Friendship in the Covid Era

Amigos por siempre

The year is 1970. I’ve just finished a PhD. This is my first academic position. Hugo and I are teaching at the same university. He is teaching Spanish. I am teaching religious studies. One morning I hear an articulate stream of Spanish swearing echoing down the hall. I walk toward it, turn a corner, and it’s Hugo, whom I have never met. Delighted, I greet him with the few Spanish cuss words I can remember from grade eight. Hugo is still teaching me the art of swearing in Spanish. The phrases involve every bodily cavity and appendage of humans and animals. They include mothers, fathers, spirits, the Virgin, God, angels, saints, and devils, so his instruction is an ongoing religious studies education.

Since 1970 Hugo and I have lived hundreds, if not thousands, of miles apart. We keep hanging on to each other’s coattails across international boundaries, treasuring our friendship through crises: deaths of children, financial losses, illnesses, divorces, and re-marriages. Hugo was the best man at my wedding with Susan in 1984. He and I are both introverts and can count the number of good friends on one hand. These email notes, written between September 2019 and June 2020, are a testimony to our fifty-year friendship.

Hugo and I are storytellers and writers. When he tells, he yells. He swears and weeps. When I tell, I’m a Gringo, taught by mom and dad not to cry. Hugo and I believe in each other’s writing. When one of has lost faith in his own literary ability, the other encourages, chastises, prods, edits. When publishers lose faith, we self-publish.

Hugo’s Enamored Dust was published in 2014. Steeling Chicago was republished in 2014 (originally published in 1988 as The Last Laugh and Other Stories).

For years Hugo has been writing Speak Enrico, Remember, a story about caring for his brother while cancer ravaged his body and took his life.

I visited Hugo in April of 2019. In September, he said about his writing, “I’m on fire, terrifically engrossed / engaged, my concentration keen, full of confidence and happiness.”


Hugo has given me permission to post our correspondence: “I trust you completely. I’ve come to know that your creative impulses move unerringly to good ends.” The photos were added later.

[My editorial notes and comments are in square brackets.]


Sep 4, 2019, 9:06 PM


I have a lot to say to you. I went back to some of our email correspondence from 2013 and was overwhelmed by what I found…and had forgotten! You told me back then about having been on the operating table for an enlarged prostate when atrial fibrillation interrupted the surgery. I prayed to Aztec gods for your successful surgery, and you came out of it pissing like an 18-year-old.

You told me about Fictive Ritual, that you had dedicated it to me and you sent me a copy. And then I read all our correspondence about Enamored Dust. Did I have a stroke that erased these memories?

Later, when I was caught up with Duráns, you sent me an image, an x-ray, of the skull of a saint, asked if I thought it would work as a cover for Duráns. I recoiled and said, “ Hell no, it’ll scare the shit out of a prospective reader.” I’ve changed my mind, I think it would be perfect for the novel [RG: The manuscript is a memoir. Hugo assumed it would sell better if it were marketed as a novel.]

I’ve been working diligently, most often go to bed at 2 or 3 in the morning and am up by 9. I’m on fire, terrifically engrossed/engaged, my concentration keen, full of confidence and happiness. Tell me what you think of this as a possible title to replace Duráns, a title you consider bland: Speak, Enrico, Remember. The revisions and corrections I’m making are significant. When I finish you’ll see what I consider a superior text. I’m reordering events along chronological lines, turning the story into a narrative the reader can follow more easily. Some tenses and voices are changing; narrative and interior monologues I turn into dialogue where I deem it appropriate. The length of the text will remain the same, essentially. I have set a deadline for myself: before Thanksgiving. Is that too much time?

Now tell me how things went for you. Hold nothing back, give it to me in detail, tell me anything and everything you want to say to me.



Thu, Oct 31, 2019, 9:55 AM

Dear Hugo,

Send me an e-version of the manuscript. Remember? You thought you had lost it, but I had a copy. I’m coverin’ your ass, old man.

May spiritual tequila soak your soul as you re-watch Coco during All Hallows Eve. If your memory isn’t rotted all to hell, kindly remember your old Gringo friend sitting next to you at your house back in April, watching tears drip down your face as you sang those Mexican songs you knew as a kid. (I still find it hard to believe that you had never seen an animation film.)

I set up my Dia de Los Muertos figures today. The kids went to a workshop when we lived in Boulder. We commissioned the Hispanic instructors to make us a set: death, bride, groom, two kids, mother-in-law, a bunch of priests, and a coffin—all now on the cover of Marrying & Burying.


Thu, Oct 31, 2019, 8:59 PM

Hey Preacher Man,

I want to know which of all these spooky characters is you.

Terrible snowy weather here is keeping trick-or-treaters away. And it’s damned cold!

But I’ve got the Espolón you brought to keep me warm.



Sat, Nov 16, 2019 at 7:18 PM

Good evening Hugo,

How’s your life? How’s your health? How’s your letter writing?


Sat, Nov 16, 2019, 10:43 PM

Hey Ron,

I’m well, as well as my almost-89 years allow, which is pretty good. My letter writing has slowed me down, I’ve not quite come up with what I want, but I’m getting there.

Thanksgiving will be here at my house, as it has been since my coming to Madison.

Abrazos for all the Scott-Grimeses, you especially,


Fri, Nov 22, 2019, 2:25 PM

Dear Hugo,

The world needs your writing. It needs to read Speak Enrico to understand the way you cared for your brother as he was dying of cancer.

There is a moat, wide and full of crocodiles, between writing and publishing. If you are contemplating that moat, use a bridge you trust. I’ll draft letters to publishers; you edit them.

I’ll be your bridge (remember “Bridge Over Troubled Waters”?)


Tue, Dec 3, 2019, 8:03 PM

Hey Hugo, may I call you tomorrow on your 89th birthday? I hope my math is right.

If yes, what’s a good time? If yes, please wear your hearing aid so I don’t have shout.

If no, why the hell not?


Wed, Dec 4, 2019, 12:28 PM

Hey, old man, are you out of bed?

Under the cover of snow?

Happy birthday!!

How many candles remain on your life-cake?

Ever noticed that an abrazo from your old friend feels like a kick in the butt?


Fri, Dec 20, 2019, 7:54 PM


An old tiger like you should be served, waited on hand and foot (except by his lifelong friend), especially at Christ-mass.

Keep your sex life under control, you horny old goat. The season is holy, so don’t do anything with your left hand, certainly not your right. If you refuse my advice, put a condom on each hand.

Hug the stuffin’ outa everyone you love. I probably won’t see them again before one of us croaks.

I’m struggling now with two articles that editors have edited with very heavy hands. Fuck ’em. I don’t need any more brownie points on my CV.

Scrooge-grumpy before Christmas.

Love to you, sweet-smelling ol’ fart,


Sat, Dec 21, 2019, 8:36 PM

Listen RLG,

For someone who can pass for Santa Claus, you certainly are full of Christmas cheer. No one has ever called me an sweet-smelling old fart, that is, not until now. Out of respect for an elder, you could easily have omitted the “fart” part. That’s what you should say about those editors, not about me. I’m a handy whippin’ boy, am I?…

Well, it’s that time of the year, so rest assured that I forgive you for bringing up my nonexistent sex life, my obsession with bad news, and all the rest… a sackful of goodies that I’m carrying with my feet ’cause I daren’t do it with my unprotected hands.

I join you in saying fuck the editors who laid heavy hands on your articles… how fucking dare they!!!!!

We’ll raise many glasses to you and yours on Christmas Day in my quarters studded with Christian symbols that… you know what I mean…

I’ll hug all members of the tribe for you, I will, I will, cross my heart and promise.

Abrazos for your tribe, tell them I send sweet love and make sure you keep some for yourself,


Sat, Feb 1, 2020, 3:11 PM

Master Hugo,

How the hell did you wrench your shoulder? With a wrench? Sorry, bad joke.

My brother tore ligaments in his shoulder a couple of months. He just went through surgery a few weeks ago. Doing fine now.

At our family’s Boxing Day feast with a cousin of Susan, I chopped of the end of my thumb while thinly slicing a red onion. Bled like a stuck pig during the meal. Since I’m on a blood thinner, it took a long time to quit bleeding. Later Susan’s cousin, a chef, found thumb steak in the sink.

For weeks I couldn’t button my shirt.

Nothing like a torn up shoulder though. I hope it’s just a sprain.

I’m sorry you are in pain.


Sun, Feb 2, 2020, 9:22 AM

Hugo, I’m glad you are feeling better. I hope you don’t have to shovel snow today. I do. I’ll ride JairoCoyote like a witch’s broom across the border and shovel your driveway.

Maybe I exaggerated. I didn’t slice off a third of a thumb, just the tip. It’s grown back now. Still hurts a bit when I button my shirt, but to the rest of the world it looks like a normal human thumb, turned regularly down for your baboon president.

I’d whack your ass if you had one, so, instead, I’ll smack your musclebound-30-year-old-man shoulder—the result of pretending to lift weights.

your kind-ass old friend,


Tue, Feb 4, 2020, 1:12 PM


Susan and I have an old will. It needs revising, maybe even replacing. So I’m looking for examples of wills. Do you have a will that you could scan and share?

It’s fine to say no, since people often think of their wills as private, even secret.


Fri, Feb 7, 2020, 8:06 PM


I’ve been out of circulation for 2 days with the runs… what shit!

I found a copy of my 2003 Will & Testament, the one I drew up in New Mexico. I’ll mail it to you tomorrow. When you finish with it, please send it back; I’ll want to use it as a model when I get around to drawing one up here. As far as I can tell, it’s the only Will I’ve ever had.



Fri, Feb 7, 2020, 8:41 PM

Hugo, tighten up your anal musculature. Do hole-closing exercises. There is a name for that, but it escapes me.


Mon, Mar 2, 2020, 5:04 PM

Hey, old goat, you still got Netflix? Watch Gentified. Here’s a trailer:

Your dreadfully monolingual buddy is starting to imagine he understands Spanish. At my age, miracle!

This is a really good book written by a friend: My Father, Fortune-Tellers, & Me. Over and over I think Euphemia should read Hugo, and Hugo, Euphemia. Her handling of English and Italian is brilliant. She has a wry sense of humor.

I slap your non-existent ass.


Mon, Mar 2, 2020 at 6:41

Hey you young goat,

The Gentified trailer looks great! I’ll have to track it down on Netflix. You’ll pick up a lot of good cussing from Gentified. I always knew you’d be a Spanish-speaker someday, since we first met cussin’ up a storm in the hall at Lawrence University.

Am mending slowly; I still have a bit of pain in my left shoulder and limited use of my arm. I made the mistake of thinking I would recover the way I did when I was 75.

Go easy on my old wrinkled ass.


Tu, Mar 10, 2020 at 6:38 PM


Please send photo of ass puckered!

Just did a post on handwashing, then on masks. The next one: coffins.

I’m all ready to meet the maker….whenever.

Trudeau’s beard is turning grey. He’s aging. Being the boss ages you. Look at Obama.

The Holy Church of Costco, biggest mega-church in Waterloo and Madison. Sunday mornings, more cars are parked in the lot than at Catholic or Lutheran churches or even mega-fundamentalist churches. They got their priorities right: Consumption above all.

Greetings from JairoCoyote who carries your first name with great pride.

Ron, your unpuckered, loose-assed buddy,

Mon, Mar 16, 2020 at 6:38 PM


Only the angelic and the satanic are ready to meet the maker. Which are you? I want the unvarnished truth from you.

Being boss doesn’t seem to age the Orange Baboon, it only fattens him. Asked how he would rate his dealing with Covid-19, the son-of-a-bitch gave himself a 10 !!

Fewer people out and about today. I had an appointment with my audiologist this afternoon; I was the only one in the waiting room. Empty shelves and fewer customers than usual at Trader Joe’s.

I’ve an appointment for a bone scan at UW Hospital tomorrow… damn it, I want to isolate myself.

Still alive,


Tue, Mar 17, 2020 at 8:32 PM


A radical prostatectomy and radiation therapy notwithstanding, I have prostate cancer. At my advanced age my oncologist wants to know if I have had any serious loss of bone density. If it turns out that I do, he’ll start to medicate me. I’ve got my fingers crossed.



Tue, Mar 17, 2020, 8:36 PM


My heart breaks.

Damn, damn, damn, damn!!

If I cuss loud enough, long enough, profane words become holy.

Let’s talk.


Wed, Mar 18, 2020, 8:40 PM


The bone scan was not performed because of cancer, but rather because results will show some indication of my general health. The scan went smoothly, no problems, but doctors would not share results with me because that is something my oncologist must discuss with me. I expect to hear from him tomorrow. He cancelled our appointment and decided to communicate with me via phone.

I’m all right as far as I know… no signs of Covid-19. I’m going to do my damnedest to isolate myself. Hope you and your family are well.

Abrazos… maybe I should say codazos, elbow greetings,


Wed, Mar 18, 2020, 9:00 PM

Ok, Hugo, that’s good news. I’m relieved. I was worried that cancer had metastasized into your bones. Tomorrow, I hope there is more good news.

We’re isolated, doing fine. The federal and provincial governments of Canada have shut everything down except for grocery stories, gas stations, hospitals, so we’re living in a ghost town.

Here liberals and conservatives are working together. Much better than the shit-show in the US.


Thu, Mar 19, 2020, 10:29 AM

Hugo, even with my “normal” hearing, I find that it helps to have someone in the room when discussing medical issues with a doctor. When your doctor calls, would it be worth having your son there? Four ears to hear. Four to remember. Four to decode the message?

Also, maybe it’s worth giving your kids my email?

No more elbow bumps (too close), only butt bumps (is there a Spanish word for that?). I saw two women practicing butt-bumps today (even in Ontario, which is quite conservative about bodily contact).

Your old friend, trying from a distance, to cover your flabby ass,


Thu, Mar 19, 8:31 PM


I was wrong. You’re the only one who knows what I’m about to tell you; I’ll keep it from my family until more develops.

The cancer has metastasized into my bones. In ’96 I had a radical prostatectomy, in ’97 I had eight weeks of radiation therapy; it’s too late for proton therapy, which wasn’t around when I came down with cancer. I’ll be starting a new therapy and there’s no telling how I’ll respond to it. The new therapy calls for medication taken daily and then an injection of fluid every 3 months. I heard what the doctor said very clearly, and of course I can call him whenever I have a question. Here’s hoping he doesn’t come down with Covid-19. I asked him to give me a worst case scenario: about 6 months; best case scenario: 3 or 4 years. But there’s nothing hard about these guesses.

Nalgazos (butt bumps),


Fri, Mar 20, 2020, 11:40 AM

Dear Hugo,

Such sad, sad news, but I’m glad you are telling me.

Let me know how the medication affects you—body and spirit.

A few thoughts and questions. (I apologize for sounding like a chaplain):

The chances of falling and breaking bones will increase. Maybe you should ask your son, a neighbor, or friend to help move your computer upstairs so you won’t have to climb up and down.

May I have the email addresses of your kids? I won’t make any contact with them until you tell them and give me the okay.

Have you told your older brother?

Consider having a family meeting on the internet. Skype would allow all your family members to see and talk together from different places. Someone would have to install Skype, which is free, on everyone’s computer.

Your will is finished, right?

Beyond the formalities of a will, are your wishes and the family’s. What do you/they want? Burial? Cremation? The list goes on and on. It can take weeks, if not months, to make all the decisions, unless you and your family are willing to hand all the decisions over to a funeral home and lawyer.

Even at a distance, I can help. As I said before, feel free to give my contact information to your family.

If finishing your book Speak, Enrico matters to you, let me know. Your daughter and I could work out the details for self-publishing. Or maybe you still want to try the long shot of publishing with a “real” publisher? The adjudication process often takes over a year. Bottom line: as soon as it’s safe, I’ll come to see you. The worrisome thing is that could be mid-summer.



Sat, Mar 21, 8:05 PM

Dear Ron,

I have decided to tell my son about my condition. He’ll come tomorrow with a loaf of bread I need, completely unaware of and unprepared for what I must tell him. The threat of Covid-19 has pushed me to this decision; I must be prudent. Still, I’ll not say anything yet to the other members of my family in Milwaukee. I don’t think it’s the proper time to do it.

My doctor’s name is RBH; he works at the UW Carbone Cancer Center here in Madison. He just replaced the doctor who has treated me for seven years, so I’ve not met him face to face, have only talked to him on the phone. We connected at once and our conversation led me to feel confidence in him. The cancer is in multiple places, including my spine.

Shocking what the Orange Baboon and his toadies continue to say (or not say) about Covid-19. I read that he reached out to Kim Jong Un to offer help in the matter of Covid-19. Can you believe it?

The weather here is warmer than it has been in a while; this coming week will bring rain.

Nalgazos suaves,


Sun, Mar 22, 11:40 AM

Hugo, I am so, so relieved that you are talking with D. How did he react? He will be in shock for a while and probably have a hard time not telling your family.

What medications are you taking?

When you have a finished draft of Speak, Enrico, please copy it to me(If you’ll remember, you thought you had lost the manuscript before, but I had an electronic copy.)

I’m your backup man, covering your ass one comma at a time.

Maybe the editors at Arte Publico have little to do now except stay home and read manuscripts.


Sun, Mar 22, 2020, 8:36 PM


I will not say anything to the rest of the family until I decide when it’s appropriate to do so. I’m sure he won’t have difficulty holding the information back from them. I’ve told him about you, that you were the first person I confided in, that he will of necessity be in communication with you. He understood this at once, knows you’ll be involved in whatever happens to Speak, Enrico.

I’ll learn the name of the medication I’ll be taking when it arrives tomorrow. Fluid injections will start in a month.

I’ll be in close touch with you regarding all matters dealing with Enrico; I wouldn’t think of not keeping you involved and informed… I’d be lost without you.


Sun, Mar 22, 2020 at 7:48 PM

Hugo, I’m glad it went well. Since he won’t be talking to others for a while, please tell him that he’s welcome to talk with me.

Sometimes families need an outsider-insider (not in the family but of the family, with the family).

I’m singing to your bones. Click here to hear my stand-in: Dese bones gonna rise again


Wed, Mar 25, 2020, 6:18 PM


The Orange Baboon and his conservative Fox and radio-commentator admirers are utterly mad… They dominate the news and are convincing many that they know more about Covid-19 than the medical experts. This can only lead to disastrous consequences. God help us all! I am completely isolated here… Fat Ass Baboon will shut his face only when he comes down with the virus; I hope it’s soon.


Sat, Mar 28, 2020, 7:48 PM

Hey, Hugo, got your meds yet?

How are you bones?

What’s your favorite music? When Barry and I stayed with you in Santa Fe, he copied lots of Piazzola, but I’m not sure whether that’s because you liked Piazzola’s music or Barry liked it.

One more question: Are you getting your own groceries? Or having groceries delivered? We get our own, but our kids are having groceries delivered in Toronto.



Sun, Mar 29, 2020, 8:18 PM


The medication came: bicalutamide. So far I’ve had no reaction to it, i.e., no side effects. I take one 50 MG tablet a day. Who knows how my bones are. At end of April I’m to start getting an injection of another medication on a monthly basis. With all of the cancelled hospital appointments, who knows if mine will go forward.

My favorite piece of music is Samuel Barber’s “Concerto for Cello and Orchestra.” But there are so many other pieces I like. I confess that my loss of hearing has cut me off from listening to my music.

D. s doing my shopping. He and his wife keep me in food… they sometimes bring cooked meals.

I heard the Orange Baboon make an ass of himself at today’s press briefing… nothing out of the ordinary, the usual bullshit, lies and self-praise that he shamelessly tosses out to the press corps.

I hope you’re well there…please be super vigilant.



Fri, Apr 10, 2020, 10:27 AM

Hugo, I improvised a ritual celebration for you on the porch.

It’s filmed it awkwardly—too many objects for my two, merely mortal hands.

Click the title to watch:

A Front-Porch Celebration

The password is: hugo#1


Thu, Apr 30, 2020, 8:44 PM

Querido Ron,

I had a good meeting with the doctor on Tuesday; we hit it off at once. I’ve decided to undergo chemotherapy and to do it as soon as possible. I’ll have my first treatment this coming Tuesday. The doctor finds me in good shape physically, i.e., my vital signs are normal and my heart and lungs are strong. The therapy will last for 18 weeks. Who knows what side effects I will suffer or how many. Diarrhea, constipation, fatigue, weakness, loss of hair and others are among them. He urges me to continue doing my daily exercises.

His demeanor was upbeat, full of hope… we’ll see.

He described 4 options to me and I at once chose chemotherapy. He was surprised at how quickly I decided and confessed that he was going to suggest chemotherapy. He explained that he could start the therapy in 3 months; I responded by saying that I wanted to do it as soon as possible and again he was surprised, and pleased.

I told D. all this, to be sure, and he too was surprised at the speed with which I’ve decided to start the therapy. I don’t have time to fuck around, Ron. The doctor was pleased that I’ve had no reaction to the medication I’ve been taking for a month. Before I left his office I was given an injection…no, not of disinfectant…of a fluid that is used in one of the options, and so far I’ve had no reaction to it.

My former oncologist failed me completely. He did nothing in the face of mounting danger for me, assured me I was all right. He no longer practices there; I don’t know if he was dismissed. I talked about him a bit and my new doctor went silent; it was clear that he didn’t want to talk about him.

I know I’m in for a long, hard trial, Ronaldo. What I’d love to have from you is a healing ritual, a life-giving ritual: the most elaborate, comprehensive, and powerful one you’ve ever created and performed. Hermano, I want you to keep me alive for some years longer because I’m not yet ready to give up my soul/ghost. A fitting request? Whatever you think is best for me is what I want.

Hope you and your loved ones are well…

Codazos y nalgazos,


Sat, May 2, 2020 at 9:59 PM

Greetings HugoMan,

The film of the smoking/scotch ritual on the porch was, in fact, a healing ritual. I didn’t call it that, but that is what it was.

Still, maybe there is more to do. I thought of having a firetruck visit your driveway in Madison but figured you didn’t want public attention.

So I’ll think more:

–A Hugo doll, well cared for, tucked into bed every night?

–A Hugo pot, with well wishes dropped into it by all of us?

I’m glad you were able to decide so quickly and decisively. In your place, I’m sure I would have hesitated.

I’m still coffin building. Cailleah and I have now written a proposal called “Rockin’ the Coffin” for CBC. We’re filming father/daughter conversations, since my coffin-building spooked her.

Elongated 6-foot, invisible hugs,


Sun, May 3, 2020 at 9:02 PM


Worked 6 hours in my back yard today getting my raspberry stalks pruned; if I wait longer to do it I might be in trouble because growth has suddenly spurted.

Will I be up to hard work after the therapy starts? Who knows?

No firetrucks in my driveway! Your rituals are all that I need… that and a stiff upper lip on my part.

Coffin building and death are all the rage in the news… Three cheers for you and Cailleah, best of luck. Are you including Bryn in all this?



Wed, May 20, 2020 at 9:56 PM

Querido hermano Ron,

I start by shouting a joyous, belated Happy Birthday to you… I regret that I forgot it, trust that you’ll forgive me.

I watched Cápsula del Tiempo yesterday in utter fascination, gripped by the sense that I was present at and witnessing a symbolic burial… yours and mine and the whole world’s… What to deposit in the ataúd in place of a body? A number of things, all of them tied to you in intimate ways, and therefore to me as well. They wouldn’t fit, not all of them at the same time, so you rotated them, gave them their turn in a manner of speaking. Your clothing changed, as did the look on your face (faces?), your gaze seeming to tell me what you were feeling as you beheld and held what went in and out of that downsized all-embracing ataúd… And all your movements were sustained and choreographed by B’s incomparable music. Your instincts led you to do the right thing: you didn’t abandon the undertaking. The appropriateness of your Cápsula in these trying times gripped my heart.

I am as well as I can be. I report that to date the chemotherapy has not brought on any one of those frightful side-effects: diarrhea, constipation, nausea, vomiting, sores of any kind, dizziness, confusion, loss of consciousness, exhaustion, fever, chills, bleeding, etc., etc.

Last week I had three bad days… felt a crushing listlessness, lost my appetite and all desire to do anything, forced myself to eat and to take my medications. I have not experienced depression and am incurably optimistic, yet terrified of contracting the virus. I maintain a strict isolation.

D. does my shopping once a week and keeps a close loving eye on me. We don’t touch, and we “distance” from one another and wear masks. I’ve lost most of my hair, stand like a naked tree in the late fall.

I’ve given up drinking alcohol altogether… no scotch, no cognac, no tequila, gin, sherry, wine or beer, nothing. I urinate hourly, sometimes more often, pissing like an old man, that is, having to piss again right after pissing, a condition that is not conducive to sleep. I continue doing my exercises in the morning. I feel strong physically. Everything I eat and drink tastes salty, everything. Otherwise I seem to be in good shape.

I feel a keen, obsessive hatred for tRump that consumes me.

I wish I could embrace you… extend my love to your loved ones,


Wed, May 20, 2020 at 7:58 AM

Good morning Hugo,

I’ve not written in a while because I was working on the post for Circling the Deep. I set it loose yesterday.

If you read/watch it, you’ll see that it has you in mind: the Spanish title and the credits at the end of video. It’s your second healing ritual. Forgive me. I’m not Jesus. Maybe it will work; maybe not.

JairoCoyote howls at heaven on your behalf. Like Jesus, he’s dead but very much alive. Thanks for giving me the Muskogee power stick. It still rattles as it should.

I turned 77 yesterday, so I’m catching up with you. Stop aging. Get well.


May 21, 2020, 8:54 PM

Hermano Ron,

I am almost bald. The falling out came as a shock to me… I got up one morning, ran my fingers through my hair and lo and behold my hands were full of hair. I did it again and again drawing handfuls of hair from my head, no pulling necessary, no pain… the way the wind frees branches of dead leaves.

I’ve just come in from doing much neglected yard work. I send you a ghostly, long-distance embrace,


Thu, May 21, 2020 at 12:01 PM

Hello Hugo,

What a fine email response you’ve written to the Front Porch video. Susan made me read it to her twice.

The line from your email that sticks in my heart and keeps repeating itself is this: “I’ve lost most of my hair, stand like a naked tree in the late fall.”

I’m not a weeper like you, but that made me weep.

I could care less about pubic hair or hair on your arms, legs, and arm pits.

Are you bald? Really? I can’t imagine a bald Hugo.


Thu, May 28, 2020 at 6:32 PM

Querido Ron,

I’m an optimist at heart, in love with the world and people. ¡Viva Eros, muera Thanatos!

Everything tastes salty these days, everything, even the honey I spoon into my tea.

I’ve not been working in the yard as much as I need to; the rain refuses to let up.

I don’t have the kind of concentration it takes to work on my book… too many plumbing interruptions,

too much in the news, too much shit gushing from the White House and members of the Administration,

too great is my need to do exercise as often as I can.

Codazos, nalgazos, and all my affection,


Thu, May 28, 2020, 11:31 AM

Unkillable friend Hugo,

You are so full of eros. Not much thanatos. I’m sure you know those Greek terms that Freud made famous.

Are you working in the yard? I found a German app that allows me to identify plants. I’m compulsively

documenting every plant, even the smallest, weediest ones in the yard. Covid entertainment.

How’s your book going? Any flowers in it? Any weeds?

Yer ol’ buddy,


Fri, May 29, 2020, 7:02 PM

Dear Ron,

I see the Orange Haired Baboon has succeeded in fashioning a deep swamp with the worst kind of excrement in it, a veritable shithole that some of his own supporters can no longer avoid smelling. He promised to drain something… it was his culo, unknown to all when he made the promise.

Abrazos distantes,


Fri, 12:59 PM, May 29, 2020

Hugo, originally the coffin was human-sized (6 feet, 2 inches).  I asked a crematorium manager if she could burn the coffin as well as me.

Yep, no problem she said.

Later I redefined the coffin as a time capsule, it became a 3-foot mini-coffin.

As it now stands Capsula del Tiempo (in Spanish so you can imagine I actually speak it) will last for ever and ever. If somebody burns it now, I’ll burn their ass even if I’m worm poop by then.

Nalgazos, codazo, amen,


Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 11:13 AM

Hey Hugo,

How the hell are you? You must be alive. If you were dead, I’m sure your spirit would be knocking at my dream door.

Just read that Madisonites are dumping statues of abolitionists? Aren’t they are the good guys? Aren’t there statues of slave-holders that can be toppled?

Tomorrow Susan turns 65. She becomes an official senior. So we’re making big plans that start tomorrow but culminate on Saturday when Cailleah, Bryn, and their mates are coming for a celebration.

Cailleah and I are working on Rockin’ the Coffin. We had to shoot publicity photos for it. She shot one of my hands and said I had old-man hands. She sounded just like you when you told me I had old man hands.

I made ceviche yesterday. Thought of you, since you taught me to make it. I’m sure you would have hated mine since I used grilled tofu instead of shrimp.

When they let me across the border, I’ll come and cook with you. Actually, I’d prefer to drink tequila while you cook, because you always chew my ass out if I don’t prepare the shrimps properly.

Your faithfully rebellious servant,


Wed, Jun 24, 2020 at 9:03 PM

Hermano Ron,

Am as well as I can be here. My chemotherapy goes forward successfully; the doctor is pleased with the progress I’m making. To date I’ve still not experienced any of those terrible side effects. But my plumbing, urinating, is a big problem. I piss hourly, often every 30 or 45 minutes; it’s so fucking debilitating. I get very little sleep. My weight fell to 137 lbs, and this is intolerable; I must bring it up and I’ve begun to do so. I may have told you before that everything I eat and drink tastes pretty much the same: salty. This includes honey I was using to sweeten my tea, so I’ve stopped using it. In short, my palate is shot and there’s no incentive to eat, I have no appetite. So, I’ve begun forcing myself to eat, a difficult business. I will bring my weight up because I must.

The big news is that my Milwaukee Tribe now knows what I’m going through. S. called me on Sunday, Father’s Day, to say she was coming to visit me. I begged her not to because of Covid-19, her response was I don’t care what you say I’m coming to see you. I had no alternative but to tell her. She went through therapy for colon cancer and has lived through her husband’s ongoing chemotherapy for a frightful form of cancer. She was very calm throughout my account. She brought me a wonderful variety of foods that I have been eating with some pleasure since they are very strongly spiced: Italian delicacies. I feel a certain relief now that they know.

Clearly those Madisonites who pulled down that abolitionist’s statute knew nothing about him. I read a long article about him and I’m sure those who pulled down the statue are now stewing in embarrassment. Is it hard to look before leaping?

Happy Birthday to Susan. Ah, to be young again! I wish I could be at your celebration in the flesh; I’ll be there in spirit.

I think it’ll be a long time before we meet again. I maintain a severe quarantine, only go to the hospital for therapy. S. and I wore masks when we saw one another, kept apart and didn’t touch. It’s the same policy I follow in my dealings with D.

I trust y’all are well there. Extend my love to that great family of yours.

Abrazos imaginados,


Fri, Jun 26, 2020 at 9:19 AM

Dear Hugo,

I’m glad you are persisting and resisting Old Death. I’m sad you are pissing so often. When I’m in an afib cycle, I do the same thing. My bladder is slow to empty, because it’s pressured by an enlarged prostate.

I worry that you aren’t sleeping, and that food tastes salty or has no flavor. What about your sense of smell? Can you smell—apples, roses, shit?

I’m happy that S. insisted on coming to see you, and that your family now knows. She was calm, was she? No tears? Did she comment on your loss of hair or weight? What do you think she said when she talked with D. or went back to Milwaukee?

When you are alone, how do you feel? Sad? Sorry for yourself? Fearful? When you talk to yourself, what do you say?

I sent “Where is Here,” an essay to a Canadian scholarly journal. It’s not the usual footnoted scholarly piece, so I assumed they would reject it. They didn’t. Instead they asked if they could publish it in their discussion and debate section. I agreed. Discussion of indigenous issues has a higher profile in Canada than in the US.

Your til-death-do-us-part compadre,


Fri, Jun 26, 2020 10:00 PM

Querido Ron,

My sense of smell is still with me, but diminished.

Yes, S. was calm, no tears. She went through many months of chemotherapy and succeeded in beating her cancer; she’s been cancer free for some time. So she knows the dangers and the possible side effects that one faces in therapy. She lost her hair and wore wigs. Of course she commented on my loss of hair and weight… She took pictures of me with her phone. She was deeply upset that I hadn’t told her, them, about my condition and brushed off my explanation that I didn’t want to worry or alarm anyone. She insisted that I unwittingly put myself through stress by not informing them. She calls me daily to see how I am, and I’m sure she’ll come weekly bearing cheeses, meats, etc.

I feel fine when I’m alone. I am keenly aware of the fact that I’m a dead man if I contract the virus, thus the severe quarantine I maintain. I never feel sad or sorry for myself, never feel depressed, never feel fearful. I am convinced that the cancer won’t kill me, I won’t let it.

I talk to myself in the mirror… My first greeting in the morning is, Hey you old fuck, how are you?… I’m OK, don’t worry about me… You have to put on weight to fight the cancer… I know, I know, I’m working on it… This week I’ve gained almost 10 pounds! And I continue to do work in my front and back yards; I refuse to stop.

I know how to live alone. I suppose that in some very real sense I am by nature a recluse. All my reaching out to others, my delight in company, friends, family, celebrations, is a kind of second skin, a ritual performance… Only eros drew me out of myself completely, easily, from the beginning.

I embrace you,



July is about to end. Hugo is still taking his meds and trying to gain weight. Crossing the Canadian / US border is treacherous—two weeks isolating in the US, two more weeks isolating in Canada. I would go now, but if I showed up on Hugo’s doorstep, I’m sure he wouldn’t let me in. I’d have to wear a mask, camp in his back yard.

Hugo is almost 90. I’m 77. Soon one of us will be peering into the other’s grave or contemplating a pile of ashes. Someday the shades will be closed, and things will grow dark.

For us there isn’t much difference between a blessing and a curse, between the sacred and the profane. The one is the inverse of the other; each needs the other. So I’m sure we’ll do both, bless and curse–silently when proper, aloud when necessary.