As Friends Rallied Round, One Avoided Bloodshed

SEEKONK, Mass.  For Phil Sturgis, a 57-year-old pipe fitter, it was always about friends.  “Seriously, where would I be without these guys,” he says as he points to a faded picture of him and six of his buddies on a deep-sea fishing excursion.  “I wouldn’t be anywhere is where, he says,” fighting back a tear.

Sturgis has a rare blood disorder, Weiman-Flojit Syndrome, in which his red blood cells gang up on the white ones, give them the blood cell equivalent of a wedgie, and steal their lunch money.  “There is faint hope that someday we’ll have a cure,” says Dr. Emily Carstairs of St. Judith the Prudent Hospital here.  “Until then, all we can do is pump new blood into the victims and send them gigantic bills.”

While the hospital takes care of the second part, it was Phil’s friends who pitched in for the first.  “I had no problem giving a pint of blood for Phil,” says Al Mayo, who has known him since grade school.  “He’s bought a few pints for me.”



But one of Phil’s friends, Alton Mack,  asked if he could contribute to the cause of saving a life in a different way.  “I’m thin because I don’t drink like these guys, and I get queasy at the sight of blood,” says the professor of English at nearby UMass-Seekonk.  “You wouldn’t want me to get sick to help somebody else get well–would you?”

So Mack offered to memorialize Sturgis by the greatest honor an academic can confer on another human being–a footnote in an academic paper.  “A footnote is forever,” says Geoffrey Hargraves, incoming president of the Modernist Language Association.  “Most consumer goods are crap, and once the warranty expires the best you can do is sell them for pennies on the dollar at a tag sale or eBay.”

Mack, wandering lonely as a cloud.


Sturgis’s footnote strikes a personal tone, and is unlikely to take its place in history alongside those of Edward Gibbon, whose “The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” used footnotes to skewer St. Augustine and other lesser figures, or Vladimir Nabokov, whose novel “Pale Fire” consists largely of footnotes to a 999-line poem.  “I didn’t want to embarrass him with something mushy,” Sturgis says, “so I kept it short, sweet, and to the point.”

The memorial footnote appears in a study of the works of John Updike, which Mack hopes to see published in a more prestigious journal than he has so far been able to crack.  “Updike’s ‘Rabbit Run’ is a basketball novel, of which there haven’t been many,” he notes, as he flips to page 23 and points to footnote number 114.  “See–it’s really a nice tribute.”

This reporter runs his finger down the page to find the memorial, which reads as follows: “The paucity of basketball novels may be due to the fact that basketball fans would rather–for some strange reason–watch basketball than read books.  The author gave ‘Rabbit Run’ to Philip Sturgis, a life-long Boston Celtics fan, but he returned it two weeks later saying it was boring and he couldn’t finish it.”



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