Archive for the 'Aging' Category

Older but wiser

My son David has religiously organized a biannual fishing trip that had its genesis in 1997 in Baja, California. It has since expanded its horizons to include other U.S. and foreign ports of call.

Named the “Chrysler”, it includes about a dozen loyal participants, all intent on drinking as much alcohol as possible, sometimes to salve the egos of those who didn’t catch fish. Eating large quantities of food often includes the raw flesh of those unfortunate fish who managed, albeit reluctantly, to become part of the bill of fare.

Staying up late is a required component of the adventure, often accompanied by participant music making late into the night, cigars, and more alcohol. Because one’s eyes are larger than one’s ability to retain the libations and sustenance put before them, many a morning has been spent kneeling before the enamel throne while praying for relief and forgiveness. Murmurings of “I’ll never do this again” often accompanies the numerous toilet flushes.

The origin of the event’s name, “Chrysler”, is somewhat hazy. It is emblazoned on the unique designs that appear on cheap tee shirts awarded to the attendees as compensation for the vast sums spent on the event. Other awards are also presented. These include the “Woody”, an ancient wooden erect penis that originally graced some long-forgotten garage sale. Presented to the member catching the largest fish, it often becomes the subject of much discussion. For example, does “largest” mean length or does it mean weight? Much alcohol has been drunk and spilled as the members attempt to fathom the meaning that the Chrysler founders intended.

Other awards such as the Dolan and Fancy Pants also dignify the proceedings; however, the Chrysler award itself is the most coveted one of them all. Cloaked in regal splendor, the Chrysler award is, in fact, a real Chrysler. Not a full-sized, fuel guzzling vehicle, but an eight-inch toy car haphazardly nailed to a plaque. Earning the right to be the current year’s Chrysler winner is no easy feat.

The criteria for gaining temporary ownership of the Chrysler is often compared to winning the Stanley Cup, the World Series pennant or the Vince Lombardy trophy. However, in contrast to those rather well-known and easily understood sporting awards, the criteria for winning the Chrysler is not stipulated. The winner of the award is often unaware why he was chosen from all the others. In some cases, he may have passed out during much of the three-day event and was therefore oblivious to the rationale for his success.

Over the years, Chrysler participants have retained or strengthened many of their characteristic traits, especially alcohol consumption. Along the way, a few lucky women joined the elite ranks previously barred to the fairer sex. Aging has taken its toll as evidenced by graying and thinning hair, a few wrinkles, a bit of a paunch and an increase in worldliness and sagacity. This includes yours truly.

I hadn’t attended a Chrysler for many years but decided to reinstate my membership this year. Approaching my seventy-ninth year, I was more than twenty years older than the average Chrysler participant. With religious fervor and with the event in mind, I have been going to the gym to improve my body and mind. My paunch hasn’t been flatter in ten years and I am able to hike significant distances and elevations without falling on my face. I regularly refuse the help of others who offer to carry my groceries or wish to relinquish their seat to me. I was sure I could keep up with the younger Chryslers. Alas, I couldn’t.

I was able to walk with the best of the Chrysler guys and lift my carry-on suitcase into the Delta overhead compartment without assistance. I stayed up reasonably late during the three-day marathon and had minimal sleep. And that’s where my prowess ended.

For example, walking down the long flight of stairs at our ante-bellum New Orleans home proved to be a challenge. Wanting to look macho as I descended the stairs, I did a poor imitation of throwing caution to the wind. With my Mr. Magoo bifocals adding an unwelcome handicap, I was a sad sight as I bumped along, gripping the railing while doing my best imitation of Walter Brennan.

Cabbing was a problem. Thirteen of us required multiple Uber vehicles, some with a third seat that necessitated clambering over or through the second row of seats. Anxious to show my agility, I usually chose the third seat and managed to squeeze my way in. Exiting was another story. I spent a good deal of time on my knees, and willingly reached out my fingers to grasp at least one helping hand that would prevent me from falling face first into the gutter. So much for balance.

As the trip wore on, I wondered why I seemed to be aging rapidly. After all, I didn’t seem to have these problems in Ojai. And then it struck me. I wasn’t getting older. No, I had just inadvertently surrounded myself with a phalanx of younger people. I was usually with people closer to my age to whom I compared favorably. I just needed to find those older people and reinsert myself into their midst.

So I came home to Ojai and went to the athletic club. I hopped onto the treadmill between two lovely older women and sneaked a furtive look at the speed and grade that they had set on their machines. I set mine a notch above theirs. At the end of my one hour, three-mile trek I smiled and felt much younger. I’ll do the same thing again tomorrow. Hope those ladies show up.

 

Time is a fickle thing

Went to the creative writing class last Thursday at Help of Ojai. Lots of nice people and lots of good words jumping from the carefully crafted pages brought to the class by the participants. Some laughs, some sadness, lots of praise. And lunch too.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to Jeff at the long table set for ten of us by the folks at the Soule Park dining room. An inviolate prerequisite for our selected lunch venue is the restaurant’s willingness to write separate checks. Food is important but separate checks are essential.

Due to the table configuration, conversation typically involves two, maybe three people. This time it was just Jeff and I. Listening to Jeff’s poems for four weeks had impressed with their construct and, most of all, their thoughtful content. A liberal like me and about as ancient, I had found a kindred soul.

We shared a little of our backgrounds and had a brief organ recital. I told Jeff that my loving wife, Ila, had passed away about seven months ago. And then the thought sprang on me as it often does…seven months, why does it seem like seven years?  I reminded myself that I regularly count the months, weeks and days since August 23, the day she left my embrace. And maybe that’s why time defies me and almost stands still. No matter the passage of time, the pain is never going away. It will lessen but thankfully never depart.

I think that just about everything else in my aging soul seems to be moving at the speed of light. Why do some things move at a glacial pace while others dare me to put a hand up in an effort to stop the world from spinning out of control…like those amazing ice skaters who dare you to keep up with them as they seem to be spinning into another universe.

There are some things that are so wonderful that I want them to never end. Yet they will, and they move so quickly that I am scared. Scared that I’m aging and know that one day I will be deprived of the things I love. How soon? Better not to know.

There are times that loved things move like honey from a spoon, slowly, creating anguish as I wait for the sweet taste to arrive. Yet when the joy of its taste is finally available, it moves quickly from me at roller coaster speed while I hold onto it, struggling to keep its sweetness just a little longer.

Jackie went to a seven-day retreat in San Diego last week. I told her I’d be ok in Ojai and that she should enjoy herself. Sunday was ok, Monday too. By Tuesday, I was looking for her in every part of my mind. In every ring of the phone and every sound that announced a text message. Wednesday produced little sleep. Thursday and Friday promised not her imminent return, but a prolonged feeling of deprivation that would never end. Text messages and phone calls produced a bit of relief and even some poetry. “It’s still raining. Very softly. Like your skin under my finger-tips.”

Sunday arrived. I drove the usual fifteen minutes to her home but it felt like thirty. I knocked but didn’t see her through the glass. I went in. Her hair dryer was making the sweetest noise I had heard in a week. I followed the sound to the bathroom. The sight of her drying hair framed in the light surrounding the mirror made my heart leap.

She was home and so was I. Time began its inevitable roller coaster ride. And we were both on it for as long as it would last.

Writer’s Block

Writer’s block. That must be the reason I can’t finish what I start.

I’ve tried so many times to pen my thoughts. Write an introductory remark, something grabby to keep the reader from abandoning my blog to read any one of a zillion others, all seeking fame through writing.

So I start to write. Pretty good intro I think, but what’s next? Nothing. Nada. Zilch. Maybe I’ll put the Word document away for a day or so until the mind clears and I can continue to write and…oh crap, who am I kidding. It seems so unimportant. So meaningless compared to other things in my life that yell “Focus on me…me, me…you’re not getting any younger you know. You’ve got limited time and I’m begging you to fill it with me before you fall apart completely, unable to think rationally or perform life’s functions.” Surely there must be something that’s of interest to my legion of readers. The economy, the buffoon in the Oval Office, the threat of nuclear annihilation, the unraveling of our social fabric, the buffoon in the Oval Office.

Oh, wait a minute, the Super Bowl. Dummy. You watched it from beginning to end. You reveled in watching the hated Patriots go down to defeat. You can write about how people take great pleasure in the dethroning of others. But it’s too late, Thousands of others have already written about the game and posted it on the web for the world to see. I’d be repeating their words without even knowing it. Come on, smart guy. There must be something else in your bag of tricks. Or is your life so dull that writing about it leaves an emptiness in your head, a sour taste in your mouth, a lifeless feeling of what’s the use?

How can that be? I went to Rotary, didn’t I? But I didn’t join. I started driving the old folks bus again. But I used my hernia as an excuse to delay my re-entry. I joined a creative writing group but can’t create. My presentations are limited to stuff I wrote months ago. Am I really that dull?

Wait. I love the woman in my life. And she’s far from dull. Always moving, always surprising, always ready to try anything. And encouraging me to ride along. I do so relish the opportunity. It’s changed my life in so many ways. Some frightening, most exhilarating, all new and challenging. Surely I can find something in those experiences that will interest you. Make you smile. Make you part of it. Make you lust for more.

Ah, but it’s so personal. I can’t possibly reveal everything about her. Certainly not in mixed company. It’s just not done. I’d blush and begin to mumble. And then you’d want more of what I really should keep veiled, accessible only to me. Only to pleasure me. To make my words so enticing and so mysterious that you say “Hey Fred, that’s not fair. Trust us, you can tell us anything. We promise not to tell on you. Come on, give us just a tiny bit more. You owe it to us. We all share our stories don’t we…maybe not as exciting as yours but nevertheless meaningful to us. Don’t be a spoil sport. Man up. Show us you can write. We’re waiting. Got other things to do. So come on…before we press the escape key and go somewhere else. You’ll be sorry.”

Oh crap. There it goes again. Thought I had something of interest to say to you but it’s slipped away. So many great words to share and I haven’t a clue what to say. Maybe tomorrow.

Sweetie Died

My one and only Sweetie died last week. She wrestled with Alzheimer’s for seven years and it finally took its toll.

It’s like peeling an onion. The first piece is your short-term memory. You will ask the same question over and over. Next comes a jumble of long-term memories. We’ll remove your ability to enjoy music, movies and live entertainment. Crowds will be your adversary. Your appetite will diminish and you will forget how to use a knife and fork. Your sweetheart will cut your food into bite size pieces. You’ll eat a lot of chocolate ice cream but not much else.

We’ll make dressing yourself a chore that takes more precious time away from living. You will forget how to tie your shoes. Along the way we’ll even add a few things, like headaches and pain. Or wild dreams that cause you to sit upright in bed and yell at the dark intruders. You’ll constantly repeat the same stories and create ones that are more fantasy than fact. You will visit the hospital ER several times and stay in the hospital some nights where you’ll rail against being there.

We’ll make you think you live someplace else other than your home. And wonder if your parents are still alive and do they know where you live. People will arrive who want to take care of you but you’ll swear at them and tell them to get the hell out of here or you’ll call the police. Your sweetheart will try to cope but he will feel much of your pain and anguish. Your sole entertainment will be getting in the car, driving into town, turning around and going home. Getting out of the car in your garage and walking to the house will become a terrible adventure.

Your sweetheart will turn his back for an instant and you will fall in the bathroom. And then you will fall a few more times. He will call the fire department to come and lift you from the floor, and you will tell them to mind their own business. You will finally get to bed, the paramedics will leave and he will wait for it to happen all over again.

You’ll sleep a lot on the chair in the sun room, the soft one in front of the fireplace and the couch in front of the TV. In a lucid moment, you’ll sit on the edge of the couch and say “I can’t do this anymore.”

Eventually you’ll have a caregiver because your sweetheart is exhausted. The hospice nurses will visit every day. They will bring a hospital bed, a walker, a wheelchair and other things that you thought you would never need. They will know things about life and death that only come from doing it over and over again.

You’ll fall asleep for days. Then, without warning, you will be gone. And your sweetheart will feel his heart bursting from his chest. And he will be alone for the first time in fifty-seven years.

And everything will remind him of you. He will fill his time by crying. And he will love you more than ever.

Simple Pleasures

Did you ever listen to friends describe their latest adventures?

“Uzbekistan was amazing. So many things to see. The people were great. Can’t wait to do it again.”

“Our trip to New York was mind-blowing. Had to book tickets to Hamilton two years in advance…worth every penny. You should go.”

“The Falkland Islands were one of the top five events in my life. I’ll never forget the sheep in the road. Weather was perfect. Never knew there were so many ways to prepare mutton.”

Time was that I would think “Why aren’t I doing things like this?  I must be missing out on life.”

Probably so.

But things being what they are, Sweetie and I tend to find pleasure in simpler things. Things that don’t involve shleps to the airport, uncomfortable plane seats, annoying children and rude adults.

Like yesterday.

The library foundation bookstore is closing for a major rebuild. We wanted to sell lots of books so that we could avoid moving them to temporary storage while we build the new structure.  We volunteered for the 2:30 shift and arrived to find very little activity. One or two customers, much like a normal day. So since we weren’t really needed, we excused ourselves and went for a walk.

One of our favorite places is Rains department store. A venerable institution serving the community for over a hundred years. Weekends are pretty busy in the store but on most weekdays you can call the store your own. We hardly ever leave without buying something. Sort of like freshly marking our territory.

There’s a wooden bench just off the main aisle in the women’s department. I’m sure it’s intended to allow the ladies to sit and try on the shoes that are cloistered in the area around the bench. It looks uncomfortable but the bench’s shape sort of matches my fanny so I can sit for a while before I develop calluses or bone spurs. We often alight on that bench and stare at the dozen or so women’s shoes that beckon to be tried on.

Spending thirty minutes or so sitting on a wood bench in Rains’ shoe department may not sound very exciting. And it’s not. So to lighten things up, we sometimes pretend that we are on a cruise. At other times we pretend that we are waiting for a city bus to come rolling down the department store aisle. In either case, we must look odd to the sales people and to the customers. But, being old, most observers simply assume we’ve got nothing better to do and ignore us.

Yesterday was special, though. I began staring at the array of shoe boxes stacked directly ahead of me.  About thirty of them in about six stacks.  All the same brand. I zeroed in on the 3×5 stickers glued to the end of each box that announced the style number and shoe size of the contents. I wondered “Are all those labels glued to the box by hand or is there some clever piece of machinery that does it?” I compared the placement of each label and the amount of empty space surrounding each. My suspicion was that they were hand applied. But I couldn’t be certain. So I asked Sweetie for her wise counsel. Recognizing a unique opportunity, she smiled and immediately bought into the adventure. Carefully eyeballing the boxes and measuring her response, she said that she was certain beyond a reasonable doubt that a machine was doing the deed. Good enough for me.

Having some time remaining in our busy schedule, I then focused on the boxes themselves. I was surprised that each shoe size seemed to have a box whose dimensions were tailored to the size of the contents. What a revelation! Sweetie was not nearly as excited as me since she claimed to already be aware of the shoe box size protocol. Probably because she has more shoes than I do.

So there you are. A relatively inexpensive adventure that did not require a plane trip, questionable accommodations, tickets bought two years in advance, or the need to learn a foreign language.

Now won’t that be an amazing story to tell our friends when they return from the Galapagos?

Sourdough Slim and Other Characters

Sweetie and I joined six other aging but still competent Upper Ojai friends for a much-anticipated Sourdough Slim appearance at the Ojai Valley Women’s Club Thursday evening.  But I’ll get to that in a minute.

Recognizing the danger that excess stomach acid can produce when one is running late for the theater, we chose to have an early senior-style dinner at Il Giardino’s, about half a block from the Women’s Club.  Not being a big fan of that particular eclectic restaurant, I had agreed to it while gritting my teeth and expecting the usual combination of poor food and questionable service, topped with a general feeling of grouchiness.

Eight of us were banished to the Devil’s Island corner  of the outdoor patio.  Being the last to pick a seat, I had the pleasure of facing the wall which depicts a painted saga that is desperately in need of renovation by one or more otherwise unemployed Italian artisans.

We also were treated to the added attraction of live music performed by two young men who were oblivious to the hearing afflictions foisted upon elders due to the advanced atomic decibel readings achieved by today’s amplification systems.

Actually, surprise, surprise, the food was tasty, the company stellar and the two young musical aficionados graciously offered to turn things down after several of our party collapsed on the floor pleading for respite.  A good start, I’d call it, and totally unexpected.

Finishing with a flourish and with fifteen minutes to spare, several of our party with space remaining  in their large intestines made a quick stop at Bliss, the local do-it-yourself frozen yogurt eatery, and heaped calorie laden yummies on their already distended stomachs.

Having been clever enough to buy advance tickets to Sourdough’s performance, we entered the Women’s Club ahead of those who were either still enroute or who had the misfortune of thinking that purchasing tickets at the door would give them something other than a seat requiring the Hubble Telescope for a decent view of Slim.

This was the third time we’d attended a Sourdough Slim concert.  A masterful combination of Howdy Doody and Slim Pickens, Sourdough regaled the crowd with cowboy songs, jokes that have stood the test of time, and amusing facial expressions, all topped by a ridiculous ten-gallon hat that is as important to his repertoire as his music.  Accompanied by the formerly famous Robert Armstrong on a variety of instruments including the yet to be universally embraced musical saw, the aging but still standing  Sourdough keeps you rooting for him to complete his performance without suffering a massive coronary.

We picked seats that were close to the stage yet far enough removed to avoid becoming an unwilling part of the evening’s festivities.  I sat on a folding chair that had just enough cushioning to be comfortable for a full twenty minutes before wreaking havoc on my under-stuffed  fanny.  Looking for a comfortable spot to rest on, other than bone, was to be a major part of the festivities.

Two fiftyish party goers arrived and sat in the row in front of us.  Wearing over-the-top cowboy hats large enough to block out the sun, they mercifully sat to our right, out of our visual spectrum but close enough for those with adequate peripheral vision to observe the couple’s own performance that was in competition with that of the Sourdough.

The woman wore a tight red dress, short enough to allow a proper airing of her private parts yet tight enough to allow the substantial hills and valleys of her aging body to attract prying eyes to the various displays of her abundant cellulite deposits.  The man, balding and handle-barred moustached, spent much of the evening prodding and caressing the lady’s abundant flesh.

The lady in red, attired in cowboy boots that could have easily stomped a whole herd of cows, began the festivities by banging her heels to the rhythm of Slim’s music…well almost.  She then progressed to raising both her arms to the heavens, waving them with abandon and providing further evidence of her deepening dementia.  When this failed to draw the attention of those in the far reaches of the theater, she orally fixated us with randomly delivered whooping and hollering clearly intended to alert all, including the paramedics, to her presence.  I began to feel sorry for the lady in red who assuredly had been ignored as a child and, other than for her groping escort, was suffering the same fate as an adult.

The seat in front of me was occupied by a tall man with short legs and a long Yao Ming torso.  His shock of white hair was directly in line with my view of Slim.  Fortunately, the Cardiff Giant look-alike parted his hair down the middle affording me a limited view of the very top of Slim’s ten gallon hat.  I accepted my fate as being payoff for my many sins, and for most of the rest of the evening focused on Mr. Armstrong’s musical saw.

At least no one had a coronary.

sourdough slim

The results are in…

Where were we?  Oh yes, we had just completed my prostate biopsy.

Now it was time to await the results.  Dr. Greenberg had said “Should take about a week to get it back from the lab.  I don’t like to phone results to my patients.  So make an appointment and you can come in to see how things turned out.  Good or bad.”  Fair enough.  After all, how long could a week of waiting be?

I strolled confidently to the cute young lady at the front desk.  The one who makes calls to patients’ answering machines and rattles off information faster than any human can write it down.  “Hi” I said confidently.  “How about an appointment next Tuesday?  The Doctor says my results should be here by then.”  Silence.  Followed by her nimble fingers doing speed of light calisthenics on the computer keyboard.  Followed by more silence.  “Hmmmm.  Looks like we’re booked.  The earliest I can get you in is next Friday morning.  How’s 8:40?”  Restraining myself from leaping over the counter, strangling the young lady with her telephone cord, and making my own appointment, I sheepishly said “OK.”

Ten days to wait for results.  Ten days to try not thinking about it.  Ten days to imagine the worst.  Anything from “Hey, no problem, you’re OK.  Go home.”  To “It’s stage four.  Get into Hospice and put your affairs in order…today.”

The days passed and I was, at first, only mildly irritated.  Young children I encountered on the street sensed that I should be avoided.  My feeling of foreboding grew to tsunami proportions and it took all of Sweetie’s cooing and cajoling to keep me from self-immolation.  I pasted a perpetual smile on my face and studiously maintained my public persona so as to avoid losing all of my friends.

Sleeping was fraught with adventure.  Getting to sleep was no problem.  Staying asleep was.  I tried various mind tricks.  First I imagined lush green fields with bubbling brooks.  No good.  So I enhanced my vision of lush green fields by adding romping, nubile maidens.  Not good enough.  So I simply deleted the green fields and focused completely on the nubile maidens.  Nothing was a panacea.

Instead of sticking with the Marx Brothers, Woody Allen and the U.S. Congress for laughs, I made the mistake of reading The Worst Hard Time by Timothy Egan.  A long repetitive dissertation on the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, it reveled in a glorious depiction of the misery of those poor farmers who lost their land to the wind, and were forced to rely on clubbing rabbits to death and boiling tumbleweed for sustenance.  As an added bonus, the book described the concurrent, abject misery of the Great Depression and the twenty-five percent of out-of-work, apple selling Americans.  On the other hand, maybe reading about their misery deflected a bit from my own self-imposed malaise.

Thursday night was mostly sleepless as the nubile maidens all sought refuge from me.  Arising well before we needed to, we leapt from bed, did our best to greet the rather dark morning, and got in the car for the forty minute trip to Ventura.  Needless to say, we arrived at the place of execution a full thirty minutes early.

The waiting room was empty except for the young lady with the flying fingers.  She was removing the last vestiges of Halloween decorations including the monstrous hanging ghost that happily greeted us on our arrival.  I decided to read Wine Spectator in the foolish hope that I might get seriously drunk.

A rather large man and his rather large wife entered the waiting room.  He held a large manila envelope that obviously contained a very large x-ray.  The Rather Larges sat across from us.  Mr. Rather Large stared straight ahead for a full twenty minutes and held onto the envelope in the same way that Charlton Heston  famously rabble-roused the NRA with his cold, dead hands speech.  I realized that I was not alone in my misery.

“Mr. Rothenberg, you can come in now.” Nurse Ratched said as she opened the door to the business end of Doctor Goldberg’s shop of horrors.

We sat in the exam room.  My blood pressure reading taken by Nurse Ratched was at the high-end of abnormal and my throbbing pulse could be felt without the need of placing her fingers on my wrist.  “How have you been feeling since the biopsy?” she said.  “Fine” I lied.

Waiting for the Doctor to make an entry, Sweetie and I talked about things of which I have no recollection.  For some strange reason, my mind wandered back to 1960.  I remembered anxiously awaiting the results of my CPA exam, results that would appear in my mailbox.  I remembered what my fellow exam takers had said.  “If your results come in a big fat envelope, you failed the exam.  The fat envelope has all kinds of stuff including how to reapply and retake that awful test.  If you get a nice thin letter, it will simply have your passing grades.”  I thought, “I hope Dr. Greenberg has a nice thin piece of paper.”

He did.  And we went home.


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