Loneliness (for fun and profit)

The loneliest woman in the world married the most gregarious man in the world.  She told me, during the last conversation we had face to face, that at the time they met and got married he was very lonely and isolated too.   The man was a good friend of mine, and over the years I got to be good friends with his wife as well.   He was a kind, generous person, full of good cheer, an excellent host who really enjoyed company.  The time we spent together over the years was always full of laughter and meaningful conversation.    Sekhnet only got to spend a few fleeting times with him, but she immediately felt like she’d known him always.

In a vindictive turn on the phrase my father used only to make my mother tearful, “don’t worry, Evvy, only the good die young”, my friend died young.   Suddenly, stopped at a red light just off the freeway in Berkeley.   When the light turned green his passenger said “Howie…” but Howie was already gone.  His life had winked out like a candle flame in a soft breeze.

There was a lot of crying over Howie’s sudden absence, which came about a month before my long-suffering mother breathed her last breath.  I spent many an hour on the phone with Howie’s widow.  She felt abandoned by their large circle of friends, things were getting worse at work, her old enemy had been steadily climbing the corporate ladder and was now sabotaging her at every turn.   I noted at one point that I’d never heard Howie speak badly about anyone, a remarkable thing, we agreed.   We both marveled for a moment about this saintly habit of the departed and then wondered what we’d talk about, if not for badmouthing people.  

Then her complaints would continue, the treachery of those who’d always pretended to be her friends, how everyone had turned their backs on her, while feigning great love and concern.  The details were endless, the proofs she advanced very damning.  I was as sympathetic as I could manage.    

I remembered well my own mother’s loneliness after my father died.  My mother was bright, interesting, a sociable person with a great sense of humor, but my father, it emerged as soon as he was gone, had been the social glue that bound people to my mother and father.  Funny, in a way, because he always professed to be a curmudgeon who’d rather spend his time reading and my mother was the social director who arranged all the dinners and visits.  Until my father died, and the calls and visits abruptly stopped.   So I was in touch with Howie’s widow regularly, recalling how painful the isolation had been for my mother after her mate was gone.

Howie’s widow could be demanding, as I learned, shopping for and preparing the buffet for Howie’s unveiling, for example.   She didn’t always show gratitude, I began to notice, while doing nice things for her.  Over time our friendship began to feel more and more like a one way street.   Her mother, someone who’d given her a lot of grief, died after a period of dementia.   I loaned her a great book on seeing the larger picture after the death of a parent, even a difficult parent.  I wrote her a letter to go with the book.  She took the book and letter without comment.   On three separate occasions in the years afterwards she told me she’d look for the book, which she hadn’t read, and send it back to me.  I never saw my original, annotated copy of Death Benefits again.

Here is the kicker, and I notice, as it is not the first time, that a missed call is later cited as the fatal proof I didn’t give a fuck about somebody.   The first time that happened was when a former good friend, a mentally ill guy with vexing emotional problems and an unbearable amount of self-hatred, broke a promise at a very trying time for me and then left me a missed call afterwards, instead of an explanation or any kind of apology.  He claimed he’d left me a “missed call”, at any rate, my phone had no record of the call.   I was hurt at the betrayal, and angry, and didn’t return the “missed call” I hadn’t known about for several days, something that was then thrown in my face by this pant-load while shabbily blaming the emotional standoff on me, you dig, for being too petty to return a “missed call”.  That my phone recorded no such missed call was but a trifle for someone determined to defend himself at all costs.    

Howie’s widow used a similar ploy in the end to make me the asshole who’d viciously rejected her.   I had a missed call from her.  She had been calling, I learned a few days later, to tell me she was coming to New York, but she left no message, sent no email or text.  Once in New York, a day or two before she was leaving, she called to chide me for not caring enough to call her back in time.   I arranged to be available the following day, but she never called back.  I left her a message and I assume she flew off to California pissed at my betrayal.

I heard how hurtful my betrayal had been to her months later, when mutual friends were in New York.  They’d been asked to find out why I had so coldly rejected our old friend.  I told them the story and have heard nothing since from, or about, our rejected friend.

Loneliness, my friends, is a curse and often its own reward.  This woman is very active on Facebook.  I am not, in fact, I hate that shit, for too many reasons to list here.    Another mutual friend called to give me shit a few months ago for missing his mother’s funeral.   I told him how sorry I was, that I hadn’t known his mother died.   He told me it had been on Facebook.   He then gave me some grief for not being a good friend to Howie’s widow, now almost ten years after Howie’s death.   I explained, but it was no use, he wasn’t buying it.   Most likely she’d announced on Facebook that she was coming to New York, but I was too much of a self-absorbed asshole to even check her Facebook page from time to time.   He told me he’d call me back the next day, and that was the last I heard of him.

Loneliness has been monetized, friends, if you want to verify how much, just look up Mark Zuckerberg’s net worth.   I was recently at a free dinner Sekhnet had RSVP’d to attend, hosted by some financial company.   One of the speakers flashed a slide and mentioned the FANG stocks, very valuable positions in any respectable portfolio. I glanced over at Sekhnet who gave me a sly smile at the term FANG, which encompassed some of my most hated mega-corporations.    The slide showed the logos of Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Netflix and Google.  

Every FANG stock is part of the increasingly monetized loneliness of our digital world.   Don’t go to a store, or even talk to anyone on the phone, order shit from your computer, have a slave deliver it to your door for free.  Use a device that marks you as a cool person with money to burn — sure, you can buy cheaper versions of the products Apple sells, but you can’t be COOL if you do.  Don’t interact after work, go into a cocoon, chill and binge watch shows without commercials on Netflix.  Down the fucking list of FANGS.

One of the many reminders, this apt acronym, of the vicious power of loneliness to drive commerce and finance a comfortable retirement, if you are properly positioned with FANG to do so.  God bless these United Global States of corporate personhood.  


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