Duffield St, Brooklyn, NY 11201

Neighborhood: Brooklyn, Clinton Hill

This recent snow made me think of my friend Glen Seator, who is dead. In January or February of 1996, there was a bad snowfall — Glen and I were very good friends then.

I was living in Clinton Hill, Brooklyn, next to the BQE, and Glen was about two miles south of me, right next to the Manhattan Bridge. He lived on this weird little street — Duffield Street — of old houses, which somehow had survived both the building of the BQE and the Manhattan Bridge. Glen owned one of these old Duffield Street houses. He lived on the first floor and rented out the other two floors. It was a house he had bought with his longtime boyfriend back in the 1980’s, but that relationship ended and Glen was left as the sole owner. He loved his building, but it was also, I think, a constant reminder of his heartbreak, of something lost.

So there was a blizzard this one day in January or February, and Glen called me up late in the afternoon as it was getting dark, as the storm came to an end, and asked if I could come over and help him shovel off his roof. The roof was going to collapse or leak, something like that.

I walked under the BQE to Glen’s. Nothing had been plowed. I felt like an adventurer.

We went up to his roof. Glen was in his late thirties, tall, red-headed, handsome, and a little arrogant. But the kind of arrogant that is charming — it made people crave his approval, which is probably why I was on that roof. He was also terribly funny, a WASP from the Midwest who could do the best imitation of a yenta I have ever come across, and I should know, having grown up with yentas. Once this talent of his was revealed, we spent most of our time together talking in what we called “yenta,” which meant that we harassed and insulted one another in our best yenta-Yiddish accents:

“You’re horrible! You’re selfish!”

“You’re the one who’s self-centered! I come to your home and you don’t even think of offering me something to eat! I could starve to death and you wouldn’t even notice!”

“I know better than to give you something to eat! You’re a shnorrer! A pig! If I gave you a cracker you’d eat my whole freezer!”

So we were up there shoveling. The snow was wet and heavy. The sun went down. I was terribly cold. The roof was slippery and slanted. It seemed an impossible task. I kept hoping Glen would say we should quit, but with light coming off the Manhattan Bridge, just enough to see by, we somehow cleared that roof in about two hours — the white snow giving way to black tar. Then Glen made me dinner. He was a wonderful cook. We spoke, as always, in yenta, which gave me great pleasure; I’ve rarely laughed with anyone as much as I laughed with Glen. After dinner, I walked back home under the cover of the BQE.

Over the next year or so we drifted apart. We talked less and less. He was often out of the country for weeks and months at a time. He was a genius artist: museums all over the world solicited him for the architectural installations he would build. It’s not easy to describe his work, but if I was to simplify things, I’d say that he took apart the museums and galleries that hired him in order to expose these institutions, or, conversely, he rebuilt their structures within their structures. I think his idea was to displace, as well as to reveal. And once he said to me, describing his work, “I like to make a mess. It’s a way to be bad.”

This seemed fitting, because Glen’s arrogance made him careless, distracted; he didn’t like to be bothered with the annoying things one has to do, and so his affairs were always a mess — bills went unpaid, documents were lost, his building was always falling apart — and yet he managed to make breathtaking work that required precision and discipline, even as it disrupted. His art was a rebellion: I’ll play by the rules to show that I can’t stand the rules. So the results were displacing, revealing, and mess-making, but also beautiful.

These last few years, I didn’t see him at all, except once by chance in a restaurant about two years ago. Seeing him I immediately missed him, and we said we’d get together, but we didn’t.

Then a mutual friend, Ava, called me this winter, a few days after Christmas. She said, “I have something to tell you.”

“Okay,” I said, and I knew from her voice to gird myself for something terrible.

“I’m sorry to be the one with bad news, but I’m just going to say it . . . Glen Seator died. He fell off his roof. He was up there fixing something and fell off. They found him the next day. Can you believe it?”

I couldn’t believe it and I still can’t. I never fully believe that people die. Don’t want to believe.

I told Ava — because I’m self-centered, horrible — that one time I had been on that roof with him and I found it slanted and dangerous. I told her this, I think, to show that I had once been good enough friends with him to have been up there shoveling in the freezing cold, and that I had intimate knowledge, in a way, of how and why he died. It was my ego asserting itself: I was there, we were good friends.

My ego did this to compensate for the fact that I hadn’t really seen or spoken to him in years, that actually he had died for me while he still had been alive. Our friendship had died.

I don’t have any photographs of Glen and I haven’t cried over him, but if I had a picture I probably would cry — it would drive home to me that I’ll never see him again; that there’s no second chance of running into him at a restaurant and this time making a call. I’ve had other friends who’ve died and it’s when I look at their photos that I want to scratch at the picture and bring them back, bring them back as alive as they were in the moment the picture was taken.

Ever since Ava gave me the news about Glen, I often morbidly wonder what he thought as he plummeted. I think he must not have believed that it was happening, he must not have thought he would die — he always seemed so sure of everything, so certain. Or maybe there was terror and horrible fear, the realization that he had made a grotesque mistake.

I’d like if it was the former, that he felt momentarily annoyed and inconvenienced, that he figured he’d just be bruised, but all right. What I’d really like, though, is to go by his house and see him, to knock on his door like I used to seven years ago and have him be there. He couldn’t possibly have fallen.

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