birds.

The boos thundered from all tiers of the stadium, growing louder and angrier like a steady lion’s roar.

This game was not one of Grandal’s grandest performances. Still, he was no Roy “Wrong Way” Riegels who caused the Cal Bears to lose the 1929 Rose Bowl game after recovering a fumble and running 65 yards in the wrong direction. He is no Bill Buckner who missed catching a routine ground ball between his legs that led to the Mets winning Game 6 of the 1986 World Series. He was no Yu Darvish who seemed to be serving up pitches for batting practice during Game 7 of the World Series at Dodger Stadium last year.

It was 30 years ago tonight in Game 1 of the World Series that Kirk Gibson crushed his legendary walk-off homer against the future Hall of Fame pitcher Dennis Eckersley. The dramatic slammer, made for Hollywood (just down the street), came off a full-count pitch with two outs in the bottom of the ninth – the Dodgers trailing by a run. Gibson had a bad left hamstring and swollen right knee when he stepped up to the plate. He was so banged up he wasn’t even introduced to play at the start of the game. Vince Scully’s legendary call continued after allowing for a full minute on-field celebration: “In a year that has been so improbable the impossible has happened.”

But that was then and today is now. The day the Dodgers starting catcher is booed by the home ballpark fans!

Photo by Jae Hong/Associated Press

Tomorrow, all the second guessing and wacky doomsday chatter will begin: The Brewers have outplayed the Dodgers in this series from the start. Why can’t our major market team with its mega payroll and talented roster beat the Brewers? And, of course, why does Grandal suck so bad?!

All but two teams fail to advance to the World Series in a sport laden in tradition, commercial interests, star player contracts, big vs. small market payrolls, collaborative pregame plans, and player analytics that dictate pitcher matchups and outfield shifts. Practically nothing is left to game-time manager decisions.

At the tail end of the regular season, the Dodgers playoff chances were in doubt. And now the team is three wins away (with the next two games at home) from back-to-back appearances in the World Series. But after tonight’s loss our fans are already pointing fingers.

I suppose that if the Dodgers survive this series but lose in the World Series our fans will simply blame the coach! Typical.

I suppose if the Dodgers fail to become World Champs this year, somebody is to blame. And that “somebody” will definitely suuuck! And today’s loser Dodgers of will once again be compared to the 1988 Dodgers. Their faces rubbed in their defeat by our fans until Dodger blue turns to bloody red.

This year’s Yankees, Indians, Braves, A’s, Rockies also suck because they too failed to advance in the playoffs.

No Hollywood ending for Grandal. And no opportunity for redemption this postseason. His entire career marred by a couple of games out of thousands played since childhood.

Photo by Keith Birmingham/Pasadena Star-News

Does our catcher Yasmani Grandal suck? Of course not. But the boo birds tonight showed Milwaukee who the better fans are in this series.

My guess is that if the Brewers lose the National League Championship their fans won’t blame any one player. They will stand up and roundly applaud their team for a winning season and a chance to play in the World Series.

The Milwaukee Brewers play with passion and heart just like every player on the Los Angeles Dodgers. We live in the City of Angels. But there is something ungodly about booing a player who actually plays the game the fans suck at.