Turns out, Charles had skeletons in his closet.

One was just the hang-on-the-door-at-Halloween variety, which I threw out. (I hate Halloween.) But the other was a full-on anatomically correct skeleton that seemed too heavy to be plastic but may take its weight from the metal rods and connectors that keep it all together. (The thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone.) I decided it was the kind they use in medical school. Why we had this I am totally at a loss to recall; but there it was and I wanted no part of it.

I called a science teacher friend who rushed over to get it before someone else did (like who?), for use in his classroom.

It’s too soon to make any lighter of this. (How does one get the skeleton down the elevator and into a cab – especially under the current circumstances – without creating a scene? By wrapping it in a sheet? Suffice it to say, we found a way.) But don’t think for a minute I’m going to stop writing about Charles. Or bragging about his talent.

HOW TO SEND CONDOLENCES

The main thing to say is that it’s “pass/fail.” As my wise friend Patty Marx, the writer, explained to me, “People agonize over what to say, as if there’s something they could say that would actually make it better” – certainly I always agonize in these situations – “when in fact there’s nothing to say except, thinking of you in this difficult time.” Or words to that effect. Sure, there will be the occasional piece of amazing advice, or the perfect anecdote or shared memory. But basically, Patty says, you either send a note (and pass) or become paralyzed trying, as I so often have (and fail).

Now that I’ve experienced it from the other end, I plan to fail less often. (And to send nicer flowers.) Not least because it’s now okay to do it by email. Sure, it’s classier to send a handwritten note. But I have lost the ability to write anything legible by hand. And if one does send a physical note, one sort of puts an obligation on the recipient to reply in kind, and, well, I’m sorry, but I’m responding by email.

If you’re close to the bereaved – or someone important, like CEO of the company she works for – don’t be shy about calling the day of the event, as soon as you hear. If you’re (both?) lucky, you’ll get voice mail. But whether you do or get her actual ear, Patty’s advice holds: it’s not so much what you say (“I’m so sorry! Is there anything I can do?”) as the fact that you summoned the courage to call. Again, something I have too often failed to do in the past.

Thanks (again) to all of you who’ve emailed (stop! stop!) . . . and now back to business:

WALMART

Fred Campbell: “Re your recommending their stock recently . . . if you’re comfortable supporting the one company that has single handedly driven more small businesses bankrupt due to their unethical (if not illegal) pricing policies, go ahead; but I don’t know how you can sleep at night.”

☞ I’ve actually never shopped at a Walmart. (I did once buy clothes at a Walgreens – another Charles tale – but that’s a different company.) So I’m not one of the tens of millions of Americans who do support it. My owning WMT stock does them no particular good – they are not short of capital – although it does allow me to vote progressively on any shareholder resolutions.

I cheer for the positive initiatives Walmart has taken these past few years. I think at least part of their motivation has been to be on the right side of progress – which is just good business – and that they should be applauded when they are, if only to encourage more good conduct.

On the main issue you raise – the impact of Walmart on small businesses – the downside is very real. Heartbreaking, even. And yet I don’t see it as an easy black-and-white issue.

To me, it’s similar to the issue of local bookstores. I feel for our vanishing local bookstores. I even feel for the big chains like Barnes & Noble that have put so many local bookshops out of business and that are themselves now having a tough time. But I sure do like being able to get a book instantly, cheaply, without cutting down trees or burning fuel to truck it to my door, by downloading it as an e-book or audiobook. Or getting the physical copy at 40% off with free shipping without ever leaving my chair.

Where Walmart has violated fair trade practices, it should be pursued aggressively by trial lawyers everywhere. But otherwise? I just don’t share the outrage.

 

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