Friday, January 13, 2006

Eulogy 1: For Edward Kolski, as told by James Brander

I am not sure why I, of the six of us here, am speaking for Eddie. I am not one of Eddie’s parents. I am not his brother. I didn’t know him before the age of twenty three. I have not seen him for twelve years, since an ill-remembered alumni event in which we did not speak. Eddie and I have not spoken, in person or on the phone, since graduation, over two decades ago. I don’t remember what his voice sounds like. I only know his face by looking in the casket to my left.

Earlier today, I was told quietly that not many of you liked Eddie very much. He was reclusive, rude and cold. He did not go to his father’s funeral or his brother’s wedding. I am glad that you showed up for his solitary event, and I can understand why you are all reticent to speak for him. I didn’t really like him either. But I am up here. I am speaking because, unlike all of you, I knew him very well.

Eddie, after college, acted as if I did not exist, save for one thing. Every Tuesday for twenty two years Eddie has sent me a letter. He sent me mail even in the two years when I lived six doors down from him. Each letter is between three and ten pages long, handwritten on yellow legal pad. There is no date and no return address. He does not include a greeting, and does not sign his letters. He has not acknowledged the content of my replies, save my perennial changes of address. I first kept them in a shoebox under my bed. Within a year, Eddie had a filing cabinet. He now occupies a closet in my front hallway, eight drawers of handwritten yellow legal paper. They weigh one hundred and sixty-seven pounds—my wife and I put them on the bathroom scale before I came down here. I am an accountant. I like to know how things add up. I would like to imagine that Eddie, at the time of his attack, weighed one hundred and sixty-seven pounds.

Eddie was an editor. He edited television shows for a living. He did two years of Jump Street Blues, fifteen episodes of Miami Vice, and sixty three episodes of Friends. He did dozens of pilots. He edited the award winning PBS documentary Bottles of Blood: Prohibition Chicago. He put together hundreds of fifteen- and thirty-second spots for movies and household cleaning products by Lysol, and also an infomercial for vitamin pills.

Editing is, as I understand it, a creative act: ordering and cutting hours of footage into the tightest, most meaningful package. The finished product is very different from the raw input. Hugo Farthing, Eddie’s boss, told me last night that Eddie was almost preternaturally good at this work. He knew instinctively when to cut away from a glance, how to build a narrative through different angles of the same scene, how to change the meaning of scenery or character by selection and order and rhythm. To Eddie, perhaps, the raw material did not matter—it was the framework of the edit that gave life to what you saw.

Eddie’s letters contain memories. These memories are a paragraph or two apiece. Each letter has between five and twenty-five separate events in Eddie’s life, told in first person, narrated in present tense and ordered seemingly at random. While there does appear to be some relationship between adjacent events, in no letter have I found a dominant theme or any chronological continuity. These letters have not changed in tone or nature over the course of the last twenty-two years. While there may seem to be no reasoning behind the content of these letters, the nature of Eddie’s job, to me, demands that these events were placed in a specific order, in a specific letter, on a specific day.

The following is one of those letters. I received it on August 23rd, 1988. This was a hot late summer day when my wife and I first found out that we were going to have a baby girl.

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