Ten years ago I stumbled across the blog of a fellow who had gone to work for a small publisher I had also wanted to work for. Yes, people blogged ten years ago — they just hadn’t come up with that name yet. Dan’s page announced the Gestaltepotato, a rationalized cylindrical spud optimized for modern high-volume slicing and frying operations. It was a spoof of between-the-wars utopian/constructivist thinking in the design and engineering realms, with its drive toward standardization. It was freaking hilarious, bristling with obscure references, masterfully played. I couldn’t help but think I was one of maybe five others on the planet on precisely that humor wavelength. I emailed him, and we hit it off immediately. We exchanged about 200 emails over the years, and met face-to-face for maybe a dozen hours over a decade, as our travels permitted. It was disconcerting to spend time with him, because we were so alike in our humor, tastes, and manner that it felt like being alone. Our career paths converged, and we even commissioned custom bicycles around the same time. Our conversation became almost a vain struggle to differentiate our voices, as we did one double-take after another at new similarities uncovered. Eeriness and affection mingled. We felt like parallel souls.

We both had chronic heartburn. Our fates diverged when I learned to control mine through diet, while he developed esophageal cancer. He underwent horribly aggressive surgeries and chemotherapy, and he and his stomaphagus were declared cancer-free at one point. He and his wife adopted a little girl. They were going to visit us in San Francisco from their Seattle home last year, but had to cancel when a check-up revealed some spots. The cancer was back. Further aggressive therapy slowed, but could not stop the disease. He fought it hard with a mix of stoicism, hope, and every promising therapy available, grateful for every day he could spend with his dear wife and daughter. He never became bitter or despondent. He died Sunday, hours after my tearful bedside goodbye. He was conscious until the end. It was a relief; he looked like he had been dead for a week. If his death were written up as a movie script, particularly the last days and hours, it would be rejected as unbelievably over-the-top.

This has hit me harder than I expected it would, which is pretty hard. I’m still tearing up. I feel particularly desperate to help his wife and adorable 3-year-old daughter through unfathomable pain. I wish I had gotten to know them better before it came to this, and that we lived closer. I’ll be working on it, though. I promised my doppelganger that I would.

6 thoughts on “Sadness”

  • Bill Manewal

    I’m sorry, Todd.

    I’m sad for you and for his wife and daughter.

    Maybe it’s worth knowing that a definition for sadness I’ve embraced in the last year says that sadness is my experience of a hurt that is healing.

    May you and his family heal as fully as possible and in your own good time.

    Thank you for being such a fine friend to him. And for your caring heart.

  • Jim

    May we all leave sad people when we go.

  • Bob O'Hara

    On parent knees, a naked new-born child,
    Weeping thou sat’st, while all around thee smil’d;
    So live, that sinking to thy life’s last sleep,
    Calm thou may’st smile, while all around thee weep.

  • Scott


    Sorry to hear about this. Death, dying, loss… all of it, rough times for sure.

    Sitting next to someone you love when you know it’s the last time for such things, what can one say? It’s heartbreaking in its finality.

    May you find Joy in your memories.



  • vj

    Todd -
    I am so sorry.

  • [...] I relish running errands in town on a bike, usually the Brompton if no passengers are involved. The other day I had to deliver a hundred machined parts to an anodizing shop a few miles away, in a bit of Southeast I hadn’t yet explored. It was cold and bright. When I pulled into the parking lot, necks craned from inside and a shop guy walking in from his truck gave me a grin that said “40-year-old virgin?” Maybe it was the rainlegs. I unloaded the parts and continued, turning down a few blind alleys just to see what was there. Portland has an amazingly diverse industrial infrastructure compared to the bigger, service-economy cities I’ve lived in. I wheeled the bike through the weeds of an embankment at the end of one alley and onto the road I’d return by. But I went the other way deliberately to see more. I rode into an open rolling field with some community garden plots on it, mostly mulched up for the winter now. I kneeled to pick maybe a dozen different kinds of mushrooms coming up in the glistening grass, my breath steaming. I thought about Dan my friend who died last autumn. Beyond the field were woods. I entered and descended to a clear deep creek running fast, with the last of the yellow and red leaves floating in eddies. Up the canyon I emerged on the campus of Reed College, in a complex of dormitories. I thought of my own school days and wondered how they might have been here instead of in Santa Fe. [...]

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