I don’t know what the population of Cancerland is exactly, except that it is vast and growing larger all the time. Shiploads of freshly kidnapped folk arrive every day, blinking, rubbing their eyes, desperately trying to orient themselves.
But there are departures too, most of them not back to the States, if you know what I mean.
My friend Birdie Musicus died yesterday. She had been a resident of Cancerland for five years.
We knew one another from back home. Birdie cut my hair for twenty years. She was a great haircutter too, but her real talent was as a cabaret singer — wonderful, huh, that her actual last name was Musicus — with a penchant for sly, sophisticated songs that would have been tongue-twisters for anyone else. She was awfully good with torch songs too, and songs that required genuine acting. Talk about stage presence. Birdie was one of those people who always seemed to be wearing sequins, even when she was in jeans and a tank-top. She was a performer, I mean, in the best sense of the word.
Birdie called me last week, because she was worried about me. And for the first time in five years, the voice I heard on the other end of the phone was not the voice of the indomitable, unsinkable, ballad-belting Birdie I had always known. It was the voice of someone struggling, someone almost underwater. Still, I thought she’d do what she had always done before. I thought she’d rally.
But for Facebook, I might not even have known. I would have called one day to make a haircut appointment, only to be told by someone at that number that Birdie Musicus passed away awhile back, sorry, did I want to see Sensualdo at two o’clock?
Her real first name was Roberta. She took, or someone else gave her, the name Birdie a long time ago, I suppose because, well, you know, she was a songbird. But the truth is that she did not sing in a thin, chirpy, high-pitched bird’s voice at all. She had a big instrument, more like a saxophone or a clarinet, with solid bottom notes and a sweet, sweet upper register.
She never looked or sounded bedraggled or defeated, was always bright and brimming with wisecracks. I swear I thought, well, if anyone in Cancerland is going to get a dispensation and just keep on going, it’s going to be Roberta Musicus.
Bye, Bye, Birdie.