My Friend George

I met George Gooding in 1997 just after starting my new career on the Inside Mac team at Apple.  It was a big stretch for me.  I’d never worked on computer documentation and had not studied a stitch of CS in college.  George met me when I was up to my eyeballs learning the Apple style guide, computer science jargon, UNIX, and how to write compilable code in C and C++.  My manager had been canned on Black Tuesday, one month after I had started at Apple.

George lived a few blocks away from me on Ironwood Drive at the base of Communication Hill. I first met him on a lovely spring day, he in nothing but shorts and flip flops, lazily pedaling his cruiser down the street. He was from the Island of Moorea near Tahiti, and exuded the jaunty ease of a Pacific Islander.  He had grown up in San Francisco, and become a talented illustrator and artist and taught painting.  He lived in the home of a man who collected Linotype machines.  I remember coming over one day and admiring the printing presses and other machines lining the hall.

George and I quickly became buddies.  I would occasionally work from home, and lamented the lack of a computer desk.  No problem, he said.  He converted my old teak dining table into a standing work station.  Occasionally, he would ring the doorbell and hand me an ornate lunch menu, using fonts from the Linotype, featuring Chinese chicken salad, tuna and spinach, boiled eggs.  Sometimes I couldn’t decide.  I’d laugh when he’d bring me a menu, and we’d spend time bantering in the yard.  One day he shared some poetry he’d written over the years.  I asked him for a copy and he kindly complied.  I’ve reread them, imagining that first afternoon when he recited them.  One day he presented me with a Certificate of Utter Enchantment, which he had calligraphied by hand.  I have never received such a generous or effusive testimony.  I recently found it, dusted it off, and hung it next to my Phi Beta Kappa award and college diploma. It was so beautiful, and in such contradiction to what I believe about myself, that I feel compelled to repeat it.

Certificate of Utter Enchantment
Presented To: Miss Lisa M Karpinski
For Her Unprecedented Attainment of Extraordinary Charm & Sweetness, For Her Amazing, Humane Sensitivity & Her Innate, Uncanny Ability to Captivate, Utterly Delight & Tantalize the Imaginations & Souls of Most of the Men She Meets, Herewith Referred to as: “Those Left In Her Wake, and The Great Beguiled & Bewildered.” Also, For Her Unbelievable, Effortless Consideration & Compassion, Her Unending Gifts of Wit, Laughter, Intelligence & Joyous Lexicons of Bawdy, Sailor Talk. 
For Her incredible Capacity to Remain Extremely Attractive in Mere Gym Clothes, Wearing No Makeup and yet, Remaining Perfectly Feminine & Truly Alluring. 
For Being the Most Magical, Wonderful, Remarkable Catalyst for an Old War Horse’s Creative Nature to Be Poetic, Attentive, Protective and Otherwise, Just Expressive.
For Being the Nicest, Most Pleasant Neighbor A Man Could Ask For.
Presented by: George W. Gooding, Old War Horse

I found out that he had a deaf son with whom he “spoke” often via TTY.  He had been through a divorce but remained a romantic.  I felt lucky to have met him when I did.  Our friendship coincided with the love of my life with whom I’d lived for 9 years, had moving out and getting married.  For the first year or so, I was devastated.  I didn’t feel like life was worth living, and it took friends like George to help me remember that it was.  He would quote Tennyson, saying ‘Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.’ Even though I didn’t believe him, knowing him made life worth living. Two years after we met, the house on Ironwood went up for sale and I moved to my childhood home in Sunnyvale.  George and I continued to talk by phone, but I regret not visiting him.  Then one day I was out in the desert between Idyllwild and Big Bear on the Pacific Crest Trail, hiking with my friend Greg.  While walking through an arroyo, I suddenly felt like George was with me, saying goodbye. I remember thinking that if he died, it was okay because we had no unfinished business. I wondered whether I was hallucinating, and called his house upon my return.  I expected to hear his jaunty laugh and share the bizarre story with him, something that we could tease each other about in the future.  Instead, I was told that he had passed away the same day that I’d had the vision, from a massive heart attack.  I was deeply saddened, yet felt a strange peace at knowing that “we were good”.

A few years later, I was hiking on the PCT in Washington.  It had been raining for days and I was eager to dry out. Ironically, I decided to take a shortcut over Deception Pass and down Deception Creek to Highway 2 below Stevens Pass.  I didn’t have a map of the area, but simply glanced at someone else’s map before heading into uncharted territory.  And I was impatient.  I didn’t want to walk the long switchbacks down the other side, and decided to shortcut down to the raging river below.  As my luck would have it, my backpack (and all my clothes and sleeping bag) fell into the river and got drenched.  It now weighed 60 pounds or so, and I struggled to climb through Devil’s Club and sphagnum moss up to my knees, tripping over red cedar boughs.  I was hobbled and making almost no progress.  And the trail was nowhere to be seen.  I was so frustrated that I jumped in the creek at one point and was almost swept away by the current.  I walked for several minutes through the boulder strewn creek, until cold literally numbed my limbs from the knees down.  I clambered out, tried in vain to find the trail, and panicked.  I’d be losing light in an hour or two, and I had just discovered that my flashlight was dead.  Suddenly, without knowing what I was doing, I exhorted George to help.  I was in danger of getting hypothermia if I didn’t find my way out that night.  And then the miraculous happened.  I heard a voice of sorts answer, telling me that I’d find the trail “that away” over the hillock.  I scrambled over, and to my amazement, there it was.  The trail.

Crying, I began to run.  It may not make sense, but I was crying for joy.  I had been too scared heretofore to feel anything except the numb drive to survive.  Now I knew I would, and I was finally able to let myself feel the weight of the moment.  I ran for several hours, as it was 5 or 6 miles to the highway.  Toward the end, I used braille to find the footpath.  But I was happy.  Because I knew I was on my way home.  I reached the highway after dark, and stuck out my thumb.  A man driving a trailer picked me up, and after I told him my story, he let me sleep in the back till morning.  I thanked him and caught a ride to Skykomish, a town I knew well having spent time there on previous PCT expeditions.

I was immersed in a feeling of immense gratitude.  As far as I was concerned, George had  steered me home.  As he had done so during his life, when he helped me heal a heart that I didn’t think consolable.  While my religious belief (or lack thereof) precludes my belief in guardian angels, George was the closest I have ever come to having one.  Thank you for being in my life.  You made my life worth living.

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