My friends Steven and Michele were recently transferred to Geneva. In the month before departing, they used three-inch-long plastic pointers to scribble the names, postal addresses, e-mail addresses, fax numbers and cell-phone numbers of their 1,000 or so closest friends into a pair of palm-size "digital assistants." I, on the other hand, registered their Geneva address — using my neatest girls' school handwriting — in the green address book I’ve owned forever. He is Solomon, she is Klein-Solomon. I put them with the "S's."
The “S” section of my address book fills four pages. Maybe because my friend Kathy alone takes up a page. Her listing extends up and down the page, spilling over into the margins with the assistance of hand-drawn arrows that wind their way around the Shapiros and Shannons and Sands and Sellers. The entries take her on a journey from Brown University student to grassroots organizer in the nation's capital to Princeton grad student, returning her to a historic row house in her native Baltimore.
Grandmother Natalie lives in the "B's" because, after spending half a lifetime in London as one of that city’s leading businesswomen, she met Louis Bing, my grandfather, and moved to Cleveland, Ohio, which she always insisted on referring to as "a one-horse town." (It sounds even more insulting when said with a British accent.) Natalie died a decade ago but, in my book, she's still living in Apartment 29H at 118 East 60th Street, across from Bloomingdale's in Manhattan, where she finally moved after convincing Papa it was time to escape from Cleveland.
Back in the "A's" is Michael Allen, a handsome University of Virginia law student who bakes bread from natural grains, uses a secondhand bicycle for transportation and listens to Bob Marley. In the book, he resides in a group house on Allen Drive in Charlottesville. Never mind that he hasn't been a Virginia-based grad student since 1985, when he moved to Washington, married me, fathered our three kids and bought a house. Natural breads have been replaced by chicken nuggets, Bob Marley by the Backstreet Boys.
There are literally hundreds of entries in the address book, some inconsequential, some for people who have played major roles in my life. There are men I met before Michael: Cavaliere Pietrangelo, whom I encountered on a train while traveling on college break from Florence to Rome; Chris Neugard, with whom I drank tequila in Cancún as the sun set (last known address: Duncanville, Texas). There is the Mormon girl I shared a room with at summer camp, the rabbi who married Michael and me, and former bosses. "W" turns up the hairdresser I went to throughout my 20s — to whom I told all my secrets — who moved to Seattle. To remove these names would mean leaving behind my childhood, my adolescence and my young-adult years. They conjure up pleasant memories and some I’d rather forget, but none I will ever erase.
Recently my office announced that our conversion to a new computer network will wipe out our electronic address books. Panic doesn't begin to describe the reaction as colleagues scrambled to preserve the names of those near and dear to their PCs. Not me. I had never taken advantage of the network's capabilities. I don't even know what a server is. True confession: I have no electronic address book. So, as the cyberworld comes crashing down on my coworkers, I can rest easy at night secure in the knowledge that 40 years of friendships and family are safe and sound in a dog-eared little volume I keep alongside the instruction manuals next to my home computer.