I wasn’t with Barney when he died. His nurse called my house early in the morning when I was out walking Stella. Instead of leaving a message she called my cell phone, which I had mistakenly left in the car. I probably wouldn’t have made it there in time but I was sorry it took them an hour to get me on the phone. His nurse was distressed and tearful by then. I had always been afraid that he’d be robbed by some one of his so-called friends when he died and of course, he was – but I never dreamed that the guy who did it would be the one. Took the money right out of Barney’s shirt pocket and then denied it in front of me and an entire team of hospice workers. He then went next door to the bar and bought everyone a round of drinks. Barney might have approved of that but I found it repulsive that people who never even knew Barney were rewarded with the very thing that killed him.
We sent him off that day in a big white Cadillac hearse. A Puerto Rican man kissed the window of it just before it pulled away. I packed up his apartment over the weekend and by Monday afternoon, twelve years of hard living evaporated into space. People that hadn’t seen Barney in forever stopped by to say how sorry they were. They asked for things and I didn’t mind them asking. Most of them loved Barney too. Just not enough to stop by and help him get to the bathroom when he needed it. There were only a couple of those sorts of friends and they could’ve asked me for anything. On the last day, before I locked the door, when the only things left were his bulletin boards, a folding chair and an echo, Stella and I brought lunch over and had ourselves a little picnic. It was so quiet in there. That was the first thing I noticed when I got there the morning he died. Someone turned off the television. First time in twelve years. I remembered Barney saying once that wherever he ended up, they better have cable.
(This is the first photo I took of Barney when he moved into his apartment. I think it was 1997. He had a bed, a dresser, and a bag of second hand clothes.)