Monday, September 11, 2006

Five Years Ago

By Mitchell

Like Drew’s post below, I also have September 11, 2001 on my mind. There’s very little I could add to what he said, and what I could say might be even harsher than what he’s written. (And for those of you out there who might take exception to them, I have to tell you that today I just don’t care.)

For me, however, that day five years ago has a much more personal connection.

I worked in downtown Minneapolis at the time (same as now, but for a different company), and in the initial panic, when nobody knew what city might be hit next, we’d been sent home. It had already been a gut-wrenching day when I receive a phone call in the early afternoon from my friend Gary.

“I have bad news for you,” he began. Or maybe he used the word terrible; “I have terrible news for you.” I guess it doesn’t really matter, because either word would have been appropriate. I was already sitting down when I answered the phone; considering what had already happened, I was prepared for the worst possible news.

And that it was. Our mutual friend Duane had died that morning of a massive heart attack. It had happened early in the morning while he was working out; he never knew about the attacks that were probably less than two hours away. I’m grateful for that, although I’d surely have been interested in getting his take on the whole thing. The doctors said later that he never knew what hit him, and I'm grateful for that as well.

Duane was only 50 or so; he had a wife and two kids who must have been under the age of 12. He’d had some heart problems earlier that year (at least I think it was that year) including an angioplasty, so it wasn’t a total shock in that if I’d been told that a friend was going to die of heart trouble well before his time, I’d probably have figured it would have been him. Still, he was supposed to have been all right; everything was supposed to have been taken care of.

Duane was my treasurer during my campaign for the state legislature in 1998. Of all those who pledged allegiance during the genesis of the campaign, he was the only one who saw it through to the bitter end. His task – fundraising and keeping track of the finances of a losing campaign – was a hopeless one, but he never complained about it. Check that, he did plenty of complaining – part of his job, after all, was to keep us out of jail – but he always complained about the right things, and he did it with a dry sense of humor. There was a commercial featuring the Three Stooges running at the time, a radio spot that featured Curly replying to something with the line, “We’re not normal. We’re morons.” Duane always said that this commercial reminded him of us trying to run the campaign, and we’d laugh about the truth of that. He had a wonderful laugh, the kind that made everyone around him laugh as well.

We were supposed to have lunch that week; I’d taped a TV show he’d appeared on, and he’d wanted me to drop off a copy of the tape for him (he didn’t have cable in his home – a waste of money, he thought, and he was probably right). The tape sat on my desk the morning of September 11 as we watched the horror going on in New York and Washington, and it sat there on September 12, when I returned to work much sadder than I had when I’d left the day before.
His funeral was on Friday, September 14, the same day of the memorial services in Washington that so many people remember. It is his funeral that is the memory for me of that day. That, and the wake afterwards when so many of his friends and family shared stories about him, and we’d laugh as if he’d been there telling the stories himself. His friends had very little in common other than him, but what I remember most was that Duane appealed to all these disparate people for the same reason – his sense of humor, his friendship – and that we all remembered him in the same way. His brother played a tape recording of Duane laughing, and that seemed appropriate. That night, Judie and I watched Wall $treet Week, Duane’s favorite show, as a kind of final tribute to him. That seemed appropriate too.

He was an investment manager who sometimes seemed to look at the simple pleasures of life with a little too much of a bottom-line dollars-and-cents mentality, but who also had a wonderfully bawdy collection of stories that could make even the most straight-laced person in the group roar with laughter. (I wish I could share some of them with you, but this is a family site after all.) If that combination of traits seems a dichotomy to you, I guess it just describes the mystery of life that resides within us all.

He was a loyal treasurer and a loyal friend to the end, and I remain loyal to him. I just checked, and I still carry his business card in my daytime. No reason to get rid of it any time soon.

Requiescat in pace, my friend.


  1. Mitchell: What a beautiful tribute to your friend.

    I've missed your blog posts! I hope your novel is coming along fine.

    I miss worshipping with you at St. Olaf. It's just not the same out here in Eden Prairie...

  2. Thanks, Cathy. It just seemed like the right thing to say and the right time to say it. I don't plan on making a habit of posting anytime in the near future, but this called for an exception.

    The book is coming along (books, actually) - check back in another 18 months or so.

    As for being in Eden Prairie - well, what can I say? Downtown is the only place to be! :)



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