He had long wanted to be a stand-up comic, but when Ashland real estate broker and theater critic Alan "Rosey" Rosenberg was diagnosed with terminal, rapidly spreading cancer, he immediately decided to drop everything and make people laugh.
"When I got my diagnosis last May — esophageal cancer, now in the liver — I walked out of there and immediately began taking notes for what became 'Rosey's Last Stand-up.' It struck me that I never had and now never would have a better source of comic material than I do right now," says Rosenberg.
He did a round of chemotherapy that, he says, gave him three more months of life. Those are gone now, and he was expected to die while in the hospital in March.
What: "Rosey's Last Stand-up, an Evening of Inspirational Black Humor," by Alan Rosenberg
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 17
Where: Temple Emek Shalom, 1800 E. Main St., Ashland
What: Benefit for the Ashland Food Bank and the "Indigent Funds" of Havurah Shir Hadash and Temple Emek Shalom
Tickets: Minimum $10 donation
Two days after his discharge, on March 23, he rocked a packed house at Havurah Shir Hadash, dwelling riotously on the up-close realities and ironies of death.
Among his favorite lines: "The day the doctor told me I was going to die soon, I decided I wasn't going to change a thing, except that everything had changed. Instead of shopping at Costco with one list, I now took two: My everyday shopping list and my will."
At this point, Rosenberg tossed Scotch-Brite cleaning pads into the audience from his Costco 30-pack, setting the house a-roaring.
Another bit from his schtick: "When the fellow at Radio Shack tried to sell me a lifetime warranty for my new iPhone headset, I told him, 'A lifetime, huh? For me, a Chiclet might last a lifetime.' "
Rosenberg realizes he could die at any time, so every moment is a gift.
"It's been a series of miracles to have this time to remake my life," he says, "to put a pool table in the master bedroom, get two kittens and have this time with Peter (Spring), playing pool, making music and holding the cats."
Spring, an Ashland flautist, lost a 23-year-old son to cancer a dozen years ago and didn't have time to grieve. This is a time for both men to share and absorb the journey to death, they say.
"It's a real blessing to hang with a guy who can laugh and joke and cry about everything — and to plan and accept death the way Rosey is doing," Spring says. "We have gotten a deep connection together. It's what I didn't get to do before."
Rosenberg, a critic for Sneak Preview, is lining up venues with the main theater companies in the valley, without knowing whether he'll be here to walk on stage.
"I rolled over in bed, looked deeply into my lover's brown eyes and said, 'I want to grow old with you.' Then I thought for a second and shrugged, 'Heck, I'd be happy to grow old with anyone!' "
Rosenberg admits his "inspirational black humor" scares some people and makes others uncomfortable by bringing up thoughts of their own mortality.
Seasoning his act with profanity, Rosenberg, 60, remarks that he'll never get old enough to use the senior discount at restaurants — and that he found out the 70 virgins awaiting you in the next world was a wrong translation. It's actually 70 grapes.
A member of Havurah who meditates regularly, Rosenberg lards his act with praise for the beauty of living in the present.
He uses Spring and "Harmonica Bob" Miner in his act, and their theme song is James Taylor's "Shower the People You Love With Love," he notes.
"My transition after the diagnosis felt like just a ripple on the surface of a placid lake," he says. "It was effortless, seamless, because I'm living more in the present, where I'm free from fears for the future. The gift of these unexpected extra weeks of life has allowed me to become more and more of a mensch (a good, solid, ethical man) ... fully present and truly in the moment."
He is estranged from his two grown sons in Europe, but Rosenberg says, "I'm working full-time to be the kind of person and father I wish I'd been to my boys."
His hospice caregiver, Marie Maretska, says Rosenberg immediately developed a loving relationship with her and "plunged in, wide open."
"He's doing nothing different than anyone else who's dying, but he's so doing it in his own way and not retreating."
John Darling is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Email him at email@example.com.