Some post-mortems on some recent obituaries.
U.S. 1 normally runs very brief notices — milestones — marking the deaths of people in our business community. Yes, our notices are brief, but, no, we don’t charge for them as many other community papers are now doing (with fees in the $200 to $300 range to just put a simple death notice into the paper.
In our April 25 issue we ran an extended notice of the death of Alan B. Landis on April 14 at the age of 75. Landis was a pivotal figure in the development of the U.S. 1 business corridor, the namesake of our little newspaper enterprise. It was the second major office complex to open on Route 1, the first being the Princeton Forrestal Center, thus creating a “community” of two, rather than an outpost of just one. In addition, Landis’s Carnegie Center set a tone: “It’s an urban design in a suburban setting,” he said back in the early 1980s.
Landis’s Carnegie Center also provided the ignition point for this newspaper. Here’s how: When they were assembling the first cluster of buildings at the Carnegie Center, Landis and his partners wanted a hotel, and the set their sights on a Hyatt Regency — the top of the line model from the Hyatt folks that was normally situated only in downtowns of major cities. Landis played his “urban design” card and won. With the prestigious Hyatt Regency and the Danish hotel Scanticon in the Forrestal Center, two contenders emerged for the corporate travel business of the new U.S. 1 corridor.
The Hyatt Regency-Scanticon war included after-work cocktail parties, complete with sumptuous hors d’oeuvres, open bar, and live music, to impress the corporate travel planners, most of whom were young women. Single guys I knew quickly caught whiff of the parties out on the highway, and told me about them. I soon realized it was not only a good party scene, but it was also a business story. I pitched the idea to the Town Topics newspaper, which then — like now — focuses its coverage on the residential Princeton market. One of the editors there noted that the Hyatt was actually in West Windsor and that Scanticon was in Plainsboro.
That’s not a Princeton story, the editor concluded, it’s a Route 1 story. A-ha, I thought, one of many stories unfolding out on the highway. Time for a new newspaper to serve it. Thank you, Alan Landis.
My old neighbor Paul B. Scharf, 75, died on May 3 — a milestone noted in last week’s issue of U.S. 1. Since I just wrote a column about Paul’s declining health in the March 21 issue, and how that was being handled by the office of the state guardian in the absence of any relative or other interested party, a postscript is appropriate now.
When I moved to Park Place in the early 1980s Paul was the neighborhood character. An emotionally challenged unemployed adult living with his widower father, Paul would have panic attacks if his father left for more than a few hours. When his father died in 1984 everyone expected Paul’s condition to worsen. Instead it got a little better, as if the light finally reached the forest floor after the big tree fell.
Paul lived alone for five or six years but with difficulty. The house fell into disrepair. Attorney Phil Shaver, who represented Paul’s father’s estate and continued to keep an eye out for his client’s adult son, discussed the idea of my buying the property. In turn Paul would move into the much smaller, and presumably more manageable garage apartment I had behind my house. We got the house appraised and I agreed to pay the full amount. But — thanks to the good idea of my friend Jim Britt, also an attorney — the deal was an installment sale with the monthly payments corresponding to Paul’s rent. There was no chance of him getting fleeced by some opportunist who discovered Paul suddenly had a big chunk of money in the bank. I in turn would not have to worry about late rent payments. Each month I just drew down the principal and interest I owed Paul.
But eventually Paul couldn’t manage even my small garage apartment. Then the money I owed Paul was paid in full. I helped him find a smaller apartment, and then a smaller one yet. When I was worn out, I discovered the state’s Adult Protective Services, which in turn moved Paul to a group home in Hightstown, and then Millstone.
After he stopped walking, Paul was transferred to a nursing home in Neptune City, and then to another one, farther away in Wayne. On several occasions I was asked to be Paul’s legal guardian. I declined in part because I didn’t want to be the one to “pull the plug” on a guy 40 or 50 miles away. Paul would call me at least once a week. But early this year the calls stopped. I contacted the nursing home and discovered he had had a tracheotomy and a breathing tube inserted to help him cope with COPD. That’s the state he was in when I visited on March 14 — he tried desperately to talk, but couldn’t say a word.
Shortly after that visit I got a call from the nursing home. Paul had suffered a stroke, lost movement in most of his body, and had been transferred to a hospital in Wayne. The office of the State Guardian also called and asked if I had any knowledge of any Scharf relatives. I Googled the obituary of Paul’s father (they ran obits for free in the community papers back in 1984) and passed along what I found.
Another call from the guardian’s office came a few days later. After consulting with the doctor treating him and the social worker who had visited, the decision had been made to remove the breathing tube. Paul could not be expected to live more than a day or two afterward. But if I wanted to visit him one more time, they would delay the removal until I got there. Great: I wouldn’t pull the plug, but I would have a say in the timing.
I told them I would visit the next morning.
Just two days after my visit I got an e-mail from the social worker: “Paul passed away at 3 a.m.. today. He was removed from the respirator on Tuesday evening. He was kept comfortable with a morphine drip until the end. Please let me know if you have any intention to attend a burial service. I have let the funeral home know that it was not likely. Please correct me if I am wrong. He is at peace now.”
I have no regrets about skipping the burial (at some cemetery in Garfield). But I am glad I made that last visit before the breathing tube was removed. When I went into the room, Paul seemed more unconscious than asleep. I tried to wake him — to no avail. But as I prepared to make my last leave, a trio of nurses arrived in the room. “We’re here to flush to tube,” they announced. The procedure took the three of them nearly 15 minutes. It was a time to ponder the resources consumed by the terminally ill — just a few hours before that same tube would be removed forever.
As the nurses packed up they asked me, “are you his brother?” I told them I was just the last person remaining from his small circle of friends. As I explained the connection, I got a little emotional. “It’s never easy,” one of them told me.
When they were done I took one last look at my old friend. This time his eyes were wide open. I greeted him and told him I had good news: In a day or two all the tubes would be gone. He wouldn’t have to worry about a thing. My words probably cheered me up more than Paul.
I headed off for the elevator bank where, as luck would have it, the same three nurses were waiting. As we boarded the car, I asked cheerfully, “So who’s next?” I thought it might elicit some small talk about the next medical chore they faced. Instead I got three blank looks. One of them, possibly thinking about the sequence of elevator stops or about my being the last person from Paul’s crowd, finally answered: “You’re next.”