I may or may have not met Conrad at Willie’s wedding in Connecticut a couple of years ago . There were a lot of people there . I don’t remember him .
It’s Thursday and I’m sitting in a chapel at a Forest Lawn cemetery in Long Beach listening to a Catholic Priest reading from the bible . Conrad is up there behind the priest in a plain wooden coffin that rests on a shiny mortuary gurney .
I’m sitting next to my friend Willie , who’s flown in from Connecticut , and another east coast guy named Vic. They’re wearing black suits and ties .
I counted the people there . There are thirteen without Willie and me and Vic and another guy who drove up from Oceanside and is sitting with us in the pew . All of these guys are old friend’s of Conrad’s from early on . Vic and the guy from Oceanside knew Conrad in high school . The high school was some international high school in Geneva , Switzerland . Willie , though , met Conrad and those guys a little later . They all lived in New York City at some point .
All but two of the other thirteen people in the chapel are Conrad’s relatives . At the time designated for reflections , Conrad’s sister gets up to speak . She praises Conrad and reads a few e-mails from friends that say what a great guy Conrad was . Willie says a few words about how Conrad helped him find an apartment in the city thirty years ago . Then Conrad’s landlord gets up to talk about Conrad’s dog , about how much he loved that dog , and about how much Conrad must have loved that dog . The landlord was crying at the end of his little speech. A neighbor then said a few words.about how much he’d miss Conrad . He was crying , too .
We were all invited to lunch at what was said to have been Conrad’s favorite restaurant . We drove several miles out to Cerritos to the place . Willie and Vic wanted to see the Queen Mary . That would have been nice . Opposite direction , though . We would need more time to see the coast , but their flight was leaving early in the afternoon . Next time .
Willie is a musician . He was asked to sing a song at the end of lunch . He did . Conrad’s relatives said maybe they should have had Willie sing at the funeral . Willie said , ” Next time ,” to Conrad’s sister , who good-naturedly suggested that there wouldn’t be a next time . Moment of embarrassed pause . One of those slightly awkward moments in life.
I was the driver . That’s what I was doing there . I had picked Willie and Vic up at LAX to drive them to their hotel in Long Beach . They didn’t like the idea of driving in L.A. Can’t blame them , I guess . After the burial and lunch I took them back to LAX .
Conrad was a doctor . He wanted to be a businessman but his folks insisted that he go into medicine . His father told him that if he wouldn’t go to medical school he’d be disinherited . Rich family . That story is according to Vic , who knew him way back when . Conrad negotiated with his father . They agreed that Conrad would apply to medical school , but if he wasn’t accepted , then he could go to business school with his father’s support . Conrad told Vic that his plan was to apply only to Massachusettes General because it was nearly impossible to get in to . Then he would go to business school .
Some time later , Conrad had called his friend Vic . ” I’ve got some bad news ,” he said . ” I’ve been accepted at Mass. General ” . And so it goes . Conrad became a doctor . Vic , who seemed to me a little too up-tight , visibly loosened up as he told Conrad stories at lunch .
I wondered where all of Conrad’s friends were . He sounded like a guy who would have loads of friends . And I wondered about the plain wooden coffin . I figured that that had been Conrad’s decision . The sister had read a beautiful obituary written by Conrad . He had been a forward-thinking man , it seems . He had picked a tree-shaded plot just behind the chapel and we watched the plain coffin being lowered down into the grave . Conrad died at sixty-four years old .
Most of the relatives at the ceremony lived in Hawaii . They were dressed casually , a couple in Hawaiian shirts , the sister in shorts . Willie and Vic looked like hit men in their black suits and ties . But , hey , it’s cool . This is southern California . I considered feeling a bit out of place , too , sitting there eating that lunch and not knowing the guy . ” I met Conrad in Connecticut , ” I told the sister , who assumed that I was an old friend of her brother’s , too . I couldn’t remember meeting him , but maybe I had .