Excerpt: 'Losing Mum & Pup'

One thing I did learn that morning of February 27, 2008: In the Internet age, word travels fast. He died at 9:30. I called a friend at the Times and they had his (preprepared) obit up by 11:04. The president of the United States called me . . . it must have been before 11:30, anyway. Cyberspace doesn't give you a whole lot of time for collecting your thoughts. One well-meaning but a bit impetuous caller—it couldn't have been later than 11:15—demanded, repeatedly, to know what were the funeral arrangements, adding that he hoped it wouldn't complicate his trip to California. I was a tad brusque with the gentleman. My father was still lying warm on the floor of his study, awaiting the medical examiner, and I was being pressed for funeral plans. Perhaps one of the lessons of this book is: Don't feel too guilty for being a bit curt in these situations.

I do have one or two very concrete hopes for this book, which I'd like to get on the record, perhaps self-correctively, as I set out to write it. I hope to avoid any hint of self-pity, any sense that I've been dealt some unusually cruel hand. As I type this, 158 earthquake rescue workers in China have just been buried alive in a landslide; meanwhile, in benighted Myanmar, hundreds of thousands are perishing horribly at the hands of ghastly tyrants; my best friend's son—my own godson—is in harm's way with the U.S. Army in Iraq; his brother is soon en route there. I have—touch wood! as Mum used to say—health and wealth. I say a secular grace before meals and count my myriad blessings. My cup runneth over, as Pup used to say. I can't say this past year has been a laugh riot. I've quoted Queen Elizabeth's annus horribilis line once or twice. But if at any point you hear a whimpering of oh, poor little me, just chuck the book right into the wastebasket—or better yet, take it back and exchange it for a fresh paperback copy of Running with Scissors.

My other hope is that the book will be, despite its not exactly upbeat subject matter, a celebration—as we insist, in our smiley-faced times, on denominating funeral and memorial services—of two extraordinary people, my Mum and Pup; and that it will be worthy of them, even if some parts of it would no doubt appall them. For public people, they could be rather private. But then one advantage to orphanhood, however bittersweet, is that for better or worse it's your call now.

Chapter 1

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