My great uncle died earlier this year. I was named after him. I have pictures of him grinning as he held a two-month-old me in his arms. I wasn’t that said when he died.

Give me a second. I knew I would never see him again. He wouldn’t fly up from California to Washington for Christmas ever again; his last batch of home-brewed champagne was his last. His sharp eyes and trim mustache were gone.

But he was 96 years old. He’d been married to the same woman for over 50 of those years. He’d held down a job with McDonnell for decades; he’d traveled to India and Turkey and the Galapagos and everywhere; he loved to read, to make that champagne, to take photos of his home and all those places he saw around the world, and to write–especially doggerel poetry. He was a brilliant, healthy man into his late 80s, but eventually every time I saw him, he seemed to have lost another step. Five years ago, he broke his hip and I flew down to clean up his house to where he could navigate the clutter of slides and furniture and magazines from a wheelchair or a walker. He had no chronic illnesses, but every year, I heard about some new malady or injury. This year, he came down with pneumonia in both lobes of both lungs. Eventually, he decided to stop treatment. My mom, his niece, was there with him when he went out on his own terms.

I’ll miss him. But it’s hard to feel too sad when you know he had the kind of life you can only hope for yourself.

Even though, being an amateur writer himself, he was especially sympathetic towards his grand-nephew who idiotically wanted to make it a career; he encouraged me to keep a notebook, seemed delighted when I flew down to L.A. for writing courses in middle school, eventually helped pay my way through a fiction degree at a ridiculously-priced East Coast New Ivy university.

He made my life better, and now he’s gone.

But he’s still helping me. I recently moved to his house in a beach town south of L.A. I could never afford this place on my own, but an hour after sunset, I went out on the rickety deck to feel the 68-degree weather and try to convince the backyard squirrel to come up the stairs and eat some cashews. A few blocks down the hill, I heard sirens. Police hollered into bullhorns for someone to come outside.

Strange–this is an affluent community in the South Bay. From the deck, I can see houses worth $10 million. But a few minutes later, I saw lights cutting through my curtains, bullhorns calling people outside. I thought we must have a criminal in the brushes, some wife-beating, liquor-store-robbing fugitive, but the same way we all show up to watch somebody’s house burn down, I went outside.

A minute later, a cop car rolled down the block at five miles per hour, demanding we all step outside. His car towed a man in a Santa costume behind it.

No government’s that good. It’s absurd to blow what–$10,000?–on some stupid, silly annual stunt, especially in the throes of a recession that’s given rise to a whole party of people who think government spending should be slashed to the bone.

But I’ve never trusted the police. Who knows, I could end up arrested some day, possibly for crimes I don’t believe in. I’ve been drunk in public a few times. I commit some traffic violation every day I’m on the road. I’ve had a few friends arrested for possession of weed over the years; it’s not something I’m into, but I know these people, and I know a stupid green drug isn’t enough to make them a criminal. Unless enjoying bad movies is a crime. Just by associating with them I might end up cuffed.

If I am, for whatever reason, someday arrested, I’ll lean forward and peer through the grille from the back seat. It probably won’t be worth the $10,000 it cost the city every year. But it’ll mean something to see the man who arrested me once also rolled down my block, demanded I come outside, and showed me Santa Claus.

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