His parents' lives ended here in Los Angeles. They are buried in Beth Israel Cemetery, close to the 5 and 710 interchange, half a world away from the czarist shtetls of Ukraine, where they were born.
No one has to die, he is fond of saying; it will be done for you. It's living, however, that takes effort -- to weather the sleeplessness and worry, the relinquishing of pride, the dependency upon strangers, the plea for respect and the struggle to remember.
There is the vulnerability, as well. Charm, a ribald sense of humor, tears and anger have been a defense, but they don't always work. Last year he was robbed by a caregiver who forged his checks.
Vernette brushes the middle finger of his right hand with an alcohol wipe. He trusts her.
She places a needle against the soft skin. He winces, the price of checking his glucose level, and it pricks him.
She squeezes a small drop of blood into the meter.
The reading is high, slightly hyperglycemic, but his body turned on him long ago -- hypertension, diabetes, congestive heart failure and prostate cancer. The end will come no doubt as the result of an acute cardiovascular event when the plaque in his arteries shifts like grains of sand, suddenly blocking a coronary or carotid artery.
He fears a stroke most of all, that this life might be reduced to gibberish or silence.
Actuarial tables say that he can expect to live 3.8 more years, but calculating the time and the place of one's death is not easy and never accounts for the uncertainty that any new ache or pain might bring. There is no knowing. In the next minute he might draw his last conscious breath.
He has considered buying a revolver and bullets. But that is only a fantasy. Suicide would be unseemly, given his lifelong work. Too many complications for the boys.
Jeanne was lucky. It was a Monday evening, almost eight years ago. She screamed, and by the time he got to her, she was dead, cardiopulmonary arrest. According to the autopsy report, "the interval between onset and death" was minutes.
That was a good death but also the start of his darkest night, the months, the years of the steady pain of not holding her in the crook of his arm gazing, as they did, upon the Chagall he placed on the ceiling above the bed, Romeo and Juliet floating through a pastel sky.
You can't experience your own death, he has always said; your death is for others to experience.
He thought he might have had his chance to die two years ago when his blood pressure shot up to 205 over 91 and his pulse plummeted to 48. As he lay in the back of the ambulance, he stared through the transparent ceiling at the sky and watched the world pass by.
He expected everything to go dark, and when they pulled into the bay of the UCLA Medical Center, he started to cry, knowing that the doctors would save him. Forty-eight hours later, a pacemaker and a cocktail of Lasix, Lotensin and Lipitor made sure of that.
Growing up in Lincoln Heights in the 1920s, he found happiness alone, curled up in his parent's 1910 mahogany bed. That was a great white billowy ship, and there he listened to Caruso, Geraldine Farrar, Mozart and Beethoven on the Victrola and read the Encyclopaedia Britannica.