January 21st, 2015 | 9:00am

James Solomon on his 70th birthday

Nothing could be done about the cancer in him, so we did not bring him bread. He was dying, and doing so more actively now, though still at a pace he commanded. Even Death let him call most of the shots. We brought Sol what he wanted: vodka and cigarettes.

The vodka had to be Smirnoff and the bottle had to be the lighter, plastic fifth. Its narrower profile was easier to grip. Though his hands were large, illness had weakened them.

When a doctor told Sol to cut a vice, he chose cigarettes. Now we brought him vodka and potato chips.

We delivered his drink in the middle of the week, nearly always following an alarmed phone call. Sometimes he invited us into his seemingly airless living room, which had a single bed, a walker with a seat, a small TV, and a DVD player. His favorite films were old swashbuckler stories, and a stack of them could always be found on a side...